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Monday, December 31, 2012

No Resolutions

I do not make New Year's resolutions. It is not a matter of thinking that I am above it, or that I think resolutions are silly. I admire people who make a conscious decision to start the year anew, and stick to something that they want to accomplish. I just think that a lot of people set goals for themselves that are just too hard to live up to. It's very easy in the thrall of the moment to say that you are going to quit swearing or stop eating all sweets or get up at 4:30 every morning and go to the gym before you attack your day. The resolution is so big that when we can't live up to the goals, we lose faith in ourselves and abandon the resolutions entirely. They become a reminder that we are weak and fallible.

I did make one resolution many years ago that I did keep, and that I keep to this day. Back in the long ago, there were seatbelts and then shoulder restraints, but no laws saying that you must use them. One year I decided that from then on, any time I was in a car I would have my seatbelt on. It is something I still do, and shall continue to do. I know that it is a small thing. But I also know that it saved me from greater harm during a couple of auto accidents. Sometimes small goals can save lives.

Taking that train of thought, that small things can have a big impact, I'd like to make some suggestions regarding resolutions, whether they be for New Year's or at any other time. Let's set ourselves up for growth and success, rather than failure. Instead of promising that we will go to the gym every day, perhaps we can set goals to work out three or four days a week. Instead of the unrealistic (and impossible for most of us!) goal of never eating sweets again, perhaps we can set a goal to have sweets no more than twice a week, or whatever number works for us. I don't know about you, but nothing makes me crave a food quite as much as not being able to indulge in it at all. But if I can eat a little of it instead of trying to fight off the urge, I am less likely to dive headfirst into a vat of whatever treats I have been trying to avoid.

And let's face it. Even though I am telling all of you that I don't make resolutions, that does not mean I don't have hopes to improve myself in the coming year, or coming years. They are deeply personal to me, as I am sure most people's are, but let me say this. I hope every day to be a kind and gentle person. I hope to give myself permission to fail, and to succeed. I hope to remember that being patient can be a gift not only to others but to myself. I hope to be able to occasionally make someone's day. I hope to be brave enough to ask someone who looks unhappy if they need someone to talk to, even if it is a stranger. I hope to fill someone's heart with joy because of an unexpected act of kindness. I hope to make myself a better person. I hope to help make the world a better place. A place full of hope.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Aunt And The Cathouse

My aunt A. is a catnapper. I don't mean that she likes to take those brief naps and then spring awake, refreshed and ready to take on the world. Nope. I am not sure that she does this any more as I haven't had contact with her in a number of years, and she is getting older, but for a good number of years she would acquire any cat or dog that she thought looked homeless. If she was driving to the supermarket and saw a dog or cat sitting in a front yard, she would lure it into her car and take it home. I imagine that there were dozens of kids who came home from school expecting to see their pet waiting to greet them on the front porch, only to never see Fluffy or Fido ever again. Some are probably still in therapy. I do not mean this as a joke; losing a pet is very traumatic.

A. would try to distribute these lovely critters among family members after having taken them to a veterinarian for spaying or neutering. Since she lives on over one hundred acres of land in Northern Colorado, she does have room for these pets. The last I knew, she had a couple of small, house-like buildings with central heat and windows to house her dogs and cats. When I was old enough to be ineligible for punishment from her, and therefore more brave than I was as a child, I used to refer to her as the aunt who ran a cathouse. I still giggle thinking about it.

My Aunt A. was always a woman who set her mind to something and pursued it wholeheartedly. At one point she entered a Victorian dollhouse phase. She assembled one and set about furnishing it. She was artistically gifted; she had belonged to a local artists' group before she moved out to the country, and won several awards for her paintings. So I am sure that the dollhouse would have been beautifully completed and furnished. One holiday, when we were gathered celebrating at her house, she began talking about a little shop that she had found which carried absolutely beautiful dollhouse furniture, and how she wanted to go there again. She had attempted to locate it more that once, but never saw it again. "It must have gone out of business just after I went there," she said.

We all felt bad for her. "Do you remember the name of the shop?" She did not. "Well, where was it? I could try to find it when I drive home from work downtown," I offered. "Oh, that would be so nice! It was at the corner of 38th and Colfax." The entire family looked at each other, stunned and disbelieving. "Did we hear you right? Did you say the corner of 38th and Colfax?" "Yes, of course!" A. exclaimed. "But you do know that 38th and Colfax run parallel to each other, right?" "I know that! But it was on the corner of 38th and Colfax!" We gave up trying to convince her that there was nowhere in this world that the two streets would intersect, but gave it up as a lost cause. After we all hummed a few bars from the theme of The Twilight Zone.

If you guessed that this is a woman who was a living, breathing source for numerous family stories, you'd be absolutely right. I will only briefly mention that she often planned her driving excursions around whether or not they would require her to make left turns. One of my favorite stories has to do with her experience Christmas shopping a number of years ago for her granddaughter. Sarah had told her grandmother that she would like to have the latest album by Def Leppard for Christmas. I do not know whether either of them wrote the information down, but suffice it to say that A. showed up at the music store with her signals just a little bit crossed. She remembered that the name of the group involved some sort of impairment and one of the Great Cats. When she was asked if she needed help, she responded with a sigh of relief. "Oh, yes, please. My granddaughter wants to have the latest album from Crippled Tiger." She left the store with the right album, but I am pretty sure that the former record store employee loves telling the story to this day!

As I said before, I haven't seen A. in a number of years. I wish her well, and still get a laugh thinking about some of the things she used to do and say. I don't know how long her family will have her around, but I do know one thing. When she leaves this mortal plane, she will probably build herself another cathouse. With Victorian furnishings. At the corner of 38th and Colfax.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2 A. M.

It's 2:00 a.m. and the text alert on my cellphone has started to play. Since I am dog/house sitting, it takes me a few moments to remember where I left my phone last night. I reach for the phone with one hand and try to wake my eyes up with a rub from the other. It's a text from Trent. You awake? it asks. We have been married for thirteen years and I could just be completely honest, but I answer with a touch of kindness. Just dozing a bit, you? Obviously, I already know the answer to that question, but this reply gives him an opportunity to let me know that he has been having trouble sleeping while I am away. Me too.

When we first got married, I swore that all he had to do to get some sleep was to wake me up to tell me he wasn't able to fall asleep. As soon as I awoke and started to remember things that I could worry about, he slipped into a coma-like state. Then I would get aggravated and spend the next hour or so trying to fall asleep again. Then again, when we first got married, nearly every morning he complained about my snoring. He would tell me how atrocious or obnoxious or frightening my snoring was. He would tell me that there was something wrong with me because it sounded like I would quit breathing. Every so often this would get me riled up enough that I would offer to let him spend the night on the sofa so that he could sleep more peacefully. He always declined.

As time went on, his complaints about my sleeping symphonies grew less frequent, and in fact, went away. I asked him occasionally if I was snoring less since I had lost a bit of weight. "I haven't been hearing you as much lately," he'd say, "so you must be snoring less." And then came a night when either he was gone or I was gone. I can't fall asleep. I miss you honey. I offered him some advice on how to get to sleep, things like a nice hot bath or a cup of Sleepytime tea. The next day we would both stumble around, tired from our lack of rest the night before.

About a year ago, when I returned home after spending several days taking care of my friends' dog, the truth unexpectedly came out. Yes, we were both lonely and missing each other, and this impacted our ability to sleep. But Trent finally had to admit that there was more to it than that for him. After all of those initial complaints, he had become used to my snoring. Now he had trouble falling asleep without it. What had started out as an aggravation had turned into a lullaby of sorts for him. When he heard me snoring, he knew that we were together and safe and was able to rest knowing that our love was still strong. My formerly detested noises had become a part of the background of his nights, and its absence was deafening.

When I go home in a few nights, my husband will get a better night's sleep. He doesn't need a sound machine for white noise;  I will be there to provide the white noise for him. And if he can miss my snoring, I guess we'll be okay. I think in the meantime I'll try to take a little nap. You never know what 2 a.m. will bring.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Treat Me

Ah, the holiday seasons of our lives! They are filled with the love of family and friends. There is the desire to not only be happy, but to make others happy as well. We search our hearts, minds, and local stores for perfect gifts to give to those we care about. And, as I believe has always been the case with humans, we share our love with each other on plates and in bowls and poured into glasses. Food is obviously important to our everyday life, but at the holidays we allow ourselves to indulge. We make treats for ourselves and each other that we only eat once or twice a year. It may be something elegant like pate de foie gras, or something humble like a home-made cheese ball. But it is always something we look forward to as the holidays approach.

When I was younger, my Aunt Jackie used to bring a fruit salad to the annual Thanksgiving dinner. I absolutely loved it. It was creamy and colorful, and not too sweet. Every November, as we got closer and closer to Thanksgiving, I wondered and worried. Would she make the fruit salad this year? What if she forgot? But every year, she showed up with her large bowl of fruity goodness. As an adult, I told her how much I had always loved that dish. She was pleased that I loved it so much, and told me her secret recipe. It was simply drained fruit cocktail, sliced bananas, and sour cream with a sprinkle of sugar. This Thanksgiving, I made a variation of it to share with my friends, along with the story of how it had sweetened my life. It was not fancy, but it was quite a hit anyway. What joy!

