06 October 2010

High risk homeowners

Precisely one year ago Cristybella and I signed the papers, transferred the money and breathed a huge sigh of relief as we closed the purchase transaction for our house. It had been a harrowingly stressful experience, but it came to pass.

Twelve days later, demolition began and on October 30th, we officially moved.

A lot of activity has transpired. Much of the activity fueled by our desire to transform our home into a living space that is congruous with our style and rhythm of life. But a fair amount of activity has arisen unexpectedly.

The old adage, it’s always something, is a familiar tune for most homeowners. Let’s review the list of repairs in the past 12 months, shall we?
  • Oven
  • Garbage disposal
  • Garage door opener
  • Furnace
  • Lawn sprinklers
  • Garbage disposal (again)
  • Pool pump
  • Electrical circuit
  • Pool filter
  • Washing machine
  • Plumbing.
Impressive list. Everything except the lawn sprinklers was covered under the home warranty contract we decided to purchase prior to moving into the house. American Home Shield was happy to sign us up. We were mighty glad to have a single number to call each time something went awry. It’s stressful enough when something breaks, but not knowing who to call seems to amplify the anxiety. We have been thankful for our AHS home warranty.

About 30 days ago, someone in the AHS sales department called me to ask if I was planning to renew. They cleverly noticed that my 1-year agreement was about to expire and offered to sign me up for another year.

That was convenient. I’m all about convenience.

Then today, 1 day into the 2nd year of AHS home warranty coverage, we received a letter notifying us that AHS had reviewed our service history and had opted to reconsider coverage for our account. In other words, they dumped us.

We clearly make too many service calls and our track record has not been in AHS’s favor financially.

Of course, we certainly didn’t plan for these items in our house to break down all in the same year. Our existence would have been far more tranquil without the breaks, the leaks, the inconvenience. But then again, isn’t that why people purchase home warranties? Sort of the major medical coverage equivalent for our houses.

So tomorrow, during business hours, we will sort this thing out with AHS. If they have canceled our agreement, there’s still that minor question about charging us for the 2nd year. Hmm.

I wonder if we are considered high-risk homeowners?

13 September 2010

Maintenance

I drive an old car. About 10 years old. Nothing fancy. It’s a transportation tool, not a luxury item or source of entertainment. I might feel differently if my car was, in fact, luxurious. But it isn’t.

On my first real job, I once had an assignment to join my department manager to give a presentation to another business unit located across town. He offered to drive and when we arrived at his car, I was surprised that this mid-level manager was driving such a heap of junk. At the ripe age of 23, I held automobiles in much higher esteem than I do now.

Well, he must have noticed the mildly quizzical look on my face and explained that in this world, you can either have a really nice house or a really nice car, but usually not both. He chose the house. And when I got to the point in life when I was ready to buy a house, I did exactly the same thing.

So, back to my car.

After 161,800 miles, it is one tired machine and needs a few replacement parts so I called the auto mechanic shop last week to give them fair warning I would be in on Saturday morning. They didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet, but I was able to find a spot in the customer waiting room. I fretted while they assessed my car and tallied up the list of parts that needed replacing. I had asked them to break the work into two groupings – one for this month and one for next month.

And the news came in with a four-figure price attached.   > gulp <

Cristy was with me, thankfully. We all went to stand underneath the car and peer into the mysterious places where the wheels attach to the chassis. I asked this auto mechanic if my car was sound; if this money I was about to spend in repairs was indeed a good investment?

The look he gave me in reply did little to bolster my confidence.

I explained my working hypothesis: the cost of repairs to my auto, over the span of the next 12 months, would probably be less than the cost of 12 payments on a car loan. But I wanted a more informed opinion. Thankfully, this made more sense to him and he understood where I was coming from. He pointed out 2 additional things that needed to be addressed over the course of the next couple of months and otherwise pronounced the car healthy.

Next year at this time, I hope to have exceeded the 200,000 mile mark on my odometer with no other unforseen mechanical repairs.

Stitch in time

I spent some time sewing over the weekend. Relatively simple task using fabric, scissors, pins, needle and thread. But it is overwhelmingly time consuming since I don’t have a sewing machine. I started Saturday and was still at it Sunday morning.

One of the things about starting a sewing project is that it interrupts the activities and chores that I normally attend to on the weekends. Like laundry and cooking. And well, of course, sleeping late and working on my suntan. It requires me to reallocate my time.

Cristy walked in the back door around 11:30 giving Betsy Ross (aka, me) a quick acknowledgement, with a smile.

As I finished stitching the seam, I began wondering about the level of effort Betsy Ross invested in making that legendary flag, my personal favorite of all the American flag designs. Now that would have been a time consuming task.

She must have had some serious extra time on her hands. Or insomnia.

01 September 2010

Stormy weather

A pale grey band obscures my view of the galleria area skyline. Rain. It moves northward quickly, erasing the outlines of tall buildings with the density of the precipitation.


And just like that, the sunlight that was warming my office has vanished, leaving a chill in the air. The storm is advancing in my direction. Even now I hear the irregular smattering of raindrops. And soon it will be a drenching rainfall with big fat rivers of water moving to the thunderous drumbeat of the heavens.

31 August 2010

Personal currency

Sometimes my mind takes me to an unusual place. It all started out so simply. A Saturday night dinner with two lovely friends at my favorite bistro. One friend, a widow, lost her job in a layoff about a year ago, but has found enough work to keep paying the bills. We genuinely care about her and are sensitive to her situation. But it seems that her worries are practically over. Out of the blue, an offer appeared to purchase an asset that she has held for many years. It was the answer to a prayer.


While this transaction does not propel her into the jet-set uber-wealthy stratosphere, it does ease her budget constraints and make for a comfortable retirement. At 75, she certainly deserves a few days off now and then.


This conversation initiated a web of thoughts related to women. And money. While there are many women who are employed or run their own businesses and earn an income that meets their family living expenses, there are many who do not.

