Spring Stoicism

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Its arrival every spring is as dependable as the sighting of spring birds and blooming daffodils: The utterance of “I refuse to turn on the air conditioning this soon.” I overheard someone say this when I was out and about during the recent April weekend of 80-plus degree temps and considered that the official first day of spring.

I wonder if our ancestors 100-plus years ago were similarly stoic during spring heat waves. “Son, I know it’s hot as blazes, but you can’t swim in the mud hole today. It’s too soon. Why, just two nights ago, we made a fire because it was so cold!”

Speaking of stoicism, stoic philosophy is all the rage right now among Silicon Valley types. But, really, there’s no need for these folks to read the ancient writings of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca the Younger when they could just visit Wisconsin during a spring heat wave or in the middle of the winter.

I have no qualms about using air conditioning in April, so on Saturday, I embarked on my own form of spring stoicism: coaxing a daughter to go to the Aldo Leopold meadow with me. When children reach a certain age, it takes persuasion to get them to agree to such an outing. I sheepishly admit that getting iced beverages from Starbucks beforehand was involved, even though it was rather oxymoronic to walk around a meadow carrying a Starbucks cup. I happily discovered, however, that when the wind blows through the top of an empty plastic Starbucks cup it sounds just like a loon.

“We’ll only stay for 15 minutes,” I announced as we stepped into the meadow. Almost immediately, it was as if we were in a playful nature scene from a Sunday Calvin & Hobbes cartoon. She became transfixed by a huge tree in a marshy area and figured out a way to walk on sticks to get to it, undeterred by how wet her Converse shoes and jeans were getting. Then she had the opportunity to experience exposure therapy when maneuvering past bees that normally frighten her. I binge-watched the baby geese as she explored all the wooden docks. 107 minutes later, we left, with plans made to visit the meadow regularly to monitor the changes in flora and fauna as the season progresses.

It’s entirely possible I turned on the air conditioning during the drive home, but I will neither confirm nor deny.

This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on April 28, 2016.


Home, home on the driving range

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It’s been said that golf is a psychological affliction. That must explain why last weekend, during the first spring heat wave of the year, I chose to go to the practice tee, even though I rarely golf.

To minimize the embarrassment, and to not risk hurting myself, I purchased only a small bucket of balls. Then I proceeded to slice my way through them.

As I walked back to the car, I cringed and imagined what the other golfers on the tee must be saying about me behind my back:

Golfer 1: Guys, did you all see that woman who just left who was hitting all those slices? Too bad I didn’t get a chance to thank her because I sure feel better about my game now.

Golfer 2: I didn’t realize she was golfing, as whatever she was doing didn’t look at all like a golf swing. More like flailing. Or something even less graceful than that.

Golfer 3: She was wearing all black. It made me too hot to look at her, so I didn’t.

Golfer 4: Maybe that’s why her face was all red after hitting just a small bucket of balls. I was thinking she wasn’t in shape. I didn’t take my eyes off her for safety reasons, because I was afraid she’d shank a ball right into me.

Golfer 1: Was that a spider web on the back of her golf bag? If she rarely touches her clubs, she’s probably never had a lesson or even read Ben Hogan’s classic book.

Sensible Man: Hey dudes, knock it off. I saw her use her left hip to initiate her downswing. I noticed her left wrist in the supination position a few times. Didn’t you all see that Madison Magazine article last summer about how local courses need women golfers? Courses are barely breaking even anymore, because since the recession, there are too many courses and not enough golfers. The number of rounds of golf per year on local public courses has decreased from 100,000 to 80,000, and 86,000 is the break-even point. If she wants to spend some money here at our local course, that’s fine by me.

Golfer 1: Whoa dude. Chill. Save the data analysis for work. Let’s all get some beers. That should help me forget about her “golf” swing.

As I opened the trunk of my car I mused out loud: “It’s too bad the driving range was so crowded today. It made me self-conscious.”

“Um, Mom, there wasn’t anyone else on the driving range while you were practicing.”

Oh.

This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on April 21, 2016.


Sunday Morning: Prince’s “The Cross” lyrics

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Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry, he is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross
Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all of us
If we can just bear the cross

Sweet song of salvation
A pregnant mother sings
She lives in starvation
Her children need all that she brings

We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry for he is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all, y’all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah


Confessions of a softball mom

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8 a.m. – Opening day for my favorite winter – er, spring – sport of snowball – I mean softball. I check the weather. 27 degrees. Ugh. I check email. Game not cancelled. Darn.

