Hungary For Information

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it makes my life much more interesting.  Curious George gets into trouble checking things out, but Curious Alice get more enjoyment out of life by looking into things.  Digging for information is particularly fun when planning a trip to a new place.  With a trip to Budapest scheduled for the fall, I am hungry for information on Hungary right now.

If you took geography while in school, at this point you are shaking your head.  What could possibly be interesting about getting the facts and figures about a geographical location?  So Budapest is, yawn, the capital of Hungary.  If Alice gets excited about that information, she’s the real life of any party, you are sarcastically thinking.

I agree.  What we learned in geography in school about far off places was pretty dull and lame.  But with a shift of focus on the subjects considered, learning about new places is pretty cool.

Take Hungary for example.  In preparing for my upcoming trip, I am writing down a new fact each day.  But these aren’t just any facts.  These are fun facts.  Let’s consider what I’ve learned and see if you view geography in a different light.

VAMPIRES!!!  Got your attention? Anyone who knows anything about vampires knows that Dracula was from Transylvania.  Transylvania is a historical region in today’s central Romania.  But Transylvania was formerly part of the Kingdom of Hungary.  Romania borders Hungary on the east, so it’s entirely possible that vampires reside in Hungary or at least visit Hungary from neighboring Romania.  Good thing to keep in mind if I am checking out the nightlife in Budapest.

GYPSIES!!!  The Roma (Gypsies) are an officially recognized minority in Hungary.  In fact, they are the largest minority in the country and make up about 5% of the population.  Several hundred thousand Roma reside in the country.  The Roma are renowned musicians, but their music hardly uses instruments at all.  Thus, Cher’s  #1 hit “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” is not a traditional Gypsy song and unlikely to be heard being performed by Hungarian Roma.

BAR ETIQUETTE!!!  Yes, that phrase sounds like an oxymoron as the social graces are typically not a top priority in a bar.  But there’s at least one social rule to be sure and observe while in Hungary.  NEVER clink glasses full of beer.  The alleged historical reason for this prohibition is that the Austrians celebrated their victory over Hungary in 1849 with a few mugs of beer that were clinked together.  Should you ignore this bar etiquette, rude stares or a bar fight might be on tap for you. Not a problem for me–I don’t drink beer.

DRINKING BULL’S BLOOD!!!  Since I don’t consume beer, perhaps I should order Bull’s Blood instead.  Don’t worry.  No livestock would be slaughtered to fill my order.  Surprisingly, Hungary is a large wine producing country with 22 official wine regions.  Bull’s Blood of Eger is a famous red wine produced in Hungary’s Eger region.  The wine gets its name from something that happened in Eger in the 16th century.  Hungarian troops, who were defending the town of Eger from a Turkish siege, were fed local food and wine.  That wine included the red wine produced from nearby vineyards.  Rumor had it that the dark red wine had been fortified with bulls’ blood to give strength to the small band of Hungarian soldiers facing a much larger Turkish army; this provision saved Eger from sacking at that time.  No bull!

YOU’RE IN HOT WATER!!!  Budapest is only one of two capital cities in the world which has thermal springs.  Hungary’s capital boasts approximately 80 geothermal springs.  The Szenchenyi thermal spa bath complex with 18 pools (3 indoor and 15 outdoor) is the biggest in Europe.  Thermal baths differ from normal baths or swimming pools in that hot water is drawn up deep from the earth’s surface where temperatures are higher.  Think of them as a natural hot tub.  That’s the kind of hot water that I want to be in!

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING COUNTRY!!!  Hungary has literally shrunk since its inception.  Its current borders were set in 1920 by the Treaty of Trianon following World War I.  As the result of that treaty, Hungary lost 71% of its territory, 58% of its population and 32% of ethic Hungarians.  Clearly the losers took a figurative bath causing territorial shrinking.

