Ggma Reviews Airbnb

27 04 2015

Last summer Best Boy bought the Dr. a big toy for his birthday – a “mid-life” motorcycle. Two safety courses and MDOT endorsement secured had us planning a week long trek mid-September from LA up the Cali coast on the Pacific Coast Highway-Route 1 and back down via Yosemite and the Mojave. The guys on their bikes with Mimi and me in their GTI (chase vehicle), we were off. IMG_0027IMG_0028-1

This adventure will be recounted eventually but for now it’s just to set the scene. I was going to be MIA for a bit. Ggma was all set-up safe and sound tucked in at TOH (The Old Homestead).  Meanwhile we were exploring abodes via Airbnb. Each one of the places we stayed had a unique charm.

Airbnb isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – opening a home to complete strangers or being the stranger inhabiting someone else’s space. Nightly, with great expectation we’d drive up to an address, secure the keys and play house. There were a few places we wanted to pocket the keys and become squatters while others weren’t more than a lay-over for our weary heads – glad to move on down the road after a few hours rest. Nothing was so scary or strange to make us want to pack up and leave.

Surprise sleeping arrangements weren’t much of a stretch for Best Boy, the Dr. and me. In our previous life, it was called a furlough. An ironic term -“furlough”. The standard scenario was a missionary family would report to churches that had financially invested in them (you know Return On Investment and reporting to the shareholders type of thing). I think we had 30 churches to visit. Typically we were hosted in parishioner’s homes. I shudder as I write those words. 99% of the meals and accommodations were perfectly lovely encounters (especially if you, dear reader, happened to have hosted us at some point). But that 1% is like gravel imbedded in a leg after laying a motorcycle down on a curve – too painful to dig out every last piece and just barely visible under the skin so as to never be forgotten. Again, I go on record to declare I have writing material for years to come as this is way cheaper than any therapy.

It takes some serious chops to continually be in someone else’s personal space and not go bonkers. An overnight might not be long enough to notice things that would be a complete creep out. Since being hosted was part of our lifestyle, we had zero reservations about letting others use our apartments in Spain (yes, plural because we lived in five places in a little over a decade). If we were Stateside for the summer visiting those churches, our empty place was open to house travelers with co-workers managing the bookings. Sometimes guests would leave behind thoughtful hostess gifts. One in particular was  unforgettable and left in the most interesting place – peeking out from under a bookshelf in our bedroom – a hot pink thong. Honeymooners. ’nuff said.

Back to the story at hand. Having returned from the West Coast, I went to catch up with Ggma and immediately assessed she was no longer comfortable with any kind of absence on my part. We were at another fork in the road. By December, with nasty weather threatening our doorsteps, a new plan was improvised. Ggma would now be “riding in a sidecar”.  She’s in our space at the Money Pit or I’m in her space at The Old Homestead.

After about two months journeying on this new path during an extended stay at the Money Pit she asked,

“Where’s the lady who owns this house?”

“Well, the Dr. & I own this house.”

She scowled at me with that look like I was lying through my teeth. Clearly we were having one of those moments. This can’t be fixed.  This can only be managed. This I know: in her eyes, at that moment, I couldn’t possibly be the owner of the Money Pit and she wanted a word with whoever was in charge.

“Well, (with a tone of disgust) I am ITCHING to get at that filthy front window I’m staring at all day!!”

Distraction is the best course of action to move us along this road to ruin. Trying to go over the fine points of the family tree is futile. I had opened the drapes and sheers so that she could enjoy a clear view as she monitors the comings and goings of UPS, FedEx, USPS, garbage trucks, day-care drop offs and pick ups across the street, and oh, yeah – school buses. I hear it all. She’s got an eagle eye on when school is out and those kids are running hither thither and yon – when they aren’t wearing jackets and they should be headed indoors to get at their homework.

mcscWith a subtle move, simultaneously opening the front door to grab the mail,

the sheers were drawn shut.

Out of sight. Out of mind. End of discussion.

But this place where she’s staying – whoever owns it – needs a housekeeper.

Her Airbnb rating: Two stars…maybe.

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the no expectations vacation

29 04 2010

When the one expectation I had for this time was met within the first 3 hours, it really makes for a relaxed ride.

Our decade plus in Spain was marked by frequent visitors – some expected and loved, others complete strangers.  It took a while to figure out that the key to a successful vacation experience for people had everything to do with the what they were hoping to accomplish.  So regardless of how well I knew people, the early hours of their stay were marked by planning.

I started with a litany of questions to sort out their expectations.  Were they art lovers who would drool over The Prado? Were they kitsch shoppers that would buy cheap T-shirts and key chains and call it a day?  Were they open to real cultural experiences that they would allow ME to do all the planning?  Did they need to eat every few hours?  If I had the answers to these questions, then I could probably come up with itineraries that would keep them happy.

So now before we plan any trip for business or pleasure or a combo of both – we work out those details as best as we can.  There has never been as smashing a success as last year’s great escape.  Not every time away can be centered around cliffs, sun umbrellas and a suitcase of books to be devoured.

This trip was a last minute mental necessity – a need to reconnect and get some face time with Best Boy and Mimi.  There is something strangely wonderful about being in the Entertainment Capital of the World and not needing to go or do or see any of the sights…except for hanging with them.  I dare say that our future holds return trips with Donny Diva in tow where we’ll be back at Disneyland or Universal Studios or Legoland or the San Diego Zoo or – or – or…

Not this time around though.  There is nothing looming on today’s horizon except for the fact that I know we’ll eat more than once.





RIP little red bus

21 02 2010

In these old houses, one innocent project always leads the way to ten unexpected detours.  I suppose it starts back at getting our bamboo fence put in last summer.  Next was having the massive, ugly white pine taken out of the front yard which opened up the view to the porch and exposed how badly we need a paint job.  That put me in a bind because I can’t for the life of me figure out what TWO colors I want the trim painted…the body of the house will stay the same but I just need to settle on TWO.  But they should be in line with the roof color, right?  And the gutter work we had done with the new roof two summers ago…

That led to the fact that the basement window frames are showing their 100 year-plus age and needed serious work -which lead me to thinking about finally having glass-block windows put in, thus doing away with the frames.  So we got the estimate months ago and found that getting work done in the winter is cheaper.  Sure – no brainer but they have to do the install before the end of February before their busy time of Home and Garden trade shows starts in March.

That is where my funk began.  It messed with all my glorious plans of escaping the gray and saving my sanity with a Cali trip…not to mention my Best Boy / Mimi deficit.  Being old enough for an AARP card, it is time to act my age, bite the bullet and make a grown-up decision.  Trip cancelled and install scheduled for Tuesday of this week, although I have a sneaking suspicion it will be canceled till the following week since they are predicting 8″ of snow over the next four days.  THAT is a 25 lb. bag of salt in my open wound.

They need access to all six windows from the inside.  So I swallow the bitter pill and begin to do what is seems like I have been doing for the last two years in Billy’s basement on my own rat’s nest of stuff.  I am finally figuring out why I’ve been in such a bad mood for so long.

It is an emotionally exhausting process on top of the horrid assault to my sinuses to be digging through years of memories.  There are almost 40 boxes of books that represent the grueling years of graduate and post-graduate study that are going to be donated to a not-for-profit that takes theological libraries and redistributes them around the world.  That was a lot of groceries not purchased…alot of old cars that randomly wouldn’t start…rental, after rental, after rental…and no cruises on the Caribbean.

Then there are the boxes that held the early creative years of Best Boy and Shop Girl.  Pieces of wood, colored with magic marker which became instrument panels for F-16’s.  Dolls made of socks, buttons and a little glued on lace.  Glow-worms, Pound Puppies, a Cabbage Patch named Phoebe, a box of micro mini cars and helicopters, a remote control 4×4 that lit his face up like a Christmas tree…this is the hard part.

They aren’t just old toys.  They are old memories.  I am clinging to the Clean House mantra that keeping the toy doesn’t preserve the memory.  I know that.  It’s just the stuff of life that has gotten us to the place we are at today.  It has no real value now that its weight has doubled with dust mites.

I am glad that I can at least snap a digital photo here and there before things disappear into the black recesses of a contractor’s bag bound for the Salvation Army.  I know that in this town there are hundreds of families who’s kids live for the Saturday trip to the resale stores to claim their own $1 prize.  And if it keeps these trinkets out of the landfill one more year…so be it.

Obviously, there are those things doomed to the blue city garbage bag immediately. Last garbage day that meant 10 bags not counting the loads of recycled cardboard!  When I can find a way to eek a bit more life out of these things, I’m committed to that.  I’m most thrilled to have remembered a Hispanic cultural center / library in town that is willing to take lots and lots of kids books in English and Spanish. It feels like the good they had in my kids’ lives will keep on.

That is really the issue here.  Perceived value.  That is why things have been dragged from pillar to post over the last twenty some odd years because they were “their” possessions.  I always knew this day would come but I never wanted to rush it.  There was enough inherent pain with each move, with each good-bye, with each pulling up of tender roots.  We couldn’t just drive by the places they spent a year here or two years there.  Those places are 4000 miles away.  So I kept the stuff.

Yesterday on Facebook, a friend was looking for some skis.  I quickly replied that Best Boy’s skis of high school years were still leaning against a door frame upstairs.  He stopped by with his two kids to take a look to see if they’d fit the bill.  We even had a pair of ski boots someone had given the Dr. years ago that were the right size.

The six-year-old noticed a bag of Legos on the dining room table and asked about them.  “Oh, those used to be Best Boy’s and I cleaned them up real good so that I’d have a toy or two here when Donny Diva comes to Momo’s house to stay.”  The nine-year-old piped up, “Our Mom threw away all our Legos and never told us.”  I tried to stifle my reaction.  “She DID WHAT???”  I know the whole story and for a few years theirs looked doomed to be a repeat of our as they made two different trips to live in Israel.

There is only so much you can move with you with two kids to settle in unknown surrounds.  How much storage will you have?  Dishes or Legos?  Coats or Cabbage Patch dolls?  I know the story from inside the mom’s brain.  But I also heard the betrayal in that little voice as she said to her dad, “That was our stuff and you never asked us…”

I get it.  I’ve been given permission.  I’m glad to do away with the ball and chain that has been dragging behind us all these years.  But I also know that Shop Girl doesn’t quite understand the tug on my heart since Donny Diva hasn’t started making things yet, drawing on things yet, adoring things yet…she hasn’t doubled over in laughter yet as she sees the places his imagination will take him and with such unlikely tools.

But the truth is still that with Billy’s basement all cleaned out and freshly painted, I don’t miss him less because all that stuff isn’t down there.  And I won’t love Best Boy and Shop Girl one ounce less because I tossed the Little Red Bus.  Nonetheless, it still stings just a little remembering how proud he was to have made it and been picked to be front and center at the year-end program chirping out in English since it was a British School…”The little red bus goes up and down, up and down, up and down.  The little red bus…”





34 to go

16 02 2010

I thought that the first part was the hardest part – but I think this half is really the killer.  We are on the downward slope.  It should just be a coast from here till Spring but this is when things get really tough.  I don’t like how the radio announcer has a smile in her voice telling us to expect snow the next three days.

Just about a year ago, we got away for the vacation of a lifetime…and now it seems like a lifetime ago, but it wasn’t. Looking at all the photos quietly nestled in my iPhoto library brings some small measure of satisfaction as I re-create the days in my head.  I was there.  It did happen.  I was a lucky, lucky girl.

Then there’s this year.  Lots of things have pressed in making such extravagance absolutely out of the question.  And I’m OK with that.  Really I am.  Really.  Seriously.  No, I really mean it.

This is when the gray seeps into my brain – when Spring seems like it will never ever return again.  There might not ever be another night sitting on the porch in the dark listening to the cicadas.  Surely, something has gone wrong with global warming and we’ll be stuck here in late winter – never to get out. It seems as if every commercial on TV points in the direction of warmer climes.  Target looks like a color wheel exploded and hatched little swim suits and cover-ups even though it hasn’t been warmer than 30º in months.  A friend is headed to Costa Rica…others, Jamaica – still others to Florida.  Best Boy posted an innocent picture of something lovely from Santa Barbara and it sent me careening over the edge.

In an impromptu puke session the other day, the Dr. and I reflected a bit about the very Western mind-set that oozes from every pore of our beings.  You know – the one that says we should seek personal satisfaction and fulfillment in every arena of our lives.  Our jobs should be fulfilling our deepest longings and our “giftedness”.  Our dinner parties should be warm, intimate events with meaningful conversations and long drinks of wine. Every occasion should be a celebration of life.  Our vacations should be…

Who do I think I am to be entitled to any of that?  Do the people in Mumbai living in the slums think these thoughts?  There are thousands of families in Michigan alone still losing their homes to the mortgage crisis and they aren’t thinking about being “foodies”.  There are kids in the inner cities all over this country that may never get out of a six block area.  The earthquake in Haiti DID happened but it seems to have taken a back seat to a big snow storm that took over the headlines. When I am done pouting about how my life doesn’t measure up and I get over being angry that circumstances in my life don’t allow me to do what I want to do…I pause long enough to take a deep breath and an honest inventory of what IS.

There are two cars parked beside my very warm house.  There is enough stuff hanging in the closets to keep dozens of families in threads for a long time.  Our bills have been paid every month during this last year. I have gone to the store to buy groceries every time we were out of essential things like oreos and ice cream.  We have electricity and hot water – clean water for that fact. We live in excess.  Lots and lots of excess.

Suddenly, I hear Billy’s voice echo in the darkest recesses of my spoiled, self-absorbed brain…”Quit your belly achin’!”  So, I will suck it up and get back to my basement.  There’s no better therapy than some early Spring cleaning to unload some of this excess baggage.





Let’s get crazy!

25 01 2010
This is a re-post from my brother-in-law’s facebook page.  For years he’s been involved in finding ways to facilitate international adoptions.  Thought I’d share their latest hopes and dreams…
HAITI ORPHAN PLANE
Sometimes the time is right for a great dream. At others, it is an audacious vision that is simply ahead of its time. Several years ago some friends gathered together to talk about how to make a significant impact in the orphan crisis. Was there a way to break through the bureaucratic log-jam and financial barriers that restrict the number of orphans worldwide from finding loving homes? While recognizing the value and important protections provided by agencies, we wondered aloud whether there wasn’t a larger door that could be opened for the over 100 million children without parents.

We talked about a 50-year old, Oregon farmer named Harry Holt who would just not give up until the U.S. Congress had passed special legislation allowing him and his wife to adopt 12 mixed-race, Korean orphans. He flew them in on a plane the media dubbed the “Stork plane.” That was 1955. The crisis was the plight of children fathered by American GIs during the Korean War and rejected by the culturally protective Koreans. The “Stork plane” was followed in 1958 with an aircraft carrying 107 orphans. This was only the first such attempt at breaching the orphan adoption bottle neck. Eighteen years later there was “Operation Babylift.” In 1975, in the terrifying days preceding the fall of Saigon. President Ford set aside $ 2,000,000 to help pay for 30 orphan planes from Vietnam. In a few months 2,000 children had been rescued.

Operation “Pedro Pan” from 1960 through 1962, though not focused specifically on orphans, was the largest mass exodus of children for humanitarian reason in our North America. In 22 months, thanks to the commitment of a 30-year-old priest, Bryan O. Walsh of the Catholic Diocese of Miami, 14,000 minors were evacuated from Cuba.

And, then of course, most recently is the orphan plane into Pittsburgh. Yesterday, spearheaded by these same friends, a task force (most of whom are adoptive parents) gathered to discuss making that slumbering dream come true. The crisis is here – a devastating quake in Haiti taking the lives of perhaps several hundred thousand. The need is incontrovertible – the neediest country in our hemisphere already overwhelmed with its 380,000 orphans, now, in a week’s time, suddenly responsible for tens of thousands more. The precedent has been set. The only question is, do we have the will? We have been assured that we have a strong advocate in Congress. The word we were given was “don’t worry about Washington D.C. prepare the catcher’s mitt in Michigan.”

And so we shall.

We are committed to rescuing no less than 10,000 orphans, in a State that has suffered the worst from our economic recession. And perhaps the weakest will lead the way. Perhaps we will help start a flotilla of planes filled with Haitian orphans who have lost everything, including arms and legs, but who will gain the protective nurture of loving families, with room in their hearts and homes for at least one more.

The time for dreams to become reality is here.

The time to fulfill the hopes of the most desperate and vulnerable is now.

Stay tuned.  (Timothy John Stoner)





storytellers

25 12 2009

Travelers.  Wanderers.  Immigrants.

We were surrounded by the unfamiliar and my soul was longing for something to hang on to in this place where all of my cultural cues were misplaced.  The songs were unrecognizable.  There was no snow.  It was midnight and the neighbors were banging on the radiators upstairs in jubilation.  It was Christmas morning and I was thousands of miles away from home.

In the following years as I became acclimated to my surroundings, I began picking up on the nuances of  Noche Buena.  Families would gather late – for a huge meal before going to midnight mass.  It was one of two nights all winter that the heat in the apartment building would be on all night long.  I had to come up with a way that we could stay up late too – albeit our family gathering was only the four of us…sometimes more depending on whatever ex-pats we could host.

Each trip Stateside in the following years, I would visit a favorite children’s book store and leave with armloads of stories about Christmas.  That stack of books became the center piece of our attempt at making the wrong feel right. We had something to keep us up till midnight.  We could eat and we could read together as a family.

Once permanently removed from the foreign back to the familiar – it all fell apart again.  Here there was too much to do.  Almost too much family but we couldn’t say that outloud without great misunderstanding.  We missed the huddling together to read but Best Boy and Shop Girl were churlish teens by then and bored with the whole routine anyway.

Somewhere – sometime – we caught the NPR stories.  We replaced our books with the radio stories that meant Christmas to us.  Do yourself a favor…sit…be quiet…and listen.  That is what Christmas is about anyway.  Listening with our hearts.  My Christmas gift to you – a link.





a moving day

14 12 2009

I’ve been doing a lot of looking over my shoulder these days.  Moving always does that to me.  This one wasn’t my move but one I fully participated in.  The experience always has me thinking back over the 22 some odd moves the Dr. and I have made…some before Best Boy and Shop Girl were around – but most after.

I was about the age Shop Girl is right now when after 5 moves in less than 5 years I got a taste of a big move.  It was time to pack up our things for our overseas adventure in Spain.  Best Boy was two and a few months – Shop Girl a hearty 7 months old when a semi-truck pulled up to the front door to haul away the air freight shipment I had prepared.  Each box had to be weighed, measured, a bill of lading prepared in triplicate, customs paper work and off it went.  That sentence actually took me months to do and seconds to write.  I remember standing behind a screen door with tears running down my face from exhaustion and fear of a new life I knew nothing about – trying to explain to the 2 year old where all his toys had gone.

That was only the beginning.  I know a thing or two about packing.  The next handful of places never lasted more than 4 years and some as short as 3 months.  I could pack for a week or a month or a year at the drop of a hat.  A dozen years after that first trip over the pond, I watched as the things most precious to us were loaded into a 12 foot sea-worthy container headed back to the States with Spain at our backs.

Not one of them has been pretty.  Some I’ve been glad to move on and leave the particular space with a whole hearted “good riddance” – others with fond tears flowing but none without a good bit of trauma.  Everytime your life is dragged out of the dark cupboards and closets, basements and out from under beds it is traumatic.  To touch everything you own and visually and mentally assess it as it gets prepared for its new place is exhausting.

Shop Girl’s experience last week was no different…except maybe adding the stress of adjusting to less sleep than she’s ever had in her life as the mom of a month old baby and continuing to deal with the whack job of a landlord that started this whole mess. It was no wonder that in a brief pause between truck loads, with no one else around but me and Donny Diva – she collapsed into wrenching sobs when she looked at the chaos starting to take shape as a livingroom and she said, “I’m home!”

I knew what she meant.  She gets to start where it took me forty years to get to.  She gets to give Donny Diva a bedroom to call his own.  She won’t be playing Goldilocks like I did for most of my life.

It wasn’t a pretty move – a smooth move – an organized move.  One small U-haul truck, a handful of able bodied friends and family, the sunshine of a Saturday post-blizzard, the job got done…moving all the personal belongings of a new family from one rented space to their own 6 blocks away.  She has a long winter ahead to organize closets and decide where things should best go.

I wish that all this first-hand experience would have taught me to travel lightly through life.  I fear it hasn’t but I also detect a change.  I’m no longer responsible for Best Boy and Shop Girl’s things.  What is left in the basement will get offered then tossed.  They haven’t asked for it in 10 years – they probably don’t care.  But up until now – I didn’t feel like I had the right to throw away their past – the bits and pieces of the places we’ve lived.  We can’t drive by those apartments, tiny houses  and condos, the place where they planted a tree in the yard, point a finger to remember those days so I chose to drag some pieces with us.  I’m not sorry I did…I’m just ready to move on.

If I have learned anything from this last year of sorting through Billy’s life – it is that disorganization leads to waste…I buy another doo-hickey when I can’t find the one I think I have. In my effort to hold on to things that SOMEONE might need SOMETIME – others could be getting benefit from it now if I’d just get it packed into the car and drive to the closest donation drop box.

Oh, and Shop Girl…I’ll drop off your boxed wedding dress tomorrow.

For good visuals of how I’d like to live from now on..check out Shop Girl’s producer/musician friend Evan Slamka’s video with Marjorie Fair’s Empty Room and then be a good Do-Bee and donate a box of junk you keep dragging around.