Perfectly ridiculous uses of the word ‘perfect’

I called a regional blood drive coordination organization to make a late October appointment to donate blood. When asked if I had any questions, I said “no”, to which the scheduler responded, “perfect”. Huh? If “no” were the perfect reply, does that mean “yes” would have been a flawed or incorrect thing to say?  

What would have been wrong with simply using a lower-level or more neutral word, such as “okay”? As in, “Okay” or “Alright, we’ll see you on October 24 at the blood drive”? But no, we went from zero to perfect in record time. And I seriously hope we’re not heading anywhere else, as I’m not sure what’s left when the meter started at perfect. It needs re-calibrating.

Perfect was at issue again when I made a haircut appointment. While the latter turned out less than perfect, the act of setting up the appointment was deemed “perfect” by the person who scheduled me. Huh? It was just an ordinary appointment. 

Suddenly, I wondered if I were missing something. In the spirit of trying to examine my own role in the situations, I theorized that maybe the definition of the word “perfect” had changed since I last checked.

A quick look online told me otherwise: “perfect” means being entirely without fault or defect; the ideal standard; satisfying all requirements; without sin or blemish. In other words, it means exactly what it’s always meant: flawless, absolute and unequivocal. Definitely not a word I would use to describe scheduling a hair appointment.

I could see things were going to get hairy regarding the use, or rather what was emerging as the overuse, of the word “perfect”. Mostly because once I start noticing something I regard as problematic, I cannot will myself to un-notice it. Not to sound overly-paranoid, but everywhere I went after that, I felt surrounded (cringe!) by people misusing the word “perfect.”

Just how widespread is “perfect” proliferation? When I returned an item at the courtesy desk of a supermarket, I was asked for my cash register receipt. My immediate response of producing it from my pocket was declared “perfect” by the clerk. Earlier that day, someone making announcements at church had labeled someone’s suggestion (regarding the back-to-school supplies we were collecting) as “perfect”. Later, when I paid for a fast food purchase with exact change, kudos were once again given me in the form of the pronouncement, “perfect.”

Apparently, with this much perfection abounding, we must be living in a more perfect world than any of us realized. I should probably stop grousing about many things and never again begin my written commentaries with one of my own preferred uses of the word “perfect” – stating that in a perfect world we wouldn’t need to be having this conversation.

But the question remains: why are so many people referring to a whole lot of nothingness as “perfect”? While I haven’t done much research on the topic, my suspicion is it’s a combination of ignorance, laziness and monkey-see/monkey-do behavior. People hear other people say “perfect” so they say it, too. “Perfect” makes a nice-sounding filler word when you lack something more intelligent, such as “thank you”. Plus, people don’t realize how ignorant it sounds. Their lazy side doesn’t care about using an incorrect descriptor because it spares them having to educate themselves on more appropriate diction.

I’m not the only one who takes umbrage at perfect’s ridiculousness. Writing in The Irish Times (October 28, 2021), Rosita Boland said of the thoughtless, automatic use of perfect, “It’s the hiss of the year, the two-syllable word that has somehow become the default response of pretty much everyone working in hospitality.” She shared an incident where she reported to a restaurant server her food was not hot enough and he replied, “Perfect.” Some acknowledgment!

In a less-than-perfect move, I confessed to my daughter that without first consulting her, I had made a decision that in all likelihood would affect her timewise. “Fair enough,” she replied.

What?! That was entirely reasonable and totally unexpected. I started to picture her philosophically stroking her chin, sage-like – until my son informed me that “fair enough” is the latest emerging thoughtless, default phrase.

Great. No, perfect!

Doing the best job possible to re-tell history 

I wrote this on a weekday that falls between two September weekends where small town “cemetery tours” are featuring local history. These two annual tours, Union City’s “Riverside (Cemetery) Memories” and Athens’ “Tombstone Tours and Town Tales”, are set within community cemeteries and staged by the Society for Historic Preservation and the Athens Area Historical Society. 

For the past decade I have been involved with both cemetery tours, whether as an attendee, an actor, a publicist or a photographer. Which capacity matters naught to me because the histories at the heart of the individual portrayals and the story depictions are absolutely fascinating and educational. Whatever role I have leaves me steeped in local folklore and appreciation for those who have come before me. I’m not alone in feeling that. Many people who come to watch are impressed by the information that’s shared. 

