A dull ache for a sharp object

When Mom’s pocket knife gets confiscated in Italy

 

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Photo: Paul Felberbauer on Unsplash

When the security employee at the gate asked me to step aside, I remembered. My pocket knife. Oh no, my pocket knife, I thought, realizing I had left it earlier in the little cosmetic bag inside my purse. I had forgotten to check it with my luggage and now I was at the gate and my knife was going away.

The uniformed employee explained in her thick Venetian accent, “We must take this from you. If it’s you really need, you go downstairs, fill out the form, and it be sent to you.”

Standing there, I knew we wouldn’t have time to make those arrangements. And besides, it wasn’t a valuable possession. But then again, it was.

For twenty-five years, I had carried that pocket knife.

Back in 1990, I had chosen it from a mound of identical ones heaped in a small cardboard box next to a cash register in the sporting goods department at a Kmart in Topeka, Kansas. It had cost my boyfriend (now my husband) an entire dollar. It featured a steel blade, a wooden casing, and bronze hardware that over the years, had polished to a golden shine from being nestled in my purse for so long.

Similar to how candy bars are placed at checkout stands to captivate small children, that box of $1 knives held equal allure for the fishermen and hunters who visited that department. Not that I was one of them. We had gone to the store to use the restrooms tucked away behind the restaurant at the back of the store. As he waited on me, he spotted the knives and bought one for me.

“Keep it in your purse. It’ll come in handy,” he told me. He was right.

That little knife had been many places… all over Missouri and Kansas, Nashville, Asheville, several cities in Maine and Vermont, Columbus, Atlanta, Sarasota, Highland Park, Phoenix and other Arizona locals, multiple sights in the Los Angeles area, Oregon and Washington State, Cape Town and other South African cities, DC, New York City, Taos, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Dallas, New Orleans. Over the years, we had journeyed across the country to attend annual family reunions, exhibit my husband’s ceramic art at festivals, and accompany him as he served artist residencies.

And now, its final destination would be Venice, Italy, where it would be left behind, a hindrance to a quick departure, discarded inside a gray plastic tub under the counter.

I regret leaving that silly little knife because it wasn’t just a pocket knife. It was a symbol of family life and motherhood and had been more often used for non-cutting tasks. That knife spread peanut butter on sandwiches many more times that it ever cut into a fish or snipped a cord on a tent or tarp. It was this mother’s indispensable tool. As such, it was always easy to locate.

My son and daughter both knew I carried a pocket knife and I passed it back to them at least once or twice on every road trip we took over the years. Need to break open a family-sized plastic bag of M&Ms? Get Mom’s knife. Opening a DVD? Get Mom’s knife. Got a stray thread hanging from your hem? Ask Mom to hand back her pocket knife.

Just prior to leaving Venice, as I buckled up inside the plane, regretting my decision to leave my knife, I recalled how six years earlier, I had flown from Johannesburg to Atlanta with a knife my son had purchased as a souvenir. Despite its massive four-inch blade, he had somehow forgotten to pack it in a checked bag. I offered to stow it inside my purse, warning him it would likely be confiscated at our first departure.

Nope. X-rays and inspections by hand never discovered it. Of course, that would happen to a brand new knife without any peanut butter experience. And of course, that knife has since been long forgotten, I might add.

As for my knife, I have since replaced it, but the blade on my new one is narrower and not quite as functional as the one left in Venice. I mean, you can spread peanut butter on a slice of bread if you really want to, but it’s the not the same as my Kmart special.

I’m one of those people who feels sorry for the last Christmas tree on the lot. So it’s no surprise that I’m still feeling nostalgic for my lost pocket knife… a year and a half later.

Somewhere in Italy, it’s languishing in a gray bin of confiscated sharp objects. Maybe it’s been recycled by now. Maybe it’s been donated to a charity. Hopefully, it’s performing some mother’s mundane tasks, making her life a little easier, and definitely more memorable.


Had an experience similar to mine? Like this post, follow my blog, and feel to leave a comment about any precious object that’s drifted out of your life. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Dear new parents: Complicate your child’s life. Spell their name weird.

Test drive some of the names I’ve collected for this post.

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Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

Dear New Parents,

It’s time to choose a name for your baby, the most beautiful baby who has ever existed in the entire history of the Earth. How do you even begin to accomplish this most important of destiny-defining parental tasks?

