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.

On Love

I recently spoke about relationships with a Twenty-Something who lamented that there just wasn’t any love left in her marriage. I can relate. I felt the same way two years into my marriage when I wearied of being perpetually belittled and pushed around. (Remove any notions from your head that I was the perfect wife. I had my faults, too).

Years later — when I was definitely older; and if not wiser, then hopefully at least less foolish — I realized a fundamental truth. Love is not an emotion. Real, honest, sincere love is a decision to put the well-being of another person ahead of your own. When everything goes as it should, the other person makes the same choice about you, and there is a balanced, harmonious relationship where each person is looking out for the best of the other.

Often that doesn’t happen. Caregivers, for example, often lose out on the reciprocity because the other person simply doesn’t have the capacity to give back. That’s understandable and provides an opportunity for people to step in and provide for the caregiver.

Unfortunately, more often the lack of real love is due to the selfishness that is becoming more pervasive these days. It looks like an adult temper tantrum with pouting and demands. It sounds like excuses. In severe cases, it becomes abuse. That’s not love.

This is love:

  • Real love is patient. It doesn’t get irritated when someone is a little late or when someone has to be reminded to do or not do something for the 900th time today.
  • Real love is considerate. It takes the feelings of others into account and places those above it’s own desires.
  • Real love is not jealous. It doesn’t fly off the handle and jump to conclusions. It gives the other the benefit of doubt.
  • Real love does not boast. It takes pride in the accomplishments of the other and finds joy there.
  • Real love is not rude. It seeks to build up the other, not tear the other down.
  • Real love is willing to compromise without losing sight of truth. There are basic truths that should guide us, but real love picks its battles rather than fighting over the little things.
  • Real love lasts. It is not subject to our volatile emotions because it is a conscious choice, not a mere feeling.

There are, undoubtedly, examples to negate each of those characteristics, but the basic premise remains.  There are plenty of people who sound and act as if they are the center of their own universe and everyone — including a spouse — must pay homage. No wonder relationships collapse so quickly.  People expect the warm, fuzzy feelings of new affection to last, but they don’t. Once those wear off, many people conclude the relationship is over. They extricate themselves as soon as possible only to repeat the problem with another person in an unending cycle.

Set yourself free from the pattern. Choose to love another, even after the warm fuzzies of new love have gone.


(c) 2007 Robert Fornal. Used under Creative Commons License.

On Taro Chips

In the United States, you can find just about anything you want deep fried. There are the battered ones of course:  Fried chicken, corndogs, donuts, fried turkey, fried ice cream, fried butter, fried breakfast cereal, kids’ fruit-flavored sugar water, and just about anything else short of deep-fried brick on a stick. There are also the unbattered ones like potato chips, okra, green beans, beets, and other veggies.

Last week, I finished my lunch at work. It didn’t even get close to hitting the spot for lunch, and with my allergies, a trip through a drive thru somewhere is unsafe. I had an errand to run nearby, so I stopped in a health food store, hoping to get something like food I could grab and go. As usual, pickings were slim for someone with an allergy list that wipes out most of the aisles on the grocery store, but something odd caught my eye: taro chips.

Taro should not be confused with the deck of cards used by fortune tellers.  Taro is a root vegetable common to the Pacific islands. I’d never had taro before, so I decided to be brave and get a small bag that had nothing more than taro, sunflower oil, and sea salt. That sounded pretty straightforward. I had most of the bag eaten by the time I got back to work.

Unfortunately, by the time I clocked in for work, I had obvious indications that taro was not going to be a safe food. Headache, runny nose, tingling and burning sensation in my throat… all indications that taro would be good for other people. That was really very unfortunate, since they were rather tasty.


Taro root by SOMMAI at freedigitalphotos dot net

Taro Root picture courtesy of SOMMAI at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


My bird enjoyed the rest of them that night, and now I know that if I ever make it back to a Pacific island for a vacation, taro is a local food to avoid.

Book Spotlight: Hero’s Best Friend Anthology, Part 2: Other Cool Info

About the editor: Scott M. Sandridge is a writer, editor, freedom fighter, and all-around trouble-maker. His latest works as an editor include the Seventh Star Press anthologies Hero’s Best Friend: An Anthology of Animal Companions, and the two volumes of A Chimerical World, Tales of the Seelie Court and Tales of the Unseelie Court.

Book Synopsis for Hero’s Best Friend: How far would Gandalf have gotten without Shadowfax? Where would the Vault Dweller be without Dogmeat? And could the Beastmaster been the Beastmaster without his fuzzy allies? Animal companions are more than just sidekicks. Animals can be heroes, too!

Found within are twenty stories of heroic action that focuses on the furries and scalies who have long been the unsung heroes pulling their foolish human buddies out of the fire, and often at great sacrifice-from authors both established and new, including Frank Creed, S. H. Roddey, and Steven S. Long.

Whether you’re a fan of Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Science Fiction, or just animal stories in general, this is the anthology for you!

So sit back, kick your feet up, and find out what it truly means to be the Hero’s Best Friend.


Featured in Hero’s Best Friend: An Anthology of Animal Companions:

Joy Ward: “Toby and Steve Save the World”

Frank Creed: “Dusk”

Cassie Schau: “The Hunter’s Boy”

Steven Donahue: “Grit”

Jason Cordova: “Hill 142″

Herika R. Raymer: “Dook”..

Essel Pratt: “Brothers”.

Lisa Hawkridge: “Ezra’s Girl”.

S. H. Roddey: “Look What the Cat Dragged In.”

Steven S. Long: “The Wolf Sentinel”

Laura Anne Ewald: “Memorandum”

Cindy Koepp: “The Hat”.

Ian Hunter: “Scarheid in the Glisting”.

Steven Grassie: “The Masterless”.

David Wright: “Wind of Change”

Renee Carter Hall: “The Emerald Mage”..

Nick Bryan: “The Violet Curse”..

Lillian Csernica & Kevin Andrew Murphy:

“The Restless Armadillo”.

Douglas J. Ogurek: “Stuck on the Squigglybounce”

Sheila Deeth: “Passage”


Editor Links:










Amazon Links for Hero’s Best Friend

Print Version


Kindle Version