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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kontroll

Before we went to Hungary, I happened to watch a Hungarian movie called Kontroll. This movie is about a group of plainclothes employees of the Budapest Metro system. (Incidentally, Budapest was the first city in continental Europe to have a subway system.) Kontroll officers monitor the riders in the subway system. They make sure that people aren't coming into the subways without paying fare, or without paying enough fare. Although the Kontroll officers are now all wearing uniforms, at one time there were employees that rode the subways without uniforms, and would catch people who were trying to ride without paying. In the film, there are times when these undercover employees end up getting in fights with riders, sometimes beating them up, and sometimes getting beaten up. I decided that I was going to make sure that I paid the proper fare so that I didn't get on the wrong side of the Kontroll officers. I didn't think they'd beat me up, but I knew they had the power to ticket and fine people, and maybe take it as far as an arrest.

On the day that we went to my family's village, we needed to take the Metro to the train station. We went to a ticket dispensing station and sort of blindly picked what we thought were the proper tickets for the number of transfers we'd need to make. And then it happened. We went through the subway entrance and were pulled aside by several Kontroll officers. Since I was the only one who knew the seriousness of the situation, I was the only one who was kind of nervous. And honestly, I didn't want to add a visit to jail as one of my travel memories. When the agents looked at our tickets, they told us that we hadn't paid sufficient fare, and that we needed to pay "punishment," or a fine, for our mistake.

When we asked what the amount of the fine was, we were told that it was several thousand Hungarian forints, or 1000 forints less if you were a Hungarian. Marie shrugged and said, "Oh, well," but Liz had to try and get cute about it. She said, "Well, I'm Hungarian, I was born here! So I get to pay 1000 forints less, right?" She was laughing and flirty and thinking she was being really amusing, but I was about ready to blow a gasket. When you have the potential to be thrown in jail in a country that is not your own, you do not try to get funny and play-argue with people! I think I said something to Liz along the lines of, "Liz, just shut up and pay the fine and let's go!" I am sure that to this day, she thinks that I was being rude and ruined everything for her. She was convinced that if she pressed the issue, she would get a discount on her fine. But I, on the other hand, was observing the unimpressed and impatient looks on the Kontroll agents' faces. I am sure that they were thinking that it didn't matter where she was born, she was clearly an amerikai. And they wanted to get the situation over and done with. So did I!

I am glad to say that I did not end up experiencing the hospitality of the Hungarian prison system. My tone made it clear to Liz that she needed to clam up and just pay her punishment. She did so grudgingly, but the Kontroll officers were more pleasant after she quit trying to talk her way out of the situation. To this day, I am not sure if she realizes what a dangerous game she was playing. Anyone can make a mistake and accidentally break another country's laws. But when you are far from home and can't even speak the language, sometimes discretion is the best approach. 

I don't want you to think that the Budapest Kontroll officers are humorless bullies. Each one of the officers we dealt with seemed like a really kind, polite, and decent person. But just like anywhere else, they are probably not amused or impressed when people try to pull a fast one on them. If you have an opportunity to do so, I highly recommend a visit to Budapest. I love it, and I wish I could go back there soon. And I am eager to ride their wonderful metro system again. I'll just be more careful with making sure I pay the correct fare. And that nobody argues with the Kontroll if I don't!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Paris (France), With Pain Pills

No, this entry isn't about Paris the poodle. It's a snippet of the Paris portion of our women's trip to Europe. 

There is so much to see in Paris that I really believe you'd need to either spend a really long time there, or go back multiple times. Writing about being there is much the same; I couldn't possibly put it all in one simple blog post. I am hopeful to be able to go back to Paris sometime in the future. But whether I end up going back or not, I'll still have my many memories of going to Paris in springtime. When we  got to Paris, we had been traveling for almost two weeks, so we were starting to get worn down and tired. My sister, with whom I shared a bedroom on our travels, was experiencing a lot of pain in her knee and hip, and was taking a goodish amount of pain pills. All of us were exhausted and had pained feet, but were still running around like madwomen. 

One evening when we were in our hotel after another fun but tiring day, Liz was wondering if she should take a sleeping pill to make sure she got some good rest. As the person who bunked with her the entire time, I can assure you that she suffered no shortage of sleep. I felt as though I had been transported back to my childhood, because she had reverted to her old habit of crowding me to the point of almost making me fall out of the bed. So, as I said, she was wondering whether or not to take a sleeping pill. I told her to make her decision based on when she had last taken a Vicodin tablet. We all quizzed her on when she had taken her last dose. She assured us that she hadn't had one since about midday, so we all agreed that she would be safe. Apparently Liz had forgotten about the two Vicodin she had taken right after we got back to the hotel.

