Wind blows away last of blue plastic pool era

My little blue plastic pool is no more. Like the pool, itself, I was blown away when I discovered it had gone to a final resting place in the attic of the wind. And just when I was thinking of getting off my dead butt and going outside to retrieve it from the spot it had initially blown to, out by the far side of my long, U-shaped driveway!
In fairness to myself, it had been raining pretty hard when the pool blew away from its wintering spot out beside the giant, ugly pile of branches next to my equally ugly Dish and Hughes Net satellite dishes. While I mentally moved it several times, I was unable to levitate the pool, let alone psychically put it away.
My kids and I last used the pool last fall to move windblown debris from the yard. We had then leaned the pool to rest, upside down, next to the mother lode pile of sticks I keep hoping my nephews will use a tractor to push out into the field for burning.
I had meant to drag the little blue plastic pool to the basement, but it had snowed before I found enough daylight time and ambition simultaneously available to drag the thing down there. I then vowed to toss it down the outside cellarway steps the next time I moved wood down there. But alas, good intentions don’t make much happen.
What was so special about this little blue plastic pool that couldn’t be replaced? Well for starts, that it was purchased at Hensley’s dime store in Union City when the establishment was still open and doing a respectable business. And then there are the irreplaceable memories associated with the pool.
I bought it 10 years ago, when I first moved back to my hometown. Connor was but two years old and Kate only one. They didn’t need much of a pool back then, just something a little wider and deeper than the average mud puddles to help keep them out of them.
The first time we filled the little blue plastic pool, the waters were as frigid as the Pacific Balboa discovered. We intended to let the water warm in the sun for a couple of days, but the kids had other thoughts. They went all Rocky Balboa, attacking the water immediately, clothing and all, sputtering and shivering loudly, but happily toughing it out. They romped longer than I could. On the warmest of days, I splashed along with them, back when I had both enough time to swim and to put away the pool.
Everyone seemed to want a piece of the pool real estate. It ignited an ongoing battle between children and dogs. Our Springer Spaniel, Chappy, sought the welcome, cooling relief in the pool on the hottest of days. Our English Shepherd, Sousa, saw it as her own personal Fountain of Youth, drinking from it daily. I’m guessing that’s why she lived to be 16. The kids generally swam anytime we needed them to be doing something else.
Unlike many of the dinosaurs of my children’s early years, such as the cheesy, plastic-coated “Dinosaur Roar” storybook, the little blue plastic pool had proven worth beyond its obvious intent. No one could deny it served its purpose. And then some!
In the summer, we filled the little blue plastic swimming pool with grass clippings to dump onto the field behind the house. In the fall, we used it to haul leaves to the big, burn pile. During winter, we stacked it with wood from distant piles and dragged it over snow toward the outside cellarway. Each spring, we used the pool as a horizontal receptacle for the sticks and bark we’d picked up in the yard.
Eventually, we even used the little blue plastic pool to drag water over to where we were digging a grave for Chappy, to wet and soften the stubborn earth under my shovel. Never mind the little holes hauling and age put in the pool; have duct tape, will travel!
No wonder I am as blue as the pool over its disappearance. I can’t imagine life without it. But I’ll have to live it.

Developing a system for wisely picking battles

Pick your battles wisely. Like most things, it’s far easier said than done. In this case, while people are quick to throw that phrase in the direction of someone who looks to be looking for a squabble, no one ever gives specific directions for how he/she should fight, let alone how to evaluate if the battle would be worth the effort.

That puts the fight-prone at a disadvantage. Is this, or is this NOT a battle I should choose? And how would I go about finding out? How do you assess if a potential battle is battleworthy? When fear and polarized thinking forces you into forced choice between fight or flight, it seems little gray area exists, most notably between the ears.

An immediate self-intervention that requires little introspection is to alternate between the two choices. This time, I choose “fight,” while next time I choose “flight.” You could do far worse, as this operating system, albeit primitive, reduces fighting by 50%. It’s a good starting point for folks who view everything as a battle. Alternating is especially effective in situations where you regularly fight with someone over things like who pays the restaurant tab.

