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Monday, May 28, 2012

The Cows Got Out

I am going to tell you , right at the beginning, that I have an appointment to get my eyes checked in a couple of weeks.

A couple of months ago, I did a face-plant in some decorative rock. In addition to a bloody nose, several cuts and scrapes, and some insanely bruised knees, I managed to break my glasses. Luckily for me I still had some glasses from a few years back. Okay, several years back. In my usual fashion, I have kept telling myself that I'll make an appointment next week, but as we all know, next week never really comes. I've had some moments of frustration, like not being able to see the t.v. very well, or Trent asking me where a license plate is from, and I can't see the darn thing. (No, I have not been driving, so you're all safe!)

Tonight we were taken out to dinner at The Olive Garden by our dear friends. What a lovely dinner we had, and crazy-good desserts! As our friends drove us home, we went by a local dairy that has cows, horses, and llamas grazing in the fields. I always have to look because I really do love animals, and I always hope to get a glimpse of the llamas. As we zipped past, I saw something that looked really dangerous. A black cow and calf were on the outside of the fence! I couldn't bear the thought of them being in danger, and my friend knew it. He asked if I wanted him to go back so we could check on the situation, and of course I did. When we turned down the street in question, I had to burst into laughter at myself. There were some critters outside the fence, all right. Two humans wearing black shirts and walking their black dog! 

We only lost about a minute of our time, and the belly laugh was worth it. Good thing for us they were humans and dogs, which are so much easier to herd than cows! And it's a good thing for them that we didn't have to rescue them, because I might have headed for the cows instead. And we will have something to laugh about on those days we all love, when we get together and start telling stories about each other. I'm glad I am able to laugh at myself during these kinds of moments. I am also glad to be getting new glasses soon. But most of all, at least for this evening, I am glad we were there to help when the cows got out.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend

Happy Memorial Day weekend, friends! I hope that you are enjoying the traditional beginning of summer while still remembering those who died in Military service to the USA. I also hope that no matter how you celebrate, you do it safely.

I had a really good time yesterday. Trent and I went to the Boulder Creek Festival with two of our friends. I don't know if any of you have ever gone, but we really enjoy it. It's really fun to walk down a few blocks of the Pearl Street Mall and see the various booths and get tote bags and keychains and other freebies.

Then you walk over to Boulder Creek and sample all kinds of things like energy bars and drinks, organic milks, fruit smoothies, all kinds of stuff. There are booths with a dozen or more varieties of honey. There's skin care and massages and spiritualism and art and jewelry. And people of all shapes, sizes, and types. And their dogs. I really enjoy seeing the dogs jump into the creek and have fun, or just chill out. We saw one dog who snagged a pizza crust off the ground while his master was looking the other way, and another who tied to drink his master's beer while being carried around.

And all kinds of food, from game meats to Hawaiian stir fried noodles and veggies, meat on a stick, shave ice, pizza, bratwurst, funnel cakes, and more. There are vendors of organic produce, Philly cheese steaks, crepes, and corn on the cob. Yum. You can sit and watch the greatest show on Earth, the human race, while you have something to eat or drink and go through the bag of goodies you have collected. No, it's not the swag tents at the Academy Awards, but everybody likes to get a few freebies now and then. 

If you have a chance, they will be doing it again tomorrow. Take the kids and have some fun. Have a little snack and get some swag, Boulder Style. Get a free massage. Sample freebies of food and then chill out with some food and drink and listen to some live music. As far as bringing your dogs, I wouldn't. There's so many people that it can be scary for them, to say nothing of getting stepped on accidentally. Just hang out, and just be, and just enjoy yourself. I know I did. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and put away all of my totes and such. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Flicks

Thanks to being raised by an older woman whose husband had been a projectionist (in the good old days, there was a person who actually ran the projectors in movie theaters), I grew up loving movies. The local television stations and PBS channel would put old movies on weekend nights. I spent many an evening watching Creature Features and old musicals. Gram was super cool in this respect. If I didn't have school the next day, I could stay up a bit later to watch these movies. On one memorable occasion, I was allowed to stay up on a school night. Seven Brides For Seven Brothers was being broadcast, I think at about ten p.m., and I begged to see it, since I never had before. A deal was reached. No matter how tired I might be in the morning, I would still put in my day at school. When I told my friends she let me stay up they were pretty impressed, let me tell you.

Because of these movie nights, I developed a love of good entertainment. I like movies from all time frames and genres, but I will always have a special place in my heart for the oldies. And by oldies, I don't mean the 1980's, although there are a lot of 80's movies to love. I'm talking about movies that date back as far as the 1930's. Some people will never watch them because they refuse to watch anything that isn't in full color. They want everything colorized, not realizing that a work of art can be beautiful, despite its color. Kind of like people!

In many ways, old movies reflect a more innocent world than we know today. Would Fred Astaire be a star nowadays? Maybe he would have expanded his talents to include hip-hop. Fred Astaire, B-boy! Perhaps Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy would have starred in Phantom of the Opera. Although, as I recall, Nelson Eddy was in a 1940's or 50's version of the story. When I see movies like Top Hat and see Fred and Ginger glide across the floor, I am swept away by the sheer beauty. I don't want to live in that era, but I like to visit there. Rose Marie with Jeannette and Nelson, and the Frank Capra movies like Meet John Doe or It's a Wonderful Life, or Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney in Boys' Town. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in Penny Serenade. Stage Door, with Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball, among others, is now also one of Trent's favorites.

Many of you may think I am a kook for loving oldies. Don't forget I love them from all eras. Except maybe Bright Lights, Big City, which was so terribly depressing I have blocked it out of my memory. Movies, new or old, may not change the world, but they can help you feel good inside. Sometimes they may be just what you need to relieve some stress, or let your tears flow. The same kinds of emotions are in every generation of films, because all of those emotions are a part of the human condition. Whatever kind of movies you like, you can get some enjoyment or fulfillment from them. So remember to enjoy them. And, in the words of Bill and Ted, "Be excellent to each other. And, party on, dudes!"

