Typewriter

The first typewriter that I ever used was the heavy gray one that sat in Grandma and Grandpa Cousin’s dining room.  It sat on Grandpa’s desk, which was squeezed in along a wall.  There was just enough room between the table and the desk that Grandpa’s chair could be rotated between the table to the desk.  You knew it was Grandpa’s chair because it had arms on it, and because it was the one next to Grandma’s.  Grandma’s was easy to tell, because it was closest to the kitchen door.

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Grandpa in his chair with the typewriter behind him.

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Grandma in the dining room with the retinue of office equipment in the background.  In addition to dining and typing, the table was used most often for game playing.

The desk was always heaped with papers, these balanced carefully between the heavy gray beast of a typewriter and the two adding machines–electric and mechanical.  We kids loved to use those machines, but Grandma didn’t like us using the electric 10 key calculator too much because we burned through all of the adding tape paper.  So we’d take turns pounding out nonsense on the sheets of scrap paper that she kept around for our visits.  We never really ever SAW Grandpa using the typewriter, but I know that he did.  We occasionally received typed responses to school-related inquiries, and his sketches were often completed on the backs of the beginnings of typewritten letters that had gone hopelessly wrong.  Also, his records of the 15,000+ record collection were completed on that typewriter.  It had both a red and a black tape, and you really had to pound to get that thing going.

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My cousin, Abby, taking her turn at the great gray beast.  Hey kid!  Where’s your paper?

CheaperByTheDozenI read the book “Cheaper By the Dozen” as a kid.  Not the dumb Disney version, but the actual biographical story of a family of 12 kids with parents who were interested in economy of movement and consulted for industrial operations to improve their efficiency.  One chapter focused on the father’s teaching the kids to “touch type” and taking them around to show off to prospective clients.  I figured that was OK, so I practiced at Grandpa’s and on mom’s machine whenever I got the chance.  Mom’s machine was portable and kept high up on a shelf in a closet.  She’d bring it out for us occasionally, and it released a wafting puff of “office” smell whenever it was opened.  I loved typing so much that I would simply transcribe stories, for the sheer joy of hearing the clack and seeing the smooth, even result of a perfectly-typed page.  She didn’t like us to type too often, though, because we burned through the correction tape.

When we got our first computer around about 8th grade, it came with a typing tutorial program that I took to like it was going out of style.  In my opinion, the resulting dot-matrix printed results weren’t nearly so aesthetically pleasing as those done in unbroken inked-letters on the powder blue travel typewriter.  My first research paper in 7th grade was done on that typewriter, footnotes and all, an exercise in frustration that was rivaled only by my senior thesis at Lawrence in 1998 in which my image drive was somehow corrupted.  In the spring of 8th grade Joanna McCall showed up with her social studies paper printed out on a smooth, creamy sheet of paper with nary a dot matrix in sight.  Her family had an early ink jet or laser printer.  It looked like her work could have been part of the actual social studies textbook, so smooth and professional.

In high school my mother made me take typing, a class that I resisted due to the effect that it would have on my GPA.  It is by far the class that I use most readily every day.  Sure, it didn’t do anything in particular to launch my academic career, but I can carry on a conversation or stare out the window dreamily while I type, thanks to that class, the only class I ever took in the Business department of Milton High School.

Computer keyboards have come and gone, but I’ve never felt a true commitment–lots of passing flings, but no keyboard monogamy.  I knew what I liked–clacky, a bit of oomph required, but my previous keyboard relationships were but mere infatuations once I met my new true love.

 

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My new love, Azio Corp’s MK Retro 

 

It arrived under the Christmas tree, a gift from my husband who knows me so well.  It is a computer keyboard that looks like a typewriter.  The keys are round and raised slightly up.  They require a bit more effort to engage, and I suppose that this results in a bit more fatigue, but the sheer tactile joy of this thing makes up for it.  The keys clack so satisfyingly that even responding to mundane emails has been rendered a joy.  And the space bar–oh the space bar.  Its tone is slightly more high pitched and more resonant than the other keys.  I will simply never be able to give up two spaces after a period after this.

