Everything’s a Toy

I’m not trying to suggest we should all go out and buy a toy, but that is one of about four “life lessons” my husband liked to share with our kids when they were growing up. I believe the full version was “everything’s a toy – except a car.” This may or may not be true, or a good lesson, but in combination with some of things I said to them such as, “be careful!” or “urine is a sterile bodily fluid,” I can see now that we barely scratched the surface on what they really needed to know as they headed out the door and into the world. 

As our kids grew up, there were definitely times they toyed with our words and any hope of imparting a lesson was lost, but thankfully, we gave them some other things to play with, like siblings and actual toys. There were toys that came in boxes, made noise, spread glitter around the house, and had tiny parts that were easily lost which caused massive meltdowns (of the sibling, not the toy). Sometimes the toy itself didn’t impress our kids, but the box it came in did. And the packaging! They loved those big sheets of paper and bubble wrap even more than the box, and could spend an hour (or two or an entire afternoon) crumpling paper and jumping on or squeezing the plastic bubbles to create grating, I mean joyful, constant popping sounds accentuated by shrieks of “no-it’s-my-turn-give-it-to-me-I-didn’t-get-a-piece!” One time, probably to distract them from the bubble wrap, I converted an old Cool Whip container into a toy (maybe my husband was right?) by cutting a slot in the lid so they could drop some old red and blue poker chips through it. I think I had read somewhere it was supposed to help them develop hand/eye coordination, but now I wonder if it was just part of my husband’s elaborate everything’s-a-toy-scheme to help them hold the chips so they would eventually learn how to play blackjack or poker.

Last month, we spent some time around Christmas with our grown-up kids and even though they all know how to play Texas hold em, all their toys are gone – either donated, sold at garage sales, or stored in boxes in our house until they have enough closet space of their own. But being together and watching them open gifts made me think about my husband’s “lesson” and all the toys our kids used to play with. I forgot to ask them if they had a favorite, and I conveniently forgot to ask them if any of our advice has ever come in handy, but I remember one toy as the best one we ever gave them: the ball pit. 

It’s hard for me to forget the ball pit because its time with our family spanned two decades. In fact, it spanned two millennia because we bought that thing in the middle of the last decade of the 1900’s and it didn’t wear out until late in the first decade of the 2000’s. The ball pit was nothing more than a big, six-sided, cylinder made of yellow, red, and blue nylon and some sort of black mesh-netting. The top and bottom were the yellow nylon part, and the only way you could tell one end from the other was that the top had a large, circular opening in the middle. The sides were the black mesh part and two of the sides had large, zippered doors. It always reminded me of a lunar landing module without the legs but with all the escape hatches. 

Our daughter, and middle child, Maddy, finally had a toy all to herself. 

The ball pit originally came with 100 or 200 or 300 (I don’t know, I lost count) red, blue, green, and yellow plastic balls and when they were all inside the pit, it transformed into something like an indoor pool. Our preschool aged-kids spent hours “swimming” in it or standing in it while they threw all the balls out of the top. They sorted the balls by color and unzipped and zipped the doors. When they got bored inside the ball pit, they emptied it out, stood outside it, and threw all the balls back in – or threw in anything they could find like their clothes, kitchen utensils, and snacks. It’s really hard to find Goldfish crackers once they are scattered on a piece of yellow nylon. And I know at least one time I found a used diaper as I searched for all those flaky, golden, fish-shaped crackers. Even though the ball pit was a toy, it was reasonably well-ventilated, so they occasionally napped in there, too.

Until the first part of the first decade of the 2000’s we only had two kids who played with the ball pit, but then we had another baby. As soon as our new baby girl could sit up, her older brother and sister put her in the ball pit to see what she could do.  They were disappointed to find out that the extent of their baby sister’s ability to “play” was to topple over into a sea of primary colored plastic. Still, they tried to include her in their games. They worked hard to get her sitting up and gumming a ball inside the ball pit so they could stand outside of it and throw balls through the hole in the top trying to (gently) hit her on top of the head. My husband forgot to tell them that everything’s a toy except a car…. and your baby sister. 

By the end of the first decade of the 2000’s, the ball pit was gone. The nylon ripped, the mesh sides got holes in them way bigger than toddler-sized fingers, and the zippers broke. The only thing that remained were all those brightly colored balls, and every once in a while, our son and his friends used them to pelt each other while playing tag in the basement. But that game ended, too, and I eventually rounded up all of those plastic balls and donated them.

We moved last year, and when I cleaned out under the basement steps, I found one last blue, ball-pit ball. I didn’t keep it, but with our recent time together as a family, I thought about how many memories one toy can hold and how much entertainment some nylon, plastic, cardboard, a snack, or even a sibling, can provide. My husband might be right after all: everything’s a toy.  

P.S. Do you share my husband’s “everything’s a toy” philosophy? Or do you, or your kids, if you have them, have a favorite toy? Let me know! Send an email to contact@crabwise.blog or leave a comment.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dear Crabwise Readers, 

Thanksgiving is almost here and I’m thinking of all the things in my life that I am grateful for. One of them is having this blog, Crabwise. It’s been fun to work on each post and have a place to tell stories – I hope you have had some fun along the way, too!

