July 4th in a Small Town

detail_of_american_flag_190419While July 4th is technically tomorrow, in our little town, the planning began on Sunday June 28th.  That’s the day the first lawn chairs were spotted.

Our town hosts an annual July 4th celebration complete with 5K run/walk, street festival, fireworks in the high school stadium, car show and…parade. The parade route is a 2 mile stretch from the high school through the center of town and ends near one of the elementary schools.

Over the main intersection in town a large American flag waves hoisted aloft by a large green crane.  Electricians are out setting up temporary electrical service for the many street vendors that will be selling their wood carvings, homemade soaps, beaded jewelry and corn hole sets.  There will be kettle corn, funnel cakes, tenderloin sandwiches, Italian sausage and lemon shake-ups.  Stages with red, white and blue bunting have been set up for days ready for musical acts from around the area.  And, at strategic locations and set back at a distance, are rows of portable toilets.  When I see them waiting empty, I thank my lucky stars that we live within a long but doable walking distance of the parade route.

The highlight of the celebration is the parade.  Weather permitting, there is usually a flyover of military planes or historic replicas of some long ago era.  The fire department starts the parade with as many trucks as possible participating.  The festival marshals and then all the high school scholarship winners come by in the fancy cars…some old, some new…that will be participating in the car show.  And then the bands and cheerleaders and sports teams and dance teams and the staff of the local park district and a van from the senior center and floats — some elaborate and some the back of a pick-up truck with signs hanging from the side — and sprinkled throughout are the politicians — local, mind you for city council type positions (though occasionally we’ll get some higher office candidates marching too).  There is usually at least one troop of horses and riders marching in the parade.  And tradition has the high school Varsity Football players following with a wagon and shovel to scoop up droppings.

And I love it.  Every single minute of it.  Rain or shine, I can’t help but smile.  It is my community marching by and waving from their lawn chairs in the grass along the route.  It is a big family reunion 2 miles long.

For years, we have set up chairs toward the end of the parade route.  Not necessarily the best position because many of the marchers bring candy or paper fans or refrigerator magnets and often, by the time they reach the end, they are out of their booty.  One year, we set up chairs closer to the beginning.  Our haul of candy and trinkets was better but it just wasn’t the same.  Tradition.

Some years our kids have marched with their various clubs and teams…I walked with our youngest when she was playing basketball.  Those kids dribbled their basketballs the entire 2 mile route.

We’ve watched or marched in the parade every year that we’ve been in town. Even in downpours.  If the kids can march, we can watch.  But this year there wasn’t as much family interest in setting up chairs to watch the parade.  I have a house full of teenagers now and local parades and street fairs don’t have the same draw.

Without family to sit with or to watch marching by, I wasn’t going to go either.  But about an hour ago, I could not help myself.  I wrapped my chair in a black trash bag in case of overnight rain and drove up and down the parade route searching for a small empty patch of grass.

Because I remembered the color guard, often made up of members of nearby VFW chapters.  When the flag comes by, we all get up out of our lawn chairs and clap and cheer as they march by.  And we stand again when the Boy Scouts march holding a giant flag stretched out between them.  And we stand again for the flag displayed on the front of the fire truck  And we stand again when one of the mounted horse teams is carrying a flag.  Again and again and again.  We stand every single time.

This year seemingly earlier than ever, neighbors started putting chairs out along the route almost a full week before the parade. They stop their minivans in the road, open the back hatch and drop 1, 2, 3 or more lawn chairs in the grass.  Or they might take string or caution tape and mark off a patch between two small trees.  And the chairs and tape stay there.  All week.  And no one moves them.

Who Knew an Organized Make-Up Drawer Would Provide Such Joy?

This morning, at roughly 6:23 am, I organized my make-up drawer.  And when I had placed the last tube of lipstick in the organizer with the other tubes of lipstick, all facing in the same direction, all with caps and none with smears of lipstick on the outside casing, I smiled into the mirror and quietly clapped my hands together.  Smiling into my clapping reflection in the mirror I could not help thinking that today is going to be a great day!  Why? Because my make-up is all organized!  How on earth could something so trivial leave me so confident, happy and ready to face the world?  Simple.  The make-up drawer and frankly everything else in the master bathroom has been in disarray for the past seven years.   And today the bathroom remodel is complete enough that I can put my make-up back in the drawer.

My husband and I bought this crazy “fixer upper” seven years ago.  My original plan was to remodel the master bathroom almost immediately.  It was an illogical layout with a door for each “room”…toilet, shower, tub.  And the fabricated marble in the sinks was all worn away.  But then we got into the house and the kitchen was so “80s” and dis-functional and ugly that remodeling the kitchen quickly moved into the number one redo project list.   And once the kitchen was done, we had to redo the main floor powder room so that guests would be comfortable.  And then it was Spring and the deck was falling apart so we needed to fix that so that we could spend time outside.  And every time any project finished and we looked at the list, something else planned or unplanned always trumped the master bathroom remodel.  There was the hail and wind that damaged all the windows on two sides of the house.  There was the electrical storm that affected the garage doors and washer/dryer.  There was the toddler niece coming for a visit who needed a working bathtub because she couldn’t yet take a shower so we remodeled the upstairs bathroom.

