Today I met 7-year-old Naomi, the daughter of My Music Man’s old high school buddy.  She was delightful and quickly brought out my inner little girl.  As we chatted about the snow on the ground here in Iowa, I told her that I very much wanted to create a snowman and she volunteered to be my “partner-in-crime.”

Last night, while we were sleeping, a steady snow fell and over 4 inches accumulated overnight.  I am told this is only an average.  Some places got more, some less.  I am sure we got more.  The snow was beautiful, very fluffy, and piled up everywhere.   There was so much snow, the snowplows were working around the clock.  I can’t imagine how tired they must be of this cold powder called “snow.”  For the last 24 hours I have seen more snowplows, John Deere tractors with attachments, and little “mini plows” than I’ve seen regular cars.

And I’ve learned something I never knew  – not all snow is created equal.  Snow has certain properties, depending on the outside temperature.  This is a noteworthy fact because the temperature never got above 20 degrees today.  It was so cold that the snow did not stick together at all.  It was like holding very cold talcum powder.  Try to make a cohesive ball out of talcum powder.  It simply doesn’t work.  This flies in the face of my old believes about snow.  I used to think that snow was snow.  Can’t you always make a snowball with snow?

I have heard that in the Inuit culture, they have many different words for what we simply call “snow.”  After today, this makes sense.

My ultimate objective was to make my first snowman in over 2 decades.  I innocently thought that with all the snow that had fallen overnight, there would be plenty…and there was!  I just couldn’t make it stick together enough to make a simple small snowball!  I quickly learned that I had to take off my (warm) gloves and hold the snowball in my warm-ish hands and blow to bring it up to a temperature that would cause it to stick together.   This only worked for a short time because after a couple of small snowballs for the body of the snowman, my  hands were frozen.  I didn’t know how badly they were frozen until I went inside to use the bathroom.  Suddenly, I felt a great deal of pain in my fingers and a throbbing warmth that felt like my bones had been set on fire.

The final result was a beautiful little “mini” snowman that Naomi named “Frosty.”  We searched the land to find the important accessories that all snow people must have — the buttons, the arms, the eyes, the pipe, the nose (we imported a raisin for this), and, of course, the hat.  He started out bald and we decided that he had to have a hat, or hair, however the observer wanted to interpret our art piece.  The search for these snow-fashion-accessories was an adventure all by itself.  We knew that we would have to be realistic about the size of our precious snowman.  He would have to be small or we would get frostbite.

Frosty the...

Frosty the…
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

“Frosty” was about 8 inches tall, and he played hockey.  We found him a wonderful hockey stick and a hockey puck that looked more like a soccer ball (that is if you were to calculate the scale of our new friend).  He had precious red berry buttons, eyes made from the pods, which created an “eyelash-y” look.  His hat was made of an evergreen pine bush and Naomi insisted on finishing our creation with a dusting of snow over his head.

The snow feels and looks like the sand at Dillon beach a couple of miles from my house, and it behaves about the same way.  I couldn’t make a “sand ball” with the sand there, but I could try to make a sand castle and that is the very logic that I used to make “Frosty.”  Basically, adding water (in this case, damp heat) you would make the crystals stick together.

While I tediously worked on the little guy, Naomi made snow angels in the front yard.  Given the amount of snow and the powdery consistency, it was far easier to make a snow angel than it was to make our snowman.  She was obviously a veteran.

As the afternoon peaked, the sun sparkled on the snowy ground.  with in weather that is too cold to even contemplate, there was no chance of melting and I knew that “Frosty” would guard their house for a while, given the promised weather forecast.  By tonight, it would dip down to some number with a negative in front of it and the temps forecasted in the coming weekend didn’t bode much better.

To say that I’m glad to be heading home on Monday would be a given.  Yet, this adventure is full of fertile education.  I have learned a lot about snow, things I never knew, and things I thought I did know have been up-ended.  I’ll never think of Iowa in the same way, heck, I’ll never think of snow in the same way.  It makes me want to learn all those Inuit words that describe all the many types of snow that exist and find out how to make a snowman out of each and every kind.

But, most of all, I learned that I never want to waste a good snow.  I’ll never pass up the opportunity to make a snowman with a sweet little angel named Naomi, even if it means I get frostbite.

Posted in Friendship, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Flat Chest and Big Feet


Iron Angel
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

‎”Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetime, is certain for those who are friends.”   ~Richard Bach

It was a small thing, really.  I’m not sure she ever knew what it meant to me.  It was a note passed to me secretly in class that I held onto over the years.  My elementary school years were not happy ones.  Trouble at home cascaded into trouble at school.  While I made good grades, the other kids teased me incessantly, often resulting in a beating at the end of the day or on the playground during recess.  My flat chest, big feet, and buck teeth were the stuff that bullying was made of.  I was the fodder for their fun.  Memories of the daily taunts still bring a gripping feeling in my gut, even these many years later.  Most of the girls in my school were cruel and dishonest, promising friendship but instead bestowed betrayal, duplicity, and deceit.  I had come to believe that friendship had conditions, that I had to be someone else in order to fit in.

So it was when I was 12 that I decided life wasn’t worth it.  I couldn’t make it another day.  I didn’t have the strength, the courage or understanding to know how to stop the daily abuse, so I figured that God would let me start over.  Obviously, I failed in my attempt to end this life because I’m here now to write about it.  Which brings me to the note.

