My daughter once told me I was brutally honest. I think she’d stand by her assessment. I don’t believe she means I’m not kind or I go out of my way to make cutting remarks. It’s just that I mean what I say and say what I mean. I don’t sugar coat. If you ask me how your performance was, I’ll tell you and you won’t need to worry I’m just being nice.

This is not to say I never lie. I’m human. But when you lie as little as I do, people assume you are always truthful. More often, my infrequent untruths are lies of omission.

In my real life, I sometimes tell meandering stories, and may even add side stories, playing devil’s advocate with myself. Without hearing the whole story, how could you possibly understand the truth of my words?

But in writing, I tend toward concise. If you follow my blog, you know I share real events in my life in very short stories. The tales are essentially true, but those lies of omission protect the anonymity of others I mention.

So, overall, I consider myself an honest person. That is, I did until I read this.

Yuval Noah Harari explains that much of what we consider the truth is lies promoted to keep society functioning. We trade green paper or numbers on a screen and credit them with the value of the items we buy. Our leaders gather followers with simplistic homilies, rather than the complicated facts that might solve problems but won’t inspire loyalty. Our love of books and movies results from our ability to suspend our disbelief. We seem programmed to seek out fiction, whether it’s our loyalty to a sports team or a product, or a disregard for the beliefs of others, all the while smugly thinking we are the ones being honest about the state of the world.

Now I wonder, as I teach my students, is what I’m sharing accurate? Not that our number system can’t be proven or that the Pilgrims didn’t arrive in Plymouth Harbor in 1620. Rather, the year 1620 is an arbitrary number, loosely based on the Christian tradition. Some of the skills I tell them they will use as adults may be less important than future skills I can’t even imagine.

When I listen and read pundits, favoring one, disregarding another, is it because “my” side is better, or did their political handlers spin the yarn that is my siren call, that will get me to follow?

My doctor prescribes a medicine for me at the recommended dosage for my sex (if I’m lucky) and weight based on studies of hundreds of my peers. But as we head into this age of personalized medicine, is it really the right protocol for me?

The engineers and physicists in my life would chide me for suggesting science is subjective. Certainly greater harm has been done by denying the veracity of science than by following its precepts. True science, while not completely objective due the presence of humans, has its system of checks and balances. Other scientists will review the literature, then repeat or further the experiments. Given time, mistakes will be sussed out and corrected.

As Harari says, where it falls apart is when we try to use science for policy, when politicians lead us toward what they can make popular instead of what might be best for our world. Should money go toward renewable energy or cleaner coal? Is it economically feasible to clear our food supply of harmful chemicals and drugs? At what level can we claim it’s safe? Politically, we can’t even agree human activity is creating global warming when the evidence is everywhere.

Despite Harari’s assertion that social “truths” can last hundreds or thousands of years, I can’t help wondering if our society is resting on a house of cards. If you pull one out, does it come crashing down? But he reminds us we are wired to want this, that following leaders has fostered cooperation and helped us survive through the ages. Faith in the system is the only thing that keeps it going.

I am left with the knowledge that, on some level, we are all figments of our own imagination. When I share my thoughts with friends and family, they are honestly mine. But whether they are true appear to be a matter of opinion.


On the Way to School

To get from home to school, you’d go out the side door, because the front door was only ever used when company came over. Your Beatles lunch box would be useful both to carry your sandwich and thermos and to swing it at the kid who’d always tease you at recess. Books in your other arm and your jacks in your pocket, you’d pass the front porch where in summer you’d sit on the bottom concrete step to strap adjustable roller skates onto your shoes. But no skating now. Not on a school day.

Depending on the year, you’d walk with your sister and one or both brothers and the friends who cut across the alley through your yard to meet you. You’d turn left right after you pick up the girl from the corner house (who was hit by a car in the alley one summer and you saw your father run, which you didn’t think he could do.)

Down just a half a block, you’d come to the house (who knows why there) where in second grade you always started to panic. After the first time just the idea of passing there set your heart racing.

But today you’d walk past fine, the older girls in front, you and your friend chattering behind, with the brothers trailing. You might pause to hike up your itchy tights, because they never stayed up and girls wouldn’t be allowed to wear pants suits to school for another couple of years.

