Archive for November, 2015

Thanksgiving table for 2

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

No matter whether I was at the gym, at the office or just out and about, for the week prior to Thanksgiving, everyone’s conversations centered on “what are your plans for Thanksgiving?”

This year, when I was asked if I was cooking or how many people we were hosting, for the first time in the 30+ years that we’ve been married and probably in my whole life, my response was “We’re going out for Thanksgiving.”

Before the person I was speaking to had time to make any judgements about this information such as: “That sounds really pathetic. Are they orphans or such unpleasant company that they don’t have any family or friends who will take them in for the evening? Even homeless people get invited to share Thanksgiving,” I quickly added, “None of our kids are able to make it home for Thanksgiving and neither Steve or I really saw the need to cook an enormous amount of food for just the two of us.” As I was saying this, I hoped that I didn’t sound too defensive.

If going out for Thanksgiving meant trying to find an open Burger King, I think that really would be depressing. But we had an opportunity to make it special because we rarely go out to eat and after all, it is Thanksgiving, so we made reservations at in Glen Ellen. They were serving between noon and 6 p.m. and we made reservations for 5:00.

It turns out that we’re not the only ones who decided to let trained professionals prepare, cook and clean up for Thanksgiving. The place was packed. While I certainly would have expected to see lots of empty nesters like us, there were lots of multigenerational families. It totally makes sense that if both parents are working, and they don’t have the time or interest in cooking, and grandma and grandpa are coming into town, eating out for Thanksgiving could relieve a huge amount of stress.

The menu at the café was a three course meal, with four choices for an entrée; Roasted Turkey, House Ham, Pan Seared Flounder or Risotto. Steve and I both chose the turkey but he started with an enormous Arugula salad with figs, goat cheese and pancetta. I had the Butternut Squash soup. For dessert, we both ordered the Brownie Sundae with Brandied Apples.

Everything was absolutely delicious. There was no need for the waiter to ask if I was done with my soup; I had practically licked the bowl clean, it was that good. And the service was efficient but friendly.

People often say that the best part of Thanksgiving is leftovers. No need to cook just for those. The portions at the Girl & Fig were so large that we brought home another full meal for the day after.

Our only disappointment of the evening? We couldn’t figure out how to bring home the leftovers of our Brownie Sundae without the melted ice cream leaving a puddle on the car floor.

Here to stay

Monday, November 16th, 2015

I am celebrating the start of a new chapter in my life…actually, it’s probably less of a new chapter and more of a sequel.

Because on Monday, after working in a totally different industry for the past two years in Marin, I’m going back to work at the Petaluma Visitors Program – and I couldn’t be happier.

That’s not to say that I’m not grateful for what I gained in the time I was away from the PVP. I’m coming back with skills I didn’t have before. I thought I understood multitasking but now my game has really been upped. My recent  job could was like being a Chinese circus performer that that has to keep a dozen plates spinning at once; lose focus and in a matter of minutes, it all comes come crashing to the floor. Except in my case, instead of plates, we were spinning logo’d mugs, branded tote bags or embroidered jackets.

I also learned how to press forward – in a gracious but determined way – until you get the answer you need. And because the company differentiated itself by providing outstanding customer service, I’ve learned how to always communicate a smile over the phone.

But what I didn’t have in my job in Marin was relationships and a community…where the people are more important than the bottom line. When I left the PVP in 2013, I was choking back tears as I said goodbye to the staff and volunteers. That’s how much these people meant to me.

But when I said my goodbyes on Friday, it just wasn’t that hard because I didn’t have the same kind of emotional connection. Now I understand how wonderful it is to develop a community within the workplace. It adds so much fulfillment and gratification to work with people who you really care about. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to reconnecting and rebuilding relationships with the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Visitors Center.

And, it’s going to be an exciting time to be promoting Petaluma as a destination. There are new hotels in the works, the SMART train will start running in 2016 with a ticketing station right at the Visitors Center, Lagunitas is expanding, and winery tasting rooms are starting to pop up downtown. And we know how much Petaluma loves events. You’d be hard pressed to find a weekend on the calendar that doesn’t have a festival or fair happening in Petaluma…so there will be plenty to talk about.

If this wasn’t reason enough to be rejoicing, I won’t have to commute! Sure, it’s been fascinating to watch the amazing “Bigge” cranes that always remind me of a book I used to read to our son when he was little; it was titled “Machines as Big as Monsters.” But adding two hours a day to my life because I won’t be sitting in traffic on 101? I will be much less cranky. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Fake fir

Monday, November 9th, 2015

I held out as long as I could but I finally gave in and went to the dark side…at least that’s the way my daughters see it…because I bought an artificial Christmas tree.

In the past several years as the quality of a Tannenbaum in a box has gotten better, getting an artificial tree became and more and more tempting. It was harder to justify the work that goes into buying and decorating a real tree. There’s the hassle of manhandling it into the car, dragging it in the house, adjusting it in the stand – “Is it straight now?” – and vacuuming up pine needles until Easter. But our daughters insisted that an authentic Christmas celebration required and authentic tree.

Even though this whole process was a lot of work, I could always wrangle one of the kids to help out. Especially our youngest daughter – Jennifer really cared about having a real tree and was willing to invest the time to make it happen.

Early in the holiday season, the two of us would plan an evening that we could shoot up to Costco and get the tree. While buying a tree at Costco isn’t quite an “over the river and through the woods” kind of picturesque outing, it was a bonding time for us. She always wanted me to wait to decorate the tree until she could be around to help. As we unwrapped each ornament, we reminisced about the moment in time when we bought them.

But this Christmas, Jennifer is in Shanghai and she definitely won’t be popping in for the holidays. And neither will our other two kids. Valerie is working most of the Thanksgiving weekend and Ethan has only been at his new post in Kansas for a couple of months.

So there’s no chance I’ll be letting anyone down by assembling and fluffing the artificial Douglas fir that I bought from Target.

I think the switch to an artificial tree is symbolic of a bigger change than just choosing to make decorating and cleanup from the holiday season a little easier for myself. The artificial tree represents a change of seasons in our lives. For so many years, the holidays were about making the holidays meaningful to the kids. But that time has passed. Now, it’s up to Steve and me to set the agenda for the holidays.

It’s a both uncomfortable and freeing. It will take some getting used to but we may actually rediscover what life was like BK…before kids.

Counting my blessings

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

God has been so good to us.

Four years ago at this time, we were in the final stages of packing up our house in Petaluma in preparation for moving. The Great Recession – which at the time didn’t seem all that great – had reduced our income by two-thirds which meant a two-thirds reduction in our living space.  We had gotten to a point where trying to make our bloated mortgage payment to Wells Fargo was like trying to “get blood from a turnip”…as my mother used to say. We couldn’t give what we didn’t have. And since we couldn’t offer up our firstborn as payment on our HELOC, like millions of others, we took the hit on our credit rating and sold our house in a short sale.

At the time, leaving the house that we had lived in for 17 years and downsizing to a rental in Cotati was painful. We take our commitments and our promissory notes very seriously so when we couldn’t keep up with the payments, we felt like we had failed. Also, the maintenance – or lack thereof – on the house constantly wore at us.  There were mysterious water spots appearing on the ceiling and termite holes big enough to drive a car through. Everywhere we looked we saw something that needed attention. Having a 2700 square foot albatross around your neck can really weigh you down.

So now, four years later, we have gotten some perspective on the transition. Being freed from the burden of the house was the best thing to ever happen to us. It lightened our load both financially and emotionally.  It’s a relief living in our very manageable condo. We’ve been able to get out of credit card hell. I am absolutely rejoicing when I look at the line on the Visa, MasterCard and American Express statements and instead of triple digits, I see a zero.

Add to that, that our kids seem to be on good paths and God has provided steady work and good health for Steve after his triple bypass surgery 18 months ago.

So for this moment in time, everything is okay. Then we get a call from the owner saying that she wants to visit us. There had been rumblings when we first moved in that she might need to sell the property for tax purposes. Okay, this is it. She’s going to drop the news on us that she’s putting our place on the market. After all, housing prices are up and she lives out of the country.  My guess is we’ve got until the spring and then we’re getting the boot.

Expect the worst? Yep, that’s my MO. There’s a passage in Luke that says if a son asks his father for a fish, will he give him a snake instead? If us sinners wouldn’t disappoint someone we love, how much better will a perfect God be to us? In my backward thinking, I’m sure I’m going to get handed the snake.

But almost unbelievably to me, our landlord gave us a fish. She is very happy with the arrangement and has no plans to sell anytime soon. Steve and I breathed a collective sigh of relief.

I relayed this story to a friend. “I can’t believe how good God continues to be to us.” I suppose I sounded like we had used up all the blessings allotted to us. Her response?  “He’s not done.”

Like the hymn says, “I stand amazed.”