Kelly In Catty

This blog is Kell's attempt to keep in touch with friends far away who complain that I don't e-mail nearly enough.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I just got back from a week in Ocean City, NJ. Dave and I spent the week with my parents. My sister and her husband joined us for the weekend. Now, the beach season is, for the most part over... And that's the way I like it. I don't particularly like crowds. I don't feel the need to parade thorough a sea of sweating people in order to purchase overpriced pizza and lukewarm beer on the Tiki Bar of some tourist restaurant with low Zagat reviews... Give me good music, long walks on the beach, good conversation... Just the stuff of any ISO ad...

Anyway, I didn't exactly have the dream vacation I just described. After all, trying to coordinate the schedules of six people is no picnic - but we did fine - in fact, we had this crazy family dinner last night that was one of the nicest I can remember. I had brought down a basket full of food - and we just cooked around whatever we had... We grilled fish - which mercifully finished cooking just before the gas ran out (this is a personal triumph for me)... And some other people really benefited from our presence in Maryland.

Last Tuesday, four of us visited Assateague Island. My father has a permit to drive on the beach - which you purchase yearly. Here's how it works. In order to drive on the beach, you must have a shovel, boards (in case you get caught in the sand), tow ropes, a jack, tire gauge, and tons of common sense. You have to let most of the air out of your tires, then you're on your way... Off driving over the dunes and along the surf... Which is all very well and good as long as you kind of know what you're doing...

To make a long story short, on our way off the beach, we passed a man in a blue Ford Explorer who got stuck. He had spun his wheels to such an extent that he just simply sunk in the sand - the frame of his car was resting on the dune. He was stuck - and in a little trouble. This is a great example of why one needs a shovel when driving on the beach... Except this man took the loose interpretation of "shovel..." and was trying to dig himself out of of the sand with a garden trowel. It was more than a little sad. "Hey. Does he look like he's taken air out of his tires?" asked my father... "Not nearly enough," I thought.

This man had no jack with him - but did have two half inch pine boards kind of inserted behind his rear tires... My father just shook his head. Dad yanks out his jack and shovel - and we take turns digging beneath his axles. It would have been fine, really -but the wind was particularly strong - and was blowing sand with such force that it actually stung our faces... Anyway - to make a long story short, we jacked up his axles, put 3/4" plywood beneath the tires - and told him to back out of the sand - which he did...

He made it 40 feet - and then turned his tires, plowed sand, and sunk straight down again. We repeated the dig-jack-board - and this time, we got him off the beach. I returned his pine boards (now broken in about 5 pieces...) and he thanked me profusely for saving him... He then handed me a fist full of 20$ bills, which I halfheartedly refused (It had been an hour and a half of digging - and I know I should be more magnanimous, but come on - I was chewing sand at this point... And besides - he was insistent! He then returned to the air station to refill his tires.

I looked at Dave. "He gave us $60. He said he'd like to buy us dinner for our trouble." Dave brightened, then turned to the truck, where my mother had been patiently waiting for us for an hour and a half. "Hey!" shouted Dave.... "WE GOT SIXTY BUCKS!!!!"

When I say shouted, I want to be perfectly clear about the decibel level... Think LOUD... And then picture the guy we dug out - standing about 25 feet away from us, clearly hearing every syllable loudly and clearly.

"Dave!" I hissed. "He's right there...."

"Did I do something wrong honey?"

Thankfully, the sand had blasted my face to such an extent that one might have had a hard time discerning how much I was blushing.... Meanwhile, my father was on the other side of the truck, where he had a clear view of all parties involved... He was just laughing...

So we went for lunch, compliments of the guy in the Ford Explorer... For the rest of the weekend, I kept exclaiming "Sixty Bucks!!!" in my best Muppet voice.

Then this morning, my sister and I went for a walk on the beach with Ebby and her dog, Rusty. Rusty sniffed out a wallet laying on top of the sand. In it was two credit cards, a drivers' license, a Blockbuster membership, and a student ID card. The kid was from a little town in Pennsylvania called Lititz. If you're not familiar, it's in the middle of Amish Country in Lancaster county. His drivers license showed a cute, bleach-blond All American boy who recently turned 21. Made me wish my step-daughter was with us so she could meet him.

Okay - so we get back to the house and my sis calls Directory assistance for Lititz... Wouldn't you know it - his house phone was unlisted? The operator suggested we call the police department - as they very likely have access to all unlisted phone numbers - and could get a message to the kid's parents that we have his stuff. So my sister calls the Ocean City police. There wasn't a long conversation, but I could tell my sister was getting no satisfaction - because she said, "Well, okay - thanks for nothing!" and hung up. "This rude woman said I was out of my mind if I thought she could find his phone number... I guess we'll just mail it to him." My sis then went off to get her shower.

