Thursday, December 29, 2011

Earthly Neighborhood


      Madelaine was inundated with phone messages. Where was Victoria? This business of theirs was supposed to have been a partnership, not a sole proprietorship. Here she chanted her mantra: Promoting physical fitness establishes daily hope.
     Creating the memory databanks for WorkingOut.com had been mainly Madelaine’s forte, but once everything had stabilized in their day to day business cycle, both she and Victoria were supposed to have been evenly manning the office. Circuit training, aerobics, hip hop dance, strength sculpting, all types of exercise had been converted into 3D animation exercise videos for their business.
     Eighteen actors and actresses with exercise training had been hired and choreographed to do the stomach crunches, the pull ups, push-ups, calisthenics, weight lifting and dancing to make all the moves look effortless. They had all been hooked up to sensors as they went through all the motions of choreography and had been electronically attached to the advanced computer equipment to capture their movements.
     Where was that bagel tray with all the fruit juices and protein supplements? they had all clamored in unison in an effort to get through one of the days during the 3-week filming. Again the mantra: Promoting physical fitness establishes daily hope.
     The different characters had been rendered, using computer animation. It came out as a virtual dance studio with a cast of participants with catchy-sounding first names who were there to motivate, stretch and uplift the clients of WorkingOut.com.
     How come the computer driver interface to this dance video is no longer working? The software interface from the WorkingOut.com website was meant to act as a driver interface complete with password permissions so that each client user could download the workout videos. Once they were on the client’s hard drive, they could burn them on DVDs and watch them on their DVD player at their leisure. Of course, once the most recent popular computer operating system came out, the driver interface became antiquated. Needing the updates, that newest driver at this time, was not yet available on their website.
     When were the lawyers going to get back to them? She recited her recurring mantra here: Promoting physical fitness establishes daily hope.
     That had been the question on Madelaine’s mind the following day.
An elderly man had injured himself doing one of the strength sculpting videos and was threatening to sue their company, if he couldn’t come up with some kind of agreement with them.
     When one signs up with the website, there is that obligatory disclaimer stating that one should get the okay from their doctor before performing any of the exercises. Bernie, the elderly man had produced the written note from his doctor stating that he had indeed been fit enough to go through the rigors of the trendy routines. However, while doing one of the squatting moves, he pulled a hamstring and because of his advanced age, was now having a hard time recovering.
     Both Madelaine and Victoria had told the lawyers they were going to go so far as to pay for physical therapy for Bernie, in order to avoid litigation. Physical fitness was, after all their business, and getting Bernie set up with a therapist was definitely within their realm of influence.
     Why were the reviewers so harsh? In Victoria’s absence and while procrastinating for getting to her other business tasks, Madelaine read some of the reviews since the launch of their new website: Another Internet Exercise Fad, read one review; Not Such an Original Idea, read another one and the one that really hurt the most was; Do They Really Think They Can Compete? However, as startups go they were in the same league as the most current of websites. The only truly rosy review was one written by a website reviewer who had been a relative of Victoria’s.
     Promoting physical fitness establishes daily hope, she wrote spontaneously on a handy piece of paper.
     Let’s have amateurs rate the DVDs, was Victoria’s thinking. She had taken copies of the exercise DVDs to the local men’s and women’s sporting clubs and had different groups try them out. They were of different age groups and she encouraged everyone who liked the products to go ahead and rate them on the WorkingOut.com website, emphasizing that they were free to leave comments.
     Let’s advertise on free social networks. Tell a friend and spread the word, that had been their message when they spammed the networking websites with ads promising a better leaner physique from trying out their exercise animation products.
     In the meantime, a retired scientist who no longer believed in the powers of exercise, was secretly cursing the spam he was getting in his inbox from none other than WorkingOut.com. Where had they gotten his email address? Warren was working on a project that entailed writing articles about the planets of our solar system. He really believed in directing his mind to discovery and exploration of other worlds, and he paid very little attention to anything to do with diet or exercise. He was consumed with scientific facts.
     One of those facts was the circumference of each of the planets. Another fact was the number of moons orbiting each one. In fact, the laser light show at the planetarium was one of his evening highlights once a week.
     Then a scare for him . . .
     Warren’s cholesterol and blood pressure readings had suddenly gone through the roof. Urgently he had to think about the here and now – about his health as opposed to distant planets and future explorations.
     He remembered the website WorkingOut.com from the spam he received earlier on and he had a myriad of questions for them. So, he clicked on the ‘Contact Us’ button at the bottom of the website and typed this away on his computer keyboard . . .
     How much water should I be drinking?
     Will my health insurance cover your fees?
     How do I get started?
     What about nutrition?
     In fact, his email to them was composed entirely of questions. Madelaine that faithful day, which was the third one that Victoria had gone missing, fielded Warren’s questions.
     Victoria had apparently taken a vacation without leaving word because she had been over-wrought with stress. She eventually came back after two weeks.
     At hand, Madelaine wanted to ease Warren into the exercise mindset by telling him about the targeted body parts of each of the videos. From the elevated levels of his health scare, she recommended that he do some of the stretching and yoga moves first, followed by some of the easier dance movements.
     She explained that WorkingOut.com was there to offer a unique home service with the goal of getting everyone fit and healthy. Warren felt so much at ease with the rapport that he had established with Madelaine, that he sampled some of their exercise video animation packages immediately.
     “Supplement the exercise videos, by taking a brisk afternoon walk around the block,” Madelaine suggested in a later email, “ . . . and don’t forget your water and to reward yourself for all this exertion.” Did Warren need his own health mantra at this point? she wondered.
     At first, Warren couldn’t muster enough energy for the extra walks around his block, and he remedied this by hurling a myriad more of questions towards Madelaine.
     How will I know if I’ve improved my physical fitness?
     Can you recommend a dietary supplement for extra energy?
     Is there such a thing as not making enough progress?
