Moving out, on to new set of adult problems

My cousin and her husband were obviously purchasing with their own needs in mind when they got these cleaning supplies for their son,  who recently completed high school and is headed to his own apartment. He has different priorities that involve things more exciting than soap.

My cousin and her husband were obviously purchasing with their own needs in mind when they got these cleaning supplies for their son, who recently completed high school and is headed to his own apartment. He has different priorities.

Moving out and moving on after completion of high school is one of those so very American things. It’s become an official rite of passage. Some youth leave home immediately following graduation. Others delay their departure through college attendance, but leave soon after acquiring a certificate or degree. A few are asked to leave by their parents, as in, “Okay, our job is now finished. We’re no longer legally responsible for you. Don’t let the door hit you . . . ”

What’s unusual is for someone not to leave home. Granted, some people have stayed in the nest longer than the rest, or have crashed there long enough to regain power of flight after having their wings clipped through divorce, illness, job loss or some other form of adversity. However, returning home is typically a behavior of last resort. I can’t think of anyone at my 30th high school class reunion who was still sleeping in their childhood bedroom, letting their aging parent fix their meals and buy their socks and underwear. Perish the thought.

Americans collectively have a great pride and independence that exceeds most things, including common sense and wisdom, especially when it comes to moving out. “I’m blowing this Popsicle stand” we announce with highly public bravado on our way to new adventures in the brave new world of personal poverty and adult-sized adversity.

Too ignorant to know what we don’t know, we rush forward, frequently freefalling from the parental nest without first testing our parachute, let alone having any clue as to what color it is. That’s what made the bumper sticker sentiment, “Children, leave home now – while you still know everything!” so popular among adults. Had we been less arrogant, we might have clung to the nest like dryer lint to a pantleg.

I was a relative late-leaver at road-hitting from my parents’ home. At 22, I had waitressed my way through four years of college and was ready to embark on my first career. But through a weird, early computer era error, I received a grade of “I” (incomplete) for an internship experience I had, in fact, completed. My professor valiantly attempted to clear up the mistake, but the best the college registrar could do was issue my diploma during the next graduation cycle.

If that happened today, would I post a scathing account of it on Facebook, would a friend of an attorney friend post it on the university Facebook page, and would they issue me a downloadable bachelor of science diploma immediately? In olden days, before cyber retaliation had been invented, I simply sucked it up, continued to waitress, and watched my already jaded outlook on higher education turn a deeper shade of green.

Several months later, with newly minted diploma in hand, I acquired my first “real” job: writing for a newspaper for $6.00 an hour. I packed all my belongings into my trusty, rusty Ford Granada and drove to the uninsulated, dinky lake cottage I was off-season renting with my first adult roommate and her vengeful cat who would urinate and defecate only on my stuff, which I would overlook for a time because the heady smell of new adult freedom can overpower even the most pungent cat pee.

My first meager “professional” checks went for necessities like take-out pizza, junk food, gym membership and alcohol, not necessarily in that order. Because what’s the point of leaving your parents’ rule-ridden, oppressive environment only to reconstruct it elsewhere? C’mon. Things were gonna be different on my own!

Then came the day I wrote my first rent check, accompanied by a reality check. I only had enough money for Dave Ramsey nutrition – rice and beans, less the beans, for the remainder of the month. Maybe my folks weren’t so stupid, after all.

I wrote this in response to seeing a photo of the practical supplies my cousin and her trophy husband had bought for their son, who was moving out post-high school. Clearly, they had been shopping for their own needs, not his. The most unnecessary item they purchased was a plunger. Really! Didn’t they know he was planning on leaving all the crap behind?

Germ phobia pushes the unsanitary envelope

There are many things I dislike about online media reports. Often, old news stories get recirculated and passed off like they’re the article du jour. Such was the case with 2011 report titled “Don’t Touch That! 8 Ways to Protect Yourself from Germs in Public Places.” It began with the heading, “Beware of these locations and surfaces.”

I pulled it from the AARP website (which I accidentally tripped over, but didn’t break a hip). The original story came from Prevention.com. It underscored how ridiculously contaminated our immediate world is.

