When I Grow Up

Just One Day to Celebrate Kids and Pets?



April 26 is National Kids and Pets Day. Begun in 2005, the day is dedicated to celebrating the bond between children and animals and to educate the public about safely bringing pets into a home with children. A Facebook page hosts pictures of pets and their children.

Growing up, I always had pets and learned many lessons from them. I learned to be gentle when handling small animals and that some will hurt you if you hurt them, and that dogs especially love unconditionally. My first dog, Candy, was a wonderful listener and my best audience for the books I wrote on 3×5 index cards stapled together.

Although it was not planned, our small critters taught me about new life and that none of us is here forever. I was taught to care for our furry and feathered friends, even while Mom took on primary responsibility for their care.

two guinea pigs; one is brown and white the other is gray and white

Bandit and Bruno were my college pets

For my sixth birthday, my uncle bought me a hamster and shortly after, Mom decided it was lonely and purchased a “friend.” Of course, we soon had several baby hamsters and had to purchase another cage to separate the male from the female and protect the babies. We found homes for the babies and kept the parents separate after that. Years later, we again got hamsters as pets, but now knew better and kept them in separate cages.

Considered the “animal person,” my family has tried to pin our later abundance of guinea pigs on me, but I had nothing to do with  bringing any of them into the house. Mom was the one behind this. She had mentioned she wanted a guinea pig, so Dad bought her one for Christmas. Again, she thought he was lonely and purchased a friend for him. Once again, we had multiple cages to separate them. Unfortunately, we were not very good at determining the sex right away and soon had yet another. (Full disclosure, this experience made me quite fond of these critters and I had a couple of my own in college.)

A goldfish won at a school fair started as my pet, but Mom soon took on care duties. She was the one to change the water in the bowl and even brought him back from near death by massaging his gills when it looked like he was not going to make it. (He lived a few more years after that episode; he was with us for eight years.) I learned that with proper care, goldish can live a very long time.

Though small animals came and went in our lives, dogs have been a constant presence. Besides Candy (the dog who patiently listened to my stories), we also had a dachshund Vicki who loved to wake us up with kisses. Later we had a poodle, Misty (who as a puppy was a gift to my grandmother, but very soon moved in with us and became my dog), and finally a German Shepherd, Sheba, who was selected for her booming bark, but was possibly the prettiest and gentlest of her breed I have ever seen.

white Persian cat on a light blue background

Brandy was a sweet fluffy addition to our family

There were no cats in my early life (Candy wouldn’t stand for having any around), but after she died, we did have one cat, Brandy, a Persian that Mom brought home when her co-worker was unable to keep her. She was an indoor cat, but got out occasionally and so we added kittens to the mix. My sister and I got home from school in time to see a couple being born. I also volunteered at a local animal adoption agency and began to foster dogs and cats. Most stayed a short time, but one cat captured my heart and when she finally found a home after seven months, I was heartbroken.

Shortly after, I adopted a kitten, Molsie, who was my favorite college roommate. Though people didn’t believe me at first, she understood more words than most. After forgetting to say goodbye one weekend I had to leave her, I was asked to please never do that again (she sat by the door yowling for two days). She probably taught my children more about how to treat pets than anyone else. Though we always told the kids to be gentle and showed them what we meant, she would reinforce our lessons. While they were toddlers and still learning, they got a smack with her paw, no claws. When they were older and she knew that they knew better, they were risking a scratch.


Shortly before I married, Bacchus came into our life. A basset hound mix, as a puppy he had humongous ears that he eventually grew into. He patiently taught my children about loving a dog (and how much fun it is to get slobbery kisses when you hold a cookie). After his loss, I spent the longest six months of my life, dogless, before finding Zeke, by far the gentlest dog I have ever known. Maggie, a Catahoula, came into our lives shortly thereafter. Since the kids were older at this point, the lessons learned were more about caring for and training a dog and how to simultaneously be firm and kind.

two yougn girls and a dog

My older girls and Bacchus on a family hike

Other furry and finned pets have come into our house since I became a parent. There was Rabbit the hamster (a story for another day) frogs raised from tadpoles in school, an aquarium full of tropical fish and a goldfish, Gill, from school that lived considerably longer than its peers. One daughter also brought home gerbils (which were the reason I was in the right place at the right time to meet Zeke). There was also another hamster, Rocky, a birthday present to me.

