Category Archives: humor

My Christmas Wish List

With Christmas just around the corner, my husband and my kids are wringing their hands wondering what to get mom.  I’ve put together a list to help them along:

  1.  World Peace.  Miss America asks for it every year.  Why can’t I?  In fact, let the record show that I have always been in favor of world peace.   This year, I am urging my family to “Think Globally, Act Locally” and stop bickering, in particular my two youngest.  Little steps can make a difference, especially when it comes to preserving your mother’s peace of mind.
  2. Healthy, Safe and Kind Children.  This really is my number one gift request, but I am trying to present myself as altruistic, ergo the world peace appeal.  Like all mothers, I worry constantly about my children.  This year, we experienced some minor injuries, a broken wrist for Meg (basketball) and a separated shoulder for Kerry (football).  Both kids watched their playoffs and championships from the sidelines and handled their disappointments much better than their parents did.  We must be doing something right to raise such nice children.  At the end of the day, I just want them home in bed in one piece.
  3. Jobs for my Children when they graduate.  I guess I want a little more than their health and safety.  College graduation is at least four years away for Kerry, eight years for Meg.  Given the state of the economy, we might as well put in our request now.
  4. A Full-Time Cook.  OK, now I’m showing my true lazy self.  I once worked for a woman who had household staff including one guy who did all her grocery shopping and presented her with home-cooked meals every evening.  This is my fantasy.
  5. More Sunshine.  I live in the foggiest place on earth.  I am totally against global warming, except in my neighborhood.
  6. Gentle Menopause.  The lead-up to this next life passage has left me sleepless and confused.  Enough already.
  7. A New Mini-Backpack.  Years ago, I bought a powder blue, quilted mini-backpack from Target that I have used to death.  I take it to all sporting events, on bike rides, the occasional bus excursion, and anywhere I don’t want to carry a purse, but need to have a few necessities with me.  It now looks stained and gross, but I can’t bear to part with it because I have never found another backpack like it.
  8. A Warm Bed and a Roof Overhead.  I have this, but I never take it for granted.  So many people live on the street in San Francisco.  Here’s an incredibly shameful 2011 statistic:  nearly 2,220 public school students in San Francisco are homeless, enough to fill five or six elementary schools or an entire high school.
  9. More Material for my Blog.  I started posting in July and have truly enjoyed myself.  Sometimes I run out of things to write about, but more often, I just can’t bring myself to post what’s truly on my mind for fear of alienating my family and friends.  Ironically, my daughter thinks I have no filter, but I think she has no appreciation for my quiet tact.

Thank you to everyone for reading my blog and sticking with me.  I plan to keep blogging in 2012.  I hope Santa is good to you and your family this Christmas.  I wish you peace and health and safety and kindness in the coming year.  Love to all.


A Crowley Christmas

The Christmas season has caught me by surprise this year.  It always does.  I figure I should start hauling out the decorations after I notice that my Jewish neighbors across the street have put up their tree.

The Crowley Children circa 2006

The Crowley Children circa 2006

While most people relish the Christmas holidays, I find them a bit overwhelming.  First, I feel immense pressure to decorate.  I’m a minimalist by nature so the idea of stuffing my living room with a bunch of Noel–themed tchotchkes is anathema to me.  When my kids were young, I had no choice.  But now that they’re older and their tastes have become more refined (ahem, like mine), I can afford to be selective with my Christmas decorating.

I put out a modest, little wooden crèche on my mantel, which my mother purchased for me so I would never forget the true meaning of Christmas and that I was baptized a Roman Catholic.  And then I rely on my daughter, Meg, to do the rest.

Meg is almost 14 and still has one foot in childhood.  She loves the magic of Christmas even though her mother is a Scrooge.  Every year, Meg breaks out the Christmas music and decorates the tree.  My husband helps with the lights while my son, Kerry, and I find other important things to do.  Meg finds places for my carefully curated Christmas collection and transforms our home into a veritable Santa’s workshop that has been stripped down to wooden benches with some red and green accents.

I buy all family and friend presents, and generally speaking, I do not like to shop.   I manage this by shopping a little on the Internet and visiting the Mall in two-hour chunks during off-peak hours and taking regular breaks.  I spend a fair amount of time planning my purchases in advance so I usually know what I’m going to buy before I enter a store.  This makes for a more efficient shopping experience.

I’ll also go downtown for a morning of shopping, but never all day.  I find it too tiring and am unable to carry everything.   Even though I’m not a big shopper, I do like to give thoughtful gifts.  I realize this stands in the face of everything I’ve just told you, but the recipients of my gifts always seem to like my presents, at least that’s what they say.

