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Monday, September 30, 2013

Grounded

I'll say it right from the start. I am not one of those people you'd tend to accuse of being a stickler for one-hundred percent correct grammar and word choice. I freely admit to willfully stretching the rules when it comes to things like writing in my blog, or posting on social media. For example, I know that words like of, to, and the are not supposed to be capitalized in my blog titles, but I do it anyway. It's one of the signatures that make the blog mine. Like many others who write, I break the rules of what makes a sentence, sometimes making sentences that are incomplete. And I am just too stinking lazy, I guess, to start a whole new paragraph every time I quote a different person in a conversation. 

In other words, I know the rules. Heck, I was an English major. But not a grammarian, more on the literature side of the fence. I feel that I use enough of the rules properly to make me able to write clearly. I also feel that if I followed all of the rules of writing all of the time, nobody would read this blog. Why? Because writing that way would bore me to death and I would soon lose interest. On the other hand, though, if I wrote news stories, I would follow the rules to the best of my abilities. When it comes to disseminating important information, writing correctly is usually more important than writing with a certain flair.

What is this all leading up to? First, I have noticed that a lot of news stories are, sadly, very poorly written. Or at least they're never edited or proofread. Before Fox News outlets became legendary for their politically-skewed reporting, I had quit watching our local outlet. I saw a developing news story that made me realize that either they were unprofessional, or they were trying to "dumb it down" for their viewers. If they think I am too stupid to watch their news, they can - oh, well, never mind. Seriously, though, I have spent my whole life watching news stories that might say something like, "AZ Bank was robbed at 3:00 p.m. The suspect/robber/perpetrator fled on foot. We have a still from the bank's surveillance camera on the screen...etc." Here's how our local news affiliate reported the story. "AB Bank was robbed at three today. The guy ran out, but we have his picture from the bank's cameras. If you see the guy, call 911." The guy? I don't think this means that I am being an elitist. I just thought it was very poor reporting. Shouldn't someone who makes their living this way be able to sound professional and not have a stick up their backside? Oh, well.

Trent and I were talking about something earlier today that drives me nuts. Again, it's just one of those silly bugaboos that we all have. Yours might be that I capitalize the word and when it appears in my blog title. But I have noticed recently that very few people seem to know the difference between the floor and the ground. The floor (rhymes with indoor, sorta-kinda) is inside, and the ground (where plants can be found) is outside. Easy-peasy. It is becoming a close second after their/there/they're and your/you're and threw/through, and such. I told Trent about a program I had seen a few years ago about an argument ending up with someone getting stabbed to death in the middle of a street. There was a voice recording of a person who dialed 911 for help. She told the operator that she was outside and saw the fight, and that the victim was "lying on the floor." When I said this, Trent picked up the ball and ran with it. "So they carried him inside a house so that they could lay him down on the floor?" "My thoughts exactly!" I exclaimed.

And I have to admit that if I ever am mistaken for a criminal by the local police force, you'll probably be hearing a news story about me getting shot in the behind with a taser gun or something. They will burst in through the front door and yell, "Put your hands on the back of your head, and get down on the ground!" I will start to walk calmly to the outside door in order to comply with their request for me to get face-down in the dirt where all those who qualify as criminal scum belong. The taser will hit my behind, and after I quit peeing my pants and otherwise losing control of my body, I will be tackled by half a dozen cops in riot gear, and hauled off in handcuffs and peed pants for resisting arrest. All because I know the difference between the floor and the ground. Maybe I need to lighten up before I get grounded...

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Birthday Gift

Our friends Thayne and Marie like to treat us to a special dinner on our birthdays. In the days before our birthday arrives, we will get a phone call, text, or email asking us if we know where we would like to go for dinner to celebrate our birthday. Sometimes this communication includes suggestions for places that we might enjoy. Over the last several years, we have had birthday dinners at a variety of different restaurants. A few examples include a delightful Asian restaurant, Happy Sumo, a Hungarian restaurant called Budapest Bistro (if you should happen to be in Denver in the summer and dine there, try the cucumber soup, it's delightful), and even a buffet in one of our mountain gambling towns' casinos. This year, Trent chose Bonefish Grill, which has delectable seafood, and it was a great meal.

As my birthday got closer, hints were dropped that I probably would like to go to the casino buffet, because I really like to eat crab legs, and they are on the menu every night. A few days before my birthday, which fell on a Saturday this July, I was asked where I wanted to go for my special birthday dinner. And then I broke with convention. I said I didn't want to go out for a special dinner. I'd be happy with something from one of the many area fast-food restaurants, or even a meal in their home. There was something else I wanted, something I had wanted for years, in fact. I wanted Thayne and Marie to take the difference in cost between a casual meal and a fancy restaurant meal and do something very special with it. I wanted the money used to buy malaria nets.

According to the World Health Organization, there were approximately 219 million cases of malaria in 2012, resulting in an estimated 660,000 deaths. 90 percent of malaria deaths occur in Africa. One of the most basic ways to prevent malaria is to have nets that surround beds, keeping the mosquitoes from spreading disease. No, it doesn't solve the problem, but it certainly can help. I wanted to be able to make a difference in the life of at least one poor child in Africa whose family couldn't get nets.

Instead of planning a dinner, we drove up to the mountains and saw some ghost-town relics. We drove over a stream that had no bridge, and stopped in the middle so Marie could stick her feet right out of the car door into the water, and I could take pictures of the water rushing below us. We had a picnic lunch, and drove through a tremendous thunderstorm on the way back toward home. After we got closer to home, we went to a little neighborhood restaurant not far from where Trent grew up, and had breakfast for dinner. It was a fun and satisfying day.



This week I got an email from Thayne saying that he was embarrassed to admit that he had forgotten to donate for the malaria nets in July. What made him remember was that the company he works for announced that they were having a malaria net drive. Here's where the really cool part comes into play. If Thayne had remembered to donate for the nets in July, the total number of nets would have been about five. But because of his company's net drive and their partnership with a charitable organization, the amount of nets donated jumped up to thirty! The slip of memory ended up having a very bountiful ending, and I got a wonderful feeling from this "late" birthday gift. Soon, thirty families will have some of their worries eased. Their children will have a greater chance to grow up and experience a life they might never have known. It doesn't have to be extraordinary, but it might. I'll never know, but I can always dream. And I hope that when they sleep, surrounded by their protective nets, they can dream happily, too.



Note: If you are interested, this is a link to the WHO 2012 World Malaria Report Fact Sheet.

WHO 2012

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Are You Diggin' It?

Today, my dear readers, we are going to delve into an unusual and sometimes stomach-turning subject. I'm going to call it public digital-nasal insertion, AKA picking your nose in front of anybody at any time, regardless of social convention. I don't want to get into the whole subject of picking in general. I am sure that the vast majority of humans, just like the vast majority of monkeys, have had at least one occasion on which they have had to resort to doing it to clear the pipes. But most people are more discreet about it than most monkeys. Key word here being most.

My first experience with anyone other than an infant or toddler doing this was in my eighth grade math class. It's funny, I've forgotten the names of so many of the kids I knew back then, but not one particular boy. This kid's first name sort of rhymed with his last name. Of course, in the interest of kindness and sensitivity, I will use his real first name, and a false last one. I'm sure he probably has a lovely family and grand-kids, none of whom read this blog, but you never know. Dan Monahan was a bright kid, one of the brighter kids in the math class. But he had this appalling habit of mining for gold right in the middle of class. He seemed completely oblivious to the social rules all of the other kids had learned from their parents. Some are more obvious than others. Nobody wants to see you poop, for example. Nor do they want to see you pulling ore out of the nasal mine shaft. Dan was also oblivious, it seems, to the fact that it took about two days for this bunch of eighth-grade wits to give him a new name. Digger Dan Monahan never stopped picking, and he never seemed to notice our cruel response to his odd habit. He was a traveler in his own world. And I have never forgotten his name, although I always preface it with Digger.

