Saturday, October 10, 2015

Mia's Playground

Mia's Playground

Mia lived in a beautiful home with her dad and mom. One lovely spring morning, she looked out the window. Two men were outside carrying shiny, metal poles and banging with hammers. She watched with wide eyes.
"Mom, what is that? Is that for me?"
Her mother saw the bright yellow steel, complete with two plastic parts for slides. One part had chain links and was rounded at the bottom. It was a swing.

"Oh, Mia the neighbors are building something for their children." 
"What is it?" Mia asked.
"Well, it looks like a playground." said her mom. 
"Yippee, I can go play on it!" 
"No Mia, the neighbors don't talk to us much and it's their playground, okay? It's like a giant toy that is only theirs."
"Sorry Mia." Her mom patted her on the back. Mia's lip quivered and she cried a little. "Mia would you like to have some tea with me on the deck?

Mom dried her eyes and made her some warm chamomile tea. They sat on the bench of the wooden deck in the bright spring sunshine.  Little Mia began to wander, as she often did, along the small creek in their backyard.  She helped pick up sticks and then threw them in the creek watching the water ripple. It was amazing to her how the water splashed up and around the sticks like rings. The rings disappeared and then the sticks floated along with the current.

"What do you hear Mia?"
"I hear water", she answered.
"And birds", she continued.
"Yes. Anything else?" asked Mom.
"I hear the wind." said Mia as she watched birds jump from one hiding spot to another.
They sat on their long dark logs on the side of the creek. They watched the trees as the wind shook their branches softly, making the leaves wave to them. Mia smiled. She wasn't upset about the new playground anymore.

When she woke up the next day and looked out the window, she saw a complete, bright and shiny new playground. It had everything she liked to play on: a slide, swings, and a climbing ladder.
"Mom! Why can't I go on that playground?" 
"Mia, it doesn't belong to us and we aren't close with our neighbors. They have their own working hours and we have ours. Honey, I'm not sure if they are home at the same time as us. What I mean is, maybe some day they will invite you to play, but until then we keep to ourselves. We can play on our own at the park. It is only a couple of blocks away. "Okay, mom" she replied.

Mia stepped outside and had to suddenly stop her walking. There was a frog looking up at her.
"Mom! Mom there's a frog! There's a frog! It jumped right in that plant!
"Oh Mia, great find, your Dad will be happy to hear of it. He loves frogs!"
Mia grinned.
"See, there's a lot to discover out here." Mom picked sticks and branches out of the yard.
"Can we have a frog in our house?"
"Not today. We will play catch and release one day though.
"What's that?"
"Catch and release is when you catch a frog and put him in a box or a jar with holes for air so that you can get a closer peek at him. You put him on a bed of grass and leaves and you can try to feed him. Then after a couple hours, you let the frog go home to his plant."

At that moment, the bluest, most beautiful butterfly Mia had ever seen fluttered by in their garden, landing on some yellow wildflowers. Its wings were bright blue surrounded by black.  "Mom, look!" 
"Oh, look at that, how wonderful!" The butterfly slowly fluttered off into the sunlight.

Mia, will you help me plant this lily flower?"
"Sure." Mia scooped up dirt out of the hole getting her hands dirty. There was no floor to spill the soil on. "I love gardening with you Mom."
Mom smiled. "You love it and what do you like best?"
"Flowers and frogs and butterflies... Can we get a playground?"  
"Oh, Mia, maybe you can have a swing. We can hang it from that shorter tree there, she pointed. They walked over to a wide tree that had small leaves, looking up for some sturdy branches. We will have to make sure it is far enough away from the creek."

Her mother pointed in the opposite direction. "Over there, you can have your own garden. We can get you a little chair for the yard. We can make a trail together with stone, pebble, or woodchips. Then, you can pick some of your favorite plants and flowers to put along the trail. We'll make you a garden that's all yours. Would you like more butterflies in your garden?" 

