25 Things that would never happen in Seattle

thumbs upYou’ve seen those “Only in New York, The Midwest, California” etc. posts, mostly on Facebook. Well, this is my “Never in Seattle” list. All items happened in Maryland and depict actual events and people. I use the term “Seattle” loosely as I lived in the ‘burbs.

Never in Seattle

  1. I conversed with a stranger for longer than 10 seconds.
  2. A cashier caught an error in my bill and went out of her way to fix it, smiling the whole time.
  3. We had an elaborate brunch with Santa for $15 a head AND kids ate free.
  4.  All the morning rain dried up by 11 a.m. WHEN THE SUN CAME OUT!!
  5. I swam in a public pool without the encroachment of Old-World Asian women doing water aerobics.
  6. That same pool did not have a warm spot that mysteriously aligned with an old man doing water aerobics.
  7. My daughter attended public, all-day kindergarten for FREE!
  8. We had five sunny days in a row IN DECEMBER!
  9. Two Walmart employees  loaded a huge heavy gift into my car and I didn’t even have to ask.
  10. No one stepped in front of my car at Walmart. read more

Sandy, Survivors and my Dad

My husband’s worried. He’s worried about the victims and the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. We have family and friends in New York and New Jersey and most of them came through the hurricane without a scrape. But one of our friends lost his house, many lost power, some are still without power, and there are all those people that we don’t know, but we’re pulling for them, trying to rebuild their lives. read more

September 11, 2011

Today is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the plane in Pennsylvania. It was, and still is, a horrible tragedy as so many struggle to cope with their losses.

I was working two blocks from the White House when we heard about the attacks. Our office gathered in the conference room to watch the tragedy unfold on TV, when it was still in New York. Then a picture of the Pentagon, five miles away, flashed on the screen. A half-hour later the building evacuated us to the gridlocked DC streets. I didn’t think the Metro was running, so I boarded a bus. It took us an hour to go two blocks.

Frustrated, I got off and found that the Metro was, in fact, running. People on it were talking to strangers, trying to make sense of the tragedy. I couldn’t go to my usual stop, the Pentagon, so I improvised and found a bus at another stop. I got home and my friends, who didn’t have a TV, asked to come over and watch. I was grateful not to be alone, as we watched the attacks over and over. I tried to call my parents to tell them I was ok, but all the lines to New York were jammed as people checked on their loved ones. I finally got through to them at 9 p.m. on my friend’s cell phone. I asked if my cousin Peter, a Brooklyn cop, was at the site.

“He’s from Brooklyn,” my father said, dismissing the idea, “He’s not gonna be a there.”

He was there, and so was my cousin “Baby” Louie, a Westchester County volunteer firefighter. I found out later that Louie had had a close call as his chief changed his mind about sending the team into the second tower just before it collapsed.

We learned a lot about ourselves that day, and in the days after. We learned that the U.S. was not invincible. We were not safe. We learned a lot about character – the character of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the character of our president, George W. Bush. But to me, we learned the most about the character of New Yorkers.

We New Yorkers get a bad rap. I grew up in suburban New York, and although I’ve lost most of the accent and haven’t lived there in 13 years, New York is a huge part of my identity. When my Virginian mother-in-law first met me, she told her family “I never thought I would like somebody from New York.” Every city with a baseball team hates the Yankees. Everyone knows that New Yorkers are rude, gruff and selfish.

So in the days and months following the attacks, people around the country were surprised to see how New Yorkers pulled together. How everyone, whether they lost someone or not, was affected by the tragedy. How Mayor Giuliani led this population of callous cads to support each other and grieve together.

I went to New York several months after the attacks, and as I walked through Grand Central Station, my chest wrenched when I saw all the “Missing:” posters on the walls and bulletin boards. Months after the attacks, no one had taken them down. I could not imagine the pain that these people felt. I went to Ground Zero. The emptiness was what hit me the most. I could see clear across Wall Street to the water. Before the attacks, Wall Street was its own fortress of capitalism, blocking out the city around it, and now its greatest monument was gone. Ground Zero was fenced off, and people had tied flowers, pictures and cards to the fence, tributes to those who were lost.

As wounded as they were, New Yorkers started to pick up the pieces. They told their children why Daddy or Mommy wouldn’t be home again. They got their affairs in order and tried to move on. They leaned on each other when standing by themselves was too much. And the whole country, and much of the world, saw them – in news interviews and pictures of the tributes; reflected in Mayor Giuliani’s speeches; in the financial markets, resuming their work. They saw that rude was really resilient. They saw that gruff was really generous, and they saw that selfish was really supportive.

Some New Yorkers tried to bring some good back into the world. Public relations pros David Paine and Jay Winuk started 911dayofservice.org, to encourage people to volunteer and do good deeds in honor of those we lost. Scott Heiferman founded Meetup.com to bring community back into our cities and towns.

After the attacks, and always, I’m proud to be a New Yorker. The people who survive the attacks to this day make me even prouder. My heart goes out to all of the people I left behind there, the people who lost family and friends, and the people who’ve had to recover from the horrors of that day. I hope that every September 11th, our country will remember the courage and the support that they saw in New Yorkers those days. I hope that even without a great tragedy to unite them, they’ll be able to follow New York’s example.

Better Business Bitching

Ok, this has nothing to do with families or relationships, but I need to sound off. That’s what blogging is all about, right? Please bear with the tangent. Family relationships will be back next week.

This morning I went to the Verizon store to purchase a gift card for Fathers’ Day. I walked in and a host told me there was a wait. “Do you mind waiting?” I told him I just wanted a gift card and he offered to put my name on a list.

I said, “I’ll come back” and went to Home Depot next door.

I came back about 10 minutes later and a different host said, “Oh, they can help you in just a few minutes. You can look around the store.” At what? Different colored gift cards? I’m not buying a phone, Bozo. So I waited. And I waited. And I waited. I watched as a transaction appeared done, but the clerk and the customer chatted and chatted, the way Washingtonians will do. They won’t tell you anything real, but they’ll chat for hours about nothing. But that’s another story.

Anyway I got fed up and left in a huff. I was still mad when I got home, so I called Verizon customer service to complain about the store. The customer service person was very nice and took my complaint. I told her that this was not the first time they’d had an unacceptable wait time and asked why the hosts were not qualified to sell a freakin’ gift card, for crying out loud. After I hung up, I felt better. (By the way, if you’re happy with your wireless carrier and your coverage is comparable to Verizon’s, please let me know.)

My husband, Matt, had a similar experience last week. Well, several. He set out to spend his $100 birthday gift on his lunch hour. He walked into Men’s Wearhouse, where they’re usually very solicitous. No one even acknowledged him. He walked into the Nike store, carried a $100 golf shoe around the store, wanting to try it on. No one came. He walked into Victoria’s Secret (because a gift for me is a gift for him), saw four young shop girls chatting on their work-issued headsets. No one approached him. Frustrated and disappointed, he went back to work empty-handed.

He complained to me that night about the shop employees, “We’re never going to get out of the recession if people don’t work anymore. These kids grew up coddled and spoiled and they don’t know how to work for a living.”

“It’s all that not scoring their soccer games. They’re just not competitive,” I agreed.

“They just don’t give a shit is more like it,” he said.

“I bet there are plenty of people who’d like to have their jobs, too,” I said.

Ultimately we agreed that apathy in business is the lynchpin of the recession and if no one’s going to sell anything, no one’s going to buy anything. I’ll go a step further and say that innovation and good marketing is what will get our economy going again. I’m not an economist, not by a long shot, but I’m pretty good with common sense. We must get people to spend money and they will only spend if we meet their needs. And we have to stop ripping people off. Safeway responded to the Edy’s/Dreyer’s shrinking package/same price move by pointing out that its Private Selection brand was still the same size. Guess which one I bought. That’s the kind of marketing we need.

We need a serious attitude adjustment, too. All those kids with their crappy retail jobs don’t realize that their job performance will follow them to their next job, and the next, and the next. I’ll hazard a guess that the Victoria’s Secret manager was Generation Y too, or the girls wouldn’t have gotten away with their behavior. But somewhere up the chain there’s a good businessperson who’ll notice their performance, can them and hire people who will do a good job.

We need innovators. And though I can think of a few things I’d like to see on the market – like a body-pillow case that zips up one side so it’s easier to use – innovation does not require inventions. Rather, it requires inventiveness. In the Outer Banks, North Carolina, there’s a chain of drive-through convenience stores called Brew Thru. People love them and they do tons of business. Why? Because people love the convenience. Before I became a mom, I didn’t have much of an opinion about drive-throughs, but now that I’ve got two kids I’ve got to unbuckle, assemble, control and then rebuckle just to get one thing at a store, I wish everything was available at the drive-through. Brew Thru isn’t the only drive-through convenience store chain, but it is a mom and pop success story.

