Category Archives: etc.

Weird Travels: Jamaica

I’ve traveled to a lot of places in my life, some usual and some at least a little weird. For example, while in London I went to 221B Baker Street to take a tour of the Sherlock Holmes museum. (The top floor had an ornate porcelain toilet that looked like Wedgewood.) And I took Donald Rumbelow’s Jack the Ripper evening walk.

But that’s far from the weirdest, which was probably Jamaica. Actually, it was supposed to be Haiti. My boss was sending me there to report on the work of a charitable organization called “Food for the Poor” that, well, gave food to the poor in the Caribbean.

There was political unrest in Haiti at the time (as there frequently is). Someone (or ones) were shooting presidential candidates. I wasn’t too worried, as I can by no means be mistaken for a presidential candidate. Then they started shooting journalists. Yikes! It was time for me to bail.

Bailing became unnecessary when the destination was changed to Jamaica. This was not to be a tour of the beaches and villas, however. No, this was the poverty tour. (There’s plenty of hungry poor in Jamaica as much as in Haiti.)

When I (and the other journalists) arrived, we were treated to a swank dinner at the hotel we would all be staying at, and told when our wake-up call would be. (Too damn early. It was too damn early every morning.)

We toured a school. It was a little unnerving, but dozens of second-graders swarmed out to greet us with cheerful greetings and insistent hugs around our legs and waists. We went to a church mission, where we learned statistics on poverty in Jamaica. We went to projects where Jamaicans were making handicrafts to sell. I bought a handwoven set of placemats, though they didn’t match my kitchen’s color scheme.

In the evenings, we retired to our hotel, too tired to do anything but sit at the bar by the pool and have a Red Stripe beer. In fact, sometimes I got so tired from the day’s work that I couldn’t even write. I’d try to write an “f” and it would come out “t.” I got leg cramps from all the walking we did.

Still, there was no opportunity to feel sorry for myself. We went to a huge garbage dump, where many people lived. There were only a couple of pipes where you could get water amid the acres of trash. People lived on the things that were thrown away from swank dinners like we had been served – leftovers, cloth napkins, a fork. A knife was a particularly prized find. There was a small stand amid the garbage where local inhabitants sold a few scavenged goods to their fellows. I asked for a soft drink, which they did have a bottle of. The proprietors huddled for a minute, wondering what price they should put on it. They eventually settled on $2 American, which I paid gladly but sadly.

Another day, we went to a project where people went to develop marketable skills, such as sewing. There was a singing and dancing group. Then they served us lunch, which was, of course, impossible to refuse. It was a stew of curried goat. I can report that the taste and texture were like a heavily curried pot roast. Actually, not bad.

The most unusual place that we visited, however, was a leper colony. Yes, with actual lepers. We were reassured that they did not have active infections, though it was apparent that many of them had lost limbs to the affliction (now called Hansen’s Disease). There was singing of hymns, accompanied by a guitar played by a man with three fingers. I lingered a moment and asked if they could play a local tune. Suddenly, the people’s voices lifted in a rollicking song with more decibels and life than the hymns had. I asked if there was anything they wanted, what would it be. The workers wanted a new washing machine. The guitarist wanted new strings.

On our last night there, we journalists all drank our Red Stripes and discussed what we would take away from the experience, which was largely more awareness on how the desperately poor lived. A couple of the journalists stayed on for a few days to explore the beaches.

When I got home, I wrote my article, which was a major flop. Despite the fact that it appeared in a religious magazine, it solicited few funds for the charity, which had been the point of the tour in the first place. But I still have hope that the article opened a few eyes, as it had opened mine.

My Personal Style

I didn’t think I had a personal style, until I invented one for myself. I’ve never been a Victim of Fashion or a Fashionista. Maybe an Unfashionista, but that’s about it.

Ever since college, jeans have been my uniform. (Except when I worked at a Frisch’s and had to wear a real uniform, or when I worked in an office and had to dress like a Respectable Business Lady, or now that I work at home and wear nightshirts or flannel pjs all day. Come to think of it, I really only have two pairs of jeans now. But I digress. Whenever I go out, unless it’s to a funeral, I wear jeans.)

