Category Archives: MHH Column

January 2017 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: The Dixie Cup Debacle

dixie-cup     When my mother and father were married in the early ‘70s, they moved into an apartment a few blocks away from the neighborhood where they would eventually buy a home. It was a tiny cracker box of a place with scant furnishings and few accouterments however it did have something that was a bit of a luxury at the time and the envy of every kid who came to visit: A Dixie cup dispenser in the bathroom.

Now, my folks did not entertain much, but their frequent guests included my male cousin who happened upon the cup dispenser, mastered its features and decided to share the discovery with his three sisters.

“Psst, guys…come here, you have to see this…it’s amazing,” he hissed while gesturing wildly. The trio scampered into the bathroom, gathered around the innovation and marveled at it as though it were the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World.

“What is it?” One of the girls asked.

“Then you take a cup from it, a new one appears in its place every time. It’s like magic!” the boy declared. He yanked a cup from the dispenser, got an ounce of water from the tap and gulped it like a shot before throwing it into the pastic trash bin with a flourish. His dramatic demonstration was rewarded with a round of enthusiastic applause.

“Ooh, I want to try it!” His oldest sister said.

“Me too!” Another replied.

“No, me next.”

One by one they all took a cup, got a drink and threw their waste away going around in turn until their were no cups left. The adults in the living room continued their conversation oblivious to the fact that my cousins were holed up in the bathroom hosting happy hour. It wasn’t until everyone went home that my mother found a trash can full of Dixie cups and an empty dispenser on the wall.

“I’m going to kill those kids,” she vowed as my father tried to stifle a laugh.

She didn’t of course, but she did remove the Dixie cup dispenser from the bathroom the next time they stopped by and kept close tabs on their whereabouts whenever they were on the premises. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust them, but she wasn’t about to deal with the aftermath should they find her pop up box of tissues, discover dad’s electric tooth brush or try to get a piece of candy out of my brother’s Mickey Mouse gumball machine without putting a penny in it first.

After all, they may have been curious, but my mother wasn’t crazy.

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June 2016 Column for Michiana House & Home Magazine: The Ninth Caller

phone            Somewhere during my childhood, I became obsessed with my local Top 40 radio station. I spent a lot of time calling DJs to make requests, chat during the wee hours of a slumber party (the fact that they were willing to talk to a group of 11-year-olds at 2 a.m. now strikes me as creepy) and trying to convince them to let me announce the Number One song on the “Hot Nine at 9.” I was also forever trying to win one of their contests. Never mind that I wasn’t 18, that my parents wouldn’t let me go to half of the concerts I was trying to score tickets to, or that with a rotary phone, I was unlikely to ever be the ninth caller, I kept trying.

One contest held me hostage in the house for nearly a week when I heard about it. The premise was simple: Be the ninth caller when the station played a certain four songs in a row. Although I can only remember one song on the list today, I clearly remember carrying a portable radio with me to every room in my house in order to catch this musical event when it occurred.

“Julie, take the radio off the dining room table,” my mother ordered as she brought in the pot roast and mashed potatoes she prepared.

“No problem,” I turned off the portable and flipped on the bigger stereo unit.

My father sighed. “You do realize that they could play these four songs in the middle of the night when you are asleep, don’t you?” He asked.

I hadn’t considered this, but it seemed unlikely. “They won’t,” I told him, silently planning to smuggle the radio into my bedroom at night just in case.

I skipped outings, no longer biked with my friends and turned down a McDonald’s run in order to stay close to home and my precious radio. Finally, as I played with my Barbies in my parents’ basement, I heard the first song…and then the second…this was it!!! They played the first two songs in succession three times to give the listening audience a heads up while I went nuts waiting for each song to be played. At the beginning of the final tune, I raced over to the phone we kept by my father’s desk and began dialing.

It took 30 seconds to make each call and naturally each time I finished, I was met with an unpleasant busy signal. Undeterred I kept trying thinking my persistence might prevail but eventually, I heard the DJ announce the winner’s name over the air.

“It’s not fair,” I told my parents later. “I gave up everything and got nothing out of the deal.”

With my parents unwilling to purchase a push-button phone, my career as a contest winner was limited, but I didn’t care. In an era where there was no participation prize, I had to take my lumps and realize I would lose more than I would win. There was no point in getting “hung up” about it.

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May Column for Michiana House & Home Magazine: A Space Jam



Recently, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when a sponsored Groupon advertisement caught my eye. Evidently, for the low, low price of $15, I can buy an acre of land on Mars. Now, I do not pretend to be an expert on interplanetary Real Estate deals, but I have a few questions about this.