Many years later I trained a new teller in the drive-through bank where I worked. "TJ" was a man who really wanted to be a preacher. After some years of us working together, first as tellers, then as operational/support staff, he did get a job as a preacher in Kentucky. I hope that he and his family are happy. TJ had some quirks that my strong, independent mind sometimes had difficulty living with. You see, at his core, he felt that wives, and women in general, were less than, and therefore should be obedient to, their husbands. One day during his training, he made an offhand comment about his wife having the checkbook. Just to make conversation, I commented that it must be a challenge to have two people using the same checkbook, or something to that effect. His response floored me. "Oh, no, my wife is really good about asking for permission before she spends any money." I was speechless. On a side note, Trent and I share an account. We talk about spending money. Neither one asks for permission. It's all about what we can afford, and if we think something is worth it. No, it's not a conference or vote or negotiation. It's about respect.

Oh, I just remembered something TJ said to me once that about made me lose it. I really wanted to hurt him, and I am a non-violent person! Our copier was on the fritz, and I was on my knees on the floor, trying to fix it. TJ walked by me and said, "That's a position you should be in more often." Apparently it was his opinion that I was a horrible sinner, and should spend the rest of my life on my knees begging for forgiveness. Can we say, judgemental, boys and girls?

TJ was also the only adult I have ever known that would start doing The Digger Dan right in the middle of a conversation. It was very disconcerting and quite revolting. Especially when he did it so energetically that he had to run to the restroom with a nosebleed. ICK! And he would dig in his ears and then lick his fingers off. But we, his coworkers, were the ones who were so revolting that being around us terrible people was almost more than he could bear. And I am not down on him because he was/is a man of faith. I respect others' beliefs and ask the same courtesy regarding mine. And that they don't wave that accusing finger in my face. Especially if it might have boogies on it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Random Acts, Well Chilled

Something interesting happened to me the other day. Actually, I just got a chuckle out of typing that statement, because it implies that nothing interesting has ever happened to me. Ha! I walked over to the mailbox to get the day's mix of catalogs, ads, and bills. When I was heading back, a man sort of crossed my path. He had a moderately sized box inside a plastic grocery sack tucked under his arm. I said hello, because some days it can be very depressing for people to be treated as though they are invisible. No, I don't know him, and I may not ever see him again. In fact, our interchange was so brief that if I did, I undoubtedly would not recognize him. 

After I said hi, he started to rummage in his bag. "Oh, no!" I thought. "Please don't try to sell me something, and then I won't have to tell you, very honestly, that I have no money to spare." As he rummaged in his bag a moment, he said, "I'm just walking by, but I want to give you this. If you don't want it, pass it on to someone else. All I ask is that you pass it on by doing a little something for someone else." I asked what it was and he said it was a Reese's ice cream. I told him my husband would probably enjoy it. He was already walking away, but he turned, waved, and said, "Tell him to pass it on, then."

When the moment is right, we will pass it on. I, for one, have always loved doing little random good deeds. They make me feel happy about life and, I guess, about myself. If I have the means, I am the one in line at the grocery store who will hand someone five dollars if they find themselves a bit short. We also have a rule that when our supermarket has a display of grocery bags, or even empty display boxes, saying, "Buy this and feed a family of four this Thanksgiving/Christmas/Holiday Season," we do it. It isn't always easy, and we often have to forego a treat that we would like to have. But how important is that treat? Could we possibly enjoy eating it, knowing that the money we spent on it could have provided a decent holiday meal for a family that never has enough to eat, much less "special treats?" I am actually embarrassed to have included that information in this piece, because we usually do our good deeds with a great deal of stealth. Sharing the little that we have makes us very happy. I encourage everyone to try and do so, and that, in the end, is why I have shared this.

As you may be aware, Trent is recovering from hand surgery. He had bad enough arthritis at the base of his thumb to require creation of a new joint. The process is pretty cool - the doctors remove the affected end of the joint, and then take a tiny width of tendon (like taking a few strands from a big bundle of spaghetti) and coil it up to make a new joint for the thumb. He has been hurting a lot, and it's hard to have your dominant hand out of commission. Tomorrow, his splint and stitches will be removed, and he will get a cast. Yep, still immobilized for healing purposes.

I feel kind of sorry for him dealing with this, and tried to get him some things he really likes at the supermarket. So I got a little of this, and a little of that. I made sure to get him some of his favorite little breakfast pies and a couple of other things. He had mentioned that we were out of sour cream and that he'd been craving ranch dip, so I got him a carton of sour cream as well. By the time we got home from the store and I made about four trips to the car to haul everything in, I was exhausted. I told Trent that right now I was so tired that I was just going to unpack everything that needed to be refrigerated or frozen. So I went about my business and stowed the frozen pies and the butter and salad and take-and-bake pizza and milk and Lunchables-for-my-honey, and put my feet up. 

A day or so later, Trent decided to see how independent he could be with just one fully operational arm. He was going to make ranch dip, he informed me. I sat playing a game on my computer, waiting for the call for help that I was certain was going to happen. When it arrived, it wasn't for what I expected. Trent couldn't find the sour cream. I went into the kitchen carrying my just-opened container of Greek yogurt and pretty much said to get out of the way, it was right there on the top shelf. Only it wasn't. I looked in the bags that still contained soft drinks to see if I had accidentally left it out of the fridge. But it turns out I hadn't. In my hurry to get everything cold put away as soon as possible, I had carefully placed the sour cream in the freezer. Luckily I had the Greek yogurt I had just opened, plus another in the fridge, so Trent was able to have his dip after all, mixed up by yours truly.

By the way, if you're curious, after waiting two days for it to thaw, you will find that sour cream does not respond well to freezing. If you should accidentally do what I did, you're just as well off tossing it. It breaks like a bad sauce made by a very inexperienced cook. But looks much, much worse. My random act of kindness to Trent took some tumbles, but still turned out okay. I felt really dumb, but I am sure I will have a few laughs about it someday. Oh, wait, I already did, today!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

New York, Part Three - Lincoln Center

There is such a wealth of things to see and do in New York City. It can be really difficult to know where to go and what to do when you are so spoiled for choice. As I have been writing these entries about my first trip to NYC, I have been remembering delicious tidbits, both large and small, that made our visit there more memorable. One of my delightful moments happened all because of my reading prior to the trip. Not only did the guidebooks talk about places to stay or eat or shop, but also about how to navigate through the city. Believe it or not, Midtown Manhattan is one of the easiest places to get around if you know one simple rule: Avenues run north and south, while streets run east and west. I must have been walking around Manhattan with an aura of confidence. A New Yorker (I could tell by her accent) walked up to me on the street one day and asked if I knew how to get to a specific address. Without batting an eyelash, I told her that we were on such-and-such street, so she just need to go two blocks, take a left, and walk another block or so. Kris was impressed that after only having been in the city a couple of days, I knew exactly how to get there. I told her it was all because of reading "those boring guidebooks."

