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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tricks and Treats

I've had some fun memories today of Halloweens past. What started me thinking about it all was seeing my friend Marie today. On this day last year, I was dog-sitting her sweet boy, Bowie. Bowie is gone from us now, like our dear little Paris, but the other day, Thayne, Marie's husband, mentioned that he was glad that Bowie spent his last Halloween with one of his favorite people in the world. Bowie was always very friendly, and whenever anyone came to the door he just knew they were there to see him. He loved company, and never barked when the doorbell rang. Needless to say, trick-or-treaters were high on his list of fun visitors. The weather was very mild last year, so there were something like seventy-five kids who came by the house. 

When the candy distribution began, Bowie was right on top of the job. I was in the kitchen using the computer, but when someone came to the front door, Bowie wag-walked to the kitchen to let me know that he had company. When the door was opened, he tried to at least put his head out to see the kids and say hi. Of course, I had to be careful, because he loved to get out the front door and just run. Stinker. The highlight of the evening, for both of us, was when four little girls came up to the door together. As I put candy in each child's bag, she would ask, "Can I pet your dog?" They each stroked and patted his head, and he licked each little girl's hand. It was absolutely precious.

For the first thirty or so kids, Bowie was right there, ready to jump up and notify his MyKatrina (Bowie's name for me) and meet and greet his visitors. As the evening progressed, though, he started to get tired. I found myself telling him to get off of his sofa and come to the door. He would look at me as if asking if he had company again. By the time the kid count hit the high fifties, Bowie was worn out from the excitement. Being popular and loved can be so exhausting! Before the last bell was rung and the last candies given away, Bowie had put himself to bed in his kennel. I asked if he was really going to be lazy and go to bed. He just looked at me, sighed, and closed his eyes. Within a few minutes, he was asleep, and slept through the last few sets of treat-seekers. A guy can only handle so much, you know.

Then I was reminiscing about the few years that I went trick-or-treating. I don't remember going when I was in Chicago, and my last time was as an eleven-year-old sixth-grader. Gram got me all dolled up as a Gypsy. I felt like I was really cool because I had all sorts of jewelry on, and my face was made up. Okay, it was probably only red lipstick. But I was wearing lipstick! Like a grown-up! My neighbor friends and I always went together. I remember that we had all switched from paper bags to pillowcases in order to more easily bring home a much larger stash. We also tried to scheme our way into getting more candy by being as boisterous as possible. We were sure that if we were really loud, the people giving out candy would think that there was a big bunch of us. Then they would grab big handfuls of candy and give it all to us rather than drop it back into their bowl. It may have even worked once or twice per block. And yes, sometimes we covered a block twice. And we sometimes did the whole"trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat," routine. Good, clean fun.

There were also some homes on our block that really had some cool stuff going on. Next door to us were the Fry family. Karlene, their daughter, was several years older than us and out of school and working. She used to have costume parties, and she always gave out full-size chocolate bars! On the other side of the street was the Cito family. Their son Anthony took over the decorating duties from his dad when he got to high school age, assisted by Johnny and Jamey, the Brady boys. And yes, I had a crush on all three of them. They always did some sort of display that involved a sophisticated candy delivery system. We always made sure to let them know that we were neighbors. In fact, they asked kids coming up to the door who they were. I know for certain that we scored extra candy because of living across the street. 

My favorite display was a scarecrow theme. There were bales of hay on the porch, and a not-too-scary scarecrow was seated on them. He was plump and jolly in his jeans and plaid shirt, smoking his corncob pipe, and speaking through a specially rigged sound system. When we introduced ourselves, we were told to put our bags under the scarecrow's hand. They had somehow set up a tube delivery system through the mail slot, which was next to the front door. The candy would come jetting out of the scarecrow's sleeve, right into your bag. And I don't mean it just fell down a tube. I think they must have used their vacuum cleaner on blower mode to transport the candy. It was fabulous, and made the girls on the block adore these older boys even more.

When I was twelve and in seventh grade, I assumed the duties of candy distribution. Every year for the rest of her life, Gram always reminded me, "Only one piece." I always said yes, I knew, and I always gave two or more, unless the kids were rude, which seldom happened. I still got candy, and I made sure to have plenty of my favorites left over, even though I always gave out some of everything. I grew to enjoy seeing all of the kids in all of their clever costumes. There were usually some kids that were too young to be out, and they were frightened and tearful. I was impressed with the sweetness and politeness of most kids. They were eager to get to as many homes as possible to stock up on candy, but they always said thank you. And when you praised their costume, or acted surprised or afraid, it was more delicious to them than any candy in the world. 

It's after eight p.m. now, and nobody has come to our apartment door. But if they should, I am willing and prepared to give them mini candy bars. And I will be frightened by zombies, vampires, and witches, enchanted by princesses, and impressed with creativity and excitement. And thank yous. They will thank me for my candy, and I will be thankful to help them build fond memories. Everyone wins at this game, I guess! Enjoy your treats!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Destiny

In our modern world, we are used to the idea of everyone being able to become what they want to be. Every child starts out with a blank slate that can be filled any number of ways. One child might show a tendency at an early age to be a reader, a thinker, a creator of new stories and new worlds. Another might be the kid who has to take everything apart and figure out how it works. This child might grow up to be an inventor, a scientist, a doctor, a mechanic, a researcher that finds cures for diseases. Their sibling might be the natural-born athlete, the one who jumps into the deep end of the swimming pool and glides through the water like a fish, and ends up competing at the Olympics.

As parents, friends, or family members who welcome a new child into the world, we are full of hope for the life of this new little human. We hope that they will be able to find their way in their life, and find something that makes them joyful. Perhaps they will stumble along the way. They may seem confused about what their role is in this world, but they keep trying to find and fulfill it. And we hope that life will not leave them battle-scarred, although there are chances that it might. We can only teach and guide and love them, and hope for the best, and wish them happiness.

And, sadly, the places where children are born have a direct impact on what choices will be available to them in their lives. Sometimes there are many odds against them. Disease and famine may cut their precious lives short. Their cultures may also dictate what choices, if any, they will have, and whether they have an opportunity to shape their own future. Poverty, traditions, and gender roles may play a part in what their life will become. The location of one's birth can forge one's destiny. A little girl might become a mother, teacher, filmmaker, physician, sex worker, farmer, mathematician, astronaut, or philanthropist, all influenced by the circumstances of her birth.

I imagine that you might be wondering why I am waxing so philosophical tonight. It's very simple. I looked at a picture of Prince George of England and felt sorry for him. Yes, he was born into a wealthy family. He will most likely attend private schools. He has a nanny. His grandmum is the Queen of England. He will have access to the best of nutrition and healthcare, and is surrounded by people who love him. But like his father and grandfather before him, his future has been planned for him as a result of his birth. Although he might wish he could be a gentleman farmer or an actor or a cake decorator, he has no choice in the matter. His destiny has been chosen from birth. He must eventually be the King. With all of the resources at his disposal, he has no choice over his destiny. I hope that he will be happy with what life has dealt him. But even in a Disney movie, it isn't always fun being born a Prince.

It's sort of interesting, when you think about it, that a child born of moderate means can have a whole world of opportunities at their disposal, while a child born into wealth and power has very few choices at all. Kind of makes me think that the luck of the draw isn't always what we think it is...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Grandmanners

Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. Perhaps I read or hear or see something, and the associations and ideas run riot in my head. This happened to me this evening. Ben, one of the people in my circles on Google Plus, was the source of my post this evening. You see, his wife had a work event this evening, and his mother was kind enough to treat Ben and his two young daughters to dinner in a local restaurant. I imagine he was worried about how dinner would go, because he mentioned that "they were very well behaved at the restaurant." 

Anyone who has read many of my blog posts or comments knows that the force of smart-aleckiness is strong in me. I commented that the girls had used their grandmanners, special behaviors that are used to beguile grandparents. I have seen these behavior patterns used by many children over the years. Heck, I'm pretty sure I even used them myself. I have no children, but I know that I have been the recipient of auntmanners on more than one occasion. Here's what it boils down to - kids are not dumb. They know when to turn on the charm. If they go out with mom and dad, there are perks to being well-behaved, of course. But if they have meltdowns and embarrass their parents, mom and dad will still take them home. And continue to feed them and such. 

But grandparents are a step removed from the situation. Not only do the kids get to spend some time with someone cool that they really love (more on that in a moment), but they get a chance to work their goods. Because grandparents might do something that mom and dad won't. Grandma might take us out for ice cream after dinner! Or buy us some candy or a toy! They do that sometimes, you know. I am not saying children are knowingly manipulative. I'm just saying that like cute little puppykitties, they learn to repeat behaviors that get rewarded. In this way, I suppose grandmanners are a great thing. They give kids a chance to learn that people enjoy you more when you're not driving them insane. It's one of our first chances, if you think about it, to practice our innate good manners and behaviors outside of our core family unit. I like that.

Now, about the other end of the grandmanners, the behavior of the grandparents themselves. They have the chance to just relax in a way that they might not have been able to do with their own kids. The years have mellowed them. And of course, there's always the whole revenge bit. "Just wait until you have kids!" comes into play. They don't tell you that when you have kids, they will reserve the right to get them all excited and hopped up on sugar, and then smile at you sweetly as they hand them over just before bedtime. Of course, there's also the cranky old grandparents who you never really liked, who suddenly become sweet and delightful with your children. I have my own theory about them, too. Yes, they have gotten more relaxed with old age, and perhaps have mellowed a bit. But I have long been convinced that they see themselves getting older, and realize that maybe they weren't as kind as they would have liked to be. I used to tell Gram that these people were cramming for their finals. Changing your ways may not make a difference, but it couldn't hurt!

Although I have written this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, I will honestly say that I think that grandmanners and auntmanners and companymanners are all good things. Especially when they become automatic, everyday behaviors that turn kids into the warm and beautiful people that we know and hope that they can become.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cursing, Dog-Style

The other day Trent posted something on Google+ about whether people talk to their pets. Whether they admit it or not, I believe a lot of people do. We used to talk to our little dog Paris quite a bit. In her own doggish way, she often "talked" to us as well. Her vocalizations merely lacked words to make them complete. But she always did a good job of making her point understood.

Funny thing about dogs - they understand words more than people think they do. Many people claim that dogs are not responding to our words, but rather our tone of voice. While I will agree that dogs respond to our tone of voice, as well as visual cues, I must disagree with their supposed lack of understanding of individual words. Regardless of our tone, Paris knew the meaning of numerous words. Heck, each of her numerous toys had a name. And if you mentioned playing with her Cow, you couldn't just switch to her Teddy. She knew better. Although she has been gone from us for over a year now, we still hesitate to use the word hungry. Whispered, shouted, hissed, cooed - no matter how it was said, it elicited the same reaction. Paris would jump up and start vocalizing, and then run for the kitchen. She usually stopped on the way to pick up one of her toys. This minor distraction could potentially have been the one thing that kept her from losing her mind while she waited for the delicious canned food, or even better, Mommy's home made food, to get into her bowl. And at moments like this, if she had the ability to use words, I have no doubt she would have talked my ears off.