     Their rapport by now included pictures of Warren that he sent in as attachments with his emails. In fact Warren became the first official case study for WorkingOut.com. Madelaine in their latter communication, allayed his fears of him seemingly showing no improvements, by saying that based on his pictures, he indeed was looking happier and healthier.
     Four months down the road, his bad cholesterol level had gone down and so had his blood pressure vitals.
     “How can I thank you?” Warren asked.
     “Just keep up with the exercise videos in order to stay healthy,” she replied.
     To Madelaine’s credit—Promoting physical fitness in this case, really did establish daily hope.
     Warren had a revelation . . . . He felt that although the study of planetary exploration was one of the first things on his list, keeping tabs on his health also meant appreciating his own Earthly backyard!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Karen Sylvester


      Karen Sylvester was materialistic. She graduated as a marketing student from the University of Redley last June. She would eventually work for a marketing firm that catered to the average and plus size woman. Her other jobs in the past included taking depositions for a friend’s dad’s law firm, as a photographer’s assistant checking lighting numbers and delivering newspapers from the back seat of a Honda motor-scooter.
As a photographer’s assistant, it was her job to check the light meter in between shots. The lighting director would then adjust the luminosity according to what the photographer preferred it to be. When it was her job to take depositions, she would gather information from the lawyer’s clients and each client’s friendly and neutral witnesses. In delivering newspapers in the early mornings, she rode on the back of that motor-scooter and slung newspapers on each appropriate doorstep.
     She loved to go to the nail salon to get acrylics on her fingernails and a traditional pedicure on her toe nails. She loved brilliant colors atop the acrylics, bright oranges, purple-lavenders and even yellow. Her pedicure color was always a hue either just darker or lighter then her nail color. Her natural hair color was brown, but she had it done in black from time to time as well. She always had her hair cut in long layers, keeping her hair long, shiny and sleek. The dark color contrasted and added a sparkle to her blue eyes. She often put a balm on her hair that melted into an oil in between the palms of her hands. This she put on, from the roots to the ends. Whether her hair was nourished enough, she didn’t know, but as long as it was shiny, she thought that that was important and to her liking.
     Her face makeup foundation, she did in a light beige color to bring out her eyes. She moisturized excessively and reaped the benefits of softer, smoother skin than what she was born with naturally. She usually smeared her face foundation on and blended it with a makeup sponge, then added a sweep of gray-black eye shadow, just to the contours of her eyelids, then dusted her whole face with face powder, swept her cheekbones with a dusty rose color, and applied two generous coats of mascara on her eyelashes.
     Her taste in clothing was club wear, even to work but she tried to dress down her style so that is always fit the conservative atmosphere, like donning a light weight shrug or fitting a blazer over her ensemble. At specific nights, she loved to go club hopping, preferring the retro disco scene to the hip hop or overly grunge scenes. She was there to party and spend most of the night just dancing. She didn’t feel comfortable dancing alone otherwise she would have, so she had a list of single eligible guys to call upon to be her disco dance partners. As you would agree by now, Karen was somewhat materialistic. She always needed funds for her hair balm, club wear, matching high heels, makeup to get that “approaching to natural look,” not to mention the manicures, pedicures and timely hair appointments to keep her hair in silky long layers.
     She was oblivious to everything, but the sights of the city of Harlem in New York tugged at her conscience. Many of the young mothers there were on welfare, struggling to make ends meet. The point was that these women were trying for a better life, and the turning point for many of them, was when they had children. At that point, it was not only themselves of concern, but also the lives of their children.
     Karen decided that she was no longer going to have different jobs. She would keep the marketing job she had currently. Her job at WebPrints, Inc. was to create the web page ads sent via email representing several of the department stores as well as specialty stores.
     What finally landed her the job doing marketing work via web ads through email for WebPrints, was a chance meeting with their department supervisor. Karen was having coffee at a mall café during the noon rush hour, when seating was limited. She had an empty chair at her small table. David Henner from WebPrints, looking exhausted from back to back meetings, asked if he could sit down at her table. She graciously said yes, and eyeing the job application she was filling out for the retail department of one of the stores he represented, David in return for her kindness, inquired what position she was applying for?
     “... for the women’s clothing department, in sales,” she answered.
     David went on to ask her if she had a college degree, hoping to coach her on some of the questions she would encounter on the application. He was pleasantly surprised to hear that she held a Business degree in Marketing from Redley. He immediately gave Karen his business card. None too soon later, his pager went off, with a text message calling him to another meeting. His coffee in hand, became coffee to go. He reminded Karen to please call him in the morning of the next day. His card read Marketing Supervisor of WebPrints, Inc.
     Her days after getting the job with David’s company, was to sort through a virtual bin of background graphics and apply them to the dynamic web ads sent out. She played with Photoshop all day, cutting, pasting, overlaying and creating web print ads for these various department stores and shops.
     Having just broken up with her boyfriend, she tragically felt an overwhelming need to pull herself up from her sorrows, by helping others live the dream, which was to provide an escape, by going out once in a while. So she wrote a business proposal and collaborating with five of her closest friends, secured a loan with First National Bank.
     They opened the Basement Store. Karen literally found a basement in the building of one of the department store’s corporate offices. She took all the extra or overstock clothing from the stores she designed web layouts for and filled the Basement with them, making sure that the room of course was air conditioned and clean. She even consulted with OSHA for the safe handling practices of the merchandise, and also to ask what the temperature and cleanliness level of the basement should be.
     The modeling shoots for the outfits often had numerous photographic shots, that would never make it to the print sheet, so she bought these at a discount, usually straight from the photographers. She made an online catalog and populated it with all the overstock fashion. She used her sense of style to pick out only the clothing that she would wear herself. Her five friends did all the fulfillment orders and regularly organized the rapidly changing merchandise.
     Initially, she had to work to maintain her shiny hair with innumerable products, her flawless “natural-looking” skin through facials and make up and of course, those all encompassing club wear of hers. Sadly, those were the very reasons she lost her one serious boyfriend, because she was going nowhere, except clubbing. If her ex-boyfriend could see her now, he would see how resourceful she’d become.