It is great, if you're away from home, to be able to watch the locals in their native habitat. There were times, walking around the city, that we could hear friends talking loudly (pretty much shouting, really) with each other. In Denver, that tone would have meant they were arguing; in NYC it simply meant that they were friends having a lively discussion. One day when we were on the outskirts of Central Park, we saw three equestrian police officers standing around having a chat. I decided to take a couple of photos, and they all broke into huge grins. "Make sure and get me in the picture, I'm the prettiest one here!" was the gist of their remarks. Which reminds me of something police-related. Rush-hour traffic in Manhattan is way smoother than in Denver, in spite of the number of cars  on the street. There are white lines painted where the traffic needs to stop for red lights. If you try to push your way in and cause traffic problems by "blocking the box," you get a hefty fine. Simple, but brilliant.

We also saw, on more than one occasion, streets blocked off for filming of movies and television shows. New Yorkers take it all in stride. The busiest city in the country, and they can reroute traffic any time of the day or night and be none the worse for wear. Oh! Those tv shows you see where the sanitation workers are on the route at seven in the morning? Where we stayed, the garbage was picked up at about three in the morning. When I got home to Denver, it was too quiet for me to sleep!

One of the things we were iffy about on the trip were the optional tours of various sights and neighborhoods. We discussed the matter at some length, but finally decided we didn't care if we looked like tourists for a few hours, because we were tourists. Because of that we got to see some things that we would have completely missed otherwise. I saw a couple of my favorite things on this trip because of those tours, The Statue of Liberty, and The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. What can I say about Lady Liberty? I was on a boat for the first time, and my friend Kris was feeling pretty pukey, but I felt fabulous. When I got my first glimpse of the statue, I was stunned. To me, she was a symbol of all of the dreams and hardships of everyone who has struggled to come here, including my family. I didn't try to hide the tears that came from the beauty of it all, because they were not a reason to make me feel ashamed.

Another great memory is our tour of Lincoln Center. If you've ever seen the movie West Side Story, you have seen the location of Lincoln Center. The scenes of basketball games and such were filmed in an area that had been condemned. After the movie was finished filming, demolition began, and the Lincoln Center was constructed. The Lincoln Center has three major venues (as well as some smaller ones): Avery Fisher Hall, David H. Koch Theater, and the beautiful Metropolitan Opera House. Without this tour, I would never have been able to enter any of these buildings. Heck, even if I could have afforded a ticket to the Met, Kris would never have wanted to go. I barely managed to drag her to see Cats, so opera would have been completely out of the question!

I wish I had the words to describe to you the incredible beauty of these buildings that were not open for business when we were there. Their grandeur made you want to whisper as if you were in a church. A theater that is designed and constructed so beautifully can take your breath away, and I was almost like a child that has so many wonderful things going on that they can barely believe it, or absorb it. I had the great fortune, along with the others on the tour, to sit in a director's booth at the Met and watch a few moments of a dress rehearsal for one of Wagner's operas. Yes, I saw a woman onstage singing with horns on her head. It was awesome! We also were allowed to go into the theater and see the rows upon rows of beautiful seats, and the ornate moldings and balconies.

While the atmosphere made me feel that I should be quiet, some of the tour-goers had no concept of politeness or using their "indoor voices." There was no performance going on, but there was a group of hardworking individuals preparing for a performance. A man in the group asked our tour director, "Can I sit in one of these seats?" in kind of a rude, mocking way. What nerve, I thought. The tour guide smiled at him and answered, "Only if you pay for a ticket." He began to argue with her about it, which baffled me. I wouldn't have dreamed of asking such a question, and certainly wouldn't have argued about it! I was getting pretty uncomfortable with his loudness and rudeness, and then something happened that blew my mind. Someone popped up out of one of the orchestra-level seats and turned around, glaring at the offender. I was stunned to be in a group that got a dirty look from none other than Miss Beverly Sills, one of the grand ladies of American Opera, and director of the New York City Opera, and later director of the Met.  And, by the way, she was still lovely, even when she was angry! We were whisked out of the theater in short order by our tour guide, because she certainly didn't want Miss Sills to be angry with her! 

I know Miss Sills wasn't angry at me, and I know I did nothing wrong. I am sorry that our tour group disturbed her. But then again, how many people do you know who have indirectly gotten a dirty look from such a famous opera star?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rugga-Rugga

We have some friends who sometimes have a really fun Christmas party. They don't do it as often as they used to; since the kids are grown up and married, they sometimes travel for the holidays, and I say good for them. The hosts provide a ham or turkey and beverages, and the guests bring side dishes and desserts. Every guest, if single, or couple, if married, brings a White Elephant gift. The guests draw numbers and choose a wrapped, unmarked gift. People who go first often get stiffed, because each gift can be stolen twice. The evening ends up being full of hilarity, even without a drop of alcohol being involved. In between switching around gifts, we continue nibbling on the delicious treats everyone brings.

If you're wondering about the gifts that appear at these functions, I wasn't planning on leaving you hanging. Some of them reappear every second or third Christmas, and leave everyone laughing. One of the most infamous return visitors was commissioned by one of the guests. He had a company manufacture a nearly-elephant sized jock strap. Seriously! It just occurred to me that it fits the theme perfectly - it's white, and it could fit an elephant! Of course, there's always one of those big-mouth bass monstrosities that is on a plaque and turns to you and sings. On a related note, there was one year that the four letters "bass" made for some riotous laughter. A man who sang in a barbershop quartet known as Three Men and a Bass (rhymes with base, as in a man with a deep singing voice) gave a CD of his group as his secret gift. Everyone laughed until they cried when the recipient looked at the CD with a puzzled, almost scornful look. "Three men and a bass (rhymes with class, like the fish on the plaque)? What the heck is three men and a bass?" It was explained to her pretty quickly, and she got a laugh out of her own mistake, which always makes those moments better.

And the food we eat at these get-togethers! I try to make a batch of my oatmeal cookie bars for these parties, and have yet to have a single cookie left over, no matter how many I make. It's wonderful to eat all of the treats that people make only for the most special occasions. The dishes might include such things as special fruity salads, wonderful baked goods, vegetables of all descriptions, deviled eggs, home made candies, or even pickled herring, in homage to the host's ancestry.

One year, someone I really like brought a huge bowl of a sweet snack-mix concoction. It was a variation on a cereal snack mix, but with a delightful, almost toffee-like flavor. It was almost impossible to resist. Trent and I kept going back for more small handfuls on our plates, and at one point just hung out at the buffet table by the bowl to sneak a few extra bites. When I saw the creator of this wonderful snacking goodness, I asked her what it was. "Oh, do you like the rugga-rugga?" she asked, with a pleased smile on her face. Trent and I were intrigued. We had never heard of anything that sounded remotely like rugga-rugga. Amy laughed as she explained how this tasty treat got such an odd name. Years ago, her grandmother would make it for special family get-togethers. She and her siblings and cousins would see Grandpa eating something out of a bowl. When they asked him what it was, he always said, "Oh, you don't want any of this, it's rugga-rugga." Grandpa was smart. The kids didn't try it because they thought it was probably something icky that only adults liked to eat. So he had more for himself. And he didn't lie - he never said it was bad. He also never said what rugga-rugga meant. Eventually, the kids got up the nerve to try the snack, and found it delicious. No meaning of the words rugga-rugga was ever given to the kids. But the snack mix will forever be known as Rugga-rugga. Everyone from the future generations of this family who enjoys it will be honoring the memory of a clever Grandpa who found a unique way to keep the best snacks for himself!

Monday, September 16, 2013

On A Timer?

