Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Card Lady

valentine's day cards

I dated my husband for 10 years before marrying him. I like to be really sure of my decisions before acting upon them. When we finally did marry, I realized that I would need to carve out a role for myself in my new family. Being an only child, I never had to do this before. But now, I had 2 brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, and a second mom and dad. That’s a lot of personalities in the mix, and I wanted to stand out.

When I was younger, I pictured myself becoming Wonder Woman. At five, this was a literal interpretation. My cousin even custom-made me a costume complete with bullet deflecting wrist bands and a Lasso of Truth. As I got older my interpretation of what becoming Wonder Woman would mean changed significantly. I pictured an amazing career in advertising, a husband who adored me, a charming, neatly kept house, and the time to craft, bake, garden, and throw decadent parties to rival the ones seen on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (sans all the crazy drama).

But then I met “Leslie” (name changed to protect the guilty). Leslie is my sister-in-law, a.k.a. the second coming of Martha Stewart. She is the ultimate household superheroine. She bakes bread from scratch, grows a vegetable garden in the backyard, wins “yard of the month” for the beautifully landscaped front yard, collects antique furniture, and cooks entrées like Duck Confit Cassoulet that requires two weeks to prepare. Oh yes, and she also sells high-end real estate and is raising the perfect, gorgeous blonde-haired child who prefers caviar to hamburgers and the viola to the violin. She’s 11.

How I would love to wrangle Leslie with the Lasso of Truth to find out how she does it all! By comparison, my house is rarely neat—matter-of-fact there are several doggie fur tumbleweeds rolling by on the hardwoods at the moment. I don’t bake or garden even though the Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter has been collecting dust in my garage for the past two years. I have never baked anything “from scratch” and the edible mainstay of the parties I throw include appetizers from Costco and dinners from the Honey Baked Ham Company. I just don’t have the time or energy for much more. And since I don’t have kids, it doesn’t seem I deserve a free pass for my mediocre existence. (At least, that’s my impression.)

So since the role of Domestic Goddess was so clearly already taken by my sister-in-law, I needed to develop a new persona for myself. Hence, The Card Lady was born. Actually, she wasn’t just born as I had been sending cards to family and friends for years. More accurately, she was rediscovered and newly impassioned.

My card giving surpassed the handwritten thank you note (a sadly dying art) and the traditional birthday card by leaps and bounds. I was a woman on a mission, to send cards for every holiday. And not just ANY card, but the absolute perfect card for each recipient. One that would resonate with them, make them laugh or cry—a card for them to keep and treasure forever. Or so I would like to think.

I scour every card rack that I see. I seek out high-end card boutiques. The magnetic stripe on my plastic Hallmark Gold Crown card is well-worn and I always use the gold seals provided on my envelopes to show that “I cared enough to send the very best.”

And for all my efforts, I have received more than I have given. My family has begun sending cards too—for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. My in-laws even sent our dog a Christmas card containing money for visits to his favorite doggie daycare. (He’s really spoiled.) But by far the very best outcome has been that my husband, for each year since we’ve been married, has given me a custom-designed Valentine’s Day card featuring our anniversary year on the cover. This year marks our 9th Valentine’s Day together as a married couple and he continues to make me feel adored every day.

It turns out that I’m not the perfect homemaker that I thought I would be, but hey, that’s okay. I’ve evolved into someone who I think is pretty wonderful all the same. And it turns out that I had my own unique super power all along—the ability to make people feel loved and appreciated with a simple hand selected card and personal note. Take that Martha Stewart. XOXOXO

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Eating My Centerpiece

As a pre-Valentine’s Day surprise for my husband, I planned a wonderfully romantic dinner for two. The highlight of the meal was the stuffed pasta shells which he adores but that I rarely fix because it makes a mess of the kitchen. In addition to the candlelit ambience, I had devised a beautiful centerpiece ironically inspired by the 2006 movie “The Break-Up” starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn. In the movie, Jennifer’s character asks her boyfriend (played by Vince Vaughn) to bring home 12 lemons for their dinner party centerpiece. Unfortunately, we never get to see the citrussy main attraction because he only brings home 3 lemons. (Apparently, he never listens, which is one of the factors leading to the break-up.)

So, I was left to my own imagination to figure out what a lemon centerpiece might look like. My only clue was that it would require 12 lemons. (Not 3, but 12.) I put 12 lemons in a bowl and it looked like—well, 12 lemons in a bowl. So I added some yellow flowers that I bought on my third trip to the grocery that day and voila!—a bright, cheerful centerpiece was born.

And it was a good thing that the centerpiece was so cheerful, because what happened next did NOT make me happy. With T-minus 45 minutes, I raced to take a bath and get dressed. In the 10 minutes that I was in the tub my dog managed to steal a purple pen from my purse and eat it on the orange wool entrance-way rug. Then, with ink-covered paws, he walked on the hardwood floors to the living room rug, then popped up onto the sofa and later trekked to his water bowl. It didn’t take advanced sleuthing skills to determine the sequence of events. The track of purple doggie prints, ink splattered everywhere, the remains of half a pen and the fact that my once yellow-looking lab mutt was now sporting purple paws and lips told the whole story.

T-35 minutes: Panic ensues. Dripping wet, and naked except for a towel, I dash across the living room praying that the blinds are closed and cursing my dog who looks utterly un-phased. I quickly wipe the ink off the hardwoods. “Thank God, it comes off!”

T-33 minutes: I frantically grab my phone and Google “How to remove ink stains from carpet”. First suggestion is rubbing alcohol. I looked in the medicine cabinet and we don’t have any. “Crap!”

T-31 minutes: Second recommendation on the list is to dab a mixture of baking soda and white vinegar on the offending stain. In my panic, instead of dabbing, I dump. Now there are mounds of white baking soda scattered from the front door to the living room, and when the vinegar is added they bubble over like little volcanoes spewing purple-tinted lava. I begin scrubbing furiously. (Which is exactly what Google said not to do.) The stains remain and the damn dog is smiling (laughing, actually), “Bugger off, Hooper!”

T-10 minutes: I’m freezing. I’m still naked and wet! Shit! “Please God let my husband be running late.” After insisting my husband be home promptly at 8pm I was now wishing for a small traffic jam or an interstate construction hold up. I spend my few precious remaining minutes recovering all the stains with baking soda. I prefer the “Pompeii ash-covered look” to the “my dog slaughtered Barney the purple dinosaur” crime scene.

T-5 minutes: Fastest getting dressed and made-up in the history of womankind. “Maybe he’ll assume my heavy breathing is in anticipation of our romantic evening?” Not a chance. My tear-stained face will give me away not to mention the powdery mounds throughout the house.

The dog is barking like a banshee. My husband is home.

After a quick explanation of the day’s crazy events, several more ineffective scoldings to our dog, and a few very large glasses of wine, we did finally sit down to a great meal and a relaxing rest of the evening. It’s just ink-stained stuff, and in the grand scheme of things, not that big of a deal.

By now you are probably thinking that this is a “making lemonade out of lemons” story, and you are right. Literally. My centerpiece flowers finally died several days ago and now I am left with a bowl full of 12 lemons and nothing planned for dinner tonight.

T-3 hours: Time to Google, “Recipes using lemons.”

“I’m Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille”

JeffandBecky_1

To say that I was a ham when I was little is an understatement. I was playful, loud and very creative. I would dig through mom’s “rag bag” where worn out clothes found a second life as car cleaning rags, or if I discovered them first, they would be elevated to costume status in my latest stage performance. Mom’s half slips became floor-length sleeveless dresses for the princess, and old knee-high socks with the toe tips cut off became a pair of elegant long white gloves. A way-too-big pair of pants paired with dad’s funky shirt from the 60s and a random beret became an artist’s attire. You get the idea.

The costumes always dictated the story line, and although there was a loose script, most everything was improvised. The best seats in the house (the sofa) were always reserved for my parents who were our only audience. The wooden louvered doors served as our stage curtain with the foyer being backstage, and the green shag carpet as the stage itself. The play always contained several acts to allow for costume and set changes. Each sold-out performance ended with a full cast bow, a standing ovation and glowing reviews for the lead actress, writer, set designer, costume designer and director—all of which were me.

Then one day the curtain fell for the last time.

I don’t actually recall when or why this happened. Maybe I just outgrew pretend play, or maybe I started to become too insecure to be in the limelight. At some point, I became very aware that my parents were predisposed to applaud and love me no matter what I did, but the rest of the world didn’t have the same obligation. In fact, I would learn that they are very often harsh critics.

In 6th grade, the nun taught us this Bible verse (1 Corinthians 13:11), “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

At the time, I interpreted this verse as a call to grow up and become more serious, more responsible, more like my parents. It was exciting as a pubescent teen to think that I was being considered in a more mature light, and I feverishly highlighted the Bible quote. But now, as a middle-aged adult, the same quote that once inspired me, makes me a little sad. I would love to recapture the unbridled sense of play and creative freedom that I had as a child on that green shag stage. Creating from the heart and free from worry of judgement or rejection. Confident that after every performance, there will be a standing ovation—and maybe even ice cream.

Definitely, there will be ice cream. Of that, I am certain.

The Universe is as Subtle as A Dog

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To the casual observer, my 75-pound Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab/Border Collie mix mutt is anything but subtle. He bangs on the blinds covering the back door when he wants to go outside. He carries his metal food bowl and drops it in front of you on the hardwood floor when he’s hungry, rattling your skull in the process. If he’s feeling mischievous, you better guard your socks and underwear because they are bound to go missing in hopes that you will soon be in hot pursuit to retrieve them. He definitely knows how to get his point across.

With my background in marketing and advertising, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in communications. But recently it has come to my attention that the loud, über fast-paced, deadline-driven, visually, audibly and chemically over-stimulated world that we live in has actually deadened our communication skills as a society. (Or at least mine.) Subtlety and innuendo are a lost art. If you want to be heard you better shout and it better be in 140 characters or less because we don’t have time or the attention span for anything else.

In the last few weeks, I’ve made a concerted effort to s-l-o-w  d-o-w-n, and in doing so I discovered something amazing. My dog is a master of the art of subtlety, but I’ve been too distracted to notice. He gives a series of nonverbal cues as to what he wants and only escalates them to an annoyingly loud level when I don’t acknowledge his previous attempts. For example, when he wants to play fetch he will look in the direction of his toy bin and then look back at me with inquisitive eyebrows, a big smile and a wagging tail. Then, he will bring a ball to me. If I don’t get the hint he will drop it at my feet and stare at it in hopes I will follow his line of sight and engage in playing. If that still doesn’t get my attention he will demonstrate “throwing” the ball by standing on the back of the sofa and dropping it. If I haven’t started playing by now he assumes I must not like his initial toy selection, so he will get a different ball and go through the motions again. It is only as a last resort that he will drop the ball in my lap and start barking incessantly and at an eardrum-piercing level, because by this point it has become apparent to him that I will only respond to the most obvious and painful of tactics. The universe, it seems, uses the same playbook as my dog.

More often than not, I’ve had to learn my life lessons the hard way. In looking back though, there were always numerous opportunities to learn the same lesson through a less painful method. The trick is to slow down, be quiet and observant, and listen. The universe speaks to us in whispers all the time, giving us the advice we seek and steering us toward the right path and helpful people. If we don’t listen to the whispers we can eventually expect a shout or worse.

Don’t wait for life to bite you in the butt. Quiet down, observe the subtle cues, throw the ball and get into the game. Life is a lot more fun that way.

The Earl of Dogdom

Picture 5

Upon the urging of my esthetician and several of my Facebook friends, I bought the first three seasons of Downton Abbey and obsessively watched them all within a week. This British period costume drama series depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the early twentieth century. Like all soap operas, it’s filled with love affairs, betrayal, intrigue and scandal. But what makes Downton appeal to such a diverse audience (husbands included) are the historical references. The sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of WWI and the Spanish influenza epidemic, combined with the elaborate sets, costumes and always intelligent-sounding British accents make you think you are watching a documentary instead of a soap opera. You’re not rotting brain cells, you are studying history on PBS. Mom would be proud.

Today at the dog park, I observed a Downton Abbey-esque drama unfolding before my very eyes.

Much like the servants on Downton Abbey who spend most of their day downstairs, only coming upstairs to serve the Crawley family, the little dogs will sometimes visit the big dog side, but it is completely gauche for the big dogs to socialize on the little dog side. It’s just unheard of for the classes to mix in this way.

The little dogs, also like to yap—a lot. They huddle together and bark incessantly at each other, the humans and the occasional squirrel. I often imagine that they are prattling on about their lot in life and plotting new ways for advancement. The big dogs don’t have time to waste with idle gossip because they have important work to do like chasing tennis balls, marking their territory and sniffing out opportunities to ensure their position as top dog.

There is also an ample amount of conspiring, bickering, and sexual play being acted out on both sides of the fence, but unlike Downton, it’s not being done in secret behind close doors. These are American dogs of course and therefore not nearly as refined. Proper decorum is not their forte.

As for my dog, Hooper, he would most definitely be cast as The Earl of Grantham on the dog park version of Downton Abbey. He definitely believes the world revolves around him and sees no reason for his good life to ever change despite the circumstances in the world outside his humble estate. He has two dedicated human servants that wait on him hand and paw, making sure his every need is met. His only job is to keep up appearances which he does dutifully by making trips to the dog park and lake and running errands around town where the commoners bestow upon him praise and dog biscuits.

It’s good to be the Earl of Dogdom. It’s even better to be his human.

Mocked by Nike

My mother used to say that I spent all the time in the world getting organized to study for my exams and left little time for actual studying. And, she’s right. I would spend hours making flash cards, recopying my notes and cleaning up my work space before I would actually “get down to business”. Whereas in school my mom called this “procrastination”, as a business professional I dubbed it, “my process”.

It has taken me my whole life to establish my creative process, and it is absolutely necessary for me to accomplish anything. It is a four-phased process with the first being, “Outer Reflects Inner”. This is where I have to get everything clean and organized before I begin, so I can think clearly. I enter this initial phase with the same sense of enthusiasm and possibility that I had buying new school supplies as a child. New notebook and sketch pad? Check. Desk cleaned? Check. Full stock of favorite pens, highlighters, and Sharpies? Check. Check. And check.

The second phase, I’ve come to know as “Productive Procrastination”. This is the point where I am just starting to think about ideas surrounding the creative challenge at hand. It usually begins with a giant list of all the words associated with whatever topic I’m focussing on. In this stage there is no editing, just a complete brain dump. The goal is to be productive and fill up the blank pages before me, which gives my little OCD brain something to chug on while waiting for inspiration to hit.

These first two phases don’t take a lot of brainpower. It’s fun and a form of creative meditation. Phase 3 however requires coffee. Lots and lots of caffeinated coffee. It’s here that the “real work” begins. It’s also my favorite part of any creative project. This is where ideas start rapid fire popping up, one after another usually preceded by exclamations of, “Ooh! Quick, write this down!” and “Why didn’t I think of this before?” It’s at this point that I think I am a screaming genius.

This is immediately followed by Phase 4 where I think I am a complete poser.

This is the “Getting Down to Business” phase of actually producing something. And this is where my insecurities get the best of me. There are over 7 billion people in the world. I’m sure at least a fourth of them are creatives—writers, designers, illustrators, inventors and the like. How can I possibly create something that is uniquely mine, put it out in the world and have it be a success with that kind of competition? And even if I overcame my fears of failure and rejection, what are the chances that I could actually make a living doing it?

It is at this point that the voice in my head always utters the famous Nike slogan, “Just Do It.”

I ignore the voice and go get a burger.

I straighten up my workspace more and pour another cup of liquid caffeine. I watch trash tv followed by a bubble bath and a glass of wine and all the while I keep hearing a recorded loop in my head saying over and over again, “Just Do It.” “Just Do It.” It’s like Poe’s tell-tale heart and it won’t leave me alone until I actually do it. It’s the only way I’ve found to put an end to the incessant worry, the creative insecurities, and the mental nagging.

I guess my creative process actually has 5 phases: Prepare, Procrastinate, Create, Worry and Just Do it.

Oops, I did it again.

Running into Einstein in the Girl’s Bathroom

Einstein

The other day I rediscovered a gem of a coffee-house in my neighborhood. It has become a favorite spot of mine for blogging and people watching. It attracts an interesting mix of cappuccino-drinking college students, musicians, professionals, chess players, high school D&D enthusiasts and self-professed creative muses like myself that enjoy the laid-back hipster vibe. Here, the music is just as eclectic as the patrons. Today I heard an old Blues tune followed by an instrumental version of some song I didn’t know featuring an accordion.

While sipping my Italian Mint Latte, my moment of solitude and reflection was abruptly disrupted by a herd of screaming children that came running into the coffee shop. With their book bags swinging, threatening to knock over everything in sight they marched from one end of the establishment to the other until finally settling on several tables by the entrance. (Fortunately for me, I’m a bit of a recluse and prefer the more dimly lit back area; far, far away.)

The kids were busy being typical kids—noisy, completely unaware of any rules of decorum, with their sole focus on laughing and having a good time. In the background, “Who Wants To Live Forever” by Queen was playing. This was all taking place while I was in the throes of my mini mid-life crisis and trying to decide what to be when I “grow up”. In my frustration at not being able to concentrate with all the surrounding ruckus, I decided to get up, stretch my legs and go to the bathroom.

And that’s when I saw him, the greatest genius of the 20th century, Einstein. With eyes twinkling, he was sticking his tongue out at me and looking like an even bigger kid than the screaming munchkins in the other room. I started to laugh. At first, I laughed because he was directly facing me and making that funny face at my most vulnerable of moments, when my pants are around my ankles and my butt is on the throne. Then I laughed even harder because I got the message the universe had been trying to send me:

1. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

2. Be fearless. Who cares what everyone else thinks? It’s your life.

3. You will get the guidance you seek. “The teacher will come when the student is ready.” (In my case, Einstein and a group of unsuspecting children. Not too shabby.)

When I came out of the bathroom, the children had gone and Louie Armstrong was on the radio singing, “We Have All The Time In The World”. I took that as an invitation to sit back, order another latte and save my mid-life crisis for later.