Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I watch the news and find it horrifying. I saw a man pulled from his attic last night, clearly in deep shock, and every interview is heartbreaking. I wish I had something eloquent to say about all this, but I don't. I've made a donation to the Red Cross and I'd encourage everyone to do that if you possibly can. I can't abide anyone saying "Why didn't they evacuate?" or "This happened for a reason", and to those who would make such remarks, I can only say, where is your heart?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Happy Birthday Alexander!

Happy 3rd birthday, Alexander! Your actual birthday is tomorrow, of course, but as that's a workday, your Mom and Dad gave you a party today. How well I remember the day you were born; I was there for your birth, and I sent a letter to friends and family telling them about it afterward. Here's what I wrote, 3 years ago tomorrow:

A note to everyone on this wonderful day...

Katharine and Brenden arrived at Denton Regional Hospital last night so Katharine could be induced. It was the day after her due date, and her induction was because of her complication of kidney stones. Mike and Chris and I drove up at about 9:00 PM. Kelly (Brenden's Dad) got there at about 10:30 and at about midnight Anthony arrived, having driven straight there after leaving Denver at noon yesterday. We had a very festive atmosphere in the birthing suite, calling Alex in Chicago, so all of us were there for Kath and Brenden.

At a little after 11:00 we all briefly left the room so that a nurse could give Kath some medication that resulted in mild contractions all night. Anthony went back to Dallas to sleep, Kelly went to Brenden & Kath's house to try (unsuccessfully, I think) to sleep, and the boys went out to their car, in the hospital parking lot, to sleep.

I slept in my car in the hospital parking lot for a couple of hours (quite comfortably) but went back upstairs at about 5 AM Thursday morning. Katharine and Brenden had gotten a little sleep, but both were awake then and Kath asked me to rub her back. Brenden stretched out on the fold-up bed in the room to get a little sleep. Eventually Kath asked if I'd mind just snuggling up with her and trying to get a little sleep. Would I mind? :)

I was curled up in bed with her and we were all sound asleep at about 8:00 AM when her doctor came in to check on her. He quipped "I know we have a bed shortage, but this is ridiculous!" :) He examined her and then broke her bag of waters to move labor along, before leaving for his office.

In a very short time, labor began in earnest. Katharine had a little period of time then where it was pretty hard, and she sent everyone out of the room except me. For much of it I just held her, forehead to forehead, talking her through the contractions. They were strong and hard and close together, and she got sick, but we got through that, and then, right after that, everything began to happen pretty quickly.

I was sitting with her and Brenden had just come back into the room when she became very irritable. I recognize transition when I see it, although I couldn't quite believe it had happened so quickly. I left Brenden with her and hurried to the nurse's station and asked for someone to come examine her. I said she was in transition, but I don't think anyone believed me. A nurse we hadn't met examined her, because Kath's nurse had gone downstairs to eat breakfast. The unknown nurse announced Kath was at 8 centimeters, and left the room. Within a few minutes Katharine said she had to push. I told her not to push until she'd been examined once more, and I ran back out to the front desk to ask where her nurse and the doctor were. There was no time for an epidural, although at 4 cm the nurse had given her a little demerol-like stuff in her iv that she hated because it did nothing for the pain, just made her loopy. The front desk phoned her doctor and asked him to come over stat, and her nurse hurried into the room, examined her, and gave her the go-ahead to start pushing. She had gone from 4 cm to 10 cm in about 45 minutes.

I went to the foot of the bed then and held her feet, putting all of my weight into it, so she could push against my hands. With each push, I could see Alexander's head bulging her perineum until his head began to crown, and after that, with each push, I was able to see the top of his head. What an incredible thrill! She had about 20 minutes of pushing altogether, and then her doctor arrived and I moved out of the way so he could catch. At the very last minute he did an episiotomy.

Alexander burst into the world at exactly 11:00 AM on August 29, 2002. The cord was wrapped 3 times around his neck but clearly not causing a problem as he began to cry, loudly and lustily, almost immediately. Brenden cut the cord and Alexander was measured: birthweight 8 lbs. 9oz, length 20", head circumference 14 1/2", chest circumference 13 1/2", Apgars 9/9.

