Ballot Box Blues

Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, and boy does every U.S. citizen have something for which to be thankful–midterm elections are over. Yahoo! Now we can all eat dinner in peace without robocalls intruding. We can go back to watching commercials for the “little blue pill” rather than being assaulted by some venom-spewing political ad informing us that the candidate’s opponent is the devil incarnate who, if elected, will send his constituents to hell in a hand basket. Yup. There’s nothing civil about civics these days.

Once upon a time I was a naïve political science major in college. I pored over large and expensive textbooks in an effort to learn how our government works and of course to get an A in the course. Degree in hand, I innocently headed off to work at the State Capitol Building in Atlanta to participate in the hallowed government process. What a rude awakening I had. What is supposed to happen and what in reality happens are two different things. I was extremely disillusioned.

Fast forward to the 2018 midterm elections. A few years (OK, a lot of years) have passed, and politics is even worse than when I graduated from college.  But like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to observe our government at work. I just cannot look away. And as nauseating as watching the process is, it is my duty as a citizen to stay informed and to participate in elections.

No one likes a negative Nelly. On a positive note, a great development since my college graduation is the implementation of early voting. Voters are given ample opportunity to vote–not simply a twelve hour period on one specific day. No longer can you avoid voting because you have a headache on Election Day or because it’s raining and you can’t seem to find your umbrella to get to the polls.

Early voting is quite the hit. In fact, approximately 36 million voters voted early in this election. That figure led to predictions that voter turnout would be much higher than usual for the midterm elections. A “high” voter turnout is a relative term. Edison Media Research predicted in advance of the election that 45% of the eligible voting population would vote. We can’t even get 50% of eligible voters to vote and that’s good news??? SMH

And just who is doing this voting? Are they educating themselves on the issues? Reviewing the ballot in advance of voting? Um, probably not for a great many voters. Why do I come to that conclusion? According to news reports, “donde votar” (“where to vote” for those of you who do not habla espanol) was the top trending search (3,000% increase in search frequency) the morning of election day. I’m assuming that people who don’t even know where they are supposed to vote haven’t checked in advance to see what they are voting about either.

The midterm elections are aptly named in my opinion. All the divisiveness, negativity, and hounding of voters this go round has been a test of my patience. I am not sure that the average voter even knows what a midterm election is. Certainly all of those reading this blog post are aware that it is a general election held in November every four years near the midpoint of a president’s four year term. Such an election is typically viewed as a referendum on a sitting president and his party’s performance.

Much was at stake in this week’s midterm elections. Thirty-six states, including Florida, were holding gubernatorial elections. The Senate’s slim Republican majority of 51-49 was in jeopardy from a slate of Congressional races. Would the balance shift from red to blue?

A bunch of red appeared early on Election Day. Poll workers at a voting site  in Detroit, Michigan were left red in the face and voters were red with anger when an untold number of early morning voters  had to be turned away. Why? Oops. Poll workers couldn’t seem to locate the voting machines. Whew! They were finally found in a locked closet on site, but the polling place opened an hour and a half late. Even poll workers apparently put things in a “safe” place and then can’t remember where that “safe” place was.

Once voters made it to the polls and machines were in place for them to vote, on what were they voting? In addition to electing governors and congressmen, in Florida there were  a hefty number of constitutional amendments to consider. Most of the time such amendments boggle my mind–not that I cannot understand them, but that I cannot fathom why the issue has to be handled by a constitutional amendment. A constitution, by definition, is a body of fundamental laws for governing. Not that I don’t care about the plight of poor greyhounds who are being raced, but can’t we just pass a law to outlaw the sport?

The slate of amendments offered in Florida was affected by a severe case of bundling. Sure, it’s November, and in a northern state you might need to bundle up against the cold. Here in Florida the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) thought bundling of issues would be the way to go. Um, no. Bundling occurs when two or more unrelated issues are grouped together in one amendment. For example, Amendment 9 asked voters to approve a ban on offshore drilling and on indoor vaping. And the connection between those two is…..what? No wonder some people don’t want to go vote when they are asked to consider propositions that doesn’t make any sense.

