29 September 2009

Closing a chapter

Tomorrow I will sell my house. I am going to visit the house this evening after work for the last time to pick up the final trickle of random items: a box, 2 sculptures, a platter, a pincushion and some wrapping paper. But while I am there, I will sit on the porch swing for a while and think about leaving this house, in the larger sense.

For the past 16 years, that house has been one of the constants in my world. I have grown into the person I am at this moment by living through the experiences that unfolded there. I will humbly acknowledge and honor the experiences. And I will close the chapter.

I will also take a moment to leave behind a fragment of positive energy for those that will come after me. In my mind, it will sound something like this:

Welcome to your home. I wish I could tell you how many people have lived here before, but I cannot; this house has been standing for almost 90 years. What I can tell you is how much I have loved living in this cozy bungalow. These walls are heavy with sweet memories of delicious meals, lazy summer evenings, heart-to-heart talks, and playful surprises. I experienced some personal trials in this house and shed more than a few tears, but the cheerful windows always drew my attention away from my sorrows to remind me that the world was waiting for me to join in again.

I like to think that this house, your home, has a special blend of energy to share with those of us who have spent part of our lives here. Through our human experiences, we contribute to this magical energy bank and perhaps receive some of the magic ourselves from time to time.

I hope that your days and nights will be enriched with laughter and love and the spirit of this house will echo the joyful music of your lives.

Revolving dog door

Between 3:30 and 4am, the dogs usually wake up to go outside for a bathroom break. Edgar is the first one to let me know it is time. He stands near the kitchen door and whines softly. For many families, letting the dogs out is just not a labor intensive transaction. But this morning, as I was standing by the kitchen door, becoming more and more fully awake and aware of my surroundings, the logistics involved in this early-morning activity seemed, well, ridiculous. Here’s a play-by-play.
  • Edgar and Jasper go out
  • Tristan goes out, I go out with him to steer him into the grass (the grass was wet and he has a tendency to avoid the grass)
  • Tristan changes his mind and comes back inside
  • I let the kitty in through the front door
  • Edgar and Jasper come back inside
  • Jackie goes out; Jasper and I accompany him
  • Jackie comes back inside
  • Edgar stands by the door with me looking out
  • Jasper comes back inside
  • Jasper tries to pester the kitty
  • Gracyn goes out
  • Tristan goes out again
  • Jasper goes out to join Gracyn and Tristan
  • Gracyn and Tristan come back indoors
  • I walk around the house taking a head count and determine that Jasper is still out. I stand by the door and wait for Jasper – I can hear her jingling around in the yard. She finally comes in and everyone goes back to sleep for another hour.

Shuffle the deck and repeat tomorrow at 3:45am.

27 September 2009


A few personal belongings still remaining in my old house. Over the course of the next couple of days, I will either pack or throw away all of these items. The things I keep will probably fit into one box.

There is nothing like the process of moving to provide a mental refresher of the inventory of your belongings. The quantity of my belongings have increased through the years as a consequence of natural inheritance: gifts from loved ones, passed along in life or after their death. Some of these possessions are special, but not entirely useful. For example, when my father was in high school, he took a wood-shop class one year and brought home all of the items he made in class. His mom dutifully kept them all. My grandmother died several years ago, but before she died, she gave me a large box full of my dad’s wood shop class projects and some family photo albums. I love the little wooden trinkets that my father made when he was 17, but in all honesty, they have little use and he, himself, forgot about them many years before he died.

My own mother, still alive, has given me a number of gifts through the years that were her own possessions as a young girl. I have a pretty porcelain piggy bank, a doll and some tiny ceramic figurines in the shape of skunks. (I don’t know the story behind that.) I also have a couple of sets of pillowcases that someone in my recent ancestry embroidered. I sleep on these pillowcases often and I love thinking that perhaps my great grandmother may have sat on her front porch embroidering these on peaceful summer evenings.

I evaluate my own belongings: clothing, dishes, books, art, jewelry, photographs, towels, shoes, furniture, mixing bowls. I wonder what will become of these belongings as I grow older? I do not have a daughter that might want my mother’s porcelain piggy bank or my amethyst earrings or the linen tablecloth that my grandmother cross-stitched. It is doubtful that my nephew will have much interest in the belongings that are so special to me now.

The pages of the calendar of my life continue to turn. As busy as I am or and as young as I feel, I continue to get older and my belongings move through the years along with me. With a renewed cognizance of the inventory of the stuff I am carrying with me, I hope to either incorporate infrequently used items into my life or discard them without guilt. With any luck, I will dig deep to find the ingenuity, stamina and wisdom to achieve this goal.

Nature or nurture?

