Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Glass Bottom by: Karen Pilarski

My husband and I went to Jamaica as a graduation present for earning my Master’s Degree. We stayed in Montego Bay after a hurricane. Each day the red flag was out to inform us it was unsafe to do water activities. One day it finally changed to yellow which meant caution. He somehow convinced me to try kayaking against my better judgment.  The kayak was not spacious and had a glass bottom to it. The salty water was choppy and unsettling to me, an apprehensive chicken for life. I attempted to paddle but wasn’t doing it correctly according to my skilled husband. The glass bottom made my vision a bit blurry or maybe it was the cause of the hyperventilating that was happening.  The clouds above us looked murky and rapidly impending.  My husband’s presence made me feel comforted that he was in the same kayak and was thinking we should head back. There is nothing more reassuring than knowing someone is in same boat with you. 

It is difficult to think other people know what the perturbed person is going through.  Often there are generic and meaningless “I know how you feel” statements that fall on deaf ears.  To the ones in that rocky boat hearing “It will get better” offers solace like a ripped life jacket on a sinking ship. What a distressed soul needs is to hear examples of experiences of similar life disasters.  There is something therapeutic in knowing someone familiar is in the same angry water.  A writer contact of mine was expressing doubts about landing a writing gig. Reading his post made me feel less anxious about the self doubt I was experiencing.  When the flood gates opened others came out of the wood work and expressed the same fears and uncertainty. 

My Master’s graduate research study focused on cancer events and motivating volunteers. The one statement that was as loud as a fog horn was that people want to be around others who are having similar issues. There is a need for connection in order to get through the bumpy waves that life creates. From my research I discovered others want a sense of friendship and the ability to openly discuss the inner turmoil that causes stormy emotions.  Saying what disturbs us somehow hushes the thunder of life and makes it more tolerable to bear. When it is understood others are going through it too, something wonderful happens. Miraculously clouds part and the threatening water calms. Behind the puffy gray clouds, the sun pokes out.  

For the first time in a long time there is a sense of peace. The glass bottom no longer causes a migraine. Focus and eye sight are fully restored. It doesn’t matter the color of the warning flag.  As long as someone else is in the same boat the life preserver is not a jacket but is a preserver of hope.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Games We Played by: Karen Pilarski

It is often been said that today’s youth are being brought up as ‘indoor’ children.

Countless hours of Play Station, Facebook, texting and Netflix certainly paved the way for this type of upbringing. Not to sound trite or old, but in ‘my day’ kids were told to go outside all day.

In the summer I was outside playing with the neighborhood children and my siblings. No text messages to tell us to come in. The sign was when the sun went to bed behind the puffy clouds and the street lights lit up the sidewalks. Often I was so engrossed in running around I barely heard the sound of my mom calling us in for dinner.  

Milwaukee was fun for adults, but for a kid in Bay View, not so much. I had creativity on my side to break the dullness of a Saturday.  

 The following are games my brothers and sisters played.  Modifications can be made but it sure beat the mind numbing repetition of clicking on a computer or cell phone.

The first game is Statue. In a large group someone is appointed store owner and another person is the Devil (the customer). The rest of the players are statues. Each person comes up with their character description and whisper in the store keeper’s ear.  Often the statue is something related to popular culture and some mean action. In the 80’s a popular statue was a ninja Bart Simpson or a Tiffany that traps people with bubble gum. 

The devil or customer comes into the outdoor shop and the store owner instructs the devil to wash his hands with holy water. All the statues are posed as the devil strolls around the shop. He randomly asks what a statue is and the store owner asked if he wants to try it out.

The store owner taps the statue and it jolts to life. The store owner says the description and the statue chases around the devil. The devil cries to make it stop. The store owner taps the statue again and it freezes. Although there is no stated goal this game promoted creativity and activity. 

Another game we played was Captain May I?

A Captain is chosen and stands at the front of the yard. Other places are at the end of the yard lined up next to each other.

The Captain takes turns telling each player how many steps and the size of the steps to take. There are baby steps, normal steps, huge scissor steps and leaps. If you forget to ask ‘Captain May I?” you forfeit the turn.  The Captain also can tease a player but denying them after they ask.