The only bright spot in the election coverage was the burning question of whether Meghan Markle could/would vote in the midterm elections. She’s a royal and in the process of seeking British citizenship, so that question is thought-provoking. But I’ll bet that voters are more interested in what Meghan would wear to the polls (or to mark her absentee ballot) and if her baby bump was visible when she did so than the political ramifications of her voting.

I vote that we put the midterm elections, their confusion, their divisiveness, and their nonsense behind us. Enjoy dinnertime without annoying political calls. The next election will be here before we know it so we can all sing the next stanza of “Ballot Box Blues.”

Just WONDER-ing: Did you vote in the midterm elections? Did you vote early? Did the ability to vote early make it more likely you voted? Did political ads seem more divisive and negative in this election than in past elections?






Hate–Man’s Inhumanity To Man

Halloween was celebrated this week, but this secular holiday is actually pretty tame compared to what one encounters regularly in the real world. Some refuse to celebrate Halloween because they feel it glorifies evil. I hate to break it to y’all, but evil is alive and well in the world every single day. No, I’m not talking about witches, zombies, and vampires. I am talking about a four letter word which is evil spelled differently–HATE.

Some will scoff and note that “hate” is simply a feeling or emotion. But it is our emotions and feelings which drive us to act. When the feeling is strong enough, people are spurred to do some crazy things, like climb the highest mountain to reach his/her beloved because “ain’t no mountain high enough” to keep you apart.

While love might spur us to do positive things, hate elicits some unbelievably heinous behavior such as taking the life of another human being. Before this month, the atrocities of war were merely something that I had read about in a history book. But standing in the spot where someone has been murdered in cold blood tends to make things a bit more real.

In early October I was in Budapest on a mission trip. Some of our group took a tour of the city which brought us down to the banks of the Danube on the Pest side of the river. Stretching before us was The Shoes On The Danube Bank Memorial with an untold number of shoes by the river’s edge. Right in the spot where I was standing and taking pictures, thousands of Jews had been marched by Fascist militiamen from the Budapest Ghetto, ordered to remove their shoes, and shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies fell into the Danube and were carried away.  And these Jews included men, women, and –yes–children.

Words cannot express the emotions which overcame me as I surveyed this memorial. I fought back the tears as I looked at the small shoes of a child. Who could shoot an innocent child? And what feelings must have gone through the minds of those who walked en masse from one horrible place (the Budapest Ghetto) to a certain death? How would a mother have felt advancing toward the river with her child’s hand trustingly placed in hers? Would the beauty of the Danube have distracted anyone from the thought of his imminent execution?

This scene in Budapest was as surreal and haunting in my mind as any horror movie I have ever seen. In fact, it is worse, because a horror movie is fiction and this massacre is sadly all too true. The only answer to how something like these killings could have occurred is “HATE.”

But the shootings on the bank of the Danube took place a lifetime ago. They occurred in December 1944 and January 1945. Our world is so much more advanced now. Or is it? Sure we are tech savvy and connected with the whole world electronically. We’ve even put human beings on the moon and begun to explore space. Nevertheless, we are still human and we still hate.

Certainly the killings of the Jews in the context of World War II might be explained (but not excused or justified) by the fact that a war was raging. But how do we explain how in 2018 a man can walk into a Pittsburgh synagogue, a place of worship, and mow down numerous people simply for who they are? Again, the only answer that can be advanced is “HATE.”

Apparently the concept of hating a fellow man has long puzzled those who took the time to consider it. Scottish poet Robert Burns’ 1784 work, “Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge,” decries “Man’s inhumanity to man” which “makes countless thousands mourn.” Yes, killing another human being out of hate is inhumane and leads many to mourn.

