The Blog

Do you improvise?
July 14, 2015

Am I the only woman who scored a husband who likes shopping with her? From the looks on the faces of most men trudging along beside their sweethearts, maybe. That’s one reason I was excited to show Darrell the latest find -- to let him weigh on a dress I was sure was a winner.


That’s not Darrell.

There was a guy sitting next to him, wearing the same T-shirt in the same color and sporting the same color hair in the same style.

Decision time. Do I tell a complete stranger I almost asked for his opinion on a dress?

Why not? Worst case, he isn’t in the mood to joke around. I could handle that.

He bit. “It looks lovely!” he exclaimed. “Turn around,” Darrell suggested as they laughed. I spun around. They looked at each other and said it at once: “Buy it.”

We smiled about the exchange for hours. It’s still something else we learned from Katie. Shopping for clothes or kitchen appliances or even groceries isn’t boring. It’s just a different backdrop for sparkling conversation.

Speaking of which, I recently asked a guest on the show when his new book’s coming out. No idea, he admitted. He hadn’t finished writing it. He teased me it’s difficult to write when he’s, you know, doing radio interviews.

“Thanks a lot,” I fired back.

“You know,” I added, “I have other things I could be doing with this time, too!” He cracked up. I was surprised by the lack of hesitation in my voice. Then I realized what had happened in the course of becoming a radio talk show host. I pay more attention to every exchange with every person. It’s easier to sound playful on the air if that’s your default.

Oh, sure. You have to know your audience. I’m not me with everybody. I invest zero energy in a hostile crowd. I just sort of slip into neutral, and pretend like I’m watching a movie.

Otherwise? Let’s play.

Darrell and I were relaxing next to a pool recently when one of the lifeguards made the announcement the place was closing because of a “biohazard.”

We looked at each other. A biohazard? We cracked up instantly, realizing that was almost certainly code for a swim diaper that couldn’t hold up.

While the term is technically accurate, it evokes an image more terrifying than the actual event. Like (you guessed it) the Baby Ruth bar in the Caddyshack pool.

Which reminds me of Jaws. Because -- and I’ve been waiting to use my friend’s line in this blog -- that was a movie, too.

bananaWhen it comes to snacks, it’s difficult to top bananas. They’re good for you, you don’t need to wash them before eating, they come in a disposable carrying case -- and if they’re big enough they count as two servings of fruit.

I spend a few extra seconds on every grocery run selecting the perfect bunch, and Darrell’s endlessly enchanted. “What?” I’ve always want to ask. “What are you looking at?” But I suddenly realize he doesn’t know what goes into the decision. It’s about time I shared, don’t you think?

First I look for green -- but not too green. When we buy bananas that are really green they never taste right as they ripen, and I have no idea why. You don’t want them too ripe, though -- unless you make daily trips to a produce stand. That might be the highlight of my day at some point. I hope not!

Then I look for bananas on the smallish side, because for the reasons I just mentioned I’ve probably had enough for one lifetime. I’m sick of them. But they’re part of a balanced diet -- and a smaller banana, once a day, is perfect.

Finally I look for a few days’ worth of “just the right amount of green” bananas in one bunch. It sounds silly, I know. And it is. But when I open the pantry the single bunch is more aesthetically pleasing than (a bunch of) strays. I used to flog myself for caring until someone said you can change what you spend time on, but you can’t change what you want to spend time on. I love a pantry or a refrigerator or a bathtub that looks like it could be featured in a home design magazine, and it takes almost zero time and effort. Sue me.

So there you have it. How to choose bananas.

Oh. And that look Darrell gives me, mid selection? You should see that look! I’ve been seeing it every day since we met, and it never gets old. The Family Man comes to mind, when Téa Leoni’s character asks Nic Cage’s character how he does that -- look at her like he hasn’t seen her every day for the last thirteen years. We’re going on twenty-one years, and I’m still getting that look at least once every day and twice on Sunday.

Darrell sees something in me I don’t, something good. Something interesting. That he can hold my attention after so many years makes him feel pretty good about himself, to hear him tell it. If there’s a better way to evaluate someone you might want to spend the rest of your life with, I hope you’ll let me know!


photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

We have a policy in our family. No holding back. If we’re bored or unhappy, we talk. Maybe the other person can help, maybe not -- but the odds drop to zero if she doesn’t know there’s a problem.

We have another policy, which is to be as kind as possible when delivering that truth. That’s more like a guideline because there are so many exceptions. Darrell and I imitate Katie constantly, for example. “I’m bored!” one of us chirps partway through the other’s sentence. Sometimes we do that even if we aren’t bored, that’s how enchanted we are by Kate’s honesty.

Wrapping the truth in kindness takes time, and sometimes it’s a lot of work.

Worth it!

