Thursday, June 24, 2010

“Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”: Life on the Dole Jolts the Rest of the Family

By Guest Blogger: Ariel's Mom

Parents fix things. It's what we do.

Remember when you were five and skinned your knee? Didn't you want Mom to make a big show of rustling up a truckload of antiseptics and bandages for your boo-boo? And, didn't you also want a tender kiss on your grimy little knee and the words, "Everything is going to be alright, Sweetie"? You didn't mind too much if Mom threw in a bear hug at no additional cost—as long as your friends weren't watching. And, thanks to Mom's "fixing" you soon ran back out to play happily, the injury totally forgotten.

Oh, if only the parental role could stay so simple. But, while children inevitably grow up, no parent ever gets old enough to give up the parental impulse to "make it all better" as my own father demonstrated to me some years ago.

When I was 35, I sprained an ankle. As I hobbled into the doctor's office, my ashen-faced, shaking father was already there, looking as if he were the accident victim. I was clearly old enough to manage my own sprained ankle, I thought. Why would my 65-year-old father leap into full parental mode, heeding his inner voice that said "Get there fast and do something, Dad!"?

Because, as parents, it's who we are, and it's what we do. We just can't help ourselves.
No matter how old the offspring, parents fix things—or at least attempt to do so. Still, I didn't really "get" my father's actions that day. Not until my daughter Ariel lost her job and put me in the same position he faced.

First, a little background: Ariel was a good kid. She made straight As, had great friends, never got into the usual teen vices, and she became self-supporting right out of college. Other than a few boyfriends I didn't like (and whom her own good judgment ultimately sent packing) and that garish purple eye shadow at age 15, her decisions have been sound and her achievements exemplary.

Actually it may even be that because Ariel never gave us any major worries as a child that I never got the experience I'd need at parenting-a-grown-daughter-through-big-scary-life-changes thing. I absolutely, positively do not know how to relate to a daughter experiencing a monstrous life challenge like job loss. The one thing I do know: no amount of hugs, kisses, antiseptics or bandages will fix this nasty old boo-boo.

From the moment, 11 months before it actually happened, when Ariel knew her job would be eliminated, she took the news well. She turned immediately to the job search, never slowing down to mourn or bewail her fate; seeing her "stiff upper lip", her father and I pretended to take it well, too. We said all the right things, but privately we were shaken. No doubt, all parents panic a little over an adult child's job loss, but with Ariel on her own, it's been especially scary.

Because, as Ariel calmly explained, "The national unemployment figures may look large, but at my house, it's an even higher number—it's 100%." That's right. No other salary to cushion the loss.

We were thankful she knew months ahead of time that her job might go away. It gave us time to accept the news, strategize, plan and organize.

It didn't help.

Because we are a close-knit family, the three of us spent hours on the phone, trying to accept this calamity and formulate a battle plan. But, it's been a long time since any of us had job searched. We had no clue where to start.

On-line applications? Are they different from paper ones?

Keyword searches? What's that?

LinkedIn? How's that supposed to help?

We soon realized we were total novices in the modern art of the job hunt. Ariel's father and I wanted to be understanding and supportive, but how did that translate into action when we had no clue how people find jobs these days?

Channeling my own father's actions from the day I sprained my ankle, my first impulse was to do something.

But what?

Offer encouragement? Of course.

Volunteer to proof-read the résumé? Absolutely.

Be a sounding board for Ariel's frustrations? Positively.

Tell her how to solve all her problems and point out her mistakes? Uh-oh.

For the first time in our parent-adult child relationship we were navigating uncharted territory. Nobody knew the contact protocol.

Sure, her father and I knew to offer the "good stuff": pep talks, sharing the emotional burden and listening to late-night worries. But, sometimes as worries creep into our own minds, our inner thoughts, when expressed, might come off sounding bossy, pushy or critical. No matter how well intentioned the remark, it has the potential to push the wrong button on the overly-exposed, frayed nerves of the on-the-dole jobseeker.

The problem? Just like the jobseeker, those of us who love them have ups and downs, good days and bad.

Some mornings I awaken full of optimism: the economy will pick up; the job market will rebound; Ariel will get a job even better than the last one. This may, in fact, be the best thing that ever happened to her.

But, on other days when Ariel phones to tell me of yet another rejection—this time from a company we thought would be a slam-dunk—I summon my energy and do the "rah-rah" cheerleader-mother thing once again. It works; by the time we hang up the phone, she feels better and returns optimistically to the job search, sending out more résumés.


Except I lie awake until 2 AM thinking, wondering, praying, worrying and trying to figure out if we're missing something.

Does her résumé need tweaking?

Does the cover letter say too much or too little?

Is her previous high salary a turn-off to potential employees?

Is this bad economy going to last forever?

