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

Danger Danger

My parents, Bob and Rose, were not risk takers, nor were they negligent or absent parents. Weary? Sure. By the time I was born in 1958, they had been “parenting” for 19 years. Yikes. Nonetheless, they hadn’t completely checked out. Yet…

Perhaps it was a bygone age when the dangers were yet unknown. But, really, did they need a scientific study? Or just a think-about what made sense?

So why was I permitted to do the following:

Envision summertime in suburban Chicago, circa 1968…to hell with the Vietnam War. Tonight the MOSQUITO SPRAYING TRUCK was comin’ through! Gather all ye children and run after the truck, lost in the fog, breathing in the insecticide. Ahhhh. What fun! The smell was noxious. Sure I coughed. But the fun of frolicking in the cloud!!

Let’s switch seasons. What could be more fun than Dad tying the toboggan to the bumper of his car and pulling us around in a snowstorm?

Or perhaps venturing out with the toboggan to Jensen’s slides? Gosh the sliding was the half of it. Just climbing the rickety stairs was terror enough. Then the slide down, wondering whether we’d actually get down in one piece, and if so, whether we’d slide into the Des Plaines river. The tantalizing tandem risk of brain injury v. drowning was uppermost in our minds. Or maybe it would just be a broken limb. I don’t think I ever visited Jensen’s slides on a day where the paramedics didn’t also drop in.

How about Foster beach? The bus rides were “safe enough,” and my Dad always advised never diving into a lake, and yes, both parents advised sunscreen. So how was it that I bussed to the beach in June, lathered up my Irish skin with baby oil (because Coppertone WAS the reason I didn’t tan), then dove into Lake Michigan off the pier, daring the submerged rocks to paralyze me with a neck injury? Okay, maybe that was me. My parents had dispensed the cautions. But did they think I’d obey them? I was the kid who not once, but twice, jumped out our split-level second story because I thought I could fly. To my Dad’s credit, when I returned from Foster beach, aglow with sunburn + Noxzema I had purchased on my walk home, he glanced up from the dinner table and said, “I thought you were smarter than that.” As I puked my way over the next 24 hours, I wondered the same myself.

But let’s talk about home front –1330 Castle Drive. Split level with garage door. Heavy 1960s-era garage door. No separate entry. To make good time, one had to stand at the kitchen entry to the garage, press the close button, and take off at a full run to duck under the descending garage door to avoid the few minutes time delay of closing the garage door and trudging to the driveway from another the back or front. All — including Bob and Rose — agreed this time-saving venture was totally worth the risk of being crushed by the garage door.

What about the youth group trips to Wauconda? Sure Bob and Rose had no idea that we all piled on the wooden float, then rocked and rocked until it flipped, trapping us underneath. Heck, I was a good swimmer, so the panic when I rose and encountered the flip side of the float with my head and couldn’t breathe was but a nuisance. Best to swim to the side and try to surface again.

My Mom told me her Mom let her row a boat in Lake Michigan rationalizing she was a “good swimmer.” She was appalled yet, in hindsight, my folks arrived at similar assurances.

Which leads me to wonder what my kids will reflect on….Why did I let them do that I shouldn’t have??

Perhaps that is better to know post-death?

Piano Bench

Doesn’t Vladimir look happy? See that big smile? Is it because he is one of the world’s greatest pianists? No, it is because Vladimir Horowitz has a happy butt.

I never knew about piano bench pads, probably because I never spent enough time sitting on one. During my brief piano lesson era, I was able to condense my teacher’s practice requirements to a quick few scales per day, perhaps the reason I am not one of the world’s greatest pianists. Perhaps not even a pianist. Okay, I am just a shitty piano player. But my spouse is decent. He’s no Horowitz but after 12 years of piano lessons, he does a nice job. And now that he is “retired,” he’s spent a fair amount of time tickling the ivories.

So I should not have been surprised when he, known in college as one of the “butt-less wonders” of Blaisdell dorm, floor 2, needed some padding.

First he took matters into his own hands and ordered himself a very ugly, orange, pseudo-leather pad for the piano bench. In his defense, the picture looked brown, but it was decidedly orange on arrival. And our house is devoid of orange.

Being income-less, I assured him that the best course was to return the ugly not-so-cheap orange, not-leather pad and let me take on the task of comforting his tush. I set out for JoAnn Fabrics, located the pads department, and dragged a 3-inch pad to the cutter counter. So far so good.

