jaunty…or, my best gifts given, part two. my best gifts received, always.

Ten years ago my friendship with Mary began, and two years ago it ended when she passed away at the age of 53.

Mary had outlived the odds from the day she was born, when her birth mother was told she wouldn’t make it more than six months. Later, her adoptive parents were told the same thing repeatedly throughout her childhood — and as an adult, Mary heard it so often she stopped telling her husband, Mike.

Mary was one of those people who had hundreds of “best friends.” Selbu Modern - pink & gray tamShe would do whatever she could for any of them, including me. She was gutsy and kind. When she went into the hospital for what turned out to be the last time, Mike asked me to make her a “jaunty beret” because her treatment had caused much of her hair to fall out, and she was self-conscious about it.

I immediately set out to find the right pattern and right yarn — something soft for what I imagined might be sensitive skin — and knit up this little hat here.

Actually, this is the second hat I knit in this pattern. I never took a picture of the first one, which went to Mary. When I asked Mike if she liked it, he said she hadn’t had a chance to try it on. After a short time, I caught on. She was too sick for this to matter the least bit.

She maybe never saw the hat at all, or the slippers I included with it. However, I don’t feel anything but gratitude I had a chance to show her my love by knitting this for her, in the off-chance she knew about it.

Last week another Mary in my life died, one month shy of her 41st birthday. It was stunningly sudden. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been entirely surprised, however, for this Mary had lost her eldest son ten years ago to leukemia, and hadn’t been the same since. In many ways she’d moved on beautifully, but her heartache showed itself quietly. It’s possible that pain influenced the way she cared for herself. I don’t know, and it would be wrong for me to assume.

Kims Slippers red rose IIOne day on impulse I gave her a pair of slippers I’d knit from a pattern I designed. She started to cry.

“You don’t know what this means to me,” she said.

They were only slippers, so I really didn’t, but I was touched it meant so much. And oh-so-glad I’d done it. If my one small gesture made even a tiny part of her life better, I only wish I could have done a hundred times more. She was special and deserved to know it.

I’m lucky I have a skill I can use to show my love to others, and far luckier for those I have to receive those gifts. Rest in peace, my friends, your suffering is over. You were a gift and a blessing to me. My life is better because you were in it.

one man’s shame is another man’s glory

Ah, guilty pleasures. If you don’t have one, shame on you.

guilty pleasureFor me, it’s currently the TV show “Jane the Virgin.” I know, I know. That’s why it’s a guilty pleasure. To those of who you feel a need to start talking about PBS when I mention it, phooey. There’s a reason I like it. It’s fun. It’s good. It’s pure escapism.

There are a few songs I’ll blast when need be…well, actually, my apartment has thin walls and bitchy neighbors (including me on occasion), so I don’t really blast the music. It’s just played a wee bit louder than usual.

“Money for Nothing.” Hmmm…maybe not so much to feel guilty about there.

“Sugar Sugar.” A little closer. (Completely irrelevant to this piece, my friend Tom uses this as the ring tone for his wife.)

“It’s Raining Men.”

That’s what I’m talking about. I think that’s as bad as I get, but I’ll stop just in case.

Now there are other things I like that confuse some people as well, but I don’t think of them as guilty pleasures, anything I’m going to hide from the public. I have all seven seasons of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on DVD. When the cable guy came out (on time – what do you know!) he looked at them, looked at me, and said, “well, I used to watch cartoons.”

Again, phooey! Frankly, I don’t get the comparison.

Now some of you have guilty pleasures I don’t want to know about, and thank you for keeping that information to yourself. Others of you are just plain boring. Ice cream is not a guilty pleasure. You may feel guilty about eating it, but that’s not the same thing. There has to be something a little shameful, a little “what the what?” about it.

In some circles, “Jane the Virgin” isn’t going to be a guilty pleasure. In my friends’ elitist little world, it is, so I keep quiet. Yet those snoots have their favorite less-than-esoteric television shows I never give them grief about.

Oh, I’m not going to list them because one man’s shame is another man’s glory. (I just made that up.) Like Jane. The more I think about it, the less guilty I feel. It’s funny. It’s campy. It’s a telenovela.

