Not Up to Snuff


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To be substandard is to be below the acceptable state.  A rotten tomato is substandard.  So is a rotten politician, but I won’t go there today.  What intrigues me is a saying I’ve heard for years:  “It’s just not up to snuff.”

Really?  Snuff?  I know what that is, but the connection  eludes me, so off I go to word etymology and the origin of such phrases.

There are two meaning for this rather funny word. The original snuff has a hidden origin, and during the 14th century is referred to the burnt part of a candlewick.  Used as a verb, then, to snuff a candle was to extinguish the flame.

Image result for snuff a candle


Then there is the powdered tobacco that was inhaled through the nostrils, beginning later, in the 1680’s. A rather nasty habit, in my opinion, but then we have plenty of our own nasty habits–like spitting tobacco juice from a chaw.  Blech.

Image result for Elegant man inhaling snuff

The meaning of snuff, then, was to draw up through the nose.  The word soon became a noun, and snuff was carried in elegant and often quite expensive and elaborate snuff boxes.

The verb form has also come to be applied to having a head cold, or, as we would say, a case of the sniffles–a word derived from snuffle, which isn’t used as often these days.

Interestingly, snuffing tobacco is likely to have come from the Dutch word snuiftabak, whose meaning is pretty obvious.  Because the habit of snuffing tobacco was  popular in Europe for a very long time, it became quite refined as better-quality varieties were created.  So being up to snuff  was to be of excellent quality rather than just satisfactory or usual.  Bad snuff was substandard, to be sure.

In my browsing of this word, I also read an unsubstantiated idea that, since the sense of smell is the first to go when a person is dying, that poor soul was said to be “not up to snuff.”

I think that’s a stretch.  My sense of smell started dying several years ago, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to turn up my toes just yet.

Turn up my toes.  There’s another interesting little phrase. . . .


Top Secret



We all have them, those hidden places in the heart, or in the mind.  Our own secret fantasies of being the most popular kid in school, the homecoming queen, the Valentine Princess. For the guys, who doesn’t want to be the star quarterback, the hottest guy in school, the one who always has the prettiest girl on his arm?

These are relatively harmless dreams, mostly unfulfilled but it’s nice to dream, right?

I had a fantasy about being able to sit down at the piano and be a famous concert pianist.  Or maybe a #1 bestseller novelist. And of course, I wanted to be married and have  the ideal Father-Knows-Best kind of family 🙂

I still have some hidden secrets, things that even Terry doesn’t know.  And I’m not telling anyone what they are–no, not even you!

Are you as surprised as I have been at how easy it is to spill private things into blog posts?  I mean, I’ve never told you anything that would embarrass my family or make you–or me–blush; I have, however, shared some  things over the four years I’ve been doing this that I don’t usually discuss. Is it the anonymity we find behind our computer screens?  I don’t know.

Did you ever have a crush that you kept hidden?  Like, for an entire school year?  And every time your crush said “Hi!”  you thought, “Oh, maybe this is it! Maybe now he/she will notice me.”  And every day, you make up scenes  of accidentally bumping into your crush, spilling your books all over, just like they do in the romance movies.  Your crush may always be friendly, but the day you see that person walking off with someone else and you know all hope is gone, you just want to go somewhere and cry and eat chocolate.

These secrets are normal and harmless, most of the time. Sometimes, though, the hidden things reveal themselves in horror and tragedy. I’m thinking of Columbine, and many other situations in which the shooters have felt they were bullied, ignored, disliked.  I don’t believe there is ever an excuse to terrorize a school full of children, or to take lives because you’re hurt and angry.  There have been plenty of times in the course of my life when I’ve been bullied, teased beyond endurance, misunderstood, misquoted, misrepresented.  I had terrible acne starting when I was only 10, and I believed for a long time that the only thing other people saw was my collection of zits.  Good grief, I even had a big old volcano erupt on my chin on my wedding day!  But notice–it was my wedding day 🙂  I have certainly lived happily ever after, for the most part. And still, there are secrets, hidden thoughts, desires, dreams.

I recently turned 70, and I’m here to tell you that age may change the direction of your hidden secrets, but you’ll still have them. Wisdom is knowing when not to share them. Lots of people tell me things in my counseling office that they say they’ve never told anyone else, ever.  I’m glad they feel safe with me, and I promise you I’ve never revealed any of those secrets, ever.

So relax, if you’re worried about your hidden dreams.  You’re normal. No, really! Everyone has them. Not everyone achieves all of their dreams, but most of us get to realize one or two over the course of our lives. It’s enough.


PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

When the phone finally rang, her muscles turned to jelly. Waiting for the designated fifth ring, she slid down the wall until she was sitting, trembling, on the floor.

