Category Archives: family

Magical Magnetic Noses

My cat has a magnet in her nose. My husband does not.

Dushenka is a wanderer. She wandered into our lives one day and decided to stay. Occasionally, the wanderlust still seizes her and she gives the phrase “Door Dash” new meaning. We’ve tried chasing her, with no success. She always comes back after she finishes with whatever she’s doing and strolls right into the house, where we call her “Naughty Grrl” and she remains completely unrepentant.

Then we moved, to a little apartment in a medium-sized complex. For six weeks, Dushenka showed no interest in the outdoors. Then one day, when our groceries were delivered and our attention diverted, out she raced. Naughty Grrl.

This time was even more panic-inducing. We had been in the apartment for only six weeks and we were quite sure Dushenka didn’t know her way around the neighborhood. Besides, it was 90 degrees outside and I pictured her lost and melted into a pitiful calico puddle somewhere, panting and expiring from heat exhaustion.

Imagine our surprise when 20 minutes or so later, she showed up on the doorstep (where I had put a bowl of water). I opened the door and Naughty Grrl strolled right in, as usual.

Admittedly, this story is not as dramatic as the ones about dogs whose families move away and track them down across the country. But it did get me to wondering. How did Dushenka find her way back?

Apparently, it has to do with the magnet in her nose.

Note that we didn’t put a magnet in her nose. It seems it was there all along. Scientists have discovered that various animals such as trout and migrating birds have in their nasal cells a mineral called magnetite, which, you might have guessed, is magnetic. Evidently, it allows them to sense magnetic fields such as those surrounding the Earth. How do salmon find their way every year to where the bears wait for them? Magnetic noses. (“Magnoreceptors,” if you want to get technical.)

Dushenka’s nose is tiny and pink (I have only ever seen one tinier and pinker, on a cat named Julia). You’d think there wouldn’t be room for a magnet up there. But apparently, it’s standard equipment.

Human beings ought to have the same sort of device lurking up their nasal passages, but we seem to have evolved away from that. There are tiny magnetic particles in the ethmoid bone in a person’s nose, but not enough to make a difference. Or at least not for some people.

Despite the fact that men are supposed to have a better sense of direction than women, my husband can’t find our car in a parking lot, or do that thing where you make three right turns to get back to where you started, or read directions in reverse in order to get home from an outing. He used to be embarrassed by this, but I think it’s comforting for him to know that he’s merely magnet-deficient and therefore (probably) more highly evolved. Or I as I think of it, topographically challenged.

Why don’t I get him a GPS, you ask? I did, but he never even installed it, much less used it. No, he prefers a human GPS (i.e., me) to go along with him whenever he has to trek to somewhere new. The magnets in my nose seem to work just fine, even though they can’t give directions in the voice of Han Solo.

Soon we’ll be moving back into the house where we lived when Dushenka came to us. I feel confident that when she inevitably makes a break for the great outdoors, her marvelous magnetic nose will bring her right back to us. Where we’ll tell her yet again that she’s a Naughty Grrl and she’ll flop down to rest up until her next expedition. I just hope Dan doesn’t get lost trying to chase her down.

Primitive Blogging

I know it’s going to be the modern equivalent of “I walked 30 miles to school in the snow. Uphill. Both ways.” But a lot of us are going to be saying, “I had to use floppy disks to add software to my computer. The printer was dot matrix. The monitor was one color – either amber or green,” and watching kids gawp in disbelief. (There’s a song with the line, “We programmed in ones and in zeroes. And sometimes we ran out of ones.” But I digress.)

At the moment, however, I am experiencing another sort of primitive computing – my environment.

I used to have a nice study. Large desk with drawers and cubbyholes. Printer stand/file cabinet. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Many pieces of artwork on the walls. The lighting wasn’t quite what I might have wanted, but, hey, you can’t have everything. I had a window for natural sunlight and an overhead room light.

That was in the days when we had a house, and the house had three bedrooms. One of them was my study and the other was my husband’s. He kept his computers, TV, DVDs, fossils, and who-knows-what-else in there. (The third, naturally, we used as an actual bedroom.) It was perfect, or as nearly as one is likely to get.

