Thursday, December 4, 2008

Celebrations: eye injuries, the Jesus kit and the Messiah

The holiday season officially got started last week with a Thanksgiving feast at our place. Some of our favorite people joined us as we ate, drank, gave thanks, ate some more, rested, digested and then ate some more, again. There is a reason January is the number one month for gym membership sign ups...

Usually we put up our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving but our weekend plans got booked quickly with family outings, work and visiting friends. We decided to wait a week and concentrate on the celebration at hand. Our dear friend Alison and her daughter Ella wanted to do something special since this was Ella's first Thanksgiving in America. A trip to "Christmastown" N.C. sounded like a perfect outing. After much deliberating on how and where to get there, we hit the road.

Riding in the passenger seat with me was my dear friend Lynn. Some of you might make the connection to my (star-worthy) cover feature in last month's Creative Loafing story Canuck in the Queen City in which I poked fun at Lynn for her sometimes questionable sense of direction. Let me just say after our trip to what?s-ville, I most definitely owe her not just an apology, but a full-on retraction.

Now I want to say up front that I actually copied the directions to our destination directly off the award-winning Charlotte Parent website, at which I am employed and for which I am fully responsible for all content. Ah-hem. The directions were all wrong and we consequently took several wrong turns. After stopping at more than one lonely gas station, we finally had the right directions. This wouldn't have been toooo bad had I not gotten lost back in Charlotte trying to find my way to the lousy freeway. Yeah, I know. You know you suck when you can't even figure out how to get out of town to get lost. For the record, I did not post those directions, and obviously didn't check them for accuracy. Another, ah-hem.

Until this trip I had never actually been up close and front at a tractor trailer/truck weighing I have. I don't do so well driving in the dark and that is why I was prescribed glasses to wear at night. I kinda leave them on my desk every day and they don't do me much good on the road. So in my complete and utter disorientation, I drove not only us, but Alison and the car full of kids behind us, straight through an empty weighing station. I just beeped and waved and drove on through.

Anyhow, we finally got there. The whole town (church, gas station, residential homes, diner) band together and sling Christmas lights on every building, tree, lamppost and fire hydrant around. It's quite a spectacle. I wonder if they do fundraisers the rest of the year to pay the electric bill? Our drive there was so stressful, we just had to milk all the enjoyment out of the lights as possible and we decided a drive-thru wasn't going to do it. Nope. We were gonna get outside and get a little closer to the blinking merriment.

I have to say, we did get some "aw shucks"ish, adorable photos of the kids hanging in the trees and lots of cute shots of Ella. Every shot of that baby is cute, really. Just as we were wrapping it up, I decided to get one more shot of my son in a Ninja pose, sprawled across a tree branch. I stepped closer and stepped directly into a tree branch, poking myself right in the eye. Now I had reason not to see where I was going!

It took a couple of days to recover, but my eye got better. So did my pride. Husband and I were now on to our next celebration, our 12th wedding anniversary. We decided to buy each other a joint gift, one that would be of enormous value to us both, and, if we purchased it before the end of the year, it would be a tax write off too. We went and bought us a GPS. I know, could have come in handy on the trip to Christmastown.

Husband has a new hobby/part-time gig as a mail courier and desperately needs help with directions. As I have alluded to before, this city bites when it comes to layout, urban planning, directions and signage. So the GPS idea was a big thumbs up. I knew he'd get a lot of use out of it. What I didn't realize is how much it would affect him.

After getting a great deal online, our GPS was ready for pick up the very next day and husband offered to go pick it up. He likes toys and gadgets way more than I do and besides, I had a ton of work to do. The store was about 15 minutes away so I figured he'd be back in an hour, tops. About half an hour later, I heard him pull up but kept on working. I knew he'd come busting in the door full of excitement and waited for it. And kept typing. And waited...

As I was wrapping things up, he quietly came into the room with a strange look on his face. You know in those religious movies how "calm and peaceful" people look once they've spoken to God, or seen an angel or whatever? Yeah, that look.

"I have seen the Messiah," was all he said.

"Really?" I replied. "It sure took a while."

The GPS has changed his life. He no longer wanders in the dark (I could use some help with that one still), has direction in his life (and I'm not talking literally) oh, and has found inner peace too. From his lips to God, apparently. Me, I'm just happy I won't get quite so lost any more!

