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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Straying Dogs

I was going through a box last evening and came upon some treasures. There were a few small cookbooks that I was pleased to find, and some books that had instructions on gifts in a jar, something I always say that I am going to do, but forget about when the holidays roll around. The best treasure, though, was something that I was afraid might have been lost during our last move. It is a book called Good Dogs Do Stray, and was written by Emmerich Koller. I purchased it directly from the author, and he inscribed it for me in both English and Hungarian.

What's so special about this book? Emmerich Koller was born in Pornóapáti, the village in Western Hungary where my mother and my siblings were born. His family knew various branches of my family, and he was friends with many of my mother's younger siblings. I still have numerous relatives in this village that is home to 392 people. Pornóapáti was founded in 1691, and the church across the street from where my family's house used to stand was built in 1797. The bell dates back to 1464.

Koller was born during World War II, and my mother was born in the 1920s, and my father was a bit older. In fact, my father was in the Hungarian Army during the war, and was a prisoner of war in a Soviet camp for at least two and a half years. You see, the German government persuaded the Hungarian government to join in on their side. They were misled to believe that if they did this, they would regain the territories that they had lost at the end of World War I. Of course this was untrue. The Nazis never intended to do anything for the Hungarians or any other country with which they were allied, including Japan. They simply figured out that you can conquer a country with much less effort through a false alliance than through warfare. Hungary carries the shame and embarrassment of the actions of the government at that time, which included people with anti-Semitic beliefs, to this day. 

This book has been both wonderful and heartbreaking for me. The first portion of the book has to do with the small village of Pornóapáti and what life was like there during and after the war. The Soviets were given control of the country in the aftermath of the war, and it was a difficult time for the village, as well as the whole country. There was a guard post at the border with Austria, which is very near the edge of the village. The soldiers were there to prevent anyone from leaving. The soldiers, unfortunately, engaged in cruel and despicable behaviors. Many of the villagers had to hide their daughters in their barns or pigsties in order to protect them from being raped by the soldiers.

Hunger was a common thing in the village as well. Mitzi showed us the sorrel plants that grow wild in the village, and told us that there were many times that they would gather and eat sorrel because they needed to put something, anything, in their stomachs. Koller tells a story in his book of how the soldiers used the hunger of the local children for their own entertainment. When he was about eleven or twelve years old he told his friend Mano (one of my mother's younger brothers, who was about a year older than he) that maybe they could get some food from the soldiers.

The two of them went to the barracks where they could see a soldier toasting bread by deep frying it in hot oil. They asked him several times for some toast, and he refused. Finally, he told them that if they had a fistfight, he would give the winner one piece of toasted bread. Mano was larger and soon bloodied Emmerich's nose. The smaller boy was up against a wall, which was embedded with broken glass. Mano told Emmerich that they should stop fighting; Emmerich's hands had been cut to the bone on the glass walls. Mano received the piece of toast, and Emmerich went home with a bloody nose and hands, and an empty stomach, but they were still friends.This is the way life was in the village in those days.

When the Hungarians revolted against the Soviets in 1956, my father was pro-revolution. After a brief rout of the Soviet Army, the Soviet tanks came rolling into Budapest and other places, and thousands of people were wounded or killed. It didn't matter whether they were revolutionaries or mothers taking walks with their children, they were all targets. To this day, if you are on the streets of Budapest, you can see the bullet holes in the sides of many buildings. Since my father was pro-revolution, he was slated for execution, as was my mother, and my three siblings, who ranged in age from three to six years. On a night in early November, my family walked across the river Pinka and crossed the border into Austria, ending up in Graz. They were sponsored by Johanna Tante, German for Aunt Johanna, and her husband, and moved to the United States. Incidentally, Johanna Tante was the mother of the man who would become my legal guardian after my mother's death and my father's imprisonment.

Finding this book again is giving me a chance to learn more about the village in Hungary that I so dearly love because my family is there. Although I spent most of my life not even knowing them, when I found my family, my heart felt like it had gone home. There were people who knew about me, cared about me, and loved me. I also have a chance to learn even more about the history of the region and country that my family came from, and the reasons, if imminent death wasn't enough, that they had to leave. It also reminds me of some of the stories that Mitzi and Aunt Lizi told about what life was like for various members of the family during the Soviet occupation. That's what makes finding this book tucked away in a box such a special thing. It is giving me a chance to better understand my family and their country, and to become more complete by knowing them. It is almost like being told family stories by a close friend, which is something I've never really had. Pretty cool to get all of that from one little book, isn't it?

Friday, April 25, 2014

I Just Can't!

