Space, the final frontier…

Sometimes, you just have to own who you are. You have to admit that you actually enjoy the creamy middle of an Oreo or that you really do laugh at the Flintstones–when secretly watching them–while eating the middles-only out of a bunch of Oreos.

But for me, this is nowhere near my biggest quirk. In fact my quirk, rhymes with quirk–because I have an on-going love affair with Captain Kirk and all things Star Trek! It started with Kirk and the Enterprise on its five-year mission, graduated to Picard and the Next Generation, moved on to Sisko at Deep Space Nine and got flung into the Delta quadrant with Janeway on Voyager. Then, I came home to Captain Archer and the first Enterprise.

Unless you are a giant Star Trek nerd like me, the previous paragraph will make no sense. Suffice it to say that I am addicted to anything which begins, “Space, the final frontier….” If it has to do with Star Trek, I am there for it.

My obsession is very well-known, in particular by my children. They are never at a loss as to what to give me as gift: “Does it have Star Trek on it somewhere? Great, my Mom will love it!” They have given me a wide variety of Star Trek merchandize over the years, and so for this article, I tried to collect and take a picture of all of the Star Trek things they have gifted me, which you see above. You should know that this is not even all of the things I have received, it is just the ones I collected over five minutes of walking through the house.

This collection of Star Trek memorabilia tells you several things about the quirky individual who is me. First, you should know that while I care nothing for mechanics of any kind, I have a schematic of the Star Ship Enterprise hanging prominently on my wall. Second, I have a set of Pez dispensers featuring the heads of the crew of the Next Generation, which has never been opened, even though my grandchildren have suggested it any number of times. Third, I once owned three pairs of Star Trek socks, but because the dog particularly liked the taste of them, I am now down to half that number–one sock from each pair, of course.

Each Christmas, I proudly hang the Federation Star Ship Voyager on my tree and when I am bored at night, I sit down and read my Star Trek book which details the original series, episode by episode and then I watch those episodes on my digitally enhanced set of CDs. I have collections of snow globes and mugs and I have Star Trek features for each of those collections.

My daughter gave me a Star Trek coffee mug for my Mother’s Day present this year, but her instructions were, “Make sure you use it!” How could I possibly do that? It shows the Star Trek crew in relative safety on their ship, but if I fill the cup with hot coffee, they are immediately transported to a strange and alien world. I can’t do that, can I? Besides, the people who made the cup are pretty sure we are none too bright, because on the outside bottom of the cup, it says, “Best results if used from the other end.”

However, since I try to be a good parent, I decided I should use the cup just to suit her. So, I made my morning coffee, poured it in the recommended end and watched the Star Trek crew go where no one has gone before. I then tasted the coffee–and immediately spit it out. The new mug, which was properly washed, made the coffee taste like I’d strained it through the Captain’s communication devise! Plastic or metallic or something!

It’s just as I thought, the cup is meant to be admired, placed in my collection and valued for its Star Trek connection. So, if you don’t mind, I believe I will place it on the shelf along with my genuine Star Trek cold mug and my very lovely lap throw, featuring Spock saying, “Fascinating.”

So now, you know the secrets of my very fine quirk. I do hope my children continue to gift me with memorabilia from all of the Star Trek programs and when we, as a culture, finally do “boldly go where no one has gone before”…well, I’ll be watching from home, surrounded by my space things!

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Technology challenged addict…

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I think it will come as a surprise to no one that when it comes to technology, I struggle. Additionally, I am okay with that fact. I take great pride in the fact that I don’t use cell phones, I can barely manage a laptop and as for printers and other higher-order machines, I am at a loss. I don’t even relax watching television, because I have to figure out which of the five remotes I have, will operate what particular functions on the television.

I don’t think I should be judged too harshly for this. When I grew up, telephones were attached to the wall and they had what we call party lines. That meant that if someone else on your line was giving their telephone friend a long recipe or the neighborhood children were engaged in a hog-calling contest down the telephone, you couldn’t even get on the phone, let alone, make use of so-called “apps” of any kind.

My grandmother always told me she was born in a world where they traveled by horse and buggy and she lived to experience flying in airplanes. I had trouble relating to this until I stopped to consider that I was born into a world with a television tube in a box containing no remote and three stations (if you were lucky) and a phone attached to a cord, and I have lived long enough to operate the flat screen television with double remotes like I’m John Wayne at a shootout. In addition, I live in a world today where the phone isn’t attached to the wall anymore, it’s attached to people’s hands and it does everything for you except brush your teeth. That’s quite a leap!

I have always had scorn for those who cannot live without their technology and I admit, I’ve been pretty snotty about it. A person like me is bound to get her due humbling and that’s what happened to me this week.

My husband was deep into the NFL draft on the large living room television and I was complaining long and loud about not having anything to watch for me.

