Monday, January 17, 2011

Take My Punchbowl......Please

I grew up in a world of yard sales and garage sales. My mother loved them. During my childhood we were constantly stopping at yard sales and rummaging through other people's "junk" looking for an item or two that, to us, would be a "treasure".

The love of yard sales was ingrained into my existence and  followed me into adulthood, much to my husband's dismay. Fridays, after dropping the boys off at school, would be spent following a well-laid out, specific grid of the best streets and neighborhoods in which I could get my yard sale "fix" in those few short hours. Even today, when we pass a yard sale, I get a tinge of excitement because I want a "fix". I am a self-professed yard sale junkie!

As much as I loved going to yard sales, I sometimes had to face the fact that I had collected too many "treasures" and had to clean out my burgeoning closets and cupboards and have a yard sale of my own.

Jim's "man-cave" would be converted into "Garage Sale Central" where every item would be inventoried, tagged, and prominently displayed for sale.

Now, the one aspect about any type of sale is the inevitable "price wars"; the seller's  belief that an item is worth one thing, while the prospective buyer believes they can get a better bargain.

I have never felt comfortable with this juncture of ANY sale; car, insurance, protective undercoating, oven mitts!!!

"Chewing down the price" is a practice I have never felt comfortable participating in; as buyer OR seller. I refuse to put myself in that position as a buyer and I generally will avoid the immediate area where anyone else is attempting to do so. And I certainly feel more than uncomfortable when somebody does it to me.

Already feeling uncomfortable with this seemingly acceptable practice, I was all-the-more uncomfortable when I was enlightened to the fact that "chewing down the price" was, in fact, also referred to "Jewing down the price" which obviously, is an offensive and stereotypical term. I expect that the "chewing" term is a spin-off of the latter, and therefore more acceptable in the eyes of those who utilize the term, perhaps unaware of the origin.

So, now I have even more reason to dislike price negotiations. Then one day, an experience brought things to light for me in a whole new way.

I was knee-deep in one of my yard sales and was doing a very good job at standing by the prices I had written on the stickers. If someone didn't want to pay me what I thought an item was worth, they had the option of simply returning said item to the table and they can move on to the next yard sale!

Towards the end of the day, there were a few shoppers left in my garage; in particular, an elderly woman and her care giver. Of  interest to this woman was my crystal punch bowl set. It was a  rather striking set with beautiful cuts in the crystal bowl and cups that would radiate rainbows of color when on display. I had marked the item at $10.00, which I felt was more than fair.

On more than one occasion, this elderly woman had tried to "chew" me down to $5.00 .... and again to $8.00. But I was steadfast on the price...and proud of myself for sticking to my belief that I had established a fair price, at that! Eventually, the woman relented and gently placed the bowl back on the table... she would run her hand along the upper rim of the bowl and smile. I could tell that she truly liked the bowl and I resolved that if she liked it that much, she'd be forking over that $10 before she left !!! I would be victorious!!!

She had also shown interest in a bedroom set that I had on display. It was a beautiful set that Jim and I had paid top dollar for and I was letting this furniture go for the bargain ( and I really mean it was a bargain ) of $300. The woman had stated that she would really like to purchase that bedroom set for her granddaughter and would I consider taking less, to which I would, of course, decline.

This entire time, the woman retained her pleasant disposition, sweet, with a smile on her face. She had determined that she was going to pass on the punch bowl and had returned to her car, her care giver behind the wheel. Before they pulled away, she had called me to the car and asked if she could leave me her number in the event that the bedroom set didn't sell; she'd like to purchase it if I would consider a payment arrangement for the full price. She was on a fixed income, but really wanted to make some arrangement so her granddaughter would have a bedroom set.

I agreed to consider her option and provided her with a pen and a piece of paper in which she could write her contact information.

I watched her as she wrote her name and number on the paper, and that's when I saw it. She didn't mean for me to see it; it was obvious that she tried to keep it covered. But I had seen it, and my life would not be the same. There, on the edge her forearm, peeking out from her sweater, was her identification number.

Her WWII Holocaust Identification Number. I had just spent the last 20 minutes haggling over a measly two to five dollars with a soul who had experienced atrocities in her lifetime that I would never be able to comprehend.

That moment was one of my lowest in my life. Who was "I" in the grand scheme of things to get such a feeling of power by standing by my self-imposed guidelines of what holds value and at what price.

I collected the paper from her and asked her to wait a moment. I ran back to my garage and grabbed that punchbowl set. With tears starting to well up in my eyes, I returned to her car, opened the passenger door and placed that punchbowl on her lap.

