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Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Another Christmas has come and gone and a new year is rapidly approaching. We find ourselves still enjoying the newness of the gifts given and recieved, and revel in the lingering warmth of the holiday. Amid all of the delicious food and snacks and presents and contentment, sometimes we overlook the intangible gifts of this and other seasons.

Like many who celebrate holidays at this time of year, I always find myself wishing that I could do more for others. I am also stunned and humbled by the gifts and love that I receive. The general warmth and goodwill that can be felt around holidays is a truly special thing. As I reflect on the things that made these recent days a delight, what really sticks out for me are not just the big things, but the small, the delightful, the lovely moments.

One of the best things about Christmas happened on Christmas Eve. After working a long day in the meat and seafood department of a large supermarket, my sister Liz came over to spend Christmas Eve with us. She was able to wipe off the tarnish of customers who waited until just before the store was closed and were furious that there was no more prime rib. They couldn't believe the store would be closed on Christmas. What if they needed food? We shook our heads about the drama and exchanged our love and our gifts.

Our feast of clam chowder and garlicky rolls was accompanied by smiles and laughter, the best seasonings of all. What made this Christmas even more special is that Liz told us that it was the best and most relaxed Christmas that she has had in at least fifteen years. We are hoping for it to be the first of many together - Liz and her cat Brutus will be making their home with us soon. Perhaps The Lunatic will write some more about this on a later date. Suffice it to say that this is a positive and welcome change.

The next day, The Lunatic and husband are sitting in the back row at a church service. Always the back row,  because people who are sick tend to cough their cooties toward the front of the room. An immunosuppressed person tends to stay more healthy sitting behind the cooties. On one end of the back row are an extended family group, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and cousins. All of the little ones are under five years of age. Grandpa produces a bag of multi-colored miniature marshmallows to help keep the kids occupied and to try and prevent boredom. A boy of about four passes by and tells me that the boy with him is his little brother. A few minutes later, he stands in front of me, the bag of marshmallows clutched in his little hands. "Do you want a marshmallow? They taste really good!" What response could I have other than to thank him and eat a marshmallow? It was one of the best marshmallows I have ever eaten. It was probably one of those magical marshmallows that could grow Grinch hearts three sizes on any day, so naturally it touched mine. This child who doesn't even know me, and who wasn't told to share, couldn't keep the simple joy of marshmallows all to himself. I felt well and truly gifted.

On the day after Christmas, we went to visit our friends Marie and Thayne. Also there were her daughter and son-in-law, and their two daughters, aged four and almost one year. Sometimes I forget how easy it can be to make a small child happy. The baby was thrilled to have anyone say anything to her in a silly tone of voice. If her smile had been any larger, you could have fallen right in to that pool of happiness. And I was able to score some points with Big Sister when I asked if I could have one of her (plastic) cupcakes. She was delighted to place it on a plastic plate and serve it to me. Being someone who is not afraid to look silly in front of a small child, I let my goofiness run free. Her face lit up as I "slurped" up the frosting and exclaimed at how much I liked frosting and that her cupcakes were very yummy. Getting huge smiles from two children within minutes is a gift beyond compare. I went home feeling once again that I had been very greatly gifted.

I'm wishing for you, my friends and readers, that every day you live can be gifted. If we can still get joy from the intangible things in life, what more do we need? 


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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My Husband Thinks I'm Scary

Yes, as the title says, sometimes my husband thinks that I'm scary. I don't mean in the sneaking up on someone and saying boo very loudly sense. I'm also not referring to the did-you-have-anything-to-say-to-me-like-happy-birthday-because-apparently-you-forgot-you-big-poop! sense. Although the latter could conceivably happen. Of course, it would be said in an exceedingly calm and therefore frightening tone, driving the person on the receiving end to want to confess to anything at all just to let the interrogation end.

No, what scares him at times is something else entirely. I just have this weird thing from time to time. Trust me, he hasn't been the only person that I have left wigged out. You see, sometimes I seem to know things that I shouldn't know. Or I say things and then they happen. For example, one morning I planned to ask my coworker how his pregant wife was feeling. Without even thinking, I asked how Juniper was doing. His face went blank and a bit pale as he asked how I knew that Jennifer's family always called her Juniper. I didn't know, it just came out of my mouth.

Then there was the time I asked another coworker about her son Isaiah. I asked her how My-saiah was doing in school. Again the blank stare and the question. How did I know that she called him My-saiah, and that only at home? I didn't know. Maybe my brain has a tendency to be able to figure out automatically what someone might use as a nickname for one of their loved ones. Who knows?

The thing that Trent finds uncanny is that I will say something random and then it happens. The most memorable incident occured at a followup visit with the Dermatologic Oncology Department at the hospital. As a transplant patient, Trent has to be monitored for possible skin cancers. A few months after a treatment to prevent skin cancer growths, we were in to check the results. As the nurse checked his vitals and such, she remarked at how young and smooth his skin looked. The resident (this is a teaching hospital) also remarked about how wonderful his skin looked.

I sat there in the exam room with my face all red and blotchy from rosacea and lupus. There were tons of blemishes and bumpiness all over my face. The clear skin of most of my adulthood was a fond memory. After the resident left and while we were waiting for Doctor Theresa (her first name), I told Trent that I wished that we could afford a laser treatment to get rid of some of the horrible redness in my face.

Doctor Theresa came in and decided that she wanted to do a biopsy of an annoying spot on Trent's head. We would need to wait ten minutes or so for a procedure room to be prepared. Only a minute or two later, Doctor Theresa and the resident were back in the room. We started to stand up, saying that the wait had been very brief. Doctor Theresa dismissed Trent's comment and said that they were back to talk to me, not him. There was going to be a demonstration of a new skin laser the following month and they needed demo patients. Would I be interested in helping them out by getting a free laser treatment? Heck yes! Within a month, I had the laser treatment and got rid of a great deal of the redness. Shortly after that, I was prescribed antibiotics for the rosacea and the breakouts went away. Pretty amazing after simply telling my husband that I wished I could improve my skin, wouldn't you say?

There have been other incidents along the way where similar things happen, but there was one recently that I think really did kind of freak Trent out. We order his anti-rejection drugs once a month from the specialty pharmacy, and they are delivered to our front door by UPS. I remembered on a particular morning that we were supposed to receive a shipment that day. Of course I remembered this while seated on the throne of meditation and deep thought. I swear that there's something about being surrounded with plumbing that makes the brain's functions increase or improve.

