28 October 2007

There Are Angels and Good Pirates Among Us...I Found THE STUD, Got a New (Pot) Rack, Welcome Home Justin & Get Well Soon, Katie!!!!

Updated 10:15 PM, EST, 28 October 2007...

On 19 August, I had an over due final lunch at Bluewater with what I not so affectionately refer to as a "bad pirate". Yesterday, I had lunch at the same restaurant, with someone I had corresponded with and would never have known unless I'd met that "bad pirate". Lunch with a "good pirate" is a wonderful thing and unquestionably the better choice. [Photo: Susie & Bobbi at Bluewater, Wrightville Beach, NC.]

Bobbi had visited my blog back in the summer and she'd sent me a note in my blog guest book. Her expression of good wishes was genuine at the time. She didn't quite understand how everything had come to pass in such a short span of time, something many others found difficult to digest as well, but she's a dreamer, a gifted artist, a sailor and she still maintains faith in miracles, so she accepted the rapidity of the relationship as perhaps being just that and, like so many others, she just hoped for the best.

There were miracles in progress - I survived several storms, not the least of which was T. S. Barry in the Abacos. Eventually, in the immortal words of Sting, "I was brought to my senses", but even in the madness and tumult of those almost four months, I collected a lot of precious gifts. I met one of them yesterday and she was just as I imagined - maybe even better.

Bobbi was right at home with my animals, immediately welcomed by my parents and I think we talked nonstop for hours. She arrived at 11:00 and left after six but only due to the fact that she had a long drive back to Raleigh, not because we ran out of things to talk about. If she'd stuck around, I'm sure we'd still be chatting!

It was uncanny how much we had in common and the many points our lives had intersected, even to the point of having met some of the same people. The similarities were astounding and if our visit yesterday would have had a soundtrack, it would have probably been the theme from "The Twilight Zone".

We sat outside at Bluewater and smiled as sailboats paraded forth following the opening of the drawbridge. We talked of sailing, books on sailing, and I listened in rapt attention as she described her own sailboat and her recent sailing adventures. I shared with her what I had come to love most about sailing - close-hauled. The quietness broken only by the sounds of slicing through the sea. We talked of the mystical nature, of how when one is sailing offshore, life changes and is distilled into only that which is happening at that moment on the water. We both agreed that whatever chaos is swirling onshore, the moment the anchor is weighed and the sails are unfurled, the detritus that can confound and annoy us on ordinary days, recedes right along with the sight of land as one heads for the open water. Sailing is, to me at least, better than an "E" ticket and so many things that she shared about her sailing experiences were instantly familiar and recognizable to me and I know she understood my feelings and affection for all that is sailing. [Photo: Susie & Bobbi, Wilmington, NC.]

Bobbi fixed me with a look as we drank our second cup of coffee and then in a most serious tone said, "You do know it's an addiction, right? And you do know that you are afflicted. It's probably terminal.". I suspected as much, but it's always good to have a reputable second opinion. I think of boats constantly - real boats, not leaky, listing ones. When my friend Rick and I were crossing the bridge on our way over to the beach the other evening, we stopped and gazed out at all the boats anchored in the sound. I wistfully imagined being on one of those boats, the cozy warmth of the golden light being emitted through the port lights, the soft sounds of the wavelets lapping the fiberglass and the gentle sway courtesy of the wind across the water. It's all so irresistibly elemental, quiet and very spiritual.

Thank God my love for those things weren't extinguished or even slightly diminished by a series of unfortunate events at the hands of what Barney Fife could only term, "A NUT!".

As we were taking leave of our table, Bobbi slipped her hand in her purse and pulled out something with a ribbon tied around it. She handed it to me and I broke into smile. It was a clamshell, hand-painted with a setting sun and a sailboat. She suggested I untie the ribbon and open the shell. Taking her suggestion, because she is a good pirate, I opened the shell and found a floating key chain with Parker on it. I was told that not if, but when I finally get a sailboat of my own, I would be prepared and have a key chain ready and waiting. I broke into a grin and carefully placed it in my purse, grateful for the beautiful artwork, the "hope" attached to an empty key chain and, best of all, thankful that out of my messy and, at times, dangerous summer, I'd made what already feels like a good friend under the most unlikely of circumstances.

Thank you, Bobbi! What a gift of a day.

As Bobbi and I were sitting in my office talking, an e-mail came in as if right on cue. It was from another newfound friend, also courtesy of this past summer of trials, tropics and errors. My Texan friend, Sheri, had been visiting friends in Greensboro this past week and I dearly wish we could have met in person, but it just didn't work out (this time). Sheri, thanks for writing and your comments on the attachment I sent you Friday Night were hilarious. I opened your e-mail up with Bobbi sitting right beside me and we both had a good laugh. Next time, we have to meet up!

And in other news, my son, Justin, left Friday for a trip to New York City where he met up with his Dad, who flew in from Texas, and they both joined Katie for a fun weekend in Manhattan. We've missed Justin around here, but were delighted the three of them had this special opportunity to hang out together. I can't wait to hear all about the trip and hopefully there will be some great photos - I reminded Justin about fifty times to take his camera. He will return home later this evening and I'm sure he will be tired but very happy after hanging out with Katie and their Dad. [Photo: Tim & Justin in NYC. Taken by Katie Parker.]

UPDATED: 9:44 PM 28 October 2007. Dateline: Wilmington, NC.

I Have A New Rack and Found a Stud! (How's that for a teaser?)

Justin returned safe and sound from his trip AND (this is for your benefit R.E.), I did it!!!!!! Yes I did! I'd been wanting a hanging pot rack for over the island in my kitchen. However, have you priced those things lately? Well, I had so this set me on a quest to find a DIY (Do It Yourself) version and I found a kicky one on, what else, someone's blog!

I followed the recipe (it was a kitchen accessory, after all), and removed the tire from the wheel of a bicycle, scrubbed it, spray painted it, went to Lowe's Home Improvement for the hardware, where I was assisted by a very sweet and dedicated young man, came home and then realized that I needed to hit pay dirt when it came to the installation...(i.e., I needed to hit a stud first time around. This summer, my stud-finding radar was way, way off - totally missed anything close to a target.).

I was talking to a friend and he offered me the use of his which I appreciated very much but, well, I was ready to hang the thing up and we all know how impatient I can be when I have it in my mind to do something - can I hear an "AMEN!" to that Rick? Even though I will be seeing this friend tomorrow night because he's consented to go see "Dan, In Real Life" (the movie, not that 'Ol Dan'), I knew for certain I wouldn't be able to wait until tomorrow night to see my pot rack hanging in all it's black, shiny glory. What to do?

Well, what I did was take a very fine, long hat pin and pierce the ceiling to see if a stud was where I suspected it to be. Guess what. It was! My Dad and I had quite a time removing the bolt from the wheel so we could insert the eye bolt, but with two pair of pipe wrenches, we did it, by golly. I then climbed up on the island and, holding my breath and saying a prayer that I had, in fact, found a stud, I bravely drilled a very large hole and, voila, I hit sawdust! Just what I wanted to find! I had, in fact, FOUND A STUD!!!!

