Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pastels Day Photo Challenge

To celebrate the arrival of February, Digital Art Photography for Dummies author Matthew Bamberg is hosting a photo challenge, Pastels Day, on his blog, Digital Traveler. The contest is open to anyone, click here for details. The event will be judged by Suzanne Gonzalez.

These are my entries for the Pastels Day contest. I shot all of these on my Canon Power Shot A95 last October at
The Azure Gate, a beautiful bed and breakfast that I stayed at in Tucson. For more about shooting for color and combining colors in your art photos, check out Digital Art Photography for Dummies.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Scalzi's Monday Photo Shoot: Things You Have That Other People Probably Don't

I love Scalzi's Monday Photo Shoot, and I really like this week's assignment: Got something weird around the house that you figure is unique to your personal environment? Perfect. Get the camera:Your Monday Photo Shoot: Take a snap of something in the house you're pretty sure other people aren't likely to have in their house. Pets and people are not included (we're pretty sure your pets and kids aren't in most other people's houses). For this photo shoot we're looking at things -- stange objects, curios, odd keepsakes and just generally weird stuff.

Here's my entry, and although I don't think it's at all weird, I have to say that I'm pretty confident that it's unique, and unlikely to be found in the average home: What you see is a Bow Drill and Fireboard (aka hearth) that I made and used to make fire (as in, by rubbing two sticks together) when I took a Desert Survival Skills course in the Chihuahua Desert in Big Bend a couple of years ago. And I had the bloody blisters on my hands to prove it, but oh! what an incredible feeling...to create fire in the palm of your hand. Worth every blister.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

...and hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Today is the last day all four of my kids are in their 20's, because tomorrow is Alex's 30th birthday (Happy Birthday, sweetheart).

When they were little, I never gave much thought to what our life as a family might be like when the kids grew up. In the early days, with four kids under the age of 10, it was all I could do to think of keeping up with all the diapers and laundry and meals, and helping with homework and scouts, etc., etc. Somewhere along the hectic way, I managed to go back to school myself, and as I finished up my undergraduate work and went on to grad school, most of the time I felt as if it was all I could do to catch my breath. Then I got divorced, and that brought many other things to think about.

Alex went to college and grad school in Chicago, and Katharine and Brenden got married, had Xander, and moved to California. Mike and Chris were about to finish high school, and go off to college heaven knowns where; Anthony talked about buying some land and building a house in New Mexico; I deplored the dearth of guys I consider dateable in Dallas, and thought about moving to the Northeast. If you'd asked me then, I'd have predicted we'd all be scattered to the winds, and not having given it any thought, I'd have accepted it, like the lyrics to that old Carly Simon song, "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be..."

But then, about a year and a half ago, Katharine and Brenden and Xander moved back here. They ended up buying a house about 10 minutes away from me, and Chris, who started working as a locksmith right after high school, rented an apartment with his girlfriend, Stephanie, about 5 minutes away from me...and Anthony is still in his house, also about 5 minutes away from me. So although Alex remains in Chicago for now, and Mike is a freshman at UA Tucson, the rest of us are almost within shouting distance of each other, including Brenden's mom, Melanie, who moved here from California the first week in December.

And one day, it was like turning on a light, when I suddenly realized how lucky we all are, to enjoy the pleasure of one another's company and to live near each other.

Today was the perfect example of what I'm talking about. Today is Chinese New Year's, the Year of the Dog, and there was a celebration downtown, in the Arts District, complete with a parade. Right after Christmas, I'd had the blues, taking down the tree and decorations, and I briefly considered keeping the tree up, with just the lights. Of course, I came to my senses and took it down, and not only took it down, but repainted the entire living room, removing the old, too small, bookcases in the process of repainting everything. Then I went to IKEA and bought three new tall bookcases and put those up in my freshly painted living room, where they look great, if I do say so myself (and I do).

