Clare and the Stalker


In her normal routine Clare came to work, clocked in, checked with management to see what was on the docket for the day, greeted her store friends as she saw them and kept walking to the front of the store to retrieve items returned by customers to be placed back on the shelves. Clare had been off of her work at the store for a few months on medical leave. Now that her knee got the all clear from her orthopedic specialist she got back to work. This is when her normal routine took a turn.

She grabbed a cart from the row on her way near the check out lane to gather those items when she spotted him. He was a bit taller than when she last saw him, his pale skin and white blonde hair snapped her eyes even wider as her breath caught in her chest. All the sounds and light around her formed a tunnel as she summoned all her wits about her to greet him with a dead and almost inaudible , “Hello.” He responded the same.

Clare didn’t skip a beat, wheeling the cart around past this new specter who now was a cashier at this very store that she had worked at for nearly 5 years. Her mind spinning and her shoulders rising to meet her ears, she put the items in her cart from the bins sectioned off for returns to her department and drove that cart to the back of the store, through the open office door and right into the weekly meeting of her store managers.

They looked up at Clare to see that she was shaken and listened to her say, “You hired him?” Clearly they had no idea who she was referring to and sat stunned to see someone who was usually in their estimation, unfrazzled, nearly fall apart. She went on to try to make them see who it was that they had apparently hired in her absence. Her voice shook,  her composure gone, her eyes refusing to cry, and her breath uneven as she tried to keep from having a total panic attack right there.

Two of the managers were new and the one that Clare knew the most had to be reminded about the stalker. The manager had never seen him when he had come to the store in the past and just remembered the problems that she had heard about between Clare and this new hire. Clare went to the break room to compose herself. Here is the backstory. The names have been changed for this story.

For more than 20 years Clare had taught in a school in this city and had more than her share of wonderful experiences, but there were a few instances in her career that made it very easy to do something else and this new hire was one of them.

His name is Shawn. When his mother enrolled him he had been to several different schools. She had him in both public and private schools as well as unsuccessfully  trying  to home school him. She told us that he was a constant target of bullying and had a hard time navigating any school that he had been in. Now he was in 5th Grade. He lacked companionship from his peers and his mother seemed to be his constant companion. His brothers and sisters were quite a bit older than he was and were not playmates for him. She was worried sick about him and wanted, like every parent, to have her child be in a safe nurturing space free from taunts and tears, somewhere to be accepted and to make friends. It hadn’t happened in any school, any group that she had him belong to or within his neighborhood peers and was hoping for a fix at the school Clare was teaching in. They welcomed him and paired him up to different people. The other students were open to making another friend too.

Clare was also the aftercare caregiver when school let out and Shawn’s mother had him in that program as well, assuming that this would be another avenue for him to make  friends. He would be at that program every day after school for about 3 more hours. When she picked up Shawn the grandpa would sometimes come along. This family was always hugging most people they greeted and Clare was not excluded from their many hugs. It was too huggy. It was surely uncomfortable for Clare when Shawn would seek out hugs from her and the principal whenever he could get one. Clare is available to give children hugs when needed to comfort students when they initiate it, but it seemed as though Shawn lacked a sense of boundaries for when hugs were appropriate. When the grandpa would come along with the mother to pick up Shawn he would also want to hug Clare. She was uncomfortable with that and soon took up holding a clipboard to her chest with her arms folded across to try to stave away this unwanted greeting. She ended up doing that with everyone in the family. She would rather greet them with a smile and wave. As time went on the vibe for not hugging was made clear to the grandpa and he became cool. Clare was relieved. Trying to break Shawn of it was harder and the principal and Clare worked on tactics to reroute Shawn for always going in for the big hug to giving him a shoulder or back pat coming in from the side. It was a sticky time as they could feel Shawn thought they were not as loving. They even had to educate him on boundaries and it seemed as though his family had not achieved that skill either.

Shawn didn’t fit into the groove despite everyone’s best efforts. He would try to fit in by learning things about others and using it against them in gossip. He would make up drama and manipulate stories to get sympathy from teachers, peers and his mother. Clare had heard that he spent a lot of time on the phone with other students talking between one another causing sides to be taken in childhood events. He didn’t enjoy many of the activities of boys his age and in the aftercare program made up games with others that were inappropriate as children do from time to time.  When Clare discovered them and let the parents of the children know how they were involved, Shawn’s mother denied that her child would be involved and accused Clare of picking on her son and causing trouble.

Shawn’s mom would make excuses why Shawn’s work was sub-par, not completed at all and required no responsibility from him for this action or inaction. In her mind it was due to his feelings of inadequacy and other children not treating him well. As a class, Clare worked on team building, accepting and cherishing differences in others and love. She made contracts for work to be done, bargained and made adjustments to assignments so success in that area could be achieved.

