Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tis the season to relax

When I was a young mother, my holiday celebrations revolved around my children and their 2 sets of grandparents, both living in different cities.  Looking back on those years, what I mostly remember about Christmas is me rushing to gather up the kids, feed the dogs, collect whatever my contribution was to the meals and get out the door to first one set of grandparents and then the other.

In my family we open our gifts on Christmas Eve. It started when I was a teenager. My parents would host a party for family and very close friends, where everyone would bring a dish for the buffet.  Then at midnight, after all but my mom, dad and brother had gone home, we each got to open one gift, saving the rest for Christmas morning. Over the years it evolved into opening them all on Christmas Eve and when my 2 kids and their 3 cousins joined the mix, it became a huge orgy of flying gift wrap and picture taking. After all of the gifts were finally opened and the last dessert eaten, I would bundle the kids and all of their booty into the car for the long drive back home where I would spend the rest of the night putting together toys and setting out Santa's gifts.  My daughter was a Barbie fiend, while my son loved all things GI Joe, both of which involved intricate and surprisingly fragile sets that had to be assembled ahead of time less the kids open the boxes and try to fit the tiny pieces together by themselves. On Christmas Day the entire thing would start again, but with the other set of grandparents. When we moved to Montana, more times than not Christmas vacation meant a long, cold drive to Southern California to spend the holidays with extended family. Most of the time what I wanted for Christmas was a nap.

Christmas is a good time to take stock of your life and count your many blessings. Among my blessings this year I count the continued good health of me and my children, good friends, a job I can do at home, my perpetually cheerful albeit deaf dog, a cozy home in a great city, the ability to shop online (no lines and free shipping!) and a peaceful, relaxing Christmas season. I love the memories of all of my past holidays, hectic and exhausting though they may have been, and I wouldn't trade one of them. But being the age I am means I get to do the things I want to do when I want to do them. No longer having to make intricately decorated sugar cookies for an entire classroom of kids, or wreaths from green-tinted corn flakes and red hots for Brownie troops means I can indulge in my craft fair habit, watch a marathon of Criminal Minds, read a book, even take that wished-for nap. Instead of a long drive to Southern California, I will be boarding a plane for a short flight to Seattle to spend New Year's Eve and the week after with my good buddy, Cindy. I have never been a New Year's Eve celebration kind of girl, but this year that changes. No doubt we will eat too much, drink too much and laugh until we get dizzy...just because we want to and we can.

Life is good on this side of 60...and it is getting even better.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Real tree vs one from a box

I am dithering, going back and forth over getting a real tree for the first time in at least 10 years and getting another boxed one.  I bought an artificial tree the 2nd year I lived in Texas after an awful experience with drooping limbs and dropping needles the year before.  It (the fake tree) was lovely!  Tall, full and gorgeously green, its limbs were sturdy enough to take on all of my glass and metal ornaments, some of which are fairly heavy.  It survived a move to Montana and a move to California, but it disappeared under suspicious circumstances from a moving van on its way to my current home.  I believe it is living happily in someone else's living room along with my umbrella stand and a wicker hamper I had bought over 40 years ago (into which I had packed my two favorite purses!), both of which also mysteriously did not make the final trip.

I have early memories of my dad cutting a tree for us when we lived in Montana, not at an approved tree farm, but just some random field outside of town.  My brother and I never got to go with him to help choose it, my dad would just go out and come back later with one tied to the top of our station wagon.  No doubt not having kids with him made it easier for him to move quickly should someone object to him wielding an axe on their property.  When we moved to Southern California, we left fresh pine behind in favor of an aluminum tree.  I remember my mother unpacking it when she got back from the store...setting up the stand, sliding the tubes off the branches, assembling the tree. That year marked the end of homemade ornaments, tinsel and candy canes on the tree.  Instead we had round glass balls, all one color, and a huge sparkling star for the top. Instead of strings of colored bulbs, we had a light with a revolving disc of colored plates that, when pointed at the tree, turned the whole thing red or orange or green.  I laughed out loud recently to see the same tree and light display, now considered vintage, on Etsy for over $300!

In the late 70's, my husband, daughter and I lived in Oklahoma.  The first year we were there, as a fairly poor Air Force family, we waited until Christmas Eve and bought a tree for $1.50 from the local hardware store.  It was actually only half a tree, being flat on one side, but it fit nicely up against the wall! The next year we bought a $1 permit to cut a tree from the bison range about an hour's drive from the Air Force town of Altus.  Off we went with a hatchet and rope, ready to find the absolute best tree.  We traipsed thru the field, hopping over huge bison "field apples" looking for the perfect tree only to spy one in the distance that looked even better.  Finally, after a couple of hours of hopping and traipsing, we found a gem of a tree and set about cutting it for transport.  Now you would have thought that two intelligent adults would have realized that the fact that it was taking us a really, really long time to cut it down, might have been a clue that the tree was a little larger than what would fit in our duplex. You also would have thought that those same two adults would have taken a look at the way it fit on the top of the car, or rather didn't fit, easily dwarfing it, and realized that it was a little bigger than what we needed.  You would have been wrong.  It wasn't until we had driven all the way home, unleashed it from the car and tried to cram it through the doorway that we realized this thing is HUGE!  We were so tired and covered with sap by the time we had finished wrestling with it, that we threw it in the backyard in disgust.  The next day I cut the top 1/2 off and had a nice 5 ft tree and enough pine boughs to decorate a ballroom.

So a fake tree from a box or a real, live, gorgeous, fragrant tree that my friends have generously offered to cut for me?  So long as they don't have to hop a fence or traipse thru bison land to get it, I am thinking the real thing!



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I would rather be poked in the eye than drive anywhere during the Holidays

It was December 1990 and my family was living in Missoula, MT. The house was festively decked out for the holiday season including an honest to goodness real tree, a rarity for those of us who grew up in warmer climates. We were settling in for our third Christmas in Montana, looking forward to sipping cocoa by the fire while admiring the holiday lights in the valley below. My dad had passed away in May of that year and my mom had thought to visit us but had changed her mind when faced with the snow and cold, sending our presents ahead as we had done hers.  Two days before Christmas she called, sounding woe begotten and lost, devastated by the reality of the first Christmas without her husband of 40 years. I looked around at the house, the kids, the dog and uttered the fateful words "Lets go spend Christmas in California!" We ran around the house in a flurry of activity, grabbing the unopened presents, stripping the tree then tossing it on the back deck, canceling in-city plans, packing for Christmas in Southern California.

It took 21 hours driving straight thru to reach my mom's house. 21 hours in a car with stops only for quick meals and even quicker bathroom breaks is only hard on the parents. The kids loved it. The excitement ramped up when we hit the California border, dimming slightly as we passed the desert towns of Barstow and Baker, only to reach a frenzied high as we neared the freeway turnoff that my 12 year old daughter recognized as the way to grandma's. "We're almost there!" she kept telling her 9 year old brother, dragging Cricket, our Springer Spaniel, onto her lap so that she, too, could see. "Almost at Gramma's!" Excited to be included, Cricket responded by licking the cold window and then Jenn's cheek, then the window again. "Yuck!" my daughter said, shoving the dog off her lap and toward her brother. "We're almost there!"

Christmas was wonderful. There was sunshine all week long and being with my mom, my cousin, my brother's family that first year without my dad was something I will always treasure. But eventually we had to return home on a drive I like to call the Nightmare After Christmas.

We were driving in the family car, a huge Chevy Suburban, with the back seat flipped down so that the kids and dog could sleep all the way to Montana.  It had turned bitterly cold and the farther we drove North, the colder it got. Our windshield kept icing over and it was snowing so heavily that all we could see was a swirling flurry of white coming at us. It was after midnight and we were in Utah, a little south of Salt Lake City, crawling along, hoping we were still on the actual road, when we heard an odd thump from the engine. Had we run over something? The thump was followed by a strange noise like a banshee screaming in the night accompanied by a weird shimmy of the entire vehicle. Worried that pulling over and stopping the car would mean we wouldn't be able to start it again and we would be found frozen two days later by the side of the road, all curled around each other in a futile attempt to stay warm (I've seen that movie!), we limped into a small town, woke up the manager of a motel and settled in for what remained of the night. The next morning our hopes that the engine would have magically cured itself were dashed. We were advised that there was zero chance the car could be repaired in the little town we were in, so had it towed to a slightly larger town. All of us (including the dog) piled into the cab of the tow truck with the driver, a man who was inclined to run red lights and who had suggested that the dog ride on the flat bed of the truck because he was just sure she would love that. No, thank you, I said...my vacation was not going to be remembered as the one where the family dog, who had never ridden in the back of a truck, ends up road kill (I had seen that movie, too). We found another motel and began calling to find a repair place that was open on Sunday. Of course there were none. By this time it had stopped snowing and the whole eerily quiet town was covered in snow halfway up the doors. Nothing was open except our motel and a mini mart a long, cold block away.   

