Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas Memories

It's time to put the Christmas tree up again!

For many of you this may involve schlepping an aromatic pine or spruce into the living room. For others it might be a trip to the garage to haul out the annual plastic model. For me, it means it's time to re-post my favorite Christmas tree story.  So once again for it's annual airing, here is my story about the ugliest Christmas tree. Please feel free to share this others.

I was relaxed, taking in the stereo when a commercial interrupted my listening pleasure.

"Make this Christmas one that she'll never forget," droned the announcer. "Yeah," I thought. "Spend big bucks and everyone will love you. Spend enough and we may even have peace on earth."

Christmas commercialism, it seems to get worse ever year. Do not get me wrong. I enjoy Christmas. It just bothers me that everyone thinks you have to spend a lot of money to have a merry one. I thought back to the commercial, "the best Christmas ever." It took my memories back to the Christmas of my 10th year, my most unforgettable holiday.

My family and I had moved to Arizona from Chicago four years before. Arizona was in a serious recession. My father, who had always provided a healthy paycheck for his wife and five children, could not find work. We got by on unemployment checks.

Jobs were plentiful in Chicago and my father's former boss was anxious to take him back. However, after four years of quiet, safe and sunny Arizona living, my mother refused to return to the Windy City. If my father could not find employment he would return to Illinois, send money, and the rest of the family would remain in Arizona.

It was a sad time - the bickering about money, worrying if my dad would have to move away. Christmas was an added burden. Money was tight enough without the added expense of the holiday. My mother explained the financial situation to us and we knew not to expect much in the way of presents.

Of course the brightly decorated evergreens we had enjoyed in the past were out of the question. We never even asked about one. Instead we pulled a three-foot aluminum tree out from the garage. The cold tinsel stalk inspired about as much Christmas spirit as a box of Reynolds wrap.

While everyone else decorated the tree, I decided to take a stroll. As I walked toward the end of the block, I turned right so I could investigate the bowling alley parking lot where they had been selling Christmas trees. I loved the scent of the pine in the cold air, another of many reasons I hated our artificial tree. As I neared the lot, I saw that it was bare. I kicked at the fragments of broken branches. In the corner, lying on its side, was a long misshapen evergreen.

It was easy to see why the tree was discarded. However, something inside of my brain clicked. The poor tree needed a home. My home needed a tree. I grabbed the trunk, but I was not strong enough to move it. I ran home to fetch my younger brother, Terry, who I was sure would assist in my plight. As it is so often the case with brothers, Terry lacked my enthusiasm.

"I don't even think a dog would use that tree," he laughed.

"Maybe so, but it would make a fine fort," I replied. With that in mind, Terry helped me transport the tree down the block and into our back yard.

My mother looked up from washing the dishes as we walked up the driveway, and warned us against bringing that "filthy thing" into the house.

"Its for a fort!" Terry exclaimed. I just smiled.

Once the tree was in the back yard, I sent Terry on another mission. I had no intention of turning the evergreen into a fort - at least not yet.

My dad walked up and looked at the tree. It was long, sparse on the top with heavy branches on the bottom. I was sure I could win him over, so I explained my scheme to him.

"You could chop a foot off the bottom and cut the branches off and drill holes where the tree is bare and do a little transplanting," I said.

My older sister, Diane walked out and spied the tree. "Father, you are not going to let her bring that thing in the house are you?" Diane shrieked.

"I don't see why you don't like it," I said. "It looks just like you. Not enough on the top and too much on the bottom."

Diane walked off in a huff.

Whether dad was bored, liked my idea, or was caught up in my enthusiasm I cannot be sure. But soon a drill and saw were out and "Ernie" the unwanted evergreen became a beautiful Christmas tree.

Dad brought the tree inside and we placed the few ornaments we had on Ernie. To help fill in the uncovered areas, we strung popcorn and pyracantha berries and cut out little ornaments from paper. Even my 18-year-old brother, Dennis, who was fond of imitating Scrooge and saying "Bah Humbug" to any mention of Christmas, helped to get Ernie into shape.