So far, I’ve only posted things I’ve written but I’ve been wanting to add a “guest spot” to Crabwise to have a place for someone else to tell a story or share what they are working on. I figure I’m not the only one who’s living life, gathering random stories, and then writing them down in their spare time.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful there is someone who agreed to be in the first guest spot! Jeff Crosby, the dad of a friend of mine, recently retired and when he’s not out dancing with his wife, writes a poem a day about anything that is on his mind. It’s a habit he’s getting back into after a career spent working on the night shift which significantly cut into his sleep schedule and time for creativity. But now, as long as it’s not game time for his beloved Huskers, or nap time, Jeff is thinking in rhymes, writing them down, and trying to make people laugh.  

The subjects Jeff writes about in the following three poems – falling leaves, pumpkins, and spending time with people (and pets) you love – remind me of Thanksgiving and this time of year. Please enjoy!

In retirement, husband and father of three, Jeff Crosby, has more time to rhyme.
There’s sugar in the leaves on trees
At least that’s what I hear
Which makes me often wonder if
They could be used for beer.
The leaves have started changing
To yellow, red, and brown
And that can only mean that soon 
They’ll cover up the ground.
We planted trees for all our kids
When they were very small
And very grateful now we quit
With just the three, that’s all. 
We have a bunch of other trees
They help to clean the air
But this time every year in Fall
They go out with a flair.
They all start changing color
Putting on a great big show
Until they start to falling
To the ground like so much snow. 
It is to be expected 
This game of give and take
That I always feel I’m losing
As I stand here with my rake.
I guess the job’s not all that bad
But believe me it’s no lark
Raking leaves into my neighbor’s yard
Under cover, after dark. 
The pumpkin before it becomes a pie.
Here’s to the lowly pumpkin
Yes, it’s that time of the year.
They put that crap in everything
Not yet though in my beer.
Oh, I guess that they do make it
But it won’t go in my mouth.
I prefer a fine lite pilsner
Way down deep here in the South.
I know that God made pumpkins
And we should not ask why
But I know that he intended us 
To put them in a pie.
Pumpkin pie and whipped cream
Is alright to end a meal
But to find it in my coffee 
Has for me no real appeal.
Pumpkins go quite well with witches,
Ghosts, and Halloween,
But a word to rhyme the color orange
Is one I haven’t seen.
Baxter usually finds a squirrel, but this time he found his way into a poem.
My daughter and her husband
Come home ‘bout twice a year.
David always works real hard
And doesn’t drink my beer.
The garage was cleaned their last trip
For awhile it was nip and tuck,
But with determination
They made room for my new truck.
I prolly had you worried
For a bit there that last line
To see what word I conjured up
To help complete my rhyme.
We appreciate their coming
And all the miles they log,
But most of all we’re happy
That they bring home our grand dog.
Baxter is a massive Lab
Well trained, and fit, and lean.
His bark is large and loud and long
But his only trait that’s mean.
Kat says he’s not our grand dog
Just a dog and she is smart
But when he’s here we spoil him
And give him both our hearts. 

How Long Will This Last?

I don’t know about you, but I ask myself this question a lot. It’s usually as I’m anxiously awaiting something: the end of a congested crawl through the Lincoln Tunnel in a minivan with no air conditioning, the words “you’re all done” signaling it’s finally time to slide out of the MRI tunnel or the unwrapping of an 8 oz, 62% dark chocolate cocoa bar with little nubs of crunchy raspberry scattered throughout the creaminess.   

Today I’m not nervous, I’m just asking “how long will this last?” about two things. 

  • 5,000 staples 

My husband bought a stapler and a box of 5,000 staples in August of 1986 and took both things to college. I know he used them frequently when he stapled together term papers he wrote for a Marriage and Family class and maps of constellations he created in an astrology class, but that barely put a dent in the supply. 

So, when we got married in June of 1990, he brought the stapler and box of staples with him. Back then, I predicted we would run out of staples in 18 years. I used a lot of staples during that time AND in 2008 we had just emerged from an intense preschool “crafting” era with our three kids. They liked to create works of art by stapling together two pages of brightly colored construction paper, ripping that into 1,000 pieces, and then stapling the whole thing back together to create a beautiful, crumbling metal and paper mosaic. Yet at the start of year 19, we still had staples.

My next guess was that 5,000 staples would last a full 22 years. Every day in those four intervening years, our junior high-and high school-aged kids stapled together several pages of math and French worksheets, field trip permission slips, and quizzes peppered with a match-the-sexually-transmitted-disease-to-its-symptoms game. Surprisingly, that didn’t use the rest of the staples. 

Then, in July of 2019, I cut out the front of nine of my daughter’s old concert t-shirts and stapled them onto nine different 12 X 12-inch square canvases and used the last staple. I finally know how long 5,000 staples last: 33 years, 11 months and a few days, give or take.

  • An LED alarm clock-radio

My husband received this 6 X 8-inch metal rectangle with faux wood paneling and red LED lights as a gift in 1987, and it has been glowing ever since he plugged it into an outlet in his college dorm room. I predicted that alarm clock would never survive living with six guys for four years, especially when the engineers-in-training rewired the room to their specifications and altered the electrical supply. But it did, and he brought the clock with him when we got married.  

Every time we moved from apartment to apartment or house to house, that clock came with us. It taunted me when I glanced at it in the middle of the night without my -6.5 diopter glasses on – all I saw, instead of segmented numbers, were three red, blurry globs. I know I dropped that clock with each move, yet it continued to last.    

When the power goes out, that clock powers right through and instead of blowing a circuit, it simply starts to blink “12:00.” It’s possible to reset the time by holding down two buttons and looking for the tiny red dot that indicates AM or PM.  But I can never remember if the red dot “on” means it’s AM or PM or if the red dot “off” means it’s AM or PM, so even when the power comes back on, I have no idea if it’s morning or night. And when a 6 AM alarm beeps continuously through our 6 PM dinner, everyone asks, “How long will this last?”