I then screwed in the 8" eye-bolt, attached two large "S" hooks and then ceremoniously hung my project. Nothing fell! Before long, I had the cabinet emptied of pots and frying pans and about five minutes after it was complete, Justin arrived home from Raleigh Airport. He was rather impressed with my handiwork. I took a deep, long bow and gave him a big, hearty hug.

I know, I know, I could have saved the pot rack story for another day, but I had to write about it because it is DONE! I wonder if my "stud finder" is working now? This could be good news all the way around, the least of which has to do with pots and pans.

"Oopsie Daisy, Celia"

One more thing, you need to read Celia Rivenbark's latest column. I read it as I was waiting for my Dad to find the pipe wrenches and I laughed myself silly. Fortunately, I didn't have any trouble installing the @#$%&*& pot rack or I would have possibly gotten arrested like the lady in Scranton, Celia wrote about. If you want a good laugh, check it out. Another note about Celia - she was on "Good Morning America" yesterday. Celia - we need to do lunch soon so I can get your autograph and sell it on ebay.

Justin is downstairs in the middle of carving two very LARGE pumpkins he purchased before he left for NYC. It's chilly outside and supposed to dip down into the 40's tomorrow night. Can a fire in the wood stove be far behind? Rick, I hope you finish building that firewood rack soonish. I'm dying to say, "Wow, you've got a nice rack!". Hey, come to think of it, I guess I have a nice rack, now...get your mind out of the gutter...I'm talking about my new pot rack.

Oh, and I got a new PC Magazine assignment...and a new deadline! YIPPEE!!!!!!!!!!!! I have seriously missed having deadlines...go figure!

Katie - keep using the Vick's and drink rivers of hot tea. Feel better soon, please. We love you.

More later...

25 October 2007

Taking Things With a Grain of Sea Salt...Separating the Facts From Fiction

"It is only with the heart that can see rightly..." Antoine Saint-Exupery.

But it's still a good idea to keep your eyes open.

Every morning I get an e-mailed meditation courtesy of Hazelden. It's interesting how often these meditations seem to present a particular concept that I need to employ in my life. They're short, but they always leave me with new avenues to explore as I go about my day.

"Today's Gift" had this particular paragraph and the above referenced quote: When we see with our hearts, our responses to the turmoil around us, the fighting children, the traffic snarls, the angry lovers, will be soft acceptance. When our hearts guide the action we can accept those things we cannot change, and change those we can. And the heart, as the seat of all wisdom, will always know the difference.

It was good for me to read "Today's Gift" because my heart, along with my mind, have been been reliving a particularly unpleasant episode that occured on June 2nd - specifically, sailing through Tropical Storm Barry. I know I've written about that storm, but not in the fine detail that I read about it when someone who had "crewed" for the erstwhile captain a few times - once resulting in a voyage she's quite likely never to forget - alerted me that an essay had been posted on the experience, and yes, that essay was found on the illustrious ragbagger website - the one owned by the person I was engaged to this past summer. The essay can be found here. "of storms and other blessings"

I read it and in doing so I relived those twelve harrowing hours to the point it made me shiver and left me feeling like I had dodged a bullet who's path I was completely clueless as to having been positioned in. It haunted me. The reliving of the storm, remembering the noise of the flogging remnants of the sail that was reduced to tatters courtesy of T.S. Barry's 60 knot winds and shivering in the cockpit as waves rhythmically assaulted me as I sat in a corner wondering if the next one would result in my imminent demise, knowing I was powerless to do anything to prevent it.

First of all, I appreciate the "accolades" offered to me in the essay for having an "intuitive hand on the helm" and we can both thank God for my "cool head in the storm". I take no credit for either. I loved sailing, even after that awful day and I love it still. It spoke to something deep inside me. Maybe the Aquarian part of me but it was probably borne of my profound love of the ocean. I loved sailing from the first moment I was on the water, no question about that.

But about that storm...I try not to, but I still come back to this one burning question: "What the h*ll were you thinking, sir?".

When I wasn't pondering how I might survive, I had mental images of my family huddled around "The Weather Channel", not knowing if the storm was being broadcast in all it's glory, back in the states. Wondering if Jim Cantore was giving a "play by play" of all I was living through was actually more agonizing than the pitch and roll of the small sailboat that was being pelted from all directions by wind, waves and horizontal rains that stung my salt water saturated skin. I dearly hoped my dear family had no idea what my Saturday was like that day and my heart ached imagining their concern and fear.

Perhaps Neptune laughed, but I can promise you that for a woman who tries very hard and with great dedication to find something funny in the most absurd of situations, I couldn't for the life of me find anything to laugh about in our tangle with that tropical storm or the swim to the island 3 miles away on the first day of our sail or any number of other situations that you exhibited no regard for safety and sensibility. It was just about the most unfunny situation imaginable. I value my life. I wanted to live to see my kids, parents and friends again. I wanted to see my future grandchildren, my home, and so many people and animals who define that word for me. No, I couldn't find anything to elicit the slightest smile or faintest chuckle. Truth be told, I don't think Neptune would have found any of it funny, either. I'm betting Neptune was shaking his head, genuinely puzzled, like the sailors safely tucked in slips at the marina.

Now, I'm not one to promote the writings of a person I have no affection or any shred of respect for, and I'm hesitant to publish a link to this person's website because, to be honest, the beginning of this "essay" strikes me as generously fictitious and self-aggrandizing. If he finds being a father "the best fun I've ever had", he certainly never exhibited any signs of it during my four month relationship with him. I would be more than bereft if my kids didn't have any contact with me for that period of time. I can't imagine such a situation and I certainly wouldn't be sailing on the high seas, laughing my way all over the Abacos, but everyone is different, I guess. My family comprises what is best in my life - they always have and always will. I left for my flight to Marsh Harbor with hugs of love and good wishes from my kids and parents and I returned to warm embraces nine days later. I would never have made the ill-fated journey without their knowledge and approval. Not for one-second.

If invited (or uninvited) to choose one word to express my opinion on the the behavior I witnessed over time and with horrifying repetition, I would choose "reckless". Pure, unadulterated and unapologetic recklessness and a terrifying disregard for safety. Not attributes one desires in a captain.

I may have exhibited calm, but make no mistake, my eyes were wide-open. I also know, as most everyone does, that you are at a decided disadvantage when disrespecting the power of the ocean. It's bigger and more powerful than we are and, dare I say, it simply doesn't care if you're an attorney. Makes no difference. Did they not clue you into that fact in "captain college" or "skipper school"?

Before I set sail with this man, I was informed (by him) how he had scored highest on his tests for certification as a charter boat captain and he even proffered a copy of his (expired) captain's license. I assumed those facts implied practical ability and I was wrong in my assumptions. There's a vast divide between sailing through a test with flying colors and actually applying the principles of sailing in practical terms. An impressive test score doesn't count for much if the captain has an ego the size of Texas and the imperiled decision-making to go right along with it. This captain proved time and again - the man with the highest score nearly landed us at the bottom of the sea. A prudent, cautious man, even one "running away from a bad marriage" would have turned back when the storm changed, but this was not a prudent, cautious man.

The boat was marginally sea-worthy. Unfortunately, the captain was "sea-worthless", and that's the bottom line.