The object is to make it up to the Captain to take over control of the yard. This game taught kids how to be polite, counting and how to detect bluffing. 

We also had indoor games when it was rainy or cold. My brothers and sisters played a game called “Sharky.” We would line up the couch cushions on the ground and pretend it was a lilly pad.  

 My brother Tim was always the ‘shark.’ Each of us took turns jumping on the cushions across the living room as the others chanted “Sharky sharky doo doo!” My brother the shark would jump around and try to knock us off the lilly pad. If we fell off we were a shark as well. 

We played other games but we clearly weren’t using common sense but man, we had a ball. We were so poor we couldn’t afford a slip and slide. You know that ugly yellow tarp thing that you skinned your elbows on? As a kid we lived in a house at the time that had a long porch. We sprayed the porch down with water and took turns sliding across the front porch.

One day my twin brother was sliding down our poor man’s slipped and slide when my older brother opened the metal screen door. SLAM!

My twin smacked his face against the door causing a bloody face. Some crying occurred followed by Dad’s shouting. Thus that concluded poor man’s slip and slide. 

Another not so smart game was the first annual doll Olympics. My younger sister and I would toss our dolls in air to see who would make it higher. We made them do somersaults and acrobatic moves.  On the first event my sister threw up her ugly doll with tomato red hair.

To my horror the doll flew and whacked me in the face.  My tooth went flying out. I cried, my sister laughed and Dad once again yelled. My swollen face and defeated pride stopped the fun right there. That was the first and last doll Olympics in our household. 

Lastly we played the dandelion game. We plucked a dandelion off the ground and would recite the following line, “Mama had a baby and the head popped off.” Then we would pop off the head of the dandelion. This generally disturbed babysitters and our parents.

We also would trick the younger kids by claiming we would be able to see if they love butter. We would shove the dandelion under their chins to see if there was a yellow globe. Then promptly rub it on their faces. This game was basically a vehicle to help with yard work and torment younger kids. 

Parents please take these ideas and adapt and modify them into new games for kids to play. Think of how much your electric bill will go down just by having the kids play outside instead of being inside and on your nerves.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Caramels and Pop Rocks with a Chaser of Tab Soda By: Karen Pilarski

It is amazing how certain food or objects from the past are stained with memories of yesterday. With just one whiff of a scent or tease of a taste suddenly takes a person back decades ago. For me it is Werther’s Original Caramels.

It was the 1980’s and I was on my way to my grandparent’s house. At the time there were seven of us kids bunched in the station wagon like sardines. As the years went by there would eventually be nine children. If my parents didn’t pack us in it would take two trips to go anywhere.

I could smell the summer sausage and pop rocks my brother downed in the car.  The crackling and hissing from the cherry candy fizzling in his mouth was grossing me out. Three of my siblings were crying they had to use the bathroom. I was on the hump in the back and the constant shifting and bumping wasn’t helping my full bladder. My family didn’t see my relatives much except during family gatherings. It was a big deal when we did visit with them.

Grandpa and Grandma Schmidt had a modest sized house. One of my favorite parts was the basement. There was a bar and a cool village my grandfather made that had a train go around it. The Christmas tree was up year round. The person who was the life of the party wasn’t a wild cousin or dare devil uncle. It was Grandma Anita! She was no pie making, tight bun wearing granny. She was sassy, cussed and smoked.  She had tight dark curls that she wore in short do.  I didn’t know at the time but Grandma was always ill. As I got older Grandma spent lots of time on the couch.

On the end table was this candy dish that had Werther’s Original Caramels in them.  My brothers and sisters would wait for a piece to be offered to us. The caramel would slowly dissolve on my tongue and sweeten the saliva in my mouth. The candy dish was amber tinted glass. There were geometrical shapes on it. Gently we were told to put the lid back on. The dish screamed 1970’s. When I opened the lid I could almost hear the whisper of someone saying ‘groovy.’ Grandma even though nontraditional wore fuzzy sweaters. The sweaters looked cozy. Grandma had long beautiful nails. She and Aunt Pauline would scratch my back or my arm as a sign of affection.  She had a pretty good array of perfume and nail polish.

