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Janet Sheridan

Stories by Janet

Janet Sheridan: Calendars of memories

A week ago, when I planned to wash the windows or sit in the shade feeling guilty because I wasn’t doing so, for some nonsensical reason I decided to reorganize my filing cabinet instead. I flew into action, sorting and discarding with determination, until I came across a stack of old calendars.

Janet Sheridan: Forgive me

If you saw me working in my yard in June, I apologize; I hope you had your children close their eyes as you drove by — no need for nightmares about crazed old ladies in pajamas wielding garden clippers and mumbling.

Janet Sheridan: Plans take flight

Last fall, my husband Joel and I examined our yard, deciding which perennial flowers and shrubs we would praise for their perfomance, transplant to a better spot, divide for increased vigor, discard without mourning or threaten before granting one more chance.

Janet Sheridan: In my father’s words

I started an occasional correspondence with my father after he retired in 1977 and increased it after Mom died. His responses usually began “Your letter arrived just in time; I needed something to do. You must hate it when I write back so soon. Well, anyway, here goes.”

Janet Sheridan: Good thing I retired

I recently acquired a new wellness skill, one of many I’ve learned since my retirement: skills necessary if I want to keep my teeth, judge how much pepper I’ve sprinkled on my food, and rise from a chair without injuring anybody.

Janet Sheridan: Things I miss

The '50s may have been a simpler time, but they weren’t all birthday cake and ice cream. I remember crouching under my desk, hearing my heart thump and my teacher’s hose rub as she patrolled the classroom during an atomic bomb drill. Then, the next day, she distributed iodine tablets that my classmates and I obediently took once each week to prevent goiters. As we swallowed, we imagined growing lumps hanging from our necks until people mistook us for turkeys.

Janet Sheridan: Mom's love

I remember coming home from church on Mothers’ Day, looking forward to dinner and mom’s surprise when she opened her presents — a cookie sheet, a three-pack of Dentyne chewing gum and a boxed set of lace-trimmed handkerchiefs — gifts my siblings and I had purchased despite our mother’s repeated claim that all she wanted was an entire day when we didn’t fight, scream, cry or tattle.

Janet Sheridan: Troublesome technology

When my husband and I entered our assigned room in the downtown Denver hotel, we saw an open suitcase on an easy chair, clothes strewn about, and a football game on TV. Joel about-faced, dragged a baffled me back into the corridor, and rushed off to the lobby.

Janet Sheridan: You’ll regret it someday

“Thirty-seven Things You’ll Regret When You’re Old” by Mike Spoor at www.buzzfeed.com listed several of my youthful follies, which I’ve detailed below. Mr. Spoor contributed the italicized regret; I added the lamentation.

Janet Sheridan: Thoughts on Presidents Day

Last Monday morning, Presidents Day, I found myself thinking about the contentious muddle in which our nation currently is mired — I worried that we’ll never find our way out of it. This concern dampened the joy I usually find in breakfast, but I comforted myself by remembering that we survived the ‘60s.

Janet Sheridan: Sleepless nights

Have you ever noticed that small concerns become major issues during sleepless nights? The occasional twinge in your molar is an abscess that will result in extraction and dentures. Your son doesn’t call because he thinks your genes have kept him from bowling a perfect game; when you remember there are no bagels for breakfast, it breaks your heart.

Janet Sheridan: Fooled by first impressions

When I met the new teacher from Chicago everyone was buzzing about at the back-to-school reception for employees of the Carson City School District, I thought he looked like a pampered rich boy. Perfectly dressed, groomed, and tanned, he was tall and impossibly handsome with impeccable manners — and dimples.

Janet Sheridan: Things I don’t need in 2014

Though I never buy a Powerball ticket, I fantasize about what I would do if I won. I dream, debate options and decide on only one immediate change: I would never again board an airplane and park my posterior in economy class.

Janet Sheridan: The day after Christmas

My family followed established traditions on the day after Christmas just as we did on the day itself: Dad muttered about bills. Mom took a lengthy nap. The oldest children whined because we’d been left in charge of the youngest, and the youngest played with the empty boxes their toys had come in, chewed on ornaments from the tree and threw things.

Janet Sheridan: Grant us the grace

During the busy buildup to Christmas, I’m going to remind myself to notice simple pleasures and open myself to them, to remember all that I have. I invite you to join me.

