Guest etiquette–Best Hostess Gifts

This is such a stressful subject for men and women, I thought I’d address some basics on the subject. Everything I have learned has been through mortifying experiences, good examples and lots and lots of well-intentioned acts gone awry.
What is a hostess gift?
It’s a present a guest gives the host/hostess as a means of showing gratitude and saying thanks.
Do people actually do this? (Rog asked the first five times)
Yes, they do. In fact, it’s a multi-million dollar business (just look on line if you don’t believe me).
Are you surrreee? (same source as above)
Yes. This is considered good form, tasteful, and in certain circumstances, required.
Is it expensive?

Not at all. Many gifts are less than $40, many less than $20. Homemade gifts, such as banana or pumpkin bread or cookies are a few bucks tops.

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Is it really required in these down, economic times?
Let’s broaden this question to: Is a host/hostess gift ever expected? No. I think not. Sometimes, if a hostess goes all out on a party, she may like a card or something in return. But I can guarantee nary a word will be uttered by the hostess. It’s completely bad form.
Overall, I have zero expectations some one will give me something for throwing a party. In San Francisco, the environment is a bit more formal, for lack of a better word, and gifts were a part of the scene. Loved that. In the south, it was considered bad form to bring food (unless specifically asked by the host/hostess), so flowers are more the norm. In NY, I’ve noticed anything goes, as long as it’s expensive and is in good taste (a’la jewelry and hard to get Broadway tickets are not uncommon) and anything from Red Envelope, with their little red boxes, will be adored.
What is a gift appropriate?
A few pointers:
The first time you have been invited to the home. That’s a must. It conveys appreciation for the fact that the host/hostess have gone to the trouble of making dinner for you (and perhaps your family). After that, you can casually offer to your host/friend if you can bring something. If they say yes—bottled water—ask if they have a preference. If yes, then honor their request for the type if possible. Don’t stray! The host/hostess will be counting on your contribution once you commit. If they decline, use your best judgement.
When someone throws YOU a bridal or baby shower. The hostess has provided the food, the invitations, the venue etc. This can be several hundreds of dollars. That said, when I host either for someone, I expect neither. This is due to the economic realities that the bride/groom-expectant parents have likely shelled out tons of money already. That said, if you are cash positive (and people know this), show good form and treat your hostess (see below).
I’ve received many well-intentioned, though odd things over the years.
Candle holders. This was for a baby shower I hosted. Puter, in a Gallic, fourteenth-century-type of a way. Very large, not my taste, but a nice gesture. Though Martha Stewart advocates candles for a hostess gift, I don’t give candle holders myself. Candles are very much a personal design/taste thing, and it’s easy to screw it up.
A pink Chantilly rug. Strange but true. It was cozy, looked expensive, and right out of the seventies. I’d worry about saying this, but we moved and haven’t been in touch with the guest that gave us the rug in three years. I’m pretty sure this blog isn’t being read by the gift-giver.
When is a gift not necessary? 
If it’s a “guy-thing,” such as a BBQ for Rog’s hockey team, I’ll ask the wife/girlfriend/partner if I can ‘bring something,’ which, for hockey players, means food or beer. The first time, I had Rog ask his teammate for a suggestion, and he received “nothing, just show.” I promptly ignored that comment, and made a vat full of delectable brownies. The entire professional size pan was cleaned out in ten minutes. Food is always a hit with the guys.
Note to girls: Rog claims men don’t drink beer and eat sweets at the same sitting. This, my friends, is false. Men are good with both.
Best hostess gifts
The best hostess gifts are the ones that convey thought and consideration for the host or the hostess’ likes and dislikes. A few examples…
If your host talks about fishing, pick up something small from the fly shop. He’ll likely return it, but it’s the thought (and the store credit) that count. When your hostess has a small garden, get a pot of herbs, or a pair of gloves. Don’t worry about the style. I for one, have never met a pair of gloves I didn’t like (they get dirty after all!) If you host has mentioned attending author events, get him the latest bestseller.
If your hostess is a cook, just about anything kitchen will do. Better yet, a cooking magazine subscription is awesome!!

When you don’t know someone well enough, and it’s a first time, relax. When you roam around the hostess’s home, check out what she likes. One sneaky guest of honor saw I like a particular brand of hard to find chamomile tea. When she came for the next event, she brought one wrapped in a bow. I was completely surprised and touched by her thoughtfulness and the effort she put in to get it!

Some specific gifts that I’ve given include….

