Potato Peril

A constant of my daily shower routine is using the washcloth to scrub behind my ears.  Why?  It’s not like the behind-the-ear area of a 60-something guy working at a desk in a white-collar job is constantly exposed to dirt and therefore requires a vigorous daily scouring.

g-fruitandveg-potatoes-mainNo, it’s because I remember my mother inspecting that particular area and then saying, with a tone of terrible shock and deep regret, that my postauricular regions had become “so filthy” — not just dirty, mind you, but filthy, which was much, much worse — that “you could grow potatoes back there.”  And then I would be marched off to the bathroom to wash my face and neck and the unseemly behind the ear areas, preferably with rough Lava brand soap that was made with pumice and seemed like it was taking off a layer of skin in the face-washing process.

Interestingly, it was always potatoes that could be grown in the heavy layer of dirt and grime that somehow had accumulated while I was out playing with UJ and our friends.  Not carrots, or corn, or even flowers, but inevitably potatoes.  Because, at that age, mothers seem to know everything, my natural assumption was, and still is, that potatoes must require an especially deep, dark, heavy soil if they are to grow properly.

Mom used to have a sign hanging in the house that said “my house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy,” but that just meant the house was treated differently from the kids in the family.  The house may have gotten the benefit of the doubt, but Mom was extraordinarily sensitive to any sign of human grubbiness or — God forbid! — “B.O.”  (And “B.O.” was pronounced by my mother, who never uttered a profanity of any kind in her entire life, as if it were the queen mother of curses.)

And yet, when we were doing chores around the house, Mom inevitably would tell us kids to “put a little elbow grease into it.”  How we were to do that and still maintain the expected level of spotlessness was left unexplained.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Most of us have been blessed with great mothers.  And it’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of the roles they played during our formative years.

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It was our mothers who gave us unconditional love and constant encouragement, our mothers who taught us how to read and the importance of saying “please” and “thank you,” and our mothers who were there when we came home from school, making our house a warm and loving place.    It was our mothers who bought the outfits we wore and made our breakfasts and packed our school lunches and snapped the photos that went into the family albums.  In the rankings of influential people in our lives, mothers are always going to be somewhere at the top of the list.

Many of us tend to take our parents for granted.  After all, they were always there, as our mothers and fathers, doing the stuff that Moms and Dads do, and it’s not hard to forget that they had lives before we arrived on the scene.  But they did, and at some point they made the conscious decision to become mothers and fathers and take on a crucial, lifelong commitment that would never have existed otherwise.  Without those decisions, we wouldn’t be here.  As the years have passed, with both of my parents gone, I’ve thought about that more and more, and wished there was some way I could repay them for everything they did — but of course that opportunity has passed.

I had a great Mom, and I’m married to one, too.  Here’s to all of the great Moms out there who are doing the essential things that mothers do to help mold the decent, caring people we encounter every day.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Redefining “Clingy”

Spring is the time for growing things. In our back yard, the fastest growing thing — by far — is a flowering vine next to the fence. It was supposed to stick to a wooden trellis built by our landscaper, but it’s long since outgrown that. I put an iron support for a birdhouse or hanging flower basket next to it, and the vine has eagerly embraced that. Now, its tendrils are venturing out, eagerly seeking other things to latch on to, wrap around, and grip tightly. This plant is clingier than your first high school romance.

I like to go out in the morning to marvel at how much the plant has grown since the day before and try to redirect it away from our neighbor’s yard and the little tree nearby. In doing so, however, I’m careful to keep moving. I’m afraid if I stand still for too long I’m going to find myself wrapped in those clingy green tendrils, too.

Ghosts of High School Past

Some curious news for those of us who graduated from Upper Arlington High School has been reported recently:  the existing school where we went to classes years ago is built on the grounds of a former family cemetery.  (As if going to high school weren’t scary enough already, just on its own!)

pioneer-green-flakeThe back story is really pretty interesting stuff.  In the years before and during the Civil War — long before Upper Arlington became the hoity-toity, McMansion-filled suburb it is now — the land was owned by a former slave named Pleasant Litchford.  He was an leading member of the Perry Township community, a master blacksmith, a founding member of a church, a large property owner, . . . and, notably, a participant in the Underground Railroad that moved escaped slaves from the slaveholding south, through the free states, and north to Canada and freedom.  Mr. Litchford established a school for African-American children on his property — and also a cemetery for his family and descendants.  Mr. Litchford died in 1867, just after the Civil War ended.

Years later, Upper Arlington was founded, and later still, in 1955, the school board was looking for a place to build the new high school.  They bought the Litchford property and discovered that it included the cemetery.  Rather than leave the cemetery be, they exhumed the buried bodies and moved them to Union Cemetery for reinterment, where most of them are listed as “unnamed adults.”  The school then was built on the property and, with the kind of collective amnesia that is all-too-common in American history, people in Upper Arlington promptly forgot about Pleasant Litchford and his family cemetery.  When I started to go to UAHS in the early ’70s, no one told me or my fellow students that we were walking over the ground of a former cemetery.