“I bought you a new television for your birthday last year, go watch it,” he answered my complaints.

“I can’t. It isn’t set up right, ever since the electricity went out last November. I can’t figure it out,” I was really peeved–my favorite shows were coming on and I was missing them!

“Use the downstairs television,” he suggested next, while simultaneously yelling at the Vikings for their latest picks.

“The downstairs TV hasn’t worked since you got mad because the one remote wasn’t working and then the other remote wouldn’t work and you ended up firing those things at it like a tenderfoot gunslinger in an arcade hall.”

Oh well, I would simply go on the internet and see what was happening. You know what happened next. The Internet was down. And nothing I could do (which wasn’t much) would bring it back. I was reduced to picking out little text messages on my phone, which didn’t like my fat fingers and kept losing signal, even when I held it up in the air, balancing on the top rung of the deck railing.

Okay, so maybe I am addicted. And it was especially bad when I finally did get the upstairs television and discovered that when your internet is out, so is Netflix. What? But I have so many series on there that are only half-watched! I must have Netflix!

With shaking fingers, I called the Internet providers and they agreed to send someone out…in two days. Two Days????!!!! I can’t wait two days for television, Netflix, Facebook! The withdrawal was real and I was chewing on all ten fingers by the time they finally got a serviceman here. He asked me a lot of technical questions and I answered all of them by saying, “I don’t know. Just fix it.” He suspiciously sniffed the glass of apple juice on ice I was drinking and then went to work.

He spent two hours changing wires, testing boxes and reworking remotes. It turns out there was a faulty cable on the kitchen television and that’s why it wouldn’t set up. He reduced the remotes to one on all televisions because he said the downstairs television was working fine, but had been so jumbled up with using the wrong remotes, it couldn’t function. The internet needed a new something that apparently had broken and we had to re-set all the computers and even the phones. As for Netflix, that worked like a charm, as soon as the Internet was up.

I have reached the sad conclusion that I am indeed a technology junkie, just like all the others, but my addiction might be worse, because I depend on someone else to keep me going with it. In addition, it is an on-going problem with no easy fix in sight. Today, I went to Roy, who was trying to take a nap and said, “Let’s play some cards or something.”

“I’m tired, let me nap,” he responded. “Go watch Netflix or something.”

“Well, that’s just it,” I whined. “Netflix isn’t working again. And I don’t which remote to use to fix it.”

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A good night’s sleep….

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It was such a sweet plan. It is seldom I can convince Roy to splurge on a hotel room; especially when there were other options, but to my pleasant surprise, this time he agreed. We would spend the night before Easter at a hotel.

It was a very simple plan. We had two family events for Easter, one on Saturday night and the other at noon on Sunday. We were only an hour and a half from home, so we COULD have made two trips, but I didn’t want to. I began weeks ago on my campaign to get that night in a hotel room on Easter Saturday.

“The dog really could use some time away from us,” I mused one evening when she was being particularly bothersome. “Maybe if we spent a night away from home, she could have a night away from home at the kennel. I really feel like she would enjoy that.” I ignored the steady stare of the dog, who seemed to be aware somehow that I was attempting to dump her for an evening.

“Well, I’ll see,” came the non-committal reply. I was not satisfied with this. “We’ll see,” is code in our house for “I don’t want to do whatever you have suggested, but give me time to think of an excuse.”

While we were working on the random disposal of the dog, I also pointed out that it wouldn’t be fair on a holiday to horn in with family. We couldn’t stay with them. In addition, with the price of gas, how could we justify driving back and forth for two days? All of my arguments seemed reasonable to me, and even the issue of the dog finally was settled. Much to her chagrin, she was going to spend Easter at the kennel and I was going to get my night in a nice hotel. For those of you worried about the poor dog, don’t. She definitely got her revenge.

With a gleeful heart, I made my hotel reservations and we started on our journey…our long night’s journey. We left the dog looking resentfully out at us through the bars of the kennel and hit the road. We had a delicious supper at a relative’s house and had a delightful visit. Then, it was time to go to the hotel.

When we checked in, the clerk asked us, “Do you want to be on the first floor or the second floor?” It’s Easter weekend…what would be our concerns? “Second floor,” said my husband, adding to me, “It might be a little quieter in case people arrive late.” I would look back upon this observation with pain later on.

We got to our room at little after nine and we decided we could watch a little television. While we were watching Jack Lemmon in “Under the Yum-Yum Tree,” I kept adjusting the sound, hoping to not disturb our neighbors, but after a while, I became aware that they had theirs a little loud too. Oh well, it can’t be helped!

When we had entered the room, we observed that the cover to the heating unit had fallen on the floor. Not wanting all that mechanism to be exposed, we put it back on, but nothing we could do would stop the clatter and rattle when the motor would heat up. Again, a minor thing.