The passage of time has not helped to provide an explanation of why this inhumanity occurs. Some 200 years after Burns’ poem, the English electronic band Depeche Mode produced “People Are People” which contains the lyrics: “I can’t understand/What makes a man/Hate another man/Help me understand.” Well, chaps, I don’t understand it either.

We may not understand what gives rise to hate sufficient to want to snuff out the lives of our fellow man, but we do have to do something about the hate. But what can/should we do? Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, put forth his suggestion by proposing, “We must counter this hate with love and love’s public face which is justice….” Acts of hate must not be tolerated; when they  occur; justice must be served.

Outside the judicial system, nothing is gained by returning hate with hate; in fact, it may simply escalate the existing hate. It warmed my heart to hear that the alleged Pittsburgh synagogue shooter was treated by Jewish medical personnel in the hospital. However despicable the patient’s actions may have been, these doctors and nurses gave more of a priority to the value of a human life than to the human reaction of hate toward someone who had senselessly murdered fellow members of their faith.

The scene of the shoes on the bank of the Danube is burned into my memory. Nothing can bring back the lives of those who were slaughtered there due to hate. Hate still exists and continues to take a toll of human lives. I may not be able to wipe out hate entirely, but intentionally showing love to my fellow man on a regular basis may soften someone’s negative emotion. I want to do everything I can to use my shoes to kick hate to the curb. How about you?

Just WONDER-ing: Have you or someone you know ever been the victim of a hate crime? What do you think is the best way to react to hate?  Is it possible to show love to someone who has acted hatefully towards you?

A Thousand And One Arabian Tales — What’s The Saudis’ Khashoggi Story Today?

What do Scheherazade and the Saudi government have in common? Both are really good at telling tales to keep the listener on the edge of his seat thus prolonging the narrator’s life be it physical or political. Scheherazade, according to the title of her stories’ collection, One Thousand And One Nights, came up with 1,001 tales. The Saudis have not concocted that number of tales yet about the current Khashoggi drama, but the ones they have disseminated have been pretty entertaining.

In case you have been living under a rock, or perhaps a magic lamp, the media is abuzz about “Where’s Jamal?” Apparently no one cares about poor Waldo anymore. Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist who went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd to obtained needed documentation for his upcoming (fourth) marriage. His fiancée awaited her beloved’s return in a car outside the consulate, but he never came back.

The first story which emerged from the Saudis was that Jamal was alive and well–somewhere. They didn’t know where he was because, conveniently, security cameras had filmed him leaving the building. OK, so Jamal gets the paperwork for his marriage and then leaves the building blowing off his betrothed waiting outside for him. I’m not buying that story. Bingo! The man caught on camera was impersonating Khashoggi.

Come on Saudis! Use some imagination. If I were going to explain Jamal’s disappearance in this manner, I might suggest that one of Jamal’s three ex-wives, upset that he was marrying yet again, accosted him outside the consulate and swept him off to “discuss” the situation. Yeah, that sounds good–or not.

The fiancée wasn’t buying any story about Jamal having emerged from the building. He hadn’t gone out, so the Turks decided to go in. Why? Somehow the Turkish government had allegedly gained possession of a recording indicating that Jamal had been tortured and murdered inside the consulate. The torture was rumored to have involved fingers and a head being severed. OUCH! In the Saudis’ defense, they could still truthfully say that Jamal left the building. They just didn’t tell the whole story. If the torture scenario was true, his lifeless body parts were removed from the building.

We interrupt these Saudi stories to bring you an explanation. What did Jamal do that warranted his death? Although Jamal was a Saudi, he was living in exile as a U.S. resident. In fact, he had been working in this country as a columnist for the Washington Post since September 2017. And what did he write about? To no one’s surprise, he was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government in general and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, age 33, in particular. Dead men tell no tales, so killing Khashoggi would shut him up for good.