Admittedly, the retelling of local history isn’t for everyone. There are no car chases, elaborate sets or special effects. By the nature of their subjects and the earlier eras covered, they are overwhelmingly low-tech. But interestingly, the absence of modern technology in historical program delivery only adds to the timeless charm of re-enactments, especially juxtaposed to today’s increasingly complex and fast-paced world. 

What wonderful respite on a warm, late summer or early fall day to head to an older, mostly shaded cemetery with neighbors, friends and family and get to listen to neighbors, friends and family share the stories of days past when dearly departed (although sometimes not so dear) neighbors, friends and family still roamed the earth. It’s much better than sitting in history class or reading a history book alone.  

Of course, this is only my perspective on cemetery tours as an important source of local history. Other people view history differently, as evidenced by these radically different quotes about it: 

“History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren’t there”, said philosopher, poet, literary and cultural critic George Santayana, who hailed from Madrid and departed this world 70 years ago.  

Yes, historical accounts of people and events are subjectivity-prone.  There’s no getting around it. But to the extent possible, given an all-volunteer workforce, time constraints, lack of monetary resources and unavailability of public information on the events and lives of the subjects featured, the organizations staging cemetery tours do their best to provide accurate local history information, albeit slices of it versus the whole pie.  

That said, local history researchers, Bobbie Mathis from Union City and Cle Bauer from Athens, do a terrific job of mining what they can from the sources at their disposal. In coming up with the scripts for the former Union City residents I’ve played, I try to weave their lives within the context of what was happening statewide, nationally and globally in their era. 

For instance, I recently portrayed pianist and business owner Neal Radebaugh, whose musical career was launched in 1915 demonstrating sheet music for other pianists at Woolworth’s. I shared that during WWI, radio was in its infancy so people learned sheet music by hearing it played live.  

“History is not the past but a map of the past, drawn from a particular point of view, to be useful to the modern traveller,” said Henry Glassie, professor emeritus of Indiana University in Bloomington who researches folklore and folklife.  

Glassie’s conceptualization of history closely aligns with the content and context of local cemetery tours. As someone journeying through modern times, I appreciate how paying attention to the lessons of history can spare us the reinvention-of-the-wheel kind of unnecessary activity.  

But unfortunately, as English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley, best known for his novel Brave New World, summarized, modern travelers come up short on the learning curve. According to Huxley, “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”  

The repetition of past mistakes is the generational curse our mother warned us about. It’s also what makes cemetery tour attendance infinitely important – to absorb the past lessons of innovation, hard work, risk-taking and perseverance necessary to help us extricate ourselves from the present pickles in which we find ourselves. 

It’s not about recipes, but creativity and love 

Over the years, I have on occasion been accused of being a good cook. That has always struck me as incredibly funny because whether or not I could cook, let alone cook well, was neither here nor there to me for the longest time. Cooking didn’t fall anywhere on my list of priorities. I always had better things to learn or do. 

When I was growing up, my mother was the one in our family who did the cooking. All of it. That’s how she wanted it. Except that she didn’t really enjoy cooking for the family. She was heavily recipe-dependent and unless she had everything for which a recipe called, she would not attempt to make it. Nothing ruined her day more than lacking an ingredient or in a large enough quantity to complete a recipe. No substitutions allowed. 

I didn’t get to watch my mom cook a whole lot because early on she deputized me as her chief ingredient-fetcher. No meal was complete unless it involved me digging through cupboards, standing on my head in the freezer, sprinting to the out-of-the-way upstairs “junk room” (pantry), making a trip to the basement, or perhaps to the garden in search of something she needed. It was a great system for someone. Just not me. 

My mother regularly had me make all her pie crusts because she found that cooking task especially vexing. I didn’t mind. It came easily to me, as well as provided a time-out from the step-n-fetch-it role I so detested. She also drafted me (or any of my three sisters who were foolish enough to wander into the kitchen while she was cooking) to stir whatever she had in a mixing bowl or on the stove top. I swear, I’ll sue her estate if I end up with carpal tunnel in my stirring wrist!  

