Day 21: What I’m Passionate About

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, basket-of-yarn-1418991-639x553but 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.

tray-of-cookies-1330098-640x480But 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.

Day 20: The Best Thing In the Past Week

cubicle-farm-1236093I’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.

headset-1240392-640x480Now 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.

Day 19: Disrespecting Parents

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 want-a-knuckle-sandwich-1310068-639x961deference 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.

Day 18: The Meaning Behind my Blog Name

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”.

Day 17: My Proudest Moment

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 piano-keys-1424389-640x480teacher 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.

Day 16: Regret From the Past Year

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.

food-1251713-640x944We 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.

Day 15: The Best Thing to Happen In The Past Year

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 DSCN0852a 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.

DSCN1057The 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!

Day 14: My latest crazy dream

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.opossum-1345291-638x446

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.

Day 13: My earliest memory

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_and_ronald_wilins

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.

Book Club Discussion Questions for Henrietta

Book_Club_logo1I’m excited to say I’ve written some Book Club Discussion Questions for Henrietta. Book clubs are such an unusual glimpse into your fellow club members. You can choose to be as outright and honest with them as you want to be. Hopefully, you’ll find these questions offer you a chance to open up to each other about the themes within Henrietta. Enjoy!

(Spoiler Alert!) If you haven’t read Henrietta yet, these questions will spoil your reading pleasure.  Henrietta:  Book Club Discussion Questions

Day 12: What’s In my Fridge

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.

DCF 1.0

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!

Day 11: My view on drugs and alcohol

glass-of-whiskey-1319159-639x426I 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.

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Day 10: The weather

snowstorm-2-1406809-640x480It’s February so the weather is a somewhat interesting topic this time of year, unlike some parts of the year. In my part of the US, it’s a total crapshoot what kind of weather we’re going to get on any given day in February. It could be anything from a blizzard with forty-mile-per-hour winds to fifty degrees bright and sunny or anything between. There isn’t a thing growing outside. Everything is dead and dormant, waiting for the warmth of the sun to bless it and nurture some growth. For the time being, though, it all looks dead. We’ve had rain for the past few days, which is somewhat unusual, so the pack of snow that’s been lingering for the past two or three weeks melted away and the lakes, rivers and ponds all have a shallow sheen of water on top. We’ve had a handful of sunny days with the weather above freezing, so the ice on the pond has started to give way to the concept of completely melting. I definitely wouldn’t stand on it right now, but with another few days of below-freezing weather, it will probably gain back its stability and become a solid substance again. That much is a foregone conclusion. Winter hasn’t let her icy fingers go of us yet. She’ll come back at some point, if only for a day or two. She may come back with a vengeance.

February in the Northland can be a portal to a warmer world or it can be a mirage. This brief period of warmth we’ve experienced lately may just have been an oasis of warmth in the middle of a bitter winter. So far this winter has been relatively mild, with only a handful of days with snow or a wintery mix. Saying something like that here is almost a sure-fire way of bringing on the full wrath of Mother Nature and as any good Minnesotan knows, you should never utter those words without knocking on something made of wood. It’s almost sinful to think of putting those words down in writing. I may just burn somewhere in Minnesotan hell for writing those words. It’s a certainty that my fellow citizens will look at me questioningly from now on. They’ll always wonder about me that I had the audacity to actually publish such a thought. How could I even dare the weather gods to punish us so? What was I thinking? I can hear their whispers and snickers in dark alleys now. They are more like a bright kitchen than dark alleys, though.

So now that I’ve done it, I fully expect to find I’ve doomed us all to six more weeks of snow up to the rooftops and wild winds that envelope us in the worst March on record. Keep in mind that March in Minnesota is well-known for blizzards, particularly around tournament time when teenagers long to go cheer for their basketball and hockey teams in regional and state tournaments. It’s a spring rite of passage for teenagers to show off that team pride, flirt and sometimes more than flirt at a tournament somewhere. Not that I ever participated in the mating rites of tourney-time. I was always stuck in a blizzard somewhere listening on the radio.

