Lessons from the world’s weirdest grandma

Apr 22 2013

Grandma GladysMy maternal grandmother, Gladys, born on this day in 1902.

“Grandma, don’t! That’s stealing!” I whispered from across the table.

Every time we went out to eat with my grandparents, my grandma would sneak all the jelly and sugar packets from the table and put them in her purse. I was mortified, convinced I had the weirdest grandmother on the planet.

My Grandma Gladys, my mother’s mother, was always doing things I found strange, and often embarrassing. She washed and reused plastic baggies and utensils, saved jars and jars full of extra buttons, kept a can of used bacon grease under the kitchen sink, and ate parts of the animal I didn’t even know existed. (Gizzards, anyone?)

She also canned her own jam, cooked meals from scratch, walked to the store instead of driving, crocheted beautiful afghans without using a pattern, and knitted hats, mittens, and slippers for my siblings and me—skills I now admire but once saw as a waste of time.

Many of the “strange” things my grandmother did, I now know had a lot to do with her life circumstances. Born in 1902, she was a married with three children when the U.S. was in the grips of the Great Depression. Like many who lived through that era, she learned to save all the items she had and find ways to reuse them, rather than throw things away.

I, on the other hand, was a privileged child of the ‘80s who had everything I needed and more. I learned about the Great Depression in school, but it seemed more like a story than real life. Poverty, hunger, and desperation were simply words to me. I didn’t understand why my grandma couldn’t just get with the times and live like “normal” people.

Now the tables are somewhat turned. As the economy struggles to recover from the Great Recession, many Americans (me included) are looking for ways to cut back and live on less. I’m learning that accumulating lots of stuff doesn’t make me happy, nor does working in a boring cubicle job whose main purpose is to generate money so I can buy more stuff.

And I’m not alone. There’s a growing trend toward living simply and sustainably, not only as a way to save money, but for better health, greater happiness, and a cleaner environment. When I think about her now, I see my grandma wasn’t weird at all, she was saving the earth!

Today, I’m the one with the reusable bags, cooking meals from scratch, and fixing things that break rather than throwing them away. My other sustainability ventures include going vegan, growing my own vegetables, and buying more things secondhand. I think Grandma would be proud.

Now that I’m older, I see how much I take after my grandmother. My ear for music, my positive attitude, my love of word games and puzzles, and my passion for animals are all traits I inherited from her.

My Grandma Gladys died when I was 19. I loved her so much, but I hadn’t yet learned to appreciate her because of, not in spite of, her peculiarities. If she were alive today, I bet we’d have some amazing talks. And I’d be able to tell her what a cool grandma she turned out to be.

Please, leave a comment with your thoughts. If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Peculiar Girl or share it on Twitter or Facebook.

Adapted from a guest post I originally wrote in November 2011 for beirreplaceable.com.

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Princess culture, Super Bowl ads, and other sexist bullshit I hate

Feb 07 2013

The Future Is Female

Trigger warning: discussion of rape, sex trafficking

The older I get, the more I realize just how big the steaming piles of sexist bullshit are that society shovels onto girls and women every single day. From princess culture to the multi-billion dollar “beauty” industry, making billions by telling women they are too fat, too wrinkly, and too ugly; from the Republican right’s incessant chipping away at women’s access to affordable birth control and safe abortion to now blocking the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act because of changes that would extend protection to gays, lesbians, immigrants, and Native American women — some days it’s hard for this feminist to get out of bed and face the day.

Last week, after sitting through the seemingly endless barrage of sexist Super Bowl XLVII ads, learning that sex trafficking is a serious problem in my state (I don’t know why I’m surprised, it exists everywhere), and reading the transcript of a YouTube video where a high school boy laughs and jokes about a girl at a party being passed around and repeatedly raped while she was unconscious, I’m losing hope that I will live to see the day where all people, regardless of gender, will be treated as equals and with respect.

Those who say we live in a post-feminist society are completely full of shit. Folks, it’s time to put on our hip waders and start shoveling. We have a lot of work to do. How are you helping to bring equality to all?

Please, leave a comment with your thoughts. If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Peculiar Girl or share it on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo by EditorB on Flickr.

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The importance of doing nothing

Jan 31 2013

24 hours?  I better take a nap

I love days like today, where there is nothing that I “have” to do, and I can focus on the things I want to do. I had a dentist appointment in the morning, and after that my calendar was completely open. No meetings, no deadlines, nowhere to go, and nothing to do.