When Liz was lying in bed getting ready to fall asleep, and I sat in a chair with my legs on the bed trying to get some relief from discomfort, Liz was talking to her daughter on the phone. Suddenly I realized that she had fallen asleep while talking, with the phone clutched to her face. I pried the phone out of her grasp because I still needed to call Trent, and told her she'd fallen asleep while talking to Becky. She wanted to call her again, and again fell asleep in the middle of a sentence. While I was talking with Trent, I realized that Liz had taken sedative on top of painkiller and was potentially in trouble. So I decided to sit in the chair until I was sure she was okay. Her breathing was shallow and her sleep very deep, so I just wanted to make sure she didn't go any deeper into the void, so to speak. 

Marie and Julie offered to let me sleep in their room, and I confess I told them  an untruth (okay, a lie) and told them I was comfortable with my feet up. I didn't think it was necessary for everyone to miss out on their sleep because I was worried about my sister. At about three o'clock in the morning, her breathing became normal, and I felt free to go to sleep. The crisis was over. I gratefully slipped into slumber after my hours of watchfulness. That is until my sister commenced her usual morning routine. This routine consisted of rattling as many pill bottles and plastic bags and other noisy things as humanly possible, while innocently claiming that she was trying to be as quiet as possible. "Oh, I didn't wake you, did I? I was trying to be really quiet so you could sleep!" 

"No problem, Liz, I know your fake-quiet routine. But I'm okay, I got two whole hours of sleep after making sure you didn't OD from taking pain pills and sleeping pills at the same time." She seemed to think it was hysterical that I had been keeping a vigil at the bedside, hoping that she wasn't going to die on me, while Marie and Julie felt sorry for my struggles. Not only would I have lost a sister, but I'd be the one who had to tell her husband that she had done a Jim Morrison in Paris, only without the bathtub. Liz spent the day stumbling around Paris, fully rested and energized, while I stumbled around Paris exhausted and being cranky with my sister for being irresponsible with her medications. The crankier I got, the more hysterical she found it. 

If I should ever find myself in Paris with Liz again, I will do my best to enjoy myself, and I will still be watchful over everyone's well-being. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I will be monitoring the pills taken in Paris!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Unconventional Wisdom

Sometimes when I hear about conventional wisdom, readily accepted ideas about various subjects that often are unproven, the rebel in me kicks into high gear. I want to hear some unconventional wisdom, darn it! An example of conventional wisdom is the old saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." If I were to apply what I call unconventional wisdom to this saying, I would say that I have had a tendency toward being a night person all of my life. I was born at 4:14 in the morning (up all night), and I am sure I probably slept all day after that. And does the body really know what time it goes to sleep, or does it just rely on the amount of rest the brain has provided? And as far as the wealthy part, I'm guessing Mr. Franklin never heard the golden words shift differential. So there, Ben.

Here's another bit of conventional wisdom I grew up with: eat your vegetables, they are good for you. I'm not going to get into anything about nutrition, diet plans, or even pesticides and GMOs, although all of those are important. My experience with unconventional wisdom is this - my doctor has specifically, and repeatedly, told me to avoid eating green vegetables. So while the rest of you are treating your bodies to dark leafy greens and the cruciferous vegetables I dearly love, I need to just sit and watch jealously. What you may not know about these beautiful veggies is that these plants get their lovely green color from an abundance of chlorophyll. Oh, all right, you all already knew that! I just wanted to prove to myself that I could type the word chlorophyll. What you may not know is that chlorophyll is the liquid form of Vitamin K. Vitamin K is helpful in clotting the blood. This is particularly inconvenient if you have a problem with your blood being an overachiever in the clotting department. And when you take medicine to help with that, you have to watch the foods you eat.

Last month, I temporarily forgot about the Vitamin K effect the night before having my blood tested to make sure I wasn't clotting too much. Our friends took us out to dinner, and I ate a whole lot of edamame before my entree was served. And to top it off, my entree was garnished with a quinoa/edamame based dish, along with some lovely green zucchini. It was all delicious. And when I went for my test the next morning, I failed it. I kicked into full smartypants mode and told the lab tech she should tell Dr. Mike that I had forgotten and eaten green stuff, and that my dose didn't need adjusting, nor did I need to come back soon for a followup diagnostic. Mike walked over to the lab and tried to act both exasperated and patient when he told me for the umpteenth time not to eat green stuff. After he walked away, I laughed and said to the tech, "Does that include boogies?" "I heard that!" Mike called from across the clinic. He came back and told me he had pretty good hearing, and that boogies were safe since they had no chlorophyll, but nothing darker green than iceberg or pale romaine lettuce for me. Boy, was I embarrassed!

Another old piece of conventional wisdom: starve a cold, feed a fever. Well, Katrina's unconventional wisdom says that is downright ridiculous. First off, fasting or force-feeding while you are sick and weak is probably pretty bad timing. Your body is at a low point, so it doesn't need to be strained by going wacky with food. My idea is this: if you are able to produce an appetite while you're sick, by all means eat. Fuel your body sensibly so that you have energy to get better. If you're too sick or worn out to eat, try to drink lots of healthy fluids. I put in the word healthy so you couldn't use me as an excuse and say, "But Katrina says if you can't eat, you should indulge in heavy drinking!" Nice try! 