Her grunt work taken care of, you’d think my mom would have been a happier cook. But she wasn’t. She was too obsessed with and distressed over following “The Rules” – meaning the dictates of the recipe or the cookbook she was reading. Her inability to see them merely as guidelines caused her undo culinary angst. To summarize Mom’s insecurities, it was as if Irma Rombauer, Betty Crocker, Julia Child and James Beard sat in judgement every night at dinnertime. Joyless cooking. 

Complicating the situation for my mother was that her mother-in-law, who lived across the road, could make something out of nothing; and her own mother, who lived but a mile away, frequently tried out new recipes and was forever coming up with variations on regular fare. It was only after I lived on my own that I realized how much of my grandmothers’ approaches had seeped into my psyche through watching them cook. Praise the Lord! 

However, at the time I left home, the only things I knew how to cook were my Grandma Kate’s version of spaghetti with meat sauce, oyster stew (no idea why I retained that one) and Scotcharoos as a dessert. I’d also mastered our family’s tricky Christmas tradition recipe for five-pound fudge, which requires much diligence and a candy thermometer. One miss-step and you have to scrap the whole batch of expensive ingredients.   

As those weren’t exactly family meal staples, I started reading recipes, talking to other people about what they cooked and experimenting on my own family. When I ate something I liked, I’d ask the preparer of it for the recipe. Even more valuable than the colleges I attended were the fantastic cooks and chefs I met waitressing my way through – always happy to share their thoughts, techniques and recipes. So, as impossible as it seems, my free cooking education occurred in the pre-Internet dark ages when TV cooking shows were scarce and the Foodie Cult not yet formed. 

I’ve personally discovered, culinary surveys have proven and modern cooking shows reinforce that good cooking isn’t just about the rules, the recipes and/or the ingredients. It’s about resourcefulness, imagination and experimentation. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. In today’s kitchen, creativity reigns. 

But perhaps the best cooking tip was that shared by my chef friend, Jon Hower, who maintains, “There’s no substitute for cooking with love.”  

New camp chair purchase reflects subtle shift

I’ve been reading a lot lately and about motivational interviewing (MI) and applying it to myself. What better way to test an approach than on oneself? MI is a guiding style of communication designed to empower people to change by drawing out their own meanings, importance and capacity for change. It’s a respectful and curious way of being with people that facilitates the natural process of change and honors the autonomy of the person you are working with.

After having several facilitative conversations with myself, I became convinced it was time to usher out the old and in the new. Was it a self-destructive behavior I needed to dump and replace with a more functional one? Kinda sorta. I mean, an underlying thrifty behavior was proving in need of replacing. I’ll let you decide.

Approximately a decade ago, when my son and my daughter were still heavily involved in community baseball and softball team play, I knew I needed to replace the threadbare pair of blue camp chairs I had for years been taking to the ballpark sidelines. They were an inexpensive set to begin with, but constant use had caused their joints to slip and their seats to sag. And it was getting nearly impossible to get up out of them without the third-party aid.

“Hey, could you possibly give me a hand?” I had been forced to reach out to a passerby on an embarrassing number of occasions, “My bottom seems to be a little stuck to the bottom of this chair and my only other alternative is to tip over sideways in hope the impact of the fall will jar me loose.”

People have mostly been sympathetic to my plight and stepped in and reached out a hand with a hearty grip that yanks me forward and dislodges me from my rickety camp chair. But you can tell from the expressions on their faces they want me to buy a better set of fold-up chairs so they won’t have to be bothered again with this kind of borderline-creepy request. 

So after that game, I went out and found a half-price, end-of-season sale set of four similar chairs in a burgundy color. I was just looking for something slightly more decent to sit in and get out of on my own steam at my children’s ball games. The new chairs appeared sturdy and attractive enough, but were nothing to write home about. When I let a friend lower his 200+ pound body into one of them, it collapsed faster than when Golidilocks test-drove Baby Bear’s chair. I ran back to the store where I’d purchase the chairs and bought a replacement.

In retrospect, that was a stupid purchase, as within just a couple of summer ball seasons, all four chairs began deteriorating mechanically. However, I tolerated them for eight additional years because they still managed to look decent, even while spilling our drinks, poking us in the small of the back and folding up on us unexpectedly. Finally, I mentally gave myself permission to buy better replacements following the next sign of personal injury from our lawn furniture.

