Road of Change

Road of Change: Kansas to Colorado

Lunch in Wichita, in which we got salads at a fast food restaurant.  The pernicious odor of burgers and fries overwhelmed, so I took my meal out to the car to avoid temptation.  Chris followed a few steps later.

“I had to get out of there.  I was one step away from ordering a bucket of fries,” Chris said to me.

I nodded my agreement because I had a mouthful of lettuce.  Then, I said, “The lounge entertainer, Joey Bishop, who was a favorite of Mom’s, said once that he lost weight by cutting everything in half and eating only half what the restaurants served him while he was on the road. Something to think about.  Mom even met him when she was younger.”

“Did she meet any of the others in the Rat Pack?” Chris asked.

“Most of them, from time to time.  She spent her summers in the Hamptons and celebrities were always available for parties.”

“Who had the money in your family?  Lilith or Andrew?” Chris asked. He had never seemed particularly interested before, so I readily answered his questions.

“It was Mom’s money.  Dad is a good investor, so he took advantage of Mom’s inheritance and more than quadrupled her fortunes.  My grandfather on Mom’s side was a second generation railroad magnate.”

“What was it like, growing up in a mansion, having everything you ever wanted?”

“Money isn’t everything Chris.  Mom and Dad were always someplace else anytime I needed a parent.  I was raised by nannies and servants. I saw my parents a couple of weeks in the summer and sometimes during the Christmas holidays. Once in a while, a nanny would take Carolyn, Ian and me to meet them in some far-flung exotic location for a few days, then back to New York we three kids went.”

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother on Dad’s side.  She was a kind little lady who taught me the art of crochet. She could talk for hours on the topic of yarn and yarn making. The first project I crocheted was a sampler afghan in which every 5 inch by 8 inch square had a different crochet stitch. I spent a lot of time pulling out stitches that were done incorrectly or too tight or too loose.  Grandma had a keen eye and could spot an error from across the room. I was determined that she not find even one.

She lived in the house with us, so I always had a parental figure around.  I adored Grandma and always wanted to please her.

My siblings and I seemed to get along very well without Lilith and Andrew.  If they didn’t show up for Christmas or birthdays, they always sent lavish gifts.  I think they checked with the nannies or maybe the nannies made the purchases and just sent the bills to Dad.  Grandma always made sure we had a birthday party or a Christmas tree. She ran the house I lived in until my marriage at the age of 20.

I don’t recall being lonely, but I didn’t feel loved by my parents.  I wasn’t lonely because I had Carolyn as a companion, a little brother to terrorize, and Justice, the butler, who became my father figure. Between Justice and Grandma, I always had the discipline I needed to grow.  I brushed my teeth, did my homework, studied for tests, cleaned my room and generally behaved.

Carolyn was the rebel who was always jumping off of the porch roof, after climbing up the rose arbor to get on the roof to begin with.  She snuck out of the house as a teenager, was caught smoking by Justice who grounded her for a month, was caught drinking by Hannah, the chef, and again she was grounded.  She didn’t study, she never turned in homework, never followed the rules.

Carolyn went to a local community college to study nursing-a subject in which she excelled-much to the disappointment of Lilith. Carolyn refused to go to an Ivy League school to study medicine where Lilith wanted her to go.

She met Louis who was studying HVAC at the same school during her final year.  They got married a year later, after enduring Lilith’s insults for the entire time they dated.  Lilith finally cut her off, completely, if she agreed to go ahead with her marriage to Louis, but Carolyn was undeterred.  She and Louis got married in a small chapel with just me and a friend of Louis’s, and Louis’s mother and father and his brothers and sisters in attendance. Mom refused to attend. Carolyn wore a simple white wedding gown that belonged to Louis’s mom and Louis wore his one and only suit.  They went to Olive Garden for their wedding supper and stayed at Louis’s parents’ house for their honeymoon.

It seemed her boys acted exactly the way she acted when she was a child. That same spirit pervaded their bones and they would probably grow up as happy as Carolyn is. She has no money, but she had a ton of love from Louis’s family, her boys and from Louis, himself.  A lot to envy, there.

Chris smiled at me and said, “It can’t have been terrible to not have Lilith around on the holidays.”

“She generally ignored her children either way.  If she was home, she would throw a huge Christmas party to impress her wealthy friends and I was never invited.  The nannies or Grandma would have a party for Carolyn, Ian and me in the nursery wing if Mom and Dad had one of their soirees.”

“The nursery wing?”  Chris asked.

“Yes.  It had five bedrooms, a living room, a playroom, a classroom, four bathrooms, a pool, a kitchen and dining room.  It was the wing in the back of the house. I think Lilith uses it for a guest house, now.”

“I was never in that wing,” Chris said.  “In fact, Lilith barely allowed me in the front door.”

“You didn’t miss much,”  I told him. “The house was huge and cold.  It didn’t feel like a home. It felt like someplace I slept as a kid.”

“I am surprised you didn’t grow up as snooty as Lilith,” Chris said.

“I wasn’t raised by her or I may have.  I was raised by my Grandma and Justice.”

“What was it like for you when your Grandma died?”  Chris asked, he voice carefully neutral.

“It felt like a gunshot wound to my heart.  You know, I haven’t been back to that house in New York since Grandma died.”

Then, Chris said something that surprised me addressing his mother in the urn in the back of the Cayenne.  “Lillian, I know just Anne feels. A gunshot to the heart. That’s what happened to me when you died.”

We pushed on toward Colorado.  From Wichita to the Colorado Border was 8 hours and we decided to spend the night in Colorado.  We didn’t quite make it and stopped at a small hotel 20 miles from the Colorado border. We ate fruit for breakfast and bought coffee at the Colorado welcome station. The selfie I took to send to Mr. Cartwright showed Chris and me, neutral faced and facing more of our adventure with mixed feelings.

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Road of Change

Road of Change: Kansas

It was after 5:00 pm before we reached Oklahoma City, choosing to drive along the famous Route 66.  We stopped at Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger for lunch, getting our meal to go. We ate in the car, surprising Snow with the meat from a hamburger.  I got a Frito Pie and an Oreo Cyclone and Chris ate three chili dogs. We shared the fries.

Because we were so close to the attraction, we visited the Blue Whale. Interesting, but not incredibly impressive.  Kind of like the world’s largest ball of twine. But, still, if anyone asks me if I have seen the blue Whale, I can say, “Yes, I have.”

Snow became an attraction herself at the Blue Whale when every child who saw her reached out to pet her soft white head.  Her tail wagged furiously every time she received attention.

The walk did all three of us good as we were all beginning to suffer from the excess calories we consumed on the highway.  All my pants were getting a little snug and apparently Chris had the same problem when he announced that any coffee we got on the road should be just black instead of flavors and sugar.  That was okay with me because I like black coffee. We decided to eat more salads and to eat less often when we stopped to use the bathroom or to fill up the car.

Chris agreed to walking every day, too.  

In Oklahoma City, we left Snow in the hotel room and went in search of  bathing suits because most of the hotels where we stayed had pools. Another source of exercise.  

I had never been an avid exerciser or dieter.  I knew many women who were perpetually dieting and always announcing right before they ate three eclairs that they “shouldn’t” or “this isn’t on my diet” or “I should apply this directly to my hips.”  In actuality, they were not dieting, but making a show for everyone else and making it seem as if eating an eclair was a huge sacrifice.

I mostly tried to moderate what I was eating.  For example, I would eat a handful of potato chips as opposed to a bagful of potato chips. At work, I usually subsisted on coffee and a sandwich from the the deli next to my shop. At home, I rarely ate a second slice of pizza and birthdays didn’t consist of a whole cake, but one cupcake for each of us.  We rarely had dessert after dinner. We also, didn’t exercise very much. None of us. Even with a pool, I didn’t swim laps on a daily basis. Maybe once a week.

We found bathing suits in a chain department store and I picked up two beach towels, too, all compliments of Lillian.  At the same store, we bought some bananas and apples for snacks, pre-made salads for supper that evening, and small bottles of juice to drink instead of fizzy sodas.

Anything to stop the endless flood of fast food.  

Chris and I changed into our swimsuits when we got back to the hotel and within minutes, we plunged into the cool water of the pool. After swimming the length of the pool a few times, I was tired, so I climbed out and wrapped the towel around my shoulders to stave off the gooseflesh.  The sun set and the air grew chilly, so I rushed back into the hotel to get out of the breeze, to shower off the chlorine and get into dry clothes.

My dinner salad tasted better than I anticipated and so did the banana I shared with Snow.  I took Snow out for a final walk before going to sleep.

That night, I slept better than I had in a long time.  Maybe the key was getting really tired before retiring instead of just sitting in a car all day.

The next morning, I ate breakfast-a single whole wheat bagel with low fat cream cheese and black coffee-compliments of the hotel and then went for another swim, consisting of several laps of the pool.  Another shower, back into travel clothes and I took Snow for her morning walk. Just as we got back to the car, Chris was already putting his things in the back. His hair was still wet from his shower and he held a bagel with cream cheese smeared on the top in his left hand.

“You ready?” he asked.

“As soon as I get my suitcase out of the room,”  I announced.

He held onto Snow’s leash while I went in to grab my things.  My beach towel was wet from my morning swim and so was the bathing suit, so I left them out of the suitcase.  A quick double check and I was ready, again.

I spread the wet towel across the back of Snow’s back seat and hung the bathing suit over the headrest in the back.

Chris drove, again, and he picked up Interstate 235 until it met with Interstate 44.  Due north to Wichita, Kansas.

We stopped at the Welcome to Kansas sign and I took another selfie for Mr. Cartwright.  I sent the image into the ether and we took to the road, again.

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Road of Change

Road of Change: Kansas

It was after 5:00 pm before we reached Oklahoma City, choosing to drive along the famous Route 66.  We stopped at Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger for lunch, getting our meal to go.  We ate in the car, surprising Snow with the meat from a hamburger.  I got a Frito Pie and an Oreo Cyclone and Chris ate three chili dogs.  We shared the fries.

Because we were so close to the attraction, we visited the Blue Whale. Interesting, but not incredibly impressive.  Kind of like the world’s largest ball of twine. But, still, if anyone asks me if I have seen the blue Whale, I can say, “Yes, I have.”

Snow became an attraction herself at the Blue Whale when every child who saw her reached out to pet her soft white head.  Her tail wagged furiously every time she received attention.  

The walk did all three of us good as we were all beginning to suffer from the excess calories we consumed on the highway.  All my pants were getting a little snug and apparently Chris had the same problem when he announced that any coffee we got on the road should be just black instead of flavors and sugar.  That was okay with me because I like black coffee.  We decided to eat more salads and to eat less often when we stopped to use the bathroom or to fill up the car.

Chris agreed to walking every day, too.  

