Caller #2

It had been so long since I experienced this that I’d forgotten the pleasing rush that accompanies the moment–that sudden sense of elation, the titillating thrill, the lasting tremor of triumph when one claims the prize.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am a winner.

Realizing this may come as a surprise to you, please allow me to clarify.

Two weeks ago, while careening down the dark streets of Worthington en route to my church choir rehearsal, I had absentmindedly adjusted the radio dial to a local pop-rock station–not my usual choice, but an occasional option.

As a song ended, the bubbly female announcer said, “And we are giving away a $10 gift card for Jimmy John’s to Caller #2.”

She had me at “giving away.”

Instantly, I pulled over to the roadside, grabbed my cell phone and dialed the radio station’s number before continuing on my way.

Phone to ear, I listened to the “brrrringgggg, brrrringgggg, brrrringggg,” and thought, “I missed it; it won’t be me.”

Then, a cheery, almost over-the-top, “Hello, who is this?” reached my ear.

“Uh, it’s Jane Moore.”

“Congratulations! You’re Caller #2. Stop on out to the station anytime in the next two weeks to collect your gift card. And thanks for listening.”

Wow, I really was a winner!

Memories of childhood days spent listening to KTOE in Mankato on our kitchen radio, eager to be Caller #9, or #3, or sometimes even #20, flooded over me; was it to win a pizza, a burger meal at Hilltop Tavern, a holiday turkey, a free oil change? Hard to know, but the recollection of a pounding heart and against-the-odds hopefulness, all wrapped up in sweaty fingers gripping the nine-foot curly telephone cord, momentarily returned to me.

Once in a great while, my older brother or I actually prevailed and DID manage to be the caller of the moment; the excitement was even greater if the announcer talked to you on the air for a few seconds.

As the recent Wednesday night Caller #2, I happily walked into the local radio station last week to pick up my prize. The administrative assistant obligingly shuffled through a folder, and my heart sunk a little as I saw at least a dozen other gift cards and certificates labeled with other winners’ names; maybe my win wasn’t really that special after all.

But as I drove away, I smiled to myself, thinking of what a simple pleasure it would be to order a Jimmy John’s meal with my winnings–provided I don’t cave in to the more typical “mom sacrifice” and use the card to buy sandwiches for the kids.

Hey, you don’t get this lucky every day.

Coffee (g)rounds

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses, milder than muscatel wine. Coffee, I have to have some coffee…  — Excerpt of lyrics from “The Coffee Cantata” by Johann Sebastian Bach

In an effort to keep up with our kids, work and household and community duties, the hubby and I have been ingesting more coffee lately. (Don’t judge; Dr. Oz says it’s good for us, especially with a slab of unsalted butter stirred in.)

We tend to prefer our coffee hot, dark and rich, with perhaps a touch of added cream.

One of the simple joys in my life is waking to the aroma of a fresh-brewed pot, a daily and much-appreciated gift from my earlier-rising husband.

In the new months of our marriage, our coffee ritual was often somewhat leisurely–especially on weekends. Then, we could get up when we pleased and enjoy several cups of the steaming brown liquid while we read the paper and ate a satisfying breakfast.

That was so 1989.

With the arrival of Child #1, coffee began taking on new meaning; that is, it was a necessity rather than a luxury. When Child #2 entered the scene, followed just over two years later by Child #3, coffee became a lifeline, a beverage to be quickly gulped in order to maintain a critical level of alertness and caffeine in the bloodstream.

A mom can always dream, though. In the labor-intensive days of diapers, sticky fingers and car seat-toting, my mind sometimes strayed to a hazy, happy memory of extended coffee breaks with my spouse.

Over the years, we’ve grabbed our cups of java whenever and wherever we could. Coffee found other ways of inserting itself as a life theme, nudging its way into our kitchen decor (including wall art that plaintively pleas, “Coffee,” and two plaques bearing the words “New York Coffee” and “Coffee Company: Dark Roast,” respectively).  Most apropos.

Now, with one child away at college and the remaining two in high school, we’ve occasionally found a few free moments to catch our breath and ponder really important questions, like: “Whatever happened to that cappuccino maker we got as a wedding present?”

What, indeed.

