Monthly Archives: December 2010

On turning 70 and celebrating big

Nope. Not me. This time it’s the other Mary Steiner celebrating a milestone. My sister-in-law, Mary Steiner Lord, turns 70 on January 3. It is a fact that amazes me. Probably it amazes her, too.

This is the woman who — according to an unnamed source — saw Elvis Presley in person. It was one of his usual performances complete with “screaming hordes of girls”. Apparently, my source’s details are sketchy since he was, at the time, just a little brother.

This is the woman who plans elaborate Halloween parties for her eight grandchildren, ranging in age from 16 to 2. No one is allowed in without a costume. Everyone complies, including her husband, Guy, and grown children.

This is the same woman, a faithful Quaker who — faced with living in Salt Lake City with her doctor husband and young children —  joined the local ERA chapter, distributing material door to door, pre-school-age daughter in tow. It was she who sent a tiny ERA t-shirt when our first daughter was born.

This is the woman who takes her grandchildren along to the annual Quaker summer meeting — even when their parents can’t attend — making sure they get to experience the week-long activities.

Mary Steiner Lord (back row, second from right), with her family

When her young Bluffton nieces are old enough to travel without their parents, she invites them to join her family in Milwaukee, taking them to Brewers’ games, art museums, zoos, and revolving restaurants high over the city, where she indulges their fondness for fancy desserts.

It is also she who also generously invites the daughters of her distant Swiss cousins to spend entire summers with her family in Milwaukee, taking them to Chicago and Bluffton to meet their other American cousins.

This is the woman who loves to paint, play piano, attend the symphony. She wouldn’t miss a single performance of her grandchildren — Irish dancing, violin, piano, soccer, cross country. And when her daughter, daughters-in-law, and sons decide to tackle triathlons — she’s there.

But this Sunday, the focus will be on her. It’s going to be a big “Let’s fete Mary” party. But I’ll betcha anything, her eyes will be on her kids and grandkids — the loves of her life.

It’s a dog’s life, part two

Life with two dogs in the house in the middle of winter can get a little dicey. It’s kind of like having two elementary-age kids out of school for an extended period of time. After awhile, they get on your nerves. Actually, they get on each others’ nerves. I’d like to send them out to play, except one of them wouldn’t return on his own. That would be Ike, the itinerant wanderer.

About an hour ago, both were upstairs, each on the bed of his choice. They’d been hanging around, waiting to see what might happen, but when they realized we were cleaning bookshelves and purging books, they lost interest. There was no food involved in that activity.

Then the doorbell rang and a phone rang. Twice. Down came the two canines, eager to welcome whoever had come to visit. Much bounding and jumping and sniffing ensued. Alas, that person of interest left and they sallied off to the bedrooms again.

Ten minutes later the doorbell ran again. Eight feet hit the floor with a crash and they barrel down the stairs, somehow avoiding the paraphernalia lining the stairway. This time it’s the computer whiz kid, who, lucky for the dogs, loves them. He greets each one, rubbing bellies and scratching ears.

He escapes to the basement office, shutting the door behind him. Stymied, they sniff at the door for a few seconds. This time they’re too tired to climb the stairs again, so they choose the nearest soft spot.

At the moment, both are asleep — one on the couch and one on a rocker. Both are snoring, appearing to be oblivious to the activity (or inactivity) around them.



But that can change in an instant. It’s like having a baby in the house. You try to be SOOOOO quiet, and they can sleep through just about anything. But then the phone rings. Or the doorbell.

A friend with young children recently threatened to post a sign on her door: Baby sleeping. Don’t ring the doorbell.

Maybe I’ll try it.

Honey, vinegar and moonshine…sure cure for arthritis

Do you know that one of the suggested remedies for arthritis is to drink a mixture of honey, vinegar and moonshine? Okay, here’s the first problem. Moonshine is technically a distilled spirit made in an illegal still and since my brother had to dismantle his experimental still back in the ’70s, I’m not sure of where to get some…short of a quick trip to the Appalachians.

I know this because my Christmas stash included the first nine volumes of Foxfire, a vintage set, thanks to my Half-Price-Books- manager-daughter. For the uninformed, too young to remember, or non-readers, Foxfire magazine was begun in the 1960s by Eliot Wigginton and his students at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, a private secondary education school in Georgia. The Foxfire books are a series of compilations of the magazines.

Got a headache? Tie a flour sack around your head. Suffering from a cold? Boil pine leaves to make a tea or put goose-grease salve on your chest.

One of my all-time favorite remedies for a cough (which I have right now) is to “Put some ground ginger from the store in saucer and add a little sugar. Put it on the tongue just before bedtime. It burns the throat and most of the time will stop coughs. This I might try. Actually, I think my husband may actually administer this himself. My hacking might be a bit of a bother.

