High Tea with family

                Pink hearts dot the green shutters of the white cottage at the Legacy House Imports in Madison, Wisconsin. Little girls in party dresses and shoes looked around with wide eyes inside the tearoom overlooking the garden.

            Tea tables held teacups, linen napkins, perfectly aligned teaspoons, butter knives and jugs of water. “You are welcome to wear a hat,” the man indicated a variety of plain and decorated hats. All but one of the teenagers rolled their eyes at the hat suggestion.

            “Serving tea began when the duchess wanted to eat in the afternoon instead of waiting until the large meal at the end of the day. So, she invited friends to afternoon tea eaten at low tables or ‘low tea.’ High tea at that time referred to a hearty meal of meat and potatoes for the working man served at high tables.  Now it is all called high tea.” Mr. Patrick, the proprietor, concluded.

            Mothers wearing afternoon dresses and hats sat at the middle tables near the youngest children.

            “I need to know what kind of tea you want. The 70 varieties are listed on the folders under your plate.  You can have two-cup, four-cup or six-cup pots of tea.”      

            “I want chocolate milk,” the five-year-old chirped.

            “There is no chocolate milk, but you can have chocolate tea,” her mother said.

            “I want chocolate milk.”

            “Maybe there will be milk to put in the tea. We will order a four-cup pot for the youngest,” one mother decided.

            There was no milk for the tea, so the first grader used the little sugar spoon to repeatedly sweeten her tea. The rest tried Panda tea (black), Misty mango, raspberry tea, lavender and Earl grey.

            At the counter, the grey-haired man began pouring warm water into and out of the small white pots. “Are you doing that to warm the pots?” one mom asked.

            “Yes, we warm the pots before adding the tea and steaming hot water. Pouring hot water into a cold pot can craze the finish or even break it,” the gentleman explained as he poured water into another pot. He carried the pots to the kitchen and returned with steaming pots of tea that he set carefully around the table. “Be careful. They are hot. Hold the lids when you pour. The tea strainer on top of the cup keeps the loose leaves out of your cup.”

            “And what is this little brass cup for?”

            “That holds the strainer when you are ready to drink the tea.”

            He stepped back and looked at the wall of windows. “We usually have a pair of cranes that come to look at tea guests. They also will walk around to the front and knock at the glass door,” he said. Within minutes the cranes arrived, peered through the lacy curtains, and approved the day’s guests. A few minutes later the cranes rapped sharply on the glass door. Little girls ran around front to see the birds step off the porch and wait for the man to open the door and toss them a handful of bird food.

            Back at the tea, the tea master presented a three-tiered tray of sandwiches, scones, sweet breads, clotted cream, lemon curd and dainty pastries including a delicately shaped small swan on top.

        “I want that!” the chocolate milk girl pointed.  

“That’s dessert,” she was told. So the child tried bites of cucumber, egg, ham or chicken salad sandwiches, raspberry scone and a sip of chocolate tea.

            The rest sampled a bit of everything and welcomed the plates of extra sandwiches added to finish up their high tea. Returning hats to the shelf, they thanked the man for their high tea and bought some souvenirs to remember their first high tea. 

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Truth or consequence

               True or false? Recently the first woman contestant won millions on Jeopardy? True – if name and clothes alone determine gender. False – if one considers the scientific information regarding DNA and the impact of the X and Y chromosomes on brain function and focus and physical strength.  For the purposes of this column, the scientific classification of male and female will be followed. XX will refer to those identified at birth as “It’s a girl!” and XY will refer to those identified as “It’s a boy.”

             That one chromosome affects so much of the body and its performance. Let’s skip the basic facts of reproduction and focus on how the rest of the body responds to having every single cell in the body carry either XX or XY chromosomes. Using the scientific labels, then the most recent big time Jeopardy winner is an XY person because said person is transgender. Play the cards, change the clothes, endure some surgical and medical adjustments, and still the advantages of that Y chromosome remain.

