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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Blinker

We needed to get out today because, well, let me tell you why. We went to the grocery store yesterday. We knew we wanted to get about six different items, most of which were part of the weekly specials which change every Wednesday. After buying several reusable grocery bags worth of food, half-price Easter candy, and other stuff, we got home and realized that we hadn't gotten everything that was on the list that we neglected to make. So as I said earlier, we had to get out today.

In our effort to get the most out of our shopping dollars, we had a plan that involved going to three different stores (four in the end, actually). There were one or two items on sale at the store we went to yesterday. We had to go to another for some over-the-counter medication, and yet another for the butter that was on sale. Finally, store number four for the things that we thought of while at the other stores but were too highly priced there. 

True to form, in our efforts to save money and spend sensibly, we were sidetracked by the oh, look what else is on sale! syndrome. We found more to buy than what was on our actual written list. We probably spent about twice what we intended to because we were like a couple of dogs trying to walk sedately and getting distracted by squirrels. I'm pleased to say that none of the purchases today included post-holiday candy. We were actually quite practical, filling the spots in the cupboard that were getting bare.

We also enjoyed one of our favorite pastimes, which is enjoying The Greatest Show on Earth, the human race. While we were at our first stop, a woman came down the aisle in the opposite direction from us. She had a not-quite toddler in her cart, and said baby was tugging down the front of her shirt. With a bland expression that told me she would be a great comedic actress, she said, "We're not even friends. I don't know you...I've never even seen you before." It made us both break out in huge smiles. If you just look at the words she was saying, you'll know that if they were said in an angry tone they would make for a terribly sad situation. But when you can tell that the words have been stripped of all negative connotations and are a part of the family's code language, the language that expresses the depth of their love, the words become a song of joyful interaction. Our grins were so huge that the next few people we saw in the aisles were infected with them as we passed, smiling back at us in return.

We had a few opportunities on the road to use some of our own inside jokes, for lack of a better description. We noticed quite a few vehicles that seemed to have no turn signals. We used something that came from a story told to me many years ago by my niece, Becky. Maybe I should call her Rebecca now that she's all grown? Anyway, when Becky was hanging out with one of her friends during the late or post-high school years, they were having some trouble shaking off her friend's little sister. They told her that they had some things to do that weren't going to be fun and she would be bored if she went with them. Where were they going? Well, they had to go to the auto parts store. Big Sister was almost completely out of blinker fluid. And she needed to check and see if they had any horn-in-a-can.

Since Little Sister was too young to have started driving, she bought the story hook, line, and sinker. And blinker fluid became part of my everyday language, and now is a part of Trent's. We saw some unusual maneuverings today, none of which included turn signals. "Wow," Trent said, "There seems to be a lot of people driving today that are out of blinker fluid." On the occasions that they ended up next to us in turn lanes, we discovered that it wasn't blinker fluid that they were short on, it was hands. One on the wheel, one on the phone, and none for the turn signals or other such unnecessary distractions.

Which brings me to another point. The fact that I get so irritated by people using their phones while their cars are in motion makes me wonder about myself. Am I just irritated because I am scared that these people are driving while distracted to the point of essentially being impaired drivers and might cause accidents, or am I a female curmudgeon? I think it's the first thing rather than the second. Some sources say that a curmudgeon is an older person with a cranky attitude. I have most often heard it to describe older cantankerous males, though. On a whim, I did an online search for "what is the female version of a curmudgeon?" Um, yeah. It seems that a female cranky-pants is more often referred to with far more negative wording. So although I don't think I am quite curmudgeonly yet, but only strong in my opinions, I am officially declaring that I believe that the word curmudgeon should indeed be used freely by any and all people who qualify. And please don't text and drive. Thanks! 



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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Two Neighbors

Something happened this afternoon that gave me intense feelings about two fellow residents of our apartment complex. I like to share food for thought, so I'm sharing this incident with you today.

