My Night to Cook Days, Light Days, Remarkable Days, College Days

Okay, I’ve addressed hemorrhoids, so I feel like the content of this blog is wide open. Why not address the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done? Sure.

Of course, some history is in order.

In college I lived in the dorm two years per the University of Illinois requirement.

But then, as all cool kids do, I moved off campus. I lived with some dorm pals in a house that had been subdivided (awkwardly) into two apartments. We thought it was the Taj Mahal. (It has since been torn down…)

The first floor had two apartments. One had five bedrooms — perfect for me and four pals. Well, maybe “perfect” is an overstatement. But, hell, we were out of the dorm so we hardly noticed the inconveniences. To wit:

We had one bathroom. For 5 girls.


To access the basement laundry, the residents of the other first floor apartment had to tramp through our apartment.

No problem.

More background detail: In our one bathroom for five girls, we had a dresser with five drawers. Convenient. One for each of us to store our toiletries. Nonetheless, one drawer was still small considering my storage needs.

The other first-floor residents who needed to tramp through our apartment? Well they would be Mr. and Mrs. Dicker. While they were not old — my guess is grad students — they were married (which none of us could imagine). The Dickers were seemingly appalled by our freewheeling approach to life in general.

Really? We were good students — accounting, biology, social work, geology, engineering. We were devoted to our studies Sunday through Thursday nights. Yes, Friday and Saturday were the “let off steam” evenings. But they — particularly Mrs. Dicker (a/k/a Kim…can’t believe I still remember the name of someone I had less than 3 conversations with 40 years ago, but I digress.) Kim seemed particularly disturbed by our “goings on.” The music. The parties. The raucous laughter.

But we abided her.

We also made up a song about Mrs. Dicker. It went as follows:

“I’m a dicker. She’s a dicker. Wouldn’t you like to be a dicker too?”

Of course I am not proud of this ditty, but believe me, I wasn’t singing it alone…

One of our — frankly brilliant — ideas, was that we would each take a night and cook for the five of us, allowing the remaining four to come home seconds before dinner, snarf something down, and return to study on campus. The cuisine was “uneven” but that is the subject of another post. For now, let’s focus on my night to cook.

I came home, about 4:30ish. Early enough for me to prepare my signature ham slice or meatloaf. But before starting, I had to “freshen up.” So I proceeded to the shared bathroom, opened my assigned dresser drawer, removed my spectacles, rummaged around my very messy drawer, and donned my shower cap so I could wash my face without having my hair “in the way.” Ladies will understand.

And just at that inopportune moment, the doorbell rang.

I trudged to door, still in my shower cap, and asked, “Who is it?”

“Kim Dicker. I need to do my laundry.”

So I unlocked the door and admitted her.

She looked STUNNED.

“What the hell?” I thought. It’s just a goddamn shower cap. Surely she is familiar with shower caps?? I explained that I was just washing my face and donned a shower cap so as not to dampen my locks.

She looked dubious but hustled past me down to the basement, and I returned to the bathroom to finish up my “refresh.”


When I returned to joint-toileting central, I caught a glimpse of myself.

Yes, I had the shower cap on but that wasn’t the half of it.

Somehow, appended to my shower cap, was a “light day” pad. The strip covering the adhesive back had gotten dislodged. Not sure how that happened, but one small drawer to house all my toiletries is the obvious answer. The crowded conditions made for an untidy drawer. Jumbled even. Things got knocked loose perhaps. Like adhesive backs.

And the pad was stuck to my shower cap at such a jaunty angle!! Almost gaily!

I don’t know how to even end this post.

Are the Dickers still married? Did Mrs. Dicker tell Mr. Dicker? Did they concoct some bizarre story of the girls next door? Did Kim Dicker suppress the sight? We will never know.

This I do know. The Dickers never mentioned the shower cap incident to any of us. They moved away at the end of their lease. They didn’t say good-bye but one day they were just gone. So we got to rent the whole first floor, and the Dicker apartment became one with ours, meaning we now had two bathrooms, two living rooms, another bedroom, and two front doors.

And there was learning. Henceforth I always stored things in their original packaging.

Tidy, eh?

H as in…Humiliation?

1977. I am freshman in college. Young, thin, active, in my prime. Then one day I confront the dreaded.

No, no, not a “fiery crash.” (Is there any other kind? ) But…

Before I clue you in, I must say that I am an aficionado of rare disease. Perhaps it was my wonderment as I paged through the World Book Encyclopedia, neatly arranged on the family room shelf in my childhood home. My goodness!

