Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ready Or Not

Here we are on the final day of 2008. It's been quite an eventful year for me and a relatively good one at that. Of course, how could a year be bad that started with me spending time with Tonto? But the summary, as I've been sifting through it, is dizzying: I had a wierd roommate; I got rid of the wierd roommate; I got promoted; Terri, Kris and Kristin visited; I had a couple of love interests that were fun but went the way of the dodo; I went down a river in a raft and saw hundreds of bald eagles; I walked and walked and walked and then walked 60 miles in three days; I wrote; I wrote music; I made art; I sold some art; I met Scott; Scott had a stroke; Scott recovered (mostly); I lost 75lbs (if you see 'em, I do not want them back); I got to spend time with my nanny family; I found out that I had to move out of my house; I took that as an adventure and found my cabins in the woods; I moved to the woods and discovered a home there; I redefined myself (or better put, I defined myself probably for the first time ever); I've met all manner of interesting, fascinating, and fine folks; I got a cool dog; I read books and watched movies and listened to music; I put my truck in a ditch (and we both came out of it unscathed); I had 4 feet of snow; I made new friends; and the list goes on... is it any wonder I'm tired? Like KT says, "This world will turn if you're ready or not."

And now, for your New Year's Eve entertainment I'm posting the Friday list early. If you haven't tuned in (or paid enough attention) in the past, these are all snippets of conversation that I either heard directly and/or participated in.


"Oh, go into a closet and amuse yourself, I'm busy. "

"It's darker than the inside of a goat's ass in here! "
"I don't want to know how you know that as a basis for comparison.... "

"Do they have New Year's in Australia?"

"I just wanted to let you all know that the current forecast calls for rain and cooler temps. High of 72 low of 56. I know for you Northerns that's pool weather, but for us locals that's a bit on the cooler side."
"I'll be sure to pack my extra long shorts..."

"What's the dog doing?"
"He's trying to get at your nuts. Wait. That... uh... oh fuck."

"If I go down, I'm takin' you with me!"
"Fall down, I meant! Shit..."

"We're having an A - B conversation. Why don't you C your way out."
"Aren't you in a D-liteful mood..."
"Oh, E-ject already..."
"F U"

"I'm not trying to get fresh or anything, but I need to hold on to your arm."
"Sure. Sure. Is that a flashlight in your pocket or...?"
"Hell no, I'm a girl. That's my dildo!"


So gang... party on. Here's wishing all of you the very best for 2009!

KT Tunstall, Hold On

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Anything is Pawsible

What is really important… about you or me is the thinkable you or the thinkable me, the abstract metaphysical you or me, … what communications we have made with one another …All you see is a little of my pink face and hands and my shoes and clothing, and you can’t see me, which is entirely the thinking, abstract, metaphysical me. It becomes shocking to think that we recognize one another only as the touchable, nonthinking biological organism and its clothed ensemble.”
~Buckminster Fuller

Someone commented to me the other day, "Hey, I notice you never post anything about John any more. Do you still think about him?" The audacity! What an utterly ridiculous notion. Not a day, nay, rarely a minute goes by that he's not "on my mind." How could I ever possibly not think about him?!

I try to celebrate the man's life in everything I do - his influence is in every conscious decision I make. I still talk to him about everything, I still hear his laughter when there's something funny that I know he (and sometimes he alone) would appreciate. I see through his eyes. I wear his flannel shirts. His hat is on my head more often than not. I drive his truck. At the same time, I'm not mired in John - I am, as ever, my own person. I'm not stuck in grief that won't let me shake loose - I refuse to be. In fact, the days are rare any more that I do actually feel that deep, horribly painful grief. It's there, oh yeah, it sure is - and if you think I don't absolutely ache to have the man alive again, you're dreadfully mistaken - but John and I have both found ways for me to rise above the worst of that harsh reality.

Maybe you'll think I've finally gone 'round the bend (yay, I love travel), but I'll swear to you, he's got some kind of connection with my dog. Nino gives me looks and has reactions that are often highly reminiscent of John, and his playfulness is much like John's. The love that dog shows me, and the protectiveness... so John. And, really, why not? Why couldn't, shouldn't he have some connection? Animals see better than we do, they hear better than we do, they sense shifts in nature long before we do, their hearts are more open and accepting than ours. Why wouldn't they have some connection to a different spiritual plane of existence? So, think me crazy if you wish (close-minded fools), but I know what I know.

Still, I come back to the nerve some folks have... the total disregard with which they say stuff. How could anyone who knows me even a little... how could they ask that? How dare they?! Gads, and here I thought that I had no filtering system. I have no doubt that the unnamed accused is reading this post. Despise me if you need to, but do some serious thinking. Perhaps I should have replied to your email in private, but a) at the time it took every bit of strength for me to back away from the pc and let my hackles settle; b) had you said such a thing at a party, you'd likely have ended up - at least - with a drink or two poured on your head to wake your from your obvious stupor; c) I use this forum as a way to work through my shit whether anyone reads it or not; d) deal with it.

Furthermore... since when do I have to justify to anyone who I care about, when I care about them, or how I care about them?! What I went through with John (all 9 years of it) was nothing short of extraordinary. Walk 60 miles in my Asics and then tell me how to be. If any of you need constant reminder of how deeply I love the man, of how there he is in my life (still), of how vastly deep the chasm that his absence has left... you need to learn some discernment. And how. And now.

John and I used to live on the same road that a big church was on. We'd often get stuck in the line of traffic that was waiting to get into the church parking lot. Almost invariably, John would roll down the window and holler, "... and don't come out until you learn something!!!"

Amen, Darlin'.... amen.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ten Things to Take With You on the Ride Through 2009

Here we are at the last few days of 2008. It's been quite a ride, all things considered. Welcome again to the Church of the Wayward Gypsy. What have "we" learned? I'll try to delineate a year's worth of experience in the few words that I can fit on a 10-point list: Ten Things to Take With You on the Ride Through 2009. In no particular order (except that this is how they've dribbled through my mind):
  • Never mind that the word kindness is a noun - it is an action, and requires action. No one was ever accused of being kind who sat in a corner doing nothing.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Time does not heal all wounds. Nature does. Surrounding oneself with natural beauty reminds one that everything shares an interconnectedness and that sometimes the big heavy stuff (while seeming to require a mental forklift on our individual parts) is but a grain of sand in the grand schema. That doesn't mean that we or our lives are in any way insignificant - keep in mind that a single grain of sand can change everything (ever get one caught in your eye?).
  • Laughter is a requirement, particularly the ability to use it while looking in the mirror.
  • Significant events in life will happen if you're ready or not. Keep these emergency supplies handy: observation, openness, at least one good friend (with two good ears), inventiveness and/or creativity, sense of humor, water, and chocolate.
  • Love, while a useful tool, is not a possession. Give it away. The one who dies with the emptiest toolbox wins.
  • Music is as essential to survival as food is. It can change an attitude. It can fix a mood. It just plain feels good to belt out a familiar tune, or dance (even if it's alone in the living room), or close your eyes and escape to whatever desert island awaits (I hear Bob Marley and I don't care how cold it is - I'm puttin' on a Hawaiian shirt!). And so, as the man sang, "Lively up yourself. Don't be no drag."
  • Physical Fitness, Mental Fitness, and Spiritual Fitness are a triad and require strength on all three sides. Therefore - on a daily "nutritional" basis - Eat Well; Learn something (feed your head); Meditate (dream, pray, whatever you want to call it, so long as you take time to nurture your spirit). Get daily exercise: Walk (get outside!); Think (outside the box will give you the best workout); Experience (give your heart a very long leash, remembering the words of Rilke: no feeling is final).
  • Connect with Pure Innocence, whether it's a child or an animal. Seeing the world through unblemished, unjaded, non-judgmental, unconditionally loving eyes is a joyful thing. If you don't have a child or a pet, visit one - generally speaking, good parents and good pet owners are happy to share.
  • Sometimes the person you need most in your life is (still) a stranger. Sometimes the person they most need is YOU. Say hello (with a smile, dammit!) to people you don't know.
  • There's no rewind, there's no fast forward, there is no pause. There is only Play or Stop. Take care to keep it on Play - you're needed more than you know. (Oh, and there are no subtitles either, so speak up!)
There you have it. Let's meet back here this time next year... see where the journey has taken us...? I'll bring the bean, you bring the pastries.

Friday, December 26, 2008

'Tis a Gift to be Simple

This was, by far, the best Christmas I've had in years. Maybe ever. And not a single present save for the gifts of new friends, fine food, and more glorious natural beauty than you could shake a stick at (now, why would you want to go and do that?!).

Christmas Eve started with more snow which resulted in my boss telling us all to go home at 11 a.m. (Don't gotta tell me twice! Zoooooom!) I stopped at the store on the way home, picked up some stuff I needed for goodies I wanted to take to my neighbor's house, a little something for my Christmas Eve cocktail and DVD watching festival, and was back up the mountain by 1:30. Good thing too, as it had not stopped snowing and there was a fresh 8" of powder in my driveway. I got in, hugged and fed my animals, fixed a plate of noshables, poured a drink, loaded up the DVD player, grabbed a couple of books, turned on the Christmas lights, put on my fleece sweats and snuggled up on the sofa with Nino. Perfect evening.

Christmas morning found me up and at 'em 7:30, brewing some fine, dark bean and looking out the window at a world that resembled an old Currier & Ives painting - and it was still snowing. I made a good breakfast for Nino and me (if I don't share his drool will flood me out of the place). I started mixing up some cookie dough and the power went out. All that heavy snow keeps knocking tree limbs into the power lines. So, Nino and I went out and played in the snow. Actually, Nino played. I grabbed a shovel and unburied my back windows. There's been so much snow coming off the roof that it's about 7 feet deep back there and I could hardly see out any more. Then I went out to the road (where it's not as deep) and threw snowballs for the pup.

We came back in to warm up by the woodstove and my neighbor came and plowed my driveway again. At this point I still hadn't met the man face to face. A little bit later the power came back on. So, I finished making my goodies. Packed them and hiked up the hill (through the trees and over the snow, la la la).

Now. The only people I'd met from that household were the wife and daughter (only just as she's home on Christmas break). As I crested the hill, I saw two men hauling a wheelbarrow full of logs to a huge bonfire. "Merry Christmas!" I greeted them, and asked, "Is one of you my knight in snowplow armor?" "Merry Christmas to you, and nope," the one answered, grinning as he gestured toward the garage with a jerk of his head. "That'd be Larry." So I made a bee-line toward the garage and finally got to shake the man's hand and thank him for his kindness.

Larry said, "It's funny, I started plowing your drive the other day and saw you in the kitchen. I thought to myself, 'Oh, I hope she's makin' me cookies!' And once I'd finished all the plowing, I came in and Vicky handed me a box of cookies that you'd brought over!" I laughed and said, "I saw you plowing and said to my dog, 'Oh, that man is SO getting some cookies!' You keep plowing my drive and if you're not careful you'll end up with an entire pie." And another friendship was sealed.

I made my way up to the porch and was greeted warmly by the wimmin-folk, ushered into the house, handed a drink, and treated like I was just another family member ("Hey, you look like you know how to cook... do something with these carrots!") - and I love that. Nothing relaxes me like making myself at home in someone else's kitchen (I turned them into glazed carrots flavored with orange juice and cumin - they were a hit). We all chatted away, completely at ease, the drinks flowed, we laughed ourselves silly, the food was fabulous, the company was... outstanding. I thought, how is it that I only met these people a couple of hours ago? They feel just like family. At one point after a storm of laughter that Kelly (Vicky's sister) and I shared over something ridiculous (we didn't stop laughing as we shared gravy-stirring duty), I heard her in the other room talking to Vicky. She said, "I'm so glad you invited Barb! I'm having a blast with her!" It's one of the warmest, most rewarding things I've ever overheard.

We parted late in the evening with hugs and thank yous and a promise from me of a Hungarian dinner. I guess it's like Tonto said - you're only strangers until you walk through the door.

After that, you're friends. What better gift?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ho Cubed

My wish for you...

Be safe
Be happy
Feel love
Give love

Anything else is just window dressing.

Merry Christmas,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hitchin' Post

I nearly forgot about the story I was going to tell before I landed on yesterday's post! On Saturday I did something I've never done before and never expected that I would. (All these virginal experiences, I tell ya... ) And if anyone tells my Mom, you'll have me to deal with!


There I was Saturday morning, in between blizzards. The power was out and had been since about 1 a.m. I had shoveled, shoveled some more, and shoveled (but hey, at that point I only had two feet of snow, not 3.5 feet). Any dudes out there with a penchant for chicks with biceps... I got 'em, Baby!

I digress.

I wanted to see if I could at least make it out of the driveway. If so, my plan was to head into town (I'm 11 miles up river and up mountain from the pretty little hamlet of Granite Falls) so as to replenish supplies before the next expected storm. I was met with success and had no trouble getting out of the driveway at all. "Nino!" I hollered. "C'mon pal, we're goin' for a drive." Nino was more than glad to oblige. I eased out onto the snow-covered (but plowed and sanded) Mountain Loop Hwy - slow n' steady, careful to keep the rubber side down. These days nobody wants to stay away from ditches more'n I do. Still, the road was in pretty good shape for a mountain road. It's kept well maintained because it runs through national forest and they need it clear in case rescue vehicles have to get through. I had no trouble at all. As we'd pass folks digging out their driveways we were always met with a wave. It was as if they were saying, "Yay! Someone made it out alive... there's hope... keep digging... there's hope..."

My co-pilot pup and I were about 4 miles into the journey, just coming up one of the shorter, but curvier hills. There was a guy, bundled from head to toe, trudging through the snow at the side of the road. As I approached and began to pass he stuck his thumb out. "I can't, buddy..." I thought at first, and then, "Hell, I've got a pit bull! What's he gonna try to pull?" Still, I wasn't about to stop mid-hill, so I got to the top and waited. The guy walked with the careful precision of one who has slid and met with gravity all too often in that kind of weather. I can relate.

Nino growled as he approached. "S'okay Beandawg... get in the back seat..." Nino complied as the guy opened the passenger door. Turned out to be a kid of maybe 25 years old at most (*sigh*... yeah, I'm at the age now where 25 is a "kid"). I was immediately glad that I stopped. So was he, "Oh man... thank you so much!" Nino gave a perfunctory sniff, decided there'd be little threat from a guy who was so bundled up that he couldn't even put his arms down, and settled back in his seat. I never learned the young man's name, nor he mine. We chit-chatted the 9 miles into town... there was plenty of weather to talk about. We parted ways in the grocery store parking lot with a "Hey, stay warm and have a Merry Christmas!" And that was that, but for the warm fuzzy (goodkarmagoodkarmagoodkarma) feeling I had the rest of the day.

Will I ever pick up a hitcher again? Unlikely. Never been my style. It just sorta happened. I'm glad it did.

Mountain people are good folk. Guess I'm kind of one of 'em now...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Down From The Mountain

"Whisky! I love whisky! What? I'm a nun... not a saint!"
~Paradise Road

I thought I had snow when I last posted. Silly me... that was nothing. Picture if you will a woman who stands 5'6" (has a 31" inseam), trudging to the woodshed in snow up to her waist. (Heh... I almost typo'd waste... now that's damned funny right there!) Yeah, man. I got snow. I mean... I GOT SNOW!!!! I've been snowed in since last Tuesday. Today is my first day back at the switch, and I barely made it at that.

But, I've been loving it... getting great workouts shoveling and hauling wood, playing with my Snow Dawg, enjoying the peace and quiet, reading, reading, reading. I couldn't have planned a better vacation.

And, because of my hiatus in all the snow, I have a lovely, heartwarming, Christmasy story to tell. Yesterday when the power finally came back on (I've been with and without power on and off since last Sunday - no big deal), I pulled the cookie dough I'd mixed up out of the fridge and rolled it out - it's Grandma's secret cut-out cookie recipe. My plan was to bake them up and take a few dozen to work (which I have) and disperse a few to cookie bereft friends. As I was sprinkling colored sugar on one batch I heard the neighbor's snowblower and I looked out the kitchen window. I thought (I can't help but lean toward the dark side), "Gee Dude, why'nchya be a good neighbor and plow my drive too?!"

I went back to my baking, but the snowblower noise got louder. I looked out the window again and there was my neighbor... yup (she looks down ignominiously)... plowing my driveway! He saw me looking and raised a hand. I raised a hand in return. Looked at Nino (who had been drooling at my flour-dusted side the whole time) and with tears in my eyes, just said, "Geez, Nino... he just... geez...."

I had to wait until the batch was out of the oven, but I quickly packed up a couple dozen, pulled my boots on and was up the road faster'n you can say "Here we go a-wassailing.." He was still forging through the snow on his property, but I gave him a heartier wave and a flourish of the box of cookies. His wife was just coming back from feeding their chickens and I gave her an equally hearty wave and flourish.

As she came nearer she said, "Heya... what's up?"

"Oh, I just wanted to wish you guys a very Merry Christmas and give you these and thank your husband for plowing my drive."

"Awww... you didn't need to do that... "

"Blame my Mom for raising me right!" I said with a grin. "Really, it meant a lot to me."

"Well... hey... if you're not doing anything for Christmas, come on over. We're gonna have a crowd of folks here and just hang out and eat all day."

"Wow. Thank you. I don't have any plans, so I just might take you up on that."

"We're having prime rib...." she said with a persuasive raise of the eyebrow.

I flung my arm out behind me and said, "Ouch... ok, ok... "

She smiled and said, "Just come on over whenever you see cars start showing up in the drive."

And so... I have plans for Christmas... with folks I don't even know... but kind folks, spontaneous folks... woodsy folks... up on my mountain... in the snow... it just doesn't get better.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Girl From Snowy River

As promised, I got snow! Up in my neck of the woods there was about 8-10 inches of it. It is gorgeous out there - 360º views of picture postcard perfect! It started Friday night with big chunks of snow falling from the sky and by morning the world was covered in white crystals. It was magical. It continued snowing most of Saturday.

Nino and I just mostly hung out (where were we gonna go?!) and played in the snow down by the river, cuddled by the fire - I read aloud while he kept my feet warm, made soup - I chopped and simmered while he drooled... it was a perfect weekend. Nino loves, loves, loves the snow - I just knew he was a kindred spirit. He bounds and leaps and laughs through the stuff; catches snowballs in his teeth; rolls around in it, shakes it off, then rolls again. It was obvious that he took great delight in how entertained I was by his antics. I swear... that dog... he's quickly becoming the greatest love of my life. Serious.

Ok... I can't end this without airing a peeve. Actually, it's more'n a peeve, but I won't go into full Tannenbaum Tirade mode on ya. I'll try not to. Yesterday I walked up to the mailbox and retrieved a handful of assorted stuff - junk, bills, my paycheck (woo!), and some greeting cards. Yeah, you're on my train already, I can tell. One of the cards was addressed to me with an address label. I can look beyond that, what with today's zippy databases, etc. I opened the envelope and there was a gilded picture depicting the manger scene with the announcement: Christ is Born! (Old news, but I was still behaving, still chill about it in my own sardonic, "yeah, whatever" way.) On the inside was the sentiment: Celebrate the Season! (...and began the slow simmer. Y'all know how I love generic references to "The Season.") Underneath that, pre-printed was: Holiday Blessings, Gertrude & Heathcliff (names have been changed because... huh...) That was it. No personalized note, no nothing. Hell, the 36 daily catalogs I get from L.L. Bean have more personalization than that. I mean, why even bother? Did I feel cheered? Nope. Was I warmed by their thoughtfulness? (*polite cough*) Hardly. What a waste of postage. For me it was just another example of the overly commercialized Christmas we've come to expect. It angered me. I had to throw the thing in the fire before I scribbled mean thoughts all over it and mailed it back to the people who sent it. I'm sure they would have been horrified at my hostility - hell, I was.

Thank all the gods I had a loving dog to distract me and some fine snow to cool my heated temper.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Long as She Gets Somewhere


The dingo system is still mostly a trash heap and the joy of dealing with that is getting rather old, so I'm more'n ready for a weekend! I received an email from one of the Oz contingency that began, "Dear Barb, in accordance with this week from hell..." I hear ya, mate.

I've been promised snow this weekend. "It's practically guaranteed..." the reporter said. We're going to get wet clouds along with an arctic sweep down from Alaska. If they're predicting it in the Seattle area, chances are pretty darned good that I'll see some up on the mountain. 'Bout time! I can't think of better balm for my weary soul than hauling logs, stoking the wood fire, and playing in the snow with NinoBean.

When happiness shows up, give it a comfortable seat.
~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

And now, for your Weekend Attitude Adjustment, one of the most fun songs to come along in a while (not since Jason Mraz hit the scene, I'd say). Just try'n keep yourself from dancing to Eric Hutchinson, Rock and Roll - I never can. I could listen to this one about 10 times straight before giving up and moving on to something else. This kid is brilliant.

'Cause If she want to rock she rocks
If she want to roll she rolls
She can roll with the punches
Long as she feels like she’s in control
If she want to stay she stays
If she want to go she goes
She don’t care how she gets there
Long as she gets somewhere she knows

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ars Gratia Artis

"Without Art we are but monkeys with car keys."

Last night an acquaintance said, "Anyone can draw. Anyone can be artistic." I nodded in vehement agreement. It's the same thing I've often said about music or writing. Anyone can do it. It may take a bit of mental reprogramming, a tilt in perspective, but it's out there for anyone to claim. No, not everyone who picks up a purple crayon is going to be the next Degas; not everyone who plucks an old guitar string is going to be Clapton; and not everyone who puts pen to paper is going to be Shakespeare. C'est la vie, so what. Real artists do it because it feels good.

This morning (on the radio), as if following the thread of conversation from last night, my favorite DJ, Marty said something to the effect of, "I've always thought that everyone should have something in their campfire basket; something they can pull out when things get too boring or serious... a magic trick, a guitar, a story... " Amen to that.

I feel fortunate. I've often said that I've rarely ever been bored because I know how to entertain myself. With any luck, I know how to entertain others as well (the paradox here is that I think myself a boring person because I'm such an introvert). I can shuffle and deal a deck of cards, make music, act, draw (badly), and I can even pull off telling a joke with some small measure of comedic timing.
Some of the best times in my life have been time spent with people who tell a good story... nothing but the sound of their voice and the scene they were painting with it. I love that. It's no great surprise that the men I've been highly attracted to, and even fallen for, are/were great story tellers. It's a trait for which I have huge admiration. Take me down your path... please!

A little over a year ago I went camping in California with Timothy and some friends. We were having a great time around the campfire. I was totally relaxed and feeling fairly uninhibited. What followed (to my complete amazement) was me basically doing a good half hour standup comedy routine ('cept I was sittin' on a log). I was in rare form - the jokes just started flowing and my timing was flawless - I don't think I could have stopped if I'd wanted to. Of course, it helped that I had a very cool audience which was under the influence of tequila, which was flowing like... uh... tequila. Point is, it just felt so good.

Years ago before TV and radio were invented, this is how people lived. Almost everyone had some kind of entertaining skill. The candles and fires were lit against the dark, maybe the jug was passed, the fiddle was hauled out, the yarn was spun (literally and figuratively), songs were sung, poems recited. My guess is that no one ever rolled their eyes and said, "I'm bored." I've been without TV reception for over three months now and I can honestly say that I don't miss it. Sure, I still have my DVD collection, which offsets the occasional need for boxed entertainment. But, I've created, sung, played, and read more than I have in years. And I listen to the quiet - there's volume in it.

What's in your campfire basket? You've got something - turn off the TV and turn off the lights - find out what it is. Get lost in the glow of a mood, rather than the glow from a box. You'll be amazed at the places you'll go.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Up(grade) Yours!

It was very timely that my nephew sent me the above pic of my great niece and great nephew this morning. I'm having the kind of week that makes me feel as though my own face is in continual flux between the two different expressions they're wearing. Let's just not even discuss the bad hair issue. The Dingos, in their infinite wisdom, decided to "upgrade" the system over the weekend. "Upgrade" is the new F.U.B.A.R. 'Nuff said.

Other than that, nothin' special today... 'cept I saw a bear again this morning out in them thar woods! Actually, I didn't see much more than the bear's eyes and the dark fuzzy outline to which they were attached. Still, it's cool to know the critters are out there.

I wanna go home.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Edible Complex

As I was listening to The Mountain (my normal preoccupation while tooling down the road) on my way to work, Marty and Jodi were discussing an upcoming interview with Andrew Zimmern (he of Bizarre Foods). They were perusing various emails from people describing the bizarre foods they'd eaten. It put me in mind of the trip I took to Hungary when I was 16 years old.

The first night in Budapest, as excited as I was to be with my 'other' family, I was pretty much a waste of human flesh - I'd been awake for 36 hours and was dealing with the strange flux that comes with overwhelming jet lag and landing in unfamiliar territory (it had been six years since my last visit) amid people I could barely understand. I was so tired that I all but fell asleep in my bowl of cold cherry soup (Meggy Leves - don't knock it 'til you've tried it; I could eat the stuff daily). The only thing that kept me going until I crashed at 9 p.m. was my fascination with a rerun of Bill Bixby's The Magician, which was dubbed in Hungarian.