HOT AND COLD!!!  No matter how you like your soup, you can get it in Hungary.  Some like it hot.  One of the hottest dishes on the European continent is a Hungarian soup called Halaszle, a spicy paprika-based river fish soup.  Some like it cold.  At the other extreme is a summer delicacy, chilled sour cherry soup (megyleves), made from the fruit of the sour cherry tree which is found in abundance in Hungary.  Eating megyleves would be the cherry on top of your dining sundae.

SEEING RED!!!  Hungary is a major source of commonly used paprika, a ground spice.  This red powder seasons many Hungarian dishes, including Hungarian goulash, a soup of meat and vegetables.  Paprika comes from a word meaning “pepper” and is a symbol of Hungarian cooking.  Nevertheless, Hungarians cannot take credit for initially cultivating the plant from which the spice comes.   The Turks grew that plant in 1529 in Buda (a city later combined with the city of Pest to form Budapest), and are likely seeing red at paprika’s association with Hungarians.

See how much fun you have had learning about Hungary by reading this post?  Geography can indeed be entertaining and educational at the same time.  You’ll be hungry for information on Hungary and other places as well if it the facts are presented in an appealing and palatable manner.  Curiosity didn’t kill the cat; it was a boring lecture on dry geographical facts and figures that killed the cat’s curiosity.

Just WONDER-ing:  How much do you remember from taking geography in school? Do you think you will remember some of the fun Hungary facts from this post?  What fun facts would you want to know about a place where you intend to travel?



Sniffing Out The Story On Stamps

If you go to the post office next month, you may not smell a rat, but you might smell a popsicle.  No, USPS has not resorted to selling frozen goodies to raise money for its budget; however, it will unveil Frozen Treats Forever Stamps on June 20th, one day before the first day of summer.  And these aren’t just any forever stamps.  They are scratch and sniff stamps!

What postal customer could resist buying whimsical stamps with images of fruit bars and ice cream pops?  Who wouldn’t want to plop down fifty cents to  be able to affix a kiwi, watermelon, blueberry or strawberry fruit bar stamp on the envelope containing your mortgage payment?  Why, I’ll bet there will be lines out the door to snap up these “cool” stamps.  You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream stamps. NOT!

USPS may not have thought of the many issues with scratch and sniff stamps.  For example, who gets to do the scratching and sniffing?  If it’s the recipient of the letter, then the purchaser has no way of confirming he is getting what he paid for.  Sure, the stamp depicts a kiwi fruit bar, but does it SMELL like a kiwi?  And must the sender be PC and select an appropriate flavor for the recipient?  Should one send Aunt Bertha a birthday card bearing a  strawberry fruit bar stamp if she’s allergic to strawberries?  What if Grandpa doesn’t like chocolate ice cream?  Should he be forced to open a letter with a chocolate ice cream pop stamp blatantly affixed to the envelope?

Even more concerning is how long the smell will last. The stamp is advertised as a FOREVER stamp.  This leads the purchaser to believe that the stamp’s smell should last forever.  Is this false and misleading advertising?  And what remedy is there should the stamp’s smell fade away before the envelope’s addressee receives the stamped correspondence?

The post office would have to provide tester stamps for potential purchasers.  I mean who buys body spray or perfume without being offered a sniff sample from a tester?  Shouldn’t stamps with a smell receive the same treatment?  As a savvy stamp buyer, I’d say yes.

Producing scratch and sniff stamps isn’t the first time that USPS had used technology to tantalize the consumer.  In June 2017 Total Solar Eclipse stamps were released which utilized temperature sensitive ink to change the image on the stamp.  The stamp started off with an eclipse image, but put your hot little finger on it and the image changed to a full moon.  Wow!  How many more letters I would have written had I known about these scientific show stamps?  In actuality?  None.

Why this focus on stamps rather than timely and accurate delivery you might ask?  Good question!  Basically, USPS receives no tax dollars for operating expenses; it relies solely on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.  Thus, if it can sell more stamps, then it has more income.  Every year USPS commissions artists, illustrator and designers to develop twenty-five different stamps.  The rationale apparently is that new stamps will equate to more stamp purchases.

