Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Not my strong suit.

Today is not my day. I’m usually an optimistic person, one who tries to find the silver lining, who gives the benefit of a doubt. But today is not my day. And I almost feel sorry for the technician who will be here soon and will likely get the brunt of my displeasure. Let me tell you why.

First of all, I got up early (for me) to feed dogs, make coffee and breakfast, and take a shower, all before 8:00 a.m. I wanted to be ready in case the Stanley Steemer guy showed up right at 8. Admittedly, the window of time for them was (is?) 8-1 pm. But I thought, just maybe?? So I was ready.

Let me back up a step and let you know this is the third appointment I have made with Stanley. Last week I had an appointment for them to come take the rug to their shop so they could give it a deep clean, both sides. It would take 2-3 weeks. They would roll it, take it, clean it, bring it back, and re-place it in the family room. It happened that I already had it rolled and ready to go. My window of time for them to come was 8 am – 1 pm. The man showed up about 10:00. Imagine my surprise when Stanley told me they do not offer this off-site service, they don’t have a shop to do it in, and in fact, they do not even “move” furniture. It turns out that the corporate Customer Service call center people are not up to speed on local business. My option was to put the rug back in place and have him clean it on the floor, to reschedule my appointment after I had laid the rug, or to cancel. I canceled.

I called another rug shop that does offer two-sided deep cleaning. Their price was about 4x as high as Stanley. Yikes! I had previously tried two other independent carpet cleaners over the past couple of years and was not satisfied with their results. I have a Kirby shampooer of my own, but it did not get the job done. And I have a Bissell pet spot machine, which also left visible spots. I’m not just talking dog pee stains here; I am also talking foot traffic signs, but then again, the rug has a primary cream color. A friend highly recommended Stanley Steemer, so I decided to reschedule.

Wednesday afternoon of this week Stanley was supposed to be here between 12-5. Let me tell you, that 5-hour window is quite a deal … for them! I was ready. I hired 2 men last week to move some other furniture, and I had them put the rug back down for me. But at 2:30 I was notified that the technician was running behind schedule and would not arrive until after 5:00. I had plans that evening, so I once again opted to reschedule, for Friday morning between 8 and 1. I made the mistake of making lunch plans for 1:15, at a place about 15 minutes away. Silly me!

So here I am waiting, waiting, waiting. While I was waiting (BTW, I am STILL waiting 5 hours and 18 minutes later as I write this), I decided to get some work done on the computer. I had said I would scan two articles I had written years ago and send them to my web designer to put on my website which is being revamped. Here’s why today is not my day.

The first page scanned just fine. But then the printer got hung up somehow. It went offline, and I could not get it back online. I turned it off, and back on. I checked my computer. I restarted my computer. Still offline. I restarted the printer again, and the computer AGAIN. No luck. So I Googled what to do. I tried four options. Sledgehammer was not one of them, but I considered it anyway. I deleted the printer from my computer network devices, and reinstalled it. Twice. Then I restarted my computer AGAIN. I was venting to my brother, and he asked if I even had a sledgehammer. I do not. Yet. But I do have a long-handled axe, a mallet, and four regular hammers. I tried one more time, one last time, the very last time… delete, reinstall, restart. An hour and half later, my printer/scanner was working again. OMG!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch … I was still waiting for Stanley. I took the dogs for a walk, hoping that would magically, mystically make him show up while I was gone. Alas, no. I updated my friend that I might be late for lunch. I whined to two different friends. Finally, at 12:45, I told my lunch friend I wasn’t going to make it.

At 12:57, just 3 minutes before the 8-1 window closed, I got a message from Stanley. He is on the way! I don’t know where he’s coming from but that was 18 minutes ago. The poor guy. I wouldn’t want to be him and have me as his customer today. I’m tempted to let my dogs run loose while he’s working on my rug.

So he gets here and asks how I’m doing. Doesn’t introduce himself. I tell him I am exceptionally frustrated that I have had to change my plans again, for the third time, after I have WAITED now more than the window of 5 hours for him, which I tell him is a LONG time. He checks his computer tablet for the time, and questions me; it is 1:00. I tell him it is actually nearly 1:20 and I have been waiting since 8:00. He “apologizes” with a statement that he’s sorry they are short-staffed. I said I’m sorry, too. I understand how that can happen, but they why did they schedule me for now? Why didn’t they tell me it would be next week Tuesday or whenever before they could get here?” He says, “I don’t know, but we’re short-staffed. That’s all I can say.” Really??? That’s it?!? Never mess up an apology with an excuse, people. Any goodwill I was trying to muster up vaporized. I don’t think he was sorry at all; I think he might have been intimidated just a little. So to be sure, I followed him and watched him. Nothing like having someone look over your shoulder, right? I pointed out a spot here or there, and there, too. I made sure I hadn’t gone too far so that he would do a sloppy job, but I was persistent.

Oh, I know it’s not his fault, or at least, it’s not ALL his fault. At least I hope so. He is at the mercy of the company. There, that’s better of me… but I’m still pretty steamed. (Get it? Steamed. Stanley Steemer…) He presented the invoice, and I asked for a discount for the inconveniences I had incurred. He couldn’t, he said. It was already in the system. Wow! That’s original. And not helpful. I told him that it looked like he did a decent job, but that I was not going to recommend Stanley Steemer. He said, “Okay.” I suggested he should talk with his supervisor and let him or her know that he had a frustrated customer. He tells me that the whole day has been like that, that he has talked to his supervisor before because it’s always like this, but there is nothing the supervisor can do. I said maybe the supervisor needs to talk to his or her supervisor. He says, “Well, we’re short-staffed.” He might be a decent carpet cleaner but he lacks customer service skills, salesmanship, initiative, and leadership. No tip for him, either.

I almost feel sorry for the guy. Almost, but not quite. Well, only sorta, kinda. Not really. Nope. I do not feel sorry for him. He isn’t helping himself – at least not with me. He’s young-ish, but not that young, so should have some experience with the world. I don’t know what criteria you use to evaluate skills and service levels, but this one failed all my tests.

