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LIFESTYLE

Claudia Myers column: What makes you laugh?

It’s the opinion of a few people on Google that the humorous TV sitcom is dying. Why is that? Do we no longer think something that’s funny is important?

Written By: Claudia Myers, For the News Tribune | 6:00 am, Nov. 3, 2021

Claudia Myers

My husband would tell our adult kids: “Find someone who makes you laugh.”

Makes sense, but, why do we laugh at what we laugh at? I always thought I had a pretty cerebral sense of humor, yet I chortle and snort at the Laurel and Hardy movie that shows them trying to move a piano from a third-story narrow building. You just know the piano is not going to make it in one piece. But I know people who don’t think Laurel and Hardy are the least bit funny.

My husband and I have watched “The Producers” so many times, with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder schmoozing little old ladies into supporting their flop Broadway musicals, and “Young Frankenstein,” with Peter Boyle as Frankenstein, in his top hat and tails, doing the soft shoe. I will admit that “Laugh In” doesn’t do it for me as much as it did 40 years ago, but “Pink Panther’s” Inspector Clouseau driving his car into the lake for the umpteenth time starts helpless laughter. All pretty slapstick, if you ask me.

Here’s my friend, Jan, and I in the fancy Minneapolis hotel elevator, visiting the Big City to celebrate our birthdays, talking to beat the band. Finally wondering, after 10 whole minutes, why we weren’t going anywhere. Huh! Hadn’t punched the “up” button because we were talking so hard. Uh, oh. Try not to make eye contact with all those people waiting for the elevator.

Same trip, we somehow set the timer on the TV. We’d click the “off” button, hop into bed, settle down — and the TV would blare back on. Get up, turn the TV off, hop into bed, settle, TV blaring. Over and over, until we were hysterically laughing and crying. We had to call room service to come up and turn off our television. How embarrassing!

MORE BY CLAUDIA MYERS:

Here I am, at a quilt retreat where I was requested to bring a multi-plug to use. Everything set up, machine, iron, light — but dang! Nothing would go on. Check everything — yep, all “devices” plugged in. Nothing working. Housekeeping came by and pointed out that I had plugged the multi-plug into the multi-plug. That’s when you sneak a look around to see if anyone noticed.

Facebook is a great source of “ha, ha ha’s!” Like the woman in a bathing suit and rubber shoes, shower cap on her head, clutching her closed-up ironing board under her arm and charging into the ocean. Caption: “Ironwoman Contest”.

Another one that reduces me to giggles is the big sheepdog seated at the computer, which shows a picture of a rowdy group of sheep. Caption: “Morty’s been working from home, these days.”

And the “True Meaning of Dogsledding” as the two dogs race uphill in the snow, flop on their sides and shimmy down the icy hillside. Again and again and again. That’s right up there with the backyard full of open cardboard boxes, each holding a cat. Caption: “The cat traps are working.”

It’s the opinion of a few people on Google that the humorous TV sitcom is dying. Why is that? Do we no longer think something that’s funny is important?

Are we so serious now, that we can’t see the silly humor in “Seinfeld’s” Elaine and her “Big Salad?" Can we ever say to someone “No soup for you!” without breaking up?

Forget the gory crime shows, the ridiculous “Make It In the Jungle for a Week Naked as a Jaybird” shows. Just think about the final closer of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the “Group Hug,” as a clump of six sniffling people “group-shuffled” their way over to the desk for the Kleenex box. Ha, ha, ha! Which makes you feel better?

How about Tim Conway, tiring of the long-winded speaker, climbing up on the banquet table, pulling the tablecloth over himself, sticking his thumb in his mouth and gently dozing off?

Or Carol Burnett, in the green drapery dress from a Scarlet O’Hara take-off, but with the curtain rods left in the shoulders.

“I Love Lucy” and Ethel working in the candy factory, keeping up with the accelerating assembly line by stuffing chocolate creams into their mouths.

Tell me a “Sven and Ole” joke and I’m your friend forever. Cerebral? I think not!

So, here’s a little joke to hopefully brighten your day, with a guffaw, a chuckle or maybe just a snort! Ahem.

My friend Georgia is a loopy, all-in grandmother, crazy about her only grandson, Georgie. She had him out for a walk by the ocean when he was 3 years old and oh, no! A huge wave came up and sucked him in! He was gone! Really gone. My friend looks up and says: “God, I know that was you.”

So I’m asking, begging, pleading with you to give back my one and only precious grandson. I’ve been a good woman, going to church, donating quilts to the needy, working at the food shelf. Please, please give him back.

Ploop! Just like that, the big wave tossed out the little kid, right at her feet.

Georgia looked up, paused for a deep breath, and said: “He had a hat.”

Next time: The story of the 55-pound Thanksgiving turkey.

 

 

Saturdays in Western Germany

One of the first things I learned, while living for two years in Germany, was that the German folk had many unwritten, unspoken rules about the right way to do something. And that doing them the wrong way had not to do with your stupidity, but something to do with the quality of your character.

In 1964, German families spaced their children’s arrivals. New baby, wait seven years, another new baby. Done! I was already on the suspicious list, wheeling my new-born and my toddler around the neighborhood, in the lovely, big-hooded German baby carriage we had purchased. Later that year, when I became pregnant with number three, hands were thrown up, eyes rolled. Ach! Americanischers! All except for our 2nd German landlady, Frau Ludwig. She was a widow, raising a teen-age son. When the new baby turned out to be a little girl, Frau Ludwig was delighted and quickly turned into a doting grandmother. She and teenager, Hans, were the best babysitters, ever! Hans, had made friends with the American soldiers. He spoke English slang and wore his hair in a “D.A.” to go with his Levi jeans. Hans was Henry Winkler before Fonzi was Fonzi.   

            Here it is, Saturday morning. We had moved from the huge old, Empire-style, coal-gobbling house, and were living in a brand-new four-plex and this time lived upstairs, where heat rises. Our entrance was shared and didn’t include our own outside porch steps, stoop or “Vordertreppe”. Important, because every single Saturday, before noon, you were expected to be seen outside, “schrubben der Vordertreppe”,  and also washing your car. If you didn’t get out there in time, well, you know, roll-y eyes. I was excused—no treppes. Tom washed the car on his day off, not usually a Saturday, but HE was a doctor, so he was forgiven, also..

