A Drive to Town, Noticing the Unnoticed ...

A simple drive to town can be an adventure.  One can find new things to see, if one will only open ones eyes.  Perhaps there will be a giant Ngiew tree adorned with its flaming orange blossoms.  A frail, half blind figure, bending to retrieve the fallen flowers.  Stripping away the petals, with the remaining inner organs destined for one of my wife’s favorite rice noodle dishes, Khanom Chin Naam Ngiew.



Perhaps a riverside shrine will appear.  Where an ancient tree has enveloped an even more ancient Buddha image.  Reborn as a new place of worship.

Perhaps you will stumble upon a makeshift carwash in the middle of the river.  Well, a tractor wash anyway.  Can’t think of a more serene setting for such a dirty job.  You have got to hand it to the guy.  Free running water and even a flowering Ngiew tree high on the opposite bank of the river.



Perhaps you will discover the reason for wading conditions on one stretch of the river, while in town the water level seems so high.



If you take the time to explore the floodgates and sluices, you may find that others have found their own uses for this once unnoticed encroachment on the river.  Fishing with nets or poles or simply dropping a line while sitting high upon the gates, one can’t help but feel their enjoyment of the task at hand.



Then on the way home you may happen upon an ingenious scheme, where a herd of goats has been employed to tend the young rubber trees.
There is so much to see if we will just take the time to look.  But then again, you already knew that, didn’t you.

3/2/10 - Abel Tasman

Up at 6 for a 6:30 bus to the Abel Tasman national park for two days solid with Becky as we were the only ones who had signed up for the camping trip. I was surprised to find that when we got to Kaiteriteri we really were the only ones doing the trip but we had become quite good friends and she talks the right amount so I was happy enough.

We dropped our bags off to be taken on to our campsite. From Kaiteriteri it was a short water taxi to Te Pukatea a bay that Lonely Planet had rated as the 8th best beach in the world and I could see why, the sand was golden and we were surrounded by cliffs and rainforest and a perfect clear blue sea. We had it to ourselves which astonished me until two girls emerged from behind some trees to ask the time but it was still an incredible feeling to be somewhere so beautiful and yet so deserted.

The walk through Abel Tasman was amazing, it is one of New Zealand's 10 great walks and it has now become an ambition to try them all before I die. Dense forest, beautiful clear rivers with round boulders placed in them as if by an artist and every hour or so another perfect empty beach that I thought normal people weren't allowed to go to without paying Richard Branson a fortune.

It took around 5 hours to get to our campsite, hidden in the trees behind Bark Bay, again a beautiful beach and not a bad spot to spend a night. Myself and Becky shared a bottle of red wine, lit a bonfire and chatted to an American who plays poker online for a living, he is possibly the first American I have got on with for longer than 6 seconds. Becky fell asleep as soon as she got in the tent, I didn't thanks to a group of Spaniards singing and playing guitar until 11 when I got up to tell them politely to shut up. The guitars stopped, the noise didn't. Eventually I began to drift off, annoyed that such a special place was tainted by a bunch of inconsiderate nobs.

Minutes after falling asleep something bigger and noisier than a rat ran in to my head. I was convinced it was inside the tent so I jolted bolt upright and inexplicably brushed my limbs in case it was clinging on to me somewhere then I switched on my torch and searched the tent. Once I'd calmed down I realised there was no chance a big animal could have got in I had just had my head against the side of the tent. I switched off the torch and laid back down. The beast was still outside, I could hear him rooting through my bag for food. In an effort to stop my bread being munched and to scare off what I was guessing was a gorilla I tried the following:
-banging the side of the tent
-shining the torch through the side of the tent
-making strange noises like a dog
-unzipping the tent to have a look at the monster before zipping it straight back up too scared to look.
Unsurprisingly none of these worked and I listened for an hour as the gorilla ate my bread and possibly all my possessions but I wasn't going out there to stop him.

The next morning I woke up to see that my bread had indeed been partly eaten through the wrapper but nothing else was soiled. I noticed a sign saying "Take your rubbish with you, we have at least two possums in the campsite", perhaps it wasn't a gorilla and maybe I should have had a look at a possum in the wild.

