Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Memories

Today is Halloween and we’re supposed to get thunderstorms or high winds or something in Central Ohio. Does this mean that Trick-or-Treating is cancelled tonight?  Dunno. 

I probably won’t turn on our porch light either way.  Last year was the first year in our new house and I didn’t know what the Trick-or-Treat situation was in the neighborhood.  Nevertheless, I bought a ginormous bag of candy in preparation.  And, mind you, it was the good stuff.  Kit Kats and Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – none of that Dollar Store no-name stuff. 

But it turned out to be pretty dismal.  We got nary a single little ghoul or goblin.  Turns out there are very few kids in our neighborhood and the neighboring areas probably don’t want to bother with cul-de-sacs.  It’s either thru-streets or nothin’. 

I can understand that. I mean, the goal when you’re a kid is maximum candy collection because, frankly, you know there will be shrinkage.  You have to immediately discard the boxes of raisins and dental floss that some houses insist on handing out.  And you have to throw out any candy that has escaped its wrapper.  Probably your parents are going to filch some of your candy after you go to bed.  

But, most importantly, you know there will be candy in your bucket that you don’t like.

For me it was candy corn.  Yuck.  I couldn’t even give that stuff away. Try as I might, I couldn’t broker a trade with my younger siblings.  Even when they were barely old enough to string a complete sentence together, they were still too savvy to trade their Hershey’s bar for a couple pieces of plastic-tasting candy corn. 

I don’t know how much they focus on candy at my sister’s house nowadays, but my niece has spent the past couple years putting a lot of thought into choosing her Halloween costume.  Last year the kid went as “the body inside out” and she wore her “organs” on the outside of her clothes.  Her intestines were made out of panty hose and, well, I’m not sure what the other body parts were made out of. The pancreas and the liver looked particularly yucky.  But I had to give my niece a lot of credit for originality  – and my sister kudos for her creativity in crafting such an ambitious costume.
Rich Uncle Pennybags?
This year, my niece went as the little tuxedoed Monopoly Guy or Rich Uncle Pennybags from the Monopoly game. She looked adorable.  I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing that my sister was relieved that she only had to come up with a top hat, cane and spats for the dear child. Guts and brain matter not required.

But back when my sister and I were kids, we had to make our own costumes. Mom might have let us use a little black eyeliner, if need be, but that was about the extent of her involvement. Thus, our costumes were pretty amateurish, as I recall, and I don’t think we have a single photo of us as kids dressed up for Halloween.
Or is THIS the real Rich Uncle Pennybags?

I remember only one time getting a store-bought Halloween mask. I vaguely recall it being some sort of happy clown face, but don't quote me on that.  What I do remember for sure is that it had a flimsy piece of elastic stapled to either side of the mask, which was supposed to hold it onto my head. 

Yeah, like that worked.  My eyes were mashed into my glasses, which were mashed up against the eye holes that didn’t line up with my face so that it hurt every time I blinked. 

And it was hot.  With every breath I took, my glasses got steamed up and I had to stop and clear them so I could see. This definitely slowed down the candy collection process.

But I knew I couldn’t utter a single complaint because, well, I had begged my parents to buy me that mask and they had done so only reluctantly.

The mashed eyeballs-steamed eyeglasses problem wasn’t the worst of it, either. We’d gone to only a few houses before the elastic holding that hard plastic mask snapped and broke. Trying to fix it by sliding the now shorter piece of elastic into the space between the mask and the staple while rubbing the welt on my cheek AND holding on to my plastic Halloween bucket so that the candy didn’t spill out was a major undertaking.  Yeah, maybe that explains the “trick” part of Trick-or-Treat.

Thus, that was the first and last time I ever asked my parents to get me a store-bought Halloween mask. They were pretty savvy themselves, no?

While I don’t remember any Beggar's Nights getting cancelled due to inclement weather, I do recall many a Halloween costume ruined by having to wear our winter jackets over our costumes.  I mean, it’s not like we could fit whatever costume we’d devised from the rag bin over a bulky winter jacket. But the integrity of our costume was not of concern to our mother and her word was law, so we wore our winter jackets.  In retrospect, I can’t blame the woman.  She certainly did not want to deal with four simultaneous cases of sore throats, fevers and stuffy noses.

Ah well. Halloween is one of those “holidays” that bring back fun memories, whether you’re the kid ringing the doorbell or the person answering the door.

