Help For The Directionally Challenged

Help For The Directionally Challenged

After receiving the Covid vaccine, and waiting two weeks for full effectiveness, I am ready to start venturing out of the house more this spring and summer. Road trips have been on my “to do list” since retiring, so I am hopeful we will get a few planned. While I love to plan trips, and go on them, I rarely do the driving. There are two reasons: I like to take naps in the car, but primarily because I am directionally challenged. As in, no sense of direction. It’s not that I occasionally take a wrong turn, or need help finding a new place. It is more like this- I still get lost while driving in my hometown, where I have lived almost my entire life, except for the three years I lived in the state capitol, and I got lost there too. So it is really non-existent. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Maps helps the directionally challenged

This of course has lead to some entertaining stories. I will start with an ill fated trip to a friend’s lake house during my law school years. I was back home for the summer, and working part time. The photo is a good illustration of how we got around in those days. On this particular evening, I left my parents’ house on the far north side of Omaha, and headed south ending up on a two lane highway. It should have taken about 45-50 minutes. It was around 9:30 p.m. when I left, which is close to my current bedtime. But in those days, it was normal to start the evening that late.

In my trusty old Chevelle, with a broken speedometer, I cruised along listening to the radio, the only option for entertainment. I had to leave it on one station to be sure I could hear it throughout the trip. The Little River Band had a hit song that received a lot of airplay at the time called Lonesome Loser. It was about a guy who is unlucky in love, and by himself because of it. If you remember the song, you are probably humming the refrain right now- “Have you heard about the lonesome loser, beaten by the queen of hearts everytime?” A very catchy tune. I heard it about ten times.

I must have been singing along a lot too, because I was driving longer than I thought it would take to make the turn to the lake. This became apparent when I read the sign that said “Entering Otoe County” and arrived at its largest town, Nebraska City. I had missed the turn by about 20 miles. What is a lost person to do? I pulled into the closest convenience store, and went inside to ask for directions. Unfortunately, he started talking about north, south, east and west, instead of the universal language of the perpetually lost- something like turn right just past the billboard for the local bank. Landmarks for pete’s sake Mr. Convenience Store. I thanked him, and decided to get back on the road I came in on, follow the signs toward Omaha, and look for any turns toward the lake I might have missed.

I also decided I needed something to prove to my friends that I had indeed gotten really lost. This was also to explain why I would arrive so late. There was a phone booth nearby, so I went inside and decided to take an unimportant page from the front of the local phone book. As luck would have it, one of Nebraska City’s police officers saw me do this, and came over to chat. He was especially giddy when he saw my license plate, because in those days the first number was based on the size of the county where you lived. Omaha was numero uno, and the smaller towns didn’t really like the bigger ones. So I was from the big, bad, city. Probably out on parole or a fugitive from justice.

I decided to explain my predicament and just keep talking until he told me to stop. No tears, but I could have mustered some up if needed. After checking to see if I had any outstanding warrants, which I think disappointed him when I didn’t, he decided to let me go without a citation. But he did follow me out of town to make sure I was on my way out of Otoe County. After many more miles, and in spite of my best efforts, I never made it to the cabin. With the detour to Nebraska City and the police chat, I didn’t make it home until the wee hours of the morning. One of my more memorable misadventures in the car. And anytime I hear Lonesome Loser, it reminds of the journey.

I have had a lot of other driving mishaps over the years. When my daughter played soccer, we frequently went to out of town tournaments. One of them annually occurred in Sioux City, Iowa. That is an especially strange place to get to because there are three Sioux Cities right next to each other- one in Iowa, one in Nebraska, and one in South Dakota. Good grief. Couldn’t they come up with some other names?

My most recent misadventure occurred a few summers ago, when I decided to drive by myself to Indiana and meet my sister at a lake resort. Armed with directions on my phone, Mapquest printed directions as a back up, and a lot of caffeine, I set out on the one day drive. Getting through Chicago traffic was harrowing, but I was close at that point. The problem cropped up when I got within a mile of the resort. GPS took me to a cemetery. It was still daylight, but there wasn’t anybody around.

I called the resort. In a weird twist of fate, I managed to connect with the most confused front desk clerk in Indiana. She had no idea where I was, and neither did I. In fact, I am not sure she knew where she was either, because all she kept asking me was if I was close to the lake. Nope, just me and the dearly departed. Eventually I wandered onto a main road, and finally connected with my sister.

So much for GPS. It helps if you have the following conditions-one, there isn’t any construction at any point in your trip. And two, your phone has to be able to read the directions to you. You know- in two miles, you will take Exit 422, on the left. My Android phone tends to malfunction in this regard a lot. The GPS built into my most recent car purchase is ok, but you have to update a sm card to keep it current, and it doesn’t talk. Note to Mazda- make sure your GPS system speaks on future models- sincerely, every 60 something person who buys your cars.

You would think there would be a Catholic saint for this. We have one for lost things, ( St. Anthony), and lost causes, (St. Jude). And apparently one for lost heads- the above photo is entitled “Medieval Portrayal of Saints.” The one on the bottom row, second from the right, is St. Denis, the Patron Saint of Paris, whose severed head could allegedly preach while he carried it around. Many of the saints met with grizzly deaths, so I guess a decapitated one isn’t a huge surprise. But I hereby request a Patron Saint of the Perpetually Lost. Surely someone at the Vatican is reading my blog and will take this into consideration!

For those of you who share my affliction, I feel your pain. For those who live with us, here are a few tips to help your directionally challenged loved one:

1. Remember we only know one way to get to most destinations.

2. You need to give us directions using landmarks and interesting sites, and if they have changed keep using the old one, i.e. turn left where the Burger King used to be that’s now a donut shop.

3. Remember that changes to things like interstate exits and on ramps really don’t register with us.

Keep all of this in mind if we are behind the wheel, or better yet, just drive and let us nap. Doing so is one of the secrets to a long and happy marriage!

Our Senior Trip To New Orleans- What A Party!

Our Senior Trip To New Orleans- What A Party!

The high school I graduated from was an all female, Catholic school that organized two trips for students-one during our junior year, and one in our senior year. The trips were optional, but usually well attended. The junior trip was to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York, but the senior trip varied in location. In our senior year, we went to New Orleans. There were many factors that converged to make it one of the most fun, interesting and talked about trip of our lives. And we went about this time of year, so this seems like an appropriate week to share it. The details follow.

I will start with the east coast trip. For many of us, it was our first visit to those cities. We saw all of the famous sites, and it was fascinating to me since I loved American history. The day we visited Mount Vernon, we also took a boat down the Potomac back to Washington. I remember telling my parents I wanted to live there someday with a view of the water. Pretty funny since the only way to do that was to buy a multimillion dollar home. In New York, we ate at Mama Leone’s near the theatre district, and a small group of us went to a new Broadway show called Grease. This was before the movie, and I remember trying to explain to friends who didn’t see the show how good it was. Our chaperones were well organized, as was the entire week.

