Spring is in the air along with… what’s that? Dust?
Like a lot of people, my friend Trixie from Dallas has been spring cleaning — dusting, sweeping and polishing. But this year Trixie is tackling something bigger: she’s cleaning her basement. Not just tidying, but clearing out everything.
Trixie and her husband, Ray, have different views on basement storage. Trixie’s philosophy is: Keep only items you use and store them in neatly labeled, transparent plastic tubs. If you haven’t used the item in the last three or four years – out it goes!
Her husband’s view is: Keep everything forever, stick it in a cardboard box and shove the box in whatever empty space you can find.
Trixie’s dream is to have evenly lined shelves with matching tubs. But Ray’s reality is odd-shaped boxes crammed into any hole. Two-inch gap? He can find a tube to fill the opening.
If the weather forecasts are correct, by the time this column goes to press, we will have seen a few spring-like days with warmer temperatures.
This will be good news for my husband. You see, our gasoline-powered snow blower is about to call it quits. You know it’s been a hard winter when the Super Blizzard Blaster Mach 6 model has had it.
About mid-February, our little snow engine that once could started to sputter and cough its way down the driveway. With each winter advisory, my husband crossed his fingers that the machine would survive one more heavy snow before giving up the ghost for winter 2015. The standby shovel (a manual model from pioneer times) has been put into use to clear the sidewalks.
This hasn’t been the worst winter Central Illinois has experienced, but it sure seems like one of the longest. This may really be the “winter of our discontent.”
You really know you’ve had enough of winter when:
The furriest member of our family (the one with four legs) may not speak, but she certainly communicates well.
Our little spaniel doesn’t like it when we, her beloved humans, leave her home alone.
Take Sunday mornings, for instance. We’re gone only an hour (to church, for heaven’s sake!). But when we get home, we occasionally find our normally angelic puppy has expressed her displeasure by destroying all the toilet paper within her reach. No roll is safe. Granted, she doesn’t chew up valuable keepsakes, but if the roll in the bathroom is empty, and you gotta go…. well, you know it can be a very sad moment.
“You’ve been a naughty girl,” I say, picking up clumps of Charmin from the floor.
She looks at me with big brown eyes that seem to say, “The devil made me do it.”
A few random thoughts on this last day of February.
Spring can’t come soon enough for me. During the past two months, my family has experienced grief and anxiety, but we’ve also had joy and relief. So, we keep the faith and move ahead day by day. When the lilacs bloom outside our back door this spring and their scent fills the air, it will be a sign of renewal and our hearts will be a little lighter.
In the meantime, daily events are a good distraction. For instance, the season finale of the British period drama “Downton Abbey” airs on PBS tomorrow night. It’s the end of season five and even though I’m a huge D.A. fan, I have to confess this season hasn’t been my favorite. But it was way better, in my opinion, than season four when I almost stopped watching. Last year Anna, one of the nicest characters, was brutally attacked. (If I wanted to watch scenes of senseless violence on Sunday nights, I would watch the news.)
It’s always a bummer when a television series you love begins to disappoint. But you tune in anyway, hoping the storyline will improve.
For instance, who really killed the evil Mr. Green, the man who attacked Anna? Will we find out tomorrow or will creator Julian Fellowes make us wait until the series starts again next year? The show is broadcast in Britain months before it airs here, so it’s ripe for plot spoilers. Any motivated fan can go online and learn the entire season’s events beforehand. Call me old-fashioned, but I never read ahead. I want to savor it a week at a time, making it last.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking about vacation.
It’s cold here in Central Illinois and we have a whole month of winter yet to go. So what could be more fun than planning, or even just fantasizing about, a vacation getaway? I love to dream up vacation itineraries, to the point where it can be almost as much fun preparing for a trip as actually taking it.
I realize many people detest planning vacations. Getaways are to relax, they say, not fuss over logistics and details!
“We don’t want any obligations,” says a co-worker. “We just want to do what we feel like at the moment.”