Some of the pages feature women half-naked, balancing water vessels on their head.

And the “spider” entry! Frightening! This entry was enhanced by a careful reading of one of the Nancy Drew mysteries that involved a spider at the most tense moment! (I was a devotee of Nancy, not to mention her father Carson, housekeeper Hannah Gruen, friends Beth (plump) and George (surely gay), and boyfriend (Ned Nickerson). All gathered on the “veranda” or in her “roadster.”

But I digress from the realization that I was at the end of my life — at 18 years of age, in the prime of dorm life. What was wrong? The dreaded, “BLOOD in the STOOL”

Yep. I knew. Certain. Sad, but true. At such a young age, I was to be struck down with CANCER. Although frightened, I resolved to be strong. In my obituary, they could say I “battled” cancer. I stared it down — with a smile.

So I carried my head high. Of course I didn’t tell anyone. That would not be “noble.” I merely made my appointment at the college health clinic and carried on, knowing that when I went to my appointment, the doctor would struggle to look me in the eye but deliver the diagnosis. Blood in stool = death.

Then I went to my appointment.

The doctor breezed in, did a quick exploration of my nether regions, and, stripping off her gloves with nary a care in the world, pronounced: “You have hemorrhoids.”


Sure, I didn’t want to die of cancer but must I succumb to hemorrhoids? Isn’t that an affliction of the elderly? I am 18. In my prime. How can I face my peers knowing I am afflicted with hemorrhoids?????

Luckily, contemporaneously with my pseudo-cancer diagnosis, my always-upbeat roommate Patty was in-patient at the college health clinic with strep (or some such not-cancer diagnosis). After the startling diagnosis of hemorrhoids at the tender age of 18, I went up to the in-patient floor to visit Patty. And I confessed my illness.

She laughed so hard I feared a health setback. Then I laughed. Prior to my visit with Patty, I was wondering if I could somehow acquire cancer. Surely that was better than admitting I had hemorrhoids a/k/a “piles”?

Post my confession, I thought Patty would wet herself. Then I thought I would wet myself.

Yet here I am. 45 years later. Still kickin’. In a few weeks, I turn 64.

Thank God for my bowels. #blessed

Berry Butt

the source of berry butt

Eleven years ago my youngest child graduated from high school (some say “graduated high school” and perhaps that is correct, but I am unsure whether a school graduates a student or a student graduates a school. I will stick with the former.) So, back to my reminiscence… Often a state occasion such as the graduation of one’s youngest, a “launching” so to speak, brings a crush of special events. So much so, that one’s memory can blur the details. True, but Berry Butt remains crystal clear.

The term was coined at my son’s graduation party — actually at the time the party was winding down. But before I go too far, allow me to set the scene.

All of our children’s graduation parties were modest affairs in our backyard, which is no wooded estate, rather a concrete slab patio and a small square yard with various hardy plants (because no others would survive), surrounded by a 5-foot wood fence. On the north side, the wood fence ran parallel to the “Barbie” fence, a term coined by my children after my neighbor erected an ugly white plastic fence. Between the wood fence and the Barbie fence grew a spindly tree that shed berries every spring. By “shed,” I mean a near constant dropping of red berries onto our patio furniture for a two-week period in June. The berries were inedible, the tree, an ugly runt of a thing, but for some reason, likely laziness, we neglected to remove it.

On the day of the graduation party, we swiped the berries from the patio chairs multiple times prior to the guests’ arrival, but then, when guests began arriving, in the crush of congratulations and greetings, we became lax. My son’s friends stood, preferring to stop in, mingle, and move on to the next party. But the old guard–the neighbors and friends–who attended out of obligation or pride (“I knew him when…”) sat, lingered, chatted, until it was time. Each stood and reached out to say all the nice things like “You’ve done a great job.” “Wow, three kids graduated and off to college.” “Bet you’re proud.” And we nodded, but then watched them walk toward the gate, the seat of their pants a testimony to the fact that they sat in one of the patio chairs close to the red-berry-shedding tree. Berry butt.

in our defense, what were we to do? Say, “Yes, we are excited for him and thanks so much for stopping by and your pants are stained and red berry stains are hell to contend with?” No. We did not. We said nothing regarding the seat of their pants. We just watched, silently at first, but then giggling, as each and every non-high-school guest left with a confirmed case of berry butt.

An Easter Miracle

Starting a piece with a definition is an over-used literary device, but appropriate to today’s topic. To wit, Merriam-Webster defines “miracle” as “an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.” Let’s not dwell on “outstanding,” rather focus on “unusual.” And before I disclose, some background is called for.