We had quite the blizzard here in Colorado yesterday. Trent and I stayed warm and safe, and cooked up a big pot of stew. When the weather is cold, it can be particularly soul- and body- warming and comforting. Later on, a cake was baked. It was a great day for it. We had grocery shopped the day before, and there was no reason to go outside.

Today the temperature got to 45 degrees. The snow is shrinking, but there's still a lot of it, especially on many of our sidewalks. Since I didn't get out yesterday, and we're expecting something in the mail, I decided to slip on my shoes and coat and head over to the mailbox. The sidewalk from our front door to the mailbox was only partially cleared. I was pretty sure I would be coming home with wet shoes, but no big deal. As I followed the curve in the sidewalk, I noticed a man from one of the buildings across the way heading to the mailboxes as well.

When I got to where the sidewalk slopes down a few inches and yields to asphalt, I noticed that there was a lot of melt water running by, and it looked pretty deep. And before the melt water, there was quite a bit of fairly deep snow, at least a foot to a foot and a half in spots. I took a breath and headed forward. That's when the waterlogged snow shifted. It's funny how in those split seconds you manage to think several thoughts. I'm falling, I thought. I hope I can get back up, I thought. My neighbor will see me when he finishes checking his mail and will help me get up, I thought.

There I was, limbs all at awkward angles, and unable to get myself into a position that would allow me to get back on my feet. Snowy water was seeping into my underpants. All of my private parts were doused in ice water. Both of my shoes were soaked and squelching and my hands were submerged in the water and snow. No matter how I turned, I couldn't get any leverage to stand up again. I tried rolling and I tried rocking, to no avail. My hips were further down than my feet, I think, which made it even more impossible for me to get my poorly functioning knees in a position to lift me. This is why I never soak in the bathtub anymore, I thought.

I saw the man coming out of the mailbox shelter and my heart lifted. He'll ask if I need help, I thought. No such luck. He made a show of being engrossed in his mail and went on his way, passing within feet of me and not acknowledging my situation and likely discomfort or possible pain. My heart fell even lower than my stranded body. What would I do?

A few minutes later I saw a car pull up to the mailboxes. A tiny woman, nay, a tiny lady, jumped out of the car. "Do you need help?" she asked. Yes, I sure did. She tried getting me up from the right side and that didn't work. I still couldn't begin to raise my body up. She was going to try and find someone to help when she decided to try from my left side. She took my arm and let me brace my hand on her leg, and I finally got up, shaken and already hurting.

When she asked me if I was going to be okay I began crying. What really hurt, I told her, was that someone had walked right by and acted like they couldn't see me. She let me hug her while she told me that she knew what it was like to fall down and need help. A few years ago she fell in her apartment, hitting her head on the bathroom sink on her way down. This broke her neck and she was unable to get up by herself. So this small, gray-haired woman who was about as big as a minute, as Gram would say, was my hero and rescuer today.

I wish I could understand why the other neighbor didn't do so much as acknowledge my presence. As I showered (and cried, I'm embarrassed to admit) away the cold, and hopefully some of the pain that will be moving in on my body, I wondered what motivated him. Maybe he deals with others' problems by avoiding them. If he doesn't see them, they doesn't exist. Maybe he was afraid that he couldn't lift me up because he has arthritis or a bad back. Of course, he could have asked me if he could go and call someone to help me, and I would have been so very grateful. I made a joke with Trent about it after I got out of the shower, on the premise that laughing makes the pain and indignity fade away a bit faster. "I know what it is, honey. He thought I was only acting like I was hurt so that I could lure him over to help me and then pull out a pistol and rob him. That's what it was!" 

I feel ashamed that I cried after I got up again. It's just so humiliating and dehumanizing and frightening to be in a position of complete helplessness. And having someone ignore you at a time of need makes the emotional pain even worse. I am so grateful for the woman who didn't think twice, she just knew someone needed help. Kind of reminds me of, well...me. As for the other neighbor? I still love him with the same love I have for all of my fellow humans. If I hobbled to the mail tomorrow and saw him flailing in the snow like a turtle on his back (Hey! That is a great description of the position I found myself in today!) I would fly to his side as quickly as I could and try to help him get on his feet again. I hope he never finds himself in that position, but if he does, I hope that someone will care enough to help him. I really want to believe there are lots of people like the kindhearted woman who helped me today. I hope so.




