When it’s too Late for the Perfect Gift

When it’s too Late for the Perfect Gift

This late in the gift giving game,you choose what? A gift that will give your loved one a head start on their next garage sale. A gift that has you swearing next year you’ll “know before you go.” A gift that will inspire your loved one to say with sincerity those two little words, “Gift receipt?” No doubt about it; someone is getting a Talking Trout this year, proving once again that it truly is better to give than to receive.

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Getting Back in Gear

Getting Back in Gear

I’m part of an elite group. Only about seven percent of Americans know how to drive a stick shift, and I happen to be one of them. If you aren’t and you want to be, you’ll have a tough time finding a vehicle to learn on, since only around five percent of vehicles sold in the United States have manual transmissions. I read it on the internet so it must be true.


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Dreaming the Miles Away

Dreaming the Miles Away

I’d like you to meet my driver. Oops. Did I say my driver? I meant, I’d like you meet my husband. It’s an easy mistake; if we’re going anywhere, he’s almost always driving. And he’s very good at it. At least I think he is. I’m usually asleep when he’s driving, so I could be wrong.

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My Relationship with Facebook is. . .Complicated

My Relationship with Facebook is. . .Complicated

Look at that. An acquaintance has just posted a dozen photos of her Hawaiian honeymoon on Facebook. Beautiful! Hey wait. She’s on what should be the best vacation of her life with the person she presumably loves more than anyone in the world, and she’s staring at her phone. I have half a mind to comment . . .

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A New Flock of Birds

I’m at the movie The Intern, when someone’s cellphone breaks into song up front. It’s a catchy, little instrumental and I’d probably feel like dancing if I weren’t holding a bucket of popcorn the size of Seattle and trying so hard to hear what Anne Hathaway is telling Robert De Niro. When the cellphone’s owner finally answers it, he tells the caller—and everyone else in the theatre—that he’s in the middle of a movie, something those of us in the audience are well aware of.

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Traveling by Stage

If you’re like me, and I always feel better if someone else is, the length of time you need to pack for a trip is just slightly less than the length of time you have available to do it in. You start out in the “I have all the time and room I need to pack whatever will make me feel at home while I’m away” phase of your journey. You still don’t want to do it though. 

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Why They Put Solitaire on Computers

My productivity dropped like a laptop into the lake when I got my fancy, new PC. That’s partly because, for non-geeks like me, the only thing worse than a dead computer is the learning curve on a new one.

Besides that, my new computer has a wide screen, covered with time-wasting temptations, like the news, Facebook, Google Earth, and many others that would be even more tempting if I knew what they were for. It also features twice as many solitaire games as my old computer did. And it has the latest version of the software I use for actual work, which can be a big distraction from solitaire. 

But the worst threat to my productivity comes from a certain flaw my marvelous new software has in its email function. Naturally, I assumed it was user error, which is what anyone who knows me would suspect first. 

I sought help from my internet service provider. I didn’t mind that they put me on hold because when the going gets tough, the tough can play Free Cell. (That’s one version of computer solitaire, for those of you who still use cards.) I can play Free Cell happily for hours, which is lucky because that’s how long I was on hold before the technician picked up and told me he couldn’t help me anyway. 

Next, I called the dealer who had downloaded the software. A polite recording informed me they were “experiencing a high volume of calls.” No problem. I put my cordless phone on speaker, set it down, and played Pyramid while it alternately blasted classical music and the not-so-reassuring message, “Your call is important to us. Please play solitaire while you wait for the next available technician.” Maybe I don’t have that quite right. 

Days later, someone answered. I picked up the phone, and in the process, hung up on them. 

Oh well. (Though that’s not what I said when I realized I’d hung up.) During my sixth game of Pyramid, I had decided that maybe I should be calling the software company instead. So I tried that next. I played nine games of Klondike while I waited for a representative to answer and give me his version of “I’m sorry. We can’t help you.”

He did, however, give me the website address for online tech support. That meant creating a password, getting an account, and waiting for a confirmation email. I played four more games while I waited. The confirmation led me to a page of photos from which I could choose the tech person I wanted to chat with online. That’s how I met Joseph, the latest in a long line of people who couldn’t help me. I never did feel good about meeting men online.