Shawn mentioned that he would like to be home schooled via online learning so his mom and he could go live near some of his mother’s other children in California. Clare asked him if he would miss being around people his own age and he responded that he would just want to be friends with his teacher. He would often hang back and try to be the last one out of the classroom so he could chat with Clare. Clare ended up walking and talking to him as she guided him out the door so he wouldn’t be late to something coming up causing him to have to be singled out for being behind in arrival.

Soon anything that Clare would say would be twisted by Shawn when relayed to his mom. His mom believed it all. His father, who was once again on the scene, would call other classmates to accuse them of being bullies. It was clear that all attempts by the principal and Clare would not make Shawn and his family happy and educated so Shawn’s parents decided to leave the school, blaming Clare for everything that had gone wrong. The mother demanded that Clare gather Shawn’s belongings and to have them ready in the office for her to pick up with her child ordering that Clare was not to be seen in the school office or hallway on their departure.

Clare had gotten a second job while teaching and much to Clare’s surprise the mother, older sister and Shawn would come to that store, walk up to her and in Clare’s opinion greeted her in a saccharine sweet menacing fashion. “Well, hello………Clare.” Clare would nod, grin and walk on. They seemed to make a point of finding Clare in the store for their version of a greeting.

As Clare busied herself in another area of the store he would find herself being spied on around a corner of an aisle and just within earshot hear Shawn’s voice say, “Hellooooo, Mrs. Clare.” It reminded Clare of the Silence of the Lambs. Clare would look, quickly grin and go back to her work. This became unhinging for Clare and she asked the management that when those people came in if she could do work in another non public area of the store or hide out in the office with the management. They agreed and made her feel a bit protected.

Clare became even more rattled when she was leaving her job in the summer and found Shawn astride his bike outside of the store. When Clare saw him she didn’t acknowledge him and just kept walking as fast as she could to her car. She didn’t want to give away how upset this made her as he was yelling her name over and over in a non greeting way, but a taunting way. He did that twice that summer.

Clare discussed it with her friend and she recommended that Clare should report his action to the police. Clare did not because she assumed that as a minor he would not be on anyone’s radar and he hadn’t physically hurt her.

Over time Shawn would ask Clare to be his friend on Facebook. She replied that she hoped he had a nice life. Of course she did not accept or comment on that further than a greeting. He then reported her to Facebook where a notice that said that he thought one of her profile pictures was offensive. She had already reset her privacy settings. Clare told her husband that now after the bike harassment and this Facebook event they would be extra concerned when this boy starting driving. He could easily then drive to their house and cause trouble for them. Since Clare and her husband live in a more remote area this was a concern.

Clare had joined a local historic architectural appreciation group on Facebook. She had made a comment on one of the posts about the history of a building and to her amazement there was a follow-up post right after hers liking her comment from Shawn. She could not get her mind around what interest a teenage would have in this genre. She immediately deleted her comment and left that group for good.

By then Clare had gotten out of teaching and was working at a government building in a public area. She now went to the marketing director to ask not to have pictures used of her in publications or social media. Clare talked to the hiring staff to let them know of her reservations of hiring this person or answering any personal inquiries about her from this individual. That is when Clare found out that Shawn’s mother had been hired a month after Clare was hired in another department. The mother quit after a week because she said she wasn’t aware of the publications that were loaned out that she was not politically or ethically in agreement with. Clare hadn’t notice that she had even worked there for that short time.

A few months from then Shawn once again asked Clare to accept his friendship request on Facebook using a slight variant of his name. Clare blocked both names and the bike he rode in on. He would still appear at the store with sneak attacks if she wasn’t watching for his mother, his sister and himself. He would peer around the ends of the aisle using a creepy slow hello to Clare.

Now we are up to speed on the incident that began this story. The mother called the store and requested certain provisions be made so that he was safe from Clare, that he was worried about how Clare would treat him, that they not work in the same space, be on the same breaks or find themselves working together in any way. After he was hired he asked many employees and management when Clare was to return. He seemed concerned about that.

Starting the day that Clare returned she was told by other employees how he said that Clare was responsible for making him want to kill himself when he was younger. Rumors he started flamed up and died down again just as soon when Clare wouldn’t take the bait. She told others when asked about this that if people knew her they would know the real story and that she was not going to speak out publicly against him at the store. True colors always come out.

The stalker decided to get a job at that location despite having many other options open to him. We can assume the myriad of reasons, but now he has quit. This leads Clare to wonder if he will show up again in her life in some other creepy way that will scare the stuffing out of her. She wishes the best for him, but in some place far, far, far away from her with mental health care.







Once there was a boy whose mother enrolled him in a private school. The boy was 10 and had been in a couple of different public schools and also another private school with dissatisfaction.