The aquatic frogs were something new to me. After studying them in school, they were available to be adopted by students. Naturally there was a shortage of homes, so each time we got more than one. We quickly learned that they would adapt well to life in an aquarium and they joined my tropical fish. I enjoyed watching them and mourned their loss more than that of any of my fish.

Of all of these, I assumed most of the basic care, except for the gerbils. I would give them food and water and occasionally pet them, but there’s something about the tails that I can’t get past. I had a pet mouse in high school, but gerbil tails are different somehow. I knew going in that no matter what they promised, I was likely to be taking on more responsibility, so I only okayed pets that I was willing to care for. (By the time the gerbils arrived, my daughter was mature enough to care for them herself.) The child who owned Rabbit took on much of the care, as did the one who owned Gill. Everyone learned what was needed to care for the family pets and all were expected to help out.

Pets and kids go together. Kids learn things such as empathy, patience and responsibility and owning a pet has been shown to reduce stress. Owning an animal can prompt research into their needs or background (which is advised if you have no experience with that particular species). Kids with pets always have a friend willing to listen as well as a partner for tea parties, walks or runs. Those who are shy may find that a pet can help make new friends. The benefits of having a pet are many, as long as you are prepared and know what you are getting into.



What Was Mom Thinking When She Approved This?


Childhood today is much different from a generation ago and that of course was different from the one before and so on. Much has been said about my generation and how our parents couldn’t possibly parent the same way they did without people judging or possibly even calling child services on them for being negligent. We spent much of our days away from home, without our parents knowing where we were or what we were doing. Parents then were more permissive and didn’t seem to worry about everything as much. Even when we were home, we were largely unsupervised.

Though I have many fond memories of spending time with my mom, playing board games or working in jigsaw puzzles, when we had friends over, she somehow found ways to occupy herself. Of course we would check in from time to time and get permission for some things, but basically we knew the rules and she was confident we would follow them.

One of these requests was to roller skate in the basement. At the time, we lived in a split level house, with the family room on the ground floor, the living room, dining room and kitchen were up several stairs and the bedrooms up another level. We kids and our friends spent most of our time in the family room but sometimes would go to the finished basement where there was a pool table, piano and sitting area. In the late 70s, roller skating was popular, our school sponsored frequent trips to the roller rink and we would sometimes also go on weekends.

At home, we sometimes skated outside, but this wasn’t possible when the weather was bad. So we asked to skate in the basement. It was okayed. The pool table made a convenient oval to skate around and we brought a turntable down with us so that we would have music – just like at the roller rink. We blasted the tunes and took turns as DJ. Though we skated rather fast for such a small space, miraculously no one ever got hurt. Of course among the kids, this made her an ultra-cool mom. No other mom would have said yes.

This arrangement occupied many hours that summer and I guess Mom didn’t really notice the floor – I suppose it took a while for the gray marks to show up and her trips to and from the basement usually were while carrying a loaded laundry basket. When she saw the effects of our activity,   the basement roller rink closed (by this point, the novelty  had worn off and we weren’t as interested anyway) and she spent a couple days on her hands and knees with a bucket of soapy water and a collection of SOS pads. Amazingly, the floor looked good as new when she was done.

I’ve since asked what she was thinking allowing this and she has answered, “I really don’t know.” She may not, but I think I have an inkling. Sometimes as a parent it is worth it to say yes to something that will cause you more work, if only to bring some joy to your kids – or to get a few moments of peace.


14 of #52essays2017

A Jersey Girl’s Visit to the Beach in the Off-Season

IMG_0129As a Jersey girl, I am no stranger to the beach. In college I worked the late shift at the local grocery store so that I could spend days at the shore (it was only about an hour away and back then $5 got me enough gas to get there and back, a slice of pizza and a soda, and paid to get on the beach). Since then, life took me out of New Jersey and my schedule no longer allows for impromptu beach days.

