1. I know more about how to improve SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and get posts noticed. I’m not going to claim to understand it, but I know more.
2. I’m more open about sharing things from my own life.
3. My writing has improved from the more frequent practice.
4. I’m more confident that people will find what I write interesting and like my blog
5. I understand that the difficult times in life are more inspirational than the easy things
6. I’m glad to know my friends, family, classmates, co-workers are amazingly wonderful people
7. I’ve realized that my parents are behind most of what I think about things in the world. (I guess that makes sense.)
8. I know that daily blog posts are too often! It’s a ton of work, so twice a week is enough.
From now on I will only blog twice a week and may include more original fiction from time to time. I’m glad I got this started because I actually learned to enjoy it. I hope you did too.
Today just happens to be one of my most favorite days of the year. It is a day of comfort for me which reminds me of happy memories, wonderful, savory dinners with family and friends, corned beef and cabbage and soda bread. It reminds me of Uncle Ray and my grandfather whistling Danny Boy and singing about my smiling Irish eyes. On this lovely St. Patrick’s Day, I want to thank you for reading my blog and sticking with me for thirty days. I hope you enjoy the day with your family and build memories that will last.
I leave you with one bit of St. Patrick’s Day trivia: The 3-leafed shamrock is significant and connected with St. Patrick because the Welsh priest used the ever-present plant as a tool when teaching “the pagans” of Ireland about the Holy Trinity. (That’s right, St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish!)
At some point in my life, I jumped, whole hog, on the genealogy bandwagon and started researching my family history with wild abandon. It’s just another of those many things I got passionate about at some point, but I still keep it up, and it has spurred much of my writing.
I was bored at some time in front of a computer screen with nothing else to do. It’s amazing what you can find on a computer and nothing but an endless sea of undedicated time in front of you. One thing tends to lead to another, and the www-part of the internet truly becomes web-like in how it stretches before you.
In any event, because of my work as a programmer, I’ve been involved with a programming bulletin board for years. It’s a spot where other SAS programmers can post a question, and other programmers will read it, converse with them, give them samples of code that might eliminate their problem or answer their question. It’s a lovely Google group called SAS-L, which sends emails to people on a daily basis (in case you’re interested). I was looking for an answer to a particular programming problem I’d been having and reviewing answers. There was one programmer who routinely responded to people’s questions in a very thoughtful manner, and he answered lots of people’s questions. I wondered to myself: “What does this guy do? Does he just sit around and answer other people’s questions all day? Doesn’t he have a programming job like I do where he’s too busy to sit around and answer people’s questions?” Now, in twenty-two years of programming, it is a very, very rare day when I have time to sit around and read SAS-L, let alone answer other people’s questions.
I got intrigued with this guy. (Sorry, but I don’t even remember his name.) I looked him up on Google, and he had a web page where he had his entire family tree listed out. I mean, he had thousands and thousands of people’s names, dates of birth, etc. This was before ancestry.com and all of the lovely online trees and things that are available online and via social media. It was amazing that this guy had done all this documentation. He had a link to a website that was free from the LDS (Latter Day Saints), and I clicked on it. I looked up one great-grandmother’s name and low and behold; it gave me back her parent’s names and dates of birth. I had never heard their names or they were just distant faint memories. So I looked up their names and, again, I found their parents’ names and info. I kept doing this until I had a full page of notes on people’s names and info and I’d gone back to the 1700s in North Carolina. All of that was news to me.
I have kept up that frantic searching online ever since that time. It was very hot and heavy when I first started looking things up and interesting as all get-out. I’ve learned things about American history, unique localized history, and personal stories about ancestors from my family that I couldn’t have invented in the most amazing of fiction. Life truly imitates art, and it’s amazing what you can find in your family history.
Now I write about people’s histories within my fiction. I weave their stories in with fiction because a lot of the older folks from a family tree will never have their stories uncovered. They did live amazing lives and did things that would blow your mind. I encourage everyone to dig into family history. You don’t know what you might find, and if you like puzzles, it’s the most amazing, complicated and confusing mystery made of real things and people that you could imagine. It’s a never-ending puzzle.
Hosen Lader (Pants Leather)
5 medium potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup cream
1 cup flour
Boil potatoes with jackets on. Put through a potato ricer. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Pour mixture into a greased pan to about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with cinnamon before baking at 350 degrees. Optional to put in raisins.
This is my favorite recipe and here’s why: Although my dad rarely cooked when I was a child, when he stopped working it became one of his past times. This was one of his favorite things to make because it reminded him of his mother. This was one of her go-to desserts to make for hired men on the farm after a long, cold day working with cattle and horses. It’s warm and inviting and very German (hence the German name). Did I forget to mention that it’s disgustingly delicious??! It is by far my favorite dessert of all time. It’s a little bit addictive so beware before you make it. Fortunately, having to rice potatoes is labor intensive so unless you love ricing potatoes, it’s not likely something you’re going to want to make all the time.
The biggest reason this is my favorite recipe is that my dad wrote it down from a German recipe into English for me on a note card when I was ten. It’s on a 1970s-era recipe in his handwriting so it is nearly illegible to anyone but me. Nobody could ever read his writing but me. My mother would just flatly refuse. That note card has been mussed with, dunked in cream and sprinkled with cinnamon over the years but it keeps that terrible handwriting and the love of a man for his mother’s desserts intact. That silly little slip of paper means a lot to me but so does the sentiment behind the act of his writing down this recipe. He loved me like his mother loved him and he wanted to share this little slice of edible heaven with me.
I now wish this edible slice of heaven for you and your family. Make it for them with love. (Prepare yourself: This dessert doesn’t “look” good, but it is good. It’s named Pants Leather for a reason. That’s what it looks like, but its taste is out of this world. Enjoy!)
I read something yesterday that’s quickly come to mean a lot to me. Sorry, but it was in French. Je suis mon maitre. (Translation: I am my master.)
I took a year of French in college because it was required. Although I knew it fairly well at the time because I haven’t used it, I’ve lost most of what I knew at the time, but I can read it most of the time. Because I stink at translating now, I saw this quote on Twitter yesterday, and I was convinced it was “I am my respect”. That doesn’t even make sense, but it got me thinking about respect and the poem Invictus by Henley. If you haven’t ever read that poem, you should. It was a favorite of Nelson Mandela. It’s deep and moving and says a lot about what motivates us as people.