Janet Sheridan: Meaningful blessings, gratitude

I’m grateful for the days of autumn splendor that blessed us this year. Although interrupted by colder periods laden with long-awaited moisture, days of generous sunshine filtered through crisp air arrived with gilt-edged invitations, requesting our presence outdoors, and we complied.

Janet Sheridan: Lesser blessings

Once again, I will devote a November column to small personal pleasures most folks ignore when counting their blessings. For example, on Thanksgiving, how many of you will be giving thanks for size eleven shoes?

Janet Sheridan: The adolescent season

I amuse myself by assigning personalities to the seasons: Spring reminds me of youthful rebels optimistically battling the weary veterans of winter. Summer becomes a revered athlete incapable of delivering the 100 percent perfect performance fans expect every outing, and winter is a polar bear magnificent in its power and beauty. This fall, I decided that autumn is a temperamental adolescent.

Janet Sheridan: Sketchy motel stories revisited

After my July column that highlighted flaws with motels, I heard from two readers who confessed to odd habits they’ve adopted in order to feel safe when staying in motels. In addition, two others told me about unpleasant experiences they endured when road weary and longing for a good night’s sleep.

Janet Sheridan: Acting my age

I sprouted to unusual heights at an early age. As a result, teachers, baby sitters and forgetful relatives often assumed I was older than my years. Often, when I tattled, cried, pouted or poked a classmate, an adult would say, “Shame on you, Janet, you’re big enough to know better. Act your age.”

A surprise encounter elevates a leisurely stroll

Two years ago, I experienced nature’s magnificence as I walked along one of the many trails that twine behind the Sandrocks like tendrils of spaghetti clinging to a pot. An unexpected — but not uncommon — encounter, it lingers in my memory; and a glimpse of furtive movement, a September sun washing my face, or the spicy smell of sage can instantaneously pull it back into my consciousness.

School fashions of new bring back memories of stricter times

School fashions have changed dramatically since I carried my nap rug into kindergarten wearing a ruffled, polka-dotted dress and lace-trimmed anklets. Every day of every grade of every year from kindergarten through high school graduation, my friends and I wore dresses or coordinated skirts and blouses to class — the majority of them homemade.

Janet Sheridan: Nail files, old sewing machines serve as trusty tools

Dad watched as I tried to turn a screw with a fingernail file and asked if I would try to use a crowbar to topple a telephone pole. I continued my effort, paying no attention to the man who bought a used Willys Jeep to transport his family of seven.

Motels have lost their glow

Years ago I taught with a fidgety man who rolled his protuberant eyes when I mentioned a nice motel I’d stayed in at Lake Tahoe during a conference. He said he’d sleep in his VW Bug before a motel. Didn’t I know that “motels” is an acronym for “many opportunities to ensure little sleep?”

Motels have lost their glow

Years ago I taught with a fidgety man who rolled his protuberant eyes when I mentioned a nice motel I’d stayed in at Lake Tahoe during a conference. He said he’d sleep in his VW Bug before a motel. Didn’t I know that “motels” is an acronym for “many opportunities to ensure little sleep?”

Janet Sheridan: Wildfires leave many with nothing; love and prayers prevail

Once again, wildfires feed on the drought-stricken West. Uncontrollable infernos in a ravenous quest for combustible fuel rage against the forests, firefighters, and man-made structures that stand in their way. Those of us who call the West home scan horizons stacked with layers of brown-gray smoke, smell the acrid odor of burning landscapes, and count the number of days, weeks, months that have crept by without significant rainfall.

Janet Sheridan: Whose bright idea was this?

Our bumpy voyage began on a gray November morning when Joel, gazing at the ceiling, remarked, “I’ve never liked the lighting in this kitchen.” That comment sparked a chain reaction: If we upgrade the lights, the cabinets will look bad. If we replace the cabinets, we should add more. If we add more, we’ll need a larger kitchen. If we enlarge the kitchen, we’ll have to cut back a wall. If we cut back a wall, we’ll have to replace some flooring. If we do all that, we’ll need more countertops. If we get new countertops, we’ll need matching paint. And on and on.

Janet Sheridan: Mind-spinning questions

I sighed, scowled and fidgeted as the problem I needed to solve stomped around in my head, trailing a mob of what-ifs.