Every day I try to write at least 500 words, usually of sheer drivel.  My 500 word habit has become an obsession thanks to the love of my typing life that took me back to the dining room on Elm Street, kneeling on a phone book, clacking away on the old grey beast while Grandma cooked in the kitchen.

Snow Reverie

Two days ago it snowed, a light fluffy, non sticky snow, the stuff of bitter cold weather and bright clear skies.  Yesterday it blew, and the crisp edges of the driveway were blurred into little duney drifts.  Around town, those stretches of road with no windbreaks were heaped up with snow.  It was just the like snow on the stretch of County A starting just in front of my parents’ old house and heading east. It was a Bermuda Triangle-esque stretch of country road, where any bit of wind would sweep the snow off of the flat, plowed fields and send it racing across the prairie, to be caught and heaped up on the roadway.  We kids always thought that those swirling eddies of snow across the two lane road looked like the action of hockey players, racing and jostling across the ice.  Every winter, people heading east out of Janesville would be caught unawares by the treacherous stretch of windswept road just past the farmhouse, and they’d end up in the ditch.  Ours was the nearest house, and the drivers would inevitably end up at our back door, asking to use the phone, back in the day when cell phones weren’t a thing.  The kitchen phone was wall-mounted with a curly white cord that cold easily stretch into the unheated “back room” as we called it;  I know because perched on the washing machine was the only place that anyone could have a private conversation in the house. If mom was home alone with us kids, she’d make any single men make the call from the back room, with the door shut firmly between us and them, the white coil of cord mashed in the door jamb.  If there was a woman or kids however, a spot was generally cleared for them at the kitchen table.  One time, dad even gave the mom and kids donuts.  But that was a time that the mom was crying because she’d hit a farm dog in the road further up the way, not because of snow.

 

That swirly, windy, country snow would sometimes appear pink, as the debris from the silos filled with drying soybeans at the farm across the road would dust the top layers of it pink.  One winter the snow heaped up dirty  brown on the bottom, clean white next, and a pinkish layer on the top that looked for all the world like a cross section of the Neopolitan ice cream in the half-gallon box container in the freezer compartment of the house on County A.

A Clean Slate

By the end of the Christmas season, I’m itching to get back to normal.  And by get back to normal, I mean put all of the crap away and revel in a few empty horizontal surfaces.  You might not suspect this of me, given that I currently own 17 bins of Christmas decorations and put up 7–count ’em, 7–trees in my house.  I LOVE decorating for Christmas!  And I love putting it all away even more.  And after flipping the calendar, it can’t happen soon enough.

My mother always lived by the rule that the Christmas season extends to Epiphany, a full 12 days after Christmas.  To be fair, this is an excellent rule for teachers, which she was.  They have so little time to prepare for things in the run up to the holidays.  The shift of the celebratory block into January and away from the creep toward Thanksgiving makes perfect sense for that population.  Mom took full advantage of this loophole for many years and sent Epiphany cards rather than Christmas cards.  This bought her until January 7 in time and an easy theme to follow in that her cards, for many years, featured the three wise men.  Clever, Sister Janice, clever.

Christmas 2017

My God it was charming while it lasted (photo and S&P shakers courtesy of Pat Bier)

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But I’m so glad it’s over.

I can’t slog through that long, though.  There’s my own holiday excess to blame. Then there’s Jimmy’s toy model train situation, which involves a span of two rooms and multiple villages.  Realistically, our holiday displays reduce our usable living space by about half.  So there’s that.  Then there’s the fact that the decorations start to look a little off.  The train tracks are separating.  The ornaments are drooping.  The one live tree has more needles on the ground than on.  The batteries are expired on 50% of things.  There’s glitter in places that it just shouldn’t be.  I can make it through the new year, but once those kids are back in school, it’s time to get serious.  This, thank you sweet Jesus, happened today.  Save for Jimmy’s disassembled trains awaiting storage, it is DONE.