  • a bracelet from Red Envelope, similar to this one (they don’t carry the actual one I purchased any longer)
  • little, unique ramikens. My mother loves to collect these things…all are different. Each one is fun, and such a girly-thing
  • kitchen hand towels that are seasonal or holiday
Note the trend here…things that are non-essentials; items a busy, overworked woman on a budget isn’t going to indulge herself to buy.
What about those times when you’re invited to a party, barely know the hosts and want to bring a gift instead of providing one after the fact. This could be a work, church or neighborhood event and you have to guess. That’s when you go for the old standards.
Flowers are good, but you must think about the situation of the party.
For instance, bringing uncut flowers to a large party won’t be appreciated by the hostess. The hostess has to stop everything to cut the flowers, put them in a pot and find a place for the gift. It requires her to stop greeting guests, dealing with the food etc, disrupting her flow and potentially making her crabby. That said, uncut flowers ARE great for casual, outdoor bbq’s or even a sit-down dinner with one or two couples.
An alternative for big parties is a gift of a small plant, already in a pot. It doesn’t need to be an expensive pot, in fact, cheap, plastic containers wrapped with some cellophane of the season is perfect. That way, you (the guest) can either sit it down on an open space, or the hostess can do so. It’s a wonderful thank you, and all wrapped up in a single gift.
Chocolate is great. Dark or milk. Hostess or host will love. (I prefer milk, rog is dark)…either way, it’s wonderful (no twix bars)
More often than not, people bring alcohol. We don’t drink wine, and actually, I don’t drink at all. Rog favors ‘fizzy’ drinks, like sparkling water. But heck, people bring what they know and like, and further, they don’t want to drink water. So what started as a BYOW(wine) motto turned in to something akin to the ‘Pay it forward.’
For our holiday party last year, most everyone brought wine or chocolate. This was because I placed on the invitation a note….
No food or gifts please.
If you feel compelled to bring something, the guests enjoy wine or chocolate.
By the end of the evening, we had enough bottles of liquor to open a store. Now, when guests arrive with wine, we either drink what they brought or choose a bottle from our stash we have. Either way, the guests are paying it forward.
When you are mystified, go to a shopping helper. I like sites that identify gifts specifically for Thank you/Hostess gifts. They make it really easy, from aprons to picture frames (and many sub $20).
If you are in doubt….don’t worry about it. If you are late, and the only thing between your destination and you is a Krispy Kremes stand, keep driving. It’s better to make it up after the fact (on round two) with your hostess than to arrive with something so obviously last minute.
Your job as the guest is to show up, have fun, appreciate the atmosphere and leave fulfilled. In the end, the very best gift is good friends, good company, and a return invitationJ

Living Life without a Nose

Every so often, I meet or see a person that serves to remind me a) how good I got it, b) how we’ve all had crap happen in our lives and c) how the will and desire to overcome is present in some people and not in others.
***
“Let’s not do 12 days of Christmas,” Rog announced last Thursday night. “How about the 37 days of Christmas?” As I stare at him, completely mystified at his meaning. “I mean, why not put the tree tomorrow?” My jaw drops. Saliva drips from the corner of my mouth and he recants…a little. “This…weekend?” he suggests.

Seriously. Halloween just ended.

After wiping said drool from my mouth, I listened to Rog’s argument that we were hardly going to have a Christmas with all the travel and commitments.

“I’m also gone so much I don’t get to enjoy the decorations.” Nothing shows how truly-Christmas deprived he was as a child more than his plaintive wail. Of course I relented.

The next day, I find myself at my super-secret, cowboy ornament store that happens to have a killer sale going on. Standing a line 10 people deep, I take odds on what checker I’m going to get. When I see her, my stomach clenched and I felt a little queesy. Her, you see, is a woman with no nose.

It has only been in the last year that I’ve seen Her, a thin woman, mid-thirties, medium-height, five foot eight or so, thick, dark, shoulder-length, olive skin, and a graceful set of hands that move quickly from counter to terminal, referring to co-workings as “honey” and customers as “hon.”

The first time I’d seen her, I was a bit taken aback, and didn’t stare (thanks mom, you taught me right), and looked around her missing attribute– her forehead, her hair–easy to do when in the waiting line and looking at her from the side. But that Friday, I had a feeling it was going to be my turn in front of her.

Soon I was invited to her counter, called Hon and we started talking. That’s what I do: I get others talking. I’m genuinely curious and it’s helped by the fact others usually are more than happy to answer.

The conversation centered on our mutual love and appreciation of cowboy ornaments and she did her job and tried to sell me on an in-house charge card. When I declined, she went for the hard sell.