Scare tactics were the basis of this story. While I’m not big on them, I am proficient at math and was incredulous when the article opened with, “On average, an adult can touch as many as 30 objects within a minute, including germ-harboring, high-traffic surfaces such as light switches, doorknobs, phone receivers and remote controls.

What?! I worked with hyperactive autistic students with the compulsive need to touch everything they saw. That was their presenting issue. But 30 objects in one minute? I don’t think they ever achieved that, even on their worst day. My mother couldn’t have achieved that amount of grabbing at a day-after-Christmas, 75% off Hallmark greeting cards and giftwrap sale. So the claim the average adult does that kind of germ-spreading damage awakens my skepticism, which loves considering things unsanitary.

The following public places/objects were identified as especially germ-ridden:

RESTAURANT MENUS: No argument there. All it takes is sitting next to someone super creepy in a restaurant who is hanging onto his/her menu with filthy fingernails to bring the point home. At the first restaurant where I worked, about once every six months, on a rainy day when business was slow, they had me wipe off the menus. Far safer to order the daily special posted on the lobby chalkboard.

LEMON WEDGES: While it’s trendy to ask for a fresh lemon slice in your water, the waitress probably put her finger inside the glass, carrying it to your table. According to the 2007 study from the Journal of Environmental Health cited by Prevention.com, 70% of restaurant water glass lemon wedges contain disease-causing microbes. I’ll drink to that! Would putting a citrus slice in a bottle of ale help what ails those who drink from contaminated lemon water?

CONDIMENT DISPENSERS: I have seen one too many toddler put a drooling mouth over the top of a salt shaker, while his grandfather was playing amateur proctologist on a ketchup bottle with his butter knife to un-constipate it. Double ugh! It’s a wonder germs aren’t afraid of those surfaces, too!

RESTROOM DOOR HANDLES: If what I have revealed so far is enough to make you sick, beware the handle on the bathroom door where you go to upchuck! I have witnessed people covering their hands with their shirttails to open and close restroom doors. Guess that protects one of us.

SOAP DISPENSERS: Of course these are the rabbit hutches of germ breeding grounds, as they are used exclusively by conscious cootie carriers. Seems safer to avoid soap.

GROCERY CARTS: Typhoid Tommy, the same kid who put his mouth over the salt shaker and licked the bathroom door handle because he was bored, is now a cross-contamination carrier at a supermarket near you, where he regularly teethes on the grocery cart handrest. Might as well skip the germ middleman and go straight to Tommy to get sicker quicker.

AIRPLANE BATHROOMS: Who knows what’s flying along with you? Best to hold your horses and your water when it comes to airplane bathrooms, unless the flight length precludes that option. Purchase a small, roll-on can of Lysol and use it liberally when you must fly the germy skies.

DOCTORS’ OFFICES: The irony of this list is the very place all the other germy surfaces and objects will land you is a virtual amusement park of disease. Don’t take a knife to a gunfight. Become the baddest bug carrier you can be so you don’t trade up.

The solution to the germ exchange program seems obvious: never go out in public, certainly not to a restaurant. Stay home and order cross-contaminated pizza delivered by a dirty-fingernailed driver. It’s safer.

Plastic gears spoil popcorn pleasures of life

PLASTIC GEARS are beyond stupid on a metal popcorn popper!

PLASTIC GEARS are beyond stupid on a metal popcorn popper!

