Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy Old Year! By: Karen Pilarski

My husband and I ringing in a new year.
On the cusp of a new year yet it still hinges on the old. Many embrace it with resolutions and cheer. I always have moments of melancholy with a sip of champagne.

Somehow the concoction leaves the stomach jumbled up and in knots.

My family's New Year's Eve consisted of eating junky and fattening treats. Dick Clark's Rockn' Eve was a requirement to our night.

On a piece of paper I secretly wrote out wishes for the next year. The wishes were always to get out of the poverty conditions we resided in. Foolishly and with childlike aptitude, I wanted to win the lottery.

As time neared midnight we found pots and pans with large wooden spoons.

No expensive shiny hats or noise makers, just children on an extreme sugar high. The plan was to sprint out of the house and make a raucous for a whole minute.

The ball dropped in the newly born year in New York. My younger siblings forgot the East coast was a hour ahead of Wisconsin. They started to grab jackets and were quickly corrected about time difference.

The ball dropping was aired again at 11:30 to allow other locations to have the countdown. As the ball dropped there was a rush of activity. Jackets and boots were flying around as little feet ran through the house. The wooden spoons and pots clinked and banged against walls.

 5,4,3,2...thump, thump, slam! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Screaming and banging pans, jumping up and down on the porch occurred. We shouting and yelled until our throats hurt and the people across the street told us to shut up.

There would always be a drunk neighbor sprinting through the snow banks with bare feet joining in. When the minute and our moment of freedom ended, we were told to shush and get back in the house.

Oddly, I felt sad about previous year. Even as a school girl, the year felt unfinished. What had I accomplished within the past year? What would happen in the new year?
Me, my niece and nephew and step daughter.
Resolutions seemed trivial to me. Self made promises to do something differently but why was it not attempted before?

If unsuccessful there would be either a period of unfulfilled feelings or indifference.

Equally as foolish was putting all my energy to wishing for my family to strike it rich. It is wonderful to have hopes and dreams.

I still have outlandish wants and hopes. It is what keeps looking forward to a new start.

The old year is often rejected and tossed out like yesterday's news. Of course there are year in review articles and reflections in the media. What about on a personal level? 2013 wasn't my greatest but can anyone say they had the best year ever?

A year in our lives is similar to melancholy and champagne. The taste had a splash of regret, with a burst of fizzy hopeful feelings that tickles the nose. Somehow the concoction gives due to the old year but the new energy flows like a cork after it is popped.

The mind altering sensation goes to the head and the room feels as if it is spinning. Drunk on happiness and excitement the new year is warmly welcomed.

The next day instead of acting depressed, New Years Day is spent with anticipation. However, let us not forget the residue of last year in the form of a hangover and greasy pizza boxes.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Milwaukee Family Christmas By: Karen Pilarski

Over the past decade I have felt more Scrooge/Grinch than Cindy Loo Who or Tiny Tim. I used to love Christmas even though underneath the fake tree was empty most years.

As a poor family we didn't have much. My mom did manage to buy gifts for us but my father's holiday spirit was misguided. He would let us kids have our holiday gifts weeks before Christmas.

The toys weren't even in Christmas theme wrapping paper yet. Mom would cry "There, Christmas is ruined!"

When Christmas Eve would come, I would wish Santa would visit our house. A child of a mere eight years of age would tip toe across the cold hard floor. Head would drop down in sadness when nothing would be underneath the tree.

All the holidays were not that bad. My favorite Christmas memory was when we lived in West Allis,Wisconsin.

At that time my parents were renting a big house by City Hall. For whatever reason my father stayed in check with his 'generosity.' I'm not sure if it was because my parents had just remarried each other. Whatever the case was, dad was on his best behavior.

The rage at the time was Cabbage Patch Kids. Those hard heads with yarn hair. The dolls buttocks were signed by the adoption guy. My two sisters and I wanted one in the worst way.