It was about 10:30 when we turned the television off to go to sleep. It was then that we noticed that the neighbors appeared to be playing rather loud music. We lay in the bed, trying to lull ourselves to sleep to the “boom…boom…ba….boom,” for quite a while before we realized that it was really getting very loud and there was a lot of loud talking and laughing as well.

I was outraged. Someone had the audacity to use their hotel room to have a loud party. On my fought-for night in a nice hotel, I was being subjected to some hooligans and their extremely loud and terrible music.

The volume kept increasing and I began to do a slow burn. I visualized myself calling the desk and with a few well chosen words (interspersed with swear words) advising the managed to calm down the ruffians or I should be forced to call the authorities.

Before calling the office, I thought I would do a little reconnoitering to see exactly where it was coming from. Oddly, the minute I went to the hall and closed my door, I could no longer hear it so plainly. Perhaps they had calmed down. I went back into the room and the volume rose again.

Now I was convinced they were having the party in the parking lot outside our window. When I pulled aside the window shade, I found I wasn’t too far wrong. They were having a party, one they had rented a party hall for at the hotel. They were having a wedding reception/dance in the ballroom…located right below our room!

So there was indeed, nothing we could do. We lay there in the dark of our room listening to the thrum of drums, the clang of dishes and doors and the shrill notes of some very loud songs. In addition, we got the clatter and rattle of room’s heating system, just in case there were any lulls elsewhere. We dozed in the few minutes when the band took a break, but even that was disturbed by the talking and high pitched laughter of the smokers having a cigarette break outside the windows.

My husband bore up under this disaster of a night’s sleep pretty well, but he did once or twice make such comments as “sure glad the dog isn’t disturbing our rest tonight,” or, “do you think we could get them booked under our windows at home some evening?”

“I can’t hear you,” I grumbled. “Because I have my head wrapped in this pillow. If you make any more comments, I’m going to wrap your head in a pillow.”

Around 2:30 or so, the party broke up as the bride and groom presumably went on their way to a honeymoon and a happy life. We fell into an exhausted slumber, and if we snored, we did not wake up each other. I’m sort of hoping some of the party-goers were around us and they were kept awake, but it’s hard to know those things for sure.

The lowest blow hit the next morning. As we dragged out to our vehicle to pack up, a group of people were talking in the parking lot. I was so grumpy, I wanted to turn to them and say, “Quiet down and what are you looking at?”

When I looked over at them, however, I realized, that beyond them, spread out over a large area of land, was another whole wing of the hotel, far away from the dance hall and its sounds. So, in other words, the clerk who checked us in asked the wrong question. Instead of “first floor or second floor” the question should have been, “quiet room in the other wing, or hot spot room right over the dance floor.”

I could write you more about my night of faulty heating covers, wedding music and joyous laughter, but I’m just too tired. I’m going to bed early tonight and if the dog knows what’s good for her, she won’t make any noise, either!

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Illness, according to the marriage vows

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Now I know that when I took those wedding vows, that I said, “in sickness and in health.” I didn’t pay close enough attention, though, because although I said, “in sickness and in health,” I think my husband may have said, “in health only.”

Now, I’m not talking about the big stuff, life-threatening, ect., I know that he would support me through all of that. I am talking about the days where a stuffed-up head and the sneezes or coughs have got me. I think he forgot to take any vows about when I have the flu.

When he is sick, he wants his hot soup and cold compresses and orange juice delivered to where ever it is he is lying, sitting, or contemplating how sick he feels. I am happy to do this, and not because I took any oath, either. Just because it is the right thing to do. Do I wear masks and gloves so I won’t catch anything? Of course, but I always take care of him “in sickness.”

When the tables are turned, however, things are a little different. I have frequently made the observation that he would show up at my deathbed, and the first remark out of his mouth would be, “Before you expire, what’s for supper?”

It isn’t that he has no sympathy, it’s that he simply blocks out the fact that I am sick. Mostly because that would mean he might have to cook a meal and maybe, the lord forbid, clean up the dishes afterward!

This weekend, I have been feeling really lousy with a head cold and congestion. All I really want to do is lie around in my easy chair, watch some romantic movies on television and sneeze until my nose drops off. I don’t care about eating or much of anything else as long as the Vicks and the kleenix holds out. I don’t even want him to take care of me, just let me die in peace.

This does not happen. An hour into the morning, he appears from his shower, toweling himself off and remarking, “I don’t smell any coffee. Isn’t it done yet?”

“No. I didn’t make any coffee, I’m not well. You’ll have to make it yourself.”

After five minutes of listening to him slamming the things around in the kitchen and exclaiming that he can’t find the coffee, the filters, creamer, etc., I finally get up and go out and make the coffee. This is, of course, my first mistake. I have demonstrated that if the house were on fire, I could get up and move sufficiently to get myself out. That must mean I’m not sick.

