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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tag, We're It!

When we moved to our current apartment, we tried to be as efficient as possible with things like changing our address. Naturally, we forgot to do an address change through the Department of Motor Vehicles. We knew we were at the really tail-end of our grace period and had to get tags for our car. And thus began the journey.

First, we had to stop at a branch of our bank and take some cash out via the ATM. I thought taking what I recalled to be last year's amount and adding twenty dollars to it would be sufficient. Of course I could have written a check, but we never write checks, and have never ordered them with our current address. We need to get a shredder so we can destroy the checks from two addresses ago. So we went to the DMV, cash and registration in hand. The staffer who ended up helping us changed our address on the system, smirked slightly, and told us we couldn't get our tags until we had an emissions test. She seemed to relish an opportunity to put a monkey wrench in someone's day. "You'll have to get the emissions test and come back tomorrow; it is the last day you can renew. And it's going to be really busy all day." 

A lady in line told us she had just been to have her emissions test and it only took about five minutes. "You can get it done and be back here in plenty of time," she said. So off we went to the emissions testing center. The car was within bounds for emissions, but failed the test because the seal on the gas cap was not tight enough. We paid our twenty-five dollars and headed to an auto parts store. And spent twenty-nine dollars and change for a locking gas cap, which is still cheaper than getting your gas siphoned. 

New gas cap installed, we returned to the testing station. Of course there were about five times as many cars there the second time around. We weren't too worried about it, though. How long could it take to test a gas cap? Hah! They do the whole test all over again, free this time. What did they think we did after we left? Fill our gas tank with a hidden supply of old-timey leaded gasoline? Install all sorts of gidgey-gadgets in the engine? Switch catalytic converters with someone? The possibilities were apparently endless, and all diabolical. 

Finally the moment arrived. We were given the magical slip of paper, that carte blanche that says that our car is worthy of license renewal. And so we went to the ATM again, since we had given up cash for the emissions test, and then headed back to the DMV. By then it was four o'clock and I thought I would be having an enforced rest period whilst the throngs passed through to get their plates and tags and titles. Within about five minutes, our little car was sporting her tag with the number 13 on it (my favorite number!) and our task was done. Although we had to make several stops and spend more money than originally planned, it wasn't really a horrible experience. Everyone we encountered was courteous and helpful, and the task is done until next year. But it sure was an interesting game of tag!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Wish I Could

One day when I was walking from my apartment to the mailbox, I heard a lovely voice singing from the second-floor apartment above my next-door neighbor. My ears perked up. Was someone listening to opera? I heard it on and off a few times, and one day I heard a male voice singing a snippet of an Italian aria. I happened to check my mail at the same time as my neighbor, and asked him if they were opera singers. He said yes, he hoped that they weren't bothering us, and to let them know if they did. "Bothering us? Sing with all of your windows open if you want to, I think it's cool." And I meant it. Although I have never had the opportunity to go to an opera, I love to hear beautiful singing. 

I wish I could sing. I know, "everyone can sing." But not everyone can do it well. What does it feel like, I wonder, to be able to pour forth sounds so beautiful that they can make people laugh or cry? I will never know the answer to this. But I suppose that as much as we need singers, they need an audience. I am a very appreciative listener. If I had any bravery at all, I would tell The Opera Kids, as we call them, that if they ever need to practice in front of an audience, I'll be there at the drop of a hat. Heck, I'll even bring refreshments!

Another thing I wish I could do is dance with the grace of Fred Astaire. And no, I don't want to dance like Ginger Rogers. There is a saying that Ginger did everything that Fred did, but that she did it backward and in high heels. Whoever was the first to make that statement hasn't seen a lot of Fred's movies. Ginger never danced with a coat rack. Or on the ceiling. She was one heck of a dancer, but the one I would emulate would be Fred. This is a man who was so graceful that when he walked across a room, it was like a dance. Unfortunately for me, my feet seem to be embedded in the floor. I have not been blessed in the terpsichorean arts. AKA, I can't dance worth a plug nickel. But I can certainly recognize and appreciate good dancing when I see it, and it truly moves my soul.

I wish I could write things that loads and loads of people would love to read. I don't want to be famous. I love words, and I have a pretty decent vocabulary. I recently came across a notebook that somehow stayed with me from my high school days. In it, I had written, "I would like my gravestone to read, She Was a Writer." I took some stabs here and there at writing some stories, but I didn't know what I was doing. My use of the language was okay, but I didn't really know anything about the subjects I was trying to write about. I mean, I was a history major and all, but what did I really know about daily life in ancient Egypt? And who wants to read that junk anyway?

What I do know about are the things I experience and see and form opinions about on a daily basis. When I sit down at my computer to write, I am not creating fiction. I am sharing a bit of my life, a bit of my soul, a bit of me. As I write, I wonder if anyone will like it. Will they see a part of themselves in the words I give them? May they possibly find a little joy or sadness or surprise in my ramblings? I hope so. Because like the singer or the dancer, I am nothing without an audience. They may not always like the rhythm or the steps, but they keep me trying to be the person I wish I could be.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Canines and Cookies and Cars, Oh My!