For the average John Doe, what is pictured on a stamp likely makes little difference.  Now, if it is Jane Doe, she might desire LOVE stamps to place on wedding invitations, but otherwise she probably could not care less about the design on the stamps.  Both John and Jane might want Christmas themed stamps for Christmas cards.  However, the same number of Christmas cards and wedding invitations will be sent regardless of what stamp design is utilized.  It does not seem that a design would significantly increase stamp sales.

The story might be different for a stamp collector.  A philatelist, who views stamps as miniature works of art, wants to add to his collection and might snap up newly issued images to fill his stamp albums.  (This desire makes the term PHILatelist apropos.)  There are an estimated 5 million people in the U.S. who collect stamps with regularity according to Linn’s Stamp News, one of the preeminent stamp authorities.  But most of these individuals are not serious collectors, so USPS cannot count on all stamp collectors to purchase each new stamp.

USPS may be trying to cash in on niche markets.  The just released Sally Ride forever stamp might capture the attention of postal customers who are aviators or scientists.  The Mister Rogers forever stamp released back in March might have a nostalgic appeal to older Americans who might actually still write letters and pay their bills via snail mail.

And speaking of snail mail, perhaps issuing snail stamps might be a humorous touch for stamps USPS could sell.  Wonder if Cuba, which has issued more than twenty stamps featuring snails, has made a mint from gastropod stamps.  I am fine with snails being pictured on a stamp as long as the speed of delivery is not commensurate with the speed at which a snail moves.  Let’s just make sure that any snail stamps issued are not of the scratch and sniff variety.

Scratch and sniff stamps leave me scratching my head.  The scratch and sniff feature is a mere bell and whistle which provides little value and not much entertainment to the scratcher/sniffer.  In my opinion, USPS needs to scratch below the surface of its financial woes and focus on improving service instead of offering gimmicks.  Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night should deter USPS from providing efficient service as opposed to envelope embellishment.

Just WONDER-ing:  Thumbs up or thumbs down on scratch and sniff stamps? Would a new stamp design or feature spur you to buy more stamps?  What stamp design or feature would you like to see?










As The Windsor World Turns

Although “The Crown,” a historical drama series produced for Netflix, has received critical acclaim for its biographical portrayal of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, nothing beats a reality show.  Millions of viewers are waiting with bated breath for the season finale of “As The Windsor World Turns” slated for broadcast on Saturday.  Huge ratings are guaranteed because so many juicy plot lines will come to a head.

Not since the days of the U.S. TV series “Dallas” has such an interest in the lives, loves and scandals of a family been so captivating.  While “Dallas” gave Americans the fictional Ewings, “As The Windsor World Turns” gives us the living, breathing Windsors.  Of course, no one refers to the family members by their last name.  They are known merely by one name with a title sometimes preceding it.  Instead of Ellie, J.R., Sue Ellen, Bobby, Pam, and Lucy from the American Ewings, the English Windors have Elizabeth, Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Harry.  But, families are families, so squabbles, scandals and snubs are to be expected and enjoyed–at least by the viewers.

“Dallas” famously ended one season with the shooting of older son and love to hate him bad guy, J.R.  Viewers were abuzz with the oft-repeated question  “Who shot J.R.?”  Guns are frowned upon in jolly old England, so no shooting is anticipated in this week’s Windsor season finale.  The Brits, as well as many of us across the pond, are buzzing with concern as to “Who’ll escort Meghan?”

How clever of the Windsors to end their season with the much anticipated wedding between Harry and Meghan, a time for family members to put on their best duds and behave their worst.  A wedding, of course, is a good venue to bring family drama to a head because relatives are forced to come face to face.  As the previews have revealed, the Windsors may be royal, but they are really just like the rest of us when it comes to a weddings. Love may be in the air for the bride and groom, but a wedding is a time when simmering family feuds rise to the surface.  The Windsors will be no exception.

