That's Not Okay

That's Not Okay

You can scroll the shelf using and keys

Inevitable Response to Bad Yelp Review

November 21, 2017 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 7.29.28 PM.png

I am an organic vegetable gardener by trade. 9 years ago I fell in love with the idea of teaching people how to grow their own food and started a business called Hope Gardens. For the first three years I learned everything I could about both running a business and maintaining a vegetable garden organically. After what seemed like forever, my business finally started to take off. I had a steady stream of clients I designed and maintained veggie gardens for, I got great referrals that led to new clients, there were even celebrity gardens! I was publishing a blog, I was teaching at schools. I was growing my own organic line of seedlings for my clients and the general public. I had a slew of 5 star Yelp reviews that I prized highly. I had a crew I paid well and who made my job easier. It was alright. It was allllllright.

Then the State of California declared a drought and millions of tax dollars were committed to paying water customers to replace their sod with drought-tolerant landscapes and drip irrigation. The DWP was inundated with requests and they funneled a great deal of their business into a company called Turf Terminators. I was disgusted by their business model and landscape design and blogged about it. It got some traction and so I wrote about it again. Soon my phone was ringing off the hook with customers interested in drought-tolerant landscaping. I hired an assistant to field all the calls and book appointments. We were in constant contact with the DWP re: changing rebates and requirements. I was told by DWP that my company could install these gardens without my being a contractor because demand was so high, all the landscaping had to be permeable and they knew many people would be hiring their maintenance guys to do the labor. We answered over 1,000 inquiries about drought-tolerant landscaping (that’s a lot of free advice), and installed over 60 landscapes in just under 2 years.

I was thrilled with the many unique installations we got to do. I could not have done it without Carina and her team. I had a crew of about 10 guys and girls who helped with the heavy labor required of these jobs. I met Carina through a mutual friend when I was looking for help with irrigation for my veggie raised beds. She was so talented and intuitive when it came to irrigation. She was the answer to my prayers. And I soon realized she was like that with every aspect of landscaping! Carina has her own landscaping business as does her father, sister and brothers. They are all in the business and there’s nothing I wouldn’t trust them with.

Carina’s crew gave 100% in 100 degree heat. They showed up every day. They would help train new people. When we added a young man with autism to the crew, they embraced him. They were polite with my clients. They were kind to me. They were honest and trustworthy and I credit them with my success. For over 7 years, they have made Hope Gardens possible.

Last year in April, one of my drought-tolerant, cash-for-grass clients decided to sue me in small claims court. She knew more about the law than I did and she was able to collect the full cost of her garden (and keep the garden) without having to argue or prove I did anything wrong, all because I was not a contractor. My “waiver” from DWP didn’t hold up in court. I wasn’t allowed to have representation or speak on my own behalf. I couldn’t afford to appeal and really had no case. I also didn’t have the $6000 my client was awarded and so it was sent to collections which ruined my just-starting-to-improve-after-divorce credit.

It was a bad time.

After about a year of trying to figure out my next move, I decided to bite the bullet and become a landscaping contractor. Even if it was a very expensive and time-consuming piece of red tape, I loved my business, it was successful (even when I was barely working at it) and even if all I really wanted to do was plant veggie gardens, it was time to go legit. I filled out the requisite paperwork, payed the fee and passed my contractor’s exam on the first try. I was feeling optimistic.

Because of past experiences with nefarious clients, I was carefully choosing who I took work from. I was trying to avoid drama and bad outcomes but that’s hard to read on the surface. I hated being so paranoid because I really, really, really, really wanted to help people. And I couldn’t help but give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Why I don’t know, but here we are.

will

So I thought this client was a little eccentric. Melissa lived with two dogs in a small house across from the ocean. Her house was at the end of the street, adjacent to the Getty Villa in Malibu but she was officially in Pacific Palisades. A very exclusive and expensive neighborhood. She was not a fancy person however, she was comfortably dressed hippy-like with a big personality. She gave me the grand tour of her property, her house, history of the neighborhood and her relationships with her neighbors. She clearly loved her dogs and was very excited about the prospect of a veggie garden. I was there for a long time but I enjoyed her.

Her backyard was on a steep terrace and she wanted a vegetable garden planted in a fenced off back corner. It was completely inhospitable, uneven, choked with weeds, dangerous to walk around. But she was sure a garden could thrive there. I was not so sure that was the best place so I pitched that garden site and another one, providing her with alternative plans and estimates.

She decided she wanted to go for the terraced back corner garden and I told her I would have my partner Carina who runs my crew come out and make sure my estimate would match hers since this job was going to be very heavy on the labor. Carina came out and assured me she could do it for the price and we set a start date and I received the deposit for the job from Melissa.

Melissa ended up having to postpone the start date without much notice but Carina and I were able to move things around and salvage the days. The new start date arrived and we arranged to meet Melissa at her house early that morning. This would be the first time for all parties to meet and double check the plan.

I, Carina and her crew arrived on time in the Palisades having left our homes at 6:30am for an 8am start. As I pulled up beside Carina I noticed a man sitting in a car right outside my client’s door. He was on his phone, was shirtless and shoeless and had the car door propped open. A little weird. As I walked up to the front door he jumped out of the car, “Hey what are you doing?” I explained why we were there and he introduced himself as the husband. This was odd as she had never mentioned a husband. He said he was planning a surprise for Melissa and we weren’t to bother her, she was sleeping. I said we had an appointment with her, we were starting a big landscaping job right that very second and had to go over details with her. Still he wouldn’t let us see her. He did let us go in the backyard, but it was totally surreal. I was actually concerned for Melissa. I decided to go ahead and start the job. I had the deposit and the crew was there so we set about demoing the back and hauling in supplies.

Later that day, Melissa texted me asking why I had missed our meeting that morning. Evidently, she didn’t know her husband wouldn’t let me see her so I filled her in. She seemed as confused as I was. But then she went on to ask “So what are we doing today anyway?” She really didn’t seem to know we were doing the retaining wall project. I seriously thought about getting out of the job at that point but I was so far invested I assured myself, I will be super careful with communication and just get through the project.

Well Melissa was right. It was a beautiful place for a garden. Carina transformed the unruly slope into a set of stairs and two raised beds. It was amazing!

There were a few hiccups that made me nervous. I asked Melissa for a progress payment half way through the job and although that’s standard procedure, she questioned me about whether or not that was actually a thing. She would say things like, “Well I never heard of it before” as if that changed the outcome of whether or not a progress payment is a thing. It felt prickly.

She also asked my guys to haul a bunch of flagstone out of her backyard and around the front of her house. I hesitated when she asked me this. She saw me hesitate and quickly interjected “If I can move them, they certainly can. I carried them all back here myself!”

My hesitation was not because my guys can’t carry flagstone. They certainly can. The hesitation is in whether or not I feel this is reasonably within the realm of this project. I am very specific about what my crew is going to do and for how much, because I’m the one that has to pay them. If she is going to ask me to have 4 guys spend 30 minutes (that’s how long it took in the end) doing something outside the scope of the job, that’s an extra 2 hours of work. Can I fit that in the budget? Can we fit that into the day or will that cause some other work to go unfinished?

Additionally, I have to figure out if this is something I want to ask the guys to do. Often times my crew gets asked to do additional work at a job site that either is outside the scope of the job, in conflict with what I directed them to do or not landscaping at all. I understand that it’s tempting for home owners, when there are strong workers at your house to want them to do other tasks, but the fact is they are there for a specific job. I have contracted them for a particular task. They are not general laborers a home owner has hired for a number of hours. They are talented landscapers.

The guys were willing to move the flagstone but I did have to add the hours to the invoice. My guys are good like that. In fact it is safe to say they never complain. I feel protective of my crew and I know they are loyal to Carina and I. Carina has had the same guys almost since I met her and they have never let us down. A quick couple stories to illustrate the issue.

I had an older gentleman client who was selling his house and we were installing a large planting in his backyard. He had a huge pile of trash and old junk on the side of his house he needed to get rid of and while we were there he asked my guys to drag it to the curb where he had a bin parked. I had to stop him and say my crew couldn’t do that. Again, I understand the temptation but I have the crew scheduled for a certain number of hours to perform a certain number of tasks and they were there to plant trees, and install DG, and fix irrigation. They were not hired to drag your trash to a bin. I honestly find it insulting that they are treated this way. I know my crew has witnessed my standing up for them. I have their back and they have mine.

During the cash-for-grass landscaping frenzy I had a young male client. We installed a good number of fruit trees in his backyard per our agreed upon design. After we were done and cleaning up, he asked me to move a tree elsewhere in the yard. I didn’t agree with where he wanted to move it and so I refused to do it. I had planted it where I thought it would do best, it was where we agreed it would go, it was planted, irrigated and mulched and I wasn’t going to go to all that trouble and disturb the tree and move it someplace inappropriate. Sorry but no. He was pissed but I put my foot down. I left my crew to finish the clean up. Don’t you know about an hour later I get a call from one of my workers. The client is asking him to move a tree but since my crew didn’t know anything about it so they called me first. That’s teamwork!

I was always grateful for the expertise and commitment of my crew and that was evident in the wonderful terraced garden they pulled off. I was a little nervous about being paid. Relations seemed pretty good but still sometimes sketchy. After I sent the final invoice, every day felt like an eternity. When you’re self-employed, waiting for the check can be just a bit stressful. I sent the invoice on the 17th, got paid on the 23rd. Not a very long wait in the end, and I felt bad that I had succumbed to worry and texted Melissa asking her if she had sent the check.

Her responses were kind of defensive and curt which made me more nervous. When I asked if she had sent the check she texted: “I sent it. I don’t know what to tell you.” In the past, most of my clients have been understanding and the communications are more like, I sent the check on this date, let me know if you don’t get it by this date, etc. But Melissa, who was so friendly and bubbly in person, now again seemed annoyed over text and email.

I texted her again asking if we could talk about the payment. And I wrote, as her husband so generously quoted in his Yelp review, “I’m getting a sinking feeling.” She texted me that she couldn’t talk but that I shouldn’t worry. She sent it. I texted with a friend about it, felt better and apologized by text to Melissa for being weird about it. She said it was ok.

Just general human being policy: I feel if I genuinely apologized for a moment of weakness, it should not be trotted out later in a public Yelp review.

I hesitantly started veggie garden maintenance with them and to my delight, they were wonderful. Excited. Eager to learn. Appreciative. Sunny. The garden thrived.

On our last veggie garden maintenance lesson, Melissa mentioned that other areas of her yard were having some issues. Plants were dying. Maybe it was the irrigation. Would I check it for her?

Now I love what I do. The veggie garden maintenance teaching appointments were my favorite. But it is a fairly high expense for the client. I bring all the organic remedies. I keep track of what is doing well, what needs replaced, what new plants they want to try, what other issues the garden has and on and on. It’s a very personalized service. It’s extremely specialized and it’s not cheap.  I have clients at all price points but I don’t think anyone would assume this is the thriftiest service you could have done at your house. Because they live in such a remote, hard-to-reach part of town (2-3 hrs round trip, no hardware or home improvement stores in sight) I had to charge them even a little more than I regularly do. But they accepted the price.

Back to the story, we are finishing up the visit and Melissa asks me to check the irrigation. So I say sure, they go inside for lunch. We all wave goodbye and share appreciation for our garden time.  I load up my car, grab a pen and paper and set out to evaluate the irrigation. They have an 8 zone timer and I manually run each zone to test the sprinklers.

Please let me digress again re: irrigation timers, any one can set these up, check run times, etc. These timers are meant to be consumer-friendly. Most manuals are online. Sometimes they are not self-explanatory but it is very easy to learn. With a manual, I would place them somewhere between microwave and TV remote. I have offered all my clients a free lesson on their own timer as I’m very much into self-reliance and transparency. But most people don’t want to be bothered and the same was true of Melissa and Kyle. And these people should not later complain about the cost of someone else coming out to do it for them when they aren’t willing to do it themselves. Oooookkkkkkaaayyyy.

So I’m manually running the zones to find issues. They don’t have the zone schedule written inside their timer (you all should go do that too) so I have to do that as well. It’s a bit time consuming but if you don’t know which station covers which zone, you don’t know what to fix. So at this location, the timer is on one side of the house and the only entrance to the backyard stairs is on the other side of the house. So I have to turn on the zone, then walk around the house and yard to find what sprinklers are on. Mark it down, come back, turn it off. Turn on the next zone. For 9 zones. I get really wet doing this. I’m also checking to see what individual sprayers are leaking or over-watering or under-spraying, etc. So I take all my notes and knock on the door. Melissa comes outside with me and I show her, in person, a couple obvious things that need fixed. (In their Yelp reviews, they will say I never communicated anything about the job.) I tell her I will go home and write up all my findings and email her. She says great and I email her that night. As you can see from the screen shot below her husband Kyle is cced. I tell them what needs fixed from my findings, I nicely supply them with a schedule for their timer and clearly I mention that I will send out Carina – not a THIRD PARTY, but the subcontractor who they have met and who has already done work at their house – to do the fix.

 

Carina comes out shortly thereafter. She fixes leaks and pressure issues with the tools and supplies she has in the truck. She tells me that the supplies and labor for that visit will be $150. The valve to the fruit trees needs replaced which is why that area gets no water, and the timer is shot. I found the timer hard to use myself, had to press really hard to get buttons to work so that doesn’t surprise me. The cost for a new timer, valve and wiring is $280. I add $50 for the time I spent evaluating the timer and the issues, and if Melissa goes through with the rest of the work, I will let this also cover any coordinating I do between she and Carina. Melissa accepts the bid by text. Again, I clearly state Carina is coming to do the work. She clearly accepts the price. Dear Yelp: I did not send a bill for $500 out of nowhere. Not at all.

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 9.00.46 PM

As Melissa mentions she will be out of town, so I go ahead and send over the invoice. She pays it a few days later. Meanwhile Carina’s crew makes the repairs. I get some strange texts from Melissa about guarantees and what happens if all her grass starts to die. What about the high water pressure in our house. Will she now need to get a plumber? She even asks, how did I come up with the number for the invoice. Why is it so expensive? What are the charges for? Is she getting all new pipe? A brand new system? What exactly are they fixing?

I’m confused and I tell her so. Does she not remember accepting the estimate just days before? I showed her in person what needed fixed and sent it over in writing. Had something gone wrong?

I call Carina to ask if everything is ok and she says yes. I explain to Melissa that we went through all the work to be done in writing, that she already accepted the bid and in fact, paid the invoice. Although I agree that irrigation is really expensive, a whole new system would cost thousands. She goes on in more emails about how she just had all her irrigation fixed by someone else six months before, so why would it break all of a sudden. She wants me to guarantee the work we are doing.

I tell her I can’t justify the other irrigation person’s work (I’m also starting to wonder where THAT person is…). But I tell her the valve and the timer have manufacturer’s warranties but that’s the only guarantee I can offer. The labor charges are minimal, the whole job is under $500 so legally it doesn’t even qualify for protection, and we aren’t maintaining the property. She has a gardener already. She also has two large dogs who can easily upset sprinkler heads. She asks again, if her sprinklers break in 6 months will I come back and fix them for free. I say no. The parts are guaranteed but if something else breaks or stops working, she will have to pay again. She says I should be willing to keep working until everything is fixed. I assure her: everything IS fixed. We just fixed it. Carina is done with the job. She has paid for the job. It’s done. But the emails keep coming.

I knew I was in trouble.

Melissa starts emailing me about how “Benjamin” thinks her irrigation problem is water pressure and what are we going to do about that. I email her again: Carina adjusted the pressure already as part of the job. No, she says, she’s talking about the pressure INSIDE the house.

dog

She goes on that “Benjamin” thinks that the water pressure is the real problem. Also “Benjamin” thinks we are over-charging her. He’s shocked at what this job cost. I’m like WHO THE FUCK IS BENJAMIN?

I finally say to her that I don’t know who Benjamin is but it sounds like someone she trusts and maybe he can help her with the water pressure issues inside the house. I really want out of this situation. However that is not to be. She informs me Benjamin is my worker.

Now slap me with an asparagus, Benjamin IS the name of one of our workers. But it is so completely impossible that one of our workers would get into this kind of conversation with a client, it’s just beyond the realm of possibility. Unimaginable. Our crew would never talk to the client about the budget. Of course a crew member would never ever ever tell a client we overcharge. That would be counter-intuitive to their own interests. I’m sure they would like us to charge even more! Who wouldn’t? Especially at this level of aggravation. But they would never interfere with a job. They don’t WANT to talk with clients beyond more than a casual conversation. They don’t want to navigate these waters, trust me.

So I mention this respectfully to Melissa. You must have misunderstood Benjamin. Water pressure outside the house doesn’t affect water pressure inside the house. You already agreed to and have paid the invoice. The work is done. Hope you’re happy! PLEASE BE HAPPY.

She is not happy. The emails keep coming. This is highway robbery. Now she has to hire a plumber to fix the inside water pressure. This is all costing her a fortune. And my favorite: what kind of cut did I take from this job to make it so unreasonable? She threatens in another email: if don’t bring my prices down in the future she will stop using me. Maybe in the future, she says ominously, she will cut out the middle man.

Now I think to myself, BE MY GUEST! I didn’t ask for this job. I’m not some oil salesman going door to door selling cheap irrigation fixes.  If money were the real object here, why didn’t they get bids for this job? Why didn’t they Yelp some irrigation people and take the time to meet them and interview them and receive estimates? Instead, this couple turned their entitled heads, addressed the specialty landscaper already in their midst and asked me to do it for them. It took no effort whatsoever. Problem solved. Time for lunch.

Listen, if you don’t want a middle man, don’t hire one. I charged all of $50 for my trouble. For all this trouble. Fitty dollars. And that’s not a “cut.” A “cut” is a percentage a contractor adds to the bid of the subcontractor. I didn’t add any cut or markup to Carina’s bid. I never do for any of my clients. I only charge for my own time and work. And I way way undercharged this job.

I explain to Melissa in what I hope will be my final email, that I never took a cut. I was just trying to help her. I really want her to be satisfied but I also stand behind the charges and the work my crew has done. And I wish her well in the future.

Another email follows. She calls me “unprofessional.”

To accuse me of taking a cut, when I could have and evidently should have, to call me unprofessional, to make up lies about my crew members, it was all too much. I spoke to Carina finally (I try to avoid complaints filtering up to the crew) and asked for Benjamin’s take. What had he said to the client exactly? Benjamin said Melissa complained about the water pressure inside the house being too high. He explained it had nothing to do with adjusting the water pressure outside the house. He even went to the street level water to see if he could adjust something to help her. But water issues inside the house are strictly for plumbers and he couldn’t help inside the house. She said the plumber was going to be a fortune. He said THAT shouldn’t cost that much. He was shocked at what she quoted a plumber would be, not at what our costs were.

I decided to block my client’s email. I wrote them and told them how much I enjoyed spending time together in the garden. I was sorry they ended up so unhappy with the irrigation but I wished them all the best. And I blocked their addresses and phone numbers. I was filled with sadness to leave that garden. It was doing so well and I was looking forward to seeing it through the seasons. I was even nursing some milkweed seedlings for Melissa as she had expressed an interest in having visiting butterflies. I had agreed to help her move a big planted pot inside her house to a sunnier spot. These were my clients. This was my garden. I do have love. Lots of it. That’s why I’m so emotional about it! I’m fully invested.

Melissa must have grown frustrated not hearing from me as she sent me an email through a different email address insisting I send my crew back as the irrigation was broken. She said the timer was never set up and everything was dying. I know the timer was set up perfectly and Carina not only left with it working but checked on it a few days later to make sure it was still working. I’m not sending my crew out for more abuse. And I won’t tolerate being called unprofessional. Finally, I’m sure someone who answers her emails “Eternal love and gratitude” understands the concept of karma. Your brand new timer was working, now suddenly it is not? You have belittled and bullied your middle man and now want her help again? I’m afraid that’s not going to happen.

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 10.36.16 PM

I need to clear up this idea that I was paid a lot of money for this job. She paid me “a lot of money” for the veggie garden which I executed to perfection. For her husband to say “I’ve paid you thousands” in the Yelp review is to deliberately make it sound like that payment was for this irrigation job and that is completely misleading.

Honesty and integrity is the hallmark of my business. If I can’t run my business like that, I won’t do it. I promise you that. But it takes two for a professional relationship. I’m not the only one in the relationship. The client also needs to have the expectation of appropriate behavior, including responsible self-reporting, checking estimates and asking questions before work begins, not lashing out or making threats.

To call me emotional is not an insult but I understand that was the intent. I do wonder why the husband feels so confident about throwing that intended barb at me when I’m not the one who has gone ballistic on Yelp posting as many as 3 different bad reviews for a single job. Additionally, I have not had a single direct email exchange, text exchange or in-person conversation with him about this. Not one. I suggest if you DON’T want to have drama with your “gardener,” don’t try to burn her business to the ground online.

That’s my response for now. I don’t know why this small irrigation job deserved all this energy but I hope to understand it all some day. Thank you for your support darlings!

All the best, my garden.

m3

Advertisements

Any Way You Slice It

July 18, 2017

Originally published 8/5/2010

an oldie, but a goodie.

Any Way You Slice It

First off: you and I both wish this were shorter. But it is what it is. 😉 Thanks for bearing witness.

I want to tell you a story. A funny story. A story I hope you’ll find funny. A story I hope to continue to find funny.

My friend Soph and I wonder if we enjoy our foibles too much and that’s why we have so many, so consistently! As believers in the law of attraction we hold that that which we give energy to persists. And if positive energy is the most attractive energy, it would stand to reason that if we find enjoyment in our problems perhaps more will come to us.

Of course I don’t know that we really believe this but the important thing is we all have our things we attract. Our issues. Our baggage. Perhaps ME more than others (as you might be convinced of at the end of this story) but, rest assured, and I do, we all got SOMETHING. Here’s mine du jour. May your life feel a little better in comparison.

Almost a month ago, my transmission went out on my 2002 RAV4. It took the mechanic over a week to fix and it cost a buttload of money. Too much I thought, but I had my car…which I need. As you all know, I’m a single mom and I drive all over this great city for my landscaping job and I need a car. Unfortunately, after a day of having my car back I realized it was not fixed. It drove the exact same, dangerous, herky-jerky way so I took it back and in a not-great mood. The guy fixing my car loaned me his car so I would not have to rent a car again. This car.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
My gangster box. Of course, I appreciate not having to rent a car but this car is not great for transporting landscaping equipment as my SUV was. But that’s not so much of an issue cause I’m pretty much not working in August. My kids are out of camp and their father is on vacation and working for the entire month so I’m on my own with the kids this month.
Now I’ve been prepping for this month of August. I knew it would be challenging. No work means no money. And being with the kids 100% means no breaks and that’s just what August is. August to me is like December without Christmas. However, my long-awaited vacation will be coming in September and the kids will be back at school. All will be well. Nothing to do but muscle through, right?

Well…then the ex drops the bomb that I would not be able to take my September vacation as things were changing at his work and he wouldn’t be able to take the time off. (This being the day before he left for his two-week vacation.) AND he would not be able to take the kids overnight as he was going to have to be at work earlier. When he dropped this bomb I had to just turn and walk away cause I was not going to let him see me cry. The god-damned pressure of being a single mom/provider/human being is so, so intense. I need that fucking vacation. I need to live my life. I need to CREATE my life. I’m beyond frustrated.