I let Becky do most of the packing of the tent while I supervised so that she could feel useful then we left it with our bags to be taken by water taxi to Kaiteriteri whilst we spent a day kayaking back down the Abel Tasman coast line. The kayaking was great fun but after 2 days straight with Becky we were both getting politely fed up of each other, she didn't like my steering skills in the kayak I didn't like that I was doing all the paddling but it wasn't enough of an irritation to stop the day being awesome. We saw seals and a couple of penguins swimming around, obviously lost because I thought they lived in Antarctica. The views of the coastline were as good from the sea as from on land and we were able to take them in even better when we pulled 4 kayaks together and got out a ground sheet to hold aloft as a sail for a mini regatta towards the next bay where we stopped for a swim and a sandwich.

It was a great trip and we returned to the hostel that evening with some new friends we met kayaking - Shauna, a Canadian nurse, her travelling companion Tyler who is a Pharmacist, Pete from Belfast who is travelling for a year thanks to the recession giving him the option of a career break and who is together with Shauna while they're in New Zealand and Britt a dutch girl. Roast dinner then out to a pub. One beer led to another and soon I found myself stepping around a fight that someone insisted was between a girl and a midget to enter a bar for some dancing with Ollie and Michael, two very Irish lads who tried chatting up every single girl in the club. While the Irish busied themselves being rejected, smiling and laughing all the way, I spotted Chris and Mike two Germans who had shared a dorm with me in Christchurch, and chatted with them until I could hold back the urge to dance no longer. My arms and legs broke free and Kiwis and foreigners alike looked upon me with eyes of confusion and pity but I didn't care because I was enjoying myself and continued to do so until I remembered I was very tired and stumbled back to the hostel for a great 4 hours of sleep.

2/2/10 - Nelson

Next day we were journeying from Kaikoura through Blenheim and Picton on our way to Nelson. At Picton we said goodbye to a lot of the group who were going on the ferry to the north island and a new group of miserable looking posers got on. On the bus myself, Roger, Becky and Katie from Cumbria had a good chat and later shared a room together at a hostel/pub called Ferny Lodge.

Having dumped our bags we walked to a monument signalling the centre of New Zealand that coincidentally sat at the very top of a hill! After that I was ready for some time on my own so I wandered off and had a look around Nelson, a lovely place with some nice parks, gardens and a good number of cafes and bars to keep me entertained. I got back to the hostel and changed in to my smelliest t-shirt to go for a run back up to the monument, this was a terrible idea and nearly killed me but I got back to the top and appreciated the view even more than earlier in the day.

That night was really pleasant, sharing stories with Alexi Lalas, Becky and Katie and staying sober for the first time since arriving.

1/2/10 - To Kaikoura on the bus

Finished off yesterday with a walk out of town for an hour or so until I found a pub for locals and drank my first reasonably priced pint. Next door was a fish and chip shop where I had chips and a hot dog which over here means battered sausage on a stick.

On return to the hostel I learned that the Murray v Federer final of the Australian Open was on at 9 so I joined a Londoner and a Brazilian to watch Murray getting stuffed on the biggest projector screen I've ever seen outside of a cinema, then off to bed to make sure I caught the bus.

The next day was the start of my travels on The Kiwi Experience bus and I was somewhat apprehensive thinking it would be full of gap year teenagers overly excited about being out of the house but I was pleased to find that this wasn't the case. I got chatting with Adam from Edinburgh and Becky from Oxford who were both friendly and we spent the afternoon together Whale watching. We saw 2 Albatross and 4 whales although I failed to get even an average picture of any of them. Back in the gift shop I took a picture of a postcard because I had seen a whale and my rubbish photography skills shouldn't get in the way of me proving it.

That evening I had fantastic fun with my new friends from the bus: Ben, 19 overly excited about himself; Erin and Heather, posh; Roger, Alexi Lalas at 18 great person and a few others.