Janet Sheridan: Remembering Ernie

Each year, the optimistic, abundant personality of spring reminds me of a friend of mine who had those same traits.

Janet Sheridan: Mars and Venus shop

A pervasive joke about the shopping tendencies of men and women alleges that a man will pay $2 for a $1 item he wants, while a woman will pay $1 for a $2 item she doesn’t want.

Janet Sheridan: A less painful place

My siblings and I have become the older generation that used to look on fondly as we organized games and chased after children. We are the old folks who go to bed early so we can get up with the sun, while our descendants reminisce and laugh late into the night.

Janet Sheridan: Admitting ineptitude

I’m baffled by technology. Bamboozled. I don’t instinctively know how to navigate new sites. I’m unable to perceive the function and relationship of every command, icon and arrow.

Janet Sheridan: The games we played

As a principal, I enjoyed playground duty.

Janet Sheridan: Colorado byways

During a lunch conversation about sharing winter roads in Colorado with whipping winds, blinding snow, tire-spinning ice and fellow travelers driving like idiots, a friend said that when road conditions are bad, she counts the miles until she can exit the freeway and its massed, slow-moving cars interspersed with crazed drivers intent on passing.

Janet Sheridan: Stamped in my bones

Aunt Mary delivered me home, then settled in for a visit with Mom while my cousins played with Bob and Barbara. Unnoticed, I sneaked away to see if anything had changed during my extended absence. First, I looked for our creaky cat and found her as alive and irritable as ever. Next, I climbed a cottonwood and inched along a sturdy branch to see if anyone had defaced the initials “JB” I had gouged into the tree’s bark on my 8th birthday. They were untouched.

Janet Sheridan: A valentine for children

Joel and I collapsed into our seats on a crowded airplane, sleep deprived from raucous nights in a bedroom with joke-telling, wrestling grandchildren and half-sick from accompanying them down every slide at an indoor water park—over and over and over—in recycled waters enjoyed by a multitude of users. The plane felt like a snug, safe refuge as it carried us to our home and quiet lives. Two weeks later we began planning our next trip to see the youngsters who had exhausted us. How do children manage to tie up one’s heartstrings so easily and completely?

Janet Sheridan: My resolution for the New Year

There’s a chance that going public with my intended change for 2013 will shame me into keeping it, so here it is: I am going to stop talking about my medical issues with anyone who will listen, even though doing so will be more painful for me than my recently developed plantar fasciitis—I love clucking away with friends and family about the latest indignity imposed on me by my body. I first noticed an upswing in my interest in discussing bunions and bursitis a few years ago when I stood in a circle of men and women at party and thought, “I used to run from conversations like this.”

Janet Sheridan: Stresses of the season

Joel and I disagree about holiday movies. He refuses to watch A Christmas Story every year, and I’m not interested in reruns of Miracle on 34th Street. Compared to other anxiety-ridden situations that surface during the holidays, disagreeing about whether to watch the shenanigans of a department-store Santa or Ralphie’s pleas for a BB gun seem insignificant. Years ago, my friend Judy invited me to drop by for a visit after Christmas. When I arrived, I found her draping wet laundry around her kitchen and wiping away tears.

Janet Sheridan: On Turning 70

In 2011, a few months before my 69th birthday, Joel and I decided to climb Huron Peak near Buena Vista, a summit Colorado Fourteeners Magazine described as “a shapely, shy peak hidden in the heart of the Sawatch.” I worried as we finalized our plans, fearing I’d wear out when the hike became strenuous, and Joel would have to roll me back to the truck. In the preceding decade, I’d climbed other fourteeners with vigor and enjoyment, experiencing only brief moments of minor hysteria. Recently, however, during less challenging hikes, diminished energy and sore knees had reminded me of my dad, mournfully singing, “The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.” I managed to banish my concerns as Joel and I started our climb on a promising day in August. My spirits soared, buoyed by the beauty of daybreak in the mountains and the companionship of my husband: a bond unharmed by our drive through an obliterating darkness to the trailhead on a rugged donkey path during which I miss-navigated two turns, and Joel used profanity.