            Speaking of, Tom had only finished a few months of his Dermatology residency, and anyway, Bitburg Fighter Wing Air Base, under Col. Blood (nope, not making that up) didn’t need a Dermatologist. They needed an Obstetrician or a 2nd Pediatrics physician, which would he like to be? When he chose Pediatrics, the Real Pediatrician did his best Snoopy dance of Joy and immediately went on 30 days leave to someplace warm and quiet, leaving Tom to carry around the textbook and deal with the waiting room full of sniffling children whose mothers had gone to the px grocery after dropping them off.

               Your average “Deutscher-bub” (German citizen) did their food shopping every day, walking to the butcher shop, bakery and das Milchgeschäft (dairy).  Everyone carried their cloth bags, recycling before we even knew how to spell the word.  Everone grew their gardens in their front yard. Grass was a waste of space. Everyone grew the strange Atomic-looking vegetable, kohlrabi, growing on its’ little stilts.

               Another thing you could set your clocks by, was the big draft horses delivering their wooden wagon-full of locally-brewed Bitburger Pils to the house around the corner---every Tuesday, just before noon.  Most families got several different barrels of beer. There was one for breakfast, one for lunch and a different one for dinner. One for nursing mothers, one for elderly folk, even one for little kids and babies, who were nourished on milk, beer and great quantities of carrot juice, which accounted for their slightly orangish skin tones. Really. After the customers were taken care of, the horses got to take a break and have lunch. Out came the big canvas nosebags full of Bitburger Pils and left-over mash. Happy horses.

            Besides beer, the German people excelled at cakes mit “schlag” (whipped cream) and many other varieties of baked goods. When I was large and pregnant with baby Three, I would visit the obstetrician weekly. Once I had gotten weighed and measured and been given the finger-wagging pep talk about watching my diet, I would make a detour to the Bakerei, where I would devour everything in sight. Ahhhh. Schlag.

            Every base “post exchange” in our area of Germany had their specialty as far as what you could purchase there. One base had an impressive array of stereo equipment, another had jewelry, another had camera and darkroom supplies. My husband was lured by the latter and purchased a lovely Nikon camera and all the trimmings to set up a darkroom in our 5 foot by 5 foot only bathroom. Tom loved finding things to take pictures of. A close-up of my face, showing every pore, the boys carrying rocks, his own fingernails. One day, leaving the Hospital/clinic, he noticed an unusual airplane landing inside a fenced area, so he retrieved his camera from home and hurried back to take pictures. He was really getting some good shots, when he felt a presence behind him. There, keeping a no-nonsense eye on what he was doing, was a whole squadron of Military Police, each holding very large firearm, accompanied by a few serious-looking dogs. After marching him to headquarters and confiscating his film, he was told to be on his way and “Don’t Do That Again”. We must have had a discussion about it, because few days later, our baby boy finally said his very first word. Sitting in his highchair, he pointed his chubby little finger out the window and said---- “Aow-plane”!

Next time-Have guidebook (“Europe on $5 a Day”) will travel.

 

 

LIFESTYLE

              CELEBRATING NEW YEARS’ DAY-1964

            I’d never been on a plane before, nor been out of the U. S., not even to Downtown Chicago, where my taxi was headed, on December 31st, 1963. It was one of those nerve-wracking times you just grit your teeth and get through, stashing it away in your brain, under “Things I Don’t Remember”. I’d seen glamorous pictures of women who travel on airplanes. So, here I come-Dress, hat, high heels and pantyhose, toting a newborn, a toddler, purse and diaper bag. I was new at this flying stuff.

            My traveling companions weren’t any more experienced than I was, since they were 18 months old and 2 and ½ weeks new. We were barreling down the highway trying to get to the courthouse and back to the airport before the plane took off again, on its’ way to Germany. Our mission was to get the new baby added onto my passport. Not enough time to get him one of his own. Starting in Minnesota that morning, headed for Wiesbaden, where hopefully my husband, Tom, would come to our rescue and drive us to our new home for the next two years, Bitburg Air Base. He’d made it through medical school and internship on the Barry Plan-a deferred military draft agreement that allowed you to finish your education. He had started his residency in Rochester when the government called in its’ favors and sent him to West Germany. He had the option to be there only two years, but we’d have to cover traveling and live off-base. We can do this, we said! This will be fun, we said! Silly us.

            I’m sure the Chicago cab driver doesn’t remember me, but I certainly remember him. He parked in the cab stand, carried the baby and the diaper bag and waited with me while we wrangled with the red tape and papers. He must have been a dad, himself.

            He got us back just as the gates were closing and off we went! The boys were so good during the long plane ride, the newest one sleeping most of the way and the oldest chattering to the flight attendants, who kept him supplied with crackers and soft drinks. When we finally landed, the fellow behind us tried to put his shoes back on, splosh, splosh!  My son had stashed his extra ice cubes, there. Oops! Sorry.

            And there was Tom, a huge smile on his face, looking so distinguished in his uniform! He took charge of our bedraggled selves, piled us into the car and headed down the dark highway, eager to show us the place he had found for us to live. The boys and I heaved big sighs of relief and promptly dozed off. Hearing Tom say, “Here we are!”, I opened my eyes and tried to make sense of what I was looking at….a very large dark building with no lights anywhere. Rather foreboding and Adams Family-ish. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could make out that there were tall windows, but they seemed to be all boarded up. Oh no! Here I was, on the other side of the world, with my little guys to take care of and I’m going to live in a condemned building in a place I never heard of before.

            “No, not condemned!”, Tom explained, “Just very old, maybe 1850.” and the boards were outside rolling shutters that were closed at night. 1850 wasn’t old by Bitburg standards, which was celebrating its’1250 Jahrseit (anniversary as a city) that year and it turned out that our house and the school buildings across the street were some of the few left standing after the Battle of the Bulge, WW2. Our landlady, Frau Dressler, lived on the second floor, up the majestic cast-iron stairway. The unheated stairway hall was home to the one and only toilet, a high-tank, pull-chain monster, offering an icy-freezing seat, October to March. Not the best incentive for a toddler-in-potty-training.

            But, it was a lovely, old house- marble floors, leaded windows, carved woodwork, no running hot water, no closets or cupboards and spiders the size of soup cans.           