In Oklahoma City, we left Snow in the hotel room and went in search of  bathing suits because most of the hotels where we stayed had pools.  Another source of exercise.  

I had never been an avid exerciser or dieter.  I knew many women who were perpetually dieting and always announcing right before they ate three eclairs that they “shouldn’t” or “this isn’t on my diet” or “I should apply this directly to my hips.”  In actuality, they were not dieting, but making a show for everyone else and making it seem as if eating an eclair was a huge sacrifice.

I mostly tried to moderate what I was eating.  For example, I would eat a handful of potato chips as opposed to a bagful of potato chips. At work, I usually subsisted on coffee and a sandwich from the the deli next to my shop. At home, I rarely ate a second slice of pizza and birthdays didn’t consist of a whole cake, but one cupcake for each of us.  We rarely had dessert after dinner.  We also, didn’t exercise very much.  None of us.  Even with a pool, I didn’t swim laps on a daily basis.  Maybe once a week.

We found bathing suits in a chain department store and I picked up two beach towels, too, all compliments of Lillian.  At the same store, we bought some bananas and apples for snacks, pre-made salads for supper that evening, and small bottles of juice to drink instead of fizzy sodas.

Anything to stop the endless flood of fast food.  

Chris and I changed into our swimsuits when we got back to the hotel and within minutes, we plunged into the cool water of the pool. After swimming the length of the pool a few times, I was tired, so I climbed out and wrapped the towel around my shoulders to stave off the gooseflesh.  The sun set and the air grew chilly, so I rushed back into the hotel to get out of the breeze, to shower off the chlorine and get into dry clothes.

My dinner salad tasted better than I anticipated and so did the banana I shared with Snow.  I took Snow out for a final walk before going to sleep.

That night, I slept better than I had in a long time.  Maybe the key was getting really tired before retiring instead of just sitting in a car all day.

The next morning, I ate breakfast-a single whole wheat bagel with low fat cream cheese and black coffee-compliments of the hotel and then went for another swim, consisting of several laps of the pool.  Another shower, back into travel clothes and I took Snow for her morning walk.  Just as we got back to the car, Chris was already putting his things in the back.  His hair was still wet from his shower and he held a bagel with cream cheese smeared on the top in his left hand.

“You ready?” he asked.

“As soon as I get my suitcase out of the room,”  I announced.

He held onto Snow’s leash while I went in to grab my things.  My beach towel was wet from my morning swim and so was the bathing suit, so I left them out of the suitcase.  A quick double check and I was ready, again.

I spread the wet towel across the back of Snow’s back seat and hung the bathing suit over the headrest in the back.

Chris drove, again, and he picked up Interstate 235 until it met with Interstate 44.  Due north to Wichita, Kansas.

We stopped at the Welcome to Kansas sign and I took another selfie for Mr. Cartwright.  I sent the image into the ether and we took to the road, again.

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Road of Change, Uncategorized

Road of Change: Missouri to Oklahoma

In Arkansas, we saw Texarkana and then on to Little Rock. So much of the scenery flashed by us because we were so deep in our thoughts and hurts. We did the usual bathroom breaks.  We ate fast food in the car, adding to the crumbs already there.  We would have to get the car cleaned at some point because it was rapidly reaching a point where it was too disgusting to ride in.  

Outside of Little Rock, we picked up state road 65 that would take us to Branson, Missouri.  We just need to cut across the southwest side of Missouri, so we wouldn’t spend much time there.  

Dinner in Branson consisted of yet another burger and fries and a chain hotel for the night.  At this rate, I would likely gain 50 pounds before the trip was over.  What was Lillian thinking making us do this?  How can anyone eat without gaining a ton of weight while on a road trip.  In my hotel that night, I looked up information about how to lose weight while on vacation and found some great ideas.  And I had a perfect alibi traveling with me–Snow.

That morning, after dressing in my traveling pants, a tank top and my sneakers, I ate a whole wheat bagel at the complimentary breakfast buffet in the hotel.  I grabbed a banana and a coffee and took them back to my room.  I packed up my things and took them out to the Cayenne.

Snow eagerly awaited her morning walk, so I took her to the back of the hotel parking lot to allow her to poop.  Then, we walked to the lobby and I asked for a walking map of the area so I could walk my dog, and of course, myself.  Chris called me when we were about four blocks from the hotel to ask me when we were leaving and I told him I was walking Snow and would be back in about thirty minutes.

“Where are you walking her to?  Colorado?” he asked.

           I blew out a sigh and then answered him.  “Sitting in a car all day and eating nothing but hamburgers and fries will not do anything for my school girl figure.  I felt like going for a walk this morning.  I will call you when I am ready to go.  Smoke a few cigarettes and get some breakfast.”  I hung up without saying goodbye.  I didn’t really care if Chris had to wait for me.  The time I spent walking the dog was well worth it in my opinion.

Of course, he was impatient and fuming by the time I returned to the parking lot with Snow.  I made him wait a little longer while I went back into my room and used the toilet.  A quick survey made sure I had not forgotten anything in the room. The car was running and Snow was perched in the backseat when I closed the door.  Chris stopped by the front of the hotel and I went in to return the room key cards.  We hit the road by 9:30 a.m.  The next stop: Oklahoma City.

Chris plugged in his iPod to the sound system and turned the music up.  The music played loudly enough that we couldn’t talk if we wanted to and I am certain that was the object.  I am the one who made the rules, so I couldn’t renege.  

After about an hour of emo tunes and 90’s rock blasting through my head, the song we danced to at our wedding came on and I saw the slight smile on Chris’s face.  I hoped it evoked a fond memory from our past.

We learned a tango for our wedding dance and danced to Asi Se Baila El Tango by Bailongo! and Vero Verdier.  We spent several days in a dance studio with a small man who had the incongruous name of Mr. Carlton.  When he told me his name, I instantly got a mental image of him doing “the Carlton.” He stood 5’4” in two inch dancing shoes and weighed about 100 pounds.  His straight black hair never moved on his head because he used so much pommade.  But, the man could tango.

Lillian bribed Chris by promising him enough money for a down payment on a house if he went through with the dance lessons.  As usual, he pouted and complained about having to do anything out of his comfort zone.  But, he wanted a house badly enough to suffer the humiliation of dancing with me.

Mr. Carlton dimmed the lights in the dance studio on the day of our first dance lesson and put on a deeply dramatic song.  A tiny Oriental girl came out of the back dressed in a black leotard, spike heels, and a skirt that only covered her bottom.  Mr. Carlton pulled off his coat and tossed it aside and jerked on the girl’s arm, pulling her in closely.  They writhed and swirled and posed on the dance floor.  Everything except the two people dancing vanished from the earth as I watched them maneuver their way across the floor, never losing eye contact with each other.  I was mesmerized.

Chris said, “I can’t do that!” as soon as the dancers completed their routine.  

Mr. Carlton shouted at him, “Of course, you can’t.  That’s why you came to me.  Jasmine and I wanted to show you what you will learn over the next few weeks.”  He murmured a thank you to the girl and she vanished from the room as quickly as she arrived. “Now, we begin.  You have your shoes?”  

Lillian brought dancing shoes for both of us that we would wear at the reception.  Although mine had heels, they were comfortable to wear.  Chris’s shoes were shiny black and he would wear them for the wedding and the reception.

We put on our shoes and Mr. Carlton inspected the fit.  He announced that they would work perfectly and then commanded we stand for our first lesson.  Chris kissed my hair and said, “You have to know how much I love you if I am willing to do this for you.”

I countered with, “You are doing this for a house.”

Chris said, “I do love you, house or not.”

I blushed and Mr. Carlton told us to get to work and to stop flirting.  For the next two hours we practiced our posing, getting our frame correct, staring deeply into each other’s eyes.  At the end of the session, I felt like I had just ran a marathon.  I was sweaty and tired.  My arms and calves ached.  My head ached.  My feet felt swollen inside the shoes. Chris looked very much the same.

As we drove home after that first dance lesson, Chris told me, “I have a new respect for anyone who dances.  That is a lot of very hard work.”  He was silent for a few moments and then he asked me, “Do you think we can do it?”

“I hope so.”

“How long have we got to learn this stuff?”

“The wedding is four months away.  Mr. Carlton has scheduled us for two lessons a week.  Yes, I think we can do it.”

“You know, we have to get this perfect.  It’ll impressed the hell out of Mom.”  

It bothered me a little bit that he was learning the tango to impress Lillian rather than me, but I kept my mouth shut.  At least he was going to try.

The next lesson was dismal.  Mr. Carlton yelled at us for being stiff as a two by four.  He flailed his hands and ranted.  The muscles in my arms ached terribly from the first dance lesson and I felt like I was moving through glue.  Chris didn’t say anything, but I imagine he felt much the same.

The third lesson went a little better and the fourth even better.  We discovered we could judge our progress by how much Mr. Carlton yelled.  Less yelling meant better dancing.

I progressed with my wedding plans in the midst of all of the dance lessons.  Six months before the dance lessons, my mother and I went to Kleinfeld’s in New York to get a wedding dress.  As usual, we clashed terribly.  Mom wanted me to wear a mermaid gown and I wanted something a bit more vintage.  We settled on a dress that was reminiscent of the beaded dress that Ginger Rogers wore in the movie Top Hat.  The Hollywood Golden Age themed wedding moved ahead at warp speed.  Mom wanted to impress all of her friends from the Hamptons, so we got married in Mom’s backyard.  Neither Chris nor I knew most of the guests, but we only had eyes for each other, anyway. The money Mom and Dad spent on the wedding was embarrassing.  We got through it.

I had a second dress of the wedding reception; one far more conducive to dancing a tango in that it was similar to my wedding dress but without the train and missing most of the beads. It conjured images of Ginger, again wearing a white silk gown.  Chris wore a top hat and tails. Matt, Chris’s best man, introduced us as we entered the tented pavilion my mother had erected in her yard for the reception.  “Ladies, gentlemen, honored guests.  May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Archer, Chris and Ann.”

The orchestra cued the music and I slowly walked out to the dance platform.  From the opposite side of the platform, Chris appeared and tossed his coat aside, just like Mr. Carlton did that first day at dance lessons.  Our bodies molded together as we went through the well-rehearsed steps of the tango.  We received a round of applause which would have happened even if we danced poorly.  Mom beamed and Chris blushed.  I caught a glimpse of Lillian and she shook her head slowly from side to side.  Later she told me that entire wedding was pretentious and I agreed.

Of course the wedding was pretentious, but few people could say no to Lilith Weaver.  So, the lavish and pretentious wedding proceeded, and Chris and I had fun.  And so did my six bridesmaids and Chris’s six groomsmen.  That evening, I danced with a Senator or two, a Hollywood producer, a couple of Wall Street Millionaires, and an actor who was famous for creating a superhero on the big screen. We dined on lobster, Beef Wellington, caviar, and a wedding cake decorated to look like a white top hat with Swarovski crystals and white roses to garnish.  Just like my wedding bouquet.  White roses, Swarovski Crystals and silk ribbons.

By the time I danced with my Dad, I had my shoes off and Mom was scandalized.  She informed me as she and a famous TV chef danced by that only tramps and hobos went without shoes.  Dad whirled me a way and told me to ignore Lilith and to enjoy myself.  Chris and Lillian danced closer to us and Lillian pushed Chris into my arms and grabbed my dad for a spin around the floor with him.  Mom fumed at Dad for dancing with the indefatigable Lillian Archer.

Other than our tango, Chris was a terrible dancer.  He was just barely able to do a box step.  I only danced with him two or three times during the night.  Matt, on the other hand, was accomplished and lithe on the floor.  He graced me with several dances while Barbara smiled at him in approval.

Around midnight, the party started to wind down and Carolyn, my maid of honor, announced that it was time for me to go so everyone else could go.  Matt instructed the orchestra to play a slow romantic song and Chris and I had one last box step dance together.  We went upstairs to stay overnight in Mom’s guestroom.

I was happy to have a lavish wedding, but afterward, I knew Mom had over spent.  All I had remaining were some memories and an album full of photographs.

Chris pulled the car over so we could get a selfie of the Oklahoma Welcome sign. I smiled because I was still thinking about our tango and Chris just looked annoyed.  I sent the photo to Mr. Cartwright and to Lily.   I also sent one to Matt.  He would enjoy the image of Snow with her two front paws on Chris’s leg, begging for a pat on her head.  Maybe that’s why he looked annoyed.

OKLAHOMA

Blog Entries, Mystery Shopping

Mystery Shopping is a REAL job

A lot of people have the wrong idea about mystery shopping.  They think it is a scam, a way for someone to collect their private information, multi-level marketing, phishing, or like those paid surveys online that NEVER pay.

Nothing is farther from the truth.  Mystery shopping is a legitimate business that is growing every year.  And, there is good money to be made with mystery shopping.

What, exactly, is mystery shopping.  It is large part of market research.  A shopper poses as a normal customer and “shops” the business, whether it is a retail store, a doctor’s office, an upscale restaurant, a fast food location, or car repair shop.  

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Photo by Mar Newhall on Unsplash

Many business owners, especially those with multiple stores or even national and international coverage, want to know how employees are treating customers.  After posing as a customer, the shopper normally fills out a report, recording observations such as the interaction of employees and customers, and the physical area where the shop is conducted.

Today, customer service is the one thing that will separate the sheep and the goats, so to speak.  Superior customer service defines whether someone will return to that location and most businesses depend on repeat business to stay alive.

Here’s how Mystery Shopping works:

  • A shopper signs up with a mystery shopping firm, normally as an independent contractor
  • The firm posts available jobs on a job board and if the shopper meets the qualifications to do the shop–age, gender, ranking within the firm–they can request the assignment
  • Once the shopper is assigned the job, they read all of the guidelines regarding the assignment.  
  • They go to the location and perform the assigned tasks such as interacting with employees to taking photos of the area
  • Once all the tasks are completed, the shopper then fills out a report including as much detail as possible

The firm will pay the shopper the fee previously agreed upon.  The only downside is a shopper may have to wait 4-8 weeks to get paid.  Knowing that going in, a shopper can make arrangements ahead of time, financially.  Once the money starts rolling in, a shopper can continually make money knowing the money they earned last month will support them while they are doing this month’s shops.

A word of warning

Scams do exist.  Never pay to get a shop assigned to you.  Firms pay YOU and not the reverse.  Never agree to cash checks for a firm or to send money to a foreign address on behalf of a firm.  A legitimate firm will NEVER ask you to do this.  Before agreeing to shop for a firm, look them up online.  Read what others have to say about them. Read the reviews that shoppers post about the firm. Are they fair?  Do they pay on time?  Do they find reasons to NOT pay a shopper?  

Spending a little bit of time researching will save you a lot of heartache later.

Road of Change

Road of Change: Arkansas to Missouri

We stopped for lunch in Texarkana at a place called Pop’s Place because they featured outdoor seating.  Snow lay quietly beside my chair while I ate bacon wrapped shrimp.  

Chris remained silent until we relaxed with coffee at then end of the meal. “Do you feel better?”  he asked me.

“Yes.  I do.  It hits me sometimes, at weird moments.  Something will trigger a memory and it is like Trip died just yesterday.”

Chris nodded and then, surprisingly, said, “It happens to me, too.  Sometimes.”  He focused on his coffee and not one me.  He stared into the cup like he expected to find the answer to the meaning of life in the dark liquid.

For my part, I was just shocked he said anything at all about Trip.  He never mentioned our son.  He never talked about him.  He never cried, at least not when I was watching.  Lily and I spent a lot of time talking about him right after it happened.  When we started, if Chris was near, he would get up and leave like he didn’t want to be reminded of the tragedy.

Death is hard for anyone to accept.  When someone we love dies, we all go through a lot of mental changes.  We cry, we scream even if it just in our mind, we wonder if it is our fault, we get angry, we get confused, we sit in a corner and try our best to not think about anything.  I have lost my son, my husband and now Lillian.  I hoped I never had to deal with the feelings of loss again.