But the cutter person said she could only cut one side. Huh? Okay then, but how does one cut a 3-inch pad pray tell? With an electric knife. Excellent! I have one of those. It is one of the items salvaged from my parents’ stash of 1970s things.

She cut a nice straight line.

I took the pad home and instructed my budding Vladimir to cut the other side. He questioned the electric knife, but I reassured him. He, however, does not have the skills of the JoAnn cutter so the cut was a little jagged. I won’t say it looked like Otis the dog gnawed it off, but it wasn’t “clean.” Oh well, onward.

I located some fabric in basement storage, left over from when we had our dining room chairs recovered.

Aside: I use the term “our” haltingly, because, like the electric knife, the dining room chairs came from my parents. The only difference was 40 years. They purchased the dining room chairs in 1938 and the electric knife decades later. We had the dining room chairs recovered, re-glued, and rebuilt, but our 38 years of abuse have taken their toll. Last summer, we made the momentous decision to replace the remaining three of six chairs.

All of this to say that the fabric is available, begging to be repurposed after years in the basement.

Pad? Check. Fabric? Check? All that is left is assembly. What could go wrong? (See checkbook post.)

I started by Googling “DIY piano bench pads,” initially encouraged by the number of posts, then dashed as I began reading them. All posters were more DIY proficient than I.

So, I texted my crafty friend and trundled down to her abode with my pad and fabric. She had advice, instructions; my head began to spin. I fixated on the fact that I had used a local seamstress for some small projects, and as my crafty friend gave instruction, I became more convinced that the local seamstress was my ticket to success.

Today I phoned her. She cannot possibly entertain such project until after Christmas.

Hmm. What to do? I considered glue or staples, delay, or just defaulting to Amazon. I am consumed with the enormity of the task. Like Rome, a pad isn’t built in a day.

Perhaps I could put the pad on a board, staple the fabric to the board, fashion the corners in some way … but wait! The staples will scratch the already scratched piano bench, rendering it more scratched. So let’s add an old towel, glued on the bottom. NO, NO then the audience will see the towel lurking under the pad +fabric contraption. Okay, how about a hunk of sheet? Is that enough to pad the staple? Can I glue that onto the board? Or will the whole shebang stick to the piano bench like old gum to the bottom of a movie theater seat?

I don’t know. I don’t know. Stay tuned.

Crafty? Or crappy?

Several years ago, before banks got too big to fail, they bestowed cloth-covered checkbook register covers on their preferred customers, which I was. (I am also a preferred customer at the nearby liquor store, which is awkward because the program is titled “Frequent Buyer Program.” I do not like announcing that I am a frequent buyer at the liquor store, thus have taken to telling the clerk upon checkout that I am a “member of the club.” Wink, wink. Nod, nod.) But I digress. Back to the bank.

My cloth checkbook register was a lovely red, but alas, now, after a dozen+ years, it is looking worn and faded. So I went to the bank the other day, asked to see a personal banker, smiled, and asked for a new one.

First of all, she looked astonished. “Who uses those anymore???” she asked, rhetorically I am sure, because it was rather obvious that I DID use one. Then she pawed through her desk to find one. I wanted to tell her I didn’t want some old thing with her pencil shavings and cough drop sweat on it but I held back. No harm done because no register covers were among the plethora of shit in her drawer.

She sighed and said she would have to go ask one of the tellers. I was glad she offered as there was a very long line of desperate looking individuals waiting for tellers. Plus, a reaction from the teller like that from the personal banker would hurt my self esteem. After a short while she came back and handed me a very ugly, navy blue, stiff vinyl cover. “This is it. No one asks for these anymore. Surprised we had this one.” Well la di dah.

Undeterred, I took the offering and returned home, fired up the computer and went to Amazon. Sure enough, Amazon sells them–for $14.99. Highway robbery. Then I got to thinking …

Encouraged by my recent knitting successes, I found a cute piece of fabric hanging around the rag bag and carefully ironed it and cut it into a rectangle. This is when, if not before, my guardian angel should have asked what I was doing. But she was AWOL. Or maybe she was laughing too hard to interrupt my concentration..

I hunted around for some spray glue. I knew we had a can when my last child did his Minnesota History Day project 9 years ago. Sadly, I couldn’t find it, but did find an adhesive I used (unsuccessfully) on his and his siblings’ Scout badges to avoid having to sew them on circa 1995.

Wouldn’t you know — the adhesive container was clogged. (Aside: Including my travel time, I had spent well over an hour to obtain a cloth-covered checkbook register. Who says I don’t have enough to do?) But, still, I had options.

I found some fabric adhesive in the back of the laundry room drawer. Damn. Despite using it 26 years ago to make my daughter’s Halloween costume, the cap was stuck on the tube. Couldn’t even wiggle it off with my teeth. But there’s more … In the very same drawer, I spied some iron-on fabric tape. Perfect.

I returned to the ironing board and proceeded to iron the fabric onto the vinyl register cover. Who would have guessed that in the process some of the vinyl melted and got stuck to the iron? No matter. I picked it off and left the project to cool.

When I returned, the cover did not meet my stringent quality standards. In fact, the iron-on tape failed to secure the material to the vinyl so I went to my “craft cabinet” where I happened upon some ALL PURPOSE glue. Excellent. This purpose certainly comes within the umbrella term of ALL PURPOSE, and due to the small size of my craft cabinet, it only took a second to locate.

Given the condition of the other household adhesives due to the frequency with which I use them, it will surprise no one that the ALL PURPOSE adhesive cap was stuck on the ALL PURPOSE adhesive bottle. This top was easily unstuck, unlike the fabric adhesive top that even my teeth could not dislodge. But having removed the ALL PURPOSE glue container cap which had a nice point, I could not dribble a thin line of ALL PURPOSE glue onto my project, so tried to gently squeeze a tidy mound from the mouth of the bottle.

As you might imagine, rather than a tidy mound, a big plop came flooding out causing panic. I quickly employed my finger to spread the glue in a nice, even, light layer but then the fabric stuck to my hand. I looked around and spied an old toothbrush. Ingenious. I used this to spread the glue, (also spreading some glue all over the top of the washing machine) and repurposed my finger to smooth the bubbles out of the fabric. But I didn’t wash my hands before I did this — really, there was no time — so I got glue on the OUTSIDE of my new cloth-covered register. I attempted to wipe it off with a wet rag. Thinking I had been successful, I left it to dry.

When I returned, the finished product was stiff and sticky. Some places the cloth had pulled away from the vinyl and, as previously mentioned, the vinyl was melted in spots.

Today I purchased a $14.99 cloth-covered checkbook register from Amazon.

Determination, Resolve. And Cheating.

By the end of today’s post, I hope to weave together three disparate thoughts about my life and my past:

  1. My Mother told me that my Uncle Jim, the millionaire, began each day with a glass of tomato juice and some cookies.
  2. When my Mother ate lunch, she used a dish towel as a napkin.
  3. Yesterday my internist confirmed that I had gained weight over the last 15 months. No shit Sherlock. She also ordered a cholesterol test. To prepare for the result, I preemptively ate a donut, a cookie, two chocolate-covered pretzels (dyed purple in honor of Prince–how could I refuse? Home town hero and all (let’s set aside the opiate addiction)), then made a special stop for a bag of Wavy Lays potato chips.

Last things first. I am not that big a salty snack gal but yet today I rationalized a special stop at the gas station to get a bag of Wavy Lays. Not the lunch-bag size — laughably because it seemed too large — but the “family size.” By the time I dug out the $4.59 for the family size, I had rationalized that I was really buying said Lays for “the family” — which would be me and my husband.

They were sooooo tempting that I dug into them on the way home. In fact, by the time I pulled into the driveway, I was nearly sick of them. But I haven’t yet admitted the worst part…

I justified the purchase because I had to stop at the gas station to buy gas so why not throw in a bag of Wavy Lays for good measure? Alas, when I exited the store and returned to the pump, I noted that, in my haste, I had not properly prompted the pump, thus had no gas, but a sad gas nozzle hanging out of my vehicle awaiting instruction. Because I was certain others would stare if I started the dispensation of gas after I had lolly-gagged in the store choosing my chips, I elected to give the impression that I had filled up and had incidentally purchased the Wavy Lays. (Did anyone notice the $00.000 on the pump? I think not. Surely not.) I drove off, still at half-tank, steering and ripping into my Wavy Lays with admirable coordination.

Good thing, because but a few hours later, I got the email from the internist–your cholesterol would make a blind man blush (or something to that effect). Shit.

With this awful news, I trudged into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of white wine and snack on last night’s doggy bag (a delightfully indulgent truffle-cream-sauced pasta). I think about the need for a napkin but think, Fuck No! I AM GOING TO USE A GOD-DAMN DISH TOWEL. Praise be God and my Mother.

