There’s nothing funny about death…or is there?

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All of us are aware of the inevitability that we will die someday, yet most of us have difficulty
being light-hearted about it. Perhaps due to fear or out of respect for the grieving family we treat
death as somber and serious business. Few of us see any place for humor in it. Humor, however
can relieve our anxieties about death, help us cope and ease the stress that often surrounds it. I
for one, can attest to this and sometimes it comes out very unexpectedly like when my father
died.
When the doctors told us there was no hope for recovery with any quality of life for Dad, my
brother and I made the decision to let him go knowing he would not want to live that way. We
brought him home to my house and set up a hospital bed in my room. We took turns staying
with him around the clock waiting for the moment when he would go. My mother, trying to do
her part to provide comfort to her children, ordered her now husband Bill, to bring over a
comfortable blue velvet swivel chair from their den. Bill graciously complied, loaded said chair
in the trunk of his car and dutifully hauled it to my house setting it beside the bed. And so we
sat, in the blue velvet swivel chair, keeping vigil beside Dad's bed.
It was on my brother's watch that my dad took his last breath. I was in the next room watching
Law & Order with my boyfriend Jeff when I heard Greg yell, “You guys come in here I think
this is it.” We rushed to the doorway and stood very still, surveying Dad, trying to surmise
whether or not he was still breathing. After a long silence Jeff said, “Is he dead?” “I don't know,
he looks dead,” I replied. Which prompted by brother to pull out his best Billy Crystal
impression from the Princess Bride, “Well, he’s mostly dead. There's a big difference between
mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, there's usually only
one thing you can do…go through his clothes for loose change.” We all looked at each other and
suddenly the damn burst. All the stress we'd been under for the past three weeks flowed out in
laughter. We laughed until our sides hurt.
The best story I have ever heard was from another teacher at a “Humor in the Classroom”
seminar. Her mom had died at home surrounded by all her loved ones. They called the funeral
home to come and get her. The somber mortuary men arrived, dressed in suits and ties
expressing condolences. They went upstairs, reverently strapped the deceased onto a gurney and
started toward the front staircase. Here’s where it gets fuzzy. Apparently someone wasn’t paying
attention and Mom began to roll down the stairs unattended. By the time anyone noticed she was
too far gone to stop. They watched in horror as the gurney began to pick up speed. “By the time
she reached the bottom of the stairs Mom was really sailing,” she told me. Their beloved mother
flew across the foyer on two wheels, came back down just in time to make it out the open front
door and down the sidewalk stopping only when she collided with the side of the hearse. They
all just stood there looking at each other in disbelief. And then…a burst a laughter so forceful
that my friend thought she was going to pee her pants. They laughed until they cried.
That kind of laughter is a venerable thing. When I die I don’t want a lot of fuss, but most of all I
don’t want my loved ones to have to spend what little money I might have managed to squirrel
away on a funeral. When my time comes, in keeping with Irish tradition, I want an uproarious
wake. Prop me up in the corner at the Ground Round or somewhere and celebrate my life.
Reminisce about all the stupid things I did while I was alive and LAUGH. Lord knows, there

should be enough material there to keep people entertained well into the wee hours. Also, if
some feel the need, let them line up at the bar and list all the ways I wronged them, then buy
them a drink on me. If the entire thing ends in a riot that would be even better.
And for the funeral plans? As of right now my funeral arrangements basically consist of a
Folgers can lined with floral shelf paper, lighter fluid and a match.

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GARAGE SALE – Your treasure awaits

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There is a popular alternative to the city landfill. It’s called a “garage sale”. Every summer I work tirelessly much like a squirrel gathering up nuts for the winter in preparation for the big day. This goes on for a week or two as I prepare for this marvel of commerce that will unfold in my driveway.

When the much anticipated day arrives I spend it raking in the dough in exchange for things I might otherwise haul to the dump. I learned the art of hosting a garage sale at an early age. My mom had one every summer. Back then it was fun. I was young and took delight in cleaning and organizing the merchandise and writing out the price tags by hand in my best handwriting, attaching them with care to my treasures. Fast forward forty years and I’m walking around the yard with a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie. Never mind the dust and dirt covering the merchandise. Using my finger, I wipe off just enough dust so the tape will stick and move on to the next piece of merchandise. Things I once would have just thrown in the trash or donated are now sitting proudly displayed on my lawn.