My grandmother had a job outside of the home to contribute to the home economy. She earned a low wage, but it helped. My great-grandmother sold eggs, butter, strawberries and other products from her garden to help make ends meet. Her mother, a widow, took in boarders to pay the bills.


Many generations of women have worked, traded a currency available to them, to pay for the necessities of life.


My mind wandered back to a favorite book of fiction, social commentary actually, by Edith Wharton. Lily Bart was the heroine. A young woman from a family of social distinction, but without the independent means to sustain her livelihood. The currency available to her was her youth, beauty and cleverness. However, trading this currency to a possible husband that she did not love did not seem like an attractive trade to her. Unfortunately, she did not have the means or the strength to hold out for love.


A similar, familiar tale is woven into Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche DuBois, the heroine, capitalizes on the currency available to her in order to obtain security and stability: charm and beauty. She attempts to fabricate youth into the equation to close the deal, a deal in which she is willing to forgo love. But unfortunately…well, everyone knows the ending.


In my own circle of family, friends and acquaintances, I know of several females who are in a situation similar to Lily and Blanche. The currency available to them does not include the education and professional experience needed to drive an income sufficient to pay for the lifestyles with which they are familiar.


I don’t know if my outlook is pessimistic or realistic, but I don’t put much faith in the dream of a knight in shining armor. Fairy tale endings usually only occur in fairy tales.


Except, of course, for the good fortune of my friend.

27 August 2010

School year memories

The added presence of school buses on the roads this week brought to mind all the things that used to occupy my world as a youngster starting the new school year.  Best wishes to students everywhere as the academic year begins.

26 August 2010

Shadowy passages

I went for a quick swim at about 5:15 this morning, although it was not originally my plan. I jumped in to retrieve my little guy, Tristan, who had wandered into the pool by mistake in the dim morning light. His aging eyes betray him and he is guided primarily by sound, smell and touch. But this morning he encountered mixed signals and took a wrong turn.

It was his first time in the water and it was undoubtedly a frightening experience for him. Back on dry land, it took him a short while to recover the strength to move around again. And even then, he was nervous, shaking. Breakfast, biscuits and the warm air from the hair dryer helped to banish the scary memory.

His eyesight has been deteriorating rather quickly over the past several weeks and it is clear to me that I need a better plan to help guide him and communicate with him as he navigates through the shadowy world. Over the next several days I need to make it a priority to experiment with a few behavioral strategies to determine what seems beneficial.

He is my little dog of nine lives. When I found him, he was nearly dead from starvation, exposure and heartworms. But he bounced back. A few years later, he was diagnosed with cancer and had a nasty tumor removed from his foot, but that experience didn’t slow him down a bit. A few years after that, he slipped out the front door by mistake, ran into the street and in the blink of an eye was in the path of an oncoming truck. The truck ran over him but Tristan was not injured badly, just sore, bruised and scared. And now, blindness. It sort of reminds me of Voltaire’s notable character, Candide.

He has the heart of a lion and is cheerful every day of his life. He stole my heart that first night when I saw him wandering and lost. Perhaps his courage, spirit and the love of his 2-legged and 4-legged family will help to bolster him through this next stage of his life.

24 August 2010

Wounds

The loss of a family member leaves a hole in the family, a collective wound.


I have spent much of my life with dogs and cats in my household and have witnessed their response to loss. The way they suffer wounds of grief.


When Jackie died two months ago, the dynamics of our four-legged family began to shift ever so slightly. The dogs selected new preferred locations in the kitchen to sleep. I changed the placement of their breakfast and dinner food bowls. Always on the prowl for food, little Tristan stepped up his patrol of the other dogs’ progress during mealtimes and became more vocal, growling about perceived encroachments around his own eating space.


I should have noticed.


Years before, when Jackie’s companion Hemingway died, he progressed through a period of despondent sadness, then moved into a stage of hyper aggression that took me by surprise and ultimately resulted in a broken clavicle and a trip to the emergency room. My injury was just collateral damage. The real target of Jackie’s aggression was another dog.


Jackie’s grief, his wound, was deep and those feelings found their way to the surface.


This time the crescendo was startlingly similar.


In a sort of passive-aggressive posturing technique, Tristan often sleeps in the doorway of one of the guest rooms we use as an office and cozy TV-nook. His position makes it difficult for Edgar to enter or exit the room. Edgar is polite and submissive and usually waits for either Cristy or me to urge Tristan to move, allowing Edgar to pass. But Sunday night, Edgar attempted to pass without the accompanying verbal instruction and Tristan took grave exception. A snarling confrontation ensued and Edgar bit Tristan.


Bite: the fearful event we associate with out of control canine aggression.


The aftermath is subdued. Edgar has resumed his normal peaceful, submissive manner and Tristan is a bit more polite than usual. I’m guarded and have started carrying a little rattle around with me to divert Tristan’s attention if I hear any growling or if his focus on another dog is too intense. A little technique I noticed on one of The Dog Whisperer programs.


Later today I’ll take Tristan to the vet to have his wound attended to by professionals. But his other wound, and Edgar’s too, the loss of their companion Jackie is beyond my ability to remedy and possibly beyond my ability to console.

21 August 2010

Considering the d-i-y alternative to home decorating

Someone once told me that just because you know how to read doesn't mean you can teach a person to read. There is a profession of individuals that specialize in education. It is a skill and a vocation.


Just because I read design blogs and am interested in making my home beautiful on a restricted budget doesn't mean that it will look like the wonderfully spectacular rooms I see in these blogs on a daily basis.


I scanned through one of these blogs today and the blogger featured photos sent in by her readers. For the most part, I could see what the d-i-yers were trying to accomplish, but I also saw the distinct difference between their finished product and the professionally designed homes with the beautifully appointed rooms and cost-is-no-object furnishings.


