28 February 2005

Susie in slanted sunlight - February 12, 2005

Clawson's Restaurant - Beaufort, NC February 12, 2005.

24 February 2005

Online Dating and Your Entry Into It - Personal Ads - A Personal Perspective

"The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it."
- George Bernard Shaw
I love statistics. No wait, can I amend that? I hated Statistics in college and worked more assiduously on trying to find reasons to skip the class, and I came up with some great reasons, than I ever devoted to my Statistics homework. In retrospect, I have a feeling that simply doing the homework would have involved much less effort. I don't have any hard and fast statistics on that claim, but...

I get E-mail reports from a couple of websites that track information with regard to how people find my website. According to Alta vista and Yahoo, my site pops up when people are searching the topics of "dating" and "relationships".

I sat here looking at that, sure there had to be a punch line, a joke, some kind of tease or maybe even a hidden camera watching my reaction at such a nonsensical notion, but no, apparently it is what it is. I have no vast vault of wisdom on the topic, but I have tons of personal experience and "too weird to be true" stories.

I've been divorced, officially, since October 1997. I've been single, unofficially, since January 1995. This is February 2005. In ten years and one month, I am still single - admittedly by choice. In the past ten years and one month, I wouldn't even begin to guestimate the number of first dates, fifth dates, or bad dates I have been on. It's much easier to estimate the number of outstanding dates I've been on because I'm pretty certain that figure would require no more than ten fingers. My toes wouldn't have to worry about being enlisted for the count.

Interesting dates? I've had quite a few of those, but one must be careful not to confuse "interesting" with "good", "outstanding" or "OH MY GOSH - WHAT A GUY!" dates. Interesting dates can still be disastrous, but at least they're never boring. Boring dates are the ones where you start thinking, ten minutes into it, that you would be having a lot more fun bathing the one cat you have that still has it's claws and hates water with the fire of a thousand suns, than sitting across from someone who makes Ronald McDonald look attractive and seem fascinating. Boring is bad. Very, very bad.

I have a lot of single friends of both the male and female persuasion. I don't know if it's because this time of year finds many of us still trying to get the taste of Valentine's Day out of our system, or maybe people are simply getting bored with winter and ready for an across the board change, or perhaps it's because we all feel the seductive promise of longer, warmer days. The adage that "In spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love", as Lord Tennyson observed, probably has a similar effect on females. I don't think such thoughts are gender specific in nature.

Who doesn't like to entertain the thought of falling in love? It's a great idea and it really doesn't sound like such an imposing proposition. I mean, how difficult can it be? Have you ever noticed how it feels as if everyone in the whole world is coupled up, how there seems to be some unspoken law of nature that there is someone for everyone and maybe even more than one for a few, but it never feels more apparent than when you are alone and without any kind of companionship? Never mind being in love, sometimes it's nearly impossible to be "in like". There are days when "in like" would feel like a huge step up.

There's no way around it. The very term "falling in love", by the inclusion of the verb "falling" tells you things are quite apt to get messy. Why else would they use a term that typically describes a negative event? Can you think of any other case where "falling" is a good thing? A misstep in the right direction? I don't know how YOU feel about it, but I have never looked forward to falling anywhere, or on anything, other than falling into bed when I'm really tired.

Falling implies that there is eventually going to be a "stop" - and those "stops", be it concrete, asphalt, or frozen ground, usually cause some bruising and sometimes even a little blood is spilled. Band-aids are almost always required. If there is an open flesh wound, the direct result of a nasty bump, it will have to be cleaned out and the stuff they use to clean out wounds, even if it's nothing more than benign peroxide, can burn to the point of inciting tears. Be even more afraid if someone tells you "now this won't hurt...much.". You know you're in for lip-biting pain if they feel a disclaimer is in order.

Falling in love is supposed to be a great and wonderful experience but, remembering Sir Newton's Third Law from basic chemistry that states, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, there is also the part of the "fall" associated with love where the invisible, but oh so painful, bruises and wounds can potentially come into play and all of the hydrogen peroxide and ibuprofen in the world won't dull that unique brand of searing, flame-broiled pain. It may be metaphorical, but it can truly bring you to your knees, usually surrounded by a puddle of your own tears.

Who in the world would sign on for such a possibility? The odds are highly in favor, or so it seems, that we're all going to wind up in that puddle - sometimes more than once or twice. (But I'm not bitter!) If you're divorced, you KNOW that pain and you've been swimming in that pool and it can take a very long time to find the strength, or even the desire, to come up for air. Eventually, most all of us do. We shake off the water, we nurse those wounds and the recovery time can take anywhere from five minutes to fifty years, but most of us march right back into the ring and see if we can finally get it right.

The fact that any of us would be resilient enough to subject ourselves to the potential for such heartache again and again, never fails to render me in awe of the dynamic power of the human spirit in all of us. It's pretty amazing when you think about it. By some invisible, but potent, spiritual magic, we climb up from the lowest bottom any human can hit and, just like childbirth, we seem able to forget the pain, the tears, the grief, the keen and palpable sense of loss, and we determine and steel ourselves to give it another chance. Most of us want so desperately to get it right.

In my estimation, nothing speaks more of the power of love, than the fact that those of us out of it keep trying to get back into it. It is undeniably magnetic and it is, without question, a mystery.

After we make a decision to get back in the game, that's when we have to give some thought to our portal of entry. Most of us know what we're likely to find hanging out in bars, and it's not the kind of material you really want to bring home to meet the family. When you look in low places, you find low things and the idea, as far as I can tell, is to make higher choices, this time around. So what does that leave in terms of choice venues to meet the first, second or next, hopefully last, love of your life? The workplace? Frowned upon and not usually a good idea. Church? That might be a possibility. Joining civic organizations simply for the opportunity to meet someone isn't generally a good idea, but it definitely beats hanging around bars. Self-help or recovery groups just naturally seem to breed a little pairing up, but not without potential risk. As a good friend of mine recently remarked on the subject of dating within such a group, "one of the big reasons I haven't dated anyone in _____ (other than not wanting to see a collection of exes in the room) is that the guys I meet come across as needy, clingy- whatever." She makes a great point, but still it happens all the time and the results aren't always negative, but when they don't pan out, there is a stilted awkwardness attached.

And then God, or was it Al Gore, created the Internet...

...and with it, personal ads took on a whole new meaning. I remember when I used to consider anyone who advertised for dates as being the very epitome of a desperate loser. And even if you did have the raw courage to actually post an ad, and the remote possibility of it ever panning out, how no one in their right mind would ever own up to it. I know I wouldn't have! How did we meet? Oh, ummm...a mutual friend. Yeah, that was it. So the mutual friend had an organ called a modem and spoke and kept announcing that "You've Got Mail!". Anything was better than the truth.

How things have changed. Online dating sites are not only a convenient place to look for Mr./Ms. Right, or something close to it, but it's now widely accepted and doesn't even seem strange or unseemly and hardly unique. It's so successful that people have met, fallen in love, fallen out of love, divorced and met their next mate all courtesy of the Internet.

Those who still protest that it's not the best place to shop, are probably still trying to push their grocery carts into attractive people in the frozen food section of the more upscale markets, but I have yet to hear a "happily ever after" story that started in Harris-Teeter, Publix, Kroger or Safe-way. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I just haven't seen any hard evidence. I can't even imagine going to the store with "potential mate" on my shopping list. I don't even make a shopping list. I hate shopping and, for me, it's usually something I do ONLY when there is absolutely nothing edible in my pantry and I am sick of eating Chinese take-out or they start recognizing my voice at Pizza Hut. That a guy could be loitering by the lettuce feels a bit implausible to me. Maybe I'm missing something...