Now, and for the next couple of months, circumstances have forced us to live in a one-bedroom apartment. The bedroom, again naturally, is used for sleeping, which leaves me for a study – practically nothing. I can’t set up my computer in a corner of the bedroom because A) the room is too small, and B) my husband sleeps days, when I most need to compute.

What does that leave for a study? The utility room, where the water heater lives and the washer and dryer are supposed to go. There’s no room for an actual desk, so my husband constructed me a rustic platform from four totes containers with three planks balanced across the top. It’s just wide enough for my computer and keyboard (though the Mac does get to jostling a bit when I really get going typing). The planks are long enough to hold the printer, too. I have a proper desk chair, but not much else. Except boxes of belongings that we have nowhere else to store. It’s a claustrophobic existence.

(My husband’s “study” is the breakfast bar and a kitchen stool. No fossils except a couple of desiccated potatoes that need to be escorted outside.)

Unfortunately, with my makeshift desk taking up so much room, a laundry setup is out of the question. We’re back to scrounging for quarters so we can do laundry in the complex’s communal facility. And I make my husband do that. I’ve read too many true crime books about women who were killed in their building’s laundry room.

There’s also the noise. The water heater makes strange gurgles at irregular intervals, which breaks my concentration, and my husband watches TV during my prime working time (our schedules are just a wee bit peculiar). Which wouldn’t be so bad, if he didn’t watch the Screaming and Explosions Channel. (I think we get it on Roku.)

And then there’s the smell. Gentle floral scents wafting through my room with a quiet hiss every now and then – to cover up the scent of the litter box, which I also share with my utility room, our two cats, a scooper, and a whisk broom.  I’m not sure whether the air freshener is beneficial to the cats – or to me – but I try to pretend I’m walking past the beauty counter at a posh department store and trying to avoid the perfume snipers.

This is the environment in which I must do not only my blogging, but my transcription work till the end of August. I suppose one can get used to anything for a couple of months, especially if it means money still comes in, but one thing I know for sure – the litter box is NOT going to be in my new study once I get one.

 

Food, Felons, Films, and Fire

When couples drive somewhere, usually the man drives. When families watch TV (assuming that they have only one TV), the father or the kids control the remote.

My husband and I subscribe to the first paradigm unless we are driving a long way, when we switch off on the driving chore.

But when it comes to the TV remote, the battle is on. I try to get him to get the snacks so I can get first crack at the remote. Sometimes I think my husband hides the remote in his side of the sofa just so he can get to it first. Our TV actually requires the use of two remotes. That’s when things can get ugly.

The problem is our different taste in viewing. We do have things in common – neither of us likes sports, or news, or celebrities behaving badly. But Dan likes classic films of all sorts – Jimmy Stewart and Judy Holliday and The Thin Man and John Wayne and Topper – as well as action and science fiction films full of mindless, high-tech violence.

I, on the other hand, am addicted to cooking shows and crime shows. I never make any of the recipes (or commit any of the crimes), but I find them soothing. Cooking is an everyday activity that involves creativity and pays off with a lovely meal. Crime, alas, is also an everyday activity that only occasionally involves creativity and pays off with just desserts. The closest thing we’ve figured out to a film that will satisfy both of us is Arsenic and Old Lace (the best movie about serial killers that I know).

So there Dan is, reaching for the remote to turn on Turner Classic Movies  or SyFy, while I am grasping, trying to get first dibs for The Food Channel or OWN. What to do?

Of course, we could take turns, which is no doubt what a mythical mom would suggest. Or we could just watch whatever the faster person finds, which is what we usually do. Or we can change the channel when the other person goes to the bathroom. (Innocently: Oh, were you watching that?)

I do admit that it can be tedious to watch 11 or 12 cooking shows in a row, or four or five gruesome murders. But I get twitchy when I have to devote two uninterrupted hours on a movie with screaming and explosions or (possibly) women with irritable, high-pitched voices arguing with big lugs. And when there’s a festival with an actor that he particularly likes and I never heard of, well, then I go to my computer and blog, which he considers antisocial (although it is probably the most social activity I engage in).