For starters, who exactly owns Mars? It’s not that I don’t trust the oh-so-official-sounding Lunar Embassy, which is located in Nevada of all places, but how did they get to be the official Realtor of the Red Planet? Did the little guy from the Looney Tunes shorts hand over the deed to Mars in order to lay claim to Bugs Bunny’s hole? Was it some kind of a trade deal like that whole Michael Jordan thing in Space Jam? Why is he so keen to get rid of Mars in the first place? What does he know about it that we don’t?

Secondly, how did the head honcho of this Galactic Realty firm decide $15 was a fair price for Martian soil? According to the advertisement, this price represents a 57 percent discount off of the suggested retail price, which by anyone’s definition is an incredible deal, but I remain skeptical. For example, how do we know that an acre of land is the same thing on Mars as it is here? What if it is a different unit of measurement entirely? Has anyone actually seen the comps from other neighboring planets to tell us whether or not Mars actually appraised for this price and has it passed its inspection?
Exactly where are these available acres? Is the entire planet up for grabs or only a specific neighborhood? Will we be given the XY coordinates to our little corner of the universe or is Google Mars already up there taking a more modern image for us to see? I may not be a genius, but I do know location is a key factor when buying a piece of property. Does $15 get me an enviable spot in downtown metropolitan Mars, a sweet spot in suburban Mars or a remote, pre-war, pre-fab, previously uninhabited plot of Outer Mongolia Mars? I think we have a right to know. I also think we should be told what our taxes might be, what kinds of schools we can expect for that money as well as the government’s plan for a steady water supply, but hey, not everyone is as picky as I am.

I know I am probably going to kick myself for not jumping on this ground floor opportunity, but there are just too many unknowns for me to plunk down some cash on my Martian estate just yet. Although my friends tell me to stop analyzing the logistics just do it, I’m content to let other folks cough up their closing costs, invent a way to get there, fight off whatever they find and pave the way for the rest of us.

In the meantime, I am going to do something safe and have a star named after me.



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April Column Michiana House & Home: Hello, Dave

Xbox      While cleaning my house one Friday morning, I decided to pop in a movie in order to have a little background noise while I worked. I found a good flick, turned on the TV and was stumped when I realized that an Xbox One had replaced my Blu-Ray player.

I remember Boy Wonder telling me that his new gaming system played movies, but I was not prepared to try and start, stop, and pause a film using a controller that had more buttons than the old stand up Asteroids arcade game. To make matters worse, none of the joysticks or buttons were labeled with anything other than an X,Y,A,and B. I’m sorry, but I have a problem solving anything that looks remotely like an algebra equation.

By some stroke of luck, the Xbox screen appeared immediately, greeted my son by name…or whatever he likes to be called on there, and in the bottom left hand corner I saw the Blu-Ray player icon. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to select it.

At some point in this odyssey, I managed to drop the space-aged gizmo running the operation and knocked the batteries askew. When I straightened that out, the whole thing lit up like a Christmas tree, scrolled through screens I didn’t authorize and asked me if I wanted to purchase something, watch a tutorial, or play a game of Global Thermonuclear War. I swear if the thing would have called me “Dave” I would have freaked out right then and there. (If you get either of those references, you are at least as old as I am!)

Terrified I might have to suit up and go into battle just to watch Apollo 13, I began hitting buttons and maneuvering joysticks until I was able to find the original screen. I also put in a call to my oldest in hopes he would tell me what I was doing wrong.

Having grown up in an era of home computers, gaming systems and VCRs, I do not take pride in being this electronically challenged. I also have a master’s degree in education so I should be able to operate something akin to a CD player on crack without having to phone a friend.

“Oh I don’t use my controller to run my movies either,” my oldest child assured me. “I use the voice command option to tell it what to do and then it does it.”

“I am not about to start having a conversation with a piece of machinery,” I told him. “I already talk to myself as it is. This will only confirm that I am crazy.”

“You do know that you can buy a regular remote control for it for about $25 right?” He asked.

It was the best idea I had heard all day. “You mean a regular remote with normal buttons like Play, Pause and Stop?” I queried.

“Yes,” he sighed.

“Wonderful, now you know what to get me for Mother’s Day.”

“I’ll put it on my list,” he promised. “In the meantime, the ‘A’ button is your friend.”

I highly doubt that.

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March Column Michiana House & Home: Who ya gonna call?

phone           As a general rule, good things do not happen at 2:30 in the morning.

