A Siren is a Siren…Isn’t It?

Even though it’s mid-winter, the tornado practice siren peals every Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m.

Since I know that with snow on the ground the likelihood of a tornado is slim. And yet every time I hear that darn siren, I get a burst of adrenaline.

And it always reminds me of the first summer I lived in this house.

Lilapsophobia:  irrational fear of tornadoes and hurricanes

tornado-310431_1280

First, let me set the record straight.  When I was growing up 20 miles northwest of here, when you heard a siren, it meant serious business. Living in tornado alley means you don’t mess with warnings–you simply take action immediately.

I can count half a dozen tornadoes that came through our area when I was growing up.  The first, I was told, occurred when I was an infant.  The rest of the family ran for cover in the “under the stairs” closet.  Meanwhile, I was left in the bassinet in my parent’s bedroom.  I guess that comes with being Bonus Child No. 7: totally forgotten in everyone’s haste.  My parents still refuse to apologize and often say, “We would have figured out you were missing at some point.”  I think not.

The next time, I was a toddler.  Thankfully, my oldest sister remembered that I existed and shuttled me to the closet, along with my other siblings and our German Shepherd.  Shoved together with several kids in this small space, I got stuck with the butt end of the dog in my face.  Pepper kept smacking me with his tail, dealing with his own canine version of lilapsophobia. When my parents came home from the store, they said the car lifted off the ground as they were driving.  Yikes.

The third time I remember most vividly because I was older, and the tornado came through our back yard and had the nerve to take my swing set with it.  The concept blew my mind (pardon the pun).  The weather can TAKE STUFF FROM YOU?  What kind of world was I living in?

There were several other pretty scary storms that likely contributed to my fear of tornadoes, so what happened in 2002 shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Check the Fine Print

I remarried in 2002 and moved into my husband’s home with my then-seven-year-old daughter.  Life was peachy, and we looked forward to our first summer in a great new neighborhood.

Then it happened.  One July night at 11:00 p.m., I could hear the city’s sirens going off.  Adrenaline shot me out of bed so quickly I wasn’t sure where I was…and where the closet under the stairs was…and where Pepper was…and where the swing set…wait a minute!  Where was my daughter?

silhouette-1734706_1280

I ran into her bedroom and picked her up, trying not to wake or scare her.  This was, of course, impossible, considering I was stealing her from sleep and acting like a maniac.  I grabbed the first things I thought of to protect her:  a pillow, her gym shoes and her bike helmet.

She was half asleep as we ran past my husband, who was sitting quietly in the living room, watching television with the front door open.  The wind was whipping the trees into a frenzy and rain was shooting down in anger. Out of the corner of my eye I caught that menacing scroll at the bottom of the TV screen.  I knew it must be describing the peril coming our way.

“What in the world are you doing?” he hollered as I scampered down the basement steps.  I ignored him.  It was every man for himself.

Once in the basement, I found the nook under the stairs and, as swift as could be, put the bike helmet on my daughter. By now, she was fully awake and terrified that life in the new house came with such nightmarish circumstances.  As she was asking me questions, I quickly put on her gym shoes (“We may have to run if the tornado picks up the house”) and then grabbed the futon mattress to put over us.

“What is going on?” My husband was now standing at the top of the stairs.

Was he deaf?  Could he not hear that we were going to die?  The sirens don’t lie.

“There’s a tornado coming,” I yelled up the stairs from our bunker. ” You need to take cover too!”

He had the nerve to chuckle.  Probably just like the tornado that stole my swing set. “It’s just a watch,” he said.  “It sounds once for a watch and two times for a warning.”

I didn’t believe him.  Who changed the rules?  Why was I not consulted?  Why wasn’t a national memo distributed?

Evidently a letter had come from the city a few weeks prior indicating they were putting a revised warning system in place.  Well that explains it.

How Does One Move On?

That was 15 years ago, and try as I might, I can’t control the adrenaline when I hear the siren go off.  Even the test one every Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. It fools me every dang time, takes me several minutes of wondering why I would be hearing that screech when it’s a sunny day.  Was it one of those creep-up-on-you-and-it-sounds-like-a-freight-train-before-you-know-it kind of storms?