"More? How do we do that?"
"Well you should have milkweed and butterfly bush. You can attract monarchs! Monarchs are those orange, black and white butterflies you've seen. If we plant those, you will have a butterfly garden." 

"What do you mean attract? Mia asked.
"That means the butterflies come to those types of flowers because the butterflies like them...kind of like playgrounds attract you!" 
"Oh! The butterflies will come! Thanks Mom." 
"It will be hard work. Gardens take a little time." "'We can do it!" cheered Mia who was now thinking ahead to attracting bunches of butterflies.

Mia and Mom had spent the whole week planning and planting Mia's new garden. The results were stunning as they stood by the butterfly bush. Mia realized they were finally finished with each flower she had chosen. She got all the colors she wanted, purples, yellows, and pinks. Her mother liked Mia's new butterfly garden so much that she even added some lilac bushes on the side of their house for herself.

Dad helped plant the last of the velvety lamb's ear in the center of the flower bed. As Mia looked on, she remembered that lamb's ear would attract bumblebees. She wasn't afraid because Mom promised bees were little helpers to the garden, like she was. Mia sat down in her chair along her winding woodchip path.
"Mia, it turned out so pretty!"
"Yeah. It was a lot of hard work." 
"What do you want to do now?"
Mia took a quick peek at the motionless playground next door. "Mom, can I go to the park?"
"Sure, let's pack a picnic lunch too!" 

They arrived back from the park after a long day at the playground. Mia looked out the window at the new playground in the distance. Still empty, she thought. She said nothing to her mother. She gave her a giant hug. Then, she stared at her colorful garden. It was like looking at a painting. Suddenly, she saw two winged creatures wandering and dancing on the tops of their flowers. "Monarchs", she announced as she ran out to the deck, climbing down the stairs to greet them. "Mom, butterflies!" she called. They fluttered onto the purple butterfly bush. Mia sat in her chair nearby. One of the butterflies fluttered over to her and landed right on her purple sundress. "Mom there you are! Where were you?"
"I was working on a quick dinner project in the kitchen. When did you call?"
"A few minutes ago" Mia answered. "Mom, I love my playground."

She enjoyed everything about her new garden, especially that it was hers and that she had done work to earn it. The purple, pink, and yellow flowers were always inviting as she walked the path. There was a sitting stone by the creek and while on it she viewed one frog hopping along the grasses and reeds. She was glad her mom had come outside because she had another question. How were they going to attract more frogs to her garden? Dad would be so happy to see them hopping and making their low croaks to each other. 

As she sat in her favorite chair, she imagined that one day she might say hi to the neighbor children while they were on their playground. They might say hi back, she thought. In fact, there was a chance that the children might come up to her one day and say, "Hi, want to play?" The sun was beginning to set and the first couple of fireflies were twinkling in the trees. Mia smelled the sweet flowers. She knew that if they ever did ask, she would play. Better yet, she would invite them to her garden playground where they could enjoy watching and listening to nature with her.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Freakish Fair Foods

To fully understand the gravity of this excerpt, you will need to peruse this Des Moines Register article of approved fare for this summer's ten day event.

They ignored my suggestions which were:

1. Fried Cheesecake Balls

2. Breaded Deep Fried Bacon, wrapped in bacon, with bacon dipping sauce

3. Mystery Meat on a Stick (not a corn dog, to avoid confusion, and if you guess correctly they take a dollar off  *hint  Don't dismiss raccoon, aka Raccoon River Dog)

