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Copyright 2017, Susan DeLay

Scouting and camping go together like Girl Scouts and Tag-Alongs and Do-Si-Do cookies. And even though I was a Scout until I graduated from high school, I hated camping. (The cookies, I liked.) In my youth, I did experience Girl Scout camp a few times just to get a measure of nature and wildlife. I’m still in therapy.

Camping? Safe?

Girl Scout camp was a week-long traumatic experience, I mean, adventure, with scouts of all ages in the great outdoors. No camp worth its weight in bug spray came without hiking, swimming in e-coli-infested lake water, playing with knives, sharpening sticks into pointy lethal spears and standing near a roaring open flame to char marshmallows for carb-laden s’mores. In the dark.

Now, tell me, does that sound like a safe place for children?

I survived my camping days and I have the badges to show for it, but most of it, I’ve tried to shove into to the recesses of my mind.

Until recently.

National Campout Day

To celebrate June’s National Campout Day, some clueless friends, who apparently don’t know me very well, invited me to join them at a state park for a wonderful weekend of camping. While they were acting like 12-year-olds, clapping their hands in excitement at the thought of a weekend in the wild, I was having flashbacks.

There are 3 reasons I will never camp again.

1  Going in Circles

After a few hours of paddling and learning the all-important J-stroke, my canoe partner and I got stuck in a pattern of rowing in circles—for hours. The dinner bell rang, summoning campers to “chow time” and we just kept going—in circles. As the sun began to slip below the horizon, we were rescued by a camp counselor who was sent to the lake to find out what had happened to the two girls who did not show up for dinner. Sadly, she couldn’t talk us to shore. She had to climb into a canoe, paddle out to us and pull us in. It’s funny now, but back then it was humiliating. The girl who got stuck as my canoe partner avoided me for the rest of the week.

2  Sssss-nake!

No outdoor camp is complete without an introduction to wildlife. I don’t mean bears and alligators, but things like spiders and daddy long legs. That was bad enough, but she crossed the line when she brought us face to face with a sssss-nake. Unfortunately, we could not observe it from a distance—like Cleveland. We had to hold it. While it wasn’t exactly mandatory, I could tell mocking and more humiliation would be on the menu for those who refused to pick up the non-poisonous hog’s head snake. I was already vying for the worst camper award, so I…I held it. As I write this, I can still feel its dry, wriggling body in my hands. Cue nightmares.

3  Blood-Sucking Mosquitoes

For a solid week, I was intimately acquainted with the camp’s official insect—the mosquito. It wouldn’t surprise me if the entire mosquito population had decided on the day the campers arrived to designate me as the official host for that week. I ran out of Deet-laced bug spray by Tuesday and scratched and clawed my way to the end of the week. To this day, I cannot hear the high whine of a mosquito without starting to slap myself.

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree

There were advantages to going to camp. I learned how to start a fire—not by rubbing two sticks together, but by playing with matches and dry kindling. You never know when that might come in handy. I learned all the words to the Girl Scout playlist, which included songs like Make New Friends and Kookaburra. I can still sing them. In fact, I will probably be singing them for the next couple of days now that I’ve resurrected them from my memory. If you ever went to camp, you know you’ll be singing them too. You’re welcome.

Hot Dog on a Stake

My friends will go without me this weekend. But in the spirit of unity, I may shove a hot dog on my fork and hold it over the gas flame on my stovetop. It’s as close as I’m going to get to camping.

Plus I’m fresh out of Deet.

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copyright 2017, Susan DeLay

I have friends who have as much interest in basketball as they do in vacuuming under the bed. In fact, my anal neat-freak friend TJ, who promised she would give me two weeks notice before stopping by my house, would much prefer vacuuming to basketball. To her, basketball means sweaty, tattooed guys in baggy Bermuda shorts and squeaky shoes running up and down a court for a couple of hours. Boring. (Her word.)

She only enjoyed the game when her kids played. Why? Because she knew the players.

