Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Coffee cups and memories

I admit it, I am a coffee cup snob. I like sturdy, oversized mugs with large handles so you can get a good grip on what you are drinking. Not for me are the delicate china cups, Styrofoam containers or tea cups wishing they were coffee worthy. I don't even like Starbucks cardboard cups. When I am in their stores I ask for a mug...yes, you can do that. On the occasional morning I make use of their drive thru, but when I get home I pour that liquid energy right into a good mug...probably one that has their name emblazoned on the side.  You see, I love drinking coffee. Straight up, nothing added to it black coffee, hot and fragrant. I love everything about it from the smell of the freshly ground beans to the aroma of perfectly brewed yumminess. And to fully enjoy the whole coffee experience, a good mug is essential. I had a friend who used to serve me coffee in a clear glass mug. She was sadly misguided, bless her heart. The other morning my friend Marilyn and I tried out a new breakfast place.  We were delighted to find they served excellent coffee in mismatched but wonderful mugs...and the breakfast was pretty good, too.
Knowing how I feel about the coffee drinking experience, it should be no surprise that I have an extensive collection of mugs I love. I have so many of them, I have to limit those I use so that my kitchen isn't overrun. The rest are safely packed away, awaiting their chance in the cupboard. I have tried over the years to give them away, but the most I can manage is to send one of two to my mom or my daughter so that they can enjoy them...or I should say, so that I can enjoy them when I am visiting. So many of them have histories, you see. Like the one my kids got me one summer when we were camping. I wasn't feeling well one morning so they went on a hike with my then husband, while I stayed at camp feeling pitiful. When they returned they brought me a locally made pottery mug in a gorgeous lavender shade with Pine Lake engraved on the side. The best part is that they had taken the time to fill it with coffee from the little store where they bought it. How do you part with something like that?  Then there is the mug with the Los Angeles skyline on it my mom bought me when I was visiting her and the one my daughter sent me from Texas that is a creamy white with a gold handle. I have a Neiman Marcus Christmas mug from 1997 that I got in a gift exchange and a blue Starbucks mug that is the exact size of their grande cup.  I have a handful of Thanksgiving mugs, a few Halloween ones and a nice assortment of Christmas mugs. I have a Fiesta mug in lime green and a blue and white Spode Delamere.  And I can recall exactly when, where and why I bought each one.
I have a feeling that one day when my kids sort thru my things, they will look at my collection roll their eyes and say "Sheesh...think she had enough mugs?" But maybe, just maybe, one of them will say, "Hey! I remember when I bought her this one!" And maybe, just maybe, they'll put that one aside to take home and put in their own cupboard.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Aqua Net and Hairpins revisited

I got my hair cut today and as I watched the stylist add a quart of hair product I did not want and had specifically declined, I thought about all the many things I have done to my hair over the years.  This post is from May 2013.  Enjoy!

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 hair sprayed curls 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 a high end department store, fastened in a huge knot at one end. It could be left loose in a free flowing pony tail 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 Crockett 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 either ironed it or set it on empty soup cans...yes, that is right, soup cans.  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.

Monday, November 24, 2014

My days are not perfect, but perfection can be so boring

I turned 62 today and while that is not a typical benchmark year, I feel that at my age, every birthday is cause for a little hoopla. In 1929, the year my mother was born, life expectancy for women was 58.  By my birth year,1952, it had risen to 71.  Today it stands at 79.5, although apparently if I were living in Monaco I could expect to live until at least 89.  Must be all that French wine. On the other hand, if I lived in Tansania, I would have already reached my expiry date.  My mom is now 85 and shows no sign of slowing down, so I'm thinking that bodes well for me, but you never know.  In fact none of us, no matter how old we are, ever knows what the future will bring or how many more years we will have on this earth. All we can do is enjoy each day as it comes, realizing that each day may not be perfect but each day can be pretty good.

My birthday started at 5:45 with my dog begging to go for a walk, which is way too early to be happy about it any day that happens let alone on your birthday. I went out the back door to the grassy area that the apartments are built around. It was dark so I had to use a flashlight to make sure I didn't step in stuff I didn't want to step in.  When we set off, there were no lights on in any other apartments, but there were lots on by the time we were finished. I try to be quiet on these early morning treks, but dogs apparently love to bark at other dogs as they do their business. I think we woke up every dog in the complex, who in turn woke up their humans, who were not happy if the frequently voiced "HUSH" was any example. It rained late last night, then dropped below freezing in the wee hours, leaving the sidewalks slick as, well, ice. I was in the mood for a birthday scone so after feeding my dog, I headed out the front door on my way to my beloved Starbucks, and quickly realized that no one had availed themselves of the ice melt that management supplies us with, despite the fact that all 3 of my closest neighbors had left before me. Maybe instead of being rude they just have better balance than I do. I sprinkled the crystals all the way to my car, then stepped off the curb and almost went down. 10 minutes later, after scraping the windshield and letting the interior thaw, I drove to the gas station, stopped the car and popped the little latch for my gas tank cover, only to find that it had frozen shut. I imagine I looked a little ridiculous jumping in the front seat to jiggle the latch, then running around to the other side to see if the door popped open, smacking it to loosen it up, then back to the front seat to jiggle the latch again.  As I repeated those actions 10 or 11 times, I amused myself by thinking of someone watching a video feed and seeing my odd choreography.  Just in case that actually was happening, I made sure to send the camera a big cheesy grin and flashed a little V for victory. By the time I pulled out of the gas station I was once again shivering in the cold. But it was all worth it as the cheerful person at the Starbucks drive thru handed me that steaming cup of deliciousness and that lovely little bag of yumminess. Coffee and scones make everything better, even a cold day that started at 5:45.

My point is this.  No day is perfect. Not today or yesterday or last Tuesday. If the future held only perfection, I'm thinking it would be a little boring.  The best you can do is try to balance the irritating, the absurd, the heartache with the empowering, the silly, the joyful.  I have a tattered and very loved Eddie Bauer sweatshirt that has Balance embroidered across the front. A gift from my daughter, it's no longer fit to be seen in public, but 20 years ago I wore it a lot.  People never failed to comment on it. "Ah, yes, Balance!" they would murmur. "That's the key, isn't it?" I was telling my daughter one day about my sweatshirt apparently inspiring insight and deep thinking and she said "You realize, don't you, and that you haven't been an advertisement for yin and yang so much as a walking ad for their new men's fragrance, Balance?" Somehow knowing that made wearing it even better.  Balance, you know?

"I ain't here for a long time, I'm here for a good time. So bring on the sunshine to hell with the red wine, pour me some moonshine!" George Strait

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A River Runs Thru It

My brother, who was close in age and in spirit to me, passed away after a short but brutal struggle with cancer in December 2012.  I will be eternally thankful that I was in Southern California a full year prior to his diagnosis, and I will treasure those days forever. Because the time between diagnosis and his passing was so very short, less than 6 months, it had a surreal quality to it, as though we were all in this weird foreign film where nobody spoke English and we didn't know our lines. As the years blur the sorrow of that short time, I find myself having random yet vivid flashes of things we did as kids, teenagers, young adults and beyond. I'll think of something he said that made me laugh and smile at the memory. He loved wine and we spent a lot of that oh so precious time sitting on his deck, toasting the setting sun. To this day when I drink one of his favorite wines, I am transported back to Southern California where I can almost smell the plumeria and hear the birdsong. And every time, I toast my brother and his life and cry a little for the brevity of it.
This past summer, during a trip to Southern California, my sister in law asked me if I had read A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean.  I was living in Missoula, Montana when the movie with Tom Skerritt and Brad Pitt came out. It was filmed in part in the area, and a group of friends went to see it, mostly so we could pick out well known and well loved places...although a young Brad Pitt wasn't hard to look at either. But no, I had never read the book. She said it had been my brother's favorite book and that he had given out many copies of it over the years, mostly to business clients. She had been thinking about it because one of his very good friends had mentioned in an email that he had read the book, loved it and had decided to give it to a group of business contacts he knew. He had no idea that Buddy had done the exact same thing years ago.  She was reading it now, wishing she had read it when he was alive so that she could talk to him about it....why did it mean so much to him, what was it that he read in the book that so impacted him that he was driven to share it with others?  The next day I stopped in Barnes and bought my own copy, made a cup of coffee and sat down to see for myself the answers to my sister in law's questions.
I read it quickly, finishing it in one evening. It's a novella rather than a book, but is no less impactful for its shortness. Written in the mid 70's after Norman Maclean had retired, it is a look back at his earlier life in Montana, culminating in his brother's death by brutal hands in 1938. I wanted to read it to feel a little closer to my brother, but ended up loving it because it is just a really, really good book. It is beautifully written, almost lyrical in style and the fact that I could readily identify with so many of its settings just added to my enjoyment. It shouldn't be a surprise that I also readily identified with the author, who lost his brother at too young an age and in such a tragic and senseless way. As I turned each page and got closer to the finish, I found myself hoping it wouldn't end. Yes, it is that kind of book. A few pages into the story came my favorite line. Norman and his brother were fly fishing and Norman caught the first fish then sat down to "watch a fisherman", his younger brother.  He describes how his brother struggled thru the river, then "he steadied himself and began to cast and the whole world turned to water".  I find that imagery incredibly lovely.
The very last time he fishes with his brother he writes, "At that moment I knew, surely and clearly, that I was witnessing perfection.  He stood before us, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws and like a work of art, and I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last."
I will never know what it was that so entranced my brother, but reading this story that he loved is much like drinking one of his favorite wines, a little sad but entirely enjoyable.

"Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pancakes on Saturday morning

Last Saturday I decided to make pancakes for breakfast.  This is not a normal thing for me, being more the toast and coffee or go out and let someone else cook for me type. Since there is now only one of me it hardly seems worth the mess. But that morning pancakes sounded like just the thing, so I assembled all the ingredients and set about recreating some memories.  Pancakes always remind me of my mom and dad.  Mom is the first to admit that she is not a great cook and these days hasn't met a Lean Cuisine she didn't like.  But while dinners were hit or miss, she and my dad had breakfast down pat.  When my brother and I were growing up, Saturday breakfasts were always deliciously large.  Sometimes there would be make bacon, eggs and homemade biscuits, sometimes fried doughnuts or biscuits and gravy, but mostly there were pancakes.  Stacks and stacks of pancakes.  I never appreciated the time and energy it took to produce those lovely golden brown, perfectly sized cakes until attempting to recreate them as a new mom, nor did I fully comprehend the timing involved so that everyone got to eat at the same time and the cook wasn't left standing alone at the griddle. My first attempts yielded lopsided, lumpy and unevenly browned cakes that mostly tasted like uncooked batter.  When my kids got older the only pancakes they requested for breakfast were the ones my dad made for them...silver dollar pancakes barely larger than bite sized, Mickey Mouse pancakes with chocolate chips for eyes, and extremely thin, almost crepe-like pancakes that he wrapped around link sausage and let them dip in warmed maple syrup and eat with their fingers. It should come as no surprise that I did not feel compelled to master the art of the pancake, because who could compete with that! When we moved to Montana and the kids no longer had access to Grandpa's Wonder Cakes, they had to make do with what I produced, which had gotten noticeably better over the years, or settle for French toast. We had French toast, which I have found to be virtually impossible to mess up, a lot.


Single status not withstanding, Saturday saw me making pancakes, and not just ok pancakes but really, really good pancakes. I thought it was a shame there was no one to admire the pretty little cakes as they sat on my plate, gorgeously golden from the farm fresh eggs supplied by my friend Marilyn, dripping butter and real Vermont maple syrup. But on the other hand, there was no one to grab the first one off the stack and cram it into their mouth while my back was turned. I couldn't resist taking a picture and sending it to my daughter in Texas. She texted back that they had just finished their breakfast, which also was pancakes, albeit it with eggs and hashbrowns. She always was an overachiever.  I then texted the photo to my mom in California who quickly responded that she was on her way to a breakfast meeting and would talk to me later. Sigh! Apparently there was no one but me who was truly appreciative of my pancakes. Then I caught sight of my dog, patiently sitting by my knee, eyes glued to my fork as it lifted from the plate to my mouth then back to the plate again. Every once in awhile he would raise his eyes to mine as if to judge if I was going to be at all inclined to let him finish whatever it was on the plate that smelled soooo good. So I made him his own pancake and even drizzled a little maple syrup on it.  He ate it in one gulp then licked the empty plate for a good 5 minutes.  A little while later my son dropped by, took one sniff and said "Pancakes"?  "Yes, indeed," I replied. "There is still some batter, do you want me to make you some?"  "That's ok," he answered. "I'll make my own." And so he did, which I dutifully admired as, I'll admit it, at least as nice as the ones I had made, and maybe even better.  Of course he had to go one step further and add chopped up sausage, eschewing syrup in favor of heated up raspberry preserves, and dusting the whole thing with powdered sugar.  Show off.

 



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A sink full of suds is amazingly therapeutic

I hate my dishwasher.  I hate the noise, the mess of the detergent, the way your glasses never quite sparkle despite adding the magic liquid that is supposed to take care of that.  But most of all I hate emptying it.  As a teenager I had many, many arguments discussions with my brother, each of us claiming it was the other's turn to do the deed.  When I got married, then had children, I was hopeful that this task could be sloughed off on taken over by someone else.  Alas, that was not to be.  Apparently no one likes doing it.  Well, except for my grown son, who cheerfully unloads the dishwasher by putting everything in whatever place strikes his fancy...drinking glasses in the Tupperware cupboard, plates balanced precariously on top of stacks of bowls, silverware in one huge pile in the knife drawer.  I am all for creativity in the kitchen, but opening a cupboard and finding a baking dish filled with coffee cups where I expected to find plates is little...surprising. So it should come as no shock that I actually like doing dishes (in much smaller & more manageable batches) by hand.  It's the type of activity that involves you, but not wholly.  It requires a minimum of concentration, occupying your hands while your brain is free to wander, to think, to dream, to sing.

We didn't have a dishwasher until I was a sophomore in high school.  Prior to that time it was mostly my job to clean up after dinner. If there were a lot of dishes or pots and pans, my mom would wash and my dad would dry, but most of the time it was left to me. We had this long, narrow kitchen with pocket doors at each end and a sink under a window looking out to the side yard.  I would shut both doors (for the awesome acoustical value!) and sing rock and roll at the top of my lungs, somehow imagining that the doors enclosed not only me but my voice.  One evening I had just finished belting out Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit, and was moving into Linda Rondstadt's Different Drum, when my mom yelled thru the door to "for heaven's sake stop singing and finish the dishes, we can't hear the TV"!

The first house I lived in after relocating to Missoula had a huge kitchen with yards of counter space, a work peninsula and an attached breakfast room with a slider to the deck. Best of all it had a nice big window over the sink with a view of the kids playing in the backyard during the day and a sky bright with stars at night. It was while gazing out that window that I stared, slack jawed, as two of my daughter's friends sidled gingerly across the retaining wall at the top of the yard, inching along, arms outstretched and backs against the neighbor's fence, while my dog stood below them barking like crazy. My daughter told me later that the two boys were certain that one misstep meant certain death by Springer Spaniel.  I was at the sink when that same dog worked to pull the blanket out of her dog house on the deck, dragged it to the furthest part of the yard, then trotted happily back to her now empty dog house and crawled inside. Evening was just falling and I was wrist deep in suds the day I looked out the window and stared into the beady little eyes of the biggest skunk in the history of skunks, eating from my dog's dish. I yanked my hands out of the water and flipped off the outside lights, apparently thinking the skunk would recognize the "no candy here" message as any good Trick or Treater does and just lumber off home. He didn't. He leisurely finished up, smacked his lips and waddled around the yard, while I hid behind the blinds on the sliding glass door, peering at him in shivering horror, hoping he didn't decide to crawl into the dog house, and if he did, wondering how quickly I could pack up the family and move.

Since that time I have had big kitchens, tiny kitchens and everything in between. I have a lovely window over the sink now, and while I don't belt out top 40 hits much any more, every once in awhile I crank up the music and let George Straight or the Beach Boys or Bruno Mars do the belting for me.  Over the years my kitchen sink has seen me argue different sides of political issues, write a resignation for a job I loathed, tell people off and compose scathing product reviews, all while scrubbing whatever was burned into the bottoms of pans. Over a sink full of suds and silverware, I design jewelry, make grocery lists, plan Christmas gifts and plot out mystery stories. Oh yes, and I write blogs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

You should see what's in my mom's purse!