No one tends leaves the house that early unless they work the graveyard shift, have a family member in the hospital, or need to respond to another emergency. And if the phone rings at that ungodly hour, it’s a pretty safe bet it’s not the call telling you that you’ve won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.

So, the other night when I was jolted awake by the phone, I knew it wasn’t good news. I fumbled for the handset in the dark, pushed the talk button and croaked out a greeting. It was a dispatcher from my alarm company who wanted to let me know that my phone was out of order.

“Let me get this straight,” I replied, dropping my head back to my pillow. “You called to tell me that my phone isn’t working?”

The woman sounded perplexed by my response. “Yes, ma’am. You see, we received a code that the phone line was down and we wanted to call and tell you about the problem.”

Had it been any other time of the day, I would’ve laughed, but nothing is funny at 2:30 a.m. I told her I appreciated her concern, assured her I was in no immediate danger and politely explained that since we were talking from the phone line in question, she could feel free to disregard the code.

“I hadn’t thought about that,” she said. “That’s a good point. I am so sorry for bothering you.”

“Not a problem,” I told her, preparing to hang up.

However, she wasn’t quite finished. “Now, before I go could you please tell me your passcode so I can confirm that I am speaking with the homeowner?”

Now I am all for precautions, but I’m not always prepared for a pop quiz in the middle of the night. I rattled off the first four digits that jumped into my head and was told they were incorrect. I tried another set that was either my son’s birthday or my high school locker combination, but that wasn’t right either. I tried three more times, told her to give me a hint and asked to use one of my lifelines before finally giving up on trying to pass the math portion of her SAT.

“No offense, ma’am, but it is 2:30 in the morning. I applaud what you are doing here however; I can assure you that I really am the homeowner. If I were a burglar, I wouldn’t have answered the phone in the first place. I wouldn’t have taken the time to reason with you and I wouldn’t conveniently know Julie Young’s birthdate, her son’s cell phone number, her billing address and her mother’s maiden name!”

After giving her the digits of my landline, the one she had dialed only five minutes before, the dispatcher let me off the hook. I tried to go back to sleep but I couldn’t help hoping that the next time she fears there is something strange in the neighborhood, she calls Ghostbusters instead of me!

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February Column Michiana House & Home: A gift from the heart

gift-wrap-station-4      My mother was not – by anyone’s definition – a pack rat. She did not see the sentimental value in “stuff” and did not hang on to anything that served no purpose. She harbored no collections that needed regular dusting and avoided any activity that required a large supply of some-assembly-required supplies.

She did, however, have an unusual horde of gently used gift-wrap, boxes, tissue paper, ribbons and bows that she kept in the doors and drawers of our basement cabinetry. It was the kind of wrapping paper she used throughout the year and not the huge box of Christmas paper that was stored in the attic and only brought down during the holiday season. This all-occasion cornucopia was the closet thing to a craft closet that we had and it was an irresistible treasure trove to a creative type such as myself.

It always seemed like such a treat to be sent to the basement in order to find the perfect wrapping paper for someone’s present. I took great care to rifle through the remnants in search of something that was an appropriate size for the gift it would cover along with coordinating accouterments. There were some guidelines associated with this prized task of course: I was not allowed to use any gift-wrap still in its cellophane package. I was to be extra careful with the scissors because my mother did not have time to take me to the hospital if I stabbed myself. (Yes, I swear she actually said this.) And naturally, I was not allowed to waste transparent tape.

Despite this exhaustive set of rules, I still managed to make a few mistakes. Chief among them was my inability to connect the right kind of gift-wrap with the recipient. I was fine when it came to my friends because I chose paper I recognized from my last birthday, but how was I to know that I could not wrap a gift for my grandma in paper that read “For the Ancient One?”

I also discovered it was wrong to encase an end-of-the-year teacher gift in gold wedding paper…especially if your teacher happens to be a Catholic nun. (In my defense, I thought the doves on the paper were supposed to be the Holy Spirit.) However, my finest moment came on Valentine’s Day when my brother and I presented our parents with an assortment of hand-painted rocks (yes, real out-of-someone’s-driveway-rocks) festooned in a bright pastel pink and blue print.

“Oh look,” my mother said, trying not to laugh. “Baby shower paper!”

“Is this your way of trying to tell me something?” My dad asked.

Although I didn’t get the apparent joke in what I’d done, it was my way of telling them how much I loved them. I chose the paper I liked the most because in my young estimation, it was the best of the bunch. Nothing was too good for my mom and dad and there was no better paper to cover a truly pointless, but well-intentioned gift from the heart.

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Michiana house & Home Magazine: Head’s Up!