Monday, May 21, 2012

My Cousin Viki

There's a village in Vas County is western Hungary, not too far from Szombathely, and very close to the Austrian border. It is where my mother and her brothers and sisters were born and raised. This little village of some four hundred people is where my father and mother met, married, and gave birth to three of their four children. It is in a beautiful area, surrounded by stretches of woods and beautiful fields of rape plants that are grown for canola oil. In this village, I have many relatives that I have never met. But I am fortunate to have met some of them. My Aunt Lizi gave birth to my cousin Susie, a dear, sweet woman who is very special to me. She has two children, Viki and Tom. 

Viki has been my connection to my Hungarian family, and so has Tom. Viki currently teaches Hungarian people of all ages to speak German. She also speaks English. She would, and does, protest when I praise her skills with the English language. She and my other Hungarian relatives are the main reason there is a translate button on my blog page. I found out today that Viki doesn't read my blog in the Hungarian translation. She reads it in the original American English, because the emotional nuances don't necessarily translate well. I think you might agree that if someone for whom English is a third language can read and understand my blog in English, her abilities with English are awesome!

But this kind of natural modesty is just part of who Viki is. She works more than ten hours a day and truly loves teaching. And she still finds time for balance in life. She does a number of arts and crafts, and creates many beautiful things. Her Grandma Lizi was very proud of the artwork and crafts in her home that were created by her beloved granddaughter. Viki sings in the local women's choir, and has worked in her village's local government. And all the while, going over to Grandma's every day to wash her dishes for her.

Some random thoughts this morning made me think of Viki, and that's why I decided to write about her. When we first began to know each other and chat online through Skype and Facebook, I told her that I figured out how to explain to Trent what it is like when a Hungarian speaks English. It came to me while we were watching t.v. "Honey! Yoda is Hungarian!" I had told her brother, Tom, the same thing, and she thought it was pretty funny. We began to talk about famous Hungarians and decided that none were as famous as Yoda, although Erno Rubik, who created a torture device known as Rubik's cube, does come in a close second.

One day while we were chatting online, Trent got on the computer to chat with her and send her some photos. He had recently gone to Disney World with some friends and sent pictures of himself that were taken there. That was the day I found out that Viki is a great English speaker. When she saw the picture of Trent with a life-sized Tigger, she asked, "Oh, you have met Mister Tigger? Is he free, or has he a wife?" Trent and I were laughing because it was so funny, but we were also very impressed. Anyone who can think that quickly and make a joke in another language is pretty incredible. Maybe one day I can learn in Hungarian one-tenth of what Viki knows in English. And I'll think I'm doing great. But if I want to be amazing, I'll have to be more like my cousin Viki.

Szerentle, Viki! I hope to see you soon!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wormhole

I experienced quite a shock recently while riding around in the car with Trent. I flipped down the sun visor because, well, there was a lot of sun glaring in my eyes. And then I saw it. "Oh, no, honey! I think we need to call the police!" "Why, honey, what happened?" I answered, "Some old woman stole my neck and left hers behind!" We had a good chuckle over it, but it's true. Exaggerated, but true. It reminds me of Dolly Parton's line in Steel Magnolias about time marching on and eventually you realize it's marching over your face. I have never been much of one to worry about the visible aging process. It just comes as sort of a surprise when you start to notice it happening to you. I am just starting to get a little softer around the edges. My skin isn't getting less elastic; the world's eyeglasses just need to be tuned up. 

Remember when  you were a kid and time used to just drag along? You were lucky if you didn't starve to death before it was time for you to have lunch at school. I remember one year in Junior High School when I had English class just before lunch. I was the butt of a lot of jokes because my stomach growled so loud during class that people two seats over could hear it. And the time from the start of the school year until Christmas was interminable, to say nothing of the long stretch until summer vacation. Then the long days of playing hard and coming home after the streetlights came on, and falling asleep as soon as your head hit the pillow. You'd hear adults talking to each other and saying how time flies and you thought they were crazy.

Then you got older. Suddenly you found time slipping through your fingers like sand at the beach. After a hard week at work, you'd wake up on Saturday morning, walk across the room to read the newspaper, and suddenly realize it was Sunday night. It's easier as an adult than as a child to believe in wormholes ripped in the fabric of time. Is it because we have so many things we have to do? Did our parents find time rushing by because they were busy packing lunches and driving us around and trying to find time between work and taking care of us to simply catch their breath? Did our perspective change just because we got taller?

Whether or not we understand the vagaries of time, it still keeps on flying by. Before we know it, the years start piling up behind us. We may still have the energy and joie de vivre that we always had, but our bodies know what our brains may not. There's that one knee that feels like it needs an oil change. Or your hair gets some natural highlights and they're grey. Or the backache that comes around whenever the weather changes. Or the old lady who slips quietly into your house while you're asleep, and switches your neck...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sweet Secrets

I like to bake cookies. More specifically, I usually bake cookie bars. One day years ago, I wanted to make cookies but didn't want to stand around forever taking pans out of the oven and putting more pans back in. So, in my laziness, I decided to bake them in a cake pan. Everyone loved them that way, so I just kept on doing it. Luckily for me (she says in a slightly sarcastic tone) there are a few people out there who like to eat cookies. Let me tease you, cookie eaters, by naming just a few of my flavors. Mint chocolate chip. Oatmeal cranberry spice. Toffee chip. Oatmeal chocolate chip. Oatmeal butterscotch. And the more labor-intensive peanut butter or peanut butter chocolate chip. And for those of you who live near me, I know one of your favorites is Chocolate Christmas Dream.

