Posted in response to Safety First, a prompt asking “Share the story of a time you felt unsafe”

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Once when I was in my early teens, I awoke to hear very heavy breathing outside my bedroom door. I immediately began to frantically formulate a plan to thwart the evil plan of the drooling maniac in our upstairs hallway.

I seriously contemplated options, and envisioned my grizzly demise for a good 5 minutes before hearing a startle, a cough, and my parents bed squeaking, and then silence. I realized that the heavy breathing was nothing more than my snoring dad, whose head was directly opposite mine behind the wall of my bedroom. He’d woken himself up and rolled over to go back to sleep.

I was both relieved and ashamed that I had been so stupid and gullible.

Speaking of being stupid and gullible, another time I felt unsafe was when I stupidly made an appointment with a “photographer.” He had approached my girlfriend and me in New York City, saying we would be perfect for a project he was working on. My friend thanked him and declined, but I agreed to talk with him.

The day of the appointment something was gnawing at me, so I followed my gut and I called to cancel. Rather than being amiable or nonchalant about the news of my no-show, he was furious. He began screaming at me, cursed me out and hung up the phone. I’ve always been thankful that I listened to my instincts…I’m wondering if I would’ve wound up floating in the East River had I not.

I also remember feeling very vulnerable when I would come home late at night. The walk from my car to my front door at 3 a.m. seemed a mile long, and lined with creeps and perverts waiting in the bushes to pounce on me.

So I formed a little strategy. I would talk to a neighbor that wasn’t there. I’d raise a hand and say, “Hey Tony, it’s late to be walking your dog! I’m just getting home myself!”

Or, I’d talk to my mom as if she were sitting on the porch-anything to make a thug waiting in the darkness think that I was not any easy mark. If he tried to grab me, there’d be a witness…in theory.

I can’t imagine what it would feel like to really be in trouble. Like life or death trouble. I mean, I really thought I was a goner that night that I heard the breathing outside my door, but I was just a stupid kid with an overactive imagination.

To know true terror is something I don’t wish on anyone…but it happens every day. Kids abducted, innocent people shot by lunatics with guns, muggings, rapes.

I’ve managed to dodge that bullet for 51 years. And I hope to God my kids learn to dodge it too – or that I’m around to take the bullet for them.

 

A few years ago I blogged about seeing the original Star Wars, and with the newest installment in the theaters, I thought I’d repost it.

Because my 13 year old daughter is totally psyched to see it, and I’m curious to see if she will be left with the same sense of wonder and amazement I was when I saw the first movie back in 1977.

Of course her experience could never be cooler than mine was…

Originally posted on 7/24/2012

When I was 12 I saw a commercial for a new movie that was coming out, and it looked really bad.

It was for Star Wars.

If you’ve ever seen the original trailer/commercial for the movie, you might know where I’m coming from. It looked BORING. You can view the trailer here if you’ve never seen it. So with no plan to spend my allowance on that movie I put Star Wars behind me. But it wouldn’t be for long.

When I was a kid, I was pretty good friends with Andrew Shalit, son of NBC’s film critic Gene Shalit. While having a dad with connections must be a grand thing, having a friend with a dad with connections is nothing to sneeze at either.

Andrew invited me and roughly 6 other friends to come into New York City to see a private showing of, what else? Star Wars. While I was not thrilled about the film we were going to see, I was pretty excited to hang out in the city with my friends. I was not going to miss this just because the movie looked a little dull.

We took a van into mid-town Manhattan and were let off at a large office building. Hmmmm. I was expecting a theater. We took the elevators to an unknown floor/office where we were then ushered into a little tiny theater.

It had a big screen, but only 4 rows of seats, and maybe 6-8 chairs in each row. This alone was worth the trip to see the boring movie. I’d never been in a private screening room. I’m not sure if I even knew they existed.

Before long the lights went down and the movie began. 121 minutes later I emerged from that little theater in love with Luke Skywalker and wanting to be exactly like Princess Leia.

Except for the hair.

We were each given a T-shirt that had the Star Wars logo or the phrase “May the force be with you.” I chose the one with the Star Wars logo. What a great bonus to an already awesome day.

When we were dropped off back in our home town, my friends and I played jedis vs. stormtroopers on the walk home, using sticks for light sabers and rolling/running over people’s lawns and across streets. I don’t think the movie had even hit the theaters yet, and I was already hooked.

I bought a few movie stills to hang in my room and spent that summer falling in and out of lust for both Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. I think I saw the movie a few more times in the theater as well. But, that’s where the love ended. I saw Empire Strikes Back along with the rest of the world, but hated the ending. How dare they cliff hang me with at least a year to wait for the outcome.

