appliances breaking down: not a train wreck, but a bump in the tracks

washing machineI had to buy a new washing machine yesterday. Our fifteen-year-old Maytag finally gave out. It had been running on one setting for years and was quite a trooper. I washed every day or nearly every day for about ten of those years. Now I’m down to two or three times a week, but my eldest brings her laundry over on Sunday nights too and the washer runs for hours at a time then.

Buying appliances these days isn’t as simple as picking a color and a size. There are many options. For washers, for one, there are not only agitator machines but those with impellers (don’t ask me what they are; all I know is they don’t have a white spinny thing sticking up in the center). There are those that load on top and those that load from the front. There are those that run on 600 revolutions per minute to those that speed away at 1,200-1,400 rpms! There are clear glass lids and solid ones. Baskets are plastic or stainless steel. Cubic feet vary as well, which has always been the case, but they can get to over 5 cubic feet for top loaders now. That’s huge! Colors are another consideration. Pick from traditional white or go fancy with red, green, silver, slate, and so on. Do you have a front loader? You may want to consider a pedestal. Many washers are now HE, or high efficiency, requiring a special detergent (though many brands offer it) that uses less soap and saves money in the long run and energy. The choices abound.

I sort of knew I wanted a big stainless-steel basin and I came to believe the traditional agitator cleans better than the impeller washers.  I also knew I wanted a top loader. My machines are in the garage, which is not a pretty sight, so I don’t need beautiful front-loading machines in such a drab setting. Also, the washer wouldn’t match the old-fashioned dryer and I’d have a hard time bending down to retrieve the laundry since my Camry is parked inches from the machines. Plus, I’ve a friend with new front loaders who after just a few months has had a couple repairs done on them.

So I settled on a Maytag, now owned by Whirlpool. I love the clever Maytag commercials, with the repairman sitting in for the appliances. Although I wasn’t swayed by this creative push by Maytag, it didn’t hurt.

The appliance arrives tomorrow. I have my electrician here today, replacing the old, cracked wall outlet that the washer and the dryer will plug into, fearing the installers would claim the broken and not-up-to-code electrical outlet could void the appliance warranty. While I have the electrician here, I am having him replace a few other outlets and putting in a couple outdoor lights in place of our raggedy, mismatched set on the patio. That’s something I could do myself, but because the lights are exposed to the elements, I didn’t want to chance leaving a gap for water to get in. So I’m making his visit worth it for both of us.

Soon he will be gone and, after the delivery tomorrow, I will have a brand-spanking-new washing machine where the old one sat. I will be happy when all is back to normal. Being without a washer drives home the uneasy feeling of all not being right with the world. I don’t like disruption (who does, really?), and I hate when things go wrong, even things that are fairly easy to fix by buying something else. I am happy that the machine crapped out when Lowe’s was having an amazing sale, though. (I paid $479 yesterday for a machine that today is selling for $649 and lists for $799 on the Maytag website.) Sometimes life offers disruption, but the solution can bring better things.


when kids learn life lessons, it’s a little heartbreaking at times

lax-2We’re having a marvelous pre-Spring this year. Buds are blooming on the plum tree in the front yard and the grass is actually green for once. Bunnies are roaming in the yard. All annual signs that life’s seasons change and move on, even from the disappointments we all feel.

A case in point: My son went out for lacrosse this year. He had played for four years straight, from middle school through the tenth grade. After having a horrible assistant coach that year and a very weak head coach who looked the other way, Ben decided not to play last year. It was a shock to us, his parents, and his brother, who had starred in every sport he played in, including lacrosse. (His sisters also had played a sport every season.) But I figured Ben had good reason not to try that year and reminded myself that each kid is different. He was maybe not the athlete his brother was, although we never had a better baseball player than Ben, and we let him decide his own course in life. He wanted to get a job instead and to concentrate on school.

Fast forward to about six weeks ago, when Ben told me he wanted to try out for lacrosse again. I had mixed feelings, knowing he’d been doing nothing physical since the tenth grade to keep in shape besides swimming in the summer and skateboarding. Selfishly, I also had gotten used to not rushing out of the house midafternoon on school nights to drive to games as far away as 40 miles. But I let him make his own choice.

He started conditioning by going up to school on afternoons and weekends before tryouts, hitting the ball against the outdoor racquetball court walls for hours and running on the track. We drove the 20 miles to the Nike outlet store one Sunday so he could use a giftcard from a family friend to buy running shoes. We spent a couple hours on a school holiday at the mall, searching for lacrosse cleats, which aren’t available everywhere, as one might guess. Seventy dollars plus tax and a few more bucks for a couple new balls and he was ready for the season. The gear from a couple years ago pretty much already fit him since most of it was from his brother, who played varsity tenth through twelfth grades.

Tryouts were to last four nights and started out with Ben coming home the first night proclaiming, “I’ve still got it!” The next night’s tryouts also went well. The third night, Ben was a bit more quiet, but still optimistic. Friday’s tryouts were just “OK.” He would get a call that night with the news, he said.

But no call came.

Ben texted a friend, Jimmy, who had also tried out. Jimmy had played for another school the last couple years. He hadn’t heard either. Jimmy called the coach and learned that the coach hadn’t realized he had played before (he didn’t have our school’s helmet decals attached), so he gave Jimmy another chance. When Ben heard this, he also dialed up the coach, who asked why Ben hadn’t played last year. “Rigorous classes,” was his reason, not wanting to prejudice the coach by letting him know he had issues with the former coach. The new coach told him that there were only so many varsity spots and being a senior, Ben wouldn’t be eligible for JV (although this is not exactly correct, having had a friend, who’s now the school tennis coach, research this when her daughter wanted to play JV waterpolo in the twelfth grade and the coach said she couldn’t; but lots of coaches are misinformed about this and lots of seniors don’t want to play down anyway, so hardly anyone questions this “rule”).

The coach told Ben and Jimmy he’d give them one more try on Monday and Tuesday and he’d be watching them closely. Ben was happy about this. I told him, though, “You know, if you don’t make the team, it’s OK,” to which he answered, “What do you mean? I’m going to play!” All right, then.

Ben iced his ankles and feet over the weekend, which were extremely sore. (Was it those $70 shoes or the fact that he’s a late bloomer who recently had a dramatic growth spurt, which can cause major pain in the ligaments and muscles of the feet?) The two boys went up to the school to practice some more.

Monday came and, along with it, one of the fiercest storms of the winter. It rained hard all day, with no let up. Lacrosse is a bit of a brutal sport. Baseball, it is not. Games are played come rain, stifling heat, or snow. Unless there’s lightning, which could cause a little issue since the kids carry virtual lightning rods for sticks, the game goes on.

I was proud of Ben for sticking with it that night, coming home dripping wet, his gear soaked through. Fortunately, there was enough sun the next day to lay everything that couldn’t be machine washed out in the sun, because Tuesday night, he was at it again. Ben’s feet were still an issue and after practice, the coaches told him to wear an ankle brace. He called me from the CVS that night to ask if we had a brace at home. If not, he was going to buy one, and he did.

He came home, ate his dinner and waited for the news. But no call or text came that night. The next day, a couple hours before that night’s practice, Ben received a text. The answer was no, he couldn’t play. The coach said he already had the team settled up and Ben just wasn’t up to snuff to play varsity. I’m sure his ankles didn’t help win him a spot. Ben told me later that he was running “like a gump” that last practice.

An awkward fact about all this: One of the new assistant coaches is the son of close friends of ours, a young man who took up the sport of lacrosse after we introduced it to his parents back when he and my older son were in middle school. This young man went on to play in college and do very well. He’s known Ben his whole life. His sister is a friend of Ben’s. They grew up together. Also, he currently has possession of (and very likely brought to tryouts) an expensive portable goal I had bought my older son a few years back for his birthday. Awkward, indeed.

Anyway, that’s how it all turned out. “It’s weird,” Ben said to me Friday night. “I should be at practice right now.” It’s not easy knowing that others, including some sophomores, are representing the green and gold and building a team bond while Ben is sitting at the dinner table with his middle-aged mom, eating fish sticks.

I’m super proud of Ben for giving it his best shot even though it turned up empty. (His friend, by the way, whom Ben talked up to the coaches, made the team.) There were positives to Ben’s playing again, number one being he’d have a healthy outlet for his time, time he was spending watching YouTube videos and playing PS4. In fact, this was why he wanted to play again in the first place. He’s mature enough to want to do something productive with his time that’s also a healthy outlet. Unfortunately, he learned the hard way that giving your best effort sometimes doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped. As a parent, it’s a bit heartbreaking knowing your son tried so hard and the hard work didn’t pay off. Isn’t that what we tell our kids all the time, try hard and you’ll see results?

The lesson learned, however, was another valuable, inevitable one: Sometimes life isn’t fair. Of course, no matter what, the sun will shine another day, the bare branches will gain buds and then leaves. Time marches on. It’s just a little tough to face when it marches on without you.



“i am my father’s daughter”: whether we like it or not, our parents’ behaviors are reflected in our own

Today I can officially declare, “I am my father’s daughter.” No matter how much we try to separate ourselves from our parents’ behaviors (the quirky, weird, or negative ones, anyway), sooner or later we start repeating them.

My dad was a blue-collar man who worked hard to keep a roof over the heads of his wife and five kids on a meager salary. My mom worked too, part-time and usually around our schedules, but my dad was the chief breadwinner. To scrimp and save, and because he was a child of the Great Depression, my dad would find ways to make due with what we had, fix it to make it work better, and only when there was no hope, buy something to replace it–and more likely than not, that “something” would come second-hand.

Have a rusted fender on your ’63 Fairlane? Duct tape will do the trick. Need fertilizer for the plants? Pee on them–the high nitrogen levels in human urine can provide the necessary nutrients. Too much forced-air gas-heat escaping down the hallway to the unoccupied rooms? Open the door to the heater and tape thick corrugated cardboard to its edges to concentrate the warm air.

Today I borrowed a page from my dad’s playbook. We are having a series of heavy rainstorms in Southern California that we are never prepared for here. For example, no one bothered to check the grading of the lawns when building our under-insulated tract homes forty- or fifty-odd years ago, so some of us have accumulated rain water sloping toward the houses’ foundations. Remember the homes in Malibu a few years ago that slid off their foundations? Similar thinking. But, hey, “it never rains in California.” It may just be a line from a song, but it’s often the gospel truth. In fact, since we’ve had so little rain to speak of over the past few years, we could get by with those sloping-toward-the-foundation yards and roofs that may have leaked during the last heavy rain six years ago but were forgotten about in the dry drought years. It’s easy to block out unpleasant thoughts.

A case in point, something that my husband and I put off fixing is now a problem for us. We have a door that leads from the garage to the side yard. It appears to me to be an indoor door, not a heavy-duty outdoor door. It’s hollow, for one, and looks as though it was inserted into the frame with a few nails and a couple screws in a hurry when it was time to sell the house years and years ago. It sufficed for a while, but with the door being in the hot sun, the cheap, thin door’s paint has peeled and with it came the top layer of the door. The outer portion is now hanging on for dear life. My husband and I planned to replace it, but, as is often the case, time got away from us, and now the door is not only getting hit by the sun, it’s being pelted by the rain too. A hollow door with an outer portion of thin plywood is not going to keep the elements out.

To the rescue came I. Well, I and my dad in my head. For a quick fix, yesterday, before the rains came, I grabbed three black trash bags and a roll of packing tape and taped the bags to the door. I figured it would do the trick in a pinch until I could find a more permanent solution, shy of getting a new door. Then I came in the house, got online, and tried to find something I could find that would be more sturdy than a Hefty bag. Guess what? There is nothing on earth at any of the big-box stores or even the neighborhood True Value that I could find to use in a pinch. Sure, I could have bought plywood, got it home, cut it, painted it for protection, and screwed it into the door, but I was pretty sure I didn’t have the time or the skill or the tools necessary before the rains hit, which did indeed show up a few hours later.

So I had to think fast and find something flexible that I, personally, could put up over the door and that would arrive asap. Searching Amazon, I found a thick clear-vinyl tablecloth and a four-pack of duct tape that were part of the next-day delivery program. Perfect. (No, I didn’t need four rolls of tape, but I couldn’t find a single roll in the house or garage and that’s why I used packing tape yesterday.)

When the box arrived an hour ago, and the rain had halted for a bit, I got to work draping the thick vinyl over and under the trash-bag-covered door and taped away. The lowest of the three bags had come a bit loose and let some rain hit the door, so I was happy that this tablecloth would now cover all of that and not have separations.

Ta da: 0119171320

All right. So it won’t win any design awards and the prototype needs a little tweaking before I apply for a U.S. patent, but I’ll bet there are a few people who are right now scrambling to post it on their Pinterest boards!

Well, maybe not. The only thing I know for sure is it will make do…oh, and that my dad is likely smiling down on me from the heavens knowing that one of us five inherited his skills.


This week’s three things I’m thankful for:

  1. A brain and two working hands and a healthy body to come up with a plan and implement it no matter how crappy the end result looks.
  2. A break in the rain so I could walk the dog and “fix” the door.
  3. A house with a roof that will probably not leak until at least day 2 of this storm.


schmaltzy movies are sometimes just what the doctor ordered

internI love movies. But not every movie. I have my preferences. They all require good acting, a believable and well-written story, and oftentimes something I can either relate to or something I can take away with me.

I have seen plenty of films that have actually won Academy Awards that I couldn’t stand, shaking my head as the credits were rolling and wondering what the eff? And just because something is popular is no indication of how well I’ll like it. I’m not the big-action and fireworks kind of movie fan. (No, I have not seen the latest Star Wars movie, or the last three for that matter.) There have been some pretty good action thrillers, of course, and I love a good gritty movie now and again (Manchester by the Sea, for one), but it’s the films that evoke a warm-hearted feeling that I love. Yes, there may be a heart-wrenching dilemma to be solved, like a widower whose son wants him to find a new wife or a man whose wife is on life support searching for the man his wife had had an affair with, but the problems are not insurmountable and there is a satisfying ending. A little humor doesn’t help either, but no Jim Carrey, please. Ever!

I write this as I’m watching one such film, The Intern. It never won any awards that I know of, but it’s got the right formula for having moved me to see it in the theater, purchase it, and return to it many times since. There’s good acting, without a doubt. Who can beat De Niro in anything? And Anne Hathaway is quite good too, proving once again that a movie doesn’t have to be Oscar worthy to be satisfying. Throw in a few great actors, and voila!

Other movies I return to again and again include:

  • Sleepless in Seattle (my favorite!)
  • You’ve Got Mail (Hanks and Ryan again!)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (De Niro, with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence thrown in and a true-to-life portrayal of mental illness; plus De Niro so reminds me of my Uncle D here)
  • The Descendants and Up in the Air (never knew I was a Clooney fan until his movies started showing up on my most-loved list)
  • While You Were Sleeping (if I were to cast someone as me in a movie, Sandra Bullock would be it)
  • Steel Magnolias (who can’t relate to–or wish she had–that kind of female camaraderie?)
  • Finding Neverland (Depp and Winslet and some amazing British children)
  • Dan in Real Life (Steve Carell really is good at lightheartedness and sincerity)
  • The Family Stone (Christmas movies are always a plus)
  • Baby Boom (more Keaton)
  • The Family Man (love this movie’s statement that success doesn’t always equal how many zeros are in one’s paycheck, and Nicolas Cage is great too)
  • The Love Letter (the perfect New England town in the summer, with plenty of humor)
  • I Don’t Know How She Does It (not the best on the list, but can every mom relate, or what?
  • Terms of Endearment (the first movie I saw that started me on loving this genre–and this one did win an Academy Award!)
  • The Intern (see above)

OK, so some might say they’re all chick flicks, but that diminishes their importance and they are much more than that to me. They are like being in the presence of friends or family you love or being “home,” whatever that image might be for people. They are pleasant, thought-provoking, mood-enhancing films. No, they might not win any awards, but they are still number one in my book.

parenting: two steps forward, only one step back today

lunch bag.jpgMy son reached a milestone, and it only took thirteen years in public school to do so: He made his own lunch. Well, it wasn’t the first  time, but it was the first time this school year, and he will be doing it for the rest of the term, he says. Trouble is, he left the lunch home before driving off to school.

I discovered it sitting there on the counter where he’d prepared it and phoned him. I drove up to where he had just parked the twenty-one-year-old Camry in the pouring rain and handed it off. Sure, I could have left it at home, not phoned him, and let him learn lesson number two, number one being making his own lunch and number two, taking it with him. But I felt he’d done so well to pack the turkey and Havarti cheese on a croissant, baked potato chips, rose-red apple slices, and Goldfish crackers, plus half of his breakfast muffin, that I didn’t have the heart to have him go hungry.

So I drove it up to him. The parenting dance: two steps forward, one step back. But sometimes you’ve got to take whatever progress you can get.


This week’s three gratitudes:

  1. Rain, precious rain, to fill our low reservoirs and to nourish our parched earth.
  2. A dry place to live and a roof over my head that hopefully won’t let the precious rain in. (It’s twenty-five years old.)
  3. A family to care for and to be cared for in return.




my silver linings playbook for the new year


Here we are again at the start of a year that will, from the looks of things, be full of changes and challenges. I see some good things on the horizon, like paying off a big loan this year, and I see some things that could be horrific (I already touched on that back in NovemberBut one thing I would like to accomplish this year is being more grateful and in being grateful, I cannot focus on the negative. I must find those silver linings even if I have to look through hundreds of dark clouds to do so.

How this year will be different:

  • I will write at least one blog post each week, and I will end one posting with three things I am thankful for that happened that week, even if it’s that the cats only threw up three times or that I was in line at the DMV for forty minutes less than usual.
  • I will explore my city more and enjoy the great things it has to offer. In other words, I’ll appreciate what is available to me. I live in a part of the country that people fly and drive to from all over to visit, but I sit at my desk and work in my house day in and day out, some weeks barely getting out more than a couple times and within a five-mile radius of home. I choose to go someplace fun each week. Even if I have to take my laptop with me to work there, I will get out and see this city.
  • I will not belabor bad things I have no control over. The dilemma of anxious control freaks such as myself is we worry about everything, much of which we can’t control. Unless ruminating over the horrible consequences of something that may or may not happen is actually going to help put a plan into action, I choose to not waste my time and the finite space within my brain worrying about it.
  • I will not feel as though everyone’s life is so much better than mine and be envious of the good things that happen to them. I have a terrible habit of doing that: I’ll hear something positive that a friend of mine has accomplished, like she got a new job or a new kitchen or a new car, and I’ll compare my crappy sporadic paychecks with hers or my fifteen-year-old vehicle to that shiny new one sitting in her driveway and feel bad about myself. Well, no more of that. I have been trying hard to get more and better work and I could afford a new car and a kitchen if I wanted one, but it’s not all that necessary right now. So no more comparisons. I will feel happy for her, and that’s all.
  • I will realize that others’ lives are not all they appear to be and be thankful for what I have and when things go well. A friend of mine who I never think has to struggle as much as I do told me a story of something frightening that happened to one of her children when he tried to do the right thing a few weeks ago. On the outside, her life looks better than mine, but I went home that night and thanked the heavens that I don’t have a child struggling with such an issue right now. My kids may not have the greatest jobs or be in fulfilling relationships, but at the same time, they’re not in difficult, dangerous situations either.

And that brings me back to my premise of feeling grateful for the things that are good in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for and this week, for me, it was:

  1. Having my healthy, well-rounded, smart kids around me over the holidays and getting to reconnect with friends and family members I don’t get to see all the time.
  2. Getting to enjoy a nice lunch with a view and a walk with my husband on New Year’s Day.
  3. Being alive and well.


should i pursue a low-paying job to get me out of the house and back into the world? (a freelancer’s dilemma)


I am a freelancer. Anyone who’s freelanced, especially in the writing and editing field, knows it’s a lonely career path. Most of the time–in my case 100 percent of the time–is spent in a small room, at a tiny desk, where the only communicating I do is by e-mail and instant messaging. If I didn’t have a dog at my feet or a habit of talking to myself, I’d never utter a word all workday. Now I have a chance to break those bonds and get a job outside the house. But is it a job worth pursuing if it doesn’t pay well, is a fairly long commute, and would disrupt my routine?

I finally heard back from one of about nine library systems that I applied to and was put on an eligible list for over the past year. It’s actually the very last one I applied to. And that was just two weeks ago. Most of the time, names of eligible candidates are added to a list. People need to reapply if they haven’t been called in twelve months, so the wait can go on into perpetuity.

The library in question, the one library in a small city within my county, has offered me (and many others, I’m sure) an opportunity to take a test for a position that is at the bottom of the hiring hierarchy and at the bottom of the pay scale and with zero benefits. I have applied to better-paying library jobs with more responsibilities and with benefits, but I’ve yet to get a call to test for or be interviewed for one of those. This job is at the lowest wrung of the ladder, but combined with my more challenging freelance editing career it may be just what I need. Sure, I’d like more money instead of being paid barely over minimum wage, but the benefits of my taking such a job are manyfold. Still, leave it to me to find the dark cloud outside every silver lining.

Reasons to not take the job/pursue it (even if I take the test and get a perfect score, it doesn’t mean that I’m the one who’ll get chosen):

  1. The job pays very little.
  2. The commute is 25 minutes each way on a good day, possibly double that on a bad one. And it involves driving over a bridge, which is over a large body of water, which is kind of frightening.
  3. It would force me to work regular hours and I’d have to clear vacations and sick days instead of being free to take a trip around my husband and kids’ schedules or when I want to (which I rarely do, but I have the possibility to do so anyway).
  4. I’d be away from home, meaning my family and my dog, and that’s kind of hard on me.
  5. I’d be paying for gas, which I figured today would cost at least $40 a week. That’s like four hours of work just to fill the tank.
  6. I’d miss out on important events at home or even just the regular stuff, like eating dinner together (hours are 10-9 weekdays and the library’s open till 6 on Saturday and 5 on Sunday).

Now for the pluses of taking a low-paying, low-risk, low-expectations job (or at least pursuing it):

  1. I won’t feel guilty if I have to quit.
  2. The job is in the most quaint, adorable city in the county, and the library is very nice.
  3. It probably wouldn’t be very demanding work, which is kind of nice for a change.
  4. It will get me out of the house and give me other humans to talk to (see paragraph one).
  5. It will give me some stable income (maybe $8,000 or $9,000 a year) to rely on in addition to my rollercoaster freelance income.
  6. It’s part-time and wouldn’t require a huge commitment of my time, leaving me free to do my other work and have free time. Plus, unlike a retail establishment, it’s closed on holidays.

I keep kicking myself for not going after another very similar position with the main library system in my county close to a year ago. I was offered an interview but cold feet and a head filled with anxieties made me cancel. I was upset with myself for a long time for not going after it, and I swore that the next time an opportunity came through, I’d jump on it. So, with that kind of history, I plan to take the test. My chances of getting the one open position may be good or they may be not so good. I realize there will be people whose personalities mesh with the interviewers more or who know the interviewers or who just appear to be the best candidate in whatever way, like, say, they live on that side of the big, mean bridge. But it’s worth going after.

I did a dry run today. I got in my car around the time I’d have to leave for the test in two days and I dialed up my Google maps. I followed the path to the library without a hitch, and I found street parking easily. I had never been inside the building before but always wanted to go in. The pillars leading to the door, the beautiful lawn, and the coffee cart out front were beckoning me. So I went in and looked around. Dang, it was just as cozy and quaint inside as I’d imagined! Even better, in fact. There were rows and rows of books; a cute, roomy children’s section; a divine sitting area with big, comfortable leather chairs, the way a library inside a mansion might look–I could almost smell the cigars and brandy; two Christmas trees (no generic “Happy Holidays” will be uttered here, I guessed); and a big, 24 foot by 8 foot display case containing a winter scene, set up with a moving toy train and storybook characters looking on. Gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling windows with views all around, including of the adorable gazebo and park in the town square, I felt like I belonged. It was as if I’d walked into Bedford Falls or, better yet, Stars Hollow.

“I could really enjoy going to work here,” I said to myself. (No, I didn’t say it out loud this time.)

And I knew right then and there that $11 an hour or not, I’d be happy to spend time in this place. Now to get the offer….