Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Language Lessons

Wedding photo of Jacob (sitting) and Pauline (standing) Diel on November 22, 1925.

Language is an amazing thing, isn't it? Experts tell us that language learning begins in the womb, before our first coo or da-da is ever uttered. For some of us, learning to talk gives our parents joy, even as they beg the good Lord to "shut that kid up for just one second, will ya?"

I've been thinking lately how the language of people I love affects me even now as an adult, even though they are long gone from my life. I'm a native speaker of Amercian English, but thanks to my Grandma Diel---born in a German village near the Caspian Sea in Russia before the assassination of the czar---my everyday speech is peppered with several "low-German" words and phrases. In fact, certain words of Grandma's are so ingrained in me that my brain calls them up as the default setting, rather than their English counterparts. When I want to discuss things like cleaning spilled milk, ufeshlumba comes readily to mind. Or if I want to give directions to Mr. Johnson's house, I say that his house is easy to spot because it sits shraeks on the corner. These words are part of my DNA, and I love it when I see them seeping in to my kids' speech.

If your vocabulary could use a little freshening up, by all means, feel free to borrow from my grandma. Below are some of my favorites, creative spelling and pronunciation guide included.

  • ufeshlumba (OO-fesh-loemba)---literally, an "up-wipe rag"; great for cleaning up all kinds of liquid messes.

  • shraeks (shrakes)---this is what you say to describe anything off kilter; you position the lid shraeks on the pot so the steam can escape as the water boils.

  • bahzoof---the modern German equivalent would be pass auf (take care or look out), but Grandma pronounced it bah-ZOOF and always wagged her finger at you as she said it. Her meaning was clear: "You better watch out or......" (fill in the blank).

  • Haase kniddle---pronounced HA-zuh kuh-NID-dle; Haase, meaning rabbit, and kniddle, meaning, well...excrement; used (usually while giggling) to describe the shape of poo in the diaper of a grandchild experiencing constipation.

  • weisskopf---pronounced VICE-kopf; literally, "white head"; used to describe any person with lightning-blond hair. Marilyn Monroe was a weisskopf.

So there you have it: my trip down memory lane and how a little girl growing up along the Volga River in 1912 still leaves her mark in the life of a 45-year-old woman in 2010 America.

What about you? Do you have any language lessons you'd like to share with the class?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'm Not a Doctor, Nor Do I Play One on TV...

Photo by [lauren nelson]. I'm dispensing my medical advice for free and you don't have to foot the bill for an addition to my home.

This summer I developed--overnight, it seemed--horribly dry eyes. My eyes felt scratchy. Similar to the feeling you get when you wash your face with sandpaper in the desert at 120 degrees. Only in my eyes.

I'd never suffered with dry, scratchy eyes before, so I was stumped. I bought a popular brand of eye drops purported to "get the red out," but a friend insisted I stop using them immediately (per her eye doctor's instructions) and use a brand that sounds like the word "sustain." I did exactly what Wendy demanded, because she can be pretty scary when she's in "Mother Mode." And the drops did help. But still, I wondered, why was I having this problem in the first place?

Making an appointment with the eye doctor seemed the thing to do. Certainly he could/should/would help me, right? Yeah, not so much. He basically told me (this is my paraphrase), "Gee, that's too bad about your scratchy-as-the-desert kind of eye problem. Keep using those drops, though, okay?" I estimate my bill will be about the cost of one square foot of his new addition.

The next week when I went in to pick up my new eyeglasses, I complained to Debbie--the best Eyeglass Frame Picker Outer and Adjuster ever--that I had no answers to my dilemma. Debbie perked right up. "Let me get Dr. D and see if she has any ideas." Back came Debbie with Dr. D who listened to my complaints.

"Hmm," she said. "How old are you?"


Dr. D raised her eyebrows at me.

"And three quarters."

She nodded. "Could very well be hormonal fluctuations. Do you take fish oil?"

"Sure do. About 2,000 milligrams three times a week."

"Up your dosage and take 2,000 milligrams morning and night, every day. Do that, and I bet you'll see a difference soon."

I promised to follow her advice, and she gave me a prescription for a heavy-duty nighttime eye drop to use as needed. And she didn't charge me. Not for a room addition or a cup of coffee.