Anyway, I called out to Trent that we had a shipment scheduled to arrive that day. He asked if he should check to see if it was sitting outside the door, and I said that might be a good idea. He opened the door and saw no package. As soon as he shut the door, there was a knock from outside. He looked at me with the same blank expression I had received from my former coworkers. He opened the door again, and there was the package. Within a few seconds of me saying to check. Trent picked up the package and turned toward me. "I don't want to talk about it. Honestly, I'm kind of freaked out right now." I giggled and tried to say something, to which he repeated that he really couldn't talk about it. 

I can't help it, I guess sometimes I'm just a bit uncanny. I think about someone or mention them, and we get a call or text or email. I mention a movie that I wish I could DVR and it's on cable the next week. And I have about a 99.9% accuracy rate in the baby gender prediction category. Maybe I'm just lucky. Or weird. Or maybe Trent's right. Sometimes I'm just a bit scary. 


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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Noodles and Nostalgia

I really love to make home made chicken noodle soup. I also really love to eat it. A few days ago it was cold and snowy, so the timing was perfect for bowls of steaming-hot chicken deliciousness. It's almost like a hug and a warm blanket in a bowl. That being said, though, I don't think there's ever a wrong season for this loveliness.

The making of soup (as well as some other things) provides more than nourishment for me and the people who will be sharing it. As I immerse myself in the various stages of the soup's becoming, my mind goes on a journey. I recall other times that I have made this soup and the joy I have had in eating it with others. As my hands go about their work, I am reminded of women who have meant so much to me.

I smile as I remember finding our Aunt Lizi in Hungary. When we walked into her home, she led us straight to the table to eat. Even though I had long since forgotten the Hungarian I spoke so fluently as a child, I guessed what she was saying even before my cousin translated for her. We were being told to sit and eat, and that we wouldn't be leaving the table until all of the food was gone. She began with chicken noodle soup made from the chickens she raised. The noodles had also been made in her kitchen. There was a lovely green salad with a fresh and brightly-flavored dressing. Then a gulyas porkolt, a goulash stew with tiny home made dumplings, followed by chicken prepared in Lizi's own special way. She spread a layer of stuffing under the skin of each piece before roasting it to perfection. Later in the day we had hard-boiled eggs and slices of ham, both raised on her property. There was a jellyroll cake filled with the apricot preserves she had made the previous fall. The meal was seasoned with love, which added to the flavor.

Almost every time I make chicken noodle soup, I remember my Gram. I would come home from school to the fragrance of the chicken simmering in a pot with onions, celery, and carrots. My mouth would water as I saw the chicken cooling on the counter before she removed the meat from the bones, cut it up, and returned it to the pot with the noodles. The soup had a lovely layer of golden schmaltz and was bursting with flavor. The only thing required to make it a complete meal was a bowl and a spoon. Like Lizi, someone Gram never knew of or met, Gram was always making sure everyone was well-fed. 

Finally, I am transported to my mama's kitchen table in Chicago. There was a very important process going on, and I was allowed to help. Noodle-making day was very important. The flour was mounded on the table, and a well made to hold the eggs. Mama mixed it all up with her hands and then the magic began. The noodles were rolled out into a large thin sheet, which was then cut into long strips. These were stacked on top of each other and then cut into noodles. They were hung on wooden racks in the kitchen to dry for future use. 

Noodle day was also a soup-making day. While the noodles were being made on the kitchen table, a large pot of soup was cooking on the stove. The last chunk of noodle dough wasn't rolled and cut like the rest, though. Mama would get out her box grater and run the dough over the largest holes, right into the simmering soup. The fresh dough cooked into tiny dumplings, making the soup even more delicious and filling. It was a wonderful feast.  

Finally, there is the nostalgia that comes every time I make my soup using a whole chicken. It's also a memory of a female, one who was very small. She was an eight and a half pound poodle named Paris, and she loved to go in the kitchen to watch magic and food being made. She followed me around with great interest when I made chicken soup, because she knew that I was also making something special just for her. I would show her the giblets and neck that I put in a small pot with some vegetables. She sniffed at the contents before I put them on the stove, and supervised while I diced everything up and put it back in the pot with a handful or two of rice. When it was time for all of us to eat, all that I had to do was say two words - chicken stew - for her to know that her home-cooked meal was ready. She flew off the bed where she had been resting and raced to the kitchen at top speed. She watched eagerly as I spooned some of the cooled mixture into her bowl. She ate with gusto, and still looked more than willing to help us out if we might accidentally put too much of the mommy-and-daddy soup in our bowls. 

The soup I made the other day was loaded with chicken, vegetables, and rice instead of noodles. We had enough for hearty servings that night as well as some left for the next day, which we shared with my sister Liz. No, it didn't taste exactly like Gram's, and I didn't tell anyone that they couldn't leave the table until it was all done, but it was quite tasty, if I say so myself. Making and eating it warmed and nourished my heart, body, and soul. What more could you ask for in a meal?


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Monday, December 5, 2016

Give Me Some Credit, Please

Experience is most definitely a great teacher. As you may or may not know from my previous scribblings, I spent a number of years in customer service. Part of that experience was in a shop located in a part of town where parents could drop off their kids at the mall with $250 in pocket money when their schools had snow days. Later, I worked in another location of the same company located in the busiest concourse at Denver International Airport. The bulk of my customer service experience, however, is in banking.

I worked as a teller in the drive-through bank and the teller line inside the branch. I was a regular teller with a moderately sized cash drawer and a commercial teller with far more money in my till and counted by my hands on a daily basis. At one point, I had one of the two combinations to the main vault, which held an amount of cash which would be indiscreet to mention. I did all sorts of things from ordering supplies to sending counterfeit currency to the Secret Service.

I spent some time as a proof operator, my most miserable banking experience ever. But what I really loved was the telephone customer service department. I know that my previous banking experience helped me when I started in that area. I already had knowledge of debits and credits and processing and things like the basics of funds availability. There was still a lot left to learn.