Part of what saves our marriage is that we have vastly differing schedules. Dan works third shift and watches The Fifth Element when he gets home and I’m still asleep. I watch Forensic Files while he’s fast asleep in the afternoons. It works fine, as long as he doesn’t turn on the Screaming and Explosions Channel when I’m trying to have a nap.

But (I hear you ask) aren’t there any programs that you both enjoy, that you can watch together? Or is your entire life a tale of remotes that pass in the night (or, well, the afternoon)?

Sometimes we can agree on a movie or turn to our collection of DVDs for something like Chicken Run that we both enjoy. (Yes, we’re serious intellectuals. Can’t you tell?) And there’s always House or Star Trek. But we have found one show that we get together for every Wednesday evening.

Forged in Fire.

For those not in the know, Forged in Fire is a competition show in which smiths make knives and swords, often with unexpected challenges thrown in (no power tools or rusty tools as source materials). Eventually, the final two contestants are sent home to make some elaborate blade, which is then tested in some fairly gruesome manners, until one of them wins $10,000 and bragging rights.

I’m sure you can see how this resembles Chopped, say, or Snapped. Forged in Fire satisfies my need for competition and creation, with a little gore thrown in for good measure. It gives Dan the old-timey pursuits that he loves, with men he can identify with whacking things with hard objects or sharp edges.

It may not be what marriage counselors recommend at couples bonding sessions, but it works for us.

 

Living Like a College Student

A few weeks ago I wrote about how we were moving, and in finding a new place to live, I thought we might have to live with college students (“Stuck in Our 60s” https://wp.me/p4e9wS-13M). Now we have moved, and I find that instead, we are living like college students.

Back when I first went to college and moved into a dorm, there were certain things that were de rigueur. Cramming a life’s worth of belongings into half a room, whether dorm or apartment. Using stacked milk crates as either a bedside table or a dresser. Building a bookcase out of bricks and boards. Trying to share one small closet with another person’s entire wardrobe. Record albums stashed in the ubiquitous milk crates or banker’s boxes.

Well, we found our new temporary place to live, and it’s quite a bit like that. We moved from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment. That’s a lot of stuff to move, much less fit into one-third the space.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) the only pieces of furniture that came with us were the bed and a TV set. The living room is too small for a sofa anyway, so we bought two collapsible camping/stadium chairs and a wooden stool to use at the breakfast bar. It’s hard to snuggle up on stadium chairs, but at least the bed is queen-sized.

Most of our belongings made the journey (about two miles down the road) in totes, those wonderful plastic containers, about the size of two milk crates. They make up most of the rest of our furniture – TV stand, bedside tables, coffee table. Even my desk is a riff on brick-and-board, consisting as it does of two stacks of two totes each, with three sturdy boards across as a desktop. We did manage to bring along a desk chair, which, surprisingly is at just about the right height. My “study,” however, is located in the utility room, where a washer and dryer ought to go, but don’t. I share it with the water heater and the cat box. My husband’s “study” is half the breakfast bar.

The rest of our belongings, including all our furniture and nine-tenths of our possessions, currently reside in a crammed-full storage unit. In two and a half to three months, they will be released from their confinement (and so will we). It is devoutly to be hoped that a proper moving truck and some husky young workers will accomplish the transfer of all that accumulated stuff to our rebuilt, three-bedroom house. This recent mini-move was a do-it-yourself affair, involving the rental of two U-Haul trucks and the capacity of our Ford Escape. And many, many trips.

Our new apartment complex is quiet, not packed with college students, very near the entrance to the highway (so Dan can get to work quickly), and has a laundry facility that will make up for the lack of one in my study. I work in my jammies, anyway, so I don’t have to be washing and drying work outfits or much else besides t-shirts (my other fashion choice). As a matter of fact, all the clothes I expect to need for the next three months were packed in one suitcase. And Dan wears a uniform to work, so he doesn’t need much in the way of clothing either. And while he may not have his own study, he does have a small patio, where he can commune with his assorted plants and bird feeder.