This alarm clock also has AM/FM radio capabilities and over the years I have tuned into local FM stations to listen to music. My husband tends to tune into and set the alarm to AM talk stations. When I wake up to loud voices and yet another wrap-up of Monday Night Football, I find myself wishing that alarm clock-radio would just give out. 

But after 32 years, those little red numbers refuse to dim, the “wood” refuses to fade, and the sound quality is still pretty good. I can’t say for sure, but I have to assume that this LED alarm clock-radio will, unfortunately, last an eternity. 

P.S. I figured out how to add email to my site! If you have something in your life that you wonder “How Long Will This Last?”, I’d love to hear about it! Please send a short description to me at contact@crabwise.blog and I will put some of your answers in an upcoming blog post. If you have a picture, please include that, too.

Have a great weekend, Lisa


There wasn’t usually much going on, aside from waiting out winter, in the trailer I lived in on County Highway B, in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. Not much, that is, until the day I heard the words “pre-fabricated construction” and that we were going to move into town. Suddenly, there was a lot of activity. My dad explained that were we going to have a brand-new house, and it would be built in a way that was also brand-new. It would be “pre-fab.” He said there was some outfit in Wausau, Wisconsin, called Wausau Homes, that sold what was essentially a very large model kit. When this model was assembled, instead of having an airplane or train to play with, we would have a house to live in. Unbeknownst to me, my parents had already put money down on one of those pre-fab house kits, and as soon as the ground thawed enough to dig a basement, the project would start.   

I was seven and not yet familiar with any outfits in Wausau, but I grasped the basic concept of pre-fab and wanted to help. I thought I could buy some parts for this “model” we were about to build, but I didn’t know if we needed flat or semi-gloss paint and I had no way to bring shingles home from the hardware store. Plus, I didn’t know how to build anything other than a snowman.  

So, in the fall of 1975, instead of checking to see if the house dimensions on the blueprint corresponded correctly to the plat of survey, I monitored the progress of construction. I watched in amazement as a cement foundation was poured and then four individual, rectangular walls were somehow lifted in, attached to the foundation, and then attached to each other. The roof was delivered in sections, attached to the walls, and eventually shingled. Some redwood siding, which still needed staining, arrived and was used to create the final protective layer of the exterior walls. And after a “goddam whichamacallit,” manufacturing delay at Wausau Homes, the windows and doors were delivered and installed.  

Luckily, we always had enough of the two main things that seemed to miraculously hold a new house together, nails and swearing, and before an inch of snow could accumulate, our particular style of pre-fab house had been fully assembled. It was a was split-level design, which meant that after coming through the front door there was a landing and a choice: you could go up one short set of stairs to the main living area or go down another short set of stairs to the basement. But we didn’t move in right away because the entire interior, upstairs and down, was unfinished. My parents explained that this is how it is with a pre-fab home, you finish it as you have the time and money.  

My parents also explained that since my dad was really, really handy he would do the work himself when he wasn’t at his day job, with occasional help from assorted relatives who had varying degrees of home building skills. Because my dad did the finishing work in the evenings and on the weekends, there were several months where there was a landing and stairs going up, but no stairs going down. And then there were a few more months when the unfinished, pre-fab basement had walls that were half cement and half exposed 2X4’s with pink R-15 insulation poking out from between the ground level windows, but nothing else, only large piles of dirt where some kind of flooring would eventually go.

I wasn’t really confident we would ever have enough time or money to finish this pre-fab model, but I thought it was great to have a house where I could jump from the front door into a pile of dirt. I’m not sure my parents were having as much fun because they spent all their time in the upstairs unrolling linoleum in the kitchen, laying parquet flooring in the living room, bricking the fireplace façade, putting up sheetrock to form interior walls, installing appliances, cutting baseboards, painting and staining. I spent most of my time with my sister and our dog, Muttley, playing in the basement and doing small jobs like hauling boxes, taking out the trash, finding my dad’s thermos of coffee, and handing my gramma some cotton balls so she could soak them in fingernail polish remover and then use them to scrape the stickers off the inside of the upstairs windows.   

Out of all the small jobs in the construction zone, the most important one was to stay out-of-the-way, and I was very good at it. One afternoon, I was in the basement imagining which pile of dirt I would clear to make my bedroom, when I suddenly had to go to the bathroom. Badly. I might have reasoned that I was standing in the exact spot where a toilet would someday be so it didn’t really matter or I might have stayed out-of-the-way just a little too long, and I couldn’t get up out of the dirt, onto the landing, and up the stairs to the only bathroom quick enough, but I dropped my JCPenney jeans, squatted down and did my business. 

It’s possible the smell got his attention or that he was about to take a break from pounding nails anyway, but before I could start to figure out what to do next, I heard footsteps thundering across the finished part of the upstairs floor, coming toward the basement. My dad jumped from the landing into the dirt and demanded to know, “What the hell happened down here?!”  My dog’s ears perked up and I ventured, “Muttley did it. He pooped in the dirt.” My dad looked at me and then looked at our dog. A familiar cascade of Italian language that I never spoke but definitely understood, ended with a vague “well, someone clean that up,” and as quickly as he had jumped down, my dad climbed up out of the dirt, onto the landing, and went back to work hanging sheetrock.  

