What I did on my summer vacation

Autumn officially begins tomorrow (here in the United States’ Central time zone anyway). Summer is officially over, and I’m left sifting the grains of sand that were the days of summer through my tanned fingers.

Unfortunately, the ramifications of the Very Bad Thing that occurred Aug. 2 continue to hang over this household and, frankly, over this blog. My mind is often filled with thoughts and opinions related to the Very Bad Thing that are not yet ready for public consumption, so many days my blog is left lonely and neglected. I’m sorry, dear readers.

So as I reflect on the summer of 2014, I can’t imagine ever thinking of it as anything other than the summer the Very Bad Thing happened. But maybe I’m still too close to it to have any real perspective. For today, the last day of summer, I’ll reflect on a few other events of the summer.

For example, I overcame a challenge that required me to draw on skills I possess only in small amounts — nursing. I did OK, and so did the patient, who’s in better condition than he was when summer officially began three months ago.

I also celebrated a big milestone with my parents in June when they observed their 50th wedding anniversary. My sister and I had an awesome little party for them, and fun was had by all.

Despite pretty much ignoring the garden, I enjoyed a lot of yummy meals from the infrequent harvests — rhubarb crisp, mulberry smoothies, tomatoe-y pizzas and quiches — and not a single kale smoothie. Today, we savored cream cheese-stuffed smoked jalapeño peppers, made with hotties grown in our little plot of soil. Delicious!

We didn’t travel much this summer (we’ll remedy that this fall), but we did make it to Minnesota to pick up a new (to us) camper and use it a couple of times in pleasant places in Wisconsin. Did I tell you we sold the 1983 Pace Arrow? Ah, yes, I did. The new camper feels like the Taj Mahal in comparison, but let’s be real here — the Pace Arrow was30 years old. We even have dreams of taking the new camper to Florida for the winter (maybe, maybe not — don’t tell Old Man Winter — he’d just spoil things).

Writing? Oh that. I claim to be a writer, and I can’t boast of any new books this year. Well, I did finish the draft of one manuscript (it needs a rewrite, I’ve decided) and outlined another. The new concept is quite exciting, actually, and has something to do with one of my biggest accomplishments this summer — I’ve lost 20 pounds. It came at the price of lifting weights (I hate lifting weights), but I derive an inordinate amount of satisfaction from the results. I have biceps now — biceps you can see. Well, when I flex, you can see them. You get my point I hope. A 47-year-old has to bask in the reflection of her biceps, else her wrinkles overshadow them.

In any case, the summer wasn’t a total loss. It was, in fact, filled with a lot of pleasant moments.

On to autumn.

New straw for the nest makes for better sleep

Ye olde mattress in Minnesota Transplant’s household is nearing the end of its life.

I bought her eight years ago when I moved out of the house I shared with my first husband. I spared no expense buying a new mattress, or at least I thought I did. I now know $1,500 is more the middle of the scale than the top, but she’s held up well. Many a night, I slip into bed and thank God for such a comfortable nest.

But eight years on, she’s getting grooves and looking a little disheveled. My Beloved and I have been shopping twice for a replacement but we haven’t yet found the right one.

two top sheetsIn the meantime, I discovered a cheap and easy way to spruce up the bed: A second top sheet. A representative for Westin Hotels & Resorts suggested this fix in this month’s O Magazine, and at first I was skeptical. But I dug up an old top sheet and added it to the mix, and lo and behold, a second sheet adds a bit of luxury and greater temperature control (which is paramount to menopausal me right now).

Small things matter as evidenced by daily flossing and freshly ground pepper, also both worth the trouble.

Try it. You might like it, too.

(I also got a new pillow, a significantly less expensive upgrade than a new mattress. O Magazine recommends getting a new one every two years.)

Meatless but not tasteless, thanks to Mother Nature’s bounty

Tomato and Corn Custard Pie from the September 2014 issue of Food Network magazine

Tomato and Corn Custard Pie from the September 2014 issue of Food Network magazine

Today’s celebration of summer’s bounty: Tomato and Corn Custard Pie.

Rarely do I attempt Martha Stewart’s creations in her Living magazine, but sometimes I try what Food Network magazine is dishing. Notwithstanding the blender spew of hot, creamy corn, tonight’s dinner depending on a harvest of autumn veggies (and a little cheese) was a rousing success.

tomato and corn custard partial

I was pleased my version looked quite similar to the magazine’s picture, which made my mouth water.

Real men do indeed eat quiche; my Beloved had two slices.

tomato and corn custard slice


Effervescent dreams

Monica Lee:

Autumn brings cooler temperatures and more opportunities to lounge in the hot tub. Every time we don our swimwear and spend some time lounging in the bubbly, we do what frugal Minnesotans do when they save money — we relish the amazing deal our hot tub has been, lo, these past three years. For your enjoyment, I redirect you to the Story of the $200 Hot Tub…

Originally posted on Minnesota Transplant:

Visions of a hot tub have filled my Beloved’s dreams the past few months.

I have been Switzerland on the subject. Sure, lounging in a hot tub is lovely. But not so lovely that I’m willing to spend the money and perform the maintenance required.

