Monday, June 28, 2010

The dumbing down of Macy's

It is widely accepted in the world of lingerie that you can't hold up D's in a strapless bra. But for those of us who hadn't figured that out yet, we head for the store that houses the largest selection of lacy little pretty "nothings", the Bra Mecca of the Free World, Macy's. As we glide up the escalator to the third floor, we are confident that somewhere in the maze of wall displays and spinning racks of Wacaols, Maidenforms, and Lilyettes, we will find some kind of structural underpinnings to enhance our menopausal figure. And because taking off your clothes in a 2 X 3 foot mirrored closet is abhorrent to most women, we have put off this fun shopping experience to the very last minute. We need that bra NOW, TODAY.


Remember when department stores actually had people to help you find what you came looking for? Macy's used to be known for their customer service years ago, but somewhere in the shrinking economy, point-of-sale computers, and people who won't work for minimum wage any more, finding help is like looking for water in the Sahara. Yea, I know..."go to Nordstrom - they will even fit you!" Nordstrom, however, is 8 miles away and we don't have time...and surely in the middle no less than 3,598 bras, we can find one over the shoulder boulder holder that will work.

After about 20 minutes of wandering aimlessly and combing through the AA's and B's, pads and foams, wires and straps, a sweet little sales lady bearing at least 50 bras dangling from her arms and around her neck asks in broken English if we need help. Upon explaining our frustration with finding sizes, we are dismayed to learn that she will have to go to her computer to see if we have one "that big"...which of course is 100 yards across the department. She totters off and we dive back in. By the time she comes back we have already located the one and only D in that model, which she sweetly verifies. Thanks.

So into the Hall of Mirrors we go, armed with our selections. And because strapless bras must fall down all the time (we don't know this, because we've never owned one), they are made with all kinds of weird feeling rubber and heavy duty elastic bands that look like they would hold up the spans on the Bay Bridge. Getting into one, much less than getting it hooked is a feat that would make even Houdini cringe. While wrestling the thing off the hanger, amid groans and deep breaths, elbows banging on the closet, another little sales lady knocks on the door..."are we okay??" We ask for a bigger size, but to our dismay, she is only the hanger-upper of all castoffs left in the dressing rooms. We put on our clothes again and forge out onto the floor again. This process goes on and on and on...four, maybe five trips back and forth to the closet.

It's a miracle! We find one that will hold up our voluptuous figure. Frazzled and tired we head for the "Customer Service" counter for our purchase. "Oh, you found one", she exclaims giddily. Yes, and thanks again for your help. "Can I put that on your card?" Just coming off the heels of a bad card experience in Sears at the other end of the Mall, we are not inclined to drag out our plastic again. "No, a check". Who said that? A check?

Not having written a check in 10 years, we assume that it just as easy as it used to be and she should be able to handle it quickly. Write the amount, sign, show ID, and you're out of there, strapless D's in hand. Not so, little grasshopper. Even though the sales associate ( that's what they call them now) can see me - I'm right in front of her - and the picture on the ID even looks like me, and the signature matches my driver's license, and I have 50 other forms of identification and a Macy's account, the computer needs an authorization code to complete the sale, and my sweet little sales lady with less than perfect communication skills must call the giant Macy's Customer Service in the sky.

We are not normally a belligerent person, but we have just spent an hour wrestling bras in a closet, gotten dressed and undressed one too many times, and we are sweaty and already late for an afternoon party (where we plan to wear our new strapless D's). And like Sears down the Mall, the person on the other end of the Customer Service line must have a communication problem, cause neither of these two know what the other was talking about or what to do next. When she finally gets the magic authorization code, she hands us our receipt and proclaims blessings on us for a wonderful "rest of the day" and to "stay cool". But we are still reeling from the entire experience and using our inside voice, we want to know (right NOW!) why the need for the authorization of our personal check. It's only $35 for crying out loud - It's not like we are purchasing the Hope Diamond. "It's for your protection - you know...to make sure you are who you say you are.." Are you kidding? Like she can see us through the phone, honey?

Maybe and 8 mile drive to Nordstrom would have been just as quick. In a bit of irony, we proudly modeled our new purchase under our cute little cami-top, the hubby looks and says..."I don't see a real difference, honey - I thought you looked just fine without it." That is all we need - off with the rubber contraption and let the D's be free!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Red and Bernie

My friend Peg lost her dad this week. Bernie was 94 years young and even though he lived a rich life and it was his time to "dance" in heaven, as daughters we are pained to the core to lose our Daddies. I can tell Peg that I know what it's like, since Red died almost 15 years ago, but it's really of little comfort. Intellectually, we can accept their death as the natural progression of an aging parent, or that they are far better off than enduring a prolonged sickness. We can even rationalize that they are "in a better place", but it never makes it any easier to bear.

Losing a father is sad, period. It doesn't matter whether he was strict or a pushover, we are molded by the extraordinary impact our fathers had on our formative years. And how we remember them is significant. Not every Dad was a hero, nor is every memory necessarily pleasant. After all, we live in an imperfect world, and sadly, some fathers just didn't have it in them to nurture, love or respect their children.

My Mom would say that I have a very childlike, idyllic hero worship of my Dad, and she's probably right. But who cares? My memories of Red are as sweet and nostalgic as the oak-laden countryside where I grew up. We jokingly called him Dudley as we aged because of his ability to do anything, make anything, fix anything. Hence, most of my memories of him have building and creating themes - "Dudley can do it!" I remember sitting in the driveway next to a greasy canvas covered with valve stems, rocker arms, nuts and bolts, watching him carefully clean the parts in a can of gasoline. I couldn't put an engine together to save my life, but I know what a head gasket is. I used to brag that I could skin a deer, but Mom's right - that would be a slight exaggeration, even though I do know how to wield a hunting knife fairly well.

My Dad built roads all over California. It took him away most of the weekdays of the dry summers, leaving Mom to be the disciplinarian. So when the weekend fianlly came, I was the first one to wake to the smell of Dad's frying bacon. Our memories are powerfully linked to our sense of smell, and to this day I love to cook bacon on a Saturday morning. I can't drive buy a field of fresh mown hay without opening the window to take in the earthy warmness and remember hours of driving a tractor in circles with a baler in tow...or walking through a mountain meadow and rustling the skunk weed without thinking about camping trips without a tent under the stars.

Today, I putter in my wannabe garden of three tomato plants and two zucchinis, a pathetic tribute to the memory of a half-acre maze of corn, tomatoes and every kind of vegetable that I, along with my siblings, were made to weed. Dad would brag at dinner that everything we were eating was grown in our garden or raised in the barn. I credit him with my love of eating good food, despite the fact that he made my mother cook his vegetables to a frazzle. But even my foodie friend Peg would acknowledge that green beans cooked on the stove for three hours with bacon still invoke a warm, comfortable feeling of "home" - Martha probably cooked them for Bernie that way too.

I can conjure up flashbacks to wood cutting days in the Fall with buzz saws and brush fires and enjoy them as much as Summer evening rides in the back of a Chevy pickup over to Dad's old ranch a few miles away. I can picture my Dad laying on the lawn on a hot summer evening with a piece of grass dangling from his mouth, laughing a his uncles' bad jokes and tall stories. Red could tell a joke better than anyone, and that's probably why I love to laugh.

Granted, my memories sound idyllic and childlike, and probably not altogether acurate, but I cherish them never the less. Some country singer wrote a song about "Daddy's Hands", and amazingly, that's one of the things I remember more vividly than anything else about my father. I guess that's because he used them in so many ways, his whole life was carved into their freckled, gnarled fingers. Thankfully,I don't have my Dad's hands. And truthfully, my hair only had a hint of his red. In fact, I am my Mom all over again - her eyes, her mouth, her skin. But I love that I am Red's daughter, through and through. It isn't June 20th yet, Happy Father's Day anyway, Dad.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mercy Me

I am loath to say that I have never been a particularly merciful person. My "buck up and get over it" upbringing created a strength and fortitude in which I took enormous pride over the years. Though I have never parked in a handicapped parking place, I would recoil at the seemingly "healthy" woman in the Corvette who waltzed into Nordstrom, with little sympathy to her hidden body limitations, assuming she had one. And to me, there was just "something fishy" with the local woman in a wheelchair who stormed the doors of the Squeeze Inn and other local establishments, lawyer in tow, only to sue them for lack of ADA compliance.

That was before I broke my right arm...my jewelry making hand, my treble clef hand, my risotto stirring hand. Okay, it's not the same as being a paraplegic confined in a wheelchair, or a man being chained to a dialysis machine four times a week, or a women loosing her hair to cancer treatment...I know that. But even the slightest impairment or loss of your usual physical abilities can be painful, frustrating, humbling, and yes, even illuminating. Our bodies are so fragile and we take them for granted. It's a wonder the majority of us stumble (literally) through life without an injury or serious disease. And as one of those people, I never realized how profoundly your life can change in just the blink of an eye.

The little imaginary man on my shoulder who says "buck-up, Laurel" must be the same little creep that said "you can cross that creek, chicka..you're a country girl!" But he is wrong, and I have had a hard time not feeling sorry for myself in what has seemed like an ordeal to me. And those of you who know me well, know how easy it is to slip into the morbid places...i.e "what if I had a stroke? I'd never be able to cope with that!" Life function limitations like not being able to shower properly, wash your hair, brush your teeth properly (forget flossing!)are difficult to cope with for a mere six weeks, but what if you couldn't do it for an extended period? What if you never could?

God is ever gracious to us in our hour of need, and I am grateful for my broken wing. It opened my eyes to people who must struggle with limitations every day just to survive. I am blessed that my injury is only a temporary inconvenience, and not a life sentence. I am blessed that other people have been more "merciful" than me by their willingness to help me out, wash my hair, carry this, open that. Life is not about bucking-up and getting over it. It's about letting others share your pain and struggles and giving you mercy and grace, and it's about giving it back in return. Thank God that He has given us the best example of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. Why does it take so long for so many of us to get it??

Thursday, April 15, 2010

From the Internet - LMAO! "The Dummy from Hell"

I have been seriously considering buying a professional Dress Form after getting hooked on Project Runway, a quasi reality TV clothing design competition I have sewn for years and have always wanted a dress form so that I could make my own patterns. I started researching different types on the internet, and thought the Uniquely You brand might suit my needs. Upon researching comments from owners of this product, I came across this post from a would-be consumer who had a less than an optimal experience with the Uniquely You Dress Form. I have never laughed so hard in my life...and suffice it to say I will not be buying one of these. Thank you Peter Leppik, Mirabelle Severn & Thames, whoever you all are!

The Dummy From Hell

For the sewing-impaired, a Uniquely You dress form consists of a foam core shaped like a well-endowed woman, and a cloth cover which you sew to fit your own dimensions, then stuff the foam core inside, yielding a dressmaker's form with your own measurements.