So, it wasn't until the next night that we all (Cousin Laszlo and his wife Marika, their two daughters, Marianna - 15, and Zsuzsa - 12, and Marika's mother, Línus**) went out for a bona fide Welcome to Hungary (and the flavors of Hungary!) dinner. As it is in many restaurants there, the meal was brought out family style - big heaping bowls of all manner of deliciousness. There was cucumber salad, dense (but fresh) bread, a veritable heap of unsalted butter, paprikas, gulyas, dumplings, red cabbage, cabbage rolls - all of which I was accustomed to (and even knew the Hungarian names for) because The Amazing Grandma Schmutzer used to cook all of that good stuff (now I do!).

Grandma had often lamented the fact that we (Americans) wasted so much food by throwing so many usable parts of an animal away. I never completely understood what she meant until that first night out in Budapest. There, floating unfamiliarly in a bowl of paprikas, were the head and feet of the chicken. Zsusza, being an impetuous child, immediately grabbed the spoon and went for the chicken head. Marianna balked and a heated argument ensued over whose turn it was at the chicken head.

Marika stepped into the role of Solomon and said, "Barbara is our guest, so she gets to have it." I did my best in my halting Hungarian to politely decline and felt fortunate that I was able to convince them that I really did not want it. It was then decided that it was, after all, Marianna's turn for the wee cranium. Whereupon Marianna scooped it out of the tureen with a spoon, picked the tiny dripping skull up off the spoon, put it to her mouth, and sucked the brains right out of it with a satisfying slurp. Zsuza, not to be completely outdone by her older sister (and much to her mother's chagrin), quickly dipped her fingers into the tureen and plucked out (pun intended) a chicken foot, and using her arm as a crane lowered the foot into her open mouth and sucked the skin right off it.

Right about that point I politely asked someone to please pass me the red cabbage and bread.

I ate many a fine meal in Hungary (I could, and probably should, write a gustatory book on the subject), and I had many a fine adventure there, and countless moments that will forever be part of my favorite internal DVD collection. However, none was quite so memorable as that meal, or rather that moment at the table with my cousins. (*heavenly sigh*) Perhaps I'll whip up some paprikas tonight... minus the upper and lower extremities... miért persze.

**Yes, her name really was Línus. However, in Hungarian it is pronounced LEE-noosh. Out of respect, I always added the familiar néni (aunt), and called her Línusnéni. She drove me nuts - she was one of those old ladies who, if she felt a draft of air, was convinced that everyone was catching pneumonia (and likely dying from it). That I actually chose to run around barefoot most of the time nearly rendered her apoplectic. May the gods rest ye gently, dear Línusnéni.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's Bean Fun

Whatever happened to our sense of play? What happened to our lightheartedness? Why's it got to be so bleedin' serious all the bleedin' time? I know I've said it before, and I'll say it again. We've become so politically correct that we live in abject fear of saying the wrong thing. So we say nothing - we don't joke around, we don't goof around, we don't play. As one of the founding members of Sarcasm Anonymous, I've had to bite back words too many times to count. Would I ever intend to offend with my words? Nah. Most of what I say is in jest - I have too much in my life to be serious about to afford taking it all seriously.

The other day I showed someone the above ad with the idea that there would be a shared laugh over the silliness of it. Instead, I damned near got spanked myself for my insensitivity. How could I find funny something that fosters and supports spousal abuse?! How could I be amused by something that shows a woman being subjected to the upper hand of a man?!

Oh PUH-leeeeze!

I suppose I could share a bit of my (warped?) slightly masochistic sexual views and say that spankings can be kind of fun (ohhhh yeah). But we probably don't wanna go there, and that's beside the point. I could (nearly truthfully) say that I do believe that anyone who would buy and/or serve bad coffee deserves a beating, but that's just my own caffeine addiction talking and I really don't believe that I'd haul off and deck someone over a lousy cup o' bean. Though I have been known to hug someone as reward for a particularly good cup o' bean.
Point is, I'm a pacifist at heart. I don't like seeing anyone (unless they really are deserving of severe punishment) get hurt, physically or emotionally. Anyone who takes five minutes getting to know me ought to recognize that much about me. Point is, just because my wicked sense of humor takes me to (and through) some dark places, doesn't mean I'm wicked and dark at heart - or if I am, it's that sense of humor that keeps me floating above the murk and able to cope in the "real world." Anyone who's spent more than five minutes in my presence ought to recognize that as well. Point is, oh hell... lighten up!

Most humor is our way of raging against the dying of the light, of whistling past the graveyard, of staying buoyant on the big waves. Sure, sometimes it's used in ugly ways (such as ethnic jokes), which (I believe) is born of fear. Sadly, some unenlightened people find that's the only way to cope with fear. But, rather than take offense, I just feel sad for those folks.

Here we are heading to the darkest day of the year, with most cultures in some way celebrating a Season of Light. So, lighten your heads and hearts. Laugh a little, laugh a lot... it's okay. A sense of humor is the finest tool we have in our mental kits; it's the best gift we could ever have been given. Don't push it to the side and let it rust unused. Open it up... let it fly... light up the dark corners.

Laugh, dammit... or I'll spank ya!