Except that this strategy failed miserably. Khashoggi’s story became high profile with his disappearance, and with it the criticism he had leveled. In addition it gave a pretty good indication that the regime he was criticizing was ruthless.

The next tale which was spun was that Khashoggi died during a brawl inside the consulate. The Saudis explained that what really happened was that Jamal had been immediately seized inside the consulate by 15 (as in 10 + 5) Saudi intelligence operatives who had flown in on two jets (not magic carpets) just hours before to “confront” him. It takes FIFTEEN operatives to confront ONE journalist? Wow! The pen must really be mightier than the sword after all.  But, when the fifteen ganged up on the one, the one died. OOPS! That wasn’t the intent (or so the Saudis said). Just a quick aside. I’m selling swampland in Florida if anyone is interested in a great deal.

But wait! That’s not really what happened. What really, really happened, the Saudis now say, is that Khashoggi died as the result of a chokehold. That crack team of special operatives doesn’t seem so special after all. Don’t they read the American papers and know that bad things happened when cops used chokeholds on people? Guess not.

So far these three explanations have been floated by the Saudis, but they all appear to be sinking in the sea of validity. Hey, but at least they are keeping us entertained and giving One Thousand And One Nights a run for its money. Instead of Sinbad The Sailor, we have Jamal The Journalist. Jamal’s wonderful lamp is not rubbed to produce a genie; he sheds light on the shortcomings of his country’s government and gets rubbed out. Ali Baba may have had forty thieves but the Crown Prince has fifteen rogue operatives to steal Khashoggi’s life..

Knowing more about Khashoggi, the main character in these stories, lends even more intrigue to the setting. Khashoggi is not just any Khashoggi; he is a member of THE Khashoggi family which includes Adnan Khashoggi, a high profile Saudi arms dealer who was involved in the Iran-Contra affair. Uh, oh. Is it such a good idea to take out the relative of an arms dealers? Moreover, Khashoggi is a cousin of Dodi Fayed, the man Diana, Princess of Wales was seeing when they were both killed in a car crash in Paris.

While we may not reach 1,001 tales from the Saudis about what happened to Khashoggi, the situation is a cliffhanger which holds our attention. Just like Scheherazade’s king, we want more–info, stories, details. A genie can’t be put back in the magic lamp, and Khashoggi can’t be brought back to life. But Khashoggi’s death has catapulted the journalist into being the main character for 1,001 news stories. Perhaps recounting what we do know to be the truth, i.e., he met his demise for speaking his mind, will remind us to cherish the freedom of speech which we Americans enjoy.

JUST WONDER-ing: Have you been paying attention to this story in the news? Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a country where expressing your opinion about the government might be a death sentence? Is freedom of expression important to you?








For The Beauty Of The Earth

The Danube River sparkled and flowed beneath the bridge on which I stood in Budapest, Hungary. The view was stunning. It took my breath away to lay eyes on the inspiration for Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube” The pictures I snapped with my cell phone simply couldn’t do the scene justice. I marveled at the gorgeous creation with which God has gifted us.

My awe soon turned to conviction. Is Budapest, Hungary the only location where I can recognize and revel in the beauty of God’s earth? The entirety of our planet was created by God, so certainly there are glorious scenes everywhere. Except that I don’t always take the time to stop, look, and appreciate them.

The well-known Christian hymn “For The Beauty Of The Earth” sprung to mind. It was written by Englishman Folliott S. Pierpoint who was inspired by the beauty of the country around him to pen it. Pierpoint did not have to travel 5,000 miles away from his home like I did to get to Budapest to experience the beauty of God’s creation. No, all he had to do is look “over and around” him right where he was.

Apparently prepositions are the culprit for us ignoring God’s world which is right in our own backyard. Instead of looking “over and around” like Pierpoint did, we are too busy looking AT what we want, ON the goals we have set, and AHEAD to what we desire. Who has time to look OVER and AROUND us at what God has placed there? Raising my hand in shame.