And so, seven years later, the master bathroom was just was it was when we moved in, if not a little worse for wear.  Over the years, the jacuzzi tub in the master bath stopped working so I used the space for storage.  And with all the remodeling projects, we pilfered doors from the master bath for other projects throughout the house.  And I spilled red nail polish on the cream colored tile floor and it stained the grout.

And finally, seven year later, there was nothing left to remodel but the master bath.  My husband completed all the demolition last year before his surgery.  I bought the floor and wall tile two years ago on sale in the hopes the project would start soon.  I temporarily moved all my stuff — make-up, hair care products, accessories and appliances, cleansers, nail stuff, contacts, buffers and such — down to the hall bathroom to share with my teenage son.

My son was a good “roommate” for the first few weeks.  He did a nice job keeping the hall bath tidy enough for out-of-town guests.  But after a while, I believe it was shortly after the winter dance at school, he slowly stopped cleaning up after himself.  At first, he left the stuff he uses to spike his hair open on the vanity counter.  Then it was a dirty T-shirt left in a ball on the floor.  Eventually the bathroom floor was littered with his size 13 large and stinky shoes and an athletic supporter was left hanging on a hook.

But I’m sure I was no picnic either.  My hot rollers or curling iron seemed forever precariously and dangerously plugged in and heating up on the vanity.  Feminine products invaded the space under the sink.   And the waste basket always had nasty looking make-up removing cotton balls, used tissues or a wad of hair from cleaning my hair brush.  (But at least I mostly got these items in the waste basket!)

My husband has recovered well from his surgery and in recent weeks, he’s been strong enough to resume the master bath remodeling work.  There was a lot of foundational work:  moving water lines, changing wiring and building pockets for a new pocket door into the bedroom before he got to the “fun” stuff…laying tile, painting and installing the vanity.

Installing the vanity is what he worked on this week and last night, the cabinet doors and drawers where installed.  And where was I while he was attaching those drawers? I was at the local bath shop buying drawer organizers, of course!

And so, this morning, even before the alarm went off, I took all my things off the shelves in the hall bath and raced back to the new bathroom, the new vanity and my clean, clear and empty new organizers.  I removed all the tags being careful to leave no residue.  I put all my make-up on the counter and examined each item to make sure it was worthy of placing in the clean, clear and empty organizers.  I wiped down some items and discarded some others.  And then put everything in its own compartment.  And continued filling the drawers with all my supplies.  Make-up in the first drawer, teeth and nail stuff in the second drawer and hair things in the third drawer.  I carefully closed each drawer, picked up a few bits of torn sticker off the floor, looked in the mirror, smiled, let out a long contented sigh and did my little happy clap of joy.

Why Can’t My Kids Change a Roll of Toilet Paper?

Before you get too grossed out, rest assured, they will get a new roll of toilet paper from under the sink when the old one runs out.  But apparently there is a great deal more effort involved to actually complete the process than they are capable of.

When they were younger, I never noticed this competency gap with my children because, well, because I changed the toilet paper roll for them.  Even after they had been reliably potty-trained and were taking care of business on their own, I changed the toilet paper just like I changed the sheets and the towels and anything else that needing changing and tidying.  And then it struck me that changing a roll of toilet paper was a task that given a not too complicated holder, even a young child could master.  In our house, there is only one toilet paper holder that is difficult to use and even I am tempted to leave a fresh role on the back of the toilet out of frustration when the rod keeps popping out of the grooves and goes “sproinging” onto the floor.

So, several years ago, we had a lesson in how to replace an empty roll of toilet paper.  We covered the basics:

  1. Push in on one end of the rod to make it smaller so it pops out of the grooves,
  2. Remove the empty roll and place it in the waste basket,
  3. Take a new, clean roll from under the sink,
  4. Slide it onto the rod,
  5. Get close to the holder and push in one end of the rod so that you can fit it back in the grooves,
  6. Line the rod up with the grooves (while still holding the end in),
  7. Release your grip on the end of the rod so that it returns to regular length and the little prong parts extend into the grooves in the holder

All three of my children tried the step by step process and I’m proud to report that they all mastered it in all the bathrooms except the one with the challenging holder.  We didn’t even try on that one.  And I figured we’d stick with the basics for years.  They were children for heaven’s sake and didn’t need to learn the advanced techniques such as whether or not the paper should roll off over or under the roll.

