Are you smart enough for a smart key car?

The rental car we picked up on a recent trip was bright red, had push-button start and a smart key. A smart key looks more like an oversized thumb drive for a computer than a key with teeth.

We drive old cars with keys with teeth – the kind you put in the ignition and have to turn with your hand. (Oh, the exhaustion.)

Settled at our destination, I met with a book editor at a coffee shop. After a delightful chat, we went our separate ways. I rummaged through my bag and my pockets and couldn’t find the car key anywhere. I glanced in the car and saw it on the passenger seat.

I had locked the smart key in the car. Not smart.

I called my husband to break the news. The place where we were staying was only a mile from the coffee shop; I began walking. Briskly. He was on hold with the rental agency when I returned, so I began Googling what to do when you lock a smart key in a keyless-entry car.

Turns out, it is nearly impossible to lock a smart key in a car because the car senses the key is in the car and won’t lock the doors. Smart. Very smart.

Now the husband and I were both walking (very briskly) back to the coffee shop where our rented car sat in a busy parking lot, unlocked, with the smart key in full view. Not smart.

I might as well have taped a big sign reading “TAKE ME, I’M YOURS” on the windshield.

The car was still there, unlocked, smart key in plain view. So we went into the coffee shop and bought pastries to celebrate.

To document the fun, you know who said he wanted to take my picture in front of the coffee shop. I agreed to a picture and threw my coat and purse into the car.

He snapped a few. I returned to the car to retrieve my purse from the back seat and shrieked, “My purse and coat are gone!”

“Impossible,” he said.

“Well, they are!”


Unless I threw them in the red car parked next to our red car. I casually walked over and saw my purse and coat in someone else’s back seat. I opened their car door, retrieved my things and scurried back to our car.

Then we looked over and saw the driver’s door open on the red car next to our red car. I had opened two doors looking for my coat and purse. The husband nonchalantly walked over, closed the car door and returned to our car.

“Do you think anyone saw all that?” was not fully out of my mouth when a man strode up to the red car next to us looking our way. We both popped out and asked if he saw what happened. He said his girlfriend said, “Someone’s getting in your car.”

We explained I was discombobulated by “locking” a smart key in a rental, walking away, then discovering the “locked” car was not locked at all and wanted to take a picture, blah, blah, blah.

Either the man was sincerely congenial, or just wanted to get away from two out-of-town nut jobs and wished us well on the remainder of our trip.

If there is ever a test to see if we are smart enough to use a smart key, our qualifications could be in jeopardy.

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She has a monopoly on losing

The next time we have a family game night I’m going to phone in sick. They’re simply too exhausting. Everyone wants to play me. Grandkids jump up and down and yell, “I want to play Grandma! I’m next to play Grandma!”

They all want to play me because they can beat me. It’s the sort of popularity nobody craves.

On the upside, I have the gift of making everyone else in the room look good.

Take the game Connect Four. (Please, I beg you.) The name says it all, you connect four chips vertically, horizontally or on a diagonal. I’m guessing the box says for ages 3 and up, but I’m too humiliated to look. To my credit, I did win one round a few months ago. My opponent was age 6 and distracted by a commotion in the kitchen.

Someone commented that it’s not good sportsmanship to pump your fist in the air when you crush a 6-year-old. I’ll try to be more gracious the next time I win. Assuming there is a next time.

Monopoly? Hands down the most painful board game in the world. I don’t care about accumulating houses. I can barely take care of the one we live in now. Put me in the jail and take all my money.

Mancala is a game of strategy where you move little colored polished glass pieces around a board trying to fill your till with as many pieces possible, while also capturing your opponent’s pieces. Initially, some of the best strategists among us turned out to be the younger ones. Both a 7- and 9-year-old coached me for awhile, then decided it would be more fun to beat me.

And yet I keep playing, each time thinking, “This will be the time I win.” Hope blooms eternal. Or at least for two or three games.

We had dinner with some of the grands the other night and they mentioned they have a new game. I nearly went face down on the table at the mere suggestion.

