Tuesday, November 29, 2005

the season begins......

As a child, I used to think that Christmas would never get here... you know that feeling of everything festive, music and presents. Of course, as I grew older, things shifted and I was now more excited about what I gave as presents. Did I read them right? Did I find the one thing they really needed? Did they like what I had picked out, especially for them?

Although that feeling still exists, I am now in the habit of purchasing presents early on in the year. That is mostly due to the fact that I have a deadline to get them all wrapped and mailed before the actual day passes by. To explain: December is the busiest month by far in my business. People are just catching on that we only have a few weeks to go... and short number of weekends to accomplish all their parties personally, and for their companies. I will have many calls in the coming days where the someone has just realized that they need to have food catered in by the next day... or weekend. Ok... that's what I do for a living, and it is my job to squeeze in the availability for them.

In order for me to be able to accomplish all the bustle that goes along with the season, I have to start everything early, because, like Murphy's Law, something will go wrong if something can...
and I've had plenty of opportunities for that to happen. My best defense is to try to stay one step ahead of the chaos and all that it brings, watching out for the hurdles as best I can. Not always easy, but I'm getting better at it each year.... and the wrenches thrown at me are not going to throw me too far off schedule.

Most of my mail- out gifts are sent right after Thanksgiving.... leaving me with local gifts that I will probably bring by personally. This year, I am a little behind schedule... but not so far that everything still won't reach it's destination before the big day; I still have that under control. (It's a lucky thing that my post office stays open till 8 PM... as there are many people mailing during the day and the lines are atrocious to wait in). When I used to wait in line ( years back) I would see people behind me physically groan at my appearance. I would literally roll in all my packages by cart, as ten to twelve big boxes took up a lot of room and were too much to carry.
Luckily now, that is one problem off my hands.... I just go at night, and not take up precious day time.

Saving time still is a lot to be desired... as I see precious little of it during December. Most of my day is spent setting up parties, delivering food and changing all the plans of customers who were in such a rush to get their first 300 quotes, but now need to get yet another quote because they've altered their food or equipment. In all this confusion, I know that they don't realize I am busy planning MANY parties, in many parts of the city, so that after a while they all run into one in my head. Yes, I take many notes, and yes, I write all the changes down but brain cells are not at a premium when there's so much to do. Luckily, I have many people who do call early, and many that are repeat customers. If they tell me that they want the same as the year before, it becomes my homerun. All others, my cross to bear, as they look to me to guide them through this "difficult" business of ordering food. My biggest sigh of relief comes after the last Saturday before Christmas... by now, all parties are done and I can get on to enjoying the last week and preparations for my family.

So far this weekend will be somewhat quiet, and I'll be able to purchase my skinny victorian- style tree (no room for anything big) and string the lights outside. It usually helps the spirits to get the lights up and everything festive looking in my little house.... then I know I can concentrate on the many trays of food that are before me. My only problem is it will leave me with little time for much else.... so if I don't post as often as I'd like, know that I'm in the kitchen putting food together for the many parties that depend on me. I will always sneak away to read the many posts of all my favorite blogs, and even try to comment when I can.... perhaps even steal a few minutes to write something myself.

In the meantime.... I wish to thank everyone who reads here, and to let them know that I've received the best present of all: new people to talk with, sharing bits and treasures, as well as getting informed on life outside the state of Georgia. May your season be merry, your lights bright, with many presents under the tree.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Visit

Several weeks back I had received a phone call from my cousin in Florida.... since we do talk often, I considered it a routine visit, and time to catch up. The real surprise was that she was coming up to Atlanta. Since we are closer than two peas in a pod... I could think of no better "spirit raiser" than a visit from one of my favorite people in the whole world.

But then there was so much to do first. The house had to be cleaned (and I mean seriously cleaned!), banana bread had to be baked, and the gardens had to be freshened. After all I have this impossible reputation that had to be upheld, and even though I'm over the hill... some things never fade in my family.
But then she wasn't just coming to my house, she was coming to my "home", and I wanted everything to look clean, shiny and most welcome. Traveling with her was her husband.... a funny, interesting and informed person, and teenage daughter..... a lovely girl and sweetest person you'd ever want to meet. Needless to say it was a wonderful three days....and just what the doctor ordered for my sagging and depleted spirits!

On Saturday I had to work a catering.... and they decided to tour the new Atlanta Aquarium that just opened up this past week, as well as many sights in the city, meeting up later that afternoon for a big turkey dinner. Off they went to venture in the big city, which deserves accolades for them just wanting to make the attempt. Atlanta is not an easy city to navigate most times.... and I've been here for many years, so I gave them my "drive safely" prayers and told them to have a wonderful time. The line to the Aquarium was wrapped around the building three times...and they decided to catch it on their next visit. Instead they ventured into the heart of the city, parked their car and set off on foot. At this point in the excursion, I had called to ask her if she had gotten into the "$200 million fish tank" (no kidding!), and she explained the situation to me.

Her next statement was, "where are the bullet elevators?". Bullet elevators are the ones that go on the outside of the Westin/ Peachtree hotel, being a great thrill to ride one of these. As you descend up 76 floors, you have this wonderful vista of Atlanta in front of you... and on a clear day you can see all the way to Stone Mountain. (We don't even know if the are called "bullet elevators"... someone nicknamed them in our family because of their shape, and the name has stuck ever since). For $5.00, you can ride up to the top where there is this fabulous restaurant and lounge that revolves around so that you can see the whole city just sitting in your chair. I was pretty impressed the first time I went there, and was glad it had the same effect on them.
After wandering around, they came to Underground Atlanta, which was another "site" on their list of places to go. Again, they were not disappointed.
The only little problem they encountered was that they did get "booted" at their parking spot. Good little campers that they were, they took posed pictures that they could laugh at in the years to come, paid their $50.00 fine and went on their way.

We celebrated the visit Saturday night with a big turkey dinner, and much laughter around the table.... and knowing that prayers were answered because we were all together enjoying a magical moment. Perfect is not a word we are able to throw around a lot, given circumstances we face in life everyday... but it is the epitome of how Thanksgiving was for me.... even if it happened two days after the actual event. I came to realize that it was the time together, no matter the day, and being with someone on my side of the family was the true "thanksgiving" I had been missing for years.
My cousin has always been the little sister I never had, and although we are eight years apart, we are closer by our bonds of love for one another. I was the person she always came to for advise, and she was the person I turned to for words of comfort when the world was falling down, and my wonderful Aunt (her Mother) was currently unavailable. She is family, and knows my life because it is so well interwoven with hers. There is something to be said about life.... it is not how well you've loved, but how well you've been loved. Sometimes I feel that my cup runneth over.......

Thursday, November 24, 2005

giving thanks....

~ for a wonderful family, no matter the squabbles or life lessons we lived through.

~ for a great appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us everyday.

~ for the wonderful friendships I have with many people in many different areas of the world.

~ for having parents I never understood growing up, but understand now that I'm grown up.

~ for the abilities to forge ahead, even when the world is crumbling down.

~ for the survival speech my Dad gave me at age 17.

~ for the natural instinct to be constantly questioning things I don't understand.

~ for the lessons I had to learn the hard way, many times over.

~ for not giving up on myself, when it was too easy to do.

~ for all that I was able to teach others.

~ for remembering that laughter IS the best medicine.

~ for the small but wonderful house I live in.... that I love immensely.

~ for finally knowing the difference between love and lust.

~ for making it past my 20th birthday, and now past my 40th.

~ for believing in my own God, and seeing his beauty through my gardens.

~ for having a green thumb, which I inherited from my Grandmother.

~ for believing in angels on earth, and seeing them in my fellow man.

~ for my love of history, historical events and architecture.

~ for knowing enough people, who know me well enough to look out for me.

~ for finally finding a voice and outlet for my writing.

~ for my love of food, that led me to the best job I've ever had.

~ for everything, everybody and everyday of my life.....

Happy Thanksgiving to all.......

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


We set aside one day a year to "give thanks" and kick-off the holiday season for Christmas, and it seems that every year the retail stores begin the kick-off a little earlier...now starting right around Halloween. Somehow, I just think they are missing the whole point.

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving still meant "over the river and through the woods... to Grandmothers house we go". And that's exactly what we did. It was tradition that we spend it at my Grandparents house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ok, not quite the woods, but still the same location for many years. She would rise early, stuff the turkey and get it in the oven so that by the time we all arrived, it was pretty much ready to eat. This used to make my Mother upset, as she always wanted to be there to help her Mother with the preparations... after all, there were six adults and eight children.... so it meant a lot of work had to be prepped. Even though the turkey was ready, we started with a table full of hors d'oeuvres first. This included a vegetable and olive arrangement, and many other delectables that would fill you up without ever getting to the main course.... all prepped and set out by Grammy.

The diningroom table was already set up.... china plates (the good ones) and cloth napkins (because Grammy didn't believe in paper on such occasions), and silverware were all in place. Glasses were ready to fill (milk for the kids, wine for the adults and diet ginger ale for Grammy), as well as all the serving pieces lined up ready for duty. Then, as usual in our family, we started with the beginner course: pasta.... usually gnoccies made by hand by Grammy. No meal ever started without pasta first, and of course salad and real Italian bread that Grandpa pick up in the north end of Boston the day before. When the pasta bowls were cleared, it was time for turkey. With carving knife in place, the turkey didn't stand a chance. Everyone had their favorite, mine being dark meat... and believe it or not, there were some squabbles over who would get the tail end. Assortments of vegetables, cranberry sauce ( a must) , gravy ( plenty of it) and starches were squeezed in on the table amongst everything else. Since their table was small, only eight people could fit at a sitting... so all the little kids (my cousins and myself) had to eat at the "kids" table.... well in view of the adults, so they were able to keep an eye on us if we got a little rowdy. My two oldest brothers were able to sit at the adult table... a spot we all yearned for.

After the feast was consumed, it was time for Grammy to start coffee, while either my Aunt or Mother set the plates for dessert. In the meantime, when we were old enough, my cousin and I would start washing the dishes. Since space at Grammy's was not a premium, we couldn't just stack them, and a real dishwasher did not exist in their kitchen. We were considered the "dishwasher". The adult men would still be around the table, discussing the politics or problems of the time, while the rest of the children would scatter to the livingroom to watch whatever came up on the black and white TV (only 3 channels then). Once the coffee was brewed, desserts layed out on a platter, it was time to reassemble and fight over who would get a cannoli... and there never seemed to be enough of them.
Since my Grammy shared her birthday, as well as wedding anniversary with Thanksgiving, you'd almost expect that there'd be some kind of cake to celebrate the occasion, but no... she opted for Italian pastries, and then only could eat just a smige of that as she had diabetes.

By the time the complete feast was over, it was late into the night. Considering we started somewhere around two in the afternoon, it made for a long day. Since we were traveling from Connecticut, we stayed overnight, and my Dad set up plans to take my brothers out to Boston for sightseeing the next day, while the ladies (Grammy, Mom and me) went to visit some of Grammys friends. My Aunt, Uncle and cousins lived close by, so they just drove home.

In 1978, my Grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Plans were made to have a big party to celebrate, and they were to hold it at a nice restaurant with all family members and friends. My Mother had gone out and bought a new suit to wear for the occasion, and dropped it off at the dry cleaners to soften it out a bit. It would be my job to pick it up for her. The week before the actual event, my Mother was rushed to the hospital because of breathing problems. Needless to say, my end of the family could not attend the big celebration, which really ended up hurting a lot of peoples feelings. We were just too worried about Mom, because by now, she had suffered a stroke as well. We couldn't put a damper on the party by telling everyone... so it was a precarious place to be in. She would eventually pass away on Thanksgiving.... and we buried her in her new suit. We were to never hold another Thanksgiving as a whole family again.

Ever since then, I've probably only had a few real Thanksgiving celebrations. I mostly opted to work, or spend the day alone, in my kitchen baking cookies. I turn on the Christmas tunes and dedicate the day to Mom and the lemon butter cookies that she so painstakingly taught me how make. It's her day, and I don't feel to comfortable doing much else. It's also the day that makes me grow large lumps in my throat, while I choke back the tears, and remember what it is like to be thankful of all I learned, and thankful of all I have.

So, my point.... all of this is too short: life, laughter and the pursuit of true happiness. Putting out Christmas decorations may be a necessity for some, but giving thanks is what the day is truly for... Christmas will come soon enough, and life will fly by fast enough. Being appreciative of all that there is before us, should be a premium in our lives.... and I try to remember that everyday, as my parents taught me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

OCD Tendencies...

If there is one thing that drives me completely nuts, it's a dirty personal environment. I could never quite understand how anyone could let their house get to the point that a bulldozer was necessary to move aside all the "stuff" just to get through the door. To me, everything has a place... that way I can always find it when I go to seek it later. The one rule that accompanies that, is the fact, once used it should always go back to it's original place, or be thrown away if no longer needed. How simple is that?

My son used to play with many different friends who's houses looked like an A-bomb went off in the general vicinity of the middle of their house.... everything was on the floor, except their animals that they let crawl on the counters for food. Just a little backwards for my tastes, and I always encouraged him to think twice before asking for a drink at said houses. It back-fired a bit on me, as he had worse OCD problems than I did... and tended to wash his hands many times during the course of a day. It was so bad that he required lotion to rid himself of that "reptilian" dry hand look. I'm a clean freak, but didn't feel it necessary to wash my hands every moment; for him it was a phase that he eventually outgrew.
Since his brain was "wired" somewhat similar, but enough different from mine, I used to get upset that he was overdoing the hand-wash ritual. When your hands are rubbed so raw, and the flesh color is so devoid of your skin, it's time to rethink about how dirty you really are. But it was a situation he had to handle on his own, and my being upset over the matter never made it easier for him. At the time, he was also taking up to three showers a day... 30 minutes a shot.
Needless to say, the water company loved me! This whole adventure started when he was five, and he overcame it by himself, when he reached age ten.
To this day, though, he has the best hygiene of anyone I know.... as he cannot leave the house without the required shower, shave and fru-fru spritz. I can live with that, and my water bills are not the dreaded monthy budget buster.

What I could never understand then, was that he had no care or concern about his personal work/play space. His playroom (now my downstairs office) was cluttered with toys, with no thought that a small lego could choke a vacuum cleaner into Sears Repair Center in two seconds flat. No matter how many times I bought crates, boxes or toychests, they were remained empty while all the cars, action figures and game pieces were scattered across the floor. I finally had to rethink my attitude a little and learn how to just close the door on it all. The task of cleaning it up fell on deaf ears with him, because he would be too caught up trying to fit it all in the forts or castles he built, rather than just putting it away. Since I was working two jobs at the time, I refused to do it myself. Closing the door was a simpler solution for both of us. This way, he could continue where he left off from the day before, and I saved the vacuum cleaner from certain demise.

He is now 19, and the times have changed a bit. He no longer plays with action figures, legos, lincoln logs, or matchbox cars. He has a passion for his computer, and spends many hours in front of it.... letting go of it's radiant pull long enough to apply for college, work, eat and sleep.
He is passionate about his bedroom now, and being that it's the size of a broom closet, he constantly changes it to outfit the mood of his age. I think that's great, but have a problem in his methods. In order to weed out the old, he drops it all in a pile on the floor of my sewing room....
telling me that I can bring it to Goodwill, as he no longer has a need for any of it. The first "clean-sweep" generated the books he had been given as gifts over the years. These books are not the kiddie books, but wonderful volumes that included Peter Jennings' "The Century" and other hardback versions of historical matter. (History was always his favorite subject in school, hence, all the history books). They have since found a new home, on a new bookshelf in my office, but all the other clutter had to be swept off to donation centers. I simply told him that cleaning his room did not necessarily mean that it became my problem to deal with by dumping it off in my room.... everything has a place, even if it means donation or garbage.

So I look around my office today and see it void of childrens toys, laughter and sometimes squabbles of who's fort was the best amongst all the friends who played here.... and I can't help but feel that I miss all the cool things he had, even if it meant a stab wound to the foot by a rogue lego piece, or a crying child who couldn't find a peticular sword that went with a peticular action figure. Times do change, toys get more sophisticated and little boys do grow up.... and Moms learn to store the memories for the next generation.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Such a Deal!

How odd it is to think back to just a few months ago when we were paying onwards and upwards of $2.89 a gallon for gas. When the prices jumped to $3.99 (and, believe it or not, $8.99) a gallon, it was hard to conceive that those prices would ever budge lower. Remember, we had just suffered all that Katrina could manage on the Gulf, with Rita shortly behind her skirts.

Today, I wasn't necessarily needing gas, but could not resist the sign that blared in the distance.
Was it possible? Gas had come down to $1.99. Since I only need glasses for reading and can see five miles off in the distance with no sight problems whatsoever, I thought I might need to go for that long overdue eye exam. Holy cow! What a deal! I looked to my gas gage and thought that I didn't really care if I needed it or not, my guzzler was due for a lucky day. I popped in to the gas station and merrily pumped away. My thought was to get it before they decide to raise the prices in ten minutes.

I had another financial extravaganza this past weekend when I was out shopping for some Christmas presents and got talked into going to my local Lowes by my husband. I was getting a little cranky, the traffic was a little rough, and I had just gotten through complaining that I didn't look forward to the season, as I am always too busy to enjoy it anyway. My zing and gusto was depleted and I knew that I had gardens to tend, cakes to bake and parties to set up, as well as a house that needed a thorough cleaning. Yadda, yadda, yadda.....

Well, I gave in and we stopped; all the while I am still moping about the list of to-do's ahead of me. We always start in the garden section, which is a dangerous liaison for me. Since we both are in the habit of trying to rescue any trees and flowers that have been dumped to the side, because they may be out of season... this can become a costly adventure if I'm not careful.
Lo and behold, they had pansies on sale. Since my impatiens have reached the end of their season, I knew it was a matter of time to replace them ... only I didn't look forward to taking out my spade. Well, how lucky can one girl get! They were so busy trying to put out Christmas trees that they needed to unload all their baskets of pansies.... regularly $5.99 a basket, marked down to $1.00. Suddenly the zing returned, I felt a fresh renewal of gusto, and told my husband to secure a cart while I quickly grabbed as many baskets as I could. We ended up with eleven of the most choice ones (the rest were truly dead already... and one lady caught me in the act, and decided to get a little action for herself).

When we got home, I looked at my poor forlorn yard that was buried in fall leaves, and a roof that needed gutter cleaning. We quickly got to work straightening up the mountain of pre-chores before I would stick out my new flowers. Since I have just re-seeded my yard, we didn't need to rake, as the leaves offer protection to the seedlings.... the only hard work was sweeping everything off the driveway into the compost pile. Oh, yeah, gutter cleaning can be a strenuous, but since I deemed that it was a mans job to get up there, I had it a little easier myself.... and held the broom steadfast instead. When all was brushed away, I took my new flowers, cut off the hangers and plopped them into the ready clay pots. Voila'.... all done in two hours, and looking pretty spiffy, if I do say so myself. No spade was required, and my gardens were intact for another season, all for eleven dollars and tax.

My husband laughs at me sometimes, as he says my New England heritage has never really left me, and, I admit I am a frugal person. I know that he's never had so much fun spending his money unless I'm doing it.... and he has come to rely on my advise over prices. He knows a simple look from me or disinterest in a product can only mean that the price of the item isn't worth spending the hard earned bucks for it. He also knows he has final say in anything he truly wants, as I'm not stingy... but it's come down to a wonderful trust of knowing each other well.

We may be from different backgrounds... his being southern, mine northern, but we've finally learned to laugh at the little idiosyncrasies that make us so diverse. We live a nice "rich" life with fun, laughter and plenty of things to do. Who could ask for more?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Lifes Lessons.....

Growing up in middle-class 60's America, it was the style of the time for Moms to teach their girls all the proper etiquette of Miss Manners Manual, as well as housework. Since most Moms were housewives, having a girl meant a lot of responsibility got shared, and you started at a very young age to learn all these tasks. My Mom was no exception.

At a very tender age, I had chores... and my brothers had their share as well; although their's were mostly "man" things. I'm sure when I think about it now, it all makes sense, but back then we were feeling that it was something akin to slave status. All our friends were able to go out and play (probably because their parents chose to have them out of the house), but we were stuck completing chores first... and it always seemed like the mountain never got smaller.

My Mom started me with the simple things like dusting and vacuuming.... than gradually upped the ante with ironing. We didn't have a dishwasher in those days, unless you counted me or Mom... so that became a regular chore along with drying the dishes and putting them away. With a family of six, eating family style at the diningroom table with all the ecrudiments, those dishes added up, and took at least 30-45 minutes out of the evening. Since I hated drying, I enjoyed washing, as it was faster... even if Mom never lined pans with foil when she cooked.
Stuck on food required a brillo pad, strong arm and patience. The special day that my Dad finally broke down and bought a dishwasher for Mom, was a happy day for her indeed.... but it became my regular responsibility to empty the machine. Another chore I balked at most of the time. Now I appreciate it wholly!

Ironing was a task I hated immensely, and still do to this day. My board doesn't come out for any reason now as I am careful to read the fine print: permanent press. With three brothers and a father who had to have clean fresh shirts AND hankerchiefs, ironing was a tedious task. Maybe it was because I had itchy feet and don't like to stand in one place too long, or maybe it was because there was no permanent press and all four males preferred their shirts starched and wrinkleless... I don't know. It could be because everything was wrinkled when it came out of the washer, including pillowcases, and ironing could take hours to do. Mom was pretty smart at it though, she started me off with the pillowcases and handkerchiefs (easy stuff) then gradually worked me into the rest of the clothes. When my parents were first married, she used to iron everything (including underwear), until my Dad released her from her OCD tendencies that everything didn't have to be ironed.... just as long as his shirts were.

Then it was on to sewing. My Mom was a regular sewer, and most to all of my dresses were homemade. In those days we were not allowed to wear pants to school.... if you were female it was required that you wear a skirt or dress, with no exceptions as this was school policy. Now you have to remember, this is the time that mini-skirts were becoming fashion-savy. We lived in Connecticut, which gets it's fair amount of cold weather in the winter. When I reached Junior High School status, we had a campus-style school.... this meant that you went from class to class usually across campus, outside. Considering that only the top half of your body was warm, your legs suffered from frostbite on these trips. We petitioned the school so that they made it fair for girls to wear pants...and won. The only problem was the Home Ec teacher wasn't buying any of it... so if you had her class that day, you had to wear a skirt or dress. As a matter of fact, sewing was a required part in the Home Ec class... but by the time I had taken it, I already knew how to sew, and had been sewing for years.... thanks to Mom. It became a no-brainer to get a good mark in that class.

And, of course, there was cooking. That took a little longer, but since I'm half Italian, big meals were no surprise to me. Since Mom was a better baker, she started me there. Her butter-sugar cookies were a mainstay every Christmas.... along with pecan pie (my Dads favorite) and a host of other goodies. I started with the cut-out and decoration end of the cookies, and graduated to making them by myself by the time I was in 9th grade.... not just for our family, but for neighbors, friends and relatives. With that came banana bread, which I think she just had me make because mine did come out better than hers for some unknown reason.

Making spaghetti sauce was a bit of a challenge, but I managed a few bad ones to finally get to one that could pass ok. This was Moms specialty.... anything Italian, she was a master at it; even though she couldn't cook meat too well... but that was Dads specialty. Mom experimented with different tastes on the side dishes while Dad was a master griller... so we did eat well. To this day, though, my brother makes both of them look like amateurs... now he can cook! Baking, he leaves to me, and insists that Christmas to him would not be complete without Moms cookies.

We were also taught to paint the house, trim bushes, rake the yard and shovel the snow, all on a pretty regular basis. So you see, although we did play and have regular outings with our friends, it was the chores that got us through to being independent persons of society. I think we all were able to contribute to their wishes that we turned out well, able to function in society and keep our heads above the trouble line. One day, many years after my Mom had passed, I sat down with my Dad and asked him how he knew we would all turn out ok. His answer was simply put by telling me that he had a lot of faith and hope. He and Mom had made a pact when they first got married that they were to back each other up, so we wouldn't learn to turn one against the other, no matter the circumstances. Come to think of it, they were a force! We could never go to my Dad to put one over on Mom, as he would always say "what did your Mother say?" I learned to go to Dad first, as he was a little easier... but then he would always say "go check with your Mother first." It was pretty much a no win situation, unless there was no good reason why they wouldn't let us do something anyway... but then we knew better to ask. My oldest brother probably caught more flack then the rest of us, as he was the "test" child for all situations that came up... and I was the only girl, my Daddy's sweetie-pie. By the time of my witnessing my older brothers punishment, my goal was always to stay out of the doghouse as much as possible. Punishment did not look like a lot of fun. Not to say I didn't have my share, but somehow I can't recall too much of it.

