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

Easy Halloween decorations

 “Make it spookier, Mom.” Famous last words. The last time I took my daughter’s recommendation, I had a jilted bride hanging by a noose off the deck, headless men in water, a two-headed baby strapped to a wall and a myriad of ancient-looking dolls that I’d morphed into something from a Victorian zombie apocalypse. It freaked out the parents probably more than the kids.

Even so, I’m in a new state this year, and that means a whole new community of parents to traumatize. My daughter, being the ripe old age of 11, insisted that her friends wanted spooky, and that the parents wouldn’t mind. I thought: hey, it is Idaho. Rog calls it the “Good luck state.” Practically no laws govern this place…helmuts for motorcycles? Nope. Gun laws? Not that we can find. And driving while talking on the cell phone? Go for it. Coming from the state of Washington, which seems as over regulated as Switzerland, this place is akin to Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns free-for-all.

But I digress. Let’s get back to easy and relatively cheap (as in dollar-store cheap) decorations.

  1. Scary dolls. I love this! Hit goodwill
    spooky dolls

    Spooky doll nailed to the post

    or your local thrifts shop. I found half a dozen for about 2 dollars each. I took them home, painted the faces white (used my daughters paint set), then added some black and red. I then used some spray paint we had in the garage on a few just to make the dresses look a little beat up. Lastly, I wrapped a few up in spider web so I can could hang strategically. A few I left out (like the clown) and placed in plants–making them look like zombie dolls rising from the grave. This year, it was wet and we had the party in the outbuilding (e.g. shop, but in Idaho, it’s called an “outbuilding,” go figure), so I hung them within spider webbing.

  2. Crime scene tape. Rog gets crime scene tape for his hockey legging on line for a Off limits tapedollar. I found the same thing at the dollar store, but I chose Haunted House tape. This serves the purpose of cordoning off areas but also as a marker for down by the gate.
  3. Black tablecloth for backdrops. At the dollar store, these large rectangular table clothes are a thin plastic-like (but not quite) feel. I put them up anywhere I needed to shield out light, but also give privacy–such as to storage areas. Four bucks and the entire loft area was transformed.
  4. Window shields. I also used the black tablecloth to darken the windows and put some cracks in the fabric–resembling a rock being thrown through the window–or an old spooky window.
  5. Old-time windows. I then purchased several web/cloth like pieces of material. These tended to be about 4 dollars each, but had enough in them to cut into 2 pieces. From this, I made spooky window curtains. Hang these up with clear tacks-lots and lots of tacks.
  6. Webbing. Rule on this: not all webbing is created equal. If you purchase the webbing at the dollar store- it’s really sticky, which will adhere to most walls or wood. However, it doesn’t stretch well and isn’t strong enough to hold anything within. For that, you need to go to Target or Spirit Halloween and for this super-stretchy webbing and spend about $7 bucks on the real
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    white spider web on top of stretchy webbing- pumpkin above

    stuff. I get the 30 foot, or 75 foot length, which will stretch entire sections. This stuff is amazing. It will also go about 5-7 feet high, which makes it amazingly helpful. Colors are black, white and green. If you are darkening- go black. If you have a darkroom/house already, go white. I have one of the enormous webs that I stretched from my second floor to the ground–couldn’t find it in my boxes this year (half of which are still in storage) but it’s a super buy & for $24 it makes a great impact.

  7. Gruesome tablecloth & Spooky pics area. This is one of my absolute favorites. Two years ago, I had a table decoration idea that morphed into a cool feature. The idea was to take a table cloth I found at Goodwill (white, with a lace edge). I took red, grey and black paint and strategically cut slits in the tableclothe. For the party, I then put stands with food within the slits. It was gruesomely awesome! however, I had no such need Pictures or tablecloththis time around. As you can see from the picture, I nailed it to the back wall, and put a head through one of the slits and a two-headed baby through the other. When the kids came, they took turns (in groups) putting their own heads through, and they looked like headless people.
  8. Hands from the grave. Another dollar store find is to get old dolls, skeleton or bone hand, paint it white/grey/red (if needed) and put it within your pots at the house. Also do this with fingers or mice, which are easily and cheaply found (I’m talking plastic or rubber, not the real thing!).with heads!
  9. Transforming spooky pictures. Four years ago, I actually had to pay real money (e.g. 8 bucks) for these things. Now they are 1 dollar at the cheap stores. They are fun to do. For the outbuilding, I adhered them to the walls. When I had an adult party at my home, I used special tape to adhere them to my actual pictures- so they looked framed. It was super cool and it caught a lot of adults by surprise.
  10. Entryway canopy. The photo of the entryway was a find that I believe I purchased at the Spirit Halloween store years ago. It’s purple with spider webs. I adhere it to the
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    Doorway canopy

    entryway with either tape or at my last home, tacks. This time around, I put a headless man above the entry way, attached to the light with spider webbing as the holder. You could replicate this same thing with an old sheet, some scissor rips and paint of anykind. Oh! makeup works! Just thought I’d throw that in.

