Thursday, July 28, 2011

ROAD TRIP TRUTHS - The Way I See Things Anyway

I consider Ken and myself to be Road Trip Veterans. We have been going on long car trips for 35 years. There are a few things we’ve learned over the years.

Truth #1

Regardless of how light you pack, you will NEVER find enough pants hangers in your hotel room.

Truth #2

I read this somewhere, and I think it is true: men navigate by directions; women navigate by landmarks. Yesterday was a good example. We were driving in Madison, Wisconsin. Not a city we are familiar with. I was at the wheel. Ken was navigating by GPS app on his iPhone, looking for a restaurant we saw listed in a tour book.

We turned a corner and I blurted, “Hey! This is where we were last night! I saw that twirling octopus last night!”

“What twirling octopus?”

“Over there! I saw that last night!”

“We have never been on this street before.”

“Sure we have. I think I’d KNOW if I’d seen a twirling octopus before.”

“You’ve lost your mind. Keep driving.”

Turns out he was right. We hadn’t driven that way the night before. And by the time we reached our restaurant it was apparent that there were octopi all over town twirling above a chain of car washes. But still – I know my landmarks.

Truth #3

And while we are talking about wayfinding: thank goodness there is now GPS in the world. We don’t have it on board the Subaru, but Ken’s iPhone app is brilliant. It has ended years of arguments about missing exit ramps and driving in wrong directions.  This means one of us can follow the little blue GPS dot along our route and the other can drive. We can nonchalantly arrive at our destination unruffled almost as if we have never had an argument in our whole married life. In the old days, for me navigation meant reading maps by turning them in the direction we were going. Going South? Turn the map upside down! West? Sideways!. This way I would know if we needed to turn right or left. For some reason this has always driven Ken around the bend – and around the bend isn’t necessarily where might be going! I have surveyed many women – 9 out of 10 of us turn maps in the direction we’re traveling. And we look for landmarks.

Truth #4

And since we are on the controversial topic of the difference between men and women, I believe that men are genetically engineered to pack luggage into vehicles. Ken is a genius at it. So was his Dad as well as mine. Maybe it’s something that is handed down from father to son. My old man’s strategy was to lay out every piece of luggage behind the car and then stand back – Zen-like – to visualize the overall arrangement. Then he’d set to filling the trunk with the deftness and speed of a Zen master folding origami. Suitcases for a family of four. Picnic basket. And the piece de resistance – the squat, round, Scotch plaid cooler with the tin lining that everybody owned in the 1950s – a challenge in anybody’s game. Ken’s Dad gave priority to the golf clubs going into the trunk first and then he’d wedge the more regular shaped suitcases around them – a mastery of wedging – and I don’t mean a shot from the rough!

I know for sure that I didn’t get the gene for car packing. This trip we packed heavy. A medium-sized suitcase each. Plus one carry-on each for one-night stays on the way to Winnipeg. Plus a picnic basket for snacks. A cooler. Laptop bag. Hanging suit bag. Pillows. THEN, on the way home, we needed to fit 4 cardboard boxes of my mother’s belongings to bring home.

My reaction? “It will never work!! We’ll NEVER get all this stuff in there!”

Ken’s? “Stand back, Missy. Watch and learn.”

The boxes, the luggage, the cooler and the basket? My husband got every piece packed into that Subaru hatch and back seat like he was the grand architect of packing. It was a work of art! As I said, genius.

Truth #5

It always seems like the trip home is shorter than the trip there, wherever “there” is. Why is that?

We’re home now – 2,851 miles according to our speedometer. And, since we drove to Canada, I should tell you what that is in kilometers: that’s 4,561 kliks!

* the opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily based on scientific facts and are purely from my own point of view.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Dayton to Winnipeg, 1,162 miles; 19 hours give or take.

A few things have changed over the years that Ken and I have been taking trips together. In the olden days — that’s the 70s and 80s — we’d drive straight through to a destination. We’d “dead head” it for 9, 10, 12, 18 hours in the car in spite of the fact that we didn’t have air conditioning in those days and our tunes were on cassette tapes that, in at least one car we owned, were regularly devoured in the tape deck unraveling miles of brown ribbon and rendering the tape deck inoperable and the remainder of the trip silent and deadly boring. (Except that same car had a leaky windshield which was always good for a laugh in a rainstorm.)

We first got air conditioning in a Honda Accord we bought in 1984 or 85. At that life-changing time we let go of our road warrior days and began breaking long trips into manageable chunks of 8-9 hours MAX!

That brings us to today, taking 3 days to drive to Winnipeg.

Day One – Madison, Wisconsin. Day Two – St. Cloud, Minnesota. Day Three – Winnipeg.

