Thursday, December 17, 2015

Can I Get An Amen and A Refill, Please?

“Free Coffee”

Despite the nearly illegible type style and relatively small font size, the phrase caught my eye from half-way across the bank lobby.

“Free Coffee”

When I was in junior high and making posters by hand (dinosaurs roamed the earth, the school still had a spirit duplicator machine – please take a moment to recall the smell of those fresh, damp copies) for the bi-weekly roller skating parties (again, dinosaurs blah blah blah), we were told to: A. Print neatly; B. Write BIG; 3. Use bright colored markers (but not yellow because it's impossible to read).

No one ever told us to include the phrase “Free Coffee.” Of course, back then a random picture of
Made you look!
Shawn Cassidy would have had the same eye-catching effect for me as “Free Coffee” does now.

But my point is, despite all the theoretically terrible typographical errors, the phrase “Free Coffee” caught my eye and thus brought my attention to that little 8 1/2x 11 flyer posted on the Community Bulletin Board in the bank lobby.

They had me at “Free Coffee,” but I was compelled to read further. After all, if it seems to good to be true... it probably doesn't involve coffee, free or otherwise.

“Fun for Kids”

The Little Prince was, at that moment, sitting in the car practicing his eye-rolling technique and texting his friends about being forced to go shopping with his lame-o Mom.

As long as I had “Free Coffee” I would be less likely to “Slap Someone Silly,” so I figured “Fun for Kids” was redundant.


“Relevant Life Message”

Is there a more “Relevant Life Message” than “Free Coffee”?

I suppose an argument could be made... although I'm not sure why.

But my point is, whoever put this flyer together for their church (because it was, indeed, for a church service), knew enough to lead with their strength. In this case, apparently, that is the “Free Coffee.” I'm not sure what that says about their church, but I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing.

I consider myself to be religiously tolerant. I don't care what or who you believe in or don't believe in, as long as you recognize a force greater than yourself which inspires you to treat others with respect and humility and does not inspire you to cause intentional harm to them. And on occasion maybe, just maybe, you are inspired to look at something with awe and amazement and recognize that you are a very small, albeit somewhat important, cog in this vast universe.

I have long suspected that coffee might be the key to spiritual enlightenment, but I think maybe, just maybe, “Relevant Life Message” should have been the lead in this particular message.

Then again, I have suggested setting up a coffee maker in the entryway of our church and installing cup holders in all the pews. The other congregants just smile and laugh in a polite “I think she's kidding, isn't she?” kind of way. (No. Not really.) All I'm sayin' is we have Hospitality Sunday with coffee and donuts once a month, so why not “Free Coffee” every week?

I was raised a Methodist and converted to Catholicism, so I still have many faith-related questions. Like, are we sure Jesus changed the water to wine at the wedding in Cana? Maybe he changed it to coffee. That would appeal to my Methodist roots.

The Queen Mother used to recall a brief stint as a “Happy Lutheran” (not sure if there was an “Unhappy Lutheran” phase, or if that was in contrast to the occasional “Contentious Methodist” moments). My paternal grandmother attended an Assembly of God church, although stories are told of a fundamentalist service which involved speaking in tongues (which triggered a vast and immediate improvement in my church service behavior). There were also rumors of Baptists, Mormons and Episcopalians mixed up in the family tree.

Perhaps that crazy-quilt of religious heritage contributed to my “live and let live” (or “worship and let worship or not”) attitude. After all, it was The Queen Mother who told me my favorite joke (and repeated it after every church basement ladies function): How can you tell what religion someone is? When their place of worship burns down a Catholic rescues the blessed sacrament, a Jew rescues the Torah, a Lutheran rescues the Jell-O molds, and a Methodist rescues the coffee pot.

Second only to: What's the difference between a Catholic and a Baptist? A Catholic will wave to you in a liquor store.

But my point is, and maybe the point of whoever put up that flyer is, we should focus on our similarities instead of our differences.

“Free Coffee” is as good a place to start as any.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (My Way)

Let the Christmas battles begin.

To maintain familial harmony, one must choose their battles wisely. This doesn't change just because Santa is watching.

Trust me.

Being The Queen Mom, Supreme Ruler of All Things Domestic Which Require Cleaning, Feeding, Mending, Signing, Cooking or Washing/Drying/Folding (and part-time Taxi Driver), I usually get to set the rules for general holiday decorating and celebrating at our house. I'm also the only one who knows where the decorations are stored (because I'm the one who puts them away every year), and the only one brave enough to venture to the dark recesses of the storage room where they are stored (which made it a great place to hide Christmas gifts), so I have a leg up.

With the house in disarray due to The Great Remodeling Project, I was really, really, NOT looking forward to putting up the Christmas tree this year. It's a hassle most years trying to find a home for all the crap that needs to be put away to make room for the tree. This year all that “other” storage space is already in use... as well as any flat surface I can find.

But over the weekend I decided that we didn't need a 24-inch wide path through the family room when a 18-inch wide path would do. And besides, it's not gonna get any better before Christmas, so what the heck?

Up went the tree.

Well, it wasn't quite that easy.

Despite the fact that I am a horrible housekeeper, I have a fairly involved cleaning process (some might call it anal retentive) when it comes to Putting Up The Tree. The pre-tree steps include, but are not limited to: putting away the crap that is already out (cramming everything in storage boxes and stacking those boxes on top of the boxes already in the storage area/family room), dusting (for the first time since last Christmas), vacuuming (for the second time since last Christmas), moving all the stuff that has been piled on top of the Christmas tree box since last Christmas (and cussing), hauling the box upstairs (cussing), trying to remember how to put the tree together (less cussing since I wrote myself notes on the box), carrying in the box back downstairs, piling the crap back on top of the box, and vacuuming again (cussing all the way).

Usually the rest of the family members and the cat try to “help”. This year they all made themselves scarce. I think they've finally learned.

There was a lot less cussing this year, too. Coincidence?

Once the tree is up, the real battles begin. The children would leave the lights on 24-7 if they could. The Husband would turn the lights on in the morning when he gets up and as soon as he gets home if he could and the children hadn't already beaten him to it.

I have a strict dusk to bedtime schedule for lights. This means I spend most of my daylight hours turning the Christmas lights off.

Despite my very militant enforcement of lighting hours, I would go full-on Griswold (as in Clark Griswold of “Christmas Vacation”) when it comes to exterior illumination, if I weren't so lazy and cheap, that is. (Nope, not gonna pay someone else to do it for me.)

The Husband, on the other hand, requires any exterior lights to be tasteful (Ya' lost me right there. Can you say Flamingo Santa?) and in keeping with the theme of the season. The children both now have strings of lights hung in their rooms – All. Year. Long. – so it could be three to one if we put it to a vote. But since the husband is the one we make climb the ladder, his vote counts for like, four.