My brothers enjoyed He-Man and Inspector Gadget cartoons and wanted action figures. The younger siblings wanted a playhouse to escape to.

Christmas Eve mom put out platters of cookies and other treats. It is funny that even as an adult I still crave those food items mom used to make. There is not a fudge on earth that holds a candle to mom's fudge. She just found the recipe on a can of evaporated milk. My grandma's orange chip dip. Not as in the fruit. It had a orange hue to it. My personal favorite was the powdered sugar sandies.

My sisters put out cookies and milk with a note. "Dear Santa, Are you real? We love you, can we have a puppy?"  

That evening we watched Christmas movies and suddenly mom turned off the television. "If you want Santa to come you need to go to bed." Thunderous feet ran up the stairs. I shared a room with my sisters. My brothers shared a room to. Think the "Brady Bunch" but not so much Brady.

My older brother peaked downstairs at one point and ran in the girl's room "I saw him, I saw Santa!" We laughed at him and told him he was overtired.

In the morning my younger sister was flicking my nose with her finger. "Get up so we can open presents." Groggily I walked in the hallway and was greeted by all my other siblings.

We tiptoed down the stairs. Maybe we were afraid somehow Santa was still enjoying cookies and may snatch the gifts away.

The Christmas tree had the popcorn strings along it that we made the following week. Tinsel was twisted with the blinking tree lights. Glass ornaments sparked and brushed up against the real pine needles.

Underneath the tree were gifts and stockings with each child's name on it. The plate of cookie had crumbs and half eaten cookies. The glass of milk was no reduced to dried milk residue at the bottom of the glass. The note said "Dear kids, yes I am real. I love you too. No puppy, nice try."

My parents came into the living room and allowed us to open gifts.

 It is funny as an adult watching other people opening gifts. Most people have a system in place. Each person takes a turn opening a gift. In my family, it was a bit unorthodox.

We rummaged through the gifts and started tearing open wrapping paper. Giggles, shrieking and paper flying everywhere.

My sisters jumped up and down holding a package with wrapping paper still stuck to it. They were clutching their Cabbage Patch Kids. Inside I was fuming. Where the hell was my doll?!! Crestfallen I kicked a empty box. The younger siblings were enjoying running in and out of the playhouse. My brothers were making Inspector Gadget fight battles with their He-Man figures.

"There is a box under the tree skirt Karen." My mom smirked. I looked and there was a box with shiny red and green stripped wrapping paper. The handwritten tag read "To Karen, From Santa," I opened up the box to find my Cabbage Patch Kid.

My older sister's doll was white with blonde yarn hair. She filled out her adoption papers. The name on the paper was Amber Elizabeth. She changed it immediately to "Chrissy Tripper."

Years later we made fun of her for mixing up the name of Chrissy Snow on "Three's Company."

I was given a black doll. She was beautiful. Her brown yarn hair was in pony tails with white ribbons. Her blue corduroy jumper was in front of a white top with a lacy collar. Her white shoes and white socks had no sign of use. Her dimples with the blushed cheek made her smile the more warm. Her brown eyes like mine were big and sparkled. I named her Cherry from "Punky Brewster" television show. 

Mom also gave us homemade doll clothes she made and some doll furniture.

That Christmas stood out to me not because of the gifts, but the warm feeling from the togetherness.

 In my adult years I miss having all my siblings together. Even when there were no gifts to open, there was something special about having people to commiserate with. I loved saving up babysitting money and buying gifts for people in my family.

As it happens with many families there are hurt feelings, spats and geographical distances that keep people apart. There were a few years in college when I spent my holiday alone in my dorm room.

Sometimes a sibling would have people over but not all of us would be in the same room. 

After I was married, my husband worked many Christmas days. On Christmas it was just me and my husband until he had to work.

His family has the traditional Christmas Eve party which helps. The familiar giggles and loudness put a band aid on the sore spot. However, I still long for the days of all my siblings sitting around the living room acting goofy.

