The Secret Life of Melanie O.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Christmas wrapping
The Community Relations department of the charity for which I work is having their annual Christmas party tomorrow. It's not going to be your average party, as it's really a Christmas party for a group of disabled people. We will be helping to run games for them in the morning, and then share lunch with them in the afternoon.

To help make the day more special, we had a wrapping party in the Board room. Donated gifts were designated for a male or female recipient and then wrapped using cheerful Christmas paper, ribbons, and garlands.

I walked into the Board room (the only room with a table large enough for this project,) and got busy sorting gifts and wrapping them in shiny silver paper. Not wanting the gifts to look "ordinary," I cut up a purple garland into 5-inch sections and twisted each section to look like a pom-pom, which I then taped to the top of the silver packages. My fellow wrappers ooh-ed and ahh-ed over my creativity and one or two other followed suit.

We managed to get quite a few gifts wrapped in just over an hour.

Later that day, the wrapping coordinator sent out a little "thank you" to all who participated:

Thanks ALL for getting busy and helping wrap the pressies/pack/carry the boxes for Friday’s Christmas party.

Much appreciated all!!

(Sorry again about the tinsel Sal).

Sorry about the tinsel? This had me worried.

I asked Jas:

"What was the problem with the garlands?" I asked, dreading the inevitable.

"Oh, Sal apparently bought them for our TV show. I don't know how they got mixed in with the wrapping paper, but she walked into the Board room and said 'hey - my garland's all in little pieces!' Well, Mel, you set an example, because after you left, they got out the green garlands and started to cut them up, too."

I had to stifle a laugh, but inside I was wondering how tee'd off Sal was with us, especially at me, who started a bad trend. I imagined that she'd never help me again when it came to coordinating video productions for the Internet.

With much guilt, I emailed Sal:

Hey - I found out that the garlands we used to decorate packages with were supposed to be for Sunday's show! I am so sorry we used them. Are you able to get others?

Sal replied:

No prob – I am sure I can find more tinsel at this time of year!! Kinda funny though!!! Makes me laugh!!

Whew! I was so relieved that she wasn't upset. Nothing like a little tinsel to bring out the Christmas cheer.
posted by Melanie O. at 11:34 AM - 0 comments
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Mr. Fixit
My husband is a pretty great guy – and I will be the first to say it. What makes this even better is that my women friends will also say it. I believe that your women friends know better than you do yourself, whether or not you picked out a “good one.”

This weekend, Dan offered to clean my car for me. It was getting pretty dirty on the outside, but the inside was equally nasty. Little did I know that he intended to clean out my car, which was full of little pebbles, sand and twigs, with my little Dirt Devil that I brought over from the States, and which we operate with a voltage converter. Within five minutes, he ruined the motor by trying to vacuum up something that jammed the fan blade and snapped it off. A 10 amp motor does not a Shop Vac make.

To remedy the situation, I got onto eBay and purchased a new vacuum – one that doesn’t need a voltage converter. Unexpected expense Number One.

I then went back to the business of preparing for work the next day, which meant switching out my handbag, as I decided it was time for a change. That’s when I noticed my mobile phone was missing.

Damn! I must have lost it over the weekend when my bag dumped out in a parking garage! We scrambled around and called my phone carrier to put a block on the phone in case someone used up my credits (thank goodness for prepaids!)

So, the next day I went down to the post office shop and bought a new phone. Unexpected expense number Two.

We set up the new phone. Dan called my carrier to see about getting my old phone number back. He arranged to get my outstanding credits back. When the block on my old number wasn’t removed, he called them back and had them figure out how to do it. It was working properly by the time I tried to use the new phone the next day.

The vacuum cleaner arrived. I had asked the seller to send it to my home address. It’s too heavy to lug around on the train. So, where was it sent? To my work address.

Husband to the rescue. He’s driving into the city tonight after work, to pick us up – the vacuum cleaner, and me.

