What's Not to Laugh?

Almost everything about aging–except grave illness and death–can be funny as well as disturbing. I try to find the funny and help us all get through it!

Archive for the tag “humor”

In the meantime…some words about kvetching

I’m experiencing a bit of writer’s block—or blogger’s block. I can’t think of anything to write about that’s not so controversial that I’ll get death threats. In a way, that’s a good thing: nothing personal to whine about. And when I do notice little gripes and humorous observations, I realize that I’ve already written about them. But this void shouldn’t last long. The world is getting more and more absurd, and I’m sure someday soon I won’t be able to hold back.

In the meantime:
I’ll share some of the pieces I’ve written in the last couple of years as part of a delightful project suggested by my creative friend Brenda Segal. Together, we’ve written about a number of topics, taking turn suggesting the topics and sometimes picking letters of the alphabet from which to choose a word to expound on. Brenda puts our essays into a program that creates a book, then adds illustrative photos (most of which she’s taken) and publishes the book (just for our own coffee tables). Here’s one of my essays called “Kvetch.”


I don’t kvetch. I observe. At least that’s what I tell myself. Take the weather, for example. I can say, in a perfectly neutral tone, “It’s cold out,” and it’ll be interpreted as “Why is it so damn cold out?” See the difference?

Is this a kvetch about to happen or just me gritting my teeth?

Okay, I do kvetch at times. But these are times that are notably kvetchable. Who wouldn’t say, “Who the hell picked this restaurant?” after being faced with a construction barricade and sign saying “No thru traffic” just as you’re about to turn the corner to your destination?

Who wouldn’t be snarky after then going a block out of your way to turn around, only to find out your car can in fact be that “thru” traffic because there is a lane going your way only you didn’t see it the first time?

And who wouldn’t be swearing under your breath after you turned down that street and found that construction vehicles blocked your access to your destination? When you finally made it into the restaurant after driving over a pile of gravel and around the back side of the strip mall where the restaurant is, who could blame you for kvetching? Even if it was tinged with humor?

In English, kvetching is whining or complaining. All people do it, and I contend even some animals do it…or is it just my cat?. But for Jews, in my experience, it can be a lifestyle. Way back when we were being persecuted (when are we not?), maybe it was a way to seemingly have some control over a terrible situation. Kvetching about one’s circumstances is better than weeping, isn’t it?


Word-seeking revisited

Its been a while since I posted anything here, although I have been writing—a lot. More on that in another post. In the meantime, to get back into the swing of blogging (the easy way), I’m posting a rerun from my Suddenly Sixties blog that you may still relate to. In fact, since more than six years have passed, it may be even more relatable. Don’t forget to read  UPDATE at the end. Or just scroll down to UPDATE if you can’t bear reruns.

Desperately Seeking Words (originally published December 30, 2010)

My first indication that I was losing my vocabulary came decades ago at work—I was middle-aged then—and I was telling our then-Graphics department about something I wanted printed on… I knew it began with a “p,” but all I could come up with was “partridge.” I didn’t say it out loud because (thank goodness) I realized it was not the right word. Eventually, probably only two minutes but it seemed longer, I sputtered “Parchment!” It scared me a little. I wasn’t even in menopause yet.

It’s not easy to be a writer who can’t always remember words. An online thesaurus is my pal, but I don’t use it for the maligned practice of coming up with fancier words to say simple things. I go to this trusty tool to find the word that I’m sure is in my head…someplace. I’ll be typing merrily along and suddenly I’m stumped. Let’s say I want to say something like mutilate, but I know that’s not the word I want. I’m confident there’s a word that’s a better fit—one that I use all the time. I just can’t bring it to the frontal lobes. So, assuming I can come up with a word that’s close in meaning, the thesaurus gives me a fighting chance. I may even know what letter it starts with—in this case, I’m sure the word starts with an “m.” But that’s as far as I can get, until the thesaurus offers up maim. Ahhh. That’s it!

Not being able to retrieve words can take its toll on the marital relationship too. When I want to say something to my husband, I use the handiest words available. Unfortunately, he can’t read my mind (although after all this time he should be able to). So a typical conversation goes something like this:

Me: Can you get me the thing?

Him: What?

Me: You know, the thing, the round thing.

Him: What?

Me: The thing with holes…to catch pasta. The…strainer? Sieve?

Him: You mean the colander?