Joseph told me that his help might actually void my warranty. I asked him if putting my foot through the monitor might also void my warranty, because that was looking like my only other option. 

He suggested that before I did that, I call the computer manufacturer. I did, and after agreeing to pay a large sum of money, playing several games of Tri-Peaks, and bumping my head on my desk while looking for my computer’s serial number, I was told by a representative from the computer manufacturer, that he too was unable to solve my problem. I was just about to chuck my career and live out my days playing solitaire.

But then he told me he coul give me what he called a “work-around.” And that was good enough for me. In fact, I was ecstatic! I would have asked him to marry me except my husband might not approve. So I asked him if he would just move in. And I meant it! I need an IT person in my house! As computers get fancier, the tools I have at my disposal are no longer sufficient. (The tools I have being a hammer and a screwdriver.) 

All’s well that ends. I’m making do with the “work-around.” I’m getting used to my new computer. And I’m thinking of taking up Microsoft Mahjong. 

Helplessness Alarming

I used to tell time with a watch. But then my smartphone, with its digital, large ­print, lighted clock, started tagging along me wherever I went, and it soon became my timepiece. I still have my watch, of course. It sits on my wrist like a vestigial organ, though it's prettier than an appendix. Still I seldom look at it anymore.

My smartphone has even become my alarm clock, ­­and not just when someone calls the wrong number at 5 a.m. I actually prefer it to my old-­fashioned alarm clock, mainly because it doesn't sound like a fire alarm going off by the bed every morning. That never seemed like a good way to start a day. 

My smartphone gives me a choice about what sound I want to wake up to. I picked a tone called Morning Light, only because a gentle voice telling me breakfast is ready isn’t one of the choices.

I was tempted by Evolving Seaside, which sounds like you fell asleep by the ocean. But I was afraid I'd wake up wondering if my toilet was running over and how that sea gull got into my bedroom. That's no way to wake up either.

So now, not only is my phone my means of communication, my camera, my appointment book, my calculator, and my library full of time­squandering games, it's my watch and alarm clock. I should have known it was dangerous to give one little device so much control over my life. 

And it is dangerous. Sometime in the middle of the night, my smartphone died. Turns out that, like many electronic devices, mine works best when it's charged. I woke with a start, wondering if I was late. I checked my old reliable watch, but I couldn’t tell what time it was! It was alarming! 

Seriously, though, for a moment, I could not figure out the time. In my defense, I have to say, the light was dim, I was half asleep, and my watch has those little marks instead of real numbers, like someone got lazy at the watch factory.

I did eventually determine the time. But the experience reminded me of all the ways technology is contributing to my slow decline. I haven’t been able to write for a longtime, though most people who know me don’t blame technology for that. But I do. I type. I text. I seldom write. I'm out of practice. I start writing, grow weary, and trail off. Every word looks like I dozed off while I was writing it.

And write a letter? A what? I can't even write a check anymore. When I squander mymoney now days, I do it with a debit card.

I can't find my house without GPS either. I'm exaggerating! I can find my house on most days. But I do rely on GPS to get me places that I would have found somehow before, though maybe not by the time I needed to be there.

I have a giant dictionary, but I don't remember the last time I used it. Would I even know how to look up a word anymore? It's faster for me to go downstairs, turn on my computer, and look up the word on the internet than it is to find my dictionary­­and my reading glasses. 

My son and his friends don't know how to use a phone book. It's easier for them to look on line­­ or ask me. Unfortunately, using telephone books and dictionaries was the main way we all practiced our ABCs. I've been humming the alphabet song lately, just to keep in shape. 

Maybe I should also write a few lines and practice telling time the analog way a few times every day. And I should try finding my way with a map now and then. And I should start writing more checks. Well maybe not that. But I should get into the habit of charging my cell phone. 

The Things We Keep

Do you ever worry that someday when you're long gone, your children and grandchildren will go snooping through your home, searching for heirlooms and other valuables? They'll open a closet and be knocked to the ground by all the junk you've collected over the year--­­a testament to your wasted life? Then they’ll realize that, just as they'd suspected, you really were quite unstable all along, and that yes, they should go ahead and contest your will. You DON'T worry about that? Well, I do.