It's no surprise at all, to me, that this man lays part of the blame for the situation we found ourselves in at the hands of the fishing boat skipper he ascertained the informal weather forecast from the morning we set out, and that's not fair. That is simply not right, but it's typical. Every error this captain commits is somehow the result of someone else's mistake. The truth is, that the captain needs to learn something about owning his mistakes and admitting them, taking full responsibility. His failed marriage, the failed relationship with his kids, and failed relationships with those who went before me, were always assigned as being "the other party's" fault - it was a common theme - but not a reputable one.

I returned from that sailing trip internally shaken and confused. My life had been placed in danger and I wasn't consulted or informed of what might happen prior to June 2nd. Seeds of doubt had been planted during that fateful Saturday and they grew with each passing day. I was clueless about sailing, a true novice in every sense of the word. I made the mistake of casting my fortunes and, unfortunately, placed my safety in the hands of someone who had no issues with tossing all manner of caution to the wind, even if those winds blew from every point on the compass and at a velocity of 60 knots.

I remember when we finally, blessedly crawled into West End, the look of confusion on the mass of sailors waiting to welcome us and the unrelenting question heard over and over was, "What were you doing out there in that weather??". The captain summarily dismissed such inquiries and seemed annoyed at the repetition with which we heard that query over and over as we walked around the marina at Old Bahama Bay. I became increasingly, albeit privately, haunted by that question. I didn't have an answer and he never offered much of one to them or to me.

Privately, when I would engage in conversations with these fellow sailors, I couldn't help but realize that they had sat that same storm out safely in port. They were aware of it. They knew of its existence. I would try and quiet myself and buy into the belief that the good captain couldn't help it. He couldn't know. There was no way he would have set out that fateful morning knowing we would be faced with those sea conditions. No one would be that crazy and purposefully place our lives in such danger. Surely no one would do that, right?

"You did have on a personal flotation device the entire time, right? You had your harness tethered didn't you?", several people in the marina would ask. Well, um, no, I didn't. Not at all. Then I would wonder, "Why didn't he hand me a PFD?". Lifelines? At the time, I had no idea about harnesses and lifelines. I didn't know I should have been TETHERED to a LIFELINE because it was never, ever mentioned. It wasn't offered. Why were there no safety precautions? As captain, isn't it sort of assumed you protect your crew? I was the ONLY crew so how was it that I didn't merit a PFD????? A harness? Was I overlooked? I WAS the crew.

But the fact is, he should have known. When we left our anchorage that morning to sail for West End, the sky was gray and ominous and even the novice that is me, knew something didn't feel right. I don't recall the patches of blue sky he alludes to in his essay. My recollections of the morning before we weighed anchor were of atmospheric conditions that were in turmoil and certainly not conducive to a clear day of sailing.

I had no idea that we would be sailing out of sight of land or that I would close the day out having experienced what is easily the closest to death I've ever been. I was bruised, exhausted, hungry and filled with anxiety.As soon as the hook was dropped, the captain headed for bed and I spent the evening quietly drinking jasmine tea, cleaning up the sloppy mess the storm had made of the cabin, and walking out to the cockpit and searching the sea for hope in the slowly clearing sky. There were a few stars available that night and, though the sea was still angry, you could feel her mood shifting and settling down. I remember sitting out there alone for hours, trying to understand what I had just lived through. I looked at my arms and legs and torso and realized there were very few inches on my person that weren't bruised or nicked. Mostly, I worked on my mind and told myself it was a fluke, unavoidable and that probably everyone sails through conditions such as this from time to time. I had no yard stick by which to measure what I'd been through.

Only later, and not much later, mostly from hanging out in Oriental this past July, I would learn that most sailors don't encounter the conditions I unwittingly found myself in one month earlier. Most people never see 60 knot winds in foreign waters. The ones who do sometimes don't live to talk about it.

I had to adjust my mental attitude because my "adventure" was hardly finished. I still had the Gulf Stream to cross and while I'd heard a few sea stories from people on the boisterous and unpredictable nature of that river in the sea, I could only wonder if that passage would mimic what I'd just been through. I dearly hoped it would not - oh how I hoped it wouldn't be ANYTHING like the 12 hours I'd just spent being tossed about like a rag doll. But again, I didn't know. I'd never been through any of this before and when you have nothing to measure something against, you just hope for the best and try and remain calm. You tell yourself, "this is normal". And for a time, you buy into it because it's just the best you can do.

Of course, now I look back at that day now and I feel gratitude directed toward God, for allowing me to survive, and anger and frustration that any man's ego could allow him to thumb his nose at the sea with a brand of arrogance I'd never encountered, and allow his boat (and crew!) to be caught up in such dire straits. Yes, I learned a lot about myself, employed coping mechanisms I wasn't even aware I was in possession of, and I survived without a single fit of hysteria or panic - purely by the Grace of God.

The most intriguing part of remaining calm is that I have had panic disorder since the day my sister died when I was 13. I'm talking full-blown, hyperventilating, heart palpitating, dizzying panic attacks that can randomly occur when engaged in the most benign of pursuits. I KNOW how to panic, make no mistake about it. And yet, I can only credit God with preventing even the tiniest hint of those terrifying symptoms to arise during that tumultuous sail on June 2nd. In my mind, that's nothing short of a miracle and I know deep within my marrow that God truly sailed with me on that tiny, tossed sailboat that first Saturday in June. There is no other explanation for it. I felt God with me that day. I prayed like I've never prayed in my life and God was right with me and I experienced the essence of what is called the "peace that passes all understanding". It was one of the most spiritual experiences in my life and should I ever find myself doubting Divine Intervention, I need only recall that day on that ocean in that storm. I know it's real. I lived it.

And I also know, in time, the same God who kept me calm in that storm, will allow me to find a way to let go of the anger that I feel at times, toward the man who placed me in "harm's way". I'm human. I'm not there yet. I struggle with it. I know progress is being made - the anger softens and I remind myself that the man (I can't use the term gentleman because frankly, I know too much) who steered us in the path of that storm has, let us call them, "issues". Personally, I don't believe that he'll ever seek help or even acknowledge the presence of insanity that swirls inside of him. That's simply my opinion based on what I observed and experienced. I can't do anything about any of it but wish him the best and I try hard to sincerely feel that way but, again, I still deal with a great deal of anger directed squarely at him because I almost lost my life courtesy of his arrogance and misdirection.

My experience on that boat and my feelings aren't singular in nature because I've heard from others who have had similar voyages under his direction. These women found themselves on raging seas (though not of a tropical storm variety - thank God!), completely ill-suited to sailing offshore, and they also felt afraid and similarly in danger because the captain's ego overpowered any common sense that would have directed a more humble, reasonable and sound man. Two of them were nearly overdosed on Dramamine and bullied into taking it not per the directions on the label, but as he prescribed which was potentially dangerous. For some reason, he never made the attempt to dose me with Dramamine but I wouldn't have complied because even in the midst of my ill-advised infatuation, I would never take anything prescribed by a lawyer. I hadn't completely lost my marbles! No, I just set sail for parts unknown with a nut - which proves hands down that I'm hardly brilliant and I most certainly don't always make the best decisions.