So as much as I thought my parents were strict, I've come to realize it was always out of love... even if it seemed a frustrated one at times. They may have taught me basic life skills, and to fly out on my own, confident that I would be a survivor no matter the circumstances.... the best life lesson I learned was I could look fondly back and know they did a great job. To this day, I miss my parents, and am ever grateful to be the person they worked so hard to shape. Character doesn't come easy, but life skill lessons help the rough spots, oh so many times.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Spammers and Marketers....

One of the greatest inventions of our time has been caller ID. To say that it has saved me hours upon hours of precious time is an understatement.... and I make it a practice to never answer the phone without checking first. Why is this an such an important tool? Because of the ridiculous amount of marketing calls I get in one day.

In the past (pre CID), no matter how many times I stop them from continuing further with the latest offer they have, they would continue on how I needed their product, service, etc.... I used to wonder what part of "NO" didn't they understand. Besides, if I wanted said product/ service, I would have contacted them.... after all, I still think I'm still intelligent enough to know how to use the phone book, and I've never been afraid to ask questions or directions to things I needed.

In the course of our daily lives, we are inundated with offers from credit cards via the mail system. If I wasn't interested then, and fed my shredder with the contents, what would make me interested now? Calling me with the same offer a month later will not make me change my mind.... besides, I know well enough that these promos never come cheap, or free. Somehow, it's going to change the dynamics of payment schedules or added fees, or some other fine print they never really discuss with you. No thanks! Leave me alone, I don't want your wonderful offers. Quit cutting down so many trees to send me four or five of the same letters in the mail, and quit calling me to tell me how much I need this in my life. If I've gotten this far without you, I can continue on without your accumulated waste of time.

It's bad enough when they hit you up at home, now they've invaded my office as well. Because I'm a local caterer, I know that 99% of my calls will be local calls for food. Anything that comes up on the caller ID from another state will most certainly be a marketer.... so I throw them into voice mail by not answering. We may travel far from the city to deliver food, but not to Utah.
What's annoying about this is that their calls now come in at unheard of times. What ever happened to the etiquette of not calling before 9 AM, and not after 5 PM? I guess 7:30 AM is the new 9 AM, and 9 PM is the new 5 PM. Hmmmm.... guess I should ask them that sometime, if I choose to answer the phone. Or better yet, pull a Jerry Sienfeld on them and ask for their number to call them back. Well that wouldn't work, because they never have a number to call back... only outgoing lines.

Spammers are right up there on the list as well. When you take the time to type out a post, you are mainly doing it for some type of internal well-being.... whether to keep your friends up to date, or just plain venting at lifes woes. The last thing you expect is a spammer to come invade your comment section. Oh yeah, thanks for the comment on how wonderful my post is, but no I am not interested in the web address you give me on how I could make money by going to some site out there in cyberspace. It's that very cyberspace that leads me into viruses and fried computer parts. Once again, no thanks!

I could never understand why anyone would willingly pick a job that leads to nothing but an acute amount of disappointment. If I had a job that continually irrated people with annoying phone calls, was blasted out for said phone calls.... it would surely lead me into a depressive state of uselessness. That is one reason why I do not do cold calling with my business. My method is to market with venues, and depend on word of mouth.... as well as put a nice ad in the yellow pages. Cold calling leaves a bad taste in peoples minds, word of mouth doesn't. This has become a very successful tactic in getting my business name out there.

Besides, when you come to think about it, don't you do most of your daily business relying upon the advice of others? It's become a world of "who you know" and "who you trust"... and I just don't trust all these unknown propositions that inundate me by the hour. I do trust the people who I've known through relationships we've built up, as well as years we've invested in each other... and it only makes sense for me to start there. As I mentioned before, I don't have trouble with asking for help and getting directions, I just need a "friend" reference to feel comfortable with certain things. And yes, sometimes I do stick my neck out there farther than usual, but I've had some great luck with that... and only do it on a absolutely necessary basis.

In the process of typing this post, I've already received three marketing calls. Bear in mind that it is a saturday and not quite noon yet. These are the very people who have called me day in and day out for months. If I don't answer or call back from their voice messages, don't they get it?

Friday, November 18, 2005

I'm Back.....

After feeling an overconfidence in this whole internet experience, and blogging to my hearts desire, I contracted a rather forced hiatus when my computer suffered a virus of major proportions.

What? How? Well, wouldn't I like to know. All I could see was that after wandering around the internet looking for things to read, pop-ups were flinging themselves to me faster than candy to Lucy & Ethel at the chocolate factory. As fast as I could, I was deleting them, but only had a snowballs chance in hell of becoming successful.... and to add insult to injury, I lost my desktop and start button in the process. Now I knew I was in trouble, and being that it was a friday night, I had no one to call.... and quickly shut off the computer from the PC itself. There, I thought, all you bad guys go away!.... and by the way, wasn't the Norton AV supposed to save me from all this? Being a determined but somewhat nosy person, I went back in to find Norton. Little did I know, but he was shut off, not able to recover for a week.

Ah.... what to do? Well, I did have this recovery CD... why not give it a chance, after all it said "recovery". To me, recover always meant to "get well", "fix", "bring back". What I should have done was consult Mr. Webster as one of his meanings was "restore".... which is exactly what did happen. I was successful in restoring my computer back to the original state it was in before I brought it home from the computer store. Since I did not put my programs into the computer originally, restoring was as foreign to me as the virus that knocked it out in the first place.
At this point, my sailor mouth took full bloom. What the heck did I do now?.... and what the heck was I going to do now? At this point, I've been working on it for 4 hours... it was time to say good-night Gracie!

After consulting my friend from the computer store the next day, I came away feeling like I did the absolute worst thing in putting in the recovery CD.... he could not guarantee that I did not wipe out all of the accounting system for my business. After inserting quite a few more sailor mouth words, I decided to call my bookkeeper and see if she could console me in the fact that I wasn't a total idiot. She was wonderful (as always) and assured me that it probably was all there, all we had to do was find it. Easier said than done.

My first task was to restore Quickbooks. Well, after putting in a busy saturday with a wedding, club party and swing back around to pick up all the equipment (another 10 hour work day), I arrive at my office to start my first task. It was a no-go! What???? I know it's in there, or have I really deleted all my data! The computer kept asking for the 2002 version, and would not accept my 2000 version. I quickly shut everything down again, to wait for a new day to pester my bookkeeper again. And once again, she did not disappoint. Armed with software to start up any office, she came to my rescue and was able to find all my files.... (THANK YOU, LORD!) The very thought of going through my many paper files and re-entering invoices, payments, checkbook, etc.... was not a happy vision, especially since it was accumulated in the span of 8 years.

Our only problem was that Norton wouldn't come back, and the DSL line was oblivious to our prayers of restoration. Well, I'm 50% there.... now what? In consulting a Comp USA techguy,
he informs me that I still have the virus, and nothing will work until I bring it in , have them clean-sweep it and restore my data again..... all for only $250.00. Hmmmmm..... I have to think about this overnight. Waking up the next day, a thought came to me that we were doing a catering for a local computer store.... I wondered if they would barter food for a fix? Again, I got very lucky.... they said yes, bring it it. It turns out that the ram memory was defective, of which they replaced it, swept it clean, and restored my programs..... all for two turkeys (fried and roasted) the day after Thanksgiving. How wonderful was that?

Now, I'm 75% effective.... lets bring this baby home and get the internet connected! Again, easier said than done. The lights on my internet modem would not stop blinking and go solid like they were supposed to do. Well, I might have guessed that was going to happen.... so instead of losing my temper, I called support and they had a techguy out the next day. By now, it's thursday, and I am swallowing chill pills by the handful. He takes all of 15 minutes, and has me up and running. Instant cure! Now I can really get to work, as I have much to enter and lots of blog reading to catch up on. Who knew your life was so controlled by everything you log into your computer? This was a lesson I learned in spades!

Now.... to write something.... to vent.... it was all I looked forward to. And once more, easier said than done. Whatever I did to get into my blog, was to no avail. ARRRG! What now? Go figure that I would forget my user and password. No matter what I did, I ended up doing something I shouldn't have done (set up a new blog, change passwords, etc...). After many words of wisdom from my a wonderful friend, Snaggle, I called it a night and decided to sleep on it. Besides, my other wonderful friend, Neo, must have known me well enough to save all my information for me, and was able to help me through the final process of arriving back at my garden.

I've always been a believer that everything happens for a reason, be it pre-destined or coincedence. Life is easier to accept on these terms.... and makes up for the moments when you look in the sky and say "Why me"? We all do it, and we can't help it; but if I survive out of it, the first thing I think, is that there was a lesson I needed to learn.... and I feel I was taught a few more than I had bargained for this time around, landing in the cat-bird seat.
The night of my crash, black friday, TBS was playing "The Wizard of Oz".... one of my favorites.
Being so determined to pay attention to the problems at hand, I had the mute button on throughout the movie, until the end, when Dorothy was finally home and uttered those famous words, "there's no place like home". Next time I go to wander off the yellowbrick road to look for better sites to go to on the internet, I'll go no further than my own backyard. I'm a "safe" freak..... be it the many things I've seen or done, I don't know..... it's just a comfortable zone for me. Maybe my age is showing?

My other valuable lesson consisted of the wonderful people I was able to count on during this time. To me, there is nothing more powerful than family and friends. My Dad used to say that he wasn't a very wealthy man, but he was very rich...... now I know what he meant.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Being that I'm a conscientious objector to war, I don't want people to get the wrong idea that
I am not ungrateful to all the men and women before me that have graciously given their lives to uphold our freedoms. Their sacrifice has been a contribution not many are willing to undertake, and for that they deserve a day of acknowledgment. It's not really much in the scope of matters, but we Americans have this lofty concept to bear witness to our past, while continuing on with our future.
I am a child of the Vietnam era... a war that never made sense to me as it dragged on with almost no end in sight. To me it became a political football in the hands of our politicians. What started as "observers" being sent in to carefully monitor the communist takeover of third world countries, turned into years of young men being drafted to fight a war that essentially wasn't our place to fight. We were told that if we did not take care of this problem the domino theory would go into effect, thereby all countries would eventually fall into the "evil hands" of the communists.
Seeing that we had just gotten past the McCarthy era, this could be a plausible problem to deal with, and most people had reason to be scared enough to believe it. After all, Premier Kruschev had banged his shoe on the negotiation table with President Kennedy and said that communism would find a way into the United States through our own school systems. That was enough to frighten our parents, as they still had the memories of World War II, Korea and McCarthyism fresh in their minds. Imagining a world leader being able to "sneak" in through our education systems was a very real threat and frightening to imagine... furthermore, we knew they had the bomb. Since they were deemed evil, we weren't sure how far they would go to use it. All of this was scary stuff back then.
Unfortunately, we were so far dug in that we had a hard time finding our way back out again. You don't just shut off a war like you would a lamp, and it doesn't just end because you want it to end. So the Americans started to taper if off by stopping the draft in 1972, with the final pull-out in 1975. If you've seen the pictures or films of the last days of Saigon, your heart would be in your throat as you witness the mad scramble of people fleeing a lost cause. We never really won that war.... and we never really called it a war in the first place. It was referred to as a "conflict", because everyone was too careful of the label of "war". Our brave boys came home to be spat at, called baby-killers and worse yet, maimed from mind to soul. At their tender ages, they saw enough of life that was hard to shake off.
Then there was the Gulf War... and this time we named it war. In a few short months we were able to go over, kick butt and restore the palace of Kuwait to it's king. Since it lasted only a short while, America was relieved in thinking that we had restored order to the region, while not sacrificing too many of our own to do it. Patriotism was renewed in our country ... and the oil reflowed to gas our cars and homes.
Then came 9/11... and the shocking thought maybe we weren't liked to well by this community of Arab nations. After all, it was only a matter of a few days or so that we knew the people involved in using our own planes to reek terror on us. (I still question that they didn't know sooner, but that's another story.) We were to band together, united in our resolve to find these evil-doers and rid them of all resources of this ever happening again. Afghanistan became the target because that's where these cowards were hiding and training to strike another day.
All this made sense to me. One should never willingly throw the first punch, but one should never stick around for the second... this was a necessary situation that needed to be handled so that repeat attacks were not the order of our lives. What I never really understood was the attack on Iraq. Yes, Saddam is a bad man... no question there, but there are many of these tyrannical leaders in the world. We somehow lose our credibility in this fight, as it has become no secret we are fighting for the oil out of that region. If we felt so strongly about all the "bad" leaders out there and the atrocities they commit to there own, we would have stepped in
to Africa, North Korea, and a host of other nations to stop them years ago. We say we don't because we are a peace-loving nation, and we can't fight every battle. I say that it comes down to where it hurts us the most... and in this case, it is our way of live that uses the highest amount of oil reserves in the world.
I will never understand the reasoning behind the suicide bombers or their leaders. To me, how can you effectively run a nation of people that you are so willingly able to sacrifice in the name of your God. Where does it say in your Koran or bible or whatever, that the obligation of the day is to demolish the very people you need to make up your country? How can you possibly have a country with no people to partake in? And why do you make it so necessary for us to have to gather arms in order to protect ourselves from you?
I've always believed that we are the most intelligent species on earth to date. Why is it so impossible for us to be able to sit down with one another to negotiate differences and solve global problems. Are the agendas of the times so overwhelming that our only conclusion is to be rid of the very things we need to survive? Our time on this planet will be short and fleeting as was the time of the dinosaurs, and everything else that roamed here before us. Why is it our quest to shorten it with our petty squabbles and wars in the name of God? I'm sure if you asked God, he'd be wondering the same thing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Last Remnants of a Generation...

This morning my phone rang at the ungodly hour of 7:45 AM. Since I have caller ID, I am able to screen the calls to make up my mind whether to answer or not, but in the back of my mind know that any calls before the customary polite time to call are usually emergencies, or of the utmost importance. Seeing the Florida area code made me grab the phone before it went into voice mail, as I am waiting to hear about my Uncle who now resides in a nursing home. Luckily, it was just my cousin, who is coming to see me Thanksgiving weekend.

My Aunt and Uncle moved down to Florida many years back in order to live a fuller life in the warmth of the sunshine state. After many cold winters in the Northeast, a host of cars that were ruined by the salting of the roads there, and a nagging feeling to be rid of the many demands put upon them by my Grandparents, Florida seemed like the land of good and plenty. They purchased a house and got to work making a new start. I had gone down to see them a few times, as they are my closest relatives now.... all the rest still reside in New England.

During these visits, my Uncle seemed more calm than I had remembered him to be.... perhaps those many demands up in the cold of the hinterlands had tarnished his good humor, and the sunshine state had warmed his attitude. Whatever it was, I now had a good relationship with him.

My Aunt was always a saint, and our relationship was always on good terms. She was the person I had turned to in many of my troubled times as a teenager, as my Mom and I were forever at arms length until 11 months before my Mother passed away. My Aunt was the person that everyone called in to help, mediate, and bear strength where everyone else failed. She was also the person who was able to help me empty the closet of my Mothers belongings, as my Father was too distraught to even go in the room. Her special brand of caring was all my heart needed to see me through even the toughest of tragedies, and she came through many more times than I can count.

Several years ago, my Aunt was forced to put my Uncle in a nursing home, as his mind started to slip beyond the bounds of a little forgetfulness. He was showing serious signs of advanced alzheimers, and it racked his brain to the extent that he became violent. Since my own Father had succumbed to dementia in 98, I knew this was going to be a long road... and not very pleasant. My Father was never to live very long with the disease, as he suffered a massive heart attack, not too many months after my step-mother was forced to put him in a home as well. At least he was spared the many years it takes for the brain to shut down completely.
Not so with my Uncle. He has been in the home nearing on four years now. His body and mind are no longer his own, and each day is a struggle in survival... if that's what you'd call it.

I was able to visit him over two years ago, and the sight reduced me to tears. He could no longer hold a conversation and perhaps said one word the whole time I was there. It was a funny moment for all of us as we had a hard time remembering a town in Massachusetts that some of our Great Uncles had had a restaurant in... and he was the only one who remembered Woburn.
Thus being the only word he spoke.

I call my Aunt as frequently as possible, or she'll call me.... just to chat, solve a few garden problems and go over the past. Each call always has me asking how Uncle is, and I am sad to hear that he is reduced to being in bed all day now. Walking is no longer a sport that he can partake of; trips to the nursing home garden are only done by wheelchair.... and I doubt he is even keenly aware of it.

In these phone calls that my Aunt and I have, I always find out how everyone else is doing. Older folks of the family that she was able to stay in touch with, but I have long since lost touch with, are now starting to expire as well. She has slowly become the last of her generation that is part of my family.... and I realize that I am slowly becoming a senior member to the generation behind me. At 40+, that almost seems too cruel a concept to accept. I know I'm not that old... my heart and mind still think young, but time is telling no lies here.... besides, the body has a voice of it's own that the mind pays no attention to.

So as I rush off to answer those Florida phone calls, I want to be the calming voice on the other end for my Aunt, the one that soothes the rough spots and holds her hand through her tough hour. I know that the roles can not be reversed so easily, though, she will be comforting me as she has always done in the past... because once again, I will be reduced to tears, while she will
be stoic and steadfast. Oh, did I mention she was a saint?

I think I've got it.....

Still feeling like I am in the plebe stages of blogging and the internet in general, I find myself looking to all sources for help, even over the most miniscule of problems. How is it that the world got so ahead of me?

Many years back, I used to work for a wholesale optical company in New Hampshire. They were trying this new thing called a "computer" that would take all the orders we would type in and print it out for the lab to fill and make eyeglasses. Being that computers were still in the new stages of usage, and no one had one in their home back in the late 70's, were felt saddled to this huge machine in the next room. It didn't always get the information correct, no matter what we typed, and had fields that would only accept certain characters, and certainly not what you wanted it to accept. Docters calling in orders would have a hard time waiting while you figured out what faux pas occurred during your typing process. Since most of them were cranky, I used to write mine out in long hand, then go back to type them in on my own time... a procedure which eventually got me fired. No big deal.

My love of computers did not blossom in those days as I found them to be a nuisance, and couldn't imagine why anybody thought they were the next best invention. In those days, microwave ovens were the rage, if you could afford one.... and I couldn't, but still didn't mind using the old fashioned oven anyway.

It's only been since 96 that I've had to learn how to use this invention called a computer.... and I was really bad at it, but learned the necessary programs to do my job, and that's all. At the time, all of our catering sheets were formatted to a supercalc program. Easy to learn if I had my trusty notes alongside, which I always did. Besides, practice makes perfect... and if you do something long enough, you no longer need the necessary cheat sheets to see you through.

Then came Y2K. The computer now became more sophisticated, and I had to learn Quickbooks,
Quicken, and a whole host of other programs that were as foreign to me as fixing a toaster. Mechanics was never my strong point, and I always had a fear that I would hit a key, and everything would go blank. I learned the word SAVE pretty quickly. To this day, I have a wonderful friend who is my bookkeeper. She comes over to my office and straightens out any mess I make or incorrect entry, along with a host of so many other duties, I don't wish to be bothered with. After all, I'm still new at this, considering the scope of so much to learn. She has also made me feel comfortable by telling me that there wasn't much I could do wrong on the computer, other than dropping it or throwing it across the room in frustration; a feeling that has crossed my mind several times.

Now, with the help of my new buddies in the blog world, I am taking another step where I feared stepping before: actively taking on the internet. I held out for as long as I could, and felt the embarrassment that my son knew more than I did. (Yeah, I could have gone to him for some help, but he's not a good teacher and was frustrated showing me things.... or maybe he thought I was a bad learner; we'll never know as he's not talking about it....and I'll never bring it up again.)

The world is so close to my fingertips now. I can find out the latest news, weather and even apply for grants to higher education.... all this without leaving my home. Wow.... maybe this computer thing was alright after all; what's to be afraid about embracing change when it's for the betterment of your world? Now if it could only do my house and yard work.....

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Weavers on the road....

One of the basic rites of passage from being just a "teenager" to almost "adulthood" is the ability, at the age of 16, to have your own drivers license. We look forward to the day when we can toss our hair out the window, crank the tunes and wiz down the road, void of our parents in the car with us. I was an exception, and waited till I was 18 to cross that threshold. I was in no particular rush, and to me, the world of driving was pretty scary... even then.

I was only too happy to let my brothers or friends do all the driving, while I played navigator with the map... and kept an eye out for upcoming turns or roads. This allowed me to also see all the views without having to keep my eyes on traffic or lights, or worse yet, the bad drivers out there who didn't use turn signals..... whoever was driving had that responsibility.

When I moved to Atlanta, I took a daring try and willed myself to get on the road to learn this new city. How hard could it be? I had just traveled down I-95 from New Hampshire giving me 1200 miles under my belt in just 2 short days... besides I already had seven years and numerous road trips logged in. I told myself that a road is a road, doesn't really matter where it goes... just pull over and pull out the trusty map if all else fails.
Boy, was I wrong. It seemed that everyone was in a hurry to get where they were going, and going 70 on the interstate was just a commonplace occurrence. In their defense, I had to admit that using the turn signal was an advantage. Cars slowed down and actually let you in... similar to Moses parting the sea. Well that was a nice! And if you got lost, people were more than happy to turn you around, or draw a map to your destination. Wow! These southerners are sooo friendly, I thought.

Well, that was 21 years ago, and times have changed. With over 4 million people (many of them bad drivers, and many on the road on any given day), congestion is the new commonplace, and turn signals are a thing of the past. Yes, they still do 70 or more on the interstate, but all this weaving exists now with no warning. What is it about drivers who think that they need to keep crossing multiple lanes of traffic just to get one second faster than the person they were behind?
Isn't going 70 fast enough? And, ok, you need to get in front of me, why can't you just let me know? I have a new rule that I drive with, and it's quite simple... I do everything I can to stay out of your way. Go ahead, cut me off.... my cursing will speak to some Karma God up there, and you will have your day in court, be it earthly or not. I hate to think of how many people you are going to take out with your selfishness, but I know it's an eventual process, and I only hope it's not me or my family.

My job takes me out of the office and onto the roads multiple times during the week. In order for people to get their food, I might have to transfer from one highway to another, to yet another; and even get on some back roads to avoid traffic areas. I've grown accustomed to letting customers know that a 7 AM or 5 PM delivery might not be possible; as much as I will try to be on time, anything could happen... and usually does. We build in windows to the deliveries, but accidents, congestion and the occasional jumper off an interstate bridge will throw all the careful planning off. Luckily, all my customers are pretty laid back, and understand the troubles. All we have to do is tell them: Atlanta traffic.... and it's become an understood detail of being on the road.

So next time you weavers and poor drivers venture out on the road, remember that there are other drivers trying to get to their destinations as much as you are. Signal lights were put into vehicles for a good reason, so don't be so stingy in using them. After all, you might be saving a life, and that one may be mine or someone I love. Everyone else.... happy driving!

Monday, November 07, 2005

What's your worth?

As a kid, I always thought in terms of what a dollar would buy. Of course back then, prices were still reasonable, movies cost 50 cents and candybars were a dime... and they were the big bars, not those mini things you get today.

So if I had a dollar, it meant that I could be out of my parents hair for a Saturday afternoon, as there was always the movie theatre to go to. I could see a flick, have some popcorn or a candybar and still get change, unless I wanted a drink. Since all they offered was sodas, I skipped the drink and pocketed the change. A cup of ice would suffice, as I could always fill it up at the closest water fountain... sodas were never my choice of drink, unless it was flat and I was particularly thirsty.

If the movie was a good one, and they really didn't have any questionable ones back then, my parents would spring for the extra cash, as my allowance was only 50 cents. Of course it meant that I had to complete a mountain of chores first, but the idea of sending me off with my friends was pretty appealing for a quiet afternoon by themselves. It also meant that the rest of the neighborhood was quiet as well, because we usually traveled in groups to see the latest releases.

It was during that span of time that I began to think of what money would buy. If I had 10 dollars, well.... I'd be rich! It meant that I could not only see a movie, but afford to buy school lunch all week, have enough for afternoon snacks everyday, and perhaps (if I was feeling particularly rich) I could treat my friends as well. Ice creams at the local Friendly's would be an everyday event, and clothes.... well it meant I could have some store-bought ones and not the homemade ones my Mother sewed. Ten dollars today will hardly buy you lunch today. Yeah, maybe at McDonalds, but nothing decent and worth eating.

As the years rolled along, so did the prices of everything. Gas went from 35 cents a gallon to a whopping 57 cents in 1975. I was appalled that I filled my Toyota Corolla for seven dollars back then.... now, I'd give my right arm to have it back. My first and second apartments in 1979 were only 40 dollars a week.... a total of $160.00 a month, and they were beautiful; always the third floor penthouse with a terrific view of everything.... and utilities included.
I survived on $80.00 a week pay, with a car payment of $100.00 a month, and paid for my own groceries, clothes and essentials. We didn't have cable back then or computers, but we were still able to find plenty to do. Things were a little tight, but still manageable, and I could always appeal to my Dad if things got bad, but I never did.

Today, $80.00 doesn't even cover my phone bill; my mortgage increases every year with the tax rate increases, and I don't even want to think of what I spend at the grocery store every week.... including minusing out the coupons and using the special Kroger card for discounts.
Just running in for a few items has me writing out a check over $80.00.

I really pity my son who has to go out into todays world. He is just learning what it's like to survive. I gave him a small lesson in economics when he graduated from High School, telling him that I could do a better job showing him my checking account than anything he learned in school. I brought him to my computer and opened up my Quicken file, ran a few quick reports and told him to read it and weep. Welcome to the real world, I told him. After we successfully pried his jaw off the floor, I patted him on the back and told him that his first order of business was to get a good paying job. With his healthy appetite for having American Eagle clothes and take-out food, the only way he could afford himself was to find a way to pay for it, because now he was cut off to all that from me.

He had the opportunity to maintain an 80 GPA in school, whereupon the state of Georgia would send him to any school in Georgia pretty much tuition free. He blew it by 2 points, and is now struggling to save the money.... as well as paying for his car insurance and cell phone. He tells me that he just doesn't have enough to go around. Again, I repeat to him, welcome to the real world. He should just be happy that I'm not charging him rent. I won't pay for his schooling, and it's not that I'm stingy, I just want him to learn a valuable lesson about money. I figure the only way to do that is to let him get his feet wet with a real life experience. When you have to pay for something yourself, you appreciate it's value more than when it's handed to you. Besides, it was all up to him in the first place... a warning I gave to him since his elementary school days.

Long gone are the days of 50 cent movies and dime candybars, and a dollar isn't even enough to get you through most toll gates anymore. Granted, salaries have increased and the minimum wage has jumped from $1.35 in 1975 to $5.35 now. This is still not much in the scope of things or the cost of living.... but what really ticks me off is the sports "hero" who feels dissed because he wasn't rewarded for his 100th touchdown on the field. When you make millions for a salary, I don't care, and you won't see any boo hoo moments from me. Go back to your mansion and expensive cars, I have no sympathy for you.

Miss Kitty

One day, a couple of years back, a stray cat wandered into my yard to look for all the goodies and tidbits my ivy garden had to offer. It then crept off to investigate my neighbors yard for any desserts that might have escaped her watchful eye. Feeling sorry for this cat was not an emotion I would need to have for long. My neighbor has a softer heart than mine, and she adopted the kitty almost immediately. She went through the pains of having it checked for diseases, had it spayed and cleaned and loaded her pantry with the best of treats and food.

All this has not been in vain, as Miss Kitty (now named) has been a blessing to both of our yards.
She is a natural hunter, and no creature escapes unscathed of her basic instincts. Her only drawback is that she is not a friendly kitty. She is much too independent to walk up to anyone for a scratch behind the ears or a rub on the belly. It's not that there are more important agendas to attend to, she is just self-governing with her time and who she spends it with. If you are in charge of feeding her, while her folks go away, she prances around you with all the mastery of a grateful child, otherwise, she will have nothing to do with you.

Well, with all the treats that live in the wilds of my yard, and the neighborhood, she has landed herself a plethora of food abundance.... not to mention the regular meals she gets from her cat dish. Needless to say, this once abandoned scrawny cat is now a waddling, well filled out feline... still fit to capture and destroy any critter who crosses her path. I am grateful for that, as I have a true hate for snakes and rats... a specialty on her hunting expeditions.

I once had a terrible time with a roof rat that just didn't know the meaning of pest control. No matter what my Orkin man did, the rat was smarter. We stuck out big glue traps, of which it was still able to escape from... something I witnessed first hand. What to do? It was only a matter of time, and greed on the rats part, that Miss Kitty came to the rescue for me. I only needed to wait for the two to meet, and they did. I witnessed that too... only the rat didn't have much to say as it was now embedded in the cats mouth, fully dead. Yeah, I guess I should have felt a little bad, but no, I'm a nature lover that still has some limits.

So I reap the benefits of having a natural pest control patrolling my yard, without all the fuss of buying cat food, treats and toys. Best part of the bargain is that Miss Kitty brings back her days catch to my neighbor, but (as mentioned in a previous post) refuses to do it if her folks go away on vacation. I can't blame her for that as the best part of the catch is being able to show it off, and with no one around for her to brag to, she tends to leave little dead bodies where she last had her way with them.... walking off to newer hunting horizons. That leaves me with the "find" and a plea to my husband to get the shovel out. No, not to bury it, but rather to chuck it back into the ivy from whence it first came before it was innocent enough to cross the path of the cat.

I have become a cat lover over the years, and really enjoy the fact that they are as independent
an animal as you will ever meet. Never mind my Leo background, and the natural tendency to gravitate to felines in general. I just find that Miss Kitty has taught me a few lessons in this odyssey we call life. Left alone to do what we do best, reaps many benefits in the long run, and independence is truly a strong trait that allows one to be all they can be. So if we travel along the road to find the "rats and snakes" of the world, we need to be strong in the resolve that, like a cat, it's purely a search and destroy mission we are after... nothing personal, mind you..... it's just a job that needs to be done.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Garden Lessons

With the fall season rapidly showing off it's coat of colors, I have noticed that this year is an exceptional one for Atlanta. Maybe it's nostalgia, and maybe it's just because we had a fair amount of rain, but not too much as to wash away all that Mother Nature had in store for us.

Being a nature lover and a gardener, I have always collected leaves.... and even framed a few I thought were worthy of saving. This practice also has been reserved for flower petals. Into my favorite books went wax paper lined flower petals, or autumn leaves. Then there are the funny looking pine cones that have been gathered to make baskits of table decorations. With all that there is to pick from outside, the supply is never waning.

While working in my yard yesterday, I noticed that the trees have mysteriously changed from their green colors of the day before, and are now in the midst of morphing into reds and oranges. Looking at them through a sunny day, their sight is one of absolute wonder and awe. I always get this same feeling in the spring.... waiting for the trees to bud and eventually burst into flowers that color my yard beautiful.

Living in the south, has been a lesson in tree and lawn management. I wanted to pepper my yard with everything I could in order to make it a showplace of color and harmony. Well, that takes work, and a lot of it. There are millions of books on the market, as well as guides from local nurseries on how to build that special look, but I had ideas of my own. Starting with what I had inherited from the previous owner of my house, I embellished with many new species that were conducive to my region. It was also a lesson in the sense that I had to relearn the names of trees, because some are only grown in the south, and things like lilac bushes did not exist....
But, ok.... we have crepe myrtles and wisteria vines, and they pass off similar traits if not the smells that lilacs emit. Then there are the mighty magnolias, of which I have two kinds that never disappoint, as well as many azaleas, hydrangeas, a dogwood and the sugar maples that were put in the year they built the subdivision. I've added a cherry tree, gardenia bush and cypress that have grown to such heights that it became necessary to prune them this year. They all have now come to the end of their season, spewing leaves that need to be picked through for their brilliance to save, and raking the rest to into the compost pile.

My yard is small, my house smaller, and so I've learned to keep it all at bay as much as possible. I have enough to go around the house and frame it to my perfection, but still have a weakness when I walk into my local nursery.... I want to bring everything home and squeeze it into any open space that I can find. This can be a problem sometimes, because I am a "saver" of discounted flowers and trees. I want to bring them all home, and give them that chance to last longer than the whittled look they appear to have. I should have learned long ago that a pair of blinders should be the necessary equipment for me to wear when approaching said nurseries.
But they are like sirens singing and cajoling me to take a closer look, my strong reserve breaks down, and I become putty in the hands of nature.

Then there is my neighbor, who is a lovely person. She is always saving me bits from her yard, to replant into my yard, never mind the seeds that birds drop and start on their own. She has a terrific view of my back yard from her porch, and has commented that I have made it into a place of art. What a nice thing to say.... after all, that was the look I was going for. I had a great start though, because I have a small bridge that goes across a culvert of ivy separating one part of my back yard from the other.... of which the previous owner had put in. The rest was up to me and my imagination. The tall foliage that grows back there needed to be trimmed, gardens bricked in and ivy cut back. Then to invoke some color, I added birdhouses.... and many of them. After all, the squirrels had their nests high up, but what about the birds that had nowhere to stay when they visited. I didn't disappoint... to this day there must be something like thirty houses out there, with several baths and feeders... a regular day spa for any traveler coming through. Of course my neighbors kitty loves my yard even more than I do, and uses it as her personal hunting grounds. I'm ok with that as she has rid my yard of many snakes and rats that harbor in the ivy.... I get removal and disposal, as she brings them home to her masters, and there are never too many dead bodies to pick up (unless they go on vacation, but that's another story).

So now is the time to place my gardens into the hands of Mother Nature again and let them lie fallow for the fall and winter season. The mums are coming up as scheduled for this time of year, and it's almost time to plant the pansies that will last through the winter and into early spring. Yes, my yard will never know the meaning of bland, something will always be blooming somewhere, while other areas are getting ready for their season in due time. Ah, the wonderment of bulbs and their ability to shoot up when they know the time is right. Now, if only my grass would behave!

Tool Time

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to make certain repairs to your house. Due to the mounds of decorator books, who give you the shame of bringing up your environment into the millennium, and the vastly changing color wheels they use, yesterdays palette is old school and the stigma of keeping up with the Joneses becomes another project that you need to tackle.

Well... ok. I am a home improver in my spare time. My house was built in the 70's... you know, the brown colors were all the rage during the decade, and shag carpeting was a must to every floor covered. When it came time for me to remodel, I took the attitude that Rome wasn't built in a day, it would get done, albeit might take years.... this due to resources and money. I first started with walls. Easy enough.... paint always makes a big difference, but in my case, I painted all my walls white. What a beating I took from everyone over that decision. How could I possibly want white walls?.... there are so many colors out there to choose from. What they didn't know was that my scheme included a forest green (not shag) carpeting. Besides, I'm a picture hanging fool and needed a clear palette for background. Just wait, I said, you'll see... the walls will open up, making my tiny home seem bigger. Alas, I was able to prove to them I wasn't completely devoid of making choices.

After the "big paint", I graduated on to my screened-in porch. Completely being done over, right down to the screens, I created my personal solace of Cape Cod, complete with wicker furniture and seashells. It houses all my indoor plants from the moment spring bursts till the first few cool mornings of fall.... and has become my escape route to the outside without all the bugs that plague the south.

Next came the garage. Oiy, what a tackle that was! First order of business was to clear it out, which I accomplished with all the greed of the Clean Sweep team. Three piles evolved: things to keep, things to throw away, and things to give away. Let me tell you, this was no small task, as any of you would know. Garages are notorious for being the "catch-all/ store-all" areas of all houses. Go ahead, take a look at yours and you'll see what I mean. Why is it we save everything?.... so much so that the original intent of our garages (to house our car) becomes lost amongst the boxes, tools and lawn accrudiments. I was no exception.
The first order of business after the big clean, was to finish off the garage, which had never been done... it was still in the same unfinished state that the homebuilder had left it in eons ago. After many, many coats of paint, I now had a new room.... and oh so perfect for storage (still no plans to get a car in there, but that's ok, too). At least I have ridden my home of the one black hole riddled with spiders and webs, that was an eyesore every time I had to venture in there.

My next step was to make trips (and often) to the local Goodwill to scour the discards of the people who threw away perfectly good items, because they followed a different God of decorating. Living in a somewhat affluent area, I discovered a virtual goldmine of riches. For pennies on the dollar, I came home with wonderful prizes that still reap the benefits of compliments. What's the saying?... one persons trash is another's treasure... oh how true!
I've found a wonderful rug, beautiful in its colors, to cover a vast area of my garage, along with a hutch to store some of my catering silver... all very inexpensive in its purchase amount. Why it hardly resembles a garage now!

It is now going on 10 long years since the first step into remodeling, and I still have 3 areas to deal with: my kitchen, office and laundry room. All in due time, I say, all in due time. In redoing both my bathrooms, 3 bedrooms, porch, garage, front entry with parkay flooring, and new front door, it's been quite a journey. Not to mention that we have also re-landscaped the yard and painted the trim on the house to reflect my favorite color: dark green, ridding that brown 70's color that seemed so popular at the time.
I've also had the benefit of being married to an ex-carpenter, with a bevy of Home Depots and Lowes to satisfy even the loftiest of crafters all within my reach, making the expense more minimal than hiring someone to do it for me.

The kitchen has had all the old brown (again) appliances replaced with crisp white models, the office is no longer my sons playroom strewn with all the toys of a family of 100, and the laundry room is functional. What's another couple of years in the scope of things? Besides, the color wheels are due to change again soon, and I'll have the opportunity to have finally come to a decision on what I plan to do... which has always been my biggest stumbling block in this whole process anyway. A woman's perogative is to change her mind, and I am no exception when it comes to decoration and remodeling. As for now, I welcome the haitus from the world of hammers, drywall and and paint... besides, Christmas is almost here and it's time to start the banana bread.

What Me Worry....

Priorities seem to dictate our everyday happenings, and although we make our plans and
fill our calendars... Murphy's law steps in and throws us a knuckled-curve ball. Most importantly is the stand of character in how you handle these matters.

I schedule tasting appointments with my brides-to-be on a regular basis, and always try to be
as accommodating as possible. In my business, that's all key to landing a good catering. If you show your prospective client that you have all the time in the world to devote to their special day, you are acknowledging your professionalism, and taking a great weight off their already harried shoulders. Most of these tastings are scheduled for saturdays, and we agree on a time to meet. Making sure I am well on time to meet them, I always arrive at least a half hour earlier than planned, and the said brides arrive at least a half hour later than scheduled. Ok, not a problem for me... this allows me to prep work for the next day... or next three days, and that's just putting me ahead of my game.

Growing up, my parents were VERY strict about time.... a minute late could get you grounded, and that stunk, because they stuck to it. If they said a week, they meant a week.... right down to the minute. Well, if that happened on a saturday, it meant you missed baseball, movies, riding your bike to the beach, and every other activity that was going on.... all the way to the following saturday at the appointed time. And, you were banned to your room except for the occasional bathroom trips and family meals (because we ate as a family every night... no matter what). It was well known to the rest of the family who was in trouble, because my Mom had a "doghouse".... and if your "bone" was in the doghouse, you did SOMETHING, and plenty of offenses were about "time". I can't remember how many times I ended up in there, but it didn't matter, the goal was to keep out. Hence, the best lesson in time was seeded at an early age.

When I moved to Atlanta, I learned a whole new lesson in time. There was this thing called "fashionably late".... What ????? Well, I've learned that it means to be somewhere around 15 to 30 minutes late. At first it threw me off, now I've come to accept it. We all live lives filled with appointments and errands, places to go, people to see. Then add in the Atlanta traffic.... and this is indeed a lesson in multi-tasking if ever I saw one.

In our everchanging world, minus of all the hours we need to accomplish all that we do, I sometimes wonder if my Mother and Father would have understood all the changes in etiquette they so painstakingly taught me. I was raised to send thank you notes for gifts, and birthday cards to relatives and friends.... and RSVP meant "respond as soon as possible", and you did.
Today it all seems a lost art along with letters in the mail. We've hit the technology age of just dashing off an e-mail, and dropping a phone call from our cell anywhere and anytime during the day. In order to keep up, you have to play the same game as everybody else. Besides, with everyone having a cell phone pasted to their hips, the etiquette of calling is still alive and well, so we haven't lost everything.

So what to do? My best solution has been to compromise.... not what I was taught, but my ability to just go with the flow, and get worked up about the important things, not the little irritants. The goal is to stay out of the doghouse, after all.... and the surest way to stay out is to
appease to a higher being in myself. It's my "don't sweat the small stuff" button. There will always be moments I won't find the button fast enough to push it, that just naturally comes with everyday life.... but I'm learning, and I know I'm getting better at it. There are just sometimes when I say to myself: what's to worry?, save the important stuff for the tantrums.... and somehow, I seem to save myself from an awful lot of trivial grief. Besides, I'm too old to be grounded anymore.