All the while I am having visions of what I will do with my earnings. Yes, I start the day in this upbeat state however, by the last hour or two of the sale, I am giving stuff away, begging the shoppers to just take it out of my yard because the thought of having to pack it all up and take it to the Goodwill is too overwhelming at this point in the day.

Of course, I should mention that I could not pull any of this off by myself. Thank God for my co-host and hostess, my friend Sharon and her husband Chris. You guys make it possible for me to continue to do this at my advanced age – and for that I thank you.

When you are sitting in a lawn chair on your driveway with friends soaking up nature and presiding over this event you have plenty of time for philosophical discussion. For instance, I was explaining to my friend about garage sale etiquette. Believe it or not there is such a thing. And also there is the “Law of Crap” which states “the junkier it is the faster it will sell.”

Take today for an example. We had three Weed eaters for sale. This reminds me of the story of the Three Bears. One Weed eater was in really great shape – worked like a champ, clean, aesthetically pleasing, and the prince of garage sale lawn equipment. Another was acceptable – a little rougher around the edges, but worked, and then there was the old ratty looking thing that wouldn’t even start. “What’s wrong with it?” they would ask. “Do you know what part is broken?” “Nope.” “Do you think it’s fixable?” “We have no idea.” Guess which one sold first? Yep.

Once I had a lady come to shop who bypassed all the lovely household items laid out before her and made a bee line for my trash can excising a used toilet bowl brush. “How much for this?” She queried. “Uh, 25 cents?” I answered. “I’ll take it.” she replied.” Sometimes they actually pay YOU to haul off your trash. You can’t beat that!

As the event draws to an end you may calculate that the sales you’ve made have nearly recovered the cost of the ad in the newspaper and the twenty dollars you had fork over to the locksmith because you can’t remember what you did with the key to that car topper the one time you took in on vacation.

All in all, it was a good day – time spent with good friends, enjoying the outdoors on a beautiful day. People paid us to haul away our castoffs. I will soon forget the exhausting days of preparation and dragging myself around the yard at an ungodly hour of the morning setting out my wares. I will only remember the fun we had and the extra influx of cash. That’s why I will do it all again next year. I have already started a new “garage sale box.”

Kudos to those who can dress themselves well, some of us are still learning.

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I was so tired last night that I feel asleep in my clothes and slept in them all night. I got
up this morning, looked in the mirror and said, “meh, this is good,” then went grocery
shopping. So I have become 'that' person. Now when someone says to me, “Geez, did
you sleep in those clothes?” I can say, “Why, yes, yes I did,” which prompts me to ask,
should I be proud that I care so little what others think that I will go to Green Hills
bedecked in my nocturnal attire, or ashamed that I have sunk so low? Either way, I am
continually amazed at the outfits I deem acceptable to go out of the house in.
One day, last week during a moment of weakness when I was obviously not thinking
clearly, I filled out the questionnaire at “Stitch-Fix,” a company that asks you to fill out a
form describing your taste in clothing to a personal shopper who will then mail you
items they think fit your life and fashion style. The only thing I could come up with to
describe my fashion style was “things that still fit” and “things that are clean” neither of
which were very helpful.
I thought about what I wanted to be as a kid and remembered a television show called
“The Avengers,” which starred Diana Rigg as adventurous citizen Emma Peel, who
together with her partner Johnathan Steed an urbane, proper gentleman spy, repeatedly
saved the world from diabolical schemes plotted by equally diabolical evil-doers (among
them robots and man-eating monsters). Emma Peel, in her leather jump suits and boots
is now considered one of the most liberated women on 60's television. Her self-
confidence combined with superior fighting skills, intelligence, and a contemporary
fashion sense were to me, goddess-like.
With Mrs. Peel fixed in my mind, I wrote to the stylist, “I would possibly like a black
leather jacket and maybe some boots that make me look like I’m the type of person
who’d casually put out a cigarette on a guy’s face.” Upon further reflection I decided
this was probably not the best image for an elementary school teacher, so I backspaced
over that and started again. Also, leather is expensive and not very practical to wear in
an environment where there are glue guns plugged into every available outlet.
I thought some more. What image did I want to project as I wandered around the art
room wiping tempera paint off my forearms and picking glue out of my hair? I would
dearly love to look like a Bohemian novelist or an assassin, but neither of those looks is
particularly practical when you spend 8 hours a day keeping mayhem to a minimum
while small children experiment with paint, clay and glue…lots of glue.

