On Stealthy Potatoes

I have been allergic to potatoes since I was a little kid, but at first, I only reacted to raw ones. Once they were cooked, they were safe. Over time, the reaction worsened until I could not be in the room with potatoes. Breathing became highly optional. For a while, I carried an epi-pen in case the optional breathing became more urgent than just a little coughing and wheezing. You know the classic allergic reaction to peanuts?  Yeah, like that. Anaphylaxis in a big way.

People attributed my potato allergy to psychology rather than immunology, assuming that if I didn’t know the spuds were there, I wouldn’t react.  Nice theory, but a couple kids in my class sneaking Pringles out of their lunch bag proved that one wrong as did a couple teachers in a conference who came into a meeting behind me with their bags of potato chips.

Weirdly, though, if I went to a wide-open space where the potato:human ratio favored humans, I might not react so badly. Stress and airborne allergy issues also seemed to play a part.  More stress = bigger reaction.  Grass and mold allergies going bonkers?  Keep the potatoes on the other side of the planet, please.

School cafeterias, with their French fry joy and mashed potato bliss were toxic to even walk into. As a result, for much of my 14-year teaching career, I swapped my cafeteria duty weeks with others on my team. As a result, I had permanent recess duty. Tedious and no fun at all in August and May, never mind those weird days in January when the weather drops to subfreezing, even here in Texas. Still, there are worse fates.

Last week, I had an unexpected potato adventure.

I work at a local retailer in the vision department. My job includes advising people on the purchase of glasses, placing orders, and bending frames back into shape after someone sits on them. There’s a fast food burger joint located at the other end of the store, and naturally, they serve potatoes in a couple forms.

One lady came in and sat down with me to talk about making a pair of glasses to a new prescription. As I was doing data entry, she excused herself, darted down to the burger joint, and came back with lunch. She had a burger in hand and chowed down while we reviewed the options for lens types. Burger completed, she reached back into the bag and pulled out a box of fries. She was sitting within an arm’s length … eating freshly made potato fries … and I could still breathe??

(No, I did not start reacting when I actually saw the fries. Further evidence against the psychology argument.)

The lady finalized her purchase and her lunch and left.

Normally, being within an arm’s length of potatoes would result in coughing, hacking, gasping, wheezing, and swelling around my eyes. This time, no reaction at all.

I have no plans to try eating spuds myself, but perhaps I can hang out with someone while they do. I don’t know for sure, and I don’t plan to push my luck, but maybe seeing potatoes will no longer be cause for panic.

Book Spotlight: The Shaughnessy File

Fellow PDMI Publishing author, Etta Jean, is revealing her cover today and sharing a bit about her book. Enjoy!



Welcome to the 3rd District in New York City where pumpkins become limos and corporations are kingdoms in this modern take on classic faerie tales.


Trouble starts in the Shaughnessy household when youngest daughter Aenya starts dancing her way through her shoes every night—without ever leaving her room! She keeps her double life a secret from all the men who try to find the truth, but then private investigator Hiro Michaels arrives on the scene. Can she find a way to have her dreams and her love all at the same time?


Kienan Shaughnessy throws his dreams of a musical career on a wild gamble that takes a detour once he meets plain nightingale Madelyne Winters. The young innkeeper has been burned by love and cursed by hate, and she can’t trust anyone as beautiful as swan-like Kienan. Can he teach her to sing a love song before it’s too late?


Eldest sibling Taegan Shaughnessy unexpectedly gets a new pair of glass slippers as he pines for a princess out of his reach. Station and impropriety alike threaten to keep Kalliope Tavoularis from having the man she loves, but this princess won’t take anything lying down. Can some help from an unlikely faerie godmother stop the clock from striking midnight forever?


Mel Shaughnessy is the wild-spirited beauty of the household. Though as smart as he is handsome, his college grades have plummeted past the point of no return. His only hope is the university’s tutor: a woman nicknamed ‘the beast’. Audra Alexandros has no sympathy, and no graces, and yet there’s something about this lone wolf that Mel finds himself helplessly drawn toward. Can the beauty win the beast and close the file on the Shaughnessy Family for good?