Another idea: my grandmother was fond of stepping between me and brewing conflict and asking, “Will it matter a year from now?” To which I would always have to answer, “no.” She would then ask if it would matter a month from now. Also, “no.” That would be followed by her asking if it would matter a week from now? Again, “no,” which led to, “no,” it really wouldn’t matter even a day from now. Having thoroughly painting me into a corner, Grandma would summarize, “Then it probably shouldn’t matter so much right now, eh? So why not let it go?” I hated being human putty in her hands, but knew she was right.

Speaking of right, how about asking the following nagging self-question: “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” That’s a real deal breaker for the reasonable-at-heart. But not so for overly sanctimonious types or those who prize the so-called “truth” more highly than relationship.

Rotary International has a four-way test its members are encouraged to use. They are taught to ask these questions before opening their mouths to speak: 1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned? If not, the speaker should remain silent. Certainly, that strategy would eliminate the start of many a fight.

At work, we ask an abbreviated version of the four-way test, consisting of two questions. When someone is about to say or do something we suspect would make things worse, we inquire, “Would that be helpful or hurtful?” Most people will know right away which direction they had been headed. And if the journey was toward Painsville, they will stop.

Christians often consider WWJD (what would Jesus do?) in evaluating a course of action. While that helps me discover and take the high-road route in ethical matters, I draw a blank when I find myself in messes of my own making so decidedly un-Jesuslike He wouldn’t have been within 100 miles of them.

Being a member of the media, I frequently evaluate potential battles on the basis of how they would look in print or sound if broadcast. If my actions wouldn’t look justified or sound legitimate in the media, it’s a strong indication I should drop the issue that has me hot and bothered.

Unfortunately, there remain times when I am willing to risk shooting myself in the foot and my reputation in the butt if it means I can have the pleasure of bringing down someone else along with me. Admittedly, kamikaze clashing is just plain crazy.

The less impulsive and more analytic often prefer to perform a cost-benefit analysis on battles that loom on the horizon. What would be the cost of winning? The price of admission isn’t always worth the prize. Therefore, I find it most helpful to know and live my values regularly so I don’t feel the need to aggressively prove myself. That’s the most important victory.

Hot on the trail of an updated signature scent

I don’t think of myself as very olfactory-oriented. Nor am I overly sensitive to scents and/or odors unless they are exceptionally, color-outside-of-the-lines good or bad, such as the overwhelmingly sweet potted hyacinth I recently gave as a welcome gift to my new supervisor or the mega-stinky after-effect of an especially hot batch of chili on my son.

As a teenager, I favored a cologne/mist known as “Love’s Baby Soft.” It was understated, with the baby powdered scent of a newborn, not that I have spent a lot of time smelling them. Plus, Love’s Baby Soft took the stink off the damaged goods I frequently felt and behaved like during adolescence. Hey, if you can’t play the part of innocent, you might at least smell it.

I experimented with some of my older sister’s and mother’s perfumes. Too strong for my liking! Then a scent known as “Smitty” came out, with a promotional “Smitty Did It” T-shirt. Had to try it, but the shirt wore better than the unmemorable perfume.

Overall, “clean” has always been my personal scent of choice. Perhaps my greatest scent success along that line came from my father’s section of the bath cabinet, where he kept his Old Spice and Skin Bracer after-shaves. Much more pleasant than the teenage date whose cologne reeked like Deep Woods Off.

While my father smelled mostly of sweat, hay and cow manure, he had the ability to clean up decently. To this day, a whiff of Old Spice or waft of Skin Bracer brings back fond memories of hearing him whistling as he shaved and watching as he rubbed his face with palmfuls of manly product that signified successful clean-up.

I took great liberty with my father’s products, appreciating how they helped close the pores of my legs and underarms after shaving. Their aroma kept me clean-smelling for hours. Being a tomboy, I hated smelling too flowery when I sweated, which was fitting, as intense activity always leads to me overtly sweating versus delicately perspiring.

During this time, I also experimented with Brut deodorant, which I had liked on a boyfriend. What made this funny to me is the guys I dated, who were the only people I allowed close enough to partake of the scent, were prone to comment on my cologne. “I like how familiar you smell,” one guy actually said. Likely because it was the same scent he was wearing! But I kept it secret.