The other exciting thing?  Putting away Christmas means it’s also time to Konmari the crap out of the house.  What is this weird verb I mention, you ask?  Have you heard of this quirky little book that was popular a couple years back, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up?  It’s basically a book about how to get rid of stuff and put it away neatly.  The book is interesting for a number of reasons.  First, it’s like a little virtual homestay with an unmarried young woman living in Japan.  There are all sorts of references that so clearly don’t apply to me, but are quite interesting.  (e.g., how long good luck charms picked up at Shinto shrines are “good” for).

Second, her approach to tidying is quite useful.  In a nutshell, she recommends sorting things by item rather than location–that is, don’t go through your coat closet and clothes closet separately.  Instead, make a big pile of all your coats from wherever they reside and deal with them all at once.  This forces you to be honest about what you really have (in most of our cases, too much).  You think you don’t have too many pens?  Pile ’em up on the kitchen table and then get back to me.  The other interesting thing about her approach is that she has you decide what to keep rather than what to throw away.  This sounds like no big difference, but it works.  She wants you accomplish these decisions by holding every object and determining whether it brings you joy.  This is corny, so instead I look at every object and decide whether, if it was the only one left in the drawer / shelf / closet I’d still use it.  For example, the third string underwear.  Does it really need to stay?  When I get that deep in the bench, I’m doing laundry ASAP.

Third, she has some ways of folding things that have produced an inordinate amount of pleasure in my life.

Finally, the book has allowed me to reintroduce the word tidy into my daily vocabulary.

I won’t bore you by forcing you to participate in the daily rehashing of my Konmari extravaganza, but trust me when I report that my Konmari plan will be happening big time.  The purge produces a thrilling amount of things that leave the house.  When I’m on pace, there’s usually at least a bag that leaves per day.  This almost balances out the daily deliveries e at our house thanks to Jimmy’s Amazon Prime addiction.

So, stay at school a bit longer, children, and don’t pay attention if I blame the dog when a few “precious” items go missing (decorative but useless erasers, those damn Shopkins, every Valentine you’ve ever received).  Mama’s ready to wipe the slate clean.  Christmas is put away, and mysterious shelf over the refrigerator?  I’m coming for you . . .

My brother, the spritely curmudgeon

I got up at 4:35 a.m. this morning to drive my youngest brother, Pat, to the airport after a week’s visit to Wisconsin.  He was already up, dressed, and had neatly made the guest bed.  The trip to the airport is only 15 minutes door to door, and I assumed we’d complete it largely in not-yet-caffeinated silence.  I was completely wrong, and the random string of topics discussed deserves its own post.

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Pat in his natural state…

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…and what he wishes were his natural state.  These were both taken from his Facebook profile and, therefore, are the best way to determine the way in which he self-identifies.

Pat is a bit of a conundrum.  He’s this odd combination of ridiculously coddled youngest brother / son and curmudgeonly old man.  For evidence, I cite some of the commentary that issued forth from the passenger’s seat from 4:45-5:00 en route to General Mitchell Airport:

 

Young man:  [on Jimmy’s life quest for a perfect credit score]  “What is Jimmy even going to do with that high credit score?  Better to use it now and get some joy out of it.  Whaddya gonna do?  Carve it on your tombstone?”

Old man:  “You know what I really hate?  Seeing the sunrise.  That just means I got out of bed too early.  Who needs that crap?”

Young man:  “I don’t like to be cold, but I also don’t want a puffy coat.  Yeah, you look pretty comfortable over there in that knee length number, but I only have to walk three blocks to the subway.”  Every day.  In sub-zero weather.

Old man:  And speaking of sleep . . . “I don’t know about those people who claim to enjoy getting up early to exercise.  Me?  I need as much sleep as I can get.  Around 9-10 hours a night.”