In my immediate household, there are 2 people, 5 dogs and 1 cat. In an attempt to maintain as much relative order as possible, we try to adhere to a set of feeding time and playtime rituals that seem to work. But dogs, being the clever creatures that they are, do their best to steer our behavior toward meeting their desires as much as possible. They learn that humans will sometimes relent after being pestered for a while. I also think that dogs are perceptive enough to detect human dynamics that contribute to stress, fear and sadness and I think that if these situations are not corrected, the animals’ behavior could be permanently affected.

A number of years ago, I volunteered as a docent in the butterfly conservatory of the local museum. It is a beautiful place and on many days, moms and their young children would visit the museum together and enjoy a stroll through the conservatory. The pretty paths are lined with dense plantings featuring plenty of nectar producing flowers to attract the brilliantly colored butterflies. My role was to provide information about butterflies to anyone who might be interested. Mostly though, the visitors just liked to experience the natural wonder of the conservatory on their own.

On one particular day, I noticed a mom pointing out a lovely swallow-tailed butterfly to her child. As the butterfly flitted closer to them, the little boy ducked his head. I heard his mom exclaim, ‘you don’t have to be afraid, these are good bugs!’ She glanced at me and admitted that through her own behavior, she had probably taught him to be afraid of insects without understanding why.

Hmmm. So I guess this might mean that my dogs’ neuroses originate with me? They have observed my behavior, moods and emotional responses to conditions and situations long enough to develop complementary behaviors? Their unruly manners are essentially a reflection of unchecked mixed signals on my part? Could it be true?


25 September 2009

Decorating for dummies

Back on the home-selling / home-buying track, we stand at an estimated T-6 (days) until the first close transaction (aka, C1) and T-10 until C2. C1 will supply the funding to initiate several renovation projects in the house we are purchasing (C2), mainly flooring replacement. However, besides having available funding, the other prerequisite to beginning this work is the actual selection of the flooring material. Cristy and I have looked at wood and tile flooring exactly one time. I believe neither of us has had much success envisioning the desired results and we have had less success collaboratively assembling a vision.

We have some degree of concurrence that tile is a more durable product for our living requirements than natural stone. We also agree on a dark floor color preference. Beyond that, the options are wide open.

I went to Master Tile today at lunch to peruse the inventory. I initially identified 5 or 6 items of possible interest, looked at those tiles assembled in a larger grouping, and then narrowed my preferences to 3 or maybe 2. Probably 1 favorite. This is from a girl who generally likes everything. But I found that I immediately began to narrow my options by discarding choices predominantly composed of shades of beige, light brown, red or anything with a muddy color. Then I ruled out tiles with a lot of texture since I want the surface to be easy to keep clean.

My logic with the color narrowing may or may not be sound. My assumption is that the color of the floor will serve as a foundation for the remaining color palette of the house. I prefer to keep a cool-neutral palette (pale shades of grey, green, pink) and prefer to avoid warm-neutrals (beige, gold, orange). Without a professional decorator guiding the process, Cristy and I are on our own to select the foundation colors that will serve as the basis for our modest décor.

We are going to Master Tile tomorrow morning together. I will have the opportunity to evaluate my choices again on a new day and observe the colors and textures to which Cristy is drawn. I will have to try my best to avoid the temptation to promote my own selections first. My goal will be to keep an open mind and think about the products in terms of the larger context of scale and overall color compatibility.

24 September 2009

Meandering mind of the commuter

There was a traffic accident on the drive in this morning and traffic was a little slow. So in my idle time (pun intended) I started thinking about yesterday’s traffic. It was a little slow yesterday too. Not traffic-accident slow, just standard sluggishness. Yesterday, as I approached the northern fringes of downtown, creeping along the freeway, I noticed a police car pulled alongside the shoulder on the opposite side of the freeway monitoring traffic speed with his radar contraption. I remember thinking that speeding motorists on a freeway near downtown Houston in morning rush hour might be a rare phenomenon. But hey, maybe HPD knows something about traffic trends that I don’t.

The situation actually reminded me of a news story that I read two or three years ago. Apparently, a child that happened to have a “toy” radar speed-measuring device was single-handedly successful in changing the behavior of speeding motorists along his neighborhood street. As I recall, the boy stood in his front yard, pointing the contraption at approaching vehicles and wrote down their license plate numbers if they were speeding. And it seemed to work! Of course, in my mind, I have embellished the imagery: boy wearing a football helmet, his father’s sunglasses and a superman cape perched on his spider bike, poised to initiate pursuit if needed to apprehend speeding offenders.

The real moral to the story is, however, that we are more likely to push the boundaries of behavior if we believe no one is watching, but when we are aware that we are being observed, we make a conscientious attempt to keep our behavior in check.

23 September 2009

Comic phobia

Someone thumbtacked a Dilbert cartoon strip on the notice board of our employee kitchen. I saw it as I was getting coffee after lunch. (caffeine addict, you say?) From where I was standing, I could tell that one of the characters in the cartoon strip was the boss with the hair that resembles horns growing out of both sides of his head. Sorry, but that just makes me nervous. I felt myself shrinking as far away from the bulletin board as I could while pouring coffee.

