A Polite Little Girl

I was young.  How young, I am not sure.  I was still obsessed with drawing horses, which started in grade school and ended in junior high.  Neither of my brothers were along on the trip, so at least nine years of age.  Too young to understand, but old enough to know.

We were on a plane bound for California.  I was going to Disneyland with my parents.  The seats in first class came in twos.  We were three.

Before settling into their seats near the front of the section, they walked me to the last row, double-checked the seat number, and smiled at the man who would share the flight with me.  They introduced him to me, and explained how impossible it was to get three seats together.  He assured them he would watch out for me, and see that I had everything I need.

And then some.

As the plane rumbled toward its runway, he asked me if I had flown before.  I had.  The takeoff pushed us back into our seats, and then lifted us light as a feather until we settled at a gentle climb through the clouds.  The man helped me order a 7UP.  I didn’t need help.  I’d been flying since I was six.  I was beginning to wish he would ignore me.

Once tedium set in, I pulled my carry-on from under the seat in front of me.  Paper.  Pencils.  Erasers.  I flipped past several sketches of horses to a clean page and began to draw.  The man made small talk.  He said my drawing was good.  He asked to see my others.

I shared my work because I was a polite little girl who was taught to be polite to strangers. Not because I wanted to.  Why couldn’t he just read a book or stare out the window or fall asleep?  He asked if I had a horse.  I didn’t.  He asked what I liked about horses.  I don’t remember what I answered.  He asked if I had ridden a horse.  I had.  He asked if I liked how muscular they were.  I did.  He asked if I liked having all that power between my legs.  And something seemed wrong.

A Miniature-Schnauzer.

A Miniature-Schnauzer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because I was a polite little girl who was polite to strangers, I answered this and the other questions he asked.  He asked about the dog I had drawn.  It was a miniature schnauzer.  He was my dog, the one I was missing now.  The one I wanted to be at home with more than I wanted to be on this flight to Disneyland.  He asked if I ever had to scold my dog when he did something wrong.  I did.  He asked if I ever had to spank him.  I said I did.  He asked if I ever had to spank him so hard that my hand tingled afterward.  Why did I say I did?  I never hit my dog that hard.  I loved my dog and barely brushed him away when I was angry with him.  Why had I told him that?  Why did the man enjoy that answer?  Why wouldn’t he just leave me alone?

I put my artwork away and wished the plane would fly faster.  My mom checked back with me.  The man said everything was just fine.  I begged her silently to switch places with me.  But I was a polite little girl who never wanted to cause my parents any worry.  The sun shone through the thin air above the clouds.  When he spoke, he leaned in very close to me.  I could smell his alcohol-laden breath.

He asked me if I knew my eyes were like shimmering pools of water.  I didn’t.

I heard that somewhere before.  It was on t.v., and grown-up men used those words when they wanted to be close to a woman.  When they wanted to kiss her.  When the scene faded out and went to commercial.  I was so confused.  This wasn’t like the boys in the neighborhood who tried to sneak a kiss and clumsily missed and hit my ear.  It wasn’t the blushing, teasing, playful flirting of children.  This was a man who was supposed to watch out for me.  Someone my parents had trusted to help me.

I knew I was safe.  This was a plane full of people.  My parents were near.  It was daylight.  I would never see him again.  But I felt violated.  Right there in front of everyone, and they never knew it.  No one heard me scream.  No one reached out to pull me away from him.  I had no marks to prove it.

As the plane opened up, we gathered our belongings.  I wanted to push through the people to my parents.  I wanted to leave that man behind.  Mom and dad waited for me to reach their row.  They told me to thank the nice man standing behind me.  Because I was a polite little girl, I did.  And then I just let him take my face with both hands and kiss my forehead.  I let him put his lips on my face just like that.

When they spoke later of the nice man who accompanied me on the flight to California, I told my parents I didn’t like him.  They told me to stop talking nonsense.  When I said he was icky, I was told that he was a nice man and I shouldn’t talk that way about him.

And I never spoke of him again at all until I had children of my own.  My message was this; if something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.  It doesn’t matter who believes you, or who the person is, or what authority they’ve been put in, or if they have actually done anything wrong.  If you don’t like the situation, get out in any way you can.  Talk until someone listens.