The next morning my neck goes right out. Like…OUT. The pain runs down the back of my head, through both sides of my neck and down my left shoulder. I can barely drive my kids to their physicals at the doctor that morning (the gangster box does not have power steering). Since, I simply did not have the time or money to hit the chiro I call Soph and she reads to me from Louise Hays’ book Heal Your Life and the basic affirmation is about the need to be FLEXIBLE. (no, really? 😉 The affirmation goes: “I am at peace with my life,” and I say it over and over and over and I’m reminded that morning that I am blessed with super healthy kids and a wonderful pediatric practice and in the end I heal myself. My body tells me I should probably do some yoga that night but I think I just end up drinking beer and watching The Bachelorette.

Next day, I get a letter saying my dishwasher has been recalled (It could burst into flames!) and Maytag will only refund me my money if I buy one of their high-end dishwashers. Whatever, right? Be flexible. I’m at peace with my life. So I get someone to watch the kids and I head out the next morning in my gangster box to Sears to buy a god-damn dishwasher.

Let me stop here for some juicy backstory. Since separating from my ex, I have had five car accidents and gotten four moving violations – in two and half years. Prior to that I had gotten a total of two tickets my entire life and never been at fault for an accident. Things change. So after my fourth moving violation I got this letter from the DMV.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
I would like to say in my defense, that (at the writing of this letter) I had never ever CAUSED a crash. So that first sentence is just not true. I feel that’s about as far as I can defend myself however. I had a little fender bender after that and before that I totaled my car by hydroplaning and crashing into a tractor trailer on the freeway but the truck didn’t even stop so that’s hardly causing a crash.

Let me also tell you that when I went to see a psychic last year, she said that I had some trouble with cars and accidents and I said yes. And she said I had a special guardian angel that had been protecting me through many lifetimes (What up. Gerome?) and she said that I kept him very busy. I told her to tell him that I was sorry about that and so she kind of mentally went away and came back and said, “Gerome says it’s okay. You were the same way on a horse.” Funniest line uttered by a psychic ever. Anyhoo…

A few months ago I got pulled over for speeding. A whole ten miles over the speed limit. I’m a menace I tell you. Luckily it had been long enough between tickets and I could take the traffic school option. Of course you have to “pay off” the DMV to keep a point off your license so that added $150 to my $350 ticket. Yeah. Awesome.

So back to our story: I’m at Sears and I get this big run around (they want to charge me to pull a permit for installing a dishwasher?) and I leave very frustrated and without a dishwasher. As I pull out of the mall parking lot I hear sirens behind me. I pull over to let the cop pass and he yells at me to pull through the next light and pull over. No. Fucking. Way. You know, maybe I have a tail light out. I mean this isn’t even my car. Wait. I don’t even have the registration. I don’t even know my mechanic’s last name. Uh. Oh.

So the cop claims I ran a stop sign IN THE MALL PARKING LOT which is not even true and he and I argue back and forth but then I have to start explaining about the car not being mine and now it’s “let’s step out of the car.” I TOTALLY LOSE IT. Yep. I’m one of those folks standing outside her mechanic’s car, crying on the side of the road while the cops writes me a ticket and threatens to impound the car. I sign for my ticket (not an admission of guilt, I’m assured), pull my shit together and go on my way with the knowledge that I am going to have to go stand before a judge in Chatsworth and plead my case just to keep my license. Holy Shitstorm Batman.

That’s Sunday.

Monday. I decide to get Molly a cell phone. Her father doesn’t tend to carry his and sometimes I’m not sure where she is when she’s with him so I like the idea of being able to contact her when I want to. And then I can cancel my home phone service which is still under the ex’s name and is inundated 10 -15 times a day by creditors. Molly’s thrilled and I’m up for a free Blackberry upgrade so we are ALL happy campers. We go back home, I spend 45 minutes on the phone using a “man’s” voice, pretending to be my ex canceling my phone service. I get the service cancelled, plug in my new phone to my computer and proceed to wipe out EVERY CONTACT I have on it. Somehow the software or whatever replaced everything on my phone with the contents of my computer address book which I only use to keep about 700 email addresses for Molly’s school and La Leche League. I jump on the internet to figure out what the hell I’d done and realize that I’ve knocked out my internet. My DSL was attached to my fucking home phone line! I have erased all my contacts and snuffed out my access to the internet in less than an hour’s time.

I really wish I could say to you that I did not have a giant, big-ass pity party for myself that began with the thought: if I had a HUSBAND to help me with this shit, none of this would be happening. Cause that’s an unfriendly road, my friends. And I don’t want to take you down it.

So Jana comes over and takes my kids so I can put out the fine china for the pity party. I go down to Verizon and they are gigantic losers and can’t help me and I just have to bear it. It’s a hassle. They are all just hassles. It’s a shit storm no doubt. But it’s not WHO I AM. It’s just crappy circumstances. That’s all.

I do finally listen that night and do yoga and meditate and read my inspirational books and get centered and make an appointment with my therapist. I hire a sitter to watch the kids all day the next day so I can go write and peace out and make things better in my life.

Monday.

Sitter comes. All’s lovely. I pack up my computer and put on makeup and look forward and upward. I get in the gangster box, start the car, pull away from the curb, my phone rings, I pick it up and hear:
WRRR WRRR WRRR WRRR.

I get pulled over on my own street.

My emotional state at this point kinda plummets. I really feel like there is a good chance I am living some other kind of parallel life. Like everyone else, I saw Inception and loved it. Loved the idea of the totem a lot and in fact, walking out of the theater after seeing the movie, I found a pendant in the pocket of my jeans. It’s a pendant my friend Anne got me. I have no idea what it was doing in my pocket but I decided to make it my totem and I enjoyed rubbing it and touching it all day…communing with my totem. Keeping myself in the real world. Well I forget once again that my totem was in my jeans and I wash the totem in the jeans. I then discover the totem in the dryer…broken in two.
HOLY SHIT! That means, you realize, that for me and by the extremely realistic rules of Inception, this is all a dream?

Moral of the story: keep track of your stinkin totems.

So as soon as I realize I’m being pulled over, I turn off my phone and throw it on the floorboard. It’s total instinct. I actually have no memory of this exact moment. I’m piecing it together backwards like a police detective.
So the cop pulls me into a parking lot and walks up and says he’s citing me for talking on a “handheld device.” I mumble something. No idea what. Maybe, “okay.” What other response is there at this point. “Okay.”

I’ve really taken the path of least resistance now and have just gone numb. It’s safest. Then I realize I gotta explain about the car again and we go through all that somehow. He then asks me to sign for the ticket (…not an admission of guilt…) and I do and he stops and looks at the ticket and looks at my license and says to me, “It doesn’t look like you’ve signed the ticket the same way you signed your license.”
Now there’s a fucking handwriting quiz?
I kinda laugh and say, “I’m sorry. I’m a little upset.” (To say the least, right?) And he says, “Care to try again?” and hands me the ticket. I do try again but it’s no better and he lets me leave.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
MY BAD SIGNATURE

This is the beginning of my great day?
WHAT?
I get my bearings. Put my license away. And where is the damn phone? And I can’t find it. Anywhere. Okay. I start the car, drive away from the scene of the crime, relax myself somewhat and stop and look again. The phone is not there. I’m on my hands and knees looking everywhere and nothing. The phone is gone. The phone without the contacts. The phone that just got me pulled over (well, I didn’t do it…) THAT FUCKING PHONE. Nevertheless, I still need the fucking phone. But it’s just not there. Totem. Breaking.

So I drive to my friend’s house who lives nearby and to whom I know I can present myself in pretty much any state and she will have me. (This is true of all my friends actually. This is pretty much how I IDENTIFY my friends.)
I knock on her door and she’s happy to see me. She claps her hands and says, “I have a PRESENT for you!” She skips off and comes back with a beautiful bud in a baggy. “Humboldt!” she exclaims. I laugh and as good as it looks, I think, I’m probably the LAST person you want to give that to…

“Follow me,” I say. “I have a story to tell you.” I take her to my car and make her help me look for the cell phone and start filling her in. Thing is, neither of us can find it. We move the seats back and forth. We empty every bag in the car. We scratch our heads and look again. My friend slides her hand down between the bottom and back of the driver’s seat and all of the sudden, she pulls out a KNIFE. A knife that has been wedged in the seat and pointed at my back the entire time I have been driving this dude’s car!
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
THE KNIFE.

We spend the better part of five minutes laughing our asses off. We send her kids for a flashlight and find the phone immediately. Right under the seat.

This knife has been literally stabbing me in the back. So there’s that. There’s your totem. Your law of attraction. Your poison arrow. Your affirmation.

And I’m glad that knife’s no longer there. Life has been calm (i.e. regular shit storm) but I keep hearing in my head the words that came to me when I was meditating that night as an explanation of current events: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

I can translate this for myself in two ways: either I’m Spiderman (I do spend a lot of time around spiders), or my life needs to be much, much more than IPAs and The Bachelorette.

These days I feel bi-polar, caught between thoughts of suicide and the experience of transcendence. I feel close to God but mad at him. I want to be at peace with my life but I also want a peaceful life.

My friend Soph quoted our friend John Paul who said to her, “When the shit hits the fan you know you are in a sacred place.”

Guess for now, I’ll just go with that.

Nameste, bitches.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Bad things come in threes.

Chatterings on Bannon’s Shadow Government

February 9, 2017

trump-steve-bannon

On January 31st, while driving home from my super liberal job of maintaining organic veggie gardens throughout Los Angeles, California, I tuned into 89.9, my local NPR station, and straight into an incredible interview by Audie Cornish. She was interviewing Deputy Assistant to the President  Sebastian Gorka. I had never heard of him but was quickly engrossed and repulsed in equal measure by his glib, arrogant English accent but more so by the dripping disdain he had for myself and my fellow Americans.

His dry, self-gratifying impression of Alan Rickman cum Newt Gingrich put me into a kind of fugue state. I couldn’t feel my hands on the steering wheel. My car levitated off the road on a cloud of disbelief and shame…were my ears bleeding? I strained to commit the interview to memory so I could Facebook-it later but eventually my over-reactive, fembot triggers were in full effect and I collapsed crying on the side of the road, relinquishing my future and my pink p*ssy hat in full surrender till the next election.

No, not really.

Knowing I wouldn’t be able to commit the interview to memory, I pulled my car over to take notes. And I did Facebook-it. And already the rabbit hole was opening beneath me. I’ve spent every day since then working on this (hopefully) in-depth article, delving into what’s going on with two of Trump’s most controversial early executive orders. I’ve learned a lot writing it and I sincerely hope you find it educational and that you are motivated to dig a little deeper as well.

———————–

First, that interview. What the holy f*ck was this guy talking about? Who was he talking TO? Had ISIS won? Is this what Brexit is? Did it come in a red British box covered in sh*t pansies making a huge deal about having a PhD in Pol Sci and not knowing that people with PhDs don’t all go around calling themselves “doctor.” Why was this English man so mad at Americans? Lecturing me on giving myself a good look in the mirror and learning up on American history; and all because the protesters at airports and at the worldwide women’s march need to remember THIS: history was made November 8th.

“GORKA: It looks like people totally disconnected from the reality of November 8. I find it quite amusing, sadly so, but amusing that there seems to be a large portion of the media and maybe the millennials who seem to not understand what happened on November 8.”

Effing millenials.

And then, “GORKA: Anybody who questions the fact that we have a new president and he should actually be executing the things that were part of his platform really doesn’t understand how a republican democracy functions in my opinion.”

Riiiiggghht. The memory of my non-vouchered, paid-for-out-of-my parents’-middle-class-pockets, Catholic school education on our sacred democracy included, let’s see….freedom of speech? A “right” you Breitbart folks eat at every meal. Is this not a form of debate? The debate you are forever accusing alt-lefters of avoiding. I call this DEBATE my friend.

millions-across-us-turn-out-for-womens-march_5_1

Listening to Gorka speak, you can tell the words “presidential executive order” just makes this guy stiff. Even though Trump isn’t allowed to call his own executive order whatever the hell he wants. Evidenced as Press Secretary Sean Spicer is forced to say “not a ban” twenty thousand times.

And just FYI, Sebastian, I know you only became an American citizen yesterday but please, look at YOURSELF in the mirror and repeat after me:

“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience by in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.
The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.

