Google+ Badge

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Yesterday we were talking with our friend Marie about the possibility of having a patio garden of edibles outside our apartment this summer. This reminded me of all of the things Gram grew in her garden over the years. Yes, she had numerous varieties of flowering plants, but she grew other things as well. There was a patch of mint, for example, that threatened to take over the entire back yard. Plum trees with luscious fruits too numerous to count. There were always chives and garlic, and usually green onions. There was one summer we had lettuce and carrots under the side yard kitchen window. When the carrots bloomed, we knew we'd never dig them up because the blossoms were so beautiful. 

And the tomatoes! Gram proved that given water, a stake for support, and some benign neglect, the tomatoes would produce numerous deliciously juicy, flavorful tomatoes. I did have an important duty regarding the tomato plants, however. With gardening gloves to protect me, I would examine the plants a couple of times a day for the terrible green caterpillars that could chomp the plants down to nothing, and do so pretty quickly. These critters could be as big around as your finger, and had bright red and yellow bulbs sticking out all over them that would sting pretty fiercely. I had to pull these worms off of the plants with pliers, no touching, and they hung on pretty tightly. And about the only way to dispatch them was to squeeze them with the pliers. Gardening can be a violent business.

There was one summer when the next door neighbors decided to keep their dry dog food in the utility shed in the carport. A colony of field mice infested the neighborhood, lured by the twenty pound bag of free kibble. The label may have said dog chow, but the mice found it pretty tasty as well. The mice decided to check out the surrounding yards as well, and liked to hang out under the lush forest of tomato plants by the back door. And Gram's dogs loved to keep their hunting instincts honed by loudly chasing them away. Between that and the numerous mousetraps that Gram placed out of range of doggy toes, they soon decided that our yard was not a haven for mice.

Summertime also brought other creatures around. Squirrels and birds both loved our fruit trees. We couldn't reach the plums at the top of the trees, so we were more than happy to share them with any squirrels and birds that wanted to eat them. From time to time, we would see birds flying around that seemed too colorful to be natives of our area. There were a few canaries and parakeets that had either escaped form their homes or were released to fend for themselves. And every so often, we would find a stray garter snake hiding in the hedge between the neighbors' yard and our own. Once Liz even found one with the lawnmower!

I remember an incident one summer when I was going outside to move the garden hose around to water the lawn. Those of you in less-dry climates are not accustomed to the twice-weekly dance of lawn irrigation. Without doing that here on a regular basis, our lawns don't just go dormant, they burn to death, and just lay there, brown and crispy. So I would turn on the hoses in the front and back yards, and read for twenty minutes in between moving the hose to the next location. 

One day while I was engaged in this lawn-watering ballet, I was in my usual distracted hurry to get back to the book I was reading when I heard an unusual sound. It came from the window-well of the basement laundry/utility room, which was under the kitchen window. This was the location where the tomatoes grew, but there were no tomato plants there at this time. It was a strange rattling sound. Not a sound that I was used to hearing at any time in my back yard. It made me feel a bit uneasy, but as I got closer to the window, the sound stopped, so I went back to reading my book. Twenty minutes later, when I was back to move the hose again, I heard it again. It made me feel a bit nervous. It definitely wasn't normal. But again, it seemed to stop as I got closer to the window. 

When it happened a third time, I started to get genuinely scared. I'd never have thought of our area as rattlesnake territory, but the noise coming from the window-well sounded exactly like the rattlesnakes that I had seen and heard on television nature programs. I told Gram that I was afraid that there was a rattler in our window-well. She knew that I was not the kind of kid who made up crazy stories, so she went with me to investigate. As I recall, she was armed with a hoe for protection (I think I had a straight-bladed shovel) in case the snake got nervous and struck out at us. You never go looking for rattlesnakes without some sort of weapon, preferably long-handled!

