Saturday, April 28, 2012

The beauty of struggles

I've got 30 rosebushes in my yard, and they're all in rip-roaring full-bloom now. This, for your enjoyment, was the first full flower of the season.

What makes it touching and remarkable is that it's on one of the smallest bushes, the "runts," and one of the ones that I thought wouldn't survive long-term. But it has, against the odds of my tendency toward sometimes haphazard planting and periods of neglect. I love my yard, don't get me wrong; I just planted everything years before the dramatic shifts in my personal and professional lives. My dear plants are like my human friends, though, and they're hanging in and always glad for when I can be there for them.

I've always rooted for the archetypal underdog. The tiny plants that have struggled and are now producing gorgeous flowers. The local family-owned businesses that seem to have weathered the worst of the recession. The personal goals I've heard of my clients pursuing, despite the nay-saying from their families and friends.

In all these scenarios I've muttered to myself, "C'mon...just a little more. You can do it...". There's both the feeling of overwhelm and depression that something is just too big to accomplish. I tell clients to just do one small thing for today, and see how it feels. Then something the next day, and then the next. There's something to be said for the "one day at a time" maxim popularized by twelve-step programs. Indeed, each of us only has now to do something. Then, the rush of happiness and relief for having prevailed! And you know what? The most formidable obstacle, the foe, is almost always within each of us--not some massive outside force. Even if there is a mountain of bills, unemployment, underemployment, dysfunctional employment.

Winston Churchill may have been one of the first contemporary motivational speakers, when, in 1941, he said, "The pessimist sees the problems in every opportunity. Whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem...
Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

Struggle is useful in providing value. The necessities (groceries, housing) and the little indulgences (a Saturday night out), are so much more treasured when purchased with "hard-earned money." Perhaps the recession gave us the reality check we needed after the consumerism-mad '80 & '90's. I never thought I would enjoy "living small" so much, but I do. Frugality is fun!

Recently, I've gotten well-meaning, but irritating, input from men who walk their dogs past my house, and see me working in the front yard. One immediately said, "You shouldn't be cutting your own lawn." And why not, sir? Another grinned and muttered, "How cute!" CUTE! Listen, buddy, that's a fighting word in my book! I'll report you to the international sisterhood of WWMTOL (Women Who Mow Their Own Lawns). The first guy, on his return trip, admitted that "things are looking good here."

I've got a longtime friend/colleague I want to invite over sometime soon. My recent DIY forays are nothing compared with hers. She fearlessly tackles the hard stuff -- replacing windows in her living room, renovating bathroom plumbing, redoing flooring, etc., etc. When I go to OSH, and tiptoe down some of the aisles, I still sometimes feel like I did when I was a little girl, trying to infiltrate some "Keep out. No girls allowed" perimeter set up by some of my boy pals.

Time to call my friend. Time to take how-to classes.

Time to woman-up, and know that I'm capable of doing the stuff Tim Allen did on "Home Improvement," and making sure the job actually turns out.

Next in my cross-hairs of ambition: painting the kitchen and replacing the linoleum -- myself!

Sunday, April 22, 2012


This "Lady of the House" gig can be a real pain in the rear-end. Muscle aches, an occasional bruise...

It can also be wonderful, on so many levels, including senses of investment, pride, and ownership.

Unless I were to do something idiotic like sell the house from underneath her (and WHY would I even consider that??), Mom has given me carte blanche authority in its day-to-day management. Oh, I've been so looking forward to this!

As a full-time working woman outside our household, I've begun honing my time management and prioritizing skills more finely. I have FB/Burbank High friends who have said they "admire my energy," and I appreciate that. My late husband said, "The more you have to do, the more you can do." And I believe it now, more than ever. Back in my younger days, I used to futz around, and then wonder where the day/week/month went. Now I believe humans are like vehicles -- prop us up on blocks (virtually speaking) and we "rust;" get us out to rev up and roar at full speed, and our engines continue to purr.

I just go at full-throttle, and then rest comes sweetly and swiftly these days. One of my FB pals glibly posted, "My wife just hired a housekeeper." Okay, that's certainly her choice, which I respect. For me, it's so much more than just cleaning and doing chores. It's staking the family claim, and then being its guardian until it gets passed to my son's hands. That sounds grandiose, I know, but as I find each piece of stuff, each knickknack, I'm transported back to forgotten days of personal and family history. See this:

Running things has also given me opportunities to streamline the overall set-up. Recently, I've culled shelves and moved stuff around in the kitchen, to make it work for me. Since the family method, while I was growing up here, was to plant furniture and items in one place, and never move them for (literally) decades, this is revolutionary...come to think of it, that's what Mom and Dad did when my paternal grandmother was in her final decline...does this mean anything for Mom?

Wow...that was just a melancholy moment...

*Taking a long breath, she resumes* In honor of Earth Day--and also because it just needs to be done--I'll be spending this morning mowing, raking, clipping, and pruning (and for the record, I DO NOT USE A LEAF-BLOWER). Those weeds behind my garage just have to go; it's looking too much like Sherwood Forest back there. Good for my property, and good for burning the calories I've ingested with this breakfast (a pile of tater-tots while writing this and listening to a live-stream of classical music on WGBH-Boston).

Later, I'll be whipping up a batch of homemade, environmentally-friendly laundry soap (take a look sometime at my review of Virgil's Hardware, a terrific store, where I get the components). Let me know if any of you want my "recipe." I'm phasing out the use of most paper products, too; I've rounded up all the old rags (in lieu of paper towels) into a central location, and am re-introducing our cloth napkins into mealtime.

So, gotta go take care of the place. Here's one more photo before I sign off...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Annual Burbank On Parade -- a small business person's strategy

I think I've made it clear in prior posts, here and on Facebook. I love Burbank.

Sometimes, though, I can become unsettled when outside circumstances upend my routine. Like this annual parade, which took place today. There was an unexpectedly positive outcome, though.

On Saturdays, I usually go to the market very early, and then have some downtime until my workday begins officially at 1 PM. It's a straight 2.2-mile route from home to my office; if my car were equipped with the technology, it could almost find its own way to and from work.

When I saw the digital advisory signs along Olive recently -- "Olive Avenue closed 4-14-12 6 AM to 2 PM" -- my reaction was something that needs to be edited, for the sake of decency. The detour on the side streets becomes rather labyrinthine, meaning that I have to call each client to advise them of access and parking challenges. Some might be put off by this, I feared, and would cancel for the day. Last year was my first spring at this office, and I was caught unprepared, having to walk two or three blocks juggling my briefcase and paraphernalia. Oh, to be torn between civic pride and concern for one's business!

Hmm...what to do?

So, this AM, I was up at 4:45 AM, preparing breakfast, lunch, and supper for Mom in her insulated bag and thermos. Tiggy was fed and petted. By 5:35 AM, I was out of the garage, flying down East Olive and over the bridge. Lines of traffic barricades were already showing themselves, as I imagined myself speeding to the music of Back to the Future, at the wheel of the Delorean instead of my Ford.

I made it!

I found my favorite parking spot, unloaded my gear, and set up base camp in my office. Work files, a stack of magazine back issues, my Stanley coffee tankard...all I would need to be productive. In the pre-dawn, I rounded the corner, and saw even the parking lots of local businesses were already blocked.

Settling in at Tallyrand for breakfast, I was halfway through my eggs and potatoes when the server asked if I was with the parade committee. When I said no, she said I shouldn't "be in this area, because it was reserved." Really? No sign had been posted to that effect. I was a paying customer, taking up one body-space, and bothering no one.

I finished, left, and embarked on a rare walkabout, up and down a street I've known so well, at least from the car. For the first time, I caught the end of an 8 AM mass at St. Finbar's, finding the inner architecture stunning and comforting. Further along my trek, several people stopped me, asking, "What the hell's going on?" Like me the prior year, they apparently hadn't gotten the word about the parade. I took photos of a 1949 Burbank police squad car, got a jelly doughnut and McDonald's Shamrock Shake (a radical departure from my diet!), and took a circuitous route back to the office. Gotta walk off those calories, after all.