The idea of respect got to me. Respect is such a fundamental thing in life that it’s difficult to carry on without it. Spouses have to respect each other to keep going. Without that respect, there’s derision, infidelity, manipulation and all sorts of nastiness between what should be two loving adults. Respect is a vital part of our society. Children need to respect their teachers, supervisors, parents, clergy … well, everyone. We expect children to be respectful and if they aren’t we consider them societal pariahs. We have a society based on the principles of respect: we have to respect authority figures such as police, doctors, politicians and bankers.
The thing that has been weighing heavily on my mind at this writing is respect in the workplace. It’s a fundamental thing in corporate America where employment is “at will”. The employer has to will an employee to work for them and offer them a semblance of respect such that an employee feels it in his or her will to continue to be an employee. It’s a symbiotic relationship built on respect. Without respect for an employer, an employee is likely to say or do something during their daily workday that will “show” that level of disrespect and the employer will no longer feel “at will” to continue the relationship with the employee.
So what happens when you lose people’s respect? Is it possible to rebuild respect? Where does that respect come from? And what if both parties don’t participate? Can it be a reasonable expectation in any relationship, not just employee to employer, to continue with only one-sided respect?
I have no answers to these questions. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of respect and the comings and goings of it. In the end, it comes down to each person. The poem is right and always will be: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.
This picture of me was from my golden birthday when I was five. My family had spent a holiday weekend as we usually did in the summer: fishing in a boat. My dad loved to fish with a passion. He wanted his children to love to fish. I don’t mind fishing, but I would estimate I’ve spent more time fishing in my lifetime than most women spend shopping. The day of this picture I was turning five and my brother was about to turn eleven. That fish was the same as me, five pounds, which is a pretty good size for a bass. I remember it clearly: I was five, it was the fifth, and it was a five-pound bass. I had caught that fish all by myself on my little bitsy fishing pole with three-pound test line. It was incredible really that I didn’t lose that fish, but I was patient and very slowly and carefully waited for my big, huge sucker of a fish to wear out. I sat in the boat, and everyone in the family held their breath while they waited for me to reel that fish in. I listened to advice from all around me, but I tried to focus all of my attention on my father and what he was telling me to do. I knew my brothers would try to spoil it for me and that daddy would tell me the right thing to do so I wouldn’t lose my chance.
In a way, this picture captured the dividing line between childhood and growing up. There we were out in the country in front of our rental house with the full complement of bikes in the background and the wellpit in front of the house. We had a lot of fish to skin and clean after a long, long day out on the boat that day. I’m sure I spent the next day sunburned. You’ll notice a lack of teeth for me, which was my state of being for a long, long time. I had an accident not long before this picture where I lost my teeth, so I avoided smiling. But my dad was so proud of me and my big catch. It was impossible not to smile. I was too small to hold the fish for the picture. He was too heavy for me to lift up high enough to hold still to take the picture, so my brother had to help me. This may be the last picture I have in life where he was nice to me. Well, maybe that’s exaggerating, but it is interesting to note that this is a rare picture of the two of us getting along.
It was an innocent time in the early 70s. In many ways, it was the end of innocence. That next fall my dad had the first of many heart attacks, and we didn’t know if he would live or die. He went on for ten years like that, never knowing when he would have another heart attack. But on that one bright, clear happy day with a big fish of my very own, I had a lot to smile about.
My Five Favorite Comedies of All Time:
1. Barney Miller – This show was the epitome of a well-written comedy. It had a wonderful cast of characters that were believable as real people. It showed the best and worst of people in stressful situations and illuminated some of the social woes of our times, including race relations and public discord. It did all of those very serious things in a very funny way. It gave me, as a child, a view of what a great manager should be like; Barney. He was a wonderful example of a person who was great at handling difficult people and circumstances with humor, wit, intelligence and style. He was a great leader with the main purpose in life of helping everyone around him. I miss that show.
2. The Mary Tyler Moore Show – A lot has been said about what made this show great. For me, it was the example Mary set of a young, single woman making it in Minneapolis that was inspirational. I traveled, several years later, that exact same road to go to a job in that very same skyline. I’m not sure I would’ve done so without that show.
3. The Big Bang Theory – Although this show is still in production, it is so well-written, again, with a great set of characters who all hold their own in their story lines that make this show so popular. Together those characters make us laugh and will probably eventually make us cry together.
4. M*A*S*H – I’ve been falling asleep to this show for the past twelve years. I know every line of every show backward and forwards. I feel as though I know this show from the inside out. After all of these years, there are still one-liners that crack me up and make me laugh out loud. That’s high praise for the wit it took to write those lines. Great writing makes great humor.
5. Chico And The Man – This show only lasted for two seasons as it should have been but it had something special. Like Barney Miller, it took on deep and serious issues of its day in a way that made you laugh out loud. It was the acting of Jack Albertson and Freddie Prinze that made this show great. It had heart and soul. You have to wonder what the world would be like if it had continued the way it was intended, but it was not meant to be. For a while, it was a joy to watch.
SOAP – This show was inventive and hilarious with such over-the-top situations and crazy writing, it just made you smile. Another thing that made it great was the wonderful theme song, which only played up the humor more.
Weeds – This was another show that specialized in the over-the-top humor of the ridiculous situations of the oxymoron of a drug-dealing suburban mom. It got a little ridiculous by the end of the series, but the first few season were hilarious.
My Five Favorite Dramas of All Time:
1. Deadwood – This show was a well-acted, well-written drama based on real events. I love the historical and accurate feel of this series. It was so good that Mr. Jackson and I spent a vacation in Deadwood to see if we could see some of the real places, resting places of the real people, etc. I highly recommend this series if you haven’t seen it.
2. Dexter – I’m going to limit this one a bit and say the first two or three seasons of Dexter were wonderful. You found yourself rooting for the anti-antagonist when you knew you really shouldn’t, which was unique and wonderful and great. The series, however, should have died a more sudden death at its peak. They let it linger and dwindle as Hollywood so often does. After Season Three, it lost much of its mojo, but before that, it was well-written, tight and more of a docu-dramedy, which was and is very unique.