Whether you realize it or not, a lot of what banks and their employees do and/or say is based entirely on Federal banking regulations. If you are a banker, whether in person or over the phone, and give your customer incorrect information on something that is regulated, you can lose your job because the bank can be punished with a fine. In fact, when I was relatively new to the job, I was warned about such a mistake on a call. I vowed to learn the regulation thoroughly and told myself that if I ever became a trainer, I would do my best to make sure that my trainees learned them as well. Regulations E, CC, D and DD...I tried to make sure that I understood them all.

Because of the wealth of knowledge I have accumulated over the years, I am somewhat more immune to bank-speak. I have to admit that I like this hidden treasure. It's like having an ace in a hand of cards that nobody suspects you're holding. I had a reminder of my good fortune regarding all of this knowledge recently. I am certain that even though he acted like he was minding his own business while I made a phone call, Trent was quietly observing in case he heard an artist at work. Not an artist, perhaps, but an educated customer. 

I had taken a look at a credit card statement and saw that I had been charged an annual fee. I wanted a refund of said fee because I think interest is enough for the cardholder to get from me. I called the service number and asked in an extremely courteous manner if I could please have a refund. The equally courteous customer service person informed me that my annual fee allowed me the security to use my card without worry. The fee provided me with a minimal financial responsibility if my card happened to be lost or stolen or otherwise compromised. 

Sounds great, doesn't it? But it's wrong. You do not have to pay for that protection, it's required by law under Federal Regulation E. I politely informed the representative that I could not be charged a fee for protection from fraudulent transactions since that protection was required by law. She placed me on hold briefly and returned to tell me that my refund was being processed. I would see the credit on my account soon. Score one for the little guy.

Does a person have to be a former banker to know all of this stuff? Heck no! If you open up a checking or savings account, or simply ask for the information, you can get a brochure from your financial institution with a scintillating title along the lines of Your Deposit Account. It will tell you all of the rules regarding your account. When will your deposited money be available? It's in there. What if you use your debit or credit card for a transaction and something goes wrong? It's in there. It's really boring reading, but it's in there. Although I did get many laughs out of my training classes when I covered the ATM security section. If you need to be told not to stop and use an ATM if there's a scary-looking dude with a gun standing there, you have problems a brochure can't fix.

Am I telling you that you need to know every detail of every regulation? Heck no, you don't even need to know what they're called. But whatever you're dealing with, whether it's money or eggs or makeup, it's good to know a bit about what's going on. I just don't like to see big companies pulling the wool over consumers' eyes. Knowledge really can be power. Here's to keeping your eyes open!

A note from The Lunatic: My financial experience was with banks, not credit unions. Banks and credit unions are overseen by different regulatory agencies and may therefore be subject to different rules.



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Sunday, November 13, 2016


I hadn't planned on going to the grocery store this weekend. Trent can tell you that I am not a big fan of shopping during this part of the week. The throng of people is often too much for me, and brings my anxieties to the forefront. So I say again, for the record, that I had no intention of going to the grocery store this weekend. However, I fell victim to the siren song of one of my favorite cereals on sale for a ridiculously low price. A weekend-only sale. So I decided to go to the store. There were some other items that I wanted or needed, so I made my list and set off to brave the throng.

Now, one of the items that I saw in the store's weekly ad was a box of store-brand lancets (poky things used to get a blood sample for blood sugar monitoring) for a dollar. I could probably have gotten them free through my online pharmacy, but it would have required a visit to the doctor, so I decided to put that item on my list. I grabbed my purse and a couple of shopping bags and walked to the store. When I got to the pharmacy area, it was pretty busy. I saw a box of lancets on a table and put them in my cart rather than asking where they might be displayed.

When I went through the checkout, my total was more than twenty dollars higher than I expected. The box of lancets had rung up at a cost of twenty-two dollars! I told my cashier, one of the head clerks, that the product was on sale for a dollar, so he reversed it and rang it up at that price. As I walked home with my bags, my brain flashed a picture of the box that I had picked up. It wasn't lancets, it was testing strips! I had inadvertently cheated the store out of more than twenty dollars!

Since I was nearly home, I put my few cold items in the fridge, put the box and receipt in my purse, and walked back to the store. I won't deny that it felt good to know that I was going to rectify my mistake. I stopped briefly and apologized to the person who had been my cashier and proceeded to the pharmacy to right my wrongs. And that's when things took an unpleasant turn.

When I returned the unopened box of test strips to the pharmacy with my receipt and asked for the lancets instead, I was met with a blank stare. "Can't you use these?" the pharmacy tech asked. I explained again that I had only paid a dollar for them and had intended to pick up lancets, not test strips. She asked if I had the store-brand testing device, which I do not, and I told her that even if I did, I couldn't use the strips in good conscience because I hadn't paid for them.

The tech then informed me that she couldn't re-dispense the testing strips. I pointed out that the box was unopened and the product unused. Couldn't it go in a charity box or something? She told me there was no such thing. She repeated that since they had been dispensed to a customer, they could not be dispensed to anyone else. A comment was made to the effect that I should have come to the pharmacy counter rather than just picking the item up. Of course, this begs the question of why a one dollar item was behind the counter when a twenty-two dollar item was sitting out on a table.

After pouring some more lemon juice into the deep cut to my psyche, she freed the lancets from Fort Knox and told me they were not on sale. She grudgingly gave them to me anyway. I even asked if we could make believe that I had never left the store with the test strips, but she said no, they couldn't be re-dispensed. I walked over to the entrance and got a store ad to bring back to the pharmacy to show the lancets were indeed on sale. I ended up speaking with someone else who also rubbed some lemon juice on my mental wound. Through the whole interchange I was incredibly polite. I can say without a doubt that my courtesy and conscience were equally strong. I did mention as I left that I tried to be a good person and ended up feeling like a jerk. 

I walked home with the lancets in my purse and tears in my eyes. It all seemed so insanely wasteful to me. A perfectly good product was going to waste because I got in a hurry and made a mistake, and then was honest about it. After I got home and thought about it, I knew it wouldn't hurt the pharmaceutical companies. They make obscene amounts of money on diabetes-related products. And I am sure that the store's corporate headquarters won't suffer much from that small loss. I'm just stunned that a fully-sealed product cannot be used simply because I touched it and in their eyes might have tampered with it. 