The winner had the XY person’s advantage of being a one-track minded person – able to focus intently on one situation at a time. Historically the XX person can multi-task with finesse whether in the workplace or at home. The XX people track others’ activities and locations while conversing or working on projects. Through the ages, the XY person grows stronger, faster muscles. Watch little kids running a race. In most of the races, the little XY folks will surge ahead and leave the XX tots behind. They may enjoy the same activities, but generally, the Y chromosome from birth programs the body with the stronger, faster muscles needed for that competitive edge in sports. That competitive difference also impacts mind games such as Jeopardy, chess and even Monopoly where significantly fewer XX persons excel.

             Certainly, superficial things can be done to the body’s appearances to qualify it for a different label. With external adjustments in clothes and skin or even just a verbal declaration, the XY person can be declared an XX person today.

             XY individuals, who typically measure taller and stronger than their XX teammates, lie to themselves and the judges when they insist on competing as XX persons. It does not matter how one feels, it only matters that each individual cell in the body continues to perform as XY or XX. Surgical blades cannot reach and adjust the continuously replicating myriad of cells in the human body.

 Are we as a culture treating the XX sports competitors fairly by declaring all the differences between them and XY competitors in the same field as negligible?  Regularly, the sports pages carry stories of XY persons who have donned a XX uniform and broken the XX sports records in such sports as track and swimming or weightlifting.

             The future prospects for new records by XX persons do not look promising in competition with superficially changed XY persons. First, one must have an athletic mindset and an athletic body. DNA dictates the development of the body that will participate in the sport. XY persons have stronger bones, muscles, and ligaments. While there will always be exceptional XX players, it is not a level playing field with both XX and XY competing as equals. Let’s insist that individuals showing up for the women’s competitive sporting events present themselves with proof that they possess XX chromosomes.  Let’s quit disappointing the high school and college XX competitors who have practiced long and hard in their sport by insisting including XY persons with superficial changes in appearance.

Admit the truth: DNA makes a difference from the gender reveal party through toddlerhood, elementary school and beyond.

Certainly, some XX individuals can physically succeed over a XY competitor. They are the exceptions to the rule, not the rule. Either adhere to the DNA truth for qualification or mix all the athletes together for every event and see how many XX persons succeed in making the team or setting new records.

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Odyssey of the Mind

                As Linda directed students to the stage at Michigan State, “This big ole guy came running straight for me. He ran up to me, picked me up and slung me around saying, ‘It works! That magic penny really works.’ The Magic Penny is the one penny investment I made every year for each of the 700 some students that went to the Odyssey of the Mind finals.”

             Linda Partridge began volunteering with Odyssey of the Mind teams when the team at South Side School in El Dorado invited her son, a second grader, to join the team. He is now 42.

             “I knew nothing about it,” she recalled. “That first year I didn’t know what it was, and the next year I was teaching it. I have been in the program ever since, in different degrees ever since.”

             “I have been a judge at finals for over 20 years. For me, that is like being on the playground for three days,” Linda said with an energetic smile.

             Odyssey of the Mind involves teams of students from early elementary grades through to college. “There are three parts,” she explained. The organization out of New Jersey issues five problems a year dealing with certain interests. Teams develop a skit around the theme. They receive a list of items that must be included in the skit. To avoid losing points, skits are eight minutes or less.

The rules also include a mandate that “teams may not spend more than $100 on the skit,” she said. To save costs and acquire equipment, Linda took kids dumpster diving for cups at a fast food restaurant.

            In one portion of the competition, students leave coaches and parents and are given a problem to solve without adult help. The judges look for creativity and thinking outside the box.

         Students learn functional fitness. Linda held up a pen and said, “You say, a pen, but…” she pointed the pen at a tree. “Now the pen is an extender, a pointer.”

“At competitions all teams solve the same problem and may not discuss the problem with others until it is over for everyone.”

Judgers also assess style for the final score.

On the world competition level, Linda verified students’ paperwork. “I also had to make sure students calmed down.” One way she calmed students was to deflect their thoughts. She wore a tiara and tu-tu to welcome a late-arriving team. One little girl admired her. A little boy smiled up at her saying, “you smell good.”

Every year she uses a technique called “magic pennies.” Linda came to competition with a penny for each of the 700 participants. She marked each penny with OM, the year and the problem number.