I am blessed to live on Florida’s Emerald Coast–yes, the one just slammed by Hurricane Michael. The Emerald Coast is the Florida coastal area on the Gulf of Mexico stretching for about one hundred miles from Pensacola to Panama City. The name is taken from the colorful waters in the Gulf which are often a dazzling shade of my favorite color, green. Not only is the water color breathtaking, but the sand on the beaches is heavenly. The Emerald Coast has some of the purest white sand in the state. The crystals in this sand are almost pure quartz providing soft, fluffy sand. So white is this beach sand that a friend of mine’s two year old niece who had never seen sand before called it “hot snow.”

Tourists flock to the Emerald Coast. They travel from great distances at sometimes great expense to get a brief glimpse of what I have available to me on a daily basis. I live in the town of Valparaiso, whose name means “vale of paradise” in Spanish. So do I oooh and aaah like the tourists on a daily basis at the local beauty around me? Sadly, no.

Now that I have recognized my failure to observe and appreciate God’s handiwork around me, what am I going to do about it? Cue those prepositions. I will make a conscious effort to regularly look UP, DOWN, and all AROUND me to see His wondrous creation.

Singing the words to “For The Beauty Of The Earth” will provide a road map for me to achieve a better awareness of my surroundings. The first stanza of the hymn mentions the beauty of the earth. I can look DOWN to see flowers, sea oats, grass, etc. I can look OUT to see the local bodies of water which reflect clouds and light.

The beauty of the skies is also mentioned in the opening stanza of the hymn. I can look ABOVE to see puffy clouds (sometimes in cool shapes such as a bunny) and blue skies during the day. The second stanza of “For The Beauty Of The Earth” mentions the “sun and moon and stars of light.” I can look UP to view twinkling stars and a luminous moon at night.

Intentional looking is my game plan. But when will I do this? The hymn also provides a suggestion as to the regularity of my looking. The lyrics mention the beauty “of each hour.” OK, I am sleeping during a few hours of the day, so I am not taking the idea literally to see beauty each and every hour–although it is a beautiful thing to see the inside of my eyelids for several hours each night. The point is not that we have to look for something on an hourly basis. The idea is conveyed that we need to constantly be aware of our surroundings, recognize who made them, and be appreciative of that beautiful handiwork.

I may never stand on a bridge over the gorgeous Danube River again. But I can still experience breathtaking beauty provided courtesy of my Creator on a regular basis. The beauty of His creation is all around me; I just need to open my eyes and look around right where I am. Won’t you do the same?

Just WONDER-ing: Do you make a conscious effort to look for beauty in the setting where you are? Do you think you would see more beauty if you intentionally looked for it? What’s something beautiful in creation that you have noticed today?




Gastronomic Geography

Geography was never that exciting a subject to me. I mean, isn’t it all about studying maps and learning about the earth’s surface? Yawn. As a political science major in college, I thought taking political geography might be interesting. Double yawn. But there is one type of geography which I can get passionate about–gastronomic geography.

Never heard of that subject? Neither had I. As a matter of fact, I just made the phrase up after my recent trip to Budapest, Hungary. There’s much to be said for learning about a country based on taste. Yup. That’s an approach that you can really sink your teeth into–literally and figuratively.

As a first time visitor to Hungary, I noticed that the country has some things which remind me of home. To no one’s surprise, the most apparent reminder  was a food establishment. I mean, is there anywhere in the world that McDonald’s isn’t located? Lest you think that a meal at the golden arches in a foreign land is the same as one back in the good old USA, let me set you straight.

Apparently the current and heavily advertised specialty sandwich at McDonald’s in Hungary is the Goosey Gustave. Sure it’s a hamburger, but it is not the type of hamburger Americans eat. The sandwich does not come with special sauce, but it does have some special ingredients–two juicy slices of grilled foie gras. For those who are fine dining challenged, you should be aware that foie gras is fat goose liver. Hungary is the largest exporter of goose liver in the world, so it should come as no surprise that they use foie gras in their food. But in a fast food hamburger??? SMH.

