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

Important Ingredients

I have done the grocery store shop, wearing a mask and with a pocketful of Clorox wipes. It wasn’t too bad. Most people were very polite and aware of personal space. Most people would pause at corners and intersections, to allow for six feet. But, of course, the problem is never most people . . . it is Some People. For example:

  • The couple who were oblivious to social distance (and kept sniggering at my mask).
  • The woman who set her cell phone down on top of fresh, unpackaged produce.
  • The people who just walked around, nearly colliding with others, because they were (A) lacking spatial intelligence or (B) lacking any type of intelligence.
  • The woman who slowly ran her hand over at least 12 loaves of bread and then wandered off with nary a slice, while a crowd of other people (people who think of bread as food, not an interactive exhibit) stood and stared from six feet back.

Friends, I’m sorry to tell you, there is no prep or protection for idiots and weirdos.

Another problem I had was using self-checkout. First, I’m against it on principle. Second, you have to transfer groceries from one cart (which I had sanitized) to a different cart, a cart that might have been used by a contagious person or the bread fondler.

I survived the adventure, but, the next time I needed groceries, I decided to try delivery.

Let me mention, I enjoy cooking food. I enjoy eating food. I enjoy feeding people. I like to learn new recipes and read cookbooks. I even get a kick out of organizing pantry cupboards. But I have never liked to grocery shop. So our current situation has taken my least favorite chore and turned it into a complex task that, if not handled properly, could put lives at risk.

Note:  I’m not saying my meal preparation skills have never raised an eyebrow or rumbled a tum, but, to date, I have never actually killed anyone.

I tried for days, at all hours, to order pickup or delivery from Giant Eagle. I tried for days, at all hours, to order from Whole Foods. Then, I tried Shop N Save via instacart. They have an option of “fast and flexible” delivery, which isn’t exactly fast by anyone’s normal standards but does allow you to sign up for delivery without needing to hit refresh for 5 hours to win the time slot lottery. You simply place your order and they bring your groceries within a time span. It’s a brilliant idea for these strange pandemic days. It’s not perfect, but it’s brilliant.

If an item you select isn’t available, the shopper will either substitute something similar or skip it and refund the price. I have ordered through them twice and likely will again.

I’m usually fairly loosey-goosey about groceries. I sort of, sometimes keep a running list; I go to the store and get stuff; I look around for other stuff we might need. Often, as I think about an upcoming dinner, I run out and buy an additional ingredient or two (or twelve) the day before. It’s true, I did once send my father and uncle to buy pasta after they arrived at my house for a spaghetti dinner I had invited them to, but that’s another story. I guess I’m saying, my project management skills do not translate well to my grocery shopping — even on a regular day. These days, I do try. I make a list; I check the pantry; before I finalize my order, I sit and think real hard. My approach is that I will fully plan a couple of specific meals, and then fill in with other flexible, familiar ingredients that will give me options. That’s a pretty good plan, right?

My groceries were due to arrive between April 27-28. Then they were due to arrive on May 4. Then they were due to arrive April 27-29. Then, yesterday (April 26), they were due to arrive April 26-27. I was excited! Last night, around 8:45, I received a text that my groceries were on their way to my house. There was dancing. And singing. Bags appeared on the front porch. I carried them in, unloaded, sanitized, washed, and scrubbed. I carried everything we didn’t need immediately down to the basement refrigerator. (I did not touch my face. I turned on lights with my elbow. I opened a refrigerator with my foot!) Getting groceries and putting them away has never seemed so magical.

I finished and collapsed onto the couch in a happy, clean-smelling heap, content in knowing that, for a few days at least, we would be spared the random results of internet recipe searches, mismatched leftovers, and weird ingredient roulette. It was a moment of unique joy. How could tedious, irksome grocery shopping make me feel so good?

And then it hit me. My preparations had included two specific meals:  (1) a big salad and (2) a turkey dinner. My order had been missing two items:  lettuce and turkey.

Oh well. At least I still have these ingredients.

boozeshelf

 

 

 

April 27, 2020 at 12:43 pm Leave a comment

Keep Your Hands Clean

Don’t let these odd times damage your point of view. There are lots of good people out there. There are people trying to figure out COVID-19. There are people trying to manage policies and next steps. There are people concerned about their loved ones. And we are all human, each and every one.

Yes, some people will horde. Some people will try to take advantage. Some people will do anything for profit. But remember that acts of craziness get attention—because they shock and surprise, because they are not normal.