The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good, nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.”

Sore losers or not.

In the same interview, Gorka said perhaps defensively: “It’s not about politics. It’s not about the Congress’s being consulted or the mandate of some kind of parliamentary function. It is about the security of our borders and our people.”

It turns out they didn’t tell Congress in advance. Not Paul Ryan. Not even the head of the House of the Judiciary. The Chief of Homeland Security was cut out. Who did know then? Who drafted this executive boner? There in lies the rub.

———————

There is what you may call a shadow council.

They actually have a name now.

What? No! I like “shadow council.”

Sorry, they are calling themselves the “Principals Committee” of the National Security Council.

Blech. I enjoy saying Shaaaaadooooowww Cooooouuuncillll. Plus, I literally cannot get this written cause something new happens every minute.

Wait, now it’s “Strategic Initiatives Group.

D*mn! Well, regardless of what you call it, all of this council/committee/congress/cabinet  business was cockney to me until Henry Higgins put me straight.

gxmsmhosbmklo

I admit I didn’t really know what the National Security Council was, nonetheless what its shadow was. So taking Gorka’s advice, I did some revisiting of my high school Pol Sci and I want to share that information with you. It helped me to see the structure of the involved government offices in my mind, while trying to keep track of all these new names in the news.

(It’s not your imagination, there are more mouthpieces for Trump. It is highly unusual for this many political advisors to be this front and center communicating from the White House and making news. This constant messaging has elevated these deputies  past Cabinet members and top military and intelligence advisors for the public’s ear. All the more reason to be educated.)

———————

The National Security Council (NSC) is a consulting group specifically weighing in on issues of national security and foreign affairs. Historically it has met weekly with the President. It is part of the Executive Branch, includes some department secretaries (these are also called “Cabinet officials”) along with selected advisors.

Let’s look at the Cabinet the NSC pulls from. The official Cabinet includes the Vice President of the United States and Secretaries from the following Federal executive departments: State (1789), Treasury (1789), Justice (1870), Interior (1849), Agriculture (1862), Commerce (1903) , Labor (1913), Defense (1947), Health & Human Services (1953), Housing & Urban Development (1965), Transportation (1966), Energy (1977), Education (1980), Veterans’ Affairs (1989) and Homeland Security (2002).

I included the year each department was established (interesting!) and also put them in order of succession.

The significance of succession means that if Trump dies, and then Vice President Pence dies, and then the presiding officer of the House of Representatives, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan dies, and then Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch dies, we find our way to the Cabinet secretaries starting with Tillerson and down the line. The Cabinet is the President’s top advisor of officials, mostly all confirmed by the Senate, and also our back-up plan.

The President, in picking members for his National Security Council (established in 1947 btw), can choose from selected advisors that are “un-official, cabinet-level officials” like the Chief of Staff which in the Trump White House is Reince Priebus (he basically runs the White House), as well as the National Security Advisor who is Gen. Michael Flynn. The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly would be especially vital given the subject matter, as is the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff (not to be confused with the Chief of Staff) Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. who is the senior most ranking military officer and considered to be the principal military advisor to the President. Also included traditionally in the NSC is the Director of National Intelligence (a new position created in 2004) who will probably be former Senator from Indiana Dan Coats (waiting confirmation).

Both Dunford and Coats have had their roles diminished in the NSC per executive decree. Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo who has been fingered for head of the CIA intially was also out of the NSC but recently the Director of the National Intelligence Agency got back in.

Now for the real news. Someone else who is “in” is Stephen Bannon. The human version of the Heat-Miser has been named to that special “principals committee” or Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG) on the NSC. And he’s not just on it, he’s heading it.

xuystx1lkkkyhi63ye

Not only is it unusual for a political consultant to have a permanent seat on the National Security Council but to have a high-ranking seat above military, security and intelligence officials, is flat out dangerous.

Stephen Bannon is a problem for a whole bunch of reasons. There is quite a lot written about him already so suffice to say he is a professional blower-upper of the status quo, the mastermind of Breitbart News which is everything that is Islamaphobic, racist, misogynistic and mean about America, a voice of chaos and greed, and a consumate war-mongerer. Bannon and his cronies, especially Sebastian Gorka from the interview above, are the hands in the puppet.

As proof of the precautions Bannon is taking to ensure his status and sounding a lot like Gorka, a recent quote: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States. The elite media got…a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there. The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence, and no hard work. You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”

Trump has echoed this disdain for the media and free press in general and now mashed it up with the fake news/alternative facts phenomenon…and someone finally took Kellyanne Conway to task for it. Silencing the press is PAGE ONE in their handbook.

PAGE TWO: silence the haters. Bannon also loves to bellyache, alongside Gorka, over those butt-hurt crying Hillary voters, 65,844,954 strong,  who seem not able to bring themselves to be 100% supportive of this completely unqualified President.

Gorka again on NPR: “I do think that this executive order is a moral question because it’s about protecting Americans. And I think the protests or the criticism is really just another reflection of the chattering classes.

CORNISH: But when you look at all the people at the airports, does that look like chattering classes to you?

GORKA: It does. It does.”

Hearing Sebastian Gorka use the word “moral” to defend the immigration ban makes me physically ill. It’s just NOT a word he should throw around. Breitbart.com is the most unethical, un-religious and morally-deficient website I’ve ever seen. Worse, it’s homegrown terrorism and it is radicalizing both the Democratic and Republican Parties and now the White House.

Here’s just a sample of the “moral” hypocrisy inside the Oval Office. A Breitbart taster. An amuse boeuf of vomit if you will.

It’s well known that First Lady Melania Trump somewhat ironically promised to make the prevention of cyber-bullying her East Wing mission. Here’s a screen grab from her White House page.

white-house-grab-melania

She said in a speech in Philadelphia a week before the election, “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and teenagers. It is never okay when a 12-year-old girl or boy is mocked, bullied or attacked in the school yard, it is absolutely unacceptable when it is done by someone hiding on the internet. We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other.”

How interesting. Couldn’t agree more.

Enter into the political fray another breitbart.com sweetheart, conservative troll, professional bigot, and self-professed internet villain. Banned from Twitter for his relentless racist harassment of actress Leslie Jones, meet Milo Yiannopoulos and his piece on how online bullying ISN’T A REAL THING.

Below is a screen grab of another “news article” he wrote for Breitbart that Melania may not find so inspiring. It instructs ladies on how to deal with online harassment. P.S. Get your Trump Presidential Ring!

trump-ringwomen-should-log-off

Let me pull out this charitable quote from Milo from the article above.

milo-girls-are-retards

Okay.

On Feb 1st,  the author of the above was to give a chat to the kids at U.C. Berkley. Students and others rejected his hateful, internet-bullying ass, protests grew violent and the talk was cancelled. And guess who came to Milo’s defense?

screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-9-53-51-pm

Would Melania the defender of young girls against cyberbullies call Milo an “innocent” or simply a person with “a different point of view?” I think not. I hope not.

So that’s Breitbart and its current stranglehold on the West and East(?) Wing. Back to explaining this executive order on immigration and how these shady characters came to write it.

———————

From the NPR interview, Sebastian Gorka, deputy security assistant to the President: “I think it’s very unfortunate to take a measure that is focused exclusively on increasing the safety of American citizens and try and turn it into some kind of political football.”

Gorka was alarmed about the politics of it all in response to a question from Audie Cornish on why ranking cabinet members and congresspeeps were not consulted before the executive order was signed.

Gorka boasted about the inner circle who made the decision to Sean Hannity. “We don’t have a national security team made up of 28-year-old grad school students who have degrees in fictional writing. We have a very serious national security team.”

Gorka, who became an American citizen in 2012, seemed to forget his serious knowledge of national security when he left the house on January 13th of last year. Grabbing the “wrong bag” from his house, the one with a loaded gun inside, he tried to board a plane at Ronald Reagan Washington Airport. He was arrested on a misdemeanor charge for carrying a weapon into an airport terminal. I would like to repeat: a senior SECURITY advisor in the Trump administration tried to carry a loaded weapon onto a plane. Of course, it was nothing to take “seriously.”

gorka-on-gun-carry

So the man who is the Deputy Assistant to the President, who you could say in another way is a radicalized foreigner, carries a loaded gun into an airport…and that’s a simple mistake? I had my teeny tiny baby nail scissors confiscated from my carry-on once. I guess it’s the same diff Bas? (I can’t even get into why he would leave an unsecured, loaded weapon in a piece of luggage laying around the family home.)

Lucky for him, he’s not from an Arab country. A billionaire judge in VA decided to dismiss the charges on the VERY DAY Gorka started his job in security. At the White House. Of the United States. Of America.

Happy now?

Another important part of this shadow team of principals is Gen. Michael Flynn, the  current National Security Advisor. He famously chanted “Lock her up!” at the Republican Convention and is an avid conspiracy theorist, but even more troubling is this story: another chapter in threats to national security conceived, created and executed by America’s “very serious national security team.”

Flynn’s own Chief of Staff, his son Michael Flynn Jr., who has since been removed from the team, famously tweeted (and his father re-tweeted, see below) the crazy dangerous assertion that a certain pizza restaurant in our nation’s capital was a front for a child sex-slave ring run by then Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. And then his father, the country’s soon-to-be National Security Advisor, sent out a re-tweet AFTER a man fired his weapon inside said restaurant, terrorizing staff and customers, as he tried to self-investigate the hoax on Sunday December 4th.

flynn-tweet

Again, this is the NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR. To the President. Of the United States. Of America.

This is the definition of radicalization.

————————

Now, let’s look closely at the January 27th executive order to ban immigrant travel which came ironically one day before the executive order to change the format of the National Security Council. News of the formatting change was almost buried under the #muslimban controversy and and the worldwide chaos that ensued.

Before Trump was sworn in as President, staff members from the House Judiciary Committee, headed by Bob Goodlatte from Virginia, were made to sign non-disclosure agreements and work in private on the travel ban. A project so private even Goodlatte didn’t know. (Side note: the House Judiciary Committee is also in charge of impeachments.)

Goodlatte gave permission for his staff to work with the Trump team but evidently did not know what specifically they were working on as the executive action took Goodlatte (and the entire Congress) by surprise. Goodlatte said early on that “my staff on the House Judiciary Committee are some of the best on Capitol Hill. They are experts in their respective fields and I proudly allowed them to provide their expertise to the Trump transition team on immigration law. To be clear, while they gave advice to the new Administration, they did not have decision making authority on the policy. The final decision was made at the highest levels of the Trump Administration, and I support the President’s executive order. My staff had no control of the language contained in the President’s executive order, the timing of the announcement, the rollout and subsequent implementation, and the coordination with Congress.”

What in the world DID the staffers do then? Adding to the confusion are the countries included in the ban. They were repeatedly referred to by the Trump team as being “Obama’s picks.” Why if you had all these Harvard-educated security specialists, military intelligence and the hush-hush advice of the entire staff of the House Judiciary Committee – experts in their field –  would you knee-jerk accept the outgoing president’s choice for the most dangerous countries to focus on? Especially when conservatives have made it clear again and again that the outgoing President’s weak terrorism policy brought us where we are today.

Of course, it is easy to say, well that way they could just blame Obama when it failed, but that seems short-sighted. Regardless, the Trump team loves to say Obama’s name so maybe that’s all it is.

Another White House Senior Advisor/Puppeteer Stephen Miller said there was “a months-long drafting process,” and that it was an “extremely carefully thought out, carefully implemented proposal.”

So again, just to be clear, you’re telling me that with all these staffers, all this intelligence, months of drafting, being so “careful” that THIS roll-out, in the end, this the result you’re proud of? This hastily thrown together, totally-rushed executive order without any congressional oversight that borrows from the outgoing President’s failed terrorism policy and leaves the world in total turmoil is from the best of the best?