There were times when we'd say something to her that would be met with a look that obviously said we were out of our minds. The most common trigger would involve something like a request for her to quit hogging the bed. Seriously, it's amazing that an eight-and-a-half pound dog could take up three-quarters of a king sized bed. From time to time, we would talk about what exactly Paris would say if she could talk. Some things were more obvious than others, of course. Instead of just going out to the kitchen and assuming a playful and adorable pose in front of the refrigerator while wagging her tail and vocalizing, I am sure she'd have a few choice and intelligent words to say. "Hi, fridge! You know, my stomach is feeling a bit empty at the moment. I know that Mommy made me some chicken stew last night. It's on your second shelf on the left side, in a square container. I don't mind eating it cold." Of course when the refrigerator failed to produce a bowl of food for her, she would come back to find me, giving me that bright, wide-eyed look, accompanied by the Paris version of a grin. And that could always progress to talking. "Mommy! I need to have some chicken stew! You know you made it for me, you told me so when you put all of the stuff in the pot. I would like some right now, please. I can show you where it is if you need any help finding it. Okay, let's go to the kitchen."

But what would a dog say to you if you really disgusted her or made her angry? It's not like she's going to call you a bitch. After all, that is simply the name for a female canine. Paris would have been more likely, then, to call me the sweetest bitch in the world while I was giving her a sustained tummy rub, or giving her a treat or something. What would dog cursing be like? "No, I do not want to take a bath right now, you...woman!" Or, "Hey, quit rolling over on my legs while I'm trying to sleep, you big, stupid, hairless two-legged weirdo!" "Why don't you just hop away on your hind legs and go wipe your tail-less butt with some paper!" "You're so dumb, you don't even sniff before you poop!" "Hey, short-nose, wake up and smell the fire hydrant!" "Yeah, it takes a lot of smarts to fake like you're throwing the ball, genius!" "Nice kiss, toothpaste-breath!" I don't know. Maybe it's a good thing they can't curse. I'm not sure we could handle it!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I'm Going To Get Smashed

I am not going to tell you how old I am, because it doesn't really matter. But I must say this: it is time for me to be more responsible. I was raised in an environment where going to the doctor wasn't something you did frequently. If you got really sick, you made an appointment. But you didn't go running to the docs all of the time, getting tests and getting checkups and looking for trouble. Add to that the tendency of many females to be more concerned about the care of others than of themselves, and you get...me.

It's time now for me to take charge, to be more proactive. I've spent too many years ignoring my health and ignoring my pains. I've had a bit of a shakeup, and I have decided that I need to do what it takes to be as healthy as I can be. After spending some time ignoring things, avoiding things, I have ended up being put on insulin for my uncontrolled blood sugar. That's one step in the right direction. In a week, I will find out whether I have to have a hysterectomy because something seems to be growing in my uterus. And although it is about the size it would be if I were four to five months pregnant, it isn't a baby. Preliminary tests have shown that it most likely isn't cancer, but I have never had surgery and I am as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I am supposed to be the caregiver, so it is weird for the shoe to be on the other foot. And I am not afraid of pain. Heck, I broke my leg, drove home, and climbed up three flights of stairs to my apartment. It's feeling pukey that scares me.

Now for the part that I am most embarrassed to admit, but am doing so to encourage others. Although I am well past forty years of age, I have never had a mammogram. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I will be having one tomorrow at a mobile mammogram unit, or as I like to call it, "feels on wheels." If I intend to live up into my eighties, as I announced the other day, this is one of the things I have to do. And it is so important! Not just for women, either. Men can also get breast cancer. I actually have a male friend who has had a mammogram because of finding a lump. Think about it - this is an area of your body that is close to so many things. It's right by your heart and lungs, for crying out loud. I knew someone years ago who found a lump and did not go to the doctor. She finally got checked when she started coughing. The cancer had spread into her lungs because she was too embarrassed to talk to her doctor about her breasts. Luckily she survived, but imagine how much illness and pain she could have been spared. Time can be your enemy.

So, ladies and gentlemen, don't be like me and just ignore things. Go and get checkups. Trent can tell you that pain can actually be a lifesaver. Last January, he felt a terrible pain in his testicle. Luckily, he had a doctor's appointment scheduled just a few days later. Within a couple of weeks, he was having surgery to remove a testicle. He had a rare type of tumor. It was so rare, in fact, that the surgeon had never seen one of that type before. The tumor did not spread, so he did not have to go through chemotherapy. Tomorrow, I am going to get smashed. No, I won't be getting drunk. But I am taking an important step in loving and caring for my body. And I want to encourage everyone to do so. So come on, coddle those cantaloupes. Or manipulate your mangoes. Juggle your jumblies. Don't let your mammaries just become memories. But seriously, take care of your body. It's the only one you've got!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Floored

Something funny happened today, which made me think of something else funny from my past. I know, inconceivable, right? ("You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.") We were at a doctor's appointment today, a followup visit in which Trent would get his cast removed and replaced with a lighter-weight removable splint. We were both feeling funky from some bizarre bug we seem to have caught over the weekend, but we needed to get this done. Thank goodness we had Marie driving us to and from, because, well, just because.

One of the nurses removed the cast and we were sitting waiting for what seemed like forever for a resident to come in the room. Suddenly, in breezed a man we had never seen before. He never even told us who he was, but just jumped right in, went over to Trent, and said, "So, Dude! How are ya doing?" After a brief question-and-answer session, he said he would let the surgeon know what the status was and then Trent could get his splint and his physical therapy instruction. And of course, while I was listening to the p.t. instructions, I started feeling really icky. I excused myself to the restroom and thought, okay, what should I do first, hurl, or pass out?

After being in the restroom briefly, I knew that sitting wasn't going to cut it. So I did the only thing I could to help myself feel better. Brace yourselves. I decided to lay down on the nice, cold bathroom floor. In a hospital. You just kinda threw up in your mouth just thinking about it, didn't you? I didn't care. The floor was my friend. "I love you, floor," I thought, "you are so kind and cool and you are making me feel so much better." You know that your day has a dose of suckiness in it when laying on the floor in front of a toilet seems like the best option available for you. After a few minutes enjoying the embrace of my chilly friend Floor, I felt better, and Trent and I went about our business. I managed to get Trent scheduled for another appointment and pick up his medication, and we were on our way home.