We did not have any Christmas lights, so Terry and I pooled our money, about 90 cents, and we got the rest of the cash from "Jack rabbit," my little sister Tina's bank. I am ashamed to say it was an unauthorized withdrawal.

One string of lights did not cover much, so we pushed the tree into a corner and decorated only the front. Despite the circumstances, I was happy. We all were. Never before, and unfortunately never afterward, do I remember my family working together so joyfully. For a short while, we were happy to be together and share what we had, each other.

That was the last Christmas we celebrated together as a family for a long time. Shortly afterward, my father returned to Chicago, unable to come home permanently until I was 16.

Except for my nemesis, Diane, my siblings and I still live in Arizona. Most holidays, we get together to exchange insults and presents. Our Christmas trees are always magnificent and the presents are plentiful and brightly decorated. You will not find strings of popcorn or pyracantha berries anywhere.

Christmas carols, if they were sung (and they are not) would be drown out by the big football games that are always scheduled in honor of the birth of Jesus.

I still think back to my childhood and that yuletide of my 10th year, and I know a truckload of presents could not match the happiness I felt that day. It was a special time when my father listened to me and made a small dream come true. And it all happened because of a poor misshapen Christmas tree that nobody else wanted.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Giddyup! Here Comes Santa Claus!

     I love free family events and wanted to share this with everyone.

     Free carriage rides with Santa, songs from the Deer Valley High School Carolers, as well as other holiday festivities will begin every Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 26th through Dec. 17th at the Village at Arrowhead Shopping Center, 20050 N. 67th Ave. in Glendale, AZ 85308.
     Pictures with Santa are available and are a perfect and festive background to use for holiday cards and letters. Keeping with the goodwill of the holidays the shopping center will be serving as a drop off for toys for children ages seven to 17 that have Juvenile Arthritis. Cash donations will also be accepted for the Arthritis Foundation.
     “Our carriage rides with Santa has become a fun and joyous holiday tradition,” said Mary Walker, coordinator of special events for the Village at Arrowhead Shopping Center and president of Power Promotions. “To enhance the holiday spirit, we also work with different charitable organizations. This year it is a toy drive for children with Juvenile Arthritis. With carolers and our carriage rides with Santa, it’s a great way to keep the holiday spirit of giving galloping along.”
      The Village at Arrowhead offers specialty shops that provide the ultimate shopping experience with distinctive fashion, home furnishings, restaurants and personal services in one of one of the most architecturally unique and aesthetically pleasing shopping centers around.
                 The shopping center is located on the southwest corner of 67th Avenue at the Loop 101.  For more information contact Marks Public Relations at 480-664-3004.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (and Save Money!)

     Cyndi Lauper was right when she sang “girls just want to have fun.” On Thursday, Nov. 10 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. ladies can have fun (and save money) by going to the  Girl’s Night Out event at the Village at Arrowhead Shopping Center, 20050 N. 67th Ave. in Glendale.

   Ladies can enjoy live music, a fashion show, refreshments, in-store specials, door prizes and more - all within the relaxing backdrop of a center described as the shopping star of the West Valley.
     “Our Girl’s Night Out event is a real treat for the ladies,” said Mary Walker, president of Power Promotions and coordinator of special events at the West-side shopping center. “It’s the perfect time to shop, save money, and indulge in a little pampering before the holidays begin. We hope everyone will come out and bring their gal pals with them to this exciting activity.”
    Girl’s Night Out is the last fall activity before the upscale shopping center gears up for Christmas. The holiday festivities will begin noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday from Nov. 26 through Dec. 17 with Free Carriage Rides with Santa. In addition to this popular holiday tradition shoppers can enjoy listening to strolling carolers from Deer Valley High School. The center will also be hosting a drop off site for toys donated for kids ages seven to 17 that have Juvenile Arthritis. Cash donations for the Arthritis Foundation will also be accepted.
     The Village at Arrowhead offers specialty shops that provide the ultimate shopping experience with distinctive fashion, home furnishings, restaurants and personal services in one of one of the most architecturally unique and aesthetically pleasing shopping centers around.
                 The shopping center is located on the southwest corner of 67th Avenue at the Loop 101.  For more information contact Marks Public Relations at 480-664-3004.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Families Just Want to Have Fun (for free)!