  11. Large spider webs with our without lights. Over the years, I keep an eye out for super-large spider webs of all kinds. The material varies- from nylon to spiny/rubber-like feel. Some are white, others black but most come with some type of massive spider. I have purchased orange lights from the dollar store, but I always look out for post-Halloween sales to get longer, better made varieties from Target or wherever. Wrapping these around the spider webs really sets off the room.
    1. the tip on this is to strategically place the spider webs in the corners, for maximum impact.
    2. another tip is to place a scary doll within the spider web–ideally, with a spider coming to get it.
  12. Mummies and other hanging ghouls. I picked up a super cool mummy one year that always freaks people out. It twists and turns, and was about $25, so a bit more than I usually spend. It’s only gauze wrapped around wires of varying dimensions, with the shape of feet at one end and a head at the other. It can be made easily enough, but I don’t have that kind of time.
  13. Jilted bride. One of my absolute favorites. I purchased a wedding dress for $10 at Goodwill, took my scissors to it, then got out my red spray paint and made it gnarly. I then purchased a mask from Goodwill (a really freaky woman). I put this mask on top of a mop (I kid you not. rog thought I was nuts), then used a rope to keep the head on the post. More red spray paint covered parts of the rope, but the whole point was to make it look bloody, which it did. I then strung her up and hung her off the balcony. She greeted everyone. As you can imagine, I didn’t put this up for the 11 year olds (I don’t want to be responsible for future therapy sessions) because it even bothered the adults, who, in true form, said they loved it.
  14. Odds and ends. Little things like towels, bookends, skeleton napkin holders, hanging menus–these are all available at craft stores or wherever. Just keep an eye out for good deals. My serious Halloween gathering started 7 years ago, and has just been building. Lots of super cool things can be done with paint and a few items from Goodwill.

some kids games are up next. pumpkin bowling, bones in the bin and mummy wrapping.

Creating a Pond. Some How-to’s and What Not’s for water effects

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n my book, the Mother-of-all water effects for a private property is a ponds. I don’t care what size of pond you create, ponds are serious things and not for wusses. (that would be my highly intelligent phrase for the faint-of-heart, or those unwilling to work).

The Illustrious She told me to get out of the water long enough to write a few points

first rocks placed

first rocks placed

of learning for those who may be considering one or more water effects so a) you can get some inspiration, b) save yourself some heartache and money and c) get going tomorrow, on Mother’s Day, 2015, because as my husband says, and I quote, “there is nothing that makes a woman happier than the sound of running water that simultaneously impresses a lot of people.” Hmm. I’ll take the happy part and proudly admit that yes, I love the compliments the water effects provide.

Okay. To business and the backstory. The pond is the third water effect we put on our property, so we had some learning.

First, Rog pissed me off so badly one week that he decided to put a stream under our deck. I legitimately don’t recall what happened. I just remember that as penance, it donned on a full-body yellow rain suit on a Friday night and started working in a

rainstorm. By Sunday, he had it trenched, lined and it was operating the next week. The bid we received was four grand ($4K). He spent less than $200 on materials, and of this, the pump was $150. That stream lasted 8 years, and 2 years ago we had it upgraded by a professional outfit. That meant the lining was removed, the basin and water pump system improved, and the liner was a better quality. Because it was better sealed, the pressure, flow and sound was dramatically altered. The upgraded cost was less than $500.