4. Tapas (almost as random as Bruschetta)

5. Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Saltwater Taffy

6. Candy Coated Donuts (you pick the candy, customization)

7. Deep Fried Triple Cheeseburger

8. Cotton Candy Funnel Cake

9. Snickerdoodle Funnel Cake

10. Bacon Fries, half bacon, half fries, smothered in ranch dressing

11. Deep Fried Pepper-jack Pork Balls

12. Barbecue Ice Cream Sundae (an ice cream sundae with barbecue sauce)

13. Bacon Bits Kettle Corn

14. Golden Fried Macaroni and Cheese Balls (with dipping sauce)

15. Deep Fried Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I went through an onslaught of emotions when compiling this, a helping of sarcasm, a lot of disgust, a dash of cynicism, and a little neglect. (You can't write about food!) I settled on trying to make food choices that had about an 80% repelling factor and a 20% appealing one. I believe this is what state fair organizers do in showcasing these events. They stun us with their shock value foods in order to draw crowds, the way that circus goers of yesteryear were drawn to circus freaks. Have fun with the fare!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Status on The Newt Who Loved Fruit

The Newt Who Loved Fruit is currently being edited, updated, and adapted to fit a younger audience. The title might be changed as well when complete. Some lovely illustrations are being drawn that will accompany the new text. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An American Work Project


From a Managerial Perspective

These work encounters are based on true stories.

 The employee in the following story was a quiet employee who turned over the course of months into a hypochondriac with excuses and outrageous ailments turning up each month.

Manager to employee at retail clothing store on a busy weekend night: "Can you ring this woman up, I need to help that man over there find a shirt."  The manager begins to walk away.
Employee: "No, I can't reach the register."
Manager: "What do you mean you can't reach the register?"
Employee: (lackadaisicaly points to her leg) "See, twisted my ankle" (holds up an ice bag)
Manager to woman customer: "I'll get you here Miss." (Manager cuts in front of the sitting employee to use the register. A line is beginning to form at the counter)
Manager whispers to employee: "Why didn't you call in sick?"
Employee: "I did earlier this week. The supervisor said I can't call in sick anymore."
Manager to customer: "There you are. Have a nice day." (hands her the shopping bag)
Manager: "So, what can you do on that?" (points to the injured leg in question)
Employee: "Nothing"
Manager: "Fantastic"

Friday, August 1, 2014

Introduction to "An American Work Project"

This is a compilation of funny stories or quotes inspired in part by The Office, which was not too exaggerated to represent the workforce tales of people I have known.  This collection is in its infancy, as I am presently interviewing and collecting stories by the day to make others laugh from their unforgettable moments that, for good or for bad, they can not ignore. One reason this project called on me to develop it, is because of the everlasting relationship of work to Americans, as it defines us.  This introductory excerpt is a fictionalized adaptation of tales from work in the years 2000-2014.  Some of these examples below may be pure fiction, as this is the safest method of delving into issues involved with some of the more reckless and outlandish of environments. Others are quotes I have been given or overheard from either from one workplace or another, or from family and trusted friends. Stories and exact quotes have been changed enough, leaving out names, business types, and other specific details as to render them indistinguishable from fiction.

Customer:  "The day Sarah found out her father died, she was in the middle of her shift and she just went right back to work, never took any time off... Isn't that amazing? What a good worker!"  Worker:  "Well, if it was me, you wouldn't want me at work, I'd be devastated...but I'm sure every person is different."

Worker: "They let hundreds of people go. Our department is cut in half. One of the men I work with, I do all of his work now that he's gone. Friend: "Seriously, you do all of his work? Did you get a pay increase for that?"  Worker: "No."

Woman walks into a business to drop off a resume: "Are you currently hiring for this position?" Front desk employee: "No we hired a girl for this position recently and she called in sick all the time. A few times she called in for just being on her period."  "Okay. So you're getting rid of the position?" (woman asks, bewildered) "Yes" the female employee at the front desk responds.  "Okay, well, thanks for your time." Woman walks away with resume still in hand.