Match.com. Yahoo Personals. E-harmony. American Singles. Heart Detectives. Great Expectations. (and no, not the one written by Dickens). Senior Friendfinder. iMatchup. Web Date. And that's just a few of the online services that provide a way to meet someone new. And it doesn't have to be a service catering to the mainstream. Men seeking Women. Women seeking Men. Men seeking Men. Women seeking Women. Men seeking Women seeking Women. Geek seeking Geek. Loser seeking Loser. Whatever your persuasion, they've got you covered and it usually comes with an acronym attached along with a netiquette all it's own. There's even a website that reviews all of the online dating sites.

Chances are you are NOT alone and there's someone just as strange and odd and weird out there in cyberland waiting for an E-mail from you or giddy at the possibility of writing you one after reading your dazzling, detailed personal ad.

Hard to believe, but even in the year 2005, some of my friends still think it the oddest notion to join an online dating service. I know people who toy with the idea and then shelve it, unable to imagine what might pop into their E-mail box. These folks just can't imagine how anyone could "connect" over the Internet. What I find hard to believe is that anyone would find it hard to believe that it can, and many times does, actually work. Why wouldn't it? Then again, I love computers...and I'm a completely detached Aquarian. In every sense of the word.

This is an area that I have more than a little experience with and I have no problem admitting it. I have posted ads on Match.com, Yahoo, and American Singles and I have corresponded, chatted online with, had phone conversations, and yes, even met lots of people using these services. The fact that I'm not married doesn't mean it isn't successful. It simply means that I am a little skittish and I still have "runaway" tendencies and, what my son delicately describes as "commitment issues". Some people are so quick to label others. Simply because I've been engaged a few times and backed out, broken dates without a courtesy call, stopped answering my phone for a few weeks, he draws the conclusion that I have problems committing. Whatever. Besides, if my Aquarius profile is to be believed, "the ideal Aquarius soulmate is an Einstein with lots of soul." Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an Einstein with lots of soul? The odds are disproportionately stacked against me by sheer virtue of my SIGN! Talk about a tall order...

I have actually met some amazing people courtesy of online personals and a few of them have even remained friends following an unfortunate break-up. Most all of them have been extremely interesting, of above average intelligence, professionals in almost all disciplines including writers, computer software designers, business owners, physicians of several specialties, university professors, researchers, bank presidents, attorneys and artists, just to name a few. None of them could ever be accurately labeled desperate or loser, even if they did want to date me! Questionable judgment? Perhaps... :-)

I've learned a lot about human nature, different regions of the country and have visited England and France, courtesy of computer generated encounters. I honestly can think of only two or three I would have preferred just skipping the experience of meeting.

Of course, there is a vetting process and this is very important. What does one look for when considering a potential online match-up? That's what profiles are for! This is an area that can cover as little or as much as you deem appropriate. In my opinion, the more detailed, the better. If it looks long, that's OK. It only means that whoever contacts you obviously has the ability to read. If they contact you - this usually tells you that they can write, as well. I generally look for people who I have quite a bit in common with but I've never been out to find my clone. Important areas of compatibility, for me at least, have always included religion, education, some degree of success, as few failed marriages as possible - and I've never honestly been interested in correspondence with anyone with more than two divorces under their belt. A love for the ocean is pretty important and someone who enjoys books and reading is nice and provides instant and pleasant common ground. A great smile and nice eyes doesn't hurt.

That's just for starters. Online matching has evolved with it's popularity and you can actually hone in on very specific likes and dislikes. If you're a cat person and someone who despises the idea of ever being within 50 feet of a feline answers your ad, it's probably a good bet that this is not worth pursuing. You can detail all manner of likes, dislikes, hobbies, pursuits, proclivities and desires. There's no such thing as TMI (too much information) when examining an online personal profile. If the mere idea of spending 3 hours every night with a take-out pizza and a remote control drives you crazy, skip that profile. That's what the delete button is for and if this Pizza-bingeing, television addict continues to write, simply utilize the "block this profile" function that most online services conveniently provide.

I know what you're thinking - "But can't some people be dishonest with their profiles? What if that photo they have posted is ten years old or, even worse, their next door neighbor? What if the person isn't really best friends with Bill Gates and hasn't read a book since 11th grade, which he repeated 3 times before attempting 12th? What if he doesn't simply hate cats but actually juggles them? What if he embellished his annual income by a couple of importantly placed zeroes and, rather than earning $700,000, actually takes in $7,000 a year? What if he professes to have brown hair but fails to mention it's all on his back, rather than on top of his head? What if his stated height of 6'2" is actually in heels because he forgot to mention he has a shoe fetish and, in reality, is only 5'8"? What if says he's been married twice but has children with 7 different women, none of whom were ever his wife? What if he counts taco bell as international cuisine and thinks of "making a run for the border" as satisfying his passion for world travel? What if he brags of being a private pilot and declares that he has several planes in his hangar, but fails to disclose these are only models and a few of them aren't even remote control? What if he doesn't believe that "The Jerk" is Steve Martin's best piece of work and a comedy for the ages?

Believe me, you will eventually figure all of these things out and if someone is bent on that much dishonesty, they will trip up long before you ever take it to the next level which may be a phone call, an online chat or an actual visit. Some people argue that the Internet Dating scene is filled with nothing but nutcases and liars? I won't argue there are more than a few of them out there, but I don't have to log onto a computer to meet a nut or a liar. Real life offers ample opportunity to meet all kinds of them. At least the nuts and liars online have the wherewithal to know how to turn on a computer and understand that a mouse can involve a cursor, can be used to point and click and isn't always a rodent with a long tail and beady eyes. At the very least, you have to respect that, right?

I've been out with a few crazy people and online dating doesn't have the market cornered on eccentrics. Real-life, the "in person" sort of real life, is just as saturated with low-lifes and folks best left on locked units. If you're going to try online dating, first and foremost, you have to ditch the preconceptions and give it a fair chance. You don't have to be stupid to be open. It's perfectly fine to be cautious and maybe even a little wary, and it's never a good idea to meet someone after a few e-mails and a handful of chats. Be prudent. If things get to the point of an actual in person, real time, real life meeting, make it in a very public place and even take a friend along with you, if it makes you feel safer. If this person protests, you don't need to meet him or her. That's a huge red flag and understand it for what it is. Never allow yourself to be talked into something that gives you a negative or uneasy feeling. Trust your gut instincts. Listen to that voice of reason that is telling you that something about this isn't quite right. If it feels wrong, it most probably is. You don't even owe the person an explanation.

Having said that, if you have exchanged several e-mails with someone who reads and writes well, have yet to catch him or her in the tiniest lie, doesn't come across as pushy or makes wild claims of being one of the founders Simon and Schuster Publishing or swears that President Bush often calls for advice before every big decision he makes, and if there aren't an inordinate number of misspellings, no desperate push to meet in a secret location under a bridge down by the river, and if s/he sounds genuine and knowledgeable on the telephone, doesn't find any of your questions too probing or personal and, finally, if you have GOOGLED this person, who's full name should be given, and no extended FBI profile has surfaced or you haven't seen them as a featured "guest" on "America's Most Wanted", it's OK to consider the possibility of a very public meeting. Check and recheck your gut. If you lose your nerve and this person, though disappointed, understands your angst and is willing to try again, that's a good sign.

In what has to be too many to count dates that were spawned by online encounters, I can honestly say that, though a few people have been misleading in their appearance and underestimated their weight by 20 - 30 lbs., I have never met anyone who truly scared me and appeared downright dangerous. That doesn't mean I never will. However, though there are few things I can claim to having done a lot of thorough research on and collected a vast volume of data, I do consider this to be something I have more than a little experience with and, after so many dates with so many different people, none of which have yet to have turned out to be "the one", I wouldn't hesitate to recommend online dating as a perfectly acceptable, reasonable means of meeting people and, though whoever you find may not turn out to be the love of your life, there's a very good chance you could make a nice friend. As far as I can tell, you can't have too many of those.