Well, based on recent trends, you start by choosing a somewhat traditional name, but then you spell it weird. For example, thinking about Sarah? Go with it, but make sure you spell it Sarrah. Prefer Sydney? That’s fine, just spell it Sidnee. It’s cuter that way, and complicated, too, and besides, everybody’s doing it. All good reasons.

To help you choose a name and spell it weird, below please find a two-step form so you too can make life difficult for your newborn.

Step 1: Once you understand your motivations behind choosing a name for your baby, you’ll know nothing more than exactly why you would do this to a kid. Check no more than two, (okay, maybe three), below:

___I want to make my child re-spell their name a bajillion times.

___I want to take revenge on my child for a difficult labor and/or delivery.

___I want to show the world how creative and individual my child will be and I’m going to do it with my child’s primary identifier.

___I want to make my child repeat the re-spelling of their name, double-check and triple-confirm that it’s right, only to see it still spelled wrong on the receipt, coffee cup, diploma, etc.

___I want to ensure that my child will never find a pre-printed personalized key chain, miniature license plate, or bracelet ever in their entire life, thereby saving me $5.95 plus tax at least three times every time we go someplace new.

___I want everyone to know that my child is so unique, I have no choice but to bestow him or her with an equally unique name that makes everyone ask, “What?! Who?! Whyyyyyy?”

Step 2: Once you understand your “why,” test drive some of the names below. You’ll find more girl choices than boy choices. Not sure the reason, but it seems people spend way more time trying to be cute with girls than boys. Circle your first, second, and third choices, and then apply them to your dog or spouse over a two- or three-day period or to save time, go with your number one choice and force it upon your child for all time.

The names and their traditional spellings are on the left below, followed by the weirdly spelled variants, which by the way, are actually spellings I’ve seen lately on social media and on TV.

Girls’ Names

Abigail–Abagayle

Alexis–Allexous

Britney—Brytani

Cassidy—Kassadee

Casey—Kaci

Chloe—Chloey

Crystal—Chrystle

Emily—Emmali

Hailey—Halee

Katie—Kadee

Kimberly—Kymberleigh

Kinsley—Kinzlea

Lexi—Leksei

Lindsay—Linsie

Madeline—Madalynne

Mikayla—Micayla, Makaila, Makayla

Olivia—Alivia

Sierra—Syiera

 

Boys’ Names

Caley—Kaylyb

Conrad—Konrad

Jared—Jarid

Jordan—Jorden

Lucas—Lukus

Trey—Tray

Cameron—Kamryn

These are all I’ve been able to collect so far, but they should be enough to get you well on your way to complicating your child’s life. So don’t forget: as the parent, you are in total control here. Consider the long-term effects of your spelling choice… then choose the weirdest spelling you can dream up.


Heard or seen any outlandishly creative spellings for traditional names? Click “like” below and reply in the comments. Also, feel free to correct me if I’m taking this a bit far or have failed to see some redeeming value in the weird spellings of names. 

 

My daughter and the peeping tom of Venice

 

It was scary to think how much time and effort this man had put into his actions that night.

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Photo: Msporch on Pixabay

Imagine being 22, female, and in Venice, Italy for a three-month internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. At 2 a.m. on the day your father plans to leave after helping you get settled for a week, you notice that the motion sensor outside your door is lighting up frequently. Too frequently, in fact, for this time of night. In addition, some of the lights are brighter than others. That’s odd.

You also hear strange noises outside. You ask your father to check the exterior heating/AC unit that you assume must be malfunctioning. He discovers not a malfunctioning appliance, but a rickety lawn chair that someone has been using to stand on so they can peek inside your apartment.

Read more about my daughter’s internship experience here.

The peeping tom had made his first appearance earlier that evening, after dark around 7:30. My daughter’s landlord–let’s call her Maria–had come over to help with the t.v. reception and while they were making adjustments, my husband and daughter had both noticed someone outside the apartment loitering in the walkway. They discussed the strange loiterer, but Maria eventually dismissed him, explaining that he was likely just someone from the neighborhood who was curious with the activity in the apartment since it had been vacant for quite some time.

So, in the middle of the night, when my husband ventured outside to check on the furnace and instead found a rickety chair, and a man with frizzy, shoulder-length hair rounding the corner about thirty feet down the corridor, real concern set in. Trying to assess the situation, my husband walked further down the corridor and noticed another lawn chair that had been stepped through around the corner. My husband immediately called Maria, who then immediately called the polizei.

