21-1My youngest recently turned 21, which got me to reminiscing about what I was up to when I was that age:

  • I lived in Des Moines.
  • My husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary a couple months earlier.
  • I worked as a typist in an insurance company claims department — you know, Des Moines.
  • We were in the Hand-Me-Down-Mix-n-Match Era. (Translation: the furnishings of our little duplex on 62nd Street were s-p-a-r-s-e.)
  • I had fully recovered from the bloody nose and busted lip I got shortly before that Big Birthday. [Don’t ask.*]

But these factoids do not reveal those things I aspired to, things I dreamed of, things I wanted to be. Let’s time travel to that day long ago and visit the yearnings of my barely (but official) adult heart:


1. I wanted to live on a few acres and raise chickens, maybe a goat, grow a big garden, and tend an orchard and bee hives. 

Yes, I actually told people I wanted to do thisI blame this short-lived earth-woman-greener-than-Kermit-the-Frog-country-lifestyle fantasy on those wonderful visits to the farm as a teen, as well as the mystique associated with beekeeping (my uncle tended quite a few hives and my dad dabbled). But the reality is: I am a city kid, born and bred. I’m betting that if I were actually in charge of said mini farm, the plants would likely die or yield precious little, having been molested by pests, overcome by frost, or some other calamity, and the animals would probably only stick around for a couple of days before wandering off in search of a for-real farmer. The bees would probably buzz off, too.


Lambs Quarters

But lately I hear more and more about slow food and heirloom seeds and ethical eating and all, and I think I really should have a hand in producing at least a tiny portion of what ends up on our dinner table. So last year I planted some perennial herbs in a little bed out back. I added a few tomato plants and then transplanted some lambs quarters (a volunteer green that is quite yummy sauteed or steamed and added to dishes — you know, weeds just might be my forté). It’s not much, but all the fussing over bugs and watering and keeping it weeded helps me tip my hat to and cosmically connect with the folks who labor to produce all the delicious local organic foods I enjoy.

May they carry on in perpetuity.


2. I wanted to see Europe. More specifically, France. 

I bandied this about as well. At 21, my French was still somewhat fluent and I longed to see the places that my years of education in things Français had brought to life: I’d tour champagne country, drink in the beauty of magnificent jardins, get lost in the chateaux, nibble on some bistro chèvre and crèpes and chocolat, and, of course, hit the biggies: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysee and Arc de Triomphe, the Seine, Versailles.

Unfortunately, during those early years, setting aside funds for travel abroad was beyond our reach. We were in the mode of parceling out our modest wages on practical things, like chairs to sit on and lamps to read by, and spanking down those college bills. In the meantime, something else began to gradually overtake my European yearning.

states_imgmapAs we rewarded and entertained our frugal little selves with a weekend road trip here, or a little educational excursion there, before we knew it, we got hooked on seeing the good old U.S. of A. We’ve now seen 48 of the 50 states, dozens of national parks, and what seems like countless historic points of interest and natural wonders (plus several forays into both Canada and Mexico), I like to think we are destined to hit the Final Two before we croak. They are — drumroll — Montana (I know, why didn’t we bop on over when we were in either Idaho or Wyoming?!) and Alaska. It’d be simple enough to accomplish this in one colossal expedition — the Quintessential Dyer Road Trip.


3. I wanted to be a women’s counselor. I didn’t tell a soul about this one, though. At 21, I didn’t imagine I had enough life experience or training to be giving no kind of advice or guidance to others. After all, I had a big enough challenge just navigating my own obstacle course. Yet, deep down in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to help people along their way. Women, in particular.

I had seen this book laying on my husband’s desk; while he was travelling overnight for work, I read it: How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, by Alan Laiken. The author touted many of the classic principles of time management and life coaching. The part that stuck with me, though, was what he said about writing down your goals. He didn’t let you off with writing just one set of goals, no — he said a person needed six-month goals, three-to-five-year goals, and lifetime goals. So I wrote. And then I stuck the little piece of chartreuse paper in a private journal.

I would pull the list out periodically and it would jump off the page: Become a women’s counselor. Mr. Laiken had said that if you didn’t devote at least ten minutes a day doing something that helped you progress toward your lifetime goal, then you weren’t “owning” it. I was working in an administrative support capacity and later became a full-time mom — no counselor training in the offing. Long stretches of time would pass between reviews of the short list on the chartreuse paper. Every time I got it out, I felt less and less justified in even yearning to do this. What was I thinking? Unless I am willing to make sacrifices and get the necessary education, I should just give it up.

I hung onto the piece of paper for twenty years before I finally admitted, Who are you kidding, Linda. You haven’t been on track to accomplish this and you’re not going to get on track. I tossed it in the waste basket. I felt less burdened, but a little sad at the same time.

I continued raising kids and being a wife and doing the kinds things middle age women typically do. And all the while, I rarely thought about my original hankering. I was busy learning new skills, venturing into new territory professionally, cultivating a network of friends in a new community, and finding satisfaction in it all. Then one day, one of these new friends made a pointed statement about how the things I had said really helped her see beyond an impasse. In reply I said something about always having wanted to help people.

And that’s when it hit me.