As zealous as I am about appropriate lighting times, I am even more fanatical about Christmas music. Look it up in the Bible, the Constitution (both US and Russian), the Laws of Robotics, and the Prime Directive: “No Christmas Music Shall Be Played Prior to the Evening of Thanksgiving.”

Trust me. It's there.

Right after: “Thou Shalt Listen to Arlo Guthrie's “Alice's Restaurant” Prior to Noon on Thanksgiving Day.”

Unfortunately, The Husband has, due to weighted voting, ratified the “Snoopy's Christmas” Amendment, meaning that The Royal Guardsmen's “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” can be played immediately following Arlo Guthrie's “Motorcycle Song” (which must be played immediately following “Alice's Restaurant,” because, well, I only dust off the CD once a year), and must be played ad nauseam until February (or until The Wife hides the CD). Personally, I would listen to my Harry Connick Jr. Christmas CDs all season (and longer), if I could only find them. Hmmm....

The Little Prince and Princess have no input on the Christmas Music Debate, as they typically roll their eyes, retreat to their rooms, and put on their head phones whenever the topic is brought up for discussion.

Although, the Princess switched the radio in my car to the XM station “Holly” November first, thus losing her driving privileges for at least... until she needed my car again.

And the Little Prince routinely takes the ukulele out of my hands mid-performance (?) of Mele Kalikimaka and proceeds to play it much, much better than I can. Despite my many, many sessions of ukulele lessons and his total lack of ukulele lessons.

It's a good thing I still have a hot line to Santa.

And I'm not afraid to use it.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

When the Face on the Milk Carton is a Milk Carton

When I got home from the grocery store yesterday I decided to have some Oreos and milk to reward myself for remembering all the things on my grocery list. Things like Oreos… which I had forgotten to pick up the day before, when I went grocery shopping.

Except... we were out of milk.

I just got home from my second trip to the grocery store in two days, and I needed groceries.

The story of my life.

If only... I thought.

If only there were some way for the milk carton to let me know that it was almost empty and that I first trip to the store, but the children and the husband have been on a cereal-for-breakfast kick lately and I hadn't factored in the increased milk usage when I made out my shopping list.
should probably think about picking up more the next time I was at the store. I could swear I had checked the milk before my

If only... I thought.

If only someone who had – oh, I don't know – used almost all of the milk had told me “Hey, we're almost out of milk.” Or if only someone who had – oh, I don't know – actually used the last of the milk had told me “Hey, we are now actually out of milk.” Then maybe I would have remembered to add milk to the grocery list, and maybe I would have picked up milk either the day before, when we were almost out of milk, or yesterday, when we were actually out of milk.

I say “maybe,” because I have, on occasion, been known to forget to pick up items that are on my grocery list. And I have, on occasion, been known to forget to put things on my list thinking “Oh, I won't forget to get that, because that is totally the only reason I am even going to the grocery store.” And that is why I usually call or text my family while I'm sitting in the grocery store parking lot to ask them if they've thought of anything else I need to pick up.

That's when I thought “If only someone would invent a little microchip that you could put on a milk carton to remind you it's time to get more milk.” Then, when I'm writing out my grocery list and I shout “Is there anything else I need to get when I'm at the grocery store?” the milk carton could beep, or somehow reply “Why yes! You are almost out of milk! Please remember to put milk on your list and pick up milk when you are at the grocery store.”

Although I have to admit, hearing a voice call out from inside the refrigerator would be a little weird.

You know what wouldn't be weird? Having my children or my husband reply “Why yes! I used almost all the milk this morning on my cereal (even though I didn't actually drink the milk that was left over after I ate my cereal and basically wasted a whole cup of delicious, sugary-sweet, vitamin-enhanced milk by pouring it down the drain). Please remember to put milk on your list and pick up milk when you are at the grocery store.”

And then I thought, “If only that little microchip in my milk carton could send me a text message or just call me up when I'm at the store and say 'Hey! It's me, your milk carton. I know I wasn't almost empty when you left to go to the grocery store, but I am now, so could you please pick up more milk while you are at the grocery store?”

Although, expecting a microchip in a milk carton not only to have that kind of self-awareness, but also to know my shopping schedule would be a little weird.

You know what wouldn't be weird? If, when I text or call my family and tell them I'm sitting in the grocery store parking lot about to go into the store and I ask them if they have thought of anything else we need, like milk, they would actually go to the refrigerator, open it up, check the milk and let me know if I need to get more.

But until microchip milk cartons – or helpful family members – become a reality I'm stuck making frequent trips to the grocery store. Even if that means going to the grocery store three days in a row. Or sometimes going to the grocery store three times in one day.

And so this morning I made a special trip to the grocery store just to pick up a gallon of milk. Then I came home to have Oreos and milk. I knew we had Oreos at home because I had just bought them yesterday.

Except I hid them.

And I don't remember where.

If only... I thought.

If only someone would invent a little microchip that you could put on a package of Oreos to remind you where you hid it.”


Monday, November 16, 2015

Watch Me Twirl, Watch Me Nae Nae

Due to popular demand (or lack of opposition), I feel compelled to share the story of The Great Color Guard Rifle Twirling Fiasco mentioned in my last post, as straight forwardly as I can.

Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and pterodactyls routinely picked off small children as afternoon snacks, being in the high school band was cool. At least that's what we told ourselves. We even had our own special “Bandcoming Week” with cool dress-up days like “Hat & Spats” Day, and “Shades & Bandanas” Day to celebrate our nerdiness... I mean coolness.

In addition to being cool, participation in marching band was on equal footing with football and cheerleading, meaning that participating in football or cheerleading did not get you out of marching with the band at halftime. (At least that's how I remember it, and this is my story, so....) Cheerleaders who were also flag girls or baton twirlers mastered the fine art of changing out of one short skirt into another in our cars. (We always kept our lollies – or privacy shorts – on, so get your minds out of the gutter.) Believe me that feat of contortion was much easier as a limber high schooler. (It was after a sweaty 5K, back out of the gutter.)

One more little detail which is vitally important to the story: Our band was blessed with a plethora of flutes and clarinets.

Another important detail: Our band director, affectionately referred to as Wim Jeaver, sweat more than any other human being I have ever encountered. In the heat of the directing moment I'm pretty sure he could sling sweat clear to the back row of the brass section. Flutes in the front row didn't stand a chance. Clarinets in the second row didn't fare much better.

So, partly because there were so many of us, and partly because we would do anything to get out of the sweat storm, most of the flutists and clarinetists became flag girls. I'm sure the term “flag girl” offends someone out there, but you're just going to have to get over it. This was back before we even thought about being politically correct. We were girls, we twirled flags, end of story.