My stepchildren spend Christmas eve with us but go home that night to their mom. My husband insists they take turns opening one gift at a time. Maybe one day I can get him to go rouge and allow the flurry of boxes and paper to fly around like a tornado.

We just moved into a rented house and all of our money was spent paying rent, getting a Uhaul truck and countless other expenses.

Gifts don't look like an option for the kids this year. Even though they get many gifts from their mom, relatives and my relatives. I feel horrible because I know what it feels to wake up with nothing under the tree. Maybe this is a good lesson for them. There are many people who are in worse shape than I was in my youth.

My stepchildren are not little kids, 13 and 15 years old. I had an idea last night. Perhaps each of us take some money and spent it on someone else for a change. Christmas is not about gifts but about togetherness. Maybe this is the year I shed my Scrooge like attitude and fully get into the spirit of the holidays.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Guest Post: Walking in a Single (Winter) Wonderland By: Melany Berger

I am so honored that Karen (a total Rockstar btw) wanted me to do a guest post on her blog. It took me long enough but my word is my word and here it is.

When asked what topic she wanted for the post she quickly replied with, “What life is like being single during the holiday season?” and I know a thing or two about this topic (unfortunately or fortunately).
In a perfect world I would love to have a kickass companion, boyfriend, mate, or husband along with a perfectly trained dog to spend the holidays with (aren’t they the same? No? Oh).
In this ideal world, I envision a magnificently prepared turkey with all of its delicious accompaniments (and no calories), fantastically decorated tree and/or a beautifully lit menorah, frolicking in the snow and smooching under the mistletoe, and someone perfect to plant a huge kiss on at the stroke of midnight welcoming in 2014.
 But, let’s be honest. Who really has that? Isn’t the grass always greener? 

The holidays (all of them) bring so much pressure to find the perfect gift that it becomes another job to people.
For example, yesterday I was pushed out of the way to buy a new microwave at Best Buy. People are frantically rushing around like rabid squirrels trying to get the newest, best and biggest nut for their loved ones.
No thank you!
I did not even wait for the salesgirl to roll the mic out of the door because she would rather be anywhere else than working during the holiday season.
 I could tell this because of the 8 bites of cake I saw her shove in her face while impeding her sticky fingers from ringing me up at the register. Transaction complete. So, I did what any independent/annoyed person would do. I bent down like a weight lifter (from the waist), grabbed the appliance and ran out of there to get home and away from all the madness on the road.
I can do this because I don’t HAVE to get a significant other a present because I am single. Joy to the world. And, I don’t have to pretend to like a present from my significant other that I secretly hate and will re-gift to my #1 frienemy for her birthday next year.

In addition to the quest for the perfect gift (that your mate will end up storing on a shelf somewhere in their garage or wear to the company holiday ugly sweater party) there is the pressure of creating a perfect date night, dinner, trip or whatever grandiose idea you think you SHOULD do to celebrate the holidays. The lines are long, service is horrific, drinks are watered down and the food always sucks.

Being single is great because I don’t have to wear nylons, heels, or makeup and I can eat whenever and however much of what I want without worrying about spilling or losing the curl in my hair or the gloss on my lips.

Also, I don’t have to worry about getting a ride home and I actually get to see the ball drop at midnight because there is no one else watching TV in my house besides my dog, Teddy Brewski.

But, the best part of being single on the holidays is kissing someone new (or more than one if you are lucky) each year when the ball drops and clock strikes 12:00. So, cheer up my single comrades. Also, Mom always said you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince…, don’t argue with her because she knows best.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Y" By: Karen Pilarski

Of all the words in our world the one with the biggest effect is 'why'. The smallest words are often heavy with meaning.

Such a short word but causes the most conflict and uneasiness. I've been inquiring 'why' frequently over the past year. My moods go up in down like a bumpy ride, my trip is traced along the 'w' in 'why'.