I've written in the past about a man who was my friend briefly. I mentioned that he had a rather negative attitude and often said that he wanted to commit suicide. Or in his words, "off myself." He projected that attitude toward things he saw happen around him, notably the deaths of squirrels crossing the street. He said they knew better from all of the previous squirrel deaths, so that meant they were committing suicide. Yeah, whatever. I am still not entirely sure why I maintained a friendship with this person for as long as I did. I suspect it has something to do with my experiences growing up. I want people to be happy. Happy people aren't going through hellish experiences. Alternately, happy people won't beat the stuffing out of you or abuse you verbally. One of my survival mechanisms, in other words, was to be a people-pleaser. I think in this case that deep down I felt sorry for him and his attitude of misery. I didn't want to make him happy, I just hoped that he would be happy.

But how can a person be happy when they prefer to wallow in their own misery? In retrospect, I think some people get their little bit of joy by making others miserable too. He seemed to sniff out people's insecurities and take advantage of them as if he were rehearsing to be an abusive partner or spouse. There were little tidbits here and there, and given my background, I think I had an attitude of "Well, that's just Jack (not his real name)." It wasn't until I was a bit removed from the situation that I realized how unpleasant he was. 

At the time, we both worked part-time in an operations area of a bank. I was also working at The Body Shop. Once I bought him a small bottle of a special shampoo because he was complaining about his hair thinning. Weeks later, I found that he never used it because it was too expensive. I still don't get it. He didn't buy it, I did. He wasn't losing any money on the deal. When I talked about things that happened at my other job, or things that happened recently in my life, it was always a negative on my part. AKA, it was my "fault." When a lovely female customer I was assisting flirted with me (I was incredibly flattered, but not interested), he dismissed the possibility that she liked my personality. It was because I was dressed like a <place unkind word for a lesbian here>. If a male showed interest in me, again, it wasn't because they liked me. It was because I was fat and they knew I couldn't do any better.

A couple of months before Christmas, the phlebitis in my legs flared up and I had to take a medical leave from my sitting-down job at the bank. My doctor said I could stick with the retail position, however, since it involved walking around the shop. This didn't bother me a bit because I really hated the bank job, and really loved the retail job. As we got into the holiday shopping season, I got Jack a gift that I knew he would appreciate. As a friend, you listen to what another person says and likes, and store that information for later use. 

One day when I went on my lunch break I found I had about five minutes left after eating, and decided to give Jack a quick call at the bank. Now, I think it's rude to call someone, talk about a minute, and then say that you have to go. If I am unable to talk very long, I will start the conversation by mentioning that I don't have much time, so it will be a brief call. And this is what my impeccable manners caused me to do when I called Jack to make arrangements to give him his Christmas gift. I mentioned that I was at the end of my break and that I only had a few minutes to talk. He interrupted me by asking, with a mixture of anger and disgust, if the pay phone I called from was on a timer. I was confused by his response. "What do you mean? I asked. He launched into some sort of diatribe about some pay phones being on a timer and restricting the length of the call. 

I was even more stunned. "I don't know if the phone is on a timer or not, I'm getting to the end of my break and I just don't have much time, so the call has to be short." Well, that wasn't good enough for Jack. He was still angry and on the subject of time and pay phones, but asked rudely what did I want. All of the weirdness and unkindness were suddenly so clear now. "Nothing, now that you're yelling at me like this." He crashed the phone down and the call was over. Although I was angry, I felt at peace. I was getting rid of something I hadn't realized was causing me so much more pain that it was worth. The next day, I returned the gift I had gotten him and spent the money on some Godiva chocolates for Gram instead.

After I was released to go back to the bank job, my employer at The Body Shop gave me a raise and offered me a full-time position so that I could just work one job. As I waited to speak with my supervisor, apparently Jack thought I was waiting in the wings to ask permission to talk to him and beg his forgiveness. Not likely! His face was full of hate, and his whole body was shaking with intense anger. I didn't even acknowledge his presence, but I was so relieved to have discovered, before it was too late for my own safety, that a mere phone call was enough to make him go into a violent rage, along with anger that was still that intense after two months. I hope that he has not been physically violent with anyone. I hope he has found help and learned to give up his anger. I do know this for certain: I am glad that I found the wisdom to know what type of person I was briefly dealing with, and remove myself from the situation.

Author's note: Abuse is not okay. Many abusers, both male and female, will take advantage of their victim's insecurities. They will try to make the abuse their victim's fault. They will try to make you believe you deserve to be mistreated. To all women and men everywhere, I beg you not to let anyone destroy your soul or your body. You are a precious life that cannot be replaced. You deserve to be treated well by your friends and partners. Love yourself, and leave the abuser behind.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

New York, Part Two - Learning To Love It

When I left you hanging at the end of Part One of this traveling saga, my friend Kris and I had finally arrived in Manhattan. When we checked in to our hotel, my frustration reached a peak. Even though our hotel room had already been paid for, we were required to put a deposit of five hundred dollars on a credit card. We're talking 1980's dollars, remember. Believe it or not, the entire amount of spending money I had for the trip was three hundred dollars. For eight days in NYC! Anyway, by the time we checked in and got to our room, I was pretty unhappy from my first impressions of New York. I told Kris that I would just as soon go home. But she asked me (reminded me?) to give it a chance, and I did. I knew I would. And guess what happened? Before bedtime, I had fallen in love with The Big Apple.

We did a few things on that evening that were just perfect for an introduction to the city. One of the first things we did was visiting a clothing store. On my first evening in New York, I bought a fun outfit. For any of you who might be curious, it was a sweater skirt and button-front top. The skirt was black with various sizes of purplish circles (I just can't make myself call them polka dots) and the top was purplish with black dots. It felt so fresh and fashion-forward, which it really was. I hung onto the sweater top until just a few years ago, so it ended up being a smart purchase. Then, since it was just a few blocks away, we headed off toward Central Park.

Having grown up in the Denver area, in view of the Rocky Mountains, I am no stranger to the beauty of nature. Having said that, I must say that Central Park is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. That evening we barely saw the southern edge of the park, but that was enough for us to be completely smitten. This 778 acre park is an amazing oasis in the midst of the more than eight million people who call New York City their home. To a city with such a mind-boggling population, lovely, quiet places are incredibly important. I have heard it said that anywhere there are a few feet of unused land, New Yorkers will put in a park. I found it to be true. I would love to tell you about the architect of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead, but that's too much for right now. Let me simply say this: it is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place. When we got to the park, it seemed as if all the noise and bustle of the city had disappeared. All that existed was nature's beauty.

After our fun with shopping, and the calming effects of Central Park, we knew we had to get something to eat. We headed back in the direction of our hotel and discovered one of our favorite places in New York, The Carnegie Deli. We had many memorable meals there, and not just because of the food! The deli has rows of tables for two all pushed together. I think there were about six or seven together on on side of the restaurant, and just three or four on the other. You may go in with just one other person, but there will probably be someone else sitting right next to you. This is kind of strange for those of us not from the city, but it works there. New Yorkers are good at creating their own privacy, even when surrounded by millions of strangers. At dinner time, there were bowls of pickled cucumbers and green tomatoes sitting out on the tables, and a menu full of amazing choices. While we thought at first that the prices were high, we soon found out that it was worth it. The portions were huge.

One of the things we loved most about the Carnegie Deli was the staff. Most of the waiters had been working there for many years. When they weren't at a table, they were back by the kitchen entrance, keeping an eye on their tables, and giving each other grief. They were the first example we had of a special kind of banter that is so...New York! They'd trade insults and laughs, call each other idiots, and be back to square one within minutes. These older men, who had been waiters for longer than Kris and I had been alive, had probably seen just about everything you could in a restaurant. But I am not sure they were prepared for my friend Kris. I hope I never forget our first breakfast at the Carnegie. As I ordered, I know I probably made it clear that I was from out of town right away. There's just a New York way of combining foods, and I wasn't on top of it. And how was I to know that the bagel would be about as big as my head, with a schmear of cream cheese about an inch deep on each half?