I moved the old bookcases, which were still serviceable, to my patio, and offered them to Kath and Brenden, who wanted them. So today, at about 1:00, I called Brenden, and said, "I'll make you a swap - if you come over and pick up the bookcases, I'll take Xander to the Chinese New Year's celebration downtown."

Just like that, it was a done deal. Kath and Brenden came over and transferred Xander's car seat to my car. Kath said, "Xander, Gramma's going to take you to see some DRAGONS!" Then they loaded the bookcases into their pickup, and we waved goodbye. Driving downtown, Xander and I listened to a little Willie Nelson, and all the way downtown, Xander chanted softly, over and over in the backseat, "Gonna see some DRAGONS, and they're gonna breathe FIRE on my shirt!"

When we got downtown, though, it was another story. "Go home NOW, Gramma!" Xander commanded from his carseat, the moment we were in the shadow of the downtown buildings. "Wanna see my MOM!" "Whoa, Xander, we're going to go see some dragons, remember?" He said, "Dragons are SCARY, Gramma...they breathe FIRE, and SCARE ME!" "Xander," I said, "I'd never take you to anything dangerous - these are just PRETEND dragons - I think you'll like them - I don't want you to be scared!" He insisted we go home. "Let's just go walk around..." I countered, and, 3 years old and easily swayed by me, he agreed.

We made our way to the parade, which was thick with kids, and he was fine until he saw the first dragon...at which point he threw his arms around my legs and tried to climb me. I picked him up, and he tucked his head close to mine and held on tight. If he could have climbed onto the top of my head, he would have. As it was, he slipped his fingers into my hair, and proceeded to hold on, and I was painfully aware that I'd have been scalped, had I tried to put him down. Nevertheless, I took him close to the dragons, so I could point out the tennis shoes and fingers of the people inside who were holding the costumes together. He was clearly fascinated, but didn't want to get too close.

Eventually, the parade was over, and we decided to go for another brief visit to the DMA. We'd no sooner stepped inside than Xander said, "Where's the dragon, Gramma? I wanna see more dragons!"

And that's the neat thing - and I am truly grateful for this - that we all live close enough to each other that Xander and I can go looking for more dragons, anytime we want.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

4 Things

This is for my friend Tammy, who has a great blog, The Daily Warrior (check her out!).

4 jobs I’ve had in my life:
Independent Evaluator: This is the only job where my *%&#$@ useless master’s degree was required. As an IE, I conducted diagnostic psychiatric assessments of children and adolescents participating in psychiatric research studies, beginning with the initial evaluation and then doing all regularly scheduled blind diagnostic assessment for the duration of the study, blind meaning I didn’t know what treatment the patients were receiving (either meds alone, therapy alone, or combination meds & therapy). For each assessment, my ratings were compared to the ratings of the treating psychiatrist, who wasn’t blind to treatment, to see if we
agreed as to how well (or not so well) the kids were doing. I loved being an IE ‘cause I love working with kids.
Paralegal: Once upon a time, long, long, ago, in a far off galaxy, I was a paralegal. This was waaaaaaayyy back when being a paralegal was a new concept, and there weren’t any paralegal programs. I was trained by the lawyers for whom I worked to do things like real estate closings, which I hated. This was a job that brought in some much-needed money when I was pregnant with Alex, but I was bored out of my mind most of the time, working as a paralegal.
Sex Ed teacher for at-risk kids in a middle school: I did this for a semester after I completed my undergraduate work. I worked with 6th, 7th & 8th graders, boys and girls, most of whom were gang members and most of whom were also, in spite of their tender ages, sexually active. However, that didn’t stop them from being offended when I used the "v" word: "Ooooooh, Miss Judi, you talkin’ nasty!" The kids were likeable, but it was a good day when I didn’t have a bunch of tolly heads (toluene sniffers) in my group.
Hotline Counselor (Suicide & Crisis Center): I was a volunteer crisis counselor on a suicide and crisis hotline here in Dallas every week for almost three years. I loved this job, because it taught me so much that is applicable to every day life. Many people have asked me who calls a crisis center, and the answer is, anyone whom life blindsides in any number of ways. Most of the callers weren’t suicidal, although of course some were. We didn’t have caller ID, so we had to trace calls when we felt we needed to dispatch the police. I’ve done that a few times, and I’ve talked to my share of people holding a loaded gun to their heads, or whose words are slurred because they’ve already OD’d by the time they made the call. Of course, in addition to those poor souls who are feeling suicidal or homicidal or whom life has otherwise somehow blindsided, there are "regulars" (lonely people who call the crisis center on a regular basis) and yep, sex callers, sickos who call the crisis center because they know that someone will answer the phone and they’ll have a captive audience at other end of the line. We’re trained to deal with that, though. Thanks to my extensive crisis line experience, I can say, "You’re masturbating, I know you’re masturbating, and I’m not gonna talk to you while you’re masturbating" to a stranger on the phone without batting an eye.

