Stress-Free Zone

My heart began to pound. I felt ill with anxiety. Would the man whom I had grown to genuinely like, survive the ambush? Unable to hold still, I jumped to my feet and left the living room. The rest of my family sat still, eyes riveted on the television screen. They seemed to be truly enjoying the movie.

Skulking around in my kitchen, wondering what to do with myself, I wished for the one millionth time in my life that I wasn’t such a big baby. Why can’t I avidly watch and enjoy all the horrible stuff that everyone else watches?

The answer is that I just can’t. All my life I have had a hard time watching movies and television shows. The minute there is tension, violence, or anything embarrassing, I feel so emotionally uncomfortable that I need to escape. One of the last movies my late husband took me to affected me this way. I left the theater more than once and I cried as we drove home. Not understanding why I felt the way I did, Arnie exclaimed, “I’m never taking you to a movie again!” Continue reading

Cut the Mustard

The trees along the river near my house had bulging leaf buds. I said, “Any day now, those old, gray branches are going to be clothed in beautiful green!”

Home for a visit, my daughter Tammie scoffed, “You said they’d be leafed out by the time I came home for this visit. I’m here, but the leaves aren’t. What’s the hold-up?”

Sighing, I said apologetically, “Spring is a naughty tease. One week she makes me think full summer is just a minute away, then the following week, I’d swear that winter had returned. To make it more difficult to know when things will turn green, she never puts her leafy skirts on at the same time each year.”

After my daughter had returned home, Dame Spring dealt us a week of May thunderstorms and tornados. It wasn’t until the weather became frigid again, that leaves burst forth from tree branches, bushes and vines. Suddenly, lilacs, flowering crabapples and honey suckle competed for attention.

Holding my spring jacket shut against the chill one morning as I scurried out to the garage, I noticed how beautiful the yard was now that everything had turned green.  I thought even the weeds were pretty. All across my farmyard lawn were yellow dandelions and purple creeping Charlie. As I drove out of my driveway, I spotted a bright yellow weed flowering in what was once a flower bed, but is now would more accurately a weed bed. “That’s mustard!” I thought to myself.

For the rest of the day, the word “mustard” rolled around in my mind. Every once in awhile, another word would pop up in place of “mustard”. That word was “yellow rocket”. These were very old words that took me back to my early grade school years. When I had time, I allowed myself to recall when I was eight.

Getting out of bed at the crack of dawn was never my strong suit, but seven in the morning hardly qualifies for sunrise during the spring months on a farm. “Get up and get dressed.” My big sister commanded me one morning. I frowned and turned over. She said, “Get dressed. We’re going to pick rocks today.”

An hour later everyone in the family was out in the field. Daddy had his small John Deere hitched to a hay wagon. Everyone was directed to look around, pick up the rocks we saw and pitch them up onto the wagon bed. If a rock was too big, Daddy lifted it for us. When the area around the wagon was picked clean, someone drove the tractor further down the field where we continued to pick rock.

Until this year, I had been considered too young for this work.

Halfway through the morning one of my sisters grumbled, “Didn’t we pick this field last year?”

Daddy chuckled, but also sounded disgusted when he answered, “We did, but every year the frost heaves more stones to the surface.”

Being eight years old, I was now also on the work crew the following month when it came to pulling weeds in the oat field. The oat plants were only tall enough to cover my ankles, while the weeds had grown faster and were up at least to my knees. These yellow blossoming plants dotted the field. I quickly learned to walk through the oats by placing my footsteps between the rows, so as to not crush the crop plants.

When I asked what the weeds were called, some of my brothers and sisters called them “mustard” and others called them, “yellow rocket.” I didn’t question the double name, because after all, I had a double name, too. I was Kathleen in school records, but at home everyone called me Kathy.

As an adult, I have more curiosity about the weed than as a child. That evening I sat down at the desk and looked up mustard and yellow rocket in my computer. What I found was that the two plant varieties are related, but so similar I’m still not sure what my family and I were pulling all those years ago in Daddy’s oat fields.

As I searched for information about these two plants, I kept coming across explanations for the phrase, “to cut the mustard,” which means to work up to expectations. I thought, “That phrase should be, ‘to PULL the mustard’. We wouldn’t have been working up to Daddy’s expectations if we had merely CUT the mustard!”


Say Cheese

My daughter Tammie and I rushed from the moment our alarm clock went off, until the moment we completed the airport’s check-in and security requirements. After collecting our freshly x-rayed purses and carry-ons, we dropped down onto a nearby bench. A young man, woman and small child who had been churned out of the bureaucratic mill right behind us, stopped to take a selfie. They crowded together as the man held the camera phone out, giving the instruction, “Say, Cheese!”