In the distance my Grandpa “Bill” would have sports playing softly in the background. Even today the sound of golf or bowling makes my eyes glaze over. In their home nick-knacks were on a shelf in the living room. There was a waxed head with the nose tip chipped off. I wondered who chewed on the nose. Also there was a mini slot machine that my mom would mess with. My grandparents had family portraits all over. Particularly amusing to my sister and I was a family picture of my mom and her siblings. Mom was wearing a hideous shirt that I said looked like had coleslaw spattered on silk.  Aunt Pauline was turned in a way that looked like she was playing a piano. It was tradition to make fun of the picture when we would visit. Of course on the wall was my own family portrait. I had a bowl cut (thanks mom) and my baby brother John was screaming his head off in the picture. My older sister was chewing on her lip.

On the kitchen wall was a homemade family tree. It was made on wood and had a tree swing on it. Small red painted apples with names of family members were on the tree. I was told Grandma painted the names on it. In the backyard was a stump from where a tree was cut down. I loved sitting on that stump. One memory is of Uncle Butch asking me about my Cabbage Patch Kid and not pronouncing the name right. There was also a cool porch swing. On the deck was a big table for the family to sit around under the shade of the big umbrella. My sister would tease Aunt Pauline and call her ‘auntie big nose.’ My aunt would jump up and try to give her a ‘wedgie’.   On the table was Grandma’s chips and homemade dip. It was French dressing, onion, milk and cream cheese. Even in my thirties I enjoy this family party staple.

For some reason my grandparents thought offering us a soda was a treat. It wasn’t a coke or root beer. It was Tab soda. It didn’t taste right to us kids. Even my aunt offered it to us by her house. I think they thought we were strange for turning down soda. It tasted that rancid.

The funny thing is how my grandparent’s influenced my family and even today. My grandparents have long since passed.  My aunt Pauline and Uncle Butch have passed as well. Their legacy and personality still touches us in subtle ways.

I love nick-knacks and family pictures. I have the candy dish now in my house. On my wall in the hallway is that family tree I admired. I love fuzzy sweaters and the sound of a golf game on television is comforting. When I look at those things I still crave a caramel and the days past when I was squeezed in a hot car on the road to see the grandparents.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My ‘Not So Finest’ Moment By: Karen Pilarski

I thought about Gerard Butler’s recent snafu in judgment. He admitted to sleeping with a reality star Brandi Glanville and not remembering her full name. I could almost visualize the huge egg on his face. Though smiling the slime of the yoke dripped off his chiseled chin. It sounded as if Butler did this in retaliation for Glanville’s public kiss and tell. Butler eventually made amends. It is not just famous faces that do foolish things. While I’d like to think I’m always at my best. I am not. Everyone has their own ‘not so finest moment’.   

My husband and I were at my niece’s school concert. Little did we know but several grades were performing. The auditorium was packed with screaming kids and flustered parents gripping their cameras. There weren’t enough seats for everyone. My feet were sore from wearing my high heels all day. There I was crabby, sore and tired. Stupidly I didn’t change before the concert.  My husband and I were less than thrilled to be pushed to the back to stand and watch. Each grade as we found out sang five songs each. At one point we walked around the school. I heard my niece sing and took blurry pictures from waaaayyyy in the back. 

I thought the opportunity to leave would be after her class was done. Nope. Apparently a few more grades had to sing and then they would do an all school song.  During the all school song my niece didn’t even make it to the stage. She was in the aisle singing! We felt irritable and just wanted to go.

 I was staring off into space when I heard a commotion behind me. Some pushy lady was screaming at my husband! Apparently she told him to move and because it was so crowded he couldn’t. He explained there was no room and she was still ranting at him. I don’t know what came over me. Maybe it was the claustrophobia or I was just stressed. Whatever the reason was I glared at her and hissed “Who the hell do you think you are talking to my husband like that?!” She then started yelling at me saying he should have moved. My face became red hot as did my temper. She proceeded to yell at me and hurl insults so I gave it back to her. I called her a name and told her to be quiet. I was ready to take off my blasted high heel and fling it at her. However, we didn’t come to blows. Finally a parent next to me got between us and yelled at the lady to shut up and she should have more manners. Then she said the following to the ranting lunatic: “There are children here, I will pray for you.”  That right there made me feel very small and just dumb. I bet that is how many people feel when they make a bad choice. Just plain dumb. 

