Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time for reflection

It's true - the older you get, the faster time flies. Somewhere I read, "don't forget that you are your own pilot on the flight of time"! So I guess I'm fastening my seat belt as I head into 2010 but not before looking back on 2009.

Tough year on many fronts. I've watched two of my children struggle with the realities of the economic downturn. My plan was to sell this house I bought two years ago and into which I have poured love and money, to go in search of my dream house. Market realities cut that move off. I'll hang on here - maybe even make peace with a house that I've never felt totally at home in and let it grow on me - much like the way the garden I put in has grown.

Wonderful year on another level in that I got to live a dream and cross Africa off my wish list. Time spent there was both amazing and disturbing. I learned I'm not indifferent to poverty and human suffering, that I can't shut it out, that being an observer in the midst of appalling conditions made me uncomfortable in a way I had not previously experienced. Re-connected with an old flame too, and despite the best of intentions learned the hard way that those differences that forced us apart first time around still worked their negative magic. It just wasn't going to work.

Read some terrific books this year and not all escape literature. Ended the year with Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese - one of the best fiction books I've read in years. I know my interest was heightened by the book being set in Ethiopia - a country in which I spent the most time on my odyssey earlier in the year. It was not an escape book. Like, Half the Sky (Kristoff and WuDunn) which is not fiction, both books made me acutely conscious of just how good is my life and how determined I am to give more back in the future.

I suppose that time is all about lessons waiting to be learned. How we learn depends on just how wide we open our eyes to the world around. Whether the world of nature; happenings on street corners in our own immediate world; or a wider world view - everything we choose to see can make a difference in how we act within the world. "You are never too old to learn," is my mantra as I struggle to absorb new things, keep up with grandkids interest in technology, find out that my Mac can do far more than I realise.

Connections for Women reached a major milestone this year too - and how close Genny and I have come to giving up on occasion is an open secret. I'm energised by her commitment, she's the one who keeps me going - reminding me of all the first-rate readers we have come to regard as friends. So to you Genny, good friend, amazing woman, to Jeffrey and Heidi Peltier of Peltier effects who keep Connections moving forward, and to everyone of you who take the time to read, comment, send little e mails of encouragement - a huge hug! and of course endless thanks along with my very best wishes for a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve - and nature provides the decorations

With everyone snug under the roof here after a weather fraught drive up from Tucson, the cabin is in the usual chaos of family in residence. Six dogs too! and two of them not getting along so a lot of shuffling around and closing doors. Tuesday and Wednesday dumped mega amounts of snow but today the sky is brilliant blue and the snow dazzling - need sunglasses to look out of the windows.

When my
grandson and I arrived Sunday afternoon we got stuck in the lane and had to make several trips to get essentials into the cabin. Walking Knee deep in snow is quite a workout! We found someone to plough the lane Tuesday. We had our own little miracle here too. Neighbours have a breed of cattle that are very short, stocky and exceptionally friendly. One of the females gave birth Tuesday morning way out in the meadow. There are Mexican Gray Wolves and coyotes around so troops were rallied to safeguard the little one. I watched as three men, took turns to carry the new born through the snow to the barn - the entire event supervised by Mom, the other female and the bull. Quite a procession.

Enjoy nature's decorations - all the glitter you need.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On Becoming Invisible

I had a taste yesterday of what it is like to be invisible - of what it must be like to be homeless - desperate - a person of no account.

I set out with a Subaru Outback packed to the gills with supplies for a week at the cabin. 12 year old grandson and dog traveling with me. Barely 20 miles into the 254 mile trip I noticed smoke coming through the passenger side vent and pulled into a gas station/convenience store lot in the incorporated area of Catalina. Didn't know it at the time but an axel boot had split and spewed grease into the engine. All I did know was that I wasn't going to head off into the boonies and risk being stranded miles from anywhere.

First call was to USAA for roadside assistance. No problem , help would be there within the hour. Second call was to my daughter - again no problem. She and her husband would go to my house, pick up another vehicle and drive that out and I'd simply switch vehicles and continue on my way. I had life-lines, cell phone, genuine connections. Not for a moment did I feel anything but a tad annoyed.

Murphy's law rarely works in anyone's favor! Tow truck arrived within 15 minutes and we were left with no choice but to empty the contents of the Subaru onto the side-walk. Three coolers, a case of wine, duffle-bags, dog food, assorted boxes of wrapped gifts, a large pine bough wreath, and a rather tatty collection of ski jackets and pants. I wasn't dressed in "go to church best" but was wearing black slacks and a casual jacket - not an "avert the eyes this person is suspect" look.

But avert their eyes was the norm for the 30 or so people in cars pulling into the gas station as we waited. It was obviously an unusual sight - dog, woman, child, and what could be taken for worldly belongings piled on a sidewalk on a bright, sunlit Sunday morning. And yet not one person, man or woman, stopped to ask if we needed assistance. Rather we got a quick furtive look, a ducking of head and moving away. In one instance I watched a man get out of his car and start towards us only to be called back by his wife and the very clear words "don't get involved". And these were people dressed in go to church best.

The experience made me acutely conscious of how we ignore what makes us uncomfortable. We'll drop the odd coin into the salvation Army collection boxes but it takes the saints of this world to roll up sleeves and volunteer to help. It also made me ache with pain for the people who really are dseperate on the sidewalks of our communities with nothing, without hope - how must they feel as the general population steps out of the way to avoid them, deliberately chooses not to see them.

My experience was minor - just a blip in a well organised plan - but coming as it did on the start of Christmas week - on a day when church sermons rang out with messages of giving, of kindness - I couldn't help but feel disheartened. One woman did stop - she called out of her car window - "hey, you guys want to sell anything?"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Realistic Resolutions - and Sausage Rolls

Our theme for the January issue of is Realistic Resolutions and I thought I'd get a head start by keeping the holidays simple this year. For the first time in many years it's just going to be family up at the cabin - four adults, two kids and six dogs! one dog apiece per bed. Will be interesting, especially as Samantha the Warrior Woman cat who used to keep the dogs in line is no longer with us.

Rumour has it that we do have snow up there. Music to my ears because the small boys love to be out playing and come in exhausted, hungry and happy. Big kids will go skiing/snowboarding at the nearby resort and I'll pull out the well-worn snow shoes and do my own trudging around on home turf.

My birthday falls just before the holiday and our family tradition is to put the tree up that night and have a celebratory dinner cooked by the younger generation. We'll cut the tree that day and I know with a fire blazing, music playing and good vibes and smells from the kitchen it will be a joyful experience. Lisa, my daughter, is a baker par excellence - she's known to comment that if she gives up law she'll open a pastry shop. When we re did the kitchen up there we made it open plan so anyone who wants to cook can find a place around the counters or big stainless steel table we have in the center. There are few things that give me the warm fuzzies like cooking with friends and family. In our house it's raucous, experimental and anything goes. I have bred a family of fearless cooks and we take our occasional disasters in stride! I'm not immune to failure. I was humbled big time the year I ruined the Yorkshire puds. I used a "designer" fancy flour and it was a total flop - literally. Still living that one down.

I taken responsibility of actual Christmas dinner this year - Roast Prime Rib, Yorkshire Pudding - have to decide on the veggies etc. this afternoon. I'm making a Bouche Noel for dessert. I guess it's repetiton that makes something a tradition - one of ours is a batch of piping hot sausage rolls Christmas morning. Another is a New Mexico dinner Christmas eve but since the son who started that tradition and does the cooking is out of the country I've left that menu up for grabs.

Sausage Rolls

Makes 4 dozen mini ones

  • 2 packs frozen puff pastry (Sarah Lee)
  • 2 packs Jenno O turkey sausage
  • 1 egg beaten with a soon of cold water for brushing pastry
  • dried sage
Defrost pastry. Separate and unfold the sheets. Wet your finger with a little water to seal any cracks in the pastry. Roll each sheet so that it is ~ 12" wide. Cut each sheet into three lengthwise strips each ~ 4" wide.

Place a row of sausages down the middle of each strip. Moisten the edges of the pastry with water. Roll over to form a roll and seal and crimp the seal. Continue until you've used all sausages and pastry. Place your rolls on a parchment lined baking tray and refrigerate at least 20 minutes. Rolls can be flash frozen - that is frozen unwrapped and then wrapped and kept frozen for several weeks. If working with frozen rolls do NOT defrost - put immediately into the hot oven and bake at 450F for 15 minutes and then an additional 15 minutes at 400F.

Pre-heat oven to 450F. Immediately before putting the rolls in the oven, brush the tops with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sage. Bake 10 minutes at 450F then turn heat down to 400F for an additional 15 minutes.
Let cool slightly on a rack then slice on a slight diagonal into 1 1/2 inch long rolls. Serve with mustard - that's an option - personally I dislike mustard!

Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Reflecting on Civility, Restraint, and Compassion

Well I've done it! I've been to the mall. It was a mercy mission for an elderly neighbor who needed to return a gift purchased a week or so ago for her grand daughter. The 14 year old, had not minced words over Thanksgiving, telling her grandmother that the skirt and tee - shirt outfit lovingly chosen was "hideous", and that she'd rather have money. It took all the restraint I could muster not to head for Phoenix myself to seek out this ungrateful brat and give her a tongue lashing. Instead I saved her grandmother a trip to the mall and made the return.

The department at a major department store was was not especially crowded but initially I couldn't find anyone to help me. Finally, an older lady, who told me as we made the transaction , that she was a part-time seasonal worker, sorted everything out and the return was credited. She was exceptionally helpful and patient with me as I rummaged though my bag for the receipt I had put away carefully. That was the bright spot of the morning soon tarnished when the two women leaving the store ahead of me let the door go and it caught me smack on the forehead. My instinct was to hurl not-so polite words after them. I kept quiet. Certainly didn't want to trigger an episode of "door rage".

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home - the parking lot there was not crowded but I did wait behind someone determined to get a space by the door. An invalid space as it happened. The woman backing out was slow and cautious - the woman waiting for the spot decided she could hurry things up by leaning on her car horn. I parked across and watched a young woman - maybe 30 - leap out of the car, now in the reserved for invalids spot, cell phone to ear, and run into the store. She certainly showed no sign of being incapacitated and her car did not carry invalid plates. Once again I had to summon restraint and stop myself from confronting her in the check-out line.

So here it was close to 1:00p.m. in this season of goodwill and I was batting one for kindness, three for bad manners and three for personal restraint.

Driving home I couldn't help but meditate on the general decline in manners and civility (I know I've ranted about this before) in society - and it's top down. If we don't teach children manners through example, how will they ever learn? I've watched this coarseness and crudity in young people reach near epidemic proportions in England - and it is behavior absorbed by example there as well as here. When did being polite go out of style? What was the transition that turned parents watching a little league game from cheerleaders for their kids into ranting maniacs screaming at the young referees? What gives so-called celebrities the right to get away uncensored with public tantrums, profanity laced tirades, crude, overtly sexual displays. No wonder a younger generation finds it cool to be gross. It's behavior we've rewarded in all aspects of life.

I for one am fed-up with excusing bad manners. I will not listen to foul-mouthed talk-radio hosts spewing hatred; I will not subscribe to magazines that sexualize young girls; I will not smile and excuse rudeness. Perhaps if we all took a stand, lessons could be taught. And it's not just teenagers I'm raving against - I know quite a few who are a credit to their upbringing and I enjoy their company. I'm tired of listening to a forty-something's far too personal cell phone conversation in Safeway - I'm tired of listening to loudmouthed know -it- all's at the gym hog the treadmill and spew hatred about our President, and equally tired of the men and women who show up to exercise in outfits that suggest pole dancing might be their primary occupation!

I'm neither a prude nor congenital grouch but in this season when we pay lip service to giving, compassion, respect - surely it's not too much to hope for a little common courtesy to emerge. There was a time that I long for when people could hold opposing views on politics and social issues, gather at the same dinner table and engage in lively, and not infrequently, enriching conversation. At a recent cocktail gathering, my host, knowing I have strong views on immigration policy, urged me not to enter into conversation with a man who he said , "will go ballistic" if he hears you! I ate my cheese stick and left. I don't want to be in situations where I am afraid that a differing opinion will create conflict and confrontation.

I'm going to get through this month by showering compassion on boors, despots and bullies - let's see how they like that!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Party is Over - Giving Thanks Never Ends

I've just wrestled the turkey carcass out of the crockpot, strained the stock and set it aside to cool so I can skim off the fat. I think I enjoy leftovers after Thanksgiving even more than the meal itself.

There were sixteen of us for Thanksgiving dinner on a balmy Tucson afternoon. Chris took some upholstery fabric I have had stashed for years; raided the fridge and pantry for seasonal fruits and vegetables and created a stunning table setting.

Despite my planning we had far more food than necessary and everyone left with goody boxes. The desserts were decadent - pumpkin mousse trifle with gingerbread (Gourmet Nov. 2009 - a keeper); chocolate cream pie; pistachio and pin-nut torte; apple pie; pecan tassies; berry crumble and home-made pine-nut brittle and peppermint bark. Sybaritic!

Turkey times two - apple cider glazed and cherry-wood smoked were moist and full of flavor. The artisanal ham is so good that I stowed that away for my own doggy bag! And the gravy was lump-free, bursting with flavor and oh so good.

There was a general pitching in to help Thursday night but I was still left with a wreck of a kitchen and spent yesterday morning cleaning up. I didn't mind. Turkey leftovers are now nestled under crust and the resultant pot-pies are in the freezer. The stock will become the base for soup.

We got a call via Skype from the kids in Ethiopia - they had seventeen for dinner and reported a perfect turkey and trimmings. I love this holiday, it makes so much sense to take the time to give thanks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Here, Turkey, Turkey....

Counting down to the big day. Not stressed, not especially organized either. I decided about twenty years ago that these big holidays had to be fun, and if they became an ordeal, then I wasn't participating. Bring on the finger-licking, the pretty table, the oopsis and triumphs - but don't expect me to get stressed! I'm not the headless one running around here - that is the fate of the poor turkey!

Thanksgiving is at my house this year. Praying for temperatures in the mid-seventies so we can eat outside in the Sala Fresca. Also praying that the roadwork crew take a break and cut the dust and noise. last year we were all up at the cabin but work and kid schedules this year made it more practical to stay in town. The usual crew will be here - a great mix of family, old friends, new strays, and in the case of my youngest son - girlfriend of the season. His sister and I have bets on how long the Thanksgiving girl will last. Seems that he brings one to a family gathering and the relationship fizzles within weeks! he's being mysterious this year, not confirming that he's bringing anyone.

As of today the count is 16 adults plus assorted kids. At this stage of the game I say "what the heck," and tell everyone to plan on food for 20. That's what I love about this holiday - stretching the table, the turkey and my heart. Thanksgiving is an inclusive event - doors should be opened.

A group of us composed of family and old friends have been taking it in turn for years now to host the holiday dinner. Things work out really well no matter who does the planning. If you are short of ideas, check out our reader contributed TG favorites. My daughter not only assigned dishes but printed out recipes for everyone on her turn. I have a more let the chips fall approach with very loosely worded guidelines. It will come together. I know I'm in charge of turkey. I co-opted Jim and Chris to do a repeat of their fabulous smoked turkey too. I ordered an artisanal apple-smoked ham (exorbitant price so it had better be good.) Personal trainer, Gene, who is also a good friend, got assigned stuffings; daughter, Lisa is the dessert queen; youngest son is the master of mashed potatoes - although he blew it one year when he added horseradish. I know others are bringing a sweet potato dish, soup, appetisers. I'm doing all the greenies. I'm sneaking in brussel sprouts in a recipe from the Minimalist - shredded, flash fried with bacon and fresh figs, drizzled with balsamic. As a tribute to the last issue of Gourmet, I'll follow their turkey recipe and some side suggestions. Have also printed out Chef Nassar's fool-proof gravy recipe for the lucky soul who'll be assigned to that task.

We'll miss the Ethiopian crew this year - Ben and Annie are hosting Thanksgiving in Addis Ababa. They tell me they have one American couple and ten British as guests. We've been trading recipes and plans so as to feel connected. Our plan this year is breakfast at my daughter's house - her newly renovated kitchen will make its family debut- followed by cooking at my house. Noise, chaos, good wine, good friends, family. What more could one give thanks for.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Help - There's a naked snake in my garden, and baby, it's cold outside!

Shades of Adam and Eve - a snake is coiled somewhere in my garden shivering! I suppose I should regard the neatly discarded rattlesnake skin outside my gate last week as a gift - but we're dealing with a seriously paranoid woman here when the word "snake" is hissed. Now all I can think is that it's out there, naked, lurking, and as the evenings get colder, looking for an opportunity to slip into something comfortable and coil up inside.

I spent a lot of my growing up years in parts of the world where snakes and nasty insects were common and dangerous. I developed an irrational fear that persists to this day. I'm probably the only woman I know who routinely shakes out shoes before putting them on. So the snakeskin combined with a scorpion sighting and stomping has left me wary. My son-in-law has just called to tell me there are two young Bobcats in his driveway - now that's an incursion I encourage.

Living in the desert is a privilege and one that I treasure but on occasion the up-close with nature thing gives me the creeps. Years ago, in a house I was remodeling, I wandered into my bathroom, barefoot, bare everything actually and horrors - a small coral and black snake slithered behind the toilet. Common sense told me it could be either a coral or a king snake - one poisonous, the other friendly. I took no chances. I summonsed my daughter. "There's a snake in the bathroom," I told her - quite calmly I thought. "Get it!".

She sauntered in past me, a broom and dustpan in hand, as I huddled on the bed. She sauntered out again equally casually pausing only to say, "It's OK, it's a baby, I'll drop it over the wall."
Whew - raised her well, I thought and snuggled into bed with a good book. She appeared in my doorway. "You know, Mom, where there's a baby, there's a mother and since snakes mate for life, parents are probably in here waiting for you."

When my middle boy was around eight, he stomped into the kitchen one morning demanding , "Where are my green shorts".
"In the dryer"
"Oh, no. Mom you washed Walter".

Walter, it transpired, was a small snake he'd put in his pocket following an early morning desert foray. We never did find Walter, neither in the washer nor dryer. Needless to say, until we sold that house, I looked everywhere for that snake, imagining him lurking, growing into anaconda proportions, thriving in the water pipes.

For several years we had a ranch way out - I was talking to the FBI on the phone one day, (it's a really long story - but no, I am not in the witness protection program) when I saw my fearless cat, Samantha, on the step about to swipe at a rattler - I shrieked, dropped the phone, grabbed the cat and slammed the door. I forgot to hang-up. About two hours later a siren broke the peace and a sheriff's truck screeched to a halt in front of the house - before I could get outside, two officers with guns drawn, hurtled into combat action and raced toward the door. That one was really embarrassing.

I finally wondered if I should turn in my "mother" badge following my most shameful snake episode. This time a very real, very large and very angry rattler (the resident terrier had taken it on) was coiled in strike position on the patio. I called Rural Metro Fire Department - they offer critter removal service - and as soon as I called, locked myself in a closet. Fire engine and firemen arrived; my three children answered the door. "Where's your Mom?", the fireman asked. "Hiding in the closet," my six-year old replied. My ruin was complete.

Off to close the doors, check the screens and go on-line to find a Mongoose or two - maybe I'll find one in Connections Shopping Deals!

Perverse of me, perhaps - this poem has been a favorite for years.


by D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

A snake came to my water trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pajamas for the heat,
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the
edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.

The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into
that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in
undignified haste,
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.
me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pack Rat Saga Continues - No more rides to the park

I'm about to bring in the heavy guns - haven't a clue what they are but I need help big time. With damage by pack rats now topping over $1,000 I'm far less inclined to find a humane solution to what has become a plague.

Since early September, between the professionals and myself , we have trapped and removed more than 23 of the critters. I've lost count. I'm neurotic and fast becoming obsessed! I look for signs of them everywhere. Chris from Animal Experts has broken up with me, "it's never ending"
he says, "Suck it up and accept that you live in the desert."

Sometimes my traps spring without catching one, at other times the bait disappears but the trap doesn't shut. The last one I caught was massive and probably a Norwegian Rat as opposed to pack rat - it rattled the cage and gnashed its teeth at me. Nothing daunted, I took it the mandatory six miles and released it in the wash - or did I? Now I'm convinced that once out of the trap it hopped under the undercarriage of my car and hitched a ride right back "home". That will explain the extensive damage to wiring in my vehicle that knocked out turn signals and compromised steering. The dealership called with the good news, bad news - "not a fault in the car - but significant pack rat activity under the hood." I can just hear that wretched rodent telling his buddies how sweet is revenge... and copper wiring.

Since the initial and horrifying in-house invasion of 18 months ago when they ate the inside of the wine fridge and lined their nest with the fringe from a Turkish rug, to the take-over of the garage where washing machine is housed and its subsequent destruction - I've been nice. I've been reasonable. I've offered bribes, free trips out of the area, vacations in the desert, woolly jumpers for the little ones, ostrich feather boa's for mom - but now it's all out war. I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When Everything Changed. The Amazing Journey of American Women

With my" swapees" enjoying perfect weather and the Tucson house, dogs and I de-camped town and are up at the cabin. Whenever I arrive here a slowing down mechanism takes over. I snuggle back in bed with morning tea and lap top and scan the NYT; once up I throw on old jeans and discarded sweatshirt and the manana rule comes into play.

It's cold! and the glass fireplace doors that have been in the repair shop all Summer are still not ready which means no blazing log fire. Without the doors the chimney doesn't draw and after one "what the heck" futile attempt at living with smoke I learned that lesson. I have the gas heat on - cringing all the while knowing how much that propane races through the pipes to keep me snug. That's where the dogs could prove their worth. Hamish always creeps onto the bed here - never at home. The two big ones, with more body heat to offer, are reluctant to warm my toes - they give me accusing looks as though I'm abusing them. And yet the moment I get out of bed or leave the cabin they are up on the bed. Fickle creatures. It's definitely a Three Dog Night.

In my slow motion state today I made bread and the Pumpkin Bisque from the recipe that Roxanne Garcia shared this month. I have friends arriving tomorrow for the weekend. The smell of pumpkin and spices mingling in the soup pot was all I needed to curl up with a book . A really good book - When Everything Changed. The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 To The Present , by Gail Collins. It is riveting and as "can't put down" as the travel sagas I tend to favor when in hibernation.

This book has hit home home hard. I came first to the US in 1964 on a graduate fellowship. I set sail from my native shores armed with a steamer trunk full of books, a romantic view of America and all the self-confidence in the world. Apart from being dissuaded from studying archaeology at university on the grounds that "nice gals don't leave their family for months on end," nobody, certainly not my parents, suggested to me that there was anything I couldn't do. It never occurred to me that I part of a vanguard - that I was a pioneer of sorts.

It's true that I got my come-uppance on occasions as the wife of a very junior naval officer being told that I really should wear a hat to luncheons and adhere to other "women should be pretty help-mates" rituals. And I did struggle into Playtex rubber girdle to smooth out a concave stomach! But not working was never in my mind and much to the chagrin of my husband, I pretty much did my own thing. People excused me because I was "different", not American and besides, I had such a "cute" accent I could charm moss off a rock. Once my first child was born ( I was referred to as an "older mother" at 27!) I took her to work with me. I didn't ask; I didn't think I was doing anything unusual. The biggest shock to my self-worth came in the 1970's when I was employed by a Jesuit University. I was informed that I could not use the faculty dining room as the "men like to relax". I was also pregnant with my third child, and a fellow faculty member suggested that I use an outside, metal fire escape stairway to reach my fourth floor office rather than interior stairs that had landings opening onto freshman dorm rooms. "I don't think we want the boys to see you in that condition," he said.

Reading the stories researched by Gail Collins, told with grace, and not in the least preachy, I realise now that other women were on the picket line , taking the blows (literally) paving the way for me to be blissfully unaware of the realities. It's also fascinating in this book to see documented the attempt during the civil rights movement that ran parallel with the growth of the womens' movement, to bolster the role of men and keep women in a subservient role. Highly recommended reading.

The Orion Meteor Showers are in full swing. The night skies up here are inky black, the stars brilliant. I got up at 3 a.m., pulled on a woolly robe and stood out on the front porch looking to Orion. Not one meteor! Frozen, I headed back to bed which the dogs had kindly kept warm. Got wise though with an Eureka moment today and made up the bed in the loft where I'll sleep tonight and scan the skies from under a down-filled duvet.

I'd throw another log on the fire , could I light it! Instead I'll have a bowl of soup, pour a glass of wine, turn James Taylor to mellow, and get back to my book. And before I go to bed, I'll raise my glass to the remarkable women who made it all possible for you and me.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life's Enduring Mysteries

I refer, of course, to the one sock syndrome. I have spent the afternoon cleaning out drawers and closets in my bedroom. I even emptied the ironing basket– a place where all sorts of things that I really don’t need, languish until I give them away. Net total of socks without partners - seventeen! And, yes – I did look behind the dryer. Beats me. I will protest though in my defense that this is a two-year haul.

25 plus years ago, in the midst of a not nice by any standards divorce – I received a demand note via attorney from my then husband’s attorney. Said husband by the way was busy setting up house with a “lost love” – a high school sweetie miraculously discovered at the 25th. Reunion. Not sure what her husband and three children were doing. Anyway – I got the demand by FedEx, signature required delivery. At the time, my primary concern was hanging on to my children at all costs. Via his new love and “god”, husband had received a “message” that he would be a better parent. I was relieved that the demand was for personal items that the doctor had left in the marital home and that apparently I was holding hostage. And for the record - this is proof that "god" is male. No female deity would send that kind of message.

Yep, you got it. I bundled up all those odd socks accumulated during 19 years of marriage and sent them, at his expense, overnight delivery! Oh, and I popped into the box all the shabby, Endust impregnated Y fronts used as dusters. I should ask our regular columnist, Anne Perry if these items come under history or baggage!

My most recent housekeeping frenzy is motivated by a Monday deadline house swap. I know, having already benefited from time at my “swappees” house, that my incoming guests are meticulous housekeepers. Not that I’m a slob but the thought of someone falling into the “socks without partners box” is a little humiliating.

Since it was a blazing hot day in Tucson – 96F AC back on, I rather enjoyed the holing up and heaving out session of closet cleaning. Two massive bags stand ready for delivery to the local International Refugee Office here in town – and I’m trying to figure out what to do with a Pauline Trigere, circa 1981 winter coat. I think it weighs in at 30 pounds - I know it's built to withstand Midwest artic, winter blasts. My Mary Quant mini dress from 1966 stays with me – a forlorn reminder of an itsy bitsy body, youth and my very first pair of panty hose (no, I don’t still have them). It was my mother who bought me that dress and the panty hose- she worried that I was becoming "too academic" and fusty, all that graduate fellowship book stuff - she didn't know about the Officer Candidate School in Newport , RI! I have kept my wedding dress – true, it’s in a plastic hefty bag on the closet shelf – I didn’t do that dress embalming thing - ever so chic and Jackie ‘ish - even had a little pillbox hat in lieu of a veil.

But back to the mystery. There must be a vortex somewhere – I’ve heard Sedona mentioned - for all those lonely socks. If you know where it is, let me know – I’ll send mine regular delivery to live out their life in peace, one by one. Who knows – they may well find a sole-mate.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bank of America, Con Artists and Sleazy People

This is one of those days that started out going downhill and I'm on a roll! First domino to fall was in the master bath shower. It's slate and within 6 months of buying this house I noticed that the slate was improperly sealed and becoming unsightly. Lots of attempts to strip and reseal failed. I figured the problem was in the design - insufficient slope in the bed of the walk-in shower failed to allow for adequate drainage.
Enter Louie the tile guru today to tear out original slate, re-figure the base and re-tile. easy! The dominoes start tumbling big time. No base in the shower, no sealant, no pan, black mold, - in short the entire job non-code and I suppose my only luck here is that we caught this before the entire shower ended up dropping into the garage.
So am I a fool? What responsibility did I have when I bought the house just two years ago and 10 days over statute of limitations for filing a claim. My agent was thorough - we did all the required inspections. In fact a couple of things stirred my antennae so we had had two inspections. The seller, a female attorney by the way, was very clever. She had the right advice on cosmetic cover-ups! My agent asked if the remodel to date had been done with a permit - response "don't need one because it was a remodel not new build". In the two years I've been here , daily living has uncovered so many code violations that I pretty much have shares in the plumbing, A/C/Heating and electrical companies who have been out to remedy, tear out etc. . ALL the botched jobs were carefully concealed. No doubt in my mind that I was dealing with a major sleaze artist.

My house is in great shape now but I have a bad taste in my mouth. And I keep wondering what I missed, was there an inner voice, at what point should I have walked. Hindsight is great.

Now for the Bank of America. Read the fine print , ladies. I have a significant line of credit. I rarely carry more than a very small balance. When I travel I put expenses on the card and pay it off immediately . Goofed this time. In Rwanda a Visa charge ended up coming through as a "cash advance" - the bank I was dealing with claimed their machines down and that it was much simpler to put this through as a cash. I received $1,122.00. When I checked my statement on return I saw that the charge was for $1,707.54. I disputed this with BofA and was told essentially "tough nookies lady, exchange rates fluctuate, this is what we paid the bank". I paid my account in full but for around a $2,500 charge that I am to be reimbursed for - so I figured I'd wait to get paid back and then pay it off. Opened my statement this a.m. to find that the $1707.54 is broken out as a "cash advance" and charged a daily periodic interest rate that comes out to 24.99 annual percentage. My normal interest rate on this card is 10.99 percent.

I called to question why this charge had been broken out and was informed that "the fine print" made clear that anything the bank could charge higher interest on was the last to be paid! How's that for shafting loyal customers? I was also told that changes would come into effect next year but until then the bank had every right to make the most money they could. Wonderful. I'm closing out that card today. I don't like being taken for a fool. I asked the specific question, "If I send you a check today and state that it is to pay off this so called "cash advance" will you apply it to that charge?". NO! Get this, the response was "No, we pay off the lowest interest rate charges first, you can't do anything about that." As I have said before - read your statements and magnify the small print so you can read that too.

Going to check my packrat traps - maybe I can salvage the day. It's either that or eat ice cream!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Happy Families

I had lunch recently with a friend who confessed he was envious of my "big, happy family". But , I thought, we are so few. I have three adult children - two are married and of those two, my son and his wife are in Ethiopia along with the divine two-year old Ms. M.. Married daughter, husband and grandsons, eight and twelve, live a five-minute drive away and my single son (twenty-nine - good looking - anyone got an eligible daughter?) lives mid-town. I have no other family in this country. I've always considered my family very small.

I got to thinking after friend expanded on his statement - he commented on the obvious love I have for my children and the the ease with which we banter, tease, express our love openly; the solid front we present when faced with any kind of adversity. I do have a big family. A family big in connection - big in love - big in generosity to one another - big in appreciation of liking one another.

My boys have an older sister who will go to bat for them any day - who doesn't hesitate to supercede my role and give them her unsolicited opinion. In return they admire her as a strong woman, a funny woman, a woman, as one told me, 'who set the bar' for women in his life. The two intrepid souls who have married into this family are a match for the energy and exuberance. My daughter-in-law is one of the finest young women I know - her blog from Addis is on the front page this month of Connections.

We've co-opted other members into this family- friends who are automatically copied on e-mails, included in the large holiday gatherings. One such couple are my daughter-in-laws parents. They live in Tucson now - to the grandsons they are "Grandma Chris and Grandpa Jim" - family. They look after my dog; they never fail to turn up bearing baskets of goodies; we share pride in the two-year old's progress and antics. Another couple are older. I've known them since 1981 when I came first to Tucson. I love them for their outlook on life, their humor, their passion for each day. The fact that they both cook like angels is not the only reason they share holidays with us!

I come from a long-line of story tellers - my father would hold the room spellbound with his tales of growing up in Ireland when the IRA still had free hand; when the one pair of "best" shoes was handed down from brother to brother. One story I craved was of the bishop stopping by their farmhouse for tea - an extraordinary honor (and burden I might add) for this humble family. There were five brothers and only one "decent" shirt. My father described the parade of brothers into the parlor to kiss his eminences' ring. "Boy by boy" he told the tale. "Mam outside the parlor door whipping the good shirt off Con and squeezing Mick into it when it was his turn to go in. "

I think what turns family dinners for my lot into a "big happy family" is the energy. My kids are great story tellers, they try to outdo one another. They've taken over telling the stories I used to tell of them. Tales of derring-do from their childhood take on epic proportions, the lizards they tracked grow to mythical size dragons to be slayed, the roles they played interchange. They leave me exhausted and not occasionally confused! but I don't forget which boy told his first -grade teacher there was little point calling me to complain of his antics because, "my mom, she's an alien, she doesn't speak English", or which boy went over a cliff on his horse and stayed with her all night, refusing to be rescued without her. I don't forget my my mother, on learning that Lisa was to start out her law career as a public defender, wondering at the dinner table "why can't she defend a better class of criminal". They still call 'dibs' on the last bite of dessert; they all pitch in to clean up. I'm referred to as "The Mother" - much like "The Boss". I think that stems from raising them for so many years as a single parent. What I lacked in height I made up for with a voice of authority. I was the boss as they grew up.

Now we're in the annual "thinking about Thanksgiving" mode. All usual suspects have been invited; the menu is being debated. They've decided on my house this year. I like my big in spirit, often raucus, always loving, happy family. We'll be missing the Ethiopian crew this year- we'll Skype- the stories will twirl though cyber space.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Searching for Mr. Right after Sixty

If sixty is the new forty I've been double-jinxed. Remember way back then when the pundits had it that a woman over forty had more chance of being blown up by terrorists (or was it hit by a truck?) after forty than she had of re-marrying. Hah! I beat the odds that time and surely being twenty and then some years older has the benefit of all that more accrued hindsight, cunning and wisdom.

I'm not actively searching - in fact I don’t want to remarry, life’s pretty darn good for dog and me. I like my independence (we all say that, I hear you groan), really, I do. And then the “but….” creeps in. It would be nice to have grown-up companionship, to be in an intimate and giving relationship, to ditch singles’ supplements on trips, to waltz in the kitchen while the leek- sun-dried tomato (home-grown of course) balsamic drizzled pizza rises to life in the oven. Come on, who cooks something like that for one! It’s a dish made for two and that’s what I miss so much about this now five-year mantle of being a widow that I wear. The dishes made for two, the shopping, prepping and cooking together that is foreplay not only to a delicious meal but to the joy of knowing you are connected to another. Cooking for two is a euphemism for being connected, for being loved and in love.

“Put yourself out there,” friends urge and I have an immediate vision of being stuck in the middle of a six-lane highway, no shoes and in that really tatty pink bathrobe I keep for chick flick night alone. “You’re intimidating to men” others tell me – what? Moi? O.K. so I bait my own Have-a -Heart Traps, tan the hides of the pack rats I catch and make them into cute skirts for my Barbie doll collection, change my own light bulbs, and I’m not afraid to ask for directions- everything else I call a handyman.

“You’re to picky”, says my cousin with a sniff - because at her instigation I put a foot in the mass E-Harmony pond three years ago and rejected poor spellers, cat haters, those who disparaged fennel, football fanatics and men who posted 20 year old photos claiming, “I don’t act my age” – give me a break. I’m a grown up. I raised sons. I’ve had enough of adolescents. I want a grown-up.

True, I also rejected men with sob stories (more of that “she cleaned me out good” line); men who thought crossing a state line was travel; men who boasted never to have read a book; men who thought communicating meant handing you the sports page when they were done with it. Oh, and I am a leftist leaning bleeding heart liberal so I was not interested in the right-wing militia men, ready to take to the hills and secede from the union for whom apparently I was a perfect match. What else – yep, got it - anyone wrote “I want to put my lady on a pedestal” and I was off at a gallop and not because I have a fear of heights - for the record however, I don't have a horse.

I have met a few good men – really good men. And in two instances friendships have endured long after we both agreed that long-term/long distance was not going to work out. I want a man culturally sophisticated, playful, funny, at peace with his history oh, and must like fennel. I know, I know - there I go again pushing the darn envelope. Why can't I just settle for "smart, handsome, solvent, likes cats and long walks on the beach" - I might be wavering. But what are the odds, ladies? Come on, share your stories - I've got to go and bait my traps.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

No White Shoes After Labor Day and The Meaning of Life

It's elk season up here in this corner of the White Mountains and men in camouflage from head to toe are skulking around normally quiet lanes on their ATV's . I know where they buy their outfits - Western Drug in Springerville has everything from undies to aprons in muted drab olive. It also carries ammunition, guns - everything to make a man look and act the part of hunter.

Elk season brings out the yahoos. No other way of putting it. Yahoos who have no respect for private property, who break the cardinal rule of the west by opening and failing to shut gates, who disdain posted signs and give hunters a bad name. Not that I have any particular affection for hunters or hunting but for some it is a legitimate sport and way of filling the freezer.

A few weeks back the leaving open of a gate invited my neighbor's miniature (and that descriptor is a misnomer - these guys are big) Angus trio to wander into my pasture. They are docile animals and I have no objection to them mowing for me - but I was concerned that they might be able to cross the cattle guard and wander down the lane. I played round -up for an hour - shoo cow, shoo bull, move it! I was up that day - had I been down in town there was a real possibility that these animals could have wandered off my property and into harm's way.

Over the weekend one of these so called sportsmen cornered a cow elk up against a neighbors barn and no doubt thrilled at the chase and kill of a trapped animal. Despite it being a crime to shoot a weapon within a quarter mile of a dwelling Game and Fish professed they were helpless because the man claimed he was only "field dressing" at that spot, that he had shot the animal elsewhere.

I spent yesterday posting signs on my property line - walking the fences and attaching legally binding signs every 300 yards or so. Keep Out. Private Property. No Trespassing. No Hunting. No Discharging of Weapons. No Fishing. According to Arizona law, to give would be trespassers a "fair chance" you have to post a minimum of every quarter mile. I did some fence mending along the way too. The elk have taken down sizable stretches of my old style wood post and barbed wire fencing. I'm investigating solar powered electrical strand fencing to replace the original. In areas where we know the elk cross we ran rubber casing over the wire to encourage them to stick to one spot. For the most part they do.

As I hammered nails and twisted wire to secure the signs I was thinking of other prohibition signs seen over the years. One that gave me the giggles many years ago was in a snooty country club in Rhode Island. "Ladies are reminded that white shoes are inappropriate wear after Labor Day. Gentlemen members are encouraged to forgo shorts after the same date". Another was on a fence surrounding a chemical plant in the Baltimore area - "Peering through holes in this fence is prohibited". And a much more pragmatic and to the point sign at a street market in England - "If you don't want the goods, don't muck'em about".

As for the meaning of life - that's where James Taylor came into play last night. The glass doors for the big , double sided rock fireplace here are out for repair. It got a bit nippy after sundown and in my post fence mending haze decided that I could light a fire and use firescreens either side to prevent sparks leaping out. I had ignored the design of this fireplace! Closed doors encourage the draft, without them smoke billowed into the great room and set off the smoke alarms which are conveniently located around 20ft. up on the walls! Doors and windows open fans full blast, it took over an hour to clear the smoke and meanwhile the alarms screeched and no amount of batting at them with an extension pole quietened them - hence James Taylor full volume . I know the words now to The meaning of Life - still a bit hazy about what it means in reality!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Good News, Bad News Day

Yesterday my youngest grandchild celebrated her second birthday - albeit half way around the world in Sub-Saharan Africa. Thanks to the modern wonders of GMail Chat she and I were able to say "I love you". A dear friend who has already fought and won the cancer battle on two fronts has been nail-chewing waiting for results of a recent biopsy. "All clear" she shouted from the rooftops. Good events, joyful messages, promises of a future.

Some time ago I wrote of a neighbor and his wife who stop by in the evenings to let their dog play with my critter. I've been gone most of the Summer and I recently ran into him at the neighborhood coffee shop."How are you ?" I asked. "Terrible", he said. "I've never felt more lonely and sad in my life as I do now". His wife, who celebrated her ( although I suppose celebration takes some interpretation now) 74th. birthday this week has finally succumbed to a stage of alzheimer' s disease that has necessitated she be placed in a home. They have been married 50 years. His loss is overwhelming. "I don't care about anything now" he told me.

I called him yesterday to come on over and have a glass of wine, don't be alone. We talked as the dogs played. "You never knew her before this happened". He described a vibrant woman, athletic, super mom, community activist. "And now, when I go to visit, she doesn't know me."

What a cruel and brutal disease. It's robbed two lives of joy. There's nothing I could say to him. In many ways losing my husband to cancer was easier to bear. There was an end.

I watched a movie trying to understand more the impact of alzheimer's on the survivor - Away From Her - hard to take but I'm glad I sat through it.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

A Committed Relationship

I'm in a committed relationship again with the pack rat guy. We broke off for several months , me thinking I could live without him, he encouraging me to set my own trap, do the independent woman thing. Coming back from Africa and seeing the damage done by these Rattus Packus types as they attempted to move back into my house I realized I needed Chris in my life and begged him to return. He was/is more than gracious and I've come to look forward to our morning chats as he empties the traps.

Maybe it's not the big romance I dreamed of but I ask you, what's romance when compared to a man with genuine practical skills - plus he loves animals and listens to NPR.

Chris is the packrat expert with Animal Experts here in Tucson and he's back in my life because those pesky rats are back. I see it as a committed relationship. I have his number on speed dial and he knows my voice as soon as he picks up the phone. OK, so I pay him $35 every time he visits; this week he's caught 7 pack rats and to me he's worth every penny.

This morning I got a lecture on my "problem". No, nothing to do with me being clingy and shrieking when I found one of these rodents in the strawberry pot. My problem, according to Chris stems from my location. "Look where you are" he urges, waving his arm to the wash that borders my property. "And they love washes" he says. "Not only that but you've got a garden, you're growing fresh veggies and herbs for them" - he sighs, a long, deep sigh, I know I'm a lost cause. "You make things hard on yourself" he says. "that fountain you've got, well, all I can say is that you've created a resort, a spa for the pack rats." I hang my head. "The only thing you don't do wrong is feed the birds". I moved quickly, blocking his line of sight so he couldn't see the two feeders currently mingling with an out of control bougainvillea.

I can't stand his reproach. He's all that stands between me and a total take over by pack rats. I'll do anything to keep him.

I play the helpless woman card. Beg him to understand that I accepted his advice of earlier this year and stuffed wire wool into the rubber that seals the garage door (and if you don't think that a labor of love, you should have seen the nails I sacrificed). Nope, seems that nothing will convince Chris I'm serious about ridding my life of pack rats short of packing and moving to a high rise.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Manners Maketh the Man and Woman

Maybe it is being a 'certain age' - all policemen have looked way too young to be carrying guns to me for some time now. Maybe it's the please and thank you gene that was implanted in me at a very early age or maybe I'm just a grouch! Whatever the reason I am more often struck by a lack of courtesy , absence of just plain good manners than ever before.

At my local Starbucks this morning (and I admit to being more judgmental before a double espresso) two women , I'd say they were early fifties, held up the line one of them taking a phone call in the midst of giving her order, barking at her friend to "call J right now" and then the two of them carried on loud conversations while the young barista stood by waiting to complete the order. Coffee in hand they moved from the counter, not one please or thank you for the service, and continued with the phone calls. As I left, I held the door for two young women - neither of them expressed gratitude, not even a simple nod of the head in acknowledgment of a small courtesy offered them.

The recent town hall meetings that have seen mobs (no other word for it) screaming at one another across a room; the congressman who "acted spontaneously" during the President's address last night. The folded arms and closed minded opposition to another parties proposals, not on rational, well thought out grounds but in the name of "ideology - it's all part of this not dumbing down of America but "rudening", making crude our society.

What's wrong with an acknowledgment of someone's existence; of a slowing down in the lane to let someone else move in; of a nod of the head or quick smile to show you've seen someone as a person, not an object. I don't know about you all but I was raised to leave the last cookie or candy for someone else; to offer my seat on public transportation to someone older (and I still find myself doing that!) ; to say please and thank you. I'm not big on artificial etiquette, rules that no longer make sense; I'm not offended by an e mail invitation and a quick e mail to say "thank you for dinner" is fine by me. I'm not arguing for going back to the laborious note writing days but I have to say that when a year goes by without a thank you after you give a wedding gift to a young couple and the mother of the bride sends out notes because "Patsy is too busy" - mother is encouraging bad manners. I find it equally offensive to receive a wedding invitation that reads "cash preferred, you don't know our taste" ...that was one wedding invitation I declined.

It is so much less stressful to be civil to one another, to smile rather than scowl, to hold a door rather than let it slam, to listen rather than talk over. And in business too, what's wrong with treating the plumber, carpenter, handyman, cleaning crew as human beings - people providing a service that you need. I was on the fringe of a conversation recently where a couple who had just closed on a foreclosed house were loudly extolling the virtues of "making a killing". The subject moved onto necessary work at the house and the male tossed back his drink and announced that he was going to talk to a well known landscaper. He speculated this professional to be so "hungry for work" that he could "screw him to the wall and then some". I left. Where's the milk of human kindness, respect for one another? Maybe I am getting old!

Monday, August 31, 2009

It's my couch and I'll cry if I want to!

Used to be that I dealt with emotional upheaval by eating the whole enchilada - or cake, which ever was the easiest to get my mouth on! Then I matured, took deep breaths and ran 5 or so miles. Not sure if I'm regressing, the knees are giving out or I'm "unmaturing" but this time I ate the whole cake (well, not quite true - I shared with grand sons but we did stand around the counter and stab at it with forks) and I moved furniture. Very satisfying and the house looks great.

I've had a battle with this house for the two years we've been together. It wasn't until December last year that I came close to finishing unpacking and did the first of the shifting around of furniture. This past week, dealing with the distinct possibility that the chances for a long distance relationship working out are poor to nil, I've been tossing negative thoughts around along with the furniture! In reality I had to call in reinforcements to get the furniture on the move. I'm drawn to stuff that is heavy - in the furniture area of my life that is - trying to lighten the load in other areas. A friend suggested Craigs List as a source for sturdy moving men and I came up with a winner. $35, two men and an hour. Some nail biting and "oops" but the result is terrific. Opened up the space; now a couch about which I was ambivalent and sculpture that was hidden behind that couch - all shine. And I've re-claimed a dining area. All goes to show that we are ruled by the heart - or as my friend put it succinctly "a woman p***** off can move mountains".

All I know is that a healthy dose of righteous indignation tempered by a chorus of "what a fool am I" plus a huge chunk of regret for something with enormous potential to be slipping away and I have a spiffy office with files not piles and I can actually see the surface of my desk again - hey, give me credit, you can see the floor too. I celebrated my new found space by inviting friends over for dinner Saturday night and Chris assured me that I had the Feng Shui right this time. Hope so. Horsefish in the entrance to my study is an Indonesian figure representing good thoughts - he's wearing a sun hat because it's summer in AZ! and in the old space, hat was on the floor!

I remember a divorce attorney years ago telling me that he could write a book on major changes to a house as an indicator of trouble in a marriage. He claimed that women unhappy in a relationship set about changing the "nest" trying to re-invent, revitalise the home space as a metaphor for changing the relationship. Not sure how much credence I'd give that given the popularity of home improvement shows these days and, a slowing down of the divorce rate but I do know that I tend to procrastinate when something is wrong and try to change the packaging rather than the content. Lost cause, I know - slow learner sometimes. This time though, instead of hanging around desperate for the phone to ring or an e mail to pop up I took charge of myself and initiated the call that said, "the way things are, this isn't working. If you figure out your side of the why not, I'll figure out mine and we can compare notes." Years ago I would have bitten my nails to the quick and blamed myself - made myself helpless. Now I move furniture- power!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Credit Card - Is it time to change cards?

Last week the first set of new rules governing the credit card industry went into effect. If you've got a credit card chances are that you have recently received communication from the company in that maddeningly small print they use to discourage you from reading! The credit card companies have been hustling to put rate increases and other penalties on the books prior to enactment of the legislation that requires them to give you significant warning of those practices. If you are in any doubt about your card being a good deal, availability of alternative cards or if you want some insight on beating the companies to the punch, then read Maybe It's Time to Change Credit Cards by Ron Lieber, published in the New York Times August 21.

I called my credit union (USAA) and got a great deal on a MC. I called Bank of America, informed them I was canceling my Visa and they offered me a significantly reduced interest rate. Pays to be informed - feels good too.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Community Connections

I'm pretty sure just about everyone, if not experiencing personal job loss, is connected with someone who has lost a job. It's difficult to know what to say to your fellow Mom at the school bus stop and it's tactless to inquire of an associate why she has stopped going to the gym. All the little social niceties become a minefield for potential embarrassing gaffes. It's a bit like being the first divorced woman in the group - the still married women steer clear of you for fear it's catching.

There are simple acts of kindness that you can do to help out friends and former colleagues if they are experiencing job loss and you remain secure. Feeling guilty and avoiding them isn't going to help. Consider what skills you may have to offer someone in a job search - offer to put them in contact with a friend of a friend and so on down the line. If you have good writing skills, offer assistance with a resume cover letter and in spiffing up the resume. If you have access to office space and can offer the use of same to someone struggling to reorganize their life , make that offer.

What about helping someone to access the internet and bringing them up to speed on all the networking sites that are out there - won't take much of your time. The whole point about helping during this time is to do it in the true spirit of friendship and not out of pity or guilt.
Offer to babysit, invite them over for a simple home-cooked meal and, if you are a gardener, share your harvest. Lessen the charity aspect by being open and saying "I've got more lettuce/beans/beets than we can use and if you are at all hesitant to accept, come on over and help me weed".

People do need a helping hand and there should be no stigma attached to giving or receiving. So your best friend has had to drop her gym membership - form a walking group with her and use the time to brainstorm solutions not bemoan fate. About 22 years ago, newly divorced and broke , I teamed up with another woman in the same situation and we cooked together once a week making meals for the freezer. It not only gave us time together to boost our spirits (we laughed a lot and more than one meat loaf represented the ex husband...all that kneading!) but we researched menus for the week (and there were six kids involved), shopped with an eye to a bargain and, had the mutual push to keep going and not neglect nutrition or spend money on fast food. Word got out and we were asked if we could cook for several other working moms...we did and made a tidy profit, covering the cost of our own groceries. During that period in my life I found a position with a major corporation and was on call with a very nice retainer, to cook for visitors to their remote location guest house. It was a wonderful job and stemmed from both a love of cooking and that shared experience.

It is during difficult times that the "necessity is the mother of invention" kicks in big time. It's amazing just how resourceful women can be when pushed. If you are in the position of having lost your job start by list the skills that you do have - explore the possibility of someone else not only needing those skills but being willing to pay for your services. Years ago a super organized friend supplemented the family income by organizing closets, kitchens and home offices. Her stop gap business spread by word of mouth and ultimately became a company that looked after second homes, checking on them when they were empty, letting service men in, shopping and filling fridge and pantry prior to the owners arrival. She ended up with five employees.

At Connections for Women we are urging you to use our website a vehicle to jump start your own micro economy and small business. We're looking for articles or blogs on small business success stories; your struggle and ultimate success story might just be the positive news that will keep another woman going . Check out just how easy it is to share your journey with us.

Connections for Women is featuring ongoing articles on gardening, economical but delicious recipes and business savvy. By forming community we can and will succeed.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fools rush in

Maybe I'm the fool here for opening a can of worms but I've been slow fuming all week over the race to criticize both the British National Health Service (NHS) and the similar system in Canada. I hold both a British passport and a US one. I chose to become a US citizen several years ago so telling me to "go back home" as someone did very recently when I defended the NHS is a moot point. I am home!

I am personally acquainted with the NHS system. Several years ago, my mother, then 85, slipped and broke a hip while visiting my brother who lives in Spain. Her vacation/travel insurance arranged for her to fly back to England in an ambulance plane. She was met in London by an NHS funded ambulance - she was transferred to a hospital within seven miles of her home in the midlands. She was treated with the utmost respect and care. She was suffering from a minimal old age dementia that had her mix up dates and grand kids, the usual forgetting where she was - in short, pretty much a batty old lady. Despite the fact that her 'usefulness' to society could have been questioned nothing of the sort occurred!

My youngest brother who lives in England was diagnosed with kidney cancer a month ago. In less than three weeks from diagnosis he was admitted to hospital for removal of the cancerous kidney. Contrast that with the seven weeks it took my very pricey US based health insurance to agree to a treatment for my late husband's rapidly metastasizing bone cancer. And then, following the treatment, we received an "oopsie, shouldn't have allowed that" letter and were billed $9,000.00. The last thing you want to have to do when a loved one is dying is battle the insurance company.

My youngest son, born and raised in the USA injured his back when he was 24. Major surgery was necessary. Following surgery he contracted a staph infection whilst still in hospital. A second round of surgery was required to clear out the infection. His health insurance carrier initially refused to pay for the second surgery. To add insult to injury now he is in a position, at 29, of not being able to get insurance that offers any coverage for future back problems.

I owned a small business in the US and provided health care insurance for my employees - I considered it a moral obligation to do so. Our premiums went up every year; one year the increase was 33 percent. I went head to toe with the insurance company on three occasions. The most egregious 'sin' on their part was denying payment for emergency treatment to a machinist who injured himself on a lathe - the reason - he failed to get prior permission for treatment. The man was bleeding from a 5 " gash on his arm! He was meant to get permission! Following my husband's diagnosis of cancer and a female employee being diagnosed with breast cancer , the original insurance carrier dropped us after five years of holding our policy. I guess we were no longer a "profitable risk" - that is the term used.

My closest friends , retired now, spend their summer's in France. He suffered a major heart attack four years ago whilst in France. His care, follow-up and therapy was superb and France too has a nationalized health insurance system. Another friend, 68 now, has lived in Canada for 45 years. He does nothing but rave about the quality and delivery of nationalized health care in Canada. These are NOT hearsay examples - all of this I know first hand.

England, France, Canada - nobody lives in fear of a major illness wiping them out financially. This is the fear that many middle class (NOT just poor) Americans live with today. President Obama is NOT advocating "death panels" ( thank you Sarah Palin- and the jump on the bandwagon know it all talk show hosts/guests and opportunity seeking members of the senate and congress - for that superlative and I have to think deliberate sowing of fear). Personally, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, we were grateful for the opportunity to sit with a physician and discuss end of life options. It's prudent planning. President Obama is not advocating taking away our right to choose private health care insurance. I'm old enough to be on Medicare - I'm thrilled with it. Perhaps not thrilled with the high premium I pay but I have far less hassles with insurance these days than when I had private insurance - and I get to choose my physicians and see specialists without waiting for referral.

It's time that we all read the facts ( and those goes for the politicians too) , ditch the sexy sound bites and shut out the hate mongers. We owe it to ourselves - this kind of garbage is making America sick!

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Three Dog Day

I loaded the three dogs, mine and two borrowed ones, for the return trip to the cabin crack of dawn Friday morning. Hit a wrinkle at Winkleman! Despite assurances from the project management team, Route 77 was not open - rock fall during the night. This meant a tedious detour through Hayden and Superior to Globe - misery compounded by road works and truck traffic the whole way and 15 mph progress. Twenty-seven extra miles added an hour plus to the trip.

As usual the dogs tumbled out on arrival and headed for the ponds. I tentatively opened the door - when I had left previous week I had a meadowlark in residence. Bird was still kicking! hale and hearty surviving on a diet of spiders and the bird seed I left for it. I honestly think it was glad to see me - oh good, it chirped, music and activity has arrived. Long story and even longer extension pole to which I attached a trout net - I managed to net it and let it out the front door. Silly thing hung around the windows asking to come back in. It's a bird eat bird world out there.
I had also left a packed cooler on the kitchen counter - carried it outside, unopened and ready for the dump.

Hamish, the shorter and furrier dog careened into the house and along with him the distinct odor of rotting fish! Gross. I cornered him and half bathed him - not very successful as he escaped and went under a bed.

Saturday morning I hosted a valley wide HOA meeting and made scones. Since we have very limited dump hours here, as soon as the last person left I grabbed the offensive cooler and headed the five miles to the collection station - shouted "be good" to the dogs as I left. Got back to be greeted by Hamish and Cash who pointed accusing paws at Rana and lead me to the kitchen. Rana was doing her "if I wiggle enough she won't think it was me" dance across the room. The remaining scones and a stick of butter -all gone! No question it was Rana although her version had the other two putting her up to it. Apparently she didn't like the jam because that bowl was upright but still full on the floor.

Despite unlimited room to run up here, the dogs do not think they've been for a walk unless a human carries leashes and walks behind them. We started out on the walk routine and Cash hung back holding one front paw in the air. "Got a boo boo ",  he implied. He let me feel it and nothing seemed out of place. A neighbor, a retired pediatric surgeon stopped by and he too felt the leg. "Nothing broken just give him an aspirin and if you have an ace wrap, bind it." Cash looks like a cow, is built like a bull moose and has bunny soft ears. At nine, he's the senior guy around. "OK old boy" I told him. "Let's wrap this up". He let me bandage the leg and then sat holding his leg up looking in puzzlement at my efforts at first aid. With a sigh he backed onto his bed and reclined like an oriental pasha waiting for me to feed him bon bons and sweet tea! In reality he got an extra biscuit and the water bowl within easy reach - lots of sympathy too during the course of the day. I also used old cupboard doors to make a ramp off the porch - awfully hard to lift a rear leg to pee and stand on one front and one back leg!

Early evening another neighbor stopped in to return a borrowed baking tray - she stood in the doorway and sniffed. "Do you have any Massengill douche" she asked. Personal question I thought and shook my head. "You need it. I'll be back" and she was gone in a flurry of dust and up-turned nose leaving dogs and I looking at one another. Their faces clearly said "we don't think you smell bad",  and they moved in to reaffirm solidarity; no matter what the world thought of me, I was OK in their book. And to be extra helpful, Hamish showed me where he had hidden the remains of my check book.

Neighbor was back, thrust the douche at me. "Leave it on for five minutes and then a good hosing down will clear it up." I must have looked shocked- she paused, burst out laughing. "For the dog" she spluttered, "the one that stinks of rotten fish". Said dog did an immediate disappearing act.

The weekend wasn't all dog news. The Rufus hummingbirds continue to mob the feeders and yesterday a herd of elk came down to cavort in the pond - what a gift.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Personal Potholes and Why Every Woman Should Own a Tool Kit

My driveway is on it's last legs - not that it has legs although when the person in a contractor's office asked "and what is the location of your driveway this morning?" I began to wonder. Legs or not it's rapidly moving into a state of major collapse. It must date from 1983 with a coat of sealer slopped on between then and now. "How bad are the potholes" one kindly man asked via phone. "Not big enough to lose the dog in" I joked. He was silent, musing. "How many cracks?" - lord, I haven't counted them. Finally I said "lots". More silence, I could hear the $ sign lighting up.

I called four companies for estimates and advice. Two responded, the other two have vanished into thin air. One of the silent ones had great difficulty taking down information. Three times she asked me to spell my name - and I happen to speak slowly and clearly - she asked for my phone number. I gave her my cell number. She asked for my cell number. "That's the number I just gave to you". "No", she said "It's in the line marked home number". I gave up, repeated my cell number. Pause. "Did You know your cell and your home number are the same -cool".

I don't suffer from the paranoia that all contractors are hell bent on cheating people, jacking up prices for women customers and taking advantage of buyer's ignorance. I like to believe that 90 percent of the people I deal with are honest; I treat people who can supply a service to me with respect and I value good service. Why then, in this supposedly down economy, is it so difficult to get a call back for a job that is not insignificant. I built my previous business on customer service - it was the gold standard by which employees were measured. In this internet , twitterfied world, a negative comment can reach thousands in a matter of minutes.

My house is a money pit of sorts and I've had need of a lot of skilled help solving problems. I like to rely on referrals from people I know. A favorite source of referral is a handy man I have come to trust and rely upon. Theo, in his work, sees all sorts of jobs being done and is more than willing to share the names of the good guys or in the case of my driveway, the good "gals". Within 3 hours of calling and spot on time, the first contractor to respond was a woman who has taken over her dad's business; prompt, courteous and not afraid to get her hands dirty. I like that in anyone!

I don't mind getting my own hands dirty and tackling jobs that are not death defying nor require several years of trade school. I've never had a "handy" husband so frequently I was the one to oil hinges, apply caulking, tighten screws. I take pride in not being helpless. It's a real world out there and white knights few and far between, especially ones with all the right stuff! I taught my daughter basic home fixing skills along with my boys - I don't think we women can afford to sit back, simper and say "oh, that's a man's job". What we can all do is maintain our homes in the same way that we maintain strength and flexibility. Regular "well house" checks can save future grief. I wish I could say that I had an organised tool drawer - truth be known it's a bit of a "what the heck" set up. Small steps though, I'm following Lorie Marrero's tips for empowering myself through organisation - slow process but inch by inch.

So decision time is close. Do I go with a quick fix that will last for a couple of years or bite the bullet and go for a major job - total new driveway. Given the economy I'm leaning towards the quick fix.

Unbiased referrals are special - we're looking for your recommendations on sunscreens in this month's connectionsforwomen, tell us what you like, or don't like. Meanwhile back to the sweat shop - can't seem to cool my study down. I'm heading for the hills again tomorrow and a blissful 90F! Meanwhile I need to check the potholes to see if I can find the dog - and my car!

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