Dog about Town

Blue-coneNone of my family’s farm dogs had to wear the Cone of Shame when I was a kid. But today our town dog does.

My husband and I have an old dog. Blue is almost 13. But a week ago he forgot he was an old dog when the smell of a backyard rabbit helped him recapture his long-gone puppyhood.

Blue gave chase and the rabbit went running. It took refuge in our small metal tool shed, squeezing through the gap underneath the closed doors. Blue couldn’t get through the doors, so he turned the corner and proceeded to tear open one of the shed’s metal side panels. He popped the screws and bit and clawed his way along the sheet metal, tearing it like paper — and cutting a gash in his left front leg. He didn’t catch the rabbit, but he left the shed looking like a blood-stained crime scene.

The vet prescribed antibiotic pills, Neosporin cream, and the cone until the wound on Blue’s leg heals. Not sure what to do for the wound to his pride, as he wears his cone with shame.

Perhaps the farm dogs of my youth were tougher than our town dog of today. Or maybe they just never encountered a rabbit in a closed-up metal shed.

Laura Sternweis

A Cap for Wolf Blitzer

NRC-hostThe day I met Wolf Blitzer was cool and crisp. Our encounter was brief, yet poignant on that Iowa April morning 22 years ago. As he stepped off the White House Press bus near the Memorial Union parking ramp, I welcomed him to Iowa State University and gave him an ISU cap. Then he was off, headed to the ballroom-turned-press-room in the union. We did not meet again.

I handed university headgear to many reporters that morning. As an extension communications specialist at the university, I’d made the cut to be an ISU host for Wolf and all the other national reporters on the bus — including Rita Braver! and Bill Plante! — two icons in particular who I admired from across the press room. They all had travelled to Ames, Iowa, for the National Rural Conference, co-hosted by Iowa State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Now the “normal” people in attendance likely were more impressed by the real stars of the day, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. And it was inspiring to witness history being made as the President and Vice President gathered perspectives on rural issues and views on the 1995 Farm Bill. However, as a former agriculture reporter and continuing news junkie, I was star struck to be in such close proximity to not only the newsmakers, but also the news breakers.

President Clinton and Vice President Gore were too far away to see me. Rita Braver and Bill Plante were close enough to see me but likely didn’t notice me. And Wolf Blitzer probably didn’t keep the cap. But I still have the story.

Laura Sternweis

P.S. Watch this C-SPAN video of President Clinton’s opening remarks at the National Rural Conference.

Spring Break with Jesus

When you’re standing ankle-deep in the Atlantic Ocean and a young woman with a Bible asks if you’d like to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, what should you say? What the hell? That was my reaction, though I was considerate enough not to voice it aloud.

spring-break

The woman with the Bible was convinced that Jesus was right there with us. I was skeptical. Being a savior is a lot of work and he likely had other things to do. I’d already seen evidence of far worse sinners than I on that Florida beach. I thanked her, but politely declined her offer.

During spring break 1982 I was a 20-year-old college student who’d hopped a frat bus to Daytona Beach with my best friend. She had won two round-trip tickets as first prize in a college dance marathon. She asked me to be her guest, and my parents agreed that I could go. So with my suitcase and $200, I was ready for adventure.

Wisconsin to Florida is a long ride on a bus with drunken frat boys (and college girls, to be fair). My friend and I hadn’t thought to bring any booze, good girls that we were, so other than a few swigs from a passed-around bottle of ginger brandy, our bus ride was alcohol free. Many hours later we arrived unimpaired at our hotel, a low-budget, beach-front, cinder-block edifice. We were pleased to find our room had a balcony with a view of the ocean — if you turned your head to the right.

There’s a lot I remember about that spring break. We packed 6 girls into our hotel room with a kitchenette and one bathroom. We ate cheap — bologna and hot dogs from the 7-Eleven down the street. We rationed our money so we could afford more important items — barroom cover charges and beer. We drank a lot and danced a lot and partied with guys from other colleges. Forget the frat boys from our bus — we wanted no attachments to follow us back to school. We stayed out late, cavorted in the ocean, fell asleep on the beach, and cultivated a fine sunburn.

I’d never been so far from home before. Sometimes I walked alone along the beach to contemplate that fact and wonder what my future would hold — as I did the day the woman with the Bible walked up to me, read some scripture, and asked me a question.

Of all my memories of that spring break 35 years ago, standing in the ocean with the woman with the Bible is the most vivid still. So maybe I did spend spring break with Jesus, at least part of the time.

Laura Sternweis

Requiem for My Sunbird

with-sunbirdTwenty-five years ago I bid my Sunbird goodbye. As a new mom with a sweet baby and an awkward car seat, my relationship with my two-door, compact car had irrevocably changed. Getting that car seat into the back seat simply was a pain in the ass.

Six years earlier I’d purchased my 1986 Pontiac Sunbird brand new from the dealership. It only had 12 original miles on the odometer when I drove it off the lot.

But I’d brought my sweet baby home from the hospital after nearly 24 hours of labor, 2 hours of pushing, and an emergency C-section. For all the trouble it took to bring him into this world, I wanted to be able to transport him safely around town.