Next, you’d turn right. The single-family homes would make way for two-flats and at the third one from the corner you’d pick up your neighbor’s cousin, who had almost the same name.

Coming up you’d pass the house of the tall blond boy, your first crush. Did he like you too? You’d never be sure.

At the end of that block you’d reach the spot where once a strange kid, a half a head taller than your little brother, tried to start a fight and you knew you couldn’t let your brother be hurt. So you wrestled the boy to the ground and pinned him. When a woman came out of her house yelling, you started to cry, and the woman wagged her finger at the boy, saying “I know you. You’re the one who causes all the trouble,” and let you go on your way.

In the fall you would scuff through crackling leaves. In spring you’d throw handfuls of maples seeds and chortle as they helicoptered down.

The street would T at the college campus, so you’d turn left and walk the final stretch to the traffic light. You’d rattle the coins in your pocket and think ahead to after school when you’d go another half block to the penny candy store to buy a paper strip of dots, Bazooka bubble gum and wax lips for a dime.

But now you’d pick up the pace as the bell rings. You’d hurry across the gravel playground, past teeter totters, high flyers, and a tall steep slide, along where the girls formed long lines to jump rope to chanting rhymes, toward the wall the boys used to play pinners where the trim met the brick.

You’d race up the steps and merge with the crowd of kids heading through the double doors to childhood’s past.


The other day my husband said, “I think the phone isn’t working.”

Now, that might sound like something that should be obvious. Not so many of us still have landlines, but we do. We don’t make calls, but we have an answering machine hooked up that gets mostly scam artists worried about our credit or computers, pleas from charities, real and fake, and occasional messages from the library saying that a book I’ve requested is in. The phone connected to the machine is a cordless with a failing battery that could die any day. So really, it could just as easily have been the receiver as a wire.

We went to the desk I hardly use, which holds a computer I never use and an actual corded line that I use when the power is out and the cell towers have issues, which is rare. But that one was dead too.

We only noticed that the spam calls had stopped because a doctor’s office emailed when they didn’t get an answer.

Really, I’m not sure why I want to keep a landline. Few do anymore.

I’m old enough to remember big, solid telephones with dials. As a child, they were an endless fascination. When you dialed, the low digits spun and released with a satisfying whir, but the nines and zeros seemed to drag on forever. If you released it too soon you had to hang up and start again, or else risk a wrong number. Long distance calls were saved for emergencies because they were expensive.

Numbers back then started with words rather than digits. I still feel a certain affection for our old Keystone nine prefix and the home phone that belonged to all of us.

When push buttons replaced rotary dials, they were a wonder, but they didn’t have the loyalty-inspiring sensory impact of those earlier ones.

I really liked my last flip phone. It felt small in my pocket, but felt right against my ear. I could dial without looking and knew my speed dial numbers by touch. The screen was readable without my glasses. I had the hang of the click-click-click text messaging. It was almost perfect.

Finally, I caved and got a smart phone. For simply making calls, it leaves a lot to be desired. I swear the sound quality isn’t as good, though I don’t think any cell sounds as good as a landline. I have to be looking at the touch screen to have a prayer of dialing right. But…

It isn’t just a phone. It’s the computer I carry around in my pocket, and with that I finally let social media into my life. It’s my flashlight, my calculator, and my alarm clock. It streams videos and plays podcasts. It notifies me when I have email and when bad weather is coming. It lets me play games. It’s my camera, step counter, my GPS. (And with my sense of direction, or lack thereof, that’s important.) With my smartphone, I can text, call or video chat, and do it all with just my voice if I want to.

With all these services, of course I pay. It’s more each month than my landline, and certainly more in lost privacy. When I look up a product, ads for it show up in all my other apps, as though my searches have become part of my proverbial permanent record. Things come in the mail that are somehow tied to my online presence. Big brother is watching. The cost of convenience is allowing your life to be pigeon holed by vendors.

Maybe I keep the old phone line so I have an out if the cost becomes too high.

I called the company, who sent a repairman within a few days. A line had been cut, chewed through by an animal. The repairman said he was surprised that no one else had reported it, because it would have affected multiple homes.

Maybe we’re the only ones still on the line.