     I love music, classic cars, and free events. So if you're like me, you'll will want to make sure to make it out for the last concert of the fall season at the Village at Arrowhead Shopping Center in Glendale, AZ. This will include a free fashion show, wine tasting, classic car show, as well as the ever-popular live concert series will begin Friday evening from 6 to 8 p.m., on Oct. 21st at the Village at Arrowhead Shopping Center, 20050 N. 67th Ave. in Glendale. 

    The live music will be performed by the popular 8-Tracks Band. The music will be performed on the patio of AJ’s Fine Foods.  Seating is limited and attendees are encouraged to arrive early and bring a yard chair. The weekly classic car show will be held in the shopping center parking lot.This 1966 T-bird is illustrative of the type of cars you will see.

     AJ’s will offer free wine tasting inside the store from 3 to 6 p.m. each Friday before the concert begins. The latest fall fashions by the Village at Arrowhead merchants will be showcased as well from 6 to 8 p.m.
     “Summer is over and it’s time to celebrate with us,” said Mary Walker, president of Power Promotions and event coordinator for the Village at Arrowhead Shopping Center.  “Our Music at the Village, with its combination of music, fashion and classic cars have all the elements of an event that can be enjoyed by everyone in the family.”
     The Village at Arrowhead offers specialty shops that provide the ultimate shopping experience with distinctive fashion, home furnishings, restaurants and personal services in one of the most architecturally unique and aesthetically pleasing shopping centers around.
                For more information contact Marks Public Relations at 480-664-3004.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

What Happened to Prunes?

I‘m a creature of habit – particularly at breakfast. Unlike lunch and dinner where I don’t want to eat the same thing two days in a row, I’m more than happy to eat the same thing for breakfast EVERY DAY. 

But one day things changed. My younger sister, Tina, was over when I was eating my breakfast. She laughed at my prunes. She wasn’t the first person to make fun of the wrinkled fruit. My daughter, Brittany, thought it was quite funny that prunes resembled the desired after-effect that eating the fruit was supposed to evoke. I could take the gentle ribbing from my child, but my sister’s laughter at the prunes (and the connotation that it was something “old” people ate) was too much for me. 

I stopped eating prunes. 

I recently had an appendectomy. Although my surgeon didn’t know why my appendix became inflamed, or why it would happen to someone with a healthy diet, I decided to take steps to keep things “moving”.
I made a commitment to drink more water, exercise more often, and eat prunes again. 

The problem is I couldn’t find prunes in the store. I looked and looked and looked. However, my observant and more detailed-oriented spouse, CB, found the bagged fruit and plopped them in our Costco cart. I looked at the bag. It was labeled “sun sweet plums”.

All those years I was basing my search on the name “prunes” and bags of “plums” did not compute.  

Now, I’m not stupid. I know prunes are dried plums. As a public relations and marketing professional I can understand the name change. Prunes have a bad image. The word “prune” can mean “to make a facial expression exhibiting ill temper or disgust.”  People refer to old people, or other old things, as shriveled up old prunes. Plus people eat prunes when they are constipated. That is funny too (unless it happens to you and then it is a painfully unpleasant experience). 

Plums, on the other hand, have a good reputation. People use the expression “plum” for referring to  something of a superior or desireable kind, such as a financial bonus or "plum" position. Let’s not forget the nursery rhyme about little Jack Horner.

Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said 'What a good boy am I!'[1]

Now the poem is supposedly a satire with political overtones, but when I recited that nursery rhyme as a tot, no one explained that to me. All I knew is Jack stuck his grimy thumb in a pie, snagged a plum, and thought he pulled off some sort of heroic feat. Centuries later it left another subliminal message.  Plums are good. Prunes are bad. 