You hear about spontaneous people who go to the airport with only their cellphone and the shirt on their back and pick a travel destination based on the next flight out.
I like mushy, romantic greeting cards on Valentine’s Day, but my husband prefers to give cards that feature talking chimpanzees or dogs gargling with toilet water.
So what’s a married couple to do? Exchange both kinds!
Sure, it’s fun to do something special for people you love on Valentine’ Day, but Feb. 14 doesn’t have exclusive rights on romance and affection for the entire calendar year. For some, Valentine’s Day has turned into a high-pressure holiday where expectations of loving expression have gone off the charts. The results run the gamut from “Fifty Shades of Grey” to “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.”
Candy and flowers are nice, but day-in and day-out respect and kindness are the real gifts. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are not quite 50 ways couples show their love for each other.
- Clean the snow and ice off your sweetie’s car.
- Give him/her a back massage.
- Get up early and make the first pot of coffee.
- Call for no reason other than to say, “I love you.”
- Go to your partner’s class reunion and try to have fun.
- Let your sweetie pick the television show, movie, music station, even if you dread it.
- Say something nice about your in-laws.
- Pack your partner’s sack lunch.
- Tell her she looks great if you think she’s about to ask, “Does this make me look fat?” (that can go for guys too).
- Decide to bite your tongue rather than complain when your spouse ___ (fill in the blank).
- Arrive on time for your date/appointment.
- Blow off that chore you were planning to do and go for a walk together instead.
- Give him/her the last Girl Scout cookie.
- Whistle the refrain from “your song.”
- Drop her/him off at the door while you park the car in some distant parking space.
- Remember everybody needs some alone time. No interruptions.
- Don’t pester him with online or magazine tests to determine “Is your love for real?” (I’ve never heard of a guy asking a girl to take a relationship quiz, but I could be wrong…)
- Agree to go to his/her favorite restaurant, even if you dislike seafood, would rather have pizza or hate sports bars.
- Spend 30 minutes with each other without looking at your cellphone or tablet.
- Reminisce about your first date (the one you had together, not with someone else).
- Laugh at his/her jokes, even if you’ve heard them a hundred times.
- Don’t let kids/money/work troubles drag you into an argument.
- Do a chore you don’t normally do, like wash the dishes, put gas in the car or fold the laundry, and do a great job. Even though it might raise expectations.
- Don’t criticize or be mean on Facebook.
- Replace the empty roll of toilet paper or paper towels, burned-out light bulb, and low ink cartridge in the printer without being reminded.
- Let your partner read the newspaper first or at least neatly refold it. Maybe put the “Life” section on top….
- And if you’re lucky enough to get a Valentine greeting, cherish it; even if it features talking chimpanzees.
As the official archiver for our family, the challenge of organizing a family portrait always falls on my shoulders.
You’d think in this day and age, when selfies and Instagram rule, convincing people to pose for a photo would be easy. But, no. My husband was more willing to have a colonoscopy than sit for a formal portrait.
Our church puts together a membership directory every five years. Families are photographed for the directory and have the option to buy extra photos for themselves. My family sat for a photo five years ago when our daughter was in junior high school and had braces. Now she’s a college freshman with a dazzling smile and perfect skin. She looks so different it was time for a new photo.
But there’s a slight twist to our portrait sitting: One of the subjects has four legs and a tail. No Hazlett family photo would be complete without our spaniel, Molly. As you might guess, having a dog in the photo shoot has its pros and cons. Some of the pros:
• She was the easiest to get in the car to go to the appointment.
Within moments of meeting Kristi McBrayer of rural Ellsworth, I knew she had a sunny-side up attitude – and a thing for chickens.
Kristi, a cook at the OSF St. Joseph Hospital Medical Center cafeteria, smiled at me across the serving buffet.
“Everybody calls me ‘the chicken lady,’” she said, handing me a cheese omelet. She was wearing a chicken charm necklace and a red apron with hens printed on it.
“I love chickens!” she said.