Time for a Rant

I open my eyes on Sunday at my usual 6:30AM, except it’s only 5:30. I pretend for another hour, but it isn’t the same. I give up when it reaches 6:30 because the dog doesn’t know about time changes.

While she eats her bowl of food, oblivious to my grumpiness, I change the time on the microwave with a few easy clicks. Then I drag a chair over to the counter so I can climb up and adjust the clock on the wall. On my knees, I take the clock down, fiddle with the wheel at the back and hang it back up, leveling it with the border on the wall, because the ceiling isn’t quite flat. It’s an old house.

Later, sitting on my couch, I stare with annoyance at a clock on the shelf. Sighing, I stand up to change that one too.

At least I’ll have time for a nap today.

On Monday I wake up at 4:32 and quickly do the math. I have two hours till my alarm and my body still thinks it’s 5:32. I convince myself to go back to sleep for a while.  I wake with a start at 5:48, a minor victory.

Then I head into school where bleary-eyed kids do not understand why they’re so tired. None of us will feel like working, but we’ll plod through the week.

I hate the time change.

It will take several days to adjust, at least a week for my students. When we spring forward, it will take twice as long. If you expand that to the general population, just think of the loss of productivity twice each year.

I get a cold every year about now. I always figured it was due to stress and kid germs and frosty days closed up inside. But it turns out, the seasonal loss of sleep is also associated with increases in illness and even heart disease.

So, who’s bright idea was this anyway? Ben Franklin suggested waking people up early, but the US didn’t jump on the bandwagon until 1918. Back then, the idea was that if people were awake more in daylight hours, we’d save on energy consumption. But it doesn’t work out quite that way in our gadget obsessed age.

Also, it turns out Daylight Savings Time costs us money. The increase in daylight hours apparently causes us to spend lots of money. Then the economy suffers when we switch back in the fall. Maybe that’s why they made it another couple of weeks longer?

I would argue that Daylight Savings Time is bad for the environment. All those extra awake hours of daylight mean more hours in the car, which automatically means more fossil fuels, which explains who was behind the extra hour of DST in 1986.

My husband likes Daylight Savings Time better than Standard Time. I just wish we’d pick one and stick to it.

It’s even affecting the quality of this essay.

It’s obviously a conspiracy.

But I have a plan. One day, when I finally retire, I’m going to dutifully change my clocks like I always have. But come spring, I will go to bed an official hour later than I do in the fall. The time will change, but I will not. So there, DST!

Ripples in Time

On Saturday morning, my husband suggests we go to an out-of-the-way farmer’s market. We get there before they open, but he says “there are things to look at” and we continue down the road. I smile and nod. I’m along for the ride.

He points out a trap shooting place where he went as a kid and reminds me of the restaurant that burned to the ground. Several miles later we pull in to a conservation area where he used to fish.

“We came here even in winter because the water was always open.”

I ask, “Why didn’t it ice over?”

“They have bubblers,” he tells me. “You’ll see.

We park and walk down a gravel road along the “ditches” as the signs call them. He gestures to a row of wooden posts sticking out of the water.

“There were docks on those where we could stand and fish on all sides.”

Bubblers, like tiny fountains, send rings of ripples out around them. “See?” He points.


We come to a patch of soft ground and spot paw prints.

“Looks like a big dog,” he says.

“Or a cougar,” I guess.

Another set of prints is clearly a racoon.


He spots a fish making its own set of smaller ripples at the surface, but it’s the only one he sees. No one is here fishing on a Saturday morning, a sure sign that the catfish and crappie are gone. Further on, the ditches open into the Illinois River, where Asian Carp have taken over, dangerously lowering the native species.

A concrete boat ramp sits partially out of the water, skewed at an angle.

“I think this is where we used to launch our boat.”


As we walk back, he kicks the gravel. “We used to find arrow heads along here, but they’ve probably built this road up with trucks of gravel several times since then.”

As he leans over to point to a tiny frog, it takes off with a powerful foot-long leap into the weeds.

We pull out and head down the road. Looking back, he says, “I must have fished here a hundred times, even though it’s a long drive.”

My childhood home is a city, hours away, so I don’t often run across people and places that bring back those early memories. The manmade landscape has changed many times over in urban renewal. I tend to reminisce about people, their words and how they felt.