Because we're a small family—Ariel's our only child—we're a close family. Sunday dinner is a family reunion for us. Which means that, Ariel's job search is about our lives, too. While she may be the one out of work, her father and I have also felt the impact and will continue to do so—maybe for the rest of our lives.

Wherever Ariel goes, we'll need to go as well. That's not clingy—it's realistic. We're not as young as we used to be. I was an only child too. And, when my parents in their declining years took a notion to move 300 miles away, I panicked, wondering how I'd care for them. When I finally dissuaded them, I vowed right then I would never do that to my only daughter. One day—hopefully many years from now—Ariel may need to oversee our care. But, I know that because she's on her own, she'll always have to work, no matter what goes on with her old Mum and Dad. As parents, the least we can do is put ourselves in a convenient location for her.

But, can we, as future retirees, afford to live where destiny leads Ariel? She's had to rule out some locales based on the potential cost of living for us. Los Angeles, Boston and New York City are not places where people of modest means can stretch a retirement dollar.

Well, that is, if we can retire. Her father and I expected to be retired by now, but with Ariel out of work, we hesitate. True, she's managing well on her tiny dole check, but what happens if (when?) it runs out? I'm convinced she'd deliver pizzas or newspapers, wait tables or be a street mime before she'd take money from us, but we feel more secure holding on to our present income "just in case."

Right now, my husband and I do what parents find most difficult: we wait, try to be patient and trust Ariel's judgment and her fierce commitment to the job search. We fully understand there's nothing we can do or say to change this situation, and we struggle to learn how to be supportive of our daughter who's living on the dole.

Yes, it is the nature of parents to worry and to try to fix things. But, unemployment is not a problem fixed with antiseptics, bandages, hugs or even tons of love. Of course, we still provide the love and hugs—it makes us all feel better. And, if I thought antiseptics and bandages would help, I'd pack a cargo truck full and deliver them to Ariel's door this minute. But, sadly, that won't help at all. It isn't like when she was five years old and I really could make things "all better".

Meanwhile . . . we wait. We hope. We pray. Most of all, we love and support our daughter through the most difficult challenge she's faced in her adult life and try to think before we speak. It's all we can do. We hope it is enough.

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Photos Courtesy of:

Moving Couple:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Shear Joy: Sometimes It’s About More Than What You Take Off

I got a haircut.

I Got. A. Haircut.

Yep, you read that right.

Mom's salon was having a sale—only $9. And, with the impending reunion just weeks away Mom amped up the pressure. (Remember when she said my hair was making her look old?). Finally, in a move reminiscent of "Godfather Don", she upped the ante, making me an offer I couldn't refuse: $12 for a haircut and tip.

This haircut made me absurdly happy. I've never had a haircut quite like it. I, quite frankly, felt like a purring kitten rolling on her back afterwards.

Is it possible to get this much pleasure out of such a mundane activity as a haircut? You betcha. Shear joy: now showing at your local salon for a mere nine bucks.

Still, a cut at this salon took some effort. I made the mistake of going on a Saturday. It's one of those no-appointment-necessary-strip-mall salons. Translation: hordes of waiting masses—many of them young and squirmy.

I entered the salon with trepidation. I've gone to the same salon for over a decade. And to the same hairdresser since the previous one decided to be a fishing boat captain (but, that's a whole other story).

I. Do. Not. Like. Going. To. New. Hairdressers.

Scissors in the hands of a stranger standing behind my back make me nervous.

But . . . back to the salon. It was clean and neat, although not hip like the old one. They didn't offer me a beverage. There were straight-back benches instead of the old salon's comfy wicker chairs. And, there were three customers already waiting for Mom's stylist. It would be a long wait.

So what if I spent a little time waiting? It wasn't like I had double-booked a couple of power lunches. I had the time, and I could get five cuts here for what one cost at my old salon.

With a sign featuring Gilles Marini staring at me from above the styling products rack, I figured it just might be an enjoyable wait. My old salon didn't have that view.

Two hours later, Shakira had snipped through three head's worth of tresses and was ready to start my haircut.

"What do you want done?" she asked politely.

During the wait, I had learned the salon charges different prices according to what is done. The $9 cut includes only a spritz of water and the cut—no shampoo, no blow dry, no styling.

"Whatever comes on the $9 deal," I stated. Mom had given me only enough for a cut and a tip.

A little boy giggled and loudly parroted in a mocking voice, "Whatever comes on the $9 deal."

A quick trip to the ladies' room ensured no one else saw my red-faced embarrassment.

"I'm going to give you a complimentary shampoo and blow dry because you waited so long," Shakira told me when I returned.

Bless you, I thought. I'm going to love this woman. Mom had told her about my joblessness and that I was coming in for a cut. Shakira was sweet enough to give me something extra with this cut and, at the same time, kind enough not to make it feel like charity.

