Suzanne Olsen's Humor Blog - I don't offend some of the people most of the time

Month: November 2020

Christmas Frenzy

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The Christmas frenzy came early this year. Long before Black Friday my email overflowed with people wanting me to spend money at their stores. Even my dentist is begging me to get something – anything – done to my teeth in time for the holidays. Tis the season!

I responded to Land’s End’s frantic 55% Off and Free Shipping! emails by ordering a bunch of stuff I don’t need, since I have nowhere to go. No holiday parties, no nights at the theater, no restaurants with old friends I haven’t seen since March. But just in case, I ordered a red sweater – they were practically giving it away. Also some cotton zip-up sweatshirt things to stay warm while I clean closets. I’ll wrap these items and give them to myself for Christmas. That way I’ll at least get a few presents I won’t have to return.

My husband does the same thing. Several packages have already arrived with those stretchy polyester sports shirts he always wears. He puts them in drawers until I get the tree up, then he’ll wrap umpteen boxes with tags on them that say “to MLH from YLW” (To My Loving Husband, From Your Loving Wife).

It’s the thought that counts.

We’re still in November but already people have turned their outside Christmas lights on. I realize that some never took them down from last year (my mother would have called that “tacky”), but others had their houses lit up like Santa-land even before Thanksgiving. Before Thanksgiving! As my grandmother would have said, “What is this world coming to?”

I think we are all stir crazy from being inside so much, isolated from normal activities during this season of friendly gatherings. I spent all day yesterday making butter toffee and cashew brittle to give as gifts – something I usually don’t do that until the second or third week in December. But the candy lasts forever in the refrigerator, so why not go ahead and get it done? Especially since I can never remember how to make it and end up throwing a lot of sugar and butter away that got overcooked (burned) or didn’t set up right (the butter separates after the hot candy is poured onto a cookie sheet, making it greasy). Last weekend I made four batches of each. The butter toffee got slightly burned and the cashew butter was greasy. Both tasted great, but not good enough for gifts. Yesterday the candy turned out – only a little burned, only a little greasy. Good enough. 

Today, even though it’s still November, I’m going to get all those Christmas tubs off the high shelf in the garage while my husband is here to help – one of us will have to go up a ladder – and in December put all that old junk around the house because it makes me happy. Yes, yes, I will be sick of looking at it by Christmas, but in these crazy times I’ll take my happiness today and let tomorrow worry about itself.

Besides, a lot of packages will arrive soon that need to be wrapped. And the tree put up. I’ve seen a lot of Christmas trees strapped to the top of people’s cars already – even before Thanksgiving! (so tack – oh, never mind). Last night I saw decorated Christmas trees in people’s picture windows. Lots of trees. IN NOVEMBER!

Who can blame them? I don’t want a fire hazard in my house, but I bet I’ll trudge through a muddy Christmas tree farm miles from my house (they’re cheaper) and have a tree in my living room within the next week, especially if the sun comes out.  

But it will be December then, and that’s, technically, okay.

Thankful

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One of the things I’m most thankful for in this world is my electric teapot. Sorry if you were expecting me to say my family, my health, food on the table. Those are the big things, and I’m exceedingly grateful for all of them. But sometimes it’s the little things that have the most impact. Like when a child hands you a bouquet of scraggly wildflowers to show they love you – isn’t that more wonderful than a huge box of long-stem roses? Sure, the child is just trying to bribe you, but still, you see my point.

When my mother-in-law gave me the electric teapot for Christmas a couple of years ago, I rolled my eyes. Another gadget. She’s the queen of gadgets. If it’s been on TV, or a friend has told her about it, she’ll buy one for herself and one each for her daughter and daughters-in-law. At my house a few of these get used, some collect dust, others find themselves snuggled in with clothes and old toys headed for Goodwill. I pictured this gadget in that last group.

I’ve already got a stovetop teapot that nobody uses. I’ve kept it because it sits on the gas range looking pretty while it collects grease splatters until it gets cleaned, usually just before a holiday. I prefer the speed and convenience of a microwave cup of tea in the morning.

Who knows why I actually took this thing out of the box and plugged it in. It’s modern looking like my kitchen, but I don’t like devices on my counters. The toaster and Cuisinart and coffee maker and popcorn popper are hidden in two appliance garages that are full. There’s no room for an electric teapot. Still, perhaps because my mother-in-law was so pleased with the gift, I plugged it in, filled it with water, and stood there and gave it the evil eye, disgusted at the thing sitting there on my countertop like a zit on a beauty queen, like bird splat in the middle of the driver’s side windshield, like a fly on a cheesecake, like a lot of ugly things nobody wants to look at.