Phobias don’t die easily.  But they are spread easily.  Even at college, my now-22-year-old daughter instinctively panics at the sound of the siren or the annoying beep on T..V. indicating a need to watch the skies.

And yet I still can’t convince her to grab a bike helmet and a pair of gym shoes before she runs to the basement of her dorm.  Silly girl.  Doesn’t she know how ingenious that is?

Aldi and the Search for My Lost Dignity

I consider myself, and have been told by others, that I’m a reasonably intelligent adult.  I graduated cum laude from one of those “Ivy League of the Midwest” colleges back in the day.  I am a freelance writer and have run successful businesses.  As I result, I’m fairly confident, and think I’ve maintained a healthy, not-too-arrogant sense of self-esteem.

But today my self-worth was shattered.  In a way I never would have imagined.  It happened because I chose to test my commitment to frugality by shopping at Aldi.

I have to admit that I used to think that Aldi was a step above a food pantry.  There had to be a place for people who were subsisting on 59 cent mac and cheese.  Somewhere to buy generic sausage links and butter cookies.  God bless them.

Then I heard people say, “Oh, Aldi is the best.  They’ve even got organic produce now.”  So I headed out this afternoon, planning to impress my husband that I picked up our favorite foods for a fraction of the price that we normally pay at other stores.

shopping cart

Gaffe #1:  The Shopping Cart

The humiliation began before I walked into the store.  There were several other people walking in at the same time, so I thought I could blend into the crowd like a regular.  They didn’t have carts, so I didn’t need a cart.  I glanced over at the outdoor cart corral to see the chain gang of shopping carts, assuming that they were taking a time out because they hadn’t behaved.  You know those carts that make you look like a fool because their  wheels are all wonky and it ruins your entire excursion?  This must be their penalty box.

Once inside the store, the look of bewilderment on my face couldn’t be disguised.  Why was there absolutely no rhyme or reason to where items were located?  Why were there tents next to tomatoes and crew socks next to croutons?  Was it meant to be a scavenger hunt and I missed the sign as I walked in?

I played it cool and starting picking up items.  Indeed, there were organic berries, grapes, peppers, bananas, avocados.  Cool.  I started loading my arms with fruit, and realized I absolutely needed a cart.  But I didn’t see any.  Had Jesus come back and raptured the good shopping carts and I was left behind with the imprisoned ones?

As grapes began spilling out of the bag, I found an employee who indicated that you have to pay a quarter to get a shopping cart outside.  What?  I don’t come to the store with real money!  Where was I going to find a quarter?  Would I be forced to stand outside like a ticket scalper and try to con someone into giving me their cart as they were leaving?

Thankfully, the woman said I could borrow one that was up by the cashier.  As I did so, I could feel people sneering at me.  “Who does she think she is? I had to pay a whole 25 cents and she just waltzes in?”

Gaffe #2:  Are These Generic Brands?

Aldi cereal

My father has tried to convince me for years that there are only a couple of manufacturers that package food and they sell them to companies who put their own brand on them.  It’s possible.  But I’m skeptical as I’m looking at the weird, all-too-gleeful names on the products at Aldi.

Maybe it was because my parents bought generic items when they were the rage in the ’70s.  Who can blame them with seven kids and one income?  But while my friends were eating Lucky Charms in the beautiful red box with the joyful leprechaun, I got the black and white box that said “Marshmallow Cereal”.  To this day, I still can’t look that leprechaun in the eye without tearing up.

So as I looked at the brand names, I couldn’t figure out if they were indeed generics.  I looked around at the other shoppers.  They didn’t seem to have a problem.  I’m sure they knew the secret that my father knew and understood that generics were just as good, but I imagined having to con my husband into eating “G Free” brand of gluten free products, and I baled.

Instead I got “safe” foods:  eggs, milk, fruit and veggies and Kerry Gold butter.  Ah…Kerry Gold…a beacon of hope in a sea of brand confusion.