I never had to fill that prescription. Two days later, my eyes felt normal again, like I had gone from desert and sandpaper to tropical island and coconut oil.

Here's that free advice I promised you: if you're a 45-and-three-quarters-year-old woman with uncommonly dry eyes, and you take fish oil periodically, up your dosage and see if that helps.

Just remember: I'm not a doctor. So ask yours first before you try this.

After you ask him if he's adding a room or pool to his house.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Churn Some Butter!

Photo by insane photoholic.

I recently signed up for a free, online community called It’s chock-full of neat tools and gizmos, message boards and online support to help you meet your fitness goals. Problem is, I’m in no mood these days to be setting goals, fitness or otherwise. But it was free, so…

This morning I logged in and saw that I could earn three points just for reading this tiny article. (I might not be up for setting goals, but I’m always up for earning points.) The title, “Going Through the Emotions,” grabbed me because, although I am running low in the goal-setting department, I am spurting like a geyser in the emotions department these days.

Frog in a Bucket

The author, Mike Kramer, tells the story of the frog who falls into a pail of cream and can’t jump out. In his panic he kicks and squirms and kicks and squirms. Soon, his kicks and squirms turn that cream into a block of churned butter and he can hop right out of the pail. At the end of the story, Mike says, “Here’s how your story and his intersect. If he only saw the hopelessness of his situation and started feeling sorry for himself, he would have sunk to the bottom. But instead he kept kicking. He kicked not because he knew it would help him escape, but because he was compelled to, he had no choice. He kicked because the alternative was no alternative at all.”

I’ve been thinking about that; sinking to the bottom is not the fate I wish for me. So it looks like I’ve got to churn some butter. But how do I go about churning butter with all the required kicking and squirming if I don’t have the energy? Baby steps. And baby steps will work, too, because baby steps are the same as churning when you compare them to doing nothing.

My Baby Steps

Baby Step 1: I’m keeping a gratitude journal. Focusing on the good instead of the bad encourages me and reminds me that there is good in each day. I just have to look harder some days than others, but a little hard work might do me some good.

Baby Step 2: Reaching out to others. The quickest way for me to sink is to let go of the hands around me. So what if they’re not reaching out to me when I think they should? I bet if I reach out to them they will gladly clasp my hand and save me from another day at the bottom of the cream bucket. It’s worth a try.

Baby Step 3: Making time to laugh. I visit any time I want a good giggle.

Do you need to churn some butter in your life? Take a minute to list your own baby steps, then write me and tell me what you’re doing. That can count as your “Reaching Out to Others” baby step.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Slugs in Agony

Photo by photogirl7.

After my recent post about assassin Ninja squirrels, I heard all about squirrels, moles, and slugs. Chikako, whom I know to be an avid gardener, wrote that her garden in the Pacific Northwest is overrun with slugs and could I please produce a picture of a slug in agony? Chikako, the photo on the left is at your request. Enjoy. I wish I could add a sound track of tiny slugs squealing in pain for you.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why I Hate Squirrels

I used to think squirrels were cute. That was before I landscaped my front yard and planted gorgeous things that make me happy. Now I have Ninja squirrels who apparently have decided to dig up (non-existent) treasure---at the roots of my previously mentioned gorgeous things!

I'm sprinkling cayenne pepper around the plants in an effort to keep the squirrels away. Or at least to cause them intense bowel pain.

Martin seems to have come up with a satisfactory resolution.

Photo by Martin Pettitt.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

To Weed or Not to Weed

Photo by ndrwfgg.

It's spring on this half of the world. One proof, in addition to the warmer weather, is the explosion of color springing from the grass, in gardens, in the trees, and even in my coworkers' wardrobes. Purple, new green, white, yellow, pink, red, and every color in between and beyond.

My own backyard is its own happy little party. I haven't planted any flowers yet, but I am pleased to report a gorgeous-green backyard with yellow polka dots. My husband intends to rid the yard of those polka dots. He says, "I have to spray those dandelions and get rid of them. They're weeds."

Of course, I know dandelions are classified as weeds. I, myself, have participated in their extermination before. But
this spring, after such a long, cold, and maddeningly white winter, the friendly yellowness of the dandelions warms my heart. When I pull out of the garage in the morning to head to work--still half asleep--those little yellow faces have a way of welcoming me to the day. "Come on, Heather, it's spring! Wake up and have a great day!" That's what they say at my house anyway.