Wow, I thought. It's incredible that an item that is not ingested can't be sold after it's touched. I can return a bag of potato chips unopened and they can go back on the shelf. And produce - heck, that stuff has been touched by so many hands it isn't even funny. And cold medicine, too. I realize that people have been harmed by medications that have been tampered with and that due diligence is necessary. I realize that the people in the pharmacy don't know me. I also realize that someone who is twisted enough to tamper with test strips is quite possibly twisted enough to return them in an attempt to hurt others. It just seems to me that there could be a simple solution that would make it evident whether the product was opened or not. We can do it with over-the-counter medications, why not other things as well? And I certainly wouldn't object to people not having to feel emotionally flogged when they are honest about making a mistake.



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Friday, November 11, 2016


We don't always realize, when we are either learning ourselves or teaching others, that sometimes what is learned goes far deeper than we had originally thought. I realized this when I was training telephone customer service bankers. One day I discovered that one of my favorite trainees was no longer taking customer calls, he was now working as the department assistant. His duties were many, and the job was an important part of the functioning of the call center. He was responsible for supplies, mail, ensuring that forms went to the proper area, and all sorts of other things. 

When I saw Chris doing the job, my heart sank. I thought that I must have let him down as a trainer if he decided to leave his original position. Every time I saw him or spoke with him in passing, it haunted me. I had failed. One day, I decided that I couldn't let the self-torture continue. I had to know what had happened, so I asked. His face lit up as he told me that I was, indeed, the reason that he had left his original job. He wanted to thank me, and in fact, his mother wanted to thank me. 

This left me almost ready to cry. Had I done such an awful job that even his mother wanted him to quit? He then told me that because of my training, he had decided to go back to school and finish getting his bachelor's degree. And then he gave me another wonderful gift. He told me that before taking my new-hire training, he had thought that learning was boring. I had made him realize that learning could be fun. Needless to say, knowing that I had had this beautiful and unexpected impact in his life made me cry anyway. But they were tears of happiness.

This morning, I was playing a game of solitaire on my cell phone. Now, even a non-programmer type like me knows that computers of any ilk are very stringent about the rules. They know that A leads to B, and that's the way things are. They can't be forced to fudge the rules or be flexible with them like humans can. I remembered Gram teaching me how to play Solitaire years and years ago. She taught me how to lay out the cards. About discard piles and going through the deck. Playing the cards on each other and building up your suits at the top of the game, and moving Kings to the emptied spaces on the field, freeing the cards underneath them to be played.

Gram liked to play a hand of Solitaire every morning after her breakfast. She said that playing a game of Solitaire in the morning would tell her how her day would be. There was always a deck of cards on the kitchen table ready for her to shuffle with her gnarled, arthritic hands. I would watch as she played, sometimes telling her about a move that she hadn't noticed. And then I saw her doing something that I thought was breaking the rules. She took a stack of cards that did not have a King at the bottom and put them in an empty spot on the playing field. I told her that she couldn't do that, only Kings could go in an empty spot. She calmly and coolly told me that if all of the Kings were already on the table and there was an empty spot, you could move other cards there. Hey, it sounded good to me. If Gram said that it was okay, I would add that rule to my playing as well.

When I play Solitaire on my phone or computer, I often think of Gram and wish that I could use Gram Rules to play my game. And that's how it was this morning. I chuckled to myself at the memory of Gram bending the rules and knowing that she'd get frustrated with the inflexibility of playing it without a real deck. And then it hit me - Gram had, all those years ago, taught me an invaluable lesson. Sometimes we have to do whatever we can to make things work.

This kind of blew my mind, and in a way that I really needed. Like many people, I was taken by surprise with the election results this week. It didn't go the way that I had hoped or expected. I was stunned not only by the results, but the violence that occurred as a result of the presidential race. I had expected fear and disillusionment, but not anything like this. And then a game of Solitaire let Gram teach me something nineteen years after her death. Sometimes we have to do whatever we can to make things work.

The more I thought about her teaching me to play this simple card game, the more learning I found. The game will never be won without the different colors or cards working together. Every card in the deck is important and necessary to make the game a successful one. On the playing field, the King is on the bottom and the smaller cards are built on and supported by the most powerful one. When the suits are built up, the King cannot survive the game without the smaller cards, the little guys.

Like Gram's game of solitaire, we need to do whatever we can to make this thing work. We have to unite, all colors, all genders, all beliefs, all of us, no matter what category or description we use for ourselves. With our love for the other cards in the deck, we can win this game of life. Sometimes it might seem like the game is difficult or unwinnable, but if we work together, maybe we can make it happen.


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Monday, October 31, 2016


It was simple. A knock, knock, knock and the magic had begun.

Four years ago tonight, I was babysitting dog-sitting one of the friendliest dogs I have ever known. Bowie was a dog that never met a stranger. One of his favorite places to hang out or sleep was on "his sofa" in the living room. With his head resting on the arm of the sofa, he could watch the activity on his street in complete comfort. Without even looking toward the window, I could tell when someone was walking outside. Bowie would change his posture, getting ready in case he needed to greet a guest, whether human or canine. I often joked that while he wasn't a guard dog, he was certainly a watch dog, a dog that would watch a burglar enter the house and greet them eagerly. "Hey, the TV is right over here! And could you give me a scratch or two and some food, please? I'm starving!"

As I said, four years ago, I was with Bowie on what would end up being his last Halloween. Many dogs that I have known have found Halloween irritating because of the constant knocking and doorbell ringing and needing to determine whether their enemy-rousting services were required. For Bowie, it was completely the opposite. You see, for Bowie, anyone who came to the door was coming to visit him. 

On this wonderful Halloween evening, Bowie was snoozing away on his sofa when the first trick-or-treaters tapped on the front door. He got down from the sofa, tail slowly wagging, and with an inquisitive look on his face. When I opened the door he was thrilled. Kids! Giggling, happy, adorable kids! He scoped them all out while I distributed the candy, making certain to spare a few of each kind to nosh on the next few days. Hey, I was born in the morning, but not yesterday morning!

Bowie wagged all the way back to his sofa. When the next tap on the door sounded, his face looked both delighted and surprised. The human calendar may have said Halloween, but to Bowie it must have seemed like Christmas. More kids saying, "I like your dog!" And it kept happening! I can tell you without a doubt what was the highlight of the dog's evening. Four girls came to the door together and said that they liked the dog. And then they asked if they could pet him. Bowie was in dog heaven. He gleefully accepted pats on the head which he repaid with licks to every little-girl hand. Pure joy for one dog and four kids. What a wonderful thing to see!