I bought a venison sausage and some lamb kebabs for a barbecue and a couple of drinks, soon enough the couple of beers turned in to drinking games, mostly my fault because I had bought a 3 litre box of wine that I found to be 5.8% - devastating but it meant I didn't mind sharing and a few people chipped in a couple of quid. We used the gecko rule and it was fun watching other peoples' reactions to a whole table suddenly flinging themselves at various surfaces.

When the crap wine ran out we walked down the small path to the seafront and found a pub that was still open where I met an Irish man, Bryan, who had been in my hostel in Christchurch and we drank more and flung ourselves at more surfaces. Ben was quite annoyingly young so when one of Bryan's bus mates said he would run in the sea I stitched Ben up and told him that he was our Kiwi bus captain and so had to defend our honour by downing his drink on the count of three then beating the other bus's man to run in the sea naked. Before he could think I started the countdown and he was away. Ben returned later, wet and feeling very proud of himself, I felt a bit mean so I toasted him and gave him some beer from my jug. Shortly after that most of the group left to see how many of them could fit in a phone box, I stayed and played pool because I do like a beer.

Change



“They always say that time changes things, but you have to actually change them yourself.”
-Andy Warhol

I work in the media industry, an industry facing big challenges due to the economy as well as the shifts in the way that our customers think about and purchase media-related products. When I think about our business and where the growth opportunities are going to come from I am reminded of the experience I had with my family's printing business.

Fifteen years ago, the printing industry was going through everything the media industry is going through: consolidation, competitive pricing pressures and prices that drop below the actual costs of doing business. My family ended up closing the printing business, but while we were struggling to keep the printing business alive, we launched a poster business that still exists today.

The way that we discovered the poster business was by exploring ideas and testing them out. At first, we thought we wanted to design and make book marks by using the scrap end of the stock. As we pursued that idea, it grew to the idea of doing art prints, which after testing the market (and failing at that), grew to the concept of large inspirational art posters. The concept was unique at the time and the focus groups told us the product would never sell, but in fact, it did. It was our willingness to explore something new, focus on something we were passionate about (art and inspirational messages) and really persisting even in the face of the market data telling us it wouldn't work.

The first year we took our full line of 20-posters to the trade show, we were the only poster company. The next year, there were four new competitors copying our products, but because we were the market leader our posters stood the test of time. Today, some of the poster titles have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It's still a small business, but it's a market leader in its category.

At nearly every business that is struggling today, I think that this is the perfect time to focus on what the people are most passionate about, have the willingness to pursue a new idea and make it acceptable if the business model for the new idea isn’t immediately defined. It’s the time to allow for experimentation, but also not to give up when something fails. It’s a time to explore and test things out.

In the business where I work, I always come back to our owner/founder's original idea for the business. At the time, he was so visionary, that the marketplace wasn’t ready for his idea. Maybe now is the perfect time. Maybe it’s the same for the company where you work. Maybe you have an idea that you’ve been incubating for a few years. Maybe now is the perfect time to pursue the idea.

It’s hard to think about investing in a new idea—whether it be a new product or new business when everyone is thinking about cutting back and trimming expenses. Investigating a new idea doesn’t mean you have to invest all of your resources into it. Instead, a very small team of people could pursue the idea. They could do this as an extra activity in addition to their normal job duties. And, if they are passionate about it, they will do so willingly! Entrepreneurial ideas come to fruition during times when we are faced with huge challenges, few resources and an outlandish dream. In fact, Google was started during a recession. GE was founded during the depression. With the passion, focus and openness to experimentation at your company, just think what you could create.

And, as time changes things over the next 5 years, you could change your business into the great brand that Google became just a few years ago.
© 2010 Lisa Ann Edwards

Crush


you whispered me over
that first time we met
wrapped yourself around me--
and in your embrace, i did melt

with your zippers and buckles
and dreamy soft leather;
you made me forget last year's love:
---my suede boots with gold buttons.

© 2010 Lisa Ann Edwards

Author's note: In honor of love and Valentine's day, a simple little post about my infatuation with my new motorcycle jacket.