My romantic past is littered with people who looked mighty good on the outside. Isn’t everyone’s? Suddenly it occurs to me how few of those people still look good, and I’m not talking about the ravages of age. I’m talking about the ravages of not taking care of yourself. The old, “Oh, to hell with it.”

But that’s beside this point.

I forgive myself for the youngster I was, who most certainly could be snookered by a sweet talker with a beautiful face. It didn’t always occur to me to question a motive, put it that way.

That’s changing, though. Now I wonder if certain people show up just to make sure I learn my lessons. If we can think of ourselves as characters in a cosmic play, we might have flashes of recognition. “Oh! This character again!” Different person. Same issue.

I love what someone told me last spring when I made my speaking debut. “This is obviously,” he said, “not your first time at the rodeo.”

Isn’t that a great line?

Now I frame problem people that way. “This isn’t my first time at the rodeo,” I’ll think. “And you are not going to mess up this chapter of my life.”

The most difficult part of doing phone work is leaving messages. That’s because Darrell, who’s inches from me, can hear them. He thinks I sound fine -- great, actually -- but they feel a bit lame to me. You know what I mean. You’ve left messages for people, right? Don’t you feel silly sometimes?

Darrell’s reaction? “Better you than me, baby.”

That would’ve been it, had I not talked with sports agent Ken Ungar on the show recently. And just as an aside, I’d probably eat worms every day for lunch for the opportunity to do this work, that’s how much I love it. Ken spends his time alongside his employees. There are no office walls separating anyone. At first I thought that would make work even more of an interruption factory than it already is, but then I realized -- for starters -- how difficult it would be to waste time on Facebook with your boss sitting right there.

More importantly, Ken’s people don’t have to wait until for an annual performance review -- talk about lame -- to find out how they’re doing. They find out as they go along, the way everything else is coming at us these days. In real time, as they say. Good call, bad call. If people can hear each other they’ll learn from the good and offer suggestions on the bad.

Oh, sure. It requires people who are willing to admit they don’t know everything. That’s what you’re hiring for, Ken and I agree. Not a bad trait to look for in anyone you spend time with, eh?

So Darrell can hear the messages I leave. So what if they sound lame? The task isn’t to make them when he isn’t around.

The task is to be less lame.

Billy JoelThis is a tale of two concerts. Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, the Barenaked Ladies at Newman Field in Fargo.

Seeing Billy Joel in New York with my sweethearts had been one of my lifelong dreams. Sitting on lawn chairs watching the Barenaked Ladies with Katie’s friend -- he’s another sweetheart, by the way -- was Darrell’s idea.

So which experience lingers? Which are we most likely to wax dreamy about?

Yep. The Barenaked Ladies. Which surprises me. I could barely contain my excitement about the other, after all. As we walked to the Garden I pretended to tell people looking at us through restaurant windows, “We’re going to see Billy Joel!”

We had fun waiting in line for that one, and cracked up at Katie’s observation: “I haven’t seen this many old people since the community band concert!” But several songs into it I turned to Darrell and said, “I feel like I’m still waiting for it to start.” We had good seats. That wasn’t it. He was playing our favorites. That wasn’t it, either.

It almost felt like I was watching it on TV. Yes. That’s it! We weren’t so close to the stage we could see Billy’s face -- the way we could with Ed Robertson and his pals on the stage in Fargo -- and I found myself watching the monitor a lot. No wonder it felt like watching it on television.

Going to a Billy Joel concert used to be a religious experience. I was so fired up after watching him use his microphone as a baton and crawl on top of his piano and the speakers I felt like I’d had an energy transfusion. Billy’s older now. He doesn’t have as much energy.

I do, though. I can’t get over that. The older I get the more energy I seem to have. If that isn’t a sales pitch for the way I eat, I don’t know what is. Dilbert creator Scott Adams is a fan of energy-as-metric. Pay attention to it, and everything else will fall into place. Maybe not perfectly, but better. Just so much better.

The Barenaked Ladies, by the way, had energy. It was a relaxed energy, the kind that made you want to dance (we did) and not care if people were watching (they were too busy dancing themselves).

Everything is energy. Can you feel it?


photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

The other day I heard myself tell Darrell if I had my high school years to do over again I’d take a class in Latin. I probably had a good excuse for not taking one. It wasn’t offered, not that I remember. But now? What was stopping me now? “I could start today!” I thought. A few keystrokes later, I had.

Would you believe my first Latin word was hodie? Which means…today.

I’ve often wondered how much more precisely I’d think if I was fluent in another language. There’s been a tickle, after all, since someone mentioned at a workshop there are twenty different words for “flight of a butterfly” in his language.

The latest salesperson for cross-cultural immersion is (you guessed it) Katie. Darrell and I love listening to her bandy Chinese. It’s so much about tones. Isn’t everything?

Do you have an expanding philosophy of life? If you’re not expanding your horizons, how could you?