It so happened that one day in a group of young people, there was a man who all the girls agreed was creepy.  Not just a little creepy.  They had that feeling that I had that day on the plane.  Something happened that they thought was wrong.  And it would have been if it wasn’t the act of an ignorant man.  My female co-leader and I thought they were crazy.  What had happened was most likely a stupid mistake.  And I still believe that.

But what I think doesn’t matter.  What matters is that young girls felt something was wrong and there was someone who listened.  I told them to make sure they didn’t find themselves alone with him.  Not because I thought something would happen, but because it is very important they listen to that voice inside of them.  The voice may be strong or a whisper.  It may be right or it may be way off track, but it is important that they listen.

As adults we owe this to our children.  And by our children, I mean any children; sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, friends’ children and those for whom we are leaders.  Trust them.  Listen to them.  Believe them.  Empower them.

Peace . . .

The Gift of Now

"Seize the day" (Horace, Odes) Franç...

“Seize the day” (Horace, Odes)                                                  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like most parents, I recorded every first of my children’s early years.  There are pictures of first trips to Grandma’s, first steps, first solid food, even taking their first poop in the toilet.  A post by Emily at The Waiting, reminded me how easy it is for the lasts to slip by unnoticed.

Do you remember the last time you were picked up and cuddled?  I have four children, and found myself searching the dark corners of my memory for any recollection of the last time I lifted each of them into my arms.  There is none.

We acknowledge the achievements, the going-forwards, the milestones of where we are headed and not so much where we have been.  Maybe it’s because we don’t appreciate the significance of what we leave behind until it’s gone.  Or maybe it’s because we just never realize it’s the last time . . . until it is.

Firsts, like lasts, are not eloquent or refined.  The last step we take will most likely be much like the first — feeble and clumsy.  Each brings with it a demonstration of progress.  But one is a beginning and one is an end.  One is noted and one is forgotten.

Humans, unlike animals, carry the burden of understanding time.  We romanticize a past we strain to remember.  We grieve its loss.  The future is hope and wonder, even amidst uncertainty and trepidation.

Between the first and the last is the present.  It is the center.  The now.  We forget to stop and live in this moment.  And this one.  And this one.  Each tick of the clock is another gone by.  The present moment is as steadfast as time is fleeting.  Always here, for better or for worse.

A moment in the present is not reliant on memory, nor hope, nor wonder, nor dreams.  There is no uncertainty or vagueness.  The instant you are in right now is as real as anything is ever going to be.

If we could know the last time we were picked up, or rode in a pedal car, or fit in the shopping cart seat, that it was our last, would we have enjoyed it more?  Would we have whined less?  Would we have grieved the loss?

Probably not.  Children don’t perceive the elapsing of time.  A baby lives in a constant state of “now,” his only concern if he is hungry, wet, or sleepy.  Eventually, he will understand time by experiencing it — what is a minute, an hour, a year?

Maybe this is what allows children to move forward at the speed of light.  If they knew all the wonderful things they leave behind — naps, strollers, wagons, wearing pajamas in the middle of the day and yes, being lifted high above someone’s head — maybe they would want to stay children forever.  Maybe the lack of grief is what allows them to grow.

. . . And maybe our grief of the past is a gift we are given that allows us to relish the present.  It permits us to cuddle their round little bodies one more minute, or stop and watch them as they nap, or slip into their world of imagination, or pick them up just once more before they are too heavy and we too weak . . .

Peace . . .

A Sharp Turn in Life

"Always fasten safety belt" - NARA -...

“Always fasten safety belt” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid, we never buckled up.  The cars were big, and the seats were hard and flat.  If the driver took a sharp turn, we’d slide across the back seat until we pressed up against another passenger and flattened them to the door.  Cloverleaf turns were the best because they went on forever, and you just couldn’t right yourself.

Sometimes life is like that.  I’ve taken a big turn, and I’m giggling.  It’s exciting and fun, but I’m pressed up against the side of the car and I can’t seem to right myself.  In the chaos, my purse tipped over and all my belongings are strewn across the floor.

If you’re not a woman or don’t carry a purse, you have no idea what kind of catastrophe it is to have it empty on the floor of a car.  There are cosmetics, credit cards, pills, scraps of paper, keys, and candy that will melt if lost and forgotten under the seat.  This is how my life feels.  It is an upside down purse on the bottom of a car, careening around a cloverleaf off of Interstate 94.  And I’m smooshed against the window giggling so hard I’m in danger of peeing my pants.