As for the books and record albums, electronics have become our friends. My computer has iTunes, we both have iPods, and there are any number of devices around that act as e-readers, from my cellphone to a tablet to an actual e-reader. This obviates the need for thousands of linear feet and who-knows-how-many pounds of reading and audio material. Our collection of DVDs is much reduced as well, easily able to fit inside one of the many totes.

Do we love our new apartment? No. Does it meet our needs? Not really. Can we tolerate it for three months? We can tolerate nearly anything for three months if, waiting at the end of it, there is a newly rebuilt, two-story, three-bedroom (well, one bedroom and two studies) home with all new furnishings.

I won’t say it’s going to be easy, but if there’s one thing my husband and I have learned to do during our life together, it’s to drop back five and punt. We’ve been punting a lot over the last year, but this time the goalpost is at least in sight.

 

When the Pandemic’s Over

Right now there are a lot of blog posts that tell you how to get through this period when we are plagued with COVID-19, the coronavirus. There are helpful patterns for sewing masks. There are recipes to try and games to play to while away the time spent in self-isolation. There are exhortations to take up a new hobby or learn a new language or just take care of yourself – your mental and physical health. There are also entertaining conspiracy theories for the origin of the virus, which seem to involve germ warfare, Hillary Clinton, bats, the Deep State, and the elections. (Personally, “bats” is the word that comes to my mind to describe these theories.) There has even been a virtual science fiction convention online that has been running for weeks instead of just for the usual weekend.

But at some time – no one knows just when – there will be a break in the clouds of invisible invaders and we will all breathe a cautious sigh of relief. What will we all do then? Keep practicing our new hobbies and languages? Try to turn those masks back into bandanas or fetching little hats?

I have some suggestions.

Hug everyone you care about. One of the worst things about social isolation and distancing is that they make you feel … isolated and distant. We may be shy about returning to shaking hands as a social norm (I prefer the Vulcan hand salute). But hugs are life-affirming and life-sustaining.

I’m not recommending that we substitute hugs for other greetings for business or ordinary social purposes. But so many of us have been without hugs and long for a brief squeeze or a warm embrace with a friend, a grandchild, a lover, a niece – whoever has been involuntarily separated from you. It is my great good fortune to be acquainted with some world-class huggers (including my husband) and it is my intent to line them all up and hug every one of them. 

Be prepared for the next time. There will be a next time, make no mistake. COVID-19 may not confer immunity, leading to a second wave. There’s always the regular flu season, which I suspect will now make us all very anxious. And there’s been SARS, the Spanish flu, the bubonic plague, and countless other pandemics that crop up with surprising regularity (and not just at election time, either).

I’m not suggesting that we all fill one closet with toilet paper and another with bottled water, pasta, and hand sanitizer. But it couldn’t hurt to keep on hand at least one extra package of the things that the stores keep running out of. Take advantage of two-for-one sales. It’s like filling up your gas tank when it’s half empty (a thing my father did faithfully).

Eat out and shop locally. Bars, restaurants, and small local businesses are among the industries hit the hardest. Some may never recover. But those that do will need patronage to get back on their proverbial feet. And tip well. Servers in particular have been hard hit. I understand that with contactless pizza delivery now in place, customers are forgetting to leave some money in an envelope taped to the door for the driver. And the “delivery fee,” if there is one, doesn’t go to the driver. It goes to the store. (You didn’t know that?) Tip for food delivery the same as you would for a restaurant meal – 15% or 20%.

Educate yourself. There are good nonfiction books – reputable sources – that offer information on epidemiology, pandemics, zoonoses (illnesses transmitted by animals to humans), and epizootics (epidemics ditto). David Quammen’s Spillover, Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, and Influenza by Dr. Jeremy Brown are good places to start. 

Maybe if more people understood a little bit about how these diseases develop and spread there would be less fear, scapegoating, and improbable chains of coincidences presented as theories.

Vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. It may.