3. The Rockford Files – The most under-rated show in the history of television, in my opinion. James Garner was fantastic! He played it low-key and cool as he should have and for that reason, it didn’t get the accolades it deserved. It was the typical cop drama (even though he wasn’t a cop) so to some extent it was a little predictable, but there were enough contrary and unique moments to keep it entertaining and fresh. Again there was a sense of comedy to the drama, which was great. Even looking back on old episodes, it seems just as cool now as it was then.
4. Law And Order (w/Jerry Orbach) – This show was so good when it was new, it was scary. It wasn’t a big-hyped show, but you knew it was good. When it got to the second and third season, when Jerry Orbach joined the cast, it got so much better. I used to wait to watch it every week just for the Lenny-isms, which was almost always in the prolog section of the show. He was a great actor and made this show something more than special. After he left it just never was the same, and all of the copies have failed to get that little spark that Orbach brought to his part.
5. Six Feet Under – This show was so quirky that it was delicious. You couldn’t wait to see each new episode to find out how somebody was going to die, which was a great and unique way to open a show. We still harp on about lines from that show. (How do you run over yourself anyway? That was a great one!)
Both of these show, though still in production, are so well written and have such a quality of realism in them that they are frightening: The Good Wife and House of Cards.
My Favorite Late-Night Show: Of course, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It’s a wonder I can sleep at all at night without Johnny. I miss him terribly. He was one of a kind. Though Jimmy Fallon is giving him a run for his money, it’ll never be the same. He was just so funny when he wasn’t even trying, that he is impossible to match.
My favorite book as a child was: Caps For Sale, which was written and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina. It was, at the time, already an “old” children’s book but one that captured my attention in a big way. Curious George was a very popular character in children’s books at the time, but Caps for Sale, although it was older, had more than one monkey and in fact, a whole tree full of mischevious monkeys. The plot of the book is about a cap peddler who walks around with his caps stacked on his head trying to sell his caps. This spoke to me because my father was a salesman. I could picture dad walking around all day trying to sell his wares, although he drove around while smoking a cigarette. One time I went along with him for “take your child to work” day. When we got home, my mother asked how I liked going to work with daddy. I said I’d let her know if he ever did that because all we did was drive around all day. He never went to any work as far as I could tell.
The rest of the plot involves the frustration the peddler has when he awakes from a nap to find all of his caps missing, having been stolen by monkeys while he slept. He gets frustrated and deals with it with frustration then accidentally stumbles upon a solution. It isn’t a great plot but a small child thinks it’s hilarious. Moreover the reading is simplistic enough that even young children can read and remember parts of it. The best part of the book, I always thought, was that the same person who wrote it also illustrated it. The pictures clearly show a labor of love. They are simple and clean but also show a certain European flair that seemed unusual to a Midwest farmer/salesman’s daughter.
This book has had over two million sales throughout the years, which is just amazing. It clearly spoke to children everywhere. I know it’s sacrilege to say it, but I never read Dr. Seuss as a child. I didn’t get to read it until I was a teen. I wasn’t allowed. My mother didn’t like that Dr. Seuss books contained words that were “made up” and not real English words. She wanted her children to be readers and to learn to love books that were above them and not below them. She wanted them to push us past the world we lived in, which was an existence in poverty, to a higher plane where education and learning were more important than anything else. As such, making sure that the stories were interesting and had moral and ethical considerations was vital. This book showed a real man trying to make a real living and not doing very well at it. He did his job in an unusual way and encountered unusual circumstances. There were a lot of lessons in this little book, but mainly the basics of how to read real words in English. That’s the best lesson of all for a child.
If I could have any job and could live my life over, I would have been a baker/caterer. It sounds silly, but I think it’s my dream job. It’s what my parents would have called “an honest living,” one where you produce a product and get paid for said product, where you work with your hands creating something that someone else appreciates. I’d say that was their definition of an “honest days’ work.”
If was, in fact, something my mom and I thought about doing, and we thought about it seriously. She had been an institutional cook for some years, cooking in nursing homes and drug treatment centers for over one hundred people a day. She was good at it and had many recipes designed for large groups that were delicious, nutritious and relatively inexpensive to make. I had the baking chops in the family. I had learned to bake under the watchful eye of my father’s mother and sister. She had taught me to peel an apple with a real knife at the age of five (NOT recommended). I have great memories of stretching out strudel dough on her huge kitchen table and marveling at the wonders of it. I mean, it’s just flour and water, and when it’s put together with the right combination of fat and sugar, it makes the most amazing and delicious things you can imagine.
I have some friends who are florists and would, on occasion, assist them with their deliveries during the busiest times of the year. That was a great thing to do because every time you made a delivery, you’d be greeted by someone with a giant smile on their face. People are seldom unhappy to receive flowers or baked goods. Think about it. Is it possible to be unhappy while eating cake? It’s cake! It’s the very definition of happiness, isn’t it? Or is it just flour and sugar and eggs and vanilla in the correct proportions?
Food is the great equalizer. It’s something we need to sustain us, but if it’s done well as the French do, food is an experience. It’s an adventure of delight or as is the case when Mr. Jackson does the cooking, the great unknown. So I think for the honesty of it, the fun of it, the ability to make people happy and give people an adventurous ride, being a baker/caterer would be my ultimate job in a lifetime. Of course, I’m too old actually to do it and would probably end up in a hospital if I ever attempted to do it, but it’s nice to have a dream.
Mom. My mom was incredible. She was the bravest person in the world, in my eyes. She was a double amputee, having lost her legs to diabetes. Everyone who knew her could see how brave she was, how she fought to maintain her dignity and grace under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. She tried to make it seem as if not having legs was “no big deal” when, in fact, it was a huge deal all day every day.
She was in pain all the time and not some measly small amount of pain like “I have a headache”-kind of a pain but excruciating pain. She had the kind of pain that would and should have knocked her out cold. She took pain medications that should have knocked her out cold. She was on them all: Oxycodone, Oxycotin, Oxy-this and Oxy-that and Demerol and the list goes on and on. She was on the big hitters, but she went about her life like nothing was wrong. I made sure she had what she needed when it was needed and that her supply of pain dope continued without ceasing to keep her life as comfortable as possible, but she knew pain. She had that kind of pain, but she’d do everything in her power to make sure her neighbor got help getting her groceries or that someone who needed help doing laundry would get it. She would check on her neighbors and friends and her sisters to make sure they were well cared for and happy and as healthy as they could be.
