Author Archives: Kathleen Fox

If the Early Robin Gets the Worm . . .

We all know that the early bird gets the worm. Actually, from years of research comprised of occasionally noticing the behavior of robins in my yard, I’m not sure this is really true. But “the bird who is out there listening for food just after a rain or while the sprinkler is running gets the worm” is too long to be a pithy aphorism.

Have you ever watched a robin getting a worm? They yank the hapless critter right out of the ground, and yes, it really does stretch just like the ones in cartoons, and sometimes it breaks in half, which is unfortunate for the worm but just makes it easier for the bird to gulp it down, still wriggling. I wonder if it tickles.

But never mind all that. I’m not here today to talk about worms or robins. I’m here to talk about buzzards.

Being an early bird myself, during the summer I like to take my daily walks early in the day while it’s still cool. Not before breakfast—early is good, but so is fuel. But while the sun is still low, which in June and July can be sixish a.m.

Sometimes I walk along the bike path near my house, which passes by several baseball fields. At one of them, the tall fence along one side is lined with buzzards. Continue reading

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Crinkle-Cut Carrots and Sawheaded Spoons

The average kitchen is full of potentially lethal sharp objects, including knives, graters, peelers, skewers, and jagged-edged boxes of plastic wrap. But the scariest implement in my mother’s kitchen was the carrot cutter.

This thing had a six-inch rippled blade, with a handle above it so the user could press down and whack carrots and other crisp veggies into attractive wavy-edged slices or sticks. Much like a guillotine, actually. Madame Defarge probably had one in her kitchen.

I don’t think my mother had hers when I was a child, but when I was a young adult it struck terror into my heart. Partly because my mother used it to cut carrots into halves and quarters—the long way. Which involved holding the round carrot with one hand so it wouldn’t roll out from under the blade she was wielding with her other hand.

Seeing her do this was bad enough. But even worse, my mother would allow my children—my small, precious children, with their dainty and vulnerable fingers—to use this dangerous object. I couldn’t bear to watch. Sometimes I would have to leave the kitchen, or at least turn my back and stir the gravy.

When my parents downsized, a cautious person might have seen clearing out the kitchen as a perfect opportunity to quietly get rid of the carrot cutter. Oh, no. Continue reading

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Seeing Red and Feeling Green

One of the many consequences of COVID-19, medical precautions, and self-quarantining is a shortage of blood donations. Some regular donors, bless them, are still giving. Like the man who made our local news this week for giving 20 gallons of blood over the past 33 years. He is 89.

I’ve been donating blood for more than three decades, too—just not quite as successfully.

It isn’t that I’m squeamish about the sight of blood. Really. As a kid, I could eat fried chicken with great pleasure even after watching my mother kill that same bird by chopping off its head with a hatchet. As an adult, I’ve dealt at least adequately with kids’ cuts, scrapes, and nosebleeds.

But things do get shaky if I’m faced with a combination of blood and needles. Especially when it’s my own blood. Whenever someone, even a trained medical professional, needs to take some of it by piercing me with a sharp object, I feel—uncomfortable.

I cope with routine blood draws at the doctor’s office by averting my eyes from what the technician is doing, gazing at some object elsewhere in the room, humming to myself, and thinking beautiful thoughts. Even with this approach, the world sometimes gets a little fuzzy around the edges. Especially if it’s one of those fasting blood tests where you have to show up before breakfast.

In spite of this little weakness, I am also a public-spirited person who wants to do the right thing. Which is why, years ago, I decided I should donate blood. Continue reading

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Yes, We Have No (Control Over) Bananas

If you truly believe you are a well-balanced, serene, and sane adult who can take life as it comes, here’s a practical little exercise for you. Let somebody else pick out your bananas.

This is not theoretical. I’ve been practicing it myself for weeks now, and it’s a challenge.

I like to pretend that I am not a controlling, rigid person. Never mind that, watching a couple of my beloved grandkids put my good colored pencils back in the container with careless disregard for the precise way they—the pencils, not the children—were sorted by color, I had to sit on my hands and bite my tongue to keep from intervening. (Yes, that is the last time any grandchild has been allowed to use those particular pencils. Why would you ask?)

A few lovable little quirks like this aside, I really do consider myself to be flexible and accepting. Then along came COVID-19 and self-quarantining. Continue reading

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Cheating and the Grandparent Code

Here’s a question for any of you who are parents and especially those who are grandparents. Do you let small children win at games? Or maybe a better question is, how far will you bend in order to let them win?

I do observe and obey the section in the grandparent code that says it’s okay, even obligatory, to indulge the grandkids. “Spoiling them,” people tend to call it, though it certainly doesn’t spoil children (or anybody else, for that matter) to let them know they are wonderful, special, and loved.

But I also observe and obey that other important section in the grandparent code—the one that says part of the job is to maintain high standards. To set an example of honesty and be a role model for integrity. To help grandkids learn that wonderful, special children become wonderful, special adults by learning and doing what is right and honorable.

For example, cheating. Now, it’s perfectly sound grandparenting to play a game in a way that allows a child to win. I’ve been known myself to “overlook” a devastating series of jumps in a game of Chinese checkers. I’ve even from time to time—though it was terribly hard—deliberately not played a high-scoring Scrabble word. Even when it would have given me a triple word score.

But allowing a child to cheat? No way.

I remember playing Candyland with a granddaughter when she was four or five. She had won the first game, she was behind in the second game, and I caught her cheating. She moved her purple game piece to a purple spot on the board several spaces ahead of the purple spot it was meant to land on. I made her move it back. She tried to convince me her move had been legitimate. That didn’t work. She tried pouting. That didn’t work. She gave me her best scathing look. I just told her that cheating spoiled the fun of a game and that I didn’t play games with cheaters. She sighed and flounced in her chair. No one can flounce while seated quite as well as an offended five-year-old girl. Then she put her game piece back where it belonged and finished the game with reasonably good grace. And she lost.