“I think it’s tucked away in the back of the pantry,” I replied to my spouse as I struggled to remember the last time that machine had seen the light of day.

An initial pantry search proved fruitless, but I soon recalled having stuck it in the back of a topmost cupboard when we’d relocated across town two years ago.

Sure enough, there it was: a sturdy little white Krups unit, in need of some TLC. But after years of disuse, could it still press the espresso, froth the milk and leave the room smelling like a European patisserie?

On Saturday afternoon, my motivated husband aimed to find out. He applied himself to cleaning it up, unearthing the necessary utensils and popping open a can of espresso that was optimistically purchased some time ago.

While I was running an errand, an excited text message reached my cell phone: “Your cappuccino is ready!!!”

I promptly jumped into my “mom van” and headed for home. A pleasing scent filled my nostrils when I opened the door. On the counter sat a cup of homemade cappuccino, perfectly frothy and artistically sprinkled with nutmeg. Next to the cup–another nearly forgotten wedding present that happened to perfectly suit the drink in question–was a short, sweet note from my favorite barista.

Thanks, dear, for reminding me just how much I love coffee.

And you.

Costume parade

Did you spend Halloween as someone else?

Apparently, thousands of people did. Whether it was for a Halloween party, trick-or-treating, a “monster” run or just for fun, the photos spread across the Internet, in newspapers and shared via scores of smart phones tell the story: people really got into the spirit of Halloween this year by donning costumes.

Even super model Heidi Klum (why would she ever need or want to look like anyone else?) received scads of media attention for her Halloween turn as a sexy Jessica Rabbit.

I didn’t dress up for the occasion.

Maybe that’s not quite true: I wore the Halloween disguise of a “band parent.”

With both of our younger kids now in the Worthington High School marching band, my husband and I decided to make the trek to Anoka, where the Trojans lit up the Grand Day Halloween Parade with the precision and passion of their “Les Miserables” sequence.

My “costume” consisted of a black hooded sweatshirt, with the unmistakable words “Parent Pride” descending in white down the right sleeve and the Trojan band logo splashed across the chest, stylishly paired with aging running shoes and fading jeans.

But that outfit paled in comparison to the apparel extremes exhibited by literally thousands of folks at the Halloween Capital of the World on the holiday itself. People in Anoka take Halloween very, very seriously.

Some of the notable sights at the Grand Day Parade included the cast of Scooby Doo brought to realistic life (Thelma, Fred, Shaggy, Daphne and Scooby were all accounted for), multiple depictions of Elsa and Anna from the popular “Frozen,” the Ghostbusters crew (complete with a replica hearse), Super Heroes galore, costumed dogs by the dozen, plenty of “Waldos” to be found, numerous tipsy pirates (a la Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean”), several “Back to the Future” allusions, enough Star Wars characters to populate a new planet, countless zombies and “undead” creatures, numerous “Cat in the Hat” personalities (think the Cat himself, plus Things 1 and 2)–and of course the more predictable witches, fairies, ghosts and skeletons.

The Twin Cities Unicycle Club pedaled from their precarious perches, with a unicycle-riding Santa and Elvis, among other bedecked, balancing marvels.

A flatbed bearing teen queens from Rockford had a Barbie-doll theme, with each attendant assuming a Barbie role: Ski Barbie, Veterinarian Barbie, Cheerleader Barbie and Wedding Barbie.

Crazily, a 6’3 white gorilla weaved through the crowd; another adult black gorilla, completely masked, carried a two-year-old “bunny,” who rested calmly in the arms of the beast with nary a blink.

But the most remarkable sighting may have been in the midst of the Simley High School band’s ranks.

That musical group, from Inver Grove Heights, navigated the mile-long parade route in costumes of the individual players’ choosing, so the looks were incredibly varied.

One young saxophonist carried a most unusual burden: He wore an entire pumpkin, carved up in standard jack-o-lantern style, atop his shoulders, with a space large enough for his mouthpiece to fit through.

“That must be getting really heavy,” observed one spectator, as hordes of children packed plastic bags full of candy and adults munched on corn dogs, French fries, cheese curds and hot dogs while the afternoon unfolded.