The first floor of the Central Market Hall in Budapest is a produce shopper’s paradise. A quick walk through this vast shopping venue leaves no doubt that paprika reigns supreme in Hungary. Strings of the peppers hang everywhere, decorating the market area like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Bags of paprika of various varieties (hot, sweet, smoked, etc.) are artfully packaged in red, green and white bags (the colors of the Hungarian flag) to attract a shopper’s eyes and hopefully his money.

Not only is Hungary a major supplier of commonly-used paprika, but that spice is also the signature spice of Hungarian cuisine. My taste buds were tickled by the use of paprika in goulash soup and chicken paprikash which I consumed while in the Hungarian capital. Paprika is also an ingredient in Liptauer, a Hungarian cheese spread which I made prior to leaving on my trip. So pervasive is this red spice in Hungarian cooking that I am apt to believe that the red in the Hungarian flag stands for paprika rather than for blood shed for the country.

When tourists in Hungary aren’t saying cheese taking a gazillion selfies, they are often sampling Hungarian cheese. Probably the most popular cheese in Hungary is Trappista, a traditional Hungarian semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. This cheese is heavenly, and not just because it is made by Trappist monks.  Hungarians use turo, or cheese curd, to make cheesecake. Good thing the Turks were booted from the country after 150 years of occupation; they used to collect taxes partially in cheese. After trying both the Trappista  and cheese curd cheesecake, I would gladly hand over currency in lieu of Hungarian cheese. But we can’t be too hard on the Turks since they brought paprika to Hungary.

The Turks controlled central Hungary for about 150 years. Their influence can clearly be seen on the country’s eating habits. Budapest is teeming with Turkish eateries including the pervasive Doner Kebab Express. In fact, the first lunch I ate in Budapest was at a Turkish restaurant. Nothing says Hungary like a gyro. Or is that hungry? Pork is also common in Hungarian dishes thanks to the Turks. During their raids, the Turks carted off domestic animals such as cows and sheep but observed a hands off policy for pigs; pigs were left behind because the Turks’ religion forbid the eating of pork. Hungarian food clued me into the impact of the Turks in Hungary; that impact was a bit surprising to me since Turkey does not border Hungary.

Sadly, my trip to Hungary had to come to an end. But I was not sad that I had the opportunity to sample the beloved street pastry kurtoskalacs on my last day in Budapest. The sweet treat, known as a spit cake or a chimney cake, is cooked on a spit over an open fire. The sugar coating attracts bees, and the cooking cake’s aroma attracts customers. The spiral cylinder (which resembles a chimney, hence the name chimney cake) can be filled with ice cream or other treats to enhance the sweet experience. I chose chocolate ice cream as my filling. I figured if the Hungarian pastry wasn’t my cup of tea, I’d still enjoy the ice cream. Yum! Double jackpot!!

All this food sampling paid educational dividends, although it probably added to my waistline as well. I’ve learned that Hungary is a big exporter of paprika and goose liver, that the Hungarians love cheese (albeit different cheese than Americans use), that there is a Turkish influence on Hungarian cuisine despite Turkey not bordering Hungary, and that both Americans and Hungarians love sweet treats, especially if ice cream can be added.

I am a firm believer that gastronomic geography is the way to go. Why I can feed my brain and my belly at the same time. Forget the maps to study geography. Just pass me a menu!

Just WONDER-ing: Do you enjoy sampling the food of another country when you travel? Does the culinary experience teach you anything about the country you are visiting? Do you remember meals in a foreign country more than facts about that country?