 

Someone You Know Is Mentally Ill


Let’s say you have five people in your family and another five who are close friends. Or four and six – enough to make up ten people in your life, anyway. Statistically speaking, two of those people will experience mental illness at some point in their life. Or the person experiencing mental illness could even be you. The National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that one in five – or maybe even one in four – people will experience mental illness. That’s 20% to 25% of Americans.

Don’t assume you know who those two people are. Many people with mental illnesses never talk about their difficulties because of the stigma attached to living with a mental disorder. Many others are high-functioning, able to have relationships and work and lead a relatively normal life, especially if they receive proper treatment. 

So, what are we talking about when we talk about “mental illness”?

We’re not talking about the person who straightens pictures and has a neat desk.

We’re not talking about the person who is sad after the death of a pet or grieving after the loss of a loved one.

We’re not talking about the person who is overly bubbly and laughing most of the time.

We’re not talking about the person who always seems to be on a diet, no matter how thin she is.

We’re not talking about the person who has some mood swings.

We’re not talking about the person who’s afraid of spiders and germs.

We are talking about people with serious mental conditions like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), major depression, mania, anorexia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. (There are other psychiatric illnesses, but they are much more rare.)

For harmless habits to be actual mental illnesses, they must persist over time and usually interfere with people’s abilities to accomplish the ordinary tasks of daily living. If a person’s depression lasts for weeks or months (or even years), he may have Major Depressive Disorder. Some of the symptoms are low mood, isolation, feeling hopeless or helpless, and changes in appetite. Of course, all those things happen to most of us at one time or another, but if they last for a long time and keep a person from going out or doing their work, they may be signs of a serious mental illness.

This is not to say that you can diagnose mental illness on your own. A psychiatrist or psychotherapist is needed to tell whether any condition is severe enough to be called a mental illness. And only a doctor can prescribe the medications that can alleviate the symptoms, lessen the effects, and help the person back to stability or mental health.

But if you do have a friend or loved one experiencing mental difficulties – and you probably do – what should you do?

If you are sufficiently close to the person, you could gently express concern and suggest that he might want to tell a doctor what is going on. With an acquaintance, it may be best to simply be understanding and supportive. Don’t be offended when she cancels an outing or can’t make it to a party. Her disorder may be preventing her from going, much as she would like to.

If the person seems to be in danger of harming himself, definitely have a talk with him. Tell him how worried you are and how you’re upset to see him suffering. If the situation warrants, make sure your friend has the number of a suicide hotline or knows that he can call you when he is having excessive bad feelings.

The best thing you can do, though, is to educate yourself about mental illness from reputable sources like NAMI. You’ll find that mental illness is treatable and not likely to lead to violence unless it is very severe. Don’t joke about mental illness. Once I did and it prevented someone with depression from speaking about her condition. Sharing our stories with each other might have brought us both connection and comfort.

Think of a mental illness the way you would think about a physical illness. If a person you know had a broken leg, you wouldn’t ask him to go skiing. If a person you know had cancer, you wouldn’t make jokes about it. If a person you know had the flu, you would understand and might offer to run errands.

Dealing with mental illness is not easy, but it is important. And I assure you, someone you know needs help and support. Think about how you can provide that. Then follow through. It’s often lonely having a mental illness. Do your best to be a good friend. That will help, even if your friend or loved one doesn’t acknowledge it at the time.

 

 

Eating Around the World

My mother, my husband, and I (in different combinations) have had some amazing travel experiences. England. Brazil. Croatia. And, like good tourists, we largely ate and drank our way through the various countries. 

There was the trip that my mother and I took to Brazil. When we arrived at our Rio hotel, we were greeted by our guide, who offered us a complimentary local drink – a caipirinha. This is the national cocktail of Brazil, made from lime, sugar, and cachaca (a local spirit reminiscent of, but different from, rum). It’s a pretty potent combination. My mother, who would have the occasional Tom Collins or glass of Mogen David, did not care for it, so she gave it to me. I downed both hers and mine.

Then the other little old ladies who were on the tour (there were a fair number of them) had the same idea and all gave me their caipirinhas rather than let them go to waste. It’s a good thing we had arrived in the evening and had no other events planned for that night, as I sat in the hotel lobby and got thoroughly sozzled.

