Dialing for Democracy

Hey, remember those innocent bygone days of the 2008 election? The candidate with the ears whom I’d barely heard of beat out Hillary and went onto win a second term? McCain sunk his own ship by joining forces with that dingbat who could see Russia from her porch?

God we were naive.

Anyhooo, the feeding frenzy of ’08 inspired me to write a humorous feature for the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor, where I worked at the time. Reading it now, in the light of the shit show our country is in the middle of, I had to laugh or else I would cry (and possibly never stop until all the votes are counted tomorrow night).

I hope you get a little chuckle too…

Dialing for Democracy

My thumb has lost all feeling so I decide to switch hands and continue calling in my vote. I know there are people out there with way more spare time, as well as multiple phones, but I’ve got to get in my two cents worth. Maybe it won’t even matter, but I hit disconnect each time with a little swell of pride.

The year is 2032 and it’s that time again. Time to choose the president of this great nation the only way we Americans know how. Phone in voting, of course. When the powers-that-be realized how much command shows like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars” had over the masses, our electoral system evolved accordingly.

dialingmadness

Six months ago the latest pool of candidates was formed following auditions from Vegas to D.C. We’re still enjoying tape of the worst rejects between weekly eliminations. There was the congressman from Montana whose moving speech and rendition of “I Am, I Said” were interrupted by his longtime mistress and 12-year-old love child. Well-placed cameras later caught the heavyset woman and the politician’s wife going at it in the parking lot. Yes, he had presidential potential but now the congressman was part of the gag reel with the rest of them.

Thanks to the Buffet law of 2016, candidates could no longer spend millions in advertising in order to woo American audiences. No, they simply had to rely on their charm, singing and/or dancing talents, photogenic quality of their immediate family, and of course, the fickle taste of viewers. A quirky black sheep or closeted skeleton was hardly a detriment to a presidential hopeful; nay, it just added texture and color to the televised competition when a redneck cousin popped out of the woodwork.

Legislation now allowed billions of dollars in advertising to be diverted, not to mention the forests of trees that were saved when political junk mail was outlawed. The surplus money went mostly to education — also provided entirely by television and Internet — and making sure each citizen had enough monitors and modems per household to receive their God-given right to the information highway. With the majority of the workforce operating from home, it really was a win-win situation. In fact, as soon as time’s up for calling in our final votes I’ll be back at the computer fielding angry I-M’s from India. My mom says it used to be the other way around but I find it hard to believe I would call someone in Punjab to discuss my credit card balance.

My eyes drift back to the set as the busty emcee of “The Amazing Race: Presidential Edition” points to the clock in Times Square. Voting is almost over and with today’s technology we’ll know in mere minutes who will be running the most powerful country in the world.

I think it’s going to be close. Dakota Fanning definitely won over the hearts of America with her childhood filmography montage and proposed line of biodegradable hand-held computers. But Ashton Kutcher has age, experience and let’s face it — he blew away the competition during the last round of “I Can Name That Third World Country in Two Syllables.” Even if he didn’t win, his audition tape punking Senator Chelsea Clinton would go down in history.

The election clock ticked off the final second and Jay-Z’s classic mix of “Hail to the Chief” blasted from the speakers. I reached for the remote and fell on my face.

As shag carpet tickled my nose I sneezed and came fully awake. Ah jeez. What a nightmare. To think I fell asleep watching the last of the nasty 2008 campaign ads, and almost woke to a country run by Ashton Kutcher. Although, Bruce Willis would have made a great Secretary of Defense. Yippee kai yay…

PS: I really wrote this EIGHT YEARS AGO with tongue in cheek and didn’t change a word. Kind of chilling. Now go vote, for the love of all that’s holy!!

Living with intention

I had to print out a list of March birthdays for my coworker the other day and I looked at her with genuine confusion.

“How did that happen? I just did February’s last…?”

She politely explained how March follows February but I was still stuck on how fast time is flying and how easily thrown I am by such passage. Is that an age thing?

What’s bothering me most about this obnoxious habit the days have of blurring and fading is the fact that I’m passively letting it happen to me. I made a monumental life decision last year and I worry that was the last conscious action I took on my own behalf. Since then I landed in a job I detest because it was offered to me, I’ve taken steps that have been presented to me by professionals because I doubt my own ability to know what’s best as a parent, and I live in a place that’s nice enough but screams temporary from the carefully stowed unpacked boxes to the rent I can’t afford.

If all that weren’t enough, I’m still grappling with the monumental decision of WHAT DO I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE? I’m mature enough to know that moving to Arizona for the love of a man is not the answer to that question. That aspect is just supposed to enrich the direction in which that question would take me.

hedy-pinball

Playing the game with intention… and style.