Before text messages and email, there was the plain ol’ note written on lined paper, folded in triangular shapes and tucked, ever so neatly in the palm of your hand.  They were passed clandestinely, sometimes intercepted by the teacher.  To our extreme embarrassment, they were often read aloud.  But, this one made it to me safely.  This one simply said, “You are so smart and special.  Thank you for being my friend,” signed “Debbie.”

As I left childhood behind, I became a connoisseur of many things.  One of those things is friendship.  Looking back, I’ve had the extreme privilege of redefining friendship and have gathered a treasure-trove of friends along the way.  Now, 5 decades into this life, I’ve worked hard to leave those childhood bullies behind.  I’ll bet that they’ve grown up themselves and left their own “stuff” behind, most likely forgetting all the vicious tormenting and threats.  People like Debbie taught me how friends should behave and offered the promise of how they give our lives such meaning and joy.  I wouldn’t know how to live on this earth without them.

Debbie was one of those optimistic people.  I can still hear her voice, bright with encouragement.  I looked up to her, admired her.  She was an inspiration in so many ways. A loyal friend from the beginning, she never let me down.

Together, we tried out for the school drill team together.  Night after night, we practiced hard.  She spent many nights at my house helping me to learn the routine for try-outs.  I made the team, and she did not.  But, this only made her proud for me.  Yes, I knew she was disappointed, but she never took away my delight with her own feelings.  She only supported me.

Years later, our friendship still blossoming, I watched her become a successful business woman.  She kept her body healthy with dedicated exercise and watching what she ate, always keeping an eye on her weight.  I don’t think I ever told her how much I admired her, that the note she sent me years before stayed with me.  Debbie’s encouragement throughout these decades were part of my own success.  She was a role model, a bright star in my sky.  As I write this, I realize that she was more than just a friend, she was a beacon.

What I didn’t know was that she spent her whole life battling an eating disorder that eventually killed her.  Truthfully, I felt I had let her down.  Her death was a shock I never saw coming.

Debbie is now one of the loveliest angels in heaven with a smile that would light up a village.  I only wish I could have told her how she lit up my life.   

Posted in After 50, Friendship | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Live Pies Served Up Fresh

Homegrown Pie Auction
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

There are Pie People and there are Cake People. My Music Man and I are confirmed Pie People. I simply love pie. I’d rather have pie than cake. It’s not just a matter of taste, it’s a matter of substance. Pies are efficient, pies are practical. Cakes are fanciful. All that icing seems like such a waste. I know there are those who would argue this point, but I’m solidly sure of where I stand.

Number 27
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

Tonight in our little corner of the world, the “Academy Awards of Pie” went off without a hitch. The Annual Live Pie Auction served up thick with slices of cheesy Americana. It just doesn’t get any better than this. In our small town, homemade pies are treasures born of hands in dough, fresh fruit from back yards, baked with love, and decorated for those of us who understand the fine art of pies.

Yummy Pies
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

27 precious pies were auctioned off to raise money for the local Valley Ford Volunteer Fire Department. Even though it was our neighboring town, Valley Ford, that hosted the event, in our neck of the woods, anything within 10 miles is local. The little schoolhouse filled to the brim, shook with such a ruckus in the back that the auctioneer had to tell us to “Shush” so he could hear the bids. Unaware of all the back room deals, he only sensed the behind the scenes cahootin’. Those of us standing in the back like vultures were eying the pies on the back table, strategizing, how to get our prized pie, knowing there was competition, knowing they were strategizing, too.

This will be gone by morning.
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

Picture Perfect Pie
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)


We had chosen two pies. Each with its own unique winning strategy.

Pie Presenter and Hostess Anna “Vanna”
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

The first pie was ours. Strike fast, strike early. The bidding had yet to really get heated up so we were thrilled when the pumpkin pie went for a mere $17.50. What a deal. We had won The Stolen Pumpkin Pie. The pie maker confessed that the pumpkin used for this pie had been stolen from her neighbors yard…”Well,” she said coyly, “It was almost in my yard, so I took it and decided to use it for a pies.” The neighbor, sitting patiently on the long bench, didn’t seem to mind, seemed to say with his quiet smile, “Yeah, it’s okay, I had enough pumpkins, anyway…” I suspect he received his own pie in exchange for his silence.

Pie Fans
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

As the pies rolled by, the bidding became heated reaching a feverish pitch. At one point, the auctioneer sold a very special ginger pumpkin pie for $115.

Pie People
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

This development brought me to the edge of my seat. I had my eye on a three berry pie, a gorgeous “peek-a-boo” cut crust, sprinkled with sugar. This beautiful pie had been saved for the final round. It was one of the only berry pies, rare among all the apple, pear, and pumpkin pies. We were sure to be outbid.

Berry Happy Smile
(Photo Credit: Chick Petersen)

The bidding commenced and after some active volleying, we won the prized berry pie for $50. I don’t think I’ve ever paid that much for a pie before, but it was going for a good cause…and it was beautiful. I was happy, I had won my pie and was looking forward to eating it.

