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The Awkward Kindness of Strangers

One of the very best t-shirts I ever received as a gift is one that reads: “A girl with a certain, je ne sais quoi.”

It’s pink and is in my cedar chest for the day when Ellie expresses an interest in what her mama used to wear. Who knows? Maybe she’ll also grow into the kind of person with an indescribable “I don’t know what” attitude (I mean. I hope she does, but I can’t know that.)

At the time, the shirt helped me feel pretty and identify myself as someone whose sense of identity is her own. Sometime in high school, I stopped caring about my appearance. I still put an effort into what I looked like, and how I dressed. I just stopped being overly concerned with how others viewed me. It was very liberating.

I do sometimes still wonder what I really look like to strangers? Do they see the sharp profile of my nose? Do they know that I prefer to think of my hair as gingerbread blonde rather than dirty blonde? I just don’t know.

What I do know though, is that apparently when you pay with change at Goodwill, you look like someone who could use a break. Or a helping hand. Maybe both.

Ellie is growing like a 2-year-old wildflower. She comes up to my waist and size 3T shirts are getting too short in the torso. The cuffs barely come to her wrists anymore.

As a result I suggested to my mother-in-law, Nona, that she go shopping with Elle and I today at Goodwill to find some long-sleeved 4T shirts just to get us through the rest of the season. We made our selections and were next in the queue to checkout when Elle very clearly announced “I have to go potty.”

Nona had brought with her, her change purse. They’ve only just moved to Colorado and during their packing found a lot of loose change. As in, a good two or three pounds worth of coins. My father-in-law, the Curmudgeon, teased her that no cashier would want to count out that much money and she, like me, figured that half-price Saturday at Goodwill would mean we wouldn’t rack up that much of a bill.

So while Elle and I are answering the call of nature, Nona is counting out change in orderly piles while the previous person finishes her return (Yep. We got the line where someone wanted to make a return for torn merchandise. To Goodwill.). Ellie and I return and Nona has exactly $15.00 stacked in piles by quarters, dimes, and nickles.

The clothes are all off the hangers, the items rung up and our bill comes to $15.64. I fish the 64 cents out of my wallet and both Nona and I are pretty pleased with our combined math skills. The cashier swipes all of the coins into a pile and begins to recount them.

“You’re a dollar short,” she informs us and then begins to recount the money again.

Nona is a retired elementary school teacher. Counting out coins is the sort of thing she could do in her sleep, but as she starts to get another dollar out of her purse, the man behind us swipes his credit card through the reader and says, “There. Now you’re good. You ladies go treat yourselves to lunch.”

My jaw drops. Not because of what he did, but because we are absolutely not the people most in need of this kindness.

“Thank you,” I tell him. “You really didn’t have to do that.”

I can’t meet his eyes. He’s wearing a flannel jacket and has a small pile of clothes in his arms.

“Don’t worry about it and have a nice rest of your day.”

Nona and I leave Goodwill and don’t speak another word to one another until we get to the car. A car that I maintain myself and recently invested $300 in for its 100,000-plus-mile preventive maintenance. There we try and figure out why we appeared so shabby and resolve that maybe we need to look a little less clueless the next time we go to Goodwill.

That, and decide that the $15.64 for Ellie’s new shirts needs to go to a good cause since I will not be able to look at the shirts that we picked out for her and not think of the fact that some stranger was willing to buy my daughter clothes. I think SafeHouse Denver might be a good place to start.

Either that, or the Denver Aquarium because I sure feel like an awkward turtle after that whole exchange.


It’s “Mrs.” Ninja, actually

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When we adopted our cats Mr. Pirate and I had a very serious conversation. Whose last name should they have?

You don’t often think of pets as needing last names, until they go to the vet that is. Antigone’s name is fairly singular, but Harley is about as common as, well, his orange motorcycle namesake.

Categorizing patient records by first name is ridiculous regardless of who the patient is. So the cats’ last name is Pirate. I figured it would be good preparation for when we eventually had human kiddos since we agreed that our offspring would have whichever last name sounded better with the chosen first name. So Elle is Elle Pirate and as a result, I’m completely out-numbered in our household when it comes to surnames. We’re a house of Pirates and one Mrs. Ninja.

But it’s not a big deal. Mr. Pirate fell in love with me as he first met me – as Amanda Ninja. We always know when solicitors call and it’s a bit of a running joke when mail arrives for Mr. and Mrs. Pirate.

It’s just funny that I can’t deposit a check into our joint checking account if our names are on a check as Mr. Pirate and Mrs. Pirate.

Both funny ha ha and funny awkward.

Here’s the awkward:
In order to deposit the check without having him there at the bank with me and holding my hand, I can do one of two things.

  • Have him co-sign the check and then go back with our marriage license to demonstrate that I’m really who I say I am.


  • Ask the person who wrote the check to write us another.

We’ll be going with the first because the second just demonstrates poor manners. I may be a lot of things – and a stubborn lady who didn’t change her name when she married happens to be one of them – but I don’t have poor manners.

Here’s the funny ha ha:

This whole adventure only reinforces why I didn’t change my name in the first place. My last name is unique. I’ve often maintained that if you’ve met a Ninja, I’m probably related to him or her.

courtesy of

As far as I know, we don’t have any kin in Jonesboro, LA — but maybe we should road-trip there one day to check.

That was certainly true today.

As I pulled out my driver’s license to demonstrate that I am actually the person whose name is attached to the account, the teller remarked, “Oh. I went to school with some Ninjas.”

Eight years ago when we got married and moved to Colorado, Mr. Pirate and I happened to move into the neighboring county of where my dad and his siblings grew up. (In fact! Elle will go to school in the same school district as her Granddaddy, three great uncles and one great aunt.) The teller mentioned, that the Ninjas she knew lived in Fairview Estates and that she went to school with Dale Ninja.

Well guess who happens to be the niece of Dale Ninja?

I didn’t have a chance to let her reminisce, or to mention that my uncles all live in Oklahoma now. There was too much of a line growing behind me.

But maybe when I go back with my marriage license to deposit money into the checking account, I can let her know that my uncle is well and in good health.

That’d be the polite thing to do after all.



[Photo courtesy of Seriously. We need to go visit.]


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Teamwork has been on my mind a lot this summer. Not just the concept of it and it’s importance, but also the structure and how it works.

It works, because others want to to work. As the IT Crowd clip also shows, communication and the ability to be flexible are exactly the structure that are needed to make a team happen.

I didn’t really do team sports as a kid. I played soccer for exactly one season. Long enough to get a trophy and that’s it. In high school, as a member of the symphonic band as a freshman, I was required to join the marching band. I didn’t want to. I didn’t like football and I didn’t think it was possible to play an instrument and move at the same time. I quit the symphonic band after that first year, but I continued to be a part of the marching band because I liked the team aspect of it. Sure there are soloists and you stick out like a sore thumb if you’re out of formation, but it was a non-competitive way to be a part of a team.

At work, I’ve recently had the opportunity to talk with my fleet manager at length about how he’s working to build a functional team in the garage. My two take-aways from these conversations are that:

  1. Rock stars do not make good teammates and
  2. You won’t ever have the perfect team, just moments of a great team.

The rock star thing makes sense. His basic idea behind that is that rock stars, like soloists, shine really brightly but you can’t expect them to carry the band. They might carry the group for a little while, but it’s not sustainable. Rock stars get burned out or become full of themselves and quit to go do their own thing. Regardless, a team made up of rock stars is not a team. It’s a high maintenance entity that will only last for so long.

A team on the other hand has staying power. When people work together the burden is shared and more can get accomplished. Right now, at work, we’re in a prelude to future awesome things. Last fall, our community voted to approve a multi-million dollar bond for education. Our chunk of the pie is that we will receive a badly needed new central bus garage.
Those moments of greatness are enough to keep people energized and believing in the common goal. In the case of roller derby, I get that fix by volunteering to work tournaments as an official.

WyoCup2015 Team Zebra - photo courtesy of TeraBites

WyoCup2015 Team Zebra – photo courtesy of TeraBites

Being an official is kind of like being a clerk at the grocery store. You’re absolutely not the reason why people watch roller derby, but without referees and non-skating officials (NSOs) roller derby can’t happen. Or rather it can, but then it becomes anarchy on skates.