From this we learned the value of

  1. the catch basin (the point at which the water starts).
  2. the water gauge. this is a white condom-looking thingy that regulates the water flow. It’s hidden under a flat rock. We never had one of these, so in the dry months, the water would evaporate and if we weren’t watching it, or went on a trip, the stream would run dry, thereby almost killing our pump. Get one of these. Important, like air.
  3. the seal. Anyone can purchase thick rubber to seal a stream or pond. The key isn’t so much tacking it down. It’s concreting the edges into primary rocks on corners and bends. Second to this is the concreting the ledges. Every good stream or waterfall has ledges. This is the #1 area where water seeps out, thus killing the entire reason for having a water effect in the first place.

rocks on the bottom of the waterfall

This is foundational information, and was used in creating our second water effect, which was a small pond on the drive-way into our property. This time around, Rog just up and one day, decided to “fix” what the original landscapers installed. What that really means is the landscapers dug a very shallow (18 inch deep) hole, lined it, placed crushed gravel, installed a lame water sprayer inside and then placed plants around the edge. Because the hole was shallow and the ridge too close to the center, much of the water left the pond. It was constantly draining. The small circumference didn’t allow for a water gauge and it wasn’t deep enough (or organic) to sustain plant life. That left us with a stinking, drying, mud heap that did no more than encourage the Red Nile Virus (a passing pseudo plague in the Northwest a few years back that killed animals, and was perpetuated by mosquitos that grew in bogs like the one we created).

headwaters- catch basin

headwaters- catch basin

The fix: Rog ripped it all out, dug down four feet, expanding the size, reinstalled a new liner (the dig had several shelves that are common in small ponds). He used an adjustable water prayer that had adjustable height and width levels. It also had adjustable types of sprays.

The pond

The granddaddy of the property has had three lives, the first was when the original owner expanded a natural pond. He put some rocks on one side, used a lot of bad cement and trenched a single, small hose to the top. It was simple and ugly, but we knew it was going to take a lot of work so we left it for about four years. Until the pump stopped running. For 4 years, the pond sat dormant, without running water. What we did do, however, was keep it stocked with trout that we fed everyday, and eventually grew to be the size of small salmon. No frogs (cuz they ate them all) but fun for catch and release.

 

the water splits around a center island with a palm tree

the water splits around a center island with a palm tree

Phase 2 was when we brought in the landscaping crew 2 years ago to overall the pond area. The ceo (and designer, really, a former marine who graduated in horticulture!) did a lot of work himself and said something I’d pass along to all of you considering a pond.

“Tie the major pieces of the pond into other areas of the property.” In this case, we live in the Northwest, so he suggested a few things.

  1. use native plants, slow-growing pines that are about 5′ tall, thin branches and be placed around the pond, but also in other areas. this is a ‘foundation’ tree. Also very impervious to illness etc.
  2. use large, native rocks. In our case, the blue stones that could be cut from quarries. These were/are enormous. Because we have (stupidly) elected to landscape 2.5 of 5 acres (ah, youth), these stones were quite large.
    1. the sub point here is that he used the back loader to strategically inset rocks into edge of the pond. this had the effect of making the pond look much bigger, although it wasn’t
    2. the elevation of the rocks around the pond. He recommend using these same rocks in open plant areas to tie it together.

Several rocks were placed on one side of the pond and in between, he created a flat area for a “beach,” which isn’t really large, but is wide enough for a rubber boat and 4-6 people.This had the result of providing sitting areas for people by the pond.A note on the materials. Sand wasn’t used, because he said the rain washes the sand away (into the pond) and sand also encourages grass to grow. Use the soft pebbles instead. Soft on the feet. No weeds. No erosion. After 2 years, no deterioration at all. What wasn’t necessary.

A pond liner.

This pond is naturally fed from underground water but that doesn’t mean it always remains full. It has a natural water table that sits at about 3 feet tall, or about waist height. This is way too low, because the center of the pond is nearly 6 feet deep.

Now, if you have a flat area that is in a back year, isn’t on a slope and you don’t have water table issues, you will take the traditional route of digging, putting in a liner, and to the degree you deem necessary, you will need to put down 3 levels of rocks. Big ones to keep the liner in place (in strategic locations), then what is commonly referred to as ‘river rock’ to for weight, (and to keep the liner from bubbling up) and then finally, you will put down heavy sand. This seeps into all the cracks and crevices, and is the basis for supporting the plant life you will eventually grow. Remember that the goal of any pond, no matter how small or large, is a self-sustaining ecosystem. Unless you do this properly, you will just have a big mud-bog, or a pretty water effect that is dead.

In our case, we actually drained the pond (we transferred the dozen pre-historic-size trout to our hot tub, which we had also drained and put in fresh water, because we were assured it would be a one day project and the animals would live). It took two huge sump-pumps but we flushed thousands of gallons of water over the edge and down the hill. The landscapers were rushing to put down the liner, place the rocks etc, and after a week, realized it was an exercise in futility.