I should re-read this set in order, but it’s more fun to leaf through random volumes, reading ghost stories, learning the art of shoemaking, faith healing, snake handling, and “other affairs of just plain living”.

And that, exactly, is what Foxfire is about — plain living. Long before iPods, iPads, cell phones, computer games, Wi, and all those other electronic gadgets, invaded our lives, there were games like Please and Displease, Poor Old Tom, and Shakespears (not to be confused with Shakespeare).

I figure I have eight more days before returning to work. If I read fast, I might get through one volume a day. There’s one problem, though,…there are all those other books that said HBBooks-mgr-daughter deposited under the tree…so little time… so many books.

And there appeared a duo of Wise angel men

According to Luke 2, a Heavenly host of angels appeared on Christmas Eve. Well, technically, no one is sure of what time they appeared. But they did. And then, of course, along came the three Wise Men.

Okay, so today — Christmas Eve — two, well, let’s just call them Wise angel men, appeared at Bluffton Family Rec center, as I was running around the track. Anyone who uses the track on a regular basis knows that there are more holes than pegs in the two coat racks hanging on the walls. This becomes a bit of a problem in the winter when everyone shucks off their outerwear.

So in walked these two, heads bent over a bag of something. One pulled out a tube of glue, while the other pulled out a wooden peg. One smeared some glue on the peg and the other shoved the peg into the hole. Apparently, they’d forgotten a hammer, so looked through the box of “lost items” and came up with a heavy boot with which they proceeded to pound in the peg.

This continued for the next 10 minutes as they replaced about 10 pegs. That task done, they grinned at each other and took off on their usual trek around the track. And when they were done, as they were leaving the building, they cheerfully wished others a Merry Christmas.

Now, I’m not one to tell tales out of school, and I suspect these two hoped to remain anonymous. In fact, according to the daughter of one of the men (she happened to show up to run just after they finished), “it was probably driving them nuts.”

But let’s just say that these two both live on South Main Street, close to the Dari Freeze, graduated from Bluffton High School in the mid-60s, and are related by marriage. They call each other Tom and Sam.

Merry Christmas Eve!

“Twas three days before Christmas…

‘Twas three days before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring ‘cept Ma and her dog. One child and two cats were nestled snug on the couch, when Ma and her Ike tiptoed into the room. From out of the dark, there rose such a howling, the quiet household shuddered and woke with a start.

So much for a quiet start to the day. And so much for my attempts at poetic license. I knew that there would be an extra cat in the house, but I’d been assured that Peaches the Queen and the visiting Casio, would “just ignore each other”. What we didn’t plan on was the rude awakening of said cats and child by one wriggling, tail-wagging miniature Schnauzer, eager to join the sleeping trio.

Ten minutes later, one cat had been relegated to the outdoors and the other one to the basement. Ike, the innocent instigator, was upstairs in bed with the other child and Harvey, the calmest dog on earth.

Phew. Quiet reigned again…for a few minutes anyway. I took that as a sign that I could take a shower. Halfway through that, daughter number 1 pops her head in the door to say that “I was trying to find an outlet for the coffeepot, and I unplugged your bread machine. Does that matter?” Matter? Why would it matter that a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread had been unplugged mid-cycle? A little deep breathing reminded me “not to sweat the small stuff”. Lo and behold, she’d plugged it right back in and the bread kept baking. Huh. Must have some sort of surge protection on it.

30 minutes later, I headed off to work. As I walked out the door, I heard two hoots of laughter from daughters number 1 and 2, watching something on the Internet. Which reminds me. All cat- and dog-fights aside, it’s good to have my family home.



Catching up..and staying up…with “the boys”

Since my four brothers each live at least 500 miles away, it is rare that I actually get to run with them. And usually when I do run with them, I’m slightly out-of-breath, pushing myself a little harder, trying to keep up with them. Seems I’ve been doing that all my life…from our childhood days of basketball rounds of Horse and neighborhood kickball games. Always catching up.

So when it appeared two of “the boys” would be here on the day of the Pandora Jingle Jog, I suggested we run it together. One of them — the oldest and a resident of Tucson — grudgingly agreed, reminding me that the predicted temp for that day was 12 degrees. The other one — the third oldest and a resident of Natural Bridge, VA — was still in recovery from an ultra that he’d run the weekend before, said “Only if we run slow.”

They arrived with more running apparel than regular clothing, but still griping about the cold. Still, they were game for the 5K run. On the way to the race, we discussed strategy and agreed to run together. Actually, I think they asked — again — if I would run slow. What did they think? That just because I’m younger, I’m suddenly faster?

