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.

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What the world needs now…

…is love, sweet love and let’s throw in some kindness, dammit!

Simple-minded, idealistic, naïve? Probably, but I don’t care. The last half of 2012 was knotted with acts of horrific violence, political stupidity and other depressing events. Throw in a suffocating sinus infection, a seriously ill relative, various personal woes and some raging hormones, and my usual optimism was sorely tested.Image

But something very special happened after the unthinkable tragedy in Connecticut. One of my favorite news personalities, Ann Curry, innocently sparked a movement of simple, healing kindness on Twitter. The hashtag featured by most participants was #26acts in honor of the 26 people that lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

To help mend our hearts, Curry encouraged people to go out and commit 26 random acts of kindness and report back. The response was awe-inspiring with people everywhere sharing actions as simple as lending an ear to a friend in need, to feeding someone’s parking meter, to financially generous gifts such as paying off Christmas layaway accounts and more. Here are just a few samples I’ve culled from the #26acts search…

“Gave some cupcakes to a couple of garbage men #26acts #feelingood

“Helped an older gentleman who was having difficulty reading food labels while grocery shopping #26Acts #DigRespect

#26Acts for Jan – #8 Helped a lady find her car in the Walmart parking lot. She was very lost!”

“my friend and i had no cash on hand and it was freezing. cab driver gave us a ride for free. promised we’d pay it forward #26acts

While I love the notion, I admit I’m uncomfortable with tooting one’s own horn. I feel it takes away from the beautiful anonymity of a simple, thoughtful act to tell everyone what you did, but Ann recognized that sentiment and urged people to share in order to inspire others.

Either way, the story reminded me of several acts throughout the years that were bestowed upon me and reinforced how good people really are. There was a few Christmases ago when I still owned a struggling art gallery and one of my artists walked in dressed as Santa. She handed me a card and wished us a Merry Christmas. After she left I opened it and found $250 in cash. My daughter asked why I was crying. This holiday season, we had snow and I went out to shovel my sidewalk only to discover it had already been cleared. I saw footsteps leading to my neighbor’s house and thanked her for the kindness, but she said it wasn’t her – that her walk was shoveled too. We looked and saw that someone had thoroughly shoveled the entire block.

Thanks to Curry’s idea I committed a few of my own random acts recently and she was right – each one helped warm my heart where the latest bleak headline had chilled it. It’s not a new notion to implore everyone to carry their holiday spirit throughout the year, but this is a movement that should know no season. The above samples all occurred in recent days and I think they’ll continue on.

As our country continues to square off over gun rights, taxes, or who should go to the Super Bowl (Denver, of course), I think we can all agree that being kind to one another is a human necessity.

Image

One of my daughter’s random acts last year. It contained everything but the kitchen sink.

Please share any random acts of kindness you were on the receiving end of that brightened your day or changed your life, be it yesterday or a decade ago. It’s amazing how someone’s thoughtfulness can stay with us forever. Then go and pay that blessing forward.

Happy New Year, my friends.

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?

Crawling out of my cave

Don’t you just hate when someone has brilliant ponderings about …well, everything, and they share it with the world in the form of a blog only to drop off the face of the earth?

Yeah, me too.

Not that I ever pretended to be fanatically regular about my thoughts, nevertheless I’m embarrassed about the gap between now and my last post. I actually have a whole list of subjects I needed/wanted to tackle such as the status of my 50 before 50 list (yes, my birthday was almost 6 months ago) or the top ten stories of my life in 2011.

So what happened? Life, of course.

I’m still writing for my day job but my creative writing – which includes this bloggy corner of my world – took a little hiatus. So much going on in the past several months but not enough time, energy, mojo or inspiration, I guess. (Just pick your excuse – I have extras.)

In this blog downtime: I’ve received an extra gig at work that involved a bit of a raise and a lot of mind-numbing meetings, continued mothering a very interesting, yet challenging child who has joined a local 4-H club (why did no one tell me what a HUGE commitment 4-H is? Hmm?), returned to the land of cable TV (and why did no one tell me about all of the midnight episodes of Househunters International?), fellinlove, unearthed the floor of my house, rediscovered my love for movies NOT made by Disney or Pixar, in a theater that SERVES WINE, and renewed my hatred of local wildlife with annual roof repairs resulting from four-legged attic squatters.

So frickin' cute UNLESS they are creating a timeshare in your attic with multiple entrances.

Among other things.

