How I Upped My Salad Game

I grew up during the time when salad meant iceberg lettuce with perhaps a tomato and that nasty orange bottled French dressing. These experiences with salad were not inspiring. My horizons seriously needed to expand. And so they have.

About seven months ago I had some dental work done – a temporary bonding that was only supposed to last for a few weeks. My dentist told me not to eat anything that would require biting into it with my front teeth and then tugging, which pretty much put sandwiches out of bounds. Pizza, too, was out, unless I ate it with a knife and fork (which I know is hoity-toity) or got the kind with thin crust cut into little squares, if they were small enough that I could cram them into my mouth whole, which I only do at home. I felt bereft when I realized I could no longer go to Red Robin and chow down on their excellent burgers. It would keep my smile intact but reduce my smiling.

My husband has been very supportive of this change in eating habits and he has convinced me to discover the wonder that is salad. I have been learning a lot about them.

I’ve learned that I can still go to Red Robin. In addition to their open-faced chili burger, they have an incredible Cobb salad so bounteous that I can eat it for over an hour. And they’ll substitute the blue cheese with some other kind if I ask them to, which I do. (I don’t like cheese that reminds me it is made from mold.) It’s not as soul-satisfying as their Guacamole Bacon Burger, but it’s a fine meal nonetheless.

In an effort to get me to eat more “rabbit food,” my husband often brings home salad kits. (I know they’re more expensive and occasionally less sanitary than homemade salads, but honestly, we can’t keep a whole head of lettuce in our fridge without it turning slimy.) Through these, I have learned the superiority of romaine and spinach over iceberg and the variety of dressings besides French. I even invented my own coleslaw dressing, involving Miracle Whip and pickle juice, which makes a refreshingly different alternative to bottled dressings.

Then there are the protein salads – tuna, chicken, and egg. I know ham salad should be in there as well, but I’ve never really cared for it. Then again, I always hated egg salad until my husband made it for me. Egg salad was always mushy slop until Dan got hold of it. He leaves the eggs chunky, which much improves the texture. And I’ve learned that dressing up tuna salad with celery and relish and chicken salad with apple chunks or grapes are ways to freshen up old favorites.

Dan also buys me little individual salads so I can try really different combinations of greens, toppings, and dressings in hopes of finding new elements that I like. Sriracha mayo, miso, or avocado dressings. Chia seeds, quinoa sprinkles, or edamame. Spring mix or thinly julienned broccoli. Blueberries and pecans as garnishes. They enliven my salads, even if they’re not things I’m likely to have on hand. My husband offers salads as snacks, lunches, or side dishes, so I get the idea that they are no longer just the least interesting part of dinner anymore.

During this experiment, I’ve learned quite a bit about what I don’t want near my salads, too. Raw onions, for example. Olives. Banana peppers. If I encounter any of these, I simply pass them off to my husband, who is well known for eating anything. (He even taught himself to like okra, for what reason I don’t even pretend to know. But I digress.)

Do I miss sandwiches? Of course. But many of them I can eat with a knife and fork if I don’t mind looking odd. I had a club melt the other day that cooperated nicely, though I can’t imagine a traditional club sandwich doing likewise. And I’ve always loved soups and fruit and cheese, so there are plenty of things I can eat gracefully – or as gracefully as it’s possible for me to eat.

There’s another thing I’ve learned during my dental and culinary experience, though. I hate kale. I don’t care if it’s a super-food (which I don’t believe in anyway). I don’t want it in a smoothie or a salad. In fact, I don’t want it anywhere near me.

Give me spinach instead, any day.

 

The Bubble Bursts

The town square was empty when Glinda arrived in her pink bubble. This did not alarm her. The Munchkins, after all, were shy, timid even, beset as they were by evil witches and falling houses that disrupted not only the harmony of their peaceful realm, but the careful layout of the multicolored paths that radiated outwards, leading eventually to the Emerald City itself.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Glinda trilled. This time there was no young lady who had fallen out of Kansas. Glinda was there only to check up on her devoted little friends and make sure that they wanted for nothing. Taking care of the small and meek, was, after all, her mission in life.

Strangely, though, there was no immediate response. A crowd of adoring followers did not appear. No little chicks awoke and rubbed their eyes. The members of the Lollipop Guild were not holding a meeting outside the sweet shop. The Lullaby League had apparently taken the day off.

“Hello?” Glinda called. “Where is everybody? It is I, Glinda, your friend and protector.” What could it be that had reduced the population to this extent? Had another Wicked Witch emerged to trouble the placid citizens of Oz’s most bucolic, most restful, and most scenic province?