A veteran employee walks past management office and hears lots of banging. He waits until two managers come out. "What's going on in there? Everyone alright?" asks the employee. " Yes", answers the assistant manager. "Should we tell him?" he asks the main manager. "Sure" says the main manager. "There's a mouse that lives in the wall connecting your office to ours. We've named her Mrs. Fandango."  "How long has it lived here?" The employee asks. "Several years", answers the manager. (veteran employee shudders, thinking of all his food that was left uncovered)

This is the beginning of An American Work Project, subsequent blogs will contain as many as 50 to 100 workforce tales both from fiction and altered nonfiction.  Please enjoy and laugh or sigh along with them as I have.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bakery Cats and Too Many Cinnamon Rolls

When Fuzz and Cami opened their bakery they were sure that their prize-winning cinnamon rolls were just what they needed. Their friends loved the cinnamon rolls and bought dozens of them when they had their grand opening last week.  Their family also loved the rolls with the fish flavored glaze. It was an old recipe from Great Grandma Gladys.
Yes, their first week at Slurp Bakery had gone by fast. It was Friday and the cats were looking forward to the weekend. Fuzz put the last batch of rolls in front of Cami so she could put the icing on. The sweet smell of butter and cinnamon filled the air.

It was a lovely morning in Pawston.  Fuzz and Cami watched the sun slowly rising from their storefront window.  Their business, Slurp Bakery, had been open for only one week. Fuzz was in charge of baking the delicious cinnamon rolls and keeping track of how much money they were making. Cami was in charge of decorating, cleaning, and making sure the customers were happy and kept coming back.

They decided that each Friday they would meet and talk about how things with their new shop were going.  "I'm disappointed." said Fuzz.  We have not made enough money from the cinnamon rolls to keep our shop open.  "These things take time Fuzz. Please put your report away now. It's our first customer of the day." replied Cami.  The store bell rang. Fuzz became an orange blur as he lurched for the kitchen. His tail knocked pages from his report onto the floor.

Melanie, a Doberman in a striking power suit, walked in.  She had come to Slurp Bakery once before. Hi Cami! I was wondering if you had anything other than cinnamon rolls today. My workers said they like doughnuts."
"Well, we don't have anything other than these rolls, but they have two different kinds of icing, creamy and fish flavored."
Melanie peered at the glass cases. "I see. Do you have rolls with chicken icing?" 
"No, sorry. This is all we have. Can I get you some fish rolls?" 
"No thank you. Do you know where I can get doughnuts on this side of Pawston. I don't want to go across town." 
"No. I'm sorry, I don't."  Cami's face reddened. Melanie left empty-handed with no wag to her tail.

"Okay Fuzz, she's gone." Fuzz sneaked out from his favorite hiding spot by the oven.  Cami continued. "I think I know what we need to do to help us to stay at this bakery." 
"Oh, what is that?" he asked.
"Melanie told me she works across the street and that they like doughnuts."
"But, we only have cinnamon rolls." said Fuzz.
"Right, do you think we could figure out a good doughnut recipe?"
"My Great Grandma Gladys doesn't make doughnuts." 
"Maybe we can make a new glaze for our rolls then." Cami offered.
"Why would we want a new glaze?" 
"Fuzz, there are a lot of dogs in Pawston and they want a chicken glaze."
"That is impossible Cami! We don't know how and we don't have the ingredients. It's true Melanie works across the street but that doesn't mean everyone will want doughnuts and chicken glaze.  Look, another customer is coming. We can talk about this later." Fuzz scampered back to his warm spot by the oven.
It was a shy, grey kitten with amber eyes. He pointed to a fish roll. "One, please." "Certainly" said Cami who was ready with her spatula. She scooped a gooey roll onto a paper plate. "Would you like this in a bag?" The kitten nodded. He looked in awe at the brown paper bag and smiled. "Thank you." "You're welcome." The kitten pounced out of their store.  Fuzz shouted from the kitchen, "See, I told you. Our customers want our rolls!"

Before Cami got the chance to argue with him, the store bell rang a large Boxer dog entered. "Hello Sir. What can I help you with today?" "Do you have any doughnuts?" "No I'm sorry Sir." Cami was getting frustrated. The dog was nice enough, but left Slurp without buying a thing.

