Google+ Badge

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Duck. Duck? Goose!

The apartment complex where we used to live had a pond with a fountain, which was surrounded by an expanse of grass and some trees. During the time we lived there, we saw some varied and interesting waterfowl pass through on their way to other places. Although some of the more exotic visitors moved on, we did have some regular residents. Almost every spring and summer, two or more mated pairs of Canada geese would move in to hatch and raise their goslings. And there was usually a family of Mallard ducks in residence.

Having these birds as my neighbors gave me the opportunity to see them fairly close-up, and in ways that I hadn't had the chance to see them before. When we drove in and out of the complex, we would see the families swimming and diving in the pond. I started carrying my camera so that I could slow down and shoot a few pictures of these lovely moments. On one occasion, Trent and I were waiting near the pond for our friends to pick us up. A young couple had been walking next to the pond, holding hands and being romantic. Until Papa Goose chased them off, that is. I knew from my cousin's farm animals that geese are among the best watchdogs. They will hiss a warning. If it isn't heeded, they will attempt to bite with their serrated-edged bills, and beat at you with their large and very strong wings. I got a bit of a sadistic chuckle out of seeing the couple run, shouting and squealing, to get away from the pond.

Naturally, the very next day I decided to grab my camera and a loaf of bread and go feed the geese and try to take some pictures. I calmly and quietly sat down on a large rock across the pond from their nesting area, and waited to see what would happen. I was hoping there would be no goose violence, as I have problems with my legs and really can't run very fast. I threw a few pieces of bread down near the water and waited to see if the geese would swim over. The geese started swimming toward me, followed by the ducks. This was when I learned that geese will chase ducks away when there is free bread involved. The goslings, who still had their baby-down feathers, started to nibble on the bread under their parents' watchful eyes. To my great surprise, and joy, the adults allowed their youngsters to come up and take the bread out of my hands. They kept an eye on the situation to make sure I behaved, but it was a lovely time. Soon I was in the middle of this gaggle of geese who, aside from eating the bread, were almost acting like I was one of their own. In fact, some of the adults started to cross the drive behind me to get to  another lawn for some grazing. I am convinced that one of the adults I passed walking back to my apartment said, "See you later, be careful crossing the street!"

During the next few summers, I saw lots of new geese and ducks being raised at the pond, and took lots of photos. When the geese were otherwise occupied, I was even able to share some of my bread with the Mallard family. A couple of summers ago, when I went for my usual visit, there were about five adults with a group of nearly full grown young. A few of the adults were babysitting while another pair took a break. Across the pond, I could see the mallards getting in the water. The pair of geese started to swim back across the pond and I thought, "Hey, be nice, they aren't taking anything from you from over there!" To my great surprise, the geese were swimming toward a lone duckling, one who had not been with the rest of the group. They escorted her across the pond, and shared some of the bread I had thrown in the water with her. Some of the juvenile geese swam over as if to bother the tiny duckling, but all of the adults chased them away. Little ducky had dived and swam underwater to get away, but the geese went back to escort her to where the food was.

These rough, tough, duck-chasing Canada geese had adopted this duckling as their own baby. All of the adults were acknowledging her as a family member and would not let her older siblings pick on her. I was touched by the beauty of this family bond between two different species. But it also made me terribly sad. We humans, as the more highly intelligent species, can't seem to get along with each other. Differences of race, faith, political beliefs, gender, and sexual orientation are enough to drive us to hate or hurt or even kill one another. Yet these geese, with their supposedly limited brains, saw a baby that needed protection and nurturing and gave it freely. Perhaps humanity would be improved if we could learn more from the examples of these creatures, and swim together like the duck and the goose.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sweet Rewards

In many of my jobs, I have ended up in the position of being a trainer. It happened when I was a bank teller, selling cosmetics in retail, and in banking customer service. This didn't bother me, though, I have always loved helping people learn to do their jobs, and sharing information that helped me do the job better. I remember thinking, after I had been through my telephone customer service training and started taking calls on my own, that if I were training, I would make sure that people understood things and were able to be self-sufficient. I would also make sure that they did not die of boredom during training. 

As a trainer, I was a member of a small group of people who trained new hires, as well as doing ongoing training courses for bankers who were promoted to service customers with additional products like loans, retirement accounts, and leases, among other things. New-hire training lasted a full month, eight hours a day. Ideally, and in practice in our other call centers, the training would be split up among two or three trainers who would take turns teaching various modules about servicing different products. Unfortunately, I happened to go through a period of time in which we had too few trainers, so I often was the only trainer for a group of new hires, and was in the training room eight hours a day for four and a half weeks. 