Hike from Karon Beach to the Big Buddha

The Big Buddha is now a much visited tourist attraction in Phuket, even though it's not finished. We have been going up the hill for many years, since work first started in about 2002 or 2003. I have blogged about the Big Buddha many times since this blog started in 2006, showing the progress of the building and the great views from the top (about 400m above sea level). There is of course a road up to the top, which is almost all complete. The road starts from Chalong, about 1km after the Chalong traffic circle, or about 8km from Karon Beach.

Now I know another way up! You can start from Karon Beach and walk up to the Big Buddha! I heard of this quite a few months ago from Steve, owner of the Pineapple Guesthouse in Karon. He'd walked up with a Finnish guy who lives in Karon and had found (by trial and error) a way up. The hills in Phuket are criss crossed with paths used by locals working in rubber plantations or landowners to look after plots of land. The last hike I made up to the highest point in Phuket used a lot of such trails.

We started early to avoid the heat of the day. It was around 7:15am that we left the Pineapple Guesthouse - myself, Steve and Henrik (who was staying at Pineapple and diving with Sunrise Divers). The hike starts up a small side road just opposite and a few meters to the north of the Siam Commercial Bank in Karon, which is just 10 meters from the Pineapple. The road heads up into the hills, easy to follow, passing houses along the way. Kai (our guide, the guy from Finland) lives up here so we picked him up on the way. Some of the steepest sections of the walk are near the bottom. I've been up this road quite a few times. After a while you reach a junction and a sign. Turn left at this junction...

Turn left here

If you turn right, the road loops around and down and comes back to the main road opposite Karon post office. Turn left and you keep heading up, past some new houses and a few still being built. By this point you already start to get a bit of a sea view. There are some steep sections here, and then the trail turns to dirt and heads into the trees...

Dirt road heading up from Karon

This trail gets narrower, but we were surprised to meet a moped and a pick up truck on this section when were heading down again. Lots of rubber trees up in the hills here. As the trail narrowed, we passed a spirit house on the left next to a rubber tree, and a few meters after this, a turning to the right - the first right turn you come to - we took this turning up a narrower path. Now we were really into the trees. Not exactly jungle.. I mean, a lot of the hills have been used for rubber or bananas for many years. We passed plenty of rubber and banana trees although some sections of trail were very "jungly"...

Trail heading up Buddha Mountain

Hiking through the trees

Some sections of the trail here had obviously been recently cut back, and in places the trail might not be 100% obvious, but Kai knew the way! By this time, we had some great views back down to Karon Beach...

View over Karon from the trail

At one point here, the trail splits and you have to turn hard left - someone had pretty much barred the way in the other direction by covering the trail with branches. We then walked more or less along the hillside with a steep drop to the left without gaining much altitude for a few hundred meters. Then, you may see this tree on the left.. big roots, cloth tied around it...

Tree - turn left just after this...

Just after this tree, which you see on the left, you turn right. At this point there's not really a trail for about 50 meters, just head UP (it's steep, you may think you are on the wrong trail, have faith).. and you come out on a very obvious path...

Ah! A real path!

Just at the point you come out is the start of a line of small palm trees.. worth making a marker for the way down at this point. When you hit this path (photo above), turn right, heading up, and it's not too long before you meet the road...

Trail meets road - Steve, Henrik and Kai

The last kilometre of the walk is up the road. We stopped to pose for some photos before the top. Was about 8:45am when we hit the summit. At this time of day, there are few (if any) visitors. We were the first at the Buddha. Getting up early is often worth the pain.

Posing near the top

View across the hills from near the top of Buddha Mountain

We spent a while at the top. Henrik (who had not been up there before) managed to let out a "Wow!" at the sight of the 45 meter high marble covered Buddha. I do wonder when work will ever be complete here. Could be a few more years I think. We all hope it won't be allowed to get too tacky - there are already plenty of stalls selling souvenirs, thank you. Well, at least we got there before anyone else - any tourist attraction looks better without the tourists! Even Patong Beach looks OK at 7am!

The Big Buddha with some scaffolding

Lots of building still going on around the main Buddha image, I noticed some major changes since last time I visited - a large area of dirt behind the Buddha has now been concreted and another layer of 5 meter high lotus blossoms added around the base. The views are still great, and always will be. The view below looks across Chalong Bay.