I hope she learned something about integrity. I hope, if she ever reads this—and even remembers that particular game—she knows I am proud of her for finishing it.

I also hope she believes me when I say truthfully that my only purpose in that interaction was to help her learn not to cheat. Honestly, I did not intend any benefit for myself. I did not in any way try to influence the decision she made, at the end of the game, to put Candyland away and get out some puzzles instead.

Sometimes virtue is its own reward. Sometimes it offers unexpected collateral benefits. Like not having to sit patiently through 27 more games of Candyland.

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A Cinnamon Roll In The Hand

A “good plain cook.” It’s a description you might see in an old-fashioned or historical novel, and at first glance it doesn’t sound flattering.

But in this case, “plain” doesn’t have anything to do with the appearance of either the cook or the food, but simply means this person is a practical, everyday cook. Not the one who makes exotic sauces or elaborate dishes or elegant pastries. The one who does the breakfast eggs, lunchtime soups, and dinner roasts and vegetables, capably and reliably, day after day after day.

That’s the kind of cook I am. Though, to be honest, “adequate plain cook” would be closer to the truth. I can—and have, for years—consistently put nutritious, edible, and occasionally even delicious family meals on the table. But just because I know how to have everything ready to eat at the same time doesn’t mean I love to cook. My goal is to keep the cooking part simple so I can more quickly get to the part I do love—the eating. Continue reading

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The Undocumented Auto and the Naked Refrigerator

Every time I move from one house to another, I remember why it’s so stressful. Moving is like childbirth—between one time and the next you forget that it’s an endeavor with long-term consequences, it takes longer than you hope it will, and it involves a lot of hard work and a certain amount of pain.

There are two approaches to moving, which are driven more by circumstances than by choice. One is the “get everything out of the old house and into the new house on the same day” method. You pack ahead of time everything you think you can do without, subsequently unpack the things you realize you can’t do without, at the last minute frantically throw everything remaining into whatever containers you can find, haul everything to the new house, and finish the day at the old house around 2:00 a.m., scrubbing floors and vanquishing dust bunnies.

The other method—which I used this time—is the “take things over a few at a time and unpack as you go” approach. You close on the new house, schedule the movers for a week or two later, paint a couple of rooms, and move smaller things a carload at a time. It sounds less stressful than the other style. It isn’t. It merely stretches out the stress. Continue reading

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The other little girl and I were related—something on the order of second cousins once or twice removed—though we’d never seen each other until this visit my family was making to hers. We eyed each other with the caution of two children whose parents, assuming because they are the same age they have things in common, have told them to go play.

Then she broke the ice with an overture of friendship. “Would you like some gum?”

“Sure,” I said, assuming we would head for the kitchen or wherever her mother kept the stash of Doublemint and Juicy Fruit.

Instead, she reached into her mouth with a grubby finger, extracted the gum she was chewing, pulled it in half, and held one piece out to me. Continue reading

Categories: Food and Drink | 1 Comment

Bug A, Bug B, and Insect Inequality

Bug A was the tiniest ladybug I’ve ever seen. A little-girl bug, really. Or even a toddlerbug or a babybug.

How do ladybugs come into the world, anyway? I don’t know and don’t care enough at the moment to look it up, but I vaguely assume they hatch from eggs. This unscientific conclusion is mostly because they usually show up in the kitchen during the winter, when they certainly haven’t come in from outside. I just figure their mothers must have laid eggs inside the window frames or under the leaves of the house plants.

The ones I see around the kitchen sink just appear. I’ll notice one crawling along the faucet or the counter or the window. Or I fish one out of the dish water—still alive if it’s lucky, belly-up if it’s not. To my uneducated eye, they all look like fully functional adults.

But this teeny tiny ladybug was certainly small enough to seem newly hatched. Its arrival also tends to support the house plant theory, because it appeared inside a vase on the dining room table. I figured it must have come in with the bouquet of tulips I had put into the vase.

It was on top of the water, and I figured it was a goner until I realized it was swimming. (“Waiter, what’s this ladybug doing inside my vase?” “Looks like the Australian crawl to me.”) Continue reading

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TheRobo-Call Selfie

It’s a new low in the world of robo-calling—the Scamming Selfie. As far as I can tell, it works like this:

The telephone of an Innocent Random Person (IRP) rings. The IRP, knowing the game by now, looks at the caller ID before she answers. She has learned not to answer calls from unfamiliar numbers, especially not those from places, like Ipswich, SD, or Tallahassee, FL, where she has no known friends or family.

This time, a bit oddly, the caller ID shows her own name and phone number. However, she is expecting an important return call from someone in a city government agency. It’s faintly possible that this could be that call.

Plus, to be honest, she’s a little bit curious. What happens if someone answers the phone when a call purports to be from the same number it is calling? Maybe she’ll hear an echo of herself. Maybe the caller will get a busy signal and go bother somebody else. Maybe the computer at the other end will get stuck in an endless loop and crash its own hard drive.

Anyway, the IRP answers the phone. She hears a recorded voice: “Hello, this is Kathleen from Microsoft. (Yeah, right. And I’m the makeup artist in charge of gore for Game of Thrones.) We have been trying to reach you. (I just bet you have. Those last dozen scamming calls I ignored? Seven of them were probably from you.) We will be forced to disconnect your license within 24 hours—”

The IRP will never know which license (computer operating system? driver’s? fishing?) she’s about to lose, because at this point she hangs up.

All in all, the IRP found her first Robo-call Selfie quite disappointing. She was hoping somebody’s automated spam factory had finally overreached. It would have been so satisfying to hear a robo caller confusing itself right out of commission.

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