Write on

I’ve been a writer all of my life.

For 36 years, I got paid to write, but I was a writer long before my byline appeared in the La Crosse Tribune.

I’ve never understood people who struggled to write an email or put thoughts on paper. For me, that’s almost like breathing. Often, when I’m in a situation that I wish I could get out of, I imagine myself rewriting the scene. No, I’m not in a long line at the grocery — I am at a fancy gala in New York City. No, I’m not trying to weed the garden in 100 degree weather — I’m wandering the botanical garden in Brooklyn. (Something I’ve never done but always intended to do.)

I was never going to be anything but a writer. I don’t have the patience or fortitude to teach. I was never quiet enough or obedient enough to be a secretary. I wasn’t smart enough to be a scientist and accounting was never going to be an option.

I remember taking a test which measures brains and certain academic skills — probably the SATS. I got a 47 i n science, a 43 in math and 98 percent in reading and vocabulary skills. At the top of the test it read, “You should be a writer.”

I had already made that informed decision in fifth grade and nothing anyone said after that could dissuade me. A well-intentioned but very annoying assistant principal at my high school tried to force me to take the free secretarial training offered at the community college.

“You parents would want you to do this” she insisted.

“No,” I said with my best withering stare (even at 17 I had a very good withering stare). “They know I’m better than that.”

To all you excellent secretaries, I apologize. I just didn’t have the temperament.

To all you skilled financial gurus and scientists, I applaud you. The world needs more of your kind.

To all of you plumbers, electricians and carpenters, I wish I had your skills or at least  friends with your skills.

As for me, I’m content to wield words. They’re the most powerful tool in my tool belt and I don’t even have to plug them in.

What’s in a routine?

My sister-in-law Pat, who also retired this summer, just posted on facebook that this is the first time in 56 years she’s not going back to school.

As much as we all dislike some of our routines, I guess we need them. Without them, we are likely to read until 1:30 a.m. (didn’t quite finish the book), loll around watching HGTV (nothing good on Mondays), and putter around in the garden (too hot today).

I used to rush home on my hour lunch hour and accomplish things. I’d throw in a load of wash and hang it on the line to dry before driving back to work.  Today, I didn’t get the wash on the line until nearly 2 p.m. My excuse? I don’t have a set lunch hour anymore and I’m not trying to squeeze in projects. That means some days I don’t accomplish much.

Once I realized what a layabout I was, I set the sprinkler to water my parched gardens, finished off a painting project, and set about repairing a coffee table. I’m actually happiest when I’m puttering so it shouldn’t be too difficult to change my lazy attitude.

Still, I look forward to some cold January morning when the neighbors are shoveling at 6:30 a.m., knowing I won’t have to go out and deal with that chore until noon if I have nowhere to go.

Now, that’s retirement.


Back to the earth

I imagine my dad as one of the first recyclers.

The fact is, he was composting leaves, picking up aluminum cans and throwing vegetable scraps on the compost pile long before the rest of the world caught up with him.

So when I repurpose old things I acquire at auctions and rummage sales, I figure Dad is guiding my hand.

There are plenty of easy things we can all do if we just think about it.

One of my favorites is buying nearly full cans of paint and stain at rummage sales. I can usually get them for a quarter and they can last through many projects. They are expensive to buy new and they are hazardous waste so my recycling is a bonus on many levels.

I also hate to go out and buy anything when I can dream up an alternative that I already own.  When my WD-40 gummed up and refused to spray, I dug out a can of shoe oil that I got in a rummage box. Honestly, I don’t believe I have any shoes that need oiling but applying that oil with a vigorous application of steel wool cleaned up a lot of my rusty doo-dads.

The best repurposing, though, is when my sister Therese and I get together and figure out a way to make something cool out of junk. We did that this summer by taking the bottom of an old office chair, cutting off all the extra pieces and attaching it to a board on which we had decoupaged a map.

It sounds easy, but I was on standby to take Therese to the clinic as I watched her wield the Sawzall on that office chair. Let’s just say I won’t be using that tool anytime soon.

Instead, I handled the decoupage, something I’ve been doing for years. When I was finished with that map table, it was smooth as glass.

Not everybody can convert a chair and an old map into a table, but we can all compost our garden waste, use up our hazardous materials for their intended purpose, and try not to buy things in bulky packaging.