I am writing this in my friend's kitchen. I am dog-sitting while she and her husband are out of town to see their brand-new granddaughter. I knew that I would want to make some of our seasonal-tradition foods, so I brought some groceries along with me. Last evening, I made a steam-table pan full of Chex mix. Bowie the dog eagerly watched to see if any food might spill and require cleanup. After all of the butter and seasonings and nuts and such came out of the oven, he got his wish. Some snack mix spilled on the floor and he was right on duty. And it was a real accident, not an accidentally-on-purpose. What a lucky dog!

Trent and I have a fairly new Christmas dining tradition. This morning I got up early to start making a vat (okay, it is just a really large pot, okay?) of green chili. As I browned the pork for this tasty dish, I thought about how much Trent would enjoy eating it. The house still smells of the green chilies and the pork and onions and tomatoes. The dog has been following in my tracks to see if perhaps I have left a bowl behind, just waiting to be cleaned up. He is such a dedicated busboy!

The SOPs (Saved On Purpose; much more positive connotation than leftovers) of the green chili are in the refrigerator, and there are a couple of gallon bags of Chex mix on the counter. In a few days, when I am back at home, I will make Trent one of his favorite sweet treats, a creation of mine which he has dubbed Chocolate Christmas Dream. It is rich and buttery with plenty of chocolate, and our tradition is to eat it out of the baking dish rather than plating it. It just adds to the fun of it all. Because we are adults, we can get away with acting like we are kids, and it seems to add to the flavor of the treat as well.

Every holiday season, I hear myself saying that we should eat some of these foods more often because we love them so much. Occasionally, we will do so, but I am not disappointed when we don't. The joyous anticipation of whatever holiday treats we decide to eat just makes them that much better. If you think about it, even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be a special treat if you don't eat it all of the time. So, although many of us say we have to do it more often, we don't. We know that if it only comes once a year, like Christmas does, that it will be more special, more savory, more sweet...as only a holiday treat can be.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Santa, Baby!

In my early years of elementary school, I was exposed to a dangerous group of people. The non-believers. Santa isn't real, they said. I argued and discussed and asked my grandma, who informed me that Santa was, indeed, real. I shared this information with my classmates. They told me that it was all a big lie, that Santa was really your mom and dad or whatever adult you happened to live with. Finally, I caved in to the pressure. If none of my friends believed, they must be right.

When I was about ten years old, my older cousin, Jim, came over for a little visit during the pre-Christmas season. I must stop at this point to tell you that I, along with all of my neighborhood girlfriends and some of my other cousins, had a huge crush on Jim. He was cool and rebellious and liked sporty cars and Harleys and never talked down to me. Unlike the other adults, he never asked me to leave the room when he started to talk about something. What's not to love? Jim asked me if I was ready for Santa to come and bring me presents. "Santa isn't real, Jim," I said. "He doesn't come and bring anybody anything."

"You don't believe in Santa Claus? I do!" Jim exclaimed. "I know that Santa is real and I bet you he comes to your house on Christmas Eve. So promise me you'll leave some milk and cookies out for him." I did promise, because I couldn't refuse my cousin Jim. I left out cookies and milk for Santa, along with some carrots for the reindeer.

When I woke up on Christmas morning, Santa had left a beautiful fuzzy red and white cloth boot full of candy for me. Along with it came a handwritten note from Santa himself. The handwriting looked an awful lot like Jim's, and he had been visiting just before I went to bed on Christmas Eve. But my heart awoke to a beautiful new faith in Mr. Claus. This small gift, and the loving gesture by a person whom I so admired, made me realize that Santa really does exist. He lives in the hearts and deeds of all people who do things large or small to make others happy. Santa isn't just about giving tons of gifts, or extravagant ones. Santa is about doing a small thing like trying to help a child retain her faith and innocence and joy.

The gift was a loving and generous gesture, and I treasured that cloth Santa boot for years. It always had a position of honor among our holiday decorations. I lost it when I moved out of Gram's house, but I still think about it every Christmas. Jim didn't just give me a lovely tangible gift. He gave the greatest gift of all. He showed me through his actions that a person I practically worshipped loved me and cared about me having a joyous holiday. For that moment in time, I was truly special. And I will forevermore be a believer in Santa. Thank you, Santa Jim!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nailed?

With the holiday season in full swing and numerous tv commercials urging people to part ways with their money, I have been thinking a lot about my days in retail. I worked at a very high-end mall in one of the ritziest parts of the city of Denver. In fact, it was so highfaluting that it is referred to as a Shopping Center - nothing so gauche as a mall in this neighborhood! Working in this area, I learned that what I had long suspected was true. Having money does not equal having class. It just equals more disposable income.

One of my funniest stories of mall life, however, has nothing to do with the holiday shopping crush. It happened in the summertime. I was driving to work one day, lost in my thoughts. Apparently I sort of checked out mentally when I was sitting in a left-turn lane at a red light, because the driver behind me honked. Oops. I pulled into the intersection, and then it happened. I heard a man yelling, "Get out of my way, you stupid effing female canine!" Then he drove into the side of my car.

The people who had honked at me were devastated. They felt that they had caused my accident by honking at me, which simply was not true. It was the person who drove through a red light that caused it. In fact, if I had gone into the intersection earlier, he would have crashed further back on my car. It would have gone spinning and probably hit other vehicles as well. Suddenly people were coming from all over to help me. An off duty fire department EMT was taking his kids to a nearby water park, and had decided to take a slightly different route. He got into the back seat of my car and held my head still while we waited for the ambulances and police to arrive.

I spent a few hours in the hospital trying to convince everyone I was not suffering from a concussion. In between times, I was picking crumbs of car window glass out of my back and, surprisingly, my underpants. I had a moment of hilarity when I told myself it was a good thing I had put on clean underwear in case I got into an accident. I went home on the condition that I would not work for a few days and would see my own doctor. Guess what? Resting at home is not so fun or restful when you are hurting like heck. Oh, well.

Armed with some muscle relaxers, which I had never taken before, I went back to work a couple of days later. My coworkers were happy to have me back, and were concerned for my well-being. So were my dear friends and mall-neighbors at Godiva Chocolatier directly across the way. But my coworkers also seemed a little testy. "What's up?" I asked them. I soon found out. As I mentioned earlier, this was a very ritzy shopping center. In fact, any new construction for shops that were opening soon was supposed to be done at night in order to avoid bothering the clientele. But the high-end clothing store that was going in directly next door was under construction during the day.

It wasn't just the noise. Our products were falling off the shelves from all of the pounding on the other side of the wall. This is when I learned that even prescription drugs can make you brave and stupid. I had had it. Not only were customers in our shop and others being disturbed by all of the noise, they were also being dive-bombed by products that were literally flying off of the shelves. I stomped over to the plywood construction wall and started banging on the door. Boom, boom, BOOM! Yes, kiddos, I was really angry. The door was opened by a big, tough-looking construction worker with a nail gun in his hand. "Listen," I said, "Construction is only supposed to happen here at night! Our customers can't hear a thing that's going on in our store! And all of that banging is shaking the products off of our shelves! You need to stop, and you need to stop now!"

I turned around and stomped back to my workplace. The construction noise went away immediately and completely. But I was still hearing noise. It was my neighbors at Godiva, laughing and applauding me. When I went back to my coworkers, they were amazed at my bravery. I pretty much blew it off until my drugs wore off. What had I been thinking? I had been yelling at a man at least six inches taller and seventy-five or more pounds heavier than me. And he was holding a nail gun. A loaded nail gun. Thank goodness that I had the factor of surprise in my favor! 

As I recall, we never heard another peep from the crew next door, and the time leading up to their shop's opening was uneventful. For a brief time, my foolishly brave behavior was the stuff of legend in our little section of the mall. My last few muscle relaxers did not result in any more erratic behavior or the potential of a nail in the backside. But they sure were good for a few laughs! 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Devastated

Like everyone else who has heard of the terrible events yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the families and communities affected. None of us can ever make sense of what happened, but wanting to know why is part of the human condition. If there isn't a reason for something like this happening, if we can't figure out what went wrong in someone's mind, we know that terrible things can happen again. How can we protect one another from something that we cannot predict?

As I have read various news stories online, I have noticed outpourings of sadness, grief, and anger. Any and all of these feelings are natural and normal. They are part of the process of dealing with tragedy. Many people have shared their feelings about hot-button topics such as gun control, school security, and why nobody seemed to realize that a young man was on the path to destroy others' lives. Again, like everyone else, I have opinions on these subjects. I am choosing not to share them right now because I don't think this is the appropriate time or place.

I want to share some of the thoughts and emotions I have been dealing with in the aftermath of this horrible event. Everyone will be affected in their own unique way, and perhaps by sharing my feelings, I can help myself, and perhaps someone else, get through them.