In fact, as I recall we had almost as many flag girls (and two baton twirlers) as we did band members. This is (of course) yet another important detail.

When I was a junior, a new girl transferred to our school and our band. She had been a member of the color guard rifle twirlers at her old school, and, upon finding color guard rifles stowed behind the flags stacked somewhat haphazardly in our band room closet, she suggested incorporating those into our halftime show.

Back then, we didn't go to marching band competitions. I'm not even sure there was such a thing. My point is, we performed an entirely new show for each home football game. Things were simpler then. We only played other teams in our conference, all the conference teams were within a 45 minute drive, and we played home games every other week.

Again, that's how I remember it. I can't really say for sure because after running through the flag routine with us once, Wim pretty much left us alone to practice. Which we did. Vigilantly. Never goofing around or wasting time. High school girls are responsible like that. 
WLHS Flag Girls, Baton Twirler and Majorette circa 1983.

The only problem with adding a color guard rifle twirling unit was that there were only two color guard rifles in anything near twirling condition.

The solution: Our color guard rifle twirling unit would consist of only two members. Two girls would never be missed from the flag fleet.

Somehow I managed to convince Wim to let me join the new girl in the color guard duo. I'm not sure how this happened, but I imagine his final decision was announced with a heavy sigh, an exaggerated rolling of the eyes, and inspirational words along the lines of “Go ahead. Just don't screw it up.”

Now that you've read this far, I should probably warn you that I may be the only one who finds this story funny. It's really more of a visual story. The Princess always laughs when I tell it, but I'm not sure if that's because of the story itself, or because of the massive amount of pantomime twirling that accompanies it. Anyway, you're going to have to imagine a lot of hand gestures and spinning and twirling and tossing. If you've ever seen the precision movements of a real color guard, imagine the exact opposite.

I would also like to say that, unfortunately, I honestly don't remember the name of the other girl. She was a sweet thing, and this story should in no way reflect upon her as a person. In fact, I have never told this story to the general public before because I don't want to accidentally offend or embarrass her. For God's sake, if you think this story is about you, don't tell anyone. And don't slash my tires.

After much serious practice – remember, we were responsible high school girls – the night of the big performance finally arrived. The marching band took the field for the half-time show. The color guard duo took our places in front of the band. The eyes of the entire home crowd were upon us. You could sense the anticipation. You could cut the tension with a knife. The band started to play. We twirled our rifles once, twice and...

My twirling partner dropped her rifle.

OK. No big deal, right? Except that she didn't pick it up.

I gave her a look that said “What the heck?” I kept twirling. She didn't pick it up.

I gave her another look that said “No, seriously. What the heck?” I kept twirling. She didn't pick it up. But she did keep pantomiming twirls.

Wim gave her a look. I kept twirling. She didn't pick it up. She did keep pantomiming.

Wim rolled his eyes, shook his head and focused all his attention on the band, ignoring us.

I kept twirling. Except by now I was thoroughly lost and had no idea what came next in our routine.

I realized it didn't really matter, because I was the only one actually twirling a rifle.

I could do whatever the heck I wanted.

I did whatever the heck I wanted.

My poor partner stood there nearly in tears pantomiming what may or may not have been the rest of our routine as I twirled and whirled and flailed and danced about like some sort of deranged lunatic until the song finally, mercifully ended.

Tah Dah! I nailed the ending with great flourish.

Our brief but illustrious incarnation as the WLHS color guard ended with something less of a flourish.

At the next home game I was busted down to pretend trombone player, sans mouthpiece. I think Wim's instructions were something along the lines of “Stand between these two people. Do what they do. Go where they go. Don't play. Don't screw it up.”

I'm sure this was accompanied by a heavy sigh and an exaggerated rolling of the eyes.

There's a lesson to be learned here.

Keep on twirling.

Twirl like no one's watching.

Twirl and the world twirls with you, drop your rifle and you stand alone.

Never trust a flag girl with a gun.

When you have a blog, you can twirl the story any way you want.

Tah Dah!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

While My Banjo Gently Weeps

I have decided I want to learn how not to play the banjo next.

I already know how not to play the ukulele, guitar and accordion. I have forgotten how not to play the flute, oboe and saxophone (tenor and baritone). And my ability to play piano is only just slightly above how not to play.

I think you could say that, technically, I know how not to play the trombone, although the one time I got to not play it for high school marching band I really did not play it. Since I was just being used a place-filler in the formation, the director didn't even issue me a mouthpiece.

Spoil sport.

(This was after an ill-advised attempt to learn how not to twirl a color guard rifle. Now that, in my opinion, is a really funny story.)

I say this to establish the fact that when I decide I want to learn how not to play an instrument, I don't give up. So there is a very real chance that at some point in the future a banjo will join the guitar, ukulele, flute and piano gathering dust in our house.

Make no mistake. These are instruments that I have actually made a concerted effort to learn how to play, but through no fault of my own – other than a complete and utter lack of talent and ability – I have failed.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to give up.

Take the last time I learned how not to play the ukulele. This was, I believe, the third time I've taken intermediate group ukulele lessons, in addition to the two beginner group ukulele lessons and two sessions of beginner group guitar lessons. I lump both instruments together only because they are both stringed instruments and you would think there might possibly be some overlap.

Turns out? Not so much.

I would like to point out that my lack of ability is not a reflection on my teachers. It is solely and completely a result of my lack of manual dexterity (my fingers don't bend that way), spacial recognition (my fingers don't know where to go), and my utter lack of rhythm. My teachers have all been amazing, which is evident in the rapid improvements made by my classmates as well as my teachers' kind unwillingness to either call me out in front of the class or kick me out completely.

This time around I was in a class of child prodigies. By the end of the first class they were playing chords with ease. By the end of the second they were fingerpicking melodies. By the end of the third they were experimenting with amazingly complex rhythms. By the end of the fourth they were all comparing acceptance letters to Julliard.

I actually did master a few chords and was able to transition smoothly(ish) between them. My downfall was the whole lack of rhythm thing. I mean, I can dance. Sort of. I can keep time when I play piano. Sort of. But moving beyond a simple “One, Two, Three, Four,” or “Down, Down, Down, Down,” strumming pattern was much more difficult than I had realized.

There were a few times I started to (slowly) get into a “One And, Two And” or “Down Up, Down Up” rhythm. (Some people might even call this an eighth note rhythm. I think. Maybe.)