If you are reading this and you have had some interesting online dating experiences, I would LOVE to hear about them. I still find this medium fascinating and it's always interesting to hear other perspectives and I love it when people share.

If you happen to be someone I have dated and it didn't end all that well, again, I'm so sorry. :-) Better luck next time!

23 February 2005

Hot Off The Press! My latest column - 2/23/05

Single with Children: Mom tries to nip son's behavior in bud

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 02/23/05

I must admit I was impressed. My son had been going off to school every morning without his usual litany of complaints and protestations.

His daily "Top Ten Reasons I Don't Need To Be In School Today" had been forsaken and finally, finally I thought, after 12 years of school, he finally gets it.

You can imagine my shock and surprise when I received a phone call one morning a few weeks ago from his second-period teacher inquiring to why my son hadn't been in class in well over a week.

"Of course he's been in school. I've seen him leave here every morning.

"I've even heard him go into detail about how much he enjoys his broadcasting class and doing the camera work for the morning announcements. Please tell me you're kidding," though by this point my heart began a descent, and my stomach started knitting a knot.

"Well, Ms. Parker, I don't know what has been going on between first and third period, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that Justin has not been in his computer applications class. I take the roll every day."

If you're a parent, you know the feelings. Anger, frustration, disappointment and concern all swirled around to create the brand of angst I work so hard to avoid. I didn't know this man, this instructor who identified himself as "Mr. G," but given that he sounded reasonable and worried, I could hardly dismiss his question. I told him I would most certainly find out what was going on and call him back as soon as I had some answers.

When Justin ambled in later that afternoon, I asked how his day had gone.

"Fine. Same old stuff. Nothing too exciting."

As he was walking out of the kitchen, I asked him how his classes were going. He paused and looked at me, detecting that this was more than an idle question.

When Justin's eyes met mine, it didn't require a flashing neon sign to confirm why Mr. G had called. One word: BUSTED!

I filled him in on the phone call, then cut to the chase and asked for some honest answers. I told him the truth would be nice. His excuses were lame and empty and not even particularly creative, which led me to realize that this was a case of senioritis run riot.

Just like my hero Barney Fife, I had to nip this in the bud and nip it good.

My son is 18, and I know there aren't too many dangling carrots left in my crisper, but two of the ones I do possess are pretty powerful: Both of them have speakers and an antenna and they work in tandem.

One of them helps decide where to go and the other one says, "I have arrived." Until further notice, both of these things, along with their user, are grounded. I may not be able to make the horse drink the water, but I can keep the saddle locked up, hide the keys and turn off the transmission of both the cell phone and the Mustang. I also handed Justin a copy of the bus schedule, which conveniently stops right around the corner from our home.

This didn't result in immediate success and a couple more second-period classes were skipped. My son isn't naturally confrontational and has never been involved in any incidents of risky pursuits, but I know that doesn't mean he never will. As painful as it has been to impose such severe restrictions, the risks and potential for disaster to my son by not taking such action scares me even more.

This is just one area where being a single parent can be a lonely, confusing and difficult business. I will openly admit to feeling overwhelmed. As my children have grown, so have the stakes. Business is a lot more serious these days.

Fortunately, I am not alone. I have my parents, who remain amazing role models, and an adult male friend who generously shares his time with Justin. I have also come to rely on and give sincere thanks for teachers and school professionals, like my son's principal and the ever-vigilant Mr. G, who go beyond what is required and care enough to alert me when things aren't going as they should. They receive no additional pay for noticing whether my son is where he is supposed to be, when he is supposed to be there.

When I see my son walk across that stage later this spring to pick up his diploma, and yes, I'm being optimistic, it will be the result of a collective effort and a day I will spend leaking a few tears and spreading a lot of thanks. Hopefully, I'll still have some hair left that I haven't managed to pull out, and if some of it is gray, I will have earned every single strand of it.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at SusieWrites@ec.rr.com, write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166 or visit her diary at www.susiewrites.blogspot.com.

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22 February 2005

"Letters Never Sent"

"The greatest give you ever give is your honest self." ~ Fred Rogers - "The World According to Mister Rogers"

This week has been completely strange. My son has been sick for several days with what has evolved into a nasty case of bronchitis. No, that's not the diagnosis of Dr. Mom, I took him to an actual doctor, the kind with the letters "MD" after his name, and he made the initial diagnosis. I simply concurred.

It's funny, but even though my son is at the advanced age of 18, when he is sick and it's quite obvious he's not feeling anything close to well, I instantly switch into hyper-vigilant, "Stick-this-thermometer-in-your mouth, and you need to drink 32 ounces of fluids every hour. Is your throat sore? DON'T TALK WITH A THERMOMETER IN YOUR MOUTH! Are you going to answer me? Does your throat hurt? Shhhhhh - one more minute - close your lips! Would you like me to help you blow your nose?" mode.

Naturally, this annoys Justin to absolutely no end, as well it should, but try though I might, I just can't seem to contain those overly protective maternal tendencies. Somewhere deep inside, as much as it irritates him, I think he knows I mean well. I really don't take all of the eye-rolling too personally. We both have a job to do. I'm supposed to be way too attentive and he's supposed to wish I'd take a trip overseas until he's feeling better.

This week has been very much like that. We went to the doctor's office Monday afternoon, and as we were registering at the front desk, it was crystal clear that my role was different now. The first clue was when the appointment secretary, upon noticing that Justin was now 18, handed HIM the forms to fill out, requesting HIS signature on the HIPPA Form, handing HIM the yellow copy to keep for HIS files. Ha! Crazy woman doesn't know he has absolutely NO filing system nor does he possess a filing cabinet to house these "files" that don't exist. I think this made him feel instantly better and about 30 years old, and I started to feel instantly superfluous and an inanimate prop. I was now an accessory without a great deal to contribute.

When "we" were invited into the suite of examination rooms by the nurse, once again, my role consisted of sitting in the corner and remaining quiet. The nurse's questions were directed at HIM; what were HIS symptoms? How long had HE felt this way? Anything peculiar happening that the doctor should be aware of and had HE taken any medicine today? HE can't remember homework assignments or even what HE had for dinner yesterday, and HE'S supposed to be able to answer such a complex set of questions?

Wait a minute, is this all about him? I guess it is. Turns out that he has become his own person. An individual. Legal, in fact. He is someone I adore.

She took his temperature and I asked if he had one. Both of them looked at me as if noticing, for the first time, that someone else was in the room. What was his blood pressure? Again, my query seemed almost too probing and I was eyed suspiciously as I was reluctantly informed that his BP was 122/80. What was it to me?

It's everything to me. It's my son. I don't care if he's taller than me, outweighs me and that he now shaves and has a deep voice. It was my little boy being checked, the one that offered two days of really hard back labor to occupy me until he FINALLY deemed it appropriate to make his entrance into this world, way back on the night of November 21st, in that ancient year of 1986. Even after the passage of all this time, it still matters to me if he's running a fever or if his lungs sound a bit congested. I make no apologies for that, no matter how many annoyed glances are cast my way. I wasn't asking for etiquette, I wanted numbers and I was going to get them, even if I had to pry that chart out of Nurse Ratchett's claw. It's my place to be interested and maybe even a little pushy and I'd hate to disappoint everyone by not assuming the role I was meant to play.

The doctor, fortunately, was much more gracious and actually shook my hand when he entered the exam room. I had been elevated from an accessory to a real, live, actual person. This doctor obviously understood that "Mother Angst" is hopelessly terminal and apparently he learned to make peace with it long ago. My questions were now answered without the glare and a couple of his questions were kindly directed toward me. I must have appeared like Amy Sedaris' character "Jerrie Blank" in "Strangers With Candy" - "I'VE GOT SOMETHING TO SAY!" And someone listened. I love this doctor.