As the evening went on and more and more kids showed up, Bowie started to get a bit tired. There were about seventy-five kids that showed up, which is a lot of exuberant greeting to do. The best host, I mean dog, can get tired from entertaining their numerous guests. After an hour or so, when the knocks sounded, Bowie looked at me to see if I needed him to greet the kids again. I had him come over to the door and he did so with his usual grace and friendliness. I was sitting at the kitchen table in between visitors. After all, it was Bowie's sofa. 

I was surprised and amused when Bowie walked into the kitchen and looked at me as if to say that he was exhausted. He went to his kennel and sprawled on his side. The next time someone knocked, he simply looked at me as if to say, "I'm too tired, MyKatrina. You're on your own." He had discovered that there was such a thing as too much company.

When Bowie's journey with the humans who loved him came to an end about six months later, I realized how fortunate I was to share his final Halloween. The kids who came by the house not only had candy, they had a greeter extraordinaire. And I was reminded that for a dog, the chance to kiss someone's hand could be the greatest Halloween treat of all. 



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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sixty Years

After less than three weeks, it was all over. Well, mostly over. The punishment was still to come.

The Hungarian Revolution began on October 23, 1956 with demonstrations and the toppling of a statue of Stalin. In response, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. At a peaceful demonstration on October 25, soldiers shot and killed some 800 people. The fighting had begun. After retreating and regrouping, the Soviets returned with a huge force on November 4. They shot at civilians and revolutionaries alike. The Hungarians had few weapons but fought bravely until the 10th of November. When it was over, the 31,500 Soviet soldiers with their 1,130 tanks had losses of 722 killed or missing, and 1,540 wounded. The Hungarian losses were far greater, with estimates of 2,500 to 3,000 civilians dead and 13,000 wounded. When the revolution was crushed, some 200,000 Hungarians fled the country. For those who remained, various punishments including imprisonment, deportation to the Soviet Union, and death were to follow.  

In the village of Pornóapáti in Western Hungary, very near the border of Austria, a family prepared to walk to their freedom in the middle of the night. My parents and their three children, ranging in age from six to three, had to leave or die. I have been told that my father was a revolutionary and the Soviets were going to kill him and his whole family. During the night they walked across the bridge on the Pinka River and sneaked across the border past a guard post manned by armed soldiers. Eventually, with the sponsorship of relatives already living in the USA, they left Europe and began a new life in Chicago, where I was born.

Their home was razed by the soldiers they had eluded. The family that they left behind continued to live with the constant presence of soldiers. They dealt with years of hunger and abuses. The city of Budapest still bears the scars of the revolution. Many of the beautiful old buildings in the city are still riddled with bullet holes from the Soviet guns and tanks. When the Soviets were gone and the borders were free and open, those who had lived through the occupation carried their own internal scars. Many years later, my Aunt Lizi walked with us to the Austrian border, but she was unable to step across. The ingrained fear of being on the other side of the border without her papers was too much to fight. To honor her, Liz and I both remained on the Hungarian side.

We are approaching the sixtieth anniversary of my family's arrival in the United States. I'm not sure of the exact date, but I think it was in December of 1956. I am forever grateful to my family for their bravery. They risked their lives to make the move to freedom and a new home. I also love the family that remains in Hungary. I am proud to be related to people who managed to survive through such challenging times and under such difficult conditions. May they long live happy and free. 


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Friday, October 21, 2016

Friends and Foes

I have written in the past about how election seasons drive me batty. The months of political ads. The candidates and proponents or opponents of various issues, who bludgeon voters with accusations about the opposing side rather than simply telling us what they stand for, what they hope to accomplish, what their dreams are for our state or our nation. It makes me cranky. Of course it's probably difficult for anyone to realize when this happens, since I am the self-proclaimed Meanest Woman in the World. Just trust me, it happens.

Like many others, I have lived through numerous elections. Heck, I can remember, back when I was a kid, watching President Lyndon B. Johnson on television announcing that he would not seek another term in office. I've seen issues come and go that hit people right in their hearts, minds, and sensibilities. I've cast my vote on issues ranging from a tax increase to fund a local water park to legalizing recreational marijuana, and all sorts of things in between. This year in Colorado we have ballot issues that include tobacco taxes, an increase to the minimum wage, state-run health care, and whether terminal patients should have the right to end their lives. 

Among all of these issues and candidates of both parties, there's been a common thread. We are all individuals, and we all have our own thoughts, feelings, and preferences. If we are willing to break with the excellent age-old advice to never discuss politics with friends, we do so knowing that our friends may be on the other side of an issue. We may state what we feel and maybe even why, but we won't try to change our friends' minds because we know that it just won't happen. We agree to disagree, because that is deep in the fabric of living in the USA. The freedom to choose and believe and think differently than others without fear of harm or reprisal. To paraphrase a quote attributed to Voltaire, we may disagree with what another says, but will defend to the death their right to say it.

After an election, some people feel happy and victorious and some feel disappointed and let down. But we move forward and the country keeps running and we work together and live side by side and dream of harmony. This is a Republic, and when we have elections, the majority rules. The people's opinions change, politicians change, and we ride on the ebb and flow of these tides. 

In recent years, I've seen many people losing sight of the fact that no matter what side of the fence we're on, we're all Americans. I have heard people refer to Presidents with comments like, "X isn't my President, I didn't vote for him." This comment really upsets me. Whether or not I am a big fan of whomever is elected, they are my President. They are who the majority has chosen. In this particular Presidential election cycle, these divisive feelings seem to have escalated to a level that I have never witnessed before. Although I am a student of history, I have not focused on the history of elections and the public's moods related to them. All I can say is that this race seems to have brought rancor to a new and disturbing level.

Modern communication may be making the problem worse; if you look at the comments on just about any story on the internet or social media, you will find it invariably results in someone turning things toward politics and name-calling. I have seen comments when a recipe is posted online saying that the only people who would like it are idiots that would vote for Candidate X. Of course, one or two cooler, more controlled commenters will observe that it's a recipe for a dip or a cake, not an article about a Presidential candidate. But time and time again, the bait is eagerly taken by someone on the other side of the fence. Name calling is the mildest of what follows.