4 movies I’d watch over and over:
Sex, Lies & Videotape: This film, by Steven Soderbergh, is one of my favorite movies of all time. Insofar as I can tell, it’s an almost perfect film. Andie MacDowell and Laura San Giocomo are great, as is James Spader, and Peter Gallagher is over the top, but I’m a sucker for handsome guys playing sh*ts (Robert Redford in Downhill Racer, for example). Also, I love all films where part of the plot line involves talking to a shrink (all that psychology training I’ve had).
Parenthood: I love this movie. Ron Howard really knows what parenthood is all about, and Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen are terrific as the frazzled parents trying to do their best. If you’re a parent who hasn’t seen this movie, you should definitely check it out. My favorite scenes include Steve Martin visualizing his son shooting at students from the UT Austin tower, and Dianne Wiest, picking up pics from one-hour photo kiosk only to discover that she’s received her daughter’s (Martha Plimpton’s) nude photoes of her beau (Keanu Reeves). I wish I couldn’t relate to that scene, but hey - I’ve got 4 kids, ranging from 20 to 29, and I can only say, I’ve had variations on that theme...
Office Space: I’ve got a problem with authority figures, so I can completely relate to this film. In fact, I relate so well that I almost got into serious trouble when I was working at the U, because one summer day, when none of us had any clinic patients, I scheduled a movie afternoon for all the overworked, underpaid people I supervised, and on that afternoon we sat around and drank cokes and ate popcorn and watched this film. Six months later someone squealed on me, and, Office Space style, each of us involved was called in separately by a University Authority Figure to give Our Version of Events. Fortunately, paranoid soul that I was (and justifiably so) working for the U, I’d foreseen this possibility, and we all had our stories straight: "Naawwww, it wasn’t DURING work, it was AFTER work, and everyone didn’t sit around and watch it (I’m goin' to hell ‘cause this is a complete lie; we rearranged furniture so we could all watch it!), I was just playing it in my office while I stayed late, catching up on paperwork, and a couple of people stuck their heads in and watched it for a few minutes, yada yada yada..." Have I mentioned that I always got great ratings as a supervisor, and that people loved working for me? :))
Toy Story: I never get tired of watching it, and that’s a good thing, ‘cause it’s one of Xander’s favorites.