Linda showed the students how to press the heel of one hand tightly into the other palm with the penny between. “I told them ‘this is a magic penny and to press all their tension into that magic penny.’ It generally works,” she said. The fully grown student who picked Linda up was celebrating his magic penny.

         “The kids have a good time and can’t wait for the closing ceremonies. They have worked hard. Most leave feeling relaxed and good about themselves and that they have been treated fairly. For kids who perhaps do not do well at sports, it is a way to succeed. I’ve coached and been a mom. They could be doing a lot worse.”

Even in retirement, Linda continues to serve with OM, helping plan and organize. She  hopes that she will see its renewal as the impacts of Covid lift and kids can once again get together and share the fun of learning, solving and competing together.

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grandpa’s workshop

        “Grandpa better not be out in the shop without me!” my 9-year-old grandson huffed as he looked around the kitchen, ignoring breakfast and looking for my husband. The two had spent days working on refurbishing a typing table. Like many little kids, he really enjoyed helping and supervising his grandfather through the project. They had been buddies for days.

            It reminded me of the comradery between the oldest son and my husband the years we re-did the basement. Shovelful by shovelful, they dug it out. Cement block by cement block, they built the walls and saw progress every day. Their work, their progress, their achievement.

            Kids like to feel useful. They like to learn new skills. Little ones especially like to learn how to use tools. One summer my husband and I supervised a weekend of kids at church camp. Instead of bringing glue, paper, crayons and scissors, we brought wood, nails, hammers and paint.

            Over the din of hammers hitting nails, hubby coached kids, “Hold the hammer so that your arm helps you pound. We can take out that nail. We have more. That one is too crooked.” My husband and I worked our way around the room, coaching kids to get their nails straight into the wood, rub sandpaper in the right direction and paint smoothly. The kids finished the weekend with bird houses and crosses on a stand.

 Tools and building was one leader’s solution when we had a disruptive child at the weekly kids’ meeting. The kid could not settle. His disruption caught the eye of a retired shop teacher. As the rest of the leaders discussed what to do, the shop leader brought in wood, nails and tools. “I will work with him,” the teacher said.

At the end of the night, the boy joined the group with a completed bird house and a grin.

“We reviewed some verses while he worked,” the teacher said.  He had re-directed that energy into a completed project. “I told him he could not keep the birdhouse. He has to find someone to give it to.” The kid knew exactly who should get it. He handed it to one of the women helping with the program. No one said anything else about his disruptions.

            Great-grandson Trace, 4, is not disruptive. He cooperates and eagerly offers to help. As his grandpa sat on the floor converting the dishwasher hole into a cabinet, Trace asked, “Can I have a screwdriver?”

Grandpa pulled out a short screwdriver out of his toolbox, “you can use this one,” thinking Trace wanted to change a battery in one of the toys. The child is quite adept at handling that simple task so Grandpa turned back to the cabinet.

            Finished with his work, Grandpa started to stand up when he noticed Trace across the room loosening the last of the screws of the hinge of another cabinet.

            “Whoa! Buddy. Let’s put that back on, okay?”

            Trace looked up, startled, unsure if he was in trouble.

            “Let me show you how, and you can put  the door back on the cabinet. Okay, Little buddy?”

            Trace nodded. He watched carefully then stood and happily screwed the door hinges tight again. “He likes to take things apart and put them together,” his mom said.

            As have many other children through the history of time. They want to make something out of real wood. They want to work with real tools. They want to make something heavier than what a refrigerator door magnet can hold.  And they will, if their grandpas and daddies invite them to join them in the workshop.

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Gift Card

The holiday detritus overwhelmed me last week. “I am going to clear out and donate to a church rummage sale,” I announced.

This year we had a triple dose of gifting: Christmas with the usual greeting cards, gifts and treats; helping with an estate including bringing some home to sell later, all topped off with a celebration of our 50 years of marriage (and birthdays) with friends and family. 

At one party, my tease of a grandchild watched everything I opened and faked snatching a gift card from me, “Why thank you! That is just what I need.”

