Martial art teaches parent further discipline

No matter the strength of my work or professional demands, those of my family are always far greater. Please note, that while the word “demands” describes the intensity of what is asked of me, which is often pretty considerable, it does not attest to the validity of those needs and wants.

At my household, comprised of a 2/3 majority of teens, there is little, if any differentiation between needs and wants, which is homely at best and butt ugly at worst. Plus, there’s a distinct disconnect with reality. Sorry, wrong number. Here’s a scenario that typifies the way things go.

My son told me about a special Brazilian jiu jitsu clinic he needed (there’s that NEED word) to go to in Battle Creek from 10 AM-Noon on Sunday.  I told him “no” because I needed (NOT wanted) to be seated at the piano bench at church at 9 AM and there was no other transportation available for him.

“But it’s Sunday and no one should have to work on the weekend,” he informed. “Weekends are about going places and doing only what you want to do.” Like what? I wanted to know.

“Movies, concerts, athletic events, going out to eat – those sorts of things,” he said.

“But if no one had to work on the weekend, there would be no one to sell you tickets or popcorn at the movies, or to play music for you, or to take your order, cook and serve you food,” I couldn’t resist commenting. While he obviously thinks me no match for his 15-year-old wisdom, I’ve still got game. Mind game.

“Well, I’m never going to work at a job where I have to work weekends, nights or holidays, or I’ll quit,” he proclaimed, adding, “And I’m not going to have a job like the ones you’ve had when you don’t like everything you do. I will work only in a place where I like all aspects of the job.” Boy, would I like to sit in on his job interview!

“Because you desire flexible work,” I leveraged, “I’ll pay you to do some things on my to-do list.”

“Not interested,” he said. “On weekends, I shouldn’t have to do anything I don’t want.” I explained that working would make him feel better about himself and less guilty for the heavy demands he places on me.

I received a long, deadly silent stare from him. “But Mom, you LIKE to work. It’s not something I WANT to do for the rest of my life.”

“But you might NEED to work,” I countered. Then I explained why I believe working now benefits his future.

“I’m saving myself for when I have a real job,” he informed. “When I get a real job, I will just automatically work hard and do whatever is needed.”

Provided, it’s something he likes. I could not keep the smirk from lips. I told him I didn’t think it’s possible to instantly go from sloth to super employee. And he looked at me as if I were the stupid one.

“Mom,” he said patronizingly, “jiu jitsu is teaching me discipline.”

At that point, I collapsed into laughter. We had gone late to jiu jitsu class the previous week because he once again couldn’t find the belt to his gi (martial arts garment), which he accused me of moving or hiding. Turns out he’d left the belt at the martial arts school classroom. Ahem!

Playing the pre-class gi belt search game warms me up for his post-class refusal to launder and/or hang up his laundered (by me) gi. Which brings us back to the 10 AM-12 PM jiu jitsu workshop he wanted to attend: I told him I could drop him off there at 8:30 AM.

“That’s 90 minutes early!” he yelled. “What kind of parent would do that?!”

“The kind who has other NEEDS and obligations to honor.”

So glad my son is participating in jiu jitsu. So far, this martial art has made me far more disciplined through further transportation 2-4x per week, additional laundry and working more hours to pay for it. When we next find the missing gi belt, I’m considering forming it into a noose.

Cemetery tour reiterates lessons from past

When I was asked to participate in the recent “Riverside Memories Cemetery Tour” staged by the Union City Society for Historic Preservation, my thoughts immediately went to not just WHO could I portray who is buried in Riverside Cemetery, but WHAT could I impart to tour audiences about that person’s lasting importance to the community.

I wanted people not just to hear stories about someone’s life, but to learn and retain something about it, not to mention change their own behavior for the better because of that person’s post-humus influence.

Tall order. My cousins Micki (Smith, Kever) Zaleski and Tina (Lepper) Alford set the bar pretty high with their presentations of my uncle, Elmer Smith, and my cousin, Bessie (Smith) Stagner.  I’d seen other great performances, including master storyteller Greg Hull’s portrayal of Skinny Bullock and Curt Proctor stepping into the skin of some of Union City’s former community titans.