On the lawn of a dental office, an inflatable pumpkin (roughly eight feet wide and 14 feet tall) offered a toothless, black-lipped grin.

I smiled back, marveling at the creative costuming we’d witnessed and the enthusiastic embrace an entire community annually gives this most devilish of holidays.

Maybe, in a few years, it will be time to relinquish my “band parent” get-up and dress as something that will better blend in with the crazy crowd, like a mummy. Oh, wait–I’m already a “mummy.”

Keep thinking…

By the numbers

Relationships can be complicated; who doesn’t know that?

My relationship with numbers is no exception. Generally speaking, I’m not fond of numbers. Mathematics rivaled phy ed (more commonly referred to as “gym class”) as my least favorite portion of any school day, mostly because the concepts were harder for me to grasp–and because staring at the numbers and corresponding symbols made my head swim.

As early as second grade, though, my more literary-focused mind devised its own solution. Some might call this daydreaming, others would term it “creativity,” but either way, I found myself crafting personalities (even genders!) for specific numbers, along with story lines for those numeric personalities that made the time I was forced to spend in math class slightly more tolerable.

For instance, the even numbers were the “good guys,” with 4 being a particular favorite of mine. 4 was female, intelligent, feminine, resilient but also, at times, vulnerable. That was when the gallant 8 might step in to rescue 4 (though 6 sometimes filled that role instead). 2 was a mere baby (male, I believe), often taken advantage of by an untrustworthy older sister, 3.

5 was a wily woman, quick to ensnare with her charms and usually found on the arm of the wicked 9 (7 vied for her seductive attentions, as well). When 5, 7 and 9 were scheming, one needed to beware. In any disagreement, 5 prevailed over 4, even if it meant 5 was resorting to lies and hypocritical statements to do so.

8 was the reliable protector and champion of all the younger “evens;” I remember feeling great warmth, too, for 0, but 1 was rather a non-entity and didn’t factor into the stories with much regularity.

(From a psychoanalyst’s perspective, this likely explains a lot about my SAT math score.)

Nevertheless, over the years I’ve been told on numerous occasions that I have a somewhat uncanny memory for certain numbers–birthdays, anniversaries, telephone numbers (when there existed a need to remember those), street addresses and prices.

Go figure.

Just last week I was buying a package of coffee that a shelf sign indicated was on sale for $4.88, but when the cashier rang it up, $5.99 registered.

“Um, I think that’s supposed to be $4.88,” I piped up.

Sure enough, one embarrassing loudspeaker “PRICE CHECK!” later, I’d saved that $1.11 (ooh, bad number!) on my morning wakeup call of choice.

I can’t be the only one who attaches specific qualities and values to numbers; I mean, there HAS to be a reason retailers ignore certain numbers.

Consider that advertised products rarely sell for amounts ending in 1, 2, 3 or 6. The vast majority of times, prices end in 8 or 9. Yes, I understand that by selling something for $1.98 or $3.99 the store nearly takes in $2 or $4, while the consumer sees the starting 1 or 3 and perceives the cost to be lower than it in fact is, but maybe there’s something more to it.

How often do you see a pile of items for $2.36, or $1.62, or $4.83? Only occasionally, that’s when. (Even dollar amounts, like $12, $6 or $5, don’t count for purposes of this expert analysis; sorry.)

If you don’t believe me, check out this week’s ads for the local grocery stores; nearly every item on most of the pages sells for a price ending in 9 or 8.

In my “story line” mind, the result is I feel sorry for the poor, left-out numbers. Will their relative disuse cause 2 and 6 to suffer from low self esteem? Doesn’t even the crafty 3 deserve to be assigned a few products using “her” as the ending figure (other than on a “Friday the 13th” sale day, when EVERYTHING tends to end in 3)? Will 8 eventually tire of 9’s dominance and stage a rebellion, shocking a night stocking clerk who discovers all the prices have mysteriously been altered to end in 2?

When it comes to numbers, it’s all relative.

Farmer girl

In southwest Minnesota, it’s unmistakably harvest time. Although the leaves are slow to assume new colors this fall, area roads are bustling with enormous farm implements, mature fields of corn and soybeans are disappearing by the hour, the farmers’ market is bursting with squash and pumpkins, local apple orchards are touting their sweet, crispy wares and we’re all reaping the delicious rewards of hardworking growers.