While he can get himself a bowl of cereal, it’s always a fifty-fifty chance that there is no milk on a Saturday. “Uh, I don’t have any milk. Are you going grocery shopping this morning?” he questions, holding his dry bowl of Grape Nuts.

“I’m not going grocery shopping,” I say, blowing into my tissue.

“Why not? We’re out of milk,” he says incredulously.

“Because I thought it best not to infect everyone at the grocery store with my disease,” I answer, “have some toast, or go get some milk.”

I can usually count on a couple of hours of quiet then, but it was not to be this morning. “Uh, I’m out of clean socks,” he calls from the bedroom, “did you do any laundry?”

“Yes,” I answer through my sneezing fit, “I did some yesterday. There are clean socks in the dryer.”

“Well, why didn’t you bring them up and put them away?” he honestly can’t understand it.

“Do you understand that I am sick, that I don’t feel well, that I am under the weather as they say, and I don’t care if your socks are in the dryer, in the drawer, or on your head. Take care of it yourself!” by now I’m shouting, which is not good for a sore throat.

This will of course, give him a bit of a case of the sulks. He will leave me alone for a time, but I have to hear mumbled comments about how some people are sure in a bad mood today. I don’t answer because he is right! At noon, I roll over to see him standing over me with a smug look on his face. “I made myself a scrambled egg for lunch, because I figured you weren’t going to make anything.”

At least that explains the smell coming from the kitchen. I didn’t think even burned eggs could smell that bad. I relaxed, though, because I figured that maybe this meant he had gotten the idea that I was sick. I was wrong.

“The dog and I are going for a walk, you should come along,” he says in his brightest voice. “Good fresh air will clear your head because you’ve been sleeping all afternoon.”

“I don’t want to go for a walk,” I mutter, after a coughing fit. “I didn’t want to wake up to tell you that I don’t want to wake up and go for a walk.”

“Come on, dog,” he says in his most aggrieved tone, “I guess she doesn’t care to take care of her health with exercise.”

It had been a long day, and I truly felt unwell, so I decided that maybe I should just turn in and try to sleep things off. “I’m going to bed,” I told him. “Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“Oh, okay,” he replied, “but before you go, what were you planning on for supper?” He didn’t like my suggestion and I can’t tell you what it was because they don’t allow profanity on these internet sites.

Tomorrow, I’m just going to pretend I’m not sick. It’s less work!

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Old Mother Hubbard…

I believe this old rhyme continues, “went to the cupboard, to get her poor dog a bone. But when she got there, the cupboard was bare and so the poor doggie had none.” Well, the good news is that unlike Old Mother Hubbard, my cupboards are not bare. The bad news is that if I had a bone for the dog, it wouldn’t matter because I wouldn’t be able to locate it in all the mess!

Before you ask, yes, that is an authentic picture of what my cupboard actually looks like. Some people line up the things in their cupboard in alphabetical order and with military precision. My cupboard, however, generally looks like I backed up three feet from it before I flung the items in with all the organization of the city dump. (Forgive me city officials, for that insult: the city dump is much better organized than I am.)

I believe I have mentioned that my refrigerator is badly organized, but any item in there is likely to be removed as soon as it indicates by smell or bacterial growth that it needs to go to the garbage can to die in smelly splendor. My cupboards, on the other hand can unknowingly house canned and bottled items dating back to the Crusades. It would just be difficult to discover in the disorder.

If you inspect any cupboard in my kitchen, the story is the same. My baking supplies are jumbled in with the crackers and the old cereal, while my dishes are hanging in there in a minimal state of precision. I have one whole cupboard just for the plastic storage containers I use to house future spoilage bound for the refrigerator. This cupboard is a demon abyss in which lids of all kinds are quietly and efficiently devoured into the black hole, while the lidless containers are fired back at me like heat-seeking missiles any time I am foolish enough to open the door.

I know it looks like there is a lot of food in that cupboard, but if you understand my method of grocery shopping, you will soon discover the problem. I am a hoarder and proud of it, and it causes me to shop thusly, “Oh, look, I need a can of tomato soup, but it might be best, while I am here, to buy three, to have some for later.” This method applies to all groceries. That is why when I buy a container of eggs, I always buy two for good measure and bring them home to be stacked on top of the third container of eggs already in residence.

It isn’t as though I don’t try to organize, you know. It would be wonderful to line all the cans up and stack the packages neatly, and even have the tea bags sitting daintily together on one shelf. But that takes time and it has to mean you care about how your cupboards are organized. I know anyone coming to my kitchen will open my cupboards, swallow hard, and quickly close them as if they have just viewed something indecent or obscene. And for the most part, I am okay with that!

