Monthly Archives: November 2010

Moving in new directions (with a smile on my face)

Those of you who know me well know that I write; therefore I am. I think I’ve covered topics from the joys of choral singing to protecting your identity to how to write your own professional bio. I’ve expounded on the importance of working out as well as editing your wardrobe, among other eclectic tidbits. But writing is isolating.  There is that side to me that loves getting out there and mixing it up as well. And since my background also includes a hefty number of years in the real estate industry as a new homes/resale agent, a professional real estate trainer, and as a business development manager, it’s obvious that I’ve always got to be doing something else, usually real estate-related.

So here is my update: I have joined Showhomes of Folsom Lake, a nationwide home staging company that is thriving during a challenging time in the real estate industry – a time when higher-end listings can languish on the market for months and even years. By comparison, it’s common wisdom that homes with seller-occupants who take pride in their dwellings tend to sell more quickly and for a higher price in general.

Showhomes isn’t new; we’re just new to the Sacramento suburban areas, where we will be serving the Highway 80 East corridor to Auburn/GrassValley and the 50 East area to include all of El Dorado County.  We’ve been around for more than 25 years, making us one of the country’s oldest home staging companies as well the largest.

But we’re not just a staging company. We have a secret! We call it ‘staging with a twist’ because not only do we stage homes to perfection; we also place short-term human props (whom we lovingly refer to as home managers) into otherwise vacant homes to keep them viewing-ready 12 hours a day.  Our carefully screened and trained managers help with utility costs for the owner while their occupancy status effectively serves to lower insurance rates because of the lessened chance for break-ins. They also take impeccable care of the property, vacating it cleanly and quickly when the home sells.  The real clincher? It doesn’t cost Realtors a dime and can actually save owners money! Compare this to the costs of fully staging a larger home, usually in the vicinity of $2,000 to $4,000 during a time when everyone wants to keep every penny they can.

For more information about Showhomes, call owner Bob Kohlruss at 916.204-2378 or myself at 916.984.1049. And be sure to visit us at Showhomes.com, where you can read all about us and sample testimonials by happy home sellers, agents and home managers alike!

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‘And now you know the REST of the story . . . ‘

I know I am dating myself here, but how many of you remember growing up listening to Paul Harvey, a guy who broadcasted what I would now called a ‘radio blog?’  The show is still on, now run by his son. Some shows were news-based and others began with Harvey’s trademark sing-song voice saying, ‘Stay tuned, because you’ll want to hear the REST of the story,’ —  spiking that one word in a high pitch. He would tell a somewhat elaborate tale, describing a person’s life history.  Then he would zing you with the true identity of that person as someone we all know.

Okay, I’m no female Paul Harvey, nor do I want to be. But I had such an outpouring of hits to a little blog I did a few weeks back that I felt that I had to follow up to tell you the ‘rest of the story.’

The blog, called A tiny story provides an unexpected ripple effect was one that relates to my eBook/memoir,Climbing St. Friday, and it refers to how I proceeded to ‘vet’ some of the true-to-life characters contained within it at an attempt to ease my conscience over having presented them honestly and with compassion. Memoirs can be tricky for writers who find themselves walking a balancing act between transparency and sensitivity to those they depict even in semi-fictional terms.

One such person was my ‘dashing young Turk’ — an Omar Sharif look-alike that I swooned over in a memorable liaison as a young college student  during my year abroad. His name was (is) Kemal, a smolderingly handsome dark-haired young medical student who loved American folk music. During our brief friendship (you’ve got to read the eBook to understand how this came about…) he memorialized my amateurish guitar-playing and Mary Travers-style singing on his reel-to-reel tape recorder. Once I returned to my college dorm in Greece we tried to stay in touch, but it was hopeless. Our backgrounds were more than just geographically miles apart; they were next to impossible to reconcile. And the language barrier was even more formidable. But I always like to think that we never forgot one another and that our innocent one week friendship would serve as a sweet parenthesis in our lives.

Searching Facebook, I realized Kemal’s name was such a common one among Turks that I would have to employ something akin to FBI tactics in the process of elimination. Gorgeous men’s faces were everywhere under his moniker, but few matched the vision I had of how Kemal may have aged. The one that made me pause was a salt-and-pepper-haired man shot at a bit of a distance, leaning against a fence. I couldn’t study his face very closely, so I searched what his public profile for clues as to whether I had hit pay dirt. And there, at the bottom of his profile was a link to a Peter, Paul and Mary song from the late 1960s.