But now we are firmly in the 21st century with AC, GPS, electronically adjustable seats, the lap top, 500 tunes loaded on Ken’s iPhone and plug in coolers that keep 42 soda pop cans nicely chilled (well in reality, we only checked into buying the cooler — we don’t really have the need for 42 cans of cold pop — although we could have used the cooler for bringing home some Mennonite sausage. The point is that the technology exists.)

Some things haven’t changed over the years, though. The Big Mac for example. Same as it was 35 years ago. Comforting, isn’t it?

One other thing that has not changed in 35 years is the AAA Triptik. No kidding. For those of you who have used a Triptik – they are EXACTLY the same as they have always been. For those of you who haven’t, the AAA Triptik is a set of printed, “vertical” maps – on paper. A Triptik is essentially a custom-made trip guide just for you. Each page represents 100-150 mile chunks, with inset details and a yellow highlight line, drawn by hand, taking you there and back; the whole thing assembled by hand and plastic coil bound.

Yes, Ken has a GPS app on the iPhone and it is brilliant. But I have got to hand it to the AAA – the Triptik is wonderful. It has descriptions of the topography you travel through and pithy comments about the cities and towns. And maps! Lots of maps! All pertaining to YOUR personal trip!

I ordered my Triptik weeks ago so that we could plot our route and book our hotels. But the AAA told us to bring it back in a week ahead of our trip so that they could mark up the construction sites we could expect on our trip. Sounded like a good idea. 

The day I went to AAA, I was ready to leave the thing behind and pick it up the next day all marked up. But before I could say, “Gotta go now!” I was whisked into a cubicle with Todd, my AAA agent. Todd got out a set of maps, put my Triptik on his desk, and consulted his computer. After carefully referring back and forth among his sources, Todd took out a rubber stamp with “CONSTR” on it and dabbed it on an ink pad. He turned page after page of my Triptik, stamping in rapid succession, mile after mile of construction. Dab, STAMP! Dab, STAMP! STAMP! Dab, STAMP! STAMP! STAMP! Over and over. Dozens of them. Like a comedy bit in a Mel Brooks movie.

“Uh, Todd. Are any of these construction sites worthy of detours? Or should we be replanning our trip?” I asked.

“Oh, ha, ha, no, well, it’s hard to know really. They’re just construction sites. We don’t really know if they’re big or little or how much they’ll slow you down.”

There was really no point to the exercise, then, was there, Todd?

We are on Day 3 of the trip as I write this. The Triptik has been a huge help. We’ve done tricky navigations through cities and have transitioned from one Interstate to another with ease thanks to the Triptik.  It’s a triumph of travel; a totally satisfying event to flip a page to put another 100-150 miles behind us.  “Hey, Honey! I’m turning another page of the Triptik!”

We have a few pages to go. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Does anyone else detect a conspiracy here – or am I just overly sensitive and irritable because I’ve recently cut my calorie intake?  Here’s the issue: I would never have thought that the paint industry would be in cahoots with the food industry – but I think it may be so!

A friend who visited recently asked me if I had ever blogged about the fact that every paint color I chose for my house is named for a food. I hadn’t thought about it much. I like themes and it tickled me at the time. But as she is a psychologist, I thought it wise to think about it some more.

I have Sherwin Williams’ “Tomato” on our front door. The dining room is “Habanero Chili.” The living room is “Hubbard Squash.” The kitchen and hallways are various tones of the same color named, “Portabella,” “Tea Chest,” and “Kaffee.” If they had paint called “Strip Steak” it would harmonize nicely with this scheme and would have completed the "meal", but Sherwin Williams’ nomenclature stays pretty much within the vegetarian range.

As a former interior designer (or does anyone ever truly shed this profession from their psyche?) and design educator, I have long been aware of the tenets of color psychology. Part science, part intuition, its theories are put to work in all kinds of applications. For example, most famously, as most of you know, in fast food restaurants vibrant reds and oranges are used to speed along the dining process. But did you also know that red is thought to enhance appetite?  Apparently so, making it a most suitable color choice for a dining room – especially one with a spicy name like “Habanero Chili”!  Admit it! Your taste buds are watering just reading this, aren’t they?

Conversely, blue is considered an appetite suppressant. Interesting. It stands to reason, then, that guests at a dinner party in a blue room might save the hosts considerably on serving sizes. (Did I hear you yawn and move your plate away?)

Now, when we also think about how unconscious impulses are exercised in making choices, (remember that Freud once said, “there are no accidents!”) I guess it is no surprise that my choice of color names could well have come out of their relation to my most favorite pastime in the world – eating!