IMG_0417      There is nothing that will bring your day to a grinding halt like a case of head lice. It doesn’t matter if you are working out, cooking dinner, catching up on your e-mails or having an otherwise productive life, all activity will come to an unceremonious end the second you find some creepy-looking bug crawling around in someone’s hair.

When the College Man contracted a case of this crud during a recent school break, it’s no exaggeration to say that the house went on lockdown as if it were under attack. The beds were stripped and sheets washed in the hottest of temperatures. The mattresses and furniture were fumigated to prevent further infestation. Every surface was scoured with the most powerful concoction on the planet while the affected individual was quarantined to a barstool and told not to touch anything. (For the record, he sat there looking wide-eyed and panicked as if he might spontaneously combust at any moment.)

Over the next several hours, as I combed through the boy’s follicles to remove his little “friends” and their demon spawn, I couldn’t help wondering why we freak out as much as we do about this condition. (Keep in mind; the child has a LOT of hair so I had plenty of time to devote to this issue.) It’s not that lice isn’t a serious problem that must be dealt with immediately, but why does such a small bug illicit a reaction typically reserved for a declaration of war? We see insects doing all kinds of things all of the time, but we usually don’t flip out about it. In fact, if we spot a unique specimen in the yard, we might even call our families over to take a look at it. Lice, on the other hand, usually causes people run for the hills.

So why is it different? My guess is because bugs aren’t supposed to be there in the first place. It’s not unlike finding a mouse in the house. We understand mice exist and were created to perform several important jobs. They eat cheese. They give cats something to chase and they head up major entertainment corporations, but we don’t want to see them rooting around our kitchens. The same goes for lice. I’m perfectly fine with them being in the yard or garden, but settling a colony in my son’s hair? Not so much.

In the weeks that followed, I had a minor freak out every time my head itched and I could not pass a mirror without searching my scalp for signs of life. Although I had done everything to rid my home of these unwanted guests, the memory of their visit lingered, as did the sympathy scratches. While I am not one for using this column as a PSA, in this season of hats, scarves and other cranial coverings, consider this your heads up to be on the lookout for these creatures and to get a jump on them before they bite out a huge chunk of your day!

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December Column Michiana House & Home: Don’t Miss The Big Picture

In case you haven’t noticed, there is something special in the air this month. It’s being featured in nearly every television commercial and newspaper advertisement. It’s the theme of a diverse line of festive clothing not to mention a wide range of toys, games, home décor and other seasonal merchandise. It has its roots in an ancient religious tradition, is represented by a merry band of beloved characters and is the kind of miraculous event retailers began celebrating in July. Now with only a few shorts weeks to go before the big day, the buzz has built to a fever pitch. If I were being honest, I would have to admit that I too am caught up in the excitement.

After all, it’s not every day that a new Star Wars movie comes out!

Star wars nativity

Why am I NOT surprised someone has actually done this?

Yes, on December 18, The Force Awakens will be released in theaters and while few people would compare it to the Christmas holiday, I can’t help seeing the similarities: It cannot live up to the hype, will never be as good as the original and is just not as much fun without little kids in the house to share it with. Nonetheless, we will buy our overpriced tickets, wait in long lines at the concession stands and sit through an ungodly amount of previews so that two hours later we can convince ourselves it was the best flick of the franchise. (Remember when we thought that about Episode I?)

Why do we do this? We spend months preparing for and placing unrealistic expectations on an event that is over in a day and cannot hope to be as perfect as we would like it to be. We tell ourselves it will all be worth it to see old friends like Han, Luke and Leia again, but no amount of screen time can make us forget the long years we had to endure Jar Jar Binks. In addition, the awesome threesome is not as young as they used to be, probably won’t get involved in a lot of the hijinks, and have yet to tell anyone how long they plan to stay. Personally, I will be bummed if they take off before the first dogfight.

Don’t get me wrong, it was nice of the Disney Company and Lucas Films to think of us this year and bring us this wonderful addition to our collection all wrapped in a giant holiday bow, but I worry many will fail to accept this gift as it was intended and at face value, because they are too busy comparing it to the movies we’ve received before. If there is one thing that the new Star Wars movie and the holidays have to teach us it’s that when we get too bogged down in the details, we miss the big picture. And if we miss the big picture, then we lose out on a significant chapter of what could turn out to be the Greatest Story Ever Told.

May the spirit of Christmas (and The Force) be with you, always.

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November Column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Belt Sanders, Boy Scouts and Bad Judgment

Belt sander           I was only upstairs for a minute when I heard my oldest son scream.