There we were, walking slowly and quietly toward the basement window, crouched over, and listening to the rattling sounds. Gram said that it did sound like a rattlesnake was in there, but we needed to check. Before you say this is foolhardy, remember that we had dogs to protect as well. If they had been attacked by a rattlesnake, they would have been goners, and we would never have forgiven ourselves. So we continued to creep slowly and quietly toward the window, until we got close enough to peek in and see the scary intruder, but far enough away to run fast if it saw us, too. And then we broke into hysterical laughter. Inside the window-well was a huge Cecropia moth with a wingspan of at least five inches. I think it had just crawled out of its pupa and was doing rapid wing-flaps in order to dry its wings so that it could fly. The flapping was echoing in the window-well, making something harmless sound like something scary and threatening. 

We were happy to be safe from the rogue rattler that we both were afraid had invaded our territory, and it was really cool to see the beautiful, huge moth so close. By the time I was finished with my lawn-watering duties, it had flown away. And we had a lot of good laughs at ourselves bravely attempting to seek out and dispatch the killer rattlesnake that was curled up by the basement window!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Taking Offense?

I saw a post in my Google Plus stream yesterday, from a lady by the name of Jayme, that reminded me of a conversation that my friend Marie and I had a couple of months ago. It was a few days after my stay in the hospital last December, so it was about a week before Christmas. I was excited to be out and about instead of laying around at home trying to recover from being sick, and I think that Marie was glad to see me looking a bit better than I had a few days before. We covered all sorts of subjects during the course of our lunch, including Christmas shopping. I informed her that we were excited about the gift we had gotten her, and told her what we had gotten for Thayne, her husband.

Marie thought of something she had experienced that really troubled her. She had spent some time on social media in the previous day or two and had been really shocked at the online behavior of one of her friends from back in high school. This friend, whom I shall call Missy since I don't know her name, was talking about having a visit from a new neighbor. Missy said that her new neighbor seemed like a very nice person and that they had had a very pleasant visit. She added that when the neighbor left, she said, "Have a blessed day!" and went on her way. Well, Missy went on quite a tirade about how disgusted she was, and why does everything have to be about religion, and on and on and on. She was thoroughly disgusted and offended, and she wanted everyone to know about it.

Marie was stunned. She said that she had never known Missy to be like that, ranting about something so relatively innocent. Let's face it, it's not like the neighbor gave Missy a lecture about her faith, or tried to shove anything down her throat. She didn't threaten brimstone or the fires of Hades. Heck, she didn't even actually mention a Supreme Being. In defense of my last statement, I have known many people to say things about being blessed, and known they were not using the statement in a faith-based manner. It just meant that they were fortunate to have good of some sort in their lives.

This made me observe that I have noticed that some people seem to be primed to take offense. And that is why Jayme's post reminded me of our conversation. Jayme observed that a lot of people seemed to be cranky that day, and getting mad at just about everything. This, of course, made me think of my Gram. She would say that those people needed to scratch their mad place and get glad again. Jayme said that her Grandpa would have said that they were looking for a fight and that they had a chip on their shoulder.

So where is all of this anger coming from? I will freely admit that I have days when I feel less than social. I have cranky times. Some might claim that I am only cranky about 360 days out of the year, but it may be as many as 365. My point, however jokingly made, is that we aren't always at our best, and we aren't always in the frame of mind to be all sunshine and lollipops. That's when we need to show some restraint and maybe avoid things like social media. If we are cranky, why look for  reasons to be crankier? Also, I've noticed that the invisibility of the internet seems to make some people feel that it is okay to say anything at all, whether it be rude, or disgustingly foul, or nasty, or whatever. I try to treat people the same way online that I would in person. If I am talking face to face and someone says something I find outrageous, I am not going to say something like, "You are stupid and you should die." So I don't say that online, either. I either tell them that I disagree, or simply decide that arguing is just not worth my time or energy.

But back to taking offense to things so very quickly. Where did this come from? I know that the world is full of all kinds of people with all sorts of different beliefs and motivations. But do we have to get in a twist about it? We don't have any control over what others say or think, but we can control how we react to it. Marie and I were wistfully remembering when we were kids. Some of the people we encountered may not have celebrated the same holidays that we did. But if they wished us a happy whatever holiday it was, for example, we thanked them and went on about our business. 

