The Mind of Anne

March 11th, 2016 Big Pink is Dead

Big Pink in his Big Tank

Big Pink in his Big Tank

As a teenager, I had a friend named Donna. I loved visiting her home. There were kids and dogs and lots of activity. And they had the biggest fish tank I have ever seen. It was so peaceful to look at and I loved watching the fish interact with each other. I could get lost in that tank forever. I knew I wanted to raise tropical fish of my very own. I used money I saved from babysitting and bought a 10-gallon tank plus the supplies I needed to take care of the dozen or so fish I brought home in plastic bags. One of these fish was a kissing gourami. He looked friendly and I loved the kissy faces he made. This fish species would be the mainstay of all future tanks.

As time went on, I learned more about tropical fish care and bought a larger tank – a wonderful 30-gallon long tank. I was newly married and felt as an official grownup, I deserved an upgrade. As years went by, fish would die to no surprise since they have didn’t have very long life spans. However, I had some really old (and very big) bleeding heart tetras, swordtails (always named Capt. and Lady Swordtail) and the ever-present kissing gourami.

Donna would come over and inevitably she’d check out the tank and give me some notes. I felt very proud of my fish tank and enjoyed watching the fish as they explored their habitat. Donna died in a freak skiing accident just before we turned 35. It broke me heart and saddens me to this day. However, I continued to relish our common interest in tropical fish and felt loyal to her in doing so.

In about 1995, according to my daughter, I got a new kissing gourami. (There is a story about a boy and kissy faces, which I’ll spare you, but it narrows down the year.) The old gourami had died and I needed a new focal point for my tank. This gourami grew and grew. As other fish came and went, the gourami thrived. Another friend named Billy loved watching that gourami and joked that he was almost big enough to make a good sandwich. He gave my gourami his name – Big Pink.

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Big Pink as a Young Fish

Big Pink continued to grow but remained gentle. He left even the tiniest neon tetra alone and gracefully moved throughout the tank. No one messed with him but he never used his great size for harm. He was no bully.

My friend, Billy, died in 2005, just after his 54th birthday. He had survived a life-threatening illness and just when we thought it was all over, he suffered some complications and passed. It was fast. It was devastating. It broke my heart and saddens me to this very day. Big Pink carried on. It made me smile to remember how Billy would check him out in awe and of course, how he gave him his name.

A little over a year ago two events happened simultaneously – I was doing a complete tear out and remodeling of my kitchen and my son was moving into a new apartment. The pleasure of having a fish tank throughout his entire childhood influenced my son so it was natural that he had a small fish tank of his own. We both needed to dismantle our tanks to move them. I decided it was time to pass the gauntlet so I gave my son my big tank and all the fish including Big Pink.

The tank fit well in the apartment and my son has cared for it and all the fish with great diligence. Unfortunately, last night, Big Pink died. He wasn’t in distress. He was just a really old fish, possibly 21 years old.

Big Pink’s death makes me a little sad but more, it helps me remember. I think of Donna and Billy, of course, but also I remember my kids as young children, gazing at the fish as they sat in the kitchen eating their breakfast. I think of parties where Big Pink was a much-admired decoration of sorts and a unique conversation starter. And I remember my daughter’s cat, Smokey, who used to sit and watch Big Pink for hours and comment with a double meow when I entered the room.

Big Pink got his burial at sea. His great size prohibited the traditional and undignified flushing so my son released him in a nearby river. It seems silly to offer a toast or a celebration for the life of a pet fish but I think I must oblige. Here’s to you, Big Pink (raising a glass). Thanks for the memories.

February 26th, 2016 Crabs and Marriage and Politics

Blue Crab

Blue Crab

I love my husband. I have admitted to many people that I recognize it’s not easy to be my spouse, my child, my parent, my sibling, my friend, my co-worker. I have a temper. My snarky threshold can either make you laugh with conspiratorial joy or make you so angry you want to scream. My thoughts and actions are what could be considered “quirky” at times and my husband, known as Nice Husband Bill on Facebook, is a master at interpreting and sometimes just tolerating what he recognizes is just “The Mind of Anne.” I suspect someday he will be canonized.