So then I started wondering about my own efforts. I have never hired a decorator and have always opted to take the d-i-y route with room design. Truth is, cost is a big factor in every single selection. Do the fruits of my labor seem as humble as the reader photographs I viewed earlier?


Maybe the more pivotal question is, does it even matter?


There are plenty of photographs of outlandishly expensive homes that are just not my cup of tea, so to speak. So maybe all that matters is that I brew the tea that I love and serve it joyfully.




My tea of choice involves the combination of pretty patterns, something I don't see very often on designer blogs.


Sweetened with a few homemade touches


a secret ingredient or two, passed down through the generations


All stirred together with a collection of things I love


Because after all, I live in a home, not a magazine.

11 August 2010

Wednesday wordle

I created two wordles in a study of contrasts.  Two common themes in language and life.  Big and little.  I noticed how I was feeling as I created the two wordles.  The big wordle seemed selfish.  These words that serve a useful purpose, seemed to leave no room for any other ideas.  They almost stifled my imagination.  They felt bold and boastful.  I felt ashamed.

And as I created the little wordle, I started to feel voiceless.  As though these important words would not be seen or heard above the noisy party that was on the other side of the page.  I started to feel defeated.

I longed to create a third wordle, the middle ground.  Where I could find satisfaction in balance, appreciation of the contrast between vibrant and delicate.

Funny the way this mind works.  They're just words.

For your own wordle, visit www.wordle.net.

10 August 2010

An excuse

One of the things I love about being female, and it is entirely a female thing, is that every once in a while, things just make sense, from a biological perspective. If you know what I mean.


Last Friday I received some information regarding my medical benefits that was moderately worrisome. I fretted about it off and on through the weekend. On Monday, I received some further information, but with no resolution plan in sight, it conjured up an extra dose of worry.


Throughout the day on Monday, I kept reminding myself of the serenity prayer, the thing that often helps me find the center of calm. But I was still distressed.


And last night, my lovely Cristy-bella made some mini chocolate brownie lava cakes. With great restraint, I ate only one and it was delicious. I immediately felt better, not just because of the chocolate, but that never hurts.


I didn’t stew that much this morning about the situation, but a little signal reminded me that even at my advanced age, stress and anxiety almost always accompany a normal human function, of the female persuasion.

And I feel even better with the knowledge that I have a built-in, gender-ready excuse for my grumpy worrisome distress of the past couple of days. It’s almost as though I get to write myself an excuse. As a young girl, I used to love it when my mom would write an excuse note for me – it was like a huge sigh of relief. This feels EXACTLY the same way.

07 August 2010

Tastes like summer

As I get older, it seems that the simplest things trigger an enormous surge of happiness. Today I find myself grateful for the happiness that comes my way courtesy of hummingbirds and avocados.

Twice per year, fortunate households along the Texas gulf coast, indeed throughout many states across the US, are honored to host ruby throated hummingbirds as they travel along their migration path. Just over a week ago, the southbound birds began to arrive and we are overjoyed that they have found the feeders in our yard and have decided to stay for a while.

They passed us by on their northward migration path this past February.

But this season, we took a more aggressive stance. Got a second feeder. Relocated both to a more prominent position. And the strategy has worked. Several of the tiny delicate birds dart in throughout the day to sip the sweet nectar, when they are not busy chasing each other. For as fragile as they seem, they are noisy and fierce when it comes to defending claim to a food supply.

And every time I see one, I seem to catch my breath, whisper a little greeting and find myself bursting with a million smiles.

There is so much to love about summer produce that I cannot with a clear conscience single out one fruit or vegetable without a supremely healthy dose of gratitude for the bounty of beautiful, delicious food in the farmers markets and grocery stores.

But oh my, is it just me, or are the avocados particularly wonderful this year? Each one seems to be perfect and perfectly tasty. The best guacamole in town can be had right in my own kitchen, thanks to these delicious green fruits.

Cutting each one open to assemble this delectable treat gives me the kind of culinary rush that rivals the pros on the food network. And I smile as I add the perfectly roasted corn kernels, squeeze the juice out of the lime and toss in a dash of cumin.

Tastes like summer to me.

03 August 2010

Locating inspiration

Today one of my colleagues dropped by my office, and to my surprise, the topic of faith and religion emerged.  In the past, I would have tried my best to avoid these conversations, but for reasons that I cannot quite identify, I don't mind so much anymore.  Even though I am not a serious student of the Bible, I feel connected, grounded to the faith of my understanding.  And I'll do my best to hear what someone else has to say without taking it personally.  After all, each person's faith is personal only to them.


Oddly, just last week, the topic of faith and religion was a topic of discussion in our own home for a day or two.  Cristy received some unsolicited feedback on the subject from a longtime friend, and unfortunately, the tone was judgmental to a degree. (More on that at another time.)  And that incident has heightened my consideration of faith and brought my relationship with God, the work in progress that it is, into sharper focus.


Two days ago, a blogger and artist who also works in the publishing business featured this fabulous collage of words on his blog (Fullet at Secret Forest) and it has renewed my love affair with the beauty of words.  This particular wordle attempts to describe an inspired exploration of faith.

01 August 2010

Class of 1979

Last night I went to my high school reunion. It wasn’t a huge gathering of a hundred people in a hotel ballroom, it was a small gathering at a Mexican restaurant. Maybe 20 or 30 people. I hadn’t been close friends with most of the people present when we were students together 32 years ago, but I did, at least, remember most of them. Everyone was smiling and congenial. We hugged, asked about children, grandchildren and parents. We told each other how wonderful we looked and truly meant it. Happiness and peace seemed present in everyone, and the inner beauty of each person was readily apparent.

On the surface, the experience was enjoyable: renewing acquaintances from long ago. On a deeper level, it was mildly unnerving: revisiting the shadow of my former self. Someone asked me if I had kept in touch with any of our classmates through the years and I had to honestly answer that I hadn’t. That question opened a little tunnel to my past and caused me to consider who I was and how I got from there to here.

