24 January 2007

Happy Birthday Daddy!

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; that which is essential is invisible to the eye." ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I think Saint-Exupery must have known my father, though Dad has never been to France. Of course, my family is especially fond of the French and we have some "adopted" family members who call that beautiful country home. (Thanks for the call Michel! You must visit us to celebrate our ten year anniversary!).

My beautiful cousin, Shane, wrote a lovely post in honor of my Dad's birthday. I can think of very little to add and I was touched by her eloquence. She most definitely captured this man I've been blessed to call my Dad for almost 47 years. He truly is as sharp as she described. Even more precious, his heart is that beautiful.

When I signed the card that Justin and Stephanie were kind enough to select, I didn't have to search my mind for what to write. I wrote to him that any redeeming qualities that may be apparent in Katie, Justin and me, were due largely to the fine example he has set, in his values, his ethics, his kindness and compassion. We were exposed to a "double dose" because those same traits are quietly on display in the form of my Mom as well.

I was at work until after 7:00 tonight, so after classes today, Justin and Stephanie set out to choose a new pipe, a jar of salt-roasted peanuts and a box of chocolates, in addition to some flints for the pipe lighter Justin bought his Pops for Christmas. But it was more than obvious what my Dad treasured most; He carefully read the card that Justin gave him, and then he read it a few more times. Justin wrote from his heart and it touched my Dad's heart. Those kind of connections are of the sort one cherishes and they're way more priceless than anything that could be found in the finest NY boutique.

"Justin, this is going in my diary. This is the best thing you could give me.", my Dad replied after reading his grandson's birthday card. And I know he meant it. He has 47 years of diaries stuffed with cards, notes, drawings and letters from me, my sister and Katie and Justin. No question he'll enjoy his pipe, as he will the peanuts and chocolates, but it is the cards, handwritten offerings that mean the most to my Daddy.

My mother cooked a wonderful meal; fried chicken, green beans, fried potatoes and two coconut cream pies and it was beyond delicious! The only thing missing from our table was Katie, but she had called her grandpa from NYC, on her way home from work. Not to be outdone in a family of bloggers, Katie put her two cents in and composed her own "Ode to Pops", on her Vox Blog. Can you tell we like to write?

So Happy Birthday, Daddy! How grateful we are to have you and Justin is right - should we all live to be 1/10th the person you are - we'll be doing pretty well. There can be no question by the number of calls and cards - you are loved. And we are blessed.

21 January 2007

Just what makes that little ole ant...

...want to work so relentlessly hard moving space-age gel and tunneling all over the place in an effort to get....where?

I bet you guessed it! Last week I received a very innocuous small brown envelope postmarked from Utah. Hmmmm...a message from a Morman? I doubted it. I couldn't imagine what anyone from Utah might be sending me. I'd never professed any interest in "The Bee Hive State" and the Osmonds were never a particular favorite, so what could Utah have to show me? [It should be noted that I truly don't have anything against people from Utah and, in fact, I'm sure there are some perfectly lovely sites in that state - I just don't have any personal connections and both me and Utah are probably all the better for it.]

I opened the envelope to find two vials teeming with black, frenetic bodies reminding me of the Brownian Movement I'd observed on slides in microbiology class at Angelo State University, oh so very many years ago. These weren't, however, cells. They were ants. Two vials containing 25 ants in each one. Surely you must know by this point that I was thrilled! (I really was).

My son, Justin, had bought me an ant farm for Christmas, a really cool one from Brookstone - with a habitat made from some exotic sounding "space age gel". It was blue and very pretty. According to the box it came packed in, this gel not only nourished the ants, but was the perfect medium for the tunnels just waiting to be dug by these rather formidable looking ants with easily recognizable mandibles. In fact, on the vial was a label that came with a sticker and a warning: "CAUTION: Ants can sting! Adult supervision required!".