There is something about cartoons (not all, but definitely some) that makes me a little nauseous. Antique, black and white, animated cartoon short-films are the worst. The tinny music, herky-jerky motion and almost cruel-looking cartoon smiles trigger something in my psyche that I cannot quite identify. I went to a movie theater several years ago that ran an old Betty Boop reel before the feature film. I wanted to evacuate the theater and call for a tank of oxygen. But instead, I sat in my chair gritting my teeth. I think that I may possibly still bear the emotional scars from that incident.

I’ll pass on the Dilbert comics.

Today in history

Twenty one years ago, Sep 23, 1988, Jose Canseco achieved a record in major league baseball history as the first player to steal 40 bases and hit 40 home runs. In the eight or so years since his retirement from MLB, he also admitted to anabolic steroid use, has graced the public with a tell-all memoir and broadened his arena of athletic interests to include boxing and mixed martial arts. It is disheartening to witness high-hype antics from a former professional athlete that appear to almost mock these athletic pursuits. While I am not a fan of either boxing or MMA, I am quite certain that those athletes that participate, do so with an enormous level of personal commitment and skill.

One of the reasons I love baseball is the thick link between history and the American past time. The historical path through the ages of baseball follows the story of our evolving culture. Fans love ballparks that give us a glimpse of the earlier eras of the game. We love the vintage jerseys and caps. We wonder about the integrity of the recorded achievements of players in this era of the escalating slugging percentage. Or do we love it? I can’t quite decide.

22 September 2009

“Here's a hoeping it will a closa”

Didn’t make that up – the real estate industry coined the phrase in an affectionate reference to HERA and HOEPA.

The economic recovery act is in full swing in my life. I’m sure it must be in a good way, but it’s hard to feel all the love with this enormous headache.

Two acts passed by Congress in 2008 affecting real estate transactions are intended to enhance the level of information available to homebuyers regarding the costs and structure of their home purchase. HERA is the Housing and Economic Recovery Act and HOEPA is the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act.

Essentially, several steps throughout the loan application and purchase transaction processes now require built-in milestones for mandatory information disclosure and consumer review waiting periods. With my lender, the process has not been troublesome to manage. However, as a good girl that follows instructions, I adhered to the checklist, submitted everything on time, signed all the documents, faxed them back, kept copies, and met the deadlines required.

Not exactly the case with the homebuyers of my particular property. Their sense of urgency does not quite match my own and there is a big possibility our closing date will slip, as a consequence. Not sure just when we will close, but our target date is just not looking so good at the moment.

Again, turning it over.

21 September 2009

Autumnal equinox

Tomorrow marks the autumnal equinox; day and night will be approximately the same length as the earth’s northern hemisphere begins its journey into fall. Autumn ushers in a host of seasonal references: schoolbooks, football games, Halloween costumes, pecans, cable-knit sweaters, raking leaves, cinnamon spice, garden mums, mashed potatoes. Our memories map these associations with incredible precision. Certain smells, colors, sounds remind us of homecoming dances, fall festivals and family holiday gatherings.

The slant of the afternoon sun in autumn reminds me of the smell of a wood burning fireplace, the softness of flannel pajamas, riding my bike home from girl scout meetings and the heaviness of quilts layered on my bed. There are certain foods I like to prepare in autumn and winter that I seldom prepare during the warmer months such as toasted veggie grinder sandwiches, baked ziti and pear-apple sauce. I also look forward to wearing jeans and blazers and enjoying a Friday evening or two near the fireplace with a glass of wine.

Autumn is a time for lighting candles, replacing placemats with tablecloths and reading a favorite novel (again). It is a time for sharing things you have received or learned from someone else – photographs, recipes, making a wreath, folding a napkin, telling a favorite story, making origami cranes. It is a season of cozy and comfort and the more you share, the more you feel.

Dear Daddy

My father died on September 20, 1992. He was 58 years old. I was resting yesterday afternoon when I suddenly opened my eyes and remembered. I did not look at the clock, but I believe the thought passed through my mind at approximately the time that he died.

He has been gone from this earth for a long time now and I have grown older. There was a time when I felt lonesome and cheated from a relationship with my parent that never really matured. But that feeling has healed and I realize that our relationship was interrupted during its development, just as his young life had been.

There is so much of my dad that lives through me now. Sometimes my thoughts and voice are his. My frugal nature is completely a mirror of him, but perhaps not quite so pronounced. My appreciation for the beauty of logic and numeric order is his and other things too – my tendency to avoid conflict, quiet nature, devotion to those I love.