She genuinely seemed confused and stated that she didn't have the $10.  Through my tears, I told her that I didn't want the money; I just wanted her to enjoy the beauty of that punch bowl!  She offered the $5, I vehemently refused. I would not take any amount of money from this woman. You can't put a price on the lesson I was learning!

Again, she stroked the edge of the bowl with a slight smile on her face...for that moment, and if only for that moment, I had provided joy in this woman's life .....

and it didn't cost either of us a single penny !!!

This woman, had unwittingly, "Jewed me down" in the most literal sense....and there's not a day that goes by that I'm not thankful for that lesson; I believe that I am a better person for it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Would You Like A Little Pepper With That?

When the boys were little, it wasn't very often that we would travel, especially by air.
So it was not surprising when we were constantly out of the loop when it came to airport security regulations; even berfore 9/11 and the subsequent Patriot Act gudelines that have many travelers up in arms right now.

The time my sister flew in to Southern California with a pocket knife in her carry-on went unnoticed. However, her return trip through the security checkpoint at Ontario International didn't go so well. We were pretty calm about it, no big deal. It was a cheap little knife she had won at a county fair and had forgotten about. But my sister was interrogated, all but cavity searched, and the knife confiscated with the promise of life-long record to haunt her at that airport.   I wonder, if nearly twenty years later do you think they still have my sister on file as a potential terrorist?

Strange how 10 years later when flying out of the same airport for a family emergency, my friend was allowed through with a stun gun !!! TSA didn't even know what it was !!! She tried explaining,  but they were clueless as to it's purpose. She was told that as long as it didn't have any sharp edges, she could continue through security to our waiting plane. Hmmmm.

A couple years earlier, I was not so fortunate when going through security. This was at a time in my life when I would be out and about in the community by myself, sometimes early in the morning to go to the gym, or late at night for a Chamber of Commerce function. My husband would stay home with the boys and he worried about my safety at these times, so he purchased a compact pepper spray unit that would conveniently attach to my key chain.

I carried the pepper spray for a year or two and was hardly aware of it's presence after a while. When Jim had a flight to see his brother in Texas, I drove him to the airport and was looking forward to accompanying him to his gate to see him off. But when I arrived at security, I wasn't allowed through due to the pepper spray on my key chain. I could surrender it, but I"d never get it back, and Jim had paid a pretty penny  for that pepper spray.  The car was parked too far away for me to go back to drop it off there.

SO, we said our goodbyes, reluctantly, at security and I sulked back to my car watching what I assumed was his plane take off and fly into the distance.

When he returned a week later, I was sure to take the pepper spray off of the key chain and place it under the driver's seat of my mini-van. I happily greeted Jim at the gate when his plane arrived and we settled back into our day-to-day lives when we returned home.

Fast forward....I don't know how long...weeks, maybe months, to a warm Spring day in our home town. Jim was at work and I was completing my daily routine of picking up/dropping off children at one school or another, shopping, cleaning, etc. It had been an exceptionally busy day and I had one more important task to complete before going home. I had to deposit Jim's paycheck.

Jim has not deposited his own paycheck in over 20 years. If he tried, I suspect the tellers wouldn't recognize "his" signature and give him the old stink-eye. So, just like every other payday over the past umpteen years, I drove to his work, made the joke that "I smelled money" and would collect thst paycheck so we could revel in the glory of having money in the bank for the next 48 hours!

On this particular day, the drive-up teller window was closed and I would have to go in to complete the deposit. Oh, how I had wished I had completed that task before I had all four boys in tow. Going anywhere with four kids is a challenge, but some places are especially challenging; banks being one of those places.

When I parked the car, the youngest son, 2 or 3 years of age, was asleep in his carseat. His older brother 5 or 6 at the time, was contentedly playing in his booster seat. The older boys were in the back of the van sharing out the trials and tribualtions of elementary school. I reasoned with myself that there was no reason I couldn't entrust the older boys to watch the younger ones for five minutes.

I delegated instructions and "who was in charge" directions and let the boys know that I would be right back and if everyone behaved, we'd go get ice cream when Mommy was done in the bank.

Now, just for the record, I do not encourage or support the notion of leaving children in a car...let's just say this was one of my lapses in judgement as a parent ( I'm sure my boys will tell you that there were plenty of lapses in judgement on my part...but I'm happy to report that I have yet to meet the perfect parent .. and they will have their "DUH" moments, too)

With my mini-van parked in front of the bank double slider doors, in full view, I stood in line at the bank to make my deposit. The line was moving at a snail's pace and I was constantly shifting to keep a close eye on the van. The patrons in front of and behind me had noticed my agitation and I had mentioned to them that I was nervous about how slow the line was moving because my children were in the car.