My mother sewed and she made a lot of my clothes when I was a kid. When I got to the college-jeans stage, she made me western shirts (the kind with the yokes and the pearl snaps) and patchwork vests. Sometimes she got whimsical and made me something special. I particularly loved the Robin Hood hat she made me, which I wore to Beginning Archery class. (The instructor just rolled her eyes.)

Actually, my fashion “sense” was pretty well summed up by what I considered appropriate winter outerwear. I rocked an authentic army-surplus, lined, olive drab jacket (with the snorkel hood lined with real fur). The capacious pockets held my wallet, my student ID, and my driver’s license, and sometimes a paperback book. Snowmobile boots completed the ensemble.

So what goes with jeans? T-shirts, of course! I have quite a collection, many of which I purchased at science fiction conventions. Many of them were lost in the tornado that hit our house. I still remember fondly the one with a picture of the Death Star and the caption “Ceci n’est pas une lune,” which is really hysterical if you know Star Wars, French, and art. Yes, it’s obscure, but when I saw it, I couldn’t do without it.

For a while, I went through a Banana Republic phase. (This was before they sold out to The Gap, for which I never forgave them.) Adventure clothing seemed the ultimate in cool to me. Plus, everything was khaki or olive drab, which made accessorizing easy – camo scarves, wooden beads, and amber earrings. (I fondly remember driving to Erlanger, KY, near the Cincinnati airport, where the B.R. outlet lived. The first time I got to an actual Banana Republic store, in La Jolla, I hyperventilated. If I could afford full price, which I usually couldn’t, I shopped their catalogues, or sometimes just read the awesome travel stories and daydreamed.)

When I did wear skirts, I chose the midi-length (mid-calf), unless I could only find business clothes that hit me right at the knee. I even admit that in high school, I wore granny boots with midi-dresses, which about summed up my fashion sense at the time. (I also had a red and beige gaucho outfit, about which the less said the better. It even came with a red gaucho hat.)

Then there’s my purses. They were always large enough to carry one or more paperback books. Until my back gave out, of course, and I had to switch to an e-reader. Now a regular-sized purse accommodates over 1,300 books. When I saw the slouchy pouches that women were carrying a few years ago, I fell in love. Not only would they hold books, but snacks, hats, phone, wallet (if I carried one, which I don’t, my money being tucked into my jeans pockets).

Anyway, if I should ever give up my jeans (and couldn’t wear my nightshirts and flannels), I would have to go with a mish-mosh that I invented myself. Midi-skirts, still, I think. Keep the t-shirts. Ballet flats (not Birkenstocks). Patchwork whenever possible. Camo accessories and lots of semiprecious beads. I’d keep my boring navy slacks and top for funerals, of course. (During my Business Lady phase, I owned a black Liz Claiborne dress that I bought on clearance. For a while, it was my go-to funeral dress, but I had to wear a jacket over it, as the back was a little low-cut. Awful for summertime funerals.)

I can just imagine the get-ups I could create. And I’ve even invented a name for the look. I call it Boho Hobo.

Tiny Little Type

We’ve all heard and, I hope, know and live by the advice to always read the fine print. Generally, that refers to contracts or other official documents we must sign.

Well, that’s all well and wonderful, and certainly good advice, but the problem remains as to how we are to read that fine print. I know my eyes are aging (quite possibly faster than the rest of me) and reading fine print does not come as easily as it used to. Even the recent bump up in the power of my glasses and the enhanced bifocal lenses have not helped me read ingredient labels or the 800 numbers on insurance cards and the like.

What to do?

First, you can give the document (or whatever) to another person and let them read it to you. My husband exists for this purpose (among many others) because he is nearsighted. I am farsighted and so have especial trouble reading the fine print. (If we had ever had a child, I maintain that the far- and nearsightedness would have canceled out and she or he would have had perfect vision. But I digress.)

Then there’s the ever-useful magnifying glass. Except try to find one when you need it. “Reading glasses” that you find in drugstores are no help either. Would I wear them over my prescription glasses or under? Reading glasses certainly wouldn’t address any of my other eye problems such as crossed eyes.