Some of the life lessons I’ve learned during this blog break? Let me share a few…

• The local school district spends an incredible amount of time discussing how much time they should spend discussing stuff. None of that stuff involved orange folders.

• 4-H is a wonderful organization for kids who love horses and other animals, but instilling its values in my kid involves a lot of time (in which I’ve discovered I’m not really a farm person. I KNOW, RIGHT!?) I wonder if we can incorporate the raccoons and squirrels tearing apart my house into a 4-H project?

• Now that the novelty of cable has worn off, I still watch the same handful of shows that I did before cable. Go figure.

• God surely intended grownup movies (not to be confused with adult movies) to be enjoyed in theaters that serve wine and I’m now annoyed by all other theaters.

• My daughter is a handful — no, wait. I already knew that. Fortunately, I adore that kid.

Twitter – creating love connections in 140 characters or less.

• Love is still as grand as it used to be — and yes, even better.

• Lastly, I’ve learned that except for the irritating AARP letters, life does indeed begin at 50.

And what have you been up to these many months??

 

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.

Baby, you can drive my car

I think I’m comfortable enough now to tell you all about my magic car. No, it doesn’t fly, although it really should. Seriously — look at the advances in technology: smart phones, high-def flat screen TVs the size of a football field and games that allow me to bowl in my own living room, minus the ugly shoes. Why don’t our cars fly yet?!

But I digress. I have a magic car and her name is Snowbell.

Snowbell is cleverly disguised as a 10-year-old POS to avoid rampant magic car theft in the region.

My daughter and I named her as a show of gratitude for years of reliable service and minimal repairs. Maybe if we personalize her, she’ll hang in there for another few years. One can hope (with all my heart and crappy credit score) that will happen.

Durable Honda genes aside, Snowbell’s magic is a little less tangible than a well-built transmission. Looking at the photo you’re probably not impressed by the white sedan that looks like it hasn’t been washed in the past year. Can I help it if my favorite parking spot at work is near a tree full of angry little birds with questionable digestive issues?

Underneath the dents, scratches, wonky driver-side wiper and copious amounts of bird shit, the car is magic. Behold:

I have a typical crazy morning getting my willful child ready for school before dropping her off with an air kiss and a sigh of relief. My drive to work is only ten or fifteen minutes but in that time my mind clicks into problem-solving mode. With laser focus, I prioritize my agenda for the day and easily visualize the tasks being knocked down like bowling pins. (Again, minus the shoes.)

The months I spent writing my first (un-publishable) novel were some of the most energized I’ve ever had and many, many hours were spent in the car — the magic car — solving plot knots or adding new threads of the story. Passersby undoubtedly enjoyed watching the wild woman bouncing in her seat, slapping the steering wheel with literary inspiration.

After a long day at work I find myself cataloguing all the chores waiting at home. Willful child’s homework, dinner, leftover deadline writing for work. I am empowered with the determination to walk in the door and get it all done (without drama) and hit the sack in plenty of time to achieve those desired seven hours of sleep.

[Insert fist pump here]

The problem with a magic car is you have to leave it eventually. Often, actually. And when I step out of the car the magic goes the way of the exhaust coming out of her butt and into the atmosphere. I walk into work and find my schedule has been blown to hell and I promptly forget the first three items on my to-do list because I just want my coffee.

The mind-bending idea I had for my current Great American Novel eludes me when I sit to write it down. Texting-while-driving is illegal in Colorado so I assume fine-tuning-witty-dialog-while-driving is also frowned upon. The state patrol doesn’t recognize magic cars.

When I pull into the driveway, still full of ambition for the night ahead, a resigned part of my brain knows what will happen when I open the door. So I hand the house key to my kid and just sit there in my magic car for a few minutes, knowing I’m about to forget how productive I planned to be in the coming hours.

So what good is my magic car if I can’t capture those bursts of brilliance and motivation after I’ve closed the door and hit the remote-lock that only works on three of the four doors? Maybe that’s why some people live in their cars — they’re clinging to that mystical power of productivity!

Okay maybe not, but I have thought a lot about this (clearly) and I think I’ve hit upon the solution: I need a driver. If someone drove me around in my magic car I could sit in the back and write down every brainstorm as it hits, catch up on emails, work my social networking to an extent heretofore unexplored.

Let’s face it people, I could probably come up with a cure for cancer if I had a driver on a cross-country road trip.

Like the Beatles, I can’t actually afford to pay anyone to drive me around yet, but I’d definitely ante up a percentage of the Nobel prize I’m bound to win for that cancer thing. Serious applicants only need apply.

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