I kept checking my voice mail obsessively, and so far no one had cancelled. The doughnut and milk shake were beginning to act up in my stomach (served me right, I guess), and the time for the parade was drawing near. Time for more activity.

The parade route couldn't have been more handy -- right outside my door. It happened so fast -- the helicopter fly-bys, the bands, the vintage vehicles and costumes -- all just swept me away from my previous feelings of being put-upon. I found myself waving and laughing, like a kid, relaxed.

Then I saw fellow BHS alumnus Roberta Grande Reynolds, riding past in a school board vehicle. And I was so proud!

When 12:30 came around, the parade was over. I found myself surprised at my feelings of let-down and wistfulness, kind of like when a Christmas comes and goes by too fast.

And so, the Saturday proceeded pretty much like any other. Only better. What did I have to complain about?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kitchen views (see last post)

I HATE this linoleum. My parents put it in circa 1974, and it's hell, with all its crevices, to keep clean.

Now, who the hell is going to use cabinets that are up this high?? I'm 5'0", and even when my son (6'5") was here, these cabinets have only been wasted space.

I'd like to combine the microwave and stove to save space. Thoughts?

The wall & doorway in the background lead to a phone booth-sized utility room. I'd like to knock down this wall and make everything one big room. Thoughts?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Becoming "Mistress of my Domain" -- harder work than I realized!

Now that Mom is finally (and comfortably) owning her octogenarian status, the mantle of "Lady of the House" has been passed to me. As a rebellious sort, I have long managed to remain an undomesticated woman, even during my married years. I've been comfortable with "just-good-enough" tidiness, although I will, at least, insist on clean bathrooms and kitchen. My "culinary-challenged" tendencies have always been apparent, and thankfully, most of the men in my life have been those who love to cook.

Bless Martha Stewart and those of like mind, making their sweet little seasonal crafts and their elaborate dinners. Their creative territory is secure, because I couldn't care less for such things.

Perhaps I'm more of my father's daughter than I realized, because I'm actually a gadget gal. My eyes light up when I'm in a hardware store, or a garden supply department. Now that I've dismissed the "gardener" (in reality just a "grass-cutter guy"), I've commandeered the trimming equipment in earnest. One of my male relatives showed me how to use the edger without dismembering myself, and the lawn mower is surprisingly easy for me to maneuver. It's amazing what one can learn online, and with help from eHow, my next day-off venture will be to clean out the plugged-up sprinkler heads.

This morning, between appointments, I went to OSH (Orchard Supply Hardware), and got some nails to put up some vintage kitchen-wall embellishments I found at a thrift shop last summer. There was no one around, so I selected and bagged 'em myself. The digital scale was certainly not user-friendly. Who out there delights in muttering and swearing in frustration at these devices? I do, on a regular basis -- including the ATM, and also those irritatingly friendly voices at the supermarket self-checkouts.

I also got an education in the solvent aisle, when buying some "Goof-Off," being warned by a young man that the fumes can trigger a not-at-all-pleasant high. Years ago, Mom put some of those stupid adhesive flowers on the shower floor. They don't really prevent falls, and they look tacky -- so they're coming up! When payday comes around, I want to go back and get a power tile-scrubber that a friend told me about, complete with lots of little attachments. More and more, I'm realizing the appeal tools have to guys. There's such a thrill, and sense of proud mastery, to doing these projects oneself!

Now that I'm the only one who (reluctantly, believe me) enters the kitchen, I'm going to be spending some time tomorrow rearranging the cabinets, filled past capacity with lots of "As Seen on TV" utensils Mom acquired over the years, used once, and has since forgotten. I'd love to sell some china that was left by a grandmother of whom I was, shall we say, less than fond. That would leave more space for the china set I really love and use during the winter holidays (among the rare times I do play hostess).

Then there's the dipping kitchen faucet and a back-splash with seriously nasty
grout...hmmm...would a simple washer and re-grouting suffice, or should I take a Home Depot class sometime, and bravely tackle a major sink replacement? It is the original (1923) double sink, with ancient tile counters and back-splash. I bet I could bring some refreshing updates into my home.

Painting, doing my own linoleum replacement, renovating the cabinet configuration...I'll post some "before" photos here, and maybe someone could give me some ideas. I've got some Sunset Magazinehome improvement books squirreled away, and perhaps these can be my guide to putting my own style-mark--inside and out--to this beloved home of mine.

Damn...I can't get the photos that I took of the kitchen to load here. I'll try to do it in a separate post. (Another reason I miss my son since he moved to Lancaster! He's my resident computer-techie.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thoughts on Wednesday (my "Sunday")

I work hard, and unusual hours. That's my choice, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sometimes, though, being a self-employed person has its trade-offs and drawbacks. Paperwork, being responsible for one's insurance, taxes, etc...promotion of one's enterprises to keep the revenue flowing...finding the right people in related fields to help with things out of one's field of expertise...making (hopefully) not-too-costly mistakes from which one can news to anyone, right?

What's usually forgotten is how we independent souls have to remember to function as our own HR (Human Resources) and EAP (Employee Assistance Program).

For my first 35 years as a full-time wage-earner, I drew my pay and benefits from the corporate world. Among the requirements, aside from performing within my job descriptions, were the expected attendance at staff meetings (zzzzzz), and adhering to schedules that were, more often than not, wholly inflexible. There were dress codes that were unevenly enforced, and usually subject to individual interpretation by an array of supervisors. And that ultimate guilt-trip, the let's-all-be-good-team-players-shall-we? As much as I (for the most part), liked the coworkers I met over the years, this last dictum was always bound to get my inner rebel to rise up. What the hell did "good team players" mean anyway? Again, usually what a supervisor felt at any given moment, someone who was sequestered in his/her corner office, often had only a passing acquaintance with "the workers," as well as how "the work" was really done, and was purposely kept out of the true communication loop. Most of us "workers" did support each other, but we found managerial reminders to do so irritating and demeaning.

One thing I took away from these 35 years was that there were two versions of office life -- the official, and the real.

Despite the above accounts, I found my workplace communities, at their best, supportive. Except for the last place I worked (which would have been bearable save for one abusive coworker), people were attuned to each other. Early on, I developed a bad habit of "forgetting" to go on vacation for years at a stretch, and then have a concerned coworker call me on it.

So, when recently I found myself becoming fatigued and irritable, I channeled my "inner-EAP," and backed off for a few days to recoup my energy. How many times am I lecturing my clients about balance, huh? And part of being my own boss is knowing how and when to take care of myself.

Today is Wednesday, my usual day off. But my M.O. lately has been to be online before dawn, before my coffee has even brewed, and "just one email" leads to another. I see things on my desk that can really wait, but still beckon. And so, I get sucked into the vortex of "working, but not really...". C'MON, VALARIE!

This morning, summoning up my awareness, I stayed far away from my desk; in fact, I didn't go even near my office door. I stayed out in my living room, with the radio playing KUSC, Tiggy purring on the back of the lounge chair, reading some issues of Newberry: The Lifestyle Magazine of Newberry County (South Carolina). My brother and sister-in-law have lived in that region for years, and Kevin often sends me these lovely publications, so I can have a sense of his life back there. How else would I have found out about Elmer "The Spoon Man" Fleming (see photo below)? BTW, Newberry Magazine has its own FB page, too.

Resisting the strong message that I "should get up now and do something," I perused a library book by William Stage, Ghost Signs, chock-full of wonderful photos of old signs from the early 1900's, painted on brick walls, and the "wall dogs" who plied their art. I learned something I didn't know -- that there's a Society for Commercial Archeology (, and I want to add this to my passions for preservation. Rounding out my morning of decadent, purposeful goofing-off, I began my new issue of Preservation Magazine. The afternoon will be spent looking at something my mother recently got, Sears, Roebuck & Co.:The Best of 1905-1910 Collectibles.

Yes, I'm online blogging about this now, but it's serving the purpose of reconnecting in a social way, now that I'm resting. I'm on the mend.