Thursday, January 30, 2014

Apartment Etiquette...here are the rules

Anyone who has lived in apartments, condos or townhouses knows there is a certain etiquette to residing there. Not the written rules they hand you when you sign your lease, but the unwritten ones we all must adhere to in order to peacefully coexist with neighbors who live in such close and sometimes uncomfortable proximity.

RULE #1:  Do not look in windows
I know it is tempting, especially when lights are on and shades are open, but you must avoid that temptation! Of course, that is easier said than done. Like the time I was walking my dog early one morning and realized that the 20-something guy across the commons from me liked to do his morning stretches on his deck...in the buff!  Yowsa! I swear I only glanced his way, my eyes drawn to the fact that the lights that blazed from his apartment were such a glaring contrast to the predawn gloominess. He apparently wasn't offended by my inadvertent voyeurism, as he called me a cheerful good morning and gave me a little wave...with his hand, people!  But accidental peeping tom-ishness in no way explains why yesterday the gal who lives a couple of apartments over, while watching her dog do its business about 2 feet away from my patio, peered in my office window. My blinds were half open, which meant she had to actually stoop over a little to look in.  She suddenly saw me sitting at my desk staring back and turned quickly away, practically dragging her poor dog by its leash through the snow.  A couple of years ago I lived in an apartment where poor design meant you could lean against the outer rail of your deck and look into the living room of the apartment next door.  Imagine my surprise one afternoon when I realized the man next door was doing exactly that.  I was so creeped out I kept my patio blinds shut for a month.

RULE #2: Never, ever park in someone else's parking spot
Yes, I know there are limited spots and you have 4 cars, but park on the street if you have to NOT IN MY SPOT!  You know it is mine.  It has a number.  And that number is ASSIGNED TO ME! I cannot express how frustrating it is to come back after a grocery trip with 6 bags, while it is snowing like crazy, only to find that the guy who lives above you has parked his ginormous truck right in front of your door.  We are encouraged to call the number posted right on the building for the tow service. Instead I took the high road and left a tersely worded note stuck to his window. It must have worked because now he parks in the one handicapped spot in the entire parking lot. I lived in a complex in Austin where one guy would put out orange cones whenever he left. I can imagine how peeved he was when he came home one day to see a vehicle not his own parked smack dab in his space, the cones seemingly undisturbed and carefully arranged around the truck. 

RULE #3: Pick up your dog's poop or at least kick it to the curb
This should go without saying, but some people obviously think the rest of us dog owners are going to cover for them. Kind of like living with your mom where she picks up your clothes, dishes, shoes for you.  I imagine them thinking, that nice lady in the corner apartment probably won't mind picking up my dog's poop while she is bagging her dog's stuff.  I watched the college student who lives 3 doors down walk her two little ankle biters, pause while her dogs did their business right on the sidewalk...and then just walk away as though nothing happened! Listen up, if I have to walk with a pocket full of doggy bags, then so do you.

RULE #4: Refrain from joining in the conversations coming from the condo next door
In fact, try to ignore any noises arising from your neighbor's apartment.  Several years ago I lived in the apartment below a young woman who liked to have her boyfriend over on Saturday afternoons.  Let me just say I learned early on to keep my patio door and my windows closed when he was visiting. I have to admit I have not always toed the line with this rule.  I once lived above a few guys who liked their heavy metal music loud and late at night. I think I can be excused if I happened to stomp around a little in the early morning as I got ready for work. I am not proud of that, but I am not too upset about it, either. They would bang on their ceiling and I would stomp on my floor.  See, we got along!

Of course all of these rules go out the window if you actually know your neighbors.  I had just moved into my townhouse with my college aged daughter, only to find that some of her friends were renting next door.  That night as we all settled down in our new place, we heard a loud "Good Night, Jenn!" coming thru the walls. That kind of rule breaking I can get behind.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

When I was your age...