Eventually, I settled on Coty Wild Musk cologne body spray for my scent. It was subtle, but lasting, as opposed to its perfume form that was a little heavy for my taste. My new scent relationship went along swimmingly for 20 years, until I recently sought replacement when a canister fizzled out. Checking at two Big Box stores with names that end in “Mart,” I noticed they no longer carried my brand. Oh, no!

Panic-stricken, I drove to Meijer and did not find it there, either. What to do? I auditioned Jovan White Musk, but it seemed too much like chloroform. I re-tried Coty’s perfume form of Wild Musk, but deemed it too heavy. Perhaps I should invent my own scent.

If I had a signature scent, I wouldn’t name it something trashy, like Calvin Klein’s “Obsession.” I wouldn’t have enough clout to name a perfume after myself, such as the “Jennifer Aniston” scent, described as “Sensual. Floral. Clean,” boasting these components: Citrus Grove Accord (what the heck is that?!), Rose Water, Jasmine, Violet, Amazon Lily, Musk, Amber and Sandalwood.

No, my signature scent would be far more basic. It would be called “Experience,” described as “Practical. Versatile. Resourceful.” It would be smell of legitimate sweat, elbow grease, and comfort food, with spontaneous, seasoned bursts. Nothing too exotic, just straightforward, long-lasting resilience. One whiff would put people at ease, kicked back and relaxing, knowing they were in good hands.

But alas, a re-check at Meijer showed they had only been out of Coty Wild Musk cologne body spray, not stopped carrying it altogether. It was okay to stop sweating. And comforting to know I still had just the cologne to disguise the odor. Oh what a little “Experience” can do for you.

Street justice a tempting response to stealing

It was one of those rare occasions when I got to park my butt and watch television. May not seem like a big deal to you, but it was to me. Occurs about as frequently as Halley’s Comet. After watching a few minutes of a show, I started feeling sleepy, one of the chief reasons I avoid sitting down on the couch and watching television. For once I’m down, I’m pretty much down for the count.

Feeling both the heaviness of my eyelids and the simultaneous reassurance of knowing I have never once dozed off on the couch at night and continued sleeping on until morning and past the buzz of my alarm clock three rooms and a floor of the house away, I felt safe to lapse into sleep.

To cushion my nap, I reached for the throw pillow at the left end of the couch. As I lifted it, a mass of gum wrappers fluttered out and my eyes shot open. What the heck?! Someone had got into my kitchen drawer stash of Big Red gum and chewed their way through what looked to be about three packs. I yelled in unison with my son, who was also in the room, “KATE!!!”

It wasn’t a guess, but more like a curse. Having a thieving sneak in the house is like living with a giant rodent that raids and gnaws on things you thought you could count on to have ahead and trust to remain unmolested. It also promotes anti-motherly love fantasies of capturing her hand in the jaws of a sharp steel trap, baited by a king-sized Snickers bar.

At least real rodents often chew up product wrappers along with product, or attempt to recycle them as nesting materials. Not so with dirty, rotten rat relatives, who seem to take delight in not just stealing, but leaving behind the evidence for nose rubbing purposes. Requiring the person you just stole from to pick up after you is the ultimate form of disrespect.

“We should just wait until she is asleep and write “THIEF” across her forehead using a permanent laundry marker,” my son suggested. I was thinking more along the lines of a permanent tattoo or other permanent damage, up to and including five-star butt branding. But I know better than to lay a finger, let alone a whole hand, on anyone when I am feeling such intense anger. Bad choice, especially since a thief is the only thing I find more objectionable than an abuser.

When I was a probation officer, I had an easier time working with child abusers and sex offenders than I did those who lied, cheated and stole. I have worked very hard for everything I have and when someone feels entitled to unceremoniously liberate it from me, I don’t respond prettily. Entitlement always rankles me.

My son recently had his lunchbox stolen at school. His name was not inside of it because as someone who regularly buys and sells used goods, I cannot bring myself to mark down an item’s value by marring it with a marker. So without his name inside, it came down to the juvenile thief also being an effective liar, when confronted. Those two qualities go well together.