I saw a fabulous post shared by Thom that was a flowchart on how to respond to holiday greetings. It included all sorts of holiday greetings, and went sort of like this: If someone wishes you a Happy Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Christmas/? and you are Christian/Jewish/Muslim/whatever, this is how to respond...and all of them ended up with simply saying thank you. What's so difficult about that? Is it really necessary to attack a person and say that you don't believe in what they believe, and that they shouldn't either? Perhaps if as much energy was invested in getting along and understanding one another, or even tolerating some of our differences, we'd all feel a lot better. Maybe instead of taking offense, we should tear down the fences that we build around our hearts to prevent others from getting in. 

Well, I guess I've gone on quite a bit with my Ravings tonight. In spite of all of our differences, we are basically the same. We all want shelter, food, love, happiness. But the things that make us all individuals make life more interesting, if we allow them to do so. Hey, what would life be like if all of the ice cream and cookies and proteins and veggies and breads were the same flavor? Sort of dull, right? Same with people. If we were all the same, we'd have nothing to talk about, or argue about, or be offended about. And we are very likely as humans to be offended or pleased or bored from time to time. But maybe we can work on not looking for things to be angry about. One can only hope.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Yes, It's Been Cold

I know that there are people all over the world who may have the wrong idea about the weather here in the Denver Metro area, especially in the winter. Yes, Denver is one mile above sea level. But we are not up in the mountains. Our streets and neighborhoods may vary in elevation, but we don't have that snowy mountain weather that you might think we do. We don't have two feet of snow on our cozy cabin-style homes all winter long, thank goodness. In fact, we often joke that we keep our snow in the mountains where it belongs. The climate here is is considered semi-arid, AKA almost desert. Yes we get snow and cold weather here in the Metro area, but it usually gets warm in between storms. In fact, we have been having temperatures of nearly 60 degrees lately, about 15 C for comparison. We usually have a few bouts with subzero temperatures, but only a few times, and only for a few days. We had a long bout of cold just recently, though, that lasted for several days.

This has been an unusual winter all over the place, to say the least. There have been snow and ice storms in places that seldom get anything worse than cold rain. And other areas, like ours, have had more days of icy-cold weather than normal. And we have had a goodish amount of snow and ice. I have been thinking lately that folks who don't have weather changes like we do might find it difficult to really understand what it is like when these frigid, or sometimes polar vortex, conditions begin. Of course, some things are pretty obvious. Travel, for instance. And I mean every kind of travel. Airplanes and runways get coated with ice, making flying dangerous to impossible. The ice and snow make walking and driving treacherous. Even public transportation buses have problems holding the road. You've seen videos of vehicles sliding around. And icy sidewalks are no fun. But here's some things that you might not have thought about. 

Heaters. You get ready to get into your warm, cozy bed, and turn down the heat to 60 degrees. When the heat comes on automatically in the night, you notice that it runs for more than an hour at a time. You think again about how stinking cold it is, and wish it would warm up about ten or fifteen degrees. It'll still be cold, but you won't be as paranoid about the horrifically high power bill you will be getting next month. 

Water and plumbing. One of the unpleasant worries about this cold weather is pipes bursting. People are advised to keep a trickle of water running all night, and to have any cupboards surrounding drainpipes left open so that the heat from the furnace can keep them from freezing. On the other hand, when you turn on the faucet to get a drink of water, it's so cold you don't need any ice cubes. In fact, the water coming out of the pipes is so cold that if you turn your washing machine on the warm setting, the water is still cold enough to drink. When you pull the clothes out to put them in the dryer, they feel like ropy ice cubes. But the moist warm air from the dryer is heavenly!

Your frail body. You know it's colder than you think when you go outside and catch a blast of subzero wind to the face. Your eyes start to water, and your nose boogies alternate between freezing and running down your face. Your skin gets freeze-dried just a little bit. You decide that one pair of gloves is simply not enough. The cold hurts. But coming home is so wonderful!