That might explain the 3-foot-tall chicken statuette standing outside the cafeteria door. It was dressed as a nurse, complete with surgical mask and foot coverings, and wearing an official-looking name badge that read “Chicken.”
It’s been a little more than a month since my dad died unexpectedly. In this short time, I’ve experienced the pain of grief, as you might expect, but I’ve also experienced some very warm and heartfelt moments.
The past five weeks have been a reminder that love always surrounds us. In our modern, busy lives, we may not always feel or recognize it, but love is there. Caring and kindness spring from our friends, family and co-workers… even total strangers. Just when we need support, people rise to meet us. Let me share a few examples.
The visitation for Dad was at Duffy-Pils Memorial Home in Fairbury, about 45 miles from my home. Rob and Debbie Duffy handled the arrangements in a perfect balance of compassion and efficiency. They were wonderful.
I stood in the receiving line by the casket next to my stepmother. I had planned to listen and be gracious because I know how awkward that kind of situation can be for some people. But there was no uneasiness at all; the callers were so caring! They told me stories about Dad I had never heard. Some laughed; some cried. They hugged me and held my hand. This really touched my heart.
There were people who came that evening who had never met my dad. When I saw them walk through the door of the funeral home, I realized these friends had made the out-of-town trip to show their concern for my family. Right before Christmas, when schedules are hectic, they had taken three hours or more to come. I was humbled by their demonstration of support, and I will remember it all my life.
Editor's Note: Susan has the week off. This column originally ran Feb. 18, 2012.
A lot of catalogs arrive in the mail at our house. Many get recycled, but one of the family favorites is “Orvis, the dog book,” a color catalog of items you can buy for your dog, ranging from beds to raincoats. We’ve never actually purchased anything from this booklet, but we love looking at the pages, filled with photos of dogs using or wearing the merchandise. We coo over the adorable puppies or older dogs who look happy and content.
“What a nice dog,” we say, pointing to a photo of a golden retriever sitting comfortably in his fleece-lined deep dish dog bed.
Of course, we want our own canine to join in on the fun, so we hold out the printed piece and say, “Here, Molly, look at this.” The spaniel sniffs at it, hoping it might squeak if she bites it, but she’s not impressed.
Lately, however, in addition to poring over the dog photos, I’ve actually started looking at the merchandise.
As my family sat down to a meal this past holiday season, my husband opened a bottle of wine.
When we heard the pop of the cork, someone said, “Ah, what a delightful sound!” Delightful, yes, because it means the wait won’t be long for those who wish to share in a glass.
My mother, however, having been in the retail business for many years, said that was not the best sound during the holidays: “The cash register ringing up sales is one of the best sounds!”
Soon everyone had an opinion on favorite holiday sounds: jingle bells, Christmas carols, etc. But why limit favorite sounds to just the holidays? We made a list. Maybe some of these are your favorite sounds, too:
- The crack of a baseball bat (especially if your kid is at bat).
- Cicadas in late summer evenings.
- Airplane tires landing on the runway on the flight home.
- A golf ball as it drops into the cup.
- A kitten purring.
- Tea kettle whistling.
- School bell ringing at dismissal.
- Swoosh of the net as a basketball goes through it.
- Kids laughing.
- Rooster crowing (this is one of my husband’s favorites, anyway).
- Your number being called as you wait in line.
- Log crackling in the fireplace.
- Postal or delivery truck pulling up to your house.
- Ding of the microwave announcing food is ready.
- Soft little barks dogs make when they’re dreaming.
- Garage door opening when you’re waiting for someone to come home.
- Lifeguard whistle signaling break is over and you can get back in the pool.
- Corn growing in the fields on a hot summer night (yes, you really can hear it).
- A happy baby “talking.”
- Toast popping out of the toaster (not burned).
- Footsteps on a wood boardwalk.
- Fizz of a carbonated beverage being opened.
- Car engine starting after being parked outside in cold temperatures.
- Church bells.
- For one furry member of our household: The sound of the can opener or the jingle of her leash.
