Saturday, September 27, 2008

Out of control

There is an almost universal consensus among those who know me that I am a control freak. Just this morning as I was handling vendor registration for our monthly Market Day event on the town green, I was trying to solve problems that were, frankly, none of my business and out of my control. I've even been known to try to reorganize the way the toll booths work getting onto my island in Florida. Trust me, the county was not especially interested in my solutions.

Periodically I swear to one friend or another that I am going to operate under the philosophy of what will be will be or que sera sera. Sadly, I seem incapable of pulling this off and my vows to try are usually met by hysterical laughter.

This week, in preparation for Market Day, I was forced to face the fact that I cannot control Mother Nature no matter how hard I try. That usually leads me to contingency plans. A LOT of contingency plans. With a weekend of threatened storms, there was the one in which the committee in charge of the event would simply cancel and call all the vendors a day ahead of time. There was the one which included me being there at 7 a.m., rain or shine, no matter whether anyone actually showed up or not. There was the one in which I called the person who hires our band by 8 a.m. to tell him whether or not the band should make the trek down here . . . or not.

So, this morning at 6:15, as I was driving to breakfast in the rain, I decided we'd end up cancelling. At 7 a.m. as I arrived at the green, people were already setting up. At 7:45, the sun was shining, so I called and told the band to come ahead. By 8:15, the clouds overhead were thick and gray and we had only 10 of our scheduled vendors. At 10:30, I came back home to recover from the trauma of not knowing what to expect from one minute to the next.

If anyone has a clue how I can learn to let go and let God, as is sometimes said, please tell me. I used to think patience was the trait I sorely needed. Now I think it's flexibility, the ability to go with the flow, to take whatever comes my way. I'm going to do it. I swear.

Feel free to laugh now.

Sherryl Woods


Thursday, September 18, 2008

An economic deep breath...

This has not been a good week on the economic front. Have you noticed? From the effect of Hurricane Ike on gas prices to the tumble of major institutions on Wall Street, I'm amazed all of us are not stuffing our savings under a mattress and hiding under the covers until this passes.

And it will. At least some of it. In the meantime, just about all the average American can do is take a deep breath, make some(further)adjustments and hold on for the ride.

Last Saturday, while Ike was still battering Texas, gas prices were shooting back up. I stopped to fill up at a station across the river in Maryland en route to my cousin's. The station was so busy bumping up prices that none of the pumps were actually functioning. As a result, almost every one of the many waiting cars simply pulled out and left. I found gas two blocks away -- ten cents a gallon cheaper. I call that Karmic justice. I wanted to go back and dance a little jig at that other station, but that would have been a waste of gas.

Unfortunately we've become a nation attached to our cars. We've bought bigger and bigger vehicles and moved further and further away from work. These days that's a costly combination, making it very tough on families already operating on a tight budget. Even though my car is relatively fuel efficient and I work at home, I find myself stopping for a minute to think about whether I really need to make that weekly 45-mile drive to Fredericksburg to pick up a few things from Target or Wal-Mart and satisfy my addiction to Starbucks iced cafe mocha.

What have you found yourself giving up this summer? What adjustments are you making to your routine? I saw a news article the other day suggesting that some of the less expensive restaurants are still doing okay. People are still eating out, if they can do it cost-effectively. What about you? Are you taking your lunch to work? Eating out less as a family, or simply changing the places you choose to eat to a less costly alternative? Consolidating errands? Already planning to spend less for the holidays?

If you have tips that have conserved gas or helped your family budget in these difficult times, let us know about them by clicking on comments below. Or send an email directly to me at and I'll post it for you.

Meantime, take that deep breath and try not to panic.

Sherryl Woods

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Remembering September 11

Yesterday as I watched all of the memorials to the tragedies of September 11, 2001, I thought back to that horrific day. Like the day President John F. Kennedy was shot, I suspect most of us who were around for these events remember every detail of where we were when we heard the news, the emotions we felt and the endless hours spent glued to TV as these the stories unfolded.

On that date, I was only about 80 miles from the Pentagon with family living much closer. My editors and agent are all in Manhattan. Here, the skies were the crystal blue that seems to happen only in fall. Puffs of white clouds drifted along above the waters of the Potomac River. For me it was a rare day off from writing after meeting a deadline and I was on my porch enjoying the weather, the view and a good book.

Moments after the first tower of the World Trade Center was struck, my author friend Carla Neggers called from Vermont in tears. She told me what had happened, and like so many others who reached out that morning, she sounded stunned. "Turn on the TV," she said before going back to her own vigil.

I spent the rest of that day in a daze, reaching out to friends between televised reports, calling to make sure family members were okay, emailing to check on my publishing associates in New York. A dear friend, who was based in Berlin, Germany for the Associated Press, happened to be in Ohio. He called to ask if he could come here, thinking that the Washington area airports would reopen to international flights before others might. He was here by dawn the next morning.

For nearly a week he and I stayed glued to the TV. He was in constant contact with his office, frustrated by his inability to get back to work. Ironically, for all of the horror of those days, it was the last time I was able to spend with him before he died, so the memory of those days is bittersweet.

Watching the ceremonies yesterday, seeing high school students in Virginia putting out small American flags in memory of every person who died that day, listening to the survivors share their memories of the day, of loved ones, it's hard to imagine we will ever forget.

And we mustn't.

Sherryl Woods


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Women, politics and the glass ceiling

I absolutely swore I was never going to get into politics on this site, but so much has happened in this election year that I can't contain myself. Not only did we have a very strong woman who came close to a win for the presidential nomination among the Democrats, but we now have a woman running for vice president on the Republican ticket. Both of these achievements are noteworthy and important.

That said, however, I have to say I am absolutely fed up with the cynicism and sexism being displayed by political pundits and others which suggests -- and sometimes outright states -- that these two women are somehow interchangeable. They're not, and I find it offensive to all women voters to suggest otherwise.

I believe women -- just like men, hopefully -- will vote for a candidate because they represent views that the voter shares and not simply because the candidate is a woman. If that's the case, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are not even remotely interchangeable. The supporters of either candidate should share their stances on the issues. To believe that Hillary Clinton supporters can be bought simply by adding any woman to the Republican ticket is insulting. That would be just as true had Barack Obama chosen Clinton as his running mate purely to capture the vote of women. In either case, it is cynicism in the extreme.

As a woman, here's what I expect to see on any party's ticket -- two people who share my beliefs, two people who will stand up for this country, for the average family in all of the ways that really matter to me, two people who have vision and proven leadership skills. I want the kind of balance and experience that convinces me that a vice president can step in and become president on the day after Inauguration Day, if tragedy should necessitate it.

Historic moments are a wonderful thing. Cracks in the glass ceiling are important for what they tell us about the potential of women to do anything they set their minds to, even take on the top jobs in this country. But women -- just like men -- have to earn the right to get to the presidency or vice presidency through hard work and leadership, by taking clear stances on the issues so voters know exactly who that person is. Like her or not, hate her policies or not, Hillary Clinton was a well-known, experienced candidate. Can the same be said for Sarah Palin, about whom we seem to be discovering new things every day? Is there enough time between now and election day to discover all we need to know?

For all of the Republican attacks on the media for asking questions about Senator John McCain's choice of a running mate, can any responsible voter not want to be fully informed about any candidate for one of the most important jobs in the world? We owe it to ourselves and our country to go into a voting booth this fall with every single available fact well known. The least important of all of them is whether one of the candidates happens to be a woman.

Sherryl Woods

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