While we were on the road, we talked about how strange it was that the resident never even identified himself. I was thinking, probably because of my little lie-down in the restroom, that he could have been anyone. "Hi, I'm Mister Bob, and I do maintenance on the floors and carpets in the building." This suddenly made me remember something funny that happened when I worked as a drive-through teller in a very old building in Denver. The security to get into the drive-through facility was pretty simple. The building had been wired with closed-circuit televisions that displayed in the manager's office area, as well as in the security office. There was also a direct phone line from the entry to the office. When anyone needed access to the area, they would pick up the phone and identify themselves. If the person inside the facility didn't recognize who they were, they could simply refuse them entrance. There were also double entry doors as a fail-safe measure, so if the outer doors were opened and someone came in that shouldn't, the internal door would stop them. 

You'd be surprised how many people seemed to come through those doors. There were people from the teller department, in the building across the street, coming to pick up work for processing or relieve managers for lunch breaks. The off-duty Denver Police Officers who were security might come in for breaks. And there were always people coming for maintenance, repairs, rubbish removal, cleaning, you name it. One day, one of my friends told me about an embarrassing moment she had when she answered the phone for someone who wanted to come into the facility. She told me that she had picked up the phone and heard a man say, "This is the janitor. Undress." Let me tell you, she was furious when she heard this. "What!?" she asked. Again, the man said, "This is the janitor. Undress." She was floored. He said, "Undress, undress!" She was about ready to call the police officers over when he pointed out his cleaning supplies. And she realized he was the new person on the housekeeping staff, Andres. Luckily, Andres was a kind and understanding person. But she never got over her embarrassment of thinking he told her to undress!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Oxymoronic

I have had this title saved on my list of blog posts for a goodish while now. Every person is different, and I am sure that every blogger is different. As far as what to write about, and what title to give it, my methods vary. I am frequently just going on about my business, when I see something that makes me think, "I need to blog about that." Or a memory gets jogged, and I decide that maybe it would serve as grist for the mill. Occasionally, I will come up with a phrase or word that is so delicious in my mouth and my mind that I just have to write it down because I am just convinced that it would make a great title for a blog post. Coming up with the post itself, however, may be an entirely different story.

Actually, I have to write most of these random thoughts down. If I don't, they may be gone forever. My friend Marie did me the great favor of driving me to my doctor's office on short notice yesterday (that is another story for another day, as I am prone to say). On our way home, as we were chatting, Marie started to tell me something. When she got partway into what she was talking about, she realized, as we all do from time to time, that she couldn't remember what was the main reason she had brought up that particular subject. I think that happens to all of us. Our minds go so much faster than our words can, which sometimes leaves our lips floundering for material as our brain has skipped forward to another subject. I told Marie not to worry. We sometimes lose track of our train of thought because it goes in and out of the station before we even know it's been there. 

This made me think of a program Trent and I had watched about L. Frank Baum's life, and the writing of the Wizard of Oz series of books. Baum apparently would wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and know that if he didn't write it down, he would forget it. So he wrote them on the wallpaper! His wife would complain that she had to change the wallpaper frequently because he would write so many ideas on it. I would never dare to compare myself to this brilliant mind, but I can completely identify with needing to write things down. I have receipts and envelopes with ideas and titles written on them all over the place.

And now we come back to the title of this evening's blog post. I believe we were watching a program on the Discovery ID Channel, or as Trent likes to call it, The All-Murder Channel, and there was someone commenting on the developing story. I think we were both only halfway paying attention to the show, but something just jumped out and caught my attention. I heard a man say something about a high-class hooker. Trent and I looked at each other with blank faces. You don't usually hear the words high-class and hooker paired with each other. High-class tends to imply refinement and quality, whereas hooker tends to have a more, well, cheap connotation. 

Now, as I am sure you all know, an oxymoron is a phrase that is composed of words that are paired together but are, or seem to be, contradictory. An example of this would be "a deafening silence." So, when we heard a prostitute not being called an expensive escort, but a high-class hooker, I said to Trent, "Isn't that a bit of an oxymoron? Was what he said a bit oxymoronic?" Trent, bless him, seemed to appreciate my use of this word. He liked that I described the gentleman's statement this way. And by all means, if you like the word yourself, feel free to use it whenever someone seems to make a dumb and contradictory statement. I share it with you freely. 

I wrote it down for later use as a title and struggled over what to write for content. It mocked me from my list of blog posts. There it was, simply the title, and the word draft. I didn't want to write a lesson about what an oxymoron is, and I certainly didn't want to get on a high horse about why I might agree or disagree with what certain people may or may not consider to be an oxymoron. Boring! But I can say that I have really enjoyed being able to use the word so many times in one evening, probably more times than I have in the last year. I think it's sort of a lip-smacking word, one of those that you don't use very often, like alliteration, or sibilant, or aberrant, or prevaricate, or onomatopoeia. Wow. I spelled those correctly, all by myself! Good thing. I'd hate to look moronic, even more than looking oxymoronic!


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hardwired

I woke up yesterday feeling raw and on edge. It had taken me what seemed like forever to fall asleep the night before, and even then the sleep was patchy. There were brief bits of rest followed by bursting wide awake into the still-dark hours of the morning. I needed sleep; both Trent and I had doctor's appointments to go to yesterday, but I just couldn't find my way to that needed rest. When I got up, I almost felt sick with stress and worry. I made up my mind, I just wasn't going to go to my appointment. To heck with it. But I got up and stepped into the shower, unhappy about going, but unhappy about not going and still having it hanging over my head.