            We, on the first floor, were in charge of heating the building. In the cellar, was a behemoth of a coal-burning furnace, bigger than a Volkswagon bus, with octopus arms on four sides. We bought the coal, shoveled the coal, kept the coal burning 24/7 and, when Tom was at work, guess who “We” was! Us guys! Hot water was through a small electric boiler machine and after the baby and toddler clothes were washed, they got hauled up to the 3rd-floor attic, where the clothes lines were hung and the ragged holes were still visible in the stone walls from the tank shells of WW2.       

            After getting on that plane in the Midwest of the1960s, I felt we had entered a time warp and come out, not in the New Year of 1964, but in the mid-1800s. Clothing and buildings were different, even the food and of course, the language. I spoke a little college German. I could discuss the weather , ask how much something cost and if I happened to be riding on a bus, I could read "Nicht Mit der Wagenfurer Sprechen"-do not speak to the bus driver. Evidently Verboten. Good thing my Chicago cabbie didn't mind chatting, or I probably would still be in the Chicago courthouse.

Next time- Saturday mornings in Germany.

LIFESTYLE

Claudia Myers column: 'I solemnly resolve'

We should vow to do things we actually have a chance of accomplishing.

Written By: Claudia Myers, For the News Tribune | 7:00 pm, Dec. 28, 2021

Claudia Myers

I’ve been thinking about good intentions, “meaning wells,” as in “she meant well, poor dear,” and New Year’s resolutions. I think they are all related and greatly overrated.

New Year’s resolutions are sort of like campaign promises to ourselves. They sound so noble, so uplifting. We say just what we know we want to hear. But deep down they are really just so much hot air. Why is it we think we can ignore that two-pound box of Russell Stover’s chocolates hiding in the cupboard? It certainly won’t help with that 20 pounds we think we can lose.

Going to the gym and going to church are also biggies. We proclaim our resolutions loudly to our friends because they make us feel so “goody two shoes.” Ever notice how quiet we become after missing four days lifting weights and spending several Sundays sleeping in?

Here’s the answer! We should vow to do things we actually have a chance of accomplishing, like remembering to plug in our cellphones or putting out the garbage on the right day! I’m talking resolutions that would give us some positive feedback, instead of scolding ourselves for that maple nut ice cream. Yay me! Four days in a row I’ve remembered to make my bed! Yessss! I’ve gone a whole day without saying anything stupid and earning myself a “Motherrrrr!”

You know, sure as sunshine, you’re only going to ride your exercycle three days in a row, then you are going to go back to piling your clothes on it, so make your resolution for only three days. See? That works!

Speaking of feedback, I’m going to take just a small detour here and climb on my soapbox. The first time most of us encountered feedback was on eBay. It seemed like a good idea at the time, letting the general public know if you had a bad experience or even a good one. Now, every time you go to a doctor appointment, hire a plumber, read a book or purchase something from an online catalogue, you are expected to sit down and write all about the experience, wonderfully gratifying or horribly disillusioning.

To me, if I return to your business and buy something over and over, that’s great feedback. If you never see me and countless others again, it should give you a clue that you’d darn well better check and find out for yourself what’s going on with your business. But, I’m not going to bad-mouth you for the world at large to know about. Maybe you had a toothache that day. Maybe your cat died. Maybe the person packing up your orders has a new, dreamy boyfriend on the other end of her cellphone.

Whatever. When I was in junior high, we had something called a “slam book.” Friends and not-really-friends would circulate these spiral notebooks with a name on each page and you were invited to give your anonymous opinion of that person. It was a rather cruel rite of passage and quite often hurtful, but there it was, in writing, that nobody thought your jokes were funny and your eyebrows needed plucking. I think it was meant as encouragement to better yourself. Sort of like feedback, huh?

Sorry, I got off track. Resolutions. Question: Why do we only make them once a year or, with practicing religious folk, twice — one for the new year and one for Lent? When people make these firm statements about “no more pizza” or even “no more beer” they must know that they are only going to make it through the first week or so before their determination slinks off into the sunset and they feel bad about themselves.

So why not make a weekly resolution? Or daily? “Wow, look at me, World. I went a whole week without eating the Butterfinger candy bar I know I have hidden under my bed!” See there, a positive ending, not a negative. Maybe an hourly would do the trick.

Some people find it helpful to keep journals, as in “Here, let me just write down that I have drunk 15 glasses of water today.”

Or, “Oh, Tom, sorry, I didn’t have time to fix dinner tonight. I was too busy getting caught up with my lists, journals and feedback, but look at all the high-minded comments I’ve made!”

Or, here’s an idea, you can just keep your resolutions and lists to yourself. That way, it will be easier, less embarrassing and you won’t feel so guilty when you rip them up and throw them away. Because you know you probably will.

I make a weekly to-do list, then break it down into days. OK, sometimes Tuesday things get shifted to Thursday when I can’t get them done on Tuesday, so you might be right in saying these are not resolutions, they are merely suggestions. I call it “being flexible,” but it works for me … sort of. By the way, has anyone seen where I put the note to myself that reminds me where I put my list for today? Wait! Maybe I hid it in the box of Russell Stover’s. I’ll go check.

Next time: It was New Year’s Day, 1964.

Claudia Myers column: Oh, Christmas tree!

Marriage is hard enough without having to argue about tinsel.

Written By: Claudia Myers, For the News Tribune | 6:10 am, Dec. 15, 2021

 

 

Claudia Myers

My childhood Christmases were dark and warm, smelling of pine, as we opened our presents by the lights of the tree, which never appeared until early Christmas morning. Now that I’ve been through many Christmases with children, I am totally amazed that my parents pulled that off, waiting until the kid was asleep to quietly drag the tree in, set it up and decorate it. No wonder I had to wait upstairs while my dad went down to make sure Santa had been there. Probably my mom was still struggling with the tree lights.

For years, my mom only decorated with blue lights, blue glass ornaments and tinsel. Tinsel is like bagpipes — you are either a fan or not a fan. Tinsel should be one of the deciding factors in choosing a spouse, like the Miracle Whip vs. mayonnaise question. Marriage is hard enough without having to argue about tinsel. Angel hair is not even to be spoken of.