To see a child born is a beautiful, joyous, humbling experience, but to see one's grandchild come into this world...AMAZING!!! I was quite overcome, and wept (very happily!). Mike, Chris & Kelly had been pacing in the hallway. They came into the room within about 5 minutes of Alexander's being born. Kelly held Alexander and wept. We called Alex in Chicago, and I held the phone next to Alexander as he cried so Alex could hear him. We all talked to Alex, and the boys were amazed by the whole thing, but spent a lot of time turning to the wall as Kath began the business of establishing breastfeeding.

At about 12:30, Anthony came into the room. He kissed Kath, hugged Brenden, held Alexander, and wept. All in all, a pretty emotional experience! :) We got Katharine and Brenden and Alexander settled in, and then we left. Kelly drove back to his place to take care of his chocolate lab, Jane Doe. Anthony and the boys and I had lunch together, and then we all drove back to Dallas, where all of us went to bed and slept soundly.

This evening, I picked up Anthony and we went up and saw them again. Everyone is well, and Anthony and I took turns holding Alexanderand then I rocked him to sleep while Katharine and Brenden ate their dinner. He snuggled up under my chin and made little throaty, snuffly baby sounds (heaven!). They get released tomorrow. I'll be up there tomorrow night and whenever she needs me for the next several days. More later, but wow, am I happy. And he smells WONDERFUL!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

rock climbing in Big Bend

...impressive, huh? :)

more Gage details

's the Gage panther, on the wall outside the restaurant...

and here's a potted plant in the courtyard...

...and here's one of several pairs of courtyard doors....

Gage pool detail

...a closeup of the pool...

The Gage

I love The Gage. For anyone who hasn't read my previous entries rhapsodizing about it, The Gage is a small, historic hotel in Marathon, Texas. More importantly, it's an oasis of civilization (thick towels and plenty of them, good beds, great sheets) in a part of Texas so remote that it's 5 hours out of cellphone range.

These are the front doors of The Gage...the Gage was built in 1927 by a Texas cattleman and native of Vermont, Alfred Gage, as a headquarters in which to meet and conduct his banking and ranching operations. Unfortunately, Alfred Gage was able to enjoy the use of his hotel for just a short time, as he died the same year it was completed. The Gage eventually became run-down; however, in the early 1990's it was purchased and restored.

Two stone lions sit guard at the entrance of The Gage; this is one of them.

Although The Gage is small it's 37 rooms are housed in 3 areas: in the Historic Hotel (in which rooms are available With Bath or, for slightly less money, With Bath Down the Hall); in the adjacent Los Portales (Spanish for The Porch); and in a separate cottage, Wilson House. I've stayed in both types of rooms in the Historic Hotel (Bath Down the Hall is not a problem) and I've stayed in Los Portales. The lobby and each of the rooms is charming, furnished with a variety of authentic artifacts representing the Mexican, native Indian, and American Cowboy cultures of the Big Bend region of West Texas (The Gage is designated as an historical landmark). In addition to it's 37 rooms, The Gage also has a bar (The White Buffalo), a dining room (Cafe Cenizo) and a heated pool (I said it was civilized).

here's one of several giant yuccas on the grounds....

's one of two beds in a Room With A Bath in the Historic Hotel...the bed was very comfortable, and the sheets were great but I brought my own pillow and was glad of it...and the Indian blanket on the bed is approximately 100 years old, and as heavy as a rug...

Here's a detail on the courtyard walls...

...and here's the sign to the bar...

Monday, August 22, 2005

letter to Mike

Last week, prior to moving into a dorm and beginning classes, Mike and a couple hundred other UA freshmen spent 3 1/2 days in the mountains outside Tucson attending Bear Down Camp, a freshman orientation camp offered by UA. Part of Bear Down Camp tradition is to have parents write a letter to their son or daughter. Parents are free to write whatever they wish; the letters are mailed to UA ahead of time and are presented to the campers on their last day at camp. I thought it was a terrific tradition, and of course I wrote a letter and mailed it off.