“Agent 47.”

“You have failed. Miserably. We had such high hopes for you.  Have you any explanation?”

“Nothing was where you said it would be,” she gasped, strangling on her own breath. “I tried. Really, I gave it everything I have.”

“Not quite. You will, though. Wait where you are. There is no place to run, no place to hide.”

And there wasn’t.

One of My Favorite Things


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Tea!  How delightful to have a prompt-word that brings up pictures of lovely tea services, ladies in tea gowns and big hats, and the delectable little treats that accompany an English tea.  But since I’ve written about tea more than once, I think I’ll go in a little different direction today.

Most of us give very little thought to the growing , harvesting, and processing of tea.Tea belongs to the camellia family of plants.  It was so precious that, in many English manors of the wealthy, it was kept under lock and key so “the help” couldn’t help themselves to more than their allotted share. Part of its value lay in the distance it traveled on merchant ships.  And of course, when there is a high demand for any commodity,  the supply diminishes and the price goes up.

Image result for harvesting tea

Even today, tea requires a lot of time and attention. It is picked mostly by hand. Tea is grown in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, South India, and China, where summer lasts all year round. In cooler climates, tea can’t be harvested year round but is still grown, for instance, in Japan and other countries that offer more than one season of growth.

Tea is harvested  by hand, and the pickers take only a few top young and juicy leaves with a portion of the stem on which they have grown and the so-called bud (or tip) – an unexpanded leaf at the end of the shoot.

In tropical areas, tea is harvested year ’round. In cooler climates, it may be harvested up to four times a year.

There are so many different teas that there isn’t time to describe them all. Many of them gain their unique flavor and aroma through the processing of the leaves, and sometimes the soil in which the plants grow contributes a distinctive flavor as well.

So the next time  you enjoy a fragrant cup of your favorite brew, picture in your mind the hands that picked the leaves, the work required to harvest, process, package and promote your favorite brew.  Maybe it will give you a whole new appreciation as you drink it.

The Ties that Bind


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Any time someone says the word tradition in our family, someone else will always break into that song from The Fiddler on the Roof.
It’s a tradition.
All  of us have a few traditions.  It’s traditional, for instance, to have turkey for Thanksgiving Day; maybe again for Christmas; and ham for Easter. Why? Well, we know the settlers had turkey on that first Thanksgiving celebration. Not sure why we have it for Christmas, except that it goes a long way, and there are often many mouths to feed on Christmas day.  Ham for Easter?  No idea.  It’s tradition.

I learned a new tradition two years ago in Slovakia. It is the greeting of the double-cheek kiss.  I was uncomfortable at first, because in America the traditional greeting is a handshake. I grew comfortable with it pretty quickly, though, and I actually kind of miss it.


Another Slovakian tradition is a bowl of some king of clear soup before the main course of the  biggest meal of the day.  I loved it. They’re amazing cooks over there. Lots of different soups, all delicious.


In our family, we hold hands around table when we say grace.  And it’s also a tradition that no one starts eating dessert until Mom has finished serving it and is able to sit down. This habit has made some guests a bit uncomfortable when they realized no one else was eating the dessert. Obviously, that wasn’t a tradition in their homes.
Many years ago, when I was about 14, we were invited to Sunday dinner by a wonderful couple and their two sons.  The lady of the house served while we ate, replenishing serving bowls and refilling water glasses. She never sat down until the rest of us were finished. I’ll never forget how uncomfortable my dad was with that.  He asked her once to sit and join us, but the reaction  made it clear that this was their tradition. She ate when all the guests were satisfied. If there had been any daughters, they would have been helping her. My mom offered to help, but was told firmly that she was a guest. It’s the way that family was comfortable.  I was more appreciative than ever, after that, for the way my dad insisted Mom be at the table with us before the meal started.
There was nothing subservient or forced about their behavior. It was their tradition, and they were comfortable with it.
For a long time, it was traditional for my sister and me to get a goodnight kiss and hug from Mom first, and then from Dad.  I don’t remember when we stopped doing that. It just kind of disappeared at some point.
I’m sure most of you have similar memories of some sort. If you didn’t grow up in a home that encouraged family traditions, then I hope you will develop some of your own. They are often the ties that help hold a family together.

Stinky Socks, but not Roses


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It is true that we often don’t value something until we lose it.  I’ve lost quite a bit of my sense of smell over the years, due to many sinus infections and medications.  I really miss it.

I’ve always loved the smell of bread baking.  Smells funny to me now.  Bacon frying used to beckon me like a magnet.  Now it smells off, like maybe it’s rancid.