Gaffe #3:  The Checkout

Grocery bag

As I kept filling my cart I no longer felt like a newbie.  Seeing the lower prices for similar items took away some of the sting of my stupidity and I began to feel accomplished.  In fact I had planned to brag to my husband that I was the queen of the good deal.

And then I headed for the cash register.

As my items were headed down the conveyor belt, I realized the cashier was just piling up my purchase.  There was no bagging.  There was no bagger.  Was Timmy off work today?  I looked over to see a woman who had pulled over to the shoulder to package her own groceries in a bag she brought with her.  Oh okay.  I looked around in a panic and saw some plastic bags, and grabbed them with such flair that the guy behind me must have thought I had done this a thousand times.

That was until I too pulled over to the shoulder to bag up my stuff.  I had only grabbed and purchased two plastics so I had to make it work.  But I never took physics, and with the same concentration and effort that it likely took Newton to figure out why the apple fell on his head, I tried to determine how to get these groceries home unscathed.  What is the force exerted against a bunch of bananas by a jug of V-8 juice?  Should the eggs go on top even though the grapes underneath were no match for them?  The cashier checked out a half a dozen people in the amount of time it took me to put the contents of my purchase in two bags.

Of course I started dropping things in my haste to exit, and as I bent over to pick them up, my last-day-before-laundry underwear breached the top of my too-small capris.  When I put on the granny panties this morning, the last thing on my mind was that I would be sharing them with Aldi’s afternoon clientele.  It was the last straw.

I slunk out of the store, defeated in the 30 minutes I spent inside, and glared at the two women who were joyfully exchanging their carts at the corral, one handing the other a quarter.

Then I dropped my keys as I tried to open my car door.

You know, that never would have happened at Jewel.

 

 

 

Popcorn Contains Antioxidants? Who Knew?

My husband came home from work the other day with a spring in his step and a piece of paper in his hand. He triumphantly placed it in front of me as I sat at the computer doing research for a freelance assignment. “I’ve always told you that popcorn was good for you, and now here’s the proof,” he beamed.

Picking up the sheet he printed off of a news site also reported by Dr Mercola here, I took a quick glance at the headline “Popcorn Contains More Antioxidants Than Fruits and Vegetables”. It summarized details of a study conducted at the University of Scranton that found that popped corn serves up twice as much antioxidants as the foods we’ve been trying to eat to stay healthy.

girl eating popcorn

I immediately knew I would be eating crow, as well as eating more popcorn. For the ten years we have been married, I’ve rejected any and all notions that my husband’s favorite food was actually good for you. Of course I knew that it offered a healthy amount of fiber, but beyond that I thought it was about as nutritious as packing styrofoam.

I looked up from the paper and saw his face glowing with a mixture of vindication and relief akin to a death row prisoner being acquitted after years behind bars. I wish I could tell you that describing it as such was cheesy hyperbole, but no. My husband is undoubtedly the world’s foremost connoisseur of all things popcorn (challengers pay heed), and for the last 50 years has shot down anyone who has told him that his nightly treat was nothing but junk food.

I read on. Apparently a Scranton professor of chemistry, Joe Vinson, Ph.D., and one of his students Michael Coco, found that compared to fruit, popcorn has a greater concentration of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant purported to defend the body against free radical damage to cells.  A number of degenerative diseases including cancer and diabetes are known to be caused by harmful free radical reactions.

By grinding up corn kernels and popped corn, the researchers found the amount of polyphenols was up to 300 mg a serving compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits per serving. Popcorn is about 4% water compared to most fruits which average about 90% water, which helps explain the higher concentration.  And similar to fruit, the greatest amount of antioxidants are found in the skin, or hull.

I found that I was right on the fiber issue: Vinson notes that popcorn is the only 100% whole grain food (did you know that according to the Whole Grains Council, food only has to have 51% whole grain to be labeled “whole grain”?)