“Julie, come quick! Chris’ leg is caught in the sander!” My mother yelled.

I raced down the basement steps as fast as I could and when I reached my father’s workshop, there was my child, tears streaming down his face and the fabric of his sweatpants twisted around one of my father’s power tools.

If there were two things my father loved in this world it was his power tools and his grandson. He could do anything with the former and God knows he would do anything for the latter. So when the boy asked him to help him craft a Pinewood Derby car for an upcoming Cub Scout event, naturally my father said yes.

I only had one rule for this caper: No power tools. Cancer had made dad a little loopy and after his medications caused him to declare himself Batman, it seemed safer not to let him operate a major piece of machinery.

He disagreed and from the moment we started the project, he lobbied for me to lift the ban. “It would go a whole lot faster if I could just use my tools,” he commented.

“No dice,” I replied.

“Oh come on,” Dad pleaded. “It’s taking him a month of Sundays to make a cut using a manual saw, if I could fire up the jigsaw…”

“You could lose a finger,” I shot back. “I’m sorry. It’s not happening.”

Assuming he subject was closed, I went upstairs for a minute and sent my mother down to supervise the operation. However, in my absence, my father turned on the charm and convinced my son to let him break out a sander to smooth down their vehicle. What happened next is a bit of a blur, but from what I understand, dad bypassed his harmless, vibrating palm device and went right for his giant belt sander, which was about two-feet long, loud and dangerous. He gave the machine to Chris to hold while he leaned over the workbench to plug it in. When he reached for it, his hand hit the power switch causing the machine to come alive while it was still in Chris’ lap.

Dad felt terrible. He wouldn’t hurt that child for the world. It was a lapse in judgment and we all knew it even Chris, who was unharmed but convinced he would have to go through life with a belt sander stuck to his trousers.

“No baby, we’ll cut your pants off. It’ll be all right,” my mother promised.

“Why don’t we let him take his pants off and THEN worry about getting the fabric out of the sander?” I suggested. “Let’s not further traumatize the boy by coming at him with a pair of scissors.”

Admittedly it was not my father’s finest hour but it was a memorable moment and nearly 20 years later, even Chris has to smile when he hears the story retold. After all, time heals all wounds, that which does not kill us makes us stronger and humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.




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October Column Michiana House & Home Magazine: A Scary Good Time

Haunted House        It arrived in the mailbox every October like clockwork: the monthly newsletter from my bank’s “Kid’s Club” bearing a coupon for one free admission to the local haunted house. If there was ever a time I wished my letter carrier would lose my address, this was it. Unfortunately for me, he never did.

Now, I don’t want to imply that I was a chicken or anything, but I’ve never understood the entertainment value in being scared. I’m not a fan of things popping up in front of me, creeping up behind me, or going bump in the night. Why would I subject myself to this kind of thing on purpose?

It was bad enough that I slept with a night-light until I was a teenager, but I also possessed a rather vivid imagination that got the best of me at times. One night I saw the shadow of a stray cat with its back arched slink by the ledge of my bedroom window and thinking it was a kidnapper or severed head, my screams woke up the entire household and quite frankly I’ve never been the same.

Naturally, the idea of going to a place designed to freak me out held no appeal for me and I was quick to hide the newsletter in my desk before my mother could spot it and start planning a family outing.

Needless to say my older brother did not share my opinion of haunted houses and actually looked forward to this event every year, if for no other reason than to watch me squirm. I glared at him as he showed his coupon to our mother the night we received them.

“Oh look, it’s a free coupon to the Haunted House,” she announced as she cooked dinner. “We should go. Julie, did you get one as well?”

I thought about lying, but the smirk on my brother’s face told me he would rat me out if I did. Instead, I tried another tactic. “Yeah, I did but I think I am too old for haunted houses. You guys go ahead and I’ll stay home,” I told her. Did I mention I was all of eight-years-old at the time?

“Oh no, we should do this together,” she gushed. “I’ll talk to daddy and maybe we can go this weekend. It’ll be fun.”

There was no point in arguing. This was the same woman who bought a novelty album full of frightening noises to play on Halloween night. For added effect, she turned off all of the lights, fired up a few candles and greeted trick-or-treaters at the door wearing a witch’s costume. Like it or not, I would be dragged kicking and screaming to a place that would give me nightmares for a week.

To this day I avoid haunted houses. To me, a house should represent safety and protection from the outside world. It shouldn’t be the enemy and if the ghosts and goblins have laid claim to a structure, I’m certainly not going to fight them for it.

Happy Halloween!




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