This afternoon, in catching up on journal entries that I was unable to read while I was on my trip (no computer, which was fine with me), I discovered that the topic of Judith Heartsong's August essay contest is "I believe...". Coincidentally, that was a topic that I'd specifically addressed in my Bear Down Camp letter to Mike regarding my thoughts and feelings about his beginning college.

With Mike's permission, here's the letter that I wrote him, which is my entry in Judith Heartsong's essay contest:

Dear Mike,

Congratulations! I’m happy and proud to be writing this letter to you. All your hard work has paid off; you’ve been accepted into and are about to begin your freshman year at the University of Arizona. One of many terrific things about the University of Arizona and Beardown Camp is that it’s given me the opportunity to write you this letter, an opportunity that might otherwise have escaped me.

I remember the day I put you and Chris on the bus for Hamilton Park for the first time. More than enrolling you in kindergarten, putting you on that bus made me suddenly aware that you were moving out of the sphere of my protection, and going off into the world on your own each day. You seemed much too small and young to do that, and it was a hard thing, to put you on that bus. Thank goodness you’re considerably bigger and older now, and much better prepared to go out into the world on your own. It’s an exciting but bittersweet moment, to be on the brink of adulthood, knowing you’re leaving childhood behind.

There are a few things that I want you to know as you begin this new phase of your life. First, and most important, there hasn’t been a single day since you were born that I haven’t been happy and proud to be your mother. I remember one day when you were just three years old; you came and stood in front of me and solemnly (and correctly) spelled "ocean" (thank you, Speak ‘n Spell!). I was amazed and proud of you that day, but I want you to know that I’m even more amazed and proud of you now, because although you’re young, you’ve already learned what some people never learn: that there are plenty of times in life when growth comes from not being successful, but from learning to pick up the pieces and persevere through tough times.

I've realized in writing this letter that although I seldom voice them as such and have never delineated them, I have a strong system of beliefs that guides me in my daily life. Among the most important of these beliefs is the idea that children are to be respected and to learn to think for themselves. Because of this belief, I used the Socratic Method to parent you. For the most part, I think that worked well for us, but it occurs to me, in sending you off to college, that although I’ve had almost 20 years to parent and influence you, I’ve dispensed very little actual advice. NPR recently invited listeners to share the beliefs that guide them in their daily lives by submitting essays entitled, This I Believe. As you begin this new chapter of your life, it seems appropriate for me to take a cue from NPR, and to tell you...This I Believe:

I believe that when you're faced with a problem, it's important to remember that problems can be divided into two big categories: those that can be fixed by money and those that can’t...and of the two, those that can’t be fixed by money are pretty much always the worst kind.

I believe in friendship. Be a great friend (and I know that you are). In addition to friends from your childhood like Jon and Dan, you’ll make new friends in college with whom you’ll remain friends for the rest of your life. Make time for yourfriendships; nourish and sustain them; they are an essential part of happiness.

I believe in manners (and I know that you mind yours, and it’s another reason that I’m proud of you). People tend to like and remember a person who looks them in the eye, has a firm handshake, and remembers to say please and thank you.

I believe it's important to do the right thing. This sounds so simple, but often, it’s hard. Be honest with yourself and with others. Remember that you have to look yourself in the eye when you’re shaving each morning, and it’s up to you to decide what you can live with and what you can’t.

I believe in being generous. You’ll always be happy you were.

I believe in always trying to have empathy for others. Remember that life has a way of blind siding everyone, sooner or later.

I believe it's important to realize that life is unfair, but I don’t believe in wasting time worrying about it. When life knocks you down, chalk it up to tuition in the school of hard knocks, take a lesson, and move on.

I believe in forgiveness. Remember that you can’t change the past, but you can change the future.

I believe in volunteering. We all become better by giving of ourselves.

I believe in living in the present. Wherever you are, really be there. Remember, "Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans" (John Lennon).