However, there’s always a caveat when someone releases a pioneering study on nutrition.  Of course you know what Vinson said next:  you can benefit from the polyphenols in popcorn, but you’re defeating the purpose if you load it with butter, salt, caramel, cheese or any of the other glorious toppings that make popcorn so incredibly tasty.

My husband cooks his in organic olive oil and puts on a bit of organic butter (healthier than margarine any day) and a bit of organic sea salt.  I don’t know if Vinson would approve, but if my husband’s health history is any proof, forget the apple—a bowl of popcorn a day keeps the doctor away

What Do I Tell My Millennial About Freelancing?

Girl reading book

When my daughter recited the text of one of her picture books from memory at age 3 1/2, I knew this kid was going places.

I’m not talking about some pedestrian preschool writing like Seuss’s Hop on Pop; this was a book recommended for first through fourth graders.  The kind with full paragraphs per page.  I was so proud.

It wasn’t long after that my little girl was actually looking at the words and relating them to what her mind had stored.  She has been an avid reader ever since.

Not to mention she’s been a spelling and grammar fanatic since day one of formal education.  In fact, she had the nerve to repeatedly correct her first grade teacher who insisted that the word “gnat” started with “n”.  (Repeated apologies to Mrs. Zimmerman were offered for my daughter’s attitude, though I reveled in standing my ground that my daughter was indeed right.)

All throughout grammar school, junior high and high school, she never lost her passion for the written word.  She used free-time after school to write stories and read as many books as she could, with 19th century Brit Lit being her favorite.

Child sitting on books

As time went on, she wrote for and edited her high school newspaper.  She competed at the state journalism competition in the News Writing category.  She went away to college to pursue a degree in English, which was then revised to Journalism and changed once again to Professional Writing. She has written for her college newspaper and was a section editor. She’s honed the kind of writing that she likes and is proficient in, and has been published in small magazines so far.

Now What?

Now that my daughter is entering her fourth year of college, my panic has set in.  As a freelance writer/editor myself, I’m suddenly concerned that she doesn’t have a large enough portfolio.  “What do you mean Megan has a freelance contract this summer and Connor is working on getting his book published?”  Sweat breaks out as I wonder if the time she spent working her on-campus job to pay for her tuition would have been better spent vying for freelance gigs that may or may not have panned out.

So this summer she is pulling together the writings that she does have and is building her online portfolio.  She will be adding to it from her summer practicum of technical writing and marketing communications, as well as some piecemeal projects for companies.  However, my secret hope is that people will read her blog and see that she is an incredibly clever, funny and engaging writer in the same vein as a Nora Ephron, A.J. Jacobs or even Tina Fey.

Freelancing is a Great Life for a Millennial, Right?

Do I recommend that my daughter pursue full-time freelancing right out of the chute after graduation from college?

I imagine restarting my career at 21 as a freelancer, at a time when I had little cares, responsibilities or major expenses.  In the late ’80s, jobs were much easier to get and I assumed that you were a nobody if you didn’t have solid, steady, full-time employment after college.  After all, I graduated with honors from a challenging program, so of course I should be working 9 to 5 for a Fortune 500 company.

But I soon learned that I hated the corporate world.  The aggravation really started to fester when my daughter was born and I carted her off to daycare at 3 months of age.  The pressure to be present for my daughter grew and grew until one day I went to pick her up from daycare shortly after the change to daylight savings time in the fall.  She thought that since it was dark out, I had forgotten to pick her up and she was scared and crying.  That was it for me.

I finally decided to leave a full-time marketing communications job to freelance so I could be home for her.  At the time, I was 37 years old.  It was the best gig because the flexibility was unmatched and the opportunity so vast.  Never again would I miss seeing her after 3:00 p.m. and during the summer and holidays.  Little did my daughter know, and much to her chagrin later, I volunteered for absolutely everything related to school or sports from first through twelfth grade.  It was the most fun I’ve had in my life.

Coffee and notepad

So in my mind, freelancing is the best of both worlds.  If you do it right, you can have a steady income and still have a life.  I’ve told my daughter that for years.  So that’s what she has been looking forward to once she is done with the last of her classes.

