Monday, May 31, 2010

Some Gave All: The True Meaning of Memorial Day

The intense photographer capturing the essence of her scene
The scene above is my daughter Angie photographing head stones in a Concord, Massachusetts cemetery. Concord, as Americans know, is where the Revolutionary War began, and no doubt heroes of that war are buried there.  Since the late 1700s, brave men and women have given their lives so that our country would remain strong and free!

Memorial Day has been commemorated since 1865 with the decorating of soldiers' graves.  The holiday was moved to the last Monday in May in 1971 to ensure a three day weekend. In Utah, there seems to be tremendous confusion on who exactly Americans are to honor on this day, and typically the cemeteries are filled with descendants of those who have died but did not serve in the military.  I've written to my senators and representative on this issue, but they have no easy answers about why the day has evolved this way in our state.  In reality, the sacrifices of many have made it possible for us to express ourselves however we wish on this day, whether that be a Memorial Day tribute to fallen soldiers or placing flowers on a great grandmother's grave.  Or yoga, shopping, house cleaning, picnics, yard work, camping, or any number of other activities.

I salute and honor those who have given all.  May they rest in peace and their families be comforted with the knowledge that they have died with honor.  The video below says it so perfectly.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Making Your Princess Dreams Come True

From the time I was young, I wished to be a princess. Since my dad worked for the Internal Revenue Service, I knew my HRH (Her Royal Highness) title was not going to be handed to me through noble birthright. As a teenager, I surveyed the world for eligible princes and attempted to determine whether they would consider marrying me, a foreigner.  Alas, my research yielded none such.

Cinderella was my part of my television diet as a child and I knew the princess lifestyle was perfect for me.  I wanted pretty much the entire package. A life of wearing elegant gowns with the most pleasing of fabrics next to my lily white skin and having a crown, preferably with a few gemstones for added flair, possessing long, wavy hair and speaking with a British accent, having a beautiful locket necklace around my neck, enjoying all the trappings of palace living, being transported in a royal carriage drawn by at least two if not four white horses, sitting on a throne and receiving beautiful, fragrant bouquets of flowers, attending grand balls, being the princess bride at a royal wedding, and of course, having my life described as "living happily ever after." What's not to like? Possibly, I could do without kissing frogs and the whole curtsy routine, thank you ma'am. 

Over the years, my princess goal has been shelved in favor of more practical objectives. One of my favorite life learnings ... and I wish I could convey this adequately and articulately to females everywhere ... is that you don't need a prince to be a princess.  Well, not entirely anyway.  That said, Princess Grace dreamed of and won the heart of a prince.  The point is you can be your own princess and create a royal life of richness (and I don't necessarily mean wealth but I definitely mean comfort and happiness). Let it happen for you!

  • Think very deeply about what you really desire
  • Feel the abundance of your desires being granted
  • Act as if you already have what your heart desires
  • Let it go
  • Be ready to receive
I have an uncanny ability to visualize princess parking, ie the closest spot to the front door of my destination.  Now, I need something more.  I'm going to bring my fairy godmother, as lofty as that sounds, into my world.  I need her magic wand to get waving, and it really doesn't have anything to do with finding a prince or a glitzy wardrobe either.  {wink}

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Thumbs Up For The Latest Chick Flick ... "Sex and the City 2"

Yesterday morning I got a text from my friend "Jewelry Connie" re: going to the premiere of Sex and the City 2. Hmmm ... could I reorganize my day to go to the 4:30 show? I did.  Connie and I haven't seen each other in months so we caught up about jewelry, work, other stuff, in loud whispers all through the previews.

I haven't ever seen the television show "Sex and the City" for more than a few minutes. For most of the time it was playing, I was too cheap to subscribe to cable tv.  And besides, my short attention span usually pulls me away from tv, unless I'm laying on the couch for other reasons. The movie, however, held my attention the entire time, and that's amazing considering I sleep through most movies except the ones at Sundance Film Festival.

During the movie itself, we laughed almost the entire time, unless we were about to cry. Yes, some of the lines were corny, and yes, it's a chick flick, but the movie has everything a girl could want: an abundance of fashion, shoes, jewelry, purses, relationship drama, upscale New York apartments, gay best friends, foreign travel, female friendships, book clubs, and dancing, although perhaps seeing belly dancing to Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" was over the top.  And ... there were Samantha's sex scenes that were far more comical than passionate (still, not for the children).

The "Sex and the City" women from the tv show have "moved on" from the swinging single life for the most part. Some of the movie's themes that I was not expecting were about the tug-o-war between career and motherhood, motherhood and "me time," independence and marriage, and even menopause. The scenes of Arab wealth in Abu Dhabi (the movie was actually filmed in Morocco) made me want to venture out of my Mexico/Canada/European vacation mindset to places where I could ride a camel, but I could do without the spandex-but-way-beyond-modest swimsuits. Charlotte epitomized my never ending always worrying about what's going on at home. Oh ... and there was one theme near and dear to my heart: the ever-favorite experience of running into an old flame. Unlike me, Carrie was 6,700 miles from home and ran into her old flame.  At least it only happened to her once.

Incidentally, I joined a local "Sex and the City" social group in Salt Lake City, and was required to say which of the four main characters I most resembled. Based upon reading character descriptions, I decided I was most like Miranda. After watching Miranda (a hair shy of obsessive compulsive), I am pretty sure my assessment was right. Connie and I sat there and laughed. She knew my operating style all too well because we once worked together! Now the "new" me is asking to buy Connie's used jewelry beads and other parts from her stash (she buys gold and silver jewelry for resale to the refinery).