“Oh no, you don’t. It’s mine. You can’t have that.” I would have tucked it into my pocket, but I didn’t have one that day. I started to slide it back into the card and envelope until I saw the teaser sneaking a hand to my pile while grinning right at me.

“Here, put this away in your pocket,” I motioned to my husband. The teaser walked away.

Later, sorting through the cards and gifts, I asked him for the gift card. He reached into his pocket and came up empty. “Hmm, I thought it was there.”

“Did you put it back with the other gifts?” I nodded at the box holding Christmas gifts and anniversary greeting cards.

No gift card.

A week later, he sat down with all the Christmas, anniversary, and birthday cards, opened each individually, read and noted the signature before putting all back into a bag. No gift card. Nor was it in my file for important papers. I know because I checked it three times. 

I resigned myself that either the card was permanently gone or it would just appear sometime.  It’s happened before. Years ago my son could not find a dry gourd he used as a bank. We looked until we said, “Can’t find it. Be more careful.” A couple of months later, I opened my closet and saw that money gourd hanging among my dresses, skirts and blouses.

Another time, I read a Facebook announcement, “I found a gift card to the grocery store today. I don’t know who gave it to us but thank you.” I had given a card just like that five months before in response to a bit of a crisis. Evidently the crisis was later than I thought. 

           Some cards never reappear. Like the time my husband tossed a gas gift card in the trash because it had nothing left on it. A couple days later, he realized he had two cards and had tossed the one with plenty of money left on it. 

I quit looking for the card. Instead, I gathered toys, clothes, odds and ends that no one cared about anymore. Boxes and extra storage tubs began filling the back of our van. As I emptied one shelf after another, I found room to store the pile of books I hope to read someday. Gathering items to fill another box, I dropped a pile on the couch. The whomp tipped over the box of anniversary cards. I scrambled to gather the scattered cards and there was the long-lost gift card on top of the greeting cards which we both had reviewed several times.

I tucked it safely (I think) into my purse. We will be using it this week along with a couple others cards we recently received. I like giving gift cards. Still after considering the number we have lost, in the future, I may be sending checks. If the check is lost or never cashed, I am a tad bit richer, and I have no complaints with that.

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The Cleaning Fairies

         I just did not have the energy to care about much of anything last week, so I crammed the cookie sheet on top of the muffin tins and slammed the cupboard door shut, declaring, “That’s good enough.”

           “It is not,” my conscience said. “Remember the Cleaning Fairies?

            Ahh yes, The Cleaning Fairies. I was just a kid when my mother told me about them. She had just looked in the cupboard and seen the leaning tower of pans that my sisters and I had declared “good enough.”

Mom did not agree. She pulled the pans out and began telling me about a woman who loved to make cookies but did NOT like to clean house or put things away neatly. The local Cleaning Fairies loved her cookies. Whenever the fairies smelled them baking, they flew to her house and begged, “You make such wonderful cookies. Please give us one.”

Flattered, she gave them one.

It tasted so good that they returned begging, “please, please, please give us another cookie. We will do anything for just one more cookie.”

The baker looked around her messy kitchen. “I will give you cookies if you clean.”

“We will! We will!” the Cleaning Fairies agreed. She baked. They fluttered over her shoulder as she measured, mixed, and dropped dough on the trays. They watched the clock impatiently, repeatedly asking, “Are they ready?”

The instant she said, “Yes,” they swarmed the counter, grabbing and gobbling cookies.

“Now remember you have to do the dishes and clean the counters,” said the lady, nibbling her own cookie.

“We will,” they said brushing away cookie crumbs before they polished the pots and pans and neatly placed each in the cupboard.

The next day they returned, “Please make us more of those heavenly cookies.”

“I will, if you clean.”

For seven days she baked, and they ate all they wanted.

The more cookies she made, the more they wanted. Soon their relatives came begging for cookies. “I will bake if you do the laundry, the vacuuming, dusting and make up the beds,” she bargained.

“We will, if you will just make us cookies,” all the Cleaning Fairies said.

Every morning they came tap, tap, tapping at her window, shaking their dust rags and mops, “Make us cookies.” The baker tried to roll over and sleep. They tapped until she slid out of bed.