Recently, my husband and I planned to get away for a weekend and chose Cape May as our destination.  Searching for accommodations turned up a large number of hotels and inns at varying price points.  Being a fan of bed and breakfast inns, we decided to go that route and chose the Eldredge House in West Cape May. Although it was a bit far to walk to town, the room was pleasantly decorated and the bed was comfortable. Our innkeeper, Todd, created a list of suggested restaurants for us as well as some “Brisk Windy Day Activities.” Unlike most B&Bs, this one does not have breakfast on the premises but instead offers gift certificates to a number of restaurants. While it is nice to have the convenience of breakfast on site, it is also nice to have a variety of options. On this trip, breakfasts did not disappoint.

On Saturday morning, we walked across the street to the Bella Vida Café. Though I was tempted by the sound of the Chunky Monkey French Toast, I quickly changed my mind when I heard about the special and ordered a combination of crabmeat, shrimp, spinach and eggs that blended into one of the best omelets I have ever had out.  We couldn’t leave the Garden State without taking advantage of the opportunity to eat at a diner, so Sunday’s breakfast was at George’s Place. (Even better, it was a diner featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives.) Though there was a wait and we were hungry, it was worth it. The Banana French Toast, a delicious stack of three French toast slices alternated with sliced bananas sautéed in butter and brown sugar, dusted with powdered sugar and a hint of cinnamon was absolutely delicious.

While April may be considered by some to be too chilly to visit the New Jersey shore, I find the off seasons to be just as enjoyable and sometimes more so (the beach in January is beautiful). Hotels and inns are less expensive than during the summer season and the crowds are not yet out. Though some of the shops are not open, visiting in the off seasons means parking is free and more accessible. In Cape May, though the parking lots surrounding Washington Street Mall and spots along the beach near restaurants filled up at dinnertime, it was not too difficult to find a parking spot.

statue of a woman with children facing the water with a flag i teh background oin a replica ship's mast

The Fishermen’s Memorial


remnants of a concrete ship

What’s left of the concrete ship

We arrived on a cloudy, windy Friday afternoon (as our personalized activity list would indicate) and, since it was our first visit to Cape May, drove around town to get our bearings. We stopped at the Fishermen’s Memorial, dedicated to fishermen lost at sea and drove out to the point where we could see the remains of the SS Atlantus, a concrete ship built during WWI. We went past the WWII Lookout Tower and drove out to the lighthouse. The lighthouse and tower both offer tours, but this wasn’t planned as a take-in-all-the-history weekend, but as a low key, relaxing weekend (which ended up being a try-all-the-wonderful-food weekend).



Since we didn’t stop for lunch (we snacked on the trip there), we were hungry and decided to go for an early dinner. We went with one of Todd’s recommendations, the Lobster House. We sampled local oysters and I had crabmeat au gratin, which was both delicious and filling. A small loaf of garlic-encrusted bread was a nice accompaniment to the meal. Despite the wind, after dinner we needed a walk and strolled along Washington Street Mall, a pedestrian street filled with stores and restaurants (and more ice cream shops than I have even seen in one place). We wandered in some of the shops that were open and glanced in the windows of the art galleries that had already closed.

With no real plans for our time there, we perused the booklets Todd had given us and decided to skip the wineries this trip and instead try out some local brews at the Cape May Brewing Company. We each chose four beers to sample and sat outside, enjoying the sun, our beer, and a neighboring customer’s music.  Enticed by the promise of live music at the Mad Batter for happy hour, we headed there where we had a late lunch, followed by a walk on the beach, where I stalked some seagulls and took some pictures.  We decided to get photos of the lighthouse at sunset and then chased the sun to the Point where we were rewarded with a beautiful orange and purple sky over the concrete ship. After freshening up, we went back to town for a late dinner at Delaney’s, where I thoroughly enjoyed my coconut shrimp and sweet potato fries. (As I mentioned, it wasn’t planned, but this weekend quickly became all about the food.)


IMG_0176 crop

Sunday came too soon and we had to say farewell to the beach, for now. Though I enjoyed our time in Cape May, I think in season may be too busy and crowded for me. Maybe we’ll return in the fall …






13 of #52essays2017


Facing Fears Big and Little

Welcome a Secret Subject Swap. This month 14 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts. Read through mine and at the bottom you’ll find links to all of today’s other Secret Subject participants.

Secret Subject Swap | www.BakingInATornado.com | #MyGraphics

My “Secret Subject” is: What is your biggest fear?  What do you do to overcome that fear? (submitted by: http://batteredhope.blogspot.com)

I am a fairly confident person. I don’t really scare easily. Over my lifetime I have had a few little completely irrational fears (such as butterflies and escalators) and have written about them. As a child, like most I feared the dark. Though I sometimes show more caution in dark spaces, darkness no longer scares me. As has been the case before with these writing challenges, this week I have been asked to step outside my comfort zone and share something most people don’t know.

Although many fears start in childhood and end up either overcome or hidden away, my biggest fear arrived after I became a parent and is actually a fear of death – more specifically, a fear of  dying before my children were grown, when they most needed me. As they got older, my fear has been transformed into a fear of outliving them.

Though I have not directly experienced anyone close to me losing their mother young, I do know a few people that have had to grow up without their mother there to guide them. (To clarify, I met these people as adults, as opposed to being part of their early lives.) I know things were more difficult for them because of this loss but I suppose I mostly got the sense of what it would be like from reading books (as a kid I always had a book nearby). Being close to my mom, I knew the reality would be difficult. I can’t imagine life without her and couldn’t stand the thought that my kids might ever have to face childhood without me there to protect them (as much as a mother could) and to cheer them on.

I suppose that this fear shaped my life decisions to some extent. For two decades, I played it safe. Though not completely risk-averse, I carefully considered some activities before deciding if they were worth the risk. Though it is an extreme example, skydiving is on my bucket list. This is not something I would have even considered actually doing when my children were small. At this point, it is simply time and financial considerations holding me back. (I want to learn how to do it properly and go solo, not just a single tandem jump. At this point, the cost/benefit ratio simply doesn’t work for me.)

While this fear did not control me, I did think about it when traveling without my kids, either with my husband or alone. On my first solo flight as a parent, I dozed off. I jolted awake when I felt the plane start to descend. I had seriously misjudged the time and assumed we were crashing.  My first thought was about my kids who were small at the time. Fortunately I realized that we were in no danger but were actually approaching our destination before my fellow passengers were aware of my thoughts (then I would have died – of embarrassment).

Now my kids have reached the point that I know they will do okay without me.  I’m still an active presence in their lives and my advice and hugs are still sought out, but I am not as essential as I once was. So now my greatest fear has transferred to the unmentionable thought of outliving them.

Parents are not supposed to bury their children. Doing so contorts the natural series of events. This pain is one I have seen firsthand. I know a family that lost a child to a tragic accident and someone close to me lost a baby late in her pregnancy. Though I did not know them personally, there also have been children in my community taken too early, through accident, violence or illness. I don’t ever want to be in the situation those parents were forced to deal with. I’m not sure where the strength comes to cope with it and move on.

This fear has caused internal conflict at times. My instinct is to protect my children. However I have to balance that with allowing them to grow, which entails a certain amount of risk. I want them to grow up and out, to establish their places in the world. And that is my dilemma. I want to ensure they have the opportunity to grow and thrive. While I feel the need to protect them from a certain amount of risk, I have to do so without holding them back.

So how have I learned to deal with this fear? Faith and prayer. Like many moms, my children are always in my prayers. (I say a few extras when they choose activities that seem riskier than usual.) I can give advice and sometimes prohibit risky behaviors (I still have the power to do that on occasion), but for the most part, I am powerless. It is really up to them and God. They have the power to make decisions, and God of course wields the most power of all. I have to have faith that all will end up as it should.

I hate feeling powerless. Prayer is my only way out of feeling this way. Though I know some scoff at the idea, I have seen the power of prayer in my life. It works. It’s the best method I have found to calm fear.


Here’s the list of other bloggers participating. Pop in and see what subjects they were given to write about.





