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When the Going Gets Tough, Find a Paper Clip

30 Aug

So when the economy continues to move at a snail’s pace (ok, not that bad, a turtle’s pace?), how long until we say that perhaps economic “recovery” hasn’t quite yet made it’s way to the masses?

Actually, where has this recovery occurred?

In July of last year, the IMF said that the great economic recovery of 2010 would be stronger then they initially thought.  Stronger?  So pay no attention to the negative employment numbers lurking behind the curtain.

And forget about the re-readjusted housing numbers that show existing home sales have plunged by 27+% over this time last year.

Meanwhile the bankers are assuring us that global recovery is “on track.”  That might be more reassuring if they actually acted like they believe what they’re preaching…

Now I’m no expert, which in this instance might be a good thing since the experts are always “surprised” by that which seems obvious to the rest of us.  However, in looking around me, I can see that “recovery” has yet to grace us with its presence.

From the hollow aisles at every Target in my region (and I mean downright empty at times when sales used to bustle), to the cute house around the corner that just sold last month after being on the market for 26 (not days, not weeks, but months) ~ and, supposedly, we live in one of the most sought after area’s in our entire metro area.  Every other person I know has dealt with unemployment that stretched on for ridiculous periods of time (think 1.5 to 2 years, and this is for college educated corporate professionals actively searching for a new job).  Granted some are in Southern Cal and some are in Michigan (not the best places to job hunt right now), but still.  That’s bleak.

The author of this article at Fast Company.com agrees with me.  Believe it or not, I read the article after I was almost done writing my blog post, just goes to show, it’s near impossible to have a unique idea in today’s information age… that, or, great minds think alike?  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

So times are tough.  Things are rough.

What to do, what to do?

Start a small business.  That’s what you do.  There’s no better time than a recession to embark on a entrepreneurial venture (granted you can do it without racking up big debt).  Prices are down, opportunities are up, and besides this recession may leave us with an economy that can only sustain one “working” income per household.  That’s food for thought.

Create.  Innovate.  Barter your way into success if need be.

You’ve heard the story of the red paper clip… yes?  While that wasn’t a business venture and it was just prior to the onset of the recession, it shows how creative one can be with nothing but a paper clip in one’s possession.  If he can take a paper clip and barter/trade his way into a house (yes, a house), then YOU my friend can do anything.

You’ll find a plethora of coverage online about the great success that can be had during a recessionary economy.  Like this story on the Top 10 Reasons to Start Up in the Recession at Entrepreneur.com.

Where to start?  Inc.com has a current review of the best industries for start-ups here.

I’m working on my plans (I’ll keep you posted) which were actually delayed by life, but not derailed.  Roadblocks are simply hurdles, find the way over and keep on trucking.

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In Memoriam

30 Aug

“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
–Thomas Campbell

I’m watching the Emmys right now and it’s that part that tugs at your heart strings.  You know, the part where they run through the images of all those from the entertainment industry who no longer walk among us.  Cultural icons like Dennis Hopper, Lynn Redgrave, Lena Horne, Peter Graves, Robert Culp and John Forsythe.  Those who left much too soon like Brittney Murphy, Corey Haim and Gary Coleman.

These are all people who touched the fabric of our cultural evolution.  Who left their mark on the lives of many they never knew.  They will be missed.

On a more personal level, this morning my mother lost one of her best friends of over 30 years after a short fight against cancer.  My mother’s friend, Clare, was so much more to our family than I can capture here.   But she was that rare breed of person who truly cared about something simply because it interested her friends.  Heart of gold.  When I made the choice to become a single mother just shy of my 21st birthday, in a highly educated and driven community (those things just weren’t done in our community back then), Clare was the one who supported my mother while she supported my decision.  I have so many memories of her coming to visit my baby son, showering him with hugs & sweet kisses.  She was one of the first who said to me early on “you did good, kiddo.”  And she meant it.  Over the years, she gave one of those awesome hugs to my future husband, knitted blankets for my future children, my niece and my nephew.  She was front and center for almost every important family moment I can think.  She was a light that warmed the area through which she walked.

Yesterday, August 29, was the birthday of my son’s best friend and first college roommate – Andrew.   Sadly, it’s a birthday that my son and Andrew’s other college friends get together in order to remember what joy Andrew brought to their lives.  Andrew passed away during the spring break of their freshman year.  It was a shocking moment, for there wasn’t the car crash, or drinking binge or any of the other events that parents worry most about, rather Andrew suffered from a rare disorder brought about by Mar-Fan Syndrome.  Mar-Fan Syndrome is an inherited and genetic disorder causing a breakdown of the connective tissue.  This stress on the body’s tissue causes debilitating weakness of the carrier’s heart.  And so, Andrew died of a heart attack at 18.  The days and weeks that passed were filled with tears, and grief, and a hope that his parents and his sister would find solace in the love that so many had for Andrew.  On a heartening note, his parents enveloped our son with true warmth and they were able to grieve together.   The closeness that he has with them has brought a comfort to him, in hopes that he can comfort them, that in turn brought some comfort to us as we worried whether the stress of it all would be too much.

Andrew – know that you are missed and that we think of you every day.

Clare – rest in peace and thank you for being a guiding force in what I can now honestly say was a success in my early path of motherhood.

Please take a minute to enjoy your family, your life, and your gifts from day to day.  Our time here is way too precious.

Date Night

15 Aug

Recently I stumbled across an article on why breakups are so horribly depressing.  One reason being the areas activated in your brain when you’re in love are the same general areas of brain activity that occur in an addict.  Yes, really, an addict.  That’s wild.

Another reason given was the fact that when one couple breaks up, it has a domino effect of sorts.  Did you know that your chances of getting a divorce are 75% higher if another couple you are close to splits?

That’s wild too.

So I was moved to plan a last minute date night.  Quick.  As in Thursday evening, I was making plans for us for Friday night.

When I was younger, I imagined marriage as this stifling place where Date Night occurred once a week.  And the mere thought of that gave me the blues.  If only I’d known.  Once a week date night is a luxury.  And when you have little kiddos, a funky job schedule that you can’t complain about (it is a recession after all, be thankful if you’ve got a job) and live life sans nanny (as we do) it’s hard to get a date night once every other week.  So we work on once a month (or so).  But back to school plans and end of summer family plans got in the way.  August had been left unplanned.

Until I read those stats, and reflected on how easy it is to get caught up in L.I.F.E. and forget about dedicating time to you, just the two of you, without guilt.  At least I feel guilt whenever we embark on a plan that doesn’t include the kiddos.  Perhaps that’s the pitfall of stay at home parenting.  You’re so seeped into the lives of little people, so enraptured by their awesomeness, so grateful for the blessing, that you (or at least I) feel guilt when you take time out for yourself as parents.  Of course, being a parent is just one identity among many, and being a spouse is just as important, after all the love of your spouse led to the beauty of your family.

So I called up our neighborhood babysitter, who was thankfully available last minute for a Friday night.  C. you rock!   And off we went last night.  Awesome Chinese at the River Market with a view of storm clouds rolling in over the horizon.  People watching over a drink at our favorite Italian bistro in the rain, under an awning on the 2nd story balcony.  After the hottest day of the year, a night in the breeze of the rain was so liberating and romantic…

Capped the night off with dancing at a local spot to jammin’ music by a great D.J., so good, we city slickers thought he must have been from out of town.  But no, he was a small town Kansas boy, who grew up hunting and farming (yes, DH did ask).  So, I learned to throw another stereotype out of the window.

Normally, I drink Guinness.  Unless it’s a fancy pants night, or they don’t serve it, and then I’ll have Riesling.  Those are my standards.  Last night, for some reason, I ordered a Cosmopolitan.  You know, one of those modern vodka martinis made pink by a splash of cranberry juice.  And then I had another.  Just two, which seemed fine at the time.

Note to self:  don’t do vodka, not after pot stickers and Gong Bao Shrimp…

My stomach lodged a complaint this morning at 5 a.m. and proceeded to complain all day long.

I was in bed all day which, if you know me, never, ever, ever, happens.  I’m usually up by 6 at the latest.

So much for romantic memories, right?