Nice Husband Bill and I are married a really long time (39 years in May to be exact). We’ve worked out how to manage our lives – who does what in running the house, who handles the finances, who gets to be couch commando in charge of the TV remote control on any particular night. He has his interests. I have my interests. We have our interests. And each of these gets equal time.

Nice Husband Bill & I - 1978

Nice Husband Bill & I – 1978

And fighting. Yes, we fight, we argue, we disagree, like normal people or one normal person and a quirky one. (Who is the quirky one changes depending on the issue and the day and maybe even how the planets are aligned.) One thing I observed was our alignment with something I read in a women’s magazine about 20 years ago or my recollection of the article anyway. I want to say it was Family Circle magazine but I can’t remember for sure (nor can I link to the article since it was, um, decades ago.) Anyway, the article provided observations about long-term marriages gathered by interviewing 50 couples who had been married 50 years or more. There were a lot of the typical statements, which I’ll spare you. The one that stuck in my mind was a statement made by an overwhelming majority of these 50 couples (I want to say 100% but I might be overstating). Whenever they got into a fight, no matter how serious, they never considered divorce as an option.

And there we are. Nice Husband Bill and I are particularly well suited. As I admitted to him quite recently, I’m not sure there is another human on the planet in the husband department who could put up with my crap, my quirkiness, the Mind of Anne. Since divorce is never an option, we have come up with some rather creative ways to make decisions that are best for our family, our future and us. One of these methods is to use humor. If we can find humor in a situation, the tension is quickly broken and we can get to the actual problem solving.

That brings us to this past Wednesday night. We had a lot to do that night for an appointment the next day. Nice Husband Bill had worked a very trying and tiring day so he was particularly irritable. He wouldn’t tell me what was bothering him. He was snippy and took offense or misheard everything I said. He even snapped at a few things I could have complained about but in fact, had not. And of course, I snapped back. We needed to break the spell we were under and fast.

Nice Husband Bill has been studying Spanish using a wonderful free app called Duolingo and he has gotten quite dedicated to it. I think he put himself in a self-imposed time-out that night to quickly do his daily Spanish lesson. I saw my opportunity.

Since I am noodling around with Duolingo myself, I asked Nice Husband Bill how to say, “crab” in Spanish. He replied, “cangrejo” and went back to his lesson. I pretended I hadn’t heard and said, “Did you say Guillermo?” (That is Bill in Spanish, BTW.) We went a few rounds of his “NO, cangrejo” to my “Guillermo?” with the most innocent face I could muster till it clicked that I was calling him a crab. With a wink and a nod, the tension was broken. We were able to approach our task with renewed focus and a common joke.

Bill&Anne

Me & Nice Husband Bill

Nice Husband Bill has since referred to himself as Cangrejo Guillermo a number of times. And on seeing a crab ingredient on Top Chef last night, he called it “Guillermo”. So with a fun little inside joke (not so much on the inside since writing a post about it), we could find common ground and solve the problem at hand.

My point of all this isn’t just a cute story about marriage, although if the shoe fits, use it. I think we, as a society, need to spend more time finding the common ground so we can solve the problem at hand. Whether it’s a personal relationship, a work issue, a confrontation with a stranger or even (and especially) a political disagreement, we need to work together since sometimes divorce isn’t an option there either.

November 20th, 2015 I unfriended someone today. . .


Unfriend

Unfriend – The button I dread using

I felt compelled to unfriend someone on Facebook today. I’ve only done this two or three times ever so it is unsettling. I met this person just once through a mutual friend but we got along well so I thought we might become friends in real life.

I don’t agree with everything everyone posts and I’m sure people don’t agree with me all the time. I look at Facebook like a cocktail party. I try to keep my subjects light and avoid sex, politics and religion like my parents taught me to when at public functions. I primarily post original content or augment any memes with my own thoughts so my friends get a sense of me in my posts. Memes can be fun or clever but they are not a substitute for my thoughts.

So what did this person do to put me over the edge?

