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Friday, December 26, 2014

A Social Experiment

I started off my week with a Monday-morning doctor's appointment. It was one of those fasting-so-we-can-do-blood-work visits, so I scheduled it at a fairly reasonable time. By the time everything was over and done with, both Trent and I were famished, starved, and otherwise hungry. Since we had several things to do before we headed home, we decided to stop at a fast-food establishment before going to the grocery store. I am vastly in favor of eating before grocery shopping. If you go to the store hungry, you'll be likely to come home with half a dozen bags of snack foods that you buy just because you're so hungry you could happily eat the wrappers as well as the contents.

Anyway, we were sitting and eating our breakfast and planning out the various stops we would make along the way. I happened to look up at just the moment when a gentleman who was waiting while his food was being prepared happened to look in my direction. Without thinking, I said, "Hi! How are you doing today?" His face brightened as he smiled and said that he was doing well, how was I? I sort of quoted my friend Julie and said that if we were all still upright and taking nourishment, we were doing okay. He took his food and went on his way with a little smile on his face.

I told Trent that I was sad at some of the ways in which the world has changed. When we were younger, people greeted one another everywhere they went. Smiles might be exchanged, or a nod of the head or a tip of a man's hat. Pleasantries as simple as comments about the unseasonable weather or a simple "Good day to you," were briefly given, and the parties went on their way. Nowadays, though, it seems as though everyone tries to live in a bubble. They stand in line at a store and update their Facebook feed (I actually saw this happen this week), or they rush through their daily travels, trying not to make eye contact, or any human contact, for that matter. 

As I said to one of my friends, it's almost like everyone thinks they are living in New York City. This is not meant as an insult. People who live in places that are very densely populated, like NYC, have to sort of cocoon themselves in order to not burn out from sensory overload. With that seeming detachment, they can still be alone when they are surrounded by millions of other people. That is not to say that people in NYC are cold or distant. When I was there I saw some of the kindest, most caring people you could ever hope to meet. I still think fondly of the woman who helped my friend and I when we weren't sure if we were taking the correct subway. Yes, you might know that you need to catch it on a particular street to get from Point A to Point B, but if you are on the wrong side of the station, you'll soon be far from where you want to be. This lady said that yes, this was the train we needed, so we waited. A minute or two later, she was back. "Girls, this is the wrong track. Follow me." This New Yorker didn't simply tell us where we needed to be, she took the time to take us there. That's the sort of thing that's often missing these days, I think.

After Trent and I finished our breakfast and had moved on to grocery shopping, Trent showed that he is the wonderful person I know him to be. As a lady walked past where I was waiting while Trent looked at something, he said, "Hi there! How are you doing today?" She looked surprised, but in a wonderful way. She said that she was doing very well, and thanked him for asking. We chatted briefly, and all three of us continued our shopping with smiles on our faces. 

We had to make other stops at various places over the course of the first few days of this week, and kept up with our "great social experiment." We have spoken with people at banks, restaurants, shops, and supermarkets. Our chats have been with people of all sizes, ages, abilities, and hues. When we had to go into our incredibly crowded supermarket the day before Christmas, it helped us not to get overwhelmed by the throngs of shoppers. We discussed whether a youngster was ready for Santa to come, and may have been among the few who acknowledged the gentleman in a motorized wheelchair. It was great. 

So I guess Trent and I have started a two-person revolution. We are going to try to make sure that we don't act like everyone around us is invisible. We won't be pushy, and we aren't trying to make everyone we see be our new best friend. But making someone happy simply because you said hi feels really good. So for now, we're willing to try to change the world, one smile at a time.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Five What?

When I was in Elementary School, I had some wonderful teachers. One that everyone seemed to love was our music teacher, Mrs. Schlundt. Not only did we sing all sorts of fun songs, some from other parts of the world, but we also learned about legends that influenced music, like Till Eulenspiegel and the Pied Piper of Hamelin. We would draw pictures of the stories she told us, and sing the songs or listen to the music that they inspired. She also formed a few choirs in which I sang. Toward the end of my fifth grade year, we were invited to sing at the Governor's Mansion in Denver. A few days before we were due to make this appearance, Mrs. Schlundt was killed by a driver who ran through a red light. We decided not to perform. I lost my confidence in singing, and perhaps, temporarily, a little of my joy.

The following year brought us a new music teacher whose name I can't remember. Looking at the situation over the distance of years, I feel a bit sorry for her. She was following a legend, someone who was deeply loved by her students and died tragically in her prime. But we learned to enjoy our time with this new teacher, and even put on a short version of a Gilbert and Sullivan musical at the end of the school year.

I started on a train of thought yesterday, while we were out running some errands, that made me think of this teacher. We turned on the car radio to listen to some Christmas music, and there was a song that took me back to my childhood. I remembered singing the song "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" and being taught, shall we say, alternative lyrics for this and many other classic holiday songs by my friends and cousins. We thought we were very clever and brave when we sang, "Later on, we'll perspire, as we dream by the fire." We were wild men and women, at least in our own minds.

On the occasions that we'd sing these songs in school or while out caroling, a few of the brave and foolhardy souls among us would use the naughty lyrics or teach them to one another. The opening line of We Three Kings of Orient Are was followed by the words, "tried to smoke a rubber cigar. It was loaded, and explo-o-ded..." And there was always the classic Randolph the Shiny-Gunned Cowboy, or even the witty lyrics "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg..." I'm sitting here shaking my head just thinking about it. What seems so silly now was so hysterical to us then. We thought we were getting away with something really bold and bad, but I am sure all of the parents involved simply chose to ignore what they thought of as our idiocy.

So, how does this relate to my (unfortunately nameless) sixth-grade music teacher? It's very simple, really. When it came time for our annual Christmas program, one of the carols she chose for us to sing was The Twelve Days of Christmas. This was a song that most of us knew and liked a great deal. For the few years that we had actually been old enough to learn and sing carols, we had worked hard to learn all of the lines, especially with a long one like this. But I think most of us felt up to the challenge of singing this song. But our teacher made a change in the lyrics. For some reason, she really hated, and I mean she told us that she absolutely hated, they phrase "five golden rings." I don't know why this would be a big deal for her. Maybe someone gave her a golden ring and it ended up turning her finger green, along with the romance, and the lyric was an annual reminder of the not-so-golden ring? I will never know. As we rehearsed for our program, we sang the song with the new lyric of "five go-old rings." We practiced it enough times for the lyric to come out of our mouths naturally. And that's when my problem began. For years, I had a stumbling block with the fifth day of Christmas. Were the rings gold or golden? It took me a good long while to get that confusion straightened out. 

When I hear old Christmas songs, from time to time I will think about the silliness we indulged in as children. And I also think of how my music teacher's intense dislike of one word in a song had me mixed up about the lyric for years. I sometimes wonder if any of my fellow students had the same problem, or if I was the only one left with fifth-day confusion. My true love gave me five what? I've gotten over my stumbling block with the song, and will gladly join in when it is being sung. "On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, Five Golden Rings..." Or were they gold? Darn it! Just kidding, I knew the right answer all along! 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Good Deeds

I'm not a person of great wealth. If I were, I'd probably be one of those people who gives gifts to random strangers just because it feels so good. But the truth of the matter is, we don't need to have a lot of money at our disposal to make others happy.

When we were leaving the supermarket the other day, I remembered a day about a year ago when we were at the store. It was really close to Christmas, and the parking lot was overflowing with cars. We just happened to have fortunate timing and find a really good parking spot. As we were walking out of the store, we saw that people were circling the lot, trying to find open parking spaces. I told Trent I was going to tell someone to take our spot. I split off from him before we reached the car, and flagged down a driver. I told him that if he followed me and left us enough room to back out, he was welcome to our parking space. The look on his face was priceless. To see the stress melt off of his face was a Christmas gift that I gave myself. Both of us felt warm and fuzzy the rest of the afternoon.