Any conscientious person will worry about whether they are doing enough for their trainees. I did my best to inject humor and personality into my training so that my students would not become bored. At the same time, I tried to fill them with as much knowledge as possible to make their working lives easier. If a former trainee struggled after getting out of my class, I usually took it pretty personally because I felt I might have let them down. I always wanted to be better so that they could be better.

A few months after one of those grueling training marathons, I saw that a young man named Chris was still working in the call center but was no longer taking phone calls. Instead, he was working about three days a week as a department assistant. His cubicle was very near mine, and his duties involved all of the support functions that helped keep the bankers on the phone. He picked up and delivered mail, copied memos, processed forms, and ordered supplies, among other things. When I saw him move into this position, I began to get depressed. I had really liked training Chris and was worried that I had done a poor job of it. Why else would he have quit taking telephone calls? I felt like a huge failure every time I saw him at work. 

One day, he came over to my desk to say hello. I decided on the spur of the moment that I needed to know if I had let him down by not training him well enough. I asked permission to ask him a personal question. Why was he no longer on the phones? Had he found himself unprepared for the work after he finished my class? Was he unhappy? His face lit up. "No, Katrina," he said. "I didn't have any problems with the calls. But I'm glad you asked because I wanted to talk to you about this. I knew you'd be wondering why I was working down here. It's because of you and your training class." My heart began to fall into my shoes. Then he continued, "I want to thank you. And I want to thank you for my mom, too, because she is so happy now. I decided to go back to college to get my degree and it's all because of your training class. You taught me that learning can be fun. I didn't know it could be until I met you. So thank you, because your training is actually changing my life." 

I was flabbergasted, and thanked him for such high praise. I managed to hold it together while we talked for a few minutes, but after he left I started to cry, as I am now while I write this. He had given me a gift that was far too precious for me to describe. For one moment, I had a glimpse of how great an impact we can unknowingly have on another person's life. Sometimes our influence may be bad, and sometimes it is good, and sometimes it seems to make a little magic. That one brief conversation showed me I could do good things for others in ways that I had never imagined. It was one of my life's sweetest rewards.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Your Car Is On Fire

There were a lot of benefits to being raised by a woman who was fifty-three years older than me and already a grandmother. Most of us have seen living proof that the youngest child in the family often gets mellower parenting. You know what I mean. With the first child, the parents are more careful and nervous and maybe even more strict. By the time they get to the youngest, they have been fully broken in. They have learned that kids bounce back and that life goes on. So, to the disgust of the oldest child, the youngest child seems to get much cooler parenting.

Imagine getting parented by someone who has not only raised her own four children, but has grandchildren ranging from age ten to college students. By this time, Gram had just about seen it all. She had gone through dance and music lessons, graduations, romances, missed curfews, and numerous illnesses and injuries. And then she did a lot of it with her grandkids. By the time I showed up she had dealt with kids who sat down in the middle of a high-traffic street because they wanted their mom to come home from work. And there was the time that the two oldest teased the third child and then ran and hid under the bed. He retaliated by throwing every egg in the house at them. And when the eggs were gone, he started with leftover spaghetti and meatballs. She also inspired moments of happiness in her grandkids. When the oldest two were at her house and heard the music from The Ice Cream Man, the eldest put his arm around his cousin's shoulder and said, "Johnny, you never have to be afraid when you hear that sound, because Grandma always has a nickel." Praise indeed.

All of this experience made her more relaxed, but she was not a pushover, by any means. Spending all that time around kids gave her the ability to read their faces and expressions. She told me that she could read little boys' and girls' minds and know if they even thought about about doing anything wrong. I behaved well on that one for a number of years, although I was a pretty good kid to start with. But I bet that she never called into the school to excuse an absence for her own kids when they just wanted to take a day off!

With all of the things I have just mentioned, you won't be surprised to hear that she was fairly calm in other kinds of situations as well. Her daughter, A, liked to have a library excursion every few weeks. She'd get her Lincoln Continental with the back doors that opened rearward ("suicide doors" is what they are often called, probably because so many fingers have unwittingly committed suicide by being shut in them) going, and Gram, her daughters, Liz, and I would go to the two libraries she frequented. The first was called the little library, a local library in Westminster, Colorado. Next, we went to a branch of the Denver Public Library. From what I recall, the itinerary and library choices were dictated by one major factor. A did not like making left turns. I can't tell you how many times I heard her say that she liked to go to a certain place because it was "all right turns." A was not as mellow as Gram. Not by a longshot. One day as we were headed to the big library, A was talking away a mile a minute when Gram said, quietly and calmly, "A, I do believe your car is on fire." A started shrieking for us to all get out before we died in flames from the smoking engine. I think we were all out and lined up on the sidewalk while she was still inside the car yelling!

Another memorable moment for me was on a summer afternoon. I imagine it was someone's birthday, because several of the cousins were there. As it often did in the mid-afternoon, the sky turned gray and cloudy. Gram was at the kitchen sink washing some of the dishes, and started casually looking at the sky. "Mama, what are you looking at?" A asked, kind of exasperated that her mom wasn't focusing on the job at hand. "Oh, I was just looking at that funny little cloud up there, it looks like a little funnel." This little funnel was pretty small, and way up in the sky, but A reacted in her normal fashion. "Oh, dear Lord, you're just standing there and watching it? Everybody get in the basement! Right now! There's a tornado!" We all did, with Gram sort of laughing at her daughter's panicked reaction. She had seen tornadoes before, and knew it wasn't one. We all survived, and nobody dropped a house on anyone's sister.

I seem to have inherited Gram's ability to stay calm in emergencies or potentially bad moments. She taught by such great example, after all. At many times I have met emergencies with a clear head and then just had my little nervous meltdown later, when I had the time for it. But I am not sure if I will ever be able to top that calm, clear voice saying, "I do believe your car is on fire." 

Gram, you are thought of often, and truly missed. Thanks for everything you taught me!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Animal Magnetism?

I love animals. To those who know me, this is an unnecessary statement. But I am going to tell you something most of them do not know. I used to be afraid of dogs. When I was a little girl in Chicago, we didn't have any pets. We could barely put enough food on the table to feed the family, so there would never have been enough to feed a pet. I don't remember anyone we knew having pets, either. Since I wasn't exposed to dogs, I was truly frightened of them. We fear what we don't know or understand, right?

When I moved to the Denver area at almost eight years of age, I met my first canine friend, my Aunt A's collie mix, Sam. Sam was a very sweet dog, and a good first dog-friend. One of my worst memories is also a tender one. Sam was tied up in the back yard (A, as I have mentioned, had several cats) at a time when A got very angry with me. As I was being whipped with a switch from one of the trees in the yard, Sam could see and hear my fear and pain. He barked and strained at his leash, trying to get in and rescue this child in distress. At a moment when I felt unloved and unsafe, I knew that Sam wanted to defend me, even if it meant attacking his own mistress.

When I lived with Gram, we had a parade of dogs through our lives, most of whom were "rescued" (dog-napped?) by A. Even though I often resented the fact that there were so many of them, I recognized that they all had their own distinctive personalities. I could tell numerous stories about them, but those are for another day. After Gram was gone and I was out on my own, and then with Trent, I noticed something interesting. It seems that critters just know that I love them and will not hurt them. Cats will crawl all over me and even walk back and forth under my hand if I don't start petting them fast enough.

And the dogs! I like to joke that the reason dogs love me is that they know I am almost as smart as they are. There was a dog at our last apartment complex who didn't like anyone but his mommy and her roommate. When I saw them one day as I was walking to the mailbox, his mommy told me his name and that he hated everybody. So what happens? The dog came over to visit with me and chose me as his new best friend. If I went outside and J saw me before the dog did, she would say, "Hey! Katrina's here!" The dog would start making huffing-puffing sounds and run to find me. Go figure. Before this time, our next-door neighbor had gotten an adorable English Bull puppy. The very first time I saw him, he threw himself down on his back in the grass so that I could rub his tummy. And every time after that, he did the same thing. One day, his daddy said to me, "This is pretty amazing. He never does that for anyone else, not even me!" Hey, I didn't do anything special.

We have a friend who had several Jack Russell terriers and a lovely brown mare living at her home in a rural area. On a lovely summery afternoon, we had gone to her place for a get-together along with a mutual friend. We were eating outdoors on the back patio, and enjoying each other's company. After a while, I heard some movement behind me. The mare had come up to the porch rail and started to nibble on my hair. After a few minutes, her head was on my shoulder. It wasn't long before she was laying her head on my chest and lap and soaking up all of the attention I was willing to give. Diana, her owner, said, "I have never seen her do anything like this before. She's never even done that to me!" Trent wasn't really surprised, though. When we were dating we had gone on a mountain drive with another couple. On our way up the hill, we had to stop the car to let some mountain goats finish crossing the road. While some had fun pushing the rear bumper of the car, some others came over to the side of the car where I had my arm resting on the open window. A few of them came close enough that before I knew it, I had mountain goats licking my hand. Trent likes to lovingly call me Mother Nature.

When my sister and I went on a trip to South Dakota, we went to Custer National Park and saw Mount Rushmore. On the way out of the park, we saw a sign for a wolf rescue and education operation. Of course I had to go there! Liz and I were the only people there at that moment, which was pretty cool. One of the wolf experts let herself into an enclosure with tall chain-link fencing walls. She told us that wolves, unlike dogs, do not care if they please humans or not. They do not do tricks. They don't get completely tame, but they will tolerate humans that feed them and raised them from pups. There were two wolves in the enclosure, a male and female sibling, who were eighteen months old, which is almost full adulthood. As wolves do, they were pacing around the enclosure (a very large one, incidentally) and keeping an eye on her, as well as my sister and me. Suddenly the wolf expert pointed to me and said, "Come over here." She pointed to the entrance to the wolf run, which was like a fence gate at the end of a short entryway. I did as I was asked. "You're okay," she said. "Come closer and put your hand out." When I put my hand up to the gap between the gate and the fence, both wolves sniffed my hand, and then licked it. I can't begin to describe my thoughts and emotions at this brief but beautiful moment. These two wild creatures had chosen to show me their trust and give me a greeting. All I can say is that I was so thrilled that my brain short-circuited for a few minutes!

I am not trying to say that I am anyone special, or that I deserve the title of Mother Nature that my husband has bestowed upon me, but I often wonder, "Why me?" Why, when I was in Europe with three other women, did the dogs (who did not understand any English) politely greet all three of them and try to kiss me? Why was our friend's cockatiel so in love with me that he would sit on my shoulder and threaten to bite Trent if he tried to touch me? I will never know. I hope it is just that these amazing creatures can feel my love for them, and that they give it back to me in return. Or maybe it is animal magnetism? Hahaha!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


We here in the USA are a bit funny about our holidays. We love them, there's no doubt about it, but we are not above moving them around for our convenience. As a result, we have created a number of holiday weekends, AKA Three-Day Weekends. Some holidays are still on their original dates, but if they should fall on a weekend, we'll take Monday off to make the joy last longer. Since we just finished with our President's Day holiday, which replaced Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays, I was reminded of a holiday several years ago.

At one time, instead of working one full-time job, I was working two part-time jobs. It wasn't easy, but it was necessary. One of the jobs, which I did not like, provided me with the insurance coverage I so desperately needed. The other, which had no insurance, was the one I loved. Even though this was a time in my life when I was dealing with health challenges galore, I would get up in the morning and drive across town to my morning job. After my shift, I would drive home, grab a bite to eat, change, and head off to my afternoon/evening job. I learned to use the daily trips in the car as part of my relaxing time. I would roll the windows down and enjoy the fresh air while listening to the radio or recorded music. It was delightful.

On one such lovely February day, when I was on the way to my afternoon job, I had the radio on. The female host of the show was talking about the weather and such and then mentioned that it was President's Day that day. As I said before, it started out with two holidays in honor of Presidents Washington and Lincoln. The two were combined into one holiday that is celebrated on the third Monday in February. Combining these holidays into one also makes it possible for us to use this day to honor all of the Presidents of the United States of America. So I have to admit my shock when I heard the radio host say, "Today is President's Day, so I guess if you are the President of something, today is your day..." It was one of those moments that immediately burn themselves into your memory. I can even remember that I was in the middle of making a left turn and that it was a sunny, mild afternoon. I was stunned. Was she making a bad joke? Was she, ahem, uninformed? (And yes, I am using the word "uninformed" instead of something cruel like the word "stupid," for example. Sometimes I am the mistress of kind euphemisms. Not always, but sometimes!) As the radio show continued, I became aware that she not only wasn't joking, she was sincere. Yes, my friends, she actually had no idea that it was a day to honor US Presidents. I know that it could be worse, but it still floored me, and does to this day. 

Maybe it ties into my weird little fixation about Independence Day. I have gotten to a point where it really bothers me to hear people say, "Happy Fourth of July!" I understand that their hearts are in the right place, but to me, just naming the date seems to diminish the importance of this holiday. We are talking, after all, about the date on which a brave group of individuals signed a document the likes of which the world had never seen. They put into writing their complaints against King George III of England, and declared themselves to be a free and independent nation. They knew that according to the laws of England, they were committing treason, and by these laws they could be publicly executed in the most gruesome of ways. Yet they finished the document with these beautiful and brave words, "...we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." Their Independence was worth their lives, so I always say Independence Day. Am I asking too much? Am I just being weird? Perhaps. But I never hear people saying, "Happy December 25th!" Or "Happy Fourth Thursday in November!" Why? Because it lessens the meaning of those days, doesn't it? Food for thought.

I am glad that only some of out holidays have been moved to Mondays. If they ever try to move Christmas, Independence Day, New Year's Day, or Thanksgiving to Mondays for convenience, I think I won't be the only one complaining. Some holidays are far more important than any three-day weekend. May all your holidays be safe and happy...

Friday, February 15, 2013


Trent and I were having dinner in a restaurant recently when I happened to notice something that happened at the next table. Two young women had been seated and were asked for their identification before their server could bring them the beer they had requested. Ah, those were the days. Needing to prove that you are old enough to sit at the adults' table. Nowadays the only time I get "carded" (note to my Hungarians: asked for my identification) is when I catch a flight at the airport. Not that I have been ordering tons of alcohol in restaurants or anything. It just made me remember how exciting it was to be considered an adult.

I was chatting with a new friend on Google plus this evening, and before I knew it, I had an old lady moment. Instead of just telling this friend that I am not the most techno-savvy person in the world, I had to say that when I was a kid, a computer filled a whole room and it had to be fed punch cards with encoded data. Then I realized what I had done and called myself on the carpet for it. Had I just had one of those "back in the olden days when I was a kid" moments? Thank goodness I didn't lose my mind completely and say something really crazy about walking to school in the snow, barefoot and uphill both ways. (If that makes no sense to you, ask someone who is older, they will tell you why it's funny.)

I have to tell you that there are advantages to becoming more mature. Okay, getting older. Some of the things that bothered me when I was younger are not that important to me now. I was always buying new clothes and shoes to try and keep in fashion. I would stand all day in high heels and come back to work the next day in another pair. I got my hair and nails done and never went to work without my makeup on. When I became older and wiser I realized that I wasn't making myself happy with all of that stuff.  So now I don't wear super-high heels. And Trent can tell you that getting me to go shopping for clothes is not all that easy. And I seldom wear makeup. Every so often, mostly as a joke, when we are getting ready to go somewhere we will ask each other if the pieces of our outfit "go together." Then, before the other one answers, we will just say, "Oh, whatever. I'm old enough not to care."

Why is this important? If we are lucky, all of us come to a point in our lives where we learn to be comfortable with ourselves. Instead of trying to disguise ourselves with layers of makeup and shoes and office-ready suits, we realize that who we really are can be enough. The outside appearance may be important in some situations. After all, if you want to be an executive you may not get there by wearing torn up jeans and a t-shirt. But holding yourself to an artificial and unreachable standard of beauty can be self-destructive. And let me tell you, feeling that you are okay just the way you are is a gift. And nobody can give it to you except you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Movie Madness

Blame Marie's daughter-in-law Lisa for this one. I was taking a quick look at Facebook before lying down for a nap. The nap wasn't for sloth, but necessity. Trent has been dealing with an icky cold for about a week and my throat decided to get a bit of the action. Lisa had commented on a post by a radio station. I didn't see her comment as I had no energy to wade through the thousands that were there. The post said, "Name a movie that does not have the letter "S" in it!" They added that it was harder than you think. Seriously? Even in my feverish state I was coming up with tons of them.

When I woke from my nap, I started thinking of more titles. Enough titles to make me decide to share them here. I have already forgotten many of the original titles I came up with, and come up with some new ones. Trent was kind enough to tell me more to write down, and to say them so fast that I couldn't keep up with writing them down. And saying, "Did you get it?" I got irritated because I couldn't write fast enough, but I still love you, honey. So here is a list of some, but not all, of the movies we thought up in just a few minutes' time. I have already forgotten lots of the ones I came up with earlier. There were some movies I just had to refuse to put down because I thought they were bad movies, so forgive me for that. And this is not meant as a comprehensive list! I am not a film historian, just a movie lover. There may be some movies that you like that aren't on the list. That is the fun of it, you get to remember more. If I made any errors by not using the complete official titles, I ask your forgiveness, and if I left off some of your favorites, they can be at the top of your list! Above all else, let's just have fun and share this game with family, friends, and coworkers!

Gone With the Wind
The Wizard of Oz
The Wiz
True Grit
Live And Let Die
Doctor No
Mad Max
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Back to the Future
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Rear Window
The Village
Lady and the Tramp
Jungle Book
Finding Nemo
Peter Pan
Winnie the Pooh
The Incredible Journey
Old Yeller
The Yearling
Big Trouble
The Phantom of the Opera
The Eye
The Thing
The Green Mile
The Lion in Winter
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Holiday Inn
From Here to Eternity
The Manchurian Candidate
The Italian Job
Going My Way
On the Waterfront
Rear Window
The Godfather
The Little Mermaid
Ben Hur
Top Hat
Nanny McPhee
Twelve Angry Men
Apollo Thirteen
10,000 BC
Diary of a Mad Black Woman
The Color Purple
On Golden Pond
Marie Antoinette
Brother Bear
Royal Wedding
Flying Down to Rio
You Were Never Lovelier
Captain America
The Incredible Hulk
Hotel Rwanda
Mutiny on the Bounty
The Caine Mutiny
The Merry Widow
Indian Love Call
I Married an Angel
On the Town
Pearl Harbor
Red Riding Hood
Bridge on the River Kwai
Die Another Day
Happy Gilmore
Big Daddy
That Thing You Do
Men in Black
Independence Day
The Other Boleyn Girl
The Woman in Black
The Twilight Zone
Funny Girl
Funny Lady
I Remember Mama
Father of the Bride
Cat People
An American Werewolf in London
Teen Wolf
The Jerk
Tron Legacy
The Kid
Call of the Wild
Queen of the Damned
How to Train Your Dragon
Kill Bill
Pulp Fiction
Die Hard, etc.
The Time Machine
The African Queen
Bringing Up Baby
'Night, Mother
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Butterfield 8
The Quiet Man
Brokeback Mountain
Midnight Cowboy
Urban Cowboy
The Karate Kid
Kung Fu Panda
Night of the Living Dead
The Kingdom
A Time to Kill
The Chamber
The Client
Winter in Wartime
Citizen Kane 
Lethal Weapon
My Fair Lady
Hello Dolly!
Doctor Zhivago
The Miracle Worker
Dancing Lady
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Who Killed Roger Rabbit?
All About Eve
The Mummy
White Men Can't Jump
Double Indemnity
Judge Dredd
Total Recall
Kontroll (Hungarian movie)
Ice Age
Flight Plan
Con Air
Red Dawn
Dirty Dancing
Being John Malkovich
Roman Holiday
It Happened One Night
Identity Thief
In Like Flint
Mirror, Mirror

I could add more, but in the words of Super Grover, "My cute little arms are getting tired!" I hope you enjoyed this list and forgive any errors like accidentally listing something twice, or any blaring omissions. Time for some more rest and perhaps a bite to eat. Enjoy the madness!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Some Things Just Make Me Crazy

I was on Google Plus the other day and saw a re-share of a picture by a person whom I follow. The picture was of a sign/poster that, in my opinion, showed ignorance on multiple levels. Across the top, it asked why did the following groups love the Devil. Right away that bothers me, because how do you know who anybody loves if you don't get to know them? And it really bothers me when people sort one another into groups that they then declare are bad in one way or another. The sign goes on to list numerous categories of people who supposedly love the Devil, and that's when the real fun starts. Not only do the categories make me shake my head, but the sign shows that it was created by someone who cannot use their own language. 

People! When a word ends in the letter "s," you are not automatically required to put an apostrophe in front of it! Argh! The person who made this sign didn't know that. They also didn't know how to spell all of the words they used, which didn't surprise me. Quick English lesson: an apostrophe s at the end of a word usually is a sign of possession. That is why it is called a possessive. It can also be a contraction, meaning a letter was left out. A cat's fur may be soft and silky. The cat's following a mouse. Get it? Well the cat who wrote the sign sure didn't. Some of the people who love the Devil, according to this sign, include, and I quote, "atheist's, thieve's, gambler's, wife beater's, Jehovah's Witness's, Mormon's, drunkard's, Catholic's, feminist's, high fallutent sophisticated swine, loud mouthed women, homo's, liberal's, sport's nut's, and fornicator's." And that is just a sampling! 

This started me thinking about some of the other things people say or write that really bug me. Perhaps it is because I was an English major. But I did not major in grammar and syntax, I majored in literature. I just had some really great teachers in Junior High School who broke some things down into very simple, easy-to-understand instructions. One of the best, a woman whose name I regret I can no longer recall, was cool enough to admit her own mistakes with English. She once told us that she had received an embarrassing lesson from her three-year-old daughter. Like many people, she had started using forms of the word "go" instead of the word "say." One day she was playing the animal sounds game with her daughter. You know the one. "What does the dog say?" "Bow-wow." Mom said, "How does the cow go?" Her daughter gave her a funny look and said, "It walks!" She was ashamed that she had been taught by her toddler but resolved to change from that day forward.

Since we are talking about my teacher admitting to her mistakes, here's something else that irks me. Instead of saying we screwed up or that we were (gasp!) wrong, we say, "My bad," or "that's my bad." Note: I am not the grammar/syntax/purity of language police. I will not correct you in a conversation, because I am an occasionally nice person who does not enjoy shaming others. On the other hand, though, if you ask me to proofread something for you I will correct whatever needs to be corrected. I am not sure why the "my bad" thing irritates me so much. I think it may be because when I screw up, I fess up. See? I said fess instead of confess. And ain't is one of my favorites, although I use it carefully to try not to look stupid.

And I would like to say that just because your favorite singer from your favorite group, whom you think is the greatest and smartest person on the planet, says something, that does not mean it is a word! Several years ago the front man of a popular group made a remark that started with, "I think we are all in agreeance..." The word is agreement, Mister Rockstar. I started hearing people saying it in conversation and in professional settings and it was making me crazy. My husband and my good friends know how much I despise this abomination, so they will spring it on me every so often so that they can get a knee-jerk reaction from me, which gives them a good laugh. Oh! Another thing that frays my nerves is the compulsion of reporters to create one name out of two names. As in Bennifer rather that Ben and Jennifer, or TomKat (when the Cruises were still the Cruises), or Brad and Angelina becoming Brangelina. I don't know about all of you, but when Trent and I became a couple, we did not morph into a single personality. Heck, if we had, there'd be nothing to talk about!

If you spent any amount of time with me, you would know that I love the English language on many levels. I find slang to be a rich addition to the language, an ever-changing thing that reflects the times and culture. I freely change words around myself, and usually use these weird variations and pronunciations only in my close circles. Why? Because we are often judged by the words we use and the ways we use them. After all, what did I just do? Something that is perfectly fine with your friends may make you seem less than bright in a business meeting or job interview. Love your language, my friends. Just remember that your words can define you. Are we in agreeance agreement?

p.s. Even if the sign-writer had used the proper plurals, I'd still think he or she was a jerk.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Feasting In Florida

One of the really great things about traveling is the food. Granted, if your luck is off, you may find yourself remembering your vacation more by what the bathroom was like than by the plates you tasted. Our trip to Florida was filled with many culinary delights. Of course there are some things that seem to be the same wherever you go. There will always be a McDonald's (even in Budapest, Hungary!) or Burger King, and there's always Mexican food or Chinese buffets. But sometimes there are smaller regional chains, and there are often dining gems to be found.

One of our first meals was in a burger restaurant called Krystal. I have to admit that when Thayne first spoke about going to Krystal's, I was taken aback. You see, I had never heard of this chain. And we had just driven by a place here in Thornton with a similar name that feeds a different type of appetite. Enough said. Krystal burgers are similar to those from White Castle in the Chicago area, or Cozy Shack in Kansas. Itty-bitty burgers and chicken sandwiches, and little chili-cheese or corn dogs. But since they are small they are called pups.

After our first day at Disney World, we had dinner at an African-themed restaurant called Boma. What deliciousness! Carrot-Ginger Soup. Coconut Curry Chicken Stew. Watermelon Rind Salad. Multiple African entrees and side dishes. And the desserts - all I can say is Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Apricot Gelee was my mouth's idea of heaven. To say nothing of the Valrhona Chocolates. Another Disney food experience we loved was 'Ohana, which is Hawaiian themed. We started with a delicious salad of greens with papaya and some loaves of pineapple bread. Then we had all sorts of meats cooked over wood fires. This was followed by a bread pudding with ice cream and bananas Foster sauce that was absolutely luscious.

More delicious Orlando dining occurred at Giordano's Pizza. We are talking about a double-decker monster of a pizza that takes about 45 minutes to bake. The sauce was not too sweet and not too salty. I was starving, so I managed to eat two whole slices. Okay, not quite true. I had to skip the outside crust. Before we left home, I chose a restaurant at Downtown Disney for one of our dinners, and I am glad to say that everyone in our group became a fan of The House of Blues. With dishes like Jambalaya, Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf, and Buttermilk Fried Chicken, there was something for everyone. The decor was quirky, with walls covered with original art. My fried chicken was quite a surprise - half a chicken that must have been the size of a young turkey. And so deliciously crunchy outside and moist inside...yum!

We spent one day going to Cocoa Beach. After wandering through Ron Jon's and enjoying my first view of the Atlantic by walking in the waves and collecting shells, we set out to find something to eat. Thayne found a restaurant listed favorably on Yelp in Cape Canaveral. Atlantic Seafood was quite a pleasant surprise. Even though we arrived only ten minutes before their six p.m. closing time for that day, we were greeted cheerfully. When we looked at the menus we were surprised at the low prices. For about forty dollars, two people can eat like kings. We both had huge crab cakes which came with clam chowder, a huge serving of fresh vegetables, monster-sized skewers of grilled white and sweet potatoes, and bread. And they serve a whole lobster with all of those other sides for a mere twenty dollars! If you ever go to Cape Canaveral, do consider eating there. They are mere feet from the water, and buy their fish daily from several different fishermen. We even had a visit from a pelican during our dinner! The rest of his buddies were chilling seaside.

Perhaps you may think it is silly for me to blog about the food from our vacation. But no matter where we are, food is a vital part of our lives. If we are fortunate, we have the opportunity to experience food that we can really savor. At moments like this I feel quite fortunate to be able to enjoy food, and mindful of those who have less than I do. I remember being in a situation where six people made a meal from one potato. Knowing this makes the memories of the food both more sweet and more sad. I hope I will always be mindful of others, and take every opportunity I can to give them something they can savor. Bon appetit!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Vacation Dissertation

We got home early yesterday afternoon from a trip to Orlando Florida with our friends Marie and Thayne.  In these roughly twenty-four hours since our arrival back home, I have developed a theory. What a shocker, right? It seems like I've always got a theory about something. The theory of the moment: the word vacation doesn't necessarily mean what we think it means. 

In recent years, I have heard the manufactured word "staycation" being thrown around a lot. Being a raving lunatic, it has been somewhat irritating to me.  Why? Because I didn't realize that there was some unwritten law stating that a vacation was required to include traveling away from home and spending lots of money. Over the years I have had many vacation days or even weeks that were spent at or close to home. They were opportunities for me to take a break from my daily responsibilities and just BE. There are many ways we can escape our daily grind and refresh our minds, our bodies, our selves. For some people it can be something as simple as just reading a book, finishing it, and then starting another. For others, it might include art, nature, cooking, lounging about, or even travel.

Many years ago, I met a Roman Catholic priest who said something that I thought was so profound, I remember it to this day.  He was talking about recreation and how important it is in our lives. He said if you looked at the word a little differently, you would see it as re-creation. Recreation is your chance to re-create yourself. We can often get lost in the small and large details of work and life and the greater world around us. But if we take some time, even small bits of it, we can do things that will make us more whole again. Photographing trees and flowers, taking a nice long soak in the bathtub, baking some delicious bread or cookies all can be recreation. It's all about taking some time to step out of the fast lane and savor life's flavors.

And then again, there's travel. As I said, we got home yesterday after ten days away. When I was younger than I am now, I could hop on a plane, go tearing around Manhattan for a week, fly home, and be back at work the next day, perhaps a bit tired, but ready to take on the world. But, as Yul Brynner sang in The King and I, "world have changed a lot." It will take me a few days to rest up from all of the fun that I had. By the way, if you were wondering...the fat little babyfeets look may be great when you are less than a year old, but on an adult, not so attractive! But what fun we had! I will naturally be writing about it in future blogs. 

Who knew, for instance, that someone who absolutely despises rollercoasters would ride four of them in four days at while at Disney World? Yes, that's exactly what I did! And I even went on the Tower of Terror. And I saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time when we went to Cocoa Beach. We ate all sorts of delicious food, ranging from Krystal's Burgers to Giordano's Pizza to The House of Blues. And we met some wonderful people, too. One of my favorite encounters happened at The Boardwalk, a Disney property that has lodging and shopping and serves as the stop for boat rides to and from various Disney locales like Epcot. We had just gotten off the boat and were using the restrooms before heading to the car and our lodging. When I was waiting for an available stall, a girl who was seven or eight years old came out of the large handicapped stall. "OMG! she said, "that little bathroom is so awesome!" She looked at me and said, "Really, you should try it!" I said yes, I would, and I did. I can understand why she was impressed. She probably hasn't experienced many bathroom stalls that have everything the whole bathroom has all in one place. I saw her in the hall when I was leaving and told her that she was right, it was awesome.

I hope you will enjoy my upcoming posts about some of the joys I experienced during my travels. And I hope that you will appreciate the fact that Trent and I were were glad to get back home. And now for my thoughts about what vacation means. Vacation is, hopefully, an enjoyable time. It can be spent alone or with family and friends. If you travel, you might see and taste and do many things you might not experience at home or on a regular basis. You may lounge around, or you might run yourself ragged. But if you are lucky, you will come home happy. Happy that you went, and happy that you have come back to the place that is yours. And if you are really lucky, it will only take you a day or two to recover from all that "rest." May all your vacations and recreations be balm to your heart and soul, and your homecomings full of joy.