Life is a process of self discovery. During the past five years I made a rather significant discovery about myself. Consequently, it occurs to me that years ago, living without this information was not exactly advantageous. I found myself struggling to feel comfortable with myself and feel as though I had control of my own happiness.

As I was about to depart, someone mentioned how much I had changed. And she was right. On the drive home I realized my own journey of self discovery had been astonishingly transformational. While I am the same person that I was all those years ago, I now know who that person is. I am able to live an authentic life and it has removed those barriers to happiness that seemed to plague me before.

So overall, I’m glad I went to this reunion. I wish it had not been such a fleeting, hurried experience. But it was a good experience.

26 July 2010

Scenes from a wedding




I think our smiles say it all.  The happiest moment in my life.  True love and true happiness.
More pics on the companion photo blog.  Because I love pictures.
More scenes from a wedding

19 July 2010

The meaning of life, from an unexpected source

I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Oprah Winfrey's program last Monday. Her guest was an author, Geneen Roth, who has written a book about women’s relationships with food and their relationships with God. The premise of the book is that if you get things right with yourself and with God, then you can probably structure a healthier relationship with food; you will have less of a tendency to fill up the emptiness with food.

Oprah had read the book, clearly believes in the content, and along with Ms. Roth, was enthusiastically offering her commentary and taking questions from the audience.


Several members of the studio audience asked questions about family mealtimes, dieting, busy schedules, etc. One particular question was a bit unstructured. The viewer seemed discouraged that she was never quite able to get ahead professionally. The question may have also had an underlying inquiry about food, but I don’t recall that now.


I was busy putting dishes in the dishwasher and as Oprah started to answer this question, I stopped to listen. Then I walked closer to the television. It was a watershed moment: Oprah was giving this viewer the essential answer to life. Right there. In person. And everyone, including me, got the added benefit of receiving this important piece of information too.


It may sound like I am dismissing Oprah’s communication as a bit of trivia, but I am not. Quite the contrary. The secret that Oprah shared is a fundamentally important lesson and while a lot of people know it, it is still elusive. This knowledge becomes easy to misplace in the multi-tasking, multi-threaded, deadline oriented lives that we lead.


Oprah told her viewer, point blank, that the starting point for her (and all of us) was to humbly give thanks to God for the many many blessings in her life. Live in that place of gratitude. And be thankful for the things that are yet to come, including the experiences that will teach us lessons. You are not to cast about comparing your life with what you perceive as bounty in others’ lives. You do not know the burdens they carry because you do not walk in their shoes. Look at your own life, connect with God in your heart and walk forward in joy.


Now, I’m not trying to put words in Oprah’s mouth. There are no quotation marks; she didn’t say this exactly, but it is what I heard. This singular all-important message. The central meaning of life. The key to human happiness.


I doubt that this viewer, who showed up at the Harpo studio earlier that day, had any inkling of the gift that was she was about to receive. A gift that has the ability to change her perception of everything. I didn’t expect to receive it either, randomly tuning in to see Oprah’s program for about the third time in my life. But it is a miracle that I did and I am ever so grateful.


Thank you Oprah.

16 July 2010

Weekday ritual

About once per day at approximately 7am, five days per week, I utter a loud exclamation that contains an effing expletive. Yeah, that one.


No one else hears it since I’m in the car.


But I think I’ve been doing it for a while. I caught myself this morning and wondered why the foul language?


Truth is, maybe I’m not the best driver in the world. The freeway entrance ramp for my route brings me into a heavily traveled junction point where two exit-only lanes are departing for two separate destinations nowhere near the vicinity of my office. So I have about a half mile, in busy traffic, to enter the freeway and move two lanes to the left, dodging cars with more, shall we say, aggressive drivers.


The whole episode transpires in less than 30 seconds, but it scrapes my nerves raw in that short amount of time. And without fail, I unload the tension with some real nice profanity.

15 July 2010

Curse of the Morton's toe

Not so long ago, I was busy changing the bed sheets and wasn’t paying attention where I placed my feet as I shuffled around the bed. Consequently, in a moment of distraction, I slammed my toes into one of the bed frame legs. Ouchee! The index-toe on my left foot, in particular.

I have one of those toe configurations where the index toe is longer than the big-thumb toe. According to that ultra-reliable source of information, Wikipedia, this skeletal configuration of the foot is known as Morton’s toe.

This is why my second toe suffered the biggest impact from that little mishap. And it was not at all a pleasant experience, I might add.

To aggravate the situation, when I stumbled out of bed at an early-early hour the next morning to let the dogs out into the back yard, I snagged the very same toe in a loose loop of the rug en-route to the back door.

Imagine that sequence of events, if you please. A somewhat rude way to wake up on a Saturday morning.

The toe swelled slightly and the skin coloring darkened, but not much. I wasn’t worried and had no trouble standing, walking, wearing shoes or doing cartwheels (kidding). In fact, I forgot about it for a few weeks.

Then another clumsiness episode occurred.

Walking across the patio, I stubbed that same particular Morton toe over the spa-control button. It’s a medium sized button about 15” from the edge of the pool that controls the spa jets, about the size of a cupcake. And gosh-darn that got me to pay attention where I was walking. Phooey! Hurt so badly it took my breath away.

Might as well make a joke about it, right? The curse of this Morton’s toe got Cristy to thinking that perhaps the solution would just be to lop it down to size. We’ve got a handy tool in the garage that could do the trick.

I’ve taken that suggestion under advisement for the time being.

14 July 2010

Statistically average

I took one of those quick online quizzes this morning that offered amazing insight into the mysteries of my psyche, and conveniently offered to sell me some cool home organizing-storage-décor items at the same time.

Isn’t it really thoughtful, the way the internet is designed to give you pseudo-useless information while simultaneously peddling goods? Yeah, I think so too.

Hmmm. Anyway.

