Monday, January 17, 2011

My Writing Style

I found a site through facebook where you cut and paste something you've written and it tells you what famous author your writing style is like. I used one of my blog entries and it turns out that I have a similar writing style to David Foster Wallace - whoever that is. I looked him up on amazon and read some of his reviews. One said that he had a "razor sharp writing style with a mercurial mind that lights on many subjects." Well, I certainly subject hop but most people call that ADD.

Another review said that he brings a "humane sobriety to his subjects" and I have certainly lived my life as sober as a judge! Does the similarity end there? I'll have to read some of his writing and let you know.

Daughter J & I spent the weekend looking at cars and searching for an apartment that will be close to my job. It will be so wonderful to live together again. We love the same food, the same TV shows, have a lot of the same interests and our general energy seems to jive.

Now that I am no longer poor as a church mouse, now that my inheritance is finally starting to come in, I was tempted to end this blog and start over. But this housing search has made me realize that continuing to live within my means is more important than ever! The challenge is just beginning. I can afford to go out and rent a nice house, or anything I want actually. But to continue to afford it as the years go by ... that's the important part.

We made a list of what our "must haves" in a home are. They are to have a washer & dryer, a full sized working kitchen, a sliding glass door that leads to a back yard or patio, so we can put in our dog door. It was quite a challenge but today we finally managed to find a place that fit our criteria. And by not renting a free standing house, we had to give up something. This place has no garage or storage or covered parking. So there you go. But by staying with something as nice as possible but still affordable, we will be able to be comfortable there for a long time to come. Now we just have to qualify ...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Favorite Christmas Songs

This is a pic of me, Barry Manilow, Suzanne Somers, and my good buddy Sharon Beavan backstage at the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, CA on December 23, 1997. It was a Christmas charity concert that they did to benefit College of the Desert and we went backstage and met them afterwards. It was looking at this picture that me think about Christmas music.
I am a great afficienado of Christmas music. I've been collecting Christmas CDs from the beginning of time and have decided to let the world reap the benefits of my extensive knowledge. Here are my all time favorite renditions of my favorite Christmas songs.

In no particular order, they are:

1) Winter Wonderland by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormet - a warm, playful rendition off of the first Christmas album I ever owned (and practically wore out). Great chemistry between those two.

2) Christmas Bride by the Ray Coniff Orchestra. My dad owned only one Christmas album and every year I would get shivers when this came on. I ask you, why do artists record the same dozen songs when there are romantic under-exposed gems like this floating around?

3) Jingle Bell Rock by Hall & Oates recorded back when they were still Hall & Oates and not yet Daryl Hall and John Oates. Love Daryl's voice on this - as warm and playful as you're likely to hear it and, as always, clear as a bell.

4) Little Drummer Boy by Johnny Cash. He sings this song the way I would sing it, or most of us would.

5) Do You Hear What I Hear by The Carpenters. I know that Karen is famous for a couple of other Christmas classics but the way she builds on this one until that final flawless note at the end - how many singers could pull this off? Not many apparently, since most arrangers ruin the whole thing by stopping the build to play random music in the middle.

6) Mary Did You Know by Mark Lowry. I just plain love this song. Someone asked me if it's really a Christmas carol. When you are singing about Mary and her baby, what else could it be and when else would you sing it? Honorable mention to Clay Aikens but I'll go with the author's rendition (which is better to listen to than to watch - he way overperforms it).

7) Last Christmas by Wham! Supposedly set to the tune of Can't Smile Without You (really? I can't hear it ...) but a much, much better song. Love, love, love it.

8) I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus by the Jackson Five. Little Michael is so cute on this, I always enjoy it, especially the ending where his brothers are teasing him.

9) Jingle Bells by Barry Manilow & Expose. It's a take off on an old Bing Crosby/Andrew Sisters arrangement and I like it just a bit better than the original.

10) Little Saint Nick by The Beach Boys. What would Christmas be without my Beach Boys Christmas album?
What are your favorite Christmas songs?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Expect the Unexpected

November was a perfect example of how being financially challenged hasn't kept me from having wonderful life experiences. Dinner at Cheesecake Factory for daughter #1's birthday (is there anything that makes you feel more human than dining out?) and spending Thanksgiving in Seattle with daughter #3's new in laws. Travel, celebrations, making new acquaintances...does it get any better than that?

I think that part of the fun is learning how to make do and get by while keeping expenses down. The rumor out there, perpetrated by the media, was that Thanksgiving airfare was so expensive that no one would be able to afford to go anywhere and even if you could the airports would be such a madhouse why would you want to? My ticket to Seattle cost $350 and the airports were quiet both ways, even though I flew on the two busiest travel days of the year - the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after. A perfect example of why I hate the media and never believe anything that comes from it.

A couple of interesting and completely unforeseen opportunities have come my way recently. A year ago I felt that I had no future, now the future is wide open and anything could happen. One thing I've learned is to never despair about or be afraid of the future because it rarely turns out how you think it will.

