Monday, December 31, 2012

The rock that killed the can

I'll admit it.
I'm a bit of a fraidy cat.
I had to quit skiing because I became sure I was going to either kill myself or break bones that I really needed.
I grip the door handle as we fly down the freeway thinking I can somehow keep from dying at high speed if I do that.
I swim with my head up out of the water so I can be sure of breathing.
So when we bought our first SUV and Marc wanted to show me how it could go over hill and dale without a problem, I put a stop to the nonsense.
I wouldn't let him drive off small cliffs for fun.
I insisted we avoid roads that required four-wheel drive just for entry.
I'm a killjoy and I freely admit it.
So when the car stopped going down the road the other day and the repair shop decided somewhere we had hit a rock that tilted the gas can, Marc was my chief suspect in the crime.
We had no hard proof but I could remember driving up a washboard road in Castle Valley trying to find where the early townspeople had held the first annual pageants.
I could recall hitting something with a "whomp!" and complaining about it.
I remember Marc telling me the car was designed for just such roads and dismissing my concerns.
Now, several months and $1300 later, it looks like I was right and he was wrong.
The rock or high ground apparently dented and pushed the gas can over to where if the gas ran low enough, the car couldn't get fuel.
That became clear when Marc headed to work last week and the car simply stopped.
We put in a bit of gas but it still just sat there.
However, once it got to the shop (one $70 tow later), it ran just fine as the gas had sloshed around into the fuel line.
We had a couple of days of stress and invited our insurance company along for the ride and paid for $800 worth of work on our way to discovering the real problem.
But we're fine now and we're back on the road.
I'm feeling vindicated.
Marc not so much.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The peaceful family Nativity

Over the years, we've done a number of family Nativity "plays."
Some were better than others.
When the kids were little we tried having daddy be the donkey and the littlest child be the Baby Jesus.
We sometimes got through it with no yelling on Mommy's part and no collateral damage.
We even have a couple of handwritten storybooks that have become family heirlooms that show the baby ("She" was probably 3 at the time) with her legs hanging out of the manger.
Erica the angel
We built up quite a collection of shepherd's robes, staffs and angel halos and I would find myself throughout the year looking at every wooden basket and box as a potential manger.
We tried it with narration and with speaking parts.
Adell and Hannah "Marys"
As the boys got older it was harder to get them into their roles as the shepherds and Joseph, particularly since Mary was one of their sisters.
They didn't mind the King Herod/Caesar Augustus part or that of the innkeeper because they could sit on a throne or stand at the door and bark orders.
The angels were usually unhappy because they weren't asked to be Mary.
The Three Kings liked giving the Baby Jesus presents but we always ended up puzzled over the Frankincense and Myrrh. What the heck is that stuff?
King Steven
This year we tried it with the grandkids at the family party.
We built a backdrop, hung a star and borrowed a manger.
We told everyone to bring their own costumes and we planned for two Marys to cut down on the infighting.
Other than having to use an elf from the "Elf on the Shelf" storybook for the baby, we think it went pretty well.
Nobody cried.
Nobody punched anybody.
Even two-year-old Mia got into the action and at the end we ended up with a photo that will make a good 2013 Christmas card.
Here are a few shots from the "movie."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The tough decisions

You'd think that being offered a book deal would be a good thing.
How many writers out there are dying for the opportunity to get a manuscript into print and be paid some money to boot?
I was thrilled and flattered at first.
The lady on the phone explained that the guy in the marketing department picked me to author their book and the publisher was willing to give me an advance, an unusual and gracious move. Usually the author doesn't get ANY money until some books are sold.
My name would get out there and I might get further work.
The problem came after I received a copy of the contract and started counting the days until my deadline.
I had approximately 50 working days to put together 150 pages on Scouting that included photos and illustrations.
I would be starting with NO copy or sources and it's nearly Christmas so people are not in their offices.
If I worked steadily for the first two months of 2013, I might make the deadline, might.
If I didn't I would be expected to return the advance and my name would be mud with this publisher and contact.
I thought long and hard. I suffered as did my husband and my daughters who had to listen to me.
I really love to write (surprise to those of you who see me with a new blog every other day or so)!
I liked the topic and had a lot of ideas as to who I could talk with and interview.
I think I could make the book interesting, maybe even fun.
But I couldn't convince myself that I could prepare that much lively copy in two month's time.
My heart started to pound and I could feel my blood pressure rising.
I thought about how stressed I would be in a couple more weeks and the time I would have to give up with my grandchildren.
I considered what would happen to other venues, other writing ops, to Marc.
So I said "No, thank you" and "Adios" to a couple thousand dollars.
What have I done?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A dancing duo