4 places I’ve lived:
Minnesota: I grew up in a small college town in southeastern Minnesota, and although it was beautiful, I was bored out of my mind, and left at the first opportunity, moving to Chicago on my own at 17, the day after high school graduation.
Chicago: I lived in the windy city (and that means right in the city, the suburbs don’t count) until 1983. I LOVE Chicago; it’s a vibrant city, and unlike Dallas, which is sort of a giant suburb, Chicago is a REAL city. When I first moved there, I used to walk around the streets and just listen to all the noise and revel in being anonymous.
Aspen: I took my kids to live in Aspen for the first half of 1992. My father-in-law, who’d died the previous May, had bought a house in Aspen in 1948 (a good time to buy) and part of the reason I went was to clean out the house after his death. He had a beautiful old Victorian in the West End, not at all fancy, overlooking Hallam Lake (if you know Aspen). I remember one night, when there was a heavy snowfall, that I sat in the living room long after the kids were all asleep with a fire in the fireplace and all lights out, watching the snow and sipping bourbon by myself late into the night. It was incredibly beautiful. Alex attended Aspen senior high, Kath attended Aspen junior high, and Mike and Chris were in kindergarten while we were there. Mike and Chris had never seen snow before, and we had some good times, but I would have liked to have lived there before it became popular.
Dallas: We moved to Dallas from Chicago in 1983, and immediately experienced major culture shock. In 1983, in spite of Dallas’ propensity to bill itself as a "world-class city", it was extremely difficult to find things like French cheese, or fresh herbs, or, for that matter, wine, as the neighborhood I live in was (and still is) "dry", meaning, you can’t buy liquor here. Nevertheless, when we moved here there were still drive-through liquor stores, where you could legally buy a roadie in an open cup complete with a coozie, so you didn’t have to have the miserable experience of driving on Texas highways without drinking. Go figure.

4 tv shows I love to watch:
Law & Order: I’m addicted to this show, and I also love Law & Order SVU. Dunno why - maybe there are subliminal messages or something.
The Sopranos: Sheesh, I got cable so I could watch The Sopranos after getting hooked by renting the old shows at Blockbuster, and I feel like I’ve been waiting FOREVER for it to come back on, which is supposed to happen in March. The acting and writing is good, but more than anything else, for me, it’s the shrink-aspect that I mentioned that I love in movies, too. Also, I love to read the reviews on Slate the day after each show airs. They’re written by real shrinks who critique Dr. Malfi and her treatment of Tony.
Dr. Phil: I was a skeptic, but Alex got me watching him, and I have to admit, most of the time he’s pretty good.
Rome: It’s over, but I loved this series, and highly recommend it, if you get a chance to see it.

4 places I’ve been on vacation:
Big Bend, Texas:
I LOVE Big Bend, and I’ve been there 4 times and I hope to go back soon. It’s wild, remote, and desolate, and for most folks, a good five hours out of cellphone range (heaven to me). I like to stay at The Gage, in Marathon, Texas, on the way back. I’ve done some interesting things in Big Bend, including: I completed a Desert Survival Skills course with my son Chris, where, among other things, we learned to make fire by rubbing sticks together. Actually, this is done by first constructing something called a bow hearth, and I still have mine. It’s a heady experience, creating fire in your own hands. Makes you feel connected like Jung says we’re all connected, collective unconscious and all that. Also, I’ve done a three day camel trek through part of Big Bend, and that was very cool. And I’ve gone to Big Bend with a sweetheart, and we hiked, and explored, and spent one memorable sunny afternoon off the beaten path in the Davis Mountains, beside a small stream...mmmmmmmmmmmm...I still smile, thinking about that.

River of No Return, Idaho: My son Chris and I did a week-long river rafting trip on the Upper Salmon, on the River of No Return, a couple of years ago. It was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had, beginning with the thrilling trip in the puddle jumper that we took from Boise to Salmon, a 10-seater, Salmon Air, Piper Chieftan. While we were still in the Boise airport, one of our fellow passengers asked the pilot how he’d happened to go to work for Salmon Air. "Got fahred from Amurikan," he drawled, "for DRINKIN’!" :) And people say pilots don’t have a sense of humor.

One of the places we landed, on our way to our destination, was a dirt runway on the top of a plateau, and our little plane slid in the mud, and there were cows standing at the edge of the field, and we came perilously close to hitting one of them. Definitely not a trip for the faint of heart. This was a real outdoorsy trip anyway: we peed in the river, transported solid waste, and had no showers for a week, prompting a friend to say, "I was so thrilled with the tan I got on this trip, until I got to the hotel at the end of the week, and showered, and saw all of my tan running down the shower drain..."

