Wednesday, December 26, 2012

This is a test...

Just a quick test post as I do some year-end clean up.

But while I'm at it, here's a little piece of inspiration. I drive past this regularly and it makes me smile every time.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Anatomy of a Scam Email

I get a few of these a year. 

Scam emails are an inevitable hazard if you do business on the Internet. 

They tend to be more subtle than your typical personal scam letters, which usually appeal to greed. "Hi, can you help me get money I'm not supposed to have. I'll give you a huge cut." OR "There's a pile of money here that you know really doesn't belong to you. But if you give me your banking information (and everything else I need to steal your identity) I'll make you rich!"

Scam letters aimed at your business tend to look like more legitimate queries. But if you look at them carefully, you can see the telltale signs that they mean trouble. 

There are a lot of hints to indicate that you're dealing with a scam email. Among them, vague references to your services and location without showing that they have ever read your website. Often the recipient's name or the name of his/her business is not even used.

Typically these scams include an offer to send you a check in excess for your fee, which you're supposed to either distribute among other vendors or refund the difference.  The scammers' goal is for you to deposit the check so they can somehow cancel it and suck the funds from your account.

This isn't just for wedding professionals. Anyone with a business could be targeted. Here's an email I received recently. Hopefully this will help you avoid a scam.

How to recognize a scam email.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ever Green

In case you've been wondering, our tree is still up.

As I mentioned last year, it's been up since 2009. I am sure this seems ridiculous to most people, but it's become a bit of a totem for me.

The tree has stood through job loss, an earthquake (albeit a tiny one) and two massive storms, the loss of two of our beloved cats and bills, bills, bills.

As the pressures of adulthood (which at 42 years old I have decided I will never get used to) continue to mount, the tree stands in defiance of it all.

Somewhere, deep in the recesses of my mind is a much younger me, probably in footsie pajamas, wishing the tree could stay up all year even as pine needles littered the carpet like prickly confetti.

This tree stands for that part of me that thought, "some day, when I grow up, I'll keep the tree up for as long as I want."

Of course, 10 year old me wanted more from life than just to have a the tree up all year. So if anyone has a spare light saber lying around, you know where to send it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Slow Cooker Lasagna

I haven't had the combination of time and energy to cook in ages. I just started a VERY short contract job and also teaching this year's Celebrant class. So today was my last chance, for a while to experiment in the kitchen.

I had seen some recipes online for lasagna cooked in a slow cooker. The proposed advantages being fewer pots needed and a long, slow, hands-off cooking time. I figured I'd give it a shot.

It is by no means my grandmother's lasagna. I cut a lot of corners, used sauce from a jar, didn't have some of the ingredients (tomato paste, oregano) I would have like to include. But, it is tasty.

What stands out the most is the consistency of the noodles. Because they go into the slow cooker dry, rather than pre-boiled, the consistency is different. The noodles melt into the other ingredients more. It's not unpleasant, but it's not my favorite part of the dish either.

I am thinking of boiling the noodles next time and cutting the time in the slow cooker. That way I can skip using the oven, but still get the regular consistency of the pasta.

I'd almost consider skipping the noodles altogether, but there is something way to decadent about a big pot of melted cheese and meat sauce...


Rosie approves.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Heroes of Hurricane Sandy

I am using my blog this week to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who worked so hard to keep people safe during Hurricane Sandy and those who are working tirelessly to put our little corner of the world back in order.

Dearest to my heart are the members of the BTUSAR Squad 86, of which my husband is the training officer and of which I have recently become a member. While I was holding down the fort at home, the men and women of the Squad were out in the winds and rising flood waters helping people escape to safety. 

I'll let the press release bellow tell the rest. I am just so proud of all of them.

Richard Zeller, Assistant Chief
Berkeley Township Underwater Search and Rescue (BTUSAR) Squad 86

Local Volunteer Dive Squad Saves over 100 People from Hurricane Sandy

Volunteer Members of BTUSAR Risked their Lives While Their Own Homes Were Being Damaged

NOVEMBER 3, 2012

The first call came in about 9AM Monday morning (October 29, 2012) as winds from the leading edge of the storm system began pushing tidal waters inland, past the barrier islands and toward Berkeley Township and other Jersey Shore communities.

For the next 52 hours, as Hurricane Sandy, approached, made landfall, and passed overhead, bringing with it record tides and floodwaters that reached up to two miles inland, the members of the all volunteer Berkeley Township Under Water Search and Rescue (BTUSAR) Squad 86 worked tirelessly to rescue local residents.

Where local police and fire vehicles were unable to traverse the deepening waters and strong tidal surge, BTUSAR members came with boats and, wearing wetsuits, even waded through the chest-deep waters. They guided, carried, and ferried local residents from their flooding homes.

"We had four teams working on rotation plus our command station." Says Richard Zeller, BTUSAR Assistant Chief. "At last count, we rescued over hundred residents."

And that's not all. BTUSAR's Training Officer, Paul Skehan notes, that BTUSAR's squad house also ended up serving as a shelter for those rescued from the storm. Says Skehan, "Our team returned from a run to find a police lieutenant at the squad house with his laptop. A tree had fallen on the generators of the dispatch station and shelters were full. From that point on, the victims stayed with us until they could be bused to safety. At one point I came back from a call to find every available space filled with people sleeping or getting warm."

A tree damaged by Hurricane Sandy's winds lies beside the BTUSAR Squad house that sheltered victims of Hurricane Sandy's floodwaters Monday night.

It's worth mentioning that Sunday night, when BTUSAR went on call gathering at the Squad House to prepare vehicles and equipment they did not expect to be activated until after Hurricane Sandy had passed. Public announcements by Governor Christie as well as communications from local officials had been that first responders would not be called to rescue those who had ignored the mandatory evacuation orders, until the storm had passed.
But in the hours after that first call Monday morning, the BTUSAR team worked tirelessly and selflessly to rescue those in Sandy's path—even as their own homes were threatened.
Says Zeller, "During this storm I've seen the best humanity has to offer and some of the worst. I want to commend our officers and crew for putting themselves on the line and making the sacrifices they did to make sure that others were safe.
When asked about finding that his own home had been demolished by a falling tree Monday night when he was on duty, Zeller responded, "I don't care. My kids, family , and friends are all safe. We helped hundreds of families and that is what matters."
BTUSAR is an all volunteer organization. They meet twice a week for training sessions covering everything from first aid to under water search and recovery. For the last two years, they have also served as the safety team at speedboat races for the Jersey Outlaws racing association.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, BTUSAR, while standing down, is still serving the community. Yesterday, Zeller and other members of the squad raised a boat that had sunk in a lagoon with 150 gallons of fuel on board. The six-hour operation not only saved the boat, but also prevented the environmental damage that would have resulted from spilled fuel. Today, and in the days to come, BTUSAR members are making themselves available for body recovery efforts.

BTUSAR Squad 86 has been serving the residents of Berkeley Township and surrounding areas since 1979. They are an all volunteer unit of trained underwater rescue and recovery divers with EMTs and commercial divers on staff. Their mission is any and all marine rescue emergency response above or below the water line and to respond to mutual aid requests in any other emergency within the realm of the unit's training.

For more information about BTUSAR contact Assistant Chief Richard Zeller at or by phone at 609-661-8207.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Better Meme

I keep seeing these memes going around saying "when someone asks how you you're doing, don't dwell on your troubles, focus on the positive."

While I do understand the idea of focusing on the positive--and that it can help a person get through rough times, I also know how difficult it can be to ask for help when you need it.

I know there were plenty of times in the past when I answered, "how are you" with "I'm fine" but I should have said "things are bad and I need help."

There are a lot of people who suffer from Depression or other problems (financial for example) who answer "I'm fine" because they don't want to trouble others with their problems.

I've moved past that. I prefer to think that when someone asks how you're doing, it's because they care to know. I one doesn't care, there are other questions to ask to make casual conversation. How's the weather? Read any good books lately? Can you pass the salt?

These are hard times for a lot of people--my little family included—but I've made no secret of that. Wookie and I are lucky in that we have some great friends around us—and family too. I would wish the same for everyone.

Wouldn't it be better to encourage people to ask for help if they need it?

A better meme would be, "If you ask how someone is doing—listen for the answer." Or "When a friend asks how you're doing, remember a true friend wants to know."

I don't care if you wrap the message in pictures of kittens and bunnies or little old ladies, or what have you. The package doesn't matter. What matters is squashing the idea that people should suffer in silence, spouting rainbows and unicorns so as not to bring others down.

I'd like to think we're better than that, or that we should aim to be.

New in my Zazzle shop...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bouncing Back

It's been a very rough few weeks here. It began with our Biggles passing away. We had been hoping for more time with him and his presence is so sorely missed. I still have not been able to write about it, though I will eventually post a tribute to him, like I did for Frankie.

A week to the day later, we found out that someone had cloned one of our bank cards and drained one of our checking accounts. And then, because we weren't having enough fun, a week and a few days after that, I lost my job.

Losing my job came as a complete shock. I was in the middle of several ongoing projects. Everyone was happy with my work—and said so. To the best of my knowledge, my contract was going to be renewed and paperwork was underway.

It was the Tuesday following Labor Day. I was in up to my ears and having a very productive day when the phone rang. It was the consulting agency that signed my checks and my rep with the agency said, "we've just received a very strange email from the client. Today is your last day."