Part of me is proud of my son’s civility. But my uncivilized side secretly wanted him to kick the other student’s butt. I get tired of being the person who does the right thing. Sometimes, swift street justice would feel sweet, catching the unscrupulous other off guard when he/she is criminal-think counting on your civility. The adrenaline rush from witnessing such audacity would lend super human strength for whacking the other person in the face with the stolen item after removing it from the bloodied arm “accidentally” yanked off while re-possessing your stolen property.

But that would be the senseless violence equivalent to holding a mafia-style blanket party for my gum-thieving daughter: pinning down the sheets and striking her with a club fashioned from braided Big Red wrappers until she’s too crippled to steal from me again. CPS frowns on that sort of parent-child interaction. And ideally, it’s not who I want to be, either. Nobody said civility would be easy.

Scared celibate by bad behavior of children

“Scared Straight.” Are you old enough to remember the 1978 film narrated by Peter Falk of “Columbo” fame? It featured a group of juvenile delinquents transported to Rahway State Prison to spend three hours listening to a group of “lifers” mock and shock them in an attempt to “scare them straight.”
An interesting side note: the Academy Award-winning documentary was the first time the word s–t and the F-bomb were heard on many television networks, the very crookedness of which, no doubt, scared many viewers straight from their previous off-road cursing and off-color remarks.
Unfortunately, subsequent research determined that such scare tactics, while colorful and delightfully dramatic, carry little deterrent weight. In this case, the documentary aimed to curb delinquent behavior actually achieved somewhat of a cult following, with drinking games and copy cat delinquency traceable to the inmate testimonies.
What’s not to want to spoof about a well-meaning, take-itself-far-too-seriously movie that uses an arsonist and bomb builder, a gang member, a chop-shop parts dealer, a car thief and the son of a Mafia informant to deliver a moralistic message? The final scene is somewhat of an altar call, with the juvenile delinquents seeing the light and (at least verbally) abandoning their wayward ways in favor of more cleancut living.
Uh huh. Happens all the time. False conversions, anyway. Unfortunately, the movie overlooks two large thinking errors common among many criminals and criminal wannabes: 1. Criminals are OTHER people who commit crimes, but not me; and 2. A criminal is someone stupid enough to get caught. If I haven’t yet been caught, technically, I’m not a criminal.
This erroneous thinking is so prevalent, one of the juvenile delinquents in the original “Scared Straight” committed more crimes after the movie was broadcast, allegedly including a 1982 rape and murder of a neighbor, but nevertheless went on to portray himself (with a seemingly clear conscience) as a success story in “Scared Straight: 20 Years Later” This, of course, was prior to his getting busted on DNA evidence years later.
In this case, the thinking error was the rapist/killer actually believed he was above the law. Either that or the ever popular, “It will never happen to me,” which brings me to the actual point I started writing to make: things do happen to people, whether they are deserving of them. That’s what makes my own spoof of “Scared Straight” so relevant: it really could happen to you.
What am I talking about? The documentary I want to film is called “Scared Celibate.” It centers around nice couples of child-bearing age being so traumatized by the overbearing and objectionable behavior of existing children and parents that they not only opt out of becoming parents, but mostly likely forego all sexual relations, as well, just to err on the safe side, abstinence being the most reliable form of birth control.
We’ve all met children whose abominable behavior casts reproduction in a bad light. Sometimes they’re our own. That’s why it’s good I had my two children in rapid succession, before I knew better. If we all waited long enough to see if it were a good idea, American would have a de facto single child policy.
There’s nothing more libido-limiting than a visit to the Laundromat, which doubles as a Jungle Gym for families without suitable banisters or ceiling fans for their children to swing from at home. There’s also romance ruination via restaurant reactivity, socially unacceptable situations where children publicly attempt to ruin others’ dining, forcing parents to lion-tame them with a wooden booster chair and sippy cup straw whip.
And certainly, anyone who grocery shops has witnessed the DNA-diminishing effect of seeing really bad (and there is such a thing!) children and parents whose interactions and misconduct would have been enough to keep Glenn Miller’s 1939 “In the Mood” sentiment permanently off the Billboard charts and out of bedrooms.
A wonderful foreign advertisement captured on YouTube, shows a toddler terrorizing scores of shoppers while a frazzled parent forages for groceries. The end message is “you should have used a condom.” Isn’t truth in advertising a beautiful thing? Cheaper and much more satisfying than being scared celibate.