For those who have not been keeping up with the story line, let’s provide a bit of a background.  The groom is the handsome son of a beloved princess who, unfortunately, took after her name, i.e., Di did die, and tragically at that.  But before her death, she did not live happily ever after because her hubby, Prince Charming–er Prince Charles, was carrying on with a former flame during their marriage leading to a DI-vorce.

The former flame ultimately married her Prince Charming to the great chagrin of the Queen who has referred to her daughter-in-law as “that wicked woman.”  (Hope the seating chart at the wedding reception keeps these two women on opposite sides of the castle.)  Prince Charles, in the meantime, is fixated on if Mummy Dearest, age 92 and still going strong, will ever retire and give him the opportunity to sit on the throne before he is forced to sit in a wheelchair.

The groom’s older brother, William, is none too happy about having to get all gussied up to attend the royal wedding.  His latest bundle of joy has been keeping him up at night to the extent that he is nodding off at official functions.  And, gosh darn, the wedding celebration conflicts with a big polo match he wants to attend.  He hopes to sneak out unnoticed to attend it.  Ha! Good one, Wills!

William’s wife, Kate, is also tired from popping out the third heir to the throne she has produced in the last five years.  Who said a princess has an easy life?  Just last month she left the hospital mere hours after giving birth having to be impeccably dressed and coiffed for a photo shoot outside the hospital door.  Now she has to get all dolled up and corral her four year old son and three year old daughter into being a page boy and a page girl at their uncle’s wedding  Bet Kate would probably be napping.  Perhaps she could hire a lookalike to attend in her place.

Then there’s poor Princess Eugenie, Harry’s cousin.  Although she’s engaged as well, no one cares about her.  Her cousins have succeeded not only in stealing her engagement limelight as well as pushing her down in the line of succession to the throne.  How much press has her upcoming October wedding to what’s his name received?

But as snubbed as Eugenie feels, her mother has gotten the public shaft.  Fergie (no relation to the Black Eyed Peas singer), the ex-wife of Prince Andrew with whom she still shares a home (two can live as cheaply as one, you know), has not been invited to the exclusive evening wedding reception being thrown by her former father-in-law, Charles.  You know Charles–the Queen’s son, Di’s ex, Harry’s father and “that wicked woman’s” current husband.

Just to add a little comic relief to the Windsor family drama, there’s the bride’s family.  Well, they aren’t much of a family, but they are related by blood, seemingly bad blood.  Meghan’s half-brother wrote an open letter to Harry telling him to ditch Meghan.  With family like that, who needs enemies? Meghan’s half-sister, in cahoots with Meghan’s father, arranged for some staged paparazzi pictures of the father of the bride.  The arrangement became public, things blew up and the FOB had a heart attack at some point causing him to announce he’d forgo walking his little girl down the aisle.  Wait!  Just kidding!  He’ll do it after all.  Oops!  Now he can’t because of the urgent need for heart surgery.  Who can keep up with all these plot twists?

Which brings us back to the big question of who we will see coming down the aisle on Saturday.  Sure all eyes will be on the bride if only to see whose arm she is holding as she makes her way down the aisle to her own Prince Charming, Harry.  What a crazy start for this couple trying to live happily ever after.

Yes, I confess I will be watching “As The Windsor World Turns” on Saturday.  Sadly, the show is not a fictional series but people’s real lives.  Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.  And given the reality of Windsor life, clearly being a royal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Royals may live in castles, but they also live in a fish bowl.

Just WONDER-ing:  Do you plan to watch the royal wedding?  Is there a place for royalty in today’s world?  Would YOU want to a royal?






The Tummy Mommy



There’s a forgotten mother on Mother’s Day.  This statement may be hard to believe given the crass commercialization of a holiday meant to honor motherhood.  More phone calls are placed on Mother’s Day than on any other day of the year.  Who could or would forget her mother?

Actually, this mother is not forgotten per se; she is simply not recognized or publicly hailed.  And that omission is truly sad because this mother is one of the bravest women out there.  In fact, this type of mother is my heroine both personally and professionally.