Some more bits of unconventional wisdom for you. You probably won't drown if you go in the pool half an hour after eating. You might barf, but you probably won't drown. Chewing foods like celery and carrots does not provide enough of a calorie burn to make them "negative-calorie" foods. If you wake up a dog when they're having a bad dream, they are not going to kill you. They're more likely to be relieved that the horrible nightmare is over. And if you wake someone while they are sleepwalking, they will not drop dead. And you may have saved them the embarrassment of finding out the next day that they were outside in the darkness of night, peeing in the neighbor's flowerbed. Oh! You can eat pork chops without applesauce and not die! I will, however agree with one piece of conventional wisdom: look both ways before you cross the street. And it's not a bad idea to also hold hands. That's something that's even true in unconventional wisdom!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Am I A Foodie?

I've been thinking a bit about some of the television programs I like to watch, the people I gravitate to on Google+, and the things I like to cook and/or eat. And the question popped into my head, "Am I a foodie?" I really enjoy watching some of the cooking competition shows on tv. No, I don't watch cooking shows all of the time. In fact, when I think about it, I don't watch cooking shows very often at all. By cooking shows, I mean things like Miss Suzy's Cozy Kitchen. The ones I gravitate to are the shows like Master Chef, Hell's Kitchen, and Top Chef. I can tell you without a doubt that my cooking skills are nowhere near the caliber of the contestants on these shows, much less those of the judges and chefs who determine their fates. Sometimes I am not even sure why I like these shows so much, but I suspect I know a couple of reasons why they appeal to me so much.

If a chef-contestant who is a vastly better cook than me can screw up terribly, then perhaps there is hope for me in the kitchen. I see people on these shows creating flavor combinations I couldn't possibly dream up. Possibly because I haven't had exposure to some of the ingredients they use on a regular basis, and therefore haven't educated my palate. Is a sensitive palate something you're born with, or can a palate improve with education? I'd  love to be able to just think for a minute and say, "Oh, these scallops would be fantastic with a white-wine and mango reduction and topped with micro-greens." Apologies to my readers who know food well; I just pulled that out of my hat, so if it disgusts you, consider the source, and kindly, please!

If I see someone who can put together a dish that Gordon Ramsay says would be good enough to serve in his restaurant, I am duly impressed. Chef Ramsay didn't earn his Michelin stars by making bland, boring food. If this same brilliant contestant gets flummoxed by making sunny-side-up eggs to serve as breakfast for firefighters, something I know I can do, it just makes me feel better about myself. For just a moment, I realize that greatness in the kitchen comes in many forms, often dependent on who will be eating your food. Gram had a granddaughter-in-law who could create all sorts of fabulosity in her kitchen. She could make incredible desserts and main courses, and a pate that  could make me forget to be a lady and share with others. But she couldn't make a potato salad to save her life. Seriously! She was asked to bring a potato salad to a family gathering, and it consisted of cooked potatoes cut up and doused in Green Goddess salad dressing. A few days later, I was making a simple meal to share with Gram, and lamented my inability to cook fabulous dishes. Gram complimented me by saying, "A good cook can make all sorts of fancy stuff, but a great cook makes food that people really want to eat. You are a great cook!" Obviously, it meant a lot for me to hear that, since I have remembered it for so many years.

Watching these shows excites me to try new things, both in my kitchen, and in restaurants. Thanks to Gram, I have always been willing to try new things. She was the one who asked me never to decide I wouldn't like something until I had tried it. This teaching has served me well. When I see people making dishes that combine ingredients I wouldn't have thought to put together, it encourages me to be more inventive in my own kitchen. Now if I could only remember to buy some coconut milk to create the new chicken stew  I have in mind! I also find myself more eager than ever to try unusual food combinations at restaurants. Hearing some of the ways chefs describe the flavors and textures of different foods helps me to experience them with a different mindset. Instead of just eating a scallop and thinking how delicious it is, I am paying more attention to things like how the dish looks, smells, and feels in my mouth. I have, in many ways, gained a new appreciation for things I may have eaten before, because I am experiencing them in a completely different way.

So, am I a foodie? I still don't know. I am not in search of the perfect fill-in-the-blank dish. I don't have any illusions about my abilities in the kitchen, or the sharpness of my palate. But I do appreciate food, and even more than I ever used to. I am inspired to elevate my simple dishes by adding little twists. And I am learning to enjoy foods in ways I hadn't really done before. No, I'm never going to develop a snooty attitude about food, but I don't think that is part of being a true foodie. If being a foodie is about having joy for food, and adventurous eating and cooking, then sign me up. For that, I will eagerly and proudly acclaim, "Yes, I AM a foodie!"



Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rebound

Experience has taught me that life can be much more fun if you are able to find humor in moments that aren't necessarily funny. For example, what happened a couple of weeks ago at Marie and Thayne's house. We had been invited over for Sunday dinner, which was delicious, and then went into the family room to relax. We were chatting and looking at funny things on our tablets and phones, and resting comfortably on their new reclining furniture. At one point, I wanted to hand Thayne my tablet so that he could see what I was viewing on it. Naturally, it was quite a reach. As I leaned over really far to hand him the tablet, the recliner that I was sitting on tipped over! I was completely unharmed, but startled. "Crap," I said, "I broke your furniture! Nothing makes a person feel like their behind is too fat as fast as breaking the chair they're sitting on!" Actually, the chair was fine, and I learned they had had the same experience. It made for some good chuckles.

I figure that if I am able to make a joke about a situation, it means everything will turn out fine. Several years ago, as some of you may know, I went on a trip to Hungary with my sister and two of my friends in search of my family. I didn't know any of them or where they lived, aside for the name of the village. We started planning the trip in October, and were going the following April. The prospect of the trip was pretty daunting. I was going to go looking for my mother's family. Would they be willing to accept me, or reject the daughter of the person who killed their sister or cousin or friend? Also, I had never traveled outside of the USA, not even to Canada or Mexico. I love traveling, but adding the stress of showing up unannounced to the excitement of my first international trip had my brain in overdrive.

At first, Liz, my sister, didn't think she would be able to go, but her neighbor, an airline employee, gave her a buddy pass. Relief. At least I didn't have to worry about that any more. I have to admit, my mind was so full with this trip and related worries and excitements, that I barely slept in those six months. I was exhausted from thinking about finding my own family, and going to both Budapest and Paris, and trying to learn a few phrases in both languages. As the time to go came closer, I slept even more poorly with anticipation. The last night before departure arrived, and I tried to get some sleep. Then the phone rang after midnight. It was my sister, and she was nearly hysterical. She wasn't traveling with us since she had the buddy pass, and was being bypassed on one full plane after another. She said she just wasn't going to go on the trip after all.

So much for me sleeping that night! When the time was reasonable, I called Thayne and Marie and told them what had happened. Before I knew it, they had arranged flights for her, and she would get into Budapest the day after we did. I finished packing, nervous and exhausted, and got ready to start my trip, relieved that Liz was still going. We headed out to the airport to get on our first flight, nine hours long, to Frankfurt, Germany. I have flown before with no problems since I was a little kid. Not so lucky this time. The stress and the sleepless night caught up with me, and I was sicker than sick. About every three hours, whoops! I went. And also on the flight from Frankfurt to Budapest. Yikes. After we landed and walked around a bit, I was good to go. But I declared my experience on the flight as my nine hours as the exorcist baby. (If you never saw the movie, someone who did can explain it to you.) I laughed about it after it was over. I couldn't have done so during the flight or I'd have yakked my toes up. Incidentally, all of the other flights were fabulous, and I ate like a healthy person while in the air. It was lovely.

One of my funniest laugh-don't-cry moments happened when I was hospitalized and eventually diagnosed with lupus. I had never been sick enough or injured badly enough to be in a hospital before. In fact, I was almost phobic about them. So here I was in the cardiac care ward because the doctors were afraid I was going to have a stroke, with a monitor attached to my chest around the clock. I had a roommate who was experiencing blood clots related to birth control pills, but I seldom saw her face because she wasn't allowed to get out of the bed like I was. She was very kind and quiet, but there were several patients in the ward who moaned all night. Between that and the fear that something serious was wrong with me, I had difficulty sleeping at night, so I had to use sleeping pills to get any rest at night.

When I took my sleeping pill, I would wait for it to act for a few minutes and then make one last trip to the bathroom for a tinkle before slipping into a coma-like slumber. On one particular evening, just as I was getting super-relaxed, I heard my roommate call the nurses and ask for a bedpan. I knew that the bedpan was in the bathroom, and I didn't want to cause my roommate to have to wait for it because I was in there, so I decided to be polite and wait. Funny that when you are freaking out and cranky and feeling horrible, you can still manage to think of others and want to be polite. So I waited for the nurse to come and do the bedpan routine. And waited, and waited, and waited some more. Finally I realized, through the drug-induced haze, that the nurse was there and that the bedpan routine had been accomplished. I told myself that I could get up and have a tinkle now.

I gathered up my IV and pole, and started to shuffle the few feet to the bathroom door. And that's exactly what happened. I shuffled right into the bathroom door frame. With my face. Well, actually my eye socket. Let me clarify. I ran into the bathroom door frame so hard that my head made a bonging sound and rebounded like one of those slow-motion films you see of a boxer getting a mad jab to the kisser. "Oh," I thought, "I think I hit my head. Huh. Isn't that something." I reached up and didn't feel any blood or anything, so I shambled on into the bathroom, did what I had braved injury for, and shuffled back to bed and drifted into my coma-sleep. When I woke up in the morning, I wasn't entirely sure it had really happened until I touched my brow bone and it said ouch. I never mentioned it to the doctors or nurses, though, because I wanted to get out of that joint as soon as possible, but I laughed myself senseless about it later. "Oh, I think I hit my head." As it rebounds and almost bounces off of my back...too funny for words! And when I laugh at it, I'm not being insensitive to somebody else's pain. Bonus!