Marc and I thought we knew how to dance.
At least to a lively beat.
We've never been great at the slow stuff. We mostly shuffle along trying to keep from bumping into each other's feet and we enjoy the close contact but we're no great shakes.
However, put on a rock'n roll record with some singing by lively young men and we can move.
At least, that's what we believed before the company party dance the other night.
The DJ (who is actually the mayor of Orem who moonlights now and then playing tunes) asked everybody to come up and try out the dance floor in the new convention center "ballroom."
He was fairly insistent.
So we went on up with the rest of the marketing team and found a tiny patch of available floor.
The music started and everybody was waving their arms in the air and doing a dance with no similarity to the "Twist" or "The Mashed Potato" or the surfing moves we did in high school.
It was insane.
Lots of people danced without partners and a good number were not only dancing but leaping, jumping and cavorting in a style that was not only impressive but rather dangerous, I thought.
One big guy backed right into me, hard.
I felt the discs in my back — which I've been carefully protecting since the doctor told me they were collapsing onto each other — sing with sudden pain.
I sort of gasped but no one noticed the "collision" and the music played on.
I'm fine and we ended up dancing like fools until we could dance no more. (I'm sure we were a sight, the pair of us oldsters amongst all these kids.)
But I think it's ironic that while I'm giving up skiing, sledding, jet-skiing and the roller coaster so I don't hurt myself any further, I get whomped on the dance floor.
What are the odds?

Friday, December 14, 2012

In retrospect

I was a little unhappy yesterday as I stood with a small band of parents and grandparents who couldn't open the doors to my granddaughter's elementary school in Taylorsville.
I was already a couple of minutes late for Emma's Christmas program because this particular school is hard to find and there's virtually no visitor parking.
I was proud of myself for A. finding the place as it's on the "wrong" side of 7200 South (7200 South becomes 7000 South without any apparent shift so it's easy to think a 7180 South would be on the north side of the main road and B. finding a place to park, albeit several blocks away.)
So it was frustrating to not be able to get in the building.
I was also anxious that Emma would be wondering why I hadn't come to see her in her role as a news anchor for the program "broadcast."
One irrepressible guy reached over and punched the handicapped door automatic entry button and, Voila!, the door opened. We all rushed in.
I said something to the office secretary after I asked for directions to the first grade Christmas program.
"You know the doors are all locked, right?" I said.
She nodded without concern.
"We're a lockdown school," she said. "Only one door on the side is routinely left open."
I stalked off a little miffed.
Why would they do that when they knew all kinds of grandparents would be trying to come see the program? Why didn't they post a sign telling us that?
Today, as I watch the horrific news about the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut with 20 children dead and who knows how many traumatized, I think I get it.

No focus

I was pretty pumped about being invited to participate in a Dan Jones Focus group.
When I worked full-time for The Deseret News, I could never qualify because somehow the people in charge didn't fully trust reporters and editors.
So now that I'm a free-lance writer I'm "free" to do things like serve on community boards and juries and focus groups.
It's always looked interesting to me.
When the guy called me to pre-qualify me, he asked a lot of pertinent questions...was I working for an advertising agency or related to anyone who did so?
Was I female?
How old was I?
Could I be on time and show up?
I passed the test and was set to be in a group discussing transportation issues.
"Be there early to get your full honorarium," the man in charge said.
I headed to Salt Lake, making sure I was not only early but WAY early. I shopped and completed a number of tasks along the way but still arrived in the parking garage about a half hour ahead of time.
I played Scrabble on my phone for a while and then toddled into the building.
A nice security officer helped me call the elevator and get to the third floor.
I checked in and took a name card.
I picked up a sandwich, sat down and munched away.
The waiting area soon filled up with a bunch of other ladies and we all eyed each other. These were the people we'd be talking with for the next couple of hours.
I wondered what this would be like?
I have pretty strong opinions about transportation in Utah, especially about the lack of dependable, affordable mass transit. Would I sway opinion, sound intelligent? Would I feel stupid, sound dumb?
But, alas, I was denied.
Just at the stroke of the hour, the receptionist announced they had overbooked and someone would be invited to leave (fully compensated) but still invited to leave.
My name was called. I collected my money and headed home, feeling like a dismissed juror, somewhat deflated despite my joy at getting to go home early.
(Maybe when a former newsroom colleague came in as part of the research team and waved merrily at me sitting in the waiting room, that hurt my chances. What do you think?)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Watch out for the vegetables

Four-year-old Hannah was over visiting after her dance lesson.
She was telling me that her big sister was sick and her tummy hurt.
Since Adell has been running a fever, I had invited Hannah to stay a while and help me at my house. She had lots to say.
Hannah seemed to think whatever was bothering Adell was related to what she had eaten over the weekend.
"Too much fruit and vegetables," she stated as she slathered several colors and layers of frosting on the sugar cookies we were decorating. "Her tummy was too full."
"Adell said there are no fruit and vegetables in strawberry yogurt," Hannah went on to inform me. "So it's OK."
Hannah seemed pretty sure of her facts even though I think her mother probably tries to get everybody to eat MORE fruits and vegetables, not less.
She was pretty matter-of-fact as she worked on her cookies.
"Don't you think you ought to eat a little less frosting and a bit more cookie?" I asked her as she licked a star-shaped cookie clean for the third time. "I don't want you to get a tummy ache."
Hannah told me she was fine and there were no fruit and vegetables in cookies or frosting anyway.
She somehow has become convinced that the secret to a healthy life lies in making sure no fruit or vegetables sneak up on you. Sugar doesn't appear to be an enemy.
Just gotta watch out for those carrots and peas.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Keep on trucking

The guy across the road has a new truck, a great big semi-tractor trailer that's really long and noisy.
He parks it going the wrong way in front of his home and leaves it running most of the time.
It drives me crazy.
My husband and children will testify to the fact that I am ultra sensitive anyway to noise.
They could never watch television at night after I went to bed because I could hear the show three floors up.
These days, my husband plugs in to a set of heavy-duty earphones so he can watch the sports and late-night movies without me griping.
So when this guy started leaving his truck on idle, it upset me.
(It must be a refrigerator unit that has to keep running to keep the load cold or some such thing but it makes me so agitated.)
I'll be working along — like now — and wondering why I'm feeling anxious.
Once I realize the truck's running, I understand why the needle on my stress meter is rising.
I try to ignore it but it's difficult.
So when he started it up the other night after the 10 p.m. news and it shook the house, Marc and I both complained.
I think Marc had underestimated the decibel and stress level.
He was horrified.
He even called the cops for me and this nice policeman came out and talked to the trucker.
I could hear them from my upstairs bedroom window.
The officer was explaining the city noise ordinance and how people were trying to sleep.
The trucker was saying things like "This is only the second time I've run it" and "I never let it go for more than an hour."
I almost bolted outside in my nightgown to challenge his lies.
But I held myself back because he did turn it off...that night.
Two days later he was back with the engine running for way more than an hour.
I'm feeling the tension here.
I'm not sure of my next move.
Shall I take over some Christmas cookies or throw mud at the cab?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You owe this much

I was hesitant to pay the doctor bill I received from one of the specialists I'd seen about my neck and back pain.
Evidently the insurance had been paying in sporadic amounts so I wasn't sure everything was settled and I hate to overpay because they tend to credit your account rather than refund and you never really see the money.
So I called the billing office of this doctor to verify the amount I apparently owed.
I left a message and today, a week later, I get this call.
"Suzann," said the lady. "I'm calling to talk to you about your bill. I'm not sure anyone got back to you when you called the other day."
I ignored the Suzann part because my husband says I sometimes mumble on the phone and I thought she heard "Suzann" when I said "Sharon."
I told her I was trying to find out if I really owed $122 or if there was any more insurance coming through.
"Oh, yes," she said. "Humana has been contacted and they said they applied the outstanding balance to your deductible."
As far as I knew, we had met our deductible months ago and we don't have Humana insurance.
I told this to the lady on the phone.
"Well, Humana paid some of the bill," she said.
"That's nice of them but we're with SelectHealth," I said.
There was a big silence.
"Spell your last name," the voice instructed.
I did.
"Tell me your birthday," she ordered.
I told her.
"What is your first name?"
I told her that too.
There was more silence.
Then she came back on the line.
"Sharon? I have your file now and yes, you owe us $122. Anything else?"
Why do I not feel reassured?

Monday, December 3, 2012

The family Christmas photo

The cold, the resistant and the bored
Marc and I agreed to help Kari and Wade take their Christmas card photo.
Actually I started shopping with my daughter weeks ago once she decided it was time for that dreaded moment in all families...a new family photo.
Mia is nearly 18 months and in the most recent group photos, she's just a baby. Her personality hadn't fully emerged. Now she's a tiny tornado.
Kari and I shopped until we found the perfect three sizes from 18 months to 7 years...
That's tough in and of itself.
They have to be pretty, affordable and something all three will deign to wear.
Then we had to find shoes...again in three sizes and in a reasonable price range.
We set a date and engaged the family photographer (Marc) since Kari and Wade's first and second choices were unavailable. He was game.
We headed up to the amphitheater on a chilly but sunny day near the Mt. Timpanogos temple which apparently was a good choice since we found seven other family groups already there.
We walked around looking for a choice location.
Marc found it — way up the steep, stone steps and off in the bushes.
Kari and I lugged the baby up and did our best to keep Hannah and Adell from slipping and falling and/or getting dirty.
We settled everyone on a bench but Mia wanted grandma.
She was cold and not sure what we were doing so she looked to me to save her. (At this juncture, I usually give her chocolate but that wasn't an option for this trial.)
The light was not going to last so we tried to hurry and keep everyone in position, gently.
Hannah didn't want to smile.
Adell wanted to smile too much.
Mia just wanted out.
Kari was trying to keep calm and Wade was trying to keep order.
It made for an interesting photo session, not unlike the kind that every family in the world works through as they try to get the little darlings together on camera.
The kids resist smiling naturally and sweetly all at once. No one dares yell.
The longer it takes, the more unrest there is.
Finally, we gave the baby an expensive Smartphone to play with and Marc shot a few pictures of the natives. Wade said he could photoshop something usable.
(If you need us to help you with your family photo, we're in the book!)