One vacuum cleaner: $120
One mobile phone: $99
One Mr. Fixit: Priceless
posted by Melanie O. at 3:28 PM - 0 comments
Saturday, November 25, 2006
One of the guys in my department is getting married next weekend. In fact, he's getting married on the same day that's Dan's and my fifth wedding anniversary. I'm thinking that's a very good sign for the two of them.

To celebrate, the entire Marketing department went to lunch to present a wedding gift and to share in his happiness. I'm not sure how it happened, but it became mandatory that the married people at the table share their wedding proposal stories.

First, the groom-to-be shared his. It was a lovely tale of a trip to a remote beach. He had it all planned only after he had gotten permission from his girlfriend's father. I found it really touching that my coworker did that. It's just so old-fashioned and full of good manners.

He had the ring to present to her, and he had his camera. He took photos on the sly when his girlfriend wasn't looking, to record the events of the day in order to put them in an album later that they could both reminisce over. He waited until the sun went down and he had the backdrop of a beautiful sunset under which to propose. He asked the question on one knee. She said "yes," and she cried.

Everyone around the lunch table was impressed. Then another coworker shared his tale:

His girlfriend's parents were spending the holidays in England with him and their daughter. He knew it would be a good opportunity to get her father's permission, but he dreaded it because another guy had asked permission to marry her sister, and Dad had refused. What if he was also refused? This fear kept him from speaking to his future father-in-law about his intent, for three weeks. Finally, it was down to the last week of their visit, and he knew he had to ask now, or who knew when the next opportunity would arise?

The two men eventually took a walk in the park in the pouring rain, where the dad gave his blessing. My other workmate says the rest of the conversation is a total blur. Several days later, he took his girlfriend to a restaurant, where he proposed. She cried.

Everyone at the lunch table oo-ed and aahh-ed over these shows of gallantry. There aren't too many men that go to the trouble of asking the woman's father's permission to marry their daughter. It's amusing that even in this post women's Lib era, I know several women who have insisted that that's the way they wanted it done.

And then I told them about my proposal.

It happened online when Dan and I were chatting. I was planning my trip over to Australia to visit. We'd been chatting online and over the phone for three years. It was time to meet and see if we actually hit it off as well in person as we did online.

We speculated about what would happen:

"What if we meet and we really hit it off?" I asked.

"Maybe you won't want to go back," he said.

"I know - that's what worries me."

"Well, maybe you won't have to go back," he said.

"I mean, what if things really work out? We'll have to make some decisions," I said.

"Yes," was all he said.

"Do you know what you're saying?" I asked.

"Yes," was all he replied.

"You'll be stuck with me," I insisted.

"Yes," he replied.

We both had our web cams on and I could see that Dan was grinning from ear to ear - not a difficult thing for him to achieve.

There was no bended knee. No crying. No beautiful sunsets, nor fathers to get permission from, although, had my father been alive, he would have given Dan his blessing, I'm sure - along with a warning that he was getting a very focused (some would say "stubborn") woman.

Dan officially proposed during my first day in Australia, with a blustering wind blowing dirt in our hair, on the top of a hill at Mount Annan Botannical Gardens. I didn't cry. But it was finally my turn to say "Yes."
posted by Melanie O. at 2:50 PM - 6 comments
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Look at me - I'm Sandra Dee!
My husband saw the new photos from my last photo shoot and pointed out one set of images in particular, for which I am wearing a plastic tortoiseshell headband.

"I love how you did your hair in this one," he said.

I pointed out to him that I wasn't wearing my hair any differently than I normally do. It was just the headband.

"But I like how it's pushed back and looks teased on top."

It was the headband, I reassured him.

"You look like Sandra Dee," he said, which gave me a fit of the giggles.

So, today for work, I wore the headband and pushed the hair back a bit. On the way in, I was met by a man in the elevator as I rode my way up to my office.

"I like your outfit," he said. He mentioned my shoes, my dress and my little LV bag. "Is that an outfit from Paris?" he asked sincerely.