I try to get all of my shopping done before the kids break for Christmas and then plan some outings with the family to enjoy the season.  One of my favorite outings took place five years ago where I forced my husband and children to do a walking tour of Chinatown through San Francisco City Guides, which is an incredible free resource, by the way.   I even managed to drag my two older stepchildren along for the ride.

We traveled to the oldest Chinatown in North America on a crisp, sunny winter day and followed an extremely knowledgeable guide around the back alleys visiting Chinese herbal shops, temples and historical sites.  Our kids rolled their eyes throughout the tour and mocked me for my choice of activity until we came to the fortune cookie factory.

This intrigued my family, especially when they learned you could buy X-rated fortune cookies, which featured suggestive messages.  The fortune cookie factory owner implored us in her heavy Chinese accent to buy her “Sexy Fortune Cookies.”  In the spirit of the season, my husband bought several packages.  Thus, my tour had been redeemed and forever inscribed in our children’s “Fond Memories of Christmas…Growing up Crowley” book (destined to become a bestseller).

Afterwards, we walked down to the waterfront full of laughter and fun and took our Christmas card picture.  We made our way to South Beach, home of AT&T Park and my friend Janet’s famous ballpark restaurant, MoMo’s, where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch.

As we were eating, my son spied Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback , four-time Super Bowl champ and hero to all San Franciscans, Joe Montana, casually eating lunch across the dining room with his wife Jennifer.   We played it cool even though we were anything but, and did not bother them.   We kept stealing glances in the Montanas’ direction and reporting to each other on every move that Joe made.

We finished our meal and left before the Montanas, proving that we weren’t so star struck that we needed to linger.   Besides, we had to get home and begin making enchiladas for our traditional Mexican Christmas Eve feast.

Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun and Feliz Navidad!

Some of my favorite Christmas music is featured on the Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait album.   I think Karen Carpenter had a voice like silk and left us way too early.  Enjoy her haunting version of “Little Altar Boy.”

You Deserve a Break Today

I read recently that McDonald’s is reintroducing its McRib sandwich for a limited time.  Memories immediately flooded me, not necessarily of the boneless pork sandwich drenched in barbecue sauce, but of the six years I spent right out of college toiling for Bay Area McDonald’s franchisees publicizing their products and corporate good works.

I had graduated from UC Berkeley in June of 1981 full of hope and no job prospects.  Armed with my superior education, (a Bachelor of Arts degree in history), I felt certain that the business world would vie for my services.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The United States was consumed by a severe recession that had begun just a month after I graduated and continued unabated until the end of 1982.  I didn’t understand the meaning of a recession, only that I couldn’t get a job.

At Christmas, my sister Cathy visited me and my parents (with whom I had resumed living) from the Midwest where she resided.  We went for a run during which I practically hyperventilated about my sorry lot in life.  She asked me what I wanted to do and I replied “public relations,” because it had sounded glamorous and appealing when I was researching my career options.

Cathy advised me to hand-carry my resume to PR firms around town and offer to do entry level work.  I swallowed my pride and within a week I had a job.  Within a month I had moved out of my parents’ house.

I worked as a secretary for a public relations agency known as Lowry & Partners.  The firm had several high-profile accounts including the Bay Area McDonald’s franchisees.  Within three months, one of the account executives had moved on and her job became mine.  I had finally made it.

I remember my first assignment.  I booked Ronald McDonald, the corporate clown mascot, at a birthday party where he had been requested, and finalized all the details in writing, crossing my “t’s” and dotting my “i’s.”

Ronald McDonald

Ronald McDonald

Then I received a wake-up call from the clown, which shattered me.   As I recall, Ronald McDonald scolded me for my failure to book him in a high profile appearance, thereby rendering him “cheap.”   I had mistakenly arranged for Ronald to appear at birthday party off site from a McDonald’s restaurant, which was against all rules.  Birthday parties, unless they celebrated famous people, had to take place at McDonald’s.

First, I felt stunned that Ronald McDonald could act so mean.  Then I cried as I realized the error of my ways and the futility of my life.  After I hung up the phone, the jaded and more experienced PR pros with whom I worked howled with laughter.  Watching me get chewed out by a clown and take it seriously pretty much made their day.  My bosses’ response served to ease my pain, but I scrupulously paid attention to the McDonald’s account rules (and there were thousands of them) from that point forward.

Within a year, one of the partners at Lowry & Partners left to start her own public relations agency and tried to take me and the McDonald’s account (not necessarily in that order) with her.