I had found my way to the fulfilling of my heart’s desire after all, without even realizing it. I looked around in my life and saw all the ways I was actually doing it — I just hadn’t hung out a shingle. In fact, it’s not really my style to help others in a for-pay context. I learned early on that I didn’t enjoy sewing when I was paid to do it — those jobs always seemed like such a chore — I much preferred to do it “for love”. Likewise, I would much prefer to “help” for the sake of friendship and love, not profit. I had become more confident now that I had more ample life experience, had accumulated a significant body of knowledge, and variety of skill sets. I realized that in the course of just living my life, I had found frequent opportunities to use my gifts to provide a leg up” for others.

My dream came true: I became a helper of women.


* Okay, since you went ahead and asked anyway: I was in an auto accident. And I’m here to tell you it’s very difficult to claim it’s the other guy’s fault when you hit a parked vehicle. And I wasn’t even texting! 

But forever after, I religiously placed my purse on the back seat so as not to tempt me to take my eyes off the road to rummage through it looking for, lets say, some stupid nail clippers. And yes, it was acutely embarrassing.



My regular readers are no doubt aware of my word recognition gaffe last week. You know, the one that caused me to misread a label that said “Fire Dry Standpipe” and go around telling folks I saw a “Fire Dry Sand Pipe” and then feeling dorky when upon finding out there is no such thing. (Who knew the absence of one teensy weensy little letter would be such a big deal?…)

On the positive side, the episode produced some levity: I had a good laugh; others joined me.

On the negative side, my brain just wouldn’t let it go. This imaginary entity, “Sand Pipe”, took on a life of its own up yonder in my grey matter. I regret to report to you that it became a mild fixation. (Being me isn’t as simple as it might seem on the surface.)

So today, in the spirit of free speech, free annual credit reports, and free kittens, I’m going to crack open the door into my alternatively wired mind and provide a glimpse of its meanderings when hyper-focused on the nonsensical, silly, or absurd…


Sand Pipe #1

Sand Pipe Weapon


Sand Pipe #2

LKD Sandpipes


…and Sand Pipe #3

smokless piper


Okay, now maybe my brain can get back to the business of actually doing my life.

I hope.

(Thank you for your sympathy. Feel free to light a candle, recite a prayer or send positive thoughts — but just those that are as straight and sober as possible, so as to minimize my chances of getting caught in another loop of random silliness…)

Good day, good luck, and good vibrations.

Over and out.

t5-lighting-parking-garageEvery work day, I park in a six-level parking garage on campus. I usually manage to park in just about the same slot on the Blue Level. For nearly six years now.

I just noticed the other day this big red label on a large vertical pipe near “my spot”. But the label didn’t make any sense to me. Curious, I asked this official-looking-clipboard-toting-guy-in-a-hard-hat if he could tell me what it meant. I was out of luck. He said he was the Elevator Guy, there for an inspection, and didn’t have a clue.

Later on, a couple of people were standing near my desk when something reminded me of the oddly labeled pipe, so I posed the question again.

“Hey, I just noticed this label on a pipe in the parking garage by where I park — do you guys know what “Fire Sand Pipe” means?”


“Yeah. Fire Sand Pipe.”

“What’s it look like?”

“Oh, it’s about this big around (at which point I gesture a circle about 4-5 inches in diameter). Has a valve on it. But what could that even mean… like, would it shoot sand and put out fires?”



“I mean, that wouldn’t be so good for the finish on the vehicles…”

“No, Linda, but neither is fire…”

She made a good point. But I still didn’t know what a Fire Sand Pipe might be.

“I’ll bet you can figure this out since you’re not as busy these days, seeing how you haven’t been writing your ‘two posts a week’…”


After our little exchange, I typed my query into a search bar. I was not expecting what appeared when I hit “Enter”.

Apparently, there is no such thing as a Fire Sand Pipe. HOWEVER, a Fire Standpipe is a device that serves the same function as a hydrant within a building or on a bridge, enabling fire fighters to connect hoses to it to manually apply water to a fire.*

There you go. Mystery solved.

So you’d think at this point I’d be good, right?

Nope. This new information only begged the question, Is there a typo out there on the pipe in the garage, or am I severely challenged when it comes to reading vertically lettered words? I was seriously hoping it was the former, and more than a little afraid it was the latter. The work day would end soon enough and I’d have my answer.

Capture7So I’m guessing by now you probably figured out that a company that installs these bad boys in buildings and parking structures and such would have a whole slew of labels ready to slap on their newly installed pipes, and somebody would have noticed by now if a prominent letter had been omitted on their supply of nifty labels. As I approached my car and saw the lettering going down the side of the pipe, I chuckled.

It is perhaps germane to include at this point that on the day I noticed the lettering on the pipe, there was a layer of grit that crunched underfoot when I stepped out of my car. I began to wonder if all the “sand” had somehow leaked out of the contraption. It didn’t even occur to me in the moment that the garage surface does indeed slope toward a drain near the standpipe and the grit had, in fact, been deposited there by rainwater flowing toward the drain.

So, did I read “Fire Sand Pipe” because of all the grit?

Or did I misread the label and then begin to muse about the sand underfoot?

All of this now begs my final question.

Exactly how many things do I misperceive in the course of a day?