The food, however, was fabulous, and there was lots of white water, and the scenery was spectacular. The rafts were fun, but more than the rubber rafts, I loved being in a dory, the type of wooden boat used in 1869 when John Wesley Powell led the first expedition into the Grand Canyon. A dory takes you high above the waves and then you come crashing down, with the added thrill of knowing your boat could be smashed to bits on the rocks, tempered by the fervent belief that it won’t happen. And prow-riding on a dory - well, it just doesn’t get much better than that.

Grand Cayman: I’ve been to Grand Cayman twice, with Anthony and the girls, in 1981 and ‘82. It has some of the clearest water and best snorkeling and diving in the world, and in addition to having an icy beer or two at a place called Welly’s Cool Spot while the mosquito planes flew low with a deafening sound, I especially loved Rum Point - a place that was so beautiful, it took my breath away. Dunno what Caymen’s like now, though.

New York City: I’ve been to New York several times, and I always enjoy it. I especially love going to
MOMA and to the Temple of Dendur in the Met. A few years ago, I had an especially good time going there for spring break with Mike and Chris.

Alex flew in to meet us, and the first night, the four of us stayed at the Pennsylvania hotel, across from Madison Square Garden. I’d reserved one large room, and it wouldn’t have been memorable, except that there were apparently honeymooners in the room next to us...LOUD honeymooners with LOTS of energy. The boys, age 15, thought that was terrific, and were highly entertained, but Alex and I weren’t so pleased. In fact, I was so displeased that the next day I checked out of the Pennsylvania and we moved to a boutique hotel, The Gershwin.

The Gershwin was great, but we needed two rooms there, one for Mike and Chris and one for Alex and me, and we couldn’t get rooms on the same floor. At 15, both boys towered over me, but they were slim and naive and clearly still boys...and I was more than a little nervous about having them stay in a separate room on a different floor. "Do NOT go out by yourselves!" I said sternly. "You must check in with me and Alex to do ANYTHING outside your room, do you understand?" "Sure, sure," Chris said, leaning against the doorway of our room. "But hey, Mom, what if we don’t? I mean, it’s not like you’d KNOW..." "Christopher, I’m serious! I don’t want you walking around outside by yourselves!" He grinned at me. "OK, but maybe Mike and I will slip out later - this is New York, and maybe we’d like to walk around and maybe find ourselves some lenient women..."

WTF?!?!?! Alex and I looked at each other, and simultaneously burst out laughing. "LENIENT WOMEN?!?!?!" Chris looked slightly offended. "Yeah, LENIENT women," he said, then added, "That’s an SAT word, don’t you know what it means?" Alex and I continued to laugh. "That’s a good idea," Alex said then, "You boys go looking for lenient women, and be sure to ask ‘em if they’re lenient...that way they’re gonna know...they’re dealing with a couple of RUBES..."

Alex and I still laugh about that. We call it The Lenient Women story. Mike and Chris still fail to see the humor.

4 of my favorite foods:
Brisket tacos from Mia’s, a hole in the wall restaurant on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas with GREAT Mexican food
A good filet mignon, medium rare
Good lox with cream cheese, tomato, red onion, thinly sliced, and capers on a toasted onion seed bagel
Steak tartare

4 places I’d rather be right now:
Savannah, at the Hamilton-Turner Inn, in any of those beautiful rooms
Chicago, seeing Alex and Chris and lots of old friends
Machu Picchu (I really want to go there!)
Driving to Big Bend (I like road trips)