There are so many different types of people in this world of ours. You might encounter three different people who do the same job, and all of them approach it differently. Some people love to help others, while some find service beneath them. Years ago, when I worked as a teller in a Denver bank, first in the drive-through and then in the lobby, I had a coworker-friend who thought that being a bank teller was degrading. When she asked me if I felt that the job was degrading, I was frankly mystified. I met all kinds of people every day, and had fun working with them. Yes, there were occasionally gross encounters, but for the most part, customers were very nice. I enjoyed giving the kind of service and treatment that I would love to receive.

I have noticed a lot of stories in the news lately, and seen things happen around me, that tell me there are a lot of people that don't have that sort of philosophy any more. For instance, the young woman in Australia who sent over forty text messages while driving, and ran into a bicyclist with her car. She pulled over a few hundred feet from where he was in the street, and did call for help, but never checked on him. She later stated on social media that she didn't care about him (there was a possibility that he would be paralyzed permanently) because he ran into her car and now she was going to have to pay a few thousand dollars for repairs.

And how about the young woman and her mother whose conversation I overheard as they walked past us in the supermarket recently? The daughter was catching up to her mom, and asked mom if she thought that she "scared that old man to death." Her mom said that she didn't think so, that he would probably survive. The daughter replied by saying that was too bad, she wished that she really had scared him to death, because it would be one less stupid old person for her to deal with. Sadly, her mother, to the best of our knowledge, didn't respond that grandma and grandpa were old people, or that if she was fortunate enough, she'd be old one day as well.

Maybe it's because I really do care about other people that things like this bother me. I am also a person who understands what it feels like to be belittled, or disrespected, or physically and/or emotionally abused. I was also taught to have good manners, which I think is basically about respect and kindness. When I see people with these dismissive, selfish attitudes, it makes me wonder. Why are they that way? What makes them so unkind? Why are they so proud of their bad behavior? I've come to the realization that while I may want to figure out what makes these people tick, I just can't. To be able to understand their motivation, I'd have to have their mindset, and I hope that will never happen.

Thinking about this subject reminded me of a manager, whom I had trained as a new hire in customer service, and some things she told me about her youngest child when we went through a training class together. Her daughter was incredibly bright. When she was still an infant and hadn't begun to talk yet, she would laugh when someone would tell a witty joke. And it wasn't one of those situations where the baby laughs because everyone else is laughing. She would start laughing before anyone else did, because she actually understood what was being said! Like most kids, though, she had her moments of not being able to get along with her siblings. One time when she was about five or six years old and was arguing with her older sister, her mom overheard her say how she felt about her sister's opinion. "I'd like to see your point of view about this, but I just can't get my head that far up your butt." It was very matter of fact, and mom had to go to another room to laugh it off. Maybe this is why we can't understand people sometimes. We just can't get our heads that far up there. I really don't want to, I guess...I just can't!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Poodle Physics

I have written in the past about our little poodle, Paris. She has been gone from us for more than a year and a half, and we still miss her. But we have progressed to the point where we can have happy memories and even laugh about the way she was, which makes things a bit easier to handle. When Trent and I went looking for puppies, we knew that we wanted to get a small dog, and that we would prefer a female since we were planning to train her to use a litter box. The shop where she was purchased, which is run by a woman who buys from private breeders/families, and not puppy mills, had two sets of puppies when we went looking.

So here we were, looking at a litter of Miniature Schnauzers, all males, and all as cute as a bug's ear. Next to them was a litter of champagne-colored Toy Poodles. I didn't want a poodle, really, because I thought that they were nervous and sissified. I wanted a dog that would be all dog, even though it was small. We pulled one of the schnauzers out of the enclosure and put it on the floor. It immediately toddled over to Trent and started humping his shoe. Okay, not going to happen. 

Then we looked at the poodles. There were four sisters, all curled up in little circles. The funny thing was that there were three lying in a tight bunch, and a fourth using the others as a pillow. When I reached in, the one on top looked at me and practically said, "Pick me up! I love you! You are going to love me!" I did pick her up, and she immediately nuzzled her tiny head into my neck. My heart started to melt instantly. I looked at Trent, who said that he thought she was too mellow. I put her on the floor, and she spied a piece of paper. She dashed and pounced on the paper, and that's when Trent's heart melted. Before the afternoon was over, we were a family of three, and we took our precious two-pound baby home.

This dog always had a lot of personality. And her behavior in the pet shop was a sign of things to come. From day one, she was a little mountain goat. She loved to climb, and always wanted to be on the highest spot available. She'd disappear into the spare bedroom where we had some furniture and boxes stored, and start climbing. But at her young age, it was easier climbing up than getting back down again. We would hear her crying to be rescued because she had followed her nose to the top of the mountain, and didn't know how to get back down again. When she got older, she would lay on the back of the sofa, or on some pillows, or a pile of laundry, which was one of her favorites. If it was still warm from the dryer, that was even better. She would make her bed, pulling and pushing the clothes around until she had an acceptable nest. 