Watching me put away the new groceries that I have hoarded…I mean…purchased from the grocery store runs like a news reporter in a war zone–only much sillier and less fatal. “And she gains ground on the second shelf where the four cans of mushrooms (I hate mushrooms) give way to the new cans of tomato sauce. On the first shelf, the noodles, enough to last beyond the present century and the cinnamon, plentiful enough to spice the rolls of the entire western hemisphere, are squeezed beyond endurance by the arrival of a bag of rice big enough to feed all those starving children her mother always used to guilt her into eating all her liver with. Just as she believes she has won the day, she is bombarded from the air by boxes of Rice a Roni, leaping from the top shelf, giving their lives to stop her assault on their territory. Oh, the humanity, ladies and gentlemen!”

I have been given all sorts of hints on how to avoid this crisis. I tried keeping a list, but I think the cupboard ate it, because it disappeared. I have been told an inventory would help keep things organized and prevent me from overstocking, but I look at my cupboards and I think it would be easier to inventory the sand on the beach…and at least I’d get fresh air and a tan doing that!

I could tell you even more stories about the syrup and honey bottles so plentiful they take up half a shelf…or I could regale you with the story of how a poorly closed box of macaroni once dumped over on the top shelf and rained down on my head, but I think by now, you kind of get the picture. So if there is anyone out there interested in excavating a set of kitchen cupboards, you are welcome to come and give mine a try. But be careful of the Tupperware containers cupboard…it is always hungry and it shows no mercy! Oh, and if you see my dog…give a her a bone, would you, she’ll never get one from my cupboard!

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It can only happen to me…I think

I’m a woman who has the ability to land myself in some rather peculiar situations. I’m the one who could drop glasses down the Grand Canyon, or who would need fresh underwear because my full bladder failed on the very last hill of the roller coaster ride. Each time something happens to me, I tell myself that these things do not happen to anyone else and nothing will convince me otherwise.

I once spent an hour and fifteen minutes sitting in a chair in the middle of the night, lamenting the fact that my glasses were no longer working and I was suddenly losing my vision. This was before I discovered that I had put on my husband’s glasses instead of mine. No one else would do that, right? It could only happen to me.

I live in a world full of strange accidents. I am the person who laments the fact that I have hit a bird with my car, knocking out a little of the front grill. This is only a few minutes before the deer plowed into the side of my vehicle, cracked everything expensive on the car, and then flung itself into the ditch to start the long journey to deer heaven. Only I could hit two animals on the same car trip of under 30 miles.

This week, I found myself on top of a very tall ladder, balancing on some rather shaky shelves to try and clean up a very messy prop room. In the midst of this, the lights failed. Muttering, “it could only happen to me” I managed to crawl down the ladder, stumble over a number of props and make my way to the center of the room. The motion light then turned back on, only to reveal me standing in a half-full garbage bag, the contents of which I had very ably kicked all over the place in the dark. Darn motion light!

If you’re wondering why I chose to put a picture of a plant on this article, don’t worry, it definitely applies. Along the line of it can only happen to me, I have nursed this Christmas cactus for 30 years; ever since it came out of my late grandmother’s green plants collection. The plant has had ups and downs over the years, but I have learned a lot about how to take care of and what it likes.

I noticed a few months back, that it was looking excessively droopy. Not too concerned, I watered it, thinking that would help, but more and more leaves began draping themselves over the edge of the pot, looking like they had just barely survived the Johnston Flood.

I knew it wasn’t root-bound, because I had just upgraded the pot a year or so ago. I used more outdoor soil than potting soil, which I believed was helpful. While I was having these troubles, my grandson, a year and a half old, came to visit. Knowing that he was into everything, I put the plant back in the bedroom, well out of the baby’s reach–or so I thought.

We put the portable bed up in the back bedroom when it became clear it was too cold downstairs. I had no qualms and we had our little nap-taker in the crib in no time at all. Within fifteen minutes, I heard an odd sound and the baby began protesting. I went in to check. The baby was holding the pot from the plant, there was dirt everywhere–on the baby, in the crib, on the rug underneath. In addition, the Christmas cactus, bare roots hanging out, was draped across the floor like a Victorian girl who fainted because her stays were too tight.

I quietly grieved a little; after all the plant was over 30 years old and had belonged to my grandmother. But my daughter was not ready to give up. She put in dirt (that which she could scrape out of the bedroom and off of the baby) added water, and carefully laid those roots and leaves in the newly prepared ground. I knew it wouldn’t work, but I appreciated her help. But after all, I was the one who got the plant out of the way in first place and put it exactly where the baby could get it. This could only happen to me.

I shall now draw your attention to the plant in the picture, which is in fact the Christmas cactus in question, three weeks after its impromptu re-potting and as you can see, it is looking pretty prosperous. Apparently, the thing was rootbound, or at least needed the soil aerated and the baby took care of it.

