The Phone Call…Part I

My parents are…unique.  Yes, that’s a good and ambiguous word to describe them.  My mom and dad depart from Canada every year in the spring and do not return to Canada until fall has begun.  Where are they?  They have a humble mansion-like home in Croatia.  So, what is a good daughter to do in order to keep in touch with her parents?   Why, she phones them regularly to ensure that all is well and that they are having a happy-go-lucky life.  Well, that is what a daughter with non-unique parents would do.  Me?  There is a bit of a process to ensure I can keep my sanity intact.

Whilst in Croatia, my folks reside a mere 15 minute drive from the grandiose city of Split.  My father is an avid vegetable / fruit gardener and bee keeper.  My mother is right there by his side.  Not willingly.  It’s kind of a wifely self-imposed prison sentence I think.  She prefers to cook and bake.  Sadly, there is only so much baking you can do if everyone around you is on a diet or diabetic.  This is the Croatian village life.  I felt this was important to mention so that you could more clearly understand my need to mentally prepare myself for … the phone call.

It’s Sunday in Canada.  Morning has passed.  It is now 2 pm.  I debate on whether it’s a good day to call.  Am I feeling happy?  Am I feeling energetic?  Could I handle a barrage of negativity?  Can I be supportive?  If my questions result in a sum of 3 out of 4 then it’s NOT a good day to call.  If I’m super-hyped and feeling supremely happy, then I take a few deep yoga breaths and dial the number.  I close my eyes and mentally prepare myself.  I never know what type of conversation I might be subjected to.

A typical phone call would start as follows:

[phone ringing.  Mom picks up]  Hello?

Me:  Hello.  How are you?

Mom: OOOOOOH!  It’s you! (in a piercing, ear-splitting voice).  Is everything ok?  Is there something new?  Why are you calling?

Yes, every single conversation begins this way.  Her highest hope is that there is some life changing news that she can share with everyone in the village and/or the rest of Croatia.  This standard call can then morph into one of the following sub-conversations.

MORBID.  With my parents, being part of the elder generation, there is a good chance that there was a funeral, or few, that they had to attend.  My mother provides me with the obligatory synopsis of the deceased’s life, what illness they ailed from, and how lucky that they no longer need to live in pain and suffering.  Her voice is sad and verges on tears.  From funerals she might proceed to discussion of the poor surviving family members, especially if someone else is ill.  In most cases, I have no idea who these people are.  I am obliged to listen intently and ask NO questions.  Questions only lead to attacks of my person and “how can you not remember them?!”  DEFINITELY no questions.

ONE-SIDED.  This is always an interesting one.  After the “anything new?” question, she will go on a diatribe about…almost anything!  It could be a person or people, or a group of people.  It could touch on the government and its uselessness.  Which government?  Why…any government!  They are all crooks.  It could segue to taxes and the exorbitant price of food.  Maybe the weather is uncooperative.  Too much rain.  Not enough rain.  Too much sun.  Too hot.  Too cold.  Too many bugs.  From bugs to things bugging her like her aching back and sore legs.  Why is it one-sided?  I could say something, but she doesn’t hear me.  I have actually put her on hold, picked up my other line for about a minute, gone back to her and there has been no pause in conversation on her end.  She hadn’t even realized I had put her on hold.  These are the days that I don’t mention anything on my end.  She either won’t hear me, and if she does, she won’t remember it.

THE LITANY:  This type has some of the elements of ONE-SIDED, but is mostly a regular list of complaints, usually dealing with the unbearable actions of my father.  It would include, working long hours in the field, the amount of food he consumes, his argumentative behaviour, his self-righteousness, his loud voice, his deafness, and lastly, his method of breathing.  Yes, my father does not breathe as a regular human should.  Don’t ask me to explain, I don’t hear it the way she does.

HAPPY:  This is my most cherished type of phone conversation.  I find this one usually occurs if I haven’t called in over a month.  My mother is happy that I had called.  She is happy that I am healthy.  She is happy that everyone is doing well.  She is happy with her life.  The torrential rainstorm is no longer a scourge, but a great nurturer of the vegetables.  The sweltering heat of the sun is helping everything grow better.  My father is an amazing person.  He is so helpful and kind.  She just can’t do anything without him.  She has visited with family…or better yet, family came to visit her and she cooked and baked and everyone loved it!  They had so much fun!  Yes, this is my all time favourite exchange.  It is also usually the shortest one.  There is only so much good news and “happy” thoughts one can sustain.