Before Trent and I got marriedI told him that if we should happen to be blessed with children, we would still be Trent and Katrina. Just because we had kids wouldn't mean we didn't have first names anymore. Not that we would have our kids calling us by our first names; I just meant that we would not be changing our names to Mom and Dad. Trent thought that was a pretty cool idea. Well, we didn't have any kids, but we have a crazy little poodle named Paris. And no, she is not named after Paris Hilton! And what does Paris know us as? Mommy and Daddy. Go figure.

As long as I have known Trent, he has this funny habit of making up nonsensical words, usually when trying to get his point across to the dog. It could be something along the lines of, "Paris! Kush kush aka lunu!" Just like with babies, it's about the tone rather than the words. One day she was really irritating her Daddy, who said, "Paris, quit being a doorknob!" This struck me as hysterically funny, and I not only laughed till I cried, I laughed until I couldn't breathe or speak any more. Poor Trent! Here he was, mad at the dog, and I was going into hysterics. When he asked what was so funny, I gasped, "You called her a dooooorknob!" It took a while for me to convince him that I wasn't mocking him, it just struck me as really funny.

We were watching tv one day and there was a commercial for Pepperidge Farm Mini Milano cookies. I love Milano cookies. I asked Trent, "Didn't we buy you a package of those Mini Milanos?" "Yup," he said. "Do we have any left?" Again he answered, "Yup." "Well, can I have some?" "Nope," he said, very matter-of-fact in tone. "Those are specialboy cookies. Only specialboys can eat them." It is very hard to eat cookies of any type when you are laughing that hard. I can't tell you to this day whether I ever got my hands on those specialboy cookies or not, but it was a delicious moment anyway.

And as we grow older, I have not lost the ability to be amused by my dear husband. We were watching a promotional spot for a tv show called Lizard Lick towing recently. This show has been on for a goodish while, and I had heard the name dozens of times, but for some reason, on this particular day, it just seemed so odd to me. "What a weird name that is. Lizard Lick." "Well, it's named after where they are. There's a Lizard Lick town." I don't know if it was the deadpan delivery or the words themselves, but again I had a great cardiac workout without ever getting out of my chair.

I consider myself fortunate to be married to someone that can still make me laugh after all of this time. He may shake his head and look at me like I've lost my marbles, but I know he loves me, and he knows I love him too. He tries to act like I irritate him by laughing at some of the things he says, but I know he likes my ability to find so much humor in such small things. So whether it's canines, cookies, or cars being towed, you never know when the laughter will erupt. But with the three of us, it's inevitable.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Excessive-Compulsive Disorder

I love my sister. Let's get that clear right from the start. But that doesn't mean I am above teasing her when I have the opportunity. And it isn't going to stop me from writing about her today, either. 

My sister Liz is sort of a middle child. She was the youngest until I showed up six days before her sixth birthday. Not only did she have to walk out of Hungary in the middle of the night, move to the USA, and learn a new language, she also had to start school a year late because she had to change my diapers and so forth. Hey, please don't blame me. They were my diapers, but it wasn't my fault. I think it created some tensions, but the years have worn those away.

Liz and I have had a running joke for years that she is the pretty one and I am the smart one. I am not saying she is dumb, because she is not. Looking back, I remember my father telling me constantly that I should learn well in school so I could be a smart girl. I never heard him say that to my sisters, and it took me years to figure out why. It was because I wasn't the pretty one, so he wanted me to be able to rely on my brains. He should have treated all of his daughters this way, but it is too late to change this.

One of the great things about Liz is that she is able to laugh at herself, like I am able to laugh at her. Just kidding, I mean that I also have that ability. When she gets something tangled up, she tries to say it is because she is an immigrant. I tell her nice try, but you came here when you were three, so I am not buying it. This is exactly what happened when one of her coworkers told her that he thought she was obsessive-compulsive. "So-and-so at work told me that he thinks I have excessive-compulsive disorder. I think maybe he's right, maybe I am excessive-compulsive." At that moment, my internal struggle begins. Do I correct her and risk making her angry or hurting her feelings? She has only said it in front of me, so why make a fuss? I decide not to be the know-it-all little sister and simply say that she might have it, that's possible.

A few weeks later, we laughed until we cried when she realized that she had gotten it so wrong. It was harmless fun. I think this was shortly after the time that she went to a party at another coworker's home and was gushing about the food. "They had all kinds of stuff. This and that, and you could even make your own pull-apart pork sandwiches!" I freely admit that this has become a part of my everyday speech. I like to call it pull-apart pork rather than pulled pork, just because it reminds me of us having a good laugh together.  

Another of my favorites has to do with a conversation we had about a movie she had just seen. "We went to the movies today," she said, "and saw The Loving Bones. Have you ever seen it?" "No, I haven't seen The Lovely Bones, but I would like to, I really loved the book. The writing was beautiful." "Oh, have you seen The Loving Bones?" "No, actually, I haven't seen The Lovely Bones yet, but I would really like to." "Well, maybe next week you and I could go see The Loving Bones together, I wouldn't mind seeing it again," Liz continues. "That would be great," I reply, "I really do want to see The Lovely Bones. Let's plan on going to see it together." By the time we went to see it, we had another laugh-till-you-cry session over that conversation.

