With Love to Aunt Theresa

All this talk of vaccinations got me thinking about my cousins and my Aunt Theresa, who was a nurse.

The occupation of adult relatives is not something you are generally aware of when you are seven years old. Additionally, it is unlikely at that age that you would have any inkling that nurses sometimes give out shots to family members. And, had it been you, you would have remained completely and blissfully unaware of the potentialities one fall evening when your Dad said, “We’re going to visit your cousins! Get your coats on and get in the car!”

Getting together with cousins was a particularly good time. It is still fun to see those people, but, when we were kids, it was epic. We saw my grandmother regularly, but a gathering of all 7 families with all 18 cousins was only undertaken on rarer occasions, like Thanksgiving, when the hosts would have a year to recover.

So, the idea of going to see my cousins, in the evening, on a weeknight, was unprecedented. I was giddy. I was thrilled. I have always loved good surprises. I shimmied into my coat and jumped in the car. And, when we arrived at my Aunt Theresa and Uncle John’s house, I dashed to the door, eager for hugs and laughter.

We were the last to arrive. When we stepped into the house, everybody else was standing in a line that appeared to begin somewhere in the kitchen before meandering to the living room. I remember feeling slightly confused, but I happily got in line, aware of the goodies that came from my Aunt Theresa’s kitchen and anticipating the treat that awaited us all.

As we stood in line, innocent and jolly. As we shuffled closer to our doom. As I heard snippets of the adult conversation and a few odd yelps. As people returned to the living room without a slice of cake. The realization dawned:  We are here to get flu shots!

I don’t believe I have ever been quite that disappointed before or since. I was crying before I reached the kitchen. I cried when I got my shot. And I was one tearful and cranky kid during the long ride home.

Let’s just say that I handle getting a flu shot better as an adult than I did as a kid.

To be honest, I have handled it “better” by never getting a flu shot throughout my adult life. And, in 2019, when my Dad’s PCP told me that not getting the flu vaccine was tantamount to risking the lives of all old people who crossed my path, I felt extra guilty for not getting a flu shot.

Then, last fall, with the complications of Covid in the air, I knew what I had to do. I tricked myself into the car, drove to the drug store, and walked in. Spoke to the pharmacist. Filled out paperwork. And was told to get in line. The line led to a smaller room in the back.

Eerily similar. But I did not expect cake.  

My name was called; I entered the room; the door closed. I was told to sit and bare my arm, and I complied. I looked straight ahead and focused on my breathing. I disassociated as if I were in a three-day meeting to examine, discuss, and practice the power of teamwork. I was only slightly aware that the nurse was chatting pleasantly on my left. I do not think she could sense my terror or hear the screams inside my head of “Stop talking and get it over with! Do it already. Do it! C’mon!!!!! Dude. Just give me the shot.” I waited.  

Then, she told me to leave.

Ha! It was over and I never felt it. Not a thing. No stab. No pain. No amused chuckles of once-trusted relatives. Not a poke. Not a pinch.

Needles and syringes have changed a bit in the past 50 years. But I still love good surprises.

So, I will get in line for my Covid vaccine when I’m able. I’m sending out a bunch of love to all those (older) cousins who are ahead of me in line. And I’ll raise a shot to my dear Aunt Theresa, who was a lovely woman, a funny lady, a caring human, and a Life Preserver.

March 22, 2021 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

For the Love of Seuss

I generally try to avoid conflict on my blog, but I am compelled to say something about a favorite life preserver (books) and the recent uproar over Dr. Seuss. It is a timely and rather ironic example of poor communication habits and the gigantic barfnozzle of social media. Here are some pieces of the actual story:

  • The decision was made to remove some books from publication. Not all books. Probably not your favorites.
  • The decision was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, a company founded by Dr. Seuss’ family to protect his legacy and preserve his memory.
  • After months of discussion, which included feedback from parents and teachers, the company decided to remove 6 books from publication: (1) To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, (2) If I Ran the Zoo, (3) McElligot’s Pool, (4) On Beyond Zebra!, (5) Scrambled Eggs Super!, and (6) The Cat’s Quizzer.
  • The decisions were made primarily based on outdated imagery. Examine the stories for yourself. I suspect that, if you are a decent Whovian and you had been on the panel—with an eye to protecting his memory as well as the hearts of those he wrote for—you would support the decisions.

So here we are. The company in charge of Dr. Seuss books, with much thought and good intent, made some changes to keep up with the progress that society has made in the past 80 years. But, someone took a nugget of that news and twisted it into an attack on Dr. Seuss (which it is not); people started making memes that the famous Cat had been removed (which he has not); some even tried to politicize it (ya crazy conspiratinkers), and boom. Within moments people were blowing their floofloovers and banging their tartookas over click bait.

