Thursday, December 27, 2012

R is for ...

R is for... reading.

Actually, this post started out about Religion.

It was a response to the people after the presidential election who were wringing their hands and moaning that the US was no longer a Christian country (uh, read some history, folks, freedom of religion means you get to practice the faith you want, not have one religion dictated over all of us) and then again as a response to the people who had the nerve to say that if God was allowed in our schools, tragedies like the Sandy Hook massacre wouldn't have happened (no comment).

Then I saw the film version of Life of Pi, which ponders religion, at least three of them, as well as the likelihood of survival when one is forced to share a lifeboat with a 450 pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

And after seeing and re-reading Life of Pi (one of three completely perfect books, in my opinion, the others being To Kill A Mockingbird and Charlotte's Web) I got thinking about the meaning of religion, especially in regards to myself.

I've never found the things in organized religion that others do: comfort, guidance, reassurance, trust, joy. And as I wondered if there was something else in my life that might provide those things to me, I realized that yes, there is. It's been there all along. (Well, since I was 2 1/2 years old, anyway.) It's reading. Reading is my religion.

When I'm upset, I turn to books. I'm never happier than with my nose buried in a book. Books remind me of how I want to live, instruct me on how to become the kind of person I strive to be. They bring me joy, allow me to experience others' suffering, teach me about the world around me and the beings who inhabit that world.

Books are where I turn to when I need inspiration, salvation or direction.

Books save.

Never have I been so despondent that a book wouldn't pull me from the depths. Ernest Hemingway said, "There is no friend as loyal as a book."

And beyond the joys of owning books, of treasuring your own collections, is the vast embarrassment of riches that is our public library system. A big building- or a small storefront or a van, it doesn't really matter- full of books that you can just take, read and then give back for others to use. What a miraculous concept.

I've always believed libraries pumped antidepressants through their air vents. A few minutes in a library and suddenly the world isn't quite as bad as it once seemed. Maybe there's a special compound that's released from the marriage of ink and paper of large groups of books. Holly Golightly got it wrong- libraries are the real Tiffany's. "The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there."

And so, in salute, here's an abbreviated list of the books I keep coming back to, that I've read and re-read a minimum of five times, most more. Books that warmed me, shook me, frightened me, enchanted me, made me happy to be on this planet, made me long for other worlds. Books that made me thoughtful, sad, and hungry. (Minus the three perfect ones I mentioned above. They are in a class of their own.)

1. A Prayer for Owen Meaney- John Irving
2. The Twenty-One Balloons- William Pene DuBois
3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn- Betty Smith
4. Anna Karenina- Leo Tolstoy
5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay- Michael Chabon
6. Where the Wild Things Are- Maurice Sendak
7. Outer Banks- Anne Rivers Siddons
8. Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry- Elizabeth McCracken
9. Haven: the Dramatic Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees & How They Came to America- Ruth Gruber
10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings- Maya Angelou
11. Carter Beats the Devil- Glen David Gold
12. The Final Confessions of Mabel Stark- Robert Hough
13. Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates- Tom Robbins
14. The Wind in the Willows- Kenneth Grahame
15. Ramona Quimby, Age Eight- Beverly Cleary
16. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe- Fanny Flagg
17. Fortunate Son- Lewis B. Puller, Jr.
18. No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years- Sinead McCoole
19. The Outermost House- Henry Beston
20. The Lone Ranger & Tonto Fistfight in Heaven- Sherman Alexie
21. The Prince of Tides- Pat Conroy
22. Anne of Green Gables- L.M. Montgomery
23. In the Castle of the Flynns- Michael Raleigh
24. Johnny Got His Gun- Dalton Trumbo
25. The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic- Penney, Stastny, Whitaker & Rinzler

And honorable mention: Mister Dog- the Dog Who Belonged to Himself by Margaret Wise Brown

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Q is for ...

Q is for... the Queen.

It was going to be Quilting, since my friend LB has recently taken up the craft, but I couldn't think of anything to say about it and then I found these awesome Queen memes that were cracking me the hell up, so here you go.

And a genuinely cool one:

Monday, November 19, 2012

P is for...

Only known documented image of Penny.
P is for Penny.

Not Gary Rith's adorable dog or the claymation chick on Pee Wee's Playhouse.
Not Penny from Big Bang Theory or Penny Marshall or Penny Lane.

Penny is my alter ego. She is also sometimes simply known as "Her."

Penny is sort of my Inner Hulk. Penny does the opposite of what people think "Kerry" would do. Penny will only talk to annoying people at parties through a hand puppet named Atomicat. Penny is so good at Wii Boxing that it makes Brett afraid (more than a little channeling Mike Tyson there). Penny can give you the evil eye with the best of them. Penny will call you out on your bullshit and make you feel like you were just scolded by the most vicious Catholic school nun you've ever met.