Back to the I worked away and waited for him to come in, he sat in the driveway programming our "favorite" destinations. School, the dentist (we've only been once), his work, my work, our next door neighbor's house (even I can't get lost going there), the bank, "our" grocery store (it's seriously, right up the road) and the jewelers. Yeah. I haven't actually been there yet, but suggested I might want to go soon and get my charm bracelet fixed so he found me one courtesy of the Messiah.

I figure on those early mornings when I"m "lost" and struggling to find something to say for my website, I might just ask the Messiah for some direction.

Today was one of those mornings, but I was too hungover to remember to ask and somehow slogged my way through . Which brings me to our most current celebration, my 41st birthday. I went out for a couple of celebratory drinks with a friend last night and paid dearly for it all day. The worst part though is that I only had two and a half drinks! Pathetic if I think back on my bartending days when I could throw back several straight shots over the course of a night... Then again, that was 20 years ago.

Anyhow, I decided today would be a perfect day to decorate our Christmas tree so we asked Lynn and our dear friends Kate and Ben to come help. Ms Southern Hospitality showed up which just sweetened the pot for me. Everyone was happy to see her. The kids were over the top excited and I tried hard to muster some of that too. The funniest part so far was watching Ben, who is Jewish and doesn't decorate trees or celebrate Christmas for that matter, get into the whole thing. He had a blast and screeched with joy. I raised my eyebrows every now and then. We finally got the tree ready and our guests got ready to go when Keller piped up "where's the Jesus kit?"

That one stopped Kate in her tracks. Keller knows a lot of stuff about a lot of things (especially Egypt - but that's a whole other post) so she hesitated and waited to hear this one. We don't have a Jesus diagram or science project or set of paper dolls...we have a ceramic Nativity Scene my mother gave us several years ago. Keller refers to that as the Jesus kit. We assembled it in front of the fireplace, where it now sits waiting for Santa and holiday number four.

Just thinking about it makes me feel tired. Think I need some inner peace. At least I now know where to find some, thanks to the Messiah.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A New Car!!!

I know, we sound like moneybags... but the truth is, we're just squeaking by. Having good credit goes a long way in this town, especially post Wachovia/Wall Street meltdown. We had to get another car for Kevin's new gig (he needs his own wheels) and we had been hunting for weeks and weeks, checking online sites, car lots, craigslist...even notices on the bulletin board at the local pizza restaurant.

In the end we decided to go to one of those giant used car lots, the ones with thousands of cars all priced to sell. We went for the huge selection and we went for the "no haggle" policy. Actually we didn't really just get up and go. Once we decided we would consider a car lot, we looked online and found the car we wanted. Kevin sent them an email notice letting them know we were interested; no sooner had he hit "send" did our phone ring with a "dedicated sales associate" on the other end, giving us the deets on this car. And on financing, warranties...pretty much everything. In fact, by the sounds of it, we didn't have to do much of anything else except go look at the car, sign a few papers and split. Sounded too good to be true.

Well, it was. I don't know how these lots divvy up sales, but there doesn't seem to be a seniority/experience system in place. We must have gotten the newbie, or the lowest of the low (who happen to be one of my favorite Toronto rock bands - shout out!) because our sales associate was a ding dong. Now if you had a client coming to look at a car who had already been qualified and basically said "Hey, we want to buy that car", wouldn't you at least take a look at the car first? If that client had asked you about which papers he/she needed to bring, wouldn't you check some sort of list before signing off?

Needless to say, our sales associate hadn't looked at the car and couldn't figure out how to open the driver-side door. Not a good sign...Our associate couldn't figure out how to fold the rear seats up, how to open the sun roof or even if it was a 4-wheel drive. Our associate didn't seem to know much about our car at all. We are forgiving people and were anxious to get out on the road so we overlooked the "I'm not sure" answers and took our baby for a test drive.

The ride was smooth, roomy and perfect for our family. Now all we had to do was sign a few papers, drop some cash on the table , pick up the keys and squirt the sales associate with pepper spray. (just kidding; saw that in a commercial once) We were all set to go when our sales associate asked me for my state licence. (see previous blog) Of course, I don't have one and didn't bring any photo ID with me. Now remember, I asked BEFORE leaving the house if there was anything specific I needed to bring besides my DL. I told our ding dong that I didn't have a state DL and was assured it would be fine. Well, it wasn't. Turns out I couldn't be on the title at all. So, I don't officially own the car, Kevin does. But it's OK with me...he gets to pay the note!

