Getting My Just Desserts

The expression “getting your just desserts”, that which is deserved or merited was originally “just deserts”. Because most modern English speakers are unfamiliar with that old sense of desert, the phrase is most often understandably written just desserts.

Capture.PNGGrowing up with a mother who is half French meant that we were treated to dessert with every meal – cakes, pies, cream puffs, cookies, brownies, puddings, whether it was deserved or not. What lucky kids we were! Sweet, rich, delicious, fattening desserts were just part of our life. Eating dinner (or lunch) was really just an exercise in getting to the reward of dessert. It wasn’t until I was nearly grown before I realized that our family was unique. Sadly not everyone had homemade desserts with each and every meal. Ever sadder, some folks didn’t even have store-bought dessert! Why not??? I still can’t understand nor explain that anomaly.

When my wife and I were first dating I was invited to her home for dinner. Her mother prepared a beautiful meal. After dinner I was asked if I would like a cup of coffee. Of course! What else would I drink with dessert? Coffee was prepared and poured and then nothing. Nothing. No mention of dessert. No inkling of dessert. No dessert. We talked. I was even offered a second cup of coffee, which I gladly excepted, hoping it would prompt the serving of THE DESSERT. But still nothing. And then the strangest thing happened. Dinner ended. Without dessert! I remember thinking that Deb’s mom was going to be really embarrassed later when she realized that she had forgotten to serve the dessert. I sheepishly mentioned this to Deb later in the evening and she said, very matter-of-factly, “We don’t usually have dessert.” I was astonished and then I really questioned whether we should continue dating. What kind on family was this? Were they Communists? Or some weird religious sect? Were they allergic to deliciousness? What in hell would make people “usually not have dessert”? Not even the store-bought stuff?

All these years later when I reflect back on this it makes me keenly aware that we all have expectations. I’m often anticipating something to happen the way I want it to happen – the way I think it should happen. I expect someone to behave the way I want them to behave – the way I think they should behave. I’m waiting for that dessert that may never be offered. And herein lies my disappointment and frustration. I’m so programmed to “the way it ought to be” that I sometimes miss the joy of new experiences. I’m so conditioned to “following the rules” that I miss the adventure of an unexpected journey. Opening myself up to new ideas and new places and new people doesn’t negate my life story. Instead it enriches me and gives depth and adds greater meaning to the traditions that I hold dear. So often I am certain that I don’t deserve something better (love, joy, happiness) that I stop trying to achieve a better life. I stagnate in my self-loathing and self-pity. But I know that there is more and I believe that the best is yet to come.

Perhaps “no dessert” all those years ago was my just desserts. After all, look what I gained in the process. By the way Deb and I have been married for over 42 years now and she converted. We are a dessert-with-every-meal family.  So I guess we both gained something on this journey together.





You Know That You’re Old When Your Toys Are Antiques

PlayRecently I was watching “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS. There was some guy who had brought vintage toys for appraisal. Apparently calling old stuff “vintage” is better than calling it old. Anyway, I realized that one of the vintage trucks that he had was similar to one I played with as a boy. Furthermore, I was certain that I still had it in a box in the basement. And to my delight I found my Buddy L® pickup truck and trailer.

I thought that my grandson Noah might enjoy playing with my old (vintage) metal truck. And he in fact loves it! It brings back happy memories for me, too. This truck and trailer must be over 50 years old. My friends and I would “drive it” through the empty lot across the street when we were boys. We imagined we were on a huge construction site and would play all day with our trucks and cars in the dirt and weeds. Our beloved empty lot finally gave way to a new home and eventually my friends and I grew too old for toy cars and trucks. Luckily mine was safely boxed away only to find a new life as a vintage toy.

Buddy LHappy to have rediscovered one of my toys, I am still a little troubled by the “antique” label. If my toy is antique what does that say about me? My Buddy L® truck is 100% metal except for the rubber tires. It’s heavy, has sharp edges and is likely coated with toxic paint. To my knowledge, no safety tests have ever been performed. No recalls ever issued. This truck has only been boy-tested and it passed that test long ago with flying colors. It has careened over countless hillsides and carried scores of plastic Army men and farm animals.