There was a time when faced with an emergency, I could open up my purse and say "I think I have something in here..." and 9 times out of 10, could find a solution within the bowels of what my daughter called my Purse O'Plenty.  What with backaches, shoulder pain, headaches and the lot, those days are long past.  Now about the only thing I could fix from my carried supplies is a jagged nail or dry lips. When I grocery shop, even those emergencies are beyond me, as I carry in my pockets only my cell phone, keys and a very small, very cute Coach credit card holder. I still occasionally carry a larger bag, but only if there is a specific purpose for it, like I need to carry a pair of sandals to switch out my tennis shoes, or I am going to the movies and need a hiding place for candy bars, or I am on my way to music in the park with a few discreet airline-size bottles of alcohol.  But mall shopping invariably finds me using a wristlet or small clutch.  Besides relieving my shoulder/back pains, lightening the load of what I carry when I shop also means I don't have to constantly keep track of a large purse.  My 85 year old mom, on the other hand, is the complete opposite.

I just returned from a month long visit with her and was appalled to see her still toting around a purse that easily weighed 10 lbs.  Since she now uses a cane, slogging about with extra weight on one shoulder makes her not only stand crookedly, but also tires her out.  So one evening, as we prepared to meet family for dinner, I brought out a much smaller purse and suggested that she only take with her vital, important, must-have items.  At first she claimed that everything she had in her purse fit into that category, but she reluctantly agreed to let me go thru her bulging purse and eliminate some things.  With that in mind, I started with her wallet, which was itself bulging with credit cards, receipts, cash, coins and a checkbook. "Do you really need every credit card you own and your checkbook to go out to a dinner you are not paying for?" I asked.  "I like to be prepared," was the reply. "I do, too, but how about if tonight you just take one credit card and your driver's license?"  "Those aren't in that wallet."  "Where are they?"  "Here," she said, pulling out a separate card case.  "So what's in your wallet?" I asked, sounding like a credit card commercial.  "Everything else I need." Ok, I reminded myself, as I reluctantly put the huge wallet and the card case into the smaller purse...pick your battles. Next came her makeup pouch, which contained 3 lipsticks, a compact with mirror, blush, mascara, chapstick, another mirror, pack of cotton balls, tweezers and a sample tube of foundation. I took out everything but the lipstick and compact, suggesting she could make do with only one choice of lip color. One packet of tissues went into the small bag, leaving 2 others in the old purse. Gum and 6 Tootsie Rolls made the cut, a day planner, 4 pens and a small can of hairspray did not.  "What's this?" I asked, holding a small zippered pouch.  "The box for my hearing aids, in case I have to take them out." "Under what circumstances would you have to remove your hearing aids?" I queried.  "I can think of many," came the reply. "Name one." "They might malfunction and my ears might hurt from the loud noise." "Has that ever happened?"  "Not yet, but it might."  "Ok, then what is this?" I asked, moving on to another pouch.  "That is the remote control for my hearing aids." "I thought that was in the form of a pen," I commented.  "Yes, it is.  That is the box that holds the pen, so that it doesn't get crushed, along with the instruction manual."  Of course. We managed to agree on leaving behind a Bible, sunglasses, a notepad, full sized tube of hand lotion (no one has hands chapped enough for that to be necessary, and if you are thinking of sharing with others, let them bring their own), and an oblong weekly pill box with only 1 compartment holding actual pills.  "What kind of pills are these?" I asked, having observed her taking her medications earlier. "They are for motion sickness." "The restaurant is on dry land," I said, helpfully, "but just in case they have relocated Casa Del Rey to a boat, I'll put one of these pills in my little pillbox with my Tylenol for that headache I feel coming on.  Will that work?" Also left behind on the kitchen counter was a Target bag with an ink cartridge that needed to be returned, an envelope with dozens of receipts, her address book, a box of cough drops and a tire gauge.  "Where did that come from?" my mom asked, pointing at the gauge. "You're asking me?" I returned.

By this time we had just about finished with the inside of the purse, which left the outside pockets.  My mom favors purses that are the female equivalent of cargo pants, with many and varied places for storage.  There were lots of discoveries in the pockets...a book of stamps, another packet of tissues, paperclips, rubber bands, a small tape measure, a rain hat, bandaids, a broken necklace. "Do you need of any this stuff?" I asked.  "Of course not," came the reply. "but leaving the pockets empty is silly."  Indeed. I raised my eyebrows as I removed the last item from the now empty outer pocket...her Kindle.  "Really?" I said. "You were going to take your e-reader with you to the restaurant?"  "Yes," she replied coolly. "If my ears hurt and I have to remove my hearing aids, I won't be able to hear the conversations, so I will just read." In that case, I thought, I should throw back in the tire gauge.  That way if she gets tired of reading, she can go out to the parking lot and make sure we have enough air in our tires. 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I don't work in my pajamas, but I do crank up the music

Over the past several years, I have fielded a lot of questions from people who are interested in hearing about how I work offsite in general, and as a virtual assistant in specific.  Most of them are of the "and how exactly does that work?" variety. From time to time I like to stop and think about what I do, why I do it, and whether I want to continue doing it.

When I started in real estate in 1991 as an agent in Missoula, MT, pre-cell phone & computer, it was a whole different job than it is now. Forms were NCR (press hard, there are 5 copies), our company had just, after a long debate, invested in a fax machine (there is, after all, one at the Title company just around the corner) and keyboxes were just that...little metal boxes that held the front door key, accessed by a weirdly shaped piece of metal resembling a skate key (remember those?). I vividly recall the Aha! moment when I realized being an agent just wasn't for me.  It was around midnight and I was showing a vacant house to a shift worker in the middle of winter.  I slogged my way thru 3 feet of snow to retrieve the key from the box that was conveniently hooked around a lawn ornament, showed the client the house by the beam of my flashlight (vacant house, remember?), locked up and drove home on icy streets, while thinking there must be an easier way to make a living.  There was...I became an assistant the next week.

For me, being a real estate assistant offers the best of both worlds.  I am still involved in helping people make their dream of home ownership come true, but behind the scenes instead of front and center.  Yes, I am missing out on the big bucks that can be made in selling real estate, but for the most part I am also missing out on the big headaches that accompany that role. 

In 2000, after working in both Missoula and Austin as an assistant, I moved my family to Washington State where the pay schedule was a lot higher than either of those cities.  After a few stops and starts, I went to work for an agent in Bellevue who worked out of her home office.  From there it was just a short mental jump to realize that if I was working out of a home office, it didn't have to be hers...it could be mine.  Moving my office to my home meant no commute, better coffee and a pleasantly quiet work environment.  What it did not mean was that I could sleep late, work in my pjs and take extended lunches.  I have learned a lot about the whole process in the last 13 years, and I am happy to share some of these insights with you. This week I am focusing on the tools of the trade, the nuts and bolts, and other clichés.   Bear in mind these apply mainly if you work for one person or team, not if you contract with several different entities.

1. Give yourself a break.  When you work in an office there are many opportunities to get up from your desk and walk around a little...get coffee, chat with co-workers, run to the copy machine, stop by the front desk.  These are not inherently time wasters, although they can morph into that.  What is important about working from home is that you owe yourself at least some of these same small breaks.  Push back from the desk, walk out to the patio, get another cup of coffee, walk your dog, put in a load of laundry.  Believe me, these little breaks during the day can save your back, your legs, your neck, your eyes and your sanity.
2.  You are working, so look like it.  You would never show up to your regular job in your pjs, no makeup, with your hair sleep flattened.  No, you don't have to dress in a suit or dress, but you do have to dress, even if it is just in yoga pants and a t-shirt. From the very beginning I have made it a point to shower, put on makeup and blow dry my hair just as though I am going to work, because, well, I am.
3.  Drive thru Starbucks for coffee. I know this sounds strange, but I make an effort to go to Starbucks at least once a week for a pre-work coffee and scone. If you live further East, like in Vermont but work on Texas time, you'll have a couple of hours to kill in the morning, so run errands or meet friends for breakfast. There is just something about getting out and about that makes you feel more prepared for the day.
4.  Set up your office space the way you like it.  Invest in the same kinds of things you would have at an office...pencil cup, stapler, notebooks, pens, paperclips. But do not buy the sensibly bland and generic desk sets...indulge in fun, pretty tools.  You are going to be staring at them all day long...make sure you like staring at them.  I have paisley file folders and a red desk that I just love and could never have if I were in a traditional office setting.  And speaking of desks...
5.  Put things away.  Just because you are at home doesn't mean you get to leave your work out and your desk messy at the end of the day.  In fact, because you are at home you need to put everything away and if you have a separate room for an office, shut the door and keep it shut. You know that old saying "out of sight, out of mind"?  Well, it's true.  On the weekends, I even stick the keyboard in a drawer so that I am not tempted to check on things. Separate from my work PC, I have a personal laptop and iPad that I only use for outside of work things. Which reminds me...
6.  Have a separate cell phone.  It's best if your boss can see her way to buying you a cell phone and putting it on her family plan.  It's a small cost for her, but a big deal for you. This is especially important if you live in another state.  You need a phone number in the state the biz is in, not the one you live/work in, and if you use your personal cell phone your monthly minutes can be exhausted in just a few days. A word of caution....if like me, you occasionally throw the cell phone across the room (in lieu of strangling your boss who is, thankfully, in another state) you need to aim at the couch.  Just because she bought you one cell phone does not mean she will replace a damaged one. The PC I mentioned above also belongs to my boss.  If you worked in an office you wouldn't use your own, would you?  Then don't use your own here, either. And, this is crucial, keep your personal stuff off that company owned machine! Assume it will eventually be given back to the source...do you really want some techie knowing about your obsession with Hugh Jackman?