One of Those Tests In Magazines

Did you ever take one of those tests for fun to see how…whatever you are? I have one for you and it is called, “Are You Winning at Life?” Take it. It will be fun. Here you go…

  1. If you NEVER wiped sweat from you face with your tee-shirt in the lobby of the public library after you tried checking out a book and exposed your belly…give yourself 100 points. If you ever did that deduct 50,000 points.
  2. If you looked at or held a baby in real life during the past 5 years, give yourself 200 points. If you loved it then multiply by 80.
  3. If you woke up this morning give yourself 150 points because there are a lot of people who did not.
  4. If you had knee replacement surgery and it was traumatic,  give yourself 5500 points.
  5. If you had knee replacement surgery and it wasn’t traumatic…give yourself 500 points. Any way you look at it that surgery was horrible, but I am glad you are ok.
  6. If you ever stuck your hand in a river, pond, creek, lake or ocean just because it was beautiful…300 points.
  7. If you didn’t punch someone in the throat although they had it coming…give yourself 200 points. I’m especially proud of you.
  8. If you were nice to someone today….give yourself 50 points.
  9. If you were nice to yourself today and said positive things to yourself, you get 5000 points.
  10. If you ever shooed a bug out of the house rather than smooshing it…give yourself 2 points.
  11. If you were good to a pet…give yourself 100 points.
  12. If you did something for someone without telling them…give yourself 700 points.
  13. If you let someone go ahead of you or held the door for another give yourself 200 points.
  14. If you talked to someone older than your age group today or way younger than your age group you get 300 points.
  15. If you noticed that there was something to be grateful for give yourself 2000 points.
  16. If you know a good story to tell than give yourself 200 points.
  17. If you ever drove through a round-a-bout and didn’t say, “Are you kidding me?”, to a driver in that round-a-bout, you get 5 points.
  18. If you ever had squeaky cheese curds that were still almost warm give yourself 50 points and if you actually went into the cheese factory and bought it yourself add on 50 more points.
  19. If a sunset ever made you marvel give yourself 1000 points.
  20. If you realize that you can still love people and at the same time not like them very much (yes, that is a possibility) you are winning and get a million points.
  21. If you have kept your opinion to yourself because not everyone needs your opinion on everything then you get 427 points.
  22. If you know you’re are going to be exhausted and still drive for hundreds of miles more because you can so you can see your friend you get 8000 points.
  23. If you go to work even if it is not fun, but you are grateful it pays the bills you get 555 points.
  24. If you ever were in some type of swing you are winning and get 450 points.
  25. If you refrained from looking at your cell phone while someone was talking to you give yourself 200 points. If you were talking to someone face to face and you were on your cell phone detract 2000 points.
  26. If you told someone this past week that you loved them give yourself 10000 points and multiply it by the number of people you told.
  27. If you ate chocolate this past week give yourself 20 points and if you had a vegetable every day for at least one meal give yourself 20 more for each time.
  28. If you ever asked for help give yourself 1892 points.
  29. If you ever hang laundry outside and take in a deep breath to take in the aroma, you get 100 points
  30. If you were asked to a party in the last 2 years give yourself 10 points and multiply that by the number you were at.
  31. If you ever sat in front of a campfire or bonfire, give yourself 100 points.
  32. If you ever sang a song that made you remember when, then give yourself 400 points.
  33. If someone ever drew a picture for you and you hung it on your refrigerator you get 500 points.
  34. If “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is your favorite movie, deduct 1 million points.

Scoring: If you scored between 0 and eleventy million you are winning at life because you are you. Well done. Keep up the good work.

When Cake is Not Just Cake

We are a celebratory family. With that we also traditionally have celebrated with cake. Birthdays, anniversaries, confirmations, baptisms, graduations and weddings are resplendent with cake. There are a million kinds, but it has been my way to make them from scratch.

When I was little my mother and grandmother made scratch cakes and only with a wild concoction that she had read about in a magazine would my mom used a box mix. Imagine my surprise when watching “The Cake Boss” I discover that they use a mix. It was a dark day when I realized that this was happening and that the light cakes I had eaten from bakeries were manufactured and distributed as a box cake. My homemade cakes were often heavy and it took a crane to move it about, but they had great taste.

Some podcasts I have listened to have taught me that this factory manufactured cake is now the preferable taste for the masses. In a taste test line up the box cakes have the day! This was not always the case as early in the days of their development my mother could take one bite and detect if it was scratch or box. I also believe that the manufacturers have worked on them enough now over the decades that they taste good. The chemicals also make them last, seemingly forever.

Making a cake for me is a symbol of love. It isn’t just cake. The decorations are also a nod to how much I care for the person and just making the whole thing says that I care. I look at different ideas and try them out. Sometimes they are spot on and sometimes they are a little wonky, but they are from the heart.