When Tyler asked me point-blank if I thought we should get a hot tub, I said, “I have no opinion. That’s up to you. You know how much money we have and how much you would enjoy it, so I’m not taking a position.”

Then it was amusing to watch the consummate salesman sell himself on a hot tub. “I think we would use it a lot.” “There’s a spot on the patio for it.” “We wouldn’t need a gazebo for it if we have a cover.” “I know how to install it.”

After looking at a number of hot tubs on Craig’s List, his…

View original 655 more words

Fresh is the key ingredient in this homemade pizza

The garden’s not done yet, but we scored a major haul today.

My Beloved spent his Labor Day morning laboring in the back yard, picking every last ripe tomato he could find.

pizza tomatoes

And look at what he collected!

That’s a lot of caprese salad skewers if that’s the only way you know to use cherry tomatoes, but I think there’s nothing better than roasted cherry tomatoes.

So I roasted up a pan of tomatoes (half the tomatoes, douse in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 450 degrees for 35-40 minutes), and created a fresh sauce for my homemade pizza (hand-tossed, of course).

pizza full

Why ruin a garden fresh sauce with pepperoni? I used fresh mozzarella and fresh basil as toppings (and a dash of shredded parmesan).

Oh my gosh, there’s no better way to celebrate the end of summer than with a pizza created with fresh tomatoes, cheese and basil. So delicious. Wow.



Music with a message

“Now every one of us was made to suffer.
Every one of us was made to weep.
But we’ve been hurting one another,
And now the pain has cut too deep.
So take me from the wreckage,
Save me from the blast.
Lift me up and take me back.
Don’t let me keep on walking,
Walking on broken glass.”

Oh, Annie Lennox put words to my angst earlier this month when I caught her belting out “Walking on Broken Glass” on xM Radio’s ’80s channel.

That song told my story that day. I began conjuring up other fragments of pop music that tell stories — not in only bits and pieces, but throughout the song. I wished for a Pandora channel that categorized storytelling lyrics instead of genres. Here’s the short list I developed of popular music that tells stories:

  • “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band.
  • “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes
  • “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot
  • “Cat’s In the Cradle” by Harry Chapin (a favorite of my Beloved’s)
  • “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Folgelberg
  • “Delta Dawn” by Helen Reddy (this might be a little bit of a stretch because we never find out what happens to Delta).

I thought for sure Phil Collins told some song stories on “No Jacket Required,” a tape (yes, tape) I wore out, I played it so often on my Walkman in 1985. But no. Like a typical percussionist, his lyrics are more rhythmic than narrative.

I could say the same for Jack Johnson. Like “No Jacket Required,” “In Between Dreams” only felt like it told a story because it was the soundtrack to a personal soap opera.

I am reminded of a fragment of a Natasha Bedingfield song I took as a personal anthem when it came out in 2006:

“Today is where your book begins;
The rest is still unwritten.”

We all have stories. Sometimes, they’re best told with a little tune.

The best job I’ve ever had

Today was your last day to order from Ahni & Zoe by Creative Memories.

This is significant because it marks the end of Creative Memories, a company for which I once worked. I would describe the job(s) I had there as the best of my life.

Ahni & Zoe by Creative Memories, the final, ultimately doomed incarnation of the company, was hardly recognizable as Creative Memories, but A&Z did promote photo sharing and some of the employees and salespeople who made the place special were a part of it, so its relation to the original Creative Memories was notable. But it couldn’t climb out of the hole the scrapbooking giant fell into in the past decade. New management is taking over some of the manufacturing equipment in order to continue the legacy of quality products, but whatever Flowerdale Group Limited offers can’t be and won’t be what made Creative Memories special in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

That’s when business was good. That’s when I loved the company. That’s when I had the best job in the world.

The company at its best manufactured scrapbooks and scrapbooking supplies and sold them through a sales field of committed work-at-home women (and a few men) who showed off the products at home parties and workshops. It was the perfect marriage of product and promotion at the right cultural moment: A time when people were overwhelmed by boxes and drawers and envelopes of printed photos. It seems appropriate, actually, to tell my Creative Memories story at this moment with digital versions of printed photos and pages from my scrapbooks. That’s what it’s come to.

CM first day of work

This is the first page in the album I titled “Creative Memories Career I.” It turned into two more volumes, and then Creative Memories had become so entwined with my personal life, I just scrapbooked everything in the same books. Look closely at the welcome note. It says “Welcome New Employees of The Antioch Company.” The Antioch Company was the parent company of Creative Memories.

I started at Creative Memories on Nov. 10, 1997. I remember the precise date, it’s that notable. Throughout the next decade, I changed desks and offices at least 24 times. The company was growing so fast, we reorganized departments, adopted new job titles, built new buildings, bought new desks and moved desks around every six months or so. At the time, it seemed so wild and unpredictable, but now I know the chaos of growth is far preferable to the instability of demise.

One of my many opportunities to dress up for work.

One of my many opportunities to dress up for work.