But instead of portraying a local “mover and shaker” from the past, I decided to channel the essence of my dad’s ordinary person sister, Pauline (Smith) Lower (1923-2007), into a re-schooling of the lessons of her lifetime.

Aunt Pauline hailed from the last of the “Greatest Generation,” Americans born 1900-1924, many of whom came of age during the Great Depression: a generation is known for its outstanding work ethic; commitment to God, country and community; loyalty to ideals; humility; and prudent savings habits. There’s a lot to learn right there.

Pauline embodied that description. She graduated at 16 from high school in 1940. A year later, she married Lamar “Bud” Lower and then carpooled to work in two different munitions factories after he was drafted into the Army in 1942 (then transferred to Army Air Corps) until 1945.

Upon Uncle Bud’s return, he and Aunt Pauline built a solid, but modest life together. They had two children, bought a house in town and shared one vehicle. Pauline was a frugal homemaker and caring mother, while Bud worked as an appliance repairman at Merchant’s Hardware and a volunteer firefighter. They reared two good children, Carole and Larry, and attended the First Congregational Church. Pauline went to work part-time at the Shopper’s Guide when the kids left home.

For 60 years until Bud’s death in 2001, the Lowers led a simple, but satisfying life of quiet dedication to family and community. Growing up, I took Pauline and Bud and their life story for granted. Especially before I worked, volunteered, married and had children. Perhaps because there were still enough members of the Greatest Generation in our midst who stoically accepted what life dished out without fanfare. That’s just how they were.

But what I didn’t mention about their story was that Larry enlisted in the U.S. Marines and went to bootcamp immediately after his 1967 high school graduation. He was killed by friendly fire on September 26, 1968: Union City’s first Vietnam casualty and one of 46 U.S. servicemen killed that day.

I was only four then and only vaguely remember those events. The most regular reminder of that chapter of family history was Aunt Pauline riding in the “Gold Star Mother” car each Memorial Day parade. But researching Aunt Pauline’s life, my trembling hands actually held the military letter of condolence sent by Commanding General Creighton Abrams. I talked with Larry’s bootcamp friend, Gary Fields, my cousins and some longtime Union City residents.

Bob Merchant was with my aunt and uncle the day the Marines came to town to notify of Larry’s death. Bea Lake kept working at the Shopper’s Guide instead of starting maternity leave early, to cover for Aunt Pauline. Russ Johnson immediately enlisted in the Marines in response to his best friend’s death. Larry’s adult friend and mentor, undertaker Ernie Jenkins, handled the funeral.

The whole community supported my aunt and uncle. Larry’s fiancée, Cathy Salyer, kept in touch. Larry’s military buddies wrote, called and visited. Aunt Pauline wrote and encouraged other Union City servicemen.

In the 37 years she participated in the Riverside Cemetery Memorial Day wreath-placing ceremony for fallen soldiers, never once did I detect bitter from Aunt Pauline. Only love and loyalty. I only hope I conveyed the same in my cemetery tour portrayal of her.

Don’t judge a person by the mole on his/her skin

How do I get myself into these weird information situations? All I did the other day was innocently turn on my computer, log into my email and open a document from a rather benign sender,, my favorite used books place. But what should that website be introducing, but a new feature called, “The Weird Book Room.”

I was intrigued, especially after the used bookseller’s description, “We’re lost for words when describing our much-loved assortment of literary weirdness.” Two mouse clicks later and I was looking at the cover of a book called What Moles Tell You About Yourself. We’re not talking ground moles, but of the skin-growth variety.

Clearly, this 2000 book by Pietro Santini, one of the offerings from the way out (past the Milky Way!) Astrology Complete Guides series, is Weird Book Room-worthy. At no time in my psychology training did we study moles as potential assessment tools. Freckles, warts, birth marks and pimples never came up, either. Psychological scars maybe, but nothing only skin deep like a beauty mark.

So naturally, this pseudoscience claim got me very curious. If proven credible, the mole personality analysis thing might have the ability to undermine several years of my advanced education, similar to what the furry, digging variety of moles have done to my yard. I clicked on the book with intent to buy it. However, my curiosity fell short of its $20 price, so instead of splurging on the book, I chose to do some online research into the mole reading craft.