Days like this are rare. I usually have something work-related going on every day, whether it’s teaching a yoga class, writing an article, or working at my part-time job.

Still, I take care to ensure that I don’t end up a victim of busy-itis. You know, those people who are always “soooo busy,” said as if it’s a badge of honor to never do anything except work, clean and shuttle your kids from one activity to another.

Being constantly busy is soul-crushing. We all need time to think, to rest, to simply be. Our culture, however, encourages incessant busyness. If you’re like me, you grew up hearing adults say thinks like “Idle hands are the devil’s playground” and “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

As a writer, I need time to daydream. I cannot simply summon good ideas at a moment’s notice. Yet, when I worked as a writer for corporations, it was often expected of me to do exactly this. Sitting quietly and thinking were perceived by others as me goofing off.

At one of my previous jobs, a coworker told me that an executive remarked in her team’s meetings on more than one occasion, “What does Cheryl do all day, anyway?” as if writing content for product packaging, brochures, the company website, and the like all just happened on its own. I was soon laid off from that job. I suspect the other executives eventually agreed that writing is easy, takes very little time, and that anyone can do it.

In a way I’m thankful, because not long after that I found the courage to take time out from my own busy schedule to really think—dream—about what kind of life I wanted, and I started working toward that goal. I earn less than half the salary I used to make at that corporate job, but I am infinitely happier.

I know I’m very fortunate. Some people don’t have the luxury to worry about anything other than finding their next meal or shelter from the cold. I also have a wonderfully supportive partner who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I don’t take any of these things for granted.

If you have a decent job and a roof over your head, give yourself permission to do nothing on occasion, to goof off, to be idle. Here are some of my favorite ways to recharge my batteries.

  • Take a nap
  • Watch a marathon of a favorite TV show (Bones, anyone?)
  • Experiment with recipes
  • Walk the dog
  • Play a game (I’m loving Candy Crush Saga these days, and Scrabble is a perennial favorite)

What are your favorite ways to not be busy?

Have something to add? Please, leave a comment with your thoughts. If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Peculiar Girl or share it on Twitter or Facebook.

Image by mike@bensalem on Flickr.



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Shut up about your goddamn bacon, already

Jan 17 2013

Pot-bellied Piglet

I iz ur bacon?

I get it. Bacon tastes good. It’s crispy, salty, and fatty. Just like other crispy, salty, fatty things, it sends “OMG, yum!” signals to the brain. French fries, potato chips, onion rings…they all have similar effects on our brains. One taste, and we instantly want more.

There is a biological reason for this. Fats are crucial for survival, and they were once hard to come by, when humans were hunter-gathers and had to search far and wide for adequate calories. Salt helps our bodies maintain an appropriate level of fluids.

Still, I am sick to death of people waxing poetic over bacon, like it’s the Holy Grail of foods, without which you will shrivel up and DIE, because life has no meaning without fried strips of tissue from a pig’s belly, back, or sides.

People will wrap anything in bacon, it seems. Seriously, have you seen this disgusting homage to over-consumption? It’s called the turbaconducken. Who the fuck needs to eat a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey and then entirely wrapped in bacon? Let’s see how many more animals we can kill and consume in one meal.

(Also…Bacon Today? Really? Do we really need an entire website devoted to bacon? With a sub-page called Bacon News? Apparently, bacon “news” is links to other websites that mention the word bacon.)

Look, I’m not saying that everyone should be a vegan. I know it isn’t practical for everyone. I just wish more people would stop and think about where their food comes from.

Pigs are very smart (smarter than most dogs), sensitive animals. In the U.S., more than 100 million pigs are slaughtered every year for food, and your precious bacon. Many of them suffer in factory farms, in quarters so small that they cannot move during their entire lives.

You may say you don’t care, and that animals were put on this earth for us to eat. Perhaps that’s true. I don’t believe it is, but does that really give anyone the right to treat them as nothing more than products on an assembly line?

If you’ve never had the opportunity to hang out with a pig, I encourage you to take a trip to a farm sanctuary and meet one. It may not change your mind about eating animals, but perhaps you’ll see that even farm animals have feelings and unique personalities. A pig is not an “it,” but a “who.” Find a farm sanctuary near you.

One last bit of advice. If you happen to find yourself in a conversation with a vegan, and his or her being vegan comes up (It might not. Many vegans prefer not to discuss such personal matters with people they’ve just met), and your first instinct is to say something like, “I could never do that, I can’t live without bacon,” just know that we’ve heard it dozens, if not hundreds, of times before, and that it isn’t funny, and that liking, or not liking, bacon, has absolutely nothing to do with becoming a vegan.