Apparently, he's not only kind and respectful of my position as overprotective mother, but he's a pretty sharp cookie in his own right. He detected that my voice sounded a little on the raspy side, and ordered me on the table for a quick "look see". I protested, reminding him that we were here for my son, but he just ignored that completely. Before I could say "this isn't really necessary", he had his icy cold stethoscope attached to my chest and was asking me to breathe in such a way as to encourage dizziness and hyperventilation. Bottom line, we both left out of there with prescriptions for potent antibiotics and really strong cough syrup. He didn't even charge me for the impromptu exam. What a guy!

So I came home and pushed fluids and dispensed medicine. His, not mine. I haven't taken mine yet, preferring to save it for a day when I'm really sick. I'm still just popping the occasional actifed and I don't feel all that bad.

This whole bacterial/viral induced illness has left me a little bit RID (restless, irritable and discontent). I haven't been the nicest person in the world, and to be sure, in my interpersonal dealings of late, I could have chosen a few of my words a bit more carefully, but it seems as though when someone I care deeply for is sick, I can get downright surly to the rest of the world or, at least, the people in my immediate sphere. It's not that I am apologizing for having some of the conversations and discussions I've had in the past 48 hours, because I'm not. I've even found myself calling a few people on their behavior and incongruities and taking THEIR inventory, something that Stuart Smalley would surely frown upon. Never mind that I often display the same attributes and character defects. In retrospect, and who doesn't enjoy retrospection, I'm pretty certain that I could have been a little more pleasant in my delivery, especially if I was going to poke around in areas that were basically none of my business.

When I have a sick child, even if that child is 18, I tend to narrow my focus into something very tunnel-esque and my peripheral vision mysteriously disappears. I trip over anyone other than the immediate patient, and I pay very little heed to other people I care about, and their feelings. I dispense with my usual tact, and common courtesy can take a real beating. I'm sure I owe a few amends, but to be perfectly honest, I just don't feel ready to make them. It may not be right, but it's exactly how I feel and I am owning it, thank you very much. I should probably have a warning label stamped on my forehead that says "Interact at your own risk...no filter on board", right below the one that says "SUCKER", which is visible only to my offspring - and you know who you are.

February is not my favorite time of year. It's the month I grow older and am required to add another year to my age. It's the month that winter begins wearing out a welcome I never extended in the first place. I am tired of evenings that grow dark long before I am ready. I become impatient for spring and warmth and new life. Winter torpor does not suit me.

I miss extended daylight.

I miss warm sand, ocean waves with civilized temperatures just begging me to wade into them on long beach walks.

I miss having the luxury of swimming, no matter the hour of the day or night, in water so warm it could be mistaken for a bathtub. Even in the deep end.

I miss turning flips in the water and stretching all of my muscles in my most favorite element. I still enjoy pretending I'm floating in space when I'm doing underwater spins.

I miss laying on my back on the beach in the evening, waves crashing just a few feet away, and staring up at the stars on late spring and summer evenings, almost always catching the glimpse of a twinkling light arcing across the sky, inviting me to make a wish or two. I always oblige. It's not that I put any real stock in wishes made on stars, it's just way too much fun an exercise to let pass by. I never let the opportunity to make a wish slip away.

I miss the smell of honeysuckle and lilac scenting the air as fireflies dart around in the low lights of dusk. I no longer chase them, but I do still love their light show. Memories of mason jars and piercing holes into tin lids so the bugs can breathe, always flood my mind, every single time I see those yellow tail lights.

I miss sitting in my back yard with friends, drinking iced tea and dangling our feet in the warm chlorinated water, talking about things as mundane as shopping and traffic and as existential as finding one's purpose and how best to utilize individual talents. Basically just bouncing ideas about anything and everything. Conversations that have the freedom and flexibility to go anywhere, and often do. I love two and three-way mental excavations.

"In a suitcase tied with string, on the highest shelf.
In a closet down the hall, hidden from myself.
Fits of madness, pools of grief, fevers of desire.
How peculiar these remained salvaged the fire.
Some I've crumpled, some I've burned, some I've torn to shreds
Lifetimes later here they are, the ones I saved instead..."

Finding one's purpose creeps into a lot of my thought these days. I know I have one and I have a hunch as to what it is, but I just need to find a way to get from Point A to Point B and, more importantly, I need to extinguish all of the reasons I can find to avoid facing my challenge. Procrastination can be crippling and downright lethal. I realize more and more that my time on this planet is finite, and all of those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years are becoming so much more precious and isn't it just a shame that some of us are so slow to grasp this realization until we have more than a couple of years under our belt? I must have been too busy wasting time to understand that it is not a thing to be squandered.

I was talking to a friend the other evening and it suddenly dawned on me (remember, I am blond) that in turning 45, my life is more than likely half over. That's such a chilling thought at times. I have to tell you that, though some moments have felt more like months, for the most part, 45 years has gone by pretty darn fast. I have no reason to believe that 45 more years, particularly given that they are my LAST ones, will only gather more momentum and swoosh by at an exponential rate of speed. I wish I could locate the brakes or slow down the second hand on the clock of life, but I'm sure I'd have just as much luck trying to lasso a tornado. A most impossible task.

I think about what I want to do, what I feel in my heart lead to pursue, and it both frightens and excites me all at the same time. It can be a very scary proposition, this setting out on a new track, a new topic, a new genre of writing - nonfiction in nature, but in a completely different area of real life. I know that if I don't give it my best shot, I will only beat myself up and make my next 45 years completely miserable, courtesy of my own self-inflicted punishment and disappointment. I can't allow that. Wasting time feels obscene.

Where does one find a nice, large crate of courage?

"Never reached their destination.
Mostly borne of pain.
They surface with the purpose of a trip down memory lane.
Broken hearted, breaking hearts, all the ways it went.
Evidence of what I saw in my experiments..."

Perhaps setting out on a scavenger hunt for courage is simply one more form of procrastination and I can no longer afford to do that. The writing I am working on is steeped in self-exposure. It's one thing to share deep secrets with a friend or two or three, but writing about deeply personal experiences, the kind of life-altering stuff that most folks work assiduously to keep under wraps, is intimidating and yet, it's also very freeing. We don't really get to decide all of the truth, but we do get to choose most of the secrets and revelation brings with it a certain vulnerability, lots of unknowns, questionable judgment and begs the question, how will it all be received?

It's so trite to tell someone not to worry about what other people think - it's a lot like saying to a worried Mom with a very sick child, "Don't be silly! A 105 degree fever isn't anything to be alarmed about - these things just have to run their course.". Such advice is easy to dole out when it's not YOUR kid with the "off the thermometer" fever. When it's your child spiking that temp, it's a whole other ballgame. When it's your reality, it becomes a crisis.

Of course, we worry what people think, even when we swear we don't. It's part of being human. It's nice to be unique to a degree, but we're taught that being "too unique" isn't always a good thing.

"Life's a riddle, life's a dream, life's an accident.
Now I'm going to set them free.
Letters never sent..."

The next few weeks are going to test my mettle and I will find out exactly what I am made of and just how bold I am. It's time to get honest with myself. Writing, in and of itself, is a solitary business. It doesn't coexist very easily with distraction and, speaking only for myself, it doesn't take a great many distractions to entice me to slack off. I can't afford many distractions in the next few weeks. It's crunch time and everything else is going to be scaled back. People will either understand or they will move on. I have to stay on task and staying on task means that I won't have the time to obsess about how those close to me are handling my self-imposed silence and non-participation in things I enjoy. I know me and I know how I get when I am set on a course like this. I become consumed and that's just how it works for me. Before this is over, I might wind up taking surly to a whole new level. I'm thinking that I might want to appoint someone to be my "amends" keeper. I'm sure I'll have a few apologies to make on the other side of this. But if I am to have a prayer of being successful and producing an honest body of work that I can be proud of and stand behind, I have to be willing to risk ruffling a few feathers - finches notwithstanding. I am willing to take that risk.