- For a nervous performer: Applause when you’re finished.
- Family and friends singing “Happy Birthday.”
- Rain falling on a metal roof.
- The newspaper hitting the front doorstep… particularly on a Saturday morning.
I have not written the past few weeks because our family has experienced a painful loss. Just before Christmas, my father died unexpectedly.
As I put these thoughts together, flowers from the funeral sit on the table next to holiday poinsettias and sympathy cards are stacked next to Christmas cards. It’s difficult, but I want to share a few memories with you.
His name was Norman Rittenhouse and he was one the most energetic and charismatic people I’ve ever known. At 74, he was going strong, and even rode his motorcycle the day he died. He frequently claimed he would live to be 100; many of us believed him.
So, when I received a phone call with the news he had died from a heart attack at his Fairbury home, I was completely stunned. It was 25 years too early.
I searched my memory for the last phone call, the last visit. Had we said anything of importance?
For a few years now I’ve been running a poem in my New Year’s column.
It’s a nice little poem, not a classic or anything, but it rhymes. I came upon it a while back, and lots of people seem to like it. The author is Robert Brewster Beattie.
Readers tell me they cut it out of the paper and hang it on the refrigerator or stick it in their planners to think about during their busy days. Some mail it to their kids or hand it to their co-workers. So, in honor of tradition, here it is again:
The Way to a Happy New Year
"To leave the old with a burst of song;
Editor's note: Susan is off this week. This column ran Dec. 19, 2009.
Every year around this time, I think of a boy I met once, nearly 20 years ago.
He was probably 10 years old, and he had two little brothers. We spent only a few hours together, but he forever impacted how I think about Christmas.
It was a cold winter’s day in December 1990 and I was working with a program in my hometown for needy children. Townspeople and businesses generously donated money and volunteer shoppers, like myself, took children (along with their mom or dad) shopping for new clothes.
On this day, I took the family, the three boys and their mother to Kmart. The program’s focus was on purchasing clothing for school kids, but the local store had offered to give each child a free toy as well.
Is there such as thing as too many holiday decorations? When you’re considering building an addition to your house to display nine Santas, 90 reindeer and a life-size inflatable Bumble, the answer is probably "yes".
“We need more room,” I shouted to my husband. “I don’t have enough space for the light-up New England snow village.”
He was in the basement while I was on the second floor.
“This house has plenty of room; you just have too much stuff,” he said calmly as he carried the fourth box of snow village pieces up the stairs. “This isn’t a New England scene anymore; it’s the entire Atlantic seaboard as seen from outer space.”
In my heart, I know he’s right, but what’s a girl to do? What holiday decorations can you pitch without regret?
Santa’s elves may be busy at their North Pole workshop, but they have nothing on Debbie Ibsen of Bloomington.
This is a woman who takes holiday shopping to a whole new level. Armed with Christmas lists for about 30 people, Debbie launches a massive bargain hunt as carefully planned as the Normandy Invasion. When is her D-Day? Why, Black Friday, of course.
“I do holiday shopping for my folks,” she says. “Each person on their list receives two presents within a certain price range.”
That’s about 45 gifts to buy, plus those on her own list.
Weeks before Thanksgiving, she collects wish lists from her son, nieces, nephews, siblings and in-laws and records it all in a notebook. Then she begins comparing it with Black Friday sales fliers.
While the good people of Buffalo, N.Y., have been digging out from record snowfall, I’ve been digging out of a pile right here in Central Illinois.
Not a mountain of snow, but laundry. You see, I’m a MOACSHOB: “Mother of a College Student Home on Break.”
For a MOACSHOB (or DOACSHOB, because dads do laundry, too), this means the laundry that wasn’t done during the semester by the student has now found its way to her laundry room. Like a well-trained homing pigeon, dirty socks have returned home to roost in their home Kenmore nest.
Our pile of dirty clothes covers the entire floor and threatens to engulf the family dog. The spaniel has to burrow her way through the clothes to reach her dog bowl.