Praws train toward inequalities of later life

Ask and you shall receive. Well, at least you stand a better chance of receiving, depending on if Mom thinks it’s a suitable item. At our home, that translates to “put it on the grocery list” if you would like the godlike grownup in charge of the household to consider acquiring it for you.
How hard is that to understand conceptually? Even the most non-cerebral of athletes seem able to get it, as evidenced by the frequency with which coaches quote this maxim: “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
The source of the quote isn’t as important as its message. You can’t expect results without putting forth effort. As a shopper, I always fail to purchase 100% of the items that aren’t written on my shopping list. I have maintained a perfect score on that score for as long I’ve been doing the weekly grocery gig.
So I was pretty surprised when one day, over a year ago, when the word “Praws” appeared on my grocery list. What the heck is a praw, and where would I get one, let alone a plural of them? Even more mysterious was who in my household wanted them enough to actually write something down where it could be found and acted on?
Thinking back to a recent conversation I’d had with my daughter, then nine, I suddenly realized “praw” meant “bra,” short for “brassiere,” and decidedly less French-sounding. That Christmas, Santa Baby and his four pair of reindeer delivered a pair of praws to our house. They were the most basic of praws, really: thin, white cotton, wrap-around strips of fabric that resembled hair bandeaus, with two strings attached to anchor them over slender young shoulders. I’ve seen sturdier Bounty paper towels that were quicker picker uppers.
The praws weren’t worn for the longest time because, well, they really weren’t needed – yet. They served more like those deer whistles we pay too much for and mount on the front bumpers of our cars, which look stupid and don’t go on right, but nevertheless make a person feel better just knowing they’re there, to ward off potential accidents. In this case, the approaching train wreck was named “adolescence.”
When the praws finally did need to be pressed into service, they were too small. They were also too flimsily designed, so a second set of hands (mine) was needed to help her into them, because the praws would otherwise roll up and have to be unfurled in order to do the cover up job for which they were intended. There’s something ironic about asking a parent for help with an article of clothing you are wearing as a symbol of budding maturity. I resisted commenting.
Last week, the word “praws” once again appeared on my grocery list. This year, the request was legitimate, but unfortunately, fell on the grocery week when I was buying catfood and kitty litter. Budget busters. Typically, praws don’t come cheap, regardless of how little fabric is involved. Generally, you get charged more for less.
Let me admit up front my response to the praws request flew in the face of the kind and comforting advice given on the flowery, pink website I bypassed the website’s size calculator and fitting guide and headed straight to a real store where I ruthlessly price-shopped like I do for everything else. Why should praws be different?!
To my credit, I did not look for praws in a store that also sold produce. Neither did I go to establishments that featured fierce-looking, lingerie-clad models. I went to TJ Maxx and found a colorful assortment of training praws sold in tandem. Bearing brand names like “Sweet & Sassy” and “Girl Thing,” they were inexpensive enough that I got three two-packs for $10. What a deal! You couldn’t buy one cup of an adult praw for that price, assuming someone would sell you one.
The training praw concept gently lures juvenile wearers in the direction of the future where she can expect to pay top dollar for adult undergarments, a prospect that remains highly un-sexy, no matter which style you select. Better start saving now for the real thing, Girl Thing.

Donated book binds women together in faith

In my thank-you note to the donor of the book I found so helpful, I paraphrased something from Jesus Calling. It surprised me when she sent me a copy of that book. While she couldn't have known, HE most certainly did!

In my thank-you note to the donor of the book I found so helpful, I paraphrased something from Jesus Calling. It surprised me when she sent me a copy of that book. While she couldn’t have known, HE did!