So who are these weed-labeling people, anyway? How do they decide these sorts of things, and who pays them to make sure we all believe them? How can a plant that is useful for eating (salad greens) and drinking (wine) be categorized as a weed?

I, for one, intend to hide my husband's newly bought herbicide. At least for one more week.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Parental Feelings

Photo by

We have teenagers. That says a lot right there.
As I chatted with a friend last week, I told her when I'm 50 I think I might be ready to start having children.

I changed my mind. I'm thinking 60 now.

I'm just saying...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Danny Gokey Sighting

So here's how you know you need to get a life of your own instead of living vicariously through your coworkers:

Wednesday, Natalie came by my cubicle after lunch.

Natalie: I hear you're a secret American Idol fan.

Me: Honey, there is no secret about it!

Nat: Guess who I just had lunch with?

Me: Who?

Nat: Danny Gokey, from Season 8.

Me: You're kidding me! Where? How did you have lunch with him?

Nat: At KC Pita. Kristyn and I were eating there and saw Danny having lunch with someone--a radio DJ, I think.

Me: So you didn't actually eat with him, then?

Nat: Well, no. But we were in the same building and saw him.

Me: Did you at least go talk to him?

Nat: No.... But maybe I should have.

Me: Um, yeah! I would have said, "Hi, Danny. My whole family loved you last season. Enjoy your lunch."

Nat: Yeah. I should have said something.

She sighed and I nodded. Then Natalie went to the pop machine and I finished editing an environmental assessment.

I definitely need to get out for lunch more often.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Duck, duck, GOOSE!

Photo by Daveness_98.

So here's what I found out this week about growing duck feathers: it ain't so easy!

There I was, minding my own business and growing duck down. Happy as you please. When someone did something normally irritating to me, or if they were living on the cranky side of life, I would think of my duck feathers and just let it slide by. I would think, "Oh, they must be having a bad day," or "I must be interpreting that wrong. I should ask questions for clarification." (Read my article about crazy communication problems.)

But one evening this week, after practicing and getting pretty good at this duck feather business, one of my nearest and dearest said something that sent me over the edge in one flying leap. Instead of responding with a kind and gentle, "Lord, love a duck!" and moving on with my day, I responded with a heartfelt, "I'm going to cook your goose!" (Not out loud, of course.)

When all was said and done (about three seconds), there I stood in the middle of a pile of duck feathers. My own. Plucked and scattered in one fell swoop.

What did I do next? I cried my eyes out and went to bed. Then I started all over the next morning.

How's your duck experiment going?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Growing Duck Feathers

Photo by Niffty.

Yesterday I had two experiences with two different groups of people. In the first experience, I got my feelings hurt. In the second, it was like water off a duck's back--I wasn't affected at all. What was the difference? After talking with my hubby about it over coffee this morning, I decided that whether I'm hurt or not many times boils down to this one thing: my expectations.

  • 1st - I was new in a group of eight women for the third week in a row. Although they were friendly, no one went out of her way to talk to me. I realized I had an unconscious expectation that new people in a group should be welcomed and assimilated by those who have been there longer. The reality is, however, that as a new person, I was actually crashing their party.

  • 2nd - I visited a group of friends I'd known a couple of years. One started talking about an upcoming event that did not involve me and to which I had not been invited. I wasn't the least bit hurt or even miffed. I thought, "That's just the way that person is." Unconsciously, I had already worked through my expectations and had moved to acceptance of this person.

After thinking about my different responses to those two situations, I realized that I am sometimes hardnosed and inflexible (though I hate to admit that!) and I thinly veil my expectations of others as "hopes." The problem is that my lofty ideals cause me and others unnecessary pain.

I don't like living that way, though. I'd rather have the peace and joy that comes from acceptance in all my relationships. That's why this year I've decided to give my friends and family an unusual, but practical, gift--I'm going to grow a set of duck feathers. I'm going to take myself less seriously and love and accept my dear ones right where they are.

I "expect" I won't get it right straight away or very often at first, but I promise to try.

Care to join me? Come on in--the water is fine.