Young man:  “I also don’t like hats, and I only have only ever liked one pair of earmuffs, and I’m pretty sure Louise lost them.”

Old man:  “Google?  Who needs it?  I just text my sisters when I need answers to questions.” (e.g., What season will it be when we’re in Germany?  What time does the DMV open?  What does mom want for Christmas?)

Young man:  “No, I’m pretty sure they’ll let me check these hand weights and 15# geology text that I brought from mom and dad’s.  [2 hours later…via text….]  Yeah, I’m carrying a geology textbook in my arms through the airport because *apparently* my bag was over weight.”  [to be fair, this was actually from a previous trip to the airport.]

I hope that some of his friends / associates might read this and contribute other ways in which he’s a hopeless mix of naivete and old man crustiness.  It was great having you home, Pat!!!

Shame Shelf

I’m going to tell you about something that, until a few years ago, I didn’t even have crystallized as an actual concept.  I’ve only discussed it with a few people, most notably my therapist.  Are you not in therapy yet?  You really should be.  It’s the best.  It’s like meeting up with a friend to chat, but no one will judge you / accidentally tell your mutual friend / look bored / require you to stop talking at any point to give them a turn.  And if your therapist is especially good–which mine is–you end up feeling completed gutted but with a brand new concept or understanding.  Why we’re all not just assigned a therapist at birth is beyond me.

I’ve known for years that I have a specific cache of memories that create palpable discomfort.  They usually involve me embarrassing myself.  The earliest one occurred outside a Walgreens in Janesville.  I must have been maybe 6, it was summer.  I had just climbed out of the passenger side of the van and mom was busy getting someone out of the car seat, and I was jabbering about how strange the car next to us looked.  She frantically attempted to mime “shut up!” to me as I went on and on about what I remember as a rusty sedan that was somehow fuzzy.  Only as she came around the hood with one of my infant siblings did I look up and see the driver and his family in the car.  With the windows rolled down.  Looking at me.  I can still feel the rush of heat that immediately enveloped me–even hotter than the hot, humid, sticky day.  We walked into the air conditioned drug store and  I didn’t ever want to leave.  I wanted to be absolutely certain that they’d driven away.

This is but a small sample–an amuse bouche if you will–if the vast array of memories that I have available at a moment’s notice to really solidify and dig into a crappy feeling.  Worrying over a disagreement during the day?  Why not drift off to sleep with a special memory of similar embarrassment, just to gild the proverbial lily.  My therapist pointed out that the unifying link of these memories (and so many of my other issues) is SHAME.  A complex concept that I best sum up by remembering the mantra:  “Should is a shame word.”  Are you worried that something you do or have done will be externally judged by what should or shouldn’t be true?  It’s shame.

So, I christened my collection of memories The Shame Shelf.  Perhaps you, too, have a Shame Shelf.  It is full of precious little baubles that can be periodically lifted down, stroked, polished and admired, conjuring up all sorts of awkwardness.  It doesn’t matter how remote the event–the Shame Shelf has an eternal freshness guarantee.  It’s practically impossible to remove and or smash up anything from the Shame Shelf.  They’re hardy little baubles.

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My shelf is a little bit more linear, but this is a pretty close approximation of the mixed bag of items displayed therein.

Here’s the most recent incident that sent me back for a perusal of my Shelf.

I practiced some piano accompaniment songs this morning.  I’m playing for the middle school choir concert on Wednesday.  Whenever I practice accompaniment music I pull off a trophy from the Shame Shelf that still holds some significant toxic memories for me.  It has to do with my brief foray as a music student as Lawrence.  That short time did more to drive down my confidence than anything I’ve ever experienced.  I didn’t know how unprepared I really was, but I did know that I could accompany.  It’s what I still enjoy best.