Food. When it's super-cold, you think differently about what you are going to get from the supermarket. No worries, obviously, about getting things that need to be kept cold, or things that are frozen. By the time you get them home, they'll be colder than they were in the refrigerated cases in your store. But there are things you decide you shouldn't buy. Lettuce or salad mix, for example. By the time you get it into your car and then into your home, the lettuce will probably be frozen. I don't know about you, but frozen lettuce just doesn't thrill me at all. And if you should be traveling to and from the store on foot, forget produce entirely. Those apples and onions will not be the same when you get home.

Just so you know, I love living here. I thrive on the change of seasons. And like I said, we have really mild weather in between storms. And when spring comes around, the trees will be wearing their gauzy green dresses before they cover themselves with glorious blossoms. Crocuses and tulips will poke bravely through the last of the snow and give their brilliant colors to the world. Summer will bring numerous shades of green on lawns and shrubs and trees, and sunflowers will turn their faces toward the sunshine. Fruits and nuts will start to grow on the trees around our apartment, ready to feed the birds and squirrels. Then the cycle will end, and begin all over again. But for now, I'll enjoy the beauty of winter, even if it is sometimes pretty darn cold.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Politeness Pays Off

I don't recall ever being formally taught about politeness. I think a lot of politeness is learned from what we observe as children. Of course, manners are taught, but I think manners and politeness are two different branches of the same tree. This tree might be thought of as the tree of being able to get along with others. People probably won't find your company agreeable if you slurp your soup or expel noxious gases and insert your digits in inappropriate places during meals. But chances are high that they'll find you even less desirable to be around if you aren't polite. Yes, politeness includes saying please and thank you, and things of that nature. But I think politeness is a lot deeper than that, as well as a lot simpler. To me, it all comes down to just being kind to others. You can call it The Golden Rule, or kindness, or whatever you'd like. It's about treating others the way you'd like to be treated. And not doing it in the hope that they will be nice to you in return, but because it's the right thing to do, and it feels good to do it.

I am just like everyone else, with many flaws. We all get wrapped up in our own thoughts and tasks and lives from time to time, drifting through things and not seeing what's going on with the other people around us. Maybe that's one of the reasons it feels so good to perform little bits of kindness to others. We have stepped outside of our little bubble for a moment and noticed someone. Who knows, maybe our little bit of politeness will be the one bright moment in their day. 

A few weeks ago, I found myself in one of those mental fogs as I walked in the entrance of the supermarket. Trent had gone ahead to use the restroom, so I was heading over to get a shopping cart and do the dance of the disinfecting wipes. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and realized that I almost stepped right in front of someone else who was heading over to get a shopping cart as well. Well, I kind of felt like a jerk, so I stopped and turned to the woman with two little girls, and told her to go ahead. She was polite in return and said I should go first. But I insisted that she go first since she had two kids with her. As she walked by, she instantly looked familiar. "Gerry?" I asked. She looked a bit startled and confused as she answered yes. I told her I was Katrina, and we hugged each other, stunned. You see, she had been my manager when I was a bank teller. And the last time we saw each other was more than twenty years ago.

I knew that she didn't have much time since she was with her grand-kids, but she asked me if I was on a particular social network. And by the time I got home, she had sent me a request to connect on said network. No, we aren't hanging out at Starbucks, or having delightful ladies' lunches together. But for me, that one moment of good manners really paid off. Gerry was a wonderful person in my life and career. She was the one I talked to when I didn't know how to deal with a pair of business owners who came to my commercial drive-through window. I told her they made me uncomfortable because they assumed that since I was white like they were, I would find their rude racist jokes and comments to be funny. I wanted to tell them but was afraid they might get back at me by closing their business account. Gerry told me to be true to myself and let them know that I found their comments unacceptable. And if they left our bank, so what? We didn't need customers like them anyway. The funny thing is that when I told them how I felt, they never came to my window again. Why is that so funny? The other commercial teller was latina. Pretty sure they weren't telling any of those jokes over there!