“If you’re looking for an honest fashion profile, I should probably have you send me
things that are washable and shapeless,” I wrote, “something no nonsense that hides all
the interesting facets of my personality so that I won’t miss them. Just send me a tunic
top that I can wear with these LuLu Roe leggings I was forced to buy at gunpoint.”
Eventually I realized my endeavor was fruitless and gave up. Let’s be honest, there was
nothing they could send me that would allow for durability/ease of movement and still
make me look like Audrey Hepburn.
There was a time however, long gone now, when I wore purple crushed velvet hot pants
with roman sandals and swore I would never be caught dead in slacks with an elastic
waist like my mother wore.   Alas, these days I can be spotted any day of the week
gallivanting around town bedecked in clothing from my once fashion forward closet
which is now filled with an array of slacks manufactured with the “comfort waist”.  My
stylish high heels have been replaced with support loafers and a non-slip tread.  My
panties are no longer silky satiny or lacy.  Today I sport panties made of 100% cotton
with a high waist that climb out the back of my jeans when I bend over too far.  I know it
makes me look like a simpleton, but it’s better than scarring the little ones for life with
the sight of my uncovered hindquarters.
Maybe when I retire I can start wearing crazy outfits and those red hats, but for now I
suppose I will continue to add to my wardrobe via the clearance rack at Kohl’s.

Sometimes it’s the Little Things

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The first day of school is always exhausting and this year was no different. I was already tired
from spending three days sitting in meetings hearing about the “exciting new changes” to the
curriculum, and the new grading system, and the new online management system which we are
expected to have mastered by the first day of school. Nothing out of the ordinary, just getting
back into the swing of things which seems to take longer and longer every year.
I got a late start that morning and did not have sufficient time to perform my morning routine,
thus I had students demanding my attention before sufficient amounts of caffeine could be
consumed, but after a couple of trips to the Keurig machine in the teacher's lounge my façade of
composure returned. I made it through the morning and by mid-afternoon the tension was
building up in the back of my neck after going a couple of rounds with a first time kindergarten
class and some brand new first graders. I was in dire need of a Diet Coke to take the edge off the
headache that was slowly creeping up on me.
Also, I was in desperate search of something sweet, something like chocolate which has always
had a tranquilizing effect on me. By 2:30, sitting at my desk with the headache worsening I
began communing with the goddess of all things made with sugar for just a sliver of a cookie to
appear or to come upon an errant Starburst I might have missed while desperately pilfering
through my desk drawers for the third time.
Feeling defeated and dreaming of donuts, I was ready to admit defeat and despondently trudged
off to the office to hit the teacher bathroom and check my mailbox. Luckily I found 50 cents in
my billfold and ducked into the teacher lounge on the way and got a Diet Coke from the mini
fridge, but I still needed sugar.
As I rounded the corner towards the bathroom I glanced over at the rows of cubicles on the wall,
that’s when I saw it, gleaming from the dark recesses of my mailbox. Someone had answered
my gentle prayer. Inside my box on top of the week’s lunch menu and an art supply catalog
somebody had left for me a perfect exhibit of teacher Nirvana. It was a Three Musketeers candy
bar, a full sized one, not one of those snack sized ones. I was positively giddy. I felt the gates of
heaven had opened just for me and I swear that I could hear angels singing. I grabbed my gift
from the angels (although I suspect it was my principal) and made my way down to my
classroom where I closed the door, pulled the curtain and sat all alone at my desk devouring the
chocolate covered fluffy nougat. It was gone in less than five minutes, but it absolutely made my
day.
All of this got me thinking…It’s the little things that make a difference, like when the girl at the
Dunkin Donuts drive thru gives you extra napkins so you can stash some in the glove box for
when you need something to blow your nose on in the car, or when the sandwich artist at
Subway doesn’t skimp on the chipotle sauce.