The answer I did figure out, however, was that the last seven months (let’s be honest, it’s been much longer than that) has been virtually void of intention. I’ve bounced off of circumstances, necessity, and denial like some sort of whacked out pinball ball.

“Ooh, I’d like to resume a freelance career on the side but I just got nailed by that kid drama!”

“I really need to lose weight and get more rest but *ding ding* I have too much stress to take better care of myself just yet.”

It’s always something, out of my control and loud and flashy and annoying, that I seem powerless to overcome and just. Get. It. Done.

Bull shit.

I want to live my “new” life with intention, not at the whim of the levers and bumpers. I start a new job this week and I welcome my daughter home from spring break with fresh resolve to make our lives less drama-driven. Arizona is a beautiful place that feels more like home every day.

Rather than flinching at the bells and buzzers, I’m going to start enjoying the game and shooting for high score.

Aside

Concerning cup holders

Reprinted with permission of the Berthoud Surveyor

My 14-year-old car is perfect in many ways. I’ve had to do minimal maintenance on it beyond the usual and it’s only stranded me once. It’s not very pretty anymore but I do my best thinking in the dinged up Honda sedan and I dread the day I have to retire Snowbell. (Yes, Snowbell.)
The one notable problem with my car is that the interior has been bathed in so many beverages – mainly coffee and soda – that I’m sure I’ll never get it perfectly clean. The poor excuse for cup holders molded into the console is the glaring flaw in the car.
to go cupI hate them. They’re two different sizes and neither is the right size for any can of soda or average thermal coffee mug, which means the first corner I take results in tipped containers and flying liquid. If I’m lucky, it spills into the passenger side, but usually it’s on my leg. I’ve trained myself over the years to turn with one hand and hold the precarious coffee with the other, a technique that would surely be frowned upon by the state patrol.
I’m not sure when my next vehicle purchase will become necessary but I’ve vowed for years that the decision will center on the all-important cup holders. Of course mileage, reliability and horsepower will be taken into consideration, but no more caramel-macchiato-soaked pants for me. And I don’t think I’m alone in this automotive quest.
“It can make or break the deal,” agreed Lewie Puckett, the new car manager at Valley Nissan in Longmont. He explained that some car shoppers will research the car thoroughly online but decide against the vehicle once they see the cup holder situation in person. He added that the manufacturers definitely talk about the importance of the beverage storage.
Chris Gebhardt of Subaru of Loveland said it’s usually quantity over quality, with his buyers making sure there are enough in the back seat to accommodate passengers. As for the evolution of the cup holder, Gebhardt said, “They’ve definitely improved.”
Remember the flimsy plastic ones we used to hang on the door that never fit right or stayed put? Only slightly worse than mine.
The quantity and quality have not only improved, but exceeded my imagination. Many vehicles now offer beverage containers that keep your coffee warm, your water cool, and your drinks illuminated for easy night-time access. And if you have a big, thirsty brood, you may want to check out the Toyota Land Cruiser which has a full dozen holders.
We’re a mobile species, and many people in Northern Colorado commute substantial distances to their jobs or even use their vehicles as offices-on-the-go. The importance of the cup holder cannot be exaggerated. In fact, I suggest you bring your favorite souvenir insulated coffee cup to your next test drive.salesman
And while the law against texting-while-driving is a no-brainer, I urge legislators to look at the size and shape of vehicle cup holders for the next line of defense against careless driving. Or I could stop taking my coffee with me in the mornings, but that’s just crazy talk.

I’m dreaming of a Skype Christmas

Reprinted with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

Home for the holidays is a popular wish for many, though not always possible due to circumstances such as distance, work, weather and even war. Years ago the only way to bridge those distances was letter writing or expensive long-distance phone calls. Sentimental carols like “White Christmas” or my personal favorite, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” made the longing that much more poignant.

I always knew the holidays had arrived when I saw the commercial where the college boy arrives home to make coffee and surprise his family. Tears were guaranteed.

Let’s pretend I cry this pretty.

Now I’m assured an emotional meltdown by the recent commercial of ongoing conversations between a college girl and her widower father, via computer. What can I say — I’m an easy consumer target as soon as the first hall is decked.

Times they are a-changing.

The last two decades have seen a growth in technology that has changed the world and made the simple desire to be “home for the holidays” possible in spite of the miles. Cell phones, Internet service and social media have connected us on a global level. In 2003, three Estonian software developers released Skype, an application allowing proprietary voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP). Not only does the software allow instant messaging and voice calls, but with Web camera hardware on the computer or phone, callers can see their loved one on the other end in beautiful — sometimes blurry and possibly behind a second or two — living color.