The news was not good. The engine was toast. This was well before the advent of the Internet, so finding a new engine meant calling around to locate one that was available and within driving distance, which in Utah meant anywhere in the state. On the 2nd day one was located...it would be there within 24 hours...48 at the most...and it would be installed immediately, unless it arrived on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day or Sunday, which, of course, it did.  By the time the new engine was installed, I had given up any pretense of shopping for nutritious meals at the mini mart and had taken to turning my daughter loose with a $20 bill and carte blanche. I spent hours making long distance calls on the motel phone, racking up astronomical charges, calling other Speech coaches to cancel a High School Speech Tournament I was supposed to host the following week (they were not happy), rearranging appointments and keeping my family updated. I finished 3 books, watched more TV than in the entire of my previous life, read enough magazines to supply a Dr's waiting room, and gave hourly thanks for whoever had invented the Nintendo Game Boys that my kids had gotten for Christmas. Tetris became our salvation in that motel room...a room filled with perpetual wet dog smell, food wrappers and cranky people. By the time we left, $3500 poorer but Tetris champions all, we were a little crazy. Except for my dog, who, as a pack animal, had loved having her pack sleeping and eating in one room. I believe she may have whimpered a little when we loaded her back into the devil's car, as I now regarded it.

When we got home late that night, eager to drop into our own beds in separate (!) rooms, I realized that in our haste to get on the road to Christmas, we had forgotten to do a few things...ok, a lot of things.  Like close drawers or clean up or make beds or do dishes or empty the fridge or leave the outside back spigot turned on a little so that water could move. The pipe had exploded sending a geyser of water over the Christmas tree, the deck and the dog house, where it had then frozen so that whole area was a giant ice sculpture with the very top of the tree poking up like a flag.

Time has given me a little perspective on the trip.  Things that seemed awful at the time became things to be laughed at, retold and even cherished. But I never touched a Nintendo Game Boy again.  And I will never, ever drive anywhere for any reason over Christmas break.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kids, blogs and turning your brain to mush

I read a blog recently on LinkedIn entitled "Electronic 'Baby Sitters' turning brains to mush". Interesting, I thought...did someone actually find definitive evidence that playing video games (I am assuming that's what the electronic babysitters are and not some version of Rosie the Robot) affects your brain and if so, how did they get that evidence? As it turned out, the blog had nothing to do with mushy brains, but was a description of a family the author had eaten breakfast next to in a restaurant.  Apparently the parents had given their two young children (aged about 2 & 4) iPads when they sat down, then engaged in adult conversation while they waited for their food. The rest of the blog was a rant (polite, but a rant nonetheless) lamenting the death of dinner table conversation and the necessity of parents using a trip to a nice restaurant as the optimum time to encourage its rebirth, even pleading with parents to please, please teach your child the art of conversation. I laughed out loud. I can vividly recall taking my own children out to eat at that age, pulling crayons or puzzles or small toys out of what my daughter called my purse-o'plenty, and hoping they would be occupied long enough for me to 1) actually eat my own dinner and 2) talk to another adult about things other than Barbies, GI Joes and Transformers. Sometimes that actually happened. The author readily admitted that the children were polite, quiet and seemed to be enjoying dinner.  Where, then, in this pleasant family tableaux was the evidence of brain mush? As a survivor of parent/children restaurant wars I have to admit that when I see children being seated near me at P.F.Chang's, I cringe, imagining screams, shrieks, whines...and noise from the children, too. If it had been me at the table near the iPad wielding parents, I may have stood up and applauded.

We see this sort of overblown and exaggerated headlines in news stories all the time. Who among us hasn't gotten reeled in by a headline proclaiming something awful or stupendous had happened, only to read the article and find it either completely fact challenged or sometimes an outright lie.  I confess to having opened many a photo collection, drawn in by You Won't Believe How These Celebrities Look Without Their Makeup, thinking (hoping) to find Jennifer Anniston looking like a hag, only to see that ok, she is still drop dead gorgeous.  But I was surprised to find someone on a social media networking site, someone whom I followed, using this tactic.  Did the author think that no one would read her blog if she called it something closer to its actual content....like "Step away from the iPad, Billy"? Or did she really believe that the event she was describing was actual evidence that children's brains are being adversely affected by the use of an iPad in a restaurant? I scrolled down thru the comments submitted by readers and found that all of them agreed with her.  No one pointed out the lack of brain mushery, let alone that there is not much difference between what these parents did and what I, with my purse-o'plenty, did years ago or what my mom did by encouraging me to bring along a Nancy Drew book. Of course it could also be that those of us who did not agree, refrained from saying so, not wanting to be contentious.

The author closed the blog by saying that these children are "future employees and leaders in our community and we need them to be articulate and healthy" and not "mesmerized by electronic pictures".  I don't know why this blog bothered me so much.  It is her blog and she is free to make any number of sweeping generalizations based on nothing more than her observation of a family eating breakfast.  I have read worse blogs and even worse blogs by this same person! I recall one entitled "Nine Life Lessons" accompanied by, for some bizarre reason, a photo of Marilyn Monroe.  The life lessons turned out to be bullet pointed gems such as "the more I teach, the more I learn" and "process sets you fee".  As I read the recycled Lessons, I marveled at how this author ever amassed 257,520 followers.  And maybe that is what bothers me.  The fact that 257,520 people read this blog...and that I was one of them.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

It's November...time for craft shows!

I love Fall craft shows!  From small ones held in church basements, to shows so big they are held in sport stadiums...I just love them all.  Today my friend, Marilyn, and I headed out to what was advertised as the largest craft show in Western Montana.  Held in the ballroom on the top floor of the student union at the University of Montana, it featured over 80 vendors, with items ranging from pottery to homemade jam to knitted scarves. I could have easily emptied my bank account, but am proud of the fact that I limited myself to just a couple of purchases.  I am ashamed to say that at no point during the show did buying Christmas gifts for anyone else even enter my mind.  Nope, it was all about me. My favorite purchase is the pair of mittens pictured below.  Assembled from at least 4 repurposed sweaters and lined with fleece, these will certainly warm my hands on long chilly walks...the fact that they will also make me smile is just icing on my Christmas cookie. 

Today's jaunt made me think of the ghosts of craft shows past...beginning when my daughter was just a baby.  In Southern California, virtually year-round sunshine means most craft shows are held outdoors, many of them in abandoned drive-in movie theaters...which, when you think about it, is the ultimate in repurposing!  I would bundle Jenn into her stroller and, fortified with homemade strudel purchased from a lovely German couple, would wander the aisles for hours, admiring the variety of goods available and, since money was short, memorizing the crafts in the hopes of replicating them at my own craft table at home.  Many a Christmas gift was based on those crafts I admired but could not afford at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

The largest show I have ever attended was at the Tacoma Dome, an indoor sports arena.  My adult daughter (a craft show veteran herself by this time) and I went each year we lived in Washington.  A mix of both handmade and imported items, the show filled two huge rooms generally reserved for basketball games and was so large they had an entire wall of food vendors and a stage populated by local choirs and bell ringers.  My favorite item from the Tacoma Dome years is a gorgeous cut linen cloth imported from Austria, about 18 inches in diameter, shaped like a star and heavily embroidered with gold poinsettias.  I bought my mom one at the same time, embroidered with red poinsettias...she re-gifted it.  Word to the wise: not everyone loves crafts shows or their merchandise.

The most beautiful craft bazaar I attended was in a fabulously decorated, 4 story Victorian mansion in Kalispell, where local singers, dressed in vintage Dickens costume, caroled in the chilly Montana air.  We were snug inside, enjoying hot chocolate and Christmas cookies while we shopped for delicately tatted doilies so airy you would swear they were fashioned by fairies and wooden toys, looking to be straight from Santa's workshop.

The smallest show I can remember was in the cafeteria of a local high school, and was advertised as having something for everyone.  The parking lot was full as my friend and I pulled up and we were eager to get inside, hoping the abundance of cars meant an equal abundance of remarkable crafts. We entered through a door, followed the signs up the stairs and down several halls to find a handful of tables haphazardly spaced out along the walls of an enormous room.  We could have played indoor soccer in the middle of that space and not endangered a single display. When we made our way back out of the maze of corridors to the still full lot, we realized the cars belonged to the students who were taking their SATs in the auditorium!