But when I tried to strum that pattern and switch chords it went something like this:
“One And, Two And, Chordchange And, Wrongchord And,
One aaaa, Wheream I, Crap I, Missedit And,
There! And, Two Nope, Three oops, Change uhh,
Change Arrrgh, Almost GotIt, Whatdoyou Mean, Wefinished Twobeats, Ago And?”

In other words, I have absolutely no business learning how not to play the banjo.

I'm not really sure why I want to learn how not to play the banjo. Maybe it's because of the shape. Or the short, fifth-string reentrant tuning. Or the unique sound. Or because it's so Tragically (un)Hip. Or because I want to be able to (not) play “Dueling Banjos” and scare the bejeebers out of anyone who's seen Deliverance.

Or maybe it's because I'm one of those hopelessly optimistic people who keep on trying no matter what. I'm always certain that the next time things will be better. Success is just around the corner. Just around this bend in the river. Just beyond this set of rapids.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to strum faster.

I hear banjos.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Yo No Hablo Teenage Boy-O

When the children were little I wished they came with instructions.

I realize that was a very silly wish. They don't listen to instructions, and I never read them.

They are both teenagers now and I know what I really need is some sort of Rosetta Stone for teen speak. Or teen non-speak, as the case may be.

The Princess is getting easier to understand. I'm not sure whether that is because she is quickly approaching the end of her teenage years, or because I have some personal experience with teenage girl speak. She may not want to believe it, but I once was a teenage girl myself. It's like they say: if you learn a language as a child, you never completely forget it. Teenage girl and adult girl also have some common linguistic components.

I remember, or have learned, that a girl-child can change the meaning of the word “Mother” simply by changing which syllable is emphasized (“MO-ther” vs. “moth-ER”). Likewise, the volume, tone and spoken length of any individual sound (“Mmmmmmmmother” vs. “Motherrrrrrr” for example) can be altered to adjust the meaning.

Teenage girl non-verbal communication is just as, if not more, complicated. The simple eye roll can have many and varied meanings, from “I can't believe you're such a dork,” to “of course I love you.” Sometimes it can have more than one meaning simultaneously.

When it comes to The Little Prince, however, I am completely at a linguistic loss. Yo no hablo boy-o.

The Little Prince has become a surly foreign exchange student skulking about our house, leaving his room only to procure food (to take back to his room) or to scowl at the printer. He speaks an undocumented dialect of an unrecorded language that, for all of its complexity apparently consists of only three phrases: “Uh-huh" (affirmative?), "Nuh-uh" (negative?), and "Dunno" (everything else). His eye rolls, shoulder shrugs and grunts are in a dialect that is completely different than his sister's.

Last night, when I returned from a four-day absence, I stood, smiling, in his doorway waiting for a “Hi, Mom! Welcome back.” What I got was an impatient “Yeah?”

I hugged him anyway.

It's hard to believe that this towering stranger, with facial hair and deepening voice was once my cuddly, little boy. OK, so he was never that cuddly, but he was the little boy I held tight in my mother-arms. The little boy who exactly matched and filled the little-boy shaped space that had been formed in my mother-heart.

Now my head rests against his shoulder on the rare occasion when I am able to ambush him from behind to wrap him up in a tackle/hug. More often than not he turns around and heads the other way when he sees me coming. Much like dogs sense fear, teenage boys sense incoming Mom hugs. Although, sometimes I like to think that his evasive maneuvers are purposefully a step slow, or that he waits an extra beat before attempting an escape, allowing me time to sigh contentedly as that little-boy shaped space fills in once again.

This morning he stopped by my desk as he headed out the door to school. For a moment he just stood there looking at me expectantly.

“Do you need something, honey? ” I asked, my Mom-radar pinging away.

“My laundry basket is overflowing,” he said.

“Well, I'd be happy to teach you...” I started, my temper flaring.

Then I saw the smirk on his face, and I understood him perfectly. No translation was needed.

I love you too, Little Prince.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Will Run For Chocolate

Running can be an opportunity to spend some quiet time alone with yourself. A time to meditate, a time of mindful awareness. Whether alone, or at a crowded race, it's just the runner and their thoughts.

Some people may use this time to reflect upon their lives and make meaningful plans. Some people may think deep thoughts and build their character. Some people may get in touch with their spiritual side.

Not me.

For me, a 5k is really just an excuse for me to spend 30 minutes pondering any and all random thoughts that wander through my brain. For example, during this morning's Lagomarcino's Cocoa Beano 5K in East Davenport, my thoughts were a mix of highs and lows, goods and bads, just like the “moderately” hilly course.

The Bad: In a crowd of 3,750 plus, it is possible (I suppose) that a few people didn't read the multiple emails requesting walkers line up towards the back of the crowd. It is possible they missed the multiple signs towards the back of the crowd that said “Walkers Line Up Here.”

It is possible they didn't realize that your “pace” refers to how fast you intend to run the entire race (or most of it), and not how fast you plan on running the first three whole blocks before stopping abruptly to bend over, hands on knees gasping for breath in the middle of the road. Directly in front of me.

These people should be slapped.

The Bad: People who complain – even if they just think about complaining – about people who run three whole blocks before abruptly stopping to bend over, hands on knees gasping for breath in the middle of the road. Directly in front of me.

I should be slapped.

The Bad: People who get to the race at the last minute, find the small parking lot already stuffed to overflowing, yet insist on shoehorning their cars (and gigantic Escalades) into any semi-open space they can find, regardless of how that affects, or, ahem, almost completely blocks off traffic flow after the race.

These people should be slapped.

The Good: People who take the time to help other motorists maneuver their 72-inch wide vehicles through the 74-inch wide gap left between the back bumper of the shiny, new, black Escalade, and the driver's side door of the fragile, white Toyota Prius.

Those people deserve medals. Because if it weren't for them, I would have gotten out and hit those cars even if I didn't hit those cars.

The Bad/Not Inspirational: The runners who cross the finish line and then turn around and run the course backwards as a cool down, or to double their mileage. Especially if I meet them before I reach the half-way point.

These people deserve to be slapped.

The Good/Inspirational: The runner with the perfectly coiffed bun, designer sweats, aviator-style sunglasses and perfect running form. I want your hair and your style. If I can't run fast, I should at least be able to look good doing it. (Although I did pass her, so there's that.)

The Good: My music playlist for this race was amazing. I don't think many people would put Sammy Hagar, The Kinks, and Steve Winwood (and Billy Joel) on the same playlist.

The Bad: I MAY HAVE HAD THE VOLUME TOO LOUD. Wait? Is that even a thing?

Good, Better, Best: It's not called the Chocolate Beano for nuthin'. Runners got a piece of Lagomarcino's candy and hot chocolate at the end of the race. The only better way to end a race would be to have Billy Joel at the finish line. The only thing better than that? Billy Joel waiting at the finish line with Lagomarcino chocolates.