Today she is a little rusty and worn (hey – so am I). But Noah has given her new life. When my granddaughters join in, the truck is sometimes reduced to carrying Polly Pockets® and Pretty Ponies®. But Noah and I are mostly purists and we like to haul “boy stuff” in her bed and trailer. So we have plastic farm animals and safari animals to load up now. We also sometimes carry his Uncle Blake’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles® (which I suppose are not quite yet vintage).

Old toys can play hard. My antique Buddy L® has proven that.

But I wonder how often I discard things that were once purposeful but now considered obsolete? How many times have I written something off as useless or unnecessary? And what about people? Do I view elderly people as a burden? Because they are old, are they not worthy of my time and attention? Do I overlook the beauty, wisdom and experience of a life well lived? Antiques are treasured for the very fact that they are old. But I fear in our society we often dismiss our older citizens for that very same reason.

I know that my truck can still play hard and I’m learning that grandpas can play hard, too.

Noah, thanks for letting me come along for the ride! I think that Buddy L® and I still have a few good “vintage” years left.






Why Is The Table A Woman?

I travel to Mexico frequently and I am desperately trying to learn some Spanish. (Yes, Sister Madeline – I should have paid more attention in Spanish class back in high school! But so far, “¿Donde esta la biblioteca?” hasn’t helped me much.)

What I find most confusing is the gender assignment of nouns. Who decided that the fork (el tenedor) is a male and the spoon (la cuchara) is woman? Also cats, dogs and horses – are all masculine (so I’m not sure how they get more cats, dogs and horses) while kitchens, tables and chairs are female but the plates resting on the table are male. My wife would say that once again the women are doing the heavy lifting in this arrangement.

Who assigned the sexes to nouns anyway? Probably some frustrated Spanish monk, locked away in a dreary monastary on some stoney coastline, tired of all the prayer and self-flagellation. He might have thought, “Hey, this could be fun!” “Let’s make tables female!” Otherwise it could all just be something very Freudian, hence el polo (the pole) and la copa (the cup). On the other hand, towers are femine and canyons are masculine. So I remain confused. 

It gets particularly interestings with plurals. Let me explain: nieto is grandson. Nieta is granddaughter. But grandchildren are nietos (the masculine). Often my director in Mexico City will ask about my grandsons, even though she knows that I have only one grandson and three granddaughters. The same goes for friends, who may be amigos and amigas but together they are all amigos. And on and on…

El AngelDon’t get me wrong, English is just as confusing for non-English speakers. What with our there, their, and they’re; not to mention, wind or wind, tear or tear and lead or lead. I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn our language.

Still Spanish is my struggle and I find some amount of humor in all the gender confusion. No doubt I have provided much needed laughter to an overworked restaurant employee when I have asked for a table with a veiw but more likely asked if her legs could support two persons and would she mind if we sat on her while looking out a window.

In my defense, the most important monument in Mexico City, which is within view of my office – El Ángel de la Independencia (“The Angel of Independence”) is sexually confused. El Ángel – masculine. The actual angel on top of  El Ángel, well she’s a woman.

¡Dios Mio! Thankfully I have Google Translate on my iPhone…




Autumn (or as I prefer to call it – gravy season)

The leaves and the temperatures are falling; the flower beds are raggedy; the days are getting shorter. It must be Autumn. Time to harvest and store for winter. Our yearly reminder that all life must end.

But fear not. Spring will come again! Life will be renewed.

But until then, bring on the sweaters. Pile on the blankets. Light the fires. And please pass the gravy. Or stew. Or soup. Or meat pie. And lots of stuffing and potatoes and more gravy please.

gravyOf course here in the United States we will be celebrating Thanksgiving soon. And in the true spirit of that holiday we give thanks for our abundant blessings. Traditionalists share a meal of turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes and corn and cranberries – all foods native to North America. We will  celebrate and remember the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. And we top off our meal of thanksgiving with pumpkin pie (which is sort of the gravy of desserts – no chewing is required).