When I’m groping for a word that’s part of a request, he stares at me, a deer definitely caught in the headlights. He is not only confused but, being a helpful sort, he’s also frustrated. Sometimes his “What?” seems to be getting testier, not unlike the GPS lady when she needs to say “Recalculating,” for the fifth time.

While I’m desperately grasping at words, he may smile smugly. But I know we’ll have this kind of conversation in reverse later this evening. After all, he’s in his g(olden) years too!

UPDATE: February 2017. My husband and I are now equal as to not remembering the name of something or someone. Thank goodness for Google. But sometimes you can’t remember enough about the thing you’re trying to remember to type in the right words for the Google search. You have to laugh at this dilemma, which is far better than crying.

The other day, I may have found a temporary cure for this word seeking problem. The downside is that you have to hurt yourself. Here’s what happened: My husband, my resident chef, cooked a dinner that included chicken and capers. When I tasted it and praised it highly, he said, “It’s like the dish I usually make, Chicken _______.” He was stumped. He could not remember the second word to that phrase. I knew what he meant, but when I tried to name the dish, I was stumped too.

“Scallopini? No that’s not right. Vesuvio? Nope.” We thought hard for a couple of minutes and decided to move on.

About an hour later, I was getting something from our pantry cabinet and, being uncoordinated, I started to close the cabinet door while my head and upper body were still peering inside. The result was a blow to my head that stunned me for a second. (I’m fine. No concussion, just a little bruise next to my right eye.) I stood upright and calmed down bit, then shouted out, “Chicken Picatta!” I ran upstairs to my husband exclaiming, “I just bumped my head on the cabinet door badly, but I remembered chicken picatta!” He wasn’t sure how to react.

A visit to the vet, reluctantly

For you first-time readers in this space, my name is Penelope, and I’m a rescue cat. Penelope_softedgesI’ve lived with my adoptive parents over two years now and, much as I hate to admit it, things are pretty good here. Wondering why I hate to admit it? I’m known for my whiny vocals (which Mom calls kvetches; I had to learn a little Yiddish after I came here). I wouldn’t want it too seem like I have nothing legitimate to whine about.

But I am comfy here. Wet food…the Elegant Medley (more expensive) kind, dry food, a litter box that’s scooped several times a day, and two very attentive people who are home much of the time. It’s all good.

Except, that is, once a year, when my parents attempt to take me to the vet for a checkup. They try to be subtle and act like it’s just an ordinary day, but I know something’s up. Maybe it’s that black bag sitting on the floor…the one with the mesh sides and zippers. I remember being in it last year when they took me to the vet. This can’t be anything good. My motto is “You’ll have to catch me first!”

They try. I manage to outrun both of them, even if they’re on opposite sides of the room closing in on me. Dad’s the official catcher though. I give him a good workout, zooming from bedroom to bedroom, down the stairs and up again. When I think he’s getting dangerously close, I scoot under the bed or the sofa, a place neither of them can reach. In fact, they can barely bend down to see if I’m still there.

After this goes on a while, I can hear snippets of a phone conversation Mom is having. “I’m afraid we’ll have to reschedule. We can’t catch Penelope!”

I’ve won another round! Alas, the appointment was rescheduled, and as hard as I tried to win again, I let my guard down for a second, and Dad scooped me up and put me into the black bag. Soon we were on our way.

Although I don’t like other people, the technician and vet were nice to me and very gentle. And I got a compliment! I lost 0.6 pound, and the vet said “Good job!” She may have been talking to my folks, but I’ll except the praise too. After all, I’m the one who scurried around the house and raced up the stairs…an excellent way to trim my tummy.

Cake mix blues

I don’t bake anymore. My number one reason is that I don’t want the sweet stuff in the house because I’ll eat it all myself, or what’s left of it after guests leave.

It’s not that I was a great baker. I made good brownies from scratch, if only they wouldn’t fall apart while cutting them or stick to the pan. But they were tasty. I made cupcakes, bundt cakes, cookies. Evidently, I made a lot of box mix cakes. This is what my younger daughter remembers fondly.

She was visiting from across the country last week, and her one request was for a yellow box cake with canned chocolate frosting. “It’s my favorite,” she told me. I wanted to bring it up a notch, so I made a suggestion: “I used to make the pudding cakes (adding a box of instant pudding to the mix).” “No. Just a yellow cake mix and canned chocolate frosting,” she replied.