Glancing around, I noticed this part of the airport looked more like a shopping mall. The lighting was dimmer and small stores lined the halls. Scrutinizing the wares, Tammie asked, “We have plenty of time before boarding. Would you like to shop around a little?”

I said, “Sure! I’ll get a magazine to read while waiting and when we’re on the airplane.”

In the excitement of our busy morning and our perusal of all things touristy, my daughter and I entirely forgot about eating breakfast or dinner. As our boarding time approached, I complained, “We won’t be getting food on the airplane and now I feel hungry. Our airplane doesn’t arrive in North Carolina until six this evening.”

After a stop at Starbucks for tea and coffee, Tammie said, “I saw a deli shop near here. Stay with our carry-ons and I’ll go see what I can buy. Moments later she returned with a 10-ounce cup filled with cubes of cheese. I savored the dairy product’s creamy texture between sips of tea. It was just what I needed, not too heavy, but filling. Continue reading

Off the Farm

Our airplane, dropping from cruising altitude, not only made me woozy, but caused my ears to pop. Each painful altitude adjustment dramatically lowered my ability to hear. Strange, crackly static from above my seat made me aware that an announcement was imminent.

In a smooth, suave voice, a way of speaking that I am positive is practiced in flight training, our pilot silkily purred, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We will be landing soon, but…”

“POP!” My left ear drum changed so painfully that it felt like someone had jammed a hot needle into it. Cupping a hand over that ear and grimacing, I turned to my travel-companion-daughter and asked quietly, aware that hard-of-hearing people tend to shout, “What did he say?”

Tammie gave me a concerned look and dug around in the seat pocket. Finding a barf bag, she handed it to me and said, “There’s debris on the runway. It has to be cleaned up before we can land.”

I indistinctly heard her words in the background of the noises my ears were making, “Click! Snap, crackle!” What she said sounded like, “There’s pee on the runway and someone is throwing up.” Continue reading

All but a Yak

There weren’t even that many cars on the road, but I was hyperventilating. A quick glance at the map that my daughter had printed for me confirmed I was right where I was supposed to be.

Since I feel that my driving skills are not up to safely navigating traffic in Saint Paul, Minnesota, my daughter Tammie and I had made alternate plans to meet. A friend of hers, who lives in a suburb south of the big metropolis, said I could park my car in her yard while Tammie and I went on vacation.

Three and a half hours after leaving home, I finally pulled into the driveway with a sigh of relief. Tammie arrived several minutes later. She pulled up close so I could transfer the luggage from my car into hers. Then, content to allow my daughter to do the big city driving, I happily dropped into her passenger seat and snapped on my seatbelt. Continue reading

Terminal Woman

I once worked with a nurse who admitted, “Whenever I get a headache, I worry that I have a brain tumor.”

Knowing what it is like to worry about having an undiagnosed illness, I nodded and said, “Maybe that’s because, as a nurse, you know too much.”

The nurse laughed and said, “You’re right. In nursing school whenever we studied a new disease, I imagined that I had the same symptoms. It was horrible! I wasn’t the only one in my class with this problem. There were others who were doing the same thing.”

During my lifetime, I’ve had many occasions where I have worried that a mole was cancer or an uneven heart beat indicated heart disease or a prolonged cough after a cold meant lung cancer. Having anxieties isn’t a joke. I can hardly imagine what a basket case I would have been if I’d actually gone through a nursing program!

People who worry about their health are called hypochondriacs…or is that hyperchondriac? The other day I decided to look up the word. I discovered that a person can have either hypochondria or hypercondria. Both are illnesses of anxiety. The distinction between the two is close. Hypochondria describes a person who thinks they are always ill despite a doctor’s assurances that they are well, while someone suffering with hyperchondria fears having an illness. I think I come in strong under the hyperchondria definition. Continue reading

Cat Burglar

When I pulled into the driveway, I’d stopped the car and got out to retrieve mail and the newspaper from their boxes. Having put the car in the garage and shut its door, my next plan of action was to have a snack, read the paper at the dining room table and then go to bed. Thankful for the yard light, I opened the unlocked house door and stepped into my unlit house. I reached for the switch on the wall and flipped on the entryway light. One of my black and white tuxedo cats was sitting upright in the center of the room. The sudden brightness made her blink her eyes. My other tuxedo cat sat bundled in a kitty loaf on the bench. She wasn’t asleep, but looked contented and happy. Lights or no lights, it didn’t matter to her.

The children were grown up and away from home. Arnie was out of town on an overnight trip and I’d just returned to an empty house from working an evening shift at the hospital.

I didn’t bother to turn on the radio or television, which is normal for me when I am home alone. Silence seems to amplify house sounds. The water pump in the basement kicked in and ran for a few minutes after I had washed my hands and my snack, an apple. I sliced the apple and made a peanut butter dip for it before sitting down at the table. Continue reading