September 16, 2015 by Karin Fuller

The headline caught my eye.

“A third of Americans don’t know their neighbors.”

That number struck me as unreasonably high and I was drawn into reading the article–likely since I was at that very moment digesting a burger I’d eaten at the home of my next door neighbor.

Basically, the story was about City Observatory’s research that indicated how we, as a society, know far fewer of our neighbors than we did as recently as the 1970s. Researchers blame social media, claiming it’s easier now to keep in touch with our loved ones who live far away, so we spend our time nurturing those relationships rather than starting new. Comments in the section following the article were lamenting the loss, and it got me waxing nostalgic about places I’ve lived and those who have lived around me.

As neighbors go, I’ve been lucky. My new favorite neighbor loves our dog, fills my belly with burgers, and viewed my sneaking a fake leg into her cooler as a challenge rather than a sign I might be disturbed.

I’ve had other neighbors who have been equally cool.

Years back, just days after we’d moved to South Charleston, our big, shaggy dog managed to sneak out through a door we hadn’t yet realized was broken. He embraced his newfound freedom by exploring the neighborhood until he happened across a woman emptying flats of flowers from her car. He was more interested in the car than in her and since she’d left her car’s door hanging open, our ride-mooching pooch hopped in and sat in the passenger sit.

His gamble paid off and she took him for a ride, a few laps around the circle, before driving him back to our house. Which was how we met our first neighbor there, and through her, many more.

Before South Charleston, I’d spent about a decade in Poca. I hadn’t lived there long when I endeavored to dig out an overgrown shrub in the front yard, but the deeper I dug, the larger the root seemed to get. It turned into a Me versus Bush kind of thing. Before long, I’d removed so much dirt and chopped so hard at the root that it attracted the attention (and sympathy) of several neighbors, whom I hadn’t yet met. Soon, it was an Us versus Bush kind of thing. There was chopping and digging and chains and a truck. And by the time we were done, I was part of the neighborhood.

Over the years, we became close. Our kids, and sometimes our pets, traveled from next door to across the street to catty-cornered. We shared leftovers and Christmas candy and Halloween costume parts. We got angry over the same neighborhood injustices, coordinated how much the Tooth Fairy was paying, and helped keep track of who was currently housing our shared wet vac.

And then one moved closer to her parents, one left the state, another took a job near their daughter. We moved to South Charleston, and then moved again.

Didier was already friends with most everyone in his little community of maybe a dozen townhouses when Celeste and I joined him, so it was different this time around. He’d already long since broken the ice.

I love how the homes all face into each other around a little cul-de-sac, and how every now and then, the neighbors will join forces to take on tasks like trimming branches or clearing drains or repainting our sign. On the last occasion, it started pouring rain while we were out cleaning up around the pond, but we were having too much fun to let that to shut us down. Later, one of the neighbors who wasn’t physically able to labor went and picked up pizzas for us, and another neighbor brought over a pitcher of sangria, and we all sat in one of the driveways and ate and talked for a while.

And now, just after I was starting to feel part of somethin
g so nicely established, a For Sale sign showed up in the yard across from us. Two others have announced they’ll soon be moving as well.

I worry their replacements might be part of that third of Americans who aren’t interested in knowing their neighbors, although thankfully, the odds are still two-thirds heavy they won’t.

There’s an old saying about good fences making good neighbors, but I don’t agree. It’s sharing leftovers and wet vacs that does it. Knowing the names of their dogs.

And a pitcher or two of sangria.



September 16, 2015 by Karin Fuller

ducksAbout 20 feet from where I sat down on my deck to write, a pair of ducks were chowing down on bird seed scattered on the ground. Watching them eat, I thought about that mallard-related description, “being nibbled to death by ducks,” and realized it perfectly describes how I’ve been feeling lately—nibbled on.