It was the least I could do for my loving daughter, whom I haven’t seen since she moved last fall. I hadn’t baked in years or used a mix to make any sweets, but, how hard can it be? It wasn’t hard at all, but it wasn’t one-two-three-bake either.

First (after buying the mix and frosting), I had to find my 13 X 9 metal pan. Do we still have one? If so, where did we last store it? It took looking through three logical cabinets and the drawer at the bottom of the stove before I found it up in a high cabinet that required a stepladder to reach…that is, without having a bunch of pans and glass dishes tumbling out on my head.

Next, I looked for the electric hand mixer and found it quickly. But where were the beaters that should be attached? Searching everywhere at least twice ended with finding them behind the pot lids, where they were all the while (probably laughing about my poor eyesight).

I got out all the ingredients and then set out to oil the pan. The bottle of oil was pretty full, and a bit (or a lot)of oil spilled into the pan. I had to mop it up with a large number of paper towels.

After that, things went well…until I haphazardly slammed the oven door closed and the cake developed a round depression in its middle. With some extra frosting loaded in that depressed middle, my box mix cake was ready for prime time. Daughter declared that it was perfect and tasted just as she remembered.

Both daughters welcome their childhood cake.

Both daughters welcome their childhood cake.

After everyone who wanted cake was served, what remained in the pan was handed back to me. It lasted less than 24 hours. Cake for breakfast anyone? This is why don’t bake anymore.

Who moved my potty?


Something new to kvetch about

Penelope again, checking in. I haven’t had too much to whine about lately…although that never stops me. But recently, my humans did a switcheroo on me. They relocated my potty (known as the litter box to you).

Ever since I joined their household (July 2014), the litter box was in the first floor powder room. It’s an intimate, dark space, perfect for privacy while doing one’s business. The only drawback was that guests also used that space to do their business. But that wasn’t a concern of mine because the mere sight of a guest…or even the ding-dong of the doorbell…has me running into my favorite far-away spot.

I like my mom and dad, but I  refuse to mingle with anyone else. (It looks like I’m terrified of outsiders, but that’s not the case; I just choose not to associate with them.) I had been hoping that guests would decide to avoid sharing a potty room with a feline, even though I’m meticulous in my potty hygiene. (Okay, I’ll admit to getting a little aggressive and flailing around a bit of litter. Just a bit though.) But when everyone leaves and I feel confident that I’ll have privacy again, I enter the room and see the evidence: used paper towels in the wastebasket. Many people have used the room! The only good news? I didn’t see any of them. I was busy hiding…er, sheltering in place…in an upstairs bedroom.

Then, one day not too long ago, my mom called to me while holding my empty potty. “See, Penelope? Your litter box will now be here,” and she set it down next to the washing machine in a little alcove dedicated to laundry. She filled it with litter, relocated all the other equipment that goes with it, and said, “It’s ready now when you are.”


My new (cramped) potty space

Am I ready to change the habits I refined in the last two years? Am I ready to do my business with the sloshing and spinning of the washer and bumping and thumping of the dryer as sound effects?

Do I have a choice? Sure, many of my fellow felines have been known to relieve themselves anywhere and everywhere, but that’s not me. Besides, I depend on the kindness of these two people who feed me, talk to me, give me belly rubs, and most important of all, scoop my poop.

She’s real…honest

As regular readers know, we have a cat. I assume you believe me that we have a cat, her name is Penelope, and she sometimes writes blog posts. (Okay, I understand if you don’t believe that she actually writes those posts, but you do believe that we have a cat…don’t you?)

Why am I asking this question? It seems that the people who have been to our home may be wondering if it’s all a ruse. They may be thinking that we place various cat toys and scatching posts strategically around the house, fill a plastic box with litter, and put out food and water bowls just to keep the ruse going.

Penelope (our real cat, honest) loves us but is terrified of everyone else. At the first ding of the front doorbell, she flies up the stairs and into the most remote snug space she can fit into. She stays in that spot, ignoring her need to use the litter box or her growling stomach, and doesn’t emerge until she’s absolutely certain that the last guest has departed.

If she happens to be on the first floor when somebody comes through the front door, she scurries up the stairs so fast, you’d think you just saw an animated grey streak.

Her current hiding place is a tiny space behind my husband’s Elfa rolling filing cart that’s tucked under his drawing table in his office. It’s impossible to find her there unless you’ve exhausted your search of all the logical and illogical places in the house. To be sure she’s there, you have to lie flat on the floor and look for a glimpse of fur between the legs of the table and wires of the cart.