Flocking. We were not flocked-tree people. We never had a pink tree, not even silver, and I know people who will only have a Scotch pine or a fancy tree trucked in from the Great Northwest. We had plain old balsam pines that would start shedding their needles as soon as you put them up, but they always smelled like Christmas. Oh yes! We also had bubble lights. They usually hung upside-down, like bats, and didn’t work. So it was always a big surprise when all of a sudden, they would start to bubble! Whoa! Who poked the bubble lights!?

Imagine my disbelief, our first Christmas, when I discovered that my bridegroom had been raised in a Scotch-pine family with no tinsel! How had I not noticed that? At that time, I was working at a flower shop and had learned to make bows as big as your head. So, we got a Scotch pine tree and I decorated it with huge orange ribbon bows — and tinsel! Make it work, we said.

Then, came a military move to Germany for our little family, where Christmas is celebrated with much enthusiasm and often includes liquor-filled chocolate ornaments for the Tannenbaums. And yes, our two little boys had eaten most of them before I figured that out.

The late 1960s saw a succession of small trees jammed into the living room corner of our medical resident's housing unit, as we returned to Minnesota. The trees were dwarfed by the pile of toys for three children, dolls and bears and Legos and trucks and pull toys that made dreadful noises. Wak-wak! Our tree was always up before Christmas morning, because: "Maaahhmmm, everybody else has their tree up. Santa won’t even come if we don't have a tree!"

Our first Duluth Christmas in the old Victorian house, plaid ribbons and sparkles covered everything! We had no furniture and all three children had the mumps. There they were, wearing their first skis, wistfully gazing at the snow outside the windows, standing in front of the huge tree. The house had 13-foot ceilings, which to me, meant 12½-foot Christmas trees. One year, I exceeded the tallness limit and the marks were still on the ceiling when we sold the house.

Early '80s, my daughter and I went to the estate sale at the bishop's house. Down in the cavernous basement was the specially made 30-pound rotating tree stand — $25! How could we leave it? But now the tree had to be ram-rod straight. If it was the least bit crooked, it wobbled like a guy on his third bowl of Tom and Jerrys. But, it was magical! When we built the log house, there was no question, the tree stand came with us. We sold many things, but never that!

The first Christmas in the woods saw us camping in the almost-finished house and the snow was getting deeper and deeper. In a burst of holiday cheer, Tom said, "I think there are some good trees just behind the garage," and he trudged off on his snowshoes, returning with a large, snow-covered lump. We got it into the rotating stand and the snow began to melt. This tree had to be about 18 feet tall, with maybe 12 branches. We called it "Wilt the Stilt" and hung a few ornaments on it. Lights were too heavy and it would have taken many packages of tinsel to make it beautiful. After that Christmas we bought an artificial tree. Tom said he just didn't want to cut down anymore of his trees, even the ugly ones.

The artificial tree had to be put together branch by branch. We devised a color code with ribbons to try to get it together in order. One year, we misplaced the list of colors and it wound up looking like a porcupine on a bad hair day. For years, we grumbled about that tree and so, when we moved into our present home — the 1952 "Prairie Rambler" — we decided it was time to simplify our lives, so we sold the tree stand and gave away the tree, with our blessings, thank you bishop, for all those years of magic.

Next time: Good intentions and lofty resolutions

THANKFUL FOR THANKSGIVING

“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go” always floats its way into my mind when I remember family Thanksgivings, because we did, indeed, go over the river — the muddy Susquehanna in upstate New York, to be exact — to get to Thanksgiving celebrations at my Gramma’s. The women would all be in the kitchen, each making their specialty to serve at dinner. My oldest aunt made the creamed onions. Dreadful, slimy things that my father thought were the best thing on the whole table. My mom was right up there with the shredded-carrot orange Jell-O salad. Whoever heard of crunchy Jell-O?

The men would be in the living room, doing whatever men did before television and the all-day Football Marathon. The children (four cousins: The Twins, Me-the-Only-Child and Sharel-Everybody’s Favorite) were playing “Hide the Button.” Really. I kid you not. Hide the Button. Having fun, too. After dinner, there would always be a “discussion” between my father and his sister, shouting and interrupting, posturing and laughing. Because those two loved to argue with each other, like a debate team event that they looked forward to every year. Everyone else just ignored them and went to clean up the kitchen. I never remember any leftovers. Except the creamed onions.

When my family moved to Rochester, Minnesota, one of the most amazing things we found was “The Thanksgiving Smorgasboard.” Instead of piling all the food on the table and trusting that the turkey would get passed to you before all the dark meat was gone, you could just waltz right up there, get in line and take whatever you wanted — and then go back for more!

In Rochester, the Carlton Hotel put on a Sunday smorgasbord that was legendary. It looked like one of those famous oil paintings that get made into puzzles. You know, the groaning board heaped with fowl and fish and split-open melons, tipped-over wine glasses — well, maybe not the wine glasses, it being Sunday in 1957 and all. But you get the decadent drift.

The first time we were invited to my husband-to-be’s family Thanksgiving was my first encounter with the lowly rutabaga. On the East Coast, we had turnips. In Minnesota, you have rutabagas. And I have to say, they are a vast improvement. Nothing’s more divine than warmed-up rutabaga for lunch, the day after Thanksgiving. The other new experience with the Myers’ Thanksgiving was the raspberry sherbet, served right before dinner, in lovely little crystal-stemmed goblets. Didn’t matter if the turkey was getting cold or the gravy lumpy — you ate your raspberry sherbet. I told you before that I married up, didn’t I!

Several times after Tom and I and the kids moved to Duluth, we tried driving to Rochester to have Thanksgiving with our families, but the weather was never cooperative. The last time came as we were going over Thompson Hill, keeping an eye on the glaze of ice on the highway. I was knitting a pair of gloves for my dad, just to keep my mind off the road. There were cars in the ditch on either side, the kids were being very quiet and the gloves were getting more lumpy and deformed. We started to slide and that’s when we turned around and came home — Kentucky Fried Chicken for Thanksgiving dinner never looked so good.

And so began the Duluth celebrations in the big old Victorian house. It was perfect for large, boisterous gatherings, no matter if the woodwork was being stripped or the wallpaper being peeled. The house always seemed happiest when a party was going on. Most years there were guests at the table — dancers, usually, because Thanksgiving falls right in the middle of “Nutcracker” rehearsals, when no dancer could even think of going home for a holiday.