I love popcorn. It goes back as far as I can remember. My family loved it when I was growing up. Some nights, my mother would declare war on cooking and we’d have popcorn for dinner, sometimes with homemade chocolate malteds. This kitchen-liberating custom saved my mom the time and expense of bra-burning in an era where Gloria Steinem advocated it.
This was also the pre-microwave popcorn and pre-food processor era, so we made the popcorn on stovetop in a sturdy pan with a stirring unit that kept the kernels circulating like candidates at a political rally.
Hog-raising provided my parents with limitless lard. My dad swore by white popcorn popped in lard, his idea of a delicacy. Of course, that harkened to his childhood nostalgia, of toting lard sandwiches to school in a dinner pail that doubled as a sap bucket during maple tree-tapping time.
Lard use came with a price, besides the obvious dietary one. Anyone who has smelled burned lard-laced stovetop popcorn knows it stinks far worse than microwave popcorn could ever aspire to, even if you worked at it. Then there’s the bonus Hell of cleaning it off the bottom of the popper. Good luck with that! Even the most powerful can of oven cleaner cringes at the thought.
Chocolate malts were made using mom’s countertop mixer, purchased by my father in an uncharacteristically sentimental moment one year when he inadvertently found himself at Merchant’s Hardware Christmas week, seeking a replacement toilet tank float chain because he’d lost the spare one in our Bermuda Triangle of a junk drawer.
He likely saw Dar Alford there, buying an electric knife for Tina, and figured if he anteed up and got Mom the Sunbeam of her dreams that Christmas, he wouldn’t have to buy her another gift for another decade, which he didn’t.
Dad fancied himself a romantic, fluent in the love language known as small appliance gifting. However, he failed to glean from his outmoded relationship playbook (or perhaps stone tablet) that buying someone a tool that creates more work sends the wrong message. Man of action that he was, he wasn’t big on reading small print or instructions.
I was too young at the time to pick up on their couple’s conflicts playing themselves out culinarily in our household. Burned into my mind more permanently than a lard-enhanced popcorn scorch was popcorn’s simplicity paired with other simple family rituals, such as watching The Ed Sullivan Show together, eating the stuff out of shiny Bascal Anodized Aluminum popcorn bowls.
As an adult, I became recipient of my parents’ popcorn bowl serving set: a large, red serving bowl and eight red, blue, green and gold individual bowls when my mom was getting rid of stuff. Frequenting antique stores, I found a second large red serving bowl, additional individual bowls, and a complete set of smaller-sized individual bowls, presumably for children or more delicate eaters. Shocking as the thought is, not everyone mows down popcorn like I do.
A couple of Christmases ago, someone gave me a Theater II stovetop, hand-turned popcorn popper. I loved it. We’d pop our corn in canola oil and top it with real butter. But the popper’s cheap, POS plastic gear-turning mechanism started slipping.
While I became adept at gear realignment, they’d just fall off again, sometimes during popping. I started wearing an oven mitt to perform clumsy repairs mid-process, tired of burning myself and/or the corn. I found a replacement, metal-geared popper top online, but in keeping with another family tradition – cheapness – I didn’t want to spend the money on it. So I tolerated more gear abuse.
The last straw came when I was popping corn and mid-batch, a gear flew off and hit the floor. I watched, unable to leave the stove during popping climax, as one of our cats paw-batted the stupidly necessary thing into oblivion. Unable to find it later, I went online. A new, metal-geared popper top ran me $16, plus shipping. Secondary burn.
On the same day the new popper top arrived, the plastic gear re-surfaced. But you already knew that. I threw it in the junk draw abyss, just in case. Another long-standing family tradition.

National Courtesy Month ends in rudeness

no toilet paperDid anyone tell you September was officially declared National Courtesy Month? No? I didn’t get the word, either. Whoever was in charge of notification was too busy charging by to notice no one got the memo. Filling us in on the details may have fallen outside of his/her job description, so the ball was unceremoniously dropped or otherwise not returned to where it had been found, which is even more discourteous.

Who decided it was National Courtesy Month? Who knows. But the Farmer’s Almanac said it was, so who am I to question my elders on the editorial staff? That would be disrespectful. However, when I was doing my research about this matter of manners, I discovered March 21 has been designated at “National Common Courtesy Day.”

What’s the difference between courtesy and common courtesy? I wanted to ask, but again, didn’t want to seem rude. So I respectfully raised my hand and patiently waited my turn for someone to call on me. No one did. So I still don’t know the difference. My hand’s remained up because by now, I am respectfully trying to alert someone I need to use the bathroom. Hopefully, I’ll get noticed soon and won’t need a rude gesture or profanity to get someone’s attention.

In the interim, I’ll do what I usually do when I don’t know the answer: I’ll make up something. I’m guessing common courtesy is treating others the way you want to be treated. We’ll assume there are no masochists reading this. Here’s a self-test: if your frame of reference wouldn’t send the bubbles in a carpenter’s level between the two defining lines of the fluid-filled tubes, you might as well stop reading. You’re hopelessly unbalanced.