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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tales From The Road, Episode I

Trent and I were recently invited to join our friends Marie and Thayne on a brief road trip. We would be driving to southwestern Colorado and visiting various points of interest. Our nights would be spent in a timeshare property and since we had a full kitchen, we brought most of the food we'd be eating with us from home. I have several stories to share with you from this trip, and am starting at the end. You know me, I take things in the order in which I think of them.

One of the things that I like about traveling, I am only slightly embarrassed to admit, is the itty-bitty grooming and cleansing products that are often provided with one's lodging. These small bottles, tubes, and bars remind me that I am really on a vacation. It is often a proprietary line for the lodging chain only, or something that can be purchased online or in a gift shop at an outrageous price. As an example, the delightful shampoo that we were given so liberally at the Walt Disney Resort where we stayed a few nights last fall can be purchased at the resort gift shop for twenty dollars a bottle. Yes, twenty dollars. I am not in the habit of spending twenty dollars on a bottle of shampoo as I would rather spend twenty dollars on groceries, thank you. 

As I said, however, the staff was very generous with extra supplies when asked, and we came home with some extra shampoos and soaps. When we feel nostalgic, we unwrap a Mickey soap or open a bottle of the shampoo and remember the time when we were traveling. While we were in the timeshare property here in Colorado, I was able to obtain some extra toiletries to take home. I was particularly eager to take home some of the body lotion, since it is in a small tube that will fit in almost any size of purse or even a pocket. I packed all of the other toiletries in our suitcase and slipped a tube of the lotion in my purse for the long ride home.

Theoretically, the drive home should take around five hours or thereabouts. If there are any people that can drive straight through that far without stopping, whether it be for food, potty breaks, or photo opportunities, they certainly weren't any of the four people in the car. After we had been traveling a while, we realized that it was time to answer the call of nature and pulled into a rest stop. Now, for most of us, rest stops are a matter of absolute necessity. They may or may not have flushing toilets and running water, two things to which I am very attached. This rest stop was charming, though, with lovely paint colors and artwork. I was also surprised when I washed my hands, because it felt like I was washing my hands with well water. I expected the water in this area to be what we refer to as hard water because of the high mineral content. But my hands felt just like they did when I washed them at Bill and Alice's home, with their soft well water.

After we got back in the car and headed on down the road, I took the little tube of lotion out of my purse and moisturized my hands for some relief from the drying wind. Ahh, the relief that only people from a dry climate like ours can understand. We kept on the road until we hit a fair-sized mountain town and stopped for lunch. Once again I marveled at the soft slippery feel of the soap on my hands as I washed up with more soft mountain water, and once again put lotion on my hands when we were back on the road.

After we had been traveling for a while, I began to search for something in my purse. Hmm, I had to get the little tube of lotion out of the way so that I could see if what I was looking for was beneath it. I don't even remember what it was that I was trying to find in my purse, because what I ended up finding was a bit of a surprise. I burst out laughing when I realized that what I had been putting on my hands all day was this:




Yes, I had been rubbing hair conditioner into my hands all day! Suddenly the mystery was solved. These mountain towns and rest stops didn't have super-soft water after all. When I was washing my hands the conditioner got all slippery, like it usually does when water is added to the picture. I got a great laugh out of it and told the others in the car. They probably thought something like "crazy Katrina strikes again," but they laughed about it too. And let me share something with you. I now have a little tube of conditioner on my bedside table and use it on my hands every night before I go to sleep. I also rub it into my dry elbows, which have improved immensely since I've begun this routine.

The conditioner also has a lovely light pine, woodsy-foresty scent. It takes me back to the days of our vacation and the times we were outdoors in forested areas. I can sense the pines and cedars around me as I close my eyes and breathe in the soft aroma. While I lounge in my warm bed, I think of the cold February mountain breezes (okay, icy winds!) and the many wonders I have recently seen, and I am briefly transported. Not bad for a little container of free lotion! 