These days I find myself going back to a passage in "Letters to a Young Poet" by the ever so eloquent Ranier Marie Rilke; "This above all - ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, "I must," then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it."

The answer to that question reminds me, quite often, why I am doing this. Its both my rudder and my compass. Digging into this past I am writing about, the one that has brought me to this present that I am living, sometimes feels like a sea that will swallow up my little boat with one tall wave. Believing in the durability of my vessel, secure that it can take a few knocks from a sometimes confused ocean, is the key. I think of the advice I give friends who are just starting to write, to explore everything going on around them and to trust their selection of words, and then I must remember to apply such advice to myself. And I must also invite myself to trust it.

Beneath the self-doubt, the insecurities, the "what ifs", I recall some of the lessons Anne Lamott speaks of in "Bird by Bird", which isn't about birds at all. I'm pretty certain it's a book everyone should read, even if writing is of absolutely no interest to you. Anne Lamott's treasure of a book is more about living life and less about writing of it. Make no mistake about it, writing a book is a tricky business, but living a life with purpose and meaning is a much more formidable pursuit. Both are worth the effort and occasional angst. Both require courage and no small measure of faith.

"Life is a riddle, life's a dream, life's an accident.
So glad I saved them, here they are.
Letters never sent..." ~ "Letters Never Sent" by Carly Simon

Let us hope the end result will more than justify the means. I'm grateful for this medium, this chance to put things out there and write for fun release and decompressing catharsis. To my friends and family, please accept my most humble apologies for all the times you are going to get annoyed with me in the next few weeks. We'll catch up on the flip side, that is if we're still speaking. Promise.

20 February 2005

Good Sunday Morning...or Afternoon

Happy Sunday! Everyone in my house is now very sick with whatever this stuff is that is robbing us of the ability to breathe and causing my house to sound like a TB Ward in a really dirty British Hospital. We are popping benadryl, benadryl decongestant, Robitussin, Mucinex, Actifed, Actifed Plus, Advil, Afrin, Vick's Nasal Spray and using Halls and Listerine like it is going out of style. If you own or are considering buying stock in any of the companies that manufacture those drugs, this would be the time to possibly increase your stock portfolio. Act fast. I am not sure how long this stuff lasts, but we are keeping CVS in business.

The birds are coming along nicely. Two sets of Zebra Finch parents are busy feeding their young and fighting over some cotton I placed in the aviary last night, because apparently it's the latest craze in nesting material. It's been so funny watching the two male finches play "mid-air" tug of war, in an effort to secure more cotton. We watched the aviary last night for well over an hour and it's rather like having a live episode of "Animal Planet" right in our own house.

The parents are very generous in letting me take baby portraits and haven't pecked my eyes out yet. I would estimate we probably have, out of two nests, at least seven hatchlings which are probably about ten days old. They still look scrawny but have more than doubled in size and in another ten days, Mom and Dad will be conducting flight lessons and pushing them out of the nest. It is a fascinating and beautiful thing to watch.

Someone in this house cautioned me about breathing on the birds, given the sorry state of my health right now.

Give me a break! I've raised two human babies and while they didn't turn out to be the "Gap Kids" (always dressed in a white tucked-in Oxford shirts and smartly pressed khaki pants) I'd envisioned, they do the holey t-shirt, multi-colored hair thing pretty well and, I'll admit the tattoos took a little getting used to. I am grateful they were tattoos of a nice little bird and an Irish-inspired shamrock - something I hope their father (Hi Tim!) takes into consideration when he sees them for the first time - Justin, in particular, is keeping his 18th birthday "shamrock" tattoo a big secret until after he receives his graduation (fingers crossed!) presents.

On second thought, maybe I have no business parenting these finches. I guess I could eventually propose a "Finch fledgling" column. I don't know though, I'd hate to compromise the finches anonymity the way I have my kids. Every now and then, something will happen to Katie and/or Justin, and they will look up at me in mock horror and say, "For the love of everything holy, please don't let what just happened here wind up in a newspaper column!" When this happens, I look at them empathetically and run right to the nearest computer so that I can describe the situation in all it's gory detail, before it slips my mind. And then I wonder why they cop an attitude with me sometimes or talk in hushed tones when I enter a room.

16 February 2005

"When you're a celebrity, it's adios reality. No matter what you do, people think you're cool, just 'cause you're on TV..."

It's not often that I actually admit to being from West Virginia. Even though I lived there for the first 25 years of my life, more times than not, I claim to be from Texas. Of course, the fact that I just made the admission that I was, in fact, hatched in the small town of Madison in West "By God" Virginia, means I most probably can never use Texas as my point of origin. There goes THAT ruse.

Having said that, West Virginia isn't completely without a few charms.

OK, so nothing immediately came to mind, I took a few minutes and composed a small list.

Fun-filled Facts About West Virginia...

West Virginia is considered the southernmost northern state and the northernmost southern state. In other words, neither the north or south particularly wants to accept blame for... er, rather, wants to boast about claiming WV as part of their region. One could look on the positive side and say, "Wow, those WV'ians are nonconformists - how cool!", and that's a very nice spin, but it's like my saying I'm from West Texas - it's not quite true. This may also explain why West Virginia's State Motto is "Mountaineers Are Always Free". No one is fighting for possession. I guess it's a lot like being a wall flower, or maybe just a wild, wonderful dandelion.

Mother's Day was first observed in Grafton, WV on May 10, 1908. If you're reading this, you obviously have or have had a mother. You may even be a mother yourself. I'm all for celebrating mothers so I think this is a good thing, especially when my kids have cash and are feeling a rare sense of sentimentality and generosity right around the 2nd Sunday in May. Just because my kids have never felt a particular sense of sentimentality and/or generosity does not mean it can't happen. One must never lose hope.

The New River Gorge Bridge is the second highest steel arch bridge in the US. The bridge is also the longest steel arch bridge (1,700 feet) in the world. Every October on Bridge Day, the bridge is open for bungee jumpers (i.e., folks not particularly thrilled with celebrating their next birthday), and insane people who are allowed to own parachutes, to jump 876 feet off the bridge. This event usually attracts about 100,000 people each year from around the world, which is proof that WV does not have the market cornered on "eccentrics". And we'll just leave it at that.

Over 75% of West Virginia is covered by forests, which probably explains why I fell in love with the unobstructed horizon of West Texas and the magic of seeing for miles in every direction without ever having to look up. For years, I thought the sun slipped behind a mountain EVERYWHERE. I had no idea that a horizon was actually a flat line. I'd heard rumors but...The first time I flew into Amarillo, Texas in August, 1985, I had never seen such a huge sky. In fact, I used to refer to it as "skies" because to me, at least, it looked so massive that it almost demanded to be referred to in the plural tense of the word. I still say "West Texas Skies" and rarely apologize for it. I love wide open spaces. Forests make me feel claustrophobic.

On July 1, 1921, West Virginia became the first state to implement a sales tax. Why they haven't made bumper stickers boasting of this I have no idea. Who wouldn't want to proudly, and rightfully, brag about such a trail-blazing (pot holes notwithstanding) first? Maybe something along the lines of, "WV - First State Sales Tax - Worst State Roads". Nah, probably not an idea that would catch on.

The mean altitude of WV is 1,500 feet making it the highest average altitude east of the Mississippi and this probably accounts for the reason that I have such a huge fear of heights. What better place to find heights? MOUNTAINS! I think I'm seeing a pattern here...I have no hard data on this, but I can't help but wonder if it also leads the nation in per capita sales of Dramamine?

On September 8, 1798, Daniel Boone made his last survey of Charleston and in 1799, he left the state. What did he discover in his survey and what made him leave? If you thought about this long enough, it could prove troubling.