I suppose sumptuous meals lessen my seasonal depression. I don’t like cold weather. I don’t love snow. I find winter bleak and dreary. So when the occasional gravy-smothered meal is served it eases my loss of blue skies and warm weather. And bulky sweaters assist in covering up an expanded waistline. Seasons change. Weight fluctuates. It’s the circle of life.

However this year I’m determined to not board the “gravy boat”. I will maintain a healthy diet. I will resist all temptation. I will face those cheesy casseroles and warm muffins and gravy-laden delicacies with resolve. I will say no to the extra helping. No to the second dessert. No to the cup of hot cocoa with those adorable tiny marshmallows. No to the warm puddings covered in cream. No, no, no!

But who am I kidding? If God had wanted us to starve all winter he wouldn’t have created Autumnal foods in the first place. Mmmm – meatloaf! Even the name sounds decadent.

So pull up a chair and pass the platter. And please excuse me while look for my favorite pair of loose-fitting jeans and that bulky sweater with the gravy stains.



Road Sage

I’ve come to a conclusion about bad drivers: none of them is ever me. RoadRage

I find myself screaming nearly every day on my commute to work: “What’s wrong with you?” or “Hang up your phone and drive!” or “Hey jerk, you just ran a red light!” or “What is your hurry; where’s the fire?” or “Why can’t you hurry up, I don’t have all day here?”

So many people to yell at; so many mistakes to point out. It’s exhausting! By the time I reach my office in the morning I can barely pour that first cup of coffee. I feel as if I’ve already worked half a day. Somehow I forge ahead confident in my superior driving technique. I am keenly aware of the bad drivers and can spot them immediately. Beware of the following:

The Radio Singer – this person is rehearsing for their big break on American Idol and they often forget that they are actually behind the wheel of a car. Sometimes they need a friendly toot at a stop light that has already turned green while they’re hitting their high note. Repeated honk-honk-honking can sometimes move them along.

The Bobber & Weaver – this person seems uncertain just what those painted lines on the freeway mean. They often bank their car from side to side in any (sometimes multiple) lane(s). Repeated honk-honk-honking makes them look around and only aggravates the situation.

The Slow Middle Laner – this driver only drives in the middle lane and annoyingly drives the speed limit. Apparently they have never heard of the 5-over rule; which of course means you can always drive at least 5 miles over the speed limit (even in the slow lane). In Illinois it’s the 10-over rule. Repeated honk-honk-honking only seems to strengthen their resolve.

The Braker – this guy hits his brakes every time he sees ANY tail light come on. It doesn’t matter if the illuminated tail light is a half mile ahead. This of course creates a chain reaction for other Brakers (and necessitates the use of curse words for the good drivers like me). Repeated honk-honk-honking just creates more braking.

The Tailgater – this person follows too closely behind the person if front of him (or her). Also known as “riding one’s butt”. This driver believes that they can accelerate the car in front simply by pushing them down the road. This rarely works (See The Slow Middle
Laner above). Repeated honk-honk-honking rarely works either.

The Cell Phone Talker – this driver is so enthralled in some conversation that they often SLOW DOWN to listen. Repeated honk-honk-honking can sometimes jolt them into consciousness and safe-driving.

The Makeup Artist – this driver is usually a woman (although not exclusively) who uses her morning commute as an opportunity to prepare herself to look lovely for the day. Repeated honk-honk-honking can really screw up her ability to apply her mascara properly.

Last year we lived in England. Sometimes I miss life there, with the narrow roads, left-hand driving, right-hand steering wheels. I knew there that I was the bad driver. It also recently occured to me that all the honk-honk-honking in the U.K. might have been directed at me.

Maybe it’s time for a foreign road trip. I could probably use a little humility. On the other hand, it’s good to be the smartest driver on the road.