Some of you know me well, and some of you might not know much about me at all. When I was seven years old, my mother died as a result of a violent act committed by my father. I do not want to go into details, but my siblings and I all saw her when she screamed for help. It was a bloody and traumatic scene. It also was an event that changed and shaped my life forever.

When I first heard the news of the shootings yesterday, I was devastated by a number of things. First, and most obviously, that innocent children's lives were taken. Then the emotions started swirling. The anger, sadness, disbelief were all there. And then it hit me, and it hit me hard. The children in the school were the in the same age group as I was when I experienced my mother's death. I know from my own experiences that the gunman did more that kill children and adults at a school. He murdered the childhoods of many of the sweet innocents that survived, just as my father did with mine. The foundations of their world have been shattered. Suddenly, in the bloom of their youth, death is their companion. Some have lost their friends or teachers or parents or siblings.

These children are like flowers in a beautiful garden. Some may appear sturdy and strong, and some may appear delicate. But when a storm comes, we can't predict which flowers are going to be damaged and which will bounce back with renewed growth and vigor. But the flowers continue to grow and still need to be nurtured with loving care. I hope that these children will find the care that they need. I hope that are able to bloom in their full glory in spite of any scars. I hope that nothing like this ever happens to another child. I hope.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

But I'm Staaaarving!

My friend Marie has gone on a trip to Idaho because her first grandchild is going to arrive any day now. Since her husband, Thayne, will be out of town for several days on business, I am hanging out with their dog, Bowie. I have written about Bowie before. He is a very sweet and friendly dog who loves his MyKatrina, as he calls me. When I first arrived at about midday today, I could see the relief on his face and in the way he scampered around the house. "MyKatrina is here! I'm going to survive!"

We went to run some errands and get my things from home before I arrived at Chateau Bowie at about three-thirty this afternoon. It didn't take long before I learned something new about this big goofy dog. As he gets older, he finds it more difficult to get used to the end of Daylight Savings Time. I don't remember our little Paris ever having any problems with it; she wasn't focused so much on when she might be eating as when we might be eating. Even though she always had a dish of kibble on hand, she held out the hope that she might be able to eat some of what we were eating. And she seemed to believe that whenever Mommy went into the kitchen, something very delicious would result.

On the other hand, Bowie seems to be tortured by the setting of the sun. Through the Spring, Summer, and much of the fall, he has had his dinner and gotten comfortable long before the sun sets. With the return to Standard time and the days growing shorter, his dinner time of six-thirty is falling well past sunset. I think it causes him anxiety. Where is his food? Why is his stomach rumbling after the sun has gone down? As I sat on the sofa with my tablet in hand, Bowie came up and placed his head on my lap. His eyebrows were moving around just like his whirling thoughts. "MyKatrina," he said, "did you forget to feed me? It's getting dark outside! It's almost bedtime!"

I had to laugh out loud. "Bowie, it just isn't time yet. You have to wait for two more hours." A look of panic came onto his face. "But I'm staaaarving, MyKatrina! I can't even hold my head up any more!" This went on and on, with him making trips to the kitchen to see if I had by any chance teleported there while he had his eyes closed and filled his dish. I lasted until almost six-fifteen. I tried to be hardcore. But those eyes, so sad. And the drool, so damp on the leg of my jeans.

That pretty much sums up today's adventures with Bowie. I guess I'll amble on into the kitchen. After all that food talk, I'm starving!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmastime In Colorado

I know that some of you may have the idea that Christmas in the Denver area must be as beautiful as a greeting card. We are all sitting by the fire with our cozy slippers and hot chocolate while the snow falls lazily from the sky in fat, fluffy flakes. In the morning, we'll put on our cold weather gear and make snowmen before piling into the SUV and heading up to the mountains to ski. Bwaaahahaha!

Sorry for the loss of decorum. It may seem that way from movies or tv or travel magazines, but I am afraid that it just isn't true. You can see from the attached picture that as we approach the holidays, there isn't a snowman, snowdrift, or even a snowflake in sight. I like to joke with out-of-towners who ask about how much snow we have by telling them we keep it all in the mountains. We have been driving around listening to holiday music with our windows rolled down to enjoy the fifty-to-sixty degree weather. Unfortunately, we seldom have a white, snowy Christmas. When we do, it's usually because a blizzard dropped about two feet of snow on top of us. Ah, well.

Some of us do drive SUV's, but have you ever tried paying for gasoline for one of those things? If everyone drove those beasts, nobody could afford to go skiing. Yes, skiing is big here. But I must confess that I have never gone skiing. There, the truth is out. I have had opportunities. But the thought of my body hurtling down a slippery slope at high speed has never been appealing to me. It's just too much like falling. Just a coward, I suppose.

I learned from my Gram that people have had misconceptions about Denver for a long time. No, it is not a cow town. The streets are actually paved. There aren't any cattle rustlers having shootouts outside the saloon and riding off on their horses. Gram liked to share a story about something that happened while she was traveling by train to Michigan in the late 1940's to visit her daughter. A very kind lady struck up a conversation with her to help pass the time. The usual subjects came up, like where are you going, and so forth. When the subject of where they were from came up and Gram said she was from Denver, the woman grew very concerned. "Oh, my goodness! You live in Denver?" she exclaimed. "Aren't you afraid of the Indians attacking when you go to sleep at night?"

Gram said something or other to assure her fellow traveler that she was not only unafraid, but also safe. The conversation wrapped up without my grandmother telling her that she was an ignorant person who had no idea what century it was. Or that she was not afraid because they pulled the Conestoga wagons into a big ol' circle before building their cook fires and cookin' up some buffalo. On Christmas. In the deep, deep snow. In the middle of Denver.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Smart Phones, Stupid People?

I do not have a smart phone, but I don't have anything against them. Trent has a smart phone and really enjoys using it. I prefer using a phone of average intelligence and a tablet. I know that some of you are probably thinking,  "Well, that's just silly, Katrina! Why carry two things when you could do it all with one?"

It's true, I could theoretically do it all on a phone. I could write my blog on a phone. If I had fingers the size of an infant's. And where there are teeny-tiny keyboards, there are also teeny-tiny screens. Which could turn me into a squinting, cranky, eye-fatigued blogger in spite of my bifocals.

Oh, I am sure that shopping would be a real treat as well. I would click on the more info link for a pair of shoes and end up ordering some Hello Kitty nail polish. Nothing screams age-denial like a woman who combines bifocals and Hello Kitty.

What really bothers me about smart phones is some of the people I have seen using them lately. Trent and I treated ourselves to lunch in a restaurant today. A couple came in, sat down, and proceeded to ignore each other by both pulling out their phones. We both thought, why bother? They were occupying spots close to one another, but they were essentially miles apart. It made me think of one of my favorite movie lines from It's A Wonderful Life, "Youth is wasted on the wrong people!" They could have been holding hands and saying sweet things to each other and drowning in the deep pools of each others' eyes. Okay, well, that was kind of revoltingly sweet, but you get the picture.

We are increasingly seeing people who are driving full-speed and never looking at the road. We've done a lot of running around the last few days, and every time we have been on the road we have had people drifting from lane to lane. There's nothing like being in a little car and seeing a Ford F250 casually cruising toward your easily-crushed body. Then you notice that the driver is looking at the gps on their phone as they drift over to terrify the person driving on their other side.

I know that my readers are not the kinds of people I have just mentioned. Smart phones or not, they are smart people. Just keep your eyes open for the dangerous team of smart phones and stupid people. Yikes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Brenda

On a lovely day in October of last year, we found ourselves headed to an appointment at University of Colorado Hospital. As a transplant patient, Trent has a higher chance of getting skin cancer, or other types of cancer, than the average bear. We needed to go in for an annual skin-cancer screening. Since it was early afternoon, we were worried that we wouldn't be able to find a parking space. If you have never gone to a clinic visit at UCH, let me tell you that finding a parking spot can be a challenge. I told Trent not to worry;  I would simply engage my "parking Zen" (complete with ritual smoothly flowing hand gestures) to get us a good spot. When we got there, I would hop in the driver's seat and park the car.

As it happened, I found a spot within seconds of getting behind the wheel. I managed to park the car, use the restroom, and get to the clinic before Trent did. When we got into the clinic, the receptionist said we were a week early for the appointment. I just had to laugh. We had enjoyed a nice ride, and parking was easy. No big deal. We decided to stop by the transplant clinic with some questions, and the afternoon was still young when we were finished there.

I suggested that we stop by one of the hospital gift shops; they had a purse that I had had my eye on for a while. Since it was less than twenty dollars, I decided to go in and buy it. Trent found something that caught his attention, and I wandered around looking at a few things. A display of knitted shawl-type scarves caught my eye. One was displayed on a mannequin bust over a t-shirt, and I saw a pricetag that said twenty dollars. Woohoo! These scarves were so lovely. Some had a large button fastener, and the others had a flower, along with sort of a tunnel on the back that you could run the other end of the scarf through to fasten it.

