Keeping track of the year’s deductibles


Our first year with Cub Scouts the Den Master admonished us, “keep track of when and where you help out, and what you buy for the Scouts. The expenses and mileage add up for non-profit deductions.”

That good advice from the early 1970s is still good advice. Of course, we ignore it and trust our memories and monthly credit card receipts.

Last week hubby began compiling information to figure our non-profit mileage for tax deductions. Pulling out a calendar, my tax man began marking travel dates when we could not report for our volunteer activities.

I heard him muttering and flipping through the monthly statements from three separate charge accounts.

“What were we doing in Florida in March?” he asked.

“Using up timeshare points, visiting Little Free Libraries and driving to an airport to fly to Puerto Rico,” I said. “Was that in March? That’s earlier in the year than I remembered. No wonder it was cold and rainy on the beach.”

“It was March. After that I went a couple times to work at church camp. Here are the charges for gas in Malvern,” he said and scribbled a note on the calendar.

He did not have to ask me about the June gas charges in Utah. He will always remember the day he finally reached Dinosaur National Park and checked it off his bucket list. The only list I could check off was that I missed teaching Sunday School a couple weeks in June and July.

“We went to the funeral and then went on to New York in October, so we were not in church for Awana, right?” He asked me that at least three times as he held his pencil over the calendar.

Three times, I reminded him, “No, dear, we went to Indiana for the funeral in November. In October we gathered up Christian literature in Michigan and New York before taking them to Love Packages in Butler, Ill. to ship to third world countries that use English. On that trip we missed a couple Wednesday nights and Sundays. I think, we only missed Awana and Sunday School for the funeral.”

“What is this hotel night just a few miles north of my brother?” he asked.

“Oh, that was the night we thought we would put in an hour or so of driving into Michigan. Then it rained so hard you could not see where you were driving and you were suddenly very tired. We took the first hotel we could find, fell into bed and got up early the next day instead.”

“What were we doing at Office Depot in Little Rock in the middle of the week? And at a pizza place?” he asked.

We both thought a bit before I recalled, “That’s when we went to babysit grandkids while their parents went to a seminar. The kids had saved all their fast food prizes and discounts to use with us. They had fun and we had no fuss meals.” He checked off another time we missed Awana.

For days he tracked our travels and the times we missed church with our gas and food purchases: Florida and Puerto Rico in March; Utah, Colorado and Arizona in June; Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania in October, and finally St. Louis and Branson in December.

“We traveled a lot last year,” he said ending the interrogation and stacking the receipts. Yes, we did. Having endured those hours of interrogation, the Den Master’s notebook sounds much easier. This year I aim to earn the “Organized Tax Receipts” badge.

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Filling food

Wiping my mouth and tossing the Styrofoam plate and bowl into the trash at the motel, I gather up my suitcase, pocketbook and laptop. Time to hit the road for another day of traveling to see the family. Seeing the family is great. I love to have the face time with them..

Traveling down the highway past one restaurant after another, glimpsing huge, delectable pictures of sausage filled biscuits or three scoops of ice cream on a waffle cone may explain ‘why’ I return from most trips weighing five pounds more than when I left.

Having fueled our bodies with the breakfast at the hotel, we needed to fuel the car. We stopped at a station a few miles down the road with huge ads for pumpkin latte and pumpkin shake.

I wanted both. My stomach didn’t. It sank like an anchor and held me in the car. No way could I eat anything else right then. I had reached “full enough.”

Still it looked so good. And that is the problem on every trip. We hit new cities with new foods and every bite looks temptingly delicious.

So I welcomed my son’s invitation to a tasting event for every dish offered at a chain restaurant with 16 basic entrees. We skipped lunch and waited for the early supper. The brightly lit restaurant featured a colorful display of food options. Lucky us, we did not have to choose anything. The manager had set aside a corner booth with a “Reserved” sign on the table and a card showing all of our options. We could have anything we wanted on the menu.

