This morning’s trip to Wal-Mart to purchase hair dye and fake eyelashes turned into what my friend Paul would describe as “interbitch aggression”.

Not the actual person, just a representative image

I was innocently browsing dental floss when a 50-ish woman in stretch pants and an oversized T-shirt came around the corner. She was irritated with the smocked salesgirl trying to help her find the brand of electric toothbrush she was looking for. The salesgirl seemed unsure whether they still carried it, so she took her to where it used to be and started to look for it. Seemed like fine service to me. Better than I’d expect from Wal-Mart, honestly. When our new friend spotted her toothbrush before the salesgirl did, she pointed it out in a voice dripping with condescension and an eye roll before turning her back on her and ignoring her politely spoken, “Are you all set?….um, okay, well have a good day then…” I gave her a sympathetic smile as she walked away looking abashed. The instant she was gone, our friend looks at me and blurts, “She’s so STUPID Jesus Christ!”

Maybe this next detail is not relevant to this story, and maybe it is. You decide. The salesgirl was young and brown and had an accent. Our friend was an uneducated Tea Party sympathizer, I’d bet on it. (My ability to sense Tea Partiers is like a cursed kind of gaydar.) I work in town and I know her type.

I could have ignored this woman. If she hadn’t spoken to me first I’d have just walked away. But I needed her to know that I was not on her side.

“You were rude;” I said.

“What?” I’m not sure if she really hadn’t heard me, or if she thought she’d heard wrong, or if she was calling me out.

“YOU WERE RUDE,” I repeated, louder. She just walked away. There were more things I could have said. Shame on you, You’re the one who’s stupid, She was just trying to help you. But confrontation of any sort scares me. My legs go all shaky and my ability to communicate deserts me. I’m afraid of confrontation, but I’d rather deal with momentary fear than with pent-up anger afterward because I didn’t speak up.

A few years ago, I was waiting in line at the deli on Christmas Eve and witnessed a woman become enraged because the deli boy hadn’t sliced the cold cuts to her specifications. “I TOLD YOU TO SLICE IT REAL THIN,” she yelled as she chucked the bag at his chest. Deli Boy, of course, couldn’t react. She was a customer, although I believe violence toward an employee is grounds for ejection from a store. I caught the eye of a few people who witnessed the incident – Our faces all said Can you believe that? And on Christmas Eve, no less – but no one spoke a word to that wretched woman.

I have always regretted that I didn’t defend Deli Boy’s honor on Christmas Eve.

Slice my meat right or you'll be sorry, motherfucker.

There are few things that will cement my low opinion of your morality, intelligence, and decency the way mistreating a service person will. I’m not saying every waiter or checkout girl is above reproach (inferior customer service will be the subject of a blog post all its own someday, I’m sure), but there is a type of person who feels entitled to behave abominably toward service people. It’s because they know they can get away with it – they’re bullies who wouldn’t dare attack someone who could actually react.

You get a bit of this working in libraries, but since everything is free at the library it’s lessened. We are public servants, not public slaves; which I feel requires a certain amount of tongue-biting but never, ever ass-kissing. Generally, I reject the “Kill them with kindness” theory of dealing with rude people because that is enabling their behavior. Sometimes I use the *blink*blink*blink* tactic. You can, too! It’s easy: Grandma turns into a banshee because she didn’t pick her hold up in time and it got sent back? Screechscreechscreech. It’s impossible that perhaps she made a mistake, no, you are incompetent and she’s going to make you pay. First, you turn into an automaton and hurry to finish the interaction – you are neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but a cool, neutral professional. If Grandma recovers enough at the end of the transaction that the banshee recedes and she actually says, “Thank you”,  just *blink*blink*blink*. If you’re lucky, they might look a bit surprised. Good.  They are NOT welcome, why say what is not heartfelt? Get out of their orbit as quickly as you can – you have other things to attend to. This is why I could never work for tips.

The Checkout Girl has loads more tales from the retail trenches.