She made sure her children were as happy as they could be. She kept a close watch on all of her children, calling us to make sure we did as she’d trained us to do throughout life. She loved her God and prayed daily for a rescue from her pain and suffering. She had kidney failure, which is extremely painful, but she put up with it. When the time came for her to choose to continue the painful life she lived with dialysis or die with grace, she took the escape route. I don’t blame her for doing it. I would have done the same thing in her place. And she died with dignity. I made sure she did. She showed great courage and strength and grace, so much so that she’d leave her doctors in tears. They were amazed at that kind of courage, and so was I. She was the wind beneath my wings in every sense of the word and a remarkable woman. I could never live up to the example she set for me, but by God, every day she inspires me to try.
I am passionate about whatever I set my mind to at the moment. That’s the simplest answer for me. It may not be a satisfying answer to whoever is asking the question and it’s probably not true for everyone, but for me, that’s the best answer. On her deathbed, my mother told my husband, then fiance: “Life will never be dull.” I knew what she meant by that and after fifteen years together, so does Mr. Jackson. I am a freak who totally obsesses on whatever I put my mind to doing. I’m like that all the time. All. The. Time. Yes, it’s very annoying to live with, so you can feel sorry for him.
The thing is the “something” changes all the time. At one point I was obsessed with crocheting baby blankets. I had made some for babies who were being born in our family, so I walked around for a year crocheting everywhere: on the bus, in the car, in doctor’s offices, while I waited for people, during breaks at work, etc. It was insane, and I had a hard time finding cheap ways to feed my crocheting addiction. Do you know how expensive yarn can be for someone who crochets very fast and is obsessed like that? I found a way to get free yarn if I’d donate the finished blankets. I crocheted blankets for a group called Project Linus, that gave blankets to babies in the hospital born with debilitating diseases, such as AIDS, so I did that for a year or two until my yarn “dealer” went out of the business. (She died, which was awful for her.) When I couldn’t get yarn free anymore, I gave up the crocheting obsession cold-turkey.
But it’s always like that. At another point in life, I went on a “baking binge”. I baked like I was never going to see tomorrow unless I baked another batch of cookies. This was a terrible thing for us because we are both diabetics. I had PTO left to burn at work, so I took it and baked. Once again, I found an outlet for my creative baking efforts and baked thirty-five dozen cookies for an organization that supports families living with or dealing with AIDS. (Do you sense a theme here yet?) The Aliveness Project was very glad to be the recipient of my baking insanity, but again, after expending so much energy into baking so many cookies, I swore I wouldn’t do that particular binge again on my own without friends helping me. It just sucked too much life out of me. Baking is extremely hard work.
So I can say that at any given point in time, I have something that I’m either gearing up toward, coming down from the high of having completed a task or I’m currently going bonkers trying to accomplish some goal all related to something I feel passionate about. The thing is what changes. Sometimes it’s genealogy, and sometimes it’s something crafty or artistic or just unusual or crazy. I don’t know when or where inspiration is going to strike.
Right now I’m taking up writing as my thing to be passionate about and so far it’s lasted about nine months, and I fully intend to keep riding the wave. It keeps going, and it’s relatively cheap to do. All it takes is ink and paper or rather a computer and not much else. It’s something I’ve always wanted to pursue so I’m giving it a try, and I don’t think it will stop this time. It just seems to keep going and going and, if anything, getting bigger each day.
Life can be dull if you let it. Every day is going to be what you make of it. I’m trying to make life worth something. It’s just how I’m hard-wired. I think mom was probably right. These things I get caught up in are just ways of keeping life from being dull.
I’ve waited all week to see if anything wonderful would happen to top the biggest good thing in the past week, but I keep coming back to the same thing: I started a new job, and I love it.
I’ve had a long career as a programmer/analyst. This is my twenty-second year (something like that because I refuse to go back and count … that would be just too depressing). I’ve seen a lot of companies, had a lot of co-workers, done a lot of different kinds of programming and analysis work. I’ve done computer-based human resource training at some of the biggest Fortune 500 companies in America. I have a long career against which to compare and contrast all of these different aspects of a new job. So far, after five days, it’s just fantastic!
My co-workers are all respectful and kind to myself and one another. The internal customers have all been respectful and kind to my co-workers and me. Best of all, my new boss is amazing. I truly couldn’t ask for more or better from a new job. It’s not perfect, but no job is perfect. I didn’t expect it to be perfect, but I’m truly amazed and delighted at how great it is turning out.
Okay, so to apologize to all of my former co-workers, bosses, internal customers: There was nothing wrong with you at all. It was probably me. I think there is something to that concept. When you work at a job for a long time and things just don’t seem right, it gets to you, deep down. It takes a toll on your soul. It’s the little things that start to add up, and pretty soon you’ve found yourself unhappy, unappreciative and undervalued. Having great co-workers can help, but there’s very little you can do to fix it when you get in that situation. Everything you try always seems to fail.
Now that I’ve made the big switch over to something new and different that appeared to be a great fit when in the interview phase, it seemed the right fit of work and co-workers and manager for me. It seemed the right fit of skills and experience and attitude for the manager who was hiring. Now that I’ve started, things are going great, and I’m just very, very happy that I made the change. Maybe that’s how it should be, so I’m not going to wait for the other shoe to drop. I don’t think it will. I honestly don’t believe that this new manager of mine would allow that to happen. He’d push the shoe out of the way and run over it to make sure everything was still okay. He’s just a very, very good boss and I love that he is, and I told that to him. He just laughed, of course, but I meant it.
Today’s topic makes me say just one word: Wow. The concept of disrespecting parents is one hundred percent completely foreign to me. I can’t conceive of such a thing, and that was done purposefully, by the way. I can’t think about it because my parents did not tolerate it, not that some of us, who shall remain nameless, didn’t push and prod and try desperately to disrespect them. Perhaps I can’t even think of it because I watched on as my older brothers railed against that authority with almost as much success as Sisyphus pushing that rock up a hill. Eventually, I knew at least, that rock was going to hit them smack dab in the face, and they’d be right back where they started.