I just had to get a closer look. There was a lady in an electric scooter/wheelchair in front of the table, so I walked around to the other end to look at them more closely. The flower version came in purple, my favorite color, but I was undecided. Being the kind of person I am, I asked the lady in the scooter which one she liked better. She looked a tiny bit surprised, but smiled and pointed at the purple scarf with the flower. This pleased me immensely, and I thanked her for her help. She smiled at me again, and reached for her electronic voicebox device. Again, being who I am, I was unfazed. We chatted for a while about the scarves and how she wanted to get one for her daughter-in-law but wasn't sure if she would like it. She asked me what the price was, and then I saw that the price was not twenty dollars, but closer to fifty. I said, "Well, you're sitting down, I'll show you the price tag. It's a bit too much for my budget, unfortunately."

After helping her decide about some decorative items, I moved on to find Trent and my little purse, and pay for our purchases. When we were heading toward the door I saw that my friend was standing up with the purple scarf in her arms. "I found myself a purse," I told her. "Are you getting one of the scarves?" She motioned for me to come over to her and thrust the scarf and a fifty-dollar bill into my hands. "I want you to have this, and I won't take no for an answer." Trent and I were stunned and said we couldn't possibly accept. We both burst into tears at her generosity and she hugged me and said that she really wanted me to have the scarf, and that maybe some day I could do something for someone who had no voice. "You DO have a voice, it is in your lovely heart!" I replied.

The three of us talked for a few minutes and shared our names. Then Brenda said something that nearly broke my heart. "I am dying of cancer. The doctors are just using experimental drugs on me now because they know I can never get better." I thanked her for her kindness and told her that the scarf would become a treasured possession. "This scarf will be named Brenda. I will pass it along later in my life along with the story of how it got a name. And I will think of you every time I look at it." By the time we finished talking, I noticed that everyone in the gift shop had stopped what they were doing to watch us. I don't think that there was a dry eye in the group.

Dear Brenda, I hope you had some idea how much your kindness affected me. I have thought of you often, and if you are no longer among us, I am sure that you are enjoying your beautiful heavenly voice. Thank you for letting me learn how much I can touch someone's heart by the simple act of treating them just like everyone else. My brief time with you is a memory I will always love.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lemonade

When Trent and I were dating, I suggested that we take his father out to dinner so that we could get acquainted. Sadly, Trent's mother had passed a number of years before, in case you wondered why it was only Dad. I asked Trent to make arrangements with his dad for our evening out. "Tell him that we will take him anywhere he wants to go."

The evening of the dinner arrived, and where did his dad want to go? Long John Silver's. I guess he really wanted to have some fish. He was diabetic and on dialysis, so he didn't get to eat food like that very often. I think Trent was worried that I wouldn't want to go to such a humble place, but it didn't bother me. If we could make a sweet old man happy by feeding him some fish, then it was fine with me.

When we got out to the car, I insisted that Dad should ride in the front seat. I lived with my Grandma for all those years, and I knew that getting in and out of vehicles can be difficult. Dad also had a little oxygen tank, so it just made sense for him to be up front. When we got settled in the car, Trent asked his father if he wouldn't prefer to go somewhere else to eat. His dad didn't seem too eager to go to a different place, so we carried on with the original plan.

While we were on the way, I remarked, "I am so lucky to be going out to dinner tonight with two nice gentlemen!"

Dad answered, "I LIKE you, you're sweet!"

To which I said, "Yeah, sweet like lemonade!"

Dad's quick response? "I LIKE lemonade!"

That was all it took. From then on we loved each other. In fact, Trent could tell or ask his dad something a dozen times and get no reponse. I'd say it once, and he'd say "yes, ma'am." Trent's dad advised him, privately, to marry me in a hurry before someone else caught me. When I found out about that, I thought it was just precious.

Once I asked him, "Dad, do you think your wife would have liked me?"

Without stopping to think for even a moment, he bellowed, "NO! She wouldn't like you, she'd LOVE you!" Maybe someday I will find out that she likes lemonade, too!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Canned Spinach And Other Demons

I mentioned long ago that I have an aversion to canned spinach. Were I a Popeye-type creature, I would have no muscles at all since I loathe the stuff. I told my readers that it was a story for another time, so today is the day.

When my father was put in jail for his attack on my mother, and my mother was suffering her last days in the hospital, my sister Liz and I were placed in an orphanage. It was a Catholic institution with beautiful grounds and the children were cared for by nuns. The children were, of course, separated by gender, and then into smaller units called "cottages." It sounds so charming, doesn't it?

A cottage was a group of girls that were all under the care of one nun. I was only seven at the time, but in trying to remember how many of us there were, I would guess twenty-five to thirty girls. Each cottage, although part of a much larger building, had a common room, large bathroom and bathing areas, and a large common sleeping area.

Every child was assigned a number according to their cottage. It was an identifier of who you were and was inked inside all of your clothing. We were in cottage 43. Liz was number 43-19, and I was number 43-10. Funny what you remember, isn't it? I can't remember the name of the nun who was in charge of us, but I remember my number. Perhaps because we were often called by our number rather than our name. Charming, isn't it?

Although I do not remember Sister's name, I do remember her attitude. Time has allowed me to give her excuses for her behavior. It is not up to me to judge whether those excuses are deserved. I believe she grew up in an era when a lot of Roman Catholic families felt that at least one of their children should become either a priest or nun. It was sort of an insurance policy, if you will, that ensured the family's passage into Heaven.

Sister had grown up in a wealthy family and gave her life to the Church and caring for orphaned children. I never felt any sense of loving kindness from her. I felt it more from some of the other nuns who barely even knew me. Sister made it clear that we were terrible sinners who deserved any and all suffering we had experienced or would experience. Every night as we were falling asleep, she would sit in her easy chair in the corner of the dormitory next to a small table with a lamp on it. She would tell us that we were terrible sinners and that Jesus' suffering on the cross was our fault. Every bad thing we experienced was our fault and our punishment for our sins. Once she went on so much about looking on your own flesh or the flesh of others, that if I caught a glimpse of my arm I was sure I was doomed to burn in Hell.

One thing Sister believed was that we should be grateful that we were being fed. And I was grateful for that. I believe there was more food available to me in the Orphanage than at home. One night, the main course at dinner was liver with a helping of canned spinach. Hey, I have eaten liverwurst many times. The taste does not bother me. But the texture of fried liver still seems pretty gross to me. But what really did me in was the smell of that slimy canned spinach. I was perfectly willing to have bread and water and call it a day, because that smell made me want to throw up. So eating only bread was what I did. Briefly.

The cafeteria was used by multiple cottages at the same time, so there were several nuns present during all meals. Sister noticed I was sinning by not eating my food, so she told me I had to eat it. I just couldn't do it, no matter how hard I tried. I would get the fork near my mouth and start to gag. So a lesson had to ne learned. An orphan was equivalent to a beggar on the street, and she had to appreciate the bounteous gifts that were given to her, even if they were undeserved. So a couple of nuns restrained me while a couple more forced my mouth open and shoved the food down my throat with a spoon. My screams and cries only made them shove harder.

So, my friends, one of the resolutions of my life became this: when I was "big" I would never eat canned spinach again. And I never have to this day. Spinach salads galore, and I love them. But no evil canned spinach, please!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cheap, Cheap

While I was making dinner this evening, I decided to turn on the telly and see what I had recorded on the DVR while I was dogsitting. I have previously admitted to having an inexplicable attraction to shows that I call train-wrecks. Case in point, the shows about hoarding. I guess you could call it a horrified fascination. The wanna-be psychologist in me wonders how these things happen.

So, for some reason I had decided to record a few episodes of a show about cheapskates. I am not a cheapskate. I try to save on expenses wherever possible, but I do not think it is necessary to live a life of extreme deprivation just for funzies. I was stunned to see some of the things people will do to satisfy their money-saving obsession.

What could be so awful, you ask? For starters, two words:  toilet tissue. One of the two men on the episode I watched does not believe in buying toilet paper. His friend asked to use the facilities and asked where the t.p. was. He showed her a kitchen-sink sprayer attachment that he has rigged to the toilet tank. She decided to wait until she went home. I support her decision;  I like to air-dry my dishes, but air-drying in the loo is not cool.

Oh! There was another fellow who has a clothesline in his kitchen so that he can wash and reuse his paper towels. And dental floss, which he got free from the dentist. Did I mention the coffee singles that he hangs to dry so that he can make five cups from one teabag-type thingie before using it to wash his windows? His wife wanted him to take her out on a monthly date night, so he took her to a matinee at the movie theater. After eating the banana he had made her carry in her purse, he excused himself to throw away the banana peel. Then he dug through the trash can and pulled out a drink and popcorn container. Yes, he went to the restroom and rinsed out the drink cup, and asked for his free refills at the concession stand. And his wife was so thrilled he had gotten her popcorn and a soda! Ick! I wonder what her reaction was when she saw it on tv!