As you may have noticed, I have only mentioned my mother in all these phone conversations.  This is due to two facts:  1)  My mother likes answering the phone or 2) My father has answered the phone, said “Hello [blah, blah for 2 seconds]” and then “here’s your mother.”

And….everyone together now…deep breath in…exhale…

Prepare yourself for:  The Phone Call – Part II.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Cause I gotta have “Faith”…

Remember when I was telling you all about the rain drizzle weeks I lived through?  I know, I know “Stop talking about it already!!”  I promise, this is the last time I shall refer to it (this week anyway).  I bring it up because during those weeks I found that people had different coping mechanisms to deal with their SAD.  There was binge watching tv.  Extra snacking whilst watching tv.  Going out to eat instead of cooking.  (Ok, a lot of food references).  Going to the gym to exercise.  Movie night.  Those are just a few ways that folks were distracting themselves.  One that I did not mention, which I know makes a big difference and might be obvious is:  MUSIC!

Has anyone ever asked you, “Who is your favourite band or singer?”  Perhaps they have inquired about your favourite song.  In my younger years, while hanging out at THE bar after work, we used to play the Island game.  “If you were stuck on a deserted island, which album would you want with you?”  Good question!  This was not a judgemental question.  It actually led to a lot of great conversation about the type of music your friends liked and why.  Island living was basically forever so what could you tolerate for that length of time.

During my SAD time, I actually did turn to music.  I will be honest with regards to my listening choices.  In order to escape reality, my favourite thing to listen to is actually stories.  I subscribe to an old time radio show where stories from the 1930s up to the 1955s exist.  I love hearing tales and imagining the scenes in my mind.  It’s a beautiful distraction and my mind is fantastic at creating the scenes.  However, sometimes when I need to get into a better mood it is music that lifts my spirits.  I love upbeat music.  In most cases it is not even about the lyrics.  It’s about the beat.  I need a great hardcore thump-thump beat and there are so many musicians and/or singers that provide this for me.  So, when I hit my slump and I need a boost I turn to my recorded/downloaded tunes and dance away in my beloved kitchen.

Music has so many dimensions.  I used to play an instrument (looked like a mandolin, but it was a tambura).  I also sang in the church choir…from pre-pubescence to adulthood.  Music and song are a strong part of my life.  Listening to music on the AM radio was also a life changing experience for me.  When I finally got my own radio, it made me feel like I was friends with kids at school.  I was the outcast.  Being able to identify with the girls about music on the radio and the “rad(ical)” DJs helped with my un-coolness.  The AM radio phase became the FM phase (which I was not privy to), but music was still a huge part of my life.

Not only was I a member of the church choir, but I was privileged in that my parents let me quit the musical sect of Croatian culture (my tambura…prima) and let me join the dancing sect.  I LOVED (and still LOVE) dancing.  I was beyond grateful for this opportunity.  I sang well.  I played…mediocre.  Dancing…I was born for this!

I started off in the junior group because I had never done it before.  I did great!  I loved it!  I was absorbing everything so quickly that within a year I got to do stuff that I had only dreamt of doing.  I loved my group.  I loved our performances.  I appreciated everyone and everything that led me here.  I was enjoying living my life.  Even better…we got to go back to the “homeland” to perform in several cities there.  Us…from Canada…going to Europe. Pack your bags and your costumes and away we went.

Now, I know I have focused a lot on our Canadian dance group.  We were like a mini family. That was the greatest thing.  Not only were we traveling abroad, but we did have many practices to ensure our professionalism.  We had strict curfews.  Most importantly we were friends watching each other’s backs.  This was a trip that not only inspired us to do our best, but it created new friendships and several friendships led to marriages.  Quite the trip right?  The reason I bring this up is because there was one song that we, as a group, listened to over and over and over and over again in the travel bus.  It became our theme song.  It was a song that most did not know the words to except for one word.  When the tape deck (yes…it was a radio/tape recorder) came to that section of the song, everyone yelled it out in excuberance and happy defiance.  It became the anthem of our dance tour.