Today’s ambitions have been waylaid by mutt gut. The last time Riley’s belly gave her this much trouble, she had eaten an entire loaf of rye bread. The vet ran a bunch of tests on her a few months ago and was unable to give a diagnosis, although Cushing’s disease was suspected. The next step was an ultrasound…then Minnie got sick, and before we knew it, we’d spent more money on a handful of vet visits than I earn in a month. Riley’s health is failing, but she’s 13 years old. We can throw all the money in the world at the vet, but there’s no cure for old age. She’s eating and her spirits seem good so we’re monitoring the situation. Bob thinks it’s her bowels…that’s TMI, isn’t it? No one needs to hear about a geriatric dog’s bowels. She also has a habit of gastric indiscretion, so maybe I am wrong and she’s not dying at all, the tough old piece o’ meat…

In any case: Riley’s my friend, my loyal and protective friend for the past seven years. It’s not fair to leave her sick and scared to be alone. She’s always had separation anxiety and today the stress might be enough to do her in. Playground and errands be damned! An oil change can wait another day but Riley’s are numbered and I’m running a hound hospice.

So Riley, Silas, and mommy had a backyard picnic instead, complete with Mozart and Goldfish crackers. Our backyard is actually a bit of a toddler Club Med. There’s a sandbox and a swing and lotsa sticks. Who needs battery-powered plastic gadgets when there are sticks to brandish about?

(Not that Silas doesn’t own his share of plastic crap. It’s unavoidable with grandparents like his. I don’t replace the batteries on most of his toys when they die. Let us not speak of the stuffed dog that so unnerved me with its unpredictable, maniacal giggle. I’d be walking down the stairs, and…it was watching, I swear.  That laugh taunted me from the bottom of the garbage can where I was forced to relocate it. I’m sure it’s still cackling away, somewhere in the Johnston Landfill. We’re talking Chucky-caliber scary.)

Riley is on the mend. Someday soon, my dog is going to die. But not today. Probably.

This is the kind of day I am grateful for a well-stocked pantry.

“My Dog is Dying and I Can’t Leave the House to Go Food Shopping” Dinner a la Corrie:

Chop and saute a peaked looking zucchini and the remnants of a bulb of garlic in olive oil. Add jarred red peppers, canned black beans, and shredded leftover chicken breast. Heat until warm. Roll the mixture up in a tortilla and top with cheese and avocado slices. Serve with a side of barley. Or maybe grits. Garnish with a gentle belly rub.

No Neck Nellie

Do people still make zines, or did blogs do them in? I made a zine once but I never sent it to anyone. It was called the “No Neck Nellie” and it had a picture of a dismembered doll on the front. Inside the (provocative in an artistic way) cover, you could find a scintillating essay about the evils of customer loyalty cards and the appeal of men in Hawaiian shirts. I still find it annoying to have to use my Shaw’s card to get the lower price on scallions, but my ardor for Hawaiian shirts has cooled considerably. (I mean really…how many stores does the average person patronize? It is unrealistic to expect us to carry a special card for each store around on our keychains. Fight the power, consumers!)

I Googled "dismembered doll" and all I got was this lousy keychain

I should add that I didn’t personally dismember the doll on the cover. I found her on a postcard in the bargain bin at Job Lot. Nothing says “Wish you were here” like a photo of a dead doll in the mail. I even went so far as to get a PO Box – you know, so none of my zine readers would know my real address and stalk me and stuff. It accumulated junk mail for a year until it expired. I don’t wish I’d sent that particular writing effort out into the world, but I DO wish I’d kept writing instead of giving up after a brief spurt of enthusiasm. I’d be all kinds of a good writer if I’d actually practiced the craft once in a while. Maybe.

I write things in my head all the time – when I’m cooking, when I’m running, when I’m helping patrons find books in the library. Then I sit down with the intention to put it to paper/computer screen and that barrage of words streaming in my brain goes silent. It’s maddening. So, I vow to write regularly, quality be damned. An exercise in discipline! That’s how writing gets done. But the result is boring and embarrassing.

That’s why I’ve been away. But now I’m back.

I’ve been a bit of a failure as a vegetarian lately. It’s okay; it really was never my intention to go meat-free forever. My experiment with vegetarian cuisine has taught me that it’s possible to eat well without making meat the main focus of every meal. I’m equally motivated by health and animal welfare concerns. Eating a ton of meat isn’t that good for you, even if the John Wayne colon story was debunked. Large-scale agribusiness endangers our food supply and institutionalizes cruelty to living, feeling creatures. I believe these things, I do. I want to make ethical choices, I do.