I’m, however, one of the youngest of the generation of baby boomers. Granted, I’m twenty or sometimes thirty years younger than that named age-group, I still, technically, fall into that category. My father was one of the youngest WWII veterans around, having gone in before he was eighteen, a boy fresh off the farm who came back to Iowa, a man in every sense. He’d seen the world and didn’t like it. He’d seen things we could never comprehend and certainly didn’t want to ponder. He had taken a long, long time before he decided to have a family and when he did, the very last thing on his list to do was to have children disrespect or even think of disobeying him.
He was harsh on his sons, much harsher than he was on me, and our mother stood by and let that happen out of deference to him. He was cruel and demanding and sometimes abusive, but he did it out of love. He wanted his children to respect, first and foremost, authority and he was that person of position in our lives. He never let you forget it. I escaped the harshest of his tirades and I know it. I do think he crossed “the line” at times, but there’s no going back now, is there? Times were different then, and people were left alone to raise their children as they saw fit. The same wouldn’t happen today. I think he’d get arrested today.
From time to time my husband and I (who do not have children) will note, in a public place, children misbehaving and obviously disrespecting their parents. For us, who grew up in very similar families, it always causes us to raise an eyebrow. In my case, it was well understood that if you misbehaved in a restaurant or any public place, we would be very quietly and calmly told, in no uncertain terms, that if our behavior didn’t improve immediately, we would be removed to the car where we would sit there by ourselves and would go hungry until we apologized. It only took one instance of one of us screaming our way out to the car to know that they meant it. We were good little soldiers and we respected them, out of fear, if nothing else.
I don’t know whether their methods were right or wrong. Corporal punishment seems to be a thing of the past. Perhaps it made me bitter, repugnant with a tendency towards anger and violence, but I don’t see the world now as such a great and vast improvement over those times and children any better behaved now. It seems, that, if anything, things have gotten worse. Maybe there was a method to their madness.
I am a reluctant blogger. I appreciate that some people blog on topics of interest to me: the art of writing, the mechanics of writing, music, movies, crochet projects, DIY projects … the list goes on and on. The subject matter of blogs is vast and varied and could keep a person up nights trying to keep up with what people have to say about the myriad of things that interest them. Part of me laughs at this aspect of the internet. I’m not sure blogging was a considered side-effect when in the 60s someone had the forethought to come up with the concepts behind the big-ole world-wide-web.
I’ve read a bit about Tesla and the crazy life he led. He had visions and by that, I mean serious vivid images in his mind of the future. He had the kind of insights they lock people up for in white rooms with padded walls. He had a vision of the future and the age in which we live that is astounding accurate now when you look at his words in retrospect. He saw a world filled with electricity where waves could bounce off of objects and, in his day, and he was authentically considered a lunatic by many. If you’re ever in need of something interesting from a history perspective, the fight between Tesla and JPMorgan is one that couldn’t be contrived by a fiction writer. It’s a seriously good read, no matter whose interpretation you get.
So for me to blog, well, I thought, what do I have to say? I’m not an expert on any subject. My value doesn’t lie in telling how to do anything. No one topic interests me that much, but I find life very, very interesting. The struggles, the pain, the daily ebb and flow or perhaps the daily grind: these things interest me. I thought, well, I could write about life. It’s something we all deal with, the highs, the lows, the melodramas, the boredom. That’s what I’m hoping to capture in my blog, but not the whole of life. Good God, nobody could do that. It’s just too big a subject, so I’ve named it “A Byte of Life” because it needs to be just a portion.
Hopefully, my blog posts will always be a little morsel, a bite (yes, with the technical pun included) of what is going on in my life, the life of people I know, of people I see, of the world of people with whom we share this planet. We’re all going through this life together, and we share experiences and moments. My blog is my small pieces of life endeavoring to share the chunk, maybe to taste it and spit it out or to savor it and realize that we’re not all that different one from another. We’re all living these big, huge, YOLO lives, and it’s the little “bytes” that matter. They make up the whole and by sharing these blogs with you, in a way, I’m sharing my life, if you’ll pardon the intentional cyber-pun again, just a “bit”.
I’ve had to ponder the subject of this post for a while. The question has lingered in my mind: What makes up a “proudest moment”? Is it a moment of pride for yourself and your accomplishments? Is it the crossing of a milestone in life, the passage from one state to another? I have little doubt that people who have children would say, without equivocation, that a captured snapshot in their child’s life is their proudest moment. Perhaps it would be when their child was born, their first day at school, their first haircut, their graduation, their wedding or a first grandchild that hits that mark in their life. That’s just great. It’s wonderful that people feel that way about their children and the moments from their lives.
Not everyone has children, though. I don’t and never have. Are the times in my life any less than what others feel for those children’s moments? I think back on those same milestones in my life: my wedding day, my first professional job, my college graduation. They were all big moments to me.
It’s the struggles in life that test us, that push us to our limits, that end up giving us pride in what we’ve been able to do. For parents it’s those middle-of-the-night feedings, those broken arms and emergency room visits, those evenings of wondering about fevers and holding a child’s head when they’re puking that pushes a parent into feeling pride that their child “made it.” They were successful in bringing that child to adulthood, complete and in one piece, through those struggles and endless worries, that brings the sweetness of pride to a parent’s life.
My proudest moment is one that came when I was seventeen. I was a pianist who was taking lessons from a tired, stubborn old woman. She was a genius as a teacher and very well respected. She had studied with Rachmaninoff. She saw something in my playing that I didn’t see for myself, and she wanted more for me than I wanted for myself. All along, the piano had been something I did for myself. From a young age, the money for my lessons came from me. I worked and scrubbed and did whatever I had to do to get the money for my lessons. My parents didn’t hand it to me, not that they didn’t support me. It was just something I did for myself. At some point, my teacher arranged for me to audition, via tape, for Julliard. She wanted me to go there and wanted that for me when I didn’t want it for myself.