Next, a fluffy white cat came in. It was one of Cami's friends who worked across the street. "Hi Pearl! What can I get for you?"
"Do you have any sandwiches? I'm really hungry and forgot to bring my lunch."
"No, sorry, we just have cinnamon rolls."
"Okay. I thought I'd check. I still like your rolls! Pearl waved and left without a bag.

Cami sulked. Fuzz felt sorry for his friend behind the register. "It's alright Cami. We'll do better next week." Fuzz scooped out one cream and one fish roll and began quickly eating his lunch. "Ugh, that's so gross to have for lunch Fuzz. Those are treats, not a meal!" She got out a brown paper bag and ate her tuna sandwich next to him. They didn't talk for the rest of their lunch.

They waited for the bell on the door to ring but all was silent. They watched workers walk by the storefront window on their lunch breaks. Fuzz opened the glass case again and served himself another two rolls. Cami shut the case and cleaned his hand print off the glass.

Her ears tilted back as she scrubbed. "Look at all these rolls! I am so mad! More people have asked for doughnuts than rolls. What can I say? No, get a roll. What's that Pearl, you want a sandwich? Too bad, get a roll! There are so many cinnamon rolls! ROLLS, ROLLS, ROLLS!"

Fuzz didn't know what to do. Whenever he didn't know what to do, he took a nap. He napped and napped. When he finally woke up, he felt refreshed. Now, he knew what to do. "Cami I'm going to take my afternoon break." "Fine." She thought the nap should have counted as his break but was too upset to argue.
When he came back, the doorbell jarred Cami awake from her own nap. Fuzz brought in bags and bags of groceries.  "What is all of this?" She asked. Fuzz held up some bread, cheese, and meats. "We can try a few changes to the menu and if they work...we can keep them. I got doughnut and sandwich ingredients. This is on one condition."  "What's that?"  "You have to let me eat whatever I want from the bakery."
"I promise, you can eat whatever you want. We can have doughnuts and sandwiches?"
"There are items to make chicken glaze too." He added.
Cami helped him unpack. "Thanks Fuzz. This will make our customers happy."
"It's only if it works! Our customers have to like the new items, you know?"
"I know." She was so happy she pranced around as she put the goods in a cupboard.
On Monday, Fuzz and Cami came in early and made rolls, doughnuts, and sandwiches. Cami spread the chicken glaze icing on a few of the rolls. They seemed to be selling a few more items day by day. By the time Friday came they were already much happier. They began their meeting. "Things are looking up." said Fuzz The doorbell surprised them. They baked so many items that morning, they almost lost track of time. "It's our first customer of the day." Cami announced.
"Hi Melanie." "Hi Cami. I'll have a cream roll. Wait, you have doughnuts?" "Yep." "I'll have one, make that two, dozen."
"Fuzz, I need your help."  They packed two bags full of doughnuts . "My workers will love these. Thanks." They thanked her. Melanie left with her tail wagging.
Then the shy little grey kitten with amber eyes came in. "I would like a fish roll."  "We now carry doughnuts and cheese or beef sandwiches. We also have chicken glaze." "Just the fish roll." said the crouching kitten. He batted at the bag a few times and then pounced out of the store.  Fuzz stayed in his warm spot next to the oven. He was half asleep, exhausted from all the baking he had done that morning.
The store bell rang again and in walked the large Boxer dog. He put his puffy cheeks up to the glass and sniffed around. "I smell doughnuts!" "Yep. Would you like one Sir?" "I'll have two." Cami put the two doughnuts in the bag. The dog's bobbed tail waved wildly back and forth.

Fuzz came out and helped himself to a fish roll snack. They had another cat customer. Next, Pearl came in and purchased a cheese sandwich for her lunch. She stayed and ate with Fuzz and Cami before heading back to work. 
"These new cheese sandwiches are wonderful!"  "Well, you baked them! They are better for you too. So, Fuzz, things are looking up?" "Yep, the new items are helping our bakery. We should be fine if we keep paying attention to what everyone wants. Just do me a favor." "What's that?" "Don't tell my Great Grandma Gladys!" They laughed.