Nobody can see me here, can they?

Nobody can see me here, can they?

Her most feared guests, I’m afraid, are my twin grandsons. They love cats and have one of their own, Nimbus. But Nimbus, besides being as big as a medium-sized dog, is the coolest, most easy-going cat I’ve ever met. He strolls around the house, rubbing against anyone who happens to be around. He’ll lick your hand and snuggle up against you, never uttering a sound.

The boys, no matter how many times I tell them that Penelope is frightened of strangers, will scour our home trying to find her. If they discover her hiding place, she’ll scurry out of it and look for another. Once, when they were younger, she was trapped under the loveseat in the living room, hissing at one of the boys as he laid on the floor trying to entice her out. That was the first and only hiss we witnessed. It meant she had reached the peak of her terror.

I think they've all gone now. I'm hungry.

I think they’ve all gone now. I’m hungry.

The twins, therefore, can attest to the fact that Penelope is real. But other guests still have their doubts. If you’re one of the doubters, I invite you to cat-sit for us. You may not see Penelope, but eventually you’ll notice that the once-full food bowl is empty and the once-pristine litter box has clumps that need to be scooped. What more proof do you need?

Lost but not found

This aging thing is becoming a matter of losing…permanently. No, I’m not talking about mishandled luggage or the missing half of my collection of single gloves. Nor am I referring to the loss of dear friends and family. This is a lighthearted list of what’s disappeared without a trace:

  • My lip line. Where is the border of my upper and lower lips? Even if I follow the advice of experts and line my lips with a pencil (thereby faking that youthful lip line), it just seems fuzzy. I fill in with a moisturizing lipstick and hope for the best.
  • My waistline. Well, it’s there somewhere…somewhere under that roll of fat that’s accumulated lately.
  • My eyebrows. I’m having to fill in with a brow product more and more. I remember when I used to have to tweeze often, even in between my brows.
  • My eyelashes. Thank goodness for an eyelash curler and mascara. And speaking of mascara…
  • My firm upper lids. Mascara gets smudged because there’s more flesh drooping and getting in the way while I’m applying it.
  • My balance. A few weeks ago, I stubbed my toe badly while rushing to the toilet. And speaking of the toilet…
  • My bladder capacity. I should probably buy stock in the company that makes Charmin. I go through a triple roll pretty quickly.
  • My words. What’s that thing that lets you drain spaghetti called?
  • My long-remembered stories. I can be in the middle of telling someone about a significant event in my past, and I’m suddenly not sure of the details–details I could remember and recite without hesitation for decades. Now they’re fuzzy, and I sometimes combine stories and get dates and eras wrong. (It gets embarrassing when I ask my husband, “Remember when we…?” and I quickly realize I’m thinking of the wrong husband. I’ve had two.)
  • The ability to remember to whom I’ve told what. I find myself asking, “Have I told you about…?” This happens the day after, or even the same day, I’ve told the news. (Maybe I just talk to too many people.)

I could go on, but I’d rather not mourn the loss of those things when I can be grateful for other losses triggered by aging, such as the requirement to serve on jury duty at any facility assigned, even if it’s the scary courtroom in a sketchy neighborhood where murder trials take place. Once you’re 70 and you’re summoned, you can choose another venue or say no thanks. I did that last year because I’d served five (or was it six) times over the years, and I’m done.  

Then there are the losses of caring (too much) about what other people think and a lot of anxiety of earlier years. Or you could call these maturity, not losses. However you want to characterize them, I’m grateful for the ability to experience all of them, thin lips and eyebrows included.


Internal donut wars

This morning, at 10:30 a.m.:

I’m sitting in the waiting room at Bredemann Toyota, where I’ll spend the next hour-and-a-half. My RAV4 is in for its 50,000-mile oil change, tire rotation, and all that other stuff ($$).

It’s a comfortable room, with a TV currently showing The View, a machine that lets you choose from a variety of coffees, and…this is key…a tempting tray of donuts. In the past 7 years I’ve been bringing the RAV4 here for service, I’ve avoided even glancing at that tray to keep my sweet tooth from itching. But today, as I walked into the room, scanning it for a good spot to settle in, I saw it. And right smack in the middle of the tray was my favorite, a cake donut with chocolate frosting. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to resist it.