The NBA Finals are going on with the Cleveland Cavaliers facing the Golden State Warriors. Again. I wonder if non-fans were armed with a little more information than jersey numbers, it might make the games more interesting. These nuggets about the teams and their key players might help my friends put away their Dysons and tune in.

  1. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

They were named Cavaliers because the word represents daring, fearless men, with a never-surrender attitude.

And Cavaliers’ players tend to have names that start with K.

  1. Kyrie Irving #2

Destined for the NBA, Kyrie was dribbling basketballs at the ripe old age of 13 months. He loves to journal, so maybe he’ll become a writer. It’s never too late.

  1. LeBron James #23

He was born in Akron to a 16-year-old single mom with few financial resources, and they struggled. With a net worth of 400 million, LeBron now runs a non-profit organization called Family Foundation, which helps children in need in his hometown.

  1. Kyle Korver #26

His Kyle Korver Foundation has held coat drives for kids in need, and an Socktober, annual sock drive to collect socks for people who are homeless.

  1. Kevin Love #0

In addition to his hoops career, he’s also an actor who has appeared in the movie “Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot” and HBO’s “Entourage.” In both roles, he played himself. Sounds like typecasting to me.

  1. Tristan Thompson #13

He doesn’t have a K in his name, but he’s dating someone who does—Khloe Kardashian.

  1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

When Philadelphia got an NBA franchise in 1946, the owners named the team The Warriors after a 1925 Philly team. In 1971, the team now located in Oakland, changed the name to Golden State Warriors because the team belongs to the entire state.

  1. Steph(en) Curry #30

Steph was born in Ohio and his dad played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. File that under ironic. He was born at the same hospital as LeBron James—and the same doctor delivered them. File that under coincidence.  When Steph was in college, he found a wallet that contained $160. And he returned it. File that under honest guy.

  1. Kevin Durant #35

Kevin went to University of Texas and quit after his freshman year to enter the NBA draft. This season he’ll make 26 million+, but in the off-season, the multi-millionaire returns to UT to earn his degree. It’s all to honor his mom, who at 21, dropped out college to raise him and his brother. Plus, it’s good for Kevin to have a Plan B just in case this basketball thing doesn’t work out for him.

Watch him dedicate his MPV award to his mom (on YouTube). You’ll be a Kevin Durant fan for life.

  1. Draymond Green #23

When he played for Michigan State, he got the nickname Dancing Bear because he’s quick on his feet, has a squat frame and a friendly attitude.

  1. ZaZa Pachulia #27

He serves as style editor for HOOP Magazine. Perhaps he’s trying to dispel the notion that stylish basketball player is an oxymoron.

  1. Klay Thompson #11

As a kid in Oregon, he played little league with Kevin Love. They became great friends and now they’re facing off on the court. Love is a Cleveland Cavalier. (Another one to file under coincidence.)

Because I’m Ohio-born, I feel duty bound to pull for the Cavs. But I’m a fan of the Warriors’ head coach, Steve Kerr, which makes me a bit ambivalent about my loyalty this season. Steve was a college student when his father, president of American University in Beirut, was murdered by terrorists. Now, doesn’t knowing something about him make him a lot more interesting than if you only know he’s the coach?

My nephew Dillon—a huge Cavs fan—gave me some sound advice. “I’m a fan of Kerr’s, too,” he said, “But not during the Finals.” Well said. So, Go Cavs!

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by Susan DeLay

My Dad learned to drink coffee as a child when his mother served it to him and his sister in small cups with way more milk than java. Today, his mother’s actions might have triggered a visit from child protection services, but back then—in the Depression-era days—it was okay for children to drink coffee.

But my Dad didn’t learn to love coffee until he served in Patton’s Army in Nazi-occupied France where he drank it from a tin cup. None of the G.I.s seemed to care if the brew was bitter, had cream, sugar, artificial sweeteners, or even a froth of steamed milk. As long as it was hot and caffeinated, it could taste like mud and the they would drink it. So, my Dad returned from World War II with two things—the satisfaction of defeating Hitler and a love of coffee.