His stories are activities: a neighborhood wiffle golf ball tournament, playing baseball where the library is now, and burying treasure in a friend’s backyard. The locations surround us as we live mere miles from where he grew up.

My recollections are moments pinned to a timeline of my life, emotional events that shaped me, as the lead, and the other roles in my story. There are moments of precious friendship, heartbreak, grief, joy, and loss, each one complete with characters and plot, even if the setting’s space is a little fuzzy.

His stories are fixed in place, literally the locations where they occurred. Each adventure is a spot on a map of his childhood, with episodes reoccurring to him as we drive past them in the present.

Our memories of our time together are parallel. He knows when the furnace was put in, when the trees were planted, when our daughters’ cars might need service, even though they live in different states. Mine is a memory of important events: first declarations of love, our daughters’ births and milestones, vacations, graduations, life lessons. He can find spots visited only once. I can find items others have lost in the house. Together we keep the structure of our home and lives in place.

The memories link like the water to the river, endless ripples flowing on.



For the first time in several years and several pounds, I clean out my clothes closet. Maybe that’s what makes me resolve to be ruthless in getting rid of much of it. A few things with price tags still attached. The dresses that don’t fit and the ones that I kept for unexpected school skit costumes when my daughters were in high school. I don’t really need to keep the flowered bridesmaid’s dress from my best friend’s wedding either. Anything stained or tight or frayed. The piles for Goodwill and the trash grow equally. I toss out pieces of my history.

I pitch a pair of worn sandals and the white heels I wore as a bride that pinched my feet. I send my daughter a picture of a pair of cream-colored flats to see if she wants them.

“Are those from the 80’s?” she texts back.

Hmm. Maybe. Doesn’t seem that long ago.

My pale green prom dress, as unattractive as it was, and my lacy wedding dress go back in. Some stories need to stay.

Now that I’m writing again, everything makes me think of stories. I finish the closet rack and shelves and turn to the dresser. My ruthlessness continues through my sock drawer. They’re just socks after all. But as I’m sorting through a couple decades of t-shirts, I think, it’s no wonder I find it so hard to edit. Everything has associations. Everything ties together to make a whole.

Since I started my blog last fall, I write stories. They’re not as wordy and rambling as the ones I tell in person, but I’ve gradually realized that staying on topic and speaking concisely are not my forte. Every piece I write should be edited down to its essence. I sometimes compose a gripping lede and often add a pithy closing. It’s the squishy middle that bogs me down.

It’s not that I haven’t pared down my clothes before. I have. It’s just that this time, I can pitch my favorite ancient dinosaur t-shirt that says, “Read! Avoid Extinction!”

If there is hope for my wardrobe, maybe there is hope for my essays as well.


Unwanted Info

Back in the days of letter writing I had an aunt who avidly read the newspaper. Whenever she sent letters (which weren’t fascinating reads, as I recall) she would enclose newspaper clippings that she was sure the recipient would be fascinated by or would benefit from reading. A tiny lady with a big purse, if you saw her in person, it was guaranteed that she had a clipping or two in that purse just for you.

As teenagers and young adults, my sister and I would roll our eyes at this aunt’s complete lack of understanding of what any of us would like to read. Now, of course, we find ourselves a bit more like this aunt than we’d like to admit. An Echo of the past.

Do we clip articles out of the newspaper to share with family and friends? Of course not. We know better than that. But….

My siblings and I have group email chains starting with a link that one has sent the rest, leading to retaliatory links sent in return, leading to related topics, links and commentary.

A bit nerdy, you say. Absolutely. But that’s only because they aren’t on social media. Everyone on social media seems to be a descendent of my aunt.

I’m just as guilty. When I see an article, essay, or photo that speaks to me or finally explains what some news/political event was really about, I post it, sure that all my Facebook friends will see it and feel the same way. A few friends click LIKE out of loyalty or based on the headline, a couple will actually read it and comment, and the rest are likely scrolling past rolling their eyes, wondering what on earth I was thinking. (Yep, that’s what I do sometimes. Guilty.)

Newspaper clipping equivalents abound on Twitter. Link after link after link….

Then there are the bloggers. We create our own newspaper clipping’s worth of thoughts and send them out, saying, “Here, read this. This is just what you need to know.”