Today's show was my first since returning to Montana but it certainly won't be my last.  I am, after all, a craft show addict and will attend them until I can no longer walk on my own.  After that, you'll find me shuffling along, wielding my cane like a saber as I cut in front of those who might be younger but cannot possibly be as determined as I to reach that display of handcrafted tea cozies.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Wine, Food and Friends, not necessarily in that order

Now that I am fairly well settled in to my apartment, I wanted to reconnect with friends I haven't seen in awhile and show off my new place. I have always loved having friends and family gathered around my table, but what to do when I no longer have a table? I worried that there wouldn't be space to entertain 1 guest let alone 8 or 9. I decided on a wine tasting with food to follow, figuring that plying my guests with good wine would encourage them to ignore the lack of space.  I searched online (thank you Google) for how to host a wine tasting and found page after page of ideas, most of them urging me to pick the type of wine tasting I wanted to host.  Did I want to sample wines from a certain region? certain year? certain varietal? I really enjoy wine but am by no means a wine aficionado and the only thing I was really certain of after my research, was that it was all very confusing. One thing they were all very clear about was the need to have 2 bottles of each wine...one for tasting, one for drinking.  I could get behind that, so I headed off to the local wine store, hoping inspiration and clarity would magically appear. As I gazed at the bottles and bottles lining the shelves, helpfully segregated by country then by varietal, still waiting for that aha! moment, I realized that what I was really hoping for was a shelf labeled "try these 5 wines at your wine tasting event". Sadly there was no such shelf.  I wandered thru the wines picking up one bottle to try and match it to another bottle, then find a third, only to have a completely different wine catch my eye, at which point I put the other bottles back and picked up the new bottle, only to start the whole thing over again. Clearly putting together a thoughtful, clever, awe-inspiring wine tasting was not my forte.  Then, standing in the row of Australian wines, a shiraz in one hand and a pinot noir in the other, my aha! moment struck. I was way overthinking this whole thing. It was a party for heaven's sake, not a graded event.  I put all the bottles back, pushed my cart to the first row, took a deep breath and decided to choose wines I wanted to try. 

First I found a Cline Ancient Vine Mourvedre from Sonoma.  Some good friends had toured their winery last year and had great things to say about it, so that seemed a good choice.  Then I located a Concannon Petit Sirah from Livermore Valley, CA.  I had never heard of the vineyard but I like petit sirah, so 2 bottles went into the cart.  I spied The Barrel Blend from Hill Family Estate in Napa and  suddenly could barely catch my breath. I was transported back to my brother's deck where we shared many a bottle of wine including this one.  I almost cried when I picked it up and added it to the basket.  I credit my brother with my interest in wine.  He really was an expert and since he passed away last December I rarely drink wine without thinking of him. I took another deep breath and continued. I picked a Grundlach Mountain Cuvee for no other reason than I liked the name, and a Santa Ema Carmenere, because all the other wines were from California and I felt the need to go international.

I am happy to report that the wines were all delightful, the food was plentiful and tasty, and the lack of a dining table didn't seem to bother anyone in the least.  In fact, as we gathered around my kitchen island, tasting then drinking wine, I had another aha! moment.  It isn't the thoughtfully selected wine, the carefully planned menu or the huge table you gather around that makes an evening.  It is the friends, the conversation, the laughter we all shared. It's the telling of new stories and the retelling of old favorites.  It's knowing that the people in my living room watching college football highlights are some of the best people I know and that I am thankful for each and every one of them.  I could have served bean dip, Fritos and Coke and everyone would have had just as good a time.  But I am really glad I went with the wine.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

A trip to the driver's license office

Last Fall I was lucky enough to accompany my good buddy, Cindy, to Vermont to visit friends.  While there I bought a wonderful Merino wool cowl neck sweater in a luscious plum color and a bulky, nubby knit, multi colored, shawl collared cardigan to go over it.  Completely impractical since I was then living in Southern California, but cozy and delightful in the coolness of September Vermont.  One morning last week I happily donned the two sweaters, knowing that I would not have to shed any layers in the chilliness of the crisp, Fall Montana weather. It was raining heavily when I left so I grabbed the umbrella next to my door and set off, eager to exchange my CA license for one that says MT.  I had an appointment and went right to the counter, where a woman directed me  to her desk.  I gave her my application, driver's license, copy of my lease and my birth certificate, which I realized is in amazingly good shape considering its age.  She looked at my California license, then up and me and said "Well, I see you are dressed for Fall."  Having no answer for that, I smiled.  "Yes, quite the Fall colors," she said.  No real answer for that, either.  She then took my birth certificate, which is from New York, and remarked, "Well, New York.  That is quite a long ways away." She seemed to have a firm grasp of the obvious and no need for a response from me, so I just smiled again.  "I see you have an umbrella," she continued.  "We don't really use umbrellas here, although I think back East your people do."  My people?  I was born in NY, true, but spent less than 6 months there, certainly not long enough to be assigned to the people there.  "Here," she said, "we just dash into the buildings quickly.  You see it doesn't really rain here, just quick showers."  Hmmm, I thought, it was a downpour when I left my home and it had gotten worse when I arrived.  I suppose I could have left the umbrella at home and had my new driver's license photo taken with soaking wet hair and running mascara.  I wondered briefly if I would have seemed more Montanan to her and less one of "those people".  I declined to comment, but continued to smile thinking that at this rate my photo would show me baring my teeth in a back Eastern snarl. She checked over my paperwork, directed me to look into the vision device, then took my photo and gave me a temporary license. As I got up to leave she said "Well, try to stay warm today and don't forget your umbrella, although it has probably cleared up by now."

As I left the office, I lifted the open umbrella over my head, noting with satisfaction that no, the rain has not stopped. I entertained myself with the image of my marching back into her office and shaking the very wet umbrella right at her. I could only hope that when she left for the evening it was still pouring...buckets and buckets of nice, wet, rain...the kind "we" have back East but apparently not in Montana.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

You won't catch me dressing up for Halloween

Halloween used to belong to kids.  They dressed up as witches, ghosts, dead presidents and ran laughing through their neighborhoods, stopping at houses that had porch lights on, thrusting out their pillow cases and shrieking Trick or Treat! If an adult dressed in a costume it was either for a party or to escort their children on their candy quest, maybe holding a bag for a child too young to hold her own.  These days it seems there are more and more adults who love to dress up for the day...bank tellers, office workers, fast food employees. Dressing in costume now seems to be the norm rather than the exception.  I won't be joining them.  No, I am not the Halloween equivalent of Scrooge.  I just don't like dressing up. My older brother and I never got to choose our costumes.  My mom made that decision and we never knew what we would be dressed as until Halloween night. Our costumes were not always complex or well thought out. Sometimes, pressed for time, we were Hobos, wearing  old suit jackets of my dads and beards he simulated by pressing a burnt cork to our faces. Sometimes we were cowboys.  Since we lived in Montana, that was a no brainer. But every so often my mom would really get into the spirit of the season and design elaborate costumes, sometimes with cringe worthy results. 

Along with being a movie fan, my mom is very, very, very competitive.  One Halloween when I was about 8, our church was having a party complete with candy, games and a costume competition that my mom was determined to win.  On the night of the party, I dressed in black and green lounging pajamas of hers, rolled up at the ankles and wrists, sat at the kitchen table while she slicked back my hair into a long braid she had fashioned out of nylons and a black scarf, and closed my eyes as she outlined them in black eyeliner. I had no idea what I was supposed to be and even less when my dad came in from the garage carrying a long, skinny wood slat with a rope tied on each end, from which dangled a paper bag stuffed with newspaper. He plunked it across my shoulders and my mom proudly turned me toward a mirror.  I stared at my reflection, still without a clue.  "It's from The Good Earth," she said.  I had never heard of the movie and it would be years before I read the Pearl S Buck book upon which it was based. I am happy to say there are no photos of me in costume. We hurried into the car and off to church, only to find that we were late and the costume judging had already taken place.  My mom was crushed, but I was secretly relieved.  Balancing that stupid piece of wood across my shoulders was not easy, and I had dreaded getting up there with the fairies, the witches, the princesses, the ghosts. My mom spent the rest of the night telling people we would have won but we were late while I spent the rest of the night mumbling "I don't know" when the little witches asked me "What are you supposed to be?"

But the absolute worst costume is one I still shudder to think of. I was about 5 and when my mom called me into her bedroom, I was excited to see a cute, white, frilly dress laid out on the bed.  I imagined I was going to be a fairy or a princess or maybe even a bride.  I eagerly wiggled into the dress loving the way it swooshed around my ankles when I twirled. I looked at my brother, who was dressed in a jacket and tie and his Sunday shoes, and wore a sign around his neck that said "I Married a Monster from Outer Space".  My mom held out my mask...a huge rubber monstrosity that fit over my entire head and from the top of which extended two long curved Tupperware iced tea spoons....yep, you guessed it...I was the monster.  What my mom had not counted on when she devised the costume was that the adult sized rubber mask was not made for a child's face so the holes for the eyes were somewhere around my nose, the opening for my mouth below my chin.  All of which conspired to make it impossible for me to do more than blindly stumble around after my brother, tripping up our neighbors' porch steps, while my breath condensed on the inside of the mask.  After about half a block, I ripped the mask off, sucking in the cool night air, sweat pouring down my face and dripping off my hair.  My dad looked a little horrified and suggested I not put the mask back on.  "But then Buddy's costume doesn't make sense," my mom said, as if having your costume make sense was the goal on Halloween.