The baker worked from morning to night. The Fairies kept her house immaculate. Easy to do since she never had time to do anything but bake.

One morning, the sun barely peeked over the hills when the fairies tapped at her window. She pulled the blankets over her head and groaned, “Go away. I do not want to make cookies today.”

Stunned at her refusal, the Fairies protested, “We want cookies. We will clean.”

“I will clean it myself. Go away.”

“No cookies?”

“No cookies!” she said. “Now go away.” She turned over to sleep.

The Cleaning Fairies fluttered at her window a minute longer, staring in disbelief. Then rubbing their cookie-less tummies, they quietly flew back to Fairyland.

“The woman slept until noon. Then she slid out of bed, made a very small batch of her favorite cookies, cleaned the kitchen, and put the pots and pans away neatly. Never again did she make cookies for the Cleaning Fairies,” my mom concluded, shoving the last pan into place. 

Sometimes I recall that story when I start to store pans haphazardly on the shelf. I take time to stack them neatly. No matter how much I hate cleaning and love baking, I don’t ever intend to start making cookies for those Cleaning Fairies.

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Daily bread

“Can you give me some money for food?” the grey-haired woman asked as we walked toward the restaurant doors.

“No, but you may join us for lunch,” my husband said.

She did and then asked if we would buy cereal and milk for her breakfast. Once the cart held breakfast foods, she asked for medicine. My husband allowed her to add over a couple over the counter medicines.

“Can I have a bit of perfume?” she whispered to me.

“We need to check out and head home,” I said.

Some people plead for daily bread and their wants. Others spent provided funds on their wants, see the empty cupboards and beg for their needs.

Occasionally God provides daily bread as He did in Genesis in the story of Joseph. All of Egypt and all of Joseph’s family had daily bread through the seven years of famine. They had it because Joseph, the former slave gave God’s interpretation of a dream and advised Pharaoh to save food during the promised seven years of plenty in anticipation of the seven years of famine. Joseph directed the building of warehouses, the collection of the yearly, heavy tax on grain and monitored the distribution during the famine.

Then as now, the daily bread involves work. The wandering Israelites enjoyed free food every day for 40 years – if they went out early every morning and picked up enough of the manna for the day. They could not gather it after a leisurely morning of sleeping. The manna disappeared under the heat of the day. They could not save it from one day to the next. It would spoil overnight, except on the sixth day when they gathered twice as much to have fresh on the seventh day of rest.

Same thing for Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Every day until the drought ended, she took the bit of flour and oil that miraculously remained every day and made biscuits for Elijah, her son and herself. She had to mix the dough and cook it. The biscuits did not simply appear.

The answer to the prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” often comes through a job. Our prayer in that case implies a request for the energy to do the work necessary to earn enough for the bread.

A former Bible School student watched in astonishment as his friend had funds sent or given to him time and again just as he needed it. “I never got any checks. I was offered jobs,” he said. He sounded jealous. He did not acknowledge that God had provided him with a job to meet his needs as God does for most people.

The widow’s job was to faithfully go to the kitchen every day, scrap the barrel, shake out the last drop of oil and make the bread.

Jesus taught His disciples, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Then He even proved that God could do that by multiplying a few loaves of bread to feed thousands. Afterward, however, He refused to repeat the miracle even though hundred followed Him hoping for more free food. He refused just as he refused to turn stones into bread at the end of 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. God answers the prayer for daily bread in many ways with various time frames.  Most of the time He answer begins with a command to go and do something.

When we pray “give us this day our daily bread” we actively place our trust in the Bread of Life to provide for us. And He does, but not generally with a daily hand-out.

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Silver lining

 At times life hits us right smack between the eyes, leaving us reeling. Some never recover as they look at the damage. Others pick themselves up, dust off and address the damage one bit at a time.

I know plenty of folks with enough reasons to legitimately sit down in defeat or walk away from the damage left by life’s storms. Recently I met a couple who in two years time survived two devastating hurricanes that hit Lake Charles in 2000, family deaths and major damages to their home and business.