I have the utmost respect for farmers and for others who cultivate our earth to produce good things for us all to consume–especially because I don’t have that ability.

Last weekend, a small miracle occurred: my husband and I attended a movie! Together! In an actual theater! For the first time in ages! It was “The Martian” (you’ll love it!), and a key plot point (small spoiler alert) is this: When astronaut Mark Watney is inadvertently abandoned on Mars by his colleagues, he must find a way to grow food (in a place where nothing is believed capable of growing) in order to sustain himself until he is rescued.

Fortunately for him, his specialty is botany, so before long a small acreage of healthy potatoes is sprouting, right there on the Red Planet.

“I’d be dead,” I whispered unnecessarily. Of COURSE I’d be dead! Not only do I lack the necessary skills to turn a raw potato into a blossoming field, but I am missing the scientific knowledge critical to keeping me alive in space; I’d be a goner long before it would come down to whether or not I could conjure crops out of dust.

But I digress.

This summer, my “garden” (if the sorry patches of earth I scratched out in our yard could be reasonably called that) yielded the following: 10 handfuls of kale leaves, approximately 25 tomatoes (none greater than an average-sized orange), enough basil to flavor several servings of spaghetti and lasagna, and three small watermelons (the biggest only slightly larger than a softball). Oh–the watermelons were grown by my son, so I can’t honestly claim those. And there was plenty of rhubarb, but I didn’t plant it, and it technically belongs to our long-suffering neighbors, so….that doesn’t count either.

About the time the first flowers appeared on my tomatoes, there were gorgeous piles of red-ripened wonders at the farmers’ market, along with pea pods, onions, new carrots and other early-summer delicacies.

When our teeny watermelons began to perceptibly expand, the melon-growing Williams family of Brewster was offering back-breaking beauties in abundance.

What am I doing wrong? Does the soil know I don’t really need what emerges from it? Don’t I talk enough in gentle, coaxing tones to my seeds and seedlings?

This isn’t a genetic disorder, because my mother is one of the most successful tomato-growers ever. She swears by “digging deep” and liberally adding banana peels and coffee grounds to the surrounding dirt at every opportunity. Thus, she is rewarded with more luscious tomatoes than she can handle, and I find myself the beneficiary of her greenish thumb.

Having moved two falls ago, leaving behind a dwarf apple tree and generous stand of raspberry bushes in our former yard, we decided to plant a few raspberry slips last spring.

They appeared to thrive, with clusters of hard, green knots giving promise (or so I thought) of sweet fruit to come.

Upon showing them to my REAL farmer friend, Julie, though, I was brought back to earth.

“Those don’t look very good,” she assessed, even as I pointed out the first pink flush on a few of the fledgling berries. “Why don’t you pick some at our place?”

Chastened, I accepted her offer…but a couple of weeks later, I wandered past our bushes and noticed–three red, ripe raspberries! A small miracle had occurred! Every day thereafter, three to seven berries readied themselves for our four hungry mouths, much to my delight.

Triumphant, I texted Julie the news: “My raspberries are producing! At least three to seven a day!”

Encouraging as ever, Julie texted back, “You really are a farmer, after all!”

Unh-uh. I replied, “If we had to rely on my agricultural skills, we might eat something, but we’d be very, very, very thin.”

Need something grown? I’m your gal–but not if your life depends on it.


Good vibrations

While many aspects of daily life (clothes and dish washing, transportation, communication and food acquisition, etc.) in First World countries are, arguably, easier than ever before, one thing is more difficult now than at any other point in human history: unplugging.

Charging cords litter our floors, headphones sprout from the ears of passersby, outlets are cluttered with plugs, TVs light up the walls of every McDonald’s, sports bar, laundromat and service station, and cell phones bulge in the pockets of teenaged girls and buttoned-down businessmen alike.

It takes a rare storm, or an even rarer burst of willpower, to walk away from the 24/7 surge of connectedness that permeates every facet of our society.

These days, a modern-day Thoreau would need to locate a retreat much further afield than Walden Pond to find solitude and contemplation, it probably goes without saying.