View from the Big Buddha across Chalong

Up top I met Glenn, who I had hiked with to the 540 meter plus summit of Phuket in September.. We'd half planned to meet for this walk.. but unfortunately had met at different starting points.. we might do this Buddha walk again in the coming week. Glenn was fresh from a hike in the north of Phuket where he'd been attacked by a gibbon!

On the way down, Steve, Henrik, Kai and I stopped for an early beer at the Nakkerd Seaview restaurant near the top of the hill. There are now quite a few little restaurants open along the road - the Nakkerd Seaview was the first and we still like to eat here sometimes with views across Karon and across the Andaman Sea. Refreshed and slightly wobbly (I do NOT drink beer at 9am normally!) we headed down, back to Karon Beach where I enjoyed an English breakfast at the Pineapple guesthouse. The hike was a bit easier than I had imagined. I mean, it's a climb to 400m above sea level, starting at (more or less) sea level, so yes it was a bit sweaty, but starting early helped as we were hiking on the east side of the hill, out of the sun almost all the way up. Good exercise, and great views and of course walking is free - your average tuk tuk will want 800 Baht for a round trip. I hope to do this hike again soon!

Some related posts on Jamie's Phuket

Phuket Hills and Viewpoints
The Big Buddhas of Phuket (yes there are several!)
Karon Beach - More Information

Where to enjoy Coffee in the Rai ...

I am a coffee lover, and though indulging in coffee is relatively harmless, I do consider it a vice.  Being short of vices, one has to make do.  Making my own pot of coffee, in a rather large French press, left me drinking rather too much in the past.  In an effort to reduce my intake, coffee consumption is now restricted to public venues.  That means a minimum fifty kilometer drive, oneway.

I have by no means sampled every coffee venue in the Rai, nor do I intend to.  The cheapest place for anything, including coffee, is beyond my area of interest or expertise.  Flavor, presentation, ambiance and of course convenience are highest on my list.

Since shopping usually means a stop at BigC, among other places, my coffee fix is more conveniently found there.  S & P's, Blue Cup Coffee, is my favorite and just happens to be located there, but I can make do with Black Canyon Coffee, if perchance the wife would prefer eating lunch there.  A Blue Cup cappuccino is served in a signature white ceramic coffee cup, a bit larger than most and holds its foamy head well.  That is important if one wants to enjoy that unique cappuccino experience.  Neither of these two places have any ambiance to speak of, so it is down to flavor, presentation and mainly convenience.

The two main, Thai coffee brands, are Doi Chang and Wa Wee, both with their own coffee shops in Chiang Rai.  Doi Chang is arguable the better tourist or farang location, only a short walk from the Night Bazar area. 

Doi Chang is located on a convenient corner, in an older, slightly rundown building.  The decor wisely uses that to advantage with a rustic, relaxed feel.  The location, tight quarters, mismatched furnishings, a little garden/pond area at the entrance, as well as a couple of antique computers, create a place that seems to attract farangs.

Personally I like the muffins, and the food and pastry selection appears appetizing from what I have seen, but the cappuccino is served in a smallish glass cup with a brownish foam that I personally find unattractive and unappetizing.  At least it is not a paper cup, but neither is it a proper ceramic cup.  If you want to be among other farangs you will overlook the coffee presentation and substandard foam.  The cats, that sometimes make a leisurely perusal of the premises, (a Persian and a Siamese if I am not mistaken) add a homey touch for animal lovers.

Wa Wee is also located on a corner, but the parking area out front, can only be accessed by a oneway road not far from the famous Ha Yak intersection.  While convenient for bank and government workers in that area, it is not as convenient for many farangs.  Unlike Doi Chang, this place is very modern with a more Thai clientele.  Kind of a Thai version of Starbucks with clean modern lines, plenty of space and comfy seating options, that seem to appeal to a more upmarket Thai crowd.  Even the computers, Apple iMacs, say modern and trendy. 