I was only 22-years-old, but I had come to know the McDonald’s account inside out.  It had its own special culture filled with acronyms and idiosyncrasies.  I had demonstrated a fondness for minutiae and an ability to get along with a wide variety of people and personalities, which made me the ideal candidate for the job at hand.  Ronald and I had also resolved our initial misunderstanding and I had earned his respect with my dedication and sensitivity to his myriad needs.

I remained with the partners who hired me and helped them retain McDonald’s.  I worked there for six more years and have a lifetime of stories and experiences that still make me laugh.  I never quite developed “ketchup in my veins,” which was the expression the McDonald’s corporate honchos used to assess one’s loyalty to the Golden Arches.

I faked it for an awfully long time though and feel grateful for everything I learned at the oversized feet of the clown.

Sleeping in San Francisco

I love a routine.  Take me out of it and my whole world turns upside down.  I eat more, sleep less and growl a lot.  Last week, my routine went south.  I had a series of events I either hosted or attended and since I’m almost 52, I tire easily.

I anticipated the impact my “busy-ness” would have on me and I tried to build in down time.  But inevitably, the adrenalin I generated from one event would prevent me from resting up for the next one.  By the end of the week, I felt ready for the hospital.

Bill Clinton naps

Bill Clinton napping

When I’m feeling insecure, which is just about every day, I view my inability to sustain a brisk pace as a serious character flaw.  I know other women my age and older who run circles around me.  My friend, Alicia, is the managing partner of her law firm, travels almost every week around the country to both glamorous and God-forsaken locations, and has managed to raise three beautiful children.  She also has a full social calendar and a stylish wardrobe, not that I noticed.

My friend, Helga, who is 74 stayed out until 12:30 a.m. on Saturday night.  We attended the same event and I tucked into bed by 10:30 p.m.  I called her the next afternoon and she rightfully crowed about how much she had accomplished that morning, cleaning two bathrooms, changing sheets on multiple beds and baking an apple cake.

I took a nap when I heard this.

If I don’t get enough sleep, look out world.  Just ask my children.  And unfortunately, as I age, sleep is starting to elude me.  I think it’s related to my plummeting hormone levels (TMI!) and I don’t like it one bit.

A good night’s sleep and/or an afternoon nap remain at the top of my list of favorite things to do.  Frankly, I don’t envision any other activities toppling these pursuits.

I view people who need only four hours sleep a night with suspicion.  Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart and Madonna are famous short sleepers.  Bill, of course, is charismatic yet inherently untrustworthy; Martha Stewart went to jail for insider training; and Madonna, well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Sleeping has always been a huge priority in the Crowley house.  My husband does not get enough of it during the week, but does his level best to recapture his lost zzzz’s on the weekends.  I have long admired his ability to turn on the TV and instantly fall asleep.

My teenage children gladly adhere to a 9:30 p.m. bedtime during the week with no prompting from me, although my 17-year-old son finds it increasingly challenging, given the demands of his senior year in high school.  To compensate, he has discovered the joys of napping on the weekends.

I feel a strange sense of pride that my children share my sleeping values.  They are very productive when they are awake and sleep like bears in hibernation when they rest.

Many successful people take pride in not needing much sleep, but they do not impress me.  I’m too busy napping to care.

If you have trouble sleeping, take a moment to listen to Kenny Loggins singing “House at Pooh Corner,” a Crowley family favorite lullaby.  I’m sure it’s everyone else’s too.

You’ve Got Mail…Or Not

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is under siege.   Mail volume fell from 213 billion pieces in 2006 to 177 billion pieces in 2009, a 17 percent decline in just three years.   By 2020, USPS deliveries are projected to plummet to a mere 150 billion pieces.

This still seems like a lot of mail to me.  I think if you have 150 billion pieces of mail, you need to keep the system going.   Yet, there are calls from different corners of the world, usually the right corners, (you can take that one of two ways) to privatize the U.S. Postal Service, lay off hundreds of thousands of workers and compromise or cancel those pesky benefits.

Legendary postal carrier Cliff Clavin

Legendary postal carrier Cliff Clavin

I like getting mail.  When I hear the mail drop in my box in the garage as I work upstairs, I interrupt my day to see what has landed.  The mail often includes stuff I have to shred immediately such as credit card and loan offers.  I own two shredders for this purpose and they get a workout after the mail arrives.  I never throw an intact piece of mail away as the prospect of identity theft haunts me.