Keeping up with an erratic construction schedule and not using a toilet were very strange, but getting away with lying to my dad was downright baffling. I wondered if that was just how things were going to be from now on. Maybe everyone who ordered a model home kit from Wausau Homes lived like this? I didn’t know. I just knew that it seemed like a step up from living in a trailer and I was already enjoying my pre-fab conditions. 

Problem Solved

Does any of that look familiar or give you a warm, fuzzy feeling? If so, I could have used your help to solve the following problem.

It’s 9:07 am on August 12, 2016, and my husband says, “We have 40 miles left to get to campus.  If we drive 60 mph, what time will we get to Waco?” There are groans from the front passenger seat of the rental car containing our daughter who is heading to Baylor for a second year of college and from the back seat containing our other daughter who still has two years left at home. “Dad, you always make us do math problems,” they say.  I have to agree, he does bring up these types of problems a lot and now seems like an odd time to be asking people to calculate.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s always too early in the morning for math, and I’m not in the mood for numbers because my brain is full of things like reminding myself not to use my daughter’s clean sheets to wipe my nose as I’m sobbing at the drop off. 

 “NO blurting!” I blurt to everyone in the car. There have to be some kind of ground rules in a family full of people who can figure out these kinds of problems in less than 30 seconds and shout out the answer before I even have a chance to figure out what I’m trying to figure out. Already I need clarification. “Honey, what’s the problem?” I ask. “We have 40 miles left to get to campus. If we drive 60 mph, what time will we get to Waco?” my husband re-explains. Now I am ready to problem solve. 

I begin by wishing I had a calculator and some paper and a pencil. I begin again.  Maybe this has something to do with high school geometry and I can create a proof where if I know the first step or two, the rest of the sequence will magically, logically flow forth. Except that this problem doesn’t seem to involve a trapezoid and I wasn’t good at geometry precisely because I could never come up with the first step or two that would set the whole proof in motion. So, if that’s not going to work, then maybe I have to formulate one of those “solve for X” equations where if X is divided by 100, it will equal something. But which number is X? 40 or 60? And I’m certain the answer to this problem is more concrete than “something.” Maybe plain old multiplication will help? For math’s sake, let’s just say that something times something equals X and that “something and something” in this instance are 40 and 60. That would equal 2,400 which is a very big number. Is that a time? Yes, actually, it is. But that can’t be the answer because I recognize a gas station we just passed and I know we are much closer to Waco, Texas, than 2,400.  

Even though their eyes are barely open, I can see my girls are gaining on me. They might also lack the use of a calculator, paper and a pencil, but their mind-wheels are spinning – and spinning in a direction much closer than 2,400 o’clock. “No blurting!” I remind them.

I’m starting to wonder if there are enough miles, minutes or miles-per-hour left for me to figure out how to arrange these numbers. What about 60 divided by 40? That equals 1.5. But one and one-half of what? I know my husband wouldn’t give me a math problem, especially in the morning, with half of a number because working with whole numbers is hard enough. Then 40 divided by 60 equals yet another something. And if I remember what my third-grade math teacher taught me about long division, then 10 goes into 40 four times and 10 goes into 60 six times and that is 4/6 which reduces to 2/3! Two-thirds seems reasonable and two-thirds of an hour seems even more reasonable. To wit: if 1/3 of an hour is 20 minutes then 2/3 of an hour is 40 minutes. I think I’ve solved for X! I can answer my husband’s very logical yet very illogically timed math question. However, I’m not a Blurter and I take a second to ponder…. do I add minutes in case we stop at Buc-ees to get a snack? It might rain which would slow us down and there is always construction around Temple, Texas. I’m really not sure how to work all those variables into my equation.  

But in the two seconds I spend debating how many minutes I should add for a pit-stop to get a Slim Jim, my daughter in the back seat blurts, “We’ll get to Waco in 40 minutes!”  No! I had it – I had the answer but I just didn’t say it in time. Not wanting to be left out of all the fun math has to offer, I contribute with Texas-sized caution, “We will get to Waco at 9:47 am.” 

 It’s too close to call; we both have the same answer at almost the exact same moment. But my husband, who can barely contain himself because there is a car full of people trying to solve a math problem he orchestrated, pauses then confirms, “Mom wins!  I didn’t ask how much longer it would take to get to Waco. I asked what time we will get to Waco.” 

Problem solved.

Ode to Softball

It was because of my daughters that I got to know and appreciate the game of softball. One of my daughters, Franny, played a lot over many years. What started out as a cute activity where she wore oversized shorts and a helmet that kept falling down over her eyes, somehow became something else entirely. Whether you already love softball or you’ve never played or watched a game, I hope you enjoy my take on how that can happen!

At first I thought the game of softball just consisted of nine girls, a bat, a ball and some bases, but there is so much more going on. It’s a microcosm of the larger world, a tiny village of constant action and dust in which life lessons, sometimes doubling as softball knowledge, are handed out more frequently than tournament MVP medals. Softball is an experience that starts with a drive on winding, hilly roads or through large sections of flat farmland to find a field or complex either so new or so remote that it can’t be located by a GPS. I always end up lost. 

My daughter fires up a carefully selected three-hour music playlist to pass the time on cross-country drives and drown out my frequent outbursts of “Turn where?! Wait, turn now?!” I also learn words to songs from bands I would otherwise never know. I try to follow that blue line on my car’s GPS, praying for divine guidance and a sense of direction, but mostly I end up protected by an earthly mix of sweat, sunscreen and dirt. No amount of divine intervention will help me wait in line in front of a row of bright blue outhouses and pull up my sweat-soaked underwear in a 151-degree port-o-potty. 