The quiz was supposed to tell me if I’m more of a right-brain thinker or a left-brain thinker. Turns out, I’m in the middle. Not hyper-distracted big-picture clutter queen or detail-driven fastidiously organized label geek.

Isn’t that the way it always seems to be? In this big melting pot of America, most of us live somewhere near the center of the bell curve. I guess if we didn’t, we’d find ourselves on reality TV. One of those hoarder shows or the home-make-over programs that get people to throw out their smelly old stuff and humbly, tearfully, start over with a fresh coat of paint, a custom-built shelving unit and a basket of fresh flowers.

That’s living in the fringe, but apparently that is precisely the definition of entertainment for many of us in the middle of the bell curve. However macabre that might be.

How many tuned in to the Deadliest Catch broadcast yesterday evening? I’m guessing a lot, but having absolutely no knowledge of television viewership statistics, couldn’t even venture an estimate. This segment of society in no way resembles the middle of the bell curve. These fishermen absolutely live in the outer extremities. Everything about their lifestyle and avocation is foreign to most of us. But it is a curiosity. Maybe for that reason precisely, because it is foreign.

Are we a society of voyeurs? Glimpsing into the lives of those that live beyond two standard deviations from the mean? Or does the advent of reality television serve to bridge the gap by demonstrating the common bonds of humanity? Underscoring the things we have in common—pride, humility, courage, loss, love, faith, family.

Hmmm. Don’t know.

13 July 2010

Green jeans

The day after my great-grandfather died, my great-grandmother moved into her daughter’s home. That was long before I was born, but I spent many a summer day in that house as a young girl. It was a small 2 bedroom, 1 bath house with a clothes line in the back yard and a washing machine in the basement. My mother was a teen-aged girl, in high school. And just like that, she had a new room mate.

I remember the bedroom they had shared with its chenille coverlets on twin beds, pine floor, ruffled curtains and parchment window shades that had crocheted pulls to lower the shades when the sun became too intense. No air conditioning in those days. The thing I most remember was the containers of African violets my great-grandmother perched on the window sills, each resting in a saucer. Their soft, fuzzy leaves and delicate flowers in shades of purple and lavender.

All these years later, I find that I’m a window sill gardener too. Not of the African violet variety, but any plant that will live in a glass of water and hopefully develop roots. I find a generous amount of pleasure and satisfaction in taking a clipping from the landscape, trimming the lower foliage and lovingly placing it in a jar of water in the bright kitchen window near the back door. I check often for signs that roots may be developing and my pleasure is redoubled when that evidence becomes visible. Then I continue tending to the cutting until the roots appear to be hearty enough to sustain the plant in a new home of soil.

My mom used to tell me stories about her grandmother’s gardens, tended by her grandfather year-round. My great-grandmother loved the blossoms, kept cuttings in the house, and donated blooming seasonal arrangements to her church every week.

It must have been hard, heart-breaking, for my great-grandmother to turn her back on an independent life and leave everything behind. Bringing only a window sill garden of African violets. The social customs of the time that predicated that decision are now lost on my generation and those that have come after me.

But the simplistic beauty and joyful task of tending to plants on a small scale, on a window ledge, is a part of my daily life, a trait happily handed down through the generations in my family.

09 July 2010

Passages

There was once a girl, the second of three children, who found herself growing up in a middle-class American family. Mom and Dad both worked to provide the opportunities they wanted to give their children and the parents did their best to nurture their three kids.

The second daughter was plagued with a variety of challenges that affected her judgment and behavior. By the time she was an adolescent girl, telling lies and acting out in a harsh, belligerent manner toward her parents started becoming more and more common. Her self esteem suffered due to chronic body weight issues that undoubtedly aggravated her behavioral difficulties. Her parents, not knowing how to respond in a caring, supportive way that demonstrated to their daughter the consequences for actions deviating from acceptable social norms, struggled not only with her, but with each other. It was a time of family crisis.

After high school, the daughter tried leaving home to attend school, but that path didn't suit her and she returned. Old behaviors resurrected. She tried finding employment, but a career choice seemed elusive and jobs were random. Lying was preferable to truth telling. Blaming was preferable to taking responsibility. Hostility was preferable to peaceful coexistence. Still, her parents tried to support their daughter in finding a pursuit where she might derive happiness.

After she turned 21 and renewed her attempt to make her way independently, her personal difficulties increased. Her debt escalated and attempts to hide the debt from plain view made the situation far worse. Her actions were criminal in nature. If she found herself unable to pay a bill, she invented an excuse, told another lie, slandered another’s reputation in the process.

Finally at the breaking point, her parents excused themselves from her life. Without wavering, they both asked her to leave their home permanently, attend to the problems looming in her life, and not return until she was capable of making amends. They were worried, almost sick. Months passed of no communication. The daughter felt betrayed and angry that her parents had turned their backs on her.

Then one day she drove over to her parent’s house and found them at home along with both her siblings. Tearfully, she took a step, and admitting she was ashamed of her cycle of bad behavior, asked for forgiveness. She wanted a chance to repair what she had damaged by demonstrating that she was trying to change the person that she was.

But there was more. She was also expecting a baby. And it was complicated. There was no upside to be found in the situation, save for the fact that she felt blessed and joyful at the prospect of being a mother.

She is going to make her own choices, guided by advice from her obstetrician, counselor, friends and family. Everyone has a particular point of view. But in the end, the only view that matters is hers.

I do not know what will happen. I hope for the best. I pray that she may find steadfast strength and the comprehension to acknowledge her life in the present tense and make choices based on where she stands in that life, humbly taking responsibility for herself and her yet unborn baby.

08 July 2010

National SCUD Day

In honor of this highly underrated national holiday (Savor the Comic, Unplug the Drama), let's take a moment to kick back and enjoy ourselves a little joke, shall we?

My choice. I selected something from the blonde category on
http://joke-of-the-day.com/.


A blonde, wanting to earn some extra money, decided to hire herself out as a "handy-woman" and started canvassing a nearby well-to-do neighborhood.