I wrote a brief message to the man in the profile, asking if he remembered the winter of 1970, meeting a young American girl who played guitar. I dropped a few names of Turkish students I had met when I spent my holiday vacation with a schoolmate’s family in Ankara. He replied within hours, confirming he was indeed the Nicky Arnstein of my past (sorry, guys, only women might remember all the roles played by Omar Sharif that sent some of us into fantasy mode…).

We attempted to use Google’s online translator to communicate, but it was difficult. Many phrases and words in both Turkish and English cannot be translated, each culture expressing itself in terms the other cannot quite comprehend. We tried to bring one another up to date as best we could. I told him of my first marriage, my grown daughter and how my life changed for the better when I ended my relationship and moved on, being swept up soon thereafter by a wonderful man who miraculously seemed to be waiting in the wings. Kemal not only told me of his failed marriage that ended long ago, but also of his own adult daughter living far away in Istanbul. And he admitted to having kept that tape of my private concert for many years, playing it repeatedly.  I was both flattered and shocked. Then I asked if I could send him the excerpt from my eBook that told of our meeting, hoping he could find someone fluent in English to translate for him. For a while, I heard nothing.

A few days later I received a Facebook message from Kemal, but it really wasn’t Kemal doing the talking. It was his brother, Mustafa, who had spent a considerable amount of time in the U.S. during his career. He was visiting his brother and related how he had been lovingly forced to translate everything we had Facebook-communicated with one another so far. He spoke shockingly good English. Mustafa went on to describe in the email how Kemal remembered me from all those years ago; how he wished we could have gotten to know one another better, and how my music had helped him through some down-times is both Kemal’s life as well as his own.  I was deeply touched as I read the message that ended in a plea to meet Kemal for a long weekend in another large European capital, where the brother now lived. In an alternate (unmarried) universe, I pictured a scene from a movie, the two of us rediscovering one another’s faces in a crowd.   But my reality was a happy one, having married my soul mate and reinventing my life as I never thought possible.

Suddenly the Facebook instant messaging box popped up. It was Mustafa who was using Kemal’s profile to chat with me. My heart began beating loudly, surprised at the immediacy of the Internet, now bridging a 40 year gap in my life as if I had just boarded the plane back to Athens the day before.   We exchanged introductory phrases, after which Mustafa proceeded to tell me of his brother’s story. Now a well known physician in another part of Turkey, Kemal had been single most of his life, his marriage ending nearly 20 years earlier. I pictured the brothers as close, since Mustafa mentioned how they went fishing together on his boat in the Turkish riviera. I also noted Mustafa’s adoration of his grown niece. I told him of my path in life and how happy I now was, feeling nearly bittersweet in my empathy for Kemal, who had not yet discovered a true partner in life.

Mustafa then repeated his offer to fly us both to an in-between meeting place, this time inviting my husband as well.  The awkwardness of it called upon whatever tact and compassion I could muster from the depths of my ability to communicate. I defaulted to describing how I would feel both hurt and a bit jealous if my husband were to travel somewhere (accompanied by me or not) to see a person who once made his heart leap. It’s not that I felt I would lose him; rather, I felt that a piece of him might still belong to someone else and that life’s challenges in the here and now were enough for even a good marriage to survive. I waited for a response, knowing Kemal was standing over his brother as he IM’d me.

Mustafa tapped the keyboard to express his brother’s reaction. “‘He says he would expect this of you and that how you answered him lived up to the vision of the kind of person he remembered you to be.'”  Tears filled my eyes.  What a miracle it was that I could become privy to the details of the life of a person I had unwittingly touched so long ago. And how often do are we ever able to learn the ‘rest of the story’  four decades later? My hope is that others can glean hope from stories such as this, giving new meaning to the way we come into and out of one another’s lives and how important even our most fleeting connections can be in the big scheme of things. We can affect one another with a word, a smile, a hug or even a song and life can be sweet. These small gestures can create memories that last for decades, just like mine did, and give us hope that even more small miracles at near at hand.

As I approach my 60th year, I am awed at both the fragility and power of life itself, at how each day can bring with it discovery, learning and excitement about what may happen as we turn the next corner. My thanks now go to the genius of the men and women who made this gift of the Internet possible, enabling us to fill in gaps in our lives while offering us a nearly instantaneous means to research and learn about the world around us.