Gerry was also there for me at one of the most difficult times in my life. I had been hospitalized while several doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Doctor Mike walked into my hospital room, took one look at me, and said that I had lupus. Several tests later, his diagnosis was proven to be correct. Within a couple of weeks, this stubborn woman was back at work. I was so weak that I would pick up my cash drawer from the combination cash vault/manager's office, take a few steps, and lean against the wall to rest. It took me several minutes to get to my station, but I did it. I will admit here, for the first time, that there were times that I cried on those long treks. It was frustrating and scary to be so weak. 

It was Gerry who sat me down in the office one day, with tears in her eyes, and told me that everyone was hurting for me. They also wanted so desperately to help me, but I was trying too hard to be strong. How could I tell her that everyone's desire to help me was as unbearable to me as my refusal to accept help was to them? Maybe I should have told her about what happened with Alice when I was in the hospital. Just to make conversation, and I promise you that I was not whining or or why me-ing, I said that I couldn't believe that I was just diagnosed with an incurable disease. Alice started yelling at me to just get over it. Remember, she was the one who beat me when the mom next door put a band-aid on my knee, because I was trying to get attention. Then she beat me when I scraped my knee again and refused the neighbor's offer of another bandage, because I was too dumb to come in out of the rain. So perhaps it is natural that I felt the need to do everything on my own. If my own family felt I needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps, how could I handle such loving kindness from the people I worked with?

Gerry's understanding, warmth, and kindness were a great gift to me. Over the years I have had many positive, loving memories of the years we worked together. If I hadn't stopped for a moment by the shopping carts in the store, I'd have missed her entirely. But taking a moment to be polite had a huge payoff. It allowed me to remember someone who was there for me in many ways, at good times and bad. I have been savoring the renewed memories like a delicious ice pop on a hot day. Yes, politeness is always a good thing, and I'll continue to try and use it on others. But for me, this time I think it really paid off!

Saturday, February 15, 2014


When I lived with Gram, I didn't want us to be completely dependent on her son to do minor repairs around her home. And to be honest, he was busy enough that if we had relied on him completely for these things, we'd have spent a lot of time with things not functioning. So I learned to do a variety of home repairs. I can replace the flushing mechanism in a toilet, although maybe not some of the fancier new ones that are coming out now. But I can change light switches, and in my time, I replaced the hand-crank mechanisms that opened the windows in Gram's house on more than one occasion. I am by no means an expert, but I know a flat head from a phillips, and pliers from wrenches, and can use them to remove and replace various screws, nuts, and bolts. You know, the basics.

Before Trent and I were engaged, I went to one of those gigantic home improvement stores with my friend Jill. I can't even remember what it was that she needed to get, but I noticed something really funny and interesting. Men apparently like to see women shopping for hardware. Jill pretty much knew what she was looking for, as I recall, but at least one or two gentlemen spotted us from each of the aisles that we were passing, and asked us if we needed any help. Jill told them that she knew what she was looking for, but thanks so much anyway. After offering their assistance if we needed help finding anything, they went back to what they were doing. The same song and dance would be repeated in the next aisle. And some of them even worked there!

During our engagement, Trent needed to go to Ye Olde Home Improvement Castle to purchase a power drill. He asked if I wanted to ride along with him, and I decided it was a good opportunity to spend some time together. I tagged along as he looked at the available tools and made his purchase. After we got in the car and he was driving me home, I had to ask him a question. "Did I see right? Does that drill have a built-in level? That's really cool!" Trent looked at me, mouth hanging open with surprise. "I love you so much!" he said. "And from now on, you're never allowed to go to a hardware store without me. I don't want any other guys knowing you like this stuff!"

We are apartment dwellers, so we really don't need to worry about doing home repairs. But every so often, one does need a spare key or some duct tape or something. And Trent knows that I won't be complaining about going to the hardware store. I'll enjoy seeing different new stuff, and breathing in the fragrance of fresh lumber. And I'll enjoy having a roll of purple duct tape or a newly cut key that has a dash of girly personality. I am, after all, still a lady.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Shadow Of Myself

Those of you who have been with me and my blog know that I sometimes write humorous posts, and sometimes serious ones. Tonight's post is serious, and born of frustration. I want to make sure that everyone who reads this knows that I am not feeling sorry for myself. I am just experiencing a rough time, and I want to share it in the hopes that it may help you understand others who may be in a similar position.