Well, yes and no. No, this order does not belie the efforts of the smart staffers at the House Judiciary Committee, or of our military or intelligence officers, or those folks who signed non-disclosure agreements and were probably told they didn’t have to show up to work. This was the mastermind of the guy that wrote this speech, has the President’s ear and a shiny new seat on the Security Council. He is FOR REAL anti-establishment. He’s anti-establishment AF. He’s also Anti-American. And that’s where the yes comes in. Yes, this was by design. And yes, they are very, very proud of it and the anarchy it is causing.

The day after the order rolled out, there was allegedly a 2am conference call during which Bannon and Miller silenced Flynn, Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (who had not yet been confirmed) telling them to keep quiet about their lack of involvement in the order and to tow the line…which they did.

PAGE THREE of the rule book: test the troops.

It worked with the embarrassed House Judiciary head Goodlatte, “I am pleased that President Trump is using the tools granted to him by Congress and the power granted by the Constitution to help keep America safe and ensure we know who is entering the United States. It’s sensible to hit pause on admitting foreign nationals and refugees from countries where adequate screening cannot occur, and it’s long past time for the completion of the Entry-Exit system in order to crack down on those who overstay their visas. I look forward to continue working with President Trump to ensure the safety and security of our great nation.”

The result of this order was catastrophic. The chaos and heartache, the confusion and insecurity, the angry protests from around the country caused by this executive order brought ire from Republican leaders. Bannon did not find them so ready to drink the Kool Aid. This was made clear in a joint statement from John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:

“It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. We fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”

One of my favorite quotes is from Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. He told reporters regarding the ban Monday, Jan. 30: “I guess one of you guys probably told me about it. Thank you for that.” He added, “I think they understand that this was not handled in the most productive manner. My guess is next time they attempt to do something that is far-reaching like this there’ll be a lot more communication.”

Sensing the irony was Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio, “This was an extreme vetting program that wasn’t properly vetted.”

Many representatives were forced to quickly write and present statements such as these in order to explain their take on the executive actions. A sampling of these historical statements is compiled here. This document is a really fascinating look into where each Congressperson stood; many are sympathetic with green-card holders, those who assisted the military and stand in defiance to any kind of “religious test.”

Testifying in front of Congress on Feb. 7, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said “In retrospect, I should have — this is all on me by the way — I should have delayed it just a bit so I could have talked to members of Congress.”

Interestingly, he also declined to say if he saw the document before Trump signed it but only said he knew the executive order “was coming.” He added, my staff was “generally involved.”

This begs several questions. If the security threat was so high and the need to address it so imperative, why would the Homeland Security department be kept in the dark? Why would the executive order need to be masterminded with such speed and secrecy that even customs officials couldn’t be notified? And how then was it “all on” Kelly? The Strategic Initiatives Group, formed when Bannon was put on to the NSC by presidential proclamation the NEXT DAY may have a lot to do with the hows and whys of the travel ban. This back room order does shine a light on one thing: Bannon’s ability to manipulate the highest level of the White House.

How plausible is it that this shadow NSC was solely responsible for the executive order banning immigration? Did they deliberately lock out Homeland Security and other traditional members of the NSC? It’s hard to prove because there is no paper trail. Usually, a “summary of conclusions” document, or SOC, would have been generated from notes taken at NSC meetings as well as opinions and recommendations from members of the NSC, not to mention the Budget Office and other administrative offices. It would contain final agreements and would be a written resource that could be referred back to for ongoing adjustments in policy. No such SOC exists. Anywhere. For any of this.

This is a serious deterioration of transparency, accountability and a gag order on different viewpoints at the highest level of government. These actions are the building blocks that have helped Bannon centralize power and now, thanks to Bannon’s own design, that power is formalized by executive order.

The shock and dismay over Bannon’s appointment was a bit muffled by the events the day prior, but still present.McCain again: “The appointment of Mr. Bannon is something which is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history.The role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been diminished, I understand, with this reorganization. One person who is indispensable would be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in my view. So it’s of concern.”

Former White House insiders had grave concerns as well. Leon E. Panetta, a former White House chief of staff, defense secretary and C.I.A. director said, “The last place you want to put somebody who worries about politics is in a room where they’re talking about national security.”

President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, Josh Bolten, sounded the alarm as well. “I’ve never seen that happen, and it shouldn’t happen. It’s not like he has broad experience in foreign policy and national security issues. He doesn’t. His primary role is to control or guide the president’s conscience based on his campaign promises. That’s not what the National Security Council is supposed to be about.” And again he spoke up at a conference, saying meetings with knowledgeable advisors in the NSC “involve life and death for the people in uniform” and should “not be tainted by any political decisions.”

And let’s run the clip from that original NPR interview Gorka had and get his response on Bannon’s qualifications:

CORNISH: Before I let you go, I want to ask you one other question because you work with the National Security Council, and you’ve worked with Steve Bannon in the past of Breitbart News. What’s the rationale for elevating him as chief strategist to the principals committee of the National Security Council?

GORKA: Your question provides the answer. What is this individual’s title – chief strategist to the president of the United States and senior counselor. The idea that it would be in some way controversial to have the president’s chief strategist in the meetings of the National Security Council, again, is rather a peculiar stance to take. This is a man that provides strategic advice at the highest level to the president. Of course having him in the deliberative body that deals with national security is, again, the injection of common sense.

CORNISH: And people have also talked about Stephen Bannon’s background with the Navy. Most of his adult life has been in the media. How is that experience relevant?

GORKA: I think you need to look at what Stephen Bannon did in terms of building a media giant that has crushed its left-wing rivals in terms of a breitbart.com. I think one has to look at what he did for the Trump campaign to understand that this is a man who eats and breathes and sleeps strategy. Whether or not he wore a uniform, that’s a credit to his service to the nation. But he is really – and I can tell you as somebody who’s worked with him for years – a truly strategic mind.

CORNISH: So of value to national security concerns.

GORKA: Without question.

CORNISH: Well, Sebastian Gorka, thank you so much for speaking with us.

GORKA: It’s my pleasure, anytime. It’s been a delight.

Uh huh.

Finally, there is Jared Kushner, son-in-law to the President, unqualified in every sense, unvetted, unconfirmed, answering to no one. He has been given a huge role in the West Wing and like any good SIL will be a non-confrontational yes-man for Trump. Kushner has met with congressional leaders, interviewed potential Cabinet officials and met with foreign leaders. Even though…

Under the 1967 Federal Anti-Nepotism statute, federal officials are prohibited from appointing their immediate family members to certain governmental positions, including those in the Cabinet.

That is still up for debate I guess.

Regardless of political affiliation, the alarm is clearly being sounded. There are people in charge of keeping America SAFE and it is roundly believed they are not qualified for, or trusted in, their current positions. On February 6, Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama wrote an editorial where he stated, “In my experience there are very few — if any — meetings of the principals committee at which the input of the military and the intelligence community is not vital…The security council facilitates and coordinates, providing a forum through which federal agencies discuss and debate policy and, ultimately, provide counsel to the president about how best to keep the American people safe…Having Mr. Bannon as a voting member of the principals committee will have a negative influence on what is supposed to be candid, nonpartisan deliberation. ”

These stories continue to gain traction and there will be many more updates. I hope this helps you set things in your mind in an organized way. This is a dangerous situation and I hope you can stay engaged and aware.

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-4-15-37-pm

By diminishing the role of the National Security Council and elevating the Bannon-led Strategic Intiatives Group, populated by Gorka and the other henchmen, by eliminating a paper trail, silencing the press and mocking protesters, it is possible for the fringe alt-right to establish a shadow government right inside the White House. And perhaps, in a grab for total power, the jihad Breitbart knows so much about will be waged against its own people. No ban necessary.

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-1-56-06-pm

That’s enough chattering for now.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

No such thing as a free lunch

October 14, 2016

vlt

 

There are several posts circulating about “things you should stop doing for your kid/teenager.” The one point that gets pulled out and that I have come in conflict with personally is this idea that a parent should not bail out the child by bringing them their lunch or whatever other necessity they forgot at home, in the car, etc.

I understand the thinking behind this. I want my kids to be independent, and I try my best to prepare them for the hopeful fact that some day they will leave the house for good and live on their own. Cuddling them to my breast for all eternity does not sound like my cup of tea. They are sweaty and full of elbows.

My dreams are of my own independent life, days stretching out in front of me, filled or not-filled with doing whateverthefuck I want. So I do not engage in behaviors meant to infantilize or indulge or spoil them. Also, I would very much like a life-long relationship with my children and their revenge spawn; subsequent to this goal, I truly do work to inspire them to not be assholes. Mostly I do this by trying to no be an asshole myself.

I believe not taking them a forgotten lunch or homework assignment or their sports uniform when I’m capable of doing so, makes me an asshole.

Maybe the author of this post has a kid that forgets their lunch every day. and on the way out the door gives the lunch and then mom the eye, middle finger held high and says, “Betch, I know you’re bringing that by later.” This kid needs taught a lesson. I don’t even think not bringing the lunch will do the trick. This child will just fat shame some other child out of their Cheetos and feel no consequence.

For me and maybe some of you. my kids don’t forget things daily or even weekly. It’s unusual. But I’m sure for a teacher or administrator, the constant disruption, even if every kid forgot something once a year, hell it’s a giant nuisance. I sympathize. But hey, this is a human school. No one is infallible. Acting like adult perfection is what we model for our kids is laughable.

The problem with advice, like the kind offered in these articles on how to not raise jerks and policies that prohibit parents from bringing by lunches and homework, is that the advice and policy is one size fits all. It doesn’t leave any room for life as we know it marred by our very own human foibles.

Look, maybe mom needs to run the lunch in because things are hard at home or she’s depressed or the kid and she had a horrible morning and she just wants one more chance to redeem herself and show her kid she cares. Maybe she misses her child during the day, maybe she got some bad news, maybe she suffers from anxiety and she needs to see her baby if only for a second. Touch his head. Remember he’s there. Remind him she’s there. In situations like this a tiny check-in and the knowing your child has what he needs for the day, can be everything. And I think it deserves to be accommodated.

Let’s just admit it, let’s out the elephant in the room…maybe the running back of the lunch is more for mom and dad than for the kid. AND THAT’S OKAY. Cause this is how the morning can feel to a parent.

giphy


In situations like this, when there seems to be some kind of moral construct at play, I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. I mean doesn’t everyone forget something sometimes? How would I feel if I needed my fiancee or a friend or my own parent to run me something at the office and they said to me, “I don’t think so honey. Maybe you won’t forget next time, huh?”

That feels great. Thanks.

And these are school-locked little munchkins! When I forget something I needed for gardening, or my water bottle, or my lunch even, I have the grand advantage of being an adult. I have a car! I have money! I’m not literally locked inside a school. I have the power to fix the situation. I can drive back home or better yet, drive to a store and just buy a new one. My kid doesn’t have the freedom to fix his mistakes. He needs my help to do it. And that’s what I’m here for.

I’ve often asked my cats, “why do our children need hardening up?” Life provides this anyway. There are many many many many many many many many many many many situations we as parents can’t fix. I like to embrace the fixable ones. Life provides us all with more than enough battles to toughen us up. Life show us on the daily that our entitled asses don’t matter and that we are very very small indeed. Listen, sometimes I can’t bring them their lunch, homework, uniform, makeup, shoes (???), jacket, phone and they have to make do. I believe this is what is meant by “Shit Happens.” And it does happen.

Believe you me, I’m not a perfect parent. There have been ups and downs all over the grey scale. My life challenges their life. I have divorced their dad, changed careers and moved us in with my fiancee and his daughter. I have yelled at them and called them names. I slammed a door so hard once it broke the plaster. I have scared them and me with the depth of my emotions. They are not immune to the reality of the world.

On the other hand, I devoted myself to their upbringing. That was my choice. I breastfed them for 3 years each. I created a community of support and became a fixture at their school so I could figure out a life that would allow me to be in their young lives step by step. I have rarely missed a dance, school, sporting or music event. Not every parent is able to do this, but it was within reach for me. I did it because I could. And that’s my parenting philosophy. If I can, I will.