The passion to protect Dr. Seuss may be genuine, but it is misguided. Dr. Seuss is fine. (Well, you know, he’s dead, but his fame remains.) His books are beloved. His lessons are positive. His imagination is inspiring. Maybe not every single phrase or illustration will stand the test of time, but that’s okay. I suspect that, if he could, he would do a bit of editing himself.

Change isn’t always bad. Sometimes change comes about from people trying to do the right thing. And memes are never the whole story. If you see news that seems really outrageous, step back from the blindly enthusiastic domino clicking of likes and shares. Take a moment. Take a breath. And embrace the things that Dr. Seuss taught us, like optimism, respect for others, open-mindedness, love, the importance of reading, and the perils of entertaining ideas from crazy strangers.

March 4, 2021 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment

Stuffed Shells

Yesterday, for the first time, I made stuffed shells.

I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal. I’m sure there are those of you who could say, “Honey, I’ve made 300 shells with one hand tied behind my back.” or “I’ve been making those since I was 10.” or “Whoop-de-do for you, ya weirdo.” And that’s fine. I’m not writing this to impress people. Feeding people brings me joy. (And food and joy are life preservers.)

Yes, friends, I was intimidated by pasta. I always thought stuffed shells were rather fancy and complicated. It seemed like one of those things that required you to have lots of practice, Italian heritage, and fewer than 3 points left on your record for prior kitchen disasters.

Which reminds me that I did actually try to make stuffed shells once before. That recipe called for homemade pesto rather than store-bought marinara. Here’s what I can tell you:

  • You generally shouldn’t attempt to use a blender when a recipe says food processor.
  • If garlic jams in blender blades, always turn the blender off before removing the lid for a closer look.
  • Even in a small kitchen, it takes years to find every splat of pesto.

I wish I could share a photograph of my pesto-covered face—blank only where my glasses had been, bangs “moussed” straight up—but this occurred in the days before cell phones.

So, I guess it’s fair to say that it wasn’t just my lack of an Italian grandmother that made me hesitate to try my hand at stuffed shells. But, yesterday, I needed to make dinner for two different households—one with a person who was part Italian/part Vegetarian—and I thought of shells. They would be easily dividable and, if all went well, would be nice enough to be given as a “gift meal.”

If all went well.

Googling brought me to Dinner at the Zoo and an easy-to-follow recipe. (Thank you, Sara.)

As many of you probably already know, I should not have been afraid. It was laughably simple. Stuffed shells are a bit fiddly and somewhat time-consuming (for a person who has been known to open a bag of chips and jar of salsa for dinner), but they are not difficult. There were no crazy ingredients, no complicated techniques, and mama mia! they were delicious. Roar! ROAR! I am woman! I made stuffed shells! Whoop-de-do for me! (Yes, I am a weirdo. But, I’m okay with that.)

To this small story of culinary success, I will add just a dash of philosophy: If you want to be able to do a thing, but it seems too difficult, give it a try. If we never attempt anything new, we will never see the extent of our abilities, and we miss out on some of life’s simple joys.

Watch out for pesto, though.

February 15, 2021 at 5:33 pm 2 comments

Dearest Diary

In 1991, my Mom, Dad, Aunt Mitzie, and Uncle Bill retired, and they decided to celebrate with a road trip across the country. They left Pennsylvania in a van, headed West. For 40 days, they drove across the United States and back again, seeing sights, visiting old friends, and proving that life after retirement is still an adventure. From August 1 to September 9, my Mom and my Aunt took turns writing in a blank book, keeping a daily diary of their trip.

I recently came across that book. (Wow.) And noted that it was written 29 years ago. (Whoa.) I am now one year younger than my Aunt and one year older than my Mom while they were on that trip.

{Please type your own cliché about how time flies because I need both hands to stop my head from spinning.}

It’s 2020. Just a little over a year since we lost Mom to dementia. Just a little over a year since my Aunt moved into a care facility for the same heinous disease. To open a book and hear their voices again, clear and strong, sweet and smart, cracking jokes and spying rainbows. Well. It’s wonderful. Or, it’s what wonderful would be if you could drink a glass of it and feel it tingle your belly, lift the hair on your arms, and blur your vision a bit.

This massive dose of joy impels me to suggest, to nudge, to encourage, to shout from a rooftop to anyone who might listen: You should keep a diary. And perhaps this year of odd lulls and extra space is the perfect time to start.

