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.

opportunity of a lifetime

Everyone likely has an opportunity of a lifetime. The challenge is recognizing it as such and capitalizing on it.

For example, my sister got into a kerfuffle with an airline over the cost of her ticket. The details are unimportant. What IS important is that she was able to recognize and seize on an important opportunity, in fact, in all likelihood, the opportunity of a lifetime.

You see, once she was irritated, she demanded to talk to a customer service representative. And she was connected with one named Buster. Perfect. Excellent. Once he regurgitated the company spiel re cost of one-way v. round-trip flights, she was able to say, “Listen Buster . . . ”

Like I said, what an opportunity.

What do snow and adverbs have in common?

I know, I know. I’ve neglected you. It is not that I haven’t thought of “putting pen to paper,” rather every time I’ve considered it, I have filtered myself. (“I can’t write THAT! What if X reads it . . . “) You see? These are the problems of having a readership of a half dozen people.

So, this evening I decided I must write something. Let’s dispense with writing about the weather because it sucks. That is not a word I use often, rather it has crept into my vernacular having spent several years with younger people. But really, it is the word of the hour. It is April 22 and we are undergoing yet another major snowstorm. Really I don’t care about the snow or even the temperature, but the gray will do me in. Please Lord, a little sun is all I ask.

I have been thinking a lot about grammar lately. (Am now probably down to three readers.) In my freelance editing life, I am editing test questions for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Hope they know what an adverbial phrase is because I am not so sure. At the same time I am tutoring foreign speakers. In fact, I went hog wild and said I would help a Spanish speaker prepare for the GED. I taught her to write a 5-paragraph essay. She did a bang-up job, but now I need to tackle grammar. The organization is there, the content, but damn gerunds to hell.

My mother could wring her hands like the best of the Irish, and she wrung them plenty over the fact that I was never taught to diagram sentences. A horrible shortcoming. I distinctly remember weeping in grade school about my inability to identify adverbs. My mother assured me that knowledge would come with time.

Well, Mom, I am 54, it is snowing like crazy, and I don’t know how to diagram sentences. Life sucks.

my dog was a horse

It is quite clear to me, that in a former life, Hunter, my dog, was a horse.

The evidence is as follows:

  1. He rears up on his hind legs to greet people. I do not mean he jumps on them. Yes, this happens but he also just rears up, like an over-zealous uncle who screams, “WELCOME.”
  2. He rears up and uses his front paws to knock the leash from my hands when he is unhappy about my directional decisions. “NO, NO, NOT THAT WAY. I DO NOT WANT TO GO THAT WAY.”

Every time he executes his horse-move, I am reminded of one of the illustrations in my childhood copy of Black Beauty. (I believe it was when she (he?) had to be blindfolded because of a fire in the stable, but this image will do.)

black beauty

black beauty (futurely known as Hunter)

I liked BB (Black Beauty), Flicka was my friend, and I didn’t think Mr. Ed was a stupid show. In fact, I “rode” a chair in our living room, as well as some old tires in the backyard. These horses had various names, but all were loyal to a fault, initially wild beyond compare, but tamed by moi.

I was always torn between owning Flicka v. Lassie so I am grateful that in my old age, I have a dog who thinks he is a horse.

medical terminology

As a crossword devotee I am familiar with the “medical suffix” clue (i.e., -itis [as in “arthritis”], -osis [as in halitosis] etc.) See Mr. Wikepedia for more. And I am impressed by large, complicated, hard-to-pronounce illnesses. We all die sometime. Would your rather go due to a heart attack or due to a bad case of cystoureteropyelonephritis? No contest. The obit, the wake, the funeral luncheon — all more interesting if the latter.

So today’s ramble concerns the other terms medical sorts use. The ones that make me scratch my head. Here’s a few I’ve come across . . .

1. event – The last few years of my mother’s life were miserable. She was blind, nearly deaf, couldn’t walk, didn’t know us, was confused, incontinent. You get the picture. A few days before her death, her doctor phoned and announced that my mother had suffered “an event.” Like a circus? Broadway show? I know he didn’t know exactly what happened but . . .

2. void – Anyone who has ever been in the hospital knows how anxious everyone is that you void. They even measure how much voiding you voided. Don’t think of voiding then flushing your void into the void without letting them know.

3. insult – One of my favorites. Any organ, bodily system can feel insulted. Insults may stem from another organ or system e.g., your brain feels insulted from a lack of oxygen OR can suffer an insult through some outside force e.g., my head suffered an insult when I conked it on the sidewalk. I always  imagine the affected part sulking like a child. “Fine. You do that, then I do this.” Tit for tat.

4. eliminate – This is a cousin of void. The question that always causes me pause is, “When did you last eliminate?” Eliminate what? Oh, oh, yes.  Sometimes one’s elimination is referenced as if the individual is not present. Nurse looks directly at doctor and states, “She hasn’t eliminated since last Tuesday.”

I will stay alert for other disappointing medical references and keep you posted. Please do the same.