To her credit, my mom was an equal opportunity costume stylist and did not spare herself in designing impractical costumes.  One year she went to a party as a TV set, legs and arms sticking out of a box my dad had painted to replicate our TV & then had taped her into, foil wrapped around her head with the dreaded Tupperware ice tea spoons of my childhood sticking up on top. My dad wore his everyday khakis and carried the remote control. She hadn't considered that she would have no way of sitting down in the box or going to the bathroom without completely undressing.  I have no idea what happened to the box, I just know it didn't make it home with them. 

I stopped Trick or Treating when I was about 11, content to hand out the candy rather than go begging for it.  Around that time my brother started going out with his friends, looking for fun and trouble...and paying me 50cents to smuggle a carton of eggs or a package of toilet paper out of the house.  All in all, not a bad deal when you consider I would have done it for free...especially if it meant I didn't have to wear a mask. 
Me & my brother
Montana Cowboys

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What makes you feel old?

When I was 16, my mom and I were window shopping at an outdoor mall (the only kind they had in those days) and as we stood side by side gazing into one of the big JC Penney windows, the sun briefly went behind a cloud and in the relative darkness we could clearly see our reflections staring back at us.  She gazed steadily at hers for a minute, leaned a little closer, turned her head slightly to the left.  Finally she said, "Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and wonder who that old person is.  Inside I still feel like I am 19." I remember mentally rolling my eyes and  thinking "Seriously?  19?"  Many years down the road, I realized that my mom was all of 39 when she and I gazed into that window...hardly old by anyone's yardstick. Yet for some reason, she felt old.

Remembering that day makes me wonder...what makes you feel old? Is it a number thing...the big 4-0, 5-0, 6-0...7-0?  Is it a physical thing when you try to do something you used to do with ease only to find you can no longer do it? Or is it a random moment like my mom's when you gaze into a window and the person gazing back is not someone you recognize? I suspect it is different for each one of us and maybe even different from day to day. 

Here are some random things that make me feel my age:
Thinking back on something that happened 40 years ago and realizing it was 40 YEARS AGO!
Watching an NFL game and remarking to my son, that guy looks younger than you...then having my son respond, they are all younger than me
Knowing what a party line was because your family had one
Seeing a friend I haven't seen in awhile and thinking...wow, she looks old
Seeing a screen shot of David Cassidy's DUI booking photo and thinking, wow, he looks old
Seeing a current picture of Madonna and thinking...see above
Getting down on my hands and knees to fish something out from under the couch, then wondering how to get up
Having a friend old enough for Medicare...and then realizing it won't be long....

My mom and I share a passion for old black and white movies...Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Lana Turner.  We used to snicker at the way the director would shoot the no-longer-in-their-30's leading ladies...with flattering light and a soft, slightly out of focus lens...wondering who they thought they were fooling.  I don't know who my mom sees when she catches random glimpses of herself in store windows these days. If she still sees a woman who is older than she expects, I have the answer for her.  Take off your glasses...your image will be softly blurred, just like a closeup of Lana Turner.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Deer, birds, geese and a candy wrapper

My dog is an early riser.  I have tried for years to convince him that 7:30 or even 7:00 is a perfectly acceptable time for him to do his morning business.  I have had limited success.  So it wasn't surprising, really, when this morning I heard him politely clearing his throat at 5:30am.  I rolled over and stared down at him, his front paws on the edge of the bed.  "You realize it is waaay too early to get up, don't you?" I ask him.  "Yes, Mummy, it is quite early, but I rather badly need to go outside," he replied.  I should mention here that my dog is unfailingly polite...he is, after all, an English Cocker Spaniel, and as such does not use American slang or contractions.  Early on my son thought he might possibly have a less refined accent, but my daughter pointed out that no one with a name like Ridgebury's Uptown Debonair could possible have a Cockney accent.  We have since learned she is correct.  "Fine!" I grumble as I get up, trudge into the bathroom to splash some water on my face, then to the door to done a sweatshirt, gloves and scarf.  As I open the door, I see it is raining.  I have to try again.  "We could, you know, wait until this eases off a bit before we walk".  "Hmmm," he says.  "Remember this summer when we were driving across the desert and it was unbearably hot?  You stopped so that we could walk about a bit.  And I suggested I could wait until it cooled down a little, perhaps around midnight.  And you said no, we have to stop now.  And I said, but Mummy, the pavement is terribly hot.  And you said..."   "Fine!" I grumble again, stepping out into the downpour.  In all fairness I should mention that it was actually just a fine mist but to my sleep deprived grumpy mind it had assumed the properties of a monsoon. I can tell right away that this will not be a short walk.  Not only does Colton not mind the rain (it's that British thing again) he is never one to just go out, find a bush and lift his leg.  No, no.  If one bush is good, then 30 must be wonderful. So we slowly make our way down the walkway to the sidewalk, heading toward a large patch of grass on the other side of the complex, stopping so that he can examine each bush, rock and several cars.  As we get close to the grass, I can hear a cacophony of birdsong exploding from the oak tree at the edge of the lawn.  It's amazingly loud and, I have to admit, really beautiful.  Added to the song is the call of one of the three huge crows sitting atop the fence surrounding the community trash bin, alerting other crows that breakfast is served.  As we amble across the lawn, I glance up to the slight rise on the other side of the fence and gazing back at me are 2 deer, being still as only deer can be. We look at each other for a bit, then one of them drops her head down to resume nibbling on the ample grass, while the other turns and faces me head on and gives a little snort, accompanied by a stamp of her front feet.  "Sorry!" I call to her. "Carry on."  I turn away to show her I am no threat and suddenly I see a flock of Canadian geese flying in formation off to my right.  I hear them now, their loud honking startling in the early morning.  I realize even the birds and the crows are silent as the geese wing their way overheard, changing direction several times, dipping and weaving their way thru unseen air currents.  My dog has stopped moving and I look down to see if he, too, is enjoying this early morning splendor only to find that he has come upon an abandoned Reese's Peanut Butter Cup wrapper and is eagerly sniffing over every inch of it in the hopes that there is a little candy left.  I find myself grinning in delight at the crows, the birds, the deer and the geese, and laugh out loud at the sheer absurdity of my dog and the candy wrapper that is now stuck to his nose. 

He finishes his business and we walk back to the apartment...well, I walk, he trots a happy little jig, well pleased with how the morning has gone.  As I give him his Milk Bone for a job well done I say to him "Listen up, Bud.  Just because we went out early this morning, we are not, I repeat NOT going to make a habit of this.  There is no guarantee the birds and the deer and the geese will be there again and zero chance that the candy wrapper will still be on the ground!" He doesn't say anything, still happily munching his treat, but I think he rolls his eyes at me.  "Dumb dog," I mumble, reaching down to give him a quick rub on the top of his head and, since I am already bending over, a longer rub of his ears.  As I turn away to start the Keurig going for my morning caffeine fix, I swear I hear him chuckle. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

It's Football Season!

I have been so busy these past few weeks with unpacking and organizing in addition to working my regular job, that sometimes it seemed as though all I could do was fall onto my couch at the end of the day.  Finally, after being in the apartment for about a month, my living room is livable, I have dishes and silverware in the kitchen, artwork and mirrors on the wall, and clothes hanging in the closet.  I also have a gazillion unopened boxes in the 2nd bedroom, but I am getting good at not focusing on them!  Because now it's September which means it's Football Season! Years ago, when my son was about 13, he and I began a tradition that we continue to this day...our weekly football pool. Each Fall I buy a brand new notebook to record our predictions and successes.  Every Sunday we list all the games and make our picks, then, fortifying ourselves with junk food, turn on the TV and spend the day in an orgy of Football.  Because we live in a state that does not have a pro team, we used to get whatever game the powers that be chose for us. Since we live close to both Seattle and Denver, that usually meant the Seahawks and Broncos. But now we have an amazing cable channel...the Red Zone!  The channel is only active on Sunday and shows every red zone opportunity in a whip around format.  Instead of waiting impatiently thru the sometimes yawn inspiring televised game, waiting for updates from games we actually want to see, we get to see every single touchdown with no commercial breaks.  As soon as a team moves out of the red zone or if the game goes to replays, it switches to another game.   If more than one game is about to score, they split the screen. It's fun, fast, can be completely confusing and costs a mere $5.45 a month!  It and the DVR have greatly increased our enjoyment of the game.  With a DVR, if we really need another view of that incredible 60 yard run, we can rewind it and see it again and again and again.  That feature has settled many a spirited discussion about whether it was a fumble or incomplete pass, whether or not the runner stepped out of bounds before crossing the goal line, whether it was off sides or a false start.  Don't get me wrong, I have been to live football games, both college and professional, and have enjoyed the camaraderie, the festive atmosphere, the cheering and sometimes deafening noise that follows when you get 50,000+ people in one place.  But today's at home experience is so amazing that I have to say I enjoy it much more than live, in-stadium viewing. Instead of climbing down the bleachers and waiting in a long line for the bathroom, thereby missing what is sure to be the play of the game, with the click of a button I can pause the game, do whatever needs to be done, then resume it, comfortably seated on my couch. 