Her father, on the other hand, has worked in the same industry in full-time employment for most of his post-college life.  Therefore, he has a completely different opinion of what she needs to do.  He believes that she needs to gain full-time employment after college to have a steady income for absolutely as long as possible.  We are definitely true to our personality profiles:  he the Determined Realist and me the Spontaneous Idealist.

My daughter is a Dreamy Idealist, so we know where her millennial heart is bent:  towards creating things, enjoying time freedom, making a difference in the world, living frugally, taking care of her health and having flexibility in the work that she does.

What would you say to your soon-to-be college graduate?  If I could go back 30 years, I know what I would do, and I’ve told her that.  It’s her decision, so we will see where she is five years from now.  Hopefully writing her third book on a world tour to serve the poor.

Big Brothers and the Creature from the Black Lagoon

Scream

There’s nothing I hate more than being chased.

I don’t mean being chased by someone with violent intent.  I mean the garden variety “I’m gonna get you” chase game that we played as kids.

It’s not that I don’t like fun.  Lord knows I’m always up for a game of Twister.  But “tag” and “chase” were never my favorites.  Even now as an adult, if my daughter is running up behind me, I squeal like a toddler.  I blame my brother Tim for this neurosis.

Tim is five years older than me, the third kid in our family of seven (me being the seventh and most adorable).  For some reason, he loved to scare the crap out of me when we were kids.  Maybe it was because he had an older brother who did the same and he was just sharing the McGlinn family brand of love that flowed downhill.

Whatever the reason, he loved to see me scared.

Why You Don’t Let Brothers Control the Television

My parents were too busy with all of us kids that they didn’t pay attention to what we were watching, and really, back in the ’70s, how much trouble could you find on TV?  My parents didn’t think anything of my brother sitting me down in front of “Creature Features”, “Night Gallery” and “Twilight Zone” episodes when I was five.

King Kong

Holy cow.  Imagine seeing The Creature From the Black Lagoon, the original King Kong and Godzilla movies without little kid adrenaline kicking in.  Each film produced such nightmares, that I would crawl out of bed upstairs, go down the stairs in the dark and scare my mom and dad awake and ask if I could sleep with them.  That alone should have tipped them off that something…or someone…was making me a fraidy cat.

But no.  The more scared I got, the more it busted my brother’s gut.  He would chase me up the stairs.  He would chase me down the stairs.  He would chase me around a pretend boxing ring in our living room before church on Sunday morning.

Then one day, vengeance was mine.

Why You Don’t Let Brothers Babysit

In my family, if you were the oldest in the crowd that was running around the neighborhood one day, you were the one in charge.  So sometimes  Tim was in charge of me and my sisters.

On one of many such occasions, we found ourselves in the garage of the kids across the street:  six boys who were always up for adventure and mischief-making.  One of the things they loved best was to tell ghost stories.  Even in the middle of a bright summer day, a ghost story can wreak havoc on a youngster who has seen a giant lizard crush Tokyo with his bare feet.

On this particular day, the story was about the cemetery across the highway that we could see from our neighbor’s house.  One of the boys was telling about how the “Hatchet Lady” rose up from her grave and attacked a young couple who were making out in their car.  (Note:  all of the stories involved teenagers who were kissing in cars.  Why was this the prevalent theme?  Was this a warning from our sweet Catholic school boy neighbors?  But I digress…)

running girl

I got so scared that I ran out of the garage and across the street to our house.  In my haste, I failed to notice that my brother Tim began chasing me, but then passed me so that he could beat me there.  Being five years older and faster, he made it to the back door of the house before me, dashed in, locked it and then stuck his tongue out at me through the plate glass window that I could barely reach.

Forget fear.  Anger kicked in.  I was so mad that he was laughing at my anguish over the Hatchet Lady that I started banging on the window.  In no time, it shattered.

By this point my brother was in hysterics.  He couldn’t wait until my parents got home to tell them that I was the culprit.  He was sure that my Dad would get out “the whacking belt” that was reserved for special displays of corporal punishment.