Trent sometimes lovingly teases me about my efforts to save money, but I don't think he will ever have to worry about me getting super cheap. So Trent, I promise you this: I will always want to have toilet paper. I will not ask you to launder paper towels. And when we go to the movies, I will not get your drink out of the trash.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I've Gone Viral

Yeah, I wish! It would make all my bloggy dreams come true if that happened! Would this be a good moment to ask my readers to share my blog with others? Since the subject has arisen, may I simply say that if you get some enjoyment reading these ramblings, your friends might as well. You never know.

No, my blog hasn't gone viral. I have not achieved the blogger equivalent of Gangnam Style, and am not sure that I want to. What goes up rapidly in popularity often goes the other direction at an equally dizzying speed. When I said I had gone viral, I meant my body. Isn't it amazing what something so tiny can do? Of the last forty-eight hours, I have been been conscious for less than twelve.

The scattered bits of awake time go something like this: try to figure out what time and day it is. Apologize to spouse for becoming one of the living dead. Hack, wheeze, snort, cough, and make other similarly disgusting noises. Get a little bite of something to eat. Realize how exhausted you are and go back to sleep. After having been sick for four or five days, try to blog coherently from your tablet while keeping warm under the bedcovers. Hope that your readers don't think you have deserted them. Hope that they don't desert you. Wonder if you are being coherent or if it is the fever talking. Give up after saying you will be back later. Keep well, my friends!

Monday, November 5, 2012

I Should Have Washed My Face

Every family has one. The person who knows everything. Which, as my grandmother used to say, is very annoying to those of us who actually do. Hey, I've told you before, she had a saying about almost everything. Tonight I am going to talk about one of those from the family in which I was raised. In the interests of respect I will refer to her as Aunt Jo. I loved Aunt Jo very deeply, but that doesn't mean I was blind to her faults. We humans are frail and imperfect beings, which is part of what makes life such an adventure.

In this family, it was traditional for the females to live with their family until they got married. I have spoken with my cousin Carole about this; we both think it was a great disservice to the women of our generation. Perhaps if they had been encouraged to find their way in the world and become the people they were meant to be, they might have thought more seriously about important life decisions. I am the only female of this generation whose first marriage did not end in divorce. But then again, I didn't get married until I was forty years old. I don't think any of these women made poor choices (although maybe some of them did), it was simply a matter for many of marrying so they could be out on their own, and then finding out later that they were not the same person who walked down the aisle in the white dress and veil.

Luckily for me, I was the least pretty of the group, and probably the most outspoken, so I seemed destined to stay single forever. This meant that after Gram raised me, I was able to help her as she got older. Gram was a hugely important part of my life; she represented home and was my only parental figure. When I was about nineteen years old, Aunt Jo said to me, "Gram looks terrible. She isn't going to last much longer." I was shocked and scared. I slept more lightly, always wanting to be able to hear if Gram fell or called out for any help. I still can't sleep properly. Gram lasted another eighteen years, incidentally, but if you keep predicting someone's death at least once a week, eventually your prediction will come true. As in the old saying, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

If you have read some of my older posts, you will know that at the age of twenty-nine I became very ill, and was diagnosed with systemic lupus. Very briefly, systemic lupus is a non-contagious autoimmune disorder. When the immune system switches on, it may run amok and attack any and all systems of the body rather than just germs and such. In my case, my immune system was attacking my kidneys, which were starting to fail as a result. Luckily for me, I had always been in fairly good health, so I had no idea what some of my test results really meant. For example, when I was released from the hospital, my blood pressure had come down to the level of danger of having a stroke. I had no clue! All I knew was that I was furious at being sick, and my doctor said that attitude would help me get better. Imagine my surprise several months later when I heard Gram tell someone that when I was in the hospital, she could see death in my face. I was stunned. Gram had seen numerous people come and go, and been at the side of many death beds. As I said, it was good I didn't know this at the time, or I may not have had the stubbornness to forge ahead.

Some months after I got out of the hospital and was continuing my struggle with lupus, Gram asked me one day if anyone knew what caused lupus. I told her that from what I had read, and what the doctors told me (hey, we didn't have home computers in those days, kiddos) nobody really knew. It was thought that there might be a genetic link, but there was no definite cause. I asked her what had made her ask that question. She told me that when I was still in the hospital, Aunt Jo had called her and said, "I've looked into this lupus thing. You get it from not washing your face properly."

I didn't know whether to laugh or to scream in disgust and anger. I am sure that there are places in the world where you could get internal illnesses as a result of using impure water to wash your face. To say nothing of the fact that I did, and do, know how to wash my face! I assured Gram that the near-failure of my kidneys had nothing to do with what I used to clean my face, and that I had not done anything at all that caused me to be so sick. We got a good chuckle out of the whole situation. Every so often, though, when my constant companion lupus has me feeling less than fabulous, I laugh and say, "Dang. I should have washed my face!"

  






Saturday, November 3, 2012

Jedi Mind Tricks

Once again I am dogsitting Bowie, a canine who is very loveable. Bowie could be fodder for a few stories, but tonight I am just going to talk about a couple of things. Bowie has been described by his human parents as a dog for whom there is no such thing as a stranger. Although he is willing to give his affection to anyone (by the way, Halloween was so much fun for him!), he has developed a special bond with me and Trent. It really can make you feel special when a dog actually scampers through the house when you arrive. There is a ritual that has developed over the years any time I come over to visit.

The first part of the ritual, obviously, is the scampering. This is accompanied by delighted greetings and head pats. Bowie then heads toward the kitchen, looking over his shoulder to see if I am following. He goes to the back door and I let him go outside. If the weather is warm and dry, I go out with him. He proceeds to the grass and sits down facing away from me so that petting him will be more convenient. This progresses to tummy rubs before we go back inside. No matter what the weather, when Bowie comes inside he will present me with his backside because he knows that I will scratch the spot above his tail that seems to put all dogs into a state of joy.

I have jokingly said that to Bowie I am not merely Katrina; his name for me is MyKatrina. I think this was proven to be correct when I came over and Thayne's son, Scott, was complaining of backache. I told him to sit on the floor in front of the sofa and I would massage his back a bit. Well, let me tell you, Bowie was not having it! He came over and started to nose my arm. When that didn't make me stop, he pulled my hand away from Scott with his paw. I could almost hear him saying, "Hey, back off, she's MY MyKatrina, not yours!"

Something that is as important to Bowie as love is food. I am proud to say that I am one of just a handful of humans whose arrival can make Bowie abandon his food dish. When I dogsit Bowie, he will try various tricks to convince me that no matter what the clock says, it is time for him to dine. There are various forms of showing off, and most of them include some form of happy barking. Lately, his routine has been to run off quickly and bring back a tennis ball, which he drops next to me a couple of times. He can only do it a couple of times; after all, he is dying of hunger.

This evening I mixed up a dish that included two kinds of kibble as well as some canned food. It was thoroughly enjoyed and the bowl was licked out many times. After he went out for some fresh air, I settled down to watch tv. Suddenly, Bowie jumped up and dashed around the house looking for his ball. As he tossed it next to me, I heard him saying, "This is not the Bowie you prepared dinner for." I looked him in the eye and said, "Your Jedi mind tricks will not work on me," and he immediately gave up and curled up for a nap. What a hoot! Bowie isn't the first dog to try Jedi mind tricks on me (Paris was a Jedi master!) and I am sure he won't be the last. But as long as the force remains strong in me, I think I'll be all right!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Memories of September 2001

In early September of this year, I got a lovely message from my cousin Viki, who lives in western Hungary. At the time I received it, I was in a delicate emotional state. After several months of surgeries and complications for Trent, as well as having our car break down to the point of no repair, we had one final, heartbreaking blow. We had to make the decision to have our darling little dog, Paris, put down. She had been our Babygirl for twelve and a half years, so it was devastating. When the news stories and memorials started to come on the television and internet right around our wedding anniversary, September ninth, we felt it even more deeply since our emotions were so raw.

I received a message from Viki telling me her September 11, 2001 experience. At the time these things happened, we had not yet met each other, and I had not met any of my Hungarian relatives, which makes the story even more precious to me.

In September 2001, Viki was a new University student. Until the new students go through a special ceremony, they are considered to be merely a visitor to the school. After the ceremony, which was to include shaking hands with President Mádl Ferenc (while wearing white gloves), she would officially join in the University society. During the program, someone came up to President Mádl and whispered something in his ear, and then they both left. The Vice Chancellor of the University told them that the President had to go to Budapest because of an international affair. There were no handshakes, so they all felt let down, but they were official members of the University now.

When they arrived back at the school, all five hundred of the older students were sitting silently watching the television. Nobody said anything, just sat there mutely, as my cousin says. They found out that there was a terrorist attack on the USA. All of the day's classes were cancelled, and they spent the entire day watching the events unfolding on tv. Viki says in her message, "Katrina, I didn’t know you then, but I think we felt commiseration with America. I saw more documentary films about 9/11 this week, and I decided to tell you, that we feared for American people." I think many of us did not realize how great an impact the events of that day had all over the world. It touched my heart very deeply to know that people everywhere were sharing our grief and shock.