For a while now it’s felt as though bits of me have been getting gobbled in random, rounded-edge bites. Not anything major, just those routine kinds of things. Before my car’s new tires were paid for the cat got sick. Before the vet bill was paid for, the brakes needed replaced. Before the brakes were paid for, the furnace went out. Before the furnace was paid for, there was a bout of pink eye and a kid-related expense and a throbbing tooth and another sick cat.

For every inch forward I manage to get, I’m ankle-dragged backward a foot. It has me wishing I could pause the treadmill long enough to just catch my breath.

Don’t get me wrong–I love my life, duck-bites and all. I feel ashamed for complaining when there are people who would gladly trade the least of their bads for my very worst. I get that. I do. And yet this relentless duck nibbling starts up and gets me flip-flopping between being grateful and then feeling picked on, and then trying to force myself into feeling grateful again.

One of my best friends, Pam Hanson, and I have an arrangement where we allow each other to swap complaints without judgment, recognizing that sometimes a person needs nothing more than to vent. Even though there’s nothing she can do about the hours I waste in traffic delays on Interstate 64, she’s there when I need to let off some steam. And although there’s nothing I can do to get a contractor to actually show up at her house 1,077 miles away from here, she says it eases her stress just to be able to gripe.

Occasionally, Pam or I will make the mistake of venting to someone who isn’t part of our grumble pact, and we’ll invariably be scolded.

At least you have a car to get to work,” they might say.

“At least you have a job.”

“At least you have a house for a contractor not to show up to work on.”

By that line of reasoning, though, saying we shouldn’t be sad become someone has it worse would also mean we shouldn’t be happy because others have it better.

I’m not buying that.  Pam isn’t either.

I’m generally one of the happiest people you’ll meet—so long as you don’t meet me right after I’ve spent two hours driving what should’ve taken 20 minutes to travel (for the third time in a week). Or after I’ve come home and discovered two sick cats had apparently been chasing each other at high speeds through every room of the house. A week after we’d shampooed our carpets.

Most of the time, though, I walk around feeling blessed. I just don’t get to walk very far before I encounter more ducks.

There seem to be more than usual lately, and I’m finding that, along with whining to Pam, it helps to spend time outdoors, especially if there’s something mindless to watch, like water or animals.

In the past, refinishing furniture was one of my favorite de-stressers. There’s something about stripping off paint and then sanding the wood that can get me in a zone where my mind simply rests. The only focus is removing the paint, smoothing the wood.

I’ve found that exercise helps too. Some friends who are runners frequently describe finding peace when they run, and I’ve experienced the calm that comes from riding a bike.

But often, the ducks will descend when circumstances don’t allow for going outdoors or riding a bike or sanding some wood, and that’s when I call Pam. Or when she calls me. And we’ll rant about whatever or whoever is driving us nuts.

Sometimes, we’ll offer advice or suggest a distraction, but mostly, we just listen. And occasionally remind each other that prison beige and jailhouse orange aren’t good colors for us.

Even though those ducks might like to land on our heads, we’ve promised each other–we won’t let them nest.


August 23, 2015 by Karin Fuller

It’s bugging me not to know.  I suppose I could knock on the door and ask, but that would be weird. Like sticking a leg in her cooler wasn’t bizarre. It’s asking that’s strange.

The leg in question was rubber, and it was a spare. It’s a little difficult to explain how one comes about having spare rubber limbs in their house, but over the years, we’ve had many. The prevalence of Halloween superstores now makes fake body parts easy to acquire, but my history with them goes back to the days when the late great James Dent still roamed the halls of the Gazette.

While cleaning his office, Dent found a realistic-looking rubber leg, which he gave to my boss, who gave it to me. The leg was fantastic with realistic-looking, bendable toes and a heft that seemed about the same as what an actual half-leg might be.

It made many appearances over the years. Its toes barely peeking out under the curtains or a bed. Trapped under the garage door. Partially wedged in the mower. Hidden in luggage.