Social media is more than a face and a profile on a computer screen, however. It is a means of connection between real people –a phenomenon we could never have imagined just a decade or so ago, drawing us closer and shrinking our world ever smaller.

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Not just a love-spat: when husbands and wives are political opposites . .

The midterm elections went by without a hitch in our household. And how can that happen, you may ask, when my husband and I are political polar opposites?

First let me explain that we have been together (second time around) for nine years and married for the past five. He was a confirmed bachelor I had known for more than 30 years, and without going into the ‘back story’ on how that all occurred, suffice it to say that getting to know and love nearly every other aspect of my husband’s personality, I was not prepared to find that we were politically at odds with one another.

It was around the first election of George Bush, then, that I found we had our differences in perception about candidates, issues, and both the lessons of America’s past as well as our vision for the country’s future.  And at first, both of us were in disbelief that we could be so attracted to one another on so many levels but where politics and issues were concerned, it was as if we spoke foreign languages.

We likened ourselves to the everyday-people versions Shriver and Schwarzenegger or Matalin and Carville, regardless of which sex leaned which way. And if they could hold firm to their convictions on such a public stage, we decided that there was no reason we couldn’t learn the same sense of civility. But I can tell you that the road to this fragile sense of peace and respect we now hold dear was not so easy to accomplish at first.

Loud, slanted arguments took place in our early days.  Although we were never reduced to name-calling or heavy insults, it became clear which news stations we watched, which blogs we read, and who we considered to be the ‘expert sources’ on things all came into play.   For a while we walked on eggshells with one another, trying hard not to let it affect the rest of what we found delightful in our couple-dom.

Let’s face it; arguing can be so draining. A spirited debate with a stranger or casual friend might actually be fun, but when you’re testy with the one you hold close at night, the person who hands you romantic cards and gives you flowers at all the right times and still talks about how great you are, it stops being invigorating. It  somehow turns personal and disrespectful and can begin to color everything you feel about him or her, instead of merely lending insight into who that person is.

Oh, we are not without our sense of humor about it, which more often comes into play when we are in the company of other couples, some of whom have the same ‘political-combatant’ roles with one another (it’s actually hilarious when that takes place, because then you’ve actually got a team mate.)

So what have we learned from all this and how did we come to this point of extreme civility?  We learned that despite our midlife belief system, wrought through the decades by our upbringing, our experiences and our environment, there was no way we could change each other’s mind anyway. No article, no TV program, no news broadcast recorded on our DVR and shown to the other would suddenly turn a progressive liberal into a staunch conservative and or vice-versa. We weren’t in our 20s, when we might be open to a completely new set of criteria. Our lives had led us down the paths in which we found ourselves at the time we got together romantically, and truth be told, why would we want to change that person we found so damned appealing to begin with?

It occurs to me that much of politics in the (far) past was conducted civilly and that the arts of compromise, negotiation and a meeting-of-the-minds was considered a mark of an intelligent society, willing to work out its problems as it evolved into a higher form. Although the people who supported each side of the spectrum had their vociferous mouthpieces, politicians in general seemed to hold a great amount of respect for one another. In the 60s, I don’t remember the disgustingly dirty politics, the name-calling and the direct insults being thrown around.  Oh, the feelings were there, but the expression of them was so much subtler. Perhaps that’s because we didn’t have 24/7 cable ‘entertainment news’ and ‘talking heads’ on panel shows that tried to convince us they were experts in those days – who knows? We had Huntley-Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, and our trusty newspapers to report hard news.  Those entities considered us intelligent enough to take the news of the day and interpret it. No one told us what to think (except, perhaps, our parents), and I liked that just fine.

As you may have noticed, I have not revealed which of us leans which way.  Sure, I could make this into a bully pulpit to tell you what I believe and why, but in the end, there is only one thing that is important.  We voted. And it is that one ballot cast that might either cancel out each other’s, or it might just take the place of thousands of people’s votes — those who held the same beliefs we do but didn’t bother participating in the electoral process.  How that one vote for either team got counted might have made a big difference in the big scheme of things.

And so we remain friends, lovers, and political opposites. By now I think anything else might be boring.  Besides, if one of us ends up being wrong about what we believe, we can honestly say that we did not get to that point by having been browbeaten by the people we cherish most in life.

Greeks are lovers, not fighters.  And we didn’t invent democracy for nothing, you know.

 

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