Among the phrases I vowed I would never say to my children (along with "wait 'til your father gets home" and "there are starving children who would love to have that food you aren't eating!")  at the top of the list was "when I was your age, I...". Having heard those words myself growing up, I tried my best to avoid comparing them to each other, friends of theirs and especially to me. What I did in my childhood, teenage years or young adulthood has absolutely nothing to do with how they choose to spend their lives.  And yet, every so often, it sort of creeps up on me.  My daughter turned 36 a couple of weeks ago and I cannot help but think about myself at that age.

The year I turned 36, I loaded up two kids, two dogs and one husband and moved 1300 miles to Missoula, Montana. I had spent most of my life in Southern California, but as my children grew older I wanted to raise them in a quieter, less crowded environment. My 10 year old daughter and my 7 year old son weren't as happy about the move as I was, but they quickly came to love Missoula. They enjoyed a freedom there they never would have in our old city. Missoula was the kind of town where if my kids didn't get off the bus after school, I didn't panic that they had been snatched by perverts, but waited for the phone call from my daughter telling me which friend she had gone home with, where she had last seen her brother and who he was with. When I drove to pick up my daughter, we would swing by the park where the baseball fields were to see if I could pick him out of the crowd of other kids playing there.  No matter how unique your son is, dress him in a jacket, jeans and a cap then put him in a field with 3 dozen others dressed exactly the same way, and I defy you to pick him out on the first or fifth try. Fortunately I had long ago mastered what my daughter called my schoolyard whistle.  Loud and piercing, when let loose it never failed to have everyone, child and adult alike, turn to see who on earth was making that noise. The one who raised his hand and waved belonged to me and could be collected and taken home.

At 36 I had yet to discover what I would do for the rest of my life.  I had been a teacher, an office worker, PTA president, a softball coach, school Site Coordinator, Brownie troop leader and a perpetual volunteer.  Moving to Missoula I would become the assistant manager of a bookstore, the owner of a crafting business, a volleyball player, high school speech coach, print shop salesperson, and eventually, a real estate professional.

Remembering what I was doing and what my life looked like at 36, makes me think about my mom's and my grandmothers' lives.

My mom turned 36 in 1965. My brother and I were barely teenagers. She had recently gone back to work, hoping we were old enough to keep out of mischief even if she wasn't there to rein us in. She was the secretary of the Baptist church we attended and during the school year was off early enough to be home when the school bus arrived. During holidays and summers, she paid us $5 a week to keep out of trouble and away from each other. On Fridays she would take us to work with her so that we could crank off copies of the upcoming Sunday's church bulletin on the mimeograph machine.  I can still smell the pungent ink as I squeezed it from a tube onto the drum of the machine.  After a few turns of the handle to spread the ink around, I would attach the stencil to the drum, load it with paper and begin to crank. It took both me and my brother to run the machine, one to turn the handle, one to slipsheet it, inserting blank papers between the printed ones so that the ink wouldn't smear. The goal was to crank it faster and faster, trying to make the other person fall behind with the slipsheets, and then fast enough that the bulletins would fly up in the air, showering us with inky paper. When my mom wasn't pulling her carefully coiffed and heavily lacquered hair out by the roots, she had time to be a league bowler, PTA president, school room mother, member of several women's groups at church and a Sunday School teacher. She sang in the church choir, had her hair done once a week and although I have pictures of her in slacks and even shorts when she was younger, by the time she had reached her 30's she only wore dresses. All of that would change during the late 60's and by the time the 70's came around she was the personnel manager of a major motorcycle company, wore pantsuits and jeans, and still had her hair done once a week. 

My grandmothers' lives at 36 are harder to pin down with specifics. My maternal grandmother had 5 children and at 36 was smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression. To this day my mom won't talk about those days except in the most general of terms or to share a particularly funny story, like the one about the pig her dad got (liberated) from a local farmer. They had no place to keep him from being spotted as he fattened up enough to become dinner, so they closed him in the out house, only letting him out at night when he would feast on the scraps from my grandmother's kitchen, then run squealing around the yard as mom and her brothers and sister tried to chase him down and cram him back into the out house.  Eventually things looked up for them and in the 40's they moved to Joliet, Illinois, to live on the grounds of the penitentiary where my grandfather was the Assistant Warden and where my grandmother would have two more children. My mom has plenty of stories about those years!

My dad's mom lived in rural Arkansas, and at 36 had an 18 year old daughter and a 13 year old son, my dad, who likewise never talked much about his childhood. They had been fairly wealthy before the Depression hit, even owning rental properties, which they lost along with just about everything else. In later years I would ask my grandmother about those times and her answer was always the same. "Child," she would say, hugging me close, "those days are long gone and best forgotten." Then she would stretch out on the bed, me on one side and my brother on the other, and tell us the most wonderful stories. Billy Goat's Gruff, The 3 Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood. Not the socially correct ones, but the old versions that involved things like cutting open the wolf's stomach to retrieve grandma, then filling it back up with stones before stitching him up again and tossing him into the river to drown. We would shiver in delighted horror while she squeezed us tight.

When my daughter is the age I am now, I'll be (hopefully) 87.  I can't wait to tell her what I was doing when I was her age. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Complimentary Chardonnay? Yes, please!

I love, love, love flying!  Growing up in Southern California with Disneyland practically in my back yard meant my parents felt little need to travel to vacation destinations other than to visit extended family in Arkansas and Illinois, and driving was the way we got there.  I was 18 before I flew on an airplane. I was on the Speech team in college and my freshman year we flew on a chartered flight with another college to St Louis for the National Speech Tournament.  I was equal parts excited and nervous with a touch of awe thrown in.  The idea that I could eat breakfast in California and dinner in Missouri was mind blowing. I have flown lots of times since then, mostly coach with the occasional first class upgrade, and I still get excited and a little nervous. Our airport in Missoula is a cozy, friendly place where the person behind the check-in desk printing your boarding pass is the same one who takes it from you at the gate.  Although we are an international airport, mostly due to the proximity of Canada, not many airlines fly out of here.  Of the ones that do, my hands down favorite is Alaska Airlines. 

The flight between here and Seattle is an absolute delight. It's a quick 1 hour and 15 minute trip that begins with you boarding from the tarmac to either the front or the back of the plane. It's amazing how quickly you can all get on board and settled when you use two entrances. There are only 2 seats on each side, so there is always plenty of room in the overhead bins.  I was the last person on the plane this past week as I headed out to spend New Year's Eve with my friend Cindy. I hadn't realized I was cutting it so close until I reached the boarding gate and the attendant called me by name saying she was happy I made it. Few flights means absolutely no waiting in line to take off, so once I was seated, we were in the air, winging our way over gorgeous snow covered mountains and winding rivers, a full 15 minutes early. In addition to the regular sodas, water and Starbucks, on this flight they also offer complimentary micro brews and wine from one of the growing number of wineries in the Oregon/Washington area. Even though I was on vacation, wine at 7am seemed a little indulgent, although others around me didn't seem to have a problem with that! The flight back was a different story. While booking this trip, I remembered what my brother, who travelled extensively both for business and pleasure, had told me years ago.  When on vacation, never ever pick an early flight. It's a vacation after all and the last thing you want to do is have to get up early. Try to squeeze in one more brunch if you can, he said. Don't choose the last flight, but definitely choose the one in the middle of the day. He also advised me that people were much more relaxed on later flights, no one fretting over getting to a meeting or convention on time and the planes were typically less full than the early morning ones.  I have to admit I am usually a first thing in the morning kind of flyer and had scheduled my flight over in my usual how-soon-can-I-get-there manner. But for the return flight, I decided to take his advice, so I left Seattle around 5pm, in an airplane where less than half the seats were occupied. Once the flight attendant closed the exterior doors, the woman next to me left for a window seat somewhere else and I had the row to myself. I loved it. No one to have to struggle past to get to the bathroom, no one to accidentally hit in the head with your coat as you retrieve it from the overhead bin, and no one to bump your wine holding hand. My brother was right about people being more relaxed, some of them were asleep as soon as we took off.

My brother was right about something else too.  When someone offers you free wine, he advised, always say yes.