To humor her, I prepared myself and a piece for that audition. I worked very hard to make it the perfect performance, my piece de resistance, my final lingering glory. I played it at one contest after another and after each and every one, I would bring home first prize. I was adamant and determined that nothing would stop me from beating out any competition with this piece of flowing and haunting beauty. Then one day, my teacher recorded my performance and sent it off to Julliard. I don’t recollect if I even knew she done it. I must have. Why would she have done that behind my back? At one of my regular lessons, she brought out a piece of paper from them that explained that I had been accepted and I sat at her piano and wept. It was my saddest and at the same time, my proudest moment. I’d done it. I’d done what I thought was nearly impossible, but knew I would never do it. I didn’t have the guts or determination that she saw within me. I didn’t want that life she wanted for me, and I gave her back the letter. I knew that I could do it, but also that it wasn’t for me. I was proud that I had done it, though, if for nobody else by her.
My husband got injured in the past year, rather badly. It was nothing life-long or life-threatening, but we didn’t know that at the time. It could’ve been far-reaching, and he could have lost his leg. He ended up in the hospital with an infection for a period.
We missed a lot of things we had planned on doing because of his injury. He missed two months of work. We had planned on another week-long vacation trip, where I had planned on visiting with some family and friends. I’d been looking forward to seeing some of my favorite co-workers. My cousin recently has gone through a transition in her life, and I was hoping to see her after a very long, long time of separation. That was not meant to happen, at least not in the past year. I regret that we didn’t get to take that trip and see those people. I truly wanted to show support to my cousin and let her know that we are, in word, in deed and in person, behind her one hundred percent as she moves from one type of life to the next. For me, it’s a lot easier to express those things in person, through a hug or squeezing someone’s hand. Try as it might, Facebook just isn’t the same, but I think she knows how I feel because I’ve tried hard to express it through words and pictures.
I also regret the way I handled things from time to time. I didn’t take it well. I freaked out, just a little. Most of the time I held it together, but I would say that with the stress of not knowing what would happen combined with memories of similar times in my past, as I usually do, I fell wantonly into the pit of pessimism which is my true nature. I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person. That’s just the way it is. I know, in my mind, it’s better to be an optimist and that most of the time, life usually works out, but I took that other road and lingered there for a time. I had good reason to be pessimistic for some of that time because doctors, being who they naturally are as well, were totally screwing up his treatment, and I do blame those first few doctors for their almost criminal lack of concern or efforts to do anything that would relieve his suffering. Though some tried some simple things to alleviate the situation, most of them were too fearful of being sued to resolve anything, which ironically what would have happened if we had let things continue in the manner they suggested.
At some point, my logic and absolute fear pushed us to make a decision which brought him a much, much better result. Today, almost six months later, he’s 99.9 percent healed and completely out of the woods. Thankfully some medical professionals knew precisely what was needed. My biggest regret from the past year is that we didn’t see them sooner.
Vacation. It was one of those vacations when I needed to get away from the house, from work, from everyone around the people and me I talk to every day. Sometimes it’s good to get away. It was only for a week, and it was, as my husband usually does, an activity-packed week. He loves to travel, you see, and he wants to see and do it all. I could take it or leave it. I’m just as happy taking a week of vacation where I stay at home in the comfort of my own bed for a week. It doesn’t matter much to me. Maybe it’s because my family rarely took a real vacation. Only once in my memory did go somewhere and that one trip was so fraught with disasters that it doesn’t exactly stand out as a “grand old time” to my recollection.
In any event, our one week of vacation was the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I drove, the whole way. It’s about seven or eight hours of non-stop driving for us, the first half of which is pretty dry and dull. Of course, the beautiful drive into Duluth is always exciting. When you come over the ridge on 35W and see the land basin of the St. Louis River as it reaches its fingers out into the icy blue water of Lake Superior with the crowning jewel of the Life Bridge in Canal Park, it is a sight to behold. But, since my husband is from Duluth, we’ve seen it to death. If you’ve never been there, and you’re from the midwest, do yourself a favor and see it once before you die. It’s just so breathtakingly beautiful; few places in America quite compare.
After my favorite lunch in Duluth, we drove through Wisconsin. Well, as a Minnesotan you can’t honestly expect me to say something nice about Wisconsin, can you? I mean, they like the Packers, so they’re obviously a little “off”. Once you cross the border into Michigan, it doesn’t take long to see the magic of the place. Around every corner, every spot, there is one after another jaw-dropping view. It’s a festival for photographers and nature lovers alike. We were smart and played a road game along the way to break up some of the monotony of driving. We took a few days and drove along Michigan’s version of Lake Superior’s shores, marveling at every sight, some of which are just astounding. The view as you stand at the northern-most spot on Highway 41 by Copper Harbor is something I’ll never forget. Then there are the lighthouses, standing like a good watchdog against the bright blue crystal skies with the crispness of the air around them.
The most memorable of our time in the UP was on a boat out on the lake. We went on a cruise out of Munising to the Pictured Rocks, which is a national landmark and is part of a National Park that is partially on land and partially on water. The best way to see these natural wonders, which are cliffs hanging over the water’s edge is from a boat. Mother Nature, in all her glory, has created “pictures” on the cliffs that come from the minerals in the land. As the water spills into the lake, it seeps through the rocks and the minerals within to create various and imaginative “pictures” variations on the rock of absolutely incredible colors and variety. The Native Americans at one point named them the Pictured Rocks and the name stuck for posterity. The views from the boat are well-worth the price of the tour. For our ride, however, we could see that it was just about to rain, however, being hearty Minnesotans we decided to “tough it out”. There was a family of teenagers from Ohio in the seats in front of us and we quickly befriended them and decided to challenge them to see who could withstand the weather the longest.
The rain was gentle and teasing, at first, and then it rained a little harder. The teens, at least, had the foresight to wear rain gear, which we did not, so they pulled up their hoods about them and huddled together for heat. The wind picked up, and the rest of the passengers departed the open-air top section for the safety of the covered area below. We all remained, along with the teens’ aunt who was their resident “expert” for the tour. There was lots of smiling and laughing as it grew windier and rained harder. Then the heavens emptied, and I mean, it just poured. There wasn’t an inch that was wet on any of us, and the teens gave up their spots and conceded defeat, at which point my husband acquiesced as well. We went below to find only one seat, which the teens were kind enough to give to me. The rest of the passengers laughed and smiled at us and shook their heads in amazement of our stupidity, but we just laughed at the fun of it all. None of us died from getting wet, and it was a moment to remember. It was the highlight of our trip, and we laughed about it for the rest of the day, every time we realized our clothes or hair were still somewhat damp. For some reason, it took a long, long time to dry out.