Monday Photo Shoot: Black & White

I haven’t done Scalzi’s Monday Photo Shoot in a while, and here it is, Tuesday night, really almost Wednesday, and I’m just now getting ‘round to it...c’est la vie. I am QUEEN of the Procrastinators, and have been for some time, and although it’s one of my many resolutions to be more prompt in 2006, so far, I haven’t gotten ‘round to that...and I’m participating in the Monday Photo Shoot this week (better late than never), because it’s a topic I like - favorite black & white pics. I’m posting one that I took of Alex and Kath when they were little, in November, 1982, when Alex was 6 (almost 7) and Kath had just turned 4. I’ve posted this before, on my old, AOL blog, but it’s one of my favorite pics, so I’m unabashedly posting it again. I took it in Chicago, when I was younger and more creative (or at least more energetic), back at the time that I learned to walk a tightrope (but that’s a topic for another entry) and I kept a roll of seamless suspended from my dining room ceiling so I could roll it down in a heartbeat, whenever I felt like taking pics. I had a couple of umbrellas for lighting, and an old 35 mm Nikkorex with a noisy shutter and some good Nikon lenses, and between ripping out cabinets and painting walls and hanging wallpaper, between doing loads of laundry and dishes, and cooking dinner, and going grocery shopping, and playing with the girls and doing all the things a young mother/wife does, I liked to take photographs...

I’ve spent some time thinking about those days recently. I’ve felt a certain strange nostalgia for those days, and at times I’ve found myself thinking, "If only...if only I could go back in time, I’d be a better mother, certainly a more patient one than I was, etc., etc." But...that was then and this is now, and it’s not possible to go back in time, and in my saner moments, I realize this is just the Black Eyed Dog of January nipping at my heels, sooooooooo...back to reality, back to the present.

I can’t believe it’s 2006, and I can't help but wonder...if I practiced...could I still walk a tightrope?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Xander and the DMA

Yesterday I took Xander for his first visit to the Dallas Museum of Art. We were tooling down Arapaho, listening to a little Carl Orff, Xander safely ensconced in his car seat, in the rear seat on the passenger side, when he said, "Gramma, I want the window DOWN". Hmmmmmm. He doesn’t usually like his side window down. It was a beautiful day, but windy. I said, "Are you sure?" He responded emphatically, "YEAH!" I pressed the appropriate button, lowering the right rear window. There was a pregnant pause, then, "Gramma, NO! NOT THAT WINDOW!" I put the window back up. "What window, then?" I asked. No response, so I glanced at him in the rearview mirror. Oh. THAT window. His right index finger was pointed straight up.

I pulled over, shifted into neutral, put on the emergency brake, and did what was necessary to lower the top of my VW Cabrio. I then passed him a pair of my sunglasses, which he proceeded to put on, although it took him a while to figure out how to get the sunglasses over his ears but under the hood of his sweatshirt. (After all, he’s not quite 3½ years old.) But of course he did figure it out - oh, yeah - definitely looking good, and with a....with a BIG grin on his face. Happy times in the car with Gramma. Music blasting, we took the tollroad, and as usual we screamed happily and loudly as we went under every one of the numerous underpasses.

Eventually, we arrived downtown. I parked, got Xander out of his carseat, and we walked to the DMA entrance. What a hoot it was just walking there; seeing downtown through Xander’s fresh-eyed perspective. "Look Gramma, HIGHTOWERS!" he exclaimed, barely able to contain himself. "Yes, look, there are some more!" I said, pointing to a couple of high-rises. "Where?" he asked, looking around us. "There!" I pointed. He looked at me and shook his head as he said, solemnly, "No, Gramma, not hightowers!" (Kath told me later that the term, "high towers", which is synonymous with "castles" to Xander, is reserved for the spires of churches.) After a detour through part of the DMA’s sculpture gardens, where Xander alternated between chasing pigeons and climbing on the outdoor sculptures, we went into the DMA. Xander was immediately grooving on the architecture, and was clearly taken with the tall ceilings and massive hallways of the DMA.

