Life Lesson from a Serrated Knife

Dad was a scientist. To be precise, he was a rocket scientist. He loved us, but until we were able to hold a decent conversation, his love was limited to providing for us. My predominant memory of him is the back of his head, studying and writing. We knew not to bother him. But occasionally, he became involved in our lives through science. Sometimes it was physics, sometimes biology.

We baked our own bread. My French mother wasn’t about to bring cottony, tasteless, insubstantial white bread into the house–it couldn’t hold up to sauces, her powerful sandwiches or the rigors of French Toast. Our homemade bread had texture and a crust that eliminated the fear of gingivitis and replaced it with a fear of the scouring action of chewing a crust that would leave the roof of your mouth throbbing.

One afternoon, I was in the kitchen slicing the bread. It was minutes- fresh, and not given to slicing well. I was shredding more than cutting. My father came into the kitchen, observed what I was doing and said, mildly, “That knife is a saw. Less pressure. More action.” I quit pressing down on the knife. I used my upper arm to saw the serrated knife blade forward and back. Magically, the lesson in physics worked: the action allowed the serrated blade to do the work. Almost no downward pressure was necessary.

This principle, like “take care of the edges,” works well in daily application as well.

–Put pressure on yourself and the project disintegrates. Take some action and the project moves forward, almost by itself.

–Put pressure on your story to tell a lesson, and it becomes pedantic filler. Let the characters take action, and your story is memorable.

–Put pressure on your kids, and they fall apart, howling in protest. Put consequences into steady, reliable action, and hard downward pressure isn’t necessary. Action is far more powerful when it repeats consistently and predictably.

–Put pressure on your client, and they will crumble and turn into client-dust. Put action in your promises and deliveries, and your clients will be firm and square, and just what you want to work with.

–Put pressure on your art, and it turns into a chore. Put action into your art, and it makes meaning in your life.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and develops and runs workshops in business communication. See her website at Or, if you wish you could keep an art journal, but can’t draw, visit

Products Pumped Up With Air

Early in life, I learned my family was different. Of course they were, they were immigrants to this country. I alone was born here, and my parents would point me out to strangers and say, “She is our Native American.” They did not understand the odd looks that scrutinized the curly-blond hair and green eyes on a little fair-skinned toddler.

I missed a lot growing up: fried pies, Hostess Snowballs, Barbie dolls, popsicles, baloney, fluffernutter sandwiches. My parents were frugal. My mom baked bread and planted a garden. We ate from the garden. The sandwiches I took to school were an embarrassment: homemade bread filled with our own lettuce and tomatoes, with sliced chicken from last night’s dinner. I traded them eagerly with schoolmates for mashed bean tortillas. Much better.

As much as I tried, I was always different. I never fit in with the “in” girls. So it was no surprise when I grew up that my kitchen didn’t look like my neighbors: no Cool Whip, no crock pot, no flavored coffees. I did have a container of whipping cream, a pressure cooker and an espresso pot. Not the fancy one, the one that worked on the stove top.

foamy stuffTwo more modern conveniences are missing from my kitchen: almost butter that has nothing to do with butter and air-injected soap. We are a foaming nation. We love stuff that is pumped up with air to make it look fluffy and like more. (I will not, no, not, go for the metaphor.)

But I had to try them. Unlike my parents, who banned the strange new fads in favor of the solid known, I tried whipped margarine and pouffy soap. How in the world does anyone cook with this stuff? I was trying to fry eggs this morning. Over easy.whipped butter

This takes just enough butter to coat the bottom of a pan. Depending on the size of a pan, you can use a teaspoon or so. I kept having to add more of the tub stuff because it kept disappearing. It vanished. It left little grease spots on the bottom of the pan. No wonder. The first ingredient in this fake butter is water.

After about a quarter cup (and it’s more expensive than butter) I had enough to crack the eggs into the pan. They burned solidly to the bottom of the pan. Whipped stuff doesn’t keep anything from sticking, so the pan is still on the stove, soaking the burned eggs off the bottom. images4.jpeg

Which brings me to the whipped soap. To get it through the tube to whip it, it has to be a liquid consistency. They add extra water so you can pay more for pouffy soap. In a country obsessed with germs, they are cutting back on how much soap you get to use to wash your hands.