Let me tell you, she was good. She tried every angle, and I sparred with her like only a fellow sales-person would. It was becoming fun. As this went on, I noticed how gloriously green her emerald-colored eyes were, framed by long lashes and thick brows. Her lips were full, and her face a mask of flawless skin that actually moved, removing all doubt that she was in fact, a natural beauty, no botox or restilyn present. I didn’t even notice her nose, which was actually a reconstruction of two side-pieces of skin, folded together like a vertical seem.

“No in-house credit for me,” I was saying. “My twenties were for getting in debt. My thirties were for getting out of debt and my forties are for staying out.” She smiled. Then it was her turn.

“Tell me about it Hon,” she started, talking as rapidly as her hands moved my stack of cowboy ornaments across the beeping scanner. “I was flipping houses in my twenties, making eight thousand dollars a shot, had savings and a husband and credit with Lloyds of London. Then my husband left me with one hundred thousand dollars in debt and my identity got stolen. I had no money, no credit and no home.” She continued to ring and I was dead silent, captivated in one of those horrible yet fascinated ways.

“I’ve here working to get back to where I was, and at least I have decent credit now, I’m single, and I’m getting ready to start flipping house again. Nothing as small as that is going to stop me from getting back to where I was.”

Whoa. As the horse ornament whizzed over the beeper and she folded up the catcus and peppers, I was struck not by what she said (I’ve heard lots of stories of men and women being taken for rides by their former spouses, yours truly included), but what she left out. Nothing about the nose, and I wasn’t going to ask. By that time, I didn’t even notice it.

Then she took out a card from behind the counter, swiped that as well, and I saw the register remove another 15% from the total price.

“You can do that?” I asked, pleased and amazed.

She winked. “Of course Hon. Happy Friday.”

I told her I’d see her again soon, and left the building. Tonight, I hung the ornaments, taking extra care with the cactus and peppers, my thoughts on what one has to go through to not let something as small as being left physically, and encumbered with $100K of debt not diminish one’s determination to have a  fulfilling life.

 

My favorite denial

 

The elk came through October 13, a record by a month. Here’s the deal: the elk come through approximately 2-7 days before the first snow (this is what the last 2 years have taught us). This year, we think- they have become confused–there is No. Way. it’s gonna snow. Oct 13th, they are lounging it the grass. Oct 14th, BAM, it snows–three inches. The elk look as shocked as we are, but their internal clocks had it right.

Two years, thirty pounds. That’s what a move, moose and too much hot chocolate has done to me. My indented stomach expanded like the air in a tire, gradually filling up the once-loose space under my t-shirts. It’s added warmth, I tell myself, watching the temperature gauge hit 12 degrees on the drive to the house.

During this same time, my husband’s tummy flattens as he snow-beasts himself up and down our road at all hours of the day and night in the winter snowplowing (he resembles a white snow-beast in his winter camo outfit, hence the snow-beast) and in the summer, he’s felling trees or whatever else he does in the forest. He is shrinking as I expand, which drives me even more desperately to all things dark and chocolate.

Spring, summer and fall have come and gone two times and one day, not too long ago, I tug at the waist line of my long-sleeve t-shirt, pulling it over and down to my jeans. I see Rog watching.

“It’s not there if you can’t see it.” He smirks, I wink. We burst out laughing. “It’s my favorite denial,” I quip. My personal roll of insulation is still there, but until I do something about it, I choose to ignore it entirely. I still hear his laughter as I walk downstairs.

Since then, the phrase has gotten so much use around my house.

Dust on the floor? Move the chair cuz if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

Dirty laundry? Throw in down the shoot, cuz if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

Do you see how useful this catch-phrase has become? I’ve found a whole new lease on life.

Sexual disease? …ok, kidding on that one, but it’s just fun and sassy to write.

As I type this blog on this lovely, Sunday night, I stare at an empty plate beside my bed, which just thirty minutes ago, had six chocolate chip cookies on it. But, they don’t exist at all, because they are now in my stomach. The good news is I am wearing a cozy fleece top, so my jelly belly doesn’t exist at all.

The Safe Friend

It was 1:30 in the morning.

“Can you talk?” My friend asks me. Well, I’d answered the phone I think to myself.

When someone calls at 1:30 a.m., they don’t want to hear me talk. They want to talk. They need to talk.

“Of course. What’s up?”

“You are never going to believe…” she starts, telling me about the trainwreck that has become her life. I put my hand to my mouth, close my eyes, ignore the wave of judgment that passes through me and think of the right words to say to the person who has said these things to me more than once.

“That must be have been hard,” I say.

Friendship is like the sun thawing an emotional chill.

“Yes!” my friend wails. I keep going, saying phrases designed to help my friend get her emotions out. It’s what my mom (a shrink) did with us around the dining room table after school. Of course, we had no idea we were being shrunk out. We just felt understood, heard and validated.

“Let it out,” I tell my friend, all the while thinking I was a safe environment, and that’s what friends need: a safe environment to emote. Friends aren’t always looking for advice. That’s what spouses are for (wanted or not). Friends want compassion. A listening, non-judgmental ear that is all for them and no one else. Taking sides isn’t even a question.

Here’s a few affirming statements I learned from mom. For a:

  • Breakup…..”It sounds like it really hurt you….” (“Yes!”)
  • Loss of a job…”That must have been discouraging…” (“It was!!”)
  • Rejection…. “It’s like it’s never going to get better…” …. (“That’s right!!”)

So my friend continued like a young child, until she finally got it all out, her energy spent. The dark fumes of hurt, anger, anxiety gone. She then cried again, but this time happy, relieved and able to sleep. The gift of a safe spot for a friend the only thing I could offer but precisely what she needed.

The glories of a video post

Nausea. Sweaty tension. That’s what the notion of creating 60 seconds worth of video for an on-line post does to me. Talking to 1,500 people? No problem. A room full of hardened executives? I got that. Me, in a car/train/dining room with a little video recorder? Heart-palpitating anxiety-ridden nearly comatose individual.

This isn’t a forum to work out my personal insecurities, tho it might do me some good. Let’s just skip right to the solution, because I tend to be a solutions-oriented gal. Within a week, I had three people in different corners of my life say the same thing.

  1. I need to “connect with people,” and the on-line, static means (FB, Instagram pics, this website) doesn’t do it and never will
  2. I need to show people my personality, voice and idiosyncrasies (e.g. realize that I’m human, see point #1)
  3. I need to share more wisdom and insight than I’ve been doing, not just a travelogue that ties back to my books

None offered up suggestions as to how I was going to overcome my irrational fears that followers would drop off like flies, further compounding my insecurities. I’m no Kardashian with legions of stylists around me. I’m essentially a working mom who is fortunate enough to continue providing business acumen to companies and writing while the kids are in school.

Still, I’ve spent my adult life telling others to hire the best counsel and then listen. So while these three weren’t hired (expensive friends aren’t in my budget) I had no choice but to follow their advice.

Here’s what happened. I asked for thoughts on topic, format and approach. I made an objective (on Monday I will start). I washed my hair (or did I? I don’t recall now), but what I did do was show my husband the first video. He vomited on it.

“You’re boring. Not smiling. Where’s the “real you?” he wanted to know. Hiding. That’s where. You see, I feel safe behind the non-smiling business face. It’s serious, which is what a business person is–unless with peers behind closed doors.

“Lose the business person. Be yourself. The one you are behind closed doors.”

Round two. I start laughing in the middle, because I can’t believe I’m doing it at all.

“Much better. Post it before you overthink about it.”

Now, what’s crazy is this: the video received over 150 views in less than 15 minutes. Do you know how long it takes any of my posts to receive that many likes? A few days. (No Selena Gomez am I).

Fast forward @2 weeks. My average video receives this many views in about this time. They are limited to 1 minute, and I think to myself that it’s easier to spend a minute watching than it is to read for 10 seconds.

Another thing. I’m always in my car. Why? It’s my quiet time. No conference calls scheduled, no dedicated writing time. No children, dogs, chickens…you get the idea. I may kill a moose while I drive in the snow, but hey, it will be recorded for posterity.

Lastly, the ties to my book sales in immediate and impactful. This follows on my last blog posting. After 5 video posts, I can legitimately say my book sales have gone up 40% over all, and compared to a static post, the numbers are 7x greater.

Does topic matter?

Not that I can tell. I’d like to say I have a marketing Jedi behind me, coaching me on what to say, but it’s not true (and I have this small thing about honesty. It’s important). I do keep a running list on my iPhone about key mantras, subjects and attitudes I have regarding success and life. Some of those things are in my business books–past and future–the short antedotes I can squish into 60 seconds, which isn’t easy.

I will say this: “active” videos aren’t as interesting to people. My skiing clip for example. Rog was convinced this would be cool–not so much. Viewers–at least those that follow me–seem to prefer words.

Connecting is cool.

With the objective of ‘connecting,’ out there, I wasn’t convinced it was going to happen. After this short amount of time, I can attest it’s occurring. The number of comments, along with the depth and level of emotion is incomparable to a static pic. It’s fulfilling, enjoyable and rewarding on a very personal level. To others who read the comments made–I suspect it’s also enlightening. The adage is proving true…when you share details, others will reciprocate. That’s a two-way connection that can’t be faked.

So am I still nervous? Yes. Do I take more than one video for each posting? Yes. On average 6. I talk a lot and always go over. Do I use a filter? Sometimes. Since I consider my posts more guerilla style than poised and professional, it works for me. I like the down and dirty, real life postings. Plus, I don’t have the time in my life to pretend like it’s my source of income–it’s free, to me and the viewer, which is probably the best part.

Instagram, Facebook & the conundrum of social media

The wide world of all things electronic is distracting, wonderful, irritating, fun, stressful and pays dividends. I guess that means it’s like most things in my life, family and hobbies included. My experience over the last ten years with the various incantations of apps has been largely disappointing, because I want results. In other words, if I want to talk to you (and you me) the phone is the best way to go. Deals don’t happen by text. Negotiations are done real-time, email employed when confirming what’s been agreed upon is necessary.

My data points are similar to other individuals who are continually trying to figure it out when to use what, and why:

Facebook:

Personally, I have an account, but probably wouldn’t unless it weren’t required for my business account. Again, I like talking more than sharing. Opinions, with the associated volatility of emotions seriously stressed me out. I can’t write fiction when I’m in that state of mind, and I certainly don’t have time to be surfing when I’m doing business.

Business…I do have an author account, but it’s largely ignored. That said, I found it was FB was very beneficial in doing one thing: driving traffic to my blog. What I did:

  1. wrote the blog
  2. linked the header and wrote a short note in the FB posting, along with an image
  3. the viewership/hit rates and time spent on my website skyrockets when I do that…and so I started employing this strategy around book launches, events, competitions, give-away’s and other business-related activities.

The only downside is when I fell off writing my blog (because I was actually writing or working on the business side) then the traffic to my FB page dropped dramatically.

Net: FB (for authors/businesses) can be very helpful if employed the right way.

Instagram

Let me count the ways I used to love this app before it was purchased by FB. The primary reason I loved it (I’ll list the reason’s I still like it in a moment).

  1. I could control the timing of my content. what I posted was done at that moment
  2. the culture of IG is nicer, more interested in the images than opinions
  3. the focus is global, vs FB which tends by its nature to be more demographically US

Unfortunately, FB has ruined a few features…now they are offering up random postings at random times (which is beyond annoying). As a biz person and author, the last thing I want to do is annoy my followers with too many posts. Well, thanks FB. Now they annoy my followers for me…their algorithms just offer up whatever, whenever. It’s horrid.

That said, until something better comes along, I’ll keep using it. Here’s why.

  1. my book sales have a direct connection to certain posts. Seriously. It’s been about 2 yrs, and I post, on average, once a day, but at times, I’ve gone for 2 weeks without a post. In that time, I have been able to determine what images/text a) increase traffic to my site, b) increase ebook reading, c) invigorate print book purchases and more
  2. my holistic approach to how I market “my business,” which is multi-faceted, is completed by my website, Instagram and facebook
  3. Instagram seems to reach a completely different audience than FB. I could go into detail on this (and may do at another time) but suffice it to say that whereas I can track direct postings and sales from IG, I have no clue on FB. Even when I advertised on FB, I saw very little (as in, negligible) sales connections.
  4. Video on Instagram essentially increased my followers (and hence, book sales, event attendance) 30%. Seriously. I just recently started doing videos (I was scared. yes. I get scared), and it’s been dramatic.
  5. The ability to connect with people on an individual basis is really great. It’s nearly impossible to do with other apps of a similar nature, and I truly love seeing and hearing from ppl of all walks of life, all cultures and countries–and we are bound by common interests from inception.

Twitter…sigh. I abhor what I see on Twitter, and for that reason, only joined it about 2 weeks ago. I posted a bunch in a few days, realized it just wasn’t for me, and stopped. I’m not a politico, comedian, or other major personality that has the acumen or desire to engage in that world. Further, the demographic of the people on twitter doesn’t seem to connect with the folks I’m trying to reach.

If I had to make one observation about Twitter is that the people who responded to my (few) tweets were mostly international, which wasn’t surprising. My captions were of places I visited and used in my recent novels.

So this is a snapshot of what I’ve experienced. I’ll continue to explore and track other apps as the come about, but for now, I’m still a big fan of Instagram.

 

 

A fashion turnabout…what men really think of those boots

In between books I’m taking a completely unnecessary and full-on break of slovenly proportions to write this piece on boots. Well, it started with boots but quickly digressed into a full-on relevatory experience about thighs, ankles and what makes a woman attractive.

As the caveat, I will say I was so disturbed by this conversation which I had with my husband, I had to validate it with other men. Acquaintances, friends, you name it–short of the man at the grocery store. Well, actually I did that too, but it was Home Depot. Does that count?

It started like this. Over the summer, I start planting the seeds about buying new boots (you see, I must do this so I can later justify that I’d brought up the notion that I “need” new boots. When one has a closet full of boots, one must start early). I invariably point out that the boots are too pointy, too straight, too high, low, old, hurt my feet, out of style. Whatever. What really happened is that in July I saw the fashions in Europe where styles always precede the US by about 6 months. Thus, I’m all about fringe boots at the ankle height but also love the over-the-knee look.

Skip forward to September. The boots are out in full force (I didn’t buy any in Europe. That’s another story about a fight we had on the streets of St. Moritz, which I’ll save for the right time) and so I am on the scout. I start dropping hints that get less and less subtle, hoping he’ll pick me up a pair. You see, when he goes shopping, he always does a better job than me. He’s very metro that way.

Days, weeks go by, and he’s avoiding the task. Always some excuse. Subtle goes out the window. I show him pictures. I use my index finger to point out items in the window. Nothing works. October comes and goes and now we are at the tail end of November. The leaves have fallen, the temperature has dropped along with the first snowflakes and I’m irritated I am still lacking some new boots and worried I’ll miss out. Finally, I call him out.

“What is up with you and no boots?” He shakes his head, grimaces like he recognizes the sound of an inevitable fight and says this:

“The ones you want are so ugly!” I start to dispute this of course, because I like my taste. Then he pours a vat a salt in my wound by adding: “Knee high boots and over the knee boots make a woman look fat–even skinny women.” My mouth falls open, because in 18 years, I swear I have never heard this from him before. He continues to rapid-fire all the reasons why women of any size, shape or sense of style should avoid boots over the calf like the plague.

“It cuts a woman’s legs in two,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in a skirt, which you want to see the leg by definition, or in jeans, which is worse because women tuck their pants in and then bulges come out.” I protest that a thin leg or even a woman with a pear-shaped curve can wear boots well.” Rog simply shakes his head. “No. It’s not good. Ever. Ask any guy that’s straight.”

Ok, I tell myself. I will, so I do. I ask church-going men, those in grocery stores when we are stuck in line, my dad. Sure enough, the comments start.

“I prefer low cut,” says one. “I can see the calve that way.”

A gym rat says: “Mid calf is as high as I like. Most calves bulge out and are gross.”

A professional in a suit offers: “Heels are the best. No boots at all.”

Lurking from under a cowboy had, a man at the local grange intones: “Unless it’s under jeans or in the mud, I don’t like boots on a girl. Too manly.”

And so it went on. What about over the knee? Isn’t that sexy?

“Not to me,” said a mid-twenties wearing skinny jeans and a leather jacket, the type I imagined at a dance club on a Saturday night. “A short skirt and low ankled boots. The kind with fringe, you know what I’m talking about?”

Uh, yeah, I do.

I decide it’s too early to tell Rog he’s right. I don’t want that vibe as I’m eating my turkey dinner. I’ll save that piece of information and pull it out just before I’m ready to go shopping for much needed calve-baring, ankle concealing, form-fitting leather shoes with a slight heal. I suggest you do that same. We’ll have a legion of women on black Friday descending on the stores with a singular mission, since now of course, we know what men really think of our boots!

Grandpa Ken & Making a dramatic life change

It’s been a year since we moved to Idaho and the question of “Why did you move there?” has gotten old. Decrepit, like zombie stretching it’s moldy hand from the Earth old.

I’m all for curiosity, but when I start to answer the question, I lose the person shortly after The. Rog and I have discussed how we are perplexed, then pissy and now inwardly roll our eyes at the question because no one really wants to know. What they are saying, without saying, is “You two have gone crazy. You’ve given up convenience, good food, a great house and traded it all in for land, lakes and skiing?”

Shake your head with me. Who are the crazy ones?

But let’s back up and let me give you the backstory. It started with a wisened old grape-of a man I’ll call Ken. He married young, graduated college and proceeded to have a family of seven kids, typical of a couple now in their late sixties/early seventies. He went military while she stayed home. They both served in their church as he started and grew two profitable businesses. Over time, they were able to build an understated six bedroom home on three acres next to a creek.

We met Ken and his wife while their youngest daughter, Janaye, was fourteen and in high school. She became our first and only babysitter, during which time we had hours to observe her actions, attitudes and behaviors. Certain circumstances allowed us to get to know her parents better and years later, our eldest daughter was a flower girl in Janaye’s wedding.

Grandpa Ken, as he’d come to be known, adopted us as his children. Grandma Shari was my mom away from home, so this was awesome for us as a couple and our kids. Grandpa Ken, although not of my husband’s background, faith or profession, always held the easy, relaxed and non-intrusive countenance of a man who had nothing to prove to anyone but God. He retired early, set about puttering in the garage, fixing up an old car for about six months before he got bored. He went back to work, this time, not starting a new company, but at a mortuary.

A mortuary.

Think about that for a minute, because Rog and I sure did. In fact, we did more than think. We pondered. We wondered. We worried. Was he crazy? He sure didn’t seem crazy. In fact, they were the most sane people we knew. Yet Shari said it best.

“Ken wasn’t made to sit on this Earth and do nothing.” Helping others during their time of pain and crisis as a funeral director kept him busy, employed his organizational skills and ability to interact with people of all backgrounds, religions and cultures. In his spare time, he continued to invent new products, in his garage and on the weekends.

As witnesses to Ken’s decisions, we admired his work ethic and humility. We also applauded Shari’s attitude towards her husband’s career. She didn’t care a thing for title or position or the size of his office (which was good, because a funeral director has no real office). She simply wanted him to be happy and busy. How many men can boast a woman who, after having the trappings of a CEO husband, would so easily accept a change in status?

The move

It’s about this part in the story that we’ve seriously lost our listeners, which is a shame, because this is the most important part. As Ken told Roger one day, he and Shari had a plan, one they created when in their early twenties. Get a job, have a family, build a house, send kids to college, sell house, downsize. The end. When Janaye was in college, they got serious about selling their custom, seven bedroom home on three acres. We watched as they put their home up for sale, sold it within a month and moved into a two bedroom, one-bath home that is maybe 1,000 square feet. Gone were the double Subzero refridgerators and four ovens, marble countertops and dual bathrooms. Enter a four-burner stove and as Shari say’s “Grandma drapes.”

“We are following the plan,” Ken told Roger. It wasn’t about ego or square footage, just as it hadn’t been about title or office size. “It’s about freedom of mind and worries. The ability to travel and live without the overhead.”

This had a transformative effect on Rog and me. In our thirties and early forties, it was all about growing, building buying. When Ken talked about overhead, we knew exactly what he was referring to. The maintenance, management, worry and general costs associated with what we had. Rog and I looked at one another and asked a very simple question:

Do we want to wait another 20 years to have the kind of freedom Ken was talking about? The answer was no. That week, Rog started looking around at places to buy in parts of the country where we could dramatically downside while still having a nice standard of living. (Oh, and was close to civilization). After looking at many states and locations, he found Northern Idaho (which is radically different from Southern Idaho- think Boise or Twin Falls). We found a house on Monday, made the offer Wednesday and closed Friday. The following week, we started moving the few things over we were taking (we were like Moses. We left everything behind).

So here we are, a year later. Much smaller home but a lovely view of the lake. Far fewer restaurant choices but no traffic. Great academics, but no lacrosse. A Costco, but no Nordstrom (forget Saks or anything of the sort). At first, this bothered me, but then I realized, ‘It’s Northern Idaho. What does it matter anyway?”

Wisdom doesn’t help if you don’t act on it

Rog can’t have a conversation about moving without invoking Grandpa Ken’s name and philosophy, his gratitude oozing out of comments. He now has what we lacked when in our previous home with all the “luxuries of modern living,” all around us. We have peace of mind that comes with a safer area. We are also free of the major annoyances that we’d gotten used to because we couldn’t affect change: traffic, taxes, crazy rules that governed everything from Christmas lights to  trees and driveway rocks. Gone. All, long gone.

Was it hard, “giving it up?” Sure. For a while, I stopped cooking and gained weight (that’s what happens when you load up on hot chocolate and don’t exercise), but it was temporary. We’ve found ourselves more centered and yes, probably a bit more boring or sedate, but then, when most restaurants close about the time we were used to starting our evenings, it does put a damper on the social life.

The final questions is always this: Would you do it again? And our answer is an immediate, unwavering yes. I’d rather have a smaller home and live a less sexy part of the world for joy and contentment I feel every day, waking up to a lake, pine trees and no stress. I’m eternally thankful to Grandpa Ken for being the example to us, although he didn’t mean to be. I will also admit that the dramatic change, while temporary, had its brutal moments. But then again, what kind of great transformation didn’t cause a little bit of pain?

 

 

Save the drama. Back up your data

It’s not sexy. It’s safe. I’m talking storage, not condoms.

Three days ago, my main computer goes blue screen. Even non-techies know that this is the sign of immediate death. 13 hours later (that means Rog was working through the night, giving up at 6 am), the blue screen was still blue, but the data was transferring off onto a back-up drive. That process had taken hours (for he had to tap into who-knows-what). Only a former Microsoft guy with mad, Jedi-skills could even make this happen.

Still, the computer was dead, the culprit a bug in the Microsoft OS software. As Rog mutters to himself, red-eyed and hair sticking up like a slee-stack from Planet of the Apes, I divine the computer is going back to the manufacturer (thank you extended warranty). Me, on the other hand…I silently slip out of the room, retrieve my external hard drive and create a new folder backing up everything on my computer. I recall the time 2 yrs back when my entire system went blue, and unlike my desktop, was unable to EVER get the files back. In a panic, I contacted every editor, friend etc. for the files I might have sent.

New Year’s Resolution for sanity…

First of all, use the cloud for documents if you feel comfortable doing so. I use Dropbox–or rather, my clients and companies I work with use dropbox and I access the information. Personally, I’m ultra paranoid about hacking and never put a thing in the cloud that I’m going to regret, from pictures to documents. If others want to do that, fine. Just not me. (Think Sony, Facebook and just about every other system that’s been penetrated).

If you don’t know what a cloud  is, fuggetaboutit. Go for an external drive, either in small or large form. I have both- a USB for my word documents that are tiny files by comparison to pics. I use my drive for a complete transfer of my desktop folder. It’s solid state (no moving parts), safe and sits in my safe that is fire proof. It’s not real expensive either, but obviously more than a $10 USB stick.

I used to do make a full back up once a month, but now do USB backups once a week and only have a full backup if I’ve had major file changes.

For my sanity, it’s worth the time and effort. In my latest case, it was worth at least 12 hours of my husband’s life.

My new method of being:

  1. backup drive. once a week. for primary files, after every major upgrade or version
  2. in the cloud. for non-sensitive documents that if hacked, or not going to bring me down in a critical way
  3. outlook. I will send my other computer (desktop) a final file and archive it. because I’m now terribly paranoid, I send major files to my husband’s computer as well, stick it in my file folder and archive it.
  4. a USB. just to be ultra safe, I have a wonderfully happy Minion USB that I have my word files on. It’s tiny and portable, which is ideal only for my most critical documents, but I have it nonetheless.

Is this all redundant? Absolutely. And that’s the point. I will never, ever, be caught without my information again.

As a side note, an associate I work with on a frequent basis (he’s an attorney at a land development firm and is always calling me for language and ideas on creative land, manufacturing and investment partnership strategies), recently suffered from a complete technology breakdown. Apparently, the company was hacked, the IT critically compromised. All. Data. Gone. Was the info supposed to be in the cloud? Yes. Was it compromised (e.g. wiped out). Yes. All bad.

So, when it comes to having a backup, it truly is the same principle as sexual safety. One can never be too safe.

Halloween Treats- Gross Earwax Marshmellows (gluten free)

This is a great, gross, gluten-free idea that I found on Pinterest but decided to modify. In that version, a marshmallow was cut in a triangle and put on the end of a toothpick. I thought

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Bags of plastic bones

that was OK, but why not upgrade it? I went to the Halloween store (Spirit Halloween) and purchased two packages of small bones for $3.00 each. I then used my Ghiradelli chocolate used for melting and once I affixed the small marshmallows to either end of the bones, dipped them in chocolate.

Walla!

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bones with the marshmallows attached. You can see I basically pushed the marshmallows on the ends, which were helpfully curled. you have to be fast about this, because they start to harden, and you want the chocolate on before they turn crusty!

See the pictures. BTW- this also doubles as a game. The bones have two holes. String some fishing line in between and suddenly you h

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after dipping in chocolate.

ave a game that kids, or raucous adults can play–as in, eat the marshmallow off the line first without it falling to the ground. (I’d recommend you confiscating iphones before you do this however. It gets pretty silly).

 

Storage
Refrigerate (on parchment paper) because the chocolate will stick to a regular pan. Even then, be careful when you lift it off, because the chocolate/marshmallow may slide right off the bone. This happened probably 10% of the time so it wasn’t big deal.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Beyond that they taste stale.

 

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