Hmmm. Maybe I will turn the porch light on tonight – just in case we get any brave cul-de-sac traveling ghouls or goblins. Wonder if I have any extra dental floss or little boxes of raisins lying around the house? Just kidding. At the very least, I think I can scrounge up a few Kit Kats.

So, whether you're escorting your kids as they Trick-or-Treat or you're the one answering the door, I wish you a Happy Halloween! Oh, and stay warm. (Maybe you wanna ruin your kids' costumes and put that winter jacket on over it -  just to be safe? Trust me - they'll thank you for it.  Someday.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


We had a surprise 50th birthday party for my brother-in-law and sister-in-law over the weekend and, let me tell you, some people are VERY hard to surprise.  

Oh, not because they’re crack detectives and weaseled the information out of the weakest link in the family who spilled the beans at the first suspicious glance. 

No, some people are simply hard to surprise.  In this case, it was because we ambitiously decided to hold a joint surprise party since their birthdays are only four days apart. 

Now, if the guests of honor had arrived at the party together, that might have eliminated some of the angst from the person who was expected to escort them down to the party room (namely, me) where everyone was hiding and waiting to jump out and yell, “Surprise!”

Instead, my brother-in-law was coming from work. At a car dealership. Where start and stop times are completely ambiguous.  Thus, we had no earthly idea what time he’d show up.

My sister-in-law, on the other hand, arrived promptly at the agreed-upon time.  The ruse was that she and her husband were coming over for an early birthday dinner with just my husband and me.  And we were going to watch Ohio State annihilate Penn State. (Which they did and which we did, but which is beside the point.)

Most of the guests were already secreted downstairs in the balloon-infested party room where all manner of party food and drink abounded.  Fortunately, the acoustics in our house are such that no party-like sounds drifted upstairs.  But, just to be safe, I cranked the music in the living room as a cover up.

Our plan of attack was to be if she showed up and he was still working, we would be forced to hold two separate surprises.  Not ideal, but short of driving to the car dealership and dragging my brother-in-law out of there, what could we do? 

We had a plant inside his dealership who attempted to get my brother-in-law out of work on time, but try as he might, my brother-in-law simply would not leave until the last customer drove away.  Makes for a great employee, but a lousy guest of honor at his own surprise party.

Nevertheless, our plant sent me a text to let me know that our guest of honor had finally left.  And when his wife showed up at our house, she, too, announced that her husband was on his way.  So I made a quick decision to go for the joint surprise. 

I sent a text to my co-conspirator downstairs to hold steady…and nervously chatted with my sister-in-law in the living room, while staring at my watch and silently begging my brother-in-law to hurry.

And then the doorbell rang.  Was it our other guest of honor?

Nooo.  It was some latecomers – a niece with her five (no, not a typo) small children.

So I walked outside and quickly explained that they’d have to wait until my brother-in-law arrived.  They turned tail just as I spied my sister-in-law walking into the hallway to see what was taking me so long. She evidently saw the backs of the little ones scurrying away and asked, “Neighborhood kids?” And I replied, “Yes, they’re always trying to get me to support one fundraiser or another!”

Pretty good seat-of-the-pants response, eh?  Yeah, I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself.

Of course, the guests downstairs were confused by the latest doorbell. They were getting restless wondering what was happening upstairs and I was receiving constant texts from them.

Ack!  I was trying to keep it all together, but I’m good at subterfuge for only so long.  So I started sweating and getting nervous – so much so that to explain it away, I blamed a hot flash.  And I’m not so sure that was a lie.

Thankfully, just then my brother-in-law showed up.  But did they immediately head for the lower level? 


First, my brother-in-law – ever the gentleman – insisted that I precede him and follow his wife down the stairs. Well, I knew that I would completely ruin the photos everyone downstairs was poised to take. But, before I could figure out a tactful way to go last, my sister-in-law took a detour to the bathroom.

By this point inside my head I’m screaming, Oh. My. Gawd. You. Guys. Are. Killing. Me!” 

She reminded her husband to get the crockpot from the kitchen to bring downstairs. (Let this be a warning – if you are ever a guest of honor at a party at my house, you’ll be expected to bring food.)

So I stalled him in the kitchen by asking inane questions while she was in the bathroom.

FINALLY, they were both ready to head downstairs and I somehow managed to lag behind.  I even managed to send my niece the prearranged text message to let them know her mom and stepdad were on their way down.  And when I finally heard “SURPRISE!” I all but collapsed in a big puddle on the floor.