From: close@lunch.asd.sgi.com (Diane Barlow Close)
Newsgroups: alt.sewing
Subject: Re: Problems fitting Uniquely You (long!)

Mirabelle Severn & Thames writes:

I recently bought the Uniquely You dress form, and my mother agreed to fit the cover for me. Well, about 1/3 of the way through the fitting, she is running into problems she didn't expect, and doesn't feel secure trying to finish the project. Can anyone give advice?

Okay, I think I'm brave enough now to tell everyone about my experiences with” Uniquely You". I ordered mine from National Thread and Supply Company (in Atlanta, Georgia) who, in turn, get their supply directly from the UY folks but arable to discount it quite a bit. I ordered the "extra small" form and from the measurement range given it should've been just fine. Unfortunately for me, I ordered at the time that the U.Y. folks were trying out a new foam extrusion mix. Somehow I got one of the "test" dummies instead of the real thing. The problem with the new mix was that it discolored and expanded (greatly) when faced with humidity. I didn't know that when I got my dummy; I just knew it looked a bit mottled and way too big to "squish" down to my size. In fact, the dummy had a 44 DD bust! I called the UY company about this but they assured me that I must be wrong, that the bust couldn't be that big and that even if it was it would shrink once the cover was applied. They explained that the foam was much bigger than the cover, but that the foam would compress greatly and that Should just go ahead and make my cover and all would become clear soon. They explained that a lot of force was needed to compress their foam, but compress it would and I should just try it and see. After I got off the phone, I remeasured the bust and it was, indeed, 44DD (it was HUGE). It looked like some bizarre, life-sized headless Barbie.

Encouraged by the phone conversation with the UY people, I started sewing up my cover. I fitted the top half, on me, just fine. I zipped it off and tried to zip it on the dummy. It wouldn't go; it wouldn't squish asked my husband for help. Eventually we had the dummy on the floor with my husband kneeling on top of the breasts and me pushing from underneath the cover trying to compress everything into place. Then we started wondering what this must look like to our neighbors, so I got up and closed the curtains! :-) Continuing our wrestling match, we managed to stuff MOST of the breasts into the cover, but we couldn’t, for the life of us, compress them so they all fit into the cover. We managed to get the cover zipped into place but there was "breasts" popping out all over the place! We decided to see if we could squish the breasts into place any further. My husband pushed from above while I pushed from below. Whammo, side seams gave away and we had breast "leaking" out the side. We tried again. And again. It was a hot and humid summer day and we were not enjoying this strenuous activity very much. Finally we achieved some measure of success, with the cover "centered" over massive “breasts" peering around all sides. We stood back. BLAMMMO! The cover seams all gave way at once and blew off the dummy, leaving "Barbie" once again standing naked before us. Not only that, but the "breasts" appeared to have grown! They certainly looked bigger to me, and a check with the measuring tape now clocked themat 50 DD!! Help, it's Barbie from Hell! :-D

We called UY and complained strenuously this time. I pointed out that my dummy was "growing". They put the owner/creator on the phone and he realized that we had gotten a "bad" dummy, that is, one made with the bad experimental foam. The discoloration was the key to recognition. He asked me to send it back to him for inspection and replacement. You’d think that would be the end of it, wouldn't you? Well, think again! :-) I packaged the dummy up, in the original box, and sent it off UPS-insured. I got a calla couple days later because UY had *refused* my shipment! I couldn't believe it! After they had asked me to send it back directly to them! I couldn't figure out what must’ve gone wrong so called them back, immediately. The told me they didn't take damaged goods. What?! What did they mean "damaged" goods? I sent back an intact product! It was a defective product, but then they knew that as they were the ones who had asked me to send it to them for inspection. Unfortunately the person who handled the shipment was away and all the woman on the phone knew was that the shipment had been refused due to "damage", so I would have to wait a few days for the original person to return to explain why she refused my shipment. I got my answer a couple days later when a "hit and run" UPS driver lobbed a grotesquely-deformed (previously-a-box) shape over my fence and ran for the truck. It seems that somewhere along the line the package must've fallen off the truck and been backed over several times by a truck. The rectangular box was now a triangle and the remains of the dummy had tire tracks on it. Not only that, but it seems it had expanded some more, in transit, and one breast had blown a hole in the box and was now sitting there "staring" at the world rather ominously. The other breast had been ripped off, mostly, and was attached to the dummy by only a wee bit of foam. Numerous other cuts and scrapes told tales of some type of weird raging battle that had been fought between this dummy and who-knows-what! :-)

I called up UPS wondering how the heck they managed to turn my package into the deformity before me and they offered to send another driver out to pick it up for inspection. By this time I wasn't about to trust another "ride" on the truck, so I insisted that they send out an inspector directly to inspect the damage here. Under the circumstances, and considering the amount of money involved, they agreed. When the UPS claims person came out to inspect the damage she asked me what on earth this "thing" was used for. She treated it like she thought she could get Bubonic Plague from it. She started shaking her head and complaining about all the weird sextoys she was forced to inspect now that she was based out here in San Francisco and not back in good old Illinois... I tried to explain that it was a mannequin for sewing and fitting clothes, not some "sex toy". She didn't believe me. She wrote it up as “inflatable foam doll" and treated it like it had some disease she didn't want to catch. She had to remove the dummy from the box, and in order to do that you had to compress the one "escaped" breast to get it back through the hole so the rest of the dummy could come out of the box. She didn't want to touch the breast. No sirree! She was NOT going to touch another breast, not even a foam one! It was very amusing to watch. She honestly believed it was some kind of sex toy and I was some kind of pervert... :-D I finally got the dummy out of the box for her, but even then she wouldn't touch it to inspect the damage. :-) It was very embarrassing! She quickly agreed that UPS would give me a full refund and I don't think I've seen anyone leave my house so quickly... :-