According to the crime index for 1997, West Virginia actually had the lowest crime index of any state in the country. You may get car sick and heights may make you queasy, but you'll feel safe when you're tossing your cookies.

Martha Stewart is currently serving her sentence at the first federal prison established exclusively for women. That's noteworthy, but I'm not sure if it's something to brag about or deny?

West Virginia has the oldest population of any state with a median age of 40. I'm five years over the median age so I suppose one could extrapolate that I would be in good company if I were again a resident of The Mountain State, but I have changed my ways, I now try and live a balanced life, commit several random acts of kindness a year and I keep hoping that if I strive to do "the next right thing", I will not find myself living there again. It's a nice place to visit and I have some interesting relatives who wouldn't consider residing anywhere else.

The most dangerous hobby any West Virginia Native can pursue is Genealogy. I regret to report that my father loves adding twigs to our family tree, but every now and then when his preternatural sunny disposition seems a bit off, it's a clear sign that he has stumbled upon something that really would best be left buried. This usually results in a day or two of his walking around trying to make sense of the unimaginable, softly repeating the name of individuals listed as brothers, uncles, cousins and fathers who are, quite sadly, all the same person. After a couple of days spent tending the garden or devoting his time to alphabetizing his filing cabinet, he shakes off the shock and gets right back in the root cellar. He is a wonderful man, but I fear his tenacity may someday get the best of him.

On a more positive and less painful note, some famous folks got their beginnings in "The Mountain State". Deputy Barney Fife aka Don Knotts, author Pearl S. Buck, pioneering test pilot Chuck Yeager and Olympic Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton are all natives who, through death or good sense, no longer reside in the state.

One really famous mountaineer is currently making waves and, though I never thought of myself as some kind of Country Music Fan, I do appreciate a sardonic sense of humor and this guy has it going on...

Of course, I am talking about none other than Brad Paisley...

He's talented, plays a mean guitar and he's very easy to look at...

Check this video out - it has it all...Reality Show References, Jason Alexander throwing a fit in Starbucks, Little Jimmy Dickens (also from WV - now that might make it onto a bumper sticker), American Idol spoof, William Shatner - not over-acting for once in his life, Rehab References, hope for everyone working at the Dairy Queen and last, but by no means least, Brad Paisley living large and looking fine. I think I almost have a lump in my throat and I do believe I might be feeling just the tiniest bit proud to be from West Virginia. That might be stretching it, but I'm going to go with it for now.

NOTE: Viewing this file does NOT necessarily make you a fan of this particular genre of music, but for some strange reason, this video can make me laugh when nothing else will and lately, I have needed a few giggles...

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to see if I can find a MOCHA SOY LATTE. And then I'm going to settle down and watch Brad Paisley hop around with that fine looking...guitar of his. :-)

I have been politely asked to make the Brad Paisley Video "Celebrity" a link rather than just assume you want to see and hear it. Apparently it is lingering in the head of a few people who, quite frankly, should be pleased to at least have SOMETHING up there to take up the space but, being the nice person that I am, I will make this into a link.

Happy now? Click here to see Brad Paisley hop around with his BAD guitar!

Wednesday, February 16 and all is not well...

It was only a matter of time, really. I had played dodgeball with the flu, the respiratory infections and the stomach viruses making the rounds and I must admit I was getting a little full of myself, nearly feeling invincible and above all that bacterial and viral fray but, alas, I have been felled, like a tree in a forest that no one heard fall, but still fell anyway. And so did I, just last night. Right into bed. Which is where I will be going as soon as I get this update posted. As it stands, I am drinking copious amounts of hot whatever (you take your pick, coffee, tea, more coffee, hot chocolate), drinking juice which just does NOT mix well with all that hot stuff and I'm popping Actifed, doing Robitussin Shots and I know where the jar of Vick's is and I'm getting less afraid to use it, even though when I do I will officially smell like my Grandmother did when I was about 35 years younger.

Speaking of grandmother, it would seem that last weekend, I became one. No, no, no, of course Katie and Justin didn't go there. At least not that I KNOW of and if you know of something that I don't regarding those two, please do us both a favor and keep it to YOURSELF until I feel much much better. Better still, just keep it to yourself. Period.

I was out of town last weekend but whilst I was away, the cats didn't play but the baby finches started jumping out of their egg shells like popcorn. I have pictures of a few of them at 1, 2 and 3 days old which I will post later today. They look NOTHING like a finch and yes, they look like something only a mother could love. And from what I can see looking into the aviary, she and her husband, their father, love them very much. Scrawny as they appear, those babies are never left alone. The parents take shifts and sometimes they just double up and take care of the kids together. Oh, how I wish that humans could adopt that plan.

Finches have it going on. They mate for life and don't even seem to mind. They divide the family duties. There's no bickering unless it's territorial in nature and because another unrelated finch came calling without an invitation. They nurture, protect and feed the babies until, a mere 21 days later, they don their aviator duds, give them a few flight lessons and then push those babies into the air and independence. No empty nest syndrome for these finches. It seems as though before the last kid is out of the nest, Mom and Dad are making new digs and, like the movie "Groundhog Day" it starts all over again without the Bill Murray sarcasm and arrogance. And everyone appears to be just fine with that. It's not broke and I don't see any finches trying to fix it. We humans are so busy trying to figure it all out, complicate it, amend, append, extend and expend until we "tweak" our relationships to the point of being irreparable. We could learn a lot from Finches., if we weren't so busy finding new and more efficient ways of driving ourselves, and those we love the most, completely insane.

Valentine's Day 2005 is H I S T O R Y and I, for one, am glad for that! I must admit that ever since the teachers decided we outgrew the need to decorate little shoe box "mail boxes" and slip in Valentines to our friends and especially that one particular person we felt a special affection for, the one who got the really cool Valentine, the holiday has just never felt the same. I miss jiggly J-E-L-L-O hearts. Heart-shaped chocolate cakes with pink and white frosting, complete with the Cupid's arrow through the heart, and I don't even care for the color pink. I miss heart shaped cookies that homeroom Mom's took great pains to decorate and red and white confetti! Yes, I miss the confetti, even though it's messy and eventually you have to vacuum it all up. While it's there, you know something special happened and people were happy.

OK, so I don't miss roses because I hate them. Much too funereal for my taste. But I do love daisies and I think daisies should be the official flower of Valentine's Day, but whoever is in charge of such decisions has yet to contact me. The great thing about daisies is that they are never unwelcome and always make the usually unsuspecting recipient smile, sometimes even on days they didn't believe it possible. Daisies are such an all-purpose flower - they work for every single situation that visits a person on any given day: Daisies can say "get well soon", "Miss you!", "Thinking of you!", "I'm sorry I was such a jerk", "Thinking of you" and yes, daisies can even say "I love you" without heavy petals and painful thorns that seduce you to want to touch their velvety petals and then make you wish that you had not.

There's nothing a daisy can't do - but most of all, they just make you smile and it must be because a proper white petaled, yellow centered daisy is reminiscent of the sun. Daisies feel just like home to me, exude a dependable brand of warmth and no matter what is going down, by some amazing power, they just make you feel better about things. Even if your dog just died and your cat ran away, you learned that you did not win the "Publisher's Clearing House" Sweepstakes and Ed McMahon will NOT be visiting your doorstep and that Powerball Lottery Ticket you just bought in South Carolina was only off by ONE number.

My daughter had a particularly lovely Valentine's Day and I've only heard about it 20 times in the past two days...not that I'm bitter or anything. She got unexpected flowers. They were roses, but she doesn't have issues with them so that worked out fine. She got two dinner invitations. Some cards from guys testing the availability waters. When she dropped by yesterday she was so positively ebullient, I had to excuse myself from the room to stave off a bout of nausea that I pretended was due to my current viral/bacterial/ebola-like run-of-the-mill illness. I did my best to project how happy I was for her and smile, and then I thought, how strange it is to be jealous of my own daughter! No, I wouldn't want to be 21 again, but she sure made it sound like fun - at least on this past "Heart Holiday".