For those qualified to continue, I’ll go all Webster on you. Courtesy without the word “common” in front of it is “the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward others through good manners.” Therein lies the difference. Common courtesy is much more nebulous, “When in Rome, do as you would have the Romans do to you.” Alternatively, courtesy says, “You better not set toenail-trimmed foot in Rome unless you receive a formal invitation, RSVP by the specified date, brush up on your table manners and wear the proper attire.”

That suggests National Courtesy Month was designed to call attention to the more prescriptive, civilized behaviors the average person – who was NOT born in a barn – is expected to exhibit. Acquired during life skills class at school (back before that programming was unwisely cut from curriculums) and through social discourse (not intercourse) with others, courtesy is the set of social rules to be followed.

I’d like to think that courtesy, like charity, begins at home, amongst family members. But I would be wrong. At my house, a leprosy-ravaged, cigar-chomping, pornography-displaying, door-to-door Giraffe Chow salesman who showed up on our porch during mealtime would be treated with more dignity than would a family member. The only manners we collectively possess is all manner of rudeness.

While we’re working on better behavior, change has been glacially slow. We arrive places late, leave early, chew with our mouths open, talk while chewing, complain, name call, curse, interrupt others who are talking, and gossip.

My children refuse to take turns, borrow without permission and don’t return things. They randomly discard shoes and clothing, leave crumbs and dirty dishes around the house, and clean only at gunpoint. Horrible roommate behavior! I predict that during their first week of college, they will be invited to a late night, roommate-hosted, personal “blanket party” for which an RSVP will not be required. And frankly, I would fare far better with a heartless public than at the hands of my children.

Publicly, National Courtesy Month ended on a low note for me. I went into a stall in a women’s public restroom and realized, too late, there was no toilet paper. Seeing someone’s feet in the next stall, I politely knocked on the divider and asked, “Excuse me, I seem to be out of toilet paper over here. Could I please borrow some?”

“No,” came the reply. And so ended my National Courtesy Month: in the toilet, with my pants down.

Complaints rarely really about what’s stated

“I don’t mean to complain, but . . . ” I can still see the hand on the hip and the frown on the face, and hear the resigned sigh as my former next door neighbor leaned on the short length of wooden fence that separated our houses in the city where I used to live.

What would it be this time? That the hedge that bordered my front yard wasn’t trimmed to her exacting specifications? Was the whir of my food processor excessive, traveling out my kitchen window to her bedroom as I prepared zucchini to freeze for off-season breads? Or did my stepson curse while playing backyard basketball with a friend?

This time, it was something beyond my control, thank goodness. Had I noticed that airplanes from our local airport had been flying over our residential area of the city during designated quiet times? Why, she was going to obtain a copy of that ordinance, give that airport a call, contact her city commissioner to complain, and maybe even stage a protest if those things didn’t change. Would I be willing to sign a petition if she started one about the violations of the designated rules?

Designated what?! As the extremely busy working mother of three children, the only thing I was looking to sign was myself into the looney bin. I had no knowledge a quiet time ordinance existed. And I fell so exhausted into bed every night, I wouldn’t have noticed a violation of airspace unless, perhaps, a plane flew into my house. In that case, it wouldn’t matter. Heck, it really didn’t, anyway. Except to her.

These one-sided, blame-oriented conversations happened on a regular basis for the nine years I lived next door. As a retiree, my neighbor had mega-time on her hands to hatch conspiracy theories and to magnify minor things that were wrong within her immediate sphere. One had to admire her grousability. I envied her luxury of time to waste and resented that I never got to play offense, just defense – a perpetual goalie for her absence of real goals. Unless her goal was to make me miserable. She was MVP in that category.

Wish I’d known then that Lou Holtz quote, “Never tell your problems to anyone. Twenty-percent don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.” I would have tossed that verbal grenade in her direction, then left her wondering still on which side of the percentage I fell.