In spite of the plethora of junk and bills, the mail typically contains something I want.  My kids and I each subscribe to at least one favorite magazine and there’s usually a thank you note or invitation we enjoy.

I know my mail carrier by name, Richard.  He is as dependable as the fog in my part of town and unfailingly cheerful.  Richard works hard hauling his sack of mail from door to door and puts my mail on hold when we go on vacation.  I reward him with a bottle of wine, but it hardly seems adequate for the valuable service he provides.

Some of the finger pointing over the post office’s financial straits has been directed at e-mail, which has replaced traditional letter writing.  I disagree.  I think the telephone rendered most letter writing obsolete a long time ago.  Now we e-mail or text when we don’t want to pick up the phone.

Personally, I try not to write anything personal in e-mails.  Why?  Because they can be forwarded with a click of a mouse.  Has this ever happened to you?  I know I’ve received a few e-mails that the sender would have preferred I not see.  I especially enjoy the drunken e-mails sent around midnight.  I haven’t seen a lot of them, just enough to inspire a tortured scene of degradation and disgrace in my first novel.

And then there’s the “Reply All” e-mail.  I plead guilty of using “Reply All,” but do so sparingly and reluctantly.  It never ceases to amaze me that people think their replies interest the collective e-universe.   Do all 15 recipients really need to know that SallySue is not available Tuesday or Wednesday because she is booked in high-level meetings, but that she could, if pressed, squeeze us in Friday?

While snail mail lacks the instant gratification that e-mail offers, I think it still has its place in civilized society and deserves our support.   Few services positively impact the taxpayer the way that our postal service does.   I can’t think of too many businesses that provide door to door service for 44 cents.

Since the early 1980s, the U.S. Postal Service has not received direct tax subsidies except for costs associated with accommodating disabled and overseas voters.  In other words, it has paid for itself until now.   There are a variety of complicated reasons for the USPS’ financial woes, but I am reluctant to alienate my handful of readers with my opinions any further.  Suffice to say, our mail carriers were not bundling subprime loans in their mailbags.

The James A. Farley Post Office in New York City bears the famous inscription that has become synonymous with our mail carriers:  “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  Apparently, only Congress has the power to get in their way.

Enjoy the Marvelletes’  “Please Mr. Postman.”   I don’t think my Internet server could inspire lyrics that yearn like this song does.

Obsessive Compulsive iPhone Disorder

Steve JobsBill Gates.  Mark Zuckerberg.  Who among these three men has infiltrated my life the most?   Over the last six months, I might have given the edge to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.

I came to Facebook late and felt apprehensive about joining the party.  I went out and bought “Facebook for Dummies” and read it cover to cover before I made my first friend.  About one hour and 10 friends later, I was hooked.   I love viewing my FB friends’ photos and getting updates on their lives.

I also feel passionate about current events and history and have discovered that I can lock in Facebook feeds from all my favorite news organizations and blogs.  I have never been so thoroughly informed and such a pain in the ass.  I suffer from a compulsive “need to know.”

For example, today my hairdresser told me that Julia Childs attended Branson High School in Ross, CA.  I had read Julia Child’s biography, “My Life in France,” and while it mentioned her Pasadena roots, I didn’t recall her memory of Branson.  Right in the middle of my hair color application, I grabbed my iPhone and googled Child’s life and learned that yes, Julia Childs had boarded at Branson, which I also discovered had been the alma mater of Olympic skier Jonny Moseley.   Phew!

Enjoying my iPhone

This brings me to my iPhone and Steve Jobs.  I feel badly about Steve Jobs.  He just announced that he can no longer fulfill his duties as CEO of Apple due to his protracted battle with cancer and in effect, has turned the tech world and the rest of us who loiter in the Apple store at the Mall, upside down.  Apple stock fell 5.1 percent yesterday after Jobs’ resignation.   My new iPhone 4 looked less shiny today.

Technology has permeated every corner of my life and I blame Steve Jobs for this.  I’ve owned iMacs and iPods and now the iPad, but nothing has consumed me quite like my iPhone.  It has everything:  a phone, of course, and all of my contacts, daily calendar, messaging, music, podcasts, games that my daughter plays, directions, camera, calorie counter, Facebook, videos, the Internet.  About the only thing you can’t do with an iPhone is have sex, but no doubt someone will prove me wrong on that account too.

Steve Jobs is both genius and devil, an extraordinary inventor who dreams of things we never knew we needed so badly.  But Jobs’ visions come with a downside.  While it appears to facilitate social interaction, the iPhone often does just the opposite.