See? Nothing big is necessary to make another person's day. All we need to do at any time of the year is just take a moment to think about someone else. That's why if someone gets behind us in the checkout lane and only has a couple of items, we will insist politely that they should go ahead of us. Even though it feels wonderful to do little good deeds, it can sometimes make me a bit sad. Why? Because people are so stunned by strangers being kind or polite to them. It's a sad state of affairs when an act of courtesy becomes so out-of-the-norm. Apparently common courtesy isn't very common any more.

Occasionally, one can see that Fate/Karma/Heaven/Whatever Works for You rewards kind behavior just like it seems to frequently punish unkind behavior. Wednesday evening was our apartment complex Christmas party. The leasing office was decked out for the holidays, and food was catered from Macaroni Grill. There's just one thing that I don't like about these parties. There is only one table available for sitting down and eating. There are lots of places to sit, but most of them require using your lap as your table. We like to sit with a few other residents that we usually only see at these parties. There's Marge, Vera, and the famous Mary. Mary is ninety-six years old. She lives alone, but comes to the parties with her son. And although he must be in his seventies, he will always be her baby, so she still calls him Tommy. Well, we wanted to make sure that Mary would be able to sit at the table, so we got there early and moved enough chairs to seat all of the people mentioned. And just because we were the first ones there (simply to make sure everyone had seats) we were given a gift. I am pleased to say that Mary and Marge also won prizes in the drawings that were held throughout the evening, but we were thrilled to be given an assortment of treats just because we wanted to make sure Mary had a convenient place to sit down and eat.

I am glad that I have always been aware of the importance and potential impact of small acts of kindness. I like to do them as frequently as I can, because I am selfish. Selfish enough to want to feel that warmth and happiness whenever possible. I don't need to get a prize for doing something decent. The good feeling I get is enough reward for me. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

It's Santa, Baby!

Tap, tap, tap.

There's someone tapping on the front door. We aren't expecting anyone to come over and visit. In fact, we had an incident one evening last week that was a bit disconcerting. We were sitting and watching tv, minding our own business, and someone turned the doorknob and pushed on the door to see if it was unlocked. We looked at one another, a bit stunned, and were glad that we make a habit of locking the door even when we are home. We were also quite relieved that we didn't have some stranger just walk into our home.

After a momentary delay, I looked out through the peephole in the front door, and there was nobody there. I opened the door to find a notice that there was an attempt to deliver a package, and the package would now be delivered to the leasing office. Well, we knew that it would take a bit of time until the driver made his other stops and went to the office, so we simply called to see how late the office would be open that evening. Knowing our wonderful staff, though, we shouldn't have been surprised that we received a call later telling us that our package had been delivered.

When we got to the office, we found that it was a package for me. As I eagerly opened it, I found a lovely red-wrapped package inside, sent from an online merchant. The gift tag had the name of someone I know but have never met. And it was a book that I really want to read. How did all of this happen? It's quite simple, really. I am on a social network known as Google Plus. Every year (this is my second year participating) there is a wonderful thing that happens on this network. A group of elves maintains a page for Secret Santa. In November or early December, the notification goes out for people to create wishlists, and where they will be located. 

Some people don't create wish lists, preferring to be Secret Santa's helpers and sending gifts to members around the world. One can simply put their list out there, or also be a gift giver. There are no firm rules. And that is how Mary Z., whom I've never met, and who lives across the country from me, came to send me a book that I really, really wanted to read. I was thrilled and touched, and posted a picture online of myself with my nose in the book, so to speak.

I'm not entirely sure that I will have the funds to send anyone a gift this Christmas. Last year, I did manage to send one, and it felt really good to give. I also was sent a couple of gifts that I was thrilled and honored and touched to receive. A friend in Ohio sent me a lovely jar of Hungarian Acacia honey, and another in Switzerland sent me a Chromecast device. Both have been immensely enjoyed, and always remind me of the kind people who gave them to me.

I have been trying to delay reading my new book so that I will still have some of it left to read at Christmas. It's been really hard to put off reading the book, but I keep trying day by day. Every time I pick it up, I think of Mary Z. and how wonderful she made me feel. I hope that her Christmas season is full of joyful surprises like the one she gave me a couple of nights ago! Many thanks to Mary, Rich, Eve, and all of Secret Santa's helpers. Your gifts made my holidays very happy.

p.s. I know that if there is anyone out there who is as inquisitive as me (inquisitive, I said, not nosy!), they will be thinking, "Hey! what was the book?" It is called Full Dark, No Stars, and is a collection of four stories (long short stories? short books? novellas?) by Stephen King. One of the selections, Big Driver, is about a female author who takes a shortcut on her drive home from a speaking engagement, a shortcut that leads her into horror. Another story, A Good Marriage, is about a woman who literally stumbles on evidence in the garage that her husband is a serial killer. You know, basic mellow bedtime reading!

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Friendship Lost

I've been thinking a lot lately about a friend I had many years ago. Her name was Donna, and she was substantially older than me. In fact, she was old enough to be my mother. We met and became friends because we both sold Avon products and were in the same sales district. Yes, when I was much younger than I am now, I spent a few years as an Avon Lady. But that's a story for another day. 

Despite our age difference, Donna and I had some great times together. She was willing to try new things and to go to different places. She is the one who introduced me to a little restaurant that I have in turn sent numerous friends to, Andre's Confiserie Suisse. Oh, what a delight that place has been! The lunch menu consists of two or three items, one of which is always vegetarian, and the price of lunch includes your choice from a fabulous selection of freshly made pastries. She was the kind of person who was more than willing to drive across town or into the mountains to enjoy a delicious meal. We went to movies and rode to sales meetings together and had a grand time all around. We could be silly or serious, and we were good friends for one another.

Along the way, however, there were cracks that appeared in our friendship. Some of them taught me to be a more patient person, and some taught me that sometimes it becomes necessary to move on. One thing that drove me batty was her wrong-name phase. It all started when we got a new District Manager whose name was Kathleen, if I remember correctly. I will be the first to say that Katrina and Kathleen are somewhat similar names. But Kathleen and I had very different personalities, so when Donna started calling me Kathleen all of the time, it really irked me. Actually, she didn't just call me Kathleen. She called me Kath-a-leen. I would say, "Katrina," to her, and it really ticked her off. One day, I decided not to put such importance on her calling me by my own name and quit correcting her. As soon as I quit correcting her, she began always getting my name right. Go figure.

Then we started arguing about almost everything. She was always right, even when I was, so this became quite frustrating. After she had changed lanes on the highway and kept driving for miles with her blinker on (a very irritating sounding blinker, it was!), I'd mention it casually. She'd blow up at me, telling me that it was broken, because it should have turned itself off after she eased into the other lane. I knew it wasn't worth even trying to explain that it would only do so if her wheel had turned more. And the time that she was driving in the city with her high-beams on because one of her headlights was burned out? She got angry that so many other drivers were flashing her with their bright lights. When I asked if hers were on, she said yes, and I said that was probably why they were flashing her. She retorted that she needed them on to see, so that was their problem. Which it was, indeed, since they were blinded by the light.

One of the final nails in the coffin came when we had gone to see the film Gandhi. After the movie, we went out for a burger (booger in Donna-speak) and began talking about the movie. She began to tell me that as a Christian, she was upset that the Indian people thought of Gandhi as a god. No matter how many times I tried to tell her that Mahatma meant a great soul or a wise person, she wasn't having any part of it. They were all terrible people because they revered this man as a god. I cut my losses and changed the subject. I didn't want a side of indigestion with my burger that night.

The final death knell for our friendship came when the AIDS crisis started really hitting the news. At first, many people assumed it was a disease that only affected the gay community. This was quickly proven to be wrong as the illness spread through all facets of society, rich, poor, straight, gay, young, and old. I can't even tell you how the subject came up, but Donna pronounced her judgement and opinion of the situation. "God sent AIDS to get rid of queers," she told me in a matter-of-fact tone. I was stunned and hurt, but most of all, I was furious. I retorted that if God was sending AIDS as a punishment for homosexuality, babies wouldn't be getting it too. Donna refused to talk about it any further. She knew (felt?) that she was right, and I knew (again, felt?) that she was wrong. There was no point in discussing it any further.