It must be obvious by now that I am deep into feeling sorry for myself. I blame part of it on feeling like a very old, worn out dish rag that should have been tossed out years ago because it slipped through the drain and got hung on the garbage disposal blades and someone turned the thing on and ripped the cloth to shreds. I blame another part of it on the fact that I haven't seen the sun for a few days and this gray stuff is way too dim. I blame the last part of it on not being able to be in NYC on Valentine's Day, and a chance meeting with Tom Hanks on top of the Empire State Building which means I have watched "Sleepless In Seattle" one too many times. I mean, why do they create movies that both warm our heart and make us feel like the magic train doesn't stop at our station? Is it really too much to ask to meet Tom Hanks in NYC for one simple evening? I guess that perhaps it is. I hope he didn't wait around too long since I was unable to show up.

Daisies be damned!

OK, now that I am off my soap box, I have to tell you about one of my sweetest friends. He's about 16 years younger than me and I'm pretty sure I feel like I could be his surrogate mother, but it would appear that this Valentine malaise isn't something that is gender specific to women. My friend rang me up Sunday Evening and was not feeling too perky. He shared that he had been dealing with a case of the blahs and if you knew what he looked like, you would never suspect the blahs of ever having a reason to visit his doorstep. I knew for certain there was a God when he told me that this past Saturday Night, he found himself in his sweat pants, eating chocolate ice cream with a really big spoon and watching...get this, "Hope Floats" and "One Fine Day". This guy was sitting home in a dark living room chasing a sugar rush and over-dosing on Sandra Bullock and Michelle Pfeiffer. When my mind conjured up that image, I just had to smile, not because I was happy that he had to endure a Saturday Night like that, but because I guess I never realized that we all have those Saturday Nights from time to time.

Monday Evening, I ran into another friend at a meeting and after it was over, we were chatting about nothing in particular and out of nowhere SHE brought up that she had spent HER Saturday Night on the sofa watching sappy movies, only she substituted Krispy Kreme Donuts for the ice cream. Wow, two really attractive people had almost the exact same experience on the same night, just different sofas and high caloric delivery systems, within ten miles of each other. I think these two should definitely get together and compare notes! At the very least have coffee! Two days after that terrible holiday and I'm trying to be Cupid and I've never even shot an arrow.

Sometimes I think Valentine's Day is just a cruel reminder for a bunch of people that they are, in fact, alone and who needs to be reminded of something like that? Like you can be lonely and not be aware of that? Hello? Sure, it's probably great if things are whizzing along and one's love life is in order and steaming with passion, but for what I think might be the majority, the holiday of hearts should simply be deleted from the calendar. Too bad that "Cntrl/Alt/Delete" doesn't work on more than simply rebooting one's CPU. There have been times I'd love to reboot my life and reformat my hard drive. Who wouldn't love to do that from time to time?

I guess some days you just have to play those lonely Shawn Colvin songs, or listen to John Mayer's "Comfortable" or sit in a dark room and realize that the remote control only surfs movie channels that remind you of your present romantic-less status and then brew some hot (or cold) Jasmine tea and drink a toast to better days ahead.

Enough of this happy talk. I do hope everyone had a Happy Valentine's Day but just remember, if you didn't, you're probably in very good company so take heart (pun intended). Should you find yourself in sweats, digging into a container of any flavored ice cream or attacking a dozen donuts and watching movies that might cause you to run searching for the Dramamine, full of all that "happily ever after" dribble, it's a good bet that thousands of people across the US are doing the very same thing and wondering when, and if, their time will come and they'll be pulled off the sofa and invited to play in the heart game, only to be replaced on that sofa by people who played the very same game and got benched.

I think I've spread enough sunshine for one morning. :-) Baby bird photos coming up later today. I'll try and put a lid on the cynicism, but I make no promises until I can actually breathe through my nose again, swallow without feeling as if my throat is lined with razor blades and I've downed about a half gallon of syrupy sweet iced tea with lemons. :-)

Have a better Wednesday than I plan to. I need to wallow just a little more, if you don't mind. Time for me to go push a cat off my bed and pull those covers up.

10 February 2005

Single...With Children - February 9, 2005 - My most recent column!

Web-posted Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Single with Children: There's no substitute for school of hard knocks

Susie Parker

There have been times in my parenting "career" when I didn't think there were enough hours in the day to accommodate all the tasks, commitments, requests and essential requirements expected of me.

When my daughter was in kindergarten, I cheerfully volunteered to take on the position of Girl Scout leader. At the time, my son was barely 3 years old and in the middle of what I used to refer to as his "Lewis and Clark" phase of development. Nothing escaped his attention, and everything was ripe for exploration. He hadn't caught on to the intended meaning of the word "no."

Every Wednesday afternoon, 18 little girls in the 5 to 6 age group would arrive at our home after school. Most days I would have everything set up and ready for a meeting that included a short lesson, crafts and snacks, all the while keeping my eye on a very curious little boy, who wanted to be in the center ring, and a dog, who found numerous ways to sneak out every time the front door was open. With 18 little girls, that front door saw a lot of action. So did the dog. And so did I.

And then there were all those years serving in the capacity of "Homeroom Mom," "Meet the Masters" coordinator, cafeteria monitor, field trip organizer, car pool designee, holiday party planner, Sunday school teacher and the list goes on. If you're a parent, you learn on the fly to wear many hats that will take you places you have never been.

Later, you will wonder how in the world you juggled it all and survived. When those kids are no longer small and time-consuming, you will look back fondly on those days you were certain you just might pull your hair out because you were so completely overbooked and beyond exhaustion. You really will miss those days.

As kids get older, another kind of energy drain occurs, but it is more of the mental variety and not nearly as pleasant as corralling small children. I am in the middle of one of those growth cycles and, hard as it may be to imagine, I'd trade it for duty on a very crowded bus with 100 kids headed for Orlando and the Magic Kingdom.

Physical exhaustion simply leaves you tired. Mental fatigue and worry leave you completely drained, and it doesn't disappear after a few hours sleep.

My daughter, the one who used to wear the cute little Daisy uniform, is 21 now, and she is still growing up. She lives on her own and is making all manner of choices, some of which I don't quite understand and many of which I am probably unaware.

Of course, one of the ways to learn how to live is through the time-tested method of "trial and error," and it's a very effective way to learn what works and what does not. However, for the parent of the student using this method of instruction, it can be painful.

Twenty-three years separate me from my daughter, and that means I have had a lot of time to make many more mistakes and learn things the hard way. But, as most of us remember, we too were utterly convinced we knew it all. I know I had to learn many lessons through mistakes, miscues and miscalculations. I still do. I'm sure it wasn't easy on my parents to watch me run the maze and bump into things.

There are times when one of the most difficult things to do is absolutely nothing. I can't step in those size 6 shoes of this daughter of mine and take all of my hard-earned knowledge and avoid all the landmines I see her negotiating. I would do it in a heartbeat, but that isn't part of the deal.

I read in a book recently that acceptance was the answer to all of my problems. Learning I can't change people, places, things or situations, and accepting that I can only change me is the only clear path to peace and serenity. After having tested it for a few months, I am coming to believe and rely on this premise a little more each day.

I'm sure (hopeful) that all of this growth is what makes this journey so colorful. I just wish it made the journey a little easier. I guess I'll just have to accept things and do some more work on me.

If you would like to keep up with my progress, you can access my online diary. Feel free to opine.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at SusieWrites@gmail.com, write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166 or visit her diary at www.susiewrites.blogspot.com.