“I usually skip the salads and soups and begin with the appetizers,” he said. We glanced at the salads and agreed we knew Caesar salad and vegetable soup. We took about half of each appetizer and placed the rest into carry-out boxes.

I should have stopped then and there. I didn’t. When would I ever again get a chance to have just a taste of every dish on the menu? Never.

Clearing away the empty appetizers the smiling manager brought us our first four entrees. Dishes from the Orient. We each grabbed a dish and began scooping out a small serving – a taste. A taste usually infers at least a teaspoon, no more than a tablespoon of the dish. We did not stop with one, we took two and sometimes three. We should have stopped with one.

A taste for all still left plenty of food in each dish. Adding four more boxes made a small stack of carry-out containers with 12 more entrees to test.

Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, the manager brought us four more entrees. Mediterranean this time. We tried a taste of each. The stack of take-away cartons grew taller.

He brought four American dishes. We looked at each other desperately. Could we do it again?

We did. We ate one tablespoon of each and four more boxes topped the stack of take-aways.

We declined two of the final four entrees as too common to taste. We miserably, quietly groaned when two more offerings of food appeared.

Finally, barely able to burp, we accepted a take-home dessert from our host and waddled away. My son took home all but four of the boxes.

We drove away holding our stomachs, whispering, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”

We headed for the Interstate and hit the road hard. We added many miles stopping only for gas. Even well into the next day not even the pumpkin spice latte looked tempting after our tasting feast.

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When elephants strolled the streets

The deserted mansion risked vandalism from neighborhood kids in the town where elephants once walked the streets. For reasons unknown, the three story mansion built in 1905 by Al Ringling in Baraboo, Wisconsin escaped wreckage during its 10 year abandonment.

The curious did come. They found an opening, entered and explored. The trespassers climbed the grand staircase to the bedrooms. In the attic the trespassers explored the Ringling family cast-offs. In the library and parlor the curious studied the stained glass windows of the cupboard doors. Looking up, they viewed the heavenly mural on the ceiling of the ladies’ parlor. Some ventured to stroke the keys of the boxed, grand piano near the tall windows.

Even though the homeless slept there, the house remained intact from 1926, when the last Ringling lived there, until 1936 when the Elks purchased the house as their lodge. For the next 75 years, the Elks enjoyed the building. They added a large auditorium/ballroom on the back and a bowling alley in the basement. To create a bar, they remodeled the dining room by building over a window without removing its expensive glass windows. They also remodeled the butler’s pantry. Otherwise, the house stayed the same. Family furniture and memorabilia remained intact in the attic until 2012 when the Elks sold the property to serve as an overnight guest house with daytime tours and a venue for special events. Area brides love making their formal pictures on the grand staircase.

Recently we enjoyed a tour of the house. The Elk’s bar is gone. A master carpenter stopped his task of converting it back into a dining room to talk with us. He said the original plans for the house had been found. He developed ways to match the existing cabinets and anticipated the arrival of new, stained glass which will match the existing windows.

Across the grand hallway, we admired the vintage pool table surrounded by a large collection of carved and molded elephants. Elephants were the signature animal act of the Ringling Brothers Circus. Pictures of elephants walking the streets of Baraboo reflect the uniqueness of living where the circus spent the winter.

Our tour guide said, “An older man took a tour of the house. As he walked through, he studied everything closely, nodded his head and said, ‘it’s just like I remember it. Nothing has changed.’” He said as a child he had sneaked in and explored the abandoned house. He helped validate that little had changed in the house except for the rooms the Elks remodeled.

In the attic, the new owners discovered the untouched, portable, wooden wardrobes designed for the Ringling family to use during their months of living on the train each year and an oversized chair for the tallest of the brothers. Upstairs the guide pointed out the rocking chair and the window where the ailing Al Ringling had sat as he watched the construction of the Ringling theater he built for the community. He only lived long enough to attend the grand opening of the theater before he died and left the house to his sister. As with his home, Ringling spared no expense in building the theater. It is grand, gilded in gold with box seats for the special guests and an orchestra pit.