I know you were wondering why I hadn’t posted in a while . . .  You were, right?

The car is finally starting to come out of its turn and I’m thinking about how to put my purse back together without stepping on any of it first.  I chose to write here, because it seems to clear my head.  It’s some type of conscious meditation, connecting brain fibers, inducing deep breath.  It feels familiar, like soil under bare feet.

I see that there are two ways to go with this.  I can pick up the most important things first — the credit cards and pills — or toss the scraps of meaningless papers out the window.

No, I don’t litter in real life.  This is all metaphorically speaking.  Try to stay with me, here.

Isn’t there some saying about swallowing your biggest frog first?  Yuck.  It reminds me of a nightmare I once had.  I’m going to pick up my credit cards and pills first, which will make the rest seem like tadpoles.  Gross.

So here’s the plan.  It’s not etched in stone, but the internet is close.

  1. Pick up the credit cards.  I’m going to pay my bills before I forget them and they become overdue.  While I’m doing that, I can check my bank balances.  I’ll put all the tax documents in one obvious annoying place.
  2. Chase down the pills.  Take a walk.  It’s a beautiful day — the sun is shining and the dog is eager.  The fresh air is the medicine I need to complete the rest.
  3. Put the cosmetics back in the case.  Clean myself up — get dressed, from my makeup to my shoes, to gear up for the rest of the day.
  4. Throw out the scraps of paper.  Clutter is caving in on me.  I still have Christmas stuff out for God’s sake!  I’m going to pick up, tidy up, clear out, and throw away!
  5. Pick up my pocket calendar.  I’m pretty sure my son’s birthday was this week.  What was it he requested?  Vegetarian lasagna . . .
  6. Find my keys.  There are errands to run.  Groceries need buying — soy sausage, noodles, sauce, maybe cupcakes . . .
  7. Fish out that bit of chocolate under the seat.  Lastly, I’m going to treat myself.  Maybe I’ll watch a movie with popcorn or find a pair of shoes at the mall.

Another fun thing I remember about the old bench seats is a sharp turn followed by one in the other direction.  I never knew if Mom or Dad did it just to hear us laugh, but sliding from one side of the car to the other was a thrill I will never forget.

One best left to memory, and not encountered in metaphor!

Nowadays we have seat belts, helmets, shin guards, face masks, and anti-lock brakes meant to suck the fun out of everything keep us safe and extend our lives.  When they come up with one for the sharp turns in life, let me know, will ya?

Peace . . .

Working with the Cool Kids

English: This is Fred, and he is inside our co...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a cat with nine lives.  I’ve lived a few of them, and can’t wait to see what the rest bring.  One of them lasted for sixteen years, and in it I was a stay-at-home mom.  I am very proud of it, and wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.  Except I did.

Let me acknowledge that every stay-at-home parent has a different story just like every cashier, or doctor, or educator has a different  story.  My experience was that before I was a SAHM, I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to establish myself in the world.  I was young, had only worked with my mother in a retail store she owned, and had only been married for two years.  I was twenty-four when I became pregnant with my first of four children, which were born (give or take a few months) every two years.

My husband was a police officer.  He was my window to the world.  His world was dangerous, cynical, and narrow.  I was very thankful to have him to protect me from the big, scary world he told me about.  We were lucky that he made a nice living, but to run a household for six of us on the one income, I needed to be resourceful.  I cooked from scratch, sewed, planned and budgetted.  One day that just wasn’t enough to make ends meet.

When I decided to dabble in the workplace about twelve years ago, I took a 3-month seasonal position as a cashier.  After that there was a weekend catering gig, an educational assistant, and a magazine vendor changer-outer — not my official title, but that’s a descriptive as I can get.  Then one day I saw a sign for the Barnes and Noble being built into the mall.  I just about jumped right out the window of the car.

Barnes and Noble was the place I went when I managed to eke out a night away from the kids.  It’s the one place I could justify buying new things.  I huffed new-book smell straight from the bag, and hid the receipts until the canceled checks arrived in the mail (remember that?).