However, I must concede, prunes are funny. I remember back in 1967 I was watching television with my little brother, Terry. A commercial about prunes came on the air. It made us both laugh. It’s worth watching.

But it also made me think. This ad was not only humorous; it was a great marketing campaign. Even as a grade-school-er, I was inspired by it. I thought that if my desire to be a sitcom writer didn’t pan out, I could make my way in society by making fun of fruit and vegetables. Who knew it would turn into a career in public relations and marketing? 

But the story of the prunes took an unexpected turn for me. Rather than having food engineers get rid of the “wrinkles” as they promised in that funny commercial, the marketing folks decided to just change the name.  Shakespeare may have had Juliet say, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." And that may be true. But when you change a bag of prunes to a bag of plums, you might confuse a few folks who are looking for prunes to repair their internal plumbing.

Not one to hold a grudge about the name change, I have decided to poke fun of things with a poem of my own.

My gut was full,
intestines stuck.
I looked for prunes
but no such luck.
The name had changed from prune to plum.
I saw it not, gee I feel dumb.
A lesson learned, I do implore,
“read the labels at the store”.
Both prunes and plums will help you go.
But if not careful you may not know
that a rose by another name might smell as sweet
Or be ignored and spell defeat.

[1] Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 234–7.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Goodbye Appendix

Through the years I have heard people make fun of philosophers who contemplate their navels in an ivory tower. Why an ivory tower?  Maybe the lighting is better. I don’t know about you, but my belly button is a cute little “innie” and it would be hard to contemplate it properly without proper illumination.

But my navel contemplation is more quizzical than philosophical.  I recently had a laparoscopic appendectomy. My abdomen has a couple small bandages – left side, right side and a small cut above my navel so the surgeon could poke around, find, and remove my inflamed appendix. 

I didn’t see this coming.

I felt a little tired and nauseous over the weekend. When I ate pizza on Saturday night (a treat from my usual healthy diet) it felt like a leaden lump in my gut. I blamed it on overeating and my age. On Sunday I felt lethargic. On Monday when I had chills, muscle aches, and a fever that got as high as 101.5, I figured I had the flu. I took it easy, drank water, and took ibprofen for the pain. Since I’m a reasonably healthy woman, and I don’t have any medical issues, I don’t have a general doctor.

I have a couple good friends who are physicians, one is Carol, an OB/GYN, and the other is Andrea, a naturopath.  When I have medical questions I talk to them. On Tuesday my fever was down to 100, the muscle aches were gone and I had a little bit of energy. My appetite wasn’t great, but I managed to eat yogurt, a bit of fruit, and some soup, so I knew I wasn’t in any danger of wasting away.

Both of my doctor friends said that I should stop procrastinating and get a regular doctor who could treat me. Physicians should not treat friends and members of their own family. I knew this advice was sound. I vowed to find a family doc from the list provided by my healthcare provider. However, when you’re sick, it’s hard to get a new patient appointment, so it’s best to already have a doctor on board before you really need one. Also, when you are sick and/or in pain, it’s hard to make navigate an unfamiliar website.
I learned this the hard way.

By Tuesday night I still didn’t feel well, but at least my fever was gone. I called the nurse hotline. I had completely different symptoms than the day before. The nurse asked questions and listened to my responses. I thought she would tell me to take two aspirin and call in the morning. Instead, she said I should be seen by a physician. I told her I didn’t have one. She said to go to the ER or urgent care that night or the next morning. I said I would go in the morning. Ever the optimist, I asked if I should still go even if I felt better, and she said I absolutely should. I was tired by this time, so I figured I would go to bed, go back to the health provider’s website in the morning, and find out what urgent care facility would take my insurance.

Which brings me to my second bit of advice; know what hospital and/or urgent care takes your insurance BEFORE you need it. 