I searched his name on the internet today and found a research paper that he co-authored in 1969. He was a rocket scientist in the true sense of the word and I never knew much about his professional accomplishments, both because I was too young to comprehend and because his work was probably classified at that time and he was undoubtedly not permitted to discuss it much. The fact that this scientific work product from his past has emerged on the internet, of all places, is surprising and amazing. It feels like an artifact from a time capsule. Thank you Daddy, I will enjoy reading it.

20 September 2009

Bargain hunter or hoarder?

There is a program on one of the cable networks that exploits, I mean, features the drama around the disorder of hoarding. Cristy has a tiny fascination with this program and I sometimes watch it with her. We have both seen hoarding situations ourselves that were not yet as out-of-control as those featured on the program.

It is sometimes hard to throw things away. When you look at the item, it still appears to be useful, although it may not be candidate for use at the moment. Still, why send something perfectly useful to a landfill? My standby solution to this predicament has always been to carry it out to the edge of my front sidewalk. Generally in 60 minutes or less (sometimes 10 minutes or less), a curious passer-by will stop, examine the item and upon discovering its potential usefulness, carry it home.

It is the same concept as a rummage sale, but there is no work involved on my part.

The popular website, Craigslist, is the 21st century answer to the garage sale. I love Craigslist. I have sold several items and also used the Free Stuff section to find new homes for “specialty” items that would be difficult for a casual passer-by to identify if it was simply placed out in the free-stuff location on my front sidewalk.

It leaves me to ponder whether people who pick up discarded junk, I mean stuff, are hoarders or bargain conscious?

This question applies to me, too. Today, I purchased my first couple of items via Craigslist: two little tables for a guest bedroom, $40. I will need to spray paint them white to give them a crisp finish (they will look so adorable!), but the fact remains that I have enthusiastically joined the legions of people interested in other people’s stuff. And I’m willing to pay money for it.

The experience only serves to whet my appetite for future potential bargains that might be lurking on Craigslist. Am I merely an astute bargain hunter going for the shabby chic decorating look or am I dangerously close to venturing into hoarding territory? Only time will tell.

Faces of poverty

One Saturday morning per month, the Houston Food Bank reserves its loading bays for volunteers of the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston to pick up boxes of dry goods to deliver to low-income senior citizens around the city. Yesterday was that day. The small box generally contains canned vegetables and fruit, dried pasta or rice and dried beans, and often breakfast cereal and fruit juice. The purpose of the Food For Seniors program is to supplement their clients’ pantries and nutritional intake each month.

It is not a month supply of food, but it helps. I have been volunteering for 6 years now and have had as many as 9 clients, but now am down to 3. Each client’s needs vary depending on their level of impoverishment, their general mental and physical health, and the span of their family support system.

If they are home when I arrive with their box of groceries, I have an opportunity to visit with my clients for a brief while. Exchange greetings, inquire about their health, comment on the weather. Sometimes we discuss God. Sometimes I just listen. We almost always shake hands or hug and their impact on my life is enormously valuable. The face of poverty to me is real, not abstract.

A senior citizen living in poverty in Houston, Texas has an income of under $800 per month. They have to pay rent or property taxes, buy medicine, gasoline, and pay for electricity, telephone and cable tv. Living in poverty is not easy and they often install screen doors on their houses to economize on electricity by cutting back on using air conditioning. They worry about the economics of items that I take for granted. My visits to them give me a stark reality check and thrust an attitude of gratitude into the forefront of my consciousness.

From time to time, as my volunteer Saturday approaches, I consider resigning from the regiment of volunteers. While it is not a huge commitment of time, my Saturdays are already generally full of other required errands and obligations. But then I remember a conversation with one of my current clients from several years ago. My volunteer service had been unexpectedly interrupted due to car problems, my clients did not receive their groceries that month. The following month, after my absence, this client expressed that he had been worried when I had not arrived. He shares his food supply among his immediate family – 2 adults and 5 children. He had been worried that his family would not make it through the month. Sobering.

Every time I secretly yearn to be free from this volunteer obligation, I remind myself of the impact of this program. My small commitment of time helps these 3 senior citizens so much more than it inconveniences me.

19 September 2009

Love and marriage

I went to a bridal shower after work yesterday. The young bride-to-be will be getting married in a few weeks and everyone who attended was happy to share in her joy and excitement.

Weddings are a happy occasion and one of the rare life-landmark ceremonies that we recognize and celebrate in our society. Ceremonies serve to preserve rituals through the generations and the wedding ritual in particular is meaningful in its purpose of joining two lives.

Until recently, I had not given much thought to the fact that the ceremony of marriage establishing the union of two lives is not actually available to all members of our society. Perhaps I had not given this much thought just because I was not paying much attention to the world. Or perhaps it was because I simply took marriage, as an institution, for granted and conveniently forgot that for a portion of our society, this institution is not legal. (I wonder if that means it is illegal?) It is possible, that in my self-centered view of the world, I simply did not imagine that gay men and women would be interested in being married.

Ironically, I am a gay female and am planning to marry my beloved Cristy on June 26, 2010. The fact that our marriage will not be recognized as a legal ceremony in our society will not dampen my joy and it will not diminish its significance in my heart or mind. It simply makes me consider that the society in which I live and support with my vote and taxes, must imagine that I would not be interested in being married. Wrong.

Dead wrong.

I want to spend my life with the person that I love and this person happens to be female. I want to know that in all matters of public record, she will be considered my next-of-kin. I want to know that we have the option of filing a federal tax return “married filing jointly.” I want to know that in terms of major medical coverage, the term “life changing event” applies to us.

But this is simply not the case. None of these things will be true. In order to look out for each others’ interests, to the best of our abilities, we will need to define certain provisions in a legally approved document, something that other legally married couples would not necessarily need to consider. The irony of this is not lost on me.

In a conversation with the bride-to-be at her shower, I shared my news with her, since she had previously met Cristy. She expressed her happiness without reserve. I suspect that the way that we each feel about our level of commitment to our respective marriages is perhaps identical. However, there is a world of difference in the way that my fellow citizens will recognize our respective marriages.

17 September 2009

Moral dilemma

I met Leslie yesterday afternoon at the recycling center. I saw him as I drove in and immediately became nervous. He appeared to be homeless; he was weather-worn and his clothing seemed dusty and faded. I did not want him to approach me to ask for money.

The social issue of homelessness makes me uncomfortable. We see the evidence, vis-à-vis panhandling, that homelessness exists. But still, it is troubling on so many levels. I avoid making eye contact with men or women panhandling at intersections, and I almost hold my breath until the traffic light turns green so I can drive away. Relieved.

I think that more and more citizens are gaining awareness of the complex problems that lead to homelessness: mental illness, poverty, substance addiction, alcohol addiction, a history of family instability. No one chooses to be homeless, just as no one chooses to have a mental illness. The presence of a mental illness compromises the ability to perceive reality and consequently, make rational decisions. Earlier this year, Diverse Works featured
Ben Tecumseh DeSoto’s multimedia compilation entitled Understanding Poverty, with an in-depth look at the systemic circumstances contributing to homelessness.

I left the exhibit with as many questions unanswered as when I entered.

  • Are any current social programs effective in their attempts to remedy these complex problems?
  • Does society have a moral obligation to house and protect the mentally ill and how would this solution not look like the horrifying mental-institutions of years past?
  • If more funding were directed to treatment for the mentally ill, would we be able to perceive positive results?

Leslie smiled and approached me in his wheelchair, offering to help unload my recycling. The trunk was full of cardboard. I first said no thanks, but he persisted, saying that he likes to help and it makes him feel useful. Plus, he said he thought it was an honest-enough way to try to make a couple of dollars. I reconsidered and agreed. While we unloaded cardboard together, he shared that he had been really depressed about his spinal cord injury and was just trying day-by-day to stay positive and look for ways to be involved. That makes sense to me. We shook hands when we were through with our chore, I gave him $5 for his assistance and thanked him. He thanked me too. If Leslie is, in fact, homeless, I hope he is finding his own path to recovery.

Where's the Tide stick when you need it?

In the spirit of the coming transition to fall weather, I selected some grey pants and a pale, ballet-pink sweater to wear to work today. I love the sweater and have probably had it for at least 10 years. It is a fabulous garment and looks great paired with so many things. But sadly, today might be the last day I wear it. As I was driving to work, drinking coffee from a covered thermos cup, as is my custom, my coffee dripped right down the front of this beloved sweater.

So, yes, that was me in the ladies room at the office first thing this morning anxiously trying to address the stain as promptly as possible with soap and water. First attempt unsuccessful; the coffee stubbornly clings to the pink woven fibers. However, I am persistent and will not give up my sweater without a battle. I have lost garments before to stains I cannot conquer, but only reluctantly concede when no further remedies are in sight.

15 September 2009

Love by numbers

Part of my job involves telling stories with numbers. I am coming to appreciate economy in information; conveying a rich amount of information in a diagram, column or table. The concept of negative space, borrowed from art, also applies to numbers. To the extent that numerals convey meaning, the absence of numerals within the same context offers a more complete picture. In another art-inspired example, I often imagine an array of numerals as layers of color, similar to a paint by numbers picture. Each numeral, a code, represents a hue, and combined with the remaining hues (unique numerals) in the column, a picture emerges. Numerals are not just for mathematicians, they bring information into sharp focus. If we are imaginative enough, we can communicate with numbers in a beautiful way.

Cristy has an inspired relationship with numbers too. I have known her for more than a year, but I just learned this vital information about her recently. She is naturally very observant and is constantly adding up numbers in her head, particularly when she notices a sequence of numbers that are related to something of significance. She created a numerology methodology that demonstrates alignment between non-numeric entities (such as humans) by analyzing numeric properties associated with each. Her imaginative creativity is brilliant and the methodology itself is truly amazing!

We paint the story of our life and love, day by day, not only with language, touch, sound and objects, but also with numbers.

Lost identity

Another person I know lost his job recently. He was feeling ashamed, diminished and fearful. Some of those feelings probably originate from the painful experience of separating from daily work activities that we psychologically integrate into our personal identity. Work, the intellectual, creative and mechanical efforts to which we dedicate so much time, substantially contributes to the way we see ourselves. Most of us want to participate in work situations where we feel we are contributing and our contributions are valued. Take that away, and we are left feeling that we have nothing to contribute and our past contributions were in fact, not valued at all. It is deflating and stages a damaging conflict with our internal belief system.

In 2002, I lost my identity too. Actually, I had lost it years before, but in 2002, I stepped onto a new road to try to locate it again.

Having steeped myself in a highly stressful and personally taxing profession for many years, and feeling captive to that job, I decided to give myself permission to make a decision on my own behalf. This was a personal and empowering watershed moment of change. I decided to stop spending my time in that job, with a vague notion that I would dedicate my time to working for the greater good. I gave notice and four weeks later after a harried farewell lunch with colleagues, boarded a plane home for the last time.

I felt good about my decision, and immediately became rigorously involved with some volunteer work in my community. Soon, however, questions started coming in from many quarters: When are you going to get another job? Aren’t you working below your capabilities? Are you still just volunteering? Those questions made me feel that the way I was spending my time was trivial and unimportant since there was not a hefty paycheck attached. Over time, I began to buy into the idea, and felt like a loser.

A year or so later, when I selected a new career direction to pursue, my biggest obstacle was overcoming my own identity loss and rebuilding a sense of confidence and accomplishment. My second biggest obstacle was forcing myself not to conduct my job search from the shadows, but to go to luncheons, introduce myself to people, call new contacts, ask for assistance and fight off the feelings of discouragement.

I was eventually successful at forging a new career path, but the rest of my identity, my own sense of self, was still lurking out of sight. It would be several more years before I woke from the sleep walking state in which I was living at the time. But, we’ll leave that for later.

13 September 2009

Photos from Port Aransas

Click to play this Smilebox photobook: photos from Labor Day trip to Port Aransas
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Love, phobia and a good omen

Last night as I was assembling an electronic album of our Port Aransas photos, I reflected upon a few elements of our lives and the amazing stroke of good fortune that arrived in the very last minutes of our trip.

The trip started amid a flurry of activity, enhanced with undercurrents of stress. The evening prior to our departure, Cristy and I signed and submitted a new contract to purchase a wonderful house. Although there was a verbal agreement between the parties, at the time of our departure, we had not received word that the sellers had signed the document we submitted.

Peripherally, I am aware that one of my character defects involves the way that I allow stress to consume my life, expanding in my head and overshadowing my attention to other day-to-day activities like listening to my telephone messages. In stressful times, I completely neglect to retrieve messages; I succumb to my phobias. Looking at it from a distance, I realize that this behavioral tactic is incredibly counter productive. As I said before, it is a character flaw, and one that I need to remedy.

On the other end of the linear scale, the depth of the love I share with Cristy has perhaps never been quite so profound as during this time together. With our outings limited by inclement weather, our attention turned to smaller observations: turtles in the retaining pond, hummingbirds flitting among the black-eyed susans in the nearby field, birds nestled atop neighboring roofs, researching the life-cycle of coquina clams, and most importantly, telling each other that our love has become a vital component of our individual lives, an essential fuel that fills our daily life with peace and joy.

We expressed our feelings for each other in the here and now, discussed our future plans for a marriage ceremony, and capped it off with an amazing shopping experience. Gorgeous stemware and dessert plates for a steal at a local designer boutique. In my opinion, stumbling upon a clearance sale at that lovely shop by mere chance was a good omen.

11 September 2009

Rainy day memories

Although the rainy weather cleared up yesterday, it returned for an encore performance today. We will probably venture out in a while for a bit of shopping and Mexican food, but the seashore enjoyment we had anticipated is ranking much lower on the probability scale.

The summer that I was 10 years old, I went to summer camp for 2 weeks during an unseasonably rainy period. The weather was muddy messy, but the worst part was the constant onslaught of mosquitoes. It was hard to manage these pests since we lived in tents and all of our activities were outdoors. I had a lot of insect bites and I remember being uncomfortable, but I did not realize how totally out of control the situation was until my mother arrived to pick me up at the end of my stay. She took one look at me, murmured something sympathetic, grabbed my hand and stormed into the camp office. I remember her being wildly upset with the teen-aged camp counselors about their complete negligence in monitoring the children under their care. She was hopping mad.