My job was simple: Dress in revealing clothing and talk with a Cher lisp. Kidding! But I did get to dress up a lot — in classy suits and not-so-classy costumes — in my role in the marketing department. I consulted focus groups, wrote packaging copy, mingled with sales people at fancy dinners and breathtaking incentive trips, drafted proposals, observed sales events and delivered more PowerPoint presentations than I can count.

CM private jet

The only time I’ve ever ridden in a private jet was when a number of Creative Memories employees inspected the plant that supplied our paper. Paper, as you can imagine, is a very important component of a scrapbook.

For a girl who grew up in a small town in Central Minnesota, it was exciting to rub elbows with the jet set. The second week on the job, I flew to Cincinnati for a video shoot, and that was only the first of probably more than 100 business trips in my 10 years at Creative Memories.

Even the training events were affecting.

Even the training events were affecting. I once jumped off the top of a 30-foot pole at a leadership retreat. The whole “trust fall” concept of business bonding is mostly baloney, but the experience was interesting.

The company at the time invested in its employees, and the training I received at Creative Memories was personally enriching, too. I still have on my bulletin board the personal mission statement I wrote in a corporate “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” seminar I took from Cheryl Lightle, one of the co-founders of the company whom I still admire.

That little tiny orange-attired person in front of the big center screen? Me.

That little tiny orange-attired person in front of the big center screen? Me.

Perhaps the highlights of my Creative Memories career were my appearances at the annual North American sales conventions. I introduced branding concepts and new products to the ecstatic cheers of thousands of salespeople (7,000 was my biggest audience). I always felt so glamorous getting attention from makeup artists, learning to use teleprompters and catering to the jumbotron camera.

On my first trip aboard, I closed down the airport when the knuckleheads in the TSA determined I had handled bomb-making materials. I had, in fact, used glycerin-containing hand lotion.

On my first trip aboard, I closed down the airport when the knuckleheads in the Transportation Safety Administration determined I had handled bomb-making materials. I had, in fact, used glycerin-containing hand lotion.

In 2002, I needed a new challenge so I moved from the domestic operation to the international department. Thanks to Creative Memories, I’ve visited five continents spreading the photo-preservation mission of the company. (Antarctica is not a big scrapbooking market, and the closest I got to South America was Mexico City.)

I brought my 60something mother who was more familiar with camping than flying with me on one of my trips to Japan and Australia (yes, Creative Memories allowed personal use my frequent flier miles — it was great like that back in the day). I loved being able to show her the world that way.


You weren’t a Creative Memories devotee unless you handed your camera to other people so you could be in the shot. I still laugh when I see this picture our tour guide in South Africa took of me and a business associate (and yes, that’s her arm where a zebra bit her).

I remember my years in the international department as exotic and challenging. I was given enough rope to hang myself, but most of the time I navigated the tightrope with finesse. The best part, besides the sightseeing, was making friends in far-flung locales. In fact, I made lots of good friends through my work in Creative Memories, many with whom I’m still in contact. Just tonight, I had a 45-minute conversation with one of those talented, hard-working souls who made Creative Memories a truly inspirational, satisfying place to work.

Digital photography marked the beginning of the end of Creative Memories. Without piles of photos in every corner of the house demanding attention, consumers found it easier to ignore (or just post on Facebook) their digital pictures. (Other events transpired, too, but I won’t go into them here; maybe someday the lawyers will let me talk about them.) Sales started declining in 2003, and eventually panic set in.

CM goodbyeWhen I finally left Creative Memories in 2007, I was one of the few people who got to quit voluntarily. The company had undergone a couple of lay-offs, and the marketing and international departments were undergoing makeovers every four months (the hysteria was ludicrous). I took a new job in Illinois to be with my new love, who later became my second husband (the new husband turned out to be wonderful; the new job, not so much. But that’s another story.)

Creative Memories declared bankruptcy the first time in 2008. I was shocked to learn the bankruptcy dissolved the retirement fund of hundreds of employees including me. The company tried to recover, and I eventually signed on as a salesperson just so I could get discounted access to those amazing photo albums. Creative Memories albums are the best scrapbooks on the market. Those books will be around 400 years from now when we’re long, long gone. It was easy to market such good quality.

But the hysteria and the bleeding didn’t stop. Old debt prevented reincarnation. The company declared bankruptcy again in April 2013 and then went on to reinvent itself again as Ahni & Zoe. I was transfixed by the mayhem that ensued, and now as a salesperson, I felt like I had a front-row seat to the traffic accident occurring in slow motion. Sorrowfully, it was like I knew the victims inside the vehicle.

The reimagined product line didn’t catch the fancy of enough people, and salespeople left in droves (including me). A few weeks ago, Ahni & Zoe by Creative Memories announced a while-supplies-last sale. All sales final.

I am sad that Creative Memories has met its end. Though it was more of a mess than a messiah at the end, the company was great once. It did great things. Things you don’t normally associate with corporations nowadays. Memories were saved. Friends were made. People had meaningful work and meaningful pay. I am a better person because I worked for Creative Memories during that magical time.

I take comfort in the words of Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Smile. That’s the perfect way to remember a company that was all about photos.