Skype eventually garnered more than 600 million users and was bought by Microsoft in 2011 for 8.5 billion dollars. Several competitive applications have been developed since then, including Apple’s version, FaceTime. The customer need only download the free software and create an account, then add contacts to their list. If both parties use the video chat, they can talk face-to-face on computers or even smart phones. The bigger and better the screen, the closer the other person feels.

Besides enhancing long distance relationships everywhere, Skype has become an invaluable business and educational tool. Employers have used it to interview prospective hires without the expense of flying them in from elsewhere and, with multiple connections allowed, audio conferencing with far-flung participants is possible. It’s even been used to assist in language exchange for students around the world.

For those of us who dream of going to the cyber office in pajamas and bunny slippers, Skype meetings make that possible. Just put on a nice shirt, wipe the oatmeal from your chin and no one’s the wiser.

They’re not hanging on every word of your presentation…
they’re wondering if you have pants on.

Professional tip: don’t stand up unless you’re positively disconnected.

Being far from those we love at the holidays can definitely be made easier with video calling. Imagine the joy of seeing your niece open her gift while you watch her reaction, or sharing a New Year’s kiss with your boyfriend while on separate coasts. Enjoy a little sibling competition by comparing the golden hues of your Thanksgiving turkey with your sister in Buffalo.

Personal tip: if you’re Skyping with grandma while wearing the hideous snowman sweater she sent that you have no intention of keeping, be sure to hide the price tag and horrified expression.

Yes, technology is a wonderful thing at the holidays, but it’s still not perfect.

Change is good…

… and other annoying cliches I take issue with.

To say that my fiftieth year has brought about changes in my life would be an under-statement of laughable proportions. About a year ago I formulated a wild list of goals to complete before the big 5-0 date. I’m still making progress on it, but I didn’t factor in some of the variables. Some of the items don’t really mean the same to me now. Some things happened that made a few goals much more important. So I’m being flexible and open-minded.

Which all sounds reasonable except the dichotomy of being flexible and fifty is adorably NOT reasonable.

I suppose most of us have complained about change being decidedly unwelcome at times in our lives. Books like “Who Moved My Cheese?” deal specifically with our innate aversion to change.

I once had a friend who told me I wasn’t satisfied with changing one thing, but that I had to “blow up the whole damn picture.” (I’m sure it was a compliment, but I won’t over-think that.) I admit that when I embark on a new adventure — a move, a new business, a family — I tend to go big. Whole damn picture big.

Case in point: When I moved back to Colorado, I chose a town where I knew no one but the woman who sold me my house. (Of course, her husband happened to be the mayor so that helped.) Although I had no job or contacts or experience, when I saw a small, empty space available I decided to open an art gallery within 6 weeks. When my biological clock went off, I didn’t get another cat, I adopted a real live baby. Solo.

I hit the mid-century landmark with a bright eye to the future, but maybe less willingness to move my cheese — mainly out of fear I’ll forget where I put it, but that’s another post. My post-gallery job has expanded and evolved in the last year, allowing me to become a stronger writer and a more creative designer. It’s fun and it’s also relaxing. There is stress, but it was rewarded with several press awards earlier this year.

Change brings opportunity. – Nido Qubein

Then I was given a new computer. It’s a PC and I’m a Mac person. Let’s just say the muttered profanity coming out of my office lately is some of my best work.

Change is such hard work. – Billy Crystal

I’m in the first relationship I’ve been in for a dozen years, and it’s awesome! Well, except for the part where he folds towels differently than I do and I have to shave my legs more than three times a year, but I’ll get used to that, right?

In the past year my ‘baby girl’ — who is still in elementary school — shot up four inches, 20 pounds, and has decided to try on the sullen, moody, irrational teenager persona for size. I may be adding ‘collect military school brochures’ to next year’s list of goals.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. – Maya Angelou

There are numerous other little – and big – changes going on in my life right now and I’d like to know how to pace them, slow them down a little so I can better plan my tantrums in between each one. Maybe there’s a 12-step program for those of us unable (or unwilling) to cope with change. If so, there’s already a perfect quote on hand…

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

What about you? Do you go-with-the-flow when life throws you curves, or cross your arms and pout until it sinks in there’s not a damn thing you can do about it?

Mid-century defiance

Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

I recently passed that dreaded mid-century milestone, and once I finished crying over the AARP application I received in the mail, I realized that 50 isn’t quite what it used to be. Neither is 40, 60, 70 and so on, for that matter.

It’s not just my fresh perspective on the matter; the numbers back it up. In 1910 the average life expectancy in the United States didn’t go much past 50. It jumped to 70 by the time I was born 50 years ago and the current number, according to worldlifeexpectancy.com, is 78.2. Wow. Maybe 50 really is the new 30.