We have seen videos of people who say that if a certain candidate is elected, they will do what they need to in order to save our nation. They hint at their willingness to assassinate the majority's choice for President if that person is not their choice. When did these people forget that the way we save our nation could be as simple as not trying to tear it apart?

Just yesterday we disagreed with a friend, whom we love dearly, about the candidates for President. We came in on opposite sides of the fence, as it were. We stated our various opinions but also realized that our differences were not something to fight over. We can have opposing political views and still be friends. We agreed to disagree, and we still love each other as friends do. No, we don't see ourselves as paragons of virtue. We're simply imperfect beings trying to respect one another in an imperfect world. I wish it would catch on. 


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Friday, September 30, 2016


My sister Liz came over for a brief visit the other day. She was taking a little breather before she had to go in to work and seemed glad to sit down and put her feet up. At some point while she was checking texts and voicemails and making a couple of phone calls, she told me that I needed to contact her daughter. I was a little surprised. I love Becky, but we don't spend a lot of time phoning or texting one another.

I asked Liz what was going on. "I don't know," Liz said. "She called me last night and told me that she had to talk to you about something important.  She wanted me to tell you that when she calls, you need to answer. She says that when she calls, you never answer." I thought, but did not say, that no, I usually don't answer, because every time she calls it seems that she's telling me someone died. That's the type of call that you want to be prepared for. It's the kind that you let go to voicemail and you don't even listen to the voicemail until you've had at least a few minutes to mentally gird your loins, as it were.

I was getting a bit miffed, though. Why on earth did she call Liz to say that she needed to talk to me? Did she change her phone number? I hadn't had any phone calls from her recently. Did she ask Liz for my phone number? That was silly, too, because I haven't changed it in years. What the heck was going on? I asked Liz all of these questions, getting a little more peeved as the conversation went on. 

Liz got a little testy with me and my questions, telling me that she didn't know what was going on, all that she knew was that Becky had called her the previous evening and told her that she really needed to talk to me. Don't get testy with me, I thought, but did not say. I'm not the one who started this. Why in the heck didn't Becky contact me directly by phoning or texting? Why call Liz? Liz isn't my mother, and even if she was, I'm a grown woman, as is Becky.

I texted Becky, sort of a what's-up-your-Mom-said-you-needed-to-talk-to-me-about-something kind of message. I was getting really irked because Liz kept saying that she didn't know what was going on, I should just call Becky. Argh. So I talked to Liz about other things. I knew that Becky, who lives in another state, would be up and about, and when she called me a few minutes later, I answered a bit warily. I wanted to respond like Olympia Dukakis did when her character was awakened during the night in Moonstruck - who's dead?

Becky said, "Hi, I just wanted to let you know that you're going to be a great aunt!" I turned to look over at Liz, who was laughing. I called her a name. Nothing foul, mind you, I simply referred to her as a young female bovine who has never given birth to a calf. She and Becky both burst out laughing. I laughed too.

So my niece is making me a great aunt and Liz a grandmother at Easter time. Becky is doing well now that she has gotten over the morning sickness phase. Because he was away at college when all of his friends were having babies, her boyfriend has never changed a diaper or fed a baby a bottle. He needs to do a heap of learning before April. I'm sure he'll do just fine.

After I got off the phone, I told Liz that she needed to decide what she was going to be called as a grandmother. (This was interspersed with her having fits of giggles as I was still calling her a young female bovine who has never given birth to a calf.) Gram, of course, is out of the question because of Gram who raised us. It's been used thoroughly. I suggested going for a British term like Nan or Gran. We'll see. There's plenty of time for her to decide. That poopy little young female bovine... 


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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wear and Tear

My younger readers may not be able to identify with this, but those with more, um, life experience may be able to identify.

From time to time lately, I find myself wondering what in the world happened to my legs. When I was younger they were beautifully shaped and wondrously strong. I could walk all over the place, even in crummy but cute shoes with no support, and leap out of bed the next day eager for more. I could squat down for ages to converse with small children, and kneel and crawl around with the best of them. Heck, I could climb up numerous flights of stairs - nay, run up numerous flights of stairs if I wished - without my legs giving it a second thought. It was wonderful. 

Nowadays my legs aren't the lovely stems that my Gram said were so nicely shaped. The knees bulge in places that they never used to years ago. That's not the worst of it - just a moment of kneeling is agonizing. And squatting? Please! And the grinding these knees make going up and down stairs can often be heard by someone who is walking next to me. I find myself doing the one-step-at-a-time slow shuffle, something that I used to think was reserved for people who could be commonly referred to as elderly or perhaps toddlers still learning how to walk, when I go down a set of stairs. If not, the grinding will make it extremely difficult for me to walk tomorrow.

"What have I done to make my legs so bad?" I wondered. It's not like I played any sports in school (talk about someone being non-athletic!) and was dealing with repeated football or soccer or cross-country injuries. So I let my mind wander and it remembered, and it told me what I needed to know.

I remembered being a skinny girl of seven or eight years of age and Alice taking her daughters and Liz and I out to what was called The Farm, but was more like a ranch. There were a few horses, a pony, some fields of hay and alfalfa, and numerous Charolais cattle. On these occasions, five or six years before Alice and Bill had a home built on their 100-plus acres, we girls were a free work crew. Actually, we were allowed to work for sandwiches and a spot to pee behind the haystack.

Did I mention that I was scrawny? Years later, Alice's sister Jackie told me that when she first saw me I reminded her of the photos she would see of starving children, accompanied by requests for humanitarian aid. But I was expected to work, and work hard. It gave me some time to not be under Alice's thumb, unless I shirked my duties. We would do all sorts of work around the corrals and barns, hopping over the wooden fences or getting torn up trying to crawl through the barbed wire around all of the other areas and fields. I seldom came back from these excursions without getting my skin torn by barbs or picking up splinters from the wooden fences. Of course, I never mentioned these to Alice - if I had, the bandaging would be accompanied by her berating me for a fool for getting cut up. Once I got a splinter in the palm of my hand that was as large around as a wooden kitchen matchstick. I left it alone until it festered and my hand opened up, releasing the offending stowaway.