I’ve always loved the smell of the earth after a good, soaking rain. Can’t smell it any more. To smell flowers, I have to get my nose right up into the blossom. So sad.

Image result for lady with her nose in a rose

Fragrance is a positive smell; odor, not so much.  I have a perfume that I’ve enjoyed for years. Terry tells me it smells just the same as always (he likes it, too), but to me there’s not much smell to it at all.

There are some things I can still smell.  A moldy, mildewed basement; skunk;  something burning.   Body odor.

Isn’t that strange?  I’ve lost so many of the wonderful aromas of life, but I can still smell stinky socks.  Or bathrooms.  I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of moral to be applied, but I can’t figure out what it is.

I’m just sad that my sniffer doesn’t sniff as well as it used to.

The Cure for Anger


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Yesterday, I used the daily prompt, dormant, to talk  about how anger that lies hidden deep inside can erupt into violence or descend into depression.  Today, I’m stretching a point in using today’s prompt, harmonize, to talk about how a person who has been very angry can learn to live in harmony with the other people in his life.  Here is the cure:

Yesterday, I wrote about anger and its results. You can see that article here:


Of course, there is much more to it than one short article can provide. What I shared yesterday, though, is a very common scenario for people who come to my counseling office for help with their anger. There can be other root causes for anger, but the result is always the same. The person who has been hurt or offended, especially over a long period of time, descends into self-pity, then to bitterness, and finally to depression. The depression will manifest with either anger and irritability, or with lots of tears, isolation, and thoughts of suicide. Either way, it’s a miserable way to live–and it’s not much fun for the people who live with the angry person.

So what is the cure? It’s complicated, as are all human emotions and reactions; however, it can be summed up in one word. The way to prevent a descent into self-pity, bitterness and depression is to learn to forgive. Forgiveness is the cure for chronic anger that leads to all those other miseries.

Because I’ve been doing counseling for 16 years now, I’ve already heard all the objections and excuses for why forgiveness is NOT the right answer. Here’s a short list of the most common objections:

But then the guilty person gets away with it!

But I don’t FEEL forgiveness–I just feel hatred, anger, or disgust.

But if I forgive him/her, then the bad treatment will continue!

Let me give you the reasons why forgiveness is so important.

First of all, God commands it. In the Bible, in Matthew 6: 9-13, Jesus made it clear the if we do not forgive others, then the Father cannot forgive us. Refusing to forgive is a primary cause of a broken relationship with God.

We forgive others in order to release ourselves from the prison of bitterness, depression, and our own anger.

We need to understand that when we refuse to forgive, the one(s) who hurt us continue to control our emotions, even from the grave.

Forgiving does not mean that we have to continue to accept abusive treatment at any level.

Finally, we can’t wait for the other person to ask for our forgiveness. They may never feel they’ve done anything wrong, and see no need to ask for forgiveness.

In my office, we often talk through these points over a period of several weeks. We don’t have that kind of time or space here, so I’m going to offer three more points that I hope will be helpful.

First, forgiveness is not just saying, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.” Mistreatment and abuse are not okay. They need to be confronted and forgiven. If the offender insists he’s done no wrong, then the offended person needs to remove himself as much as possible from the abuse. There is help available through many avenues, including your state’s child protective services and/or shelters for victims of abuse; if you are a person of faith, there may be counseling available through your church.

Second, forgiveness is not a feeling or emotion. If we wait until we feel forgiving, it may never happen. Instead, forgiveness is a choice we make, an act of the will. It is a decision that is the beginning of a process.

Finally, forgiveness is a process, not an event. You will find that after the first moment you finally decide to forgive, you will feel an immense relief, like setting down a very heavy suitcase. But it will sneak back up on you when you least expect it, bringing all the ugly emotions back to life. At that moment, you have to forgive again. And again, and again, over and over, until even the memory of the abuse no longer engenders an emotional response. It gets easier with time. I know.

I would be happy to discuss any of this further in the comments section. I understand that just reading this once is probably not going to be enough. If you are struggling with anger, my prayer is that you will let it go, and learn to enjoy a life free of bitterness and defeat.


The Human Condition


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I believe  that anyone who is a psychotherapist for any length of time also becomes  a philosopher.  It is not that we rival the Aristotles of the world, but there is a tendency to think more deeply about the human mind, heart, and spirit when you work with hurting people all day.

There is one type of counseling I do that touches me to the core.  It is the tendency of many people to struggle with a deep, smoldering anger that eventually affects every relationship throughout the course of their lives, unless they learn the only way I know to eliminate the anger. The worst-case scenario is the tendency to erupt into physical violence against whoever pushes that dangerous red button.