I’ve noticed that from time to time I get things wrong. (Actually, the frequency might be increasing in recent years, but I’m not inclined to own this just yet.) I’ll figure out my error later, after having insisted that this or that was the gospel truth. Fortunately, admitting I’m wrong gets easier as I get older — I’ve figured out there are way too many more important things than my “right-ness” to grasp tightly — but it’s still not my favorite thing to do. So, instead, I try to footnote my declarative statements with a little nod to the possibility that I just might be incorrect, inaccurate, or mistaken. You know, wrong.

I don’t do this because I don’t believe what I say is right or correct. (Whoa, did I just put two negatives together like that?) Like when I was telling Elevator Inspector Man about the label “Fire Sand Pipe” on the Blue Level and asking what it meant — I didn’t question what I’d “seen”. But having found out I’ve been wrong one too many times — after the fact — I avoid being overly dogmatic about things. That doesn’t just apply to facts, either: I’ve decided that some of my opinions weren’t all that seaworthy and have changed my mind about what’s “right” when presented with better information, and on more than a few occasions.

When someone is trying like the Dickens to help set me straight, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to learn because I’m hell bent on maintaining some original assertion. Happily, I find that most people, upon encountering a flexible posture, are generally gracious in putting forth what they know to be true in the face of what I’ve gotten wrong. I suppose it’s sort of like not having to use a ram rod when the door’s already ajar.

So next time we’re chatting it up and I say something strange, like, Hey, you know, there’s this Fire Sand Pipe out in the parking garage, or some other similarly odd thing — go easy, okay? I promise I’ll listen, because I really am open to getting it right…

Meanwhile, I be at the Brain Gym, doing my Vertical Lettering Exercises.


* Fire standpipes can be either dry or wet. Dry standpipes do not have water in them and require a fire truck to supply water to the system. (Hoses are generally stored nearby.) Wet standpipes are filled with water and are pressurized at all times, enabling building occupants to attach the hoses and fight fires quickly. Ours is dry.


Bidding Lucille Goodbye

March 25, 2014 — 2 Comments

I was organizing a file drawer the other day. calaIn the process I ran across a photo of someone who played a key role during a very difficult time in my life, nearly twenty years ago. Although Lucille and I hadn’t known each other very long and weren’t too well acquainted, she stepped up the moment I indicated I needed help. She was old enough to be my mother, and admittedly, that made it easier to let her nurture me.

More importantly, there was something about her that let me know she’d been there, and I needed someone who could relate to my trouble. As I described the thicket that had me hemmed in on all sides, she calmly and gently guided me with some of the simplest and most profound wisdom I’d ever received. Then she prayed with me. Her advice was 24-carat; her willingness to support me through the difficulty, priceless.

We hadn’t been in touch for years, but, as looked at her picture, I decided to let her know how much her being there for me had meant. I’d send her a letter. Since I knew her husband’s name and her town, I figured it’d be pretty easy to find her in the online White Pages. One click led to another, and next thing I knew I was reading her obituary. The pang of regret was immediate. Why hadn’t I bothered to express my sentiments before now?

I wish this was the first bout I’ve lost in this arena. But I got body slammed several years ago, during the course of a conversation with an old friend. She said her mother had suffered significant memory loss due to Alzheimer’s. The list of people who spoke words of affirmation to me during my youth isn’t terribly long, unfortunately. But this woman’s name was definitely on it. I had always meant to let her know that her kind and thoughtful words were a critical lifeline to me as I floundered in a sea of adolescent self doubt. Now she wouldn’t even remember who I was.

But Lucille was younger. I still had time, right?


The window of opportunity can, and does, close without notice.

Ordinarily, I’d wait to post this. I’d time it to appear seasonally, right before Mother’s Day. I’d urge us all to remember those women who served as de facto mothers. I’d say some things about how important it is to let them know that their words were life-giving.

But waiting has bitten me twice now.

I don’t want it to bite anyone else.

So, if you have someone — anyone — who has been pure oxygen to your flagging spirits, who gave you a fresh look at who you really were, and who inspired you to believe you could become that person*…

Contact them now.

As powerful as their words and support were to you will be your confirmation back to them, assuring them that they had a positive impact on your life.

And isn’t that something we yearn for? To be significant? To know we’ve made a difference in someone’s life?

Fufill their yearning. Let them know.

You know who they are. Find the phone number. Look up the school address where he or she may still be teaching. Ferret out whatever it is you need to relay your gratitude and appreciation to this person.

It will do something wonderful and real inside you, but I promise it will do something deep in them, too.

I challenge you…

Don’t put it off. Just do it.


Because you really don’t want to wait until you’re reading an obituary.

[*Mr. Rogers expresses this beautifully in his acceptance speech for a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Emmy’s.] 



Established fact: I am a city girl.angus

Knowing (and even understanding) this fact has never kept me from succumbing intermittently to fantasies about country living and its imagined simplicity, or peace and quiet. But my reveries inevitably give way to the realities country living would necessarily entail, at which point I circle back to square one: I’m not particularly suited for country life. I guess I’ve spent too many years learning how to thrive while living “amongst”, rather than “dispersed”.