It’s been an especially sensitive time. Between the Syrian refugee crisis, the constant political banter and the ongoing terrorism worldwide culminated by the tragedy in Paris, I feel particularly emotional. I recognize that very few issues are absolutely black and white. And that’s the rub.

My “friend” copied/pasted/shared a number of extremely long tirades that were mean-spirited, venomous and filled with inaccurate characterizations – day after day after day. It didn’t matter whether I agreed or disagreed with any part of the posts, I didn’t want to see any of the posts because they were so full of hate.

The clever arguments that didn’t quite hold together for me made it worse. There were quotes taken out of context and actions twisted to the point where the actual intent or results were no longer recognizable. To me, the posts felt xenophobic, racist and full of hatred. They also felt like so much shortsighted rhetoric meant to polarize people.

The worst part of it is that I don’t actually know that my friend feels as strongly as the posts make it seem. A Hallmark card can’t possibly say exactly what you want to say to your mom or your sweetheart. And these tirades or memes written by armchair quarterback strangers can’t possibly represent your true thoughts and feelings with any degree of accuracy. It’s not all black and white. Yet they are so easy to copy/paste/share. My friend chose these strangers’ words over their own.

Another thing my parents taught me was to listen and learn from others. What the tirades and memes do is shut down communication. They form a monologue and prevent a dialogue. The message is: I am right and if you don’t agree, you are wrong. The comments often take a nasty turn for anyone who disagrees.

My method of forming an opinion entails pondering a number of viewpoints on an issue, making sure my research is accurate and thorough, working out the “what ifs” and then developing my own view, which may be a hybrid version all my own. This is something I have taught my own children: don’t let anyone do your thinking for you.

So there it is. My friend repeatedly expressed opinions using the canned thoughts of others and in such a vile way, I couldn’t stand it anymore and clicked – UNFRIEND. What happens if I ever see my friend in real life is yet to be seen but I know I’m going to wish I never saw those posts. I hope I always remember to think about how people might feel about me when they read what I write. Will you?

May 4th, 2015 Spicy Life – Paprika

Sweet Hungarian Paprika

Sweet Hungarian Paprika – The Spice Jungle

I love to cook. Savory or sweet, classic American or dishes from lands afar, I love eating them and I love cooking them. I just finished a complete remodel of my kitchen and now I am on fire! I cook with a renewed energy I haven’t felt in years. And I love experimenting with herbs and spices.

After attending a performance in New York City, my daughter and I went to the Love Café & Bar on 2nd Avenue between 24th Street and 25th Street. Everything from the Love Café tasted as if someone’s grandmother was in the kitchen cooking for us. Our appetizers of Potato and Cheddar Cheese Perogies were amazing. The strawberry and nutella crepes were to die for. My daughter’s Stuffed Cabbage was just beautiful. But the treat for me was the Hungarian Goulash. From that moment on I was on a mission to recreate this oh so yummy dish.

Love Cafe - What a meal!

Love Cafe – What a meal!

I started with Internet searches of all the usual suspects: Food Network, Allrecipes, and the like. Then I searched for “authentic Hungarian goulash” to get the essence of how real goulash comes to life. I experimented with a few combinations of these recipes but it still wasn’t right.

I happened to have lunch with a friend from the former Czech Republic and told her of my search for a true goulash. She told me her goulash (and everyone’s she knows) changes depending on what you happen to have in the refrigerator but the absolute key was the PAPRIKA! Here is the secret: It MUST be Sweet Hungarian Paprika and very bright reddish orange. If your paprika is old or standard grocery store fare, it’s not worth using.

I ordered Sweet Hungarian Paprika from Spice Jungle – reasonably priced, free shipping and so very fresh and pungent.

That PAPRIKA was the answer. I love the goulash recipe I’ve cobbled together as does my family. Why don’t you give it a try?