Many pundits have expounded on this topic, but I don’t need to read their columns to know this.  My children told me the other night during the Giants’ baseball game when the team was losing and I started playing with my iPhone.  My daughter, whose texting bill would horrify the most patient parent, admonished ME for checking out from one of the Giants’ many false starts.  Is there an iGiant application to get the team hitting again?  With Steve Jobs gone, we’ll never know.

Cold War Warrior

My father came of age during World War II and raised his family during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and 50s.  Usually, our family conversation focused on the fortunes of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers, but depending on the events of the day, anti-Communist dogma occasionally crept into the dinnertime dialogue.

In 1970, my parents planned a trip to Europe.  My mother had become enamored of traveling while her interest in child-rearing waned.  As the last of six children, I ironically benefitted from this mid-life change as she reconciled her interests and obligations by bringing me on her and my father’s European vacation.

Nancy Hayden passport

Nancy Hayden passport

My mother planned the itinerary, which included stopovers in Dublin, London, Berlin (west and east), Rome and Paris.  As soon as my mother announced our plans, my father became hysterical.  He talked endlessly about the dangers of visiting Berlin and repeatedly questioned my mother, “Are you sure, Pat?”   She was sure.

My mother had arranged for us to journey to the other side of the Berlin Wall and seemed thrilled to be doing so.  Fifty years ago this month, Communist authorities erected the Berlin Wall to prevent freedom-seeking Eastern Europeans from crossing into the capitalist zone of West Berlin.  Prior to the wall’s construction, more than 2.5 million “easterners” had left their homeland for greener pastures, also known as money.  The Communists built the Berlin Wall to halt the national brain drain.  Apparently, no one could leave anymore, but we could still visit.

The first part of our European odyssey went off without a hitch.  We toured Dublin, southern Ireland and London.   The dollar had risen to unprecedented levels and my parents lived it up.  Then the appointed day arrived when we were to leave London and fly from Heathrow to Berlin’s historic Tempelhof aiport, site of the 1948 Berlin airlift.  Western allies famously flew food and supplies into Tempelhof over an 11-month period to save West Berliners from starving while the Soviets attempted to cut off all supply routes and ultimately failed.

As we waited to board the plane in London, my father asked my mother again if she felt certain she wanted to travel to Berlin.  She remained resolute as he resigned himself to joining her.

Our plane featured one aisle with two seats on either side.  I sat with my mother while my father became acquainted with a young German woman.  To calm his nerves, I believe my father had a few cocktails, which had the desired effect.  His seatmate also gave him a short history lesson on the Cold War’s memorable moments recalling when President Kennedy had visited Berlin in June of 1963 and proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) as a show of solidarity with the Berlin residents who were trapped behind the wall.

“Ich bin ein Berliner” became my father’s mantra for the rest of our journey.

We spent our first day in West Berlin viewing the sites and eating dinner in the heart of the city at Zlata Praha, where no one spoke English and the food offered little appeal to a 10-year-old and her suspicious father.  My mother loved it.

The next day, we rose early for our bus trip into East Berlin.  We joined other curious Americans and talked excitedly about our impending adventure with them.  We entered Checkpoint Charlie, the well-known intersection for western/eastern crossings and were organized into different groups to have our passports reviewed.  As I wrote in my trip diary, my parents were placed in Group D while I was separated from them and placed in Group C.  Even my mother appeared frightened.

Curt, Patsy and Nancy at the Berlin Wall, April 1970

Curt, Patsy and Nancy at the Berlin Wall, April 1970

Fortunately, my parents had befriended another American couple who agreed to watch over me while the authorities inspected my documents.   I noted in my diary that the female guard who approved my visit to the Eastern bloc did not shave her legs.  I found this “revolting” and considered it another mark of disgrace against the Communists.

Our visit to East Berlin proved anti-climactic.  I recall seeing a lot of bombed-out buildings from World War II, which the tour director assured us were about to be redeveloped.  My father appeared jubilant at the site of the destruction, rationalizing that the Communists would probably not be attacking us anytime soon, given the state of their infrastructure.

We returned to Checkpoint Charlie where the East Berlin guards boarded our bus to search for escapees.  I remember this as being terribly exciting and wondered what would happen if someone had hitched a ride.  The guards also rolled mirrors under the vehicle as an extra precaution.

Soon after, we were ensconced safely in our room at the Berlin Hilton, ordering room service and dining on a poor rendition of an American hamburger.  The next day we escaped to Rome where the women didn’t shave their legs either, but since they served pasta and pizza, I overlooked their transgression.

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