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The Good Old Days I’m Not Remembering

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Department Of The Joke I Wish Was Not So Spot-On Descriptive

Q. How many Republicans does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None; #45 just says it’s been changed and the rest of them sit in the dark and applaud.

 

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Department Of The Good Old Days Are More Old Than Good

Why is nostalgia like grammar?
We find the present tense and the past perfect.   [1]

Thanks to the podcast Curiosity Daily, moiself  has learned that there is a classification for the nostalgic lens with which my mother viewed the stories of her childhood. In the podcast’s August 13 episode, one of the topics was nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations…..
Nostalgia’s definition has changed greatly over time. Consistent with its Greek word roots meaning “homecoming” and “pain,” nostalgia was for centuries considered a potentially debilitating and sometimes fatal medical condition expressing extreme homesickness. The modern view is that nostalgia is an independent, and even positive, emotion that many people experience often. Occasional nostalgia has been found to have many functions, such as to improve mood, increase social connectedness, enhance positive self-regard, and provide existential meaning.
( excerpts from Wikipedia entry on nostalgia )

Specifically, the podcast focused on the fact that the folks who study such things (nostal-geologists, as I like to think of them) have classified nostalgia into two types: restorative versus reflective nostalgia.

Restorative nostalgia is when you feel like things used to be better in the past, and you long to relive or even reconstruct the way (you think) that things were.  Reflective nostalgia involves recognizing your wistful feelings about how things used to be, and admitting you sometimes long for the old days even as you accept the fact that the past is past and that your perceptions of that past are probably biased.

 

 

I had an immediate, visceral reaction to hearing the names and descriptions of the two types of nostalgia;  Moiself  felt like I’d won a jackpot of sorts, in having a spot-on term for the kind of “looking back” my mother preferred to do.

My mother was quite willing to share her stories of growing up in the small northern Minnesota town of Cass Lake.  I frequently asked my parents about their childhoods, as I found their stories entertaining, fascinating, and ultimately revealing (even as I later found out about all of the concealing that was going on).  My father was the more skillful storyteller, both in the entertaining way he presented his stories and, as my siblings and I discovered in our adulthood, in his deftness at deflecting or avoiding talking about certain times of his life.    [2]   But this space, today, is for my mother’s restorative nostalgia.

As a child I’d observed that adults had this thing for “the good old days.” Although my mother didn’t present her stories with that introduction, the forthright manner in which she presented How Things Were Back Then ® made me astonished by the idea that anyone would pine for the olden days.

Restorative nostalgia: even as that kind of rose-colored-glasses/longing for the past is understandable, I’ve come to believe that it is ultimately not helpful, and can even be damaging.  Besides being unreal – you can’t and go back and make things the way they were – restorative nostalgia is, or should be, undesirable, for any rational person. When I have met people who really and truly seem to wish for “the way things were,” I sometimes want to bitch slap them into reality…

 

 

…and ask them, Have you fully considered the totality of that “safe space” you think you long for…and would you be willing to take everything else that came with it?

Those “simpler times” for which many people wax nostalgic included the not-so-simple realities of massive (and oft-times life-threatening) racial, gender, and sexual orientation repression and discrimination.

“Wait a minute, Mom – I remember you telling me…”  became my unintentional mantra, when it came to listening to my mother’s restorative nostalgia.  And after I had pointed out what, in my opinion, needed pointing out, she would respond with a somewhat conciliatory, “Oh yes, well, there was that….”

One day when I was visiting my parents back during the first Gulf War, I brought up the subject of current events.  My mother began telling me about how she found herself “pining for” the days of World War II, aka, “The Good War.”

Uh….Mom…those were days when the WORLD was at WAR.

“Oh yes, well, there was that… but, she continued, everyone knew each other in the town, and they all pulled together, and there was a feeling of solidarity….