Birthday Boy
(Photo Credit: Venta Leon)

Earlier in the evening, as the auction began, my Music Man met a couple from Alaska on a cross-continental bicycle trip heading for Argentina. They’d just happened upon the Live Pie Auction while on their journey. It turns out they had also been eyeing the triple berry pie. After we won, my Music Man informed me that not only did they have designs on that pie, had lost the bid on it, but the day before had been the guy’s birthday…so, what could we do? We cut the pie in half and presented it to him unflinchingly. We couldn’t let him go without some pie for his birthday. The look on his face was priceless, and it felt good in our hearts, too. Pies are made for sharing.

(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

It’s not about the food, although the food is wonderful – fresh ingredients, together with a priceless home-made, lusciousness. We didn’t come to compete for the pies, provided through the generosity of our neighbors and friends. We came for the sport, for the warmth and to support our local folks, and we came away with so much more – precious moments overflowing with laughter. For some, it was the pumpkin, others, the apples or the pears, a few craved the berries, but we gathered tonight to pay homage to the pies of the season, to celebrate that which is better than cake, an abundance that only pie can deliver. With this year’s Live Pie Auction behind us, there was no doubt it was a huge success. We never figured out what a Dead Pie Auction would look like, but we were all relieved they decided to auction off the Live Ones.

Beer & Pie: Some folks didn’t make it very far before they devoured their pie. This little group chose to squat right outside the front door and dig in…
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

“Let them eat cake” only means that they get what’s left over…cake can never compete with a well made pie. For me, I’d eat a pie, crust and all, lick the plate clean and leave the cake behind. I’m deliberate like that.

Live Pie Parties always need Live Music…
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

Posted in Friendship, Local Food, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

I’ll Buy a Fantasy for $10, Please: Lady Luck Beckons

Wine in the Making

Ladies in Waiting.
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

Last Saturday night we celebrated the 50th birthday of a new friend.  We’re connected to each other because he lived next door to one of my close girlfriends.  She eventually moved away, but still keeps in touch.  Good neighbors are special.  I’ve been lucky enough throughout my life to have a large collection of them.  We chat over the fence, share meals, discuss local issues, and know the generalities of each others’ lives.  I appreciate privacy, but because we share a rather intimate space, rely upon certain combined resources, and breathe the same air, we often depend on one another.

As the party blossomed, several of us chatted together about the wine business.  Living in the Northern California wine country means that you can’t throw a rock and not hit a vintner, or someone directly connected to the industry.  They joked with each other that winemaking would make you poor.  You die happy, but spend all your money in the process.  That’s when the subject of the most recent lottery frenzy came up and I confessed that I’d actually fantasized about how I would spend the money.  Everyone nodded.  Of course, they said, we have all had those fantasies.

Generally, I don’t play the lottery.  I don’t go to Vegas, either.  I just don’t enjoy leaving the fate of my money to a fragile marriage of chance and my own ignorance of how to play the game.  Lady Luck and I have never been friendly.  So, I keep my distance and let her break other hearts.

This time I chose to buy a ticket.  And, honestly, I felt terrible about it.  It was almost an obsessive thing.  But, the Lady Herself had winked at me and said, go on, it’s your turn to feel unbelievably rich.  Such a seductress…

I’ve heard all the discussions about having a better chance of getting hit by lightning.  It could be said that you’d have a better chance of getting hit by lightning twice.  I’m sure that those unfortunate folks who’ve actually been hit by lightning twice would agree that it’s pretty much an impossible statistic.  But, who develops these statistics and should we believe them?

So, I finally bought a ticket at the very last-minute.  My car made its way to the local convenience store and ejected me into the store.  It took me a while to actually buy the ticket because I had to thoroughly read the instructions, interview a few starry-eyed patrons, and used one of my “phone a friend” cards.  There were several different lottery products to choose from.  How did I know which one the Lady wanted me to play?  Once I found the Big One, the tiny red writing on the back provided detailed, but ambiguous instructions on how to mark the form.  It was all very stressful.

Driving home with my shiny new ticket, the fantasies began to swirl.  In my head, I envisioned myself as the winner.  Pictures flashed as I imagined I’d won a jackpot of historical proportions.  What would I do next?  Would I scream?  Cry?  Hide?  By the time I arrived home, I had composed a list of things I would do with the money, enjoying the impact the windfall would have on family, friends, and neighbors.  The most amazing thing was that I could easily spend every single penny in a very short amount of time.

Back at the party, one of my party mates said, “Well, it’s a cheap fantasy anyway, you know?  It doesn’t cost that much and the fantasies themselves are priceless.  Heck, my bar tab tonight will be several times more than a measly lottery ticket.  Think of it as a transfer of wealth.  We’re all basically buying a chance to dream.”

Many might argue that you can dream without the ticket.  But, we all agreed as we stood together revisiting our wildest fantasies that it would be like going to the front of a carnival and never crossing through the gate to ride the roller coaster.  You can imagine how it feels, but it’s not like actually standing in line ripe with anticipation.

Lady Luck beckons to us like a siren and delivers a fantasy in return.  She enjoys that lustful look in our eyes and fans the fire with promises of fortune and fame.  As we listen to her song, enticing as it may be, we should remember what happens to sailors blinded to the rocks below.  They go down with their ship.

So, here’s what I’d like to know:  Did you go on an adventure with the Lady on your own fantasy trip?  Where did she take you this time?

Posted in Party Talk | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Burning Love

(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

Wow, salsa, peppers and chicken all baked up together? This I had to try…as always, we mixed it up a bit and made it our own, but here it is, beware: it’s spicy. 