Actually…

DH got up with the kids (he’s a wonderful father, but early mornings aren’t his style, especially not on a Saturday morning), played with them, dressed them, took them for their back to school haircuts, cooked and fed them lunch, played with them some more, snack time, another outing, and dinner.  I do believe he even threw in a load of laundry.  Won’t know until tomorrow because I have no intention of thinking about laundry until tomorrow (except, I guess, for this brief mention in blogworld).

Yes, he did everything except dust the ceiling fan.

And date night ended up being 10 reasons why I love my husband, and one step closer to that 1 in 4 couples who survive the travails of friends breaking up, and one rare time when we won’t have to fight over who gets the leftover Chinese.  It’s all yours babe.

(some) Movies are still Great Films

23 Jul

Recently, I was reading the Economist online. Their culture blog features an article entitled “The Art of Mark Ruffalo.” My first thought, at quick glance, was “wow, he’s an artist too?”  My brain has been trained, in this modern age of smash & grab, hit & run, blast you to death cinema, to think of actors in movies as a trade and cinematic actors as a dying art form.  When you say “actor” (at least in American terminology), often the term “artist” is not used interchangeably anymore.

I find this incredibly sad.

I was an aspiring actress once.  Ok, it was in middle school.  But I was drama this, drama that, drama, drama everywhere – and then there were the acting classes.  Really though, I watched each year’s Academy Awards in the fashion of Abigail Breslin in “Little Miss Sunshine.”  My mind would run rampant with fantasies of wearing a sweeping elegant gown while accepting that “big” award.  Later, realizing I have a flair for the bossier side of life, I flirted with the idea of directing.  And as an adult, finding a passion in writing, I’ve toyed with the notion of being a screenwriter.  Or I did, until I worked in the “biz” for a year and saw that screenwriters in Hollywood are something akin to Rodney Dangerfield.  And if I want that little respect, I can continue to sit around the house with kids all day (at least they’re cute while they ignore me).

I grew up in a Masterpiece Theater meets M*A*S*H household (Mom, Dad, in that order of course).  And classic movies were the norm on weekends, from Paul Newman to early Bond films to Hitchcock to Claudette Colbert to Cary Grant to Shirley Temple, and everything in between.  No, I’m not THAT old.  Most of these movies predated even my parents, but we all enjoyed the cinematic structure of a great drama.  Suspense, action and science fiction were favorites as well.  But the expectation of great acting and a good story was never far behind.  Could they manage to make a film like “The Sting” these days?  Very doubtful.

Comedy was popular as well.  But again we were geared toward either classic film or british television for laughs, All in the Family and Saturday Night Live were the exceptions.

I’m a Sundance Channel junkie.  Here I can find great drama and foreign films to my heart’s content, my latest faves being “Caché” and “The Lives of Others“.

Although my parents were medical professionals by trade, they had a refined sense of cinematic structural importance and what makes a good movie great.  My brother and I were fortunate enough (or perhaps, misfortunate enough) to pick this up.  We are the quintessential armchair critics.  Exchanging notes along the lines of: Movie X had a fine story line, but the acting didn’t quite measure up.  Movie B featured awe-inspiring special effects, too bad it lacked on every thing else.  When either of us sees the rare movie that ranks as “great” by our family standards, we are quick to pick up the phone and tell the other “you MUST see that movie, it’s not just a movie it’s a film…”

I made such a call earlier this week.  The day after I saw was blown away by Inception.” Now, I’ll be the first to admit, great cinematic features are such a rarity these days that one must stop one’s self from over-emphasizing the “greatness” of a movie until one has taken some time to reflect on said movie – the morning after.  And, of course, the special effects in “Inception” don’t hurt.  Pretty cool would be the technical term.  But the morning after I simply loved the storyline more.  I won’t get too specific – that would be a MAJOR spoiler.  But, I’ll tell you, as I told my brother, it’s a must see film.  They just don’t make them like that anymore.  The intricacy of the parallel storylines.  The depth of the characters (read: actors) in deed and in naming.  The trigger-point perfect editing and soundtrack.  The ability to leave you with the feeling that you must, absolutely must, question the world around you.  Stellar on all levels.  That’s a rarity.  If you haven’t seen it, go see it!  As my brother & his wife are doing right now.

So, that brings us back to Mark Ruffalo.  He has a new film out “The Kids Are All Right” about a married lesbian couple (Annette Benning, Julianne Moore) dealing with family acceptance or lack thereof.  While the article in question veers off onto a tangent about the inherent sexiness of Mark Ruffalo (I don’t disagree), I appreciate him most for his great depth of ability while channeling a character.  He has that je ne sais quoi that seems to allude so many of today’s actors.  Granted, in this movie, he’s surrounded by true thespians in their own rights, so I’ve no doubt the movie is good, if not great.  But, really, I’m just pleased to see that “acting” is still considered an art form, at least in some circles.

Can I get an Island with that Vowel?

21 Jul

http://www.123rf.com/photo_5287736_nice-legs-in-water.html

So today I randomly tweeted with a gal I’m connected to @nachtschwarmer.  She’ll be out of a job soon and tweeted that she’d gotten a first interview on her search for a new job.  Hooray, said she.  I agreed.

I don’t know Tania outside of Twitter, so I always make a point of taking that time to browse through a tweep’s bio & blog/website whenever we “engage” in convo.  That’s my way of staying on top of my social networking sphere.

Her Twitter bio led me to her website (did I mention she’s looking for a J.O.B.?), which in turn led me to her Tumblr blog.  Her Tumblr blog had a post from The Daily What (another website) with a picture of an awesome island abode and that post came from here:

Epic House is Epic

Did you catch that?  Did you click on that link?  Well, did-ja??  What a house! What an absolutely freakin’ awesome way to live.  Yeah, yeah, I know, where’s the bathroom they say… That’s not the point!

My overtaxed, rushed and harried brain went … Ooooo.  And then it said Aaaahhhh.  Ooohhhhh. Cue the dreams (just saw Inception, excellent!) of me, dear hubby, and the four kids whisking off to some remote island to live in peaceful, harmonic bliss….

And now for the kicker, here’s how my brain works:

See picture of blissful, romantic hut on some remote island.

Find out where said island is (in this case Bali).

Head over to Google (what else?).

Run a quick search on houses/abodes available for sale in this locale.

Realize that said island is very remote, so chances of DH finding an English speaking job to “transfer” to are practically nil.

Google houses available for short term rent on said island.

Bingo.  Find a reasonable alternative to buying in paradise.

Realize that island living comes with rather large pests.

Head back over to Google and search for common pests in said locale.

Run across this other blog that mentions a trip to Fiji and mosquito netting around each bed (argh! mosquitos? doesn’t that mean malaria risk), read through article only to find out that mosquito netting isn’t for mosquitos at all, but rather for spiders (ick!) the size of a human hand (WHAT?!?!)…

Ok, that’s Fiji, not Bali (yes, I do know a bit of geography).  Regardless, they’re not THAT far away from each other either.  So…

Google to see which islands have the least pest problems.

Find out that Hawaii, Ireland, and New Zealand are the only islands without snakes.

~Oh snakes!! That’s right.  Don’t particularly care for snakes either…~

Read further to discover that Hawaii MAY indeed actually have snakes, scratch that one, really not an option anyway being the most expensive of the three.

Make a note to self that future family vacation to Ireland will be that much nicer knowing there are no snakes.  Probably too cool there for snakes anyway.  By the same token, too cool for me to enjoy what I want out of an island, which is warm, tropical weather.

Remember seeing a list on Forbes of the top places to live in the world.  Check list.  Yes, there it is.  New Zealand.

Narrow in on New Zealand, which has the friendliest people this blogger has ever run across.  Haven’t  been there, but have met more than a few traveling Kiwis and they rock!

Wind up here, looking at pictures of quaint, not-too-remote, houses on NZ.

Now if I could just find a tropical part of New Zealand where we could afford to live, work, and buy a house, I’d be all set…

Wait~a~minute.

What was I doing here anyway?

How to Find Your Best Place – One Mother’s Tips & Secrets

16 Jul

Every year, I’m drawn to the lists of “best places” to live either in the US or globally.  The best of the best of lists, for the US, is compiled by Money Magazine.  Not only do they give a list of the past year’s Top 100 cities, they also create lists of cities in categories like: Best Places to Find ‘Rich’ Singles, Best Places to Retire, Best Places to find Jobs, etc…  Some of the lists, like the top cities with the highest median incomes, have little meaning to me.  The most expensive cities are rarely the “best” places to live, witness how few of these cities ever make the Top 100 list overall.

So how do the folks at Money Magazine (now a division of CNN) make their determination as to which cities are the best in any given year?  Factors taken into consideration include: strong local economies, relatively low population sizes, affordable real estate, good schools and low crime – pretty everything one should want in a place one intends to call home.  Although, my top two cities – San Francisco and Chicago – would never have a chance of making this list.  Nor would any other major city, since low population is a consideration.  Of course, “suburban” enclaves can (and often do) make the cut.  Take for example last year’s number one city – Louisville, CO – a small town just outside of Boulder, which is another of my favorite cities.

The problem with these lists is their categorization of “best” may not  take into account your needs.  I, for one, require diversity in any city I choose to call home – not just racial diversity, but religious diversity, progressive mindsets, and the ability to have a conversation with my neighbors without feeling like they are trying to pass judgment on or control my associations.  Often, these are the things best found in an “urban” environment.  Urban life lends itself to a natural diversity that can not easily be mimicked in smaller population settings.  Urban life allows tends to provide more options  in the “things to do” category.  Of course.  And let’s not forget, there’s the fact that I’m a city girl at heart.  So, in the spirit of progressive honesty, I’ll admit, I may be a bit biased.

Personally, while I love to browse through them, I think the best list, with the focus provided by Money Magazine, overlooks the wonders of many a magical inner urban neighborhood, which can provide good schools and a relatively safe environment despite their surroundings.  Plus, I can attest to the fact that after years of big city living, without a break in or a prowler, it was only after we moved to a “small” town setting that those issues came into play.   Fact: no place is 100% crime free.

The problem with finding idyllic neighborhoods in big cities is you often need insider knowledge.  Locals will know thinks like: oh, the east side of Neighborhood X is a bit dicey but the west side is Nirvana.  Or, 20 years ago Neighborhood Y was the pits but now it’s got a cool vibe with an up and coming neighborhood association.

So, maybe you’ve lived your life in smaller cities and small towns, and you’re getting ready to take the leap into a big city.  Maybe the recession is forcing your family to rethink your location.  Big cities have the distinct advantage of having more employers and therefore, larger job pools. 

Yet, not everyone has insider knowledge and not every one wants to be a urban pioneer.  How does one go about finding the best places when considering a big city?

My family and I have had to move more than a few times for job opportunities in the past few years.  Here’s how I go about finding the “spots” I’d like to target in a new city:

  1. The best schools in the area.

    We have small children, so education is top of our list.  However, even if you don’t have children, looking for a neighborhood with a great public school isn’t a bad idea.  Good schools come from an active community, always a plus.  Good schools mean plenty of local involvement from the school board, PTA and community business.  Again a plus.  Good schools may mean higher property taxes, but usually compared to the given metro area, not by much.  And there are plenty of communities that are assessing high property taxes without the good schools to show for it, so…

    Start with Great Schools dot org.  Great Schools has been around for years, yet I’m always amazed at home many families relocate without using their resources.  It’s free and they provide a ranking of local public schools based on the latest test scores.  Schools are ranked from 1 to 10 (1 being the poorest performing schools, 10 being the highest).  Keep in mind that a school with a 10 may not be YOUR best school, based on other local factors, and a 7 may not be a horrible option if everything else falls in line for your family.  But my personal belief is school performance should have some bearing on the bigger question of where to send your children to school.

    If you have children, start with a city search, select a school that meets your basic needs and then run a Great Schools search by clicking on the “compare to other schools” feature.  You can compare to other local schools, compare to other schools in that city, or compare to other schools in that school district.  Depending on the design of the educational system in that community, these may or may not provide you with differing results.  But that’s your starting point.

  2. Screen For the Scene

    No one wants to live in a crime-ridden neighborhood.  In general, the best tool I’ve found for overall US crime data presented in a map form is Spot Crime. Sometimes, you can find added info in a really good Wikipedia entry for the neighborhood of your choice.  Also, be sure to sign up at the user-driven forum city-data.com.  This is THE place to post any questions you have about your chosen locale and a great way to narrow down your choices. 
  3. Narrowing Your Focus

    Once you’ve identified your school(s) of choice.  Try to find an online school district map.  Usually, the school board will have the district mapping accessible online.  In some less tech-friendly schools, you may have to call the school district and ask that they fax you a copy of the school’s districting map.  The point is – you want to know which homes in the community feed into that school.  NOTE: If you don’t have children just take at look at where the highest concentration of 9 and 10 ranked schools are and narrow your focus to that area of the city.

    Call the school, explain that you are moving into the area and ask the receptionist if their community has a neighborhood name – like Glen Oaks or Rally Park or whatever – remember, you’re not looking for the school’s name!  If there’s no specific name to that area, be sure to get the school’s zip code.

  4. Check the Real Estate

    Once you have a good feel for the boundaries of the school area, go to one of the following real estate websites:
    Realtor.com
    Trulia
    Zillow

    Run a search for homes for sale on one of these sites, using either the specific neighborhood name, or the zip code if you couldn’t narrow it down.  Zillow is my personal favorite starting point for real estate searches.  It’s like the Google of real estate searches.  For one, you can type the neighborhood name right into the search box on their home page.  Also, Zillow really broke ground with its property value estimate feature, which will give you an idea of what a particular home “should” be selling for based on recent sales.  Other sites provide similar data, but Zillow is tops.

  5. Create your Drive By list

    In this case, drive by is a good thing.  In that you are going to take you list of “favorite” homes and drive through the area.  Try to see the neighborhood at varying times (night vs. day, weekdays vs. weekends), and talk a walk!  Nothing like walking to get a “feel” for the neighborhood.  Check the local stores, the neighborhood park (whether you plan to use it or not, a well-maintained local park is a sign of a good neighborhood), stop by the local city hall and pick up their new residents “welcome” packet.  This will give a great heads up on what’s current and what’s happening in that area.  If there’s a flyer/insert on the recent crackdown in crime (well, that’s your red flag).  On the other hand, you might find a copy of featured write-up about the community in the local paper or magazine.

It won’t take long to pinpoint your favorite spot in town, if you follow these steps and do your homework!  After all the best place for you and your loved ones may not be on Money Magazine’s top list (and that’s alright!).

Day in the Life

8 Jul
This evening, random chatter at the dinner table turns into:

Kiddo #2: Stop that! No I’m not.
~pause for mother trying to plug in to what just happened~
Kiddo #3: Yes you are.
Kiddo #4: Yah, yah. You too are.
~she’s two~
Kiddo #2 throws his hands in the air with great dramatic flair.
Kiddo #2: I am NOT.  Mom, they keep saying I’m bossy…
Kiddo #3: Well, you are.
Kiddo #4: Yah, yah.
Me: Wait a minute…
~brief pause for mother still trying to catch up~
~yelling very loud bantering ensues~

Me: Ok, hold on..
~more pause time for mother trying to figure out how to handle bossy child whose feelings are now hurt and still allow for sibling truth moment~
Kiddo #4: You are too, you bossy, you bossy, yes you do….
Kiddo #3 is too busy eating to chime in at the moment.
Kiddo #2 is sulking in his chair, glaring at me (what’d I do?)
Me: Ok, now, you two that’s not nice, you hurt your brother’s feelings.
Kiddo #3: Ok (as in yeah, ok, so what)
Me to Kiddo #2: That hurt your feelings?
Kiddo #2: Yes.
Kiddo #4: Yah yah. (getting any ideas on who the instigator will be…?)
Me to Kiddo #2: Maybe, perhaps, you should try working with your siblings when you play…
Kiddo #2: I DO. I always DO.  I always tell them how to play and what to do.
~I am not making that up~
Me: Well, maybe, next time, we can do it in a nicer way, eh?
Kiddo #4: Yah yah, nice way.
Kiddo #3 is still munching away….
Kiddo #2: Ok (shrugs and walks away).
Kiddo #4: Yah, yah yah. Nice, nice, nice.
Kiddo #3 just looks at me and smiles.

Somehow, I feel like I fell right into that.