Our theater guide said he personally owns and operates the bright yellow two-story bed and breakfast we saw as we entered Baraboo. We remembered the sign in front proclaiming that it too is a former Ringling Brothers home. A claim only to be made in Baraboo – where elephants once walked the streets.

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Principal Burnie HIbbard speaks about school shootings

The Florida school shooting again leaves us asking how to end these senseless deaths. Veteran high school principal Burnie Hibbard posted the following commentary on Facebook; he just happens to be my brother.

The first step in fixing shooting at high schools in America: There needs to be a better provision for principals at all levels who believe a child is a risk to other students to remove these students from a regular school.

Let’s take an historical look at what happened with shootings at schools (from Wikipedia’s statistics on school shootings): In the 1800’s a small percentage of students were in high schools, mostly smaller high schools. There was one recorded shooting at school in the 1800’s. As cities grew, high schools grew and the expectation for all students to go to high school increased. From 1900 to about 1970 the nation averaged about 14 shootings per year at school.

Since the 70’s we have seen two simultaneous events: 1.The increase in serving all students in school due to Special Education laws, increased graduation requirements, higher age requirements before dropping out, and general societal expectations that all students will go to college. 2. We have seen a significant decrease in hospitalization for mental illness with an increase in medication for mental illness. I suppose we might all agree these are in concept good. Together it means we have more mentally ill students in our schools than at any time in history.

I have served in administration for 21 years starting in 1995 at a high school of over 1,000 students. During these years I have taken knives, guns and a bomb from students. I’ve deal with threats and rumors and have used metal detectors at a prom. The threats were not all by mentally ill students and not all of our mentally ill students were dangerous. However, the first two assaults on staff members were made by a student who had previously spent seven years of his life in a mental institution. Now, that student would never have been institutionalized. Thirty years earlier he would have never been allowed out to attend a public high school. The correct choice is someplace in between these two extremes.

During my years dealing with discipline and threats at school I have dealt with reports from students, parents, police and the FBI. All of the threats were taken seriously and treated seriously. However, special education laws prevented keeping certain high risk students off the campus for long periods of time. Removing them for short periods of time often just made the students more angry and frustrated. Our counselors do a great job but they are not equipped to treat the truly mentally ill even though special education laws often require these very students attend regular public schools. (Let’s be realistic most charter schools and private schools would not take them.) Due to special education laws and the interpretation of special education laws, we now accept and expect behavior in our public schools that previously was only seen in mental institutions or jails.

Most of the shooters in the recent mass murders at high schools have been deemed mentally ill. So many voices are crying out to fix our services for the mentally ill. This would be a good first step! However, we can not fix our laws on mentally ill children without revising our laws for special education. There needs to be a better provision for principals who believe a child is a risk to other students and themselves to have more options than we currently have for these high risk children.

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Kids make me smile

Children always add a smile to my day. Recently, Sam’s mom urged him, “You need to eat some fruit with your hamburger.”

Sam studied his hamburger and said, “Well this bun has seeds. Fruits have seeds. So I AM eating a fruit.”

He is a smart alec – as is my friend’s child. The friend simply asked, “What did you do in school today?”

I took a test.”

What did you take it on?”

Paper.”

I love kid chuckles. I also love watching pre-verbal children discover each other. For instance the newest babies in the family, four-month-old twin brothers, were each perched on a parent’s lap at a family gathering. Activity and conversations swirled around them. Those two little guys ignored all the big people, turned to each other and had a twin bonding moment as they studied each other. I grabbed a camera and captured that precious moment.

Later, my daughter-in-love Patti captured another baby bonding moment between Abby, 1, and Katie, 2. Abby, still a crawler at the time, sat on the floor. Katie saw her sitting there, walked over and sat in front of this other person who is just her size. I watched the two batting their hands back and forth at each other, checking out how the other responded. Patti videoed their discovery of someone “Just my size.”

Katie, who strings together words into sentences, eventually rose up and went toddling off to find someone a bit older and more talkative.