The New Orleans trip was quite different from the very tame journey the year before. One of the reasons was due to the difference in legal drinking age- New York had been 21, but Louisiana was 18. And in a bit of poor planning, no one thought to check our ages before we left. Many of us had already turned 18, so it was a very different dynamic. Add to that a memorable remark from one of our “chaperones” the day we checked into the hotel- as he went down the hall, he said ” Ok girls, beer and wine is 18, everything else is 21″. More about the “chaperones” in a minute. His announcement was the first clue we had that this was going to be a very memorable outing. In our home state of Nebraska, the drinking age was 19, but in our next door neighbor, Iowa, it was 18. So there had been some legal trips to Iowa, but New Orleans was in another realm in terms of bars and entertainment. Actually, more like another planet.

It didn’t take long for us to venture out on the town, and the French Quarter was very close to our hotel. I remember walking down Bourbon street, with its interesting architecture, and the doormen trying to get us into their establishments. The barely clad dancers on swings going in and out of second floor windows is a distinct memory. Musicians on every street corner, and the strains of jazz and zydeco coming from many of the clubs. We didn’t have enough sense to go to Preservation Hall and hear the best jazz in the world, but at least we heard some as we walked around.

A bit more about our “chaperones”. I use the term in quotes because they were pretty lax, to say the least. I thought that was spiffy at the time, but I look back on it now and know it wasn’t what any of our parents, or the school, had in mind. There were two “chaperones” that I remember, one a part time coach ( he of the beer and wine is 18 advice), and the other a full time teacher who had very recently gotten married. He may have been using the trip as his honeymoon, because I only remember seeing him on the first and last days of the trip.

So basically a bunch of 17 and 18 year old girls were turned loose in the French Quarter and any place else they could get to for an entire week. Kind of like Billy Joel’s classic song Only The Good Die Young. Most of us still had midnight curfews at home, so the ability to stay out as late as we wanted, and do whatever we wanted to do, was quite fun. There were a few daytime bus trips that were available to see the sites, but no one kept track of whether you went or not. So attendance was very affected by what had gone on the night before.

The things that happened the night before varied quite a bit. I shared a room with three of my closest friends, so we did everything together. One of the first places we discovered was Pat O’Briens, home of the famous hurricane drink, that came with a souvenir glass. What fun! They tasted just like fruit juice! And the “everything else is 21” advice didn’t exist. Nobody was being carded. If you could walk into the establishment and order a drink, it was yours. We went there more than once, and had so many souvenir glasses that I took the extras home in my suitcase. I remember my dad asking what was rattling around when he picked me up from the airport. Souvenirs, I replied. Lots and lots of souvenirs.

I remember sitting in the hotel lobby one night, and seeing several of my classmates get off the elevator in nice, formal dresses. They were soon met by a group of Navy members in uniform who were their dates to some type of military ball. Since New Orleans is a port, this shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it kind of was. I was amazed they had either packed or purchased dresses for the occasion. Anchors Aweigh! And it just so happened that we had a sailor theme for our school’s hotly contested annual Field Day that would be held when we got home. Of course our classmates had to attend that ball.

In addition to the entertaining evenings, we did make it to some of the famous restaurants. I remember Cafe Du Monde and Brennans, with the pastel exterior and bananas foster. And we found a relatively quiet bar right across the street from the hotel, where we met some locals who were our age. They were a lot of fun, and we were the first Midwesterners they had ever met. There was a jukebox, and the song we requested repeatedly was The Locomotion, by Grand Funk Railroad. Nobody knew how to actually do the dance, so we made up our own- kind of a conga line. It worked well, and when we’ve had class reunions with music it’s always requested.

The last full day we were in the city was a Sunday, and it may have been Easter- unlike Pat O’Brien’s, I don’t remember that part with any certainty! We were all expected to show up for mass at the St Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. That was the only time anyone took attendance, and apparently we all made it because no missing persons bulletins were issued. The church was fairly close to our hotel, and platform shoes were in style at the time, so it was an interesting walk on the old style streets to get there. I’m sure we looked like a group of devout, high school girls on vacation. And on that morning, I guess we were.

The trip home was uneventful, and shortly thereafter we won the Field Day competition, graduated, and went on with life. I am happy to say I am still friends with my roommates from the trip. Over the years, our class has had a lot of fun reunions, and invariably the senior trip is mentioned. In the days before Facebook and email, we used to ask classmates to send in their contact info and high school memories, and we put together a booklet. Lots of senior trip memories, but I think the one that summed it up best was the following: “New Orleans- some party!” And we all knew what exactly what she meant.

4 Fun Tips For Travelling With Kids

4 Fun Tips For Travelling With Kids

Spring has arrived, the virus is receding, and families are starting to organize summer trips with their kids and grandkids again. After some memorable travel adventures while my children were growing up, I offer some funny memories and tips to assist with your planning.

Aerial photo of the California coast

One of our first trips as a family was to California when our first born was 18 months old. We flew to Monterey, rented a car and planned to site see for a few days, then drive south on the beautiful Highway 101 to San Luis Obispo to visit relatives. Although we had driven on the Pacific Coast Highway before, it was our first visit to Monterey. The plane rides to California took all day with layovers, so we were all tired when we got there.

After a night of not too restful sleep due to adjusting to Pacific Time, we decided to see some sites. The 17 Mile Drive, from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach, seemed like a good choice. Hugging the coastline, and with views of beautiful homes and a famous golf course, we thought the little one would probably fall asleep while we enjoyed the drive. We had made sure to time it after eating lunch and changing diapers. The little one had other ideas. After we paid the fee to get onto the drive, it was only about 30 minutes until the crying started. Non stop, full on, over tired, I am not on Pacific Time, not in my own bed, toddler howling.

We thought the motion of the car would eventually lull said child to sleep. We also thought the drive was only 17 miles, so how long could it take? Well, quite awhile with traffic. Trying to stop and console the little one outside the car didn’t work, so I moved to the backseat in the hope of helping, and we drove as fast as we could. It was like being on a European road race, but with traffic. I remember seeing a bit of the ocean, some pricey homes, one hole at the Pebble Beach golf course, and the trunk of the famous Cypress tree.

The little one did eventually tire herself out and fall asleep, after we exited the famous drive. Then we had to drive around to keep her asleep with the hope of a more restful night. From that day forth, I have referred to this picturesque locale as the 117 Mile Drive, because that is what it felt like. A return trip might be in order now that retirement has set in.

Fun Travel Tip Number One- if your kids wear diapers and take naps, avoid air travel and stick with driving trips close to home, in the same time zone. Or just stay home.