So, it wasn’t the best, most beautiful or most comfortable thing we did on our vacation, but getting sopping wet on a boat tour, was, indeed, the best thing to happen in the past year. It brought my husband and me closer together and made us do something we hadn’t done in a long time: Just plain have fun and laugh. If those kids ever read this, I’d like to thank them and their aunt from Escanaba. You made our day!
I have crazy dreams. It’s a fact of life and always has been. I never know when they’re going to come or how often they’re going to come. Obviously, during times of high stress, I tend to have more crazy dreams than most. This week is somewhat of stressful for me. I’m in between things at the moment, not really knowing what will come next. Even though I’m not sitting around worrying and fretting, I know that deep down my subconscious is feeling some of that stress.
Last night I had two crazy dreams, one right after the other. The first one actually woke me up screaming, which is never good. After I woke up I thought, I should really write this down or record it in some way so that I remember all these bits and pieces, but I didn’t so we’ll have to go with the vast majority of what I can recall. I was wandering around a large building of some kind with long, narrow hallways, much like the back hallways of the high school I went to when I saw some of my cousins coming toward me. My Aunt, who is now my only living aunt, was with one of her daughters. Although I like her now, we were never really close when I was a child, so I’m really wondering what she’s doing here. Then I saw another of her daughters and one of her sons behind her. Then from behind me, there came another group of my cousins on my dad’s side. This was some kind of family gathering, so I followed them. We all walked down a narrow hallway into a large room where my Uncle Lloyd was sitting, but his wife was nowhere to be found. I realized that whatever we were there for was some kind of a memorial to her. She had died. It’s always sad when I realize that his wife died because she had been, in my childhood, my favorite person in the world. So in my dream, I’m saddened that Gramma Mil, which is what I called her, has died. I think I even cried in the dream.
At this point, my cousin, Karen, came up to me at a folding table with some music in her hand. She had a stack of music actually that she was handing out to all of us. It is a hymn that I had written for my beloved aunt and Karen was telling me how proud she was of me that I’d written it. She was telling everyone about the music that I’d written when a sudden burst of wind flowed into the room through the windows and the sheets of music are flying all around us, with discordant piano sounded like someone stepping on piano keys looming all around all of us. All of my cousins are looking through the air trying to catch the music, but none of us can grab hold of the papers as the wind grew stronger and stronger.
We are all suddenly in a basement, which is dark and musty. It actually looks a little like Gramma Mil’s basement, but I’m not really certain where it is. The light that you can see is a sort of blue/black light but I can see the faces of my cousins not very far from me as we sit on old, damp army mattresses. It’s only the girls because I can’t see any of my male cousins around, so maybe just the girls have been put down in the basement. But we’re not girls. We’re women. We’re the women we all are today, some of us with bad knees and graying hair. Some of us are in our sixties, as I’m one of the youngest of the girl cousins. Then my cousin, Diane, screams that she’s been bitten. She’s holding her hand as blood pours from her finger. Her sister is beside her and she has a hold of an animal by the tail that is screeching and spitting at her, frantically trying to escape Kathy’s hold of its tail. Kathy keeps her hold of that tail and I see, through more light from the basement window, the face of a hideous creature, larger than a rat with two big gopher teeth in front turning around to bite at Kathy’s hand. I get up and take my mattress out from under me and encourage the other girls to do the same and tell Kathy to let go, that we should corner the animal and let it go so it doesn’t bite anyone else.
Then I woke up screaming, breathless and annoyed.
I should never watch YouTube videos about trapping a gopher in a milk bottle right before I go to bed. I have absolutely no idea why I was dreaming about my cousins. God love ‘em, though. They’ll fight off animals and sing songs with me, even in my dreams. Shucks! Now I forgot the second dream. Oh, well, to dream another night.
Uncle Ray is my earliest memory. He wasn’t my uncle. He was my mother’s uncle, so he was my great-uncle, my grandfather’s only living brother. He lived in Sioux Falls with his second wife, Lena, who had terrible arthritis. Even at a young age, which she must’ve been when I was born, probably in her forties or fifties then, her hands were a mangled mess and she was reliant on other people to help her with menial daily tasks. Uncle Ray did a lot of things for her, including buttoning her clothes, tying her shoes or scarves. She was a dear woman and he took good care of her. He truly loved her.
Ray was a slender, tall man who was completely bald and had a long face, like a horse. He had the deep-set eyes that are a telltale sign from his family and raccoon eyes that got darker if or when he was overly tired. My mother had those same eyes. When I was small, I thought Uncle Ray looked a lot like Lurch on the TV show “The Addams Family”. I was enthralled by Cousin It and Lurch and the gang. It was a popular show at that time and he would watch it with the children. When the show was over, if someone called his name, he would slowly saunter into a room and in a very deep voice say “You rang”. This caused me to giggle endlessly because it was just so funny that we had our own personal version of Lurch babysitting us.
Ray with his son Ronald
Ray and Lena babysat for me quite often. When I was in the way or a bother, I would stay with Ray, who was the one who was babysitting. Lena couldn’t do much with a small child except pat my head and read me a book. Ray would make us meals and give me a bath and change my clothes. Lena just couldn’t do it with her arthritis. Ray gave me great joy on occasion by putting me on his shoulders and letting me ride around the house up there, hanging on desperately to his ears. He was tall enough, that, when we did that, we had to duck for doorways, which was great fun. There wasn’t any hair to hold on to up there and it was a long way off the ground. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, so I had to be very careful how I held onto his ears. He’d walk around a bit and I’d try to touch the ceiling, laughing and smiling the whole time while Lena followed us around, concerned for my safety. Ray really knew how to show a kid a great time and it didn’t cost him a dime.
He had very long legs so when he sat, he’d cross one leg over the other and I’d straddle his foot like it was a pony in a stable. He’d hold my hands out to the side and rock his foot up and down to give me the cheapest carnival ride on earth. As an adult, when I think back to it, that had to have been hard on him. He was already an older man, well into his fifties, who had a heart condition and a sick wife, but it didn’t matter to him. I was a joy to him. He genuinely adored me and treated me like a queen. He had never had a daughter and both of his sons had died. We all knew that. He held a sadness within him that was just a part of him. It oozed out of his skin even if he tried not to let it show. But for brief, shining moments, when he was playing with me, I could see nothing but pure happiness in his heart. Although I was only three when he died, I will never forget Uncle Ray. He was a very special man and I’ll always love him. Those earliest memories of my life were very happy ones because of him.