Something that amazes me is that even though dogs like to wake slowly and stretch all over, easing into wakefulness, they can go from sound asleep to fully alert and protective in 0.2 seconds. She was not about to let anyone bother her mommy and daddy. If someone came to the door, she would jump up and turn in the air so that she was facing the door. Her legs were planted in a bring-it-on stance, and she let everyone know that they were not to even think about trying to come into her home. A few years ago, I saw a dog trainer on television who had both pit bulls and poodles, and he said that if you wanted a watchdog, not to bother with a pit. A poodle was much tougher and more protective. And Trent and I both talked back to the tv to tell him that he was right.

I was amazed at some of the things she could do that seemed to defy the laws of physics. We could throw a toy from where we were all watching tv on the bed, and she would go sailing off the bed, changing her direction in mid-air. When she tried to sniff at the wastebasket and it began to tip over, she taught herself, at a very early age, to walk around on her hind legs to check things out. She would tuck her front paws close to her chest so that she wouldn't accidentally knock anything over. And she would hop behind us on her hind legs, sniffing the air if we were carrying a plate of food. But if we tried to make her hop around or walk around on her hind legs, she'd look at us like we were out of our minds. I do believe I heard her say that this was not the circus, and that she did not dance. No big deal; as long as she knew how to sit, and also sit pretty (sit up), we were fine.

Another amazing thing that I learned from Paris is that poodles often take up more room than you would expect. Paris weighed eight and a half pounds as an adult, and was ten inches high at the shoulder. And she liked, as many dogs do, to lay next to something warm. True to her puppy shop behavior, she liked to cuddle and be on a lap. If we were lounging around with our legs outstretched, she'd do what I called knocking on the door. She would gently pull her paw over your leg three times and look at you, waiting for you to move your legs into a 4 shape so that she could curl up between them and have warmth on two sides. And unless you, too, have had a toy poodle, you might not know something truly amazing. An eight and a half pound poodle can take up as much room on a king-size bed as an Irish Wolfhound. Paris would sleep on the bed with us, and there were moments when we were nearly falling off the bed due to little Miss Bed Hog. She managed to stretch out, touching both of us, while we were clinging to the edge of the bed, trying not to fall off. And if we crowded her accidentally, she was not above giving a little kick to remind us of our place.

We miss those days. Waking up with a warm poodle giving you kisses and then throwing herself down on the bed so that you can rub the sweetest, softest tummy in the world is a true joy. Even though we used to complain that she was a bed hog, we miss those days. She would be thrilled when we woke up from her pushing us around, and let us know how happy she was that we were awake. And she was always very obliging about settling down for naps. She was a loving and delightful creature. And she taught us all about Poodle Physics!

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Mind, Nearly Lost

What a day I had yesterday. I had some things that needed to get done, so I began to seize the day. I knew what had to be done and I was ready to do it. My first task went quite well. I had to make a phone call to a doctor's office to see if they'd let me pay my bill a bit at a time. I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely I was treated, and the fact that I wasn't given the hard line of, "You need to pay this all right now, or else." With a contented sigh of relief, I decided to do a few things online like catching up on emails and bank balances before paying some bills online.

This was when my day took an unpleasant turn. To tell you why it was such a pain, I need to take you back in time. You see, for several months when I first got this laptop and we got a new modem, I was unable to access my own WiFi connection. This was pretty frustrating for me, especially since the modem is less than ten feet away. On one memorable occasion, I called the manufacturer (see how discreet I am; no name-dropping!) for help with the problem. Before I made the call, I reset and unplugged and removed the backup battery from the modem. Several times. When I was connected to the service person, I told him up front that I had done this several times, and to please not ask me to do it.  And he asked me to do it. About four times. I could feel my blood pressure building. After two and a half hours of phone time, he expressed his opinion that it was a problem with the provider. I was beyond wanting to spend more time on the phone, so I just plugged back into my wireless connection, which I had already been using anyway.

A few months later, I wanted to ask a moderately computer savvy acquaintance about the message I was getting regarding the connection. Lo and behold, when I tried to show him the problem, I was able to connect wirelessly! Kind of like when you finally get to the mechanic and the weird pinging noises go away. I was a happy camper. I felt like a big girl because I had severed my umbilicus. But I'd lose my connection (the computer would tell me the connection was Limited, which I have come to believe is code for does not exist) at random times. I'd do some song and dance and it would come back, but it was irritating. You can live with minor irritations, though, so I kept on keeping on.