     She stayed on with WebPrints and with her supervisor David’s permission, programmed in a code on various webAds sent to internet addresses of less affluent residents, giving them the option for huge discounts. The Basement overstock web store catered to residents who were close or were at the poverty level. She sent a survey out to assess the incomes of those below 10K and those were the recipients of the discount codes and the club wear line from the Basement. This was her pet project. And after searching for the right job and overall lifestyle that would give her happiness, giving people down on their luck the inside scoop, gave her a sense of purpose.
     She continued to go to clubs, dancing to retro disco music. The Basement became the disco ball in her life. Outside of the Basement, she was the all-consuming responsible adult. No more job hopping and all boyfriend relationships were handled like a mature adult.
     She had in mind to vary the club wear with Pasadena Rose Queen Judging wear, but after careful deliberation with her colleagues, they decided to keep it simple and just provide an escape for the struggling women out there through club wear.
     Life was short, Karen reasoned, so escape once in a while. Offering overstock club wear to the less affluent was her way of nudging everyone, who may not have experienced the “club scene,” to do so.
     Her life was once a mudslide, now the weather has cleared and her motto is: If you can’t dance regularly to the beat, then it’s best to bring that disco ball’s ambiance into your everyday life!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Daily Diary

     Mandy emerged from the fabric store, bags of colorful material and patterns in her arms. She made a beeline for her car and drove home to the sounds of the soothing music of the contemporary music station on her radio. What was it that mom always said about shopping for fabrics? Make sure you have your sketches with you, so that you can pick out just the right material for what you want to sew! Mom was always so full of great advice. So Mandy had had her hand-drawn illustrations with her and off she went peeking in from aisle to aisle of glorious fabrics. She was like a kid in a candy store.
     Lavenders, pinks, yellows, peach-like colors, all sheer and see-through pieces for layering on top of solid, bolder blues and purples. Those were her initial choices as she loaded up her shopping cart earlier that day. Make sure you have enough thread, was another favorite advice of mom’s. Upon reaching her town home, she immediately went into the kitchen to make herself a hot cup of coffee because she definitely wanted to be awake for the creative dress-making process that she was about to start on.
     She took a glance at the faux light pink stretchy leopard print and updated her plans on the creation of leggings by adding that print to her collection of legging fabric material. You can never go wrong with leggings, was another of mom’s trustworthy advice.
     After a couple of swigs of her creamer-laced coffee, off she went cutting the patterns out. She then used glue and pasted the thin pattern paper onto more sturdy regular brown wrap paper. She was on a roll and didn’t want to stop to answer her suddenly ringing phone and let it go to her answering machine.
     “It’s me Leah,” blurted the machine. “Where is the Daily Diary? I’m next in line to write in it and I’ve already got a few thoughts I’ve been going over to put in it . . . . Will call you back later, bye for now!” with that a clicking of Leah’s phone could be heard hanging up.
     The Daily Diary right, Mandy remembered that she was indeed the one chosen to start off her circle of friends one circulating diary. She held up a pink and yellow paisley print and wrapped it around her shoulders. This will make a nice simple bolero, she thought. She already had the orange bangles to go with the outfits she was going to produce that day. However, she noted that Leah was right about their collective Daily Diary project. So, she reached up on her top shelf and brought down an average-sized ocean blue faux leather bound diary and took a moment to admire the rainbow of colored leaves embossed on it. In raised letters all of her friends had agreed on, and had paid the stationary store to title it ‘Daily Diary.’
     She sat down and wrote,
     Dear diary,
     You are the brain child of twenty collective friends who want to write down their thoughts, as a sort of shared consciousness on paper. This entry will be the first. Who knows, perhaps there will be several volumes of a collective diary collection?
     My day went okay today and I’m happy that I bought enough material for some leggings, simple tops, a bolero and smattering of short skirts. I bought some nail polish for everyone, including mom because they make great party favors. I’m planning a get-together to celebrate mom’s birthday this March. In fact I’m centering this entry around cooking, friends and gatherings . . .
     You sure do remember things like that extra garlic on your shrimp scampi that made you appreciate it more, or that pickle relish in that sandwich spread that mom made special just for you. We all have great memories when it comes to food. Do you remember that time that you celebrated the end of freshman finals with pizza and buffalo wings?
     Or the time you made fresh mashed potatoes with that new masher for Thanksgiving dinner from your roommate? Or the time you baked fresh chocolate chip cookies for that English professor who wanted to publish your paper in the university press? Or that time that you celebrated getting your puppy with a banana split? Or that time that you grilled pork ribs on the Bar-B-Que just to impress that special someone? Or that time that you sliced some oranges, apples, plums, pineapples and even papayas, and then topped the whole thing with red and green grapes, in an effort to lose enough weight to fit into that designer dress?
     Or the time that you whipped up vanilla and banana health shakes to energize you for those all-important rigorous workouts? Or when you cooked that vegan spaghetti in order to lower your body fat level enough to do the splits?
     We have all had those moments, and the food accompanying those memories always stand out. How about that simple pleasure, when you baked blueberry muffins and enjoyed them while reading the morning paper and sipping coffee?
Eating good, wholesome cooking would only result in a happier me.
     How about that time that you enjoyed chocolate pudding while turning page after page of your favorite novel? When we write journal entries, time stands still for those moments we write about. Each moment we choose to write about, goes into slow motion and then, while the rest of the world is still bustling, those moments hold still just long enough for our minds to pick up the nuances that we want to remember about them. We freeze each memory frame, so that we can describe them in detail.
     Those details, like what we were wearing, what was on our minds, and the expressions on the faces of those around us, are woven in and out of our journaling, and that’s how memories are captured.
     The colorful platters, the beautiful centerpieces, the table settings, plus of course how the food tasted and made us feel, make our entries spicy, funny, sweet, scrumptious, delicious.
     When writing in one’s personal diary, making time stand still, gives us clarity in how to describe specific moments. When you add food to the mix, it can make journaling a composition of fun, happy moments—pages that will entertain and make you feel grounded in this rapidly changing world . . .