My diligence was rewarded at a website called There, I learned a proper term: “Molesophy”, an astrological concept that purports moles serve as predictors of a person’s personality and social affairs. Who would have thunk it? Moles as markers of manifest destiny?! I guess the real question should be: is it for the good or for the bad?

I thought back to someone I knew whose body was literally dotted with moles. How did he stack up on the success scale against someone like Marilyn Monroe, with that single, memorable mole above the left side of her lips? From a moles-per-square-inch standpoint, shouldn’t he be far more successful and/or desirable than the legendary sex symbol?

Not necessarily, say Chinese astrologers and Molesophy students. What’s more successful is determined more by the position of the moles, rather than their quantity. To illustrate that point, they referenced a schematic diagram  of a human head with 23 possible standard mole locations for personality quality verification.

Unfortunately, the “key” to the 23 mole locations reads similar to fortune cookies: a person with a #4 mole (lower center of the forehead) is described as someone who “lacks in planning and has an unstable life.” I couldn’t help but think that’s partly due to having people stare at you wherever you go because you have a large mole in the center of your forehead. I’m just sayin’.

Conversely, those with a mole on an ear lobe are predicted to become “prominent and rich.”

Really? The place you don’t want to have a mole is at #s 8 and 9 (on the top of the nose) or at #s 16 (on the lower lip) and 19 (just below the left corner of the eye), as the moles at all those places mean you need to prevent unwanted sexual advances. Yikes!

It gets more outrageous back at, where mole placement runs the body part gauntlet. Regarding that tiny mole on my left instep? Well, apparently it signifies I’m easy-going and laid back. Sometimes. And according to the legions of small moles on my arms, I am leading a happy, married life. Boy, is that system off!

But the real reason I know moles are lyin’, cheatin’ sacks of hooey is that the mole on my left knee supposedly means I lead an extravagant lifestyle. Wrongo!

Just for kicks, all the single readers out there should try their hands at Moleology. On your next date-hunting expedition, try a pick-up line such as, “That’s a very interesting mole there on your cheek. I’d like to see they rest of yours!” Let me know how that goes. Then go see a dermatologist.


All aboard the family farm tomato picker

It was 7 AM on a sunny summer day when I called my kids downstairs from their rooms for a delicious, hot breakfast of spicy sausage gravy over biscuits. They woofed it down, but warily.

“What do you want from us?” asked my son, sending his third biscuit swimming in a whirlpool of seasoned sauce. “It’s got to be something pretty bad for you to cook us this kind of a workin’ man’s breakfast over summer break.”

I explained that “workin’” was the operative word in his question. I was feeding them a hearty breakfast because I had no idea when they’d next eat, as they were field-bound for the family farm’s tomato picking.

“I don’t want to go,” he flat-out responded. “I hate everything about that job.” Like a good counselor, I mirrored his feelings and acknowledged his reluctance.

“I hear you saying that you don’t find tomato picking especially enjoyable and don’t want to participate,” I summarized. He nodded, pleased I seemed able to understood his position. But then I got real.

“Apparently, you’ve confused me with someone who gives a darn! We are all going to ride that picker until the cows come home – however long it takes to get the job done and meet today’s semi-load quota,” I said. To say otherwise would violate the unwritten parental code of manipulative force.

Actually, I completely understand his reluctance. Riding the Pik Rite, sorting thousands of tomatoes on the fast-moving conveyor belt is a highly-intensive activity requiring urgency akin to digging out a friend who has been buried alive on a ski slope by an avalanche. No matter how fast and hard you work, it’s never quick enough.

My daughter chose a different tack with her rig-riding refusal, “I don’t need the money,” she claimed. She had just gotten paid handsomely for helping someone clean out a basement. In the absence of ongoing, adult-strength monthly bills, the momentary monetary clink of cold, hard cash in her pocket rendered her deaf to all future opportunities. I was forced to swab her senses with a reality-cleaning Q-Tip.