My Escalaphobia Was Temporary But Very Real

escalatorAlthough I didn’t know there was a name for it, apparently escalaphobia really is a thing.  As a child I was responsible for shutting down an escalator, not once, but multiple times.  For reasons unknown, my shoelaces were particularly good at getting stuck in the moving stairs, causing panic when it was time to step off them. I remember worrying that my foot was going to go with the lace, around the bottom of those slow moving steps and back up to the top. (A recent news report on a child’s injury when a plastic shoe got stuck reminded me of this and made me think that perhaps my fears were not completely unfounded.)

Understandably, this caused me to be ultra-conscious as a parent. I made sure my kids shoes were tied before getting on (made easier by the invention of Velcro-closures on shoes) and made sure their feet were not up against the sides. I am happy to say my kids never shut down an escalator.

I had finally put my childhood fears behind me and have traveled on hundreds, maybe thousands of these moving stairs. While transferring between planes at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, my fears all came back. In this instance, we were packed tightly on the “Up” escalator along with other travelers, most of us carrying suitcases and duffels. We suddenly realized that though our feet were moving up and forward, our bodies were not.  For some reason, someone at or near the top had stopped.escalator

My husband, being a quick thinker, realized what was going on and had a solution. He called out for everyone to walk backwards in order to keep us all upright. It was a brilliant idea, but we are English speakers. We know a smattering of other languages but not the words necessary to convey this idea.  Many people on the escalator spoke other languages besides English and French (which of course is not uncommon in major international airports) and did not understand. I sensed a general panic about to break out, then slowly, we started to move forward.

When we reached the top, we discovered what had happened. A woman had fallen getting off the escalator and those behind her had little room to maneuver around her. Of course some stopped to try to help and further blocked the walkway. Unfortunately, the moving walkway didn’t get the memo and kept pouring people around them.

Crisis averted, and certain that no one was hurt, we moved on to our gate and continued our journey. I was relieved and thankful that my fears were unfounded, but frustrated at how long it took to get help. Our flight was uneventful and as is often the case, it was nice to arrive home. Until we approached the escalator. Panic again set in, but here I had a choice. Alongside these escalators is a set of stairs which at this point, no matter how tired I might have been or how heavy my bags, was the only way I was willingly going to the floor below.

My escalator phobia continued for some time after this, much to the amusement and frustration of my family. It diminished gradually, first I could handle those that were mostly empty and then, with trepidation, those with people on them that were going up. Though I once again am mentally able to take the lazy route of moving stairs, I still often choose actual steps if it is an option.



12 of #52essays2017


You’ll Go and You’ll Like It!


Families are busy. Sometimes too much so. We get caught up in our schedules and are constantly moving from one activity to another. Those of us with more than one child sometimes find that we have to split up so each child has a parent to drive to and attend their events.

One year I decided I had enough. I learned of an event near our family’s vacation house and decreed that that weekend would be a family weekend. No other activities would be scheduled. We were going to the mountains and having some fun family time. (Note: there was no television or internet at the mountain house and it had only a landline to communicate with the outside world. We were getting AWAY.)

SCAN0264edThe local paper told us there was a winter festival nearby that included dog sled races and a snow sculpture contest. We bundled up and headed out. We signed up to participate in the snow sculpture contest and though we had no plan, we started creating. We ended up with a five foot rabbit and (since the oldest had taken charge and not everyone’s attention was completely held creating this) a number of small snowmen surrounding it. A cannon was carved out of a nearby snowbank, making it appear that the snowmen were guarding the rabbit.

Our entry complete, we walked around and were amazed at some of the other sculptures that were only in beginning stages when we arrived. We were a bit sheepish that we had the idea that we could enter such a competition at all. Out on the frozen lake was a life-sized bear, holding a fish in its mouth. Several spots away from us, a young man created a small dog, sitting happily watching passers-by. It was obvious that most of the other people had planned ahead, some brought special tools and paint to add color to their sculptures. Some, we were sure, must have been professional artists.


We watched as the dogsled racers came in and the kids were granted permission to pet the dogs. Next up was a snowshoe race and a tubing race. Our kids had fun pulling each other over the snow on inflated tubes with the rope tied about their waist., falling laughing at the end.