But what does this say about the nefarious motives of the paint industry? Are they in on the conspiracy to keep America fat? Are they in the food industry’s pocket to help ratchet up food sales? We already know that TV and magazines are in on that one. A commercial for Jenny Craig will be closely followed by one telling you how you can up-size your meal at Denny’s or wherever. Talk about mixed messages! So, are paint colors named to boost our appetites? Can one ever hope to resist feasting with gusto surrounded by a red called “Habanero Chili”?

All of America is talking about weight loss and I’m on an exercise/nutrition kick these days. So, I don’t need my paint colors working against me!  Therefore, I propose that the paint industry help us out. Help us deny our appetites and suppress our culinary urges! Get us up and moving! How about redubbing the 2012 colors with vigorous, active names, like, “Sweat Sock White”? Or “Gym Floor Tan”? Or “Running Track Red”? We need to lobby the paint companies!

Who’s with me on this?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

If a train leaves the station travelling at 30 miles an hour.....

My dear friend Joan in Richmond, BC, has given me a new lease on life. She has provided me with a diagnosis!

Joan posted on Facebook this past week that one of the elementary school pupils she has been tutoring got excellent grades in reading and math in spite of his dyslexia and discalcula. Kudos to Joan and the pupil. But I immediately went all self-centered when I read her post. What? What? Discalcula?  Could this be what I think it is? From the same root words as “calculation” and “calculus”?  I’m no Latin scholar, but I know enough to put two and two together (well, two and two are fine but don’t try me on two and six, or two and nine, or anything bigger! To this day I can’t add any numbers with nine in them.) I have figured for as long as I’ve known about dyslexia and ADD that I would have been diagnosed with both when I was a kid. They didn’t have these when I was young, but I certainly have the adult versions today.

But now I hear there is discalcula!?!?! Could it be true? There is an actual, named dysfunction for people who struggle with math?  Joan, I could hug you! I now have an answer to my lifelong mathematical misery! I have been hiding my disability for 50 years or more! Now I can declare it openly: YES! I have DISCALCULA!

Hear that, Dad? Now there’s vindication for all those Farmer Brown and his cow problems I couldn’t solve that made you despair about my future! Now there is a medically sanctioned reason why I can’t look at a paragraph of text with numbers in it without glazing over! Now I know there is an actual condition that explains why I can’t keep a budget or balance a bank account!

If only I had known this when I was a Brownie selling Girl Guide cookies door to door. I could have avoided the paralyzing fear and total humiliation I felt at my first sale when I couldn’t give change. I could have said, “Sorry. I have discalcula!”

My one night of terror in the Bay department store when they were short staffed and they asked me to ring someone up at the cash register when all I was hired to do was answer phones in the Interior Design department could have been avoided if I had known to say, “Sorry. I have discalcula!”

Not to mention the nightmare of being responsible for multi-million dollar budgets on the design projects I’ve been assigned to over the years. OMG!

And today, in my semi-retirement, I can avoid ever having to be the cash out person at charity events by cheerfully saying, “Sorry. I have discalcula!”

Now I can admit that I can’t figure out the tip at a restaurant without using a separate piece of paper and mouthing the words: “Let’s see, 10% of that is…uh, o.k., what is it, um, o.k., so, just move the decimal, o.k., so if I double that for 20% then I get…”  I’ve never given a 15% tip because I don’t know how!

Now I don’t need to be embarrassed that I can’t mentally figure out what change I have due back on a purchase. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve suspected I’ve been short-changed, but have never had recourse to prove it!  I have to take purchases home and check on a calculator to see if I’ve been cheated! By then it’s too late!

Now I won’t even worry that I have no idea how quickly we’ll arrive at our destination if we are travelling at 60 miles an hour. Who cares!?!

I looked it up online. One web site about discalcula (actually it is properly referred to as dyscalculia – but the definition also accepts the more easily pronounced, discalcula) reads as follows: “Dyscalculia" is a lessor-known learning disability that affects mathatical calculations. It is derived from the generic name "mathematics difficulty".

Seriously – this is what it says. I quote directly. It is totally delicious to me that it has two spelling errors in it. Isn’t that ironic? The writer probably has an inability to spell words – as yet a dysfunction without a name as far as I know. I don’t have that. I’m a pretty good spellar, er, speller. But maybe you bad spellers will find your "dys-ability" one day too!

One thing worries me, though. If the time ever comes for Ken to decide with my medical team if I should go into the memory care home, I know there will be simple mathematical tests that they will want me to solve to determine my level of dementia. I’ve made Ken promise that he’ll tell them that I have NEVER been able to add numbers together, much less subtract, divide, multiply or figure out how many cows Farmer Brown has left.

I’m counting on him.