Around 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning I had abdominal pain in a band-like region across the front of my stomach. I went to take an ibuprofen, but I read the label, and it said it could lead to stomach bleeding. No ibuprofen for me. I tried to navigate my healthcare provider’s website and find an urgent care that would accept my insurance. I couldn’t make sense of it, nor could I find a customer service number for help. Again, this info may seem easy to navigate under normal circumstances, but I was alone, in pain, and frankly, scared.

I reached out to my OB/GYN friend Carol (who was out of town) and she said to call the nurse help line again and ask her where I should go. I knew the nurse wouldn’t have this info, but I asked, she put me on hold, got customer care on the line, and found a place near my house. A great example of how nurses go the extra mile! 

I still thought my problem would be solved by antibiotics, but I went to the urgent care. I didn’t call first. I got down there at 7:15 a.m. They don’t open until 8. This leads me to my third insight. Not all urgent care facilities are 24 hours. Again, it pays to know this stuff ahead of time.

I waited in the parking lot for 45 minutes, but once I got inside things went pretty quickly. The physician poked around my abdomen and it was tender. In my infinite (hrmph) wisdom I had looked up about appendicitis on the internet and since my pain was not near my navel and I did not have classic symptoms, I ruled it out. The physician was not as dismissive about the possibility of a misbehaving appendix. And even if he were, SOMETHING wasn’t right and my pain had gone on long enough. He ordered a cat scan – stat. I didn’t even have time to pee out all the dye they gave me to drink when I was informed to get down to the ER. It was my appendix.

I let Carol and Andrea know I was on my way to the ER. Carol tried to convince me to have someone drive me. But I had already driven to the urgent care and cat scan facility, so I felt confident I could manage by  myself. I was lucky on this one. I made it ok. But in retrospect, that was not a smart choice. Don’t do as I did. I was lucky. You may not be. Even if no one is available to take you, call an ambulance, or even a cab. Don’t drive yourself when you are sick or in pain.

Once in the ER, things went quickly. I had planned on calling my sister, Tina, and daughter, Alicia, later. I didn’t want to worry them. I thought I would have lots of time to call. Wrong again. But fortunately for me, Carol called both my sister and daughter and both of them were with me while I was getting pre-op tests etc. Having my family there meant more than I realized. In addition to the moral support, Tina had a better handle on our family medical history, and, unlike me, she is very good at remembering details. Alicia is always calm in a crisis and was there for practical matters such as taking care of the pet bunnies and letting my friends know what happened. 

Once I had pain meds on board I was feeling pretty good. With Tina and Alicia as my audience I managed to crack a few jokes and regale them with a few stories. I don’t know if I would have been as brave had I faced all this alone. Even with drugs, I would’ve spent less time exposing the staff to my drug-induced, unfiltered sense of humor and more time worrying. So, another insight, don’t go into surgery without telling someone. If nothing else, it’s calming to know someone is waiting for you when you wake up from the operating table.

The 45-minute surgery was a success and I’m recovering nicely. My good friend, Lauren, took me home and made sure I had what I needed (soup, ginger ale etc., prescriptions etc.). I go back to work on Wednesday. I’m not sure why I had appendicitis. I believe it is a mystery to most docs. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a few things that I would like to pass on to you:

  •  Know which hospital, doctors, pharmacies, and urgent care facilities accept your insurance BEFORE you need to use it.
  • Find out the hours of the urgent care. Not all are 24 hours.

  • Don’t try to diagnose your own symptoms through webMD – especially for something that could be fatal such as a burst appendix.

  • Don’t drive yourself to the hospital.

  • Let your friends and/or family members know if you aren’t feeling well so they can check on you.

  • Never assume your problem is minor. Flu-like symptoms often mask more serious conditions.

In retrospect I would like to say how thankful I am to the doctors, nurses, and support staff that treated me. They were the best! I would also like to thank my family, friends, and co-workers. They came through for me like champions. 

While I have to admit I have been contemplating my navel more than usual these past few days, this unexpected event has me contemplating a few other things as well. Be prepared for a medical emergency BEFORE it happens. It will save you time, money, stress, and yes, maybe even your life.