I'm in my forties. I've had my fair share of jobs. I've never lost a job like that. No warning. No explanation. It was three-thirty in the afternoon and in less than two hours, I was going to be unemployed.

To say I was in shock doesn't even begin to describe what I was feeling. I had no idea what we were going to do. I didn't even have a final week's worth of pay to look forward to, just my earnings for that Tuesday, minus the usual taxes and the cost of health insurance for two. (It didn't amount to much.)

It angered me to be dismissed with so little care—to know that my work could be deemed unnecessary and unwanted by someone I'd never met. I'm not surprised though. It's the way companies operate these days the people who do the work don't matter. (Job-providers my ass!)

Wookie and I thought this job was a new beginning for us. We were hoping to finally get climbing out of the morass of debt that my little family has been trapped in. It's amazing how quickly that hope was extinguished.

After the initial shock started to wear off I had another battle to fight. I could feel Depression looming. Suddenly, for the first time in many years, I was hitting the old lows that dominated my twenties. It wasn't just the emotional lows—being sad is a perfectly justifiable reaction to getting fired. Suddenly, I was saddled with the physical side of Depression. The aches and heaviness I had not felt in years.

I fought Depression in college and throughout my twenties. I know Depression lies. But it this time I had something tangible pushing me into the darkness. It did not help that when I applied for unemployment, I had to watch a video about resources "to help me find a job and and keep it." Insult added to injury because I had done nothing to earn my dismissal.

The ache of depression pushed my shoulders down and made my joints hurt. I steeled myself for battle. There was too much to do and I could not afford to be in that pit again. I had obligations to meet. While the day-job was over, I still had other work to do and more than that, I had Wookie.

In my darkest moments, Wookie was there. He brought me roses and told me how much he loves me and needs me. Wookie reminded me of the difference I make—Wookie, who has also been struggling to find work, but still gives back. He trains a search and rescue squad to help others in times of crisis and has never hesitated to help someone else in need. If giving back could pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads, we'd be set.—Wookie reminded me of the lives I touch as a Celebrant and teacher. Loss of the day-job had not changed that.

The Social Media course I teach my fellow Celebrants every summer was due to start that Thursday night. I had to pull myself together. I also had several weddings coming up that needed to be revised, written or officiated. My other professional life was still intact and this work—while it usually has to take the back-burner to the higher-pay and health insurance of the day job—was important.

The first session of my social media class was just one hour, but I felt immeasurably better afterwards. The heaviness and pains of Depression had faded. Was I still sad? Sure. Was I still afraid of what the future would bring? Absolutely! But I was reminded that I still had work with a purpose.

People tie so much of their identities to work. Take that away and you can hurt someone on more than a financial level. I think there are two kinds of work. The kind you do for the paycheck and the kind you do to make a contribution. If you're lucky, you get to do both at once. Sadly, I think many people don't ever look past the paycheck. Maybe they don't think they can.

My day job as a technical writer was a paycheck job. I enjoyed the people I worked with. I enjoyed the challenge and always worked to exceed expectations. I even enjoyed the products I was working on. But at the end of the day, I don't believe lives were touched or improved by what I worked on for 40-hours a week. When I walked away at the end of the day, I had money but little else. The same can be said for most of the 9-5 jobs I've had.

I believe my work as a Life-Cycle Celebrant® makes the world a better place. It glorifies Love. It honors the individuals, couples, and families I serve. I tell their stories, because they are important enough to be heard. I respect and honor their wishes and help I them celebrate in ways that are unique, because each person's experience of life is unique.

When I walk away after a ceremony, I feel satisfied. I know I've made a difference. This may sound like just so much fluff, but I've been the client and I know how it touched my life to be heard and have my wishes honored. I've also had the honor of hearing from clients and their friends and family about what their ceremonies meant to them.

When I teach my fellow Celebrants, I know more lives will be touched by what they carry forward. It all ripples out like rings from a stone tossed in the water.

So here I am looking for a new day job and I know that there may come another day when an employer decides that my contribution is unimportant and lets me go.  Luckily for me, I know that my work as a Celebrant is important and always will be.

I'm never going to get rich as a Celebrant, though my hope remains to eventually make a full-time career of it. But for now, as some parts of our world come crashing in on us, I know that no matter where Wookie and I end up, we will always have each other and I will always have Celebrancy as away to contribute to the world. What I get back from Wookie and Celebrancy is a wealth that can't be measured.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Calling All Biggles Fans

My Cat Biggles needs surgery for a mass on his large intestine. After all we went through with Frankie, I admit to being a bit of a wreck. We've been working with the vet, treating a mysterious array of symptoms. Now we know where the mass is.