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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Becoming

After having gone a few days without much time on the internet, I was catching up with my friends in the web world. I was pleased and surprised to be tagged in a post by my friend Pacino. He had shared a video and asked for opinions from Terry, my favorite Canadian chef, and me about the content of the video.

This video was produced and sponsored by a manufacturer of feminine hygiene products and was essentially a couple of minutes about a dialogue which they had started among adolescent girls. It seemed to me that some representatives from the company had sought out young females who were absorbed in using their smart phones rather than socializing or studying or actually interacting face-to-face with other humans. What did the company do? They pointed out to the girls that there were not enough female emojis. Their premise is, apparently, that this contributes to the drop in self-esteem experienced by girls when they enter puberty. After commenting at length about the video, I told Pacino that I felt a blog post coming on, and here I am writing. 

Adolescence is, by definition, the time after the onset of puberty when one transforms from a child into an adult. Now, I've never given birth to or raised any children, but I am a female who went through both puberty and adolescence and still remember some of the trauma involved for me and my friends and schoolmates. We didn't have cellphones in those days, but I tend to doubt that having female emojis would have made it any easier to navigate the devastating wasteland known as adolescence. What we really needed were caregivers that were supportive and positive. 

When I began to approach that magical age of transformation, the process of menstruation and its assorted symptoms were treated in a very secretive manner and meant to be hidden. In fact, I waited eagerly for Gram to have "the talk" with me about the changes that would soon happen to my body. I finally pushed her into the discussion because I had stumbled upon a book in the library that actually used the word menstruation. 

Although my classmates and I were all eager to begin the physical transformation, it wasn't talked about much. The attitudes almost hearkened back to the Old Testament. It wasn't clean, and therefore we weren't clean. I still remember the day in seventh or eighth grade when I had to sit out of gym class for some reason I have long since forgotten. I was unhappy to be sitting through class because we were playing basketball, and it was one of the few things I was almost good at doing. I was sitting with another girl and must have asked her why she was sitting out as well. She looked miserable and told me that she was on her period and hated it because she knew that she smelled bad. I remember telling her that she didn't stink as she claimed, but she refused to believe me. Even at that young age I seemed to know that she had been told that it was a dirty, nasty, smelly thing, and something to be ashamed of. I felt sad because I knew that she didn't smell but I couldn't convince her otherwise. She had learned her attitudes toward this function from the adults in her life, as had all of us girls. She was convinced that I was just being polite to her and remained miserable.

I can only imagine that the various changes that happened in the boys' bodies, from nocturnal emissions to various and sundry other changes like voices that changed their key in the middle of a sentence, were equally difficult and traumatizing. The few kids that seemed to go through this stage without lasting damage had parents that approached these subjects differently. They removed the mystery and dispelled the darkness with open and matter-of-fact communication. This lessened the stress their kids experienced. Yes, the adolescent experience was still tough, but at least they could speak openly about it with their parents.

Would female-centric emojis have had an impact on my self esteem had they been available in those days? I tend to doubt it. It was the words, attitudes, and actions of real people that were most formative for us. Like a seedling in a garden, we needed sustenance to help us in our processes of Becoming. The nurturing we did or didn't receive helped form us into the adults that we are today. I didn't need a picture of a doctor or teacher or writer to know that I could become one if I wanted, I just needed someone to be proud of me and tell me that I could. I think that the lessons we teach and learn about our selves and our abilities create far more important images than the electronic ones.


Postscript: I'd like to mention that the observations of the emojis were flawed by assumptions. Just because an emoji or person has short hair doesn't automatically make them a male, nor does long hair automatically identify one as female. Just a little extra food for thought. 




