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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