Penny also sort of talks like the Hulk: "Penny not know where you go with this joke, but if say "bitches" one more time, Her smash you face."

Penny is a lot like Evelyn Couch's TOWANDA in Fried Green Tomatoes. "Righter of Wrongs, Queen Beyond Compare!" Having an alter ego that subverts people's expectations of you is quite enjoyable. Often, Penny is more the real me than what people see. If you're usually pretty quiet, people get surprised when you do things like lose your temper loudly, punch, and get tattoos. I think the part I liked most about getting my first tattoo was how damned surprised everyone was that I had done something like that.

I keep Penny in reserve, however. Both because she's frankly exhausting, and also because I don't want to lose the element of surprise. Penny is a weapon that must be handled with prudence and caution. It is however, the name I always use when I'm ordering at ShortStop. (Because you never ever use your real name at ShortStop. Never.)

But I've had other names as well. When I was little, I also for a short time went by the name "Kenny." This was, however, solely an issue of practicality, as I couldn't seem to make my "r"s not bend all the way over into "n"s and it just seemed easier to me to change my name than to work on my penmanship. Eventually I got the hang of the letter N and didn't need Kenny anymore, although the name still amuses me.

In high school, my best friend and I called each other "Mrs. Schmenkman" for reasons I can no longer recall.

And as you've read in the header, my dad calls me "Hamchuck."

But sometimes, nothing else will do but "Penny."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

O is for... part two

O is for ... Otters.

I know. How could I do a post about the letter O and not have it be about otters?
For those of you who don't know, I have a huge fascination with otters. I want one. I could spend hours watching them. I love them because they are smart, kind, good swimmers, use tools, and are playful. And then there's this:

While I think all otters are wonderful, I prefer the river otters. They aren't as fluffy and overly cute. They're sharper and maybe a little more mischievous. After all, they are related to weasels, badgers, wolverines and polecats.

An otter's den is called a holt or couch. A male otter is a dog, a female is a bitch, and a baby is a whelp, kit, or pup. The words for a group of otters are bevy, family, lodge or romp or, when in water, raft. A bevy of otters. Yes.

They can live up to 16 years, which is also awesome.

And then of course, there's Emmet Otter.

Otters are literary animals, too, being featured in Brian Jaques' Redwall series, Ring of Bright Water, and remember that Hermione Granger's patronus in the Harry Potter books was an otter.

Yeah, this post was pretty much just a chance for me to look at pictures of otters.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

O is for ...

I had to wait until today to do this post because O was either going to be for "Obama!" or "Oh hell no!"

If you read this blog or my Facebook page, you know where I stand and that my guy won the race. I make no bones about being a left-leaning liberal and I don't think that that "L word" is a dirty word or an epithet. These are simply the things I believe in, the way my experiences have shaped me and the conclusions I've come to over the course of my life.

And I think it's our inclination as humans to seek out others who share our beliefs and feelings. Therefore, obviously, the vast majority of my close friends and the people I keep company with share the same idealogies as me.

So when I was reading Facebook friends' and former classmates' posts this morning about their sorrow over Romney losing the election, I was again puzzled. Especially the women. For me, it made complete sense for women NOT to support someone who has opposed the Violence Against Women Act, for example. I was curious about these other women's beliefs that made them think Romney was the better candidate and would serve them better.

I put a call out on my Facebook page this morning asking them to share with me why. Hopefully, it came across as respectfully as it was meant, and hopefully, if they are friends with me, even if it's just "Facebook" friends, they would understand I wouldn't be rude or disparaging to them after they had shared with me.

Well,as of 8:17p.m. tonight, I have one response! Yay! And I'm happy to say it's thoughtful and serious and I greatly appreciate this woman sharing her thoughts with me. I think she explained her reasons very well:

The main reason I voted for the Romney/Ryan ticket was our national debt and spending issues. Many people seemed to dislike Mitt Romney simply because he was rich and successful and to me I would never begrudge anyone for being rich and successful- if you work hard and earn it- then great for you!!! I voted for him because I felt that he did a great job as a Governor and had a great business mind and could better fix the issues with our economy. Obama bailed out Wall Street and the auto makers- but what about everyone else? While I am all for helping out someone who is down on their luck I feel that there are way too many people that make a lifestyle off entitlements and benefits that were never meant to be permanent. I worry about the future of our country and what my Daughter will have to struggle with as an adult. 

I am also not a believer in ObamaCare. I have already seen the negative aspects of it with companies not hiring full time employees so they do not have to offer health care to them. I certainly do not want a panel of 15 people telling me what I can or can not have for my health care. With that being said I do like that it covers the pre-existing conditions and children until age 26. 

One area where I did not agree with Romney was with some of the social issues. I am pro choice and do not believe government has any right to tell any woman what she can or can not do in regards to her own body. I voted for Romney because I felt he was the choice where most of my values were in line with his. 

Hope this helps and I think it is great that you want to know why others have the opinions they do. I just had a nice conversation with a co-worker yesterday on why her choice would be for Obama and I found it interesting. I would never try to sway someone to vote another way- I am just glad to hear they are going to exercise their right to vote. That is the important thing.

I have to say, for lack of a better phrase, having this conversation is STINKING AWESOME. How much better a country would we be, how much kinder a country would we be, how much SMARTER a country would we be if we all tried to figure out where the people with disagree with are coming from instead of just calling them names?

It seems like there is a great deal of horrified backlash to the viciousness that came out of our post-election hangover and I think that's a good thing. I think it signals that we're sick of this constant fighting and belittling and general atmosphere of mean-spiritedness toward anyone who thinks differently than we do. I hope other people are motivated to work to tear down the fences between "us" and "them" and at the very least, provide a good example for our elected representatives on how to get along and work together.

Enough preaching. It was exciting to be so involved in an election and to see others FINALLY motivated to vote as well. I've always been fascinated by the Presidency. My feminist awakening happened because of the Presidency. However it came to be, as a very small child, I was obsessed by the US Presidents. I think it may have come from a set of ancient illustrated children's encyclopedias my parents had found at a yard sale. I think, honestly, most of my education came from poring over these books. (I would say that about 90% of my knowledge of 20th century history came from Life Magazine's 50th anniversary issue. Seriously.) I read every single volume (although we were missing one or two) and I was absolutely captivated by the highest office in our country.

A relative, knowing of my interest, brought me a ruler with all the US presidents and their dates of office on it as a gift when they were visiting. I remember going up to my dad and whispering to him, "They gave me the wrong one." He looked at the ruler and then back at me, puzzled. "I want the one with the girl presidents. These are all the boy presidents."

So the poor man had to explain to me that there had never been a female president of the United States, and had to deal with the fallout from the tantrum (maybe better described as a hissy fit) I threw upon learning this fact. He tried to soothe me by saying, "Maybe you could be the first! If you work really hard and use the talents you have, maybe you could be the first girl president and then there would be more after you."

So for many many years, until I was well into my teens and had a better idea of what the job entailed, when I was asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?" my response was not the expected 'a ballerina,' 'a mommy,' or 'a nurse,' but "the first woman President of the United States of America." I have such affection for Amy Poehler's character Leslie Knope on Parks & Recreation because I think Leslie and I were basically the same child.

(I also became a feminist at an early age when I found out 'girls play softball, boys play baseball.' It did not seem fair in the least that I would be forced to play with a "soft ball" just because I was a girl. I wanted to be a NY Yankee, dammit, not play with a "soft ball" which would probably be pink to boot.)

So, in closing, I'd like to offer some wisdom about how we all need to work together and overcome our differences for the good of our country, but frankly, other people have said it better, I'm drained from being up so late last night, and I need a good margarita. It's been a helluva ride.

PS- My brother Kevin is a HUGE Obama fan and he had some choice words for my sister about Mitt Romney after he voted. It's funny as all hell, but I hesitate to put it here on my blog because people who don't know Kevin and his unique way with words might misunderstand, so email me at hatgirl at mac dot com if you're interested and I'll tell you what he said. (For reference, see my Kevinisms post.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"... before I lose patience with you, Francis!"

When you work with seniors, you learn patience. Copious amounts of patience. Bucketloads of patience. You learn to smile and be kind when you have to repeat yourself, well, repeatedly, either because the person you're speaking to is hearing impaired or memory impaired or both. You resist the urge to hurry them along or snap because after all, would you want someone speaking to your grandma like that? So when someone comes along who tests MY good nature? Anyone else would've strangled her with an electrical cord or given her a Glasgow Smile with a grapefruit spoon.

I received a call today from a woman interested in our latest construction project- she was on our website, saw information about our patio homes and wanted to come in and see them. That's wonderful, I told her, except they haven't been built yet. We just began the ground clearing this week.

"So you don't have one I can see?"
"No, ma'am, they haven't been built yet."
"I don't mind if it's not finished, I just want to take a look."
"There are no structures yet. Just mud and a lot of sawdust."
"So you don't have one I can check out?"
"No. They haven't begun construction yet."
"When will they be done?"
"If everything goes according to plan, late next fall."
"So I could move in around May or June?"
"No, ma'am. The construction may be partially finished at that point, but they will not be ready to move in until late fall- you know, October, most likely November- at the earliest."

 Then she decides she's interested in our apartments. She wants me to read everything to her over the phone. Now, if this was a person who was legally blind perhaps, that would be acceptable. But she has given clear indication that her eyes do indeed work. I told her that absolutely everything she could possibly want to see is on our website. She can look at floor plans, see measurements and dimensions, see pictures of what kinds of and sizes of furniture will comfortably fit into said apartments. I already had proof that she had been to our website, as that is how she got my name and phone number, as well as the initial information on the patio homes, in order to call me in the first place.

"Tell me again how to go to your website. I don't remember how I got there."
"Let me spell it out for you- it's a little confusing. It's w-w-w-dot-i-t-h-a-c-a...."
"Yes, Ithacacare, go on," she interrupts.
"Well, no, that's the mistake most people make. Not "Ithaca-care." It's just IthacareLongview. Let me spell it again. I-t-h-a-c-a-r..."
"Ithacacare Longview dot com. Okay. I got it."
*silence, as blood pressure starts to rise*
"It's not working."
"What's on your screen?"
"Ma'am, let's try that again. w-w-w-dot-i-t-h-a-c-a-r-e-l-o-n-g-v-i-e-w-dot-com."
"Yes," (getting frustrated with me) "Ithacacare dot com."
"No, ma'am. Not 'ithacacare'. Let's try it one more time."
"I know I'm typing it right."
"Well, ma'am, you're mispronouncing it as you read it back to me, so I'm thinking maybe it's being misspelled. There's only one 'C.'"
"No, I don't think so."
"Let's try something else. Let's do a search instead. Go to your search box and type 'longview + ithaca.'"
"Plus? Like in math?"
"Yes. It will help narrow the results. There's a city in Texas named Longview that comes up first if you don't add the '+ Ithaca'."
"It didn't work."
"What appeared on the page after you searched?"
"Try it again?"
"Ma'am, you are typing in the search box to your right, not the address box, correct?"
"Type 'longview + ithaca' in the search box, then click on the little magnifying glass."
"Oh. Okay. Hmm. This doesn't look like what I saw before. This doesn't have what you said would be there."
"What do you see?"
"It just says 'Longview Retirement Homes.' It looks different from what I saw before."
"That's not our page. We don't call ourselves a Retirement Home and we don't use that language on our website. I think you're at ads on the search results page. Look down the page- you should see a choice that says 'longview-home.' That's us. Click on that one."
"What are you seeing?"
"Ma'am, what browser are you using?"
"Windows 7."
"No, ma'am. What program? Explorer? Firefox?"
"Oh, Explorer."
"Okay, I just opened Explorer myself. I just typed 'longview + ithaca' in the search window, clicked enter, and now I'm on a page with a list of sites. The fifth one down- the one that says 'Home- Longview.' That's us. So I click on that link, and there's our website."
"Oh. Okay. Yes, this is the one I saw before."

I should mention here that this was the first of EIGHT calls this woman made to me today, all in the span of two hours. While looking at the floor plans on her computer, she wanted me to describe the space to her as if she were walking through it. And we had a repeat of the whole conversation about when the patio homes project would be finished. NEARLY WORD FOR WORD.
"So I could move in in late spring, around May or June?"
"No, ma'am. The construction will be well along at that point, but the patio homes will not be ready to move in until late fall- most likely November- at the earliest."

I also realized something else in the course of these phone calls. Americans are greedy with our space. Nothing is ever spacious enough for us. I'm sure that has something to do with the vast expanse of our country; small countries like Ireland are happy with small homes that are efficient with what little space they have. This woman- who was going to be living alone and did not plan on having frequent company or visitors- did not feel that a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment would be enough space for her. I asked if she was planning on using one of the bedrooms as a studio or office; she said no. She just wanted the space. She also asked if I was absolutely sure that we didn't have a two-bedroom TWO AND A HALF BATHROOM apartment in our community. ("Oh my gosh! Here it is! It's been hiding behind the drapes! Silly me for not noticing.") In addition to being rather insulted that she thought I could've forgotten that we have another category of apartment, I had a bigger question: WHAT THE HELL WAS THIS WOMAN GOING TO DO WITH THREE TOILETS ALL TO HERSELF???? Do you really need more than a one-toilet-per-person ratio in your living quarters?

Our residents have to deal with downsizing and simplifying their lives when they move to our community. And yes, it is difficult taking the contents of a multiple-bedroom house and making it fit into a three-room apartment. But nearly all of them tell me how much they had come to love the results, even if the process was hard. The freedom they feel from getting rid of unwanted, unused, unneeded things that were cluttering their lives enables them to do the things they've always wanted to do but didn't have time for, like painting, exercise, taking classes, traveling. They all seem to feel that having to downsize and simplify was a huge gift that has allowed them to live a richer, fuller life. I only hope it will be the same for this woman.

And that she stops calling me.