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Monday, December 31, 2012

No Resolutions

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Aunt And The Cathouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 28, 2012

2 A. M.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Treat Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Santa, Baby!

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nailed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Devastated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

But I'm Staaaarving!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmastime In Colorado

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

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

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

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

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