The large cappuccino is served in a brown ceramic mug, which again, I prefer to a glass cup.  The food or snack selection did not appeal to me and the (order & pay) first, reminded me of Starbucks in Bangkok.  Not necessarily a bad thing.  The presence of Thais in office attire is in stark contrast to the sometimes colorful farangs one encounters at Doi Chang.  One can be fooled into thinking one is in a much bigger city.

Oddly enough, if a solitary outing on the Phantom leads me into town, the chances are you will find me at Doi Chang.  The reason being that more often than not, I will bump into someone I know or meet someone new.  A brief spontaneous encounter is something that suits me.  More typically I am with my wife when in town and less inclined to strike up a conversation with strangers so will be found in S & P nursing my favorite Blue Cup cappuccino.

The above mentioned locations are all located on my map.

(As an edit to this post we now have Starbucks and a few other coffee options at the new Mall.)

As of 2012 Chivit Thamma Da is my favorite place for coffee in the Rai.




 

Quick overview

I'll update this properly soon but here's a quick run down of what's been going down.

1/2/10 - Kaikoura - Whale watching saw 4, photographed lots of empty sea. BBQ in the evening followed by bullying a 19 year old to run in to the sea

2/2/10 - Bus to Nelson - Saw hundreds of seals

3/2/10 - Walking Abel Tasman National Park, camping next to the beach, possum ran in to my head and ate some of my bread.

4/2/10 - Kayaked down the Abel Tasman coast before hitting the bars of Nelson and dancing the night away in shorts and flip flops

5/2/10 - Bus to Westport. There is nothing in Westport so I got drunk with some odd locals and offended a Mauri by greeting him like an eskimo.

6/2/10 - On to the Poo pub for bbq, watching the sunset at the beach and then a fancy dress party with everyone on the bus. I was Batman.

7/2/10 - Franz Josef, kayaking in the evening on a huge lake that we had to ourselves.

8/2/10 - 9.00am catch the bas to go for a skydive. BEST FEELING EVER, spent the rest of the day floating around and then drinking til early morning.

9/2/10 - Feeling awful I went for an 8 hour hike throught the Franz Josef Glacier, beautiful but stuck with several annoying nobs all day.

10/2/10 -Had to get the bus out of Franz Josef or spend another 3 nights there so I did and moved on to Wanaka, beautiful town next to a lake.

11/2/10 - Walked about 20 miles nearly got up a mountain but ran out of water so turned around then had a great fun night out watching a reggae band and being bought drinks by a local criminal.

12/2/10 - Did a bit of walking around the lake. Two friends from the Kiwi bus then arrived and we spent the evening dancing and drinking.

13/2/10 - Day sat fishing by the side of the lake, didn't see a single fish. Possibly this was all a local joke to get tourists looking like idiots. Still had fun and drunk some wine before an early night.

14/2/10 - Bus to Queenstown via puzzling world which I loved. Night out dancing and catching up with lots of friends who had moved on down the coast earlier in the week.

15/2/10 - Walked 25 miles up to an incredible 360 degree panoramic view 1700m high. Pretended I was Frodo and made friends with a stick.

I do like a travel

Sala Bua Restaurant - Karon Beach

My day job - manager of Sunrise Divers, a PADI dive shop at Karon Beach. The shop is tucked away in a little square called Karon Plaza, about 4 minutes walk to the beach. Next door to our shop is a family run hotel called Karon Place, and they have a restaurant attached called Sala Bua, open only in the high season from about mid October to end of April. Due to the very convenient location I find myself eating lunch there at least a couple of times per week.

Sala Bua restaurant

The prices are not as cheap as the local restaurants nearby, but about on par with Mama Noi, just around the corner. Thai dishes go for between 89 - 129 Baht. They do also serve some pasta, burgers, sandwiches etc. - normal tourist fare. I tend to eat the Thai dishes - and there is a big menu to choose from. Having just eaten a big plate of Penang curry with Tofu, and having taken a few photos of my lunches the last couple of weeks, it's time to blog about Sala Bua!