There is a trick I learned just the other day. If you are trying to read the prescription number on a bottle of pills, for example, simply whip out your camera (easier to find than a magnifying glass), take a quick snap, then use the camera to enlarge the image. (Of course I still always ask the pharmacist if next time, could they please use smaller type? They never get it.)

But you can’t use that trick in every situation, I guess. There’s no use taking pictures of every square inch of a road map and blowing them up, for example. For that you do need the magnifying glass, which I can guarantee is not in the glove compartment of your car, along with the gloves that aren’t there either. Or a road map with larger lettering, which would be twice as hard to refold.

For everyday reading, you can use large-type books, which I refuse to be seen with, or a computer that will enlarge your screen. This only works on certain devices, though. Thankfully, my e-reader is one of them. I can bump up the point size till there’s only one word on a page.

Still, my farsightedness does come in useful for small type that is at a distance from me, such as on the television. (I could probably read the pill bottle if my arms were longer. Say, about two feet longer.)

There are some interesting things in the fine print on TV. There’s always the “Drink responsibly” warning that’s in type as small as that on road maps. (Does anyone really think that those messages actually cause someone to forego that fourth beer before they drive home?) And there are the disclaimers that the person in the ad does or does not really have the disease the medication the commercial is promoting.

But there’s lots more to learn – for example, the definition of perineum (aka “taint”) in medical commercials. And in case you didn’t know it already, you can learn that the car is driven by a stunt driver on a closed course. You can even find out what that liquid is they’re soaking up with the paper towel (150 ml of “green juice”).

One of my favorites is a commercial that shows a person falling down the stairs. The disclaimer reads: “This was not a person. It was a dummy we threw down the stairs.” That was welcome news.

My absolute favorite is an ad for chicken that offers “serving suggestions.” You know, like on the cracker boxes where the crackers are all Martha-Stewarted and the fine print says “serving suggestion” as if you intended to serve naked crackers to your guests. Well, the chicken ad showed: broiled chicken (serving suggestion); roasted chicken (serving suggestion); barbecued chicken (serving suggestion); and oops chicken – it fell on the ground and the dog was eating it. It still said “serving suggestion.”

If you can’t read these disclaimers on TV, just pause the program and rummage through your desk for that pesky magnifying glass. Or get your husband to read the fine print to you. He’ll feel useful, and trust me, it can be educational or at least worth a giggle.

Learning Things

This is a poster I have in my study. Lately, I have begun thinking that what it really should say is “That’s what I do. I read books and I learn things.” To put it simply, I wouldn’t know things if I didn’t learn things. And now I think the learning is perhaps more important than the knowing.

I had a course in grad school that was called Research and Bibliography. (We called it R&B.) We did the usual things you do as an English major – write papers about assorted literary figures, mostly. (I once did a paper on William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. I referred to it as my “Willie and Wally” paper. But I digress.)

The final exam, however, was not an essay test or another sort of normal academic exercise. It was, in essence, a scavenger hunt in the university library. Each of the seven or so students had her or his own personal set of questions and had to find the answers. The trick was, you had to know where to find the answers, not so much what the actual answers were. Each set of questions could be answered using the same reference books (this was before computers were available to anyone except the librarians), and students were allowed to point each other to the correct ones.

For example, a question might be “When John Milton used the word pandemonium, how long had it been part of the English language?” (Trick question: Milton invented the word. It means, literally, “all the devils.”) The answer could be found in a reference book called the OED, or Oxford English Dictionary. Another student would have a different question that also required using the OED. And you could say, “you’ll find that in the OED.”

In that case, the test was not at all about knowing the answers to the questions, but knowing – or learning – where to find them (something that we should have learned from writing our papers and bibliographies).

There are different types of learning. My husband learns mostly by visual means, absorbing information through television documentaries, for example. Some children learn their letters and numbers best by drawing them in a sand tray or fingerpainting them. For a while, these multiple styles of learning – visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc. – were a major influence on education, and teachers were encouraged to use a different style if a child wasn’t learning through the one that was normally used to teach. (They may still be. I haven’t done textbooks in years.)