A friend who house-sat our pets was digging a cup of Purina from the bin of dry food when she came across toes. Said the friend, “I’d seen that damn foot so many times by then that I didn’t even jump.”

Clearly, the foot needed a rest. We packed it away and forgot about it for the last year or two, until Didier’s kids were visiting over the summer.

It was late and everyone was watching a horror movie when Celeste and I took the pup outside for his final romp of the night. We came back in through the garage, which is where the leg has been living, tucked deep in a cabinet.

2015-07-08 12.03.56“Hold up a second,” I said to Celeste as I dug out our much beloved leg.

Which I gave to the pup.

Who raced happily inside with it, right in the middle of where the kids were watching their scary movie.

Their reaction reminded me a little of when a neighbor boy came to our house when Celeste and I still lived in Poca. Back then, we had a fairly large collection of body parts randomly lying about, including a hand. The hand’s nails had been polished and it was wearing a few bandaids and a bit of Mercurochrome, so it looked a little more realistic than it had when it was fresh from the store. Somehow, that hand ended up on top of a cabinet in our family room.

My daughter and some friends were in the family room with this new kid. He was a big, burly boy about 10 years old, and he happened to leap onto our ping-pong table just as I walked in the room.

“Hey!” I said—and then, in one of those ponderous parenting moments I’ll never quite understand—rather than asking him to get off the table, I grabbed the fake hand and said, “This is all that’s left of the last kid who did that.”

He jumped down and backed slowly out of my house, never taking his eyes off me for an instant. He seemed like a fairly tough kid with a decent sense of humor, so I didn’t really give it much thought until a few weeks later. When the flower pot incident occurred.

Back then, our collection included a sticky finger that was meant to be tossed up onto the ceiling, where it would cling for a while and then drop on some poor, unsuspecting person who happened to pass underneath. At some point, the finger likely fell into one of my houseplants and remained there, unnoticed, until summer came and I carried my plants to the deck for some sun. From there, rain likely loosened the finger’s grip and it fell to the ground.

Where it remained until that same boy’s errant baseball rolled down the hill and landed directly beside it.

I’ve been told he’s in college now, studying forensics. I can’t help but wonder if we didn’t have something to do with that choice.

We live in a different neighborhood now, with a fresh batch of unsuspecting neighbors. And a brand new one next door. One who returned from a trip and left her big Igloo cooler sitting by her driveway, propped open, to dry.

And there, it attracted a leg.

I heard no screams. Saw no flashing blue lights.

So I’m guessing she’s cool.



August 18, 2015 by Karin Fuller

toysOur house had been sans canine (though not feline) for nearly two years when my daughter initiated negotiations that resulted in its new altered state, with chew bones and squeak toys aplenty.

Although I’d deeply loved our last dogs, they were terriers, a breed whose hard-headedness and excessive energy appear far higher on the traits list than intelligence.

Growing up, we had German shepherds or shepherd mixes. I continued along that vein myself for years, until my ex’s dog allergy mandated a hypoallergenic breed, thus the terriers. I quickly learned that going from a German shepherd to a terrier is probably like going from a Ferrari to a Nova. There might be similarities of the most general sense, but it’s a whole different ride.

Celeste’s new pup, Ash, is a mix. His coloration and brains suggest German shepherd. His long and gangly legs hint at grasshopper. Much of the time, his back half travels far faster than his front, and it’s fun to throw a ball for him and watch as his tail-end as it starts to gain on the forward half, and then take the lead.

Although uncoordinated, Ash is intelligent to the point where he occasionally leaves me feeling a little unnerved. Last weekend, he followed me into the bedroom and stood nearby as I stripped the bed and put on fresh bedding. He watched as I snapped open the top sheet, which I lofted briefly into the air before it settled in place on the bed. He watched as I did the same with the blanket—first into the air, and then tugging it down into place.

happy ashSo when it came time for me to do the final piece, Ash was ready. I flipped our puffy comforter up and then let it drift down, where it settled about halfway down the bed. I’d just grabbed the corner nearest me to pull down when Ash stood on his hind legs and grabbed the opposite corner in his teeth. At the same time as me, he tugged it down over the edge of the bed.