Freud was wrong about a lot of things, but I believe he was right about this; he said three things are required for happiness: work that you love, someone to love, and things to look forward to. Re finding work that you love...find what you’re passionate about, and follow that course, but remember to keep your perspective. Sometimes that’s very hard, but it’s essential to keeping some sort of balance in your life. Re finding someone to love...remember that includes friends. Re having things to look forward to...well, it’s my observation that if you have the first two, you’re pretty much guaranteed the third.

I believe in choosing happiness, always. Abraham Lincoln (among others) said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Lincoln was right.

I wish I could say that I’ve successfully followed all of these beliefs, but although I’ve tried, there have been many times that I haven’t succeeded. Also, I’m sure that as soon as I’ve printed this out and put it in the mail I’m going to think of important things that I didn’t tell you. That’s OK though (um, I also believe in not sweating the small stuff...)

It’s OK because it’s inevitable, and also because the most important thing of all is not to give you advice, but simply to tell you that I love you very much and I’m proud of you, both for the little boy you were and for the fine young man you’ve become. You’ve always been a thoughtful, funny, and terrific brother to Chris, Katharine and Alex, and from his birth you’ve been a wonderful uncle to Xander, and you’ve always been a caring and loving son to Dad and to me. I hope that you’ll always think of yourself with as much high regard as we all think of you. Know that no matter where you go or what you do, you are dearly loved by your family, and we are all very, very proud of you.

Much love,


home again...

I'm back. The trip was terrific, and Mike is settled in his dorm room at UA/Tucson. Due to a slip-up on our part, he'd forfeited his original housing assignment. Accordingly, he was wait-listed for housing, so we didn't know until the day he was scheduled to move in whether he actually had a room or would have to temporarily room with an RA. He lucked out and even ended up with a choice of dorms; UA groups dorms according to majors, so Mike chose Manzanita-Mohave, which is Fine Arts. He also ended up with a terrific roomate, Will, who appears to have the same warped sense of humor that's been inculcated in Mike, growing up in our family.

I'll write more about the trip and I'll post pics as soon as I figure out how to download them from the digital camera that I bought the day we left.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Topless Bar

Yesterday evening I was out running errands in preparation for my imminent drive to Arizona to get Mike settled at college. Because I was running errands, I sent Mike to the airport to pick up his dad (my ex), who'd been in Chicago for the past 5 days to attend a memorial service for an elderly cousin. While he was there, my ex also visited friends and family, including our eldest daughter, Alex, and her fiancee, Chris (not to be confused with our son, Chris, or my ex-boyfriend, Chris).

Mike and I both arrived home around 10 PM and, as is often the case, we ended up sitting around in the living room, talking about our respective days.

"So how'd it go, driving to the airport to pick up Dad?" I asked. (There'd been severe thunderstorms in addition to rush-hour traffic to contend with as Mike drove to the airport.)

"Oh, it was fine," he said. "Dad took me out for dinner afterward, at Chipotle's, and I had a really good time with him. We talked about humor, and movies, and stuff like that. I'm really glad I can talk to him about stuff like that. I don't think most kids can have a conversation like that with their Dads, and I'm glad I can."

He paused, a pregnant pause. I waited.

He sighed. "Sometimes, though, I just don't get Dad at all!" he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

He sighed again. He said, "OK, well, Dad was telling me about his trip to Chicago, and it sounded really neat. He saw Alex and Chris, and Ked and Betsy and Buff, and a bunch of his cousins, and it sounded like he had a really good time..."


"Yeah, that sounds great, right?"

"It does, it sounds great," I said.

"Yeah, I thought so too, but then...GET THIS...Dad starts telling me about this really great TOPLESS BAR they all went to..."

"Whaddya mean? Who went?"

"Dad, Ked, Betsy, Buff, and...GET THIS...ALEX and CHRIS!"

"They all went to a topless bar?!?!?!"

"Yeah...and like...I don't care if Dad goes to topless bars...I mean, that's his business, right? I mean, I don't really wanna know about it, but I figure it's his business...but geez...he takes his own daughter to a topless bar??? What's that like for Alex? What's Dad thinking?"

"Wow, I don't have a clue, honey...I can't believe he did that...and I can't believe Alex and Chris went. Wow."