My Hungarian Goulash

My Hungarian Goulash

Hungarian Goulash

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, rinsed and chopped fine
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 1 red Cubanelle pepper, seeded and diced fine
  • 2 pounds venison or stew beef cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes with juices
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 medium Yukon potatoes, peeled and cut into a ½-inch dice
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into a ½-inch dice
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut thin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • In a large Dutch oven over medium/high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks, caraway seeds, red pepper and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are softened. Add the meat and paprika and sauté until the meat is evenly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes.

    Increase the heat to high, add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until the meat is fork tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.

    Stir in the tomatoes and juices, the potatoes, parsnips, carrots, salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve in a bread bowl (as at the Love Café) or with crusty bread or biscuits. Maybe add a dollop of sour cream. Enjoy!

    EXCITING NEWS: I am going on vacation to India in June. Wait till you hear about the spices I bring back from there!!

    January 1st, 2015 The Fury Inside Me

    Raging Storm on Its Way

    Raging Storm on Its Way

    I recently took one of those Internet quizzes titled, “What Natural Disaster is Your Temper Like?” You would answer a bunch of silly questions and the quizmaster would give you an analysis.

    I got Hurricane with this narrative: You are downright deadly. No one would ever try to mess with you. You are feared and rightly so. Once you get on the warpath, there’s no stopping you. People know to get out of your way as soon as they can. You only pick up momentum as you progress. You may calm down temporarily, but you always get a second wind. You’re one storm that takes a while to pass.

    I could see myself in that description a bit but mostly I walked away with a notion to self-examine. I had always felt that I’m pretty even-tempered but I recognize there are the occasional explosive moments.

    A friend noted that this reminded her of a story I had told years before. My then early teen daughter had been moody and disrespectful and obnoxious as early teen daughters are prone to be. We were arguing about something ridiculous as she headed off to her room. I followed, continuing the argument and when we got to the door, she slammed it in my face. I felt my temper rise, lost all control, and threw a rather powerful sidekick directly at the door. I must mention that I was training in karate at the time and had achieved the rank of brown belt. The kick was so powerful it knocked the door right off the hinges and it fell to the floor of my daughter’s room.

    Fortunately, she was already sitting on the bed and was in no danger. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Don’t you dare slam the door in my face when I am speaking to you!!” Her response, which completely broke the tension of the situation was, “If that wasn’t so terrifying, it would have been really cool.” To that we laughed hysterically as I do now even typing this. My husband didn’t quite find the humor in the situation since he had to fix the door.

    Another situation where I blew my cool was when a contracted vendor completely usurped my authority on a really important project at work. Over a weekend, he had contacted all the principals involved and essentially edged me out of the project by directing all communications to him and him alone. He also blew the project budget out of the water to his own advantage. On Monday morning when I discovered what had happened, I had to undo all the damage and reel him in. The concept that he was working for me seemed to have been lost on him. My clients were confused and upset because they wanted to work with me. As I discussed the situation with him and what had gone awry and what he was NEVER to do again, I felt my temper rising.

    I don’t yell at people at work. Nor do I allow others to yell at me. So it was a true Herculean effort not to scream. Coincidently (or I at least think it was a coincidence), a severe thunderstorm rolled in as my temper flared. The angrier I got and the more I pushed that emotion down so I could speak in a metered tone, the louder and angrier the storm outside raged on. I needed to be really clear of how he overstepped his position and how I would never allow it to happen again without dire consequences. Me screaming would have diluted that message.

    As we talked, the storm got worse and worse. At one point, I remember thinking that if I didn’t calm the hell down, my house would start on fire. I also think I heard a little bit of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries in my head. That was the turning point. I laughed at myself for presuming my anger had caused the thunderstorm and actually made it worse.

    So maybe that Internet quiz wasn’t off the mark by much. I recognize I have a mercurial temper that can reel out of control but I also have a sense of humor that is equally mercurial. I can laugh at myself almost instantly, right in the moment of my greatest fury or the peak of embarrassment. I’d like to think of my hot-and-cold emotions as assets, albeit opposing at times. I guess it makes me human with the ability to play hard, love hard, live hard. It also makes me grateful that I have a self-awareness of my mercurial nature and more importantly, people around me who love me in spite of my craziness. I wish the same for you.