“We think you’ll like it, Grandma.”

I offered to clear the table while they played. They said no.

I offered to do the dishes. They said no again.

The game is called The How I Survived Game. A “judge” reads a dilemma from a card: “You woke up to find your mattress floating on a body of water.” “Your arms suddenly turned into spaghetti.”

Players have one minute to choose three picture cards from an assortment spread on the table. You then use three picture cards to tell the story of how you will survive. The judge awards coins to the best stories.

It is basically a game of imagination, exaggeration and hot air. Coin after coin came my way.

Finally. A board game at which a writer can excel.

Packing up the game, I noticed the subtitle, “Where Weird and Wacky Wins.” I finally found my niche in the game market.


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When GPS has the voice of a seven-year-old

There were three options for finding our destination in Chicago—two smart phones or the seven-year-old granddaughter in the backseat. The husband was leaning toward a smartphone, but I was leaning toward the kid.

Ordinarily, I might not be comfortable letting a child guide us through the nation’s third largest city, but she’s grown up here. She knows the bus lines, the train lines and six different ways to get to the zoo.

Plus, the day before, an aunt and uncle had told the girl that they had eaten at a restaurant across the street from where she takes music lessons. She named the restaurant and said, “On Lincoln Avenue?”

“Why, yes, that’s the one,” they answered, visibly impressed.

“That’s not where I always take lessons,” she said. “Sometimes I take lessons at a branch on Armitage.”

Meanwhile, the kid is jumping in her seat yelling, “Let me give directions. I know how to get us there!”

The husband reluctantly relents.

“Go two blocks and then turn right, Grandpa. Right is that way (she points), Grandma’s side of the car.”

It never hurts to be specific. We have a general idea of where we are going but are vague on details. We also have a general idea of right and left.

“Keep going until I say turn left,” she says. “Left will be—“

“Got it,” Grandpa says.

“Look! That’s where my daddy goes to the dentist.”

“She’s good,” I say.

“OK, not this light and not the next light but that light, waaaay up there, you’re going to turn left.”

The kid is doing great.

“Now we need Fullerton, Grandpa.”

We drive and drive and he says, “I think we missed Fullerton.”

“Nope, we didn’t miss Fullerton,” she says.

She is correct. Two more lights and we hit Fullerton.

“See that restaurant on the corner? It used to have a black awning, but then they replaced it with that red and gold. It’s pretty, don’t you think?”

I shoot him a look that says, “How could you ever doubt her?”

She tells him to take another left with short notice. We change lanes and zip through on a yellow.

“That was a tricky turn, wasn’t it, Grandpa?”

“I think we need to head right soon,” he says. “Shouldn’t we map it?”

“I know where we are, Grandpa. Oh, and see that over there? That’s the interstate you need to go home, only you’ll need to get on the other side.”

She’s right, that’s the way we’ll go home.

“I know we’re close,” Grandpa says.

I look back and see her scanning the side streets with a twinkle in her eye. And then she yells, “YA MISSED IT, GRANDPA!” She laughs wildly like she doesn’t know how we get around on our own.

After our event she says, “Why don’t you get out your smartphone?”

“Why do we need a smartphone when we have you?” I ask.

“So you can look up the nearest pizza place.”

Later, as in after pizza, we humbly consult our smartphones to get us to the interstate, feeling not so very smart.


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Why family is key to our nation’s recovery

It is nearly an act of bravery to scan the headlines these days. Violent crime is up, each new senseless murder triggers another wave of sorrow and the politicization of almost everything rips at the fabric of our being.

The official response to these events is usually hand wringing. Someone steps before a microphone and demands an end to the bad behavior, as though the perps are glued to the nightly news, hanging on every word.

The building blocks that hold us together are crumbling. Many of those building blocks are beyond our spheres of influence. But one is within reach. The family.

As Pope John Paul II famously said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

Why is the family key? Because families are the parts that compose the whole. Families are microcosms of the pillars that sustain cultures, communities and nations.

Every family is a microcosm of government. A family is where children learn about accountability, rights and responsibilities, checks and balances. A family is where children learn how to resolve differences and to respect the rights to property and privacy.

It is in the family where basic economic principles are taught: the link between earning and spending; how to plan and budget; the consequences of not planning and budgeting; and the importance of giving, whether you have a lot or a little.

Every family serves as every child’s first school. Every parent is a child’s first teacher. It is parents who bear the ultimate responsibility for education. Parents are the first to nurture curiosity and an appreciation for books and music, and create spaces where children can create and explore. Above all, a family is where children learn how to think and reason and separate fact from fiction.

The family mirrors a place of worship as well. The family is where children learn first lessons of faith, ideas about who God is, the meaning and purpose of life, and that every human being is our brother or our sister, for we are all of one blood, created in the image of God.

The family even serves as a microcosm of health care. It is in the family where children learn personal health habits, how to care for someone who is ill and, sometimes, even how to care for the dying. Tenderness and compassion usually take root in the home.

All that said, you can be intentional about family and still have family members who make awful choices for a variety of reasons. There are no guarantees with family; even so, you don’t throw in the towel at the starting gate or give up short of the finish line. None of us can afford to give up on family. Family is the most important investment you can ever make.

So, who is my family? Phrased another way, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Yes, a thousand times yes. You don’t have to “be” family to act like family. We can all lend a hand—when we see a small everyday need, someone needs a word of encouragement, or someone is facing a crisis and needs others to stand alongside them.

The health of families is key to returning the nation to good health, because the whole is only as strong as the parts.

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Two’s Day is coming, Two’s Day is coming

If you’re wondering what exciting things you can look forward to in the new year, you’ve come to the right place.

February 22, 2022 (2/22/22) will fall on a Tuesday, thereby making it 2’s day, or Two’s Day.

The husband sent a text to the entire family alerting them to this spectacular event, adding that he was so excited he could hardly contain himself.

The response was underwhelming.

Eventually his Two’s Day text was acknowledged with a thumbs up, then a heart, then late in the evening came an offer to make him a pie.

I think the pie was a comfort food offer to ease the pain of others not sharing his excitement. Naturally, one would hope the pie would have two crusts filled with two very large sliced apples, baked at 200 degrees times 2.

Or perhaps the one who offered pie was thinking of Pi Day (March 14 or 3.14), which he also celebrates, as do I for obvious reasons. (Pie.)

The man can’t help himself. He is a numbers guy, a detail guy, a record-keeping guy and a history guy. When that is who you are, life doesn’t get much better than 2/22/22.

Well, that is unless you were married on 5/6/78. Yep. That was pretty good, too. For some people, life changes on a dime; for us it changed on a 5678.

He says the only thing better would have been if we were pronounced husband and wife at 12:34. On 5/6/7/8.

Please don’t make me spell it out. Or count it out.

As it turns out, a smattering of groups have designated February 22  as “their day” and hopefully will tailor celebrations with a nod to Two’s Day: World Spay Day (sign pets up in 2’s), World Thinking Day (distribute “Two Heads are Better Than One” buttons), National Cook a Sweet Potato Day (two at a time, please) and National Margarita Day (make it a double?).

The only people more excited than my better half are those who were born on Feb. 2, 2000 and will celebrate their 22nd birthday in 2022.

And you were thinking it was going to be a cold and dreary, long, gray winter.

I’m anticipating a lot of “Two for One” sales and “Two for One” meals. Taco Two’s Day has a nice ring.

On the flip side, there’s always the danger of the Dollar Store becoming the Two Dollar Store for the day.

Still, the possibilities for celebration are endless.

Fireworks at 2:22 a.m. and p.m. Say everything twice. Eat twice as much. Send every text twice and when you answer the phone say hello twice.

Have Tea for Two while reading a Tale of Two Cities.

Better yet, do what we do when we routinely leave home. Lock the house, get in the car then run back inside for your glasses. Lock up again, get in the car again, then run back inside a second time to make sure the gas burners on the stove are off.

For us, every day is Two’s Day.


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