Glinda grew ever so slightly irritated. She was used to crowds gathering whenever she floated into view. She was as used to the adoration as she was to her cotton candy wardrobe and glittery headpiece. She thought about stamping her delicate, silver-slipper-shod foot, but dismissed the idea as ungraceful and unbecoming.

Instead, she wafted her way over to the Mayor’s house. She called out in her dulcet tones, but received no response. Then she saw the note tacked to the front door of the mayoral residence: “Gone to Emerald City,” it said.

What could this mean? Circling the town plaza, Glinda found similar notes on every shop, every house, every meeting place she saw. Apparently, the entire population of Munchkinland had pulled up stakes and left for Emerald City.

“No!” Glinda thought wildly. “They’ll be no match for the dangers that await along the Yellow Brick Road.” Even the Red Brick Road was fraught with so many perils that it was seldom used in daylight and never after dark. She thought about bubbling over the Road and its hazardous environs to see if she could find a contingent of little people huddled together for warmth, singing a chirping song in defiance of the perils, and trying to content their pudgy stomachs with windfall apples.

Before she had time to conjure up her bubble transport, however, Glinda noticed a figure stirring at the back of one of the town’s official buildings. By the shadow of his curled hat, she recognized the Town Coroner. He was dignified, as always, but Glinda could sense an undercurrent of excitement is his small, beady eyes.

“Where is everyone?” she exclaimed.

“That should be evident. They are gone to Emerald City,” the dignified Munchkin said.

“But how? When? Why?”

“Why is the easiest question to answer. Emerald City is the capital city. It has the most excitement, the most fascination, and the most glitz, not to mention the most opportunity.”

“When?”

“Over the last several days, as soon as people could put their affairs in order.”

“You make it sound as though Munchkins were . . .” Glinda gulped, “dying!”

“Far from it,” replied the Coroner. “They have only just begun to live.”

“What do you mean?” cried Glinda, clutching her glittering skirts around her. “Did they all just start out walking and expect to arrive at Emerald City unscathed? You know the hazards that line the Yellow Brick Road!”

“Of course,” replied the official. “That’s why nobody started out walking.”

“Then how…?” Glinda was truly at a loss.

“They simply . . . beamed there,” said the Coroner. “It took no time at all. Just a warbling sound and a sparkle, and they were gone.”

“Gone? But how do you know they arrived there? What if they went to the realm of a new witch, or into the Dark Forest?”

“Several of them came back to retrieve things they’d forgotten,” the Coroner replied. He adjusted his impressive hat. “I was one of them. I just had to put my papers in order, and now I’m off to the City!”

“You still haven’t told me how,” Glinda persisted. “How do you get transported directly to Emerald City without the long, dangerous journey by foot?”

“Transported is the exact word,” the Coroner replied. “We transport.”

“But what does that mean?” Glinda sounded almost desperate. “They couldn’t have used sparkling pink bubbles. Only Good Witches can do that! Only one person has ever fallen from a star!”

“But that’s just what these people say – they came from a star. Or rather, stars,” explained the dignified little Munchkin. “You may not believe this, but travelers came from the stars and said they wanted to share something called ‘technology’ with us. Of course, we are always a people willing to share, so we asked them what we could do for them and what they could do for us.”

Glinda was stunned, her eyes glazed over. “And these people from the stars – they showed you how to go to Emerald City in the blink of an eye?”

“They did,” the Coroner nodded. “And all they asked in return was that they could ‘examine our culture’ and ‘understand its secrets.’”

“What secrets?”

“You know, horses that change color, crystal balls that show what’s happening in another world, how to melt witches.”

Glinda stiffened at that. “How does it work?” she asked haughtily. “Is it necessary to wear special shoes and click one’s heels together? Does one need to recite something?”

The Munchkin laughed. “No, all you need to do is stand in a certain spot and pull a lever. Then the sound comes and the sparkle, and all of a sudden you’re in Emerald City, in the courtyard in front of the Wizard’s Palace.”

“No bubble! That can’t be all there is to it! It sounds like some strange, unfamiliar, and probably dangerous magic!” Glinda protested.

“Magic is as magic does,” replied the Coroner, as he pulled a lever Glinda had not noticed and shimmered out of sight.

 

 

Lost in Time

I have trouble remembering certain numbers. Not like my own phone number or my social security number or my husband’s social security number.  Those I’m fine with. (Except my husband’s phone number. That’s on speed dial, so I haven’t memorized it.) It’s other things that have me stymied. Dates and times, mostly.

In response to this, I’ve had to come up with work-arounds – life hacks, if you will – that help me pinpoint where I am within the dimensions of time, if not space.