Maybe it's a good thing that I rebound with laughter. After all, some of the stuff I have experienced is so amazing you couldn't make it up. If you did, it wouldn't be as funny. So if you should find yourself having one of those moments, try to remember what I said once when I fell on my face, literally so. "Did my nose always look like a potato?" And enjoy your rebound.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Vultures

As Gram started to enter the waning years of her life, she grew concerned about what would happen to all of her things. She had an array of items that had been in the family, some unique, and some normal. They were items that she considered part of her heritage, and she was quite proud of them, and deservedly so. From time to time, I had the pleasure of looking at these items with her when she was in the mood to take them out of the closet and reminisce.

In all of the time that I lived with Gram, I never developed any feeling of ownership for these varied items. However, when I was still a child, I did form an attachment to a pair of humble-looking brown bowls. These were the bowls from which I ate my cereal every morning, and they just had a homey warmth about them. They were fairly simple in their design, and one even had a blotch of darker glaze inside that was probably an error in the crafting process. Naturally the less-perfect, less-pretty bowl was my favorite. I suppose it was just too like me. Not the prettiest of all of the bowls, nor the most colorful. But always there. One day, I impulsively asked Gram if I could have these two bowls forever. She laughed and said that yes, they could be my "forever bowls."

From that day forward, they were called my forever bowls, and I still call them that to this day. Once when I was in my early twenties, a friend and I went on a drive through some of the nearby mountain towns. We stopped at a few antique shops, and I was thrilled to see a cookie jar in the same design and color as my forever bowls. I decided immediately that I had to buy it as a gift for Gram. When I got home with the unexpected treasure, I was crestfallen to discover that Gram already had the exact cookie jar I had just brought home to her. She appreciated the kind gesture and showed me the cookie jar tucked far back in a cupboard. "Don't be upset, honey," she said, "you keep it for yourself. Then you'll have a cookie jar to match your forever bowls." I couldn't argue with that logic. When all the drama occurred at the time of her passing, I made sure that I kept various items that I had given to Gram over the years. And I made sure that I had my cookie jar and the forever bowls, the only thing I ever asked Gram if I could have.




As I said earlier, Gram worried about her things. There was a Centennial Flag with individually-sewn stripes and 38 stars, made after Colorado became a state in 1876. It was falling apart from years of being stored in boxes and on shelves. It was something handed down by her father, along with the gorgeous chiming clock that sat on a high shelf in the kitchen. It had been one of her parents' wedding gifts. There were old photographs and other relics of her family's history. And many sets of dishes and glassware. I would love to have the set of Fiesta Ware that Gram had! It was multicolored and fun, and I loved it. There was furniture and a player piano, and all of Gram's lovely costume jewelry, among other things. 

One day, she and I were talking about all of her stuff and what would happen to it. I told her, in my usual blunt manner, that all I ever wanted was my forever bowls. I knew that I was not considered a family member and therefore not an heir. But the things were not what mattered to me - it was Gram and my relationship with her that were important. She took me completely by surprise on this particular day by asking what I thought she should do with all of her things. I told her that if I had anything to leave behind, I wouldn't want anyone fighting over it after I was dead. I suggested either attaching little labels to items saying who they were meant for, or starting to give them away before she passed. I stopped for a minute and said, "I don't think you'd like to hear what I really think you should do with some of your things, Gram." She pressed me to tell her what was on my mind. I told her that if I had some of the things that she had, the flag being one example, I would give them to a museum. In a museum, they would be preserved and could be enjoyed by many people, instead of silently falling apart as stored treasure. They would live long past her lifetime, and her children's lifetimes, and be treasured by many people. 

I was right when I said that she would not like this advice. She went on a rant for several minutes about my stupidity on the subject. There was no way she would give any of her things to a museum, give them to strangers! It was obvious to her that since I didn't have family heirlooms of my own I was too stupid to know that things should be kept in the family. If people gave everything they had to museums, there would be nothing left for the families! I smiled and said that I had told her she wouldn't want to hear what I had to say. I won't say anything about what happened after Gram's passing, because I do not want to hurt any of the people she left behind.

I did, however, form a very strong opinion about my property and how it should be distributed after my death. Luckily, Trent and I feel the same way about this matter. I don't want any of my family descending like vultures when I die. Before I die, I want to give away a lot of my stuff. Although I have little, I cherish it. I want to be able to give it away to people that I know will appreciate it. Trent and I have already begun doing this over the past few years. I have asked the recipients of my treasures to grant me one simple but beautiful gift. As they pass these items on to their children, I want them to know who they came from, and what kind of person I was. If there is anything left after my passing that it would please them to have, I'd like it to go to my cousins Viki and Tom in Hungary. I love them dearly, and would give them the world if I could.

So there you have it. The wishes of a stubborn, opinionated woman. A woman who doesn't want to be picked over by vultures.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mornings Were Lovely

As time passes, it makes remembering our little dog Paris slightly less painful. Those of you who have not developed a close relationship with a dog or cat, or some other type of pet, may think we are a little bit crazy. But our little girl was virtually our child. She came into our lives when she was eight weeks old, and we had her with us for twelve and a half years. When we went looking for a puppy, I had no inkling of getting a poodle. There she was, with her three sisters, all sleeping. The other three were curled up next to each other, and she was lying on top of the others. She always liked to be at the highest possible point. If there was a pile of laundry on the bed, she'd nestle into it. And she really liked to lay on the backs of overstuffed chairs!

When we got Paris, we decided that she would sleep in a crate rather than on the bed. Well, Miss Paris had other plans. After about two nights of her complaining loudly, Trent lost all of his toughness and brought her into the bed. Within minutes, she was quiet and asleep. He was worried, however, about accidentally rolling over and smooshing her in the middle of the night. I can understand his worries; at the time, she only weighed two pounds. I told him that she wouldn't let that happen, and I was right. Sleeping with a smart little poodle can be very interesting. Many nights when she was tiny, she slept on my pillow, right on top of my head. She liked to nibble my hair with her front teeth, something she loved to do all of her life. She then moved to sleeping under the covers, down by our feet. The blankets that we had at the time were very prone to static, and when she walked up to the head of the bed with the covers sliding down her back, little sparks of static would flare up. One night when this happened, I got a real kick out of it. Trent asked why I was laughing, and I said that apparently the sun did shine out of our dog's backside!

Paris had rituals for bedtime and waking up. Of course during the evening she had done her perimeter check, making sure that we were all safe from any and all intruders. When she knew that we were ready to get some sleep, she waited for us to lay down on our backs so that she could climb on top of us, lay down for a good scratching, and give us tons of kisses. Then she would curl up next to one of us and settle down to sleep. It never ceased to amaze us how much room an eight and a half pound poodle can take up on a king-size bed. Trent would be at one edge of the bed, and I the other, with the little princess stretched out crosswise. This way, she could even touch one of us with her head and the other with her feet. So practical!

Now for something a bit embarrassing. Trent is one of those people, much like Paris, who plays trumpet in his sleep. I hope you understand that I am trying to say, in a delicate fashion, that he toots in his sleep. I, on the other hand, do not. But when my body wakes up, my horn does, too. At a fairly young age, Paris had this figured out. She could be in the deepest sleep and be awakened instantly by my "alarm." I usually had my back to her at this point, sleeping on my side. She would jump up, wide awake, and tail wagging. She would get on her hind legs and stretch her neck over mine to give her mommy kisses. Most of the time it gave me the giggles, and like most dogs she loved it when her mommy and daddy made the Happy Sounds. She'd wag her tail even faster, and go crazy with the kisses. She made excited little noises because she was thrilled that I was awake. Overnight is a long time for a dog, so she was ecstatic when we woke up because she hadn't seen us in such a long time. After a few minutes of this treatment, either she would trot around me to lay down for tummy rubs, or I would turn onto my other side so that she could throw herself down on her back so that I could rub her velvety-soft tummy. Sometimes the tummy rubs would hypnotize us both and we would fall back asleep. But most of the time, I would just whisper in her ear to give daddy kisses. Then she would wake her daddy up too, and be ready to start her morning, especially if it involved going into the kitchen for something tasty to eat!

After breakfast and some play, Paris was ready for a nap. Being in charge of protecting the home and waking us up and supervising in the kitchen, followed by vigorous play, was hard work. She'd lay on her back next to one of us so that we could put our arm on her warm belly. But she was always ready for whatever interesting thing might happen next. She lived, as dogs do, with great gusto. All times of the day were special for our little girl, but mornings were especially lovely.

We miss you, Paris...


Friday, June 7, 2013

A Weighty Subject

I will admit it freely. I am a woman of substance. I don't mean that I am rolling in wealth; rolling in about fifteen dollars for the next two weeks is more like it. What I mean, and this should be fairly plain from my profile picture, is that my clothing size contains two digits. The first digit is a one, and that is all that you need to know. Over the years I have lost and gained more pounds than I really want to think about. When I have really decided to lose weight, I have done so pretty effectively. Being stubborn seems to help. I have bullied myself into eating small portions and not eating sweets. I have even gone long periods of time without eating anything at all between early evening and mid-morning.

Even though there are many people out there who are much larger than I am, I know I am often judged by my size. I can only imagine what it must be like for morbidly obese people when they are out and about. Just recently I had an interesting experience while out shopping. A girl of about thirteen years of age was shopping with either her sister or friend, and her father. Every time we ended up in the same aisle, she openly and hatefully stared at me. I didn't know what it was that made her hate me on first sight, but I sure was curious. Did she think that since my hair is short-ish that I was a guy? Was it because she thought I was fat and disgusting? Was she woefully uneducated and therefore offended that someone my size was wearing a shirt that said Budapest, Hungary, and maybe she thought it said hungry? I'll never know. Maybe that is a good thing. I don't need to carry around the angry, judgemental attitude it takes to instantly hate other people without knowing them.

Does carrying extra weight mean that I am automatically considered a stupid, lazy, overeating pig of a person? I don't think I am any of those things. I have given the issue of my weight a lot of thought over the years. For me, I think there are a few different contributing factors. I spent my early years hungry. No, I wasn't starving, but we certainly didn't have a lot of food in our home. During the years I spent with my parents (until shortly after I turned seven), a standard breakfast for me and my siblings was milky coffee. And not too much milk at that. We had to save the milk for papa so that he could be strong and work hard to put a little food on the table, and a lot of beer and cigarettes and liquor in his body. I finally have the ability to eat when I want and what I want, within the bounds of reason and budget, of course. Food comforts me. At times in my life when I felt unloved or unhappy, there was always food to turn to. When the people I lived with didn't give affection, they still gave me food. In some ways the food helped temporarily fill the hollow places inside. And then there was always the next meal. It protects me. I have the misfortune to be "the smart one" among my siblings. What most folks don't get is that I am smart enough to know, and be hurt by, the fact that I am not pretty or beautiful, or whatever word you want to use. Given the chance to change, I'd stick with smart, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Maybe having extra weight on my body heads people off at the pass so that I can't see their disappointment when they see that I am not a visually stunning person.

I am fully aware that many people today feel entitled to openly mock or even harass people based on their weight. They'll go straight up to a stranger and tell them that their life would be better if they would just have some restraint around food, or get up off their lazy butts and exercise. How is this acceptable? We don't treat people that way when they have cancer or emphysema, for example. We try to say it's okay because the cancer is not their fault. But then again, it might be. You never know. And that's why you keep your mouth shut.

Yesterday we saw a few women who represent another side of our body-obsessed society. They were all extremely thin, which seems to be society's ideal of the moment. To make it easier to get an idea of their size, I'll tell you what made me realize how thin theses ladies were. One of them was walking into the store with her daughter, who was a slender seven or eight year old. And this child had a bigger waist than her mommy. It made me sad. Heck, it made we want to bring her home and feed her some dinner. Our societal idea of worth is tied up in a size-zero, never-aging, pretty package. Is this supposed to be more healthy than my extra weight? What happened to women that look like women? If Marilyn Monroe showed up in Hollywood today, she'd be told to lose thirty or forty pounds and have her breasts enlarged. And if she had a baby, she'd be expected to be back to her pre-pregnancy weight in less than a month. It seems that no matter what we look like, it just isn't going to fit all of the parts of the ideal. Maybe that's really what is going on with me. Maybe I have just given up on trying to master this weighty subject.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Jogging My Memory

I was reading a news story online today about a woman who found herself in a great deal of pain after a two-hour marathon training run. Her back was in agony, and her husband ended up taking her to the Emergency Department of a local hospital. When the doctors examined her, the couple got quite a surprise. She was in labor! She admits to being a person who scoffs at those "I didn't know I was pregnant" tv shows and news stories, but feels different now that the shoe is on the other foot. Her foot. The baby was slightly early, but is healthy. Their other six kids are excited, especially seven-year-old big sister, who finally has another girl in the family.

This made me think about a summer several years back when I was doing an advanced training class in Customer Service. It was only fair to the staff to have the training on their schedule, and it was always an interesting change of pace. I got to see people I hadn't encountered since their new-hire training.  Most of them got to work just an hour or two before the end of my normal training day, and the dedicated later-shift teams were on a different floor in the building.

It wasn't just the change in the hours and the group of trainees that made life different at these times. It felt like everything was different. Within a short time of my arrival at work, my fellow trainers would be leaving for the day. And there was the unpleasantness of the air-conditioning going off automatically early every evening on our generally daytime-only floor. The summer heat, especially after our meal break, could be pretty fatiguing. But we all did our best to keep the learning process going, even if it was just a simple five-minute diversion to refresh our brains.

Something else that is interesting to me about switching to a different work schedule is that the people and things that you see on the way to and from work are often totally different from you what seems normal to you. As an example, when I worked the later shift, the masses of cars traveling to the city were replaced by joggers.  Seriously, every street I traveled seemed to have at least one jogger trotting along, with or without a dog at their side. I noticed that their faces were as grim as those of the people I was used to seeing in the process of trying to get to work on time when they had left home fifteen minutes late. It seemed as if these runners were plodding forward to some terrible destination or fate. They were running in the heat of the day looking as unhappy as a French aristocrat on the way to meet Madame la Guillotine. It made me wonder why they felt that way.

So at a moment when we needed a brain break during this summer training class, I asked, "Does anyone in here jog?" One of my all-time favorite trainees brightened up and said, "Yes, Katrina, I'm a jogger." Well, so much for any potential miserable jogger jokes. I didn't want to hurt the feelings of such a dear person. "Oh, well, never mind," I said. Jeremy was intrigued, and of course he wasn't going to just let it go. He pressed me to tell why I had asked about joggers. I explained that it seemed like every jogger I had seen that week looked terribly unhappy, and I was just wondering why. He gave me a sincere and understanding look as he said, "Well, Katrina, it's because jogging sucks. But how else am I going to keep this hot @$$?" The whole class broke into uproarious laughter, led by yours truly. In fact, as I recall, it was such a riot, I ended up just sending them all on a break. The moment of hilarity was enough to get us through the evening. Every so often, someone would just break out in a chuckle thinking about it. And several times it was me. 

So to all of you joggers out there - I respect your hard work and dedication. I don't think my legs could handle what yours do every day. May all of your runs not suck. And to the runner with the new surprise baby, congratulations, and thanks for jogging this fun memory!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Ride Is Here

During the time I spent training telephone customer service personnel, I was fortunate to meet all sorts of people. There were a few along the way that didn't warm up to me, or I to them, but I generally had a good time. It can be really challenging at times to keep a group of people motivated and learning. On one notable occasion, I had a group of only three people, plus a new trainer who was observing the class. (And yes, she was one of my former trainees!) Our training rooms were being remodeled and we were in a large, too-warm room. Within minutes after returning from lunch, I was in front of four people who were having trouble keeping their eyes open. Which is why I ended up doing approximately ninety minutes of training in a Mrs. Doubtfire voice.

I hadn't planned on training the entire session in a fake British accent. It started off as a humorous way to give the class the account number that we needed to look up. "The account number is one-zero, not o, because o is not a number, it is a letter of the alphabet. You Americans don't seem to know the difference...the number, again, is one-zero, or zed..." The little group thought I was hysterical. One of the trainees said, "I dare you to train the whole session in that voice!" The gauntlet had been hurled, so I had to pick it up. Before the session was over, my fellow trainer was sitting in the back row, trying very hard to glare and grimace at me. Not because she thought I was being unprofessional, mind you. She was simply trying not to laugh because her cheeks and jaw were really starting to hurt! 

I remember another occasion when a group of trainees got away with something, and inspired a prank by their trainers. Early in their training, all new hires had to go through some Human Resources training. You know what I'm referring to. Someone from HR comes and spends some time with the new hires to make sure that they understand things like payroll, and not indulging in or allowing harassment of themselves or others. On this particular occasion, I ran into the HR representative in the hall, and we got our signals crossed. I thought she meant she would be done shortly, when she was, in fact, already done with her session. I sat at my desk and waited for her to tell me she was done. And waited, and waited some more.

Finally, I stepped out into the hall to listen to what was going on in the training room. To my surprise, I just heard very quiet conversation about movies and actors. I peeked in and saw the whole class, sitting quietly in their seats, enjoying a break of sorts from the work of learning. They had been quietly chatting for some forty-five minutes, enjoying the downtime. I sent them off to lunch and went back to the training office to tell my co-trainer, Jeff, what had happened. We got a good laugh at it, but still made a plan for revenge. When the trainees began to return from their lunch break, we were in the training room, wearing our most serious faces. We waited in the hall until the last person arrived, and shut both of the classroom doors. And then I launched my evil plan.

Jeff stood in the back of the room looking upset while I informed the class of the bad news. I told them that one of the high-level managers in the department had walked past the back door of the training room on the way to a meeting and seen them in the room, not working. Not only that, I explained, but she saw them in the same state when she came back forty minutes later. She had decided that this behavior was dishonest and unacceptable, so the class was going to have to make up the time that was wasted. They could choose the day, but they were going to have to extend one of their training days by forty-five minutes. And they all fell for it! There were many upset faces, and protestations of it's-not-my-fault-I-just-did-what-everybody-else-did. As well as comments about how it wasn't their fault, but ours, meaning the trainers. One trainee gave a brief, impassioned comment that started with, "I think...' After she finished, I answered calmly, "Well, do you want to know what I think? I think paybacks are a beast!" We all got a laugh out of it eventually, and my co-trainer told me I was Academy Award worthy in my performance; he was ready to be punished, and he knew the evil plan in advance!

Shortly after I began training, though, I had one of the funniest, most-memorable moments of my training career. A few young women, who sat in the same row of the training room, pulled a fast one on me. They told me that they had seen my bus outside of the building when they left the day before. My mind was racing. I had stayed and worked at least an hour after class was released; why were they still around to see me get on my bus? Was this turning into a stalker-ish kind of story? I asked what they meant, and they managed to tell me, with a straight face, that when they left work the previous day, there was a cute school bus parked outside the building. They just knew that my ride was waiting for me! To make things even funnier, a couple of weeks later I was given the gift of a little school bus from a Happy Meal. It sat on my desk for years as a reminder of a day when "school" was really fun. 

Hey, my ride, my life, is here...I'm really going to try to make it a fun one!