She went to the front door of the first house, and asked the owner if he had any odd jobs for her to do. "Well, I guess I could use somebody to paint my porch," he said. How much will you charge me?" The blonde quickly responded, "How about $50?"

The man agreed and told her that the paint and everything she would need was in the garage.

The man's wife, hearing the conversation, said to her husband, "Does she realize that our porch goes all the way around the house?" He responded, "That's a bit cynical, isn't it? The wife replied, "You're right. I guess I'm starting to believe all those dumb blonde jokes we've been getting by e-mail lately."

A short time later, the blonde came to the door to collect her money. "You're finished already?" the husband asked. "Yes," the blonde replied, "and I had paint left over, so I gave it two coats." Impressed, the man reached into his pocket for the $50.00 and handed it to her.

"And by the way," the blonde added, "it's not a Porsche, it's a Lexus."

Now that is funny, mi amigos y amigas!

06 July 2010

Riddle me this

One of my colleagues, an accountant in our department, is also a well-known practical jokester along with being a truly wonderful human being with a heart full of kindness.

But, back to the practical joking side. If he happens to pop his head into the doorway of your office, there’s a high likelihood that some sort of amusement is about to follow.

Not so long ago, he made the rounds through the office asking a riddle. I didn’t get the answer right, but much to his astonishment, no one did.

To set the stage, I work in a professional industry where the workforce is predominantly female at all levels of the organization. Our VP-Operations is female and has been in this industry for the entire duration of her career.

Here’s the riddle.

*****
A man and his young son were in a serious automobile accident. By the time the ambulance arrived, it was too late for the paramedics to save the man, but the child was still alive. The ambulance rushed him to the hospital and in the emergency room, the medical team quickly determined that surgery was necessary to save his life. They wheeled the child into the operating room and called a doctor in to perform the emergency operation. The doctor raced downstairs, prepped and stepped into the operating room, but after taking one look at the patient, said to the medical team: “I cannot operate on this patient.”

One of the nurses asked, “But doctor, why not?”

The doctor answered, “Because this patient is my son.”

Who is the doctor?
*****

As I mentioned, my guess was incorrect. I guessed that the doctor was the child’s grandfather. Didn’t sound right to me at the time, but I was grasping.

My coworker shook his head and said, the doctor is the child’s mother.

So obvious.

That’s what he said too.

But he had asked a half dozen college educated women to answer the riddle and not one got the answer right. Every single person assumed that the doctor’s gender was male.

We are a forward thinking group that supports the advancement of women. So why did this very basic assumption eclipse our consideration?

I don’t have the answer to that riddle.

Vegetarians unite

A short while ago, I stepped into the employee kitchen on our floor to fill my drinking cup with filtered water and I overheard a snippet of discussion among three colleagues. They were talking about diet, a common conversational thread with people hanging out in the kitchen around the lunch hour. But this particular conversation resonated with me because one of my colleagues has apparently switched to a vegetarian diet recently. She indicated, and I quote, “I didn’t realize that I had so many options being vegetarian.”

She’s right.

I’ve been a vegetarian since 1988. A long freaking time. Plenty of people have asked me just what I eat, because they honestly don’t know, other than salad, steamed broccoli or stewed tofu. When I list some common foods that are, or can be prepared in a vegetarian style, then they start to realize it’s not a huge hardship. Some even indicate, given this new information, that they could probably adopt a vegetarian diet, at least a few days per week.

And they’re probably right.

It’s not my mission in life to convert anyone. What you eat is an individual decision. I’ve made mine. However, in our home, I only prepare vegetarian food and if guests join us for a meal, I serve them vegetarian fare as well. I’ve not heard any complaints.

For our wedding, Cristy and I handled the catering. We prepared a whole lot of food, mostly because we don’t have any experience catering and WAY over-estimated food volumes. However, everyone got a plate of something and we heard plenty of remarks about the great tasting food.

This was the menu for our savory table:

Roasted veggie wraps – Portobello mushroom, red & green bell pepper, onion and goat cheese
Aromatic rice salad with green peas
Sun-dried tomato pesto with fresh bread
Fresh corn, edamame and mango salad
Pine-nut veggie squares
Farfalle pasta tossed with basil pesto

We took care to set a very attractive table and garnish the serving bowls with a pretty flourish, but the flavor of the food had its own appeal.

Summers of my memory

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, my brother and I seldom wore shoes. Hot pavement and thorny stickers were not a deterrent for our bare summertime feet. We rode our bikes everywhere and walked down the block to the community swimming pool every day. I played hopscotch on the driveway, taking great care to draw pretty course squares with colored chalk.

In the evenings, I would sit in the front yard and listen to the cicadas until past dark. Sometimes, on firefly nights, a thrilling game of hide-and-seek might occur.

Mommy made popsicles in metal ice cube trays and watermelon was plentiful along with beans, cucumbers and tomatoes from our garden behind the garage.

On the 4th of July, the annual parade consisted of a legion of kids riding spider bikes with red, white and blue streamers flying from the handlebars, followed by the fire engine from the community’s VFD and finally, a convertible coupe where the town mayor sat in the place of honor, waving to neighbors that lined the streets as the procession passed. The car was invariably adorned with a poster-sized sign on each door inscribed proudly with the phrase “Our Mayor” in boldly colored crayon.

Then, just before 9 o’clock, residents would walk a mile or so down the road to the community park and find a place to sit in the grass until the fireworks started. The volunteers manning the pyrotechnics lit the candles one by one, with a span of 10-15 seconds between each, giving the audience plenty of time to watch in amazement as the sparkles turn to ember and then to smoke.

And it was amazing. Pure magic for a young girl. I felt like skipping all the way home and probably did, swinging my mom’s hand the whole way.

04 July 2010

Sleep in heavenly peace

He came into my life just like the proverbial baby-left-on-the-doorstep.

