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Skeletons in the Backyard

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My parents will soon move from the house where I grew up and I have mixed feelings about the whole endeavor.

It’ll be good because  they’ll leave Virginia and move closer to me, but in doing so, will move farther away from my sister.

They’re having a new house built ultimately so that they can age in place, but I have a hard time visualizing them in their new space.

Back in the spring, my sister and I jotted down a list of all of the nice features of that old house. Skylights in the kitchen — one car-garage (in a neighborhood that does not have garages at all) — well-maintained year-round garden. But there’s other things about that house too that not everyone will love nor any potential buyer will ever know about.

Things like the guinea pig skeleton in the backyard. Scooter, a hand-me-down calico colored guinea pig, died the night before we were going to take her to the exotic animal veterinarian. I remember checking on her periodically throughout the evening and then going in to find that she wasn’t breathing.

We’d had other pets die before, but Scooter was mine. She’d been my responsibility since a neighbor kid couldn’t take care of her anymore and she came to live with us. Her grief was mine to carry and deal with. I emptied out a shoe box and we buried her the next day in the backyard. Every year when my parents go to till up the soil in the garden I think about where she’s buried and wonder how much evidence of her would be left. I wonder if whomever buys their house will ever find her tiny skeleton in tact or just dig up her bones one at a time and know them for what they are — a memory of child-sized grief.



Making Friends

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Ellie is having her first ever play-date on Saturday and I envy her ease at making friends.

Granted it’s with Sia, her best friend since they started in the infant room together at day care, but still. She’ll engage with other kiddos at the park and just instantly start playing with them as if they’ve always been friends.

I wonder if it’s the same for dog parents and if secretly, introverts have children or dogs in our lives as a way to force us out of our comfort zone?

Oh, you don’t like talking to other people? Here, teach this little person how to talk and play well with others.

Need to keep your social engagements to a minimum? Puppy needs to go for walks and everyone likes to talk to you when your pup is so dang cute.

This evening we had a picnic dinner at the library park and Mr. Pirate and Ellie were playing on the rock structure when a younger kiddo came up and started playing with her. Without much else to do, Mr. Pirate and I eventually wandered over to where the other girl’s parents were sitting. We talked a little, about the girls and their ages, about the fact that they’ve only recently moved to the area and then about the weather. By then, I was pretty much tapped out for conversation. I just don’t know what to say to people beyond that.

I think I’ve always felt introverted although my mom insists that I’m not. She’ll tell you that I’m out-going, and I can be. But I also reach a point where I’m ready to retreat inside myself and want to be left alone. It’s a balancing act though. One thing I have learned about myself is that there’s only so much social isolation I can handle – four months maternity leave was almost too much. I like people, just in moderation.

Maybe I just need to take a page from Elle’s book and play with people whether they want to be my friend or not.

In other news:

  • Camp NaNoWriMo was a slog this summer. I need to get back to writing in a very large way. My spelling has fallen off and ideas and thoughts don’t come so easily to my soggy and tired brain.
  • SO MANY BUSES! We took delivery in June of 10 new buses. Because they will be assigned to my terminal, I’ve been assigned to checking them in. That’s been an adventure. More on that later.


If I Was An English Teacher — lalalalalalaa

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This is one of those times where I really want an evil twin.

OK. Maybe just a clone. Or a stunt double. Basically, someone who can help me be in two places at once.

I want to keep being a mechanic, but sometimes the siren song of my past life as an English major wafts into my head and I want to drop my tools and go teach high school. Middle school would be OK too but the basic gist is that I have ideas for lesson plans to meet students where they are and help them get to the point where literacy is relevant.

I want to teach literary analysis using this post from Into The Garbage Chute, Flyboy:




it’s kinda cool how our generation has created actual tone in the way we write online. like whether we: write properly with perfect grammar, shrthnd everythin, use capitals to emphasise The Point, use extra letters or characters for emotion!!!!!, and much more – it means we can have casual conversations, effectively make jokes using things like sarcasm that’s usually hard to understand without context and much more. this “incorrect English” has really opened avenues of online conversation that isn’t accessible with “correct English” which is pretty interesting

#this is why attempts by the media to portray online communication by “’‘millenials”“ really frustrate me #because there are Rules okay #like see that’s different to saying ’’there are rules” (tags via @soaringsparrows)

My class and I literally taught some of the nuances of this to our english teacher, things such as the difference between “yes” and “yes.” or “..” and “…”. It makes perfect sense linguistically that we would create this complexity to ease communication in a medium without body language and tone, but what my teacher was really floored about was that none of this had ever “learned” it, we’re “native speakers” of a whole new type of english.

That’s how you make Shakespeare and Chaucer relevant to teenagers. You take wooden and difficult dialog that doesn’t work as standalone text and you get students to interpret it into language that they understand.

Give me Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy as a tweet post. Take the relevant bits and distill it down to it’s most important parts. Take Chaucer’s old English and put it into an online exchange…except maybe not the “The Miller’s Tale” because, you know. Innuendo.

My birthday was last month and I’m 10 years removed from the idealistic graduate who had her heart dead-set on being a reporter. Friends asked me why I wasn’t going to graduate school. Why I was picking up and moving to Georgia for a job at a suburban newspaper in a town where I knew nothing of the local landscape.

Being a reporter made sense. It’s what I’d wanted to do since the sixth grade. Georgia just gave me the chance to try that out and learn instead that the integrity and quality of the leaders I work for holds more value to me than a paycheck at my dream job. Tough life lesson, but one I needed.

That, and it seemed as though the only option for me in graduate school would be to teach.

At 22, I wasn’t ready to teach. I didn’t think I’d have anything to say to a room full of teenagers. I still don’t know if I do, but the ideas are percolating for how I’d actually be able to fill nine months of lesson plans.

Lesson Plan Ideas

  • Native speech and text analysis — see above.
  • Resume writing and why spelling counts — Reason one, people just need resumes. Reason two, it would be valuable to have my sister (a biologist who is involved in hiring decisions) or my derby friend Jude E. Boom (an HR professional with gorgeous tattoos) serve as guest speakers to discuss the merits of a well-crafted resume and how their activities and choices in school matter more than students think.
  • Novel soundtrack — This one would be for required reading books but would work with talking about story arcs and plot development too. Give me the playlist of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” What song shows Scout early in the book? How about the courtroom scene?

It’s not much and it’s hardly something I can use to justify pursuing a master’s in education, but it’s a start.

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.