In the end, it was truly a surprise. And even if someone had let the cat out of the bag and ruined the surprise, we still would have had a wonderful time. And I think our guests of honor were touched that we would go to such lengths for them.

But next time?  Well, next time I’M going to let the cat out of the bag and ruin the surprise. Hot flashes notwithstanding, I can’t take the heat. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Happy Birthday to My Mom!

A couple weeks ago I spent several days making like the Morgan Freeman character in Driving Miss Daisy as I drove my elderly parents from their cottage on Cape Cod back to Ohio. Well, except that I didn’t have that spiffy chauffeur cap.

Uh oh. I just re-read that sentence and I see a big, glaring problem with it. What – you don’t? Ah, allow me to explain, grasshopper.

Were my mother to read this blog (which she doesn’t), she would take exception to the word “elderly.” She doesn’t like to be referred to as “elderly.” Even though she is. I mean, once a person turns the corner on eighty, they are smack-dab in the middle of “elderly.” Am I right? And, as of today, my mother is eighty-eight-years old, so there’s no turning back.

Personally, I think it’s a badge of honor to be eighty-eight and still kickin’. If I were eighty-eight, I’d probably be as irksome as a three-year-old digging into his Barney birthday cake and poking people with purple frosting-covered fingers crowing about the fact that he was three. I’d be poking people in line in front of me at the grocery store with my cane, and, when they turned around, I’d crow, “I’m eighty-eight!”

Not that my mother (a) carries a cane, (b) pokes people in line at the grocery store, or (c) has ever been as irksome as a three-year-old. Probably not even when she was three. But I can’t prove that.

Nevertheless, I can’t really blame my mother for taking offense at being called “elderly.” Heck, she’d be mortified to learn that I was outing her in the age department right now. Guess it’s a good thing she doesn’t read my blogs, isn’t it?

Of course, all bets are off when you’re somewhat lower on the age spectrum. Like me. During our long drive across the state of Pennsylvania, mom was talking about something or other and she stopped me completely in my tracks when she referred to me as “middle-aged.”

Well, not literally. I mean, I kept the pedal to the metal, as it were, and didn’t cause a chain reaction pile-up on I-80 or anything. But, me? Middle-aged? No wa-…Oh. Yeah, okay, I guess I AM “middle-aged.”

When the heck did that happen?

Probably around the same time mom moved from Middle-Aged to Elderly.

It happens to the best of us, I guess.

Mom hasn't come up with an alternative to the word elderly, however, so I'm not sure what she'd prefer. Eighty-eight and effervescent? Eighty-eight and elegant? Maybe. Just as long as we don't ever refer to her as feeble, doddering or decrepit. If those words ever crossed our lips, she'd find a cane and would start poking us with it. And there'd be nothin' “feeble” about it.

So, mom? I'd like to wish you an elegant and effervescent eighty-eighth birthday today. I hope dad bought you a purple Barney cake and you're enjoying it like a three-year-old. Purple frosting-covered fingers and all.

But if anyone who reads this happens to see my mother in church or at the grocery store anytime in the near future, please do NOT wish her a happy 88th birthday. Eliminate the year altogether. I might even suggest you tell her she's wearing “Middle Age” well. She won't believe you, but a little white lie couldn't hurt. After all, you never know when she might start carrying a cane...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Case of the Cub Scout and the Missing Tin of Caramel Corn

Last Monday I was accosted in my driveway by a Cub Scout.  Well, perhaps “accosted” isn’t the proper term as the kid didn’t kick me in the shin or pull my hair or trip me as I walked to my mailbox.  Instead, he about killed me with cuteness.

I figured he was maybe seven years old and he was wearing his official Cub Scout uniform with the little neckerchief and everything.  Peering up at me with big blue eyes behind his thick eyeglasses, he asked me if I would consider buying some popcorn to help support the Scouts.  He even had a lisp.  Aw man.  It was the kid from Jerry Maguire reincarnated in a Cub Scout uniform.  I was doomed!

His father was standing back on the sidewalk keeping an eye on our interaction and trying to let his son handle the negotiations.  Probably he was ready to step in and give me more details to convince me to buy were I to initially refuse.