Janet Sheridan: A Lesson Well Taught

For many years, fourth-grade children smelling of summer surged into my classroom in early September, bouncing and squirming like puppies surprised at being indoors. District procedure suggested that I begin the first day of school by explaining the routines necessary for order throughout the year. But as I welcomed my students, shining with hope in their new clothes, I felt a lengthy lecture would be inexcusable. So rather than burdening my youngsters with two hundred rules for happy living, I chose to spend thirty minutes teaching them how to listen. I believed then, and now, that careful listening in school, as in the world, could solve most problems. I explained three steps for skillful listening: stop what you are doing, look at the speaker and attend so closely that you could summarize the speaker’s words, if asked.

Janet Sheridan: Words matter

As I navigated a sidewalk crowded with Nevada Day revelers, I saw a former student of mine standing along the parade route with her family. When in fourth grade, Anna had smiled shyly from behind shaggy bangs, learned adequately with some extra help and created intricate works of art she sometimes slipped onto my desk, whispering, “I made this for you.” Now in ninth grade, she looked like the teenager she was: makeup awkwardly applied to cover a spotty complexion, clothing approved by her peers, and an air of mingled boredom and embarrassment at being in the company of her family. As I approached, her eyes lit with recognition. The smile she gave me was the same, though it seemed more guarded.

Janet Sheridan: Beloved land

We watched Colorado burn. Nightly, reporters posed in front of leaping flames to talk about acres blackened, homes destroyed, lives lost. And it seemed unending. In Moffat County we worried about those caught up in the destruction of distant fires, watched smoke invade our valley, listened for the wail of sirens and hoped our luck would hold. Though we had experienced smaller-scale fires, so far we’d escaped the widespread devastation on the Front Range. Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana and Idaho also burned. I followed news reports about the distant fires and wondered if the land that had nurtured me all of my life—lands of towering grandeur and rushing streams—could survive the onslaught.

Janet Sheridan: Death to Angry Birds

Even as I use and appreciate the technology embraced by younger generations, I mourn the passing of my world. Icons from my past are slipping away. Soon future generations, reading with idle curiosity about my era, will gasp with disbelief and ask one another, “How did people manage to live like that?” For a school assignment in eighth grade, I asked my grandmother to tell me about life in the olden days. I forgot her words as soon as I wrote my paper, but I still remember her touch as she smoothed my bangs away from my eyes and the wistful expression on her face as she responded. At the time, I thought speaking of her youth saddened her because she was old with gnarled hands and shadowed vision.

Janet Sheridan: A moderate hearing loss

A couple of years ago, my husband, Joel, started to mumble, running his words together willy-nilly; all my grandchildren seemed to need speech therapy; and waiters whispered the night’s specials as if revealing classified information. I knew I’d begun to miss words and phrases during conversations, but blamed the mutter-mouths surrounding me. Then I telephoned a niece who habitually spoke crisply and clearly and realized the deficiency might be mine. Pauline answered the phone cautiously — when elderly relatives call, it’s usually to report illness, death, or befuddlement. I punched up the volume on my phone — the pesky thing hadn’t been working well — and assured Pauline none of her old folks had broken a hip.

Janet Sheridan: I’m organized, not crazy

A block from home, I froze in my tracks: I’d forgotten to check that the TV, oven, coffee maker, and curling iron were turned off before I left the house. “If I don’t go back,” I thought, “I’ll be rushing home later to the wail of sirens and the sight of smoke hovering above my neighborhood. But if I do go back to check, I’ll be late for my dental appointment — a personal failing I’ll regret for days.” I dithered excessively and then turned around. I’d prefer not to think of myself as anal-retentive. Though the definition may describe me — “a person whose attention to detail becomes an annoyance for others” — the label lacks dignity.

Janet Sheridan: Storing away small things

In late-blooming Craig, we can’t count on Easter; snow too often falls on the hidden eggs. With luck, our spring holidays are Mother's Day, Father’s Day and Memorial Day — three memory-rich celebrations, when hearts envelop loved ones. I’m one of seven children raised by hard-working parents who supported us, molded us and enjoyed us. During a recent family reunion, we visited our parents’ grave. We stood on gentle grass under a fresh sky and told stories of their living and their dying. Our words returned them to us, if only briefly. It’s a gift to remember and share defining details about those you love. I first realized the importance of storing up memories when I visited my dad near the end of his life.