"Sex and the City 2" isn't an avant garde movie that would capture the imagination of a film festival crowd. Yet, to weave together so many women's themes - the things we talk about, worry about, laugh about, cry about - in an entertaining, two and a half hour movie - was truly a work of art. We stood out in the theater lobby and watched the mostly female audience exit.  Then Connie summed it up for the five of us in the group: "I needed that."  I quite agree. {smile}

Friday, May 28, 2010

To Survive Unemployment, Just Add Water and Stir

My first post on FUNemployment was several months ago.  I'm sure people are afraid to ask but want to know, so ... how's it going, really?

Surviving The Leper Complex - Fascinating how some people meeting you for the first time or even long-time associates assume you have a strange disease called unemploymentitis. Maybe this is why there are leper colonies. I've found it more fashionable to say I'm "between jobs" or "trading my severance package in the stock market."

Muchas Gracias - A kind few friends and thoughtful former colleagues have sent job leads my way and advocated for my application on specific openings within their organizations. In most cases, these are not the people I would've expected to reach out, but I'm thankful and amazed.

Load Up Your Resume, Revise the Way Your Data Lands in the Online Database, Add a Cover Letter, and Click SUBMIT To Apply - I have applied for hundreds of jobs (mostly online) and talked with dozens of headhunters, in and out of Utah, where I live. My track record includes dozens of phone interviews in my pajamas, three face-to-face interviews, and no job offers. Yet.  I've even applied at grocery stores, but, well, it's complicated.

You Can Trip Over Someone While Walking Sideways - Because there are countless candidates for every position, lateral moves are more difficult. For one lateral move opportunity, I had agreed to take a 33% pay cut, and someone with a more relevant background in the same type of job was selected instead of me. Ouch.

Burning Through Savings Slowly - Because I had ample notice that my pink slip was coming, I was prepared financially for a change in cash flow.  With my austere budget and unemployment, I'm dipping into my savings at a much slower rate than I would have expected, but it's not pretty.

Unemployed People Sit Around and Watch TV All Day So Their Brains Are Atrophying - Not me. Okay, I admit sometimes CNBC is on so that I can follow the financial markets, but not soap operas or Dr. Phil. Since January, I have been learning stock trading and writing this blog.  And I go to yoga 5-6 times a week.  Trading and analysis works my quantitative and spreadsheet skills while blogging is helping to retain my writing skills. The new skills I'm learning along the way, such as stock options trading and search engine optimization may help me eventually leap to new type of position when some brave and hopefully cheerful employer takes a risk on hiring me.  Yoga helps me let go of any frustration I'm feeling.

There's No Substitute for Office Politics - I admit, I don't miss caustic emails and meetings filled with jockeying. And I miss all of this even less when I read Meeting Boy, who mentions the Seven Dwarves in a meeting: Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy, Bossy, Boring, Spacey, and Conniving.  Yes, I remember them well! 

Life Goes On - Unemployment status doesn't give me a bye on other life eventualities ... relationship drama, car problems, putting our beloved Westie to sleep, toilet troubles, and heating system failures. I've had it all.

With a Little Help From My Friends - A friendly phone call can work wonders! So can a a meal out at an inexpensive diner.  Getting together with my weekly jewelry making group is a delight.

So many free offers, mine for the taking

Salute to Rebate Checks and Free Coupon Offers - I never used to get so excited about rebate checks from my credit card company or my insurance carrier. And free coupons seem to be coming out of the sky. I got $5 from Wal-Mart, and two $10 coupons from Kohl's.  The steady stream of free undies coupons from Victoria's Secret keeps me well stocked.  And deep discount coupons from Groupon have led to purchase of essentials like plants for the garden and meat and cheese for the fridge at more than 50% off.

Adding Water to Almost Everything - I've always been a fan of adding water to my drinks, but I now add water to everything from salad dressing to hair styling milk.  Amazing how product manufacturers con us into thinking that a certain consistency is necessary for use of their products. What I cannot add water to I make at home, laundry soap and bread, for example.
Laundry soap in process

FUNemployment is Still Fun - I used to have a reputation at work for being driven. I still am, but in a much different way. I have more "me" time and I indulge myself on occasion with an outing in the middle of the day (retail and day spa therapy, courtesy of my gift card stash).  I definitely socialize more. I've gone on two very inexpensive vacations, made possible because of frequent flyer miles and a free place to stay (New York City) and pooling of resources in a large group (Colorado).  And I have more time to get data for my son's stock options homework or draft client correspondence for my daughter's business.  If nothing else, I look out the window at the beautiful mountains, just because I can.
Another great vista from nearby

Unemployment is like everything else in life. I'm trying to embrace it, make it my friend, and sooner or later, I really will find the next big thing.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Move Over, Starbucks!

Meet Stars & Bucks, a cafe in Bethlehem.  I snagged the picture from one of my son's daily uploads.  There are other Stars & Bucks cafes also ... two in Ramallah and one in Nablus, all featuring Arabic coffee, milkshakes, mochas, hot chocolate, and an array of fresh food. Stars & Bucks is a Palestinian company, open for less than two years and with over a million patrons.  So when in Bethlehem, stop at Stars & Bucks.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I'm Sure I'm Not the First To Say So, But Petra Rocks!!

My son Phil's Israel trip continues and yesterday included a side trip to see Petra in Jordan. After taking a cab to the Jordanian border, he met a man from Oregon who apparently was even more lost than Phil was.  Just as an aside, Phil was a kid who made maps of the neighborhood all day, so I find it hard to believe he was lost, but I'm sure it's confusing with cultural and language barriers.

Phil and the man from Oregon hired another taxi to take them on a two hour ride to Petra, an ancient rock architectural wonder with a water conduits system.  Petra was the capital city of the Nabataeans, established in approximately 600 BC.
The spectacular features of Petra have led to it being named by BBC as one of 40 places to see before you die, and it is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Petra was recently voted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, so definitely a must see on my list, too!