I even worry that someone snooping through my home right now might decide I'm unstable. It's not that I'm a collector exactly. I actually find it therapeutic to give away or dispose of belongings­­ -- especially my family's belongings. But there are a few things that I just can't part with.

For example, I still have scrapbooks from my college days, and I didn't just go to college yesterday. Along with the usual ticket stubs and fortunes from fortune cookies, my scrapbooks also contain page after page of small cardboard circles taken off the top of a particular brand of yogurt. If you're ever snooping through my stuff, you might wonder why I saved those. I wonder why I saved those. At least I know that at one point in mylife, I was getting plenty of calcium.

I have more cookbooks than Rachael Ray and when you come across them, you're going to wonder why I keep them since I cook the same six meals over and over.

I have a bag full of widowed socks, some whose partners were probably lost in my last home which I left twelve years ago. I have a cupboard full of lids that don't fit any of the bowls I own and bowls that don't fit any of the lids I own. I don't toss the bowls or the lids or the socks because I'm sure that if I ever do, their partners will show up shortly thereafter, having taken twelve years to walk the six blocks from my old home.

I keep a variety of inspirational quotations and messages meant to motivate me to become the person I want to be. When you're digging through my stuff, you might wonder what kind of person that is, especially since I doctored a few of them. For example, there's the one that says, "You are what you think about." And I sincerely believe that, but somewhere along the way, I added, "So stop thinking about Cheetos."

I have a file filled with rejections from editors. Rejections are kind of a badge of honor for a writer ­­a badge with a faulty pin that stabs you right in the heart, but a badge nonetheless. If you snoop around my house very long, you're bound to discover that more editors have said no to me than have said yes. Unfortunately, you will have no way of knowing that those who said yes are just smarter people. Probably better looking too.

I have a file cabinet filled with scraps of paper containing cryptic, handwritten notes intended for use in future columns. Out of context these may seem peculiar to you­­ even in context they might seem peculiar. For example, "Do dental hygienists get cavities and what does it do to their credibility if they do?" And "Be kind to everyone you meet;  you never know who might win the lottery next."

My only comfort is that if you happen to stumble upon these notes while you're snooping through my house, you won't be able to read my handwriting anyway. So you won't realize that I'm only being nice to you because you might win the lottery someday. SORRY! That was mean, wasn't it? That's what you get for snooping through my stuff.

Calling all Speeders

The worst thing about getting a speeding ticket­­ besides paying it­­is watching your fellow motorists speed by, GAWKING at you, while you sit there being reprimanded. This is especially awful if you get your speeding ticket right next to where you work, like I did. Twice. 

That's why, when I was stopped the second time, I knew enough to pull off the road into the loading area of a neighboring business. I did not want the news of my ticket to get back to the office before I did­­ AGAIN. But, then the owner of the business came out and asked both me and the police officer to please move. Things were not going well. Then they got worse. 

The police officer asked me how I was. What a peculiar question. How is anyone who has just been stopped for speeding? I wanted to say, "How am I? That depends entirely ON YOU!" I didn't. I said, "Fine. Never better." Yes, I LIED to a police officer.

Then she asked me that other question police officers are apt to ask, ­­not that I've been asked it often. "Do you know why I stopped you?" What exactly are they fishing for? Honest, I had not been aware that I'd been speeding. But I was pretty sure I hadn't done anything else illegal either

Miraculously, I was saved from having to answer that question. Saved by the bell. Or rather the ring. Yes, it's true. My cell phone rang while I was being questioned by apolice officer. I was mortified, but I managed to maintain my composure. "That’s probably my bookie." I’m kidding; I didn't say that. I knew it wasn't my bookie.

But I was pretty sure I did know who it was. For two days, I'd been trying to speak to my doctor about the side effects of the sleep medicine she'd prescribed. Namely daytime loopiness—more than usual. They don't show that in the television commercials. 

The phone rang again. The officer looked at me. I looked at my caller ID. It confirmed that my doctor's office was indeed calling. Do you know how hard it is to get a medical professional on the phone? Every time you call them, they're busy with a patient. And then they FINALLY call you back, and you're busy . . . with a police officer.