On a larger scale, I have gone without many things so my children could have many things. And my parents did the same for me. We want our children to have advantages. Every parent wants that. But then that same desire becomes dirty when we call it is by its modern synonyms: privilege, entitlement, indulgence…elitism even. It’s all the same desire in different dresses.

Many people sacrificed so I could have more than they did with the unspoken assumption that I would pass it along. They didn’t do it so I would resent my freedoms and comforts. In this mute agreement, my parents did without so I would do the same for their grandchildren. And further back, my grandparents sacrificed so their children, my parents, could have more than they did. As did aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles. Family friends. Churches. Communities. Countries. Cultures. LEGIONS of people have endured hardship so my kids could go to a wonderful charter school in a safe neighborhood where their mom who lives close by and chose a flexible career could bring them their lunch that ONE TIME they forgot it. Not so I would cross my arms, sniff the air and tell them their indulged asses should “grow a pair.”

Do you really really think this lunch filled with love and some processed chips will make them entitled and lazy? Do you think it is parenting that has created these privileged millennials your resent? Or do you think it could be a world that has turned its back on their future? The world that handed every single one of them an iPhones free of charge/no holds barred. Whether it be that or the lack of jobs, the high interest rate of student loans, the cost of housing, cuts made to the arts, synthetic foods, the warming of the earth, the deforestation of the amazon…How does this brown bag make it all worse?

I think, for my kids and for my two cents, knowing their mom is around, has their back and can be there when they need it makes them expansive and kind and generous. I want my daughter to have her volleyball uniform because I’m proud of her efforts and I want her to continue. I don’t see how the sting of having to sit out the game in her school clothes buys anyone anything. The humiliation, the hunger, the shame of having forgotten something and having to go without is not a guaranteed ticket to empathy and courage. We can’t predict how children will react to their circumstances. Mom brings forgotten lunch to school = entitled generation of assholes IS NOT math…or science. It’s a theory. And it’s one sided.

My kids have actually never flat out asked me to bring them something forgotten. Usually I find it at home. And to abate the grinding pull of parental empathy-guilt inside me I will sometimes go way out of my way to get my kids what they need…and to appease that yearning in myself. I’m doing this for me and for my kids. For me, the two are in many ways the same. And encouraging a mother to fight against her innate sense of connection to her child is just dumb. We need more connection, not less.

Dear well-meaning, teenage-neighborhood watch person: do not project your fears for the future on my kid’s lunch bag.

I got up early and packed it and I’ll be damned if he’s going without it.

 

 

Save

Tap

August 25, 2016

light

July 27, 2016

It does not surprise me that a few days ago, before hearing of the news of Michelle’s health challenges, memories of Michelle’s impact on my life came randomly into my field of vision. I fondly remembered her bravery, her fierceness and her faith in me. Her wonderful laugh and stark honesty. But what struck me most was her caring and generosity and this realization came to mind.

When I first started seeing Michelle, I did not have the ability to pay for the true quality of her services. We remained on a pay-what-you-can plan for over a decade. When I didn’t see Michelle for a while she would call me or text me to check on me. She would encourage me to come in even if I couldn’t pay. She suggested one time I bring her a plant for payment which touched me so deeply. I brought her a beautiful tomato plant that I was so proud to pot up for one of my dearest allies. She promptly let it die and apologized for that, but that’s not the point. 🙂  She was an ally. She was a mother. She was a sister. She was a friend. She was a doctor and nurse.

She is a healer. She is intuitive. She seeks truth. With her I established a baseline of what was important to me. She helped me write my values. And I’m proud to say, because of her helping me rebuild my life, I was able to pay her her a decent rate this past year. You should have seen her face!

During the course of seeing Michelle, I was burnt clean white after several years of constant trauma. She never abandoned me or my dreams for a new life. She has laid down the gauntlet and said no more, when I could not find my voice. She guarded my boundaries. She interested herself in me. She took care of me. She claimed me when I was completely lost. She has been a tether and a witness. With her help, I wrote a new story. With her help, I cleaned house.With her help, I laughed through the worst of it. With her help, I came to recognize patterns in my life and accept what I couldn’t change. With her help, I identified my own personal strengths and weaknesses and gave voice to my challenges. I was able to speak again.

I hear her voice in my head all the time. Even when mulling over events from the past I hear her voice above the storm. Like I said, she was a gauntlet-thrower in my life. A line-drawer. She said, No more Erin. Don’t let people hurt you. Don’t accept things as they are. Don’t sit in that any longer. Don’t say those words. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way. Although she loved me and enjoyed our sessions, she didn’t want to see me on her couch. Not unless it was one of our friendly gossipy catch up sessions. Even then, she knew those meetings were just a precursor to the following serious, probing and sometimes painful sessions. But she honestly wanted to see me through with my pain and not see me create any new pain.

She talked me out of harming myself.
She told me to quit people who hurt me.
She gave me permission.

She told me blended families are the craziest and she wasn’t wrong.

She told me I wasn’t a mistake. She probably saved me from being killed in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer. A day or two before leaving town Michelle and I had a breakthrough session about the word “mistake” and my beliefs around it. If I had gone into that accident believing as I did prior that I WAS a mistake, I think I would have met my maker that day. Instead my car was miraculously diverted to the back corner of the oncoming truck and I survived the accident with only bruising and a totaled car to show for it.

I brushed off the accident as just that and didn’t spend months chastising myself for driving too fast or driving in the rain or driving too fast in the rain or leaving town to visit friends for the first time since the separation or leaving my kids with their dad for their first weekend or again devastating myself financially. “Mistakes” aren’t people. Mistakes happen to everyone and are a part of life and growth and failure and rebirth.

I literally and figuratively walked away from that accident because I found out through Michelle that God didn’t want me to think of myself as an accident. He didn’t see me that way. He loved me. He CHOSE me. I was not a “mistake” or an “accident.” Just the opposite.

The details of my birth, early babyhood and adoption were not symbolic of my worth. The details didn’t mean anything. That was just my itinerary. The journey was up to me.

These early assumptions I had about myself, all the choices I have made in the past and the ongoing calamity of life, do not define me today; and that is a credit to the courageous work Michelle and I have done together. I still have to tell myself I’m not a mistake. I still have to tell myself lots of things. But I have access to this conversation because of Michelle. Because of you, Barone, I have a powerful will to be happy and productive, and the voice in my head is laughing.

Michelle you have always been an angel. Thank you my love.

 

PP should stand for People, People.

September 20, 2015 1 Comment

standwithpp{Trigger Alert: overly personal material ahead}

After my divorce I spent three lonely years, abandoned by my youth and the promise of marriage, petting my cats and wondering if a man would ever come warm the cockles of my broken heart.

Well that’s not exactly true. I spent a lot of time having fun with my friends, throwing dance parties, propping up a false reputation of being a wild single lady and actually once leaving my pantyhose in the front yard. But there wasn’t anyone special. And to get to the point, birth control was not on my radar.

Prior to this Ice Age, I had what is legally known as a long-term marriage: almost ten years. My ex and I had two kids and didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about birth control. When you have small kids and a less than love-filled marriage, birth control is no brainer: you are too annoyed and too tired to have sex.

With amazing good fortune and an abnormal number of shots, a real live decent man with whom I had crazy chemistry happened upon my couch and the usual shenanigans ensued. One does not plan for such things! One wouldn’t take the leap of letting a good-looking young male specimen view your mom bod if one’s judgement wasn’t just a smidge impaired. That being said, cooler heads prevailed (not mine) and we (he) decided we should wait…

….until the next time we saw each other.

Now…now…now, we were safe. We used protection. I’m in my 40s for God sakes, but every month I am reminded the old engine still turns over, so you gotta be prepared. And we (he) were.

But…..but….but….as they tell you in little pamphlets from the gyn and in health class, no birth control is 100%. No protection is 100% fail proof. And this one failed.

When he pulled out, the condom stayed in and that’s not what’s supposed to happen. In my cuckoo head of happiness this seemed very insignificant and I didn’t bother to really mention it and neither did he. Jesus! We hardly knew each other! These things are EMBARRASSING!

I really liked this guy, you guys. Soooo much. And I wanted to keep doing what we had done but without the weird after game of “where’s the condom?” (Even though it’s a bit more fun than “where’s the tampon?” cause two can play.) I wanted to get on the pill and quick but I had no health insurance and a limited income.

So the very next day I went to Planned Parenthood. I went to the one on Van Nuys Blvd here in Van Nuys, CA. I was super nervous. I had never been in a Planned Parenthood and I was kinda raised (culturally, not by my family directly) to hate PP. I had thought they just gave abortions. But I had learned otherwise in my matronly years and so I braved it.

It looked just as you would expect inside. Sterile, fluorescent lighting, white tile floors, lots of folding chairs, a TV blaring VH-1 in the corner, a bullet-repellant receptionist desk. What I didn’t expect to find in Planned Parenthood was kids. And there were KIDS. Lots and lots of kids. Babies. Toddlers. Toddler-advanced. Children. Families. Moms and Dads. This was no different than any health clinic anywhere.

What I also didn’t expect to see were young men. Of all sorts. Some were there with girlfriends but most of them were there alone. Getting their health ON.

I sat there for 3 hours. Had a lot of time to observe. At one point I kid you not “Teen Moms” came on the TV. That had to be on purpose.

When it was finally my turn I was taken into the inner sanctum and put in a totally normal tiny little check up room. The nurse came in and asked questions, took my vitals and then a female doctor joined us. I retold my previous night’s escapades and requested birth control. She asked me to tell her more about the condom. “There wasn’t much to tell, heh heh,” I said. “Kinda lost track of the condom inside my lady parts.”

“You need emergency contraception.”

“What? No! Bfff!”

Resting doctor face.

This nice lady sees hundreds of patients just like me who relate the same stories. All the embarrassing, giggling, shameful, nervous, hurt, confused, immature, mature…the entire range of madness that is human sexuality. She knows people. She knows statistics. She knows what’s what.

Still, I was like, “No!!! What????? Me? No silly. Bfffffffff.”

A little more annoyed than before resting doctor face.

At this point I decided to stop wasting her time.

“Ok what do I do?”

She wrote me a prescription for Plan B and birth control. She was going to give me 3 Plan B’s as I seem like a total fuck up. No, actually that’s very convenient. Thank you. And it was all available RIGHT THERE. I didn’t have to go anywhere else for it. I thought that’s really nice for all those families out there especially.

The doctor also schooled me on how to use a condom. Oh. (Pull out right away boys and girls. Right. Away. How do we miss these vital pieces of information?)

I was shown to another waiting room that was very different than the other waiting room.

This was for the patients only. These patients had all been given news that they may or may not have been more or less expecting but a heaviness was in the room. Everyone had grown up quick. I stayed there for another hour. It was insanely cold for some reason. The TV had been turned off. There were no magazines. A girl looked like she was crying but she was very, very quiet about it. I figured anyone going to that much trouble to look like she wasn’t crying didn’t want people to acknowledge she was crying.

Someone started talking about McDs. I don’t know how it started but I think someone said they were hungry. And someone else said they thought they smelled McDonald’s fries and we all said, yes we smelled it too. Now that’s probably just what Van Nuys smog smells like but nevertheless the food conversation was off and running. We chimed in about what we would eat at McDonalds were we anywhere near one right now. We moved on to what we would we eat anywhere. What our moms and grandmoms cooked best. What we cooked best. What our kids liked. What our kids didn’t like.

This was inside a Planned Parenthood.

The crying girl wasn’t crying anymore but talking about her aunt’s empanadas. We all so wanted to eat some feelings just about then! If I ever could, and I wish I would, deliver McDonalds to that inner waiting room in Planned Parenthood you would see some happy grateful responsible intelligent ladies getting their munch ON.

At the end of the hour I was given 6 months of birth control and 3 Plan B’s. The Plan B at the time was 2 pills. I was really conflicted about taking it. Mostly because of some strange stigma but I was way more conflicted about having a baby with this guy I just met! So I took it. They told me about some side affects blah blah blah.I know…but I had NO IDEA it was going to take so long and I had a garden install that day which I was mentally already at.