"Yeah, me either, and Dad just kept saying, 'It was actually Ked's idea, he and Betsy go there all the time...' Who's Betsy?"

"Ugh, she's Ked's little sister...I KNOW her...I can't believe they all go to topless bars together...TOO WEIRD!"

"Yeah, I thought so too, and Dad was just so casual about it was No Big Deal...I just kept thinking what that must have been like for Alex..."

We talked about college after that until it was time to go to sleep.

This morning, I called my ex and asked him to meet me for coffee at Starbuck's. He agreed, and as we sat there having our cappuccino's, I said, "So how was your trip?"

"Well," he said, "I already told you about the airline losing my luggage, etc., but other than that, it was great. I really had a good time seeing everyone; Alex and I caught the Toulouse Lautrec exhibit at the Art Institute; I took her and Chris to lunch at Berghoff's, where we had the corned beef...incredible, as always...oh, and Ked knows this great Spanish restaurant where we all met for dinner...Ked, Betsy, Buff and me...and I invited Alex and Chris, and they met us there...we had a great's a tapas bar..."


...of course...tapas...a tapas bar...makes sense now.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

RMS Titanic


Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from an old friend with whom I'd recently re-established contact by e-mail but whom I haven't seen in a long time. He's recently returned to Dallas after an extended period of amazing travel, including sailing solo to Tahiti this spring and, as if that weren't adventuresome enough, journeying on the Akademik RV Keldysh and descending, in one of the two MIR vessels on board the Keldysh, approximately 12,500 feet (that's almost 2 1/2 miles!!!) to the ocean floor to see the ruins of the Titanic (for more specific information on diving to the ruins of the Titanic, see Deep Ocean Expeditions).

He said that he was going to be in my neighborhood and wanted to know if I'd be home so he could stop by for a few minutes to say hello. Both my car and the boys' car are out of commission right now (don't ask...that's a topic for another entry), so my ex (who's in Chicago for the weekend) had kindly loaned me his car, in which I was about to drive Mike to work. I explained the situation and invited my friend to come over in the evening instead.

He came over a little after 7:00 with an envelope that he'd just received in the mail containing a DVD with a record of his trip to the Titanic. He also brought me an amazing gift: a styrofoam cup that has traveled 12,500 feet to the bottom of the ocean, where, from a bot arm on the outside of the MIR (I think), the cup was placed briefly on the deck of the Titanic. Wow. I can't begin to say how cool I think that is. The cup is incredibly compressed from the tremendous pressure exerted on it at that depth. I've attached a couple of photos that show front and back views of the cup, and I placed a quarter beside it to give an idea of the degree of compression that the cup has undergone.

Of the 6 billion people on this planet, only about 200 have been to see the ruins of the Titanic. The DVD of the trip was amazing...we watched it, and then picked up Mike from work, and of course he wanted to see it, so the three of us watched it again...and (if you're reading this, Jay) I would still love to watch it again.

Still limited to one car and with lots for both Mike and me to do this afternoon, I have to run, but I'll write more about this later.

Monday, August 01, 2005

greasin' on American Express card

I've been re-reading an excellent book, North Toward Home, by Willie Morris. The book, a memoir first published in 1967, is divided into three sections: about his growing up in the '40's in Mississippi; about his coming to Texas in the 1950's to attend college at UT Austin and, after a stint as a Rhodes Scholar, returning to Texas in the early '60's to cover state politics as a writer for the Texas Observer; and finally, about his experiences in New York, where he was the youngest editor ever hired at Harper's Magazine.

This afternoon I came across this passage, from the section where he'd returned to Texas in the early 60's to cover state politics for the Texas Observer: Riding all over Texas...I gave in, as everyone else I knew, to the euphoria of the Texas road, to that curious, liberating exhiliration that comes with taking a car along a flat and empty highway to some place hundreds of miles into the distance. I would keep the speedometer right at 70, wheel-straddle the dead dogs, cats, buzzards, snakes, armadillos, and tarantulas, and aim for the scalding heat mirage rising up from the concrete a mile to the front...