However, when this spring rolled around, even with no ball games on any of our calendars, I went out and bought new chairs the first time Menard’s had its better camp chairs on sale. After the sale price and the 11% storewide rebate, six 300 lb. capacity Guidesman steel folding director’s chairs ended up costing me approximately $30 apiece.

When I came home and showed off to my children the new chairs, with their special fold-up side trays with drink holders, my adult kids displayed more excitement that they had in a long time.  

“Wow, Mom, this is great. I like you got these new chairs before the old ones completely collapsed,” said my son, swiping two to have in his vehicle.

“Amazing! You can actually exit these chairs,” complimented my daughter. She and her boyfriend grabbed two on their way to a bonfire.

Both kids wondered why I had waited so long to upgrade chairs.

“I answered this question to myself through MI,” I said. “I’m frontloading economic pain to save myself backside pain.” Autonomy and anatomy intact.

Odd comings and goings impact food supply

With my kids now 20 and 21 and all of us going in multiple directions lately in terms of work, school and relationships, we’ve never been more like ships that pass in the night. I’m having a hard time not hearing the lyrics to the old Barry Manilow song, “Ships” that addresses that phenomenon, so I might as well give in and include it: 

“We’re two ships that pass in the night; and we smile when we say it’s alright. We’re still here, it’s just that we’re out of sight, like ships that pass in the night.” 

While Barry Manilow has never been my go-to as a musical philosopher, he does make a point in observing everyone is so focused on his/her own activities we rarely have the time or opportunity to meet somewhere in the middle, at the heart of things. 

Following the ships analogy, the area most affected by these stealthy comings and goings is the galley, which translates to the kitchen of my home. While I understand what’s happening or not happening says more about what phase of life my family is in, it feels more like the equivalent of back-talk to the mother figure who is unsuccessfully trying to meal-plan and grocery-shop against the new backdrop of what’s become her offspring’s grab-and-go (free-for-all) lifestyle.  

I feel slighted when maybe no one shows up for a sit-down, meat-and-potatoes meal I’ve put (more like “wasted”) a lot of effort into. Then, when all I have to offer is aging, odds-and-ends leftovers, both of my offspring show up looking hungry with a friend or beau in tow.  

To add to the chaos and wastefulness, when my adult children miss a meal, it’s frequently because they’ve dined elsewhere – usually out somewhere fast and cheap. So not only do my healthy, first-run, home-cooked meals get squandered, but they automatically get demoted to leftover status right out of the gate. That’s just flat-arse wrong! 

“Did you eat somewhere else?” I can’t resist asking in my most innocent tone. It’s fun to watch them squirm, deny it, and manufacture excuses as to why they aren’t hungry “right now,” knowing full well the real reason is they’ve eaten lesser food elsewhere. Food unfaithfulness is a serious form of family infidelity. 

The proof lies in the undeniable evidence that gets left behind. In this case, our already-too-full (of produce) fridge is replete with take-out containers housing remnants of the meals my kids deny having consumed away from home. Hmm. 

“So let me get this straight – you are suggesting that someone who just so happened to be carrying a small, black Styrofoam take-out container from Fazoli’s broke into our house when we weren’t home and instead of stealing something, left us a partial serving of fettucine alfredo with chicken?” I ask in my best Perry Mason tone. 

“And what of the partially-consumed, straw-bearing, ant-attracting, clear plastic cups of soft drinks I keep finding sitting on the porch stoop when I go to let the cat out in the morning? Am I to presume they were placed there by Bigfoot or mysterious entities similar to those that engage in crop circle-making?”  

Despite my vast experience with criminal interrogation techniques, I am never fully able to pry a sufficient explanation from either my son’s or my daughter’s lips. Crazy-making stuff! Perhaps you know the self-defeated feeling. 

In response to my kids’ odd comings and goings, along with soaring inflation, I’ve embarked on a pantry and freezer inventory reduction campaign: I keep fewer items on hand. This plan was aided greatly by my son bagging two deer last fall and since then cooking only three of the approximately three dozen packages of venison he brought home from up north. There’s no room in my small basement freezer for anything else. 

Curiously, my new, reduced inventory approach hasn’t gone over well with my kids, who’ve historically led a restaurant-like existence where I’ve rustled up just about any grub (within reason) for which a person is hankering. But there’s an upside: we were so low on food the other day they actually shared with me some leftover Cajun rice from a take-out container of mysterious origin. It wasn’t so bad! 