For entire softball games, tournaments, and seasons I am sustained by red licorice, diet soda and the knowledge that all this will come to an end: there will be a day when my daughter will no longer play softball. I try not to think about that but focus on some of the things I’ve gained from a sport I’ve never played.  

In the Game of Softball, Coaches Don’t Just Coach. Sure, the things the coaches say (okay, sometimes scream) to the girls apply to softball, but really, it seems like much of their advice applies to life off the field. I try to remember these gems long after I stand up from the bleachers and the feeling comes back to my butt and legs.   

1) Help Yourself Out. Coaches like to say this to a player when she is standing in the batter’s box. To clarify, the batter’s “box” is not a cardboard container at all but a two-dimensional rectangle temporarily painted on some dust. But defining shapes doesn’t seem to bother the players, rather they all seem to agree that they want to help themselves out and get on base or get a teammate to a base that is at least one base closer to home plate. In a split second, each player has to decide if she should help herself out by swinging harder or not at all, having “quicker” hands, turning her hips more or keeping her head down. The coaches notice those details and offer corrections, but the player has to translate the advice to the situation at hand and do the things that work in her favor and not do the things that make it harder. She has to help herself out. 

2) Pick Her Up. If a girl strikes out or she gets a great hit, but then the defense makes an even more amazing play and gets the out, the coaches encourage the team to look to the next girl in the lineup. There is no need to dwell and criticize the player who just got out because the next batter now has the chance to get things going, to let the girl who is down on her luck, momentarily struggling, who just went through something rough in the world of softball, know that all is not lost. That player can look to other people to come in and help out. Her teammates won’t just stand there or laugh or walk away but, like Good Samaritans, they will grab their bats, get in the game and pick her up.  

3) Be Creative. So many things get shouted during a 90 minute or 7-inning game that I sometimes think I’m in a foreign land or learning a new language: “There’s a duck out on the pond.”  Huh? I don’t see any water on the softball diamond. I should have paid more attention to all those Star Wars movies and gotten fluent in Yoda to interpret this phrase more easily: “Second chance, protect now, you caaaaaan.”  Sometimes creativity is delivered with vivid imagery: “You’re running so slow my beard had time to grow.”  Sometimes simplicity is creative: “See ball, hit ball.” And finally, when things are going wrong, terribly wrong, and one of those pop-ups hangs in the air so long it seems like even I, sleep deprived and sugared-up, has time to get under it from the stands, yet it drops between two players, there are creative appeals to higher powers: “God Bless America!” or “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” 

In the Game of Softball, Players Don’t Just Play.  Sure, softball players practice a lot (okay, maybe incessantly) to try and perfect their physical skills. But in the process, it seems like they develop so many other skills. I definitely need to practice.   

1) Be Punctual. Almost every player has heard or been told by their coach that “early is on time and on time is late.” I missed that player meeting. For a long time, I thought a 9:00am game meant that my daughter had to be to the field at 9:00am and we could leave the hotel a few minutes before the coin toss at home plate. I didn’t factor in that the hotel is 25 minutes from the field, that pregame warm-ups last an hour and 15 minutes, that she has to change into and tie her cleats and that I always get lost. It took me several games (which probably seemed like several seasons of several games to my daughter) to understand that we needed to leave the hotel at 7:00am, probably 6:45am just to be safe, for a 9:00am game. 

2)  Handle adversity. Softball players deal with physical adversity; they handle a lot of discomfort, distress and outright pain. They also deal with mental adversity and handle a lot of disappointment, defeat and uncertainty. The unusually large hair bows some girls wear are only a bit distressing to some of us parents. But large bows can’t hide the fact that softball players are tough. I don’t know if they are just born that way, or if they are made that way by playing softball. I suppose that years of practice, wearing shoes that cause small and large blisters, getting hit by a pitch that causes a bruise to ooze down your arm, or sliding into a base and having a patch of your shin shear off will do that to a person. I suppose those same years of at-bats, defensive plays, ump calls and ends-of-games not going your way will do it, too. As a parent, I handle adversity, but it is usually only as intense as dealing with a concession stand that is closed when I’m tired and thirsty and all I really want is a diet soda in a large to-go cup with lots of ice and a lid with a straw. Softball players handle adversity that is much tougher. 

3) How to Road Trip. Packing for a softball trip requires every square inch of the trunk, and possibly the back seat, of the car. I never know what we will need, so I end up bringing everything and try to live by the Girl Scout motto and always “Be Prepared.” Because the time I am not prepared is the time my daughter needs instant hot packs (not cold packs), a dress (in case the team eats somewhere “nice”), her red belt (instead of the black one), Fritos (not popcorn) and Gatorade (not water). The car bulges with bat bags that I hope she remembered to change out from the high school season that just ended, leaking coolers, unusually smelly cleats, stained blankets, nylon folding chairs that have holes where my diet soda should go, hats that smell worse than the cleats and tape (athletic, duct, masking and Scotch). It’s essential to load the car the night before leaving for a softball tournament because in the dark pre-dawn hours, no one is in the mood to double check and make sure the broken-in glove is the one that got packed. 

4) Be Social (Even if You Don’t Feel Like It). Softball players are continually placed on new teams where they don’t know anyone or they know just one other person. And in that process they meet new coaches, make new friends and learn to respect what each teammate brings to the team, even if a player seems to only contribute those unusually large hair bows.  As parents, every season we also meet new people and end up hanging out together for long stretches of time. It can be awkward at first but usually all it takes to break-the-ice on the second day of a four-day tournament in Kentucky is a six-pack of beer and a deck of cards. There are also the very generous, probably well-rested and highly-caffeinated, parents who will haul a faux-straw beach bag filled to the brim with snacks, share those snacks with all of us in the stands and then offer a moist towelette for our hands. Small things go such a long way toward making a new friend or keeping an old one.  