When I was a teenager I ran my own cleaning service. Okay, so it was just me saying “Hey, I’ll clean your windows for gas money”, but it was technically a business. I learned one thing very quickly. People, as a general rule, are disgusting. They aren’t just a little messy. People you would normally look at in your daily life as “good people”, you know, the God-fearing type that dress neatly and clean, with nice perfume and aftershave… those very same people, when you look in their fridge are died-in-the-wool slobs.
It delights me to say that on this very day my fridge is relatively clean. If you had asked three days ago you would’ve found out that I had leftover gravy from Thanksgiving still in a Tupperware container that I’d forgotten to throw out. There were also two pie crusts that I was going to make one day, only that day never came and the pie crust spoiled. What a shame really. Pie would’ve been nice. There was also some prepared lettuce in a bag that had gone bad. I threw those all away a couple of days ago, so the inside of my fridge contains what belongs there. There’re a dozen eggs, fresh, mind you, or as fresh as the store sells them. (Just as a side note: Eggs from a store are not really “fresh”. They can be up to two weeks old before you buy them. I’d kill for a truly fresh egg.) There is some old grape jelly that probably could be thrown away however, it’s technically still good and will work for making meatballs or something. There’s ketchup, mustard, pizza and soy sauce on the door along with what remains of a gallon milk that my husband drinks daily and I rarely touch. There’s Crisco for those rare times I make pancakes and there’s insulin for my diabetes where eggs are supposed to go. There’s a drawer full of cheese because my husband really likes cheese and a half-dozen or so oranges in the crisper. There’s a handful of onions in case I actually get inspired to cook something when I’m not busy writing.
Next comes my husband’s favorite area. There’s enough yogurt for him to take to work for lunch and there’s butter and lots and lots of butter. He’s a butter-a-holic, I think. If there isn’t a minimum of three pounds of butter in there at all times his hands start to shake. I’ve told him that this is really very silly because keeping butter for long periods of time just makes it deteriorate, so we should only keep one or two pounds at any given time, but he trowels that stuff on a sad piece of toast as if he’s coating the QE2. It’s butter, not paint, but you can’t tell him anything. If he keels over from a coronary at some point, I’ll know that it’s butter that did him in.
In the recesses of the fridge, there are things I keep in there. There’s a package of cornstarch in case I get a wild hair and decide to make gravy from scratch. There’re red and green candied cherries. They can go years without spoiling and are really expensive, so I keep them in there for when I make the German Christmas classic, Stollen, which is a candied citrus bread. There’s no point in throwing them out since it’ll be years before I attempt to make the next batch of Stollen. And deep, deep in the back of the fridge, there is probably one sad, solitary jar of dill pickles that are just for me. I know I shouldn’t have them. They’re a sure-fire road to destruction for me and a secret passion, but I keep them in there to remind me of times gone by when I’d eat a full jar all in one sitting while watching TV and not realizing that life was passing me by and I was filling my veins with sodium chloride. Again, they’ll go years before they go bad, so why not live a little and keep them in stock.
The contents of my fridge, I realize, are really quite sad. Upon this writing, I recognize I need to eat more fruits and veggies! Oh, I forgot the half-bag of carrots and hummus. They count!
I had my first taste of hard liquor when I was a toddler. I will wait for you to pick up your jaw off the floor now. Let me explain. My father believed that if you denied a child something, they would only want it more, so by giving them something freely that would keep it from being a mystery. In this way he could control our exposure and “they won’t burn the barn down”. Mother did not feel the same way. It wasn’t something they argued over at all. It simply was something about which they agreed to disagree. When my mother wasn’t looking, however, he would sneak me a sip of his whiskey or beer and it was a secret between us. So much for not making it something considered “off limits”. His theory, at least for me, worked. Invariably I’d scrunch up my nose at the awful tasting concoctions and wonder what anybody ever saw in it.
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, when she visited us, would sit with a coffee cup constantly before her and a bottle of whiskey in her purse at her feet. Nobody was ever asked to pour her another cup of coffee after the first one of the day. I don’t know who she thought she was fooling because by the time I was four or five I clearly understood that she spent the entire day drinking. After dinner, she and my step-grandfather, Herman, would sit and listen to the radio, she with her coffee and he with his shot and a beer. He would tell me all about his experiences in the wars, call me Patrick and consistently ramble on about the wonders of reversible belts. Weren’t they just a marvel of the modern world? Of course, Herman was more than half in the bag by that time of the evening and eventually the two of them would hobble off to bed in a near drunken stupor.
I didn’t see what they saw in the thrill or what anybody else saw in it either. Did it make them forget their woes? No. Did they have a great time while they were drinking? No. It didn’t taste good and it did nothing for them. I decided then and there it wasn’t for me. It seemed a terrible waste of time and money. My view on drinking hasn’t changed since. If it’s your thing, well, good for you. I won’t deny you your fill, but it’s just not for me. It’s done more to ruin people’s lives than it’s ever improved anyone’s, from what I can see. Within limits, I don’t see anything wrong with it. It impairs your senses for a small period of time and that’s it. When it’s over, you’re back to reality with a hangover. It’s stupid to attempt to operate machinery while within its affects. That’s just downright criminal.
I feel the same way about drugs. Again, I’ve seen them ruin more people’s lives than I can count. They’re a waste of time and money. Why would you want to block out your senses? That’s the only way we experience this one and only life we get. Why maim your efforts to see, touch and feel this world with something that’s fake and fleeting? You’ll only need more and more of it to keep up the farce. Eventually, it will come tumbling down around you and then you’ll be forced to see, touch and feel things anyway. Who are you hiding from but yourself? Isn’t it pretty stupid to attempt to hide from yourself? You’ll always be lurking, so you might as well face up to the world with all six senses burning strong and deal with today.
Maybe my father’s theory worked better than he thought, at least for me. It’s something to consider if you’re a parent. Then again, like most things in life, what’s true for one person isn’t always true for the next.