That was pretty much the end of our friendship. We had come to a point where we both realized we were no longer good for one another. We had a lot in common, but we also had a lot that would force us apart. We drifted away from one another before things became contentious, and I'm very glad for that. Although I remember some of the bad times, of course, I still have memories of the much more numerous good times that we shared. I have no regrets. I experienced and learned many things, and grew as a person because of our friendship. When it was over, I was sad, but ready to move on with my life.

I want to stress that this is not an indictment of Donna's Christian faith. There are many people with Christian beliefs, and there are variations of thought among them. For every Westboro Baptist or similar church that has far more extreme beliefs than Donna ever dreamt of having, there are other Christian sects that preach love of one's fellow humans. Donna fell somewhere in the middle. She was a good person, and I am glad she was a part of my life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Go Scrooge Yourself!

Okay, before you get all worked up, reread the title, please. This is my way of telling you that I wish everyone would take some time to read (or re-read, as the case may be) Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol. Actually, the full title is A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. It was published in 1843 and has never been out of print. That is pretty amazing. Many books come and go, and after they have been published, they might be reprinted a few times, but publishing houses quit doing so because they don't sell enough copies to justify the expense of printing. Pretty amazing for a book about a miser who changes after experiencing a memorable Christmas Eve.

Why do I love this story so much? I could give numerous reasons. The most obvious, of course, is the change undergone by Ebenezer Scrooge when he is given the chance to look back at his life and his Christmases. He sees himself alone at school over the holidays, sent away by a father who has become bitter over the loss of his wife. This is the first step toward creating the man he would eventually become. He watches himself a few years later, apprenticed to Mr. Fezziwig, who has a party for all of his family and staff. The dancing and food cost very little, Scrooge realizes, but created so much happiness. Scrooge continues to try and better himself in life, hoping to earn enough money to be able to afford to have a wife and home. After a while, though, his hunger for security alienates the woman he loves. She releases him from his promise to her because she knows that she has been replaced in his heart by his need for more money.

Scrooge is then shown people celebrating Christmas in numerous places and in many ways. He sees people clasping hands in goodwill and sharing whatever they have, even if it is only their friendship or love, in celebration of the holiday. He has the opportunity to see his nephew, who never gives up on inviting Scrooge to dinner, and his wife and friends celebrating the day. His former fiancee and her children are also visited, along with the family of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's underpaid clerk. Even though the Cratchits have very little, they celebrate joyously, and drink to Scrooge, the founder of the feast. Scrooge learns, to his great sadness, that young Tim Cratchit will die if there is no change in his family's circumstances.

Finally, Scrooge has the chance to see the future. There are people talking, bragging in fact, about taking things from a dead man. They sell these various items while laughing about him not needing them any more. There are also men who were business associates of Scrooge talking about the same man's funeral. Most agree that very few people will be attending, even suggesting that they might only go if a luncheon is provided. He asks to be shown some tenderness associated with a death, and is transported to the Cratchit home. Bob is late coming home from work because he stopped on his way home to visit the grave of his beloved Tiny Tim. Scrooge is heartbroken at this news, and also when he finds out that the dead man the others talked about earlier was him.

Scrooge's transformation is miraculous. He changes willingly and completely. He begins to share his enormous wealth with others, especially with the Cratchit family. Tiny Tim's life is spared, Scrooge begins to have a relationship with his nephew and his nephew's wife, and much happiness ensues. At the end of the story I feel happy and inspired.

There have been numerous film adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and I have seen and loved many of them. There's a great version from 1951 called Scrooge, a title which was used again in a 1970 musical version. There's also the 1988 version, Scrooged, which someone let me borrow over Christmas that year. It helped me at a time when I had recently been released from the hospital with a diagnosis of lupus and was still weak and struggling. I must also admit to a great attachment to a made-for-television animated version, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. I've loved it ever since the first time I saw it, and still do.

While all of these are wonderful ways to appreciate this story, there's nothing to compare with reading the book. Dickens' use of the language and his powers of description are marvelous. When I reread the book in the coming days, I can almost guarantee something that will happen. I will come across a description that is so marvelous that I will make Trent stop what he's doing to listen as I read it aloud. Here's a sample from the visit by the Ghost of Christmas Present:

There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the
waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling
out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy,
brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of
their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in
wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at
the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high...

The language is both beautiful and delicious. Yes, I really love this book! I really hope you'll find some time, at any time of the year, to read this wonderful story. I hope it enriches your holiday season like it always does mine. And now, I'm off to read...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Haunted Holidays

I am a firm believer that Ebenezer Scrooge wasn't the only person, whether fictional or real, whose holidays were haunted. I think that times that are full of intense emotions and memories create their own "ghosts," feelings that attach themselves to the holidays in question whether we want them to or not.

A good example for me is Thanksgiving. I love the idea of Thanksgiving, and I think that remembering and celebrating this American (and yes, I include non-USA Americans who celebrate Thanksgiving holidays as well) holiday is a wonderful thing. There are similar holidays celebrated throughout the world, and throughout history. To me, there is something both simple and profound in having a special holiday dedicated to gratitude for what we have in our lives. 

I know that over the centuries, Thanksgiving has changed from its origins of days of fasting and days of thanksgiving which were tied to the cycles of availability of food depending on whether it was just before, or right after, the harvest. Oftentimes the food harvested the previous fall would be running very low before the next harvest was due, and it was natural to celebrate the bounty of crops at harvest time. With the ready availability of food regardless of the season, modern Thanksgiving celebrations often don't have the same simple meanings they once did.

Thanksgiving dinner wasn't something I was all that aware of until I lived with Gram. I don't know if my parents celebrated this American holiday after they moved here; if they did, I have no memory of them doing so. And I have no memory of family Thanksgiving celebrations from the year or so that I lived with Alice. But Gram was the hostess of the annual Thanksgiving feast. When November rolled around, we did extra cleaning of the whole house, especially the large room in the basement which was the only place in the house with enough room for all of the family to eat together. At that time, with Gram's children, their children and one spouse, and Liz and yours truly, the group numbered seventeen.

Gram would order a huge fresh turkey from the grocery, and it was usually stuffed and in the oven by about 5:30 in the morning. One of my jobs was working on the relish trays full of cheese-stuffed celery, olives, and other vegetables. Every family brought one or more side dishes and desserts, and the meal was served buffet-style, usually at about 2:30 in the afternoon. I will freely admit that I looked forward to some of these dishes far before the holiday, because many of them were only made once a year. One of my favorites was my Aunt Jackie's fruit salad, and I loved the huge roaster full of Alice's rice, as well as the mashed potatoes and gravy, Sheryl's cranberry-orange relish, and Aunt Roberta's brownies and the bowl of amazingly thick whipped cream she always brought to put on top of pumpkin pie. As someone who has never been fond of pumpkin pie, I thought it was terribly unfair that you had to eat pumpkin pie to get whipped cream. I got bold one year and bravely put some on top of my brownie. I didn't get in any trouble for it, so I never looked back. After that, I never missed my Thanksgiving dessert slathered with whipped cream.

Over the years, the number of people grew. In my unique position as both an outsider and a sort of family member, I was able to observe all of the happenings and behaviors over the years. I remember one year when I quietly carried many of the plates upstairs to the kitchen and washed and dried them by myself because I didn't want Gram's Currier and Ives plates to be treated carelessly and broken. Before anyone knew it, I had put most of the plates away in their special spots in various cupboards.

I also remember turning the heat down low and opening the doors and windows on the main floor of the house, because the sheer numbers of people in the house made it so warm. People would come sit in the living room for quiet or to chat, and complain of the cold, shutting the doors and turning up the heat. Before long, I had to undo their handiwork because the people downstairs were getting sick from the heat. 

One of the things that I noticed in my early years was that many people would not eat or drink anything all day because they knew that they would be feasting later. Most of the time, these same people would eat and eat until they felt sick with the amount of food in their stomachs. I resolved one year in my early teens that I would always leave the table before I got in that state, and have been fairly true to my word. After all, it's not a holiday in celebration of gluttony, it's a holiday in celebration of gratitude. Over the years, there were other forms of excess that made me start to dread the holiday. There were always the same people who drank way too much and either hurt themselves on the way to their cars or homes, or broke one thing or another. And in true fashion, as the liquor flowed, the noise level rose.