Like he needed to.  I mean, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.  I have a whole box of breadsticks in our freezer from a coworker’s kid’s football team sales drive that will probably develop frostbite before we even think of eating them.  I always add a dollar to my bill for whatever cause the local grocery store is promoting.  And I have some tacky Christmas ornaments from another school fundraiser that will never be hung on our Christmas tree because they are so, well, tacky. 

So I reluctantly held out my hand for the order form.

Do we need popcorn?  Yeah, not so much. 

We were gifted with a cool popcorn machine last Christmas and Vince spent big bucks on some gourmet kernels. And we enjoy an evening snack of popcorn from time to time. But gourmet popcorn is not something I see the need to spend big bucks on. I mean, it’s popcorn, for cryin’ out loud.  It’s not the same thing as, say, spending big bucks on a nice bottle of Barolo.

So the next time I went to Sam’s Club, I stocked up on a ten pound container of popcorn kernels.  And we haven’t even cracked that sucker open yet.

So, no, we don’t really need – or want – any popcorn.

Nevertheless, I perused the list.  Cheese popcorn?  Ick. Chocolate covered popcorn?  Eh, maybe…but I’m not spending $25 on it.  Ooh, there we go – caramel corn for ten bucks?  Sold!

As I was mentally kicking myself for being such a pushover, I considered who in my life might like a tin of caramel popcorn.  And then it hit me that my parents would soon be visiting and they might enjoy it. So I started to feel a little better about spending my hard-earned money.

Once the father realized the hook was in and I was buying, he came up to handle the financial portion of the transaction.  I filled out the order form with my name and address and checked the little box for caramel corn. I asked him if they needed the money up front and he said yes.  So I fished a $10 bill out of my pocket and handed it to him.

The father said they already had the products and would be back in the next day or two to deliver the tin.  I told him they could leave it on our front porch if we weren’t home.

They thanked me and walked away to locate their next victim, er, customer and I walked to the mailbox to retrieve our mail, which was where I was headed in the first place. 

I had mixed feelings about this little encounter.  I mean, I felt bad because I sometimes feel like I have the word "sucker" stamped across my forehead. On the other hand, I also know my few dollars help organizations or school programs that don’t get a lot of funding and I know some of these families’ budgets are stretched a little tight.  So in that sense, I felt good about helping out.

Eventually, I decided to just feel good about it.  Hey, I helped out the Cub Scouts.  Good for me.

Later that night I told Vince what had happened.  He just looked at me and shook his head.  "Did you get their name," he asked. "Do you know where they live? How do you know they didn’t just take your money and you’ll never see them again?"

Egad – I thought as I mentally slapped myself upside the head.  That thought NEVER entered my mind!  I might have been scammed by a Cub Scout.  Or a kid who found a Cub Scout uniform at Goodwill and he and his scam artist father figured out a way to scam people.  Notably, me.

On Tuesday I arrived home from work and immediately checked the front porch to see if the tin of caramel corn had been delivered. It had not.

On Wednesday I repeated the move even walking outside to check behind the boxwood to see if perhaps they’d carefully hidden the treasure.  No such luck.

By Thursday, I was feeling a little dejected because I didn’t want to believe that the cute kid in the Cub Scout uniform could’ve been a scam-artist-in-training.

And by Saturday?  Well, by Saturday, all my faith in humanity was lost.  I moped around the house all day and even kicked the cat once or twice.

Okay, so not really.  I mean, it was ten bucks, not our entire life savings.  Lesson learned. And I would never kick a cat.  Besides, I didn’t figure I could ignore the laundry and other Saturday chores just because I fell victim to a cute kid in a neckerchief.

On Sunday as Vince and I were busy handling one Sunday task or another, we heard the doorbell ring.  And, lo and behold, it was the cute kid in the thick eyeglasses and neckerchief to deliver the caramel corn!

His father, standing a few paces back on the sidewalk, explained that they hadn’t been able to catch me earlier in the week and had wanted to deliver the tin personally.  I thanked them profusely, closed the door and, turning around holding the tin aloft, I announced, “…And my faith in humanity is once again restored!”

Vince just rolled his eyes.  But I think he was happy for me. I think he is glad I’m not completely cynical. 

And then he promptly opened the tin of caramel corn and he and his son commenced to eat about half of it in one sitting.  It wasn’t a very big tin. 

So much for gifting it to my parents when they visit.  But, hey. Wonder if they’d like a 10 pound container of popcorn kernels from Sam’s Club?