It was a beautiful, cool, early spring morning in 1995 and as I pulled out of the driveway, I saw his little face peeking out from under the shrubbery in the alley. He was an adorable little puppy. Fluffy brown.

When I got to my destination I couldn’t stop thinking about him and after a few hours when I had a bit of a break, I drove home. He was still there. Hadn’t moved but someone had put down a bowl of food for him. He hadn’t eaten and by now the ants had gotten into it.

I brought out a bowl of water and a little fresh food. He was frightened, backed further under the shrubs and barked at me defensively. So I sat there and talked to him softly. After a few minutes he inched forward and took a drink of water. I had to leave again, but I thought he would probably be there when I returned.

He was, and I picked him up and took him inside. He was about the size of a cat and that first day I carried him around with me, singing to him.

Later, I named him Jackson, but always called him Jackie.

He grew fast, shedding his puppy fluff. His adult fur was brown with a black saddle. He had a sweet face and when he was happiest, his tail would curl up over his back.

In the summer in 1996, a homeless adult golden retriever came to live with us. Hemingway and Jackie were wonderful companions for many years. Watching them play together was one of my favorite things.

Jackie changed when Hemingway died on Winter Solstice, 2004. His grief lasted for months and he was inconsolable. The progression of his grief resembled the classic stages of human emotion processing through grief. But one day, in the spring of 2005, he seemed better. Not the same old Jackie, but better. It was as if he was now retired from his former position of Alpha male in the household that now included two younger dogs. He was Alpha Emeritus.

In the years that passed after 2005, Jackie rested more, but still enjoyed barking out an occasional warning to a pedestrian passing by with a dog on a leash. His mobility declined and it was apparent that he suffered from arthritis. He began a regimen of medication in 2007.

When Cristy and I moved into our present home last fall, the change seemed good for Jackie. He loved the enormous back yard. It was like a park and I watched him stroll beneath the myrtles and roll in the grass just like he was a pup again. I was so thankful that he was still able to experience this kind of enjoyment that had made him happy as a young dog.

But his decline in health continued and three months ago the arthritic inflammation around his spine left him without sensation in his hind legs. Thankfully, our veterinarian consulted with me over the telephone because she understood how traumatic it would be to bring Jackie into that office. She prescribed a steroid to reduce the inflammation and told me plainly that it was the medicine of last resort for him.

This past Monday was the last day of Jackie’s life. He was dying and spent most of the day beneath the kitchen table resting on the cool tile floor. I spent most of the day next to him. I carried him outdoors to the back yard a couple of times and he took a few sips of water. He also ate some chocolate cake.

The veterinarian made a house call and around 6:30, I said goodbye to my puppy on the doorstep. I believe, with all my heart that Hemingway was there to meet him at the rainbow bridge.

And one day, when I die, I believe that both Jackie and Hemingway will meet me there too.

01 July 2010

Practical application of transitive equality

I was going to write this post for Tuesday (RTT), but it's way late. 3 days late. But whatever. Last time I checked, there were no rules on the internet.

Early last month Cristy had a birthday and I just am about the world's worst at finding the definitive gift. In most cases, I seem to find a little something that I absolutely adore and then think, "wouldn't so-and-so just LOVE this?" So then I purchase it and the gift recipient is left wondering what motivated me to buy this big chunky bracelet that I'm eagerly hoping to borrow when I should have known the recipient is unlikely to ever wear it.

I don't know why this happens. Projection. Lack of coffee. Who knows.

But maybe, just possibly, on this past birthday, I inched slightly closer to that divine place where I selected a gift meaningful to the recipient.

I ordered these two custom stepping stones from K-Dub Designs. They are adorable and made to order to resemble your own dog or cat. The artist behind K-Dub (Karen) is sweet and creative and so easy to work with.

Cristy LOVES mosaics. And she LOVES her two cute dogs. So, by applying the transitive property of equality in mathematical logic, it stands to reason that Cristy would LOVE the mosaic portraits of her two pups.

I think she might. I hope so, anyway.

Here they are.



A full collection will soon follow. After all, we have a house full of 4-legged companions along with the memories of those recently departed. More on that later.

28 June 2010

Just married


In that moment, standing there in our living room in the presence of our family members and friends, there was only joy and love. There were moments of laughter too. When I asked for a tissue in the midst of my vow. When Cristy asked for a spare pair of glasses so she could read the vow she had written. When, after exchanging our rings, our officiant excitedly exclaimed, "Yay!"

Tears of emotion emerged while my beloved brother read a touchingly beautiful blessing. And when my sister-in-law read a tender message of love.

Those present fully shared our experience, in fact, became part of the experience, and the collective energy was powerful. Tingling. Full of happiness and hope.

Making a promise.
Declaring a love.
Taking a step forward in the journey of our lives.
Together.





18 June 2010

Happy father's day


My dad. He inherited his spirited and quirky sense of humor from his own dad. This is a photo of him from the early 1950s. He had not yet met my mother, he was barely 20 years old. But it is one of my favorite pictures of him.
I treasure these old photos along with the other assorted relics from his life. I'm thankful for having had him in my life at all. Part of who he was is alive in the way I think and make decisions and see the world.
I love you Daddy.

16 June 2010

Language of love

In ten days I will recite a vow and make a heart-felt promise to my beloved Cristy, witnessed by the members of our family and our closest friends. I will vow to travel the journey of my life with her, seeking that path and finding our way together. These words, our promises, will communicate the strong sense of love that we share and cherish.




Planning for this wedding has been an interesting project and as we get closer to the date, the activities we are involved with on a near-daily basis are steeped in minutae.





The wedding will be in our home, and we are transforming it from an already lovely residence into something even softer and sweeter. Swirling with pretty paper heart garlands and shining candle lanterns. Sprinkled with dozens of simple bouquets of flowers and greenery. In every way, the layers of detail that will form the backdrop for our wedding are an expression of who we are. These elements too, will communicate, more subtly, the gentle tenderness with which we move through our days and nights.