If you take the cold data out of the equation, there are examples of 50, then and now, abounding — in my life and the world around us. When my own mother turned 50 she was living in a retirement park in Southern California with her husband. Although they were considered “the kids” in the neighborhood, the thought of myself in that situation is, well, unthinkable.

Instead of golf and hip replacements, I’m busy with my fourth-grade daughter and retirement is a fairy tale. Later motherhood is just one facet of the new 50. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) verifies a noticeable increase in births after 40. Whether it’s career, later marriage, or an altered biological clock, the reasons are irrelevant.

The fact is I’m definitely not the only mom rocking gray hair at the school pick-up line.

That’s another perk of being 50 today — many of us have forsaken the ritual dying of the gray. My hairdresser confirmed (sadly) that much of her clientele has decided to embrace the silver in recent years. But even with the gray it’s harder to tell how old anyone is. Colorado’s active, healthy seniors look great no matter how many laugh lines and gray streaks they sport.

Our brains are younger too, by the way. U.S. Department of Education statistics from 2010 showed that 25 percent of college students in this country are over the age of 30, and a good chunk of them are even older. Mature students seek the mental stimulation and are more committed to academic success (probably because we’re paying for it ourselves) and, like the current generation, enjoy reinventing ourselves every few years.

Sure, part of it is out of necessity. The recession and subsequent job loss has forced many people of all ages to rethink their career choice or up their educational value to stay competitive in the field. But it’s also made us more creative. Instead of swallowing a bottle of Geritol in the face of losing their job to a 22-year-old, more seniors are starting their own businesses or capitalizing on their years of experience by offering consulting services.

Let’s face it, the new 50 — or 60 or 70 — does not mean retirement age anymore. I couldn’t even find the word “retired” in the definition of AARP on their website. If this is the new 30 and the average life expectancy continues to rise, then people won’t be whiling away their days in a rocking chair until they’re edging toward the century mark.

Although putting my feet up and reminiscing sounds lovely right now, I’m afraid it will have to wait until after I meet today’s deadline at work and take my kid to her play date and happy hour with the girls and …

I guess I’m too busy having fun to get old.

It’s not rude if you put a bow on it

(Reprinted with permission from the the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor)

Passive-aggressive –adj: “Of or relating to a personality that harbors aggressive emotions while behaving in a calm or detached manner.”

So much is written this time of year about the joy of giving, finding that perfect gift and the true meaning of Christmas. Well, if you’re like 89.6 percent of the world, you probably belong to a dysfunctional family that would give the Lohans a run for their money. And those with sane, normal families are undoubtedly blessed with wack-a-doodle friends that keep life interesting.

Let’s face it, gift giving — and receiving — with these loved ones is not always a fun or healthy process. Who isn’t a little tempted to send an ancient fruitcake to the grandmother who still refers to you by your sister’s name and sends you last year’s calendar that she gets free from her favorite charity? Subliminal message, be damned.

Just so you know, if anyone buys this for my kid I will unfriend, block and disown you so fast your head will spin.

Sometimes the passive-aggressive generosity starts at home. You know, the husband who buys you a brand new, state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner for Christmas because he obviously enjoys sleeping in the den for a week. Perhaps you have a loving wife who buys you a gym membership because there was the time you uttered the words ‘work’ and ‘out’ — not necessarily in that order, but she read between the lines.

One friend looked deep within to appreciate the thoughtful gift from her mother-in-law the year she received “The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands” by talk show psychologist Dr. Laura. However, based on the string of profanity in the thank you note, I’m not certain she looked deep enough.

My own mother is a sensitive yet practical gift giver, but I’ll never forget the year I received my traditional three pairs of underwear with a dual purpose. It was clear I could use a pair as a parachute if I ever needed to bail out of a plane. I tried to conceal my horror when I delicately questioned if they were the right size.

“What? Don’t you like them? They’re the same kind I wear,” she explained innocently. Hey, my mom is very cool, but I wasn’t quite ready to wear the same bloomers as someone 25 years my senior.

Some people are on the other end of the spectrum without realizing it. A woman told me she was tired of all the gifts she carefully chose for her in-laws ultimately winding up with their daughter, so she was inordinately proud of her solution this year to monogram everything. Points for passing passive and going straight to aggressive.

Countless stories of inappropriate gift certificates, hidden agendas and the blatant re-gifts litter our holiday memories like so much discarded wrapping paper. The key is smiling brightly while digging around for the receipt. When you have “colorful” friends and family, it can be a challenge to remember that time-honored adage, “It’s the thought that counts.”

Especially when you know exactly what they’re thinking.

Merry Christmas and many happy returns. ‘Tis the season to share – tell me some of your best/worst gifts with a hidden message.

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