     —end of diary entry—
     A little while later, during the early part of March . . .
     Leah was carefully wrapping the wide peach ribbon around the gift box. She wished that she would have bought two of that sweater within. Fuzzy sweaters were such a welcome addition to her closet this time of year, but this particular one would be a gift to Mandy’s mom. After all Mandy had gotten her the job with Seasonal Sports as a data entry staff member. With the gift box all ready to go, Leah was anticipating Mandy’s gathering of girlfriends at the lodge. They were celebrating Mandy’s mother’s 70th birthday. She looked forward to sitting by the fire and sipping hot cocoa, with the marshmallow pieces inside. She looked at the clock, she would have to get a move on, if she wanted to get a good parking spot. She gathered her brown locks into a ponytail, carefully securing it with a purple elastic band.
     She phoned Mandy . . .
     “ . . . I’ll be on my way really soon, who all is there already?”
     “Just a few of the girls . . . still missing a few . . .” Mandy said on the other end.
     “I’ll see you then, shortly . . .” Leah said hanging up.
     There had been something strange going on at work, there were discrepancies in some of the data entry figures and she wanted to talk to Mandy about it, particularly away from the office, so the lodge would be the perfect place to make her inquiries.
     At Seasonal Sports where everything in the corporate office was done up so post modern chic, although the data entry positions were at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder, there was a certain satisfaction that came with working there. Positions in the company, were coveted far and wide by the surrounding communities and the occasional out-of-towner who came to make CoastEnd Valley their new home.
     Leah took a few minutes to write an entry in the Daily Diary . . . .
     Dear diary,
     The mall was hectic today! I couldn’t get a parking space big enough for the car, so I ended up occupying part of the space next to mine—but it was a necessity, so I wouldn’t bang any doors (particularly mine!).
     Who said the economic indicators have taken a down turn? There were lots of shoppers! Luckily Mandy’s favorite store had sparse customers—I was able to breeze in and stumble my way out, joining the massive crowds on the walkway, coming away of course, with an attractive sweater for her mother!
      I wanted so desperately to stop by the make-up counter at Sinestro’s and try on that gleaming pink lipstick, but to no avail—I had to get home to get ready for the party.
     Here now, is my formal entry to this Daily Diary. It is a re-accounting of one of my days spent at Saturday fashion school at the Trend Institute . . .
     Good design in products goes a long way into reducing the carbon footprint—that was my message for my fellow fashion design students that day when I was the teacher’s aide.
     As far as I was concerned, precious stones were the only truly remarkable carbon footprints. I have a fascination for the setting, mixing and the matching of jewelry rocks that verge on being described as my base passion in life.
     Many products leave carbon footprints, and it makes it worse when they aren’t the right fit for their intended use. This could only happen when the acute condition of improper design happens. Poor design whether in the high tech world or the beautiful fashion scene, results in products bearing wasted carbon footprints. As the teacher’s aide for that day, my message at the Trend Institute to all my fellow students, was to stay in school and create products with appeal, in order to reduce the carbon footprint of garments with poor design. I admit that it was a little bit of a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ attitude, but it grabbed their attention and earned me an ‘A.’
     I have a flare for fashion design that stems from a strategy using garment creation based on precious stones. Matching garments to jewelry based on the color hue, then the cut, fringe and slants from the stand point of pairing the dress with the model’s jewelry has been the basis of a class they teach at the Trend Institute at CoastEnd Valley for years.
     Treasure Rocks were what the natives had called precious stones when I went on safari in Africa for my eighteenth birthday. The jewelry created from those stones, the only true carbon gifts (in my mind) from nature and the acknowledgement of which, is my way of contributing to the reduction of unnecessary carbon footprints.
     “Ms. Danning, why are bad designs in any occupation so bad?” the instructor had asked me.
     “I feel that you should always strive for excellence in whatever you create. Badly designed products not only cause a lot of market aggravation, but they take up a lot of unrecyclable space. Everything eventually will get recycled because nature is powerful enough to work its magic over time, but we must do our part by producing products based on education and invested know-how,” I then explained.
     “What are you saying . . . that manufacturers aren’t allowed to experiment and output wasted materials?” the instructor had persisted.
     “What I call manufacturing faux pas, are just wayward designs. My attitude towards reducing the carbon footprint is not entirely from a materialistic take. True, there are some really bad products out there, but product avoidance is not the answer. The answer is to stay in school and help to produce the most useful, environmentally conscious things that people can not only use, but that they can truly appreciate,” I then emphasized.
     “What is your theory based on Ms. Danning?” was her last question for me.
     “Precious Stones, as far as I’m concerned, they are nature’s example of what carbon products to produce. I’m just saying that good design in products goes into reducing the carbon footprint,” you could have heard the strain in my voice at the point.
     With that I was dismissed from class that day.
     Good design goes a long way into reducing the carbon footprint. I had quickly glanced at my emerald-encrusted wristwatch and knew that that still held true.
     —end of diary entry—
     With that, Leah closed the Daily Diary and got ready to hand it off to Cassie at the party.
     An hour later, she pulled up to the lodge, with her boots keeping her feet warm and dry during the drizzly weather, she marched up the steps to the lodge and was warmly greeted by some of the girls from work.
     Setting her gift for Mandy’s mom on the cutely decorated gift table, she began to mingle with the growing group. Mandy in a warm sweater dress and fashionable boots descended the lodge staircase, just as Leah took her first sip of cocoa.
     “Hi everyone, thank you all for coming, it’s good to see all of you. I hope you’re all enjoying the good food. Just in the adjoining room are some electronic interactive games, complete with a dance pad and microphones. Please feel free to belt out show tunes, or learn the next dance craze. Overall, let’s have fun . . . the cake-cutting will be in an hour, followed by the gift-opening . . . . love having you all here!”
     Mandy was always the perfect hostess, Leah had never known anyone more gracious than her. She managed to steal Mandy’s attention for a crucial 15 minutes.
      “Mandy how I can I break this to you? There’s some funny numbers and figures being entered into the database—a lot of it on my end . . .” Leah confided.
     “Take a deep breath Leah, tell me what’s bothering you about the figures . . .”
     “I wouldn’t have even thought twice about it but I saw the Master List and compared the figures from there, with what I was given to enter into the system. Some of the numbers are off, by as much as 10 dollars at a time. The monthly annuity checks are made out to investors of Seasonal Sports, and those additional 10 dollars here and there, add up to contribute to money in excess of what’s due to them. I wouldn’t have even noticed it, had I not seen the Master List . . .” Leah was clearly worried.
     She tried not to worry too much about her findings from work and managed in the short time that she was at the lodge, to hand off the Daily Diary to Cassie Shane.
     The party eventually wound down, and a week later in another part of town, Cassie could be seen rummaging through envelopes of letters from her mail.
     Cassie Shane was the fashion editor of TrendyThoughts magazine and received hundreds of letters from young girls on a weekly basis asking her how to get the look?
     Young girls also liked to send her the virtual type of mail by way of email. The overwhelming number of them were questions regarding the topics of how to move in the direction towards positive change. Many had amassed tons of fashion articles from the magazine to pick through to look for words of wisdom on how to get the look. Some of the topics were on low rise jeans, others were on highlighted hair that had already been lightened to some degree. Other articles deemed it a positive endeavor to slather cosmically swirly nail polish on. Of course, one could never go wrong with deep rich colors for eye contour. Articles on everything from detoxifying beverages, which included water, to artificial sweeteners, to just about anything food trendy were must reads in order to learn about hydration and nutrition. In all the articles, the message was that nothing was as visually captivating as images of change . . . of transformations . . .
     That day, Cassie’s schedule was going to be a nebulous one because she didn’t yet have a handle on the numerous tasks ahead of her, when an email reached her from a certain Zoe Monroe.
     Earlier, she had gone to the local market and picked up the local paper and said “hi” to Sandy behind the cash register and proceeded to go down the chocolate aisle to pick up her weekly stash of yummy chocolate bars. She checked out the paper while she was in line waiting to pay for the chocolate when she read about the upcoming community business owners meeting in the local news section. She should be present at that meeting, she thought. After all she did a sort of annual yearbook for that area’s residents.
     Her one stop most mornings was this local market to get the paper and to get her chocolate fix. Other venues for early morning stops were usually dotted by the many brewing coffee pots in town. It also depended on what supplies she needed to get in the early mornings. A bath for Happy, her pet Dobie would always most likely have resulted in a trip to the Vet Center because they had pet grooming accommodations there.
     Then came Zoe’s email that day and she felt that the communication that had transpired between the two of them was going to be the perfect entry for the Daily Diary.
     So she began to write . . .
     Dear diary,
     This was the recent back-and-forth-email between Zoe and myself regarding the topic, ‘getting the Look.’
Email:
     Dear Cassie, it’s me Zoe Monroe. I am now a senior at Stadium Valley High School. In a year’s time I’m being graded on a major school project as the director of the senior fashion show. Help! What do you look for to get the look? I’ve read a couple of your articles in TrendyThoughts, but everything
seems so nebulous right now, how do I begin to organize my thoughts towards a successful fashion show?
Cassie’s Reply:
     First of all Zoe, start out simple. I would recommend that you go out and buy (of all things), a simple bottle of nail polish—any color whatsoever that you want it to be, preferably something that will uplift your mood and give you some inspiration.
     Let’s say that you just bought purple nail polish and that you’ve painted your fingernails already. Look at the mini-artwork you’ve created on your nails, admire it, then put pen to paper or fingertips to your keyboard to document what comes next . . .
     Slowly begin to buy fashion pieces that match your fingernail polish—it’s that simple! Everything you buy will of course be for the fashion show, so if you start now, you’ll have all your pieces when it comes time. Now to match that purple polish, buy a matching lengthy belt to hang loosely around your hips.
     The next time you buy nail polish again, let’s say you get a bubble gum pink color, buy two or three pastel camp shirts (maybe one with a paisley design) to go with it. Then your next nail color might be a sky blue one. In that case buy a pair of frayed cut-off-at-the-waistline, low-rise cropped jeans in light denim. Are you beginning to see a pattern emerge?
     Your thinking may have started out nebulous, but now we’re giving it structure, something you can dig into. When you come across that pearl white nail polish and you put it on your fingernails, get yourself to a dress store and purchase that beige, trendy career skirt suit to go with it—it’s all about the fashion show after all and in this way you can budget it all out by buying a few pieces at a time.
     Remember, let your painted fingernails do your guiding for you, no one at the store has to know that you’re using them to match outfits and accessories. Why in fact, you can build a database out of your purchases and tie them into the web, by using the nail polish colors as the indexes. As you know, more than one garment, piece of jewelry or accessory will go with a particular nail color, so group those items together and use a color that will match each of them as your index hue. This is where it gets technical, use a computer programming language like PHP to query your database. With a list of nail polish colors as indexes (and you should end up with a range of about 50 of them) bring up all the pieces that go with a particular color you are querying and then the magical part will be to mix and match.
     Believe it or not diary, Zoe Monroe went on to put together the most successful fashion show in that school’s history. I was on hand to document everything for an upcoming fashion article in TrendyThoughts magazine. My idea of using nail polish colors as indexes for purchasing clothing pieces to populate fashion databases has now set the trend for many consequent magazine issues . . .
     —end of diary entry—
     Eventually, when it came time for their next friend Heather Blake to make an entry into the Daily Diary, Heather was at a loss for words, because she felt emotionally distraught over losing the one steady job she had had in the last six years.
     All the friends discussed what Heather’s options were and Leah came up with at plan . . . .
     She went and approached senior management at Seasonal Sports and explained to them there were discrepancies in the figures she had been entering for the various shareholders accounts and suggested that the local paper might be very interested in investigating some of the accounting anomalies.
      “Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves Leah,” Bob had muttered under his breath somewhat uneasily, “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation to all of this.”