While they waited for Maria and the police to arrive, both my husband and daughter tried to make sense of it all. Upon reflection, they both figured the peeping tom had ruined his first chair while peering in the window, and gone to retrieve another. My daughter also realized that the brighter lights from the motion sensor were more than likely flashes from a camera. Did he deliberately walk back and forth often enough to cause the motion sensor light to camouflage the camera flashes? It was scary to think about how much time and effort this man had put into his actions that night.

Fifteen minutes later, three uniformed police officers were there assessing the situation. Then, unbelievably, the frizzy-haired man sauntered by. Actually, because of the way the walkway turned, there was no way for him to avoid the small gathering without looking suspicious. He tried to play it cool, his camera hanging from his neck.

When my husband recognized the man, he nodded to the police officers who stopped the man and asked what he was doing out so late at night. He replied that he was a photographer taking night shots of the city.

Maria didn’t stand for it. Her Italian temper flared and her arms waved in anger. She accused him of spying and told him to leave the neighborhood and never return. She informed him that a police report was being filed at that moment and if anything happened later, he would be sorry. He was never seen again.

Although this was incredibly scary for me to hear about back in Missouri, it was good to know that, in general, Venice is a quiet municipality known to be “one of Italy’s safest cities.” The full-time resident population in the historic city center has declined dramatically in recent years, and today rests at about 55,000. We had researched the city’s crime statistics before our daughter left on her trip and were reassured. What causes the most trouble for the millions of tourists who visit each year? Pickpockets. What about violent crime? According to Frommers, it’s considered rare.

The next day, my daughter actually considered returning home; maybe this adventure was too much to take on and this incident was a sign that it just wasn’t meant to be. After an anxious day of pondering her options, she decided to stay; however, she did want to find a different apartment.

After attempting and failing to find an alternative rental with the help of my husband (who postponed his return flight for three days), my daughter returned to her original apartment, where Maria assured her she would be safe.

Still, my husband and my daughter took a few precautions. Before leaving, my husband helped her cover the windows with white paper. They figured that if a peeping tom had no view, there would be no temptation. They also made a point to meet the older woman, a Venetian native, living just across the passageway.

Over the next weeks, my daughter got on with her new Italian life. She began working a routine schedule at the museum and truly felt comfortable and at home there. She made many international friends. She became more brave and confident in her new surroundings.

Gradually, her strange experience became a distant memory. Most importantly, she didn’t let the peeping tom’s bad behavior define or detract from one of the most valuable experiences of her life so far. It had been a rough start, but she was determined to thrive.


Thanks for reading! If you found this post interesting, click like so others may more easily find it. Also, feel free to leave a comment on your own strange travel experiences.

 

 

The Toy I Trashed: The Hot Wheels Slimecano

With lots of pieces and lots of slime, I should have known better.

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Photo: Christopher Harris | Unsplash

 

Every parent has been there. You buy that cool toy your child yearns for and within minutes you realize: BIG MISTAKE.

So, in the spirit of Christmas, I thought I would relate my own such experience with the Hot Wheels Slimecano Playset… y’know, to relive the “joy” once again and possibly save another parent from buying this behemoth. After all, even though some cursory online searching indicates this toy has been discontinued, one or two units could still be lurking out there on a dusty store shelf or in an online retailer’s inventory.

In a word, the Hot Wheels Slimecano was formidable. Introduced in 2004, this apparatus was composed of an armload of plastic pieces that snapped or otherwise fit together. My eight-year-old son had seen it advertised on TV and wanted it desperately.

All those plastic pieces were accompanied by directions that explained which parts attached to which other parts, which combined to form race tracks, slime reservoirs, ramps, and other components that, when completely assembled, resulted in an ominous and wobbly gray, brown and orange tripod-like structure down which my son could send his cars. So awesome, Mom.

Also, there was somehow a skull or dragon head involved in the design of the thing, although I don’t remember the significance of that, other than maybe it was there to advise parents in “Jolly Roger”-style of the gooey mess that was about to be made.

An unsettling slime concoction was key to the Slimecano. I don’t remember if it was a slime we made ourselves from ingredients supplied in the box, or if it was included in the package already prepared in packets, but it was there, a thick, gloppy translucent orange goop dotted with dark specks. This slime provided the magic of the toy.

For a fleeting five minutes, my son played with the Slimecano. He was mesmerized watching his car careen down the plastic track… until it hit the slime and needed to be pushed through an oozing river of the stuff and then guided around a puddle at the bottom of the track. This all happened to the same unfortunate car. After all,  the wheels on a car can only move when they are not embedded with slime. My son soon figured out that this was a toy that required him to sacrifice his least favorite car. Send that car down the Slimecano once, clog up the wheels, tire treads, and undercarriage, and voila! auto salvage in miniature.