Freshman year, a fellow student who played cello asked me to accompany her for a master class performance.  As near as I can remember, we rehearsed together a couple of times, and I think I played for her at a cello lesson.  Then we performed at the master class, and I remember that the visiting professor who was there to give cello instruction actually gave me some constructive criticism on my playing.  This was mortifying, as accompaniment always keeps me nicely in the background.  What’d I do that warranted attention?  On a stage full of people?!?!  You mean I wasn’t perfect?  Ugh.  Then I went to a piano lesson the following week and learned that I’m not allowed to just go wandering about playing in public that I should (see that word there?) to inform and prepare with my studio teacher.  Now, my logical brain says that this made absolute sense.  However. The thing I was good at became a source of shame.  Pretty ridiculous, huh?  Even more ridiculous, I spent the last 3 1/3  years of my college career slinking around attempting to avoid eye contact with the woman who was my studio teacher for those first two semesters before I basically stopped playing for 3 years.  

I started playing for choir and soloists a few years ago, and turns out I’m OK for the local scene, so it all worked out.  And yet…the embroidered sampler of that memory is apparently still there, collecting dust on the Shelf.

So, now you know.  I have a Shame Shelf.  It’s kind of funny to talk about.  I’m sure everyone has some stories that continue to cause discomfort.  But I wonder, has anyone else invested in a complete Shame Shelf????

It Has Happened

I’m pretty sure that I officially crossed over a divide this past weekend.  I think I’m officially on the “older” side of divide.  Now, as has been previously addressed, I’ve always secretly (or not so secretly?) been an old soul.  However.  That didn’t necessarily translate into a complete outward manifestation of this fact.  As difficult as it will someday be for my children to believe, I was young once.

I was chatting over dinner with my sister and her husband (who, interestingly, had just finished inquiring as to whether my sister had always been 90.  Apparently this “old soul” thing is somewhat familial).  He mentioned that the next day he was thinking of going to see Thor Ragnarok.  And I asked whether that was a friend of his.

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What he really meant when he said “Thor Ragnarok”

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What I was thinking when he said “Thor Ragnarok”

As soon as I said it a little voice in the back of my head was screaming “movie!  character!  stop!”;  but it was too late.  We all had a good laugh about the mix-up, but I mentally acknowledged the fact that It Had Happened.  I’d seen the signs for awhile.  Here’s a few that I’ve noticed:

  1.  I’ve started shopping from Land’s End.  A lot.  This catalog has been around forever, but the practical, timeless comfort never appealed before.  Now all of the sudden I’m all about supima blends, practical down vests, and more turtlenecks than I could wear in a week.  I’d like to think that these pieces are still subtly blended into my wardrobe.  When I start layering my turtlenecks underneath appliqued sweatshirts we have a real problem.
  2. I rarely wear heels over 2 inches anymore.  Ever.  I remember waltzing into the NICU during a residency rotation in pointy-toed slingback heels and laughing breezily at the nurses’ astonishment at my wardrobe choice.  I’ll never be that painfully practical, I thought.  Well, let me just say one thing:  orthotics.
  3. I’ve started sighing and saying “well, whatcha gonna do?”  Also “golly.”
  4. I make a lot of noise when I get out of bed in the morning.  Between my intentional and automatic joint cracking, it sounds like I’m attempting to break free of a graphite prison.  Jimmy is much the same, although he’ll deny it.  The bonus is that the first person up always wakes up the other,  and we now spend some pleasant time alone over coffee every morning.
  5. I don’t spend too much time about how I look anymore.   No matter where we’re going, it’s highly unlikely that any strangers will spare more than a passing glance on my appearance.  I’m in the “older lady” category, and am valuable mostly for my droll wit, wicked dance moves, and open bar tab.  I don’t mean this to be a sad meditation on the state of female ageing.  To my mind, it’s totally understandable and definitely a relief.
  6. That being said, I spend a lot of time on how I look.  The number of skin care products on my bathroom counter is amazing.  I have my roots touched up every 6-8 weeks.  I have multiple types of foundation and concealer that are applied with an artist’s precision.  All of this to avoid being asked “what happened?” “are you tired?” or “were you on call last night?”
  7. In those magazine articles where it’s “hairstyles (or whatever) for every age, I have to flip ahead a few pages.  You know the ones.  There will be a section for 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and then 50+.
  8. And speaking of magazines, who on earth is that?  When I’m at the hair stylist every 6-8 weeks, I will indulge in a trashy magazine, and I really don’t know who most of these young starlets are.  And the really funny thing is–I don’t WANT to know.  As long as I’m not the “youth ringer” on the trivia team, it’s not my problem.
  9. I’m hoping that technology just stops.  I actually wish progress would have stopped about 10 years ago because I just can’t learn anymore.  When my grandfather died a couple of years ago, I was amazed to look back and realize that he’d been born in a house without running water or electricity, and when he died he was posting on Facebook and emailing his family.  This will NOT be me.  Luckily I have a technology obsessed husband.  However, if he goes before me, I’m pulling my old Palm Pilot back out and reverting to 2002.