“What the heck are you? Some weird Disney creation?” I asked. “Cause if you and the other woodland creatures are gonna start making me a gown for the Ball, the curtains in Celeste’s room are a more flattering color.”

(The suggestion wasn’t mean as an insult to his intelligence. Just taking into consideration a dog’s issues with colors.)

I’m enjoying having a dog as smart as Ash seems to be. From the first day Celeste brought him home, he’s grasped the boundaries of our yard in a way that makes it appear we have an invisible fence. Housebreaking happened almost overnight, and Ash now rings a bell that hangs on our door when he’d like to go out—a privilege he abuses to an obnoxious degree. When he wants back inside, he stands and turns the knob himself (easily do-able since it’s shaped like a sideways S and opens inward).

A recent visitor standing near our door was surprised by the pup letting himself in.

“You should teach him to shut the door,” said our guest.

Ash immediately used his butt to whap the door closed in a way that was so practiced looking it appeared deliberate. I pretended Ash does that all the time. He doesn’t.

Unfortunately, Ash’s intelligence has a boundary. It ends just shy of his water bowl.

Over the years, I’ve had dogs that liked to cram their mouth full of kibble and then trot off with it into the next room to eat there. The pup tries to do this with water.

It’s become routine to see Ash stand at his dish, tidily munching his chow. He then polishes off his meal with a bowl-emptying long slurp of water. Which he seems certain will taste better in the living room.

I used to occasionally wonder by what means I might one day leave this earth. I’m now fairly certain it will involve something to do with our kitchen floor doubling as an ice skating rink.

He mostly a smart Ash, but sometimes, he’s a pain.




August 10, 2015 by Karin Fuller

I’d settled down with my laptop, preparing to write on a semi-serious subject, but Didier’s laughter kept drifting upstairs and sneaking under my door.

It’s a great laugh. Genuine. Frequent. It spills out of him easily and comes looking for me, likely aware it’s a favorite sound.

I glanced at the clock and knew the source for his laughter—Seinfeld reruns on TBS. We’re creatures of habit, he and I. Doesn’t matter that we’ve seen every episode to the point where we can do chunks of dialogue verbatim (him far better than me). Doesn’t matter if the episode they’re airing is the same as the day before. Doesn’t matter that we have all the seasons on DVD that we could watch commercial free if we chose. If it’s on, it’s on.

Often, we have the show playing in the background as we do other things. The familiar voices in familiar settings saying familiar things. It’s the auditory equivalent of comfort foods. Like hearing grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Although Seinfeld ended its nine year run 17 years ago, back in 1998, it’s been airing in syndication since 2002–giving us plenty of opportunities to memorize random lines and work bits from the character’s lives into our own.

For instance, if we see someone wearing a puffy jacket, one of us will ask the other, “Is that Gore-Tex?”

Walking around Home Depot almost inevitably prompts a suggestion for putting in levels. Making a special request or asking a silly questions is answered with, “No soup for you!” Stress one of us out and we’re likely to bark, “Serenity now!”

People can either be sponge worthy or breathtaking.

We celebrate Festivus. Suffer from Jimmy legs.

I’ve found fandom brings with it some shortcuts to forming friendships. For instance, I brought a pillow to work to balance out a desk seat that tipped forward. I got the chair fixed, but the pillow remained behind my desk. A coworker spotted it and immediately started calling me George. I knew in an instant she was gold, Jerry. Gold.

Admittedly, we watch too much TV. The bitter cold winter and endless rain earlier this summer had us hunkered indoors, binge-watching one series after another. We finished every episode of The Office and then switched over to Breaking Bad, interspersed with Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones, often getting so immersed in whatever show we were watching at night that random lines will drift over into our day.