I smiled. What can one say when one is asked if ones clothes are direct from Paris and one knows that one got them from an American department store? I finally said, "I don't know - I just like it."

"Well, it looks very nice. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," I replied back.

I rode up to my floor with a smile. I feel like Sondre D'ée.
posted by Melanie O. at 3:14 PM - 3 comments
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The big chill
Christmas is fast approaching. I can hardly believe it. Wasn't it just a couple of months ago that I was talking about my favorite traditional television specials and annual Christmas movies? What the heck happened? Where has the year gone?

I find that I really miss my family at this time of year. I've always cooked up a big feast for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We always had a full table. It took me half a day to prepare a nice dinner that my sons would wolf down in 20 minutes. Ah well... those were the days. Now I'm more likely to buy a half kilo of prawns from the fish market and Dan and I will sit down with a salad, prawns and cocktail sauce and call it Christmas dinner.

I'm worried about my son Andy. He has Bipolar disease, but I am suspicious that he is doing drugs. He's done some serious ones in the past, and now, I don't think his brain produces natural endorphins any more. He's gaunt, rarely eats - just drinks sweet sodas, and never smiles. He's emotionally distant from all of us and says he is leaving Connecticut to go back to Raleigh. He's doing this without knowing whether or not there will be a room for him when he gets there.

When did it all change? When my sons were little, Christmas was full of magic. I did my best to get them things that they wanted, that I knew I could afford. It wasn't easy, and they never got the expensive gifts that their friends got - they still don't. But we still loved the "free" things about Christmas: the handbell choir concert, the drive-through light display, cooking Reuben dogs in the fireplace on Christmas Eve (spicy sausages, smothered with saurkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing, in a bun), caroling through the neighborhood, Christmas videos, sparkling grape juice (cheap, from Big Lots) and Gardetto snacks... We didn't need a lot of money for a fabulous Christmas. We just needed a tree and a fireplace. Being together is what made it special.

One year, my son Chris came back from Fort Bragg with a video camera (he was in the army then,) and taped us opening our gifts. Andy was there - sullen, disruptive and uncooperative. When one member of a family has a mental illness, everyone suffers. I bought Andy a stereo, which he smashed only a few months later when he thought it was possessed by something evil.

Even with Andy's illness, I miss being all together. I love my family and there are times that I wish there was a Santa out there who would answer all of my Christmas wishes. At least, in my dreams, we're together - laughing, being silly, opening presents and eating Reuben dogs. The house is lit with a thousand lights and candles. Thank goodness no one can take that away from me - even if Andy takes himself away from his family. I wonder when we'll hear from him again.
posted by Melanie O. at 10:52 PM - 2 comments
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Something about the hat

I wore a hat to work the other day – not to be fashionable, but because it was raining. I find that wearing a hat on rainy days keeps my hair relatively under control. The hat was a black pinstriped Fedora, which I like to wear low over my eyes for that air of mystery. I imagine that I’m Lauren Bacall in an old gumshoe movie.

I’ve discovered that people look at you differently in a nice hat. Upon leaving the building in the afternoon with my hat on, a young woman complimented me on “my outfit.” It’s true, the black of the hat matched the black in the pattern of my dress. But it was purely unintentional. I thanked her and left the building with a smile and my Fedora perched jauntily on my head.

I took the hat off in the train on the way home, and half-clutched it in my hands. I was nodding off, when I heard the announcement for my stop. Quickly, I put the hat back on and tried to blink the fatigue from my eyes. I stumbled up the stairs and through the ticket gate.

On the way back to my car, a man approached me. He was a good looking man and had to be at least ten years younger than me, and he asked me if I wanted to go out for a drink. I wondered what had prompted him to come up to me, a complete stranger, and ask me out. He said that I just looked so beautiful and sexy. It must have been the hat.

I thanked him, directed him to an online dating service, told him I was happily married, and went on my way. I think I heard my hat give a light-hearted giggle. At the very least, it was grinning.
posted by Melanie O. at 11:08 AM - 6 comments
Sunday, November 05, 2006
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Halloween has barely passed, but it doesn't feel like the holiday season here Down Under. Probably because I come from the other hemisphere and it should be getting colder, not warmer! Warm weather at this time of year goes against all of my sensibilities.

Today, I had a little break from the warm weather, however, as the rainfall started, the wind blew, and the temperature dropped to a level that forced me to don a woolie cardigan. It feels more like the holiday season...sorta.

We took advantage of the cooler weather and went shopping for Christmas decorations. It's not that I don't have enough Christmas decorations packed away in plastic bins, it's just that Dan wants to build a Christmas train, and for that, we need a Christmas village.

Off to The Christmas Shop we go. I'm prepared to go into debt for some holiday "cheer," and when we get there, I'm shocked to see a large number of other shoppers who also feel the same way. The Elf Squad is on duty and they know us by name. There's something really wonderful about shopping somewhere they know you by name.

The Christmas Shop is located in a little building that was probably built just after World War II. It looks Victorian inside, without actually being Victorian. The shop is crammed with all kinds of goodies. There's only space in the aisles for one person to walk through. It looks like someone's grandmother's house. It's enchanting.

Dan and I pick out a couple of lighted ceramic buildings to start our village with. We can't afford more than that, but it's a start. We get a few other odds and ends and carefully pick our way past artificial trees, lights, glass globes, music boxes, ceramics, holiday dishes, tableware, candlesticks, tinsel, wall decorations, advent calendars, stockings, Christmas themed office supplies, dolls, brooches, tree skirts, fake snow, nativities, angels, baubles, bangles, beads and pop-up cards. In short - being in that shop is a bit like awakening to find yourself in one of your favorite childhood dreams.

We get home with our treasures and Dan eagerly opens each box and sets up the beginnings of our North Pole Wonderland. I'm not sure which one of us is looking forwards to decorating more - he, or I.

I think we're experiencing our second childhood, except that our parents couldn't afford fairytale Christmas villages when we were kids. The holiday season - the time of year when you wish you had a magic wand and could re-create the past the way you would have wanted. Thankfully, we've got the present to work with, even if it does feel like summer.
posted by Melanie O. at 5:15 PM - 0 comments
Friday, November 03, 2006
The moment time stood still
A guy tried to pick me up on the street the other day as I was walking back to my office after lunch. He was fortyish, average height, with olive skin and curly hair.

He came up to me and looked as if he was going to ask me a question. I must look "helpful." Tourists frequently come up to me to ask directions. Little do they know I've only lived in Sydney for a few years. Half the time, I'm as lost as they are.

Imagine my surprise when he complimented me, in a heavily-accented English, on my hair. My hair really is nothing special. It's shorter than I like, and needs a really good conditioning treatment. Still, it was nice of him.

He asked me if I worked in the area and I casually pointed up the street, not wanting to give my work address away to a stranger.

He blushed for a while, probably surprised that I was friendly towards him. Many women I know would blow him off in a not so nice manner using not so nice words. I could tell he was a little embarrassed.

Shyly, he asked, "Are you married?"

Just like that.

I smiled, looked at the diamond ring on my left hand, and said that I was, but that I was flattered by his compliment to me. He smiled and then he disappeared into the crowd.

I wish I could thank that stranger. Getting older isn't always the greatest thing. Sure, you have more confidence, but you have less energy. You have more money, but you're less inclined to want to spend it. People respect you more, but people annoy you more.

For a moment, anyway, I was hit on by a "younger" man. For a moment, anyway, I remembered what it was like to be young and just starting out in life. For a moment, time stood still.
posted by Melanie O. at 4:17 PM - 3 comments

About Me
Name: Melanie O.
Home: Durham, North Carolina, United States
About Me: Female, American health and beauty-conscious professional who has rekindled a childhood love of dolls.
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