It’s the little things in life…it’s that last, crumby triangle in a bag of potato chips, finding money
you didn’t even know you lost, sleeping in new bed sheets, lying in a beam of sunlight coming
through the window, getting the piece of chocolate you want from the assorted box, dogs in
Halloween costumes, when the plane touches down on the runway, pockets, watching a
thunderstorm from the porch or when your pet notices you’re in a bad mood and comes to see
you. Also, sometimes I find it very satisfying to adjust my glasses with my middle finger when
I'm forced to interact with someone who is behaving particularly loathsome. It's the little things.
One Three Musketeers candy bar (full sized) made my whole day. It gave me back my spunk
and also the courage to flirt with the handsome man in line at Green Hills where I participated in
a rousing discussion about the timeless appeal of fake wood paneling (something else my dad
was wrong about). I mean what else are you going to talk about in line at the liquor store?

Yoo Hoo! Has anybody seen my sanity?

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After a particularly stressful week at school serendipity stepped in when I came across an article online aptly titled “How to Avoid a Nervous Breakdown,” so I clicked on it and began reading the introductory paragraph. Just when it was getting into the meat of the article I was presented with a box that said, “Subscribe to TIME Online to read the rest of this article.” Now, if someone was really teetering on the threshold of a nervous breakdown this is the kind of thing that might send them over the edge.

I just sighed, clicked back to Facebook and scrolled along until my interest was piqued by another article entitled “Nine Ways to Identify a Narcissist.” That one sucked me in, not so much because I wanted to know how to deal with one as much as I was secretly afraid that I might be one and wanted to go through the checklist just to make sure I was in the clear. After a thorough reading I deemed that I was not endowed with the traits of a narcissist, just in case you were wondering. So you know, I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I have always possessed a propensity for self- doubt, secretly afraid that I might really be mentally ill or have some other affliction that I’m unaware of and people are just too nice to say anything. Perhaps I’m not so smart really and people just humor me, or they really don’t like me, but pretend they do, all the while they are rolling their eyes and making fun of me behind my back. I of course, am completely oblivious of their disdain, mistaking their sarcastic comments for compliments and am perhaps thought of by others as a big ole donkey. This is just an example of the internal monologue that runs on a loop in my head most days.

Every new psychological disorder I read about I think I have it. My latest? Impostor Syndrome, a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. “That’s me,” I think. “One of these days the school administrators are going to figure out that I really have no idea what I’m doing and my charade will come to an end.”

Either that or I will lose my mind first. Little kids can try your patience and I’ve had days when I just wanted to crawl under my desk with that box of Russell Stover’s in my drawer and ruminate on other jobs that I could have like putting stickers on fruit because I could probably do that; no never mind I would put the wrong sticker on the wrong fruit and then get fired. I don’t think my self-esteem could take getting fired from labeling fruit so I guess I will stick with teaching until I can qualify for Medicare.

Most days I love my job and am amazed they continue to let me do it and plan to stick with it as long as I’m physically and mentally able. Despite my reservations about my own abilities the people in charge seem to think that I am sufficiently equipped to teach art to elementary school children and the kids love it. I hardly ever make anyone cry, except for when I do, which is often (not really), but it did happen just last week and I felt worse than the kid I assure you.

Someday I may lose it completely and they will find me rolling skating around the school parking lot wearing a knapsack and a pinwheel hat singing show tunes, but for now I’m holding it together. Stay tuned.

Lost Cheese

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I ate about half of a little packet of extra sharp cheddar cheese this morning at school and then stuck the rest of it  in my cardigan pocket and forgot about it.  I left Amazonia for John Glenn late this morning and when I got in my car I took off the cardigan because it was getting warm outside and I threw the sweater into the back seat.  Somehow the hunk of now unwrapped really sharp and stinky cheddar must have flown out of the pocket during the flinging.  Now I can’t find it and I know it has to be in here somewhere because, after sitting out in the sun all day, my car is infused with an aroma most aptly described as notes of body odor and dirty socks with hints of sour laundry and wafts of barnyard.  This really stinks (literally and figuratively) because I just finally got the smell of rotting poultry to dissipate after I spilled some chicken and noodles down in between the seats about three weeks ago….sigh.  So  much for keeping my new car pristine.  I think it has officially been christened.