The phone rang again. That's when I made a serious error in judgment, obviously not my first of the day. I said, "Could I . . . get that?" Amazingly, she agreed.

I realized two things as soon as I picked up the phone. Number one, things wouldprobably go better for me if I didn't talk long. And two, that was just as well. Describingmy strange side­effects might lead the officer to suspect I was impaired, which now that I think about it, I might have been. 

So when the nurse asked me what the problem was, I said, "That medicine is . . . is making me feel funny." Of course, she thought she needed more information. And hadthere not been a police officer, staring into my car, hanging on my every word, I wouldhave told her that I was feeling extremely befuddled and more than a little bit ding­dong. Instead I said, "Could I call you back?"

If you've ever been ticketed, you know that the officer goes back to the squad car to write your ticket and check your outstanding warrants. Depending on how many of those you have, this should give you plenty of time to feel remorseful and fret about your fate. But I didn't have time for that. I used my time to call the nurse who was, by that time, busy with a patient--­­naturally.

To make a long story not quite so long, I did finally get to speak to her, but not until the next day. And I'm no longer taking that particular medicine, which should be reassuring to anyone who drives the same roads as I do. 

Also, the officer said my fine was much lower than it could have been, which was kind of her. It probably helped that I kept the call short.


A Few Classes Short of a Major

I have great sympathy for politicians who embarrass themselves at elementary schools by misspelling words like tomato or potato. (Or is it potatoe?) If elementary school students ever ask me to spell a word for them, I'll tell them to look it up!

I'm joking. What I'll really say is, "Boys and girls, have you heard about that wonderful computer program called Spell Check? There's also a program which checks grammar, but I'm not sure it knows anymore than I do, which isn't that much." Then the teacher will say, "Well, Mrs. Rosby. I think that's all we have time for today. Thank you for visiting." And she'll shoo me out of the classroom and shake her head disapprovingly as I leave.

People expect good spelling and grammar from someone with a journalism major and an English minor which, I'm proud to say, I have. But remember, it's an English minor, not a major. If I'd had the wherewithal to take a few more classes, I'd have an English major and I might have been able to spell "wherewithal" without help from my spell checker.

I might also know if the "minor" in English minor should be capitalized or not, because the websites I checked are inconsistent. Capitalization can be tricky for an English minor­­ or an English Minor. One of the dumbest mistakes I've ever made in a column--­­at least one of the dumbest I'll admit to--­­involved capitalization. I once wrote about buying a raffle ticket for an afghan, only I capitalized it. So it appeared that instead of a cozy, handmade blanket, I was hoping to win a person from Afghanistan--and for just one dollar! Unfortunately I didn't win either one. An afghan would be nice, but an Afghan could cook me the food of his homeland, leaving me to lie around the house before supper. Or would it be "lay" around the house? 

I wouldn't be asking if I had an English major. I'd know exactly when to use "lie" instead of "lay" and "fewer" instead of "less." As it is, I have to consult the internet, and then I have to go lie down

I also have to be very careful about words like "there and their" and "to, too, and two" and "bare and bear" because, as you know, a "bear behind" is very different from a "bare behind."

Being acutely aware of my own grammar and usage problems has not, in the least, kept me from being entertained by the failings of others. A friend once claimed to be on the "urge of a nervous breakdown" instead of the "verge" of a nervous breakdown. I was on the verge of urging her to stop being overdramatic.

I once heard a speaker say a particular celebrity, whom I've forgotten now, was being "indicted" into a Hall of Fame. It may have been appropriate, depending on which Hall of Fame it was. And whenever I see an advertisement that reads, "Just $3 for children," I can't help but think, "Wow! That's a lot less than I paid for mine." 

But before I judge anyone else harshly, I remind myself of another reallyembarrassing mistake I made. I once confused "latter" and "former" in a column aboutinsomnia. I MEANT to say, "Late night phone calls generally fall into two categories:  tragic or obscene. If it’s the former and someone is dead, they'll still be that way in themorning. If the caller was obscene, they’ll still be that way in the morning too."