We have a year and a half old horticulturist in the family. It could only happen to me!

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Things the pandemic has taught me

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For two long years I have been waiting for the negative folks to finally announce that the pandemic, that free-reign ride of the Corona Virus, is ended. They have not done that, but they have conceded that for now it is on the downswing and that is enough to cause me to raise my head over the top of the rifle pit I have been hiding in during this war and take a look around.

Now, as serious as this time has been, I don’t want anyone to think I am trying to make fun of the very real grief and misery that has been caused, but if I can’t have a little fun at the expense of the worst disease spread in 100 years, then how could I possibly make it through? And I learned so much I’d like to share with you.

I learned that people really believe that old adage about age bringing wisdom. As one of the oldest people in my group, I frequently found myself the recipient of nervous questions, the most common of which was, “Do you remember any other time that was as bad as this?” My answer was to shrug my shoulders, because I doubt if they would have enjoyed me shouting at them, “Do I really look old enough to have survived World War I and the Spanish Flu? Of course I don’t remember a time as bad as this any more than you do!” I learned that I am irritated easily when I am locked indoors for long periods of time, with a deadly disease as the wolf at the door.

I learned that it is possible for me to function in a variety of situations with a piece of cloth strapped across my face like a diaper. I have a new respect for doctors and nurses, who live like this their entire professional lives. I had two years of wearing a mask to teach school, buy groceries and pay bills. I became very aware of people’s noses…so many went through the aggravation of the mask, while leaving their noses (the place where the virus could easily be breathed in) uncovered. Tell the truth, when you were forced to wear one of those masks, didn’t you ever want to slap that offending nose hanging out on someone else’s face, back into its mask? Hike up them masks, folks and put that nose in lock-up with the rest!

I learned that it IS possible to watch Harry Potter and Star Trek too much. By the time something new appeared on television or in the movies, I was so familiar with Harry Potter, I dreamed that he asked me to marry him…and Captain Jean Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise conducted the ceremony! I, who am unfailingly entertained by the television and especially by science fiction and fantasy, was sick of “space, the final frontier” and Hogwarts to boot!

I learned that I will never again hear someone cough and sneeze without instinctively holding my breath and covering my face with my hands, gloves, shirt, piece of toilet paper–whatever is at hand. I am terrified of choking on something in a public place–not because I’m afraid of the choking, oh no! I’m afraid others will think I have been so selfish as to appear in public with corona! “Forgive me, I don’t have corona,” I want to assure them, “no, really, I was just choking on this chicken bone, but I’m alright now that I’ve hacked it up and torn up my throat. All good here!”

I learned that it is possible to do a lot of things remotely. You can set up that class, that meeting, that business interview–all from the privacy of your own home, provided the camera doesn’t pick up on the fact that you are still wearing your pajama pants and hopefully your child isn’t doing a naked dance with the flour bag in the background! Computers were the safety net of this storm and I for one, learned a lot about them that I didn’t know before!

I’ve learned that when they use the word “pandemic” the duration is not weeks or months. A pandemic means you are in it for the long haul–two years and counting. In our child-like innocence, we believed that if we stayed indoors for a month, the virus would magically disappear and instead it rolled over us like a dark cloud of deadly locusts.

I sanitized my groceries and put gas in my car, using plastic bags over my hands. I washed down desks and sang songs to myself to make certain I washed my hands long enough to make all the little virus germs die. I learned how to open doors with my feet and shake hands with people using my elbows. I refrained from embracing anyone but my husband for a whole year, and I worried about him sometimes.

It has not been a fun two years, but it has certainly been an educational one. I learned so much about the human condition–some good and some not so good. I loved the people who delivered groceries for the elderly and I laughed at the videos that people made to try and find the humor and the warmth in the enforced isolation. I marveled at the people who believed that refusing to believe in the virus kept it away from them…until it didn’t and I rejoiced with those who beat the illness when it came knocking at their doors.

Do I hope that this is the worst pandemic I ever see? Of course I do! But if another one should come in my lifetime, I will remember that the human spirit endures some amazing things, as this two years has shown…and perhaps that is the most important thing I learned.

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Spanish Spooks

I was involved in a conversation with a group of students on the subject of ghosts, the other day. I admitted that I don’t know what to think about the existence of spirits, maybe because I have never encountered one.

This caused the students to launch into protracted stories of their own experiences with the spirit world, and the usual “touches in the night” and “weird, unexplained noises,” were repeated in mysterious half-whispers. I wasn’t listening too closely until one of them started talking about possessed dolls.