Sala Bua staff

It's normally quiet at lunchtime, busier at breakfast and in the evening, as the guests at Karon Place will often eat there. Although I do like to eat lunch at cheap local "hole in the wall" type places, I have been eating more at Sala Bua as the food is good quality (the cheap local places do often use cheaper meat cuts especially) and I am yet to get a bad meal there. Curries of all different kinds, salads, noodle dishes.. some of my favourites include those below :



(above) They call this the "Indonesian" salad



(above) chicken with cashew nuts in a noodle basket



(above) Khao Soi with chicken

I mentioned that I had a tofu curry today - there are quite a few vegetarian options on the menu and the owners are adherents to the strict vegetarian diet during the annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival. I like the variety of their menu, and the staff are always friendly - it's largely a family restaurant and the staff are the same now as 2 years ago.. family run places are often friendly as everyone feels that it's "their" restaurant and they don't employ young waitresses on minimum wage who look like they'd rather be home watching Ching Roy Ching Lan. See you at Sala Bua!

Outlook

"Patience creates confidence, decisiveness, and a rational outlook, which eventually leads to success."
-Brian Adams

As of this morning, my outlook is fixed. Finally.


It all began a month and a half ago. It was just about the same time that the place where I live, Seattle, began to live up to its reputation of being one of the greyest, rainiest and most dismal places to be. I wore my rain gear every night after work for my evening walk. Each night I rotated between three pairs of running shoes. One pair was usually dried-out enough to wear; the other two, still by the heater, working their way back to wearable. On top of the rain was the daily deluge of bad news about the economy. Unemployment is at an all-time high. The US deficit is the highest ever and Greece’s economic turmoil is now rippling out to other countries. And, it looks as though we’ll have a jobless recovery.

The commute into work each day has become eerily light and I can actually drive the speed limit on the freeway: the bumper-to-bumper traffic has disappeared.

But, back to my story about my outlook being fixed.

A month and a half ago, I had upgraded my Microsoft Office to the 2007 version. Yes, finally. Everything seemed to be just fine. As the machine was shutting down that first night after the upgrade, I could see that three automatic updates were being installed. "Good news," I thought. "Microsoft is keeping my machine safe from viruses, worms and other nasty internet threats."

The next day, I opened my newly upgraded Microsoft Outlook. Catastrophic Failure. Not just one little pop-up window made that announcement, but seven. I contacted Microsoft. They told me to contact Dell. Dell told me to contact Microsoft. And, on this went for several weeks—each company passing me back to the other. In an effort to get the darn problem fixed, I searched thru the WebPages of notes from others with the same problem and tried, unsuccessfully, to fix it myself. Finally, I contacted Geek Squad where my newly assigned Geek Squad Agent seemed more than delighted to fix my outlook.

I know it sounds silly, but I liked the way my Geek Squad Agent took responsibility for fixing my problem. He seemed confident and even though it took several attempts over the course of a few weeks to get it fixed, he persisted. Patient throughout each step, he would acknowledge each of the problems he resolved. “This problem has been resolved” he’d tell me through my chat window. At one point, when it seemed we hit a roadblock that could not be surpassed, I worried that he would send me back to Microsoft or Dell. But instead, he continued on—persistently, confidently, focused on fixing my outlook. And, as of last night, all problems have been resolved. My outlook is fixed.

As irony would have it, I woke up to a sunny day this morning. Giving my rain gear a break, I put on a dry pair of sneakers and headed down to the lake for a cup of coffee and to read the New York Times. While one economist painted yet another bleak picture of our economic recovery, another pointed to the indications that the economy seems to be improving. While unemployment is the highest it's been in 25 years, the stock market is lifting, retail sales have stabilized, and while still weak, auto sales have improved slightly in February. Houses have been selling in greater numbers and consumer spending appears to have leveled off after plummeting last year. Credit markets have even have even improved.

I know it will take a long time for our economy to recover, but it's important to notice the progress we're making. My condo is still underwater, but, with patience, confidence, decisiveness and a rational outlook, I know things will turn around. And, before we know it, our economic outlook will be fixed.