The store bell kept ringing that afternoon.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What Gardens Teach Us about Life

I have learned a lot in the short time I've been gardening. In over a decade of apartment life; I had to find other outlets for tinkering with herbs, flowering bushes, plants, and trees. Now that I own a home and a yard there are plenty of places for my experiments. Gardens are a celebration. In a non-deliberate and often gentle way, they reflect their owner's personality. What do gardens teach us? I'll share a few of their lessons.

Life is beautiful:  I'm guessing blood pressure drops with exposure to fresh air or when entering a garden environment in general. Even if there weren't health benefits; gardens feed us in every way. If they weren't beautiful, we wouldn't need gardens around hospitals for patients, or recreational gardens with walking paths, and rose gardens.

Don't miss an opportunity:  An empty lawn is like a blank canvas. Before I became a novice lawn decorator, I saw a friend's empty backyard and our planning began. We framed her fence and edges all around with an array of perennials like roses, Russian sage, and lamb's ear. We loved to move plants to new spots to see how they would look aesthetically and how the plants would prosper or fill-out by the corner of the house, along and through the fence, or bordering the garage. Beginning with a few flowers, it spiraled into a full garden. It is a lot like moving furniture when you move plants- in that you can never quite tell how it will work until you try it in the new spot. When you get a garden thriving, the negative space becomes precious in both a utilitarian and ornamental fashion. The unused portions of the garden can guide the onlooker's eyes along the edges and back into the lush landscape.

Survival is fragile, even fickle:  Over 80% of gardeners attempt to plant tomatoes, which are native to the United States. Tomatoes are sturdy but not fool-proof. They need full sun and the right amount of water.  It isn't a plant you can entirely ignore.  Still, tomatoes are manageable. There are plenty of other plants that are finicky or strange or do not adapt well to other climate zones. I suppose people are not all that different from plants. Some are hardy, while others are delicate. Some are dependable while others are flighty; some are invasive while others keep to themselves. There are many varieties to choose from.

A little effort goes a long way:  Delicate plants can be fragile, while others are hard to pare down. If you've ever planted hostas, you know they'll just sit there as promised and come back ever year like clockwork. Daffodils, tulips, bleeding hearts, are similarly predictable. Lily of the valley and mint are both aromatic and love to spread. They need uprooting and restriction methods.

Nature relaxes us, even a little of it:  Bright colors are good for your brain and so is fresh air. By gardening you are going outside more. You're even burning more calories toting those pots, bags, and watering cans around. Besides these stress relievers, gardens teach us to plant and let go to a certain extent.  Not every plant is perfect or exact. 

Patience is a virtue:  When you aren't thinking about it your plants are outside growing. You find one day, your plants are changing how you wanted them to. For example, we have a newly-planted baby Magnolia tree adorning the front yard. It was planted at a tilted angle by the store's delivery service. With a tiny bit of staking and tying to guide it straight, it was a pleasant surprise when it was no longer leaning. Gardens are full of gifts and unexpected ongoings.

Your patience pays off:  In a garden, things are happening with or without you. Nothing is happening in a garden to a non-gardener. Maybe a butterfly passes by. The understanding that you encouraged the butterfly to live there goes missing. This year's new experiment is adding vegetables. I have never eaten anything from my own garden yet. Fresh food should not be a disappointment.

You have some control over your life:  There are about a million metaphors for planting, gardening, and watching life grow. As a gardener, you have the freedom to take what you are given and put it in this earth. You can swap and trade plants out with friends. You can gift tomatoes or rhubarb if you have a good yield. You can pick bouquets for your dining room table. Most importantly, you can do, or plant, precisely whatever you want.

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