At the conclusion of the day, we were very surprised to learn that our family had earned an honorable mention in the competition. We were awarded a collection of travel mugs and got our name in the local paper. After returning back to the house, the kids wanted to play out in the snow and practice for next year’s competition. Our dog, who was unable to join us at the festival, got in on the fun as well, but didn’t quite understand the concept of pulling them on the snow tube. They built snow figures and pulled each other around on the tube until they were all tired out (even the dog) and it was nearly dark.

Though the two and half-hour car ride there Friday night had a sullen teen in the backseat, the ride home on Sunday was full of excited chatter about what next year would bring.





11 of #52essays2017


On Wednesdays We Play

Have you ever considered what people might think if they saw what goes on behind-the-scenes at your house? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to catch a glimpse of someone else’s daily life?

Fly on the Wall is a monthly post by a group of bloggers challenged to let our readers see what it might be like to be a fly on the wall in our homes. Each post is not a single story, but a compilation of snippets, each one its own quote or event or conversation (or disaster) strung together to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into our lives.

On the same day at the same time, all the participating bloggers post their Fly on the Wall submissions and link up to each other. Here are links to the other writers’ posts.  I suggest you go see what they’ve been up to too.

Menopausal Mother
Searching for Sanity
Eileen’s Perpetually Busy
Go Mama O
Spatulas on Parade
Never Ever Give Up Hope

Bookworm in the Kitchen

Over the last few weeks I had the pleasure of having my college kids home for spring break. Since their breaks didn’t coincide, I had time to spend with each of them individually. As it happened, on each week we had an interesting outing on Wednesday. (This was purely coincidental.) My daughter had learned about a local farm that boards and fosters pigs in need of a forever home and wanted to visit. My son loves to hike, so a day in the woods was a must for him.

I guess since these were both outdoors, the fly wasn’t really on a wall, just tagging along with us. I took a number of pictures these days and am trying something different here – more of a photo essay. I hope you enjoy it.

Our visit to Ross Mill Farm and Piggy Camp


We found out about this farm over winter break when it came across my Facebook newsfeed. There were several entertaining videos of adorable pigs and my daughter immediately said she wanted to visit. Our schedule did not allow it then, so we made a point to go the next time she was home. We were met by a friendly cat and one pig who seemed to be waiting for an opening to get into the farmhouse. A few pigs in pens did their best to get our attention (one made quite a fuss when we looked at his neighbors), while the ones out in the yard were content to much on grass and ignore us. There was one piglets that seemed curious about us but for the most part kept a distance. Overall, there was a lot of personality on the farm.


black pig

Several pigs wander freely about the farm. We were told those in fenced areas were mostly boarding.

Scenes from our 5 mile hike at Evansburg State Park

My son’s one request was to go hiking over break. Though we had talked about a park a bit further from home, we got a late start and chose this one. The distance was just right for this trip. The sun was starting to set as we got back to the car.


fallen hollow tree

Let’s play a game – what lives here? If you look close, you’ll see a rounded area where some critter likely spent the night.

IMG_0053 ed

While I hate graffiti on trails, the eyes here made me smile. We theorized that these ruins once belonged to a mill on the creek.

tree with bent limb

Native Americans would bend young trees to mark trails. It looks like that’s what happened here


creek with rocks, change in colors

I got to play with some of the special effects on the camera

a tree decorated with a white rabbit and shamrock below it and beads hanging on branches

A smile at about the midpoint. Ready for several holidays.

grassy meadow

“The Meadow!” (In my best Bambi voice.)

man standing on creek bank

Just chillin’ by the water


creek with bright green foilage on far bank, trees reflected in water

The green on the far bank caught my eye. I was amazed at the reflections in the water.

ducks in the creek

Just a couple of ducks hanging out

image of the creek and description of stones from there

We learned something new. The New York Brownstones may have their origins in the Philadelphia suburbs.


creek, man standing on bank

I can walk across here!


trees reflected in creek

Which end is up? (It really IS right side up.)












Selling Rainbows Proved to Be About As Profitable as it Sounds

colour-1885352_1920When I was in college, I answered an ad for a sales job and was hired to sell Rainbows. Putting it like that, in hindsight, that should have been my first clue. The fantastically-named Rainbow was a home purifying system that looked an awful lot like a vacuum cleaner. All sales were done through in-home demonstration.

