07 February 2006

"And the Lord said...let there be light!

...So many candles. OK, so I didn't have any candles on a cake, I think it's because the Wilmington Fire Department prohibits a dessert from containing more than 40 candles or some weird law like that. Something about spontaneous combustion or some such silliness.

My birthday didn't start out so great. I fell for Cassie. To be more accurate, I fell OVER Cassie. I was taking some towels to the washer and I didn't see her stretched out in the hall, on the nice HARDWOOD floor, and I tripped right over my big, blond dog and landed on both knees. Yes, it hurt. Yes, I am bruised. No, the dog suffered no injuries. Yes, the towels did eventually make it to the machine and are now clean and possibly even folded. I'm not sure about the folded part because I lost interest in the whole exercise after that.

It was a bit of a gray, chilly day, but that's what you get for being born in February, I suppose. Small price to pay in order to be assigned Aquarius. I'm not an avid or devoted follower of astrology, but I love all that is Aquarius - even the personality traits that aren't terribly flattering. Goodness knows I've got a lot of them.

I started reorganizing my filing cabinet - do I know how to celebrate my birthday or what? It got my mind off of my throbbing knees, sort of. And then I got a call from the florist that there was a delivery coming my way. A special thank you to my very dear friend Michel. The flowers were beautiful - white petals with yellow centers. You always remember, my faraway French friend.

Giving daisies must be a trait of classy males, because Justin popped in my office yesterday afternoon with another bouquet of white petaled, yellow centered daisies. Lovely! Now I have my favorite flowers on both wings of my desk, from two extremely classy males.

After Katie returned from class, everyone sort of congregated and we wound up at The Oceanic for dinner. It was dark so we didn't see the Atlantic, but we heard it so I'm sure it's still there. I was kind of disappointed that I didn't get the whole "birthday dessert/singing wait staff treatment, but what can you do? I always, ALWAYS tip off the staff when I'm with a birthday victim, but I guess my family doesn't like being spotlighted and stared at while people with usually very poor pitch feign exuberance and engage in one of the job descriptions that they all probably unanimously agree they like least. Call me crazy, and you wouldn't be the first, but I still like that. I also like blowing out candles and making wishes. I didn't have the opportunity to do that either, but maybe at some point I'll get to make a wish and extinguish some fire.

As we were waiting on our dinner, it was gift time. Katie opted for the sentimental, heart-touching prose in her selection of a card - something I'm sure she felt would reflect our relationship: On the front it said, "Happy Birthday to my Mom - a very wise woman" and on the inside it finished with, "From your kid - A very wise ass". So true, so true. I am wise and she's a smart ass. Perfect. I think Katie captured the moment. I laughed. And then my eyes filled up with tears...But that's Katie for you - she can having you laughing until you're crying and then crying because she can abruptly shift from silly to sentimental in .04 seconds. It's part of her charm.

Justin then pointed out that his gift to me was the bouquet of daisies and such a gift was sort of like a present and a card combined - so he let the daisies do the talking. They were lovely. He also gave me a sweet, long hug first thing yesterday morning.

And then came dinner, which was really yummy.

This morning, my knees were in really banged up shape and I was feeling the pain. I can't say I was looking forward to being at work, but staying home wasn't an option. It was drizzly and still colder than I care for, and I would have loved to have just stayed home and do nothing.

Around 12:30 today, one of the people I work with asked me to come to the back of the salon - that I had left something on and it was burning. Well duh, I wasn't born yesterday. I was, in fact, born 46 years ago, and I knew I hadn't left anything on because there wasn't anything to leave on. I told him to just take care of it because I didn't feel like walking to the back. A Baskin-Robbins Chocolate Mint Birthday pie. It would seem as if Katie had schemed and gone behind my back and done a little surprise party planning. I was surprised!

Along with the pie, was a card signed by everyone in the salon - and inside the card was another card - A GAP gift card. Everyone had chipped in and generously presented me with the best kind of present - one which will demand that I visit one of my most favorite stores. Thank you Vanessa and Katie. I collected hugs as well and I felt very grateful to be sharing the day after my birthday with all of these special people.

Vanessa went the extra mile and in her long-running campaign to try and introduce me to the concept of "organization", she gave me a beautiful ceramic cell phone holder - because I so easily lose everything. It was so sweet and so Vanessa. I love you, Vanessa!