I smiled reading it. Maybe you have to have done it to appreciate it, but there's something about getting in a car and driving across's so VAST...and there's a stark sort of beauty to the desert.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm planning an imminent road trip to Arizona with my son, Michael, who'll begin his freshman year at the University of Arizona at Tucson in August. So, directionally impaired as I am ("What do you mean it's 1000 miles? It's only 5 inches on the map! Hey! Point the map back in the direction I'm driving!"), I've been spending a fair amount of time the past couple of days at the Rand-McNally site planning our trip in infinitesimal detail.

Because it's on the way (sort of) and because Mike's never been there, I've decided to take a couple of extra days for us to dip down into one of my favorite places in Texas, Big Bend National Park. Big Bend is in a remote part of the state: it's a good 5 hours out of cellphone range. So today I called (no internet, either, at least, not reliable enough for hotels to have online reservations) The Gage, and got LUCKY (it's usually booked) and got a room for 2 nights (the camping gear won't fit in the car with all the stuff Mike is taking for college). The first day, we'll leave Dallas at the crack of dawn and drive like demons the 553 miles to Marathon and The Gage. We'll still be a good hour outside the park, but that's OK...Marfa, and it's Mystery Lights, is just 30 miles down the road from The Gage, and my ex is going to lend us his Russian night vision goggles, to enhance our viewing experience.

This will be my 4th trip to Big Bend. The first time I went was a couple of years ago. I'd signed up for a 3-day camel trek in Big Bend with The Texas Camel Corps. When he found out that I was going alone, a friend, very familiar with the area, had cautioned me that I'd not only be 5 hours out of cellphone range, but on the Texas/Mexico border. He advised me not to drive alone in the area at night, and went so far as to make me promise not to drive my own car, saying, (rather ominously, I thought), "Aside from the fact that you're more likely to have car trouble in your own car, with all the miles you have on it, and you know that if you do have car trouble, without a cellphone, you're screwed, you've said yourself you'll have to leave your car in a public park for the 3 days you're on the trek, and it'd be just too easy, Jude, to break into your car" (I drive a ragtop).

So I rented a bigger and more substantial car, with a hardtop, and happily, if somewhat nervously, took off for my adventure (I'd never ridden a camel before, either, but that's another story). As I sped west out of Odessa, Texas, looking for the turnoff to Hwy. 385 South, to Marathon, I suddenly remembered that I hadn't packed anything to sleep in (other than my sleeping bag). I'd been warned about the dearth of places to buy anything in that part of the country, so when I saw a big sign advertising a Walmart just before the turnoff, I followed the sign and drove to Walmart to buy some pajamas and other last minutes items that I imagined I might want on the trek. I was happy I'd stopped, because in addition to some cheap but perfectly adequate pajamas, I picked up extra batteries for the night vision goggles and I found a terrific Al Green/Teddy Pendergrass CD (Tired of Being Alone).

At the register, I gave the clerk my American Express card to pay for my purchases. To my surprise, the card was declined. I knew there was no reason for it to be declined, but I wanted to pay for my things and get to Big Bend before dark, so I just gave the clerk another card, which was accepted without any problems.

I went on my way and had a terrific time on the camel trek, learning a lot of things I didn't know about camels (mine didn't spit) and javalenas (we saw quite a few) and tarantulas (which were migrating at that time, and were everywhere on the ground and climbing up the fences at the stables).

A few days after returning to Dallas I received a letter from American Express, saying that as part of AE's comprehensive fraud protection service, all AE cards are routinely monitored for suspicious activity. The letter went on to say, "Suspicious activity has recently been detected on your American Express card. Specifically, a request was recently submitted for authorization of the purchase of a number of items at a Walmart store just outside Odessa, Texas." The letter went on to say that, based on my history of my use of my AE card, AE found it unlikely that I'd be shopping at a Walmart outside Odessa, Texas, and accordingly, AE had refused to authorize the transaction...

Bwwaaahhhaaahhaaahaahahahahahaha....AE doesn't know me as well as they'd like to think they do...and it warms the cockles of my independent heart, to know that.