Reflecting back on the Sandy Hook shooting my brain is overwhelmed with all the anger and pain of those little ones being taken from their families. My heart aches for children being abused or molested.  

Why do adults hurt children? 

How was I to fathom a mere six months later the same thing would be asked again? Only this time it struck closer to home.

When bad things happen there is more questions than answers beyond reach high above the 'h' in 'Why'. From my own experience the ones in the wrong simply pull excuses out of a hat and present it as fact.

If the contents of my head could be revealed it would show question marks and exclamation points. 

At the root of the term is the connection to the person saying it.

What it comes down to is the urge to know the reason something happened. If the term 'why' is spelled out phonetically, there is an emphasis on on the 'y' that sounds like 'I.' We want to know because it helps us to cope with emotionally exhausting ordeals. 

I want to know why.

I tend to say I don't know when asked why. I'm not indifferent nor insensitive to the person requesting information. 

With all my heart I want to understand what goes through people's heads and why choices are made. That is their cross to bear.

I'm not sure which is more troubling, the not knowing or the burden of knowing why. The trauma of both outcomes lingers and hangs there like the 'y' at the end.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Um, No One Asked You. By: Karen Pilarski

To be a successful writer a person needs to develop a thick skin. The tidbit of advice was offered to staff writers on my college newspaper when I was editor. An editor's main job is to make articles for a newspaper polished and ready for print.

In my experience as a writer and editor there have been people who lacked the tough and firm skin needed to accept constructive criticism. In the career of a writer, the ego has to be left at the door.

There was a student who wrote an article and it needed to be punched up a bit. I chewed on a pencil and started typing away. Sentences were shortened and cleaner language was inserted.

Her article was published in the paper but she was not a happy camper. Sobbing she ran to the faculty adviser of the paper. The protest and wailing was over the use of a few words she didn't know the meaning of. The article was not an editorial but a feature article.

The next day the faculty adviser mentioned to the whole staff what an editor does. An editor's job is to make the writer look good.

My work has often been edited and changed up. Once the work is delivered to the editor it is literally out of the writer's hands.

I did a feature story as a freelancer about a local festival a few years ago. I was able to detect a bigger story than just covering a day at the fest. Through interviews with organizers and volunteers I found that the proceeds were shared with other organizations.  I typed up my story and emailed it to the editor.

When it came out the article was different than what I sent to the editor. She had polished it and added splashier terms. You know what? I was happy that she took the time to make my writing shine.

My story was published on the front page!

One of my pet peeves is someone rudely correcting a person's grammar. That and inconsiderate pedestrians who don't say thank you when the door is held open for them. Both irritants make me want scream until lungs no longer produce breath.

The topic is hot button issue for many writers.  Recently a journalist friend posted a link to an article by Hillary Kelly titled "The Best Response to Grammar Nazis, Ever Stephen Fry nails it."

She discusses the annoyance of random and anonymous finger pointers. The non writers with too much time on their hands who pick part every error.

Kelly stated "  It's occasionally embarrassing, but I can usually shrug it off. After all, I'm not the only one who has accidentally made up a word." She fought back the urge to fight back after being attacked. I understand her pain.

Everyone has that one (or a few) obnoxious friend, husband, uncle that will call you on a language blunder.  The usage of "I seen" or "I saw" suddenly becomes life or death situation that needs to be shared. The so called grammar of greatness suddenly becomes the editor missing from your life.

It is not so much the statement but the delivery that reddens eyes and blow steam from ears.

I don't mind constructive feedback and a mentioning of errors. I welcome a less rude form of pointing out mistakes.

Recently I had a reporter friend offer to edit something for me after reading it. This was fine and appreciated.

Kelly's article included a creative work of art from writer Stephen Fry. Watch the video for yourself below this post.

What it boils down to is the intentions of people suggesting things. Do they really care about prose and quality of the written word? Could it just be a case of an insecure person who wants to feel a sense of superiority? I'm leaning towards the latter.

 Stephen Fry's  "Kinetic Typography"