My Grandma Knutzen made sample cakes. I learned later that they were really metal doll dishes. She would make up the batter and put some of the batter into these small dishes baking them in her wood burning oven. The sample cake would be a tester to determine if the temperature was just right and if it had the right spring when poked gently with her finger on removal. Normally she would just stick her hand into the heated air of the oven to see if the temperature was right and adjust as needed, but cakes are a bit fussy and the sample cakes would be the refinement in the cake making process. If it went to her satisfaction she would cool them, and pop them out on a rack, tasting and sharing with me the love she had just baked. I always determined that they were just fine and she always asked me of my opinion. Thinking about that now, I wonder why she would even think that I, a 5 year old, would know anything about baking, but of course anything she would make or do was perfect. She would have her hand on her hip, apron about her tiny frame and really consider my agreement as if I were grown and knew one thing. She would have gone out and had my uncle Billy or Grandpa get warm milk right from the cow for me to have along with it. Though I did not care for warm milk, it was a new delight and sometimes I would have a bit, but more often to her chagrin would choose to have the milk go into the refrigerator for later. I had thought that it would be the same later and although she reminded me that it would not be warm she said that she could always warm it up.

While she was mixing the cake she would sit me on the red kitchen stool in the corner and feed me as many chocolate cookies as I would want. The cookie jar was right at my reach. She would mix the batter with her hand on the big spoon more than not and told me about how she was had to be more careful not paying  paying close attention and got her fingers into the beaters where they took a beating. It was a stand mixer and I still don’t know how that happened. I think she looked at that mixer as more of a problem and danger than a helpful appliance. There she would mix and measure.

The cup measure was a cracked coffee cup kept in the flour bin housed right in the kitchen cabinets. The horizontal handle was at the top of a long cupboard where the door was the front of a flour bin that bent out and hinged at the bottom. It was always filled that I remember and could possibly house pounds and pounds of flour that came in large bags. Extra flour was kept in 5 gallon tins in the pantry.

As she mixed and poured she talked and I ate, nodding when she asked if I remembered so and so. I pretended I did because I wanted to make her happy. The names of her sisters, best friend, nephews, brother, nieces, mother and especially father were the main topics as well as the neighbors both at their present farm and the one where she grew up. She told me about the hardness of some of the relatives and the mysteries that made them so. She told about the goodness of some of the relative and the happenings that made them so. I could tell she was often exasperated and worried with those she talked about, but to me she was giving me her whole self, her attention and her love all while she made meals and cake.

She made 7 minute frosting as that was her favorite. I think that is a cooked frosting. She made more of the cake than the frosting. My mother always said that that the cake had to be very good and the frosting should be as well, but it was just frosting. One of her metaphors to me when she was talking to me about marriage and sex was that the marriage should be like the cake. It should be good and paid attention to and that the frosting was like sex. If the cake wasn’t any good the frosting was just frosting and it was best to have both good cake and frosting combined. Smart. Cake is not just cake.

I made all the special event cakes for my kids when they were with me. Once I sent down some cupcakes with Steven’s friend Sam for his birthday when Sam was traveling there. It was the Jesus Birthday Cake which is from the recipe Waldorf-Astoria Red Velvet Cake. It must have cream cheese frosting. Mom first made if for my nephew John, her first grandson, at his first Christmas so he would remember why we celebrate Christmas. She made it every Christmas until she passed the baton onto me with the magical pans. It has been a tradition since and Steven and Kyle like that one the best for their birthdays too.

Steven asked me to make their first son’s and our first grandson Xavier’s birthday cake when he was one. Cindy requested an elephant and other animals on it. I like it that they asked and I did what I could, because, sometimes cake is not just cake.

Kyle and Jodi asked if I would make them a personal one for their wedding cake last October and I was honored to do that. What a dream for me to be asked. Then our daughter Erin asked if I would make the wedding cake for her and Marcus for their wedding a week ago. What an honor. Erin, like me, really likes the chocolate cake with the peanut butter chocolate frosting. The first plan was to make that one and then Marcus had a request to make a Queen Victoria Sponge Cake.

I had never made that one before until Marcus was dating Erin and I thought I would give it a go. At that time that particular trial was not successful. I had not known to use the proper caster sugar and had also used the wrong flour. I made it once more with another method and it was not what I was looking for. I inquired of a pastry chef I know to see where I could improve on it. She gave me some advice and the actual one for the  wedding turned out well. It was important to me to get it right. Marcus’s mother had made it for them when he was home as well as it being a British traditional cake. Marcus’s mom has passed away and it was important for me to get it right to honor Marcus and his mom’s love for him as well as their traditions. I did my best and got positive vibes on the cake from both Marcus and his brother James. Erin loved it so it was all good. That was all that counted. Erin said I could completely frost it instead of the way it usually is served just as a berry and butter cream filled without outer icing. I still wanted to make the one that Erin enjoyed best so I made that one too. Sometimes cake is not just cake.