My two-year stint of quasi-rural life in the northern Great Plains during the mid-70’s only reinforced what I had already figured out. We lived in a town of about 10,000, which was the fourth largest town in the entire state. When you drove beyond the city limits in any direction, you had to drive at least fifteen miles before reaching the nearest town. The surrounding towns were s – m – a – double – l, as in fewer than 300 residents. To dine at a restaurant a step up from the local Country Kitchen required a sixty mile drive; a shopping mall, twice that distance. Such realities clashed with my more urban sensibilities. It seemed entirely possible that civilization could be spread too thin. I just wasn’t cut out for living in a rural context.

But living in the country and visiting the country are two very different things. I have discovered that I’m quite well suited for visiting the country.

My very first visit was in early adolescence. My parents had joined a church to which several farm families also belonged. A couple of these families had girls very close to my age with whom I became friends. When summer rolled around, I was invited to spend a week at a time on their farms. This could have put me in hog heaven, but alas, they raised Angus and Holstein.

I swapped out the more typical camp experience for these wonderful visits. While I may not have slept in bunks in a cabin, learned archery/water sports/campfire songs, or pulled pranks on the counselor, thanks to my country friends, I could anticipate an annual week or two of farm festivities, right up to the time I left home. And I rather preferred the enrichment of these excursions into country life.

After all, a city girl could learn a lot on a farm. Such as:

1. Sheets hung out on the line in the country smell incredible. Our family’s laundry was regularly hung on the line to dry, but when I made the beds at night, our sheets didn’t smell nearly as good as the country sheets.

2. Though you will see lots of cats, you are unlikely to make contact with even one of them. Since my mom insisted that all things feline remain outdoors, any mice we encountered were dealt with by mousetrap. Which meant that these farm visits were my introduction to a) the idea of “cats as mousers”, b) the need to keep the rodent population at bay in barns, and c) the benefit of having a sizable cat population. (The central theme of all those Tom and Jerry cartoons must have gone right over my head.)

While I understood their personal mission statements incorporated “Devour rodents in barn”, I couldn’t get my mind around these farm cats being completely indifferent to my presence. I think I took it personally.

3. 4-H is way cool. From time to time, my visits would coincide with 4-H functions and I would get to tag along. I was always amazed by the achievements, accomplishments and accolades of my rural age peers. Since I, too, had an interest in sewing and dressmaking, some of the intricate projects these kids undertook pretty much knocked my socks off.

4. It’s imperative to watch where you’re stepping. Enough said?

5. A calf’s tongue = sandpaper. I was startled the first time one poked her head through a fence and latched onto my finger. My utter deficit of farm critter savvy meant I would mindlessly allow this scenario to occur more than once. (Get it?…utter/udder…heh heh.)

6. Putting up hay = boys. Since the farm families I knew had mostly girls (only one son among a combined total of ten children!), they hired local teenage boys to help with the mowing, baling, and storing of the hay. My friends tried to time my visits during the hay season. (Good friends, indeed.) Sometimes I got to ride shotgun on the tractor fender while one of my friends drove the Deere, other times I helped get meals ready. After a long and sweltering Midwest summer’s day spent man handling hay bales, everyone headed for the pond to cool off, which took some of the sting out of the mandatory sunburn.

7. You will never get your swimsuit looking clean again after swimming in the pond. Period.

8. Homemade ice cream is fantastic. Where had it been all my life? This farm-fresh, frozen wonderfulness was the perfect finale to a day of putting up hay. The bale-toting guys each took a turn at hand cranking the ice cream freezer until cranking the dasher reached the desired level of difficulty, at which point the contraption yielded it’s extraordinarily delicious contents.

Curious, but this was the only time the cats actually came around…

9. Having a 500-gallon gasoline tank on your property and being able to fill your car for free is great. Okay, so the gas isn’t exactly free, but that’s how it seemed to me at the time, given the absence of a commercial gas pump clicking off the gallons by tenths, along with the corresponding price in dollars. No driving out of your way to find a service station, no jockeying for an open pump, no waiting in line to pay — opulence befitting a sultan, I’d say.

10. The night sky in the country is dazzling. The ambient light of the city ruled out such splendor, but away from the city — the stars, the moonlight… amazingly brilliant against the inky blackness. Now, a girl could get used to that.

Okay, so here’s what I didn’t tell you about the engagement ring last time (Box Office Blues):

Shopping for the ring was a genu-ine adventure.

When my husband moved to Seattle, he got acquainted with a college friend’s dad who purchased cosmetics and jewelry for a large drug store chain in the Northwest. When he learned that Art was about to pop the big question and was in the market for a ring, he wrote down the name of one of his wholesale connections, along with the phone number and address of his business. Apparently, this man could hook you up.

I flew up for semester break and learned we’d be buying rings from this guy downtown who was supposed to be giving us a really good deal. Okay, I thought, whatever works. We found the correct block, parked, and fed the meter. The address we were looking for was in the middle of the block, but it was just a door. We walked in and proceeded down a slightly dim, narrow hallway.

This is sorta weird. So, where’s the jewelry showroom?  

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I imagined we were going to a Zale’s or something. Shows you how much I understood about “wholesale”. We spotted the door with the jeweler’s name on it. A short, bespectacled man with a slight paunch and thinning hair answered the door.

“Hello. My name is Art, and this is Linda, my fiancée. Bob said you might be able to help us — we’re looking to buy wedding rings.”

“Oh, right! Come on in.” We entered the smallish office. Not a piece of jewelry anywhere in sight.

