Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I was a secret shopper - Part One

There, I said it. And now I can add it was the weirdest, most stressful, completely annoying and by far the most interesting job I ever hated had. It ended. Let me write that again. IT ENDED!! I didn't quit and I didn't get fired. The whole program ended. Hundreds of secret shoppers like myself got a letter, a phone call and computer alert that said your miserable, low paying job has ended because the program was discontinued. I couldn't believe it, not because I was disappointed, I was actually overjoyed. What I couldn't believe is that it ended before I had the chance to quit in an incredibly well-written letter that made jaws drop and coffee mugs spill - a letter that threatened to tell-all on my blog. Oh well, for what it's worth, here is the tell-all.

Three years ago I lost my job - one I loved, that paid well, had a fabulous boss, was flexible and interesting. The economy was rough, especially in the construction trades, so I knew finding another job would be tough. Collecting unemployment for the first time in my life was pretty great, but I would rather work. So I polished up my resume, the same one that got me the world's perfect job, and started a Craigslist job search that went on for months. One day Ernst, the guy who finds me all my jobs, read in The Sacramento Bee that a major grocery store was looking for secret shoppers. (I think I signed a form that forbids me from divulging secrets, so all I'll say is it wasn't Raley's or Save Mart. Let's just call it WaySafe, shall we?)

It sounded sort of easy, and by then I was a bit desperate. I sent in the mini-application and was invited to a day of training at a local hotel. That is when I saw this position wasn't about shopping secretly. It was a job that combines safety inspector, actress, census taker, health checker, record keeper and all over big fat faker spy all into one underpaid position with no benefits. But seeing that the alternative was waving a sign outside a sub sandwich place for minimum wage, I signed up and became a full-fledged WaySafe employee.

I know secret shoppers have a horrible reputation for getting WaySafe employees in trouble, because a dear friend of ours who is now retired experienced this first-hand. But at the time of my hire, I didn't know anyone who worked there and I was determined to be completely fair and follow the guidelines. Although our trainer basically told us to lie during the shops, suggesting all kinds of scenarios of why we were so interested in a certain product, I never so much as fudged the truth. That was quite an accomplishment, especially in the meat and seafood departments! Not only does the smell of raw meat make me gag, can you imagine my fear of getting caught talking t-bone with the butcher? Vegans don't normally stand around asking about the marbling on a rib-eye steak, especially when they don't want to even touch the packaging or breathe its air. Somehow I managed to fool them, but I never lied. I just talked hypothetically about eating meat.

I survived the secret shopper program for a very long two and half years. I did about two shops a week, sometimes less, sometimes more. I never loved it, sometimes liked it, mostly hated it, and now it's over! I can go back to shopping as me, not looking at lane counts and floor tidiness and bathroom supplies and greets and smiles and unattended pallets. I don't have to count the "baskcarts" in the parking lot or see if the produce is fresh and appealing or if the bakery is neat and clean. I can shop like I like to shop — at Trader Joes!

Coming Soon, Part Two!

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Emilia Quilt

The Emilia Quilt on Etsy    

What if the English language had official words for all small things. Yes, we have doggy and piggy and horsey, but can you imagine taking the "y" and applying it to just about everything?

"While you're in the cupboardy, can you please grab a platey and a glassy, I'll also need a forky to go with my spoony and knify."

That is exactly what Romanian does to all sorts of words. It's really cute, if not a tad excessive. Eastern Europeans play fast and loose with their names, too. There is one family in our congregation, a big family, and there are four different versions in the spelling of their last name. One with a K, the other with a CH, the other is EA instead of an E, or is it AE? And if the women feel like being a little more Russian that day, well they just slap an A on the end for good measure. It can drive me quite batty and make me nutty while I try to learn this languagy. What is your name today and how are we spelling it this very hour? And exactly how does your brother who is from the same parents spell it? Today. Not your baby brother, your biggy brother.

When I first met little Mila, I assumed that was her name. Wrong, she told me it was really Emily. OK, Mila, Emily, close enough. But in time, as always, the real deep down name came out. Emilia, but even now I don't know if that is quite right, because she doesn't like how her mother spelled it so she decided to change it. When she was ten years old. And her parents are OK with that.

Jessica, Mila, Ina and Nina - September 2009

So Mila, Emily, Emilia, Emelia, Emilutsa, Mia - this quilt is named after you! It has stripes and checks and big flowers and teeny flowers, and all together it looks super pretty. I still can't believe you and your family with the name I don't quite know the spelling of moved to Georgia and then you went and grew to be like 10 inches taller than me. You'll always be that cute little Mila with the big brown eyes who I used to spend my Wednesday afternoons with. Just don't start talkin' all funny. Okey Dokey?

Nina, Mila, Ina and Mamica Jessica after setting up for a big party at our house.
Moldovan teenagers are simply amazing.

Viorica, Laura and Mila-Emilia-Emily-Emelia-Bo Delia

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Slowly chipping away at writer's block

There were times I wanted to pull my teeth out, but today I wrote (I hope) the last page for the dental website I've been working on. My, oh my, what I have learned about tooth loss, gum disease, orthodontia, implants and flossing vs. Waterpik. I found out, for instance, that if you want dental implants to prevent bone loss in your jaw, the dentist may (in worse-case scenarios) have to do bone grafting - from a cadaver. That's right, a plug of a dead person's bone punched right into your ol' jaw to get things in shape for metal screws to be implanted to hold in artificial teeth. Excuse me while I go floss about ten times.

My dear editor/cheerleader/best critic/worst critic/psychologist/therapist/idea bouncer-offer/great one-liner squisher Ernst kept me going through page after mind numbing page. He is tough on me though; who would've thought using a beaver analogy on the overbite section was not politically correct? Apparently, some lines are just not appropriate when it comes to dental issues. Even though I didn't mean to offend, the beaver got cut and it still hurts.

Some things I learned during this project:
  • For my blog I can write in my jeans or jammies, but for money it helps to be in semi-nice clothes. Shoes are not necessary, but the better I dress, the better I write. I wonder what I was wearing when I wrote the beaver line?
  • Writing in an upright position at a table or desk is not my thing. I write best with my laptop on top of my lap where it belongs. And my shoe-less feet must be propped up on the coffee table or tucked under my semi-nice clothes. Writing at a desk freezes my brain.
  • I can't write when I'm freezing or hot.
  • It has to be quiet. No noise but the ticking clock in the living room is the best for all involved. If my editor is talking on the phone or telling me about his day, I fake smile and stare glassy-eyed at him until he gets the hint and takes the dog outside.
  • I like writing with the dog in the room. She never talks on the phone or tells me about her day. And she always enjoys my beaver analogies.
  • I need a list to check off. I love lists, and I love checking them off. If I have a zillion pages of content to write, I can handle it if there is a list. When my editor tells me of more projects I need to do, I fake smile at him, stare glassy-eyed and tell him I need a list from him. One I can check off.
  • I can't write on vacation. I have grand plans to get lots of work done while away, but it never happens. I just tell my editor I forgot the list.
  • It doesn't work too well when I try to watch security cameras on the grave shift and write about subjects such as cadaver bone grafts. When my editor reads them, he gets glassy-eyed and stops smiling.
  • It's really amazing that a dead person's bone matter put into my jaw would regrow lost bone, but I think I'll still keep up the flossing.

photo credits:

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Princess Formerly Known as Starlet

Now, shed happens daily
When we signed up to be a foster dog family for Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue, we knew what we were in for. Dog fur everywhere. We aren't OK with that, but it does come with the territory. 

On the exciting day we went to pick "Starlet" up, she did not look much like a Golden. She was still lactating from having 9 pups, so she looked a bit "dangly" in that area. She was much scrawnier than our first dog, 90 pound Kodie, but that could be blamed on her recent motherhood as well. And her fur? It didn't look like any Golden we'd ever seen. Short and soft, like a lab just back from the groomer. I ran my fingers through her coat and nothing came off in my hand. I pulled it in disbelief and marveled - This dog does not shed!

About 30 minutes after getting her home, we were foster failures - we decided to keep her. Homeward Bound said as soon as her puppy hormones were settled down, she would look more like a Golden. Yeah right, we thought as we plunked down our "donation" for the little yellow lab we named Molly.

No more puppy hormones? Let the fur fly!

Soon she stopped lactating and started filling out a bit, topping out at about 55 pounds. And then it happened, ever so gradually over the next several months. Her coat came in. And in. And in. She began to grow a thick fox tail, with long strands of the oddest fur. When it's wet it looks as if it's been crimped, like the hair on a cheap blond doll.  It dries extremely fast and repels dirt. She has Teflon fur. Gobs and gobs of Teflon fur that sheds like mad. She is not a lab in any way. She's some kind of skunk killing, fur producing mix of Golden Retriever and Australian Shepherd - smart as a whip, stubborn, protective and healthy. 

Shedding is hard work, but someone has to do it.

And so we vacuum and dust, dust and vacuum. The battle of the fur is ongoing, and most days, even if I'm not winning the war, I put up a real good fight. We don't want to be one of those gross houses you visit in only your worst clothes, lint brush handy in the car for a quick once over after the smelly social call is paid. And that is why we absolutely, definitely, adamantly forbid Molly from getting on the couch. Or the futon. Or even the patio furniture. She knows the house rules. And rules are rules. 


*Bring Your Own Lint Brush

Art imitating life
Life imitating art

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Seeing red

The trees back East don't mess around with color. I was expecting to miss the prettiest show with my November trip to Connecticut, but the maples saved the best for last. The weather changed from Yikes warm to refreshing rain to Yikes cold in a matter of a week. It was warm enough one night to sit out by the fire with my brother and then cold enough to enjoy an indoor fire inside with my Mom.