They had failed to run the numbers—velocity of the underground water, the force of the water table, and the simple fact that nature would not tolerate a condom on its tummy. No matter what they did, they could not control the bubbling of the rubber (which we wanted to prevent water evaporating in the summer). After a week, the trout weren’t happy, and so we decided it was time for them to meet their maker, and they served as dinner for some of the workers.

Round two of this experiment then was to work with what we had. In other words, we installed a hose, ran it to the center and just accepted the fact that in the summer months, we would fill the pond to the level we desired. Conversely, in the winter months, when the Northwest Monsoons began, we’d end up taking our chances that the darn thing didn’t overflow.

The process

  1. Removing existing structure. That was the ripping out of the original waterfall
  2. Creating a ‘head basin’ nearly to our fence line. This was intended to replicate the headwaters of a waterfall. Nearby is the underground pump.
  3. Three-level waterfall that split in the center. This was done to provide an interesting look, but also increase the flow and sound.
  4. Large stones (stones are supposed to be bigger than rocks- ha), around the property and then around the pond. This of course meant that our lawns were completely destroyed by the loader, and we just realized it would take a few months to grow back. It was worth it.
  5. The trench for the intake valve that in near the side of the pond, trenched up alongside the waterfall, and then into the pump at the top.
  6. Electric. This was accessed by the electric that operates the gate, and we already had the property outfitted with some power. However, we had to upgrade the power, and at the same time, we bit the bullet and laid underground wiring for the lights on the path. Since everything was all tore-up, it was the best option.

IMG_0463

The timeline

After that, the process went super fast. The large rocks were in place in 2 days. The waterfall itself was trenched and layed out also in about 2 days (I was taking pictures). The only delay was when they had to use the concrete. This was essential (oh, they laid the ultra-thick rubber underneath of course). The concrete needed 2 days to dry. (don’t forget the power that must be installed before its complete. We had the spotlights placed in the center of the waterfall, and then on certain features to highlight the waterfall and basin. On day 6, the pump was running and the waterfall tested. The crew spent several days testing the waterfall to make sure it had no leaking. Once this was done, then it was time to landscape with the plants.

The money

I know you are wanting to get an idea of what this cost, but it’s rather tough, because we had other things done. However, our landscaper “guestimated” that the pond part would normally be “about $20,000.” Now, I know from the cost of the rocks (1-2K) and the labor (a week) they probably make $10K on the pond part. Perhaps a little less if you subtract all the trees and plants. However, we have other landscaper/contractor friends, and every last one of them said that they’d have charged $60k for the pond alone.

Talk about getting scalped (them, not us).

the final result

the final result

Finding the right person

Now, I also have to give you another bit of advice. When I was first bidding this project, I stopped in at 4 places. Three of the four used the same process. 1. Create “the plan,” for 1-2 thousand. 2. Scope the project (another thousand). 3. Buy the materials (flat fee, they don’t show you the cost). 4. Half up front, then pay the rest. 5. The rest when its done.

I had no problem with steps 3-5. It was the 1, 2 and 3 that got to me. Remember, I come from a business background. That means I appreciate scope of work, and I appreciate the need to pay. What I don’t like is lack of transparency. I want to see what’s being spent and I didn’t like the notion of playing for a plan when they had no responsibility for implementation.

So through blind luck, I went to a nursery, starting talking with a “billy-bob” type of guy who happened to be the owner of the place. I tell him my plight. He tells me, through somewhat of a half-whistle that emerged from the gape in his two front teeth, that “the fella I need to speak with is the person standing over there.” The man happens to be the 6’4 Marine I mentioned in the beginning of this novel-like blog.

Here is HIS process. 1) assess the area. 2) listen to his vision. 3) trust him. 4) pay him as he goes. If we don’t like the work, he stops. If we do, we keep paying.

Boy, was it nice. (by the way, after graduating, he trained under the company that puts in the Four Seasons waterfalls, so when people joke that we have a “Four Seasons-type pond” they have no idea they are actually right!).

Transparency

We saw the costs for the plants. We agreed to a 10% mark-up with the contractor for his time and effort, knowing that he was purchasing at wholesale and we were getting a great deal.

Okay. That’s the end of this blog. Leave me comments or questions and I’ll try and delve into more details as asked for by readers.

 

Dude, Where’s my Gun?