But I sat down and began writing this post to keep my mind focused on something (anything) else. Just before starting this sentence, another customer got up and walked over to the tray. After a few seconds of contemplation, he chose one and took it back to his seat. It was my chocolate-covered donut! Now I’m wondering: Is there another one on the tray? And…and most important…should I be happy or unhappy if the answer is yes?

A little applicable background: I’m now in that iffy zone of Weight Watcher’s Life Timer status that can be dangerous. After losing weight on the plan and keeping it off for more than a year, I’ve started to gain again. My pants still fit, but they’re snug. Those are the roomier ones. As women everywhere know, our clothing sizes are not consistent. So you can buy a size 10 of different brands, or even the same brand, and the fit will vary from not being able to pull them up past your hips to an easy zip, button, snap, with an inch or two to spare.

I’m trying to nip the gain of a few pounds (okay, five) in the bud. See? Now I’ve managed to distract myself for over a paragraph and haven’t given the donut tray a thought.

But suddenly, that’s all I’m thinking about.

The last time I was here (5,000 miles ago), I weakened in the second hour and walked up to the tray. By that time, it was empty. I figured it was meant to be. Maybe today I can hold out long enough to have the same outcome.

I’m tired of writing now, and I’m going to read a book about wrting by Elizabeth Berg.

Follow up: I read and read…and read. Then I put the book down, stood up, walked over to the donut tray, and took one of the other chocolate-c0vered cake donuts. It was delicious.



Too old to open toilet paper?

This aging thing is starting to bug me (even more than usual). It seems that each year there are more everyday tasks that I can’t do anymore. Just this past weekend, I injured myself trying to open a package of toilet paper! To paint the picture for you, it was one of those colossal multi-package packages you get from Costco. That may not have any bearing on my problem getting it open—unless you consider the fact that such a large bundle needs extra strong plastic to encase it.

When we got it home, I stood the package up and attempted to pull apart the plastic wrapping so I could distribute the packs of rolls inside to our various bathrooms. I positioned my two hands on two ends of the wrap and tried to tug them apart. Nothing happened. I tugged harder. No progress. Then I mustered what I felt was the power of a person half my age to give it a final valiant yank. The toilet paper package didn’t pull open…but I managed to pull a muscle in my neck. It’s three days later and it blog_art_2still aches.

Just when I was about to give up and get a scissors (that would be the thinking person’s first method of choice), my heroic husband came forward: “Let me do it.” And he opened it. Just like that. Without pulling any neck muscles. After all, he’s three-and-a-half years younger than I am.

So now when I’m leaning a little to the side and wincing as a twinge of pain takes over, if anyone asks, “What happened?” do I make something up or be truthful? “I pulled some muscles opening toilet paper.” How do you keep your dignity after that?

Again with the rerun?

While I have my thinking cap on (very stylish) trying to come up with new blog post ideas, I’m publishing another rerun, this one from June 17, 2010:

If there are Senior Olympics, I’m not entering.

One day, while showering, I emitted a snuffle/breath that came out like a whistle. My unconventional reaction? I thought, “I can still whistle!” Why I assumed that a relatively useless skill (for me) like whistling would fade with age, I’m not sure, but I was glad to see that something of the old me (who, truth be told, rarely whistled) was intact.

Being habitually negative, I started to think about what I can’t do anymore. I can no longer—

• Get up from sitting on the floor without thinking about how I’m going to balance weight on my hands to push myself up semi-gracefully. (Note: This can’t really be done with any gracefulness. And it’s usually accompanied by a grunt.)

• Sit anywhere for longer than 15 minutes without feeling achy—and making crackling noises—when I stand up.

• Fold the Chicago Tribune neatly while I’m reading it, despite the fact that it has shrunk considerably in the past year.

• Lift my packed suitcase, no matter how much I rely on lightweight Chico’s Travelers clothing. Thank goodness my new bag has spinner wheels. And I must always travel with my husband so he can hoist the bag onto the platform when we’re checking in. Similarly, I need him to lift the bag off the carousel when we arrive. (Fortunately, I also like traveling with him.)

• Remember the name of someone I’ve recently met, even if it was ten seconds ago.

• Digest broccoli gracefully. (This needs no further explanation. If you think otherwise, you’ll have to tap into your own gastrointestinal anecdotes.)

If there were true Senior Olympics, the games would include all of the above efforts, with the gold medal going to anyone whose dexterity (and inner health) matched that of a fifty-year-old. For me, even earning an honorable mention is a pipe dream. But I can still whistle.


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