Try to pick up a check and it would get snatched away because, “A Lannister always pays his debts!”

Walk into a room and forget what you’re there for and it’s, “Where’s Carl?”

Don’t like what someone’s said? You tell them to “Just look at the flowers.”

I thought this particular peculiarity was only a thing in our house until one of my coworkers smoothly used a line from <I>The Office<P> in conversation. When I asked about it, she said it’s something her entire family does, even the children.

Jennifer said her family was having dinner when her 8-year-old daughter managed to smoothly add one of Jim Halpert’s taglines (from The Office) onto the end of another family member’s statement.

“And then you’ll be saved,” said Charissa, at the exact perfect moment.

Not to be outdone, her son, who is just starting kindergarten, later worked in a Dwight Schrute line.

“You can’t go wrong with a throat punch,” he said.

Although there are some who might bash those of us who watch a good bit of TV, who might hop on their high horse as they condescend, it’s nothing but a bunch of “yadda, yadda, yadda” to me.

Shows make it possible for people to share inside jokes. And some prompt the kind of laughter that carries up the stairs and sneaks under a door and lures a girl from her laptop to listen.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


August 3, 2015 by Karin Fuller

smilingNow I know why dogs love to ride with the windows rolled down, their head hanging out. Why they smile when they do.

We went riding last Saturday. I sat behind Didier on the back of his Harley as we followed his friend Zach McIntyre, a former St. Albans resident who now lives in Oklahoma, from our home in Hurricane to his parent’s house in Ravenswood.

Didier and Zach served together in the Marines. Zach is now a high school psychology teacher, and he and his teenage son Taos have spent the summer traveling all over the country—as they do most every year, with their motorcycles stashed in the back of their truck.

topperNot long after Zach arrived at our house Saturday afternoon, I was telling him about an old Harley scooter I’d seen on TV. Turns out Zach’s dad has restored a 1960s Harley Topper scooter and has it for sale.

That was all the destination motivation we needed to be on the road heading from Hurricane to Ravenswood the back way, over Route 34 North. The road twists up Red House hill and then starts bending back and forth so much it’s a wonder it doesn’t break. Time wise, it has to be the longest 20-mile stretch of road in the state.

We connected with other back roads and looped through such beautiful country, the air fragrant with freshly cut hay and burning brush piles and fired up barbeque grills. Wind soft on my face. Bugs wedged deep in my teeth.

I’m still fairly new to this bike-riding business, but I’m learning. Talking or smiling while riding comes with a risk.

Although this was not my first ride, it was my first long one. Didier has had his bike since well before we met, but shoulder surgery left him feeling shaky about being able to adequately handle the heavy bike around curves, so his bike has mostly been decorating our garage for a while.

We stretched our ride out with a few detours down back roads, but eventually reached the McIntyre home, where I got to spend a little time with the most interesting family. Although I was only with them an hour or two, they felt like people I’d known all my life. I learned it wasn’t just Zach and his son who’d been infected with wanderlust—the whole family has it. I listened with envious ears as they talked of cross-country motorcycle trips of the past and plans for more.

I haven’t spent much time around bikes or the people who ride them. Prior to this road trip, I’d never given motorcycles much thought. They were a means of transportation, but to me, an often impractical and somewhat dangerous means. I’m a fairly sensible, conservative person. I’m a windows rolled up, doors locked, seatbelt on sort of girl. Motorcycles don’t make sense for people like me.

And yet holy crow, was that fun!

I wasn’t around the McIntyres all that long, but realized they’ve figured out how to live more than others. They get the same number of hours in a day as the rest of us, but seem to know how to squeeze more life out of theirs.

I’ve long been living a car kind of life. Getting from here to there to the next place in a safe and mostly sensible way. Without fragrant air in my lungs. Without wind tangling my hair. Without a bug or two speckling my smile.

Without fully living every hour I’m given each day.

Even though I’m not brave enough (yet) to buy a bike of my own, I’m determined to make more time for the road.