When my dad was alive, he and I used to watch college football on Saturdays...no remote control, no DVR...just him and me and a small TV.  I miss my dad and I miss those Saturdays with him.  But he loved technology and I know he would have loved the ability to control the viewing of the games the way we can now.  He would have loved the football pool, too, but he probably would have won every week.  Where I sometimes choose a team just because I want them to win or because I really don't like the other team, he would have made his choices based on the best chances for the outcome. My son is that way, too.  No matter how much he really wants the Raiders to win, he will choose the team he thinks will win.  I think it's a guy thing. When my daughter used to participate, she would sometimes choose her winners based on mascots...and sometimes she won. 

This is the 19th season for our football pool.  Who would have thought that what started as a way for me to spend some time with a teenage son, much the same way my dad began watching college ball with a teenage daughter, would still be an important part of my life all these years later. This Sunday and every Sunday between now and the end of the season, I will sit on my couch, remote control in hand, watching football with my son, thinking of my dad.  There are worse ways to spend my time, but not many better.

Friday, August 16, 2013

It's a waiting game, but it's almost over!

Over two weeks in the new apartment and still no belongings. There are, I am told, few households moving to Montana right now and they are unwilling to send my stuff on its own.  It makes sense, I suppose, but it's getting a little frustrating.  I apparently thought the moving van would appear as soon as I wanted it to, as though it was existing in an alternate universe just waiting for me to say the magic words that would whisk it from the faeire realm and materialize it in my driveway!  Sadly that did not happen.  But...I finally have a date!  Not a firm, we-will-definitely-be-there date...more of a we-might-be-there-but-we-might-not date.  Sometime between the 18th and 23rd of this very month, I will finally have a couch, a bed, my dishes.  My spacious and virtually empty apartment will be spacious and empty no longer.  Where blank floor space now exists, there will be boxes upon boxes of things needing places.  Some things will never find places, at least not within the walls of my apartment.  Through yard sales and donations, I will eliminate anything that I don't need, love or have room for. Ordinarily I would hesitate to dispose of furniture that I might someday use.  But since I have made the decision to live smaller, I think it is important that the things I have fit the space they occupy.  I am adding new multifunctional and/or organizational pieces...a combination wine/liquor/china sideboard, a smaller desk, counter height stools for the kitchen island, a row of hooks for hats/scarves by the front door with a rack for boots/shoes below.

Meanwhile, in Southern California, my 84 year old mum is having the opposite problem.  After having lived for 12 years in a small house, she now has a spacious doublewide with tons of storage and room to sprawl. She texts me regularly (yes, people that age can text...they don't lose the ability to spell/type just because they are older!) to let me know about new furniture she has ordered and where it will go. She is delirious over the built in hutches that will give her so much room to display her tchotchkes and if I know my mom, she is planning on buying even more display cabinets.  I try to imagine myself in her shoes, not downsizing but upsizing and find the idea does not appeal.  More space=more space to fill with stuff that will need dusting.  So I am wondering, at what point do you stop admiring the collectibles you have accumulated over the years and instead become a curator of them? Am I becoming a Minimalist?  I don't think so, but I am keenly aware that eventually someone will have to sort thru my belongings, deciding what can be thrown out, what needs to be kept.  I would rather that person be me than passing the responsibility on to strangers or worse, my children. 

So here I sit at my new desk in my otherwise fairly empty apartment, waiting on a truck to bring me more stuff than I can possibly find room for.  I figure when the boxes start unloading I will either calmly direct the gentlemen as to where they can place said boxes or run screaming for the hills.  If I pass you in my mad dash toward Mount Sentinel, spare me a kind thought. After all, there but for the grace of God go you, my friend.

Friday, August 2, 2013

My Own Little Space

My dilemma over studio vs larger space solved itself this past week, with a little help from a friend.  Apartment hunting in a smaller community is not the same as apartment hunting in larger, metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or Austin.  There isn't an endless supply of places to live and premium apartments go quickly.  My friend's husband, who haunts eBay and Craigslist and who could make a very good living finding things on people's wish lists, found a newly listed apartment in a great location for a price I could manage.  I viewed it the next morning and rented it that same day.  Just in time.  My sweet retired show dog, Colton, is going on 13 now and the stairs at my friend's house were becoming increasingly difficult for him to manage.  This apartment is main level, so no more tortuous climb for him (or me). While not a studio, the apartment is by no means large yet not quite small, either.  At around 950 sf, it has an light, bright, open concept living room and kitchen, big bathroom and two smallish bedrooms.  There is a little patio with a yard for my puppy to enjoy and the assigned parking space is smack dab in front of the apartment...a definite plus. More importantly, the space just suits me! Sitting at my kitchen island last evening, eating pizza off a paper plate, drinking a very nice wine (thanks, Don!) from a coffee cup, it suddenly came over me in a rush that I am seriously, deliriously happy in this space!

When my truckload of belongings finally arrives from California, I am going to execute a thoughtful move.  My sister in law gave me the idea when she was describing how, after her house has been remodeled, she was going to take her time unpacking, keeping only what she really likes and really needs. All of the rest, those odds and ends that we acquire along the way, will be sorted into give away or sell boxes. I like that idea. Why put a muffin pan in my cupboard when I never plan to make muffins?  Why do I need 6 layer cake pans when I would rather poke myself in the eye than bake a layer cake?  I even have a little pan, providence unknown, that makes tiny loaves of something.  I don't know what since I have never made tiny loaves of anything. These things are going straight into the yard sale box.  But there are some things that I will probably never use yet I will also probably never get rid of.  A single crystal goblet, a silver tea pot, a cut glass punch bowl with a removable stand, silver plated cutlery, cutwork table runners, a crocheted afghan in eye-popping avocado and orange...all things from various grand and great grandparents.  All priceless.  I don't want to get rid of them, but have zero interest in displaying and therefore dusting them. There are also lots of things from childhood (both mine and my kids') that I will never, ever part with.  Everything else is fair game. 

Being in the apartment without my furniture is giving me the time to mentally place furniture and art work.  I know exactly where I want my things to go right down to the kitchen knives and my favorite salsa dish. When the moving truck rumbles into the parking lot sometime next week and the ramp clangs down, I will be ready to officially move in.  But I already feel like I am home.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

From house to studio?

When I decided to move back to Montana, I thought I would rent a 3 bedroom place. Anything less seemed....less!  I scheduled a visit to Missoula to finalize plans.  On my first day there, my friend M was showing me the basement space they renovated several years ago into a large studio apartment. 700 sf of open concept with a gorgeous fireplace, oversized window, compact kitchen, nicely sized bathroom. I have always admired the space and I laughingly remarked that she needed to toss her tenant out so that I could live there.  To my amazement, her tenant had that very day told them that she wanted to move closer to her son and his new wife, and would she be able to find someone who could step right into her lease. Was that a sign?  Did the tenant really make that decision at the exact time I arrived so that I could move in? Would it be that easy?  As it turns out, no, it wouldn't be. 

When I first considered the move to the studio, my immediate thought was can I live in a space that small?  Without doors?  Without walls??? What will I do with all of my stuff?  I have not only boxes and boxes of my own possessions, but the remainder of what my kids did not take with them when they left. My daughter, that amazingly practical and logical woman, suggested that this might be the perfect time to get rid of a lot of the stuff I have been dragging from state to state.  She pointed out that unless forced to do so, I will never sort thru the boxes upon boxes of extremely important items to see just how extremely important they actually are.  She knows me too well. The Plan Step 1...reduce, reduce, reduce.

The Plan Step 2:  Organize, organize, organize.  It occurred to me that I could not possibly be the only person on the planet who is downsizing right now, and in fact a Google search revealed many, many others who are making very similar journeys for a variety of reasons.  The trick, apparently, is in managing the space itself, organizing it in such a way as to take advantage of every nook and cranny, making sure that anything brought into the space has a purpose. There are dozens of sites in support of life in smaller spaces, some of them much smaller than the one I was considering, offering tips and opinions on everything from multiple use furniture (everyone agrees with the need for this) to room dividers (opinions vary here...some say an enthusiastic yes, others a definite no). All of them agree on one point...the importance of keeping the home neat and organized. Armed with this knowledge, and with The Plan firmly in mind, I began mentally assessing and arranging furniture, stocking the kitchen cabinets, choosing the perfect paint colors to set off the various areas where I would work, sleep, cook and enjoy media (that sounds much better than 'watching tv').  I was excited by the challenges inherent in downsizing, determined that my studio apartment would be the very model of efficiency and style!