I’m always looking for tasty ways to impress my family and friends. These days we’re eating out less often, but don’t want to give up the communion that sharing meals with loved ones offers. Recently, I’ve discovered that focusing on simple dishes utilizing the oven instead of the stove top provides us with the most freedom to enjoy our guests. For a recipe to be considered Guest Worthy, it has to include the following components (besides being delicious):

  1. Prep happens before guests arrive, maximizing the “experience” by eliminating distractions.
  2. The Oven does all or most of the work (as opposed to managing the intricacies of the stove top.
  3. The dish is a balanced meal – include veggies and meat.
  4. Great for leftovers.

My Music Man and I made this together last night for some low-key entertaining with some close friends. After the first helping, he looked at me, smiled and nodded. No other words were necessary. This one made the cut. His only request was that next time we used thighs instead of breasts. We call this…


Prep Time:
  20 Min

Cook Time:  
45 Min

Ready In:
  1 Hr 5 Min

Recipe Yields 6 servings


  • 5-6 (about 4-5 lbs.) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 fresh Serrano peppers, minced
  • 1 fresh Jalapeno pepper, minced
  •  4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 4 carrots, grated
  • 3 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 large (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 ½ cup chicken broth
  • 2 cups uncooked long grain rice
  • 1 large lime, squeezed
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 (2.25 ounce) can sliced ripe olives, drained


In a large skillet, brown chicken in olive oil for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove and keep warm. In the same skillet, sauté the onion, celery, peppers and garlic. Add mushrooms. Cook until tender. Stir in the tomatoes, water, rice, broth and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Pour into a large greased baking dish; add carrots, stir in lime juice, top with chicken.

Cover and bake at 325 degrees F for 45-50 minutes or until rice is tender. Uncover; spoon salsa over chicken and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5 minutes longer  to melt the cheese. Garnish with olives.

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Not the Size of Your “Hand Job” … It’s the Power of Your Network That Matters

The End of the Search Brings Me Home

The End of the Search Brings Me Back Home
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

It was a small thing, really. An object that blended into our everyday world. A small titanium hand in a halfway grip that hung from My Music Man’s keys. He’d had it for many years – long before I knew him. It was a gift to him to buy his patience. He tells the story about ordering a special mountain bike years ago. It was a hand-made treasure from a local company called Ibis. The delivery of his precious bike had been delayed and he was salivating, itching to get it, get on it, and get up that mountain. But, instead, he was handed the “Hand Job” as a pacifier and a bribe.

That was April 1998, and mountain bikes were a personal thing, more than any other vehicle like a car or a motorcycle. Truly, mountain biking is like a religion; it gets in your blood. I only understand it from afar as I’ve personally only tried it once and as told by the witnesses, it was an utter failure. It was frightening, and let’s face it, I’m a hiker, preferring to keep my two feet on Mother Earth. I never made it up the mountain, stuck to easy horizontal surfaces with few rocks. But, that’s another story altogether.

He hung it on his keys and there it stayed for over a decade. He loved it, used it to pop off beer caps. It was always a source of commentary to newbies, those who wondered what the heck this thing was…he would tell the story and smile as he popped another cap.

I knew he loved it. And the stories of the Ibis bikes are legendary in the mountain biking circles. Just knowing that would hint that this small object was irreplaceable. It had been made by the company as a tchotchke in its early years and given away at trade shows. He was lucky to still have his after all these years.

The moment I realized that it was among the stolen items from my purse a few weeks ago was visceral for me. I was still recovering from the magnitude of the list of lost personal items, as well as the resulting identity theft. The thought that pushed through my brain carried a heated, searing, shaft of sadness. I didn’t tell him then. I waited. He had been through enough already.

It was over a day later that we were out running errands, trying to repair the damage of the theft together. The weather was beautiful, we had found laughter again, and were treating ourselves to lunch. We were happy, things were light. So, I decided to tell him. “Do you know what else was in my purse?”

He looked at me quietly. His face reflected the question, but not the answer.

I pushed further. “On your keys…”

Oh god. He knew now and his face sunk. I was so sorry and it all came rushing back. We immediately got online to find virtual comfort. Maybe there was a source to replace this? Perhaps there was an underground market for such things. Ebay had one for sale (in retrospect it was probably his), blogs discussed them, there were stories and photos. We somehow felt better.

Then we forgot.

In the midst of the more important aspects of the crisis, a couple of weeks passed before it popped onto my radar again. Late one night I was ready to tackle replacing the Hand Job for My Music Man. It would feel good to find another one for him.

But, it was too late for Ebay; that one was gone. The blogs were interesting and provided more fuel for my fire, but I could find no place to buy the replacement. In fact, the “word on the {virtual} street” was that these things were highly prized and fetched a fine sum, IF you could find one.

Oh Boy, another Challenge!

I woke up earlier than usual the next morning and began to make phone calls. I started with the Ibis Customer Service phone number and told my story. I could hear the smile-laced voice at the other end of the phone. “No,” he said, “We don’t have any. I mean, the people who may have one around here keep them as part of their own personal stash, you know?  No one would part with theirs. Sorry.”

Disappointment. {Sigh} “Okay,” I replied. “Could you give me anyone who might have one, might know of a person who would be willing to sell theirs?”

“Hang On, I’ll ask around real quick…” Upon his return, “Try this guy…”

And so it went for a while. One call led to another as I traversed the country’s telephone lines searching for a little titanium Hand Job.

