Monthly Archives: April 2013

How to get rid of old gasoline, the hard way

Every other year or so we take the lawn mower to a local business, A. W. Brown, to it have cleaned and the blades sharpened. They remind us that it’s important to run the engine completely dry at the end of the season and not to use the leftover gas the following spring. The same rule applies to snow blowers. So what is one supposed to do with the leftover gas? Put it in the car’s gas tank, says A. W.

It sounds counter-intuitive to me to put old gas in a $25,000 car and not in a $500 lawn mower.  I brought this up at the gas station yesterday and some guy said it was because the car’s gas tank is so much bigger it can absorb the impurities in the old gas more easily than the little gas tanks can. That made sense to me, but what do I know? More to the point, what does he know? This wasn’t the service station guy, just someone getting gas for his own lawn mower. But I trust A. W. Brown and he said that’s what we should do so that’s what we were going to do—for the first time in the sixteen years he’s been telling us that. Maybe if we’d followed his advice earlier we wouldn’t be such regular customers.

I pump my own gas and I love the way it smells, so pouring gas from a can into a car seemed like a simple enough project for me to manage, but I quickly discovered that it required more than two hands. The first problem was that our two-gallon plastic gas can (which clearly can’t be a can if it’s plastic, but you get the idea) was awkward to manage with one hand. But even if I could have, the funnel that we use to get gas into the lawn mower was too short to push open the metal flap that covers the opening where the gas goes into the car.

plastic funnel

To do that, we needed to stick something through the funnel. I had just the thing. Before I’d gotten distracted by what was meant to be a five minute project emptying old gas into the car, I’d been uprooting dandelions with this:

dandelion tool

Even with four hands and the clever application of a tool for something other than its intended purpose, we weren’t quite there. We needed a smaller container for gas; something I could hold with one hand. A quick trip to the basement turned up another, smaller, funnel and a plastic bottle that we were willing to sacrifice to the project.  Thus armed, we returned to the strip of lawn that runs alongside our driveway to attempt transfer number one. Andrew held the smaller funnel in the bottle while I poured gas into it. I got some on my hands and some on the lawn, but mostly it went into the bottle.

Next, Andrew put the original funnel into the car and inserted the dandelion tool through it to push the flap open. I then poured the contents of the small plastic bottle into the funnel. It worked. Elated, we did it again, and again, and a few more agains, until both our good spirits and the gas can were drained. Then it was off to the gas station to refill the can so the cycle could begin again.

Today’s errand? A trip to the hardware store for one of these:

gas can with spout

Welcome to spring!


Putting the ‘care’ in foster care

Imagine how scary it must be for kids in the foster system, to be taken away from parents and siblings and handed over to strangers. Those kids need all the help they can get.

The Nina Foundation, whose original charter was to raise money for Rhode Island kids in need, was established in 2003 by children’s author Erin Dionne and her family to honor her grandmother’s memory. The foundation partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to provide “…the financial assistance, furnishings and necessities needed to help…families create a safe and healthy environment for their children.” After doing that successfully for a decade, this remarkable family went even further. They bought a house, fixed it up, and donated it to a program called Families Together, run by the Providence Children’s Museum in concert with the RI DCYF.

Children in foster care are typically removed from their families because of neglect or abuse. The long-term goal of the system is to improve the family’s situation and put it back together again. The state provides training and support for parenting skills and supervises meetings. From the museum’s website, “Families Together offers a variety of visitation services.  With the support and guidance of the Museum’s family therapists, parents engage in healthy play activities with their children where they improve communication and parenting skills.”


Nina’s House expands this program by providing a home setting where parents can work on normal, everyday skills while visiting with their children. They can make a meal, give their child a bath, or just read them a book. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest difference.