In the last month or two, I realized that the problem was getting out of hand. On two different occasions, I had spent more than an hour writing blog posts, and lost my connection. Talk about a panicky feeling. If my post got lost, I wouldn't be able to recreate it in the same way. How do you recreate the flow of your thoughts and emotions? "Oh, I remember, I was listening to Movie X and thinking about kersniffens, so I must have mentioned pollywogs." Not so much. I had this dreadful feeling as I went searching for my cable, which Trent helped me find in seconds flat. The post was saved, and panic ended. 

I decided to go on my internet provider's website for troubleshooting. I was thrilled to see instructions for the exact problem I was having. Yippee! All I had to do was make sure that my computer was doing two specific things, and the problem would dissolve. I eagerly clicked the link for instructions. Mm-hmm. Instructions for every version of Microsoft except 8, the one on my computer. Lovely. I was undeterred. I searched Google for instructions on how to do the recommended tasks, and they were accomplished fairly easily. But I still had problems with wireless connections. So I went back to full-time umbilicus use. And on Saturday night I started losing that connection. It was time to get on the phone with my provider.

After checking to make sure that all of the cables were in place and doing powering down and resets of the modem, I called. I was told that it was simple, they just needed to send me a stronger signal. Sure enough, the connection miraculously came back to life. I was a very happy camper computer user. For one whole hour, until the wired connection went away again. I was disgusted and tired and just went to bed. Things went on the same way until Thursday, and I was losing my connection like crazy. I'd do the modem dance, and the connection would last about a minute, and then I'd have to start the dance again. When I called the provider, another signal was sent after I danced on command (without so much as a pat on the head or a "good girl!" or a tasty treat). And then I was told that if this didn't work, I'd have to have a service technician come to our home to make sure that the modem and cables were all attached. 

It's a wonder I didn't have a coronary or a stroke or just plain lose my mind. I freely admit to a lot of computer-related stuff being over my head, but I am not a blithering idiot. I am intelligent enough to know that I am not the smartest kid on the block. And that I am not the dumbest either. So it really makes me angry to have someone treat me like I'm too stupid to own a computer. I informed Ms. Customer Service that I had no need to pay $150 or thereabouts for someone to come to my home and see if my modem was plugged in. After venting to poor Trent, and to my friends on Google +, I set about paying those bills. Luckily for me, my friend Paul was able to give me some advice based on the information I gave him, and it seemed to help the situation immensely. Ahh...

Things went well for five to seven minutes. Until I tried to pay the bill for my cable/internet provider. I went to their website and typed in my login information. I was told that I was being taken to my account information. And ended up back on a login screen. This happened a few times, so I asked Trent to watch. Heck, maybe I had lost my mind! And it happened again. After checking other sites to make sure I had an internet connection, I called again. Let me interject. I worked in telephone customer service for years. I also trained people to do that job. I always try to be very kind and courteous. The people on the phones don't create the problems, they just have to deal with them.

I told the person who answered that I was unable to login either with my computer or my tablet, but I did have a connection. I said that I'd like to make a payment, but couldn't. He said there was a fee to make a payment, but he'd talk to someone in that department. After a couple of minutes, he came back and told me that even though there was a problem with their website, I'd be charged $5.99 to make a payment. I was incredulous. Your website isn't working, so I have to pay a fee to make my payment? Not going to happen. I refused as politely as I could and decided to have Trent take me to one of their storefronts so that I could pay it in person. 

I was incredibly upset at this point, having been treated like an idiot by more than one person from the same company on the same day. I am a non-violent person. When I get really incredibly angry, it often overflows itself in the form of tears. I was rapidly getting there. Trent said that I should call back and make a complaint; it would make me feel better in the long run. I said that there was no way. But in a few minutes, I decided to call again.

When I finally got through to a special service area, I began by apologizing. I told Marvin, the very kind gentleman on the phone, that I just needed him to listen. I also told him that I was so angry that I was on the verge of tears. Which then started to flow. He told me that he's a great big guy who has the same problem, and that he was here to listen to me. So I recounted all of of the trouble and frustration, mentioning that I got more help from a friend than the company's staff. I also let him know that I was going to pay the bill in person, and that at my earliest opportunity I was severing my relationship with the company. Marvin had the power to help me. But even better, he had the desire to make me happy and to retain a customer.

He told me he would do whatever he could to make it up to me. Before I knew it, he had made arrangements for us to be switched to the company's newest cable technology. He added a home phone line and threw in a premium channel at no charge. And made our bill lower. And arranged for installation to happen this morning. An installation that normally costs $100, for which there would be no charge. I called expecting nothing more than making a complaint before I left the company forever, and this person saved my account. And while he was working on my account, I remembered that they have a relationship with my cellphone provider. So after I got off the phone with the cable company, I called my cell company. They are going to lower my bill for a year, so I will be saving more than $100 over the course of the next year. By the time it was all over, I was exhausted, but pleased that there are still people out there that care.

Trent, I appreciate your love and support; thank you, my best friend. For my friends who listened when I was losing it, thank you. Paul, your simple fix worked; thank you so much. Marvin, I'm sure you are one of the best assets of your company, and I left your manager a message saying so. And to all the folks I spoke with in customer service, a request. Please treat your callers the way you wish they'd treat you. We may not be rocket scientists, but we're not all idiots either. And as I always say when a customer service representative asks if there's anything else they can do for me, promise me you'll try to have a fantastic day!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's That Time

A lot of people have been pretty confused in this last week or so. The calendar told us a few weeks ago that the vernal equinox had occurred. Spring had sprung. There were some beautiful, warm days. And then the weather changed. I think most of us eventually learn from experience that it doesn't really matter what the calendar says. The weather will do what the weather will do. We in the Denver area had snow on Sunday, April 13th. Today, on the 15th, it is all gone. In my many years of living in Colorado, I have experienced snow in the Metro area in every month but July and August. Heck, I've seen so many snows during the first week of May that I have lost count. I felt the need to get more specific dates, and found out that the latest recorded spring snow in the Denver area was on June 12th (1947) and the earliest fall snow was technically in the summer, as it happened on September 3rd (1961). In fact, I remember about twenty years ago having a high temperature of about 90 degrees on a Sunday, and waking up to at least a foot of snow the next morning!

All of this changing and shifting can be hard for us to handle. Just when we put away the space heaters and get out the shorts and fans, we get a nice blast of chilly weather. But to be completely honest, in this part of Colorado we don't necessarily ever put away our shorts. There's usually at least a few days each month that are around 70 degrees, and therefore shorts-worthy. Ditto with sandals. 

But whether we believe it or not, springtime is here. I keep waking up early in the morning thinking that I have slept most of the day away because it is so sunny outside. Then I look at the time and realize that it's still pretty early. The days are getting longer, and the plants are waking up. The trees are putting on their soft, gauzy, green dresses, and flirtily swishing them in the breeze. Buds and blooms are showing up everywhere. 

A day or two before the last snow fell, I saw and heard something that delighted me. A pair of falcons were flying from building to building, and singing to one another. I am pretty sure that they are the same ones who had a nest on the building next to ours last spring. In a few weeks, anyone who walks past the building will do so under the watchful eyes of one of these falcon parents. The other will have flown a short distance away to try and distract anyone from the nest's new occupants. Both of them will also be making noise to let everyone know that they are being watched, and that they should just keep on moving, thank you very much.

Yesterday, rather than the mating ritual of the falcons, I was treated to one from a pair of doves. They were cooing at one another as they flew from building to building, the male trying to convince the female that he was a good choice for a mate. She answered, but flew off, and he proved his persistence by following her from one roof to another. And before long, we will be seeing our resident mama squirrel looking for food to keep up her energy while she nurses her babies. 

Before we know it, full summer will be upon us. The colors and temperatures will get more robust, and everything will feel very alive. We will hear ourselves saying the same things we do every summer, that we have had enough of the heat. Where is the winter weather that we enjoyed so much? It will be here again sooner than we expect, as usually happens. And the cycle repeats itself. So enjoy the brief tenderness of spring while it lasts. Notice the changes in the quality of the sunlight, and the softness of the air and the soil. Enjoy seeing, hearing, and smelling life asserting itself all around you. It's that time!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Right Place, Right Time

As many of you know, Trent is a transplant patient. When someone has a transplant, they need to take anti-rejection medications, which suppress the immune system. This is necessary to prevent the body from reacting and literally killing the transplanted organ, which the immune system sees as an invader. Of course, this leaves the patient susceptible to all sorts of ailments or illnesses that might not affect other people as much. I'm sure that the first things most people think of as they read this are colds and flu, and other traveling bugs. But there are other things as well. For example, transplant patients' suppressed immune systems are less able to fight off cancers. Trent has had some experiences in that arena, but one of the biggest concerns, especially because of his years as a swimmer, aquatics director, and lifeguard, is skin cancers.

He has checkups a couple of times a year, and has luckily only dealt with small basal cell carcinomas rather than the dreaded melanomas. There have been numerous spots burned off repeatedly, and a few surgically removed. Last year, his doctor recommended a more proactive approach. This January, Trent had a procedure that involved application of an acid solution which was then exposed to ultraviolet light. Within a few hours of getting home, he looked like he'd had a horrific sunburn on his face. All of the skin came off, but so did the surface skin cancers and pre-cancers. And his skin looks pretty darn good, to boot. We were supposed to have a followup visit in February, but both of us got some horrible intestinal bug that was going around, and couldn't get in until just this Tuesday.