Mom was not with us when my husband and I went to England (though Dan’s mother was). We lunched at pubs and tried authentic fish and chips, but passed up an Australian restaurant because I insisted we weren’t in Australia. 

But the most interesting culinary attraction there was when I noticed “spotted dick” on the menu at the restaurant we had chosen. (Insert your favorite “spotted dick” joke here.) I had heard of spotted dick before, but never knew what it was, really. Apparently, it’s a dessert, because it was listed under “Puddings” on the menu. (As those of you who’ve seen Harry Potter know, “pudding” is generic British for “dessert.” It doesn’t mean actual pudding.)

Naturally, I couldn’t resist ordering it. I tried to muffle my chuckles, but no doubt the waiter was used to this sort of behavior from tourists. When he brought out the dessert, it was rather disappointingly a sort of spice cake with raisins in it, topped with a thin custard. (I think it might have been crême anglaise, but I didn’t know enough at the time to call it that.) Evidently, the raisins were the spots, though I don’t like to think what parted represented the dick. Especially with that custard sauce.

The best treat of all, though, was one my husband and I had when we were on a tour that featured Venice, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. There was interesting food and drink everywhere. In Slovenia, I ate Brussels sprouts just because they were served with the main dish, and discovered they were wonderful. (Unfortunately, I have not had them prepared the same way since. And I didn’t know how to ask for the recipe in Slovenian. I speak a little Russian, enough to order cabbage or buy books, but I didn’t think that would go over so well.  But I digress.)

In Istria (a peninsula that’s part of Croatia), a few of us from the tour stopped at a local tavern to get a hot buttered rum to ward off the chilly rain that was plaguing us that day. Dan and I, feeling a mite peckish, ordered a fish plate. We thought it might be something like a cheese plate, a small assortment of different kinds of samples.

But no. We were presented with an enormous platter featuring every kind of seafood you can imagine in vast quantities, including a huge, whole fish. Again, this was before Food Network, so I had to try to disassemble the fish without completely shredding it or leaving any treacherous bones. (I remember that I did it rather successfully, though that may just have been the rum punch talking.) Our tour-mates had to dig in to help us make a sizeable dent in all the fish, shellfish, and other marine life (think octopus), so as not to seem ungrateful.

But our best food encounter was on that same trip. In Croatia, there is a city named Split. (I was once trounced by a crossword puzzle that had the clue “Split country.” I thought of Korea or Vietnam, but neither one fit.) Near the end of the tour, Dan and I stopped in at a small restaurant to have a little something-something – not a full meal, just a nibble or a nosh.

There on the menu we saw it – a prosaic, all-American banana split! How could we possibly resist? We had to order one just so we could say, “We split a banana split in Split before we split Split. But we didn’t do the splits. We might have split our pants.” Opportunities like that don’t come along just every day.

The Only Foods That Existed

I won’t say I was a picky eater, but when I was a kid, I definitely had strong food preferences. In fact, only certain foods existed for me – and not just because it was in the days before sushi entered the U.S.

Take milkshakes, for example. Though even at the time strawberry and vanilla milkshakes existed, the only kind I would accept was chocolate. I still have this opinion to some degree. For example, when I eat at Wendy’s, only a chocolate Frosty will do. But when it comes to other milkshakes, my tastes have broadened considerably. I love getting peppermint shakes at Christmas and banana shakes whenever. But my new favorite is the salted caramel milkshake at Red Robin, especially if they add a shot of booze to it, something I never even contemplated as a kid. (Salted caramel wasn’t a thing and booze wasn’t an option.)

Then there was jelly. Grape. And only grape. Not apple. Not strawberry. And certainly not mixed fruit. My toast and my peanut butter sandwiches required grape jelly or none at all. In the absence of grape jelly, toast got butter and PB sandwiches got no J.

Now I sample all the varieties of jams and jellies on offer – orange marmalade, blackberry, peach, and whatever they give me at Waffle House, to name a few, not to mention my all-time favorite, apple butter, which I guess is not really jelly. Strawberry is still my least favorite, but I will eat it when required.