Instead, I installed a six-foot white vinyl fence between our houses. That came after she caught me outside getting the mail and told me it really bothered her to have to see my two dogs boxed up inside the six-by-six foot kennel all day. I had kenneled the dogs in response to her complaint they were stalking squirrels while roaming free in the backyard while my husband and I were away at work. Next we put them inside the house all day, but she complained she could hear them barking at people they could see out the front picture window. C’mon, lady! I’m feeling caged.

There was just no winning with her. You couldn’t even break even. So I erected a fence to block her view of the Kristy family sitcom she seemed so fond of watching. I hesitate to think what NOT putting up the fence might have done to me.

Passive negativity is draining. In his book Three Simple Things: A Map to Success in Business in Life, British entrepreneur Trevor Blake cites research that being exposed to even 30 minutes of daily negativity can actually peel neurons away from the brain’s hippocampus. If I recall correctly, using the few cells that escaped negative neighbor-induced brain damage, that’s problem-solving central.

Fence erected and brain semi-intact, I was left to ponder why my neighbor had continued to play her negativity all those years to my unappreciative audience. But soon after we made plans to move, spruced up our place and planted a realtor’s sign in the front yard, I got my answer when she walked over to inspect.

“Mind if I look inside?” she asked. “I’d been hoping for an invitation ever since you moved here.”

Three sheets of piano music to the wind

Christmas came early for me on September 10. It wasn’t as dramatic as a star appearing in the east, wise men bearing gifts, or Santa coming down the chimney (just bats with the latter), but a trio of piano books: Christmas music. They inebriated me with possibility.

The Murphy’s Law of piano music ordering decrees that no matter when delivery is slated to occur, my new music always shows up on my doorstep just as I am leaving the house and won’t be returning until late. I’m not kidding about this. It’s like not allowing a kid to play right away with a Christmas toy. I have had the UPS man toss a piano book parcel at my feet as I exit my home and the mailman hand me a package as I’m leaving the driveway.

This batch of piano books had been ordered from Sheet Music Plus, one of my favorite online haunts. One of these days, I am going to pay them back for their 20% off sales and economical shipping offers by actually writing reviews on some of the sheet music and piano music books I’ve purchased there over the years.

Experience would make me an ideal reviewer because I think like one as I examine and audition music. Whenever I go to a bricks and mortar music store, such as Marshall Music in Lansing, I try out new music on the pianos in the showroom and compare notes with the sales staff and other shoppers. I’ve played enough different genres and levels of music arrangements that I can quickly separate the gems from the stinkers.

Unfortunately, there are far more bad arrangements than good ones. You can avoid being duped by getting your hands on hard copy sheets and books and playing through them. But online ordering means you have to base your judgment on research and a couple of sample pages.

Thoughts like “What a waste of ink” and “Bass notes sound like a shutter banging against the house in a wind storm” go through my head when I try out bad new stuff at Marshall Music. And I don’t buy the book. When a bad book flies under my radar into my online order, it’s my head I feel like banging against the house.

My new shipment of books included Mark Hayes’ Advent – Piano Meditations on the Coming Messiah, Phillip Keveren’s Christmas at the Movies, and Melody Bober’s Christmas Memories: (three volumes) 8 (each) Early Intermediate to Intermediate Piano Arrangements of the Season’s Most Nostalgic Carols.

Hayes is the best known quantity of the three. I know his stuff will be good because he is a master arranger who challenges me with complexity as much as he delights me with originality. I never have the urge to do musical math and add or subtract from the notes Hayes lays out. That is a good thing, as his introduction to the book instructs the pianist to resist the urge to “fill in those ‘spaces of quiet’ . . . fewer notes to achieve a quiet, meditative style.” We’ll see. Can’t make me!

After severely disappointing me two years ago with a book of Celtic arrangements I paid full price for online, Keveren is getting a second chance. But first, let me say no amount of musical math could make those messy arrangements amount to good listening. Frankly, I considered throwing the book onto the fire with the Yule log. Instead I re-gifted it to someone less seasoned who will surely and unfairly blame herself for the awful sounding outcome. Meanwhile, Keveren redeemed himself in subsequent books with solid re-workings of Elton John songs and a sublime treatment of Nora Jones’ “Don’t Know Why.” It raises the question: why is his Celtic style so lowbrow? Don’t blow this one, Phil!