My husband’s reaction is not, “Gee, look at all those dirty clothes,” but just, “Gee, look at all those clothes.” He doesn’t understand why a person needs more than a couple pairs of khakis from Farm and Fleet and a few flannel shirts. Good thing he doesn’t see how many pairs of shoes mother and daughter own.
This Thursday, when many of us sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, the Furler family of Bloomington will repeat a longstanding tradition. Each person will name what he or she is grateful for.
After a life-threatening health scare for father and husband, Jeff, the obvious top of the 2014 Thanksgiving list will be his recovery. But then there will be another blessing to add to their list: acceptance.
This spring, Jeff, a father of four and grandfather of three, retired at age 62. An avid sportsman, Jeff was planning to spend more time with his family, volunteer and, of course, play more golf and tennis.
But just one month into retirement, Jeff suffered what was described as “a classic stroke.” He was playing cards with friends at the time. One minute he was laughing and having fun, the next he was being wheeled on a gurney into an ambulance.
“It was totally unexpected because I’m in good health,” he said. He was taken to the hospital, where he underwent a four-hour emergency operation for two blood clots in his brain.
Nobody can say I’m not a supportive wife. That whole part about staying together in good times and bad? I’m there.
My husband had a routine colonoscopy and I survived.
Wait. I know what you’re saying. “He’s the one who had the procedure. Why should we feel sorry for you?”
For those of you unfamiliar with this process, a colonoscopy is a routine exam of the colon and large intestine and is key to early detection of colon cancer. The doctor inserts a long (think 48 to 72 inches), flexible tube you know where. The tube weaves its way through the intestine and has a camera on it so the doctor can see if there’s anything unusual in there. Squirming in your seat?
If there’s an abnormal growth, like a polyp or tumor, the surgeon can remove it or take a sample for a biopsy.
Some people jump out of airplanes. Some drive race cars. Others drink milk past the expiration date.
They all live life on the edge.
When it comes to expiration dates, I’m the moderate of the household. Our daughter is the extreme conservative and my husband … well, expiration dates are not the boss of him.
Consume milk that is one day past the expiration date? I’ll give it the sniff test. If it smells OK, I’ll put it on my cereal. If the milk still even has one day BEFORE the expiration date, our daughter won’t take it out of the fridge unless she’s wearing haz-mat protective gear. If the milk hasn’t turned chunky, her father thinks it’s still OK. (Yech.)
If the package isn’t unexplainably bulging, dripping or reeking of a foul odor, most likely my husband will deem it suitable for consumption. Waste not, want not.
A good friend recently celebrated a birthday — one of the big ones — and I wanted to send her a special birthday card.
After searching the local stores, I found a beautiful handmade card made of paper cutouts and glitter. The message was nice, too. But when I looked at the price tag, I was shocked. The paper creation cost $7.50.
“Seven dollars and 50 cents for a greeting card?” I said aloud. Even as the daughter of former Hallmark store owners, I had a hard time swallowing that one. I stood there, mentally debating the purchase when a nearby shopper who had overhead me said, “That seems like a lot when you consider it will just be thrown away.”
Thrown away?! You mean this lovely piece of paper art might have a shorter life span than the candles on my friend’s birthday cake?
Therein lies the dilemma of paper greeting cards. Do you keep them as mementoes or pitch them with the leftover wrapping paper?
It started with a desperate search for a sequin jacket.
No, I’m not planning to dress as Michael Jackson for Halloween. Rather, I was headed to Las Vegas and wanted something fun to wear. A shiny jacket would be just the ticket, I thought.
My favorite sales associates agreed such a jacket sounded fun, but sadly informed me that sparkly attire is not usually available in stores until the holidays. So, I turned to the Internet… the cornucopia of consumer shopping.
A search of sequin jackets turned up 4,000 options. Whoa; my brain couldn’t process all that bling, so I narrowed the search to my size and price range.
This is how I came to learn the value of online product reviews. But I learned the hard way.
Editor's note: Susan has the week off. This column originally ran Nov. 19, 2011.