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Monday, March 7, 2016

Superior

Many of you who have been with me for a while know that I have a deep and abiding love and respect for the woman I refer to as Gram. Although she was not in fact related to us, she took in both Liz and I and counted us among her grandchildren. Gram never beat me like her daughter Alice did or told my teachers to be wary of the mental illness I had surely inherited from my father, but she had a tongue that could cut like a knife. She was also a champion at swearing when angry. She would start with a string of profanity, raising her hand from a position in which it was hanging loosely by her side, bending her elbow until her hand rose to the region of her shoulder. When the hand reached its apex, so had the cursing. As she lowered her hand, the cursing would taper off. And when I learned to curse because I heard it from her every day, she would comment that she couldn't understand why I had such a dirty mouth. Oh, well.

Something about Gram that was rather uncharming was her firm belief that her genetic strain was far superior to most others'. This became obvious when Gram would get irritated at us for fairly little things. Keep in mind that when I went to live with Gram I was nine years old and Liz was fifteen. After I had been there for a few years, I heard her get disgusted over the fingerprints we left behind on various surfaces. 

I am convinced to this day that the reason we left more fingerprints on these various surfaces than she did was fairly simple. We were at the age when our faces were churning out more oil because, well, they do at that age. We would unknowingly touch our oily skin and then touch something else, leaving evidence of our presence behind. Gram was in her sixties by then, and her face didn't leave oil on her fingertips when she leaned her head on her hand, for example. But that was definitely not the way that Gram saw the situation.

She would stop in her tracks and comment about all of the fingerprints Liz and I left behind. "You and your sister always leave so many fingerprints behind. It's because you're from a lower class of people so your fingers are more greasy." Obviously, she thought that her Irish-English heritage was genetically far superior to our Hungarian stock. When I was a University student taking an Irish History course, I was excited to find out about Gram's high-class background. When I asked Professor Ring about the areas that Gram's ancestors had come from, he frowned and shook his head slightly. He told me that the areas her forebears came from were not the superior areas she seemed to think that they were. In fact, he referred to them as being lower-class areas. Of course, this lower-class Hungarian never told her that her area of origin was no better than mine. Why should I pay back her insults with more insults? If thinking that she had descended from superior stock made her happy, I wasn't going to burst her gossamer bubble.

While the repeated fingerprint comments were just annoying and misguided, there were other insults that still make me angry to this day. Any young person may have a tendency from time to time to be messy or to do things that irritate the daylights out of their caregivers. It's something that they're very good at. The fact that children survive adolescence at all is a testament to the forgiving and forgetting nature of adults everywhere.

When Gram got irritated at us for being messy or having those teenager moments it meant something very specific to her, however. She would go on for a minute or two about how we hadn't put away our clothes or folded our bath towels or left a dirty dish in the sink. Then the judgement would be delivered, "It just goes to show you that you can take the girl out of the slum, but you can't take the slum out of the girl." She had decided that because we had lived in Chicago that we were living in poverty and filth. No, our family didn't have much money, but we lived in a duplex in a decent neighborhood. I don't remember the house ever being messy or dirty. Mama was always doing laundry or cooking or cleaning.

The first time that I heard Gram make this comment, I wasn't fully aware of what it meant, but I knew that it meant that she thought we came from somewhere bad and inferior and that she thought that made us bad and inferior. I remember one time when she made the comment using her most disgusted and superior tone. Liz had had enough. "We are not from a slum. We lived in a house in a nice neighborhood!" I'm sure that Gram was surprised that Liz responded so vehemently to her proclamation of The Way Things Are.

I'll never know why Gram always considered herself to be so superior to us at the same time that she also loved us. Maybe she felt that we were inferior because of the terrible things our father did. Perhaps the teachings she grew up with, that those who experienced bad things deserved them, was stuck somewhere in the recesses of her mind. Whatever the cause, these moments and others like them were quite a contrast to her more tender and kind times. We are all a mix of ideas and emotions, and some are perhaps noble while others are not. If we're fortunate, those we leave behind will remember the noble moments the most. Although I sometimes recall the unkind words and beliefs, it's Gram's nobler moments that I remember the most. They are the ones that I cherish.




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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Duty

This is a true story about two jury notices. They were sent out in two states, and they both resulted in posts and/or discussions on social media. They both provoked a great deal of thought in me, which I am now going to share with you.