Buy a fancy journal or get a notebook from the dollar store. Make your own rules, but give it a try. Create a paper time capsule in which to stash silly, boring, beautiful moments. The moments that don’t make it into frame or album. The moments that go by in a blink. The bazillion little bits of life that make up the everyday: What you had for breakfast, an inside joke, the price of gas, your favorite snacks, songs to sing, places you’ve been, the way a day can go from rain to sun.

Whether you decide to write a diary or not, take a moment today to notice that life is extraordinary. And so are you. Cheers.

September 6, 2020 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

The Night of the Bat

Last night, my Dad was tucked up in bed, and I had just turned on the big in-the-ceiling fan, which is the last thing I do before getting into bed. The fan is one of those big metal ones that is built into the ceiling, to draw air in from outside. It is also made, I know now, to offer ingress to creepy critters that might be hanging around in the attic.

Just before getting into bed, I realized I had left my glass of water and my book down in the kitchen. So I plodded down the steps, without turning on any lights . . . because I am a grown woman . . . who sometimes has to prove to herself that she is not afraid of the dark any longer . . . because there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of, right?

I had turned left into the dining room when I flinched from some corner-of-the-eye flash and a feeling of movement near my head. “Trick of the light,” I thought. Then, “Was that a bird?” Then, “Oh please-please-please let it be a bird.”

It was a bat. And it was flapping all over the house. Swooping, circling, acting as if it were auditioning for a Halloween movie.

Full disclosure:  In a crisis, I am 90% level headed. But the other 10% is Lucille Ball.

In about 20 seconds, my whispered “Hey Dad” had increased repeatedly to a full blown, full volume “DAAA-AAAAD!!!!!!!!!”

(Is the story funnier if I mention Dad showing up in his “jammies,” which is actually tighty-whities and a T-shirt? Or is the humor of that detail less necessary than protecting him from the embarrassment of knowing I told a bunch of strangers on the internet to picture him in his underwear?)

After a bit of running about uselessly, dumbfounded staring, and me randomly opening and shutting doors, the bat stopped circling the living room and zoomed up the stairs, straight into my Dad’s bedroom. He yelled, “Shut the door!” which was a very good idea. So I ran up and shut his door.

Then I stood there. Outside the door of The Room With A Bat In It. I was really creeped out. I felt a crawly feeling on the back of my neck, and my stomach said, You can’t handle this. Then my head joined in with three thoughts:

  1. Dad’s a manly man who has handled such things with ease all his life and he would handle this if I let him, but what kind of an asshole would I be if I let a 91-year-old guy with a relatively new heart valve handle this?
  2. I could almost hear my Mom telling me not to be a sissy.
  3. And I remembered an evening by the lake when I was teenager. I had stayed out a little too long and was by myself at the water end of the dock at dusk—when the bats came out to feed. There I was, alone, surrounded by flying beasts that (according to brotherly legend) often got stuck in girls’ long hair and probably had rabies. All I could think to do was not run and not panic. And so I sat, very still, like a freak show Snow White, with the bats swooping around me. Dozens of them. When I stopped being scared, it became fascinating. And it was beautiful. (Yes, beautiful.)

I foraged for weaponry, took a deep breath, and entered the room.

The bat was circling, swooping erratically, heading for me, veering away at the last second. I was at various points wielding an umbrella, a tennis racket, a bath towel, and for a short, hopeful while, I stood, like John Cusack, holding the empty clothes hamper aloft.

I managed to get the windows open, but, despite clear instructions and sincere encouragement, that damn bat would not fly out a window. Around and around we went, for half an hour, at least. Eventually, the bat appeared to be getting tired. And then, in a move that seemed like disaster but was actually good luck, it flew into the closet.

After all that heart-pounding, creepy, funny mayhem, there it was. Just a little bat, hanging on the wall at the end of the hanging rod. It looked tired. It looked tiny. (Maybe even cute.) And it looked terrified.

So. Right. I’m no sissy. I’m an independent woman who was once profoundly changed by witnessing the beauty of bats in flight at dusk. All I had to do was grab this tiny, helpless creature and let it out the window.

I took one step. I held up the towel. And I said, “Dad? Would you do it?”

And he did.

 

P.S. A friend of mine who deals with bats on a fairly regular basis at work says the best thing to do is shut off all the lights and then open doors and windows. The bat will go toward any light outside, where the bugs are.