Day 9: My Last Kiss

Ithe-kiss-1439621-639x423t was at 5:28 a.m.  I was half-conscious and upside down. He was sopping wet from his shower and, like usual, kind of desperate to kiss me. It’s cute that he does that every day. He seeks out the wet, sloppy post-shower kiss even if I’m talking in my sleep, even if he has to drag me half-way across the bed or has to dig under a mountain of blankets to find me. No matter what, I get that first-thing-in-the-morning (after brushing teeth, of course) kiss. He’s missed me all night while we slept and he means it. It’s the best kiss in the world. It doesn’t usually last very long because he’s busy getting ready for work, but it’s appreciated. Even if I’m not conscious, it’s still appreciated. I don’t care that it’s so early in the morning. A good kiss is beyond time and space.

Day 8: Siblings

looking-up-to-big-brother-1312367-639x636This is a very tough subject for me. I have two older brothers. I haven’t spoken to either of them for years. I haven’t had a non-contentious conversation with them for longer than that. It’s sad. I’m not sure much in life is sadder than children who grew up in the same household, who shared years and years of common experiences growing up to be total strangers. It feels awful to know that there is someone else in this world who has the same ancestry, those same memories and yet you can’t communicate. For one reason or another, you can’t talk to them to even reminisce about times gone by, good or bad. They don’t see the world, the past, the present or the future, the same way you do. There is no common ground. After all, when the people that populate your childhood and growing years are all gone, only your siblings remain as someone who knew anything about those ever-so-important people.

What is worse is living like this, knowing there is a sibling for you out there and you are in this situation, watching other people who have “normal” relationships with their siblings in their life. They walk, talk, share and sometimes nurture one another and it’s hard not to wonder why it couldn’t be that way for you. Jealousy is an ugly thing, but I can say I am jealous of people who get along with their siblings well enough to have them in their life, even if only to share a Christmas meal. It’s something I don’t have, and yet, I’ve chosen for it to be this way. Life is just easier without them. The contention that comes when we do attempt, let’s call it, connectivity, is more than I want to deal with in life. Sometimes you’re actually better off without someone in your life than you would be with them. It takes two to tango and I’m an unwilling partner in the dance now. I’ve been flung about trying to keep up with their machinations at dancing the dance too many times. I’m just not willing to get out on the floor anymore. The good memories still don’t outweigh the bad feelings. That may never happen.

This happens to people all the time and more often than not, it happens with siblings. When you think about it, maybe it’s a natural thing. Consider Cain and Able, fighting to see who got the better deal. Perhaps any siblings are just lucky if they don’t kill one another.

Day 7: My opinion of people who cheat on people

This one is hard for me because I haven’t known that many people in my life who have done this. Perhaps I’ve just attached myself to a grade of people in life who have a heightened sense of morality or sense of fair play. The few people I have known who fall into this category weren’t in my life for long. There’s a reason for that. Hopefully, this won’t come as too great of a shock to them, but I have a rather low opinion of them as a human being. Let me explain my reasoning for that opinion.

If you choose in this life to attach yourself to another human being in a meaningful way, such as a life partner, spouse or significant other, you are making a choice. It’s a conscious choice that you have made to bond your life with that person’s life for some purpose. Perhaps it’s some overwhelming sense of passion, desire or maybe even guilt. Hopefully, it’s love. In the cases of people I’ve known who have cheated, it has always been the case that they were together, primarily, to raise children. No matter the circumstance, it’s a daily choice and one you can back out at any time, however, by doing so, it is a permanent choice. For most relationships in this life, you can’t expect to have your cake and eat it too. It’s like being a little bit pregnant …. it’s just not possible.

If you’ve made a choice to be with someone, it is my humble opinion that you should also choose to be honest with that person at all times or there isn’t any point to the relationship. If you feel the yearnings, passion, or whatever for another, then it should be possible to confront those feelings and discuss them with your life partner, spouse, S/O before acting upon them. Please note the word before in that sentence. Afterwards, it’s too late. Human passion is controllable. It seems the only fair thing to do. That is not to say such a discussion would be an easy thing, but I believe it would be far easier to be honest and open with someone who you care enough about to have in your life than to go behind their back and cheat on them. Otherwise, you are just despicable, uncaring, dishonest and unfeeling. The list of adjectives to describe your fairy-tale hideous nature is unending. You have no human bone left in your body. As such, I probably won’t even want to sit next to you let alone have a conversation with you. It would be a waste of time on both our parts. So if you’re that type of person who knows me, now you’ll know why I don’t talk to you anymore.