Then came the very unmagical clean-up time. While snapping apart the Slimecano, my son discovered the entire apparatus was encrusted with the orange goo. So was the floor. And his mom’s patience. As he dismantled the game, washed off each piece, and shoved the plastic collection back into the box, we knew that the Slimecano may have just had its one and only use. The game was over and disappointment was the victor. Thanks, Hot Wheels.

So there you have it, my gift to you: a cautionary tale of the toy I trashed. Have a similar toy story in your family? Tell me about it in the comments. We can laugh about it now, can’t we?!


If you enjoyed this post, click like so others can find it. Follow my blog for more posts. Thanks for reading!

Yes, send your daughter to Italy. Alone.

 

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My daughter in Venice. Photo: Stephanie Trujillo

Last December 2, I backed out of the driveway headed for the rural middle school in southwestern Missouri where I teach language arts. It was 7:02 a.m. My phone rang. I saw it was my daughter. Awfully early to get a call. I wondered whether something was wrong.

“Mom!?”

“Yeah, what’s going on?”

“I got the internship!” My heart soared. Two months earlier, she had applied for an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum in Venice, Italy. She would venture to the beautiful floating city to undertake museum duties such as guarding masterpieces, giving presentations, hosting tours, and sculpture cleaning from Feb. 2 to May 2.

She was beyond excited. So was I, but now that her acceptance was official, it was impossible to imagine her moving to a foreign country and working for three long months away from her home, her language, her friends, her family, her life. The night she received the acceptance email, I lay in bed and cried.

I simply could not see it happening. but it did. True, it was a rough transition for everyone at first, but we made it, and it was a beautiful, life-changing experience… for her and me.

And let’s be honest, I realize this isn’t intimidating for everyone. Many kids and their parents have no problem doing this type of thing; however, for Midwesterners like us, just traveling to the coasts of the U.S. is a major excursion. In our eyes, Venice might as well have been Venus.

Internships that pay, like my daughter’s, are popular and highly valued. Study abroad programs are also. Should you ever be so fortunate as to have your child venture out alone on a similar endeavor, here are some tips to get you through it.

1. Be Strong. Even though I was excited, I was also scared for her, but I couldn’t let my reservations known. I had to be strong and encouraging because I knew that deep down she likely had reservations as well. Even though living in Italy and this particular internship had been her dream ever since we discovered it on Google, interrupting her college career and moving to a foreign country would definitely be outside her “comfort zone.” I had to show I was positive about this opportunity.

2. Send your spouse to get her settled. This was my first and best idea. My husband would fly over with her in January to help her get settled and accustomed to her new home. After all, she had never been to Italy, or even Europe for that matter. She had traveled with our family to South Africa five years earlier, and with a group of other college students and veterans to Vietnam in 2015. But Italy? For three months? Alone?

3. Make sure she doesn’t stand out. We Americans like our colors. Once my husband realized her bright floral umbrella could be spied far ahead through a crowd, he purchased her a black one. In looking at her Facebook posts that first week, I noticed her eye-catching, crimson-red purse.  I texted my husband to make sure to get her a black one of those, too. Maybe we were being overly protective, but after watching a few Youtube videos of tourists and residents walking around Venice, we knew the city is a labyrinth of narrow, sometimes dark, walkways interspersed with those picture-perfect canals. No reason to look like an outsider, especially if you’re female.

4. Use technology. Numerous Facetime calls, the app People Tracker, Facebook, and Instagram made Italy seem not quite so far away. She started a blog called “From Venice with Love” that kept her in touch with friends at home. Happily, her work and social schedule quickly filled her time, and posting to Facebook and Instagram became more convenient.

5. Send a care package. We waited a couple of weeks, but then sent things from home she couldn’t find there. For example, the Venice grocery stores she frequented didn’t carry American basics such as Ranch salad dressing or pancake syrup. Peanut butter is  hard to find. So are Ziploc bags.

6. Visit. If possible, visit for a short time about halfway through. This helped me understand the new lifestyle my daughter was experiencing. Her pictures and posts made more sense and I gained a new appreciation for the life-changing time she was having. Plus, it was Venice, people. We had to.