 

 

August 21, 2020 at 4:42 pm 2 comments

Free Doodle Friday

On my Facebook page, I take requests for Free Doodles that I post on Fridays. Here are some samples. If you would like to make a request for the next Free Doodle Friday, visit my Facebook page. For more information about custom requests for business or personal use, you can contact me via my website.

All images are the property of me. All rights reserved. Etc. Any questions, get in touch. Happy Friday!

BethSlagel_RGB

Free Doodle Friday request (a different Beth S.):  A princess riding a unicorn with puppies.

Free Doodle Friday:  Elvis Walking Around

Free Doodle Friday request (Lynn H.):  Elvis walking around wearing a mask.

Squirrely Squirrel

Free Doodle Friday request (Marki M.):  A squirrely squirrel.

Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 11.44.45 AM

Free Doodle Friday request (Meg A.): Two college boys with flippy hair staring at their iPhones while the world passes them by. To view the full video, click here.

June 19, 2020 at 12:02 pm Leave a comment

MacGyver Mode

LP_Macgyver

I live with my Dad. His car is in the house garage, and I rent a garage across the street. One day, my garage door opener remote stopped working. (The garage door opener worked fine; it just did not work using the remote.)

We called our garage guy . . . who said that it was an old system and suggested we replace the entire garage door opener, with a quote of $500-600.

Whoa. It’s not even our garage. And, while it is an older model, there is nothing wrong with the mechanism. Plus, I am perfectly capable of getting out of the car to open a garage door. (I’m old enough to remember when me and my siblings took turns being the garage door opener.) So I went into MacGyver Mode:  that’s when I believe I can figure out anything and am surprised when it takes me more than an hour.

Well, the remote needs a battery. The $1 battery didn’t work. The $10 battery didn’t work. While trying batteries, I did notice that the remote had no way to reset or change frequency.

We probably need a new remote. I checked around. Our extra remote did not work either. And, on all of eBay, there was one.

Let’s ask the manufacturer. Genie customer service tells me there is no replacement remote. They recommend that we get a new garage door opener.

Let’s check amazon for universal remotes anyway. (MacGyver Mode has a sidekick named Stubborn Girl.) Okay. It’s confirmed. Universal remotes will not work on the Genie Model 450.

Let’s check the system. And there’s me on a ladder, checking connections, unplugging things, plugging things back in, unscrewing things, searching the garage floor for screws, etc.

Well, that didn’t work. Let’s visit the internet. Hmmm. It appears as if the problem is that the frequency used on this old model has become too overcrowded OR the remote receiver itself is kaput. Either way, there are products designed to update the signal/change the frequency without installing a completely new garage door opener. Sweet!

Hello amazon. Ooh. I found the Genie GIRUD-1T. I felt nearly certain that, for under a hundred bucks, I could have the solution delivered to my door. But then what?

Okay, YouTube, what have you got? Yes! A-ha! It is indeed do-able. Step-by-step instructions are playing right before my eyes. But. Oh. It requires electrical wiring.

Note:  I once MacGyver’ed myself into a situation that ultimately resulted in me making a solemn vow to never do electrical work ever again. And a promise is a promise.

Ah. Well.

So, we called the garage guy again and explained that we didn’t think we needed a whole new garage door opener but were curious about replacing the old receiver with a Genie GIRUD-1T or something like that. That guy shared his opinion of “people who find things on amazon!” and never got back in touch.

Okay.

Then we called our new garage guy (David P. Giel Garage Doors, Allison Park) and explained the situation. This guy showed up within 48 hours, fixed the door in about 15 minutes, and charged only $125. Best of all, he was really nice to my Dad who has been a caged social butterfly for nearly 4 months. The smile on Dad’s face was worth every penny and then some.

It was the receiver that needed to be replaced. So I had been in the ballpark with pretty good seats. But I’m relieved that all I had to do was sit back and cheer.

 


If you are in the Pittsburgh area and need help with your garage door, I very highly recommend:

David P. Giel Garage Doors
4055 William Flinn Highway (Route 8)
Allison Park, PA  15101
(412) 487-7295


 

 

 

June 16, 2020 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

A Black Square

blacksquare

Let me clarify.

A black square does not mean “I hate police.” A black square does not mean, “I think violence is the answer.” A black square does not mean that my life revolves around what is cool on social media.

It was one small thing. A little black square. Please don’t knock it. Please don’t hijack it. Please don’t use it as another distraction or another way to polarize opinion.

I posted a black square as a way of saying, I see racism. I see inequality. I know it exists. I want things to change. I posted a black square to say, I cannot believe we aren’t doing better than this in the 21st century. I posted a black square to say, I’m here. I don’t know much but, Um, Hi. I’m here.