Some of the photos remind me of Hole in the Rock in Papago Park near where I grew up in Arizona or the "rock groups" at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.  If you like these photos, you may want to look at Phil's other photos using the link below, to see more of Petra and environs, and also Eilat in Israel.

Petra and Eilat

Photography courtesy of Phil Bastian

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stock Futures Suggest Money In Your Mattress Is a Better Option

"My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." 
-- Charles F. Kettering

If you have been watching the stock market lately, you are aware that it's been dropping like a hot potato, and demolishing your 401K, if you have one. Who knows what's going to happen next, but it seems like every day, we're hearing more bad news that offsets any good news we're hearing about company earnings or the global economic recovery. How's a body to know what is coming on the morrow?

A psychic may be able to provide a forecast, but I wouldn't necessarily bet on it. If you enjoy astrology and are interested in how the stars and planetary positions may impact your 401K and investments, read The Merriman Market Analyst, a weekly report written by a financial astrologer that may provide some keen insights.

However, even more reliable is reviewing futures outside of market hours.  Futures are contracts to buy a stock or group of stocks in an index at a predetermined date and price.  The purchaser of a futures contract must fill the contract terms, unlike an option which is a right but not an obligation to buy.  And futures are bought and sold, even outside of normal trading hours, so they can provide a little hint of what the upcoming trading day may bring at the opening bell.

Some of the futures websites I have been known to review before the market opens at 9:30 am ET are:

Wall Street Journal

These sites track the sale of futures contracts on a more-or-less real time basis, and that usually is what establishes a basis for the trading day.

All of that said, perhaps money in a mattress is the way to go these days.  Dow futures are down over 200 points as of 7:30 am ET this morning.  We have a nosediving market which has no mercy on small, buy-and-hold investors.

Legal disclaimer: The above hints and comments should not be construed as financial advice.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Salt Lake Eating Out: Not a Three-Way Thai

Since my first foray into Thai food, it was love at first bite.  I've come to savor Tom Kha Gai, Pad Thai, Guay Tea Pad Kee Mao, Pad Gra Prow, and similar dishes with names I can foolishly try to pronounce. Thai food was on the agenda on my recent trips to New York City and Colorado Springs. Salt Lake City has several wonderful Thai restaurants worth a venture, especially since there are discount coupons to make eating out less painful on your wallet. I offer for your consideration two solid hits and a complete disaster.

Thai Siam - A work colleague introduced me to Thai Siam.  I loved the Tom Kha Gai (coconut soup) so much that I searched web sites for recipes and have made this dish at home several times.  The lunch specials are always tasty and plentiful, the service is excellent, and the ambiance is very relaxing.  The location at 1435 South State is quite convenient, even for a lunch hour meeting.  I've been to Thai Siam quite a few times, and I have tried a lot of different menu items, all perfectly prepared and delicious. has discount coupons available for purchase (usually $10 value for $4 or $25 value for $15).

Thai Lotus - I brought a guy I was dating to Thai Lotus, across from the old Salt Lake City main library on 500 South, as a thank you for his help in replacing my car battery.  I had a 2-for-1 coupon from City Weekly.  We were seated at least fifteen minutes before we got menus or water.  We were both ravenously hungry, and eventually we were served small fried noodle appetizers which were edible but not delightful in any way.  When our food finally arrived, it hinted of an establishment in need of a bigger food inventory budget. He had Gai Yang (BBQ chicken), which was served as three "hunks" of breaded chicken which was dried out and flavorless.  No sides, not even parsley or other garnishments.  I had Guay Teaw Kee Mao (Drunken Noodles), a bit more flavorful, but with scarce pieces of beef, peppers, and mushrooms.  And the noodles did not seem to be the authentic kind.  The wait staff was displeased at the sight of the coupon and had extensive trouble with their credit card reader.  In all, a disappointment and since it was a thank you, an embarrassment.

Tasty Thai - My friend Bev and I had just gotten pedicures in the afternoon, so we were already in great spirits. She had a  coupon and needed a hungry soul to join her and rack up a small bill.  We had vegetarian spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce, Tom Gha (coconut soup), Yum Tempura (salad),  Pad-Kee-Mow (wide noodles with chicken and vegetables in a spicy sauce), and Pad-Ruam-Mitt (chicken and vegetables stir fried in garlic sauce). We had plenty of leftovers to take home.  I have driven past the corner where this restaurant is located (due southwest of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City) and never before noticed it was there.  Even the restaurant interior is quite simple and unassuming. But don't let that fool you. The food is authentic and terrific! This restaurant does not have a website, but you can see their menu on the website, where they still have the discount coupons.

My work experience at GE taught me to rank order things (and people, another story). That said, I'd put Thai Siam and Tasty Thai in a tie for first place.  Thai Siam is a little more upscale, whereas you can easily slip into  Tasty Thai in flip flops, shorts and a tank top.  You will have a fantastic and inexpensive meal at either, especially if you use the coupons.  Thai Lotus is recommended only if you want to sever relations with your dating partner, and it'd be a good place to do that because you will have plenty of time to have the talk and there won't be any fond memories after it's over.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Israel ... And With No Room In the Youth Hostel

My son Phil is in Israel this week.  Yesterday he sent pictures from Avdat, Mitzpe Ramon, the Dead Sea which are included in this post for your viewing enjoyment. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I really don't need to say much, and after you see the pictures, I'm sure you'll agree.  Yet ... there are things to say. At least a few.

