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Thinking About Things

I don’t believe I am a “things” person. I want to be comfortable and warm and look ten years younger than my age, but other than that, I don’t need a lot. Not only that, my husband and I are at a point in our lives where we need to be downsizing. Getting rid of those “things.”

Let’s talk about dishes.

We have eight place settings of Corelle dishware. It’s really old, but we like it because it’s not heavy and we like the pattern. I think we bought it the year our youngest went to college. It was part of our reinvention cycle when our nest emptied. (This could be wrong. My memory is…well, I don’t remember where I put it.) The cups that came with these dishes are little bitty. Pretty, but tiny—something like seven ounces. The bowls are nice, too, but they’re really not big enough for the vat-size servings of cereal that teenage boys (and older husbands) like to eat. And those small bowls, the ones you put healthy stuff in so you don’t have to eat a lot of it?—those didn’t come with the dishes.

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"...the wheel's still in spin..."

If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'. - Bob Dylan

I blame it on my age that I don't like change. I say I am set in my ways, that I don't have enough brain cells left to learn new things. That...well, I say lots of things, I guess, with the comment at the top of the heap being, "I just don't like it, okay?"

Much of the time, I do like change. As someone who grew up without plumbing, central heating, air conditioning, or store-bought milk, believe me when I say I sometimes downright love change. I don't want to go back to manual typewriters, car window cranks, or black-and-white television. I never want to defrost a refrigerator, clean an oven, or wax a floor ever again.

However, I remember how many changes took place in the workplace because of greed, to get rid of employees, or because the change was going to cause a boon for someone high up in the good-old-boy network. The changes didn't improve the product, lower prices, or enrich life for anyone. They were just changes for the sake of change.

I remember when all the trees were removed from one side of the tree-lined road where my parents' house was--they'd already been removed from the other side--for the sake of widening the road. The road was never widened, but its sides certainly are naked.

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I wrote this in August of 1991, when my years on bleachers were winding down, and it's been my most repeated essay ever—I put it out there every year whether readers want to see it or not. It's dated, I guess, because it's been a long time, but I still think there's very little that's better than watching your kids be engaged, whether it's in sports, band, drama, debate, or anything else. There are things I'm sorry for from my active parenting days, things I wish I'd said or done and things I wish I hadn't. But I don't regret one minute of being a spectator.

They're the parents of a player. You'll recognize them because they're the ones carrying umbrellas, rain ponchos, winter coats, a big Thirty-One bag full of blankets, and enough money for the entire family to stuff themselves on popcorn and Spanish hot dogs and nachos because there wasn't enough time for supper before the game.

They bring the weather gear even on a clear night, you'll notice, because although clouds may burst with bucketfuls of rain or snow or both, the parents won't have the option of going home or even to the car. It doesn't matter if everyone else leaves the stands--as long as the players are on the field, their parents are in the bleachers.

She's the mother of a player. You'll recognize her because she's the one whose chin wobbles and whose eyes get big when someone screams at the player she belongs to. She's the one who only claps politely when her son's name is called in the team lineup because she doesn't want anyone teasing her about being unduly biased.

She's the one who, when her son does something wonderful on the field, comes completely unglued and spills popcorn and extra blankets all over the people below her on the bleachers as she jumps up and down and screams, "Way to go, honey!"

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“…a sweet refrain…”

You can see it coming already, can’t you? The greens in the woods aren’t as bright as they were and there isn’t as much daylight in every day no matter how hard the politicians chase it. Evenings on the porch almost require a sweater, and the trees are full of birds—probably laying out their itinerary for the upcoming flight south.

The sounds changed with the start of school. Even from two miles away, we can hear the band and the voice from the booth on Friday nights when there is a home game. The leaves, just a few of them, whisper down through the darkness. I think of James Whitcomb Riley and Understood Betsy and putting on long pants for the first time in months. It’s easy to find joy in these early fall days.

Doud’s and McClure’s Orchards are picking Honeycrisp apples and even though I haven’t made an orchard run yet, I swear I can taste them already and feel the cold, sweet snap of each bite. Today I drank my first—and second and third—cups of pumpkin spice tea of the season. (I know this grosses some people out. Sorry not sorry.) Cider will come soon. Like it mulled? Here’s a recipe. Like mulled wine instead? Here’s another one.