Who is this unheralded mother?  She’s a “tummy mommy.”  In case you are unfamiliar with this term, it is a description of a birth mother, a brave woman who has carried a child for months, endured the pain of delivering that child and then has her heart broken because she will not be raising that child.  The “tummy mommy” gives a child life biologically and then gives her child a good life by placing him for adoption.

Ignorant people claim that a “tummy mommy” is simply “giving away” her child.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A woman who places her child for adoption is exhibiting the purest form of motherhood, i..e., putting her child before herself.  She makes a choice that is excruciatingly painful so that her child can have what he needs (a stable home, two parents, etc.) and maybe even something that he wants, like a college education–things she is not in a position to provide.  The “tummy mommy” places her child for adoption not because she does not love him but because she loves him so much.

That a negative stereotype of birth mothers persists is something I cannot grasp.  When a woman makes a loving choice to provide for her child through adoption, she should be applauded, assisted and admired.  Instead, many look down their noses at her because she has gotten herself in this position because of some poor choices or poor planning.

Guess what?  A “tummy mommy” is a human being who, yes, just like ALL the rest of us has made mistakes.  But since no “do over” button is available, she makes the best of a difficult situation so that everyone comes out ahead.  She places her child for adoption to give her child the life he deserves and gets peace of mind that he will be cared for.  The child is provided for and gets a wonderful life.  The adoptive parents experience a miracle and achieve their parenting dreams.  This result is a win-win-win situation.

That is not to say that everyone lives happily ever after.  An adoption may be finalized and parental ties legally severed, but a “tummy mommy” will always be a mommy even if she is not raising a child.  A sense of loss and grief is normal for any caring person.  And a “tummy mommy” does care.  If she didn’t, she could easily have taken care of her “problem” by having an abortion.  But no, she signed up for months of physical discomfort, a hospital stay and emotional trauma.  This is one brave woman regardless of how she found herself in “the family way.”

“Tummy mommies” are much more common than you might think.  According to Adoptive Families magazine, approximately 18,000 American families adopt newborns in the U.S. each year.  And those bundles of joy don’t come from the stork; they come from living, breathing and likely crying “tummy mommies.”

What makes me an expert on “tummy mommies?”  No, I am not one, but I deal with them daily as an adoption attorney.  In my almost thirty years of practice, I have dealt with hundreds of “tummy mommies.”  And, personally, I am the aunt of a precious niece and nephew who have brought joy to my family because of the unselfish decision of two birth mothers in vastly different situations.  These women are of different races, live in different countries and speak different languages.  But both of them are women with huge hearts.  Each put her love in action by formulating a plan to make sure that her child would be well cared for when she could not do so.

“Tummy mommies” make life-altering decisions because their children are their first priority.  Sadly, some mothers choose to parent and then ruin their children’s life through abuse or neglect.  Just because a woman “keeps” her child and parents does not, ipso facto, mean that she is deserving of kudos.  Conversely, just because a woman elects to place her child for adoption does not mean she is automatically deserving of scorn.

Perhaps it is just as well that “tummy mommies” are overlooked on Mother’s Day.  Yes, they deserve recognition, but one mere day when material things are given to show appreciation to a mother comes nowhere close to heralding a woman who has given her very heart to make sure her child is provided for when she cannot.  There are not enough cards, roses and chocolate to express adequate appreciation for the brave and unselfish choice a “tummy mommy” has made.  “Tummy mommies” everywhere, I salute you–not just on Mother’s Day, but on every day.

Just WONDER-ing:  How would an adoptee’s life have been different if his “tummy mommy” had made the choice to parent?  Have you been touched by adoption?  How do you feel about the “tummy mommy” in that situation?







Horsing Around

What parent hasn’t told a child at some point or another to quit horsing around?  While figurative horsing around is frowned upon, everyone loves literal horsing around on the first Saturday in May.  Why?  That’s when the Kentucky Derby takes place, and all eyes are focused on twenty horses running around the track at Churchill Downs.