I worked for that store even before the books arrived.  We dusted and cleaned and then stacked boxes upon boxes in heaps seven feet tall!  It was magical and exciting.  Then one day they told there were placing me in the café.  I know it was due to my catering experience, but I didn’t even drink coffee.

Within a year I rose from the lead to the café manager.  I loved my job, but even more than that, I loved the people — both the customers and the staff.  They came from every walk of life.  There were old women with pink crocheted hats.  There were businessmen in suits and ties.  There were young people with piercings and tattoos.  There were gay people and goth people and mean people and pretty people.

And do you know what?  None of them were as scary as I was led to believe.  The world was a friendly place.  And not only did I like the world, I realized the world liked me!  I found I had a knack for making people happy.  Changing each person’s day in a positive way became my goal, for those who visited and those who showed up to work.

Community Action Services and Food Bank in Pro...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days I work for a food bank.  We distribute food to agencies who feed people who are hungry.  For five years I’ve worked in our Agency Services Department, helping agencies get what they need.

The walls are thin, and a department called Food Rescue inhabited the other side of my wall for many years.  They had a lot of fun.  Sometimes they laughed so hard, I had to plug one of my ears to hear my customer on the phone.  They were the cool kids.  The ones with the quick wit and keen sense of humor.  They came and went, often out of the office for days, on covert missions the likes of which we knew not.

One day I decided it was time to learn more about this great place that employed me.  I ventured out on a ride-along with a couple of Food Rescue staff.  I hadn’t planned to fall in love, but I did.  Head over heels, birds singing, heart-pounding love.  Within a year I managed to land the position I wanted.  I will be executing covert, dangerous food-rescuing missions in hard-to-reach places.  I imagine there will be a cape and super powers involved, although there has been no mention of them yet.

The relationship I established with the world brought me to this place — this yearning to make it smile, to brighten a corner wherever it is, a genuine appreciation for humanity.  I’m obviously still in the honeymoon phase, and I’m not sure I’m a cool kid yet, but I have a good feeling about this.

Peace . . .

A Tactical Guide for the Ill-Prepared, or how I survived Christmas 2014

Christmas gifts

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is Christmas Day, the day most of you are observing the coming of little baby Jesus, born of an immaculate conception in a lowly manger in the middle of nowhere.  I, conversely, am celebrating the triumph of another holiday conquered, the likes of which I have never experienced nor care to again.

What follows is a tactical guide — a collection of intellect, wisdom, instinct and sheer luck for the ill-prepared.

The Basics

These holiday things come every year, based on traditions your ancestors established decades ago.  How hard can it be?

Very hard.  Your ancestors were not trying to update their Facebook status, remember the password to their health provider network, or search Jell-O recipes on Pinterest.  Their kids weren’t juggling three jobs, and they weren’t considering radiation therapy for their dog.  Their traditions evolved while dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh was still a thing.


Unless your job is lawn-mowing, your career does not shut down in December.  Plan for the worst.  I shouldn’t have expected to accept a new position, work nine to ten hours a day, attend two holiday potlucks, one all-staff meeting, a congratulatory lunch, and a two-day regional meeting all while training in my replacement, but that’s what happened.

The whole year sort of went like that.  Time off has been hard to work in.  Rather than lose it with the close of 2014, I practically accepted my new position and asked for three days off all in the same breath.  I don’t recommend that.

Significant Others

We all react to holidays differently.  Most of us want to feel some sort of control over it.  Unfortunately, the minute you join your life with someone else’s, you have to relinquish some of that control through compromise.

Overheard at my house:

“Do you use scissors to cut this wrapping paper, or just chew it with your bare teeth?”

Expectations run rampant at Christmas, and it is important to talk about what each person expects.  I suggest alcohol, or at the very least, chocolate.  No one is right or wrong.  Unmet expectations lead to disappointment and resentment.  What is each person’s deal-breaker for the holiday?  Where can you go with the flow?  If there are contradicting deal-breakers, work that out first.


The best advice has already been given by those much smarter than I.  Don’t go into debt over Christmas gifts.  Anyone who would wish you to do so, isn’t worth the price of wrapping paper.

So the second-best advice I can give is to remember to pay your bills.  I have every excuse in the book.  I was working extra-long hours, they got lost under the clutter, I thought I had paid them . . .  by the way, none of these will get you out of paying that pesky little late fee.  Grrr….