Cat time. This is obvious. Cat time is divided into meal time, bedtime, and pet-me time. But, since any of them can occur at any time during the day or night, this is not really all that helpful. I know there are people who own cats that insist on meals with a clock-like regularity or cats that wake them up in order to provide said meals by licking their eyelids or nipping their nose. But our cats are no good as alarm clocks. They lick eyelids whenever they feel like it. Pet-me time is especially variable, occurring as it does even when one of us is on the toilet.

Clothing time. This used to work. I used to know it was Friday when I was wearing jeans to work. Now I work at home and it’s pajamas all day every day. I suppose I need that kind of underwear with days of the week printed on them, but honestly, I could never trust myself to be wearing the right day’s panties. Plus, it might be awkward to have to pull down my pants just to discover what day it is.

TV time. No, not the time in the afternoon or evening when I get to watch TV. It’s that whole working at home thing again. I can take TV breaks the way someone else would take a cigarette break. No, this is a strategy for getting lost in the week, not getting lost in the day. I know that if Forged in Fire is on, it must be Wednesday. Thursdays are Beat Bobby Flay. Saturday is reruns of House. Tuesday is Star Trek Next Gen.

Work time. I do know that when I don’t get work assignments, it’s either Thursday (Beat Bobby Flay day) or the weekend, though I’m still fuzzy on whether it’s Saturday or Sunday. My husband’s work schedule is no help either, as he doesn’t work M-F either. And he works third shift, which leads him to say things like, “I work Wednesday into Thursday, have off Friday, work Saturday into Sunday, and have off Sunday.” That’s no help. I don’t even know how he keeps it straight.

Disaster time. This hardly ever works. But when it does, it’s amazingly accurate. I’m particularly bad at knowing what year something happened. To know how old I am, I have to take the year it is and the year of my birth, which I do remember, and subtract.  The same with how long we’ve been married. (Or I make a joke that avoids the subject. How long have we been married? Twenty of the happiest years of our lives. (It’s actually more than thirty, though how much more I couldn’t say without checking our framed wedding invitation and subtracting. (And I probably shouldn’t have grouped this under disaster time.))) But I digress.

In fact, the only time disaster time has worked is to determine when my mother and I went to Rio. While we were there, we heard news about the Loma Prieta earthquake back home. The people in our group were all worried about whether friends and relatives had been harmed, but the news in the Southern Hemisphere was not very specific. Now, when I want to know when that trip occurred, all I have to do is Google Loma Prieta (I’m better at remembering names and disasters), and voilà, 1989. (Of course, I had to Google that fact while writing this.) And if there are no disasters to tie an event to, I’m out of luck. I still don’t know when I was in Jamaica or Ireland. My camera doesn’t date-stamp pictures, either, so that’s no help.

You may point out that there exist in the world things like clocks and calendars. They’re just not accurate enough. They don’t tell me things like when my next doctor’s appointment is unless I go to the trouble of writing it down. (I generally just keep appointment cards in my hip pocket until I wash the jeans and the bits of cardboard disintegrate.) Again, I have to pin it to another event I do know. It’s the day after my birthday. Is it at 11:00 or 11:30? I guess I’ll find out on my birthday when the office calls to remind me.

 

 

Writing Is Art, Too

You know all those posts you see this time of year about how important it is to support artists and local artisans?

I have no quarrel with that. Artists and artisans need and deserve our support. Most of them contribute to the local economy and many are barely squeaking by.

But let’s also give some love and support to the writers. Writing, after all, is an art, too.

Let’s take painting as an example of an art. How, you ask, is writing like painting?

First of all, writing, like painting, takes practice, at least if you want to get better at it. Painters create works that they know they can never – don’t even want to – sell, especially when they are just starting. One thing they can do with these beginning pieces, though, is analyze them. What could I have done better? That section of the painting is muddy? What could I do to adjust the colors next time? That hand doesn’t look realistic. I need to work on painting people’s hands. I can’t just hide them in every painting.

Painters are often influenced by famous painters whose works they admire. They study these paintings. Some even try to paint in the same style or using the same color palette or the same type of subject matter. They may experiment with cubism, pointillism, art nouveau, impressionism, photorealism, or all of the above. They may imitate the style of Monet, Hopper, Cassatt, or O’Keefe. They’re not being copycats or attempted art forgers. They are acknowledging the greats and learning from those who came before them.