Or, you can hope I’ll attend your rummage sale and buy all your hazardous waste.


At the auction

Cocooned in the cool of the car’s air conditioning, I think I can accomplish anything.

I will stay to the end of the auction, I tell myself, and I will fill the car with great finds. Other people stand around in the heat and proclaim it to be a very good thing. Ah, at last, summer. In fact, the other auction goers look tanned and healthy and well rested. After five minutes, I am beet red, sweat,y and am contemplating a nap in the cool of my air conditioned house.

Why am I doing this, I ask myself. Oh yeah, because it’s fun.

And so I set out to have some fun.

Luckily, it took only 45 minutes to have that fun on this sweltering August day. And at the end of that 45 minutes, with buckets, pails, baskets, blankets, pillows and a canister set filling the car, I declared the 92-degree day the winner and yielded the field to my bidding opponents. No more clearing the table, no more lamps for a dollar.

I hauled home my treasure trove, stumbled over to the fan, and collapsed in a victorious heap. I came, I saw, a bought as much as my car could easily hold.

That’s a good day at the auction.



One day runs into another

Soon after my retirement, one of my auction pals asked me if I’d forgotten the day of the week yet.

“It will happen,” he said.

“It already has,” I said.

That’s the thing about not waking up to an alarm clock. Sometimes I open my eyes and just ponder where I’m at in that moment. I can’t always grasp the day but I do know I can be lazy if I want.

The one time that still feels the same is Sunday night. I often get the Sunday Night Anxious, as I think of it. This would be the signal that the too-short-weekend was over and Monday would arrive too early and often too awful for my unprepared mind.

I felt like that last night, even though I no longer set an alarm and I rarely scoot off anywhere in a hurry. Mostly, I go out in the backyard to put another coat of a paint on a repurpose project, wander out to the boulevard to pull weeds, or hop on the bike for a trip to the library.

I don’t know when I’m likely to recover from the Sunday Night Anxious. Maybe never. After all those years of work and school,  I think it’s now  part of my DNA.

Here’s what I do know: The alarm clock sits idle nowadays, I often read late into the night just because I can, and I don’t fret too much wondering what day of the week it is.



What’s in a name?

When I started at the La Crosse Tribune in 1977, there were five Geris. I was the only female among us, still it was confusing. On the copy desk alone, where I started out, I shared desk space with Jerry Frigo and Jerry Kahlert. In sports, there was Jerry Poehling, and Jerry Rosso lived in Features Land.

Because of that, and because it is a proud journalism tradition, we were all called by our last names — and I do mean called.

When deadline would approach and phones were ringing at a furious pace, I’d hear, “Parlin, I need that headline.”

Later, when I switched over to to reporting, it would be, “Give birth, Parlin. I need that story.”

This was a novelty to me. Having grown up as one of 10 kids, none of us was referred to by our last name because it would have been too confusing. And when I came into Journalism, in 1977, women were just breaking into the equality ranks so to be called by my last name made me feel like one of the guys.

That was a good thing.

At that time, we were still using courtesy titles at the Tribune. Courts reporter Terry Rindfleisch would have to chase down female defendants and ask them if they wanted to be referred to as “Miss,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.” You can imagine how uncooperative some of these women were. I’m sure they labeled him with many discourteous titles.

So I joined a team of style book reformers and we actually did away with courtesy titles. No more calling anybody a Doctor unless he was a medical doctor. So all you doctorate holders could just hang your diplomas on the wall and become regular citizens again.

The hardest part was the ruling we made for women. On second reference, all women — no matter their age or circumstance — would be referred to by their last names. This caused another problem as many long-married women were horrified to be referred to by only their last names.

Heck, many of these women didn’t even use their own first names. I remember my mom signing notes to school as Mrs. Leonard Parlin. I was horrified and told her that her name was not Mrs. Leonard. It was Rita.

Once, a woman called and gave her husband’s name.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Mrs. John Smith,” she repeated.

“No,” I said. “When your husband John speaks to you, by what name does he call you? What name did your parents give you?”

Nowadays, that must seem a quaint story,  but it shows how far we’ve come in our fight for equality as women and citizens of the world.

