Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

elephant_moveI’ve added a new word to my vocabulary since I’ve moved to Colorado: “neighborly.” I’ve never had cause to use the word myself, although I vaguely remember Mom once say, “well, shooting our shutters with a BB gun wasn’t exactly neighborly.”

Neighbors have come and gone in my life (more accurately, I’ve come and gone in theirs) and in all my years, I’ve never been welcomed to the neighborhood with a basket of mini-muffins and I’ve never peeked out the window to find a waving neighbor mowing my lawn (although I did once find one filling their pool with my hose). Aside from some vodka-sharing fellow dorm-dwellers in college, all the hopes and dreams instilled by Mr. Rogers never came to fruition… until now.

I hadn’t even made the official move to Denver when I got my first taste of what being neighborly is all about. Upon taking copious photos of the “sold” sign in front of our new home lot, our future neighbors popped by to welcome us. Hours later while being carded at the liquor store, I became engulfed in a lengthy conversation with the cashier and the woman behind me about how excited they were for me to be making the move and how much I’d love my new home. We’ve had furniture-moving help, hiking trail advice, welcomes, well-wishes and even – wait for it – food! Colorado is the most neighborly state I’ve ever experienced. Feel like giving it the old neighborly try? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up on how to be a good neighbor (is the State Farm jingle running through your head too?):

1) Wave when you drive by the playground, wave when you’re walking the dog, wave to the mailman, wave to the UPS guy. It may not be Mayberry but it can sure feel like it it.

2) Pick up your dog’s goodies. It’s not only a neighborly act, but a meet-cute at the dog poop receptacle is the perfect time to make a new neighbor friend.

3) Bake things.

4) Go to the town farmer’s market, join the block party, put up holiday decorations. These are good ways to meet your neighbors and good ways to avoid getting egged.

5) Don’t offer to help – just help. People really like it when they’re carrying something monstrously heavy and you just grab the other end rather than engaging in a dialogue about how heavy or not the monstrously heavy thing is.

6) Knock twice before calling the police.

7) Be nice to people’s dogs and children. They wield more power than you can imagine.

8) Don’t be a jackass. Keep your music down, take your garbage out and close your garage door if you use it to house anything and everything aside from your car.

9) Have a blender. In the neighborly days of yore, it was appropriate to invite your neighbors over for tea. These days it’s only appropriate to invite your neighbors over for margaritas. And baked things.

10)  Fill the silence. It’s weird that I’ve seen you get your newspaper in your skivvies but you won’t make eye contact with me at the mailbox. I get that it’s probably weirder for you though.

It turns out that being neighborly requires all the same virtues of just being a solid human being. Who knew? (That was rhetorical Mr. Rogers!) Any neighborly tips to add to the list? Any neighbor-isms you need to work on?

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We’re Not in the OC Anymore, Toto

orange county elephantsSo I’ve moved again. And after a very official two-hands-and-two-feet count I can now claim to have lived in nineteen homes across six states and spanning three continents. I could blame Military Dad or Traveling Mom but seven of these have been since I’ve been out on my own so I clearly have a wandering eye for real estate.

And although each of these places holds a special place in my heart – except for maybe the little house I rented in South Phoenix that required I sign a “no shopping carts on the lawn” clause – I have a special affinity for Orange County, California.

For the last four years I thrived living life “behind the Orange Curtain.” When your home, office, airport, friends, and Trader Joe’s are all in a six mile radius, there really is no place like home. And while I recently described my move to Colorado as Goldilocks finally getting it right, there are several things I will miss about the yoga studio capital of the world:

Trader Joes: I refused to move to Colorado until the Denver metro area built a TJs. Happily, they heard my plea. You’re welcome Colorado – now please stop buying out all the pot stickers I really really miss them.

Disneyland: So this may have been more like 9 miles away, but using my season pass to grab two margaritas at California Adventure followed by a quick run through Space Mountain with a group of “grown up” friends is the epitome of a random Tuesday night.

Explaining that OC is not LA: I think this must be what New Yorkers feel when someone from New Jersey says they are from “pretty much New York.”

September First: No matter the temperature, the moment the calendar flips to September, Southern Californians unite in a county-wide boycott on summer. This is the day to break out the Uggs, sweaters and scarves and pair them with your favorite shorts – it’s 90 degrees, we aren’t stupid.

The “Uniform”: Yoga pants, tank, flip flops and really big designer purse and sunglasses to fancy it all up. Small dog optional.

Cupcakeries: Don’t be fooled by the Lululemon crops and CrossFit tee, elastic waistbands are all in the name of being able to down the new maple bacon frosted mini at the corner cupcake shop <dramatic pause for reflective drool>.

Valet: In Orange County there is valet – often complimentary – at every mall, movie theater, tanning salon and gas station. After an arduous four mile drive, we deserve to spoil ourselves.

The “The”: I lived right between the 405 and the 5. I’ve had to relearn the difference between an interstate and a county highway and a state route and a plain old route and I don’t like it. The “the” is much awesomer.

As I begin to discover feelings of home in my new city, I’m glad I can reflect fondly upon a place that was so briefly my home yet made such an impact on me. I may have parted the Orange Curtain but I won’t part with my flip flops, and my cupcakes, and my little dog too (who, coincidentally, kinda looks like Toto).

What would you miss most about where you live?

Related posts: My First Pair of Ruby Slippers, A Free Tour of Trader Joe’s, Moving is Underrated, How to Move Five Minutes Away

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Things That Go Beep in the Night

elephant_gpsLike Pavlov’s dog, every time I hear a beep my hand moves reflexively to my smartphone. I quickly thumb through my recent alerts to find the source of the notification and find closure only when I’ve tapped away all the unopened emails, unread messages and unchecked updates. But sometimes, my phone stares blankly back at me, and I realize that little beep didn’t come from where I’d thought.

The other evening, I was winding down my day with a little laundry, dishwashing, and a few follow up notes on a project when I heard a beep. Phone number one was unfruitful so I glanced at phone number two. When it, too, showed no signs of life I checked IM on my work laptop, then Skype on my personal laptop, and then the mystery got deeper. I checked the dishwasher, the dryer, the alarm system – all to no avail. Then that ominous beep pinged me one more time and the mystery was solved – it was the brownie I was warming in the microwave. I’d checked seven places in a six foot radius – SEVEN PLACES – before it dawned on me that the only thing beeping was the only thing that could actually beep some thirty years ago. It was official: smart things make me stupid.

Signs have been pointing to this conclusion for years and each time I forgo thought in favor of a Google search or text someone in the next room instead of standing up the confirmation runs deeper. Just for fun, let’s explore the depths of the idiocy I’ve cultivated smart thing by smart thing:

Smart bathrooms: While I’ve mastered the deft apply-toilet-seat-cover-and-sit-before-automatic-flush-steals-it-away move, not a day goes by that I’m not outsmarted by a paper towel dispenser. Let’s make an exception to the monopoly rule and just let Kimberly Clark devise a one-wave-fits-all solution. Please.

Smart kitchens: My washer, dryer and refrigerator are all under a year old but are already blinking, chiming and chirping their needs at me. Change my filter! Update my time zone! Wash me! Check my temperature! I preferred it when my Frigidaire didn’t have so much lip.

Smart doors: Ever walk up to the exit of a store and just stand there? And then when nothing happens take a step back and then forward again and maybe jump a tiny bit? And then when the closed doors still stare indignantly back at you go to a different door and have the cart guy open it for you with a dramatic pull and stifle a snicker? Me neither.

Smart cars: I drive a decidedly unsmart ’99 Mercedes that doesn’t even have a tape deck. This bothers me until I realize no one else knows how to parallel park by using only their eyes – a small victory.

Smartphones: In addition to the aforementioned lobotomy I slowly inflict upon myself every time I Google “how to turn off dryer filter notification” or “how to spell lobotomy,” I also play Candy Crush so much it’s affecting my social skills in airports.

Smart fitness: While it’s thoughtful that my smart watch nudges me into action when my I’m idle too long and that my smart scale will gently scold me tomorrow for eating this brownie, I yearn for a simpler time when I got off the couch because Saved by the Bell was over and not because something was beeping at me.

In this frantic, bustling world, I like that I can rely on a simple audio cue to let me know it’s time to do something. But when that something is eating a brownie, it’s clearly a sign of stupidity that I need a reminder.

Have you experienced any dumbing-down side effects courtesy of your smart things?