Which brings me to Uncle Jim–the one who began in Cannelton, Indiana (perpetual victim of Ohio River floods)–who became a — (drum roll please) — MILLIONAIRE.

[Aside: Who wants to be a millionaire? Not me, I just want to be the heir of one. Alas, Uncle Jim’s widow died at age 106, 6 years ago and I’ve still not heard from her lawyers …]

But let us return to UJ (Uncle Jim), whom I never remember meeting because he was cold, hard dead before I started kindergarten but who was, nonetheless, held up as the family member who preserved, made good. A millionaire, a philanthropist. Great sense of humor. And best of all — HAD TOMATO JUICE AND COOKIES FOR BREAKFAST!!

Which brings me to the obvious question… Am I — donut plus chocolate-covered, dyed-purple-to-honor Prince pretzels, plus Wavy Lays — really just a modern day millionaire in the making?

my life as a seamstress

Growing up, I longed to sew and made many efforts to further my dream.

  • I asked for and received a toy sewing machine for Christmas. Based on the television advertisement, I was certain I would create masterpieces in no time whatsoever.
  • A few years later, I asked my Aunt Mary to tutor me. She did, but please note that her claim to fame was sewing rectangular cloth bandages for some do-good organization. She did, however, own a sewing machine, circa 1916.
  • Yet later, I enrolled in classes at the uptown Singer store with my friend Carolyn. On the first day my teacher announced that we would all enter our creations in the Stylemaker’s Contest at the end of the course. She would regret that decision.
  • Finally, I took a sewing unit in home ec class in summer school. Other than the beach cover-up I made (detailed below), the most memorable moment was when I cut the t-shirt i was wearing right along with the fabric for my beach cover-up.

My efforts resulted in a couple of memorable creations:

  • I chose to make a pair of shorts under my Aunt Mary’s tutelage. The fabric featured red, white, and blue patriotic stripes, and with good luck, I was hoping to have them ready by 4th of July. Alas I missed the deadline which was just as well because when completed they were very, very tight. All right, I could not get them beyond my thighs.
  • For my Stylemaker’s contest entry, I also chose a patriotic theme but figured shorts were a problem, so went with a pattern for a “shift.” (I believe “shift” is a Latin term for the easiest possible dress to sew.) Once again, by the end, my efforts resulted in something way too small. I need to make clear to my readers, that at this point in my life, I was waif-like in appearance, so my size was not the issue. I believe the issue was that the whole pinning and measuring seemed laborious. Certain “I knew better,” I often went rogue on the fabric cutting. Although I was able to struggle into the dress, it was very, very short, even in a days of mini-skirts. When I exited the dressing room in the back of the Singer store, my teacher was stunned. Carolyn laughed until she cried.
  • You may think I was deterred but no, I made yet one more attempt. In middle school home ec class, I set my sights on a beach coverup, also striped. I was extremely generous with the fabric, learning from the earlier shorts and dress debacles. When finished, the cover-up was both ugly and uncomfortable. On the upside I was able to put it one without cutting off my circulation. Once donned, I realized how itchy and uncomfortable it was, so decided to wash it to “soften it up.” At the end of the wash cycle, I retrieved it, both pieces, front and back, which had come unstitched in the washing machine.

Sewing is not in God’s plan for me.

self-do not help

Today’s post belongs in the self-do not help section. This section is located adjacent to self-help.

Last night I had a wonderful four hours of sleep then woke to spend an hour of so honing my skill of worrying. I worry best about those things which I cannot control, which, at 4:00 am, seem perfect topics.

One of my unique skills is to take any situation and work it into an awful outcome. Often I am able to come up with a couple alternates as well. On a lucky night, I am able to identify a critical role I played in the disastrous outcome.

I do not worry about world events, even local events, rather restrict my efforts to situations involving those I care about. This is handy because along with panicking I also feel guilty for my role in the outcome that I have constructed out of whole cloth. (Note: This is the only thing I will ever construct out of whole cloth despite several efforts to learn how to sew. These efforts will need to be detailed in another post.)

Last night I followed the advice of every women’s magazine I’ve ever read and got up to read. Did I choose some light reading? No, sir, I went right to my laptop and used the Internet to not only enlarge the possibilities of crises but their dire outcome.

I woke this morning, groggy, and quickly slap myself around for being up in the middle of the night. Upon reflection, I am reminded that all I spent time on is either out of my control or not likely to end in disaster.

So why did I do it? My mother. This is when I like to blame someone else, and my mother was nothing if not a Grade-A worrier.