Fighting the losing summer produce battle 

Looking at the contents of my refrigerator the other night, I was rather horrified. The fridge has been a disaster area ever since I had kids, even more so during the summer months when it’s stuffed with my good intentions in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables. You’d think a produce hoarder lives here. 

Peaches, pears, dark cherries, blueberries, melons, sweetcorn and tomatoes are shoved in atop leftovers – anywhere I can make them fit. And that’s on top of the usual year ‘round produce: carrots, celery, cucumbers, peppers, apples, grapes, lemons, romaine and bagged salads.  

Did I mention I really don’t care for fruit? I find it repulsive, but stock it for my kids. They’ve always claimed to love it, but nevertheless now stop by Taco Bell on the way home from their activities and simultaneously ruin their appetites and my budget by pre-empting bananas with burritos, which wastes everyone’s money due to our fresh produce going to waste.  

During their youth, I always served various types of fruit every morning as a part of their breakfast. As young adults, their tastes have shifted to carbohydrates and caffeine: the bagel and coffee routine, often minus the bagel. One of them actually tried arguing that a mint variety of flavored non-dairy coffee creamer helps meet one’s recommended daily allowance in the fruits and vegetables category. Really?!At least they’re not advocating the same for marijuana. 

My kids’ absence in the home at mealtimes, disposable income, snacking habits and feelings of caloric invincibility leave me home alone to watch hopelessly while a fridge full of the fruits of the season rot. 

Our refrigerator vegetable collection has fared better, mostly because I love veggies and use them to make some of my kids’ favorite recipes on rare occasions when they are guaranteed to be home – for instance, when a vehicle is in the shop or a significant other is tied up with a work, college or family commitment. I strike while the iron is hot and capitalize on turning vegetables into delicious companion dishes. If I fix them something veggie, it gets eaten. 

I am especially pleased to report that this produce season to date, I have had only one bunch of asparagus disintegrate on me (and very disgustingly so!), compared to the half dozen bunches I’ve historically lost to decay most summers. My asparagus patch also yielded less this year and I’ve bought fewer bunches, too, due to limited storage room in the refrigerator on account of the excess fruit. 

My friends who are master canners think the logical solution is for me to preserve the summer’s bounty in Ball jars that I could shelve (and forget about) in my basement. Perish the thought! They don’t know what childhood trauma that triggers: I still have flashbacks of my grandmother sending me bare-footed down to her poorly-lighted, root-cellarish, spider-webbed, dirt-floored basement to fetch some embalmed-looking home-canned goods. Inevitably, I would grab the wrong type of pickles, or bloated-looking fruit, and be forced to walk it back down there and search for a replacement. No protesting allowed. 

My father had zero sympathy, as his mother (that same woman) used to force him to go outside during the winter and dig around until he found the lid of one of the barrels they buried in the yard to store cabbages in during the cold weather months. Even creepier, he had to contend with snakes that somehow got into the barrels! 

Let me also chronicle here the extreme drama I was forced to endure and participate in each summer when mother put in a garden against her will and canned its dividends under extreme duress and the stink-eye of her mother-in-law (that same woman). Suspicious-looking Ball jars of uneaten ooze remained in the basement 30 years later.  

With that heritage, it’s a wonder I don’t write more Stephen King-like stories. So spare me, everyone, your blissful tales of canning 983 quarts of whatever. Kiss my moldy strawberries!  

Back on the refrigerator front, I resolve to buy only one kind of fruit at a time. No more fruit salvage cooking in the form of banana bread or smoothies. I’m fully intent upon betraying my root cellar roots! 

Take those advice columns under advisement

When you ask people what part of a newspaper they turn to first, many will semi-embarrassedly say it’s the obituary section, which I thought strange when I was younger. However, the older I get, the more the obituaries are my go-to within the newspaper. Although admittedly, I’m not as bad as the parents of my friend, whom she claims don’t want to talk anymore about the flower gardens they’ve nurtured in their retirement, but instead direct the conversation to who’s pushing up daisies.

Certainly, an increasing interest in who just kicked the bucket is linked to our growing awareness of our own mortality. As a writing colleague recently said of himself, he’s reached the point where he has more years behind than ahead of him. That’s true for many of us. I don’t like reading the obituaries of people close to my age (58) or younger. It’s like riding an escalator down, down, down to the point of no-return at an alarmingly increasing speed.