Wait, I just watched last night’s re-run. It IS a guilty pleasure…but a really good one.

a little less class, a little more kitsch

If we’re lucky our homes will never look precisely decorated, because along the way we’ll accumulate campy pieces of kitsch,  treasured objects that speak to our hearts, and we’ll have to display them.

Ah, FranciscoFor me, it was an ashtray given as a joke by some family member, probably my mom or brother. It had a black plastic base with a hand-painted metal flamenco dancer screwed into the middle. Joke was on them. I loved it.

I don’t smoke, and guests in my home aren’t allowed to either, so instead I loaded it with red cinnamon candy and proudly set it on my coffee table.

No one, but no one, saw the beauty in Francisco the Fleet-Footed Flamenco Dancer that I did. It was frequently suggested I replace him with something a bit, shall we say, classier. I really didn’t see how Francisco fell short. (Okay, I did, but love is kind.)

Then I got a roommate. She was appalled, and went as far as trying to enlist my mother’s help to “get rid of that thing.” Mom warned her it was useless. Thus began a minor battle between my roommate and me.

“People will think it’s okay to smoke,” she’d say.

“That’s why there’s candy in there.” I’d reply.

“The colors aren’t right in this room,” she’d try later, standing in the living room as I walked down the hall.

“It’s so small, it’s an accent piece, it doesn’t matter,” I called back.

I never feared for Francisco’s safety, however, until I came home one day while she was on a business trip. He lay on his side on the coffee table, completely twisted off the base.

“Ooooh NOOOOO!” I cried. She forever denied it, but all the evidence said that woman had hired a damn assassin to do her dirty work while she was away.

I immediately called my friend Bud and asked if he could solder the pieces together. Within hours, Francisco sat upright in his proper place again. But I was resigned to the fact he needed a new home, at best somewhere safer in the apartment.

My kitschy little ashtray went into a box and stayed there for I don’t know how many years. He resurfaced every time I moved, but never made it onto the coffee table again. Eventually he disappeared.

I miss Francisco. Everything in my living room now is so…classy. It could use a little lesser art.


Image credit: (shadow image) © adrenalinapura – DollarPhotoClub.com

but I want you to like me

Am I an Ugly American? I certainly recognize it in others.

travel to Europe lrBack before the Euro was in circulation, it could be a challenge for American tourists & business travelers to rid themselves of one nation’s coins before entering another country. You couldn’t trade in coins internationally, and tended to spend them at the border.

My boss and I were traveling from France into Germany, and we stopped at a bar he was convinced few Americans knew about.

“Bonjour,” I said to the bartender, who winked at me as he gestured to us to sit at the bar.

As we paid for our drinks, I started to pull out any French coins I had. We were about to end up with a fair amount of money that would be useless to us.

“Don’t do that,” my boss said in a loud whisper. “They’ll know we’re Americans.”

“So what? We’re Americans,” I replied. “I can’t change that.” He looked furious.

“Trust me,” I went on, matching his stage whisper. “They know we’re Americans. They spotted us the minute we walked in. Right?” I looked to the bartender, who gestured to the crowd behind us. I turned and most were smiling and nodding their heads.

I asked the bartender if it were a problem paying in coins. “We have currency,” I told him, “and we really don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“It’s not a problem,” he said, “Money is money. And tourists, we understand.”

“’L’argent est l’argent’?” I replied. I’d studied French. “Or is it, ‘l’argent c’est l’argent’?”

I wasn’t sure if my grammar was right, but the words were correct.

“Parlez-vous français?” he asked with a grin.

I rattled off a phrase I’d memorized in French saying, basically, I’d studied French for six years but now I’ve forgotten most of it. “Actually,” I continued in English, “I’m having a hard time understanding what people are saying here.”

© canicula - Dollar Photo ClubWe went on to have a conversation I’m sure he’d had a dozen – or a hundred – times before, how it’s one thing to learn a language in a classroom, and another to speak it in a native environment. How Americans who study French have little opportunity to actually practice it anywhere outside the classroom. And so on.

I felt so burdened NOT to be the Ugly American, I was afraid I was becoming one.