I remember one year, they taught us to play pinochle, and another year, the new puppy threw up under the dining table, complete with loud sound effects. The kids would compete to see who could stick the most black olives on their fingers before someone said, “Hey! Who took all the black olives?” There was one young man from out east who was so excited to have wild rice and said over and over how good it was, until I noticed he was eating the green bean casserole.

Now that our kids are adults, everybody brings something and is also responsible for fixing it. My daughter brings the desserts and sometimes appetizers, too. The middle son brings the wine, plus potatoes and rutabagas, which means peeling, chopping, cooking and mashing them. The oldest son now brings the wild rice casserole and the Baileys, but for several years he contributed the turkey. He had friends from the Renaissance Festival who had free-range turkeys.

One year, he came with a worried look on his face and started by saying: “Mom, it was the last one they had.” OK.

My son: “Not sure how we are going to cook it, but I think it will be really good.” OK.

My son: “It weighs 55 pounds.” Omg!

My son: “There was a bigger one, 75 pounds, but it died of a heart attack just before I got there.”

Next time: Speaking of the Nutcracker …

HA, HA HALLOWEEN!

Written By: Claudia Myers, For the News Tribune | 12:00 pm, Oct. 19, 2021

Claudia Myers

I don’t get all worked up about Halloween, but I know people who do. I have friends in the theater world whose year-long project is how best to astound their friends and neighbors with their Halloween costume extravaganzas. They even send postcards with pictures!

I got over that in sixth grade. My mother had made me a perfectly lovely witch costume, pointy hat and all, so I was excited to show it off at school. Halfway through the day, the kids who had brought costumes were allowed to go to the washroom and put them on. So, here I come in my spiffy witch outfit and, right behind me comes Irene, prettiest girl in class, all tricked out in her sparkly, jingly belly dancer outfit, with makeup on and her long, curly hair bouncing around.

Talk about feeling like a dud. Yikes! I’ve never, since then, felt comfortable in costume, even though I designed and made them for many years.

When we moved to Duluth and bought the big old Victorian, it had been completely empty for eight lonely months. The neighborhood kids were circulating the story that it was haunted. They’d seen lights, heard noises. So it was that it took several years before anyone under age 12 ventured up the long driveway on Halloween night, even though we offered “the big candy bars.”

Our kids had no such problem and were able to turn out the best and most imaginative costumes, using the “findings” in the big packing boxes left in the “haunted” attic, with maybe a little help from Mom. For instance, prom dresses, Borgana fur coat, bathrobe, antlers, Ace bandages, sunglasses, draperies and foam rubber sheeting became a fairytale princess costume (drapery fabric, some fake pink fur and sparklies); an elk (Borgana coat, antlers, button from the Elks Club and beanie with a chin strap to hold on the antlers); and the Invisible Man (completely wrapped in Ace bandages, including his face, wearing a bathrobe and sunglasses), and out they would go!

Usually with their snowsuits covering whatever they were wearing, because, of course, in Duluth, Minnesota, it almost always snows the day before Halloween. They would present themselves to the neighbors, unzipping and showing them, “Look! I’m a bunny rabbit!”

When we moved out into the woods, the driveway was a quarter-mile long, so the only Halloween-ers we got were our grandboys. They would storm up onto the back porch in their spotted dog, (made by their Mom) Batman and Underdog costumes and we would act surprised and try to guess who they were — followed by liberal offerings of “the big candy bars.”

But, I’m here to tell you that no place does Halloween better than A.T. Jones Costumers in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to theater production rentals, Halloween is their big moneymaker — the place everyone goes for their costumes. So they decorate for the holiday, have moving figures here and there, making unearthly noises, all appropriately scary. A true shopping immersion experience!

Jones was where I would travel to as I finished up the hats and headpieces I made for the Baltimore Opera productions. The owner, George, had been a professional magician before taking over his wife’s family costume business. Up on the third floor of this very old brick building on Howard Street was where he kept his mysterious props and costumes, and it was always dark up there. There were suits of armor waiting to jump on you, silk scarves wafting in any breeze and lots of mirrors to make you think there was someone over there, watching, when it was really only you.

If you had to ride up the creaky, cantankerous, wooden freight elevator to retrieve something from the third floor, you always:

  • Never went unless there were at least three or more things you absolutely had to have.

  • Told someone where you were going and how long it was going to take you.

  • Tried to take someone with you. Nooo, they all ran past you, shaking their heads-deadlines, deadlines! Where are all the heros when you need them?

So up you went, all alone, into the mysterious darkness of disappearing victims, persons being cut in half and screaming “things” flying towards you. Okey, I probably imagined that last thing.

But, for all that, Best place I ever worked!

A Halloween column originating in Duluth, Minnesota, would not be authentic without mention of “The Great 1991 Halloween Blizzard” that dumped 36 inches of snow on us, over a four-day period, beginning on Halloween afternoon. It’s one of those folklore things.

People remember where they were, what they were doing, and most of all, what they couldn’t do for four days, like turn on the lights, cook dinner, make coffee. Some of us couldn’t flush our toilets or take showers — we had wells with electric pumps.

In our case, we had moved out to the log house in the woods the winter before. Tom came home early from work and said “storm coming.” And it did! It came and came and came! Three days later, Tom snowshoed out to the main road — a quarter-mile, wading through the waist-high drifts — and was picked up by a friend to get food and go to work.

That night, around midnight, came one of the prettiest sights I ever did see. Around the bend in our driveway trundled an enormous front-end loader, lights flashing like an unidentified flying object. The cavalry had come to plow us out! I swear I heard the “Lone Ranger music” playing. Really!

Next time: Does Dilbert make you laugh? How about Abbott and Costello or SNL? Here’s what does the trick for me!

BIG IDEAS
 

Remember the poor River’s Bend front porch, leaning and wobbly from all those excited sale participants and their heavy purses? We decided we should probably strip the 2 inches of accumulated lead paint off the pillars, railings and posts, before re-building it, right? But wait! We had just finished stripping the salmon pink paint from the inside woodwork and were heartily sick of the smell, the mess, everything about that process. I think we sent all of the kids in the Zip-Strip family to college. When a handy-man friend said, "you should get a heat gun. It’ll burn the stuff right off." WHAT A GOOD IDEA! I can do this myself! So I went to my local Sears Store (woof, woof) and wandered through the tool department (woof, woof, woof) admiring those gorgeous red metal tool cabinets that I had always lusted after. (owooo woof woof). I had to ask the guy with the tool belt (yes, woof) where to find the heat guns. When he asked did I want the regular one or the extra heavy duty one, I, of course, answered in my best "one of the guys" voice that I'd take the biggest and the best, because I had a whole front porch to strip. He seemed very impressed. Or maybe stunned, would be closer.