I Want To Pack It In When I Have To Pack


It’s a good news, bad news kind of week.The good, well in fact great, news is that I will be engaging in international travel in just a few days on a church mission trip. The bad news is that I have to pack for it. While I love traveling, I hate packing. I’d rather clean my toilet (my least favorite household chore) than pack. On second thought, I don’t want to do either!

Putting stuff in a suitcase isn’t that big a deal. It’s determining WHAT to put in the suitcase. Since I’m a be prepared kind of gal, I want to be armed with the appropriate clothing and items to deal with any situation which might arise. The weather might be hot. The weather might be cold. There might be a dressy event. There might be a time to exercise. I might feel under the weather. I might get a boo boo. The possibilities are endless as to what i might need while I am away from home.

To face this seemingly monumental task of packing for eight days of travel, I decided to put my brain to use. Why not research packing? Surely that will solve my travel preparation dilemma–or not.

One of the first suggestions I read was to lay out all the items you think you should take with you; then put half the items back. Clearly overpacking is a big issue. Sorry, if I follow this sage advice, that still leaves me with half of my closet and half of the items from my bathroom. My suitcase is not that big, and the airline have a 50 pound limit after all. Still stressing.

Oh, here’s a brilliant suggestion as to what to remove from your suitcase–your pet! I kid you not. This suggestion actually appeared in a serious packing article. Apparently other pet owners have the same issue I do. When the suitcase comes out, the cat goes in. I see a monster to be dealt with; the feline sees a new place to nap. Check. Cat removed. Still dealing with what to put in on top of all the cat hair that is now in my suitcase.

Eventually, I’m sure I will determine what to take with me and what to leave home. Then I am faced with the issue of how to put all this stuff in the suitcase. Yes, there’s an art to it. Shoes take up the most room, so they are packed first and are placed around the inside perimeter of the suitcase. Since I have very small feet (size 5) and not that many shoes to begin with, this step isn’t so difficult for me. Packing experts advise you to wear your heaviest pair while traveling, so I have to plan my travel wardrobe around my sneakers.

Now, to place the clothing in my suitcase. Heavens, I have been doing it wrong all these years. Silly me, I thought you just folded the attire and placed it in the suitcase like you would place the item in a dresser drawer. WRONG! Two methods are available–rolling and the burrito. Rolling clothes allows the traveler to conserve space, reduces wrinkling of the packed clothes, and makes it easier to find the clothes in the suitcase. The burrito method calls for similar clothing to be wrapped together like a burrito. I can’t follow the burrito method of wrapping a newborn in a blanket, so I don’t even want to attempt to wrap my clothes.

All this talk of rolls and burritos has me hungry. Unbelievably, none of the articles I read about packing addressed how to place snacks in one’s suitcase. Just guessing that everyone takes all their snacks on the plane in carry on luggage because you should always keep your valuables with you. And my snacks of choice will be quite valuable to me when I am sick of complimentary peanuts and unfulfilled by the lack of meal service in the economy class cabin where I’ll be sitting. OK, no snacks in the suitcase.

Smart packers use every available space in the suitcase. Thus, it is suggested that small items be stuffed inside your shoes. Hmm! Better make sure that the shoes don’t smell before cramming my unmentionables inside them. Moms always advise that clean underwear be worn, and I’m guessing that “clean” is broadly defined to mean not stinky.

Then there’s layering. No, I don’t mean getting a new hairstyle before saying bon voyage. Apparently some clothes do have to be folded. If that’s the case, then layering is the appropriate method to use. Folded garments should be placed on top of rolled garments to avoid wrinkling. Wrinkles must be avoided at all costs because you don’t want to have to pack a heavy iron. Who wants to iron while traveling? Not me. I don’t even want to iron when I’m at home.

Speaking of appliances, let’s not forget that foreign countries pose the challenge of different electrical capacities. An adaptor is essential if you want to use items such as a hairdryer there. Fortunately, the adaptor is very small and could easily fit inside a packed shoe. And who cares if your adaptor stinks afterwards?