The car is home and looks grand parked in our driveway. Now it seems everyone in the family (even the dog is turning his nose up) all of a sudden hates our ghetto, Toyota Echo. Everyone, except me. It's my car and I'm kinda proud of the one-hubcap-missing-weirdly-dented-too-many-bumper-stickers look we got going. It's urban, a little dangerous and totally unpretentious, just like me. I don't need anyone to pimp my ride; I like it just fine.

As for the new car, it's shiny and almost perfect; just like Kevin. The kids now love to circle the car ride pick up lanes at school in the new car and shudder when I suggest taking them in our old standby. I might just take them in the ghetto car every now then for fun. Or maybe I'll embrace our new car like everyone else.

Friday, September 12, 2008

We're Staying

It's official, we're staying in Charlotte. Bought a house, and there's no turning back. It's a beautiful home with an outrageously beautiful yard that will keep us crazy busy. The entire process was surreal and Kevin and I are still sorta waiting for the "home-buying fraud police" to show up and tell us it's all a big mistake. In the meantime, we're absolutely making the most out of it.

Before we left Toronto, Kevin contacted a mortgage broker here in Charlotte and told her we were planning to move, and asked what we needed to do to qualify for another home. Even though we bought a house outright in Canada, mortgage lenders in the U.S. didn't really care, especially since we hadn't had any established credit here for several years. We thought our chances were slim to none. The mortgage broker/fairy gave us a step by step plan to follow, wished us luck and most likely kissed us off as time wasters.

Well our first year in Charlotte was a struggle and financially our plans to buy a home were put on the shelf. We were happy to clear up all of our debts after the sale of our house in Toronto and took the rest of the year to scale back and re-evaluate our situation. It was sobering, humbling and even a little humiliating. Scratch that...just humbling.

After landing a good p/t job here in Charlotte and with other side assignments coming in on a regular basis, we decided to call the mortgage fairy once again. Or, Kevin did anyhow. I just signed papers and handed over pay stubs and continued on my merry(?) way. Kevin's tenacious, well-tempered personality is perfect for wading through the mountain of paperwork that is a mortgage application. He quietly gathered, copied, documented and "batched" our things and couriered them away. We then sat back and waited.

What were we hoping for? Just a reality check and a sense of where we stood. What did we get? "You guys can pre-qualify." For a hut? We were both working several p/t jobs and had established more credit here, but never did we think it would happen so soon. It just so happened the mortgage fairy is married to a fantastic realtor (not going to use the word fairy here; too great a chance for a major misunderstanding) who just happened to be free that very weekend. Whoa!

Now during our first year here we met some wonderful friends, a wife and husband who happen to also be a writer and musician respectively. And fun people too. They live in a quiet, lush neighborhood adjacent to a creek and surrounded by tons of greenery. They also happen to live next door to an amazing modern house that sat on the market for months and months and months. Every Sunday we went over for brunch we would take an extra five minutes and pull into the driveway next door and peek inside the expansive front windows. And sigh.

It was time to set up appts. to look at houses and our friends sadly informed us that the house next door was already under contract. Sigh. Out of curiosity, I had our realtor run a check on the listing to see what it went for and when it was closing. Well the mortgage fairy must have done some talking to her mother superior because the deal had fallen through and the house was back on the market. (Cue a chorus of "Hallelujahs" here) Guess where we went first?

It was everything we'd imagined and more. It was more spacious. More groovy, and more intriguing. Oh, and more stinky. Turns out the previous owners had dogs who took it upon themselves to use the upstairs carpet as their very own backyard. But other than that, it was perfect. Just to be fair, we did see a couple of other houses but every house kept being compared to our wonder house and so we decided we should make an offer.

Turns out the house had gone into foreclosure and the bank was more than happy to have someone take it off their hands. One counter later, we had an agreement. We still had a few hoops to jump through with former tax files to provide, but we were on our way. At that point we went through the motions of a home inspection but in our hearts we knew that despite anything they reported short of it's teetering on absolute destruction, we were game. A good report came back and our closing date was scheduled. Just like that. Whoa, again.