We warmed up and I listened to them discussing which way the wind would be blowing when we started out and finished. Running into the wind at the start is a lot better than at the end. At least on a cold day. For me, ice was the bigger concern, but I figured if I went down, they were going first. I didn’t intend to land on pavement.

Off we went with about 60 other brave (or stupid — depending on your perspective) souls. James and I, running side by side, peered behind us at Phil, who was grinning. A distance bicyclist at heart, he was — of course — drafting already. Always a wise guy.

The next 3.1 miles went pretty much like that — a trio of revolving drafters. Toward the end, I began to feel myself slowing…my breathing was off. They were five steps ahead of me when I heard “Where’s Mary”? Magic words. That always forces me to catch up, which I did. Phil, me, James

We finished together, holding hands. I’m sure we looked pretty stupid, but hey, who cares? It was fun and for once, I stayed with them. We ended up with age group ribbons — they tied for second place — it was a first time they fell into the same age group. A first for me since there are always fewer women in my age group…not that I’m that fast.

But the best part was stopping in to see our mom afterward and giving her James’ door prize — a Christmas pillow with a photo insert. In it is a photo of her five kids.

Dancing with the seniors

My husband and I take a lot of walks…summer, fall, winter, spring…in rain, snow, sun, whatever. We do this for a couple of reasons, the most obvious of which is so the dog can do his thing, but also for exercise. And to get some fresh air after sitting at a desk all day.

But the real reason that we walk is because we are basically two very snoopy people. And if you walk at night in the dark, you can see inside places (i.e., houses and businesses). And yep, we could go inside those businesses without walking to them…if we wanted to. But there are a few businesses we can’t…or won’t…enter…for a number of valid — or not — reasons.

If you walk down Main Street on the right night of the week, you can watch the dancers at the senior center. This one of my favorite places to snoop. Those people simply amaze me. Secretly, I want to be inside dancing with them. Not that I can dance. I can’t. I can’t even pretend. But I’ll bet I could learn from them. They have moves that could rival Bobby and Cissy on the Lawrence Welk show. Okay, so I never really watched the Lawrence Welk show, but if I visited my in-laws at 7 p.m., it was hard to miss it.

Anyway, if the seniors are dancing, our walking slows to a crawl. Sometimes we stop right there in the middle of the sidewalk to watch. Okay, to gawk. I admit it. But it’s impossible to NOT watch. You try. You’ll be as mesmerized as we are.

I keep waiting…and hoping…that someone will invite us in. After all, my walking partner…AKA dance partner…might be old enough to join. Or maybe not. Don’t tell him I said that.

But you just wait. Someday, I’m going to be in there, dancing my heart out. And no one will laugh at me. With me, maybe.


On talking trees, fighting crowds and virtual Christmas shopping

Somewhere along the way, my attitude toward Christmas shopping changed…somewhere between Dr. Barbie and one of those toys for which we forgot to buy batteries…and which we remembered in the wee hours of Christmas day. In fact, during a recent stop at a mall, after just 10 minutes, I began to get the heebie-jeebies. My skin started to tingle. Had to get out. Fast.

It used to be so much fun…fighting the crowds in Toys ‘R Us and deciding exactly which set of Legos we should add to the burgeoning collection. Checking off that last item on “THE LIST” was so satisfying. But then one year, it was no longer “fun”. It was just a challenge…a headache that didn’t want to go away. Add to that those years of working retail when the last-minute shoppers would show up 10 minutes before closing time on Christmas Eve, and, well… you get the picture. My dad, with whom I managed a store for several years, once told me that his Black Friday was actually Black Christmas Eve.

Which reminds me. What is this insanity of  shopping at 4 a.m. on Black Friday? Daughter number 2 volunteers to work the early shift on Black Friday. She’s still young enough to think it’s fun to watch people scramble around for the best bargain. Of course, she’s also learned to stand back from the front doors when they open at 7 a.m.

My own Christmas gifting plan changed with the increasing availability of Internet shopping. Choosing gifts became ever so much easier, and it actually became fun again. No more standing in lines. No more feeling as if I was about to faint from hunger because there was no time to eat. Now I can eat while I shop. Multi-tasking at its most efficient. And returns? Easy.

The only problem with Internet shopping is that if you don’t plan right, you can get stuck empty-handed. This happened about 10 years ago, when daughter number 1 had her heart set on a specific wool sweater from J Crew. Ordered it, but dang, if that thing didn’t arrive. I had to wrap the picture. She was very gracious about it. Lucky for me, shortly after noon on Christmas day, the doorbell rang. There was our favorite now-ex-postmaster with a big ‘ol box in his hands. Luckily, he’d seen it come in at the last minute and dropped it off on his way home.