We got into the car, found Interstate 30, again and continued toward Little Rock.  We passed towns, forests, farms and fields.  We stopped every couple of hours so Snow could pee and we could get something to drink to keep us going to out next overnight stop.

About halfway to Little Rock, I propped my feet on the dash and responded to a text from Lily:

Lily:  Hi, Mom.  How’s it going?

Me:  Okay.  We’re in Arkansas.

Lily:  How’s Snow?

Me:  She is very happy.  Sleeping in the back seat right now. How’s it going with Carolyn and the boys?

Lily:  Ham jumped off the garage roof because he said he was trying to fly and sprained his ankle.  Aunt C grounded him so he will stay off of his foot long enough for it to heal.

Me:  Did she take him to the ER?

Lily:  She did.  You could hear him scream all over the hospital when they X-rayed his ankle.

Me:  I’m glad it wasn’t more serious.

Lily:  One of the dogs got ou. Austin and I chased her all over the neighborhood before we caught her.  Jack got grounded for letting her out.  Austin got grounded for calling Jack a shit head.  So far, I am the only one Aunt C hasn’t put in time out.

Me:  Sounds lively over there.  Are you alright?

Lily:  Sure.  Carolyn says Hi, btw.

Me:  Hi to Carolyn.

Lily:  Grandmother Lilith called me and apologized for not taking me for the summer.  She and Grandfather are in the Hamptons.

Me:  What a piece of work she is!

Lily:  I am so glad I could stay with Aunt C.  Going to get a pedicure and nails done in a bit.  Maybe get our hair done. Will send pics. Love you.

Me:  Love you, too.

I closed my messenger and told Chris, “Ham sprained his ankle when he jumped off of the garage roof.  Jack got grounded for letting one of the dogs out and Austin got grounded for calling Jack a shit head.”

“So everything is pretty much normal at Carolyn’s house.”

“Sounds like it.”  I smiled.

“They all got grounded when we were there for Christmas Eve dinner.”

“Yes, they did.”  I smiled at the memory.

We arrived at Carolyn’s house about two in the afternoon and the boys were wound up because they were anticipating Christmas.  Carolyn had made some marzipan and cookies and they were all hyped up on sugar.  Carolyn chased the boys outside by swatting their fannies with a broom and Lily went with them to organize a game of football:  Lily, Ham and Louis against Chris, Austin and Jackson.  

Instead of football, mayhem resulted.  

Jackson pushed Ham into a rose bush and Ham hit Jackson in the head with a plastic baseball bat.  Austin jumped on Ham to keep him from beating the crap out of Jack and punched Ham in the face.  Ham played the baby card and screamed like he was dying.  Austin ended up with a bloody knuckle where Ham’s tooth sliced it open.  Ham lost his front tooth, but Carolyn said it was loose anyway and ready to come out.

Louis put all three boys on a timeout step on the stairs and then told the Elf on the Shelf everything that happened.

Carolyn yelled from the kitchen, “What, now?”

Louis replied, “Our three feral boys are in time out.”

Carolyn walked into the living room and looked at the stairs that were littered with pouting kids.  “They aren’t feral,”  she said.

“Yes, they are.  They run around like puppies, chewing on everyone’s shoes and peeing on the leather couch,”  Louis said.

“They haven’t done that,” Carolyn protested.

“That’s only because we haven’t turned our backs on them, yet.”  He said and she laughed.  Louis soundly kissed his wife in the living room and then he said, “Go finish dinner and I’ll keep them all caged and hopefully we won’t need an emergency room before dessert.”

Carolyn is my younger sister and we look like twins.  Her blond hair is longer than mine without a trace of curl.  Our faces are identical and our eyes the same color.  She stands about an inch taller than me and weighs about 40 pounds less because of chasing her boys all day, I assumed.

Louis has straight dark brown hair and brown eyes and is absolutely sexy.  His Latino heritage glowed in his perfect brown skin and his bright white teeth.  Carolyn is nearly three inches taller than Louis, but neither one minds the height difference.

“Carolyn has her hands full,” I said to Chris. “I can understand why she decided to be a homemaker instead of working.”

“But Louis keeps things ticking over most of the time,” Chris said.  He genuinely liked and admired Louis Aragon. “Those kids just get out of hand in a second.  Even with a roomful of adults watching.  They will probably all grow up to be multi-millionaires.  That kind of spirit is hard to tame.”

“The Aragons make be glad we have a daughter.”

“Do you think Carolyn will use her degree when the boys get older?”  Chris asked.

“I don’t know.  There is a high demand for nurses, so she may get back into that field.”

“They would certainly have more money.  Louis doesn’t make that much installing air conditioners and heaters.”

“I think for them, it’s not about money.  They have enough to keep a roof over their heads and to feed everyone.  Neither one seems interested in a huge house or a huge mortgage payment, despite Lilith trying to influence Carolyn into buying a house in the Hamptons.”

“I find that hard to understand,”  Chris said.  “How can they not want to better themselves?”

“Carolyn has a lot less stress than I do and she and Louis are very happy together.  How can her life be somehow less than ours?  They concentrate on integrity and honesty and love.  Louis is very spiritual and he makes certain that the boys are getting a good spiritual education.  He is also a firm and fair disciplinarian. He adores Carolyn and deeply loves his kids.  He is involved in every aspect of their lives. Louis is a good, decent man.”

Chris fell silent for several minutes and then said, “Louis is everything I am not.”  

“Jeez. That is not what I was saying.”

“You didn’t have to.  Why do you think I looked around for someone who appreciates me for what I am?”