Embarrassed at my judgment I wanted to stick my head in the ground. We all have our limits as to how far we can be pushed. As adults we can act as juvenile as our children. In stores adults fight over toys during the Christmas season. At football games people yell at another parent’s kids that they stink at football. People yell at you to keep your kids quiet in church. Oh yeah, IN CHURCH. While it is important to set a good example it is also equally important to show that adults have bad days and bad choices. Luckily my snafu wasn’t noticed much over the crowd rushing to leave after the performance. I got out unscathed but in the rear view mirror in the car I detected a trace of egg on my own face.

Monday, March 11, 2013

It’s a Sad Day When Facebook is a Better Listener By: Karen Pilarski

Have you ever walked down a hall and someone passes you by and says “Hi, how are you?” They don’t stop to wait for the answer. In fact before lips part to make a sound the person is long gone. Another scenario is mumbling out a response such as “Ok, I guess.” The person responds with “That’s good” as they quickly vanish from sight. I wonder why people seem to care less now. Even Facebook is courteous and asks how I’m doing. It seems there are more responses coming from a white text box than an actual human being. What happened to the art of listening?

Listening requires more than just hearing words and nodding. It requires ‘listening’ to the other person’s non verbal cues. Is the person covering their face as if to say they want to hide from everyone? Is the breath full of long deep pauses? It is understandable each person’s world is full of commotion and noise. Constant beeping of phones and blinking messages in the email take up time. For that troubled soul, all that is needed is a sympathetic smile or just simply asking how they are and waiting for an answer. I would think a person could take the second to do this.

I went to the doctor today and it might as well been done over the phone or via email. The doctor didn’t ask what was new and just wanted to get the general exam done. I’ve been to this doctor for years! I mentioned I felt run down and tired and the doctor simply just mentioned “Oh, well I’ll check your blood tests.” There was no asking if I have been stressed or having lack of sleep. The doctor didn’t listen. The doctor just wanted to get through with exam quick and go to the next appointment.

When a person is constantly ignored they become upset and that built up frustration can explode. I was working in a job where people just cared about themselves and their own lives. They wanted people to ask how they were doing but the sentiment wasn’t reciprocated. When I would try to discuss a problem or issue it was swatted away like an annoying fly. One day I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed. I literally went into my boss’s office and said I quit. I wasn’t done, I proceeded to sob. Sob in my boss’s office. Major Oprah ugly cry. Half of my makeup ended up in streaks down my face. He didn’t have a tissue.  Luckily he closed the door and just let me vent. The flood gates were open and I told him about how badly my colleagues were treating me, how unappreciated I felt and that I felt no one cared about what was going on with me. He just stared and didn’t say a word. We talked and I took back my emotional resignation. I felt better because finally, someone didn’t just turn a cheek.

I think this is the allure of social media. It seems when you put yourself and your thoughts out there people give an immediate response. Yet it seems a bit fake and forced. When a status is ‘liked’ do you really know what the person is feeling? On Twitter, a link to an article is posted. What was the thinking behind posting it? Texting is the same way. I had a friend text and asked if I was okay after canceling our plans. I texted yes and she replied “Really?” I love her like a sister but call if you really want to know. Hearing my voice is a sure fire way to know if I’m really okay. Yes, I was really okay in case my readers or my bff are curious.

Before cell phones and instant messaging we had these cool things called phones. They were attached to a spiral cord. You had to sit in the house on the phone. The cord would become bunched up and twisted. Time was spent trying to solve the puzzle of undoing the tangled mess. I recall crying my heart out to sincere friends on the other line. If the beep of call waiting would sound, it was simply ignored. Of course you would hear about it from your angry mother or moody older sister. The punishment and nuisance was worth it to have someone really hear you and feel those emotions. Tomorrow when you pass a person in the hall give yourself a five second delay and listen to what comes after “How are you?”