The vet was supposed to remove it today, but when she got in there she realized it was a bigger job and required a surgeon.

Please feel free to spread your good wishes and check in for updates for Biggles on his Facebook Page or on Twitter @BigglesSays.

Until this crisis is over all proceeds from my Zazzle Shop will go to paying for Biggles' medical expenses.

I have a variety of items. Please consider getting something for yourself or as a gift. Most items can be customized and if you don't see one of my photos on something you're looking for, let me know.

create & buy custom products at Zazzle

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pon Farr: Why I Love Being Married to a Geek

Conversation with my husband last night while watching Star Trek (2009)...

Me: So by changing the timeline, those Romulans have unleashed a new, more emotional, and more vengeful Spock on the universe.

Paul: Should make Pon Farr interesting.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Single Shade of Grey: Sometimes a Thank You Means No Thank You

A few months ago I found myself in an unexpected position. I had to say no thank you without actually saying it.

After a very long dry spell I finally had a job interview. I prepared for days—researching the company, scraping together money to print new business cards and gathering appropriate writing samples. I had not been on a job interview in years and so I read all I could on questions to ask and answers to have. I prepared to present myself as exactly what they needed me to be.

Things were going very well. On paper, I was a great match for the position. My writing samples were a near perfect match for their own documentation. The people were nice and friendly. It wasn't going to be interesting work, but it was work I am good at and the company appeared to value the contributions of its writing staff.

I was getting ready to ramp up the charm for the final push. I had researched the company, I had my mental checklist of questions to ask about the position, and answers to questions like "where do you see yourself in five years?" It wasn't my ideal job, they were not big on telecommuting, but my little family needed the paycheck and I could make this work.

I had one more person to meet with and I was asked if I wanted a look around to see the workspace. I am so glad I said yes because that is when they lost me.

It was as if the office had been designed around my own personal list of depression triggers. High-walled grey cubes, the color of a rainy day in winter, sat in a field of matching grey carpet in a windowless area. The few people that were there were working in complete silence and, as I was taken through the office, I didn't see one personal item in any of the workspaces. It was sterile, uninspiring, and stifling.

I had already met with two people and those potential co-workers I had spoken with had been enthusiastic about the company but had described a typical work day as "heads down" and the office itself was in the middle of nowhere. So I could see there would be little in the way of conversation during the day and nowhere to escape to for lunch. I imagined what it would be like to work there in the winter, to go from the grey of early morning to 8 or 9 hours of silent grey on grey to the gloom of a commute that would have me home well after dark. It was not a good picture.

Between the dull work, the commute cutting into my time with Wookie and my Celebrant work (the two things that keep me sane and centered), and the incredibly dreary work environment, I realized that the worst case scenario would be if they offered me the job.

I'm sure this may sound ridiculous to a lot of people. I know some would say I should have sucked it up—that work is work—but having a job wasn't going to do me and Wookie any good if it pushed into the deep grey funk of Depression. I've been there and done that—I have no desire to go back if I can help it.

So I became a bit of a cold fish for the rest of the interview. I am sure the lead interviewer noted a drop in my enthusiasm even if she didn't know why. I wasn't in a position to refuse a job if it was offered to me, but I knew this job would not be good for me.

We entered the "Do you have any questions?" phase of the interview. I simply responded (repeatedly) that they had given me a lot to think about.

When I talked with Wookie after the interview, he was supportive. We discussed the possible ramifications on my unemployment should I actually be offered the position and then turn it down. We agreed that, while we needed the money, it would do us little good if my mental health wound up in the toilet as a result.

That was when the world's most non-committal thank you letter was born.
 Dear [People I Interviewed With]: 
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me yesterday about the [writer] position at Company X. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about Company X and its [writing] department and to see your workspace. 
I was impressed with what I learned about the company and how it operates. I was also pleased to see that its [writing] staff is a valued part of the organization. It’s nice to see how much you all enjoy working there. 
I am pleased to know that my past experience and writing samples are similar to what you already have in place. If you have any more questions about my experience or skills, please let me know. 
I never heard back from them.
While there was never a guarantee I'd get that job anyway, I'm glad I acted against getting it. A short while later I was hired for a better job, one where the work is interesting and I can telecommute.

It's the next best thing to being able to work solely for myself. I'm more productive on my own and I don't bother anyone with my need to read things aloud to work out just the right wording. My home office is full of the things that inspire me. My commute is a walk down the hall. When I'm done with the day job, I can take care of Celebrant business without dealing with an hour plus of traffic first and when I need a bit of conversation, there's always a Wookie or a cat to talk to.


Monday, June 18, 2012

My Latest Creation:Byzantine & Beads Bracelet

I made this as a birthday gift for my sister. Glad to see my new chain maille skills are coming in handy.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I Met The Bloggess (Pt 2) #Furiously Happy

This was my Facebook status a few days ago...