“Don’t need the money?!” I demanded. “You are going to need it when I refuse to use my hard-earned dollars to buy school clothes for your lazy (this scenario had transpired before I had purchased anything) . . . ” To my surprise, my son, who is usually the first to pounce on his sister, rose to her defense.

“You’re bluffing,” he said. “We don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do.”

“Fair enough,” I told them. “Then I’m also claiming the right to not have to do anything I don’t want to do, including wasting my time and gas to transport you to your activities. If you can’t be bothered to ride the rig, I can’t be bothered to haul you. Thanks for alleviating me of unwanted parental responsibilities.”

“What time do we have to be there?” my son asked resignedly.

“We’re all heading there at 8:30 AM,” I informed. “And I’ll be working alongside you.” Instead of praising my assistance, both kids groaned.

“I hate you,” my daughter said. “You’re stupid and stink (not her actual word) at sorting tomatoes. I don’t want to work next to you ‘cause I’ll have to work harder to compensate.” She had a point. I possess neither speed, nor accuracy on the Pik Rite. Maybe because I try too hard.

Sorting the bad and the ugly from the good tomatoes requires a uniquely-vague focus. You have to pay attention, but not too much attention or you’ll get so hung up on one tomato that scores of other bad ones slip by, unnoticed. Like the items on my grocery list.

Ironically, I’d put tomatoes on my grocery list that week. I had absent-mindedly turned down free ones at church and forgotten I would be sorting multiple acres of tomatoes. Ended up paying top dollar for something I could have gotten for free. Duh!

I thought silently that my kids might be right about my stupidity, but instead said, “Get in the car. The farm needs you and you need money. So just shut up and sort.” We did. Several feet apart.

Back-to-school shopping inspires depression

I hid the back-to-school sale fliers that started showing up online and in my newspaper before school officially ended in June, presumably there so Halloween decorations could get put out in stores the same week as the county fair, and Christmas carols get played beginning Labor Day weekend. I wanted at least a couple of weeks off from teenaged materialistic demands before I started shopping again.

Back-to-school shopping is stressful for me. It’s evidence that the times, they are a changin’. My children are maturing, well at least physically, and one step closer to the adulthood for which they are unrealistically prepared. They’ve always outgrown most of last year’s clothing, necessitating replacement, lest they be in violation of the dress code for wearing things too short and too tight.

My son was easy to buy for: I scored four different pair of jeans at $10 each, three pair of shorts on clearance and a mix of irreverent photo and message T-shirts. Compression shorts (aka “cool underwear”) were the most expensive item on his list. But alas, they served as shopping warm-up for my daughter’s desires.

A glance at the sales fliers reminded that social mores are decidedly going to Hell in a handbasket, most likely fashioned from pricey Rain Forest wood. “No,” I told my daughter, she would not be getting a pair of (trip-and-fall accident waiting to happen) high-heeled boots unless we get better health insurance. Conversely, I vetoed a pair of flat, retro Converse basketball shoes for having zero arch support, as well as the audacity of not qualifying for the additional 20 percent off Kohl’s coupon.

Kohl’s did kindly offer up some good BOGO deals on bras and underwear, most of which looked nicer and higher-quality than the clothing they will be worn under. But they were slinky black and sold individually in the (unofficial) junior dominatrix section of the lingerie department, nowhere near the vicinity of my cheerful, 100% cotton, multi-pack (aka “affordable”) under-girdings.

We jeans-shopped at JC Penney, where I tried a new strategy, aided by Saturday errand-running. My daughter and I hit the store at 12:40 PM, with just 20 minutes left to get ridiculously low “door-buster” prices. With the urgency of time-limited shopping spree contest winners, we literally ran down the aisles, scooping up multiple styles of jeans for my daughter to hastily try on.

Our final item was purchased 1 PM on the dot. In all, we netted two shade of blue jeans, a dress pair and a casual pair of black jeans and one pair jeggings, with two shirts thrown in for good measure. We then purchased socks and stupid-saying t-shirts at a nearby Big Box grocery store. There, my daughter was allowed to “Expresso Yourself,” as one shirt said, while my son digressed with super hero wear.