When Kris began to order, things got hysterical. Kris is one of those blondes with a wide-eyed, innocent look, and a very soft voice. She started by saying, "Can I have...?" Our waiter looked at me and shook his head, and then looked at her with an expression that said "you're killing me." He said loudly, "Do ya want it?" Kris looked startled and a bit scared, but I was grinning because I had a feeling I knew what was coming. She said that yes, she did want it. "Well, then, tell me whatcha want! You're payin' for this, so you don't ask me if you can have have it, just tell me what you wanna have!" Kris told him what she wanted, I can't remember what, but it must have been a bizarre combination. The waiter looked under the table and said, "Whatsa madda with you, your feet hurt or something? Don't you have any shoes on? Is it gettin' to ya head?" I felt like we had truly arrived in New York when that happened. He was treating us the exact same way that he was treating his friends, his fellow waiters.

Toward the end of our meal, he checked on us again, and asked us where we were visiting from. When we told him Denver, his face lit up. His daughter was a student at Denver University. He started to chat with us about the city, and whether we liked it. When we told him what we planned to do that day, he took it on himself to "tell you girls what to do." He gave us directions for the best way to get where we were going, and told us about things we should just skip. I am happy to say his kind treatment was not a one-of-a-kind experience. We found many New Yorkers that were kind beyond belief. In a city that is always in a hurry, we even had people leave the subway platform that they needed to be on to personally guide us to the right place. The Big Apple wasn't wormy after all, it was golden and delicious!

There are many more things to tell you about New York, but this is a blog, not a book. Now that I have started, I am enjoying these memories even more than I expected. I hope you are enjoying them too. More tales of the city to come!

Friday, September 13, 2013

New York, Part One - Arrival

I am not really sure why my first trip to New York City has been on my mind this evening. Perhaps it is because of all of the memories that have been shared nationwide, as well as worldwide, on the recent anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001. Quite often when I think of that September day eleven years ago, I reminisce about the two trips I took to New York. I also have a weird, sad memory of something I said regarding both trips. You see, there is so much to see in NYC that it is impossible to hit all of the highlights in one trip. After both trips, I was asked if I had gone to see various places of interest. When asked whether I had gone to The World Trade Center, I had to admit that, no, I hadn't. "But it isn't going anywhere, I'll go back and see it some day." I felt horrible that my attitude had been so casual. I think sometimes when the pain and shock of an event is too much for our hearts and minds to comprehend, we can internalize it in strange ways. It was not wrong of me to expect the buildings to be there indefinitely. But my broken heart chided me for not being able to imagine the unimaginable. 

But let's return to a more innocent time in the late 1980's. My friend Kris and I, who met through working together as bank tellers, had spoken a few times about wanting to go to New York. One day I said, "Let's do it. Let's go to a travel agent and plan this trip!" And so the planning began. My willingness to take the plunge and plan this huge trip earned me high esteem in Kris' eyes. She once told me that she had friends that she had known for a long time, some that she even grew up with, who had talked about taking trips here or there, but I was the only person she knew who ever did anything about it. I can't remember how much traveling she had done before this trip, but I had only been to the Denver area, which is home, and Chicago. And I was born in Chicago, so it doesn't really count, does it?

When we planned our trip, we took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a package plan. It included our flights, seven nights at a hotel, tickets to a Broadway show (Cats), and some other things like sightseeing tours and a couple of dinners at very nice restaurants. I bought a couple of travel guidebooks, this being my first time anywhere, and Katrina's travel pattern was set for life, it seems. I think I have mentioned before that I am not a regimented traveler but an informed one. I like to know what places and things and experiences are available for me, if I should choose to do them. But barring flights and other things that have to be planned in advance, I am a bit of a fly by the seat of your pants traveler. Yes, I want to know about Lincoln Center and Central Park and all sorts of other possibilities. But I'm not one of those oh-it's-Tuesday-so-we-are-going-to-a-museum kinds of travelers. Heck, I don't even do that in my regular life. Being informed but spontaneous has served me well in my few travels.

In very short order, we were ready for our eight days and seven nights in NYC. I was in my late twenties and hadn't been on a plane since I was twelve, but the flight went well. To save money, we flew in and out of Newark, New Jersey. When we landed in Newark, the fizzy joy of adventure began to evaporate. The pace and behaviors of life are different in the West than they are in the busy area of New York and the surrounding communities. None of my travel planning had prepared me for that. I am not saying that one way is better than the other, they are just different. In Denver, if I walk up to a service counter, I am greeted by someone who asks me if there's anything they can do to help me. Not so in Newark. We walked up to a counter to make arrangements to ride in a van to our hotel in Manhattan. Kris and I were just standing there, waiting for someone to help us. Finally I just told the people at the counter what I needed, and they completed the transaction, minus the pleasantries we had expected. And then we were on our way to the Lincoln Tunnel, a mile and a half long tunnel that goes under the Hudson River and into Manhattan.

There were several people on the van with us, in various states of eagerness and fear over what was ahead in Manhattan. Within a few minutes of leaving the airport, we hit a Saturday-afternoon traffic jam heading into the city. I was stunned at how some of the Jersey drivers reacted to the traffic. Our van driver took it in stride and rolled down his window to enjoy some fresh air. But there were some other drivers who weren't as relaxed. My friend and I looked at each other in shock and disbelief when we saw drivers roll down their windows and start screaming because of the delay. Yes, you read that right. They were screaming. And not curse words, or any words, for that matter. They were just screaming, and doing it every few minutes, too. My buzz was really dying fast, let me tell you.

When we got into the city, the driver would pull the van over and announce the name of the hotel. The surrounding businesses were different with each hotel. Kris and I silently freaked out when the van pulled up to a hotel entrance flanked by two triple-x-rated book stores. I remember thinking that if this was our hotel, I was just going to go home. To heck with the Big Apple. It looked pretty wormy to me. When the name of the hotel was announced, we heard a woman say to her husband, "Oh, my dear Lord, is this really where we're staying?" I was so relieved, but felt really sorry for the couple who had to stay there. When we arrived in front of a gorgeous hotel and found that it was where we were staying, we were thrilled. At least we wouldn't be hanging out in the middle of Porn Central!

After a few glitches checking in to our hotel (for example, a five hundred dollar credit card deposit for a room that was already paid for) I was no longer happy to be in New York. All it took, though, was a visit to The Carnegie Deli for a tasty meal, a little bit of shopping, and a trip to Central Park to switch my attitude back to where it had started that morning. But that will have to wait for another day. I hope you'll come with me as I continue this tale of my first trip to New York. There will be sights and tastes and stories galore!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Happy Anniversary Surgery

Monday, September 9, was our fourteenth wedding anniversary. We didn't do anything wild or fancy. We just hung out at home and relaxed, and thought about what wildly crazy gifts we'd give each other if we ever won the lottery. Hey, dreaming is free, but a beautiful yard with ponds, fish, streams, and waterfalls costs a lot. Especially when you have to buy a house and front yard as well. We also spent some time pondering what tomorrow, Thursday, September 12, will bring. Trent will be having his nineteenth surgery in our fourteen years of marriage. Yes, you read that correctly. I won't swear as to the accuracy of that number; I may have forgotten something, so the number could be higher. You think I am joking, but I'm not! Three months after we got married, I experienced the first spousal surgery, which was for a problem with a spinal disc. It was also my first experience with "if things can possibly go wrong, they just might do so." It was supposed to be an outpatient surgery, so of course he ended up being hospitalized for a few days. You see, during the course of the surgery, someone nicked the membrane that covers the spine and holds in the spinal fluid. This made a stay of a few days a necessary thing. 