The Bad: People who think Iowa is flat. These people should be slapped and forced to run a 5K in a river town.

The Good: West Branch isn't near a river, but it has plenty of hills. I eat hills for breakfast. I love powering past others on hills. (I should probably be slapped for that.)

The Bad: Ending a 5K route with a long incline. You could hear the roar of the crowd, but you couldn't see it. That last quarter mile up hill was a real spirit breaker.

The Good: My spirit doesn't break that easy.

But I am going to lie about my pace next time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Nun Walks into a Bar...

“You can write about this. Just make it funny.”

That's what you told me just a year ago when you called us all together to give us the news. To tell us you had pancreatic cancer. (

You said you only wanted to have to tell us once. But I think you knew we all needed to be together, to lean on each other, to pass around the tissues, to remember the fun times (we're all right behind you), to prepare for the future.

To prepare for today.

But we weren't.

We aren't.

“Just make it funny.”

I couldn't do it then, and I don't think I can do it now. And since you can't be here, I'm gonna write whatever I want.

Like you knew I would do anyway.

Damn it.

Today I cried at Panera. I didn't make a scene. Just some sniffling and blotchiness. Just enough to make the servers nervous. They finally stopped looking at me funny every time I went in to Papa Murphy's – where I cried after you first told us the news -- and now this. 

I'm not sure what that says about me... or you... or fast food. But the absurdity does kinda make me laugh.

I think it probably made you laugh this morning, watching me cry in my coffee.

They serve coffee at Panera, Brenda! Coffee! Do you know how much I love coffee?

I can see you with your head thrown back, blue eyes sparkling, and those dimples!

Earlier this morning I was thinking about how, when we lose someone we love, we cry for us... not for the one we lost. We cry to make ourselves feel better. Not because it will make the ones we miss feel better.

Was that you nudging me, reminding me? Preparing me for the call?

I know you are OK now. I know you don't hurt now. I know you're not sick anymore.

I know you're OK now.

I can hear the angels laughing and I know you are scandalizing St. Peter. Dear God, please tell me you didn't show up at the Pearly Gates wearing your “Nun Who Ain't Getting' None” costume.

But then again, why not?

And I think of all the people lined up to greet you. All the people who've been missing you as much as you've missed them.

As much as we'll miss you.

So, here goes....

A nun walks up to a bar in heaven.
“Gimme a Captain and Coke,” she says, winking at the cute angel tending bar.
The angel, shocked by her behavior, faints dead away.
“I didn't ask for Sex on the Beach,” she says.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Spirit Week and Other Fashion (Non)Sense

It's high school homecoming season in Iowa, which means “School Spirit Week,” which means teens across the Hawkeye state are rummaging through their parents' closets for the most out of date, dorkiest clothes they can possibly find.

Which means parents across Eastern Iowa can be heard saying “But wait! I just wore that last week!” in addition to the usual “Are you wearing that to school?”

This year I found my sartorial choices challenged by “Tourist Day.” Things started on a positive note, strangely enough, with a boost to my “Cool Mom” status. Both Little Angels wanted to borrow a Hawaiian shirt, which they knew I, as a “Cool Mom” had.

Unfortunately, in preparation for the great remodel I had actually cleared a few things out of my closet – including my three Hawaiian shirts. Shirts which they had previously ridiculed, I might add. Now my fashionistas were all “Oh, how could you... why would you....” Princess Pack Rat was able to one-up her brother, as she had snagged one shirt out of the donation bag and set about teasing him with it.

In order to keep familial harmony and avoid forever being labeled “The Mom Formerly Known as Cool,” I made a trip to the mall with The Princess acting as a proxy shopper. We selected a very nice, almost-not-obnoxious Hawaiian shirt, which we thought would fit The Prince.

And then the Little Prince went to the mall with his friends and picked out another one. In XXL. All three of us could wear it at the same time.

Shirt problem solved, the Little Angels started arguing over who would get to borrow my fanny pack. Once again, “Cool Mom” was called on for the costume rescue.

“Yeah, all the tourists wear those nerdy things,” they said.

“Huh, wha? Wait, what makes you think I have a... I'll have you know they're quite handy!”

Yes, I do have a small (?) bag which can be carried around my waist so as to free up my hands and shoulders to carry a bunch of other crap my family members don't want to carry themselves. When the children were younger I frequently used it to carry a variety of important supplies – money, band aids, money, wet wipes, Kleenex, money, hand sanitizer, and, oh yes, money! – on our adventures.

My ego was only somewhat bruised by all this until The Princess asked if she could borrow my khaki shorts. Ahhh. Finally! Khaki shorts, something nearly everyone has, sometime timeless, classic, not at all nerdy. Why sure, she could borrow my khaki shorts.

“Good. Dorky 'Mom Shorts' will really complete the look.”

Since when did shorts that cover your wha-hoo become dorky?

The King has escaped relatively unscathed by all this, although the children are disappointed that he doesn't wear sandals – or mandals – which they wanted to wear with socks to complete their ensembles. I tried to point out that he does wear black socks with shorts and work boots, but they did not find this to be nerdy enough for their purposes.

Really? Really, people?

All this pales in comparison to last year's “80's Day" debacle. Despite how many yearbook photos you show them, current high school students continue to show up for “80's Day" dressed like extras from “Flash Dance.” Or worse. I'll be the first to admit, the 80's were dark days for fashion, but they weren't that dark.

BTW, shoulder pads? Awesome. Big hair? Not so much.

I don't remember scavenging through my mom's closet for Spirit Week, but then again, it wouldn't have done me much good. I already had the overalls (a sweet purple pair!) and socks for “Overhaul and Sock 'Em” Day. My beloved vinyl go-go boots from color guard were repurposed for “Punk (rock) 'Em” Day (because, why not?). And who didn't love "Hat Day"? (Although it has been discontinued because apparently wearing a hat to school is too disruptive to the learning process... during a week of disruptive activities.)

In small town Iowa, circa early 1980's, "Dress Like a Farmer" or "Dress Like a Cowboy" day were almost guaranteed a 100% success rate – who didn't have jeans and a button down shirt? The only difference between the two costumes in our minds was the ever disruptive head gear. Did you go for the seed cap or the cowboy hat? Hot on the heels of “Urban Cowboy,” we all had cowboy hats of one type or another.

In fact, most of our ideas about cowboy attire came from that movie, which, upon reflection may have lacked authenticity. We may have been subject to revisionist fashion history, just like today's youth and their limited 1980's fashion knowledge. Come to think of it, there has probably always been a gap between reality and fun when it comes to dress up days at school.