To prevent anarchy on skates, refs chase the skaters and call out penalties and NSOs chase the refs and echo back the penalties. Or signal back the points. Or tell skaters where to sit in the penalty box (a lot of derby kind of revolves around penalties…).

Again, not glamorous. In fact, you’re basically the bad guy from a Perils of Pauline serial – standing around the track and twirling your mustache just waiting for something dastardly to happen.

Is that a clipboard in your hand or are you just happy to see me?

Is that a clipboard in your hand, or are you just happy to see me?

But it’s SUPER fun! I like the energy that comes from this kind of collaborative work. Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Wyoming where I worked with officials from all across the states and was placed on a crew with three of my personal favorites in the roller derby officiating sphere.

In May, I worked a tournament here in Colorado where I met someone my age who not only lives in the town in Iowa where I was born, but works for the local newspaper. Small freaking world or what?

Burnouts still happen. Rock stars still happen. But when you get right down to it, tournaments are the best way to experience derby because it’s derby on a deadline. There is no time for egos. You just have to get down and and get to the derby.

I even like the sound of the word.

The Question For A Distractingly Sexy Mechanic

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The Question: So. What made you want to become a mechanic?

Possible Responses:

  • Because I like being Distractingly Sexy
  • Because I like fixing things (this response is also known as “here’s the Cliff Notes version of my life after leaving journalism”).

I’m getting pretty adept at answering The Question politely and with more enthusiasm than snark.

The first possible response though comes from this whole fracas started by Nobel Prize laureate Tim Hunt about women in STEM being distracting in the lab and prone to crying when criticized.

It’s funny because he chose to make that statement at the World Conference For Science Journalists — because that’s a group of people you can trust to really get to the meat of a speech in a hurry.

Call Twitter’s reaction and the #distractinglysexy a mockery of his career-ending poor choice of words. In reality though, it just highlights what it’s like for women in male-oriented fields.

For starters, you get asked really personal questions that no one ever asks your male counterparts.

Oh hey Sally Ride. Will 100 tampons be enough for a 7-day mission in space?

Then there’s also the unspoken undercurrent of doubt coming from the person grilling you about how you’re doing your job.

Are you sure you want to get your hands dirty?

This week I was asked and answered The Question when one of our drivers visited the garage for an oil top-off. He got the Cliff Notes version. As a public employee, it’s the best response.

What’s always funny is the moment that leads up to The Question.

Tuesday it was after I scooted under the 14-passenger shorty bus and checked to see why it was a quart low on oil. Newer vehicle. No staining. No major leaks around the oil pan. Oil filter was snug and no drips at the drain plug. Therefore, it probably didn’t get its full 6 qts. at the last oil change. Or the filter is a hungry little sponge. Or there’s something else going on.

Duly noted. Something I’ll monitor and we’re moving along now.

But wait!

Next comes the small talk and The Question because I did an unladylike thing.

It was raining and I didn’t bother to grab my creeper first. Just laid down on the ground and inched over to the oil pan. My creeper is easily 60 ft. away from where he parked. I’m lazy and crossing the garage takes effort and time away from my buses.

Cue The Question.

I know. Being a mechanic does not make me a lady scientist.

I fix things. I only sometimes conduct experiments … and even then it’s just data collection and analysis. So I’m not really a scientist. And I’m not exactly a member of the STEM community. Details.

What it does make me though is a woman, like Patrice Banks, who was also tired of feeling discriminated against because of her sex. Banks started Girls Auto Clinic in Philadelphia to empower other women to have the vocabulary and knowledge to know what’s going on under the hood. However, she mentioned in her B-section article in the Washington Post that a technical high school class full of teenage boys admitted that women are too much of a distraction to work with men.

So maybe the problem isn’t ladies in the lab or in the garage …

Even if Hunt meant no harm with his statement, it’s 20-bloody-15. We shouldn’t be fussing over the undercarriage of who’s in the lab. We should be working on designing viable alternative energy solutions and cures for cancer.

If you’re going to advocate for segregation of the sexes in the lab, why stop there?