And now, for my dear cousin, I will share my experience of that day.

Trent was driving the both of us to work in downtown Denver that morning. We both worked in the telephone customer service center of a large bank. Trent was a telephone banker, and I was a trainer.  We had the radio on in the car, and they said something about a plane crashing into the WTC. What? Then they said something about the WTC being on fire. I remember being really irritated. Why couldn't they get their story straight, was it a plane crash or a fire? When we got in to work, my coworker Jeff was on the phone with his wife, who was filling him in on what was coming across on the television news. I learned that a plane had crashed into the WTC.

Suddenly Jeff went pale and told the coworkers gathered around that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon complex. My blood ran cold, and I was in complete shock. An attack on US soil? My friend Danielle and I burst into tears and ran down to the employee breakroom to watch some of the news coverage. That week, I was training a small class that was advancing to more complex servicing of accounts. Needless to say, we accomplished almost nothing that day. No one could focus. We were talking about the towers being hit, how it was done, and by whom. We got updates in the training room from Danielle about the towers collapsing and the flight where the passengers re-took their plane and crashed it to save other people's lives. Some of my current and former trainees came to tell me that they were going to have to write wills and get their affairs in order, because they might be shipping off to go to combat.

We were living in a world that we did not recognize that day. I remember doing a lot of weeping. I also remember asking my boss if she would go in to an empty office with me to say a prayer. Soon the country's shock and sadness began to give way to anger and most of all a desire to be of help. I do believe that this time will go down in the annals of US history as being one of our darkest moments, but also one of our finest.

Something that made me feel strange is something that I have shared with very few people before today. I have been to New York City twice, in 1987 and again in 1992. Both times I saw many wonderful sights and enjoyed so much about this amazing city. But I never got around to seeing the  World Trade Center. On both trips, I neglected to make the time to go there. I remember saying to my fellow travelers on both trips, "Well, I can see it the next time I come here, it's not going anywhere." Those words still haunt me, because we never know what will be there the next day, or whether we will even be around on the next day. As a result, I try to remember to enjoy life and beauty and adventures when I have the opportunity. We may never pass this way again.

Note: I have written the Hungarian President's name in the traditional Hungarian manner, which is last name first.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Snack Attack

Believe it or not, when I was a youngster, I was so skinny that my little Grammie used to say that I needed to turn around twice to make a shadow. As you can tell from my profile photo, I am no longer a little-bitty mere slip of a girl. I am a woman of substance. I'd like to be slimmer, and have lost and regained weight just like a lot of other people. I often have the best of intentions and am then derailed by a dirty-fighting nastybeast. It is called the Snack Attack. I don't know about any of you, but my Snack Attack is particularly evil.

Do you find yourself just relaxing, and then craving some low-fat, low-carbohydrate, high-fiber, low-sodium treat? Not me. I can be watching a gruesome scene in a horror movie and find myself thinking I really wish I had some potato chips right about now. Or chocolate cake. Or buttery popcorn. (And not the airpopped stuff, either. I am not a goat, and therefore have no desire to eat packing material.) And freshly-baked bread with a nice chewy crust...please excuse me for a moment while I get a napkin and blot my lips in a very ladylike fashion.

Knowing that I love food, if I see a headline online about healthier snack choices, I am always willing to take a look. I realize that there are people who are wiser than I am about how food affects the body, and what things you can eat to make yourself feel full longer. I have decided that all of the people who write these bits of advice are not normal. I think they are all teeny-tiny women who are so skinny that they can buy their clothes in the toddlers department, but only if it is a fashion-forward toddlers department, of course. These are the grownup versions of those girls you knew in high school and college - the ones who eat one lettuce leaf and a glass of water and say, "Oh, I am so full! I shouldn't have eaten so much!"

But Katrina, you are thinking, why do you say this? Well, maybe you haven't read some of these articles I have seen lately. Some examples of the madness: a good breakfast that will keep you full and satisfied until lunch is one piece of toast slathered (!) with one teaspoon of peanut butter. Are you kidding me? That sounds more like a breakfast appetizer! Can you throw in a glass of milk and a banana? But that isn't even the worst. "When I find myself really hungry in the afternoon (what, the four-ounce endive and tofu salad wasn't enough to satisfy you?), I just eat eight almonds. Then I am totally satisfied and full until dinner." See, I probably would have put the almonds on the endive salad, along with some chicken and mixed berries. Then my lunch wouldn't have left me hanging an hour after I ate it.

Maybe I am just doomed. Instead of Jekyll and Hyde, it's Katrina and the Snack Attack, a horror story in five chapters. And I don't want you to think I scoff at good nutrition. I love vegetables and lots of other healthy stuff like nonfat Greek yogurt. I had a salad for dinner. But I still want some chocolate. Doomed, I tell you, doomed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nem! Nem! Soha!

No, I haven't lost control of either my mind or my keyboard. Today's blog title is Hungarian for "No! No! Never!" This was one of the rallying cries of the Hungarian Revolution against Soviet Occupation. The Revolution began fifty-six years ago today, on October 23, 1956. It is because of this Revolution that I was born, and also that I was born in the United States of America.

At the end of World War II, Hungary, among other places, was placed under the control of the Soviet Union. Between the actions of the Soviet soldiers and the Secret Police, and other things like very poor harvests, the Hungarian people suffered greatly during this regime. Many families had to hide their daughters in pigsties and woodsheds to protect them from being raped by soldiers. Even in the small village in Western Hungary where my family lived, people suffered from great hunger. Many people had to resort to eating plants that would normally be considered decorative, or even weeds. For their own entertainment, the soldiers would make boys have fistfights for a chance to eat a piece of toast. The Secret Police were no less cruel. One of my relatives, for example,was forced to wash a floor and then drink the dirty water out of the wash bucket. 

This sort of treatment, and much that was far worse, was rampant in Soviet-occupied Hungary. I have read and heard stories of people being taken away for questioning and torture. One was of a woman who was in poor health and was required to stand at attention on one foot until she collapsed. This torture was inflicted on her repeatedly for many days. I won't talk any more about the brutality of those times; I think that I have given you a good idea of the fear and pain that were a part of everyday life.

When the Revolution began, the Hungarians didn't really have any weapons to speak of. University students shoved rocks into the tracks of Soviet tanks. When the tanks stopped, they climbed on and pulled out the soldiers. Some people who don't really think fully when I say this will sometimes laugh, but my heart is filled with pride and sorrow for these brave people who so wanted freedom that when no other weapons were available, they fought with rocks. The Soviets were rousted from Budapest, but only for a matter of days. On November 4, 1956, the Soviet Army came rolling into Budapest, all of Hungary, really, with numerous tanks. They shot and killed men, women, children, even those who were already wounded. To show their "superiority," they tied the bodies of dead Hungarians to their tanks and dragged them through the streets. As many as thirty thousand Hungarians were killed. To this day, if you are in Budapest and look up at the walls of the buildings, you will see the bullet holes from the tanks. 

My father was a revolutionary organizer in his little town, so the Soviets had slated my father, mother, and my three siblings who ranged in age from three to six, for execution. So in the middle of a night in early November 1956, they walked out of Hungary and into Austria. I don't know how they got past the guard post and machine guns; perhaps the soldiers were busy elsewhere. But my family were part of an estimated two hundred thousand people who fled Hungary into the West. My parents were fortunate to have some relatives in the USA who sponsored them so that they could bring their family here, and here I was born.

I wanted to honor my Hungarian heritage on this, of all days. Yes, I ate some paprikas csirke (chicken paprikash), and my thoughts have been on what my family and their countrymen endured. There are also other ways in which I honor my Hungarian-American heritage. It is perhaps because of these combined heritages that my freedoms are so precious to me. I know from history how important it is to speak one's voice to preserve these freedoms. It is why I consider my ability to vote not just a right, but an almost sacred responsibility. It's also why any time I go to a baseball game, I am usually crying before the end of the National Anthem. These things remind me that both of the countries of my heritage, the USA and Hungary, are built on the sacrifices of people who were willing to die to make their world a better place, free from tyrants. It is in their honor that I say, "Nem! Nem! Soha!" 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Feed Me, Seymour

We had the great pleasure of serving dinner in our home to our friends Marie and Thayne this evening. We had invited them a couple of weeks in advance, but hadn't discussed the menu. When we saw Marie about a week ago, I decided to ask what they would like me to make for them. Would it be my famous casserole? Or perhaps my green chili? I was so pleased when, without a moment's hesitation, she said, "Oh, can we have paprikash?" Of course I agreed. I love any opportunity to share a bit of my Hungarian heritage, especially in the form of food. And I was thrilled that she likes it enough for me to want me to make it for her.

I think one of the dearest gifts we can give each other is to share with them the foods we love. For me, at least, when I am cooking or baking something for people I care about, it seems that the food tastes better.  I have often shared my recipes for cookies and other dishes with my friends. And have been told time and time again that "they just don't taste the same." No, I am not a kitchen genius. Yes, I most definitely have my special tricks and techniques. But my knife skills are abysmal at best, and my "techniques" would likely get me laughed out of any and all culinary schools or professional kitchens. 