“Give me a minute to wrap up some paperwork and I’ll be right with you.” Before long, he grabbed some keys and headed for the door.

“Come with me.”

He led us back out into the hallway, locking the office door behind him. We followed him on down the hall to a freight elevator. The three of us rode it to another floor — another new experience for me. Then down another hallway to a nondescript door. He unlocked it. The room was filled with safes, one of which he opened, then lifted out several large oblong trays. He stacked them on a counter, and placed one directly in front of us, removing  the lid.

I tried hard not to gasp audibly. Inside that tray were more diamonds and gold than I’d ever seen in one place in my entire life! This explains why all the keys and safes! l stood there, just staring like a fool at q dazzling array of brilliant and fiery gems, exquisitely highlighted by the black velvet inside the tray.

“See anything you like?”

Ha! He’s kidding, right? They’re ALL gorgeous! 

Our host must have noticed my head spinning. He helped out by selecting several individual rings, placing them on the lid of the tray. Then he handed me one. I gingerly took it from him.

“Wow, that’s nice,” I murmured, as I held the diamond solitaire up to my hand. He repeated this gesture several more times, and as I put each one to my finger, it scored a perfect 10. Realizing we would be there quite a while at this rate, my husband thought of a way to narrow the search.

“How much is that one?”

The man turned over a tiny tag on the ring to get a look, then quoted a price that reflected his 50% wholesale discount, which was still about twice as much as we could afford. We spelled out our price range, and he went for a different tray. (This is hard to believe now, but my husband’s starting training salary in 1969 was a whopping $500 a month.)

Again, he lifted the lid, revealing more stunning rings — more modest*, but dazzling in their own right. We’re talking diamonds here. I continued with the selection process until he handed me one that especially caught my fancy.

Oooo, I really like that one.” My sweetheart agreed.

“It does have a lot of fire,” the man pointed out. Indeed, it did. We then asked him his opinion regarding the ring’s design. What he said in reply has since become a favorite and oft-used line in our family:

“If you like it, it’s niiice.”

Sold to the young, mildly impoverished suitor from Kent! He lifted the matching wedding band from the tray, replaced the lid, and returned all the trays to the safe. Back down in his office, he boxed the rings and wrote up the ticket. Having completed the transaction, we thanked the helpful wholesale merchant and waltzed out of his establishment and back out into the fresh air. Did we really just get my rings?!!

[Insert Bond movie here.]

A few days later, I would find myself back in my dorm in southern California — in bed with the flu, in fact. My appetite was gone, but attentive roommates insisted on keeping me supplied with fresh hand-squeezed orange juice and grapefruits from the dining hall. Another friend brought fresh-squeezed tomato juice. (This was, after all, southern Cal, and the food at our school was exceptionally high quality.) I consumed all offerings, hoping to stay hydrated. I had just slid back into bed after downing some o.j. when, about ten minutes later, I started to feel tingly.

Hmmm. That’s strange…

Moments later, the tingling morphed into itching. I mean, serious itching. And I felt flushed. I headed for the medicine cabinet mirror. The visage staring back at me was horrifying: my face was covered with welts! I glanced down — my arms were covered, too. I lifted my pajama top — Aack!! they were even on my tummy. The welts grew larger and larger as I watched. I stumbled down the hall in search of someone — anyone! — to help me.

I spotted a girl at her desk. She took one look and emphatically declared, “I’m calling the infirmary right now! You go lay back down!” I did. But lying there alone, my thoughts spun out of control. What dreadful disease had I caught in Seattle? How serious will it be? A couple minutes later, she came to my room.

“The nurse said it sounds like hives.”

Never heard of them. Can’t be good…

“She doesn’t think they’re serious and they’ll probably clear up in a little while, but meanwhile, we’re supposed to get you into a warm bath and dump some baking soda in it.”

The bath solution immediately soothed the itching. I relaxed in the therapeutic waters for about fifteen minutes, at which point the hives had nearly disappeared. So I got out of the tub, wrapped my robe around me, and headed back to bed. The last thing I remember seeing was a girl sitting cross-legged on the floor, visiting with one of my roommates.

When I came to, I was staring up into a cluster of faces. Apparently, I had gotten out of the tub too quickly, so the blood rushed from my head. Naturally, when I fainted, everyone came running. And now all of them were hovering over me, peering at my now hive-less face.

“Are you okay?!”

It took a moment to get oriented. They quickly filled me in on the sequence of events and why I was flat on my back in the hallway. I made a move to get back up, but the visiting girl stopped me.

“I think you need to stay here a little longer. We don’t need you fainting again.” I obediently put my head back down.

“What’s this?” she asked, holding up my newly ring-clad hand.

A roommate gave her the scoop. “She flew up to Seattle and got engaged over the break.”

“So, that’s it!” Moving her head closer to mine, she quipped, “You’re allergic to this ring! I think you should give it to me — I’ll hang onto it for you, heh heh.” Everyone thought this was just a riot. Unfortunately, I was too woozy to join in the hilarity. Laughter trailed down the hall as two of the girls escorted me back to bed.

I recall the incident being retold often that semester and every time feeling silly for having created such a commotion in our dorm by overdosing on vitamin C and triggering an allergic reaction.

And just for the record: I was really glad it was the citrus, and not the ring.