Better keep those clerks from working together at the grocery store. Can’t let those wily accountants sit too close together. They might be playing footsie. Better still. Let’s eliminate the possibility of anyone finding a co-worker attractive and learning how to deal with separating their personal life from their professional responsibilities.

I know.

Isolation bubble-suits for everyone.

I’m sure a lady scientist could figure out how to invent one once she’s able to see through her tears.

She’s The Tear In My Heart

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Elle broke my heart this morning. It’s happened before, but we switched to summer hours this week and today was the first day I’ve dropped her off at daycare in over a year.

Mornings have been her and Mr. Pirate’s time since I’ve worked the morning shift this school year – 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

And over the course of the year she’s transitioned up into the more traditional preschool setting. She’s doing lots of really awesome things like putting on her shoes by herself (usually on the correct foot) and taking her plate to the counter when she finishes dinner. She’s becoming independent and that’s exactly what she should be doing. Elle is learning her own mind and I am so proud of her.

But sometimes I still have these moments of weakness. Like today. At school, I helped her out of her track jacket, hung it up in her cubby, greeted one of her classmates who was standing at the door and, then waved goodbye. Elle just stood there, green plaid lunch bag in hand and said: “I want my mama.”

Her teachers are great at deflecting potential melt-down situations. I stepped aside so she couldn’t see me and through the open door I heard them usher Elle to the refrigerator to put away her lunch. They then invited her to sit down and eat her morning snack with the rest of the 2-year-olds.

Yeah. She’s still just 2 and already she’s tugging at my heart strings.

Women have always had the greatest potential to break my heart.

My sister has broken my heart a time or two (I’ve broken hers too — it’s what sisters do to one another.) Three out of four college roommates broke my heart over the course of our time together. But Anne broke it first.

For some reason, our teachers thought it would be a great idea to take the entire eighth grade and let us loose at this big wilderness park. I mean, this is a place where there’s a lake and paddle boats during the summer. It’s a great place to spend the day, but it baffles me that they thought unsupervised 13-year-olds could handle it. I marvel that we didn’t all drown or leave pink and bumpy with poison ivy.

As soon as we disembarked the buses, my best friend Anne very deliberately gave me the slip. I remember her stepping off the bus ahead of me, looking back and then walking away very quickly with two other girls who I thought were also my friends.

We had sat next to each other on the bus ride and she gave no indication that we were going to play a big game of hide and seek. So we do-si-doed around the buses for a few minutes and then she was just gone.

Maybe we spoke. Maybe I called out to her, but at that moment of her avoiding me she might as well have physically hit me. It hurt so bad to realize she didn’t want me around anymore.

We had been best friends since the first grade. This was the girl who I took dance lessons with. Whose house I played at in the afternoons until “All Things Considered” came on NPR. She almost had her eye poked out with a stick one summer and I felt so guilty because I was at the beach and not there to protect her.

And just like that, she walked away from me and we weren’t friends anymore.

I realize now that we had just grown apart. It happens. Relationships evolve and change and sometimes that change happens without both parties being aware of it.

She was interested in flirting and makeup. I liked reading and playing outside. I had a vague idea that flirting was a thing you could do, I just hadn’t figured it out yet.

I ended up spending the rest of that day wandering adrift and unsure of where I fit into the social structure of being a teenager without my best friend.

Our breakup made me stronger and spawned my own fierce independence. I can travel alone and am content to sit apart in a crowded room. I’m still not 100 percent at ease solely in the company of women though. People just hurt one another. It’s part of opening your heart to other people in the first place.

I know now that hearts tear and then get mended back together again and again. Like those heart-shaped necklaces that read “Best Friends” when they’re whole and “Be Fri” and “St Ends” when they’re apart (Anne and I had one of those necklaces. Mine’s probably in a box in the basement…).

Elle’s needing me this morning was just another tear in my heart. I’ll heal and we’ll both be stronger for it. I just don’t want to be the one who leaves her standing alone beside the bus.


Sometimes A Toothbrush Is Just A Toothbrush

This is one of those posts that will possibly scandalize my mother.
Sorry Momma. For all other readers, please consider this your adult content warning.

Brushing your teeth is a lot like having sex.