It only makes sense that one of his favorite candies was Werthers original coffee-caramels swirled with rich coffee. He kept the individually wrapped candies in a small container stashed in a cup holder in his Dodge van where his grandchildren were always welcome to help themselves.

It inspired my nephew Josh to write a grade school essay called Papa Tom’s Candy Car. To date, it’s been Josh’s most popular writing—at least in our family. And none of us can see a Werthers coffee candy without thinking of Papa Tom.

A few weeks ago, I’d been missing my Dad like crazy. It might have had something to do with the coming of the annual golf tournament at Muirfield, which he never missed—even if he just watched it on TV. The only thing that usurped his love of coffee was golf.

On this particular day, I had stopped at church to visit friend and had mentioned to her that I’d had my mind on my Dad all day. It happens.

While we were chatting, a woman came into the reception area and asked for directions to the church’s food pantry. She had brought her elderly neighbor to get food and didn’t know the layout, so she was about as far away from the food pantry as she could get and still be in the same zip code. Despite the abundance of clear signage, most people don’t pay attention and prefer to stop at the first entrance and ask. Come to think of it, mostly women do that, which blatantly implies men don’t ask for directions. I’m sure that’s nothing more than an urban legend.

Since I had a little time on my hands, I offered to drive to the food pantry and let her follow me. While I wouldn’t say this to just anyone, I was feeling pretty good about myself for my generous random act of kindness.

We pulled up and parked next to each other in the parking lot and I rolled down my window to see if they needed anything else. I asked the elderly woman if she had any mobility issues because she would still have to go down a flight of stairs and walk the length of a football field to get to the door. The church’s handicapped parking is not for the truly handicapped—just for those who can do stairs and traverse a field into the end zone. Fortunately, no one makes them run.

The woman assured me she could manage and as she thanked me for the escort, she got out of her car and came to my window.

Turns out she was the one who delivered a generous act of random kindness to a grown up little girl who was missing her Dad that day. As she thanked me, she placed two Werthers coffee-flavored candies in my hand.

She had no idea that, along with the candy, she also delivered a wink from Heaven.

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Copyright 2017, Susan DeLay

Americans love the last weekend in May. For one thing, it’s a holiday, which means a day off. Banks are closed. Most offices shut down. Rush hours ease up. And unless you’re in the far reaches of the Yukon, it’s a pretty sure bet you can stow your mittens, snow boots and puffer coats until winter. Or at least late fall.

BBQ Season has officially arrived.

 Time to uncover the grill and clean it up for an onslaught of burgers, hot dogs, and, for vegetarians, tofu and veggie meat, which, by the way, is not meat. (Some say vegetarians like the holiday because it gives them an excuse to eat a hot dog.)

I dust off my famous baked bean recipe, which includes beans, bacon, catsup and brown sugar, plus a dash of cayenne, a splash of bourbon, and a few secret spices that will go with me to my grave.

Grocers say sales of hot dogs are the second highest at Memorial Day. Only the Fourth of July beats it.

You Can Get a Good Price on a New Mattress.

 Turn on the TV and you’re guaranteed to see at least two mattress commercials per hour. Hurry. Don’t miss out. Get them while you can. (Like mattresses might be extinct in June.)

No one knows why the best deals on mattresses are at Memorial Day (and also Presidents Day), but it’s true. If you want a new mattress to replace your old, lumpy, dust-mite-infested mattress, now is the time to do it. Mattresses used to last 20 years. They still do, but now mattress manufacturers encourage sleepers to replace their bedroom staple every eight years. This is just a guess, but I think it’s to sell more mattresses.

 It’s a Day Off!

The majority of Americans don’t mind a day off and when it comes in the form of a national holiday it’s even better because it might include a parade, a party and cupcakes, My cousin concocts an adult beverage called a Sneaky Pete that she serves during summer holidays, starting with Memorial Day. She won’t share the recipe. I’ve offered to exchange it for my baked bean recipe. It’s an exchange of equals because of the bourbon in my beans. She politely declines.