Speaking of making do and getting by, I don't have TV and am getting increasingly frustrated by the situation because I especially love all of the holiday programming. A friend suggested buying a converter box in order to at least get the local channels. I bought the box, turned on my TV, couldn't get it working properly and a couple of days later the picture tube flat lined. I am certainly technology challenged in my current residence. It's not that we don't have cable, we do - just not television. I hope to change that very soon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Ship Has Come In

My stepfather died last weekend. It was very sad, he was in his 80's and had spent most of his senior years as a vital, spry gentleman - a Clint Eastwood look-a-like - with a misspent youth and a colorful past. Jack Thomas had been a bartender and pro bowler, husband to 6, father to 2, stepfather to 4. He left behind a grandson and a mourning granddaughter who, even though he was my Mom's second husband, was the only maternal grandfather she'd ever known.

He lived in Las Vegas and I'd last visited him in August. I planned my next visit with him at the end of this month. He'd been in poor health of late and I'd always wrangle a little private time with him to check in and make sure that he was still happy with his living arrangements and that his caretakers were indeed taking good care of him. He seemed very happy during those final years.

My step father was the only thing standing between my brothers and I and our long awaited inheritance. My father had died at the age of 65, leaving behind a 3 million dollar estate. Under my Mom's watch, over the next 12 years, she squandered and dwindled it down to a few hundred thousand dollars. Poor health, gambling, moving 10 times in 12 years, giving in to the bullying of a greedy child - she and Jack had whittled away at it until little was left. A sad, sad story and a warning to others who think that a planned inheritance will see them through their retirement years.

When the dust settles, I believe I'll be coming out of it with a Thomas Kincaid painting, some furniture and a small inheritance, in the 6 figures. To to sum it up, my ship has come in but it's a leaky rowboat. The truly nice thing about all this though is that I no longer have to sweat the summers (if you'll pardon the pun) for many years to come. I'll be able to enjoy my well deserved 7 weeks from mid-June to mid-August off.

I Joined A Gym

I joined one of them there gyms. I know, I know $30 a month and $80 up front for the honor of giving them permission to dip into my account and take said thirty dollars. Monthly. Why did I do such an foolish, unspeakable thing?

Well, my roomie Mich and I have a best friend named Gail. We call ourselves the Three Amigos - or "Tres Amigas" (we're learning Spanish.) Mich & Gail were always going on about their zumba class. Nothing, no event no matter how earth shattering, interferred with them going to zumba 3 nights a week. To hear them tell it, it was the most fun one could legally have and the teacher was Something To See in action. Well, what could I do but go just to see what all the fuss was about. A 5 day free pass was secured and all excuses swept aside. It was time to enter the Inner Sanctum.

I had great concerns about this, which I repeatedly shared with my non-sympathetic Amigas. I had been leading such a sedentary lifestyle for so long that I wasn't at all certain that I could stand upright for an hour at a time, let alone move about vigorously. Also I had respiratory issues that stem from a bad ticker. I failed all respiratory testing that involved exerting myself. Any effort, even one as small as rising to go to the bathroom and returning to bed, caused my oxygen levels to drop dramatically - the opposite of most people's which rise upon exertion. I was afraid that if I worked out I'd pass out. I came up with a plan of action in case the worst should happen ... if I started to see stars I'd sit down until it passed ... girded my loins and headed resolutely towards the nearest 24 Hour Fitness.

Zumba is an exercise program similar to aerobics but set to catchy Spanish pop music. It involves salsa-type dance steps, some hip-hop, belly dancing and even (I swear) polka moves. The basic zumba step involves bringing your arms up to chest level, hands pointed outwards and shaking your booty. The class is filled with tiny hispanic women and a few of us white folk. It takes most of us whities quite a while to loosen up and start to use our "core" - that chubby area from under the breast to above the thighs, a move that comes naturally to our lithsome, graceful hispanic counterparts. But the biggest benefit of zumba, and what differs it from other work outs, is the core work out. You can actually tighten that tummy, reduce your backside and whittle away at that waist ... all things I desperately need to do.

Back in the day, when I was a young Mom, I used to take aerobics classes. It was an hour long class involving a warm up, mat work and a cool down. There were two or three songs of all out, full out exercise somewhere in the middle. From what I can tell with zumba, you go all out for the full hour. Oh there's a perfunctionary cool down song at the end during which we do stretches - which benefit me probably more than the rest of the our long ordeal does. But basically you go all out for the full hour. At least our amazing instructor does. I have taken class from a couple of other instructors and they might throw in a warm up song, but basically we go all out.

No one was more amazed than I when I made it through the first class. It wasn't until a couple of weeks into it that I had a moment where I thought I was going to pass out. While gasping desperately for air, Mich said I resembled one of those Dancing With The Stars celebrities trying to catch their breath after doing their number. But I have up until now remained fully up right and conscious at all times. The benefits were immediate. The next day at work I stood fully upright all day, instead of being bent forward at the waist and walking around with my butt sticking out. I was able to rise to my feet without needing the assistance of the nearest counter top. I walked with a spring in my step, instead of lurching unsteadily down the hallway trying desperately to look relevant. It was such an amazing transformation that I was hooked!

Now I go to zumba religiously at least 3 times a week. I'm also trying to make room in my weekend schedule for an hour long yoga class that happens at 10 am on Saturdays. I'm thinking the stretching would be a good balance to all the jumping around. If I have a day off and there's a morning class, I take that too. When I can't exercise on the weekends and I have to go 4 or 5 days between workouts, I start to stiffen up again and assume my old hunchbacked hobbit posture.

Wait, there's more! I haunt thrift shops searching for exercise wear and have actually been seen entering sports and dance stores hunting for dance shoes. People have started to comment on my new slimmer silhouette. If I could give up the candy I might actually drop some real weight. I know that Mich and Gail's clothes are hanging off of them but they've been at it longer than I have. As Mich keeps reminding me, it took me years to put on the extra pounds, it's going to take a while to lose it.

All in all, I think that $30 a month may be the best investment I've ever made. To take the normal zumba class around town costs $10 a pop. I'm taking at least 12 a month - you do the math. The benefits were staggering right off the bat. I'm hoping the zumba craze won't end for a very long time.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Going Cold Turkey

Recently I rented my friend Mich's spare bedroom. We decided to try co-habitating on a trial basis for 3 weeks and if it worked out I'd formally move in (& start paying rent) on October 1st. Mich doesn't believe in watching television and is a vegetarian. I, of course, have the TV on constantly and eat pretty much anything that is no longer moving. Is there any hope?

There was a computer outlet in my room BUT my monitor broke during the move and so there I was with no computer. There was also no TV signal. We went to Time Warner and ordered TV reception, a DVR for me and to have a computer line run into my room. We didn't schedule it until October 1st though.

Going without TV was extremely strange at first. There was a TV in the living room but it was only connected to a DVD box. How would I survive without my daily General Hospital fix? How could I get by with no Duggars or Gosselins and without knowing how Florence Henderson was doing on Dancing With the Stars?

As I went through withdrawal, I could only watch what Mich rented from Netflix or had in her limited DVD collection. She had a lot of feel good movies and the last 5 seasons of Frasier. I occasionally popped something in to relax by. But to my surprise, once I got over the habit of having background TV noise on, I really didn't give much thought to any of the shows I'd previously thought I couldn't live without. Samantha Brown and Anthony Bourdain had to get by without me. I confess that one day during my lunch hour I pulled up a synopsis of what had happened episode by episode on General Hospital in my absence. I was pleased to learn that the show was pretty much as I'd left it and I wasn't much interested in what had happened since I'd last watched.

On the other hand, not having a computer really hurt! I felt so disconnected from everyone - no daily Facebook fixes, no friend's blogs. I couldn't check my personal email from work as there is a strong firewall in place at school sites. Once in a while after work I'd steal a few minutes at someone else's computer - my daughter's or Mich's laptop. It was amazing how little time it took to catch up on facebook and deal with my email. All the extra time I had spent online in the past was spent playing games and blogging. Hmmmm, food for thought.

Mich and I had a serious chat while Juan from Time Warner was here hooking us up today. She asked me not to watch TV in the living room while she was home so that she wouldn't get sucked back in and become a couch potato again. She begged me to be her savior. I confessed that I was afraid I'd become her corruptor and warned her that within a week she will know the first names of all of the DC Housewives.

I hope it's not true though. I hope I'll retain something positive from this experience. But since it is 2 in the morning and I'm sitting here on my new (used) computer blogging while watching Holly's World on TV, I can't say for certain that any good habits have set in. Only time will tell.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fashion Fasting

I've decided to continue to simplify/streamline my life in other ways. In my last post, I talked about Fiscal Fasting. Another term in the world of cutting back is Fashion Fasting. That means commiting to buying no new clothes for a set period of time (underwear doesn't count.)

I'm gearing up to move back to Palm Springs the day after tomorrow and am going through my clothes and shoes, packing and sorting. I'm not one to have a lot of clothes in the closet that don't fit or that I don't wear. I don't believe in keeping all different sizes, just in case. I have been steadily losing weight this summer so have had to take in a few pairs of pants and give away some of my bigger tops. I'm not sure I'll be able to commit to fashion fasting if the weight loss continues. Purchasing new pants may be in order at some point. But other than that, I'd like to try to not buy at least any tops until next summer.

I'm moving in with a friend who has a lovely condo in north Palm Springs. I'll get the second bedroom with a small closet. A wonderful invention is the Miracle Hanger. I've always used a similar type of hanger to hang several pairs of pants in a small space but with this invention I can hang tops. It's sobering to see at a glance how many work tops I have. Each hanger holds 5 tops and I have 9 hangers. Wow, 45 work shirts.

Not all of my tops are very nice, but they are intact, unstained and nice enough to wear to work. I work in the office of a middle school, so the dress code is pretty lax. You never know what will happen in any given day, you can end up on the floor crawling under your desk, being thrown up on in the nurse's office, spilling food on yourself in the lunch room, etc. We wear school shirts at least two days a week.

Also I live in the desert, so the temps are generally pretty balmy. Some people wear capris and sandals to work all year round. Being from the midwest, I insist on maintaining a winter wardrobe and a summer wardrobe. I usually only get to wear the warmer clothes from mid-November through mid-March though. Wearing socks signals the change of season to me.