I had seen my mom’s angry side before. On (rare) occasion, my own childish misbehavior brought it to the surface, but I had never seen her direct that emotionally charged tirade to anyone else. I’ve never seen it since, either.

I have read that mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others, and I fall squarely in the former group. But in the rainy season, I keep a bottle of bug spray on hand.

11 Sep

In my lifetime there have been only a small number of events that have captured the attention of so many and evoked collective horror and grief. On this day we make room to remember and honor those memories, the way we felt and the way that those feelings changed us.

10 September 2009

Conquering the beast

I am engaged in an ongoing battle with the sun screen that fits into the windshield on hot days. It is lightweight and made of reflective fabric with a thin bendable frame, that folds up into a small circle and tucks under the seat out of the way. Every time we use this sun screen, I enter the challenge with high hopes. My confidence remains intact as I remove the screen and prepare to bend it into a compact bundle. The screen is obstinate and about a third of the time puts up a rigorous fight, refusing to collapse into place. As I bend one side, the fabric pops out of place on the other side, just like squeezing a proverbial balloon. I hold my breath, making another attempt before Cristy bursts into laughter and takes the screen. She easily bends it into a bundle and I laugh along with her.

On the times that I am able to successfully fold the screen neatly on the first attempt, I smugly stash it into a little spot next to the seat and glance, out of the corner of my eye, to see if Cristy noticed. She coolly pretends that it’s not a big deal, but I secretly imagine that she is impressed with my ability to conquer the beast.

Hello seashore

After a disappearing act over the past 30 hours or so, the sun has reemerged. Cristy and I drove (she drove, I rode) over 3 hours through steady, and at times heavy rain to reach our beach destination. Here we are anticipating a couple of days of distance from the demands of the world to meditate with the ocean, search for seashells and cuddle up together. With a few cups of delicious coffee and the promise of a few hours of sunshine this afternoon, the day is looking absolutely brilliant. Ciao.

09 September 2009

Good omens

Morning activity has begun, some of the inhabitants of this household are awake at 5:28. The coffee is brewing and already is filling the air with that delicious sweet smell. I like the yummy sweet flavored variety. Cristy calls it “jelly coffee” but I like it anyway.

After all the dogs have their breakfast, they generally need to make a trip to the backyard. I usually escort Jackie outside. He is old and suffers from a variety of phobias; having an escort helps to keep things moving. The morning sky was still dark and had a thin, shining white layer of clouds. But the most startling thing was the large halo around the moon. White, expanding to pale yellow, ringed with a narrow band of dark orange. I thought it was a good omen.

No one in my recent ancestry, to the best of my knowledge, believed in omens, so I have no particular knowledge that my hunches regarding omens mean anything at all. I simply choose to believe that when I see something spectacular, or merely wonderful in nature, that it signifies something positive.

On Monday morning, two days ago, I made the trek over to my house to take care of some chores. The house was listed again and I had received two offers with a verbal promise of a third to be submitted, all within just a couple of days. Things were moving much more rapidly than I had expected. But the fact remained that Cristy and I had released the house we loved. We had been told, from the sellers themselves, that another couple was “waiting in the wings” to purchase their house in the event that our contract fell through. And it did. Consequently, we had no reason not to believe that this other couple would not have immediately signed a contract to purchase that lovely home.

But on Monday, after picking up some stray palm branches in the front yard and walking up the steps to the door, something caught my eye and I paused. It was a hummingbird. The smallest flash of ruby. The tiny bird lighted on a jasmine vine and stopped for a time. It seemed like a full minute. I didn’t move and before long noticed a companion hummingbird nearby, also resting in the jasmine. They both soon darted away, but my brain had already labeled it a good omen. I just didn’t say it out loud to myself or anyone else.

On Tuesday, I completed negotiations for the sale of my house, much more easily and expeditiously than I thought possible and had a signed contract by 2:30pm. Cristy called me shortly after 5 as I was preparing to leave the office.

She had spoken with our realtor and requested that she inquire about the status of our beloved “lost” house. It seemed that all hope was not lost. By 6:30pm, we had a verbal agreement for new purchase terms and by 7pm I was doing the happy dance. We signed contracts a couple of hours later and sent them back to our realtor.

Today, on this day of the halo morning moon, we will have a contract, signed by both sets of parties, to again, purchase the house that we loved from the moment we first walked inside. For a few dark days, our hopes vanished and then, like magic, foretold by the good omens of nature, the tumblers started falling into place.

06 September 2009

Diane's weather almanac

OK, it's not the Farmer's Almanac, but I stand by it.

There are four principles that govern the weather in Houston:
1. The last cold snap of winter will coincide with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
2. After this last cold snap, the next 2-3 weeks will be heavenly, true resort weather
3. But before long, it will be clear that it’s going to be a hot summer
4. The first cool snap of fall will occur the third week of September.