If you read his essay on "Storms and Other Blessings", I warn you that this is a man who readily admits to writing in a style suited for the likes of the deceased former president, "Woodrow Wilson", and it's a bit on the superfluous, flowery side and, as the captain once reported, he doesn't write for "real people". To be honest, the style is reminiscent of someone trying to mix a "wholesome folksiness" within a dry, stiff framework more suited to writing an amendment to the constitution (of a country I wouldn't want to reside in IF he was in charge of writing anything attached to said constitution) rather than an engaging, page-turning tale - but that's just me and everyone has their own favored literary style. Suffice it to say, I'm not impressed.

I personally found the beginning of the story about "Master Kip" segueing uneasily into the tale of Tropical Storm Barry to be a disjointed meld - kind of like when you have an almost finished puzzle and the final one or two pieces left to place, you discover that in order to make them fit you must aggressively twist and push in order to achieve the necessary interlock and yes, you may have a completed puzzle, but then you have to hope that onlookers won't "notice" that not all the pieces quite fit the way they're supposed to when the puzzle is worked the way it's intended.

What a metaphorical example of my four months this past summer. The puzzle pieces ddn't fit right and it looked askew. Nothing interlocked the way it was suppose to - the way it was intended.

Something about the essay is off but, again, I'm not a "critical first reader" and I'm sure my assessment would be labeled "deconstructive criticism". So be it. I stand behind it. I'm entitled to my opinion. Then again, the captain's literary style sort of befits a man who isn't at all comfortable in his own skin and I don't believe for one-second that he's honestly ever felt comfortable in his skin for more than five minutes in his life. You may well find his style more literary-pleasing than I do. I guess I'm just one of those obstinate "real people" who enjoy nonfiction. I like it when I feel a writer is talking to me in a conversational style. His writings always felt more like homilies and there's nothing wrong with a good homily - I just prefer to receive mine in the sacred setting of a church, rather than read one bound in a book.

Oh, and there's a video attached to the site as well. I don't advise lunch before viewing. Then again, I know the guy. The "Gypsy Moon" lives again, I just fear for whoever takes to the seas under the current administration. I know one thing, my own experience with T.S. Barry aboard the Gypsy Moon most definitely brought me "nearer my God to Thee.".

As for the "acceptance" alluded to in today's meditation at the beginning of this post, I'm seriously working on it. I want to peacefully put this episode behind me, but it's still fresh and there are days I am completely addled by the events that colored my summer of 2007. Hey, I managed surviving a tropical storm and a car wreck that totaled my car. The car wreck, in retrospect, wasn't nearly as difficult to understand and process. Another driver ran a red light and smashed into my car as I was making a left hand turn at an intersection. It was an accident. A mistake. It wasn't pre-meditated and I don't think for one-second that the woman assessed conditions and decided to plow right into the side of my PT Cruiser. She didn't know me and I certainly didn't know her. Yes, it was scary and frightening and I wouldn't ever want to relive it, but it was also so random.

Sailing aboard a 32 foot sailboat in the Abacos into a tropical storm with someone who supposedly had great volumes of skill and all manner of knowledge was not random. He did know me. Because of that, it was all just so much more personal and I still to this day can't understand how someone with such supposed knowledge and skill can act with what I can't help but term an "arrogant miscalculation" and no forethought of safety for his "crew" (me). I try to find answers or understand the thought processes that lead to the decision but, honestly, I'll probably never know. At some point, I know I'm going to have to let go of any hope for logic, and simply "accept" the fact that I can't change any of it. Acceptance is, in fact, an action and one that I am taking...one grateful day at a time.

And I am grateful - even to be around to try and figure out something that will ultimately prove impossible to understand. It's OK, and I'm getting there.

I got a note from my Dad a couple of nights ago after he read the epic, fiction-laced, "Of Storms and Other Blessings":

"Susan - Your Mom is reading a copy of this now.
We are THANKFUL you are HOME TONIGHT.....Love, Dad"

Me too, Daddy. Me too.

23 October 2007

The Cat On My Shoulder, "Extreme Makeover" Flies in from Florida, a Pirate Sails for Wilmington and a Beautiful New Star is Born in France...

Magellan keeps me on a short leash. If I look as if I'm slacking off or having too much fun, he reminds me I still have about 143 (rough, slightly over-inflated estimate) cabinets yet to cover in my Sherwin-Williams customized color. He's a tough cat task-master and, forgive me for being one of those "bragging parents" but he's growing into one of the most beautiful cats I've ever met, even if he is my "son". His markings are quite striking, as are his claws. I have the scratches to prove it! [Photo left: Susie & Magellan, 22 October 2007.]

It may be autumn here in the South but, blessedly, it still feels like summer. I'm LOVING it. The leaves are starting to change, but the warmth of the days deny that cold weather is waiting in the wings. Yes, we NEED rain and lots of it. Wilmington is dealing with a 20 plus inch deficit and they've implemented a fine for her citizens if caught engaging in such acts as washing the car, watering the lawn and filling the pool. I can't even remember the last good soaking we received. It's a pretty serious situation.

We've had no tropical weather at all this year, which usually dumps inches of rain on our shores, but the tropics haven't cooperated. One Wrightsville Beach "forecaster" I know had predicted a tropical storm of some sort at some point during the month of October, but he's reneged on his guesstimate and refuses to announce any prediction for the month of November. Actually, I had a bet with this forecaster that we wouldn't see any tropical storm formations, but I can't remember what was at stake nor, conveniently, can he. I need to start writing this stuff down.

The aquarium is coming along well. It's now got about fifteen tropical fish and two crayfish happily calling the place home. It looks beautiful and Justin and I have enjoyed the aqua-scaping! The space is much more interesting than when it was an aviary, and requires MUCH LESS WORK! [Photo right: Aquarium replaces aviary - more interesting and less work!]

I am still heavily engaged in redecorating the kitchen and I'm over halfway finished with the cabinets, but it occurred to me that there would be no getting around the fact that the living room would look nondescript next to the glow emanating from the colors freshly applied to the kitchen walls and cabinets. The real kicker being that my living room boasts a 2o foot plus vaulted ceiling. There's not that much to be painted because it contains a lot of exposed brick, but the wall area there is, screams for help in the form of yellow. What to do?

Funny you should ask. My long-suffering, good friend Billie called me Sunday Afternoon just to check on me and see how things were going. I'm sure he's already regretting his decision to call but it's too late Billie. It's just too, too late. [Photo left: Susie & Magellan, 22 October 2007.]

Billie is an accomplished man, talented, a licensed pilot and has impossibly bad timing (good for me, though). Not to mention - he's very, very tall and resourceful. He also has vacation leftover as we didn't use it all when he graciously invited Katie, Justin, Stephanie and me to join him in the Outer Banks this past May. After much lobbying and cajoling on my part, I told him we'd have a great time if he'd fly up and hang out with me as we tiled counter tops, painted living room walls and, my real ace in the hole, I mentioned that my mother was still a fabulous cook. I think that did the trick. He said I gave him something to think about.

On Monday, he sent me something to read about - his airline reservations. I love a man who just accepts his fate and falls into line. Billie did both. He will arrive 1 November and stay until the 5th. I'm already planning how much work I intend to get out of him. Sure, I'll take him to the beach, let him drive my car and we might even go fishing, but this will be a working holiday for the old guy (he turned 50 this past September, but we're not supposed to talk about it). I'm sure he can come up with a plan to reach those 20 foot walls. I know he must be sitting down there in Florida, staring out from his ocean front condo, shaking his head and muttering to himself, "How did I get talked into this?". Just luck, Billie. Pure, dumb luck. :-) [Photo above right: Justin, Stephanie and Billie this past May on the Outer Banks.]