I would shift, I would watch, the line would slowly move..... no movement from the car. So far, so good.
Three more people...two more people...only one more person in front of me in line before it was my turn. This was going to happen!

I focused my attention on the tellers behind the counter, trying to ascertain who was going to finish up next so I could advance in line and get my long-awaited turn. And in those 20 seconds of summing up my surroundings, it hit me: the high pitched wails of screaming, screaching children!

I turned towards those double sliding doors to see all four of my children stumbling into the bank, slumped over each other, older boys carrying or leading the younger boys, crying, screaming, slobbering, spitting, snot flowing from thier noses all over the floor....

and I stood there in line....frozen....digesting this scene in it's entirety ... in disbelief... in fact, every adult in that bank was frozen,  wondering  what in the hell was going on!

I heard one of the older boys say he "didn't mean to"  .... another boy saying something about "under Mommy's seat" and I knew. I instantly remembered that I had forgotten my pepper spray under my seat. I had never put it back on my key chain.

I sighed, defeated...parenting fail # who-knows-what. I turned to the person behind me in line and let them know that they were now next in line. I pushed my way past the spectators to make my way to my  snotty, crying children to take them into the bathroom and wash off their faces to try to get them some relief.

Gallons of cold water later, and, I'm sure, a rampant meltdown by yours truly, we returned to the van to secure the pepper spray canister and roll down the windows to air out the van so we could go home.

Thankfully, they hadn't discharged a full spray, but the little amount they did let loose with was planty to make everyone unhappy.

In the end, all the boys were fine in an hour or two. They slept hard that night and years later I realized that the incident had prepared one of my boys for his stint in juvie where the pepper spray fills the air like Febreeze. Parenting Success to a certain degree!!! LOL

I guess the toughest part of this day, for the boys anyways, is the fact that they couldn't understand why they didn't get their ice cream. It's not that I didn't think it wouldn't make them feel better; or make me feel better for that matter. But I had no money !!! The toughest part for me, it was not getting that check in the bank and trying to explain the bounced check to the insurance company the next day... not everyone has a sense of humor or can understand life through the eyes of a mother. Penalties assessed without apologies or condolences.

When Jim got home that night, he looked at all of those red, swollen faces, he knew not to ask for an explanation. He simply shook his head and, as he often did, retreated to his happy place; the garage.

You know how they say that a certain percentage of  home owners who have a gun for protection often end up injuring themselves or those they were trying to protect. I wonder what that percentage is for pepper spray?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Day Bambi Came For Dinner

I think all of us can think back to a time in our childhood where innocence was lost. I recall one such time in my young life when I was 11 years of age; the day Bambi came to dinner.

I grew up in a sort of "nomadic" existence. My dad always had some new job, or prospect, or idea that had us packing up and moving from one place to another; from the barren deserts of Arizona to the jungles of Guatemala.

When I was 10 we had relocated to the mountains above Palm Springs, California.

We lived on a  ranch with 2 other families in the small community of Anza,  and while the men had to drive off the mountain for employment, the mom's stayed behind running the ranch. We kids would catch the school bus and spend the day in our four room school oblivious to the goings-on at our homes and in our families lives.

One thing I remember about this particular stage of my young life was how incredibly poor we were. Clothing was always obtained through other's cast-offs, my mother would shop for groceries at the local community pantry, purchasing bent cans without labels. A meal served with actual meat was a rare occasion.

So, imagine my surprise when I stepped off the bus one chilly afternoon and was greeted by the smell of a roast in the oven. Not just any, ordinary roast. But the biggest, juiciest, most beautiful roast my eyes had ever seen!

Surrounded by carrots and potatoes, I felt like we were the richest family on the mountain that night!
All these years later, I can remember the smiles on my parents faces as we shared that bountiful feast together.

All I could think about at school the next day was going home and having a nice roast beef sandwich, piled high on white bread with lots of butter, pepper, and salt. My mouth watered all the way home and once I was off the bus, I ran all the way to our little trailer.

I remember taking the roast out of the refrigerator and sneaking a little bite...and my heart sank...
the meat had already started to go bad. It tasted bad, the texture was oily and it smelled pungent. My hopes of that long-awaited treat were dashed and I reluctantly decided to throw the roast in the trash.
As I rounded the kitchen counter ready to slide that roast into the trash can, my mother started screaming from the hallway, "STOP" !!! She grabbed the opposite side of the platter with a half-crazed look in her eyes.

My mother and I wrestled for that platter; I was trying to dump it while she was trying desperately to save it.
No matter how much I tried to explain to my mother that the meat was rotten, she was determined to keep me from throwing it away. I thought my mother had lost her mind... the poverty had finally gotten to her.
I didn't realize how true that thought would ring once I had the low-down on that roast.

My mother explained that the day before, after I had boarded the school bus, a large buck had been hit out in front of our house. It was killed instantly, and thankfully, the driver of the truck had not been injured. But what to do with that deer? It couldn't be left out in the middle of the road...
The adults came to the only rational conclusion, dress it out and serve it up and call it dinner!

There are specific steps one must take when dressing out wild game; especially a buck. There are male scent pouches that must be undisturbed when field-dressing and I'm not entirely sure my parents knew how to do that. Or, perhaps, the venison was just a little more gamey when it was cold. One way or another, that meat did not sit well with me, most likely because of the psychologically traumatic fallout from my mother's  explanation of the prior day's events.


I had first seen Bambi when I was 8 years old and cried for HOURS when I realized his mother had been shot by those hunters. And here I sat with Bambi remnants digesting in my belly.... it's a moment of innocence lost that will stay with me forever. I had Bambi for dinner.

Now I know for some, venison is a perfectly normal option for dietary protein. But for me, it's something I just couldn't stomach. I've had several opportunities since that day to partake in meals of venison. I pass.

Now that I think of it, we had a lot of rabbits on that ranch...and we ate a lot of "chicken soup"
I wonder if Thumper joined Bambi in my not-so-innocent childhood dinners.

                                             "Imagine Meeting YOU Here" !!!

I think my mother has some explaining to do !!!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Grinch That Stole The Gift Card

To give is better than to receive. Isn't that what has been drilled in our consumer-laden minds?

We stress and hunt and track down the perfect gift for a friend or a loved one. We battle through the overcrowded malls and shopping centers to find just the object of our loved one's desires.

All the while knowing, hoping, that when they unwrap that package there will be  that look. That look that lets you know that all the effort was worth it.

I tried this year after year for my boys. Most of the time, things went well. But every so often, especially as the boys got older and neared their teen years, despite my best efforts, there would be that look of  disappointment because I hadn't read the signals right. I didn't have a clue what my boys really wanted.

I would smile, they would smile....we would all act like everything was well...but we all knew what we were really thinking: parenting fail.

Then one day, I got a brilliant idea! Why not buy the boys a gift card and they can just go to the store the day after Christmas, or their birthday, or whatever the occasion may be, and they can buy EXACTLY what they want!!! I am a genius !!! Or so I thought. As the years went by, this didn't always go over as well as I had hoped either.

Apparently, the love affair with gift cards is slowly dying. That is pretty much the overall consensus if I am to believe what I just saw on television.  Not once, but twice today I learned that you can contact companies that will BUY those annoying gift cards that you received for some milestone in your life. REALLY???

The guest financial consultant on the morning news was more than happy to provide no less than four websites devoted to buying your unneccessary gift cards for a nominal fee. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. How insensitive!!!  What an irresponsible, in my mind, thing to report on the news!!!

Then, this evening, while watching TV, there was the most unbelievable television commercial I've seen in years!

A woman standing at her foyer side-table, drawer open - filled with "those annoying gift cards"!

What is she going to do. The look on her face says it all; she's been burdened by these so-called gifts. Heaven forbid she should have to actually go out and go shopping for herself  and buy something she might actually like and use!!!

The next scene shows a graduate in cap and gown opening a gift card, and "Pshhh... I can't believe they gave me a gift card", she says as her lip curls in disgust. What a spoiled, selfish little brat !!!

                            ....and, A GIFT CARD from Aunt Margaret, Johnny !!!

 Since when have we all become such gift snobs that we snub a gift card? I don't know about you, but I'm happy just to know that someone thought enough of me to get me a card to my favorite restaurant, or coffee shop, or movie. The fact that someone cares enough to give anything should, and does, warrant my respect and gratitude. It should warrant yours, too!

Somewhere along the line, someone thought it would be a great idea to cash in on our snobbery. I guess I can't begrudge them their entrepreneurial skills and foresight, but I now view them as The Grinch That Stole The Gift Card.

I'll tell you what. If you have a gift card you don't want, I'll gladly take it!!! And be happy to have it !!!
Next year I'm buying everybody a star and naming it after them. Try selling that !!!

PS...By the way, this year my boys got amazing gifts...