As the family grew, things became more complicated. When everyone had finished packing up leftovers in Gram's dishes, we often had a lack of bowls and plates for months afterward. And the dish washing took hours. So I made suggestions to Gram to make everyone's life easier. It was me who suggested switching to eating dinner off of large, sturdy paper plates, as well as using plastic zipper bags for leftovers. And eventually the group became so large that we started renting the clubhouse of a nearby condominium complex. Instead of Gram having to cook a twenty-five pound turkey, two women from the next generation would each make a turkey for the feast.

Another thing that made me stress out about the holiday was the gossip that inevitably began during the meal (sometimes even before!) and lasted until Christmas brought new grist for the gossip mill. Since I lived with Gram, I was aware of gossip from all sides. One daughter would call and complain, and then the other would call with her litany of hateful comments. I don't ever remember Aunt Roberta calling with any gossip, and that is a credit to her. By the time Christmas rolled around, I was so weary of hearing about who sat with whom, and what they looked like in their dreadful clothes, the idiotic things they said during the dinner, how poorly they disciplined their children - the lists, and the complaining, went on and on. When Christmas rolled around, there were new things for them to be angry about, like whose house Gram went to for Christmas dinner or where she spent Christmas Eve, who wore what, said what, ate what, gave what get the picture.

After Gram died and I found myself without a family, I had an odd combination of feelings about Thanksgiving. Although there was a bit of loneliness associated with not having family with whom I could celebrate, there was also an odd sense of relief and freedom. I wouldn't have to worry about who was angry because I didn't sit with them, and I didn't have to watch over anyone or worry about anyone. There was no gossip to listen to for weeks. But there also was no Gram, no delicious dishes that I waited for all year, no people eager to catch up on what was going on in my life.

I've only recently started feeling better about Thanksgiving. There have been a few times that Trent and I have gone to a simple holiday dinner at a nearby restaurant, and there have been times when I cooked the feast myself. There have also been times when we have been invited to join large family feasts of dear friends, and it's difficult for them to understand that even though I love them, the idea of attending a large family dinner on Thanksgiving makes me cringe. The ghosts of my previous holidays return once again to torture me during the holiday season, promising to visit again the next year.

This year our friends Marie and Thayne invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner. It was just the four of us, and together we prepared a a wonderful meal full of traditional favorites, and a dish or two that we created on the spur of the moment. We watched Nathan the bloodhound win Best in Show on tv and had a lovely time. I'm hoping that over time I will be able to exorcise the stressful Spirits of Holidays past. And still remember to leave the table before I'm way too full.

I wish you all happy holidays, no matter what time of year they occur. May they be full of love, good company, and delicious foods, and very short on stress.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How Much Does It Take?

Trent and I have enjoyed playing a fun game lately. We'll be driving down the street, for example, and one of us will say, "When we win the $10,000 a week for life sweepstakes, we're going to hire that landscaping company to design our yard." "When we win $5000 a week for life, we're going to travel all around the world." We both think it's good to have dreams, even if they're pipe dreams (AKA unattainable hopes or dreams). We aren't living in a fantasy, by any means. We know that the chances of us becoming wealthy are remote to non-existent. Our feet are firmly rooted in reality and we know that our fate is likely to be one of simply getting by. This is fine because, although we aren't living high off the hog, we are sheltered, clothed, and fed, which means that we are well and truly blessed.

There certainly is something bewitching in the idea of being set for life. Being able to go wherever you wish, whenever you wish, having a home and a vacation home (mine would be in my family's village in Hungary), and having whatever you wish with no struggles, all sounds fabulous. But is it really necessary for one's happiness? I remember telling my Grammie many years ago that I knew what being rich meant. If you were able to pay all of your bills and buy food and have enough money left over to do things on the spur of the moment like go out to dinner and a movie, or take a trip once in a while, you were truly rich. I am happy to say that all these years later, I still know this to be true. 

This also begs the question - how much does it take? What is true wealth? I recently told our friends that it doesn't take millions of dollars to change someone's life completely. While I certainly would be thrilled (heck, I'd be over the moon!) to suddenly have a million dollars at my disposal, the amount of money that it would take to change my life is, by comparison to more grandiose dreams, relatively small. And isn't that a wonderful thing? A thousand dollars might change the life of a poor family in India or Africa or even the USA. Someone who lives near you right now might be that person who would be able to get and hold a better job if they had a thousand dollars to put toward the purchase of a used car. A mother in India might be able to start a home-based business with the same amount, and feed her family as well as those of one or two workers. Another family in the USA might be able to pay off their debts and put a down payment on a home, all for twenty-five thousand dollars.

I'm glad that I am able to both dream extravagantly and realize that a far smaller amount would make me rich, indeed. Yes, if the famous "Prize Patrol" comes knocking at my door, I will gladly and promptly answer. But I don't need to be as wealthy as Warren Buffett, or Jimmy Buffett for that matter, to be comfortable. A more modest form of substance would suit me just fine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


It's that time of year again. Halloween is over, Veterans' Day has passed, and it's not yet Thanksgiving. The snow has begun to fly, making me think of a short piece of poetry I heard the comedian Nipsey Russell recite on television years ago: 

"Spring has sprung,
Fall has fell,
Winter has come,
And it's colder than usual."

The time of year I am referring to specifically, though, is what seems to be commonly known nowadays as open enrollment. That is a short way of saying that it's the time of year when we have to decide whether we wish to make any changes to our various forms of health, dental, vision, and related insurances. It also is the time of year when we learn what increases we may need to plan for in our monthly insurance premiums. If you think I am here to launch into a rant about the cost of insurance, fear not; I am not going to complain about that at this time. In fact, we were pleased and relieved that our cost went up by such a tiny amount this year. Yippee!

Trent needed to call the Benefits department to process our annual enrollment for our insurance today. We could have just skipped making the call; the packet sent out every years advises us that we can do so. Our choices from last year will automatically be used for next year. But we just can't do that around this household, because I am a worrier. I like to avoid unpleasant surprises, so we call every year to make the same choices we made the previous year. Some of you may be shaking your heads at this, and I don't mind. I'd rather make an unnecessary call and err on the side of caution. It's a good thing, really. When there are two family members with various health problems, and one of them is a transplant patient, that sort of caution makes sense. I will freely admit that I would love to feel relaxed enough to just forego the call. I really don't see myself turning into that type of person soon.

This year, though, couldn't possibly have been the year that we adopted that attitude. The employer that provides the insurance has begun a new policy for 2015. We received a letter from them a couple of months ago describing what would be coming, and I think it is the wave of the future. The company has determined that employees who use tobacco have a greater chance of having more, and more expensive, health problems than non-tobacco users. Beginning January first, all tobacco users, and any family members covered on their insurance who use tobacco, will pay a monthly premium of over fifty dollars per tobacco user. (I will say, on the company's behalf, that they are also providing help to employees and their family members who want to quit using tobacco. You'll notice I haven't used the word smoking, because the policy covers all forms of tobacco usage.) We had to actively enroll in our benefits this year in order to answer the question of whether or not either of us used any tobacco products. If we didn't take any action, we would automatically be charged the monthly premium.

Neither one of us smokes, so we wanted to make sure that we aren't charged for this. The reporting of tobacco usage is currently on the honor system, but I envisioned requests for confirmation going out to managers about whether the employees answered honestly. This certainly might happen in the future, resulting in people potentially losing their jobs because lying about something like this could be considered a code of ethics violation. 

This also makes me wonder about what lies in the future. Will employees be required to submit to some sort of examination or testing in the future to confirm their tobacco-use status? Will tobacco use have an impact on the hiring process? Let's take it a step further, shall we? How about weight, something that is a problem for me. Will there come a time when people are charged monthly because their weight is too high? Will employees be required to have a BMI within a certain range? How about alcohol consumption? Maybe I am over-thinking this. One person may say that tobacco use is a choice, but another might say that a person's weight is also a choice. Using that type of logic, all sorts of behaviors could come under scrutiny. We shall see. I'm not going to worry about it, though. I'm just going to spend my time trying to be the happiest, healthiest person I can be.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this subject in the comments section below, or on any post containing a link that brought you here. I am curious about how others might interpret this possible trend. Do you think a tobacco-use surcharge is fair? Do you think it will lead to mandatory verification processes? Does this open the door for charges for additional habits/behaviors/conditions? Do you view this as a punitive charge, or a positive move? I am eager to hear your opinions!