Cookies can be made in so many ways and so many flavors. Over the years, I have come up with many variations. I have given out recipes many times. Oh, you fortunate ones...I am about to tell you some sweet secrets, because it isn't just about the recipe. And for those men who think they may as well quit reading now, don't. You can make cookies too. Many great chefs and pastry chefs are men, after all.

Rule number one: use real butter. I don't think I have ever made cookies with margarine. I always use nice, soft butter. Unless there is a real health concern, I think that butter is necessary for good cookies. Lots of those spreads have water in them, so your cookies just won't come out the same if you use them. And, hey, you wouldn't put water in the gas tank of your car, now, would you?

Rule number two: only use real vanilla extract. If the bottle says imitation vanilla flavoring, don't buy it. There is a reason why it is cheaper than real vanilla. It just isn't as good. I was pretty disgusted when I read the label of an ice cream that sells in the local grocery stores for about six dollars for a half-gallon (for my Hungarians, this would be about 1400 HUF for 2 liters of ice cream) and saw that it was made with imitation vanilla. It made me feel better about not being able to afford to buy it. If possible, get Mexican vanilla. If someone you know is going to Mexico, ask them to bring a bottle home for you.

Rule number three: you've got to follow the recipe. Baking, whether cakes, breads, or cookies, is a science. It isn't like making a pot of soup where you can just throw things in according to what you feel like and come up with a masterpiece. Make sure you use the right amount of eggs, flour, and so forth, or you might end up with a hideous cookie-flavored gravy. Although it might taste good with ice cream...

Rule number four, the most important of them all: bake with love. I truly believe that your mood affects the outcome of whatever you create in the kitchen. I have made hundreds of batches of cookies. I know some of the recipes by heart. But even after baking so many, I have made mistakes and had to throw them out. Maybe I was distracted, or cranky, or just plain tired. And then I forgot an ingredient or measured something wrong. You are one of the ingredients of the cookies you make. If you're going to use the best butter and vanilla, why not use the best you? Your friends and family will not know what makes the cookies so delicious. They will be tasting the love you put into them.

Now, if all of these tips don't help you out, you can always do what some of my friends do. Their sweet secret is telling me they just don't know how to make cookies; can I teach them? Hey, I have your scam figured out. But if it makes you happy to ask me to show you how to make cookies for the sixth time, I'll gladly play along. And that's my sweet secret.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Welcome to La La Land

Today I'd like to talk to you about the human mind and how willing it is to wander off when we really need it the most. One of the ways it happens to me is the repetitive song torture. The other day at King Soopers, our groceries were bagged by a man who was singing the same lyrics nonstop. "These are the things I can do without. Come on, I'm talking to you, come on." As I was leaving the checkout I smiled and said, "I want you to know I'll be blaming you when I hear this in my head at 2:00 in the morning!" He got a good laugh out of it and went back to his singing.  I was happy because he was happy. And I was glad that he was filled with the joy of life. 

I'm certain that some of you have had more stressful variations of this curse. You are in a big staff meeting and the Big Boss is babbling about whatever bee is currently in his bonnet. (Don't you sometimes just love alliteration?) You know this stuff is important. But all your brain can hear is, "Party rock is in the house tonight, everybody just have a good time. And we gonna make you lose your mind, everybody just have a good time." You may even see giant hamsters teaching killer robots how to dance. But the important sales meeting? You might as well be asleep for all you're getting out of it at the moment.

And sometimes the song is so random! I was sitting at the computer last night and kept hearing, " Let me be by myself in the evening breeze, listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees, send me off forever, but I ask you please, don't fence me in..." I don't know why I was hearing Don't Fence Me In. Not that I dislike it, mind you. It really is a lovely song about freedom and the beauty of a place that sounds a lot like Colorado to me. And it was co-written by Cole Porter! Yes, the same Cole Porter who wrote I Love Paris, Night and Day, Just One of Those Things, and I've Got You Under My Skin. Maybe it wasn't such a bad song to have traipsing through my brain, after all. 


I wish I knew why my brain does things like this. I try really hard to pay attention to what's going on, and my brain is somewhere in La La Land. Someone on t.v. starts to say something about some foreign dignitary visiting the US and I'm hearing "we wish to welcome you to Munchkinland." Of course, I often watch a movie and read a book or play a game at the same time, so maybe it's my own fault. No, my mind doesn't wander all the time, and no, I don't take news stories lightly. But sometimes I wonder about myself. Maybe sometimes you wonder about yourself too. But until I figure it out, "every day I'm shufflin'."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's All Relative

Just like a lot of folks everywhere, we find ourselves with a budget that is spread pretty darn thin. We blame no one for our situation but ourselves. We have just a few too many credit card bills, and are working hard to change that situation. Because of this, and probably because it is just in my nature, I do my best to get the most I can for our money. If I can get produce at one-third the price by going a few blocks further from home, that's where I will be. If a store does price-matching, I'll be making note of what's cheaper elsewhere.

It's because of this need and this way of life that I was attracted to a magazine cover story recently. How could I not read an article about how a family of four saved thousands of dollars in the last year? Every time I see something like this, I acknowledge right away that everyone's situation is different. We do not have two teenage sons. They do not have a nine-pound attack poodle who thinks she's the roughest, toughest wolf in town. But if reading this article gives me some ideas that can save me a few dollars when I go to the grocery store, I'm eager to read it.

Like us, this couple decided that they were suffering financially because they had too many credit cards to pay off. I could identify. While driving to a family skiing trip, they decided that something must be done. Okay, starting to not quite identify like I did at first. Apparently through the many years of their marriage, they have kept their finances totally separate. They each have their own banking and credit accounts and don't pool their funds at all. One of them pays the mortgage and their own credit cards, and the other pays the rest of the bills. Hey, if that works for them, then hurrah. As long as everyone has shelter and food, life is good, right?