Early on, they seemed to enjoy these “big kid” responsibilities.  But somewhere along the way, the excitement and novelty wore off.  And now, despite the success of those early lessons, my daughters are unable to replace a roll of toilet paper.  When one roll is empty, they will get a new roll from under the sink and leave it on the back of the toilet, on the floor, propped on the old roll or balanced on the lid of the waste basket.  No amount of teasing, needling, nagging, punishing or yelling has changed this behavior.  I’ve timed it and we are talking another 6 seconds max to actually put the new role in the holder.   I’m sure it is possible that they are doing this as a game to push my buttons.  But I think instead that they are caught forever in sibling score keeping “I changed it last time, it is your turn” or “I wasn’t the one who finished the roll” (Note that indeed there are a few torn shreds still clinging to the cardboard roll — these are the same people who leave a thimble full of milk in the carton so that they don’t have to get another gallon of milk from the garage refrigerator.

Don’t Wash Your Car When You Have to Pee

Yesterday I was on my way home from meeting a girlfriend for coffee.  My car was so filthy from all the snow and ice we’ve had lately I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I’m sick and tired of getting gunk and road salt on my winter coat.  I feel grimy every time I get in or out of my car.  I’ll never understand it but no matter how clean the interior might be, if the outside is dirty, the inside feels dirty.  But with the weather we’ve been having, the interior is just as bad — road salt, ice, rocks, leaves, mud, dust, dirt, sand and crumbs.  The crumb thing is another one of life’s mysteries…why are there more crumbs in the car in the winter?

Anyway, I decided the increasing pressure of nature’s call, I had enough time to get through the drive through car wash near my house.

And I did but it was torture!  Cycle after cycle of water and soap and more water and double bonded wax (how does that work on a wet car?) and more water going back and forth from the front to the back of the van.  Sometimes a hard spray.  Sometimes a gentle spray designed to leave no spots but it always looked and sounded like rushing water especially running down the front windshield.

I found myself focusing entirely on the digital display telling me about each step in the process.  And what exactly is “Spot Free Water”?  Is it different from regular water?  Wouldn’t it still spot if my car was covered in silk bunting?  Was I just trying to distract myself?

The overhead door couldn’t open fast enough.  The heck with my 60 seconds of industrial hair dryers for cars.  I had the Spot Free Water treatment so I was good to go!

When Two Jeans Were Too Many

Early in my professional career, every day was “business attire”.   I don’t want to date myself but for a woman business attire meant a dark suit (navy blue usually) with a skirt (no pants) and a jacket with large shoulder pads, pantyhose, dark pumps and a light-colored blouse with a floppy bow at the collar.

My first job after graduate school introduced the concept of “summer hours”.  We worked an extra hour Monday through Thursday and on Friday, we could wear “business casual” and leave at noon.   The HR people had to send around a memo to explain what “business casual” meant.   I’m pretty sure it did not include the skimpy white knit number with a mid-drift top and cutouts down the outside of the Capri pants that one young lady tried to wear to the office one Friday.  I suspect she wore the same outfit out on the Thursday evening before and probably never made it home to change.  In any event, the office manager (a matronly woman) snagged her heading over to her desk and sent her right back home before any of the executives (all men) saw her.  I’m not sure if this was for the young lady’s benefit of the rest of us that would surely lose the Friday “summer hours” for this one infraction.

The next place I worked did not have “summer hours” but was slightly more casual.  Pants suits and skirts with blouses and blazers more the norm.

My most recent employer was business casual all the time.  Which meant jeans and T-shirts to some people and suits to others.  For years, we always wore suits when we traveled to the corporate headquarters in NYC.  And, if a contingent from NYC was at out offices in the Midwest, we’d wear suits as well.

At the time I owned two pair of jeans.  Well actually four.  Two I could fit into.  One pair were my “skinny” jeans which I could fit into on certain days but was never really comfortable in them.  And one other pair that were my “incentive” jeans.  They were there to motivate me to exercise more and diet so that I could fit into them.  (I never did wear those jeans and recently gave them away in a clothing drive because I was just kidding myself and better that someone else could get some use out of them.)   And so, I essentially had two pair of jeans.  And that was more than enough.  I traveled a fair amount on business, often over a weekend.  And half the year, on the weekends, I would be in shorts or Capris.  So two pair was plenty.  Especially because I don’t really have a jeans body.

But over the past year, things got more and more casual at work.  While Monday  Thursday was “business casual” for most executives (Dockers for the gentlemen and skirts or dresses for the women), when Friday rolled around, everyone pulled on a sweater and a favorite pair of jeans.  Executives essentially adopted their own “casual casual” Fridays.  And I discovered that even though it’s not the best look for me, I really like jeans.  With a nice sweater and boots or flats.  You can dress them up or down as the mood strikes you.  And so long as it’s not my “skinny pair”, they are comfortable.