Etta Jean was made in England but born in Sacramento, California. Her destiny as a bard was somewhat inevitable. Little else can explain how she constantly told her mother tall tales so outlandish that she couldn’t even get grounded for them. A love of worlds created by others eventually brought out the desire to create her own, and she has never looked back. She has seen both good and evil in her life, and her stories, like life, have no half measures. Her happy endings never come without cost, though, for she truly believes we can’t appreciate the good and the joy without the bad and the pain along the way.

On Enthusiasm and Muppets

One of the things that amuses and amazes me about The Muppets — aside from how long they’ve been around — is how unique each character is.  Each of The Muppets in the major cast has something that they’re either very good at or very enthusiastic about. Kermit runs everything. Miss Piggy is a drama queen. Rolf the Dog plays the piano. Sam the Eagle strives for propriety in everything. Even Animal plays the drums with some personal gusto.

One of my childhood favorites — well, as far back as I can remember anyway — was the Swedish Chef.



Wow, what a nut.  Enthusiastic, but a nut all the same. Then while I was teaching, I went searching for safe and amusing videos to show my class on those inevitable days when we were stuck inside for bad weather. I stumbled upon new videos with The Muppets. The Swedish Chef, Beaker, and Animal feature in these pretty often. Here’s one with just Swedish Chef.



Although I wouldn’t want him anywhere near my kitchen, the Swedish Chef has some real passion for his work. There’s something to that.

Everyone is good at some skill. Even many animals seem to have a particular talent. My bird, for example, can disassemble quicklinks and take bolts apart. Not bad for a critter that weighs in at about a pound, but that does make keeping her in her cage while I’m at work a little more challenging.  Fortunately, padlocks are currently beyond her skill set.


Rebel being funny 002


My passion has little to do with quicklinks or cooking. I enjoy writing. It’s a hobby I look forward to, and sometimes I become resentful of people or things that take me away from it for very long, but there was a long spurt of time when I stopped writing. It went to the wayside in part because I was being pulled by too many other interests.

I was teaching elementary then, and the commitment for that left little time. I was involved in a local theater group as a sound, light, and prop nerd; and I had an interest in learning sleight of hand. My hands quiver, which made that an interesting challenge, but I was determined.

These were all things I was sincerely interested in, but they took time away from what I really wanted to be doing. I had books that I had written and needed to find a publisher for and other books that had stalled until I could scare up the time to get back to them and yet others that were waiting to be written. More than anything I wanted to make progress on my writing.

Although I didn’t officially set any goals, I took a careful look at everything I was doing and prioritized what I wanted most. I returned to writing with some enthusiasm. Perhaps when I finish my Master’s in Adult Ed and return to teaching — my second passion — I’ll have some time to get back into sleight of hand, local theater groups, Renaissance fencing, and other fun interests, but for now, I’m happy being able to write in my spare time.

What are you good at? Do you approach it with passion, or has it faded under too many other cares?


On Cookies

During my first freshman semester in college, I took a class on world history. The professor was an older gentleman from Romania traveling around and teaching a semester or two at different universities. Nice guy. Excellent teacher. If he finished his lecture for the day early, he would tell us either about his life in Romania or about an observation of being in the United States.

One day, he was telling us about his first trip to a US grocery store, comparing it to Romanian grocery stores.

He gasped and covered his mouth with his hand for a moment. “And then I turned into another row and the entire row — from floor to above my head — was full of biscuits.  All kinds of biscuits. Every shape, size, flavor imaginable.”

I thought he meant the bread aisle, but then he mentioned the chocolate ones. Donuts?  No, there’s no “row full of donuts” in the average US grocery store.

One of the upper classmen figured it out. “Sir, do you mean cookies?”

“Oh, yes, yes, you are right. I am not using the American name. Good, good. You keep correcting my American English.”

That was the first time I realized that English in America and English in other parts of the world was not necessarily the same thing. Oh, I knew that accents and dialects differed, but vocabulary? That, I did not know.

I learned a lot in that class, and not all of it history.

grocery store flickr Lyza 2004 creative commons

(c) 2004 Lyza // Retrieved from Flickr // Used unchanged under Creative Commons License

On Communication

I’m currently taking online Master’s coursework for a degree in Adult Education with a specialization in Training and Performance Improvement. Many of the courses have addressed the issue of communication, the use of symbols to convey ideas. This is a complicated process by anyone’s standards.