Not a big racing fan?  No matter.  The Kentucky Derby isn’t just a race; it is THE race and quite an event.  In fact, it is the longest running sporting event in the United States, dating back to 1875.

Don’t blink or you might miss the race itself. The Kentucky Derby has been dubbed “The Greatest Two Minutes In Sports.” That’s a pretty short period of time, so bathroom breaks should be planned accordingly.  The dirt track is only 1 1/4 miles long, and galloping three year old thoroughbred horses traverse that length in no time flat.

The shortness of the race is in stark contrast to the vast amount of spectators watching it.  Physically present is a crowd of over 150,000; a record crowd of 170,513 were there in 2015..  That’s a much greater gathering than for a World Series game or even the Super Bowl.  And millions more are watching the event out in TV land.

Just what’s so special about the “Run For The Roses?”  Well, the winning horse garners not only a rose garland of over 400 red roses sewn into a green satin backing but a $2 million purse.  That’s a lot of hay for the owner!

Everyone can participate in the financial aspect of the race because betting is not only allowed, but it is encouraged.  Odds are posted as to the likelihood of a particular horse winning.  The horse favored to win will not provide as big a payoff as that of a figurative dark horse winner.

Me?  I’m not a gambler.  Even if I were, I know nothing about horses beyond the fact that they have tails, four legs, eat oats and run.  I wouldn’t have a clue how to skillfully bet on the race entrants.

My personal strategy is to cheer for the horse whose name I like the best.  Entrant Vino Rosso’s name makes me scratch my head. What does wine have to do with a horse? Just what were that horse’s owners drinking when they came up with that name?  Possibly red wine?  This year I’ll be rooting for Enticed.  Why?  The name is simply enticing to me.

And if you aren’t enticed by the sport itself, who wouldn’t enjoy the social event that the Kentucky Derby is beyond the race?  The hat is the focus of Derby fashion.  My hat’s off to all those ladies who sport impressive, fashionable and sometimes humorous hats at the track.  Perhaps this would be a year to tip your hat to Kate Middleton by wearing a fascinator.  This royal mom of three has pushed the fascinator trend.  You have to admit that a smaller fascinator secured to your head by a comb or headband is much more practical for a mom of three as well as for female racegoers.

And to keep your spirits up before and after the race (hey, there will be nineteen losing horses out of twenty), spirits flow freely.  The drink of the day for Derby Day is a mint julep.  Racegoers in their fancy hats can daintily sip this alcoholic concoction before letting it all hang out during the race by screaming and yelling for the thoroughbred on which their betting dreams ride.

According to the official Kentucky Derby site, more than 120,000 mint juleps are served over Derby weekend.  To meet this drink demand, over 10,000 bottles of bourbon, 60,000 pounds of ice and a thousand pounds of freshly harvested mint is required.  The mint leaves are muddled to make this alcoholic beverage.

In my mind the connection between a horse race and a mint julep is pretty muddled.  The origin of the word “julep” might provide a clue.  “Julep” is derived from  the Spanish “julepe” which ultimately derives from a Persian word meaning “rosewater.”  Ah ha!  The winning horse will no doubt be thirsty from that running, but instead he is treated to a garland of roses to adorn him.  Roses are attractive, but not thirst-quenching.

Music also plays a traditional part in the horsing around at the Kentucky Derby.  The University of Louisville band plays the Stephen Foster ballad “My Old Kentucky Home” as the horses are paraded before the grandstand pre-race.  At that point in time, the horses are probably ready to head home to the comfort and quiet of their stable; the Kentucky racetrack is full of loud noises, other horses and tons of people.

I don’t live in Kentucky, but I will be watching the 2018 race from the comfort of my old Florida home.  Just for fun I might don a hat and fix a mint julep.  If my horse wins, why I might even be enticed to raise a glass of vino rosso in celebration.

Just WONDER-ing:  Have you ever attended a horse race?  Would you attend the Kentucky Derby if given the chance?