Posted in Humor, Phone, Technology | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Get Back Inside the Box

elephant_boxThe children in my family have a long-standing gift-opening tradition. After excitedly ripping away the paper on the giant something-or-other our parents painstakingly tracked down, funded and gift-wrapped just for us, we marvel at our new possession for the requisite seventeen seconds – then we set it aside and climb inside the giant box it came in.

Our family albums house decades of evidence that no Barbie Dream House nor Big Wheel nor Strawberry Shortcake Kitchenette were any match for the wondrous potential of cardboard and non-biodegradable Styrofoam. Larger boxes transformed into lemonade stands, forts, and rocket ships. Smaller boxes became doll furniture and homemade board games. I once turned a shoe box into a old-school version of Match.com – put a dollar into one slot and pull the name of your true love out of another (thanks to my gullible third grade classmates I made thirty-six dollars of seed money to fund my cardboard lemonade stand startup.) Being inside the box was the most imaginative place to be.

With that history in mind, the time-honored challenge of “think outside the box!” has never sat right with me. From professors to colleagues to magazine editors-in-chief, this clichéd advice is offered at every turn. In their minds, “the box” is the armpit of human inspiration, some black hole where creativity goes to die. I disagree; and the proof of “inside the box” excellence is abundant:

Jack: For generations, this ghoulish feetless creature has been surprising children over and over with his terrifyingly delightful routine. They know what’s on the verge when they hear that last strained “do do do do do” and the box begins to creaks ever-so-slightly – poised to pop that freaky little devil. But do they stop? Do they get bored? Nope – they squeal in glee and Mr. In-the-Box does an encore.

Pandora: While she certainly wasn’t gifted with the virtues of willpower or restraint, Pandora can surely attest to the beauty of leaving well enough alone. She should have a chat with those dummies on Big Brother.

FedEx: Much like the wonder inspired by that wrapped birthday gift, the power of the FedEx box is immense. Just ask any freshman in college or Tom Hanks in Castaway. And in both cases, sometimes leaving all that wonder in the box – unopened – is better than whatever happens to be inside. (This advice from a once-freshman who, anticipating homemade cookies, instead received a copy of her will. Thanks Grandma.)

Elementary School Teachers: If every Valentine’s Day, grade school children across the land were given a glue stick and some glitter and told “think outside the box,” it would be anarchy. Providing the foundation of Mom’s Nine West shoebox doesn’t limit creativity – it focuses it.

Milton Bradley: I like to imagine that once upon a yesteryear, Mr. Bradley and the Parker Brothers signed a treaty decreeing all family leisure games take the form of board-in-box. Connect Four nearly started an unnecessary revolution.

Street Performers: Ever see a mime inside an imaginary sphere?

Crayola: If you want to color your sky “blue,” there’s a box for that. If you want to color your sky “sky blue,” there’s a box for that. If you want to color your sky “cerulean,” there’s a box for that too. The true visionaries just get a bigger box. Don’t get me started on coloring outside the lines.

While I realize that without outside-the-box thinking we wouldn’t have the Pyramids of Giza or or The Eiffel Tower or Jell-O Jigglers, I believe that facing obstacles, challenges, constraints and limitations unleashes incredible innovation. So I vote we keep the box. Besides, it makes everything so much easier to wrap.

Help me make my case: what’s the coolest thing you ever made from a box?

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Amateur Wine Snobbery: Tasting Room Edition

wine snob amateurI’ve recently taken up wine tasting as a hobby. And like any hobby from scrapbooking to spelunking, this one is consuming a great deal of my time and money. In fact, I’m enjoying it so much it’s starting to get in the way of my wine drinking.

Wine drinking is something I’ve taken much pride in since 2007 – the year I made it my New Year’s resolution to acquire a taste for expired grape juice. I graduated quickly from MD 20/20 to Franzia to Two Buck Chuck, and within a year my go-to happy hour sip was a stem of red. I ordered wine in breweries, I brought wine to tail gates, I challenged pub owners to find that random bottle of cab in the back room. I fancied myself an expert, a connoisseur – a bona fide wine drinker.

And so I went merrily drinking along for years. Then one day, the illusion was shattered by a friend who subtly suggested that preferring an eight-dollar bottle of Ménage a Trois to Franzia does not a wine snob make <insert dramatic life-altering pause here>.