I tried to validate that for her, then gently asked her if the pulling-together part made up for that awful day when the news came about the small town’s Bright Shining Hope:  the Cass Lake High School star athlete and recent graduate, beloved by all and engaged to a local girl, was killed in combat in Europe. The news devastated the town.  And didn’t she remember telling me about how horrible it was when the “telegraph truck” drove down Main Street, and when people saw it coming they ran into their houses, as if they could hide from the bad news, as if their shut doors would mean that the notice of a husband/brother/son/cousin who was KIA or MIA or wounded would pass on to another family….  And didn’t she remember telling me how “sick to death” she was by the adults who used the war to excuse their incompetence and blunders that had nothing to do with wartime circumstances, but if you tried to bring it to their attention or ask them to correct their mistakes, they’d sneer at you and say, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?!” and you’d be accused of being unpatriotic if you said anything after that?

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”  But things were “simpler” back then, in the old town/small town days, she declared. 

Well, maybe, I said…but “simple” doesn’t always equate to better, or even good.  And it seems far from simple – it seems complicated, even frightening, to me – to ponder much of what people had to navigate back then.

What would that be, she wondered?  She said she liked to remember the simple days, like the time when she and a friend walked back to their respective homes late one night after a school activity – they thought nothing of walking home after dark because they were safe from danger in a small town, and she’s thought of that over the years, when she couldn’t sleep until her own school-age children were home because she worried about us being out after dark….

“But wait a minute, Mom….”   you had so many dangers back then that we don’t have now. Maybe you felt safe walking home at dark, but I remember the rest of that story you told me:  the very next morning, when you went to your friend’s house to walk with her to school like you did on every school day, you saw the frightening QUARANTINE! sign on her front door.  Your friend had been stricken – overnight, seemingly out of nowhere – with polio and was being kept alive by an iron lung, and your parents were almost frantic with fear, thinking you might also be infected.   And over the years I’ve heard about children in your small town who were crippled, even blinded and deafened, by diseases for which we now have vaccines and/or cures….

 

Quarantine sign, Polio. 2005.3080.07.

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”  But still, she insisted, people were friendlier back then. They pulled together, and put aside their differences to cooperate as equals – being a good citizen meant something, back then.

“But wait a minute, Mom…. The “everyone pulling together” did not, in fact, include everyone.  Some citizens were more equal than others.  Don’t you remember telling me about “the Indian kids,” who were required by law to go to public school until age 13, after which they all dropped out, and how they all sat in the back of the class and the teachers rarely spoke to them and they never spoke in class?  You said, when I asked about their tribal affiliation, that you thought there were “at least two kinds of them,”    [3]  but you didn’t know what the “kinds” were – none of the whites did, because they weren’t interested and didn’t bother to find out, even though all the whites in town knew who was Norwegian-American and who was German- or Swedish-American…and that sometimes you felt bad for the Indians because you knew they had gone from being the majority to a minority in their own land….

And you told me about a high school girl who befriended the son of the only Chinese family in town – a family that had to constantly remind everyone during “The Good War” that they were Chinese, not Japanese – but this girl’s parents forced her to stop even speaking with him because they were horrified by the idea that their daughter might want to date “an Oriental”…. and when that Chinese family opened a grocery store because they couldn’t shop at the other stores in town during regular hours   [4]  no one patronized their store, and they were unable to make a living and moved to another town….

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”   Still, it was so much fun, the carefree high school days, she said, asking me if I remembered her telling me how she got to be lead saxophone player in the marching band (in such a small school in such a small town, if you played an instrument, you got to be in the band) and was valedictorian of her high school?  You know, back then, the teachers knew all the students and their families; they took a personal interest in their students, and everyone was so nice….

“But wait a minute, Mom…. What about the fact that your mother had to call the school principal and fight to get you into the physics class, because the physics teacher refused to “waste my time teaching science to girls”?  And then, after the principal forced the teacher to accept the two top students in Cass Lake High School – two girls, you and your best friend, Dorothy K – into his class, the teacher refused to speak to you or call on you when you raised your hand, and said openly to you and Dorothy on the first day of class that although it was against his will he’d been ordered to allow them in his classroom, and he grudgingly agreed to teach Dorothy because, “It’s obvious that she will have to work for a living.”