A few years ago, I entered a writing contest where the topic required of essay candidates was how the library had changed your life. As one of the winners, my essay touting the vicarious wisdom I have received through reading was featured in a local publication. I like the idea my reading habit could be written about and perhaps inspire others to read more. Consider this a second installment along a similar theme.
A little over a month ago, I purchased at the Salvation Army Thrift Store a really special book by Stephen Arterburn called Healing is a Choice. It’s one of those books that even if you stopped with just reading its title, would have already managed to make you think. But as is my habit, I went on to devour it. As I read, I took periodic breaks to copy quotes from it so I could continue to savor the messages that most spoke to me.
One of the passages I re-wrote in my journal for future reference was found on page 117: “You may be holding on to something you were never meant to have, or holding on to a life you were never meant to live. Adjust your expectations, embrace the life you have and discover what God can make of it – mistakes and all.” I desperately need that reminder to keep my head in today, instead of trying to re-try past or fret about the future. We all do. So I decided to thank the donor of the book.
Inside on its dust jacket was an address label bearing the name of the previous book owner. I wrote her a thank-you note that began, “Hi. You don’t know me, but you have helped me. I am writing because I bought for $2.99 a book you donated . . . . ”
Within the note, I said I’ve had a rough go of it since my husband left 16 months ago, but God has consistently placed in my path the information I most need at the time I most need it. My kids and I have been thankful and able to keep blessing others despite our own circumstances due to the generosity of others.
Note: That last line of my note was a variation on something Sarah Young wrote in her devotional, Jesus Calling, “Give thanks regardless of your feelings and receive joy regardless of your circumstances.” It is yet another strong reminder of how to heal.
I concluded my note to the book’s previous owner by saying, “Sometimes we wonder if the little things we do actually make a difference or are appreciated. I’m here to tell you they are. Thanks so much for making it possible for Healing is a Choice to make it into my hands.”
A month later, a small package addressed to me showed up in my mailbox. It was from an unknown Florida address. Opening it, I found a different book and a letter, from the previous book owner. The thank-you note I’d sent to her Michigan address had been forwarded to where she winters in Florida.
She told me what a lovely blessing my note had been to her, and said she is always in awe as to how God moves in and out of our lives and helps us in the most unexpected ways. Additionally, it had inspired her to reach out and let others know how much the little things they do for others have an impact on lives.
My kids and I were amazed by her kindness, but even more by the book she had enclosed: a leatherbound copy of Jesus Calling. “I hope it will minister to your spirit as much as it has to me and thousands of others . . . . May God bless you abundantly in your Journey with Him.” she said, adding that if I already had a copy of the book, I should pass this one forward.
Not on your life. I will give away my other copy of Jesus Calling while I retain and treasure this special one as a reminder to continue to give thanks for life’s thoughtful little gestures even when feeling overwhelmed by the bigger, scarier situations.

Namestrip a reminder of the price of freedom

When my daughter was issued the pair of "Lower" pants, all kinds of memories were triggered. When my daughter was issued the pair of “Lower” pants, all kinds of memories were triggered. Kate was desperately in need of new camouflage pants for her Young Marines uniform. This would be the third pair of pants she’s needed, seeing as how she’s shot up six inches in the two years since she joined the organization.

My fingers cringed at the prospect of once again seam-ripping from one pair of pants and sewing onto another the heavy canvas namestrip with“Banks K” commercially stitched across it. Even with a heavy duty needle and thimble, the job is brutal at best and fraught with finger pricks.

Fortunately, the pants were free. Over the years Young Marines has developed an exchange program where the odds are good you can turn in outgrown gear for something better fitting. After I pry the name strip off of Kate’s pants, I’ll turn them back in for the good of another kid.

“Look, I got new pants,” Kate announced, waving them, when I picked up my kids from last week’s drill. I unfolded the pants to gauge where I would place her namestrip and to estimate how hard of a job it would be. I let out a startled gasp. A namestrip remained on the pants. What stopped me in my tracks wasn’t the extra work that would be required to remove it, but the name, itself, “Lower.”

“Mom, are you okay?” my kids wanted to know. “What’s so special about the ‘Lower’ name?”

How could they be expected to know the power that name spelled across camouflage had over anyone in my family above a certain age. “It’s pronounced “Lauer,” like “Eddie Bauer,” I corrected. “And that was the last name of my cousin, Larry, Uncle Bud and Aunt Pauline’s son, a marine who was killed in Vietnam at the age of 19, back in 1968.”

To give them perspective on just how ancient a history we were talking, I told them 1968 was the year after my sister, their aunt Kerry, was born. “That’s why Aunt Pauline used to ride in that special car with “Gold Star Mother” on the side of it every Memorial Day parade,” I said. “She lost her only son in Vietnam in a friendly fire incident.” Naturally, they wanted to know what “friendly fire” meant.