Telling our friends and family we were buying a house was fun. We'd plan who to call and then play "Guess their reaction!" Turns out everyone was equally surprised, especially after spending a year listening to us moan about money woes and debating whether we should stay in Charlotte at all.

Of course the strangest part of all of this was the actual closing. We quietly shuffled into a swanky uptown law office and met the lawyer who was professional yet approachable. She ushered us into the conference room where a stack of papers lay waiting. A side note: Our first closing on our home in New Orleans was a disaster - long, trying and definitely not hospitable despite buying it from our then next door neighbor. We didn't know what to expect.

Instead of waiting for the mortgage fairy and the realtor, we decided to take up our lawyer on her suggestion to get started. Not a sound could be heard except for the shuffling of papers as we signed and signed our life away. Every now and then I would look up and scan the room just to make sure those fraud guys weren't going to show up. In record time, it was a done deal. We now owned our wonder home. We came, we signed, we conquered.

You know that IKEA commercial for their winter sale when the woman shouts "Start the car!" to her husband as she's running out the door? I totally wanted to shout that as we were exiting the lawyer's office. But, the surreal moment was lost when the paralegal called out "Mr and Mrs Clark, wait a minute." S&!* They found us.

Not really. We had forgot to sign a whatever, whatever paper saying we didn't see any signs of termites on the property. We graciously signed our last form, said goodbye to everyone and bolted for the door. Kevin and I both let out a whoop as we unlocked the car door. This time we really did do it!

Buying a home has been satisfying in so many ways, but especially in providing a sense of stability. We now had some definite plans for the future that include Charlotte. We're staying!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Puffy Couch

You know when something just irks you sooo bad you have to do something about it? Maybe you write a letter to the editor (like my husband who's going to write the local paper about their so-called 2 page "editorial" on a crappy restaurant chain which somehow counts as lifestyle) or maybe you call your sister to bitch, or maybe you're lucky enough to have your own blog.

Here's my latest irk, beef, bitch, pet peeve...puffy couches. We are fortunate enough to have recently bought a beautiful house here in Charlotte (which means we're here to say, which is an entirely separate blog) and so have been on the hunt for a second sofa. Because I have spent every extra cent on new flooring and paint and Home Depot's pension plan, I can't afford to buy new and am trolling craigslist on a regular basis. In my quest for an amazing yet affordable sofa, I have discovered how many people here own massive, over-stuffed, faux suede, micro-fibered seating more appropriate for the Michelin Man and his puffy dog too.

Is it because as a nation, we are eating too much and becoming puffy ourselves? Is that why we must buy sofas that don't necessarily seat us, as much as they allow us to crumple into giant lumps of post mashed potatoes and gravy? It doesn't matter what jewel-toned skin you throw on them, they're all ugly. Fugly, in fact.

Despite living on a paltry salary (such is the life of regional freelance) I have champagne taste and so struggle to find the glorious furnishings I see in all of my national decor magazines. Maybe I need to subscribe to Fuggly Home. It seems ridiculous to drool over all the exquisite things that are currently out of my reach, but I do. Sometimes it's pure escape and other times like an addiction. I just need a fix of beauty every now and then. Some women read fashion rags or travel guides; I read shelter magazines.

I'll admit it; I am a design snob. I secretly mock those who are afraid of finding their own design style and go the safe, matchy-match route in all beige or cream. The irony of course is I that can't make my home decor dreams a reality right now so I suffer and dream and cruise antique/second hand websites for hours on end. Sadly, I've yet to find a Baker sofa for under $500 that doesn't need a total re haul. Is it fair that all the marshmallow fugglies are in my price range?

Maybe one day a design savvy-homemaker will take pity on me and sell me her second-hand Paul Smith sofa that sat in the parlor and only got used one Sunday a month when her in-laws came to visit. It will have strong, architectural lines, and rich velvet striped fabric and a price tag of only $199. It will not be puffy and it will be mine.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cruise Control

I have never been so wronged, for being so right. Just the other day, while driving on the highway an insane motorist honked at me for apparently getting in his way (I had to cross four lanes of traffic in about 600 feet) though my turn signal was on and I was letting everyone know where I was headed. He then passed me while giving me the dirtiest look possible; all this before HE committed the sin of all driving sins in this town, no signal.

Just so you know, I signal when changing lanes. Always. If I were totally conscious of it before moving here, I am vigilant about it now. It has become my pet peeve, my ball and chain, the sword in my side, so to speak. Apparently I am alone. What is so flippin' hard about flicking the thumb to let others know that you are changing positions/lanes/directions and avoiding a potentially lethal collision?

I've been avoiding transferring my DL here to NC. (Ok bloggers and readers, no turning me in now) I'm afraid if I do, something will happen to my left thumb and it will lose it's ability to hit the signal switch. If I officially drive in this town, will I become a non-signaler too? I just can't bare the thought...

Confession time. The real reason I haven't switched my DL yet is I'm also afraid of rejection and failure. That's right, I have serious issues with the DMV. Back in 96 when I moved to La, I went through the mind-numbing process of getting a current and legal DL in the wondrous city of New Orleans, with it's wonky streets (Charlotte decidedly wins that one hands down though - that's an entirely separate post, TBD) and its outdated, asinine Napoleonic code. In other words, they got their own set of rules that some butt-kissin', frenchy-lovin' bureacrat made up a couple of hundred years ago. In other words, all other known driving rules do not apply.

Anyhow, I take myself down to the DMV and discover I cannot "transfer" my licence from another country, I must start the process all over again with both a written and driving test. Keep in mind, I wasn't some green teen who'd only ever been in a car with an extra set of foot brakes and an instructor who needed a lot of breath mints...I had been driving for over 10 years at this point.

Needless to say, I wasn't really aware of the whole Napoleonic thing and didn't study too hard. To say I skimmed over the rules book would be generous. So, I failed. My husband (to-be at that point) was very supportive and even helped me study a little for the next round. After receiving my second rejection notice, hubby tried really hard not to laugh in front of me. Not because I failed mind you, because I was indignant, outraged and outright pissed. How could this be???

Round three nearly broke me. I failed again, this time missing by one point for not knowing how far from the end of the street to park. Let me tell you something about parking in NOLA; lots of times it's a free-for-all. Humpf. This time he never said a word as I crumpled up my results and tossed them in the garbage. I did go back and study, and studied hard.

With the written test over and done with, it was time to do the easy part, drive the car. At the time we were driving a gorgeous gas-guzzling, cream-colored, 72 Benz, with cream leather interior. It was a sweet ride, but temperamental, just like me. We hadn't the funds then to cherry it out and update it with proper seat belts so it just had the one belt across the lap. My poor driving instructor was rather large and the seat belt wouldn't fit across her girth. After yanking on it three or four times, she gave up and left it dangling on the side. I was so embarrassed, I didn't know what to do or say except apologize for having an old beater of a car. She didn't even look at me; just asked me to circle the block , scribbled on her notepad and muttered a "you pass" on her way out of the car. I had humiliated another human being just for a piece of paper.

So you see, I haven't been able to move on and get a new DL. Should I bite the bullet and study the law here, or just pay for an extra therapy session?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day - No Worries

I'm a sucker for holidays. I blame it on my family. They always go whole hog on holidays, I think to make up for the rest of the chaotic year when things don't always go right. Come to think of it, things don't usually go right on holidays either. There was the time the turkey slid across the kitchen floor one Thanksgiving, or the time the main water pipe broke on Christmas morning, or the get the picture.

Regardless, as Father's Day was approaching, I didn't have any grand scheme planned and was racking my brain with what to do on limited time and funds. Since it fell on a Sunday, I knew we'd be heading to church with our friend Carolyn which was always lovely. She offered to let Kevin drive her new convertible which was a wonderful way to start the day. I decided as we cruised along the quiet streets with the wind blowing our hair back, to let the day unfold and go with whatever it had to offer.

The service was remarkably simple, sweet and low key. The sermon was on "woolgathering" and how it sometimes is a good idea to indulge in. Our pastor must have somehow known that it's my husband's favorite hobby. He had given him and everyone else there permission to daydream. What better Father's Day present is there?

We took our time getting back home and got some very important paperwork completed. Another check off the list and a deep feeling of satisfaction. Just then Ms. Southern Hospitality let us know that the 3 foot deep pool she had bought and installed was good to go and that we'd all get together later in the afternoon for a pool party. A party I didn't have to plan or execute?? It was starting to feeling like Mother AND Father's Day.

Lady Dragonfly, Ms Southern Hospitality's son's girlfriend, is another kindred spirit and decided to indulge myself and my daughter by bringing over guitar hero for us to rock out with. Her boyfriend, Sir Ease, kicked it up a notch by bringing out his massive TV and setting the whole thing up outside in the sunshine. I quickly did a snack run while husband continued with his nap. The day was now rockin' and rollin!

While the kids frolicked in the water, I channeled my inner Slash/Stevie Ray/Kim Gordon. Husband, upon waking from his slumber, grabbed a beer and did lifeguard duty. Lady Dragonfly worked on her tan while Sir Ease kept us posted on the US Open which was playing inside on the other TV. Ms Southern Hospitality cooked and was her usual hospitable self, grabbing bug spray, towels, sodas and such.

We spent the entire afternoon and some of the evening next door until it was time for their family dinner. The kids were starting to fade (or turn blue in the case of Dr. Egypt) so we rassled them inside for a bath and light meal. As husband and I were discussing what to feed the kids, Ms Southern Hospitality rang the door bell and presented us with a platter of food. I swear, I am not making this up; she so has earned her title.

I decided to let the dog out one more time before it turned dark and took a seat on the newly decorated front porch. Earlier that week husband and I were talking about fireflies, and how he didn't think there were any left in the south. He so loves fireflies and couldn't wait to head back to Canada to see some. Needless to say, the Father's Day fairy heard him lament and sprinkled our street with fireflies that night. I yelled for husband and the kids to hurry outside. We all took a seat and watched our lawn and our neighbors' properties light up with tiny sparks.

"What a perfect ending to a wonderful day" said husband. I didn't need to stress or worry about a grand scheme; it all came together on its own.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The tale of ancient treasure found in the dryer

The other day I was searching for bloggers to link up with (almost sounds sexy) and came across a hilarious post by a blogger mom entitled "Rocks in the Dryer". I didn't even read her first post and already I knew we were kindred spirits.

You see, doing my son's laundry is an exercise in patience, wonderful discovery and frustration. No longer can I carelessly toss his shorts/pants/jackets in the wash. I MUST go through every pocket first; I never know what treasure I might find. Seriously. In the past I might have half-heartedly stuck my hand in a pocket or two but it was more out of habit than anything. On occasion I still find a receipt or loose change in my husband's clothes which rarely turn out to be a bad thing so the instant reflex reach always kicks in.

Boys under ten usually like to pick up and collect rocks. I wish it were so with my kid. His continued fascination with all things Egypt, ancient, Mayan and now Roman means I find weirder stuff in the dryer. Miniature statues (note to aunties and uncles: we have plenty of baby Nefertiti busts) are the norm around here. Don't get me wrong. I still get excited if I find a rock; to me it means he's still got one foot in the door of regular-boy-land.

His latest thing is to draw his loved ones cartouches. (I had to look that one up) He will show you his cartouche, but he will never part with it. In other words, there are a million little scraps of paper rolled up and tied up with a rubber band with secret encrypted messages on them that end up as shreds of white dust in my dryer. I know he's brilliant and creative and wonderful...but rocks, I could handle.

It is definitely a boy thing though. Girls carry backpacks until they are old enough to carry purses and don't usually stuff their treasures in their pockets. I never do. Then again, I do have the black hole otherwise known as my purse to contend with. Wonder what's lurking in there?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Karma Chameleon

It's been exactly 30 days since the last post and so much has changed/occurred, I don't know where to begin except to say, we've been eatin up some major karma this week. If you believe all that voodoo and superstition (and I do, and not just because lil Stevie Wonder sings it so well) then we Clarks have so*me karmatic business to attend to.

If bad things happen in threes, then we took care of bad things for a while. I've always remarked how lucky we were when it came to vehicles and that our car karma was great. Erase that and add until now. This week alone we have spent well over a grand on our vehicles for some really dumb s*@$! We're sorry karma gods; can you hear us???

I know it's more of a guy thing, but a car with dents just doesn't bug me. To me they are just like wrinkles on a woman's face; they have been earned and add "character" to the surface. To my husband, they are bad. In fact, he doesn't even like our car anymore because of a few minor wrinkles. Most of the wrinkles weren't even our fault. True story; a crackhead neighbor back in Toronto got really zooed one Sunday afternoon, lost control of his bicycle and crashed straight into our car. Knocked himself down, fractured his collarbone, wrecked his bike and dinged our Echo. It wasn't worth calling the insurance company and we were certain he didn't have a dime (not a legal one anyhow) to his name. If that's the worst of it, I thought, then we got off easy.