11 a.m. – 32 degrees. Check email for the 10th time. Game still not cancelled. I decide we will arrive just 10 minutes before the 12:45 start time, to minimize exposure to the cold.

12:35 p.m. – The warmup turns into a cooldown as we wait. The game shows no signs of starting, because the previous game doesn’t stop. So much for my “minimize exposure” strategy. It’s too cold to get out of the car and find out the reason for the delay.

1:30 p.m. – The game finally begins, 45 minutes late. “C’mon, three quick outs!” I almost yell when our team is at bat. There’s nothing like the cold to make you long for even your own kid to quick strike out or hit a catchable line drive and bring a speedy end to the game.

2:25 p.m. – I decide to try a little cheery optimism about the cold for the beginning of the second game. Did I mention this was a doubleheader? In 37 degree weather? Maybe going to a game at Lambeau in late fall wouldn’t be so bad after all. Maybe I could even handle snowshoeing. Or walk to the mailbox in the winter without complaining.

2:48 p.m. – The delusions continue: Is that a drone I see in the sky? Is it perchance delivering hot chocolate? With Baileys Irish Cream in it? Does Amazon Prime have instant delivery yet? Or can I ask an Uber driver to go buy some hot chocolate for me?

3:01 p.m. – Daughter is taking a turn on the bench and won’t be at bat again for a while. I seek the refuge of the car. Thanks to a lengthy inning I read at least 50 pages of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic: Creating Living Beyond Fear” book. At this point, I’d settle for “Beyond Cold.”

4:00 p.m. – The game ends. We lost but celebrate as if we’ve won, because we no longer have to endure the cold. We set a course for Qdoba in Monona.

7:30 p.m. – I find out that the boys high school baseball games were cancelled this afternoon due to the cold. Does that make the girls’ sacrifice less meaningful? Or does it instead mean that girls are tougher than boys? Conclusion: Can someone please pass the Baileys?

This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on April 14, 2016.


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After decades of putting up with dysfunctional shopping carts and shoppers who don’t know how to properly push a cart, the situation finally reached a tipping point last week. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the shopping cart to fit into the cart escalator at Walmart. Instead, I was left having to lug the heavy items to the car using my brute strength.

True, one could view this as a proper punishment for choosing to shop at Walmart. But I thought of all the times over the years I’ve pushed carts whose wheels were out of alignment. The multitudes of shoppers I’ve encountered who park their carts in the middle of the aisle, ensuring that I can’t move past them. Those occasions I’ve pushed carts through slush and snow to my car, only to look around in vain afterwards to try and find a cart corral.

No longer wanting to put up with cart-ageddon any longer, last week I went online and used ShopWoodmans (run by the local company GrocerKey) for the first time. Every item at Woodman’s is on the website and sold without markup. Almost effortlessly, I created a shopping list on the site and filled the cart just by tapping on the keyboard. The order was to be delivered on Friday between 5-7 p.m., and I looked forward to it with a degree of anticipation that normal people reserve for going out to a fish fry.

Then, for the first Friday in ages, during 5-7 p.m., suddenly others in the family had places to go and wanted me to take them. It took air traffic control type coordination to ensure someone would be home. As I waited for the delivery I wondered what’s worse, waiting for a delivery or doing my own shopping?

I logged into my account and took comfort in how it gave me the blow by blow of how my order was being picked and “staged.” The delivery arrived, and it was something of a religious experience. As I unloaded the bags, I noticed there wasn’t any junk food. I must have subconsciously kept such items out of the cart, wanting the order picker to think we eat only healthy food, akin to the desire to not wear dirty underwear in case one ends up in the ER later that day.

And the best part? No unexpected add-ons that spontaneously appear in the cart when shopping with kids, causing the total bill to increase. So what did they think of the experience? “I don’t think we can do this online shopping every week. Maybe twice per month.” Oh oh.

This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on April 7, 2016.


Puzzled by Florida

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Not only did I have an out-of-Monona experience last week, it was out of the Midwest, all the way down to Florida.

Because I couldn’t bring the pelicans, Tampa Bay waves and Taste of Boston ice cream back with me, I did the next best thing upon our return home:  I went to Ben Franklin to buy a jigsaw puzzle.

We got slightly addicted to jigsaw puzzles while in Florida. We worked on them late into the night, even to the point of barely paying attention to the Badgers dramatic win against Xavier. Smartphones and all other screens were ignored. We would get to work again in the morning before our activities for the day.