Okay, so they both agree that they need to make an effort to get rid of credit debt. She decides to go with a plan she read about in a book. I'm cool with that; we all have our things we do to make it happen. Mine involves a very high-tech set of tools...a couple of clipboards, some paper, a mechanical pencil, and an eraser from the dollar store. The plan established in this book is fairly simple. You start with the amount of your monthly income, and subtract the amounts of all your bills. You know, water, cable, phone, etc. Then you divide the remaining amount by the number of days in the month to get your average daily spending allowance for groceries, gas, and discretionary spending. And if you don't have the money, you don't use your credit card to get stuff, thereby reducing your credit card debt. You don't have to only spend x dollars in one day, but you must realize that if you spend double in one day, another day takes a hit.

Okay, this still makes sense to me. It's a variation on the "I have xx dollars to spend this week" budget or mindset. Then the author of the article lost me. After she pays her share of bills, and not counting what her husband can provide (because their budgets are separate, remember) she is floored by the small amount of her average daily budget. As I recall, she said it was in the neighborhood of $93.00 a day. Huh? I'm sorry, did you say you only had $93.00 a day to scrape by on? Hmm. Broke really is a relative term, isn't it?

Trent and I consider ourselves blessed. We have a comfortable apartment, and we are not starving. But our combined budget for groceries, gas, and so forth after our bills are paid comes to less than $9.00 a day. No, I didn't skip any zeros. Or any other digits, for that matter. Again, I don't have teenage kids. Or an additional fund of money that may be being utilized for dining out and such. It's rather hard for me to sympathize with her distress over whether she should still spend six or seven dollars per gallon on organic milk when her kids go through a gallon or more a day. And don't even get me started about her guilt over buying the designer blouse she didn't really need, but got anyway because it was on sale. 

There are lots of families who never have had this sort of quandary. It's more about being able to afford enough food to get through from day to day. Designer blouse? Highly unlikely. I have to remind myself that it's all relative. What's broke for one person is living like royalty for others (me! me!). Yet there are many who are far less fortunate than me. And, all things being relative, when I get a bit bummed because I can't buy something I want, I try to remember that. And then go to the kitchen to cook something tasty with all the food we bought on sale.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Simple Gifts

I have noticed something lately that makes me a bit sad. We were in the 20 items or less checkout lane, with our less than twenty items. I turned to say something to Trent and saw that the person behind us was holding a few items in her hands and had her toddler balanced on her hip. I motioned to her and said, "You only have a few things, go ahead of me." It took a minute, but we finally convinced her to go ahead of us in line. Doing this small favor should have made me feel good, and it did. She was grateful to shorten her wait, and to lay down her small burdens. But what made me sad is how stunned and surprised she was to have a stranger show her this small courtesy. 

What has become of us? Are we in such a hurry that we don't have time to be decent to one another? Has our need for immediate satisfaction made us focus too much on ourselves? Is our time so important that we can't wait a few minutes in line without an "I got here first!" mentality? I have to wonder. Perhaps I tend to tune in on these things more than some other people do because I have known what it is like to be unhappy. I understand all too well what it feels like to be standing in line and in pain, or worrying about things that are going on in my life.

A couple of months ago, my husband had appointments in two different clinics at the University of Colorado Hospital. Naturally, one was in the morning and the second was mid-afternoon. We decided to just enjoy the gift of some quiet, unscheduled time. We headed down to the cafeteria, got some lunch, and then sat and people-watched. Sometimes people in a hospital are at their best. Maybe they just had their first grandchild, or found out that their health scare was a false alarm. Sometimes, they are at their worst. A friend is dying. Someone needs extensive care and doesn't know how they will afford it. 

As we sat quietly watching the comings and goings, a woman had her lunch catty-corner from us at the large line of tables where we were seated. Soon after she left, another woman sat in the same chair and started her lunch. I knew immediately that she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. Just as I began to get up from my chair to talk to her, Trent said, "Are you going to go to her or not?" I nodded and went over to her. I walked over, gently laid my hand on her shoulder, and asked, "Are you all right? You look like you need someone to talk to." She began to cry as she told me of her father's illness, her unemployment, and her worries of how her father's bills would get paid. She told me that all of her siblings relied on her to be the strong one and so she had nobody to go to. She was so grateful for a stranger's kind touch and willingness to listen. No, I wasn't able to solve any of her problems. But being able to share her burdens made them just a tiny bit lighter. As she got up to leave and visit her father again, she gave me a beautiful gift. While she hugged me tight, she whispered, "I always heard you should be nice to people because you never know when you are going to run into an angel."

It only cost me a few minutes of time and some genuine care to become someone's angel. What a humbling experience. I wish that everyone could feel what I felt at that moment. It wasn't pride. I just felt really human, and really astonished that such a one as I could make a difference in a person's life that day. I felt truly blessed. I want everyone to be able to feel the same thing. And when someone surprises you with a simple gift like letting you go in front of them in line, be grateful and accept their offer. Both the the person doing the kindness and the recipient will be better for it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I've Got Your Number

So, both Trent and I woke up around 2:00 this morning. As I was trying to get back to sleep by listening to an audio book, I heard Trent say, "Oh, I'm so mad!" I thought maybe the dog or I said or did something wrong. I asked what was wrong, and he said, "Oh, never mind!" Of course I had to pursue the matter. Trent told me that for some reason, an odd question popped into his head. How many television shows had a number in the title? He thought of Car 54,  Room 222, and 21 Jumpstreet.

Great. Now I had the disease. Now I was the one who couldn't sleep, because I had to think of these darn t.v. shows. I got my revenge, though. Since my brain was now awake, I made sure his stayed awake too, by spouting out all sorts of numbers. Here's some of what we came up with. I am glad to say I have not watched all these shows, nor has Trent. Most of them we've only heard of.