© 2010 Lisa Ann Edwards

Potluck


“Mama always said, life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get”. - Forrest Gump

Several years ago and in my mid-thirties, I decided it was time to pack up my little Ford Escort and head west. I’d lived in Iowa for many more years than I had ever planned, and I had decided it was time to make something special of my life. So, I packed up some boxes of my stuff and moved to the biggest city I’d never been to before: Portland, Oregon.

Portland was a big, huge city to me at the time. Lots of fast moving cars, busy roads and super busy people always checking their blackberries and talking on their cell phones. I knew I had moved to an important city and I felt important just to be there witnessing it all.

It took me a while to make friends in Portland. I hadn’t really appreciated the long-standing friends I had in Iowa, so it was a bit of a shock to realize that I had absolutely nothing to do on the weekends. No friends to go for walks with. No mom to watch TV with. No Grandma who needed an errand run. There wasn’t even an Applebee’s or Burger King nearby. Just one not-so-busy Dairy Queen. On a Sunday afternoons and as a special treat to myself, I’d go through the DQ drive-thru and order a hot fudge Sundae with whipped cream and nuts on top. I’d pull over to the parking lot and eat the hot fudge Sundae in my car before I’d drive home. It really took me a while to fit in.

After living there for about nine months with just about 10 boxes of all of my stuff, my mom who lives in Iowa, called to tell me that she’d met a possible friend for me. My mom is a realtor and she was showing houses to a woman in Iowa who had a daughter-in-law living in PORTLAND OREGON!!! What luck.

Here was a woman with connections to my hometown who was living in my new town and just possibly open to a new friend.

I was so excited.

Within days, my possible-new-friend had called to invite me to a potluck at her home. I was elated driving over to her house. A just-out-of-the-oven TaterTot casserole sitting in the passenger seat beside me, I realized that I hadn’t been to a potluck since living in Iowa.

I love potlucks. Everyone brings one of their favorite dishes. Some people bring a fun snack like cream cheese with raspberry jam on top, served up with Wheat Thins. Someone always brings green bean casserole, though everyone’s got their own unique twist to that dish. And, there’s usually some kind of chocolate dessert with lots of chocolate goo inside. You never know what everyone’s going to bring, so it’s always a surprise and there’s lots of recipe-sharing after the evening is over.

After arriving at my new friend’s house, it didn’t take me more than 3 minutes to recognize that the TaterTot casserole was not a sophisticated west coast dish. People had brought things like spreadable roasted garlic cloves and grilled salmon with capers. TatorTot casserole in hand, I was embarrassed to take the tin foil cover off the top to reveal what I had brought to the fancy party.

But, the hostess, my new friend, was gracious and smiled as she slipped my casserole into the oven to be warmed up.

While I was waiting for my dish to be warmed up and served to the guests, I tried to make small talk with my new Portland party friends and noticed that they started to disappear. Soon, there was only one person left in the living room. I asked my new conversation companion where everyone went and he nodded to gesture that I follow him. So, I did. And, in I walked into a smoke-filled second bedroom where all of the guests were inhaling from pipes that bubbled water. It suddenly dawned on me that this was not the potluck I thought I was going to get!

Not wanting to be rude, I went back to the kitchen to take my casserole out of the oven, and served up huge helpings of my TaterTot casserole to my new red-eyed friends. I should have looked at my watch, because they ate my casserole in record time; and, I went home that evening with an empty casserole dish. A good sign at most potlucks.

Disappointed that the new friendship didn’t work out, I went in to work on Monday and told my new co-workers about the potluck. They all roared with laughter, except one of them, the one who I thought was the ‘coolest girl in school’ and who surely would never be my friend. Yet, within a couple of weeks, that cool-girl invited me to a party at her house-- a party without the potluck.

That simple invitation began a long and dear friendship between me and that cool-girl. Since her party-without-the-potluck, she and I have each moved to different cities, not once but a couple of times. And, in spite of the distance, our friendship has grown stronger through career changes, lay-offs, new jobs, boyfriends and break-ups.

Yep, sometimes you don’t get exactly what you think you’re going to get, but if you are lucky, you will get something even better.

© 2010 Lisa Ann Edwards