I looked online to find justification for this new habit so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about it. Sure enough, there were articles that say jigsaw puzzles give your brain a complete workout and help improve memory and maybe even prevent Alzheimer’s. Woo hoo! It said that each time you place a piece in the puzzle, it gives your brain a dopamine boost. That sounds healthier than using carbs, Nicotine, or Facebook notifications for a dopamine rush. 500-1,000 dopamine hits per jigsaw puzzle box is a pretty good deal.

I also noticed articles about how maple syrup is being studied as a possible cure for Alzheimer’s and blueberries help improve memory too. Pancakes, anyone? The New York Times had an article on how to use a “mind castle” to remember grocery lists. So I made a mental note in the kitchen sink of my mind castle to have a breakfast of gluten-free pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup while working on our puzzle. What a great way to begin the day by exercising the brain with the jigsaw puzzle and nourishing it with memory-boosting foods. Plus it will alleviate guilt about not going to the gym.

Unfortunately, one of our cockatiel birds has discovered the joys of jigsaw puzzles, too, and delights in removing pieces from it. Somehow I’m not feeling the same dopamine rush when I place the pieces back into the puzzle a second and third time. It gets a little tiring making sure he doesn’t fly away with a piece. This would be helpful when it comes time to dismantle the puzzle and put it away, but he remained stoically atop the cage while we did that.

Now what was it I was going to have for breakfast? Hmmm.

This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on March 31, 2016.


The public service of jeans shopping

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Because it’s almost impossible to find jeans that aren’t mom jeans (or daughter jeans), I wore my old jeans for so long that one day I came dangerously close to having to wear yoga pants in public.

Fortunately, I pulled myself together and performed a public service: I finally went jeans shopping.

I managed to remember the stringent criteria that jeans must meet: correct inseam length, back pocket style, wash, leg and rise.

As I anticipated, this was an ordeal, with many obstacles to navigate. Back pockets with embroidery on them are all the rage. I prefer a discreet backside. Ankle length inseams are the norm for straight/skinny jeans, which remind me of the dreaded “floods” of my youth.

I like skinny jeans, the style of the young, but ironically they make me feel like I’m wearing compression stockings, which are for the old.

As a child of the 1980s, it took me many years to finally make peace with low rise jeans. Of course, now that I’m fully converted, high rise seems to be popular again. I don’t want to have to readjust to the high rise.

Miraculously, I found a pair of plain pocket, mid-rise, straight leg jeans that were long enough. Next to the fly is a label that says “Lucky You,” which I thought was witty, given that no one would ever see it. Or so I thought.

As it turns out, I forgot the most important criteria of all in the buying jeans playbook: a functioning zipper.

The first time I wore these to work I noticed my fly was open, with it’s “Lucky You” invitation. Mortified, I went to the bathroom to try to fix it, but to no avail. The zipper wouldn’t stay up for more than several seconds.

Because this was the last pair of jeans in my sizes (of course), taking the jeans back to the store wasn’t a viable option. I turned to the Internet for help and found a video on YouTube with instructions on how to fix a jeans zipper that won’t stay up.

Options include using a keychain loop, which worked fairly well. The more permanent solution, if, like me, you have no sewing skills and can’t replace the zipper, is to use a wrench to fix the zipper.

By the way, it’s best to take your jeans off first before using the wrench option. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience.

Ahem.

This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on March 24, 2016.


Downton Library fills the Downton Abbey void

BookLover3The popular “Downton Abbey” TV series on PBS recently ended, but I stopped mourning when I realized I can still get a “Downton Abbey” experience just by going to the Monona library.

When the house is too crowded, I can escape to the library and walk up the grand staircase with the determination of Lady Mary. I sit in a comfortable chair in front of a floor to ceiling window I never have to clean and remain uninterrupted for hours at a time.

Like Lord Grantham, I have thousands of square feet at my disposal, and there are paid staff that meticulously take care of thousands of books for me. If I can’t find what I want among all that plenty, I merely click a few buttons and a neighboring estate – er, library – kindly lends me their book and delivers it to me at no charge.

It never ceases to be a thrill to go to the library to pick up a stack of books I placed on hold. I often spend a lunch hour or Saturday afternoon doing this. With services like this, who needs Netflix?

Like the Butler Carson who won’t tolerate the thought that Lady Mary is ever in the wrong, the staff doesn’t charge me fines when I am late in returning Monona books. The $10 fine for a lost book that has been on my account for many months never gets mentioned, either. There has also been nary a raised eyebrow over the eclectic assortment of titles that I have recently checked out, from books about equine therapy, crows, Jungian psychology and golf among the mix.