“It’s time you let it go,” said my husband, his voice conveying the weary, “I’m-dreading-this-subject” tone that he uses when referring to old baby stuff. Our daughter has been out of the crib since she strattled the wooden prison wall and let herself down. It had been four years. It was time.Instead of arguing, I relented, posting the crib and dresser to Craigslist, the last bastion of all the was once free on the Internet. After reading through the new caveats, warnings and bold, red labels that practically screamed “you may get assaulted, robbed or otherwise taking your life in to your own hands,” I wrote out a great description, uploaded the pictures and called it a day. (have you seen that cops are now referring to Craigslist as “robbery-by-appointment?” egads).Within minutes I was received queries about the French-made set that I can’t pronounce, and for good reason. We paid $3,200 a few years ago, and I listed the set for $450.

“You are inviting a mugger,” Rog pronounced. Bah, I scoffed. We’ve sold a refrigerator to a nice couple, a washer and dryer and other major appliances. Why not a crib set?

“It’s not like a diamond,” I reminded him, referring to the sad incident that resulted in a robbery and death. “Don’t worry.” I told him. How many Bonnie and Clyde’s are out there, ready to pull out the shotguns if we don’t throw in a hamper?

It only takes a few hours for the serious buyers to identify themselves. They are all men. Men don’t negotiate when it comes to baby items. They buy.

“It’s first come first buy,” I wrote back, and sure enough, just as the sun was setting, a youngish couple in their mid twenties (we guessed) drive up in their pick-up. It takes about five minutes for them to inspect, fall in love, and offer us the money. We tell them to wait until its all loaded up on their pickup, that still has the temporary licenses.

They were definitely nesting. Rog and I share a look. Ahh, a new family. Pretty soon, we have thrown in an entire French-country bedding set, the mattress, a brandnew, never-been-used, Graco portable bed, a booster seat, and just about every other item that was new or brandnew we saw and could fit in their truck.

After they leave (I’ll skip over the part where their yelping, mini-dog locked the doors, the man had both sets of keys in the car, we had to get a locksmith (Rog wouldn’t allow him to break a window) and then helped pay the $300 highway robbery price of the locksmith), I go upstairs.

“Rog, what is the safe doing open?” I’d opened the door to retrieve something from this location, where the safe is hidden among other things, but it’s an electronic lock, the lid was open and the pocket empty.

He walks in to the closet and brings back the gun. I freak.

“Are you crazy?” I nearly shout, “It’s loaded and you had it in there?” He waves down my temper, telling me it was on a top shelf, and he’d taken it out ‘just in case.’

“I needed it handy,” he explained calmly, “just in case we had a crazy couple.”

I shook my head. For as smart as Rog is, he was being a complete moron.

“If that was going to happen, the altercation would have been outside, you and he would have wrassled, and then I’d go running for the gun, only to find it gone. What was I going to do if I needed it? Say, Dude, where’s my gun? right in the middle of an assault?” I think I mumbled the word idiot under my breath, but I’ll never tell.

He recognized the slight error in judgment, returned the gun to its rightful place and smiled.

“We didn’t need it anyway.”

Thankfully. It’s like all those gun stories you hear about. When you have it, you don’t need it, and when you don’t need it, you have it.

When you have “to go,” be a friend to the earth. Go Bamboo.

 

In case you are feeling high on yourself today, somewhere between “I’m the bomb but not quite hit Kardashian status yet,” remember what Oprah famously said. i pooped today

“We all have to go to the bathroom.”

Isn’t that the great equalizer? The notion that presidents and princesses, celebrities and the homeless are all unified by this one distinctive trait: at some point, we all squat and leave it.

With that in mind (or not), I have a statement. If you’re going “to go,” (and for my Russian readers, this is American for using the toilet, sit-down-style), then you need to go green.

What, you say? Green? My toilet paper is white. Nay. I’m saying forget the tree-based toilet paper. Go for the 100% bamboo products. It is the same price (if you use the Nimbus ECO product line), it is same quality (well, my husband does say the Charmin tri-ply is a bit better, but its costlier and causes trees to fall to the Earth), and it is sustainable. That means this: traditional households are responsible for 27,000 trees to be flushed down the toilet every day, or roughly 10,000,000 (10M) per year. whoa.

The all important Butt-experience

I used to think that sustainable and tree free were the same. I mosied along, up and down the aisle, spending more money on Meyer’s organic biodegradable glass cleaner and wipers, forgoing the (actually better) Windex product because I care. My husband calls it a marital tax that he pays, the cost of my conscience doing the right thing, sacrificing perfection on our windows to do good for the environment.

Guess what? He’s right, and I’m unrepentant.

“But my ass?” he complains (sorry mom).  He wants perfection when it comes to his hind side, and after a thorough, multi-day testing experience, he has determined that the tri-ply from Nimbus Eco is the best brand we can find. Further, it is the most cost effective, and as he said so effectively “if we are going to go green, we might as well get the best product we can.”