After a certain age, most people do it but no one really talks about it in casual conversation. There’s really no wrong way to brush your teeth. Sure, plenty of people have opinions about how’s the best way or what works for them. When you get right down to it though, as long as you’re happy with the results, it really doesn’t matter how the job gets done (As long as it’s consensual and you respect one another’s boundaries that is.).

Couples and other people who share space will talk about it as a sort of courtesy to one another. “Hey, is it cool if I brush my teeth?” You know. Just to make sure that those around aren’t going to be inconvenienced by the fact that you’re going to be carrying on for some time and completely hogging the sink.

But you don’t talk to your co-workers about brushing your teeth. You don’t waltz through the office with a toothbrush in your mouth advertising to everyone that you prefer a vibrating brush over a manual one.

So then why is it that people seem to think it’s OK, to ask women if they’re pregnant? Giving birth once does not automatically grant permission for people to inquire about a woman’s reproductive health.

Scratch that.

NOTHING gives ANYONE permission to inquire about a woman’s reproductive health.

(We’ll go back to dental hygiene in just a minute.)

Elle is almost 2-years-old and I am asked regularly: “When are you going to have another baby?” Not once has Mr. Pirate been asked that same question.

Not. Once.

My work is such that I have one set of immediate co-workers and then two sets of peripheral co-workers. This second set is occupied by people with whom:
a) I have regular interactions because we’re all in the same department.
b) I have regular interactions with because we’re both the blue-collar side of the white-collar education industry.

This morning – while feeling a bit gross because honestly my body has never functioned well before the sun’s up – a female colleague (of the set 2a) asked if I was feeling alright. I told her no, not feeling the best and then she asked, loudly, “Are you pregnant?” In front of three other male colleagues.

She might as well have declared that my breath stinks and demanded if I’d brushed my teeth yet today.

So I told her (and three assembled male colleagues), “No, I’m not pregnant. You have to have sex first for that to happen and I’ve been missing out on step one. There’s your quick sex ed lesson for the day.”

Courtesy of:

Courtesy of:

Yep. I volunteered WAAAAYYY too much information. But she wanted to know.

Later, she apologized and we talked about it. I explained that Mr. Pirate has NOT. ONCE. been asked this same question so it makes me a little tetchy.

Like I said. Elle is almost two. I’ve been asked this question — or variations on the same theme — frequently since she was four-months-old.

I understand that people mean well. I get that they’re trying to make conversation. But, it can come across all too easily as prying into things that are painful. Or inappropriate. Or just plain none of your business.

A better question might be, “Hey, how’s your kid? She/he’s how old again? Wow. That’s a really great age.”

Better yet. Let’s just assume we all brush our teeth and call it a day.


On Grief and Grieving

Being a person is complicated.

My great-aunt died early yesterday morning and her death is something I’m grappling with in different ways at different times. Aunt FernI am full of regret that I didn’t get Elle out to meet her. She lived 2 hours away and I couldn’t be bothered to take my baby girl out to meet my Aunt Fern.

I am sad that she’s dead.

I am content with the manner of her death — as if my emotions in this matter at all — that she died in her sleep and as my dad put it: “She’s probably didn’t even know.”


Aunt Fern drove a school bus for a number of years and had one story she’d tell time and again whenever we got to together. Like many of my lady relatives of her generation, she’s on the shorter side and yet whenever she had to do her annual driver preparedness test, she spoke her pride about how she’d take her brake thumper and walk along the bus and point out all of the parts she knew. She knew her bus and even though I never rode with her, I don’t doubt that she was a damn fine bus driver.

I am also kind of done with mourning. But you can’t be. You can’t put your foot down and say this is the last time I will mourn because it will happen again. You open your heart and love and miss people when they’re gone until the day you die. It’s just the way it is.

Let’s add this one to the list of how I feel:

I feel like an emotional cripple that I can type this and only feel a dull ache.

Just felt like I needed to say these things out loud. Posts of actual content will likely resume next week. Dad will fly in for the funeral so that means we’re going to actually get stuff done on the Jade House.

Editor’s Note: Spell check helpfully pointed out that my writing is full of the passive voice today. Mlle. Holt would be so disappointed. My writing is getting sloppy and that’s why I need to pollute the Internet again with my ramblings.