My boss was fuming. “They hate Americans,” he told me, again with his not-so-subtle whisper.

“Well, I can’t do anything about that,” I said, not even pretending to whisper, and turned to the bartender. “I hope I’ve been respectful. It’s hard sometimes, not knowing how you’re perceived.”

Immediately I was pretty sure I knew how he perceived my boss. We both seemingly deliberately weren’t looking at him.

“If I didn’t like tourists, all tourists, I’d open a bar somewhere else,” the bartender said, and winked again.

We got up to leave. “Au revoir,” I said.

“A bientôt,” the bartender replied, and moved toward another customer, American, I guessed. A few others seated at tables nodded at us as we walked out, and I smiled at them and nodded back.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” my boss said. “Americans don’t know about this place.”

Sacré bleu! Oh wait, the French don’t actually say that.

Image Credits: (top) Map © Teiteosia – Dreamstime.com Airplane graphic © Paul Herbert – Fotolia.com; (bottom) Eiffel Tower graphic © canicula – DollarPhotoClub.com

toggled togs

Just Between Friends

Monday
Dear Lauren:

Got my new running togs today. I’m going to start practicing for the 10k tomorrow. It’s in three months! I’m so excited! He’s sure to really notice me then!

Love,
Mindy

Tuesday
Dear Mindy:

Not again. Honey, don’t start running unless it’s really what you want to do. He may notice you, but remember what happened to me when I tried to impress a guy by running. Remember? I told him I LOVED IT when in fact I’d never run before, and threw up fifty feet into the run. He noticed me alright, but I never saw him again.

Love,
Lauren

Later Tuesday
Dear Lauren:

I know, I know. But this time I am so sure he’s so right for me. We have so much in common. Like, we both like the James Bond movies with Sean Connery in them. I mean, who else do you know who likes those?

Only thing is I saw him staring at some blonde the other day, so I think I’ll dye my hair blonde. It’ll go better with my new outfit anyway.

Love,
Mindy

Wednesday
Dear Mindy,

If you dye your hair blonde, I’m flying 3,000 miles to dye it back red. And I like Sean Connery just as well as you do. In fact, I introduced you to those movies.

Love,
Lauren

Thursday
Dear Lauren,

Then I won’t dye my hair because if you come out here and he finds out about you & Sean Connery he’s going to like you better!

Love,
Mindy

Saturday
Dear Mindy,

When you’ve actually talked to this man, let me know.

Love,
Lauren

Later Saturday
Dear Lauren,

It’s not like we’ve never talked. Just not much!

Love,
Mindy

Thursday
Dear Lauren,

I just got some new boating togs. I’m sending you a picture showing you why! 🙂

Love,
Mindy

Later Thursday
Dear Karen,

If history is any predictor, you’re about to get some running togs.

Love,
Lauren

no cat in hat, nor cat in cap, has sat in my lap

One day at work, I was grumpily recounting the tale of a tug-of-war with my cat Paco from the night before over a rather expensive skein of yarn (he had good taste).

Two black cats

He wanted to play with it in a big tangled mess, I wanted to make a sweater out of it. We both won our battle but lost the war. It was a big tangled mess by the time I rescued it, and after a few futile hours trying to wind it back, it remained the same. Frustrated, I stashed the yarn away with plans to finish later.

No sympathy from my co-worker. “You took yarn away from a cat?” he asked incredulously.

“It makes a pretty expensive toy!” I shot back.

“You don’t take yarn away from a cat,” he replied, shaking his head.

Cats in HatsYes you do, only now it appears there is a way to appease your kitty. You use the yarn to make a hat for him, with 30 knitting & crochet patterns from the book Cats in Hats, by Sara Thomas (Running Press, May 2015).

Okay, good chance I’ll buy the book, just for the camp value.  However, my time knitting will most likely be spent on other projects. Unless…I mean, these are really cute hats.

If I truly believed I could get Paco to model anything I knit for him, I might make one. On second thought, I don’t want to be one of those pet owners. I understand dog sweaters during freezing weather, but hats for cats? Good grief. Not even if he looked as cute as the cat in this picture…which he would…nope, still not happening.