Do I even need to say what can happen to the best laid plans?  After packing off my belongings to a facility where they will be stored for the next 30 days, and driving to Missoula with a car filled with a month's worth of clothes, my dog and an inflatable mattress, I arrived to find that the tenant has delayed her move for at least 6 months! Now I am faced with a dilemma.  Do I go forward with plans for a studio apartment, even though it won't be this studio apartment?  Will another apartment be as charming as this snug little basement space with its big sunny window and cozy fireplace?  Or is this a cosmic sign that I shouldn't live in a much smaller space?

As my daughter texted me in response to my tale of woes...time for Plan B! 


Monday, July 8, 2013

Camping by the Blackfoot River

My friends M and D are inveterate campers.  They search out and usually find the perfect out of the way campsite in which to pitch their tent and park their camp trailer and raft.  When you go camping with them, you know three things: water will be close by, dogs will be welcome and the meals will be at least as good, if not better, than the ones they prepare at home.  No Girl Scout Tacos for them!  Dinner might be steak, sweet potatoes and corn on the cob, or spaghetti, garlic bread and salad. And wine...lots of good wine.  D is of the opinion that if he can't eat better than he eats at home, then what is the point?  I concur. So when they ask me if I want to join them on their camping trips, I say sure...as long as I don't have to sleep in a tent, float the river or skip showering.

I am not a great overnight camper.  As I get older I have to get up during the night way too many times to be comfortable sleeping in a tent, where you have to plan far in advance before making the trek down to the concrete block enclosed loo or sewey hole, as my son used to call it. I also am way too fond of showering with hot water everyday to relish the thought of skipping one or two days on purpose.  But I will cheerfully drive up in the morning to enjoy a day of camping, so long as I get to drive home that night to sleep in my own bed. Fortunately my friends are fine with this and even take advantage of my coming late to the party by asking me to bring things they have either forgotten or didn't know that they needed.  This past week, when I joined them at their camp next to the Blackfoot River,  I brought a gallon Ziploc bag of dog food, mustard, and two bottles of wine...one white, one red.  In turn, I texted a person coming even later to bring ice. 

I love camping by a river. I love the sound of it, the sight of it, the vibrancy of the rapidly rushing body of water bearing rafts, canoes, and inner tubes full of other people.  Emphasis on the other people. I decided years ago that my enjoyment of bodies of water was best done from the shore. Canoeing as part of camping is something I did when my kids were little and have little desire to repeat.  The whole carrying the canoe over my head while dragging a cooler on wheels behind me in 100 degree weather, was too much like work and not anywhere close to fun. An incident with a large boulder followed by a liberal application of duct tape to the canoe, cemented my decision.  Ah, but sitting on a canvas chair under a canopy of pine branches, beside a gurgling, frothy river, a cooler within reach filled with locally crafted beer and Moscato, watching a chipmunk sneak past a snoring dog to snatch a nugget of Kibble, counting down the hours until it is cool enough to start a fire...that, my friends, is a little bit of heaven. To enjoy all of that with good friends is simply priceless.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Quick Visit to Missoula MT

Now that I am moving back to Montana, I had to take a quick trip to retrieve my car from my son, who had driven it up when he moved about a month ago, and to find a place to live.  While there, in between reacquainting myself with the city, I manage to squeeze in an early morning walk with my friend's dog, Lady, a sampling of the new locally crafted gin, and a camping trip. 

The first day and a half was spent settling into my friend M's guest room, fetching my car, taking my son shopping ('cause that's what moms do) and driving around to see what had been built, torn down or otherwise changed in the 2 years since I lived there.   On the 3rd day, I ventured out for a brisk walk to Rattlesnake Creek.  My friends were clever enough upon moving to Missoula over 25 years ago, to choose a house within walking distance of a creek and Greenough Park.  They have had a succession of nature loving dogs over the years, the current of which is Lady, an 80 lb mix of retriever, hound and maybe a little pit.  She has one blue eye and one brown eye and is so light on her feet you barely hear her walk.  I wasn't the only one to venture out on that sunny morning, passing moms with kids, a dad running with a baby stroller, several bikers and at least 3 other people and their canine companions.  Lady is the perfect walking companion, eager to run on ahead, but remaining within eyesight.  She came when she was called, stood beside me to politely let the bikers pass, and did nothing more than give the approaching dogs a tail wag and brief sniff.  When a lady came within shouting distance with an overly bouncy dog, straining at the leash and trying to dance around us (the dog, not the lady), doggy Lady didn't even mind my putting the leash temporarily on her.  After the human lady and the bouncy dog had passed, I quickly took the leash off, apologizing into her mismatched, but incredibly soulful eyes, promising not to make her suffer that indignity again. 
As anyone who has ever gone on a walk with a dog can attest, you tire long before the dog does.  Lady could have done her dancing walk twice around the city, but I was ready to call it a morning after I had crossed the bridge and admired the creek. Clearly that is something I will have to work on if I am to gain Lady's respect, not to mention getting her to agree to accompany me on other walks.  I would be chagrined if, the next time I offered to have her take me to the park, she politely turned up her doggy nose.  I can hear her now... "Are you going further than the bridge?  No?  Then no thank you,  I would rather take a nap." She is clearly a well brought up young lady. 

There are those places at which you have only to point a camera to capture gorgeous scenery. Vermont, where I vacationed last Fall, is that way.  So is Montana. On any given day, you can find a deer grazing in your yard, a hawk sweeping over a river, a mountain turning pink from the setting sun. All you have to do is point your camera, or in my case, your phone, and you can bring all of that nature home with you.  I am so excited to know that within a few short weeks, I'll be back in Missoula full time for, hopefully, more than a few years. 

Next time: Missoula's very own gin and vodka distillery, and camping on the Blackfoot River.

Monday, June 17, 2013

I'd pay good money to have that done for me

I read a blog this week on LinkedIn by someone who said she was self employed and needed a boss to get her motivated to work and to keep on task. As I read it I thought Pfftt! I have a boss and most days would happily trade her for 3 petite vanilla bean scones and a grande bold, no room for cream, from Starbucks. Instead of a boss to motivate me, I need someone who loves doing tedious, thankless tasks that I don't want to do, or if she doesn't love to do those tasks, is at least willing to accept $$ to do them.  Housecleaning, for example.  As I get older and am less inclined to twist into the pretzel position needed to scrub floors and dust baseboards,  I am thankful for younger, fitter people who are willing to clean my house in exchange for money.  Washing my car is another task I choose not to do myself, but in that case I don't actually pay a person but a machine into which I drive as the clever arms twirl about my car, soaking, soaping, brushing and drying.  I sit, enjoying the bubbly, swirling water, thankful for whoever invented this amazing machine and for whoever else decided the perfect place for it was right around the corner.  Ditto for oil changes, window washing and dog grooming.  I happily pay someone to do those jobs, someone who does them much better than I could.

Increasingly I have been dreaming of someone who will photograph and post my jewelry on Etsy.  Today, as I was trying to come up with the magic words that would both capture the essence of my newly created bracelets and automatically catapult them into the proper search fields, I found myself wanting to Dragnet the paragraphs...just the facts, ma'am.  Overcome with the inability to craft one more fun/charming phrase, I am actually angered by this need for description and type "Look at the photos, like it? buy it!"  I feel mildly ashamed of this and delete it, only to substitute phrases so overblown I run out of adjectives. Around the third time I use the word 'great' in relation to a nice but clearly not great bracelet, I understand I have to save my work and come back to it later when I have had either coffee, wine or chocolate...or some combination thereof.  Part of the problem is my own procrastination.  I love designing and creating jewelry, am exhilarated by the process of taking a pile of beads and findings and having a finished bracelet in my hand that matches the one in my brain.  But words cannot describe how much I loathe putting the listing on the site...dealing with the pictures, struggling with light and backgrounds, sizing and uploading the images, the agony of choosing from drop down menus, the tedium of pricing, tagging, posting. So it comes as no surprise that I let the jewelry accumulate in pretty little sparkling bunches, as I wait for inspiration to strike. 

And suddenly I realize that the LinkedIn blogger was absolutely spot on.  I do need a boss to make me do the work. I need someone to motivate me to do it when each piece is newly created and not at the end of the week when I have a dozen sitting there, not earning any money. Of course the only person I can afford to hire is, yep, myself. The blogger may have mentioned that at some point in the blog that I Pfftted at.  Sigh...I hate it when bloggers are right.

This the original blog. 