Auld Lang Syne

The old Scottish song that is traditionally sung on New Year’s Eve can be translated into English literally as “old long since”, or as “days gone by”. So at each year’s end we look back at the “days gone by” and reflect on the what, when, why, who and how. Some years we’re just glad it’s over and we’re ready to move on. The best years are the ones when we’ve learned something or survived something or loved anew. In other words: We’ve grown mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

For us 2012 has been a year to remember. We started our year living in Oaksey, Wiltshire, United Kingdom. And ended our year living back home in Missouri, USA. In between there was a lot of mental, emotional and spiritual growth. We learned how to assimilate in England. We never picked up the accent but we do now know the difference between knackers and being knackered. I suppose that I looked English enough that I was almost always stopped for directions when touring villages in the Cotswolds (being pasty white helped). We also learned how to drive on the left side of the road with only one small accident apiece. Deb learned how to cook Scotch broth and I learned how to grill lamb on the barbecue. And we relished our trips to the butcher shop, the green grocer, the sweet shop and the bakery (with their lardy cakes).IMG_5277

We grew emotionally by realizing that we could be away (far away) from home but never really be gone from those whom we love. Six special visits from friends and family helped us throughout our extended stay. It was good to be ambassadors to our adopted country and discover new experiences with friends (and return to a few of the places we had already discovered). Mostly it was good to know that Deb could survive so much alone time just with me – turns out we still like each other pretty much! I’m a lucky man.

And we grew spiritually, too. Our little church and faith community in Cirencester, England was a respite. No threats of excommunication in England or denial of communion if we voiced support of a social program which was contrary to official Church teaching or voted for the wrong candidate. We were loved by our priest “as we were” and embraced by our faith community “just because…” No litmus test of worthiness required.

Mostly 2012 was fun and funny. We enjoyed being in the UK during the Olympics and Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee. We ate new foods (new to us anyway) and drank good French and Italian wines at bargain prices. We laughed at Benidorm and Father Ted on the telly as well as Aldi adverts. We laughed at our own foibles – like ordering 44 euros worth of macaroons in Paris because we thought the woman behind the counter said 14. Ooh, la, la! Or the (many) times we missed the round-about into or out off Cirencester (our nearest town. Or when Deb nearly got run over (three times) on Abbey Road so we could get the perfect photo. Or when we went to the ‘One Woman Show’ in Edinburgh that required audience participation (I still have nightmares about a big sweaty red-lipsticked kiss – don’t ask!). Or when we thought our 83-year old tour guide in Rome would be easy to “keep up with” but then Rinaldo nearly walked us to our death. Turns out that old Italians have more stamina than not-so-old Americans!

We loved our life in England and we miss it, too. But it’s true that there’s no place like home. Only God knows what 2013 will bring. But I hope that we can continue to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

I hope that you do as well.




The trend today is to ALWAYS make our children happy (at all times; at any expense). Recently I encountered a young family at Chik-fil-A® (I don’t agree with their politics but they serve a great chicken sandwich and my grandkids love the place!) who were cajoling Junior into eating his nuggets with the promise of ice cream and the indoor playground – so far so good. But when Junior was presented with the ‘free book’ that came with his meal, he threw it at the beleaguered mother and screamed, “I don’t like this one!” The frazzled father promptly promised to stop on the way home and buy him a different book after he had his ice cream and play time. I then promptly gave my grandson a ‘don’t even think about look’ while he was taking all of this in.