You can call me Geri, or you can call me Parlin. But please don’t use a courtesy title when speaking to me as I don’t find it courteous at all. Until we return to the antiquated form of male address — master and mister to designate unmarried from married males — I don’t want that label applied to me, either.



Good housekeeping? Perhaps not.

I have always been a fan of Martha Stewart.

Well, mostly the pre-jail version of Martha. I didn’t like her revamped show much but I’ve always liked her encyclopedia-like knowledge of everything from lilacs to cooking a lamb roast. I know she has a crew of people doing the researching, making the roast, and trimming the lilacs. Still, it seems to me if she had a free weekend she would be doing all of that and more.

Though I revere all things Martha, I haven’t soaked up much of her home keeping savvy. When she shows the television audience how to make a bed it looks barely mussed, as if she just pulled back the covers so she could demonstrate how to put the bed back to rights. When I roll out of bed, it looks pretty much as if wrestlers staged a match there the night before.

Still, Martha is always foremost on my mind when I encounter a house cleaning dilemma. So when I spent a couple hundred dollars to replace a leaky bathroom faucet, imagine my dismay when the slimmer profile of the new faucet set revealed encrusted hard water deposits that refused to be banished. I set my sister Mary Jo (my personal Martha Stewart) on the hunt for a solution, but baking soda and vinegar, lemon juice, and even CLR could not banish the hard water deposits.

Instead of Martha, I should have been thinking of Norm from This Old House, because I finally resorted to the tool box, pulling out a putty knife which proceeded to demolish that hard water build up like nobody’s business.

I’m so pleased with the results that I might actually bust out the Swiffer I bought two weeks ago and do some actual cleaning.

Or maybe, because it’s a beautiful day, I’ll just go back to the garden and pull a few more weeds.



Welcoming myself to blogland

When it comes to technology, I break out in a cold sweat.

It wasn’t so bad when I was in the paycheck world. At the newspaper, I could trot back to the Tech Room and say, “My computer’s not working.”

If that was met with indifference, I would up the volume of my voice, injecting the right amount of anxiety.  And I would stand there until I was assured someone with tech savvy would follow me to my desk.

Now, when my computer is not working, I’m more likely to go out in the garden and chop down lilac seedlings. It’s more satisfying and I know what I’m doing.

But enough people nagged me to start a blog that I decided to jump off Facebook for a moment and try it out. Thanks mostly to Jennifer Elliott who steered me to this web site and said she would help me. I decided to see if I could do it for myself. Sometimes, Jennifer, I just need a kick in the computer keyboard. (But I still can’t get the pictures out of my camera into the computer. That’s a problem for another day and will probably require chopping down many more lilac seedlings.)

Back in the paycheck world, I wrote a column once a week. My editors wanted me to blog. I couldn’t really see what the difference was and I actually started a blog and then never wrote anything on it. When I would visit it occasionally, there would be questions from readers on it that had gone unanswered for weeks.

That’s a bad way to blog.

But nobody is requiring me to do this and since I will not be turning in a quota of stories every week, I can probably remain faithful to this blog. I can’t pledge undying love but I will pledge to write, write, write.

Much of what I will write will be just like the column I wrote for the La Crosse Tribune. The main difference will be there will be no editors getting in between me and what I want to write.

After 36 years I will confess I mostly don’t like editors. I’ve had a few  very good ones — Larry Olson and Terry Shelton come to mind. They didn’t want to change my writing. They just wanted to make sure everything was spelled right and the grammar made sense.

Other editors messed up my copy, chopped out portions of my carefully crafted prose without bothering with transitions, and generally tried to tell me what to write.

They  could do all that because I got a paycheck every two weeks.

No more paychecks, so no more editors.

For years, as a reviewer, I took my lumps from the public. I was called many things, most of them not affectionate. My plan is not to write things on this blog that will elicit that kind of response.

What I will write are my adventures in gardening — not much in bloom thanks to sparse rain; my attempts at homekeeping — I’m no Martha Stewart though I like her magazine; and my fascination with auctions and all things vintage.

I find myself, then, in Geriland, a place that existed only in my mind while working at the Tribune. I was the mayor and if you got your information to me on time and complete with who, what, when, where and how, you were an honored citizen who got your news published in the paper.

Well, Geriland is now open for business. Welcome, citizens.