So. I read books and I know things – but only because I learn them. I was reading a book about mountaineering, for example, and came across the word salopettes. I could tell from the context that it was an item of clothing, but I just had to learn which one. A quick Google and I learned that salopettes are to the French (and mountain climbers) what bibbed overalls are over here (only, presumably, down-filled instead of denim). It’s a completely useless thing to know – I can’t imagine it being useful even on Jeopardy. But it was fun to learn.

Of course, I’m not putting down reading or knowing. For me, reading is what comes before learning, and knowing is what comes after. And, for me at least, both are pleasurable occupations.

I wrote about learning a while back, and this is what I said about it:

I count a day when I don’t learn something new as a day wasted. I love it when I’m able to start a Facebook post with TIL (Today I learned) or “I was today years old when I learned that….” Learning is all around you. You just have to reach out and grab it!

That’s still my philosophy.

Thinking Inside the Box

I know that great pride is taken by many people for coloring outside the lines and thinking outside the box. But what if this isn’t possible?

Let’s face it – in real life there are lines we can’t break and boxes we can’t get out of. You may think that this stifles creative thinking and artistic expression and so on, but the fact is it doesn’t have to.

Take arts, crafts, music, and writing. You can do all these things for yourself and break all the rules you want to. Don’t use complementary colors! Start a sentence with a conjunction! Go wild!

But often there are constraints on your creativity – when you have a client to please or a style guide you must follow. Rules and boundaries – well, abound.

In these blog posts, I can do pretty much what I want to. End a sentence with a preposition, as I just did. A purist may cringe, but that’s just too bad. If he or she wants to stop reading my blog because I’ve broken the grammatical rules, so be it.

However, in my life, I’ve encountered situations where I couldn’t just do as I pleased. The best example is when I worked for magazine- and book-publishing companies. I had to write what they told me to write and how to write it. Word limits, and cutting prose to fit the word limits, and cutting it again if someone wanted to enlarge the picture on the page. There was no thinking outside the box there, except perhaps seeing if removing a single word would bring up a line and make the paragraph shorter. Do that enough times and you have gained space for the picture of a castle or whatever.

Writing textbooks for children was the worst. There was something called a “scope and sequence chart” which dictated in what order things were to be taught, what they were, and how many times they had to be used. For example, a lesson might cover the consonant blends “tr” and “gr,” and they had to be used two times in each paragraph. Add to that that it had to be a paragraph of 200 words or fewer, and must be written at a second-grade reading level, as measured by a computer.

Think outside that box! I dare you.

But boxes aren’t really boxes if you think about it. You can draw a four-sided box on a piece of paper, but when you get a box from Amazon or eBay, it’s really a cube or a three-dimensional rectangular object. Inside of that, there’s plenty of space to play around.

I think that most situations in life are more like a cube than a four-line box on flat paper. Even in a box on paper, you can always draw something wonderful inside the box instead of just coloring it in one color. There are many dimensions and directions you can go, even if there are constraints in some directions.

To use my example above, I can write a paragraph about a monkey in a tree that grabs food from a tiger’s grip if it tries quickly. Or I can write about a grandmother who grows plants and tries to trap rabbits before they eat them. The ideas are mine, even if they have to be shaped to fit the box.

(And boy, are some instructions complex! I once had to make up an original story based on some existing pictures that had already had another story written about them. I could change the order of the pictures, but not the pictures themselves. And the plot of the story had to be completely new. But I digress.)

I think the most useful kind of thinking is lateral thinking, and that can be done even inside a box. Stop thinking about choosing A or B, and consider C, even if it comes from “out of left field.” Turn the box on its corner and you gain a whole new perspective.

Sometimes you don’t have to break the rules that keep you in a box. Sometimes it helps to look at the rules – and the box – differently instead. It’s an intellectual puzzle – to create something beautiful that’s still inside the box. It’s what sonnets are made of, if you think about it.

Shower or Sink?