Words, whether spoken or written, are just symbols. They have no meaning unless we as a group assign meaning to them. A single event or object can have multiple symbols to represent it. “Rock” and “stone,” for example, both refer to a hunk of mineral-based matter. You’ll find them in abundance in the “dirt” or “soil” in the part of Texas where I live. Likewise, you can have one symbol used for many ideas. If I tell you something is “cool,” you wouldn’t know if I’m referring to temperature or desirability or aloofness without more context.

If verbal communication weren’t complicated enough, you can throw nonverbal cues into the mix. The 2009-2011 TV show Lie to Me was based on the premise that body language could be interpreted to figure out what a person meant, but even then, there are ample opportunities to misread someone or to misunderstand what the person meant. For example, am I crossing my arms because I’m annoyed and defensive or because someone cranked the AC enough to use the room to hang beef?

People often try to control their body language or their words to hide their true intention, the whole point of Lie to Me. According to Adams and Galanes (2012), if there’s a difference, people tend to believe what the nonverbal cues are saying.

Perhaps that’s why written communication is harder to do well, more prone to miscommunication. There’s no nonverbal channel. If someone makes a comment on social media, “Hey want to go bungie jumping?” and I answer, “Oh, you bet,” the reader can’t tell if that’s actually “Dream on, dummy” or “Yeah! When and where?” Emoticons can go a long way toward fixing some of the problems, and some people have invented tags like [ sarc ] [ /sarc ] to indicate their emotions, but those still leave huge gaps.

In the end, perfect understanding might not be possible, and with all the trouble establishing shared meaning for our symbols, it’s a wonder we can communicate at all.

conversation chip griffin 2008 flickr creative commons

(c) 2008 Chip Griffin // Retrieved from Flickr under Creative Commons


Adams, K., & Galanes, G. J. (2012). Communicating in groups: Applications and skills.  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

On Deer

I live in a part of Texas that has a rather large — some say excessive — population of whitetail deer. At this time of the year, there are bucks with velveted antlers, does aplenty, and a scattering of fawns ranging from cocker spaniel-sized to grayhound-sized. If you have a brushy area, you have deer, even in neighborhoods like the one I live in.

whitetailed deer fawn and doe Rachid H Flickr creative commons

(c) 2010 Rachid H // Retrieved from Flickr and used under Creative Commons License

This morning I went out for a walk. Morning traffic zips down the road at what seems like a significant fraction of lightspeed, but probably isn’t too fast — except for that grey Mini. I can hear that Mini shift gears 4 times in under a quarter mile, so I’m thinking she’s exceeding the 30mph speed limit.

Anyway, I encountered a significant deer herd split up on both sides of the road with the bulk of the 20-25 critters parked in one guy’s yard having an early morning nap in the shade.  A dark green truck crested the hill, spooking a fawn on the opposite side of the road. The deer in this area are not only quick on their feet, but they can change directions on a dime and leave 9 cents in change.  This one did exactly that, and darted across the road … into the front grill of the truck.

The driver stopped, which I was happy to see. Many people who smack a deer out here keep on driving. He got out, looked at the deer, looked at his truck, talked to me for a minute about where exactly that one had come from, and then he left. He looked pretty shook up, which wasn’t surprising.

I paced for a couple minutes, conned my phone into recognizing cell service, and called 411 to get either animal control or non-emergency police numbers. At about that time, a city worker drove by, and I flagged him down. The deer — to my everlasting amazement — wobbled back to his feet and hobbled off, dragging one leg. I’m not sure I could have gotten back to my feet after getting smacked by a pickup, so that was a good trick.

After I told the city worker what had just happened, he said he’d take care of it and sent me on my way.

For anyone new to the area of major deer populations, remember this: deer are unpredictable creatures. This is a good thing in the wild. If your predator can’t figure out what you’re going to do next, you have a better chance at getting away.  Unfortunately, that means we driver sorts can’t exactly predict deer movements, either, and they’re particularly active at dawn and dusk, so watch it on your commute.

If you see deer, slow down.  If it’s dark, flicker your lights. If you do that, you’ll be less likely to find a deer with the hood of your car.