So with Christmas just…gulp…two weeks away, I’ll admit there is one thing I miss  — shopping on Christmas Eve in a busy mall. Okay, I realize this flies in the face of everything I’ve just said, so I should clarify. Actually, I guess it would be “not shopping”. We used to go to people watch on Christmas Eve, back when the Lima Mall still had the fountain in the center, back when Lazarus (now Macy’s) had the talking tree.

Who remembers this?We’d stop at the tree and let the girls chat for awhile. Then we’d head to the fountain, where we’d sit and snicker at the loonies rushing from store to store, looking for the last-minute “perfect” gift. Now, the tree and the fountain are gone and it’s just no fun to stand against the wall to watch.

Anyone know of any good Christmas Eve-shopping-people-watching sites on the Internet? Grab a cup of hot tea, a comfy chair, and enjoy the madness.

Random thoughts on a rambling week

It’s been a rambling sort of week.  I’ve begun to wonder when it will end. Really. See, my week ends at 5 p.m. on Friday, unlike the calendar, on which the week technically ends on Saturday. In my brain, Saturday and Sunday are not really a part of “THE WEEK.” They’re completely separate except for one Saturday in January and one in July or August, when I have to work. And yes, I know Saturday and Sunday are known as the “weekend”, but that doesn’t make sense since according to the calendar, Sunday is the first day of the week. That would mean that we have a one-day weekend, which definitely doesn’t fit into my plans.

So…(I stuck that “so” in for Amy Romey since she thinks that she’s the only one who begins sentences with “so”)…I’ve decided to rename Saturday and Sunday. They are heretofore known as “FREE TIME”. Which isn’t exactly true, since I have to edit my students’ articles but for a basic snoop like me, that’s fun…not work.

As I said, it’s been a rambling sort of week, so I thought I’d better put record my thoughts before my telomeres are eaten away (see number 2 below).

1.) My husband told me today that he thinks that he and I are normal. I’m pretty sure our daughters think we’re not. I’m pretty sure we’re not. Since the cat and dog can’t speak, they don’t get to vote. Sorry Fred. 3-1. We win. You’re not normal and neither am I. This is one of the reasons we’ve been married for 30 years.

2.) Today I learned that it might be possible to restore my telomeres.  Yours too. (Just because my dad was a biologist doesn’t mean I inherited his brain for all things scientific.) My brother, James, who is also not a scientist, but likes to throw these things at me now and then — just to see if I’m paying attention — told me today that recent testing on mice suggest that telomeres can be restored. See James, I WAS paying attention this time. If someone can restore my telomeres, I’ll donate to research. For those of you not familiar with this term, “they’re at the ends of our chromosomes, and they erode and disappear as we age.” Here’s the question: Would you please hurry up with the research and get this started before mine completely disintegrate? They’re going fast.

3.) My brother, James, also told me that the Feds have made yet another change to the financial reform. Why does this not surprise me? Are they bored? Was that 11,000 page document just not long enough already? But hey, I have my own financial guru/brother who will explain all of this to me…someday when he “finishes” his latest reform book update for his publisher and/or takes time out from figuring out what to plant next in his new greenhouse.

4.) At 54, I’m finally beginning to see what brothers are good for. A) They swoop in to visit and try to run faster than me; B) They e-mail jokes in the middle of the day — perfect timing for waking me up; C) They explain things like telomeres and financial reform and kangaroo rats; and D) They send me food and goat’s milk soap for Christmas. Yes, this is hint.

5.) Apparently Ike the dog is not a food snob. We were beginning to wonder why he wasn’t eating. My husband filled the cat dish in the basement yesterday and it was empty in less than 24 hours. He checked the litter box. Empty…except for the fresh kitty litter. Since the outdoor temp hit 20, Peaches the Queen has not budged from her perch so we know she has to use the litter box sooner or later. Hmmmm….LATER…Fred heads down to his basement office and hears telltale chomping. Ike looks up guiltily from the cat dish. If he starts meowing, we’re in trouble.

6.) A word of warning to all you parents who think your house will stay neat once your children leave home. It doesn’t work that way, especially if you have a dog. Instead of finding three pairs of shoes and a backpack randomly placed on the floor, there will be half-chewed stuffed animals and rawhides. In our case, there is almost always a ratty purple leg in the middle of the living room floor. At some point, the dog disconnected the leg from the stuffed animal, removed all of the stuffing (which he also left randomly strewn around the house). Now he drags the leg everywhere and drops it willy-nilly. Wonder if I could try the old trick of hiding “all-those-things-not-put-away” by two daughters? Would he learn to look for them in the basement stairway?

All rambling aside, it won’t be long now. “FREE TIME” will arrive, beginning with dinner not prepared by me. Lucky for me, one of those four “boys” has swooped in for a visit. Wonder if he brought presents? Wouldn’t that be a great start to the time-formerly-known-as-the-weekend?