"What's wrong with me?" I wondered. "Why am I always so worried?" I was a bundle of nerves over going to see my doctor. I was worried about what he might say, and how I might respond. Doctor Mike and I have an unusual relationship. First of all, I never call him Doctor Last-name-here. I call him Mike or Mikey. Some people find it shocking and disrespectful, but I knew him when he was a brilliant kid who cut up my Aunt Alice's garden hose because he was bored, or threw rocks at the girls (my cousins) in true "bad"-boyish fashion. 

Having this type of relationship with your doctor can have both good and bad side effects. I can ask him about anything. Hugs are exchanged. When I was the last patient he saw at his first medical practice, he kissed the top of my head while I sat at the reception desk to write my check for the visit. On the other hand, he can be so straightforward with me that it can hurt my feelings. Several years ago, in the visit that resulted in me finding out I was diabetic, he told me I weighed too much in such a blunt way that I went home and cried. Trent can tell you this is true, he was there for both the visit and the crying.

I was trying to think of all of the concerns I needed to talk to him about, but I kept thinking, "He's going to say something mean about how much I weigh. And then I am going to fire right back and tell him I'm glad he went to medical school so that he could learn to state the obvious. Jerk." As I stepped into the shower, I wasn't angry at Mike. I was upset with myself. Why was I like this? What made me worry so much about what might happen, and how to deal with it? To borrow a line from Full Metal Jacket, what was my major malfunction? 

And then it started to hit me. I have become this way as a product of my experiences. Suddenly I remembered being a little girl in Chicago, and knowing it was almost time for my Papa to get home from work. I would go out on the front sidewalk to see if he was walking down the street. There he was! My Papa was coming! But what should I do? Should I run up to him and throw my little arms around his legs because I loved him so much and I was so happy to see him coming home? But what if it made him mad? He might be angry all evening, and that might mean seeing him walk into the room, doubling over his belt to spank one or all of us. So I waited to see his face and his emotion. If he called out my name and smiled, that meant I could safely run to him and give him my love. I had to be prepared, have a Plan A and a Plan B. I had to worry.

Then my thoughts went to the orphanage where Liz and I were placed after our mother's death. And I continued to learn to worry about my actions and their results. I had to be grateful for what I received. I had to act like I was happy with my situation. I couldn't be too happy, though, because I was a bad person who deserved every horrible thing that ever happened to me. It was all my fault. But then again, if I was too serious, I was an ungrateful wretch and a sinner who didn't realize how lucky I was that I had been taken in and cared for even though I didn't deserve it. I learned to try and be prepared for whatever extreme I might be confronted with, and I was usually prepared for the wrong one.

Then, a reprieve, or so I thought. We had relatives in another state who would take these two orphans into their home. We would be part of a family again. Before the first day was over, I had a new name. I was told by Alice that I would be called by my middle name, which was Katrina. It was a while before I realized that was not my middle name at all. It was the name of her brother's dog. Although I have learned to make a joke about it, I know that it is a telling sign of how little she cared about me. Within short order, she dumped Liz on her mother. But I spent almost two years with her, the primary target of her anger and hate. I lived in fear because I never knew what the day would bring.

Again, I tried to read the cues of her behavior, tone of voice, facial expressions. But I never seemed to get on top of the situation. One morning, I might wake up to a smiling woman who spoke almost kindly to me as I ate my breakfast. The next, I might be pulled out of my bed by my ankles, my head crashing on the linoleum floor, because there was something that made her mad. Lie, or avoid telling the truth in an effort to avoid making her angry? Be tied to the back fence at night and told that she hoped the boogeyman would come and get you, something terrifying for an eight-year-old. Miss picking up a piece or two of paper that blew into the yard? Pick up every piece, and have them all scattered through the yard to pick up again and again. Do something wrong? Be stripped naked, then dressed in a diaper and be sent out to clean up the back yard looking like the stupid baby you are. And the beatings. And being told that you are stupid. You are worthless. You were never wanted. You are crazy like your father.

The relief when she sends you away from the dinner table, and calls you back to tell you that the family has just voted to send you away to live with her mother because they don't want you any more. The joy at going to someone else, someone who will not beat you. Then being told that you shouldn't be happy, because that person has hated you from the first moment they laid eyes on you. The knowledge that they could make you come back.

Then it really hit me, why I was stressed. I was hardwired to run through mental scenarios so that I could be prepared for whatever might happen. I had learned that to survive, I had to think on my feet. And then, the biggest mental revelation of all, why I had really been stressed over seeing Doctor Mike. I was afraid that he would offer condolences to me over Alice's recent death. That was the possibility that I simply could not bear. Because the truth is that when I knew Alice was dead, I felt nothing. I am grateful that I have enough humanity not to have rejoiced over her death. I felt sad for the effect losing her might have on her family. But I could not bear the thought of anyone feeling sad for me that she was dead. I had lost nothing with her passing.

So I went into my day, still on edge, still feeling raw. The first person who was kind to me, our dear friend Lexi at Trent's doctor's visit, made me begin to cry. I told her of my thoughts about Alice's death, and she hugged me and gave me permission to cry. She also gave me the gift of telling me that it was okay that I felt nothing at this cruel person passing out of my life. That I should be proud of myself for feeling nothing rather than feeling relief or happiness at her passing. That it was proof that Alice did not win, and that I was a better person. I was able to face the rest of my day. And how did it go? The worries were unfounded, I'm glad to say. Even though I found out I might need surgery, everything felt lighter and easier. Will I still spend time worrying? Yes. I am hardwired that way.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Am That Marshmallow

"I know it hurts, but you can't have any more pain pills right now. It's only been three hours since you had your last dose, and it's supposed to be every four to six hours. Sorry." This was what I said to Trent several times in the days after he had surgery on his thumb a few weeks ago. I took to writing down the times when I gave him his pain pills, because his pain was sometimes telling his brain that it had been six or eight hours, when it really hadn't. And anyone can forget, so it made sense. It's a tough position to be in; you are the caretaker for someone who has just had surgery. You want them to be comfortable and catch up on their rest, but you also don't want to screw up their body by letting them take their medicine too soon. Sometimes you feel like you are thought of as the cruelest person in the world. Sometimes you start to feel like you are the cruelest person in the world.