This weekend will be a busy one. My son heads for NYC to join his Dad and Katie for a long weekend of family bonding. I'm sure the three of them will have a great time.

My NYC friend, Glen, who works at some "Random House", sent me the coolest commercial and case for visiting NYC. Click here: VISIT NYC! Yes, it made me homesick for a city I don't even belong to, but always have a fine time hanging out in...(Thanks Glen - Like I don't already want to come up???).

It will be interesting for me as well. I will finally meet, in person, my Raleigh friend - the good pirate Bobbi! I "met" her, via e-mail, when I was engaged to Captain Dork earlier this summer. We exchanged a few e-mails and, after the disengagement, we compared notes and found out he was more sick and twisted than either of us imagined (she has better stories than I do!). She was much to smart to ever date the scally wag, but she did crew for him a few times and one particular cruise had all the makings of a horror flick ("Dead Calm"). I'm sure it will be a lively, fun lunch we enjoy this weekend and I imagine we'll both have more in common than we suspect. [Photo left: Billie & Susie, May 2007, Avon, NC.]

Finally, France has a new citizen and Michel is the proud grandfather of a new baby girl. His wonderful son Charles and daughter-in-law Dorothee, became proud parents to a beautiful baby girl, now known as Pauline. Congratulations to the entire LeSeac'h Family! Michel, you beat me. I still just have "grand cats". Just think, Michel, one year ago we were bopping all over Manhattan and a year later, you're a grandpa! [Photo above right: Charles and Pauline, France.]

Speaking of "grand cats", I was dismayed to see a recent post on Katie's blog, and a very unbecoming photo of Boo Radley. Magellan laughed himself silly, but I thought it was a bit "low brow". Check it out - I left a comment, of course. Katie would expect no less.

18 October 2007

The Life Aquatic...Colbert Announces His Long-Overdue Candidacy and Sherwin-Williams Covers My World

It's been a nice week. A calm week. A week of sending out submissions and resumes and the clarity that comes with considering options, wants, desires and fish. Yes, fish!

The aviary is no more. Fish are swimming in the space where birds formerly flew. It's a nice change, much quieter and I love being close to water, be it the ocean, a swimming pool or even an aquarium.

I'm still loving tending the "home fires" and enjoying every minute of it. With the walls finished in the lovely warm shade of "Radiance", the cabinets have now elicited my attention. I'll post some photos of them when they are finished - I have a lot of cabinets so it won't be today or tomorrow, but I'm making great progress. I'm reminded by my friends that it IS "progress, not perfection". Progress is easily attainable. Perfection is an impossibility and chasing it is an exercise in pointless futility. I know this, and still sometimes I get tripped up by the illusion of it.

Monday found me lunching with my friend Jimi. Artisan Cafe seems to be our new "hang out" and the great food and eclectic ambiance seems to fuel our creativity. Monday Night I attended a great meeting among good friends and, afterward, had a very delicious dinner with my friend David. He treated me to a fine meal at Laterna, a Mediterranean Restaurant with fantastic food. I enjoyed a beautiful salad and the spanikopita was not to be missed. Thanks, David, for the good company, interesting conversation and also for allowing me to vent just a little, and the Bruce Springsteen CD collection! I know you're working hard to convert me.

Tuesday, my son invited me to lunch. We found ourselves at Henry's (surprise!) and had a wonderful time.

After lunch, Justin and I decided to throw ourselves into setting up the aquarium, selecting plants and, finally, filling it with 55 gallons of water and hoping for the best! I hadn't used this aquarium in several years so I wasn't certain of it's sturdiness but, fortunately, as Justin and I held our collective breath when filling it the tank blessedly held water and all of that held great promise for the possibility of fish in our immediate future.

Wednesday, I met yet again with my partner-in-crime, Jimi, for another lunch but this time, we met up at "Flaming Amy's" and it was, as always, the best Mexican food in town. I had the taco platter and Jimi had, well, I'm not sure what Jimi had and I don't even think Jimi knew what he had, but he reports it was great. It was a quick lunch - he had lawyer stuff to attend to and I had to go fish for, well, fish! I came home with a few mollies and swordtails and I figured it would be a safe bet to go with cheap fish, not knowing the state of my water chemistry. As of this writing, late Thursday Afternoon, I'm happy to report we haven't lost a fish yet . These poor fish are consigned to being guinea pigs but they seem to be doing, well, swimmingly!

Earlier this afternoon, Justin, in considering matters of aquascape, went to Pets Plus and came home with a replica of a broken down ship - he christened it "The Andrea Gail", from "The Perfect Storm" and we're hoping "fish will gather again for the Andrea Gail" and remain healthy and lively. He also bought a cannon statue for the other side of the aquarium and it looks pretty cool. In addition, he added some kind of large gold fish and two crayfish.

It's actually been a lot of fun transforming an aviary into a space for an aquarium. Justin and I were musing about all of the animals that had, at one time or another, called that 55 gallon tank "home". We could readily recollect - a ball python, a pair of chinchillas, a Sulcata Tortoise, a marine tank (salt water fish - not a branch of the US Military), a pair of chameleons who's courtship culminated in the laying of eggs back in 2000 and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few creatures. We've had a wide and varied clutch of critters in our day. And now we have freshwater fish...the tradition continues.

Finally, we sat back and watched as the huge gold fish looking specimen found his way around the tank. The mollies and swordtails look very diminutive next to this new giant, but even with the addition of the cannon (A Civil War Motif?), there have been no reported skirmishes. Perhaps an atmosphere of detente has spread through the tank. Let us hope it remains this way.

In a nation that sits in rapt attention, poised on the edge of its seat and mesmerized by the latest antics of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and considers their rehab romps as "hard news", electing the "class clown" as "commander-in-chief" seems absurdly apropos, and why not? We allow pirates to practice law, record songs centering on nonexistent pies and self-publish books of purely made up self-righteous whimsy, sailing around the Neuse River clad in nothing more than a smug, self-serving smile, so who better to lead the lot of us into the next four years than a man who at least owns up to his own gags and admits it's all pure folly? I respect that he's honest about where he's coming from and that alone is a refreshing breath of air.

I was thrilled to learn that Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Nation), has tossed his funny hat into the crazy presidential ring. Now, this is a candidate I can whole-heartedly support. Why? Because at least he's letting the rest of us in on the gag. The other candidates pretend to be serious and honest, whereas Colbert doesn't make such a promise because he knows he can't possibly keep it - and there is a "truthiness" in that he's NOT serious and IS funny.

Running as a "favorite son" of South Carolina, on both a Republican and Democratic platform, (aren't they all?), it's nice to be "in on the joke" from the beginning whereas the other candidates don't afford us that decency. There is some kind of skewed integrity about the whole thing. I'm ashamed to say I've become so cynical about politics and candidates that I can't really see why Colbert wouldn't be at least as formidable than the line-up we currently have. We're almost guaranteed to laugh more, and that's healthy. He'd be far more entertaining and, again, at least we "know" where he's coming from.