From our wedding album, 6-11-72.

[* A couple of years ago, a student worker in our office asked me, “You got married young, didn’t you?” I told her yes, as a matter of fact, I did. “I knew it,” she replied. “I guess based on the size of the diamond — young couples are usually pretty broke.” Nailed it, she did.]

Box office blues

March 7, 2014 — 2 Comments

What kid doesn’t like going to the movies? Whether it was mom taking us downtown on the bus to see a matinee — mostly animated Disney films — or the whole family piling into the car with our picnic basket to see a family friendly show at the drive-in, I loved it.

As a young girl, I only remember going once to a theater with just friends. Toby Tyler, Disney’s hot new release, was showing and a classmate invited me to come. I cried when Mr. Stubbs got shot (Toby’s chimpanzee companion), and then became overjoyed to find out he survived. But I also remember the popcorn smelled awesome that day and the chocolate covered raisins were particularly tempting. In addition, the theater was air conditioned. In the middle of the summer? Sheer luxury.


By the time I was junior high age and we’d moved to the South Grand area of St. Louis, there were several movie theaters within walking distance of where we lived. As I recall, the one we frequented most often was the Melvin Theater on Chippewa Street, several blocks east of Grand Avenue. This theater was popular with our family because they played second run movies and admission was only  fifty cents. This appealed to my dad, who shelled out the dough for all of us to get in. The Melvin was about ten blocks from our house, so on nice evenings the whole gang would walk there and back, stopping for Velvet Freeze ice cream cones on the way home.

ritzAnother one was the Ritz Theater on Grand at Arsenal Street. I walked past the Ritz often, on my way home from school, because it was in the same block as the Woolworth’s dime store (where my friend and her sticky fingers exited the store with that stolen notebook). I studied the movie posters in the glass cases outside the theater, but most of the time I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, so I was mostly just window shopping.

I remember seeing posters featuring some pretty big names: child star Haley Mills had been wildly successful in both Pollyanna and The Parent Trap in the early 60’s, and by the time I was strolling South Grand, she was releasing The Moonspinners and That Darn Cat. I can’t begin to t ell you how much I adored Haley Mills. I think if I could have waved a magic wand to change myself into her, I surely would have done it. (Fortunately, I was constrained to remain myself.)

The ever popular Elvis had some releases during that period, notably Viva Las Vegas, Fun in Acapulco and Kissin’ Cousins. Being a little too young to have caught the Elvis wave, I thought these movie posters were interesting, but not nearly as compelling as the…

Beatles’ movies! Oh my, I got lightheaded when Hard Day’s Night came to the Ritz. To say that I wanted to see that movie would be a gross understatement. But, as luck would have it, their music was verboten in our household, meaning I would not be buying a ticket to see it. Nor Help! And not Yellow Submarine, either. My dad had made a very big point of the utter uselessness of the British Invasion. Which left me to my reveries while poring over posters of the Lads from Liverpool. But even more sinister than British rock leaping across the Pond, was the…

Bond genre. By the time I was strolling by the Ritz after school, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger were mega blockbusters, raking in a whopping $78 million and $124 million, respectively, in worldwide box office receipts. Connery was 007 back in the day, and he projected an edgy, cool, swaggering playboy persona. I’m confidant I would have gotten off easier had I been caught sneaking off to see a Beatles movie than one of the Bond films. They were sooo off limits for Burns kids. Which explains why I was flabberghasted several years later when a certain brand new fiancé of mine suggested we see the hot new release…

Diamonds Are Forever.

Recently graduated from college, he had moved to Seattle six months earlier. I flew up from Southern California for a visit during the semester break. We had just walked out of the downtown store where we purchased my engagement ring and there, across the street, was a theater marquee emblazoned with the latest Bond flick.

“Hey, wanna go to a movie?”

“Which one?”

“Turn around and see.”

A Bond movie? Whoa, he’s not kidding. But I’ve never even seen one. And what would Dad think? Wait… Dad’s not here. And didn’t I just get… engaged? Perhaps I’m an… adult.

He had just slipped a solitaire on my finger, and I was loath to deny this simple request to take in a matinee. Plus giddy over being newly betrothed. Though contemplating such racy behavior felt strange, it didn’t keep me from taking his arm and sachaying across that street and into the theater.

And to my surprise, I enjoyed the movie. Now, I don’t think Bond movies will ever be my favorites — you know, the sheer number of things that get blown up, and all. But if you stop and think about it, it was kind of poetic that we sealed the deal that day with a movie entitled diamonds are forever. That ring sits on my hand even now, next to a wedding band. Barring its loss, the ring will likely outlive us both: an enduring symbol of our grand love affair — one that will transcend our finite existence in a legacy bequeathed to our children, grandchildren and beyond.

Nice flick pick, Sweetie.


He snapped this photo of me on the sidewalk outside the store, right after we bought the rings.

Celebrity Interview

February 28, 2014 — 2 Comments

Hey, everybody! Just because it’s Friday, and just because everybody’s worn slick by Winter 2013-14 (and there’s more wintry weather in the forecast), and just because we like you guys…

Today’s post is a Celebrity Interview!

But who?

One of the royals, perhaps?

kate middleton

A star of stage or screen?

tom hanksanne hathaway

An outstanding professional athlete?

lebron james

Or maybe someone off the Billboard charts?


