Monday, January 30, 2012

Man Candy Monday - The Ginger Edition

I'm on the Man Candy Monday blog today, talking about men of a certain flare. There's a certain panache ingrained in men of the ginger variety, and these guys have it in spades. Come by and have a look! Then join us tonight on Twitter at 9PM using the hashtag #ManCandyMonday as we celebrate these seasoned men.

Damian Lewis
Daniel Craig

Ewan McGregor

Fassbender (Click on shot for more)
Tony Curran

Max Martini
 [All images courtesy of Google images]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name Is Just As Thorny

Most people do not say my name correctly on the first try. Many don't get it right on the second or third attempt either.

It usually goes something like this:

"Hi, I'm Kiersten."
"Oh. Nice to meet you, Kerrsten."
"Oh," person says, clearly giving up and beginning to think I'm an uptight snot for insisting. "OK."

Usually, I'm a duck and this is where I let it roll off my back. Every so often though, like a cicada hitting its 17th year, I become uber sensitive to it. I had a choir director named Gordon who would use ever-changing versions of my name except the correct one, and I (fondly) called him on it until he eventually pleaded for a dispensation to which I magnanimously said, "no problem, Grover".

It's a respect issue and honestly, how hard is it to get right? First of all, I just pronounced it for you. Parrots could, well, parrot it back to me correctly given half the chance (except for the Norwegian Blue, but he has his own set of problems). It's even spelled phonetically! I'm mean, nobody calls Kierkegaard, Kerrkegaard, right? Of course not, because that would be silly.

I grew up in the 80s in a land of Jennifers and Stephanies and Christines where I was almost always the odd one out. The over-sized bifocal glasses, a Dorothy Hamill haircut, and a tendency to wear striped tops with plaid pants didn't help. This was also a time when it was quite popular to have stickers and notebooks and jewelry that featured your name. No revolving kiosk of name stickers at The Hallmark Store ever had KIERSTEN - believe me, I looked. Society conditions us to conform from the a very early age, and above anything else, I wanted to be normal, with a normal name that everyone got right the first time and not the strange girl with the weird name.

Thus in my early adolescence, I went through a phase of wanting to be called Kris; short and sweet with no need to buy that extra vowel. Two fundamental issues stood in my way: 1. I went to school with the same kids I'd been with since kindergarten who would never, ever call me Kris, and 2. The few times people did use it, I forgot they were speaking to me. Kinda important to answer to the name by which you wish to be known.

Ironically, I have a myriad of nicknames, from K to K-squared to Kik and KiKi to Squirt the Flirt (thanks sis) to, well, you don't need to know that one. Suffice to say for someone in a love/hate relationship with her name, I failed to grasp the fact that the people who loved me most rarely used it themselves. My ever-evolving personality had carved out names of its own.

Are we defined by our names? Or do we do the defining? Do we display name-associated characteristics from birth or do we grow into their prophecy? Dickens famously named his characters to reflect their personalities. Scrooge, Cratchit, Havisham, The Artful Dodger, Fagin, Drood, Fezziwig. In my own writing, I've both set out with one name for a character only to end up with someone different, and stayed with the same name all the way through to the happily ever after.

By the time I hit college, I'd come to own my full name, to enjoy the cadence of its five syllables, to be proud of the uniqueness of its spelling. Perhaps I finally realized I'd left normal behind a looonnnngggg time ago (seriously overrated). Or maybe it was because the naming of children had gone full circle until the stranger the name, the trendier the child.

And I do so like to set a trend.

Last week, my landlord's husband called me Kris (spelling mine). He always calls me Kris and after the first six months at the (no longer) new address, I stopped taking note of it. This is a man set in his ways, which more often than not are blurred by too many Pabst Blue Ribbons. He's not gonna get it. But last week, it struck a chord. That's not my name. And I remembered that lonely girl who just wanted to be normal with a normal name.

That's not who I am anymore.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11, 1913

Ninety-nine years ago today, 
January 11, 1913, 
my grandmother, 
Frances Litzenberger Krum, 
was born. 

My nana taught me to watch Wheel of Fortune (though my heart belongs to Jeopardy) and how to cheat at pinochle. She loves to read; my first Harlequin romances were thanks to the collection on her bookshelf in the middle room of the Philadelphia row house where she raised her family. To this day, I can't think of her old phone number without the Ivy Ridge code in place of the first two numbers. She wrote short stories for many years until her hands and eyes began to fail. Some of my earliest memories are singing K-K-K-Katie with Nana. 

When I moved back to New Jersey in the late 90s, I would go down to Philadelphia to have lunch with my grandparents and dinner with Nana, (combined visits ended with my parents' divorce) sometimes only hours apart. We would order cheese steaks from Fiesta Steaks (it was always Fiesta) and sit around the kitchen table and talk. For all her concern about my weight, Nana was always trying to feed me; if nothing else, peanut butter crackers could always be found in her old breadbox. In the fall, I would try to take her on a long drive back up through Slatington where she was born to Walnutport where she grew up in a house alongside the Erie Canal, a stone's throw from the Lehigh River. Those trips became more difficult when she moved into assisted living, but her will to move and do and live continues to outlive her body's ability to do the same.

Our last big trip was during one of my sister's rare fall visits when drove down from Jersey, picked up Nana and drove out to Jim Thorpe, PA. As we wound our way up the turnpike and through the mountains, Nana started singing "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain." Always game for a song, I threw in the echo and joined her in the tag. There was a pause as she settled into contented silence. After another quiet beat, I sang "She'll be riding six white horses when she comes" and from the front passenger seat came the laughing echo "when she comes". We sang our way up into the mountains, shifting to hymns and arguing about word choice and laughing, always laughing.

In 2008, when my own mother was so very ill, I took a solo trip down to Philadelphia, a beautiful spring day. Nana and I drove down East River Drive, the sun sparkling off the swollen Schuylkill River. For once, Nana was eager to park and walk along the river, or at least as far as we could before the flooded walkway stopped us. We sat on a stone wall and soaked up the sun, a rare moment alone when we could talk uninhibited (this was the time she told me about the dream she had where she was abducted by aliens, another post entirely) and simply enjoy each others' company.

Halloween 2010. I had picked up some holiday headbands at Target for my mother and I; a witch's hat for her (Freudian much?) and cat's ears for myself (natch). We went to Philadelphia that Halloween weekend and as per our system, took my Nana to her local Target where she likes to sit in the cafe and watch the people as we talk. Mom put her witchy headband on Nana and I wore my cat ears and Nana and I wandered through the store together so decorated, earning smiles and laughter from strangers along the way.

Last year, Nana suffered the latest in a series of strokes, the residual effects enough to require her move into the full on nursing home in her facility. It's been hard to see her since then, to watch the women she is struggle to come to the surface in the prison of her failing form.
Since she turned 80, Nana has claimed she didn't want to live to 100 - her own mother, my Granny Litz, was 104 when she passed away - but, fortunately for us, God has so far had other plans. But she's  not done yet. In the six months since her stroke, she has improved greatly. I saw her over Christmas, and naturally her first words to me were "you've gained weight" to which I replied, "yes, thank you for pointing it out. Really, you're too kind." She chuckled, "yeah, yeah" and there she was again, my Nana. She may not lead with trump again or sing a full chorus, but she's not done yet.

Not by a long shot.

Happy Birthday Nana. 

You've had one hell of a ride.