English: Closeup picture of a miniature Christ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


December is not a good time to begin a remodeling project.  Especially one that leaves your bathroom completely out-of-order.  Instead of hanging up lights and tinsel, I was wiping up dust and chunks of sheet rock.  I finally gave in and bought a faux tree, just because I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to keep one more thing alive .

My holiday shopping has been equal parts gifts and food, and shower fixtures and tile.  My head hurt, and my wallet was smoking.

Luckily, I have another bathroom.  The guests were not confined to peeing outside with the dog.  But more than once I asked myself,

“What was I thinking?”


The more people you have in your life, the more complicated this all becomes.  Not only do you each bring a variety of expectations, but everyone has their own set of day-to-day obstacles like work, school, significant others and finances to worry about.  And the more these people mean to you, the more their worries affect you, too.

The day my daughter texted that someone stole her wallet, I had a full-on hot flash even before I read the next text that said,

“Oh wow I just found it.”

Stress leaves us open to the heartbreak of those we love, rather than a foundation they can lean on.


Bubba’s family lives in northwest Minnesota.  No.  Really.  When I say northwest I mean THE northwest corner of the northwest county.

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...

This map shows St. Vincent, Minnesota in red.                      (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are traveling before the holidays, make sure you budget that into your preparation time.  Especially if you will be in the middle of nowhere with no access to malls, grocery stores or even the internet.  Lacking these resources when you are painfully low on days-til-Christmas and locked in a car with a significant other, his son, and a dog is a dangerous experiment.


Remember that your pets can feel your anxiety.  Poor little Sabbath was lacking her regular walks, listening to the demolition of the bathroom while she was otherwise alone in the house, watching me run around like a crazed woman, and confused about the decorations and gifts.

She opened a gift of olive oil from under the tree, chewed off the lid, and spilled it on the carpet.  Up until then, I was very patient with her.  But at that point, it was T minus 3 hours till guests arrived . . . and me running the steam cleaner, of all things.

To top it off, the weather has been so warm that the back yard melted.  One hour after the oil incident, she came in full of mud.  The kitchen now needed mopping and the dog needed a bath.


Make sure you are holding on to traditions because they suit your family, and not simply performing them because that is how they have always been done.  If someone has passed, or a family has split, it may be the right time to change a ritual, or it may be the perfect time to hold it dear.

I make Butter Currant Tarts every year because the recipe was brought to the United States by my Canadian grandmother.  I make them in remembrance of her, although my youngest daughter says it’s because I’m doing weird stuff that old people do like making things that nobody likes.  (For the record, my older son downed about half the batch in one sitting.)

A home in Vancouver with Christmas Lights prof...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I put lights on the shrubs and leave them lit as long as Bubba can stand it, Valentine’s Day if possible.  They cheer me up in the middle of the dark, bitterly cold Minnesota winter.

Exchanging gifts is one of my favorite traditions of the holiday.  I see the joy of giving in the eyes of my adult children, and it pleases me greatly.

In the aftermath, my feet and back ache.  The house is a mess.  Muffin tins and fondue pots wait to be put away.  I ask myself if it was all worth it.  A light snow has started to drift down from the grey sky.  The furnace breathes and the dog shifts.

Christmas is a season when our family spends time thinking of each other.  We contemplate what each person enjoys, what they need, or what growth we want to inspire.  We support them, feed them, pour them a drink, and we delight in their happiness.  I can’t think of anything else as worthy in the world.

Peace . . .



Don’t cut off your nose to spite your Facebook

It is hard for most of us to imagine a world without social media.  We tweet, post, link, like and when we’re through, we retweet, repost, and share again.

What is the first site you think of when you think of social media?  Chances are, you think of Facebook.  There’s a good reason for that.  Everything we do, from stopping for coffee on the way to work, to picking up take-out on the way home, is linked to Facebook.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The movies I watch, the theaters I watch them in, the music I listen to, and the stores I frequent all have pages on Facebook.  There was a time when buying merchandise was thanks enough, but now they want me to “like” them, too.  It was fun for a while.  One of my favorite pizza joints posts coupons on Facebook.  I used it a couple of times.  Now it just tells me which nights to avoid so I don’t hit the FB coupon lines.

