Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wait... what did I come in here for?

After more than three decades together, nobody should be surprised at how in sync Spouse and I are. We understand each other’s half sentences and might even spout out the same phrase simultaneously. Our senses of humor are just about melded together to create one silly, semi-sarcastic comeback, which we practice on each other on a regular basis.

It’s even more interesting when humor carries over to our increasing lack of retaining names of people, places and things.

Take last week after our visit to Sam’s Club. As is our habit, we made a meal out of various delectable samples, hovering around microwaves and sauté pans with tasty giveaways while wandering through the store. One of our snack stops happened to be for a large, sweet type of orange neither of us was familiar with. After wolfing down our sample cups, we decided to grab a bag and so we could have them with breakfast and as pack them as snacks for work.
The next morning we split an orange with our breakfast. As we slurped on the delicious citrus, we both struggled to remember the type of orange we were eating. Spouse swore it started with the letter N, while I pictured it as having an R at the beginning. Wiping the juice off my fingers and fueling myself with a sip of coffee, I got up and opened the refrigerator where the bag of oranges was stashed.

"Cara Cara," I read out loud from the bag. "I told you it started with a C," was my mate's immediate reply. Oh, did you, now?

Spouse and I have gotten quite adept at forgetting the same things. I filled out a survey recently. The main reason I took the time to complete the survey is because I wanted to get it off the kitchen table, and it came with a prepaid stamped envelope. Talk about incentive, right?

The sealed envelope made it all the way to my car, where it sat for two days before we remembered to drop it in one of the many mailboxes we passed. Yes, I know it’s easier to just put it in my own mailbox and let the postal carrier pick it up. But what’s the challenge in that?

Sometimes believing you’re in sync causes the consideration boat to rock. If you’ve been a couple for a long time (a really long time) you may have experienced that "helpfulness" which occasionally backfires. Like when one of us feeds the cats and the other feeds them again, because cats will act like they’re starving at all times - until they get sick under a piece of furniture. We try to stay in the habit of cluing each other in that the felines have been taken care of, no matter what they insinuate.

There is also occasional coffeemaker confusion. We’ve both come close to filling the carafe with water, and every once in a while, one of us thinks the other made the coffee ahead of time, and it didn’t happen. That’s as close to a morning crisis as we’ve gotten, and that’s close enough.

It’s a pretty solid bet that Spouse and I will continue to grow old together and stay in sync. It’s also likely that the older we get, the more we will forget - and the more we’ll pretend we didn’t.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Here comes (more of) the sun - can we Mainers handle it?

A week or so ago I was on my way home from work when it hit me. The sun, that is. It was shining brightly in the sky – a little too brightly – and almost blinded me through the car windshield. I struggled to sit up straighter (i.e., higher), pretending the sun visor was effective. It wasn’t. Somehow I managed to maneuver my way around the sunshine and reach my destination without taking out the toll booth.

Don’t take any of this as complaining. I’m ecstatic that the days are getting just a little longer with each bit of sunshine that stretches across the sky. It hasn’t exactly been a brutal winter (yes, I know saying that immediately places a curse on the next month), but I doubt that I’m the only one who’s ready for a strong dose of vitamin D. Ironically, now that the days are getting longer my work days inside seem to be dragging. I long to be skipping out of the office and catching some fresh air, even on very brisk days.  Isn’t it a few months too early for spring fever?

Thanks to 30-something temps, I recently had been starting to slowly shed my winter wear. First it was leaving the gloves at home, then my warm and wooly winter cap remained in the car when I walked from garage to office. I was this close to leaving my scarf behind when the temps plummeted again. I am currently reluctantly back to being bundled up.

The problem with this time of year is that it’s also cold season. With our most recent cold snap opening the windows and filling the place with fresh air hasn’t been an option, and right now the cold germs are living it up like they’re at a Club Med for parasites. I’m willing to bet that each of us is six degrees or less from someone with a temp that’s a few degrees above normal. There are sniffles at work, at school and at every store you enter. I cringe when I get a sniffling cashier and I’ve been taking full advantage of the wipes many stores now offer to clean shopping cart handles. E-mail messages announcing someone’s absence at work have become the norm lately, and it seems like tissues are added to every recent office supply order. Both daughters have battled colds from two very different climates – Atlanta, Georgia and Central-Somewhere, Pennsylvania. So far Spouse and I have remained healthy, but with each cough or sneeze I’m stand poised to grab some extra vitamin C.

Along with more sunshine, I am also looking forward to not turning into an icicle while sitting in my car waiting for the defrost to kick in at the end of the work day. Spouse is hardly supportive of the fact that I need to hold my hands in front of the heater vents while driving. I don’t understand the issue – my thumbs are still on the steering wheel.

2 years ago - Snowmageddon!
Today the Superbowl is taking place in Houston, Texas, in case you didn’t get the memo. Will our New England Patriots be at a disadvantage surrounded by that much sun? Will the retractable roof play a part in keeping bad weather out? Wait - is there bad weather in Houston? I’m pretty sure the competition is good with not standing by an open flame to warm up between plays. And let’s admit it, the Patriots are used to performing in inclement weather. I’d prefer to see an occasional snow squall or, at the very least, a reason for Tom Brady to bundle up in that huge jacket, which seems to bring good luck.

In a few weeks Spouse and I will be visiting family in Kansas. I’ll venture a guess that they see more sun than we do in Maine, considering current Kansas temps are 25 degrees higher than ours. But we won’t be relocating to a warmer climate any time soon. We’re too used to getting vitamin D in very small doses.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Appreciating art... even my own

A couple of weeks ago I joined a group of warm and witty females for a night of creating art. Ironically, only days before I had unearthed my last attempt at artwork – an illustration of Jiminy Cricket from a drawing class my family took during a Disney World visit. My cricket was too big and semi-lopsided. That drawing alone should have been enough to deter me from ever trying it again. But this time there would be wine.
Second Born and I were invited to join Best Friend and her mom (affectionately known as Co-Mom), and there was even a special appearance by Big Sister of Best Friend. We were quite the crew with aprons donned, wine glasses in hand, ready to attack our empty canvases soon to be splayed with color. Here’s a hint: Do not wear anything you care about getting splayed, splattered or otherwise painted on when attending a wine and paint party. I swear it had nothing to do with the wine - I came close to coloring myself before the first sip.
Various paintings were displayed throughout the bright, cheery room. My first impression of the place was that it felt inviting and not at all intimidating. I can handle this, I decided confidently. I can turn this blank canvas into an acceptable rendition of the magnificent sunset painting we would soon be duplicating. Stop laughing.
Each station was supplied with four brushes in a container of water, six circles of various colors on a paper plate, and a thousand paper towels. Believe me, it’s barely enough when you have to soak a brush filled with black paint and wipe the color out of it so you can use yellow or white.
Under the guidance of our lead artist, broad strokes of yellow represented a bright ball of sun, followed by a pinkish hue dipping into purple shadows. With the soft thickness of the widest brush we created mountains across the canvas, until our sunset’s brilliance was reflected on a calm lake. A thinner brush swept wispy clouds into the bluish-black skies. A flutter of stars illumined the background. Tree branches dipped toward the water, rocks shimmered with the last light of the day.
I was doing art!
Near the end I stood back to admire my work. Wait a minute… how did my purple sunset disappear under my rock formations? Why do the bluish mountain shadows look more like sloths?
In the meantime the clock was ticking and we were supposed to be winding down. I knew mine wasn’t terrible but I have to admit my interest piqued when the artist mentioned S.O.S. sessions where you could complete or “rescue” a painting. I decided to skip the rescue, since I’m mildly leery of just how wrong a restoration could go.
Looks more like a stage than a sunset!
As Second Born and I were wrapping up I glanced over at Best Friend, Co-Mom and Big Sister. They were bent over their paintings, frantically adding the finishing touches before someone grabbed the brushes out of their hands. Their stars twinkled where mine dribbled and their wispy clouds didn’t look like my splotches. But the best part of those last few minutes was seeing mom and daughters working and playing together.
I wasn’t going for perfection – my goal was to laugh, enjoy the camaraderie, handle important issues like why the leaves on my tree looked like paws, and not get kicked out of class for smearing paint on everything within reach. Mission accomplished.