Friday, December 5, 2008

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just a Little Unwell

Happy Friday!!! Time for the end of the week Attitude Adjustment. And so, The List returns. You heard it here first, and I heard it first somewhere else.

She's been having really good sex in her region. Oh my god... I mean success! Oh my god...

Did you get my message? I left a message for you. But it won't mean anything because I forgot why I called.

Your hair looks really nice today. Did you do something different?
Well, I did have great sex last night.
Whoa! Did you just say what I think you said?

I can't type in these shoes.

Get this... their last name is Bates and they named their dog Master.
Master Bates? Oh. OH! Really?
Hey, dog's gotta do what a dog's gotta do.

I need a thimble.
What kind of symbol? Like from God? Just to sew up a pocket?
THIMBLE! Thinth when do I lithp?!

How do you want your steak cooked?
Just lead the cow to the grill squealing in terror and then bring it right back to me.

I haven't had any brain activity for a week.


And now to further adjust your attitude... tune in, turn on, rock out... and have a great weekend!
But I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell
I know right now you can't tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you'll see
A different side of me
I'm not crazy, I'm just a little impaired
I know right now you don't care
But soon enough you're gonna think of me
And how I used to be

~Matchbox 20, Unwell

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Film At Eleven

No more table scraps for lepers and orphans. No more merciful beheadings. And, call off Christmas!
~Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Ever watch a movie that was so horribly done that it was laughable? Laura and I often poke fun at Julia Roberts' sad (oh so sad) Oyrish accent in Mary Reilly. Cameron Diaz was near 'bout as bad in Gangs of New York. Worse by far (which is saying quite a lot) was Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

In fact the whole movie is horrible, which has always kind of distressed me considering it has some of my favorite actors in it. How could Morgan Freeman betray me with such dreck?! Rickman was almost forgivable because he's so good at nasty (but even he over-hams it), and because he was just coming off of Die Hard - that's gotta be like playing the roll of Othello after playing the roll of Griswold in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. And Costner... well... sometimes he's good and sometimes he's... just... not. We won't even talk about the overblown soundtrack.

Still... the movie has it's rare moments and my favorite is the opening line of today's blog. I'd almost forgotten it and it's one of my all time favorite quotes. However, I was reminded of it when I was forced to watch Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves again last night (because it was turned up too friggin' loud to sleep through, that's why!), because Scott had never seen it and wouldn't believe me that it could be so bad. He knows better now. Yeah, I know... I could have avoided the whole thing and gone over to the studio to do something artsy and satisfying, but I just wasn't in the mood. The irony here is that I happen to have a copy of the movie on DVD only because years ago John wouldn't believe me that the movie could be so bad! I tried to give it away at a garage sale a few months back and nobody wanted it.... it's that bad.

Anyway... here's another favorite quote from another movie that greatly annoys me (Chevy Chase chafes my brain). But, I'll sit through the damned thing just to hear this line:
Hey. If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is. Hallelujah. Holy shit. Pass the Tylenol.
~Christmas Vacation

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Miss Construed

I was a smart ass. He took it the wrong way and thought I was angry, said my words made him feel badly, which in turn made me feel badly. I thought he knew me better than that by now. I thought everyone did. So I had to apologize, and I had to have The Talk.

"Here's the deal, Darlin'... If I'm ever angry with you, I promise you will know it and there will be no doubt. Fact is, I've yet to be angry with you - not bad for six months, eh? But, know this about me - when I'm angry, I don't waste my words and it's usually prefaced with a stony look and something along the lines of, 'you are really pissing me off,' and quickly followed by the reason why. Ok? Deal?"


Truth is, I really don't rise to anger all that easily. I used to. I used to have a foul temper, but years of self-analysis have taught me that I was mostly only angry with myself and I'm way over that. In my old age I'm a much kinder, gentler version of Barb (stop laughing, Laura!). Note, there's a vast difference between me being annoyed by something and being angry over something. I find that the things that anger me now are things that are largely noncombatable, so I find outlets for my anger. I walk, I create, I play it out on the piano. I've learned that lashing out, whether justified or not, gets little to no result and often, can even lead to undesired results. So, I breathe deep, reassess and stir my boiling pot of grievance gruel, and try to put myself in other shoes and consider how the Wrath O' Barb might best be received. (Sometimes this can take an instant, sometimes days.) It's a daunting task, but it's saved me from ruining many a relationship - whether business, friendship, family or whatever. More often than not, once I've taken the time to do that I find that my anger has abated, the moment has passed, and whatever it was becomes a non-issue.
People tell me I'm calm and rational. Oh really. If trying desperately to avoid conflict is calm and rational... well, boy howdy, I'm the poster child. Yay for me.

Ten things that make me angry:
1. cancer
2. child abuse
3. animal abuse
4. rude behavior
5. apathy
6. indifference
7. litter (see apathy and indifference)
8. leaf blowers
9. proselytizing
10. manipulative behavior
Billy Joel, Angry Young Man

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Stink, Stank, Stunk

I'm not a Grinch. Really, I'm not. I'm kind and loving and fun. Granted, I'm not the most social person in the world, but I'm no wallflower either (back me up here HB!). However. When pushed in any direction, even if it's underlined with good cheer and best wishes, I will (I can promise you) dig my heels in impetuously enough that it'd make Ol' No. 7 look like a pushover. It's the stubborn side of me; the side that says "you can't make me do anything!"

Ask my Mom. Back in the day when cleaning my room (or anything) was the most odious task I could imagine, I would - on very rare occasions - take it upon myself to do so. It never failed... I'd be up there rearranging things, putting things away, digging my dirty clothes out from underneath the bed, and Mom would come by and say, "Oh good. You're finally cleaning your room!" (*cue screeching discordant halt*) After all, I was doing it because I wanted to, not because she wanted me to. When that concept got turned around, forget it. Game over.

I've gotten better over the years. I've learned that I can continue doing what I want to do, no matter anyone else's take on it. I try to take the good intentions of others for what they are, or even ignore them on occasion. Example: in younger years when I'd try losing weight, all it would take was someone saying, "Hey! Keep up the good work! You look so much better." And I'd be off and diving into the nearest bucket o' Ben n' Jerry's or plowing a sack o' Fritos. See... part of that was my own self-perception and part of it was the sideways "compliment" of it all. "Keep up the good work"... while ostensibly words of encouragement, to me they sounded like "yeah, you've got a long way to go yet." And, "you look so much better" turned into "gawd, but you were hideous!" Like I said, it was all my own perception and the fact that I couldn't face my own mirror (at the time). Now, I just don't give a shit what anyone else says. I'm doing it for me. I've learned to use my particularly tenacious brand of stubbornness for my own good.

But, I've gotten off track here. I was talking about having things pushed on me... like (*swallows gorge*) holiday cheer. For one thing, I try to be cheerful and spread cheer every day of the year - I don't wait, like so many others, to suddenly dredge some up and smear it about in a fast-paced 24-day dash. I resent that holiday music is being pushed on me in an attempt to manipulate my emotions into feeling something I don't. I used to love Christmas music - I'm a pianist, a musician - it's part of my blood. Now... I find myself gritting my teeth through songs I used to love, and thinking, "Stop pushing me, dammit!" And that's not the agnostic poly-atheist in me talking. No matter what I believe (or don't) I can appreciate songs and song lyrics I don't agree with - I'm no cretin. (I still listen to smarmy love songs don't I? Even though I know that's not how love is.) I realize there are some who wait alllllll year long for this music. Fine and dandy. Go listen to it. CDs and headphones were invented just for you. My beef is with store proprietors, ad writers, and the ilk. Stop pushing it - I'm spending less time in your store because of it. I swear to all the gods if I have to hear another tinkly accompaniment to an overly emotive vocalist touting "cheer".... (here's where I wish I could emit a hearty lionesque roar)

I know, I know. It was just yesterday I said "no tannenbaum tirades." Mea maxima culpa... 23 days to go.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Spontaneous Combustion

Happy December! Where's my snow?! Everyone said, "Oooohhh... you're moving out to snow country...." Yeah, right. Fog n' rain I gots, snow... nadda. And for those of you who have slept through previous posts. I love snow, always have. I'm just weird that way.

So, here we are, launched into "The Season." (Duck season, wabbit season... duck... wabbit! Shoot me now!) I'll try to keep my tannenbaum tirades to a minimum in hopes that the rest of y'all find some peace and behave yourselves. If you don't... all bets are off. I won't even hardly gripe about the over abundance of "holiday" music, or about all the ads trying to convince my fellow poverty-stricken Americans to spend, spend, spend, or about the sudden flood of holiday email spam. I won't. I promise. Pass me the duct tape.

There are people who make it feel like Christmas on any given day and I love that.... people who make the good get a little bit better... people who help make the bad get gone (apologies to Norman Gimbel for swiping lyrics from It Goes Like It Goes). It has occurred to me (with no surprise) that Scott is one of those people. Holidays and birthdays get passed over, but little treasures appear out of the blue on any given Tuesday. With nary a word a glass dolphin suddenly graces the bookshelf; twinkle lights get strung from the rafters; a pair of hiking boots just my size shows up on the stoop; a winter jacket gets handed off with a "here, you need this"... stuff like that. There's never any fuss and "thank you's" are often shrugged off (although custard pies and chocolate chip cookies are graciously accepted). If he only understood how much it all means to me, though I suppose then the meaning would then be lost (I just love a paradox). Love isn't in his kiss; it's in the moments between.

Apropos of this post, Iggy stopped by the cabin on Friday. We had planned to meet up somewhere "in the middle," but she said, "Heck, I'll just drive out there." Once there she treated me to breakfast at a local greasy spoon. It was a rather spontaneous and wonderful visit.

Neil Diamond once sang it best:
You make it feel like Christmas
even when things go wrong
I hear the sound of Christmas
in your song
all year long

And that, friends n' neighbors... is the way it should be! In all our proper planning and quest for the American Dream, we've lost our spontaneity. Give it back to yourself as a gift this year - that's not a selfish thing to do, because it rubs off on others. Toss the plans out the window. Give the gifts that keep giving - your time and your love. Thoughtful gifts are the moments that are thought full. Trust me on this one... the tangible is never so dear as the intangible.