Thank you, George Michael, for the song that will always bring fond memories back into my life.  Your passing made me think about my life and how it would effect others.  If you can hear me, I would like you to know that your song “Faith” became a memorable part of our lives and perhaps the lives and memories of many others.  When we yelled out “BABY!” we all broke out laughing at our synchronicity.   You were special and so was your song.  If I were on a desert island, my go-to song for partying would be…

Paul Simon’s:  Me and Julio!

Sorry, not being mean, but truthful.  However our favourite line that we screamed and yelled out on our bus over and over again:  “BABY!”  from your (George Michael) song, “I gotta have faith” would lead me believe that I would be rescued.

P.S.  GM…you were so gifted.   You shared that musical talent with the world even though many did not understand you.  Thank you for pursuing your dream.  You were and are special in my life and the lives of many.  We truly believe that our lives will be great because we “gotta have faith.”

New illness revealed…

Everyday there seems to be some kind of new disease taking over the world.  I do believe I have discovered a new illness.  It is quite uncomfortable and irritating, and it usually clears up after a couple of days.  If I am correct, and this is a new disease, then I shall be famously known as the woman who discovered, diagnosed, and provided the remedy for the infamous Croatianitus (pronounced:  kro-aye-shun-eye-tis).  What is Croatianitus?

I am sure most of you have heard about Tinnitus.  It is a ringing or buzzing in your ears that only you can hear.  Croatianitus is something similar, but in an opposite way.  Instead of hearing the buzzing in your ears you find that you really can’t hear at all.  There is a pressure built up in your head, sort of like having your head wrapped up in a cotton ball helmet.  When people speak to you, you can see their lips moving and perhaps some sound will break through the fogginess, but your actual capability to hear normally has been adversely affected.

What causes Croatianitus?   This condition is most often brought on by being in public places with Croatians.  These are a jovial and entertaining group of people.  They prefer loud music and even louder conversations. This friendly group of humans started out in Croatia.  From there, emigration began and they moved to many different countries all over the world!  They brought their sense of joie de vivre with them and settled in cities where there were others of their kind.  Their raucous laughter and joke telling was studied in order to record their decibel levels.  After numerous studies, dB showed them way above healthy levels…closer to “shot gun” deafening.

I have been studying this society for quite some time now.  I have attended their marital rituals and other religious ceremonies.  I have been invited to and frequented other social events including annual group performances which showed their softer side.  Colourful, cultural dances and the vocalizing of historical songs.  All is well until their show is over and the socializing begins.

It appears very harmless.  Oftentimes you will move to a different room and sometimes even a different location.  Having completed their ceremonies, they become lax and free-spirited.  They congregate and speak.  This is symptom number one of Croatianitus.  You believe you are in a regular conversation, however, when this group forms you will find that they begin speaking at a dB (decibel) level of perhaps 30.   Very safe.  As more of them enter the room, there are more in-depth discussions beginning.  In order to be heard, the repartee of each mini-group grows in loudness.  Suddenly, you notice that the traditional music has begun playing in the background.  When did that occur?  You are already beginning to notice a difference in your hearing.

Symptom number two is when you realize that you yourself have begun to annunciate and speak louder.  This is an automatic self-preservation tactic.  In order to be heard above the din you must assimilate with the masses.  You lull yourself into a false sense of security at your ingenuity.  Little do you realize that as the seconds and minutes tick by, you have gone from “normal-speaking” person voice to the “Croatian” speaking voice.  This voice is at least three times louder than your normal speech and you feel comfortable because the “Croatians” smile at you happily and proudly as you have adjusted in order to join their world.

Symptom number three is the most fatal one and oftentimes is mistaken for tiredness or regular tinnitus.  After cavorting with these cheerful and partying persons, it is time for you to go home.  You start to say your goodbyes but you can’t hear your own voice.  After much analysis I believe that this is the reason why these people give big hugs and double cheek kisses at the end of the night.  No one can really hear them, and it is said that actions speak louder than words, so this is their way of showing you their joy and gratitude for your attendance.

Remedy for Croatianitus is a bit of a longer process.  It is all about patience.  You will notice that your ears will continue ringing.   The buzzing will stop, usually by next morning.  The newfound deafness could take up to a couple of days to clear, but you will get there.

The best way to ensure you don’t become prone to this illness is to limit exposure.  After intense study on this group, I have found that a two-hour maximum exposure limit will allow you to hear in about one hour after departing their company.  Anything longer than that and you are looking at the three day rule until full recovery.

How do I know all about this?  I myself am a Croatian.  I chanced upon Croatianitus after moving out of my parent’s house.  As mentioned previously, there were six of us in that house and the Over-Talking (a.k.a. “speaking over another person while they are still talking” because we didn’t consider that rude).  We knew we had to speak louder in order to be heard.  THAT was our training ground.  There was no “excuse me” or “pardon me for interrupting” it was survival of the fittest, or in this case, the loudest.

After departing the humble abode of my youth and moving in with Wiseguy hubby, he started lowering the volume on the tv set one night.  He asked if I could still hear everything.  I could. He lowered it again…and again…and again.  Surprisingly, I could still hear every word being said.  THAT was when I first realized there was something unique about being nurtured (trained) in a Croatian home.

EPILOGUE:  It has been five hours since departing my last Croatian function.

  •  Congregating time after concert = 2 hours.
  •  Hearing in my right ear = returned after 2 hours.
  • Hearing in my left ear = returned after 4 hours.

I’m back!

Did you miss me?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but let me tell you why I have not been blogging my little fingers off.

Wiseguy and I went to Europe.  No, it was not a last-minute decision.  We had booked our tickets back in February and the day had finally arrived for us to fly away and have a wonderful vacation in Europe.

Normal people book the summer off and jet away.  They take at least 3 to 4 weeks to enjoy the historical beauty of Europe.  In case you haven’t realized it yet, Wiseguy and I are not “normal” people.  I prefer the title of “unique” people.  As such, Wiseguy and I decided that we could really only be away for 10 days.  So it began.

We landed in Munich, Germany.  We drove for 8 hours down to a cozy little village in Croatia where FIL was anxiously awaiting our arrival.  After we unfurled ourselves from the mini car…ahem,  I mean “compact” car….we sat down and enjoyed our arrival.  We had driven from Munich through Austria, Slovenia, and into Croatia.  It was a looooooooooooooooong, but beautifully scenic, drive. 

The next morning we awoke to the sound of chirping birds…and the occasional crowing rooster.  We sat outside and enjoyed our new surroundings.  The panoramic mountains off in the distance.  We breathed in the fresh air.  Mind you, every once in a while you would get that one swirl of wind that would bring your nose to attention.  The smell of fresh manure from the neighbouring cows.  Mooo to you too!  I had a buddy goat that lived next door to FIL’s house.  (He belongs to the gypsy clan.  Yes, FIL’s neighbours are gypsies.)   As I would look at my goat friend he would baaa aaaaah at me.  Basically he was telling me to leave him alone while he grazed happily on his breakfast of grass and weeds. The neighbours also had two pigs of a variety I had never seen before.  One was black and the other was black and white.  The black and white was wasn’t speckled or striped.  His head and front two hoofs were white and then, I guess he got hit with paint or something, because his back half was black.  Unique right?  They also had a horse and old wooden buggy like they had on Little House on the Prairie

Honestly, being in Europe is like a time warp.  You have the modern stores in the cities but you drive 20 minutes out, village way, and BAM… farms and farm animals.  Nothing has changed.  The houses are the old cement and brick houses.  Some of them are old wood paneling.  The large vineyards there have been passed along from generation to generation.  Old ladies are wearing the babushkas on their heads and they have the trademark large, roundish black skirts with navy blue aprons.  They wander through their fields picking weeds out by hand.  Time warp right?

I will slowly share my adventures in Europe with you.  Traveling through Europe and taking millions of pictures to share with my family, was wonderful.  But being home and being able to hug and hold my family…that’s the best trip of all.  Welcome home!