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Dear Madrone,

It's January and everything is a mess. I admit it. I didn't do my cards, my house looks like a cyclone hit it, my children run around like ragamuffins. But the real thing is that I don't care. I'm happy. People may or may not talk about me, behind my back, but so what. If they don't say it to my face, which they rarely ever do, it means nothing. And further more, I have no time to waste on BS. So I don't. I wouldn't even be writing to you, except that my husband, god bless him, says that I live like I'm a guest at my own party. This I find vaguely disturbing although he insists that he means no disrespect. When I press him on it, he just shrugs, kisses me on the forehead and smiles in a way that puts me in mind of that picture by that Italian guy that everyone is always raving about, or maybe like he's about meet a guy to arrange a hit. What do you think is going on?

Satisfied in General, but puzzled by this one thing, Fort Cumberland

Dear Satisfied, but Puzzled.

Hard to say what's going on with your husband. Easier to say what's going on with you. Which is to say, you aren't as sure of yourself as you tell yourself you are. Which could be a good thing, or a bad thing. Depends upon stuff you haven't mentioned in this letter, which I wonder if you even know, most people don't, which is why they write to me and I can afford a trip to Atlantic City now and then. But you bring up a good point, which is how to think about your party.

More on that below.

God bless, Donna

Dear Readers,

Here's a quiz: Take it and see what kind of party you're at and what you are doing there.

1. My refrigerator is

a. Always more than full, god forbid I am caught empty handed if someone drops in, lasagnas freeze and there's always rabbits in the hutch out back I can kill and stew. Goes great with the basil I dried from last summer. You want something? Sit, mangia

b. Full-- I plan my week out, get the shopping done, and make sure there are three meals a day, my mother would turn in her grave if she saw my kids go hungry.

c. Whatever is there is there. No one starves.

d. I have a refrigerator? Oh yeah. The box was a great present three Christmas's ago. Still have it in the garage or in the basement somewhere.

2. When it comes to sending birthday cards

a. I keep track of my family and friends on a calendar, and I have cards on hand, and stamps, so I never miss.

b. Relatives only.

c. I send to my mother and my children.

d. I love getting them.

3. When a friend has trouble

a. I organize everyone, so there's food each night, the kids get watched and the lawn mowed.

b. I send a casserole, I watch the kids every now and then, and take my turn mowing the lawn

c. I either send a casserole, babysit or mow the lawn

d. I shake my head.

4. When it comes to packing for family vacations

a. It takes me weeks to get everyone's stuff together

b. I get the kids ready, adults are on their own

c. I double check, to be sure

d. Whatever we forget, we can buy when we get there.

Ok,, I could go on, but you get the idea. *

(* For those of you who don't, I will now spell it out.

By your party, I'm mean your life. And the letters are what my people call attitude)

Here's the thing. In terms of being happy, or having people on your case or off it, it doesn't matter whether you're A, B, C, D or E or F or G or even Z. Whatever. My brother's mother-in- law's mother -in- law was a freak about cooking and feeding people. Which could have been annoying, but in her case, it wasn't. People were always happy to eat - and she was happy to feed, and that was that. And my sister's father in law's first cousin never stirred a sauce in her life.

But no one cared about that either. She didn't do food. And nobody cared.

So back to the reader who is perturbed by her husband's remark, she's not sure he likes her the way she is. Which he may not, which means either she has to change the way she is, or tell him to get over it. Or he's fine with her, and she's the one who needs to get a life. How to tell the difference? Easy. Next time he makes a remark, ask him to explain. If you don't want to know the answer, then don't ask. For what it's worth, what the quiz means

1. You're the caterer, event planner and equipment rental company all in one. But you're not there to enjoy yourself.

2. You're the host,

3. You're at a pot luck

4. You're a guest,

5. You're an honored guest. (very extreme, usually means you treat life like it's a wake, and you're the beloved corpse)

God bless, Donna



Pamela Bongiorno Monk is a full time faculty member of Penn State University, where she teaches creative writing, both fiction and non fiction. She pursues freelance writing, authoring plays and feature articles. She has broken nearly as many rules of family as she has enforced.

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