How do you explain an oxymoron like friendly fire? I can remember my first encounter with the concept, back in 1979, the year the movie “Friendly Fire” was broadcast on television. My family was among the estimated 64 million viewers who tuned in to watch Carol Burnett and Ned Beatty portray Peg and Gene Mullen, an Iowa farm couple whose son had become military collateral damage two years after cousin Larry had lost his own life.

I can still see my father, who pretty much never watched television, his wet eyes riveted to the screen, absorbing this ordinary couple uncover the heart-wrenching details of their son’s friendly fire death, much like my father’s own farming family had felt at the death of their beloved family member. I witnessed the auditory version of his reaction when I called my mother last week to tell her Kate had been issued “Lower” pants.

“Oh,” was all she could say at first, revisited pain stealing her breath. She recalled coming home the day our family learned Larry was dead. “I knew something was wrong because when I drove in the driveway, your dad was standing alone, out near the burn barrel, halfway between the house and the silo, crying.” Crying was not something in my father’s repertoire.

“Larry was a really good boy,” my mom emphasized. “Everyone thought so. They don’t make kids like that anymore.” He was exactly the son you would expect salt of the Earth people like Uncle Bud and Aunt Pauline to have: polite, caring, obedient, loyal. An ideal Marine. He would have made an ideal husband and father, too.

I looked down at the “Lower” namestrip on the pants. My eyes teared in sorrowful respect for the laughing teenage boy who used to lift four-year-old me high in the air and laughingly brush my head on the ceiling like he never would children of his own. The pants may have come free, but our freedom didn’t.

What do you mean garage sale stuff suspect?

When I was online the other day for completely different reasons, I noticed on one of the websites I was using, a tangential (leading me off in a completely different direction) headline about the top 10 items to avoid buying at garage sales.

Okay, I bit, mostly out of curiosity rather than true interest in the warnings I might read. I didn’t feel in any real danger because while I regularly traffic in used goods, I am not a fan of garage sale merchandise. While the prices tend to be ridiculously low, I find garage sales too time-consuming. Often the sellers are not well-organized and the items not well-marked. Those who make me sort through huge piles of hooey can kiss both my heiney and my business good-bye.

Both the absence of prices or prices written on a torn off piece of cardboard with “or best offer” hastily scrawled underneath irritates me. I’m there to earnestly look and buy, not go on some kind of scavenger hunt or dress rehearsal for “Let’s Make a Deal.” Get your act together, second-rate, second-hand sellers. Mark your stuff, make an executive price decision and stick with it.

That’s why I prefer well-maintained second-hand stores I can walk into and immediately see what and who I’m dealing with. While I’ve gotten better deals when dealing with idiots, I prefer to deal with people who know what they’re doing. Sometimes the foolishness you have to go through with idiots isn’t worth the wear and tear on either of us.

Garage sales are also too time-limited for my liking. Many people hit several in a morning and therefore take quick action by scooping up whole armfuls of things, including items they don’t really want, which I may have been standing there, contemplating. Obviously, garage sale and contemplation should never be used in the same sentence. The feeding frenzy feel of some garage sales forces me to have to act similarly impulsively in order to beat other garage-salers to the punch. Not my style.

Frankly, I feel pressured and put out, standing there, all doofusy in someone’s driveway, mentally debating the merits of a slightly rusty lawn dart set or wondering if anyone will notice back home the barely visible cigarette burn on the corner of that otherwise good condition oriental rug.

Fortunately, neither of those items made the top 10 list (that turned out to be the top 21) list of items not to purchase at garage sales. The list was published by Reader’s Digest, which means it originated from another source, which naturally was not mentioned anywhere in the article. That means the list, itself, has no credibility. Such as? Oh, I don’t know, maybe that it was underwritten by the Garage Salers Union Local 716 or researched by the Fair Trade Rummage Council. It’s anecdotal at best.

As stated, no-no’s in the garage sale world include pretty much 90% of the items that comprise the average garage sale. Some of the items listed were such no-brainers, I laughed aloud reading them. I mean, really, if you have to be told buying used make-up is a bad idea, you probably deserve whatever mystery disease and accompanying harm befalls you after using it.