Did you know that foster children often have to drag their belongings from placement to placement in plastic garbage bags? When I first heard that I resolved to donate some gently used suitcases to kids in foster care. I went online to to poke around and found a Department of Children & Families site that had information about volunteering and donating, but no mention of the need for suitcases. A subsequent search for foster children suitcases turned up an organization called Suitcases4Kids, but there was no drop-off point in Massachusetts. Frustrated and disappointed, I ended up donating the suitcases to a local organization that worked with the Lost Boys from Sudan who were also in need of suitcases.

Thinking about kids in foster care breaks my heart, and yet, I’m not eager to sign up to become a foster parent. I was not the sort of mother who volunteered to lead a Girl Scout troop or chaperone fifth grade science camp. I don’t think I’d make a very good foster parent, and heaven knows these kids have enough problems already. But when I hear of an opportunity to do something to make their lives a little easier, I do what I can. Now that I’m out of suitcases, Suitcases4Kids has added a drop-off point in Needham. They also list sites in Maryland, Hawaii and New Hampshire. If you have old suitcases, please consider donating them.

The grandmother who inspired Nina’s House used to say, “A little kindness never hurt anyone, ya know!” She was so right. We can’t all donate houses, but the kids in foster care can use all the kindness we’ve got, and a few suitcases, too.

Fact or Fictionary?

The Boston Globe reported that the rules for the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee are changing. Starting this year, contestants will not only have to spell words, they’ll also have to take a multiple choice vocabulary test. As reported, the sample provided by the Spelling Bee was:

“Something described as refulgent is: a) tending to move toward one point, b) demanding immediate action, c) rising from an inferior state, d) giving out a bright light.”

Much to my surprise, I knew the answer! Not because I’m well-read and had a good liberal arts education, no. I owe my fleeting sense of erudition to Fictionary, a game for everyone who cringes when someone suggests charades.

The rules are simple. You take turns flipping through a dictionary to choose a word that you are fairly certain none of the other players will know. (If you are playing with my friend Josiah, this part of the game can take a while because he knows a lot of words.) When you find one that will challenge the vocabulary of the other players, you copy down the real definition while everyone else writes down a mock one. Then you read all the definitions out loud and people vote for the one they think is right. When someone votes for a fake definition, the author gets a point.

In order to make a definition more convincing, players will try to mimic the style of the dictionary resulting in definitions that start, “Of, or pertaining to…” and may include phrases like “commonly found in” or “as of.” I have a hard time keeping a straight face when it’s my turn to read the definitions, sometimes I get downright hysterical.

During the game where I learned the meaning of refulgent, I was also introduced to the word jerboa, a small rodent that jumps. Strangely, that word is missing from the 1994 Merriam-Webster that I keep on my desk, so to verify that I remembered correctly I had to consult, which says that a jerboa is “any of various mouse-like rodents of North Africa and Asia, as of the genera Jaculus and Dipus, with long hind legs used for jumping.” That would make a great Fictionary definition if it weren’t true.

I don’t know why anyone would choose to play charades if there’s a dictionary handy. I’ve played with kids as young as ten and for some reason they make surprisingly good competitors. And they’re as likely to vote for the real definition as anyone. Try it yourself. What did you choose as the correct definition for refulgent? If you don’t know, grab a dictionary and find out. I’m not telling you the answer. I want to feel like a winner for just a little while longer.

What would Heloise say?

My local Stop & Shop hasn’t had small boxes of matches on the shelf for quite some time and I’m starting to worry. Those little boxes play an important role in my life and it’s hard for me to imagine how I’d get along without them.

Big boxes of matches, called kitchen matches, are still relatively easy to find, although the strike anywhere variety are a tad more of a challenge. Hannah needed three (matches, not boxes) for her survival weekend; we found them at REI. (We have two hundred ninety-seven left if you need a few.)

Fireplace matches, those excessively long matches that snap in half when you try to light them, are also easy to find; impossible to use, but easy to find. Our Weber gas grill, which is probably five or six years old, eats ignition systems. Since it’s still digesting the last one, to light the grill we turn on the gas and then poke a lit match into a convenient hole built into the hull of the grill for just that purpose. See, ignition systems are what you call an after sale partThe manufacturer expects them to break so they can sell replacement parts, over and over to those dumb enough to fall for it. Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, Andrew does the grilling.