Memorial Day Honors Military Men and Women Who Died in the Service of Our Country.

 I watched a man-in-the-street interview with a reporter who approached mall wanderers and asked if they knew why we have a holiday called Memorial Day.

The responses were funny at first. Then preposterous. Then embarrassing. Then irritating.

Stupid responses included:

  1. Wow. I never thought about it. Ummm. I don’t know.
  2. So we can barbecue. (This isn’t National BBQ Day, folks.)
  3. So we can sleep in and save gas driving to work.
  4. It’s America’s birthday party to celebrate the Declaration of Independence. (Makes me wonder if they think the Fourth of July is to honor people who can count to four.)
  5. To honor the surfers who created the surfing culture. (Dude!)
  6. It’s a bogus holiday so companies can sell stuff. (Like mattresses, maybe?)

One guy got it right. He said to honor the soldiers who died serving our country. Bingo. We have a winner.

My friend Joan sent me an email with pictures depicting Memorial Day celebrations. I was especially moved by the one taken at a parade that captured an older man standing in front of his wheelchair and watching the approach of the American flag. He was the only parade spectator who stood for the flag.

When my Dad was alive, he never missed Jackson’s Memorial Day Parade. Wearing his ball cap that recognized WWII veterans, he’d watch the parade from near the steps of the Court House. The last year he was alive, my brother took him to the parade and he watched from his wheel chair. But when the Stars and Stripes passed by, my brother helped Dad to his feet so he, as a veteran, could salute the flag in honor of the fallen U.S. military heroes who gave up their lives to give us our freedom.

Memorial Day is not a day about BBQs, mattresses, or sleeping in. It is a day of remembrance for Americans to honor those who paid for our freedom with their lives—even those who don’t know or don’t care.

But especially for those who do.

 

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April Fool’s Day is my favorite holiday. There’s no pre-holiday stress. No gifts to buy. No cookies to bake. All it requires is a little creativity.

I’m an Amateur

I’ve replaced the filling from Oreos with toothpaste and nailed nickels to wooden floors. Amateur stuff. It’s hilarious to ask a friend to return a call to Mr. Lyon or Jim Panzee or even Ryna Soris. Calls go right to zoo switchboard operators who dread April 1. That’s small potatoes compared whoppers pulled over the years on an unsuspecting public.

No one suffers more from 4/1  jokes than telephone operators in call centers, who ultimately have to explain it’s a joke and remind callers that it’s April Fool’s Day.

April Fools Whopper

Burger King pulled a whopper on April 1, 1998 with  a full page ad in USA Today alerting meat eaters of a new menu item—the Left-Handed Whopper. Hoping to appeal to the 32 million American lefties, they rotated condiment placement 180 degrees so excess catsup, mustard, mayo or strands of onion fell out the right side of the sandwich. Thousands of customers arrived at counters and drive-thrus all over the country requesting the new burger only to learn they’d been duped.

Two years earlier Taco Bell took out their own full-page ad in the NY Times letting people know they purchased the Liberty Bell and from that moment on, visitors to Philadelphia would visit the Taco Liberty Bell. Outraged patriots called the White House in protest. The press secretary knew it was a hoax, and played along. His response? The Lincoln Memorial has also been sold and from now on, it will be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

Sidd’s Fast Ball

At the beginning of the 1985 baseball season, Sports Illustrated released a story about a remarkable new rookie for the signed to the NY Mets named Sidd Finch. Although he had never played baseball before, Sidd had been discovered in a Tibetan monastery and could pitch a baseball at the unheard of speed of 168 mph. Not only had he mastered the really, really fast ball, his aim was close to perfect. Sports Illustrated telephone operators wanted to forward each and every call to the culprit behind the story—George Plimpton. Fortunately for him, he had an unlisted number.  (The Mets didn’t win the series that year either.)

The Great Spaghetti Harvest

No one has ever managed to do a better job with an April Fools prank than the British. In 1957, Panorama, a very proper and respected news program, broadcast a news story about farmers in southern Switzerland who were experiencing a bumper spaghetti crop.