      “Well for the sake of the argument, let’s pretend I had been mistaken in what I saw with the figures . . . might you possibly have two openings in your marketing department—one for me and another for my friend Heather?” Leah ventured to ask.
      “Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here . . .” Bob grunted.
      “Well, it won’t take me any time at all to call up the paper. Again, would you know of any openings in Marketing?”
     “Let’s just say that you are driving a hard bargain, but the paper will ask you for some proof . . . .” Bob said, standing his ground.
     “Yes, and the copier in the copy room has been working overtime, just for that purpose, I can assure you . . .”
     “Now, now . . . . maybe we can work something out . . . give the marketing supervisor a call Monday morning Leah. I’m sure there’s room for you and your friend Heather in that department,” Bob paused, “will there be anything else?”
     “No, no, . . . not at all. you have a good rest of the morning Bob!” with that Leah snuck back to her cubicle and composed an email to ask all her friends to meet her at their favorite eatery after work.
     She couldn’t believe her luck!
     In time the Daily Diary overflowed with the written voices of the friends from CoastEnd Valley. It kept them close and followed their lives as they inevitably aged gracefully.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Replenishment"

      A drop in the river, someone thought to treat it like a wising fountain and tossed a nickel in it.  The young boy whose nickel it was, had seen it done at the mall’s ornate water fountain numerous times, but he was nowhere near there now, and he so desperately wanted to make a wish.  Flags to Delight, that’s what he wanted to call his store when he would become of age and be mature enough to manage his own business.  So a nickel here, and a penny there…three dimes over here and a quarter somewhere else to boot, each coin would eventually bring him closer to his wish. 
     This was David Alistair, a young boy with wide open eyes and a big dream to target them on.  That big dream of his, was to open a store of custom-crafted flags in his hometown of Cornertown.  It wasn’t a lofty dream, it was grand.
      David wore buttons, that he made himself using a button-maker kit his mom gave him for his 12th birthday.  The button he was wearing today read, It’s Good To Dream.  Yesterday, he wore one that said, It’s My Birthday In 10 Days!...and so it went, David had a customized button nearly everyday, and an indelible dream that was etched in stone.
      “….Sweetie, here’s your milk, take it into the living room and grab some cookies to go with it…” Charlotte Alistair was such a doting mother.
      “Mom……when’s grandma’s birthday again?” David asked.
      “Not till next month….why do you ask?”
      “I’ve made six buttons for her….one for each decade she’s lived…”David’s wide eyes gleamed with pride.
       “….I’m sure she’ll appreciate the buttons sweetie….now don’t forget your chores after your milk and cookies….and David, where did this new book on the kitchen table come from?” Charlotte asked with great curiosity.
      “Yes mom, it’s a book about the stock market…”
      Fifteen years later, after having read more than his fair share of books on the stock market, David Alistair became a somewhat cynical grown-up…..
     David, having left behind his dream of one day owning a flag shop, had become a stock broker on Walls Street.  He was at his second home in Altertown, when he dropped the newspaper onto the coffee table in dismay.  The stock option to buy into a fledgling manufacturing corporation was no longer available.  The company Urbanite Tools manufactured industry standard hardware tools. 
     David still believed that even with the computer age upon us, the nuts and bolts of society still needed tools to maintain it.  Even the plants that used robotics to increase employee output still relied on hardware tools for repair.  This current news did not start the morning in a good way for David, but he had to push himself out the door.  His appointment with Dr. Chapman was just an hour away, giving him the time to stop by the local coffee drive-thru.
     Meanwhile on the other side of town, Christopher was almost late for work, he actually worked for Urbanite Tools.  He was the dispatcher for the Urbanite trucks that delivered the tools to various venues.  He helped to make sure each of the twenty-five local trucks were equipped with the hardware merchandise and that the drivers had their destination addresses on hand.  He too, had an appointment with Dr. Chapman, but his was during his lunch break.
      Inside the offices of Urbanite Tools, Danielle was smelling the aroma of the brewing coffee and was wondering to herself, exactly what time the Board of Directors was going to have their meeting that day?  As one of the founders of Urbanite Tools, she had a great chance of being voted Chief Executive Officer by the board members. 
     She too had answered an ad put out by Dr. Chapman seeking out volunteers for a mental wellness test.  In exchange for coming into the test, each participant would receive movie passes for two, good all throughout the year!
      There were twenty phone calls to Dr. Chapman’s office the day that the offer was announced over the radio, but he narrowed the candidate count to five and now three of them had appointments with him at different times this sunny Tuesday.  The other two, had appointments for the next day.
     Then outside Marion’s house, the sprinklers had come on and another routine day lay ahead for the Sanders family…
     Marion was a housewife with four active bank accounts.  They were checking accounts that she paid certain bills out of.  The first account was with Bustling Bank and it covered these expenses; groceries, dry cleaning, ballet lessons, exercise classes and coffee splurging expenses. 
      The second account was with Stellar Bank and it covered these expenses; soccer expenses, karate classes, diet supplements, hair appointments and exercise DVDs. 
     The third account was at Starling Bank and it covered; the mortgage, house insurance, vehicle insurance, landscaping, the purchasing of new vehicles and the exterminator. 
     Finally the fourth account was with Beeline Bank and it covered; clothing, vacations, donations, computer equipments, electronic gadgetry, CDs and household cleaners.
     This was not a comprehensive list of all of Marion’s expenses, but if she was going to run a household and treat it like a business, then her husband Gary wanted her to learn how to budget.  Gary took care of all of the other miscellaneous expenses.
     What was different in Marion’s life now, was that she wanted to write a book on (of all things) financial budgeting because she had become quite an expert at it. 
     She used a popular spreadsheet called EXPAND and tallied everything.  She wrote checks from the four bank accounts for each of the corresponding expenses they covered.  It was brilliant how Marion’s life had become so organized.
      She had shoe boxes to keep her receipts separate and when her husband had set up a computer scanner for her to use, she scanned in images of all of those receipts and so then, she had electronic images of them also.