Now, I’ve always had a problem with dolls, even when I was young enough to play with them. I always thought Barbie had kind of a superior smirk on her face as she stood there in her permanent high heels and fancy suit, judging me in my sweatpants and tank top. However, I have never run into a doll that I thought was possessed or haunted…that is, except for one.

My beautiful Aunt Lois once spent two years teaching in Spain and when she came home, she brought beautiful Spanish dancing dolls for all of her nieces. I will admit the expression on the doll’s face always spooked me a little–she reminds me of one of those supercilious, heavily made-up actresses in a play production, who you get to see close-up as she is grabbing a sandwich at the diner next to the theater. Very unnatural, but still, my doll is a performer too, so maybe that’s all right.

My mother kept the doll safe and preserved on a closet shelf for many years, which is the only reason it survived my childhood, but eventually she turned it over to me. I was so glad! Until I began to have the sensation that it was staring at me…no worse, it was watching me. This feeling was so persistent and pervasive that I took to storing the doll on shelves in rooms where I did not have to see her all of the time.

That’s when the head-popping began. I would pass through the room on some mission or other and I would suddenly realize that the doll’s head was missing. Sometimes, it would be right by the doll and other times, it would be somewhere around the room. I solved this problem by gluing it on the little post that was supposed to hold it on her shoulders.

Eventually, the glue came loose and the head began to swivel on the doll’s shoulders. Sometimes, I would walk by that doll and it had this whole Exorcist thing going, with its head turned to the back. This doll has freaked me out over the years and the conversation with my students got me to thinking about her, stashed as she is on a shelf over the bed in my back bedroom.

Yes, there she was, her head turned forward for a change, staring at me. As I was looking at her, I realized that she was incredibly dusty, so I took her down and cleaned her up. I positioned her head and placed her back on the shelf so she was staring straight out. As soon as I let go of the stand, her head snapped to one side and looked at me.

I was so startled, that I knocked it off the shelf and it fell on the bed where I had been standing and immediately tangled up in my feet and nearly caused me to fall off the bed. When I finally stopped stumbling and staggering and yelling, I realized that the doll’s head was now missing.

Roy came in to see what the commotion was about. “What in the world is going on?”

“It’s the Spanish doll!” I exclaimed. “It was looking at me because it was dirty, so I cleaned it and it turned its head to look at me again and when I knocked it off the shelf, it tried to kill me by making me fall off the bed and now the head is on the floor looking up at me!”

He took one look at me, took the doll out of my hands, plopped the head back on and placed it back on the shelf…where it never moved, of course. “That’s it,” he said, “no more talking ghost stories with your students.”

I’m going to put the doll on a shelf in the garage. Maybe a summer of her staring at Roy while he’s working around the yard will make a believer out of him!

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Outmaneuvered on Outlander

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Okay, I admit it, I tend to obsess at times about television programs. I am crazy about Downton Abbey, I can’t watch enough Blue Bloods and if it has anything to do with Star Trek, I’m right there to watch. I don’t just watch these programs, I devour them; I put myself in the position of the characters, whether it’s in the elegant drawing rooms of an English mansion or on the bridge of a star ship, I can see it all.

This preface brings me to my latest obsession. It is an historical fiction piece called Outlander. It first drew my attention because the premise of the program is the story of a woman from the 1940s who somehow fell through a rock in the Scottish wilderness and found herself 200 years in the past where she: escaped sexual assault multiple times, was tried as a witch, and best of all, took up with a beautiful, 200 year-old Scotsman in a kilt! This program fascinates me and of course, I am binge-watching it, imagining myself with a clan tartan over my shoulder and a bonny Scots laddie to dance the Highland fling with.

I was watching it tonight, happily wiping away a tear as the beautiful highlander and his wife-out-of-time bride (yes, indeed, they married) conquered yet another problem by somehow bridging the 200-year gap between cultures and custom. My husband walked in and I told him, “That’s it, I’m going to Scotland and throw myself against every rock in the Highlands until I manage to get the one that takes me 200 years into the past.”

He didn’t even really react to this statement. He just picked up his evening paper and remarked, “You’d never make it 200 years in the past,” before disappearing behind the day’s news in print.

“Oh, I know there are a number of things I’d need to take with me, so I’d have to carry a bag of goods,” I said, getting up to make a list. “Now let’s see, I would need to take along my coffee maker for certain.”

“They didn’t have coffee and they also don’t have electrical outlets, even European ones,” was the immediate answer. “I think they drank whiskey for breakfast and rounded the day’s activities with a good cup of ale.”

“Well, that would never do,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m not going to put up with a drinking man.”

“Women didn’t get to pick in those days,” was the depressing response. “If the Scotsman wanted to sit around drinking all day and into the night, the lasses at home said naught.”

“I wonder when they finally developed indoor toilets,” I mused, “I simply can’t do without an indoor bathroom. Where would I pee?”