This combination of words and personal expression is indeed, the language of our love.



14 May 2010

Rhythm

There is a rhythm to our lives. Activities, relationships, interests. These things seem to emerge and we fold them into our lives. And then, sometimes, they fade. The strength of the relationship diminishes, and acknowledging this, we allow the cycle to continue, unfolding that part of our life as needed. Other interests, previously dormant, seem to emerge. Other activities surface that need our attention. We refold again and again.

And so it is with this blog. While I have found it an outlet for an enormous amount of creative energy, the natural rhythm of writing has ceased for now. It may begin again at some time, but I prefer to follow my inspiration in the other directions where my creativity continues to blossom.

Thank you for sharing this little part of my life and for offering so much inspiration through your photos, essays, poems and stories.

07 May 2010

Bridging the generations with shopping

When I was younger, perhaps high school age, my mom and I took a shopping trip to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Some of her favorite stores were still there and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Mommy loved the old fashioned stores that had lovely rugs, served tea while you shopped and had huge powder rooms with soft upholstered furniture. After that shopping trip with her, I fell in love with that style of retail shopping experience too.

I don’t keep up with economic indicators, vis-à-vis the impact of unemployment and recession to privately-owned retailers.

However, in 2008, I started noticing some changes.

One particular day, shortly after Thanksgiving, I was doing some Christmas shopping and visited a couple of well established clothing boutiques in Houston. At Kathryn Risley’s shop I noticed that the inventory appeared very sparse, particularly given the time of year. However, I was fortunate enough to find a lovely top for my mom, on a mark-down rack, so I made my purchase and counted my blessings. Earlier that day, at Etui, another favorite just down the street, I had overheard one of the staff members at the shop telling a customer that they hadn’t observed any change to their customer’s spending habits, despite all the reports of economic doom and gloom.

Etui is located in an upscale urban neighborhood, but their merchandise is very reasonably priced. Well, not priced like TJ Maxx, but you know, not like the privately owned boutiques on Chicago’s famed Oak Street either.

It sounded like their client base was loyal enough and financially secure enough to continue spending money on clothing and accessories.

I was relieved to hear this news. While I’m certainly far from an avid shopper, I love pretty clothing and accessories and love knowing that there are a few places where I am confident I can locate completely unique, quality garments in a comfortable, but stimulating atmosphere at a price point that works within my budget.

Elizabeth’s Boutique in The Woodlands falls in this category too. I had been fortunate enough to time my last couple of visits to this lovely store to take advantage of an after-season clearance. But new inventory was still plentiful. My optimism remained high. These boutiques gave me the same feeling of that shopping experience with my mom some 30 years ago.

Kathryn Risley sent an email in early spring 2009, saying that she had closed her store and was launching a new fashion venture in an online space.

Six or seven months later, I received an email from Etui indicating that they were announcing a new fashion partner that was going to share their retail space. Hmmm. It didn’t lure me in, but I was hopeful their resourcefulness would carry them through the apparent financial difficulties creeping into even these businesses with a “loyal” customer base.

About four weeks ago, I noticed a “Sale” banner at Elizabeth’s Boutique indicating they were going out of business.

Then today another email arrived from Etui. They are closing their doors after almost 30 years.

I have to admit, it bothers me. I don’t know if shopping at independent retailers has been largely replaced by shopping online. Perhaps Kathryn Risley knows. Perhaps permanent changes in human behavior have been established, driven by technology, fuel cost and basic economics.

But on the eve of Mother’s Day, this news has extinguished the possibility of participating in an experience that always made me feel like my mother’s daughter.

03 May 2010

Lessons from a baby bird

Mosquitoes are plentiful in Texas and many Texas residents keep purple martin birdhouses in their yards in hopes of attracting these migrating birds who love to spend their summers in the hot Texas heat where they will find a plentiful supply of one of their favorite foods: mosquitoes.

We do not have a purple martin birdhouse, but 2 of our neighbors do.

My mom always told me that purple martins are just a little bit picky about selecting a summer vacation home – they like it to be very clean. No remnants from the previous occupants.

I don’t think that our neighbors ever received this advice. Sparrows are still living in the purple martin houses. But that is OK. We love the sweet little sparrows too. We’re just having to break out the citronella candles to ward off mosquitoes.

Yesterday evening, Cristy was watching the sparrow activity on the ground around the bird feeder and bird bath. There was one youngster sparrow that had not yet learned to eat by herself. She was able to fly, but still relied on mom to pick up the bird seed from the ground and give it to her. I suppose with birds, they have to learn to fly to the source of food before they can learn to eat it on their own. One hurdle at a time.

The mommy sparrow patiently fed her offspring who scurried behind her making a big fuss. Or, at least, that is what it looked like from where we sat.

It made me think about how long it sometimes takes me to grasp concepts that appear to be very obvious.

I remember, as a child, using scissors to cut a circle out of a piece of paper was very perplexing and frustrating. That day in kindergarten class I watched while all the other students cut out their circles, but I succeeded only in cutting an endless spiral. I didn’t get it. Later, my mom showed me another technique that made more sense to me. I was so relieved. I just needed more instruction.

I also remember in first grade at recess, I was having trouble running relay races as quickly as the other children and I asked my dad for help. He showed me exactly the things I needed to know to solve my problems. They were things that other children somehow learned merely by observing, but again, I needed more instruction.

Recalling these experiences makes me realize how crucially important my parents were for me. I felt safe taking a problem to them and asking them to help me solve it. And they did, in a nonjudgmental way. These two early episodes, like so many others, transformed my feelings of frustration into feelings of competence.

And more recently, Cristy showed me how to use one of the features of our television remote control. My technology phobia generally scares me away from that contraption, but Cristy showed me how simple it really was. And I can use it now. Maybe not for everything, but I’m OK with some simple navigation. I can feed myself.

And that baby bird will soon learn too.