We often say that our older relatives wouldn’t know what to do with the technology of this modern age. But something tells me my aunt would feel right at home.


Almost four hundred years ago, the Pilgrims established a colony on land that was only vacant because Europeans brought in diseases that the native people were unable to survive. The Pilgrims too might have succumbed due to their own ignorance and ineptitude in this new world if not for the aid of the Wampanoag people.  Because of a romanticized notion of the harvest celebration that followed, today Americans set aside the fourth Thursday of November to gather with family and friends and binge eat, sometimes also overindulging in drinks and football.

While I despise the ignorance and arrogance that got us here, I appreciate a day dedicated to appreciation. I’m thankful for a holiday whose focus is bringing people together in gratitude, as well as focusing on another of my favorite things: food.

As cooking rolls along Thanksgiving Day, the  Aromatic scent of turkey will creep out of the kitchen and roll through the house. Baking bread will send a side order of scent. Cranberry sauce made from fresh cranberries will savor its tang until served. Vegetables will simmer on the stove, while sweet potatoes, baked earlier, will reheat in the microwave. Dressing and mashed potatoes will arrive with people to eat them. Pies will rest to the side, waiting to be the finale to a fine meal.

At the table, smiles will be exchanged while dishes and laughter are passed from hand to hand. My dog will beg, then park herself at the feet of the one who slips her the biggest pieces of Thanksgiving goodness. We may need a break before dessert, loosening our belts and regretting the seconds or thirds we served ourselves. Stories will be told, armchair quarterbacks will be on duty, and recipes will be exchanged. Finally we’ll all stand at the door with goodbyes, hugs, and packages of leftovers.

Wishing you all many reasons to be thankful, an abundance of good food and the company of those you love most.

W: a Baseball Fairy Tale

The 2016 World Series for non-baseball fans

Would you like to hear a bedtime story?

Yes, the child said.


Once upon a time there were two bands of merry men. The ones from a land called Chicago called themselves after little baby bears. The others from a land called Cleveland had an inappropriate tradition of calling themselves after native people. They both fought their way through a series of challenges to meet for their final challenge, called the World Series.

Did the whole world fight? the child asked.

Well, no, it’s really just a challenge for one country and a single team in another country. But if the whole world cared about this sport, they were still sure they’d be the best.

The child asked, Are there any princesses in this story?

No princesses, but there are lots of diamonds.

It had been 68 years since Cleveland had won this final challenge, though they had been back to try a few times since. But Chicago had not even made it to the World Series for 71 years and it had been 108 years since they had won it. For years fans remained loyal and said, Next year. But others doubted they would ever break the curse and return.

Are you sure it was 108? the child asked. Sleeping Beauty’s curse lasted for 100 years.

Yes, I’m sure. These merry men and their fans keep exacting statistics.

So, Cleveland and Chicago battled on Cleveland’s diamond. Cleveland won. Then Chicago won. The battle moved to Chicago. Cleveland won two in a row, before Chicago came back and won again. Back in Cleveland, Chicago soundly defeated Cleveland, tying the series 3-3.

It was the final night of the fight. Across the Midwest a storm raged, pelting city after city with rain and hail. But in Cleveland all was well. The challenge began.

Chicago took off with a home run. Chicago fans’ hopes were high. Cleveland fought back. Then Chicago surged ahead, before Cleveland came back hitting. It was the bottom of the ninth. The score was tied 6-6. Fans were in despair.

That’s when the storm reached Cleveland. The rain started slowly at first, then heavier and heavier. The tied game was delayed.

So it was a tie? the child asked.

No, there are no ties in Baseball. The game goes on until someone wins.

Around the country, people sat on the edge of their seats in anxiety and anticipation, while others held their eyes opened and looked at the time, and wondered when the game could continue.

Seventeen minutes, or an eternity later, the rain lifted and the game continued. As the ninth inning ended, the teams remained tied, 3-3 games, the score 6-6.

In the top of the tenth inning a sincere young knight from Chicago hit a line drive, sending a runner to home. Another knight drove in a second run. In the bottom of the tenth, Cleveland tried to strike back, but they were one run shy.

With that, the 108 year curse was ended and the little bears from Chicago were the champions.

Is that the end? the child asked.

Yep, the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

That was a good story, the child said. But I still like princesses better.