I hope when that rug dries, the wait was worth it. At least my hour and a half on the computer/printer this morning yielded working equipment. I think I’m going to take myself for a little joyride and let off some steam. LOL

Change is in the Air!

How does the familiar saying go, that the only things for certain are death and taxes? We need to add that change is also a certainty. And I’m about to make big changes.

No, I’m not moving, and I’m not in a relationship with anyone except my dogs, and I haven’t won the lottery.

It’s no surprise that like most people, I like to spend money. When you are semi-retired, though, the cash flows out a lot faster than it comes in. And what does come in is not as lumptious (is that a word??) as when I had a steady paycheck to replace what I was spending. You might recall that it was nearly 6 years ago now that I gave up my full time paid employment and gifted myself a one-year personal sabbatical to try and figure out what was my Next Big Thing after Kevin died. Would I stay here in Virginia, in this house, or would I move downsize and move “back?” If I moved, where would I go back to – South Dakota, Minnesota, or New Mexico?? Or would I choose someplace entirely new, like California, or somewhere in between where I have already lived and where there are people I already know?

If you did the math, my one year was up about 5 years ago. And still I am here, still on my sabbatical most of the time, although traveling fills a need I have to “be” back, if not “go” back. Like everything else, though, that costs money. The price of gas, tolls, hotels or campground sites keeps rising. Not to mention the cost of newer vehicles…of which I have two this year alone (but I sold three, so I’m still ahead of that game in a way).

My options for bringing more money into my pockets are:

  1. Get a job. Which would limit my flexible schedule, my waking time, my number days off, my ability to share time with my dogs, and the freedom from someone else establishing the priorities.
  2. Sell stuff. Which I have done and am doing. But once those assets run out, then so does the money. So far I have sold my old truck, my car, and my motorcycle, and am now hoping to sell the motorcycle gear. I have used the money to fund a 10 week summer cross-country trip in the camper; to buy another smaller, older, funner car (a convertible!); to have a carpeted landing at the top of my stairs replaced with hardwood flooring; and a crown for a tooth I broke. Plus I have to go get the convertible in Minnesota and bring her home.
  3. Reduce other costs. Which I am doing by eating at home more instead of eating at restaurants, and shopping consignment stores instead of retail shops. And not fixing my air conditioner yet, which means I am supplementing an overworked system with floor fans. I am watching old movies I have seen before, and borrowing books from the library or friends instead of buying them.
  4. Work my own business. Which means I stop pretending that I am a consultant and facilitator and author, and actually market my skills and create products and services that will generate cash flow.
  5. Find a sugar daddy. Which may be fun in the short term, but otherwise is not appealing to me at all. Related: get a roommate. Which I tried and didn’t work out. ‘Nuff said.

Obviously, #s 2 and 3 are going to be exhausted soon. #1 is not appealing except that is probably an easier thing to do than #4. As noted above, I can’t even wrap my head around #5. So #4 has risen to the top of my To Do List, finally. The one or two projects I have been working on each year are now set to become parts of my business instead of all of my business.

So the change that is in the air?? You’ll soon be seeing this Solowingnow blog absorbed into my Duggan Difference website. I will continue to focus my content on life as a widow, dog mom, and grandma/mom/sister. I am hopeful I may also be able to frame the content so it applies also to individuals interested in personal and professional development, leadership, and confidence building.

The website is undergoing rehab to take on the Solowingnow blog as I write this. Be on the lookout for the announcement that it is ready.

In the meantime, I think it is so perfect that this amazing life is mine. It is full of joyful delights, where I can build bigger, better dreams, and still have adventures even by myself. It is not what I would have asked for years ago, but I am getting quite comfortable with how it is all turning out. My thought for the day is from a calendar page from February 14, 2008 – long before I could ever imagine how much change I could endure.. or seek .. or anticipate.

By the Numbers…

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45 days gone from home, so far, and another 21 planned, more or less

1,476 miles so far, door to door, not counting sightseeing, wrong turns, shopping, eating, and joy rides; 3,051 more miles expected to get me back to Virginia

5 different “campsites” so far, including one yard and one driveway

23 visits from friends and family in Minnesota (some came by more than once)

1 winery visited (with requisite wine flight tested), and 3 coffee houses (one with coffee flight)

6 nieces, 3 nephews, and 5 kiddos spent time with, here and in Ohio

5 nights with an overnight guest, so far

$760 spent on campground fees

$554.59 spent on gas to get here, + $105 tolls (some is balance remaining on EZ Pass yet)

1 2008 blue Chrysler Sebring convertible purchased!

990 miles put on convertible already, joy-riding but about half to get it checked out mechanically and to visit family

$240 spent on new car (floor mats, mechanic check/oil change, seat cover, leather cleaners, windshield screen, gas, extra key)

5 women I met here that I have exchanged contact info with

4 jars of pickles,1 bottle of Western style dressing bought (+3 jars pickles and 1 Western for gifts), and 5# favorite coffee to take home

7 souvenir coffee mugs purchased (4 as gifts)

Best buy: 2 Hummel wine glasses found in thrift store, to replace broken ones and complete set I have had since 1977) for $4 each!!!!!

Gratitude Journals Another Way

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As if it being a dreary and wet February isn’t enough to generate a bit of cabin fever, even in Virginia, we are still in the midst of Covid distancing nearly a year later. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and distracted with DIY projects or other creative endeavors, but I’m running low on ideas and enthusiasm. Even online retail therapy has lost its luster. Fortunately, I have a Rx for the dullness, thanks to my daughter and my brother.

About two years ago my daughter asked me to participate in a gratitude exchange with her for one month. Every day, we would text each other 3 things were grateful for. The idea is to refocus our thinking on the good things in life and break any negativity that is trying to take hold. We did it for that month, and then stopped. Around the same time, I was provoked by a meme I read: What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you expressed gratitude for today? So I doubled up my efforts to be grateful every night when I went to bed. And I think it helped me be at peace with some of the angst in the world, especially when I felt helpless with the politics of DC, or the cancelled plans because of an unforeseen expense, or the COVID-19 pandemic.

Late last summer, when the COVID scare was at its height, my brother expressed frustration over the restrictions on getting out and about. He has the bad luck to have retired in December of 2019, and COVID hit a few months later, so his dreams of a life of leisure…or at least of freedom…were being squashed. I suggested we try the gratitude exchange for a month. He wasn’t too keen but he didn’t say no, so I charged ahead. And I decided to include my daughter as well, since she was also having her freedom curtailed, having to be the homeroom monitor/teacher’s aide/full-time mommy to her two daughters. At the end of the month, I asked about continuing, and again, I didn’t get a No, so I took that as a Yes.

Since August of 2020, which is 7 months now, with maybe only one slip up, I have found something to be grateful for each day and to share that. And I get a response every day, too. The obvious benefit is that I am consciously grateful for not just the physical things or the people in my life, but other kinds of grace and abundance I have received. Things like the warmth of sunshine, a safe place to sleep at night, the smell of coffee in the morning, a recovery from a medical mystery, the joy of having a cake experiment turn out to be tasty, getting to celebrate holidays and birthdays on Zoom, catching up with friends on the phone, the satisfaction of finding an author I like to read, or the challenge of repurposing a piece of furniture or completing a puzzle.

My daughter is grateful for things like a meditation app to help her start her day with intention, and getting enough exercise, and that she is a person people reach out to for comfort. My brother has been grateful for things like leftovers, that an idea he had turned out to be workable, to know it would be 60 degrees warmer than a week ago (he lives in Minnesota!), and for a dream he had or enough firewood to allow him to keep working in his shed on a remodel project he has going on. It’s not always deep thinking for any of us. Some days I am grateful for my dogs, and she is grateful for a hardworking husband, and he is grateful for the plumber who fixed a frozen pipe. And we are grateful for being in touch with each other. for knowing someone doesn’t just care, but is actively thinking of the other.

There is a valuable side benefit, too, especially for those of us living solo. As it happens, a few years ago a friend fell in her home, and her son discovered her injury. He doesn’t live here but was stopping by on his way through town. That got me to thinking. I am a fairly healthy person, not on any medications, but I am on the far side of middle-aged and have had my AARP card for several years. What if something like that happened to me?

Who would know? What would I do? What about my dogs? My bedroom is on the second floor of my house, and some days I get to dodge three dogs going up and down. Plus, I have been known to fall off ladders and to tip over when trying to bend down and push or pull something in the yard. At that time, I contacted a sister of mine and set up a plan where I would text her every morning when I awoke. If she doesn’t hear from me by 8:00 a.m., she is supposed to try calling, and if she still can’t reach me, she is to contact a neighbor to have them come and check on me.

My brother also lives alone. He is diabetic and has had to make the occasional visit to the ER when his blood sugars are out of whack or he isn’t as rigid in his testing/eating/activity cycles as he could be. Not only that, but he lives on a couple of acres at the end of a dead end street. He could be in one of the outbuildings, and who would think to check on him? Our daily gratitude has morphed into a plan such that if I don’t get a text back from him in a reasonable time, I am to call. If he doesn’t pick up, I have a list of three contacts I can reach out to for them to physically check on him, before I resort to calling the cops for a welfare check. We both feel better having a plan. We may live over 1,000 miles apart, but we are only a phone call away, so neither of us has to feel like we are shipwrecked on individual desert islands.

We have another benefit of just catching up and sharing our days. For example, I might include that I am grateful for sunshine and blue skies after 5″ of rain and several days of gloomy clouds, so he knows what is happening weather-wise. He might say he is grateful for the good deal his daughter got on her new-to-her car, and that opens a conversation about news from our kids. My daughter might be grateful for a bit of time to be alone and read a book, which means we can share titles of good books.

Today I am grateful for a productive morning. I got my tax papers together for a meeting with my accountant this afternoon; I canceled an auto-renew setting for my roadside assistance; I contacted a dog-sitter; I organized my desk; and I wrote this blog post. It might be another cold and gray day outside, but I have a fireplace on, a fridge full of food, and friends who might read this and let me know they are still doing okay amid the continuing Covid restrictions.

Have you thought about what you are grateful for today? Feel free to comment below, and we can share our stories.

Help me, Paul and Prue (or even Betty Crocker)!

It was bound to happen, and one day it did. Too much Netflix one day and no internet the next, too close to Christmas, a shiny red toy, and so … this may or may not have happened in my kitchen.

A Christmas Tradition

Nowadays, easing up on sugar and carbs is the trend, but it’s not easy to give up on a lifetime of tradition, especially when we are talking Christmas cookies. Even though the dogs and I will be home for Christmas, alone thanks to Covid, I still wanted a few cookies and maybe some muffins for grazing while in my pajamas after the minute or three it might take me to open gifts.

My hand mixer has been faithful to me for more years than I can count, but sometimes she is slow to get started. Sort of like my hands’ ability to bend all the fingers at the same time or to open a jar of pickles. So when a friend offered to let me use her “spare” Kitchenaid stand mixer, I took her up on it. After all, I had jumped on the bandwagon carrying juicers, InstaPots, crock pots, bread machines, ice-cream maker things, George Foreman grills, Nutri-Bullets, Xpress sandwich makers, coffee frother things, and other gadgets I don’t even remember.

Kitchenaid Mixer, Anyone?

Oooh, a red Kitchenaid mixer! With a lifter feature that holds a 6 quart glass bowl. A heavy-when-it’s-empty 6 quart glass bowl, that is even heavier when it is filled with batter for 3 loaves of zucchini bread and even heavier yet with cookie dough for a few dozen cookies. And that lifter thing; turn the knob and the bowl raises and lowers. The head or neck that holds the beater paddle thing does not lift. So you get to lower the full bowl and disengage the whipper tool into the full bowl before disengaging the lifting studs and trying to not drop the contents while sliding it out of its nest so you can remove the thingy that mixes (or overmixes, as the case may be) your batter.

Well. I knew the fun was a marketing ploy as soon I started creaming my sugar and shortening. The paddle thing didn’t quite reach to the edge of the bowl, so I had to stop and lower the bowl regularly and use a hand-held spatula to push the mixture back into the middle. I saw on The Great British Bake Off someone who offered the tip to make sure to cream the sugar and shortening “enough.” Apparently, not creaming it enough is the cause of flat cookies and cakes. They turn it on and walk away even. So I let it do its thing.

Good Intentions Gone Awry

I had never had such creamy looking shortening. So creamy the egg didn’t really want to incorporate, so I had to leave that on a little longer. Eventually I got to the part when I had all the liquids in and was ready to add the 4 cups of flour.

Except in this wonderful red Pro 600 Kitchenaid, there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver, and there is no splash guard. I might have gotten a little flour dust all over my apron, the counter, windowsill, floor, and sink. The dough was still very creamy looking, and I surmised I had spilled too much flour, so I added some more. Just a little; I didn’t want cookies that looked or tasted like rocks.

Plans A-F

I gave up on the flour and decided my still-wet dough was what it was and it wasn’t going to change. Before I tossed it, though, I would bake one pan and see how they turned out. The consistency was a bit like funnel cake batter at the fair, so I decided to try using a cookie press. Actually, it was a frosting thing, but I had to use what I had on hand.

In case you are wondering, I have made these biscochitos for at least 35 years, with the same recipe. The dough has NEVER looked like this, nor felt like this sticky mess.

These quarter-sized blobs didn’t taste bad, but it was more than a chore to dispense them onto the cookie sheet.

Plan B. I would roll them in balls and let them spread out in the oven. Too sticky, couldn’t get it off my hands.

Plan C was to drop dough by spoonful. Better, but very large!

Plan D was to use the frosting/cookie press again, this time without the tip on it, so I could get a large blob.

Plan E was when I adjusted the size of the blob coming out of the press tube thing.

Plan F was when I remembered I had these Frozen II cookie squashers that leave snowflake impressions on the cookie.

I eventually got a few dozen cookies that crumble in your hands if you aren’t careful, but they melt in your mouth and taste decent. They look more like sand dollars than snowflakes, though. Paul Hollywood would be disappointed that I couldn’t make them consistent in size, but hey! I was glad to not have to throw away the full batch. Luckily, I’m not trying to win Star Baker this week.

Lessons Learned

1. A red Kitchenaid isn’t necessarily better than any other mixer.

2. Even a stand mixer doesn’t have a programmable computer chip. While it does free up both hands, you still have to turn it off and on, adjust the speed, and pay attention.

3. Not having to hold a hand mixer is a joy. My wrist is still happy a day later.

3. A large glass bowl that is larger than you need and looks pretty doesn’t help the outcome. A smaller, stainless steel bowl would probably be just fine.

4. A $300-$400 stand mixer is not in my future. And even if my friend wanted to give me a sweet deal on this one, I’ll pass.

5. A cookie that looks wonky can still taste delicious.

6. When you have been watching too much Netflix and decide to stand for several hours, wear shoes! Your ankles and heels with thank you.

While I still have her here…

I now have 4 large muffins and 2 medium loaves of zucchini bread in my freezer, along with about 4 dozen bicochitos that are as large a drink coaster. I’ll give some away, and the rest I will take out a few at a time for the next month. I don’t want my taste buds to get bored, though, so I might try a batch of cranberry-pistachhio biscotti. I know for a fact I can handle good ol’ chocolate chip cookies with my hand mixer, but I am feeling challenged to find a redeemable quality to that cute red mixer on my counter.

What’s your story?

Have you had a surprising outcome when using a new appliance, or even a new recipe? Please share your story!

Homemoaner Woes

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How many times have you moved in your life? Are you (or have you been) an apartment dweller, i.e., where someone else has to manage the maintenance of your place? How long have you lived in your current place?

Since I left my childhood home, which was the summer after I graduated high school, I have had 13 different addresses, with only transitional rental places. Otherwise, I have been the homeowner (well, me and the banks). The longest I have stayed in any one zip code was my hometown, which I left at age 18, although we moved around town a lot until I was 9 years old, and then we stayed in that house the longest – 9 years, but my mom stayed put for 35 years.

I do not remember any major home repairs by her, and I have always somehow avoided big ticket repairs. Of course, I have voluntarily taken on projects, like converting a garage to a family room; adding a deck, pergola, and fence; upgrading all the appliances; even replacing carpeting with hardwood floors.

But I know if I have to, I can, even if I don’t want to. You see, I have recovered from a big 500-year flood, so there’s that, I guess. I had to have the entire lower level of my house gutted and rebuilt in 1997. Now my number is up again. I have made my way to the head of the line, changing from proud Homeowner to sad Homemoaner. Here’s what happened.

A black, sort of fuzzy and bumpy-lumpy spot on my garage ceiling caught my eye.

I am certain I had not seen it before that moment; it was hard to miss, as it was nearly directly across and up from the stairs I was going down. We had been having a LOT of rain – several inches per day for a few days in a row – and three of my neighbors had had their roofs replaced in the past few months. My immediate thought was that I had a roof leak. Oh, gosh! I was thinking I had a $10,000+ spot on my ceiling. In fact, I recently had asked the neighbors’ roofer to give me an estimate to reshingle my 20 year old roof so I could be prepared whenever I had to shell out that kind of money, but had not yet received the estimate.

I contacted the roofer and told him of my black spot problem. He didn’t seem overly concerned; it took him almost a week to fit me into his schedule to come look at it. While waiting, I contacted another roofer also, who also couldn’t come for about a week. Both of them agreed, though, that I did NOT have a roof leak. Relief! I just saved $10,000!! Except they both agreed I had a problem in my bathroom, probably a drain issue, which turned out to be in the vicinity of the black spot. So maybe only one of those thousand$. I could manage.

I called a plumber, who took another week to get here. He took one look at the shower and said I did not have a drain problem. He thought I had a crack in my shower floor, which he could not fix. But he did cut a hole in the garage ceiling to remove the creepy black spot and confirm it was not the drain. And to tell me my bathroom subfloor was wet, and the black spot was mold due to wet insulation and sheetrock.

Once we removed some of the wet gunk, his assistant turned the shower on, and it rained inside my garage, enough that I needed a bucket to catch the water coming down. He said I needed a tile guy and maybe a contractor. At that point, I was wishing I only had a roof leak.

So I did what any solo homemoaner does. I called my son, who does custom shower work 2000 miles away, and my brother who has done extensive remodeling work on his own home and outbuildings. Pictures were zapped across the ‘net. My son said it definitely sounds like the shower pan. My brother said it sounded like a water pipe break between the shower faucet and shower head. Neither was good news.

Next up was plumber #2, who confirmed the first plumber’s assessment, but told me he couldn’t be sure until the tile shower floor was ripped up and maybe part of the wall.

He thought I likely had mold behind the tiles in my shower, too. He also said I did not need a tile guy; I needed a contractor AND a plumber. The contractor could do the demolition and the tile work, and the plumber would then do the pipe and drain work. Cha-ching! went my brain.

What would be your next step?

Mine was to cry. I’m getting good at expressing myself this way. Then I called one of my sisters, the one who just went through a year of rebuilding her home after a fire. We commiserated and talked about pumpkin spice everything and holiday decorating.

Once I was calm again, I moved on to surfing Pinterest for ideas for my dream spa-like bathroom. But then the financial reality creeped back in. So I cried some more, upset in part that I had to go through this myself. While the idea of swinging a sledgehammer and busting up tile has a certain appeal, carrying out debris in a 5-gallon bucket down a flight of stairs … not so much. I realized quickly, though, that I wasn’t going through this alone. I had my son, my siblings, friends, and the plumber and the contractor. Revived, I moved on.

Don’t count me out yet! My next stop was my homeowner’s insurance agent, who referred me to the company claims department, who needs the assessment and estimate from the plumber and the contractor to get this going. Uff-da! I ‘m getting better at waiting.

The good news is that I have another bathroom to use for the next couple of months, since the holidays are coming up and it is likely they can’t get me on their schedules until the beginning of the new year. Once they start, it should be done in less than 2 weeks, if the two of them can coordinate their respective work. That gives me time to define what I want.

The better news is that Pinterest really does have some fab ideas. Who knew grab bars for us safety-minded, mature folks could be artful as well as functional?

And that glass blocks are still in fashion? That tile workers aren’t limited to straight lines and grids?

I’m just getting started. The beauty in this (once I let myself go) is that I do not need to compromise on style or color, or anything. I can do it my way. Well, mine and the contractor’s way, I suppose. And the bank. Because it’s likely that even if the insurance pays out a claim on this, it won’t pay for upgrades and a little zip or zing I’m likely going to want.

I’m done with homemoaning for now…. mostly because I won’t even have the contractor estimate for a few more days probably. Sticker shock has no effect on me today. Which means I am going to start looking at websites other than Pinterest and price out my wish list. Back to homeowning pride.

Words for a New Widow

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Today I learned that the husband of a neighbor died three days ago. In an instant, I was transported to the first days after Kevin died almost six years ago. Shirley came to see me. We hadn’t lived here a year yet, and I had a full-time job so hadn’t gotten to know many of the neighbors. I didn’t even recognize her but that didn’t stop her. She knew I was here alone and didn’t hesitate to take me under her wing. She came back the next day and asked what I needed, and I still wasn’t sure what her name was! Luckily, my sister had arrived and made her own introduction to help me out.

I prepared to take Kevin’s cremains to South Dakota for a memorial service, and she offered to help another neighbor take care of our dogs while I was gone. (It didn’t happen because Buddy ended up needing veterinary surgery care, but that’s another story.) Now, that’s generous.

When I came home about a week later, she called and insisted I go out to supper with her and her husband. I still remember it; we went to Uno for a burger. Uno is a restaurant I had not been to before, and now it’s not even there any longer.

A week after that, she just happened to have an extra ticket to a local big deal, a Christmas concert at her church. I didn’t really want to go but she talked me into it, and I am grateful she did. It was a kindness of the true holiday spirit, and it did uplift me.

She checked in on me from time to time after that. I would see either her or her husband walking their dogs, or at lunch, or the garden center, and just here and there. By now, I have recommended a hair stylist to her (she loved my cut but did not like the stylist or her cut), have borrowed her fondue pot, asked her advice about my consulting business, and given her rides to lunch. I know her much better now.

And yet, grief over the loss of a spouse — any grief, but especially this one — is so very personal that I am hesitant to intrude. Her children and grandchildren are arriving, and I don’t want to be in the way.

I have created my own sympathy card and will take it to her tomorrow. This is my message for her.

The Thing About Grief…

I was swept off my feet with the experience of losing someone special, too. But I don’t know how you feel about your loss or what your worries are.

I also had doubts about what I should do next, where I should be, how I was supposed to act or react. But I don’t know what kinds of doubts you have.

I felt the distress of wading into unfamiliar territory, the messiness of grief. But I don’t know what you find uncomfortable or awkward.

I can now recognize the joy that is mixed in with the sadness. Be kind to yourself, patient, and trust that you will have these kinds of discoveries, too. I’ll help you if you want me to.

I understand now that love does not end because he is gone, that grief does not last forever. You probably can’t see it yet. I’ll listen when you want to talk.

I am encouraged by knowing that every ending is followed by a new beginning. I believe you will grow from this experience. Yes, even at your age! I’ll help you celebrate when you are ready.

Nobody knows your grief except you. I can’t guess what you’re going through, and you couldn’t explain it all if you tried. That’s okay. You’re okay. You’ll do it right; there is no other way. That’s the thing about grief. 

–Solowingnow.com, Patricia Duggan

Rest in peace, Don. Rest, Shirley.

The Paper Tiger

Do you remember the guy from television commercials who used to advertise his Social Security Number publicly, on air, as his guarantee that whatever security system he was selling was hacker-proof and couldn’t be used by scammers? I wonder what ever happened to him. In this day and age, it’s hard to even guess.

I was reminded of him today because I found myself in need of an account number that apparently is classified as Super-Duper Top Secret to the billing clerk at a utility company. Of course, an “operator error” on my part caused the problem to start with, but when you hear what happened, I believe you, as a jury of my peers, will acquit me!

Last week I closed a checking account at a bank I have done business with for around 25 years. Seriously. New fees, questionable business practices, ongoing changing conditions and requirements. I finally said Enough. It was oddly easy; no effort at all to try and retain me as a customer. Gee, didn’t I feel special. I had to make an appointment first (thanks to Covid); I went in and said I wanted to close an account, she said Sign Here, and I got what money was left in the account in cash. I came home, cut up my debit card, and went online to remove my account.

Oops! A few days later I realized that I forgot to print out my bank statements, spending activity reports, or bill pay info. I tried to access them yesterday, but no luck. So this morning, I fortified myself with caffeine and dialed the Customer Service call center. Voila! It was easy-peasy to get reinstated…for the bank statements only. Unfortunately, I could not access the Bill Pay feature any longer since I didn’t have an account to associate it with. I love Bill Pay; no paper bills to get lost in the mail, no checks, envelopes, stamps, and counting days until credited to my account. But the new bank also has this feature, so no problemo.

Well, little problemo maybe. In order to set up the new system at the second bank, I have to add a new recipient. Including payment address and phone number of the business. And of course, the precious account number. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that info. I’ve been doing online banking for the entire 6-1/2 years I have lived in this house. Thanks to Bill Pay, the payee info is locked away in some secret bank data vault. I just basically auto-pay when a bill comes due, whether I’m home, camping, or wherever.

So I got an email yesterday that I had received two e-bills …via the Bill Pay at the bank I had just closed my account with. I cannot access those bills now. Hmmm. What to do. I guess I will have to contact those companies to get my info so I can set them up at the new bank.

I started with the electric company. Get the difficult one out of the way, and the rest will be easy. So I thought. Crystal was very helpful, eventually. Unfortunately, she cannot give me the account number since I am not on the account. And I cannot have the account switched over to my name, since he (my Mr.) is not available to give his permission. Even though I have paid the bill for 6 years after he died. I have to have a new account set up to get it into my name. New accounts do require a security deposit, by the way. Crystal did waive that if I agreed to pay the final bill for Mr. Duggan. So we got it all taken care of. I had all the info I needed now and was able to add the electric company as a Payee on the new Bill Pay system. One down.

On to the gas company, which should be easy since I do get an electronic bill each month outside the Bill Pay system. I typically send it to the Junk Folder because I know I am getting it through the bank where I will pay it anyway. I have received this bill for nearly seven years; the bills come to my email address, and are paid from my checking account. The bill, though, is in the name of Kevin Dugan (their misspelling). What?!?

So I said to myself, “Self, let’s fix this. Let’s get this changed to my name.” I went to the online profile, and I tried to update the account to add my name. It wouldn’t let me do that, but I could change the name of the account holder. Again, what?!? I tried that. I had to give a reason, and I had to choose from 4 options: Marriage, Divorce, Legal Name Change, and something else that I forget now but didn’t fit. So I chose marriage since death was not an option. Interestingly, the system updated to now add my name, also spelled incorrectly as Patrica Dugan, but it did not remove his name. This was not going well. So again I said, “Self, let’s just call Customer Service and do this right.”

Dimitri was trying very hard to be helpful, but I am gathering steam and being upset at the late Mr. Duggan for not putting me on the account initially. Once again, the resolution was that I had to establish a new account, plus set an appointment for a new meter reading, and agree to give up my first born child if I didn’t pay the final bill of $15.74, which is due in two days. Fortunately, he could take the payment over the phone for an additional fee of $2.95, and because I agreed to that, I again got the deposit for a new account waived.  (PS-unlike a window of time for 2-4 hours when they might show up to do the meter reading, these meter readers get all day. And I am supposed to be here waiting.) Uff-da.

Next up, the water and sewer bill. And again, I do not have my account number nor the old Payee info to get payment address or phone number. (Side question: why do I have to send my payment to Carol Stream, IL?) I don’t have enough energy left today to keep going. I will get a paper bill one of these days since, luckily, they recently changed from a quarterly to monthly billing system. Then there will be trash pickup, and the internet/cable company -never my best fun place to contact. So I will put that off for another day even though I wish I could just get it over with.

The good news is that the “new” bank has received all direct deposits as expected in September so the money is available if ever I have bills to pay. Oh, and as I have started to set up the new Payees online, I am keeping a paper list for the next time. Live and learn, I guess.

Should have had this, but I didn’t, and now I do (or will)

I shouldn’t be surprised that when we bought this house, Kevin set up all the utilities in his name only. But why I’m just figuring this out now, I don’t know. He did the same thing when he got his new truck, which I did know about. But at least I also wasn’t financially responsible for making payments on it. I can’t just voluntarily surrender my utilities like I did with the truck. They will cut my services off without a second thought if I don’t pay (except during COVID, but you get the gist).

It is frustrating to feel disenfranchised because of petty details like this. I can’t pretend to know what he was thinking, except maybe he wasn’t thinking at all. It is a remnant of the patriarchal society we grew up in. He never had to do this kind of thing, like I did when I got divorced back in 1991. He’s never had to change his name on his driver’s license or health insurance or Social Security when he got divorced from her or married to me either. I’m trying to let this go, but I’m kinda bugged about it in this moment.

I’ll bet the tv commercial guy helped the utility companies and banks set up their online systems. And the fact that I was efficient when I hit the “Save” button isn’t enough cause to say this is all my fault, is it? There must be a better way. Couldn’t the banks and utility companies just ask people when they set up an account if there is a (female/male/ spousal) joint occupant or owner or something?

Let me just close by suggesting you check your status before you have to. Get the passwords, account numbers, and other gory details now. Trust me, it could save you a few headaches six years down the road after you’ve joined the Solowingnow club.

Are bowl cuts back in fashion yet?

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A funny thing happened on the way to … well, it sort of isn’t funny, at least not if you are the dog, but it is kind of funny if you’re me. Once you stop making it worse.

It continues to be hot and very humid here in Virginia, and my one-year-old Shih Tzu, Rocco, needs regular grooming to keep his hair matting under control and to survive the heat. I’ not just talking combing or brushing. I mean The Works! I am not willing to pay $80 to have him professionally groomed every month ever since I had a bad experience taking Harley and Sasha to a groomer. Three years ago and I still grit my teeth when I think of it. That woman complained that Sasha wouldn’t sit still for her, which I do not doubt, but I had told her when I took her in that she was a rescue and didn’t seem to like being touched on her feet or around her neck. “No problem. I can handle it. This is what I do.” Yep, sure. Long story short, she gave both of them uneven, chunky haircuts, and I went out and bought my own clippers because I was sure I could do better. And I did…I do. Mostly.

So it rained yesterday, a lot, meaning the ground was soft and wet. From one day to the next Rocco can develop mats, which neither he nor I are fans of trying to comb out. And when he is wet, it’s worse.

It’s raining again now

Out came the clippers and off came the top layer of hair. He shook in happiness! Then I got out the scissors to trim around his eyes and ears, but he was not having it. I gave up on that and moved on to his paws. They are as fuzzy as a pair of beloved winter slippers; he actually slides along the floors when he is in a hurry.

It’s necessary to trim the between the pads as well as the top of the paws. The regular hair clippers are too large to do small feet nicely, plus the cord tends to get in the way of trying to manipulate the feet of a dancing pup. Which means I also recently purchased a battery-operated, palm-sized clipper just for these small jobs.

And now Rocco has lost his little goatee because he just had to look down and sniff and smell and lick my hand to get at the new clippers when I was trying to shave the pads of his paws. Those little clippers are fast, and sharp! He kind of looks like he has lost his chin now, and the straggly neck hairs I couldn’t get earlier are still there because I’m now afraid to get too close to the rest of his head. That one ear doesn’t look too bad, does it?

This is another one of those times when the reality of Solowingnow hits home. Some things are just hard to do by yourself. Like hold a dog with four legs when you only have two arms and a buzzing chainsaw in your hand. Or sooth a scared puppy who doesn’t like the new noises. Or hold one paw to file down the long, pointy, black toe nails.

What I need is a tranquilizer gun, I think, but what I bought was one of those arm things to clip them to on the edge of the counter, to hold them in place theoretically and to keep them from plopping down. That was a waste of nearly a hundred dollars. I bought a couple of those sticky mats you swipe peanut butter on to distract a hungry dog (and yes, they are always hungry). That works great for a bath, but not when you need their head to stay upward, away from the counter and their feet. I hope it’s just that I haven’t found the right thing to stick them to yet, though. I’ve seen people who tape them to their own foreheads but I’m not there yet. Not sure how I could see the paw if a tongue was smearing my glasses.

I finally gave up on trying to clip his nails, which I can do okay usually with a Dremel sanding thing, but it’s those dew claws, the little nails hiding on the inside of the leg and that grow round and turn back in on themselves. Trust me, it’s just as easy to snarl or nick their hair as file off the nail tip.

So I figure if I’m gonna pay $10 for just a nail clipping, I might as well let her do all of the nails and not just those dews. Tonight it’s all for one and one for all! Three dogs get to go to Clip It Up at 5:45. I don’t think she’ll actually say anything about Rocco’s face and uneven trim, but she might remind me in case I forgot from last time that she only charges $60-80 for a full grooming, including ears, eyes, anal glands, and nails in addition to the regular spa bath. (And yes, it’s a different groomer from the crapulous haircut giver.)

Thank God I still have the sense to not cut my own hair. So far.

Does she, or doesn’t she?

Just do it, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Not!

Well, actually, that’s not what they said. What they said is this: Touchable Hold. (Not!) Temporary hair color. (Umm, how long is temporary??) Air Brush Tint. (Not exactly the look I got.) WASHES OUT WITH SHAMPOO. So not true. All of it, lies. Lies, lies, lies. It’s a darn good thing we are pandemically housebound and I can’t go anywhere and no one will see me. (Except you, if I decide to include that photo.)

I was born a blonde and stayed that way until I was around 4 years old.

I was about 3 years old.

By the time I started Kindergarden, my hair was dark brown,

I’m on the far left. Went dark in a hurry, and shorter too!

and it stayed that way for 30 years.

Once on a road trip, for entertainment my pre-teen kids tried to pluck the stray grays out of my head while I was driving.

It was really dark for a while. I’m on the right. 😉

The first time I colored my hair, I called my sister, the hair dresser one, in tears. “It’s so dark,” I cried. “What do I do?” “Wash it with Dawn soap,” she said. “Three or four times. It’ll be fine,” she said. It wasn’t. My hair absorbed that color and held on for dear life. My head hurt from the half bottle of Dawn I had scrubbed with, resulting in a Brillo texture. I should have remembered that. When I later complained to my other siblings, I was rewarded with a bottle of Roux Fanci-full Silver Fox hair tint from the Easter Bunny. I remember it very well. I wanted to cover the gray, but not too darkly, and they thought this was funny. I vowed to never color my hair again. And I didn’t,. Until the next time. Forget Miss Clairol; I went to a professional.

Keeping it brunette was a job in itself

Oh, the joys of multi-dimensional hair color. Streaks, frosts, low lights, and highlights. The cost went up incrementally, but pretty soon I couldn’t wait six or seven weeks for a touch up. Then I couldn’t wait four weeks. I was using a stupid wand thing to hide the skunk stripes on the sides of my head. If I tried to save money and use a store product myself, I looked like Morticia Adams. If I waited too long to get to the salon, I looked like Lily Munster. I gave up pedicures first; then manicures, until I finally went cold turkey and transitioned to a natural look.

Amazingly, it only took two months and a good haircut for me to become completely silver.

When I decided to let it go Au Naturel

Oh, to be sure, it went from pewter to silver to white, but that did take a few years. My dad had been white for about as long as I could remember, and I learned that his dad had been completely white by the time he was 29. It was when I met up with a cousin after a few years of seeing her that I felt validated; she was just a few months younger than I and also completely white.

White as can be!

A couple of years ago, though, my sister was visiting. I told her I was ready for a change. We went and bought some shade of brunette hair color so I could get low lights again. The result, though, was orange instead of brown. Not fiery red head or soft ginger. Orange. Yes. So we tried it again, thinking it would darken. Nope. More orange. So we washed and scrubbed. Then we went back to Sally Beauty Supply and got something to strip the color, and more product to return me to silver. Still not the desired result. Still light orange, sort of a strawberry blonde. I did not like it, but there was nothing to do except wait. Days, weeks. It took nearly a month for that tint to fade out. Why I didn’t remember that experience, I don’t know.

My next foray was color, as in purple. Just highlights here and there. I tried a comb-on gel that was supposed to be semi-permanent. And it washed right out. It was a lot of work – clean hair, poke tiny strands through the plastic scarf thing, comb on, let it set for 40 minutes, rinse. Except rinsing was really erasing. At least it didn’t turn me orange.

Finally, a gentle purple hair spray that worked.

Then I discovered purple hair spray, like the kind the kids use at Halloween. That worked great once I got the hang of controlling the nozzle and getting the color where I wanted. Only once did I have a purple ear; after that I learned how to use tissue and Vaseline to protect the skin where I didn’t want color. From purple I went to pink. I could decide from time to time if I wanted color or not, and it lasted only until my next shower in a day or two.

That product was discontinued at Sally. I bought 3 small cans on the clearance rack, and still have two of them two years later. I only use it very occasionally but it’s fun once in a while.

But I found a brown one also on that clearance table, and it was for root touch-ups. Brunette, it read. So I thought maybe I could give myself some depth or dimension from time to time by only spraying the root line a little. Somehow, I didn’t have the nerve to use it, until two days ago.

I used it very sparsely. I kinda liked the deeper root line. I was ready to take a shower and thought that just for kicks, I’d see how all my hair looked if I went brunette again. I was going to wash it out right away anyway. So I sprayed away. The roots were darker than the rest of the hair, though. I left it on a few minutes longer. Then I sprayed some more. It didn’t seem natural, and it sure wasn’t what I would call brunette. It was definitely in the ginger category on me. Of course, I’m not 30 or 40 or 50 anymore either. But I was going to wash it out anyway. Right away.

A funny thing happened though. As weird and sticky as the texture seemed to be, it had enough moisture in it to make my hair curl more than usual.

Arghh!!!!!!!! What have I done????????

It’s naturally curly when the humidity gets up there, but it’s really not curly-curly. It tames down to a softer curl, more wavy, once I get a brush in it. Touchable Hold, says the can. So not touchable! More like Sticky Goo Hold. I could hardly get my fingers into it, much less through it, and forget a brush.

It wasn’t bad, though, this light brown chestnut look. I mean, it did look colored, but there was enough of my own natural color in places that it looked like I had frosted my hair from back in the day. So I left it on for a while I made the bed and straightened up. For maybe 15 minutes I pretended I was young again, looking at myself every time I came within peeking distance of a mirror. Would I dare to start coloring again? Nah, probably not. It was a fantasy, and a pricey one at that, never mind the inability to get to a salon regularly given our pandemic restrictions.

Finally, I stepped into the shower. I poured out a liberal amount of Paul Mitchell Shampoo One (gentle cleansing, you know). My hair felt like it was glued in place. I made sure it was very wet, and tried again. I could barely get my fingers into the muck, and it hurt a little when I tried to lather up. I rinsed as best I could and told myself to get ready for the repeat. This time I used my Biolage Moisture Plus, and lots of it. A few more strands came loose. I used Biolage conditioner to try and soften things up, and that worked…about as well as trying to thin out setting cement with more water. I had a bar of Irish Spring soap, that was my third attempt. It was harsh, I know, but this girl was not going to get out of that shower until I could get my fingers through my hair. It seemed to have the intended effect, so I gooped another palmful of conditioner and let it do its magic while I buffed and polished the rest of me, complete with a sugar scrub, shaving my legs, and using the pumice on the heels of my feet. No more excuses; I was done.

I have needed glasses (or contact lenses) to correct my vision since I went into the 9th grade. I have pretty good near vision but need them for clarity for anything more than a few feet away. Like most people, though, I do not wear my glasses in the shower. Yet, I stepped out of the shower stall and looked across the room to the mirror.

I am blessed with a large dream bathroom. It is at least 8′ from my shower to the sink vanity where the mirror is. One glance and I had no doubt that my hair was still a shade of Not Silver, nor gray, nor even blonde. It was still some version of cafe au lait. I knew it was darker because it was wet but I also knew it wasn’t going to dry white either.

It’s been roughly 4 months since we’ve been homebound with Safer At Home rules due to the Covid-19 virus. I wear my mask when I go out, and my hairstyle includes bangs. I also wear the aforementioned glasses. I no longer take the time to “put on my face,” i.e., makeup. I will use a light coat of eye liner but no mascara, no foundation or blush, not even lipstick. My face has been free and my skin as natural as my hair. Except today. I am made up today, complete with a turquoise beaded necklace to draw attention away from my hair. Which is some version of dull anything. If I were a painter, I might call it a cross between raw umber and yellow ochre. And oddly, it is fairly well distributed. I guess the shampooing helped spread the joy around my crowning glory.

It is still not what I would call “touchable.” It pulled way too much for that when I tried to blow it dry. It has also gone from cute Brillo coils and curls to an SOS pad without the blue soap in it. I used Argan oil to help with the frizziness, but still needed the curling iron to tame it. Now I worry that the heat from the iron may have tattooed the color onto my hair strands. It probably can’t get much worse, but I was afraid to try the hair wax stuff in the orange jar for shine just in case it somehow did … get worse.

Ugh. Dull. Raw Umber/Yellow Ochre mix.

It rained last night so I don’t have to go out to water my plants. Trash day was yesterday. I went to the grocery store last week. My next Amazon delivery isn’t supposed to be until Friday. I have hung pillow cases on the mirrors in the bathrooms so I can avoid looking at myself. I will avoid any Zoom or other video calls for a few days and it will all come out in the wash. Eventually. Right? ‘Cuz I want to get back to this. Forever. And ever. Amen.

Just a couple of weeks ago