“And what are you?  A philanderer?  A liar?”

“See?  That’s what I’m saying.  You never give me credit for the things I do.  Look how much money I bring home.  That should count for something.”

“You are a good monetary provider,” I conceded.   “But, Chris, there is more to life than making money.  That is all I was saying.  I wasn’t trying to compare you and Louis.”

“Yeah, right.”  Chris said and fell into another pouty mood.  And we still had 38 states to go plus Washington D.C.

Again, pouty faces greeted Mr. Cartwright when I emailed the selfie in front of the Welcome to Missouri sign.  Next stop, Branson Missouri.

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Road of Change

Road of Change: Arkansas

We left the hotel right before checkout time at 11:00 am.  Snow hopped into the back of the car and sat up straight watching everything out of the front window.  Chris opted to drive and I decided to let him, giving me a day off.

Chris picked up Interstate 10 and then took I 610 to I 69 N toward Little Rock.  Finally out of Houston, Chris was able to put his foot down and we traveled at a reasonable pace.

Around the time we merged onto US 59 N, Snow got tired of the view, so she settled down on her bed and went sleep.  What a life she has, so free from worry and all the human stuff we find ourselves tangled in.

I looked at Chris and asked, “Do you remember when we got her?”

“Yeah.  She was this tiny ball of white fluffy fur. I still think we should have named her Dust Bunny instead of Snow.”

I smiled.  Lily, Trip and I had gone shopping one Saturday about two years ago.  I had never had pets before, as my mother didn’t want an animal in the house and it never came up between Chris and me.  A local pet store was having a puppy sale and we walked over to see the little dogs on display. Trip ran over to the displays that were outside the pet store on the sidewalk.  Forty or fifty puppies yipped at us from their cages that were spread the length of the walkway in front of the store.  I spotted Snow and she looked up at me, her brown eyes full of expectation.

“What kind of dog is it?”  I asked the lady who sat on a folding metal chair beside the cardboard box. The woman had brown hair shot with grey, was well over 200 lbs and gave me a grandmotherly impression.

“A German Spitz.  She is the last one left from the last litter. I figured I would bring her down here to the sale to see if I could find her a good home.”

“I am not familiar with dogs,” I told her.

“Spitz are great family dogs and they have sweet dispositions.  Their fur is dense and they don’t shed like a lot of other dogs.  They are easy to care for.  You just have to brush them and feed them and give them a bath once in a while.”

“I’m not sure about this…”  I said, hesitantly.  “A dog is a huge responsibility.”

Then Trip chimed in.  “Please, Mom.  She is so pretty and so fluffy. Please.  I’ve always wanted a dog.”

And Lily said, “Trip and I can help you with her.”  Now I had two kids and a dog watching me with expectation.

I turned my attention back to the lady.  “I have never had a pet before.”

“How about this,”  the woman said.  “You take the puppy and I will help you get started with her.  I can show you how to house train her, how to feed her and even some basic training, like sit and stay and walking her with a leash.  If in a few weeks you discover you can’t handle her, I will take her back.  She has got a fine pedigree and I could sell her to someone else.  You have a nice family and I would love to see this sweet little dog with nice people.  She was the runt of the litter and I have a soft spot for this little one.”

“I don’t want a show dog,”  I told her.  

“Not a problem.”

“I don’t need papers on her,” I told the lady.

“Again, not a problem.  She was bullied by her littermates because she was the smallest and I want her to go to a nice family.  She needs a family who will love her.  I am real picky about who I place my dogs with.  This little one has been loved and played with by me since she opened her eyes. She just wants love.”

“How much?”  I asked the lady and we concluded the deal with Trip and Lily squealing with delight behind me.

“Here’s my card,” the woman said and I read her name, Debbie Durbin.  “I have a leash for her and her collar and a cage.  The cage will seem really big for her now, but she will grow to be about 30 or 35 pounds.”

Debbie gave me the name of the puppy’s vet, some house training instructions, suggested some food I should buy.  Just like that, I became a dog owner.

That afternoon, Lily and Trip ran and played with their new toy until she was exhausted and happy and fell asleep in the huge cage Debbie provided.  It had a blanket in the bottom Snow was familiar with and Debbie gave me a ticking clock to put in there, too, so Snow wouldn’t feel alone.

Chris came in for dinner.  “What in the hell is that?”  he demanded when he saw the dog cage in the kitchen.

“It’s a dog,”  I told him.

“I can see it’s a dog.  Why is it here?”

“I bought her today from a very nice lady named Debbie Durbin.”

“We’ve never had a dog,” Chris pointed out.  No kidding.

“We’ve never had any kind of pet.”  I pointed out.

“What’s its name?”

“We haven’t officially decided, but the kids want to call her Snowball.”

Trip and Lily ran into the kitchen and Trip reached into the cage to pick up the sleepy puppy.  “Isn’t she cute?”  Trip asked his Dad and then put the puppy in Chris’s hand.

“She doesn’t weigh anything,”  he said.  He held her close to his face and her tiny pink tongue darted out of her mouth and touched his cheek.

“See, Dad, she likes you,”  Trip said.

I smiled and then said to them, “You better take her outside, now, Trip.  Walk her around on her leash until she pees, then tell her she is a good dog and pet her, then bring her back inside.”

“Okay, Mom.”  Trip held his hands out and Chris gave him the puppy.  

Chris said to me, once they were outside, “You know he will lose interest in just a few days and you’ll have to take care of her.”