7. Break the trip into “chunks.” This made the trip seem more “doable.” My daughter’s internship broke down into three parts: one five-week period after my husband left, one weeklong chunk when we would visit, and finally one six-week chunk. Honestly, this last part flew by for both my daughter and I as she was finally comfortable and confidently knew her way around the city.

8. Pray. I relied on this daily. It was a great comfort to know that He would protect and care for her continually.

My daughter’s Venice experience was indeed life-changing. She now has an international set of friends she keeps up with daily through What’s App and she can’t wait to return and tour southern Italy. Her internship also confirmed her next steps: to complete her bachelor’s degree in Art Education and then pursue a master’s degree in Art History with the intention of working in a museum setting someday. She is already filling out applications for another overseas internship. I, on the other hand, am writing myself a note to re-read this post when she lands it.

I Cut the Grass Today

 

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Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

I cut the grass today. I cut the grass with one of those old-fashioned rotary cutters that require nothing more than two legs and two arms to maneuver. No jerking on the starter cord. No gasoline. No loud engine noise.  A cool breeze stirred the humidity of the afternoon and tiny brown needles sprinkled down from the cedar branches. I looked up into the tree to see two steel hooks that in past summers held the blue plastic seat that my son and daughter swung in when they were babies and toddlers. The yard was lush then, twenty years ago, when the tree was small. Over time,  as the cedar has inched skyward, its toxic needles have infected the grass below, causing it to thin, grow scraggly, and yet still require a trim. The cutter jammed, shoving the handlebar against my hip. I stepped back and tugged and twisted the machine to jar the immobilized blades. Out dropped a twig, and I finished cutting the grass.

 

You’re a Good Mother: It means more coming from a stranger

FullSizeRender (10)I know I’m a good mother because a stranger told me so. And that’s why I know it’s true. Granted, it’s nice to hear it from someone close to you, such as your spouse or a parent or friend. In fact, it’s the unspoken need that all women have but never vocalize: to know we’re doing at least an “okay” job at the toughest job we’ll ever have. Furthermore, the compliment carries more weight when an impartial, unbiased observer witnesses you in the act of good mothering and calls you on it.

This happened to me in downtown Baltimore in July 1999. We had travelled there from our home in a small, mostly white, southern Missouri town. I, my four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son were heading back to our minivan from the convention center where my husband was showing his ceramic art in a wholesale show. It was a hot, sultry day and we were returning to our hotel for an afternoon nap in the air conditioning. My daughter skipped along beside me while I pushed the stroller. Suddenly, she tripped on a slab of concrete that had buckled slightly, scraped her knee, and immediately started crying. I locked the wheels on the stroller, and kneeled down to inspect the damage. A thin trail of blood driveled from her knee and down her shin.

Nearby on the busy corner, a petite, elderly black woman asked me if I needed a Kleenex. Then, without waiting for my reply, she reached into her purse, starting her own search. She, no doubt, had been in this situation before with her own now-grown children. Maybe she was still mothering grandchildren and possibly even great-grandchildren. Because really, when does motherhood end?

I smiled up at her and said, “No, I should have one, but thanks.” I was right. I found a wrinkled up Kleenex and dabbed at the bloodied knee.

“You’re a good mother,” the woman solidly pronounced, looking down at me. I laughed lightly at her comment, and averted my eyes, shrugging it off as if I shouldn’t need to hear the compliment. Then I dug further into my bag for a baby wipe to clean off the scrape. Found that, too. I decided to push my luck. I dug again for a Band-aid, and — cue the trumpets — found one. It was glorious. For one brief moment, I possessed everything I truly needed in my bag, which I had habitually maintained with all the little ancillary items that one might need for “just in case” moments like these. The moments that seemed to never occur. Until then. And this time, wonder of wonders, a complete stranger had witnessed it. She repeated herself, slowly and with meaning: “You’re a good mother.”

I gathered up the dirtied Kleenex, Band-aid wrapper, and baby wipe and stuffed it all hurriedly back into the bag. I stood up, took my daughter’s hand, and quickly checked on my son in the stroller.

Before leaving, I looked into the woman’s eyes, realizing this moment was pivotal to my sense of self and that this perfect stranger perfectly understood how important her approving words were to me. While two very different people, with dissimilar backgrounds and life stories, we were remarkably alike in that we both understood the frightening, yet satisfying, responsibilities of motherhood and our quiet need for the assurance that we both were doing at least an “okay” job. She had given me a gift. I replied, simply and truthfully, “Thank you.”