08 February 2005

It really was a very Happy Birthday...

...and if I had to turn one year older, I marked the day in such fine company. If you attack challenging tasks, such as aging, you really should do it among friends, and for however blond I may be, at the very least I had the good sense to understand that adding another digit to my age could actually be fun in the right company. My birthday was spent in the perfect company.

The day was sunny, not too chilly for early February, and if I were to compare the atmosphere of February 6th, 2005 to something, it would just have to be a daisy. What's more friendly and warm than a daisy? Right, I bet you can't think of too many things either. I mean, yes, a warm puppy is perfectly irresistible (unlike a gopher snake), but you don't have to house break a daisy, and it just sits there in a container and, by doing nothing more than standing straight and tall, it elicits heart smiles.

I love daisies.

Interestingly enough, my morning started with a phone call from a local florist. On a Sunday, some local flower shop wanted to know if I was going to be at home for a while. On a Sunday? Of course I was going to be home. I had to shove things under the bed and into closets and make it all look presentable because I was having company in a few short hours. I asked the flower rep who these petals were from, but he played coy and refused to divulge the secret source. "Bring them on!", I said.

Within minutes my doorbell was ringing and the guy was holding a beautiful arrangement of live flowers from someone who obviously knew me well, because it contained all my favorite colors and yes, there were LOTS of daisies. I didn't know for certain, but I suspected these flowers were international in origin...or at least the sender was and I had a hunch these flowers were sent by someone with a killer French accent. A certain person I have known for years and who has seen me through ups, downs and everything in between, who, on my first visit to Paris, way back in May, 1997, while waiting for our food to come, lead me by the hand down a narrow ally and pointed my gaze in the direction of a structure that still takes my breath away - The Eiffle Tower, and, by doing so, imprinted a memory, no make that MANY memories, that will never, ever fade but only grow more precious with age.

I got flowers from my forever friend in France. Who has been not only my friend, but my advisor, my mentor and one of the people I respect most in this world.

Clearly, these flowers were the work of the man who gave me the courage to propose and write my very first newspaper column - and who still cajoles me to write more, even when I'm certain that I can't. For over four years I have written and had published over 100 columns, and not one of them would have happened without his encouragement, his unwavering belief in me even, and most especially. when I had very little confidence. I couldn't possibly list all of the things he has meant to me and how he has made my life so much more wonderful by simply being a part of it, but he's been pivotal in every good thing that has happened to me since our chance meeting in June 1996, during what was a very difficult transition for me. Thank you sounds so plain and inadequate, but it's all I've got right now. Within minutes of receiving Michel's daisies, my cell phone rang as if on cue, and so he was with me on my birthday even if he was physically across the Atlantic.

Thank you my dear and faithful friend, Michel.

In the meantime, back at the ranch, Dan was running around like a crazy man. In a very short period of time, he managed a very long list of things to attend to including, but not limited to, ordering and buying a beautiful birthday cake, picking up a meat tray and fruit platter, all manner of soft drinks, snacks, and when he came back to the house to grab my son for even more errands, he left a large iced tea (with lemon!) and a pot of daisies right outside my door. Talk about attention to detail. This guy had it going on.

Soon, some of my favorite people were milling about my house and hanging out in my office, checking out my aviary and helping me ease into 45 as gently as anyone really can. It didn't help much that a lot of these people were YOUNGER than me and I'm trying not to nurse a resentment over it, but it is what it is.

And this is the place where I'd like to offer some very sincere and heartfelt thank yous. First and foremost, to my parents for making it possible for me to exist and have the task before me of actually aging! It really isn't such a bad problem to have. To my son, Justin, and my daughter, Katie, for showing up which was, apparently, the ultimate sacrifice; It would seem the two of them sacrificed far more interesting social engagements and painfully forced themselves to spend a couple of hours in my oh so boring company.

To a posse of pals that mean the absolute world to me:

So that, my friends, is how you turn 45. You surround yourself with people you respect, enjoy spending time with, and who don't allow you to take yourself TOO seriously. If you are blessed enough to have folks like this in your life, it's all good. It really is.

Thank you.

06 February 2005

Happy Birthday to Me! Warning - Fire Risk February 6th - HIGH!!!!!!

"Hear 'em singing Happy Birthday
Better think about the wish I made
This year gone by ain't been a piece of cake
Every day's a revolution
Pull it together and it comes undone
Just one more candle and a trip around the sun

Amazing. Somehow I am turning 45 years old today. I have no idea how this is possible. I have done the math several times, and every single time that I subtract 1960 from 2005, I still come up with 45. It must be true, but I find it hard to believe that 45 years could whiz by so fast.

I used to wonder what people meant when they said time becomes so much more precious as you get older, but I think I know now. It does. I look back over the time I've wasted, savored, the minutes that seem to go on for hours and the hours that felt like minutes. Most of it is like a flash and, with only a few notable exceptions, I'd live it all again in a NY Minute. Even the moments that made me wince, got me to the place I am today. This day. And it is this day that I am celebrating all of the past days. Even the ones I would never wish to do over and aren't so fun to recollect.

I'm just hanging on while this old world keeps spinning
And it's good to know it's out of my control
If there's one thing that I've learned from all this living
Is that it wouldn't change a thing if I let go...

I'm having some friends over today. Most of whom I've grown extremely close to andI have learned to respect immeasurably in the past 13 months. A few folks will be here that I've known longer, and they mean a great deal to me as well. And of course, there will be family. I do hope they behave! :-)

Three hours before my company arrives, I hope for things. I want lots of smiles. Warm, heartfelt embraces, lots of laughter and I'll even take some good-natured hits about turning 45. I can handle it. I'm a lot tougher than I look, and I can give as good as I get.

I'm sitting here imagining who will be in my home, and I can't wait to see every single person who I will have the privilege and honor of sharing this day with; people who have inspired me, given me hope, direction, love, affection, kindness and so many oppportunities to smile and really laugh - the kind of laugh that comes from deep inside and is genuine.

Even at 45, I feel like I've only scratched the surface and what I do know, is that I really know so little. I know that I want to spend more time learning and exploring the things I'm coming to realize matter most in this life. I had a sea change on January 12, 2004 and my course was corrected in a major way. While I hated the action that recalibrated my internal compass, over a year after the fact, I know for certain that it didn't simply save my life; it recreated my life in only the best ways possible.

I really did learn that there are far more things out of my control and that, if I chose the right path and leaned on things that were true, it was finally, for the first time in my life, safe to completely let go. I had to let go, to finally get a handle. It's a good ride.

No, you never see it coming
Always wind up wondering where it went
Only time will tell if it was time well spent
It's another revelation
Celebrating what I should have done
With these souvenirs of my trip around the sun

For as much as I don't look forward to the advent of wrinkles, crinkles and too many sun freckles (I refuse to call them "age spots" - sun freckles just sounds better, don't you think?), I am celebrating the fact that I am alive and kicking and able to celebrate! If the price of admission means another number attached to my age, that's still a pretty fair deal. Today I may be marking my 45th birthday, but I'm still not one single day over 12 years old, in many aspects, and I'll take that as a good sign.

Yes, I'll make a resolution
Then I'll never make another one
Just enjoy this ride on my trip around the sun
Just enjoy this ride ...
Until it's done"

I have so many wishes, that when it comes time to blow out all those candles, I'm not sure I can distill my wishes into just one. I'm willing to give it a try, though. I just hope they have a bucket of water around in case those flames get entirely out of hand.

I am grateful for one more year, my family, many new friends, steadfast older friends, growing pains, challenges, stumbling blocks and more blessings than any one person has a right to count. Come to think of it, I can't think of anything to wish for because it feels as if I have everything I need.

It's a good time to be me.

I'll have a post-party report soon and there may even be a photograph or two.

Have a wonderful day.