What to do? There weren't any adults available when I opened my package and then I remembered that I am highly allergic to bees. Bee stings have sent me to the doctor many times. Were these ants going to do me in? Should I wait for an adult to drop by the house so I could transfer them from the vials to my ant farm? As you can see, I had quite a lot of questions and huge decisions to make. Should I risk it on my own and throw this "CAUTION" to the wind?

Not knowing when an "adult" might appear, I decided that given that I'm a mere three weeks away from turning 47, I might as well go for it and try transferring those ants on my own. I mean, surely age must be gaining on me - just a few weeks ago a very old looking man I used to know sent me his photo and took the time to point out that age was having an "effect" on me and I guess he wanted to make me feel better by including his own photo which scared the hell out of me (I didn't ask the guy for his photo because he's one of those people I don't respect much...well, at all for that matter - you know, one of the people who I'll have to "rename" when it comes to discussing his aberrant behavior in that book.). I forget exactly what his e-mail said and I would quote it at this point, but I immediately deleted it and then, just to be sure never to again have to see another photo like that, I included his e-mail address in my SPAM FILTER (Google Mail has GREAT filters!), because Halloween had long since passed and, well, he was scary and not in a fun way! Personally, I think he clearly must have been old, cranky and bitter. But I digress...

I'm happy to report that the transfer of the ants from the vial to the habitat was completely successful and the ants have just gone crazy. And truly, they are fascinating. There's no question this was one of my favorite Christmas presents - thank God my son was creative enough to "think outside the box" and realize that I was serious when I "hinted" that I had seen this "Antworks Habitat" at Brookstone. He's a good boy and he knows I'm not normal, which partially explains why he's not normal and, well, it works for us. He has come in frequently in the past week to admire my Christmas present. Truly, it is stunning how hard and diligently ants work and stay on task. I admire their tenacity.

When I first saw this "gift" at Brookstone, I remarked to Stephanie (his girlfriend), "How inspirational something like this could be! If I had an ant farm, I would put it on my desk and draw strength and energy from those hard-working ants.". Well, in fact, I have written several pages since they arrived and already those "Western Harvest Ants" have earned a line of thanks if I ever get this book proposal finished.

In other news, things are coming along nicely, which is amazing if you considered how many hours I worked my "day" job last week. My "day" job turned into a "night" job and it's been sort of a bit crazy downtown, even more so than usual. Most of it not in a fun way. Saturday we had a meltdown. Well, Vanessa almost had a meltdown. But in true Vanessa style, she pulled it together and congealed and went on to win the day and two clients in the process. Vanessa, you are my hero. Stephanie T., you are also impressive. Both of you ladies made last week bearable. I love you both.

It's been tough lately though, and every now and then, even a little scary. It's no secret that I am a caffeine-aholic. There's no 12-step program for this and if there were, I honestly wouldn't be looking to join. I will admit, however, that I have been cutting back a bit lately and most of my caffeine is now delivered via jasmine tea, exclusively.

For the first time in I can't remember when, I almost had a full-blown, wide-open panic attack Friday Afternoon. Stephanie and I were downtown at a restaurant picking up lunch and suddenly I felt as if I couldn't breathe and my heart was doing flip flops. The more I thought about it, the more my chest tightened and I kept feeling as if I were skipping heartbeats which, I know, is pure stress. I can't remember ever feeling as stressed as I do right now and I'm grateful that I have a lot on my plate, it's so much better than having nothing to do. I love my writing and I'm learning something new and picking through tons of old memories - many of them good, a few of them painful, and some just plain puzzling and questionable. But even stress borne of positive activity is still, well, stress and stress, in unhealthy doses, can have negative physical effects. Just because I "know" this, doesn't make any of it more pleasant. In fact, I have a call into my buddy Dr. Bob, because I need some professional advice on how to disengage or, at the very least, lessen the intensity.