I can deeply respect policemen and women and still post a black square.

I can love this country and still post a black square.

I wouldn’t for a second assume I know what it’s like. But I sure as heck have witnessed racism.

I have heard friends use the N word. I said, “Don’t.” But that doesn’t feel like enough.

I have heard elderly people say racist things. I never know how to handle that. I have disagreed gently at times. But I’m sorry to say there have been times when I just bit my lip. I feel bad about that.

I dated a bigot. Holy crap, I slept with a bigot. I also broke up with him, but racism was a contributing factor, not the primary reason. (I’m ashamed of that entire paragraph.)

I know a couple of bars that will not allow black people in the door. I won’t drink there. But so-called “private clubs” still exist. And that doesn’t seem right.

I’m no evangelist. I’m no extremist. I’m neither left nor right. Folks, I wasn’t going to blog about this. Mine is not a relevant voice. I’m a pasty pale white, non-political, fallible human. I have absolutely no idea how it feels to be black in America. But, while I wouldn’t dare to say I understand, I’m not blind. I’m not stupid.

Racism exists. Things need to change.

I saw a black square on Facebook this morning and I was curious. I read a few articles. One article included a quote I had never seen before:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.   — Martin Luther King

That struck me. That resonated. And from there, I interpreted the black square as a way to not be silent. It was a simple black square, a symbolic statement on social media. It was not enough, by real real real real real real far. But, today, it was a tiny way to be kind.

That is how I saw it. That is what I meant.

There are times when we all need to take a breath, pause a beat, and try to see the best in each other. This is one of those times.

June 2, 2020 at 8:24 pm Leave a comment

Happy Mother’s Day, a Little Bit Late

bethaschmidt lifepreserversblog tea partyWhen I was a child my built-in girlfriend and playmate was my sister. We dressed up, played dolls, did arts & crafts, and enjoyed a lot of basement make-believe. One day, as we two princesses were sharing invisible lunch at the kid-size table, Mom came in and presented us with a special tea set.

It was the tea set that she and her sister had played with when they were children. We liked it. But. I don’t think we appreciated it. We were not careful enough, or perhaps we were only young and clumsy—it’s not like we were sipping fake whiskey and then throwing the cups into a pretend fireplace—but, on multiple occasions, Mom had to come in and clean up another shattered piece.

It is impossible to look back and remember exactly how I felt in my child’s mind, but I suspect that I didn’t feel bad enough. I am almost certain that I did not empathize with Mom’s feelings. I am absolutely sure I did not fully understand them then.

It is one of the most marvelous and vital a-has of adulthood to realize our parents are people, too. It’s the thing that makes up for the moment when you learned about Santa.

Our Mom gave us everything we needed and then some. She gave up new things for herself to make sure that we got extra things. And I’m afraid that we behaved like hooligans. We broke her tea cups. And we used to raid her closet to play dress-up. I remember one occasion when we took a dress and other things that still had tags on them, and we went romping around, indoors and out, wearing her brand-new clothes.

We never did that again. The house had a new rule:  We were forbidden to go through her closet. (Poor mites. We had to make do with the gigantic barrel full of her dresses, shoes, purses, scarves, jewelry, and other accessories she had previously donated to play time.)

A couple of years ago, I moved back into my parents’ home. Yesterday, I broke a rule. I stole from her closet again. When I awoke on Mother’s Day—my first Mother’s Day without my Mom—I was missing her. I went to her closet and took out a robe that she liked. I wore it all day. I was still wearing it in the afternoon when, on eBay, while looking for something else entirely, I chanced upon a tea set that looked familiar.

When the new old pieces arrive, I’ll slip them into Mom’s curio cabinet, next to the other pieces that survived our childhood. And I will invite my sister to tea—very careful tea—the next time she’s in town.

I know most people don’t need to hear it, but perhaps I need to say it, so forgive me if this next bit feels at all preachy.

Don’t ever take your Mom for granted. Enjoy every single minute that you can with her and, whenever you get the chance, make the effort to return her most special things, like Generosity of Spirit, Undivided Attention, and Unconditional Love.

Happy Mother’s Day, a little bit late.

 

 

May 11, 2020 at 5:11 pm 2 comments

Hilarious: Wrong Hands Cartoonist

Humor is a life preserver, so here’s some to start your week. I think this guy’s work is absolutely hilarious. Check out his “Wrong Hands” website for more. All of the following cartoons are the creation of and property of John Atkinson. ©John Atkinson, Wrong Hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 11, 2020 at 10:42 am Leave a comment

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