Eight is Enough (although, personally, I think eight may be too many)
Adam 12
20/20
77 Sunset Strip
Route 66
20/20
60 Minutes
48 Hours
My Super Sweet 16
$25,000 Pyramid
$64,000 Question
Twenty-One (the show with the cheating scandal)
30-Minute Meals
My 600 Lb. Life
The Six-Million Dollar Man
Beverly Hills, 90210
90210
My Three Sons
Three's Company
One Day at a Time
One Life to Live
That 70's Show
16 and Pregnant
24
1000 Ways to Die
1.98 Beauty Show
30 Rock
3rd Rock From the Sun
The 700 Club
8 Simple Rules
7th Heaven
1 vs. 100
Babylon 5
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Star Trek: Deep Space 9
Warehouse 13
The 4400
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Fernwood 2-Night
Playhouse 90
Six Feet Under
Nanny 911
Mystery Science Theater 3000 


Who could have imagined there would be so many? I am sure you will have thought of some that we didn't. Feel free to list them in comments.
 

Monday, May 14, 2012

What Color Is It?

I used to be really healthy. Until I wasn't. When I was 29 years old, I kept getting sick. I actually ended up in the hospital because my kidneys were failing and I was carrying twenty-five pounds of water. My lungs were filled with fluid, so no matter how much I begged, the ER doctors that were trying to figure out what was wrong with me said I had to be admitted. Being really ill, and bad enough to be hospitalized for the first time, can be pretty scary. I was so used to being healthy that I didn't even realize how sick I was. Thank goodness! 

Luckily, I have a really great doctor, and was also being cared for by an equally awesome specialist. I was diagnosed as having Systemic Lupus, and my body's immune system had been trying to kill my kidneys. When I was released from the hospitalI had to begin going to see my docs at least once a week. I had always liked and trusted my doctor, Doctor Mike, and felt the same way about my nephrologist, or kidney specialist, the Other Doctor Mike. Seeing doctors this frequently sometimes gives you an opportunity to see another side of doctors that you might not have known before.

One of the first things I noticed was that doctors can really care about their patients. I was touched that my regular doc came to examine me in the hospital, and more than once. When I was afraid because I had to go through a kidney biopsy, Other Doctor Mike was kind and honest enough to not just tell me everything would be fine and not to worry. He sat on the edge of my hospital bed, held my hand, and said that if he were in my position he would be nervous, too.

There's another side to doctors that makes me wonder, though. I might go in with a terrible headache, and the questions begin. Does it hurt here? OWW! Yes, it hurts there, you sadist! Their eyes sparkle; they are on the trail, hunting down my ailment, and they have caught a glimpse of their prey. Is your nose running? YES, indeed, it is. They are bouncing on their chair, clapping their hands like a delighted child. What color is it???? What? Hearing that question makes me wonder what they like when they were kids. Were they the ones who always poked dead things with a stick? When somebody had a really ugly sore, did they want to get up close for a better look? And all of this while getting straight-A report cards and still finding time to hang out in the Science Lab?

I do know that Doctor Mike was the kid in his neighborhood who always got the wild ideas, and the other boys were the ones who got caught. I know that he went to college on a full-ride academic scholarship, and could have kept his grades high enough in his sleep. I also know that when he was in college, he came to a crossroads. Should he play professional baseball, or go to medical school? Well, we all know the answer to that one. His mind may operate at a different level, but he's still human. Sometimes that is the just the medicine a person needs to start feeling better.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Honoring My Mother

If you don't know me, or haven't read my other posts, you may not know that I lost my mother shortly after I turned seven. I don't have a great number of memories from my early childhood. I think sometimes the brain blocks things out in order to protect itself. Unfortunately for me, not only has my brain hidden away a lot of the bad things, it has also kept me from remembering most of the good ones, too. But I do remember some things about my Mama.

I remember something that happened when I was four years old. The television was on and there was some sort of parade going on. All the people were wearing black. There was a horse that had no rider, but had boots in his stirrups. Mama was crying, and crying hard. I don't think I had ever seen her cry before, so I was very upset and worried. I ran to her and asked why she was crying. She simply said, "A very good man died." It wasn't until years later that I realized she was talking about President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Although it is a sad memory, it is also very precious to me. It showed a depth of emotion and a connection that I couldn't appreciate until I was older.

At some point, I received a gift of a Mister Potato Head. Mister Potato Head was really cool! He had a plastic body and parts that could be attached to make various faces and so forth. Having seen commercials in which kids were using their parts on real potatoes, I thought, why not? I ran excitedly into the kitchen and asked Mama for a potato to play with. Well, let me tell you, that went over like a lead balloon. Mama angrily informed me that in this house food was for eating and that we couldn't afford to use food to play with. Needless to say, I never asked that question again!

At the back of the house we lived in, there was sort of a utility area that was walled and roofed. In it was Mama's washing machine. It had a cork in the bottom and a wringer at the top. Mama would wash the clothes, wring them out, and put them in a bathtub full of rinse water while she washed more clothes. There was an alley behind the house, and from time to time a horse-drawn wagon might travel through. They might be selling fruit or buying things. One day a man on one of theses wagons saw my Mama's washing machine through the open back door. Seeing me in the yard, he said to ask my mother if she wanted to sell the machine. Well, I did, and Mama was furious! She started yelling in Hungarian that it was a perfectly good washing machine and she sure wasn't going to sell it to any junk man! I didn't have to translate this for him. As soon as he heard her tone, he and his horse went on their way. And I'm pretty sure he never stopped by our house again!

There are some other memories as well. Maybe I will share them at some other time. I just want to remind you how important these little moments are. Try to remember them. Some day they will be all we all that we have left.