But my official excuse for reading obituaries is that as a regular writer of them, I like to see what other obituary writers are coming up with to summarize the lives of people who have recently died. That’s at least partially true, especially when I travel to another state where the styles of memorial legacies are markedly different. I particularly like to see how other obituary authors “vague up” educational, work and relational information that is scarce or less than flattering. It’s an art within itself.

But enough about obituaries – I want to talk here about my second favorite newspaper feature: advice columns, provided the advice giver is not a complete idiot. I simply adore advice columns. But why? They appeal to my voyeuristic side, with some schadenfreude thrown in. Nothing makes me feel better about myself than reading about the even greater controversies other people experience. And let’s be frank: who doesn’t like to read about bad things happening to people who have made bad decisions?! (As if that somehow prevents our own!)

Speaking of bad, sometimes the people described by those who write in seeking advice are total jack-holes and undeniably bad people, although the advice-seekers always seem reluctant to describe them as “bad” no matter how obviously bad they are. They dance around, trying to use kinder, gentler terms to remain nice (and to appear less foolish-looking for having hooked up with a bad person).

This doesn’t work, as shown in this July 14, 2022 Dear Abby advice column where a wife was singing her husband’s praises right up until dropping the bombshell:

“We have an amazing relationship, and he is my best friend. We do everything together – grocery shop, date nights, travel, etc. He is a wonderful husband. The only problem is he doesn’t contribute financially.”  

Let’s face it, that’s bad. Very bad. I was glad Abby answered with the term “wonderful” husband surrounded by sarcastic quotation marks. Conversely, the spousal recipient of all that deadbeat “wonderfulness” deserves not just a break, but a complete exit strategy.

Dear Abby answered more matter-of-factly when another wife wrote in to say, “I’ve been married 30 years to a man who is a good person in every way except one. He lies to me.” Abby observed it appeared the husband was a compulsive liar and things weren’t likely to change unless he was willing to seek professional help regarding the issue.

This amateur wanted Abby to say more, perhaps ask when the lying became noticeable and why it was now unbearable enough to write an advice columnist about it. I also wondered at what point a chronic liar, financially slacking spouse or other variety of louse officially crosses over into “bad person” territory. Could a simple pro vs. con scoresheet effectively tip the balance?

Then I remembered one magazine interview I’d read featuring a prominent advice columnist. One of her cardinal rules was to never beat the advice-seeker over the head with the obvious, but to try and make a light bulb go off, which might trigger minor, incremental changes in deactivating the undesirable behavior.

For now, I guess I will take under advisement both advice-seeking and advice-giving. It has become way too complicated for me!

‘Bank of Mom’ gives new meaning to interest

Have you heard of the Bank of Mom? It’s quite the happenin’ place. Open 24/7, with rates straight from Heaven, but it won’t give you space.

Welcome to the Bank of Mom, with branches everywhere in the world, as well as probably everywhere on the planet where there are signs of life. And while the Bank of Mom should be relegated to the lending institution of last resort, enough people gravitate to it that it ends up becoming the financial institution of least resistance.

Given the fact that baby Homo Sapiens tend to rely upon their caregivers (the maternal ones in particular) for food, shelter and safety proportionately much longer than most other species of mammals, it’s understandable human young’uns would look pleadingly and open-handedly at those same caregivers to meet their more advanced needs – namely financial ones.

I can remember demanding an allowance from my parents when I was in elementary school. When asked by my parents what I needed money for and why I deserved it, I didn’t have an answer, but that didn’t stop me from trying to get enrolled on the family payroll. Then I started studying the household and farm jobs my mom and dad, respectively, disliked the most and offered to do them in exchange for an allowance.

They agreed, but unfortunately, I low-balled myself with my offer and ended up spending hours doing some grimy daily chores for one dollar per week. It taught me something not only about the Bank of Mom, but about the Employment Agency of Dad, which often worked hand in chore glove to manipulate financially desperate me and my older sister into selling our souls and strong backs for peanuts to complete unsavory items on brutal parental to-do lists.

If I just focused on what I was earning, rather than the hard work, the trade-off didn’t seem so bad. In just under 18 months, I had saved enough money to buy a 10-speed bike from the local Gambles store!