I sat down at the sink. The water gushed out. I don't know when I've felt anything as delicious as that water hitting my head. Why does it feel so good to have someone else wash your hair? It never feels this great when I wash it myself.

There was no scalp massage like at the old salon, but that water and shampoo made me feel like a new person. It seemed that every worry I had for the last eight months began to flow down that salon drain.

And Shakira even threw in the twelve-dollars-extra scalp treatment for free. You've made my all-time top ten list of favorite people, Shakira!
She had her work cut out for her in brushing out the long, wet tresses. In that chair, somehow they looked longer and more unruly than ever. After hearing I wanted five inches off she began to snip.

Is it possible to feel as if a burden has been lifted by a mere haircut?

That's exactly how it felt. As each wet, curling strand fell onto the cape and then to the floor below, I felt freer.

I felt new.

I felt the old slipping away.

And quite literally it was: the sodden hair hitting the floor had been with me since the last stressful year of the old job. It may have actually held within it the worry and panic that weighed on my mind during the transition that resulted in job loss. It held memories of a life I no longer had.

I was so giddy with this new feeling that I told Shakira to cut off another two inches. And she did. I was quite tempted to ask for a new short 'do, but decided I shouldn't get carried away.

And then she began to blow it dry. As I saw my fashionable coiffure return, I felt my confidence return also. Gone were the tired-looking tresses that made me feel frumpy and dumpy.
I cannot adequately describe the soul-filling joy I felt when I saw the completed style. Have I already said how much I now adore Shakira? I could've danced out of that salon. I wanted to break into song. Heck, I wanted to scream a little, too.

Feeling a bit giddy, I even threw in one of my own scarce dollar bills to plump up the tip. Shakira had more than earned that 44% tip.

Filled with excitement, I stopped by my parents' house to show off the new 'do. All the way home, I tossed my hair like some crazed shampoo-commercial model.

Why did this cut give me such ridiculous over-the-top delirious joy?

Once again, the Joy of The Treat had returned to douse me in a ray of light. I'd never given a haircut much thought before, but days later, I still recall this experience with pleasure. And, I still feel changed by it.

For the past eight months, I have hidden my greying, damaged, too-long hair in ponytails. But, something about this new cut changed me in ways I don't fully understand. Is it possible I've fallen in love with my grey? Gone is the excessive hairspray that plastered those much-too-long locks. I'm wearing my hair free and natural—and sometimes (dare I say it?)—even curly (translation: really natural).

That haircut was more than just a cut. With every passing day away from the old life, I'm becoming like my hair—freer and more natural—in touch with who I am and what I want for my new life. The old life had its perks—mostly material, I now realize—but my current on-the-dole situation may just be transforming me into the woman I was meant to be.

And, I think I like her a whole lot better. 
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Just for Fun: And, Speaking of The Joy of the Treat: Watch Gilles Marini Dance the Paso Doble on "Dancing with the Stars"

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Photos Courtesy of:
Long-haired Woman:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Eating on the Dole Doesn’t Have to Be a Royal Pain

Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a fair princess named Ariel. She had a human resources job that kept her very busy. She worked hard and earned a good salary. Princess Ariel wasn't a spendthrift, but could spend money on whatever she wanted without worry. She never gave grocery shopping much thought. She planned her menus around what she wanted to eat. When shopping, Princess Ariel was never inconvenienced—she always frequented the closest store.

As Princess Ariel traipsed through the Fairy Land supermarket, she didn't have a care in the world.

I'll buy some organic fruits and veggies, she thought.

Ariel never considered how much she might need between grocery trips. She was interested in variety rather than whether the produce or meat would go bad before being eaten.

Portobello mushrooms, bagged pre-washed lettuce and cut-up fruit! Princess Ariel never washed or chopped anything that could be purchased prepared.

"I'll take some steak," she told the butcher "and some chicken breasts and shrimp, too." This princess never worried about meat prices.

She bought hummus, bruschetta and almond butter. Brand-name ice cream, yogurt and little pudding cups, too. Prepared sauces and some mixes rounded out her cart.

Princess Ariel never thought about whether these items tasted better than more mundane ones. She never considered making her own sauces or puddings from scratch or whether that might improve the taste. Princesses don't have to worry their pretty little heads over such things.

"Do you have any coupons?" the cashier politely asked.

"Uh, no. I don't do coupons," Princess Ariel replied. "They're kind of a pain."

And, through it all Princess Ariel never realized she was spending more than $400 per month on food for one person. She never had a clue that more than $500 in restaurant charges meant she was eating $1,000 per month.


What the heck was I thinking?

That was then. This is now.

Pantry: Empty.

Wallet: Likewise.

Hi, my name's Ariel, and I'm a recovering princess.

These days with more time than money, I work the supermarket ads, visit more than one store for the best deals, collect coupons, compare store-brand prices to couponed national brands and—most importantly—think, think, THINK while shopping. I buy whole foods and make recipes from scratch (ironically, it takes only minutes longer).