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”

Then, without a modicum of introspection or self-awareness, my mother said, “Oh well, it turned out I never found physics to be very interesting….”

Well, of course not – why would you have?!?!?!  You were actively discouraged from being interested in it! The teacher paid no attention to you – he didn’t care if you learned anything. He had to give you an A because you read the required materials, aced all of the tests, and all the other students knew you had the top grade in the class.

And what about the way your best friend, Dorothy K, was treated?  Because she was “disfigured” – a botched forceps delivery damaged her facial muscles, causing the right side of her face to droop, as if she’d had a stroke – Dorothy was raised to accept the “fact” that because she lacked the most important feminine asset – a pleasing face – no man would ever want to date, much less marry her, and that she would need to make her own way in the world…in a world where the same men who would not consider her romantic partner material were also predisposed to not consider her their intellectual or professional equal….

“Oh yes, well, there was that….” 

And that job you had, after your junior college graduation: you worked as a secretary at the post office, and you said it drove you nuts, how the clerk was so incompetent and you often ended up doing his duties (but of course you didn’t get paid for doing so), and you knew you could do the job better but when you asked the manager you were told that, as a woman, you weren’t eligible to even apply for such a position…and how you were saving up your money to buy a car, but as soon as you were married you had to quit your job, because a married woman couldn’t work at the post office….

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”

and that…and that…and that…and that….

The incidents – read: life – my mother told me about…how do I explain this?  She never told those stories as examples of hardship or discrimination.  She presented them matter-of-factly, and often seemed to be befuddled by how gob-smacked I was to hear them.  To her, that was just the way things were; I heard the between-the-lines details – hardship and fear, racism and discrimination – that didn’t even, technically, require me to read between the lines, as they were, to me, glaringly overt…even as those details were, to her, not the point of her stories.

 

 

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Department Of Dorothy Is Not In Kansas Anymore

I met my mother’s friend, the afore-mentioned, legendary (to moiself ), Dorothy K, only once.  I was in college, home for a visit, and my mother excitedly told me that her friend Dorothy was returning to the States after her latest overseas trip, and had arranged to take a flight to LAX. My parents picked up Dorothy at the airport and brought her to their house, where she stayed overnight until she caught a flight back to her home.    [5]  

I was somewhat enthralled with the idea of Dorothy: over the years, I’d heard about how she was a chemist, made good money, and spent her free time travelling around the world.  When I finally met her I remember thinking how attractive I found her to be – she had “good bones,” and I couldn’t help but wonder how her life would have been, sans that incompetent doctor forceps mishap.

Part of my enthrallment came via comparing her life to my mom’s.  Moiself  (ungraciously, I know) saw my mother as a staid homemaker, someone who worked all day but never got paid and who had never been anywhere except for Cass Lake and Santa Ana. And here is her friend, with a career in science, who travels the globe….

I later thought of the ironies of Dorothy’s life, including the fact that the characteristic which made her “damaged goods” in the eyes of her culture is also what allowed her to go to college and work in fields that were closed to women in that time.  Her disfigurement essentially neutered her in the eyes of males; thus, she presented no threat of “distraction” (i.e., of them being sexually attracted to her).  Although I’ve little doubt that she faced discrimination (she shared a few stories with me, about always being the only woman in her department), it was as if she were a third gender: since men didn’t see her as a woman she was less of a threat to male colleagues, in terms of them having to consider that they were being equaled, or even bested, by a woman.

My mother (privately, years after Dorothy’s visit) admitted to me that she sometimes wondered what it would like to be Dorothy, whom she saw as independent and carefree.  And I wondered, is that how Dorothy saw herself?  Considering the culture she was raised in, instead of fully embracing her life – her career and the intellect she was allowed to develop – did she ever compare herself to, say, my mother?  Did she in any way envy my mother for having a husband and children – for having the life Dorothy was told would not be possible for her, even as it was the only/ultimate/proper life to which a girl was supposed to aspire? Or, did she look at my mother’s life and find it…tedious, and limited?