© Liz Coleman/Running Press/Quarto, Inc. via AP
© Liz Coleman/Running Press/Quarto, Inc. via AP

Regardless, ultimately you can’t take yarn away from a cat. Nothing mine likes more than plotting to nab that little ball of leftover yarn in the bottom of the bag…he can smell it a mile away…wait, it’s just enough to make a cute little cap for him, isn’t it?

A Halloween costume of some sort, perhaps…I’m turning into a true cat lady… but just think how darn adorable he’d be.


Image Credit: (cats and yarn) © © Kamaga — Fotolia

less about the dress

Today one of my friends posted this on Facebook:  “I’m thinking about doing a capsule wardrobe. Anybody tried it?”

It turns out a capsule wardrobe is basically a small wardrobe, where everything coordinates.

The kind you have when you have no money. Like mine, today.

Back in the day when I focused on dolling up (me in the middle).
Back in the day when I focused on dolling up (me in the middle).

I’ve never been one of those women who has clothes in her closet with the tags still on them, but there was a time when I had a closet packed full of clothes, some of which I rarely wore. Today, the only things that come under that category are my two dresses, because I don’t have many occasions that warrant wearing them.

Plus, since pantyhose are no longer acceptable, it’s a three-day routine to get my white-washed legs to a decent point. (Or I wear black pantyhose. Looking forward to the day when I’m too old to care about such things, but I’m not there yet.)

Time changes things. When I was in my twenties, I worked part-time at a department store in addition to my full-time job, in part because I wanted extra money to spend on clothes. My older co-workers would shake their heads at how much I spent, but I told them, “I’m never going to care as much about what I wear as I do now.”

Turns out, I was right. I still care about what I wear, but it doesn’t do the same for me now that it did then.

I no longer want to be tied down to an hour of prep work before being presentable. I’ve learned how to look good day-to-day with less.

I do care enough about my appearance that I was flattered when a transgender woman from my congregation told me I was an example for her as she was learning how to dress as a woman. It’s an odd compliment, perhaps, for some, but when it comes right down to it, as good as it gets.

I also care enough to do everything in my power to keep from looking “mature.” Like I said, time changes things. Some of my best features twenty years ago are betraying me today.

So capsule this: as long as what I’m wearing today makes me look my best, I (almost) don’t care if it’s the only outfit I’ve got. Makes sleepy morning decisions a lot easier.

if only I could curse and fly and eat pumpkin pie

Disney had a few things right, For example, Dumbo. His experience rings true. I’m quite certain if you get drunk and learn to fly, you will in fact become popular, and probably won’t be bullied anymore.

How did they get away with that? A different time, I guess.

movie ticket angled smWait, that movie was released in 1941, the height of strict standards in film known as the Motion Picture Production Code. You’d think sending that message to children would be borderline, at best, and the Code didn’t tolerate a lot of borderline at that point.

I guess drunk cartoon characters weren’t taboo. Or perhaps because Dumbo didn’t intend to drink champagne, the message is different.

Warner Bros. cartoon characters used to sing, “no more cursing, rehearsing our parts” at the beginning of each show. Now it’s “no more nursing, rehearsing our parts.” Nursing, of course, as in nursing something along — a pretty outdated expression, but nothing else rhymes.

They were cursing from 1944 to 1964. Well, not on camera, and saying you would curse met code standards for adults, so I guess no one seriously questioned it for kids. And frankly, that change irritates me. Unless Bugs Bunny actually cursed, big deal. Of all the battles to pick, petitioning for new wording there seems useless, and the difference sounds weird to boot.

(Bugs was a bit of a wise-ass, and Elmer Fudd was a grouch, so it’s easy to imagine them swearing, but that would leave me disillusioned.)

raw vegetables in wicker basket isolated on white

Standards are a funny thing. I have a friend who’s a vegetarian, and endlessly wears us out preaching about the horrors related to eating meat, particularly what it does to your body over a lifetime. Still, she has no problem ordering dessert, as long as it’s “vegetable based” (her words). Like carrot cake. Seriously.

No doubt we’re all guilty of something similar, something we probably don’t recognize anymore than my friend sees that her choice to eat carrot cake but not beef isn’t logical to most. I tried hard to think of my own such inconsistency, but couldn’t come up with anything. Well, given my logic that we’re blind to our own conflicting behavior, that makes sense

Ooooh. Was calling Bugs a wise-ass inconsistent with the sentences immediately preceding that comment?

Okay, let my friend eat cake, and I’ll eat my words.


 

Image credits: (top) © Elena Baryshkina – DollarPhotoClub.com; (bottom) © monticellllo – DollarPhotoClub.com

in honor of you whose name was mine

My great-grandmother was Jewish. Loosely (and I realize it doesn’t quite work this way) that makes me 1/8 Jewish,

which is important to me primarily for one reason: it would have been enough to put me in Auschwitz had I been born a generation earlier, had my forebears emigrated a generation or two later.

For in addition to that scant Jewish heritage, I come from good Polish stock. I could have been there, and not-too-distant family members no doubt were.

I plan to visit Auschwitz, hopefully sooner than later, and before I go, I needed to confirm this information with an expert. I found several, including a rabbi well-versed in the topic.

After telling me I did indeed have correct information, he went on to say that immediately surrounding that camp of horrors, shockingly, to me, was an ordinary neighborhood. Imagine, little girls played with dolls, men drank beer and neighbors gossiped, a mere few feet away. Steps away.

We’ve all heard the stories; there’s nothing I can say here to bring it home. It haunts me, this stripping of dignity, logic and humanity. Turning the unimaginable into the routine.

I can’t distance myself from this simply because I’ve learned of it as history rather than current events. It is too close in time for that. The buildings stand, survivors walk this earth.

For some the generations between my one Jewish ancestor and the distance in space & time from the home of my heritage (I am, after all, fully American) would seem too great for an emotional connection to the victims of the Holocaust.

But little doubt someone who perhaps looked like me, because she was a cousin of some sort, spent her last days in an agonistic, surreal yet all too real world of shame and torture.

Or perhaps she survived and was living in this country while I grew up as children should grow up, for no matter what pain I suffered as a child, it is surmountable. I can lead a full life without whatever hell they carry with them every step of their lives.

I’m writing this now in anticipation of my visit to Auschwitz, as a prologue of sorts to my thoughts then. I have little frame of reference to imagine what I’ll find or sense, but I hope to record all of it, in honor of you whose name, perhaps, was mine.


Image credit: Crow © Lasha Kilasonia; Hourglass © kuzmafoto; Candles © Ekaterina Garyuk; Book © Vladimir Prusakov; Background © Pampalini. All: DollarPhotoClub.com.

light of time

my best gifts given, part one

In fourth grade our student teacher, Miss Trillman, got married mid-semester.

As a wedding gift from the class, our regular teacher gave us each a 3×5 index card and instructed us to print our favorite recipe on it. It didn’t matter what it was, as long as it was our favorite. As I recall, every one of my fellow classmates gave Miss T the most complex recipe their mom was able to prepare. The cards were carefully printed, and no doubt just as carefully chosen, by their mothers. I took the idea to heart and instead got my mom to calculate the ingredients for my absolute favorite meal of all time, bologna & cheeses.

These aren’t simply bologna & cheese sandwiches, sliced and placed on bread. They are made from polish sausage, cheddar cheese, onions, ketchup and probably one or two other things I don’t remember, all put through the meat grinder and turned into a gooey delight. When Mom suggested B&Cs for dinner, the whole family went shopping with her, just to make sure she didn’t forget any of the ingredients. Each of us had one thing we picked out and brought back to the shopping cart, making the trip a quick one. Heaven forbid Mom should have too much other shopping to do. Our patience was limited.

Once blended, the mixture was then spread on lightly toasted bread (both sides) and broiled until it bubbled a little and the edges and part of the top turn just a little black. It takes a little practice to know just exactly how thick to spread it — too thin and it’s dry, too thick and it’s, well, too thick. But this is the best sandwich ever for kids and adults alike. It takes ordinary ingredients and turns them into something with a sharp taste, better than spaghetti or hamburgers.

If you’re a ten-year-old girl and have just an average appetite, you eat two. If you’re ravenous, you eat three and maybe regret it a little, because it’s too much in the end. The best part is, no matter how hungry the rest of my family was, the recipe made enough for plenty of leftovers, and bologna & cheese holds up well for a couple of days. So two more days of great lunches to look forward to, and you’re still not tired of them.

Miss Trillman, who became Mrs. Peck (distant relative to the actor Gregory Peck), told the class my recipe was her & her husband’s favorite. They all protested because their recipes were fancier and therefore, better, but she told them mine was best because it was perfect everyday food and besides, her husband was a big man with a big appetite and these sandwiches easily filled him up. Another bonus, he liked preparing them, and after a long day with 30 fourth-graders, she didn’t always feel like cooking. We groaned at that comment, but frankly, I’d never doubted my choice would win out over the others.

Image Credit: © Graphic Stock

honda heaven and beyond

Photo credit: top (sky background) © Andrii Salivon - Fotolia.com

My 1996 Honda Accord gave up the ghost, so to speak, and left for Honda Heaven earlier this month.

I bought it six years ago after my 2000 Corolla (which I’d bought brand new in 1999) was totaled. I was oh-so-fortunate back then, the proceeds from my crushed and crumpled Corolla just exactly covered the cost of the Accord, so I haven’t had a car payment in about ten years. Now, at a time when I’m both out of work and out of savings, I needed a new car, and I needed a way to finance it.

I should say, I’m actually underemployed, not unemployed. I work part-time and knew I would barely make enough to scrape by with a car payment and the higher insurance cost. Up to this time I’d been modestly comfortable with my limited income in that I haven’t struggled to pay my bills or purchase food. That would change. The loss of my Accord meant more than just losing a vehicle, I was losing a lifestyle, as modest as it was. Finding a new job has been incredibly difficult for me, and I didn’t expect that tide to turn immediately.

I didn’t relish the thought of going back to where I was before I got this job. There were days, weeks even, when I’d be stuck at home because I didn’t have enough money to put gas in my car to go anywhere. I barely had enough to buy essentials such as toilet paper and laundry soap. I gave up cable TV a long time ago, although right now I can afford Netflix — most months. So now, even though I’m working, my expenses would go up radically (given my limited income to start with) and I’d be back where I was a year ago. Scary, depressing.

Looking into what was out there was exhausting and I proved to be a car salesman’s dream customer, someone who just wants to get the deal done and drive off in her new — or used — car. Fortunately, I had a co-signer with a stake in this who put the brakes on and forced me to ask around to make sure I was getting the best deal possible. I hated every second of it and more than once tried to tell him I just wanted to take the deal and get it over with, but he wouldn’t do it.

It isn’t easy when you know one of your inherent characteristics may lead you to be taken advantage of by someone trained to do just that. I had to tell myself, be thankful there’s someone willing to show you how it’s done by taking the time to do it himself. Sit back and relax. Get a good night’s sleep before you make any decisions. Listen to the wisdom of someone who’s been there before you. I had to set aside doubts such as, his information is outdated, they do things differently these days (turns out they don’t). My anxiety was getting the better of me and making me look for the quickest way out. Problem is, that way out can lead to the wrong path.

PriusRemarkably, my co-signer/fairy godmother found an incredible deal that allowed me to drive off in a brand-new Prius at a price I could afford. So today for the first time in years I found myself driving a car I can take outside the county limits, because I don’t need to be within calling distance of friends or family when (not if) it breaks down. The maintenance agreement even covers oil changes for two years. My costs have gone up and gone down at the same time, although on the balance they do remain higher.

The remarkable end to what seemed like an impossible situation — finding a car when I had no credit and a limited income — has given me the courage to search for a job more appropriate to my education and experience. I’ve been held back by legitimate barriers, too complex to describe here, but the time may have come to knock them down. I’ll wait a few months so I can make at least one trip to see my mom, who lives a day’s drive away. Of course saying that almost certainly guarantees a job opportunity too good to pass up will come my way sooner. I can only hope.

Photo credit: top (sky background) © Andrii Salivon – Fotolia.com