My soda has a Facebook page, my permanent markers have a Facebook page, and yes, I have a Facebook page.  I have 227 Facebook friends.  The last time I saw that many people all at the same time was probably at my wedding.  And I didn’t really know half of them, either.  As friend lists go, mine is pretty short, and I could probably cull it even further.

Typically, 70% of the posts are not original, but simply reposts of what someone else posted.  Maybe this is true in real life, too.  I mean, maybe I’m coming down too hard on my FB friends.  How much of what we say in person is original, either?  Personally, I just don’t have time to sit around reading all the stuff that other people post so that I can repost it on my timeline.  To be fair, I don’t spend a lot of time on FB at all, and it’s not a place I like to share my deepest thoughts, my every move, or my drama.

Yes!  I have drama in my life.  Who doesn’t?  I make a choice to keep my life private — both in Facebook and reality.  Posting my drama just leaves me open for pity or those who want to one-up me, neither of which is better than the other.  Keeping my drama on the down-low allows me to seek guidance from those I select, while putting up a classy don’t-you-envy-my-life front for the rest of the world.


If I’m on Facebook, I am most commonly accessing it from my phone.  I could put the phone down, but what fun is that?  Me and my Smartphone rule the world, and FB just wants in on it.

  • Notification:  You have an 1 event pending!
  • Notification:  Friends have sent you 3 game invitations!
  • Notification:  You have 1 friend request!

This event invitation is one I’m too honest to accept, and too compassionate to decline.  It’s an invitation to send a Christmas card to a  little kid with Cerebral Palsy.  I agree with the concept, but here’s the thing . . .  The invite says “our address is . .”  so whoever created this lives with the kid and is looking forward to all the warm fuzzies of watching the child be buried in his own Christmas mail.  There’s also the part about sending mail to a child I don’t know.  How would I sign it?  Love?  Sincerely?  Yours Truly?  I’ll probably give money to my local food shelf and click “tentative” on the invite just to make it go away, and hope the FB Friend who invited me will forget they did.

The game invites I will delete, only to have them pop up again tomorrow.  There are three games I play.  One is a quick timed word game, another is a zone-out bedtime number game.  The last is a virtual reality that feels more like a grown-up dollhouse.  I talk about them like they’re real, and mourn them briefly when they die.  It freaks Bubba out and that’s enough for me.  None of these games require Facebook, and I stopped posting my high scores there as soon as I figured out how to adjust the setting.

English: Woman in bikini.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The friend request will be accepted, providing her name isn’t Brandi and wearing a bikini.  That happens.  It’s not that I’m opposed to a girl wearing a bikini, it’s that she spells her name with an “i” and wants me to spend money getting to know her.

A bit of advice for those losing passwords.  Do not click the option that says, “We don’t recognize your username or password.  Would you like to sign in using Facebook?”  Clicking OKAY will not direct you to your original account.  It will set up a whole new account.  You will now have two accounts.  One with none of your history, and the other with no way to get into it.

Why would Facebook and your favorite app want you to sign in through FB?  Because they share your information like two biddies down the street over a cup of cheap coffee.

“She likes browsing sexy lingerie!”

“Are you serious?  Wait until I tell the other sites about that!”

“Oh my!  Do let me know which sites are interested!”

“You’ll be the first to know!  Have some more coffee . . . sugar?”

” . . . and cream, if you have it.”

I know it’s all in the name of suggestive marketing.  The grocery store does the same thing when they place ping pong balls next to the 3.2 beer.  But Cub Foods doesn’t send someone around to watch what labels I’m reading for the sole purpose of suggesting I buy something else.  That would be nosey and I’d stop shopping there.

So why do I continue to shop at Facebook?  I treat it like a party hosted by a friend of a friend of a friend.  I don’t really know the host, but I respect the space and everyone there.  It’s a good place to reconnect with lost loved ones, and see how their kids have grown.  There are a lot of different conversations going on, so if I don’t like one I can join another.  I try to keep it generic, because there are a lot of people attending from all walks of life.  It may not be the best party going on, but you’re bound to see someone that makes you smile.

Like any party, it’s better after you’ve had a few.  So if you see me there, I’m likely to have a drink in my hand.  I won’t be driving, but if you’re a good friend and I’ve had too many, please tell me to put the phone down . . .

Peace . . .