I pumped some of this stuff into the pan. It floats on top of the water, not breaking the surface tension, not emulsifying the oil. Not cleaning. How can pouffy soap not clean pouffy margarine? I check the label of this supposedly healthier margarine. Not only is it’s first ingredient water, the next is . . .”palm fruit oil.” Probably not date palms. Probably coconut palms. Coconut oil and palm oil are both partially hydrogenated and not on the edible list.

At least real butter is a known substance. This stuff doesn’t have a shelf life, it has a half life. In the time it has taken me to write this, the pouffy soap is still floating on top of the water in the pan. I’m going to dump this mess down the sink, get some real soap and baking soda for grit and scrub the pan clean. And cook with butter and wash with soap. And get the whipped air out of my life.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach.  See her work at (c) Quinn McDonald, 2007-9. All rights reserved.

Migration Through Phoenix

We who live in the West Valley are right in the migration path. It starts in October, when the first frail ones arrive from a long, hot stay in the rugged mountains, where they have had to provide shelter and food through the busy Spring and Summer. They come into driveways and yards, protected by familiar surroundings.

Protected by friend

Protected by friend

It is not unusual to see them stop in the streets, exhausted from the trip. They need some water and care before they can take off again.

Safe in the backyard

Safe in the backyard

Some who come through our migration path are aquatic. They often travel in pairs, although it’s unlikely they stay together for life. It’s more of a lifestyle, one more casual, one for speed and grace.

Aquatic dwellers

Aquatic dwellers

Some of the travelers are exhausted when they arrive. They hide in backyards, keeping their age hidden. It is amazing to think that they have been making the trip for 30 years or more, back and forth each Spring and Autumn.

hiding behind the fence

hiding behind the fence

There are small ones, too, on their first trip. They are bright and colorful, still to feel the push of adventure.

Small, but tough

Small, but tough

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and coach who helps people see different perspectives. See her work at

Thinking. . .Processing

Rene Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender recognizes him and says, “So, Rene, do you want a martini?”
“I think not,” Descartes replies.
POOF! He disappears.

The web is a funny place. For the last month the most popular website on WordPress has been I Can Has Cheezburger, a site to which people submit pictures of their pets, complete with funny captions. The captions are written in pet language. Yep.

What amazes me is not that the site exists, or that thousands of people caption and send in pictures of their pets, which, according to the site’s rules, become the property of the site’s owners who can do anything they want with it (including advertising their site or making money without royalties to the owner.)

Nope, what amazes me is that the rules for the pet language , which are not easily found on the site, are being followed by everyone who submits a picture. I am amazed. I haven’t seen so much strict rule following since I arrived at the airport in Berlin. You can’t get people to move out of their lane when a blaring fire engine is behind them and Cheezburger has ’em lined up speaking ‘kitteh’ and ‘lolcat’ fluently. Amazing.

thinking blogger goldChris Brown, over at Branding & Marketing has awarded me a Thinking Blogger Award. That’s it, over this paragraph. (And it explains the joke at the beginning of this post.) I found out by accident because I am a compulsive blog stats checker, and saw people traveling from her site to mine. She reads my blog from time to time, and gave me the award.

It’s nice to get to know Chris in this “tag-you’re it” game, not because I love being honored, but because the rules of the game say you have to honor five other people similarly. Now, while I run from chain letters, hyper-circulated jokes and twee pictures, I find this challenge interesting. Because I’m passing on five sites that have good content. I can’t resist. There are 100 million websites in the world, and five good ones are hard to find.

Paul Lagasse’s blog at AV Writes is the thinking person’s writer. He writes in a clear and engaging style and is an amazing life hack.

Indexed by Jessica Hagy proves that you can make Venn diagrams interesting and funny. I would have taken bets on that before I came across her blog.

Heather Blakey runs The Soul Food Cafe–a fascinating spot for writers, artists, and others who want to share their work and creative ideas. (Truth in writing disclosure: I’m a member.)

A community blog, wikiHow will help you do almost anything, from learning how to make a tropical breakfast to How to Deal with an Existential Crisis.

Doug Johnson runs DIYPlanner, a guide for life hacks. If you need organizational tips that are also fun and inventive, it’s your place to visit.

Here are the participation rules for the Thinking Blogger Award:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think
2. Link to the original post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, certified creativity coach, and journal writing teacher. See her work at
(c) 2007 All rights reserved.