I went to the interview and then the sales training, which was, for the most part, sitting through the sales pitch. It was an amazing machine. So amazing in fact that although I gasped at the sticker price, I believed that I could sell it. My fellow trainee, however, dropped out once she heard the price.

The premise was that the dirt in the carpet, furniture and even the air would be sucked into the machine, then trapped in the water in a basin located below the machine. This eliminated the problem of having dirt escape and efficiently trapped that last little bit of dirt inevitably left on the floor when sweeping. Using the included attachments, one could use the Rainbow to dust surfaces as well.

I signed up and got my demo machine. There was no cost to me and a promise of commission on sales. I also joined at a fortuitous time, as there was a contest of sorts going on with a bonus of silver bars and an invitation to a party to the top seller that week.

As with most demonstration sales, I was on my own for my initial sales visits. These were carefully described to me as being “practice” and I was told I should ask my family and friends to help out. The idea was that I would be more comfortable with familiar people and would gain confidence to sell to strangers.

My first demo was to my grandmother who unbeknownst to me, had decided she was buying the machine before I even walked in the door. She very patiently sat through my presentation, oohing and aahing appropriately and seeming to be fascinated by my every word. When I finished my pitch, she said, yes she was going to buy one. Thinking I had won her over with my dazzling sales ability, I tried to protest, given the price. There was no deterring her, she was buying one.

My next stop was my parents. My mom knew my grandmother had purchased one and thought she was being overindulgent (as she had a tendency to be when it came to her grandkids). By the end of my pitch, Mom was looking at my father with eyes that obviously said she really, really wanted one of these. (My mother has been known to have a fondness for efficient vacuum cleaners.) And so I had sale number two.

Then I took the amazing machine to my mom’s aunt and uncle, where I demonstrated the machine’s ability to clean furniture cushions so well that there was a notable difference in color, so that I offered to clean them all for them. They were interested, but the cost was prohibitive. Another demo was for my cousin and his wife, who liked it well enough, but were not buying. With each demo, I was required to call the office at the completion to inform them if there was a sale. After my cousin said no, my manager insisted on talking to him and went for the hard sell, to the point where it was offensive. This is when I decided I was done with demonstrations for family members. My next call was a lead from the office.

It was policy to only do a demonstration when both members of a couple were present (to avoid losing the sale due to one person not having financial decision-making power). In this case, the husband was not home, so I followed protocol and called the office. I was told to go ahead with the demo. At the end, predictably, the woman said she could not make a purchase without talking to her husband, so that was what I had to report back to the office. A different manager answered the phone than I had spoken to and I got an earful.

That was the end to my career selling Rainbows. I refused to subject myself or anyone else to that treatment.  As it turned out, I was the top seller that period, but I never did see those silver bars or anything beyond my commission check for the two machines. The pay wasn’t bad, but the lesson was invaluable: something that seems to good to be true likely is.


11 of #52essays2017


Gambling With a Hair Stylist Is a Mistake

SCAN0618It was the start of the 80s, the decade of big hair. I had been begging my mom to let me get a perm. I had long, wavy hair that didn’t do anything interesting. I got it in my head that permanent curls would be wide, flowy rings that would bounce just right. When I awoke the morning of my 15th birthday, my mom had left a note with money, telling me it was for me to go get that perm I had so coveted.

So, off to the salon I went. I had a regular stylist, who I loved, but he had casually mentioned once that one of his colleagues was good.  (We had been discussing someone else’s hair at the time.) For reasons I cannot explain, I decided to switch stylists and go to her that day for my perm and haircut.

Though I have always been particular about who cuts my hair, I had gotten complacent, knowing that “my person” knew my likes and dislikes and could be trusted 100 percent of the time. I didn’t consider that I needed to be specific in my instructions. I told her I wanted it permed, and that the end result should be all one length (I had spent years growing it out) so that I would have the desired curls.