Nope. None of the above.

We were fortunate enough to engage someone much more relevant to you, the faithful readership of Zero to Sixty in Five!

Today’s Celebrity Interview is with that Star of the PTA Stage, the Queen of Loveliness, the Slam Dunk Winner of the Oatmeal Brigade, and the “author” of the Author!

None other than…

[drum roll…]

Mary Anne!

1-29-09 293crop

When we contacted the mother of Zero to Sixty’s Blogsmith in Residence regarding an interview, she graciously agreed to answer our questions. She wasn’t sure she’d remember all that much, but would give it her best shot. Any concern that she wouldn’t remember enough to provide a good interview was unfounded: she waxed eloquent on topics across a spectrum.

So, without further ado…

ZTSIF: It must have been a challenge to get a family of seven off to work and school. What was your typical morning routine?

Mary Anne: Well, you get up — when you don’t want to. (Laughs). I’ve never been a “it’s-fun-to-get-up” kind of person. But once my feet hit the floor, I was awake. I’m just glad I had kids before snooze buttons on alarm clocks!

Then I probably headed downstairs to make coffee and — this was before microwaves — get some water on the stove for a pot of oatmeal. Then I would begin waking kids. Some were easy to wake up, some weren’t. I remember you as being easy to wake, right?

ZTSIF: I think so. Until high school.

Mary Anne: The kids didn’t eat breakfast all at the same time because time in the bathroom was staggered. I can’t remember what I fixed on school days other than oatmeal. If I had eggs, I usually scrambled them. And toast. I served biscuits mostly at dinner. You know, the big deal was eating dinner together.

ZTSIF: How did you learn about school cancellations on snow days?

Mary Anne: I don’t really remember. Did we have any snow days? Do you remember any?

ZTSIF: No, not really.

Mary Anne: I’m not sure they cancelled school very often because of snow. You know, people didn’t just walk into their attached garages and get in a car and never have to walk in the snow. Everyone had galoshes and you were expected to get out in it and walk. But I’m thinking there must have been some snow days. We probably listened to the radio for cancellations.

ZTSIF: October 2013’s post “Crime and Punishment” makes a reference to the popular child rearing guide, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care”. What was your reaction to Dr. Spock’s advice? Did your pediatrician recommend the book?

Mary Anne: No, our doctor didn’t recommend it. I don’t think I ever read the whole book, probably only excerpts in magazines. But I didn’t like it. He didn’t believe in disciplining children, and I always believed children should be disciplined.

I always enjoyed being a mommy. There were just so many things to do with children. You could study dinosaurs together (even though I didn’t really like dinosaurs all that much) to help your child do well on a school project. Or you could turn an orange crate on its end and find enough empty food containers to set up a little grocery store. Or you could sit everyone around the table and give each of them a needle with a different color thread and have them sew “X”es on the toes of their socks so they could be sorted easily when the laundry was done. There was always something to do together. Remember the winter party decorations when we put the pipe cleaner figurines on top of the little mirror “lake” and sprinkled fake snow all around it on the table?

Years later, when I was working outside the home, it would always make me feel sad when I heard women come in to work and say, “I’m so glad it’s Monday so I can get away from the kids for a while.”

ZTSIF: Do you remember the incident with the Brach’s candy display and making a certain young shoplifter go back into the store and return the candies?

Mary Anne: Vaguely. I knew that it needed to be a lesson. I’m glad you learned from it. That’s not anything you want to fool around with.

ZTSIF: The post “The Porch, Then and Now” (October 2013) describes the front porch on your home in Indianapolis. Talk to us about front porches.

Mary Anne: Before air conditioning, people sat on their front porches. If you had a spare moment, you headed for the porch. You got to know your neighbors, you said hello to people who passed by — it was just friendlier.

It was air conditioning that made the difference — everybody went inside. People started using decks — more for picnics and parties, maybe. I think people probably did more relaxing on porches than they do now on decks.

ZTSIF: Tell us about the accident to the porch.

Mary Anne: Two young guys — high school age — completely lost control of their car and ran it right up into the yard and into the corner of the brick porch. Your dad and brothers were gone — together, I think. It was a spring or summer mid-afternoon and you had just been outside playing about a half hour earlier. You could have really been hurt, and I was maybe rattled for a couple of days, but not too long. Life goes on. Fear didn’t grip people like it does today.

ZTSIF: Zero to Sixty in Five has portrayed you as someone who loved dressing nicely and accessorizing. Do you remember the orange corduroy dress mentioned in “The Queen and the Groupie” (September 2013)?

Mary Anne: Yes. I liked it. I can’t remember where I got it — your dad might have bought it for me. I always felt sharp in it. Which is funny, because I don’t really like orange. Which makes me think your dad probably did get it. A few years later I went to apply for a job, and I wore it. For some reason a photo was taken, either before I got the job or after, and I’m wearing that dress in it. I could probably find that picture.

Your dad also bought me a black and white plaid taffeta hostess gown. It was really meant for a woman entertaining in finer surroundings than we had, but he always enjoyed me looking good. Even when I was in my 70’s, he’d look at catalogs and pick out pretty things for me. He really enjoyed doing it.