Phil made advance hotel reservations for most of the trip but last night was not arranged, and further, there were no rooms in the youth hostel in the town he was visiting yesterday.  Naturally, it took my breath away when he messaged me on Facebook that he was going to sleep on the beach of the Dead Sea. My overprotective mother instincts kicked in.  Maybe there are things a mother ought not to know about her adventuresome grown son's travel plans, if not having a place to stay is a plan.  In all fairness, he's a young man who can easily jet from New York to Geneva, Switzerland, where he's interning at the International Labor Organization for the summer, then figure out where to stash his belongings, and in less than two days, be enroute to Tel Aviv.  El Al, the Israeli airline put him through extra security because of his short time spent in Geneva, and it was apparently stressful at the Geneva airport, but okay in the end.  It's clear, Phil's got it going on, and I know from hearing of his previous travels, he's experienced amazing times and circumstances.  Anyhow, apparently, there were other people at the campground on the beach where he stayed.  Details are sketchy, but he lived to tell about it.

Early this morning, I got an update.

I'm having a great time here-- I woke up to a sunrise over the Dead Sea this morning then went and saw Massada, then went to a place called Ein Gedi that has a bunch of waterfalls. Then I went and swam in the Dead Sea, which was interesting. You hear about how it makes you float, and you don't quite realize how much it will do that. I lost my balance standing several times, because my legs would start to float. Crazy. The other weird thing is how salty it is. I mean, obviously it's salty, but it's so salty that a lot of the salt goes to the bottom. If you scrape the floor of the Dead Sea, it's just a bunch of salt at the bottom. Also, salt crystalizes on the rocks, so you pick up a rock and it has salt crystals on it.


If you would like to see all of the pictures from this series, click the link Avdat, Mitzpe Ramon, the Dead Sea.

I'm not-so-secretly hoping Phil procures me some Dead Sea cosmetics so I can compare against my Korean Mud Rang!

Photography: Phil Bastian

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dinner In Big Cottonwood Canyon With My Sister Wife

I enjoyed a lovely dinner with my sister wife last evening. Yes, really. Well, no not really. But sort of. We did eat at the Silver Fork Lodge.  (Hint: I especially recommend Silver Fork Lodge for summer evenings, when you will want to sit out on the patio and enjoy the cool mountain air along with the delicious but down-to-earth food and perhaps a beverage.)

Your sister what?  A local women's band, The Sister Wives, capitalizes on Utah's tendency to make light of wives in polygamous relationships. In reality, none of these gals are in polygamous relationships, nor are my sister wife and I (emphasis added).  In Utah, jokes about polygamous families are ubiquitous.  There I go again ... ubiquitous.  Gartner Group may use it to describe technology.  I use it to describe rats and polygamy humor.  And so, I have a sister wife. At least one.

When I met my sister wife, I was dating her ex-boyfriend. Through him, I learned I'd dated her previous ex-boyfriend. As I have mentioned in other posts, the social scene in Salt Lake City is at times a miniature fishbowl. You will run into your ex again in the McDonald's drive-through if not at the gym, and you will meet your ex's ex's.

I'll never forget the night I sat down with my sister wife and told her I'd dated her previous ex-boyfriend.  She already knew I was dating her most recent ex, a fact which no doubt met her with "mixed emotions."  For situational reasons that go beyond what I want to say here, let's just say I knew she'd be sufficiently traumatized by what I had to say, so I made her sit down.  "Well, I knew you weren't going to tell me I was pregnant!" she said, "so I couldn't imagine what could be so bad that I had to sit down."  It was that bad. When you find that you have two or more ex's in common, you start to feel like you are winning a weird and deranged game of bingo. So a polygamy analogy is a way of it least mentally processing the situation without coming uncorked.

Perhaps my sister wife and I have more in common with each other than with either of the men we dated.  We both have masters degrees. We were each married 17 years.  Like my sister wife, I was married to a scientist. We each have children, though not the same number. Each of our ex-husbands are remarried, to women who share the same first name (yes, really).

Note, that so far in this post, not one word about the men.  And there won't be.  I will suggest that the Mayo Clinic has a great article on forgiveness.  And another thought beyond what the article offers: even if the relationship gets tossed with the weekly trash, the people you meet because of past relationships may become good friends long after that special someone no longer rocks your world. In my case, a woman I met because of the second ex-boyfriend has become one of my very best friends.  And hanging with my sister wife is always a treat.  No doubt, there will be further collaboration and consultation, if not discussion, recapitulation, regurgitation (yes), and intelligence sharing between us.

No more hand-me-down boyfriends from my sister wife. Fortunately, for my sister wife, she's found a man who is loving, family oriented, well read, articulate, steady, stable, and who loves hiking, music, and my sister wife's other interests.  He's a  keeper.  Her advice: do what you love and the man of your dreams may show up. Maybe. If not, at least you are having a marvelous time. And if he does appear, take it slooooooooooooooow. Me? I'm not sitting around and waiting for anything to happen for me at the moment, but if it does, I think I might be better able to identify "the real deal."

Finally, in case you were wondering, "sister wife" is considered a term of endearment. It's definitely true in my case. {smile}

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Just a Spoonful of Greek Yogurt Won't Solve Greece's Debt Problems ... But It's Oh So Good

Greek Yogurt truly is food for the gods. Try it sometime! Luscious and good enough to be retained as a necessary luxury item in spite of my own personal austerity plan.

And by the way, have you heard about what's going on in Greece?  In a nutshell, Greece was a nation where government spending sprees and subsequent "creative" financial reporting were the name of the game.  Now Greece's national debt is bigger than its economy and is forecast to reach 120% of its gross domestic product in 2010.  The country is also out of compliance with eurozone requirements for debt levels and its credit rating is the lowest in the eurozone.

Greece's new prime minister has been forced to abandon campaign promises and impose an austerity program for the nation ... new taxes on fuel, tobacco and alcohol, pay cuts for public workers, and crackdowns on tax cheats. Well ... it's not going over too well with the citizenry, as you might guess. In fact, they're rioting in the streets, and the only amusement anybody's getting out of it is that the Legendary Athens Greece Riot Dog (see video below) is still on the case.