One of the hardest things was carrying around bales of hay. We would climb up the stacked bales to get one down from the top, or near the top, and carry them to another location. Bales of that size can weigh around 40 pounds, and I might have weighed 50 dripping wet and wrapped in heavy winter clothing and boots. I struggled along, balancing the bales on my thighs. Any discomfort I experienced was nothing compared to a potential beating for being a useless, lazy girl.

After I moved to Gram's, the trips to the country (sounds so very nice, doesn't it?) dwindled in frequency. Bill and Alice had a young family that lived on the place and took care of the work we had previously done. Before long, Alice dumped a dog at Gram's, one of the most aggravating dogs I have ever known. Naturally he lived to be nearly 20 years old. Alice's son Dave and his roomies had found the dog roaming on the streets of Boulder near the CU campus. They brought him home to the house they shared and, probably through benign neglect, taught him the worst of manners. 

Clyde (as in Bonnie and) would drink out of the toilets, steal food off the counters and table, and pee and poop in the house rather than outside. As I have read can be the case with black labs (he was a mix) he was afraid of the dark. He was also terrified of loud noises like thunder and fireworks, as well as getting wet. He could jump over a 6-foot fence with ease, and liked to fly over fences at any opportunity. He believed himself to be a fighter, and would try to tangle with the male dog next door. Hoss could kick his tail and slash him up without even trying.

In order to protect the dog, we had to chain him when we put him outside for, well, you know. I want to stress that he was not left chained in the yard all day, it was usually a maximum of about 5 minutes. It was one of my tasks to take him down to the chain that was looped around one of the sturdy poles that held up the clothesline. Clyde could run around without the heavy chain tangling up, and would bark when he was, as Gram would say, finished doing his business. 

That crazy dog was strong. He knew where we were headed and would try to get away from me. And when fireworks happened or rain sprinkled, I had to virtually drag him with my slight frame. If he saw a dog or cat when he was going out or coming in, he'd take off, sometimes dragging me along. I remember once when he started off and I ended up on the wet grass in my favorite brown and tan suede saddle shoes. They had a smooth molded bottom, so when we hit the grass, I slid and fell, narrowly missing hitting my head on the metal basement window well. Gram was so scared and angry that when she tried to kick the dog in anger, he fled down the stairs to the basement. Every so often, he was not stupid. 

Doing this for years made my hands and arms strong, but I think it also took a toll on my still-young but already abused knees. As the years passed and lupus became a part of my life, gout and inflammation also took their toll. A fractured tibia, with which I climbed to my third-floor apartment and back down again the next day (and which wasn't x-rayed until about three weeks later because nobody even thought of a break because after all, I was walking) added to the damage. Throw in some phlebitis and the family tendency I inherited to hypercoagulabilty (a fancy term for a tendency to get blood clots) and I guess it's not such a surprise I have challenges after all. 

I have come to realize that although my small problems with my legs may be inconvenient, I am pretty lucky after all. I still have two legs, and they are at least moderately strong. I can still walk a lot, but not without the carefree, pain-free ease of my youth. And, like Clyde, I may talk a good game, but I am not going to be kicking anyone's backside. I'm non-violent, after all. And I'm really not sure that I could lift either leg that high!


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Saturday, September 17, 2016

High in Colorado

If you think this is all about Colorado being the place to go because of the legality of small amounts of marijuana, I am sorry to disappoint you. Yes, marijuana is legal here. Instead of being sold on the streets or through friends-of-friends, it is sold in well-maintained shops by very educated staff. One can't even look at the sales floor, much less the merchandise, without proof of age and identification. It's taxed to raise money for schools and is even bringing in more than the expected revenue, resulting in tax refunds to Colorado residents. And if you're curious, for various reasons I was one of the people who voted to make it legal. 

As I said before, though, this isn't about marijuana. It's about the natural, non-drug high that is Colorado. Okay, it's about the elevation. I used to always say altitude, but I don't use that word all of the time now. When I was working at Denver International Airport, a pilot got testy with me about my Colorado Rockies t-shirt, which read, "Baseball with an altitude." I thought that it was a delightful play on words and terribly clever, but he had to get all cranky and smarter-than-thou and say that it was elevation, not altitude. Never mind that our region is commonly referred to as being at a higher altitude, or that recipes often have high-altitude adjustments. And what about High-Altitude Hungarian Flour, hmm?

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, the fact that Colorado is at a high elevation. It's not something that's not constantly in the front of my mind. When you have lived here for years, you get used to it. There's little adjustments that become natural to us since the high altitude changes the air pressure. For example, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level, but only 202 degrees in Denver. So when I boil eggs, I give them a little extra time to compensate for the lower temperature. No big deal.

What we sometimes forget is that it can be a challenge for the people that my Gram called flatlanders to breathe here. An online conversation with my friend Paul, who lives in New York State, reminded me of how difficult it can be. You see, Paul had posted a photograph online of a dragon formed out of snow. This immediately reminded me of the annual international snow-sculpting championships held in late January in Breckenridge Colorado (elevation 9600 feet). I immediately told Paul that I thought he'd enjoy it immensely. 

Paul let me know that he would likely need a week or two to acclimate to the higher altitude (there, I said it!). He's been to Colorado once, and spent his time here headachey and otherwise not feeling so great. Not only is it really dry here, we also have less oxygen than you folks living at lower elevations. I actually did a bit of studying before writing this piece and found that at sea level, the air is almost 21% oxygen. When you get to Denver, it's a bit over 17% (I have rounded the numbers). By the time you get to Breckenridge, which isn't terribly high, there's about 14.5%, which is only about 70% of what's available at sea level.

I'm sorry if I've bored you to tears with these facts and figures, but it's just to show you that difficulty breathing here is no myth. And when we Colorado folk travel to lower elevations, our lungs barely have to work at all. The oxygen fairly rushes into our lungs, making them say, "Whoopie! I'm ready to go!" When I got back from a week-long business trip to Minnesota, I joked to Trent that I didn't know how people were able to breathe here. I was just teasing though, because I'm very used to it.

Sometimes we Coloradans have challenges when we go to higher altitudes, too, and so do our visitors. I am always thinking about that if there's someone visiting the area that is from a lower elevation and might have breathing problems. Altitude sickness is very real and can be dangerous, and you don't have to be on Mount Everest to experience it in its milder forms.