It began with the Hurricane Laura swooping in just as the community tentatively began re-opening after Covid quarantines. After weeks of being told to stay home, suddenly every news station warned against staying home to ride out the hurricane.

The Mrs. packed a bag, traveled away from the storm and went to her mother’s house. Her husband stayed. He covered all the windows with sheets of plywood before hunkering down to ride out the storm in their old brick two-story house.

When the storms hit he said, “I could see the plywood pull away from the window in a wave and then snap back. With all the stretching and bending I thought it would fly away. Then when it snapped back I thought it would break the windows.”

The plywood, the windows, the house and the husband survived first Hurricane Laura and then Delta with only the chimney and the roof being damaged by the first storm and the upper story drenched in the second storm. His mom-in-law’s much smaller house also needed extensive repairs.

Mom went to stay with her son for a couple of months. Husband and wife got busy working on both houses. Houses all around them suffered similar damages.

The storm also swept into the flea market where the Mrs. said, “I had three booths at the front of the flea market. The storm blew out the windows and blew away everything in my booths. I’m glad the building held.”

The second storm, Delta, drenched the inside of their upper stories with rain. Across Lake Charles for months and years, blue tarps highlighted roof damage and the difficulty in getting materials and roofers to repair the roofs.

Up and down the streets of the neighborhood, the Mr. and Mrs. saw piles of storm damaged furniture set on the curb for the city trash compacting trucks. With her business of selling vintage and restored furniture, the Mrs. said, “we will never again have an opportunity like this.” They regularly toured the curbs for quality, storm damage furniture to take home to repair and sell. Proving the old adage, “it is an ill wind that blows no good.” The natural disasters brought opportunities for some.  

Meanwhile, the family kept abreast of the medical reports for the brother of The Mrs. Several years before, he had been told he would have five years at most to live. The five years passed plus two more. In the seventh year, as the house repairs progressed, his health declined.

“We miss my brother,” said The Mrs., “But I told Mom, ‘just think, you had two months of living with your son because of the storm.’” Rebuilding after a storm is certainly not the way most would choose for more family time together, yet The Mrs. could see the blessing in the midst of the catastrophes.

Slowly but surely the community and the family restored their homes and lives to some semblance of what it was. Blue tarps still top a few roofs awaiting repairs. Not all chimneys have been rebuilt. Still at this one home, a determination to find the silver linings have removed the clouds of despair that threatened to settle over everything.

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Not a plant parent

“How to be a good plant parent,” the headline equated plant care to child care.

The article from Boston.com advised carefully choosing the plant.  Dark apartment? Choose plants that thrive in shadows. Busy schedule? Pick one that only needs a bit of water now and then.

Exactly like parenting a child? Prospective parents can shop around for a baby that fits into the parents’ personal and household schedule. Or so thought one inexperienced, first-time expectant mother who volunteered to do a major wedding event a month after the projected birth. “I will have time.” More experienced parents said, “No, thanks.” They knew she did not know. Babies do not silently sit quietly in a corner while mom goes about her life as she did before the baby came home. Parents adjust their schedules around babies.

So, adding a plant to the household might be a bit different than adding a baby.

The article also touches on the physical care of plants: watering, trimming dead leaves, feeding it plant food and when to repot. That summarizes most plant needs.  

The details for caring for a baby from birth to high school graduation fill hundreds of books. To nurse or not to nurse, finding the right formula, dealing with the trauma of the terrible twos. Plants do not have tantrums, so that cuts out a couple hundred pages from any book about plant parenting. Plants also do not have anything like a child’s first day of school, first lost tooth, first boyfriend or first day of driving.  All events during which the parent will celebrate, soothe the tears, talk through the shock or celebrate the success.

Some parents take pictures of each milestone to post on Facebook. Plant parents celebrate the unfurling of a new leaf or a beautiful flower.

For parents of human children, the first day of school begins years of education (and more first day pictures), new ideas and learning to read. The first boyfriend becomes dating, a fiancé and marriage. The first day of driving signals a major move toward independence. Children offer many opportunities for pictures and comments. They also insure plenty of days and weeks of parents’ holding their breath, hoping everything goes smoothly. Joy when it does. Sorrow when it doesn’t.