After baby number two arrived, we knew better than to fly anywhere with two toddlers. But that didn’t stop us from naively planning a driving trip to a lake with another family. The photo of the dismembered Barbie doll above, which I am amazed was available on the free photo site, gives you an idea of how this one went.

Our kids were two and four, but the friends children were a bit older. Since they might be more flexible than we could be, one of our favorite babysitters came along on the trip. She was thirteen, and very willing to help out. The drive to the lake we were visiting went pretty well, and when we got to our destination each family checked into their own condo. That was a great help since we had different schedules our kids were used to, and no one had to adapt too much.

The lake resort was nice, but with two toddlers I spent a lot of time in the condo with one or the other changing diapers or putting someone down for a nap. Our babysitter was a huge help, but we wanted her to have some time at the pool too, so it was a lot of juggling. I remember it as more of a working vacation than restful but not too surprising.

The only real drama occurred on the drive home. The toddlers and babysitter were in the middle row of our van, and each of the kids had a bag of books, toys and snacks. This worked well until the two year old fell asleep with a Barbie doll in her hand. She woke up about 45 minutes later, and apparently wasn’t done with her nap, because for no obvious reason she started hitting the babysitter on the head with the doll. And I mean hitting. By the time we pulled over, and extracted the sitter, the doll was pretty mangled. After some time to regroup, I decided to move to the middle seat and let the poor sitter get a break in the front. Miraculously, the sitter did take care of our kids again, and when she grew up even had three of her own.

Fun Travel Tip Number Two- when travelling with small children who take naps in the car, remove anything that could become a weapon when they fall asleep. Or just stay home.

Photo of the Santa Barbara airport

The next trip happened when the kids were 3 and 5, and involved another vacation to California. Learning from the 117 Mile Drive, no sight seeing was planned, and we flew into the Santa Barbara airport. Our final destination wasn’t too far away. It is a small airport, and has a lot palm trees and open areas since the climate is so temperate. The children, their grandmother and I arrived after a full day of connecting flights. The next stop was the car rental counter.

I took the five year old, and sent the three year old in a stroller with her grandmother while we got the car. The line was full of business travellers, and I clearly wasn’t- I had on elastic waste pants, a sweater, and looked like I had been travelling with toddlers all day. As the line grew, I asked one of the business people to save my place, and I put the five year old on a bench nearby, where I could see her, with stern instructions not to move or talk to anyone. Once I was back in my place, she said, as loudly as possible “Sure, I’ll sit here, and I’ll do whatever you say, you big, fat butt”. There were some stifled laughs. I mumbled something about how verbal she was for only being five, but I felt like my derriere was inflating by the minute. And I made a note not to wear sweat pants again on a flight. Ever.

Fun Travel Tip Number Three-keep your precocious, verbal children in front of you when you are in lines at an airport to avoid any unsolicited comments about your backside. Or just stay home.

The last adventure was when my daughters were 11 and 13. We were at a beach in North Carolina that had a lot of family activities- in addition to the ocean, miniature golf, go carts, and a great ice cream shop on the main street to and from the beach. We visited every year starting when the girls were much younger, but the activities remained the same. It was a popular place, but almost all of the businesses were small, family owned and had great service.

We were long past any missed naps or other mishaps by this point, but something happened that really caught me off guard. One night at the ice cream store, the nice young man serving my daughters mentioned that theirs were free. I thought it was some kind special deal for the family. Then it dawned on me- mine wasn’t free- only theirs, and he was flirting with them! What was he thinking? They were still young children my mind. I swooped in like a mother bird, paid for all of our treats, and hustled them out the door. Our vacations had hit a whole new zone.

Fun Travel Tip Number Four- when your daughters are over age 10, assume that all of the boys you see on vacation will think they are old enough to date. Dispel all boys of this notion by hovering over your girls at all times. It’s not practical to stay home at these ages, so make the best of it.

I hope this post has given you a few laughs, and some ideas for future trips with your family members, especially the kids. Happy vacation planning!


Early Birds, Night Owls, And Why Do We Have Daylight Saving Time?

Early Birds, Night Owls, And Why Do We Have Daylight Saving Time?

It is after midnight, and I am writing the first draft of this week’s blog post. The imminent change to our clocks on Sunday morning has me thinking about time, our natural sleep and wake cycles, and how changes to our routines affect everything we do.

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The world seems to be divided into two main groups, Early Birds and Night Owls. This is based on the 20,000 nerve cells in our brains that set our “master clock”, also called our chronotype. As a natural Night Owl, I see great advantages in this approach to being awake. It is very quiet late at night, and I do my best thinking under those conditions. Even if I feel sleepy early in the evening, at around 10 pm, I get my second wind. That usually leads to staying up until the wee hours of the morning doing things I like to do- read a good book, watch a favorite movie, or write blog posts. This happened when I was still working, and usually made me fairly tired when the alarm went off in the morning. But as a retired person, it has worked out quite well. I never make appointments in the morning, so I can stay up as late as I want, and sleep in as late I choose to as well. I am convinced this is my natural circadian rhythm because I feel most relaxed and rested when following this schedule. For my fellow Night Owls who read the blog- I see you, and you are my people. Hopefully the world appreciates our round the clock vigilance in case an emergency arises at night. We are at the ready, and will inform the rest of the world.

The only time I get up early enough to see the sunrise ( or as we Night Owls say, what is that giant yellow brightness in the sky?) is if I have an early flight that has been booked to save money. Some airlines even have planes that depart at 6 am from our fair city. With a flight that early, which requires arriving at the airport by 4, I usually just stay up all night. Much easier. On my way to the airport I have frequently seen Early Birds who are leaving for work, and even some who are happily jogging around the neighborhood. Those are Super Early Birds to me- people who not only like early morning hours, but also accomplish important things.

So we all have our natural sleep and wake cycles, and adapt them as we work and raise families. Small children present unique challenges with schedules because getting the little cherubs to bed at a reasonable time, and hoping they don’t get up too early, is a never ending thing. I remember after baths, stories, and getting everyone down for the night, sitting on the couch and enjoying the silence, usually with a bowl of ice cream. These plans were upended two times a year with the arrival of Daylight Saving Time (DST). Just when you had it down, you were gaining or losing an hour and wreaking havoc with your carefully crafted home life. The Spring Forward rule was the worst, but Fall Back had its disadvantages too. And since this is a DST weekend, it made me wonder yet again why do we do this?