Yet I have never been to a farmer’s market, although there are many in the vicinity. Their hours are limited, or they are in the city and parking is an issue. Driving in cities is high on the list of things that make me irrationally anxious. I’m working on it, because the city has so much to offer. (I am also mildly fearful that they are all going to be cooler than me at the farmer’s market.) Sometimes I buy organic produce, but just as often I don’t. Such a big chunk of our monthly budget goes to the grocery store, and it’s hard to justify spending that much more. Not buying meat for every meal makes it possible for Prince Silas to exclusively drink organic milk. And such a lot of milk the greedy little prince drinks. Throw in a few interesting cheeses and you’ve got flexitarianism, baby. When will I eat bacon again? I shan’t seek it out but I will know when the time is right.

But maybe I should visit a farmer’s market. I’m sure there is nothing to be afraid of. Rumor has it there’s a woman selling homemade nim chow at the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet farmer’s market. And honey, ma honey. Now is not the time for me to learn the ancient art of beekeeping, but the least I can do is support local apiaries. I’m a bit old to be eating honey from a container shaped like a bear, anyway.

Even small choices can contribute to positive changes.


I found a journal from over a decade ago when I was cleaning out an old desk this morning. Egads! I could only read a few words I started to cringe. Such mortifying, post adolescent, self important drivel.  I ripped out the offending pages and hid them until they can be burned. Like so many of my creative endeavors, I abandoned the journal after a brief spurt of attention to it so I didn’t even have to destroy the entire notebook. There is little need to revisit youthful diaries. I fear the internet will turn on me someday if I’m not careful. A stupid, silly blog such as this one might be embarrassing someday.

Or worse! My librarian listserv tells me that May 2 – 8 is ALA’s first ever Choose Privacy Week and they made this video to drive the point home. The part of the video that resonates with me is the part where all those nice kids talk about why should they be concerned about privacy? They are not doing anything wrong – and nor am I, not really.  It is not a bad point. But then I remembered Red Dragon, a lesser known Hannibal Lector movie that is a far, far superior successor to Silence of the Lambs than that Julianne Moore pap. (I like Ms. Moore but there is only one Clarice Starling and she looks like Jodie Foster.)

In Red Dragon, Edward Norton plays a young FBI agent who befriends Dr. Hannibal Lector in the days preceeding his “HELLLO, Clarice” days. Lector is lending his psychiatric insight Norton’s investigation of a serial killer targeting families, seemingly at random. Come to find out, “The Tooth Fairy” (has there ever been a more ominous nickname for a serial killer?) works at a video store and is getting a layout of his victim’s homes (and insight into their lives) via the home videos being edited at his shop. Chilling. That scenario could totally happen with a blog today. No need to seek out a job at a video store – we put everything on the internet for anyone to see. Not that I think I’m being blog-stalked, but it’s a good idea for everyone to be aware of what they post online…I am really trying to stick with blogging but sometimes it freaks me out. Some bloggers put an awful lot of their lives online, and I am still figuring out what I’m comfortable with. How has there not been a teen horror movie about a blog stalker, anyway?

My wicked confession of the week: I have been secretly watching episodes of Glee on Hulu. I am almost unashamed because Jane Lynch people, Jane Lynch. If you ask me, we have Christopher Guest to thank.

Wabi Sabi

I read an article in one of my mother-in-law’s lady magazines about the Wabi Sabi approach to life. The gist of the article was letting things go and accepting imperfection. If your friends judge you because your house isn’t spotless, find new friends. Which is pretty much my philosophy already. A few years ago Ed Young published a picture book about Wabi Sabi so I was familiar with the idea, I was just surprised to come across it in reference to not doing housework. I wish we had a team of house sprites who would clean the house while we slept. There is always something that needs to be done around the house and maintaining a marginally respectable level of cleanliness is time consuming. Plus, everything just gets messy again so fast. Add a busy, messy kid and an old furry mutt and something’s gotta’ give.

Inside our house it may be a fright, but the outside is transforming for the better. The dingy, telephone pole-colored deck is getting a whitewash. What a difference! Standing on my deck is going to feel like a Cape Cod morning. I am somewhat obsessed with working on it now – it’s a pretty big job and I want to be finished by June, before the morning glories start to climb. I even got up early to work on it yesterday. Bob is unnerved by my moxie, but it’s easy to get out of bed at 6 on a sunny spring morning. It’s dark winter days that give me trouble.