“I think they were still whizzing in the corner of the dining hall 200 years ago,” he said, trying to hide his smile, “you know, to get rid of all of the whiskey.”

“I should take my computer and plenty of paper and pencil,” was my next thought. “Imagine what a great living I could make, writing stories about the future. And my beautiful, 200-year-old Scotsman will think I am so clever.”

“I don’t know,” was the doubtful response, “you’re going to want to check with the antique laddie. He might think you should be in the kitchen, cooking the haggis and minding the bairns.”

“I hate haggis and I’m too old to have babies,” I grimaced.

“Oooh, that might upset your wee bonny laddie,” he said calmly. “He’ll want to be furthering his line, expanding the clan. He won’t want a bride who is too old a lassie.”

“He’s 200, what’s he got to complain about?” I was becoming a little frustrated with my 200 year old dream being squelched by a 70 year old nay-sayer.

“Hey, don’t get mad at me, this is your plan,” he said. “So, when might I be expecting you to drop through this looking glass, my fine, fey Alice? I’ve planning of my own to do, you ken?”

“Well,” I began, staring fondly at the comfortable sneakers and winter clothes that didn’t involve a wind blowing up my skirts, “I’m still giving it a lot of thought. I may need to put this journey off for a wee bit–till I’ve made a better strategy.”

My husband said nothing more. He just smiled a little as I began to realize that my beautiful, 18th century Scotsman may have been outdone by a 21st German with a pretty clever brain!

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Props and other magnetic items

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Working in the theater has been one of my great joys in life. I write the plays, cast the plays, and choreograph the plays–okay, so I just make sure that nobody is standing directly in someone else’s way onstage–choreograph sounds better.

I have done a lot of plays over the years and, and because of this, I have collected a lot of props and costumes. At first, there was nowhere to store them except for a couple of untidy cabinets in my classroom. I had to move them out, however, when the kids began to report that all those hats and feather boas and gun belts sticking out of the crowded doors, made them feel like someone in the closet was watching them.

My first little prop room was a dark little space in the corner of the old gymnasium. It featured a wire cage (don’t ask, because I don’t know why), about ten coat hooks and a few feet of floor space…if you didn’t count the old toilet taking up its share of the floor. Alas, this inauspicious space did not stop me from acquiring even more props and quite a few articles of clothing as well. I removed the wire cage and put in a plastic set of shelves and strung an old broomhandle between two of the coathooks. This wasn’t ideal, but it kept the clothes off the floor–after I had acquired some clothes hangers, of course.

A sane person would have become more discriminating about the theater baubles I collected, but not me. I just kept attracting items like a magnet attracts metal and when the plastic shelves began to sag under the weight, I bought more plastic shelves and stacked them one in front of the other. This made it hard to find props, but they all fit in the tiny bathroom-turned-prop room.

The generous administrators at my school eventually reached the conclusion that I was going to keep collecting without culling, and they built a new, larger, better lit prop room. I moved in my plastic shelves, changed my broom handle for a regular closet rod and didn’t worry overmuch as the years went on and as a result, I kept the cardboard carnival sales trays I had made and the pig’s ears and snouts we had constructed and the five candy-striped shirts we used once in 20 years. My hoarder’s instincts served me well.

Finally, it became clear, as props and costuming began trickling out the prop room door, that something would have to change. I used a beautifully contrived photo of a nearly organized prop room for this article because I would never show you the nuclear bomb test site I call my theater “home-away-from-home.” It was time to begin cleaning with an eye towards throwing some things away.

I began with the costumes. I ruthlessly discarded the yellow dress with the lace ruffles that I hadn’t convinced anyone to wear in 20 years. I threw away the tatty-looking grey suit that has seen one too many performances. I even seriously considered throwing away the black cape that I made ten yeas ago from a bedsheet and a shiny piece of black material. All, all of them were in the garbage, when I decided I just couldn’t part with them. The cape and the suit had so many memories for me and who knows? I may convince some girl with terrible taste in clothes to wear that yellow dress yet.

I think you can see the problem here: there are two kinds of things in that prop room. First, there are the things that have been used in productions over the years that I am fond of. I really can’t toss away the old black suitcase–sure, it smells bad, but it has graced the stage and offended the noses of so many actors so many times. It just has to stay! Second, there are the things that I have never worked into a play–but you never know. I may have use for 12 football helmets or ten office phones in a production I haven’t even thought of yet. In the meantime, I will store the football helmets right on the floor so they are easy to trip over and the phones, well, they could go on the plastic shelves that aren’t sagging quite so much!

It is my belief that I will never clean my prop room. It will continue to accumulate “stuff” until it is so stuffed it explodes. But I cheer myself with the thought that maybe it will wait until after I retire–that way, it will be somebody else’s problem! Good plan, huh?

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