When it was time for me to buy the first car of my own (a royal blue 1976 Ford Fairmont) at the age of 18, my mother convinced me to allow the Bank of Mom to loan me the money interest-free, versus the something like seven-percent our bank was charging. I handed over $500 in graduation money up front to my mother, while she spotted me the remaining $2,200 – to be paid back in monthly installments of $200 over the next 11 months.

Four months and $800 into my loan through the Bank of Mom (Susie Branch), I discovered the loan was not as “interest-free” as I had been led to believe – at least not as long as my mother had an ongoing “interest” in my life. “Do you really think you should be wasting money at the movies when you’ve only paid me back $800 of the $2,200 you owe?” she asked.

Never mind that I was current with my payments, or that while attending college full-time I was waitressing and working retail to pay the loan, insurance and gas: the Bank of Mom seemed to enjoy having me under its thumb and reminding me of where I stood.

With the second vehicle I bought, it was easier just to finance it through the local bank. Ken Brooks, my loan officer, never editorialized on how I spent the rest of my money as long as I was current with my payments. He wasn’t into financial S & M or making me feel beholden.

Fast forward 40 years: my daughter is buying her first car of her own after totaling the one I initially supplied. She bummed rides from me and everyone else the past few months, while doing whatever she could to earn money. Once she had enough saved to pay for 2/3 of the vehicle, she applied for a bank loan for the final $1,000 she needed, a move designed to help her build credit. Her bold actions were successful.

Well, shoot! The Bank of Mom (Kristy Branch) had some crappy tasks lined up for her to perform in exchange for an interest-free loan. Guess I’ll have to find another victim – Oh, I meant to say “customer.”

Ensure you’re prepared for a working vacation

When my son started summer work with a small construction crew, he was told early on to “be prepared” because they would be spending a week on a project in the Upper Peninsula, but it would be sort of a working vacation. He was neither here nor there with the idea because he doesn’t have other responsibilities that need accommodating – plus he needed the money.

“Must be nice” I thought to myself, to not have any other people and activities depending on you and just be able to pick up and go somewhere, knowing you’ll come back to a situation where everything was handled in your absence.

I watch with envy when my children stumble into the house relatively late in the evening, exhausted from yet another session of having fun goofing around (frequently with other people the responsibility bug also hasn’t yet fatally bitten). They obliviously walk past sleepy me, who’s up past-bedtime, cooking ahead, washing dishes, folding laundry and/or paying bills, The kicker’s when they announce:

“I’m going straight to bed. Homework and showering will have to wait because I’m too tired now.” Then they disappear up the stairway to the land of deep sleep, uninterrupted by the mental-making of to-do lists (that must be tackled with pre-coffee urgency by sunrise), or by the need to set the alarm for an even earlier wake-up time to fit in everything before work. Again the “Must be nice” phrase flits across where my brain used to be. You wanna talk tired?!

Tired is a luxury I lack the energy to acknowledge. That would only drag me further down. Of course, there are plenty of times I feel like screaming, “No, not today, I’m too $@#&!%! tired,” but to what end? It’s not like it’s gonna make all the work simply vanish.

The little voice in my head has never been sympathetic regarding tired. It sounds a lot like those two bushy-eyebrowed old guys who comprise the peanut gallery on re-run episodes of “The Muppet Show.” They’re more like, “Too bad, so sad. Quit your whining and keep going or you’ll never get everything done.” And that’s a fact.

There’s a tee-shirt that reads, “I’m not having one of those days, I’m having one of those lives.” YES!! Exactly. But if there’s an ounce of satisfaction to derive from tiredness, it comes from watching the fallout the morning after my kids have given in to tired and used it as an excuse to procrastinate on things that didn’t just need completing yesterday, but should have been started the week previously. Such was the case with my son getting ready for his UP “working vacation.”

Two weeks prior to the trip, in an effort spur some forward-focused activity, I asked him where he would be staying. “I dunno. Somewhere about eight hours from here.”

He didn’t care at that time because he was too busy last-minute getting ready to travel north to Rogers City for his dad’s side of the family reunion. Naturally, he took greater than usual pains to prepare for it because his girlfriend was going.

The family reunion trip actually helped ready him for the work-vacation journey because he never bothered to remove my lawn chairs from the back of his van or to unpack his suitcase. I thought I smelled something! 