Clothing under our belt, minus the belt we forgot to purchase for my daughter, we hit Staples for school supplies. We got pens and notebooks dirt cheap, plus a battery-operated “personal fan” necklace for me to wear to counter hot flashes. Bonus! We mentally mocked the other parents we spotted, religiously following their teacher-recommended checklists of hundreds of dollars’ worth of unnecessary school supplies.

As an incentive to buy school supplies, Staples offered a special online drawing one could enter in hope of winning a grand prize $50,000 college scholarship or one of four runner-up prizes of a one-day visit with hit singer Katy Perry.

It’s amusing Staples used Perry for its back-to-school supplies campaign, as Perry earned a GED at age 15 so she could leave school to pursue a musical career, thus foregoing college. Granted, the beautiful and talented 31-year-old singer is an unarguable success with an estimated wealth of $125 million, but her success bypassed the traditional “better get a college education” formula.

I could have told Staples that, but nobody listens to a college-educated, middle-aged mom who is working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Maybe I should become official spokesperson for Wite-Out mistake cover-up or a duct tape that temporarily hold things together. Instead of a scholarship, my school supplies contest winner would receive an IOU. Real prep for real life. Be sure to enter!

Take your pick of the noses found in the news

Maybe I am the only one who has noticed, but noses have been in the news a lot lately. Usually you don’t hear a lot about them unless some boxer gets his/hers broken during a major fight or some Hollywood type pays to get hers/his re-done through a medical cosmetic procedure. Either way, altered appearances result.

Aside from sports injuries and cosmetic alterations, the nose is ignored as long as it is functional and remains outside of other people’s business. However, that changes when the nose is suddenly discovered to hold the powers of life and death. Plain as the nose on your face, it makes it more difficult to ignore. The potential is that great.

How great? Well, recently in Kelly Warm Spring, Wyoming, in the Grand Teton National Park, a parasitic, brain-eating amoeba “turned up”. Makes it sound as if these fearsome little organisms showed up carrying luggage and sporting road dust, like typical unwanted guests or party-crashers. But seeing as they were microscopic, you’ve got to wonder just how they were spotted and what signaled their presence. Do park officials routinely check for parasitic, brain-eating amoeba?

What was clear was that their preferred travel route to an all-you-can-eat brain buffet was along the same snot-coated highway favored by all the other irritating organisms noses regularly try to expel. Apparently the sighting of the single-celled, microscopic Naegleria fowleri amoeba in the Western U.S. is an anomaly, as it’s usually found in the south. In fact, the article I read stated an 11-year-old girl in South Carolina recently lost her life to it.

However, with tourism the demanding mistress it is, instead of closing to the public the popular Kelly Warm Spring, where the amoeba was found, National Park officials instead went the warning route and posted disclaimer signs. Really?! As if the same public that regularly ignores “Wet Paint” and “Keep Off the Grass” signs will have enough brain cells to protect the rest of them by avoiding further potential brain-reducing consequences.

Grand Teton spokesperson Denise Germann was actually quoted as saying, “We definitely encourage people not to put your head in the water, jump in – anything that would help the amoeba travel to your brain.” Sounds like the ultimate fraternity dare, doesn’t it? Perhaps some of the National Park officials have already been exposed to Naegleria fowleri. That might explain their self-serving failure to protect anything beyond tourism.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the schnoz spectrum and world, German scientists have discovered a “good” bacteria in human noses that produces a powerful antibiotic “lugdunin” (derivative of the word “luggie” or “loogie”?) that is strong enough to kill some of the more dangerous skin infections, including those caused by MRSA bacteria. This is especially important, as MRSA has proven to be resistant to several medications. MRSA is also known to infect the bloodstream and the lining of the heart. Yikes!

Apparently only 10% of people’s noses house the lugdunin-producing staph bacteria. I found that wording interesting. Why not just say 10% of people have the bacteria in their noses? Are there people with more than one nose? Hmm. I know a few individuals nosy enough to qualify, at least socially, if not physiologically. But I digress. Back to the researchers, who have discovered Lugdunin also kills dangerous VRE bacteria.

All this fills me with questions, chiefly, how would we go about harvesting nasal bacteria? I just ran a blood drive and it’s hard enough to recruit people when blood is drawn from the arm. I hesitate to imagine who would volunteer to have his/her nose professionally picked!