So anyway ... the rest of Europe and the US are coming to Greece's rescue. Let's just hope it's not too little, too late. This crisis is definitely impacting world financial markets, so you, too, are paying for it if you have a 401K and/or personal investments which are now in depreciation mode. 

Meanwhile, buy yourself some Greek yogurt and watch the video. You won't regret either.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Strawberry Couples Forever

The strawberry couple above were created for my daughter and son-in-law's wedding cake by Midway Country Corner in Midway, Utah. Soooo cute. The cheesecake, incidentally, was baked by the groom at Costco, where he works. How many grooms can say they baked their own wedding cake? Nate can, and the cake was delicious. In fact, the wedding cake was so tempting and mouth-watering that the guests began serving themselves cake before the bride and groom had the official cake cutting. 

Like I said, strawberry couples forever.

Assorted, Random and Trivial Thoughts About Fenway Park

"Looks like she jumped off her garage to fit into those pants." 
-- An anonymous house guest who visited us in Cambridge 

House guests say the funniest things. We were at Fenway Park, in the cheap seats (see ticket price below).  A young lady walked by wearing pants as tight as her skin.  This was a thin young lady who bought her clothes "extra thin." Apparently.

Such is the microcosm of America that shows up for the games at Fenway Park in Boston.  Kids from the neighborhood whose grandfathers before them went to the games. Old men outside the ballpark yelling "get your hot daaahhgs, right here, get your hot daaaaghs."  Families, couples, singles, hippies, groupies, grandpas, distinguished looking businessmen in suits, girls in skin tight pants, and us.

History resonates from every bleacher, seat, walkway, the media boxes, and of course, the baseball field itself.  The park was home to baseball greats Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and many others.

Going to opening day became a tradition for us when we lived in Boston, as it already was for many Boston area natives since Fenway opened on April 20, 1912.  I've always felt the Red Sox blues about missing the first home game of the season.  Oh how I miss going to the game!  It was always an electric experience.  For my money, there's nothing like being at Fenway Park on opening day.  Unless you go any other day.  Even when Fenway is out of season, the energy feels akin to a sizzling power plant.

My son and I paid a visit to Fenway in the fall, after baseball season was over.  We sat in the Green Monster seats which were added in 2003, and he snapped some of the great views from the ballpark.

A couple years ago, both kids and I were vacationing in Boston on opening day. I really wanted the kids to experience this day of all days at Fenway, but StubHub, eBay tickets, and all the other usual sources didn't have a seat to be found.  Opening day was met with torrential rain and the game was canceled. I was hoping that we'd get in the next day, when the game was rescheduled, but it was not to be.  My daughter did get some great pictures of what it's like to stand outside Fenway Park on opening day. 

It was definitely a day for mixed emotions.  Even though we weren't inside, there were plenty of hot dogs and other ballpark delicacies to be had. 

Photography: Fenway Ticket circa 1986 (FeliciaEvita); Fenway (empty) - Phillip Bastian; Fenway (exterior) - Angela Fairbanks

For Those Who Want A Little Mud Slinging This July ... The Boryeong Mud Festival

Recently, I mentioned that you ladies who enjoy facials may want to figure out how to get some Mud Rang. One way to procure this amazing facial miracle in a bottle is by going to the Boryeong Mud Festival to be held in Korea July 17-25.  The video above previews the adventures to be realized, in case you were wondering.

Danielle's sister Lauren is going to Korea in July.  I was secretly plotting to have her pick up a few bottles of my new fav facial wonderment.  Unfortunately, she wants to leave Korea before the mud festival.  Not to avoid mud festival traffic but in order to be back in the US to attend a  Lady Gaga concert.  Lady who?  Yes ... Lady Gaga.  I am crestfallen at being my near miss at sourcing Mud Rang, but alas, I shall get it somehow.

Watch Out, Tide!

I'm not one to suggest to the austerity gods that I'm switching to their team, but unemployment has taken a toll on my cash flow. Even so, use of laundry detergent still scores fairly high on the need/want continuum. But, as I have learned, alternatives are available.

Tide won't lose its prominence in America's laundry rooms, but my laundry bill just got cheaper.  I manufactured my own laundry soap, in my own kitchen, in fifteen minutes, for less than $10.  And I have enough supplies left to make at least 24 more batches.

The Secret Laundry Detergent Recipe

1/2 bar soap (I used Ivory soap, but another good choice is the quintessential laundry bar, Fels Naptha)
1/2 cup washing soda
1/4 cup borax
1 1/2 gallons water

Gather all of the supplies.  You will need a large kettle for boiling water, a wooden spoon, a grater, a large bucket or other container for mixing, and containers for the finished laundry detergent. I bought the washing soda, borax, and soap at Smith's (a Kroger subsidiary company) in Cottonwood Heights.

Grate the bar of soap. Send the family outside, so they don't assume you are grating Monterrey Jack cheese for tacos. Maybe this would be a nice April Fool's Day trick ... note to self.

Place a large kettle on the stove and heat 2-3 cups of water to boiling. Add grated soap and stir until dissolved.

Remove the pot from the stove. Add washing soda and borax to the soap mixture.

Pour the mixture into the larger container.   Add remaining water to make 1 1/2 gallons. Stir well. Okay, you don't need to use a wire whip, but you will want to ensure that all ingredients are fully blended.

Pour mixture into bottles. If you use a funnel, it will be less messy. I retrieved my bottles from my laundry room trash.  Let bottles stand for 24-48 hours before using. Homemade laundry detergent may have a somewhat unique, white slime consistency.

Detergent making is one of those new "finds" I will probably continue long after I have a new job or source of income. In addition to the dramatic savings on the cost, imagine the mountains of plastic jugs in our landfills that will be eliminated if we manufacture our own laundry soap. Homemade detergent doesn't take much time to make, and since you are making soap, it doesn't mess up your kitchen too badly.  Best of all, it really does get the laundry clean.