Since I’ve learned that four wheels might move the body, but two can awaken the soul.



August 3, 2015 by Karin Fuller

January 2015 CAVPhysically, my daughter doesn’t resemble me. Starting from the time Celeste was born I’ve heard how she looks like her dad or his sister or Mom–none of whom look anything like each other. Yet at different times in her life, Celeste has resembled all three.

She’s been compared to my nephew, a cousin, an aunt. Darn near every relative including those by marriage seem to be physically represented in some way in Celeste– except the person who labored sixteen hours to bear her.

Yet I’ve started seeing me there. Maybe not physically, but in other ways. Some of which have only recently begun to appear.

For instance, much like me, Celeste couldn’t wait until she was grown so she could hear the pitter patter of little feet. And just like me at this age, the pitter patter would come from dog feet. (Mine was a German shepherd. Hers, a shepherd-boxer mix.)

Like me, if she’s in the car and someone else is driving, she’s asleep. Sometimes before the car even leaves the garage.

And like me, she requires half the dishes in the kitchen be used to make a single sandwich.

We’re both slow to anger, quick to forgive, and both have terrible trouble matching faces with names. We’re generally more comfortable in the presence of animals than people. And neither of us should ever be allowed to operate a car in reverse.

Lately, I’ve been especially reminiscent, as her 18th birthday is approaching (July 30). It’s put me in a looking back frame of mind, thinking about how easy Celeste was, right out of the gate. (Though that gate part wasn’t much fun.)

Even as a newborn, she mostly slept through the night. She skipped the Terrible Twos and Tumultuous Threes. Kind of grooved along smoothly until the second half of her teens–at which point I began having to cover my grays far more often. I’m now at every other week. (Her poor father is bald).

As part of her birthday present, I’ve been gathering many of the columns I’ve written about her into a single place. It’s been fun skimming back over those years and watching her personality evolve.

hallowee 2008 1 - Copy
One evolution involved her annual choice of Halloween costumes, which started out rather ordinary.
Cat. Angel. Witch. Hobo. But somewhere around age 10 or 11, her inappropriate sense of humor emerged and she went dressed as a pregnant teenager. (“What’s scarier than that?” she argued.) Next came the Goth Smurf. And Helen Keller’s ghost (white sheet, sans holes).

Once she’s attached herself to an idea, there’s no dissuading her. (Just like me.)ghost of helen keller

Another evolution was her early attachment to things. She saved every drawing. Collected every trinket. Kept every card. These days, she saves next to nothing (except on the floor of her car). She’s somehow become a frugal minimalist who loves Clearance rack bargains and Goodwill. (Much like me.)

It’s funny, this parenting business. She and I are so different, yet so much alike. Sometimes it seems as though having a child is like becoming semi-immortal. A part of you gets another turn. Gets to do it all over again.

And aside from all the Miss Clairol, it’s even more fun this time around.



July 19, 2015 by Karin Fuller

bystander-effectLast weekend, I was at a movie with Didier and his kids when a pair of girls seated near us gradually forgot they weren’t there alone. Their initially low giggles evolved to louder whispers before becoming flat out mall-voice talking. I could tell by their commentary they weren’t bad girls, just caught up in the moment, their manners forgotten.

“Hey girls,” Didier said in a low voice. “Shhh. Keep it down.”

They looked appropriately chastened. There was no back talk, no rude gestures. It was the dream response—which, as I’ve learned, is hardly the norm.

Several years back, I took my daughter and a friend to a show. The previews had ended and the movie was about ten minutes in when a family entered–mom, dad, child, and infant. For the next several minutes, they made so much noise we decided to move away, closer to the back.

For the next 45 minutes, the little boy talked loudly, his mom answered at the same level, and the baby fussed, cried and screamed. It wasn’t until it became impossible to hear the movie’s onscreen explosions over the howling baby that Meek Me had enough. I stood and asked if they would please take the baby to the lobby.