Food whims now match whatever is on sale. Well, I've at least learned to make them match.

No more packaged items in this princess-turned-Cinderella's cart. I'm eating high-quality food—fresh meats, fresh and frozen veggies and produce, dairy and eggs. If truth be told, I'm eating far better quality food than when I just pitched the easiest items into the cart.

With mere extra minutes of work, I wash and tear-up lettuce, cut up veggies and make pasta sauce and other items from scratch. My food tastes better and costs less.

Seriously, have you ever compared the taste of bagged lettuce to head lettuce? No comparison.

When I was a child, "treats" were reserved for rare occasions. Mom and I walked (yes, I said walked) to the local bakery for one strawberry cupcake—not a whole dozen. If I behaved while shopping (which didn't always happen), Mom bought us a small box of chocolate-covered peanuts to share. Ice cream, steak and sweets were only consumed on birthdays and national holidays. Soda was only available at Granny and Grandpa's house—and, even then in a tiny four-ounce glass. Eating out—a very rare treat.

Even while still working, I realized there were no special treats. I ate out almost daily. I bought any food (or anything else) that I wanted, whenever I wanted. Steak meant it was Wednesday, not Memorial Day. Ice cream meant it was 8 PM, not July Fourth. Soda meant I'm awake, not at Grandpa's house. Nothing was special in those days.

I've rediscovered the simple joy of The Treat again. Ice cream, nuts, portabella mushrooms and expensive cuts of meat are special (when on sale) again. There's one steak left in the freezer just waiting for a special occasion to make its long-awaited appearance.
Now that summer has arrived, this recovering-princess has a bit of dirt under my nails and sweat on my brow most days. I don't need store-bought lettuce or herbs anymore. And, soon I won't need those $2.99 per pound tomatoes either. I'm growing my own in containers on the patio.

Last night's dinner: Pizza and salad made from home-grown oregano and arugula.

Today's lunch: Chicken with homegrown rosemary and sage.

Both: Delicious!

I just made this season's first trip to the local farm's produce stand. I got two grocery bags full of produce for $10.

Last month's grocery bill: only $149.91. Eating out has become a rare treat—usually when Mom and Dad are buying.

Fruit tastes sweeter. Veggies are fresher. Food is healthier. I have even lost a few pounds.

This recovering princess has rediscovered the joy of The Treat.

Life on the dole may just be the best thing that ever happened to my wallet, waistline and maybe even my soul.

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Just for Fun: Enjoy Ariel's Easy Homemade Creamy Herbed Tomato Soup:

Creamy Herbed Tomato Soup
½ cup sliced onion
2T butter
Splenda to taste (I used a couple of Tablespoons. You could use sugar or other sweetener if you prefer but it would change the carb/calorie count.)
14 ½ oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 ½ cups of chicken broth
8 oz. can of tomato sauce
½ teaspoon dried basil (or try some fresh from your patio garden!)
¼ teaspoon dried thyme (or try some fresh from your patio garden!)
Dash pepper (I used fresh ground pepper)
¼ cup half-and-half
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

In large saucepan, cook onion in butter till tender but not brown. Add undrained canned tomatoes, broth, tomato sauce, Splenda, basil, thyme and pepper. Place mixture in blender and puree till smooth. Return mixture to saucepan. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover & simmer for 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Add half-and-half. Heat through. If desired, garnish with shredded cheddar cheese. Makes about 5 side-dish servings.

Approximate Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:
Calories:             186
Fat:                      11g
Saturated Fat:       7g
    Trans Fat:         0g
Cholesterol:        28mg
Sodium:            500mg
Carbohydrates:  17g
    Fiber:              3g
    Sugars:           7g
Protein:               8g

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For More Fun: Meet Kristina Simms, Photographic Contributor
The food photos from today's blog are courtesy of my friend, Kristina Simms. Ms. Simms is an author, photographer, retired educator, grandmother, community volunteer and, in general, an energetic and creative force of nature! Ms. Simms lives in Perry, Georgia.

She has published two nonfiction books: Macon: Georgia's Central City, An Illustrated History (Windsor Press, 1989) and A Year at the Lake (Xlibris, 2003). She is the author of a poetry book, A Second Spring (iUniverse, 2006) and numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Her recent work, The Stradivarius in the Basement, is a collection of essays—some humorous, some serious—based on the author's 72 years of observing—and participating in—life on this wonderful but essentially puzzling planet.

More of Ms. Simms photography can be found her blog: and on her Flickr photostream at

Ms. Simms books can be purchased on or downloaded on Kindle through the links below: 




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Photo Credits:

Food Photos: Courtesy of Kristina Simms (

Renaissance Serving Girl: Courtesy of anoldent (