Tuesday, December 29, 2009

THE BIG LESSON OF 2009



Life’s experiences are supposed to be lessons in how to succeed at the art of living. The experiences may guide us to a path of success or lead us down a dead end, but whatever the result we learn from either road taken. For me the roads followed in 2009 have been bumpy at best, filled with potholes for the most part and even ending in huge sinkholes at their very worst, but the lesson I’ve taken from this is the best way to survive is to forget, forgive and go on. I can’t change the past. My reality is based on what happened and there’s nothing I can do to change that. I need to take what I can from what happened and then move forward. The worst thing you can do is to dwell on past failures, injustices, or mistakes and make them the focus of your future. It’ll only turn you into a bitter person, the guy at work with a chip on his shoulder, the woman walking around jealous of her peers, the ones who think the world owes them the respect they don’t deserve.
I wouldn’t want to erase the past even if I could. I want to learn from it and find a way to make it make me stronger. Here’s to the challenge of making a new year into a new opportunity and like a phoenix rising from the ashes transforming our setbacks into a means for growth.

Cheers!

Friday, December 25, 2009

'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE NIGHT BEFORE


‘Twas the day before Christmas, (well for the sake of accuracy it was really the day before Christmas Eve) and all through my wallet
Not a sawbuck was stirring; nothing would fall out of it;
The food for Christmas Eve dinner, still needed to be bought
And we all decided to hit up Grandma, to purchase the lot.

I’m no Clement Clarke Moore.

Our family tradition has always centered around Christmas Eve. This is the time we all get together for our gift exchange and dinner. Up until mom was no longer able to remember which day of the week it was without the aid of the morning paper, Christmas Eve dinner and a glass of eggnog always happened at her house. Now we go to my sister Sandy’s.
This year the economy changed the magnitude of the event but the individual traditions held fast. The first event, the making of Christmas Eve dinner, was to begin at three in the afternoon on Christmas Eve day. We were originally all going to chip in and divvy up the costs of the meal. This required at lot of pre-meal preparation with phone calls and meetings deciding on a menu and then picking the grocery stores with the best holiday prices. Piggly Wiggly had the best price on beef tenderloin but Woodmans still beat the competition with their low, low prices on Brussels sprouts and the ingredients for a chocolate soufflé. We managed to get the pre-purchase food list down to under $100 for fifteen adults and three children. Try and match that one New York.
Just prior to purchase, my youngest sister Boni, the executor of my mother’s finances, in an act of extreme holiday generosity decided the money for dinner should come out of my mom’s account. This was a windfall for the Shaver/Melahn clan. The problem became the transfer of the money. We were down to the eleventh hour. Boni had the money, an ice storm was coming and I had self-appointed myself the purchasing agent for the ingredients. At approximately 1:00pm on December 23rd, after several hours of plotting and scheming, we came up with a plan. My middle sister, Ebby (by now just about every sibling had been given a role in this drama) would pick up my mom from my brother’s studio, get the money in twenty dollar unmarked bills from my sister Boni and deposit it in a bank envelop at my mom’s where I would go and pick it up before I went on the food buying spree. It was a little complicated but doable. The only problem in our otherwise brilliant plan was my mom. If we left the money with her there was no telling what she might do with it. That’s when we struck on a deliciously devious idea. Shortly after arriving at my mom’s house, Ebby would distract her, run downstairs and put the envelope with the money in a refrigerator safely hidden in a dark corner behind the downstairs bar. If anyone has seen the money burning stove scene between Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” you might have a hint as to where this story is headed. The week before we had all gone over to mom’s house to make peanut butter balls and sugar cookies. I had to put five trays of balls and two trays of cookies in that same unattended refrigerator and let them cool for the next seventy-two hours. If my mom’s love of chocolate and peanut butter couldn’t sniff out those balls we figured it was the safest place to stash the bundle of cash. All our plans seemed to be working like clock work until I arrived at my mom’s house under the pretense of picking up a soufflé dish for the Christmas Eve dinner. It was early evening on the twenty-third by this time. The ice storm was in its infancy. I had time to make the run to Woodmans and get back to Sandy’s house with the goods before the roads became a real danger.
“Hi mom, I just need to borrow a dish for tomorrow’s dinner. Remember tomorrow’s Christmas Eve.”
“Oh no, it’s not! Where’s my tree? I always have a tree”, and the debate went on.
At my first opportunity:
 I ran down the stairs and opened the frig.
When what to my wondering eyes didn’t appear?

No cash.

Visions of disappointment ran through my head.

 My thoughts went to: Ebby, how could you forget to stash the money? Had I screwed up and misunderstood the hiding place? I went back through that whole refrigerator: vegetable crisper, butter compartment, on top of the frig, underneath, the freezer compartment - no envelope. I called Ebby and then I remembered Boni and she were going out for drinks after work. What were my chances she would hear her cell phone over the din of Christmas revelers at the Horseshoe Bar and Grill? The answer was, of course, not a chance in hell. Now under normal circumstances I would just go to Woodmans, purchase the food and get the money back later, but these were no longer normal times. No job, no cash, no credit, no shopping. I’d have to wait until later that evening, drive over to Ebby's house and get the cash then. I kept calling all through the evening but to no avail. Time was becoming a real factor. I’d have to wait until a new day dawned,
Now we had moved into the day of Christmas Eve. I was down to eight hours and counting. With an unsteady hand, after having taken Rick to work at the ungodly hour of 5:45am on the ice covered streets, I dialed Ebby one more time. She’s a late sleeper and I couldn’t rouse her. In a panic I called Boni. Success! Someone answered my call.
“Bon, I can’t reach Ebby and I can’t find the money. She must have forgotten to put it there. Did she say anything when you saw her yesterday?”
“I know she said she put the money in the frig.”
Now the sleuthing had to begin in earnest. If Ebby had left the money and no bandits had entered the house, the only person of interest would have to be – MOM! Maybe her nose for the smell of money was stronger than her sense for the scent of sweets. I raced and swerved my way back over the ice to the scene of the crime to confront my number one suspect.
“Okay mom, what’d you do with the two hundred dollars stashed away in the refrigerator?”
Without a blink of her eye she retorted, “What money? I didn’t see any money!” As if stashing cash in a refrigerator was where one would normal put their money.
“Mom, Ebby left me two hundred dollars in a bank envelop in the downstairs refrigerator for tonight’s Christmas Eve dinner.”
“Well it’s not Christmas Eve, I don’t have a tree. “
I started rifling through the house looking for any clues that might lead me to the money. The mattress was too heavy for her to lift so I ruled out that hiding place. The undies drawer only held the unmentionables like her granny pants and a bunch of brassieres. I was starting to panic thinking maybe the paper boy had gotten a really big bonus when I spotted a bank envelop on the kitchen counter. To the horror of my mom I grabbed the envelop with one of those gritted teeth expressions of I told you so racing across my face only to find the envelop empty. No cash, and that’s when Florence’s eyes went from incomprehension to a stare of total recognition. Her eyes went from my enraged redden face to the oversized five pound ceramic Italian platter we had brought back for her one Christmas past. There, peeking out from under the corner and only visible from her vantage point was the corner of another bank envelop. Inside was the two hundred dollars and the knowledge Christmas Eve dinner would happen against some mighty stiff odds.
Mom smiled, “Well that’s weird, I don’t know how that got there.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

TEN REASONS FOR ME TO BE GLAD I'M ME


Starting the day after the turkey carcass had been carted away the dreams of my youth turned to visions of Christmas Eve and what Santa would be leaving under the tree.  Forget about the next twenty days of school I was in a daze doodling in my notebooks sketches of Santa’s bag filled with gifts. I couldn’t think about anything else as the anticipation grew with the passing of each new December day. As the years passed my childish excitement remained even after I discovered Santa was really mom and dad. Even as I grew into the shoes of a young man I retained the joy coming from the anticipation of Christmas. The focus changed from the wide-eyed glee of receiving to the thrill that comes with the delight of giving. Now as a parent the joy comes from seeing the holiday through the eyes of my child. Her stages of Christmas have mirrored my own so far. As a toddler we watched her eyes light up with joy as she surveyed Santa’s bounty under the tree. Then as she grew and began to understand that Santa really was two not so chubby men named Rick and Lee she kept up with the spirit of the holiday and, like we had hoped, began to understand the concept of it being better to give than receive. But this Christmas has put a whole new spin on the meaning of giving and receiving. It’s harder on all of us to see through to the magic of the holiday. As hard as I try to keep the spirit going I find myself slipping into moments of melancholy and self-pity, not memories I want my kid to have to share, so with this in mind I am giving out my 2009 ten reasons for why I’m glad I’m me as a way of pushing my mood over into gratefulness and away from an everything stinks attitude.
Here goes:
10. Kate Gosselin. Without the wedding ring and eight kids’ Christmas wishes to satisfy I’m glad I’m not walking in her shoes to say nothing about having to step in front of the camera with that chicken tail hairdo.
9. Anyone living in the Hamptons. I know this shows my snobby side, but it’s a reverse snobbishness. Last time I was forced into going to East Hampton, a guy in his Alfa Romeo spit on my car just as he stole the parking space I had been waiting for and then he smiled and flipped me the bird. So glad I’m not him.
8. I know a certain guy sleeping on the other side of the bed wouldn’t agree with this one, but my number eight is Martha Stewart. I’m much more Nigella Lawson: messy, earthy and content with a few flaws. Trying to keep up with Martha wares me out. It’s a recipe for success but at what price?
7. Anyone responsible for clearing the snow off of these Wisconsin streets and sidewalks. It’s back-breaking, bone-chilling, barbaric work, all the reasons that make you think twice about Florida.
6. Sarah Palin. Enough said.
5. Rush Limbaugh and all the other angry white men. Who wants to go through life mad at the world? All this agida is only going to bring on early heart attacks or dependencies on pain-killing drugs. Maybe this is God’s way of telling them to shut up and enjoy the ride.
4. My mom. She’s approaching the point where she’s not quite sure who these young girls are making Christmas cookies in her kitchen. It’s heartbreaking to look at her blank stare as she tries to recall the names of her granddaughters.
3. What would a list for 2009 be without Tiger Woods? I’ve long since past the time where I could even dream of trying to keep up with his libido. I wonder who’s on his gift list?
2. Any one foolish enough to want to be a “Real Housewife”. First of all I won’t wear a wig or dye my hair an unnatural shade of platinum blond no matter how far back my hairline recedes. Wanting the spotlight has its limits and doing this blog is about as far as I’ll go in exposing my dirty laundry.
1. Anyone who doesn’t have a daughter named Emmy, a partner who stretches my good side and helps with my flaws, a family of siblings who watch my back, a group of friends who have pitched in far beyond what was asked for or expected to help pull us through a detour on an otherwise blessed life. It’s Christmas Eve, the day during the year when you’re allowed a schmaltzy ending. Happy Holidays to all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

GIFT WRAPPING ON THE CHEAP

THE FIRST IN OUR DESIGN BREAK SERIES


Here are some tips for gift-wrapping for the holiday season and beyond. Tips that can keep your wallet from deflating while inflating your standing among your gift giving peers.


Here’s what you’ll need:
Grocery store paper bags or craft paper (the kind the post office recommends for mailing packages)
Tape (optional if you’re very dexterous and can fold and hold your wrapping while tying it up with your string, twine or ribbon)
String, twine, ribbon or anything else you can find to tie up your package
Rubber stamps and inkpad (optional for the pricier wrappers) – A potato and some coloring agent (food coloring, tempera paint, or anything that will make a stain. This is for the less financially solvent among us)
Colored pencils, watercolors, anything you can draw with (this is also optional and should only be used by those who are artistically inclined or have a very adventurous bent)
Just about anything you can collect from nature (nuts, pinecones, twigs, flowers, etc)
A hot glue gun (optional for the Martha Stewarts out there)
A scissors (again optional but the torn paper technique is not for amateurs and biting your ribbon or string into the desired lengths is not the most efficient way of getting the job done).

First assess the gift you need to wrap. How big is it? Does it need a box and if it does do you have one? Is it an odd shape that will take some mathematical calculations to figure out how much paper will be needed? Trouble shoot before you take yourself down a one way path to a dead end.

Next gather your supplies and keep them close at hand. A clean hard surface is best for wrapping but I frequently end up on the carpeted floor. I like to spread out. If I relegate myself to the dining table my paper either rolls off or I’m knocking the scissors or the tape onto the floor. Most times I just have to let go of the orderly, under control part of wrapping.

If you’re an impoverished wrapper, like I am this season, when asked at your local grocery store “paper or plastic”, say “paper”. You can collect these bags and then unfold them along the glue line. One bag will wrap a normal sized shirt box. If your gift is larger you can tape several bags together or you can buy some craft paper. It’s cheap and one roll will wrap a whole bunch of stuff.

Now to the actual wrapping. Cut the paper as close as you can to the size you need. I wrap the paper around the gift before I actually cut the paper. Most people leave too much extra at the ends so when it comes to closing up the wrapping they end up with these big bulky corners and a big dose of defeat. I personally think a little irregularity is a good thing but if this isn’t your thing then after you’ve wrapped the paper in the first direction look to see how much paper you have to fold at the ends. If the paper exceeds more than two-thirds the length…wait, just stop with the calculations and trim off as much as you need to make a fold without having to double the paper back on itself.


Now, as to folding the paper, always crease whenever you can. Use your thumbs and index fingers to run along any edge. For the neat freaks this will give the cleanest package possible. This is the biggest secret of wrapping: always crease every time you bend your paper or traverse an edge.

Now, like I mentioned in the supplies, you can either use tape or your own ingenuity. I rely on tape. I haven’t reached black belt wrapping status where I can manage without it. I’ve been able to do some small boxes and I’ve done a couple of larger ones without the aid of tape but not without the help of an extra pair of hands.

Now back to the paper. Another reason for the paper bags or the craft paper or even white butcher paper for that matter is it’s plain. If you’re going to move on to the next step, decorating, you best start out with a clean surface. Using a patterned background is only for the pros and then only those with a degree in Matisse. Those with the power to lay pattern over pattern are few and far between. As a side note, if you use a lightweight craft paper or the white butcher paper you may have to use two layers to completely disguise your gift from the snoopy eyes of those friends and relatives looking for a sneak peek.

Now that you’ve mastered the technique of wrapping the decorating part should be fun. You’ve got a blank canvas so get out your rubber stamps, cut a design on the end of a potato or pull out your drawing tools. Wherever your imagination leads you, go with it.


Rubber stamps are the easiest most elegant path to take but you have to go to a craft store and you have to make an initial investment in something you probably won’t be able to find come next year. The effect will be as subtle or bold as the ink you use and the amount of stamps you apply.


Potato prints are the messiest but cheapest way route to take. Keep your shapes simple. Don’t worry about being sloppy sometimes the drips of too much ink or the scratchiness of too dry an ink can have it’s own sort of charm. I made my own paint out of flour, salt and water. You can add food coloring to make a more dramatic statement.


The drawing method, my personal choice, can be as sophisticated or wonderfully childlike as you want or are capable of doing. I like to freehand my designs but if you are uncomfortable with that, trace a tin can bottom and make it into an ornament or draw a triangle and let it represent a tree. It's really easy. The big trick here is always use more than one color on each object you draw. It gives it dimension and lifts it off the paper.


Now you’re ready to tie the masterpiece up with ribbon, twine or whatever you can find. Add a sprig of pine, but only if your giving the gift within the next twenty-four hours, before the pine dries out and the needles fall off. I personally don’t mind just using the bare twig but some people might not see the beauty in this. If you possess the Martha gene then here is where you can get out your glue gun and start attaching your nuts. For all you traditionalists out there you can use the clichéd candy cane and make it novel and new. But the gift I most enjoyed and envied this season is the one my daughter made. It’s like a perfect patchwork of incredibly misfit perfection with bits and pieces of paper and string. Then she left part of the box unwrapped in defiance of convention. It showed real spunk and exquisite beauty. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

THE TEAL BADGE OF POVERTY



My mom’s car is an old Ford Escort with extremely low mileage. Among its many outstanding features are its vanity plates, “SORENCY”, an endearment bestowed on my mom by my cousin, Linda, who couldn’t say, “Florence”. The moniker stuck. Now family and friends and friends of friends refer to her with this peculiar yet touching sigmatism.  Additional features making this car so outstanding are its ability to skid into oncoming traffic on the smallest amount of ice, to fog up at the first indication of cold weather making it impossible to see until the hot air kicks in, or to shimmy like my sister Kate (if I had a sister Kate) once you start pushing the accelerator toward fifty. But by far its most outstanding and noteworthy feature might just be its peculiar color – teal, a shade of blue/green not normally an option on the color charts offered by Detroit. Although the “Sorency” plates are a major hindrance to my own vanity it’s the color that’s begun to cause the greater sense of consternation and concern.
At first take, the teal color of our tiny Escort seemed like your run of the mill anomaly. It wasn’t a color I could really say I saw a lot of before I started driving around Madison…or anywhere else for that matter. But then Wisconsin isn’t just anywhere. It was Emmy who first pointed out another car parked next to us at the mini-mart being the same color as our “SORENCY’ mobile. It was comparable in size, but maybe a little rustier around the chassis. Because of the odd color of our car we were a bit astounded to see another one so similar. Then it became a game. Who could find another teal jalopy? I thought I might put money on it thinking the odds would surely be in my favor. Good thing I’m not a betting man. All of sudden it seemed everyway we turned, every parking lot we pulled into the results were the same. Parked in the next spot, waiting next to us at the red light, or attached to the tow truck chugging down the road was another teal car. Now these cars were never of the BMW or Mercedes ilk. They were all sub-compacts or mid-sized sedans with fabric seats and plastic dashboards. It seemed as if these teal cars should have been called rabbits as opposed to Escorts or Tempests, they seemed to multiple and reproduce all over the cheaper ends of town. When I saw three of them all lined up next to each other with their trunks bent and dented and then wired shut with dirty rope and silver duct tape I began to understand the iconography of the teal car.  We were the untouchables of the auto world and the teal color was the black dot on our foreheads. We are the lowest caste of car owner, driving the cars no one else wanted. Our teal cars are our crosses to bear. For whatever reason we found ourselves at the bottom of the economic totem pole, our teal jalopies give a shout out letting the rest of world in our little secret. We are the cars the Cadillacs and Lexus’ shun in the parking lots around Madison. We ban together in little groups outside KFC’s and the Dollar Store. Sometimes we park them blocks from where we want to go so no will know they belong to us. Madison is unlike New York where public transportation can mask your economic situation. Instead, here your car is your status and our teal sub-compact is our badge of poverty.

LESSON 15:
Watch out for how you present yourself. The unfortunate truth is some people are going judge you by the condition of your shoes, the dirt on your nails or the color of your car 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WARNING



Someone needs to print out a set of rules and regulations for bloggers warning them against their own stupidity. I don’t know what I was thinking? I thought I was clever and only a little bit naughty when I wrote “PANTIES” in the header window on my last post, but I had no clear understanding of what I was getting myself into. I was trying to have some fun on an otherwise mundane day. So I wrote “PANTIES”. So what? Well “what” became a lesson learned in blogging repercussions. The words you use do have power and that power can have results that are sometimes good and sometimes no what you intended. Words like “PANTIES” have enormous power. They can increase readership and visibility but not necessarily in the way you wanted them to. I always said I readership wasn't my goal with this blog but with my last post readership rose beyond the usual group of friends and family. There were a whole set of surfers out there typing in the word “PANTIES” on their search engines trolling for access into the world of undergarments. It got me thinking about what other words I should avoid or perhaps take advantage of if I should become interested in casting a larger net. My head began to spin with other parts of the English language I might want to steer clear of if I start to become concerned about who is reading and following my blog. The first things to come to mind were the obvious body parts and anything having to do with sex. It’s a no brainer, if you use these words in your header you’re going to attract a whole group of people bathed in the blue light of their computers secretly surfing the web during the wee hours of the night. But there’s a whole load of innocent words when left on their own that can grab a similar set of trolling misfits with a little more creative approach to their surfing searches.
George Carlin had his seven words “that would infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war.” He might have included screw up your blog but it was 1972 and computers weren’t as popular then as they are now.
Here are some other words I’ve come up with as words you might want to avoid:
1. First of all, as I unintentionally discovered with my last innocent posting, steer clear of anything to do with underwear, even granny pants can get you into trouble.
2. Auf with the words” naughty and nice”. Too many connections to whips and handcuffs.
3. Pearls. This one would have had me stumped if I hadn’t heard it explained by Jeff on Bravo’s “Flipping Out”. I’m way too gentile to explain it here. If you don’t know you’ll have to figure it out on your own, but please don’t ever couple it with necklace in describing a paint color or a piece of jewelry.
4. Extra large or anything else to do with size. These words when isolated can draw a whole host of trouble to your blog.
5. Never use the words yellow and shower together unless you can somehow add curtain onto the end of shower.
6. Wood is a little more obtuse but best avoided especially when coupled with the word, hard.
7. Bangs are okay but a good one to avoid when referencing hairstyles on girls under the ages of eighteen.
8. Benders are not going to get much attention here in the U.S. of A. but British gay boys will have a field day with this one
I’m sure I could go on and on about this one but for anyone out there who expected a more salacious posting I apologize for being only PG rated. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

PANTIES



When I’m not chauffeuring Emmy to school, Rick to work and my mom off to her elder (she thinks it’s work) daycare, I try to carve out time to meditate on discovering my million dollar idea. In New York, where there was a lotto machine on every corner and after I had devoted sufficient time to absorbing enough “if you dream it, you can do it” philosophy from The Secret I allowed myself two bucks each week in hopes of buying that winning ticket. My numbers never hit, at least not on the weeks I played them. Other ideas for financial success outside of just continuing with working at making a decent living involved: archival photo storage units, a line extension for our furniture collection in association with a tile company, and a t-shirt for peace, love and happiness I worked on with Emmy. So far none of these has panned out but now I think I might have hit on something and it’s all due to good old mom.
One of the more unpleasant aspects of Alzheimer care is the issue of hygiene. Emmy’s current favorite movie is, “The Notebook”. In the movie the heroine, Allie Calhoun,  spends her golden years in a similar stage of the disease as my mom. The problem I had with the movie, the part that didn’t ring true was how beautifully put together Allie's appearance was and how much better she fared than my mom. As she struggled with her memory lose she always managed to keep up her appearance with her hair combed, her pearls in place and a daily set of fresh clothes. On the side of reality, my mom gets a beauty appointment once a week, which is about the only time I see her with her hair combed. Pearls are never a part of her wardrobe and most days when I come to pick her up I find she has spent the night sleeping on the living room couch in the same clothes she wore the day before and the day before that. She has a drawer full of nightgowns we have given her over the past few Christmases and birthdays all folded exactly like they were in the boxes they came in. The only nightgown she wears, when she remembers to wear one, is a ten year old rag with tiny rips and faded little flowers. We wash it when we can, although the cleanliness of her nightgown nowhere near tops the list of our hygiene concerns. Our biggest fears by far center around her underwear. When I go to pick her up and see she is wearing clothes from earlier in the week I know the underwear hasn’t been changed. My youngest sister has taken on the duty of bathing her on Tuesdays so we all know she has at least changed her undergarments once that week. It’s a thankless job, but Boni goes over early on Tuesdays and forces my mom to sit in the bathtub. She also manages to snatch her old clothes and get them down to the laundry replacing them with a clean set. Sometimes this is an easy task and on other times my mom can put up the kind of resistance only expected form someone being hog-tied and horse-whipped.
Growing older myself, I have been thankful for the insight of those clever inventors who have devoted their creative energies to find solutions for an older crowd. Making remote controls with numerals the size of ritz crackers, manufacturing shampoo containers with letters large enough to read without the aid of soap filmed glasses and Florence Henderson providing a website with tech support for seniors, have all added to the quality of life for people in their time of eminent deterioration. So this year, when I drew my mom’s name for our Christmas stocking exchange, I thought “what better gift to give her than a set of day-of-the-week panties”? The perfect idea, granny pants with Sunday through Saturday printed or embroidered in big BIG letters across the front so she could see them. I jumped in the car and started searching the mall making a beeline to Victoria’s Secret, the quintessential procurer of feminine intimate apparel. When I arrived my request for granny panties only produced a quizzical look on the sale associate’s face that in a non-verbal shutter told me Victoria’s Secret didn’t exactly cater to an octogenarian crowd. I pushed on to The Boston Store, trying to keep the business in the family, but no success. Then I went to Sears and JCPenney, no one had anything close to what I was looking for. I left the mall in frustration and headed back home secure in the knowledge I could find what I was looking for on the world-wide-web. Surely Ebay or Etsey would have a set of seven old lady drawers each in a different pastel color and marked with one of the days of the week. I typed in “Sunday-Monday undergarments” nothing,  then “days-of-the-week panties”, and finally “days-of-the-week panties mature women”. The only things I ever found were a set of Princess panties for girls up to a size 6x and a set of naughty thongs where the type was so small only someone doing some serious eye to crotch action could read them. Neither of these seemed appropriate, so here is where the light bulb lit. No one seems to be tapping into the elderly market especially when it comes to clothing and hygiene and this issue swings both ways. Men need help below the belt as well. Someone needs to start making things like granny panties and grandpa boxers with days of the week printed in big letters across the front. Then for good measure reprint the days on the back band so when grandma says she’s wearing Wednesday you can give a quick yank on the back just short of a wedgie to verify she’s tell the truth. And this would only be the beginning of my elder wear line: blouses and shirts with Velcro or snap closures, slip-on shoes with built-in shoe horns (this one takes more than a verbal description), and pants that dissolve if you wear them more than five times in a row. These are only a few of the ideas I’ve been dreaming up. We could then broaden the scope beyond apparel. Someone needs to invent an odor detector alarm. They could be installed much like a smoke detector. When the body odor level rises above a predetermined level an alarm would go off or better yet a projected warning would begin to flash saying, “ TIME FOR A BATH”.

So if anyone else out there thinks this is worth a million dollars please feel free to add your comment and then back it up with some seed money. There must be someone out there who has the wisdom to see the brilliance of this idea or has at least a sense of humor.

TIP:
For anyone unaware of Florence Henderson’s unique website helping seniors become computer literate, here’s the link:
http://www.flohclub.com/

Thursday, December 10, 2009

THE BLIZZARD OF 2009



We should have been prepared but I was too used to the weather forecasters in New York putting out a pumped up warning for a huge hurricane to blow its way up the east coast creating a swath of destruction right through the heart of the city. Everyone take cover, board up the windows, baton down anything not bolted to the terrace floor. Slow news days made for big erroneous weather headlines and I figured this was just another bit of weather hype served up Wisconsin style. Wow, was I wrong. The day started out just as our local meteorologist predicted, a little light flurry, nothing big. No reason to run to the HyVee or Woodman’s to build up the supplies in the larder. I did think I should look for a shovel to put in the trunk of the Ford Escort, our current means of transportation, a featherweight auto not meant for the icy covered streets of the snow belt. The only option I could see was the second shovel at my mom’s house, the one where the wooden handle and the plastic blue scoop were unattached so every time you took a scoop of snow and threw it to the side of the driveway the snow and the scoop both flew into the snow bank leaving me with a slender wooden pole. Even though the ability to separate the scoop from the pole made it the right size for storing in the trunk, I figured it was still pretty useless. All in all, we weren’t prepared for a major snowfall, but then Madison wasn’t prepared either. It takes a lot for Madison to close down due to snow or cold. They pride themselves in having state-of-the-art snow removal technology and a fleet of equipment to rival any city but even that wasn't enough to combat the storm that was brewing to our west.
It wasn’t long into the day before the big snow drop day that the little line at the bottom of the TV screen popped up on all the local stations with school and government closings scrolling by. Local weather celebrities started interrupting Ellen and Oprah telling us we should expect eight to ten inches, then they upped it to ten to twelve and by the time "The Housewives of Atlanta"rerun was coming to end the expectations had topped the fourteen inch mark. This time they weren’t lying. The snow started in  earnest around eight that evening, a wet heavy snow made up of flakes that stung your face. By the time we woke up in the morning everything the scrolling line told us what we already assumed: everything had been shut down. Our world was buried under a layer of thick sparkling white. We were now held hostage by the elements. Emmy was in heaven. Schoolmates had told her all the local rituals for insuring a no school snow day. You either slept with a silver spoon under your pillow, or wore your pajamas inside out and backwards. Every kid in town woke up that morning with silver spoons tangled in the hair and their pajamas sporting the dull images of Sponge Bob or the Little Mermaid as seen from the reverse side. 

Now we are completely snowed in, no work, no school, no bus service, and the final snow total measuring out at a whooping eighteen plus inches. We felt this was God giving us permission to not answer our emails, study for the upcoming math quiz or deal with anything remotely resembling our deeper woes. What we did decide to do was light a fire in the fireplace, put on some Christmas music and let the inner Martha come out in all of us as we finished decorating the apartment for the holiday to come. The theme was rustic elegance. Two dollar grapevine wreaths were transformed with red delicious apples, walnuts, hazelnuts and ribbons cut from a slightly off-white piece of burlap. The dining table held a sliver tray lit with the fragrance of burning cinnamon candles surrounded by more nuts, apples and boughs cut from our tree. The tree, a masterpiece in antique white, dripped glass icicles, red globes that reflected the tiny incandescent lights, garlands made from stripes of regular white paper and some of the vintage felt ornaments my mother made when she new Tuesday followed Monday. There’s nothing better for drawing a family closer together than being captured by Mother Nature at Christmastime surrounded by mountains of delicious snow, a warm fire blazing in front of the hearth and three separate souls hot gluing a new set of holiday traditions.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A TREE TO REMEMBER


We both vowed, come hell or high water, our holiday priority would be to make this a memorable and remarkable Christmas for Emmy. We’ve been secretly boxing up little treasures: body sprays from the dollar bin at Target, two dollar gloves bought with Rick’s discount at the Boston Store, a vintage Breyer horse I found at a flea market for three dollars. The gifts may be small but the tree will be full. It’s been very hard to gage how our poverty has effected Emmy. It’s difficult to see how much she has become aware of the meaning of money. We know she has learned how to shop for bargain shampoo. She chastises us for making a purchase she thinks is too costly or frivolous. She says no to things I know she would like to say yes to. She knows she is no longer monetarily rich. She senses that others have more than she has. I have yet to decide if this has taught her a valuable lesson about money and risk or if it has made her so fearful of spending she’ll end up a mattress stuffer or a hoarder of useless junk. The later is becoming scarier as I see her stashing away used popsicle sticks to make fences for her Sunshine Horse Farm. On the other hand her inventiveness is extraordinary. It’s heartwarming to see her being content with making do. I marvel at her imaginary play with her seventy-six and counting plastic horses. There is still so much of the little girl in this thirteen-year-old frame. I want to keep her that little girl with her little girl toys for as long as I can. Where many of her friends are jumping head first into that boy crazy phase, she remains content to build houses and stables out of building blocks, scraps of fabric and bits of tinfoil.
Now that most of our gifts had been put in boxes our next task was to find the perfect tree. We scoured Craigslist and pursued the recommendations of family. We were counting on them to serve as our roadmap for finding that short needled, perfect pear shaped tree. Because of the height of our new home’s living room ceiling Rick really had his heart set on a tall tree. Because the number of deposits in our checkbook continued to be on the short side, the tree we were going to find would have to be what it would be.  My sister and her husband had gone to cut down their tree the week before. They traveled forty miles north to a tree farm where you paid forty dollars for any tree on the lot. Pre-cut trees at the local lots around Madison were running around fifty dollars for a standard sized tree. One the size we wanted boosted the cost to way over one hundred dollars. We started to worry we were going to end up with a Charlie Brown twig instead of a ten to twelve footer. It made our search all the more critical. Finally we found it. “All trees $30 and under at our state licensed tree farm”. This was our ticket. Sandy and Dan lent us one of their SUV’s they insisted needed a trailer hooked up to it so we could safely cart our tree home without scratching up the vehicle. I thought we could just stuff one in the back of the Ford Escort. The thought of having to navigate yet another oversized means of transport was beginning to drain my resolve of making the cutting of the tree a joyous memory.
Emmy, Rick and I all piled into the front of the SUV, cranked up the Christmas tunes and set off to get our tree. I got the hang of driving the oversized vehicle until we got to the tree farm. Calm turned to panic as I saw the farm’s driveway, a narrow one car width dirt drive about an eighth of a mile long lined with cars and with no visible turnaround area anywhere in sight. What could I do? Either I went in and we got a tree or I kept on going ruining everyone’s day and turning a memorable family event into a family tragedy. I did the best I could, too bad the tree farm couldn’t keep up their end of the bargain. The minute we got out of the truck I could see we were in trouble. What they had billed as a tree farm was actually a series of six rows of the scraggliest looking trees you’ve ever seen and not a one of them over five feet tall. Now we had no tree and I was stuck with no visible way of backing that trailer hitched SUV out of that misrepresented tree farm . This is just the kind of situation that kicks Rick’s determination into high gear. Somehow he managed to have cars moved and a path cleared. Rick jumped behind the wheel and in minutes we were out and back on the road. We were going to try for our original destination when Rick remembered another tree farm he had seen on one of his driving adventures exploring the countryside around our new apartment. We decided to give it a try before we took off on what would now be a two-hour drive to Poynette.

It turned out that the tree we were looking for was only a couple of miles down the road from where we lived. The Hanson tree farm was run by a middle-aged woman wearing a big blue parka, big black-rimmed glasses and an even bigger Wisconsin smile. She started out being very apologetic. She only had big trees. She didn’t know that was exactly what we were looking for. We got our tree and in an act of true kindness she let Emmy cut down a tree of her own. Emmy took the saw, cut down the tree and then carried it back to the trailer to join our twelve-footer. It was a lop-sided misfit all of us knew Emmy would kiss with imagination and turn from a frog into a prince.
I had parked the truck on the road outside the farm not wanting to chance the backing out maneuver twice in one day. Now back in the truck, even though we were only a couple of miles from home, I drove back the long way going miles out of our way but making sure I would only have a series of right hand turns to get us back to where we wanted to be. It was a good start to making this as memorable, remarkable Christmas.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

THE WALGREENS CURSE


I was out of deodorant and Emmy needed hair curlers. The “Twilight” phenomenon had pierced her psyche requiring her best approximation at transformation into everything Bella. The emulation of what Bella does, what she looks like, what she thinks are her secret and not so secret dreams. Emmy along with most thirteen-year-old girls and a few thirteen-year-old boys fantasizes about being the object of either Jacob's or Edward’s affection. The closer she could transform herself into the image of Bella, the bigger the chance the fantasy could become real. The curlers seemed a small price to pay and I view deodorant as an essential. This is what precipitated our trip to Walgreens Drugstore.

In previous Christmas seasons the trip to any near or distant Walgreens always provided a little smile as we perused the Christmas decorations aisle, winking at each other as we ran our fingers over the boxes of outdoor lights, specifically the ones with the pictures of our home in Andes. It was a thrill to walk into a Walgreens in New York City or Chattanooga, Tennessee and see our house pictured on rows of boxes of lights sporting so much holiday cheer.
Years ago, an Andes neighbor, who ran a PR firm in the city, but had a second home in Andes, approached us about using our house for a photo shoot for a holiday lighting company. They paid a location fee and as a bonus gave us the miles of lights they had used in dressing the exterior of the house. We were flattered they chose our house but we didn’t think much more about it until the following year when we were visiting Rick’s relatives in Georgia for Thanksgiving. I had forgotten to pack shaving cream. Rick’s sister, Sandra, directed me to the nearest drugstore, a Walgreens, a couple of blocks down the road. I got in the rental car and drove over to the Walgreens on what I thought would be a quick in and out for a can of Palmolive Sensitive Skin shaving cream. I was pretty focused on the task at hand when I entered the drugstore, keeping my eyes locked on the panels suspended from the ceiling with the information delineating what you would find in that particular aisle: cosmetics, skincare, depends, men’s products. I quickly found the aisle I needed. I mentally evaluated the selection of shaving cream alternatives, picked up what I needed and headed back to the cashier’s counter. Men’s products was stashed all the way in the back of the store and the cashier was stationed at the front. I had to traverse the entire store to get to where I could pay for the shaving cream and get back to Rick’s sister’s. With the shaving cream in hand I could now relax and scope out the rest of the discretionary merchandise I presumably didn’t need. Unconcerned about which way my journey to the front of the store would lead, I serendipitously took a turn up through the seasonal holiday products aisle and there is where I stopped in total awe. It was such an astonishing feeling of pride and comfort to see our home, a thousand miles removed, lighting up the aisles of a Walgreens drugstore. Discretionary became mandatory as I bought every version of the box they had. Every year since that first time in Chattanooga, we would make a pilgrimage to Walgreens to see if our home would still be gracing the outdoor holiday lighting aisle, and every year our pride would swell as our home continued to spread a little bit of luminescent holiday joy.

This year the feeling is very different. The house pictured on the front of all those boxes of holiday lights no longer belongs to us, but Walgreens still lines its holiday aisles with the same product wrapped in the same box with the picture of our former home. It’s an image hard for us to escape as they feature the lights in their local circulars as well as their in-store point-of-sale displays. The trip for deodorant and curlers is bittersweet. It’s a little reminder of what once was but is no more.  Rick, Emmy and I all try to remember the long list of wonderful memories our home gave us at Christmas time, the friends who shared that time with us, the Christmas Eve present exchanges with family, the open houses for all our neighbors with miles of desserts and glasses full of champagne. So here’s a toast to all those good times and the gift it gave us that no one can take away. Let the new season begin. Happy Holidays to all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

UGLY DUCKLINGS



I, like so many others, went to Youtube and clicked on “Britain’s Got Talent” the Monday after Susan Boyle's audition back in the spring of 2009. It was our assistant who told me to watch it and like so many similar enticements by people all over the world she prefaced it with nothing. All she said was, “You should see this video”. She knew how not to ruin the surprise. I was sucked in like everyone else in that theater audience smirking at the absurdity before me. I expected a real laugh. We have all been seduced into this familiar scenario, goofy contestant comes out for total humiliation and we all laugh at their expense and their audacity to think they have any talent at all.
Here comes frumpy Susan with the inappropriate swish of the hips indicative of someone so painfully socially awkward. How could anyone this unschooled in cool be anything other than a total loser? And at forty-eight if no one had discovered her talent she couldn’t possibly have any, could she?
She nodded to the men off stage to cue the music. The orchestral strains of; “I Dreamed a Dream” introed what we all thought would be the world's next William Hong. There was a split second that perpetuated the hoax of her eminent failure when she gave that little smile and appeared to clear her throat, the way an amateur schoolgirl would as she nervously stepped forward for her humiliating solo at a middle school Christmas concert. And then she sang. She sang with crystal clarity and total confidence. Her notes broke loose with a boldness so totally in contrast to her persona that there was a collective jaw drop before everyone rose to their feet in the delight of being so wonderfully duped. It was the triumph of the underdog that produced the lump in our collective throats. She made it possible for all of us to see ourselves as potential winners. It made us look at ourselves as if we too could have undiscovered special talents.

I must admit I still go back and watch that Youtube clip. I always pick the long version, the one that goes on for seven minutes and includes the pre-audition interviews and the judge’s comments. I still get chills when I hear her approach and hit those unimaginable notes on the crescendo of “turning your dream to sha – a – a – a - ame”. Then the lump in my throat forms time after time with the lyric, “I had a dream my life would be, So different from this hell I’m living”. It’s a lump formed not from the thought of where I might be now, but from the hope it engenders because of how it mimics the life of the woman who is singing it. With Susan’s courageous voice it becomes an harbinger of change. It is the miracle of witnessing the exact moment when someone’s life became something better than what it had previously been. It’s why I return to it time after time on my computer when things get really low. As schmaltzy as it may be, it grabs me by the shoulders and spins me around. It turns my back on defeat. It points me toward hope. It makes me want to persevere. 

LESSON 14:
So many of us are ugly ducklings just waiting to be swans. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

SURVIVING THE FIRST HOLIDAY

Holidays are tough even from the perspective of a home and place you’ve lived in for a lifetime. Handling the pressures of holiday obligations from a newly rented home in a city far from where you had planted your roots with a pocketbook made up of pennies and a bucketful of misgivinings makes it hard to even drag yourself out of bed. But life goes on and Thanksgiving will still happen with or without you. Here’s my guide for the holiday blues.

DON’T OVER COMMIT
My family’s traditional Thanksgiving plan begins with dinner at the family farm. Old habits still prevail with an early dinner originally planned so the meal wouldn’t conflict with getting the cows milked. Because of the size of my extended family the meal always took the form of a buffet with mashed potatoes, dry turkey served from a roaster, marshmallow jell-o and baked beans. Other than the hint of color in the jell-o the general rule was for meals to consist of food groups displaying a color palette ranging from white to brown.
It had been our intent to add to this with a second dinner at our new apartment later that night. We were going to host round two: an evening meal with invitations extended to only my immediate family. Rick had fabricated a menu including a glazed ham, cheddar and sage biscuits, Brussels sprouts smothered in a medley of cheeses, potatoes Anna, some harcourt verte topped with beer-batter crusted and caramelized scallions, an onion tart and several desserts too numerous to mention. This was all planned before: one - Rick got his work schedule showing a 3:30 am call to action, two - we counted out our pennies and realized there weren’t enough to purchase the sprouts let alone the ham, and three - we looked around at the piles of still unpacked boxes that would take days to put away. We scaled back and decided one big bowl of banana pudding set amongst a room with neatly stacked boxes was about all we could realistically accomplish.

TIP:
Let someone else in the family host that first dinner. Sit back and enjoy someone else's labors. You have enough on your plate to deal with.


DON’T DWELL ON THE PAST
We have a new home. The home isn’t in Chelsea on 30th between 6th and 7th. It’s on North Thompson at the corner of County Trunk T. It’s less than three miles from the home I grew up in and just over a mile down the road from the farm where my mother was raised and where we were headed for our Thanksgiving dinner. This has the sense of having gone full circle. Madison is where we now hang our hats and I need to be fine with this no matter how much I wish I were still able to wake up and walk down the block to catch the "F" train at 34th and Broadway.

TIP:
Don’t wake up Thanksgiving morning and turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and expect not to feel a shooting pang of nostalgia. Turn on the Packer game instead and enjoy what Wisconsin has to offer.


EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Someone had to do it and we didn’t have any vanilla extract for the banana pudding so I ran over to my mom’s to check on her. I could do a little double duty: pick up the extract and make sure mom had taken her medication. When I got there, mom was dressed for work having slept in her clothes for the third or fourth time that week and the pills she swore she had taken were still there in the Thursday compartment of her medicine dispenser. On a whim I took a quick tour of the downstairs. There was still enough salt in the water softener. None of the clothes laid out on the pool table belonged to us. The extra fridge was closed but empty, and then I walked into the downstairs bathroom. I immediately noticed the ceiling had turned a rusty brown and water bubbles had formed from one end of the ceiling to the other. The water damage was beginning to creeping down the walls. The plans for the day were going to have to take a u-turn. After several phone calls we all decided we could still make dinner at the farm (who was going to find a plumber willing to come over on Thanksgiving day), but dessert at our house would now have to be demolition at Florence’s. It’s where the unexpected turned into an event with benefits, nothing like a little bonding while wielding a sledgehammer with siblings and in-laws.

TIP:
Go with the flow. Time spent with a family swinging hammers for a cause instead of slinging barbs and innuendo can be a joy to behold.


DON’T GET SUCKED INTO BLACK FRIDAY
This may happen in many parts of the United States but it is a whole new world to me. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, where the retail world opens its doors the minute the clock strikes twelve. It seems such an insult to Thanksgiving. Here was a day the pilgrims gave us to eat, relax and watch football and now the mighty world of commerce has lopped off a good eight hours shortening the day to two-thirds of what a normal day should be. Clerks, cashiers and customers alike now have to end the eating frenzy and quality time with family and ESPN to go to bed by two in the afternoon so they can get up to form huge lines waiting for those all important door busters only available as Thursday turns into Friday. Who thought up this one? Best Buy has crowd control drills for its employees; stampedes occur where women and children actually get injured and all for what? Insanity has slithered into the holiday season. The Thanksgiving morning paper arrives with an audible thud due to the sixty-three circulars announcing microwaves for twenty-four dollars and alpaca lined hoodies for twelve, all bundled between the eight pages of actual news. The first three hundred customers in the door get a free ten dollar gift card with the purchase of a hundred dollars or more of stuff they don't need. People...get a grip.

TIP:
Have an extra slice of pumpkin pie, stay up until eleven and forget the impulse buying. It’s what the pilgrims would have wanted. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

HEALTHCARE


If an apple a day can keep the doctor away, my family is going to be eating oranges. I don’t need the doctor to pass by my door because we can’t afford health insurance. Healthcare is what we need right now and now that option sits outside our reach. For years we carried insurance to protect us from any catastrophic event. We went to bed knowing if that discolored mole on my arm turned out to be a melanoma we could deal with it. Luckily it wasn’t. If Rick ran over his glasses with a rented bike when we were pedaling through the park in Rome they could be replaced, and they were. If something really horrible happened to one of us our family doctors would be there to help us. This was our security and it lasted until we really needed it.
When Rick became ill and fell into a clinical depression our world fell apart and when it fell apart our ability to keep our insurance evaporated with it. When we needed healthcare the most our insurance was no longer something we could affordable and we lost it with so many other aspects of our former life that we had taken for granted. We had spent thirty years of paying into a system and now we had nothing to show for it. Now we have to worry about how Rick can get a new pair of glasses so he can see the menu he can barely read. I have to find a way to renew my beta-blocker prescription before my last refill runs out in the next sixty days. Emmy’s crooked eyeteeth will have to wait for braces until we can find a way to finance an orthodontist. None of us can see a therapist when seeing a therapist is a necessity for finding our way back to normalcy. We have gone to the available sources for free care but we either don’t qualify or we can’t prove our eligibility. We’re that middle group of people too rich to qualify and too poor to pay.
When a room full of one hundred fully insured senators can’t find the humanity in making sure everyone has the same safety net to fall on when they need it, is a dark mark on our American brotherhood. It is our responsibility to be our brother’s keeper and stretch out a helping hand when it is needed. I had no idea how much we took for granted when we were all healthy and fully covered.
We need universal healthcare. No one should have to live in fear of what could result from as small an illness as a common cold or the flu.

LESSON 13:
Never take your health or your families health for granted.

Friday, November 20, 2009

REJECTION




So far I’ve sent out resumes for sales positions with Barnes & Noble, Borders Books, American TV and Steinhafels, a local furniture retail store I’ve nicknamed “Steinawfuls” due to the unlikeability of their stock. I’ve applied as a wedding planner with a local hotelier and as a night shift phone family vacation planner for Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor waterpark resort chain headquartered in Madison. Each and every application has been processed through the internet with a series of questions: some necessary, some mundane, and then some down right rude.
Let’s take Borders. They had an impressive sign taped to their window next to the entry, “Now Hiring”. If you’re looking for work, to find someone asking for applicants seems like a good place to start. I parked the car in their enormous but virtually empty parking lot, walked in and went to the customer service desk to ask for an application form. The young bearded man in the wrinkled shirt behind the counter smiled and said, “You need to go to our website to apply. We don’t have actual applications.” new age, new way of applying. I got back in the car, drove home and searched Safari for their site. What first comes up under their banner is an image of a group of smiling faces, all ethnicities and age groups duly represented. They then give you a choice of job opportunities in three areas: home office, in store or distribution center. I negated options one and three, I’m not located near their home office and I’m no good at driving a forklift, all I wanted was a job giving me a little bit of self-respect and a 10% discount. I clicked on store opportunities only to be confronted with a list of possible positions I had no idea even existed: zone vice president, senior district marketing manager, paperchase area manager, what the hell is that? All I wanted was to sell some books. I finally advanced the search through enough pages of job descriptions and fairness regulations to get to the actual application, which I was now informed, would take 15 to 45 minutes depending on the type of application I would be filling out. Thinking I had selected the least elitist position I could find, I assumed I would be at the low end of the time commitment. Let’s see how this goes.
The first eight or so pages of prompts asked for pertinent information: name, address, availability, proof of citizenship, willingness to submit to a background check, the usual. The next page asked for compensation expectations. They started out by suggesting hourly rates at $6.00 or less and finished with rates $12.00 or more. I figured I had a better chance if I picked somewhere in the middle. I went for $8.01 to $10.00. The next section in the application process was called criminal history. They were kind enough to inform me that the existence of a criminal history would not automatically disqualify me from getting a job. Boy, was that a load off my mind. The next section had to deal with my educational, employment and life experience data, geared at helping them decide if I had the appropriate passion for selling their books and advancing childhood education. The best question here asked me to give a life experience that might add value to the customer experience. I thought of many clever responses: I did an interview with the Duchess of York about her children’s book (true), I directed Lauren Bacall for an Italian Trade Commission event (also true), I wrote a book on the history of numbskullery (not true). I decided to go with “I’ve done some traveling”, I really wanted to get the job. The last part of the application was by far the most fun. Thirty-five pages of strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree to questions like: “Are you proud of the work you do at school or on the job”, “Can people tell when you are happy or sad”, “Do you get angry more often than nervous”, “Would you rather not get involved in other people’s problems”, heady stuff. My forty-five minute max turned into ninety as I mulled and faced up to aspects of my personality I wasn’t expecting to have to evaluate for a nine dollar per hour job application. When I finished my hands were shaking, the tips of my fingers raw from typing in my answers and then the waiting for a response set in. I immediately received a do not reply notification letting me know my application had been received and human resources would be evaluating my resume notifying me if I would be asked to come in for a full interview. What more personal questions they could ask me I couldn’t imagine.
Sorry to say, I’m still waiting. I’m not sure if it was the Masters degree or the inability to fill in the line about my last salary that has caused them pause. Maybe I shouldn’t have included a list of past publications but for whatever reasons not a single request for a follow up has come through. I’m not sure how to take this rejection. Am I too old, too crazy or just too overqualified? If we could only go back to the old ways of meeting the person on the other side of the computer, that is if one exists, I think I could do a better job of pleading my case.

LESSON 12:
The truth about rejection is it frequently has little to do with who you really are. Someone’s pronouncement of your capabilities based on a sheet of paper or a computer fill-in the blank isn’t necessarily the whole story. Sometimes they’re just looking for a blond when you’re a brunette.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

THE ART OF IRONING

When ironing a man’s dress shirt, Martha suggests you start with the shirt fresh from the dryer just before the full cycle has finished. She prefers it when the shirt is slightly damp, grabbing it before it has completely dried. I like to save my un-ironed shirts, letting them stack up in crumpled heaps waiting for my time of need. When the stress of everything going on around me becomes unbearable that’s when I get out the ironing board and the spray starch. I like doing dress shirts better than something simple like tablecloths or napkins. With a napkin the process is too monotonous. Each napkin is pretty much identical. First you spread it out on the ironing board, smoothing out the folds and wrinkles. Then it’s the spray starch. I like to put a little swish in my spray, moving my hand in an “s” motion overlapping the path of the starch. I usually start with the iron in the middle of the napkin and then work my way outward to the edges. Then I turn the napkin over and repeat the process on the other side. Once both sides are done I begin the folding process setting in the creases for what I want the final shape to be. First I fold the napkin in half adding my first seam. Then I fold it in half again and finish it off by folding the remaining form into thirds giving me an elongated rectangular napkin perfectly sized for setting on the table next to a dinner plate. I like a heavier fabric, a strong linen rather then the thinly worn cotton napkins that tend to pucker and stick to the iron when you first lay the iron down on them. After having finished ironing two or three napkins into perfect rectangles the fun is gone and the repetition turns into an ache in my lower back.
Dress shirts are different, more complex. Martha and I approach the process in much the same way. I start with the collar, so does she, ironing it from the backside first and then turning it over and smoothing out the front. Next I use the pointed end of the ironing board and stretch one side of the yoke over it. I use my swishing spray technique and then iron out the yoke and the upper part of the sleeve. Each stroke of the iron leaves a path of smooth fabric where before there were crumpled limbs and furrowed skin. The healing aspects of ironing works wonders on my self-esteem. It elevates me to the status of doctor fixing broken bones and mending cuts and gashes. After repeating the work on the other side of the yoke I move on to the cuffs. I do the inside of the cuff first and then move to the outside. I do one cuff and then its corresponding sleeve before I move on to the second cuff and then the second sleeve. Once the sleeves are done I begin the plackets starting with the right placket. I tuck the board into the niche formed by the yoke and sleeve smoothing out the fabric and pulling it as close to the seam as I can. Sometimes I’ll get starch dots laced across the fabric. I focus my attention to these first, letting the iron rest on them just long enough to dry them up but not too long to leave an iron imprint on the shirt. Slowly I move around the shirt doing the back and then the final placket, ironing around the buttons and the pocket if the shirt has one. Martha prefers to do this from the inside of the shirt laying down an extra towel to cushion the buttons. I like to iron from the outside driving my iron in circles around each button. It may take longer to do it that way but for me that’s the point. When the shirt is finished I gently place it on a rubber-coated hanger. God forbid the ghost of Joan Crawford should peek in my closet and find any wire ones.

Ironing is an art. You can’t rush through it. It forces you to slow down. You need to focus and pay attention to each wrinkle and starch stain. The iron has its own speed of healing the crinkled wounds of the fabric. It leads the way and you follow. It’s mesmerizing and it takes me away from the stress. It calms and my heart slows down. For some men fixing a car soothes their jagged nerves, For me, standing in front of an ironing board pressing out the furrows on a clean white shirt steams out the wrinkles of my life. 

NOTE:
A drawing of my mom I did in the late 70's when she was at her ironing best. It was apparently no fluke that I inherited the ironing gene from someone who practiced the zen of the perfect crease.

TIP:
Find something that can take you out of yourself when the stress of money, joblessness and providing for your family becomes too much. Get out the iron, the monkey wrench or the Sudoku and remove your mind from the moment. Take time for yourself and allow the blood pressure to settle to an acceptable level.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

THE GIFT OF GIVING


We’re trying to add up karma points this week because we’re running out of time. We were given a golden opportunity early on in our arrival in Madison when a guardian angle lit a path to our champion and friend. As I have mentioned before, we met Carol, the owner of Sprials, by chance and/or by design, which is one of the great debates in life. Did we precipitate the meeting or did Devine intervention step in and create the opportunity. Either way the path was there and we followed it. In searching out the design community our noses first led us to a new kitchen store on Williamson Street where we met Stephanie, the store manager, who then told us about a very beautiful shop on Monroe Street she thought we should check out. We followed the path of breadcrumbs being laid out for us and walked into Spirals and Carol’s open arms. As luck would have it, on our second meeting with Carol she told us she had just gotten a call about a design related fund-raiser for the Madison Symphony. She wasn’t interested in doing it alone but if we wanted to do it with her she’d sign us all up. We jumped at the opportunity. Here was a key to hopefully unlock the door to Madison society and get our name out to some design starved new clients. Previously the event had been a designer showcase on the order of a mini-Kips Bay, but this year the event had been scaled back to a table setting event where local designers could create themed or fantasy tables displaying their creativity and design knowledge. When the organizer of the event told us we might want to shy away from a Christmas theme, she already had six, we were a little concerned about the other designers. We decided to sidestep the holiday route and go with calling our table, “A Long Winter’s Supper”. It was to represent an informal dinner in front of the fire with lots of ice and glass and subtle romance. Having done “Dining by Design” four times before in New York kinda primed us for doing this event. We had a bit of a leg up on the rest of the group. The providence of pairing up with Carol and her store became the guardian angle part of the story. The symphony only sponsors an event like this every other year. Our timing couldn't have been more fortuitous.

The gala opening for the event called, “Tables of Note”, was last Wednesday evening. The venue was on the top floor of a new glass clad twin tower on the southwestern outskirts of Madison looking out onto the downtown skyline. Madison has a unique beauty with a series of lakes forming a necklace surrounding a thin isthmus of commercial and newly built or converted residential architecture crowned by the capitol building. On fall evenings at dusk with the sky a Maxfield Parrish blue the capitol dome’s lights fad in illuminating it’s curves and details and Madison becomes its own version of New York and the Empire State Building. This was the backdrop for the event and we took full advantage of it. We used what we had; a vintage Biedermeier sofa, a couple of Barbara Barry chairs, our Dan Levy china and the canopy that had hung over Emmy’s bed in New York. We had no budget to work with so we found the rest of what we needed at Spirals and then we begged and borrowed everything else. The centerpiece of our space was a table made from a set of highly polished metal trestles we salvaged from a William-Sonoma desk we had and a seven and a half foot piece of three-quarter inch sandblasted glass we got from my brother’s stained glass shop. I convinced my brother and sister to make it for us and let us pay it off on time in very tiny increments. It was a perfect marriage of contemporary and antique, simplicity and elegance, New York and Madison, and the blending of our three visions, The result was a lot of buzz, several people taking brochures or business cards, and two bids on our donated three hour consultation. Finally, It’s a start.

TIP:
If you're looking for work and can't find it, volunteer. If you don't have any money, give time. Time can sometimes be more valuable then money for both you and the organization.  Look for organizations that might be related to the work you would like to find. Then make sure you believe in what the organization does. Volunteering can greatly benefit the organization and the networking it might provide you can be the key to opening a new door to what you want to do.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

HOMESICK


I thought I knew what it was when I was twelve and I spent my first week away from home at my aunt’s house in Illinois. Then I thought I might have felt it at sixteen when I flew up to Wausau for a two-week stint at art camp. These were the only times I was away from home long enough to think I might be experiencing what others call homesickness. Mirriam-Webster calls it a “longing for home and family while absent from them.” A longing…a longing doesn’t describe what I feel now. It snuck up on me like a winter flu, a scratch at the back of my throat, a sudden chill and then an ache so bad I couldn’t move. The pain made every bone in my body throb. Hallucinations crept into my psyche reminding me of all I left behind. I’m not sure there was a specific catalyst; maybe the approaching holidays have brought on my malaise, or the nostalgic Macy’s commercial with Bob Hope as Santa and Lucy telling me how she got it all at Macy’s. I miss so many parts of New York. The hours spent walking the streets of The Village or the Lower Eastside searching for inspiration, discovering new stores in old neighborhoods. Watching how the streetscapes change from year to year and even season to season. Just the ability to walk wherever I wanted to go makes my soul yearn for the chill of a window-shopping trip down Mulberry or Hudson. Shops filled with new eye candy for me to consume. I’ll miss not bundling up Emmy and carting her down Fifth Avenue as my shill so I could see the holiday windows at Saks and Lord & Taylor. There is no Times Square here, no place that can transform night into day with its marquee lights and huge video screens. I miss the clip of my leather-soled shoes on the cobblestones in front of the Savoy at the corner of Prince and Crosby. I miss the cheese puffs at Eleven Madison and the lines waiting for a burger and shake at Danny Meyer’s Snack Shack. I want our office back. I fear I won’t get things done without a place to go to, to do them. I miss the spontaneity of the city, the thought that every corner you turn could lead to something unimagined, a business man walking his lamb down a residential street, a cowboy dressed only in his underwear singing for his supper, two women kissing each other good-bye in the midst of the morning rush hour. I ache for the sweet smell of a Magnolia cupcake wafting down Bleeker Street or the musty pungency of wet leaves huddled between the black boulders of Central Park. I miss the memories of friends and the adventures we had resurrected in the reflections of the buildings and spaces of the city I took for granted. Most of all I miss who I was. I’m homesick for the guy who felt himself a success. 

LESSON 11:
Like a good boy scout: be prepared. Doubt and regret are all part of the transition. You have to find a way to deal with it and move forward, you can't move back.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

WHO'S GOT THE DOG?


Friday has come and gone and still more boxes need to be packed and moved. The list of “to-do’s” far out weighs the big black check marks indicating things completed. You want to do it all but time says, “Sorry we’re only giving out twenty-four hours today.”
On Friday my sisters, my brother-in-law and my twin nephews all showed up to help lift and tote. We accomplished the major tasks of getting the big furniture out of my mother’s house and into the new apartment. We still have forgotten laundry, hidden toiletries and Emmy’s ever-disappearing homework to collect and then there’s the unpacking. Every new box, cut open and untethered of its plastic bonds seems to explode like fireworks throughout each room. It’s truly amazing how a one cubic foot box when opened can form a ten cubic foot pile of stuff I barely recognize and now have to find a place to store until we have to pack it up again for the next move. All of this detritus and I still can’t find the can-opener or the toilet plunger. What possessed me to pack the lamps in one box but put the harps in an unmarked container with Barry Manilow CD’s we’ll never listen too is something I’m still trying to understand. The whole process can get so out of hand.
We had explained over and over again to my mom that we had finally found our own place but every time we showed up at her backdoor for an additional load of bits and pieces she continued to ask where we were going and what we were doing. The questions became so persistent that we finally packed her into the backseat of the ford escort between the wicker laundry basket and the box marked 2007 tax receipts and took her over to the new pile of debris we are going to call home. After prying her out of the car we let her crawl up the first flight of stairs the rest of us following behind our arms filled with wrinkled clothes. Having broken her ankle on three separate occasions had now fused her foot at a permanent ninety degree angle to her leg making going up and down stairs very difficult but comical, one hand on the railing the other on a stair tread, the good leg bent and the bad foot sticking straight out hitting two steps below the good one pushing her butt out to a level with her head. This bug-like crawl got her up to the main floor. It was clearly too soon for a real tour but her constant queries of “what are you doing with all of this stuff” left us no choice. We pushed and twisted her through the maze of boxes and mom immediately honored us with her verbal blessing, “What the heck, this is a real mess”. I didn’t have time for any additional insults so we rushed her through the living room and deposited her on the deck, the one place not stacked sky high with boxes. We felt there wasn’t much she could get into out there except for the adjoining storage closet, the deck railing was too high for her to climb over or fall off of. We let her stay out there with Buddy while we went about looking for the missing can opener and plunger. When we finally managed to clear enough space on the sofa for her to sit we brought her back in and deposited her down while we continued on our merry moving way. About thirty minutes went by before mom became too antsy to sit anymore. She began voicing her fears she hadn’t locked the doors at her house and worried the mice might get in which was my signal it was time to take her back. I got her coat on and started calling for Buddy to ride along.
“Come on Buddy, let’s go,” but no Buddy. I called up to Emmy, but no Buddy. Rick jumped in and now all of us were going around shouting out, “Buddy!” Buddy seemed to always be under foot and when we got no response we all began to worry.
Let’s step back.
Clue one – disoriented octogenarian with the ability to get lost on a six foot by ten foot balcony.
Clue two – a co-dependant dog in constant need of being the center of attention always at the heels of my mom hoping for a handout or fallout of uneaten or unwanted food.
Clue three – a balcony with a storage closet.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire. I guess mom thought the closet was a room fit for a dog. She opened the closet door when we weren’t around and stashed the dog inside thinking she had just let him into another room. There he was crouched in the corner of his lightless prison. Even a dog can show anger.

TIP:
Moving not only affects the human element but it wares on the domestic animal kingdom as well. It's tough to dig up all your old bones, sort out the ones not worth moving and then to have to make sure no human drops a box on you, steps on your tail or locks you in a closet. It can be rough being a dog.