Some of these things may be 'well...duh' inspiring, but you would be surprised at how many people miss the little things.  I always liked the expression "don't sweat the small stuff".  But when you work from home, many times your day is full of only small stuff, and as another cliché says "the devil is in the details". Working from home is not for everybody. Nor is it for every boss. Some days I think it is not for me, either.  But that is for another blog.

When people hear about my job they invariably ask how long I have been doing this, followed by how long will I continue.  The answer is 13 years...and for at least the next month!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whose idea was it to drive all night?

A couple of months ago, I made a somewhat hurried trip to Southern California to visit my mom in her new digs at a 55+ mobile home park.  I only stayed a week and while I loved being there, the whole thing felt, well, hurried.  With a day devoted to air travel on each end of my week, what few days there were in the middle seemed more frantic than relaxing.  So I decided to visit again, only this time I would drive and stay a month.  My job is completely portable, so I can work in the afternoons and still have mornings, evenings and weekends free. 

Since moving to Montana in the late 80's, I have made that 1100 mile drive maybe a dozen times.  Some trips were quick, some were fun-filled and joyful, some tedious, and one memorable trip was just awful. (To read the full awful story of that trip, check out the blog entitled 'I would rather be poked in the eye than drive anywhere during the holidays' from November of last year)  When my kids were kids, we sometimes made the drive in one fell swoop, stopping only at gas stations, rest stops and the golden arches, then it was back on the highway, hurrying to or away from home.  Why on earth we felt the need to hurry I have no idea.  Certainly we never ran the risk of missing a deadline and we weren't running from the law, but hurry, hurry, hurry is what we did. In the years since then it has mostly been a solitary trip, just me and sometimes my dog, leisurely driving along, a book on cd blasting from the stereo.  There are plenty of motels that accept canine companions so even when I had a dog with me, there were lots of very nice choices.

This time my son was coming with me and it sounded like the perfect opportunity to save some $$ by driving straight thru. The plan was for me to start the road trip while my son slept, then reverse rolls.  It would be great, it would be fun, this plan would work.  We left Missoula around 1pm and made pretty good time, rolling along listening to one of the Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz.  We made our first rest stop about 3 hours later...it went downhill from there.  Here, in no particular order, are some of the highpoints of the lowpoints of the trip.

  1. My 13 year old dog, who hasn't been able to jump in or out of a vehicle in at least a year, decided he no longer cared to have me lift him in or out.  Apparently standing by the side of the car until the cows came home was preferable to me helping him up.  He even growled at me once! Not wanting to stand by the side of the car indefinitely myself, I ignored the warning and lifted him into the back seat where he promptly threw up. Since he hadn't eaten all day, there was nothing but bile, but still....yuck.
  2. We ran into window rattling thunderstorms with torrential downpours and incredible lightning. At the same time we encountered daredevil drivers who drove as fast if not faster than they had before the storm, as well as drivers who suddenly forgot what the lane lines were for.
  3. By midnight, tired of rain and other drivers, we pulled off at Cedar City, Utah, only to find there were several events going on and no motel rooms. For some reason motels now eschew the No Vacancy sign, preferring to turn you away in person at the front desk rather than by exterior signage.
  4. I would have thought at some point all of the roads between Southern California and Montana would have been completed...apparently not.  Not only were we forced into one lane, but it was a lane half on, half off the highway, which meant the two right tires were on the rumble strips. I now know that murderous thoughts are created by driving on rumble strips. I also know that...
  5. If there is a slow moving truck anywhere in the vicinity, it will find me and place itself in front of my car, probably while I am driving on rumble strips.
  6. Before he threw up on his quilt, my dog had decided that little area between the back of the driver's seat and the front of the back seat looked like a cozy place he would easily fit into. He had to stand half in half out of it for 5 miles before I could pull off at a rest stop and help him up. He didn't thank me but at least he didn't growl at me....or throw up.  
  7. The book, by one of my favorite authors, turned out to be one better suited to reading than listening.  Not much happened, but the narrator thought out loud about stuff...a lot.  By the 2nd hour of listening as he pondered this or that, I began encouraging him to get to the point. By the 5th hour I was telling him to shut up. By midnight I was actively campaigning for him to somehow be killed by a random marauding zombie. Sadly the book was zombie-less, random or otherwise.
  8. What is possible and even easy when you are 30, 40 or even 50, becomes less so at 60+.  My back ached, my head pounded and my butt was numb. Whose idea was driving all night?  She should be shot. 
We finally dragged our tired and cranky selves out of the car at my mom's house, brains completely fried, eyes burning, some 18 hours after we had set off.  Around 3am I had gotten the idea of using my small suitcase as an interim step for my dog's access to and egress from the car. He eagerly jumped down to greet my mom's corgi, Penny, running happy laps around her and my mom, all growling and bile forgotten, delighted as only dogs can be at the prospect of another person to pet and cuddle them.  My mom, bless her heart, had coffee and blueberry muffins waiting. I think I can be excused if my eyes were mostly shut while I guzzled caffeine and fell upon the muffins as though I hadn't eaten since...hmmm, Utah? 

I'll be here a month, enjoying the sunshine as seen from an air conditioned home, visiting family, catching up on all the gossip and goings on, drinking wine, laughing, telling stories, sharing photos.  Then it will be back on the road.  But this time, I'll be enjoying an audible book that isn't quite so cerebral....and one of those very nice motels that welcomes dogs.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Good times with great friends

The only thing better than spending time with friends is spending time with old friends.  You know what I mean. We all have at least one. The one who holds the secrets of your life. The first one you call when you have good news, bad news, sad news and no news at all.  The friend with whom you will drive 3 hours in the snow and cold to pick up her husband so that she doesn't have to drive the winding road alone.  The friend you call when your world is falling apart because the life you thought you were going to get to live is no longer the one you are living. The one who you sometimes have to bite your tongue around, but you do it because you know she does the exact same thing around you. The friend who always hugs you when you see her, even if the last time you were around her was the evening before.  Yeah, that friend. 

This past Saturday the daughter of a mutual friend was getting married for the 2nd time. It was a magical venue...a Montana lodge on a private island only accessible by water taxi. The bride was as gorgeous as the groom was handsome and having their children stand up for them and their granddaughter toddle her way down the aisle was beyond wonderful.

But the best part of the wedding wasn't the great food, the serene setting or even the incredible cheesecake, although that was pretty spectacular.  The best part was seeing people I hadn't seen in years, catching up with some who had moved away and those who never would.  The best part was remembering times past when we were younger but not smarter. Laughing at people who deserve to be laughed at and laughing with those who get the joke.  The best part was liking who we have all become and still knowing we could be better.

And the very best part?  Giving in to your friend's nagging (ha!) to go to the wedding because she knows that unless she does you will spend all day reading books and watching HGTV when she knows darn good and well that you will enjoy yourself at the wedding. Indeed, how could I not? She is, after all, the very best of friends and knows me sometimes better than I know myself. And the best part about that?  I know her that way, too.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Doing my civic duty

A friend posted a notice on facebook recently that she was doing her civic duty by reporting for jury selection.  Reading the responses that ranged from commiseration to advice on how best to have yourself removed from the process, I had the distinct impression everyone was secretly thinking glad it's not me!  I know of very few people, including myself, who are excited to get jury notice in the mail.  Despite my advanced (!) years, I have only been called up twice.
  
The first time was in the mid 90's when I was summoned for municipal court in Missoula, MT.  I sat in a room with about 30 others while one of the attorneys explained the process, asking us to raise our hands if we agreed with the questions they were going to ask. In a very solemn and serious tone, the DA asked who among us thought our private property should be protected from intruders.  All hands went up.  Hmmm, I thought, must be a robbery. Do you think you have the right to protect yourself on your own property? Yep, we all agreed with that. Maybe it was a home invasion gone horribly awry.  Who owns a dog?  My hand and several others shot up. Oh, no! Did a dog attack someone and if so, are we going to have to look at grisly photos of some poor guy's mangled body? Please, please, please don't let it be a child!  Is your dog licensed? Wait, what? Do you think all dogs should be licensed? Huh? What if your dog never left the yard, should it still be licensed? That's when I realized the case was not about a home invasion, robbery or gory mangling of body parts.  It was about the proper licensing of a pet!  With that realization, I laughed out loud.  I mean really out loud.  As every head in the room swiveled toward me, I laughed again.  I was (surprisingly) excused from duty.


The 2nd time I was called for jury duty was just a few years ago while I was living in Georgetown, TX, a town just north of Austin. Hundreds of us sat in an auditorium while various court officials came in, called off names and directed us to report to this or that room.  I was chosen for a felony drug case and sat with 50 or so others in a courtroom that looked almost exactly like its counterpart in Missoula but with airconditioning. As before, the attorneys took some time with questions, asking us whether we agreed with this or that and encouraging us to get involved with the discussion about drug use. It was readily apparent that there were lots of people just itching to be on the jury. They asked eager questions, offered earnest, thoughtful remarks, nodded solemnly at the lawyers, agreeing or disagreeing with different comments. Have you ever bought illegal drugs?  No one admitted to that. Do you know a drug dealer? A surprising number of folks apparently did. Are you or have you ever been a police officer?  There were several of these. The questions went on and on.  I sat on the very end of a row at the back of the jury box, next to another quiet woman, both of us silently refusing to engage in any discussion whatsoever, avoiding eye contact with the attorneys as they made their selections. They called out several of the names of the very vocal folks, but mostly ignored them. They were down to the last two slots when they called the name of my silent companion, who responded with a quietly whispered f**k. Yes, that pretty much sums it up, I thought as they called the last name...mine.


Everyone who has ever served on a jury, no matter what type of crime or court, has at least one story. Some are funny, like the one my sister in law told me about the guy who tripped on his pants and fell as he was running away after robbing a minimart, or as they are known in Southern California, a Stop 'n Rob.  His only response to not only the image of him falling being shown but also to each witness who came forward and identified him was that's not me. Some stories are scary. My next door neighbor served in a trial where the defendant cursed everyone in the courthouse, screaming that he would kill them all.  My jury story?  It was boring.  Really, really boring. I am not sure what hybrid of Law & Order vs Perry Mason I expected to participate in, but the reality was yawn-inducingly dull. There was a brief time when I was in college that I considered going to law school.  I can only say that after spending a week in court I am so happy I decided against spending my life there.  Bless the ones who do, we certainly need them.  Bless the judges who show up every day to preside over the tedious as well as the sensational.  Bless the attorneys who work so hard to both prosecute and defend those who find themselves in sad situations. The hours of preparation they must put in is staggering.  Bless the poor court reporter who perhaps has the hardest job of all...not missing a single word. Bless the bailiff who collected our cell phones each day, was unfailingly polite and who stood at attention in the court while we got to sit. Bless the police who were involved in the case and who showed up every day to sit in the back of the room and represent their brothers and sisters. Bless the witnesses who find the courage to come forward to speak for the victims when it might be inconvenient or even dangerous. Bless them all, I'm glad I am not one of them.


But for all of the boredom, the tedium, the inconvenience of serving on a jury, if called again, I will show up.  Because I believe in the system, however flawed it might be. If, heaven forbid, one of my friends or a family member ever finds herself on the wrong side of the defense table, I want the jury to include not only those who don't have anything better to do or court groupies eager to wallow in salacious details, but those who don't really want to be there...but who show up anyway. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summertime makes me lazy

Some people are energized by the sun.  I am not one of them.  Unlike John Denver, sunshine on my shoulders doesn't make me happy, it makes me sleepy. It's a good thing I live in Montana and not Arizona, because if I was bombarded by that much sunshine, I would probably take a day long nap. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that this week's blog is a recycled one from last year, albeit edited a little so that you won't fall asleep in the middle of it.  Enjoy!

When I was much, much younger, and completely naïve 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's time to get new clothes". 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 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 like a lot of eye makeup and I have to confess that Bonne Bell's Dr Pepper is still my go to 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 was 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.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dogberryisms, eggcorns and random grammatical gaffes

I love to read.  Scratch that...I am compelled to read.  Put a newspaper in front of me and I will read it front to back.  Unless it is the LA Times...I defy anyone to read that all the way thru! Give me a magazine and I will start at the beginning and read thru to the ads.  None of that looking up something in the index and going right to the article.  Nope.  If I want to read an article highlighted on the cover, I read each page until I happen upon the article, read that, then keep going to the end.  Whether it be a cereal box or a catalog on an airplane, I read everything.  My mom is fond of telling a story about one Christmas when one of my gifts was a stack 10 high of Nancy Drew books.  That will keep her busy all vacation, she thought.  I finished them Christmas Day. During my junior year of high school I was delighted to learn in English class that we would be reading The Great Gatsby.  I took the book home and read it the first night, only to have to suffer thru weeks and weeks of class where we took turns reading pages from it until finally the torture was blessedly over.  I fell asleep more than once that semester.

Loving to read, it should be no surprise that I also love to write.  I adore searching for the right word, just the right phrase to describe something.  Do I always find it?  Of course not, but not for lack of trying.  So it should also come as no surprise that the misuse of words in print or by broadcast drives me crazy. I believe the outright making up of words should be a crime! Before you ask, no, I do not go around correcting people's grammar. How my friends and relatives speak is completely up to them. However, I firmly believe that anyone who is a newscaster, pundit, broadcaster or professional writer should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us. They should, at a minimum, be aware of what they are saying.  I am a virtual office manager in a real estate company and as such, receive hundreds of e-flyers and other marketing pieces each week.  I am stunned by how unprofessional some of them are.
 
Here are a few of my favorites, both spoken and written, in no particular order.

Conversate.  I heard this during the televised broadcast of a football game when the color commentator mentioned he had met with this or that player and "sat down to conversate with him".  I had to rewind the dvr 5 times just to convince myself that I had, indeed, heard correctly.
Irregardless.  This apparently makes other people cringe as well.
New leash on life. I have both heard and read this and it makes me chuckle every single time.
Perscription, nucular and other mispronunciations.  Spell check typically keeps these out of the written word, but I have heard more than one tv talking head utter these.
Its vs it's and their vs there vs they're.  I am always amazed by the misuse of these words. I imagine English teachers everywhere would like to add lay vs lie and sit vs set. I have to admit those don't bother me as much, although I am not sure why.
A close 2nd to the it's vs its issue is the improper use in print of an apostrophe before an 's' when it is meant to be plural not possessive.  I see this a lot in real estate advertising.  Just yesterday I received an e-flyer showcasing a home that had "plenty of room for boat's".
Thru vs threw vs through. I admit to using thru almost exclusively when I write, but I never confuse it with threw.
Signal out vs single out. When I hear 'signal out', I always think of the Navy...and I have no idea why.
Amazability.  Nope, not a word.  Neither is ginormous, although I secretly like that one.
Drank vs drunk and sneaked vs snuck. Rather than irritate me, these always make me laugh, particularly when I hear a newscaster use them.
Expecially.  There are a lot of people who apparently confuse X and S.
I vs Me. As in "the house belongs to Mike and I" rather than the correct "the house belongs to Mike and me". For some reason this one really irritates me.
Set and done. I haven't a clue why anyone would confuse this with 'said and done' but when I see it, I always wonder if the same person says 'said in stone'.
 
So there you have it, a short list of words that drives me crazy.  As my daughter oft times tells me...it's a short drive.




Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who murdered Thumbelina?

When I was a little girl I loved dolls.  Small dolls, large dolls, dolls that walked along as you held their hand, dolls that talked when you pulled a string, dolls that just sat there and didn't do much of anything. Dolls you could dress up in adult looking clothes, dolls you could wash the hair of without it falling out and some whose hair did not survive, dolls that looked like brides or princesses or ragamuffins,  I just loved them all....with one exception...Thumbelina.  Even typing the name gives me a small shiver.

It was Christmas 1960 and my mom was looking to feed my doll habit.  We went to the grocery store first to view those on-top-of-the-shelf dolls in their open, plastic covered boxes that showcased the doll in front of a cardboard scene.  We never bought any of those dolls because, as my mom said, who on earth buys a doll at the grocery store and expects it to last, but we loved to look at them.  Then on to the department stores, which at that time all had toy departments, not to mention fabric departments, book departments and candy counters. There the dolls were out of their boxes, set on little chairs or lying in cribs, or propped up against other dolls or stuffed animals. My mom would make up stories about the dolls, describing what this one or that one liked to eat, what TV shows they liked to see and the kind of music they liked to sing. Many a doll was in my collection because my mom had convinced me that it needed someone to love it, and I was just the girl to do that. A lot of little girls have dolls that sit on shelves looking pretty, as pristine as the day they were purchased.  Not so in my world.  When I say I loved my dolls to pieces, I mean that literally.

That Christmas I was newly turned 8, still doll crazy, and as we stood in the toy department, gazing  over the abundance of dolls, contemplating which one would be under the tree Christmas morning, my mom spied Thumbelina.  She was 20" of evilness, with rubber head, arms and legs and a stuffed body that hid the heart of her evilness...a motor that could be activated by twisting a big pink wooden knob on her back. My mom immediately twisted that knob and the doll's head began to move!  Mom put her down on the table on her side and the movement of the motor within her evil heart, forced her to turn over on her back.  OMG!!! I stared in horror at the doll and grabbed the first doll within reach, a fairly benign looking babydoll that did nothing more threatening than bleat a pitiful Wah! when you squeezed her.  "I like this one!" I said.  My mom glanced at it, then gave the pink knob another crank.  "How about this one?" I entreated, picking up a Betsy Wetsy, thrusting it in my mom's face.  She didn't even bother to glance at poor little Betsy or any of the other ones I held up for her.  As we left the toy department, I knew, I just KNEW that doll would be under the tree.

Two weeks later.  Christmas was a blur of brightly colored wrapping paper, ribbon and candy.  My brother and I dove into the gifts Santa had left like we had never seen toys before.  And yes, there at the center of the gifts was IT, Thumbelina, the baby doll who looked so placid laying there, pretending to be a doll...a doll who moved and turned over with a weird groaning sound from deep within her chest.  My brother was fascinated by it and kept turning the pink knob to see her move her head, until my mother admonished "Don't do that, you'll break her!"  Yes, I thought, turn that knob, turn it some more!  That night I was safely snuggled in my bed, a big stuffed dog cuddled next to me, when my mom opened the door.  You know that scene in a movie where the room is dark and then the door opens, spilling light into the room in an eerie pattern, while the evil creature stands silhouetted and creepy music crescendos? It was like that, except it was my mom and there wasn't any music.  She kissed me goodnight and laid Thumbelina on my dresser, turned out the light and shut the door.  I lay still as a stone, barely daring to breathe, when suddenly I heard IT...that awful groaning from within its chest followed by the thud of its arms and legs as it rolled over.  I jumped up, grabbed the doll, turned it over and cranked the heck out of that pink wooden knob.  I turned it until it couldn't turn any more then turned it again until I heard a satisfying PING!  I laid it down, got back into bed and went to sleep. 

The next morning my mom was saddened to see that the doll moved no more, disappointed by the quality of the workmanship and suggested we take it back to the store.  Thankfully my dad had already cut the box up for the trash can and no doubt the receipt along with it.  So I was stuck with a doll that didn't move...that just laid there, pleasantly, quietly.  Sigh. 

Fast forward to my daughter at age 4.  On a visit to my mom's house, she discovered the forgotten doll packed away in a box of Barbies. She immediately seized it, hugging it to herself, kissing its plump little cheeks.  She didn't care that it didn't move. She just thought it looked like a babydoll that was soft and cuddly.  She didn't even mind that it had a strange lump in its chest and decided it had an artificial heart, although where she had heard that phrase I have no clue. A couple of weeks later, I found the doll on her bedroom floor and noticed that the cloth on its tummy had a tear where the original workings were starting to poke out.  Thinking I would sew it up before my daughter got injured, I picked it up and stashed it on a shelf in the linen closet, and promptly forgot about it.  About a month later, my daughter came running down the hall..."Mommy, Mommy!" she cried.  "Come quick and see.  Someone killed Thumbelina!"  I ran with her to the closet and there on the shelf lay the doll, a long metal rod sticking up from its chest, looking as though someone had, indeed, killed it.  "Who murdered Thumbelina?" asked my daughter.  Oh, honey, I thought, if you only knew.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Afternoon naps and the zombie appocalypse

I am not one who does an afternoon nap well.  I have a friend who is a champion power napper.  She has the ability to lay down, close her eyes, immediately fall asleep, then awake refreshed and ready to go within 20 minutes.  I have heard Navy Seals have that same ability. I, on the other hand, lay down for a quick nap and either cannot shut off my brain long enough to relax, or I fall into a deep and dreamless sleep only to awaken 2 hours later, groggy, headachy, and completely disoriented with smashed hair and smeared mascara.

Last night I had dinner at a friend's house.  She had this idea for a potluck salad dinner. She would supply the basic greens and the rest of us would bring toppings and wine.  I had so much fun, and wine, that I stayed until midnight,  then headed home in the rain with my tired doggie in the back seat.  He loves going to her house, too.  As an apartment dweller, he only gets to romp outside at planned times during the day.  At her house he is free to go in and out at will, sniffing every plant and rock and bush as male dogs are wont to do, in place of his normal evening program of snoozing by the tv.  He was so tired by the time I got home that he went immediately to bed and was soon snoring happily away, stretched out on his back, no doubt reliving his rock/plant/bush sniffing escapades. I was hopeful that he would continue to snore and dream until 8 or even 9! How lovely, I thought, to sleep in on a Sunday morning.  I would awaken slowly, completely rested, then, following a leisurely morning walk, have brunch on the patio before tackling my weekend chores. 

Instead I found myself rudely shaken awake at 5:17 am! 5:17!!! Who on earth gets up on a Sunday morning at 5:17?  My dog, that's who.  Since he is not rude enough to bark me awake, he instead puts his front paws on the side of the bed.  And when I say 'puts' I mean thumps, with the force of all of his 35 lbs behind his feet.  If I don't immediately open my eyes, he walks his way up the side of the bed, thumping heavily as he goes, until he reaches my face. I challenge anyone to keep their eyes closed when faced with a dog staring loudly at you from a distance of 3 inches.

Which brings me to my nap. I dragged myself thru the morning walk, errands, chores. all the necessary weekend things we do, all the time fighting yawns.  Finally at 2:30, I made the mistake of sitting down on the couch...and I was out like a light.  I woke up 2 hours later, groggy, headachy, and completely disoriented. I hate that feeling.  The one that says you have just lost hours of your day and will never get them back.  Yes, yes, I know...if I had slept late I would have 'lost' the same number of hours of daylight, but there is something about losing them in the middle of the day that completely turns me around. The feeling that something wonderfully momentous happened and by sleeping on the couch, I missed out on it entirely.

Ok, I'll confess.  What I am really afraid of is that the zombie apocalypse will come and I alone will possess the secret of stopping them, but I'll be snoozing away, not realizing they are at my windows until it is too late. They will take over Missoula, plowing thru my hapless fellow citizens, wreaking havoc and dessimating the city.  And when the handful of forlorn survivors gather and ask how did this happen, where were you when the zombies were busily chomping away on your neighbors?  I will have to confess...it happened while I was taking a nap.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Please stop wasting my time!

We all know one.  Maybe she's your friend.  Maybe your relative.  Maybe it's even your spouse.  A Time Waster. Someone who, for some unknown reason, seems incapable of managing their time, which then makes if difficult for you to manage your own.

First up, the Late Comer. I  am not talking about someone who is occasionally late, we are all guilty of that.  I am talking about the person who tells you they will meet you at the movie at 7:30 then arrives at 8:15 for a movie that starts at 8.  Meanwhile you are pacing the lobby, seeing everyone else file happily into the theatre for the movie you have been waiting to see for weeks, knowing that by the time you get into the room there won't be any good seats left and you will end up with a crick in your neck from staring up at the screen from a distance of about 6 feet, because you were silly enough to agree to let them buy the tickets ahead of time to avoid the box office line.

My boss is an Under Estimator of Time Required. I recognized the signs immediately upon going to work for her....I grew up with the Queen of Under Estimating.  It's irrelevant that the actual drive time from one city to another is about 15 minutes, 10 if traffic is light.  What matters is time involved. To the 15 minutes of drive time, you have to add at least 5 minutes to get yourself and all of your stuff out to the car, another couple of minutes for running back in for that file you forgot, then at least 5 minutes for that one last phone call before you buckle up, and another 10 minutes because you forgot you were almost out of gas. Assuming there is no traffic, that 15 minutes you think is sufficient suddenly mushrooms into 30 minutes.  My mom is fond of saying she is only 10 minutes from the Mall.  I am fond of reminding her that she can't get herself out the door and into the car in 10 minutes.

Then there is the Dawdler. Years ago I was the assistant manager for a large bookstore in our local mall.  We closed at 9pm every week night, after which upper management allowed us 30 minutes to count the cash, tally the receipts, reconcile the checks and credit card slips, make out the deposit for the morning, straighten up the cash wrap area, vacuum the floor and do a dozen other housekeeping tasks they frowned on us doing while customers were in the store, then lock up and be out of the store by 9:30. At 8:30 I would begin going thru the store, checking on the stragglers, reminding them that we close in 30 minutes.  At 8:45, I would lower the gate across the entrance to half way, make another walk thru and announce the remaining time. Another walk thru at 8:50, then again at 8:55.  Occasionally there would be one or two people who really pushed the time limit, but usually they were apologetic as I gently herded them toward the front of the store.  But one evening, as I made my sweep, two well dressed women lingered over the magazine section, deciding between a couple of choices.  They ignored repeated warnings of lapsed time, not even budging when at 9:00 I lowered the front gate to the floor and told them I needed to shut down the computer.  They were indignant when I tried to hurry them along...they were, after all, Paying Customers.  Finally I told them that the computer was shutting itself down in 3 minutes and they would have to return the next day.  Champion Dawdlers, both of them.

Last week I observed a Time Waster who defied labels.  I was scheduled for a haircut at 2pm.  I arrived at 5 minutes till, took a seat and grabbed a magazine while the stylist called out a greeting to me and then turned to put the finishing touches on the hair of the woman occupying the chair. I was busy catching up on the life and times of Jennifer Anniston as interpreted by the paparazzi, when I glanced up and noted that it was now 2:15 and the stylist and her customer were involved in a weird dance.  The steps involved the stylist making a minuscule snip from one side or the other, after which she would offer up a handheld mirror for the customer to check the 'do. Then she waited and waited and waited...while the woman, who was texting madly on her smartphone, finished the current text, took the mirror, examined the results, then shook her head. While I watched, they repeated this snip/text/look routine 6 or 7 times before the woman nodded, finally satisfied, then proceeded to remain in the seat for a few more texting rounds, while the stylist swept up her cut hair, straightened the station, sent me apologetic looks, and generally hovered miserably, clearly torn between trying not to offend either her current client or her next one.

Now that I think about it, that woman in the salon?  She wasn't really a Time Waster...she was just rude.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Going from 30 to 60 with a flip of the channel

I was watching The Good Wife Sunday night (love that show!) and was happy to see her no-good, cheatin' husband finally kicked to the curb!  While I was enjoying that turn of events, I noticed Chris Noth's almost-completely-gray hair and realized that thru the wonder of television, we have seen this wonderful actor age right before our eyes.  He went from a skinny, young, brash detective on the original (and best) Law & Order, to the suave and studly Big on Sex and the City, to this newly gray haired, handsome governor. I know he is the not the only actor we have watched grow up or older over the years...Shirley Temple, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael J Fox.  But I don't recall ever being able to flip thru channels and see other stars in all the stages of their lives at all times of the day the way we can with Chris Noth.   

We all have photos of ourselves when we were either skinnier or chubbier or makeup-less or hair-challenged.  I have one particularly horrid photo from the 80's where my hair was permed to the rafters and I was wearing what appears to be a sofa slipcover in a lovely blue/pink/purple/green floral.  In it I am at some function, wearing eye glasses large enough for 3 people, at a table with 9 other banquet attendees. The only thing that makes me happy about that photo is the shot of the guy next to me in burgundy and blue plaid pants with a tie the width of his chest and mutton chops that almost meet in the middle of his face. My dad was stylin'.

The difference is we can turn those photos over, close the album or take that awkward 8th grade school picture right off the wall.  Honest, Mom, I have no idea where that one went. But when you have lived your life in front of us on TV, you really can't escape.  Last week I was watching Hollywood Game Night and Michael Weatherly was reflecting on his 12 seasons on NCIS.  He said the problem with it being in syndication while the show is still running is that people must be wondering why they replaced him with an older, fatter guy who looks just like him.

There are a lot of reasons why I am happy I am not a celebrity.  Sure, the money would be great, but I can't imagine having people snap my photo as I struggle to get my 35 lb dog, who no longer jumps, into my car as I leave the vet's office.  How awful to see online video proof that yes, I really did dance with that very young college guy at that bar on St Patrick's Day. It's bad enough to have friends with long memories...I don't need those moments immortalized. And I really cannot imagine having to watch myself age from my 30's to my 60's nightly on any number of TV channels.

Cary Grant retired from films in 1966 when he was only 62 and, at least to my eyes, still an incredibly attractive and virile leading man.  He retired in part to spend more time with his daughter, but also in part because he wanted to be remembered as he was in the films he had completed. He said he didn't want people to watch him as a character actor in his 80's and say "wow, he used to be so good looking".  I believe he sold himself short there.  I have seen photos of him in his 80's and I have to say that sentiment did not occur to me.

As for Chris Noth, I will continue to watch this man in his many and varied roles for as long as he wants to continue acting.  As Jennifer Garner said recently of her Draft Day costar, Kevin Costner, "there's still a lot of handsome there".

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I am never going to be a rocket scientist

When my daughter was in her 20's, she and some friends were sitting in a bar taking turns deciding if each person was a glass half empty or glass half full type. When they got to my daughter, one of her friends laughed and said that she was not only a glass half empty type, but a yes-my-glass-is-half-empty-and-which-one-of-you-drank-it type. I was reminded of that story this weekend. Like many women who write, I also read a lot of blogs. Some are quirky, some helpful, some are relevant to me, some are so completely removed from what I do and where I am in life as to be fairly hilarious.  Most of them, however, are upbeat, fun to read, inspiring, glass half full blogs. But every so often I read a blog that is not only a little sad, but downright depressing.

The surprisingly sad blog was by a woman I have been following for about a year. The author is a great writer and I have really enjoyed looking at the world thru her eyes via her keyboard.  But in this entry she talks about goal setting and asks the question what do I do with the time I have left? That question took me aback. What an odd way of looking at your life, I thought, at time left rather than as time yet to come.  It's as though she has a use by date that she somehow is privy to. Yes, I know we have a finite time here on planet Earth, but that has always been the case, we were never promised a forever Earth life. She said her goals now were not to improve herself, not to make any advances or changes, that is for the youngins. We mature folk should strive not to lose what we have. Well, I have news for her, if that is your only goal in life, to not lose, then you are sure to be disappointed. We will all lose things, some big, like loved ones, some minor, like the ability to do 50 jumping jacks, and some inconvenient, like our hearing.  Some of these losses will creep up on us slowly and some will pour over us like waves at the beach.  But lose we will.

Yes, we are all growing older.  Yes, sad things happen in life.  But at the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, if you are focused on the sad or lost, then your head is turned the wrong way, my friend. If you don't snap your head around quickly enough, you are going to miss what is coming at you, and make no mistake, there is stuff coming at you.

Ferris Bueller said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Don't miss it by looking backwards, hanging on to something that happened in the past, regardless of its impact on your life, or regretting the road taken or the number of years that have passed. Focus on what lies ahead. Sure, there comes a point in your life when you realize that you will never be a rocket scientist or discover a new planet. But the chances of me doing that in my 60's is just a little bit less than me doing that in my 30's...it just isn't in the cards for me.  That doesn't mean I can't do a lot of things in the coming years. As to goals, I have a bunch...learn to speak French, travel to Ireland, bake a perfect cheesecake, laugh with friends, drink wine, watch more sunsets and maybe some sunrises, hug my kids, teach my dog not to lunge on his leash (yeah, that's not going to happen), sit on the porch swing with my mom, and most of all, do what brings me joy.  The only thing most of us leave on this Earth is the memory of who we were and what we did in the minds of those we love and were loved by. I want to be remembered as having a glass not only half full, but spilling over and dripping on the floor full.  Hopefully of a nice Pinot Grigio.





Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lizards, caterpillars and the occassional dead bird

I have had lots of pets, dogs for the most part, with a small sprinkling of fish, who I managed to keep alive just long enough to remember I am not good at keeping them alive.  As my dad told me when looking at the brand new tiny shark swimming in my 5 year old son's aquarium, "When they stop moving, they die." Yep, they sure do.


Even as a child, I never had cats or guinea pigs, birds or lizards.  Unless you count the horned toad my brother bought back from a camping trip in the desert when he was 10.  Once my mother found out he planned on catching live flies to feed it, it was promptly released into the garden where it scurried under the fence to the neighbor's yard.  Lizards can move pretty quickly with the right motivation. Just after that I decided that the fuzzy caterpillars that were abundant on our orange tree would be the perfect pets for me.  I captured 4 of them and put them in an open shoe box (so they could breathe) with some dirt and a few twigs under my bed.  Imagine my surprise when the next morning I brought them a lettuce leaf only to find them missing.  You will probably understand why I decided not to ask my mom to help me find them.


About a week after caterpillar-gate, my best friend and I found a dead crow in the front yard.  Here was a pet that couldn't run away or die! We played with the bird all day, which mostly involved us taking turns carrying it around, propping it up so it could watch as we played hopscotch and skipped rope.  When it came time to go in for supper, we had a lively debate about which of us would get to keep it overnight.  I was crushed when my mom, after me having won the right, wouldn't let me in the house with it.  She may have even screamed a little.  I offered to keep it outside but for some reason she thought it belonged in the garbage can.


It was just after that, that we got our first dog, a mutt named Mitsy, followed by a miniature dachshund and then a toy poodle, who my mom named Mimi.  I had voted for Tinkerbell but was outvoted. My brother voted we get a real dog, like a German Shepherd or a bulldog. He was outvoted as well.


I have had a procession of dogs since that time, including one I bought as a surprise for my boyfriend after learning that his dog had died while he was in junior high (the boyfriend, not the dog). His dad was adamant about not having that dog in the house right up until the next afternoon when it took a nap on his chest on the couch. He and that dog he didn't want were inseparable from that point on. I once accidentally acquired a Sheltie outside a pet shop when a girl asked me if I wanted to hold it.  I cuddled it close, showing its cute little face to my then husband, turned around to hand it back and saw the girl running across the parking lot. I adored that dog and named it Gypsy because it seemed somehow an appropriate name.


Since that time I have rescued dogs from shelters, bought them from breeders and had one gifted to me by my boss.  From Lightfoot the mutt to Cricket the Springer Spaniel, from Nashville who grew to enormous size to Mollie from the shelter, I have loved them all. Whether I chose them for myself or they were chosen for me by circumstances, I have lived most of my life loving and (hopefully) being loved by a dog. As Charles M Schulz once wrote, "Happiness is a warm puppy". He was a very wise man.
Colton and Grover

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A piece of my mind

Words are powerful...we all know this.  And yet, knowing this, we still manage to inflict such terrible wounds on each other.  I have long thought that some people just don't have that filter, the one that reminds them to bite their tongue, and instead they just spew out whatever they are thinking without much reflection on how that might affect the person being spewed upon. No doubt there are countless others who go to the extreme opposite, keeping feelings and thoughts bottled up within them, allowing them to fester. Surely there must be a middle ground.

Long ago I mastered the art of giving whomever I was furious with a huge piece of my mind.  I would spill out all of the things about them that truly bugged me, really lambasting them with the cutting edge of my tongue.  But always, always, always somewhere they could never hear me.  I cannot even recall how many times while my children were teenagers that I got into my car, alone, and drove around town, ripping them up one side and down the other.  Sometimes in the middle of the rant I would think of something better to say and start all over again.  I was eloquent in my verbosity. Only after I had finished with my last "and another thing" would I return home, calm, relaxed and ready to deal with whatever had driven me into the car.

That lesson in dealing with teenagers has been invaluable thru the years, especially since I now work from home. Because I am not even in the same state as my boss, I am completely free to call her an idiot...I just have to make sure the phone call has been terminated! It is not unusual for me to keep a running narrative while I read work related emails...something I could not do if I worked in an office setting. A friend told me that when she gets ridiculous, silly or outright insulting emails, she finds it therapeutic to write a scathing response and then delete.  That's great, but what if you accidentally hit send?  Then what do you do? With an entire state between me and clients, I am pretty sure I can't be heard, plus there is something very satisfying about actually speaking the words out loud.

I was in Target this past weekend, just wandering around, looking at things I don't really need but like to look at, when I passed a mother berating her son for reaching for a toy when she had apparently told him several times they were not buying a toy.  She loudly told him that she was sick and tired of repeating again and again that he can't have a toy. I had three thoughts.  First, I cannot hear the words "sick and tired" without thinking of Bill Cosby in his comedy chat about him growing up.  His mother had started a phrase "I am sick..." and he finished it with "...and tired!"  It didn't go well for him.  Then I thought, what are you doing in the toy section if your goal is not to buy a toy?  Yes, I am aware that I am being judgmental here, no doubt there are many reasons for them to be there that don't involve a purchase. But I am not in favor of yelling at kids, especially not in stores, and if she is just browsing, window shopping as it were, she needs to do that when her little boy isn't with her.  You want to raise a child who hates spending time with you?  Yell at him in a store for reacting as a normal kid.  My last thought was, wow, this lady really needs to drive around the block a few times and judging by my reaction to her, so did I. 





Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Snow, Rain, Slush and Snow Days

I love snow, I really do.  But this past week was brutal.  Here in Missoula we typically get several hard snow falls spread out over a couple of months. We are used to this...we are prepared for this...we even look forward to this.  But this past week we got a huge amount of snow combined with extremely cold temperatures and swirling winds that lasted nearly a week.  Snow plows could not keep up with the snowfall, barely managing to clear the main streets.  People who lived on side streets, which is most of the people who live here, were stuck in their houses for days. One of my friends skied to the market! I live in an apartment just off a main street. Our parking lot was not plowed but the street in front of us was. I watched as cars struggled to find purchase on the slippery surface and more than one car got stuck at the exit spinning its wheels until some strapping young college students pushed it out onto the street.  We are fortunate to count as residents some drivers of huge pickup trucks with enormous tires.  Once they had mowed over the snow drifts it was enough to let the rest of us mere mortals in SUVs and compacts also escape. They didn't send anyone to clear our sidewalks until long after the storm was over, which made walking my small dog a real challenge.  At 35 lbs I can't just heft him up under my arm as my neighbor did with her pug, but had to plow thru the 3 ft deep accumulation, clearing a place for him to walk. It was snowing so heavily that by the time he was ready for another walk, the trails I had plowed had been filled in by the swirling winds and new snowfall.  I was bundled up in so many clothes to fight the -25 degree weather, that I had visions of myself falling over onto my back and not being able to roll over, kind of like that little kid in A Christmas Story.


Then came the rain...freezing rain that turned all of that lovely snow into ice covered mounds and what sidewalk was cleared into slick, treacherous pathways. When that happens, I have to make a decision about footwear.  Do I go with the regular snow boots that will keep my feet and ankles nice and dry or switch to my lower hiking boots to which I have attached my spikes.  I won't slip in those spikes, but boy, will my ankles get soaked!


Finally came the sun, which was lovely to see but disastrous to deal with. It melted the parking lot into slush, which then refroze into deep trenches of ice/mud/water.  What a mess! Definitely spike wearing time.


It was such a bad storm that they cancelled schools on Friday and again on Monday. When we moved here from Southern California in 1988, my kids were excited to be in a place where they would surely have snow days and lots of them.  But no! Not once in the entire time they were in school here did they ever have a single one. We had lots of bad snow storms, tons of snowfall, but it was never enough to call off school. Twenty some odd years later my daughter is still a little bitter about that.

I have never been so thankful that I work from home as I was this past week. It was nice not to have to be anywhere other than my living room.  Nicer still not to have to be on the roads, adding to the traffic problems. 

But even bundled up so that I can barely move my arms, hat pulled down to my eyebrows, scarf up over my nose, ice spikes strapped to my shoes, I still love living here and can't imagine living anywhere else. Although I do feel bad for the rest of the city.  When I moved here in 1988, Montana had the worst winter in 30 years.  This is my first winter back here in a couple of years...oops!