Why our car is smoking hot

Our latest car repair put a $1200 dent in our budget. Adding insult to injury, when the husband picked up the car, he opened the door to smell it reeked of cigarette smoke. The console, seats and floors were littered with cigarillo butts, ashes, cracker crumbs and debris.

He asked the manager what happened, and the manager said, “I thought you brought it in like that.”

Truth is, the vehicle was in sorry shape a few weeks ago when we took three grands to visit our son’s brood in the country. They left dirt, mud, sticks, rocks, and even a few chicken feathers in the car.

But there was no smoking—unless they’re putting cigarettes in Happy Meals these days and three little girls were blowing smoke out the back windows.

We cleaned it all out the next day. In my book, happiness is a clean car – probably because our two cars have 100,000 and 200,000 miles on them, and a clean car feels like a new car. We hope to fool ourselves for another 50,000 miles.

The husband was adamant that we dropped off a clean car.

Turns out the repair shop neglected to lock the car overnight and a homeless person took shelter from the rain and the cold. I’ve often wondered where the homeless we see in the area shelter in the biting cold. Now we know. It must have seemed like incredibly good fortune to find an unlocked car.

The smell of smoke and homelessness now permeates the vehicle. Though the shop manager paid to have it detail cleaned, smoke is a stubborn smell to eliminate.

The car smells like a noxious air freshener fused with a chain smoker doused in cheap aftershave. Marlboro meets mint.

The car is sitting in our driveway, windows down, doors hanging open and the back liftgate up. We bring class to the neighborhood.

After viewing the shop’s security camera tapes, the manager found our overnight guest. Tall. Skinny. Early 60s. Female. He said she’s a regular at a nearby strip mall, comes in his shop about once a month, grabs a coffee and talks to herself.  She left a jacket and box of saltines in the car. She’s probably not even aware of that.

You can’t get mad at someone who is wet and cold, incoherent, and lives on cigarettes and crackers.

You can’t get mad at a shop owner who made good on a bad situation, although you might like a word with whoever was supposed to lock the cars left overnight in their lot.

Happiness isn’t really just a clean car. Happiness is having a safe and comfortable place to sleep, food on the table and not being in dire need of mental health care.

The smell in the car is gradually going away; tragically on every count, the problem of homelessness is not.


Share This:

No longer swept up in a cleaning frenzy

Cleaning the house once a week is part of my DNA from my mother’s side. She cleaned once a week, her mother cleaned once a week, and I have always cleaned once a week.

We’re talking thorough cleaning: toilets, tubs, showers, bathroom sinks, kitchen sink, countertops, appliance fronts, dusting, windexing (that’s a verb for my people), vacuuming, sweeping, emptying trash cans, shaking throw rugs and wet mopping floors.

Clean on Saturday and collapse on Sunday.

My husband came from a more casual line of DNA. My mother-in-law, bless her sweet, sweet heart, was of the “pile it higher and deeper” method, along with the “don’t throw that away, we might need it someday” line of genetics.

My better half’s approach is: Wait.

Wait until the sink is full. Wait until the countertop is covered. Wait until the laundry basket overflows. Wait until you can see a thick covering of dust on a flat surface—then take your finger and write, “Send help!”

Our first argument as newlyweds was about cleaning the house. He said if we cleaned once a week, we would wear out the furniture.

To which I said, “I’ll dust; you vacuum.”

To which he said, “Right after the game.”

Now I’m thinking of amending the thorough cleaning once a week. Who am I kidding? I’ve been on a slow slide for ages and have the dust bunnies to prove it.

The other day, I heard myself say, “We were out of town two nights this week, let’s just wash the pillowcases and not bother with the sheets.” My husband was ecstatic.

I find myself losing enthusiasm for sparkling clean windows. I think about cleaning them, then I think about grandkids coming over and I think, “Why bother?”

My next thought is, “The little ones like playing with spray bottles. Why not let them clean the windows?”

It’s a win win.

I’ve also questioned the frequency with which I wet mop the kitchen floor. The only real answer to that one would be to get a dog, and that’s not going to happen.

Despite visions of my mother holding a cup of coffee in one hand and swiping her index finger through dust on the console with her other hand, I have shifted from “a place for everything and everything in its place” to “casual is nice.”

You don’t slip from top tier clean to hitting the high spots without serious rationalization. I have several ready answers should someone give the place the white glove test.

“I’m busy; I’m still working.”

“We have a lot of grandkids. Don’t judge me.”

“Cleaning products can be bad for the environment. I’m saving the earth.”

“It was a great party. Sorry you couldn’t make it.”

The cleaning gene has weakened in the next generation. It skipped our son entirely, but the girls have a good measure of it. When our oldest daughter was out of college working long hours, she offered to pay her younger sister, who was still in college, to clean her apartment.

She gave her a two-page list of instructions, including specifics on how the vacuum tracks on the carpet should align. Her younger sister cleaned for her once and then quit.

There’s an easy way to permanently solve that vacuum track issue.

Get hardwoods.

Following are a couple of the many delightful emails I received in response to the column on dishes. There are a lot of dish lovers out there!

“A number of years ago, a started a thing (can you call a new habit a tradition?) that has become near & dear to many people.  For just as long, I have been buying the reusable, hard plastic plates, same kind that children’s plates are made of, whenever & wherever I find them on sale.  One day, during a “friends” dinner, I decided to have everyone choose one of my mismatched plates, handed them a Magic Marker & told them to write their name on the back of their chosen plate.  I told them this meant that from that point on, they would always have a seat at our table.  This has become a ritual for both old & new friends alike.

It’s kind of neat to hear from the friends of our kids & grandkids to ask if we still have their plates. They remember when they were little & they got to pick out their plate, & that plate was always there for them whenever they came to visit.  We’ve even had a few of the kids, now all grown up, come over just to have dinner on their plate.  As we’ve gotten older, we’ve been blessed to add so many new friends, & plates, to the tradition.”

Judy N.


“I come from a line of dish lovers.  During the pandemic for 15 weeks, two times a week, I posted a different set of dishes on Facebook telling the story of how they came to live in our house…..complete with glass and stemware tales.   Twice a week my husband and I shared a meal on the different sets during those long months.”

Deborah K.


“I have eight sets of dishes.  And I live in a 900 square foot house.”

MaryLou R.


Share This:

Serving up delicious memories

I love dishes. I realize some people do not love dishes and cannot relate.

I urge you to seek help.

Because dishes nearly always come with history and stories, it can take me 10 minutes to tell a story about one plate before putting it on the table.

The last time I used our wedding china, it took me six hours to set the table.

One of my favorite dishes is an old platter that my dad remembered his mother using when he was a boy. There was a fire in the summer kitchen one year and the platter was one of the few items that survived. Some might think a platter that old and special should sit on a shelf the rest of its life, but I keep it in the rotation with a few other platters. It is a testimony to survival that should be in the company of others, not alone on a shelf somewhere.

My fondness for dishes is magnetic. I don’t even have to look for them; they find me. I once bumped into an old bushel basket in my in-laws’ hayloft. It was stuffed with ruby red plates, cups, drinking glasses and footed pudding bowls wrapped in old newspapers. I asked my mother-in-law about the beauties and she said her mother used them when she hosted card parties. She also said I should take them.

The bushel basket was already sitting next to the car.

Years ago, credit card bills used to come by mail with inserts featuring discount deals on jewelry, watches and dishware. One day, my father-in-law, most at home with paper plates and fast-food wrappers, walks in the house, sets a box on the kitchen counter and says, ” I bought you eight long-stemmed crystal glasses because I have a lot of good meals here.”

I tried to use them whenever he came, and I think he enjoyed that.

When our youngest was in fourth grade, I set a pretty table for her birthday party, including the crystal. As her little friends seated around the table sang “Happy Birthday,” she began singing along. She sang with such gusto that her arms were soon swinging, directing others. Signaling a crescendo for the grand finish with a swoop of her arm, she knocked one of the crystal goblets to the floor.

And then there were seven.

When our twin grandbabies began walking, they were fascinated with the doors to the sideboard that held the crystal goblets. One day I heard a clinking noise, peeked into the dining room and saw one of the twins holding a crystal goblet. Just as my eyes landed on her, her eyes landed on me. She sped off, clutching a crystal goblet in her fat little hand. She glanced over her shoulder, saw me gaining on her and pitched the crystal.

Crystal does not do well when it hits a tile floor.

And then there were six. We’ve held steady at six goblets for some time now and remember the other two fondly.

Dishes were made to be used—old ones, new ones, irreplaceable ones.

I’d rather have a dish chipped and cracked, passed around a table, than have it basking in perfection sitting on a shelf.

I’d rather a dish know joy, robust singing and running from Grandma than be tucked into the shadowy corners of a cabinet.

If a dish is broken because it was in use, that means it lived a good life and died a good death.


Share This:

Worming out of piano

My grandma could play any song in any key. She was a tiny thing with rounded edges that bounced on the piano bench as she rippled keys up and down the keyboard. The entire piano bounced with her.

That music gene missed me. Yet, undaunted, utilizing a few years I spent on a piano bench, I now give music lessons to children related by blood. I may not be the best teacher, but my rates are good. Free.

The first two students were twin granddaughters, followed by a third, their little sister. A few years later, their younger cousins across town wanted to learn, so then came four and five.

Four and five were followed by protests from their baby sister, who was too young for lessons. She wore a sad puppy-dog face, batted her big eyes until tears spilled down her fat cheeks, and sobbed in her mommy’s arms. It is difficult to always be the last in line.

Her lessons are going well in that she knows her left from her right and can often find middle C. Even Mozart started somewhere.

She was late for her lesson the other day. The older two had finished and it was her turn, but she was nowhere in sight. I waited, shuffled music books, looked at their toy horses lined up in a row, inspected a recently assembled Lego truck and waited some more. As I was about to hunt her down, she appeared around the corner. Rain boots, a long sleeved play dress and pink sweatpants.

“What took you so long?” I ask.

“I had to wash my hands,” she says, climbing onto the bench. “I found a worm outside.”

Her eyes narrow and she says, “It was alive.”

She waits for a reaction, but I am nonchalant, just grateful she washed her hands.

“I picked it up,” she says. She thinks she has me now. Maybe Grandma will scream or run scared straight up a wall.

What did it feel like?” I calmly ask.

Silence. She’s thinking.

“It was soft and hard. The worm was soft, but it had dirt all around it and the dirt was hard.”

I’m the one thinking now. Where is the worm? If it’s in her pocket, how long before it is slung over b flat? I don’t ask.

“Let’s begin,” I say.

She looks at me, looks at the keyboard volume button, then looks at me.

“Don’t,” I say.

This is part of the routine. She wants to crank the volume, but her dad works from home. Lessons are always on the lowest volume setting, much to her chagrin.

“Your shirt looks funny,” I say.

She pulls at the neckline, flips out the tag and announces, “It’s Backward Day.”

Her pants are on backward, too. Her sisters weren’t wearing their clothes backward. She has declared Backward Day on her own.

No, I don’t want to turn my shirt around and wear it backward.

Ten minutes into the lesson and not a single note of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” has been played. Finally, she taps a pudgy index finger with dirt under the nail on one note at a time with a slow but ever-growing confidence.

“Wonderful,” I say. I pull out a sheet of animal stickers and tell her to choose two. She chooses a pig and a worm.

She disappears yelling, “Mom! I got a worm!”

Mom can figure it out for herself.



Share This:

Click, buy, return, the new norm

I sometimes wonder what my return rate is on the merchandise I buy online.

I’ve been thinking of asking the Amazon truck to wait while I open the box. It could save us both time and mileage.

It’s not my fault they have incentivized returns. In many cases, you don’t even have to package an item for return. You just stand in line at a UPS behind other people returning things. When it is your turn, you toss the item across the counter to the customer service rep. The rep scans a code and you’re on your way home.

To make another online purchase.

I blame online shopping for my bouts of delusion. Look at clothes on models long enough and you gradually grow oblivious to the hard truth that you are not a model, never have been, never will be, but buy the clothes anyway thinking they will magically look the same on you as they did on the model.

Sometimes I can override my delusion with reality, but the success rate is marginal. For example, I can’t wear white. I look sick in white. If I wear white, people say, “How long were you in the hospital?” or, “You should have your iron tested.”

But now and again, a white shirt online calls my name. I try name-calling back but, occasionally, I buy a white shirt.

Then I return it.

The husband is incapable of making a return. He frowns upon returning things. He is of the “if you bought it, you should be stuck with it.”

On the upside, that could also be a contributing factor to why we will celebrate 45 years of marriage this year.

There was a time when making returns was rare and somewhat unpleasant. You didn’t simply take something back and receive a refund; you had to tell the clerk why you were returning the item. If the clerk didn’t like your story, that clerk would get another clerk and you would repeat the story. The two clerks would confer, you would sweat, they would announce their decision.

Five years in prison.

Not really, but shoppers did not casually return merchandise the way we do today. It was frowned upon, not unlike so many things today that we now consider acceptable, but once frowned upon.

We recently did a small home repair and didn’t need all the supplies we had purchased. I mentioned we could take them back.

The better half protested that we didn’t have a receipt. I said we didn’t need a receipt because they can look it up on our credit card. My life-long non-shopper was stunned.

We went to the big box building supply store and I stepped him through the process. “Give her the merchandise and the credit card and she will process a return.”

Steps 1 and 2 went well, but then he started explaining why we were returning the parts. “We have this upstairs toilet that
runs sometimes . . . .”

The clerk did not care.

“I thought it might be the flush valve, or that little . . . “

The clerk scowled.

He was still telling the repair story—the part about the float rod—when I took him by the arm and said, “She is not interested, but you can tell me the story again on the way home.”

Some returns are still challenging.

Share This:

Caution, object in mirror may be exactly as it appears

I made a terrible decision and want you to know about it so you can save yourself.

I bought a lighted magnification mirror.

Our bathroom is dark. The paint is dark, the lighting is dark.  Every morning I do my hair and face in the near dark. The results range from so-so to comical.

I was thinking maybe it was time to redo the bathroom, paint the walls a lighter color, switch out the light fixture for a brighter one. I even taped a few paint swatches to the wall. The longer I looked at them, the more it came back to me that painting involves ladders, brushes, paint, cleanup, removing hardware, crawling on a tile floor and taping around door frames.

Bam! Just like that the paint chips were in the trash.

Then we stayed at a lovely hotel with a lighted magnifying mirror in the bathroom. I would choose a hotel that has lighted mirrors in the bathrooms over a free breakfast any day of the week. The lighted magnifying mirror was great. I could see what I was doing.

This was it! The answer to the dark bathroom.

So I bought one.

Some mirrors come with 7X magnification, others with 10X magnification and even 15X. I went with a 7X.

Do you know what happens when you’ve been looking at your face in low light, then suddenly illuminate it with intense LED bulbs and a magnified view? You nearly scare yourself to death. At the very least, it adds another five years to your face.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, don’t you have a single soft-focus filter at all?

It’s like the story about two friends having lunch. One points to two old women across the room and says, “That’s us in 10 years.” The friend says, “That’s a mirror, sweetheart!”

There should be warnings that come with magnified mirrors. “For personal safety and wellbeing, start with a 2X magnification, then ease your way up to 3X. If you’re over 50, you may want to stop at 4X.”

I am a woman who has long championed the 30-foot close-up.  Why in the world did I get a 7X magnification mirror?

If you don’t get close enough to the 7X mirror, the magnification distorts your face so that you only have one eye.

It’s worse than I thought. I’m a cyclops.

It’s a tough call. Either you get so close you see every line, wrinkle, stray hair and broken blood vessel in what was once the white of your eyes, or you back up and do hair and makeup on a cyclops.

One of the hard parts of getting older is when you look your age, but don’t feel your age. Then again, sometimes waking up and looking in the mirror can be so startling it is just the shot of adrenaline you need to get going.

Some of the reviews warn that the bright lights fade fast on the battery-operated magnifying mirrors.

Here’s hoping.

Share This:

Dinner almost chased down the drain

Every well-seasoned cook knows there are many ways dinner can go wrong. You’re missing a key ingredient. The meat didn’t thaw. Everything is taking a lot longer than you planned.

Or, you are at the kitchen sink, suddenly hear a thundering behind you, spin around and see a large black lab covered in soap suds, shaking water as he gallops through the house.

Our oldest grand was prepping dinner and minding her little sister as the rest of the family was heading home. Big sister had told little sister to take a bath.

Little sister said, OK, but only if the dog, Ranger, took a bath, too.

Little sister has a voice soft as a summer breeze.

Big sister, prepping chicken marsala, did not hear little sister. Why would she? She was browning chicken, tending mushrooms, chopping parsley, focused on a meal that would be a fine accomplishment for a 13-year-old.

Her concentration on the chicken marsala was broken by the wet dog racing from one end of the house to the other, chased by little sister in a swimsuit yelling, “Get back in the tub!”

Ranger weighs 80 pounds. You brace yourself against a wall, an SUV, or the side of the house when Ranger says hello.

Sometimes when the whole family is at their place, our son will shout, “Everyone up on the deck; we’re going to let the dog loose!”

Let’s just say the 80-pound black lab is high-spirited.

The wisp of a little sister weighs 39.

Asked how a girl coaxes a dog twice her size to get in a bathtub, her eyes dance and she whispers, “A jar of dog treats.”

The truth is, the dog will do anything for this little girl. He shadows her, guards her while she sleeps and licks tears from her face when she cries.

Getting him in the tub and soaping him down had gone well, but when she started to rinse with the showerhead, he bolted.

Once he bounded through the kitchen, there were then two girls—big sister and little sister—chasing the wet dog shaking water. They looped around the table, into the family room, around the sofa, over the sofa, back to the kitchen, down the hall and finally funneled him into the bathroom.

The little one noted that he seemed to calm down once they pulled the shower curtain.

Maybe all he wanted was a little privacy.

Then they did what any responsible kids would do. They closed the bathroom door and waited for Mom to arrive home. They thought Mom might want to hose down the dog, clean the dirty tub and dig the dog hair out of the clogged drain.

Rule no. 1: Always leave the good stuff for mom.

The chicken marsala made it to the table, but the bread in the oven burned during the chase. In any case, dinner smelled wonderful and Ranger, who had been lathered with a lavender-scented soap, smelled pretty good, too.

Share This:

Creating AI art between chicken parm and pasta

Only in these days of AI (artificial intelligence) can you create a Vincent van Gogh masterpiece while seated at an Italian restaurant between the time the wait staff clears the chicken parm and returns with the pasta and marinara.

My personal masterpiece was created on the phone of a friend who is the King of Tech. We had been talking about AI when King Tech pulled out his phone and opened the Wonder app, an AI art generator. I gave King Tech a prompt to enter, “kitchen sink,” and selected the Van Gogh painting style. A little circle spun ‘round and ‘round and then a sink tinged in blue, nestled in a bright yellow countertop against a bright blue background, all painted with thick bold strokes, filled the screen.


I was shocked that I could “create” art like Van Gogh.

No doubt Van Gogh would be shocked, too.

Watching the wheel spin, waiting for the art to appear, was similar to the excitement of spinning the giant wheel at a Shoe Carnival store anticipating your discount.

Unlike Shoe Carnival, if you don’t like your first results, you can try, try again, entering the same parameters but getting different results each time.


I preferred the second masterpiece to the first. It had more detail, including two orange circular forms on the countertop, which were clearly Krispy Kreme donuts.

That said, my initial reaction to both images was embarrassment. I felt as though I had stolen. From a dead man, no less.

Van Gogh created art from deep within, with an eye for beauty, color, wonder and from a heart often filled with anguish. I had created a knockoff with one eye on a spinach salad being passed around the table.

The power of AI can also create novels, research papers, emails, press releases, sales pitches and love notes, all with varying degrees of sophistication. It can mine data online and harvest the work of others without their knowledge.

AI has elevated the art of cheating. Software that detects plagiarism is scrambling to keep up. Some professors are going old school, requiring exams be written in longhand in blue books.

ChatGPT, an AI language bot, recently passed business, law and medical exams.

A few years from now you may be wondering exactly how a doctor, lawyer, or accountant got that certificate hanging on the wall.

On the bright side, AI can help power surgical robots, enhance cancer screening, perfect navigation systems, organize workflow and perform data analysis at incredible speeds.

It was fascinating tapping into a vein of AI, creating a kitchen sink with a nod to Van Gogh.

But I still feel like a thief.

Share This:

Exotic fashion trends wear out their welcome

I am too practical to ever be cutting-edge fashionable.

When I saw a picture of Kylie Kardashian wearing a simple black dress with an enormous life-size faux taxidermy lion’s head attached, my first thought was: Will she be able to pull up to the table when food is served?

How can she keep her balance?

Will she be able to navigate that monstrosity in a restroom stall?

I’m so mundane, I check the weather app before deciding what to wear. My go-to fashion adviser is the local meteorologist.

I’m so void of imagination that never once have I surveyed the possibilities in my closet and thought, “I wonder how an artist’s rendition of an animal head would look strapped to that?”

The faux taxidermy accessory may be a trend that falls under the heading of “fashion regrets.” Far be it for me to cast the first shoulder pad; I live with my own fashion regrets.

Granny dresses with long skirts and big sleeves were popular when I was in high school. I felt wonderfully fashionable swooshing down the hall between history and math. I looked like one of the Ingalls girls from “Little House on the Prairie.”

In my early motherhood years, big lace collars on dresses were the trend. They were feminine and fancy. I tried to talk my mother into getting one. She refused, saying it would look like she rammed her head through a tablecloth. I immediately knew why I always felt like eating off the china when I wore that dress.

Mom jeans were one of the few fashion trends I was in step with. I just heard they went out of style some time ago.

Big hair had huge staying power. That’s the only trend I was ever on top of. Big hair is past, present and future, as my hair correlates with the humidity. Again, with the meteorologist my fashion adviser.

Jane Fonda workout videos popularized leg warmers. Leg warmers were like long evening gloves without the part for your fingers, only you wore them on your legs.

Even now, I ask myself, why? What were we thinking?

Were we thinking?

Today I read that the big blazer is the latest rage; everybody who is somebody is going to be swimming in one. True to its name, the big blazer is huge, with huge, oversized sleeves, and a trapeze cut so generous it could house you and three friends.

If I wore one of the big blazers, one of the grands would ask if I was playing dress-up. Someone else would ask if I wasn’t too old to go trick-or-treating, and I would ask myself if I seriously thought I could get a seatbelt around all the fabric.

One designer was quoted telling women, “. . . embrace the over-size fit and it will suit you.”

That’s exactly what I’m worried about.

Share This:

I didn’t see this coming

If life is a pie chart with different size slices for “eating, sleeping, working,” etc., the biggest slice of my pie would be “looking for my reading glasses.”

I have a main pair, a backup pair in the kitchen, a backup pair on a bedside table and an emergency pair in my purse. It’s not like I didn’t see this coming.

The thing is, I don’t like to resort to a backup pair because that is an admission of failure that I cannot find the main pair.

I’ve stopped asking my better half if he has seen my glasses, because the answer is always the same. Without even looking up, he will say, “Did you check on top of your head?”

OK, so maybe that’s where they are sometimes. Maybe that’s even where two pairs are sometimes.

The man is completely without sympathy, and I can tell you why. He lives in a world with pockets. Nearly every shirt he owns has a pocket—a pocket for glasses. My shirts and sweaters do not have pockets.

The second largest slice on my pie chart would be “looking for my cell phone.”

Pocket inequity is why I also dash about yelling, “I can’t find my phone! Somebody call me! Somebody call me!” Someone whips out a cell phone to call me and I suddenly remember that I put my phone on silence.

To divert attention from the fact that no one will be able to hear my phone, I quickly switch the back to, “Has anybody seen my glasses?”

The third largest slice on my pie chart would be, “Looking for my car keys.”

Ninety-nine percent of the time, my car keys are in my purse, but it is a large purse. Think 50-gallon flex steel trash bag. It is the Bermuda Triangle. I once found a plane in my purse. It was made of Legos, but you get the idea.

I have a memory foam pillow but not even that helps.

The real problem is leaving home without one of the big three. If I leave without glasses, the phone is useless. If I leave without my phone, the glasses don’t matter. And if I leave without keys, but remember my phone and glasses, I wind up sitting in the car catching up on texts on my phone.

Recently, I discovered a fix for making sure I have my three essentials before leaving the house. The key is mnemonics. Song and hand motions are a must.  Remember singing, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” with your kids? Tweak it a bit (eyeglasses, keys and phone) and you will never again leave home without the essentials.

Just be careful when you do the arm motions and bend over that your glasses don’t fall off the top of your head.

(If you find Lori’s glasses, phone or keys, please email her at [email protected])

Share This: