29 December 2008

Christmas Memories in Real Time...

It is late just now. I have a million swirling thoughts, observations and lots of feelings and impressions that are percolating inside of me, but haven't attached themselves to the proper words quite yet. They are steeping, like fine jasmine tea in a tea pot and they are even more ethereal than the exotic aroma of delicate jasmine pearls.

Last week was just all good stuff, from every conceivable angle. All of it. We so enjoyed our visit with Katie Jane from the moment my Dad and I picked her up in Cary, after she and John flew in from New York City, until the last, lingering moments for a few extra snapshots captured in our kitchen, when it was time for them to head back to Cary Saturday Evening, in preparation to fly back to NYC on Sunday Morning.

As Katie and John headed for the northland, I headed upstairs as soon as their car left the driveway and I spilled a few tears. Extrication, even after a joyful time, can be searingly painful. Yet even as my eyes were leaking tears, it felt wrong because it nearly felt like I was complaining and honestly, upon quick reexamination of the past week, I could think of nothing to complain about at all. Not one thing. The fact that the week flew by simply meant that it was just that great because everyone knows that great times fly by.

There's so much in life, in all of our lives, where our current realities are intricately tied to "back stories", which we generally refer to as 'history'; If you've lived any length of time at all, you carry your own "back story", and that history or "herstory", if you want to be gender specific, in some way colors every experience that follows - sometimes boldly, but more often than not, subliminally. It occurred to me that even the rough times in the past years, were valuable because in many ways those times have been essential in that they enhance the wonderful moments and how could we truly appreciate the fine moments without recognizing them for the gifts they are? It would be impossible, wouldn't it?

Christmas 2008 was brimming and rich in sweet times and remarkable not because we did remarkable things; in fact, we did nothing out of the ordinary at all and yet, all of that "ordinariness" made for an extraordinary time. I'm so grateful for things ordinary and extraordinary. For peace. Love. Quietude. More love. The absence of worry and the warmth of contentment which emanates from family, friends, cats and a really fine dog.

There are so many to be grateful to and so much to be grateful for. The essence of the season was more than palpable - having little to do with elegantly wrapped presents, (although the presents were great!), but due much more to elegantly wrapped experiences, time spent together, soaking in each others' company and understanding what an inestimably precious gift it is to know just how blessed we are, in real time, to be sharing our home, our lives and our time with those we love so much. That was Christmas for me.

I hope your Christmas was something like that, too. If it was, then you must know how blessed you are, too.
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07 December 2008

Over the Hills and Everywhere...

"Yes, I was a seeker,
I sought Him both night and day,

I asked the Lord to help me,

He showed me the way.

Down in the manger,

Humble Child was born.

God sent us salvation

On that Christmas Morn..."

I guess I took a break from blogging, but certainly not from living. I can't exactly put my finger on the exact cause of my blogus interruptus, but there have been a few legitimate contributing factors.

When last I tapped out an entry, we were days away from an election. November was closing in fast. I was pleased with the outcome, at least nationally, and as I've watched the transition begin, I am sincerely impressed with the manner in which the president-elect is assembling his team, reaching out across party lines and also his affect of graciousness. This morning, I watched Tom Brokaw's interview with Barack Obama on "Meet the Press" and, again, I am amazed at manner in which his brilliance is co-mingled with equal parts of common sense and compassion. I truly do feel as if our ship of state is in supremely capable hands with this man at the helm.

The day after the election, Katie and I found ourselves on the phone for our daily lunchtime chat and then suddenly, after dissecting the election results she asked me, in a rather bewildered tone, "what are we going to talk about now?". We both laughed, realizing that we had been completely immersed in primaries, debates, sound-bites and "Palin-tology". Fortunately, however, it didn't take us long to realize that we could easily move onto other topics and our conversations have remained as lively and stimulating as always. I never doubted that for a second. We've never been at a loss for words - I love listening to her extrapolations and considered points of view and perspectives.

Speaking of Katie, she's been quite busy herself up in madcap Manhattan. Since my last blog, she's managed to find a new position - she's now assistant director with a progressive preschool on the Upper West Side of Manhattan which was only five blocks from her apartment until...she and John regained their gypsy ways and MOVED! John and Katie now live in the West 60's, near Columbus Circle and Central Park, and not only have they moved on, but they've moved up - to the 18th floor! NO MORE STAIRS and more square footage including......a dishwasher (and I don't mean John.). I'm told the kitchen is all stainless steel, high-tech appliances, hardwood floors and a terrace.

It was from this terrace that Katie had the odd and interesting experience of looking DOWN on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade floats as it passed by their street. She reported that she didn't realize the balloons weren't as tall as she had previously th
ought as they drifted past Thanksgiving Morning. I'm still waiting on interior photos...ahem.

However, in a display of nothing but pure, parental pride on my part, Katie had this photo published in "Gothamist".
(Taken from the kitchen window of their new apartment...nice view!). It should be noted that everything she has learned of photography she did NOT inherit from me.

Additionally, Katie has shared with us that she has been stepping out on John, but she's been completely upfront about it. Ignoring the wise adage never to date anyone at work, she's crossed that line and can frequently be found in the cozy company of a younger man. She did send me a photo of him and, admittedly, he's a handsome fella, having just celebrated his one year birthday. John is taking it as well as can be expected, admirably so, hoping I'm sure that it's a fleeting fling, but some days it's all Katie can seem to talk about. John must be a very strong, devoted man to stand by her like this. :-)

Justin has been doing great, too! He and Stephanie moved into a new townhome in Milton, West Virginia (home of Blenko Glass!), and both of them have been working hard with his Dad in preparing for the opening of the shiny, new "Direct Buy" store in Cross Lanes, West Virginia. They had their grand opening last Saturday and by all accounts, things are going great.

Justin doesn't check in every day with chatty phone calls which means I call him at least every other day for updates and news. He was wildly excited by the first snowfall a few weeks ago and stayed up extra late just to watch the flakes fly. This is the first time my West Texas born son has lived among mountains and it's been quite a new experience for him and North Carolina born and bred Stephanie.

Stephanie's Mom and Grandmother visited in late October for a long weekend and took in "Bridge Day", marveled at the fall colors, visited Hawks Nest, Charleston and Huntington. I spoke with Steph's grandma the week after she returned and her first comment was, "I had no idea how beautiful West Virginia is! I want to go back soon!". Needless to say, I believe she was quite impressed. I know the kids enjoyed their North Carolina visitors immensely.

In the time since I last blogged, Stephanie and Justin have added another year to their age - born exactly two weeks apart, they are now the ripe old age of 22. Apparently Justin is carrying on the male Cook tradition of enjoying the companionship of older women, even if that older woman is only older by two weeks! My Dad frequently points out that he, himself, married an older woman - my mother being one year and one month older. He has never let her forget it and, fortunately for my Mom, she simply ignores it knowing she can outdo anyone in this house with both hands tied behind her back.

And then, of course, there has been work. Lots of it! This has been a busy time where I work and we're growing fast. For as dismal as this economy has been, and continues to be, it's been great for our business. We have been accelerating in production which means that I have been hovering over and tinkering with all manner of Excel spreadsheets. They are growing longer and longer and longer which means sales are climbing at a very nice pace.

Last Monday evening, I was invited to have dinner with our president, George, out of Greenville, SC, and my boss Rich, here in Wilmington, along with my friend David, who is a manager at the Greenville office. In fact, when I first interviewed for this position back in June, George and Rich were present at what I affectionately refer to as "the first interrogation". I told them this past Monday Evening, over escargot (they made me take a bite), duck, scallops and my own filet mignon, that if I had realized that the true nature of my work would be almost specifically accounting and so overwhelmingly statistical in nature, I would have thanked them for the opportunity to meet them, given each of them a warm handshake and gracefully pulled myself out of the competition. I knew the title of the job was "Operations Manager" and "Branch Office Administrator", but that struck me as rather vague and, quite candidly, I just assumed I would be pushing paper and typing a few letters and maybe, on rare occasions, filling out a check request. Ha! Was I ever wrong.

Who knew there were 22 column spreadsheets, complete with formulas and functions to figure out, just waiting for me to fill in and that I would find myself juggling New Business Reports, Issue Reports, Profit, Loss, Expense and Production Reports and that , the totals on each of these were tied into each other and must be reconciled weekly and monthly; that each columnar total had to be accurate in order to tie in to concurrent reporting and that monthly totals had to be broken down by product, type and agent! I had absolutely NO IDEA what I was heading into and thank God I didn't.

Fortunately, when we started, we were an office of three: Rich, Robert and me. The production was easy to track and the totals were more than manageable giving me the chance for some very real and serious "on the job" training. Another facet of all of this is that I was put in charge of recruiting and it's funny now, 8 agents later, but it took me a while to realize that each person I was interviewing could potentially result in longer spreadsheets, more tracking, more Excel spreadsheets! Oy! In fact, with each new hire, my work increased exponentially. The correlation between recruiting and the increased accounting load took a little while for me to understand - here I was, looking for people who would inevitably make my work more complex and numeric. How crazy is that? Well, duh, of course that was the point! I just didn't initially, back in what I now refer to as "the salad days", quite understand the machinations of it all.

So of course now, when I interview people at a first briefing, I size them up and, as I chat up the really sharp applicants, realize that a sterling criteria can be distilled into one simple question: Which one of these people possess the ability to make my work even MORE overwhelming and elongate my "new business report" to quadruple digit rows? Putting aside fear for my own private sanity, I realize it's my mission to facilitate in the hiring of the folks who have the potential to provide me with the greatest headaches and, every now and then I glance at the one hallowed spot among the agent mailboxes that houses the extra large size of Advil that Rich has placed within convenient reach of my desk. As Rich always says with a smirk..."I'm a giver...".

Now, what has been truly amazing and unfathomable for me, this person who has always preferred the currency of words, is how much I have grown to enjoy my work. I know, I'm stunned by it myself. I can't believe how much I have been fascinated by how this business has grown from day one. I have come to discover and covet the giddy, satisfying buzz one feels when all of my columns reconcile TO THE SECOND DECIMAL POINT. I have found myself playing with mathematical functions on the Vista Version of Excel and learning how to correspond those totals to other spreadsheets automatically and being astonished when they work just like they're supposed to. It's some crazy stuff I'm learning!

Now, I write this as the daughter of a man who has spent his entire career and retirement reveling and basking in the joy of numbers. My father was an accountant for several coal companies throughout his successful career. My dad adores numbers. He is an Excel spreadsheet genius. My Dad has one of the sunniest dispositions I have ever encountered and I don't recall ever finding him in a low mood. Ever. He can find sunshine in almost every situation. He's just a really happy guy and always has been and he smiles quite easily and often. I must tell you, however, that when he opened up a file I sent him, sharing with him the sort of work I do, this man's face lit up in mega wattage. He looked up at me and said, "Wow, this is what you do? My goodness, you have a GREAT job! If I were younger...".

He's been proud of my writing. He would always compliment my newspaper columns which he read faithfully for the five years it ran. He was always pleased to see me published in "Wilma", "Greater Wilmington Business Journal", and enjoyed reading my work in "PC Magazine" both online and in the printed magazine however, I have rarely seen him light up as he did when he truly discovered the scope of work I am doing. I think my conversion from Microsoft Word to Microsoft Excel has made this man ecstatic. I laugh at him as I send him updated versions of my new business report, so proud is he that back in October he actually printed one out and taped the entire thing together which took 13 sheets of paper and gave me to display in the office. I don't think he ever printed any of my articles and taped them anywhere. Who knew that a spreadsheet held such power? I do believe that, as far as my Dad is concerned, "I HAVE ARRIVED". I believe he probably imagines that my new-found fascination with this genre of work is probably due to a recessive accounting gene (from his contribution to my DNA), that has FINALLY, at LONG LAST, awakened xeroxed itself.

Now, here's the part that kind of has me a little concerned. Most people claim that they "leave their jobs at the office", as well they should, right? Historically, without someone pointing a gun or a paycheck at me, I would never voluntarily open an Excel Spreadsheet up at home. It's like I could find 10,000 other things to do on a computer without ever considering opening a blank spreadsheet on one of my home computers. I haven't confessed this in print before and maybe it's the reason I haven't blogged because I know I have a tendency to turn this blog into a bit of a confessional but hey, it's good for the soul, right? Here's the issue and it's not easy to write about but, well, I have been keeping track of my finances, receipts, expenditures, the whole ball of wax. I now save ATM receipts and I log them, along with gasoline purchases, even freaking small Dunkin' Donut receipts aren't safe from my control and reportage. Frankly, I'm a little scared. A mere year ago I would throw those things away and never think twice and now, almost every evening I find myself fishing out receipts in my purse from purchases made that day and it's kind of freaking me out. I mean, I try and play it cool and still maintain the facade of the crazy blond, spreadsheet unencumbered ditz, but it's getting harder and harder to hide my new hobby.

I think I'm turning into my Dad. I look in the mirror and I look the same, but I can't deny the fact that I update my personal finance spreadsheet on a daily basis. I know, I know, admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? But the thing is, work, my family, they're all enabling me! Should I add another "AA" to my repertoire? Is there, in fact, an "Accounting Anonymous"? I don't think I have time to add another 12-Step group to my schedule. This may well prove to be an addiction I may have to make peace with.

Speaking of AA, I was elected the Intergroup Rep from my home group a few weeks ago which means that I attend a meeting at headquarters every other month to report back to my home group the goings on at our local main office. It didn't sound like that big of a deal so of course, I accepted the role and figured it would basically involve keeping up with information such as new meetings in the area, methods of reaching out to the community, etc., Sounded harmless enough, right?

On the third Thursday of October, I arrived at my first meeting at Intergroup, and took my place among the other home group reps and, upon being warmly greeted by the head of Intergroup here in Wilmington, was handed an agenda and some accompanying papers that were to be discussed. I sat down in my chair, opened up the papers to see that it contained, what else, a spreadsheet with budget information and Intergroup assets, expenses and all manner of pertinent financial information and a proposed budget for next year. I just sat there, after leaving four minimized spreadsheets on my work computer amid my cluttered desk, thinking I was in a "safe place" at local AA headquarters, to be hit with budgets and expenditure forecasts? Egads, I thought. I can't get away from this stuff! Even AA isn't a safe haven for a burgeoning numbers addict. I had to laugh. There I was trying to be a "normal" recovering alcoholic and they hand me paperwork to facilitate my newest addiction. I shared this experience with a couple of trusted AA friends who wisely offered, "Susie, this is probably God doing for you what you couldn't do for yourself...". Figures.

On January 12, 2009, I will celebrate (God-willing) five years of no longer taking a drink. Now...I take a number. What a crazy world, isn't it? Sobriety remains full of surprises and I continue to be grateful for each one of them. One day at a time, of course.

Between work and work, I have turned my attention to rearranging the upstairs of my home. Since Justin moved in July, I have gained incredible amounts of square-footage. There is so much space up here now. My kind and generous boss, Rich, graciously gave me a beautiful and very heavy desk and I love it. After he and his lovely wife (and Bobby) delivered it one Sunday Afternoon, my Mom and Dad came up to see it (it's a really nice desk), and as I was contemplating how to get it into what used to be my old office, my Mom brilliantly suggested, "Why don't you use it in the loft - leave it right where it is?". I thought about it for two-seconds and realized it was pure genius. It offered me plenty of room, quick access to my beloved books in the built in shelves, and freed up another room because I wasn't really using the loft for anything. My Dad helped me set it up and it fits perfectly and I don't know what to do with all this space!

Of course, change begets change, right? And so I soon decided that I would turn what used to be my office into my bedroom so that necessitated more moving (and sore muscles) and that, of course, meant that I became a fan of Craig's List. In fact, I tell people that my house is now decorated in "Early Craig's List". Let's see - in the past few weeks, I have snagged a stained glass window which overlooks the open space that used to house that dreadful bird aviary, an almost new barely used Sharp flat screen TV, a 3 year old Kirby G-6 Vacuum that originally cost $1200 that I got for $100 and has ALL the attachments and sucks out dirt you had no idea was lurking in places you can't imagine! And yesterday, my Craig's List surfing resulted in an antique pie safe that my Dad and I secretly picked up and surprised my Mom with for her birthday which is December 13th - when she'll celebrate being a spry 85 years young. She loved it and it looks GREAT! Craig's List is like sports shopping and I enjoy it immensely except for one thing - the spelling drives me nuts on there and one word in particular makes me scream - people advertise tables that one eats at as "dinning room tables" and my gosh, do you have any idea how prevalent the misspelling of that word is? I want to shout - there aren't THREE N'S in there people! I know it's a crazy pet peeve, but what about spell check? Spell check is our friend and I'm hardly flawless but how can you look at "dinning" and NOT see something amiss? Sometimes I have to take a walk after seeing so many ads for "beautiful dinning room table - it will look great in your dinning room!". What in the world is a dinning room? Moments like that, I just have to get up and take a walk or clean an aquarium or I can be found muttering...DROP the DOUBLE N!

Speaking of aquariums, the fish are thriving and multiplying and every week I have a pair of pink convict cichlids that multiply some more. If anyone reading this in the Wilmington, North Carolina area would like about 100 baby pink convict cichlids and knows how to spell the word "DINING (as in DINING ROOM TABLE), I would be glad to set you up. These pink convicts are proliferate and they're such GREAT parents. Really, it's fascinating to watch them - they will fight off intruders (including my hand which has been bitten many times when placing fry food in the tank) with a remarkable, primitive ferocity. The parental instinct in these fish is incredible. They will scoop the babies in their mouths, dig sand caves in the corner and spit them out. Of course, even pink convict babies don't listen and within about ten seconds, they sneak out of the safe place and will wander back out into the open tank but, ever vigilant Mom and Dad race in and corral them right back home. It's fascinating and a lot of fun to observe.

And here we are in December. How in the world did that happen? Where did this year go and I know it's redundant and I say it every single year but my gosh, in the words of John Mayer, "STOP THIS TRAIN". Time is flying by so very fast. We were at our neighbors yesterday morning for their annual neighborhood Christmas Brunch where all manner of soups, sweets and neighbors catching up with neighbors was bountiful as it always is. It's always so much fun to see these wonderful people in our neighborhood (even if most of them were McCain supporters) who we see walking around during the rest of the year, gardening, mowing, raking or watching their kids move away because we all have kids who have grown up, but never really having the chance to truly catch up with what's been going on. The Freshwaters afford us this opportunity every December and we all look forward to it. This year, it was BYOB (bring your own bowl). We had a fantastic time and my Dad enjoyed hugging all of our female neighbors and ignoring their respective husbands. He's such a flirt and always in his glory.

This is our ninth Christmas in this town and I moved here with adolescent kids who have grown up and moved North (and who still delight in calling me at odd hours to report that "MOM, it's SNOWING RIGHT NOW!", always to get the response from me, "I'm so happy it's you...and not me!". But still, I revel in the enthusiasm with which they greet it and then I wonder to myself, how in the world did I raise kids who like cold weather and frozen precipitation? Was it something I ate during my pregnancy? Did I watch Rudolph too many times? Was it the ice cream I scarfed down? How did these Southern bred kids become Yankees???? (I know, Justin lives in WV, but as far as I'm concerned, that qualifies him for a Yankee if, for no other reason than climatological data).

Unfortunately, Justin will not be able to make it in because his boss told me that he has to work the day after Christmas. Of course, his boss is his father and from what I can tell in talking to both of them, they're having a great time working together in this mammoth business venture! It's fun to hear them speak of each other in a way that implies they are truly working closely and well - father and son. Pretty cool. Quite a blessing, indeed. From what I can tell, there's a lot of mutual respect going back and forth between them. I love that.

Katie, however, will be arriving on December 23rd and we can't wait! We'll certainly miss Justin and Stephanie, but we'll enjoy having Katie and John visit. I haven't seen her since her visit in May which feels like years ago! She may be all grown up, but she's still my little girl. I definitely need a Katie fix!

Sometimes, especially now that I don't see either one of these kids everyday, when I do see them, I just find myself studying them, fascinated at who they've grown into being, amazed and even more grateful that God configured so perfectly to place them in my life. I can't begin to adequately articulate how much I've grown to admire and respect both of them and who knew that the tsunami of love that one feels for their child at birth, can grow to such expansive, infinite proportions? And it keeps growing in ways no one can probably explain because it's just massive. Isn't it? I mean, you know how you don't think you can love someone any more than you do at certain times, but the great thing about love, is that it reaches so far beyond what you were sure was the limit - the bar constantly continues to be raised and it intrisically exceeds itself. For me, it's such a keen reminder of God, the largess of something intangible, so overwhelming as to render itself impossible to quantify. There is no scale to it and, apparently, absolutely no limit at all. Then again, that's what this season is all about isn't it? It's where the light first became lit, the source of everything that is good and valuable and most precious to each of us with the advent of that birth. Because of that humble beginning, I have all of this incalculable love. I need to remind myself to remember that source of this season more often. I would have nothing without it. I wouldn't even "be" at all.

I'm grateful. I'm just so grateful. I'm even grateful for people who sometimes insert extra "N's" in "dining". I'm just that grateful.

If you're reading this, I'm grateful for you, too.

A few weeks ago, I received a call from my dear, sweet friend Michel in Nantes, France. We had such a great talk and it feels like I've known him forever. We were talking about our respective kids, the two Thanksgivings he'd shared with our family in the past ten years, and what was going on in our lives. His work sounded most decidedly much more intriguing than mine - he had just finished translating Zbigniew Brezinzki's latest book from into French, along with even more stimulating projects. He has always been one of my most valued and trusted writing supporters and my respect for his opinion and talent is boundless, along with being such a trusted, special friend. Michel asked me why I hadn't been writing much (at all) lately. It was a legitimate question and I shared some things with him that had evolving inside of me in these past few months.

Quite a few years ago, the ever astute Michel made the remark that I was "becoming the person you were raised to be", after what was really just a lull in a tumultuous time. His remark struck me at the time because I knew that whatever I might look like on the outside, on the inside I still wasn't close to being who I was raised to be. I guess his remark lingered in my head because I knew innately there was such a disparity between the truth of that statement and my own reality at the time he made it.

In fact, I was spiraling - I remember wishing that I was even close to becoming who I was raised to be, but I was at least honest enough with myself to know that, in fact, I wasn't even in the same neighborhood of any of that. I still had quite a few years to fall before I could begin to get up and assess the situation. I had much more damage to do (mostly to myself) but even given the point where I was at that time, Michel's statement sounded an alarm in the very deepest part of my (then) fragile being. I wanted to be able to say with clarity and honesty that yes, indeed, I am very much close to being the person I was raised to be...

At the time, it felt like a hopeless dream of a goal.

During these past few months, my parents and I have keenly missed Justin, as we did Katie when she first flew the coop. The absence created by his relocation was nothing less than a very real adjustment. He'd never really lived away from home and you'd be surprised how seeing the same guy for almost 22 years can become a habit. It was so quiet after he moved and I think, in some way, that we each stayed "up" for each other almost as much for ourselves. Of course, it required that indispensible but impossible to rush commodity of time. Time takes time and it never allows itself to be rushed.

So many changes have taken place since January 12, 2004 - the day after I took my last drink. Relationships have changed in a variety of positive ways but perhaps the relationship that changed most profoundly was the relationship with myself. In those first days, weeks and months of sobriety, you run the gamut of feelings toward yourself - and a lot of it is of the "self-loathing" variety which you have to walk through and then out of and you have to accept the fact that you have been sick, very very ill, because of the disease that's been chipping away at your whole being. And then, as time moves on, you learn acceptance and at some point, perhaps when you're not even paying attention, some threshold is crossed and lo and behold, you start to truly believe that you're actually an OK person - and then you learn that you truly can depend not only on others, but most of all, on yourself. You discover that you can be trusted probably long after many others close to you have granted you another chance. It's often said that we can be our own worst critics and I believe that's often the case, at least it has been with me many times.

Plunged into the quietness of this house after Justin moved, I've spent more time around my Mom and Dad. I've often said that I want to be just like them when I grow up and I really do because they've managed to grow up without losing their youth, their playfulness and impishness, their sense of wonder with just about everything - and even though they've been around on this planet over 80 years, they still retain that wonder. My Mom can point out a flower in the yard or the first tomatoes or cucumbers on a plant every year and she does so as if it's the very first time she's ever seen such a thing - with a genuine expression of pure awe at something she's witnessed many times before.

My Dad is exactly the same way - he can be genuinely dazzled by a meticulously cut yard, a sudden growth spurt of a plant, or even the way Cassie comes inside after it's started raining and voluntarily holds each paw up to be dried off and how she likes her face wiped in a very specific fashion. These are the kinds of things that positively capture their attention and how wise they are not to overlook them, to take notice of these seemingly small things that maybe aren't so small at all.

I have observed in these past few months how both of them find deep joy in their routines, how this couple who lived through losing their oldest daughter back in 1973, managed to rediscover joy in the details of everyday life - how these routines, putting one foot in front of the other, sustained them until the magic and wonder of life resumed its proper place allowing for things like tomatoes blooming and leaves turning to captivate them once again. They haven't simply spent all these years living - they have lived well and from what I can see - there's a huge difference in those two things. It is their continued joy in each day that has made such a huge impression on me these past few months. "Living well" is such an art and it has absolutely nothing to do with money at all but has everything to do with Grace. Grace has so many excellent definitions but the one I'm probably thinking of just now is this: "a virtue or excellence of divine origin."

When I spoke with Michel a couple of weeks ago, I tried to explain that what I was experiencing, didn't lend itself well to writing just yet, but that I knew in time it would. And I believe it will, but lately, I have felt like a sponge of sorts, enjoying the new routines I've established, finding joy in things I never would have imagined containing anything fascinating or remarkable. In a way, the things I've previously thought to be unremarkable, have proven to be the most remarkable. The point of it all that has eluded me for so very many years, is the simple lesson that joy and wonder can be found everywhere if I'm willing and determined to see it. It really is just that easy.

Back to Michel's long ago observation, that I was "becoming the person my parents raised me to be", well, it occured to me that in fact, it appears as if I had found that path and was, at the very least, heading in the right direction with as sturdy a compass as I've ever felt in my pocket. Not only does my compass feel reliable, but I have learned to depend on it and trust both my compass and me. There's a lot to be said for heading in the right direction...

The other night I was having dinner with my parents and my Dad always begins dinner with an elegant "grace". After he blessed dinner, they were discussing how much they missed Justin and Katie but then, my Dad looked across the table at me and said, "But you know what? I sure have enjoyed the three of us being able to spend time together." And then my Mom suddenly remarked that she was "so proud of me". I have to tell you, that no matter where I have been published and regardless of where I might be published in the future, I can think of few remarks that could make me feel as grateful as I did in that moment. It was a deep sense of gratitude and what a keen reminder of a Higher Power, who made the culmination of that moment and that remark remotely possible.

If you think about it, that really is "Go tell it on the mountain" stuff. For now though, given the absence of mountains, I'll just blog about it.

Merry Christmas!

25 October 2008

Opie, Andy, The Fonz & James Taylor...

How cool is this?

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

And then, of course, my main man...

19 October 2008

Gravitas, Sophistry and Presidential Timber vs. Kindling


In a campaign steeped with so much surreal sophistry, I have been searching for gravitas. I was eager to watch "Meet the Press" this morning. Distinguished former JCS and Secretary of State Colin Powell was the featured guest. I was anxious to hear what he had to say because technically he's a registered republican like me and also, I have the highest respect for this man. I've always thought him to be a reasonable, brilliant and sensible gentleman who would, in my opinion, have made a fine president in his own right.

As Tom Brokaw lead him up to the $64,000 question, Powell offered a studied assessment of both Sen. McCain as well as Sen. Obama. His points were concise, topical, thorough and I personally agreed with just about everything he said.

I've always personally put a lot of stock in Powell's opinions because he's seen things from within the inner circle of government and the military. Like a lot of Americans, I feel as if I can trust this man's view because of the positions he's held and, frankly, I always thought Bush threw him under the bus.

These are some of the most challenging times America has ever faced. No matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum, most of us can agree that our plate isn't simply full, stuff is spilling off of it in huge dollops. Our plate can barely contain its contents at the moment.

I've had serious and deep conversations with people I highly respect in these past few weeks, people I have known for years and put a lot of stock into what they believe., their opinions and views. Anyone who reads this blog or knows me personally understands that my own parents top that list. I can't think of two humans I respect and have more faith in than Barbe & Maxine Cook and I say this because in my 48 year history with these folks, they have been right something like 99.99999% of the time with a negligible margin of error. It is, in fact, uncanny how often they are correct on a myriad of subjects. These aren't knee-jerk, radical or prejudice people. In my estimation they have managed to be progressive without ever abandoning their beliefs or ideals. I would trust them with my life and have on several occasions. On a few important occasions they have, in fact, taught me to be more open and thoughtful in my approach to pivotal situations in raising my kids and they've gently guided me from being too rigid or judgmental. They have lead me not by preachy sermonizing, but by their impeccable example and graceful guidance. My parents may not be perfect, but they're just about as close to it as I've ever known.

I've also had talks with others that I respect including close friends and even my exhusband, Tim. I have a long history of observing his compass and I have known him for twenty-nine years. I respect him, too, even if I don't agree with him on everything.

I've searched for answers, read volumes of text and listened intently to interviews, all three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. I have practiced as much objectivity as I possibly can and in doing so, I can't help but continue to feel strongly that Barack Obama is the better choice. It's tough for me, coming from a predominantly conservative background.

I must say, however, that McCain's selection of Sarah Palin did make it easier and she continues to validate my initial feelings about her as being someone about as qualified to be vice-president or president as my dog or three cats. I continue to look at her biography and recent campaign performance as comic book in nature with even less substance. I can't for the life of me figure out what John McCain was thinking in choosing her. I read one headline out of the UK this morning that asked the question, "Is Sarah Palin Presidential Timber" to which I immediately thought, my gosh, she's not even presidential kindling.

Honestly, I believe that at his core, John McCain is a good man, a decent, respectable man who is inarguably an American hero in every sense of the word. He has served his country far more brilliantly than his own campaign staff and advisers have served him. Having said that, I just don't think McCain was well-qualified to be the next president because Bush's "legacy" has been too painful and the thought, there mere idea of four more years of a continuation of his policies is more than many of us can stomach.

Like I said, I was deeply torn before McCain chose his running mate but with his choice of Palin, I pretty much realized not voting for McCain wouldn't be as difficult as it might have been had he chose a more appropriate and well-qualified running mate. A pistol-packing hockey mom might make a colorful friend to grab a cup of "Joe" (and not Joe the unlicensed plumber who owes back taxes) with, but to consider this woman who uses phrases like "palling around with terrorists" or sometimes reverts to a syntax only Yoda could understand and appreciate, is beyond horrifying. I'm not in the slightest bit elitist, but I would prefer our national leaders to be articulate and knowledgeable and yes, even have more than a page or two of stamps in their passport. I don't necessarily fault Sarah Palin as much as I do the McCain Camp for inserting her in a position she is completely ill-prepared or qualified to assume. It kind of strikes me as the type of non-forward thinking that landed us in Iraq: Yes, doing so made a huge splash and bold statement, but once we situated ourselves there and whoops, didn't find any WMD's, what do we do now? In a sense, Palin's selection was big on "splash 'max" factor'" but after the ripples receded, what does she bring to the table? It turns out that her "international vision" is restricted to the horizon looking West across the Bering Sea where, on a clear day, you can see maybe not forever, but sometimes catch a glimpse of Russia.

That is literally and figuratively short-sighted and very scary. We're in a high-tension situation that doesn't allow us to affect short-sightedness. We need the ability to see as far and wide as we possibly can - even further than the tip of Russia from across the Bering Sea. As Secretary of State Powell said this morning, we need someone "transformational". In this race, for me at least, that translates Barack Obama and Joseph (Joe the Senator) Biden. Someone who doesn't look as if he's going to blow a blood vessel from sheer, barely controllable rage, but who is deliberate, studied and forward thinking, who doesn't spout off in anger or legislate based on emotion.

So I was grateful for Powell's thoughtful assessment of both McCain and Obama this morning. It was well-presented and elaborative and while his endorement may not be the clincher for a lot of folks, it did comfort me and validate my feelings. No matter where you are in your thinking on this election, it's worth listening to Brokaw's interview with Powell.

This has been such an internal struggle for me - this crossing party lines on a presidential level, grappling with my hopes and dreams for the future of my now grown up kids and, someday, their own children and what I hope and pray their future looks like. It's interesting how our vision changes with our station in life. I now find myself thinking of grandchildren that might appear at some point in the next five or seven years. I want it to be as safe and dream-laden as I feel it's been for me.

It's never been perfect and of course it won't ever be, but it's been such a stellar country to call home and there is such a profound pride in being an American. We're such a diverse country and independence courses through all of our collective veins. As Americans, we're not simply encouraged to dream, but it's tacitly expected of us to be dreamers, to reach for our own stars and we're told from birth that because we're Americans, ANYTHING is possible and, as evidenced by our myriad achievements, many of those dreams evolve into a personal reality. We're Americans. We do great things a lot of the time. What a history we have and yes, we're in a tough spot right now, but we've been in tough spots before. I don't know if I fall into one of those geographical areas that Sarah Palin has determined to be "real America", but I think "real America" isn't just in a few pre-determined locations but everywhere there are Americans. We take it with us. How arrogant of Palin.

I was talking to my manager Friday and noticed he had a "YES WE CAN - NC FOR OBAMA" yard sign. I remarked on it and he said I could have it - he has one in his yard. Me, with a sign like that here on McCain Street. Even my pro-McCain parents have remarked on the other signs on our street touting the republican nominee, saying they don't think much of placing yard signs regardless of their choice. At first I found that odd and then, after a little reflection, it was quintessential "Barbe & Maxine". It's how they are about everything - not showy or "in your face" and certainly not pushy at all. They don't need to post signs just as they never force-fed anyone their beliefs, religious or otherwise. They live what I have come to refer to as a "quiet calm". It's why they have a plethora of friends far and wide. It's also why their family, both immediate and extended, respect and adore them. I grew up watching them "walk the walk" and rarely heard them talk much about it. Truly, my parents embrace "to be rather than to seem". Never offensive or obtrusive and never, ever in your face. Rare are the people who can effectively comingle idealism with common sense. For my parents, it is like breathing. Seamless. Remarkable.

When I told my Dad about the sign in my car, he looked at me and I quickly said, "Of course, I'm not going to put it in the yard...it's going in my office upstairs.". That was a close one! And that's where it will go - on the wall of my office as a memento of this election. A reminder of this moment in our history as we prepare to make even more of it. I want to remember this time when my political beliefs, feelings and thoughts have felt so challenged. Someday, I want to tell my grandkids of this election and they will be bored with it I'm sure, but maybe they'll look at that sign someday and say, "What's up with that old campaign sign, Grandma?". I will smile and launch into a story of the time way back in 2008 when I wasn't exactly sure what was what and who was who. By then, the Obama-Biden presidency (if they win as expected) will be one for the history books and I hope, I dearly pray, that my hunches and feelings and hopes and dreams will maybe even be exceeded.

On this Sunday in late October, days from this historical election, it is leap of faith. Regardless of how it all goes, let's hope for a safe landing on the other side and because we're Americans, on 5 November, we'll rally behind our next president and get to work with him, whoever he is. That's what we do.

That is who we are.

13 October 2008

The Facts...Just the TAX Facts...

This little fact box wasn't part of a paid campaign advertisement. It appeared in Sunday's (October 12, 2008), Parade Magazine.

It's interesting and maybe it's something to think about...

October 12, 2008
How Much Would You Pay in Taxes?
Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain both say they’ll cut federal taxes if elected. Here’s what their proposals would mean for you.

Obama McCain
If you make... you'd
less than $19,000 $567 $21
$19,000-$37,600 $892 $118
$37,600-$66,400 $1118 $325
$66,400-$111,600 $1264 $994
$111,600-$161,000 $2135 $2584




If you're in the top 5% of earners... you'd pay
an extra...
$227,000-$603,400 $121 $8159
$603,400-$2.87 million $93,709 $48,862
more than $2.87 million $542,882 $290,708

*Source: Tax Policy Center. Numbers have been rounded. For complete details, go to TaxPolicyCenter.org.

If your annual salary is less than $112,000, you’d pay less in taxes under Obama’s plan; if your salary is higher, McCain would cut your taxes more. “While the aggregate tax cut is bigger for McCain, a larger number of voters get more money under Obama,” says Alan Viard, a tax-policy expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Obama is choosing to emphasize tax cuts for the middle class, whereas McCain’s strategy is to keep rates lower at the top as a way to facilitate long-run growth.” For example, a person with an income of $1 million could see his taxes increase under Obama by as much as $94,000, whereas under McCain’s plan he could save about $48,000.

— Rebecca Davis O'Brien

So I guess you could conclude that if you are middle class and keen on paying more taxes, I'd say McCain is your guy. If you're in the top five percent of wage-earners or you're a trust fund baby with more money than you know what to do with, McCain would seem a prudent choice.

If you're middle class and struggling and living paycheck-to-paycheck like many of us, well, you do the math.

05 October 2008

Warm Reminders of Roberta, Thoughts on Cause and Effect and a Happy Birthday Shout-Out!

Of Palin...and an Exceptional Parrot

One year for Christmas, I believe it was 1993, Tim bought me an African Grey Parrot. She was a mere eight weeks old and was still being hand-fed which is really the perfect age to establish a close bond with an African Grey. In terms of sheer intelligence, African Greys are the "Einsteins" of the parrot world. They're vocabulary and gift for mimicry is simply astounding. Not only can they repeat complete sentences, they can do so in a voice that will make you swear it's the person they are imitating.

I remember many times in Florida, hearing Roberta scream in a voice that sounded more like Justin than Justin, "Mom! Come here Mom! Quick!". I would race down the stairs more times than I care to admit, knowing full well Justin was in school, thinking..."Oh no! Is Justin OK?". I mean, her mimicry was dead on! Roberta would also take great delight in calling the family dog, a big lumbering yellow lab named Blossom, who would fall for Roberta's tricks, same as me. Blossom would scamper from wherever she was, thinking one of us was calling her, only to find a room devoid of any human family members, and a parrot perched on top of her cage, looking innocent, though I always figured Roberta must be thinking..."what a stupid dog! fell for it again, did you?". Roberta probably thought the same of me.

I must confess something; Roberta had a Republican handler, though she didn't have index cards.

Did you watch the vice-presidential debate Thursday Night? Were you one of the lucky ones to catch a wink or a shout-out? I have to give credit where credit is due. I can't imagine how Sarah Palin pulled herself together amid such low expectations and managed to stand up there before a huge television audience and, at the very least, form complete sentences in a quasi-coherent fashion. I have to give her credit for showing up, no question about that. She didn't look terribly addled and certainly seemed to warm up to the bright lights, even though she dodged or simply refused to answer most of the questions. Ms. Palin was poised, showed some style and even some down home "Joe Six-Pack" humor, but I don't think you win debate points for that.

Aren't we just finishing up with a "regular, Joe Six-Pack" kind of guy? Hey, I voted for Bush and I have to tell you, that didn't work out so well, did it? It feels to me like "Joe Six-Pack" turned out to be "Bud Extra Light". I dunno, I think we've had enough of that. It hasn't worked out so well, has it?

And one more thing, watching the VP debate brought back fond and affectionate memories of Roberta, my smart, feisty little maverick of an African Grey. Most of the time, I'm sure Roberta had no clue as to what she was saying, but we, "her handlers", used to coach her and feed her lines and, let's give a parrot credit where credit is due, she would pick up a great deal of her repertoire by passive listening to rote phrases. When we moved from Florida, we gave Roberta to our vet tech who loved that bird. It was sad saying goodbye to her. We never got around to teaching her how to wink or send "shout-outs", but I'm betting she could have mastered that as well. What an awesome parrot. Darn right you betcha she was!

One of the things that make me so unnerved to consider the very real possibility that Sarah Palin might wind up as commander-in-chief, are index cards. What will happen if, when she's conferring with world leaders, she looks down and doesn't have the right note card? If our collective well-being lies in our leaders being experienced, educated and have an solid understanding of foreign and domestic affairs, I would like to think they have more to lean on than an index card. A "house of cards" is a flimsy defense. It doesn't convey a level of comfort for this writer. Frankly, it's something that's scared me for, how long has she been at this, five weeks? Like, yeah.

Another point that struck me in the VP Debate, is Ms. Palin's dismissal of the importance of determining the causes of global warming. She wasn't as much noncommittal as she was totally incurious in discovering the key practices that have imperiled our environment. Gov. Palin was reluctantly agreeable that we needed to discover ways to protect the earth and try and reverse some of the damage that's already been done, but to completely find no valid reason or desire in discovering the exact causes of environmental devastation made me happy that she's not in charge of something like cancer research.

Can you imagine if the world of oncology was interested only in treating the symptoms of a disease without discovering the etiology? What if there was no cancer research? We would have made absolutely no significant gains in lowering mortality rates, survival statistics or improving quality of life. It is from research and cellular detective work that new weapons of cancer destruction are created - learning how to use monoclonal antibodies, harnessing the body's own biological immune system which allows us to move away from bombarding fragile systems with toxic chemicals and radiation. The face of cancer treatment has changed significantly because of research and ongoing discovery. Many treatments are now tumor-specific because researchers have studied the disease process and it is only in adding to this knowledge that gains will continue to be made. Specifics matter. Points of origin teach us essential information so that we don't repeat past mistakes. Knowledge is power.

The same principle is true for just about everything. We can't repair this economy unless we look deep into what has created the recession; sloppy lending practices, a Wall Street that fed corporate CEO's scurrilous salaries and bonuses; teaching our kids to live on a "credit and carry" basis, rather than pay for it as you go and if you don't have the cash on hand, you don't really "need" it. The line between our "needs" and "wants" has become unforgivably fuzzy.

When I was a little girl, and even after I wasn't such a little girl and had my own family, I would watch as my Mom would be putting away the leftovers, and I would laugh almost in a punkish, glib manner, as she would save even 3 or 4 tablespoons of leftover corn, beans or even spaghetti sauce. I'd think, "how silly she is. saving a few bites of something when all she has to do is just open a new package next time.". I could never understand (and certainly didn't bother to try), why my parents saved EVERYTHING (and I do mean EVERYTHING). Things in our home weren't replaced until they were completely and totally inoperable and even then, they would be deconstructed to their essential parts with the thought that "this piece or part might come in handy someday...". I remember being chastised not too long ago for idly tossing away the empty inner plastic wrapper that had contained cereal, only to find that my Mom had fished it out of the trash and washed and rinsed it because "it makes a great wrap for vegetables or cake. you can do all kinds of things with these great wrappers! Better than those expensive Ziploc bags!". I'd shake my head again and again, never quite getting it.

In fact, my parents are children of the last "great depression" and obviously, it wasn't all that much fun and anything but "great". My mom and dad recycled long before it became fashionable and not because they were scratching for money. It made good sense to them and, as is often the case they were, and are, right. I remember years ago when my Mom got a new dining room table but rather than get rid of the smaller one, she simply had my dad saw off the legs of the older, smaller one, sanded and painted it and was proud as punch of her newly appointed coffee table. And it is still our coffee table. I would never have thought of doing that and to my parents, such DIY money-saving tricks are like breathing. They learned from the school of "how many uses can we think of for this?", employing creativity, cost efficiency and style, not to mention the satisfaction of knowing they are being prudent stewards of their money and the earth.

For far too long, we've become a nation that thrives on consumerism and now our consumerism is beginning to consume us, but to those who have lived through tough times before, this new economic downturn was never a matter of "if", but more a function of "when".

Guess what? It's "when".

I never fully understood that growing up under the tutelage of Barbe & Maxine Cook would teach me such incredible life lessons, but I am profoundly grateful. I remember last year when my Mother beamed as I created a pot rack from an old bicycle wheel. In some small way, I imagine she must have been thinking..."there may be hope for her after all.". I believe I got a gold star that day.

Now, the upshot of tough times is that it causes us to change and, generally speaking, this is usually for the better. While we may be a country of rampant consumers, we're also an inventive lot, and that will no doubt serve us well in the coming months and years. Human beings generally don't change their ways unless they're in pain or, at the very least, feeling a modicum of discomfort - this is true of alcoholics, addicts and yes, even out of control spenders with an addiction to credit. We learn things when we face tough situations and some of the greatest gifts spring up from those times. America is in the middle of a redirection which is probably long overdue. If we can get out of our own way, work hard and think before we act, we'll probably be just fine.

However, I will submit to you, that if Maxine Cook were to find herself the winner of the North Carolina Lottery tomorrow (which would never happen because she's never bought a lottery ticket in her life) and presented with a check for 29 million dollars, I would bet the farm that it wouldn't change her habits one bit. She'd still save the cereal bags, those last few bites of vegetables and though she might buy a new piece or two of furniture, you can be certain she would find a useful purpose for the one retired. That's as basic to my parents nature as their goodness - it is who they are. Living around these two is a daily eduction and I'm a pretty blessed daughter.

Take Me Home...Road Trip!

We held a formal family council this weekend and came up with the idea of visiting Justin and Stephanie for Thanksgiving and yes, that means we will be spending the holiday in West (by God) Virginia. I can't wait! Well, mostly, I can't wait to see my son, but also, I can't wait to walk around downtown Charleston with him, revisiting my old haunts, seeing the streets I used to know so well, walking on the grounds of the capitol, looking at all that has changed and what has remained the same, in the company of my favorite (and only) son who will turn 22 six days before Thanksgiving. We're all looking forward to it. Now all I have to do is figure out who I can get to come in my house and take care of my six aquariums and 3 cats. Cassie may be going with us, though she doesn't know it yet. I have to check with Justin on that but I can't bear the idea of leaving her behind and besides, she's never visited WV. Cassie, like Justin, is from Amarillo, Texas so I'd like to show her that part of the country. We shall see.

On the automotive front, the car is still in the sick bay of Aamco and release isn't slated until at least Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm over the initial shock, I guess, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it. What can you do? You grit your teeth and what I do is think of all the things that could be worse and, as it turns out, there are many things that could be far more distressing. My family is healthy, we're all fine and still very blessed in the things that count most. I keep reminding myself of this. I know it's true.

Not to belabor the point but there was one moment in the debate, however, which I didn't find "adorable" or cute. Remember when Senator Biden was talking about his family, and understanding what it was like to sit by the bedside of a child, not knowing if he would live? Biden became emotional when he described this, clearly overcome from the recollection of that painful memory. When it was Gov. Palin's turn to respond, she launched right into lauding the maverick ways of John McCain. There was absolutely no reverence or even one kind word of empathy regarding what her opponent had just shared.

The next day, I wondered what the press would have had to say if the roles had been reversed and it was Gov. Palin who had opened up in the debate with a similarly personal and painful moment from her own past and what if Biden had ignored it and launched into peppering Sen. Obama with a flurry of accolades. You can bet it would have made a ripple in the MSM (mainstream media). He would have been labeled cold, uncaring or worse.

I guess those mavericks don't have time for much compassion. It's kind of a shame, really, because it seems that in a time when the economy is tanking and we're in the middle of a dangerous war, with so many Americans forced to live without health insurance from their employers, that we could use all of the compassion we can muster. Times are hard and it doesn't cost one penny to care about each other. That's the kind of "bail-out" that has to come from within. Congress can't fork that over and it shouldn't be in short supply, but apparently it is.

Republican, Democrat, Independent or undeclared, no matter where any of us fall on the political spectrum, we're in for some interesting days as election day nears. What we learn in the next 30 days, in terms of plans, campaign tactics and tone, will be paramount in making an intelligent, wise choice as each of us head into the voting booth. It's a real soul-searching time for Americans on so many fronts. No matter who's side we eventually land, let's pray that whoever inhabits the White House has the wisdom, Faith and spiritual guidance to lead us back to where we need to be, and can coalesce us into a united front on the right path.

And one last thing - today is the birthday of one Tim Parker! Happy Birthday to you and best wishes for an exciting new year!

28 September 2008

Transatlanticism, Transmissions in Tumult, My Blog Becomes " Exhibit 18A", and a Messy Political Landscape...

First, let's start with a travelogue. Katie's was far more interesting and exciting than mine. Katie and John enjoyed a wonderful holiday that began in Paris for a glorious string of five days, included a passage aboard the Eurostar and ended with a flourish in London aboard the London Eye. They had an incredible time. Included in the dream vacation was dinner with our friend Michel and his daughter Anne and niece Nolwenn in Paris. All reports from the principals involved speak of a fantastic visit. Katie and John landed safely back in NYC following "the best time ever!".

[All photos courtesy of Katie Jane Parker.] You may see more of Katie's photography if you click here: Katie's Photo Stream. I have been blown away by her work and her photos of the trip were incredible. I have already put in orders (hints) for Christmas prints. I'm very proud of her talent - I just wish I knew where it came from!

Four days after Katie returned to NYC from London, Justin and Tim took off in the opposite direction for Amarillo. Ah yes - back to Justin's roots! Tim's last hospital gig had been in the West Texas town of Amarillo and he had left many thing in storage before setting off for his new entrepreneurial gig in West Virginia so, as things are gearing up for the opening of his new business, father and son flew to Amarillo, loaded a huge moving truck and had an interesting road-trip back. For Justin, it was back to his roots - he was born in Amarillo and is our token Texan. I thought it was pretty cool that he and his father could share that trip back in geography and time and maybe relive some memories and, by all accounts from both of them, I believe they did.

As much as I miss my son, as do his grandparents, what a unique and exquisite opportunity this is for him to reconnect with his Dad. I believe they're learning a great deal about each other - what makes the other one tick and who they are as individuals - their similiarities and unique differences. Tim was generally working non-stop during Justin's growing up years and usually geographically displaced from the cities we lived in so their times together were sparse and most probably those brief windows of opportunity during summer and Christmas vacations didn't lend themselves to any real adequate "getting to know you" time. However, given that they are working closely together, living in the same house until Justin finds an apartment, and now spending great chunks of time together, it seems they are discovering all kinds of things about each other and it's great fun hearing about it from both of them.

As for West Virginia, I personally am excited for Justin to experience October and the first part of November in the Mountain State. As most people know, I am no fan of WV topography or climate, and am even less enamored with mountains and landlocked geography, but I must say that Fall is when West Virginia seems to shine. I do remember crisp fall days, looking up at a nearly indescribable palette of color that appeared as brushstrokes across the mountains and ridges and valleys and I remember, even as a kid, thinking to myself how expertly and creatively appointed God must be. How He must have the most ginormous box of crayons and He knew how to use them. Even for the ocean lover that I am, the bountiful beauty of October in West Virginia wasn't lost on me. I can't wait for Justin to see that and knowing his sense of, and appreciation for, artistry, I am confident he's going to be blown away by it all.

I am nothing if not a cheerleader for all that is coastal North Carolina. Put me before an ocean, and I need little else to find some inspiration, save a large jasmine iced tea. Justin's never lived in an area where Fall goes full-throttle. In West Texas, it was negligible at best because the trees were mostly tiny and sparsely scattered across the High Plains, bowing humbly to the expansive sky that elicited one's attention and made for it's own kind of beauty. One early memory of my first autumn in Amarillo was my noticing on weekends how so many of my neighbors spent hours and hours tending saplings on our street, trees that wouldn't pass for twigs in my native Charleston. Sure, they might deliver a handful of golden leaves but never in the quantities that would require any homeowner to purchase a leaf rake and never ever enough to create a voluminous pile of crispy leaves just begging for someone to jump into them.

My son will find a different facet of fall this year, a kaleidoscope of color, and I can just imagine the awe he will experience, seeing it all for the first time at the tender age of 21. I know his soul, and I'm betting this will be one of those "moments" that graciously visit us in life. I can't wait to hear what it looks like through his sweet eyes.

Speaking of kids, I must say that I miss my Katie. She's doing well, sounds happy and it's absolutely true we enjoyed a great visit this past May, but I find myself missing her quite a lot. It's hard to believe my daughter is twenty-five years OLD! I rarely laugh as long or as hard as I do when I spend time with her. She's so completely comedically absurd and at times, she's much like what I would imagine the cast of SNL must be like. Sardonic, bitingly witty, droll with a wry, intellectual spark that fascinates me. We talk often but it's not quite the same as seeing her facial expressions. She can drive me to giggling fits with a look and given the political season we are in, she's been exceptionally entertaining - squarely on her game.

I hear the pundits every evening, promising that McCain's transparent ploy to capture the female vote hungry to get a woman into office, will only backfire, that "American women are too smart to fall for this", but it's still a great fear. Call me crazy, but I just can't fathom that our national security could rest in the hands of a woman who appears to earnestly believe that her state's proximity to Russia somehow qualifies as foreign policy experience.

Here's a very serious question - If you manage to shatter the glass ceiling, as so many conservative women and "Hilary hangers-on" are crediting Gov. Palin with, what good is it if you land in a sound-proof room and find yourself muzzled? Does it count as a gain or gaffe? She doesn't even qualify as a cheerleader because, well, they have to make a noise. She's not allowed. Three interviews since she was nominated at the Republican Convention four weeks ago...that's messed up.

The "Sequestering of Sarah" by the McCain Campaign, preventing her from only the most scripted campaign appearances, shadowing her every move and barring her from interviews, press conferences or any opportunity to speak her own mind, is stark proof that she is nothing more than a manniquen for a campaign that appears to be both imploding and exploding before our very eyes. It's unconscienable to me that McCain could have selected this poor woman and somehow expected the rest of us to think it was a good decision. What in the heck was he thinking or, more disturbingly, was he thinking at all? If Ms. Palin can't be trusted to take questions from Katie Couric, how in the world can she be seen as credible enough to deal with world leaders at a time when America is in such precariously dire straits? And to be fair, don't you imagine Ms. Palin feels as used as the rest of us feel hoodwinked? I wonder how she feels when she sees Joe Biden being interviewed, IF the closet they have her locked away in has cable access? Why isn't she furious with her rigidly guarded solitary confinement? What does it feel like to have Tina Fey accurately portray your missteps without even having to embellish a single word?

I would love to see her prepped for an interview by her myriad of handlers, and then, when the tough, pointed questions are asked that anyone running as a vice-presidential candidate should be able to deftly field - imagine this: I would LOVE to see Ms. Palin take a deep breath and pause (for effect) and say, "You know what? I've had it. I am sick and tired of being McCain's token female. I'm done with this. [Looking straight into the camera and for once not fumbling for an answer or even the right word...] - "I have come to realize that I am not qualified for this position and there is absolutely no sense in pretending that I am. The Maverick made a mistake. I can handle being governor from an obscure, sparsely populated state, but I am out of my element and this is simply beyond my capacity and thank you for your gracious welcome, fellow Americans, but I am no longer willing to be the butt of the joke, the lead-in skit for SNL, and I am returning to what I am familiar with, what I know how to do and resuming my life in Alaska. Oh, and Senator McCain, after the treatment I have received from you and your handlers, watching you make one erratic move after another and being made to feel like I have to be shadowed and muzzled and on a very short leash for the past five weeks, I have decided to vote for Barack Obama, thank you very much. It is my hope that I can forget this nightmare, the denigration I have suffered and the calamatous assualt to my integrity. It was ill-advised for me to accept the invitation to be your running-mate and my family and I are catching the next plane out to Anchorage with the remaining threads of our dignity. Find another pawn, sir."

As far as I can see, that would be the perfect "out" for her. No nonsense, no BS, no veiled illusion to family responsibilities...just the truth - you know..."straight talk" which, in Ms. Palin's case, would be infinitely more promising than "no talk". I can't imagine this woman, who I truly don't believe is a dummy, but is in no way in a position to take on the responsibilities that she's been recommended to tackle, can be pleased with her isolation and MANdate to be "seen, but not heard." How can she be OK with that? What's going through her mind and how is she dealing with this oppression?

As far as I can see, McCain never had it in his mind to nominate a woman fully-suited to the office of vice-president. I earnestly believe he simply wanted an attractive, wide-eyed marionette with a double X chromosome. It's not only a slap in the face to women, but it's a powerful slam to Ms. Palin's intellect. How can she operate under such conditions? I can't help but believe that the VP debate this Thursday will be like watching a slow-motion train-wreck and who believes this is going to end well for Gov. Palin?

Then again, the same man who selected her told us not ten days ago that the "fundamentals of our economy are strong", that he couldn't appear on the Letterman Show because he had to head straight to Washington and assist with the 170 billion dollar bailout negotiations, when in reality he headed straight for a taping with Katie Couric; this is the same man who did eventually make it back to Washington and managed to stall negogiations that had been running well until he brought his presidential campaign entourage for as many posed photo-ops as possible in the hopes of making him appear essential and "commander-in-chief ready", when in reality, he did nothing more than make things worse and delayed the urgent business. at hand. The same man who suspended his campaign when in reality, he tried to stealthily crank it up a notch - hoping we wouldn't notice the subliminal sleight of hand gear shift. And maybe, most telling of all, the same person who found it impossible, in the span of a 97 minute debate, to have the simple, decent courtesy of looking Senator Obama in the eye, opting rather to ignore his physical presence on the stage in an illustration of arrogance that backfired and made him look like the angry little man he appears to be - anything but presidential.

Seriously - doesn't McCain look as if his head is going to explode sometimes? I mean, like he's going to just spontaneously combust when he's ruffled? Like he's silently counting to ten before the steam whooshes out of his ears? His temper is supposedly legendary and I just don't feel comfortable at the thought of him losing it at the wrong time. Maybe that's just me...

If that's the mark of a maverick, I want no part of it. Sen. McCain honestly didn't need to remind us twice during that debate that he "never won any congeniality awards" during his tenure in Washington...really...most of us wouldn't argue that point. I certainly wouldn't. That's one of the few statements I don't need to run by "factcheck.org".

All of this would be highly entertaining political theatre if the stakes weren't so devastatingly high and we weren't in such a massive mess. Frankly, it's too desperately serious to be terribly amusing. We're in a very tight spot. We honestly don't have time to guffaw for long at ill-conceived VP choices or shake our heads in amazement at bizarre news interviews. It's become too painful to fill up our cars at the gas pump, excruciating to worry for our friends and neighbors who have no health insurance and this world is becoming much too dangerous of a place, where unfriendly nations are kicking around nuclear proliferation programs, probably laughing among themselves that we might install a "babe" in office who's foreign policy experience begins and ends with the fact that she governs a state where, on a clear day, she can see Russia. It's not nearly as funny as it is horrifying.

No matter how you slice it, we're in such a mess...we're just not in a "good place". I hope we can collectively find ourselves in a better place when the dust settles, regardless of how the election turns out. Our ship of state is listing something awful.

God Bless Us One and All...indeed. Might be a good time to break out into song...something perhaps along the lines of that old Titanic standard..."Nearer My God To Thee..."

Let's see, I guess the other news is that I now have a new iPod. I think I am in love with it. I found a GREAT deal on an iPod Touch, brand spanking new and still in its sealed box and now fully loaded with my music. I discovered it on Craig's List and not only does it deliver my tunes, but has 8GB, wifi, gps and does everything an iPhone can do except make calls and take photos. It's amazing and I am in love. With the iPod.

My fish...oh my goodness. Do I ever have fish and have they ever gone forth and multiplied. My pink convict cichlids are overseeing a huge brood of 5 day old fry and what amazing parents they are. I watch as they corral the babies, scooping them up in their mouth and replacing them back to the nest. It's amazing, really, because most fish will eat their young as soon as they appear, but not these parents. Truly, they are a study in animal instinct and sometimes I watch them in complete and utter awe. I am truly enjoying tending these aquariums and in the year since I set up my 55 gallon tank, I have learned an enormous amount. It continues to be a very fun hobby.

On one final note, I did borrow my dad's van yesterday and my Mom and I visited a garage sale down the street. We came back with a coffee maker and a beautiful brass chandelier. It was GORGEOUS! Apparently my Mom didn't like the one in my dining area anymore than I did, but we'd never talked about it until I saw her examining the one at the sale yesterday and when I saw her whip out her wallet, I thought...Wow! And then my next thought was..."I really hope I don't get electrocuted when I replace the old one for the new one.". I've always wondered if a blond should realistically play around with electricity but, well, what the heck. My car was in the shop and I had nothing better to do so why not give it a try?

As amazing as it may sound to those of you who know me, I successfully and safely took down the old one and carefully installed the new chandelier without incident. It looks GREAT! It's even on a dimmer and it honestly looks so much better than the clunky glass one we had. I held my breath as I flipped the breaker back on after my handiwork, making sure the pets and grandparents were out of spark range should something blow but, well, it worked. Go figure!

I think I may be the son AND daughter my parents never expected :-)

30 August 2008

Rainbow Roses, Fishing and Lunch With The Ladies...

It has been a nice, funny, fishy, festive, fortuitous, frisky week.

My daughter turned 25 this past Tuesday (26 August). I keep telling her she doesn't look her age but you know how some women are about stuff like that. Seriously, she's been a joy to me since I first laid eyes on her back in 1983. Happy Birthday Katie Jane Parker! You are so very loved. Here's to many many more.

When I got home on Tuesday, my Dad asked me who I received flowers from. I had no idea what he was talking about and figured he was just pulling my chain. Sure enough, there was a long rectangular box waiting for me and it had the unmistakable shape a container that might be harboring long stems. I love those boxes!

They were gorgeous and so welcome, so cheery! Now, I'm typically a daisy kind of girl, but I have to say that these roses were just stunning and they came in such festive colors. They were sent by a dear person who lives across the pond in Northern England. The guy who surprises me now and again with packages of sumptuous jasmine tea, weather stations, books and several Greer Garson movies. Thank you kind person. You truly made my evening. It was completely unexpected - I mean, I haven't chatted with him in MONTHS! I think he has this internal radar that seems to know when I need a boost or something.

Sunday evening, I joined a friend for some surf fishing and had a blast. I even found a very cool chunk of coral in the waves and it's now sitting in one of my aquariums. We stood on the jetty Sunday Night, right around low tide, and it was a stunning evening. The water was warm, the breeze was light and the ocean was just as it always is - glorious. I didn't catch a fish, but I did catch a funny crustacean (he put up a good fight, but I let him go.). My friend caught a small flounder - too small to keep - and after he detached the hook he handed the fish to me and I threw him back in and suggested he go out and grow a bit and stay away from hooks.

The weather has been so tropical this past week. We've had some of the hardest rainshowers mixed in with periods of intense sunshine and high humidity. The tropics are popping right now and just about everywhere you go in this town, you hear people discussing the systems making their way from Africa toward our shores. As I type this, Louisiana is on high alert and we're hoping they aren't facing a repeat of three years ago when Katrina made an unwelcome, devastating visit.

Thursday Afternoon, my best buddy Sharon called and said it was time for lunch with the girls. I immediately accepted and she told me that our friend Ann was up for a good time, too. Today, we lunched at Airlie Seafood Restaurant and we had the BEST time! I was a few minutes (several) late because my Mom and I were checking out the bargains at Vintage Values and I snagged some steals! Of course, I took my loot to lunch and my friends couldn't believe what I managed to find. I couldn't either. I'm not generally gifted at bargain hunting but this must have been my lucky day.

OK, yesterday was my lucky day, too. My sweet boss closed up shop and set me free at noon, and I headed for another store and made out like a bandit. I basically managed to capture about 12 outfits for under $40. Most of them still had the tags, designer names I could never have afforded at retail and fit as if they were made for me. Incredible!

My bargain hunting wasn't simply confined to frilly dresses and suits. I went on Craig's List last night looking for an iPod (I miss mine so much!) and while I didn't find a great deal on those, I did discover a Marine Elipse System 12 Aquarium which generally retails for around $160, that was going for the amazing low price of $25. I went over to pick it up first thing this morning and met the sweetest young couple who are preparing to move to Sweden. Not only was this aquarium in good as new shape, but they tossed in another smaller one, rocks, plants, filters, a net,, a heater a gravel vacuum much nicer than the one I have, food, water conditioner, an expensive pH testing kit and an algae scraper. I hit pay dirt!

This has truly been a lucky weekend for me in terms of purchases. I'm still keeping a keen eye out for the iPod, but I'm so pleased with my fish tanks and not a minute too soon - my African cichlids have went forth and multiplied so I was in serious need of a tank for them to grow without fear of being consumed by their relatives.

But back to lunch. Lunch was sooooo much fun. It went on for almost two hours and we laughed, ate great food, giggled, gossiped and ate some more. We all had shrimp and then Sharon declared we would have a large, chocolate dessert - three spoons please - and is anything better than good friends and a shared high calorie confection and great iced tea? I can't think of too many things that top it.

What an amazing gift these friends of mine are. Sharon is one of the first friends I made when I moved to Wilmington and she's been so steadfast, loyal, lovely and God must have used his finest "friend" template in creating her. I loved her the first time I met her almost seven years ago. I adore her even more now. She also brought me the gift of Ann - as she introduced me to this wonderful woman over a year ago and my goodness - the three of us are like three peas in a bucket. My spirit soars after time spent with these ladies. We're all three blond and so we speak the very same language. We can even finish each others sentences.

Next Saturday, Sharon has decreed, (because Gerald has a golf tournament), that we shall lunch again and THEN, the three of us will go have pedicures because Sharon said so. No discussion. No excuses. That's the deal and that's that. Sharon is slightly more mature than Ann or myself so she made it clear that no cancellations would be honored. Hey, who would want to get out of that? We all thought it was a fantastic idea. No arguments from Ann or me. We're blond, yes, but not completely stupid.

The three of us had our cameras on the table. We took pictures. And of course, every pose had to be snapped by three different cameras. And then, our very kind and patient waitress took over when it was time to snap a group photo. Three times. We definitely gave her a great tip because she did a great deal of photography work. Plus, tomorrow is her birthday. She didn't even charge us for dessert because she said we were "fun". All I know is that I left with a huge smile on my face, chocolate in my tummy and an iced tea to go. Thank you Sharon, Ann and God for arranging my life that I have these angels in them.

I did make time this past week to get a much-needed haircut! Actually, very little hair was trimmed, but it definitely needed some reshaping and so I visited Joseph Zell & Company and had a wonderful reunion with two young ladies I used to work with when I managed the spa downtown. It was so cool to see Chelsea and Brandy and we had a lot of catching up to do! Joseph Zell is kind of pricey, but they provide a spa-like service - they SPOIL you from the moment you walk into the salon. The shampoo includes a massage and you never want it to stop. The ambiance is elegant and everyone in there is at the top of their game. I've received a lot of compliments on the trim and my hair is so smooth, so lush. I'm not certain what they put in the shampoo or maybe it's the conditioner, but my gosh, I think my hair is addicted to it. It was a glorious way to spend my lunch hour on Thursday. I highly recommend it.

I am so thrilled to have a three and one half day weekend (and get paid for it!). Sharon was laughing at lunch and asked Ann to guess what I loved most about my new job...Ann tried to come up with stuff but never quite hit it. Then I showed it to her - MY INSURANCE CARD!!!! Man, that is priceless to me. I "heart" my insurance card. Having gone without any for a few months, it is even more precious to me. It's unnerving, mentally, to deal with not having health insurance. You imagine the worst possible scenarios any one of which could lead you to financial destitution if you survived whatever it was that was sending you to fiscal ruin.

Let me tell you - it's one less thing to worry about. I'm grateful. I am extremely, overwhelmingly grateful. Now of course, I hope I never truly have to use it, but I have to tell you it is a huge comfort to know it's in place.

Tomorrow I'm having brunch at The Oceanic, heading over to the 11:00 AM Wrightsville Beach Meeting and then walking on the beach and looking at it, wondering how much it's mood is likely to change in the next few days should T.S. Hanna decide to make a visit on our coast. I will think of Justin - how much I miss him but how pleased I am that he's working with his Dad. I will think of Katie and hope she's having a wonderful first week of being 25. I will smile as I replay today's lunch. I will feel grateful that I had the opportunity to go shopping with my Mom. I will smile as I remember the crazy things my Daddy says to me on any given day. I will then conclude that I am absolutely one extremely blessed woman and though I'm never eager to bid summer so long, it's been a good one - filled with gifts, great company, unexpected presents and lots of smiles and opportunities to say thanks. And then, I'll probably come home, dive in the pool to get the sand off of me, turn a few flips in the pool, look up at the stars and the odds are great that I will be smiling.