Finally…”Well, you know, there’s this guy in Lincoln, Nebraska who collects mountain bikes and other trinkets. He’d probably have a few, or could point you in the direction…Good Luck.” And so I was tossed to Nate, at Monkey Wrench Cycles.

The Drive

My Search Ended Right Down the Road
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

While Nate didn’t have one himself, he understood my plight and suggested I call his buddy, Mike Varley, at Black Mountain Cycles, in Point Reyes Station, CA. And this is where my search ended, literally 17.4 miles from my front door. I had travelled the country back and forth for about an hour that morning to find myself right down the road again. Mike was kind and extremely helpful. He said he knew the guy who had originally made the little gadgets. He’d reach out to him and see what he could do.

His next communication was in an email. “Good News,” he wrote. That was all I needed to hear. We’ve exchanged emails and arranged pricing, the Hand Job may only be a replacement, but it’s story is powerful: Never Underestimate the Power of your Network. A huge thanks goes out to Mike, and we even stopped into his sweet shop off the main drag in Point Reyes Station to meet him face-to-face. He’s won a customer for life – My Music Man and I are forever fans. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty, you can only earn it. Pay attention, fellow business people. This is one for the books.

And most importantly, My Music Man’s new Hand Job will carry with it this Happy Ending.

It’s not the size of your Hand Job….
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

Posted in Happy Endings | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Road Home

Spirit Matters
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

I’ve never had a boring life. Never. The things that happen to me turn out to be dramatic and ripe with juicy seeds that sprout adventure. I love that about my life. I love that I am steeped in such things that novels are made of. So, it’s no surprise to me that my recent car theft was not just some junkie on the street trying to find money for the next fix. Well, maybe in some way he was…but, yesterday, as I unraveled the sticky mess of the theft of my identity, I uncovered something right out of a John Grisham novel. What do I do with the knowledge that this simple act of terrorism, one that happened on a busy street on a Sunday in San Francisco, is directly connected to organized crime?

Yeah, I said it. You read that right.

Stolen cars, postal fraud, funds transfers, fraudulent accounts, information hacking, forgery, felonies stacked on felonies…how did I arrive at my conclusion? They all point to one address in San Francisco. A little business that sells passport photos, private mailboxes, copies, a United Stated Post Office, and even a FedEx. Seems innocuous, yes?

As I flashed back to my conversation with the SFPD Bike Cop, I remembered he hinted that the operation behind the swarm of thefts in that area were related to one address. He didn’t tell me which one, but said they knew all about it and had been unable to gain access. Things are starting to gel. Somebody even whispered “Russian Mafia” to me a few weeks ago, but I blew it off.

Okay, so maybe the Russians aren’t involved, but what if they are?

Look, I don’t live in fear. And I’m not trying to scare you. I’m trying to wake you up to what’s really going on out there…

Today’s my day to camp out at the front office in the Southern Station of the San Francisco Police Department with my reams of documents and evidence to demand a case number. That’s Step One for me today. But, as I think about the steps that led me here, I want to share with you some great ideas that you can do for yourself. Before you’re a victim. 

1.  Commit to Ordering Your Free Credit Reports Once Every Year. 

This is like changing the battery in your smoke detectors. It’s like getting your annual medical check-up. Just do it. Put it on your calendar and do it when you file your taxes, or on your birthday, or some other day once a year. If you feel adventurous, you can set up an online account with each agency and monitor it that way, but honestly, everything starts here. You’d be surprised to know what these Credit Rating Agencies (CRAs) think they know about you. It’s a two-edged sword and if you’re smart, you’ll play the game.




2.  Respect the Credit Card.

Don’t carry these puppies around with you. Leave them at home. I know, it’s tempting to have them close by when you’re out and about, but you don’t need them. Only carry the basics. Remember this: there are credit and debit cards in your wallet now that have the PIN encoded on the magnetic strip on the back and the bad guys can swipe them with their magic machines and get to your money.

Keep copies of all credit cards in a file at home – back and front. Make copies of your Drivers License, your passport, and any other important document. Keep them safe at home. This will save you tons of time if you ever lose your personal documents. Trust me on this one.

3.  Rotate Your Passwords.

Change your passwords regularly. I keep a file safely locked away that has a list of my current passwords. Any thief would need to know where to look and that’s not likely. I can get access to it quickly if my memory fails me. This is a hard one because you think it’s not that important. Online identity theft is the number one way they get access to your identity, and your money.

4. Open Your Mail. Then Shred It.

It was a basic looking letter from the postal service that arrived in our mailbox informing us that our address had been changed. We get loads of junk mail every single day, but if we didn’t review each piece, we would’ve missed an important red flag.

Once you’ve reviewed your mail, shred anything with compromising information. Invest in a chipper/shredder. It’s one way to safeguard your information. Years ago when I was a fraud investigator, one way to find good information was to go through trash. Seriously. I even have a scar to prove it. It’s totally legal once the garbage is placed at the curb, so don’t take this for granted. Even if you like your neighbors.

5.  Abandon Your Mother’s Maiden Name.

Who thought of this? And how did we think this was a good idea? This is easy to uncover, so don’t use it. You can request that all credit cards, banks, etc. use a password provided by you. Make it good and personal, one that only has meaning to you, not the whole world. Don’t use birthdays, addresses, anything easy. Make it something like the license plate number of the hottie you dated in high school. You know, something like that.