As news anchor Richard Dimbleby described the details of the spaghetti crop, viewers watched footage of a Swiss family harvesting strands of spaghetti from trees.

The whole prank was dreamed up by one of Panorama’s cameramen, Charles de Jaeger. One of his elementary school teachers had declared he was “so stupid he would believe spaghetti grew on trees.” Who’s stupid now?

As soon as the Panorama program ended, the switchboard was slammed with calls from viewers who waned to know how they could grow their own spaghetti.

Someday, somehow, those call center operators are going to get even.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Copyright, 2017, Susan DeLay

If you’d like to contribute more than cheese dip and a platter of pigs in dough blankets to March Madness get-togethers, now’s your chance. Even if you watch only 10 minutes of college basketball each year, and then it’s only while you’re frantically searching for the remote control, that’s okay. You can still sound like you know what you’re talking about during NCAA tournament play.

Get comfortable with the words below, and amaze your sports-loving friends and family. Keep in mind; you don’t need to be smart. You only need to sound smart.

 

  1. March Madness—March Madness is the weeks in March when it’s basketball, basketball, and more basketball. Deal with it.
  2. You have to start somewhere, so if you don’t have anything else in your March Madness vocabulary, remember these words:
  3. The Dance—From First Rounds through the Final Four and onto the Championship Game, you’re at the Dance. Think of each game during the NCAA tournament as a song at the Dance. (Don’t worry; you can sit out some of them.)
  4. Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4. As the tourney progresses, the field will be narrowed to 16, then 8, then 4. And finally…the final championship game, which is actually in April.
  5. Brackets. Like bears coming out of hibernation, brackets make a comeback every March. Once the initial roster of college teams is matched up, brackets appear with the same speed as it takes the driver behind you to honk after the light turns green. Brackets allow you to weigh in on every game, not just the championship final.
  6. Number One Seeds. Each division has a Number One Seed. With four divisions (East, West, Southeast, Southwest), there are four No. One Seeds: Ohio State (East), Duke (West), Pittsburgh (Southeast), Kansas (Southwest). Please give these teams a modicum of respect because there’s a good possibility they’ll make it to the Sweet 16.
  7. Cinderella. Sometimes fairy tales do come true—especially during March Madness. Cinderella teams are the underdogs that get invited to the Dance without much hope of getting very far and then a miracle happens. They turn into spoilers (or bracket busters) for more favored teams. This year the possible Cinderella teams could be: Belmont, George Mason, Morehead State, Oakland, or Old Dominion.
  8. Glass Slippers. If you hear someone ask who is wearing Glass Slippers, they mean: Who is the Cinderella team? (It’s because Cinderella wore glass slippers. Get it?) Just nod knowingly and counter with, “I wonder if there will there be another Butler this year.”
  9. In 2010, the Butler Bulldogs almost walked away with it all until a last-minute buzzer-beater shot from center court bounced off the rim. A very nervous Duke team took the trophy in the end. Butler’s big player went on to the NBA, so they didn’t do as well in 2011, but experience counts for something. You never know when they’ll squeeze their size 14 feet into glass slippers again.
  10. Bulldogs. Feel free to throw this word around as freely as you’d like, especially at the beginning of March Madness. There are eleven teams out there who claim a bulldog as their mascot. The two most talked about Bulldog teams are Butler (because of what happened in 2010) and Gonzaga.
  11. Gonzaga (The Zags).This Washington state team has been a threat for more than 15 years. They may not go all the way, but they can kick sand in the face of a favorite and one good upset can change everything. Toss the Zags into at least one March Madness conversation by asking, “So who will the Zags send home this year?” Then sit back and be proud you were the one who got the ball rolling. So to speak.
  12. Valpo. Valparaiso (in Indiana) set the bar for college basketball drama when Bryce Drew, who went on to play for the Chicago Bulls, made a field goal (basket) as the buzzer went off. The year was 1998 and the unknown Valpo team beat Mississippi by one point, then advanced to the Sweet 16 where they defeated Florida State. It was 19 years ago, but people are still talking.