Being a decidedly low-tech person already (I’m not necessarily proud of that; I’m scheming to have my daughter teach me everything she knows before she departs for college next fall, lest I lag in the 20th century for the rest of my natural life), it seemed reasonable to leave the cell phone behind when heading for an extended trip to Italy and Croatia this past summer.

After all, we’d be traveling with a group, whose leader had an international cell phone and ready computer access for emergencies, and wasn’t the point to absorb local culture and relax rather than stay in the loop on everyday stressors?


So, upon arriving at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport that July morning, my husband and I scanned our respective cell phones one last time for any urgent communication that might have rolled our way before turning off the phones and stashing them in the glove compartment.

Strangely, I felt somewhat naked, even as I hauled a suitcase, oversized carry-on, purse and jacket through the parking garage toward the terminal.

The habit of patting my pocket or outer purse compartment to verify the phone’s presence was rendered obsolete, and I tried to focus on the whereabouts of e-tickets and passports rather than worry about the absence of a silly cell phone.

Hadn’t I made it all the way to my 40s without a ready-made communication device on my person? I’m of the generation that waited in long lines at pizza joints to use a phone to ask for rides home on cold Saturday nights (somehow, someone usually answered), acted nonchalant while having deep conversations on the lone hall phone in college residence halls as 30 other students passed by at unexpected intervals and watched from my hospital bed as my husband called our parents on a hallway payphone to announce the birth of our first child.

Spending 12 days in Europe without a cell phone? Not a challenge.

But I hadn’t counted on psychological dependency.

After a smooth and uneventful flight to Rome, the sightseeing immediately began. There we were, walking ancient cobblestoned streets en route to the Trevi Fountain, immersed in the steamy heat of that remarkable Italian city with bobbleheads of Julius Caesar nodding to me from every souvenir shop window, when I felt it.

A vibration near my right hip, just at the spot where my phone usually rested in my pocket, demanded my attention.

I slapped my leg, reached for my phone and came up with….nothing.

“Ha, ha,” I laughed nervously to myself, remembering the phone was safely locked in a Dodge Caravan halfway around the world from where I stood.

But later, unmistakably, I felt it again–that familiar tremor, even as we neared the Pantheon in all its historic wonder.

Strolling through the marvels of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps, even the Sistine Chapel, I was haunted not only by the ghosts of long-dead Roman emperors, popes and slaves but also by the phantom vibrations of my Samsung cell phone.

Feeling like an idiot, but relaxed with a plate of pasta and a glass of house red at dinner, I confided to my companions about being stalked by my cell.

Sheepishly, my husband and at least two other adults admitted to having experienced the same sensation.

Taylor Swift’s advice to shake it off is harder than it sounds. Unplug? Go ahead and try.


The further adventures of Darwin

The chirps of wayward, rebel crickets have mercifully died down, but the bearded dragon my youngest son introduced to our household a few weeks ago lives on.

That’s due to a daily diet monitored and measured more carefully by the resident 14-year-old than those of many human infants.

“He [the dragon dubbed ‘Darwin’] needs to have the proper nutritional balance,” insists this vigilant “father,” who nevertheless is personally more inclined to grab a package of “fruit” snacks from the cupboard than one of the healthier bananas or apples readily available to him.

Darwin’s faithful master had earlier perfected the art of bathing him in the utility sink, with a “basking rock” provided in the hot water to offer a respite spot, so the critter at least is somewhat clean most of the time (not that I’ve checked the folds around the scaly being’s eyes to confirm that).

But vigilant “parenting” became greatly relaxed when this busy high school freshman, pressed with classes, homework, athletic practices, social activities and other obligations, sought time for tank-cleaning.

An evening football game and pep band call-time loomed, thus hastening the lad’s efforts and methods.

Blissfully unaware of the corner-cutting, I continued preparing a nutritionally balanced supper for the family’s humans, glancing at the clock and listening for sounds from above that would indicate the project’s conclusion.

Instead, the youth crept into the kitchen with a worried look on his face and this ominous declaration: “Mom, something really bad happened.”

My adrenaline and imagination immediately launched into overdrive. The tank collapsed? Reptile feces was smeared on the carpet? How bad could it be?

“What?” I nervously inquired.

“I can’t find Darwin anywhere,” he replied.