6.  Think Like A Criminal.

It’s time to stop thinking that this happens to someone else. With this kind of crime on the rise, it’s merely mathematics and statistics. It’s a cultural cancer and the only cure is education.

Watch your purse and your belongings. Lock your car door when you run in to pay for gas. Don’t leave your purse on the back of your chair in a restaurant, stash it between your legs, under the table, or leave it locked in the trunk of your car. Find a tote or purse that has safety built in, like this one.

7.  Spread the Word.

Remember to spread the word. Make this a part of normal conversation. It’s more important than politics, fashion, or any celebrity gossip. Tell your friends, your loved ones, and especially your children. I can’t imagine what their world is going to be like.

Let’s keep the conversation going. Please feel free to share your ideas below and don’t forget my bold offer….

Posted in Financial Safety | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Breaking Bad – 5 Ways Out of a Corner

SFPD Permanent Welcome Mat
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

The world keeps turning, even though we think it’s stopped, and we’re always learning, even when we don’t want to.

Last week, I finally got some relief in my stalemate with the San Francisco Police Department. I got my case number for my recent Identity Theft and have been connected to the SFPD Fraud Department, at least theoretically. No contact as yet, but the promise is hanging out there like a carrot suspended on a string. But, what I learned about this was pretty useful, so I share it with you today.

1. Sometimes you have to go around the system.

Northern Lights
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

I followed directions and found myself going in a circle. Each person with whom I spoke had a suggestion, which always led me to the beginning of the circle. Without a case number, I had no law enforcement contact. The backlog at the Southern Station Police Department had created a major clog in my pipes! We set sail for San Francisco last Thursday morning, files in hand, and followed the GPS directions to the intended police station. To our surprise, we ended up at the Northern Station instead. We took this as a sign and marched inside to find the lobby empty, so the nice officer behind the counter could focus on my problem. He took my report, waded through my volumes of data and delivered the goods.

Smiling Works Wonders…
(Photo Credit: Chick Petersen)

2. It’s all in the delivery.

My mother used to say you can get more flies with honey than with vinegar. My first visit to the Southern Station was scary and confusing. I was alone and there were some creepy characters hanging around. As an added jab, parking was a flat fee of $15. Needless to say, I was pretty grouchy. I got no where. Shut down. My pleas for help got no response except for a blank form and a steely look from the officer at the desk. Phone calls yielded the same result.

My Music Man accompanied me on my second visit and I checked my attitude at the door, optimistic that I could persuade someone to help me. I was prepared to camp out in the lobby until someone helped me. I put on a nice dress, went in with a smile, and the sweetest attitude I could muster. I don’t know if that strategy created the success, but it was certainly better for our psyche. My Music Man gave me added bonus points for the dress.

Paperwork and Bureaucracies Crave Order
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

3. Be organized and prepared.

I’ve sorted my situation immaculately. My multiple files are impressive and there are tabs and notes. While providing the report, I could give complete and detailed answers without hesitation. I think the officer was impressed and so were the people who formed in line behind me. I certainly had my act together and given the amount of time invested, it has already significantly reduced my stress.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

4. Cover all bases.

I’ve filed a criminal report with several law enforcement agencies – my local sheriff, the police department at the scene of the crime, the Federal Trade Commission, the postal service. I have multiple case numbers and give them to every single person to whom I speak. This way I create a web that connects and intersects. They don’t ask, so I offer. I give the list, even if they don’t want it.

I found this article in Money magazine  that makes some bold suggestions and even provides feedback from other Identity Theft victims that mirror my own. Gee, I guess we’re all feeling a bit abandoned out here in Consumer Land.

A Toast to Heroism, No Matter How Small
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

5.  Expect a surprise ending.

Today’s hero award goes out to the Nordstrom’s Fraud Department. A gentle woman named Helene has become my heroine today. She’s decided to take my case and connect all the dots together, including the theft of the rental car. Because my loss is greater than $20,000 she thinks that by binding the activities together we have a decent chance of getting the bad guys. It was a surprise to me that she wanted to get involved, and I could say it’s because the culture of Nordstrom’s is to provide exquisite customer service.

Life is good, no matter what happens. Today I’m grateful for constant learning and folks like Helene who care. She’s an inspiration.

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5 Things They Don’t Tell You About Identity Theft

Check Your Ego At The Door

Leave Behind Your Arrogance When You Go To the City
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

My life changed in an instant on a sunny Sunday afternoon in our beloved San Francisco. It was an ignorant misstep that brought me to my knees and of which I’m not proud. I should’ve known better. I live in the country, but most of my friends and family are city folk and have collected and shared countless harrowing stories of thefts and close calls over the years. I should’ve been paying more attention, but was excited to see our friends play a small house concert in an old historic recording studio. It was special. We felt special. Our friend had just released his newest CD and we were going to share in this excitement. I was distracted.

So, I blew it. I tucked my purse and tote against the front seat of our car, parked on a busy street, trying to make it less noticeable to passersby. We usually lock our things in the trunk, but we were just running down the street for a short errand before heading to the venue.

Yeah, it was only a matter of minutes.

Perilous Moments of the Precious Prius
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

It took a second for the thief to break the passenger window and grab my two most precious possessions, important documents in my purse and my tote containing everything they would need to become me.