The mother turned to face me.

“You better not be talking to me,” she said.

Her attitude didn’t surprise me. Honestly, I’d have been more shocked if she’d acquiesced. What did surprise me was that none of the other moviegoers said a word in support even though many had been complaining about how someone should do something. Once that ball was rolling, they just sat back and watched.

When I didn’t back down, the woman’s husband spoke to her and then took the baby out to the lobby. The rest of the movie was uneventful. She didn’t seek me out afterward. The crowd simply dispersed.

I was lucky. It could’ve gone badly. The news is replete with accounts of people being attacked for far less than shushing someone in a theater.

Recently, it seems there have been more stories than ever about attacks happening in public places where, rather than help, those nearby either hurried away or filmed the events on their phones or pretended to be busy. Anything but assist. This kind of thing happens so frequently it’s referred to as the “Genovese Syndrome,” after Kitty Genovese’s 1964 murder, which was purportedly watched or heard by 38 people, yet none attempted to help.

That this condition exists at all is a nauseating thought; that it exists to such a degree as to be recognized and given a name makes it all the worse. Naming is accepting. It enables people to claim they haven’t failed as humans, but were powerless victims of a syndrome.

But tolerating bad behavior only feeds the monster, encourages it to grow larger and even more bold.  Do we believe that by looking away, bad things won’t ever happen to us? Or to those we love?

I wonder if any of these recent violent accounts in the news might’ve ended differently if the bystanders, rather than filming events on their phones, had stepped forward en masse to intervene. And I wonder how I would react if, instead of a few annoying theater goers, it was a genuine crisis I faced. I hope I wouldn’t allow my fears to prevent me from doing what’s right. I don’t think I’d back down, but until a person is in that situation, I guess they really don’t know.

Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

The peace that comes from apathy or tolerance isn’t lasting. It’s the calm before the storm.

It easier to sit back and wait for someone else to take action. It’s easier to claim The Syndrome prevented us from helping.

It’s easier to keep feeding the monster.

And let our children, and their children, clean up its mess.





July 12, 2015 by Karin Fuller

smartphone-excitement-2-hiI arrived late to the world of smart phones, having gotten my first about this time last year. Even though I’m tech-savvy in some ways, I’m a novice in others. It took me longer than I care to admit just to figure out how to use my phone as a phone.

The many apps available for smart phones and how to use them came next. One of my fiancé’s favorites is TouchTunes, an app that enables the user (for a small fee) to select the music that’s playing if the place they’re visiting has a TouchTunes jukebox. If we go into a bar or restaurant that has one, he usually can’t resist getting on his phone and switching the music to something more to his liking.

He has wide-ranging tastes that don’t always align with the other patrons of the particular establishments.

This tickles him greatly.

Last weekend, Didier and I were at our favorite hang-out near the St. Albans exit. It’s a decent sized bar with good food and a back deck that overlooks the Kanawha river. There are pool tables, dart boards, some poker machines. Basically, it’s your standard issue redneck-y bar, and its TouchTunes machine mostly plays country music with a few random few oldies mixed in.

Didier took the oldies part to a different level.

He played Mozart.

It was on for nearly a minute before someone pulled the plug.

Still, it got me thinking about a few apps I wish someone would invent.

For instance, I’d love an app that could sense a person’s need to be extricated from an unpleasant situation and provide a gentle opportunity for making a quick exit. Like, if the app hears certain trigger phrases being spoken such as “presidential election” or “I’m not really a fan of the Steelers,” the app would cause your phone to instantly buzz with news about a pre-selected emergency situation that requires your immediate attention.

“Of course I can help you move from your three story walk-up apartment to one just up the hill,” I would say.

Upon detecting the words “help you move,” it would buzz with an urgent message.

“Oh, no. I’m sorry. My cousin just went into labor and wants me there. I’ll help with your next move. I promise.”

