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Archive for the ‘Leftovers’ Category

Remember making wishes as a kid? There were all kinds of things we could wish on. One of my favorite ways was to pick a dandelion and blow all those fluffy little seeds into the air. Unless Dad was around and would make me stop so I wouldn’t spread potential weeds all over the lawn. I remember wishing on shooting stars or the first star I saw at night. Or throwing pennies in a fountain. Unless Grandpa B.K. was around and made me stop throwing money away. When we rode the school bus and went over railroad tracks, we’d cross our fingers and touch the metal window frame, and raise our feet off the ground. I don’t know why – to ward off bad luck or something – and then we’d make a wish. Hopefully we wished the bus wouldn’t crash since they didn’t have seat belts back then. Do they now? I haven’t ridden in one in quite a while.

Anyway, I loved making wishes. I still do. I’m sure the wishes now are much different than when I was a kid. What was I wishing for back then? A toy? A candy bar? A rabbit in a hat with a bat? Whatever it was, I just always felt like some magical force was out there looking for opportunities to make my wishes come true.

You could always count on at least one time a year to make a magical wish … by blowing out the candles on your birthday cake. And there was another time of year you had a chance to make a special wish:  on Thanksgiving. After carving the turkey at our holiday feasts, Dad or Grandpa or an uncle would set aside the wishbone. This thing:

Okay, that’s actually a chicken wishbone from last night, but I didn’t have a turkey wishbone hanging around. Each Thanksgiving, two of us had a chance to battle it out over that wishbone in the hopes of breaking off the bigger half, and having our wish come true. We had to take turns every year, because there were four of us kids in my family, and lots of other cousins around waiting for their turn, too. My chance came up every third year or so. Somehow, we NEVER forgot whose turn it was in the current year. Of course, the wishbone didn’t have lots of time to dry out, so a few Thanksgiving wishbone competitions didn’t pan out … there were just two of us pulling on a rubbery thing that some poor turkey sacrificed.

So what do I wish for these days? World peace? Maybe. But I can’t tell you, or the wishes won’t come true. I told someone once that I wished I had more time and motivation to write weekly posts for this blog. I think we all see how that turned out.

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When I set the alarm on my cell phone last week the night before Daylight Savings ended, I noticed that it had automatically corrected for the time change the next day. Pretty cool. I love how cell phones do all this stuff automatically so I don’t have to worry about.

Man, what did we do before cell phones? I’ll tell you what we did – we slept in an hour later the first day of Daylight Savings, on purpose, and then told our teachers or bosses we forgot to set our clocks forward.

There were other advantages of not having a cell phone back in the day. You could go to parties that raged ‘til dawn and tell your parents you were spending the night at your best friend’s house. You just had to call your parents once you were safely at your friend’s house and let them know you were there. Only you weren’t actually calling them from your friend’s house, you were calling from a pay phone down the street from the party. (I never did that, Dad.) There was no caller ID on rotary phones, so your parents didn’t know where you were calling from. And they couldn’t call your cell phone to check in on you — because you didn’t have a cell phone — and they didn’t have a cell phone to follow some tracking app of where you were.

You could easily ghost someone back in the day, too. When they called your house phone, you just had your sibling answer the phone and tell the person you weren’t home, and then you pretended you never got a message. And you just kept doing that every time the person called, so your sibling looked like a jerk, not you. Today, everyone KNOWS your cell phone is glued to your hand, so if you ignore a text or a call, you’re the jerk.

Prank calling people was one of the highlights of most slumber parties I went to as a teenager. Can’t do that anymore, because everyone can see who’s calling them. I imagine you could use a blocked number today, but I don’t think teenagers these days even know about prank calling.

Remember before cell phones and all this automation, when you had to call a business? Let’s say you needed to ask about an error on your bank statement. Well, you called the number, and a human answered. An actual human. A human who listened to your question, wrote down the info, and if necessary, transferred you to another human who would help with the issue. And that other human already knew who you were and knew about the issue. Today? Forget about humans. You’re gonna talk to that recording of a woman (or man) who says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that” when you type your account number into the phone keypad, or say your name into a recording, or scream “REPRESENTATIVE” at the top of your lungs. And guess what, even if you eventually reach an actual human in another state or country, and give them your whole life story, you’re gonna have to repeat it all over again to the next person because nobody filled them in. Let me just say I’m avoiding checking in on a payment credit issue with my health insurance provider, because the thought of calling AGAIN and talking to different computers AGAIN and getting cut off AGAIN and having to call right back AGAIN and getting put on hold AGAIN and never even getting an answer AGAIN is too much stress.