That leaves Bober, whose three books set doesn’t exactly have me salivating. Bober’s arrangements are predictably adequate, the musical equivalent of Old Country Buffet. Nothing exotic, but always filling. That predictability allows me to crack open a new book at church and sightread through it, sounding like I’d been rehearsing all week. Hayes and Keveren can’t make me look that instantly good.

So let’s end on this note: there’s something to be said for musical cliff notes.

Selecting tunes that orchestrate interrogation

You may have figured out by now that I am easily amused. Not just some of the time, but all of the time. This week my fancy got tickled by a story on MSN about music the CIA has allegedly used to aid in the interrogation of suspects.

Some of what was reported was far out enough to be true, based upon my own life experiences that affirmed the truths touted. I may have on occasion used the volume button on my car radio as a behavioral modification tool with my children. Maybe I can attest that when played at a deafening level, certain old country songs have the effect of encouraging confession in matters as globally insignificant as “Who stole the gum from Mom’s purse?”

Unfortunately, waterboarding is frowned upon by the old guard parenting experts. But thanks to modern technology, my hands need not even stray from the steering wheel in telltale intention in the direction of the radio knob. I can safely leave them at 10:00 and 2:00, while discreetly using a thumb knuckle to pump up the volume. Being deaf in my right ear, I need only slip my left hand over my good ear to avert the personal consequence of my tune tune-up.

Of course, that’s if I weren’t such a hands-off, nurturing mother whose children weren’t well aware the next confessional tool closely resembled a long-handled snow scraper, followed by possible ejection from the vehicle some distance from home, in a swampy, mosquito-riddled region. After all, the experts endorse progressive discipline, don’t they?

The reason the music/volume combination proves effective is most people can withstand physical pain alone, such as that associated with a thorough snow brush beating or other bodily injury. Whether it’s the blister that forms on your right heel halfway through a day at Cedar Point (where you are Band-aidless) or the chronic Plantar Fasciitis in your left foot (about which you can do nothing), it’s possible to put up with unavoidable pain.

Not so with musical psychological torture. Fortunately, an out is available. At any time, the recipient can gain relief through simple confession. In fact, when the old country music threatening to be played involves early Dolly Parton or the late Slim Whitman, pre-emptive confessions are often forthcoming. I’ve observed my kids cop to crimes that haven’t yet been committed. Withstand a yodeling Slim Whitman? Fat chance!

Is it torture, though, that word government officials seem to frown upon? Let’s just call it “persuasion” of the Jane Austen novel variety. For in the end, there is a sense the characters involved may have suffered more than the cause was worth.

To paraphrase Justine Sharrock, the investigative reporter cited by MSN regarding tortuous music, government henchmen discovered the real “persuasion” that prompted political prisoner confession stemmed not from song selection, but the loud, maddening repetition of a song. However, note some songs proved more truth tellingly toxic than others

Which songs? The Meow Mix jingle (meow, meow, meow, meow); the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack; Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Britney Spears’ “Baby, One More Time,” Christina Aguilera’s “DIRRTY,” Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady,” Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Can’t Stop” and “Californication,” Tupak Shakur’s album “All Eyes on Me,” Sesame Street songs in general, and surprisingly, Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions.”

News of the WorldMeow mix jingle? I can see that. But Queen? I can do Queen for a day. Maybe several. Mostly, when I think about the music that could put me over the edge, it’s not specific songs, but situational stuff that makes the music worse.

My greatest interrogation hits would involve forced listening to beginning band students, drunken karaoke vocals, Americans failures at pronouncing foreign lyrics, un-tuned piano with un-tuned guitar duets, overly dramatic middle school student vocals about non-yet-reached adult life experiences, a Capella national anthem singers who start out too high and try to change keys twice to unsuccessfully hit the high notes, groups of embarrassed restaurant servers singing happy birthday to equally embarrassed patrons, and the off-key spinster soprano from childhood who sat screeching behind me in church. Real life, raw, inescapable torture at its finest.

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