No sooner had he started laughing however, my parents arrived home from the grocery store.  They looked at him.  They looked at me crying. It took them no time to piece together the story.  I was the innocent victim.  Tim was the evil urchin.  He was hauled off to face my father’s wrath (who after grocery shopping with my mother had had enough “merriment” for the day already, so you can just imagine.)

Fair warning:  to this day, I can’t walk up a flight of stairs if someone is behind me.  I get that startle reflex that I hate.  So if you’re coming up behind me and I turn around and slug you, please don’t blame me.  Take it up with my brother.

To Live is to Laugh

“You can always tell an Irishman…but you can’t tell him much.”

I’m 67% Irish.

If my father’s family had anything to say about it, I’d be 100 percent. But somehow my mother snuck in under the radar as a German Swede (and a Protestant at that).

She married my dad before the McGlynns were any the wiser. Our Irish relatives never let her live down her lack of Celtic and Catholic pedigree, talking and snickering behind her back at every family gathering.

Perhaps it was because she’s never been funny, and the Irish place a premium on funny. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, but Germans, at least the ones in my family, were not what you would call humorous.

And the Swedes? Well let’s just say my Swedish relatives were all work and no play. Maybe they were cutting jokes while they were cutting meat at the my great grandfather’s butcher shop, but I never heard any. At least not any REAL yucks.

Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job. From Ulysses by James Joyce

But my dad’s relatives? It was an adventure every time we saw them. There are no better storytellers than the Irish, and every tale of family intrigue was hysterical. Not because the story was that interesting–in fact it could have been about a tree that fell in someone’s yard. Yet somehow the way it was told, it would leave everyone doubled over and trying to remember every word to share it with the next person. It’s a badge of honor in our family if you weave a yarn that leaves them laughing.

Dad army photo

Laugh to Keep from…Everything

For as long as I can remember, my dad has handled both the good and the bad of life with jokes and laughter. To be serious was to consider that life is difficult and that problems may be overwhelming. Being silly was a happy form of denial that made him feel less helpless and more in control over things that couldn’t be controlled. He truly had never learned any other way to communicate.

The instinct to be hysterical would most certainly kick in when any of my father’s seven children was sick.

In fact, when I had my gall bladder removed at age 17 and almost died, my Dad was the one who spent the most time with me in the hospital in the days following the surgery. Whether sitting next to me, or walking down the halls with me (IV cart in tow), he would tell me funny stories.

Envision busting a gut–LITERALLY. I was laughing so hard it was pulling at my sutures and making me cry in pain. But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. I knew that my dad loved me and was truly concerned because he was trying to make me laugh.

My Dad would be the one to incite a giggling wave throughout our family’s pew at a funeral. My Dad would be the one talking about how the tornado headed towards our house would do a great and desperately needed remodeling job. And my Dad would be the one to joke with the doctor when a prognosis was dismal, causing both doctor and patient to forget that anything was wrong.

Keep ‘Em Laughing…Whatever it Takes

Last month, we had to have my Dad join my Mom in a local nursing home as a resident. Though he’s dealing with several health issues and a wee bit of dementia, he is still trying to be as funny as ever, and using his humor to help him cope. He will call me on the phone and give me the weather report, in the style of George Carlin’s “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” skit. He will make faces as other residents go by to produce giggles. He will pull old family stories out of the shrinking storehouse in his brain to help us both feel a connection to a better time and a funnier place.

He gets frustrated that he is not as quick-witted as he once was. Besides being able to go home, nothing would make my dad happier than being able to be more humorous. So we throw easy joke bait to him and let him take a bite on a fabulous punch line of his own creation.

I’m sure that our combined sense of humor will keep us both going, since making merry is in our blood (or at least 67% of mine). But as his brain slips further away, we will have to resort to finding some new way to giggle, even if it’s simply sticking our tongues out at each other. To see that Irish twinkle in his eyes will be enough for me. Because as long as we’re laughing, we are living life to the full.