Thursday, January 31, 2013

How I Found Al Anon

How I Found Al Anon

Al Anon is a fellowship of friends and relative of alcoholics seeking to find peace and serenity in a swirling vortex of pain, insanity, fear, lack of hope, desperation and anger.

It never occurred to me that Al Anon could help me. I’d actually never thought of it at all until I was in the depths of despair October 15th 1993. I knew AA was a place where alcoholics could go to try to find sobriety. But I had no knowledge of Al Anon.

At the time I was living what some might believe was the life of Riley as an expatriate wife in a large flat in the Mid-Levels of Hong Kong.  I played Bridge and Mah Jong.  I served on the Board of the American Women’s Association and on committees at the American Club. I shopped, explored, had lunch with friends and lounged by the pool at the American Club when the weather was amenable.

But I had an embarrassing secret. My husband was an alcoholic. Some thought he was also a drug addict. I was, of course, the last to realize the extent of the problem. I thought I had it all together. I didn’t realize I’d reached a level if insanity that was causing me to lose myself. I was in denial. I didn’t want to believe that my hopes and dreams had crashed. Additionally, I was living in a foreign country, hadn’t worked in more than 5 years, had no source of income, and no home in the USA.

The tipping point came on the humid October afternoon. I’d gotten a feeling something wasn’t right. For the two weeks prior to this day, I’d been unable to reach my spouse at his office. I was always told he wasn’t there. This was before the pervasiveness of cell phones. I called a friend who came over and used subterfuge to find out the real story. She called the office using a ruse and found out that my husband had been fired two weeks previously for cause. He’d been pretending to go to work and hanging out in bars during the day.  Anger seethed through every cell in my body. When my spouse came home thoroughly drunk, I screamed and pushed him. He fell. The capacity for rage within me frightened me. (not to mention the fear of spending the rest of my life in a foreign prison).

The friend who’d helped me solve the mystery recommended Al Anon. I found a meeting that day a 20 -minute walk from my flat. The meeting was in English. I saw people I knew. When I explained why I was there, the group welcomed me and helped me to feel and know I wasn’t alone. It was the first step on a very long road to recovery.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Addicted to “Downton Abbey”

Addicted to “Downton Abbey”

Before the advent of cable TV with hundreds of channels telling “tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (what’s a little bastardization of Shakespeare to make a point?), there was PBS and Masterpiece Theatre hosted by the ever-melodious Alistair Cook. The theme music even today calls to mind those magnificent British series we first enjoyed from 1971. My first memories of Masterpiece Theatre include “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, which instilled in me a fascination with all things Tudor and caused me to read everything that has been published regarding the Tudor Dynasty in the years that followed. The productions “I, Claudius”, “The Jewel in the Crown”, and “Upstairs Downstairs” were so far superior to what was produced for American television that I eagerly awaited Sunday nights.

But Masterpiece changed. It dropped the “Theatre” and premium cable stations such as HBO and Showtime brought us “The Sopranos”, “Deadwood” and “Rome”. Masterpiece had lost its luster. It was no longer must see TV for the intelligentsia. It had become ordinary TV. That is, until “Downtown Abbey”, the classy soap opera for TV snobs telling the tales of the Crawley family of Downton Abbey at a time when the aristocratic families of England with manor houses were having to face the changes in society wrought by the sweeping changes following of WWI.

It fascinates me, in part, because I once had the privilege to spend a year in the UK living in a smaller version of Downton Abbey outside Grantham, England (no relation to Lord Grantham, but the hometown of Margaret Thatcher). The architecture was remarkably similar at Harlaxton Manor. The Duke of Rutland lived nearby. My university had purchased the property that had been built by (I kid you not) Sir Gregory Gregory.

And I love the clothes. I love the elegance. I love thinking of a time when one used bouillon spoons and knew what they were. It is romantic. People at Downton write letters.  I love the Dowager Duchess portrayed by the incomparable Maggie Smith.  Doesn’t every family have an eccentric aunt of similar ilk?   I love that despite the apparent wealth, and privilege, and sophistication, and beautiful clothes – families are still families with the love and disdain and frustration and celebration and tragedy that we mere mortals experience. There is something comforting about that.

Each Sunday during the Downton season I sit glued to the TV feeling part of the Crawley family. Feeling joy when they feel joy, feeling sadness when they feel sadness, wanting to kick Lord Grantham in the @#$%,  cheering on Lady Edith when she is published, and waiting, waiting, waiting for the next elegantly snarky comment to pass Dame Maggie’s lips.

Ok – I am bored to numbness by Anna and Bates. Yawn! Just kill them both and move on.  But with this singular exception, I am ever so hopeful that Downton Abbey will survive at least until Lord Grantham must open the house to the general public on weekends to pay the taxes.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Problems for Brick & Mortar Merchants Created by Returns of Online Purchases

Problems for Brick & Mortar Merchants Created by Returns of Online Purchases

Yesterday afternoon I stopped by my local Chico’s store to return some merchandise that had been sent to me in error. Customer service had told me just to take the items back to my local store.  My shipping list was in the package. But the items in the bag belonged to some other unknown individual who, no doubt, had received my “So Slimming Getaway Pants”.

When I walked into the store with the bag of returns. I could tell by the look on the store manager’s face that she feared the returns would compound the problems of slow traffic in keeping the store from reaching its daily sales goals.  It was a snowy day and there were no customers out and about shopping.  I learned that returns of online purchases to a retail store adversely affected the store’s numbers.