My husband and I received $700 for my Sunbird, which we used toward the purchase of a year-old Buick station wagon. That car had plenty of room for sweet baby’s car seat and all his accompanying accouterment.

A lot can happen in 25 years. No doubt my Sunbird eventually ended up in an auto scrap yard. But my sweet baby has grown up to become a fine young man. All in all, it was a pretty good trade.

Laura Sternweis

Me and Friendship 7

me-and-friendship7 My space fever began in first grade, when I read about John Glenn’s historic space flight the year I was born. I was impressed by his orbit of the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962, and by his spaceship, Friendship 7. What a great name! Evidently space exploration was all about making friends, not enemies. I liked that idea, as I learned about this Mercury mission from the easy-reading book in my classroom.

I watched Apollo take-offs and splash downs throughout the 1970s. I drank Tang and ate Space Food Sticks, just like the astronauts I read about in my parents’ LIFE magazines. I even wrote a report on the solar system for the fourth grade science fair. (I still have my second-place ribbon.)

I remember Skylab and the Space Shuttle Challenger, but as adult life intervened, I lost track of the space program. My space fever went dormant for many years.

But a 2015 trip to Washington, D.C., renewed my interest. That’s when my husband and I toured the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. As we studied all the rockets and satellites and space suits and moon rocks, a particular spacecraft captured my attention. There was Friendship 7, right in front of me! I got as close to it as I could, and begged my husband to please take a picture of me and my spaceship. My space fever was coming back.

The symptoms returned gradually — an International Space Station update here, a SpaceX launch there. With recent news reports commemorating the 55th anniversary of John Glenn’s Mercury mission, my space fever is full blown — with no cure in sight.

Laura Sternweis

Girls Who Wear Glasses

glasses-girlI’ve been one of the girls who wear glasses since I was 8 or 9 years old. That’s when the good Sisters at Catholic school discovered I could not see what they were writing on the blackboard. So they moved me to a nearer-the-board seat in my third grade classroom and recommended me for vision screening.

I failed the in-school vision test and soon found myself at my mother’s optometrist’s office, where I received my first pair of glasses.

I came of glasses-wearing age in the 1970s, a time of plastic frames in an assortment of both mod colors and earth tones. I selected frames based on fashion, and my mother verified with the doctor that my selection could accommodate my requisite lenses, as they approximated Coke bottle bottoms (the euphemism for thick lenses at the time). Throughout the ’70s and ’80s as I kept up with fashion, my frames kept getting bigger, and thus, my glass (yes, they were glass) lenses kept getting heavier.

So I appreciated when lighter-weight plastic lenses became available. As technology continued to develop, even my former Coke bottle bottoms could be transformed into not only lighter but thinner plastic lenses that by the late 1990s could be adorned with thin metal frames.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve usually needed a stronger lens prescription every two to four years to accommodate my changing vision. And over the years I’ve become less concerned with frame fashion, instead opting for function. My first question to each glasses salesperson is, “What frames will work with my lens prescription?”

That again was my first question to the sales rep last week, when on my 55th birthday I selected frames for a new pair of bifocals (excuse me, “progressive lenses,” so called for all you older Baby Boomers who can’t accept your increasing age or diminishing eyesight). I chose not from the designer frames section (too expensive) nor from the discount rack, though I wish I could have purchased low-cost frames. Luckily I found suitably functional frames at a middle-of-the-road price point.

I don’t mind wearing glasses; I like to see clearly. I’m not interested in contact lenses. I don’t even like eye drops, so why would I willingly put little plastic disks into my eyes? So a girl who wears glasses I will continue to be.

Laura Sternweis

P.S. For the record: It has been my experience that boys do make passes at girls who wear glasses. More so in my 20s. Now, not so much — except for that one guy to whom I’ve been married for nearly 29 years, which suits me just fine.

Past Christmas Present: What a Doll

walking-doll-croppedA duct tape collar keeps her head from falling off and her legs are strapped together, never to walk again. Other than that, my 50-year-old dolly is in pretty good shape.

I got her from Santa for Christmas 1966. A Mattel “Baby First Step,” she really was something special. When the crevice in her back was loaded with two D-cell batteries and her “on” switch was flipped, this doll could WALK! She was amazing.

I took good care of her, so much so that the following year, when I took my dolly to kindergarten for show-and-tell, my teacher said she still looked brand new. However, I played with her a lot back then, and as will happen with well-played toys, eventually she played out. Her walking mechanism broke, her legs came loose at the hips, and her plastic-shoed feet deteriorated. I got older and dolly was dismissed, forgotten at the back of the closet.

One Christmas in the mid 1980s when my dolly and I were in our 20s, my mother went on a doll rejuvenation spree — cleaning and redressing several of my sisters’ and my dolls, including my formerly walking dolly. So I reclaimed her, and she’s been back with me ever since.

Today you can find Baby First Step dolls online, even new in the box for upwards of $150 on ebay. Those poor dolls. They were never loved like my dolly. Mine’s not for sale. She’s a precious memory marker for me, not only at Christmas, but all year long.