Such questions haunt me, whenever I think of Dorothy.  I wish I could ask her, but she died several years before my mother did. I can only hope that whatever nostalgia Dorothy dabbled in, that it was reflective, and brought her satisfaction.

 

 

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Pun For The Day

You know what seems odd to me?
Numbers that aren’t divisible by two.

 

 

And I also vote for more nerd puns in this space.

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May your nostalgia be reflective;
May you live in the present with your eyes open;  [6]

May you change the damn lightbulb when it needs changing;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

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[1] Couldn’t find attribution for this old pun.

[2] In last week’s post, I mentioned a few of them. My father died not knowing his adult children had found just how poor (and dysfunctional) his family was, and that he’d never graduated (nor even attended) high school because his father forced all his children to drop out of school at age 13. And when I found this out, some missing pieces fell into place; I realized that all the stories Dad had told about his youth, to his children, were carefully told to hide those details.  For example, we’d made assumptions that the job he talked about having “after school” was part-time, when in fact he was working fulltime, when his peers were in school, and we never put the pieces together to realize that the school stories he’d shared were all pre-high school….

[3] The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe were “two kinds” of indigenous tribes which had settled in the Cass Lake area, centuries before Europeans arrived.

[4] One grocer let the Chinese family shop at his store early, before regular hours, so that the other (white) families wouldn’t see them.

[5] …to wherever that was for her.  I cannot remember; it was in some larger city.  She’d left Cass Lake to go to college, and only returned to that small town to visit her parents, who remained there until their deaths.

[6] Even when it too often involves holding your nose (think: #45 and his primeval toadies) and wishing for a fast track time machine to the future

The Album I’m Not Reviewing

Comments Off on The Album I’m Not Reviewing

Because, although I’m always a critic, I’m not a reviewer.

However, as the name of my blog suggests, I can be a declarative liar.

In light of her recent dumping by her husband of over 36 years divorce from husband Neil, it’s easy to read themes of melancholy, duplicity and loss into the songs on Pegi Young’s latest album, Lonely In a Crowded Room. Young’s low key, casual, bluesy, r & b country –tinged vocal delivery subtly intensifies the bitterness, heartbreak and yearning behind many of the songs, especially in the zinger of a final track, “Blame It On Me.”  There is also a wicked low-key wit in evidence behind several of her songs, in particular, “In My Dreams” and “Better Livin’ Through Chemicals.”

This is one of those collections that creeps up on you – it gets better with each listen, IMHO. Go ahead, click that purchase button.

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In last week’s post I included 15 Little Known If Not Exactly Personal Facts About Moiself, which contained a content alert for name dropping.  The alert was related to two facts, one of which pertains to this post:

(9) I worked for the obstetrician who delivered Neil and Pegi Young’s second child.

This was a long, long time ago in a galaxy far far away, when I was a health educator for a private OB-GYN practice near Stanford Hospital.  My employers were DWB and POM, a husband-wife doctor/nurse practitioner. The practice’s staff prided ourselves on developing close relationships with our patients, and over the months of pregnancy and post partum visits and childbirth education classes and new parent’s support group that met weekly in the office, we got to know and care for the OB patients in a deeper way than was possible with those we saw but once a year for annual exams.

Pegi Young, pregnant with her and her husband Neil’s second child, had been referred to our practice. She was of the nicest, kindest, most  good humored, gracious and warmhearted of our patients. Thus, Pegi became a favorite of the staff because of how she was, not who she was in some people’s eyes – the wife of a famous husband (I loved that my employer, the doctor who delivered the Young’s baby, had no idea who Neil Young was, other than the tall skinny shy guy with the holey jeans who sometimes came to appointments with Pegi).  I remember thinking that, although I knew little about Pegi’s personal life, it must be nice for Pegi to be the “star” in our eyes – as the pregnant patient she had our primary attention – when it was likely her husband who drew all the attention elsewhere.