I digress. We are getting ready to go on a road trip this week and Kevin wanted the car lookin spiffy so he took a plunger (he saw this on some reality show or something) and a hammer to the door to "pull" out the dings. I guess he doesn't know his own strength, and consequently smashed the window on the passenger side door. Ouch. A whoppin bill days before our trip. A minor note; he also ripped the seat upholstery trying to vacuum up some dirt. I didn't even notice.

Though we were considering a car rental, our Budget budget was just plundered and so driving the Echo it would be. Grandma and Grandpa then called to say they were sorry they couldn't meet us in NOLA, and would we please allow them to rent a car for us. Dang! I says. Well it turns out you can't pay for a car rental in one state when the pick up is in another state so that plan was off. Oh well, it was the thought that counted.

After a difficult night's sleep, my husband arises early to drive to work on the scooter at 5:30 AM, his usual routine. The scooter has been a blessing and allowed us some extra transportation without major cost. (see previous blog entitled Liquor-sicle). However, the whole joy in not having to pay insurance isn't really a joy when it comes time to replace the stolen scooter. That's right, it was stolen in broad daylight in front of Bank of America, someplace you would think would have MAJOR security.

I don't know what to think. Is it just plain, bad, dumb luck, unlucky circumstances, bad karma or dimwitted-ness??? What is up with the car??? What is up with us??? Should we cancel the trip and just stay under the covers??? Help me friends. Tell me something good.

Monday, March 10, 2008


When I think of scooter, I think of a cool, well-dressed, gorgeous European man tooling around the Piazza on a vintage Vespa, his dark purple tie flapping in the wind. He may have an equally gorgeous, slim babe in a shift dress, dark sunglasses and chiffon covering her hair, riding on back. How chic, how sophisticated... how un-American.

Back in Toronto my husband rode a vintage Vespa that I had won in a major sales contest. He loved the freedom of zipping through downtown traffic and the cache of owning an Italian model, the epitome of cool in scooter cultural terms. His friends were envious. His best friend eventually bought a Vespa, another friend of mine bought one too. When we got ready to move back to the US, we discovered it was going to be a paperwork/logistical nightmare to get it across the border and regrettably sold it to another friend who was more than happy to take it off our hands.

Recently my husband took an early shift at work and required his own mode of transportation. We have been a one car family for so long, we had to deliberate on what/how/when to buy a second vehicle. One car families are an anomaly in this car-culture town, but a one car/scooter family is downright unheard of. Now I'm not saying that scooters aren't ridden around here because they are. But they tend to have drivers who are younger, college student types who are limited on funds. Some of them are cool too.

Taking into account the cost of a car note, insurance, astronomical gas prices and downtown parking fees, we concluded that another scooter would do the trick, especially since it will get driven ten or eleven months of the year, rather than the four or five months available in Canada. A quick search on Craigslist turned up a fairly new Honda scooter with less than 75 miles on it. To boot, no motorcycle license is required to drive a scooter (under a certain cc) in the state of North Carolina. Free parking, next to free gas prices and no paperwork...what more could we ask for!

I pictured my husband in his Banana Republic suit, driving through town, women stopping mid sentence to check out the sexy machine... Um, wrong. Apparently in this town men (grown men more specifically) on scooters are thought to be losers with too many DUIs, who can no longer legally drive and have resorted to getting around on a liquor-sicle, as they are otherwise and affectionately known.

The first clue should have been the snickers from his co-workers, men who drive manly cars, like SUVs or anything with the word magnum in its description. Our neighbor across the street plain out bust a gut when Kevin told him he bought a scooter. "You are legal to drive aren't you?" was his very next question. They just didn't seem to get it and neither did we.

Thankfully, our other neighbor, Ms Southern Hospitality, clued us in to its pseudonym. By this point however we had paid for the thing outright and have no recourse but to drive it back and forth everyday. The Fellini-esqueness has been sucked right out of our European scooter fantasy. Now it's left with a "My Name is Earl" residue. Bummer.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Face It!

Something awfully strange is happening. I am "meeting" people in town and in other towns through virtual reality. I now have "friends" in various cities, though some of them I've never met. I am making online friends with people I've been phoning and emailing for weeks, to no avail. People I would like to connect with for potential job opportunities who would and have otherwise completely blown me off, suddenly want to reveal very personal information to me. I have come face to face with the realization that Facebook is the great communicator of the day and I just don't get it.

Until now I have completed resisted the phenomena that is online networking for many reasons. First of all, it creeps me out to have to/want to share that much personal information with the world. Secondly, if I want to talk to my friends, I call them or send them a personal and confidential email. Thirdly, Facebook was introduced to me by a high school kid as "the coolest way to hook up", which somehow seems highly inappropriate for a mom. Lastly, does anyone really care "what are you doing right now?" if I'm doing the laundry or cutting my son's toenails? (last night's festivities) Must I share that with the world? Oh, did I mention it creeps me out?

Why did I join then? Apparently I was the very last of my seven siblings to sign on. My sisters' weekly invites, pokes (what exactly it is in Facebook world I'm not certain of) and messages to join were relentless. My brother John doesn't even bother to email anymore and insists people "catch him" on Facebook. Even my brother Steve, who can never remember my phone number and who forgets to buy groceries, is a regular. I caved.

I have friends who, in the real world, would barely pass as acquaintances, yet somehow want me to see their wedding photo albums. Colleagues who were satisfying as contacts, now want to know what I've had for breakfast. When will it ever end? I thought perhaps I might get a gig or two, share a laugh with a real friend (note to self - my best friend has not signed on) and keep up with my sister's never-ending camping photos. I still don't get it.

If you're on Facebook and you come across my name, don't poke me or wall me or send a smile or whatever. Call me at home this weekend and we'll chat.

Friday, January 4, 2008

"Tell me about your car!!!"

We all know this town is fairly flush and what better way to say "I'm successful!" than with a flashy, bling-worthy, name-dropping car? There are more Beemers, Jags, Benz and Ranges here than you can shake a stick at. I bet 28203 gives 90210 a run for its money when it comes to automobiles...

Unfortunately, I don't own one of these. My car is the much less desirable, poor-man's Volkswagen otherwise known as an Echo. (mind you, it's the sporty two-door kind) Back in the driveway-challenged metropolis of Toronto, Echos are a wise choice. They are economical, drive well in traffic (we're talking hours of idling here, not minutes) and can fit in the most minute parking spots. We didn't have a driveway or garage back home and welcomed a cheap and cheerful ride that could be left out on the street all night.

Many agree. Echos are really popular in Toronto. Two of my very best friends drive Echos, in fact. So does my step-daughter. I could go on, but won't.

Not surprising though, I haven't seen many Echos here in Charlotte. I think I've seen a total of four in the five months or so that we've been here. What did surprise me though was the reaction I got when I pulled into the driveway of a prospective interviewee in my sporty wannabee sports car.

No sooner had I stepped out of the car when this gentleman exclaimed (and I say this in the nicest way) "Wow! Tell me about your car!!". Now the Echo is rare in these parts but it's not exactly a George Jetson-mobile... I swear this man had never laid eyes on this particular Toyota brand. I didn't really know what to say. "Uh, it's a sporty Echo that gets great gas mileage and can park anywhere" is what I responded with a "everyone in Toronto drives one" for good measure.

As extreme as it sounds, picture this. We are driving down a main thorough fare in Charlotte in a prosperous section of town when we pull up next to a Beemer at a red light. Not only is it brand new, it's got "Sweet Sixteen" and "Happy Birthday" written all over it, like it just pulled off the lot of "Richie Rich's BMW of Lake Norman". What sixteen year old needs a 2007 BMW??? I didn't get my own car until I was 23 and working full-time. Even if my parents had the dough to buy one, I very much doubt they'd sign me up for a brand-spanking, accident magnet car.

My 2001 beater (fully paid off, I might add) with it's unidentifiable Canadian plates has become a sort of badge of honor. It puzzles people. Machines too. Once, a couple of months back as I pulled out of the parking garage at the airport, the parking attendee stopped to ask me which state it was from. I told her PEI. The computer didn't recognize it and settled on PA instead. Ha! It's not only sporty, but mysterious too.