Anyway, all's well that ends well, and I got my money back in full from UPS. I didn’t have the nerve to try another "Uniquely You". I bought a Dritz Double. I don’t really need the "fits your shape" capability of UY, as I'm pretty well the industry standard shape anyway. Yes, I'm one of the rare few who can use patterns directly from the envelope and have them fit perfectly. Do the Dritz Double turned out to be
just fine for me. I hope this helps someone! :-)

Peter Leppik

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Arm Candy

She approached the raging creek with trepidation. It had rained the night before and the familiar rocks which guided her usual steps were submerged under the icy waters. Intelligence suggested that she was taking a risk as she gingerly sought a dry rock. First one, then another. As she reached the half way point, the only stable rocks were no longer dry, and not wishing to finish her 4-mile walk in wet shoes, she hesitated...just enough to loose her concentration and her balance. Backwards she careened, finding the only surface in the creek with slimy moss on which to regain her balance. With her life passing quickly before her eyes, and thoughts of drowning in the abyss, she went down. She totally forgot the "tuck and roll" of her combat days, and in a last ditch effort, saved herself from certain doom with a simple backward stretch of the arm. And when it gave way, her head crashed back on a single rock put there just for stupid people like her who try to cross creeks like they were 12. Hel-lo!!!!!!!

Actually it was a tiny little stream of water...and my brain said 'no, don't do it, dummy' and my 12 year old ego said 'yea, you can.' Hence my first ever broken arm, sporting a bright red fiberglass cast. Having this arm candy has certain advantages and disadvantages. People do ask what happened, and you can make up all sorts of tales to inflate your bruised ego: 'I was climbing Mt. Whitney and my rope gave way and I fell 50 feet onto a ledge' or 'I got it caught in my rope on my last bull ride' or 'I didn't like the way my hands were aging so I am having them replaced with robotics.'

But casts are a pain in the ---. You can't get them wet..evidently they start stinking or growing some kind of mold...so showering is a challenge. You can't operate a can opener with a broken arm, and you can't play a piano. Opening your Ibuprofen bottle is tricky, as is trying to flip a pancake. But they are hard as a rock, so you can use them as leverage for certain tasks, like cracking nuts or cutting wire for jewelry making...

All in all, as cute as my little red cast is, I would rather wear a bracelet.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Internet Wisdom

Was there ever a time in my growing years where I envisioned talking to my friends instantly without a phone receiver cradled by my ear, or watching a video of a virtuoso playing a Mozart Sonata without a television, or even researching a crippling disease without a textbook? Even when I was the first employee back in the 80's to have my own "desktop PC" at my company did I ever envision the future magic of a world-wide communication/information system at my fingertips.

The Internet is a powerful tool. It is the bread and butter for the entrepreneur, the companion for the lonely, the inspiration for the downtrodden, and the amusement for the bored. It brings instantaneous connection, constant entertainment, frequent laughter, intermittent enlightenment and sporadic glee. It is hard to control and impossible to ignore. It is creativity at its best and addiction at its worst.

Though I spend way too time posting, blogging, chatting, researching and keeping up with my friends on a daily basis, I have never been much of a fan of Internet e-mail "junk". You know what I am talking about - those forwarded messages that threaten great harm and impending doom if you don't pass it on to 50 of your friends. Or the You-tube clip of some political hypocrite who puts his foot in his mouth for the hundredth time. I'll admit that I am a sucker for the messages which promise inspiration - these you know too - the harrowing story of courage and impossibility with the happy ending. But even then, I remain pretty confident that the writer made it up just to get me. Some of this stuff just can't be true!

Despite my skeptical nature, some messages have Truth written all over. Those are the ones to savor, to take in and let them stew a while in your heart. Those are the ones I wish that I had written myself. So the following is not my creation, but it is inspired Truth. An uplifting message passed across the Internet from a friend, instead of on the inside page of a funeral announcement...The 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my Shepherd -- that's Relationship
I shall not want -- that's Supply!
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures -- that's Rest!
He leadeth me beside the still waters -- that's Refreshment!
He restoreth my soul -- that's Healing!
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness -- that's Guidance!
For His name sake -- that's Purpose!
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death-- that's
Testing!

I will fear no evil -- that's Protection!
For Thou art with me -- that's Faithfulness!
Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me -- that's Discipline!
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine
enemies-- that's Hope!
Thou annointest my head with oil -- that's Consecration!
My cup runneth over -- that's Abundance!
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life-- that's Blessing!
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord -- that's Security!
Forever -- that's Eternity!

Can I get an Amen? AMEN!

Monday, March 1, 2010

"So you've had a bad day..."

Some days were just born wrong. There's no rhyme or reason for a bad day, and there's usually no one to blame. You can just be minding your own business, making plans to go here and go there, do this and do that, and wham! it comes without warning. Okay, maybe I did pull a little over the line before I stopped to make my right turn, but did it have to be at the same intersection where I ran a red light a year ago? Talk about a crush of reality when you suddenly realize what you just did...do I have to go to felony community service..again???

And what's with that Alhambra water guy toting 4 huge bottles in the middle of the intersection when I am trying to make a left turn...scared the ---- out of me...he was not supposed to be there. So by the time I actually arrived for lunch in midtown, I might have been a little rattled.

Now you know you have to "plan" when you go to midtown...you need the proper change for the meters and you need cash to pay the bill, which I never carry. Assuming you go the autoteller first, it's a piece of cake. And don't forget to memorize your stall number or you will have difficulty completing your parking transaction. Need I say more about how my lunch date started???? The food was good though, so I was sure my Karma was changing for the afternoon. Not so, little grasshopper.

My car keys (I was using my hubby's), which I left at a friends house last night (is that when this bad streak started?)were to be in another friend's mailbox so I could pick them up...I had the address scribbled on a scrap of paper in my purse, which didn't seem to be there as I was leaving lunch for the parking lot. No problem...I'll just call her and verify the address. Is that my worthless piece of ---- cell phone beeping in my purse, denoting "NO Battery"?? Of course it is! Luckily for the world, I eventually found the scrap of paper...otherwise I was beginning to feel some sort of psycho rampage about to emerge right there in front of Crepeville.

I located the elusive scrap of paper on my car seat and drove to the stated address, parked in the ally, and you'll never guess what...you're right!!! NO keys in mailbox. Strike five, Laurel. I remembered that I had her work address...on the 20th floor of some building downtown, so I headed back downtown. I find ANOTHER place to park, but I don't have the appropriate coins for the meter, so I scrounge in the bottom of my purse to find one lousy quarter. I can already feel ticket number two for the day comin' on. But if I run fast, I figure I can get back before the meter reader comes.

Not knowing the name of a company does impede one's ability to locate a person who's last name you don't even know cause you just met her last night...and the 20th floor of a building sounded a little ominous..but I tried the first office in a long corridor and indeed, they had a person by that name working there. But alas, no keys were left at the front desk. Two very helpful women were able to contact my new friend by phone, and she swore the keys were back uptown in her mailbox. Nope, I swore. But I'd go back and check again.

Just so you won't think I'm making this up, I will cut to the chase...my keys were magically in the mailbox this time, and I sat in my "parked car" in the ally again and thought I must be losing my mind. If this is what's it's like to get old, I can see why Kevorkian has a booming business!

But hey, not all was lost....I made it home in one piece to the music of some Powter guy who sings "So you've had a bad day..." You know, the one they played every time some poor guy got kicked off American Idol... I just smiled.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ups and Downs

I lived in a two-story home....ONCE. Our bedroom was up a flight of stairs and it was the only room on the second level, save a tiny "master" bath. My first desire must have been privacy, away from four rambunctious kids, a retreat of sorts. However, stairs are very cruel to aging knees, and when we finally moved out of the family home, we very astutely looked for something a little more knee-friendly.

I was reminded of the cruelty of stairs this week painting two bathrooms in my daughter's new home...one upstairs and one down. Naturally all the supplies were upstairs when I was down, and downstairs where I left them when I needed them upstairs. Okay, I will concede that straddling a bathtub, sink and toilet while balancing a paint tray can also contort the body into some wretched positions, because everyone knows a ladder never fits into a bathroom. Up and down, up and down.

So I had a nightmare last night about being DOWN in a dingy basement and it started flooding...I couldn't get UP the stairs because my knees were in these tiny little braces and the wrench to unlock them was UP the stairs...all of a sudden I looked UP at the ceiling and a thousand rats starting creeping DOWN the walls...and then...no, I'm just kidding. Even my brain isn't that sick. I was just trying to do a lead UP to how many different ways we use UP and DOWN to describe things. Think about it...

We drive UP to Yuba City, which means it must be North from here, and we go DOWN to San Francisco, which must be South. Our mood swings are characterized by UPS and DOWNS -'She's really feeling UP today' or better yet 'she's DOWN in the dumps today', like a landfill is a bad destination. The stock market doesn't even "fluctuate" any more...it's just UP or DOWN. Unemployment is UP, the housing market is DOWN, and we are all UP THE CREEK.

They say English is the toughest language to learn. Imagine the confusion of a small child or a foreigner who is trying to distinguish between all the meanings behind these simple words:

'Go put that toy UP right now'...even though the toy box is on the floor.
'It's UP to you'...which is just another way of avoiding confrontation.
'Let's get DOWN tonight!'...implying the need to get drunk or maybe dance.
'I'm UP for it"...which could either mean you're happy or you're game.
'Don't get all UPpity with me!'...denoting a social status that's higher than yours.
'You are just being DOWN on yourself'...dissing oneself.
'He gave her a leg UP'...not a sexual position...he helped her.
'They were UP in arms DOWN at the Capitol'...which denotes an impending riot is about to go DOWN.
"You are driving me UP a wall'...now that's a classic...as if one could actually navigate a car on a vertical surface.

Maybe I should just shut UP, put my aching knee UP and get BACK to the nightmare...or get OVER it...don't get me started.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oh Ye of Little Faith!

Why is it that trusting God is so hard to do on a day to day basis? My head knows that I am not in control of life's ups and downs, but my heart sinks when I am continually reminded just how puny my faith really is sometimes. We ask Him to do a mighty work, then we jump in and ramrod our way through it, leaving God little room to strut His stuff. We ask for patience in one breath and in the next we start "fixing" problems with little or no real success.

Trusting God requires big love, patience beyond our capabilities and huge faith for us Fixers and Controllers. We barter with God, making deals to read our Bible more, join a study group, help the poor, etc., if He will but grant our deepest desires. We pray for outcomes without regard for His plan. And we loose perspective about how He can work without our meddling and help. But most of all we FORGET how God has already worked all through our lives to bring us to THIS day and THIS place. We have forgotten His unending grace in our darkest periods and His faithfulness to see us through. We have forgotten His promises. And we forget on a daily basis that we are His BELOVED. If we could just keep that one moment of "enlightenment" continually in our hearts and minds that hits us in the midst of a beautiful sunset, the birth of a child, the playing of a Mozart Sonata or languishing on a white sand beach in Maui, we would understand who God is, what He has done for us, get on our knees and trust Him more. Amen? AMEN.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

My friend Bertha and Amish Friendship Bread

Many years ago in the height of Martha Stewart’s ride to fame, I was fortunate to meet her sister, Bertha, at a church in Fair Oaks. She had all of Martha’s good looks, although slightly older, I guessed, since her grey hair fell in curly wisps around her sour Martha-face. And perhaps she didn’t share Martha’s sense of style, given the red striped socks peaking out from the top of a pair of Sorrel boots. And okay, maybe she didn’t have Martha’s polished vocabulary either or her gift of communication, even though she did have the same monotonous tone of voice, although it was punctuated with a heavy, dull southern drawl. She was speaking to a group of women on the horrors of Friendship Bread, and it was in this presentation that I came to believe that she was probably lying about her identity, but I no longer cared – she was delightfully irreverent, witty and no-nonsense. I contacted her recently and she agreed to be a guest writer on my blog, since I aspire to have those same qualities. So here is a reprint of her talk on Amish Friendship Bread:

Good morning, ladies. I am here to warn you about an evil terrorist plot against America – a plot so insidious, it strikes at the very heart of the American home and threatens the very core and sanctity of that home – the American Housewife. The horror that I am speaking about is Amish Friendship Bread (AFB). Oh, it looks innocent enough, and it’s pretty tasty – it has a starter batter that you keep addin’ flour and sugar to for a period of ten days, then you pass it off on a friend.

Here’s how it starts: your friend just “drops by” one morning with a loaf of Friendship Bread just out of her oven – it smells heavenly and you are feeling all blessed by her act of friendship. But she can’t stay and visit as 'she has a root canal scheduled'. And as she is going (more like bolting)out the door, she quickly thrusts a plastic zip-lock baggy of some pasty goo-like batter into your hand, and a recipe to make more of the bread. You’re startled, but you thank her warmly. Wasn’t that sweet?! But unbeknownst to you, the AFB terrorist plot has already begun:
1) First, you can’t accept the bread without the bag of batter and the recipe. That’s the rule…evidently…cuz I tried to give it back and she wouldn’t take it.
2) AFB tastes good, so you go for it. But dang'd if it doesn’t start multiplying! At the end of 10 days, one bag of batter makes 2 fresh loaves of AFB and 4 new bags of batter to unload on your friends, and still leaving you with one bag to start all over again. Usin' your math skills, you figure out that 4 bags turn into 16, then 265, then 65,000 cute little zip-lock bags full of pasty batter.
3) AFB never ends. You will be baking that (*@&%#^@ bread until the Rapture. You will run out of friends to give it to after the first few batches. I know a widow woman who hasn’t had a date in 3 years cuz she’s always making AFB, and word spread quickly that she would even try to pass it off on dates.
4) AFB saps you of your time and money. Tendin’ that first little bag isn’t bad (you have to “mush” the batter around in the bag daily), but mushin’ 65,000 bags is a little tough. And if that’s not bad enough, you starting passing bad checks at the Piggly-Wiggly just to buy more flour and sugar…heck, some folks have had to quit their jobs!
5) It makes you crazy. The stress of having to mush them bags every day will drive a woman to drink. And if you look around, you will see crazed women all over American neighborhoods with trunk loads of zip-lock bags. You gotta watch out for ‘em – they come up to your door all huggy and friendly, then POW, there’s a baggy thrust into your hands and they run off laughing hysterically. I lost a friend last week – she forgot to mush her baggy and her batter “died”. She was devastated – they found her face down in a bowl of batter.
6) AFB piles up on your counters, freezer, storage lockers – you can’t get rid of it. You run out of friends. Your real friends won’t come over any more, cuz they’re afraid you’re gonna give them a baggy.

And the worst, most insidious part of this plot is

7.) FRIENDSHIP BREAD WILL MAKE YOU FAT. Women develop Friendship Bread thighs. They forget how to really cook, as an endless stream of Friendship Bread “variety meals” grace American tables – turkey with Friendship Bread Stuffing, Meatloaf and Scalloped Friendship Bread Pudding. Their husbands leave them in favor of AFB "Non-Friends".

But, I tell you girlfriends, what’s really pathetic about this whole plot is that is robs women like you and me of our intelligence and cognitive thinking abilities - why in God’s name don’t we just throw it out in the first place???? My advice to all of you is slam the door on anyone carrying a loaf of fresh bread – she has a zip-lock bag in her purse and she is the Antichrist!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ssk,*(yo,ssk) K3 (K2tog,yo) and Other Forms of Masochism

Knitting is supposed to be a relaxing experience, especially for those who are regularly stressed out. I took up the "sport" many years ago, but it hasn't been until the last few years that I have actually made something that I could wear. So with the onslaught of rain and wind for the third straight day, I found some old yarn and decided to make something for summer - a nice tank top or a shell.

I browsed the Internet for free knitting patterns, not wanting to brave the weather to the yarn shop. I found an adorable little number that needed the exact number of skeins that I happened to have on hand, and I even had the correct circular needles. Bonus! Okay, they were a little small (US4) and the pattern did look like it might be a slight challenge, but after all, Laurel, what else do you have to do?

Choosing the correct size in a knitted pattern is always a challenge, especially if you are in-between sizes and/or you've been doing Jenny...let's face it, I didn't know what size I should make, so I just cast on the 100 million stitches for a "large" tank. The first row is usually a knit or pearl row to set the stage for the pattern - in this case it was pearl....easy enough. Then the fun began. I could hardly read the directions for Row 2, let alone figure out what the symbols meant. I wrestled my way through the row by trial and error, finally remembering the words of my knitting friend Peg:'always keep a little notepad so you can keep a tally of your stitches', which I did, dutifully checking them off as I went.

Life does not stop while knitting...the phone rings, the microwave goes off, etc., so to say I became distracted easily is a gross understatement. After ripping Row 2 out three times, I finally got to the end only to find later that I pearled 150 gazillion stitches on my needle on Row 3...did they mention that in the pattern? Oh well, on to Row 4. More of the same gobbledygook, add a few extra knits here and there so it will cover the mistakes you made on Row 2...Needless to say by the time I got to Row 8, it didn't look anything like a "cute pineapple and trellis" pattern, and I swear it would have fit a large cow. What tension???

Well, I have ripped the whole sucker apart again, and I am not sure my nerves can handle all those holes and chains, so I just stared at the pattern for a reality check. Actually, I think I might look like a cow in it even if I could do it...think I'll just make a scarf.

Ahhh...I feel better now.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

'I Have to', 'I Need to', 'I Should', 'I Ought to' and other forms of False Guilt

Somewhere in the middle of another sleepless night I started fixating on things I could do when the sun finally came up. A whirlwind of possibilities flowed freely around in my brain...fixing that piece of ugly jewelry, practicing that complex measure in my Sonata, going up to visit my mother, eating another chocolate chip cookie, cleaning the toilet in the guest room, calling a friend for lunch, writing on my blog... As important as all of these exciting options might be, I realized that many of them are not necessarily things that I really "want to" do, but things that I have to, need to, should or ought to do...although probably only in my brain.

I did a study on emotional fitness last year with some girlfriends, and we learned that most of us do things we every day largely out of false guilt. False guilt is a response to things and events in our lives that we take responsibility for when we are not actually at fault. Real guilt is the result of doing something wrong that hurts others, and unless you are a perpetual jerk, you should not constantly be in a state of real guilt.

So let's look at some the possibilities of things to do today and decide if I just "feel" guilty and should do it or if I am indeed just a self-centered jerk:

1) Clean the toilet - False Guilt: DUH!!! What person in their right mind likes to clean a toilet? Toilets don't have feelings and they have not been hurt by grime, so therefore, why feel guilty about leaving them to their own devices?

2) Call a friend for lunch - False Guilt: When was the last time she called you and invited you out? And didn't she make you pay???

3) Fix that ugly piece of jewelry - Real Guilt: You created it in the first place, so you have only yourself to blame. It will never be truly healed until you say you're sorry and give it a decent burial.

4) Practice that hard section in my Sonata - Both: It's Real Guilt because you haven't practiced in two days and False Guilt because you think your teacher will be furious with you if you come back again and still sound like a non-talented, fat-fingered idiot.

5) Writing on my blog - Neither: I don't feel guilty about this at all....who says you need to be dressed by 9:30??

6) Visiting my mother - Decline to State: I'm not Emotionally Fit yet.

7) Eat another chocolate chip cookie - Can't be Classified: Eating is a life function so how can there be any guilt at all?

So amongst all of these wonderful possibilities, I think I will eat another chocolate chip cookie and go see my Mom.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Top Ten Reasons for Insomnia

I'm not sure why I don't use sleep aids, but it may have something to do with the morning after effects. Ever try to get on an escalator at Macy's with an Ambien hangover? But I didn't sleep again last night. Okay maybe I got a couple of hours, but clearly, not enough to last all day on a bus, then all night partying with friends.
Why don't women sleep, or am I the only one? I have a number of friends who are sleep deprived and after some research I have extracted some valuable reasons as to the major factors causing insomnia in women:
1) You haven't shaved your legs in three days. Those prickly little stubbles get caught in your pajama legs causing an irritating, annoying sensation like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.
2) You ate a huge chocolate chip cookie before bed. That big chewy choco chip delight is the same one that gives you the migraine headache, so why would you not think it might keep you awake as well?
3) You are worried about tomorrow's colonoscopy, because you didn't drink the entire gallon of that "gentle" cleansing agent with the "pleasant" taste.
4) You are excited about your vacation and want to be sure you wake up in time to shave your legs.
5) You decided to paint your fingernails at 9:45 and they are still not totally dry at your usual bedtime of 10:00, so you need to keep your hands out from underneath the covers so they don't get muffed.
6) You had a slight marital disagreement with your husband, who is snoring contentedly.
7) You let your cat sleep with you, and she loves to knead your down comforter. And she loves you best, so she is always on your side, and she must be "touching" you at all times while your husband is snoring contentedly.
8) You sweat on your down comforter.....HEL-LO!!!!!
9) You need to figure out what to do with those pretty new red beads...mix it with sterling or gold? wire-wrapped or hand knotted???
10) God created you in HIS image, and HE NEVER SLEEPS....so what are you whining about??

Sleepless in Fair Oaks

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Sound like Life to Me..."

She often forgets that her life is blessed. She doesn't have to worry about her job because she doesn't have one. She doesn't really have to worry about money coming in because the checks arrive on schedule, month after month. She doesn't have to fret about her house going into foreclosure or her car breaking down or having enough food on the table. Her health is good, she has wonderful friends and a beautiful piano. But yet, she is a worrier...a "make a mountain out of a molehill" kind of woman. In the space of 5 minutes or less, she can turn a wart into a massive case of melanoma, a marital disagreement into a divorce, and a radiator leak into a complete engine overhaul. She worries about her kids and she worries about her grand kids. She frets about the economy, global warming, and other life conditions that she can do nothing about.

They say that worriers don't trust God or don't have faith. I think worriers just like to control life and life's situations, which of course, is a ridiculous aspiration that can never be attained. Life happens. It is meant to be lived by those who are in it. God never intended that it would always be peaches and cream after that Adam guy blew it. Life is hard, spontaneous, unpredictable, joyous and scary, all wrapped up into a tidy little box that just needs to be opened and lived. There are certainly enough issues in my own life to be worried about that woman up there...she needs to get a grip!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Rejected Christmas Letter Vignettes

I have published two of the vignettes in a Christmas Letter that was never mailed. All three of these were dreamed up in the middle of the night, a time when I do my best thinking...I usually have to get up and start typing.
III. They had it all worked out before the time arrived. Careful planning with their financial advisor, a list of priorities and pitfalls arduously debated, penned and edited time and time again, and the melding of two calendars into one. A case of wine added interest to the long discussions of how it was going to be and how it was NOT going to be. He would do the yard, and she would "take back" the house which he had run for the past five years. He would fish and golf at least twice a week and she would have coffee with her daughter. She fained a weak back, so he agreed to continue to push the vacuum. They would travel when the stock market treated them well and they would huddle by the fire (providing it was a low particulate day) when the bear reared it's ugly head that year. She would paint, sew, design jewelry...dust off that keyboard. 'Maybe I'll write a book' she mused...but then, what to write? 'I need to finish my Christmas shopping and order those adorable shoes I saw in the Internet...and I should finish designing my blog'. But it was a low particulate day, so she sat by the fire and sipped a nice cab. Ahhhh...retirement.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Rejected Christmas Letters

I have been writing Christmas letters for over 10 years. The first couple of letters were the typical newsy diatribes detailing our activities over the course of the year, kid's stuff and major events. After yawning through many letters of the same caliber from our friends and family, I decided to take a different tack and insert some humor into our letters. Often times, the humor got a little jaded, as sarcasm and irreverence took over, depending on my mood. I would still communicate snippets from our lives, but you really had to read between the lines to figure out what we did that year.

I have written a few letters that never made it to the mailbox, due perhaps to their unhealthy tone, or pure uninspiring drivel...I can't be funny all the time. And sometimes, though I thought I had created "genius", Dave hated it, so it was trashed in favor of a more inspirational message. My favorite rejected Christmas letter of all time is a Trio of Christmas Letter "Vignettes" that I wrote...pure fantasy with a mere hint of reality. Alas,the Trio Letter was never mailed, but I submit the first in my fictional vignettes today for your reading pleasure.

I. With eager anticipation, she opened the crisp white envelope, embellished with the delicate curves of letters that sweetly formed her name. Years had passed since she last enjoyed the holiday musings of her oldest and dearest friend...letters laced with bittersweet yarns of days gone by and raucous tales of children and grandchildren. Opening the letter, she thought she heard the vacant white linen groan as she carefully pushed by the shimmering foil to the neatly folded paper inside. The note was uncharacteristically short, she mused, lost on a sea of white linen, the customary flowing descriptions noticeably absent. The festive scenes of Christmases gone by...the snow drenched tree providing rest for the lonely red cardinal...all missing. Just a white sheet of paper and a very vanilla "Happy Holidays" carelessly scribbled across the middle of the page. 'It's not even in calligraphy', she whined, unable to hide her disappointment. Her own meager existence was so dull, the spirited stories of her friend's life made her feel like she was part of a great adventure. But this year, like last year, nothing. Happy Holidays. Whoopee. 'I think she used that fancy new computer, for God's sake. Isn't she retired now??? And what's up with the pre-printed name at the bottom?? And it isn't even on 40 lb. paper! She could have at least made something up....what a loser!'

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Writing..because I have to...

There are few things in life that mean more than self-expression -whether through the beauty of music, the lens of a camera, the paint on a canvas, the stitch on fine silk, the twisting of sterling silver wire on a glass pendant or the swirl of dark chocolate ganache on a fresh cake. Though all of these creative forms come in and out of my life on a regular basis, writing is a passion that I have largely kept to myself. True, I write an occasional article for the women's newsletter at church, an annual Christmas letter which is often "over the top" and sometimes slightly irreverant, and a not so daily journal to God.

My piano teacher once told me that we play a musical instrument to be heard...when we have music in our hearts we HAVE TO SHARE IT. Thus, writers write to be read. Why I think that anyone will read my musings is noteworthy..it says something of my level of self-doubt and fear. In fact, I don't consider myself an avid reader - I get bored with certain writing styles and will drop a book on the floor if it doesn't hold my interest in the first five pages. And I rarely read blogs as most are very self-involved and trite. But if I'm going to criticize, then I should only be allowed to do so if I myself become the dreaded blogger.

So....on this second day of January, 2010, I begin to write. I write because I have to, whether anyone trips over my blog or not. Just do it, Laurel...just do it.
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