Within minutes, they had already raped our bank account, began using the stolen credit cards, and within 24 hours, the total loss had climbed to almost $10,000. Staggering? Yes. Shocking? Absolutely.

Within 48 hours, new accounts were opened in my name and the loss climbed even higher.

But, that was only the beginning.

I used all of my available resources, searched every single online site I could find. My Music Man jumped in right beside me, fielding phone calls and researching services to help stop the bleeding. I was devastated, ashamed, and frightened. I had lost everything, including my personal planner, my wallet, checkbook, all precious things on which I depend to keep my life in order. Together we walked through the steps, called people, asked questions. We did everything we were told to do as quickly as we could.

Checklists and helpful guides helped me begin the slow, steady climb back to myself. But along the way there were things that I discovered. And, as part of my own vigilantism, I share them with you. As a reward for reading this whole article, I will make my boldest offer to each one of you.

1.  A Victimless Crime.

We walked up to the vehicle immediately after the crime to find it surrounded by police. There had actually been a witness who reported the crime. Police responded within seconds. Three officers swarmed — two in cars and one on a bike — all nice, quick, helpful, and sympathetic. The police officer on the bike was wonderful to me, showed he cared and provided “inside information” to help me understand the depth of what had just happened. But, I was in shock. I didn’t absorb his most important statement until later. He said that the law enforcement community does not consider this kind of crime a priority. The words coming out of his mouth still ring in my ears. “They say this is a victimless crime. Do you feel like a victim?”

The importance of this statement has become more clear over the last few weeks. I have received no additional help or support from the San Francisco Police Department. With rapes, murders, assaults, and drugs topping the list of priorities, I’ve yet to receive a case number and the circular logic that surrounds my situation is mind-numbing.

2.  It Can Get Worse.

It was bad enough to lose such precious and irreplaceable items from my car, but no one can replace the lost hours of sleep coupled with days stacked upon days required to repair, replace, protect, and administer the effects of this crime. I was so lucky to have replacement auto and home insurance, excellent credit card companies, and service-oriented banks. Most folks I spoke with on the phone and worked with in person were terrific. Special thanks go out to our bank, who stopped everything to help us on more than one occasion, stayed late on a Friday night to completely redo all of our accounts, and smiled while they did it. One bank representative even called back a couple of days later to make sure he had set everything up exactly the way we wanted it. Patrick and Christina (with the official titles of “Personal Bankers”) are the heroes of this story. I can’t thank them enough.

Each day has brought with it a new challenge, phone call, or alert. Just when I think things have calmed down, the ruckus erupts all over again. I’ve recently learned that the thief can even file a fraudulent tax return in my name to receive tax refunds. Knowing how slowly the IRS rolls, this could take years to unravel.

3. Welcome To Your New Job.

For the last 4 weeks of my life, this has been my full-time job. Fielding phone calls, filling out forms, faxing, mailing, calling, following up, redoing things because the original instructions weren’t complete enough. Yes, I’ve learned to ask detailed questions and  cover more bases than ever before. The credit card companies are generally helpful, especially once they transfer you to their Fraud Department. I’ve received an amazing education from these folks and learned more than I ever wanted to know about identity theft. But, you must ask complete questions, probe very deeply, never take the first answer you’re given, and stay away from the customer service folks. Always ask for the Fraud Department.

One recent encounter serves as an example. Many department stores are now offering their own Visa and Mastercards in addition to their in-store cards. I called one of these stores after TransUnion, the king of credit reporting agencies, alerted me to another fraudulent account. The customer service representative assured me that no accounts matched my description: my name, address, social security number came up clear. I asked for their Fraud Department, who echoed this response. I then insisted that she take my name and phone number because something didn’t add up. A short time later the phone rang – it was a call from the Fraud Department contact who stated that she looked further and found an in-store account had been opened in my name only 5 days before and the criminal had walked away with over $3,000 in items from their store. She said that with the holiday weekend, it hadn’t been processed through their system yet. She also informed me that this account had been given an initial $10,000 limit — without a full credit check!

The playground of an identity thief is full of many fun ways to capitalize on your good credit. It’s the merry-go-round that is most frustrating. Most of my time is spent chasing information, doing the same things over and over for different companies. Often the information I receive is redundant, incomplete, incorrect, or just plain useless.

4.  No Matter What They Say, You’re Paying For It.

“Zero Liability” means just that. We didn’t have to pay for any of the fraudulent charges or stolen funds from our accounts. The credit card companies and banks are happy to tell us that we won’t have to pay for any transactions that we did not initiate. But as the losses continue to mount, I know that as a consumer, I will end up paying for this crime.

This is considered the fastest growing crime in the world. This year over 15 million people in the United States alone will become victims of identity theft in some form with an estimated $50 billion (yes, with a “b”) in damages. Who do you think will end up paying for this staggering loss of corporate profits? The consumer, that’s who. Don’t be fooled, we will pay higher prices, higher fees, higher interest rates. We will pay. Trust me on that one.

5.  You Now Have A Doppelgänger.

They may not look exactly like you. But they have access to everything to which you have access. It was a surprise when I received a letter from the post office notifying me that my address had been changed. A rental car company sent certified letters charging me with grand theft because the rental car obtained in my name had not been returned as promised. Additionally, cell phones were purchased and accounts established, as well as over 30 new credit cards and loans, all in my name. The losses continue to mount after 4 weeks with my finger in the dyke. As I still do not have a case number or law enforcement contact with which to work, the person or persons can continue to rage on using my good credit as a skate board.