Return of the Jedi was good, but neither that or Empire Strikes Back grabbed me in the same way Star Wars did. I also did not like any of the prequels. Jar Jar Binks was fucking annoying as hell, and the story didn’t interest me in the least.

I never jumped on the Star Wars saga bandwagon. You’ll won’t find me at Comicon dressed as Darth Nihilus (Stern fans may giggle at that), and I don’t collect the figurines. But if that wonderful, original, innovated film from 1977 is on television, I’ll grab my kids, pop some corn and plop on the couch to escape in to space for 121 minutes.

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Today a co-worker of mine sat with me to go over a few last minute items before she “left town” for the holidays. As we were wrapping things up, I casually asked where she was going. Her answer?

“I’ll be gone for six weeks.” She then rattled off a triad of envy-inducing destinations that left me wondering, how the hell is that possible for a working woman? I mean, the last time I had six weeks off I was unemployed…and there was no money for travelin’ at that time my friends.

But man, that must be nice.

I envy anyone who gets to travel – for business or for pleasure – it’s just so cool to be able to go somewhere new; to explore a new city or a part of the country you’ve never been to; and then come back home to all that is familiar.

Even something as simple as a road trip has always excited me. I drove by myself down to Florida once to visit my sister. Another time I drove to Mississippi to visit a boyfriend who was in the Air Force. Both trips were absolutely thrilling for me.

My dad would check out my car, and set me up with a AAA triptik map. As I drove down the road I’d look forward to flipping each new page of my map, and I could stop and do anything I wanted at any time. Cool water tower? I’d stop and take a photo. I remember stopping in Atlanta just to see the infamous Peachtree Street.

With the exception of my week long summer vacation each year, I almost never get to travel. The last time I was on a plane was when my dad was in a car crash back in 1999, and I had to fly out to Colorado. Other than that my family and I stick to car travel, mainly because it’s economical.

There are times I think of exploring my state of Virginia, but then I remember that my car has over 250,000 miles on it, and settle for something local…and familiar.

Sigh.

I hope one day I am able to get out there and explore again. Even driving down a road I’ve never travelled on before holds a bit of excitement for me. Where will it lead to? What will I find a long the way?

I can’t wait to find out.

 

This post is in response to the Prompt  Pick Your Gadget – where the question is asked, “Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets. You can only afford one. Which of these do you buy, and why?”

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This one wasn’t even tough for me, because the possibilities of a time machine are endless and infinitely more rewarding.

The other two options? Here’s why they hold little interest for me…
Anywhere Door: So I guess it might be nice to walk through a door and instantly be on Martha’s Vineyard, or in front of a White Castle in New Jersey. But say I jettisoned myself to Paris – I still have no car, no hotel, and in my case, no money when I get there.

Invisibility Helmet: I find this notion freakishly voyeuristic. I fail to see the use of being invisible unless you have a knife wielding lunatic in your house. I mean, yeah, you can walk right into a Springsteen concert and stand in the front row, but isn’t being part of the crowd half the fun?

But with a time machine you can revisit the best parts of your life. If I could go back, I would…

Eat My Mom’s Cooking – I would love to sit at our gianormous kitchen table, with it’s funky blue boomerang linoleum, and inhale bowl after bowl of her soup, a pile of her pot roast, and a tub of her beefaroni. And then I’d hug her for 10 minutes straight and do the dishes for her while she drank a cup of Sanka in the living room.

Attend a Hody – This was an all night party in late September attended by every self-respecting Slovak in Northern New Jersey. It took place at Sokol Hall in Guttenberg, NJ and it was the fall highlight of my youth. It was a night filled with soda and chips and dogs with kraut and running in and out of couples doing polkas on the dance floor. Every year the band would play the Alley Cat, which was my favorite part of the night. And when the party broke up at 1 or 2 am, we would go to a diner and get pancakes.

Go Visiting With my Dad – Almost every Monday night I would go with my dad to the bank, and then visit one of my many Aunts, Uncles or cousins. I don’t know why I liked this so much. My night usually involved sitting at a kitchen table sipping tea with milk and sugar and eating delicious Slovak cookies or pastries. My Aunts always had some sort of baked goods on hand. My dad and them would mostly speak in Slovak, trading news from the homeland and discussing the family.

I’d eventually wander off looking at all the chachkies; My Aunt Steffie had a bunch of antique cars that I used to love playing with, and a Mr. Peanut statue that turned peanuts into peanut butter. And Aunt Margaret had a cuckoo-clock that not only had a little bird pop out of a door every 15 minutes, but also had dancers that would polka around a little platform on the hour.