 

          The first day nothing went right. I kept shorting out the circuit breakers, the cord was not long enough and the dog ran away with my milk carton full of curled-up paint layers. BUT-by the second day I was sort of getting the hang of it! By 3 o’clock I hadn’t burnt myself once! The 7 layers of outside grade oil paint that had been there since 1895, just seemed to peel off like butter. This was easy-peazy! Why didn’t I know about this before? The third day, I was on to the pillars and the fourth day, I set the whole thing on fire! Whoops! Another good idea bites the dust. Or goes up in smoke. Oil paint, dry rot and blast-furnace heat-not a good combination. But, I had fun, fun, fun ‘til my family took my heat gun away-yay-yay. Sorry Beach Boys. On to other misguided helpfulness.

 Here's one BIG gross IDEA, destined to be a trainwreck from the first glimmer--Our daughter and her husband also built a log house, not far down the road from us. They are both very handy people and can do almost anything, so they did a lot of the work, themselves. The land had to be cleared, trees and shrubbery cut down and hauled away, all before the foundation could even be stepped off. The only objection to the land-clearing came from the Army Worms who had been nesting in those very trees and shrubbery. It was the year of the last and greatest Army Worm invasion. They were everywhere.!! In the concrete that got poured for the foundation. In the sub-flooring. A board would get laid down and you'd have to sweep the worms off before you could wedge it into place, because they'd be squished in between if you didn't.

            I got a wonderful "Mom Will Help You" idea of what I could do to save the day. I got a heavy metal coal shovel, two large garbage containers and green plastic bags. I would shovel those green wiggly slimy things into the garbage bags, put them into the containers before they knew what hit them and then our kids could haul them away to the Dump. So I did that---for hours and hours. But the kids didn't notice what I was doing. Didn’t see the two big cans-full of my hard labor. Didn’t haul them away to the dump. The garbage cans sat there in the burning sun, all closed in tight, all dying, all fermenting, for about a week---until one unlucky soul happened to say-“Hey what are these trash containers doing here and what is that ungodly smell??”  Y'know they still bring that up at family gatherings.  20 years later! YOU WOULD THINK by now, they would have gotten over it, wouldn’t you?

 They sound so sensible at the time—those good ideas! Some are innovative, some interesting, some do-able, and some are only pretending to be do-able. But, you know, a disaster masquerading as a good idea is just like cleaning out your closet. You start out with all the flurry and good intentions in the world. However, things start to go bad when you hit the clothes that you haven’t been able to get into for ten years, but you wistfully think that when you go on that new diet you will surely need something smaller to wear. As you sit on the floor, bogged down with each and every garment, you know it's going to get a lot worse before it ever starts looking better.

            Cue the creepy music-next time it’s Halloween!

          My good ideas seem to expand like foaming Gorilla Glue—starting small, sensible and manageable, but quickly becoming puffed-up monsters running their own show. In the 1970s, I noticed all the orphaned lace and doilies at rummage sales. Nobody seemed to want this labor-intensive beautifulness. IDEA! Buy it and make Victorian-style pillows! After all, you can’t just leave it there. People saw the pillows and wanted to buy them, so I jumped, feet first, into business, naming my new endeavor- “Confections”. This thoroughly confused people, who thought I made fudge. My pillows were Cream Puffs and Jelly Rolls, the pincushions were Sugarplums. Okey, yes, the smells from a bakery can suck me in, everytime. My Rorschach answers always have to do with hot fudge sundaes.

 

          Pretty soon I was no longer making one-of-a-kind fun projects. I had two sales reps and was stocking 165 shops across the Midwest. I had just caught the beginning of the “Country Home/Habersham” look. I was gathering supplies, overseeing construction, shipping and bookkeeping. My family would wake up to the CLECHHH sound of the tape gun as I tried to keep a step ahead of the UPS man. I would get orders- “We would like two dozen pillows exactly like this one”. There was a whole family sewing for me in Barnum and a UMD student coming in the afternoons to cut ruffles. My children were earning their spending money tagging pillows, making the inner pillow forms and going with me as I “Dumpster-Dived” for shipping boxes at the Mall. “Motherrrr! What if someone sees me?” The enjoyment and creativity had left the building! Well! That was fun while it lasted, let’s try something else. But what shall we do with all the fabric, lace and stuffing inventory?

 

          I know! NEW IDEA! I’ll make up the last of the pillows and get some other craftspeople together and we’ll have a BIG sale. This was in 1984-not a lot of craft sales, yet. My good friend was easily convinced to join me in this new project! She would be the business side, since she was the only person I knew at that time who was computer-literate. I would be the other side-whatever that was. And The River’s Bend Sale was Born—named after our Victorian house. It was invitation only and no crocheted potholders, if you please. We had lovely handcrafted silver jewelry, beveled glass boxes, and kaleidoscopes, hand-painted clothing, beautifully-lined baskets and hand made pottery. Twice a year, I would clear out my house, giving space to the vendors to come in and create their magic. We eventually numbered 32 participants from Duluth-Superior and the Twin Cities. Some of the original Art Dock artists were with us from the beginning. We sold thousands of dollars-worth of merchandise in a two-day period, twice a year. The invitations were so coveted that, during an un-related event that I was hosting, a neighbor, seeing all the cars, banged on the door and demanded to know why she hadn’t gotten her invitation! The last sale occurred when husband, Tom, looked out the window at the waiting crowds and noticed that the front porch was listing to one side. Time to call it quits and re-build the front porch. Well, that was fun while it lasted. But, what shall we do with all the left-over stuff?

         

Up pops another BIG IDEA, right up there with putting all your money into a collection of Franklin Mint beer steins. This idea has to do with downsizing all your left-over “STUFF”, so your kids won’t have to do it when you’re, you know, “no longer with us”. You’ve heard this before, right? So, in gathering my STUFF together to get rid of, I noticed that most of it qualified as antique, or at least “vintage”. Most people, at this point, decide to have a garage sale. Singular. A one-time sale, maybe two days. All in all done!