Here’s a typical story of how this often-unrecognized anger gets its start:

Bob was a big man, over six feet tall, burly and outspoken.  In his own words, he “don’t take no crap from nobody.” He says he’s in my office because his wife thinks he has “anger issues” and she’s about to leave him if he doesn’t get some help. As I listen to his story, the pieces begin to fall into place. There are no two stories that are exactly the same, but they are close enough for me to recognize the pattern.

Bob tells me that his dad was a hard-working man who spent very little time with his family, often working 12 or more hours every day. When he was home, he was usually sleeping. The kids learned not to bother him, because his hand was hard, heavy, and as quick as a rattlesnake.  His mom went about her household duties without saying much. The main communication in the household was between the siblings, and it went on either outdoors or in their bedrooms.

Still, no matter how hard they worked at staying under the radar, Dad seemed to find a reason to haul off and hit hard. He was especially vindictive toward Bob, who was the eldest. Dad often told Bob he wouldn’t amount to anything, but that he, Dad, was there to teach him his place, and to teach him to suck it up and be a man.  The bruises could usually be covered with clothing, but the wounds to the soul and spirit weren’t that easy to conceal.

Finally, as Bob grew into his young man’s body and began to add some bulk, he became less afraid of his dad and a lot more angry.  The confrontation came when Bob was 16. He was as tall as his dad by then, and he didn’t flinch when dad hauled off and punched him. He looked his dad in the eye and said, “Do YOU feel better?”  And that was the last time he was physically hurt. Dad was smart enough to understand that Bob was ready to defy him physically.

The verbal and emotional abuse continued, however, and Bob married young. He and his wife moved far enough away so  that there would be no daily contact. As time passed, there was no contact at all.

However, Bob became his father.  He never struck his wife, and he wouldn’t even spank his children. But his verbal outbursts exploded all over the household, and terrified his children. Nothing pleased him, and he was especially hard on his oldest son. His wife finally gave him the ultimatum:  Get some help or I’m leaving.

Usually I approach this kind of situation gently and carefully, because if the man is offended, it’s not likely he’ll come back. However, I sensed that Bob was a man who would prefer getting right to the point–so I did.

“Bob, you’re an angry man, and you’ve been angry for a long time.  I’m not going to waste time with teaching you methods to control your anger. You wouldn’t want to just “control” cancer. You’d want to get rid of it, even if it caused you the pain of surgery. Anger is like that. You can control it for a while, but then it erupts again, causing more damage each time. Would you like to learn how to eliminate this dormant beast that takes very little prodding to bring to life?”

“Well, yeah, sure. And especially if I don’t have to come back here!”

“Well, I can’t promise you that.  But I think you’ll be willing to come back for a while if you’ll trust me.  I can help you, but it’s not going to be overnight.”

By this time, we were at the end of our session, and Bob agreed to come back in about a week.

Next post:  The Cure

Too Much


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Two things immediately come to mind.  The song, of course:



The second isn’t quite so pleasant.  I was in fifth grade. We’d had a Christmas party in our classroom in which we exchanged inexpensive gifts.  I have been given a huge Sugar Daddy Lollipop.

Sugar Daddy Giant 1-Pound Caramel Pop

A solid pound of milk caramel sugar on a stick. I couldn’t leave it alone.  Sugar is addicting for me, and I leave it alone most of the time. But this time, I was only 11, and I had the sense of a fruit fly. By bedtime, I’d eaten about 3/4 of my big lollipop.  Then supper. An hour later, I was rushing for the bathroom and didn’t quite make it. Tossed my supper and my candy on the floor in the hallway.  No one was very happy with me that night.

I’ve never eaten Sugar Babies or a Sugar Daddy since.  In fact, I really don’t much like caramel.

True Story

Photo credit:  Kent Bonham

In 1968-9, Terry had an old powder-blue VW that I was learning to drive. I had a little trouble with the gear shift-clutch thing.

One evening we were tootling along a back road so I could practice. Only thing was, I didn’t know about the railroad tracks hidden by tall grass, so when he hollered “STOP!” I did–right over the tracks. No help in sight.  He pushed and I tried to steer. Finally a pickup truck and two hefty young men showed up.  The three men lifted the car off the tracks and  onto the road.

Laughing all the way.


(This was an instant flashback in time!  It’s amazing to me that he married me anyway 🙂  But then, he couldn’t understand why I was embarrassed and mad as a hornet when all those macho dudes laughed until they cried. Men. No sensitivity at all.  I don’t usually comment on my stories here, but this one, I felt, needed a bit more explanation than 100 words allowed 🙂 )