With Darwin curled up on the floor near a bookcase, Son #2 had left his room to deposit some of the tank’s gunk.

Frantically we searched the space, looking under papers, shorts, socks and cords and scanning the undersides of bed, dresser and desk.

The clock was ticking, and Darwin was nowhere to be seen.

“I’m pretty sure the door was closed,” the teen asserted, with a detectable note of uncertainty in his voice.

Well, the door WAS shut now, and a towel was jammed under it to prevent Darwin from deciding to explore the rest of the house.

With food gulped down, the two teens departed for pep band, and their dad was met at the door after a taxing work day with an urgent order: “Find Darwin!”

Clad in slippers (I had no desire to squash the thing), I joined him in entering our son’s room, tiptoeing about and lifting up everything possible.

“I Googled, ‘Where do bearded dragons hide in houses?’ and it said they try to find warm places,” I helpfully reported.

Ten minutes of searching, flashlights and yardsticks in hand, passed–no bearded dragon. Could he have exited the room?

Finally, my now-impatient spouse began hunting among our son’s musical equipment.

The skinny tip of a scaly tail, barely perceptible, hung just over the edge of a guitar amplifier’s cord storage area.

“He’ll stay there,” said my husband, sounding an awful lot like his son. “We can go to the football game and get him out later.”

Not a snowball’s chance in the Australian Outback. Quickly, I obtained a box and insisted he shake Darwin from the confines of the guitar amp into it, and from there into the tank.

Reluctant clinging got Darwin nowhere; soon he was securely in his tank, warily tilting his bearded head at me.

“Tough to be you, Darwin,” I retorted aloud, to my husband’s amusement, before finally departing for the football game.

The next day, escape nearly forgotten, Darwin’s diet was again on my son’s mind.

“Mom, I NEED to start a roach colony,” he cajoled. “It’s really important. In a lot of ways, roaches would be less annoying than the crickets, and they can’t climb over flat surfaces that are more than a half-inch high.

“Darwin has specific dietary needs.”

Hey, what about MY needs?

Kids these days.

Hoppy Wednesday

Our three children have brought great joy into our home and lives over the past two decades…not to mention piles of homework, multiple musical instruments, dozens of friends, hundreds of graphic t-shirts, numerous collections of rocks, dolls and baseball cards and several pets.

But our youngest son’s most recent acquisition is notable: A six-month-old bearded dragon (a lizard species originating in central Australia known for its “hardy nature” and “easy care in comparison to other exotic reptiles,” according to Wikipedia).

Unfortunately for our animal-loving brood, my affinity for non-humans is scant, but that hasn’t prevented the kids from treasuring four cats and three rabbits (mostly in serial fashion) over the years.

Whether it was summer’s doldrums, a genuine desire to have a unique pet of his very own or a deep-seated interest in reptiles, our 14-year-old son’s insistence that a bearded dragon was the creature for him only intensified throughout August.

“If I can’t have a dog, how about a bearded dragon?” it had begun, months ago.

Subtle hints were dropped, brochures about reptiles appeared on my placemat and cost estimates penciled on notepads were mysteriously pinned to bulletin boards.

When the kid presented a typed three-page, single-spaced document he’d prepared detailing the pros, cons, expenses and intricacies of bearded dragon ownership, my cold heart began melting–not due to a sudden love for reptiles, but from the realization that if he was willing to put in hours of research to advocate for his cause, maybe he would be a highly responsible pet owner.

Somehow, the phrase “eats live crickets” had escaped my notice.

First came the 40-gallon tank, then the heat lamp (to mimic the dragon’s native desert habitat), followed by a spray bottle for daily misting (“like the morning dew,”) and finally the bearded dragon himself. Ugh.

At least it all landed squarely in HIS room; I thought I was safe.

A baggie bursting with 100 live crickets lasted for the pet’s first four days of residency. Unbeknownst to me, husband and son collaborated in ordering ten times that many to keep feeding the beast.

I found the delivery at the door one afternoon last week; only a fragile screen separated me from 1,000 active, chirping crickets. The box practically moved by itself. I’m not sure what children’s author Eric Carle intended by titling one of his best-sellers, “The Very Quiet Cricket;” did he ever really meet one?