It serves as a home office when our printer is out of ink, and I need to print something or make a photocopy. A malfunctioning computer or WiFi connection isn;t a source of panic, because there are several computers at the library I can use if I need to.

It’s even a makeshift day care, because you can plop your kids in the children’s section, and they will amuse themselves for an hour or two while you read or use a computer. The downstairs of Monona library doesn’t have a Mrs. Patmore and Daisy to serve up the snacks to the kids, but the vending machines make it easy to treat the kids, and there are bright new tables and chairs and even a couch.

And those times when I need an out-of-Monona experience? I go to the McFarland library, of course.


You’re not my friend if you don’t repost this

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In all my years on Facebook, I’ve never posted one of those chain Facebook statuses. But who am I to pass up an opportunity to be slightly passive aggressive? It’s time to get off my high horse and come up with some posts. Here goes:

Please put this as your status if you, or a middle-aged woman you know, have worn makeup in a desperate attempt to look more youthful, only for your face to break out like a teenager’s in return. This is not the type of youthful look you wanted. There is still no known cure for this cruelest of ironies. Many won’t copy and paste this. I did. Will you?

Unfriend me if I’m wrong. But all of us have a thousand wishes. To be thinner, to have more money, more days off or maybe just to scroll through our Facebook feed and not see political posts. Office workers everywhere have only one wish: to not freeze at our desks every working day of the year and never again here the dismissive words “Just put on a sweater.” Wearing cardigans in mid-July sucks! I know that 97 percent of you won’t broadcast this, but my friends will be the 3 percent that do.

I don’t normally do this kind of status update, but this one seemed too important to ignore: After all these years of being online, too many videos still auto-play when you bring up a web page, as if this was 1990s Internet. If you, too, have been the victim of an assault of unwelcome audio when browsing the Internet in the middle of the night during a fit of insomnia, or while attempting to surreptitiously check your phone during a boring lecture or meeting, then copy and paste into your status and leave it there for one hour.

On April 1, 2016, Facebook will change your privacy settings and will own all the media you have ever posted, such as your pet videos and vacation photos, and even including your daily memories status updates from five years ago that nobody wants to read again. To stop this from happening go to Settings > Emotional State > Paranoia > Off.

Send this column to 10 people in the next 10 minutes or next time I will become even more passive aggressive and start vaguebooking, which I can’t go into right now, because I haven’t felt like this in a while, but I’ll post more information soon.

This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on March 10, 2016.


Let them eat bread (or gluten-free air)

Because lately we keep hearing how healthy foods like salad make us fat (why don’t they just come out and say that even air is high in carbs?), I have to hand it to Oprah. She recently lost 26 pounds while eating bread every day. It’s no surprise the Weight Watchers stock soared after she said the equivalent of “Let them eat bread!”

I could also make the case that bread makes me lose weight. The avoidance of bread, that is. But talking about my own gluten-free diet would cause stock to crash, not soar. Even Ted Cruz spoke derisively about the gluten-free diet the other day, saying he wouldn’t make gluten-free meals available to the military.

It was being on a leprosy medication a few months ago that drove me to my current diet. I had a terrible, blistering rash caused by accidental gluten ingestion. For some reason, leprosy medication is the treatment for it.

Unfortunately, the rash attacked my face, making me look constantly embarrassed. which, technically, I was. Another downside is this also made me appear as if I was had just come back from exercising at the gym, which, technically was accurate, I guess, as the Prednisone I was also on made me run around as if I was constantly working out.

After that ordeal, I changed my diet to go beyond gluten-free, which it has been for many years due to celiac disease, and is now also anti-inflammatory. It even includes things like putting grass-fed butter in tea, which a normal person would find scary. I’m now that annoying person who when going out with a group usually can’t eat much of anything, especially at a potluck.

I realized things were perhaps a bit out of control when I got all excited over a frozen desert that was pitched on the “Shark Tank” show. The entrepreneurs recited a lengthy list of ingredients not in the dessert (no gluten, sugar, nuts, dairy, etc.). The investors were unimpressed with the taste and no offers were made. But that didn’t deter me. “A food that has nothing in it!” I exclaimed to the family members in the room. “I have to order it!”

I’ve looked longingly for this product on the shelves of the local grocery stores but to no avail. It seems Monona and Madison stores are committed to selling me food that isn’t made out of nothing and has actual ingredients in it. Go figure. Oh well. At least air is gluten-free.

This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on March 3, 2016.


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