I picked up her phone. I figured that Lititz was a pretty calm quiet little town - what could the cops there possibly have to do on a Sunday morning? So I 411'd them. I figured they'd log into the PA DMV, find this kid's home phone, and call his mom. I figured his mom might be at church, but by noon, I should have a call.

WRONG. On all counts. The officer thanked me for being so nice, then said "Well, I'll send a patrol car out there - and give them your cell number..."


Okay. If you have a 21 year old child who is vacationing on his own in a beach town, I'm guessing the very LAST thing you want is an early morning visit from a patrolman... But there was nothing I could do. It's the price you pay for an unlisted number.

In the meantime, Dave was ready to leave Ocean City. I felt badly that I couldn't get this kid his stuff before we left... And I was kind of getting more and more ideas about how to find this kid as I rode with Dave. I called the number on his Blockbuster card... "Hey I have a weird request... (explanation)... I figured you have a phone number for him - can you call and tell him I have his stuff?" I had no faith that some minimum-wage Blockbuster employee would care to actually follow through, so I did the next logical thing - I called the number on the back of his Bank Card. "Um... Hi. I found one of your customer's wallet on the beach - and just thought maybe you could call him and tell him I'm sending his stuff back to him." The man on the phone was perhaps a little overzealous, and explained that yes, he'd be happy to help me... and that he would send the kid another card immediately... "Um, can you just call him - and tell him I'll get the card back to him?"

"Sure. I'll give him the message."

I know what you're thinking - Why am I so intent on getting a hold of this kid? Well, as one who recently had her account hacked into, I'm a little sensitive - and more than happy to ease the discomfort that I went through while buying lunch for strangers in Chicago.

Finally the kid called me at 3pm - Apparently he also lost his cell phone - and his mother had a good time frantically searching for his friend's cell phone number so she could tell her little boy that the cops had come to her house this morning saying he'd lost his wallet. Until then, he hadn't even realized he'd lost it...

Whattaya know?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is My Four-Oh-One Okay?

I was at a jam with Dave yesterday... one of Dave's favorites. It's called the Lyons Fiddle Festival - and this year, a ton of people showed up to watch an old-fashioned fiddle competition. It seems even more people show up to huddle off under the trees and jam... That's where we were- Dave, my brother and sister-in-law, and a handful of Dave's old friends - friends he's played in bands with since before I was born (let this be a lesson to you ladies! If you don't really want to see photos of your husband wearing short-shorts, crazy huge photo-gray sunglasses and seventies-era terrycloth headbands, marry someone your own age!) Anyway - it's a good time for Dave - and it's fun for me.

One of Dave's friends is a man named Ted. He's a large person - with a curly head of hair and a bushy bushy beard. He has a beautiful singing voice - a loud one. Add that to Dave's fab banjo playing, my Brother-in-law's funky bass playing, my sister-in-law's uke strumming, and my big old loud voice, then it's not hard to understand that we sometimes draw quite a crowd.

Between songs, one of the musicians said something about his 401K - one of the onlookers said "Oh yeah. I remember my 401K - it's now my 101K!

We all laughed - but it got me thinking - is my retirement in trouble?

In other quasi-musical news, the other day, someone e-mailed me an article from the Wall Street Journal weekend. The writer was a woman named Shelley Banjo. I immediately e-mailed her because I wondered how she got the last name (it's mediterranean) - Anyway, this is how I became only marginally familiar with her. The other day, she emailed me (in a group mail blast) to ask for story leads for an article she was working on. She asked, "If you know anyone who's run to the bank, whose marriage is breaking up - or if you're in the finance world, and you know of clients who are panicking, please let me know.

I answered her that I wasn't that worried - because my portfolio (I think this is the first time I've described my 'vast savings and estate' - hardy har har - as a portfolio) is pretty spread out over several different places, blah blah blah. And I was going to do as my financial guy suggested - Just ride it out.

In fact, I got the following e-mail from a financial planner, who refuses to freak out over volitile markets. I'm pasting a portion of the email below - sorry - I know it's a little long:

In our view, recent proposals by the U.S. Treasury aimed at
recapitalizing the banking system and shoring up mortgage markets for
borrowers could improve effective asset quality, allowing for a more
orderly de-leveraging than if there had been no announcement. However,
asset sales and de-leveraging will still take place, which will create
continued uncertainty and heightened volatility. Recent reports out of
Washington, D.C. indicate that Congress will act quickly to enact a
version of the "Troubled Asset Relief Program."

We believe persistent problems in the housing and credit markets and
their impact on global economic growth will continue to cause volatility
in the equity markets over the near term. We note that many of the
issues plaguing risky assets at present may take some time to work their
way through the system, though recent government intervention appears
likely to help provide some stability, in our view.
Near-term, our
analysis suggests that bottoms-up analyst EPS forecasts may still be too
high for the balance of 2008 and for 2009. Expectations have been
ratcheted down for 2008 but are still above Citi's forecast of an 8.2%
decline. The divergence is even greater next year, where analysts in
aggregate expect a 24% increase in S&P 500 profits versus Citi's
estimate of 5.8%. Given mixed sentiment indicators, this could limit
near-term upside.

They then state: In our view, the process of moderating expectations
will be healthy but potentially disruptive for the market and could
exacerbate an already-volatile equity market environment. Longer term,
however, we believe the equity market is reasonably well positioned to
contend with these concerns;
we point to attractive valuations, solid
corporate balance sheets (excluding financials), and strong free cash
flow generation as drivers for equities going forward. Risks to a
sustained market rally include a continued deterioration in credit
markets, persistently high oil prices, and meaningfully slower global
economic growth. Given our longer-term positive view, we would use
periods of market weakness to upgrade portfolios and build positions in
high-quality companies that generate strong free cash flow and possess
above-average prospects for growth.

Is this the good news - or the bad news? Did I tell Shelly Banjo the wrong thing? Am I in financial trouble?

I'm sure these are all things we're thinking about - so I thought I'd open up the dialogue - Does everyone feel safe - or is there a freak out that I'm too ignorant of? I know people are losing a lot right now - So I'm wondering how everyone's doing out there.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My VISA Expired

More succinctly, I expired my Visa... You see, someone from a city far away somehow gained access to the number - and has been using it to mainly buy baked goods and pizza on my account... so I was forced to cancel the card... They made me do it... some unfaced stranger made me cancel my Visa - can you imagine?

I know I'm a nice girl, and often pay for lunch - but usually, it's because I KNOW the person. What I want to say is that between my bank, VISA, and me, we took care of the fraudulent charges - and we'll likely see no more faraway activity on my account, but I wanted to give a big virtual hug to VISA, who, immediately upon noticing I'd made a purchase both in PA and out of state, called to verify.

They knew about the card thief before I did - they called me questioning the purchase - and within hours, the card was cancelled, the charges were refunded, and all is well in the world.

And to you - who got free lunch(es) on my dime, shame on you!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ebby Enraptured

The other day, I brought Eb to Petco, where he rode around in the cart - and chose a toy. Normally, I pick stuff - and he plays with it for awhile and then forgets about it, - but he's been absolutely CRAZY about this teal blue dog that he picked himself... See for yourself!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Half Wit

My band plays a couple gigs per year for our friend, Ron. Now, I don't know much about runners. In fact, I used to tell people that I only run when I'm chased... but I think Ron, perhaps above all other people I've known, has made running look attractive. He runs (no pun intended)amusing races with creative names like The Half Wit (It's a half-marathon), The Chilly Cheeks (Think Derriere), the Ugly Mudder (A February extravaganza), and the like. His courses are always a challenge. We've seen runners come back from these races with scrapes, muddy clothes, even bloody nipples (just the men - it was quite a shock to me the first time some guy walked in with two red dribs on the front of their running gear - to which I say COTTON!!!!! Not NYLON!!!!! Wear Cotton - and this wouldn't happen... Also, maybe bandaids - and maybe a man's sports bra is in order... We could give it a cool name like the nip-guard) During all this, my band plays for these crazed runners and their supportive families while they cross the finish line.
Where I can't honestly ever picture myself running these half-marathons, I've gotta say that at the very least, Ron makes them fun. Perhaps the most curious thing to me - is that Ron holds these races at this German Club named Leiderkranz. It's GERMAN - it could be the most German thing next to Germany, BMW, and Volkswagen... This place is *really* German - right down to the portraits of WWI German and Prussian Generals on the walls. The yard outside is like the Black Forest - complete with your 10 AM Spaten - even the dogs are German: Ron even administers funny contests within the race... This guy drank just under 30 beers in the last mile (I suppose this makes him the best half-wit of all!): . Ironically, he won a case of beer On to the awards. The half wit trophy is a half-assed horse's patooey. Very funny. Not very German, but Ich werde dennoch unterhalten!!! (I'm amused nonetheless). My bass player's wife won in her category - so she got this little jewel to hang on her wall (perhaps next to a little painting of a German Shepherd... )

All I can say is Was ist das?