Our new ninth-grader hurriedly fed his dragon the next morning, dashing out the door with backpack in hand as he called, “Can you check the box? I’m not sure I shut it tightly enough.”

“Yeah, I’ll check it,” I replied absentmindedly, then ran out the door myself soon after.

Returning home a few hours later, reptile and crickets forgotten, I climbed the stairs to the second floor and….CRICKET BREACH!!!

A horror movie had sprung to life before my eyes. Dozens of hopping, chirping crickets dotted the beige carpet, lining the hallway and preparing to hit the steps. The unruly insects’ instant reaction to my extended scream alerted me to the fact that crickets have excellent hearing.

After my shrieks and initial shock subsided, I backed down the stairs, desperately devising a strategy. I grabbed an ice cream bucket and box from the garage, stripped paper towels from the kitchen roll and determinedly re-entered the battle zone.

Trying not to squash any crickets with my bare feet, I shut the doors to the upstairs rooms that so far had escaped the insect invasion before carefully removing the primary cricket container, doing my best to keep as many inside it as possible.

Then, smothering my yelps and cringes, I caught crickets one by one and shoved them into the bucket, slamming down the lid with each tiny victory. When the hallway was clear, I began throwing the crickets directly into the dragon’s lair, totally making HIS day.

Wild-eyed and harried, I pinched up every last one of those escapees, although an occasional Jiminy Cricket has turned up every day since.

Anyone seeking to insult me might need to consult Little Jimmy Dickens’ 1965 country hit “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” for new ideas because after this, it’s going to take a whole lot more than 1,000 live crickets to scare me.


Me, myself and I

Nobody thinks much about me anymore.

Let me rephrase that: Nobody thinks much about “me” anymore. Maybe “me” just isn’t long enough, fancy enough, trendy enough–but at some juncture, “myself” became sexier than “me,” even though “me” is correct far more often than “myself.”

But when did being right ever take precedence over being popular? Exactly never, that’s when.

So “me” has been dumped in favor of “myself,” and not just by uneducated bumpkins or by those who never paid attention in an English or communications class.

Forgive the English major in me (Note: “myself” would NOT be the correct word in the preceding phrase!) jumping straight out of my skin, but “myself” has become the go-to pronoun these days, rather than waiting for the relatively few times it should be used in its true, reflexive form.

Maybe this problem evolved because there wasn’t a  “Me, Myself and I” number on the Schoolhouse Rock! shows back in the ’70s (who can forget “Conjunction, Junction?”), but slowly, over time, “myself” has gradually been taking over “me” until “me” is hardly ever used.

Here’s the dirty secret, folks: “Me” and “I” are pronouns you should be using much more frequently, while “myself” should be reserved, and sprinkled into speech or script, on rarer occasions. Honestly, if you’re uncertain about which pronoun to use, you’re better off guessing “me” or “I” about 90 percent of the time rather than choosing “myself.”

Using “myself” doesn’t make you sound smarter or fancier; it makes you sound WRONG.

For instance: “Tom and myself looked over the annual report and found it adequately reflected the progress our company has made in the past fiscal year.”

No, no, no! “Tom and I looked over the annual report!” I silently scream as I have heard everyone from CEOs, principals, doctors, presidents, ministers, scientists, conductors, stylists and custodians utter or write phrases similar to the above on countless occasions.

“The staff and myself found Susie to be best suited to the position.”

Not on your life!

But this: “I wrote the letter myself.”

Yes, indeed. That’ll do. That’s the reflexive “myself” in its role of lending extra emphasis to the noun already mentioned in the sentence or clause.

“Myself” is a pronoun that must receive an action or refer to a previous noun or pronoun; contrary to its common usage of late, it’s too weak to stand on its own two feet.

So a person should never say, “Myself and the gang are going to the amusement park,” because NOTHING CAME BEFORE “myself!”

“Myself,” get over yourself. You’re not too good for us, but you’re suffering from overexposure. You need to be sprinkled (sparingly) and not poured into the soup pot of our language, and you definitely need to quit hogging the pronoun front.

If all this grammar mumbo-jumbo has you shaking your head, muttering to yourself (yes, sir), “I’ll just keep talking and writing however myself pleases,” hold on a second–maybe considering some common quotes or song lyrics will help clarify this matter more simply.