All the critters were busy getting ready for winter. Alvin the Chipmunk was socking away the food my sister puts out for him (he hears her car drive up and waits!). The squirrels were squirreling away their winter supplies and a most annoying woodpecker was intent on putting holes in the wood siding. The feed store recommended hanging Mylar balloons to scare it away. It worked for two days, but then they got all twisted up and lost their helium and we just looked like a sad house with balloons in the bushes. I saw my first fox in my life - it ran across the road in front of the car. It was gorgeous and I was so glad the first fox I ever saw didn't become road kill.

Soon it will be cold and rainy here too and I can't wait! Winter is such a great excuse to forget what's happening in the yard and let the skies do the watering for a change. I'm ready to crank up the wood stove, make a big pot of chili and say "Yard, what yard?"

My Mom's Connecticut neighbor told me this is a Sugar Maple.
East Coast trees are serious when it comes to turning red. 

Our little maple in the front yard.
It seems to be stuck in summer with just a hint of fall.
Turn red I say!

Our oranges need some big time cold weather to sweeten up.
Last year our tree produced hundreds and hundreds.

The new azaleas are showing their stuff already.
A California critter getting ready for winter.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Spice Kid

If you grew up in a large family, one thing is certain - it doesn't feel like a large family. I have four siblings and you have to have six or more for me to think WOW, what a large family. While I'm not sure of all those birth order theories, there are definitely roles my siblings and I play.

Oldest brother - Thanks a bunch to you and C for not only having a son and then a daughter, but your son then having a son and a daughter. That gives Mom a grandson, a granddaughter, a great-grandson and a great-granddaughter. Not exactly a village of offspring, but enough that she is not too embarrassed around her friends with more prolific children. So thanks for having kids, because you're the only one that did.

Oldest sister - Thanks a billion for being the financially savvy one of the family. You are the go-to sibling when Mom has a decision involving money. I barely know the difference between a Roth IRA and a frothy IPA, so I'm happy to let you take on the money matters and make sure all the $$ stuff is locked down and solid.

Middle child sister - Much thanks for being the one who gives Mom all the spontaneity. We get postcards and emails from you two all over the East Coast - Nantucket, Cape Cod, South Hampton, South Carolina and all the Vanderbilt mansions and places on the Hudson. Since I'm not very spontaneous, I appreciate that one of us kids makes Mom's life so fun.

Youngest brother - You are half of the This Old House team who helped Mom sell her too big Carmichael home, move back to New England, and purchase and renovate the cutest little house ever. I love visiting her cozy home, cooking in the adorable kitchen and sleeping in the pretty guest room. I personally run from house renovation, so I'm glad we have a Mr. and Mrs. Fix-it in the family.

Youngest kid - That would be me. No kids, not financially savvy, not super spontaneous, and definitely not a home re-modeler. So where does that leave me? Well, someone has to be the organizing one, right? And that is what I'm up to this week. I flew out to New England to organize a fridge! My Mom had the exciting day of watching me as I rearranged cupboards and pantry, fridge and freezer. Tomorrow we whisk off to Trader Joe's to fill it up again. Mom, where would you be if you had stopped at four kids? Spice cabinets fear the No. 5 child.

It was a lovely flight, and I even saw our house in Sac from the air. E, the pool looked so clean!

The Whirlpool versus the Whirlwind.
The condiments also fear the baby of the family. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pack for the trip you want to have

I read an interesting piece of advice last week. "Dress for the day you want to have." So I tried it. I put on my swimsuit, sandals, big floppy hat and a good layer of sunscreen. It didn't work. I most definitely didn't spend the day on a tropical beach with a fruity drink in hand as the balmy ocean breezes blew gently past. So much for that advice.

Another piece of advice we got once was to dress up nicely while traveling, because airlines like to bump well dressed people up to first class so the lowly economy class will think they all paid for the privilege to not sit like a sardine. It worked once, we got bumped up to first class on a trip to Europe. It was wonderful, and when we arrived I said "Oh, we're here already?" It hasn't worked since, but I still try. I figure if it's between me and someone in sweats and a t-shirt that says I'm with stupid, that I would be the clear and logical choice.

The great thing about traveling to visit family is that when I (ooops!) forget something, I can just raid their closet and borrow it. Ooops, forgot a heavy winter coat! Ooops, forgot to pack a bulky warm robe! Ooops forgot to pack most everything! Hey, we're family, you don't mind if I borrow something, right? And that is why I'm traveling light today and trying to dress up in clothes that will still be comfy while in the sardine can of economy class. I won't wear the swimsuit on the plane though, because even I know a trip to New England in November will not involve beach hats and fruity drinks on the beach. Borrowed coats and robes and spending time with my Mom, that's the trip I want to have.