"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

California Casual--Is Rudeness the New Rule?

In California, we have a different way of doing things.  

. For us, RSVP are four random letters that appear on the bottom of invitations, indicating nothing. An invitation means that someone is having an event and seeks your commitment. If you're naive or new to our way of doing things, you should understand that no one holds you to your promise.

As everyone in California knows, an invitation is a mere technicality. The game plan is to throw it on the counter and fuggetaboutit! No worries. The hostess will give you a ring on the day before the party to see if you’re coming. You can decide then.

Weddings, intimate dinner parties—makes no difference.

According to my friend, no-shows are very common in Santa Barbara. Yes, even for dinner parties. People respond "yes" and then wait to see if something better comes along. She blames the practice on the "Biz (the film industry.) And it gets worse the closer you are to Hollywood.

Makes sense. Why waste your time at a "B" dinner in your honor if you can tag along to an "A" event and gawk at the movie stars. Even the concept of "A" and "B" comes from California. Remember the old Disneyland ride ticket books? Who wouldn't rather ride the Matterhorn than the train?

So I live in California. Time to bring this around to me.

I have a writer’s critique group on alternate Tuesdays. This group is new and just beginning to jell. Like any newborn, it needs attention. It helps to know who will be there. I requested that everyone RSVP, and they did. As of last Friday six plus me made seven. Yeah!

Tuesday morning the house is clean. Snacks are ready. Husband is fed and out of the house. And the calls start coming in. One member has a sore throat. One is still in jammies. A third one has slept late and can make the last half. The others are no-shows. And that’s when the idea for this blog starts.

As a new writer, for three years I used to drive 70 miles round trip every other Monday to attend a critique group that started at nine. I scheduled my life around that group! The moderator was a retired grade school teacher who ran that group like her classroom. I was terrified of getting “the look” if I walked in three minutes late.

No coincidence that in the years I belonged I wrote a bazillion short stories and essays and submitted them to markets all over the US and Canada. Had thirty acceptances (a 1/23 ratio. Not bad for fiction in the era before e-publishing.) I wore out three Writer’s Market books in the process and won ten awards. Wrote two novels. I quit the group when members started writing travel stories and essays and I was the only fiction writer left.

Point is, that critique group launched me. That’s what I hope to do for the newbies in my group.

Clearly the fault is mine. I need to develop “the look”. Tough love. Next week we’ll revamp the rules and get down to business. As soon as I finish writing this, I’ll dig out my cousin’s wedding invitation from the junk on the counter and send my RSVP. She even included a stamp.

Hope it’s not too late.

Anybody have a similar experience or want to add to the discussion? Here's your chance. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Five Steps for Organizing the Closet After You Say Goodbye to 4” Heels

Feet Hurt? Is your closet overflowing with clothes you never wear? A plan for what to save and what to dump when you start to dress for comfort

Going through my closet this week I began to realize that I'm a clothes hoarder. Even if I haven’t worn it in 10 years, I feel physically ill at the idea of parting with any of it. Sure, I watch “What Not to Wear”, but the problem is how do I finesse into a (ahem) Woman of a Certain Age.

I asked my Magic Mirror and this is what she whispered to me:

Young women dress to emphasize their assets and their hair. Middle-age women dress to minimize their deficits. Older women dress to match their shoes.

Sound harsh? Think about it.

Somewhere in the fifties the tendons and bones in the foot soften. Certain foot bones are the most frequently broken bones for women after fifty. That’s when podiatrists’ numbers get put on the speed-dial.

Out of necessity, shoes become less fashion statement and more a comfort accessory. It breaks our hearts to abandon this vestige of youth, but it happens.

Unfortunately, I have dresses that don’t “do” comfortable. They want a 4” heel. And nylons and a smoother. Without tough-love, those dresses will hang in the closet pretending they’re next-up for the party. Ten years will go by and still no party. Still, maybe when I’m seventy I’ll want to wear that sleeveless cocktail dress with the slit at the thigh that I didn’t even wear when it was new.

But the sad truth is, I’ve already dumped the heels.  So in order to downsize my closet and keep it real I’ve had to take a reality check. 

Here’s my plan:

Step One: Pick out the shoes I wear. Dispose of any I haven’t worn in three years. (I know, the rule is 12 months, but I’m a hoarder, remember?)

Step Two: Pair skirts, dresses and pants with the shoes they go with. Permission to pile them on the bed, the sofa, the floor. Use bronzer, pantyhose, hairdo, anything to get an accurate assessment, including daughters and husband.

Step Three: Try on everything with the shoes. If it doesn’t work, Get Rid of It. I picked the STYLE of shoe for a reason—comfort, style or because it fits my personality. When it wears out I’ll replace it with next season’s substitute, so if it doesn’t have a companion outfit now, I doubt the old shoe will ever have a love match with anything in my closet.

Step Four: Pack up the off-season clothes and shoes and store them. That way I'll have a new wardrobe in a few months. Vacuum seal sweaters so everything will pack down small. Kmart, $9.95 for three.

Step Five: When I go shopping I’ll wear the shoes I want to match. If something doesn’t, I don’t. It’s as simple as that. 

As a footnote—I won’t keep anything that needs a 10-pound weight loss to look good. I won’t pretend I’m anything I’m not. If I lose weight or change personalities, I’ll buy something new. Clothes are what I wear, not who I am. (Okay, who am I kidding?) But shoes do become what we wear, like it or not.

Am I right about this? Share your comments.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter Bunny Blues

Is there too much "Ease" in Easter? On this holiest day of the Christian calendar I feel abandoned by my family. Because I know I'm not alone, I'm sharing my angst.                                                   

Father Hercek loves a colorful congregation on Easter Sunday so I put on my brightest bonnet and take myself to church. I arrive early to celebrate in song and sermon with my sisters and brothers in Christ. By the final blessing I have hugged twenty people, have been moved to tears at little girls and boys fresh from their First Holy Communion. Songs of jubilation ring in my ears, songs of rebirth and hope and thankfulness. 
For an hour (make that an hour and a half, Father Hercek has a captive audience on holidays,) I glow like a new bride. There is nowhere on earth I would rather be on this glorious Spring morning than in church.    
Driving home I sing “Come, Worship the Lord” while my eyes fill with tears because I’m feeling embraced by the Holy Spirit. I want to share my joy with the whole world. 
Once home I step into my kitchen ready to spill out Easter blessings on my family, but no one answers my call. The household is still asleep. In the next hour they straggle out, husband, three children, young adults all. My middle daughter is exhausted from having worked a double shift at her restaurant job, The oldest has stayed up until the wee hours, catching up with cousins who are only in town for the weekend. My son is off to go motorcycle riding with another cousin. My husband is on the phone, arranging to meet a buyer for his street motorcycle, an out-of-towner on his way home.  
I call my sister to confirm lunch at my house: pork roast, applesauce, angel food cake with pink icing, but she hedges, frazzled from trying to fit everything into a busy weekend schedule. She’s staying with Mom, who has had another tiny stroke during the night, worn out from the excitement, and is too weak to make it to Mass. My sister needs to fix breakfast and watch over Mom.
Guilty because she lives four hours away, it is her turn to help.   
In the end I take off my Easter finery and join my family for a catch-as-catch-can breakfast before everyone goes off in different directions. My sixteen-year-old will eat when he returns at dusk.   
As the afternoon wanes I try to recapture the early morning's hope. Still, I can't help wonder what is wrong with us. I don’t think we’re alone. I don’t think I’m the only mother who ever felt like she’s failed in her spiritual guidance. 
As soon as they graduated my children demonstrated their "grown-up" independence by eschewing their Catholic upbringing for an extra hour of sleep.
"We're a Christian family," I remind them.  "Easter is Our Day."  It doesn't matter that I voiced my hopes the day before in hopes of an old-fashioned bring-us-together Easter morning: church and sit-down dinner.
But again this year Easter Sunday feels like a "morning after."  
For our large extended family, Good Saturday is Easter Bunny Day: a family picnic, chocolate bunnies, egg hunt and all the fun stuff.  I don't deny that I love it. We adults organize a softball game while the kids whack away at a pinata. Later we catch up on family gossip while we graze our way from grilled linguica appetizers to a whole smoked pig, all the way to homemade ice cream. This is great stuff.  It's the next day that drives me to tears. 
Is it too much to ask that my family attend Mass with me, share an hour of elation and rebirth before they go about their business? When she's rested, Mom feels the same way. During Holy Week we attended reconciliation service and vowed that this year we would attend church as a family. But once again the Easter Bunny foiled our plans.          
Now it’s Easter evening. If I feel cheated, I wonder what Jesus is feeling.

How about you? Anybody ever felt in the same boat?