I can picture the scene now: 1793, France
Louis XVI: Darling, have you seen my old, lounge around the castle crown?
Marie Antoinette: The Dauphin wore it to school for something called “Storm the Bastille Day.”
Louis: I have a bad feeling about this....
Marie: I'm sure it's nothing to lose your head over.

Or something like that.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is That a Mug in Your Pocket or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

Dear Mr. Coffee,

I'm a big fan of yours. Or, I should say I'm a big fan of coffee (the life-supporting beverage), and I have been – off and on – a big fan of Mr. Coffee, in that you make coffee in a readily ingested liquid form available in my cup.

But that's about to change.

The part about being a fan of Mr. Coffee, not the part about being a fan of coffee (nectar of the gods).

You see Mr. Coffee, you have the same problem other “Misters” have. You have a problem measuring.

Just like fishermen are said to misrepresent the size of their fish, you misrepresent your cup size.

Maybe I'm being too harsh when I say “misrepresent.” Perhaps “fail to mention,” “neglect to inform” or “skip that important little tidbit” would be more accurate.

You see, I recently undertook what I thought was a coffee maker upgrade. My puny (but honest) one-cup-at-a-time coffee maker just wasn't satisfying me anymore. It took too long to heat up, required too much effort to get ready for action, and sometimes it finished before I was satisfied with the fill level.

So picked up an available 5-cup maker at a coffee bar. Bigger, better, faster, more. At least that's what the label said.


Except that my one-cup-at-a-time maker put out as much coffee as I put in water. Within reason, of course. For cups over 12-oz., I was advised to seek immediate attention (to avoid reservoir overflow).

And yes. I do have cups bigger than 12-oz. I like big cups and I can not lie.

Imagine my surprise then, when I realized the pot for my new 5-cup brewer was not much bigger than my mug. Cups is cups is cups right?

Not so much, I discovered.

While the box clearly advertised “5-cups” it never actually mentioned cup size. After looking really, really hard, there in the fine print, buried on page eight of the user manual I discovered:

“1-cup = 5 oz. brewed coffee.”

Which strikes me as funny because there in the large print, clearly emblazoned in eye-catching, red letters on the front of my Pyrex liquid measuring cup it says:

“1-cup = 8 oz.”

And, of course, I think:

“1-cup = 12 oz.”

So my new (bigger, better, faster, more) coffee machine makes just 20 ounces of coffee at a time. That's one and a half mugs. I won't even mention the premature pouring.

I now realize my new machine is the same size as those sleazy motel coffee maker affairs. The ones that make only two styrofoam cups-full. That's just enough to get me moving and down to the front desk, where – God help us all – there had better be an urn of complimentary coffee or there will be hell to pay. If I get lucky, it's enough coffee to get me to the mini-mart next door to satisfying my jonesing. I have been known to stop for a mini-mart cup of coffee on my way to the fancy schmancy coffee shop so that I have a lil' sum sum to tide me over as I wait for the gravity-fed, peace-love-and-mellowness, slow-drip coffee to come together in my cup.

While we're on the subject, I think hotels should offer a choice of caffeinated or decaffeinated rooms (with two packets of one style grounds, instead of one of each), much like the smoking and nonsmoking rooms available now. I'm the only one in my family who drinks coffee, which is why we are able to share one overcrowded hotel room without incident, even as the kids get bigger and we argue over sleeping arrangements, pillow allotments, towel assignments, shower time and possession of room keys.

But I digress.

Which is what happens when I drink coffee 5-ounces at a time.

So really, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Because when it comes to coffee, Mister, size matters.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Let Me Introduce to You The One and Only... No Talent Slugs

No Talent Slugs to Play Fundraiser

J. Salemink
Special to The Pleasant Glen Daily Herald Tribune Gazateer Times

A podiatrist, an accountant, an orthodontist and a Home Ec teacher all walk in to a bar.

It sounds like the set up to a bad joke. And it may be.

It's also the line up for Pleasant Glen's most unlikely popular underground band, The No Talent Slugs.
 The group will be... performing... Saturday at The Bar, downtown Pleasant Glen, to raise funds for the high school fine arts program. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Jim Johnson: We recommend you get there early and start drinking quickly. The drunker you are, the better we sound.

I recently sat down with members of the group at The Bar to discuss their upcoming show and their surprising popularity. Johnson, a graying, 54-year-old podiatrist, is the rhythm guitarist, lead singer, and spokesperson for the band. 

Jane Smith: Graying? Graying? That's like describing a blizzard as “snowing.” And "singer" might be stretching it a bit.

Smith, a Home Ec teacher at Pleasant Glen High School, is….

Smith: “A smokin' hot babe who makes middle-age look good. As a keyboardist and vocalist with the group, she also gives the band some much needed class.”

So, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Smith has cast aspersions on your singing ability. Based on other comments I've heard, I have to ask... can you sing?

Johnson: “Well, yes. Of course I can sing. You might not want me to sing.”

Smith: We've had to re-program the auto-tune synth three times so far. Shout out to Matt “MC” Currand, our electrical technician and roadie. We've relegated Jim to lead screecher on the heavy metal tunes.

Johnson: We all serve our time behind the microphone now.

Smith: It's harder to know who to boo that way.

Bill Jones: I wouldn't call it singing so much as “vocal stylings.” Remember William Shatner's spoken word performances? We're not that good.

Pleasant Glen orthodontist Bill Jones is the group's bassist and a founding member. Can you explain how the group came together? Or, more curiously, why?

Jones: Our kids – who actually do have talent – joined a high school rock band program at the local music store. They teased us about taking an adult Learn to Uke class... one thing lead to another....

Smith: One beer lead to another. Each of us claimed to have the least musical talent....

Johnson: Dares were made....

Smith: Bluffs were called....

Johnson: Aspersions were cast. You dirty, rotten aspersion caster.

Smith: I'll never live that one down, will I?

Jones: And the next thing you know, we all had signed up for lessons.

So you all play the ukulele?

Smith: Oh, God no. But it's not for lack of trying. I've taken the beginning ukulele class three times, and intermediate twice. I can play a “C” chord pretty reliably. Or is that a “G” chord? Which one's the open one?

Jones: Jim and I switched to electric guitars, because, well, they're electric and we're guys so....

Johnson: And they're much more expensive than ukuleles. Double bonus! Between the two of us we've got the big three chords – C, G, D – down cold.

Jones: Ish. I still have a little trouble with “G” too, Jane.

Smith: I know. Believe me. We all know. Anyway, the kids were having so much fun, that we decided not to let our lack of musical talent get in the way of forming our own band.

Johnson: What we lack in talent we more than make up for in enthusiasm.

Three chords? Doesn't that kind of limit your play list?

Johnson: You'd be surprised how many songs only have three chords.