Did Joshua say, “As for myself and my house, we will serve the Lord?”

Ah, no–that would be, “me,” and I’m confident you all knew that. Get thee behind me, “myself.”

Composer Neil Diamond and The Monkees wouldn’t have made it too far with “It’s a Little Bit Myself, A Little Bit You,” but by using the proper pronoun (“me,” of course), they took it ALL THE WAY to #2 on the Billboard charts in 1967.

Or how about that cliched breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me?” C’mon, if you haven’t heard or uttered that at least once in your life…well, I just don’t believe you. But no one will ever tell you, “It’s not you, it’s myself” (at least not after reading this column!).

Finally, consider that 1985 #1 hit from the band Simple Minds, forever associated with John Hughes’ movie “The Breakfast Club,” with its pointed directive built into the title: “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

Go ahead, sub in the inappropriate “myself” and you see the issue with which I’m struggling.

My advice: Don’t YOU forget about “me.”


Finally, 50!

It was a long time coming, but August marks the month in which the last of my (local) Class of ’83 female friends turns 50.

Since September 2014, the specter of 50 has descended upon one friend and acquaintance after another. Each one has met the milestone with grace, a touch of humor, celebratory moments–and maybe a few creaks and groans.

Locally, my “youngest” 50ish friend Julie marked her “special” day on Tuesday.

“You’re finally 50, young lady,” I teased her.

Maybe the many years of commemorating solitary summer birthdays (while chums were regularly feted at school) and always being “too little” for things (a first job, the 15-year-old dating bar set by dad, that all-important driver’s license–received nearly a year after most of one’s peers) were worth something after all:  Julie and other “young-for-their class” people like her manage to cling to 49 (or 29, or 39) seemingly longer than the bulk of their peers.

And there’s also the advantage (real or imagined?) of graduating from high school at “only” age 17, or from college at “only” 21.

Julie had good-naturedly smiled her way through several other 50th birthday gatherings as 2014 flipped to 2015, all the while secure in the knowledge that her own 50th wouldn’t officially occur for several months.

At lunch this week, we informed the server (a restaurant employee known as a  “waitress” when we were decades younger–that’s how old we are) that we were there because…Julie was finally 50.

The 20-something server stepped back, mouth agape, to take a closer look at the youthful Julie.

“FIFTY?” she queried, blessedly incredulous. “Are you sure?”

So what’s the big deal with 50? Women who, to my eight-year-old self, seemed fairly aged  were later revealed to have been only about 53 then. Sipping coffee from Corelle cups, pinning laundry to clotheslines, complaining about arthritic hips and fingers, wearing hair curlers under scarves in public and chatting over picnic tables while engaged in card or Scrabble games–THAT’s what “older people” did, and their reality seemed so distant from my youth that it was virtually impossible to picture myself in that place, however far in the future it might be.

Here are a few topics that circulated at Julie’s 50th birthday lunch this week: upcoming medical appointments, how much free rein to grant high school and college-aged offspring, recipes, the recent wedding of a child, why certain food did or didn’t agree with us and whether or not (and by which method) to color our hair.

In reviewing that list, I know the conversation would have bored me to tears as a 14-year-old. But at 50? It seemed about right. And who doesn’t need hair advice?

As I recently dug through 2005 Daily Globes for my weekly “Looking Back” column, I uncovered an item about a quintet of female centenarians–Esther, Fran, Julia, Viola and Mabel–who resided then at The Meadows in Worthington. Their ages ranged from 101 to 107, though in the accompanying photo, not one of them looked a day over 85.

Their advice for enjoying a similarly long life was simple: Avoid pills, get enough sleep, eat well, maintain a positive attitude and stay active.

Although my Mankato West High School Class of ’83 has already seen far more than its share of members leave this earth, whether due to illness, accident or suicide, the rest of us are not even halfway to the mark the aforementioned centenarians achieved.

Potentially, five additional decades could lie ahead for at least a few of us–doubling the life span we’ve already notched. That’s a lot of birthday cake.

Here’s to the next half century!

(And happy birthday, Julie! You’re finally 50.)