This was also my first experience with unusual hospital roommates. I am sorry to say that we discovered that the gentleman in the next bed had a brain tumor. Hey, doctors may pull the drape so you can't see, but you can still hear. I felt bad for my moments of thinking he was odd, when it was clearly the tumor at work. But what else are you going to think when someone is talking to your husband about whether or not he was on the cattle drive? And when you come to the hospital in the morning and you are told the fellow in the next bed has been painting the room-dividing curtain? With his own poop?

It was also at this time that I discovered that I was a great patient advocate. Before his surgery, one of his doctors told him that if he had to be admitted, they would make sure he had an IV with on-demand painkillers. Naturally, the nurses didn't see this anywhere in his chart. I very calmly told the nurse, "He was told that he would have on-demand painkiller, and he will have it." It wasn't very long before the IV was wheeled in, on-demand painkiller and all. I also was there to make sure that he received all of his usual medications, since we were told they couldn't be brought from home. I thought for sure the nurses would end up hating me, but the way they felt was completely the opposite. When I apologized for being a pain, they told me that they were thrilled to have me there. Not only could I help take care of Trent, but I could help them with his care as well. They wished all patients had someone with them like me. After all, I knew him, and his medications, better than they did.

Actually, it's kind of funny when Trent has doctor visits and they go over his medications to make sure that the information on system is current. When Trent and I first got married, he had all of his pill bottles in a plastic tray. He would go from bottle to bottle, taking out the medicines he needed to take that morning or evening. Well, that system didn't last long with me around. We got a couple of weekly pill boxes and I began the routine of filling up a week or two of his pills at one time. Since I do this, he sometimes loses track of what he takes, or what day he takes once-weekly medications. So when it's time to do the rundown on the medications, either I answer, or he looks to me for the head nods or head shakes or the whispered, "That's on Tuesday mornings. The other one is on Friday nights."

I've also gotten to be pretty good at wound care and other post-surgical stuff. Last year, Trent had a lower-abdominal incision that got infected. He was feeling pretty awful, and his abdomen was swelling, painful, and hot. We were waiting for the return visit to the surgeon to see what was going on. One day, I made a wonderful chicken soup for lunch, but Trent didn't want any at the moment. As I was eating a bowl, he went into the bathroom, and then looked for something in the closet. "I feel like I'm peeing on myself. Could I be peeing on myself?" Actually, no. His incision had politely opened up to let some of the infection drain. My brain kicked into hyper drive. I helped Trent get to the bathroom, and got him sitting on the edge of the tub so that the ickies could go in there. Then I scooped up the dog and shut her in our spare room, because dogs love to get into icky stuff. Then I cleaned the goo off of the carpet, and finally, manipulated Trent's abdomen to get more of the ickies out. I bandaged him, put him to bed, and then finished my soup like nothing had happened. What a pro! 

Trent actually ended up having a second surgery to clean out the infection. He felt so good afterward that he convinced his post-op nurse to dial me from the recovery room. He gave me detailed instructions to go downstairs to the cafeteria for him. But not cafeteria number one, cafeteria number two. And he wanted a roast beef sandwich. Not just wanted, needed. He was starving. I went to cafeteria number two and got him his sandwich, which he all but inhaled when I brought it to the recovery room. The nurses got a kick out of the whole situation, and were pretty indulgent, so that was cool.

So tomorrow is surgery number nineteen. We have already wondered whether we will have a pre-op team that we know. Kind of funny to go to a surgery, and all of the staff know you. Will the pre-op nurse be the same lady who brought leftover Pad Thai for lunch the day Trent had hernia surgery, the same one who gave us aromatherapy before kidney transplant number two? Will his anesthesiologist be the same tall man who was a resident during the hernia surgery, and also recognizes our faces? We shall see. And the purpose of tomorrow's surgery? Trent has arthritis which has caused his thumb to actually be forced out of its joint. So they will be doing a joint replacement, but an all-natural one. The arthritic end of the bone will be removed, and a slender length of tendon from Trent's forearm will be coiled up to created a new joint for his thumb to sit in. Pretty cool, huh? He will be in a splint that expands and contracts in reaction to swelling, and in ten days he'll get a cast. And with luck, and pain pills, he'll probably sleep through the worst of the post-surgery pain. Whether he does or not, though, I'll be here to ease him through it!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Oh, Marie!

I love my friend Marie. We have tons of fun together, and are able to laugh at each other and with each other. That's a cool thing. This evening we had dinner at Marie and Thayne's house, and as usual, things got crazy. Our friends created a delicious meal for us. We had pulled pork, except we call it pull-apart pork because of my infamous phrase-twisting sister. We also had a delicious salad made with cucumbers from the back yard, and some delicious Colorado-grown sweet corn. Yum!

It seems like something always happens when we get together that makes us laugh ourselves silly. Maybe I am a bad influence on Marie. Naw, she must be a bad influence on me...okay, we just bring out the best in each other. While Marie was eating her corn on the cob, she kept getting one little bit of corn on the same corner of her mouth. Every time she'd try and catch it with her tongue, it just got pushed closer to her cheek. Marie had had enough. When she realized she had yet another corny stowaway on her face, she just swiped over it with the corncob and went on eating. We laughed so hard, I thought Trent would fall off of his chair. I, on the other hand, inhaled my vinegary salad dressing, and got all choked up over the situation. Nothing says fun like laughing till you choke, right?

Shortly after dinner, Marie and I went on a brief walk. She and Thayne had gotten a lot of corn, just picked yesterday, and wanted to share some with some friends on the next block. As we were walking home, I told her that I had found a bunch of Euro coins while straightening a closet. We wondered about the current exchange rate. She mentioned the rate when we traveled, and then it happened. I was suddenly transported back to Budapest. Marie said, "Now, when we were there, it was 6000 forints to the dollar, right?" I burst out laughing. "Marie the accountant strikes again! Numbers are my life! Numbers have been very good to me! Um, Marie, when we were there it was 1000 forints equals 6 dollars." 

We continued to get a good laugh at the memory of exchange rate confusion in Budapest. If you haven't read where I mentioned this before, there were four women on this trip. Marie, the accountant, my sister, Liz, the banker, Marie's sister-in-law and our dear friend, Julie, and yours truly, Katrina. Before we took the trip, I wanted to make sure I could quickly figure out in my head how much I was spending in US dollars when paying in Hungarian forints. The exchange, as I just mentioned, was six dollars to one thousand forints. Pretty straightforward, right? Julie and I would look at a price sticker and say, "Oh, 2,500 forint, so that's $15.00." No problem. Then there was Liz. "This costs two thousand dollars!?" And Marie, "Okay, this is 1,500 forints. 1,000 forints is six dollars, so this would be..." By about the second day, at this point Julie and I would act like we were yelling at them. "Okay! 1,500 forints is $9.00, okay!?" Or, "Not two thousand dollars, two thousand forints! Twelve bucks!"

Many laughs are still had at Liz and Marie's expense, but they take it like champs. So when Marie had it totally backwards, I had to tell her that if the exchange was six thousand forints to one dollar, we'd better get to Hungary, and quick. "Even if we're broke, Marie, at that exchange rate, we could live like kings!" A short while later, we were on our way home with some fresh ears of corn, "pull-apart" pork, and other delicious treats. But the best thing we had this evening was the company of good friends. And some more fun memories to savor!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Flu Boo Hoo

I take a medication that requires me to get a monthly blood test. It's not a big deal, they poke my finger and get a reading to see if my blood is clotting too quickly. After it's done, Trent and I go and do something fun and exciting like stop at the grocery store or drive through Sonic for a Coke Zero. I know, what a life we lead, right? The paparazzi follow us a lot to see what the really chic people do for fun. We got to the doctor's office really early, and I was surprised at how many people were in the waiting room. I grabbed a magazine and sat down to savor the wait time. When you've been to as many doctor's appointments as we have, you learn you have two choices for your attitude toward waiting. You can look at it as an excuse to just savor some time in which you can just relax, or read a book, or do a task on your phone or tablet. Or you can be grumpy, and then even grumpier.