It isn't as if we haven't traveled this road before. This is, to the best of my recollection, the nineteenth surgery Trent has had in the fourteen years of our marriage. Some have been more serious than others. Some have resulted in a lot of pain. This one, with his dominant hand being immobilized, has been both painful and frustrating. I can identify with this because several years ago I broke my right wrist. There were lots of things that were challenging to accomplish with my smart hand out of commission. One of the most frustrating, though, was eating. I could handle a fork or spoon using my left hand, but how do you cut meat one-handed? One evening while I still had my cast on, we went out for dinner and I ordered a steak. It wasn't until it came to the table that I realized it wasn't the best choice. It really screws with your head when you are a fully-functioning adult, and you have to ask someone to cut your food for you. In public, or in private, it can diminish you, make you feel like you are less of a person, because you are unable to accomplish such a basic task.

And now Trent has been dealing with those feelings. When asked what he would like to eat, he waits a bit before he responds. I know he is thinking of not only what sounds good to eat, but how simple or difficult it will be to eat it. And it's very hard to ask someone to cut your food or help you get the last few bites of food off your plate or out of your bowl, or whatever. Heck, even eating cereal can be a challenge when one of your tools, your faithful hands, is not working. So I have been trying to be conscious of these challenges when I prepare meals. I know it will somehow taste better to him if he is able to do it all on his own.

The day of the surgery was one of the first days that Colorado made the national news this September because of heavy rains and flooding. It is that kind of weather that makes you want to eat comfort foods like soup and chili and roasted things. On this particular evening, as I walked into the kitchen, I thought, "Boy, I could really use a toasted marshmallow right now." Of course there were no marshmallows in the house. There seldom are. I have been known, in a moment of marshmallow madness, to spear and toast a Peep. These are very dangerous, though. That sugar coating turns into molten lava when exposed to heat, so you have to exercise great self-control during the cooling-down period. If you don't, your taste buds will be scorched off and you won't have much of a taste for anything for a few days.

I did, however, have a jar of marshmallow creme in the cupboard. Aha! This would work just fine! I turned on the front burner of the stove and swirled a dinner fork in the marshmallow fluff. As I held it over the heat, it tried to slip through the times of the fork, but I was too clever to let that happen. As soon as it began to brown, I was turning the fork to toast the other side. And let me say right here that I have no problems with eating a marshmallow that has gone and gotten itself flambĂ©ed. I actually like the delicate burnt crust which hides the creamy melted marshmallow inside. Yum!

As I was letting the first forkful of toasted marshmallow creme cool to eating temperature, I had A Moment. I looked at the fork in my hand and thought, "I AM this toasted marshmallow." It perfectly represented the person I had needed to be during the last couple of days, and, in fact, the person I often am. I may be stern with Trent when he tries to wheedle pain pills out of me before it's time for another dose. But, on the other hand, I will try to do my best to make his life easier and sweeter as he deals with his very inconvenient situation. And in life, I often have a hard and tough-looking, tough-acting exterior that covers my softer, more vulnerable side. Yes, I am that marshmallow, I decided. And then I ate it.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Strong-Minded, Strong-Willed Woman

I am not trying to brag when I say that I think I am unique. I believe that we all are, or at least can be. Something that really bothers me is when people (okay, especially females) throw away their feelings, thoughts, desires, you name it, all to please another person. What is the benefit of that? Instead of sharing yourself with others, you simply become the mirror that reflects who they are. And like the mirror, you are not a living thing, but simply a trick of light and shadows. I know women who love to listen to seventies rock, but since they are married to someone who exclusively listens to country music, that is now the only music they play, even when they are alone in their own car. They love to read books, but have quit doing so, because their significant other isn't much of one for reading. They only watch the tv programs their mate likes. Suddenly a life-long eater of chocolate or shrimp or broccoli never eats it again, because Mister doesn't like it. They vote the way their partner votes. In short, when they find someone that they want to make happy, they cease to exist as an individual.

That person is not me. I have always been a person who likes what she likes. No, I am not a person who won't compromise. I love to make foods that Trent likes to eat. Luckily, they are usually things I like to eat, too. (It only took me a few years to get him to try my green chile, and now he loves it. A few years longer than that to try Hungarian food, and he thinks it's fantastic.) And sometimes I just don't want to see the same movie he is excited to have arriving in the movie theaters. I don't have a problem with him going with a friend. Or making a deal with me along the lines of "If I go with you to see The Movie That Doesn't Thrill Me At All But I'm Going To See It Because I Love You, then you will take me to see That Scary Movie That Katrina Wants To See And I Have No Idea Why, Unless She's Scouting For Ideas On How To Kill Me Without Leaving Any Evidence Behind." I know that's silly, but you get the idea, I hope. 

When I was much younger, one of my aunts came over to have dinner with me and Gram. Gram had made one of my favorite dishes, and I had two servings. Those were the days when I could eat anything that wasn't tied down and never gain weight. I miss that. Anyway, my aunt started smiling when I got a second plate. She wasn't making fun of me, she was just happy at how much I was enjoying myself. She told me that something she had always loved about me was that when I liked something, I really liked it. And not just food. Books, music, sitting in the summer sun with a dog on my lap, eating plums as I picked them off the tree. People, places, thinking deep thoughts. Being witty and sassy, but also loving and generous and kind. Scary movies, old ones, musicals, dramas, comedies.