 

One more thing. Don’t overthink March Madness by trying to figure out why Pittsburgh, which is in the Snow Belt, is classed in the Southeast. This is about basketball, not geography.

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Copyright 2017, Susan DeLay

Every US President since Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1909) has had one. Only Chester A. Arthur and Franklin Pierce had none—at least not that we know of. When President Obama leaves the White House, he will take his with him, leaving an empty space available for the next one—and big shoes to fill. Make that paws.

Say what you will about politics and politicians—I’ve never heard many scathing remarks made about Presidential pets. One might think that since Presidents and their families live in fish bowls, a goldfish might be an appropriate pet, but since most of them end up getting flushed, the man in the Oval Office might prefer to give opponents any ideas.

The varied list of Presidential Pets has included horses, bears, birds and even a badger. Andrew Jackson taught his parrot, Polly how to swear. Teddy Roosevelt harbored a regular menagerie, which included the usual suspects—dogs, cats and horses, plus a few unique selections: a lizard, a rat, a pig, a rabbit, a rooster, an owl, and unfortunately, a snake, which he named Emily Spinach.

When Calvin Coolidge moved into the White House, he had dogs, a few cats plus raccoons, a donkey, a goose, a bobcat, a wallaby, a 600-lb. pygmy hippopotamus and two lion cubs that he named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.

John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator—a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette, a French man with a flair for fashion who probably bestowed it with the idea that the sixth President of the US could turn it into a nice pair of boots. Instead the alligator took up residence in a bathroom in the East Room and JQ took great pleasure in using his ferocious pet to scare some of his guests—probably Whigs and Federalists, the biggest political parties of his day (1825-1829).

JQ wasn’t the only President to house an alligator. Republican Herbert Hoover allowed his son, Allan to have two pet alligators, which were often loosed to roam the grounds of the White House. Mostly when Democrats were expected. For dinner.

One of our most beloved Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was a cat lover. He frequently brought in strays and let his cats Tabby and Dixie dine at the table. And not just on meatloaf night. They were occasional guests at state dinners. Not to be catty, but his wife, Mary Todd, claimed her husband’s hobby was cats.

Dogs win the vote for favorite Presidential pet by a landslide, which makes sense seeing that they’re man’s best friend. Considering the 24/7 barrage of criticism Presidents receive, the unconditional love of a dog has to be appealing. Sort of warm and fuzzy. (See what I did there? Dogs? Warm and fuzzy?)

There are a few exceptions to the positive press Presidents get on their pets, but they’re few and far between. On a trip to the Aleutian Islands, Franklin Roosevelt was accused of forgetting his Scottish terrier Fala and sending a destroyer to rescue her. At the taxpayer’s expense. For days, it was a topic of heated conversation around dinner tables, in local drinking establishments and at water coolers across America. Finally FDR took to the air to assure Americans the rumor simply was not true. He had not left Fala behind. Nor had he spent millions of taxpayer dollars to rescue her. In fact, the very thought of spending all that money infuriated his little dog’s frugal Scottish soul.

Lyndon Johnson took heat when a photographer snapped a photo of him lifting his beagle by the ears. Most of the criticism came from poodle owners who did not know lifting a beagle by the ears was okay. Snoopy might disagree, but I’ve heard most beagles kind of like it.

Among Richard Nixon’s repertoire of memorable deeds is his Checkers speech. It had nothing to do with board games and everything to do with a Cocker Spaniel. Nixon was in political hot water for a slush fund he supposedly oversaw when he was Eisenhower’s vice-president. He publicly denied it, but did fess up to having received a gift that he would not be returning—his faithful dog, Checkers. His speech turned the tide of public opinion, and suddenly Nixon, the dog lover was truthful, warm, and kind in thought, word and deed. A regular Boy Scout. Amazing what a canine can do for a reputation.

At the moment, President-Elect Donald Trump does not have a pet. Perhaps he’ll get one. And if he’s smart, it will be a dog.

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