Since these were returns that required no refund – just a return to stock at the warehouse – there was no adverse impact on the daily receipts. But in chatting with the sales associates and manager, I learned how irresponsible shopping on the part of consumers that buy without trying things on or because they didn’t want to hurt a sales associates feelings or because they had one too many glasses of Cabernet before shopping online could result in such negative sales receipts that we risk losing the option of shopping at a local brick & mortar store.

We all make some mistakes when ordering online. And it isn’t the occasional return that creates the problems. But I heard stories of women buying $1000 at a store in Alexandria, Virginia and then driving a few miles to the mall at Pentagon City to return the merchandise she’d just bought. The Alexandria store got credit for the sale. The Pentagon City store was dinged for the return. I was also told that women shop online, spend several hundred dollars, and then return the entire shipment at the local store without even taking the items out of the packages.  Be it buyers remorse; lonely people trying to filled a void through retail therapy; or realizing that online deal really wasn’t what it appeared to be, we should be mindful that returns do cause more than a little angst to some in the retail industry.

Perhaps we should try to be more thoughtful before making a purchase. I’ve had friends that refuse to try anything on in the store because they know they can always return. And I’m not arguing against all returns. I’ve made more than my share of returns from thinking I might love something for $24.99 that I didn’t love at $129.99; or finding that something didn’t fit, or the feel of the fabric or color or cut in person was not as it appeared by be online. But really, there is no excuse for buying items to keep from hurting a sales person’s feelings or buying just for something to do knowing you plan to return it all. Someone who does this needs more help than retail therapy.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: The Beautiful Mystery {A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel} By Louise Penney

Book Review: The Beautiful Mystery {A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel}
By Louise Penney

If you love off beat murder mysteries involving charmingly eccentric characters with exceptional plotting, I heartily recommend the series starring Chief Inspector Gamache, a chief inspector with the Surete’ de Quebec. 

In this 8th installment, Gamache and his officer Jean-Guy Beauvoir are called to a remote island to investigate the murder of the prior within the cloistered walls of the monastery of Saint Gilbert –Entre –les-Loups {Saint Gilbert among the wolves}. Apparently the order of Gilbertines, thought long extinct, have been hiding behind the locked walls in the wilderness for more than 400 years studying and singing the Gregorian chants that the monks believed brought them closer to God. After a recording of the chants was released to the public, the monastery earned money for much needed repairs. But they also lost their near total anonymity.

It became clear that the murder was committed by one of the monks. It was up to Gamache and Beauvoir to investigate whom among the cloistered chanting men of God murdered the world’s foremost expert on Gregorian chants.

I absolutely love this series. Perhaps if you’ve not read one of Louise Penny’s masterfully plotted stories, it would preferable to start with one of the of the Three Pines mysteries that take place in a tiny village peopled with a stunning array of fully fleshed out characters.  The first is titled “Still Life” and it is a fabulous introduction to the series. While each book stands on its own, I’ve a deeper understanding of Gamache and Beauvoir by starting at the beginning. Each new installment offers new insights into the motivation, insecurities, fears, history, moral compass and heart of these fictional friends.

Now, I can’t wait for Gamache #9!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Constantly Purging and Recycling My Closet

Constantly Purging and Recycling My Closet

I love clothes, shoes and accessories. But I am fickle. I could never commit to a tattoo. I can’t commit to a handbag for more than one season. What I may love today I may disdain next week. So, my wardrobe is in a constant state of flux and renovation. But really, is there anything wrong with that?

During my years in Asia I accumulated such an abundance of clothing items that created a closet overflowing with silk dresses, linen pants, Diane Freis dresses and evening clothes that I actually clothed a small Philippine village with my cast offs. It is mildly embarrassing. But, I truly believe that recycling former treasures helps bring positive karma into my life. My excess can bring some good to the world.

I believe that we as individuals tend to reinvent ourselves regularly. The reinvention causes us to reevaluate what we wear. I’ve experienced many fashion selves over the years from student to newbie employee to wannabe professional to professional to expatriate wife to community service maven to charity fundraiser to property landscape rehabber to beachcomber to exurban commuter to professional negotiator to my current incarnation as pseudo casual remote worker who gardens and occasionally attends mediations and professional meetings. M wardrobe has morphed through all of these incarnations.

Today, at least 50% of the time I wear jeans and a tee shirt or turtleneck while working at home and change into yoga clothes at 5:15pm for my workout. A few days per week I commute to the District of Columbia to my business casual office. I tend to push the envelope regarding what constitute “business casual”. With 2% spandex do the colored 5 pocket pants really qualify as “jeans”? I do keep 3 suits in my arsenal for my mediation  /settlement conference days when I need to present an image of authority. Although, I believe, in my heart of hearts, that when I wear fierce undergarments {leopard print denotes power} my outer layer is only icing on the cake.

Essentially, my point is this. It is okay to recreate our personas regularly. I tend to purge my wardrobe 4-5 times per years or whenever the muse strikes. If I buy something new, something less new must go. It is the cycle of life. Whenever I buy something new, something older must be donated. It is a healthy practice that keeps us from being burdened by our possessions. Really – it is just stuff. People, not stuff, fulfill our lives. Ok, people and pets. Maybe people, pets and hobbies. Or people, pets, hobbies and wine. Yes, wine.