Go to the Dalton Diner with John – There was a diner in the town next to us called The Golden Eagle, but somehow it got the nickname of The Dalton Diner. My best friend John and I would spend hours and hours there eating burgers and fries and drinking milk shakes. I think I ate a hundred or so Dalton Swiss burgers in my teens while John and I made fun of the very blonde hostess…I think we dubbed her Secretariat because she used to stride through the diner like a prize racehorse.

Spend a Week in my Old House – I’d need a week. I’d explore my backyard, make a fire in our fireplace, use the griddle on our ancient stove, and sleep in my old bedroom.

Other time destinations would include summer vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, trips to Great Adventure with John, and any weekend I spent at Seaside Heights.

That’s why going back is so perfect, because you can visit the things you loved as a kid, but you can still come home and hug your kids.

FU Phone

Last month my husband forced me to hand in my flip phone, and upgrade to a smart phone. I say “forced” because after occasionally using my husband’s smart phone, I realized that I don’t particularly care for them. Therefore I was reluctant to make the switch from my little flip phone with it’s wonderfully responsive little buttons.

Yes, using the internet anywhere you want is great, and taking a photo on the spot and posting it to Facebook or Instagram is fun, but not when your phone doesn’t respond to you.

Smart phones don’t like me. You know how you have to swipe to get your phone to unlock or to answer a call? I can swipe and swipe and swipe and 9 times out of ten nothing happens. I kept missing calls because the phone won’t respond to my touch. Finally I set it up so it answers when I push the power key…but that only solved that one problem.

With my old phone, the beautiful one with the buttons, I could call my husband or my daughter with 3 easy pushes of a button. With my new phone? It practically requires and act of Congress to make a call, and that’s after setting up shortcuts!

Here’s my current process for making a call to my husband.

  1. Hit the power button
  2. Swipe to unlock the phone
  3. Swipe to unlock the phone
  4. Swipe to unlock the phone

Phone turns off – start process over

  1. Hit the power button
  2. Swipe to unlock the phone
  3. Hit icon for my husband’s phone
  4. Hit icon for my husband’s phone
  5. Hit the phone icon to actually make the call
  6. Hit the phone icon to actually make the call
  7. Put the phone to ear without hitting any of the buttons on the sides of the phone or you will shut your phone off and end the call. Which I am almost never able to do.

Phone turns off – start process over

And this is with a shortcut. Trying to make a call to someone on my contacts list is twice the work because then I have to swipe and scroll and hit and swipe and scroll and hit and swipe, which is near to impossible to do one-handed.

Now I know why folks drive off the road…they’re not texting…they’re trying to answer the fucking phone! I can barely turn my phone on without swerving into oncoming traffic.

This phone might actually be the death of me.

So hear me now friends and family. If you try to call me and I don’t answer, it might very well be because I am in my car finding it impossible to drive and swipe and poke at the same time. It’s easier (and safer) to just let it ring.

Because I was forced into getting a smart phone. But I’ll be fair, I hated my old phone too, and complained about that one as much as I’m complaining about this one. But that one was manageable with one hand. This phone requires two hands, all ten fingers and the entirety of my patience.

This post is in response to today’s daily prompt; Sorry, I’m Busy telling about a time when you should have helped someone…but didn’t

angel in the snow.

A few years back we had a super bad snowstorm that came on hard and fast right at rush hour. After attempting to make it home for over 3 hours, but finding every route to my development blocked by accidents, I lucked into a hotel room about 20 minutes from my house.

The next morning I faced the task of digging out my car and attempting to drive home. While eating the free breakfast, I was talking with an older woman who had spent the night in the lobby. She was horribly worried about her dogs, which had not been walked or fed since the afternoon before.

She was hoping that her daughter would be able to come and get her, but she was having trouble digging out herself. Where I live in Virginia, a storm like this cripples the region because crews are not accustomed to dealing with feet of snow. Things can practically shut down with just a few inches.

This woman lived just outside my development, and I thought to offer her a ride home. I thought to offer.

But I didn’t.

Because I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it home myself, let alone chauffeur a stranger to her house. I was taking a route home that I knew had few hills along roads that were widely travelled. But looking out into the parking lot and the hotel access road, I was skeptical if I would make it home at all.

The night before I had seen dozens of cars fly off the road – I was still worried about that happening to me. It would suck ten fold if I managed to do that with an old woman in the car. I’d feel like I was responsible for her safety.

So I wished her good luck and headed out to dig out my car. Getting out of the hotel lot was no picnic, but once I was on the main road, it was easy going.