I don’t think I ever saw a ghost lurking in the halls of UAHS, and the only creepy feeling I got was around the flea-bitten remains of a gigantic standing stuffed bear that was kept in a glass cage near the entrance of the building.  Now the old building is going to be torn down and a new building erected, and the construction crews are going to be mindful, as they dig and build, to keep an eye out for remains that might have been missed in 1955.

And while they’re building a new school, here’s an idea for the school board to consider:  rather than renaming the new building Upper Arlington High School, which is pretty boring, how about celebrating a man whose life epitomized a strong, personal commitment to freedom, family, hard work, and education, and naming the new school Pleasant Litchford High School instead?

What A Difference A Night Makes

Recently I’ve been having some irregular sleep patterns.  I’ll go to bed and fall asleep promptly, but then wake up only a few hours later, with heart pumping and mind racing. When that happens, it’s hard to fall back into the REM cycle quickly, and I’ll inevitably toss and turn for as much as an hour, fretting all the while that I’m losing out on sleep that I need and will never make up.

But last night I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, slept through the night without any nocturnal wakefulness, and arose feeling refreshed.  When I went down to make the morning coffee the birds were chirping, I unloaded the dishwasher with a happy feeling, and the coffee tasted richer and better than ever.

Wake up of an asleep girl stopping alarm clockThere’s no doubt that sleep is therapeutic on multiple fronts.  The National Institutes of Health reports that, physically, the changes in breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure that occur during a good night’s sleep help to promote cardiovascular health, and while you sleep hormones are released that repair cells and control your body’s use of energy.  And although the physical aspects of sleep are significant, the mental aspects are even more important.  Getting your 7 or 8 hours of sound sleep enhances mood, alertness, intellectual functioning, and reflexes, while chronic sleep deprivation can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.

Knowing all of this, why doesn’t the human brain always do what is necessary to allow everyone to get their share of shuteye?  Unfortunately, things don’t don’t work that way, stresses and concerns at work and at home can interfere with the sleep cycle, and then the lack of sleep and the irritability it produces can have a compounding effect on those stresses and concerns.

That’s one of the reasons why getting a solid night of slumber time after a few night’s of anxious restlessness feels so good.  You may not be making up for lost sleep, but it’s comforting to know that your mind and body are back to their normal cycles — at least, until the next round of stresses and concerns hit.

Like A Dog In The Rain

Recently I went for my morning walk on a blustery, rainy day.  As I was walking along, struggling with my umbrella in the gusts and grumbling about the cold, crummy weather, I saw a raincoat-clad woman with a dog.  The woman also looked peevish about the rain and wind.

4149865894_7a5fd51c5a_oThe dog, however, was undisturbed.  It clearly recognized that, as a four-legged creature without clothes, rain slickers, or opposable thumbs capable of gripping an umbrella handle who was subject to the walking schedule and whims of its human companion, there really wasn’t much it could do about being out in the rain and the wind at that moment.  It obviously needed to get out, walk, and answer the call of nature.  And so, it just went about its business, as usual, without concern about the fact that it was getting soaked.

I was struck by the dog’s placid expression and its contrast with the stormy looks on my face and the face of the dog’s owner.  There were no snarls or bared teeth — by the dog, at least.  The dog, who was powerless to do anything about its situation, was imperturbable, while the humans who had total control were letting the bad weather bother them.

It was a very zen-like moment, and it made me realize that, in the right situations, there is value in following the dog’s example:  don’t worry about what you can’t change, accept your circumstances, go about your business, and when you get back to that safe, dry, warm place . . . shake it all off.

Shaking Up The Old Sock Drawer

For my birthday the California SIL got me a very colorful pair of socks.  They’re socks that paint a kind of picture — in this case, a desert landscape complete with a Saguaro cactus or two and a red desert sky.

The new socks will really shake up my sock drawer, which otherwise could be accurately shown on a black and white TV set.  In short, it’s a study in blacks, grays, and whites, without much of a rainbow effect.  I’m not sure how my other boring socks will react to these gaudy interlopers.

There has been a bit of a revolution in men’s socks over the past decade or so, with lots of fellows showing stripes and checks and polka dots and bold hues in the ankle coverage area.  I’ve been slow to get into the sock fashion game, because I’m not a very fashionable person by nature.  Plus, I think that most people expect drab sockwear to go with the gray and blue suits and discreet ties that are a lawyer’s standard uniform.  But times clearly are changing, and you see more male lawyers getting into stocking style and hosiery hues.

So, I’m happily going to give my desert-themed socks a try.  And I’ll be interested in seeing whether bright and colorful socks have one key feature:  are they less likely to get lost around clothes dryers?