The Behavioral Science of Snow Removal

Schneeschaufel snow shovel

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It occurs to me that those living closer to the equator may not have the luxury of appraising neighbors on methods of snow removal.  By closer I mean closer than one of the northern-most United States of America.  Mention you are from Minnesota, and people immediately conjure images of wolf-like dogs racing across an open tundra, a parka-clad rider mushing them on in search of the next meal of blubber.

Yeah, it’s something like that.  Only I’m in my Dodge Neon, the dog has positioned herself on the center console looking out over the dashboard, and I’m on my way to the supermarket.  Sure it’s cold, and there’s snow on the roads.  It’s Minnesota.  It’s winter.  Get over it.  The minute a flake falls from the sky, everyone wants to know what the roads are like.  My answer?  “Eh . . it’s winter.”

And with the season comes the practiced art of snow removal.  Minnesotans have been removing snow for centuries.  Technically, the snow is not removed.  You can’t remove snow unless you bring it inside, melt it and flush it down the drain.  No, we move it.  From here to there.  Sometimes, we have so much snow to move that we scoop it up in front loaders, empty it into dump trucks and haul it away.  I’m not sure where they go with it, but if it were me I’d haul it to California.

While snow in the city comes with parking bans, tow trucks and impound fees, in the suburbs it’s all about what your neighbor is doing.  Why should winter be different than any other season?  As soon as the lawn is covered, and they can no longer judge the green of your grass, they will begin to analyze the white of your driveway.

Technically speaking, if one does not remove the snow from one’s driveway, the snow will eventually remove itself.  However, if your intention is to leave the snow until it melts in the spring, after driving over it and the fluctuations in temperature, you’re going to end up axle-deep in frozen ruts going nowhere fast.  I think all Minnesotans can agree that some amount of snow movement is necessary.

You have several options, offering various stages of effort and cost.  You can buy a shovel or hire a kid to shovel you out.  You can buy a snowblower, or hope a neighbor brings one over.  Some people put a plow on the front of their truck and not only plow out their place, but make money plowing out others.  My dad used to take out his four-wheel drive with the plow on the front and drive around looking for little old ladies shoveling their own driveway or families stuck in the ditch.  His pay was the smile on their face.

Once suburbanites have chosen our option of snow removal, we are obligated to assess our neighbors’ methods and motivation.  It is safe to say that a homeowner can be accurately labeled by the driveway he keeps.

  • The Gambler:  This guy checks the forecast first.  He may leave up to three inches lay if he thinks it will melt by 2 p.m. tomorrow.  If the stuff is still falling, he gauges the weight per shovelful, duration of snowfall, and rate of accumulation before making his plan of attack.
  • The Sloth:  This one owns a snowblower, but will wait to see if it melts first.  He is often seen three days later carelessly snow-blowing ice chunks toward windows and small children.
  • The OCD:  He is out there with his shovel as soon as a dusting appears.  Unfortunately, as soon as he finishes the bottom of the driveway, the top is already accumulating snow again, and he can’t possibly go inside until the whole thing is clear.  You might want to bring over a cup of hot chocolate or a small meal.
  • The Over-Acheiver:  You can spot this star student by the way he not only shovels his sidewalk and driveway, but his effort extends to parts of the yard, and even into the street.  Where other houses’ curbs slope naturally to the street, his is cut at a 90-degree angle exactly at curb depth.
  • The Good Samaritan:  This guy can often be spotted down the street, snow-blowing out every plow drift along the way.  The plow drift, as Northerners know, is what the city plow deposits at the end of your driveway after you have meticulously cleared it out.  The Good Samaritan wears a frost-encrusted smile accompanied by a frozen-snot icicle mustache.
  • The Homeschooler:  You can spot this one by the number of shovels lined up in various sizes outside the door.  While the shovels are in use, please slow to 15 mph as children will be present.

Me?  I’m inside huddled next to the space heater.  The chimneys across the street are emitting a steady flow of horizontal steam, communicating a cold, steady wind against a sunny blue sky.  I can hear the rhythmic scrape of Bubba’s shovel, his black toque bobbing occasionally above the window sash.  He finally invested in a snowblower this year.  And as Murphy’s Law dictates, I think we can forecast a fairly light year for the stuff, rarely dropping enough to start it up.

Maybe that makes me the smart homeowner.

Peace . . .


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