Last December, I spent four days in the hospital with vertigo. It was quite unpleasant; I spent most of my time unable to move at all without vomiting. I left the hospital drained and looking forward to regaining my usual vigor. But here it is, February, and in two months I haven't yet regained my strength. I know what you might be thinking. Katrina should go to see her doctor. I don't want to because I am pretty sure that I know what Doctor Mike will say. You see, I have systemic lupus. I am pretty certain that my illness in December awakened the sleeping giant that has been my companion for twenty-five years.

A lot of people have heard of systemic lupus, but don't really know what it means. Lupus is an autoimmune disorder. The immune system will switch on when it is supposed to, responding to illness or stress, but it doesn't want to switch off. It will then proceed to attack the body. In my case, twenty-five years ago, my immune system tried to kill off my kidneys. I am glad to say that they are still here, and only sustained a small amount of permanent damage. 

Lupus can be very insidious. It will attack any and all systems in the body, from skin to circulatory system, to nervous system, and all others. Some common symptoms of people who have lupus are fatigue and a characteristic rosy coloration, or butterfly rash, of the face that covers the cheeks and nose. This rash gave the disease the name lupus, because the name comes from the word for wolf. Many people liken the appearance of the rash to the face of a wolf. Let me tell you, it can be very frustrating to have this red face! I wish I had a dollar for every time I mentioned that I didn't feel well, and had someone reply in a bit of a snarky tone that my cheeks were nice and rosy. Yes, and they get rosier the worse I feel. It's a good thing I like purple, because when I am really worn down, that's the color my face turns.

And the word fatigue doesn't really do the lack of energy or strength any justice. I remember when I was first diagnosed, and was so weak that I couldn't walk across a room without sitting down to rest. Sometimes I even had to put myself to bed after just accomplishing a small task like loading the washing machine. This is what I have been dealing with since December. If I exert myself very much, I end up spending a couple of days not very far from the bed. I don't have the energy to cook every day like I'd like to. Trent has been very understanding. He knows about the fatigue, but he has never seen me laid this low with it. And since I am a very stubborn, "I can do it anyway" type of person, it has been frustrating to have my body to tell me that no, I can't.

And it has affected me in lots of ways. If I have an errand day, I spend a day or two having to slow down and recover. When we went to Breckenridge with our friends to look at snow sculptures, I spent two days in bed recovering. I even had to cancel a visit to the doctor's office for a blood test because I didn't even have enough energy to get a shower, much less get dressed and get out and about. My blog has suffered as well. I still have ideas for things to write, but haven't got the energy to do do. Instead of writing every two or three days, I am down to about twice a week. I worry about disappointing my readers. I worry even more that they may learn to forget me. I feel like I have turned into a shadow of myself. 

I think we don't realize that we are lucky when things are going more smoothly in our lives. And believe me, I know I could be far worse off. And as I said, I am not feeling sorry for myself. I am just stressed from not being able to be the person I want to be. In my usual fashion, I don't intend to lie down and give up. I will do whatever I can with whatever energy I can muster. Then all of a sudden, one day I will realize that I managed to get through a day without running out of gas. And that I made it through a week without having to spend a day or two recovering from everyday tasks. And I will feel like myself again, instead of just a shadow.

Friday, February 7, 2014

But It's A Different Word!

For some reason, the other day I found myself thinking about someone I used to work with when I was employed by The Body Shop in Denver. When I started out with the store, I was assembling gift baskets for the holiday shopping season, and was given only the smallest possibility of working in the shop through that busy time. I must have done something right, because I spent about four or five years working for the owners in three different shops. After the gifting madness was over, I needed to have some more in-depth product training on the products and ingredients. I was entrusted to someone I'll call Sally for training. Sally had been with the owners from the opening, so she had received training from company staff before the store even opened, and it made sense to put her knowledge and expertise to good use.