For a week or so, Second Born’s painting and mine were temporarily displayed on the end of the kitchen table, not necessarily to be admired first thing in the morning. Eventually they had to be relocated - at the moment they're both in her room (she doesn't know that yet). She chose to leave her piece behind when she headed back to college last weekend, but I have plans for my own attempt at art. It will eventually be displayed on a wall in the spare room...
which is a vast improvement over Jiminy Cricket’s place in the closet.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Was it karma that I was klunked by Clynk?

About a week ago you might have witnessed me skulking around the local supermarket entrance. I was talking to Spouse on my cell phone while waiting for a store clerk to return with my eyeglasses from the bottle redemption center. Why, you ask? Because, honestly, what happened could only happen to me. I think.

Spouse and I are pretty good about recycling and collecting bottles for return, though we tend to procrastinate over bringing them to the recycling center. Fortunately, our local grocery store has it own special container on the other side of the parking lot for this very purpose. The redemption program is called Clynk. Isn’t that cute?

You can park your car right next to the facility, scan the little UPC code on your filled bags and toss the returnables through a door instead of lugging big, bulky bags into the store. It sounds so easy, and it is.

For most people.

Spouse had loaded a couple of bags into the trunk of my car a few days earlier, so I had no excuse for not dropping them off. On my way to the grocery store I pulled up to the Clynk facility, parked my car and grabbed the bags of bottles out of my trunk, ignoring the signs suggesting that drivers turn their engines off.

First I had to get the hatch opened, which proved to be a challenge. I swung the UPC code in front of the scanner and heard the official beep signaling that I had seconds to pull that heavy sucker open and toss the bags into the container.  Immediately I lost all control of the situation.

As I struggled to hold the hatch open and throw the first bag in, the door slipped and smacked me in the back of my head. The bag was already in full motion as I flung it through the opening at the same moment that my eyeglasses – which had been bumped off my face from the force of the door smack – torpedoed into the container right past the bag of bottles.

I stood there alone in the chilly parking lot rubbing the rapidly growing bump on the back of my head. Was this karma because I didn’t turn off my car while recycling, as the sign (which came just short of listing every species I was saving) had gently suggested?

After tossing the second bag to the side of the other one, I knew there was only one thing to do. I drove over to the supermarket and sheepishly approached the customer service counter. How do I explain that my eyeglasses had a mind of their own and decided to catapult into an eternal pit of returnables? Somehow I explained what happened and waited for the clerk to snicker or snort or something.

She didn’t even flinch.

The next thing I know, another store clerk was walking toward the Clynk container and I was on the phone telling Spouse about this embarrassing incident. He had more of a reaction than the store clerk, which made me wonder… how often do they need to retrieve items from the cavernous bottle vacuum protected by a door that could be used on armored cars? Maybe this is a common occurrence that should be noted with a warning, right next to the suggestion to turn your car motor off.

Scene of the debacle
My eyeglasses were returned in just a few minutes and I finished my shopping without incident, though that bump on my head was a reminder of what you might deem a low point for a few days.

There has to be a moral to this story, I thought to myself. Why else would I be attacked by a door, earn a bump on the noggin and lose my glasses - just because I broke a sort of rule that was really just a suggestion?

Apparently, the moral of the story is that when Spouse and the kids don’t provide me with enough material for my column, God provides. And God definitely has a sense of humor.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The great coffee maker (sort of) tragedy of 2016

Last Friday I took the day off from work so I could do my own thing, which meant doing something for everyone else, since it was the Friday before Christmas and I had very-last-minute shopping to do. I was barely awake when Spouse came into the bedroom with his breakfast on a plate and obvious distress in his eyes.

“We have a BIG problem,” he said in a semi-tragic tone. Before I had a chance to ask what could possibly be so terrible, he uttered a phrase that can strike terror into the hearts of even a morning person.

“The coffee maker died.”

No.  No No No. Not on a Friday. Not on my day off. Not before I had even a sip of life-giving java. Tell me one of the cats destroyed our living room curtains (which I wanted to replace). Tell me someone broke in and stole all our furniture (which I also wanted to replace). Just please - don’t even hint at the suggestion of a coffee-less morning.

Spouse somehow dragged himself to work where he would be able to hit the coffee bar, but Second Born and I were on our own. There was only one thing to do. Just as a mother eagle soars through the air and hunts for sustenance in order to help her babies thrive, I knew I had to be the hero. I threw sweats on over my pajamas, crawled to the car and drove to the corner store. What I discovered there was nothing short of Coffee Utopia.

Toward the back of the store stood a display of 25 beautiful, shiny coffee urns, each with a unique flavor or strength. My heart leaped with joy, but my eyes swept over this plethora of caffeine choices with a sense of panic.  How do I choose between Cinnamon Sugar Cookie and Egg Nog? Wait – is that Pecan Sticky Buns? Toasted Marshmallow Mocha? “What is this place?” I whispered in awe.

The choice was heart wrenching. After several minutes of indecision over the two rows of caffeinated (and decaf, to be fair) goodness, I eventually went with Plan B. I narrowed it down to two flavors and left with a pledge to return to this wondrous place.

Plan A had been to bring home eight cups.

I returned home and walked in the door to find Second Born staring into space. At my appearance she exclaimed, “Oh thank goodness,” and lunged for one of the two cups in my hand.

I needed the caffeine boost to start my morning more than ever, especially now that the crucial task of finding a new coffee maker had to be done before the sun set on our collection of coffee mugs.

The research began in earnest after breakfast. I looked up reviews of the top ten automatic drip coffee makers with timers. I searched store websites to see who had what on sale. Armed with model numbers and pictures on my phone, Second Born and I began our relentless pursuit of the best match for our coffee needs.

Here’s the thing about the models on those lists. If you want Model XR-43383 you probably won’t get any closer than XR-43380. It’s bait and switch – bait them with the promise of awesomeness and switch it to the one they overstocked.

After 15 minutes of nothing matching up, Second Born suggested ordering one online. I stared at her as if we could not possibly be related. Wait at least four days for delivery because of the holiday? We would have to cancel Christmas. She hung her head in shame.

About that relentless pursuit… we grabbed one with the features we wanted (you know, like brewing coffee) and called it a day.

The next morning the sound and scent of coffee grounds and water harmoniously blending wafted down the hallway. All was right with the world once again, but there is one little thing. I believe a cup of Jamaican Me Crazy is still calling me from the corner store.

My Annual Black Friday Flyer Weigh-In

A couple of years ago I started a new tradition. I call it the Black Friday Flyer Weigh-In. I find it funny – in that “Are you kidding me?” way and not so much in a ha-ha way – that we get not one, but two newspapers that we’re not even subscribed to on Thanksgiving Day, both stuffed with advertisements from some of the most, and least, interesting places. I became curious over the amount of paper wasted, trees ripped out of the ground, and ink splayed over the surface of this printed wasteland. I’m still on paper, so don’t expect actual statistics here.

Five pounds. That’s how much our friendly neighborhood mass marketing mess weighed this year. Five pounds of sales on candy, clothing, computers, clocks, candles, clogs and other assorted and sundry items… and that’s just starting on the letter C. It is wasted on Spouse and me. We aren’t big on wading through crowds to find the perfect gift for anyone, not even each other. We do exchange small gifts but now that the Love Couple has decided it would be fun to live a flight away, and Second Born’s college is a hop, skip and a nine-hour-drive, we tend to invest in travel and hope they appreciate our presence over presents.

When the kids were little it was great fun to have them open a bunch of little gifts and then one big-ticket item, but now that the girls are more aware of how much things cost, their requests are simpler these days. They are, however, willing to accept cash in the form of the green stuff or gift cards. They’re good like that.

One good thing about sales flyers is that they provide you with plenty of ideas for gifts if you happen to have a big family, or one persnickety relative whose name you got in this year’s Secret Santa drawing…. like maybe an air popped popcorn maker or binoculars. Those two things alone cover a broad spectrum of gift giving. Or you can spring for one of those tracking thingies that tells you how far you walk and how well you sleep, and yells at you for turning the television up too loud or leaving your dish in the sink. Wouldn’t every college student love that? It’s like having Mom right there with you. Fine, maybe not.

We may not get much use from the flyer pile, but Spouse can’t resist picking up “just one more” inflatable animal or decoration for the front yard. I think he’s trying to signal Santa with lights and waving bears. We have more decorations now than we did before Second Born left for college four years ago. I’ll bet those folks that drive around town looking for decorations a couple of weeks before Christmas are saying, “Hey, let’s go by that house where the kids grew up and left, and see if they added another penguin this year.”  I will not be showing Spouse the minion on the Lowe’s flyer.

Even if you don’t go crazy with gifts for the holiday, all these advertisements have to provide you with ideas for any special occasion, or just because you want it. There are good deals on headphones, waffle makers, earrings and egg timers.  You can even pick up a Porsche for a steal… not literally, please.

There is one more purpose for this mound of marketing. It’s a great incentive for losing weight. I dropped five pounds just by walking to the recycling bin.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Can I keep a secret?

I have a secret. By the way, I stink at keeping secrets but it’s safe to divulge this one now because the cat was let out of the bag shortly before you read this.

There's something about having that savory tidbit hanging on the tip of my tongue that makes it difficult to hide my excitement. Spouse has heard me say many times that I won't be divulging whatever little surprise it is until just before it happens, but inevitably I blurt it out under the pretense of, "I don't want to mess other plans up." Yeah, right. This explains why my parents took to spelling things out when I was very young so I wouldn't know about birthday or Christmas presents, and resorted to spelling them backwards at one point.

Back to the secret. Ready? Spouse and I are going to be spending Thanksgiving with First and Second Born and The Groom, but the girls don't know it yet. In fact, I'm counting on everyone to not tell them before we get to surprise them with it Sunday afternoon. I can’t even describe how happy this makes me. Well, I can but that would be another whole column.

As time goes by and our kids have started doing their own thing, it’s already becoming more difficult to spend holidays together. When Spouse and I were dating and for the first several years of our married life, we spent the holidays bolting from one house to another. It usually went something like this: Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house, and a second dinner at his folks’ house, then Christmas morning and breakfast with his family, dinner with mine. It was exhausting and sometimes not much fun, especially because Spouse’s gang was very relaxed and stretched the day out while my parents were more rigid about having dinner at a certain time - and also not very good about sharing us. It wasn’t until we moved to Maine that things had to change, simply because we were no longer ten minutes from our family homes.

As much as I love the meaning, wonder and spirit of Christmas, I am a huge fan of Thanksgiving. As a family, the four of us would start the morning off watching the parade on television and sharing a big breakfast together, then having dinner later in the afternoon. It was a no-rush day and I didn’t care if I had to make macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly for a fussy kid while Spouse and I enjoyed turkey and all the trimmings – we were together.