One thought:  Manufacturing and distribution systems (and employee shifts for shelf-stocking) run on data from normal, everyday shopping habits, not the habits of people who were all told at the same time that they have to stay home for two weeks. Changes in group behaviors, even when we are trying to do our best, can be misinterpreted or misrepresented.

Look at your family. Look at your neighbors and friends. You are good people.

I believe that most people are good. I believe people want to help. I believe that human beings, as a vast majority, are brave and funny and kind.

Here is one example. Last night, KDKA news showcased Rocco’s Pizzeria in Youngwood, PA. They are making and giving away free lunches for kids. The owner, Rocco Pifferetti, says he promises to do it for two weeks, longer if he can. (The Trib Live website is keeping a list of other restaurants doing the same.)

I suspect that donations to these wonderful humans would be welcome.

Crisis situations are going to provide an interesting view of the world. Remember to look through your own eyes. Keep your head. Keep your heart. And keep your hands clean.

Seussquote

March 18, 2020 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

St. Patrick’s Day, 2020

With a last name like Schmidt, you probably wouldn’t expect me to be Irish, but my mother was Irish. We have always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and, in the past 10 years or so, the annual gathering included me, my mom and dad, and my uncle and aunt (Mom’s also-Irish sister). We’d all wear green, put on leprechaun hats, and cook up something like shepherd’s pie or corned beef. Then we’d sing some special songs and raise a glass to our Irish relations and ancestors. The mixture of tradition and shenanigans made it one of my favorite days of the year.

As happens in life, sometimes you do a thing, and you don’t know that you are doing it for the last time. I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Mom on March 17, 2019. In July, she passed away.

In January of this year, I saw an advertisement that the traditional Irish band The Chieftains was going to be in Pittsburgh in March. I cannot claim to be an expert, but I have an album or two that I like. It was called a good-bye tour, so I thought it might be my last chance to see them. And I thought of St. Patrick’s Day and how March was going to be a tough milestone. And, in that moment of jumbled sentiment, I bought tickets.

When the day of the concert arrived (March 9), I considered whether I should go. I had some concerns about germs. I had greater concerns about a previous occasion when I bought tickets to a (potentially) similar performance that turned out to be excruciating. And, beneath it all, I was experiencing the inertia that often threatens to overwhelm me these days when I anticipate going anywhere that requires makeup, bra, and shoes.

But I’d paid for the ticket and invited a friend, so I went. I went expecting to see three old Irish guys sitting on a stage with a flute, a tin whistle, and a drum.

The three guys were there all right (and they are phenomenal), but they were not alone on stage. There were also tap dancers, Irish step dancers, and The Pilatzke Brothers (a mix of Irish step, tap, crazy legs, and boyish abandon). There was a pipes and drum band. There were singers. There were fiddle players, a harpist, a guitar and accordion player, and, for the second half of the concert, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Talk about your bells and whistles. It was quite an extravaganza and one of the best musical shows I have ever seen/heard anywhere. All the adjectives feel trite, but it was superb, inspiring, moving, wondrous, magical.

There were jigs and good humor a’plenty. There was laughing, toe-tapping, and clapping. There were also ballads. Oh the ballads. When they played the sweeping melodies of the slow songs—haunting, beautiful, magnificent—I was done in. Had I been alone, I would have wept. Not for grief or longing or sadness or regret (although there was a bit of all of that). Not for joy or beauty or love (although there was a bit of all of that).

I wanted to weep for being. 

It’s not the prettiest of analogies, but:  If you ever had an old furnace with a re-usable metal filter and if you ever removed that filter and took it outside and turned the hose on full blast and blew all the gunk away . . . and in the end, the filter is sunlight-glinting clean and it can function again . . . it was kind of like that.

Live music, when it’s really good, it’s physical. It creates and transfers an energy, like an ancient Ley line from performer to audience, that vibrates every cell. It lifted me. It carried me. It was metamorphic.

We humans need music. We need music like we need air and water. (It’s a life preserver.)

So, this St. Patrick’s Day, take in some music. Blast your stereo, buy the tickets, support some local musicians, or just encourage your descendants to sing and play and stomp their feet.

To Rebecca Douglas, my great, great, great grandmother; to the Crokers and the Yochums and the McNallys; to the Maloneys; to the Daughertys. To Aunt Mitz. To Mom.

To you all, Sláinte.

 

Video:  One of the Chieftains (Matt Molloy) playing Easter Snow.

March 13, 2020 at 5:05 pm 2 comments

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