A few times a month I would treat myself to a break from sack lunches and skip across the street from the practice to The Stanford Barn. The Barn was (surprise!) a big, barn-like structure that housed several businesses, including a restaurant. More than a half a dozen times I’d arrived at the restaurant to see one of our practice’s patients waiting alone to be seated for lunch, either before or after their OB appointment. If the patient saw me, I’d suggest she join me for lunch (sometimes, they beat me to it and extended the invitation). I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the patients outside of the office, and they seemed to relish the chance to talk to someone who was genuinely interested in their home and work lives, and who asked them non-pregnancy related questions.

One day in the restaurant, as I waited for the staff to seat me, in walked Pegi Young. We greeted each other, and for the first time I hesitated in extending the invitation I had so freely extended to our Stanford scientist patient, our Silicon Valley entrepreneur  patient, our self-identified “pilot’s wife” patient, our teacher patient…. You get the picture?

Considering the speed of neuron transmission, the thoughts going through my mind took less than a nanosecond to process, and I’m sure she didn’t notice my hesitation. I didn’t want her to think I was treating her differently than any other person or that I wanted to be around her because she was married to a famous man…but, if I didn’t ask her to join me for lunch I would be treating her differently for just that reason.

Damn the torpedoes; I figured she could just say no. I extended the invitation and she joined me for lunch.

Can you guess which famous-person-by-association touched these French fries?

We had a pleasant meal (which included really good fries, as I recall) and a nice chat, with me still feeling twinges of awkwardness when I realized certain questions I was about to ask, questions I had asked the other patients, questions that were related to what they told me about their lives and aspects I therefore found unique and interesting, could be taken as me trying to pry into a celebrity’s life.  I didn’t know at the time that Pegi, although not a “celebrity,” was a musician/singer/songwriter in her own right, and had been, years before she’d met her better known musician husband.

Like all the other “patient lunches” I’d had and would go on to have, it was an enjoyable way to spend 45 minutes or so with an acquaintance…and that was that. We didn’t go on to be best buds or anything. She had her baby, [1] we (the office staff) saw her less frequently, I left the practice not long after.  I did continue to think of Ms. Young, occasionally and fondly, and still do, after all these years.

Oh, and Pegi Young’s album? I bought it because it’s really good.

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Just In Case You Were Wondering

Neuroscientist David Linden, in a fascinating Fresh Air interview on the science behind the sense of touch, reported this earth-shaking find:  he and colleagues have determined that no matter how sensitive you think your own…uh…parts…are, you cannot read Braille with your genitals.

You know how these things work – when you share a little-known fact like, “It is impossible for a person to lick their own elbow,” people immediately try to lick their elbows.  Seeing as how the majority of us do not have access to Braille materials in our home, Linden advises we not rush out to the nearest ATM to test that particular finding.

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Speaking of Lady and Man Parts (and you know I do)….

Dateline: Thursday morning, at the kitchen table. As I sat down with my avocado tofu scramble, MH read me the photo caption from a New York Times article:

“…. Park Slope, Brooklyn, experienced its second manhole explosion in less than 24 hours.”

“Yikes.” I shivered.  “That’s gotta hurt.

“How’s that?” MH said…or something (whatever he mumbled, it was the perfect set up).

I briefly explained that while I feel sympathy toward anyone with a manhole, I think the guys in Park Slope ought to lay off the chili dogs. [2]

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The Dangers of Playing the Game

When you are not feeling particularly good about yourself in terms of future professional prospects among other issues, it’s rather irritating when the day’s Cryptogram word puzzle solution is the I-know-that’s-how-the-world-works-but-it-still-sucks, Aristotle quotation

“(Personal) beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction.”

♫ I feel pretty… ♫

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Department of Civic Responsibilities

On Tuesday I responded to a Freedom From Religion Foundation Action alert by sending an email to Mayor Lupe Ramos Watson of Indio, CA, thanking her for deciding to end the Indio City Council’s practice of opening meetings with prayer.

“We need to respect all beliefs and absence of beliefs,” Mayor Ramos Watson said, explaining her decision (as reported in The Desert Sun).