I have probably 70 e-mails that I haven't even had the time or energy to look at from this past week. After a 12 hour day downtown, I come home, I toss back 1 or 3 glasses of iced tea, read a few posts and start getting ready for the next day. One reason I'm avoiding my e-mail lately is because some of what I've read has come from friends who have chastised me for not returning their e-mails or their calls. The bottom line is that for the next few weeks, I need every available moment to finish what I've started. In no way do I mean to ignore ANYONE, but I've come to a point where I am literally running out of minutes in the day. I so very much appreciate the e-mails filled with positive thoughts and well-wishes, offers of prayers and the lighting of candles are always wonderful to read and you can't imagine how much I need them right now - believe me, such gifts can make a HUGE difference in my day. But to get an e-mail that chides me for not replying in what the "sender" may consider a prompt manner, does me no real good and I don't have the time, extra energy or remote desire to get angry right now.

I guess what I'm asking for most of all, in the next few weeks, is patience. I can't afford to waste this opportunity and this opportunity requires focus and time and attention and patience, from those I care about (and you know who you are) and those who care about me (and I know who you are).

And of course, I'm three weeks away from turning 47. FORTY-FREAKING-SEVEN!!!!! I wonder, is that what is making my heart skip beats? Is it tired? Bored? Playing tricks on me? I really do want my life and my heart to settle down just a bit. I love getting excited and being wired, but too much of a good thing makes me wonder if I'm having heart attack! I think I would prefer to skip that experience and, if I truly am skipping beats, I'd rather skip knowing it.

So...I should like to be like the ants that are working so hard, tunneling away and making anthills out of space gel, illuminated in the NASA blue tinted habitat just next to my monitor. I need to stay on task, focus, remain productive and please know that when I have this proposal finished, I will post a blog inviting everyone I care about (and you know who you are) to write me incessantly with all manner of silliness. We shall drink tea, turn flips, walk on the beach, dance and spin. Until then, please know that even if you don't hear from me in the next few days, I'll be back online soon to drive everyone up the wall and be my usual annoying and unpredictable self. Enjoy the respite! It won't last, so go have an adventure and give me a full report.

If my tax refund is remotely decent, and given that February is my birthday month, I should like to do one or all of the following:

1) Pick out a new bedroom suite. Mine is beyond pitiful, uninspiring and I'm sick of it. I really should have a paypal account set up so you can contribute - it is not, I'm sorry to say, a tax-deductible charity but it should be and you would agree if you saw the dismal state of my bedroom.

2) Fly to NYC for a few days in February (hand-delivering a proposal - purely all business, of course) and force Glen to give me the "Native NY'er" tour, the places that are "off the beaten path". Glen, I know I'm not allowed on the Isle of Manhattan until RH receives a package from me...Oh sure, I know how it goes. :-)

3) Find a decently priced laptop that will be easy to lug around and allow me to write when I'm not home and lately, I'm hardly ever home. Any recommendations with "Affordable laptop suggestion" in the subject line and not "Why have you not replied to my e-mail in six minutes???" would be most welcome.

4) Pilates...more pilates. I know Vanessa...discipline...I'm so overrun with things that require discipline, I can't wait to kick back and have some fun that doesn't require discipline. It's all so highly overrated.

5) And finally - CELEBRATE. Sure, I'm turning one year older but that's OK. I love birthdays. If you're a friend (and I know who you are), please know that we will do lunch, dinner, tea, all of the above, at some point during the month of February and look good doing it! Yes! I have no problem being serenaded by the wait staff of any downtown Wilmington or Wrightsville Beach restaurant. Doesn't bother me in the least. Light those candles! February is for fun! I am, after all, Aquarius and we demand fun and good times. In all actuality, though I don't subscribe to the whole "astrology" mindset, I am unapologetically Aquarius - up one side and down the other. If you read this link and you are a person who knows me well, you'd really have to agree with me. Besides, I was born right in the middle of the sign and share the same birthday with Ronald Reagan, Natalie Cole and Tom Brokaw.