She went to work. I patiently sat through the lengthy process, the curlers, the stinky solution, the sitting and waiting, the checking the curl, re-curling and sitting some more. Finally it was done. She took out the curlers and it was curlier than I expected, but I was warned it would relax and fall, that it always starts out overly curly.

Then came the cut. She trimmed the back, about shoulder length, then made the first cut for bangs – right between my eyes. I couldn’t get the words out fast enough to stop her, and it was done. Two inches of hair wide, just above my eyebrows. There was no point in stopping her now, the worst damage was done. There was no way to salvage it. She gave me full bangs and then they bounced. The curl made the bangs even shorter! I had spent many years trying to minimize and hide my high forehead and years growing the hair out and it was gone. With one snip of her scissors.

I should have complained. I almost cried. What I did instead was to thank her, pay her and even give her a tip! Then I went home and cried. For two days. I tried every home remedy I could find to loosen the curls, shampooing right away, soaking in salt water, nothing worked. So I became friends with ribbon and tied a bow. It was the only thing that made it even bearable.

Though I am still particular when it comes to haircuts (I currently have only one person I allow near my head with scissors), I have since learned an important lesson. No matter how bad the cut, hair grows.


9 of #52essays2017


Gardening Is Good for the Body, Mind and Soul



hand holding soilMy first experience with a garden came as a child when my dad dug up a large plot of land in our yard. My parents left it to my sister and I to decide what to plant. We decided on vegetables and flowers, and the area was split roughly 50/50. It was fun to watch the carrots and radishes come up and we enjoyed having fresh salads with dinner most nights (that is, until a small green worm came along with the lettuce on my plate one meal). We also kept a pitcher of fresh flowers on the table, which was nice to see and it was exciting to know that we grew them ourselves. We repeated the process for a few years, though we scaled it back a bit to make it more manageable to maintain.

As an adult, I was excited when I finally had a yard and could plant a vegetable garden.  We grew tomatoes and peppers that were tastier than what we found at the grocery store (and a cost savings as well) and carrots and radishes that, though not very large or pretty, made a good addition to a salad, or as a snack on their own. This garden was too small for flowers, so I settled for growing them in planters on the porch where they made me smile each time I walked through the front door. Having a garden proved both economical and healthy.

It wasn’t until having a particularly unpleasant experience while volunteering for my children’s school that I realized the therapeutic effects of gardening. I was responsible for an activity at the school and there was a disagreement about how certain details should be handled. To make a long story short, the principal called me and another mom into his office to settle the dispute. (Growing up, I was a good kid. This was my first time in a principal’s office.) I am embarrassed to admit that tempers flared and there was yelling involved (until the principal raised his voice, then we were silent). His attempts at mediation solved the immediate problem (I was in the right) but not the underlying one (we were unable to work together after than point).

I went home, angry at her, upset with myself for losing my cool and embarrassed by my behavior in front of the school principal (yet thankful the kids had not witnessed it). On my to-do list that day was replanting recently purchased flowers into the stone planters on our porch. As I worked at this task, a calm came over me. The tension seemed to melt away. Something about the feel of the rich soil in my hands, the dirt sliding through my fingers, was soothing. I thought about how I had made mud pies when I was young and smiled. We would collect berries, seeds and small flowers and set them on top of mud that we had created (mixing dirt with water until the consistency was just right) either in Frisbees or plastic plates and offer our “pie” to our parents or siblings. I finished and was able to continue my day with a smile.

I suppose that the sight and fragrance of the flowers could also have contributed to my change in mood, but what I remember most is the dirt, with its pungent earthy smell. Arranging the plants in a pleasing manner also took some time and allowed a certain amount of creativity. Even the process of scrubbing my hands afterward, scraping the dirt out from under my fingernails, was calming. I made note of the reaction and vowed to do this more often.

This event was years ago, but the lesson has not been forgotten. I still plant a garden most years and look forward to the process. As the winter comes to an end, I start to plan the details while perusing catalogs full of flowers and unusual produce. Sometimes we try something new; most years we stick to the basics. We keep it on the small side, as I prefer the initial process (and of course consuming the harvest) to the tending, prompting my husband to call my gardening style Darwinian. He may have a point there.


8 of #52essays2017