After our little fete, Katie and I headed over to the Copper Penny for lunch. Justin works at the Copper Penny, but he wasn't due to be in the kitchen until later today, so we felt safe in ordering and the food was delicious, as it always is.

Following lunch, I was given clearance to leave by my sweet daughter and get out of there I did. It was almost like working just a half day and eventually, the sun did pop out and I saw it set from my upstairs office window which faces west. It was a very nice day.

I am a very blessed woman. I love my family and I love my friends - on both sides of the Atlantic. It is in part due to this fact, that I really love my life.

Thank you and yes, even YOU Michel...for the flowers, the critique, encouragement and your sage advice. I know you're right on just about every count.

06 February 2006

Tales from the mother ship...

Susie Parker-Perry
Originally uploaded by susiewrites.
Oh My Gosh - Forty Freaking Six Years Old! It's 2:39 and I opened my first card that came in the mail - but I got home so late last night from work, I didn't open it until late this evening - just a few minutes after midnight. It was from my wonderful, special, mother-to-be friend Mary. Sweet, sweet, Mary. Thank you so much for remembering me and it really did look as lovely as a daisy!

I got my first wonderful birthday hug from my most favorite and wonderful daughter. And then I got hugs and an E-mail "Happy Birthday" from my parents.

More tomorrow...I mean, later today.

I LOVE birthdays, except for the part where you have to get older. I will let you know how it turns out.

OK, so I might get in trouble for posting this because I haven't requested permission, but I'm going to take my life in my hands and do it anyway. If you see no further posts from me, you will know that this was not a wise decision on my part, but hey, what is Katie going to do, kill me on my birthday?

A couple of weeks ago, Katie came home with an assignment from her English Class - to write about people who have influenced her life. I thought of a thousand different people she might choose for her subject matter, but honestly, that I would be in the line-up never crossed my mind. Katie knows and has been influenced by a plethora of people - many far more interesting and accomplished and talented than I could ever begin to hope to be.

When she casually mentioned that I was one of three women she chose as the subject of her essay, I was completely blown away. I was humbled. I felt unworthy, but so extremely thrilled and grateful. Katie and I have come a long way in 2 years - a tough two years. A lot of fence-mending took place. If you would have told me 2 years ago that I would be cast in a positive light and complimentary manner for ANYONE'S college English paper - I would have laughed and then cried, because I couldn't think of too many positive things that anyone could write about concerning me and still remain non-fiction.

This is probably the finest birthday present any mother, but particularly this one, could ever receive, and forgive me my dear Katie, but I just have to share it. I don't think the other two female subjects will mind, because I know they're pretty honored as well.

Here is what my incredible, precious daughter wrote, in her own words.

Katie Parker

English 111 – D23

January 30, 2006

Three Feisty Women: Life Lessons

Many people have called me a "difficult" woman, and this isn't entirely inaccurate. If stubbornness and confidence make me difficult, then I will take it as a compliment. My mother will say I was difficult from day one when I was born and refused to breathe, but I disagree. I am a product of nurturing, not nature. I come from a long line of feisty women and have crossed paths with many hard-headed females. This isn't to say that my father or grandfather weren’t tremendous forces in my upbringing, but they were not cut of the same cloth as the women in my family. The woman I am, is because of my relationship with three of the most "difficult" people one could ever meet: my mother, my grandmother, and my co-worker, Vanessa.
My mother is first and foremost responsible for my feistiness. It has taken years for me to be able to admit that I am almost exactly like my mother. My parents divorced when I was 11, and although my father has always been part of my life, my mother is the one who raised my brother and me. My mother worked at various jobs to support our family, spending her nights working on her dream of becoming a writer. She finally found success when she landed a job writing a column on single parenting. My mother fought for that column, despite a lack of professional writing experience and no formal training. That column was everything my mother had dreamed of, and she would not take no for an answer. Watching my mother attain her goal taught me that my dreams are worth fighting for. Without the influence of one of the most persevering women I have ever known, I wouldn't be so adamant about attaining my own goals in life.