In honor of my mother...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Resting

The Raving Lunatic is taking a day off today to enjoy the cold weather by covering up with blankets and reading. Come back tomorrow!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My New Friend, Andy Roid

Since I got an Android tablet last summer, I have been exposed to the wonders of various applications and games. I can use dedicated applications to take a peek at various accounts. There are games galore, and free ones at that. The first game I downloaded from the Android Market, now Google Play, was one of the versions of Angry Birds. I had never played it before, but I heard about it all the time. We'd go visit friends and their kids would give me a look of pity when they discovered that my phone wasn't smart but only of moderate intelligence. That my phone had no games. No Angry Birds to be seen. So I got my first AB game and started to play. On my first level, I got three stars. Wow, this is cool! I am really good at this! This went on for a few minutes, and a few levels, until I hit one of the levels that required multiple attempts, and had a stinking learning curve, for crying out loud!

I had to conquer this beast. I learned from my mistakes. I played the same levels over and over and over again. But it was the monkeys who were the last straw. The monkeys who saw the bird coming and jumped out of the way. And laughed at you when you ran out of ammo. Laughed at you! I decided the game had not been named after the Birds, but after what they did to your attitude. Those birds can really make you angry! I won't lie; I have downloaded all of the free Angry Birds games. I play them till I get disgusted, and then ignore them for a while. If I find myself feeling too serene, I start playing. And then remember I had something else I needed to do.

Of course, there's way more to Android than Angry Birds. I have enjoyed solitaire games, mahjong, just tons of stuff. It is really amazing when you realize all you can do. If someone had told me when I was a kid that you could do all this stuff on one little device, I'd have thought they were crazy. Which leads to my confession. My dirty little secret. My shame.

When I first heard about e-books and e-readers, I remained completely unimpressed. I have loved books all my life. There is more to them than just the story, whether it be a murder mystery, biography, or horror story. There is, and always will be, something special about the feel of a book in your hands, the smell of the paper, the weight of all those words. My first step down the path happened when I got an MP3 player. It came with an offer of a free audiobook from Audible.com. It had been forever since someone read me a story. And it was wonderful. Trent and I both love it, and listening to a book is the best drug to help me shut down my racing mind and get to sleep. Although it does sometimes backfire, just like any good book can.

The second step was when I went to the library after many years away, and got a library card. We went there all the time! I found out I could get online and put a hold on books that I wanted to read and they'd save them for me! And I could actually look at the listings at midnight, if that made me happy. And one evening, while looking at book listings, I found out that I could download library books. Cue the heavenly choir singing "AAAaaaaaahhhhhhh!" So now I am an e-book reader. I can go to the library whenever I want. I can put a book on my hold list and check it out while I am waiting in line at the pharmacy. And they have thousands of classics that you can download free and keep for as long as you want! I can carry dozens, nay, hundreds, of books without getting tired. And if I don't like the book I waited two weeks for, no big deal. It's gone in a second and replaced by another. I have been in reading heaven. Which reminds me, I have two library books just waiting to be read, thanks to my new friend Andy Roid and Overdrive Media Console. See you in the virtual library!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Please Don't Call Me

I bet you think this blog is going to be about telemarketers. I'm afraid not. The creature I want to talk about is far more frightening. It's the DWDC, the Driver Who's Distracted by Cellphone. Don't get me wrong. I like cellphones. Heck, we haven't even had a land line in a good five years. And I really like to text. But I've seen some things lately that may be signs of a problem.


I know that we have gotten ourselves in a big hurry these days. Especially for those of you with kids, it becomes more and more difficult to find the time to get everything done. Where's the time to do everything we want to do? I will freely admit to being a multi-tasker. Unfortunately, I also have to admit that when I try to read a book and watch Survivor at the same time, I'm going to miss some things here and there. On the scale of important things in life, missing someone's snarky comments is not that big of a deal. You might feel stupid when everyone is calling the ridiculously skinny woman with the ridiculously large breasts names, but you'll live.


What concerns me is our willingness to get into our cars and do things that take our attention away from the road. People get in their cars and drive while holding a bowl of cereal in one hand and a spoon in the other. Or have a report for work lying on the steering wheel so they can read it while driving sixty-plus miles per hour down the highway. And the putting on makeup thing...every time I see that one, I imagine someone having to hit the brakes really fast and ending up with a mascara brush in their eyeball. The most frequent thing I see, though, is the DWDCs. The other day we were merging from one highway to another, and I was being the lookout to see if it was okay to get over a lane. Before I even finished giving the all-clear, Trent did an abrupt lane change. What the heck? The person right next to us had decided to change lanes without looking, and Trent had to get out of the way so as not to be trashed by this huge vehicle. Surprise, surprise. They were driving without paying any attention because they were gabbing on their cellphone. I am guessing that at least 75% of the time when we see a driver do something erratic, their cellphone is pressed up against their cheek.


If you are someone who routinely drives while chatting, (or text-messaging, heaven forbid) I am not trying to attack you. You may think you are really good at doing both things at the same time, but trust me, neither task is getting the full share of your attention. It only takes a second to accidentally change lanes into someone, or run a light, miss a turn, or something far worse. So I ask you to do this: if you are driving, please do not call me. I am not important enough for you to risk your life for. On the other hand, if you are a passenger and happen to have an extra pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherries Garcia ice cream in your grocery bag...