Now I’m compelled to share my wisdom as a service to all young parents out there (even though my own children would likely tell you that all their scars are emotional). So here in no particular order are my Rules for Parenting :

  1. Stop trying to be the perfect parent; they only exist in your mother’s imagination.
  2. It’s easier to negotiate with a terrorist than a two-year old.
  3. Don’t try to be your child’s friend (be a parent; it’s more rewarding in the long run).
  4. When doling out punishment, don’t flinch; once they see your weakness they won’t let up (give up, shut up) until you cave in.
  5. When they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to pick up their toys.
  6. Stop buying them so much stuff; love is free and it’s worth so much more.
  7. Be silly sometimes; be serious when you must.
  8. Pray (even if you’re just praying for sanity).
  9. Pick your battles; no child ever died because he didn’t clean his plate or take a proper nap.
  10. Reasoning with a preschooler can be like trying to nail JELLO® to a tree; it’s okay to just say NO (and mean it).
  11. Close your door; give yourself a TIME OUT when things reach the boiling point.
  12. Remember who the adult is and behave like one.
  13. It’s okay to be angry; kids can sometimes really piss you off. (But use your inside voice when you’re angry).
  14. Go outside; get some exercise and breathe some fresh air (and take the kids with you).
  15. You don’t ALWAYS have to have all the answers; it’s alright to say, “because I said so; that’s why!”
  16. When in doubt trust your instincts; my parents did and look how well I turned out.



Thumbs Up!

After high school I worked at a big box discount store. I attended a local college and was able to live at home and work part-time – lucky me! Anyway, before leaving for work one afternoon I was roped into helping my mom wash windows. She was struggling to open (or close) a window and while she pushed outside on one sash I pulled on the other from the inside. The ‘stuck window’ broke free and then I managed to smash both of my thumbs between the panes (which should be called pains). Needless to say, I was injured. Both thumbs were bleeding; both thumb nails were split and the ensuing pain was intolerable. BUT YOU CAN NEVER CALL IN SICK TO WORK. Or so was the mantra of my parents (who grew up during the depression and lived through WWII).

So Mom wrapped both thumbs with splints, enough gauze to bandage a head wound and nearly a mile of tape after applying copious amounts of Mercurochrome. And off I went to work.

It turns that opposable thumbs do give us humans a distinct advantage over other species. I couldn’t tie my own shoes. Driving was more than a bit of a challenge (in retrospect my bandaged thumbs were custom-made for hitch hiking). Eating was nearly impossible. Opening a door was comical. But by golly I reported to work as scheduled!

While deflecting questions about “what happened” and avoiding stares from customers and co-workers I quietly sulked and performed my duties (to the best of my abilities). I was assigned to the Paint and Hardware Department so carrying gallons of paint with my thumbs bandaged was particularly challenging. As I was carrying a can of paint, with both thumbs outstretched to the sky, a cute young co-worker from the Health and Beauty Aids Department happened by. She saw me, took one look, and a with a wink and a giggle, proclaimed to all that could hear, “Thumbs up!” With that she skipped off completely pleased with herself, laughing all the way. While I initially fumed, I soon began to realize the absurdity of the situation and my appearance and I began to laugh, too.

The truth is I was intrigued by her quick wit and captivated by her smile. And she had the most beautiful greens eyes I had ever seen. I hunted her down in a stockroom, called her a smart ass and then we both had a good laugh. Laughing at myself eased my pain. It’s amazing how cathartic self-deprecation can be. And that beautiful young lady helped me to see that all those years ago.

I think about her often. And the day that changed my life. You see I married the girl from Health and Beauty Aids. And I thank God that she still makes me laugh today (usually at myself).



Time For This One To Come Home…

Does anybody remember the cartoon from the ‘60’s with Tooter Turtle and Mr. Wizard? Tooter would be granted some opportunity for adventure by Mr. Wizard only to have things go terribly wrong. He would then frantically call out, “Help Mr. Wizard!” With that Mr. Wizard would chant: “Frizzle, frazzle, frizzle, frome, time for this one to come home.” And Tooter would return home safely. The end.

Well like Tooter, I did ask for an adventure and was granted my wish: Life in England! Plus we’ve been able to travel to Paris, Madrid, and Rome. But unlike Tooter things haven’t gone terribly wrong – well a few things might have been better; after all, the economy here is in a shambles, Prince Harry was caught partying naked in Vegas, Chris Moyles has been sacked from BBC Radio One, Princess Kate has been photographed topless, the ITV morning news show ‘Daybreak’ has been revamped and it’s atrocious, Shirley MacClaine is pathetic on Downton Abbey, autumn has arrived and it’s cold & rainy & miserable and Henley’s (our favourite sweet shop) has stopped selling fudge. So I suppose “it’s time for this one to come home.”