I am going to be a happy camper when my plane takes off Sunday evening. Yes, I am thrilled to be going to a beautiful destination for a meaningful reason, but I will be even happier that the dilemma of packing will be behind me. And if I fail in successfully packing, what’s the worst that can happen? No one in Budapest will know me, so who cares if my clothes are wrinkled, inappropriate for the weather, and stinky?

Just WONDER-ing: What do you dislike the most about traveling? Do you have any helpful packing tips?



They Say It’s Your Birthday!

So I was told, I was born on September 19th. Although I was there for the momentous event, I don’t recall any of it. All I did was simply show up, so why the big fuss to honor me on the anniversary of this occurrence every year? At least three other people–my mom, my dad, and the OB–had more to do with my arrival than I did. Where are the kudos for them?

Making an annual big deal about the fact that one exists seems a bit self-centered to me. But this practice has existed for a very long time. The Romans are considered the first to have celebrated birthdays, but they only celebrated men’s birthdays, at least initially. No wonder that civilization crumbled; approximately half of the population was ignored on their big day.

Early Christians opposed birthday celebrations because such a celebration was connected to the pagan culture of the Romans. How is a birthday celebration pagan? Well, the Romans decided to put candles on birthday cakes to honor their moon god. And we thought the candles were merely placed on the top of a cake to show the birthday boy or girl’s age…

Germans popularized the practice of having a cake at a birthday party in the late 18th century. Hard to imagine a birthday party without a birthday cake, isn’t it? The eating part of “eat, drink and be merry” at a birthday party clearly is synonymous with eating cake today.

But what type of cake will be served? Since the birthday boy/girl is being honored, hopefully his/her favorite cake is what is selected for the birthday party menu. To absolutely no one’s surprise, a survey referenced by the Norfolk Daily News revealed that chocolate was the most popular birthday cake flavor. Bunnies will be happy to learn that carrot cake came in seventh. My favorite birthday cake, strawberry, did not even make the top ten, which just goes to show that there is no accounting for taste.

But is the person for whom the birthday cake is prepared (or bought) really all that special? The birthday boy may think of his birthdate as “his” big day, but a whole bunch of other people in this world share the date with him. I, of course, live in the United States. September is the most common month for births in this country. And the most common birthdate for Americans to have been born is either September 9th or September 16th, depending on which study you accept. Regardless, of which of these days is the most popular of all days to be born, clearly mid-December is not only a time for holiday cheer but for conceiving an addition to your family as well. Beware of that mistletoe!

Rather than using a birthday to be the center of attention, maybe the birthday boy should use the event to reflect on what he has been given. Regardless of what presents his friends and loved ones may give him to mark the occasion currently, he received the best gift of all the day he was born, i.e., his life. Reflecting on that enormous blessing and how it is being used is a better use of the event than frivolous (and undoubtedly fattening) merrymaking.

Samuel Longhorn Clemens, better known under his penname of Mark Twain, made a profound observation when he said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” We don’t have anything to say about being given life or when we are born. But once we have life, then the ball is in our court to make the most of what we have been given. We can spend our life merely having a ball and chasing pleasure. Alternatively, we can act with purpose and use the life we have been given to make a difference in the world in which we find ourselves.

I personally don’t believe that I was put here on the earth simply to make a big deal about having lived another year. Rather than just sharing some birthday cake to celebrate my big (getting bigger every year) day, I want to share myself, my talents, and my resources with those around me on a regular basis. Today I am sharing my words with you, and that’s way better than offering you a piece of birthday cake that isn’t healthy for you anyway.

The Beatles had a hit song in “They Say It’s Your Birthday.” When it is your birthday, what will you say? Will it be all about you and “your” big day?

Just WONDER-ing: Is celebrating your birthday self-centered? Have you experienced the day you found out why you were born (other than the obvious biological explanation)? Other than birthday cake, what do you want to share with those around you on your big day?