While I’m no scientist, I am pretty resourceful at match-making. Maybe the two nose research communities need to get together and compare nasal notes. I’m guessing lugdunin could kick some serious Naegleria fowleri butt in the Grand Tetons. Why not give free Kelly Warm Spring super soaker vacations to several 10% people with the right snuff stuff?

What have they got to lose, except their minds? Those will go in time, anyway, so why not put brain cells on the line for something more important than altered appearance results. For science’s sake. Pick for the cure!

Coloring outside the lines through adult books

If that headline got your attention, let me share about the first time I heard the phrase “adult coloring books.” What?! Frankly, I was horrified where my mind leapt: to the same venue as “adult movies.”

My highly-active imagination visualized books with simplistic line drawings, along the lines of the farm animal outlines found on the placemats at child-friendly restaurants, where the waitress hands your child a four-pack of crayons that he/she then uses to color on the table or high chair tray – anywhere except on the designated piece of coloring paper.

Only adult coloring materials would be sexually-explicit images, hopefully devoid of farm animals, but weird, pre-schoolish, Pee Wee Herman porn. Like bad adult movies, the scenes would be poorly-plotted and drawn. Books would be sold online and at places like Lion’s Den and Velvet Touch, in discreetly telltale brown paper wrappers.

Swear Words Coloring BookAdult coloring books would be something that, if caught possessing, you would have difficulty explaining away. Unless the adult coloring book was intended as a gag gift at a bachelor or bachelorette party when the alcohol-fueled receiver would be foggy enough to think the giver funny, rather than a sexually unsophisticated pervert. These adult coloring books wouldn’t actually come with crayons, because just who is the purchaser kidding?! The books would have even less to do with art than with redeeming value.

My suspicious mind automatically linked the increase in popularity of adult coloring books to Playboy magazine’s recent decision to show less flesh. Hopefully no one would claim they like adult coloring books only for the articles. Perhaps the books would become the next sophomoric stash of pornography to get passed from generation to generation and archived under mattresses. Heaven forbid an “Adult Coloring Book Mansion” be erected by their publisher, followed by a succession of coloring clubs springing up in major cities. How ridiculous would that be?!

Due to their newly-widespread availability, adult coloring books would undoubtedly catch on among truckers, as well as traveling sales people – folks who spend too much time unsupervised, away from home. Before long, adult coloring books would be implicated in highway accidents, surpassing texting-related fatalities. State troopers would find adult coloring books wrapped around the steering wheels of wrapped-around-guardrail big rigs, a desperate last crayon scroll across the page: the natural consequence of behavior that colored outside of the lines one too many a time.

That all crossed my mind in the course of about 10 seconds the first time I heard the phrase “adult coloring books.” Don’t you agree, it would be so much wiser to refer to them as “coloring books for adults,” in order to avoid future colorful mental imagery?

On the flip side, once I discovered the coloring books for adults that people were really talking about, I had almost as strong of a reaction: you’ve got to be kidding! For starts, I don’t like coloring.

My dislike of coloring can be traced directly to childhood, where my perfect-coloring older sister set the bar formidably high. I was more of a wild child who viewed coloring as a sedentary time-waster. Why engage in the activity of coloring super hero pictures when you could be out doing heroic things, yourself? I had not the time, patience or skill to excel at coloring. The fact I used “excel” in the same sentence as “coloring” underscores just how out-of-touch I remain with the process.

According to the ads I see for coloring books for adults, they are tools for promoting being still, patient and thoughtful – all areas where I could stand improvement. Titles include “Creative Coloring,” “Relaxation Coloring Book,” “Peaceful Pastime” and “Coloring for Stress Reduction.” But yuck! Forcing myself to do any activity within the lines for any length of time would only serve to raise my blood pressure and ire.

My inner artist craves something more primal. More my speed is the Barnes & Noble’s “Swear Word Coloring Book,” which might prove useful for improving my communication skills. I think I’ll visit the truck stop and pick myself up a copy, along with a hitchhiker to color with. Hey, if you’re going to color outside of the lines, you might as well use non-traditional colors!

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries