Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Return of Five to Nine Design

It's been a looooooooong hiatus. Much longer than I had originally planned.  Life went sideways for a little while.  My creativity went out for a long walk and took some of my joy with it.  But I'm getting the mojo back, ya'll!  \(^_^)/

Taking some baby steps. Not feeling like I have to crank out a dozen, or two dozen things because I have to fill up the Etsy shop... or fill up a craft table for a show... or fill up my worktable.  I'm going back to making what I like and hoping that others are in sync. Let's see how it goes.

And if it doesn't go...well, when I make pieces that look and feel good to me, I tend to fall in love with them a little and feel a bit sad when they sell. (Of course, I get over it quickly!)  If the new things stay in the shop for awhile, then that's more stuff for my own jewelry box.

But I'd rather kiss my creations goodbye and send them on their way....

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Crusader Rabbit strikes again...

Crusader Rabbit is the name of a silly little cartoon I watched on TV as a kid. As I understand it, it was the first animated series produced for television. It wasn't a very sophisticated cartoon; Jay Ward would go on to produce much better fare, namely Rocky and Bullwinkle. But for some odd reason, the word "Crusader" resonated with me as a child; I don't know why. Anyway, every time I have to file a consumer complaint or take on some commercial entity that takes my money without providing adequate service, my mind goes back to that cartoon and I think of myself as Crusader Rabbit. Looks like I have to don the costume once again.

Here we go: I moved the sum total of my net worth into the SmartStop Self Storage in Jersey City in January 2011 where it lived for 18 months to the tune of nearly $200/month. A week before I was ready to move out in July 2012, favorite daughter Hayley and I went to check on the stuff to make sure everything was packed up and ready for moving. As soon as I opened the unit, I noticed that several plastic bags had holes and tears in them.  Most of my things were in boxes or suitcases but I had put some stuff into large plastic bags, mostly linens like comforters, pillows, blankets and a pair of heavy boots for snowy weather.  Some tearing can happen when you're shoving things down into a plastic bag, but I was quite certain I hadn't left so many holes in so many bags. Imagine my horror and disgust when I opened a bag and found rat droppings inside. Ugh. Double ugh. Triple ugh. I quickly closed the bag and put all of the ripped bags inside of larger construction-weight plastic bags, and then we continued to pack up and secure everything else that was in the unit.

The SmartStop office was closed by the time we left, so I called the next day to report the rat infestation. I was advised to call the insurance company listed on the storage contract. I told the storage manager that I knew that they did not normally provide a dumpster for customers to dump their trash but I did not want to have to touch those bags again and I thought they might make an exception in this case. Not so much. They told me that I could not leave anything in the storage unit; I would have to take the rat-damaged bags with me. I called the insurance company to advise them of the situation. Three days later, I got a letter advising me that the policy did not cover rodent damage.

HUH?

I then called the SmartStop corporate offices in Texas. A very nice lady gave me the phone number of the district manager. When I explained the situation to him, he said that he would call the Jersey City office and advise them that they should make arrangements for the damaged bags to be discarded.  That call was apparently never placed because the storage manager insisted that I take the rat-damaged bags with me.  I did not have any food stored in the unit. I paid nearly $200 for 18 months to secure my belongings, which did not include live rats. So -- if the storage company is not responsible for my damaged goods and the insurance company is not responsible for my damaged goods, who is?

I then wrote a letter to the corporate offices in Texas, including photos of the rat droppings all over the floor of the emptied storage unit. Three weeks later, the district manager called and left his number on my voicemail, but did not answer when I called back and did not respond to the voicemail I left.  Hmmm....

Next steps: Two weeks ago, I left reviews of SmartStop Storage on every website I could find that accepts reviews. Today, I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in New Jersey.

Attention must be paid. As I understand it, the moving and storage industry normally receives a very high number of consumer complaints. Maybe I'll get restitution, maybe not. I'll keep you posted, blog readers.  In the meantime, if you live anywhere near Jersey City, I'd avoid SmartStop Self-Storage like the plague.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Perspective

Due to desperate financial circumstances, I had to put my things in storage for a time and move in with my mother in Far Rockaway. Needless to say, this was devastating to me on a number of levels. 
I moved in in January 2011. When the weather warmed in the spring, I'd go for long walks on the boardwalk. The walks served several purposes: sleeping on a couch every night is not kind to mild arthritis sufferers!  The walks helped me work out the morning aches and stiffness. Second purpose was to contemplate my circumstances and figure out what the next move would be, if there was a next move to be had, and the third was to give my mother and me some space from each other. Sometimes I brought my camera or phone to take pictures while I walked.

I've lived near bodies of water for much of my life: I grew up in a housing project apartment overlooking the East River; I bought a house in south Jersey two blocks from the Delaware; I often walked along the Schuykill in a park in Philadelphia... but the Atlantic Ocean is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish (yeah, I had to say it.)

As the months wore on, I grew to dislike Far Rockaway with a passion. It is aptly named: it's far from everything. There is only one bus that gets you off of the peninsula towards the subway, which takes almost an hour to get to downtown Brooklyn. There's no shopping area there; you have to drive or take a bus to find a supermarket or dry cleaners. As a non-driving city girl who's always lived walking distance from neighborhood amenities, living in Far Rockaway was torture. Even the beach and the ocean lost its luster for a time. By late summer, walking on the boardwalk and staring out into the ocean no longer appealed to me.

Fast forward 18 months. I've moved out of Far Rockaway. I called Hayley, my daughter a few weeks ago and asked if my grandson had ever been to the beach. Hayley said no, because she's not really a "beach person" -- no doubt because I wasn't much of a "beach person" when she was growing up. So I said, "Well, I'm kidnapping Lucas next weekend." It was time my grandson developed the same love of water that the rest of the family has! Side note: as children, my siblings and I often went fishing with my mother or grandmother. I don't have the skill or patience to work a rod and reel anymore but I still enjoy spending a lazy afternoon by the water. My ex-boyfriend loves fishing as much as my mother does. A few years ago, when I lived in south Jersey, I'd often bring a book and a chair and while away the hours reading or just watching him catch and release.


So Lucas and I packed up beach toys, towels and assorted paraphernalia and off we went. Just as I thought, just as all children do, Lucas fell in love with Far Rockaway. I mean, head over heels in love with the sand and the sun. He's a little afraid of the ocean -- which is OK with me 'cause I don't swim -- but at the end of the day, I finally got him to go close enough to stick his toes in.  



"GG" (short for 'great grandmother') and Lucas

We went for a second trip last weekend and had as much fun as we did the first time, partly because my mother came down and spent a few minutes on the sand. She made small sand castles and Lucas had great fun smashing them. She playfully tried to grab his feet or legs every time he ran over to do his "Hulk Smash!" thing which he found to be hilarious. For quite awhile, he stopped making sand-mud pies long enough to run over and smash her sand mounds every time she made them just so that he could run away from her grasping hands, shrieking and laughing his head off.

There was a woman with two young daughters sitting behind us on the beach. She asked how old Lucas was and told me that one of her daughters was the same age. She mentioned that her daughter wasn't having a good time because she was hungry. I advised her that there was a small convenience store right nearby, in the building where my mother lives. She was thrilled and ran off to get some food for the kids. I thought, "Isn't it convenient that there is a small grocery store nearby so that people can grab snacks while on the beach?"  I hated going to that store when I lived in the building because everything was marked up ridiculously: a small jar of mayonnaise was nearly 5 bucks, a two-liter soda costs over $2.00, etc, etc... but I guess if I was a store owner and I knew I was the only store around for blocks, I'd take advantage too. 

video

(I had Slacker radio playing on my phone while we were on the beach so our voices on the video are obscured by Red, Red Wine by UB40. Whoops.)

After several hours on the beach, Lucas and I went upstairs to my mother's apartment, showered, and then raided her fridge for rotisserie chicken and pasta salad. We washed it down with cream soda, my mother's favorite. (Shhh...don't tell Lucas' mom; she doesn't really like him to drink soda. Neither do I but what the heck.)

For Lucas and I, this is our last beach trip before school starts and probably our last one this year. But maybe not... maybe I'll take him one last time before the weather cools and this time, maybe I'll convince his mom to come with.

Far Rockaway is still too far from everything but it's become a memory-maker for me and Lucas. This is what he will remember years from now when I'm gone. So, so glad now that my mother lives right there so that we can visit her during our beach adventures as well as have a place to shower and grab some grub before taking the long ride off of the peninsula.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Stuff

A few of my Facebook friends are in the process of moving. As many of us do in the modern world, they've shared their journey online, expressing their frustration and fatigue at the enormity of moving all your crap from one place to another. Sharing any journey online invites comment and advice whether you really want it or not, so here it is.

I've moved more than a dozen times in my lifetime. I used to think of it as fun and adventurous. Whenever we moved to a new apartment, my daughter and I would go out for a celebratory lunch and then walk around our new neighborhood to find out where the laundromat and supermarkets were. It was great fun and we were happy and excited to get to know our new surroundings.

Fast forward ten years. Now, moving is nothing short of a pain in the ass. It's expensive, frustrating and time-consuming. I've decided that I will move once more before I leave this planet and that will be it. Wherever I wind up had better be on the ground floor because I will be an old lady who can no longer climb stairs. It had better be in a good, fairly quiet neighborhood because I will be too elderly to dodge bullets or put up with partying on a regular basis. It had better be in the city because I like city life and I don't drive. I lived in a suburb for a few years and decided I didn't love it. Suburbs bore me to tears (grass! trees! More grass. More trees. Lovely, but not stimulating enough for me.) and I think they contribute to pudginess because suburbanites don't walk anywhere except from the house to the car. (Sorry, suburbanites! Write your own blog if you're deeply offended!)

Anyway.........when you're moving, you're confronted with making decisions about all the stuff you've accumulated in your lifetime. Old clothes, old photos, old cards, old memories. Keep or toss? If you're downsizing, you sometimes have to be ruthless about shedding some things that you've become attached to. The thing is, though, sometimes you find that you're not as attached to some of those things as you thought you were. You've just kept them because...well, just because someone gave them to you. "I can't toss this!  It was a gift from Aunt Blabby!"  Where is it written that you can't throw away a gift you don't like, didn't want, and never use, especially if Aunt Blabby never comes to visit?

Purging is sometimes necessary.  I've actually grown to love it, perhaps a little too much!  In my zeal, I've tossed a couple of things I probably should have kept, but other things were just dust-collecting, space-hogging, don't-even-remember-who-gave-it-to-me-or-what-I'm-supposed-to-do-with-it -burdens and I'm glad they're gone.

For me, it was helpful to break things down in terms of "like" and "love", which is another concept I got from my wiser-than-her-years daughter. I used to (and still do, sometimes) buy clothing that didn't match anything I owned. If I liked it, I bought it. Too often, though, it would languish in the closet for months because it either didn't go with anything else or didn't fit quite right. I went shopping with my daughter one day many months ago and started to look at something. She saw the look on my face and said, "Mom, do you LOVE it or just kind of like it?  You said you were on a really tight budget so you have to spend your money pretty wisely." I put it back because I realized that it was nice, but just "eh", not "wow, I gotta have it!"

It's not a hard and fast rule, but I still try to use that to this day in terms of a lot of things. My advice to those in moving hell right now:  if you find that you can't be ruthless about getting rid of stuff, try the "eh / LOVE" method. If it wouldn't kill you if it burned up in a fire, toss it!   I used to keep Christmas and birthday cards (in the days when people were actually sending those things) for years. I'd hang them up on the wall around the Christmas tree as decoration. But one day it occurred to me that Christmas was coming again so most of those people would send new cards. Why keep the old ones?  LOL!  As for cards or gifts from a beloved friend or relative that passed on, I say "keep".  I told a Facebook friend recently that memories are in our heads and hearts, not in "stuff", but like most things in life, that's not a hard and fast rule either.

My family photos are important to me. I have probably 3 or 4 photo albums and a huge metal box of unsorted photos of 30 years of family get-togethers. Oddly enough, I'm not in many of the pictures because I was often the family photographer. Ha!

One of my brothers passed on a few years ago (still heartbroken every day) and one of my sisters and her daughter don't speak to me (long story, too personal for cyberspace). Yet I will keep those family photos forever because those kinds of mementos can never be replaced. You know the old riddle. If there was a fire and you have to leave suddenly, aside from family and pets, what would you take?  Bottom line -- don't feel you have to toss everything just because you don't use it daily...but don't feel you have to keep everything, either. Find the middle and leave enough space for new memories.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My Cat is in Love with His Cat Brush... and other random thoughts

Bumblebee is crazy mad in love with his cat brush. I mean, seriously. I mean, if he wasn't fixed and the brush was able to copulate, Bumble would be all over it.

It's been pretty warm this summer so Bumblebee is shedding more than normal.  He's a heavy shedder year-round but this is ridiculous. All you need to do is lightly touch this guy and clouds and clouds of white and blond fur lift off into the air, floating across the room like soft tumbleweeds. Looooove this cat to pieces but a blond tabby living in an apartment with navy blue carpet is problematic, particularly when you have no vacuum cleaner.  I miss hardwood floors. Hate carpet but the landlord obviously felt it was cheaper to cover every square inch of the place except the bathroom and kitchen with carpet. I guess I should be grateful that it's navy blue; he could have picked that godawful Pepto-Bismol pink carpet that is standard in many apartments and model homes. Anyway, I sweep the floor every other day or so and roll the  lint brush over his favorite spot (which, of course, is right by the front door. Way to embarrass me, cat), but it's an ongoing battle.  So, when I was visiting my mother last week, she told me I could have her dog's brush because Sam, her Papillon preferred to be combed.
Sam, the Wonder Dog

Went home and immediately tried it out. I'd forgotten how much Bumblebee liked to be brushed. I mean, I thought the cat would die from joy. He sniffed the brush, rubbed his head against it, and each time I stroked him, he turned, walked two steps and turned again, as if to say, "Brush this side now!  Now this side!  Don't forget my head! Oh, I like that spot near my tail! Again! Again!"

I brush him in the kitchen so that I can easily empty the brush into the garbage can and I am always amazed at how much hair comes out of that brush! I generally have to clean it off at least three times before I'm done. When I look in the garbage can, there's enough hair in there to make a new cat.  I might stop by Petland and get Bumblebee some catnip today. Not all cats respond to catnip, but to my blond bombshell, catnip is like Colombian reefer.  Between the catnip and the brushing, I might wind up having to do CPR on him later today.  Ha!

New subject: someone close to me is fighting cancer and his chances are slim. But he made it through a very intensive and difficult surgery yesterday so I've been able to exhale a little. Not saying any more about this. Some things are too personal to share with the bazillions of eyes out here in cyberspace (such conceit! Assuming that bazillions of eyes will be reading THIS blog.)  Just bringing it up this one time because it's contributing to my general good mood this morning.  More: I sold my dining room table and chairs last night -- finally! Lots of inquiries, false starts, some people wanted the chairs only and then changed their minds, some people offered to take the whole set and then didn't show up, yada, yada, but it's DONE. Yay! Haven't figured out what to do with the hundred bucks yet. I need so, so, so many things and my list grows each day. I could use a thousand dollars, let alone a hundred. Life in these United States is a little sucky when you have no credit cards.

Starting over after long term unemployment is no joke!  I need a bed frame, a new mattress, at least one dresser so that I can stop pulling fresh underwear out of a duffle bag each morning, a couch so that I can relax in front of the TV which is sitting on the floor because I need an entertainment center or at least a TV stand, the aforementioned vacuum cleaner... the list goes on and on... and a hundred bucks isn't really going to make a dent.  But I'm so pleased with myself that I finally got that thing sold!  My dining room set was too big for the room and I remembered that I had a foldable heavy-duty table that I bought for craft shows in the bedroom. That table is now occupying the space where the dining room set was, and it makes so much more sense.  It ain't elegant but it WORKS.

And...drumroll, please... I made jewelry over the weekend!  See, the thing is, this is BIG NEWS. I haven't been able to make a thing in over a year and a half. Amazing how depression creeps in and grinds you to a halt, almost without your knowing it. It's insidious and awful ... and I am leaving it behind, walking away with big, giant steps and daring it to follow me.  I read one of those Facebook signs (I think they call them 'memes') that said something like, "When life hands you lemons, spit the seeds out into its eyes". I'm sure I got that wrong but it doesn't matter. I'm digging the concept!  Screw the lemonade! Spit out the seeds!

Of course, I desperately need a better camera in order to take photos of my brand new stuff but I will just have to make do with the old ones for now. One has a better macro feature but the camera is too small and hard to use with my man-hands, and the other camera has a terrible macro feature. Neither one does a great job, but for now they will have to do. I hear it's going to rain this weekend so that might be the perfect time to fool around with the cameras and see what I can come up with. In the meantime, my Etsy shop is on hiatus.... but stay tuned for the imminent return of Five to Nine Design.

Might skip therapy tonight. I'm feeling pretty good!  What will I have to talk about for 50 minutes?