The First Notice: This person's jury notice included the offer of a special bus ticket which enabled the Prospective Juror to avoid the hassle and expense of driving into the city center. The P.J. (Prospective Juror) decided to take advantage of this option and rode public transportation down to the courthouse on a lovely morning. The P.J. was released from jury duty shortly after his arrival. I think that he looked at the day as a gift. He explored various streets and shops in the area, taking pictures of the courthouse, interesting architecture, and other things that captured his eye. After he went home he shared an online photo album of the day he had enjoyed. His attitude of adventure delighted me.

The Second Notice: This person's jury notice was photographed and placed online with a comment to the effect of "Thanks a lot, (state name omitted). I just moved here eighteen months ago and this is how you treat me." The post elicited numerous comments and pieces of advice on how to avoid serving jury duty. These comments/pieces of advice included:

a) Since you are a (job omitted), you won't have to serve.
b) Go in wearing a t-shirt of a Confederate flag.
c) Act like a complete racist and they will release you.

I won't lie. The attitudes surrounding the second jury notice really bothered me. I know that being called for jury duty can be a pain in the neck. We may have to take time away from work and make special arrangements for the various responsibilities and commitments in our lives. I have received several jury duty summonses throughout the years. I was only required to show up at the courthouse three times. The first was while I was working in banking, and it was a civil suit in the County Court. As you probably know, a civil suit is not about someone committing a crime. It is about one person or entity suing another person or entity over some sort of dispute. The parties leave their fates in the hands of the jury. 

The second time, while I was working in retail, I was called to serve in the Federal Court. While that sounds like it might have been something full of intrigue and excitement, it was another civil case. It was being tried in the Federal courthouse because the parties involved lived in different states. In the third case, the defendant pled guilty to murder literally at the very last moment. The prospective jurors had already filled out an extensive juror questionnaire. The judge came to tell us that the young man who committed the murder would never again be free and to thank us for our willingness to serve.

I was chosen to serve on both of the juries for the civil suits. In the first case, we awarded the Plaintiff damages but found that she was partially responsible for her injuries. We lowered the amount she was awarded by the percentage of fault that we felt was hers. (For example, Badguy Corporation owes you $100,000. We felt it was 30% your fault, though, so you only get $70,00.) In the Federal Court case, in which I was selected as Madam Foreperson (to the judge's great surprise - he thought for sure that the doctor would be the one selected rather than the lone female), we decided that the Plaintiff was entirely at fault and no damages were awarded.

I know that there are many people who would say that this is a boring pain in the backside and that they would and will do anything to get out of serving on a jury. But let me just say a few things about the importance of the jury system. As my contrast to the American Justice System, I will cite the country my family escaped from, Soviet-occupied Hungary. You have a dispute with your neighbor in the USA that can't be resolved. He says that you borrowed his power mower and never returned it. He sues you and you both plead your case in court. You show the judge and jury pictures of the power mower sitting behind his garage. You are not in any trouble, but your neighbor is probably so humiliated he will never invite you over to watch football again. Yes, stuff like this has really happened.

In Soviet-occupied Hungary, a neighbor who has a dispute with you might have a friend in the Secret Police. He says that you have his shovel and you insist that you returned it last week. Let's say he tells his friend that you are in opposition to the government. You are arrested and taken to headquarters. You are told you must confess your crimes against the state. You don't confess because you haven't done anything. You are perhaps made to stand on one foot for several days, or beaten, or your fingernails are pulled out. You finally confess because you are told that your family will also be beaten or killed if you don't confess. After your confession, you and your entire family are executed. Yes, stuff like this really happened. 

These are just examples of disputes. In the USA, there must be a great deal of evidence for an arrest to be made for a serious crime like rape, robbery, or murder, to name a few. And no matter how much evidence exists, the accused is still afforded the right to a trial by a jury of their peers. It's not a perfect system, but it strives to be a fair system. I think that serving as a juror in a system like this is not just a duty but an honor. If it came down to you being accused, which system would you rather have deciding your fate?




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