The idea of buying an already damaged bicycle helmet is equally ludicrous. Why would anyone buy pre-defective protective equipment, unless they’re betting lightning won’t strike twice. That same someone is probably just clueless enough to be able to sleep tight at night despite the bedbug bites from the used bedding, stuffed animals and upholstered furniture they scored at the same garage sale.

According to the article, shoe cooties are the worst. Except for those from used hats. The area I took the most umbrage with on the garage sale item avoidance list was that you shouldn’t buy used kitchen stuff, particularly worn plates, pots, other cookware and kitchen electronics. Geez, what do they think I’m already cooking off and eating on?

And I’m still standing. Here in a pair of used shoes. Pre-broken in, I like to think, by someone who did me a favor, rather than sold me a bill of cootied goods. Enjoy this year’s garage sale season – caveat emptor!

Warranty unavailable for adulthood coverage

As I was getting ready for bed last night, I snapped in my retainers as I had so many nights before. In, fact, I didn’t give it much thought because taking care of the retainer business has become habit: something I just need to do. Doesn’t matter if I like it, or if my kids make fun of me when I talk to them with the retainers in my mouth. Shove them in, anyway. Retainers, not kids.

I’ve heard horror stories about people paying exorbitant sums of money to put their children in braces, only to have the kid lose or refuse to wear the retainers that followed. I’ve always assumed that was due not just to the irresponsible, infallible attitude that characterizes youth, but because the kids didn’t pay for the braces. As a teen, I babied the first bicycle I bought, treating it better than anything, including the other members of my family.

And when the braces I didn’t need as a teen ended up going on my teeth when I was 36, with the money coming directly from my paycheck (I used a pre-tax healthcare account to lessen the financial blow), I treated them as minor royalty. For three years, those puppies hounded my mouth, twisting, turning and ultimately straightening my teeth into a more correct bite and pleasing smile.

So there’s no way I’m not going to wear my retainers, which cost some ridiculous sum, like $350 per pair. I’ve never even come close to losing them or forgetting to wear them. They protect my teeth investment. To neglect them would be to squander all the time, effort and money I sacrificed. As long as I wear them, I can preserve the results of my hard work. Well, at least until something else different goes wrong with my teeth. But that’s a different column.

Truthfully, I wish life had more retainer opportunities and satisfaction guarantees. As a kid, I never thought much about warranties or guarantees because it was all about the adventure. As an adult, I want to be sure the guide I now require for the whitewater rafting trip is certified, licensed and insured and the lifejackets and rubber raft meet quality standards. And maybe the activity will be fun, too, if it doesn’t set me back too far financially.

I’ve had enough car accidents, chimney fires, surgeries, stitches and prescriptions to appreciate the value of insurance. But that’s for physical problems. Mental health treatment and medication provide care for the mind, but there’s little relief from the daily frustrations and indignities we all endure. To me, a balm for that would be more important than flood insurance.

After listening the other day to a group of teens talking, or rather fantasizing, about how glamorous adulthood would someday be, I found myself forming a rebuttal. Instead of the “Land of No Rules” they envisioned, they would discover in relatively short order there are some other principles in play, many of them but unpleasant variations on Murphy’s Law. Here’s what I came up with to describe the adulthood which I inhabit:

Adulthood means unwelcome interruptions to what you didn’t want to be doing in the first place.

Adulthood means unrelenting requirements past your commitment capacity.

Adulthood means unnecessary complications exceeding your highest experience level.

Adulthood means unprecedented sacrifice for others beyond what you would do for yourself.

Adulthood means unwarranted waiting that surpasses your reserves of patience.

Adulthood means unexpected expenses over what you already can’t afford; and

Adulthood means unappreciated efforts regardless of the results you achieve.

That doesn’t sound like something most people would like to sign up for, does it? But considering the alternative, you might as well lend it your John Hancock. No guarantee. And if there were one, it would probably just get coffee spilled on it or someone would misplace it or accidentally throw it out.

The real work of adulthood doesn’t come from your job, but from your relationships and surrounding circumstances. It’s not “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” as much as “Oh, the Way You’ll Grow” via experiences from which the nicest car and the best house cannot protect you. Enter adulthood, anyway. At your own risk.

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