I understand that there’s lately been a furor on TikTok (I don’t tok and barely tweet). I guess “barely” is the operative word there, though. The burning (I hope not) question of the day – or week – is “Do you pee in the shower?”

My husband told me about this. (He doesn’t tok or tweet either, but heard about it from someone at work.)

“Well, do you?” I asked.

“If I need to, I just let it fly,” he replied. (I hope that doesn’t include while he’s driving the car or in church or many other circumstances I could name. But we were talking about the shower.)

I found that idea disturbing, if not exactly unhygienic, because after all, number one would just go down the drain. But he’s cleaning the shower from now on. (And I can only pray that he doesn’t do number two in the shower. But I digress.)

“I don’t think women can pee in the shower,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Because they don’t have the right equipment for it.” (Not that I’ve ever felt penis envy, except while camping, but this comes close.)

He stuck with, “Why not?”

“Because it would run down their legs.”

“And don’t you wash your legs?”

“Well, you wouldn’t want to pee in the tub if you were having a bath instead of a shower,” I retorted.

He allowed as how I was right on that one. Except neither of us takes baths anymore since we had walk-in showers installed.

We left it at that, mercifully. But I was reminded that someone once told me that the definition of a gentleman was someone who took the dishes out of the sink before he peed in it.

You might not think this dilemma comes up too often, except possibly when the kitchen and bedroom are both on the first floor and the bathroom is on the second. But I have heard (from a reliable source) that one man of her acquaintance used to relieve himself in the sink with some regularity. He was even proud to have saved the six steps from the sink to the bathroom. (I don’t know what he did with those extra steps, but presumably his FitBit does.)

I do miss the baths, though. I like to relax in a near-boiling hot tub of water and pretend I’m a big ol’ tea bag. I find it soothing. I am sure this love of baths is because as children, we only took baths, never showers. And my love of tea.

Then there’s the sink bath, which you should only take if you’re sure there’s not a sink-peeing man in the house. Say you’ve forgotten something at the store and don’t feel the occasion deserves a full shower. Use the quick-sink- rinse-smelly-bits-wash-upTM. Wash underarms, underlegs, underboobs, and face (though not in that order). A dab of deodorant, a swish of mouthwash, and you’re ready to go, at least if you’re not likely to engage in a big group hug, which, in my experience, seldom happens at Target.

But we started this discussion in the shower, and that’s where we’ll end it. Personally, I recommend the kind of shower with built-in seats and grab rails and even those inane little rubber ducky stickers. Even with slightly pebbled texture, those surfaces can be slippery. When you’re sitting in a bathtub, it’s nearly impossible to break any bones, but in a shower, it’s relatively a long way down. And I, for one, don’t care to have the rescue squad see me in my all-togethers.

Footnote: For no reason that I can determine, my post “What Is It with Showers Anyway” (https://bipolarme.blog/2017/03/05/what-is-it-with-showers-anyway/) has proved unexpectedly popular. Here’s an excerpt from it:

First I have to find a clean towel and a bar of soap, get undressed without seeing myself in the mirror, fiddle with the water temperature, wash and shampoo, dry off, find clean underwear, and that’s not even thinking about drying my hair and figuring out what I can wear! Oh, my God, I’ve used up all my spoons just thinking about it! I should just eat Cocoa Puffs and go back to bed.

Planning the Normandy Invasion

Hubby and I are going to take a little three-day getaway this month to celebrate our anniversary. No problem, right? You forget that I have my obsessive moments, and when I don’t, Dan takes over.

Packing for a three-day trip to a b&b/working farm should be no problem, right?

Guess again.

Clothing is not a problem. T-shirts and jeans (or shorts). Undergarments. Shoes. There, the list is done.

Not hardly.

We only signed up for one huge country breakfast, so the rest of the food planning is on us (unless we want to leave our cozy cabin and go searching for a restaurant or pay big bucks for elaborate but homey farmhouse fare – and we don’t have big bucks just now).

We decided on a picnic like the kind we used to have. Cheese. French bread. Summer sausage. Apples. Carrot sticks/celery/radishes/whatever. Crackers. Wine.