“I know.  It’s not a problem.”  

And just that quickly, Snow became part of our family.  She became just Snow almost immediately instead of Snowball.  

Training a dog was not as difficult as I imagined.  I bought a baby gate that kept her confined to the kitchen during her training, thinking tile is much easier to clean up than rugs or hardwood.  She only had a couple of accidents before she got the idea that she was supposed to go outside.  

Within two weeks, I removed the baby gate and gave her the run of the house.  Trip worked with her to get her to sit on command, to stay, to come and to heel when she was on her leash.  I spent the money to create a sizable run for her in our backyard to keep her from the flower beds and the swimming pool.  She had a dog house with her name painted on the top and grass to run on.  I don’t think she ever actually stayed in her dog house unless Trip got in first and coaxed her.

So many of early memories of Snow coincide with Trip.  He loved having a dog and spent a lot of time with her.  In his room, the don’t-get-on-the-furniture rule was non-existent because Trip allowed her to sleep in his bed.  He crept down the stairs when he thought everyone was sleeping, opened her cage and she followed him upstairs, very happy to sleep with him.

I knew what he did, but didn’t dissuade him.  Snow was with us only about four months before Trip died.  I remembered her watching as the EMTs tried to revive our son.  She whimpered several times and barked at the EMTs when they took Trip away on a stretcher.  For weeks after Trip died, Snow went outside and watched at the gate where she last saw him–the one the EMTs used to take him out on the stretcher.  One day, she stopped watching the gate, apparently convinced that Trip was never coming home.

My face felt wet and I wiped away a tear.  I hoped Chris didn’t see it.

“Oh, Jeez,” he said.  Crap, he saw it.  “What, now?”  he asked.

“I was thinking about Trip and Snow,”  I told him.  For a moment, I thought Chris was going to say something, but he refrained from making any remarks, snide or otherwise.

Chris pulled the Cayenne to the side of the road beside the Welcome to Arkansas sign and I snapped the selfie, me with a bright red nose from crying and Chris looking helpless.

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Uncategorized

Road of Change: Texas to Arkansas

 

The GPS told us the actual drive time to San Antonio was about 7 hours, but it didn’t take into consideration the traffic in Houston. We averaged about 20 miles an hour just about all the way across the city. Houston was hot and humid.  The Cayenne started to overheat in the slow traffic, so I was forced to open the windows and turn off the AC.  Even with 26 lanes of traffic, we crept along for what seemed like a hundred miles.  

Because of our late start, we stopped at the Candlewood Suites in Houston’s City Centre, never actually traveling all the way across the city. We ate dinner in the onsite Grille, Chris eating light because he still suffered from the effect of his binge the previous night.  I was secretly happy he felt bad.

I have never had much sympathy for anyone with a hangover.  It is a fully preventable disease.  Chris suffered in silence because he knew I would give him a piece of my mind if he complained. Or so I thought.  He rarely told me what was on his mind, so I got into a habit of assigning thoughts to him that may or may not be accurate.

About halfway through our meal, he said, “I will never drink that much again.  I still feel like shit.  Let’s not leave early tomorrow. Maybe we can take a day and sleep in.  At least I need to.”

I nodded and said, “Go back to the room, now and go to sleep.  Call me when you wake up in the morning.  They have coffee and a continental breakfast down here in the morning until 11:00 am.”

“Maybe we should get on the road after the morning rush hour,”  he said.

“Just call me when you are ready to get moving,”  I repeated.

“You will answer your phone?”

I glared at him, rose from my chair and walked back to my room, unescorted.

I opened my laptop and tried to determine if there was a better route to take to get this over with quicker.  After a few minutes, I gave up and turned on the TV to watch the same movie I watched the previous evening.  The second time around, it didn’t get any better.  I was bored with the trip and bored with my traveling companion.  We had to do something different or we would likely just give up and go home.  Was a house really worth all of this aggravation?

I called Chris’s cell phone and he answered with “What?”

“I was thinking.  Maybe we should try to make this trip more bearable.  Like maybe we should pick a tourist spot in each state and make it a point to visit.”

“Why?”

“It will give us something to look forward to instead of just a month or more of driving,”  I said.  “I took Snow to a plantation in Baton Rouge while you were still in bed and it was great fun.  I learned a little about the state of Louisiana, too.  It broke up the monotony of just driving.”

“Well, if I agree to that, where would we stop, next?”

“We are turning north toward Little Rock, Arkansas next.  We go from US 59 to Interstate 30 North.  There is a nice dog park we can stop at in Texarkana.”

“Okay.  Whatever,”  he said.

I hung up on him and looked into the park a little.  Like everything else in our lives, I had to make the plans.  It was like Chris just rode along in life without thinking about anything.

Finally, I decided to drive instead of sightseeing.  Maybe I would feel better once we got to Little Rock.

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Writing

That Sunday Feeling

After wrestling with the blankets all night and waking up so tangled up that I could barely get out of bed, I realized it is Sunday.  Sunday and I can sleep without an alarm.  Sunday and I can make a tasty brunch.  Sunday and I can just be lazy and happy.  I can do what I want.

I read an article about being resurrected. I browsed through Facebook and even made a couple of posts.  I waited to put on clothes, preferring my pajamas and no bra.

I felt like a cat who finds a spot of sun to take a nap.  I felt like a stack of pancakes.  I felt like journaling in a hammock.

I felt like experiencing the silence you find in an empty church building.

Sunday feels like a warm blanket and a nap.IMG-2262