What does tree free really mean?

It means that it’s not partially, or 80% or even 20% recycled, because to be recycled  means that somewhere along the line, a net new tree had to come down, further demolishing the ozone layer as surely as it demolished the ground it fell upon. Tree free means it is plant-based. A plant is a perennial- it comes back, again and again, like the sun rising.

The beauty of bamboo

Lots of plants have been tried and tested, but bamboo is a great product, because in many parts of the world, it is considered a weed (sort of like Maple trees in Washington state. We cut them down as fast as we can, or better yet, pluck them when the bloody little seedlings sprout). So now that we know products can be made from bamboo (tissues, paper towels and a whole lot of other things, we should use them).

Now I have a confession. I didn’t just wake up one day and say: ‘I’m going to make a change and make a difference,’ (at least as it relates to my fanny, my nose or my hands). I happened to be on a fishing trip in Alaska and was randomly put on a boat with Mark Samuels and his father, Mark Samuels senior. The junior of the two, a handsome, bearded wonder of the seventh-world, is both an entrepreneur and media guy. It was while he was in his latter role that enabled him to see first hand the devastation of the planet (and animals therein) caused by deforestation. He had the proverbial ah-ha moment, and being the under-thirty-sort, basically said, ‘ok, this is a sign. time for me to change the world.’mark s fishing

That was it. Twelve months and a whole lot of product testing later, he’d created a bamboo line of goods. He’d also gathered a bunch of exalted folks in the paper business and academia to support his line–which is no small feat (just ask me. We live in the land of deforestation, with the Weyerhaeuser corp office not 30 min from my home).

But I digress. Back to my story. So in between catching Coho salmon and getting warm in the cabin of the boat, I get to know Mark. After a few days of fishing, one does get around to talking business, (but I must say, it usually doesn’t involve defecation). Bottom line. Good guy. Great product. 4 out of 5 stars (I’d like some spicier packaging, but I’m marketing person).

Fast forward a month. We are now a Nimbus household product, and much better for it. As least our fanny’s thank us. Yours will to.

Unique Easter Gifts for Home & Garden

The bain of my existence is the Internet: it aids in wasting my day away, flitting from news site to social media, email then Skype. Ironically, the beauty of the Internet is the ability to shop globally and live locally. Love that.

Limping around today, I channeled my inner happiness like a dragonfly bouncing above the water on our pond. Mom is still here, older sister just departed, frogs were underfoot and the firms were in need of trimming. My daughter willingly retrieves the pruning sheers and we are off.

Leather and style. Because frogs care.

Imagine this: I’m on my needs, cast splayed out like a frog the morning after a bender, reaching and leaning for the bottom of the fern bushes. The sheers weren’t sharp (bad me, I never did the end-of-summer ritual, but I quickly forgive myself given all the madness that was last fall), making the job twice as difficult, and my recently-manicured nails were demolished as I unconsciously dug around the base of the plants, removing the leaves, weeds and other rubbish accumulated over the winter.

“Gloves!” I mutter. I’m not going to hobble on crutches back to my gardening shed. Even if I did, I knew what I’d find; old, torn and shrunken leather gloves that I can’t part with because they were given to me by She years ago.

Alas. My bloody, dried and cracking fingers tell me it’s time. So I hop on line and while I’m picking out the latest and great paisley leather gloves. My hands will now be protected, and that’s a good

Love this. Now I need a home to
go with it (I already have
the umbrellas).

thing. At $30 bucks, the cost of the gloves are a fraction of what I spend on keeping my nails in good shape.

And that brings me to my next purchase for spring- vintage map sketchbooks. I put this in ‘my latest purchase,’ and I have to say, I want these for myself, but bought the large one for my daughter. She’s obsessed with geography and writing, so why not give her an educational tool? I love this site (and I have to thank Coastal Living Feb 2014 for bringing Bombus to my attention. I had dog-eared this page and held onto it for a month and a half before ordering. They also have blue paisley. As an aside, I’m a fan of the whole world-is-flat notion. It’s awesome ordering a unique item from the UK and having it delivered to my doorstep.

Now I will say that the last item I really wanted doesn’t fit either my home or vacation abode at all–it’s a Jonathan Charles Voyager Travel Trunk Umbrella Stand. It’s so cool, but the JC website is only for retailers, so what good is that? (unless you’re a retailer?) The price sa
ys $585 US retail, but I found it for $448 on-line. But it doesn’t matter until I acquire a place on the coast, or remodel my log and big-beam home in a nautical theme, but perhaps you will like it!

Get the Metal Out

Last March, my plants started dying, resembling my life in certain (morbid) ways, first turning brown (akin to my breaking toes), then limping over (breaks on left foot) then ultimately, hanging over dead like my deceased brother.

It was not good. The universal dark cloud of destruction was like this all-encompassing thing, causing even my plants to suffer.

New growth on a 10 yr old plant-wow. who knew?

“How could this be?” I wondered aloud, my plaintive question coming out as a half-wheeze, half-whine.

“Easy,” replied one of my older, and much wiser friends (Shari 65 to be exact). “You moved to a well in March, didn’t you?” I nodded, wondering what that had to do with anything. Our other friend, Holly, happened to be sitting there, nodding her head.

“Metals,” Holly intoned, saying it like she was revealing the ‘mother-of-all plant’ ailments. Of course I had no idea what they were talking about, and then I was schooled in the connection between wells and plants.

Wells, you see, have high metals, mainly iron. Long term solutions are available but I’m impatient and besides, for plants, it’s easy. The way to get rid of all metals, and the iron, is to “let it sit” for 24 hours in a container. Then it’s drinkable. Both these women have been on wells for the last 35 years, I was comforted by the fact that they both had gone through a period of mourning the plants they had inadvertently sent to the great plant farm in they sky.

This conversation was in September, and sure enough, I started using water that I’d left out for 24 hours, but most of the time, I cheat. I take bottled water each Saturday morning, look to my left and right to make sure Rog isn’t watching, pour it into the pitcher and then lovingly drench my plants, that are no longer stooping over or brown. In fact, each one has started sprouting new braches, a phenomena that is as close to the second-coming in this household.

“It’s a miracle,” I said one time within earshot of Rog.

“No,” he said drolly, “it’s the water.”

At least on that point, we can agree.

Sneaking paranoia

Two days ago, I revealed a personal peculiarity about myself that to this point, I’ve told no one, not even my husband. Of course my readers know the recipient of this snippet- the illustrious She, who still declines to be named (I suspect she is afraid of all the grief she will get from shared acquaintances and doesn’t want to be told how blunt she is. Of course my sassality readers dig her, and she’d be like Chum on Pawn Stars, and end up being the true star of the show, but I digress).

“Are you kidding me?” She asks, incredulous. “You do that? I’ve never thought about that in my entire life.”
For what is she referring? My secret. It is this.
Somewhere, somehow, in the deep dark recesses of my mind I’m always paranoid someone is going to go through my drawers. Anyone. Workers. Visitors using my bathroom. Relatives poking through my stuff. It weirds me out in the same way that people who don’t take off their shoes in my house grosses me out, and you recall what I did then- I bought a sign that says “keep your shoes on.”
Well, if I wanted to proactively insult guest and essentially accuse them of being snoopy I’d just put up a sign that read-no snooping- but then I think that would make matters worse. Ppl would want to know what I’m hiding, and they’d still be insulted!
You see my dilemma. Worse, you see all the energy I have wrapped into this. Now the big reveal- I’m always thinking “what if I die? Are my drawers in order?”
“Do you really think that?” She asked me again, the worry that I’m losing my mind clear in her voice.
What do I do? Blame it on mom of course. “Didn’t your mom always tell you to have clean drawers?” I ask her. 
“No” she replies. “She had bigger things to worry about.”
I can’t believe this. “My mom told me this in the same breath that she said to always wear clean underwear because you never want to be in an accident and have dirty underwear.” – True story. It put the fear of God into me as an 8-year old.
My top drawer, beside my bed. glasses (too many) lots of pens (I’m
an author by day…(WAY too many) and writing stuff. shocker.
computer on top as you can see.
She is speechless- for a split second-then she half laughs, mocking me.
Because we are talking on the phone, I tell her I am sitting on my stool, leg up, cleaning out my top drawer of my nightstand in anticipation of guests. (photo as evidence).
“No one will look!” She tries to convince me. I dispute that. Of course they will. It’s human nature. I agree. When we were house shopping, we were in the bedroom and rog opens the top drawer the bed and pulls out a bottle of “lotion” for the horizontal mambo. I’d hissed at him to put it back, worried the real estate agent was going to catch him. Only weeks later, after I became friends with the agent did I tell her, and then she says to me-
“We ALL look in drawers!” Egads! I was proven right.
In any case, She thinks I’m a loon now, first for thinking I’m going to leave behind dirty drawers and care- and second, that everyone is searching through my stuff.
But as usual, She has a solution.
“You know, I have a ‘dirty drawer’ for each one of my kids. They are allowed to leave it as messy as they want. Give yourself permission to have a dirty drawer and then maybe you’ll move beyond it.”
I then told her I have one of those, in the kitchen, but it drives me mad so I clean and straighten it about every other day- or whenever it gets messy.