Thus began the debates. Do we really need a styrofoam cooler to transport these delicacies, or will a paper bag do for a three-hour drive? Should we bring dip for the vegetables, which would require a cooler, or just some peanut butter, which wouldn’t? Should we take the tabletop ice maker, even though the cabin has a complete refrigerator/freezer – indeed, a complete, if small, kitchen plus bowls, plates, utensils, and the like? (The ice maker was Dan’s idea.) Should we toss in a couple of cans of soup just in case we eat our way through the picnic and still have the munchies?

Now consider us planning for a trip abroad which we hope to take in the spring. Dan is much more casual about long-distance trips where any eating difficulties can be solved with money. But then there’s the rest of our kit, and my anxiety kicks into overdrive. I have already begun planning, purchasing, and, if not actually packing, deciding which things need to go in the carry-on and which in the regular suitcases. (And OMG, the weight limits! And we have two CPAP machines!)

First, there’s the issue of money. Will we change some US currency at the airport? At a bank for a better rate? Will anyone there accept US dollars? How much cash should we get for a ten-day trip? Will our credit and debit cards work overseas? Will they charge exorbitant fees, plus a rate for foreign exchange? (Our bank does. See, I’ve already begun checking these things out.)

What else will we need? Rain slickers? Check, and ordered. Power converters? Check, and ordered (the kind with USB ports so we can recharge our electronics, including my absolutely necessary e-reader so I can read myself to sleep). Road map of the entire country. Check, and ordered. Extra underwear. Check. (I have a dread of running out without a laundry handy.) Multi-compartment pill case that holds day/night and day-of-the-week drugs. Still looking for just the right-sized one. (I know that should be easy, but somehow it isn’t.)

And what other problems might we encounter? Need to make a phone call, either locally or to home? Should we buy a sim card? A burner phone? A phone card (once we get there)? Pay for an overseas plan with our regular carrier? Would it be cheaper to get the pay-as-you-go plan or sign up for unlimited service? (All that hinges on how many calls we’re likely to make, which I just don’t know. This requires much perusing of our carrier’s website, calls to them, and some tricky math on my part.) And dear God, we can’t forget to make reservations for boarding the cats! Plus, who knows what COVID restrictions will be in place then?

My hope is that I can get all these questions answered, purchases made, and Absolutely Everything Prepared For, so that, finally, we can just jump on a plane and be whisked off to the vacation of a lifetime.

I’m sure as soon as we do, I’ll realize that I’ve forgotten something. My friend Robbin always used to tell me that as long as I had underwear and my meds, I’d be okay.

Good thing we never traveled together.

Plus-Size People’s Problems

It’s encouraging that, in the name of body positivity, TV ads and shows are now acknowledging plus-size women. They can be seen in clothing ads, beauty and skincare ads (along with senior women), on television and on the internet and other venues. They exercise. They dance, even if they jiggle. They are moms and consumers of every sort of product.

There are still some problems with the representation of fat women. In news stories, they are only shown from the neck down (unless they’re needed as a talking head), making it seem that fat is a shameful thing and that fat people should hide their identities.

Attractive, plus-size clothing is still hard to find. Especially underwear. Above a certain size, for example, it’s difficult to find panties that are any color other than white. Or that are anything but granny-panties. I may be plus-size, but I’d like my underwear to be attractive, at least.

But what about plus-size men? Don’t they deserve a little body positivity too? Fat men don’t appear in commercials, doing anything, unless they’re being shown as a figure of fun. Exercising? They’re sweating profusely and falling off the stationary bike, if they are pictured in a gym at all. Dancing? Nope. Since John Goodman is now a talking head (or fingertip), fat men are difficult to find in TV programs and ads.

Plus-size men also have limited apparel choices similar to those of plus-size women. Some clothing stores have a Big and Tall department, but their definition of big and tall leaves a lot to be desired. Again with the underwear. Plus-size underwear is invariably white. And plus-size underwear is about all big men are offered.

