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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Gifted

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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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

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Thank you for reading!

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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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic




Thank you for reading!

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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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic




Thank you for reading!

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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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic




Thank you for reading!