          Not me. “Oh look! My favorite antique shop has a booth for rent”, sez I. I have an IDEA. I’m thinking I could rent that space and sell all my interesting “stuff”. It’s just a very little space, it probably won’t even take that long. Period. Ten years later, I have roughly 154 square feet of booth space, own three glass cases, lighting fixtures, shelving and various display aids, plus my accountant is raising his eyebrows at my inventory of STUFF all stored in ½ of my garage or in my storage unit that I had to rent to put all those things that have mysteriously multiplied themselves over the years.  Another puffed-up monster, you say? Yes, except that I happen to love this one and I’m keeping him as long as I’m able!

 

       

Whose Big Idea Was This, Anyway?


August 11-Duluth News Tribune

The Thing About Cars, part 1

My dad was a Ford man, yes, he was! He always drove a Ford-- except for the two-tone blue 1952 Mercury hard-top with the dual exhausts that he bought from a teen-age kid. He sure enjoyed that car, driving it around and making it rumble. He's the reason I didn't learn to drive until I was 19, because he would use any excuse to drive his hotrod--he drove me to school, to babysit, to the library, wherever I needed to be and he drove my friends to and from our house, Vroom, Vroom! When we moved from upstate New York to Minnesota, in 1957, the first thing he did was to buy a new car--a grey and white Ford Fairlane 500. I was 17. You KNOW he wasn't going to let me learn to drive in his brand-new car!

 

         My husband's Dad was a Buick man. So you can see right there, that I "Married Up". Dad Myers had an old Buick coupe that he called "the Wildcat" and when Tom would come home from medical school, he would borrow his dad’s car and pick me up. We'd go and park in the Presbyterian church lot and steam up the car windows. It was a sweet day when Dad Myers traded in the Wildcat for a sleek little German Opel and gave it to Tom as an early graduation gift. We discovered that being in a small car, steaming up the windows was much easier.

 

         We were married just before Tom's last year in medical school. The draft was still in effect, but you could get a deferment through the "Barry Plan". So you could make it through college or medical school, as long as you PROMISED to enlist the minute you turned in your cap and gown. So it was that Tom found himself on his way to Germany for a stint in the Air Force, with the little Opel in the hold of the ship, going back to the Motherland.

         I showed up in Germany two months later, as soon as I had delivered our second child. After two years there, we came home with three children--and the Opel. But, the poor, poor Opel was never the same after leaving home for the second time. Immediately, it started having electrical problems. Then, it developed a horrible scabrous skin problem that looked rather like leprosy. It was also having psychological problems, I knew, because every Sunday morning, when I had the three kids all spiffed up for church and in the car, it would refuse to start. Time to trade it in.

 

         By then, we had moved to Duluth--where 4-wheel drive was not a charming luxury, but sometimes the only thing keeping bread, milk and dogfood in the cupboard. We were working on the old Victorian House, which meant transporting paint, boards, old furniture to be stripped. We had never bought a car before, but had a friend who thought Travel-Alls were the only way to go. So we listened to him and bought one.  An ugly brown one. My husband is 5'5", I am 5'2 1/2" and now we're driving a tank. You know Travel-Alls are built from the pieces and parts of other vehicles, right? I would say at least 30 per cent of its' life was spent in the repair shop waiting for its’ pieces and parts to arrive. The first thing we did with it was pile everyone in and drive to Hartley Field to see if the legendary off-road vehicle could make it to the top of “Hartley Rock”. Yes! Yes it could. And did.

 

         With the kids going to dance classes, skiing, Cub scouts, we needed a second car, so for the first time in my life, I had my very own car. It was used--I didn't care. It was huge and difficult for me to drive--I didn't care. It was impossible to park and back up--I didn't care. What I did care about was that it was RED. Bright Red!! Okey, a little faded, but yes, it was a red, Buick LeSabre, two door. Had black leather seats and the doors were so enormous that I had to be careful where I parked or I couldn't get out. No seat belts, and three rowdy children and Clancy the dog in the back seat. Every Winter, Tom would put chains on the tires and they would go ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. I didn't care. It was MINE and--well, you know! RED.

 

         Eventually, we replaced the Travel-All with a blue Pontiac station wagon, which morphed into a green Buick station wagon. This lucky vehicle was the one all three teenagers used learning to drive. When we sold it to a man who hauled it away for $100, he loudly commented that it “looked as if it had been driven on all four sides”. Possibly he was right.

         

            There once was a Buick named “Buck”. At one time, he was proudly possessed by my husband’s dad, who willed him to our oldest son. Somehow, this once-luxurious Buick vehicle had lost his “i” and so was known to all as “Buck”. He was from the era of large, gas-guzzling engines and even larger trunks, generous passenger capacity and relative to their age, great reliability. Buck made his reputation as “the Renaissance Transportation Tank” carrying our 0ldest son, five of his friends, costumes, tents, cooking utensils, food, musical instruments and other assorted equipment necessary to performing and participating in the Renaissance Festival in Minneapolis, every weekend. Buck, bless him, made it through two Summers of regular trips, before he broke his heart and his axle on the shoulder of 35W, homeward bound and heading North.

            Buck was replaced by a sleek black Camero which was purchased with the idea that the three teen-age drivers in our family would share it.  I ask you-how could that possibly have worked?! In reality, the Camero spent most of its’ time parked in our driveway, hood up, with a teepee-like log structure hoisting up its’ engine block. You could just see the top of oldest son’s head as he sat in the engine space, modifying and/or improving it. I’m not even mentioning the box of left-over parts that didn’t seem to go anywhere. This mystery box went with the Camero, as sort of a bonus surprise package, when it was sold- -to another young would-be mechanic who immediately parked it in HIS driveway and took it all apart.

            About that time, my husband, the avid reader, was following the development of the Wankle engine, the piston-less wonder that powered the new Mazda RX7 sports car. It didn’t take much arguing with himself before deciding he really needed to have one of those. Vroom, vroom and all that! It was a lovely electric blue, sleek little 2+seater and those in our family who could drive a stick shift immediately began thinking up excuses why they needed to borrow it. Prom, somebody’s birthday, “I forgot my homework in my locker” and “Mom, I think we’re out of milk. I’ll just grab Dad’s car keys and be back in a few minutes”. Two hours later…..