The reason this trip to Atlanta is happening is because Spouse doesn’t want to have to put up with me after not seeing one or both girls for an extended amount of time. Even though we’ve been lucky enough to see Second Born twice in the past few weeks, our last visit with The Love Couple was when we helped them with their move from Philly to Atlanta in April. That means it’s been seven months since I’ve seen First Born. I usually start sending that “I want to see my kid” vibe around month four. You can see where my partner is wise to typically consider making plans around month three for us to plan a trip.

We broke the news to the girls by showing them this column just before talking to them... they were definitely surprised - though The Groom was in on it (and he only slipped with one comment that put First Born on semi-alert, but for the most part he did a spectacular job of not spilling it, considering he’s just one step above me when it comes to keeping secrets). Now it's less than 24 hours before we're all together, and I am beyond happy.

May you each have much to be thankful during this holiday. For me, getting ready to spend the week with my family makes me feel a kid at Christmas. Even better than that - I’m a mom at Thanksgiving.

We won't be dressing like this for Atlanta!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

But someone really DID want to see our slides

It was Saturday morning of the first full weekend in November. Spouse and I were barely recovering from going over our budget, when I somehow missed a call on my cell phone. The caller, a friend from church, left a message.

“Hi there, just checking in to make sure you’re all set to speak at our meeting Monday evening. Have a great day!”

Wait - what??

We had agreed months ago to talk about our wild and crazy Budapest and India trip from last winter at an upcoming meeting for the women at our parish. The problem was that we were convinced it wasn’t until December. Oops.

After a few minutes of spouting out how we couldn’t possibly put something together that weekend with everything else we planned to do, and how it wasn’t fair that we had such short notice (she told us about this during the summer), I called her back determined to gently let her down.

I failed. She’s good.

Our weekend was spent downloading – or is it uploading – photos from our phones and the cloud. I still don’t really understand where the cloud floats around but it sure had a ton of stuff in it. Then we had to try and remember exactly which monument/bridge/traffic jam was where. While I worked on putting a Power Point presentation together, Spouse looked up some details on several places in case anyone was curious about those little known facts. In the end we had 76 slides, our garb that we wore for the India wedding, and a few other trinkets from our travels.

Too many slides? Did they need to see the slide with the peacock feather vendors in India or the artful presentation of eggs we had in Budapest? Maybe not, but we left them in. Perhaps that’s why people dread seeing personal slide shows – it gets so personal that you can’t relate to “one more slide” of a family vacation. But I will admit it wasn’t so easy to cut back once I started putting it together. Everything was fascinating even a year later.

I flipped through the slides, if you can call it that on a laptop, and Spouse did the majority of the talking. There were a few times that I wished I had stuck in “one more slide” to make a point of a certain area we visited, but based on comments and questions, I think our audience found it interesting and entertaining. I know I did, because it brought me back to where we were just about one year ago and reminded me how we will never regret the time or money spent on this trip.

The first part of our presentation was from our visit to Second Born while she studied in Budapest. Looking through pictures of the Christmas markets in Budapest made me long to go back and experience the festive atmosphere and breathe in the scrumptious scents of mulled wine, bread pizza and pastries. Budapest and neighboring countries know how to do Christmas markets right.

The main part of our slide show was The Love Couple’s India wedding.  Recalling the beautifully arranged rooftop ceremony surrounded by The Groom’s family and friends brought a smile to my face at the thought of how they welcomed us into the fold. There were also other amazing memories such as the magnificent vision of the Taj Mahal. It was a world we never expected to see and will always recall with a touch of wonder.
It was fun to reminisce for a night and not see too many yawning, glazed expressions. I can sympathize with someone being forced sit through a slide show, but hey, at least this one time we were invited.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

This is just a test... for the empty nest

Winter is around the corner. Those vibrant fall colors we enjoyed this season have taken their final bow. Deep red, fiery yellow and bright orange leaves that made an awning as we drove down country roads now sit in brown piles on the ground. It’s coming to the end of a season, and for our family, the end of one more thing. College visits.

Last weekend we visited Second Born during Family Weekend at her college in Where-the-Heck-Am-I, Pennsylvania. It’s strange to think that besides her graduation in May, we could be completely done with making this trek. Where did these past four years go?

From 2006 to 2010 we did the same for First Born, only it was less than a two-hour drive instead of the interminable nine-hour expedition we just had.  You would think I’d be glad to get these trips over with, I know. But the end of college visits means so many changes and a few uncertainties.

It doesn’t seem like ten years since we left our oldest at her college campus of choice in New Hampshire and we started this process of watching our girls mature and take wing with dreams and goals of their own. It was pretty easy the first time – we only checked out a few schools before First Born made her decision. The second time, not so much. Fifteen schools later, our baby girl had narrowed it down to three. I’ll even miss that part, those initial nervous steps onto a college campus for a tour where a guide hopes to convince you that this is The Perfect College.

First Born gently broke us in to the idea of not having her here with us. Second Born took “not here with us” to a completely different level, between a long distance school and a study abroad. Spouse and I have gotten pretty good at the empty nest thing, but now I realize this has simply been practice. After 28 years of having at least one offspring living home at some point, are we prepared for the real thing? Are we really ready to be on our own?

Just to balance that thought, here are a few things I won’t miss.

FAFSA. This is a long, tedious, exhausting form that must be filled out in order to apply for financial aid – and I don’t know any parent who shrugs it off. It makes you question your memory, your parenting knowledge and your finances.

College meal plans. These institutes of higher learning have a way of convincing you that your student will starve if you don’t sign them up for a full meal plan. Of course, that naiveté diminishes with each year, when you realize your kid has been eating wraps and guzzling smoothies at the school deli… the one that doesn’t take dining hall credits.

Trying to beat every other parent for Family Weekend hotel reservations. If you don’t start in March for that October, you may as well tell your kid that you’re bunking with them for the weekend. Graduation was even crazier. In mid-March the rooms for next May were finally released, and gone within a week. Thankfully, I got through because I was obsessed with checking the website or calling every day since January. I was almost to the point of trading recipes with the reservationist at the Hampton Inn.

Life will change, this era of having a college student will soon come to an end, and the empty nest will be really, completely, officially empty. But I think a part of our kids will always need us. After dragging us through 15 college visits, I have to smile… Second Born will probably beat that record when she brings us to look at apartments.

The girls - pretending they'll be around forever

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Behold the power of online reviews

Last week I got an unexpected email from a website that allows the average person to rate local businesses and tell about their own personal experience. “We miss you,” the email claimed. They missed me? That must mean they value my very humble (ahem) opinion. Since I couldn’t recall what I had reviewed, I decided to sign on to my account and view my history. Well, first I had to request a password reset because seriously - who saves passwords to stuff like this?

It turns out I had written four reviews. The most recent one was about a hair stylist who rescued me from a bad perm. My review made her sound like a miracle worker, and the day I walked in whimpering about my hair, she was. Another review was about a pleasant experience at a local pizza place it had taken us 15 years to discover (it was a mile from our house). Spouse and I were so taken with this place that I volunteered to post their menu on their social media page, and that was without even trying to get a free pizza out of the deal.

Another detailed a scary situation that I wasn’t directly involved with, except as a panicky parent waiting to hear that her kid was safe. First Born and The Groom experienced had car problems in a remote area, and I wanted to give credit to the wonderful mechanic and his caring wife who helped get them back on the road.

Finally, there was my lengthy review of a new Portland restaurant with good food and bad customer service. Maybe they were going through growing pains - it was from a couple of years ago and I’ve been back to the place a couple of times with no issue, proving that I probably should have given them a second shot before reviewing them. Of course, this meant I had to update it with a kinder tone.

That’s the thing with these websites that encourage you to voice your opinion about a local business. You have the opportunity to tell others how great your experience was, or possibly skewer someone with negative feedback. It’s not my job to give these websites free advertising, so I won’t mention their names. I’ll just refer to them in some indirect way. For instance, I’ve used a site that will advise you about trips. Seriously, that could be any website.

Some reviews can be confusing, especially if you read several of them regarding the same business. The stars that are used to rate these places can also be deceiving. What if nine people stayed at a hotel that had great service, excellent food and was in a perfect location, but one person stayed when the front desk was short-handed, or someone didn’t fill the decaf coffee urn quickly enough, or there was road construction on the same side as their room? Suddenly the stars plummet and make you question whether you’re willing to pay for a five-star hotel that only got four stars according to its clientele. Not that Spouse and I make a habit of staying in five-star hotels… we’re more like a step up from the places that forget to leave the light on for us.

I don’t like to rate hotels on these websites. I have this fear that if I say anything negative, my name will somehow be noted – maybe my photo posted above the front desk - leaving me open to the scorn of the establishment I’ve rated... and I've gotten used to hot water and clean towels, so...

But since this particular website asked, I guess I’ll go rate something that I was happy with. I wouldn’t want to make anyone yelp over a negative review.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

An open letter to Netflix about the 25th of November

Dear Netflix,

I am not yet a subscriber but I will be shortly, based on the fact that, in a little over a month, you will be releasing a series I only dreamed about since 2007 - the much talked about, already revered, four-episode Gilmore Girls revival series, A Year in the Life. Recently I was faced with the realization of my reliance on your ability to perform, and now I have questions.

Last week you somehow managed to hit us with what was practically a last-minute announcement of Luke's Diner Day in honor of our beloved Gilmore Girls. Every state in the country offered at least one "Luke's" that would serve free coffee, coffee, coffee all morning. In my attempt to be as close to the GG phenomenon as I could get even for a brief moment, I left my house early and took a detour to Coffee By Design, the only place in the whole state of Maine that represented Luke's for the day.

Three cars followed right behind me as I turned onto the street, all with drivers impatient to get their Gilmore on. Because parking was nil, I had to pull over and wave them on and they were not amused. The line of potential coffee drinkers standing outside shivering from the morning chill was out the door, down the street and heading around the corner. I snapped a picture of the line, my only proof that I was this close to getting my coffee fix with those who would truly understand. Sadly, I had to continue on my way to my pesky day job where my coworkers would barely blink over an “Oy with the poodles already” reference.

My daughters, who grew up on GG and aspire to talk half as fast as Lorelai and Rory, are poised to tune in. My husband is also a fan (though not of fanatic level) and already knows to sit silently and to only ask questions during breaks that I will allow. We are oh, so ready. Are you? Have you prepared for the barrage of subscribers that will be knocking on your virtual door in the next month?

By the photos and videos on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, I believe you could safely say there were hundreds of fans at every coffee shop representing Luke’s for a day. The overwhelming enthusiasm for the simplicity of this event has made me even more aware of the implications. If this many GG devotees made it to their local coffee shops at “early – must kill early” in the morning just for coffee in a paper cup, what's going to happen on November 25 when the revival series is released? Are we going to break you, Netflix?

I already know others who plan to latch on to your service for the sole purpose of drinking in every moment of the four-episode GG revival series set to release the day after Thanksgiving. Will you be able to handle it? Will thousands of us be screaming at our electronic devices because we can't connect?

Understand something about the GG society of fans, fanatics, whatever you endeavor to label us (we don’t care). We don’t want to watch the revival series the next day or a week later because something – anything - froze. We want to watch it the very moment it is available, then the next day, then a week, a month, and likely a year later.

So Netlflix, I hope you’re ready for the Gilmore Girls tsunami of subscribers. I would advise you to make damn sure you've got your act together before November 25 because, believe me, you don't want to rile the multitude of viewers who are ready to hunker down for this marathon of epic emotions. We are all in. We are In Omnia Paratus - ready for anything (Life and Death Brigade… you shouldn’t have to look it up). As long as that “anything” doesn’t include being shut out on the 25th of November.