Truth be told; we have loved our time here. But it is time to come home!

It will be nice once again to drive on the right side of the road (and on roads that are wide enough for two cars). Car parks – sorry parking lots – will seem luxurious with wide lanes and big spaces.  And even though television shows will be mostly reality stuff and stupid sitcoms they will ‘feature’ American accents (sadly no more Kirsty & Phil on Location, Location, Location; or Benidorm or Poirot).  And the adverts – sorry commercials – will be 99% political ads (which I kind of miss in a weird way). My radio will play country music (on several stations), NPR, oldies, real rock and R&B.  No more Olly Murs or Jesse J (I swear if I hear Domino one more time I might actually weep). We can have pizza – deep dish, or New York style or Chicago style, or St. Louis style. Cold beer, ice in soft drinks, free re-fills, ‘all you can eat’ buffets, and ‘Chik-fil-A’ are all in our not too distant future. And of course we will be home in time for the election brouhaha! We’ll be just in time for the debates. (Wonder how many friends I’ll lose this election year? Oh well, I suppose if they stop speaking to me because of how I vote they weren’t real friends to begin with.)

God Bless America! There’s nothing quite like it. I’m very happy to be coming home. I miss my kids and grandkids terribly. I need to be surrounded by the love of family and friends. England and our life here will always hold a special place in my heart but I need the comfort and security of home. “Help Mr. Wizard!”

“Frizzle, frazzle, frizzle, frome, time for this one to come home.”



Funny Trumps All

In our family we have a saying, “Funny trumps all!” We’re a family that likes to laugh – a lot. In fact it’s hard for me to remember a day that I haven’t shared a laugh with my wife of 37 years. Sometimes we’ve even laughed through our tears. And Deb has taught our children and grandchildren the joy of laughter, too. Of course it helps that we’re all very funny as well. Or at least we think we are. Okay – we are!

Sometimes the need to be funny can be a challenge. Because I come from a family that tells jokes at funerals (my dad) and will make faces when you’re trying to have a serious telephone conversation (Deb and our ill-behaved children). And then of course there’s the deadpan sarcasm (my mom) and the dry sense of humor (my sister-in-law Pat) which at times leaves you wondering if it’s really a joke and that perhaps you shouldn’t be laughing.

And we find situations funny all the time. Our humor is not sophisticated. We will laugh at your jokes (even if we’ve heard them or told them before). We will laugh if you stumble and fall down. We will laugh if you fart. We will laugh at the absurd (like a waitress that has giant “cotton candy” hair) or the mundane (like the way my father-in-law ALWAYS warns us to look out for “the crazies” out there – who are the crazies?). We will laugh at spills, mistakes, mispronunciations, missteps, goof-ups, and someone who has missed a belt loop.

But mostly we laugh at ourselves. And that is the healthiest laughter of all. Being truly funny means understanding and embracing your own foolishness. There’s something disarming about laughter, especially when the laughter is at your own expense.

And remember that God must have a sense of humor, too. If you don’t believe me, take a good look in the mirror first thing in the morning.

Nothing feels better than a belly laugh

So when it doubt, laugh! Laugh out loud. Laugh a lot. Giggle. Snicker. Guffaw. Snort. It feels good and is good for you. I believe a good laugh can clear the cobwebs from your brain. It can ease your burden. Dull your pain. Lift your spirits. And lighten your load.

This being funny thing has successfully been passed down through the generations. My grandkids are funny and they know it. Once when our granddaughter was being scolded (I’m not sure what her offense) our daughter told her “Anna, you are not funny!” Anna responded with a wry smile, “I’m a little funny.” And the scolding ended.

I suppose that funny does trump all.