I’m just gonna go make a prank call. Probably to my health insurance provider.

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I think you may remember this fancy little book:

Yes, it’s the one I make fun of often. Is it a cook book? Joke book? Hard-copy version of ipecac syrup? I think it’s all three. And I scan it every so often to pick recipes to ridicule when I can’t summon any ’70s memories worth writing about. I’ve looked through this book a dozen times, and for some reason, never saw this recipe:

 

What the … ? And the poem above it? It’s the basic premise of Friday Night Casserole – except the ‘serve to your friends’ part. I’d like to keep my friends. Anyway, how did I miss this? Maybe the pages were stuck together with bile, or tears, and just recently dried. In the past, I probably just scanned the page, saw ‘potatoes’ or ‘onion’ and figured, “this recipe is fine,” and kept on flipping through the book to find others. But it’s not fine. Sure, meat, potatoes and onions is okay, but this recipe wants you to chop them up and then add milk. Milk. Yep, just checked again, it says ‘milk.’ Okay, I see the ‘or cream’ part, but still, that doesn’t make me feel any better. This recipe shouldn’t be called “Family Leftovers,” it should be called “Milk Soup.”

Thank God Mary Ann never made Milk Soup. Especially with the milk we drank growing up. But she definitely saw this poem somewhere (or wrote it).  “Fill up a dish with odds and with ends.” Yep, that’s actually the definition of Friday Night Casserole.

See, I found this entry in the dictionary:

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Our first TV set I remember as a kid was one of those big brown cabinet boxes on four legs. This one:

That’s me and Tracy sitting in front of it. All those times Mom told us not to sit too close to the TV, and just look at where they propped us. Anyway, I am apparently gorging myself on candy from my Easter basket, along with the candy in both mine and Tracy’s rolling-toy-basket-things, while eyeing the candy in her basket. Hmm. I wonder why my Mom was making Friday Night Casserole on Easter Sunday …

In later years, that TV had rabbit ears on top that one of us kids often had to adjust and hold for my Dad when he was trying to tune in “Hogan’s Heroes” or something. And of course, we had to get up from where we were sitting on the floor to turn the TV on, to switch between the three only channels or to turn it off.

Once we moved to Napa, we got cable which gave us a few more channels. They were mostly local stations from San Francisco or Oakland, and gave us a few more options, but we’d always complain that “there’s nothing on.”

When I was in Junior High, we got HBO, which was awesome, because we could watch actual movies that actually played in the theater recently – or not-so-recently as was often the case. Anyway, to get HBO, you had to attach an A-B switch thing to your TV. You’d have to switch to ‘B’ and put the TV on a certain channel to watch HBO. I remember watching the movie “It’s Alive” about 40 times, because back then it was scary-cool, and plus, it was about the only movie playing on HBO for about three solid months. The A-B switch was also a ‘lock box,’ so if our parents were heading out for the night, they could ‘lock’ the switch so we couldn’t turn the box to ‘B’ and watch R-rated movies on HBO. Or so they thought. Even with that lock thing on, we could push that switch hard enough towards ‘B’ to tune in HBO and catch moments of scary or racy flicks like “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “The Omen.” Of course, we had to take turns standing by the TV to push that switch towards ‘B’ and hold it in place. But that was okay, we were kinda used to doing a similar task, the one where Dad needed us to keep our hand on the antenna so a local station wouldn’t fade in and out.

Yeah, TV was a lot of work back then. Plus, you couldn’t just grab a remote and scroll through 500 channels to find something to watch. You had to find the TV Guide, flip to the current day and then scan through the listings to find out what to watch. And if you wanted to watch your favorite sitcom, you had to make sure you could dedicate 30 entire minutes to being in front of the TV, at the exact time that show came on. And the thought of watching one of your favorite movies any time you wanted? Well, that was just make-believe.

Before I left for college, video cassettes came out, and holy crap, you could go to an actual store stocked full of all the latest movie releases on tape. Well, some of them. But you had to own your own video player, which back then cost about a million dollars. My Dad, being the tech-gadgety guy, obviously went out and bought one. But he bought a Beta player, which at the time was fancier than standard VHS, and there was a smaller choice of videos to choose from at the store. Like five.

If you didn’t have a video player, you could rent one at the store. In college, I remember going into the big, popular liquor store where you could pick up a six-pack of Coors Light or California Coolers, AND grab a video cassette player and a few movies. So you or one of your roommates had to put down like a hundred-dollar deposit to rent a big, bulky video cassette player, along with all the necessary cables and plugs. Then you hauled it home, hooked it up to the TV and watched your movie. Then the next day you had to unplug that thing and haul it back to the liquor store. Which was no big deal since you had to pick up more alcohol anyway.

These days you can find just about anything on TV to watch. Literally. Anything. But even with hundreds and hundreds of channels available, we still complain that “there’s nothing on.” Well, at least nothing we want to actually watch.

Jay and I finally stuck it to the Man and cancelled our Cable TV. Hundreds of useless channels at hundreds of dollars a month was getting old, and besides, all we ever do is watch our favorite shows that we’ve taped or binge-watch Netflix. So we switched to Hulu Live TV since it’s one of the few choices for our area that includes both ABC (gotta practice “Wheel of Fortune”) and the Golf Channel (Jay’s best friend) for a decent, low price. We’ll start binging our way through Hulu shows now, too, I imagine, but we’re still working through Netflix.

Last night we were binge-watching “Arrested Development” and the mom, Lucille, did something my Mom used to do; a fancy skill my sisters and I inherited. We’ve never seen anyone else do it. My mom would close her left eyelid completely–usually while laughing, or while saying or hearing something funny–and her right eyelid wouldn’t move. With this superpower, she could just drop her eyelid without affecting the other one. And my sisters and I can all do it. It’s kinda like winking, but when you wink, you have to scrunch your eyelid. And if you try to lower one eyelid, you can’t help but kinda squint the other one. (You just tried it, didn’t you …)  My sisters and I still do it, sometimes when talking about Mom, but usually when we just want to indicate “yeah, whatever.” It’s our secret code. Umm. It was our secret code.

Anyway, I saw Lucille do this last night on TV and I immediately wanted to show my sisters. Back in the day, I would’ve only been able to call them and tell them what I saw on TV … after waiting till after 7:00 pm to save on long-distance charges, and then walking into the kitchen to dial 10 digits into the rotary phone, three separate times, and hoping their lines weren’t busy, and that they were home to answer the phone. Today? I grabbed the remote, rewound the show, paused it on the frame were Lucille was dropping her eyelid, took a picture with my phone, then attached the pic to a group text and hit ‘Send.’

Gotta love modern technology; it helps us accomplish so many important things.

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My Mom practically invented recycling. Most people think the big recycling craze just started this last decade or so, but Mary Ann practiced the art of recycling way back in the ‘60s.

The most obvious recycling event at our house happened every August with hand-me-down clothes. I don’t remember buying that many new clothes during grade school as I was always getting someone else’s clothes. I was the runt in my family. Even my younger sisters eventually outgrew me. But mostly, I inherited my older sister Tracy’s clothes. That was fine with me because I thought she had the coolest dresses, and I was lucky to get them two years after they had gone out of style. I also got my cousins’ clothes. Of course after grade school, once I had outgrown the hand-me-downs, Coleen and Melissa got them. But at least by then the clothes had come back into style.

When Tracy and I were toddlers, my Mom made some of our clothes. They were pretty cute for ’60s standards, and always matching. Tracy and I are practically Irish twins, and Mom usually dressed us as actual twins.

See.

 

Mary Ann made us identical clothes through our early grade school years. I even remember being in a ‘fashion show’ when I was in fourth grade and Tracy was in fifth. We modeled my Mom’s designs: polyester peach elephant pants with peach and blue halter tops. And she had us wear big straw hats and sunglasses. Move over Heidi Klum. Did I mention this fashion show was held in our grade school cafeteria? We were famous for five minutes, then went home smelling like creamed corn.

My Mom couldn’t help but be resourceful. Each year after birthdays or Christmas morning, Mom would quickly snatch up the discarded bows to put in her package-wrapping stash for the next big event. I’m guilty of this today. Well c’mon, I’m not gonna throw out a perfectly good bow; I just take off the used tape so the next person will think they’ve received a fancy new one.

Anyway, Mary Ann reused everything from coffee cans to Cool Whip containers, and she had a big stash of plastic bags. I don’t remember plastic grocery bags when I was a kid, but I certainly remember clear plastic produce bags and bread bags. She would not throw those things away. In fact, she would rinse them out and carefully set them out to dry, by sticking them up on the louvered kitchen window. They came in handy for all kinds of things: storing homemade cookies … packing picnic lunches … making homemade snow boots.

Mom would build up a plastic bag supply before we took a winter trip to Lake Tahoe or somewhere else to play in the snow. Why bother with buying the kids snow boots or galoshes when you have 300 perfectly good plastic produce bags and Wonder Bread bags? Mom would outfit us all in two pairs of socks and our sneakers and then put about five plastic bags over each foot — securing them with leftover rubber bands from newspaper deliveries.

You probably think I make this stuff up.

Nope.

 

A little hard to tell above, but those are some plastic bags over our shoes.

 

 

I’m on the left in this one above. My plastic bags are already covered in snow and frostbite is setting in so I’m trying to build an igloo for shelter. You can still see through Tracy’s and Coleen’s plastic bags pretty well. Coleen is looking at my Mom as she holds up an ice trophy for “Best Homemade Snow Boots.”

Our fancy plastic bag snow boots would last about an hour until each layer had ripped through appropriately and our feet would get wet and cold. Then we’d retreat to the brown wood-paneled station wagon to thaw out and have some sandwiches — packaged in recycled plastic produce bags.

Thankfully Mary Ann never put two and two together and tried to make our clothes out of plastic bags:

 

  “Dress up Baby as a loaf of Wonder Bread” by Mike Mozart is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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What Day Is It??!!

I think I’ve mentioned I love Friday the 13th. I’ve always loved Friday the 13th. When I was a kid I simply loved Fridays. Which is strange, because that often meant Friday Night Casserole for dinner. But Fridays after school were also the start of the weekend, and when it was a Pay Day Friday we were able to pick up our favorite fast food or go out to dinner. And then we’d sprawl out on the living room floor to watch our favorite prime-time lineup: “The Brady Bunch,” “Nanny and the Professor” and “The Partridge Family”:

So when I combine Friday with 13, I can’t go wrong; 13 has always been my favorite number. I don’t know why. It’s just awesome. And I’ve won my fair share on the roulette wheel betting on 13 Black. It’s also a baker’s dozen, and you can never go wrong with one extra donut, amiright.

Some people freak out and think Friday the 13th is totally unlucky and scary. Probably because of scary movies. One time after the original “Poltergeist” came out, my sisters and I pulled a prank on my Mom, figuring we’d freak her out when she woke up on Friday the 13th. After she went to bed the night before, we placed dining room chairs on top of the kitchen table and scattered a few around the room. And we opened up a bunch of kitchen cabinet doors. We taped this note to the dining room table, and by the reply she left, you can tell we didn’t scare her one bit:

fri-the-13-note

Anyway, I always look forward to Friday the 13th being a lucky day. They don’t happen that frequently. The last Friday the 13th was in May. And that was the exact day Jay and I received a letter in the mail letting us know we were chosen to be “Wheel of Fortune” contestants. True story; stay tuned.

So don’t sit home like a scaredy-cat on Friday the 13th. Get out there. Go buy a lottery ticket. Ask that special someone out on a date. Send in an audition tape to “Wheel of Fortune.” The next Friday the 13th isn’t until October, so today’s your only chance for another 10 months. Well, if you’re Irish, you have St. Patrick’s Day coming up. You know, luck of the Irish and all that. Plus all the alcohol. So essentially you have another lucky day in just two months.

Of course, if you’re planning a camping trip this weekend at a place called “Camp Crystal Lake” you might want to change your plans.

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I remember little bits about my first day in Kindergarten. Back then, since hardly any kids went to preschool or dance class or played pee-wee ball, we usually didn’t know another soul in the classroom. You’d think that’d be traumatic for some kids – especially a little paranoid four-year-old like me – but I couldn’t wait to go to school. Luckily, my best-friend/next-door-neighbor, Randy, and I were the same age and we went to school together that first day. But when we got there, he cried like a little baby so his Mom took him home to wait for the next school year. Still, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to get into that classroom and eat paste.

Kindergarten featured a lot of finger painting, coloring, singing songs and playing in the fake little kitchen, but my favorite part of the day was snack time. Every day we’d get graham crackers and milk. My second favorite part of the day was recess, for obvious reasons. My least favorite part of the day was nap time. I don’t know about you, but I could never fall asleep on a dirty plastic mat on the floor. I’d just lay there. Apparently I was resting on my left side on Picture Day.

Yes, my Dad cut my bangs (see: “Papa Don’s Discount Salon“) and my Mom put that crazy bow on my head, on top of what was at one time early in the morning my hair pulled back tightly and neatly into a ponytail. Anyway, nap time was magical if you were the kid who got to be the “Wake-Up Fairy.” Each week several kids were assigned different tasks to carry out for the week. I can only remember two tasks: one was the Wake-Up Fairy and the other was the “Kid who had to make sure all the jump-ropes, four-square balls and other playground equipment were accounted for after recess.” I remember that task vividly because the one time I had it, I was trying to fit all the playground stuff into the big storage closet and a big wooden post fell on my head. Anyway, I always wanted to be the Wake-Up Fairy. That lucky kid received the magical wand from the teacher and was able to get up a few minutes early from nap time to go around and touch each kid on the head with the wand to wake them up. It was the first taste of power for a little kid.

Once I hit first grade, it was serious business. We had to stay in school all … day … long. No naps, snacks or skipping home at noon. But I still loved it. We actually ate lunch in the cafeteria. Everyone popped open their Partridge Family, Campus Queen, Archies or Superman metal lunchboxes and dug into food that had been sitting unrefrigerated in the back of classrooms for four hours. And everybody had milk money (usually a dime) taped to the inside of their lunchbox. Some sandwich and snack trading would happen, but all liverwurst, deviled ham and olive loaf sandwiches ended up in the trash. The week after a Payday Friday, Mom often packed my favorite lunch: a PB&J, a little plastic baggie of BBQ chips, and a few apple slices or half an orange; sometimes even a few store-brand cookies thrown in to make it fancy.

There were several magical days every elementary school kid would wait for each year. First was Halloween, naturally, because we got to dress up in costumes and walk around the school in a little parade. And we got candy. After Halloween, we waited for Christmas to roll around. There would be Christmas crafts, songs and other activities for the week leading up to Christmas break, and then usually a fancy party the day before Christmas vacation. And we got candy.

Nothing was quite as exciting as the holidays as a kid, but there were a few recurring events at our elementary school I always looked forward to. Besides field trips, I loved Ice Cream Days; I’d get a dime each time to buy a Lemon Bar or Fudgsicle. But one of the most magical days was Scholastic Book Day. Every few months or so the teacher would hand out Scholastic Book Order Flyers.

Scholastic Book Club Flyers by Enokson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We’d pick out several books in our flyer, take the form home for our parents to approve and then bring it back to school with an envelope of dollar bills and coins for our purchase. Then we had to wait for the day the books arrived. When they did, it was like Christmas. Each kid who ordered books received their little bundle, packaged together with a big rubber band. I guess it was the early version of Amazon. It was so exciting getting your own brand-new books. And if you had brothers and sisters, your book supply at home was even sweeter. We had a cool, built-in cabinet in our house with lots of shelves and a fancy pull-down door accented with a metal treble clef and music staff. That’s where we kept all of our books and encyclopedias (Note to Millennials: Encyclopedias are primitive book versions of the internet). When my sister, Coleen, was a baby, she’d go to that cabinet and pull every book off the shelf. My Mom said it was a daily routine.

I guess getting new books back then is similar to the experience when kids today get a new tablet, or phone, or laptop or electronic game. Only when I was a kid, no matter how much we loved those shiny new books, we’d drop them in a heartbeat to go run around, ride bikes, climb trees or run through the sprinklers with other kids in the neighborhood. Actually, I have lots of unread books lying around today because I’m still always outside running through the sprinklers.

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