Writers, too, must study and practice, if they are to improve, and especially if they want to produce work that is saleable. Most writers have favorite authors and analyze what it is about those authors they admire. Does one a novelist write elegant description? Does a mystery writer use tight plots and exciting dialogue? Does a short story writer pack a wallop in a small space? These are qualities that can be learned and practiced. One writer of my acquaintance pores through her favorite authors’ works and highlights dialogue tags, for example, or sensory descriptions, or foreshadowing.

The next step for many writers is also to imitate the greats. A mystery writer may try to emulate Sue Grafton. An aspiring fantasy writer may study George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien. A neophyte poet may be drawn to confessional poets like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton or to sonneteers like Shakespeare or Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

When it comes to supporting local artists, you can often find their work at local art festivals and craft fairs. Some conventions, such as science fiction conventions have art rooms with paintings and drawings for sale or auction and general merchandise rooms that feature handmade jewelry, glass blowing, and other arts and crafts.

But where do you find the work of local writers? It’s not like anyone’s selling poems door-to-door. Well, just as there are local art fairs, there are also local or regional book fairs, where writers rent tables and try to entice passersby with their works. Frequently, when you buy directly from the author at one of these events, most of the money is likely to go to the author and not to a far-off publishing company.

Readings at bookstores and even libraries are other places to meet local or regional authors and get a sense of their work before you purchase. If you like the writer’s books, but are unable to purchase one, call your local libraries and ask them to stock that title. An author is thrilled to make a sale to a public library and by encouraging that, you are helping that writer.

There are other things you can do to support writers as well. Leaving a review on Amazon – even a two word “Liked it” – is import to writers. Amazon really cares about the number of reviews a book gets. Goodreads is another excellent place to write reviews.

Most of all, show love for your local authors by talking about them. Word-of-mouth sales are still important, even in this digital age. It’s the same with local painters and other artists. The more you spread the word about how good they are, the more you are helping talented community members make a living so they can keep doing what they do best – making art.

Who’s the Bully Here?

You know why kids bully? Because adults bully. But no one wants to have that conversation.  — Lauryn Mummah McGaster

I saw this pass-along on Facebook the other day and decided that I did want to have the conversation. When we think about bullies, we usually think about kids bullying other kids – classically, stealing their lunch money or more recently, tormenting them for being perceived as gay, or any kind of different, really.

And what do we say when that happens? Kids can be mean. Kids can be cruel. Kids have no respect. In other words, the problem arises in the kids themselves. They shape the victimization of others, presumably out of thin air.

But stop a minute. We know that kids learn what they see adults do. They learn to talk and walk. They learn to swear and belittle. The walking and talking may be hardwired into humans, but the rest is clearly learning by imitation.

But adults aren’t bullies, really. They don’t go around stealing lunch money and certainly not in front of their kids.

You might be surprised, but adult bullying happens a lot at work.  Belittling and humiliation seem to go with business just as much as board meetings and yearly reviews. Not all workplaces are toxic, of course, but almost every one contains a group of gossips or a clique that excludes others just like children do in the cafeteria. They yell at underlings. They sexually harass others. They steal credit for others’ accomplishments and boast about it.

But wait, you say, children seldom if ever come to where their parents work and see them behave this way. How can they be learning bullying from them?

Bullying behavior starts with an attitude, a sentiment that there are winners and losers in life and the winners have the right (or even the duty) to lord it over the losers. Think about how many people were influenced by the “look out for #1” philosophy.

Adults carry these attitudes home with them. Children pick up on them. Think about what adults do and say in front of their kids, even – or maybe especially – when they don’t know the kids are within earshot. They bitch about their neighbors and their bosses. They use words like “bitch” and “bastard” and worse. They talk about their day and how “stupid” some co-worker was or how they “felt like smacking” the customer service representative.

And think about what adults say when their children are being bullied. Often the response is, “If he hits you, hit him right back. Show him you’re the boss.” This perpetuates the “winners and losers” scenario and sometimes leaves the “loser” with a desire to victimize someone even “lesser.”

Worst of all, think about how often adults bully children. There are too many children who are badly abused, hit and kicked and belittled by their parents. These cases sometimes get reported to Children’s Services.

Those are the extreme cases, however. Seldom does a single slap or two get reported. Telling a child that he or she is “no good” or “stupid” or even “a big disappointment” never gets reported at all. Some adults use humiliation, name-calling, and fear, all in the name of discipline and good behavior. Some pit one child against another, praising the “good” child and condemning the other. Some blame and shame ruthlessly.

They may think they are raising obedient children, but they are showing them through actions, words, and even tone of voice what it is to be a bully or a victim and how often bullying succeeds. The essence of bullying is that one person has actual or perceived power over another and uses that power in toxic ways. Think about how much power adults have over children and how seldom they consider how to use that power wisely.