Specifically for the construction crew trip, he asked me to pick up cherry Pepsi, licorice, rice cakes, apples, coffee and some hazelnut liquid coffee creamer packets. I threw in water, several Powerades, beef sticks, chocolate, OTC painkillers, TP, paper towels, bug spray, a clip-on fan, a lighter, an extension cord and adaptor. Not exactly wilderness survival staples, but designed to offer comfort.

He claimed he’d packed everything vital, but then returned home five minutes after leaving to grab a towel, sleeping bag and pillow. I kid you not.

While my son may have shorted himself a few survival items, he did remember to pack some heat. After all, my offspring didn’t belong to the “Be Prepared” Boy or Girl Scouts during their childhood, but rather the “Semper Fi” Young Marines. Just don’t shoot your eye out, son – because remember, you refused my offer to pack Band-Aids.

Notes outweighed by musical abominations

I was supposed to have been a music teacher. How do I know? My mother told me so. She had friends who were instrumental music instructors and she thought my going into that field would be a great idea. Plus, from an early age I loved music and whenever we attended a musical theater production, I managed to memorize a good portion of the songs and could sing them similarly to how I’d heard them performed.

Flashback to age seven: following taking in a weekend production of “Guys and Dolls” at a nearby community college, I used school recess time to try and teach some of my classmates the chorus line-style chorus to “A Bushel and a Peck” (complete with Miss Adelaide’s accent), along with “If I Were a Bell” (sung tipsily like soul-saving Sarah Brown). Later I taught my friends the male vocal parts.

It seemed perfectly normal to me – well as normal as discovering as a kindergartener that I adored the score of “The Nutcracker Suite” and nearly wore out my parents’ Nutcracker LP playing it incessantly.

Further contributing to my musical delinquency was that my best friend’s mother was an elementary music teacher in a neighboring school district. I can remember her enthusiasm for music in every form and being fascinated with seeing and playing the large variety of instruments in her classroom her students used to make music to accompany their singing.

Ah, the singing. During sleepovers, my friend’s mom would teach us the latest songs she was working on with her students. She’d also take us to see their annual musical productions. Highly motivating! My friend’s mom taught us the international folk dances she learned at music teacher workshops, so we fancied ourselves pretty cutting edge when it came to cutting the rug with globally-diverse dance moves.

Piano lessons began for me at age 10, along with learning more diverse and difficult, non-assigned songs learned on the side, sparked by my friend’s mom buying me a challenging Tchaikovsky “The Nutcracker Suite” music book (which I still play from). I was in the Panpipers Choir fourth-fifth grade, played trombone from sixth-grade through college, and sang with and piano-accompanied the high school choir.

It was all very musically special until it wasn’t. Despite giving piano lessons to several younger people when I was in high school and college, where I only minored in music. Say what?! My mother was livid. Apparently, she had already mentally purchased advance sale tickets for the marching band shows she was sure I was going to put on because she enjoyed them so much.

“You are throwing your life away,” she told me. And to avoid being a party to my alleged fool-hardiness, she boycotted my college commencement when I graduated with honors with a major in human resources development with an emphasis in program development. Never mind the numerous beneficial educational and enrichment programs, trainings, support groups, classes, activities, academies and respite options I enthusiastically developed afterward; she remained convinced of the error of my ways because they were not her choices and you couldn’t tap your feet to them.

My father was more accepting of my life path left turn, quietly commenting, “It’s not like you’re giving up music completely.”

 Which, of course, I didn’t. My piano playing still provides me with comfort and joy that I share with others. But in my heart, I always sensed a career of built on music instruction would have ruined the music for me.

Non-musicians may not realize this, but there are intolerable musical abominations that can detract from music’s appeal. Let me name a few: people who bang out rote versions of “Heart and Soul” or “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater” on your piano; choir songs with notes a musical third higher than any singer’s range; music students with pushy parents who hold unrealistic expectations; awkward page turns in the middle of intense musical phrases; being asked to play “The Entertainer” a bazillion times; badly out-of-tune pianos; and badly out-of-tune singers who comport themselves as vocal virtuosos.

Mom, these are a few of my least favorite things that reinforce my dodging a career in music. Trust me. I made the right decision for me.

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