5) Let Go. I’ve seen very skilled softball players step into the batter’s box and watch a pitch go by because she knows it is outside her zone and nothing she should swing at. But then… no! The ump behind home plate, the authority of all authorities on the field, calls it a strike! Parents erupt in disgust because this ump clearly doesn’t know what he or she is doing (Come on, Blue!) but also, hopefully, to soften the disappointment and frustration we think the player is feeling. But unlike those of us sitting in the stands, eating another pack of Twizzlers, the batter doesn’t have the luxury of analyzing what went wrong or how she is feeling, because in 10 seconds another bright yellow ball is hurtled toward her. Over and over in that rectangle of dirt outlined with white chalk, a softball player is forced to focus on what is next, on what she can do and what she can control – and let go of the rest.   

I’ve also seen very skilled softball players swing a 33-inch stick of wood (or aluminum or some other composite) and send a 4-inch wide ball high into the air, sailing toward a fence that defines the end of the outfield. I mean, she really hits it, smashes it, ropes it, generally pounds the crap out of the ball, and everyone is sure it will clear the fence. Then we all watch in disbelief as the ball doesn’t go over the fence but hits the very thin, yellow-colored plastic cap that sits on top of the fence and bounces back into fair territory. What were the chances? If the fence didn’t have that cap, she could have had a home run. If the breeze were one mile-per-hour stronger or there was a little less humidity, the ball might have made it over the fence. But random factors, factors beyond the player’s control, factors beyond anyone’s control, really, prevented that player from getting the thing she wanted. And time and time again, she lets it go.

For a sport I’ve never played or coached, I am sometimes surprised at the level of connection I feel to softball. The coaches, the atmosphere, the other parents and the players (especially the ones I birthed) create a type of family in which everyone is welcome and you get to come as you are – smelly, sweaty, thirsty, with a trickle of blood running down your elbow, your cleats grinding on the pavement with every step, or showered, well-fed, stepping lightly in flip-flops or Keds, wearing ripped tank tops, collared shirts or maybe your winter parka – and just join in.  You might not get an MVP medal, but ultimately that doesn’t matter as much as all the other things you can take away from the great game of softball.     

Where Are My Shoes?

I wrote this “letter” back in 2011 and wasn’t sure I would ever send it to anyone. But if you’re like me and have ever been overwhelmed by your shoes (ok, who am I kidding, by life in general), then maybe this one’s for you.     

Greetings! Another year comes to a close and The Quenans hope you are well. They are well!

Well, they are well most of the time. Actually, they don’t know what is happening much of the time.

Life continues for Lisa since she gave up her ovaries and estrogen in December, 2009.  Living “No E,” as they have affectionately named it, has had surprising side effects.  Heat surges, otherwise known as hot flashes, have nothing on the surges in Lisa’s ability to focus.  This year, for reasons no one in the family understands, the shoes in the laundry room became the objects of her attention.  There are five people living in the house X two feet per person X at least seven pairs of shoes per person and that equals………… well, a lot of shoes. 

 Much of Lisa’s time was taken up organizing, arranging, sorting and weeding out shoes.  Much more of her time was spent sweeping up the dirt tracked in by all those shoes. Lisa often cleaned the laundry room only to return a few seconds later to find that a floor that was clean was now littered with shoes (and dirt). Harnessing “No E” surges, she silently decided whether she should just pick up one of those pairs of shoes and wear them to clean, move a bench to get at the dirt that always slid just out of reach, or use a dry Swiffer or wet mop to finish the job.   

While Pat continued to adjust to life with a “No E” wife, Lisa worried that his own ability to focus would be affected by working 12-hour days and coaching a travel basketball team that none of their kids played on. But one day Pat laced up his court shoes and proved Lisa wrong! He played basketball at 5am, worked his usual 12 hours, coached a basketball game and still had energy later that night to, as Billy Squire once sang, “do what we do.”  It is possible that wearing basketball shoes and being able to keep his testosterone helped correct the underlying condition from which he had been suffering: living with a “No E” wife.  This condition is worsened by leaving wet, size 12 basketball shoes in the trunk of your car and overuse of the iPad. Even though Lisa was impressed when Pat used that little gizmo to change the channel on the tv, she thought the iPad was only good for distracting him from more important things like putting the last few sprinkles of Desenex foot powder in his basketball high tops and picking up his other shoes.  

There are three children with feet that are still growing but they do not walk them into the laundry room and clean up tracked in dirt.  Alex, 17, is a senior in high school and has, by far, the biggest feet.  His shoes take up the most space in the laundry room.  Looking past his multiple pairs of very large shoes, Lisa took Alex on a five-day road trip to visit four college campuses.  She began to question whether this trip was really necessary at the very first stop. Even though Alex was wearing shoes with good arch support, he was barely able to support his weight against the boredom of a tour that hadn’t even started and folded his 6ft frame nearly in half, propping himself up on the admissions desk with his elbows. While Lisa was impressed with his hamstring flexibility, she regained her “No E” focus and swiftly kicked him in the shin. She doesn’t remember which shoes she was wearing.  Alex will go to college next fall and play golf.  Pat and Lisa are proud of him and excited about golf shoes because they are very complicated, with laces, interchangeable parts that require tools, and the ability to track in both dirt and grass.   