With silent indignation, I knew I had to take action. I agreed to venture to Santa Barbara in an effort to up my snob quotient with my very first swish-and-spit session. On that fateful trip I learned two very important things about myself. First, I like buttery Chardonnays and second, I am mad-crazy-in-love with wine tasting.

One Napa weekend, a trip through Italy, two wine clubs and countless tasting room visits later, I still only hold amateur wine-snob status; but I’ve learned a few things. Here are my Wine Snobbery 101 tips should you prefer to bypass the embarrassing Franzia years and really look the part at your next tasting:

1) Remain poised. This is neither pub crawl nor mini-pink-spoon-sampling at Baskin Robbins. Well maybe it is, but don’t behave like it.

2) Brush up on the lingo. “Notes of black cherry” is snobby, “bright and fruit forward” is snobbier, and “earthy and expressive with a long finish” is snobbiest. “This tastes like Christmas” is not any of those things.

3) Swirl, sniff, repeat. Even dogs know it’s proper etiquette to do a little sniff test first. Two good inhales should fool ‘em.

4) Eat before you taste. The crackers on the table are not akin to peanuts at a bar.

5) Pour something out once in awhile. There are roughly three ounces of cuvée between wine snob and bachelorette party entourage.

6) Talk about wine. By day’s end you should have discussed the name of the wine bar you plan to open, to which country you’ll move to start a vineyard, and the good old days when silly, naïve you thought Ménage a Trois was good wine.

7) Inquire about the Port. Sommeliers get absolutely giddy over their Port, Riesling, and other sweet wines. Your interest might even secure you an extra pour.

8) Tasting the sweet wines does not make you a sissy. It just makes you a snob. And if anyone tries to offer you a Hershey Kiss to accompany that Port turn your nose right up at them. You brought your own dark chocolate truffles.

9) No rinsing! All your work will be for naught if you dare pour water in that wine glass.

10) Join the club. But play the field first. The best advice I ever received was never join a wine club at your first or last winery of the day – you’re either too eager or too tipsy.

While one day I aspire to become that full-fledged wine snob that partakes in only library wines and demands a new glass with each pour, I’m not sure I’m ready for all the spitting. So for now, I’ll maintain my amateur status – just in case they bring wine tasting to the Olympics.

Are you a current or aspiring wine snob? Additional tips welcome!

Related posts: Wine Math, Marathon Training for Winos, Lazies and People Who Hate to Run, Taste Acquired

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The Dos and Don’ts of Foolin’

elephant_fool aprilThe scene is Christmas Day 1991. Snow falls in the Chicago suburbs as an eleven year old girl in red snowman socks (that she still owns) wakes up at 7AM and runs to the tree to scope out the loot. With the ninja-like observational skills developed over her previous Christmas mornings, she immediately spots the biggest present in the bunch and – as she suspected – her name is on it. An evil genius grin spreads across her face as she patiently waits for her parents to wake up so she can finally open her new Sony 7-CD changer boombox with cassette player and remote control. And then she cried.

To this day, the tiny Color Me Badd CD that was inside that unreasonably giant gift box makes me so proud of my parents. When they finally brought my enormous boombox out of hiding, I was all the more surprised – and felt a little like a baby. Lesson learned.

Due to their priceless teachings, I now pride myself on elusive gift wrappings, undetectable surprise parties, and practical jokes of any kind. I’m also confident that I’m too good at fooling to ever be fooled. So in honor of April Fool’s Day, I’d like to pass along a few keys to the perfect hoax, so you can learn from my successes and mistakes:

1. Do keep your cohorts to a minimum: Don’t brag about a surprise party to someone who isn’t invited and don’t ask your friend’s parents if you can teepee their house. Trust me.

2. Do go big: I once hid an 8-foot pool table from my live-in boyfriend for over a week, although this may say more about him then it does about me.

3. Do stay quiet: My greatest prank went on for five years because I never told a soul and was only discovered at all due to a small clerical error. I don’t plan to describe it here because I’m doing it again right now, but there is something magical about the payoff a years-long prank. I now abide by the “five year rule.” (Two years to go and I can reveal!)

4. Do think outside the box: If you can look under a Christmas tree and identify a calendar, DVD or book you are doing it wrong. This is why man created refrigerator boxes.

5. Do document the evidence: When they don’t believe it was you who wrapped every piece of their workspace in tinfoil last April Fool’s Day, it will be much better if there’s a picture to prove it. (See, Eric I told you it was me.)