I have come to the point where I can make my signature dishes without referring to recipes or instructions. Instead of cooking these dishes with my head, I am able to cook them with my heart. Is it possible that one's good feelings can add flavor to the food? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Maybe I am looking at the wrong end of the equation. Does knowing that the food we eat is well prepared as well as lovingly prepared improve the flavor? I'd like to think both things are true. So I will continue to share my love through the kitchen, as well as in other ways. I encourage you to do so as well. And in the words of the mean green mother from outer space, "Feed me, Seymour!"


p.s. 

As a child in Chicago, I was a member of a family that sometimes made a meal for six people out of one potato, so I know how real the problem of hunger is. I would like to remind everyone reading this that there are children and adults everywhere that do not have enough food to eat. Please remember them when you see donation boxes or "spend $5 to feed a family" promotions at your local market. And when you go out to a restaurant and are asked to donate an extra dollar or two to help feed the hungry, please consider doing so. I thank you on their behalf.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gracious, Goodness

For some reason as I was puttering around the kitchen today, I started thinking about someone who hasn't occupied any space in my mind or my life for a number of years. She was a coworker who briefly turned into a friend. There were many things about her that I loved, as she was radically different from anyone I had ever known before. Ivy, as I am going to call her in this blog, was an incredibly outspoken person. To put it into perspective, Trent and most of my friends will tell you that I am pretty straightforward about things. But I manage to do so with consideration and gentility. Bwaaahahaha! That gentility part sounds so classy, right? Seriously, though, I think we can be upfront about things without hurting another's feelings if we engage our brain before we engage our mouth. Compared to Ivy, I am one step away from being completely closed-off.

Ivy was the kind of person who would say very intelligent things and then follow up by being completely out of order. It was things of this nature that, for me, began the ending of our relationship. We were both tellers in the drive-though of a busy bank in downtown Denver. I truly loved my job, and was able to have fun with it. I had made a conscious decision early in my banking career that I was going to have a positive and happy attitude with customers. And that philosophy worked well for me. But Ivy made me wonder why we were friends when she asked me, "Don't you think this job is degrading?" I was stunned. Where I got satisfaction from helping people with their accounts, even if it was something as simple as processing a deposit, she felt shame at having to be of service to someone else.

Being in a drive-through, we were able to listen to music while we were working. I'm a person that pays attention to what people enjoy or respond to. During a conversation about music, she mentioned that she really liked an artist whose song we had just heard on the radio. He had a distinctive voice which really appealed to her. So when Christmas time rolled around, I went to several different music stores until I found his most recent album. I was excited knowing that she was going to absolutely love my gift. When the day before Christmas rolled around, she opened her package and said, "Oh. I was excited because I thought it was going to be so-and-so's (a different artist entirely) album! Oh, well, maybe I'll like this one."

I was stunned. It wasn't just because she didn't like the gift I had put so much thought and effort into getting. It was the response. I know that like me, everyone reading this has received at least one gift that has really been a letdown or a real head-scratcher. But receiving a gift graciously is as important as the act of giving itself. Hey, I know I have been the recipient of a few gifts through the years that made me wonder if the giver knew anything about me other than my name, but I have always accepted them with pleasure that someone cared enough to give them to me. And I have never gone to the store the next day to return or exchange.

I'm not trying to say I am a perfect gift recipient. I may be sitting there thinking, "Wow, Aunt Susie does have taste. Unfortunately, it's all in her mouth!" Maybe my experience with Ivy, although hurtful at the time, was a good experience after all. I learned first-hand that an unloved gift can cause more pain and embarrassment to the giver than the receiver. So the next time your Aunt Susie excitedly gives you an atrocious scarf, be gracious. Give a gift back by thanking her and then wrapping it around your neck. I can almost guarantee that it will create a precious moment that you will both be happy to remember.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cruelty

For any of my readers who have come here to read something funny or lighthearted, I apologize. Recent events in the news have been weighing heavily on me, so I am going to be serious tonight, as I am from time to time. There are two news stories that are making me want to write these things tonight. One is about a girl in Canada, Amanda Todd, and one is about a girl in Westminster, Colorado, Jessica Ridgeway. Both of these lovely girls are now gone from this earth, and their stories had some things in common for me. 

Amanda Todd made a silly mistake when she was thirteen and was hanging out with her friends. They were playing around with a webcam, and someone spotted a potential victim in Amanda. She was told how pretty she was, and encouraged to "flash the camera." After a short time, she received internet messages telling her that if she didn't provide full-body shots, the pictures of her breasts would be sent to all of her family and friends. A list of these people was included. Social network pages identified her as a person of loose morals. She changed schools more than once, and tried to dull her pain with cutting, and use of drugs and alcohol. She was constantly hounded by bullies, and verbally abused and beaten. After she tried to commit suicide by drinking bleach, online messages to and about her included pictures of bleach bottles and comments that maybe if she used a different brand of bleach, she'd be successful next time. Amanda lost all of her self-esteem and desire to live, and took her own life.

Ten-year-old Jessica Ridgeway's mother watched her walking off to school at 8:30 a.m. Friday, October 5th, and then went to bed. She had just worked the night shift, and was going to sleep during Jessica's school hours. Jessica never showed up to meet her friends at the park three blocks away, and never made it to school. Unfortunately, when the school called about her absence, her mother didn't hear the phone ring. As mentioned before, she was sleeping after her normal work shift. Jessica's mother didn't realize that she was missing until late afternoon when her daughter didn't come home from school. People from all of the surrounding communities searched for her to no avail, including my friend Melissa, who lives in the same neighborhood. A dismembered body was found two days ago by some people who were, to the best of my knowledge, doing grounds keeping at an open space. It was disclosed today that the body was that of Jessica.

So, what do these stories have in common? It is more than the tragic loss of two young lives and the sorrow of the families and friends affected by their deaths. As I have seen the news stories and people's comments about them, I have noticed some disturbing things. Amanda was a child who made a childish mistake of trusting someone who sweet-talked her. This was met with torrents of abusive comments. The comments haven't stopped with her death, either. I saw some heartless comments in regard to her mistakes and her death. Unfortunately, I have seen some cruel comments directed at Jessica's mother, as well. Instead of being concerned over a missing child, many people were blaming the mother. She should never have let her walk three blocks, they said. That makes her a bad parent, they said. How could she be so awful and lazy as to sleep through the phone calls? In essence, they were saying, of both stories, that "she got what she deserved."

Instead of blaming the bullies, or the horrible person who killed and discarded a child, they are blaming the victim. It makes me wonder if we have become so cruel as a society that our youngsters have taken this into their everyday behaviors. I am not saying that bullying is anything new. I was on the receiving end of bullying that was cruel and matter-of-fact. When someone tells you that you are too ugly to have a pretty name, or that you are so ugly that a war started over who was uglier, you or another person in the class, you know what bullying feels like. These kids were dreadful, as kids can be. But where do they learn this pattern of behavior? Could it be from hearing their family say something about Mrs. Jones being fat and stupid, or Grandma being a dumb old woman? 

Are we unable to face the fact that there are predators out there who can easily abduct and kill children as well as adults? Does the fear of losing one's own children make people try to find blame in the parents? After all, if the child is dead because they had a bad parent, that means your child is safe, because you are a great parent, right? Wow, maybe I have accidentally hit on something. By trying to make the other parent's situation different from their own, they create an idea that it will never happen to them.  I don't know their reasons, and I suppose I never shall. But I hope I never catch myself blaming the victim in such a tragedy. To me, it is the cruelest thing of all. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where's Simba?

Anyone who has worked in retail can tell you that some days you will just have to deal with one challenging person after another. On days like that, it is especially important to have something that you can do to bring you back to your happy place before dealing with anything else. Which is why, on a chilly afternoon in February, I spent part of the afternoon walking around the zoo. I figured that the people I had been dealing with had been acting like animals, so I might as well see some other animals to help myself relax. After all, it has been my experience that the animals at the zoo only get demanding at feeding time, which is a better reason that fussing over why a shop doesn't carry products from a rival company.

Since it was midweek and a bit breezy, there weren't very many people wandering around the zoo that afternoon. I was able to just watch the various animals and forget about the annoyances of the day. If you haven't figured it out yet, I really love animals, so it makes sense for me to hang out with them to ease my stress. I worked my way around several exhibits until I found myself watching the big cats. It's funny that someone who loves dogs as much as I do finds big cats so fascinating, but I do.

As I was standing outside watching the lions enjoying some fresh air, a mother came up next to me with her two kids. One was a baby in a stroller and the other must have been about three of four years old. I heard the boy say to his mother, "Mom, where's Simba?" I had a smile on my face since I was watching a pretty healthy-looking Simba at that very moment. In fact, he was watching us in return. I could imagine him thinking that we would make some very delicious snacks. Hey, it's not a stretch...he was looking right at the little boy and licking his chops!