I know that none of us are immune to the twisting it around syndrome. My sister, bless her, has elevated it to an art form. She is a good sport when she finds out that she's done another one, so we get to enjoy it together. So, until the next time she creates another hybrid phrase, I think I'll go eat some pull-apart pork and maybe watch The Loving Bones. But not until I have proofread this post excessive-compulsively.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Quality Work, Fare Prices"

Maybe it's because I was an English major in college. Perhaps it is because I was the Adams County School District 50 spelling champion when I was twelve years old. It could be that I am just fussy. Whatever the reason, I must admit that it drives me crazy that so many English-speakers can't write in their own language. I was considering blogging about this subject, but was worried that I might offend or embarrass some of my readers. But a sign I saw today made me just have to do it.

We were on the way home from a lab visit at my doctor's office when I spotted it. I can't tell you what type of business it is, but they promise to do quality work at fare prices. Do they mean they will provide their service for the cost of bus fare? Or do they mean that they will charge a reasonable, fair, price? It would really be a hoot if they were a printing business. Well, actually, more like a potential nightmare.

Earlier today I was online and clicked on a news story that was about a dog herding lions at a reserve in South Africa. I didn't even watch the brief video because the article stated that although collies are bred to herd cattle and sheep, this dog had to make due with lions. Due? Did he have to return them to the library? Would there be a huge fine if they were late? Or did he have to make it work with whatever was at hand, make do with lions instead of cows? And this in a news story! Proofreading, anyone?

I will be the first to tell you that English is a crazy, mixed-up language. I think that perhaps our schools aren't getting the job done right when it comes to teaching us how to use it in its written form. And let's face it, with all of the different ways to pronounce things, and all the words that sound the same but are spelled differently, it can be a challenge. Case in point: I want to read this book. I read this book. Reed/red, same spelling...madness. Will you think any less of me if I share some tips to make you seem like the brightest and best-read person amongst all of your friends?

Please put the groceries over there. Think of here and there, it's all about location, baby. They're going to meet us at the restaurant. The apostrophe means it's been shortened from they are. Susan and Jack lost a lot of their money in the stock market. Think of kids who want to inherit all kinds of stuff; the heirs want it all to be theirs. Your mom sure is funny. Think our. Ours belongs to us, yours belongs to you. You're late again! Again, we have that wacky apostrophe because it means you are.

I'm sorry about getting up on my soapbox. We all have to struggle with this difficult language every day. And I don't want you to think I am always wanting to correct others and their writing, or that I am a writing snob. That is just not the case. When it all comes down to brass tacks, I'd much rather have someone use the wrong word than refer to me by using a perfectly-spelled word that means a female canine. And at least with texting and instant messaging, and so on, we are writing and communicating with one another. So I guess I can live with it, if the prices are fare fair...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Some People Have Been Everywhere

Once again I am going to be talking about my Gram, who raised me. She was, and still is, a big part of my life, so things that happen from time to time will bring up fond memories of Gram.

Gram seemed to have an expression or saying for just about every situation. I tend to think that this is a verbal art form that may be dying out. Sometimes when I use old sayings, whether they came from Gram or not, I find that people just get confused by them. Case in point, my husband Trent. He just can't seem to make sense of an oldie and a goodie, "six of one, and half-a-dozen of the other." "But they are the same thing!" he exclaims. "Exactly!" I reply. After more than twelve years of marriage, he still doesn't understand it. So I just say "six of one and WD-40 of the other." It makes no sense, but it works for whenever I use it.

My Gram was a short little woman who claimed to be five feet tall but was more like four feet eleven inches. She told me that saying she was five feet tall just sounded so much bigger. She had a sweet face and white hair and just looked like a sweet little granny. And she loved to take advantage of that. She lived for the moments when a grocery store clerk would ask her how she was doing. She'd reply, "Oh, mean as ever!" Many a clerk gave a startled look when she said that with such a sweet smile on her face!

Her mother died before she was two, and she was raised by a single father with lots of brothers who liked to have a drink or two and lovingly call each other every name in the book. Therefore, some of her phrases would be just a little bit too sassy to put in my blog, although she did clean some of them up just a bit. When I found myself saying that I was wishing for something, she'd say, "Well, you know what my dad used to tell me. Put your wish in one hand, and spit in the other, and see which one gets full first." Then she would tell me the real version of the saying, and get a giggle out of being naughty.

Another one she really liked was when it was her birthday, and people would ask how old she was. She would tell them very proudly, to which they'd reply with an "oh, my goodness," or ask her how she felt about hitting that age. "Well, it's better than the alternative," she'd say. What a pistol! I remember when she came up with a new one for that subject. She'd say that the only problem with getting older was AGE...Arthritis, Glaucoma, and Everything else!

So what made me think about Gram and her sayings today? Well, let me tell you, it is really hot here in the Denver metropolitan area today. The official high temperature, a record breaker, is 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37.78 degrees Celsius for my Hungarian readers. This is the kind of day that can make you believe in that legendary home of the devil. On a day just like this, many years ago, I came in the house and said, "Oh, Gram! It's hotter than West Hades out there!" Her reply? "Some people have been everywhere." And just like then, what kind of comeback can I make to that?


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Honoring My Father

For those of you who have been reading from the beginning or those who know about my background, I imagine that the last thing you expected from me was a Father's Day post. But everyone can have some redeeming qualities, even my own father.

My father was born in a town in western Hungary in 1914. When World War II began, he enlisted in the Hungarian Army. Unfortunately, the German government misled the Hungarians, promising to restore the territories that Hungary lost after WW I if they would fight on Germany's side. Of course, we all know that the Nazis were lying, and they did not intend to serve anyone's needs but their own. I found out just a few years ago that my father was a prisoner of war of the Soviet Union for more than two and a half years. He never told me about it, but I am sure that he was badly treated, to say the least.

I remember seeing numbers tattooed on my father's arm, and asking why they were there. He simply said that some bad men did that to him in the war. He also had a bullet or bullet fragment in the same arm, so I know that the pains he suffered were both physical and mental. After being released from the Soviet prison, he returned to Hungary, which had been turned over to the Soviets in the aftermath of the war. The lovely little village where he met and married my mother, and my siblings were born, was controlled by soldiers who treated the locals very cruelly. I could tell many stories about what happened in the village during this time frame, but let's just say a few things. The people were not free to speak their minds or do things they wanted to do. Many people hid their daughters in sheds and pigpens to avoid having them raped by the soldiers. People were hungry, but the soldiers were well fed. Oftentimes, for their entertainment, they would make small boys have fistfights for a piece of bread.

On October 23, 1956, the Hungarians revolted against the Soviets. It makes me both proud and sad to know that since they had no weapons, they made use of whatever was available to them. University students went in front of Soviet tanks on the city streets of Budapest and put rocks in the paths of the treads to disable them. They would then climb on the tanks and pull the soldiers out. After only a matter of days, the Soviets returned with more tanks and soldiers, and killed thousands and wounded tens of thousands, many of them innocent civilians. The revolution was crushed by November 10, 1956. Since my father was pro-revolution, he was going to be executed, along with my mother and siblings. 

I am, again, proud and sad for my family's bravery. My father had been imprisoned, released to a country that was no longer under its own control, tried to regain his home, and then lost it forever. On a night in early November, 1956, my father, mother and siblings aged three, five, and six, walked across the border into Austria. (In retribution, the Soviet soldiers tore down their home.) My family came to the USA in either late 1956 or early 1957. They went from a lovely, green, beautiful village, to the city of Chicago with all of its buildings and cement and noise. I am not trying to excuse my father's actions. He abused every member of his family and killed my mother. But I have grown to understand some of his suffering. He died in March of 1982, and was gone for some years before any of his children even knew. 

I don't remember all that much about him. When I was about three years old I asked him why did he smoke, did it taste good? (I knew why he drank beer; I had done so myself a number of times.) He told me to see for myself, and made me smoke a cigarette. I can tell you that it was a cruel thing to do but it gave me a lifetime's worth of smoking prevention! He drank hard, and we often didn't have enough food because of this. But on the other hand, I have learned that he loved numbers and mathematics. He hated prejudice and racism. He said, "Winter has no season, so you always wear a coat to be warm." 

I do not know if I will ever have the emotional strength to forgive him for what he did to my mother, my siblings, and me. His actions have reverberated throughout my life and, in their own way, left me vulnerable to other events that have in some cases hurt me, and in others helped me. Some people think that the Bible says that you are supposed to love your parents, but that is not what it says. The commandment is to honor your mother and father. Although I do not honor all of his actions, I hope to be able to honor the bravery and sacrifices that helped me to be here today.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wednesday Club

Today's blog is dedicated to Marie, Lisa, Rhiannon, and Tiffanie, the other members in my Wednesday Club. I highly recommend that all my readers consider forming their own Wednesday Clubs, both male and female.

Some years back, my friend Marie helped me out a great deal by driving me to doctor's appointments. They were usually on Wednesdays, and we got into the habit of going for lunch either before or after, depending on the appointment time. So in our friend language, we started to call it Wednesday Club. Instead of, "Do you have an appointment next week?" it was usually, "Are we having Wednesday Club this week? It actually became well known among her family, and there were those who really wished they could ditch school and join in. Yes, I am talking about you, Rhiannon!

Life has a way of going on and changing. The appointments became less frequent, and Trent was able to take me to most of them. Wednesday Club became a fond memory of the times Marie and I were able to spend together and forge our deep friendship. Since the time that the Club was in full swing, Marie has gained two daughters-in-law, Lisa and Tiffanie, and a son-in-law, Kevin. None of them live very close, but they get together when they are able to travel. But when you have people living in the mountains of Colorado, on the coast in Oregon, and in Idaho, people just can't get together all at the same time very often.

And then, of all things, fate and Facebook dealt us an interesting hand. On a Wednesday, of all days, Marie, Rhiannon, Tiffanie and I were all online at the same time. We began a chat that lasted at least a couple of hours. It was fabulous! We had an almost-reunion! It was great to be able to just hang out and be women together. We covered all sorts of subjects. There was no arguing. There were no power plays. Nobody cared what anyone else looked like. We were able to have the kind of chats that we couldn't have had with our husbands there, because our husbands would probably have been bored to death. We decided then and there that if possible, this needed to be a regular thing. And, by the way, our husbands are supporting this one hundred percent.

It took a few tries before all of us were able to be there at once, and we know that we won't always have everyone there. In fact, I used the lame excuse two weeks ago that I would not chat because I was tired from spending the day at the hospital for Trent's transplant. I took a little teasing over it, but they still love me. Can you imagine how liberating it is to get a group of women together from different generations and experiences and have an exchange where nobody is shut out, everyone can say what is on their mind, and nobody gives attitude about it? I call it Switzerland, because we will remain woman wars welcome here. But chocolate and watches are another story entirely!

Some people might think, "Big deal, a bunch of hens having a hen party." But it is so much more than that. Marie is the Mom, and I have sort of been adopted as an Aunt. But we won't be around forever, and if you can't rely on your family, life can be pretty tough. By having these regular chats, we are getting to know each other on a deeper level. And the women who will become the core of the family are forging their own family relationship, one Wednesday Club at a time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'll Stick With Jeffrey

I know I just wrote about parents and kids in stores a few days ago, but something happened today that made me think of my funniest kid-in-the-grocery-store experience ever.

I wanted to go to a particular store today because they, as their motto says, have serious food at silly prices. After we had been in there a while, Trent decided to go sit in the car while I looked around to see if there was anything new or fun or that I couldn't live without. After he left, I wished I had gone with him. A screamer mother was in the store with her three young sons. Middle Kid was not behaving the way she wanted, so she told him he would not be able to have any candy.

Let me tell you, the situation instantly went from bad to worse. All through the market, the child was screaming about how desperately he wanted the candy. "I'll do anything for it!" Apparently he was ready to sell his soul to the Devil if necessary. The only thing he wasn't willing to do was stop screaming, I guess. I was surprised to hear an older woman say to the mom, "Good for you. You should spank him." The mother said she would normally do so but she just didn't want to do it in public because "you know how people are these days."

This made me think of a trip to another store a long time ago. It was one of those stores where you unloaded your cart and then bagged your own groceries. On this particular day, a woman was trying to bag her groceries and keep her child out of trouble at the same time. He wasn't shouting or asking his mom to buy him anything. In fact, he was very quiet. But he had the full-throttle energy that many kids do. While mom was busy bagging, he was having fun trying to climb up on the fifty-pound bags of dog food that were stacked at the front of the store. 

"Jeffrey, quit climbing on those bags!" mom warned. As soon as mom's back was turned, the climbing began again. "Jeffrey, you stop that right now!" Again, he paused only until her back was turned. Then mom started to head over to the dog food display to relocate Jeffrey so he would have to quit climbing. Little Jeffrey was pretty startled. He yelled at the top of his lungs, "Don't hurt myself! Don't hurt myself!" Let me tell you, I about lost it. Jeffrey was a sweet kid, I think, and his mother was pretty awesome. After all, she managed to still gently lead him away and not burst into laughter herself. I could tell by her face that she wanted to. I wonder if this became one of those stories told at holiday gatherings when, according to custom, parents get revenge for their kids' behavior by trying to embarrass them in front of everybody.

Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to say Middle Kid was a bad kid or that his mom was a bad parent. They were just caught in a bad moment. But given a choice, I'll take a store full of Jeffreys any day.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

You Say Goulash, I Say Gulyás

I had really planned to take Sunday off of blogging this week, but I was thinking about this and had to share it with all of you.

When I was in High School, I had a steady job babysitting two kids who lived just three houses down the street from me. In the summer, I worked five full days, and during school, four after-school days and Saturday. I earned a good twenty dollars a week during the school year and forty a week during the summer and it felt great to be earning so much money. That was really good money in those days, and I was proud to be earning it. Every so often, there was an evening of babysitting as well.

One time that I was asked to sit in the evening, Ann said she would make anything for dinner that I wanted to eat; all we would have to do was heat it up. She started naming various things, and finally hit a magic word. It was goulash. Hey, I'm a Hungarian-American, I hear the word goulash, and I am ready to eat. I stopped her right there, and said goulash would be perfect. The evening of babysitting rolled around, and I was eager to eat a delicious serving of goulash. I practically pushed Ann out the door so that the kids and I could start getting ready for dinner. I opened the refrigerator door with excitement. And did not see any goulash.

I stood in front of the fridge for a few minutes, intently scanning every item on every shelf. I looked from top to bottom to top again. I glanced at the contents of the door; maybe the goulash was stashed there. I still came up empty. The kids started asking what was wrong, what was I doing? I told them I was trying to find the goulash, and they said it was right in front of me on the top shelf. I still didn't see it, so the kids pulled the container out for me. It was then that I learned something I never would have imagined. There was an impostor, an American dish called goulash. What the kids saw as a tasty batch of goulash (and it did taste good, by the way), I saw as elbow pasta, tomato sauce, and hamburger. I made the best of the situation and enjoyed what had been so thoughtfully prepared for me, but I had learned that things aren't always what you think they are. But they can still be good.

The dish I was expecting to eat is a delicious traditional Hungarian dish known as gulyás. (Note: the pronunciation of the two is very similar, goulash is said kind of like goo-losh, and gulyás is pronounced sort of like gool-yosh.)There are as many variations as there are regions and cooks, but some basics are always the same. When I make it, I brown cubes of beef, and then add some onions and let them cook a bit. Then the magic ingredient, mild Hungarian paprika, is added, along with water or beef broth. It cooks for as long as you can stand the delicious smell, and the sauce thickens itself and the beef becomes nice and tender. Many of my friends will tell you that although it is simple, it is also quite delicious. It is served with galuska (noodles) and a dollop of sour cream. And, if possible, a lovely salad with thin-sliced cucumbers and onions in a vinegar-based dressing. Just thinking about it makes me hungry.

I don't regret my goulash mix-up. It was a very tasty dish. And I have made variations of it myself on more than one occasion. But that dish of goulash taught me that the world of food was bigger than I realized. And it isn't all about what the food is called. A dish prepared with love feeds body and soul no matter what it is named. If you haven't ever had gulyás, I hope you have a chance to eat it some day. And to my friends who have tasted it it, shouldn't we get together and have some soon?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Snow White Impairment

My Gram and I used to share a Snow White impairment. Whenever the subject came up, we could never name all seven of the diamond-mine-working dwarfs. We'd go through our list of names, counting them on our fingers, and always coming up with six. Some of my younger readers may be thinking, "Well, why didn't you just get online and Google it? Or just look it up on IMDB?" Well, my dears, we didn't have a computer. Most people didn't in those days. And IMDB, one of my favorite websites, had not yet even been dreamt of. It became quite a running joke between us. We'd keep trying and trying, and finally I would say, "I know who number seven is, Gram! Rudolph!" Then we would get a bad case of the giggles, and I'd make some popcorn before watching the movie to find out that it was Bashful whom we were forgetting.

I think it is fun to find out who people choose as their favorite of Snow White's dear friends, and why. I actually have two favorites. I have always loved Dopey and Grumpy. How could you not love Dopey? He is a sweet, simple soul. His love is pure and unconditional. He may not be the brightest of the bunch, but his devotion is true. Sweet little Dopey with the big ears. He is just so easy to adore. My other favorite is Grumpy. This may surprise you after how I have gone on about Dopey. I think he puts on a gruff exterior to hide what a big marshmallow he is. When the dwarfs think that they have lost Snow White forever, no one is more crushed than Grumpy. Unless perhaps it is Dopey, of course. He tries to act like Snow White irritates him with all of her rules, but he would gladly do whatever she asked him to do.

I think another big reason that I love these two is that they are different from the rest of the group. Dopey is the underdog. I want to protect him from harm. I don't want to see him get left behind. And I want to bake Grumpy a big batch of cookies so he can tell me how awful they are as he slips half a dozen into his pockets to eat later. The big old softy will probably share them with Dopey, who forgot to bring any cookies of his own to work that day.

Even though I have my favorites, I think all the dwarfs are great men. They take in an orphaned girl even though they know she has an Evil Queen after her. They are willing to risk their home and their lives to protect someone who has found herself in a terrible situation through no fault of her own. Pretty amazing stuff if you think about it. They may have been short in stature, but they were giants at heart.

Now my question to you is: Who is/are your favorites, and why? And in case you also have a Snow White impairment, here they are, in no particular order:


Friday, June 8, 2012

Just Let Me Finish This Chapter

I have always loved reading. When I started first grade at Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Chicago, I was the best reader in my class. The principal came into our classroom a couple of days after school began and asked who had not been to kindergarten. Several kids, including me, had not. The next day all of the rest of them were gone. Reading had the power to let me stay in first grade! Of course, both of my sisters claim to have been the one who taught me to read. Who knows? What matters is that I can read and I love it.

Now that summertime is here, even though the calendar is still calling it Spring, I find myself hungry for books. When I was in school I was always reading, but during summer vacation I had time to read so much more! I would walk with my friends (or by myself) to the local library and peruse the shelves over and over, making sure I got the perfect books to read. It was a banquet of words, and I was feasting. I'd come home and decide which of my treasures to enjoy first. 

What a lovely thing it was! It wasn't just about the books themselves, although nothing could compare to all of the different times and places I have traveled to through reading. It was the whole experience. One day, I might sit on the swing in the back yard and enjoy the shade and the scent of Gram's rose garden while I pushed the porch swing gently back and forth with my toes in the grass. The next day might find me sitting on a sofa in the cool basement, or sitting on the steps from the kitchen to the back-door landing. The daylight lasted longer, and so could the books. And Gram was pretty cool about me reading in bed past my bedtime. Seriously, how can you get mad at a kid for reading a good book? She'd tell me I needed to turn the light out, and I'd answer that I needed to finish that paragraph or page or chapter. And of course when I finished it, I would just keep on reading.

I would love to go outside right now and lie down in the cool grass and read a book. Unfortunately, this won't be happening because the doggies around here use it for their potty. Enough said. But I have a window seat, and I can put down a pillow or two, open up a window, and take a journey into the pages of a book. There's still plenty of daylight left. And later on, when Trent says that I should probably get some sleep, I will answer with "Just let me finish this chapter..."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Santa Conspiracy

I like to watch people in action, especially when they have no idea they are being observed. Let's face it, humans provide the greatest show on earth. Who needs the circus? Going to the supermarket or mall can give you little glimpses of the joys or dramas that go on in other people's lives. Does that make me voyeuristic? I don't think so. I believe it is a natural human curiosity that makes us perk up our ears to catch snippets of life flowing around us.

This was the case one day last December when Trent and I were shopping at a local Walmart. Walmart is not just a great place to save money. You see all sorts of people from all walks of life. In one trip, you can see people from all parts of the world, ranging from those who need to pinch pennies to those who are dripping with huge diamonds on their perfectly manicured fingers.

One of the things I really enjoy is seeing people who are shopping with their kids. The world has changed a lot. I don't remember ever asking for anything special to be put in the cart, and I sure never threw a tantrum. That is why my family allowed me to continue living. There are as many parenting styles as there are shoppers. Some kids are happy, friendly, and well-behaved. Their parents aren't being mean, they have just created the expectation of good behavior. And then there are the yellers. Sometimes I wonder if the yellers' kids are crying and fussing simply because they are stressed out. Their parents react to the little bumps in the parental road by freaking out, so the uncertainty makes the kids lose their little-bitty minds. Eventually mom or dad is going to lose it, so let's just get it over with. 

So here we were, walking through Walmart, and it happened. A woman with two children under five had obviously been shopping quite a while. She was pretty frazzled, and her kids were getting antsy from a long shopping trip. And then the unforgivable happened. The mother started yelling quite loudly at her daughter, "If you don't cut this out right now, I'm gonna call Santa and tell him not to bother coming to our house this year!" Both Trent and I were upset by the situation. It wasn't just the yelling. It was The Santa Conspiracy. She made Santa the bad guy! Threatening a child with dire consequences rather than taking a moment to say, "Hey, honey, I know we are all tired, and Mommy is going to try to finish shopping right away so we can all go home and have a snack," she tried to make Santa do her parenting. I seriously wanted to walk up to the little girl and tell her Santa would still visit, but I wasn't wanting Mom to smack me! 

I think one of the reasons it bothered me so much is because of something that happened to me years ago when I worked retail in a shop at Cherry Creek Shopping Center. (They didn't want to call it a mall, that would be simply too gauche.) A mother who didn't want to discipline her toddler shook her arm, pointed at me, and said, "If you don't behave, that lady is going to spank you!" Naturally the child started screaming and had to be taken out of the store by Daddy. And I was so mad I wanted to spank the Mommy!

So I guess what I am trying to say is please don't employ The Santa Conspiracy. What good does it do to make your kids afraid of Santa or The Easter Bunny or some woman working in a store? Childhood is scary enough without having to throw monsters into it. Or shatter a kid's holiday dreams.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Some Things I Learned Today

Wow. I learned some things today. Naturally I want to share them with you.

Even if you screw them up, brownies will still taste really good. Trent asked if I would bake up some brownies from a mix and of course I said yes. Thinking that there is no such thing as overdoing it, I decided to improve on the mix. Trent wanted nuts, so I added some. I thought, wow, chocolate chips would be fabulosity in these bad boys, so I added those as well. The brownies baked and came out of the oven looking gorgeous. When they were cool and Trent was napping, I went into the kitchen to test the brownies. This is very self-sacrificing on my part, I think, to make sure that they are truly brownies and not poison. Well, those luscious chocolate chips made for a brownie crust filled with a delicious brownie sauce. Hideous, but delicious. And there's a lot of fun in feeling like you are being naughty by eating them with a fork or spoon directly out of the pan.

We have really good and true friends. A good and true friend will cheerfully pick you and your husband up at 6:15 in the morning and drive you across town for a post-surgery appointment with the docs. And bring something to keep her busy as the hours go by, and still be cheerful when it takes a few hours after you get there for everyone to be done with you. And then offer to do it again in two more days.

Miracles can, and do, happen every day. The day before Trent was released from the hospital, all of his post-transplant medications were ordered. Because of an oddity in the computer system, they ended up going to the mail-order pharmacy. We got enough of the most important medicine at the hospital to tide us over for a week or so. Well, on Monday I found out that one of the items coming from mail order would cost way more than we could afford. So I got on the phone and asked them to cancel the order for that medication, telling the very nice person I spoke with that we had a choice; get the meds or get groceries. She cancelled the order, and I was relieved. Until this morning, when I saw that the medicine was on the way. Zounds! Again, I was on the phone. The company checked into the situation, and here's where the miracle happened. The pharmacist who followed up on this said that it was their fault and we did not have to pay. Then she asked if Trent could use the medicine, which he can. She told me that she would have to throw it away if it came back, and told me that she would reverse the charge and we could keep the medicine! I was stunned, and happily so. I guess being honest does bring good karma sometimes! :)

It feels good to share good news. Enough said there, I think.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How I Became the Lunatic

Since I have begun this blog, I have been asked, "Why a lunatic?" So I thought I would take this time to tell you.

I have long been known as a person who has very strong opinions. When I was still in High School, for example, one of my Aunts came over to have dinner with Gram and me. Gram had made something that evening that I particularly loved. I can't tell you what was served that night, but I ate it with gusto. And had more. My Aunt chuckled and said, "That's something I really like about you. When you like something, you REALLY like it!"

My whole life, I have been this way. I don't mean that I absolutely love or absolutely hate everything. Having such strong convictions about every little detail of life would be exhausting! Although I have a very strong hate of canned spinach. Maybe some day I will enlighten you on that one. And a love of popcorn, sunflower seeds, paprika, and onions that borders on obsessive. From what I have learned from my Hungarian relatives, this seems to be a Hungarian trait. Okay, now I am worried that I have made a statement that is not politically correct. I do not think all Hungarians are wildly opinionated or even very strong in their opinions. I also consider myself an American of Hungarian descent. So hush up, you.

Trent can tell you that when we observe odd (or even normal) things, I might, like any other person, have something to say about it. And when it is something that just makes me shake my head in wonder or disbelief, I will say, "Here I go again, raving like a lunatic." One day, I said that maybe I should write a blog and call it Ravings of a Lunatic. Not an old-timey, foaming-at-the-mouth lunatic like Renfield in Bram Stoker's Dracula, but more like an unusual person who may one day have something profound to say. If that day should ever arrive, you, dear readers, will be able to say you read my stuff before I was famous. Bwaaah hahahaha! Sorry, I almost fell out of my chair again on that one.

Seriously, I have often thought that I couldn't possibly be the only one who feels certain ways about certain things. Sometimes reading another person's thoughts about various subjects can reflect your own opinion, or even give you a look at the other side of a subject. And that is how and why I became The Lunatic.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

I haven't written much in the last week, and I imagine some of you thought I had forgotten about you. Not so! 

It has been quite a week around here. Saturday night, May 26, Trent got a late-evening phone call alerting him that he was in line to get a kidney transplant. The surgeons just had to make sure the kidney was functioning, and whether or not it would go to the person above Trent on the list. Well, we got a call back on Sunday saying that the kidneys were unusable, so no surgery. We went about our business, and got a call late Monday night to say that there was another kidney available, and guess what? Trent checked into the hospital and received the gift of life on Wednesday morning, May 30.

Trent came home yesterday afternoon, and of course he is quite tired. The kidney is functioning very well. Paris is glad her Daddy is home, and last evening they fell asleep while he was petting her. She knows he has an owie so she hasn't tried to jump on him, but little Nurse Paris is ready to provide comfort through kisses and allowing Trent to rub her warm belly. Love is good medicine. We will be making frequent trips to the hospital to make sure the kidney is working and that all of his medicines are doing what they are supposed to, but now I will have more time and energy for writing and have gotten back in the saddle again.

On a more serious note, I want to acknowledge the incredible gift Trent has received. A grieving family who had just lost their loved one allowed him to live on through donating his organs to others. Several people and their families have had their lives improved because of this generous choice. Right now you may be thinking that I am about to ask you to become an organ donor. I am not. Trent and I have never been pushy about this subject. The decision to donate is very personal and I would never try to talk someone into it. But for anyone who does want to be a donor, there is something very important for you to know. The organ donor designation on your ID is not enough. You must let your loved ones know about your wishes. Even if you have agreed to donate, your family will be asked what they want to be done. If you haven't told them of your wishes to donate, they can override your donor status. So remember, anything this important is important enough to discuss with your family.

Well, Nurse Paris seems to have gone to the on-call room for a nap, so I should probably mosey along. It's good to be back. :)

Friday, June 1, 2012

I'll Be Back

 Hello, my dear readers. I am just making a quick post to let you know I have not forgotten about you. A marvelous blessing came into our lives this week. Trent received a kidney transplant on Wednesday, May 30. Needless to say, I have been a bit tired and distracted, which doesn't necessarily lead to great writing. Trent should be able to come home in a couple of days. After he does, I am sure I will be able to find time to keep him comfortable and fed, and even write a little!

Please don't forget about The Lunatic, I haven't forgotten about you! In parting, I'd like to share a little story I read years and years ago on a birthday card.

Why Worry?

There's only two things to worry about. Either you're healthy, or you're sick. If you're healthy, there's nothing to worry about. 

If you're sick, there's only two things to worry about. Either you get well, or you die. If you get well, there's nothing to worry about.

If you die, there's only two things to worry about. Either you go to Heaven or you go to Hell. If you go to Heaven, there's nothing to worry about.

If you go to Hell, you'll be so busy shaking hands with the rest of us, you won't have any time to worry!