A special thanks, also, to my good friend in Amarillo who is under several inches of snow right now. Jim, even though I know you must be extra cold, I appreciate your warm words and oh my gosh - a hand-crafted, work-of-art flute? This amazing gentleman who I "met" during the course of my "Single...With Children" newspaper column run (2000 - 2005), became one of my favorite readers and we've kept in touch through the years. I had no idea he was also a talented artist. Amazingly, he manages to be a wonderful West Texas cheerleader who e-mails just the right words at just the right time and, when you consider this guy lives in a city that is being hit every weekend by wild, wintry, West Texas blizzards, even after digging his way out, he's still a kind and gentle soul. I hope you have a glorious, tornado-free spring out there, Jim. You certainly deserve it. (Winter image above courtesy of Jim in Amarillo and used without his permission. :-)

Now, one more thing about Jim, he makes these amazing "Native American Indian Flutes". He carves them - out of real wood and everything. Isn't that wildly talented? He reports they have a haunting sound and I have been informed that I will have the great fortune to discover this for myself. In fact, he sent me a link to the "Legend of the flute", so you can read about it for yourself if you're so inclined and I suggest you do.

I'd also like to send my Amarillo friend a special congratulations for his upcoming recognition as a 30 year employee at BSA (Baptist St. Anthony's Hospital). My first acquaintance with Amarillo was courtesy of St. Anthony's Hospital because that's the revered institution that brought my little family to Amarillo way back in 1985. Tim, Katie and I moved to Amarillo in August 1985 when Tim (Katie and Justin's Dad), accepted a position with the hospital as Accounting Supervisor. It is also where we lived when Justin joined our family in November 1986. Those were happy years and filled with lots of fine memories that I enjoyed sharing some of them with Jim earlier today after I teased him about the winter weather he's currently dealing with. This morning as I was retrieving my first cup of coffee, I was shocked to see a Fox News Report on all the snow Amarillo has received this past weekend. Poor Jim! Last weekend it was an ice storm. Hopefully the sky will clear for his hospital award banquet this Thursday. Jim - good on ya!

On the other side of the pond, a warm thank you to another friend who is braving relentless rain and gales - Alistair, we'll try and deliver some warm weather when you visit the Outer Banks in a few weeks. You deserve some southern hospitality and sunshine. Plus, you really need to get over the whole problem you have with iced tea. You could start a whole new trend in the UK. Remember, keep an open-mind. It's ok to have "clouds in your coffee" but NOT in your hot tea. No, no, no...it just can't be right to put milk in hot tea. I'm sure there are several laws against it. Maybe Carolina can straighten you out. (Photo of beach scene near Whitehaven, UK, courtesy of Alistair, used without his permission :-)

If you've read this far, thanks for allowing me to vent. My heart feels better. It's hardly skipped a beat in an hour or two. Must be time for more coffee, huh?

One more thing...Daddy - happy almost birthday (24 January). You may be coming up on 82, but you don't act a day over 28, transposed numbers aside. WE love you and look forward to another year of your being the smart ass you are. I mean that in the best way possible. I want to be just like you when I [don't] grow up.

If you want to send my Daddy "Happy Birthday!" wishes, you may e-mail him at: barbecook@aol.com. He's a very special person. If you know him, you know that - if you don't know him, for gosh sakes, don't judge him based on how I turned out! Really, he did the best he could! :-) I'm certain it all goes back to the "nature vs. nurture" debate. He loves to receive e-mail. And I love him.

11 January 2007

An unexpected gift...

Today, work was a really bad rollercoaster ride. No question, this was a frustrating day and it only got more daunting as the day wore on but somewhere around 3:00 PM, a delivery man came through the door armed with a beautiful bouquet of daisies and a box of chocolates. I was sure that I knew when everyone's birthday was and wondered who was getting a treat and why. I was quite surprised to discover these flowers and chocolates were for me. I was even more stunned to discover they were a stunning gift from someone in the UK. (Thank you Mr. N!)