That's what I meant to say. But I typed in "latter" instead of "former," making it deadly to be obscene and confusing the only reader who had made it that far in mycolumn. Someone with an English Major would never have done that.

Google the Omnipotent 

I was racking my brain one day, trying to come up with a clever phrase for a particularcolumn. As I’m sure you’re aware, I never did. But that's because I got off track when I started to wonder if, instead of “racking” my brain, I might actually be “wracking” my brain. Either way, it was painful.

There was a day I would have consulted my trusty dictionary to answer such aquestion. But dictionaries are for people who either don’t need reading glasses or need them and can find them. The rest of us now have the option of going to the Internet and consulting Google or another search engine. The print is larger and, for me, it's faster than finding my glasses.

After a quick Google search, I learned that I was most likely racking (stretching out, as with the ancient torture device) rather than wracking (ruining or destroying) my brain, which is lucky because I still need it.

Let me explain for you Internet avoiders: Google is the Great Reference Librarian in the sky. Google knows ALL! I love Google. I fear Google. I wonder what I did before Google. I suppose, back then, if I needed to know how crickets sing or the difference between a yam and a sweet potato, I checked the encyclopedia ­­or I just made it up. Now I go online where, for all I know, someone else made it up.

I've been able to find Google answers for many of my most pressing questions, and some of them may even be right. For example, I found the cost of all the gifts listed in the “12days of Christmas,” though not why anyone would want ten lords a leaping. And I learned what's "corned" about "corned beef." In case you're wondering, the meat is cured by covering it with large kernels of salt that, for some reason, are called “corns of salt.”  Maybe "corned beef" sounds better than "kerneled beef." 

When I was writing a recent column about recycling, I wanted to know what the majority of consumers call that bubbly beverage that comes in aluminum cans. And no, I don't mean champagne. As far as I know, champagne doesn’t come in aluminum cans, but you could Google it to be sure.

I typed the phrase "soda or pop" into Google and voila! Someone-- ­­maybe a graduate student in need of a research project--­­has created a map showing which name is most popular in each state; "pop," "soda," or "other," which seems like an odd name to me. 

I was once tempted to use a cliché I’d heard about lemmings following each other off a cliff to their death. But I know nothing about lemmings and was therefore not sure if they actually do follow each other off cliffs. Maybe I'd misunderstood; maybe it was not "lemmings," but "lemons" that follow each other over the cliff.

I turned to Google the All Knowing and learned that the Norwegian lemming population level regularly rises to unsustainable levels, which causes it to crash. This abrupt drop has given rise to the myth of lemming mass suicide. I found no such information about lemons.

When I wrote my rant about cowbells at hockey games, Google the Omnipotent reassured me that I'm not the only one who despises them. In fact, only hockey fans who have already sustained severe hearing loss approve of cowbells. Okay; I made that partup, but only to illustrate an important point. You can't believe everything you read, even if you Googled it­­--or read it in this column.

Everything Old is New Again

Everything in my house is new! Well, almost everything. I have a new stove, computer, humidifier, vacuum cleaner, and garage door opener. No, we didn’t win big on The Price is Right. Everything is new because a short time ago, everything was old, and it all quit working at the same time! 

If you’re a regular reader, you might be saying, “Hey wait! Didn’t your oven quit working a long time ago?” Yes it did, which is why I hinted in every holiday column for the last three years that a new stove would make a great gift. Nobody listens to me!

I’ve continued to use my old, unreliable oven because three years ago, the repairman told me if I would add 30 degrees to whatever temperature setting the recipe called for, I could get by for a long time, especially as little as I use the oven. 

Then shortly before Thanksgiving, adding thirty degrees didn’t work anymore. Adding fifty degrees didn’t work either. I threw away a pan of half-baked cookies and went shopping. There were only a few stoves in stock that would work for us. But I decided buying a new stove just because it was in stock and I needed to make Thanksgiving dinner in three days might be hasty, especially since I didn’t want to cook Thanksgiving dinner anyway. (I know what you’re thinking. What could be hasty about taking three years to replace an oven?)