 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

No Girlfriends

I don't know if you've ever seen M. Night Shyamalan's movie Signs. It is a favorite of ours, and in fact I'm often known to say that I am insane with anger. In my wacky world, it's code for being pleased. There's a scene in which Joaquin Phoenix is talking about people who come up with crazy theories and have never had a girlfriend in their whole lives. One day Trent was trying to find something interesting to watch on television and ended up with a program about aliens populating the planet and building everything on it, etc. Because you just know no humans would ever do anything like that. After seeing more than one person who seemed the embodiment of the word "geek," I turned to Trent and said, "This guy definitely doesn't have a girlfriend!" He was a bit puzzled at first, but he caught on and decided I was terribly clever to say that. Ain't love grand? This phrase has now been tweaked and become part of our everyday language. 

What made me think of this as I got ready to write today is the calendar on the wall above the computer desk. It is still on April, waiting for me to turn the page. Okay, hang on a second, now that you know, I have to fix it. Okay, done. It started me thinking about the buzz surrounding the Mayan calendar. I would like to start by saying I have a great admiration for the Maya. They understood the concept of zero years before anyone else ever did. Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal to you. That everybody knows if you don't have any, that means you have nothing. True. But the Maya actually gave a numerical value to it. Wow. So, the Mayan calendar, according to researchers who are usually not Mayan (and maybe don't have girlfriends?), says the world will end on December 21, 2012 because that is when their calendar runs out. Hmm. My calendar runs out on Dec 31 each year. I just start a new one. Isn't it possible that they just made this super-calendar that lasted thousands of years and when you got to the end, you were supposed to start a new one? It's really not convenient to have a bunch of gigantic stone calendars laying around for a thousand years before you are going to need them. And some other people say that due to changes in the calendars we currently use, the date has come and gone already.

I don't want to know when the world will end. It kinda makes me cranky to think that God would let us live through months of political ads and then pull the plug on us before Christmas. And hey, if those guys are smart enough to get on t.v. with that oops-sorry-I-just-stuck-my-finger-in-an-electrical-outlet hairstyle, then surely there are humans smart enough to work hard and make really big things. I love your devotion and I respect your intelligence. I think it is possible we are not alone in the universe; it's a really big place. But I also believe in the boundless ability of the human brain and humans' desire to create things of beauty and magnificence, things that will still be here long after their creators are gone. It's the same drive that makes me type these Ravings every day, hoping that people will read them and pass them on. 

So, whatever side of these debates you weigh in on, please remember two things. Have a current calendar. And be kind to those who have no girlfriends. They need love too.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sure, I'll Try That!

After I lost my parents, my path took a few stutter-steps before I found a permanent home. More by accident than design, I found myself in the care of a woman who really wasn't related to me, but took me in and raised me as one of her grandchildren. After years of abuse, both physical and emotional, and neglect, I was eager to settle into this oasis called Gram's House. She certainly wasn't perfect. In fact, just like all of us, she had her own flaws and foibles. But I learned a lot from her.

One of my best, earliest memories involves dinnertime. I had eaten my first helpings of everything and put more on my plate. I found myself unable to finish, and was afraid I might be in trouble. Gram cleared the plates off the table and asked if I wanted some dessert. "But I didn't eat all of my dinner," I said. "That doesn't matter. Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Next time just take a smaller helping. You can always add more to your plate if you're still hungry. Let's have some dessert." I can't remember what that dessert was, but I can say it was probably the sweetest I had ever had in my life. Gram chose not to punish me with, or regarding, food.

I never heard the words "there are starving children in fill-in-the-country-here who would like to eat this food." She was wise enough to know the poor logic behind that statement. My overeating certainly wouldn't fill their bellies. In fact, when I was in High School, one of my friends got a shock when I didn't finish my sandwich and she used that line on me. I promptly handed her my lunch bag and calmly said, "Here, mail it to them." I do believe I made my point. 

I think the fact that she was fifty-three years older that me, had already raised her kids, and had grand-kids old enough to be in college, had mellowed her. People joke about how parents are more nervous and strict with child number one than they are with child number four. By then they have figured out that the kid isn't going to break and that life goes on, and if a kid will only drink chocolate milk at least they're getting their calcium. Well, imagine taking it a step further and throwing a grandparent in there. 

Hey, don't go thinking I was spoiled and got away with everything, because I didn't. Gram could yell like a work of art. And she had her own devious ways of ensuring my good behavior. A sweet little grandmother would never lie to a kid, would she? YES!!! She looked me straight in the eye and told me that she could read little girls' and boys' minds and know if they even THOUGHT about doing anything naughty. I behaved for years on that one! When I was older and called her on it, she just smiled and told me that of course it worked, because kids always look guilty when they do something wrong!


I remember once she told me something about food that ended up being the coolest thing she could have taught a young kid. Even cooler than not having to clean your plate before you're allowed to have dessert! She asked me to promise her that I would never decide I didn't like something until I had tried it. I might end up not liking it, which would be no big deal. But I might end up loving it, which would be great. I still embrace this philosophy. Because of her, I have been willing and eager to try scallops and frogs' legs and rattlesnake sausage and emu and ostrich and squash blossom tempura and chicken feet and escargot in garlic butter on mushroom caps. At a company luncheon in my early twenties, when my coworkers were afraid to try anything anything more exotic than hamburgers, I was eating monk fish. 


Ah,the glories of trying new things! All types of international cuisine featuring things from chicken to squid. I haven't liked it all, but I have loved a lot of it. I will admit I will probably have to take a moment to gather my courage if someone ever invites me to sample tongue or brain, but it can't be that bad after chicken feet. And someday, I will try some sort of insect. Oh, wait! I already have! Don't snails count? My husband says no. But don't ask me to eat a worm or cricket today, okay? But you'll find that if you offer me a taste of something I have never eaten before, there's a really good chance you'll hear, "Sure, I'll try that!"

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I Wanna Be My Dog

I have said many times that I would like to be more like my dog. I'm sure you are thinking about the seemingly obvious reasons. Life of leisure, pampering, etc., but for me it goes deeper than that. 

Yes, some of my reasons would be frivolous. Like the lilies of the field, she toils not, nor does she spin. But she is still a thing of beauty. Who wouldn't want, for just a day or two, to be so cute that you even look good with bed-head? This little dog looks good with long hair or short, tangled tresses or combed-out. And her hair and skin are so silky soft...and she's still really smart! It's just so unfair!

It would also be great to sample what the two-legs are eating (within reason and always with regard to one's tummy health), have my own foods and treats, and still be thin, fit, and built like a brick whatever. She could eat all day and still be thin. In that respect, this dog does NOT take after her human! And the naps! Need I say more than just The Naps?

While these things sound lovely and fun and so forth, these are not the things that I really want. What I really admire is her approach to life. Barring feeling unwell, she wakes up every day with the doggie equivalent of a smile on her face. After her morning stretch and lovey time with Mommy and Daddy ("Hi! It's been so long! How are you? Wanna eat?"), she is ready to face the day with a sense of joy and adventure.

She sets forth, head and tail held high, carrying herself with the ease of someone who feels good in her own skin. She knows who she is and accepts herself as she is. She brings one of her many toys (all of whom have names which she knows) for us to throw, and when we do, she will leap off the sofa or bed with reckless abandon. So what if she is twelve and a half years old? She doesn't worry about getting an owie. She's had them before, and still kept going.

She is able to appreciate small things. A toilet paper tube gives her a chance to show her inner wolf as she tears it apart, flinging the pieces aside. And grocery bags...she has created tactics to get into and examine the contents of any type of bag. And pull out those things which she assumes are hers!

When we get dressed to leave, she becomes subdued and a bit sad. When we come home, we are given a hero's welcome. When we make "happy sounds" (that's laughter to you humans), she prances and squeals with delight. If we are sick, she will lay quietly beside us, and if we cry, she tries to dry our tears. And when she needs rest, she takes it. I envy her ability to decide to sleep, and then just do it. 

Without being worried about the things that keep our minds occupied day and night, she lives her life in the moment. She goes full-tilt and enjoys herself. When she decides to do something, she really commits to it. She doesn't worry about whether she's pretty enough or if she'll look like a klutz. She just goes for it, and gives it 100%. I wish I could be more like her. In many ways, I want to be like my dog.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Woman's Worth

I'm in a more serious frame of mind today, friends. 

I'd like to start with a little story. A woman lived in Chicago, IL with her husband, son, and three daughters in the early 1960's. She didn't seem happy, and her daughters felt like she only cared about her son. Shortly after her youngest child turned seven, her husband committed a violent act against her and left her, broken and bleeding, for her children to discover. He turned himself in to the police, and after she died, he ended up in prison. He was released in less than five years. His wife's life was over, and his children were changed forever. He died alone, and none of his children knew until a few years later.

That woman was my mother, and I was the seven-year-old girl. Looking back with the knowledge and experience of my years, I don't feel the same about her as I did then. I think that in her eyes, and her experience, a woman's life was full of unhappiness and pain. Why become attached to someone when seeing their sorrows would only make yours worse? I may be wrong about this, but it makes sense to me. It soothes my soul.

It seems that children who experienced domestic abuse in a parental relationship often seek out partners that treat them like their mothers were treated. It is what they are used to. It may be painful or degrading, but it is home. I am proud to say that I do NOT fit into that mold. I spent many years single, and when my husband, Trent, asked me to marry him, I said I had two conditions. I wouldn't iron his shirts, and if he ever raised a hand to me he would never see me again. He said he'd rather never see me again than ever raise a hand to me, and has remained true to his word. And yes, he's still here!

But I see things going on in the world every day that break my heart. I think about how my mother's life was worth less than five years to the justice system in the state of Illinois. The state of Wisconsin repealing protections of equal pay for women who provide equal work. Women who get murdered by their husbands, fathers, and brothers because being raped had dishonored their family since they are no longer virgins. The number-one cause of death of women world-wide being childbirth-related. 

The saddest thing of all, though, is that none of these men or women understand a woman's worth. We all, male and female, are more than our bodies and our jobs. We all have our unique personalities, talents, emotions. We all have the potential to make our world a better place. IF we all know what we are worth.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Parking Lot Magic

I wonder if you have had the same experience as me. I call it Parking Lot Magic. It happens like this:

It is a beautiful day, and as you drive into the grocery store parking lot, you hope that you will be able to find a decent spot. You know, no big puddles right outside your car door, no potholes to send your groceries flying out of your cart...you get the picture. You hit the jackpot and find a space about 15 steps from the front of the store. NOT in handicapped parking, because even if you were dying of starvation you would never steal a spot in handicapped parking! Let's be honest, though. If you were dying of starvation, you wouldn't be looking for parking at the supermarket. You'd be using the drive-in at Taco Bell, which is located across the lot for your eating (and lifesaving) convenience.

So you get out of your car, which is parked oh-so-close to the store, grab your reusable shopping bags, and step into the world of wonder. What you don't know is that while you are filling your cart with wholesome, nutritious foods that you will lovingly turn into home made meals...oops, sorry, just fell off the computer chair laughing at that one. As I was saying, while you're in the store, an evil plot is being hatched. While you're deciding which flavor of ice cream to buy, some invisible meanies have moved the parking lot like a giant shuffling a deck of cards.

You pay for your groceries, happy knowing that your car is so close. But you step out of the store and your car is...where? You know you only took 15 steps to get in here, but you think you see a glint of your car's color about a block and a half away. You try to remotely honk your horn so your car can tell you where it's parked, but it's out of range. Yes, you are a victim of Parking Lot Magic. This is why I recommend taking binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens to the grocery store each and every time. When you get to your car, sweaty and tired, you promise yourself that next time you will park closer, darn it!!! But be prepared;  you may fall victim to Parking Lot Magic...