Trent knows I am my own person. So is he. A week from Sunday, I will be watching the tv in the other room, eager to see what will be new on this season of The Walking Dead. It's just not his thing. Some other evening, he might be watching something I am not terribly excited about. When elections roll around, we will both vote by our consciences, although we do tend to have the same feelings regarding politics. But if everything we liked was the same, what on earth would we have to talk about? I know that one of the biggest things that drew us together, and keeps us together, is our intelligence and individuality. Trent knew from day one that I would never act stupid to stroke a man's ego. And he loves me for that, and I love that he wants to be married to this strong-willed, strong-minded woman.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Wrong Number

Ah, telephones, those wondrous tools of communication. They have been an important part of this modern world for many years, and for good reason. Before the internet and computers took over, they were the only way for people to actually speak with loved ones many miles away. Their ring could be a sign of important news, either good or bad. There might have been a baby born across the country, or a family member whose life had drawn to a close. And a telephone ringing in the middle of the night has always made the receiver of the call nervous. If our phone goes off at two a.m., our mind races in the few seconds it takes us to fully awaken and answer the call. Has someone been arrested, died, had an accident? Is a friend sick or suicidal? We always expect the worst. After all, most of us don't make calls at that time of night just for idle chit-chat.

And then there's the wrong-number calls. Wrong number calls can run the gamut from irritating to hilarious to heartbreaking. Years ago, I had an extended series of wrong-number calls from the same person. They started one day when I was at work at my retail job. I must have been working the closing shift, getting home after ten p.m. I checked my voice mails to find a message from someone who was definitely what my Gram would have called three sheets to the wind. AKA tiddly, drunk, or blotto. The message went something like this, "Hi, Lorraine, it's me. I'm gonna be a little bit longer. I'll talk to you later. Bye." Not so bad, right? Except that he left me about three messages the same night. Or, rather, he left Lorraine three messages that night. I'll bet she was really mad when he claimed to have called her and that she didn't answer the phone. This went on and on for many days. I actually went so far as to change the message on my voice mail. "Hello. This is not Lorraine. This is not Lorraine's phone. If you are calling for Lorraine, do not leave a message for Lorraine because she will not receive your message as this is not Lorraine's phone. If you are not calling for Lorraine, please leave a message after the tone." 

The only person who left any messages for me when I had this greeting was Mister ThisIsMe, each one as blotto as the one before. Either the pay phone in his local bar was broken, or he was the world's worst drunk-dialer. One night my phone rang at about two a.m. I reached for it groggily, because, hey, something might have happened. What a mistake. It was the wrong number man. I was not coherent, and instead of saying, "I am not Lorraine," it came out as, "I am not Katrina." I mentally cursed myself out for that slip. "Oh, your name is Katrina?" he slurred. "Listen! I am not Lorraine! I don't want to talk to you! Don't ever call me again!" I yelled, and hung up the phone. And it worked! Whoo-hoo!

The calls that make me very sad often have two things in common. The number doesn't show on our caller ID, and they are calls of love or sadness or remorse. Someone calls and says, "Hi, Joe, it's your Uncle Fred. I just wanted to call you on Christmas and tell you how much we love and miss you. We'll set an extra plate for dinner, and we really hope you will come over this year. I know it's been a long time. Please come have dinner with us. We'll be eating at two, but come any time you want. We miss you so much. I love you, buddy." You can hear the sadness, love, and desperation in these heartfelt messages. Those are the calls that can make me cry. A family or friendship or some other kind of human connection has suffered some damage, and someone is reaching out to a person they love, a person who will never get the message. And yes, I have been known, if the caller leaves a number, to return their call. At least then they will know that their message was only misdirected, and not ignored.

What brought this all to mind was a message that I received a few days ago. I had heard the phone ring, but the number wasn't even remotely familiar, so I didn't answer it. But the caller left a voicemail, so I prepared to hear a recording attempting to sell a product, or maybe telling me that a prescription had been mailed by my pharmacy. Instead, I got a message for a mother. Debbie at Memorial School (in New Hampshire, no less!) was calling Mrs. Q to let her know that her son had bumped his head getting on the school bus that morning. Since the school nurse wasn't in that day, they had put an ice pack on his head. He had no cuts or scratches, but they wanted her to know what was going on.

This, to me, is an interesting occurrence directly related to cell phones. When we move, our numbers stay the same. So someone who once lived in Colorado, and now lives in New Hampshire, was not receiving the call. Yes, of course I called the school. And loved the recording, which said if you knew your pahty's extension, dial it now. If you wanted to look someone up by their lahst name, press such-and-such number. I reached the office and spoke with Debbie. She gave me the first few digits of the phone number on record, and I gave her the rest of my number. Only one digit off. Debbie was able to call Mrs. Q again, and my conscience was clear. If Mrs. Q's son got a bad headache later, she would have enough information to get him to a doctor. My good deed was done, and I felt relieved that I had been able to do my small part to help. Another happy ending!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hanging On

I wrote a blog post the other day called A Plastic Spoon, which referred to a line from a song, and what I thought plastic spoons would have made my mother say. My mother had to feed a family of six on very little money, so she would never have made a habit of buying things that would be used once and then thrown away. Heck, there was no way on earth she could have afforded it. A special Sunday feast for us would be one roasted chicken, with some side dishes, of course. When there's one chicken for six people, the youngest kid's portion is always a drumstick. To this day, that is always the last piece I will reach for. My oldest sister, Margit, once told me of a time when Mama had a meltdown of sorts. She threw up her hands and told Margit, "I'm tired of this. I've had enough. You try to feed six people with one potato." And apparently that's what Margit had to do. Papa didn't make a great deal of money, but he always had his cigarettes and his beer. And spent plenty of time in the local bar. But he was the boss of the family, so we made do with what money was left.