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Farewell to a house

Life is about change and heaven knows my life has seen change over the last two years.  I relocated to another state, started a business on Etsy, had my full time work hours cut to part time, lost my brother to cancer and am helping my mom with not one, but two moves.  Each event has brought its own set of challenges but one of the most difficult has been helping my mom sell her house.  Originally bought by my parents 32 years ago, this is not my childhood home.  It is, however, the home of my children.  This is the house that my mom and dad bought as a reward for working so hard all of their lives...the big house they bought after my brother and I had each married and started families of our own...the house they bought to enjoy their retirement.  Things didn't work out quite as planned.  8 years after they bought this house, which is twice the size of the one my brother and I had grown up in, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. A year later he passed away.  But during those 9 years my 2 kids and their 3 cousins put their enduring stamp on this house. One room became the toy room, filled with child sized furniture, huge boxes of toys, bookshelves filled with Dr Seuss and the Berenstain Bears, a TV with VCR where they watched the Wizard of Oz and DuckTales. One room was the strawberry room, named for the quilt on the double bed that all the kids piled onto when they spent the night. Christmas was celebrated in the big family room where the white flocked tree reached the vaulted ceiling and the presents formed a mountain that spread halfway out into the room. We hid Easter eggs in the big backyard, watched sunsets from the deck, barbecued on the patio, blew bubbles that floated down the hillside and had water gun fights that grandpa always won because he used the garden hose.  After my dad passed, my mom tried to hang on to the house, but it was just too big, too expensive and, I believe, too filled with memories.  So after 10 years of being more a caretaker than homeowner, she and my brother's family swapped residences.  They would live with their 3 children, now teenagers, in the 'big' house and she would live in the much smaller house down the hill. My brother and his family began to put their stamp on the house. They took down wallpaper, painted, recarpeted, put in a new patio and rebuilt the deck. They added raised garden beds and a water feature, planted a small citrus orchard.  The toy room, strawberry room and my dad's office became bedrooms, then, as their children grew up and away, a guest room, nursery for their first grandchild, and an office again.  They took their time, making changes that were important to them to a house they planned on retiring in.  13 years after the move, cancer claimed my brother. Once again, my mom and sister in law traded houses. For my mom, the move was never going to be a permanent one, the house was still too big, too empty, too expensive to maintain and frankly, had too much equity.  And so, after 32 years, she is selling the house.  No longer will this be the family home where we gather for Sunday night dinners. No longer the place where the women gossip and bake Christmas cookies. No more cousins will be married in the big backyard where my daughter and, one year later, my niece was married, or have their growth carefully measured and marked in ink on the inside of the hall closet door. We will no longer sit drinking wine as the setting sun turns Mount Baldy pink. I know it is time for my mom to move on...and she knows it, too.  It's long past time for her to settle into an adult community where they have brunch on Sunday mornings and bingo on Wednesday nights.  It's time to sort thru boxes, pare down possessions and step into the future. My head knows this. But as I sit here, wine in hand, watching Mount Baldy turn pink, my heart hears childish giggles echoing down the hall from the toy room. If I turn slowly, my heart can see my dad reaching into the kitchen cupboard by the stove to get a marshmallow for each of my daughter's tiny hands because who can possibly cry when holding marshmallows.  I find myself plagued with doubts.  Should I have tried harder to help my mom keep the house?  Should I have moved here permanently to share expenses so that she can live out her years here, where the memories lurk around every corner?  The only answer I have is that I didn't and I can't.  My life is no longer here in California, but in Texas where my daughter and son in law live, in Montana where my son and my friends are, in Seattle where my job is.  I love this house, but it is time to go.  My head knows this and my heart is coming to understand it as well.  There is room for another family to make their own memories here. I am taking mine with me...along with that closet door!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Becoming a better me

A woman's life is in stages, or links, if you will.  Sometimes as we navigate from one link to the next, we become so focused on where we are coming from and where we are going that we completely forget to focus on the vessel we are using to get there...our bodies.  Since May is Women's Health Month, this is a good time to take stock of how we feel, what we feel and how much better we should feel.  I am not one to run to the doctor with every little complaint.  If anything, I err on the side of being too optimistic about my health and will shrug off warning signs that really should not be shrugged off.  Then something smacks me in the face and I have to, with much irritation, deal with whatever my body is currently doing. At least that has been my modus operandi in the past.  This year and going forward, I am determined to stop taking a defensive position on health issues and am going on the offensive.  So all you body parts that have been lollygagging along, you are getting in shape, baby. 

I am starting at the top...no, not mental health, dental health.  Who among us likes to go to the dentist?  I don't even like thinking about going to the dentist. But I finally did and realized I should have gone much earlier.  Who knew that wisdom teeth moved!  Apparently they get tired of being at the back in the dark and begin to migrate toward the front and daylight.  Of course your other teeth are not willing to give up their prime space in your jaw, so the wily wisdom teeth push against them, subtly applying pressure until your other teeth crack...really, literally crack.  $1400 later, two are gone and two have been given notice to vacate.

Now that I have a better grip (ha!) on what I eat, it is time to address exactly what I eat.  I have been a vegetarian for years and have dabbled in veganism off and on. My last blood test showed my cholesterol levels are thru the roof, so I have 3 choices...I can ignore the numbers and let my arteries clog up, take a cholesterol leveling drug for the rest of my life, OR embrace being a vegan.  Laid out like that, there is not really a choice involved.  As I would prefer unclogged blood byways and I don't care to spend any more $$ than necessary supporting our pharmaceutical companies, veganism it is. So long eggs, cheese and sour cream.  Hello hummus, whole grains and couscous. I have known for quite some time that a plant based diet is what I should be enjoying...I just had to be hit over the head with numbers to actually do it. 

Fortunately other tests show that my body appears to be functioning as it should...my heart is beating with appropriate rhythm, my lungs are handling the ins and outs of breathing, my liver is doing liver-ish things.  So why do I wait so long between dental and medical health check ups?  I don't procrastinate about other things.  I fill the bird feeders long before they are empty.  I clean off my desk while I can still see the desktop. I empty the trash before it spills over on the floor. But for some odd reason, when it comes to health and well being, I am simply awful at making that first appointment.  I have no idea why, but that is one thing I definitely am going to work on.  We have one and only one vessel to use while moving thru life.  I plan on using mine for a good long time.

For some great information on being or becoming vegan, check out this site.  It covers everything from nutrition to baking without eggs to planning meals.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Where is my fashion compass?

When warmer weather comes to stay, I always reluctantly go thru my clothes and see what I have that: 1) still fits and 2) isn't hopelessly outdated, ripped or stained and 3) I still like.  Sometimes numbers 2 and 3 fight for dominance, with 3 generally edging out the lesser number because, truth be told, I hate shopping for clothes.  Don't get me wrong, I love having attractive, stylish outfits.  I just find it confusing to shop for them. Every year I feel compelled to check out catalogs and fashion magazines to see what I should be wearing this season and every year I have the same reaction...where are the models my age? With very few exceptions, fashion magazines do not feature women much over the legal drinking age.  Heaven forbid we see a woman who has a line on her forehead or (gasp!) gray hair. So how do women my age find stylish, contemporary and age appropriate clothes? It's easier when you are younger. As a teenager I was surrounded by other teenagers who wore the same clothes I did (sometimes literally) and who could talk makeup, hairstyles and fashion non stop for hours.  If I wore something that made my butt look like a Volkswagen, friends could always be counted on to describe that vision in cheerful detail. As I moved into my 20's, I worked in office environments where it was easy to see both good and bad clothing options in the surrounding cubicles. And, since the young, working woman is exactly the demographic magazines focus on and market to, it was easy to envision myself in that cute outfit in Glamour.  But as I moved along in life, got married, had children, I lost that fashion compass. Glamour Magazine became completely irrelevant to my life. Clothes had to do double or even triple duty, be stain resistant and cheap.  Rather than a closet full of office-to-evening clothes, I had Mommy clothes and one good outfit, bought on sale, and hung up immediately upon return home from whatever event I had to attend lest some horrid fate befall it. Note (from experience): you can only wear a special dress so many times before you are forced to admit that no, the Teriyaki stain does not blend with the color of the fabric and yes, people will notice and remember it from the last time you pretended to have just spilled chow mein on it. Eventually my daughter grew up and could tell me what to wear.  She became my personal shopper, one who could zero in on the 3 outfits out of the gazillion at Macy's that would fit me and look good. Immensely practical and with an eye for good design and balance, she perfected the firm and decisive "no", uttered within 10 seconds of me emerging from the dressing room.  No amount of  "but it's a great color" or "it's on sale" would sway her. She was also just as quick to tell me "buy it" if it met her standards. But as she moved into her 20's, then 30's, and her life became more about herself and less about me (sigh), I had to venture out into the fashion world by myself.  Left to my own devices, I have ended up with oddly colored blouses that have nothing to recommend them other than that they fit.  I have a pair of  jeans, tags intact, that are 4 inches too long but they were such a bargain and I could easily hem them. I once bought 4 of the same cardigan in different colors, thinking they would bring great variety to my wardrobe, only to find they made me feel like I was wearing the same outfit over and over.  My daughter would have told me that blouse is ugly, you will never hem those jeans and who on earth needs 4 cardigans. But that's what happens when you let a woman like me shop without a fashion compass.  I flounder around Nordstrom's, dithering over this top and that sweater, making silly purchases I'll probably have to return, before finally giving up and doing what I really wanted to do all along....shop the makeup aisle!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Aqua Net and hairpins