It was Saturday morning and I was folding laundry when my daughter sent me a text message.
She was in the basement watching TV.
For those who do not live with teenagers, this is how families communicate these days. No one bothers to walk up the stairs for a face-to-face conversation. Nobody even yells from one room to another. It's all electronic.
The text read, "Would you learn Zumba with me?"
Editor's note: This column originally ran Oct. 27, 2012, but is being rerun in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Every October, for about five or six years, my childhood friend Muriel Ann Glitzengelder and I would go on an unusual outing.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we’d get mammograms, and then, to reward ourselves, we’d get ice cream sundaes covered in hot caramel or chocolate sauce.
But, like a lot of women, our calendars are crazy and we are busier than ever. Muriel Ann, whose family has sadly experienced breast cancer, continued to go to the annual exam. I, however, started missing appointments, saying I’d get around to it later.
Before I knew it three years had gone by since my last mammogram. Guilt nagged at me (in addition to my husband, my doctor and Muriel Ann), so I made the call.
On a recent Thursday at work, I walked by the watercooler and heard three male colleagues talking about the upcoming weekend.
“Can’t wait for Sunday,” said one. The others nodded.
“Nap time,” said another. “And then the game.”
“It’s part of the guy code,” added the third.
My ears perked up.
I had a business meeting in New York City last week … on 9/11.
“You’ll be in New York on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks?” my husband said. “Be careful, please.”
There was no time for sightseeing on this trip, but a colleague mentioned there would be a brief prayer service at St. Paul’s Chapel near Ground Zero. The service was set to begin at 8:46 a.m., the exact time the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
“They will ring the Bell of Hope at the church,” she said. “Do you want to go?”
Of course, I said.
A beautiful tree in front of our house died this year, victim of emerald ash borers.
We kept hoping the ash would make a comeback and fight off the insects, but sadly, there was no recovery. At one time the tree was tall and pretty and gave terrific shade to the front of the house. But now its bare, scary, straggly branches made the tree look like it belonged in front of the Addams family home, not ours.
We knew the tree had to come down. A lumberjack at heart, my husband has quite a bit of experience with this chore and has all the safety gear to do the job: Protective eye wear, helmet, earplugs, etc. He even has orange safety chaps, which I love to make fun of. I just can’t help singing the Monty Python lumberjack song when he wears those chaps.
A retired engineer, my husband enjoyed the challenge of determining how to drop the tree so it wouldn’t hit anything. Like our living room window. Apparently this calculation involves long periods of just standing and looking at the tree.
During a meeting at work the other day, I noticed a woman sitting at the table was wearing a charm bracelet.
The bracelet was gold and laden with charms… probably 20 or more. It jingled when she moved her hand and, I have to confess, I was totally fascinated by it.
“Susan, are you listening to what I’m saying?” she asked.
“Uh, no, actually. I keep looking at your bracelet.”
She was more than happy to turn the discussion to the bracelet and show me the various charms. Nearly all the ornaments were mementos from places she’s visited.
Not long ago, I took a quick drive north to Pontiac to see my folks.
“We won’t be home,” they said. “We’re volunteering at the Yost House.”
The Yost House, now a museum, is a historic five-bedroom Victorian home in Pontiac that was occupied by the same family for 90 years. It’s occasionally open for tours.
I thought I’d pop in and chat with my folks during the lull between visitors.
I was wrong.
When I moved into my dorm room on the 16th floor of Hewett Hall at Illinois State University more than 30 years ago, my stepfather was so frustrated at the elevators’ long line, he took the stairs.
Twice he climbed those steps, hauling my belongings (including a mini-refrigerator) to room 1616. My mother and I were content to wait with the crowd rather than face the stairs. It was a long day.
So when our daughter, a college freshman, prepared to move to ISU last week, I warned our family.
“You wait. It will be move-in madness!”
But my husband and daughter were unfazed. Instead, they kept saying things like, “It will be easy” and “It won’t take that long.”