Recently, in the middle of the night, I realized an app someone needs to invent—one that would scroll through content just a little bit faster than my eyes do so it could filter out the kinds of pictures and stories I keep running across and then can’t unsee.

It used to be that, on sleepless nights, I would drift around Facebook or Twitter and see what my friends were interested in. I’d roam around online for a while before eventually relaxing enough to drift back to sleep.

But all it takes is tripping across one graphic animal abuse photo or child neglect story and I know even a double dose of Ambien isn’t going to get me to sleep.

I mentioned my No Bad Stuff app idea to a few equally soft-hearted friends and they thought it was brilliant. Then I mentioned it to Didier, who said one already exists. He said it came free with the phone.

Excited, I handed him my phone so he could show me how to do it.

And he pressed the button that turns off the phone.

Sharpened appreciation

July 9, 2015 by Karin Fuller

Although Father’s Day is behind us, the holiday last month prompted Linda Weaver Bossie of Dunbar and me to start swapping stories about our families.

gossie grandpa“My grandfather, Robert Weaver, was a man of few words,” Linda said.  “He had this perpetually scruffy face, which he claimed he needed just for nuzzling me. I’d protest when he’d rub that scratchy cheek of his against mine, but I’d be giggling the whole time.”

She said she’d been told that by the time she knew her grandfather, he’d mellowed considerably. The years had softened his edges.

“He was my father’s father,” Linda said, “but the dad my dad knew had been different—stern and unyielding and relentlessly critical. A man who expected perfection from himself as well as from others, and especially from my dad.”

Linda’s grandfather was a skilled craftsman who could create beautiful things from what others would’ve likely considered worthless junk. During World War II, while serving as a Sea Bee, the senior Weaver fashioned a pocketknife using wood from the propeller of a downed Japanese fighter plane and the hardware from a disabled American plane. He made the casing from a tortoise shell he found on the New Zealand shore. He spent many hours creating a work of art that wasn’t just beautiful, but functional.

Somewhere along the line, Linda’s grandfather gave the knife to her dad, who was already grown with children of his own at the time he was given the gift.

That he wasn’t yet ready to receive. To him, at that time in his life, a knife was a knife.

“Dad put it in his tackle box and used it to cut fishing line,” Linda said.

Skip ahead a few years and Linda’s dad happened to be showing his father some new fishing lures “when Papaw spotted the dirty, rusted knife—well used, but neglected—in the bottom of the tackle box,” said Linda. Her Papaw reached in his own pocket and pulled out a new Case knife and asked his son if he’d like to trade him the Case for that old one. He jumped at the chance.

“Papaw didn’t say a word, nor did he judge Dad,” said Linda. He didn’t criticize him for being unappreciative. Instead, he sat back and waited, confident his son would eventually recognize and appreciate the value of that first hand-forged knife far more than the second store-bought one.

He was right.

knifeIn time, Linda’s dad—just like his own father—began to mellow, and he became contemplative about what he valued and why. When he recalled the knife and how he’d treated it, he was ashamed. He went to his dad and apologized earnestly for not having given it the respect he now realized it deserved.

“Papaw returned the knife to him,” Linda said. “He’d polished and oiled it so that it looked nearly as good as when it was new. Together, they placed it in a spot of honor in Dad’s home.”

Linda said her dad treasured that knife ever since, and takes pride in his father’s craftsmanship, that he could take scraps of discardeds and turn them into such a treasure.

How easily that knife could’ve remained rusted and forgotten in the bottom of the tackle box because the recipient hadn’t been ready to receive it.

So many of us go through life thinking all we need is this or that and we’ll be happy. If we lose weight, get a bigger house, a different job. But happiness doesn’t come from getting something we want. It comes from appreciating what we already have.

That once neglected knife has now become a family heirloom.  Linda’s father recently passed it on to her, and she hopes to one day pass the knife down to one of her own children or grandchildren.

When they’re ready to receive such a gift.

bossie girls