You could live without bacon. In fact, millions of people live exceptionally full, rewarding lives without the stuff. You simply choose not to.

And if you dare write “Mmm, bacon” or anything about “tasty animals” in my blog comments I will delete your pathetic attempt at wit and/or insultery, and then pray to Buddha every day until I die that you end up a factory-farmed pig in your next life.

Now, please excuse me while I eat this entire bag of jalapeno potato chips.

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Photo by Ellenm1 on Flickr


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9 commonly misused words and phrases

Oct 04 2012

Can you spot the major typo in this magazine headline?

I find typos all the time—in articles, on signs, on TV news captions, and in business letters. I’ll admit it. I’m a spelling and grammar snob. As a kid I looked forward to diagramming sentences in English class—really—and thought spelling bees were terrific fun. Language and words are fascinating to me.

I’m not saying I’m perfect. I make typos, too. If it weren’t for my eagle-eye husband, you would see plenty more of them on my blog. But when I turned the page of my October issue of BRAVA and saw the major typo pictured above, I gasped out loud.

Here’s the problem. A king or queen reigns, but you rein in a horse. The headline should read, “Cancer survivor Michele Wilkinson turned a troubling diagnosis into an opportunity to take life by the reins.”

Now I happen to know that BRAVA recently lost its esteemed editor-in-chief, so the office was probably in a state of disarray, struggling to put this issue together without her. Still, it pains me to think that professionals in the publishing business don’t know the difference between reigns and reins. On the other hand, I doubt many people will notice. In the grand scheme of things, typos are pretty low on the list of things to worry about.

Mistakes are unavoidable. Even big, “What was I thinking?” mistakes. We all make them. When you make a mistake, the most important thing you can do is show yourself some compassion and not beat yourself up over it. As the saying goes: To err is human; to forgive, divine. This includes forgiving ourselves for our own mistakes, not just forgiving others for theirs.

After all, mistakes are sometimes the best catalysts for positive change. For example, if I had never dated men who were wrong for me (really, really wrong), I may never have recognized when I found the right one.

Some mistakes, however, are simple to avoid. Here are some phrases I see and hear misused all the time. Are you guilty of making these common mistakes in English?

  1. Nip it in the bud, not butt. To nip something in the bud means to stop a problem before it grows into an even bigger problem. Like the bud of a tree. Get it? Nipping something in the butt will only piss it off.
  2. Tip your hand vs. Tip your hat. I often hear people say, “Tip your hat” when they in mean, “Tip your hand.” To tip your hand is an allusion to card-playing, meaning you are letting your opponent see what you are planning to do. Tipping your hat to someone is a compliment. “I tip my hat to you, sir!”
  3. Coming down the pike, not pipe. Think of the sorts of things that flow through pipes. Would you want to look in there and see what’s coming? I didn’t think so. The correct word is “pike,” as in turnpike, meaning the highway.
  4. Flesh out the plan, not flush. Flushing out a plan would mean getting rid of it and starting over. If your meaning is that your plan needs further development, then your plan needs fleshing, not flushing. This phrase is based on the idea of adding flesh to a picture that only shows the bones of a creature.
  5. Take someone for granted, not granite. Yes, I have actually heard and seen “Take it for granite.” How does a person mistake another for a slab of rock mined from the earth? I am extremely perplexed by this one.
  6. I bawled my eyes out, not balled. To bawl means to cry loudly. Ball, when used as a verb, means to wad something up, or is vulgar slang for sexual intercourse. So, unless you literally fucked out your own eyes, you mean bawl.
  7. My curiosity was piqued, not peaked. This is an easy one to get wrong, because the word “peaked” seems to make sense. Your curiosity is going up, like a peak. The correct word, however, is piqued, which means stimulated.
  8. The point is moot, not mute. Moot is word we don’t use much anymore, which may be the source of confusion for some people. A moot point is an irrelevant question, or a matter of no importance. For example, it’s a moot point whether the chicken or the egg came first. Mute means silent or incapable of sound.
  9. Scapegoat, not escape goat. A scapegoat is a patsy, someone who is made to take the blame for something he or she didn’t do. When spoken aloud, it does sound a bit like “escape goat,” but even that explanation only goes so far. Think I’m making this up? Check out this headline from the New York Post.

I’m sure there are many, many more, but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. What English mistakes drive you batty? Got any favorite typos to share? Did I make a typo in this post? Tell me about it in the comments!

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