If you are less adventurous than me, but still want to save on detergent, Mary's Laundry Blog does a weekly survey of the best prices for laundry detergent and supplies. I was amazed to hear of a blog like Mary's. No narcissistic "it's all about me" posts or even a regurgitation of Mary's latest life drama. Just good advice on stain removal and keeping clothes fresh and clean. Imagine.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another Rat Tail (Tale)

"He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.--Ralph Waldo Emerson

My fear of rats stems from being attacked by the rat's close cousin, the squirrel, back in the 1980s.

Our neighbors in Cambridge, with whom we shared a patio, propped a box springs on the divider between our two patios.  At least one family of squirrels had taken up residence.  I wasn't aware of this fun fact til the day I was locked out of my apartment and asked if I could pass through to my place via our shared porch.  As I was passing by, mama squirrel thought I was a threat to her babies and chased me all the way to the edge of my side of the patio, until I was hanging over the ledge.  

I believe "little mama" sensed I was not the squirrel-loving type. Some of my friends invited the neighborhood squirrels into their dining rooms on regular basis to clean the food the kids dropped on the floor, since we couldn't have pets to do same.  I was not in the habit of inviting rodents into the dining room for a feast, so perhaps I was on the squirrel black list anyway.  

Squirrels were ubiquitous in Cambridge. (Some day I will confess how ubiquitous is the only word I learned at the annual conference of Gartner Group, a major technology consulting firm, in case you don't know.  More on that later. At least I know one big word.)  The photo below is my son Phil, probably around the year of my infamous mama squirrel attack.  You can see a squirrel on the upper left of the tree.  

So back to the drama on the patio.  I had two choices: 1) I could try to quickly open the patio door to my apartment and hope "little mama" didn't follow me inside; or 2) I could jump off the patio, which was on the second floor.  I chose neither. Instead I screamed at the top of my lungs as "little mama" hissed, bobbed, and weaved, coming ever closer to me.  How dare I invade her multistory patio home?!!!  I don't know if squirrel screaming is sport, but if yes, I was an Olympian that day. And then some. Eventually, she found her way back to her box springs residence, where no doubt the family was awaiting their next meal and wondering who had interrupted their naps with screeching and howling.

A lot of people think squirrels are cute, but not me.  The mere sight of one makes my hair stand on end.  Since that day, I've had a fear of rodents, especially squirrels and rats.  And if I know the squirrel's cousin, rat, is on my property, my nights are sleepless.
Fast forward to 2010.  The landscapers saw rats in my side yard last Saturday.  My exterminator has maintained pest control "stations" since my St. Francis of Assisi garden statue accidentally fed all the rats in my yard and in fact the entire neighborhood back in 2007.  Fortunately, the pest control man stopped by today to provide me a little more protection.  

Maybe tonight I can get some sleep.  Zzzzzzz ...

Monday, May 10, 2010

What It Means (to me) To Be "In the Music"

"Don't play the saxophone. Let it play you." -- Charlie Parker

I'm a novice flautist, not a world renown authority on music. So when I speak of being "in the music," this is my term, my meaning, my definition.  Let me begin by saying that I am a believer in the power of music as an influencer, a healer, and at times, a destroyer.  I have had fascinating experiences with music as a concert attendee and a performer.  And yes, even while playing my iPod or casually singing to myself.

In the music is an altered state of consciousness which enables an individual to be one with the music.  Professional writings on music therapy have compared the altered state music creates to a drug and alcohol induced experience.  According to studies by J. Fachner, music and intoxication seem to have the same forms of emotional processing.  Meditation, yoga, prayer, and physical exercise, especially dance, are other means to accessing an altered state.  Listening to music may literally alter not only our emotional states but also our physical states.

Shortly after I started playing my flute at mass about seven years ago, I discovered this nirvana on the rare days when my musical muse took the reins on my flute.  Improvisation and playing without thinking just happened. And I could play well without fear.  The result was a mental cleansing of sorts. For that brief moment, I was out of my mind, or at least I was on temporary leave from my quantitative, linear, rational, and Type E woman monkey mind.  Playing my flute became a way to recover from weekday life in a big corporation. In a way, it was comparable to what I have heard an out of body experience is like.

Everyone can be in the music, even if they're not in the band.  And it's possible to be in the music in the most unlikely of places.  I had a business trip to New Orleans and found myself with other conference attendees at one of the dozens of nightclubs on Bourbon Street.  In order to escape the jello shots fanfare, I affixed my attention on the live band and quickly found myself in the music. Yes, in the midst of craziness and frivolity, I escaped to my center.

We've all had experiences where the music "takes us back" to another person, time, or place.  One of my favorite songs about being in the music is The Song Remembers When by country singer Tricia Yearwood.  Sesame Street songs brings back the nausea of morning sickness of my second pregnancy and any song Shania Twain sings reminds me of being in the grocery store in Switzerland, where her music was played often.

It's not always possible to be in the music, even as a musician. For example, I won't be in the music if my "favorite mistake" is sitting on the first or second row at mass as is oft the case (in case you're wondering, he doesn't want to reconnect in any meaningful way ... he just happens to prefer the front few rows, usually right in front of where I'm standing).

If the music is too sing-song-y, regardless of whether I'm listening or playing, I won't be in the musicBut as Fachner states, "Everybody has musical preferences, and there are those very special pieces of music that make us shiver."  In other words, what's sing-song-y to me could be poetic ecstasy to you, so you could find yourself in the music.

When I need to feel powerful, I listen to the soundtrack from Evita, repeatedly until I feel ready to face the latest curve ball life has pitched.  You probably guessed my blog name FeliciaEvita originated in part from the incredible power of Evita.

Next time you listen to or play songs that you love, take note.  Use the experience as a powerful tool to break away from ordinary to extraordinary.  Don't just listen or play.  Feel it down into your toes.  Be in the music.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Choices: My Mother, My Daughter, Myself

Choices.  On a balmy day in Acapulco, I faced a tough choice that has haunted me ever since.

My mother, my daughter and I were swimming in the ocean. At first, we were in up to our ankles, then our knees, then mid-thigh, or higher when the waves came crashing to shore. We were having a great time, the water was about 85 degrees, and we were talking and laughing.

The salty, warm waves splashed in our faces and were pushing higher up to our shoulders. My mom, who is about six inches shorter than me, was in front of me and my daughter was at my side.  My mom began to scream.  She was in trouble. It happened so fast. All I could see of her was her head bobbing further and further away.

In order to rescue my mother, who was out about ten or so feet beyond where my daughter and I were, I had to leave my daughter.  In a split second, I decided I had to go get my mother or she was going to drown. "Kick hard and go towards the shore," I said to my daughter.  I knew there was a chance that my daughter could get into trouble, but I knew she was much younger than my mom, and with legs so strong from her training as a skater. And I knew I didn't have much time to get to my mother or she'd be gone.

I pushed against the waves toward my mother.  "Hold onto me," I said and I immediately began to swim her back towards the shore.  I am an extremely strong swimmer because of having to go off the high dive and not go under (I had frequent ear infections as a child so getting my head wet was not allowed per doctor's orders, and yet, I had to take swimming lessons.). Fortunately, I didn't think of the possibility that even strong swimmers can get into trouble trying to rescue someone.  I just said to myself that I had to get back to my daughter in a hurry, without letting go of my mom.

Each yard I swam seemed like a mile and I kept going in slow motion.  The beach was so far away.  In the meanwhile, my daughter was struggling and I knew I could not get to her fast enough.  I screamed at the top of my lungs.  "Help, help, help, help!" I yelled.

A Mexican teenage boy came out of nowhere. Normally, a mother is not happy to see a strange, foreign teen grabbing her pre-adolescent daughter, but that day was an exception.  We all swam together as he held my daughter and I pulled my mother to the point where we could walk onto the beach.

When we got to the shore, the boy informed us that we were in a rip tide area.  At least there was an explanation for our body surfing transformed to a living nightmare. We breathed hard as we walked back to where the rest of our family was situated amongst the many bodies on the beach that day.

"You left me," my daughter scolded.

"I had to," I said. "Grandma was in trouble."

"I was, too," she said.  "I couldn't touch."

I was deluged with guilt. What should I have done instead of what I did? I scarcely knew what a rip tide was, let alone the how-to's of navigating its terrorizing power.

Only my daughter, my mother, and I realized the grave situation and the miracle we had just experienced. I laid in bed that night and reviewed in my mind what was probably fifteen minutes of intense drama. Over and over, again and again, I could not sleep all night for the thinking of what if.  I knew my mother was in danger, yet my daughter was in more danger than I'd realized.  How did I ever come back to the shore that day with both of them?  The situation seemed so impossible when I recounted it in my mind as I tossed and turned all night long. It easily could have ended badly. The forces of heaven and a stranger intervened that day.  No other explanation would suffice.

The beach was off limits for me the remainder of our week-long trip. And I must confess, I have been a much more cautious body surfer since then. Yes, life is a great teacher.

Today I wish a Happy Mother's Day to my mother and thank my daughter and son for giving me such a Happy Mother's Day.  The best gift of all is that I have each of you in my life.  When, in thinking how I might have lost you, I realize how fragile and precious life is, and I appreciate what you have given me that much more.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lapis Lazuli Copper Poker Set

I designed the copper and Lapis Lazuli earrings above to coordinate with my copper and Lapis Lazuli pendant set. The occasion: a Texas Hold 'Em social. A month or so ago, I found myself signed up for such an event, even though a high roller, I am not. In fact, until that night, I'd never played.

Lapis Lazuli is a royal blue stone with flecks of gold-colored iron pyrite. From ancient times, the stone has been treasured and used to make jewelry. Known as the stone of friendship, especially for Sagittarius, Lapis Lazuli is believed to cultivate wisdom, power, love, and psychic abilities. The legends, reports, and stories surrounding lapis lazuli date back to 5000 B.C. Goddesses Athena, Bast, Diana, Iambe, Isis, Medusa, and Tyche (Fortuna) wore Lapis Lazuli as adornment.  For the Assyrians, Lapis Lazuli was the holy stone Uknu, which brought the blue of the sky and with it the light of the gods to the earth. The word is a compound word made up of the Arabic azul, meaning “blue sky” and the Latin lapis, meaning “stone.”

Historically, Lapis was mistaken for sapphires and at one time was equal to gold in value. The Pharoah wore a Lapis Lazuli as a symbol of great power. Wearing Lapis Lazuli is said to strengthen the body while the wearer is experiencing a spiritual awakening. When you hold it in your hand, you may be inspired to find your "one and only" partner. The stone supports the throat chakra, the communication center of the body.

And ... while I cannot claim to have experienced a spiritual awakening at the Texas Hold 'Em event, I met some interesting people and did well at poker.  {wink}

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hurling and Climbing My Way Through Munich, Sort Of

For the first few weeks after it happened, I was reticent to discuss it for fear of repercussions.

I didn't think they made Ford Escorts in the U.S. that go so fast. The car I rented in Munich that June was sailing, well, flying on the Autobahn.

Once I got comfortable with the higher speeds on the Autobahn, I learned to LOVE the rhythm of driving in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  The rule is slow drivers must stay to the right, so that the faster cars can jet by.  And it works.  I wish we had a similar system in the U.S. That is the rule, but too many times I end up behind a putz.

When I say we toured Switzerland, it would not be an understatement to say we covered most of the major roads and cities in three days.  My son is a die-hard, gotta-see-everything kind of traveler, and his enthusiasm is infectious. We made stops in Lucerne, Lucarno, Sion, Montreux, Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg. We also wound through the Swiss Alps and past Lake Thun (Tuna) in the magnificent Interlaaken area.  And we got stuck in a traffic jam in Zurich.  Furthermore ... we drove all the way around Lake Geneva (Lac Lemon, if you are on the France side) to Evian, France, and we merged with a wedding processional going through the town.  I don't recollect drinking any of the famous water while there. The traffic was so scary, I just wanted to get back into Switzerland.  On Sunday, we decided to head back to Munich through the scenic Italian Alps and Lichtenstein.

The minute we got over the Italian border, I feared my judgment had been compromised.  The windy, mountain roads weren't nearly the quality of the Swiss roads. Sometimes in fact, they were very narrow, with only room for a Fiat going in the opposite direction.  Slow going it was. By the time we reached Lichtenstein on Sunday, we were still quite a distance from Munich, and we didn't even stop to place our feet on the ground long enough to say we'd really been there. No worries. No one at the rental agency would know that we were arriving a few hours later than scheduled.

After we got through the Italian Alps, we stopped in Locarno and we and a small bird who joined our table had a small dinner.  Cruising back on the Autobahn was a bit more complicated as there were spots which did have speed patrols, although it was still possible to go at least 130 kmph (80 mph) most of the time.  Suffice it to say, we were going to be late getting the car back after our wild road race through Switzerland.

We arrived in the rental car parking lot at about 10:45 pm. We were exhausted and there was paperwork to be done. We filled in the blanks, unloaded our luggage from the trunk, locked the car, deposited the paperwork and car keys in the box, then headed for the street. It was only a small mile-long walk to my son's apartment.

"Ummmm ... there's a problem," my son noticed it first. There was now a 12 foot high fence where we had come into the parking lot.

"The gate locked ... it must've been on a timer," he said.
I was tired and confused. After my life experiences up to that point, I wasn't afraid of much, but I didn't see how I could scale a 12 foot fence with two suitcases and various carrying bags.  Maybe my son could have, but I knew I couldn't.  In any event, it would have attracted so much attention that we'd be probably arrested for breaking into the parking lot, even though a magic gate trapped us in.

The parking lot was huge and obviously used for other purposes besides the rental car agency. The expanse seemed to be at least a square block.

"We're going to have to walk til we find a place where there's no fence," I suggested.

My son found a short fence, only about 5 feet.  He tested to ensure he could get over, and get out to the street. Meanwhile, a dog which I imagined was fierce and possessing sharp teeth, big claws, and no mercy was barking loudly from maybe 100 feet away.  I was shuddering, obviously from fear as it was summer and still quite warm that evening.

Success. The street was accessible.

In the end, I hurled the suitcases, carrying bags, and my purse over the reasonably short fence, then climbed over myself.  Not soon enough we were on the sidewalk heading back to my son's apartment.

Would somehow know we returned the car so late was ... were there hidden security cameras in the parking lot? if yes, would I get out of the country? would anyone believe that we entered the lot legitimately with the rental car? would I ever be allowed to visit Germany again, given my fence climbing antics?

So I didn't mention this little escapade for months, not even to my closest friend. I breathed a sigh of relief when my accomplice-son landed in back the U.S. later that summer. But now, I've shared it with you, not as a confession but as a warning:

Be prepared ... you never know how high a fence you're going to have to climb and how far you are going to have to hurl your suitcase.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lost a Cool $20 Million Today ...

I was in the midst of a compelling analysis to compare the buy-and-hold versus active trading stock portfolio management strategies, when what to my wondering eyes should appear on my trading screen ...

Portfolio Value: ($20,999,999.01)

Oops I know the market's down today and Greece is in the midst of a big fat riot, but ... but ... $20 million? Cha ching. Negative $20 million?

I could not even fathom the scenarios which might have caused me to not only lose every penny of shareholder equity, but go into a financial bottomless pit. Could I have fat fingered some eight digits when I wasn't even trading at the time?

I realized from this point forward I'd be living a life of free Einstein bagels and schmears ... forever.

It's one thing to recoup a few hundred dollars in bad trades, but $20 million? Then the trading platform shut down.

I don't really have a vocab like a sailor either in speaking or print, but just the same, I'm surprised I didn't say a few choice words. Well, this is probably because I couldn't say any words.

I was on the phone to my brokerage to find out if someone had broken into my account or ... what. In the haste of the moment, I recalled, not fondly, the time when the voice response system chicklette for my cell phone company informed me that my balance was over $1 million. That event, no doubt, prepared me for today. And then it hit me ... Mercury is in retrograde (had to throw this in for the astrology junkies). May 11th can't come too quickly.

While holding on the phone, I emailed my brother and advised of my plight. After a reasonably short wait of under ten minutes, I spoke with a representative. I learned that apparently, right around the time when my brokerage account went into convulsions, a trader or a trading glitch traded at 1000x the expected amount, so a $16 million trade became $16 billion. Whether a financial institution relies in manual input or automated system entries, ... well, I'm not going to give a brain dump on operational risk but suffice it to say accidents happen. Where were the controls? testing? monitoring? etc?

The impact of this "glitch" on the broader market was immediate, and the Dow dropped by a whopping 998.5 points, taking every stock in the market correspondingly up or down depending on the degree to which it correlated with or against the Dow. And the New York Stock Exchange realized a circuit outage. I have to wonder how many buy and sell orders were executed during the half hour or so when things were unbelievably haywire, and how long all of that may take to unravel. Eventually, by day's end, the Dow settled at a drop of 347.80. The charts will remember this day for a long time.