Back in the day, the only lunch meat was bologna. I wouldn’t touch pimento loaf or the salami with those little hard things stuck in it that I later learned were peppercorns and wouldn’t have eaten even if I had known it. And forget head cheese! I inspected lunch meat subs (the only kind then in existence) carefully, and picked off the kinds I didn’t like. That left me with bologna and salami with no peppercorns, not exactly a culinary masterpiece.

Back then, ham and turkey were not so much lunch meats, but a breakfast dish and a Thanksgiving treat, respectively. At least that was the only way they were served in our house. Now I find that ham, turkey, roast beef, and even pastrami are acceptable. Strangely, I can hardly eat bologna anymore. Maybe my palate (such as it is) burned out on it all those years ago.

Other foods I turned up my nose at because of the way they were served. Peas, carrots, corn, beans (especially pinto beans with ketchup), and mashed potatoes were acceptable side dishes. Not so with asparagus. At that time, the only asparagus I knew of came in cans. I had never even seen a fresh stalk. Naturally, I assumed that asparagus was a slimy, icky vegetable, somewhat like okra. (If I recall correctly, all our vegetables came in cans at the time, but, honestly, there’s not much you can do to corn or peas to render them inedible. I actually even liked canned spinach, for some reason.)

Now that I’ve discovered fresh and frozen vegetables, my horizons have expanded considerably. I’ve since had fresh asparagus and liked it enough to have it multiple times. I’ve learned to like Brussels sprouts, if they’re roasted. The same with parsnips. Back in the day, roasting was a thing for, well, roasts, and maybe potatoes and onions with them, but little else.

Now I pride myself on what foods I will actually eat. I love sushi, adore hummus and guacamole, and jump at the chance to eat calamari. I have eaten curried goat, octopus, jackfruit, escargot, and pizza with nearly everything, including anchovies (not as a regular thing, but just to try it). Even my mom, purveyor of all those canned foods, learned to sample the local foods and drinks when we traveled abroad. She didn’t always like them (in which case she gave them to me), but by God, she tried them, and I admired her for that.

One of the only things I refuse to eat now is liver and onions. It’s a texture thing; they make me gag. Literally. Even my mom gave up on making me eat liver and onions when she saw that. I have lived my life happily without them and will continue to do so.

So, if you have a picky eater in the household, just wait and keep introducing new things. I once knew a child that would eat only buttered noodles who is now an expert on all things sushi.

I also know an adult who still won’t eat foods that touch on a plate, but you can’t win them all.

 

The Parents Who Didn’t Read and the Daughter Who Did

Everyone knows that the easiest way to raise a child who reads is for the entire family to read. The child should see the parents reading, lots and often.

But that’s not the way it happened in my family. Oh, my folks could read; they just didn’t.

I never remember my father reading anything when I was a child. He got his news from the television. He might thumb through an issue of American Rifleman at the car wash. But he didn’t read books while we were kids.

(Later in life, when he was bedridden with bone cancer, a family friend who worked for the library would bring him bag after bag of Zane Grey and Max Brand and Louis L’Amour novels, which he devoured. But I digress.)

Despite the lack of reading that went on in the house, there was always plenty of stuff to read. Little Golden books and Bible stories at first. I learned to read at my mother’s side, as she read storybook after storybook to us girls. Although she didn’t read for herself, she read for us.

My sister read some. Being a very literal person, every year she would start to read Under the Lilacs while sitting under the lilac bush in our backyard. (I don’t know if she ever finished it.) When she reached the horse-mad stage, she read Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, Misty of Chincoteague, and anything else equine-related she could get her hands on. Her reading tastes were largely satisfied with that.

I think the thing that turned me into the voracious reader I am today was not the example of my parents, but the sheer amount of literature that was available. Our parents purchased sets of children’s books. (I can’t remember what was in that series now besides Under the Lilacs and Uncle Remus Stories, which gave me fits with the dialect.) We had collections of Nancy Drew books and Tom Swift books.

