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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Like Taking Money From A Bear, Man!

I'm taking a slightly different path on my blog this evening. Normally, I write about little slices of my life and thoughts about various subjects. Sometimes these vignettes are funny and sometimes they are serious, and sometimes they are quite sad. Yes, tonight I am writing about my thoughts on a particular subject, but there is a lovely little twist. 

I am one of the millions of people who enjoy social networking on Google+. Like many other people, I have been on Facebook for several years. But I heard about Google+ and decided to check it out. And since my blog is also Google based,  it was easy to post links to my blog there. I started following a few people and seeing other people who seemed interesting that were following the same people I was. One evening one of the ladies I follow on G+ shared a post from one of the people in her circles. The name on the post was Bearman Cartoons, and the post really intrigued and impressed me. Bearman said that in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, he was going to make donations to relief efforts for people affected by this natural disaster. His premise was simple and unique. Instead of starting out by asking others to make donations, his request was this: if you added him to your circles, he would do the same for you and he would donate a certain amount of money to the Red Cross. He would do this up to a certain dollar amount, completely out of his pocket, no strings attached. And if people were able to donate as well, he would match their donations dollar for dollar, up to a certain total donation amount.

I was captivated by this proposition. It seems that our luck here generally runs true to form. Whenever there comes a time that we would like to give to charity or disaster relief, we inevitably find ourselves without two nickels to rub together. I decided that this was a great opportunity for me to make a small contribution toward helping others. I was also humbled that this person, who was a stranger to me, was doing such selfless service for others on behalf of those of us who read his message. A short time later, I was honored to be included in a list he published of people he called "Underappreciated Engagers." Based on my faith in his judgement, I immediately added all of these people to my circles. Many of them have become my friends, something which always enriches a person's life. 

Today I was scrolling through my feed on G+ and saw that Bearman was at it again. One of the ways I could get him to donate to three different charities was by mentioning him in a blog post and giving a link to information about this year's Charity Challenge. This was brilliantly timed as I have been pondering writing about Google+ and my G+ experience. What better way for me to be able to convey a little bit of why it is that I like G+ so much? It is the people in these online communities that draw me there, and Bearman is an excellent representation of the kind of people I have seen here. I have also seen people post on G+ that their vehicle had broken down. Within a very short time, the "plussers" had found someone to help them on their way. Whenever there is a request for help locating a missing child, plussers will get the information around the world in pretty short order. I've also recently seen a beautiful and touching thing - a family was unable to pay their power bill, and the plussers immediately chipped in and prevented a service interruption. And all while still having fun and sharing their stories and cartoons and recipes!

I am hoping that perhaps a few of you will be inspired to help with Bearman's fund raising this year. So today I am asking you to stop by this page and have a look at what inspired me to write this post. Thank you so much, even if all you do as a result of visiting his page is to think about how much we can do for others if we work together. Here's the address: 




Monday, April 29, 2013

Chocolate: A Love Story

This blog post is partly inspired by some of the people I know on Google+. Terry posted a lovely photo yesterday of her coffee mug sitting next to a piece of strawberry balsamic chocolate. This picture inspired me to brag that I could go from zero to chocolate in 2.4 seconds, even without the coffee. I am pleased to say that my comment gained me at least one friend yesterday (thank you, Paul!). Then today there was the photo Shinae posted of a Lindt dark chocolate bar with salted caramel. It started quite a conversation between me and Stefanie, who lives in Germany. We started talking about the prices of European chocolates in stores in the USA. We were amazed at the difference in prices between the same products on their home continent compared to here, and she was kind enough to offer to send her friends chocolate care packages. What a kind woman! With friends like that, who needs to worry about running out of the good stuff?

I don't know how old I was when chocolate became a part of my life. If I had truly known how magical and fabulous chocolate is, I still probably wouldn't remember that first experience anyway. But the more I learn about chocolate, the more I admire it. Chocolate came to the rest of the world from the Americas. Chocolate's scientific name is theobroma cacao. Theobroma means food of the gods, and the theobromine in chocolate can do wonderful things for your body like reduce your blood pressure. The Mesoamericans used cacao beans as currency, and it was often made into xocolatl, bitter cold or hot drinks. Montezuma was said to drink fifty cups of chocolatl each day, and his court drank up to two thousand a day! Of course, the cacao beans made their way to Europe where sugar and milk were added, and techniques invented to make the solid chocolate we enjoy today.

Now that all of that serious business is over and done with, let's focus on the fun, shall we? Chocolate is used in so many forms and so many ways, it almost boggles the mind. Some people will put a chunk of dark chocolate into their mole sauce or chili or other savory dishes. Then there are all of the baked goods, luscious cakes and pies and brownies and cookies and pain au chocolat. For a lot of us, the favorite is variations on the chocolate candy or bar. Chocolate is so friendly to humans. It melts at a temperature close to that of our bodies. When we take a piece into our mouth it changes. What was solid now starts to melt and reveal facets of its character. It may be bitter and high in cacao content. Or sweet milk chocolate. Depending on its quality and ingredients, it may seem waxy or grainy or silky or sugary. There is, it seems, a chocolate for just about everyone's taste. 

When I stop to think about the different types of chocolates my mouth has savored and liked, and sometimes even loved, I am amazed at how many things we can pair it with. For example, a good dark chocolate with a raspberry puree filling could convince me to skip whatever my next meal might be and just go straight for the sweets. It goes well with numerous fruits like strawberries, cherries, orange, mango, pineapple...well, I could just go on and on. And nuts, nougats, crispy things, and chewy ones. And there is something magical about the combination of chocolate with a buttery, creamy caramel that makes you realize that the name food of the gods is totally appropriate. And there's the humble, everyday chocolates that we can indulge in more frequently. I freely admit to eating and enjoying things like M&Ms and various candy bars. They are sweet treats that may be a little oasis in our day.

As I write this, I remember something that happened to me years ago. A specialty shop had opened about a block away from the bank where I worked, and they sold beautiful Belgian chocolates and chocolate bars. It was fantastic, not too sweet, not too bitter, and delightfully silky in texture. I was filled with chocolate joy as I selected several bars to give to my office mates. They were very pleased that I had given them something so decadent and extravagant, and immediately started eating their chocolate gifts. I was surrounded by the bliss of chocolate-induced oohs and ahhs when suddenly the bubble burst. A woman in the office proclaimed loudly, "I don't see what the big deal is. I can't tell the difference between this and a Hershey bar. My mom might like this, but chocolate is just chocolate." Just chocolate? Yes, I had cast my pearls before swine, and they were being trampled underfoot. Of course, my smart mouth shot off, "Give it back. If you can't tell the difference, you shouldn't be eating it." Of course I didn't take the chocolate back. I was just shocked at what I thought was a rude comment, and unfortunately I was rude right back. She ended up giving it to her mother. I'm glad it went from one true appreciator of the food of the gods to another!

Friday, April 26, 2013

No Shame

I have some mental health issues. And no, I am not making a joke. If you are familiar with my writing over the past year, you know that I have had an unusual life, to put it mildly. I have survived the death of my mother at the hands of my father. I spent several months in a cockroach-infested orphanage under the care of a woman who thought that any child who ended up there deserved it because they were a dreadful sinner. When she wasn't telling me how unworthy I was and how certain I was to experience the eternal fires of Hell, she was shoving food down my throat with a spoon while another nun held me down. 

I also lived with a woman who was disgusted that she had to take in her husband's relatives, two Hungarian brats, rather than the Native Americans she wanted to adopt. That would have been more cool, more artsy, more fun. At her hands, I continued hearing the message that I was worthless, accompanied by beatings too painful and punishments too degrading and too numerous to count. My body survived, but I began to lose my soul. I was eventually shuttled off to her mother, who was not related to me, but I was told before I went there that Gram had hated me from the first time she saw me. This was a brilliant confidence-shattering strategy because Gram lost her own mother when she was not yet two years old, so she never learned to be huggy, cuddly, or otherwise demonstrative.

During the years living with Gram, and let me say we loved each other fiercely, there was always a double-edged sword dangling above my head. On the one hand, her family would tell me how relieved they were to have me there to take care of her. So I felt this obligation to be a caregiver along with the love I had for her. At the same time, I was given constant reminders that I was not a member of the family, and if I didn't behave according to their wishes, they would make sure that I was removed from Gram's home. 

Then, of course, my health declined. Although it did, I tried to do my best to take care of Gram. It should come as no surprise that when her health began to decline in her ninetieth year they tried to say it was my fault, that I was neglecting her. It was an incredibly difficult time for me, and I learned a lot from this horrible time. After being told that I could not tell my own sister that Gram was probably dying, and couldn't have her over to the house, and that various booby traps had been set in case Liz or I attempted to steal anything from the house, a dark rage began to grow in me. After Gram died, I was free to release it. There was nothing tying me to them anymore, so I no longer tolerated them even suggesting that I might take anything that was not my own. The degradation and accusation were at an end.

I went on with my life and work, and I bloomed in my job. I became a trainer in my department. I was reasonably good at it, and enjoyed doing it. Then things at work became very complicated. Due to staff changes and overturn in our department, I found myself in the training room every day. I was working to the point of exhaustion and illness. The trainers in our other facilities told me that for every hour in the training room, I should have been allowed two hours of preparation time. I was in the class so much that if I were to follow that rule, I would have been at the job twenty-four hours a day. I found myself sending the class to breaks simply so that I would have time to look up accounts. I spent lunches working. On one notable occasion, my manager scheduled me to do an upper-level training the day after finishing a five-week new-hire program. I said something about my stress at having no time to prep and she said, "Well, it's not like you haven't trained it before." 

I was wearing down. It was evident to everyone that I was doing the bulk of work in our department, even though there was another trainer. Trent, who had always expressed amazement at how strong I was, and who wondered how I had survived my past so unscathed, was seeing me start to break down. I was working with another trainer, a large and tall man who had a very volatile and loudly expressed temper. He would start yelling about things but my manager never told him to calm down or control himself. 

At the end of March 2005, I was getting close to a week of vacation time. Trent was going to training at the hospital for peritoneal dialysis and was being unsuccessful. It was discovered that insertion of the dialysis tubes had resulted in a hernia. My manager was on vacation, and the manager of the call center called her boss in Minneapolis to say that my fellow trainer was not training effectively. The Big Boss called me to say that I would have to take over the training of the class effective the next day. I had to tell her that it just was not going to happen. My husband was having emergency hernia surgery the next day, and I was scheduled to be on vacation the next week. I knew she wasn't happy about it but I just couldn't care.

So Trent had surgery, he came home, and we carried on. On Monday, the first day of my vacation, I started crying and couldn't stop. I was scheduled to see my regular doctor that Friday, and when he saw me, he knew I was dealing with depression. I don't want to go on and on about the intolerance to medications and so forth. It was hard, but there was something much harder. The day I saw my doctor I called my manager to tell her my doctor was putting me on short-term leave. When I told her it was for depression, her response was, "Get over it! Oh, just kidding." No you aren't, you hag, I thought. I tried to express the depth of the emotional hole I was in by telling her that I had a hard time even caring if I took a shower. Her witty comeback? "I certainly hope you took a shower before you went to see the doctor!" I knew it was a lost cause.

Due to challenges with medications and the fact that I had not only depression but PTSD and anxiety, my leave ended up being longer than expected. There were things that happened regarding my manager that I want to talk about, but probably should not. But I will tell you about the unkindest part of this whole experience. The numerous people I had trained or been friends with in the department started coming around to ask where I was and if I was coming back. My manager would not tell them why I was gone because it was "too embarrassing." She allowed rumors to spread through the department that I was dying of cancer because mental illness was too shameful.

I took numerous Psychology courses and could have minored in that field of study in college. I knew that mental illness wasn't my fault. But I still felt that I should have been stronger, that I should have gotten over it in a week or two. But that didn't happen. I'm not sure that it ever really will happen completely. But I am bothered on behalf of everyone that deals with attitudes related to their mental health issues. I could see my manager finding it embarrassing or shameful if I had become mentally ill as a result of some behavior on my part. But I did nothing to bring this on, just like I did nothing to bring on the lupus and fibromyalgia that bother my body. I didn't get it from drinking or smoking or overeating or being carelessly sexually promiscuous. I ended up with these problems because of the numerous experiences that I had had to deal with.  I just lived and experienced enough to finally hit my breaking point.

I didn't tell you all of this to make you feel sorry for me, or to depress you. You may find some of your own experiences in the things I have shared with you. It may also be entirely foreign to your experience, which is a good thing, right? My main purpose in spilling all of this is simple. We are not this way because we are weak, or lazy, or like the attention. We are this way because we are human. We have an illness, just like someone who has problems with arthritis or congenital heart disease or kidney failure. Should they be ashamed? Should we be ashamed for them? No. I hope that eventually people with mental health issues will be thought of in the same way. And if you are one of the people who already knows this, thank you. You are the angels in our lives.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beauty All Around




We had to do a lot of running around yesterday. I had to go to my doctor's office to have my usual monthly finger-poking. Then we had to drive across town to University of Colorado Hospital to pick up some of Trent's anti-rejection medication. The hospital has been doing some expanding and changing in the last several months, and it can often be difficult to find a place to park. It was even more challenging when the Emergency Department was located by the pharmacy, and they shared a main entrance.

The ED has moved to a different wing, but parking was still pretty challenging yesterday, so Trent dropped me off and I went in for the refill. One of the things I love about this relatively-new hospital is that there are lots of lovely areas outdoors with benches and tables and lovely landscaping. Most of the outside walls have vast expanses of windows that look out onto these beautiful areas. Yesterday when I walked down just such a hallway that turned onto another with a view of the same area, I saw something that made both my heart and my face smile.

A Canada goose has made a nest in a planter about three feet off the ground. I have had some wonderful experiences with Canada geese and their goslings, but this was the first time I ever had the opportunity to be within about six feet of one sitting on her nest. After thinking how wonderfully cool it was that she was nesting right by the building, my second thought was frustration that I had accidentally left my camera at my friend's house. All I had with me was my not really smart, only of average intelligence, phone with a two megapixel camera. I was very unhappy about this for a moment, but decided to just enjoy the gift of seeing nature's motherhood up close.

When I was ordering Trent's refill, I learned that this was the fourth or fifth year the planter had been used for a nest. The lucky pharmacy staff has been watching nesting geese each spring for a few years now. The hospital has even placed temporary wooden fencing to give the family more privacy, fencing that will keep humans out but allow the goose and gander free access. I snapped a few pictures with my phone on the premise that even a not-so-great picture is better than none at all. The medicine was ready in record time, but at least I had experienced a few minutes of nest-watching.

As I started to leave, I realized the windows on my way out were much closer to the nest, so I spent a few minutes watching mama goose sitting on her eggs. She seemed so relaxed and calm that I could almost feel the tranquility through the window. I could see that her eggs, of which I could only glimpse a tiny bit of one, were surrounded by soft down that she and her mate had pulled from their chests to keep the eggs warm. We may think we are smart to have figured out that down provides great warmth, but the geese have known this for a heck of a lot longer time than we have. As I stood there, enthralled by this beautiful scene, mama got up, did a quarter turn, and started to move the eggs around so that they would all get an even amount of warmth. She settled back down onto her eggs and wiggled herself into what she thought was the perfect position. Then she checked to make sure the blanket of down was tucked in perfectly around her unhatched brood. It was such a simple and beautiful example of calm, good motherhood.

I felt like I had been given a special gift, and actually I had. When and where I least expected it, I had been shown a moment that was magnificent in both its simplicity and its loveliness. We may go for years surrounded by creatures that fly or crawl or slither, but we seldom get to see the most intimate moments of their lives. But sometimes, if we are lucky, and we keep our eyes and hearts open, we get glimpses of the beauty that is all around us. 

May your days be filled with beauty!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Confessions Of A Cranky Napper

I am no longer going to hide the truth. I am a Cranky Napper. No, naps do not make me cranky. A good nap will leave me refreshed and ready to face the rest of my day with renewed energy. But what actually constitutes a nap? The time frames vary widely from person to person. 

After my childhood days, I completely gave up naps. Yes, cold turkey, as they say. Luckily for me, time has erased my memories of this experience, so I have no idea of whether it involved any trauma. I suspect that, like most kids, I was eager to dispense with napping, because you never know what you might miss out on while you are sleeping. So instead of the adults sending you away for a nap while they talked about important things, things you might not understand or even truly care about but really wanted to overhear, they sent you to your room to play. Or even worse, outdoors. When they sent you outside to play, your chances of eavesdropping were instantly crushed. It's the classic adult gossip-protection blocking maneuver.

For years, I never thought about taking a nap. In my thirties, my less than stellar health made me tire more easily than I had before. When I was really exhausted, I had to cave in and lie down during the day. I had heard so many people talk about taking fifteen-minute "power naps," little parcels of sleep after which they felt rejuvenated and ready to conquer the world. Uh-huh. Not so much with me. Once, just once, I dozed off for about fifteen minutes during a flight to Florida, and woke up feeling like a million dollars. Okay, well, maybe fifty. Maybe I have a problem because I am so unwilling to miss out on anything that I will not surrender to a nap unless I am completely exhausted. Maybe it's just that the nap-wiring in my brain is not assembled properly. I don't know. But I do know this, and I say once again, I am a Cranky Napper.

I discovered this unexpectedly during one of my first adult napping experiences. I had been asleep for less than twenty minutes when the phone rang. It was my sister Liz, just wanting to shoot the breeze. I was disoriented and exhausted. And cranky. After a minute or two, Liz asked what was going on, and I told her that I had been asleep when the phone rang. She chuckled and told me to go back to sleep, which I did. I woke up about an hour and a half later, feeling good, and with enough energy to get through the rest of the day. A few weeks later, I had another exhausting day and decided to get some sleep. And again, as if a remote alarm was installed in my pillow, the phone rang. Poor Liz. Within about a minute, she asked if I had been asleep, and the call was soon over.

Although I often claim to be the meanest person in the world, it's not in my nature to be randomly cranky when I wake up. The best I can figure out is that since I can only nap when I am truly exhausted, I need to sleep for an hour and a half to two hours. If I am awakened by outside forces before my brain is rested, I get a terrible case of sleep-deprivation-induced grouchiness. And it doesn't happen if I am jolted awake in the middle of the night. Perhaps that is because my "it might be an emergency" override kicks in. And maybe part of it is that I wasn't nearly as exhausted when I went to bed, and therefore less prone to the effects of sleep deprivation.

I am completely sincere when I tell friends to call me any time of the day or night.  I can be alert fairly quickly for emergencies. But I usually don't answer my phone if it rings during a nap. I don't want to be cranky. It makes me feel bad. And if it is an emergency, whoever is calling will let me know. They'll either call back or call Trent, who is usually napping right along with me. So don't get too worried. Unless there's one living in your home, you probably aren't in much danger from The Cranky Napper.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Terrible Burden

Those of you who have been reading these ravings for a while already know that when I was 29, I got very, very sick. I had a terrible bout with pneumonia in both lungs and then had an awful sinus infection. Then I started to notice swelling all over my body. When I had a night with pain in my chest that was so bad I couldn't even sleep, I ended up taking a trip to out local hospital's emergency department. This was very stressful for me, as I had spent most of my life in really great health, just having the usual bouts with whatever bug was traveling around at the time. Within a week I was diagnosed with systemic lupus, and it was determined that my body and my lungs were full of fluid because my immune system was attacking my kidneys. To this day, I believe that my complete ignorance of how dangerously ill I was enabled me to get better faster. I was too stupid to worry.

I was also surprised and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of loving concern from my family, friends, and coworkers. My dear Gram was trying so hard to take care of me, and I wanted to do everything I could possibly handle by myself. I wasn't going to let some stupid disease rule or ruin my life. No way was this woman going to just lay down and let it overtake her. I told Gram that I was sort of like a baby learning how to do things, who wants to do everything without assistance. "Let's have a code," I said to Gram one day, "and if I think you're trying to do too much for me, I'll say self, just like a baby who is trying to be independent." This system worked well for us, and turned potentially tense moments into moments of laughter.

The people I worked with also wanted to protect me. One day, one of my managers told me that I was being "too strong." Everyone wanted to try and help me but I wouldn't accept their help. I think part of this arose from the trials and tribulations I experienced growing up. I didn't want to ask for or even accept any help, because that was being weak and crying out for undeserved attention. I was also too inexperienced to know that accepting help from others doesn't just ease your burdens, it eases theirs, as well. I know now that in my effort to not cause them any inconvenience, I made them feel worse. They saw my struggles and wanted to help me, but I wouldn't allow them to do so. I made their pain on my behalf worse. If I could, I would apologize to them for that. I would also tell them of the times that, as a drive-through bank teller, I would try to carry my cash drawer to the unit where I worked, stopping every few steps to lean against the wall to try and regain some strength to get where I had to go. I should have let them help me. It would have been a benefit to all of us.

A few months after I was diagnosed, after I had been released from the hospital and begun my weekly visits to the doctors, and went through a dose of chemotherapy to induce immune suppression, my friend and I went to see the movie Beaches. If you haven't seen it, it is the story of two friends, one of whom becomes terminally ill. We watched the movie together, both of us sobbing, and both for similar reasons. While my friend Kris was watching the character getting sick and dying, all she could think was, "Oh! That's what Katrina looked like. She was so sick, and I was afraid she might die." And as I was watching it, I was thinking, "Oh, no, that's what I looked like. And that is the torture I put my friends through." It devastated both of us. It was just too personal and too close to home. I don't know about Kris, whom I haven't seen in quite a few years, but I have never been able to watch that movie again. I don't think I could handle it.

Several months later, I came to fully understand why Gram had wanted so desperately to take care of me when my illness was at its worst. Our neighbor's daughter, who was house-sitting for her parents, came over for a chat. I told her, briefly, about my current bout with illness. Suddenly Gram said something that stunned me. She told Lisa, "She really had me worried. I was sure I was going to lose her. I could see death in her face." I was speechless. Gram had seen so many people pass in her time; if she said that she could see death in my face, I had been in far worse condition than I had ever realized or could have possibly imagined. She was terrified that her not-really granddaughter, whom she loved as much as one of her own children, was going to die. I was devastated to find out so many months later that my disease had caused her so much sorrow and pain.

After quite a bit of time had gone by, some other things came to light about people's reactions to my illness, and their fear of my possible death. They were such a terrible burden to me that all of these years later, I can't face writing them down. When I got sick, I didn't want to be a bother to anyone, and did my best not to cause anyone extra work or any other inconvenience. Little did I know, at that time, that the burdens of disease are many. No matter what you try to do to prevent them, others will be weighted down by your suffering. That is my most terrible burden.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Grover

When my older cousins and my sister started to get married and have babies, I found myself in a delightful and unique situation. Since I was not a parent, I didn't have to be as uptight or worried about maintaining my dignity as they were. So it freed me to interact with their kids on my own terms. One thing I never did with these next-generation kids was talking down to them. I never spoke to them as if they were dumb kids. Baby talk was just for babies. And dogs. Dogs never get too old to love baby talk! I tried to talk to them in the way that I felt about them - they may not have had my years of experience and education, but they had smarts. Another thing that I felt free to do with the kids was acting silly in front of them. Hey, I wasn't going to have to discipline them or anything, so I didn't have to worry about losing face.

When I was in high school and babysitting the neighbor kids, they took me on a journey that I grew to love. We went to Sesame Street together, and it was delightful. I really loved all of the characters, in different ways and for different reasons. For years, I wondered if Bert and Ernie were named after the cab driver and the cop from the movie It's a Wonderful Life, and I was pleased to find out that they were. There was something delicious in the way Oscar reveled in his grouchiness, the Count savored his numbers, and Big Bird held firm in the knowledge that there was, indeed, a Mister Snuffleupagus. But my all-time favorite was Grover. 

It's possible that what attracted me to Grover was his accent. He could quite possibly have been a Hungarian. My ears were tuned in to this little voice and maybe my brain remembered the Hungarian accents of my parents. I don't think that was all of it, though. Grover was a skinny little guy who tried his hardest, and had a huge heart. One day we saw a skit with Super Grover visiting the zoo. He got shut in and tried so hard to pull apart the iron bars on the gate to escape, but he wasn't strong enough. "On, my cute little arms are getting tired!" he exclaimed. I use that line to this day. Grover may not have been strong, but he always made an effort. Like any of us, he might succeed, and he might fail, but at least he knew that he tried.

I found out that I could do a really good Grover voice. The kids I babysat loved it. A few years later, I started talking to my kid cousins in Grover's voice at family get-togethers. I also spoke in the voice of a sort of country bumpkin by the name of Bob. The first times that they heard me speaking as Grover or Bob, I think that they may have been surprised. Here was an adult talking in a fun voice, and directly to the kids! I wasn't doing it to impress the adults, or the kids for that matter. Maybe that is why it impressed them so much. I was just cutting loose and having fun, regardless of our ages. It didn't take long for the kids to start coming up to me at family gatherings and asking, with great hope on their faces, if Grover or Bob had come to the party. I would tell them that I would check, and before you know it, they were chatting away with whichever one happened to be there.

A couple of years ago, one of these kids, who is grown up and has children of her own, sent me a note saying that she had been remembering me fondly that day. She had been watching Sesame Street with her kids and saw Grover. The memories came back to her of an older cousin who was cool enough to talk to her in Grover and Bob's voices. My heart was full when I realized how much she had loved having me do that, and that she remembered it after all of those years. 

I haven't practiced my Grover voice in quite a while, but I am still unafraid to just be silly in front of kids. But don't expect me to break out of a locked zoo right now. With all of this typing, my cute little arms are getting tired!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lies And Misnomers

I was going to give this post the the simple title Lies. But when I gave it some more thought, I decided it was a bit much. Some of the things I am going to write about aren't lies, they've just been given the wrong names.

This week Trent has a doctor's appointment on the other side of town at 7:30 a.m. I always have mixed feelings about these early appointments. Yes, it's easier to find parking before everyone else shows up for their appointments. And it's nice to get things done and still pretty much have a whole day ahead of you. It's the rush-hour traffic I hate, even if Trent is the one dealing with the driving. Why the heck is it called rush hour anyway? There's not much rushing involved, after all.  There's a lot of people forcing themselves into other lanes when theirs run out. Not that they didn't know it was going to happen, they only drive on this highway every stinking day. There's also a lot of people talking or texting on their cellphones, putting on makeup, eating breakfast...maybe that's why they jump from lane to lane without any warning. The driving is interfering with their grooming and socializing.

A related bad name - traffic jam. I have yet to experience a traffic standstill that involved any flavor of jam. If given a choice, I'd like to request a lovely peach or apricot. Strawberry would be nice too, but only if it's home made. Hey, that's an idea! Maybe if traffic shutdowns came with some toast or an English muffin and some lovely jam, people would get less cranky.

The lies start rolling in when you turn on the television and start watching commercials. There are the fifteen year old models who are advertising anti-aging creams and serums. They aren't always fifteen, I will admit. Many are as old as thirty! Actually, though, there are some who are fifty or older, women who are genetically blessed with skin that doesn't wrinkle as fast as that of the average bear. Or human. They are, of course filmed ever-so-slightly out of focus. With filming techniques like that, even Methuselah could look like an anti-aging success story.

Then there are the exercise DVD and miracle diet and miracle weight-loss pill commercials. Only five minutes a day on a machine that costs thousands and takes up your whole living room, and you'll be skinny with hard muscles in no time. "With our specially-prepared foods, you can eat and lose weight for only fifteen dollars a day! Simply heat and eat our meals, along with the fresh produce you'll buy, and you'll lose twenty pounds, fast!" And of course, when the commercial is for the men's diet, they mention that when you lose the weight you will experience "more romance." That's tv speak for, well, you know.

And the gadgets! The super-duper chopper that doubles as a workout for your biceps. And in five easy chops that require the strength of both of your arms, you can chop up one whole egg! My favorites to mock are the various pans that nobody needs, but they say everyone does. After seeing these adverts, don't you feel a burning need to get a tortilla-bowl making pan? I never knew the incompleteness of my kitchen and my life! I could be eating cereal and ice cream and spaghetti bolognese out of tortilla bowls! How could I have cheated myself all of these years? And if only I had one of those special pancake pans, I could make pancakes and over-easy eggs for every meal! It would take a while cooking them one at a time, but it would be worth it. I wouldn't need to flip them with a spatula, and we all know how exhausting that can be. Oh! The countertop ovens and roasters and funky little cookers. Hey, doesn't every one of us want to eat a bunch of stuff all thrown into the same little compartment and congealed into an unidentifiable mass? Or a chicken and a cake that have been baked right next one another in a countertop convection oven? I love the trend of savory desserts, but chickeny chocolate cake sounds pretty revolting to me. 

But the all-time great liars, in my opinion, are the advertisements for non-stick pans. They come in different colors and sizes, but they all sing the same song. They show you an omelet that can be rolled up in the pan with just a puff of air. You can burn the heck out of a chunk of cheese (Who'd want to? Cheese is tasty and it isn't cheap!) and wipe it out with a paper towel. Best of all, you can cook any food at all without added fat, oil, or grease! That's when I really get burned. To me, this shows how stupid the advertisers think we consumers are. No added fat, oil, or grease? When I cook eggs, for example, I have a method. First, I try cooking with fat, and if that doesn't work, I try oil, and then resort to grease. Only I call them all the same name. Oil. Or butter. Hey, advertisers, fat, oil, and grease are the same thing!

Wow. All of this raving is making me tired. Maybe I should just turn the tv off for a while. And see if I can manage to take a nap, even though I don't have the latest two-hundred-dollar pillow.

Friday, April 12, 2013

At Least It's Not Anything Important

One of my friends posted a picture of the side of his head to social media. From what I can figure out, he was washing dishes and ran into an open cupboard door with his noggin. I felt sorry for him because I know how much a cut or bruise to the head can hurt. But within  a few moments, it made me think of my cousin. Jim was always one of my favorite cousins. He is the one who made sure that Santa was kept alive in my heart when I was a child. He usually said whatever was on his mind, even though it might have been blunt or awkward. I was rather jealous of this trait, I must say! Since he was older, he had the power to say things out loud that I was only able to think. 

Jim was the youngest of the first three kids in his generation of the family, and the smallest. I don't know if it was because of his size, but he had a very adventurous, sort of reckless approach to life. When Gram told me stories about the kids when they were younger, Jim was often in the tales I found most hysterically funny. Once, Gram took the three boys to the theater to see a re-release of The Wizard of Oz, but the movie viewing didn't last very long. When the Wicked Witch of the West got on the roof and started threatening and cackling, Jim, who was perhaps four years old, jumped up from his seat saying, "That's it! I'm done!" Gram had to gather up the other boys quickly, because Jim was on his way out of the theater!

Jim was athletic; in high school he was a member of his school's championship wrestling team. He loved to swim and ski and hang glide and ride his Harley, which he wrapped around more than one telephone pole. He never did anything by halves. Anything the bigger guys did, he would go at twice as hard. His injuries became legendary. After he was married, his wife told a story about something that had happened during a recent day of skiing. I have never skied, so please forgive me if I use any incorrect terminology. 

From what I have been told, a well-sharpened and waxed pair of skis will cut through the snow on the slopes and enable faster skiing. And being faster would always appeal to Jim. His family members might even say that it helps him get his injury over with that much sooner. So here they were, skiing on a beautiful day, and loving life. His wife got to the bottom of the slope first, and turned to see where he was. When she called him, he answered in a oddly-pitched voice that he had fallen. "Are you okay?" "Yeah, no problem," he squeaked. He didn't just fall, you see, that would not be Jim. He fell spectacularly, his newly-sharpened ski smacking him right between the legs. His wife says that if he ever died in a terrible disfiguring fire or accident, she'd be able to identify him by the scar on a very sensitive body part. Ouch!

One Thanksgiving he was being asked about his most recent experience with hang-gliding. As always, the day had started out to be a great one. Then the wind shifted, and he was unable to recover. Yes, he crashed to earth. The next question was what part of him got hurt this time. When he told everyone that he landed on his head, somebody quipped, "Well, at least you didn't hurt anything important! It's not like you use it very much!" To this day, if I bump my head, I will say I didn't hurt anything important. So Nathaniel, I know it hurts. And I won't say anything mean. But I bet you know what I'm thinking!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Burgundy

When my sister Liz, my friends Marie and Julie, and I were in Budapest, we stayed in an apartment on the Vaci Utca, a pedestrian-only street. There were shops and restaurants nestled next to centuries-old churches. The first day, we discovered what was to be one of our favorite shops. When we walked in, a man greeted us in wonderful Hungarian-accented English, "Hello! I am Steve!" I answered, "Hello, Istvan!" He was happy as well as impressed. "Oh, you are Hungarian?" I explained that I was the only member of my family that was not born in Hungary, and soon we were like old friends. I told him that my sister, who would arrive in Budapest the next day, and I were there to try and find our relatives. We didn't know where they lived or who they were, but we were headed their way.

We (okay I) had come up with Hungarian nicknames for our trip, and I introduced us all by these names. The one I used was Kata, a nickname I still sometimes use. Within a day or two, when we walked into the shop, Istvan would greet me with, "Kataka!" which warmed my heart, because adding the "ka" to the end of my name was a gesture of great warmth and friendship. Every day, he showed us something different and told us how it was made, and where in Hungary it came from. One day I was looking at some gorgeous pashminas and asked, in so-so Hungarian, "How much do these cost?" He beamed at me and answered, "Is 2500 forint, but for you, I give friend price, only 2000 forint." My travel companions were thrilled, and from that day on it was my duty to ask about the cost so that they could get the friend prices as well!

One day, Istvan showed me racks of beautiful traditional clothing. There were all sorts of skirts, trousers, blouses, and vests with hand embroidery. He said to me, very quietly, "If you get, you do not want this color. Is not traditional. More traditional color is burrrgundy." We all fell in love with the way he said burrrgundy with that lovely rolling r. After that, we seemed to see the color everywhere we went, and loved the opportunity to say burrrgundy. Having spent a couple of years studying Spanish, I think I may have had an unfair advantage with that one. Mrs. Snow, AKA Sra. Nieve, would have been so proud!

Even when we moved on to Paris, we saw lots of burgundy. There were some days when it seemed like every third woman had dyed her hair burgundy. It almost turned into a game, the hair-color version of slug-a-bug. What made it even more fun was that Marie just can't get her mouth wrapped around that rrr. To this day, the closest she can get to saying burrrgundy is "boogundy," bless her heart. Luckily she is as amused by it as the rest of us, and gets a good hearty laugh out of it. I still try to get her to say it whenever possible. When we were in Florida, I told her that I thought we would just have to change the pronunciation to "boogundy." Marie, I have to tell you that I didn't lie, I changed my mind. It's just too much fun to hear you trying to give a Hungarian twist to burgundy!


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Here's Your Hoop, Now Jump!

We had an interesting letter in the mail recently. In an effort to reduce costs related to insurance fraud, the administrators of our health insurance plans spent a goodish amount of money to do a verification process on everyone listed as a spouse, domestic partner, child, you name it. According to the letter we had a few weeks to verify that we were indeed married. If we didn't verify by a certain date, my insurance would be retroactively cancelled. 

I must admit to a moment of silliness when I read the letter. "So, Trent...apparently the insurance company is picking on us because I didn't change my last name when we got married." Not that I am paranoid, but this may have been the truth. Someone looked at the different last names and decided that we couldn't possibly be married because we don't have the same last name. Who'd keep a difficult to spell, and harder to pronounce, Hungarian name when they could change it to a much simpler Irish one? It still surprises me that in the twenty-first century we assume that someone has to change their name when they get married. It used to be automatic, in Colorado at least; a woman who wanted to retain her  maiden name had to file court documents and get it changed back to the original. Now it is optional, but not in everyone's opinion. And when I got married, I did not have any strong feelings one way or the other. But one day, Trent said that he had no problem with me keeping my own, very unique, name. So I didn't change it. Nobody's feelings were hurt, and life rolled on. 

We had another laugh over the verifying of spouse-hood when I said, "Yeah, we're not married, Trent...I've just hung around while you had seventeen surgeries in thirteen and a half years because it seemed like fun." Actually, it may be eighteen, I have sort of lost count. I really worry about what might happen if I end up being the one having surgery one of these years. The sudden role reversal may make us lose our minds. You know you've done a lot of post-operative care when you beg the nurses not to read you the care instructions before you sign the discharge sheet. If it sounds like I am complaining, I apologize. I have taken care of Trent's assorted wounds with love. I knew he had health issues when we got married, and have done reasonably well as a helper, I hope.

On to the verification process. I glanced at the requirements for some of the categories other than spousal verification. I was stunned. In some cases, the relationships had to be verified by filling out affidavits and having them notarized. In our case, we needed a copy of our Marriage Certificate, which we have a couple of on hand "just in case." But that wasn't even enough. We had to prove that not only were we legally wed, but were also living together. Not that we had the same addresses as one another the last thirteen-plus years (sarcasm, folks). So we had to get a copy of our lease renewal to show that we aren't just married strangers. 

So we faxed the necessary documents to the "dependent verification center," and when we followed up we were told all was well. To save even more money, the center mailed us a letter saying that I was verified as a dependent at this time, but there were no guarantees that I would be considered a dependent in the future. Egads! Maybe they are trying to artificially create job security. Who knows? Another week or two went by, and another letter. This time they need to know who is Trent's beneficiary. You see, they have made the switch from paper to electronic record-keeping, and they can't be bothered with updating the system with the information that they already have on hand. Hoop-jumping, round two!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Measuring Up

I have spent a lot of my life trying to measure up. In an effort to avoid abuse, gain acceptance, or receive my family's love, I have tried to be the best I could be in order to 1) please them, and 2) avoid their anger and disappointment.  When I was a small child in Chicago, I would go out on the sidewalk to meet my father as he was coming home from work. I remember being excited that he would be coming home, and afraid that he might be angry at me. 

Then as a child in the Denver area, I did my utmost to please my guardian, whom I have mentioned in other posts. I never knew how to please her, but I always tried to at least not rock the boat. One day when I came home from playing with the girls next door, she spotted some band-aids on my knees. I had fallen and skinned them, as kids do, and the mom next door had insisted that I let her bandage them. Of course, when I got home A was furious. I was just trying to get attention because I was crazy like my father. A beating occurred, and I catalogued the information in my brain so as not to make the same mistake twice. The next time I skinned my knees I refused any help from the neighbor and just kept on with my play. when I got home, A was furious. I had skinned my knees and hadn't gotten any bandages on them? Obviously I was too stupid to come in out of the rain, and crazy, just like my father. Another beating, and the knowledge that no matter what I did, it would be wrong.

When I went to live with Gram I was determined not to disappoint her. If I did, after all, I might be sent back to live with A, or even returned to the orphanage.  While Gram was pretty relaxed in comparison with her daughter, she would not tolerate those she thought of as fools. When my cousin was in Boy Scouts he was working a booth for his troop at some sort of Scouting Exposition. His booth had targets and bows and arrows. Gram asked if I wanted to try shooting, and I was thrilled to. I had seen it on tv and it looked so easy. Naturally my lack of athletic ability shone through and I didn't hit any targets. Gram was furious and labeled me as a jackass, informing me that if I couldn't do it right, I shouldn't have done it at all. So I went through school getting great grades and doing my best to avoid trouble. I had to be smart because I was not the pretty girl. I suppressed my desire to act in school plays because A didn't want any actresses around. They were rough people who lived a rough life. I couldn't be in choir or orchestra because they sometimes took overnight trips, and only tramps didn't sleep in their own beds.

So the idea of not being good enough has always plagued me. When I trained customer service in a bank, I always wished I could do better. If any of my trainees didn't pass the course, I felt that it was my fault. If I had been a more competent trainer, they would never have a phone call that they couldn't handle. There wouldn't be any stressful moments when they just didn't know what to do. They wouldn't make mistakes. 

Even writing this blog has caused me struggles. I often wanted to quit in the beginning because almost nobody was reading it. My readership is still low, but I have the desire to write for those who are faithful readers and enjoy what I put out there. It took a lot of my courage to start posting links to my blog on Google+, and in fact, it took a lot of courage for me to get on there and interact with others in this strange land of social networking. I have a small following and a small group that I follow compared to others, but it usually doesn't bother me. I recently saw a post from someone I follow that was to the effect of, "is anybody out there?" I wanted to be kind and say hello since it seemed like he needed it. I said that it did sometimes seem like there was nobody out there, to which he replied that with me only having x number of followers, of course it would seem that nobody was there. I laughed it off in my reply, but it rather aggravated me. It seemed to imply, to me at least, that I wasn't good enough to have an enjoyable experience. After all, nobody liked me enough to follow me.

Then I remembered some people that I am friends with online who have never treated me as "less than." They have several times the followers of the person in question, and have never treated me with anything less that kindness and courtesy and friendliness. I try to remind myself that having a small following does not make me a small person. I may not have thousands of people hanging on my every word, but the people I interact with know the kind of person I am. I am sensitive. I am kind and try to always be courteous. If I say I care about you, it isn't a load of baloney. I am a person who wants to feel worthy. I will recognize your worth before my own. I am not pretty or rich or super-thin. I don't want any kids to feel they have to be that way either. I am trying to fight the need to measure up. Let's fight it together.