It was obvious that one older couple fell into the latter category. One of the ladies at the front desk told them that Josie, the person who usually does my test, was running behind in her appointments due to computer problems. The man, who was the one with the appointment, started grousing to his wife. "Why'd they have me come in here if they were too busy to see me? They should just call me when they want me to come in." His wife didn't say anything, at least that I could hear, but he kept complaining. "I'm gonna give them just a few minutes, and then they can call me when they want me to come in. They should have someone here when they're supposed to be here." About thirty seconds after he made that comment, he jumped up from his chair and went to the front desk, his wife hurrying to keep up with him. He shook his finger at the staffers up front and said, "You can call me when she gets in," and stormed out of the office, grumbling.

Meanwhile, I had taken my handy-dandy notepad out of my tote. I like to keep it nearby for shopping lists, and it's always good to have around in case I get a brilliant idea for a blog post. This time, it was handy for an adult version of passing notes in class. I subtly held my tiny pen, hidden behind my notepad, pointing in Mr. Cranky's direction. The note said, "C.O.B. - Cranky Old Bastage!" Trent chuckled under his breath, and then Mister and Missus left the office. Then Trent told me that the couple had already been rude to him before I sat down. When we walked in, Trent said, the man pointed at the tattoos on his ankle and said something to his wife, and they both started laughing. Apparently they were the two people who were better, smarter, and more important than anyone else in the world. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as Gram often said. 

Poor Josie was so busy that another person took me back for my test. I told her about the COB in the waiting room, and let her know that I appreciated all of the hard work they were doing. She was noticeably happy that she wasn't being yelled at, which made me feel good. She offered to give me my annual flu shot, and I gave her the go-ahead. As someone whose spouse has had a transplant, it is especially important for me to have one ever year. So within a few minutes, I had my shot and my test and was done. I saw Dr. Mike sitting in the common work area and talked to him for a minute, said hi to Josie, and made a return appointment. And when I got to the door, I started to feel pukey. I told Trent, and he said he didn't feel well either, it was probably because we skipped breakfast.

We took the elevator downstairs, and by the time it stopped, I knew I couldn't make it to the car. I sat down on the steps while Trent went to open up the car. Within seconds, I was a complete mess, sicker than I don't know what, and drenched in sweat. It amazes me how clear and logical and quick your brain can be at moments like this. How am I going to make it home? Does the bathroom on the ground floor need a key like the one upstairs? If I can't make it there in time, I might have to puke in my tote bag! So this was how I ended up stumbling out the front door and collapsing on the curb, stomach revolting big-time. Thanks to the missed breakfast, it was just heaving (sorry to be gross!). And at that moment, sitting on a curb, air-hurling, I just found it strangely funny. Here I am at high noon, sitting on a curb, puking like a drunk party girl, and I haven't even had any fun yet! How pathetic is this? 

Apparently my funny thoughts did the trick. Trent helped me get up from the curb and we were on our way home. We decided to forget about stopping on the way home on this trip because I just couldn't face it. We went home, ate a tiny bit of food, and I had a bit of rest. I thought I really ought to write about this almost slapstick office visit, but was not really in the mood to do it when evening rolled around. But I was back to my usual self (I won't say back to normal, so you won't have to say, "Yeah, right, is that what they're calling normal these days?") by bedtime. Yes, I had a few really icky and rough minutes there, but I'm glad I could laugh at myself about it. And I won't be hurt if you laughed, too!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Garlic Incident

As I was preparing our dinner this evening, I was thinking about how people's tastes can change. We had a pasta side dish tonight that was flavored with garlic, and I had punched up the garlic flavor a bit. Trent has a habit of saying "It needs more garlic!" when asked to taste a dish that is still in progress. This makes me laugh, because he sure wasn't that way when we first got married. I remember being told on more than one occasion that I cooked with too much garlic. Garlic, garlic, garlic in everything. And I didn't even use all that much! As time went on, the complaints lessened, and Trent grew to love the flavor.

At a time when Trent wasn't working because of some health challenges, he would sometimes drive me to and from work, or the large local bus stop. One evening he came and picked me up at the bus stop after work and told me that he had made dinner. A few days before, we had seen some inexpensive software CDs in a business/computer store. Among the ones we purchased, Trent was very excited about the disc that said it had thousands of recipes. He decided to try making one as a treat for me, giving me an evening off. When I got in the car, he told me that he had made a garlicky chicken dish. He didn't sound as enthused about the surprise as I expected him to be. Instead of being excited about making a surprise, he seemed a bit subdued. "This recipe really used a lot of garlic," Trent told me. I thought, okay, a few cloves of garlic, no big deal. When I asked how much garlic the recipe called for, he asked me what the letter c meant in recipes, and I told him it stands for cup. "Well, the recipe called for a cup of garlic." I was stunned. "Honey, are you sure?" I asked nervously. He said that yes, the recipe said one cup. And when I looked at the recipe later, it did indeed say, "1 to 2 c garlic." Apparently someone didn't do their job properly in writing or editing, and decided that c was a good abbreviation for clove, when the rest of us use it for cup. Yikes.

When we opened the front door the overwhelming smell of the garlic hit us. My eyes and lungs were burning from the incredibly strong smell. Little Paris came over to welcome me home, blinking, smelling like her hair was saturated with garlic, and looking less than pleased. And I was more than a bit worried. When someone goes to the trouble to make you something special, you have to try it. I can honestly say it was a painful experience. One small bite was enough to leave my mouth, throat, and stomach burning. We just couldn't eat it. Instead we went to work trying to make the air quality a bit more livable. We did all kinds of things that night to get rid of that strong smell. We opened every window, set out bowls of vinegar...I even tried boiling some vinegar and water to get some air-cleaning steam going. We even lit up our wood-burning fireplace, hoping that the smoke would burn away some of that painfully strong smell. 

I don't remember how long it took to clear the air completely, but by bedtime we had gotten the smell fairly under control. Either that, or we had temporarily lost our sense of smell. But Paris was blinking less, so that was a good sign. I was still happy that Trent had tried to make a special dinner for me. It was a memorable one, that's for sure. I may have had some pain from it, but Trent and Paris had dealt with it longer than I had, so I really felt sorry for them. I am glad to report that no dogs or humans suffered any permanent damage. Paris still got excited every time we went into the kitchen. And we still love garlic. Just not by the cupful!

Monday, September 2, 2013

47 Years

I wrote a few months ago about how the Memorial Day Holiday weekend has taken on additional meaning for us. Last year, Trent was notified during that holiday weekend that he would be receiving a kidney transplant. What I seldom mention, however, that long before I ever even met Trent, there was another holiday that often had double meaning for me. On September 2, 1966, my mother died, just about a month before her 42nd birthday. That year, Labor Day was on Monday, September 5. Whatever date it falls on, though, this holiday tends to remind me of my mother. 