Several years ago, I worked with someone who had moved to Colorado from Delaware. After living here for about a year, he invited his sister to fly in for a visit. Before he left work, he told me that he was going straight to the airport to pick her up. The next day, he laughed as he told me about how the evening went. He picked her up and drove her straight to Pike's Peak (elevation 14,114 feet). Since she hadn't even acclimated to the mile-high conditions, the trip to a place with just a little over 12% oxygen was too much for her. He laughed to the point of tears over the fact that she was so oxygen-deprived that she felt sick and her lips turned blue. His behavior made me think of words like insensitive jerk and some others I shan't share in this post, but you get the picture.

This was in the back of my mind when I told my friend Paul that if he ever did decide to come back to Colorado, we could get in plenty of trouble have lots of fun while he got acclimated. I'm not the cruel type of person who finds entertainment in someone's pain or struggles. I'm more the empathetic, nurturing type. So come on over, Paul. Bring your lovely wife. We can sit around and talk or go to restaurants or any number of things. We could tour Celestial Seasonings or Coors or Budweiser. Or we could go even go into a pot shop...


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Friday, September 2, 2016

Fifty Years

Fifty years. Five decades. Half a century. Such a long time ago, and such a short one. The other day I searched online for a September 1966 calendar. As we all know, the calendar changes and shifts its layout of weeks and days over the course of the years. It was interesting to me, though, that the calendar from September fifty years ago is identical to the calendar this year.

Chicago, Wednesday, August 31, 1966:  A family of six, parents with three daughters and one son, moves from their Chicago three-bedroom duplex to a two-bedroom apartment. The other family living in the duplex, the owners, received an unsolicited offer to sell the home, an offer which they could not and did not refuse. After the moving was done, the four children, ranging in age from 7 to 16, walked with their mother to a local grocery store. There were no cars owned by the family; walking or public transportation were the ways they usually got around.

The mother seemed troubled. Her children asked their mama what was wrong. She finally told them that she had a terrible feeling. Something very bad was going to happen. The children, in their youthful hope and innocence, gushed that everything was fine. Nothing bad would happen. Mama didn't need to be worried. The subject faded into the background of this day of upheaval and change.

Chicago, Thursday, September 1, 1966:  The children are all asleep in one bedroom. They are awakened by the screams of their mother. She cries out to them in Hungarian asking for help. She tells them not to allow the 7 year old child to come with them. Having never heard her mother scream for help before, the child runs to the bedroom with her siblings. None of them has any idea what to expect. 

Their papa is not in the bedroom with mama. She is lying on the bed crying and writhing in pain. Her head and the pillows and bedclothes are soaked in her blood. Things become a blur. Various authorities are contacted. The father has turned himself in to the local police and left his children to find his wife who has been bludgeoned with a hammer and has a fractured skull. Years later, one of the daughters tells another that the father called her via the neighbor's phone (there was no phone yet in their new home) and instructed her to hide the hammer. On another call, he told her to retrieve it. By the day's end, the children were in different locations, the two youngest girls in an orphanage. 

Chicago, Friday, September 2, 1966:  The two girls in the orphanage, the older of whom was allowed to visit their mother in the hospital, are told that their mother has died. The youngest feels almost as if she is not really there, like this is not really happening. She doesn't know how to act or what to think. She is overwhelmed, as is her sister. What will happen to them next? What about their siblings? What about their father? 

The two girls, who are no strangers to abuse or threats, are in the care of a nun who really doesn't care about them or their fellow orphans. They become numbers rather than names. The older one is referred to as 43-19, and the younger is 43-10. The numbers are inked on their clothes and stain their hearts. They are told over and over again that if something bad has happened to them, it is all their fault for being such terrible sinners. All of the orphans are told that they are unworthy, sinful people. They are subjected to physical and emotional abuse bordering on torture. Although there are occasional sunny moments in their lives, the nun pits them against one another. She punishes one sister for the real or imagined sins of the other, and punishes other girls in the same manner. She drives wedges between them so that they feel lonely and isolated even though they are surrounded by other girls.

Denver and suburbs, 1966 and beyond:  A woman named Elizabeth celebrates her 60th birthday in July, the same month that the sisters in Chicago celebrate their 7th, 13th, and 16th birthdays. She is known to her grandchildren as Grandma Bessie or simply Gram. Her daughter Alice is married to a successful attorney, William, who was born in Hungary. 

The following year he is told by his mother about the two girls in an orphanage, girls left behind after the death of their mother, his third or fourth cousin. He insists on becoming the guardian for the girls and giving them a home. His wife does not want the children; as an artist she would prefer children that, to her, are more interesting or exotic, like a couple of girls from a Native American Reservation. When she beats the youngest girl, she often tells her this, along with other painful things to try and crush her spirit. Within two and a half years both girls, first the older and then the younger, have been sent to live with her mother. As she is sent away, the youngest, who is secretly rejoicing because she will be escaping the frequent vicious beatings, is told not to be too happy because the grandmother hated her from the moment she laid eyes on her.

Present:  The father served less than five years in prison. Rather than being found guilty of the original charge of murder, he is found guilty of manslaughter. The youngest is still upset that her mother's death came with so little punishment for the perpetrator and so much for the children. Did his case go to trial, or was there a plea-bargain? She neither knows nor cares. She will probably never feel that justice has been served. The two sisters were forced to go to visit their father after his release from prison even though they felt nothing but hate for him. The visit did not change this. The father died in 1980 and was gone for a long time before any of his children even knew he was gone. Perhaps in an odd way some justice was served.

The grandmother, who became like a mother to the girls, is now gone. The abusive Alice and her husband are also gone. The brother is also gone. The oldest sister is estranged from the others, but the youngest two are sticking together. For both of them, some degree of pain accompanies the memories that remain. Some of them are terrible, and some are worthy of smiles or laughter. They never know what will pop into their minds or when or why. But the turning of August to September has its own set of memories. The calendar cannot be denied. Sometimes years go by without it being in the forefront of their minds, but this is a momentous number of years. If this were an anniversary of a marriage, there would be much cause for celebration. Instead, this date brings reflection and sometimes surprise. Surprise to realize that a parent was lost so many years ago. Fifty years gone by, such a long time, and yet such a short one.

p.s. I am the 7 year old, and the 13 year old is my sister Liz. I love you, sister.


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