An open letter to Architectural Digest

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An Open Letter to Architectural Digest…

Dear Architectural Digest:

It is with sorrow in my heart that I write to you today. I feel so spineless, but I just don’t think I have the fortitude to do this face to face and do not trust my resolve to see it through. I need to tell you that I think it’s time we ended our relationship.

It’s not that I am ungrateful for all the things I’ve learned from you such as, employing stylish hats as three-dimensional wall art, making a statement with fresh fruit or four ways to style the perfect fireplace mantel. I don’t have a fireplace and the decorations just didn’t look the same on my heater vent, but the point is, you tried. Even though I am somewhat of a Midwest bumpkin, you always believed in me, that I too, could live the life of the cultured and sophisticated. I owe every vintage trunk, every faux finish, every ladder used as storage to your gentle, polished guidance.

Reflecting on how it all began, so many subscription cycles ago I feel melancholy now. I was lost living in my vapid state, searching for something to cure my uninspired soul. I was drifting, longing, wandering the thrift stores, searching for something to cure my decorating languor, to inspire me not only to enjoy life, but cleave to it and hang on tight, like the ivy clinging to the facade of a sophisticated Manhattan Brownstone, where gray linen walls glinting with barely- there metallic highlights tower over slipper chairs dripping with tassels.

I still remember that day in T J Maxx as I aimlessly roamed the aisles attempting to redress my, seemingly chronic, dark mood with yet another shopping spree. There you sat, on the clearance rack, like a shining beacon of hope, and at an affordable price too. I felt as though the clouds had parted just for me and I was once again in the warm light of the sun after being held captive in a dungeon of blue funk. I was so wide-eyed then, like a babe in the woods. I began to make plans for our future together straight away, our Mid Century-inspired airy and sunlit interiors, our late night dinner parties with the creative set, our color coordinated bed linens. Yes, I reveled in the warmth of this summer that I thought would never end. You would have thought, living here in the Midwest, that I would have known about the winter that always follows.

I can’t recall a specific moment when the tide turned, but one day I could no longer bear looking at the stately homes of celebrities from the ramshackle confines of my tiny deteriorating hovel. I no longer derived joy from scavenging flea markets for gutsy antiques, searching for that opulent Victorian table or religious folk objects from Asia. I only know that at some point this winter while lying on my bed looking up at the hole in the ceiling where the plaster had fallen off and contemplating various ways to keep the dishwasher door shut now that the hinge has rusted off, the thought suddenly struck me and I said, “Enough.”

I could no longer pretend that I would ever spend time at a Rocky Mountain retreat sparely, but poetically outfitted with bold works by Anselm Kiefer, that I could ever be a guest at one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants or that you I would ever have anything in common.

So no more pouring over photos of Anderson Cooper’s Brazilian Paradise. No more thoughts of covering my walls in Holland Flamestitch velvet, or dreams of traveling the world picking up various textiles to have sewn into throw pillows for my sofa.

I hate to say that final goodbye, which is undoubtedly how I ended up with a subscription, and every time the renewal notice came I just automatically sent in the payment even after I knew it was hopeless. You might surmise that I’ve found another magazine to serve my decorating needs, or that I’ve been having an affair with the likes of Elle Decor, or that I’m getting to big for my britches. Nothing could be further from the truth which is, somewhere deep inside my heart I have always known I’m not good enough for you. I’m the Before photo in your Malibu beachfront remodel. I’m the claw foot tub — but without the claws. And while I will grow old and weather-beaten in my Early American shanty, you will remain sophisticated and cultured, making bold statements and pulling off elegant makeovers.

Farewell, my temporary fling. Know that even though you are headed for my recycling bin, you

will remain forever in my heart.

—SM