When you leave PP you have the option of paying or not paying if you are under a certain income bracket. If you can’t afford the full cost, you have the option to pay whatever you can afford. I gave them $40 and left. I wanted to high five everyone in that waiting room.

In the car, driving over the 405 I had a kind of Hulk-esque takeover of my body. All of the sudden I realized I was gripping the steering wheel really tight. My breathing was shallow. I felt really INTENSE. I’ve since heard that Plan B is like taking an entire pack of birth control at once.

Zing!

Zoom!

Zow!

I didn’t know what was happening to me at all. I didn’t put it together that the Newton’s Cradle of emotion I was in the middle of was due to the two little pills I took.

Today just happened to be the day I was installing my first drip irrigation system. By myself. I had done the research. Talked to some people. Tried it out at home. This was going to be great! I was going to be able to offer a really valuable service to my clients. At this time, I had less than 5 clients. But one was Olivia Wilde so I was pretty sure things were happening!

This garden was actually for a co-workers of Olivia’s. I arrived all the way in Culver City and set to work installing this drip system in their backyard container veggie garden. The timer for the system was locked inside their garage so I used the valves to manually turn on the sprinklers. Irrigation is set up on different areas or zones throughout your yard, and you can manually turn on the valves that control these zones by gently unscrewing the head or handle of the corresponding valve. The pressure releases manually when you unscrew it, runs the sprinklers and then when you screw it back down, the pressure closes off causing the sprinklers to stop.

Fascifuckingnating. Get back to the story.

So to test which zone has my new sprinklers on it, I turn all the valves off and on until my drip irrigation begins to run. And it did run. Yeah!

Then I kinda notice that the other zones have not actually shut off. Half the yard’s sprinklers are still running.

I go over to the valves. Screw them on tighter. Nothing. Unscrew and rescrew. Nothing. Except a lot of water that is.

At this point I am panicked. And will you remember that I am in a unbeknownst to me in a Hulk-like state of hormones? My head feels like it’s on fire. My eyes are pinwheels. I do a sprint around the house looking for the emergency shut off valve. But I don’t see anything. I run around the garage. Nothing! I have to call the owner and ask where it is…and that’s when I realize I don’t have any contact number for this client. Like I said, I only had a handful of regulars at this point. I had this guy’s email address but not his phone number.

I email him.

What choice do I have? I text Olivia with a 911. My nerves are shot. I’m certainly flushing my company down the toilet right now. I’m sure of it. A regular chorus of “you’re such an asshole” is playing in my head. And the back yard is FLOODED. I mean it. It’s draining off and down the driveway and into the street. Is this enough water to drown in? Please!

Someone from the front of the house calls over the fence, “Hey uh…there’s a lot of water out here?”

“YEAH! I KNOW!” I scream maniacally, Plan B in full effect.

I call my friend Jesse Burch. He helped me with my first ever garden install and he’s an actor so he’s always available. And he’s not easily turned off by hysteria.

“Hey Erin!”

“AAAUGHHHHH!”

Through the phone, Jesse calmly walks me around the house so I can look for the shut-off valve.

“Every house has one Erin.”

“EXCEPTTHISONE!’

We find it on the 2nd pass behind some tall grass and the water is mercilessly turned off. I’m completely soaked. Remember I am walking around the house and yard while the sprinklers are on this whole time. I hear from Olivia who says he’s on set and I should have him paged. So I do that. I page him on the set because I’ve screwed up his irrigation. He’s lovely. It’s fine, he says. His gardener comes tomorrow. He will have him look at it.

I drag my sad super tired ass home and break it to my not quite yet bf that I Plan B-ed his baby and he forgives me. Thanks me even. Tell him the condom thing. Educational.

I find out later that when valves aren’t manually turned on on a regular basis the little filament or little piece of cardboard that provides that pressure to signal the valve to start or stop can dry up or wash away or even disintegrate. Then, when you turn on the valve and that little bit of something something isn’t present, there’s nothing inside the top of the valve to fasten or add pressure to the hole when you screw it down.

I was so relieved it wasn’t something I had done wrong. Sweet Jesus, it wasn’t my fault. Nevertheless, I remained scarred. I hired an irrigation person to do all my irrigation and she and her crew are the light of my life and I wouldn’t have much of a business without them.

I can see lots of super obvious correlations between these experiences.

There’s nothing like experience to educate.

You’re never too old to learn something new. Even if it is something you should have learned from the get go.

Things break. They fail. They fall apart. And it’s no one’s fault.

New things come along. You rethink the past. You try again.

You learn. You are open to surprises. You appreciate truth and those who give it to you straight.

And you see families in Planned Parenthood. There are also nurses and doctors who professionally and sympathetically attend to patients in some high stress situations. This is where people go when they have no one to talk to. This is where they go when they want to do the right thing, want to be informed, want to be safe, careful, healthy.

I stand with Planned Parenthood. I stand with the families I saw. I stand with the care I received. There’s nothing like it folks and no one else to do it. Stand by it too.

Entitlement Garden

August 7, 2015

tumblr_m5nfi1b3gN1qjp4z6o1_500For a long time I couldn’t quite understand what a narcissist was. Everyone used the word and I knew the definition but a deep knowing eluded me. That was until I found one chewing at my ankle one day and realized they had been feeding on me for years. It’s like googling bear and realizing you need to stop covering yourself in honey and running around the wild. I understood.

I have also reached this great “a-ha” moment with “entitlement.” Entitlement was such a weird word to me. Teens are entitled, people would say. Well, duh. Of course they are.  All children are. Until you carry your own debt, you are entitled. What’s the big deal?

People want their coffees and their iStuff and universal healthcare and they want it now. They’re entitled. That’s not news. It used to be houses, low gas prices, pensions and Social Security. Geez, they even call it entitlements. Not news.

But I think there’s an entitlement that I have experienced that truly does take it to another level…although I don’t know if it is news as my story is about the ultra-rich. Are they not entitled by definition? Let’s find out.

A 3%er had me over to build a veggie garden. We built one. Some mysterious animal ate it all. With the client’s approval, we decided to erect a fence to see if it was rabbits. It the 3’ fence got scaled, then we could look at trying to keep out rats and squirrels.

I erected an inexpensive temporary fence. I sent a bill.

3 times while my associate put up the fence a minion crossed the expansive green lawn to say, “does that fence come in other colors?” My associate at first apologetically and then assuredly and then bewilderedly replied, “no, this is the only color.”
The last time the minion crossed the lawn she started off her question with, “Just so you know I’m quitting this job, but I have to ask you…”

This fence was made with store-bought materials. (This is where mere mortals buy things. Rich people we find out can evidently have other people shit whatever they desire out of their ass) It was a green plastic poultry fence with green metal t-posts. Standard, budget-conscious, easy to build, and most importantly, easy to open and close so the garden can be accessed. Many of my clients have these as their permanent fence.

Immediately the emails and texts started. This fence is an eyesore. I can’t believe this is up to your standards. This is within eye sight of my house. You need to take this down. You need to fix this.

I explained many, many times why I chose that fence, how there are few other options, how we needed to diagnose the problem before we could move on to something more attractive, more expensive and more permanent. All this was met with speculation, pettiness and insults. We hate the fence, one text said.

These numerous texts, voicemails and emails came from four different people as well. The owner, her two assistants, and her business manager. There was at one time nine different email threads going at once…about a bunny fence. And then about how they expected me to switch out the test fence for a nice fence for free. Meaning for free like not even pay for the original fence. And not pay for the new fence.

In the meantime, I had been checking on the garden, tending it. The fence, although hideous, held up. The test lettuce was growing uneaten. As part of my maintenance I check the irrigation system, in this case a drip system we installed in the boxes. So while I was there, I clicked through the dial of the Rainbird manually as I wasn’t sure what station the veggies beds were on. While I worked through the numerous stations of the back yard I noticed a sprinkler head was broken along the side of the property, water shooting way up in the air. I ran to the back door so I could show the owner and the assistant which head it was. After telling them, I ran back to the Rainbird, shut off the station and capped the head so it wouldn’t blow wasteful water while it waited to be fixed.

The next day an email appeared stating that I “or a member of my company” had broken a sprinkler head on the property and that I was going to have to pay for that.

A very very bad feeling ran through my veins. I cced the entire group of darkness that I would not be responding to emails, visiting the garden or replacing anything until my outstanding invoice for maintenance, irrigation and fencing was paid.

That’s when I was told by the business mananger, “Oh you’ll be paid when you swap out that fence.” I told them (ccing all parties) that I was broken-hearted. I explained I was a small company and a single mom. I had bought materials out of my own pocket and subcontracted out my crew trusting that my invoice would be paid. That I had even visited twice to check on the bunny fence and the irrigation without charging them. That I had spent hours answering emails and researching alternate fence materials.

It may sound silly but I pour my soul into my gardens. I had special ordered purple radishes, round zucchini and a special version of cherry tomato because my client wanted them. This is a garden service with heart and compassion. And this woman, in her 6 million dollar house was not going to pay the $600 invoice they had racked up…well, it seriously threatened my faith in us as a species. I’m a sensitive sot. And I told them so.

They didn’t budge.

So I informed them I was suing them in small claims court. Emailed over the paperwork from the government website.

And then? And then?

Then came the texts, emails and phone calls again.

When are you coming to fix the fencing?

There’s something wrong with the irrigation?

The plants are looking sad. When are you coming?

Did you get my voicemail? I think it cut me off.

When are you coming again?

Unless I have been willed to her for a lifetime of indentured agricultural servitude; maybe there was some strange clause in my adoption, maybe I am to be locked in her palace Cinderella-style to maintain her garden…outside of that, I am not voluntarily coming back to work on your garden. I really don’t know how else to put this in a way that could be more clear to you. So I am putting it here.

I have told you. I have told your assistants. I have told your business manager. I have told the Los Angeles Courthouse. And now I have told the world. I am not bringing my beautiful ass to your Entitled Garden ever again.

Your prissy, princess hissy fit will not force my hand. Your withholding of payment and your promise to pay if I just do this one……more…. thing…will not bend my back.

Entitlement does not have to be tied to wealth but it seems particularly predictable and repugnant when it is. I know for sure that their unwillingness to pay is not tied to their ability to pay and that their wealth and power has for so long paved easy street for them that to not get their needs met on their own terms at every turn sets assistants running for their iStuff as my refusal to play whip the servant elicits a complete meldown and probably a facial expression last seen on Cruella de Vil. What???? I’m not getting my way??? When are you coming back????

never. ever.

In the defense of rich people, I’ve worked for some really nice ones. And still do. But this one, this one is the human equivalent of posting warnings about the effects of the #CAdrought on your facebook page while at the same time running 100 sprinkler heads in your back yard. I guess I can say now I paid for one of those. You’re welcome.

Noscar

February 28, 2015

paulnewmanjoannewoodwardoscars2There’s been enough written about being a single mom. It’s tiring to hear about. The title is meaningless. I rebelled against the idea of that title “single mom” when I became one. I didn’t want anyone calling me that. To me somehow it harkened of other even less savory titles like “cougar” or “welfare mom.” Pretty radically different stereotypes but it was all stereotyping and I wanted to avoid it.

Now however, six? seven? years later (I’m pathologically bad with dates) I probably utter the words single mom every day for one reason or another. Today it was during a chat with our parish priest. Another day it could be at Trader Joe’s or at school or at my job.

My new post-divorce job as a landscaper is the first place it came up continually and where I learned to use it myself, to my advantage. With the help of my friend Nikki Maxwell, I came to understand that it wasn’t just flowers or organic veggie seedlings I was hawking, it was a story.

A story of a “single mom” who took lemons and made some organic lemonade. A “single mom” who created a business from nothing, with nothing, so she could provide for her kids. She zigged when life zagged and got her shit together and made something of herself. From stay-at-home mom to single mom to entrepreneur!

There’s a reason we all know the Steve Jobs/Apple story. It sells computers.

So, I learned to tell my story, to embrace that single mom story and make it mine. I mean it is mine. It was true. There was no reason to rail against the label. If the shoe fits…

Scrappy and single, I ran around in my flannel shirt and work boots and presented my business card made with vegetable inks and recycled paper and I was successful.

I was asked to talk at schools and represented single moms at career days. Several times the idea of a reality show has come up. It was inspiring for people. To think about me in that way.

But reality is way different. The past few weeks have been devastating in slow motion. The need to take care of my kids takes away from the time I have for work. Which makes me behind on my projects. Which makes clients angry. Which means I have to pay other people to do the work for me. Which means I don’t get paid. Which makes bills pile up. Cause I take care of my kids.

This went on for a couple weeks and then this last week, Tuesday morning, I realized my son who had relentless cough was going to have to stay home another day from school. I only get two full days a week to work. The other days are half days so I can drive my kids to school and pick them up, so on those two full days, I usually work 12 straight hours to make a dent in the work. This was going to be my third straight week of having those days interrupted by having to be a mom. A single mom.

As I moved around the house, waking kids, making breakfast, answering emails, prepping for the day, the realization just descended and descended. He’s staying home. You’re not going to work. You’re falling farther behind. You have no booked jobs. You owe so much money. As I found lunchboxes and homework and unloaded the car, my chest tightened, my brain chugged on like a train. I have to go to work. I missed work yesterday. And last week. And the week before that.

And my hands moved laundry and made lunch while my conscience churned. I was steeling myself for the reality that I was going to have to leave my sick kid at home. And go to work.

I could feel the veneer cracking so I headed to my safe place and had a cry. I cried for the way it is. I cried for changing course. I cried for expectation and for the rules of this world and for decision-making.

And then a fresh wave of sadness hit me. And this is such madness under the circumstances but I swear to you it is true. Heartbreakingly true. I was just tying up the loose ends of my career vs. family cry when this newsflash was sent in over the wires: I also wasn’t cute. I was no longer pretty. I wasn’t pulling this off. I’m tired and stressed. The wrinkles on my face bare witness to years of turmoil and they upset me.The weary look around my eyes. The deep seismic worry line that has cracked through my upper lip. The transcontinental forehead freeways…so many wrinkle metaphors!

What is wrong with this picture? What isn’t???

Simultaneously I felt even more grief that this was the state of affairs. This is how it is. This is life. For me and for all my sisters. And brothers. There are too many strings tugging at every extremity. Look good. Be happy. Make money. Be independent. Be loving. Nurture your children. Be a good citizen. Recycle. Exercise. Be thin and active. Volunteer. Vote. Vaccinate. Provide for your children. Cook. Make kombucha. Write. Do yoga. Meditate.

This old “how does she do it all” debate is so tired. It’s hard to fathom it still exists. But this territory in our modern culture…single parenting, the nuclear family, the need for dual incomes, the lack of community and extended family…is maybe at its oldest in the terrible twos. We are young on the adaptation timeline. Although the “single mom” label feels tired (and she is tired!) the concept is not. This is something we have not figured out. The ladies…this lady at least…is not making it work.

While working with the kids at school, a young girl genuinely asked me, “Why has there been no woman president?” I see the accusatory look in her eyes. Why haven’t you done something about this? You’re old. You’re an adult. You, with the Starbucks cup, why aren’t you on this?

I will tell you why. Because every second of my day is spoken for. If a truck ran me over I could rest peacefully. I could do something I wanted to do for once.

And my seconds have been spoken for for over a decade and they will continue to be spoken for for another decade. Fuck I’m right in the goddamn middle. Okay so maybe we aren’t in the terrible twos, maybe we are in the middle of all this. Ooohhhh, a mid-life crisis. I see…how original.

I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve been living it and I have no insight. I’m lucky I have sight, nonetheless, insight. I don’t even have the energy to wrap this up properly. Or reread it. Or edit it. In fact I’m dangerously close to no longer editing anything any longer, I fear.

Truth be told, I’ve had too much coffee and too little sleep. I had that big party last night and Paul and I have been sitting here staring at my Oscar all morning. I’m due for my toilet cry.

Write Write Write

May 12, 2014

maeavatar_bigger

Good morning happy readers! I’m in a bit of heaven today. You see, I had my first writer’s group last night. I can’t believe it myself that I’ve never been a part of one. I have wanted to of course, just never had the opportunity. And because I had these 3 women come to my home, I actually did some writing. Just like that.

My good buddy and all around celestial creature, Maggie put us all together and we met at my house over snacks and the back of my curious cat for the purpose of becoming better writers.

These ladies were creative and lovely and funny and sweet and fuckaduck, they were writers! We talked about our goals.  We did timed writing exercises and read them out loud. One of the gals brought a couple short stories and she read those too. I felt so much pride in the work I did last night, and so connected to the process. What a wonderful use of time I thought to myself.

And I so rarely think that.

I’m liking this feeling of pride and accomplishment. It was well worth letting people see my dirty house.

It’s easy to get hung up on the words “writer” and “artist” when you are unpublished and not making a living at your “art.” It was enlightening to be able to call myself a writer OUT LOUD and not succumb to that hateful inner snickering, but rather to give and receive support.

Truth be told, I’ve always known I was a writer and here’s the big reason:

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”Flannery O’Connor

I like to learn about myself. I’m a bit obsessed with my life and the inner workings of my mind and other lives and life in general and the search for meaning and I find it easiest to start to parse that out when I put fingers to keyboard.

I encourage you to write a  bit today. Or do whatever that thing is that makes you feel artistic: cooking, gardening, drawing, rearranging your bedroom…and hear what you have to say.

 

Thoughts on Meditating

March 30, 2014

I sometimes think I was born under a dark cloud. I have never experienced this thing they call “luck.”  My mystic says this is my dharma. I came into this world wanting things to be harder for me. She says I designed it this way before I even got here.

Can I un-design it?

I see the value of challenge. I even see the value in toil. When you work hard for something, it tastes sweeter. You appreciate the little things all the more. And you have greater empathy for the majority of the world who have practically nothing in their lives that resemble comfort or prosperity.

I get it now. Lesson learned. Empathy elevated! Done.

Ahhhh, but no. Still the toil and struggle.

I see that I am lucky in lots of ways. I have never been seriously ill. I have an unexplained source of inner confidence and optimism. I’m naturally smiley.  My children are healthy in mind and body. And I am surrounded by a vast community of friends. Right there, is all I can ask for.

But for the sake of Christ, at almost 45 years old having worked hard all. my. life. I would very much like to be able to pay my bills. Professionally and financially, I seem to be missing a wingnut. Somewhere something needs tightening down…or maybe loosening up. I’m not naturally mechanical but that shouldn’t stand in the way of my financial independence.

Since long before the break up of my (last) marriage, I’ve had trouble connecting the professional and financial. I’ve worked plenty hard, graduated with a great GPA (if only I’d known how little that mattered in the real world) and took every work opportunity presented. I have often worked 2-3 jobs at a time. I don’t have a spending problem either. Although I like to reward myself on occasion, I can live frugally.

Presently, I live quite frugally. The kids and I don’t take vacations. We don’t have cable. I don’t have a  gym membership. I color my hair at home. There’s not a lot of extras. But despite the penny-pinching, there’s just not enough to pay the bills.

My biggest obstacle is a common one for many. I’m both the mom and the breadwinner. The child support I receive although appreciated,  is quite honestly, a pittance. And at any rate, it’s not intended to be something to live on. I never thought about marrying for money. At the time, my spouse seemed like a good earner…certainly good enough, but over the years that shifted and post-divorce, his sense of responsibility for us has been annihilated. He would only give the minimum ordered by the court and God damnit, I say So Be It.

The issue at hand is greater than that and the solution does not lie in squeezing water from a stone. Although life would be easier if I could rely on my ex to help support the kids, the fact is I can’t. And anyone in a divorce situation cannot. Those days are gone, that ship has sailed. It seems on some levels, both right and just that I am shoehorned out of any reliance on my ex. I am an independent entity and solely responsible for the success of every aspect of my life. There’s the dharma.

(((Insert uncontrollable fear and subsequent weeping.)))

I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

I don’t exactly romanticize modern marriage. It hasn’t worked for me. But this single parenting doesn’t exactly work either. I have strived and connived but I still cannot strike the balance between being Mom Extraordinaire and Head of Household. The hardness of it all has crushed me. I’m a little tin can smashed flat by an anvil off a tall building.

The struggle has laid waste to my sense of self and my hope for the future. I have put my dreams on hold and worked 60 hours a week for 5+ years and have little (in my short-sighted vision) to show for it. I ask myself again and again,

What am I doing wrong?

I know this is the “wrong” question. I know I’m not doing anything wrong. I know I am loved and valued. I know I am loved and valued by a God that created me OUT OF his love for me. I know I am love. My heart beats with nothing but love. It is the breath in my lungs, that little song in my heart, the living embodiment of my gorgeous children. It is what causes a smile to spread clear across my face when I hold a tiny leaf of a plant in my hand and have the great honor and pleasure to wipe off an aphid and I hear it whisper, thank you.

I know. I know.

And yet…the bills pile up. The clients don’t pay. The children want and want and want. Rates go up. New things are invented every day that cost a $1,000 and you will not be able to deny them or live without them. You will get letters from school saying your kids are truant. Your ex will hit on you. Your family will want distance rather than intimacy. Your friendships will shift and people will grow apart. Your children will develop wicked tongues. Everyone in your privileged home town will seem to be getting ahead while you get left behind.

Shit breaks. Shit costs more than you can afford. There are a finite number of hours in a day and a finite amount of false happiness you are able to generate. This is the truth. This is reality.

Right?

…maybe not.

Truth and reality are perhaps not so cut and dry. That little song in my heart, that little glimmer, that shimmery mirage of hope…like heat on asphalt, you can’t touch it and you can only see it from a certain angle, that stuff still lives. It believes in miracles and divine intervention. I firmly believe there is MORE. More to life than bills, and custody arrangements and IEPs and petty disagreements and pimples in your wrinkles and late bills and mounting debt, there’s MORE. In fact, there’s a whole other life. In my mind I’ve always called it the Life Under Life. It runs under our day to day, our physical world, like a river. A life-giving, unconditional river of love. It’s where we are from and it’s where we will go. It is the true truth. It is the real reality.

I have touched this river and felt its flow while doing yoga and meditating. I have experienced its magic while laboring and birthing my kids. I have experienced it every time I didn’t follow despair all the way down the rabbit hole.

I need to get in constant contact with this river. I need to pull out of this present rabbit hole and get healthy and hopeful. I have toiled and tried and it has only gotten me so far. I need less toil. I need a new truth. I need a new reality.

I would like to journey with you through my commitment to meditation and yoga. I spent 15 minutes this morning with a guided meditation on my iPhone from an app by Abraham-Hicks. Abraham is a  non-physical being who speaks through a woman named Esther Hicks. They end every session with their message, “There is great love for you here.” And even though the idea of a non-physical being talking through a human gives me wicked heebie jeebies, that message brings me undeniable comfort.

I am not a great meditator. I am an antsy pantsy kind of person. Prone to itchiness and unable to sit still for long this is not natural for me. But I have seen the benefits. I know that this practice clears the mind, dredges that river so it can flow and is the ultimate reboot.

More than this, I have felt every day of my life, from when I was a very small child, through school and despite my total anonymity and all the failings of my adult life, I have felt inexplicably called to a higher purpose. I have felt that strong connection to the rest of the world. I have experienced the power of a smile or a kind word, and somehow I have felt it ripple all around the world. The power of meditation is universal. I know sulking around my life, feeling despondent and worthless and unlucky, does not serve me nor does it serve the world I was sent here to influence. Meditating and putting myself in the mindset of love for 15 minutes a day can change so much. I’m gonna give it a try. This was from my guided meditation today:

“Your life continually calls for expansion through you. And All That Is benefits from the important part you play.” Abraham

See you in the river…