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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.