Teapot on my counter with cup and apple for decoration
Still Life with Teapot 😉. Notice the appliance garage where all other gadgets are hidden – behind the cup that my dad’s girlfriend, Anita McCabe, made for me. Another thing I’m thankful for.

Boy it steamed up a pot of water as quick as a Tesla goes from Zero to Sixty (it’s electric too, by the way). The microwave can’t compete. Seriously. The pot heated that fast. (If you don’t know about how fast Tesla’s are, here’s a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cA1doO_9h8. If you ever get a chance to ride in one, when you start out it feels like those G-forces that press you into the back of your seat when you’re taking off in an airplane. One day I’ll own a Tesla. That’s a gadget anyone could give me and I’d be quite happy.)

Every morning I get up and go turn on my teapot. By the time I’ve put away last night’s hand-washed pans, cutting board and assorted cutlery, I can pour the boiling water over my teabag and scald my mouth. It gets that hot that fast. I have to put an ice cube in the cup or have burnt tongue.

I love my teapot. Absolutely love it. Best gadget ever (besides the Tesla – I prefer white, by the way). This Thanksgiving Day I’ll ponder how thankful I am for all the good things in my life, my husband who drives me crazy but makes me laugh, my children who rarely call but give me such sweet Mother’s Day cards, extended family and friends I don’t see as often because of Covid, good food (I have the muffin top to prove it), a comfortable home – the list is long. The teapot isn’t at the top, but it’s something I’m thankful for every day.

I hope you have something that you appreciate everyday, too. Happy Thanksgiving, and God bless you.

Talents and Fears

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We humans are a stew of talents, motivations, and fears. In the right proportions, our stew can end up being a huge success that feeds many others, or it can be something a dog wouldn’t touch. 

Take, for example, the metaphor I just tried to make. Shakespeare’s pen would have made it a culinary masterpiece. My keyboard has produced a bowl of gruel.

Here’s a mo’ better metaphor. A guy had three servants. He gave the first five talents, the second two talents, and the third, one talent. This metaphor is a tad confusing because a talent is an ancient measure for a weight in gold – approximately one gazillion micrograms to the third power or something like that.

Anyway, the man went away. When he returned, the first two servants had doubled the value of their talents. The man was quite pleased and said, “Well done. Since you’ve been faithful in small matters, I’ll give you great responsibility.” The third servant only had the original talent that the man had given him. “I knew you were a demanding guy, so out of fear I buried the talent in the ground. Here it is back.”

“You lazy and worthless servant,” the man bellowed. “At least you could have put the money in the bank and given me interest, but you didn’t even do that.” He threw the wicked servant out into the darkness where there was gnashing of teeth.

If I had a shekel for every time I’ve heard this story, I’d have a lot of talents. Usually, while listening to this gospel reading at church, my mind is planning what I’m going to do the next day or re-living a fight I had with some idiot, so I don’t pay the proper attention. But last night one word stood out like a giant neon billboard on a long dark freeway: FEAR.

I realized that it’s not our talents that make us successful. Our motivation drives us to use our talents, but fear holds us back. If you’ve read any successful person’s biography, they didn’t sit around watching TV eating Bonbons. They worked hard, motivated to invent something, or move up the corporate ladder, or create a new kind of art, or rob a bank, or take over the world with death and destruction. Motivated people keep working at it, whatever it is.

The people you don’t read about are the chickens, like me. I can honestly say that fear holds me back from just about everything in life. Fear of rejection keeps me from submitting things to newspapers and magazines, or trying to find an agent for the book I wrote. Their rejections are anti-motivation. They lead to months of sulking and a ten-pound weight gain that will only begone after several months of dieting, returning instantaneously, dragging another couple of pounds with it.

Fear keeps me from following through on good ideas – fear that people will think I’m a nincompoop, or that it must be a bad idea if I came up with it.

Fear also keeps me from doing more good in the world. Will the person I’m thinking about helping always want more – if I give them an inch will they take a mile?

I do have moments – times when I step into the abyss of courage. Afterward I’m elated, but that’s usually followed by the torment of questions in my head like, “Why did you…?” and “Why didn’t you…?”

But in spite of these worrisome questions, I feel motivated to surmount my fears and Just Do It. Tomorrow. 

Right now I’m gonna have another hearty bowl of stew, eat some Bonbons, and catch a few old movies on TV. 

Election 2020

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Election 2020 has put an extra five pounds on me. On Tuesday, as I watched the returns coming in, my appetite for salty, crunchy foods hit new highs. We made tacos for dinner, and I ate extra beans and onions and chips and cheese and guacamole, and vigorously shook out way too many drops of Tabasco sauce on everything. I was wound up.  

Record-breaking quantities of food passed through my mouth at dinnertime. With every new red or blue state on the map, I headed for the kitchen. I devoured 80 percent of the crunchy food group before moving on to chocolate. 

It was fear eating. Like when I’m at the cinema watching a scary movie in wide-eyed horror, barely breathing, putting fistful after fistful of faux-butter popcorn in my mouth with one hand, clutching the armrest with the other, not even aware I’m eating until my greasy fingers scratch the bottom of the bucket.

The TV news coverage was scanty filler for strings of commercials. Seven minutes of trying to convince us to buy stuff we don’t need followed by two minutes of newscasters reading numbers on the screen that we can see for ourselves. I loved how they put up – I think it was Arizona – 00 on the red side and 00 on the blue side, and said in all seriousness, “It’s too soon to call.” Ya think?

As the evening wore on, I got really scared. It wasn’t looking good – the pantry was almost empty. The only chocolate left was that bitter dry powder in the Hershey’s cocoa can that has to be cooked in some way to be eaten. At that point, microwaving milk and mixing in the cocoa until it quit floating on top required more effort and gumption than I had. Then I’d have to stir in sugar. Too much work. Fear and food had worn me out.  

Around nine o’clock we took a break and fast-forwarded through a saved sitcom. After checking the election results again, I said. “I’m done. I’ll see what happened in the morning.” It was early to hit the hay, but there was nothing left to eat. In bed, the beans, onions, hot sauce and chocolate did not play nice in my stomach. Skirmishes occurred in assorted locations, muffled battle cries filled the room, explosions rippled throughout the war zone. Sleep did not come easily.

For days I was an overweight ostrich with my head in the sand. I got updates from friends, but I didn’t watch the news again except in short bursts. Scrolling through the stations, the same newscasters (don’t they ever sleep?) said the same things; the same man on NBC waved his arms over the red and blue map like he was casting a spell. I’ll be hearing, “too close to call” in my nightmares for weeks. My nerves were shot. I was frazzled, wrung out, wasted. And hungry.

Now that the election is over, I worry about what’s going to happen in the next couple of months, but I’ll think about that tomorrow. These last few days have been an adrenaline rocket ride. I need to go to the grocery store, clean my house, rake leaves, start a new diet – get my life, (and my pulse) back to normal. But I’m thinking there may be just enough milk to make a cup of hot chocolate, and maybe, if I dig a little more, I’ll find a partial bag of not-too-stale potato chips or a not-too-old piece of candy tucked somewhere I haven’t looked.

Time to start my new exercise program – with running to the kitchen.

Halloween 2020

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We don’t get many trick or treaters on our street. Parents drive their kids to clustered neighborhoods of decorated houses where all the lights are on so they get maximum loads of candy with minimum time and effort, like I did with my kids. On our street the houses are darker than a bat in a cave. They are obviously not in the free-candy business on October 31st. Except us. One of us is usually home, or at least we leave a full candy bowl on the porch.

stacked pumpkins with big spider on top

A few days before Halloween I put a few decorations around the house, a witch sitting on a pumpkin with a plug-in little Christmas light in it, an round, orange wicker basket full of dried mini-corn cobs – those kinds of things. For the window by the front door I have six carved pumpkins stacked on each other – about 2 feet high – that my mother-in-law gave me years ago. They sit on the shelf looking out the window. This year I balanced a giant spider on the top pumpkin’s head to look creepy.

My daughter's ghost - round eyes and smile

I also hang ghosties outside. My kids made a dozen or so of them years ago out of baseball-shaped Styrofoam covered with white cheesecloth and a pipe-cleaner that we twisted under the ball to look like ghosts. By fanning out the “arms” of the pipe cleaner under the fabric, they become fuller and look more lifelike. Each one is about 8 to 12 inches long. My daughter drew happy faces on hers – my son’s look grumpy.

My son's ghost - has a frown and some stitches

For the final decoration I carve a pumpkin – three triangles (two for the eyes, one for the nose) and a jagged mouth. This year I found a pumpkin at the last minute. He was the right size but had a big gash. I got him for a discount – $1.67 – and figured I’d just carve the good side. But when I started carving, the gash was so mushy I cut it out and gutted him from that direction, rather than the top. A semi-rotten pumpkin is the way to go. The whole thing turned out to be soft and pithy. It was very easy to carve. Plus, it’s extra creepy-looking with the whole back of his head gone, and you can see through it so it gave off more light. I put it on top of my car facing the street, and could also see the whole pumpkin’s face (from the inside) while looking out the kitchen window. 

You can see the car outline in his right eye because he has no back on his head.

Since we were home because of Covid, we decided to watch “The Shining” as our Halloween entertainment. Neither of us had ever seen it. Boy, that Jack Nicholson can sure look spooky when he moves his eyes sideways, especially with the eery music that sometimes sounds like my heart pounding (or maybe it was). We’d pause the movie so one of us could grab a Milky Way while the other got a little bag of peanut M&M’s that had either 4 or, if I was lucky, 5 pieces in there. Hardly worth the effort to tear open the package.

I got worried around 8pm – not because Jack was hacking through the locked bathroom door with an axe, his lunatic – no possessed – eyes wild. I worried that Covid would keep my one family of trick or treaters from showing up. I’d gone to the kitchen for more food (candy) when I heard the doorbell. By then my nerves were as tight as new banjo strings, and I was afraid that, instead of a sweet family, there’d be an axe-wielding maniac with crazy Jack Nicholson eyes.

Giggles from outside gave me the courage to open the door. “Trick or Treat!” they called. “So glad you came! Tell me what you are.

The boy, who’s maybe middle-school age, had on a black outfit and carried a black bow with arrows on his back. “I’m the Black Bowman,” he said.

“Haven’t heard of him.”

“It’s a name I made up.”

The girl, who’s close to high school, was also in black with a wad of aluminum foil on her right hand. “Are you familiar with Marvel characters?” she said.

“Yes.” I know about 479 Marvel characters and have seen about that many Marvel movies. Tuesdays used to be $5 movie nights (before Covid) and my friends and I saw a lot of Marvel movies.

“I’m Bucky Barnes.”

“I don’t know Bucky Barnes.”

“He’s a fried of Captain America.”

“Oh, okay, cool,” I said. “I know him.” I turned to the adult behind her. “And you are?”

“I’m a hobbit.”

“That’s what you were last year.”

“Yes, you’re right, I was.”

“Good to get your money’s worth out of these costumes. What about you?” I said to the woman beside him, but can’t remember what she said – I think it was a half costume, like when you dress normal and wear a witch’s hat. “How about you?” I said to the woman behind her – making Halloween small talk, I guess. As a kid, I used to hate it when people delayed me with a lot of questions – I wanted to get to the next house for more candy, but figured this was their last stop.

“I’m just me,” she said. “No costume.”

“It’s hard to tell if someone is wearing a costume when we all have masks on,” I laughed. They chuckled at my sparkling humor. “I’m just really glad you came. You made my night.”

“We love coming here,” the girl said. “We love all the ghosts. We call you the ‘Ghost Lady.’

“The Ghost Lady,” I said. “Hmmm, I like it. I have a Halloween nickname.”

“I love your stacked pumpkins,” the boy said.

I held out the bowl of candy. The kids grabbed handfuls. “Take more,” I said. “Anything you don’t take I’ll eat.” I stretched my arm toward the adults. “Here, you guys, take some. Take it all.” Each of them grabbed a small fistful. I offered it to the kids again. They took most, but not all, of the candy. “Trust me, you’ll want a few pieces tomorrow,” the man said. Of course he was right.

They left, and it occurred to me that, in all the chaos of life, we’ve had this five-minute encounter that I look forward to every year. I know where there live (not on our street), but I don’t know anything else about them. They always come later, probably after they’ve hit the good, candy-rich neighborhoods. We’ve never exchanged names. Every year I’ve had taken my kids out, and in later years walked with my friend and her youngest daughter, or occasionally we’ve gone to a party, but I always try to be home by 8 in case my one family comes. I leave the candy bowl out in case they get here before we do.

When they left I came back inside beaming, an active participant in the Halloween tradition that I have loved ever since I can remember. “Well, they came,” my husband said. “Yeah, they came,” I said. I cozied up under my throw, pressed the “Play” button and saw Shelley Duvall slice Jack Nicholson’s hand when he reached through the hole he’d hacked in the bathroom door to get to the doorknob. The blood. The fear. The horror. Didn’t bother me a bit. I was floating like a, well, like a ghost. The Happy Ghost Lady. That’s me.

Copyright © 2020 by Suzanne Olsen