     She began a newsletter about the changing micro-economy that she managed.  She wrote that the soccer uniforms for her son that year were in short supply, so she had to anticipate his getting taller and buy next year’s larger size too.  She wrote that the exercise DVDs had become more intricate in their physical fitness difficulty level, so she didn’t have to buy as many.
     She wrote about the pumpkin pie mix at the grocery store and how there had been a run on them just the other day and the best Internet places to acquire pumpkin mix coupons.
     She formatted all the articles neatly in their little bordered boxes, complete with clip art.  These newsletter blogs became the material for her would-be self-published book on budgeting that she wanted to appropriately title “A Budget From Marion.” 
     Marion felt that this was the way that she was going to give herself a salary.  The proceeds from the book sales would become her own personal fund source.  This was going to be her project, her own personal creation to pay herself.
     The problem manifested itself by way of the self-publishing fees.  She needed $250 to initially pay for the fees, plus periodic marketing fees which she figured she would save up for from the initial book sales.
     She was well on her way, because she pushed aside money from the dry cleaning from the Bustling Bank account and the charitable donations expenses from the Beeline Bank account.  However, Marion ran into problems because no matter how she divided the financial pie, there was only so much to go around.  She wanted all of this done without her husband noticing any of it.  After all, this was her project.
     To take her mind off of her financial worries, she answered Dr. Chapman’s ad as well, because she wanted to surprise Gary with the free movie tickets that were good for an entire year, for their wedding anniversary.
     At the medical office….
     Dr. Chapman pulled down three books located in different places from the upper shelves, in a one-at-a-time-sequence.  The whole front side of the shelf shifted to the right to reveal a hidden control room.  His office was or course locked from the inside out, from any unwanted visitors…
     There was a visual of a tall tree with a mini-satellite dish perched on top of it….waves of transmissions splitting the air as the communiqué between his home planet, where that tree was planted and his office on Earth began….
      “Do you have the psychological questions,” his commander asked from across the galaxy.
      “Yes, we’ll find a candidate soon.  I’ve narrowed the field down to four possible ones,” Dr. Chapman answered.
      “Can you give me some background information on these four?” Commander Laser asked.
      “Yes, David is a stock broker, Christopher is a dispatcher for Urbanite Tools and Danielle is on the Urbanite Tools’ Board of Directors.  Plus of course there’s Marion, a very busy housewife.
       Dr. Chapman and his people have a wayward gene cell, it prevents them from moving forward in life.  His race of beings are called the Cyberians and they desperately need down-to-earth human cells that have the potential of superseding the wayward cell found in each of them.
      10 days later, out of all the survey applicants, Dr. Chapman knew that they had found their subject specimen – it would be Marion.  Her answers shone brightly out of all the applicants….
     Here were her answers…
      Is half of anything ever enough?
     I would be happy with even one fourth of anything.  Life is bountiful and even half of anything is plenty enough.
     What was the most profound sentence that you ever heard?
     “It’s a boy!” when my son was born, because there is a link between us, one that I share with my daughter too.  Children are such miracles of life. 
     Is marketability the key to wide-spread influence of a product?
      I will soon have a self-published book that will be my very own product and yes I definitely think that letting people know about your product is the way to sell it.
     Do you prefer to feel the rays of the sun on you or are you more apt to sit in the shade?
     Oh, I love being both out in the sun, as well as being in the shade.  Each has its advantages.  It depends if I’m wearing sun block or not.
     When you’re driving your car, do you prefer to have talk radio on or regular music?
     I love regular music, but if the topic on talk radio is also interesting, I will listen to that too.
      If you could play any sport for a living, what would it be, would you make up one that suited you?
     The key I’ve found to sports and exercise is repetition.  If you do five push-ups, followed by five jumping jacks, you will have done an exercise set.  It’s just repeating a movement for a few different repetitions.  In my mind, exercise is just repetition and sports performance is just the result of exercise preparation.
     What are the top five names that you would give to an iguana?
      Larry, after my butcher; Tiffany, after my hairdresser; Gary,after my husband; Dustin, after my son and; Kate, after my daughter.
      If you wanted to amplify the theater sound for an orchestra, what expert would you turn to?
      Dustin has a good friend whose a D.J. and knows a lot about acoustics.  His name is Leonard and he would know how to amplify the sound in a theater.
      Days later….
      “Marion, you’re a healthy specimen for my research.  It has to do with er…er.. cancer.  Yes, that’s it.  I would like you to donate blood samples so that I can observe your healthy cells.  How does that sound to you?” Dr. Chapman asked.
      “Well, yes, but I might have to charge a fee, you see I’m saving up for self-publishing fees…” Marion said.
     “Yes, we can accommodate that, plus marketing fees too – if you need them,” he continued.
     Dr. Chapman recognized that Marion had made something of her life and although her answers seemed ordinary, they were very normal compared to the other applicants’ answers, some of which were way over the top.
      Therefore, Marion solved her problem of how to pay for her self-publishing fees and Dr. Chapman and the Cyberians received an influx of Marion cells to combat that one wayward cell that each of them had.
      For Marion, it was a replenishment of money and for the Cyberians, it was a replenishment of good cells.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A New Short Story - "Karate Mom"


     What is the best metaphor for the karate punch?  In other words, what is the best way to execute one?  As the proud mom of kids in a bustling karate class, Chloe often wondered how her kids could pick up on the techniques so quickly, and seemingly, so easily as well.  All this went on, while she sat dumbfounded in the parents section, nodding and smiling and trying to be as congenial as she could possibly be.
     She generally pretended not to be lost in the class…
     The kids learned a few different moves every week, twice a week and they are tested at two to three month intervals for the acceleration of each belt.  Chloe is one of those parents who was constantly reading the flyers put up on the bulletin boards or any documentation for their next belt testing – just basically anything worded towards their karate goals, so that she might glean something from the whole process. 
      What the real treat is when some of the teacher’s female assistants teach his classes.  They are way younger than Chloe and she knows that if they can master their way through the art of karate, then maybe she can too (albeit as a bystander mom).