About a month after that video, Abby spotted a pen in her daddy’s hand, realized she had important papers to write, stood up and took her first steps across the room to get that pen.

Katie, who has walked for a year, still enjoys being the littlest kid at her house. Her mom, however, decided it was time to put the diapers of babyhood away. She pulled out the baby potty chair and showed it to Katie. Katie looked at her mom and ignored every suggestion she use it. She had no interest in that plastic chair in the bathroom. Every morning her mom asked, “Katie, do you want to be a big girl and wear panties today or be a baby in diapers?”

Diapers,” Katie answered quite satisfied with the status quo.

I decided this is going to take a while, so I bought the largest package of diapers I could find,” her mom said.

Of course, the next time she asked Katie, “diapers or panties?” Katie said, “panties.”

Thinking of a day of mishaps, Mommy rolled her eyes and then helped Katie pull on the panties, packed back-up supplies and warned the teacher at Mother’s Day Out about the day’s decision.

Katie surprised her mom. Within two weeks she woke up dry and made sure she stayed clean and dry all day long.

Now what do I do with all those diapers?” her mom wonders.

Katie does not care. She wore only her big girl panties the night she and her sisters watched the opening ceremonies for the Olympic games with their dad. He posted a photo on Facebook that he took after leaving and said, “I walked back into the room and see the girls ‘training for the Olympics!’”

His snapshot shows all three standing, watching the television as each lifts dumbbells. Caroline, 8, holds a couple four pounders. Daisy, 6, lifts a three pounder and petite Katie raises a one pound weight in each hand.

I missed the Olympic opening ceremonies, but I did see my future Olympians and that added a smile to my day.

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Wanda’s Blue Bowling Shirt


Wandering through the house and lawn at estate sales, buyers may peruse a super clean house with tidy shelves of dishes and ornaments attesting to good housekeeping. Or, they may find an overstuffed “Pickers Sale.” Clean or cluttered, customers hope something catches their eye such as the cornflower blue bowling shirt that caught my eye at a recent sale. Its boldly patterned cuffs and collar stood out among the more traditional shirts, blouses and jeans. It was not an octogenarian’s typical attire.

This bowling shirt belonged in that closet. “She bowled many, many years. She bowled when we were home and quit about 20 years ago,” her son Frank Smith said.

She put down the bowling ball but kept her mementos. For the estate sale, her bowling balls and bag were tagged and displayed. On the dresser, a tray offered all her bowling pins for a few dollars. Some pins recognized her skill, others spoke of her years as a tournament and league player.

With closer inspection, the King Louie bowling shirt revealed that Wanda (the name on the shirt) played for the Cupples Refrigeration Team. At the waist is a pocket where, long ago, Wanda stitched her hometown league’s badge with its picture of an oil derrick and a bowling ball. The WIBC (Women’s International Bowling Congress) triple score on her sleeve declares she made three strikes in a row. Other badges affirm her skill with awards for having scored 200.

She went everywhere with bowling,” her son said. A fistful of badges inside her pocket track the height of her active years in bowling and her skills in the game. Before she retired from bowling in her late 60s Wanda Smith traveled the country to national tournaments and was the league champion from 1976 to 1980.

Her badges for state bowling tournaments took her to Springdale, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Little Rock, Texarkana and the Arkansas State WBA (Women’s Bowling Association) in Fort Smith. Oh, the places she carried her bowling ball wearing that blue bowling shirt. In time, the shirt only had enough room for the Championship tournaments she played across the nation in St. Louis, Las Vegas, Tucson, Miami, Memphis, Seattle, Denver and Baltimore.

For many, many years, Wanda bowled with the league one night a week. She played the year of our nation’s Bicentennial and wore a red, white and blue badge depicting a bowling pin and ball with 200 on it and another patch for the Bicentennial of the United States of America.

For years, one night a week after work, Wanda came home, replaced her work clothes with bowling shirts, slacks and shoes, grabbed the ever – ready bowling bag and left for an evening of fun with the team. On bowling night, Wanda Smith spun the ball down the alley, tallied the pins her ball knocked down and celebrated with competitions around the country. Wanda made time for bowling and bowling made an athlete in her.