Yeah, but... not the same three chords.

Jones: You're right. And that's what really sets the No Talent Slugs apart from … well, everyone else. GCD, DAG, EBA, EAG, FBI, CIA....

Smith: It's still rock and roll to me.

So you transpose those other chords?

Johnson: Pffft. Heck no. We just play them as G, C or D.

Smith: Reminiscent of a song, yet not a song.

Interesting. I can't... I can't think of any other band to compare you to. Can you?

Johnson: We used to say we played like first year band students.

Jones: Until the first year band students threatened to sue us for defamation of character.

Smith: We've been compared to Milli Vanilli.

Johnson: Technically, we were urged to lip synch.

Jones: And have someone else play our instruments.

Smith: And appear on stage for us.

Any chance you've been compared to Spinal Tap?

Johnson: Dude. Our amps go up to 12.

Do you take requests?

Jones: We get a lot of requests not to play.

Johnson: Really? From who?

Smith: Your wife. His wife. My husband. The neighbors. Our kids. No, I take that back. The kids upload videos of us to YouTube and wait for them to go viral.

Anything you won't play?

Smith: Billy Joel. His music is sacrosanct.

Johnson: And he uses more than three chords. Show off.

Jones: You'd think we could at least play “Piano Man.” It's the same damn thing over and over again.

Johnson: Yeah, but she can't play the piano, man.

Smith: Aspersions cast, aspersions carried.

Saturday's show will also be the public debut of the band's newest (and quietest) member, Andrew Jefferson James Washington, Accounting Professor at the local junior college.

Johnson: He's the whitest black boy you'll ever find.

Washington: I resemble that remark.

Jones: He holds the dubious distinction of having the least natural rhythm of us all. And that's saying something. He's going to fit right in with our percussion section.

But isn't rhythm kind of a requirement for a percussionist?

Johnson: Not necessarily. For us, anyway. Laurie Anderson, our drummer, sets a pretty steady beat... for the most part. It depends on what she's been working on that day.

Smith: She's a clerk-typist at PG JuCo. If she's had to catch a lot of grammatical and spelling errors that day she tends to be a little edgy. Sets a quicker tempo. If something came in from the athletic director... it's “Katy bar the door!”

Washington: “I may not have much soul, but...”

Johnson: “Any. You don't have any soul.”

Washington: “No, I don't have any funk. I don't have much soul, but I play a mean tambourine. I think. I've never actually played with a band before, but I've got the moves down from watching “Josie and the Pussycats” cartoons. Mostly I just shake a paper plate along with the kitchen radio while I'm getting dinner ready.”

Jones: I saw him playing air tambourine at our neighborhood picnic and I knew he would fit right in.

Smith: We stole him away from the Tambourine Tamers. They put up a good fight, but the group kind of fell apart when the lead 'bourine developed tinnitus.

Washington: Rumor has it he was experimenting with adding a triangle to the group.

Johnson: Sad, really. Know your limits, I always say. Don't let them stop you, but know them.

Washington: I also had an offer from Martha and the Accordion All-Stars.

Smith: You play the accordion?

Washington: Play... own... potato, potahto. I was a punch card operator in another life.

Smith: Mad skills, A.J. ...J. Mad skills.

Sad situations and, dare I say, scandal, seem to lurk in the Slug's backstory, in particular when it comes to percussionists....

Johnson: Ahh, yes. Patty the Postal Worker, our original drummer. Such force, such precision, such a stickler for the rules. You know, I really can't comment on her situation, other than to say the court-ordered anger-management classes conflicted with our practice schedule.

Sounds a little cliché.

Johnson: Isn't all rock cliché?

Washington: It's like Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Smith: Did Freud really say that?

Washington: Beats me. But he should have. Anyway, sometimes a postal worker goes postal. Don't we all? But if you said “she went accountantal,” it just wouldn't have the same... umph.

Smith: I can't believe you didn't tell us about the Accordion All-Stars. You're a man of mystery. I like that.

I have to say, you don't seem like the stereotypical rock and roll band members. The talent limit, the whole three chord thing, the white-collar jobs...

Smith: See? I told you I added credibility to the band.

Jones: How do you figure?

Smith: I spent one summer filling all the tampon dispensers on the University of Iowa campus. Definitely not white collar.

Washington: We're the new face of “Dad Rock.”

Jones: We're not just the face. We're the gut, receding hairline and bifocals of “Dad Rock.”

Smith: You guys do look more like Richard Simmons than Keith Richards.

Johnson: We're not a typical band, or typical band members. Amy Yoder, our … well, we're not really sure what Amy plays...

Jones: She calls it's “rock oboe.”

Johnson: Ummm, yeah, we'll go with that. Anyway, Amy works as a parking garage cashier...

Jones: In a pre-paid pass only parking garage.

Johnson: She says if she didn't have The Slugs, she'd go...

Washington: Accountantal? That woman is hard core. Joan Jett has nothing on her. Except for talent.

Smith: Jon Nesmith, our theremin player-slash-manager, works summers as a detasseling crew leader when he's not holding a stop/slow sign for road construction crews.

Jones: And in the off season he candles eggs and works as a mall Santa. He says he's used to herding cats, so we keep his skills sharp.

So your band is a cure for mass mid-life crises?

Johnson: No. That name's been trademarked. And they protect it ferociously. We're the No Talent Slugs. Or at least Pleasant Glen's No Talent Slugs. Sheesh. And you call yourself a journalist. Try to keep up.

I'm beginning to think that's not just soda that you're drinking.

Smith: Reminiscent of a soda, yet....

Johnson: Now who's casting ashpersh... asbergs... oh, you know what I mean.

Jones: We're just a group of people who like music and have a good time playing music.

Smith: But through some horrible, horrible twist of fate, none of us have any talent for it.

Washington: We're very serious about our band. We couldn't be this bad without being serious.

Johnson: We're like the kids that always get picked last for the dodgeball team, but who really like dodgeball. So we decided to make our own damn team.

In a weird way, I think I kind of get it. But what I don't get is why the legendary Bob Viner, owner of The Bar, and avowed patron of the musical arts, the man credited with launching the career of near-superstar recording artist Joe Davenport of The Average Joes...

Smith: I had Joe autograph my boob once, when I was in college.

Johnson: I have Joe's autograph on a restraining order.

Jones: I have Joe's partial crown on display in my office.

Washington: Who's Joe?

My question is, why is Bob is letting you play at The Bar? This is one of Eastern Iowa's most popular and respected venues for live music. I've heard rumors of bribes. Care to comment?

Johnson: No bribes were exchanged. He lost that card game fair and square.

Washington: Never bet against an accountant.

Smith: Boobs for beads... or bookings.