I console myself knowing that, at least in my children’s minds, I will experience eternal life, because they will think of me whenever they spend a night tossing and turning.

smart phone? I think not.

On Tuesday, I nearly caused my smart phone to have a stroke. You see I was on my way to meet a client. I pawed in my purse and retrieved my “smart” phone and typed in my destination. The woman inside the phone guided my way to the client’s office.

I arrived. We met. I left and decided to take a new route home. Got lost. Pawed in my purse. Retrieved her. Opened the map app and figured out where I was. Started driving. Now you may think the worst is over. Au contraire. Next I dropped her smartness and she slid waaaaay under the seat. As I approached the next intersection, she called out, “Turn right.”

Ha! You not-so-smart phone. I would only turn right if I were going TO the client. NOW I am driving HOME. I proceeded straight through the intersection. As I approached the next intersection, she wailed, “TURN RIGHT.” I proceeded. “TURN RIGHT! TURN RIGHT!”

I flailed under the seat to calm her to no avail. “TURN RIGHT!” I continued on my way, now on familiar ground. “TURN RIGHT. TURN RIGHT.” I grow fearful that she may

  1. quit
  2. have a stroke
  3. become angry
  4. get laryngitis
  5. suffer a loss of self-esteem from being ignored

After 20 minutes of her insistence that I “turn right,” I pull into the garage, find her and put her out of her misery.

those tricky office appliances

I am a real pencil devotee. Forget the mechanical pencil. The lead in those snaps off, they are too skinny, and the erasers fall out. Furthermore I am a fan of the “Ticonderoga #2” pencil. Blow past “Rose Art.” If you haven’t hung around the school supply area of Target you may not understand the reference. Essentially Ticonderogas are the pencils choosy pencil users choose.

Once I made this life-altering observation about my preferred writing utensil, I decided to go whole hog and get myself an electric pencil sharpener. No more of those lousy less-than-$1 sharpeners from grade school days. No, I went with the Cadillac and never regretted it. When it broke, I decided to treat myself to another, but then remember pausing to consider the battery-operated style.

Fast forward . . . months go by and I am happily replete with sharp Ticonderogas. But one day, the sharpener failed. I stuck in the Ticonderoga and the silence was deafening. I checked to see if the tray of shavings had backed up into the motor. No. Hmm. I then did what I do when most things break. Nothing. I let them sit as I go through a phase where I hope the item will just start working again. After awhile I drift into Phase 2 which is the I-really-should-get-that-fixed phase.

I have been in Phase 2 for several months as my pencils grow increasingly dull. From time to time I am at the store and think that I wish I knew what size battery to buy for the sharpener. Recently I went so far as to call home to ask my husband but he wasn’t there.

Well today was the day. I needed a pencil and without further delay, leapt into Phase 3. Action. I took the sharpener and went looking in the drawer designated for batteries, tacks, string, instruction manuals, miscellaneous buttons and loose change. I located a bevy of batteries and then examined the sharpener to find the battery compartment. I couldn’t find it! After several seconds, I noted the doohickey on the back to plug in a power cord. AHH!!

The memory came flooding back. Several weeks ago I discovered a cord plugged into the power strip under my desk and for the life of me, I had no idea what it was for. Neither did my husband. He advised me to throw it out. Because I am clever, I did not. So, after months of not having a sharpener I hightailed it to the cabinet designated for things we don’t know how or where to use and there was the mysterious cord.

Wouldn’t you know. I plugged one end into the sharpener, the other into the outlet and now VOILA my pencils are sharp. Too bad I am not …



We all need a mission in life, and I have chosen one. You may think it is about law or justice, and it is, after a fashion. I have made justice my mantra as related to toilet paper and soap in the womens’ restroom. I have no shortage of work. It is a rare event to find a lady’s restroom with toilet paper AND soap AND paper towel.

My daughter observed me march from stall to cash register to inform the clerk that the ladys’ room was out of t.p. She was amused — the way we are amused when the elderly do something — but I told her she would thank me. Because of my crusade, the future looks good.

Most of my work is done at gas stations along the interstate. I visit the restroom, then without fail, note a deficiency, so hustle off to the front counter and let them know. Most of the time, they stare at me like, “What can I do about it?” Or worse, “Why would I care?” Because I then must continue the journey, I don’t know if the clerk wipes that stupid look of his/her face hustles in and makes amends, but I presume they do. Which makes me a hero. (heroine)