So, It Has Happened.  But, whatcha gonna do?  And, while I’m thinking about it, if anyone wants to see Ladybird with me, let me know.  I’ve always been a huge LBJ fan.

Mad Libs: Kid Car Version

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My kids like to to Mad Libs in the car.  I’m sure you remember Mad Libs–someone asks for random parts of speech, and they’re transcribed blindly into a story, the results of which are invariably hilarious to anyone under the age of 12.  I think my kids are learning something from Mad Libs.  For example, I’m fairly certain that they both know what a noun is by now, and that an adverb usually ends in -ly.  And I’m glad that they’re doing something somewhat creative in the car and not just staring at a screen or bickering with each other.  And it usually keeps me in relative peace and quiet.

Generally they start by trying to involve me in the Mad Libs activity, but after a few words I’m generally deemed unworthy and my turn is routinely skipped.  You see, I always break the rules of Juvenile Car Mad Libs, which are specific, predictable, and unvarying:

  1.  All nouns will be something immediately visible out the window.  So, “tree” “mailbox” and “WalMart” are all fine.  Intangibles such as “happiness” or “sanity” are not and rapidly disqualify one.
  2.  All verbs will be dramatic actions such as “jump,” “run,” and “punch-in-the-face.”  Quieter, intransitive (like that, mom?) verbs such as “become” are frowned upon.
  3.  All adjectives will come from the usual descriptor set for an ogre.  Examples would be “hairy,” “stinky,” or “gross.”
  4.  All adverbs will be similarly disgusting
  5.  If the category “part of the body” comes up, you will dither dramatically for about 15 seconds before answering “butt.”  Alternatives are acceptable only if butt has been used two or more times already, and must be another potentially stinky body part.

Resulting Mad Libs are as follows: (taken from the kids’ book, but typed for legibility purposes.  This one is apparently a short dialogue.)

Actor #1: Why did we have to come to this warty old castle?  This place sends shivers up and down my butt.

Actor #2: We had no choice.  You know all the windows in town were filled because of the tree convention.

Actor #1: I’d have been happy to stay in a smooth motel.  (mom was included at this point but summarily dismissed after this answer.)

Actor #2:  Relax.  Here comes the bellboy for our stopsigns.

Actor #1:  Hilltop!  Look, he’s all bent over and has a big PetCo riding on his butt.  He looks just like Natalie from that horror flick.

Actor #2:  No.  I think he’s my old buttocks teacher.  (“What’s buttocks?”  “It’s what those tea drinking people (the British) call a butt”).

Actor#1:  I’m putting my armpit down!  I”m not staying in this ridiculous place.  I’d rather fart in the car!

Actor #2:  You’re worrying stupidly.

Actor #1:  Really?  Look at the bellboy.  He has my traffic in one hand and your Toyota Camry in the other, and his third hand . . . His third hand . . . Ahhh!

 

This was read with gales of uncontrolled laughter, pure comedy gold, and the whole “farting in the car” thing rapidly crossed the line into nonfiction.  Gotta love a Kid Car Mad Lib.