Monday, November 10, 2014


No, Kidspeak is not a new cable channel or tv program aimed at children. It's just a description I came up with to describe the fun ways kids express themselves as they are learning our wonderful and sometimes confusing language. My cousin Carole had a couple of good examples of kidspeak. Even though she spoke very clearly and expressed herself well from an early age, she had a couple of words that tripped her up when she was quite young. In her kidspeak, waffles and tunnels became awfuls and tungels. To this day, she claims that she did not pronounce the word waffles incorrectly, she was just telling everyone how she felt about them. I'll allow it, with a smile on my face.

I think kidspeak happens for several reasons. When children are learning to speak, they aren't able to pronounce complicated words until they've had a lot more experience. We can't really expect a child who has just gotten through the mama-dada phase to be able to pronounce something like Salisbury steak, can we? Add to that the fact that all of us sometimes hear things a little differently than what's said, and you have more potential for words getting tangled up a bit. 

A coworker of mine from days of yore had a hysterical experience with this type of kidspeak. She had two daughters who were in the early years of elementary school, and received a telephone call requesting a teacher's meeting regarding the younger one. She was a bit surprised, but made arrangements to meet with the teacher. Sandy took it in stride when the teacher told her that her daughter and a boy in her class had been, shall we say, comparing what sort of equipment they had while they were on the playground after lunch. After dinner that evening, she calmly asked her daughter about what had happened at school that day. Her daughter told her about her classes and lunch, and nothing else. Sandy gently prodded, asking about what happened during recess. Her daughter answered, "You mean when I showed Danny my wenis?"

Well, when Sandy heard her say wenis, she started laughing hysterically, which of course made her little girl cry. She thought mommy was making fun of her, but that wasn't the case. It was just too cute and funny for her to contain herself. Sandy managed to calm both herself and her daughter down, and explained that boys have something that sounds like wenis, and girls have something that doesn't. She briefly told her the correct words and let her know that this was a private part of her body. It proved to be a great opportunity to educate and protect her daughter, and all went well. There were no more calls from the teacher. I wonder, though, if she had a moment like the boy in Kindergarten Cop, informing the other kids that boys and girls have different parts, and what they were called.

I think another thing that contributes to kidspeak is that some words or phrases just don't seem to follow logical rules. I learned this from an argument a conversation I had with my niece Becky when she was a very little girl. She had hit the chatterbox stage, and was telling me about something that had happened the previous day. The conversation began with Becky saying, "Last day, we went to the store." I replied with something like, "Don't you mean yesterday?" We went back and forth for a few minutes with me trying to help her understand that the right way to say it was yesterday, and her being visibly disgusted that I was so stupid that I didn't understand that it happened last day.

We finally dropped it, but after giving it some thought I realized the simple and beautiful logic of why she had said last day. If the previous evening was called last night, it only made sense that the previous day should be called last day. Clear and sensible, and unfortunately just not the way it goes. We never talked about yesterday or last day again because I couldn't argue with the train of thought that had brought her to that destination. Just like her beloved bloneycheese sandwiches, they were a brief and charming part of her childhood. Becky might occasionally say bloneycheese just for fun, but last day is gone, just like the tungles and awfuls and wenises. Unless, of course, somebody needs a fun story that starts with, "Well, back when you were a kid..."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Madness Continues

It's over for now. We are safe for at least a year, I hope. Election Day was Tuesday, and even before Wednesday, my life had changed. I noticed as I was watching television Tuesday evening that it was radically different from the night before. Yes, I realize that the programs on the Tuesday night schedule are different from the programs on Monday or Wednesday nights. I'm talking about the commercial breaks. What a joy to be rid of the ghastly campaign commercials! Trent and I have been talking recently about how vile campaign commercials have become in the last dozen or more years. I remember the days when a candidate for public office would be featured in a commercial that told you about the issues the candidate felt were important. "This is me; these are the things I believe in. If you believe in them too, please vote for me this November."

As the King sang in The King and I, "world have changed a lot." Every time you turn on the television in the campaign season, it's another episode of the blame game. Instead of hearing, "Hi, I'm Jane Jones, and I want to improve your life by being your Senator. I believe we should raise the minimum wage to stimulate the economy. I also believe in x, y, and z. I'd appreciate your vote this November." Instead, the commercials are something like this: "Joan Johnson voted for higher taxes. Joan Johnson thinks old people should make less money. Joan Johnson hates you. Vote for Jane Jones."

And it's not just the tv ads. Every day in the last few weeks leading up to the election, our mailbox was stuffed with full-color political ads printed on thick, glossy (read: expensive) paper. Most days there were two or three from the same candidate. And not just on that day, either. Every single day, there were multiple mailers from the same candidates, all in the same spiteful vein as the television commercials. All I could think when I saw all of these mailers was how much money was spent on them, and where else it might have been used. Well, that and how quickly I could get rid of them.

As I said, it's over for a while. There will be another election in two years, and it will also be preceded by primaries and ads and related madness. I sit down and turn on the telly, glad that I won't have commercials making me lose my mind for a while. Wait, what's that? A Christmas commercial?! It's only the beginning of November, for crying out loud! Halloween was just a few days ago! Don't we still have a couple of holidays before Santa season? My calendar still says that we have Veterans' Day and that other one, what's it called? Oh, right, Thanksgiving. For a moment I feel like I have made the proverbial jump from the frying pan into the fire. I look for something to watch and discover that a certain cable network began their thirty-day Christmas movie marathon on Halloween night. That means Christmas will be over and done before December first. Oh, well, the red decorations everyone has up will tie in marvelously with the Christmas Eve I Love Valentine's Day marathon! 

p.s. I am not a Christmas-hating curmudgeon (the human equivalent of Grumpy Cat). I'd just really like to enjoy the November holidays first. I worry that keeping the music and movies going for two months will make people bored with, or much worse, sick and tired of, Christmas before it even arrives. And I love Christmas too much for that. As far as political advertising, I'm sure I'll be complaining about the name-calling again when the time comes.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Every one of us, through the course of our lives, makes mistakes. The way we react to them, or deal with them, may say a lot about us. I think we have all been around people whose reactions run the gamut from flat-out denial, to shifting the blame to other people or circumstances, or admitting their mistakes and promising to try not to repeat them. I can think of people who fall in various spots on this scale, much to their credit or discredit, as the case may be. I tend to be one of the own-up-to-it types. I am sure that it has something to do with my experiences of punishment as a small child during the time I lived with Alice. If one does anything to try and delay punishment, it will likely end up being much worse. So I've gone in the other direction, I suppose. Better to just say I've made a mistake and get the consequences over and done with.

My friend and chosen-family member Tiffanie had an experience this weekend that made me think about this subject. She was driving home in the very early morning hours after a double shift on her job, when she was the victim of a rear-end accident. She had seen the other vehicle while she'd been driving, and had tried to keep an eye on him because he was driving erratically. The other car ended up behind her, and when the driver rear-ended her, ripping off his front bumper and license plate in the process, he fled the scene of the accident. This makes me wonder why the other driver left rather than stopping, checking on the other driver, calling the police, and so forth. Was he intoxicated and worried about the trouble he would get into as a result? Perhaps he already had several tickets and was afraid to lose his license. Who knows? Since he left his license plate behind, his mistake will undoubtedly catch up with him, along with the added charge of leaving the scene of an accident.

This reminded me of when I was in High School and my friends and classmates were getting their driver's licenses. A boy in my grade level, Billy, had his license, but somehow always managed to end up driving too fast. It can be easy to lose track of how fast you are going when you're a kid. Life is full of distractions, and sometimes your focus gets lost in the shuffle of friends and classes and potential dates and such. Billy had received several tickets and had had several points deducted from the allotment on his license. Unfortunately, he'd reached the point at which one more speeding violation would result in him losing his driver's license.

One day after school, as Billy was driving home, or wherever he was headed at the time, he once again started to drive too fast. A police officer turned on his lights and siren. Yes, he was, as we said in those days, busted. In a split second, Billy chose how he would react to this situation. Instead of pulling over and getting the ticket that would cost him his license, Billy hit the gas pedal. He tried to avoid the humiliation and inconvenience of losing his right to drive by running away from the law. He was just a sixteen-year-old kid, and not thinking logically, or even past the very moment. The officers took chase, and Billy began driving faster. From what we were told at school the next day, it didn't take very long for Billy to lose control over his car and crash. No, Billy didn't realize his fear of losing his license that day. It was far worse. Because of the actions he took trying not to lose his ability to drive, he lost his life that day.

I don't know what reasons the driver that hit Tiffanie had for leaving the scene of the accident the other night, and she'll probably never know. I am just grateful that she wasn't terribly hurt. She experienced some pain, and was very shaken by the experience. I hope that the other driver learned something from the accident. Running from taking responsibility for that kind of mistake ultimately gets you nowhere. And maybe he was shaken enough to realize that he needs to avoid whatever it was that was making him drive so erratically. I think if Billy could talk to him, he'd say a driver's license definitely isn't worth losing everything for.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What Am I?

I think there is something in humans that gives them a need to belong. It can be expressed or seen in many ways. We may identify ourselves as fans of certain sports teams or television shows, drivers of a certain brand of automobiles, followers of a certain lifestyle. A big part of our identity can revolve around knowing who we are and where we came from. This is something that can be seen in the USA on a regular basis. While we identify ourselves as citizens of this country, many of us in this big melting pot still exhibit pride in our family's places of origin. If you don't believe me, take a look at any number of big cities around March 17th, for example, when many Irish-Americans celebrate their heritage. I could name other festivals as well, like Juneteenth, cinco de mayo, or Italian-American festivals, to name a few.

I grew up, and spent many years, thinking of myself as being one hundred percent Hungarian-American. I thought it was pretty cool because so many people are a mix of multiple nationalities. As I got older, I began to realize that maybe things weren't as simple as they seemed. Hungary had been part of Austria-Hungary, so there was probably a mix of German and Hungarian blood in my veins. It made sense. After all, when I was a tiny child learning to speak, I learned three languages - English, Hungarian, and German. And before you ask, I will tell you that after my mother's death and my father's imprisonment when I was seven years old, I quickly lost my chances to practice the other two languages, and they are now lost to me.

As I tried to learn more about the country of my family's origin, I found many fascinating things. There are some theories that Hungarians may have emigrated from Asia thousands of years ago. One of the reasons for this theory is that Hungary is the only non-Asian country where names are routinely used in last name first, first name last order. In other words, in France I would be known as Katrina Szatmari, but in Hungary I am Szatmari Katrina. But wait, it gets better! When Rome was conquering vast swaths of Europe, they were in Hungary as well. The largest city near our family's village was one of the largest Roman settlements in the region. As recently as the post-World War Two era, a farmer plowing a field in my family's village would often plow up several ancient Roman coins. Modern travelers can also visit ancient Roman ruins in the northwestern part of Budapest, the old Óbuda section of the city. Historically, there was also a long period of Turkish occupation of Hungary, so that's a possibility in the mix as well.

To top it all off, when I was in Hungary, I learned that my mother's father was Croatian. So no matter what makes a Hungarian, I am one quarter Croatian as well. I still consider myself to be of primarily Hungarian heritage, but I have to jokingly ask myself what that really means. Is a Hungarian a Hungarian, or am I the American descendant of Asian-Roman-Turkish-Croatian-Hungarians. Aw, what the heck. I am Katrina. My family came from Hungary. That's good enough for me. Maybe I'll go eat some leftover spaghetti. Wait, maybe I am Roman!

p.s. I really do find myself curious about the genetic makeup of my Hungarian heritage, and hope to someday have one of those genetic national origin tests. I am not sure of how refined they are at this point, though, so I think it's a good idea to wait a bit, and wonder. The movements of people throughout history and across the continents gives me plenty to think about!

Monday, October 20, 2014

What I Want To Tell You, Part One

The first time I heard it, I was in fifth grade. At all of ten years of age, one of my neighbor friends, as we were walking to school, suddenly told me, "Katrina, I think you'll be a great mom." Over the years, I heard similar comments many times. Having children never happened for me or Trent. Considering our health problems, one of which is definitely hereditary, and others which might be, this is probably a good thing. To say nothing of the fact that my doctors told me, when I was diagnosed with lupus, that a pregnancy would probably trigger a flare that would kill me.

We have been on the fringes while friends and family have raised their children, and seen many things over the years. Just because we haven't actually produced or raised children doesn't mean that we know absolutely nothing about human behavior, or to take it further, child behavior. We have been fortunate that most of the people around us haven't shut us down or shut us out when their children are discussed. They realize that we have seen much in this life, and may be able to provide another view of their situation. 

There are many things that we wish we could share, but haven't had the opportunity since we are childless. So I am going to write down some of the teaching and advice that has remained unspoken. It may take more than one blog post. But it also may be something that has meaning for you.

You are more than your body.

Your body is simply a vessel, a container for your personality and knowledge and self. It may be very different than other people's bodies. You may be strong or weak, slow or quick. You may not have the same limbs or abilities as the person next to you. One of you may be able to climb mountains, the other may spend their life getting around in a wheelchair. The body you have doesn't make you any greater or lesser than anyone else. Like a card game, it's sort of the luck of the draw. Your body doesn't determine who you are. I've known of wonderful people with both struggling bodies and strong ones, and the opposite is true, too. If you despair that your body isn't strong and able, think of Stephen Hawking. He is one of the most brilliant physicists in the world, is very witty, and has a great sense of humor. He has married more than once, and fathered children. He is also living his life in a wheelchair due to a disease (ALS) and has to use a computer to write or speak. He is so much more than his body. So are you. 

You are more than your gender.

I am sad to say that there is still no such thing as gender equality in this world. But I will tell you that your gender doesn't determine who you are and what you can do, or what you might be good at doing. Whatever your gender, there will be people who may think that because of your gender, you should be a certain way, or be paid a certain way. Do what feels right to you when it comes to these issues, but don't let others determine who you should be, or what you should do with your life. Whether you are male or female, or your body fits outside of these descriptions, you can still be many things. Anyone of any gender can be a nurturer, a scientist, an author, a martial artist, an astronaut, a road repair worker, a farmer, a fashion designer. In short, you can do any number of things. A woman by the name of Marilyn vos Savant was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as having the world's highest IQ, over 200, and a man named Louis Réard created the first bikini. Their gender didn't define them. Neither should yours.

You are more than your job.
Whatever you end up doing in this life, if you do it well, and do it honorably, you will be a success. Whether you can realize it or not, all jobs are important. It takes some people an awfully long time to realize this. Yes, a doctor's work is important and life-saving. If you give it enough thought, you will realize that the same can be said for a sanitation engineer at a water treatment plant. The doctor treats with medicine and knowledge. The sanitation worker treats with prevention by keeping the water supply safe and healthy. See, both make a difference. Both save lives. My own doctor, Dr. Mike, was torn regarding his career choices when he was in college. He didn't know whether to become a doctor or play professional baseball. We know what he chose. But he works as joyfully as a doctor as he would have as a baseball player. Both jobs would have given him a chance to make himself and others happy. Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a teacher, a surgeon, a sanitation worker, or a baseball player, what you do matters. Do it well, and do it with pride. You make a difference.

I think this is enough for now, but I will be back at a later date for part two of "What I Want To Tell You." I hope you'll be back for the next installment!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sausages And Sadness

It started innocently enough. We decided that we'd like to try an English dinner, something that the Brits would refer to as bangers and mash. Bangers are sausages, and of course mash is mashed potatoes, preferably with gravy. They are often accompanied by other things, and we decided to eat ours with a very British side of baked beans. So we headed off to the supermarket to acquire the necessary ingredients for our dinner.

The potatoes and gravy and beans were no big deal, but what to get for the sausage? Trent made the mistake of speaking The Queen's English to a store manager, asking what we should get for bangers and mash. The very nice gentleman had no idea what Trent was talking about, and, with a slightly panicked look, suggested going to the meat counter so that they could special-order somefor us. They're not a specific kind of sausages, so I suggested to Trent that we simply peruse the sausage offerings. 

There was quite a variety, as I am sure you could imagine. Naturally, one of the best bargains in the store was on bratwurst, but I refused those without a second thought. How could you have an English dinner and include German sausages? Winston Churchill would be spinning in his grave in shock and anger. I saw some delicious-looking smoked sausages, and they were very reasonably priced since they were a store brand. In fact, they were such a great price that we decided we'd buy three packages and set two aside in the freezer for later feasts. We headed home to prepare our English comfort-food dinner.

As the potatoes and gravy (we skipped the beans) were finishing cooking, I got the lovely sausages cooking in a skillet. They were fully cooked and only needed to be heated through. They smelled tasty and slightly smoky, and we were excited as we sat down to our plates of sausages, potatoes, and gravy. And then the joy died. Seriously. It didn't just leave the building like Elvis after a great show. It crept into the corner and expired. The sausages were dreadful!

Let me clarify. These lovely-looking sausages made we wish I had no taste buds. Their flavor was not as good as, but reminiscent of, a very cheap hot dog. A hot dog with a rather mushy texture. And with bits of stuff in it that you couldn't chew, much less even dream of swallowing. I ate a slice, choking it down while I glanced over at Trent's progress. I ate some potatoes, hoping that would improve the situation, but no such luck. I tried to be brave, but I didn't last very long. I went from disappointment to depression. My mouth and stomach told me that they wanted to cry. Then they threatened that if any more came down, it would be sent back up. Uh-oh. I managed to eat my potatoes, but the sausage just wasn't going to happen. I told Trent to stop trying to be brave and just quit eating that awfulness. He did, with quite a bit of relief. 

I think it will be a good while before we are ready to try bangers and mash again, especially since we felt sick for a day or two after eating just a small amount of these monstrosities. We don't blame it on British cookery, just our bad luck with the sausages. We'll make sure to choose them more carefully next time. Heck, I think breakfast links would have tasted like the food of the gods compared to what we put ourselves through. The unopened sausages have been returned for a refund, and the clerk even refunded the price of the ones we had to discard, which was very kind of him. Trent was compensated for all of his suffering by getting a delicious double cheeseburger, and I was glad to have the evil sausages gone from the refrigerator. And now that it's all behind us, at least it's given us something we can laugh about!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Conscience, Clear

Every so often, one of the people in your online social circles will post something that makes you wonder if people everywhere are all living out the same basic scenarios, but with possibly different outcomes. You read a brief post and say to yourself, "Hey, something just like that happened to me two days ago!" What often makes things interesting is that the same basic situations may come up, but the endings change because of our different behaviors, or philosophies, or perhaps our personalities.

Case in point: our visit to the supermarket a couple of nights ago. Trent and I had to pick up just a few things because we hadn't remembered them on our last trip to the store. When we got out to the car and began putting our super-cool, very responsible, reusable grocery bags in the trunk of the car, Trent said to me, "Hey, there's something in here that we didn't buy." It was nothing major, just a couple of boxes of pasta. But we hadn't put them in our shopping cart, nor had we paid for them. This, in my opinion, is where things get interesting. How would you view the situation? How would you react?

I am not here to advise or judge, nor do I really expect to get an answer from anyone. Just think about it for a moment if you would, please. There are a variety of ways that people could react to this situation. Some people might look at the item as a bonus, and be glad to have it. "Score! Guess who's having free pasta for dinner tomorrow night!" Another variation on this would be thinking, "Hey, if they aren't careful enough, and give me stuff I didn't pay for, it's not my problem. It's in my bag, so it's my pasta now."

I have seen people I know do both of these things, and have, in fact, seen them gloat about it. They had the mixed attitudes of having gotten away with getting something for nothing, and having profited from someone else's mistake. There's also a bit of "not my problem!" thrown in. Again, I am not here to moralize or anything of the sort, but rather to give some food for thought. I imagine (hope?) that none of the sales clerks or baggers lost their jobs because more product went out of the store than was paid for, but the stores certainly have to do things to recoup their losses. Prices don't just go up because of inflation, they also go up because of product losses. There's also the variables of honesty, and caring about the companies you do business with, and living with your conscience. 

How did we react to the situation? Trent showed me the packages of pasta, and while he loaded the bags in the car, I took the pasta back into the store. The clerk, one of our regulars, saw that I had come back and gave me a quizzical look. I told him that the items were in our bag but we hadn't paid for them. He shrugged, took them back, and put them under his counter. We went on our way, our consciences clear. If you think I was silly, that's okay. Our budget is sometimes so tight that we could certainly use a couple of free boxes of pasta. We just couldn't use them under those circumstances. We'd never have been able to eat them because of our feelings of guilt. To say nothing of the fact that we'd feel uncomfortable every time we went back in the store, because we'd feel almost like we had stolen something, rather than just taking home what we knew wasn't ours.

And my internet friend? She went to the grocery and found that there were some things in her bags that she hadn't purchased. She got back in her car, drove to the store, and returned the items. The store employees were very happy and grateful that she had returned them. She left the store for the second time feeling good about herself because of what she had done. For her, it was the right thing. Her conscience was clear, and she was happy because of it. I guess that's not so bad.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


I have spent many years of my life feeling like I was on the outside, not a part of the group of people that I called my family. I had been reminded many times that I was not one of them, and that I was not desired. I was the foundling that had been forced upon a woman because I was the child of one of her husband's relatives. I want to make clear that this attitude wasn't universal in the family, but it was strong enough that I always felt like I was different, apart from the others, an outsider.

My sister Margit and my brother John lived across the country, so I wasn't really a part of their lives either. It was Liz and me in this family-but-not-really-family. There's a great deal of love, as well as gratitude, in my heart for these people, some of whom took me directly into their hearts and lives and accepted me as one of their own. But there was always something missing. I suppose it was the loss of my own family that was somewhere in the back of my mind. I don't mean that I spent years dwelling on it, because I didn't. In fact, I remember a day in fifth grade music class when we were singing the words, "sometimes I feel like a motherless child," and I was immersed in the sad beauty of the song. I was wondering what a motherless child felt like when I suddenly remembered that I was a motherless child. I definitely wasn't dwelling on the whole situation if I had moments like that one.

I think it was more of a sadness born of not having people that I truly belonged to any more. It was easy to feel, especially after Gram was gone, that I didn't belong anywhere. I had very few memories of my parents, probably because of the traumatic nature of my mother's death and the fact that I was only seven when the family essentially ceased to exist. I didn't know anything about my family's history, or what the place they were from was like, or if I might have any relatives in Hungary that even knew about me. I couldn't even speak the Hungarian and German that they had always spoken any more.

Several years ago, through a set of circumstances that bordered on miraculous, I was able to go to Hungary to try to find my family (and my identity, or a part of it?), specifically my mother's side of the family. I have written before that I had a lot of fears about meeting them; after all, I was the daughter of the man who killed their sister or cousin or friend. How would they react when I showed up in their village without any warning? The way they reacted was beautiful, because they greeted me with love and acceptance. Suddenly I was transformed from a person without a family to a person visiting a village of some four hundred people, most of whom were relatives. I remember calling Trent from my Aunt Lizi's house before I went to bed and telling him that my family was full of warm, kind, and generous people. He replied, "Of course they are, they're your family, they are what you come from. I'm not surprised that they are wonderful people." Yes, of course that made me start crying, just as much as the outpouring of love from my relatives.

How gratifying it was to know that they were suffering along with us when our mother died. To find out that they had tried to find a way to bring us to live with them in Hungary. To know that we were thought about and wanted. I was thrilled to find out that Lizi had wanted for years to come to the USA to try and find us. After we got home, I was also delighted to hear that she was telling everyone that her long-lost relatives had found her. I now had a family.

And now about yearning. Now that I have a family, now that I know where they are, who they are, what they are like, I often wish that I could go back to see them again. When something is so wonderful and makes you feel so good, you want to be a part of it whenever it might be possible. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that it most likely won't happen twice for me. Reality does play a part, and I know that we don't have the means for me to go back again, and for Trent to go for the first time. The yearning, no matter what the reality, still remains. I long to once again see my mother's beautiful village and the faces of my family, and to have a chance for Trent to be there with me. But the truth of the matter is that even if I never get back to Hungary again, I have something now that I will never lose. I have a family, although they are very far away, and they love me. Finally, I belong.

Monday, September 29, 2014

It Drives Me Crazy

Maybe it's because I was raised by a cranky old woman and now I'm turning into one. I'm not entirely sure. Although Gram remains one of my favorite people in the world, she was never shy to tell me, when she thought I was wrong, that I was a stupid jackass. Seriously! Something along the lines of, "Only a jackass would think that was a smart thing to do/say/think/whatever." Along those lines, she often told me that Liz and I left more fingerprints around the house than she did because we were from a lower class of people than she was, and therefore had more oil in our fingertips. Hmm. I thought it was because we were young and kept touching our faces a lot, but who knew? Perhaps she was descended from the greatest poets and warriors of Ireland. When I studied Irish history with Professor Jeremiah Ring in college and told him where the two sides of her family originated, he shook his head sadly, frowned, and said that they were definitely not high-class areas. But I kept that to myself, because I made the choice not to judge based on where a person was from, or indulge in stereotyping. Enough said, yes?

Although I don't refer to others as jackasses (unless they do really horrifically stupid things while driving, in which case Trent and I award them J.A. points) I have to admit that people often drive me crazy. In these days of quick internet communication and reporting, it seems that the standards of writing and editing have gone by the wayside. Or perhaps the editors in question have a less than solid grip on the basics of the language. These days it seems that I read a news or entertainment-type story at least once daily that makes the writer look as though they aren't quite up to the task at hand. Today I looked at two different entertaining news stories, and found myself shaking my head in dismay. One article had the line, "...has since wrote a book..." What?! She has since wrote a book? Try written, my dear. Please. Another story, which showed models struggling to walk runways in ridiculously tall and dangerous shoes, ended with, "Let's here it for these models." Umm, no. Here refers to location, my dear writer. How about, "Let's hear it for these models," as in let's give a cheer which we all can hear? It drives me crazy.

There's something else confounding that happens every year. I'm referring to the over-eager, under-informed Independence Day comments. I am sad to report that there are many people here in the USA that have no idea when the Declaration of Independence was signed. And I can tell you, with a dread-filled certainty, that somewhere in the USA, heartfelt comments such as these will appear on July 4, 2015. "Happy Birthday, USA! 2015 years old today," or, "Happy Birthday, America, 2015 years old today!" There are couple of very important things here that drive this child of immigrants crazy. One: America is not a country. There are two continents, North and South America, with the bits in the center often referred to as Central America. Two: the United States of America declared independence from England, or the United Kingdom, in 1776. When July 4, 2015 rolls around, the USA will be 239 years of age. I don't know for sure how old North America, the continent, will be in 2015, but it will be pretty darn old. Much older than 2015 years, for certain.

There's other little things that have me mystified. I know that languages are living, changing things. Sometimes the changes happen deliberately, like the LOL and LEL and SMH and ROTFL and other assorted spoons of alphabet soup. I accept that, and understand it fully. Heck, I remember when gross changed from 144 (a dozen dozen) to icky or disgusting. But it's stuff like people saying agreeance instead of agreement that sets my teeth on edge. (By the way, some sources say that agreeance is acceptable, but I just can't handle it. I think it's gross.) And people saying "now in days." What the heck does that mean, anyway? Just use the good old-fashioned nowadays, please. Or "I could care less," which is essentially a statement that you do care, instead of "I couldn't care less." It drives me crazy. But at least it's a short trip!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I Really Can't Say

I have this theory that we all have words that give us problems. We may have a problem pronouncing them, or understanding them, or maybe even spelling them. We want to say something, but we can't, and it's not because we're trying to keep a secret of monumental proportions. We just really can't say them. For the ones among you reading this and thinking to yourselves that it just isn't so, you have no problems, let me say one thing. You just might not have experienced your trip word/s yet. Or it could be that you're just many times smarter than everyone else I know, in which case I salute you. You're awesome.

Gram used to have a few words that came out kind of funny, but I would never have disrespected her by laughing at them. Of course it wasn't just courtesy and love, there was some self-preservation at play as well. If I had pointed anything out, she might have done what she would have called giving me the sharp side of her tongue. If it isn't obvious what that means, just think of words that are sharp enough to cut you to shreds and leave you shaking in fear.

One of Gram's trouble words was confiscate. I first heard it when she was talking about a news story having to do with a major drug bust. The police literally found stacks of money in the house, which was taken away as evidence. Gram told me that the police had confisticated thousands and thousands of dollars in cash that was found in a house on a major crime bust. I know that Trent won't make fun of Gram for this, either. His trip-you-up-words are far shorter and simpler. One of them is iron, as in the mineral or the wrinkle eradicator. Mm-hmm. See, it happens to most of us.

I have one that's pretty silly. When lupus became a part of my life, it did so in a dramatic fashion, attacking my kidneys. After very aggressive treatment, my kidneys were saved, but sustained minor permanent damage. As is often the case with mild kidney damage, this left me with elevated blood pressure. It's such a simple phrase, really. High blood pressure - what's so tough about that? Not a thing. Except that when I say it, I have to concentrate so that it doesn't come out as, "I have high blood plessure." I find it frustrating and embarrassing. I can say antedeluvian (a highfaluting word that means "before the flood," and is a way of saying something is terribly old-fashioned) and prestidigitation (magic or slight-of-hand), but I can't tell someone I have high blood pressure without really concentrating on the words. And as a companion to that, I have a really hard time typing certain words, one of which is remember, which usually comes out as remeber.

Something that helps me feel a bit better about myself when I stumble over certain words is remembering my Aunt Jackie, Gram's daughter. Her ability to mangle certain words over and over again was the stuff of family legend. Her most famous incident occurred in a Woolworth's store when she and her sister Alice went shopping together. Alice had wandered off, and Jackie was looking at a table of fabric remnants that were being sold at greatly reduced prices. She found one piece that she must have thought was particularly beautiful, because she called out to Alice, who was across the store, "Alice, come look at the Rembrandt I found on the sale table!" To the best of everyone's knowledge, no one suffered any permanent injuries or loss of limbs in the small riot that ensued.

I was particularly entertained whenever I heard her say something about taking a couple of Ty-nols for headaches or other pains, or needing a spatulator when cooking. Her all-time greatest, though, was often used at a time when something happened that made her particularly angry. One evening when she was on her way home from work, she stopped by to share dinner with us. She was telling Gram that she was glad to be coming over for some of her mother's cooking, because she had not eaten much lunch that day. She had gone out to a nearby sandwich shop, but was so disgusted by how dirty it was that she lost her appetite. She was practically yelling, saying that she would never set foot in that place again. "It was absolutely thilthy! I've never seen such a thilthy place in my whole life! It made me sick to my stomach!" Gram and I managed to keep ourselves together, and we were very sympathetic to what Jackie had experienced that day. But we laughed ourselves silly in relief when she finally went on her way. 

Now that I think about it, there was an almost a Shakespearean quality to the whole thing, just with very bad timing. He would never have had the high drama and the comic relief that close to each other in the same scene! And if I offended you by saying that we got a belly laugh out of it when Jackie was gone, I hope you'll consider forgiving me, because I'm really not a completely cruel and insensitive person. Gram and I had a few chuckles over it with Jackie herself after she had cooled down, and she thought it was funny, too. If we should ever meet, my dear reader, and I mangle something terribly, I would love to have you laugh with me over it. I hear that laughter does wonders for your blood plessure!