For fat men to find clothes that fit them, they must go to special shops that cater to their needs. Some of them even have tailors to make sure that the fit is right, and customers pay a price for that. The selection is larger than at non-specialty shops, but the prices are higher – much higher. Sometimes an adequate selection is not even present and the plus-size man must place a special order rather than buy something off the rack. Fortunately, the stores’ selection includes ties and belts for the large man, something that is available practically nowhere else.

In fact, it was difficult to find a photo to go with this post. I use a stock photo service and their choices were severely limited and confined mostly to the standard images that most people think of when they see fat men. There were large men eating pizza and drinking beer. There were fat men portrayed from the neck down, often with a tape measure circling their girth. There were plus-size men exercising or being defeated by exercising. There were even “standard” sized men pinching a scant inch on their obviously toned bodies. I had to search to find one of a fat man doing a normal activity – reading the paper.

One of the few places where I’ve seen plus-sized men presented as desirable is in the song “Fat Boys” by Uncle Bonsai. Here’s it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHzHhV456pk

(If that link doesn’t work for you, here’s a sample of the lyrics.)

Skinny boys got nothin’
To lean against in bed
Bony arms and shoulders
Only bruise my head.

I just want an overgrown boy
Unconditioned, unrehearsed
Fleshy body waiting for the squeeze
Overweight and overblown boys
Whet my whistle, quench my thirst
Chubby cheeks just drop me to my knees.

I love several men who are overweight, downright fat, or obese even. Does it bother me? Not at all. I also love bald-headed men. (Here’s another link, this one from Christine Lavin, if this one works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sirJa_OltKk.) Men with hairy backs. Men who smoke. Men who flirt (even with other women). Really, the only quality that really attracts me is a mustache or beard. And I’ll give a guy a pass on that if he has all my required attributes above the eyeballs: bright, witty, and creative. Body size and shape have nothing to do with it.

Full disclosure: This is a rewrite of a post I shared four years ago. I thought it was time to refresh it, especially since the problem still exists.



The Fisher in Go-Go Boots

This is my maternal grandmother, Winnie Rose.

We visited her less often than my Kentucky relatives because she lived in Florida. In fact, my first airplane flight was a trip to see her. To give you an idea how long ago that was, DisneyWorld was not yet built, though there was a Visitor Center with a 3D model of how it might look someday. (I didn’t make it to DisneyWorld until I was an adult, when I went with some friends. But I digress.)

Grandma Rose loved fishing and handed down her love of it to my mother. In her old age, my mother took to fishing at local ponds with her church friends or at the city’s recreational center’s pond. She brought home her catch and fried it, unless the pond was labeled “catch and release.” These fresh fish meals disturbed my husband who, despite his occasional desire to be a mountain man, hated to eat any animal that he saw caught or killed.

Once when we visited Grandma, we all went deep-sea fishing. I don’t remember catching anything, but Grandma caught a red snapper, which of course we ate, my husband not being on the scene yet. I wasn’t seasick while I was on the boat, but after I got back to land I was definitely woozy and wobbly.

Grandma also fished from a rowboat, and this solved a family argument. When we kids were teens, we desperately wanted go-go boots. (Remember those?) Our parents wouldn’t get them for us, claiming that they didn’t give enough ankle support, which we thought was just a pretext. Then we learned that Grandma had go-go boots for fishing, as they were exactly the right height to keep water from sloshing inside. Needless to say, we got our go-go boots after all.

Once while we were visiting Grandma Rose, I dipped into her library. There I found mystery books – I particularly remember Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie. My fascination with these books turned into a lifelong love of mysteries, from Robert Parker to Aaron Elkins to Sue Grafton to Sara Paretsky and many, many others. If there’s a mystery gene, I got it, though it skipped a generation. I also got the crossword and Scrabble genes from Grandma.

One of Grandma’s other hobbies was knitting. She knit fabulous sweaters for the family, all with a little tag inside that said “Made especially for you by Grandma Rose.” There the gene bred true. My mother took up crochet and I did needlepoint and Bargello, plus those awful hooked rug kits.