I digress. When I published the piece I mentioned, I was pleasantly surprised at how many chords it struck (see how I tied in the musical theme there?) with so many people, about their own families. I think it is safe to assume that my mother had learned frugality way before her marriage. Living through the worldwide economic crisis, World War II, and the struggles to find enough to eat during the postwar Soviet occupation made frugality an everyday necessity. I found a common thread among readers whose parents had lived through the same times.

Some people told me of how their parents never could, or never can, throw anything away, and that their parents always have an overstocked pantry and fridge. My Gram, who raised me, had three kids to raise during The Great Depression. She also experienced rationing during WWII. Not only did she have a problem with throwing things away, she also liked to keep a plentiful stock of basics on hand. She usually had several bags of flour and sugar in her basement storage area, along with a supply of canned goods. Her experiences had ingrained in her a fear that want could strike at any time. So you always kept plenty of certain goods on hand because you didn't want to be caught without if times got rough.

Any time I bought a pair of shoes, she would tell me that I needed to save the cardboard box. "You might be glad you saved that box one day. You never know when you might need some cardboard to patch a hole in the sole of your shoe". Any extra buttons that came with clothing were put into her button tin, and quite often, when clothes were worn enough to be thrown out, the buttons were removed and put in the box. Because you never know. Incidentally, I'd love to have that button box. It was a treasure trove of buttons of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Some were plain, some quite fancy. And some were still on the card they had been sold on at the fabric or five-and-dime store. I could make jewelry for days with that treasure trove, and other things as well!

Another thing that was mentioned was finding things to take home or save. Paper clips, rubber bands, plastic bags, and condiment packets were some of the things mentioned. Again, these people are remembering the things that were so difficult to find when they were younger. You might need those paper clips to hold something together. And again, you never know when sugar will be hard to come by. And some ketchup packets mixed with hot water - tomato soup. These people aren't like magpies and crows that are attracted to bright and shiny things. They are more like squirrels setting things aside for the cold season.

While I understand what motivated Gram, and my parents, to hang on to everything, I also see it having a ripple effect. Many of the children and grandchildren of these savers and storers are in danger of carrying on these behaviors, but in a more negative way. Since they grew up with the pattern of hanging on to everything, it becomes a part of their mindset, too. But they aren't saving things for future use, they're just saving them because that is all that they have ever known. Trent and I have come to a point in our lives where we have to go through memorabilia or things we just couldn't bear to part with in the past and ask ourselves, "How important is this in my life?" And it's not like we have any kids who will be clamoring for mom and dad's treasures. So, from time to time, we will give something away to someone we know will love and appreciate and use it. For example, a couple of years ago, I gave my friend Marie a bisque porcelain Nativity set that I have treasured for many years. All I asked is that people in future generations of her family will know who it came from and what kind of person I was. That's enough for me. And it will give me much more joy than just shuffling around another cardboard box!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Plastic Spoon

I really enjoy music. I couldn't possibly name a single type of music that's my favorite, because my taste tends to be quite varied. Depending on my mood, I might be listening to music ranging from opera to pop to old movie music to classic rock to indigenous music to classical to who knows what. No, I don't like everything. For example, I don't know any songs by Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus, and aside from a stray song here or there, I am not a huge fan of country music. Sorry, y'all. Music can do amazing things, things I wish I could accomplish with mere written words. The melodies can evoke all ranges of emotions, and when lyrics are added, if they are added, they refine and describe these moods or experiences.

It isn't uncommon for me to have times when there's a soundtrack playing in my head. I think it happens to many of us. Most of the time it's a nice background to whatever I am doing at the time. Of course, there are other times when it's pure torture. I'm sure you've experienced it - you're watching the tv and an ad comes on with a song that is really inane or just something you hate. You reach for the remote to mute the tv, but it's too late. The damage has been done. Even though you hate the song, you'll keep hearing about how they dialed "### cash now," or some other equally annoying ditty. Don't worry, eventually those scary songs will move on so that your mind can enjoy another soundtrack.

The other day, I was doing some things in the kitchen and my mind kept hearing one of my all-time favorite song lines. The song is called Substitute, and was written by Pete Townshend of The Who and released as a single in early 1966. The line that I think is so brilliant? "I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth." Of course it isn't that fabulous unless you know the saying that it is in direct contrast to. For many years, the phrase, "he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth" has referred to someone being born into a family of wealth and privilege. The implication is that they are so rich or fancy that not only do they dine on the finest foods, but they eat their everyday meals with utensils that most people either can't afford, or only use on special occasions. To take it a step further, they can afford to feed foods that get in every crevice on a silver spoon to a baby. After all, there's a maid to polish it up afterward. So the song, in this and other lyrics, is about being born into a life that is far from privileged. The character who sings this line wasn't raised with maids and fancy cutlery and china. They probably grew up in a cold-water flat. Yes, they had running water. But if they wanted it to be hot, they had to boil some on the stove.

So when I was hearing this song line while I was preparing dinner recently, I suddenly burst out laughing. I was hearing the line and started thinking about it, when something just struck me as hysterically funny. My mental answer to the line was, "You must have been rich compared to my family! We didn't have any spoons you just threw away after you ate, we had to wash ours!" I started to think about my Mama and her practicality. When there's very little money to be had, there's none to be wasted. I can almost hear her saying, "A plastic spoon!? In this house, we don't throw things away after we use them! People who throw things away after they use them are just lazy. What a waste of money!" Maybe that's why I don't throw the spoon away when we go out occasionally for frozen yogurt. I bring it home, wash it, and use it again at home when I eat yogurt or ice cream. Or reuse it when I pack a lunch for those long days at the hospital when Trent has more than one appointment. I guess even when your Mama is long gone, you can still hear her yelling in your head. But at least it drowns out the sound of those horrible commercials!