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Through the Window

When I first began writing the “Window Over the Sink,” back in the late 1980s, for the Peru Tribune, I did my best to keep it funny, non-political, sort of non-religious…and did I mention funny? Most of us had windows over our sinks, and many of those sinks had dirty dishes in them. That was why I named the column what I did, because I wanted it to be about all of us.

We didn’t have a dishwasher then, and I would stand at the sink and look out at the back yard. Long after he left home, I’d look at the basketball goal where our son shot baskets every day of his life, rain or shine. When the weeds grew up at the base of the post, I tried not to look there, because even then, time went too fast. It was right there that I taught our daughter how to change a tire. In the rain, of course. My gaze would veer to the spot where grass never grew, where our younger son built villages with army men and Tonka trucks.

The window’s been replaced in the 30 years since, but it’s in the same place. I still look out and watch memories move around. I’ve stood there and clutched the edge of the countertop and cried, then washed my face so that no one would know. I’ve watched the kids walk across the yard with the people they would marry, watched them carry grandbabies to the house, watched as those grandbabies grew up right before my eyes.

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I wrote most of this in 2006, and I may have used it here before—I’m not sure—but I’ve added some. Grief is heavy this week of my brother Tom’s passing, swirling with memories and wish-I-hads and the best kind of laughter. If you’ve read it before, I hope you don’t mind seeing again, and that you can get a gift from it, too.

It’s Sunday afternoon when I write this, and the sun is almost out. How nice it is after two weeks of unremitting gloom. As it grows lighter outside, I grow lighter inside as well. Which is odd when you consider what I’ve been thinking about.


We all see a lot of it in our lifetimes. When we’re young and if we’re lucky, we see it from afar. We see old people die and it’s too bad, know, they’re old. Then, of course, comes the time when it’s not from afar and the person who passes on isn’t old. This is when we really find out about grief.

My grandmother died when I was seven, and even though it felt strange that she wouldn’t sit at the table and drink from her cracked cup anymore, she was eighty-four. So I didn’t grieve. Not really, though to this day, I think of Grandma Shafer when I see a cracked coffee cup. Then when I was eleven, a 10-year-old schoolmate died. Forty-some years later, I still feel profound sorrow when I think of her. She was smart and funny and had so much to give here on earth that even now I have difficulty coming to terms with her death. But I couldn’t identify the feelings I had about her passing, couldn’t explain the tears that came to my eyes for years whenever I thought about Cindy being buried with her red cowboy boots.

When I was thirteen, I lost the only grandfather I’d ever known, and the hurt came in waves, like the throbbing from a bee sting. He died in June, and by the time school started, I’d gotten over the worst of it, but junior high was different than it might have been. Because grief wasn’t far away anymore.

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Look for the Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ” – Fred Rogers

In my last column, I said how hard it was not to write about politics. I also said you were welcome because I wasn’t going to. I’m still not, exactly, but I’m not exactly going to dodge it, either, because it permeates our lives in a way I’ve never seen before.

As of this writing, at least 31 people died in mass shootings last weekend. As of this writing, there have been 255 mass shootings in this country this year, which is 218 days. As of yesterday afternoon—Monday, August 5—according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 33,237 total shooting incidents, resulting in 8,796 gun deaths and 17,480 injuries in 2019.

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Little Boxes

Sometimes, the workings of my mind make me think of that Parker Brothers game, Scattergories. I don’t know how to play it—its bright red box isn’t one of those taking up room on a shelf upstairs with Monopoly, Scrabble, and Candyland—but I just feel like I have a whole bunch of little boxes with something to say in each one but not enough to make a point with. Quite honestly, I think I’d write a better column if I could settle into Cards Against Humanity or something, but the Scattergories have taken me over, and this is what I’ve been thinking.

About gifts. In our yard, outside my office window, we have a clothesline. I like to hang sheets and towels out because I love the smell of the sun and the wind in them. However, the towels come out stiff and scratchy and Duane would rather sheets were soft instead of crisp, so I don’t hang many clothes. Instead, the suet feeder hangs on the pole and the birds congregate there to eat and scold each other. The deer wander up under the clothesline and look at the window until I move, at which time they chase each other back into the cornfield. I am not outdoorsy by any means, but you can’t live in the country without realizing what a gift the outdoors is.