Anyone who knows me knows that I can't leave the house without a lot of stuff. And the amount of stuff I need to carry tends to be in direct proportion to the amount of stress I am or have recently been under.

Between not knowing what is going to happen with the house, starting a new job, having a load of Celebrant work to do, and coming to NYC this week (I am not comfortable in city environments), this is what I needed to bring with me to the Blog World Expo today.

Now many people have benefited from "the bag" in all it's forms over the years. My sister likes to play "What's not in Crissy's purse." Over the years. I have pulled out such things as electrical tape, safety pins, USB cables, hair clips... the list goes on.

Today was a milestone for the Bag. I had a chance to see Jenny Lawson,  The Bloggess, again. Yesterday, I had her sign my friend Cindy's book. (Read Cindy's blog, she's also very funny!)   Today I asked The Bloggess to sign mine, but they didn't have pens out for her yet. So, from the bag, I produced a black Sharpie, which I gave her.

So now my bag has come to the aid of a personal hero of mine and I am (as she says) furiously happy!

I hope to write more about this week later when I am caught up with work and better rested. Suffice to say I have had a good time and I'm thrilled to have a signed copy of her book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened--which you should all read because it is HILARIOUS!

I Met The Bloggess!

It is always nice when you get to meet someone you admire and they turn out to be every bit as nice and funny as the seem online.

Friday, April 6, 2012

In Which I Remember to Think First

I can be a bit reactionary. 

This is especially true when I am tired or not feeling well (as I am today) and my reactions often works in phases of worry>suspicion> righteous indignation> (return to start and repeat).  Which is why today I give myself a gold star for how I ultimately dealt with the three seemingly random text messages I received this morning--all some variation on "My prayers are with you today." 

Reaction 1: Worry

Given recent events my first thoughts were," Shit! What happened now?" I wondered, was someone hurt? Who died?

As I steeled myself to face one more horrible thing, I woke up enough to remember that people don't just text in those situations.

I stared at my phone again. No missed calls. No voice messages threatening to reveal some new doom.

I went back to the text messages again. Was it a wrong number? But there were three of them, all from different numbers.

Now, my "worry response" to perceived emergencies is to go into rescue mode. But finding nothing that needed helping/fixing/or saving, I moved into

Reaction 2: Suspicion

My next thought was that this must be some kind of scam, but as far as I could tell none of the messages included a link, so how would such a scam work?

I took a moment to Google text messaging scams. I didn't see anything of relevance.

Maybe it was something else? All three messages had the same theme. Was this some massive organized attempt at proselytizing via text message?

I moved quickly towards

Reaction 3: Righteous Indignation

I realized it was Good Friday and my theory became more plausible.

I thought, "Do they expect that you will react and send a response--thus setting yourself up for an endless text conversation about how God loves you and you should join their church? "

Now I was getting pissed. Nothing raises my hackles like the arrogance of people who think I (or anyone else) need to be saved from my own spiritual beliefs.

I considered tweeting and posting on FB to see if anyone else had encountered this phenomena. In the back of my mind an angry blog post was already being composed.

It was at about that point when put the brakes on.  Indulging in angry emails and posts usually lead to trouble. I have a system of self-imposed waiting periods specifically for situations like this. 

It was time to take a step back. 

I looked back at the text messages again. One was signed by a familiar name--but a common one. I decided, to Google the phone numbers. Two were unfamiliar but my search showed the numbers were local. The third, the one that was signed, was not local, but after scrolling down through the search results, I came upon a last name to go with the familiar first--a friend of my friend who was in the hospital.

That friend had sent the first text message of the day saying her surgery had been postponed and would we route for [her] Yankees as she would miss the game.

Now it all made sense. These texts were in response to her text--which I had not noticed went to a group--my response probably went out to everyone as well. --Which probably means that amidst all of those heartfelt texts that have now circulated amongst my friend's friends, everyone has probably had a moment who wonder who sent this message:

Good Luck! (Go Yankees!)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ending Radio Silence

I haven't written in a while. The last few weeks have been a roller coaster and I have been stuck about how to write about it and how much to say. I've also been very busy living it.

I had one great week where I booked several weddings for 2012. It was an amazing week and I was giddy with success.

The next week we found out that we don't qualify for refinance. While there are some things left to be doneso we don't have a time frame yetwe know we're losing the house. So that really killed the mood.

The first thing I did was send an email to immediate family. It was an announcement and a request. I listed things that would be helpful to hear and things we didn't need to hear. After that, I spread the word on Facebook and via email to more friends. It's nerve-wracking to admit to the world that you're in troublethat your best efforts to keep your head above water have not been enough. Having got the word out and received a response, I can say that while we face some uncertainty, we have a lot of support.