Maddy and Franny are 15 and 11. This was the year they perfected the application of liquid eye liner and developed an uncanny ability to communicate using only looks and glances. But most importantly, mother and daughters finally have the same size feet and can share shoes.  Lisa is excited to have access to three-inch heels that squeeze her feet in such a way that her big toe crosses over all the others and comes to rest just shy of her “pinky” toe. As best as Pat and Lisa can remember, they did not kick either girl in the shin this year.  

 Despite the fact that Maddy could choose from her mother’s or sister’s shoes, she was the only girl at volleyball tryouts wearing white “gramma” sneakers, yet she made the team. Franny plays softball and wore “normal” cleats to her tryouts.  Softball cleats usually stay in the garage because after one good slide into third, they are caked with mud and rust-colored dirt.  Pat and Lisa are proud of them both but the whole laundry room situation became almost untenable as the shoes that normally only covered the floor were now strewn about the fireplace hearth and encroached on the family room carpet. Lisa noticed that out of all the shoes everyone owns, softball cleats track in the most dirt.  

Well, the Quenans hope you had a happy and prosperous year! They also hope that no matter how many feet and shoes you have in your house, you can find them all.

Turtleneck Crab

Do you have a neck? Do you wear a particular article of clothing that is useful but not quite fashionable? Did your parents have a strong belief in the usefulness of that piece of clothing and put you in it at a young age? And finally, despite the fact that you know nothing about fashion and have a nagging sense that this must be how questionable things get passed down from one generation to the next, did you dress your own children in that particular article of clothing? My answer to all these questions is yes. How about you? 

This questionable article of clothing is the turtleneck. It is a simple, thin layer of cloth but due to its preservative properties, it has kept decades of wind, sun and assorted elements off my delicate neck skin leaving it sort of untouched, yet saggy and wrinkly.  Like used crepe paper covering a helping of Jello. 

I’ve worn a turtleneck for as long as I can remember – even when it was Halloween and for two years in a row, I tried to pass as a magical fairy princessMy mom had me wear one under my costume because, well, it was October in northern Wisconsin and despite the addition of a sequined tiara, there was not going to be enough magic to make me a fairy or a princess.   

My husband doesn’t think too much about his neck yet he too wore a turtleneck before he had a chance to develop his sense of fashion. Now, our moms didn’t know each other when they gave birth to us four days apart in the summer of 1968, but I like to think they shared the same dream that their new babies would grow up and find someone who also wears gold turtlenecks. And hugs animals.  

My husband and I realize that no matter the question, a turtleneck is not always the answer, but we put our own children in them anyway. Maybe we did it because of our hardy midwestern upbringing or our lack of style with a sense of duty (if it’s winter, you wear a turtleneck) or because we had an inkling that one day one of our preteen daughters would be searching for something positive to say about my appearance and come up with “but mom, you have such a nice neck.” 

Exhibit 1: How did we expect our son to play basketball in a turtleneck? 
Exhibit 2: If this day at preschool ended with a ride on an actual reindeer to the North Pole, then our daughter was dressed appropriately.   
Exhibit 3:  It was cold enough to put our other daughter in a turtleneck so shouldn’t she also be wearing full-length pants and something on her feet?

To this day, all of our kids say they hate turtlenecks – they are too constricting, they feel too squeezy, they get too hot if they wear them. I understand their resistance but also want them to think about the future. Without the help of a turtleneck, what will their necks look like in 30 years? No one in our family seems to care. And no one in our family continues to wear one except me. How about you?

Crab on The Move

All 5 people in our family moved to a new place in 2019. Amidst all the chaos, I hope I did more than just shuffle stuff around but sometimes I wonder.

I am a professional mover. I know you might be thinking that every day I get up and go to an actual moving company, put on a dark blue shirt with my name stitched on the pocket, pack boxes, load and unload a semi-trailer and figure out what to do with the 534 boxes and several thousand sheets of packing paper I have just used on a job. But I don’t always leave my house to do my work and I have never earned a dollar for any of it. Still, I consider myself a professional. How else can I explain that I move objects, people, pets, food and even invisible things and have never lost any of them? Sure, sometimes I break or misplace something but because I am a professional, I have good insurance and a robust reimbursement policy. 

         I didn’t start out as a professional mover or even plan to become one. It just sort of happened over time, a by-product of accumulation of years of marriage, kids, pets, empty picture frames that I’m sure I will use one day, books on “birthing from within,” decorative pillows and cans of anchovies.  All these people and all this stuff have places to go: school, the vet for a follow up leptospirosis vaccine, a place on the living room wall, a dusty shelf, a corner on the couch or a precise spot in the pantry in a row of canned goods organized by height. Someone has to get them where they need to be. That someone is me.

         Work starts the minute I wake up when I move myself out of bed and into the bathroom. I try to be grateful that I can move from place to place independently, but there are times when I don’t appreciate moving as much as I should. Like when I go to the muscle works class at the gym and force myself to move my muscles against resistance because being mid-life and post-menopausal has certain effects which make it much harder to move the two ends of my waistband toward each other. Having a reward for this type of work is key, so I move chocolate into my mouth. 

         Early on in my career as a professional mover, I thought I would only have to move myself but once I got good at it, others noticed. My husband was so impressed that after four years of marriage he expected me to move a baby into the world. I guess I did a good job because I moved two more babies after six and ten years of marriage.  These are the kinds of moves you swear you will neverdo again but then you get rather attached to the contents and want to see what the next one will be like. Moving babies created the greatest challenge of my career: breastfeeding.  No amount of on-the-job training prepared me to move milk from my breast, which had become the size and hardness of a cantaloupe, into my baby’s mouth which would suddenly appear to shrink to the size of a pin head every time my nipple went near it. No amount of chocolate helped.