I for darn sure would vote for Stephen Colbert over Hilary, Obama, Edwards, Fred Thompson and probably even Guiliani, because I really don't like his wife and none of those "also rans" make me laugh, smile. or believe the first word that comes out of their nonstop talking heads. No question about it - Colbert comes attached with a better team of comedic writers and the rest of them could take a few lessons, in my humble opinion. Lighten up, I say. I'd definitely attend a Colbert Rally. Not only can we laugh at Stephen Colbert, but we're afforded the opportunity to laugh with him. Maybe he's exactly what America needs.

One thing about it - voting for Stephen Colbert for president would make far more sense than being engaged to a pirate. Oh my gosh, I am becoming sensible!

"Asking Sherwin-Williams", is a Very Smart Move!

And a word about Sherwin-Williams. I LOVE that establishment. Those guys have been patient and inexhaustible stores of knowledge in my painting adventures of late. They're suggestions have been extremely creative and customized to my projects. I've never gotten that brand of attention and professional know-how at Lowe's or any other store, for that matter. These SW types know their stuff and they're not too busy to understand that while it might just be a small, typical DIY job to anyone else, it's MY kitchen and it means something to me. Rock on, SW!

When I was trying to determine which shade of yellow to ply my kitchen walls with, Chris suggested an even better tint and when I went back in for ideas about what to do with my cabinets, the professionals BEHIND the counter customized a shade to compliment my walls and floor. Thanks guys! I can't say enough positives about the College Road Sherwin-Williams and I can promise you that any paint I buy from this point forward, will be purchased from those gentlemen at that store.

14 October 2007

A Brushstroke of "Radiance", ENOUGH With The AARP Commercials and Home By Another Way...

"So scared of getting older,
I'm only good at being young.
So I play the numbers game

To find way to say that life has just begun.

Had a talk with my old man,

Said 'help me understand'.

He said turn sixty-eight

You renegotiate

Don't stop this train,

Don't for a change the place you're in
And don't think I couldn't ever understand

I tried my hand

John, honestly
We'll never stop this train."

~ John Mayer, "Stop This Train"

(Click below - if you're going to suffer through this post, you might as well listen to this song...)

The old folks returned yesterday. They had a great time, absolutely wonderful. I was grateful for that and even more pleased to see them return to the mother ship.

It was a busy week and I stayed well-fed thanks to my wonderful friends. I certainly didn't go hungry and no, Katie, I didn't lose any weight. I did OK down here in the deep South, with a little help from my friends, of course.

Now, what do I do when I'm left to my own devices? I paint and I write. I did a lot of both. One project is finished (painting) and the other most likely never will be - it's a never-ending story and that's OK. (It's a tradition, right Katie?).

Oh, I am such a product and a direct result of a quirky upbringing and without a doubt, the quintessential embodiment of Aquarius...Blame it on the stars, I say. I have no defense - I was born right smack dab in the middle of the sign and it suits me. I make no apologies. :-)

This past week, I caught up with friends. I went to my home group meeting on Monday Evening and after that, I lassoed my friend Mitch and we went to see "The Heartbreak Kid", and we laughed. We shamelessly laughed and ate popcorn and drank really large cokes. Mitch was temporarily disconsolate when he discovered they didn't have some specific candy at the theatre, and I thought for a moment I might have a brewing tantrum on my hands, but he bucked up and pulled it together and didn't create "much" of a scene.

The movie was funny and silly and filled with sophomoric pranks as any good Farrelly Brothers film is. It wasn't a movie I'd ever go to with a date because I'm sure it wouldn't speak well of me given the scenes I laughed at most, but Mitch is like a brother and we certainly don't work to impress each other. We just hang out. In fact, as we were walking to our cars after the movie, he was telling me about this one woman he found attractive and extolling the virtues of her beauty and then he said something that stopped me dead in my tracks..."And she's got a rack on her!". I just looked at him and said, "Tell me you didn't just say that.". He just laughed even harder and said, "Well, she does!". I just shook my head and giggled some more. I felt like "one of the guys" there for a second.

"Radiance" in a Brushstroke

I visited Sherwin-Williams. I emerged a few minutes later with a gallon of paint, known as the shade of "Radiance", and a lot of work ahead of me. This would be the perfect week to do it. My mom would be out of my kitchen, I could leave a mess without hearing about it, and it would be fresh and spiffy in time for the senior citizens arrival. I wanted to surprise them and I thought this was just the ticket.

In typical style, I started immediately even if, by now, immediately was 6:30 PM. I painted through two episodes of "I Love Lucy", four episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show", two episodes of "M*A*S*H", and then two more episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show". I got a lot done that first session (Tuesday) of playing Picasso on my walls.

In addition to painting, I took everything down from atop the cabinets and loaded it in the dishwasher. It had gathered a lot of dust in the time since the last painting. Justin walked into the kitchen just as I was taking the lid off a crock pot and gazing at four biscuits that had been placed in there, probably years ago, and had grown quite an impressive covering of mold. They were like rocks. Justin and I just looked at each other and wondered, who had put them in there and why? We had no clue and no time to play Perry Mason. I soaked the crockpot in antibacterial soap overnight and stuck the lid in the dishwasher.

The walls took two coats and the effects were transforming, not only on the walls, but the ambiance of the room. It warmed up the heretofore pastel pearl walls and gave it personality. I hate pastels. They always strike me as indecisive. They hint of a color but don't have the fortitude to carry it off. I love bold, primary colors. If you're going to be a swatch on the color wheel then, BE ONE! Do it!

Believe me, I picked a color known as "radiance" and it doesn't whisper anything. It's warm, sunny and cozy. It doesn't "hint" at all. It most certainly made the white woodwork stick out and look defining. I was very pleased with my choice. It was heart and home affirming, and it had my imprint all over it which was only fair, I had "radiance" all over my hands, a few places on my arms and legs, and I didn't mind. Painting is a lot like life - it's messy. It's supposed to be. I've never been adverse to messy. I embrace it and it loves me right back.

Wednesday Night I took the evening off - all work and no play makes life dull and that's not a good thing for anyone - it's like pastel paint, and should be avoided at all cost. My friend who lives on Wrightsville Beach invited me over for dinner. He's a wonderful cook and even better company so who was I to say no? Sure, sometimes it annoys me at how fast he knows the answers to the crosswords and Sudoku, but no one's perfect, right? He even had iced tea this time and allowed me to partake of two glasses! It most certainly was a welcome break from all that painting.

He was even prepared for another late season swim, but this time we stayed in the surf and just walked along the beach for a bit. It's always a good thing to see, smell and listen to the ocean and it was soothing looking up at the blanket of stars overhead. It was still, technically, warm enough for the water, but I was tired and just didn't go in this time. Later, I wished I'd been more bold but maybe another time. He noted that I was exhibiting signs of being "sensible". I wasn't quite sure how to take that, but it was a little concerning. I so rarely hear that word ascribed to me. I can't be sure it was anything resembling a compliment.

Thursday found me returning to the ladder with my trusty paintbrush in hand. Justin was kind enough to observe the places that looked as if they needed another coat, which was easier to detect in the daylight. In fact, it was determined, that the entire room would require two coats and there was just no getting around it. I was far to much invested in it to stop by now. Two coats it would be! Sometimes, you just have to commit and I did, without any reservations or regrets - what a rarity.

Now, it should be noted, that if you called me last week and your call was sent to voice mail, this wasn't me screening calls, as I'm known to do now and then, it's just that I was most likely balancing between the ladder and the counter and after getting up and down so much, I finally just let the phone ring and stayed on task. Otherwise, I'd only be half finished and I had a deadline. Pops and Granny had moved their date of arrival up one day and could now be expected on Saturday Afternoon. Knowing my mother would be aghast at the disarray, I had to buckle down and stick to it.

AARPUHLEEZE...Like I Need to Be Reminded of This?

During the Thursday Afternoon painting session, I had "Little House on the Prairie" for company and I loved that show when the kids were growing up and we'd endlessly watch Laura Ingalls Wilder grow up. It was like mashed potatoes (comfort viewing!).

I painted my way across the kitchen, as Pa and Ma Ingalls crossed the prairie. However, the commercials really played with my head. In between segments of "Little House", were all of these dang "AARP" commercials. After the first ten, I started to feel really old, noticed my knees popped and wondered if I might be catching arthritis. I mean, I'm less than six months away from turning 48 and the last thing I wanted to be reminded that I was horribly unprepared for retirement, the high cost of healthcare and how "folks over 50 still enjoy an active lifestyle". My gosh, I'm a hair's breath away from 50! If I hadn't been slapping such a warm and revitalizing color on my walls, I could easily have sunk into a funk over the fact that I'm not that far away from joining the "gray coalition". In fact, I think I stopped at one point and ran into the downstairs bathroom to examine my roots for gray hair. I'm sure it's beneath the peroxide line, and I didn't dare look too closely. Those commercials should be banned. Talk about a morale buster. Yes I'm in denial and I plan to remain there for as long as possible!

I took a break Thursday Afternoon and decided I had earned a trip to Smithfield's because the only thing to get one's mind off aging has to be chicken wings, cole slaw, hush puppies and sweet iced tea. It may not make me any younger, but it certainly diverts my attention! I didn't bother brushing my hair or changing clothes. I looked like someone who had slept in their clothes and popped awake and started painting first thing, which is exactly what I had done. My hair was sticking out everywhere, typically messy and with a mind of its own, and my sunglasses hid the fact that there was yellow paint adorning my face and I had no make-up on. Hey, I was only hitting the drive thru.

As I pulled out of Smithfield's with my gastronomical treasure, one of the older employees walked in front of me (I know most everyone who works there given the frequency with which I hit that place last winter) and he said, "OH my gosh, it's Meg Ryan!". Given that I had spent most of the morning and afternoon hearing about all of the medical maladies awaiting my advanced age, left wondering how long it would be until I had to call "Tom Crews" with "The Scooter Store" and place an order, this was a most dearly welcome compliment and I thought, mister, you have got to be kidding me (I knew how I looked), but if you think so, thanks for sharing. It may have been a mercy compliment, but so be it - I took it and ran with it.

After my wing-fest, I got right back to work and knocked out most of it by the end of the night. There was a lot of paint to scrub off my person, but I had managed to get more on the walls and that made me feel marginally successful.

When the Birds Fly the Coop, Think Fish...

During one of my breaks, I eyed what used to be my aviary and I had been trying to figure out what to do with that open framework that used to house finches and is visible from the downstairs living room as well as the loft upstairs, just outside my office. Once again, I have my Wrightsville Beach buddy to blame for my inspiration. I have gotten into more projects since I met him. First it was the inspiration of the woodwork in his beautiful home that got me scraping my own stairway and railing. Then it was the bold color of his kitchen that tantalized my senses, not to mention the flip-flop lights he has strung around the ceiling of the eating area and kitchen. Whimsical. Now, it's about fish.

A couple of weeks ago I was over there and he showed me the new baby black mollies in his 55 gallon aquarium. They were beautiful and instantly brought up memories of the aquariums in my past and there have been many aquariums in my past. I remembered how much I enjoyed mollies in particular. Eureka! I could transform the former aviary into a place for my 55 gallon aquarium which was currently housed amid about a thousand spider webs in my pool house! Yes! Brilliant! Perfect! Crap that's going to be a lot of work.

Green, Green Grass...

I talked to Justin about it later that night and he agreed to help me get the aquarium out, but didn't offer to clean it up for me. He had "mowing" on his mind. We couldn't let Granny and Pops return to an overgrown, neglected lawn. So I was on my own when it came time to scrub the thing down, but scrub it I did, early Friday Morning as Justin was firing up the lawn mower. Later in the day he helped me carry it upstairs and we placed it in the framed area. I'd always thought of a 55 gallon aquarium as a pretty decent-sized tank, until I placed it in there. My suddenly decent sized tank looked pretty small in that 72" open space, but never mind, with a few plants on either side, some flitting fish, it would work. So that's my NEXT project. Later today I'm heading to Lowe's for a few plants, and later on this week after the water has recycled itself, a few good fish. I'll probably keep it contained to mollies and swordtails. I think it will look perfect and goodness knows aquariums are much less trouble to keep than birds, plus, fish don't escape and fly around, taunting you as you try and woo them back into the cage. The cats will be just as entertained. I'm sure Magellan will spend hours licking his chops and trying to figure out a way to "fish".

Justin did a fantastic job on the lawn and really took his time, knowing that his labor would come under the close scrutiny of the perfectionistic and meticulous Barbe Cook. Justin paid attention to detail, no question, and I think he actually enjoyed it. It was funny listening to him sing to his iPod as he mowed row after row.

Surf's Up! Finding "The Perfect Wave" in an "Endless Summer...

By Friday Evening, I was ready for another break and my WB friend generously offered up his culinary skills once again. The only thing he requested was that I bring my copy of "Stranger Than Fiction" so we could watch it after dinner. Easy enough, right? Dinner was more impressive than anything I could order at a restaurant and the salad was almost too lovely to eat! After dinner, we headed for the den and I opened up to find that "Love, Actually", was in the "Stranger Than Fiction" DVD case. What the heck? I'm just coming to terms with Fall, and neither one of us were in the mood for a Christmas feature. What to do?

Fortunately, my friend offered up "The Endless Summer", a 1960's surfing movie that was more like a travelogue - so we settled down and watched these two surfing-addicted teenagers travel the world in search of "the perfect wave". We visited Hawaii, California, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and finally back to Hawaii. It was a great movie and I really enjoyed it. I couldn't believe how these guys balance on boards on giant waves, some of which looked as if they could swallow a person whole. The movie was shot before surfboards came attached with leashes which explained why these guys were always hyper-aware of where their boards landed after the ride.

Of course, all I could think of was how I'd love to sail to all of those places someday and what it might look like from the vantage point of the bow of a sailboat. Someday...someday. A durable dream doesn't go away if it transitions into a passion...it may get temporarily postponed, maybe placed on the back burner, but it doesn't have to disappear. Sailing will never disappear from my consciousness, even if my sailing has mostly been under the command of a freakish captain with pirate tendencies. I've an idea I would enjoy sailing even more with someone who actually knew what he was doing and didn't take reckless chances with his crew. I intend to find out.

Home is the Sailor and his First (and only) Mate!

And then, it was Saturday. Yesterday. I popped up early and put the finishing touches on the kitchen, cleaned up the debris and put away the ladder, paint tray and all manner of brushes. I mopped the kitchen, opened the windows and beautiful sunlight highlighted my interior handiwork. I couldn't wait for my parents to return and admire my hard work. There was no way they wouldn't notice the fresh, clean shiny "radiant" kitchen and breakfast area. Or so I thought...

I finally heard their van pull into the driveway and I closed the pocket door that opens to the kitchen from the laundry room. I bounded down the steps of the side entry and collected my "welcome home" hugs. They looked great - certainly not like two octogenarians who had been traipsing all over Southern West Virginia! They certainly looked much more well-rested than I felt!

My Dad entered first, looked at the closed door and asked if he was allowed to go into the kitchen. Sure, of course, I told him. He walked in, me eagerly following on his heels, set down his baggage and looked around. He realized something was different. Finally, he said with a smile, "You painted the woodwork!".

Huh? All that work and all you noticed was the freaking woodwork? Barbe Cook take off those shades and drink in the fruits of my labor. The woodwork? I hadn't even painted the woodwork he was admiring!

A few seconds later, my mother walked in and looked around and said, "Did you paint the kitchen orange?". NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

It's NOT orange crazy woman! It's "radiance". It's lovely. It's warm. Bask in it for goodness sakes!

"I like it!", she says in earnest backpedal fashion. "I really like it!", she repeats with sheepish redundancy. By now, my dad had removed his sunglasses and could see more than the white woodwork. I thought it was more glaringly impressive - maybe they'd been in the car too long! Oh well, hey, I don't regret all that toil and trouble. It does look nice. More compliments were forthcoming as the evening wore on.

My mom more than made up for it by blessedly brewing some of her famously rich and wonderful coffee. FINALLY a decent cup of coffee. Kitchen walls be damned - it was time for coffee and talk, both things I'd missed immeasurably.

After I helped them bring in their luggage and bags of this and that, we convened around the kitchen table and I heard about the highlights of their trip. They'd had a wonderful time visiting old friends and relatives at my Uncle's birthday party, they shared with me who was doing what and how everyone was getting along, how Charleston didn't look like the capital of a depressing mining state - "it was bustling, growing, looked good!". My dad, however, summed it up best..."But I sure wouldn't want to live back there!", he said. My thoughts exactly. My mother can never quite bring herself to toss about negatives with regard to West Virginia - her loyalty is fierce and while I don't believe for one-second she'd ever want to live back there, she finds it impossible to say anything remotely unkind about the state. It's her home. She was born and raised there and spent a chunk of her history there until I came along with my gypsy ways.

It was wonderful catching up with them, watching my Dad walk outside and chasing Cassie around, who was unabashedly thrilled to see them. As I watched my Dad chase her in the side yard by the pool, I realized that someday I want to not grow up and be just like him. Any 82 year old who can still chase the ball of energy and fun that defines Cassie, is the equivalent of a good "thumbing of the nose" at every AARP commercial I had to suffer through this past week, and a keen reminder that you don't really have to grow old, regardless of the number of candles that might adorn your next birthday cake. Accumulating years may well be inevitable, but aging is definitely an option I hope never, ever to exercise.

What an amazingly rich, resilient template my parents have afforded me, worthy of my best possible emulation.

Home By Another Way
(A song about "the Epiphany" and one that speaks to my own personal "Epiphany".)

"Home is where they want you now.
You can more or less assume that you'll be welcome in the end.
Mustn't let King Herod haunt you so,
Or fantasize his features
When you're looking at a friend..." ~James Taylor

This morning, when I instinctively made my way downstairs, I smelled the welcome aroma of my Mom's coffee. Yes, things are as they should be, Fox News was blaring on the TV and cereal was being poured. I grabbed a few blackberries and looked around with a smile. Home.

This crazy house has grown in terms of my affection for it when I realize how, had plans stayed on that perilous course, I was scheduled to be living in Raleigh now. How profoundly grateful I am that I didn't sell this house on a whim, that I woke up in Wilmington this morning, that I have an aquarium to set up, a beach to walk on a few miles from here, and my own space is still, blessedly, my own space sprinkled with the people and things I love most, in a town I adore. Thank God I woke up when I did, held fast to my convictions, and realized the error of my ways.

I remember when Katie first learned of my impending relocation and ill-advised nuptials, no small measure of her concern was for this house. This house truly has been more of a home to us than any dwelling we've ever lived in. It's been home in seven years and a lot of living has gone down in seven years but one constant in it all has been this crazy, quirky, odd structure we affectionately refer to as home. When she first expressed her desire that I keep this house, I couldn't really understand it (remember, I was deep in delusion territory). It was just a house, I reasoned. So what? Why is it so important to you that I still own it at Christmas? Can't we have Christmas in Raleigh?

"It's best to go home, by another way.
Home by another way.
We got this far to a lucky star,
But tomorrow is another day.
We can make it another way
Safe Home, as they used to say.
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high,
And go home, another way..."

Word. NO. No, no, no, she told me in no uncertain terms. In fact, I think she said something more akin to "Hell no!", which was, looking back, entirely apropos. No, this is home. This is the place. This is where we live even when we're not here. We may leave it for a time, but the fact that it's still here and waiting for our return has come to mean something intrinsic to each of us. Wilmington, and more importantly, this place in Wilmington, has become our collective definition of home and I become more grateful for it with each passing day. I have slowly realized that maybe it is all of the ups and downs and everything in between that we have negotiated during these seven plus years that has somehow made this structure even more meaningful, and this residence has, in fact, taken up residence in each of our collective hearts in different and highly individualized ways, but with the same result.

Justin and I were riding down the street the other day and I mentioned that when we were house-hunting back in August 2000, I had been scheduled to look at the house around the corner - which looked far more conventional and stately than the one I ultimately settled on. "I'm glad it didn't work out that you were able to see it. You picked the best house.". Once again, I was reminded that in the minds of my kids, my parents, my animals and, belatedly, finally me, this place has truly become "home". It's never too late to find one's home, I guess.

Last night after everyone was settled back in, I walked out in the driveway and saw our old cat Sylvester trotting across the street heading for me, obviously after enjoying a visit with our neighbors cats across the street. It was dusk and there was a chill in the air. Sylvester had decided it was time to come home so he could meow plaintively until I forked over a dish filled with Magellan's ultra rich kitten food. Sylvester seems to always have known this was home, after his neighborhood visits, returning here every evening. Sylvester "got it" much sooner than I did. Sylvester is a very wise cat.

When I pull into my driveway these days, it is with a growing and profound sense that finally I "get it". Coming home, to this one in particular, is a gift and one I shouldn't ever take for granted. Home truly is where our hearts are and I'm just so grateful for the place our hearts have chosen to take up residence and remain. Home never looked, or felt, so good.

Perhaps the real "radiance" in this house never came from a Sherwin-Williams paint can. I have a hunch it was always here. Maybe the events of this past summer and the dismal prospect of selling my little house on Nottingham Lane, offered me the opportunity to see it for what it truly is and always was. As Sting sings, "I was brought to my senses", before it was too late.

"Once in a while,
when it's good

It will feel like it should
And they're all still around

And you're still safe and sound
And you don't miss a thing

Till you cry when you're driving away in the dark


Stop this train

I wanna get off

And go home again

I can't take the speed it's moving in

I know I can't

'Cause now I see
I will never stop this train."