And lest you think that she was sedentary, in her youth she rode horses. Her other love was bowling. On bowling days, she ate a hearty breakfast of Rice Krispies over vanilla ice cream. It must have worked, because she had dozens of bowling trophies, patches, and other memorabilia. In fact, she went bowling in her 90s, the week before she died.

As you can see from the picture, Grandma Rose had gorgeous, snow-white hair, which used to be naturally red, until her husband died, killed by a drunk driver. After he died, she no longer kept up the red color that he had loved. If I had been born with red hair, instead of acquiring it later, I would have been named Winnie.

Occasionally, Grandma would visit us in Ohio. There was a spare bedroom that we always referred to as Grandma’s room (though it would have made more sense to use it so my sister and I could sleep in separate rooms, at least when we got old enough to fight).

I wish we had lived closer together so that I could have spent more time with her, sharing our mutual hobbies. But I’m glad this picture survived so that I can remember her as I knew her – an active, creative woman who raised lovely flowers, plus three boys and one girl, my mother.

A Window, Biscuits, a Butter Churn, and a Mule

It was an ordinary farmhouse, located outside Beattyville, Kentucky. But there was a secret inside that we kids loved. The kitchen, of course, was the best room to be in. But getting there was even more fun. The kitchen was obviously an add-on to the house, and the entry points to it included not just a door but a window, leading from one of the bedrooms to the kitchen. Of course, we never used the door like the grownups did.

The house belonged to our Cousins Addie and Jim Mainous. They were old even when we used to visit them during the summers. But every day, Cousin Addie hand-made biscuits and sawmill gravy. (Sawmill gravy is different from redeye gravy. Sawmill gravy uses milk. Redeye gravy uses coffee. But I digress.) The kitchen was painted black, but there was lots of sunshine coming in the windows and the back door. It wasn’t at all gloomy. It was warm and cozy and smelled like the biscuits that were rolled out with a drinking glass and cut to size using the mouth of the same glass.

Addie was a thin woman with a big laugh, who almost never wore her dentures. All I remember ever seeing her wear were dark cotton dresses and white aprons. Cousin Jim always seemed to be sitting at the kitchen table, not talking but drinking coffee and eating biscuits and gravy. We kids used to make butter in the authentic churn, which would now be an expensive antique.

In the living room, we found old paper or cardboard fans that were printed with the names of churches and funeral homes. The beds we slept in were much taller than those we were used to, which made climbing into them a workout. Just beside the house was a kitchen garden, which was endlessly diverting. We pulled up carrots and potatoes (which were usually not full-grown yet).

A little ways from the house was a barn, and it was the site of many adventures. There was a hayloft that contained bales of straw (not hay), but we were too young and timid to jump from it, as kids always do in the movies. There was also a fascinating old iron machine that took the kernels off the cobs of dried corn. We loved using it, though it turned out later that the corn cobs were meant to be left whole. There was also a mule, which I once got to ride bareback. Here’s some advice: Never ride a mule bareback. Their spines are very bony.

Across the road from the farmhouse was a hill that led to an ancient family cemetery. It made a nice walk to swing on the gate across the path and trek up there. I don’t know for sure, but I like to think of Addie and Jim being buried there and not in some huge cemetery far from their home.

Just a ways down the road, there was a drive-in theater, which we could see from the screened-in back porch. It was fun to watch the movies, especially the cartoons, even with no sound. Another nearby attraction was Natural Bridge State Park. There was an impressive lodge that we never stayed in, but where we could buy that sugary white candy that seems mostly made of air and dissolves in your mouth. We took pictures of each other standing under the bridge, though I don’t have them anymore.

If Beattyville had a town center, we never saw it. Down the road from the farm was a small gas station owned by Ollie Dooley, a more distant relative, but you couldn’t really say it was in a populated area. The areas we got to see were in the hill country of Kentucky, which we called “the mountains,” though they were nothing like the mountains they have out west. These were sometimes steep, rolling mountains, grassy and rocky, full of minerals.

Fracking didn’t exist back then, and I am glad. I’m sure the old farmhouse and barn are gone now. They were old when we visited them, and they can’t have survived or been rebuilt. And no one today would want a house with a black kitchen that you could enter through a window from the bedroom.