Over the next two weeks, I was called about three potential jobs.  I had two interviews for one, but have not been called back. That's alright though, I don't think we're a great match.

All of this lead me to some reflection. Wookie and I talked about success and failure. I've never measured success in terms of money. Losing my full-time job last year didn't impact my self-image that much because it was just what I did for money.  Don't get me wrong, I take pride in my work as an editor and technical writer. I do a fantastic job for my business writing clients* and they have always been happy with my work.  But my real calling will always be Celebrancy and teaching. The business writing doesn't touch lives the way Celebrancy and teaching my Celebrant students does.  
*I consider full-time employers clients too.

The knowledge that we will be losing the house though, caused me to call some things into question. I know we're not alone. There are people who are much worse off than us. But I found myself in a dark moment where I had to wonder if my definition of success could handle the material realities of what many would define as failure.

I have to say I am definitely married to the right man for me. Wookie defines success as I doin lives touched. While we've both struggled to make a living in this economy, he's never stopped helping people. Right now he's the training officer for a volunteer search and rescue dive squad, and while he looks for a job as an EMT, he keeps taking courses, training, learning more. We've both lost count of the number of people he's helped along the way.

Wookie reminded me that we share the same view of what's important. He told me about his Dad and his uncles–how he learned from them the value of making an impact on someone's life and how there is more to the world than one's net worth.–We especially talked about his uncle Des, who I had the pleasure to meet on just a few occasions and who was, maybe one of the sweetest people ever.

Last week Des passed away. We knew it was coming, he'd been ill for some time, but it's still sad. Here was a man whose love for his wife Margaret will always be a model for me. Even as Alzheimer's stripped the world away one memory at a time he held on to her. What an amazing love.

And so, I have perspective again. It may seem that the world is crashing down on our ears. I look at our not very neat house and try to wrap my head around packing while Wookie looks for a place for us and the cats to live. I worry about the practical things and getting it all done while tending to my Celebrant students, and my clients, and everything else. But at the end of the day, wherever we wind up, I know we'll be together, doing what we do. And that's what really matters.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Conversations With Wookie

2 minutes ago...

Me: Studied Shakespear for four years and I still can't spell Renaissance

Wookie: If you wanted to spell Renaissance, you should have studied history!

Renaissance Wedding Revisted

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cupboard Love

The Wookie and I have been very busy this week so our Valentine's Day activities have been stretched out over the course of several days.

Here is Wookie's latest expression of love. He was down with the dive squad near a deli that makes a sandwich I love so he brought me one last night.

It has horseradish cheese and dressing! I can feel the last vestiges of my most recent cold running in fear of its spiciness.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Why the World Needs Editors

Part of my work as an editor over the years has been content editing.  I would look for items that could be misconstrued or were unfortunately placed and make changes to avoid possibly embarassing situations for the author or publisher. One gem was a word problem in a sample math test that started with "If you had two blue balls..." 

I think businesses should hire content editors too. They need someone who will do a walk-through, looking at all the signs and logos and the context in which they are displayed. 

Tonight I found myself grabbing a quick bite at a well known fast-food chain. I knew it was not my healthiest meal choice and I was furthur reminded by this sign on display over a counter next to where customers pick up their orders.

Note to self: Eat more salad.
I'm sure some marketing department thought this sign would make customers think "I could go for an energy drink right now." Instead, I looked at my meal and thought, "Eat enough of this and I’ll need a de-fib...but not that kind."

One of my favorite bloggers, Jenny Lawson (A.K.A. The Bloggess) posted a picture today that supports my thesis. This store also needs an edit. 

(For the record, I would not, could not with a fox...)

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Coupon Thing

For the last few weekends, my Sundays have revolved around coupons. Now, I’ll never be up to the level of those folks on shows like Extreme Couponing. I don’t have 40 hours a week to devote to this, or dozens of people sending me their coupon inserts. I use a stack of envelopes to keep it all sorted and I don’t have a massive spreadsheet to track it all. BUT, last week I managed to spend $140 on groceries and get $80 worth of that for free. So, it’s proved to be a worthwhile pursuit.

My system is simple. On Sunday, I buy two copies each of several papers. (I am still working out which ones have the good coupons. I have noticed that they all don’t carry the same coupons.) I cut the coupons we are likely to use. Even for brands we don’t normally buy—because if it is free or deeply discounted, I might try another brand over our usual.

Coupons get sorted and go into envelopes that are loosely organized by category like Dairy, Frozen, Meat, etc. As I put new coupons in, I sort through the contents of the envelope. Expired coupons get tossed and soon to expire coupons get clipped to the outside of the envelope. This also lets me see what I have coupons for and I tend to remember them when I go through the weekly circular to make my BUY list…More on that later.

What I Clip

My ongoing debate between going eco-friendly with chores or leaning on convenient products is often exacerbated by coupons. Eco-friendly does not win as much as I would like when I shop, but I will continue to work on that.

Brand loyalty gets questioned more when I am using coupons. I start asking myself if I buy one brand over the other because I am used to that brand or because I actually like that brand better. For example, I won’t choose Pepsi over Coke—even if they are giving it away, because saving money on something I won’t use is more wasteful than buying something at full price and actually consuming it.

On the flip side, I use a lot of jarred pasta sauce and have tried a few new brands when I have coupons AND they are on sale because my brand loyalty was mainly about laziness and buying what I knew.

I try to avoid clipping coupons for things we should not be eating. I allow for a few treats, but try not to introduce any new junk into our diet. I know I have to be careful about not letting coupons influence me to buy what we don’t need just because it’s a bargain. There are always temptations in the coupons. This week it was frozen White Castle Hamburgers—something that looks tasty but also something we really shouldn’t be eating. So I keep thinking of that Monty Python routine where the ladies are having tea. There is an engine on the table and the one woman asks the other, “Why did you buy that?” and the other woman answers, “It was a bargain!”

It’s good to remember that companies don’t put out coupons to do us favor in these hard times. They issue coupons to get us to buy things we would not normally buy.

This is not to say that I don’t clip some coupons for things we don’t need. I have an envelope in my coupon box labeled “Karma Coupons” In the envelope are coupons for diapers, dog food, and sanitary products that I don’t use—items that may be an expensive necessity to someone else. Those coupons are for leaving on the shelf as we shop. More than once, I’ve had a stranger hand me a coupon for something I was looking at—most recently, cat litter. So I think it’s a good idea to pay it forward.

We’ve been off credit cards for a long time out of necessity, but once we get our financial world back in order (and the couponing is a step in that direction) the rule will still be cash only when shopping for food. There is no point saving money if you lose that savings in credit card interest.

Two Lists

When I shop, I have two lists. The BUY list is the list of things I have gone to get. This list is based on things we’ve run out of and also the weekly circular. For items from the circular, I have the item, the sale price and whether or not I have a coupon. Our store lets you go online and make a list by clicking on the items in the circular. I print that list and add notes as to what coupons I have.

Sometimes I have to have two sets of coupons and break the order into two purchases. I try to organize the BUY list according to the aisles in the store to avoid doubling back. Things get crossed off the BUY list if it turns out I don’t have a coupon and we really don’t need it.

Once I’m in the store, I cross off items on the BUY list as I go.

I do allow myself to go off the BUY list. Sometimes I forget to add something or I find that something is on sale that I missed in the circular AND I have a coupon. My BOUGHT list keeps me from going overboard.

My BOUGHT list is the list of everything that is in my cart and how much I expect to pay after sale and coupon. I write it all down as I shop and add it up as I go, so I know how much I am spending. (Remember it’s a cash purchase so I have to be careful not to go over what I can spend.)

I keep an envelop with the BOUGHT list. Coupons that I am using get clipped to the envelope. If I have to split the order, they get clipped in separate batches. My store doubles but the coupons are usually limited to one per purchase, so I find this is worth the effort.

Does all this take longer? Yes. Our major shopping trips are now more involved from planning through execution. BUT it’s worth it to save money while stocking our pantry as items come on sale and have long-shelf-life items like tea bags, pasta, canned or frozen veggies and soup on hand when we need them.

If nothing else, it gives us something with short-term, measurable results that help me feel like we’re going to get through this rough time. I can look at the product of our efforts—both in loaded pantry shelves and that number at the bottom of our receipt that says how much we saved and get a sense of accomplishment.

Out next step will be to do some comparison-shopping. The grocery chain we use has online shopping, so it’s relatively easy to check prices even if they aren’t in the sales circular. We’ll be checking those prices vs. the warehouse club we belong to and we’ll also check out Aldi.

It may be that shopping becomes even more complex, but if the time we put in is well compensated by dollars saved, we’ll stick with it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Say No to SOPA and PIPA

You may have found some of your favorite sites to be blacked out today. This could be a regular occurrence if we're not careful.

I won't pretend to be the most tech-savvy person out there, but I am greatly concerned about the move by some to legislate censorship of the Internet. Some of the senators considering SOPA and PIPA have even admitted that they simply don't understand the technology involved. Yet they may vote to pass these bills into law anyway.

This is a matter of free speech and freedom of expression. The forces behind these bills, the companies behind the money that pays for the lobbyists that are pushing these measures, are out to control what speech, and images, and music can be freely distributed on the Internet. That is not the American way.

I hope you'll take the time to tell your government that this should not stand. While they may still be under the mistaken notion that companies are people, for the moment at least, companies can not vote. Tell your senators that you don't want the Internet censored (SOPA) or changes made that could undermine the security of the Internet (PIPA). And tell them that a vote in favor of these bills will cost them your vote come election time.

I and many others like me are thrilled to live in an age where our words and art can be put out there for the world to see. Let's not turn back the clock on what is amazing progress, I believe, for everyone.

For more information, here are a couple of videos you can watch. And at the bottom of this post, an easy way to call your senator and tell him or her that you don't want SOPA and PIPA and their job is to do the will of the voters, not the lobbyists.

Watch more on Tech Crunch here. 

Click here to call your Senator and tell him or her you don't want SOPA and PIPA made law.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Counts as Vegetables

The Wookie is training divers tonight so I am without my chef.

Wookie tends to be anti-vegetable, though he cooks them for me. So when he is away, my plate runneth red with tomato sauce. Tonight's pizza is covered with broccoli and spinach--and peperoni. (A little protein is a must!)

Add to that Mexican Coke--they say you can't taste the difference between real sugar and corn syrup, but I beg to differ.

It's all brain food for my work tonight as I review student assignments and contemplate more work on my Masters of Celebrancy project.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

This Marriage Brought to You by a Fortune Cookie

For the last couple of weeks I have been telling you the story of how Wookie and I found each other and started our life together. Today is the anniversary of our proposal.

Wookie and I had been together for 17 days. And by together, I mean constantly. We took short breaks to go to our respective jobs. On weekends I went to the dive shop with Wookie. As far as we were concerned, we were still on our first date.

In our first week together, we had already established that we loved each other. Wookie said it first. I said it a week later. Life was good. We had settled into a weird kind of cohabitation that involved both our homes as we each had cats to feed.

After about two weeks together, I would occasionally catch Wookie muttering something.  When I asked what he said, he would say, “noting” or mutter something about “too soon.”

I had some fortune cookies stashed away,
but Wookie ate them before I could take a picture.
I let it pass. I was having too good a time.

January 11, found us back in the Manhattan dive shop where he worked. It was quiet day—not a customer to be seen. We ordered Chinese food for dinner. I don’t remember how I entertained myself that afternoon, I remember Wookie was reading a book and muttering. 

“We should get married!” I said. But Wookie was too busy muttering to himself to hear me. 

I went to pick up our dinner.

Dinner was a picnic, right out of the containers, with chopsticks and plastic forks, eating over the glass counter by the register. I reached into the bag our dinner had come in looking for the fortune cookies—there was only one. I gave it to Wookie.

The dive shop has long since closed, but if we were to find our way back, I could tell you exactly where he stood. I watched him crack open that cookie and read the fortune. Something went through his whole body—like a sigh but with more resolve.

“Can you come here?” he asked.

I came around the counter and he took my hands, sighing again.  This time he asked, “So, would you like to marry me, please?”

I know I said yes. I know I jumped up and down like a jackrabbit on speed. Then I said, “Are you kidding?” Actually, I asked several times.

He wasn’t kidding.

For weeks—almost as long has we’d been together—he’d been wanting to propose. All those mutterings of “too soon” were about asking me to marry him. Considering how I reacted to his first I love yous, I couldn’t blame him.

But what had changed?

The fortune cookie was the clincher.


I’d like to say it was a romantic evening after that. But the fortune cookie wasn’t the only surprise of the evening. That night we both had food poisoning. 

Still, nothing confirms true love like how your fiance reacts when you're doubled over with your body trying to turn itself inside out. We took good care of each other that night—and ever since.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Wedding Brought to You by Skype

Skype has become my new favorite business tool.

My last two wedding clients' both met with me via Skype rather than in person. For Karen and Wes, it was a matter of scheduling and convenience. Pamela and Scott live in Scotland, so an in-person meeting in advance of their trip to NY was impossible.

The video calls make it possible to for me to see my friend in Canada (sometimes daily), meet clients face-to-face regardless of where they live or what time it is in our respective time zones, and have conferences with my Celebrant students. It's like being on Star Trek--or sometimes Space Balls--I told you never to call me on this wall!

Yesterday, I was able to do something very special for my couple. The bride's mother was unable to make the trip to the states to attend the wedding. So I set up a Skype call and she was able to see everything online. It was a sweet moment when Pamela made her entrance and realized that her mom could see her. Every once in a while I'd glance over and see her on the screen of my tablet. After the ceremony, they took some time to chat. I was so happy to be able to make that happen for them.

I never cease to be amazed that these things are possible and accessible. Sometimes I wonder what will come next!

(See Pamela and Scott's Wedding Video.)