Then something changed. First, she quit collecting badges from other states. Then collecting Arkansas badges. The last one dates 1996, about the year Wanda hung up her shirt and tucked the bowling bag and balls deep in her closet. The nights of crashing pins ended, but still she kept the memories alive with her collection of badges, pins and shirt.

No family can keep absolutely everything from their loved one’s estate. The shirt, badges, pins and balls sold. Her son kept the pictures of the smiling, victorious bowler and her team mates to insure that future family members know that Grandma made history at the bowling alley.

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Time to buy a car


Buying a car involves serious consideration. My husband spends hours researching costs, mileage, durability and resale value.
I don’t do that.
In fact I barely notice when he trades in vehicles. If it gets us from point A to point B safely, without any problems, I’m satisfied.
I had an opinion once, many moons ago when our family had grown too large for a sedan. I saw a great price on a red station wagon from one of hubby’s least favorite companies.
He bought it and drove it everywhere. We only had one car back then. Every time it needed a maintenance, he groused about the unreliability of that brand. I saw doom looming when I read that if a person does not like a car, the chances of having an accident increase significantly. About that time he validated the study, slid on a snowy road and walked away from a crunched up car. It still worked. It just looked awful. He chose a brand new car. Before we traded it in, the salesman said, “don’t fix the car, it will sell better that way.”
Sounded good to us, we had better ways to spend our time. The replacement was a factory fresh car from hubby’s favorite company.
He asked, “What color do you want?”
I said, “gray” with some other details. He came home with gray and not the other details.
The car lasted a dozen years. The primary driver liked that car. He replaced it with a van which also lasted a bunch of years.
The first time I bought a car by myself, I spent about 10 minutes looking across the street at a used car for sale. I walked in, wrote a check and drove it until my guy, who did not favor that particular brand, ran it into a deer. We will skip the couple of clunkers he bought for me to drive to replace it. I will note however that I never crashed them.
The next time I looked across the street and saw a car for sale, I walked over, wrote another check and drove that car for a decade. Recently that ancient car dragged us to the shop too often for repairs. All were fixable and far less than the price of another car or even a car payment. Then it overheated and could not hold its water anymore. Time to buy a car.
The guy who cares about cars began shopping. He asked me questions. He told me what we needed. Barely glanced up from my book, mumbled “Um-hum,” and rolled my eyes every time he said, “Let’s go car shopping.”
He went alone and came home with a couple of suggestions.
He insisted, “You have to test a drive a car before we buy it.”
“All right!,” I said, slammed my book shut and slumped out to go car shopping. It just wasn’t the same as looking across the street and seeing a car in my price range.
I did not like the car. Not wanting an accident, we decided to wait. One phone call ended the wait. “Come get me. The van just stopped,” my husband said.
The mechanic said, “It’ll take two weeks.”
We had one unreliable vehicle. Driving it one day, I looked across the street and saw two cars that looked interesting. I bought the first one I drove.
I wrote the check, tossed my coat in the backseat and drove away. Until his vehicle is fixed, hubby is driving the unreliable clunker, and I am driving the third car which took me 15 minutes to choose.

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National Sew Day in Union County

“Sew Day is next Saturday,” the email announced.

A day of sewing!? I wanted to go. My husband didn’t. He said he had other things to do. I made sure he had enough leftovers in the refrigerator, packed up my sewing supplies and the quiche I had prepared. People who sew all day need plenty of nourishment to keep up their strength.

Others agreed. By the time I arrived, food covered two tables and the counter. Three pots of soup, a green salad with fixings, chips, dips, crackers, spread, brownies, bread pudding, fruit compote, cake, ice cream, cookies, an apple cobbler, plus an assortment of beverages. We had adequate food for the day of sewing.

I looked around for a table to hold my sewing machine. Not the first table, the Featherweight Brigade had taken it over. Each had arrived carrying a small black suitcase. The four women swung those black boxes up on the table, snapped open the locks and lifted out the cutest little black Singer sewing machines. The 11 pounds of cast aluminum make these vintage sewing machines coveted by quilters for Sew Days.

The first time I saw the FW Brigade, I knew I wanted to join them. With my affinity for buying sewing machines at yard sale, I unknowingly purchased one. At home, I discovered I had snagged The Machine and joined the FW Brigade.

I swung my FW onto a table across from an impressive modern white machine with many sewing options. Unlike the FW which can only sew a straight seam, my sewing partner could choose from an array of fancy stitches. She sewed straight seams. Using my Featherweight I sewed straight seams and stitched together blocks for a disappearing nine-patch. After an hour of sewing, I needed more blocks to assemble and a beverage. I returned nibbling a cracker and sipping coffee. I sat down to assemble blocks.

My friend who does not sew arrived and offered to iron blocks for me. We checked out the food for lunch and agreed on the superb quality of the chip and dip. We chatted. She ironed. I sewed.

Another friend who also does not sew arrived carrying a cardboard box. “I bought this sewing machine 20 years ago to learn how to sew, and I have never used it,” she announced. A proficient seamstress smiled and guided her to an empty table, “time to take the machine out of the box and learn. Let me show you how to thread it, then you try,” the expert said with her congenial smile.

Threading conquered, the teacher gathered up pre-cut quilt blocks. “you can sew these together to make a four-patch block. Pin and sew them together like this.”

The newby sewed together a handful of blocks, stood up, checked out the snacks and roamed the room to see what others were sewing. A couple were making pillowcases to hold the Quilts of Valor that other seamstresses were assembling. Others worked on community quilts.

We all took time to inspect each other’s machines as we ambled over to the snack table. I chatted with the women grouping fabric by colors and inspected the hand sewing of four women finishing the binding of a quilt.

I only stopped at the snack table twice that time. I started to reach for more until I heard, “Lunch time. Let’s pray.”

Leaving their sewing tables, old and young gathered at empty tables to chat and eat. Sure we came to sew but sewing was just the excuse we used to get to enjoy the guarantee of food and fellowship.

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Turpentine and sugar, tonic or toxic

Every time the now retired brothers get together they commiserate about their childhood’s annual spring purge for pin worms. Sitting around the table they shake their heads over the teaspoon of turpentine and sugar each had to swallow.

It was a tablespoon of turpentine,” one insisted.

The others scoffed, “It was a teaspoon.”

They all agree it was the most awful thing that their mother made them take. Thankfully, the annual spring purge ended once the family attained indoor plumbing.

Still the memory lingers and one wonders, “How did she ever come up with that idea?”

She didn’t come up with the idea on her own. Turpentine and sugar have a long history as a traditional home remedy for worms. Just type “turpentine and sugar” into Google and the search engine quickly pulls up hundreds of websites.

At least as far back as the 1800s, sugar with a small teaspoon of turpentine received high regard as the best home remedy to purge out any bad elements in the body. It still does if one listens to the advice of one Internet doctor of questionable qualifications. Even that doctor, while praising the mixture emphasizes only one teaspoon and adds a cautionary note that it does not take much to do serious harm to a child. Obviously the doctor read the side of the turpentine bottle, “Poison, do not drink. If consumed call the poison control center.”

For those who believe all the hype about detoxing their body, another website details a five week detox featuring lots of fluids every day and a sprinkle of turpentine over three sugar cubes five days a week. The stomach churns just thinking about it.

Still many consider turpentine good for what ails you; or as is quoted on curezone.org “My grandma used to say ‘if ya cain’t be cured with turpentine, ya probly ain’t worth curin’.” and goes on to say, ”Turpentine and sugar was a sure cure for strep throat and tonsillitis.”

Home remedies follow one rule, “If it’s awful, it must be good medicine.”

During the 1918 influenza plague home remedies included: herbs, groundhog grease, onion poultices, mustard packs, turpentine fumes, smoke from burning straw, orange peel, chamomile tea and zinc painted on the inside of the nose. You took the medicine and then prayed, according to Sandra Opdycke’s book, “The Flu Epidemic of 1918: America’s Experience in the Global Health Crisis”

The brothers thought they suffered alone with their mother’s turpentine cure. They didn’t. It was just one concoction and experience recorded by Charles Bannister on the civilwartalk.com website: “we took catnip tea and sassafras tea. Turpentine and sugar was given for worms and sometimes people dosed straight with turpentine, as in the case of my brother who died of diphtheria. It was the doctor who doped him, and he gave him too much.”

Evidently that doctor never read the information reported in the Yankee New England’s Magazine, “Professionals and laymen caring for persons – found the whiskey functioned as a pain-killing tranquilizer. Its effects were certainly more reliable than many of the homemade cures such as inhaling turpentine fumes, sniffing camphorated vaseline, or lying beneath poultices of garlic and onions. Whiskey was more effective even than the various vaccines that were widely distributed by doctors to cities and military hospitals.”

For the brothers, it didn’t kill them and maybe it cured them. For the rest of us, read the side of the bottle of turpentine, the part that says, “Poison, harmful or fatal if swallowed. Keep out of the reach of children. If ingested … call the Poison Control Center immediately.”

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Test driving for research

Wanna go for a spin in that fancy car and earn some cash?

Some people collect stamps, my son Mert and his wife Sheila collect experiences as research subjects in the greater Detroit area: the original automotive development arena for the country. Car designers have to test their cars, first in the lab and in contained testing grounds and then on the street.

Years ago, Sheila test drove a car with a camera that showed traffic behind the car. She had to tell the researchers riding in the back which side of the car she saw traffic. Round and round a loop of freeway she drove as the researchers turned the camera off and on, varied its angle and perspective to assess the best view.

The initial anxiety of working with a new driver was followed with the monotony of the minutiae of testing. So tedious. One of the researchers fell asleep. With few cars on the road at the time and experiencing the bravado of a young driver, Sheila’s foot pressed further and further down.

The now wide awake researcher gasped as the speedometer hit 90. He begged her, “Please slow down a bit.” He still paid her around $100 for her time.

Driving too fast never was not an issue when Mert agreed to test drive the $100,000 Volvo of the future on the company’s testing ground. He wasn’t in control. The car was. The developer explained how to program the self-driving car’s distance to the car in front of him and advised Mert, “You have to touch the steering wheel every 10 seconds.”

Then for $25 per hour Mert “drove.”

“It was rather fun to drive a $100,000 car without the use of hands or feet when turning a corner on the highway. I just had to set my distance, let go. … and touch the steering wheel intermittently,” he said. The car set the speed, decided when it needed change lanes to avoid tailgaters and kept a safe distance from any cars in front of it.

Being a test driver hardly fits Mert’s usual transportation profile. He rides city buses and drives a company car on a special assignments. Another driving experience tested the capacity of cars to deal with tailgaters. “It was kind of weird (for a driving test,) I was cautioned to leave my hands off the wheel lest it hurt my hands,” he recalled. So he rode/drove along watching the car slowing down and leaving one lane for another in order to let a tailgater go ahead.”

Perhaps his low driving time influenced his experience during a simulated study inside a Honda. “I experienced nausea from speeding along a virtual highway that never ended,” he said with a grimace. In spite of the side effect he says he came away from that research time having learned a technique for dealing with tailgaters when he does drive.

Paid to learn, paid to test drive prototypes of high end cars, not bad for some serious pocket change. Plus, shades of the futuristic car, KITT, in the old TV show “The Knight Rider,” he has also dealt with intelligent bossy cars.

“I have driven a car that could detect traffic lights that were about to change and the car told me to speed up or slow down in order to get through the intersection. Or the car would tell me to stop to avoid arrest.” Not that that was ever an issue. As he explained, “I didn’t have to worry about the police; it was a test track.”

Beyond their collective experiences in automotive research, the two have participated in medical and psychological studies. More about those another time.

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