            One thing that did get settled, however, was the question of who got to put their car in the one-stall ancient garage that came with the Victorian house. After all, you can’t expose a delicate flower of a sports car to the elements, so the Mazda got priority-right behind the raccoon family that lived in the garage attic. My Landcruiser and I settled for the driveway.

                        Then, there are members of our family that are card-carrying “Subaru people”, from the turbo-charged , to the racers, to the off-the-roaders. One of us, being of a practical nature, had driven their mud brown Subie station wagon for many years, through several re-locations and over many states. The vehicle was showing its’ age, -roughed up around the edges, a few dings here and there, not as fast on the get-go as it used to be. Maybe time to get something new, right? Now, getting a new car is usually a very exciting prospect for most people. They make the rounds, doing test drives, deciding which company, what model, which bells and whistles and most importantly, what color. Leaving several people anxiously awaiting to see what will come driving back up the driveway, they set off in their old, ratty brown Subaru station wagon.  Aaaand-here they come back, not even 2 ½ hours later, in a NEW mud-brown Subaru station wagon, exactly like the old one-except. NEW.

            Toyotas do seem to be a family favorite. Especially the bigger variety-Highlanders, Land Cruisers, pick-ups. Our middle son purchased an old, heavy-duty red and white hard-top Landcruiser and proceeded to un-bolt the non-removable roof section and turn it into something that, except for the color, you might have seen on the beaches of Iwo Jima during WWll., transporting the officers and generals.

            I had my Land Cruiser for many years before it threw a rod on a country road north of Grand Rapids. When I got it, the rage was to have custom paint jobs, like lightning bolts or swoops of color, so of course, I did. I had it long enough that it began to look like Hippie Transportation and my obliging husband had it painted bright red. I DO love red cars!  When we finally got it to the dealership to get something to replace it, we settled on a 4-Runner and were sitting in the office, waiting for the paperwork to be done, when the salesman who had given the Land Cruiser the required once-over said “Do you know there is a large caliber bullet hole in the door frame of your vehicle? Uh, well no, actually, we didn’t.

            Home to the kids, line them up. All right, now! Who knows something about a bullet hole in my car?! Blink. Blink. Blink. Who? Us?

Disasters I Have Known-- June 16th, 2021 The Duluth News Tribune

The Thing About Cars, part 2, August 25th, 2021 Duluth News Tribune

            I've always felt that I have led a pretty great life. Most of the good things have come about because I was in the right place at the right time. I met my husband because I was working in the flower shop when he came in to buy flowers for his date that night. That was a good thing---right??

However, just like everyone, I’ve had those “End of the World” catastrophes when the only thing  that will make it better is a “do-over”. They sound like this:

“OMG, OMG, OMG!” DEEP BREATH, SIT DOWN---and THINK! How can I fix this?

            Disasters are a relative thing. They come in all sizes. There is the bad-hair-zit-on-your-nose-while–having-your-Senior-picture-taken type of disaster.  At the time, this might seem monumental, but in the grand scheme of things, it probably isn't. Then, there's the "new neighbors across the street coming for dinner, when you've just burnt up the main course" type of disaster. This takes a little creative thinking, but you can deal with it. There's a can of Spam and some cooking sherry in the pantry.

            Then, there are those pretty spectacular disasters that involve significant injury and broken parts. One of mine had to do with being at the top of an 8 foot stepladder hanging onto a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner, sucking up the sawdust from the new shelving in our renovated kitchen....and falling, splat! on my back with said vacuum cleaner coming two seconds later. My husband, being a physician, said the same thing he always says--"you're okey. I'm sure it's just a sprain", resulting in a few hours spent with a bag of frozen peas on the part that hurts, until making the inevitable trip to the ER.

            Usually those kind of disasters  can be chalked up to #1-Stairs or ladders. #2 armloads of things #3--Moving backwards.. Yessss- I know-"Stupid!! That was really Stupid!!"  I am currently banned from ladders

            Then, there are the "memory lapse “ type of disasters. You drove all the way home, 10 miles out in the country but forgot to load up your groceries at the supermarket, 'way back in town. Again. Even worse when it involves waiting children.

            Here's a “faux pas disaster”. You make a big to-do about your son-in-law's birthday--delivering a nicely wrapped present, a hardware store gift certificate and a sappy birthday card, only to have your daughter text you with this message--"MOtherrrr his birthday is NEXT month." Dang!

            My husband is very serious about having everything packed just right for a road-trip, leaving within 4 minutes of our specified leaving-time, arriving when we said---all that grown-up stuff. So, here we are, all in the car, driving south on Hwy 35, kids in the back, fighting over who gets the peanut M and Ms and who gets the plain. It’s a VERY hot Summer day. We're all in shorts and minimal clothing, on our way to Tom's sister's wedding. We're both attendants. It's pretty formal, big church ceremony, Country Club reception, all that whoop-dee-do.

            We got a late start because the dog was hiding and had to go to the kennel. BUT we're making good time, now and we should get there with minutes to spare before we have to change clothes and head to the church. Clothes?? What clothes? I think we took the clothes out of the car to take the dog to the kennel. I have the long dress I'm wearing for the ceremony, plastic-wrapped, no shoes. The kids are okey--they're young enough to be Summer-scruffy. Tom is in gym shorts and sneakers--no long pants, no shirt, no tie. His sister's wedding. Church. Country Club. DISASTER!

            OMG,OMG,OMG. DEEP BREATH, SIT DOWN, THINK! Where's the closest men'swear shop? I'll drive, keep the motor running, you run in, grab the first pair of grey slacks. Try to not make it the $300 pair--maybe a shirt, too? Forget the tie! Let's go!

            AND-- my favorite---going to the drive-through car wash, you accidently leave your cross-country skis strapped to the top of your car. You leap out half-way through the wash cycle to try and rescue your skis from the soapy octopus that's trying to gobble them up. Arriving home, dripping suds, carrying 1 and 1/2 skis, sporting the beginning of a black eye, you find your spouse waiting--"the Scrub and Dub called, they're closed until the parts come in for their broken car wash machine.  They'd like you to stop in and have a little chat with the manager.”