A short newspaper article in the Chicago Tribune on Saturday, Sept. 3, 1966, took about twenty lines to announce the end of my mother's brief struggle to stay alive. In the very early hours of Thursday morning, my siblings and I responded to our mother's screams to find her in her blood-soaked bed, in horrible pain, and clinging to life. Although she had said, in that extreme state, that I should be kept out of the room, I of course went in and saw everything. I didn't realize until I was an adult that her concern over me seeing her in that condition was a beautiful expression of her love for me. I was seven years old. Liz was thirteen, John was fourteen, and Margit was sixteen. And our father had left us alone to find her. 

According to this brief article, my father, who had turned himself in at the Police station, had been charged on Thursday with aggravated assault. He had told the officers that he woke up to find that he was "hitting her on the head with a hammer." After her death later the next day, the charges were changed. I am not sure what the exact charges were, but I know that he was found guilty of manslaughter, and was out of the State Penitentiary in Menard, Illinois before my twelfth birthday. The price he paid for my mother's death was less than five years. It still makes me angry to think about that, because it makes me feel that there was too little value placed on this woman's death. 

Fate, Karma, whatever you want to call it, did catch up with my father, though. I think he was dead for a couple of years before any of his kids realized it. I have come to a point in my life at which I am able to feel a bit sorry for him, albeit in a slightly detached way. It is sad to think of a person dying and not being missed. Nobody even knows his exact date of death, only the month. There was a time when I felt that he deserved it. Time has softened me a little. Thinking of him just as some man, instead of my father, has allowed me to see some sadness in the manner of his passing.

I am still in conflict over Mama's death. I loved her, and still do. To me she is a symbol of undervalued and abused women everywhere. I miss her. I wish her death hadn't been so agonizing. I wish all of her children hadn't been so affected by the violence committed against her. I wish I had learned to make more Hungarian dishes, and I wonder what she would think of my cooking. I wish I could sit and speak with her, switching from Hungarian to German or English. My abilities to use those languages died with her. Would she be proud of the person I have become? Or would I be a strange creature to her? What would she think of her youngest child, a woman who forms strong opinions and has started to learn not to fear sharing them? Would she weep when I told her that for a few years after her death, I prayed fervently every night that I could die before morning and be with her, away from the ugliness of my life?

Sadly, there are no answers. And I know, and here's where the conflict arises, that her death opened up opportunities that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Knowing that is a guilt I will always bear. Although her death left me open to many years of physical and emotional abuse, it also allowed me the chance to live a different life. I had the chance to become educated, and was lucky enough to be discarded and end up in the care of someone who helped me learn to have an independent mind. In Chicago, I can imagine being pushed either into an early marriage or life in a convent, after my father encouraged me to do whatever his friends desired to make them happy. Liz remembers being instructed to do this when she was ten years old, so I have no doubt my turn was coming. In fact, I often suspect that this type of abuse may have already happened to me, but it is, mercifully, buried deep in my brain.

There may be some of you who think, when I write about these things, that 47 years is a long time and I should just get over it. It sounds easy, doesn't it? Thinking of me as someone who is clinging to the wounds of my past is a simple choice that some folks might make. But trauma forms and perhaps deforms us in many ways, and when that trauma is sustained, it changes who we are. No, I don't sit around all day crying over my losses and experiences. But they have been instrumental in the formation of the personality I have today, and some of my problems, as well. My greatest dream would be that no family should ever again experience what mine did. Unfortunately, that dream will never come true. But if we can help each other through this sometimes-scary journey called life, perhaps we can help repair one another's damage. Please share your love for others today. Time passes quickly, and we never know what tomorrow will bring.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Secret Codes

I love it when as friends or family, people develop their own sets of code words and phrases. They may mean something sweet and lovely or something akin to a curse word, but they seem to bind us together by having special words to define our experiences. My first experience with a code, or euphemism, if you prefer, was in my Aunt Alice's household. Her son, Dave, announced that something was a "shutter." This caused a round of uproarious laughter, but I had no idea what was going on because this term predated my arrival in their home. Eventually, though, I found out what Dave was talking about. A few years earlier, Alice had gotten one of her famous big ideas, and decided that she wanted to install shutters on some of her windows. Having a teenage son, she saw no need to hire anyone to do the labor. (This reflects the general opinion in those days that if you had servants, also known as offspring or children, you always had someone to do odd jobs for you.) So the project began. After much work and stress, and I am sure a great deal of cursing, the project was taken as close to completion as it would ever be. I never saw said shutters. They never worked properly, and were removed from the house. But from that day forward, if Dave wanted to refer to a project or a thing that was way more trouble than it was worth, he always called it a shutter. Enough said; it was clear that Dave was not going to be involved in that project!

When I got really sick and Gram thought that I was going to die, and I was too ignorant to realize how sick I was, she really tried to coddle me. She'd ask if there was anything I needed, and tried to do everything for me. I was stubborn (yeah, there's a shocker!) and wanted to do everything I could possibly handle by myself. It wasn't a matter of being ungrateful; I was frustrated at being unwell and was determined to do as much as my body could handle. In my mind, having her do everything for me was like giving up. Also, I was taking high doses of Prednisone, and that stuff will seriously mess with your head. You can go from zero to hysterically crying, to snarling like a rabid skunk, and all within 4.2 seconds. I didn't want to let the drugs cause me to lash out at her, so I suggested a code. When she was being too kind, I would say what a baby says when trying to be independent. I would say, "Self!" As in wanting to do it myself. On the occasions that I did use this code, it softened the situation and made us both smile. In that sense alone, it was a great success, and well worth using.

A fun code I really like started with me teasing my friend Jill. We would go out to lunches or dinners, to get our nails done, to see movies...all kinds of fun stuff. One time while we were eating a delicious meal at a restaurant that I had chosen, I looked across the table at Jill with a huge grin on my face. I said, "Coming here was a really good idea! I'm glad you thought of it!" She stopped for a moment, briefly confused, and then caught up with what was going on. She agreed that yes, she had really picked a good one. From that day, it became a fun part of our friendship. I haven't seen Jill in years, but Trent and I use this silliness all of the time, and I've also spread it to my friend Marie.

One of our all-time favorites has to do with our little dog Paris, who has been gone from us for a year and a few days now. If you haven't read about her before, she loved to be in the kitchen, or just outside the kitchen entryway, whenever I was cooking. She had great faith that whatever her Mommy made, it would be wonderful. And she never knew when Mommy might be making something special just for her, like her favorite "chicken stew," two words that, when spoken aloud, caused a riot of excitement. As my cooking progressed, she would come closer and closer. When the smells of the food just got too good for her to bear any longer, she would stand on her hind legs and gently lean on one or both of the front paws that were now on my leg. I'd ask her if she wanted to see what was cooking, and she'd make it pretty clear that her answer was yes. I'd scoop her up in my arm and she would wait for me to lift the lid and waft the steam toward her. She'd sniff it and look at me, and lick her chops, wagging to tell me it seemed pretty good.

Trent and I would laugh and tell each other, when the food was ready to eat, that Paris had secretly told us that the food was disgusting and unfit for humans. It should only be eaten by Poodles. She would take that burden on herself, as awful and possibly dangerous as it was, so the food would not be wasted, and we would not have to suffer through eating it. I imagine that for the rest of our lives, as well as for some of our friends, disgusting will be a code for something that tastes really, really good. Instead of an insult, it is praise of the highest order. I won't tell you that we also have a special way of saying it, since dogs don't always pronounce things the same way we do.

I'll leave you with one final, brief code, which is sort of an "I said it first" thing. Here's how the conversation goes.

Trent/Me : Guess what?
Me/Trent: Me too! 

And that, my dears, is how you manage to say "I love you!" first. But then again, you could always use, "As you wish." Yes, I threw in a Princess Bride reference...