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River Town Chronicles: Two olives, two ounces, too steamy, too full!

The end of summer vacation draws near. Office supply stores, the one or two still going, advertise “Back to School” deals. Clothing stores, the two or three still going, announce summer sales and fall fashions.

Tweens and teens, with a week left before classes, “read” summer reading books by poring over Wikipedia chapter summaries, scrolling YouTube encapsulations, or, if highly motivated, watching the entire movie based on the book.

College students pack necessities: hair dryers the size of leaf blowers, yellow Garfield pillows, Bluetooth speakers, and Bed, Bath & Beyond 20 percent-off coupons.

Meanwhile, parents anticipate quiet, empty houses for at least part of the day. Their feelings are mixed, a blend of nostalgia, grief and ecstasy.

My son, a landscape architect working nearby, spends part of his week at home with my wife and me, proof that millennials love home-cooked meals and hate steamy laundromats. My daughter, a graduate student out East, harbors here for the summer when not with friends checking out national parks.

Our family’s time together has been, on the whole, fabulous. We eat sit-down dinners together, understanding the first to pull out a cellphone will be chastised. Vacationing at our North Woods cabin, one relative, seeing us playing the new Monopoly card game, said, “It’s great you all get along together so well.”

We do. Except when someone takes my Park Place with a Sly Deal card.

However, like most mostly empty-nesters whose home is occasionally invaded and appropriated by children Machiavellian-style, I have some issues.

Why, for example, when opening a can of jumbo-sized black olives, does someone eat all but two?

Similarly, I’ll find a bottle holding two lowly ounces of tonic water, flatter than a Trump joke at a Boy Scout Jamboree, perched on the counter two feet from the recycling bin like a marathoner stopping arm’s length from the finish line.

Or walking by a bathroom where someone just showered, I’ll bump my head on a jungle-thick cloud of steam unrelieved by a napping exhaust fan.

Perhaps the greatest irritation arises when opening the garbage drawer to find the tall kitchen bag overflowing like Santa’s sack, and a paper bag filled with bottles and cans jammed together tighter than the Republican pledge to repeal Obamacare.

Naturally, my tendency to be empathetic and generous never leaves me open to criticism. Much. Only my propensity to turn off lights with people still in the room; leaving out my extra-wide shoes for people to trip over in the dark; keeping the TV volume turned up to 11 – or “Scream” mode; and promising to wash the dishes for two days while they soak undisturbed – or until someone else does them.

Be comforted; soon life will return to normal, to a routine. August, the month of transitions, tests family resilience. Hang in there. Savor your family while possible, no matter how many empties line the counter above the recyclable bin.

You can always open a new can of olives.

Contact Rick Holinger at

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