After the Medical Assistant checked us in and remarked about how good Trent's skin looked, we were alone for a minute or two before the resident, and then Doctor Pacheco, would be in to have a look. I told Trent that I wished I could have a laser treatment on my face, but it's something that definitely is not in the budget. And I don't want it for totally vain reasons. I think that my skin has aged pretty well, especially considering that I grew up in the era of benign neglect of the skin. Sunscreen? Never used it. But I was fortunate to have beautiful skin. It was clear and even in tone, and I never dealt with more than moderate outbreaks of pimples. Gram used to tell me how fortunate I was, and how lovely my skin was. The key word in all of these statements being was

Having lupus come into my life began changing that picture. My skin was now covered with redness on the cheeks, nose, and center of the forehead. From time to time it would look like I had a rash because the red areas would get raised or bumpy. But since I had, in my opinion (and that of many others), beaten death from this illness, I tried to think of the redness as a badge of courage and survival. So what if people sometimes thoughtlessly said kind of stupid things about it, like that I couldn't possibly feel or be sick because my cheeks were so nice and rosy?

Then, to add some more fun to the mix, I ended up having rosacea. Yes, just like it sounds, it can make your skin have red patches. Nothing new there. But it also comes with sores and swelling that look like acne. After all of those years with good skin, it's almost like my face regressed and the skin is taking a trip down Teenage Troubled Skin Lane. My previously smooth skin is now covered with little sores and bumps. It's one of the reasons I hate having my picture taken. If it were simply a matter of redness from lupus, it could easily be covered with cosmetics. But putting cosmetics on sores and such just makes them much more noticeable. 

I could take oral antibiotics, but that could leave me open to what's known as super-infections. And having an autoimmune disorder would make the chances of that even greater. I looked into the possibility of antibiotic gel, but when I went to fill the prescription at a local pharmacy, it was just too expensive. At about this time last year, I managed to get an infection in my toe that forced me to go on two different antibiotics. For a few weeks, my skin was beautifully clear. I'll confess that every time I walked by a mirror, I had to check my skin out. It was still rosy, but it was so smooth and healthy-looking!

So maybe now you can understand me saying that I'd love to be able to get a laser treatment to help with my rosacea. A minute or two later, the resident checked out Trent's face, and there were no signs of problems, thank goodness. He has had a recurring spot on the crown of his head, but that was all. Soon Dr. Pacheco came in as well, and was pleased at the appearance and health of Trent's skin. A decision was made to remove and biopsy the spot on the scalp, and the docs left to arrange for him to be moved to a treatment room in a few minutes. We were surprised when Doctor Pacheco came back in the room in about a minute. Trent started to get up, saying, "Wow, that was fast. The room is ready that quick?"

Doctor Pacheco told him that no, it wasn't, she wanted to talk to me. You see, the Cosmetic (rather than Dermatological Oncology which Trent visits) Department is going to start using a new type of laser treatment that is especially for rosacea. And she asked me if I would be willing to be a demonstration patient for the doctors to learn the new procedure. Yes, a free laser treatment! After making sure that my lupus wasn't active, she said that she and her resident thought I would be a perfect patient to demonstrate the new device. I was immediately excited! I was told there might be pain. No problem, I'm used to pain. In addition to her, there might be more than one additional doctor doing the procedure so that they could have hands-on experience. I don't care. There might be twenty-five doctors watching. Whatever. My skin might turn red or purple temporarily after the procedure. So what else is new? And I would need to become her patient so that she could monitor the progress, in which case she could treat me with whatever type of topical antibiotics would be best for my face. I felt like a kid at Christmas!

At this point, I am hoping that nothing happens to make me lose this opportunity. When I told our friend Marie, who had taken us down to the hospital, she was as excited as a kid as well. When I told her that I had said just five minutes earlier that I wished I could have a laser treatment, she said, "Wow. Some prayers sure do get answered fast!" We are planning on making a day of it. And we got a chuckle out it when I said that it was funny to get so excited about having my face burned off. Not literally, of course! So Trent's appointment happened at the very best time. If we had come in February as planned, none of this would have happened. The plan is to have the treatment on Monday, May 19th. I'm not expecting any miracles. I'll still have the same face, after all. But maybe I will be able to have healthier skin again. And all of this from being in the right place at the right time!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sometimes I Scare People

On a few occasions, I have been known to scare people. Well, maybe startle is a better word. Although I like to claim that I am the meanest woman in the world, or the least attractive, that isn't even what has scared them. I just seem to have this unusual talent for sensing what people may be thinking about or feeling. No, I'm not trying to claim any psychic abilities. I simply have times when my brain seems to be very in tune with what others may be feeling or thinking.