It was easy. And I left that woman sitting there worrying about her dogs. It still bums me out that I didn’t help her.

 

Clear strategy and leadership solutions

In the spring I set a goal for myself…I wanted to walk 1,000 miles by December 30th. Well, after some calculating, it seems as if that goal will not be reached.

I’d have to walk 136 miles before New Year’s Eve, and I’m fairly certain that ain’t gonna happen. I know that because I walked 100 miles in April and it meant never skipping a day and going out for 4 walks a day towards the end.

December is a super busy month, and although I will probably walk every day, I doubt I can do the required 4.53 miles per day to make my goal. Too bad I can’t measure all the steps I’ll take to do my Christmas shopping. That just might send me over…

But you know, I’m not giving up. Knowing I won’t acheive this goal could make it easy for me to sleep late in the mornings rather than bundling up and heading out in the dark at 6:10 am to put in a mile or two.

But I still get up at 5:00 am, and still bundle up at 6:00 because I want to see how close I can get. Plus, the walking is really good for my blood pressure, and at least I’m out doing something physical almost every day. I may not eat right all the time, but dammit I have the exercise thing down pat.

I’m at 867.5 miles so far in 2015…that’s more than double of what I walked all last year. I’ll be curious to see what I can do in 2016.

 

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It’s been pretty cold the past few days, but I haven’t minded at all. You see, cool to cold weather is my favorite climate to walk in. Here’s why…

  1. Being hot sucks. Unless you are at the beach with a cooler full of beer, being hot just plain sucks.
  2. I always have pockets. When I walk in the warmer weather, I don’t always wear clothing that has pockets. This means I have to hold my phone and my iPod while walking 3 miles…not fun. Or worse yet, I have to shove them in my sports bra, which I’ve heard can be hazardous to your health.
  3. Disrobing is an option. If for some reason while walking I begin to feel warm, I can take my jacket off and tie it around my waist. Let’s face it…in the summer whipping off my T-shirt isn’t a viable option.
  4. It’s Refreshing! There’s something about feeling that chilled air on my cheeks that is truly invigorating! Plus, taking a deep breath is so cleansing…unlike when it’s hot and muggy.

I’ll admit, walking in the cold isn’t all moonlight and magnolias. If you head out ill prepared, it can really suck. For example, the other morning I started my walk before the sun came up, and it was cold. I had gloves on, but they weren’t the greatest. My poor fingers were frozen a mile in…even shucking them up my sleeves didn’t help.

So even it means bundling up like Nanook of the North, as long as it’s below 55°, I’ll be out there pounding the pavement.

 

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A few years back my girls and I were heading into a Walmart in Richmond, Va when I spotted what looked like a boy’s wallet in the parking lot. The reason why I figured it was a boy’s wallet was because it had a giant Dallas Cowboys logo on it, and come on…what self respecting grown man would have that kind of wallet?

I picked it up and looked inside and was flabbergasted to see it jam-packed with money. After quick look, I figured there was at least $400 in there. Wow…if I had lost a wallet with that much money, I’d want to blow my brains out. Lucky for this dude, I was the one who found it.

I went into the store and asked for the manager. I wanted to leave the wallet there because I figured that would be the first place the frantic wallet owner would call, hoping that some good samaritan, me, had turned it in.

But I have to be honest…I didn’t like the looks of the gal who approached me saying she was the manager. She looked kind of shifty, and I had visions of her pocketing the money on the sly.

How in the world was I ever going to know if this wallet was returned to it’s rightful owner? The only thing I could think to do before handing the wallet over to this less-than-reputable-looking manager, was to take a photo of the driver’s license in the wallet. And in the weeks that followed I tried to call this person, but they had a block on their phone that did not allow unknown numbers to go through.

Dope.

I also tried to find him via social networks, but again I came up with a series of dead ends. So I never knew if he got his wallet and his money back. That was a bummer.

So I’ll put it out there now…all the info I remember on this guy. If you lost a cash-filled Dallas Cowboys wallet in the parking lot of the Walmart at Short Pump in Richmond, and you live in Manakin Sabot, your wallet was returned with every red cent still in there.

 

Wedding

Blogger’s Note: photos shown are ones my brother took while visiting Czechoslovakia the ’70s, but they reflect the same customs of the wedding I attended.

Back in the early summer of 1984 I spent 3 weeks visiting my relatives in what was then Czechoslovakia. The trip was a scary one for me because I was there alone…I had no father to translate, no sisters to commiserate and joke with…it was just me and a very large language barrier.