Soon fall will be on the way. Just yesterday Gracyn was in the back yard foraging for acorns. No, she’s not a squirrel, she’s a dog, but well, she’s Gracyn. It reminded me of an acorn story from a previous autumn.

One particular October morning in 1988 as I was preparing to leave the house for work, I noticed a distinct clattering noise coming from outside. The noise grew much louder when I walked outside. It was coming from across the street and I took a few steps then stopped in amazement. A large oak tree was literally raining acorns. Hundreds, no thousands of acorns were pouring out of the tree and bouncing across the sidewalk and street below. I have never seen anything like that since. Gracyn would have loved it.

05 September 2009

Labor day weekend

Cristy is making a pie for a birthday gathering later this evening. The fact that she is in the kitchen is not highly unusual but the fact that someone is in the act of preparing food is of immense curiosity to the family canines. We live in a very small house with limited floor space in the kitchen. It is further limited with the lumbering shapes of one or two large dogs lounging on the kitchen floor and the three small dogs hovering around Cristy’s feet, following her as she walks from pantry to refrigerator to mixing bowl, stepping across the large dogs along the way.

Most of the dogs will lose interest in this activity and wander away except for Tristan. He will stay close to Cristy as long as she is occupied with any food related activity because there is always a possibility that something, anything, might fall to the floor and he will be there to discover whether or not it is edible. Generally, this tactic pays off for him and saves us from sweeping up stray bits of carrot, potato peel or bread crumbs.

I wlll be next up for food-prep duty, making a simple lemon-blueberry cake. The blueberries in the refrigerator are not getting any younger and it is time to enjoy them. Tristan’s reward for his vigilance on this day may be in the shape of a small, round sweet tasting berry.

03 September 2009

Recapturing language III

Somehow, over the years, it seems to me that the context for using the word impress, and its variations has changed. When I was a young girl, I recall hearing this word's use in a near-literal context: making an impression.

As a child makes wax castings from the impressions of animal footprints in the wet earth surrounding a lake, making an impression on another person through the essence of your own humanity is a tangible thing. In this regard, the impression made is a true change. It could perhaps be a change of mood, lifting someone's spirits by exhibiting inspiration. Or, it could be a change of outlook or opinion, validating the strength of an idea through living example. The fact that the vital energy of a person has the potential to leave a mark, or impression, on the life of another is lovely.

All too often, the word impress carries the connotation of instilling envy in another by exhibiting external trappings: what we do or say, what we have, who we know, where we have been. Impressing is so seldom linked to the person.

How would our lives be different if our impressions were guided more through genuine interactions with others and less by peripheral, non-human qualities? What this means to me is that if we take the time to honestly interact with another person and absorb the impact of their spirit and/or share the essence of our own humanity, we can effect change. We can generate ideas, open minds, soothe souls. We can appreciate each other for the innate human decency that we possess; we can both make and receive lasting impressions.

02 September 2009

Managing disappointment

Soon, both of the real estate transactions with which I am involved will be withdrawn. It is a huge disappointment. Cristy and I had found a house that is perfect for us. We were going to get married in that house. We were going to share our days and nights there, establishing our lives and creating a secure home. But now, the last hopes of this dream are unraveling.

The couple that pledged to buy my house are apparently not in a financial position to complete the purchase transaction. I have my own perception, opinion and judgment around that, but none of it changes the facts or makes the disappointment any less pronounced.
I will eventually sell my house and Cristy and I will eventually find another house. But it will not be the one we have imagined that we would call our home.

Amidst this disappointment, our perspective is one of gratitude. We still have jobs, good health, reliable transportation, assets and income. Above all, we still have each other, our love and the infinite possibilities that exist as our future unfolds together. We have lost only a little bit of time and money. Perhaps it is the cost of a lesson.

01 September 2009


Since school started, traffic has been slower. Perhaps drivers are entering the freeway on new schedules to accommodate a quick school drop-off. In any event, I find myself running late most days now. It is curious that I feel a sense of relief, perhaps even a slight surge of happiness to witness the particular reason for any given traffic snarl. Debris on the road, or perhaps a stalled vehicle.

Today, I found a curious delight, when after creeping along for 10 minutes, I discovered the flashing lights of a police car, tow truck and the snarled wreckage of two vehicles. What an inconvenient way to begin a Tuesday.

Traffic speed immediately resumed to freeway speeds in the shining morning sunlight for several miles until the next little snag.

Incidents of road rage seem less common these days. There will always be impatient drivers that have an urgent need to pass other cars on the road or discourteous drivers that honk or flash headlights to express their frustration. But, thankfully, the escalating vehicular warfare that made pronounced headlines ten years ago seems to have diminished.

Commuting is not for sissies. We’re all just trying to get to work. It might be OK to cut each other a little slack once in a while, especially on the freeway.