My late sister Rosie ran circles around the rest of her siblings in her ability to create thoughtful, cute things. She made me Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls with my name inscribed.

She made my nephew a clown Halloween costume that was passed down to the other nieces and nephews the way some families pass down a christening gown.

My inability to do these kinds of things rivaled the inabilities of my siblings, the difference being that they didn’t try. Alas, I was a member of the “hope springs eternal” crowd. Apparently Rosie shared my hope for myself, so when my kids were young and she was decluttering, she would, from time to time, ship me things. Before Christmas, she sent three two-foot high cardboard cutouts shaped liked gingerbread men that my kids could decorate. And before Easter one year, she sent me a lamb cake mold with instructions to use a box cake mix. That was it, the only instruction. Not sure why she thought that was adequate, but as I said, she had more hope in others than they in themselves.

For starters, the mold had 2 pieces. I mixed up the cake, presuming that one piece was the left side of the lamb, and the other, the right. So I filled each side with cake mix. When I took it out of the oven, each side had risen, thus when I removed the cake from each side and put them together, I had a two-headed lamb.

I’d already met the definition of “miracle,” yet there was more.

Unbelievably, I was not dissuaded from going further. I was expecting my 20-something niece and Jim’s brother’s family to join me, Jim, and my three teens for Easter brunch. After a moment’s reflection, I decided none were fussy and all would prefer dessert despite its appearance. So, I forged ahead because I had no alternative and time had grown short. So short, I felt I couldn’t wait to decorate my two-headed lamb cake.

I skillfully applied a white frosting and teased it up to resemble the soft curly fur of a lamb. Masterful. Then ,the piece-de-resistance. I added two red jelly bean eyes and a black jelly bean nose. Viewed from the proper angle, one would hardly notice the duplicate head. Into the freezer it went for a “quick cool.”

A short time later, the time for dessert arrived. I dispatched my son to fetch the cake and bring it to the table. It took him longer than expected because he paused, finding it difficult to walk and laugh simultaneously. You see the “quick cool” wasn’t quick enough and the warm frosting gave rise to some melting of the jelly beans. As all stared in amazement, someone snapped a picture.

Over the years, the picture has been shared to family and friends of family. It is forgotten for several months, then like an Easter miracle, rises.

I am thinking there is no better time than a global pandemic, when people are starved for a bit of amusement, to share my creation publicly. Hence. I present, my two-headed lamb cake.

Rosie, we will miss you tonight when I launch my inaugural attempt at a family Jeopardy game on Zoom, but rest assured, hope springs eternal for my creative ambition.

The Laundry Room

As I mentioned in a previous post, our washing machine (actually the laundry tub) overflowed three times last week. And, being March, it’s muddy and Otis ran around the laundry room with muddy paws before he had a bath(s) in the laundry tub. We also store our luggage in the laundry room and having just returned from vacation, the luggage needed storage. Before I put the luggage in the cubby under the stairs, however, I decided to pull out ALL the luggage and backpacks and free totes, hoping that one might contain my lost sunglasses, rendering them found. What I am warming up to is that our laundry room resembled a war zone.

All week I plotted my attack, knowing it best to wait until Jim could supervise Otis. No telling what Otis could get into while I was distracted with the laundry room.

Today was D-Day. And let me assure you, I have less to fear from the coronavirus than from what was lurking in the laundry room…

I won’t detail the mold. It is distasteful and is now vanquished. But I WILL discuss some of the other cleaning challenges.

First, the evidence of my good intentions:

  • Three full and one half-full bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap
  • Three cans of Pledge, one of which had corroded, reminding me of Chernobyl
  • Three bottles of hydrogen peroxide

Those were exact duplicates. If I were to categorize by function, the duplications abound. A couple of spray bottles of degreaser (not sure that I have EVER used a degreaser. What does one degrease?) Several — and I mean several — different variants of products to clean and shine the wood in your life (and this is in addition to the Murphy’s Oil Soap and the Pledge). Lots of rug cleaning items. Bathroom cleaning items.

Next I spot the specialized tools.. The mismatched rubber gloves. The squeegee for the shower door (since the kids have moved out, we rarely use the shower with the shower door and have never even been tempted to squeegee it) and the blind cleaner. I can assure you I have never used this to clean blinds. Never.

I move on.

Our lightbulb collection has overgrown its storage receptacle. All different varieties, which is good, because who the hell know what bulb goes where anymore? Lightbulbs confound me. It used to be so easy. You need a 60 watt, 75 watt, or a 3-way. You go to the store, see the white package with the accordion insert, check the wattage, and you’re good to go. But now, where to start? I turn off lights when I leave a room, not to save the planet, but to save me a trip to the light bulb aisle.

Overwhelmed by the duplicative cleaning supplies and confounding light bulbs, I pivot back to the luggage and decide a sensible approach is to store all duffel bags in the mother of all duffel bags — the biggest and bestest one (and adorned with Jim’s initials no less). Alas, it smells. I report this to Jim, reluctantly, because I am thinking that I can do a little treatment, but it may well be that the initialed bag is headed for the garbage. Jim shakes his head knowingly. “Yeah I think one of the kids borrowed it and threw up in it.”

What???? So, so many questions!!

  • First of all, why would someone throw up in a borrowed duffle bag? And then return it
  • Secondly, if the duffel smelled like vomit, why would Jim store it for later use?

I ask Jim why he believes someone puked in his initialed bag. His proof is scanty. I wipe it down with white vinegar, wishing what it really needed was a couple of bottles of Murphys Oil Soap, scrubbed in with a blind cleaner, with a chaser of degreaser. The jury is out on whether the initialed bag will remain in our fleet of travel bags.

After hours of diligent effort, I grow weary. I scramble and organize shit and duplications of shit I will never use, just so I can get to the final act — scrubbing the floor.



No doubt you’ve been thinking Otis has indeed blossomed into the Lassie that Nancy envisioned.

We absolutely have had Lassie-ish days. Okay, perhaps just moments. But I do not want to admit failure, so I have soldiered on. We advanced from Puppy Socialization x 2 to Obedience 1. Also, in an underconfident moment, I even retained a personal trainer for Otis as he has confounded my ability to convince him that biting your way to the top is undesirable.

The personal trainer arrived and I believe if you look up “whirling dervish” in the dictionary, she would be pictured. Jim and I were breathless by the time she left. Jim, in fact, said he needed a treat. Her follow-up written communication, however, was clear and helpful so we felt good, or at least not bad, about leaving Otis with a trio of caregivers while we went on vacation.

We are fairly certain that the caregivers are now near dead, but are too nice to admit it.

We came home from this;

And this.

At 12:00 midnight.

Today is Reentry.

Jim went to work. I don’t know how his day went. To be honest, I don’t care because I had the reentry day from hell. Nothing that transpired at his workplace holds a candle to my day.

To wit:

I kicked things off with a few loads of laundry. All loads overflowed the washing machine and flooded the laundry room floor. i worked at my paid remote job while I mopped and soaked up ugly water.

Then I decided to pick up dog poop–as a break, so to speak. Well let me tell you, my pre-travel “don’t worry about picking up dog poop in the yard” statement seemed ill advised as I used the ice chipper to un-earth dog poop around the yard. Lord Almighty. A dog poops a lot in 8 days.

Eager to retire from dog poop retrieval, I decided to go to the grocery store and restock the larder. Alas, my car wouldn’t start. I added “jump car” to the to-do list of this evening’s activities. Jim will be so excited.

Now that I am homebound, I decided to take Otis for a long walk. We’d had a short walk earlier, but I know a growing pup needs his exercise, so I hurried to the basement to release him from his crate.

Ooops!! Too much hurrying. I stumble down the basement stairs and hurl myself into the wall, knocking a picture off the wall, breaking its frame. My arm aches but I press on, leashing up the hound and setting off.

Oh good God. Otis is the neighborhood litter hound. He retrieves bottles caps, cigarette butts, not one but two small plastic bottles of Fireball. By the second, I am wanting a shot of Fireball to power through the rest of our walk.

I slip on the ice multiple times, but two times are really noteworthy — slinging my body back and forth in a way God never intended the human body to gyrate.

We finally arrive at the lake — the goal of our walk. But it is frozen so Otis is unimpresesd. A lot like our backyard. To think I could have just let him out the back door and avoided this walk!

Otis now thinks he needs to ratchet things up. He leaps upon a nearby bench, not once but twice.

We press on. But then he finds the pièce de ré·sis·tance — a dead mouse. Voila. He eats half while I yelp, “DROP DROP,” all the while balancing my library book. (Did I forget to mention that I had stopped at the library at the outset of this sojourn? Mea culpa.)

I am horrified, although admit to wondering if his not eating the second half is due to obedience or dietary preference.

It is now getting dark. And cold. The previously wet sidewalks are now icy. I lurch my way home, feeling very sad that I don’t have any money as we pass the liquor store, because this is a night of nightcaps.

I press on. Otis retrieves and chews/swallows an untold number of abandoned Kleenexs, a paper cup, a forgotten mitten, a couple of “BURIED CABLE” flags, a few unidentified pieces of litter, and we are home.

He is filthy. I am exhausted. Nonetheless, I decide a sponge bath is in order. I repair to the laundry room to prepare his bath in a Rubbermaid tub. Wow! I discover the washing machine has overflowed yet again! Oh, joy.

I text Jim. Go to the grocery store. Go to the liquor store. I then address the washing machine overload and dog bath in that order, interrupted only by the realization and Rube Goldberg fix of our rusted out dehumidifier to absorb all the washing machine overflows and wet dog wetness.

A kind and good man, Jim comes home with groceries and pizza. I meet him at the front door, because the back entry now has a thin layer of ice due to the impromptu bath occasioned by the walk.

To be honest, a touch of coronavirus looks good to me now.

The only way to end this day or reentry is to go to bed. So be it.

Cremation and Creativity

I have been woefully negligent in sharing my musings with my vast audience of under a dozen. I believe the trendy thing to say is that I have been, “creatively blocked.” And of all things to spur the unblocking? Cremation.

I get at least 3-4 proposals per month suggesting my cremation. Seriously. Not just funeral planning, but specifically, cremation. Makes me wonder what I’ve done to signal my intense interest in having myself cremated.

However, the growing interest in my cremation has caused me to think about retirement. So much so, that I joined a group of friends to talk about how we’d like to see our later years play out, which led to my astute observation that if I didn’t fire up my creativity, I’d bore myself to death. While the cremationists would be delighted, it seems a sad way to go. And the group challenged me to sign up for a class.

So, I signed up for a class on unblocking one’s creativity. Here I am. Now instead of boring myself to death, I can bore you to death (and send you a coupon for cremation if you like). All the talk of creativity caused me to reflect on my lifetime of artistic endeavors, so I am sharing a special memory…

I desperately wanted to perform well in art class in grade school. I always got good grades, the two notable exceptions being religion and art. The whole concept of creating something enthused–but befuddled me. I had two things working against me.

  1. My impatience
  2. The wretched condition of the Burke home art supplies

No need to elaborate on my impatience. And I hesitate to even call what I had at home “art supplies.” I always had access to a scissors–could paw through drawers and find at least one, always dull. We used the one pair to cut paper, pizza, twine. We never had fabric in the home so that wasn’t an issue (and, as I’ve pointed out, never splurged on a pizza cutter either. Why? We had the dull scissors.) We were not a home of sparkles or doilies, making my own Valentine cards was unthinkable.

Art class was the ONLY place I could shine. I couldn’t draw to save my soul, so imagine my excitement when the art teacher assigned a paper mache project. We could make anything. My mind raced ahead, and I heard, but ignored the “add a layer of newspaper, LET IT DRY, add another layer” admonition. I “knew better” (as my Dad was fond of saying).

So, I waited until after dinner the night before the project was due and began construction of a turtle. I soaked newspaper strips in flour and water and layered and layered and layered them until I had a nice plump turtle. But the hour was growing late, and I had to paint it, so consulted my Mother–a grave error as she was no artist, much less a paper mache-ist. However, she was smart and aptly observed that the considerable mound of wet newspaper would not dry in time for a coat of green paint, so she advised putting the turtle in the oven. I did. Now I had a warm mound of wet newspaper and the whole house smelled.

Panic was setting in. My Dad then got into the action. He at least painted pictures so there was some artistic something in his genes. He suggested starting over with a base so I would only need one or two layers of newspaper. A round pink styrofoam bowl was produced. I added one layer of newspaper strips, barely wet. Things were looking up but I panicked again when I realized I just had a round mound which didn’t suggest a turtle with a head. I could not submit a headless turtle.

Again, my creative parents suggested I modify to a lady bug. Sure lady bugs have heads but they are so small they run into the body. I was thinking of this, minus the legs:

Excellent. I then applied a layer of red paint and in the morning, added some black dots. And my Dad drove me to school.

The lady bug was still dampish, leaching a bit of red paint, but was much improved from the headless unpainted sopping wet turtle. But when the art teacher saw it, she accused me of cheating. Apparently no honest paper-mache-ist starts with a pink styrofoam base.

Does anyone wonder how my creativity became blocked?

At the time, even in the mid-1960’s in Chicago, we burned some trash in our backyard (In fact, one time, our cleaning lady, Delores, set her hair on fire while tending to the fire, but I digress.) I mention this because I am quite sure that my paper mache turtle turned faux lady bug was cremated.