         Babies aside, most of my work is mundane and very repetitive. I move dishes into the dish washer, a toothbrush into my mouth, legs into pants, clothes out of the washer and into the dryer, a dog leash onto and off of my dog’s collar or snow from the sidewalk onto a giant pile next to the driveway. But once in a while I pay extra attention to what I’m doing because I might be making a move I will never make again. Like when I finally bought that red, 5-quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer and moved it from its box onto my kitchen counter, the mundane seemed miraculous and I experienced a kind of joy I didn’t know moving could bring.

         It’s usually easy for me to understand my job as a professional mover, yet there are times every day when I am perplexed by the moves my fingers (even my fingers can be movers!) do to make things appear and disappear. I type words onto a computer screen and they end up as an email in someone’s inbox. I tap on tiny letter tiles on my phone and they end up as my husband’s turn in a digital crossword puzzle game. Or I stick a tiny piece of plastic into my computer and then I have something called an IMG in a 2014 picture file. How does any of that happen? Maybe I have a tiny moving assistant who grabs the message or tile or picture, checks all the possible places they could go and then moves them to the correct location – just like if my neighbor had a baby and I baked cookies and out of all the houses on the block, I managed to move them to the right house.   

         Even when I understand my work, some moves just don’t go as planned. I moved a ¾ guitar into my house when one of my daughters was eight. She played it for a while but then the ¾ guitar sat in a closet for about five years before her younger sister decided she wanted to play it. They tried to tune it using a ukulele and an electronic piano which had also sat unused for about five years. One sister insisted the other was tone deaf but they kept trying to tune the ¾ guitar anyway, tightening the strings until one popped off. I moved the ¾ guitar to the music shop intending to use the freed-up space for our full-sized son who had moved in for winter break. But then the music shop called and said that even though there was five-year’s worth of un-moved finger grease, dust, and general gunk on the metal strings, the guitar could be restrung and played again. So even though my work usually doesn’t cost me a thing, I paid $27.14 for new strings and moved that ¾ guitar backinto the house.   

         Every once in a while, I think I’ll take a day off or get a new job. But the reality is that every day is moving day and there is a lot of work to be done. If you have any moves in your future, be they big or small, I wish you the best of luck. 

New Kid – Two Crabs Meet

My husband and I are both 51. We were kind of shocked when we realized that we have now known each other for 42 years, but that’s what can happen when you meet your future spouse on the playground in 4thgrade. 

P. S. A few details of this story are made up. These pictures, however, are completely factual.

If you’ve ever moved to a new town and had a first day at a new school, then you know what a big deal it is to be the “new kid.” It’s an even bigger deal when that new school is in a new town of 1,100 people because, as my mom used to say, “everyone and their brother” knows who you are. 

 I was that kid on my first day of first grade at Shell Lake Elementary School. But in the summer of 1977, the rumors started to fly in our tiny town about another new kid who would join our 4thgrade class. What we knew was that he was tall for nine-years-old, had a good tan from playing Little League baseball in Yankton, South Dakota all summer, and most amazingly, he had already kissed a girl. We couldn’t believe a new kid could bring that kind of excitement and sophistication to Shell Lake, Wisconsin. The first day of 4thgrade did not disappoint. Pat Quenan was everything he was rumored to be.

 The love bug flew just as easily as those summer rumors and it seemed that by lunch time on that first day all twenty-two 4thgrade girls, including me, had a crush on the new kid. I surveyed my chances. Even though I matched his tan skin melanocyte for melanocyte, I was rather round and wore large, plastic framed glasses. I hoped the cute, little gold stick-on butterfly I sometimes wore in the right corner of the right lens might entice him, but I was pretty sure he’d prefer a girl with 20/20 vision.  

I worked up my nerve to make a move for the new kid during after-lunch-recess and waited impatiently to be released outside as the lunch ladies inspected my lunch tray for any stray morsels. Out on the playground, I bypassed the boys I usually played with and avoided the girl who occasionally picked up a garter snake and chased me with it. When I spotted the new kid standing alone on the blacktop, I took a few steps toward him. But as soon I saw a sea of swooning nine-year-old girls also herding in his direction, I got that sinking feeling that I should have just stayed inside with the lunch ladies and picked at my tray. 

 I back-tracked off the blacktop toward a dusty field that was partially-rimmed with a partially-collapsing chain link back-stop fence.  The boys I had bypassed were already there and arguing about which game we should play that first recess of 4thgrade. Suddenly, over their shouts and possibly from over near the monkey-bars, the news broke: Jolene Harmon, with her perfect vision, liked the new kid. It was over. There was no way any of us, especially me, could compete with the most popular girl in the class – if not the most popular girl in the whole school. 

Since my chance of landing Pat Quenan had reached zero, I picked up a red, rock-hard playground ball that had rolled my direction and headed onto the field to do something I knew I was good at: kick hard and run fast down a base path that was covered in patchy grass. Then, to my surprise, and to the obliviousness of the boys who were now knee-deep in another argument about which team had to take the girl, the new kid came over and asked to play.  The arguing stopped and we carefully factored in that because he had baseball experience, he could probably run bases and throw as well as the rest of us, plus we were already short a fielder anyway. We decided the new kid could play.