During that three weeks I had the priveledge of attending a wedding with my cousin Jozef. Having been to a bunch of weddings in the states, I thought I knew what to expect.

How do you say “Puhleeez!” in Slovak? I would discover over the course of the unfolding hours, that a Slovak wedding is almost nothing like an American wedding.

First off, the day of the wedding was unseasonably cold for late June. It was overcast, damp, and chilly, and I had nothing fancy that would fit the bill for a wedding that was also warm. Figuring our time spent outside would be limited, I ignored the elements and wore a light knee-length dress, with short sleeves and my best pair of pumps.

I was expecting to start our wedding adventure at the church, but instead we walked to the groom’s house where we waited around with the gathering crowd until he was ready. Then, with 2/3 of the village and an oompah-pah band in tow, we marched to the bride’s house.

Wedding 3

Wedding 4

By now I’m not really cold, because we are doing so much walking…but my feet are beginning to hurt just a little having walked a mile or more in pumps. Oh well, I can sit at the reception. On we go!

Side note…If you’ve ever seen the Godfather, this was very reminiscent of Michael’s wedding scene in Italy.

Wedding 2

Once at the bride’s house we then marched to what I figured would be the church. Wrong again! We had to keep on truckin’!

Wedding 6

At this point we march to the town hall which is where they did the civil ceremony, which I think had something to do with the fact that it was still a communist country when I was there. By this time I had been on my feet for at least 90 minutes and I was wondering if I was ever going to be able to sit down.

Wedding 5

Once the civil ceremony was completed, it was off to the the church ceremony. I was blissfully thankful to be sitting in a pew, but I have to tell you, that church was cold and damp. I was sitting, but I was freezing! I was looking forward to the reception, some hot soup and a shot of booze!

The reception took place in the village’s community center where rows and rows of tables and chairs were set up. I was poured wine and served a dish of hot soup, both of which I devoured within minutes (*burp*). The band started to play, and after another shot, Jozef and I danced to a polka.

When I returned to my seat, I was served a plate of pork roast, cabbage and potatoes. Yeeyum! Having downed that plate of food after the bowl of soup, I was feeling fine. My belly was full and my feet were starting to recover. More wine, a few more polkas….this wedding was awesome!

Then came the plate of Keilbasa. What the hell? How much am I expected to eat? I figured I’d pick at it…I needed to keep a full stomach to help me from getting too tipsy.

Word had spread throughout the wedding guests that I was the “visting American girl” and before long every Tomas, Dalek and Havel was asking me to dance. The next 2 hours was a constant whir of polkas, booze and endless plates of food. The food just never stopped coming…chicken, beefsteak, fish, more soup, pastries. This put the American wedding of “will you be having the chicken or fish?” to absolute shame.

I was monumentally thankful for every break the band took, because it meant I could relax for a few minutes. As the night was nearing what I thought HAD to be the end, I took my shoes off and rubbed my now swollen feet. I groaned as I saw the band head back to their places, ready to start a new set.

I don’t know if you’ve ever danced the Polka, dear reader. It’s a load of fun, but it’s taxing for a beginner with a full stomach. There’s lots of spinning, lots of footwork, and lots of twirling. In short, it’s exhausting, especially when you can’t even communicate with the dude you’re dancing with.

So when the father of the bride came up to Jozef and asked if I would dance with him, I jammed my puffy feet back into my now too-small pumps and danced two polkas with him. After that I smiled, put my hands up and said, “Thank you so much, but I need to sit down. My feet really hurt!”

What happened next occured so fast that I wasn’t sure it was really happening. A red-faced father of the bride was toe to toe screaming at my cousin Jozef and gesturing at me wildly. When Jozef came back I tried to ask him what was wrong, through the use of my Slovak/English dictionary, but he waved it off, took a last swig of beer and ushered me to the door.

We slowly walked home – me on very tender, very cold, bare feet. I could not get my size 9 shoes on at all because my feet were now size 101/2.

I didn’t know this until the next day, but apparently the father of the bride was highly insulted that I only danced 2 polkas with him as opposed to the entire set of 5 or 6. I guess it’s a huge honor to be asked for a dance by someone so important to the celebration.

On the one hand I was mortified…unbeknownst to me I’d acted poorly and made my relatives look bad. But on the other hand I was annoyed. Couldn’t this man see that I am obviously not aware of all their customs? Was he also blithely unaware that I had been dancing the entire night and was close to crippled when he asked me to dance?

My feet didn’t get back to normal for a few days after that. And I didn’t want to polka any time soon either. But I have to tell you, I could polka much better than I did before that wedding.

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