During my career at The Body Shop, Sally and I had an interesting relationship. I distinctly remember one day when she took me into the back room for some discussion about ingredients. She picked up a product and went over the things on the label, referring to our huge product and ingredient book when necessary. As she was looking at this particular product, she came to the ingredient sodium chloride, AKA salt. Salt is a common ingredient in cosmetics; it is excellent as a natural thickener for shampoos and body washes. As an aside, salt is also used to soften water, so I guess it's possible that it might also help the product get more sudsy in hard water. But I am not sure, so don't quote me on it!

When Sally read that there was salt in the product as a thickener, she told me how I should remember that fact. I actually didn't need a mnemonic device, or memory helper, for this, because it was simple and straightforward and was stored in my memory banks right away. But I wanted to be polite, so I listened anyway. Sally told me to think of chlorine in a swimming pool, and in the summer, a pool is full of people. Pool, chlorine, lots of people, equals thick. I observed that it would be easy for me to remember it by thinking that eating too much salt, the ingredient we were discussing, would make me retain water and cause my ankles to be thick. "No," she said, "you need to think of a swimming pool." Uh-huh. Nice of you to tell me what my brain will understand best by using an entirely different chemical and some odd association. I just smiled sweetly and let her continue to train me. After dedicating myself to learning as much as I could on my own about ingredients and products, I became the official trainer for the staff within a few months. And I didn't do it by demanding that people remember things the way that was best for me.

Our shop employed all sorts of people. The products and philosophies of the company attracted customers and staff that ranged from people who just love bath products and makeup, to social and environmental activists. We had liberals and conservatives, vegetarians and meat-eaters, gay, straight, multiple name it. Sally was born and raised in a ski-resort town in Colorado (vagueness being discretion, as it were), and had spent a year during college studying in the Burgundy region of France, since she majored in French. One day when it was just the two of us working in the shop, we started talking about food. As a non-vegetarian, I was curious about what exactly she ate. I knew she ate yogurt, but did she also eat eggs and other dairy? How about fish? Some people are lacto-ovo vegetarians, and some are occasional pescatarians (or pescetarians). Sorry to pull that word out of the mothballs, but pescatarians sounds so much cooler than fish-eaters!

I was simply curious about Sally's protein sources. I am an omnivore, so my protein sources are plentiful, running the gamut from soy to steak, and all sorts of things in between. She didn't object to others eating meat, she just wasn't that into it. And I can understand that stance. There are many reasons one can choose to be a vegetarian, whether they have qualms about eating other creatures, or due to concerns over how much water and land is required to raise animals. Neither of us was judging the other's dietary choices. But Sally surprised me when she said that she and her boyfriend often ate lamb. I told her that I didn't much care for lamb, but even if I did, I felt weird about it being a young sheep, just like veal is a young cow-critter.

Sally was stunned. "No, it isn't!" she exclaimed. I told her that yes, indeed, lambs were the young of sheep. She refused to believe me. "But it's a completely different word! In French, the flesh of a sheep is called mouton." I relied that it was a different word in English as well, and that in English, the word was mutton. And that like veal and beef, lamb and mutton were words that described the same animal, one young, and the other mature. Sally decided that I was a kook and didn't know what I was talking about. There was no way that she was eating a young animal, for Heaven's sake! She was too cool and too nice for that. I simply didn't know what I was talking about. Lamb was an entirely different species, and that was that. We agreed to disagree, and I had Gram shaking her head over that conversation. As I recall, she came up with a name to describe what she saw as Sally's lack of smarts. And it was an entirely different word...