One issue was color. I’m no designer, but I wanted my new stove to match my ancient refrigerator, the one thing in my home that was still working. But appliance manufacturers no longer make anything in avocado. I’m JOKING! My refrigerator isn’t avocado; it’s almond, which is only slightly more common these days. The industry updates colors regularly so that when you buy a new stove, you feel compelled to buy a refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, washer, dryer, and maybe even a pair of shoes to match. It seems to me, if you buy all that, they ought to give you the microwave—and the shoes. 

I didn’t want to replace all my appliances, so I asked if, since we were buying a stove, would they throw in a vacuum cleaner? Ours had died recently, and I didn’t care if the new one matched. No, they would not. “Okay,” I said, “What if we buy a vacuum cleaner and computer, would you throw in a stove?” It never hurts to ask. 

And we did need a computer. Our antique PC had started dozing off at inopportune times—much like I do. Of course, a computer is outdated the minute you drive it off the lot, but this one really was ancient. I think whatever we were using just prior to it may have had a carriage return and a ribbon. 

Just when I thought I couldn’t take another thing, our humidifier started wetting on the carpet and my garage door opener developed an attitude. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t—meaning sometimes I could get into my garage and sometimes I had to call someone in the house to come open the door for me. It’s hard to say which of us found that most annoying.

There we were, with everything falling apart around us like a beach house in a hurricane. We replaced the computer first, as most important. We followed with the vacuum cleaner, the garage door opener, the humidifier, and finally, after three years of adding 30 degrees to everything I put in the oven, we bought a new stove. It’s a hard habit to break—I’ve already set off the smoke alarm three times. And after several very expensive months, we’ve managed to replace everything, ensuring that eventually, it will all quit working again at exactly the same time.

Finish What You Start

Today we are going to tackle the most important rule of home organization: FINISH WHAT YOU START. I know something about FINISHING—or rather I know something about NOT FINISHING what I start. Let me give you an example. Overcome by a rare burst of energy, I decide to clean my closet. (Realize this is simply a dramatization. I did not have a burst of energy, nor did I clean my closet recently.)

I begin taking clothes out and laying them on the bed. I come across a dress that no longer fits (and hasn’t since I was in fourth grade). Of course, I should wash it before I give it away. But one dress doesn’t make a full load, so I leave part of the contents of my closet on the bed and start sorting laundry. That’s when I remember I don’t have any detergent so I decide to make a quick trip to the grocery store. I figure I may as well grab a few other things while I’m there, so I start making a list. Just thinking about groceries makes me hungry and anyway, it is getting close to suppertime. I ransack the refrigerator and find an assortment of leftovers that are no longer eatable (and may never have been eatable). I toss a few of them into the garbage, which is now full, so I decide to haul it to the garage. The telephone rings. I leave the trash bag in the hallway and answer the phone. A friend says cheerfully, “What have you been doing all day?”

Suddenly I am overwhelmed. It’s suppertime and I have no supper. I have stacks of clean clothes all over my bed, heaps of dirty clothes all over my floor, the beginnings of a grocery list, a partially cleaned refrigerator, and a smelly trash bag sitting in the middle of the hallway. You can see how NOT FINISHING could lead to complete chaos and utter exhaustion.

Now let’s examine more closely what FINISHNG WHAT YOU START would mean In every day life: 

It means the holidays aren’t over until the decorations are put way. (This is how Christmas in July got its start.)

It means supper isn’t over until the dishes are washed and put away. By these rules, I’m often “finishing” yesterday’s supper just as I’m preparing to cook today’s. I have to; I need the dishes.

It means the laundry isn’t done until the clothes are washed, dried, folded, AND put away. I don’t know about you, but my laundry hasn’t been officially DONE since I was in elementary school and my mother did it for me. 

Fix­-it projects aren’t completed until the tools are put away. The sweeping isn’t finished until the broom is put away. The grocery shopping isn’t done until the groceries are put away or eaten, whichever comes first.

Instruct your children that they aren’t really done with their bath until the towel is back on the towel bar. They aren’t finished with their homework until it’s safely back in their backpacks. They aren’t even done eating an apple until the core is in the trash.

If you can convince the whole family to FINISH what they start, you will never again have to set aside an entire afternoon to pick up tools, homework, brooms, and apple cores. Or they may do like I have; decide to start fewer chores.