     She was reminded of stuffed animals….
     Drop a cotton ball into a teddy bear (instead of batting) and punch it down…for proper stuffing.  In other words compress and as it puffs up again, compress it some more.  Do this, she thought with a solid, yet appropriate…PUNCH!  That was the technique that Chloe came up with -  to drop in a piece of stuffing, then punch it down– with a compressing motion.  In other words; drop in a stuffing object, then punch to compress and stuff again.  Same went with that karate kick….she told herself. 
Stuff-compress…
     The karate teacher adored all his students and wanted them to excel.  She went over it, over and over in her mind, and it was a valid punching style, that crossed over most of the karate moves…
      When Chloe discussed her stuff-compress technique with the instructor, he likened it to the drop-kick technique, where you drop a boxing glove from up on high above, then you punch it when it comes to within striking view.
     Now believe it or not, Chloe used to be more athletic, and back in college….
     She herself took karate lessons, and it had been one of the most awesome times of her life.
     She’s now constantly trying to watch her weight and she’s been told that even too much of any healthy food could cause weight gain and that exercise was always the key. 
     Chloe’s other college sport was bodybuilding….
     She took Bodybuilding 101 was her other physical education elective.  Lifting weights gave her strength.  That class had its share of written tests, as well as a check of how well you could keep a log of the number of sets and repetitions of the different exercises you did.
     Chloe then graduated onto a bodybuilding show….
     Then came the moment, when Chloe was approached by her instructor to participate in the college Bodybuilding Championships.  It was going to be her first amateur bodybuilding show ever and she was so excited! 
     Let’s just say that she weighed in at 117 pounds for that night of the competition.  That was the most important part for her, that she had made weight.  At that time, that made her feel comfortable. 
     Catching back up to the present Chloe is not just a karate mom anymore…    
     In all that transpired between Chloe’s college days and her present life, she became an online greeting card artist.
      Her designs are fun, whimsical, unique and different.  Everywhere she went, she was reminded that there was a woman within that wanted to be sculpted out of the few pounds of padding she had added to her weight since college.
     The museums she frequented to get ideas for her greeting cards as well as the numerous books she had read all inspired her to reach within herself to become the best that she could be, to emerge from that transitional sedentary attitude that she had come to adopt.
     Coming away from sitting at the computer from what seemed like the entire day one afternoon she made herself a cup of tea and reflected on where her life had led her.  With a smile, she started a journal and titled it “Woman Within.”
     She began keeping a record of what she was doing to feel centered again.  Within the journal, she pasted-in the front covers of some of her greeting cards and she wrote captions for each of them.  There was a story behind each greeting card and from memory, she wrote about what inspired her to do each particular design.     
     The words didn’t come easily at first, but in time the pages became balanced between text and greeting card graphics.  She became so interested in what she wrote that she signed up for a creative writing course at the local community college.
  With a backpack in hand, she sat down in the back of the class and absorbed her instructor’s lectures without raising her hand too much.  Worlds of wonder began to open up for her as she read page after page of the accompanying textbook, which was filled with samples of the popular short stories.
     As part of the class assignments, she began to compose her own short stories and became aware that she had a knack for writing effective ones.  She soon advanced to the intermediate creative writing class after that one and began to choose her topics selectively.  Chloe did not write about the negative, she wrote about the positive things in life and she was always happy with the way each short story shaped up to be.
     She began to enter short story contests and began to set up writing deadlines for herself.  She weaved in her artwork for the online greeting card site during her writing while still remaining karate mom for her kids.  The writing gave her just the right amount of extra activity in order for her to back way from being so sedentary.
     Chloe began to re-assess herself on a regular basis.  Much like how she arranges her sock drawer as a beginning to taking inventory of her household, she will sit down and use her effective words to describe where she is in her everyday goals.
     Mechanical and electronic parts periodically need systems checks, so why not give myself a routine systems check too? She began to query herself one sparkling day. 
     She joined online writing communities where she received feedback on her first few short stories.  Chloe also joined an ‘online-weight-loss-through-diet-and-exercise’ group.  At that point in her life, she finally felt centered again.
     What is my assessment of myself today? She would ask herself on any given day and the resulting ‘self-assessment-report’ was always dramatic.  Mainly her goal shifted from once-upon-a-time trying to always ‘make weight,’ to now crafting the best individual short stories that she possibly could write.
     Then something dramatic really happened, she strung together 23 of her short stories one day, and found that she had virtually written a novel!  With a lot of tweaking, a good edit from a fellow writer and numerous cups of coffee later, she was ready to self-publish.
     The self-publishing company she signed with, immediately made e-books of both her short stories and her completed novel.  Chloe couldn’t have been happier!  She now had printed copies of her work both in print and in e-book format at her disposal.
     Inside her Woman Within journal, she still added graphics form the greeting cards she had designed and they seemed to steer her writing and therefore, also her self-assessments because they were like junctions of where her life was heading.  Each one continues to tell a story and each one is likely to be a snapshot of what she will write about next.
     One of her favorite advices from her creating writing teacher was to always ‘mix-it-up,’ to not stagnate and to always focus on the goal of being an effective writer.
     Some days Chloe still behaves as if she was still preparing for her first bodybuilding competition all those years ago.  She still hydrates herself with lots of water and she still tries to inspire herself to go ahead and exercise.  When the exercise doesn’t happen, she will do an ‘on-the-spot’ systems check.  She will ask herself questions like Did I not buy enough yogurt?  Was I not honest enough with my trainer about my weight?
     As far as exercise goes, she could never really pin-point a definitive analysis of her self-assessments regarding that, but with her creative writing, she was always right on top of things.
     Chloe is now always distracted with trying to figure out what her next short story will be about.  Her outlook holds a lot of clarity these days because she will stumble upon story ideas that are so cute and funny sometimes, that she just can’t wait to start writing about them.
     She is karate mom, an Internet greeting card artist, a short story writer and now has become….a novelist!