Mom replied to her son, "Well, honey, he's right there, don't you see him?" Little Joey was very concerned. "No, Mommy, I don't see Simba, where's Simba?" Mom and I glanced at each other over Joey's head. How could he not see the lion? It was sizing him up for dining purposes, after all! Mom again told Joey that Simba was right outside the enclosure. "But Mom, I can't see Simba! Where is Simba, Mom?" Getting concerned, I helped point out that Simba was in front of us in the lion enclosure. Granted, he wasn't super-close, but Joey should have been able to see him. 

Joey was becoming frantic. "Mom, I want to see Simba! Where is Simba?" Mom told Joey, "Don't you see him, honey? He's right there. He's standing up and looking straight at you!" Joey gave his mother a withering glance and said, in an I-am-so-digusted-that-my-mom-is-so-stupid tone of voice, "MOM! That is Mufasa! Where is Simba?" Mom and I took one look at each other, and I had to walk away. I really didn't want little Joey to think I was laughing because I was making fun of him. Yes, it was an incredibly funny moment, one that still makes me chuckle. I had gone to the zoo that day to get away from the annoyances that people had caused me that day. All it took to melt away my stress was a little boy who wanted to see Simba, and decided that maybe his mom didn't know everything after all!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sesame?

As you may know, I used to train telephone customer service employees for a large banking corporation. The hours spent in the training room could be fodder for any number of stories, every one of them true. Recent events in the political arena made me remember this particular experience.

When you spend numerous hours training less-than-exciting, but necessary, material to a group of people, sometimes you have to do a little something extra to keep their interest. Let's face it, since you are training the same things over and over, sometimes you have to take extra steps to make sure that YOU don't get bored. One of the dangerous energy slump times is right after lunch. A full tummy and a chair can sometimes make a person sleepy. 

For me, however, it seemed that my early afternoons were when I experienced a bit of an energy rush. After all, I had eaten some good food and had a few laughs with my fellow trainer, so I felt ready to roll. On one afternoon, as I was training some probably boring procedures, I was trying to make the session less dull by speaking in different voices for the different customer examples I was using. As I scanned the training room to see if everyone looked like they were catching on, I noticed that Jim, one of my favorite trainees, was shaking his head. Worried that he may not have understood the procedure, I asked him what was up. "Katrina," he replied, "watching you train is like Sesame Street on crack!" I don't know if anyone in the class thought it was as funny as I did. I was laughing too hard to notice!

The next day after lunch, I was feeling particularly wacky. My class and I were both having fun with the learning experience. In the midst of a burst of laughter, I caught sight of Jim, sitting at his computer with a little smile on his face. "I know," I said, "Sesame seed on crack!" I actually managed to make Jim laugh out loud that day. And I had to laugh at myself as well. My mouth had betrayed me once again, but it ended up being something that was pretty funny. The whole class had a good time with it, and we were all energized enough to make it through the afternoon.

I hope that my friend Jim remembers that day as fondly as I do, and can still get a chuckle of two out of it. Thanks for helping create one of my favorite training memories. Have fun with your kids on Sesame Seed Street!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gentle Giants

About a week and a half ago, our friends Thayne and Marie invited us on a day trip. We went to the Pueblo, Colorado area and Colorado Springs to do some sightseeing. We were fortunate in that the trees were changing into their autumn dresses, and the sights were beautiful. We made a pit stop in Colorado Springs on our way south. As Thayne was fueling up the car, the rest of us headed inside the gas station in search of WCs and snacks. There was a man who was filling up his pickup truck and being supervised by an absolutely lovely long-haired Saint Bernard. She was quite friendly, and more than willing to spread her slobber among as many people as cared to fawn over her. This gentle giantess weighed about two hundred pounds, but I am pretty sure that she is two hundred pounds of marshmallow and other sweetness.

She made me think of another Saint Bernard, a short-hair, that belonged to my next door neighbors when I was in high school. Mugger (I doubt that he ever jumped on anyone and stole their purse!) was a sweet, droopy-eyed love of a dog. Oftentimes when I happened to be on my way home from school, or just in the front yard, he would come over to see me. Actually, he sort of shambled over like a four-legged John Wayne. And probably weighed more! After permitting me to pet him, rub his ears, and so forth, he was ready to play. 

Playtime for Mugger consisted of him taking my wrist or forearm in his mouth and leading me around the yard like his own personal human toy. His magnificent tail would sway gently as he led me up and down and around the yard. Mugger never scared me when he did this. Yes, he had my arm in his big, gaping mouth (big, gaping drooling mouth), but he never once hurt me. After I let him know I was finished playing, there was never a single tooth mark on my arm. Great slimy slobbery patches, yes, but never any mark of any other kind.

Most of the kids in the neighborhood were high school age, with the exception of Debbie and Mark, the kids I would end up babysitting full time. Oftentimes there were no kids their age to play with. That was never a problem for Mark, though. He would march his five-year-old self over to the neighbor's front door, ring the bell, and ask, "Can Mugger come out and play?" Mugger gladly came out to play with this little boy who weighed less than a quarter what he did. I am sure that not only did Mark get led around the yard, he probably also took Mugger for pony rides. Nobody, not even Mark's mom, ever worried about the two of them playing together. Mark would always be safe with this sweet and gentle giant.

Unfortunately, Mugger's life ended up being a short one. When he was about two years old, my neighbor took him to swim in a creek. She didn't realize that someone had spilled tar there, and of course Mugger didn't know it was dangerous. Even though she got him to a vet right away, the poisonous effects of the tar on his skin ended his life. His passing left a hole in the hearts of everyone who knew him, and I am sure that Mark was crushed at the passing of his best friend. Whenever I see a Saint Bernard, I think of two things. Buck in The Call of the Wild, and Mugger, one of the sweetest dogs I have ever known. Here's to gentle giants!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Substitutes

One of my favorite high school teachers was my Psychology teacher, Mr. Marcucci. Not only was he good-looking and a sharp dresser, his class was a great learning experience. As a matter of fact, I learned so much from his class that I wasn't required to take the final in my first-year college psych class.

Something that made Mr. Marcucci and his class so appealing was the way he treated us. We were used to being treated as kids, younger and therefore to be talked down to. On the first day of class, he told us that since we were Seniors we weren't babies anymore. We would soon be going out into the world as adults, so he was going to treat us accordingly. Instead of following the usual policy of having a parent or guardian call in to excuse any absences, we were required to take care of it ourselves. We would be the ones writing our excuse notes. Actually, it was brilliant on his part, because it taught us to really think before missing class. This morphed into really thinking about it before not going to work. 

Mr. Marcucci's class wasn't easy, but I enjoyed it every day. He made learning such a joy, and was very candid about things that had happened in his life. No other teacher ever opened up to us about the stress and shame he felt living with an alcoholic parent. But he did. And he told us about his grandmother, who helped raise him, and how he'd get embarrassed by her doing things like going to the store in her slippers. After he got out of his teen years, he realized that, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't that big of a deal. He also shared the tragic story of losing his wife and firstborn in childbirth. I know it couldn't have been easy for him, but he wanted to just be up front with us rather than have inflated rumors spread.

One day, my friend Colleen and I headed to his class, ready for our next learning experience. Before we got to the classroom, the word had gotten out. Mr. Marcucci wasn't at school. There was a sub. Everyone decided they would rather skip class than spend the time with someone who would be, in our opinion, a poor replacement. And I mean everyone. Colleen and I went to the supermarket and got some doughnuts before heading off to our other classes.

The next day, Mr. Marcucci was back, and he was furious. I imagine he was embarrassed by the fact that all of his students had shunned the substitute teacher. After all, our behavior had reflected poorly on him. When class started, he calmly told us that he was disappointed in our immature behavior. He informed us that we had two choices. Either we could have our parents write us an excuse like you'd do for a kid, or you could have an unexcused absence for the class. I knew I was not going to be in trouble, because I had already told Gram that I skipped the class, and Colleen had told her folks as well. So we decided to write our excuse letter together and take the unexcused absence.

I don't want you to think that we just said something to the effect of "we decided to skip class because we thought we'd be bored." Oh, heck no! We decided to have fun with it. So with a combination of our honest story about what we did that day and my interest in creative writing, we wrote something that was more like a story. We talked about how we had been heartbroken to find out that he was not there, and that we heard the doughnuts at the store calling our names. We also made note of our guilt and shame, and promised never to behave that way again. Since I was taking a Spanish class, we signed it with "hugs and kisses" in Spanish.  

It turned out that we were the only people in the class that didn't ask our folks to bail us out. But our story pleased him so much that he read it to the class the next day. And even though we received an unexcused absence for our actions that day, we had earned our teacher's respect. We had done something we shouldn't, and took full responsibility for our actions. And instead of reacting to the consequences with anger, we chose to use a mixture of acceptance and humor. I think that on this particular day, our teacher realized that we had learned something from him, and that he was helping us to become adults. And I like to think that for that feeling, Mr. Marcucci would have accepted no substitutes.