ZTSIF: What were your thoughts while washing, combing, curling, or braiding your daughter’s hair?

Mary Anne: I know the reasons I did it: I wanted you to look cute; plus you were an extension of me, and our family, and I wanted you to look nice. But what I was thinking about while I was doing it? (Laughs.) Probably what I was going to do next! Or wondering what your younger sister might be getting into while we were doing that! There was always a lot going on in a house with that many kids.

ZTSIF: Well, it’s been a delightful interview. The management and staff at Zero to Sixty in Five thanks you for your willingness to share your reminiscences with our readership and we wish you a very pleasant evening.

(G’night, Mom!)

The one-day wonder

February 25, 2014 — 1 Comment

They say it’s important for young people to discover activities and interests that truly engage them and encourage them to be their best — so they can “express their personalities and make unique contributions to the world.” My mom hadn’t read the research supporting this assertion* — she seemed to just understand it intuitively. The woman single-handedly introduced me to more stuff that I could get excited about than you could shake a stick at. One of those things — which I’ve mentioned before — was sewing. I learned to love sewing. (An earlier post: All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go).

Her teaching style was sort of hands-off, for the most part, because I have no recollections of her hovering as I worked. Of course, that may have had something to do with her caring, not just for me, but for four other siblings plus a big household. All that notwithstanding, whenever I hit an impasse, she was always available to explain the procedure thoroughly and/or demonstrate it, making sure I really understood the concept. This instruction continued for several years, and I gradually increased the level of difficulty with each project, with her providing my safety net all along the way.

Then one day…

…she apparently thought I’d mastered enough skills to recommend my services to a professional. For real. She did. I was about fourteen when she announced that a local woman who did repairs and alterations for a dry cleaners had agreed to let me work for her.

Say what?!! Me?!! But I’m just a kid!

“What kinds of things will she want me to do?”

“I don’t know… maybe replace zippers, mend ripped seams, sew buttons back on, hem skirts and slacks… things like that.”

“Think I can do it?”

“I wouldn’t have told her you were available if I didn’t think so.”

A couple of days later I walked to the woman’s house after school. Her manner was polite, but not at all warm or friendly, which added to my nervousness. I guess she considered this a business relationship. She escorted me to a sewing station in a small room behind her kitchen. Then she pulled out a large stack of cut pockets that I was to sew together using a French seam. (Folks probably don’t pay a lot of attention to the insides of pockets, but you won’t find any cut edges on either the inside or the outside of the pocket on a quality pair of trousers — hence, the need for a French seam, which encases all seam allowances.) She didn’t seemed all that convinced when I indicated I could do what she was asking.

I must have put together a couple dozen full pockets and another couple dozen half pockets that afternoon — more pockets than I’d ever seen in one place at one time, that’s for sure. They would eventually find their way into men’s trousers as replacement pockets. The extent of damage or wear on the pockets would determine whether a whole pocket or a half pocket was needed.

When I finally finished the last one, I got up to go inform my new boss I was done. We both returned to the sewing station, and she inspected the new pockets.

“This is good work,” she commented.

“Thank you.”

Then she said that was all she had for me to do that day and she’d call me when she wanted me to come back, so I headed for home. When I got there, I filled Mom in on everything: the task I’d been given and how I’d gotten the pockets all done, that she said I’d done a nice job, etc. And it hadn’t been too difficult, after all. I had demonstrated that I was capable, which left me wondering what the woman might have me do next: shorten a hem? take in a waistline? rip out a zipper?

Several days passed. No call. Then one afternoon, I walked through the back door and Mom said she’d called. Oh, boy! But then I heard the rest of the story: turns out, she didn’t want me back. Said she couldn’t afford to pay me by the hour because I worked too slowly. But to be sure and tell me that the pockets I had sewn were the best she’d ever seen.

lkd at sewing machine b&w

At the Singer, a couple of years after my one-day job (perhaps the only picture ever taken of me while sewing, which I did a lot)

Well, color me confused. Being brand new to this employer/employee thing, I imagined that my priority should be to demonstrate I could do quality work. Why didn’t somebody tell me she would also have an interest in efficiency?

So there you have it. A classic “good news-bad news” story: the good news — and I was really proud of this — was that my work had passed muster with a professional alterations seamstress; the bad news — I wouldn’t be making any money beyond the amount she paid me for that one afternoon. In a way, though, I was relieved: she was a little too taciturn for me to relax around. But who knows? She might have warmed up over the long haul, had I proven a suitable understudy.

About ten years later, I did earn money with my sewing — I just put out a shingle and did things on my own terms. I don’t think I ever really bothered to calculate how much I earned per hour, although by then I had gotten much faster than I was as a kid of fourteen. I mostly liked the oohs and aahs that inevitably came when I presented customers with their finished garments: a skirt that was now just the perfect length, jacket sleeves that didn’t cover their knuckles, or a custom fitted dress.

Several years after that, we had begun our family, so the shingle came down. And from that point on, all the sewing I did would be for love, not money. Most recently, my daughter-in-law showed me a picture of her idea for my little grand daughter’s costume, and, once again, I did my thing.

Say hello to Bat Baby.

Bat Girl

[ * Research on this subject at: Search-Institute.org/Sparks. These guys have great ideas and resources for supporting kids and the communities they live in.]