Afterword: As I was writing this, I remembered the incident that I had originally recalled, and told Trent about the other day. During another holiday season when we were incredibly busy, I brought my lunch to work every day so that I could eat it in the back room during my brief breaks. This gave me a few extra minutes of much-appreciated rest. My lunch was usually a single-serving can of chicken, a bagel, and a piece of fruit. One day, Sally came in the area and began berating me for eating smelly tuna in the small back room. I answered that I never ate canned tuna (true at that time), it was chicken. Once again, she refused to believe me, and began to argue that I was lying, it was tuna. She could smell it. I offered to get the empty can out of the recycling bin and prove it to her, but she suddenly decided that she had no more time to discuss the matter... 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I had an interesting visit today with a mother whose children range in age from six to late teens. We were talking about something interesting that I have observed as a non-parent, and have had confirmed by many parents. Every child and every family are different, of course, but I've noticed that a lot of kids seem to lose their minds when they hit the age of thirteen. This seems to happen regardless of their stage of puberty, and completely without rhyme or reason.

When I began to babysit Debbie and Mark, the kids down the street, on a full-time basis, I was sixteen, Debbie was ten, and Mark was six. We usually got along pretty well, but there was occasionally some sort of drama. Mark, for example, had an uncanny ability to do something that would put him in his room for twenty minutes of timeout shortly before his mom would get home from work. He'd cry incredibly loudly, and gradually run out of gas. But as soon as he heard Ann's car pull up in the driveway, he found his second wind. She would come in the house laughing at his loud crying. She knew it was fake by the sound, even though he managed to produce real tears.

Debbie, on the other hand, spread her drama throughout various parts of the day. One of my favorite moments with her was when she tried to pull the "you'll be sorry" treatment on me. She was angry at the injustice of being banished to her room (which contained a lot of her toys and books) for the eternity of twenty minutes. In a move that paid homage to the great Sarah Bernhardt, she thrust her arm out the bedroom door. In her hand was her bottle of Lily of the Valley cologne. "If you don't let me out, I'm going to drink this whole bottle!" She must have been surprised when I didn't panic and tell her that timeout was over. Instead, I simply said, "Okay, I hope it tastes good!" Needless to say, she never tried that again.

When Debbie got close to thirteen years old, I suddenly discovered that I could barely stand her. She had gone from sweet and loving girl to completely obnoxious virtually overnight. Suddenly she was the smartest and most important person in the world, and she wasn't afraid to let everyone know it. I remember asking Gram once if I was that bad when I was Debbie's age, because if I had been, I was really sorry. Gram reassured me that I wasn't too awful at that age, but she understood my frustrations with Debbie. I think that everything Liz was up to may have distracted her so that I could fly pretty much undetected by the radar. But then again, I didn't want to make waves and be returned for a refund, either!

So the lady I was speaking with today said that her daughter was a sweet and wonderful child until she hit thirteen and the switch got flipped. She learned what it was like as a parent to love your child but not necessarily like them. She told me that she and her husband had let her know that certain behaviors would not be allowed, and they elaborated on what these behaviors or actions were. Naturally, the child immediately started to do everything that mom and dad said they didn't want to happen. This is what happens with kids when you tell them exactly what you don't want them to do. Instead of having to think of stupid stuff to do all on their own, you have given them all kinds of trouble to get into. And they know in advance that it is something that will really irritate their parents. Yes, you have handed them the ammunition. 

Gram learned this at a really early age, and she would probably have advised parents not to tell their kids what not to do, since it plants the ideas in their crazy little heads. She remembered what happened when she went to Catholic school as a little girl. The teachers/nuns sometimes had different ideas than the kids did about what constituted swearing. They were all in agreement on the biggies, of course, but the nuns decided that there were some words that the children were using that were virtually the same as swearing. They told the children that there were words that they might be using that were unacceptable, and gave them the list:

Damn, and

Well, this was giving the kids the ammunition they had been hoping for. Gram said that every day on recess, the kids would run around the playground, shouting their new chant at the tops of their lungs. "Gee-Golly-Gosh-Darn-Devil-Damn-Hell! Gee-Golly-Gosh-Darn-Devil-Damn-Hell!" When she had kids, Gram remembered that when she was told exactly what was "bad," she and the other kids did it as soon and as often as they could. So she made her kids work hard to get in trouble, rather than handing them the ammunition!