My mother had a subscription to Reader’s Digest, but I don’t remember her reading it, or the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books that sat in fat rows on our bookshelves. When we weren’t making Christmas trees of the magazines by folding the pages, I read them and the Condensed Books. That’s where I acquired my taste for true adventure, I think. It’s not that big a leap from “Drama in Real Life” to Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. I first discovered To Sir, With Love as an R.D. Condensed book, then devoured everything I could get my hands on about teaching, my career goal at the time.

We also made extensive use of the public libraries and the ever-awesome bookmobile, since my parents’ middle-class income couldn’t keep pace with my reading tastes. And there were used book stores, too, where I could swap a grocery bag full of books for another.

There was no way my parents could screen my reading matter, so they didn’t even try. I didn’t receive a very balanced reading education or a very sophisticated one. I read whatever interested me, from novelizations of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to histories of Russia. I discovered Dr. Seuss and The Hobbit and Erma Bombeck. “Serious literature” I got from school, but love for reading came at home.

Having parents that read is a good thing, and no doubt it does help turn some children into reading mavens.

But if you ask me, letting a child explore reading at her own pace and through her own interests can be as effective as any planned course of literature or example of parents perusing the Great Books.

It worked for me.

 

The Equal Restrooms Amendment

Back when I was in high school, the Equal Rights Amendment was in the news. (Yes, I am that old.) We debated it, researched it, wrote papers on it, and held mock elections. Boys carried signs calling it the “Equal Restrooms Amendment.” (They were making fun of the ERA, but in fact, restroom parity seemed like a good idea at the time, as there was always a line in the women’s room, but never one in the men’s. But I digress.)

Now, with the ERA poised to become law (perhaps) since Virginia ratified it, the most important issue to some is how it will affect restrooms. Pearls are being clutched over the idea that any male – and especially transgender ones – can just walk into a women’s bathroom, locker room, or shower room and peep at the girls. Or worse. There’s also a lot of talk about men being able to compete in women’s sports and win all the prizes.

People don’t believe me when I tell them that the entire text of the amendment reads:

ARTICLE —

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Sec. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Sec. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

That’s it. Not a word about restrooms or sports. According to section two, the states can make any laws they want about restroom restrictions or sporting events, and the courts (now packed with Republicans) will decide whether they are constitutional – whether they abide by the ERA.

It’s also important to note that there are already laws that say men are not allowed to stalk, molest, kidnap, or otherwise harass women or children in restrooms, or anywhere else for that matter. Of course, these laws do not prevent men from doing so, but they establish penalties should anyone transgress. The ERA would not change these laws.

Really, the hubbub seems to be more about transgender individuals, who (at least according to the opponents) decide every day which gender they wish to be. And individuals with penises – always a danger to women who necessarily have their pants down. Or transgender individuals who have not had their penises removed. Or something. (The prospect of lesbians peeping in women’s restrooms is never addressed, perhaps because it is not a real problem.)

And let’s not forget men participating in women’s sports. Or having an unfair advantage if they do. Or something. Never mind that there are many sports, such as marathon races, that allow both women and men to participate. Yes, the men usually do better than the women, but that’s not the point. Women used to be arrested for trying to run in a marathon. Now they can, all without the ERA. (Title IX, which dictates parity in women’s and men’s sports in publically funded institutions like schools and colleges, is something totally else.)

But let’s get back to the intent of the ERA, those three tiny sections (not hundreds of pages of documents, as some have claimed and apparently believe). Their purpose is to establish equal rights for women – and men – in matters such as pay, law, education, advancement, opportunities, and areas where women are at a disadvantage simply because they are women.

But notice that men would be covered by the amendment as well. It’s not called the Women’s Rights Amendment, after all, and there’s a reason for that. In areas such as child custody, for example, where women have the advantage simply because they are women, men would have equal rights under the law.

It’s sad that there is so much fear, misunderstanding, and falsehoods about what is really a simple concept – equality under the law. The right to be treated equally by organizations and institutions. The explicit right to be protected by the Constitution, for all citizens.

But it’s not about the restrooms. It was never about the restrooms.