This is certainly not to say that all adults abuse their power or their children. But when you look at children’s behavior, it’s hard not to see a reflection of the environment in which they were raised.

Bullies don’t just happen. They learn.

Ms. Whisht and Buddy

They look so innocent, don’t they? Of bank robbery and murder, as my Dad would have said. In actuality, these cats are naughty little fiends who try to get away with anything they can, including chicken bones if we don’t keep a sharp eye out and a lid on the garbage can.

Their names are Toby (the tabby) and Dushenka (the calico). (Dushenka, if you’re interested, is Russian for “little soul,” but has a colloquial meaning of “sweetheart.” But I digress.) All our cats have had nicknames, from the descriptive (Mr. Underfoot), to the sickening (Toto-Booboo), to the ridiculous (Sir Boinks-a-Lot), to the obscure (Naughty Baby Fek’lhr). But when these two take up the sport of door-darting, they acquire new ones – Buddy and Ms. Whisht.

Dushenka is the primary door-darter, and in a way, I can’t blame her. Before she came to live with us, she was a mostly-stray cat in our neighborhood and it might be expected that she would want to pussyfoot around in her old haunts or beg handouts from other suckers. But we don’t let our cats outdoors for health and safety reasons, and once she joined our little family, she had to follow the rules.

Except, of course, she didn’t. One day I looked out an upstairs window and said, “That’s a pretty calico walking up the neighbor’s drive. It looks a lot like Dushenka. Hey, wait a minute…!” We would chase her, to no avail. We would stand outside and call her name fruitlessly, then give up. After about half an hour I would go back out, lean on the car, and call her name again. Shortly she would amble into the cul-de-sac and flop down on the macadam, where I could scoop her up and tell her she was a naughty girl, which she ignored. Toby got out occasionally too, but he wasn’t used to the outdoors, so he was much easier to round up.

When we moved to a new neighborhood, though, we had new worries. This wasn’t familiar territory for either cat. If they got out, they might not be able to find their way home.

Of course, it happened. Dushenka slid through the screen door opening (which I would have sworn was only two inches wide) and made for the street. Dan and I threw on pants and shoes and followed as best we could. She wandered about, inspecting the row of houses across the street as we followed along behind her. When we got within about seven feet of her, she would casually stroll into the backyard or over to the next house or into a stand of trees.

Finally, we gave up, exhausted. We were headed back to the house to start printing up Wanted posters, when I noticed that, about seven feet behind Dan, Dushenka was coming trot-trot-trot in his footsteps. She followed him all the way home and flopped down on the patio, looking smug.

She had invented a new game, which was fun only as long as we played it. We took to waiting out her occasional escapes until she had had enough boredom and come home, usually in about 30-45 minutes.

Still, our goal was for her not to get out in the first place. Now I have to stand guard when either one of us opens the door. Dushenka has learned that when I take up position, clap my hands, and loudly hiss, “whisht,” she is to remove herself to another part of the house, or at least stand back six feet.

I then engage in a little monologue. “Don’t even think about it, Missy. I have my eye on you! [making the gesture where you point at your own eyes and then theirs] You’re thinking about it. I can tell. Don’t make me whisht you! ‘Cause I will!” While I’m at it, I pin Toby down. “You too, Buddy. Don’t you get any ideas either. Whisht!” He wanders off, pretending he has no idea what I’m talking about.

They still try every once in a while, especially when Dan is bringing in an armload of packages. He has to ring the bell so I’ll know to get to the door and be ready to clap and whisht. I can’t wait until we have company over and they get a demonstration of our little routine. It may sound stupid, but it works for Ms. Whisht, Buddy, and us.

Blue Hair – Not Just for Punks Anymore

It used to be that we made fun of little old ladies with blue hair. It was the physical sign of social uselessness and impending senility, or so we thought. We mocked them in songs like “Blue Hairs Driving in My Lane” (ttto “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” in case you didn’t pick that up).

It was a thing that old women with white or silver hair did. They’d go to their hairdressers regularly and ask for a blue rinse. (Many of them pronounced it “wrench.” No, I don’t know why.) I also don’t know why they did it. Maybe it was to prevent the hair from acquiring a yellowish tinge, as it sometimes does. Maybe it was a holdover from when you would add “bluing” to laundry to get whites really clean. (Bluing is also something you do to guns to make them dark and shiny. It must work differently on sheets. But I digress.)

Then blue hair came into style – for young people, both men and women. Not the pale, ice blue of the blue rinse, either. These blues were deep and vibrant and also made the wearer unemployable when they first appeared. There are still businesses that feel that way, but a lot have surrendered to the inevitable.

It wasn’t just blue, either. Shocking pink, Day-Glo green, candy-apple red, and deep purple were also popular choices. Wearing hair in Kodachrome colors signaled that you belonged to a tribe of young people that didn’t care for convention, or were musicians, or enjoyed other body mods like piercing. Multi-colored hair went along with mohawks and other radical hairstyles to separate the free spirits from the “straights.”

Why are we now seeing older people sporting other-than-natural hair? Maybe the teens and twenty-somethings simply aged but refused to give up their signature hair. Maybe they became parents of teens and indulged in mutual hair-dying as a bonding experience. Maybe they are baby boomers with memories of letting their freak flag fly, as we used to say. Maybe they retired and no longer cared about employment. Or maybe these women reached an age when they no longer gave a crap about what other people thought of them.

Whatever the reason, they indulge in brightly colored locks. I have considered doing something colorful with my hair, though I meant to start out slowly, with those clip-on strands of pink or green, often adorned with beads or feathers. Instead, I stopped going to the hairdresser at all and let my hair grow long and gray, like my Granny’s did. (Not that I am above using someone else’s non-gray hair on special occasions.)

I still might dabble in crayon colors someday. I admire the older women who defy convention or simply create their own. Many of the women I know have indulged, and not just the artists, either. Women from all walks of life have jumped on the trend and now sport outrageously colored locks. I have the impression that young people enjoy seeing this, but I’m not altogether sure. Maybe the teens will go back to natural hair colors in reaction. The seniors may have stolen the style completely.

Perhaps this trend will fade, like so many others, and seem as ridiculous in old photos as the big hair that almost destroyed the ozone layer from all the hairspray. I prefer to think that seniors are going to continue rocking this look as long as they can and, as new populations reach senior status, they will join in and let their freak flags fly, too!

 

Halloween? Bah, Humbug!

I hate Halloween.

Mind you, I have no problem with the pagan event (Samhain) overtaking the religious one (the eve of All Saints Day).

I have no problem with skeleton cookies and other trappings of Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos).

I have no problem with children dressing up as witches, vampires, devils, or anything else they want to be, whether it smacks of evil or not. (I do hate the “sexy” trend in adult costumes. Sexy crayon. Sexy Mr. Rogers. (No, really.) Whoever thinks these up has too much time on their hands and too much weird on their brains.)

What I hate is the trick-or-treating. (It should really be called treat-or-vandalism.)

When I was doing the trick-or-treating, it was different, of course. There were still difficulties. I wear glasses, and back in the days of plastic dime-store masks, my choices were to wear the glasses but have the mask slip around and make me functionally blind or to wear the mask without glasses and be functionally blind.

Later on, I put together my own costumes out of old clothing and other things around the house. That was fun, though occasionally baffling. I think most people guessed “gypsy” from the bandana and necklace of gold coins, but what they made of the pink flowered dress and tan plush toy snake I just don’t know. Even I don’t remember what that was supposed to be. (The g*psy outfit came long before we all learned about cultural appropriation and ethnic slurs. But I digress.)

Around that time, the first round of tainted candy scares went through, when children took their goodie bags to the ER to be x-rayed for razor blades and had to throw out apples, Rice Krispie treats, and homemade fudge. That took a certain something out of the playfulness. Halloween parties became a trend, where treats could be supervised and stupid party games involving cold spaghetti and peeled grapes could be played. I think those parties have now taken over from door-to-door begging.

My mother loved the trick-or-treating. She would ooh and aah over the cute little kids and their costumes. What she didn’t like were the teenage boys who went around with pillowcases and didn’t even bother to dress as anything. They didn’t even smear on charcoal beards and pretend to be hobos. (Mom always kept a special bowl of last year’s left-over bubblegum just for them. It was unpleasant, but not actually poisonous.)

I think I started hating trick-or-treating when my Mom got older and couldn’t pop up and down to answer the door, so I had to do the popping and dispensing of candy and old bubblegum and describing of the costumes. But I did it for her.

Later, when I was on my own, I lived in upstairs apartments and other locales that didn’t see a lot of costumed traffic, so I had time to think it over and discover how much I disliked the custom.

Over the years, I’ve grown more and more antisocial, nearly to the point of waving my cane at youngsters and calling them “whippersnappers.” We live in a cul-de-sac at the very back of the neighborhood, so we don’t get many visitors anyway. My husband always buys too much candy and we eat our favorites both before and after the fact. (I have to remind him not to get Butterfingers. I hate Butterfingers.)