Laura Sternweis

One Good Halloween

halloween-1966A store-bought mask and a plastic pumpkin used to be all a kid needed for Halloween. At least that was all this kid needed in 1966. I was 4 years old when I embarked upon my first Halloween adventure.

I don’t recall whether I had given my mother any indication of what I wanted to “be” for Halloween. And I can’t confirm whether I had any input into the selection of my final costume. Most likely my mother chose the blue-haired nurse mask and plastic pumpkin I ended up with from a sale rack at the local dime store. But it didn’t matter. I was going trick-or-treating for the first time, tagging along with my older sister and her friend, a neighbor girl who lived just down the gravel road and up the county highway from our farm. I felt quite grown up to be going somewhere and doing something with the big girls.

We were three farm kids going house to house in the small town where my sister’s friend went to school. I imagine it was exciting to hike in the dark, collecting candy contributions for my plastic pumpkin. (This happened 50 years ago, so an exact account of the evening is unlikely.) However, I do recall one lady asking us where we were from, because she didn’t recognize us. When my older sister and her friend told the lady that we were country kids who didn’t live in town, she yelled at us for trick-or-treating in her neighborhood. But otherwise, the local citizens didn’t mind giving us candy.

When I was school-age, I went trick-or-treating once or twice with a grade school classmate. But most Halloween nights, like other nights, I was home on the farm, helping milk our dairy cows. Halloween just wasn’t that big of a deal for me.

Today most kids seem far more into Halloween than I ever was, with elaborate costumes and industrial strength candy bags year after year. That probably was true back in 1966 as well. I guess I’m just unlike most kids. One good Halloween is enough for me. A blue-haired nurse mask and a plastic pumpkin selected by my mother sustained me then. The memory sustains me still.

Laura Sternweis

My Sentimental Iron

iron-croppedWhen blue sparks start flying out from the electrical cord, it’s time to get rid of your iron — even when it’s the iron your mother gave you for Christmas in 1985.

I wanted an iron for Christmas that year. I had just moved in to my very own apartment, the first time I’d ever lived alone. I was looking forward to no more roommates with boyfriend issues or annoying habits. But no more roommates also meant no more roommates’ irons to borrow. So I made my request, and my mom came through with a name-brand steam iron, nicely wrapped for me under the Christmas tree.

That iron was a workhorse, ably de-wrinkling my good clothes after each trip to the laundromat. It remained a hardworking steam iron until 1988, when I moved from Wisconsin to Iowa as a newlywed. Shortly after we were settled in our new apartment, my husband accidently knocked my iron out of the bathroom storage cabinet, breaking the water reservoir. No longer could it hold water without leaking. I was in graduate school at the time and didn’t have extra money to buy a new iron. And besides, my mother had given me this iron. So my steam iron became a dry heat iron. It still removed the wrinkles from my good clothes. So I kept it and used it. Until sparks flew out of the cord in October 2016.

I guess two months shy of 31 years isn’t a bad life span for a former steam iron. I got my mother’s money’s worth out of it, and then some. Last week I bought myself a new steam iron. We’ll see if I get 31 years out of this one.

Laura Sternweis

Good Idea at the Time

wooden-shoesI keep my wooden shoes under the bed because I’m not sure where else to put them. I don’t wear them much. Actually, I don’t wear them at all, although they are my size. I bought them in 1978 at an international folk fair in Milwaukee. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I went to the fair with a busload of my Catholic schoolmates. All of us were studying Spanish, German, or French, the standard foreign languages offered in 1970s high schools. The trip was billed as a day of learning, but we students knew better. It was a road trip. To Milwaukee. We imagined it would be an adventure, and even it if wasn’t, it still was a day away from home.

At the fair my friends and I ate our way through an assortment of international foods and also browsed around the various vendors of culture and crafts. As I recall, the Holland booth was well stocked with wooden shoes in a range of sizes, including mine (U.S. women’s size 11). I guess I was so surprised to find wooden shoes that fit me, that I decided I had to have them. I believe I wore them back to the bus at the end of the day. I also believe that was the only time I ever wore them, except to occasionally tromp lightly in my bedroom at home.

The wooden shoes were an impulse buy. Because really, why would a 16-year-old girl from central Wisconsin need wooden shoes? And why does a 54-year-old woman in Iowa still need to keep them? I’ve been paying for that teenage shopping impulse for 38 years — with time spent packing and unpacking them in moves from apartment to apartment and house to house, as well as the time spent cleaning them. (Wooden shoes get rather dusty when unused under the bed.) But I think I’m finally paid up.

The wooden shoes were a good idea at the time. They were a fun novelty that at least set me apart from the other kids on the bus. But that time has passed. I now realize I’ve always enjoyed the story more than the shoes themselves. I once was the girl who kept the wooden shoes. Now I’m the woman who would rather keep the story.

So instead of remaining under the bed, my wooden shoes will find their next home via a garage sale, in a thrift store donation bag, or on the curb, whichever happens first. Because at this time, it’s a better idea.

Laura Sternweis