Parenting involves years of training. Training a plant requires a stick or rod to guide the plant’s growth upward. Takes a few minutes to put a stake in the ground, tie the plant to it and then check on it occasionally.

Training a child involves hours and years of repetition. Training a child involves so much: learning to use a spoon, potty training, shoe tying, driver’s education, music, sports or so forth. The only part of parenting that takes a mere 15 minutes is training a child to tell a bad joke. Parents invest years in training children between birth and graduation.

Care taking requires understanding the plant or the child’s needs. Plant caretakers (gardeners?) must observe, “does the African violet thrive with this plant food? have enough water? Need to move to a bigger pot?”

If only it were so easy with children. About the time a parent realizes the child has entered a new phase and figures out how to respond, the child enters another phase and hates everything they liked last week. Plants never express an opinion, never move, never demand anything.

And yet, someone decided to trim a few more words out of our vocabulary and call folks with green thumb a plant parent. Not buying it. Not one bit. Not even if it thrives in a shadowy apartment. It’s still a plant and needs a gardener, not a parent.

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Sue Thomas FBEye

“Let’s not tell Grandma that we like the show. She might get cocky,” my granddaughter said after watching her first four episodes of Sue Thomas FBEye.

I laughed when my daughter told me that. Me? get cocky about someone liking a show I recommended? Hardly, I am just glad someone actually tried my suggestion.

The real FBI agent, Sue Thomas, serves as the basis for the show. After Sue lost her hearing as a toddler she learned sign language, lip reading and speech. She learned well. Watching an interview of the real Sue Thomas, nothing hints she cannot hear a word of the conversation. Sue worked three years as a special agent with the FBI providing lip readings of suspects.

Having watched the real Sue Thomas in the interview, I recognized her in a couple of cameo appearances on the show where she talks with the deaf actress who plays her. Each woman has a hearing dog. In the show, the yellow retriever’s name is Levy. When  he hears the phone or doorbell ring, he touches Sue and indicates the source. When someone calls her name, Levy hears and touches her leg to tell her. He reacts to keep her away from noisy, dangerous situations.

I recommended the show to my daughter as a family friendly show. While the show emphasizes the crime of the week and interplay with the other agents, it also provides a glimpse into the challenges of the hearing impaired and their history. One show focuses on a deaf Holocaust survivor who sees a former prison guard. Working with her, Sue realizes that just being deaf placed the woman in the death camp, It would have been Sue’s fate if she had lived under the Hitler regime.

In another show, while listening to a brief about a case, the presenter turns to look at the board. Sue whacks his arm, 

He turns around protesting.

She says, “You turned around. I can’t see you speak.” All the agents learn basic signs, but they sign slower and lack the fluidity and ease of the lifetime deaf. Naturally the show briefly touches on the barriers when only deaf or hearing friends are in the room with the opposite.

One memorable show begins with Sue’s co-worker, Lucy, suggesting they go to a club for the deaf. 

Sue looks skeptical, “You know it is sign language only? You can’t talk.”

Lucy shrugs confidently, “No big deal.” She has learned a lot of sign language. She knows how to finger spell.

However, it became a big deal when everyone around her rapidly communicated using American Sign Language (ASL). Her signing drags the conversational flow to a stop. With a flurry of hands, the hearing impaired speed on ignoring Lucy, leaving her alone in a crowded room of animated conversations.

Later the flip side happens with Sue. Sitting at a table with fellow agents, she finds it impossible to read everyone’s lips as they interact in a vigorous repartee. Suddenly, the sound ceases for the viewers who experience the perpetual silence of the deaf as they watch others laughing and talking around them. 

  Sue does not hear anyone walking behind her. She does join co-workers in teasing each other about their foibles. She may not know every word she reads on lips, but she can repeat what she has seen or declare, “they are speaking in another language.”

I discovered the show recently on YouTube. Other online video services offer reruns of this show from the early 2000s. Several online stores offer the series on DVD. I do recommend it, and I promise I won’t get cocky if you enjoy it.

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