My hair has been thru a lot.  It's a wonder I have any left considering the things I used to do and have done to it. When I was little there were two choices for my hair.  Pigtails or not. That is actually the way my mother asked the question...do you want pigtails or not? If I went with pigtails, I could add ribbons to the ends and barrettes at the sides.  Sometimes the pigtails came with hair stretched so tightly away from my face I looked like a premature facelift casualty.  If I chose no pigtails, I still got the barrettes or maybe a hard plastic headband that made tiny dents in my head with its vicious little teeth.  Pigtails or not lasted until around 4th grade when it became ponytail or not.  By then the plastic torture devices had been replaced with stretchy headbands.  I had a black one with Susan written in gold cursive. I loved that headband.  I wore it until the gold flaked off and it read S_sa_.  By the time I got to high school, hair exploded.  I teased my hair to within an inch of its life, sprayed it, then teased it again. Bangs below my eyebrows, crown of hair reaching toward the sky, with a cute little clip-on bow delineating the separation. Unlike some of my friends, I always checked the back to make sure everything was smoothed down, right before I AquaNetted the heck out of it.  My best friend Barb never bothered combing the back since she claimed she never saw it, so what was the point.  As I was at least 3 inches taller than her, I could have told her what the point was, but I was nothing if not a good friend.  Huge hair was so out of control, articles were written in the LA Times claiming tough girls hid razor blades in their do's and, since you didn't comb out a good tease for maybe a week, sometimes black widow spiders made nests in them. At my high school, all the cool girls had wiglets. Constructed on a stiff net, a wiglet was 3-5 inches of hair that could be washed, set and styled into a froth of stiff curls, sprinkled with tiny bows on u-shaped hairpins and attached to your real hair with built in combs. Girls would bring them to school before a dance, pinned on Styrofoam heads so that we could ooh and aah over them.  I didn't have one.  My hair is red and there were no wiglets for redheads.  What I did have was a custom blended 2 ft length of hair from the long gone Broadway Store, fastened in a huge knot at one end. It could be left loose in a free flowing pony tail, although I could never quite figure out how to attach the huge knot to my head, or braided and coiled into a sort of hair crown attached with dozens of hairpins. My freshman photo shows me wearing it plopped on the top of my head like a Davy Crocket coonskin hat, my own shoulder length hair in a cute little flip below. Around my senior year, we all got over the need to lacquer our hair, yes they really called the product lacquer, and things got a whole lot simpler.  We wore it long and straight or long and curly.  If you were a straight fan and your hair wasn't, you ironed it. If you wanted curls but weren't born with them, you got a perm.  Eventually even guys got perms.  I had a friend in college whose perm went horribly wrong, causing him to shave his head.  He got a nice settlement in exchange for the promise to take the salon's name to the grave.  Today the thought of teasing, or as we called it, ratting, my hair makes me laugh.  So does the idea of sitting for an hour under a plastic hood, hot air burning my ears while baking my hair onto rollers. Those days of bobby pins, clippies and Dippity Do are long gone and not missed at all. I still have that long braid somewhere.  And I still wish it was a wiglet.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

60 and counting

When I was much, much younger, and completely na├»ve with regards to the whole getting older thing and how it works, I remember thinking that when the millennium came I would probably be wearing a cotton housedress, rocking away my golden years at a nursing home.  Since I would be batty by then, the turning of the calendar to 2000 would go mostly unnoticed.  Yes, I really was that young and dumb.  In reality, the year we said goodbye '99, hello '00, I was 47, not a house dress in sight and no golden years in the foreseeable future...at least not the ones I had imagined.  Now, 13 years after that New Year's celebration, I am 60.  SIXTY!!! Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined what 60 would look like and I didn't have the tiniest clue what it would feel like.

60 looks a lot like 50, which in turn resembled 40, but with about 15 more lbs.  My wardrobe of choice is still jeans, a T-shirt and a hoodie.  My daughter encouraged (forced) me several years ago to widen my choices by adding cute sweaters and great shoes.  I believe her exact words were "Mother, when you can no longer tell your clothes from your 20 something son's, it might be time to consider upgrading your wardrobe". Don't tell my daughter this, but when I am not going out into the world (and sometimes when I am) jeans and T's are what I reach for. My favorite hoodie is a gray sweatshirt with many and varied holes. It stopped zipping long ago and one cuff is valiantly holding on by sheer determination.  I bought it in the 80's at the old Mervyn's store in Norwalk and have 3 driver's license photos of me wearing it with love.  I still wear my hair parted on the side with a few bangs, still eschew foundation but love a lot of eye makeup, and still swear by Bonne Bell Dr Pepper lipgloss.

60 doesn't feel like 50 or anything approaching 40...sometimes it feels like 100.  I have been healthy pretty much all my life, so it was with some alarm that, as I reached toward 60, I began to fall apart.  First came high cholesterol.  I am a vegetarian so you'd think that wouldn't be an issue.  And it wouldn't be if it weren't for the deliciousness of Tillamook Sharp Cheddar.  If you are making mac and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches with anything else, STOP immediately and switch!  After high cholesterol came an inherited tendency for my blood to clot like crazy.  I had always thought it was cool that I would get a cut and before I could open a bandaid, I would already be healing. Turns out that is not a good thing and one day in June of '09 I was admitted to the hospital for multiple pulmonary emboli. Then appeared what felt like acid reflux but what is actually a hiatal hernia, followed by a pain in my foot that revealed itself as plantar fasciitis.  Sheesh. 

So here I am at 60, limping along in my Levi's with insoles in my tennis shoes, popping Prilosec and Coumadin.  I hope my sweatshirt lasts long enough for me to get a walker, 'cause that would be awesome.  And that would also mean that 70 will look a lot like 60.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

A move is in the air

I've moved around...a lot.  You know that stat that says each person moves on average once every 6 years?  For me it's more like every 1.5 years.  In the past 15 years I have had 11 different addresses in 4 different states. No, I haven't been running from creditors or in witness protection.  I just like to move. Some moves have been well thought out and carefully planned. A few have been thought of one night and put in play the next day. I have liked many of the places I have lived but I have moved because I thought I might like another place better.  Sometimes I have been right...sometimes I have been wrong. When I decided to move to Washington State, I found this cute little town called Silverdale, on the Kitsap Peninsula, west across the Sound from Seattle.  Nice apartment, wonderful local shops, a nice mall and tons of trees.  So I happily moved, only to find that most of the good jobs were across the Sound because, well, Seattle.  So I moved across the Sound to Issaquah only to find that too many people + too much traffic = too many memories of Southern California. Still liking Washington State, I moved to Gig Harbor to a spacious apartment ringed with rhododendrons growing higher than my head, a view of the Tacoma Narrow Bridge and fresh breezes blowing across the Sound. Sadly the rats that wanted to occupy the same apartment were a deal breaker. Clearly Washington was not for me. I once moved to Texas lured by wide open spaces and low home prices only to realize in a sort of DUH moment, that Texas is hot.  Really HOT.  I don't like hot.  I barely like warm.  I prefer pleasantly cool.  Two years ago I moved back to Southern California for family reasons, and while I don't regret the move or the time spent here, I am ready to move. The last time I lived here was in 1988 when I dragged my family to the fresh air and beautiful big sky of Montana.  Coming back here has reminded me of why I left in the first place. Make no mistake, there are lots of wonderful things about Southern California and the members of my family who live here cannot imagine living anywhere else.  Southern California has great weather, great beaches, great mountains, world class shopping...and lots and lots of people.  Too many people sharing too little space with too little patience with the other people sharing the space. Everyone rushes around as though they are the only ones going anywhere important and when you live here, you learn to rush with the rest of them.  I don't like rushing...almost as much as I don't like hot.

You'd think I might be depressed, having moved so many times.  But I like to move. I like the exciting possibilities that a move brings you.  New favorite shops, new scenery, new friends. And for every place I have lived and consequently moved away from, there is something wonderful I have taken away with me.  Issaquah?  Portable job that I still have and that allows me to move around.  Texas?  My daughter met her husband there.  Southern California, this go 'round?  Time to reconnect with my brother and help my mom sell her house.  

So where do I want to live now?  Somewhere not hot, not crowded, with a coffee stand around the corner and a great downtown.  Someplace where people say hello back and smile at you.  Somewhere I, as a single gal, feel safe but not cocooned.  Someplace pretty with fresh air and a great view.  Someplace I have a family of friends already in place.  Someplace I know as well as the back of my hand. Someplace like Montana...someplace like home.