Matt had another remedy for the recession (which, in economic terms, is over) – tax incentives for employers to hire and retain employees. Right now, American companies are working their few remaining employees to death to maintain their market share. Although I doubt Matt’s idea would fly with the current Congress, his financially-savvy boss pointed out that lowering taxes improves the economy. Historically, he said, every time we lower taxes – business and individual — we see an economic boost. “It’s the Wal-Mart effect,” Matt said, “They have more money so they spend more.”

So there you have it. My recession rant. Again, I am not an economist, just a haggard consumer, but I stand by my conviction that innovation, marketing and a vested interest in our jobs, whatever they may be, are the keys to building our economy. And since Matt mentioned it, tax incentives based on jobs aren’t a bad idea, either. Thanks for letting me sound off. I feel much better.

Victory Garden

This year will be different, I thought. This year she’s old enough to really enjoy the garden.

We started in February with the peas. “You love peas, Rose, and you know what? We can grow them in the garden. Would you like to help Mommy plant them?”

“Yeah! Yeah!” exclaimed my excited two-and-a-half-year-old.

“Ok, well here’s the seeds,” I said, handing her the envelope. “I’ll get my gloves and we’ll go back to the garden.”

“Ok!” she said, fiddling with the envelope. Halfway back we had to stop.

“No, Baby, we don’t open them yet. No, don’t shake! We don’t want to lose them! Ok, I’ll take them,” I demanded, holding out my hand.

“NOOO!”

I grabbed them. “Yes! I told you, if don’t have the seeds, we won’t grow any peas.”

“I want them!”

“We will play with them in the garden.”

“I WANT THEM!”

“Ok, sit here, Sweetie. No, no, don’t walk in the garden. Sit on the grass! Sit!”

“I want to go here!”

“But how are we going to plant the peas? We have to plant the peas over here!” I said, grabbing her arm. “Sit!”

“Ok, so here’s what we do: take the little rake like this and run it across the dirt like this.” I showed her.

“I want to do it!” Finally.

“Here you go.” She ran the hand rake over the soil, dug it into the ground, and catapulted a divot onto the grass. “No, Baby, now we have to dig holes for the little seeds. A divot flew past my face. “Honey, give me the rake. Give it to me.” I reached out for it.

“NOOO! I want it!” she said as I yanked it out of her hand. “I want it!”

“Don’t you want to plant the peas?”

“I WANT IT!”

“Ok, Sweetie, why don’t you take the rake and go over there.” Happily, she settled down on the site of the future tomato bed. A divot shot past my face. Breathe in, breathe out. “And Mommy will plant the peas.”

Strawberries

“Today we’re going to plant the strawberries, Sweetie. Oh boy, looks like we’ve got a lot of weeds. Guess I’ll start pulling them.” Rose climbed up on the rock wall with my trowel. Fountains of dirt flew, peppering the driveway. I grabbed a weed and pulled. Rose looked up.

“What are you doing Mommy?”

“Pulling weeds,” I said.

“Can I pull weeds?” she asked.

“Uh…sure, Sweetie. Come over here and I’ll show you.” I pointed, “This is a weed. Grab it at the bottom and pull it out.” She grasped her little hand around it and pulled. It came up, roots and all.

“Can I do it again?” she asked.

“YES!” Hallelujah. “Pull this one right here.” And she did. “No, not that one! We want that plant!” I pointed out some more weeds, and she kept pulling. Fantastic, I thought, It’s just destructive enough to hold her attention. And she’s really helping.

Lettuce

“Today we’re ready to plant the lettuce,” I said. “Help me pull out the weeds first.” I wielded my hand rake. “Pull that one, right there.”

Rose grabbed the hand rake. “I want to dig!” She raked the ground. Divots of tilled, fertilized, composted soil flew into the grass.

“Do you want to dig up the weeds over here? That’s where we’ll plant the tomatoes.”

“I want to dig!” she said as the ruts got bigger and the grass got buried.

I sighed.

The books said that kids are supposed to like gardening. It’s playing in the dirt, after all. Rose loves eating vegetables off the plants, so I know she’s got gardening potential. There are so many great lessons for me to teach her in the garden too. Science, work, sustainablility. She’d benefit so much from this. If only I could get her to like the process and not just the result.

We were working on the herb garden and Rose tromped across my seedlings. “NOOOO!” I cried. She kept tromping. “No, don’t walk there!” I nudged her backwards, out of the garden.

“MWWAAAAAAA! You pushed me!” I’d made her cry. How could she like the garden if Mommy made her cry?

“Ohh, Sweetie. I’m sorry I pushed you. I’m sorry. Can you listen for a second?”

Sniff, “Yeah.”

“Ok, those little plants? They’re babies. Little babies, so we’ve got to be gentle with them. If we walk on them they break and then they can never grow up.”

“Ohhhh.” She kneeled down and stroked the babies. “Hi babies.”

Wow, I thought, it worked.

Tomatoes

May came along and I set out to buy tomato plants. I had an idea. “Rose, would you like to grow your own tomato plant?” I asked.

“YES! I want one!” she yelled.

“Ok. Mommy’s going to the farmer’s market and I’ll bring you back a tomato plant and it’ll be all yours. You can take care of it and eat all the tomatoes it grows. Ok?”

“YES MOMMY!”

Ok, maybe we’re getting somewhere. I’ll believe it when I see it, though. I came home with some plants.

“Is that mine?” she asked, holding up a yellow pear.

“Uh, no, Sweetie. I got this one for you,” I said, pointing to a Sweet 1,000 plant. They’re supposed to be hardy and prolific, so I thought it would be perfect for her.

“Can we plant it?” she said.

“Now? Well, sure, ok.” We set out to the garden. I pulled out a big pot.

“Fill this with dirt, Sweetie. Take the shovel and get the dirt from the bag, and put it in the pot.”

“Ok,” she said, as I tried to guide her hand. “I DO IT!”

“Ok.” And she did. She scooped dirt out of the bag, and dumped it in the pot. She had almost filled the pot when I stopped her.

“Honey let’s plant the tomato. We need to take a little bit of this dirt out because we need to make room for it,” I said as I scooped some soil out. “You go get your plant.”

She brought it over. “Ok, we’re going to take it out of that pot and plant it in this big pot,” I said. She turned the pot upside down and began to shake.

“NO, BABY, GENTLE!” I gasped as I grabbed the plant and turned it upright. I pulled it out of the pot and clipped the lower leaves. Deep breath. “Ok, now we make a hole in the pot. Can you do that?”

“I DO IT!” she yelled.

“That’s what I said.” Soil started to fly. “Ok, Honey, that’s deep enough. Let’s plant your tomato.” I put it in the hole. “Now you get to bury it. Bury it with dirt up to about here.”

“Ok,” she said, as she pushed dirt onto the plant.

“That’s enough, Sweetie. Good job,” I said, smoothing soil. “Now we just have to water it and we’re done.”

“I WANT TO WATER!”

“And you will. Let me get the hose.” I brought it back and held it for her.

“I DO IT!” she yelled.

“Ok, Honey, let Mommy hold the hose because we have to be gentle and Mommy knows how. You can point it at your plant.”

“Ok.” Whew! We watered her tomato, and then I let her water the rest of the garden.

“That’s it, Sweetie, we’re done. We just have to check it now to see if it grows. And you’re going to take care of it from now on.” Satisfied, I took her inside.

The next day, Rose ran out on the deck, peered down at the garden and cried, “Yaaay! It’s GROWING!” She couldn’t even see her tomato plant from there. She was happy about my garden. Victory.

Care and Feeding

A week later, we shopped at Lowe’s and I bought her some Dora the Explorer garden mats. They were cheap and I needed a mat anyway. She saw the Dora gardening gloves and wanted those. Sure, anything to encourage her in the garden. I threw them in the cart. We went to another department and my brilliant husband said, “Did you see the ‘Sesame Street’ garden tools?”

“No!” I said, surprised. “Do you think she’d like them?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I think she’d love to have her own tools.”

I took her to the display. “Hey, there’s Elmo and Cookie Monster and Abby!” she said, picking up the little bags of tools.

“Which one do you want, Sweetie?” I said.

“ABBY!”

So we bought the Abby Cadabby bag. It held a plastic hand rake, two shovels, five tiny pots and a pack of pumpkin seeds. Rose insisted on carrying it around the store. She napped after the store, but the minute she woke up, she picked up her bag of tools and said, “Mommy, can we go to the garden now?” Victory. Matt is a genius, I thought, thank God I married him.

Now whenever she sees the Abby bag, she wants to go to the garden. This morning I told her to wait until I’d had a shower and she walked into the bathroom, asking, “Are you done yet, Mommy? Can we go to the garden now?”

Today we planted her pumpkin seeds. Victory.