Three years ago tonight, I took my last drink and, like the crazy blond I am, I did it with style or, so I'm told. I don't really remember that much about the evening. I'm kind of grateful that I don't. Tomorrow will mark three years of sobriety but, more than anything, it's three years of a "new and improved" life. It can't be overstated that the events of three years ago tonight, without one doubt in my mind, literally saved my life.

Life since 12 January 2004 hasn't been without mistakes, goofs and a few unbelievably stupid moves - I've made a few really questionable choices and I've definitely done some very silly things. But if you took every stupid thing I've done in the past three years and lumped them together, as long as what I've done has NOT included a glass of wine, I'm still be ahead of the game compared with where I was three years ago at this moment.

I'm sure there are a ton of mistakes in my future, and there will be things I do in the short term that, a few years from now, will probably cause me to shake my head and wonder, "What was I thinking?", but as long as those mistakes don't go by the name of "Merlot", "Shiraz" and "Pinot Grigio", I'll be fine, as will the mailboxes in my neighborhood.

Even after a really exasperating day, I honestly feel pretty good about life in general. The fact that a friend across the pond took the time to send good wishes in such a beautiful way, well, it would simply be wrong to complain. I have to say that overall, it's been a fascinating three years and, I'm happy to report that it turns out I never required alcohol to be silly and laugh at inappropriate moments. I guess some things just come naturally to me.

A huge word of thanks to the old friends who have stood by me these 36 months, and the new pals I've made along the way - people who have most definitely made my life much more interesting and crazy (Yes Vanessa, this means you! You too, Stephanie!).

I must say a heartfelt thanks for the steadfast love of my precious "not so little" kids, Katie and Justin, and my fantastic parents. I wouldn't be here without their love and unwavering belief in me - their conviction that I would be fine. When things got too serious and scary, they somehow made me laugh - even when I didn't think I could. My family, all four of them, literally loved me back to health. They really have loved me through all of the moments that have made up these past three years. I want them to know that I love them right back.

And of course, most of all, I really do have to thank God. God truly is the only reason that I am sitting here tonight, hands flying across the keyboard with a million thoughts coursing through my mind and a smile on my face. I'm not at all sure why I was given the chance to stick around, but I am so far beyond ecstatic that I was and trust me, I mean to make the most of it!

Blessings...in the past three years that word has taken on a very serious meaning for me. I find that I no longer cast that word about lightly. I really don't. In the past 3 years, I've been granted countless manifestations of that word. If you're reading this blog entry, there's a very good chance you may be one of them. (Unless, of course, you're one of the very few people I just can't stand and, fortunately, I can count those people on one hand. I'm sure they know who they are and surely they wouldn't be reading this in the first place. :-)

So as I lift my glass of unsweetened iced ginger lemon tea, I can only say a hearty, happy CHEERS!...from the bottom of my heart.

Here's to another dizzy year of unpredictable and zany sobriety. One day at a time, of course.

01 January 2007

PC Magazine/Princeton Review Top 20 Most Wired Campuses in the US

Top 10 Wired Colleges

PC Mag teams up with The Princeton Review to find the most connected, plugged-in, and high-tech campuses in the country.

Top 10 Wired Colleges

I had the pleasure of interviewing the deans of both Oklahoma University (#10) and US Military Academy aka West Point (#11) for the PC Magazine/Princeton Review spread of the Top 20 Most Wired Campuses. Special thanks to Loretta Early, Associate VP of IT at OU, Col Curtis Carver, Vice-Dean for Resources, OU student Neda Nikpoor and West Point Cadet Aaron Stark for taking the time to answer my questions and offering me everything I needed to write my respective profiles of two impressive institutions.

I couldn't help but note that it was the story that appeared in "The Wilmington Star" discussing my recovery that literally made it possible for me to be in the position to write the stories I have been privileged to pen for PC Magazine in 2006.

Let me reiterate that it was not the result of luck, coincidence or serendipity - it's just another example of grace or, as I find myself saying more each day, "It's a God thing". There is absolutely no other reasonable explanation for it.

Happy 2007!!