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A little research reveals it started in the US in 1918, ostensibly to make better use of daylight and save energy during wartime. Moving clocks ahead one hour in the spring was supposed to save energy and give people an extra hour of sunlight in the evening to be outside, attend events and not use artificial light. Urban areas liked it because people were spending more money, but rural areas opposed it because their work had to be done no matter what time the clock said it was. And since 1918, DST has remained a controversial idea. Various laws have been passed to make it uniform and applicable in every state, but there has always been at least one state, Arizona, that chooses not to do it. But it would be difficult to find a state that has struggled more with this than Indiana. Over the past 100 years, they have passed several laws about DST, only to repeal them a year or two later. At one time, twelve counties in the state were on Central Time and followed DST, but the remaining eighty counties were on Eastern Time year round, without DST. Finally, in 2006, all counties were expected to follow DST. Good grief.

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From my perspective, gaining an hour of sleep in the fall is ok. The daylight part of the whole process is wasted on me, but I wholeheartedly support an extra hour of sleep. Fall is a nice season in the Midwest, with changing leaves and crisp, cool temperatures. Time for football games, hayrack rides and haunted houses. I don’t remember the fall time change being as hard to manage with small kids as the spring one, but I do recall some homecoming weekends during the high school years that coincided with the extra hour. Since the time changed at 2 am to 3 am, that seemed like a good time to come home from the after party to me. As the person who waited up for the teenagers to come home, the arrival time was relevant, even for a Night Owl parent.

So on we go with another round of saving daylight. Some of my devices will automatically update, and some will require manual assistance. Most notably my car, and that one will take several attempts because I only do it twice a year. I will start the car, back out of the garage, and sit in the driveway. Then I start with settings, and keep pushing buttons until something about the clock pops up. The next step is to fumble around until I remember how to change the time. But it will all be worth it, because I have an extra hour of daylight to figure it out. And I’m retired, so there’s no rush!

Memorable Teachers

Memorable Teachers

As my teacher friends have been navigating the challenges of Covid, remote learning, and heading back to the classroom, I have been thinking about the most memorable teachers I encountered in my many years of education. From kindergarten to law school, I was a full time student for twenty consecutive years. Along the way I had some fabulous teachers, and a couple of funny classroom stories too.

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Let’s start with the fabulous list-

Grade School– my kindergarten teacher, Miss Virginia, was the kindest and most patient person. A good kindergarten experience sets the foundation for many years, so I was fortunate to have her. In second grade, Mrs. Hood, who calmly helped us through the assassination of President Kennedy. Fifth grade brought me to a new school and Mrs. Wybenga. She was a master teacher, and so kind to me as I transferred in for the second semester.

Junior High- Mrs. McCart, in eighth grade, who taught me how to diagram sentences, and Mr. George in math class, who was nice even when we sang the theme song to a popular cartoon, “George of the Jungle” when he walked into the room.

High school– Sister Doris for sophomore theology, who made you think a lot about her essay assignments. And Mr. Sporcic for any class he taught- a bright and funny guy.

College– Dr. Dunn, a professor who had taught at every level of education from grade school to grad school, and loved being a teacher.

Law School– Professor Larry Berger, who made the income tax class understandable for those of us who majored in liberal arts, and who taught my senior seminar on real estate law.

Of course, being in school that many years also produced some not so fabulous experiences, but they are funny, so they fit in with the blog quite well. I offer these two examples in chronological order, starting with my high school sociology class.

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Sociology was an elective, and only lasted one semester. I decided to take it in the spring of my senior year. The teacher was the formidable Sister Evelyn Barbara, known to her fellow sisters as E.B. I had never had her for a class. I also was a fairly good student and didn’t get in trouble except for talking too much in class. No big surprise there. But for some reason, E.B. took a dislike to me from day one. When she came into class, we started with a prayer, and then she took attendance. When she got to my name, she said “Sally Brown? What’s your problem beside the obvious ones?” I said “here”, and “I am not aware of any problems at the moment.” She laughed and went on. And then she did this every time she took attendance for the rest of the semester. I always answered the same. As the semester wore on, she had us start praying for a kidnap victim named Patty Hearst, an heir to the Hearst fortune who was being held for ransom in California. So the routine was pray for Patty, take attendance, ask me what my problems were, and then have class. Unfortunately, Patty Hearst became enmeshed with her captors, and she helped them rob a bank. It was very prominent on the news, so I thought it might help me with my roll call problems. A couple of days after she robbed the bank, E.B. went through the usual prayer for her, and asking me what my problems were. I gave my standard reply, but then mentioned I had a question. Did Sister think we still needed to pray for Patty since she held up a bank two days ago? Prior to that day, I had never said anything remotely sarcastic, but since she didn’t like me, I thought what the heck. And at that point there were only a couple of weeks left for seniors. She was actually speechless for a bit, and then said we probably didn’t need to if it was true. My classmates thanked me for the humor and getting rid of the Patty prayer, but E.B. still asked me about my problems for the rest of the semester. Every single class.

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The second experience was in my first year of law school. I couldn’t find any pictures of a typical classroom, but the books above resemble the thick tomes we had to read all the time. And the classrooms were big- theatre style seating for you and about 75 of your classmates. We even had microphones at each seat if we talked too softly. How special!

This fun time happened during my first semester of my first year in a Contracts class. The instruction was completely done using the Socratic Method- the instructor assigned a lot of reading each night, and it was completely composed of case law. No narrative passages like “here is what you need for a valid contract”. Just cases that you had to read and brief (summarize) each night. In class, the professor would not impart any content via a lecture. He or she would choose one student each class, and then ask them questions for a solid hour. It was completely random, so you never knew when it would happen. This was the dreaded “being called on”. It usually started out with the facts of the first assigned case, and then diverged into a lot of questions, and hopefully answers from the student. Luckily, you only had to be called on once per semester. The unlucky part was if you had a bad day.

I arrived in my Contracts class with my usual supplies- the case book that weighed a ton, my briefs for the assigned reading, and ready to take notes when one of my classmates was called upon. I was looking across the room when I heard the dreaded “Ms. Brown, tell me the facts of the first case.” Oh joy! Today was my day. But I had been called on in other classes and did ok, so I wasn’t too worried until the professor started the “what if, and would your answer change” questions. By about the fifth one, I went blank- like an out of body experience watching myself sit in the chair without a head attached. You would think my E.B. experience would have toughened me up for this type thing, but no such luck. Classmates close by were trying to whisper something for me to say, but I couldn’t hear them. After some interminable silence, I finally attempted an answer. And after I did, the professor found it so incredibly inadequate that he turned to the blackboard and started to pretend he was pounding his head on it. I wanted to sink into my chair and disappear, but we had some time left. So I kept talking, and he stopped pounding his head on the board, and then the class was over. ( Note for attorney friends reading this- I remember some of his questions involved the Uniform Commercial Code. No wonder it was a struggle!).

Fast forward to a reception many years later that the law school hosted for alumni. It was free food, drinks and some continuing ed credits, so easy to attend. As I was waiting in line for a drink, I noticed Professor Blackboard was in front of me. He turned around, looked at my nametag, and asked me if that was my name when I was in school. I said no, gave him my former name, and waited for a glimmer of recognition. Nothing! He had no memory of one of the days that lives in infamy for me, one that made me seriously question my career choice. So that put it in better perspective after all those years, but I can still remember it in minute detail.

As a college teacher I tried to draw upon all of the experiences I had as a student. To remember that everyone comes to the classroom with different levels of knowledge. That anyone can have an “off day”, including the instructor. I expected students to participate in class, but rarely used any Socratic method questions that would stress them out unnecessarily. That breaking down complex concepts into “chunks” of learning worked well, and that student writing improved dramatically when I had them prepare graded rough drafts of written assignments. And in 28 years in the classroom, I never embarrassed anyone while taking attendance, never swore (outloud- may have thought it!), and I never made contact with a blackboard or Smart board unless I was writing something related to the course. It’s good to retire before any of these things occur, so mission accomplished!

Fifteen Minutes Of Fame

Fifteen Minutes Of Fame

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“In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes”- Andy Warhol

I think Andy had a point with his prediction, which was made long before social media and smart phones recording anything and everything. Case in point- I have had two experiences with “fame”, both on television, and they are worth remembering.

The first was in the early 1990’s, when I was visiting New York for a week. No work, just fun and lots of time to do whatever sounded interesting. A former co-worker’s husband worked for ABC News, and they offered to get me tickets to the highly rated daytime talk show of the era, Live With Regis and Kathie Lee. I had watched the show several times, and really appreciated Regis and his sense of humor. My ticket included being at the front of the line to go into the studio, and first choice for a seat. So I found one about four rows from the front, and settled in for a fun morning. We had seat numbers that we were asked to remember. One regular feature was when the hosts called a viewer and asked them a question. If they answered correctly, they received a prize. Then they were asked to choose a number between 1 and 100. Whoever was sitting in that seat would also win a prize. I don’t remember what the question was, but the person on the phone answered correctly and my number was called. I got to stand up, and felt like I had just been told to “come on down” on the Price is Right. A staff member came to my seat during the next commercial, and got my mailing info for my prize. What fabulous prize did I win? A year long supply of tea, and an ice tea maker. The whole thing lasted about two minutes, but I was sure someone back home saw me since it was such a popular show. This was before cell phones, so I had to wait until I got home to see who had been watching that day. To my surprise, no one I knew saw it. I asked people for a couple of weeks about it, and then got kind of embarrassed, so I had to stop. And to add to my disappointment, I don’t drink tea. So I gave the prize to someone who would use it.

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The next one will take a bit longer to explain, but it has a lot more humor. One of my daughters was getting married in the England, and we had spent a busy summer getting ready for the wedding. We were lucky to have a lot of help from her future mother in law who lived there. Without her help we could not have gotten everything done. The bride and groom were already there, but the rest of the family had to make their way across the pond. My husband and I had planned to go a week early to help, and hopefully be over our jet lag by the time the wedding occurred. This trip coincided with the peak of my discomfort with air travel, created by flying through a couple of thunderstorms. We had to get to an international airport from our hometown, so I made our plans with a long layover in Chicago before boarding our overnight flight. I also liked to get to the local airport early to avoid rushing to the gate. At a friend’s suggestion I also had gotten a prescription for Xanax from my doctor. It was small, and non refillable, so I needed to make sure I had enough for the flights home. If you have ever had a fear of flying, however, you will know that your anxiety usually maxes out before the first flight. And when I was on the plane, it didn’t stop the anxiety. It just kept me from jumping out of my seat and running down the aisle and asking to be let off.

The dosage info on my prescription said “1 pill as needed every 3 hours for anxiety”. We had gotten to the airport so early for the first flight, I had taken two of them- one when I woke up, and another about half an hour before we were scheduled to board. I had eaten a muffin so that I didn’t medicate on an empty stomach, but I was very, very relaxed. Minutes before boarding, there was an ominous announcement. Someone boarding our plane had what the security screeners thought was a bomb in his carry on bag. Our entire terminal was sent to the front of the building, and the bomb squad from the local police department was called. Since the guy was on our flight, they had to search the luggage hold too. It took awhile for the bomb people to arrive, and we could see them working in the distance when they did. Our local airport rarely has this type of issue, so the television news crews were on the scene fairly quickly. This is where the funny part starts.

One of the news crews was looking for a passenger to interview. They were standing near us, so I volunteered. This was going to be a live feed to the station, so there wasn’t a lot of time to chat. The reporter got my name, and that was about it. I usually hyphenate my last name, but I only gave her part of it. They started to film, and I was chatty, chatty, chatty. She asked me if I was scared. No way! I wasn’t worried at all. Just a possible bomb. I mentioned we were on our way to England, my daughter was getting married, and lots of other irrelevant details. The camera person seemed a bit amused, but I’m sure the reporter wished she had found someone else. I think I tried to hold her microphone too. Once I stopped talking, I pulled out my cell phone and posted on Facebook that we were delayed due to a bomb threat. Then the messages started pouring in. “Saw you on the news. Are you ok?” (Yes) , ” When did you change your name?” ( I didn’t) “Must be scary but you don’t seem upset” (Had some Xanax) and my personal favorite, “Have you been drinking?” (No). So unlike the tea prize of yesteryear, a lot of people saw me this time.

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Luckily, the “bomb” turned out to be some homemade fireworks the random guy thought would be ok to bring on the plane. We were able to board our flight and made it to Chicago with time to spare due to my booking our flights with such a long layover. I slept most of the way to England, and we had a beautiful wedding, followed by some travel afterword too. I had enough Xanax for the flights home, and am happy to report I rarely need them now after finding a “overcome your fear of flying” program. The only problem we encountered after the wedding was when we came home to find our car had been nearly totalled due to the hail storm of the century. We had parked it outside to save money, which of course was irrelevant with so much damage.

All of our travels have been uneventful since the wedding trip. We never park outside, because that would induce the second hail storm of the century. And I do still like to get to the gate plenty early. You never know when you might need to be interviewed by the local media in the event of an emergency! It probably wouldn’t be as funny this time, though, without my medicated persona.

I Know Why Blockbuster Video Died

I Know Why Blockbuster Video Died

black vhs on vhs player beside remote control
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Blockbuster Video was the “go to” place for entertainment in the 1980’s and 90’s. With an extensive inventory for all ages, it was the best source for videos. At their peak, they had 9000 stores and were the market leader in both United States and had expanded to Europe. Their rise to prominence coincided with Baby Boomers having kids, who became known as the Millennial generation. We spent a lot of time at the video store, and in many ways it was a fun outing. In 2010, Blockbuster declared bankruptcy, and was purchased by a satellite service. The change in ownership didn’t work out, and in 2014 the last corporate Blockbuster location closed. What happened to this once dominant brand? Read on and I’ll share my theory about their exit from a once lucrative business.

gray scale photo analogue of television
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To understand the demise of these stores, you have to understand the viewing habits of the the people with the purchasing power, the Boomer parents. We grew up when televisions were still a relatively new form of entertainment. There were three channels- ABC, CBS, and NBC. Black and white tvs were the first ones we watched, and when the color models came out it was a huge improvement. I remember staying up late one night and seeing the monologue on the Tonight Show- the curtain behind Johnny Carson was a blinding variety of colors. And the NBC peacock logo was dazzling. It was a revelation to see what the people and the sets actually looked like. Fun fact- the tv pictured above isn’t really as old as I wanted to post, but in the free photo library it was the best one I could find. It does have the memorable “rabbit ear” antennas, but the set itself is too new. This is what popped up when I did a search for “antique televisions”. Kind of funny.

disney mickey mouse standing figurine
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Since there were so few channels, we all tended to watch the same shows- in the morning, Captain Kangaroo, with his sidekicks Mr. Green Jeans and Bunny Rabbit. After school, it was the Mickey Mouse Club. Genius marketing by Disney. It made Disneyland and mouse ear beanies very popular, and launched the careers of several of the Mouseketeers. Playing outside was the norm after that, but as you aged a few evening programs were available for viewing. Lots of silly shows (a talking horse, a genie in a bottle, a witch married to a mortal husband) and a heavy dose of outer space shows since we were trying to get to the moon before the Russians. Saturday mornings brought cartoons. The Jetsons was a favorite- the show was about a space age family that had a talking tv, a robot for a maid, and flying cars. Very futuristic, and many of those things actually came true. You planned your day around when the shows would be on because there wasn’t a way to record them. So our expectations for entertainment weren’t exactly full of variety, and we learned to wait for the shows to appear.

Blockbuster filled that void, and had a lot to offer- you could watch the videos when you wanted to, and the vcr that you played them on could also record tv shows. That was life changing, and it made weekend nights more fun for parents who might not have a babysitter, and for kids who could watch shows as many times as they liked. It was relatively inexpensive and you knew what the children were watching. What could possibly go wrong with this business model? Cable tv and the Internet certainly took a toll, and Netflix renting dvds in the mail was the final nail in the coffin. But I also think there is another less discussed reason for it. In two words, late fees.

black envelope with cash dollars on marble table
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I can’t be certain late fees were a factor in every city, but I am fairly certain that the Omaha locations nearest my home were funded in large part by the overdue fees my family incurred over the years. When you rented the video, it was only about $5.00. But it had to be returned in a short time or the fees started to accrue. This wouldn’t have been so bad if we had kept track of the videos, but that was not the case. I remember finding them in the most unlikely locations- in the back of kitchen cupboards, under folded clothes in the laundry room, under dirty clothes in the laundry room, in backpacks- nowhere near a tv or vcr. Hunting for them in the house was always an adventure because there were usually very messy teenage bedrooms that could best be described as “there appears to have been a struggle”. I drove a minivan in those days, and there were a lot of hidden videos there too. I never rode in the third row seats, but I eventually learned to add that to my video search list. Moving was a huge problem too- I only moved once in our heavy rental years, but there must have been several videos lost in that process. When they switched to dvds, the problem actually got worse because they were smaller and harder to find. And the fees could add up to more than the price if you had purchased the movie, defeating the entire purpose of the rental. Since they had the corner on the market, you could not plead for reduced fees when you finally found the movie and took it back. Being a naturally frugal person, I would occasionally ban rentals for awhile to save money. But that never lasted long and we were right back to paying way too much.

When I mentioned that Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010, that happens to coincide with the year my youngest child graduated from college. A coincidence? I think not. That truly was the end of an era in many ways, including paying for renting anything from Blockbuster, so they wouldn’t be getting any more late fees from me. And in the ultimate irony, when I was cleaning out a box of college things from that child I found a Blockbuster dvd. This was in about 2017, so the late fees would have been running for at least seven years. Even though she went to college out of state, the dvd was from the local store. Thank goodness they didn’t track down their past due accounts! They would have had to garnish my wages to cover that one.

So now we are in the age of streaming and entertainment on demand. I like the new approach, especially after getting a smart tv that integrates all of the features and makes it easy to access them. The only surprising thing in this new era is the inability to find shows that I like to watch- with hundreds of channels, you would think there would always be something interesting on. Somehow that’s not always the case. And if you want some nostalgia, there is one privately owned Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon, that advertises that it is the last one on earth. I wonder if they charge late fees?

Five Of My Favorite Sayings, And Three I Can Do Without

Five Of My Favorite Sayings, And Three I Can Do Without

Even though February is a short month on the calendar, it seems quite long at times. This is one of those times- with Covid still a concern, winter storms in much of the country, and spring still weeks away. So it seems like a good week to share some of my favorite sayings, in no particular order. I hope you find them helpful, and entertaining.

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  1. All Hat, No Cattle– I don’t know where I first heard this, but I am guessing it originated in Texas. It says a lot in a few words, and reminds people not to get too caught up in their own self importance. And you certainly don’t want to put on false airs. If you’ve got the cattle, everyone will figure that out. So skip the fake hat.
  2. The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things– this usually becomes apparent as you grow older, but I think Covid has brought it to the forefront for everyone this past year. In my younger days, especially when I got out of law school, I was a pretty good consumer since I had been in college forever with very little discretionary income. But as I got older it started to sink in that our relatives won’t be with us forever, and that children grow up in a hurry. I think we will all be happy when we can get back to seeing our families and friends like we did before the virus, and that those gatherings will be even more meaningful.
  3. I’d Agree With You, But Then We’d Both Be Wrong- isn’t this a catchy way to say you think you’re right? A co-worker had this printed on a plaque in her office, and it really is a great thing to have at work. I also tend to think I’m right, a lot. Actually almost all the time. So I adopted this mantra to occasionally use when someone doesn’t quite appreciate my eternal rightness. It also makes people smile.
  4. I’m Sorry, But Your Lack of Planning Will Not Become My Emergency– another spiffy quote from work. I think it was posted in the copy center at one time. I have to admit that I never said this out loud at work because it really is pretty rude. But I thought it many, many times because I rarely put anything off until the last minute. It is usually better to say that you are swamped and won’t be able to help until your workload lightens. Unless the person who asks you to do something because they didn’t plan ahead is your boss. But for everyone else, this is really a handy thing to keep in mind.
  5. It’s Their Journey-hands down, the best parenting advice ever. One of my wise friends shared this with a group of moms when we were out to lunch several years ago. It encapsulates so much. When your children are born, I think there is a tendency to envision they will do lots of things that you did, the same way you did them. It is always good to remember that your kids will walk some of the same paths, but their way of doing it will vary. This phrase can be used for minor issues ( you’re a senior now, better declare a major) to more serious ones (moving to California to do stand up comedy is a bit risky, but good luck!). No matter what comes up, this reminds you to be supportive and keep things in perspective. And you can always solicit advice from your mom friends next time you see them.
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And since everything in the world of sayings isn’t helpful, I offer three that I place in the less than helpful category:

  1. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger- good grief. No, just plain no, on several levels. First, if you almost died from it, that must have been a pretty serious thing. If you got in an accident and had to do a lot of rehab work, you may not get back to the same level you were at, no matter how hard you work. And it completely discounts the trauma you suffered. Like saying the accident was bad and the recovery was gruesome, but hey, here you are so all is well. Really not useful at all.
  2. When One Door Closes, Another Opens- this is the first cousin of number 1. Technically, it is true since when you need to leave a room when the door is closed, you will need to open it to exit. But this also discounts what happened when the door closed- a lost job, relationship, or other opportunity. If someone has a loss like this, that deserves to be acknowledged as a difficult thing. And the next job or relationship might take awhile to develop. People need time to reflect and be heard, not just be told to go searching for open doors. They might not be found for awhile, and that’s really ok.
  3. Do What You Love, and the Money Will Follow-I have no idea where this originated, but it has some flaws. I like to read, play golf and take naps. So far, I haven’t found a job that will pay me to do any of these things. If the idea is that you should explore your interests and passions as you consider a career, then I am all for that approach. Sometimes you will find a career that is a perfect fit in that regard. But you might find a career that you are good at but it’s not your passion. I once worked with a colleague who was very good at teaching math but would admit he didn’t really like the subject that much- he just happened to be good at it. And he made decent money teaching it, and had a flexible schedule. This allowed him to focus on some hobbies that he loved when he wasn’t working. There are lots of ways to do things that you love, but they may not produce any income or enough to live on.
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Since we are approaching Lent, I thought I would close with a funny story about it. As you probably know, it is the observance of the weeks before Easter that Catholics and some other faith traditions start this week on Ash Wednesday. For Catholics, it is also supposed to include not eating meat on Fridays ( usually producing some fine fish fry fundraisers in my part of the world, but alas not this year due to Covid), and some sort of sacrifice, i.e. “giving something up”. This can range from chocolate, to beer, to whatever you find appropriate. During law school, one of my friends and I spent a lot of time in the snack area, sitting in a particular booth, talking about anything that we found interesting. One year for Lent, I decided to give up complaining. Most of my complaints were about school, and that wasn’t all we talked about, so how hard could it be? Well, very hard. About two days into it, I realized that I must have been complaining all the time because I was practically mute. It was struggle to carry on a conversation, and I really missed our chats. So I changed course, and went back to the old stand by from my youth, chocolate. Much easier! Our long chats were restored, and we were so well known for sitting in the same spot that one of our classmates put up a plaque naming the booth in our honor. The booth is long gone, but the memories live on, and I have no complaints about being remembered as one of only two students who had a piece of furniture dedicated to them at the University of Nebraska College of Law.

Tennis Great Arthur Ashe Turned 18 In Omaha, And My Mom Baked Him A Cake

Tennis Great Arthur Ashe Turned 18 In Omaha, And My Mom Baked Him A Cake

Arthur Ashe and Bill Brown at the Dewey Park Tennis Center

A copy of the above picture, of Arthur Ashe and my brother, Bill Brown, was featured in a frame on the “tennis wall” in my parents’ basement for as long as they lived in the home. It was taken in July, 1961, during a regional tennis tournament that both boys were playing in at the Dewey Park Tennis Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The tournament was covered in the local newspaper, and this photo was taken by one of their photographers. A copy was given to my mother as a keepsake for baking a birthday cake for the budding tennis star. Arthur’s path to that day was not what you would expect for a young man born and raised through his junior year of high school in Richmond, Virginia. But he made a move for his senior year that helped propel his tennis career in ways that weren’t possible in his hometown.

Growing up in Richmond, Arthur lived in the caretaker’s house in a segregated park that included tennis courts. That is where he learned to play tennis, and local tennis players from the Black community noticed he had talent. Sadly, his mother died when he was only seven years old. So his tennis potential was guided by his father, and a local physician named Dr. Walter Johnson, who remained his life long mentor. High school play was segregated, so the Black schools only played other Black schools. In the winter, it was even worse. Black players were not allowed on the indoor courts in the city. So Dr. Johnson encourage his dad to let Arthur move away for his senior year of high school, where he could play on all of the public courts, and have competition to improve his game.

They chose St. Louis, Missouri, and worked with a well known Black teacher and coach named Richard Hudlin. Hudlin had gotten the outdoor courts in the city desegregated in the 1950’s, and he knew the indoor courts would be available too. This was due to the city having a sprawling athletic facility built as part of their National Guard Armory during the Depression. They were the only indoor courts in the city at the time, and a local tennis pro marked the lines on a polished wood surface. This made for a very fast court to play on, so players learned to return serve very quickly. Indoor courts weren’t plentiful in the Midwest in those days, so having access to these courts was a distinct advantage.

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St Louis also had many of the best junior players in the country. And the Armory was open to everyone, so segregation wasn’t an issue, and adults and juniors alike would show up and wait for games to develop. Five Wimbledon champions were either from St. Louis or played regularly at the Armory during the 1960’s- the most recognizable name is probably Jimmy Connors. He was younger than Arthur, but their paths would cross when they both played professionally in later years.

The tennis world is divided into regional groups. St. Louis was part of the Missouri Valley Tennis Association, which included Nebraska, and several other states. In the days before big prize money and a change in the rules regarding who could play in Grand Slam tournaments, the regional associations were filled with great competition, and the ability to move on and compete in national tournaments. So Arthur Ashe was in Omaha playing in the Missouri Valley Junior Championships when the picture was taken. It was held at Dewey Park, the lovely public tennis courts where my brothers and I learned to play by taking free lessons sponsored by the city parks department.

Many players tried to get college scholarships in those days prior to turning pro. My brother and Arthur both pursued that route, my brother at Notre Dame and Arthur at UCLA, schools that would not have been affordable for either of them without scholarships. They both became professional tennis players; my brother was ranked in the top 100 players in the world, and Arthur soared even higher. He won three Grand Slam titles, including Wimbledon. He broke many barriers, and worked for civil rights and to end apartheid in South Africa. And he played excellent tennis. I can remember watching him on tv, and always thought it was neat we had his birthday picture on the wall.

The picture came into play in future years in two ways. First, my brother has the only other personal copy of the photo, and while they were both still playing in tournaments he took it to the locker room and asked Arthur to sign it. He remembered it was from the tournament in Omaha, and wrote “A long time ago, Arthur”. My brother still has it at his home in California. The second time it came in handy was when one of my daughters came home from school and was pretty upset. Arthur Ashe was mentioned in her social studies textbook and it had a picture of him. She mentioned, to her teacher and the class, that her grandmother knew him, had baked him a birthday cake, and that she had a picture of it in her house. Nobody believed her. This makes sense since the book mentioned he was from Virginia, and St. Louis and Omaha weren’t part of his biography. Since she was pretty upset, I told her we would go to my parents’ house, get the picture, and she could take it to school the next day. We carefully took it off the wall and wrapped it in a towel. I wrote a note to her teacher explaining the whole story, and asked if she could share it with the class. Problem solved.

Off the court, Arthur had health problems, and suffered a heart attack in the late 1970’s and retired from playing. But he didn’t leave the game or his work developing new players, and fighting for equality and social justice. In 1983, he had heart surgery and received a blood transfusion. Sadly, he contracted the AIDS virus from the transfusion. He kept the diagnosis private for several years, but once it became public established endowments to fight the disease. He finished his memoir, Days of Grace, shortly before he died in 1993, at age 49. The main stadium court at the USTA National Tennis Center is named in his honor, not only for his barrier breaking career, but for his integrity and work off the court too. And in 1996, Richmond, Virginia erected a statue in his honor as well. It features Arthur, with a book in one hand and a tennis racquet in the other.

Tennis has changed dramatically since Arthur and my brother were in high school. Gone are the days of a young athlete learning to play on a public court, and developing exclusively through the local and regional tournament programs. Those still exist, but future professional players now have to attend elite tennis academies, and many don’t go to college. There is a lot of money to be made if you are one of the world’s top players, and although it’s always been an international sport, the competition from other countries has grown exponentially. It doesn’t help make a sport accessible when a system like this develops, although tennis organizations have programs designed to develop players from diverse backgrounds and income levels. I hope they succeed.

One final note on the birthday- my mom told me that Arthur was very appreciative of the cake she made and thanked her for doing so. But she noticed that he didn’t eat a piece, and he said it was because he avoided eating sweets to stay in shape to play. No wonder he won so many tournaments!

The Goldfish That Lived Forever, And Other Family Pets

The Goldfish That Lived Forever, And Other Family Pets

Pets have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember- cats, dogs and a few other species when my kids were growing up. They are members of our family, and provide companionship and unconditional love for as long as we have them. They also provide entertainment to varying degrees.

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There are two funny stories about our pets from when I was in grade school. The first one is about taking our dog, Angus, to obedience class. He was a wire hair terrier, the only dog we ever bought from a breeder. He was pretty incorrigible, so I was in charge of taking him to the classes. We were dropped off, and were placed in the remedial group- he would barely walk on his leash, ignored my commands, and didn’t care if treats were involved. To “graduate”, he had to do several on leash tasks, and then a few off leash, while the rest of the class watched. We practiced a lot, but I wasn’t optimistic. To my amazement, he was a star at graduation- did everything with ease, and clearly liked performing with an audience. So we passed, but he was never that obedient again. The second story is about our mixed breed dog, Schiller, who would eat anything. Back when women’s nylons were in individual pairs, he managed to eat one that was drying in the bathroom. It started to come out a few days later, and the vet recommended letting nature take its course. It was quite a site, and it was pointless to try and speed it up with a pull. But nature did eventually take care of it, and he was back to his misbehaving self.

During high school, we had another mixed breed dog named Chaucer that was my ever present companion. He never went to obedience school, so even though he was nice, he had a few habits we had to deal with- one was chewing anything left on or near the floor. He especially liked leather gloves and shoes. He was also an escape artist who ran out the front door whenever it opened, and would not come when called. The only way to get him back was to take meat in the car ( hot dogs were a favorite), and drive around calling his name. If there was a sighting, you had to dangle the hot dog out the window, avoid running him over, and get the little guy in the car. I’m sure our neighbors thought we were nuts.

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One of my favorite dogs after I had kids was a shih tsu named Muffie. She had a sweet disposition, and I never had to sweep the floor after meals because she lapped up everything that the girls dropped. She was willing to be dressed in doll clothes, pushed in a stroller, and be placed inside cabinets for hide and seek. Really a sweetheart of girl, and we were lucky she had a long life. We also had an adopted cat named Ginger, who was very independent and a nice addition to the house. The only time I struggled with her was when we needed to go to the vet or kennel. She was not amused by those trips.

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Since I was used to cats and dogs, the other two “pets” we had weren’t quite as easy to handle. First, we had a gold fish named Mr. Wilson. One child won him at a school carnival, and named him right away. When we stopped to buy him a bowl and food, we got a second gold fish to keep him company, and for the other child to name. The second fish was smaller than Mr. Wilson, and this turned out to be a mistake. When I got up the next morning, unnamed Fish #2 was gone- Mr. Wilson had eaten him, and didn’t leave a trace. He had no remorse, and was swimming happily in his new bowl. So we got off to a bad start. As usually happens, the kids helped a little, but over time I became his chief caretaker. I didn’t really like him, but thought he would only be with us a short time. Wrong again. I don’t recall exactly how long he lived, but it seemed like a decade. I occasionally thought he could be left on a low shelf where the cat could get him, which seemed like karma for eating his bowl mate. But I didn’t, and he finally died of natural causes. The other weird experience was with Coco, the 4th Grade Bunny. I am all in favor of pets in the classroom, but in Coco’s case, she had to be taken home by a student on the weekends. We somehow ended up with Coco in the middle of winter, and during a blizzard. Coco wasn’t a cute little Easter type bunny- she was huge, and produced unbelievable amounts of bunny poo in her cage. This got so full it had to be emptied outside, in the blizzard, several times. We only had Coco for a weekend, but it seemed like a month. I couldn’t wait to return her to the 4th grade classroom.

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For the past several years, we have had several fur kids, all dogs. When Covid started, they were thrilled we were working from home and with them all the time. They keep us, and each other, endlessly entertained. We have a ramp they walk up to get into the back of the car to go for walks. When I met a neighbor on the next block a few years ago, I was trying to point out which house I lived in. She finally said- “Oh, you’re the people with the dogs”. Yes, that’s us. I also felt compelled to tell her we had a special permit from the city to have them. You never know when someone will complain.

The only downside to having pets is that they don’t live as long as we do. As hard as it is to let them go, I can’t imagine life without a dog or two or three around the house. They are the first ones to say hello when you walk in the door, even if you’ve only been gone a few minutes. They know when their humans are sad or aren’t feeling well, and they make a special effort to comfort them. Loyal and brave, they will bark at anyone who comes to the door, and in our case, anyone who comes inside to visit too. They are also excellent judges of human character. If they are afraid of someone, you probably should be too.

So here’s to our pets- may we enjoy each other’s company for as long as possible.