There have been a few occasions when I have looked at total strangers on one of our many visits to the hospital and known that they needed a friend, however briefly. During one of Trent's surgeries, I saw a woman that I just knew fell into this category. I walked up to her and said, "I'm sorry to bother you, but you look like you need someone to talk to. Are you all right?" Before long, she had shed a few of the tears that she had been trying so hard to hold back in her efforts to be brave for her husband. Before he went into surgery that day, for a recurring health issue if I recall correctly, she had received a phone call about her mother-in-law. She couldn't tell her husband, just before he went into surgery, that his mother was dying. She was trying to bear the burden of worrying about her husband and his mother, and trying to look upbeat so that he wouldn't know about his elderly mother's condition. She felt guilty about not telling him, but knew deep down that his mother would not want him to be worrying about her when he was having problems of his own. She hadn't been able to talk to anyone about it, but was finally able to get some relief by speaking with a complete stranger. 

It's the people I worked with that sometimes found me disconcerting. One day I was chatting with my boss, J. She was talking about her parents visiting from out of town, and how sometimes things that usually go smoothly will turn the other direction when you do them in front of your family. She was trying to get her family together to go to the church where she was choir director, and one thing after another went wrong. I said something about how maybe she should have been singing "Lord, help me, Jesus," referring to a song lyric from back in the seventies, I think. J's face went blank. "That's my dad's favorite song, Katrina. I sing it, or have the choir sing it, every time my dad comes to my church. We sang it on Sunday." We got a chuckle out of it and moved on, but it was pretty cool!

I also seemed to have an unusual talent for knowing people's nicknames for their family members without them ever telling me. My coworker, D, had two kids, a son named Isaiah and a daughter whose middle name was LeNae. It just made sense to me that instead of calling her by her first name, they'd call her Nae-Nae. I don't know why D thought I was weird when it came out of my mouth. One day I asked her, "How's My-saiah doing in school?" Another blank stare. "How did you know I call him that? I've never told anyone here that I call him that!" I don't know. It just came out of my mouth that way.

My fellow trainer, J, also had one of those blank-stare, freaked out moments when I asked about his wife, Jennifer. We were sitting at our desks, doing who knows what, and started to chat. I asked him about how his baby boy was doing, and then said, "And how's Juniper?" J didn't answer. I looked at him and could see that he was a bit stunned, and sort of shocked. You know, the deer in headlights look. Again, the same story as D. "How did you know that Jennifer's family has always called her Juniper? I never call her anything other than Jenn here at work, or at home. They've been calling her that forever." I told him I just seem to have a talent for figuring out people's nicknames, I guessed, mentioning that I had done it to D as well. I think he was so struck by me using that nickname that he even called his wife and told her about our conversation. 

I don't mean to be scary. I think I am just observant, and perhaps emotionally tuned to receive people's signals. And maybe my love for words and sounds makes me able to arrive at the same nicknames other people do. Who can say? All I know is that when I see that look on someone's face, I always think, "Here we go again." Because sometimes I scare people.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


A dear friend on Google plus, Rich, made a post this evening that had me rolling down memory lane almost immediately. He shared some lovely photographs he had taken of his father's shaving implements, which were last used in November of 1976. There was a well-worn, and I imagine well-loved, shaving brush in a handsomely decorated shaving mug. Alongside this duo was a Gillette safety razor and double-edged refill blades. Many of us who saw this post remembered seeing the same implements, and some fondly remembered seeing fathers or grandfathers using these tools. Rich mentioned that even though the fragrance is gone, he can still remember the scent of the soap his father used for shaving. 

All of this touched me, and made me remember things as well. Gram had the same razor in her medicine cabinet. As young ladies, Liz and I used those safety razors to defuzz our legs. And they had to be handled with the utmost respect. They may have been known as safety razors, but if you didn't handle them with care, you were guaranteed to get cut. Okay, I remember one or two occasions when I lost a bit of skin from a shin or an ankle! 

Gram also had her father's straight razor, styptic pencil, and barber shears. Her dad was a man of many interests, and although I don't think he ever made his living barbering, he did go to barber school. The razor and shears were definitely made to last. Gram used the shears until she was ninety years old, and they still cut her hair beautifully. Amazing to think that scissors of that age were still working as if they were almost new. I wonder if today's barber shears having the same lasting power. 

Gram's hair-cutting and grooming routines were very simple. She would take out her dad's shears and cut her own hair. As she got older, she would ask me to cut the back for her, something that always intimidated me. But I guess I did okay. After shampooing her hair in the bathroom sink, she would blot her silvery hair with a towel and run her old-fashioned black haircomb through her naturally curly hair. She would shape it into Marcel waves in about ten seconds flat, and hold them in place with long hairpins. After it was dried, she had beautiful waves that flattered her soft face.