Although my grandmother can be a very challenging woman, she instilled in me that a good heart is vital. Growing up, we always had lots of pets. My grandmother is not an animal lover. When she thinks nobody is looking, however, she talks to our animals and makes sure they are happy and healthy. To this day she will not admit this fact. My grandmother always had high expectations of me, and although she devoted her life to being a housewife, she wanted me to be more. When I dropped out of college after a year, she began her quest of making sure I returned to school. Everyday she told me how important it was to graduate from school, not to please my family, but to please myself. Had she not pushed me every day, I probably would have avoided going back to school a lot longer than I did. My grandmother taught me that it's okay to be difficult on the outside, but not to allow it to affect your kindness; and that with an education my dreams will be that much closer to reaching.

One of the most influential people in my life is a co-worker named Vanessa. She is incredibly intelligent and assertive. In November of 2004, a fire started in my apartment, through no fault of my own, causing extensive damage. My landlord was livid and expected me to pay for the damages. I came into work despondent; I had lost my home, and now I was going to have to pay for it. When I told Vanessa of my plight, she had her husband look into my legal rights to find out what I had to do in order to avoid paying for the damages. Their advice was what I needed, and I managed to get out of paying for the fire. Without Vanessa in my life, I would never have learned to stick up for myself when I know that I'm right about something.

Society sometimes has a tendency to look down upon assertive women, often labeling these women as “bitches.” When I think about the strong women in my life and myself, I realize we are much more than a simple label. Hopefully our society will one day realize that strength is not a negative quality in a woman.

Katie and I live together, laugh together, and even work together! She is still my daughter, it's just that now she has evolved into being, in addition to more than I could ever have hoped for in a daughter, one of my very best friends. My partner-in-crime. And still the person who can make me laugh most in this world.

I don't know what exactly I might have done right to deserve this kid, but I'm just grateful that God decided to allow her to come into my life and allow me to grow up right along with her.

I love you, Katie.

P.S. That whole thing about my mother, Katie's Grandmother, being a closet animal lover is absolutely true. Tonight, Katie told me that she had dinner with her grandparents on Saturday Night and that she was a bit puzzled by the whole experience. She sat down to a pizza my Mom had popped in the oven. However, she saw my Mom doing something at the stove and figured there might be more to dinner than just a frozen pizza. Well, there was, but not for any of the humans in attendance.

When Katie asked her grandmother who was going to get the chicken she was obviously preparing - my mother nonchalantly answered, "Cassie, of course.". Katie found that a bit odd. Was it a special occasion? "No, but Cassie likes to have good food mixed in with her dog food - she won't eat her dry food otherwise, so I always fix her something special for dinner.". Katie said this was told to her as if it was a silly question to even ask. Well of course it's for Cassie - God forbid Cassie would have to eat a frozen pizza when she could have fresh off the stove chicken!

I think that means my mother just came out of the closet. Officially. I guess after 82 years, she is finally embracing her animal-loving side. I think it also means that Cassie has eclipsed the humans in this house in terms of "pecking" order and I guess that literally makes her "Top Dog". Well, when you're 82 years old, you really shouldn't have to defend your actions, even if it means you cook dinner for the dog every night while the humans try and get by on cardboard pizza.

What a crazy house we live in. It really is a zoo and the animals are running the show.

04 February 2006

It was just one of those days...

...when you just have to laugh and reconfirm your conviction that "truth IS stranger than fiction".

Today consisted of sheer madness, but we laughed a lot in between the waves of wackiness. We always find SOMETHING or SOMEONE to laugh about. For instance, two different, unrelated clients brought two different, unrelated very small dogs. One of these dogs was placed on an empty, expensive, leather stylist chair and the dog seemed to behave as if she was expecting some kind of special conditioning treatment or trim. This tiny dog had this small, pink stuffed pig toy that she proceeded to drop every few minutes - it was fascinating to watch as its "Mom", who was sitting under a dryer as her color processed, would pop out of that chair and run to retrieve the toy and place it back on the seat beside the dog. I watched this for about 20 minutes and every time it happened, I could only roll my eyes. The dog looked rather indignant when the client was having her hair rinsed and unable to see that the dog had, yet again, tossed its toy to the floor. The poor thing had to go a good ten minutes without it's pink pig toy. It never uttered a sound - not even the hint of a growl, but that dog still managed to express her displeasure with our lack of subservience - when we noticed it had peed on the pillow right before "Mommy" picked it up. Now wasn't that too cute? NOT!!!!!!