Actually, buying too much candy is a defense mechanism for him. One year we didn’t have enough, and he didn’t even have enough loose change for everyone. As the kids were departing in sorrow, he yelled out the door in desperation, “Does anyone want some Coke?” He meant the soft drink, but the shocked look on their faces was priceless.

Now I simply refuse to participate, curmudgeon that I am. I stay in the back of the house and turn off the porchlight, the universal signal for “Don’t stop here. Keep moving.” (Though I don’t know why we bother with porchlights, as trick-or-treating is now always done during daylight hours to cut down on car accidents and candy-muggings.)

These days I’m the one with knees that don’t like popping up and down or creaking up and down, really. I get depressed when I see how many little girls have bought into the pink princess-y thing. Opening the door makes me tense, as we have a cat who is a door-darter. Every other year my husband says, “I did it last year; now it’s your turn.” Sorry, not falling for that one. If you like it, fine. If you don’t do it, I’ll just read a nice zombie novel like Feed to mark the occasion.

This year there is a slightly encouraging lately – having a teal-colored pumpkin outside your door if you will be giving out non-food treats, such as small toys, colored pencils, glow sticks, and the like. It will cut down on food-allergy-related deaths, but it will also result in a lot of stomped-on teal pumpkins. The older kids already have made a sport of stomping pumpkins and running. Imagine their annoyance at receiving a pinwheel or a Koosh ball.

The start of the pumpkin-stomping craze was when I stopped decorating too. You can save Christmas ornaments from year to year, but last year’s pumpkins are just sad. I suppose I could find some nice cobwebs in the basement, but getting them intact to the windows upstairs would be difficult.

Honestly, I could just skip Halloween and be perfectly happy. In fact, I do and I am. Call me a spoil-sport or a party-pooper if you will, but spoiling sports and pooping parties are how I celebrate.

 

 

What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Crankier

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There are certain sayings I hate. Many of them are affirmations. Others are platitudes. Some are just nonsense.

Affirmations, for example. The one in the picture, for example, is provably untrue. There’s a lot in my average day that I don’t choose – whether I oversleep, whether that package from Amazon arrives when I need it to, whether I’ll trip over my cat and break my arm. There are some who say that I can choose how I feel about any of that, but I don’t believe it. Human beings are wired to feel annoyed when they trip over the cat and in pain when they break their arm. Right after that, they may choose to forgive the cat or feel lucky that they didn’t break both arms, but feelings, at the moment they happen, are not chosen. We may be able to choose how we react afterward and what we do about it, but even that is iffy.

Or take the expression “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” There are lots of things that don’t kill me: ice cream, paintings, spatulas. None of them will make me stronger.

And if you tell me (as I’m sure you will) that the saying really means that adverse events that don’t kill me will make me stronger, I have to disagree. Think about someone who is fortunate enough to survive a train wreck. Is he stronger? No. More likely he is considerably weaker, owing to assorted broken bones and ruptured internal organs.

Ah, you say, but he is spiritually stronger, thankful that he survived. Maybe not. Not all people with catastrophic injuries are content with their fate. Some are even bitter and resentful. But we don’t like to think about those cases, so we say something that makes us feel better, even if it bears absolutely no relation to what the person it happened to actually feels.

I feel the same way about “Everything happens for a reason.” One day I heard about a news helicopter that crashed, killing everyone on board. Someone contended that it happened for a reason. “Sure,” I said. “The mechanic failed to tighten the thingamabob on the rotor. Or the pilot had the shakes. Or the passenger distracted the pilot. Of course, there was a reason.”

“That’s not what I meant,” my friend replied. I knew what she did mean – that there was a reason unknown to us and ultimately unknowable. That the passenger was secretly a child molester and now would never molest another child. That the pilot’s wife was about to poison him and this death saved him from a worse one. That if the helicopter hadn’t crashed when and where it did, an innocent child on the ground would have been squashed by it. Something like that. Cosmic justice prevailed.

In all these excuses, blame is never involved. Neither is chance. (The part on the rotor just failed. No one is to blame.) It’s too frightening to think that the actions of another person, our own actions, or the randomness of the universe is “responsible” for a tragedy. So we say there must be a reason, but we can’t – or aren’t able to – know it.

This is a lot like what is meant when someone says, “It was all part of God’s plan.” If you can’t pin the blame on a single person and you’re not willing to admit it “just happened that way,” there’s always God. If I were God (and thank God I’m not), I would be more than a little miffed at being held responsible for all these accidents, not to mention the plagues and disasters that are considered “acts of God.” (Did God send the tornado that destroyed my house because I’m sinful? We’re all sinners, but not all of us get tornados.)

To me, the worst saying is, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” To begin with, it pins the blame on God for all the things that go wrong in our lives. And ultimately, it simply isn’t true. Plenty of people can’t handle the things that happen in their lives. Those with serious mental illness, for example, sometimes can handle it, but sometimes they can’t – for example, a woman who drowns her children obviously can’t handle post-partum depression. The mass shooter can’t handle the stress, hatred, fear, or disappointment in his life. (Not to mention that I don’t believe God hands out these trials.)

That’s when talk of God’s plan gives way to the workings of Satan, or abstract Evil in general. We call people who do things that seem inexplicable to us “monsters.” This is another easy saying that simply isn’t so. Whatever motivated such heinous acts, the people who committed them are still human beings. Making them “The Other” – a monster, a minion of Satan, an animal – is more comfortable, because it negates the fact that human people (and that includes all of us) have the potential to do cruel things. That most of us don’t doesn’t negate the fact that we share a species with those who do.

And then there’s death. I won’t argue with the saying “At least he’s in a better place,” because my father’s death was excruciatingly painful and long, and release from that surely was better than continuing in it. But then there’s “It was his time.” Again, this assumes that God has a plan that’s so detailed that He has appointed a time for each of us to die. Or Fate has, if you prefer. Someone or something, anyway, that controls the minutiae of our lives so completely that every instant of it is out of our hands.

If any of those ideas bring you comfort, good. But they make me more than a little uncomfortable.

You Learn Something New Every Day

Whenever someone says to me, “You learn something new every day,” I always reply, “If it’s a good day.” Learning something new always makes it a good day for me. Learning is not just for schoolchildren anymore. Anyone can learn, and everyone should.

I’m not talking about those ads for career building through adult education, though they’re inspiring and some of them may even be legitimate. If that’s the kind of learning you need/want, I say go for it!

My husband went back to school (at an age I’m not allowed to mention) to get a B.A. to supplement the A.A. he received during his earlier college years. In addition to his required courses like psychology, he had fun with some other classes, including geology, which provided fodder for jokes like “take it for granite” and “isn’t that gneiss?”

The internet is a great place for learning. In addition to getting a degree online, you can simply take courses on subjects that you find interesting. Go to oedb.org to get an idea of the courses from respected universities that are available. Study modern poetry at Yale. Explore world history at Princeton. Dive into elder care at Johns Hopkins. Even learn about ethics at Oxford. Best of all, these classes are free!

If those sound too daunting for you, consider learning just for fun. Fun learning – either having fun learning (which I and a lot of my friends do) or learning to do something fun – is a great, valuable, and occasionally remunerative activity, if you get really good at something you picked up as a hobby.

School districts, art museums, and even craft stores have evening classes for adults who want to dabble in a new form of self-expression. I’ve availed myself of these several times, although I sometimes have had to drop out because of time pressures. When I was a teen, I took a class in ceramics. I still have the glossy, dark green Christmas tree lit from inside by a light bulb. I understand now that they sell on ebay for, if not big, at least more bucks than I put into it. The small blue-and-yellow candy dish I made has made it through assorted moves and upheavals as well. I’ve also taken pencil drawing and conversational Italian, where I learned mainly how similar Italian is to French and, especially, Spanish.

And if you don’t want to study something academic or creative, you can still learn lots just by exploring the web. What does “yeet” mean? The Urban Dictionary will tell you that, as well as a lot of other slang (and sometimes disgusting) stuff. What does “ephemeral” mean and how can you use it in a sentence? There are word-a-day features that will send such fascinating material straight to your inbox.

Facebook allows you to make connections with all kinds of people and organizations that can broaden your knowledge of nearly anything, from folklore to recipes to astronomy to musical instruments, to name just a few. If you don’t know people who do those things, there are entire groups dedicated to them.

Fascinating trivia can also be found in books as well. My husband always has books of trivia in the bathroom that contain info on everything from famous movie bloopers to word origins to obscure facts about historical figures. It’s always enlightening when he emerges from the house’s smallest room and greets me with, “Honey, did you know…?” (even if it does make me feel like I’m on a quiz show).

Talking to people, both ones you know and strangers you meet in public places, can be enlightening as well. You can hear stories from older relatives about life when they were young. A conversation with someone you meet on a plane can give you insight about Scottish customs or Cockney slang. Everyone knows something about something. Will you ever use the knowledge. I say it doesn’t matter – your life is now richer.

I count a day when I don’t learn something new as a day wasted. I love it when I’m able to start a Facebook post with TIL (Today I learned) or “I was today years old when I learned that….” Learning is all around you. You just have to reach out and grab it!