This ‘ol house- log poll care

Granted, this post won’t appeal to the majority, but for those that live, vacation or want to someday own a home containing an actual log (as opposed to cut boards) read on.

Once every three years, logs need to be treated. This year, we had the joy of finding a 2 foot by 3 foot beehive in the wall of our home, right by the main front door. The entry point? The log poke that rog failed to treat. He skipped a year and that single over site gave way to many stings and a cleanup process that took over a week (not to mention bad timing-for it was discovered after we returned from my bro’s funeral and saw the swarm).
The preventative measure is like the dentist- spend the hour to get the work some and you avoid a costly and painful outcome. Pain, in this scenario, included so many stings that rog’s hands swelled up, his legs and arms- and it drained me of Apis, the well known bee sting natural remedy.
Before treating, the log looks like this. Dull and dark.
After the sealant is applied,it looks like this- rog uses FlOOD waterproofing sealant
Then once it’s dried, the final product is glistening. Amazing. Bees b-gone for 3 years.

Another day, another pitbull puppy

f
The obvious sign: the bumps.
This started as a red mark so small that
we thought it was a bugbite.
Then it grew to the size of a quarter in a  matter of days.
 It wasn’t a “mass cell” cancer,
rather, it was evidence of the lymphoma.
Our vet originally thought Daisy was going through
“puppy acne,” a common occurrence in ‘blue-haired’ dogs,
such as great danes, wimeriners (sp?) pitbulls et all.

Two weeks ago daisy, our 8 month old blue haired pitbull was put down. She had t-cell lymphoma, which, as the canine pathologist said, was akin to having every part of your body burn from the inside out. In constant pain, she was literally trying to eat her skin off. Faced between drugging her up to the point where she stared into space drooling, perhaps seeing heffalumps and oozles, or seeing her knawing her legs off, we did the humane thing and sent her on her way.

Two weeks later, the tears had dried, and emptiness rang through the house when the girls were off to school. Mother’s Day came, as did Rogs gift of a two month old black pitbull puppy I named Trudie. (As an aside, Rog named our first dog and our daughter named the second. My turn had finally come around, the fate of death spinning its wheel and landing on me).

Yesterday it’s been a week, and Rog and I have marveled at the difference between a healthy puppy and a sick one. Since we had no idea, I figure others may be equally as clueless. Here is what we have noticed:



Putting Daisy down- the final moments of life

1. Barking. First dog whined like the baby she was when we put her in the kennel or were in the other room. Same with Trudie. The sick one, Daisy, never barked or whined. We bought it was a blessing- the pathologist said it likely her too much.





2. Growling. Playing tug of war elicits fun playful growling, that, if not managed properly, can actually be problematic later in a dogs life. However, daisy didn’t do tug of war or growl. She dropped and was mellow. Again, we thought we got a laid back pitbull. With Trudie, we realize that there is no such thing.



Day 2. Trudie on Mom’s pass-me-down-dog afgan

3. Fetch. Pitbulls are not alone in being interested in fetch, but one thing is owners really love is that pitties ate naturally inclined to play fetch and return it, as well as playing hide and seek. They are highly intelligent dogs and its fun to hide items and watch them go “in search of.” Daisy was not down with this, nor did she have an attention span, even near the end.


I know it’s wrong to dress a dog, but my type-A hard ***
husband went mushy on me and bought a friggin too-too

Contrast this with Trudie, who on day two, saw the toy in our hand, ran after it and brought it back. Again, a natural instinct.

Nothing heals the pain of loss like an all-consuming puppy

I could go on, but my thumbs don’t type well, and I’m actually supposed to be watching my daughters dress rehearsal for Beauty and the Beast. There were other signs, although these were the most obvious- outside her wounds of course. Perhaps someone else will look for these items when in the process of selecting a dog.




Trudie at 2 months (she’d been with us one week). I know
my mother will vomit I had her on the breadboard, but honestly,she kept getting under my feet as I was in the kitchen, and I needed”just a second,” to coral her.
She found a piece of apple and went at it.
 



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