The most stunning fact is this: I have an address, a phone number, and photos of this person or persons. I cannot get access to the police detective assigned to my case. I could deliver this perpetrator with a massive amount of evidence. But, that’s reserved for the perfect world in which we do not live…

For added protection, we changed every single lock connected to our lost keys. Unfortunately, both sets of keys were in my purse. The insurance company stated that they normally don’t change the locks on vehicles because if our cars are stolen, they will simply replace the cars. Our situation was a bit different because we had no keys left! Everything had been stolen. It felt good to replace the locks and know they didn’t have the match.

For the first time in my life, I feel completely vulnerable to a total stranger.

See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Smell Nothing, Know Nothing
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

I have compiled and collected an amazing amount of documents and information. And here’s my bold offer: If you, or anyone you love, falls victim to this terrible “victimless” crime, I will offer my help for free as a resource. I will give my advice, my experience, my guiding hand, my shoulder to cry on, and get you or your loved one through the darkness. I offer this because the thieves can’t win. I will also help those of you who feel you want to learn more. If you reach out to me, I will share what I know freely with great joy and gratitude. I will respond to any and all inquiries.

There’s always a golden lining to even the most difficult things in life. If I can help one person with my experience, then I will feel better.

Posted in Financial Safety | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

Silver Linings

(Photo Credit: Chick Petersen)

I’ve decided to stop fighting. I surrender. I give up.

My hair wants to be gray, or it would have succumbed to the barrage of hair dye I’ve injected over the years. Secretly, I pray that hair coloring doesn’t cause cancer, otherwise, I’m a pretty good candidate. I’ve helped to support the hair color industry for over 2 decades. I think I’ve done my time.

Genetics have relentlessly dictated this situation since my late 20s. My mother and grandmother were both prematurely gray. My mother fought it forcefully; my grandmother, Jewell, never tried. She had a glorious platinum white head of hair for most of her life and she wore it proudly.

I never thought having a kid wouldn’t make such a mark, but becoming a mommy just stripped the color right out of my hair. The next thing I knew I was spending hours and dinero each month to retain my youthful pigment. By my calculations, I spend at least 60 hours and $1200 each year keeping up this charade. Let’s face it, I’m a junkie.

To be honest, I started thinking about it 10 years ago, but as my mid-life crisis raged, I wasn’t able to let go of my dark locks. Suddenly, while basking in my after-50 glow, I’ve started to realize how much time I’m wasting, and time has become even more precious than ever. I slowly started to see how my hair has run my life. As I see it, anything with that much power must be silenced.

I’d been procrastinating for some time, continuing to color my hair, letting it grow past my boiling point. It was my daughter who lovingly pointed out that I was beginning to resemble a bag lady. She told me firmly with a loving edge, and just a hint of impatience that I needed to do something about my hair.

And so it began yesterday. My journey was kicked off with a consultation with Gabrielle Dente. Even though I’ve known Gaby for many years, I was impressed that her training was as arduous as that of a nursing professional. I knew I was in good hands. Together we made a plan, after both of us had spent several days imagining how to make the process as painless as possible. She convinced me to slow down and take it one step at a time.

The Floor.
(Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish)

Stage One – Make the Cut

In a matter of minutes, 10 inches of hair were unceremoniously snipped. This was necessary not only to reduce the amount of hair being colored, but with severely damaged ends and summer approaching, it was time for a major trim.

Now sitting lightly on top of my shoulders, it’s the perfect length. Since my hair grows rather fast, getting a trim every 6 weeks will move the color out quickly.

After. But, really it’s just the beginning.
(Photo Credit: Chick Petersen)

Step Two – Color Correction 

My goal was to create a better overall transition. I don’t want to look like a skunk as my hair grows out. In addition, harsh brassy tones were clashing with my natural Irish coloring. As the white grows in, we will add brighter highlights to pull them in and blend together, inviting the gray to take over.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve researched the concept of blending graying hair to skin tones. Sticking with blue undertones, lifting out the brassiness is important to help with the transition. As my gray hair grows out, the highlighted blondes tones will begin to blend with the platinum white. We can also bring in lowlights later as my natural hair grows out with tiny streaks of brown.

Step Three – Patience and Time

My approach to beauty has been more in line with divide and conquer — blast the little buggers into submission. As I’ve explored the idea of transition, I realized that I needed to make my hair more welcoming to the gray. Changing my focus from holding back the tide to allowing the flow will help make this less difficult.

One blogger created several beautiful knitted hats and hair bands. Keeping an eye on the color hues of my clothing will also help liven up the shifting strands of white. Stay away from ivory, they warn, sticking to black, white, and bold colors.

Another blogger suggested that going gray was a sign of confidence. For me it’s a sign of being fed up. Maybe that’s what confidence is built upon. I’ve noticed that this last year, being 50 has shown me many things that I have suddenly chosen to leave behind, like shedding skin. Suddenly, I don’t care as much as I used to. I don’t worry about those things I used to worry about.

Maybe as I approach 51, I’m finally growing up, accepting myself au naturale. I say bring it on! I’m going to have 60 extra hours this year to fill.

Posted in After 50, Beauty | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments