Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Three Travelers Are Off Once Again

I have traveled a number of times with my sister and my niece. The tradition began my niece's freshman year at college. My brother-in-law was working Parent's Weekend, so I offered to accompany my sister to the University of Pittsburgh. The three of us had a great time and decided to make girls' weekend a yearly event.

Kara spent a semester in London, and my sister and I spent a week visiting, touring and generally having a great time.

We spent one long snowbound weekend in Philadelphia, enjoying the extra time together before the weather allowed us to return home.

Tomorrow morning the three of us embark on another adventure. We are off to Guatemala.

We will spend a week touring the countryside, enjoying, enduring and hopefully joyfully surviving bike rides, hiking, horseback riding and - possibly, if I have the courage - ziplining.

I am not taking my computer. My next post will be next week when we are home once again.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

My House and the Local Home Tour

In early August a local charitable organization presented its one-day Home Tour, opening six wonderful million-dollar-plus homes in our community to the public, or rather those of us willing to shell out the dough to see the inside of these mega-homes. I was one of the eager individuals desiring to see the inside of what from the outside looks like lavish, expensive, over-the-top residences.

And some of them were. Some were new; most were not. All were spotless, beautifully decorated with interesting room accessories, wall hangings, and professional landscaping.

I was thinking of offering my home, although worth far, far less than $1 million, for next year’s home tour. Since the event occurs during the summer, the following pictures are excellent representations of what visitors would see when touring my home. My home would be an alternative to viewing upscale life at the shore; it would be more like a reality show depicting a typical family's beach experience. After viewing the pictures, let me know what you think.

The first photograph shows the variety of items just inside the front door. My home is not grandiose; it is rather small, with minimal storage.

 Just to the right of the entrance is the dining room table, currently enhanced by an on-going, three day OceanOpoly game marathon.
Moving on to the kitchen, my counter is adorned with drinking cups of the current crop of visitors. In the interest of recycling and reducing the large number of garbage bags overflowing my curb each week, each visitor retains their very own red cup during their stay.

The stove is decorated with goodies remaining from the birthday parties and snacks of visiting friends and family.

Walking into the family room, the fireplace area is enhanced by numerous toys collected over the years via hand me downs and garage sales. When grandchildren or other little ones are not visiting, they are packed away and stored in the garage.

My bathrooms are not cutely decorated, but when family and friends invade for the summer season, this is sometimes what greets the individual upon opening a bathroom door:

The master bedroom is not spacious but adequate in size, although during family visits adorned with the following floor fixture:

I did not include pictures of the laundry room (full of bathing suits and towels), the back yard (the kiddie pool a central feature), the driveway (lined with beach chairs and toys), or the two additional dorm bedrooms.

So what do you think? Ready for a house tour, House Beautiful photograph session, or Architectural Digest article?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summertime Parade to the Beach

When hub and I decide to spend time at the beach, usually in the late afternoon, we grab a book, bottle of water and beach chair, and are on our way. It is a short walk to surf and sand.

It is an entirely different story when son, daughter-in-law, three grandchildren and their friends – another family of five - descend for a few days of fun beach time.

The six kids range in age from almost-two to eight; there are three girls and three boys.

The morning routine goes something like this:

The kids awake between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. and head downstairs to the TV, Lego pile, puzzles and assorted other indoor distractions for some relatively calm playtime. Attempting to keep them in their rooms later is an exercise in futility. The 5:00 a.m. risers are supposed to stay in bed until daylight.

Parents descend an hour or so later, and the commotion begins.

The kids need to brush their teeth, get dressed, put shoes on and head out the door for breakfast. Everyone either piles into two cars, or a procession of adults, kids and strollers walk the couple of blocks to a local restaurant.

Returning, the pack moves indoors searching for bathing suits, towels, water bottles, snacks, and assorted other beach paraphernalia. Everybody changes into beach attire, then heads outdoors to collect beach chairs, beach toys, boogie boards, strollers and anything else adults or children decide is essential for a day at the beach.

Loading the wagon with beach chairs, toys, towels...etc.
Then children are collected – not an easy task. The two-year-old is running up and down the sidewalk, trailed by assorted older kids. The older boys are running around the back yard. The girls are hiding next door. One Dad goes back inside to go to the bathroom. He returns, and one of the kids has to go. The boys are fighting over the boogie boards. Brother hits sister (or sister hits brother, or both) and parents scold. The group starts walking and one girl falls, screaming, her knee bleeding…

It is amazing the crew actually gets everyone together and marches the couple of blocks to the beach. Here are a couple of pictures of the parade:

But despite the turmoil, the commotion, the fights, the yelling, the mess, the meals, the birthday cakes (we celebrated four birthdays in two weeks)…it is wonderful to see everyone enjoy the great summer outdoors.

I just hope we (hub and me) and our house survive.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Smartphone Saga – Part 2

I probably hold the record for owning a smartphone for the shortest period of time - less than 24 hours. I had the phone about 16 hours before returning it.

I was humbled, humiliated, and shamed into turning in the device, replacing it with an iPhone.

My family – more specifically, my son, daughter-in-law, and hub – berated me for my poor initial smartphone decision. I must admit cheapness and impatience won out over better judgment. I think my failure can be attributed to pure exhaustion. My mind was not working at peak performance levels. Thank you, grandkids.

My family convinced me that, as owner of a Mac computer, an iPhone would ‘sync’ with it.  The two Apple products would get along wonderfully together. Any other instrument would not be as compatible (so everyone said), resulting in problems transferring pictures and trying additional tasks.

Others reinforced my immediate impression that my first smartphone was not user-friendly. An iPhone, on the other hand – so I was told - is easy to learn, easy to handle, and actually fun to use.

My daughter-in-law and two-year-old granddaughter accompanied me to the phone store. The transfer went smoothly, though of course cost more money. Once again I signed my name, filled out forms, answered questions, waited, and finally walked out with my new, more expensive, upgraded toy.

My eight-year-old grandson cannot wait to play games on my new device. He already knows how to find and download aps (I am getting into the lingo).

My daughter-in-law is teaching me how to use my new gadget. She insists I will become addicted, like so many other smartphone users. We will see.

Meanwhile hub is, once again, investigating all the powers of my new phone. I do not think it will be long before he has one, too.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Succumb and Buy a Smartphone

I resisted the publicity, the promotions, and the prevalence of devices around me for years.  I endured the comments and ridicule of friends and family. My cell phone worked and I had no desire, need or wish to replace it with updated gadgetry.

Smartphone adherents urged me to buy one. My phone was overdue a replacement by a couple of years, but I was happy to make and receive phone calls and, occasionally, text messages.

But my phone was dying. The front panel screen no longer showed anything but a geometric design. The time between charges consistently decreased. It took longer and longer to recharge.

This morning I was juggling my two-year-old granddaughter and handbag, attempting to retrieve some cash and a gym pass, when suddenly my phone slipped out of my bag and fell to the floor - in two pieces.

My fear was that my contact information would be irretrievable.

My resistance to facing a long, mind-numbing, agonizing time in a phone store finally gave way out of necessity.

I was not opposed to buying and using a new phone; I was opposed to the additional, on-going, persistent monthly cost.

But it was time to enter the 21st century communication era.

One reason I was so reluctant was because I did not want to deal with the complexity, the questions, sort through the choices, and make decisions. But the time had come. I could no longer put off the inevitable.

My free phone could no longer be replaced with another free one. There is no longer a free phone – at least at my provider. The cheapest phone was $30. I unenthusiastically decided to upgrade to a device offering numerous capabilities, most of which will never be used by me.

I purchased the cheapest combination phone, text, and data plan. The phone cost $50. The salesman told me it was a $450 item, but since I qualified for an upgrade I received a special deal. Yeah, right…

The good news was my contact list was not lost and is now safely stored on my new device.

Now I have to learn to use my new toy.

New toys nowadays are not user-friendly nor simple to use.

The store offers free classes every Thursday evening. I can go back to the store and ask the sales reps how to accomplish a specific task or set up an account. There is a manual, but it is not very comprehensive or user-friendly. It was obviously written by and for geeks.

So, tentatively, step by small step, I will become proficient in using a few of the device’s bells and whistles. But the reality is my smartphone may be brilliant, but I am not, at least when it comes to electronic gadgets.

Hub has spent the time since we came home from the phone store a couple of hours ago figuring out how to use the phone. He, alas, does not yet own one. But he is more technically savvy than I, more interested in electronics than I, and a guy. Gadgetry and guys seem to go together.

So he will figure it out and teach me. He will get frustrated with me, but we will both survive this latest episode in our life. The new arrival to our family may not be quite as life altering as that of a new baby, but the changing dynamics may be as wide-ranging.

It will take time, toil and practice to become proficient in using my smartphone quickly and easily.

My head is spinning thinking about it. But I cannot just make and receive phone calls. Hub says that would be a waste of money.

And if everyone else can use a smartphones, I should be able to master one too.

Let the battle effort begin.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summertime and the living ain’t so easy

A number of factors prompted the decision to relocate a couple of years ago. Hub and I left central Pennsylvania and moved to a small house at the Jersey shore. One of the many reasons favoring a move to the beach town was a belief the kids would visit. And we were right.

Summer at our shore house suggests the beach, sun, warm temperatures, long, lazy days, free babysitters, free beach parking, accessible bathrooms…etc.

Our kids do not live close by and when they visit it is a treat.

We love seeing them, finding out all about the changes in their lives, playing with the grandkids, tolerating their fights and tantrums, and being a part of their lives. We are on the go from the earliest morning hours until evening.

But we are not young anymore. 

Which means I really, really need some downtime during a busy day. I could use a little time in the wee hours of the morning before actually moving. (where's my coffee? what do you mean I have to get dressed/play a game/take a walk/go shopping before reading the paper and checking e-mail? why do I have to be the first one in line when the store opens? Just because Rite Aid is open 24 hours does not mean we have to get there by daylight...)

By the time the kids are in bed I can hardly keep my eyes open. The house rule (for adults) is that we cannot go to bed until it is dark. That works great in the winter, but summer days linger. I literally fall into bed each night. I think I am asleep before my head hits the pillow.

We not only have the opportunity to spend time with our kids, their spouses, and the grandkids, but also enjoy the camaraderie of extended family and friends. When family visits, everyone wants to see each other and catch up. The little ones grow so fast! And, of course, there is the beach.

Family and friends convened at the house this weekend to celebrate two birthdays. The party, originally an outdoor event, became an indoor activity when the only thunderstorms seen in the past two weeks appeared over our house a couple of hours before the festivities were scheduled to begin. 

We celebrated the birthdays of two cousins. One princess celebrated her first birthday and one her second birthday.
The two birthday princesses.
It is wonderful when everyone visits.

And we miss them when they leave.

But we treasure the winter months, especially January and February, when no one wants to visit (who goes to the shore in winter?). That is when, for us, the living is easy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Princes and Princesses of the 21st Century

Three of my grandchildren are in town for an extended visit. The five-year-old is as girlie-girl as they come. Her favorite color is pink. Her clothes and accessories must have pink in them. Her favorite bagel is strawberry because it is pink, and her favorite ice cream (pink) cotton candy.

Disney has done an incredible job marketing princesses and everything that goes along with them to young girls. Other companies joined the bandwagon, and toy stores, clothing stores and any other item aimed at girls play on the theme. My two-year-old granddaughter is quickly becoming a marketer’s dream. One of her favorite foods is fruit in pouches. The pouches are decorated with princesses. She asks for her princess fruit. (FYI – The ‘boy’ pouches have pictures of the cars from the Disney movie Cars.)

A lot of this is new to me. I raised two boys, so pink things and princesses were never part of our household.

The two related ideas of a child’s na├»ve notion of princesses fostered by the marketers of America, and real princes and princesses of the 21st century came together as I was reading an article in The Wall Street Journal about multimillion dollar mega-mansions in Florida.

The article highlighted one particular $45 million estate recently sold. Apparently the Florida high-end real estate market is recovering and more multimillion-dollar properties will sell in the not-too-distant future.

The article underscores the fact that, after all the financial chaos and economic problems affecting the majority of people over the past decade, most of the rich are still rich. The 1% of the world does not worry about making ends meet, paying bills, or budgeting.

Corporate executives continue to make millions.

Too-big-to-fail institutions remain too big to fail.

Financial scandals still make headlines.

Meanwhile the rest of us attempt to figure out the best way to maneuver through rocky economic times.

We struggle to reduce our debt, avoid poor judgment and financial mistakes.

We hope our jobs are secure.

We worry about reckless political divisions creating gridlock in Washington rather than economic solutions.

Meanwhile we take a few minutes out of our hectic daily lives to peek into the life of the princes and princesses of the 21st century.

We skim stories about their fairy tale lives in glossy magazines, watch them stroll red carpets on TV, and read about their huge mega-mansions. A lot of them are celebrities – actors and actresses, singers, entertainers and talk show hosts, professional sports players and entrepreneurs (Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, etc.). Many lesser known but not any less wealthy are financial superstars, such as hedge fund managers and corporate CEOs.

Then there are the descendants of past-accumulated wealth. Many remain wealthy thanks to trust funds and other means (query Mitt Romney for details).   Names of some of the wealthiest American families familiar to many include: the Walton family (of Wal-Mart fame – not the TV show family), the Koch brothers (major donors of right-wing causes), the Mars family (love those M&M’s!), the du Pont clan, Hearst family (how many of us remember Patty Hearst?), Mellon, Rockefeller, and Lauder (of cosmetic fame and fortune) dynasties.

Globally many of the superrich are political leaders, entrepreneurs, and criminals.

And last but not least are the ‘real’ traditional princes and princesses – the English royal family and royalty of other countries. America never established a generational royal family (we won’t give up – watch the Bush family over the next couple of generations).

But it is time to leave Fantasyland and the Magic Kingdom, and re-enter our own, personal real world. Until the next time a mega-mansion, high-end resort or obscenely expensive wedding makes headlines…

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chaos Reigns – or is it Rains?!

Occasionally the pace of life is somewhat laid-back. There is time to scan the morning paper, check e-mail, and enjoy a cup of coffee.

Then there are times when there seems never to be enough waking hours in the day to get everything done. Younger folk, and maybe some older ones, can toil long into the night. As I get older there comes a time, usually in the early evening, when my body declares “enough!”.

Confession time: I am also somewhat of a procrastinator. I do not let everything slide, but there are things that should get done that, somehow, remain on my to-do list day after day after day…

And, suddenly, the time approaches when things must get done NOW.

That is when a crazy kind of chaos reigns. So many things need to get done within a short period of time it seems it is raining stuff to do.

That is my current situation. The Colorado Crew (son, daughter-in-law and three grandkids) arrives tonight for three weeks.

I am not nearly as ready as I should be.

We dragged toys out of the garage just yesterday. Last year when the summer was over I threw all the toys in plastic storage tubs, thinking I had an entire year to go through everything, weed out broken toys, games with missing pieces, etc. A year has passed and I never got around to the task.

I spent an unusually long time in the supermarket this afternoon stocking pantry and refrigerator. I typically have a dearth of kid-friendly food around the house. No cookies, chips, mini-foods of any kind, and although there is a jar of peanut butter I do not have the kids’ favorite grape jelly. I bought diapers, wipes, cold cereals, juice boxes, goldfish, granola bars – you get the idea.

I want to make brownies (how can you have kids around and no brownies?) and collect in an easily accessible spot my unbreakable, indestructible dishes, otherwise identified as my outdoor china.

Today I paid bills, caught up on e-mails, but still need to finish weeding, feeding and watering the plants and flowers. Recent dry, hot weather has taken a toll on the yard. It needs a lot of TLC this summer.

I need to make sure there is enough toilet paper…

And finish all of the things I wanted to do around the house before the kids came.

Like organize shelves and bookcases in the family room (not done).

Clean out the pantry and make room for kid-friendly food (not done). Instead I have food on the counter, in the laundry room and stacked on shelves. I will just have to use stuff from the top on down – otherwise entire piles may tumble onto the kitchen floor.

The garage, home to beach chairs, bikes, garden supplies, winter clothes and an assortment of other items, is not the neat, orderly garage I envisioned. It seemed it was always too cold, too hot, too wet to work out there…

I could go on. But the jobs will be waiting when everyone leaves and it is quiet once again. Maybe this year it will snow and I will be forced to spend time inside, working around the house. That was my problem this past winter – we were never snowed in!

And so, ready or not, everyone arrives tonight. It will be great, exhausting, non-stop action for three very hectic weeks.

Let the fun begin!