I have a wabi sabi way of staining the deck: a cursory wipe of the wood to clear the egregious dirt and  debris, then stain over anything that remains. The dead bugs will forever be preserved in a lovely shade called “Outdoor White”. When I was a schoolgirl touring the Rhode Island state house, a tour guide pointed up towards a smudge in the building’s dome. A hundred years earlier, someone took my wabi sabi painting style to an exteme when they brushed layers of paint over a dead bird. My memory of the other details of that tour are faded – I vaguely recall a room with lots of silver and china on display?? The part about seeing the dead bird, though? That’s something you don’t forget. I’ll bet I am not the only Rhode Islander who can tell that exact story.

Rhode Island’s state flower is the violet, and I know why.

They grow in cracks in the pavement. How is that not beautiful?

My neighbor was complaining about what a pain in the ass they are – they spread everywhere! I choose to regard that as one of their charms: beautiful flowers that grow with no help from me in rocky, inhospitable soil. If they grow somewhere I don’t want them to, I dig them up and replant them. Wabi sabi.

I am determined not to let the yard get out of hand this summer. Last year’s garden was in distress by midsummer because I overplanted. It looked so spacious when I planted baby zucchini, cucumber, and tomato plants. Babies sure do grow up fast, though.

Silas is sitting next to a worm and worms help gardens grow. And you thought it was just a gratuitous baby picture.

The big trees in our yard are great, but their shade makes finding suitable garden space difficult. This year’s plan is to grow tomatoes in containers in the middle of the yard, zucchini in the small garden patch, and herbs in containers and a window box. Maybe leafy greens in a small baby pool on the deck? I’d like to try growing root vegetables but I just don’t have space. Perhaps beans on a pole instead.

Bob’s a little disturbed that I’m excited about planting a bush on Minnie’s grave because she is going to make great compost. I don’t see what’s wrong with that…we are all going to die someday, and isn’t it nice to be part of the life cycle, even after death? Minnie’s personality was like a flower when she was alive, and now she will BE a flower. Becoming one with nature, and all that. Iron and Wine says it better than me:

Aren't the floating gas cans a classy touch?

So, it rained a whole lot in case you had not heard. Roads were impassable, work was missed, and the abandoned pancake house near my house was on the national news because it sits alongside the historically swollen Pawtuxet River. I’m hoping the winter’s worth of dog waste in the yard washed away in the flood. Fresh beginnings for everyone!

Is it bad that I thoroughly enjoyed my confinement? I found a ukulele in the basement when we were relocating things to higher ground before the basement started flooding in earnest. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to learn to play the guitar in the past, and  I bought the ukulele from Amazon several years ago with the expectation that it was simple enough even for me. The fact that it was rediscovered in a dark corner of my basement should tell you all you need to know about how that worked out. But if at first you don’t succeed, et cetera. Yesterday I couldn’t play the ukulele at all, and today I know three chords and can play a mean version of “Buffalo Gals”.  I feel like Jimmy Stewart is going to show up and start talking crazy. It’s a baritone ukulele, which is apparently much different from the smaller ukes – more of a small guitar. My uke teacher uses a traditional instrument, which doesn’t bode well for my progression as a musician. Didn’t Jimi Hendrix teach himself to play the guitar backwards because he was left-handed? I am kind of like that. Bob says might as well learn “It’s a Small World After All”, because it can’t be worse than hearing me play “Skip to the Lou my Darling” 32 times in a row.

“I really want to encourage you,” he tells me. “But there’s a time to reap and a time to sow what you’ve learned.” I suppose he is reasonable to expect me not to bring the ukulele to bed with me. My obsessions are as powerful as the mighty Pawtuxet River.

In between practicing my music, I cooked. I’m concerned Silas’s diet of bananas, avocados, and waffles is lacking nutritionally, so I made a huge batch of stuffed shells with pureed sweet potato and spinach mixed in with the ricotta. All the ricotta cheese on display at the market reminded me of Carmela Soprano’s Easter Pie of Intimidation. ‘Tis the season.