 

6. Do get creative: Toilet-papering your prom date’s house is for Juniors. The big leaguers pull out the light up snowmen, string hundreds of balloons across the driveway, hang yoyos from every tree in the yard fill your car with packing peanuts. At least I assume they do.

7. Don’t plan: It’s hard to get someone else’s wheels spinning if you have no idea what you’re doing yourself. Just go for it and see what happens.

8. Don’t care: When your friend tells the whole world someone took her Rome snow globe and left a creepy magazine-lettered ransom note in its place? This is of absolutely no interest to you. Coworker mentions someone keeps swapping the carrots in her lunch with chocolate chip cookies? Change the subject.

9. Don’t lie or deny: Foolin’ is one thing but nobody likes a liar. Besides, a well-timed “I’m flattered you think I could pull off such an epic prank” or “do you really think I’d spend three hours and thirty-two minutes of my precious life wrapping tin foil around each individual key on your keyboard?” is much more fun for everyone.

10. Don’t brag: It’s hard to pull off a repeat performance once you get a reputation.

It’s interesting that I get to attribute my sneaky side to Mom and Dad, but to this day they are the only ones who have ever truly surprised me. I’m making plans to return the favor and taking ideas.

What’s the best prank you ever a part of?

Posted in Commentary, Family, Friends, Holidays, Humor, Life Lessons, Work | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Movie Clichés Get a Bad Rep

elephant_movie clicheAlthough Mom, Dad and school played a role in developing my aptitude for learning, I attribute much of my worldly wisdom to movie-going. Thanks to the big screen, I’m well-equipped to deliver a baby from the backseat of a car stuck in traffic and I know exactly which wire to cut should I ever be used as a human explosive device in a bank robbery. I can read you your Miranda rights, cauterize an open wound with gun powder, and scale an elevator shaft with no fear of said elevator ever succumbing to gravity. More practically, I also know how to order a beer in Spanish.

I know these things not because I watched Speed thirty-two times in the spring of 1995, but because these scenes play over and over again in movies through the ages. And while some clichés – like those of the call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house variety – get a little tired, I like to think that most of them are just learning experiences. The more times we watch, the more adept at life we will be.

Here are some of the most important things you can learn from favorite clichés:

How to identify the bad guy: Be wary of men with European accents and facial hair. If you miss him the first time around you’ll get another chance – he’ll be the one narrating your demise as a grunting henchman straps the alarm clock to your new vest.

How to threaten legal action: Throw out a few menacing phrases like “lawyer up,” “turn state’s evidence,” or “mounting a case.” If that fails, just “file an injunction.”

How to find a sad loved one: If the sadness comes post-funeral, look for the nearest swing set. If you’ve finally come to your senses after a breakup, look for your scorned lover in a taxi on their way out of town or sitting in the “O” on the Hollywood sign.

How to survive anything: Align with a snarky yet intelligent youngster.

How to make a desert island home: First wait out the inevitable rainstorm, then round the bend to the field of perfectly-sized bamboo. Fight the urge to add the wrap-around veranda to your abode – you’ll be glad you have the leftovers when it’s time to build your raft.

How to turn a team of misfits into state champions: Start the big game with an elaborate synchronized dance number. It will serve the dual purpose of distracting the opposing team and inspiring the quiet second-stringer to make the winning play.

How to reinvigorate your marriage: Admit you work for the CIA.

How to conjure stuff: Read aloud from a dusty book found under a floorboard in your basement. Most effective when accompanied by spotty candlelight and children chanting in Latin.

How to find the perfect outfit: Gather your best friends and a bottle of champagne, crank up the volume on your favorite girl-power song, and rummage through the closet/dressing room/wedding boutique. Whatever you’re wearing when the song ends is the one.

While not every movie cliché is a valuable learning experience (I’m not convinced a little eraser dust will help me bypass the lasers guarding the Mona Lisa), there’s something to be said about having a mental guidebook drilled into your head to help you through potential obstacles. Knowing that nine out of ten helicopter pilots are corrupt, a standard issue briefcase holds exactly one hundred thousand dollars, and that it’s really easy to get in touch with the President’s secretary is information that may come in handy someday.

What have you learned from movie clichés?

Other posts about movies: Movie Theater Casting Call, Phonephobia, Traveling Abroad for Dummies

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