If all you want to do is make fire, there are any number of gizmos that let you push a button or thumb a wheel to produce a flame. But when it comes to those small boxes of matches, fire is not what we’re after. We want the smell that you get when you strike the match, the odor that lingers when you blow it out, because sulfur is the best room deodorizer in the world.  Ask Heloise. I bet she’ll back me up. You can keep your Lysol and your Air Wick. In this house we believe in the power of matches. Every bathroom has its own box and we all know how to use them.

You’re probably wondering why we don’t use the leftover strike anywhere kitchen matches. They would certainly work, and even for us two hundred ninety-seven matches would last a while, but the box itself is not portable, which is to say, it won’t fit in my toiletry kit any better than a can of Febreze would. And that’s where real disaster threatens.

The cost of attending writers’ conferences adds up, so to save money I normally share a room, sometimes with a complete stranger. I’m sure you automatically assume that I’m worried about offending my roommate, and while that is true, I am equally worried about said roommate offending me. Never is the odor-masking power of sulfur more welcome than when sharing close quarters with a stranger.

I wouldn’t be doing this subject complete justice without airing a little more of my family’s dirty laundry. Considering the subject we’re on, it can hardly get worse, right? My husband and I have an on-going argument about what actually produces the odor cover, striking the match or blowing it out. He maintains it’s the former; I argue the latter. And now, as Mike Myers would say on Coffee Talk, “Discuss!”

Superman? Not without a super woman.


In February, 1955, the Superman comic book cost ten cents. That month, the back page carried an ad for Fashion Frocks. The headline read; If you get a Stunning $10.98 Dress Without Paying 1¢…will you WEAR and SHOW it in your community? It was like Tupperware marketing—without the parties. That ad clearly indicated that Fashion Frocks, Inc. believed that girls were reading the Superman comic book, and yet, National Comics (later known as DC Comics), opted to keep their female employees hidden from their readership.

fashionflair ad

In that same issue, right smack in the middle, there is a two-page article called, The Saga of the Soda: America’s Fountain Favorite Has Had a Remarkable Career, written by Ben Boltson. Only it wasn’t. It was written by Barbara Boltson, my mother. She was in her early twenties and not yet married. Despite the saccharine title, the article was not pure fluff. I don’t mean to imbue it with undeserved gravitas, but she had to have done some research in order to be able to explain the science behind carbonated water, as well as how to capture and deliver it for use at soda fountains. Fluff or not, it makes me sad to think that she had to forego her just deserts because National Comics wouldn’t allow women to publish under their own names.

After my parents married (which presumably would have caused my mother to be called Ben Mintz had she continued to work for National Comics), they moved to California and for a short time she worked for Western Family magazine where part of her job was delivering models to photo shoots. (She’ll blush to read this, but I remember a story about her car breaking down and the tow truck guy who came to help telling her that he had once towed Elizabeth Taylor and that Mom was prettier.) I have no doubt that if my mother had been born a few years later she would have had a marvelous career managing a magazine, or working as a writer or editor, but once she had her children, that no longer seemed to be an option.

And then, in the early 80s, I gave my mother a Commodore 64 computer. It was love at first sight, and before long she was running the Commodore Users Group of the Boston Computer Society and writing articles for RUN Magazine. She may not have worked outside the house, but she was a hell of a role model.


I have great admiration for my dad, and he’s always been one of my heroes, but if I needed someone to leap a tall building, Mom was the one I’d ask. She is modest to a fault and may well be embarrassed by all this attention, but from the first time I saw that Superman comic book with my mother’s pseudonymous byline, I knew I wanted to grow up to be like her. Things change; magazines no longer cost a dime, and women publish under their own names, but I continue to get inspiration from my mother.