Let's see, what else. We had one client bring her Mom along for a hair extension consultation - she would require a full head PLUS a pre-coloring so that her natural hair would match her newly bonded hair making the total cost around $1650. And of course, there was a sense of urgency. The young lady, who I would guesstimate was around 21, was set to go on a cruise to Grand Cayman and Cancun in four weeks. Was this for a study program? Oh no, Spring Break! Parteee!!!!! They discussed. The stylist laid out all of the maintenance requirements and restrictions required to keep the extensions looking like new and they read over all of the paperwork and after about ten minutes, they bellied up to the desk and laid over $750 as a down-payment. It turns out that Mom just couldn't say no. C'mon now, how can a self-respecting young lady honestly sail to Grand Cayman without 9 inches of straight blond hair? NOTE TO Katie: Thank you so much for being practical and quite reasonable.

Believe me - I see some things that could curl your hair - which is what a lot of our clients pay good money for; to have their hair curled if it's straight or to have an expensive technique known as "Japanese Hair Straightening", i.e. thermal ionic reconditioning, which permanently straightens hair and takes a minimum of five hours and runs around $100/hour. And then, there are those who feel they simply can't live another day without an extra 4 - 6 inches of hair and, in this instant gratification society we enjoy in the US, for $1500, our stylists (all SoCap Certified), can expertly apply keratin bonded hair SoCap extensions that come in every hue of every color, every texture, and I swear if you were to see someone walk out with our expertly applied extensions, you would NEVER in a million years guess that the person who's head they are attached to didn't grow them.

While the prices at our salon are competitive, it never fails to amaze me that people just walk in and plunk down $1500 to have long hair or $750 to have the hair they already have straightened. Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm glad they do and so is the man who signs the checks! But I guess if you have your heart set on something, you can find the money to get what you want.

Now, I have to be honest, I'm way too noncommittal to ever fork over that kind of money for straight or longer hair because I know that as soon as I'd do it, I would immediately decide that I wanted shorter hair with waves. Having said that, if I truly wanted longer hair, I'd find a way to get it. Gee, I remember back in the day when people who wanted long hair had to actually grow it and wait however long that might take.

Which made me wonder, what would I be willing to pay a fairly large sum of money for that might make someone else say in wild amazement, "Why would anyone pay THAT much money for (fill in the blank)?

Hmmmm...with me, it would probably involve Brite Smile, because I have an unhealthy obsession with preternaturally bright, white teeth. Who cares that my teeth ache after peroxide-based whitening treatments - I pop two advil and sign on for more. I have no idea where this fixation with really white teeth comes from, but I do know that whenever I quiz my friend Vanessa about how she came to possess such amazingly perfect, gleaning teeth, I'm pretty sure she's holding back on me, "I don't do anything out of the ordinary!", swearing that her million dollar smile is simply the result of genetics and clean living. Oh sure Vanessa, like I really believe that!

Or maybe I'd be inclined to spend a hefty amount of money on a new computer and finally break free of Microsoft and take a bite out of an Apple, more specifically, a Macintosh. Yeah, that's the ticket. My daughter LOVES the ibook we bought her for Christmas and is thrilled with her ipod and pretty much rates Bill Gates right down there with all things evil. I do know that Mac's have far superior publishing-based software programs and I must admit that I have been toying with the idea, especially since one of my two Dell Dimension 2350 towers has been in the computer hospital since this past Monday. So far, I have been informed that my registry is screwed up and a lot of my files are positively corrupt! Ouch! I didn't realize I had done anything untoward, but I guess you just never know. I enjoyed reading the Time Magazine profile on Bill and Melinda Gates and I was impressed with a lot of what I read, but when my desktop icons failed to load when I fired up my left Dell tower last Sunday Night, I became rapidly disenchanted with all things emanating out of Redmond, Washington. Microsoft is quickly becoming a four letter word or, at the very least, it inspires me to break out with quite a few choice ones.

But I guess if I just had $1500 lying around, simply BEGGING to be spent, it would eventually wind up belonging to a bookstore, in exchange for as many books as that money could buy. I admit it - I am almost powerless when I walk into Barnes and Noble or surf Amazon.com. I grow weak and one field of interest and all of the books attending it, bleed over into another interest and another and before long, I am mentally calculating the shelf space left in my office and how many books I could reasonably buy without squeezing them in so tight that they are in danger of becoming fused together. Yes, it would probably be books, with a little put aside for lumber so that my husband could erect more book shelves in my office. Or his office. Or our bedroom. Or maybe replacing our exotic finch collection with volumes on "Exotic Finches And The Eclectic People Who Clean-Up After Them And, More Importantly, Why Do They Do It?". Or maybe, "The Dummies Guide To Meal Worm Farming - It's Not As Much Fun As It Looks - What You Need To Know Before Buying That Ranch". Hey, I'd probably buy those books. Wait a minute - I could write those books!

On a positive note, I was more than thrilled to see the first piece I have written since my "Single...With Children" column, published! I had the great privilege of interviewing the regional director of the "Self-Help Credit Union" and I learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent discovering who he is and what he does, that I would have (almost) done it for nothing. He was a joy to meet and a pleasure to describe.

I was invited to do two more interviews in the next week and, as you might imagine, I said "yes" before I was completely sure what I was saying "yes" to! I guess maybe I should play it cool and be a little more aloof, but I swear I can't do it. I love writing and meeting new people and describing their lives. I'm actually enjoying the fact that I have a deadline looming! How crazy is that?

OK, OK, OK, so I'm not making enough to "quit my day job" YET, it's a beginning and I am completely beyond grateful.

Now, if you have a little space left on your prayer list, I would ask that you visit the site of a very special little girl: Christi Thomas. I have followed her site for a couple of years, and things have been extra difficult for Christi and her family in the past few weeks. Now, don't visit her site thinking you are going to be sent into a horrible spiral of depression because that won't happen. If you read the journal or a bit of her history, you will risk exposure to inspiration - discovering a family embracing life, living one day at a time - which is all any of us really have, and still finding things to be grateful for and never failing to give thanks to God, for another day, another hour and even another minute. You will smile, you will laugh and you may immediately feel your priorities being reorganized and whispering thanks for all that is good and precious in your life and the lives of those you love the most. It's definitely worth the read.

After reading a few of the recent entries from Christi's blog, and trying to imagine the stress and difficult decisions that have been made, and the decisions that are waiting in the wings, it seems so silly to covet things like hair extensions, straightening systems, hi lites, low lites, spray tans, glycolic peels (and I LOVE glycolic peels and hydra microderm abrasion treatments!), spending time wondering what is the most effective mode for producing teeth so white that you literally need sunglasses just to look in their direction, or even giving too much thought to the pros and cons of changing computer operating systems (Should I stay with Microsoft or walk on the wild side and take a bite out of an Apple?). As fun as any of those things might be or, more pointedly, "seem" to be, I can't imagine a single one of them would be items that would stand out as stellar moments when my end comes near and it's almost time to go. You know, the stuff that dreams, and maybe even last thoughts, are made of.

It is in considering what might "make the cut" and fall into the precious memory file when the sand in my hourglass has nearly slipped away, and wondering how my time might be better spent in making more deposits into my precious memory bank account. Should I be presented with a small window of time to reflect before that final crossing, what components of my life would be worth recollection? Having never been in that situation, and hoping I don't have the chance to find out any time soon, I still think it's worth some consideration and a couple of questions; Is what I'm doing today something I can look back on with pride and satisfaction and feel really good about or, are my present actions something I would never want to revisit and have the potential at some point in the future to make me cringe?

Right now, as long as I'm upright and breathing, I have some choice in the matter and it is within my power to go for the gold or the frivolous. Since I don't know how many more grains of sand remain to pass through, I can't help but think it might be prudent to give the remainder of my time more forethought and maybe even toss in some purpose.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that on February 6th, I will turn a whopping FORTY-SIX YEARS OLD!!!!!!! Kind of freaks me out to think that in four years I will be eligible for membership in AARP. I remember when I used to think 35 was old and 40 was really old. My most overwhelming feeling though, as sorry as I might feel for whatever birthday cake I may be presented with and the number of candles it will be enlisted to support, is that I'm just so thankful to be around to celebrate another wonderful year of life.

Money can buy longer hair, colorful hair, straight, wavy or curly hair, all manner of skin treatments, trips to Paris, dinners on the Eiffel Tower, the best champagne that can lead you to the worst places, newer, faster, futuristic looking computers with a mouse that can click on just about anything your mind can dream up, and then some. But money can't buy extra days for a sick child, or one more year and the chance to load down a birthday cake with even more candles. I want the chance to add a lot more candles.

I love many of the things that money can buy, without apology. But I love the things that money can't buy, even more.