Although Gram was very much what would be considered low-maintenance, she sometimes did amazing things with my long hair. She could take a scarf and roll my hair up in it, tying it in the front, an adorable style in and of itself. After the scarf was unrolled, my hair was full of lovely curls. There were also a few times that she tore up strips of cloth and tied up my hair with them. Again, a head full of lovely waves and curls, with no special tools or gels or drama. I wish I had paid more attention to what she was doing so that I could have done it for myself when I got older. 

Reading what Rich said about remembering the scent of his father's shave soap made me think of something that Gram used that I loved the scent of - her face powder. She had Coty Airspun face powder with a soft puff. It had a lovely feminine scent. It smelled like something that would be used by a lady. I'm not sure if that powder is even made any more. If so, I think I could easily spend some time just standing by the store display, sniffing at the container, and drifting back through the years. I'd be watching Gram tidying her hair, powdering her face, and applying her red lipstick. I will admit that I'd love to buy some and use it; it made her face look lovely, maybe it would do the same for mine. And I know that using it would make me feel like a lady.

Times aren't as simple as they were back then. We've gotten ourselves in more of a hurry. We use all sorts of electric gadgets and disposable tools because we can't be bothered to engage in the grooming rituals of our forebears. I can't help but wonder if we are missing out on something. Taking a little time to slow down and catch our breath might be a good thing. We all need to be groomed, but maybe sometimes we should slow down and savor the moment. After all, wouldn't it be nice to occasionally treat ourselves like the ladies and gentlemen our parents and grandparents were?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


It's adorable how kids will hear things just slightly wrong, or say them just a little bit strangely. My cousin Carole, for example, was able say almost everything clearly right when she started talking, I've been told. But she had problems with two words. Waffles were awfuls and tunnels were tungels. I have heard her say that she didn't mispronounce waffles, she was just making a statement of how she felt about them. She always thought they were awful. I'll allow it.

Thinking about the problems kids have saying or understanding things makes me think of some stories that Gram told me about Terry, her oldest granddaughter. When the grandkids were quite small, she was called Grandma Bessie. It was some years later, by the time that I came to Colorado, that it had turned into just Gram. So little Terry, who was maybe three years old, had always known Gram as Grandma Bessie, which came out more like Gammie Bessie. Terry started noticing that people say would say something interesting when they were taken by surprise. Someone would hear or see something, and say, "Heavens to Betsy!" Like most children, Terry learned from what she heard. But she thought she heard her grandmother's name. So one day, when she was caught by surprise, Gram heard Terry say, "Heavens to Gammie!" 

A very precious story that Gram told me about her late husband had to do with Terry, and with Hiram, Gram's husband, being in the hospital. I'm not sure of the dates or ages, but I think that Terry was perhaps four or five years old when her grandpa died. All of the kids loved their grandpa, and at one time he was hospitalized and could only have his wife as a visitor. I imagine that there were concerns over having children, or people who were regularly with children, as visitors. Kids tend to be exposed to a lot of germs, and can carry a lot of them even if they aren't sick. But Terry, who was probably three years old at the most, really wanted to see her Grampa. So Alice brought her to the hospital and they were standing outside, looking up at the window where Grampa was standing on an upper floor. Little Terry loved her Grampa, and really wanted him to be out of the hospital. She looked up at him waving from the window, and held out her chubby little arms. She called out, "Dump, Gampa, dump!" She was sure she could catch him if he jumped out of the window. A sweet, honest, child-logic moment, and very touching.

Another funny thing about kids is that they often manage to combine mispronunciations with bad timing by saying things very loudly in the wrong place. Gram told me that when their kids were small, Bill and Alice liked to sit toward the front of the church so that the kids could see what was going on. On one particular Sunday, Terry was having a tough time sitting still and being quiet. She was told once or twice to settle down, but things just got worse. Bill picked her up to carry her out to a crying area so that her noise wouldn't disturb everyone. Terry had tears streaming down her face even before her father picked her up. But when she realized that she had left her favorite toy, a stuffed lion, in the pew, she was devastated. As her father carried her down the aisle, she reached out her arms toward the pew and began to scream, "Treesie's dyin, Treesie's dyin!" I'm sure that there were other people who had to follow them out of the church - they were laughing too hard! The fact that they didn't know she was trying to say lion made no difference; they thought she was trying to tell everyone she was in big trouble. 

I think most of us, as kids, had words that we didn't understand or just couldn't pronounce properly. Heck, my Aunt Jackie (and Terry and Carole's aunt, too) had problems all of her life with some words. She almost caused a riot at Woolworth's when she was shopping there with Alice one day. She was looking at some fabric remnants on a table and called out to her sister, "Alice, come look at this Rembrandt!" So don't worry or get embarrassed if you or your kids say something that's just a little bit off. Remember, family gatherings are better when you have funny true stories to tell!