Jones: Nepotism is alive and well, right Uncle Bob?

Viner: You! (Pointing at Jones) I'm not your Uncle. You! (Pointing at Smith) Keep those things covered up. You. (Pointing at Washington) Hand over the ten bucks you owe me. And you (Pointing at Johnson) couldn't win a game of “Go Fish” if you cheated. Because you did cheat. And I still beat you. Your friends better drink as much as you say they do, or you'll be scrubbing toilets to pay off your bar tab.

As for you, Miss Reporter Lady, it's a fundraiser for the school. These yahoos play for free. Fewer expenses equals more money raised. End of story.

Well, that clears that up. Any final comments?

Jones: Get there late. Leave early.

Smith: Drink lots. Please.

Washington: Tip your waitress... but, like, with money... don't actually tip her over.

Johnson: Support Pleasant Glen's Fine Arts, so your kids don't end up like us.

Viner: Amen.

For booking information, contact jsalemink through this publication.

Viner: After consulting a licensed health care provider.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sorry, Wrong Number (Probably)

I may or may not have ACCIDENTALLY hacked into someone else's email account.

Probably not.

Most likely not.

And if anyone wearing a black suit and sunglasses, and carrying a badge and flashy-thingy starts asking questions, definitely NOT.

I mean, come on! On more than one occasion I have been unable to switch on an “intuitive” Apple-brand computer.

True story.

In fact, I think I can say with almost 98% certainty that I did not ACCIDENTALLY hack into an email account for jsalemink. And yes, there are a surprising number of jsalemink's out there. Apparently. At least there are if you are consider the number of times I have been denied the use of “jsalemink” as a user name. I know of at least 2 others also living in Eastern Iowa. And that may be pertinent to the story....

You see, we recently switched cell phones and cell phone providers, and I tried to back up... something... (Photos? Contacts? Plans for world domination? Scratch that last one, NSA) to a “random letter that may or may not be G-” e-mail account for transfer. Or something like that. ( Really, the fact that I can't remember what I was trying to back up, why or where to ought to count for something here.)


I was pretty sure I had, at one time, created this account for some (totally legit) reason. I just couldn't remember what the password was.

Or the answer to the security question.

Or why the heck I'd chosen that security question.

It let me change the password anyway.

So, like, if I did ACCIDENTALLY hack into someone else's jsalemink email account, it's almost Totally. Not. My. Fault.

No reason to worry, right?

It's just that when I gained access to the account there were only four other emails, besides the “Welcome to your new blank-mail account. Two were in Definitely. Not. English. (The other jsalemink's I know speak English. Almost entirely. I think.)

The third said “The phone number associated with this account has been changed.

The fourth said “Welcome Back! Jsalemink.”

Curious, no?

So... Upside? If I did hack into some other jsalemink's account, they probably don't (-ish) speak English.

And they weren't using the account very often, so by the time they do use it again, they will have forgotten their password, and their security question and/or answer and they will have a new cell phone number and THEY will think they've hacked into someone else's email account.

Which they will have done. Ish.

And that's what I'll tell the Men In Black.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Livin' in a Box

The bathroom remodel is going as well as can be expected, which is to say it's been at least 36 minutes since anyone found me on the floor, curled up in the fetal position, mumbling “itwillallbeworthitwhenit'sdone, itwillallbeworthitwhenit'sdone, itwillallbeworthitwhenit'sdone...”.

Progress has been slow but steady, given the usual assortment of pre-existing plumbing, electrical and ductwork snafus that had to be corrected before new work could be started. The main contractor has choreographed an intricate Cha Cha of schedules, stepping forward with the planned jobs, backwards with emergency situations, forward with subcontractors, and backward with their emergency situations.

In the meantime, my search for a bottle of aspirin in a house full of plastic storage boxes has been equally slow but steady.

We planned this remodel partly to update our very 1970s split-foyer home, but also because we just didn't have enough room for all our stuff. Paradoxically, the act of remodeling requires us to compress our overabundance of stuff into even less space for the duration of the project.

The answer to our problem is probably that we just need to get rid of some stuff. But that's a difficult concept for a near-hoarder to grasp. And now that the bathroom and the two largest closets in the house are one cavernous, fixtureless space, it's just a little too late to back out. Hindsight is 20/20, and very much NOT appreciated, thank you.

Instead my solution has been to put everything from the bathroom and closets and much of our adjacent bedroom into plastic storage totes. The cat was nearly a casualty of this process when he – traumatized by the constant stream of strangers in and out of the house – decided to take a nap in an tote I was still packing.

There are totes in the family room, totes in the living room, totes in the (remaining) bathroom, totes in our bedroom, and totes stored off-site (and out of mind). Totes filled with clothes, totes filled with shoes, totes filled with medicine, totes filled with towels, knick-knacks, makeup, hair ties and, finally, totes filled with other totes. All this in addition to the totes we've always used to store seasonal items, craft supplies, fabrics, toys, and anything else we don't know what to do with.

Totes to store, totes to organize, totes to keep dust out and totes to keep my sanity in.

All these totes make me look organized, but it's just an illusion. In truth, I have little to no idea what specifically is in any given tote at any given time, except that it probably isn't what I'm looking for. Case in point: The Princess was suffering from a severe onset of seasonal allergies and needed antihistamines. I stared blankly at the sea of totes presumably storing the contents of the bathroom and medicine cabinet, then sighed and drove 15-minutes to the nearest drugstore.

It's not just the dizzying array of sizes, shapes and colors of the totes that drives me crazy, it's the impossibility of keeping a tote together with its matching lid. In this regard, I'm sure that somehow plastic totes and socks are genetically related.

At one time I had, in my living room, two 20-quart boxes but five lids for 20-quart boxes, as well as one lid for a 58-quart box, but no 58-quart box. This was the day after I had purchased a matching amount of boxes and lids.

After wiping the dust from my curling iron for the 20th day in a row (I'm a slow learner) I decided to give up and tote-up everything on my dresser. I managed to find three nearly identical, clear storage totes in our basement.

Each of them required a different lid. Even the two boxes which were the same brand did not use interchangeable lids.

Behind the bedroom door I discovered three lids without boxes. None of them fit the boxes in question.

While searching for lids that did match, I found 30 totes without lids – including both full (18) and empty (12) totes, clean and dirty, large, medium, small and smaller. I also found 40 lids – small, medium, large and larger.

I wish I was kidding.

Finally I admitted defeat and headed to the store to find totes that were just the right size and shape, and an equal amount of lids that fit that size and shape.

As I pondered organizational strategies for organizational strategies, I waxed philosophical: Would my life be more organized if I could put me in a tote?

At least until the remodeling is done.