Day 6: The person you love and why you love them

two-hearts-1312984-640x480What do I say about Mr. Jackson? He has an endless list of fine qualities. He is kind, sweet and gentle, yet if someone were to harm me or even attempt to mean to do me harm, I have very little doubt he would feel compelled to pull them limb from limb. He wouldn’t actually do it, but he would feel as though he should. In truth, he would probably not even speak harshly to them, but he would seethe inside while suppressing his more violent urges. It would be against his in-bred Scandinavian nature to actually confront anyone in any way. His temperament revolves around the adage: Don’t rock the boat. It is his creed by which he lives. His nature has rubbed off on me after many years together and that is both good and bad.

Why I love him? Well, why not? He is vastly more intelligent than me, has a head for numbers that exceeds what humans should be able to do without a spreadsheet. His mind contains more useless knowledge than anyone should really possess, particularly in the fields of sports or any sports-related minutiae. (He is light on literature, ballet and classical music. That’s how to trip him up in a game of Jeopardy.) He’s a fanatic to the end and refuses to give up on his team no matter how much they let him down. Above all, he genuinely cares about people, regardless of their race, color, creed, abilities, sexuality or gender identity. He’s loyal to a friend no matter how long it may have been since he has seen or spoken to that friend.

He’s a slob, personally and probably professionally. It’s okay because he knows he’s a slob. Did I mention that I he has the inability to throw anything away? If I didn’t keep on him, I have little doubt he’d be the key subject on the next episode of “Hoarders”. His clothes are often dis-shelved, in desperate need of ironing, untucked and ruffled. All his slobbish tendencies make up a big part of who he is. He’s completely and one hundred percent authentic. He doesn’t care what someone or something looks like. He doesn’t even notice or acknowledge a lack of neatness, glossiness or embarrassment. They don’t exist to him. He’s oblivious to the other things that people make into a huge deal. Again, that’s both a good and a bad thing, but no matter what I look like, under what kind of whacky circumstances my physical appearance or mental stability has been tested, I know he is there beside me and truly sees me as a beautiful person, both inside and out. Sometimes he’s wrong in that vision, but that doesn’t change how he sees me.

He’s not perfect, far from it, but he is my teddy bear. He’s the personification of good in this world and for that I love him. It also doesn’t hurt that he worships the ground upon which I walk. That’s a pretty good reason to love him in return. Today is the fourteenth anniversary of our marriage. After all these years, I’m glad we are together. I’d do it all over again.

Day 5: Five things that irritate me about the opposite/same sex

The topic actually uses the word sex, which is not the same thing as gender. Sex and gender are not the same so I’m going to assume they probably meant gender rather than sex. That being said, I have my choice now to either pick on the opposite gender from myself (males) or pick on my own variant of the species (females). Considering I live with two male of their species I’d like to avoid picking a fight with them so I will pick on my own kind.

I say my own kind somewhat tongue in cheek because, pretty much from birth, I’ve been and always have been what my father lovingly referred to as a “Tom Boy”. I have always and probably always will relate better to men than to women. I’ve always worked in a field dominated by men. That’s not to say that it isn’t just as easy to define five things that irritate me about men. It’s just easier and at this point in my life to pick on women. The following is my list and reasonings why. (Beware, there are quite a few gender-related generalizations below. As with all things social, they are just generalizations and not intended to fit every individual.)

1. Makeup
Most women wear makeup. There’s nothing wrong with that. Most women look and feel much better when they wear makeup. That’s great for them. There is a small percentage of the female gender, however, who do not like and do not look or feel better when they wear makeup. It would be nice if the rest of the female gender would respect my right not to smother my face with cheap cosmetics which make me look like a three dollar hooker. I look better without it. Just trust me on that small fact, please. I’ve gotten to be this age without it just fine and trust me when I say I’ve tried it and it looks terrible. Another make-over by you really isn’t going to change the facts. Thank you for being willing to use me as a guinea pig, though. It was a very nice gesture.

2. Purses
In the US, most women carry a purse. I have absolutely no doubt that, if I had, at some point, become a mother, I probably would have found the necessity of carrying, at the very least, a diaper bag. In my life, however, I have never found the necessity of carrying a purse. I almost always carry a wallet, of course, but I find another method of taking that with me, either in a pocket or perhaps a book bag or briefcase or more likely, in my climate, a coat pocket. I haven’t ever required a purse. I have no desire to carry makeup, which I also don’t need, everywhere I go. Tylenol, Midol, bandages and other various pharmaceutical needs can be easily, quickly and readily purchased at any one of a thousand drug stores which are conveniently located across the street from almost everywhere in the US. Although I’m sure the value of carrying a Coach purse brings an undefinable joy to the hearts of most women, it really doesn’t do a thing for me. I’m happy for you when you win one at a bingo game. Good for you. Please don’t judge my reluctance to carry the kitchen sink with me everywhere in life as a weakness on my part. Men don’t carry a purse and we don’t think less of them.

3. Directions
When I say directions, I mean getting directions when one becomes lost in unfamiliar territory. Women tend to give up far too easily and stop to ask for directions quite quickly when they find themselves “lost” while the opposite could be said of the male gender never giving up to ask someone else for assistance. There is a happy medium of intelligent people who don’t use other people in this world as a “Help Center” for the directionally-challenged. There’s a time and place to ask someone else for directions. There are, however, a myriad of methods, maps, for instance, which can assist in this regard. Often taking the time to stop and think logically before proceeding offers much more consistent and better results than asking other humans to assist. It is also often a faster solution as well.

4. Gossip
While both genders can be accused of gossiping, I have found that women tend to gossip more than men. In my view, it’s a form of bullying and it can become contagious. It creates a toxic atmosphere in which people are attempting to survive, to thrive, to live and work. Just let people be who they are without your intervention because they will anyway. Gossip has never served a useful purpose except to raise one person, psychologically, over another in other people’s view. It actually does the opposite. Gossiping makes the gossiper look foolish and petty and lowers that person in my eyes. Gossip led the witch trials in Salem. It can be a dangerous thing, so just stop it. Nothing will make me distrust someone, male or female, faster than listening to them gossip about other people. I know that the minute I walk away from their presence that their tongue will be filled with vicious talk about me. I don’t trust a gossip any further than I can throw them.

5. Unfair Comparisons
Women tend to compare themselves and other women to each other. It doesn’t matter what measuring stick they use, they still compare. It can be intelligence, beauty, fertility, mothering, compassion, or financial stability. The list of comparison markers is endless. It’s a fruitless folly. It’s a lot like comparing yourself to Barbie. You are doomed to be disappointed. It will get you nowhere and only mess other women up in your mind. Stop yourself and instead, think of yourself and other women as snowflakes. Each one is as different as the next. Though we are all the same gender, there are so many various qualities and potential areas of difference that it doesn’t matter how one is different, uniquely, from the others. What matters is that individually and together, we are all beautiful in our own unique way. Together we can sparkle in the sunlight and nurture the world around us, like a crystalline blanket of snow.

Women, you may now proceed to hate me, if you wish.

Day 4: My greatest fear

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In the long, long list of the jobs I’ve been paid for in this life, there was one very long year that I spent as a medical record “technician” in a nursing home in my hometown. It wasn’t a bad job. In fact, it paid fairly well. The staff were absolutely great to work with and some of them became life-long friends. The only issue I had was having to work with old people. The irony is that I didn’t really need to work with residents much at all, but instead mainly just their paperwork. I shuffled around paperwork, records, nurses schedules, doctor’s orders, payrolls like a really good administrative assistant. I ran errands to and from doctor’s offices, pharmacies and was a general gopher. As anyone who works in a nursing home will tell you, even if you never have to lay a hand on a resident, you will be required to interact with them and there isn’t any way to get out of that. I got to know a lot of residents personally and some of them were truly inspirational. Some lived very interesting lives and some were just “boring farm folk”. One thing about the job truly got to me. Often, as soon as I had befriended a resident or helped them in some small way to make their day brighter, I’d come into work the next day to find out that they had died. It broke my heart each and every time and I’d end up in the ladies room crying my eyes out and end up sniffling through my day. It was part of life at work and something that everyone just, sort of, ignored. It was another happening with very little more regard than whether or not Helen had a bowel movement.

I watched several residents sit alone on Sunday afternoons or during visiting hours. No family came to see them, ever. It was those residents that would draw my attention and I would often sit with people who never got visitors, either playing a game or reading a book or just talking. So, you see, we come to my biggest huge fear in life: I fear I will end up alone and forgotten in a nursing home, uncomfortable and unloved. It’s a very real fear and all too realistic. I hope and pray my family, my nieces and nephews, will have kindness in their heart and drop a cheap plastic egg in a basket for me for Easter or pop for a cheesy set of Christmas lights if and when I ever get to that point. Better yet, I hope there’s a bright, ambitious medical records person who is scared of touching residents who is willing to risk spending an hour of their day with me, just for a little talk.

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