My email:

Thank you, Mayor Ramos Watson, for your decision to keep the government neutral on matters of religion by stopping the practice of opening city council meetings with prayer.

It’s a bit odd that I feel compelled to thank a public servant for doing what should be par for the course – upholding Constitutional principles and standing up for the rights of all of her constituents. However, these days it seems your sensible understanding of the issue is, unfortunately, not held by all of your peers.

One wee/small nit to pick – or rather, something to consider – re your thoughtful statement as quoted in The Desert Sun, “We need to respect all beliefs and absence of beliefs.”  We who are religion-free – we agnostics, atheists, freethinkers, Humanists, Brights – are not absent of beliefs or principles.  We have many, many beliefs. The difference is, our beliefs are based on reason and the natural world, not supernaturalism.

Again, I thank you for doing the right thing, wish you all the best, and am, Sincerely yours,

When was the last time you praised a politician for doing the right thing? [3] I know for moiself, when it comes to civic affairs it’s so much easier – and, let’s face it, sometimes fun – to carp than to encourage, and I’m trying to change that.

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Hold Your Applause

On Tuesday I woke up at 3 am with the following question on my mind: [4]

If the Director of the NSA has to leave a presidential briefing to take a pee,
does that constitute a security leak?

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Department of this Explains A Few Things

Because my mother generally does better recalling the past than living in the present, during my weekly phone calls with her I try to follow the wise counsel found in Compassionate Communication With the Memory Impaired, and ask her to repeat stories of her childhood.

I cannot recall the prompt – something stormy weather-related – that made me ask my mother to tell me about the one time she and her family experienced a tornado in Cass Lake, Minnesota. I’d heard her tell the story several times before; during our last phone call, she provided more details.

Cass Lake was well north of Tornado Alley, and, according to my mother, rarely did the small town experience severe thunder or windstorms, and never tornadoes.  Still, a tornado warning came one day in the summer when my she and her parents were staying at their family’s small cabin at nearby Wolf Lake.

The tornado mostly spared the town, but the storm that hatched it packed some mighty winds. While her father went outside to batten down the hatches, [5] my mother’s mother (whom my siblings and I referred to as our “Bapa”), clutched her youngest daughter, my mother, and repeated, over and over, that her greatest fear was about to come true: the cabin would be picked up by the tornado “…we’ll all be dumped into the lake!”

“She said what?” I was aghast.  “Mom, that’s terrible! Bapa was a bad mother.”

My mother laughed at the epithet.

“I’m serious – that was a bad mother thing to do.”

My mother did not dispute my assessment. She noted that she hadn’t been all that concerned about the storm (in fact, she’d found it rather exciting) until her mother panicked.  “She was terrified; she was so scared.”

“Which means that you were, too, right?  She made you scared, too?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“Parents are supposed to make light of the situation, or joke or do something, anything, to keep their children calm and make them feel safe. It doesn’t matter how scared the adults are; it’s their job to hold it together, for their kids.  I am so sorry your mother didn’t do that, for you.”

“No,” my mother said.  “She didn’t.”

*   *   *

Because it’s four days after Groundhog’s Day and four months until the summer solstice, let’s pretend it’s time to Shake Your Groove Thing ® and Get Down With Your Bad Self. © If you are of A Certain Age and can remember the television dance show that featured this song, you are a better Boomer than I.

*   *   *

May you do the right thing come political meetings or tornadoes, and find time for a little groove-thang-shaking, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

 

[1] Which had one of the cutest, most powerful smiles I had ever seen in a baby. I mean, that kid would laser you a grin.

[2] Yeah, I know, fart jokes. Like the Dylan song says, may you stay Forever Young.

[3] No cracks about how it might take a few years to think of such a praise-worthy instance.

[4] This existential moment brought to you by my Nocturnal Brain calls, also mentioned in last week’s post. Hakuna Fritatta, anyone?

[5] Or whatever you do in Minnesota when you get a tornado warning. Stock up on Jell-o-casseroles?