When Mike and Chris were little, one of the things they loved most about the DMA was a participatory program called "Drop-In Art". Yesterday, I took Xander to that program for the first time. The theme yesterday was pottery, with a handful of children of various ages making an assortment of tidy clay pots. Xander and I found seats at a small table covered in butcher paper. I deposited our lump of damp clay on the paper, and said, "So Xander, are you going to make a clay pot for your Mom and Dad?" He looked at me and smiled kindly but said firmly, "Gramma, I not make a POT, I MAKE SNAKES!" Silly me, what was I thinking? He tore the lump of clay apart and gave me some, "Your turn, Gramma, make a CAT!" For the next 30 minutes we played happily with the clay. Xander made a series of snakes, and I made a crude cat, for which Xander supplied the tail - of course - and I know, I know, Freud would have had a field day with Xander's choices. Then Drop-In Art was over, and we washed our hands and went back out into the DMA.

Xander was clearly most impressed with the stairs, so we took our time walking up and down a zillion steps throughout the museum, looking at a little art along the way. Eventually, we made our way to the Atrium Café, where I had a coke, and Xander sat on my lap and enjoyed milk and a chocolate chip cookie while we listened to live music played by a classical and blues brass quintet to wind down our visit to the DMA. Then it was time to go. Xander wanted to take a bus home, but I reminded him that my car was waiting for us. As I buckled him into his car seat for the ride home, he yawned, smiled, and said,
"Gramma, we go ‘GAIN?"

Absolutely, Xander, absolutely.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Parenthood and The Price of Stamps

Kath et moi, Wisconsin, circa 1981

The US Postal Service just raised the price of first class stamps again, from 37 to 39 cents. My younger daughter, Kath, still has a couple of books of 37 cent stamps, so she went to the Post Office on Saturday to buy some 2 cent stamps to make the old stamps usable. The Post Office was closed when she got there, but the lobby was still open. She went into the lobby, and immediately noticed that the walls contained numerous banners, all of which read, in bold letters: "NOTICE: We’re OUT of 2 cent stamps!" She sighed, but then spotted a vending machine containing books of stamps of various denominations. She looked into the vending machine to see whether it contained any books of 2 cent stamps. No such luck, but it did have books of 1 cent stamps, so she fed the machine $1.40 to buy 4 books of penny stamps. To her surprise, she received 4 books of 2 cent stamps.

Fast forward to Monday morning. When Kath got to work, she called the Post Office to tell them what had happened, and added, "I still need to pay you what I owe you..." Before she could go on, the clerk interrupted her. He thanked her and said that she didn’t owe the Post Office anything, that she could consider her phone call "payment of the difference".

"Isn’t that cool?" she said, telling me about this when we were having lunch together today, at LaMadeleine. "It's cool, " I agreed, and I couldn’t help but think - there were so many times, when she was growing up, when I was convinced that nothing that I said or did was getting through to her, when I felt like a complete failure as a parent, and I felt such despair, worrying how she’d turn out...but here she is - all grown up, married and a mother herself (and an excellent one) - and she’s bright, and hard working, and funny, and honest - and I am one proud mom.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Oh, Tanenbaum...

I put away Christmas decorations today. I removed the garlands from the stairs, and from outside the front door, and I removed all the ornaments from the tree. It’s a sad task, and one that left me nostalgic for the days when I was a young married mother with 4 young children, all at home.

In those days, I always put up the tree right after Thanksgiving, and I didn’t take it down until the 12th day of Christmas, January 5th, so that we could enjoy it as long as possible. I always did the lights myself, and literally spent several nights twining a couple thousand tiny white Italian lights through all the branches, getting them just so. Once the lights were on, the kids knew they’d get to hang the ornaments.

On that day, they’d rush home from school, and hurry impatiently through dinner and homework. Once the kitchen was cleaned up and the dishwasher running, we’d begin. With tapes of carols playing in the background, and with mugs of cocoa and a plate of Christmas cookies, we’d spend a long, happy evening together taking our time hanging the ornaments. Each of them had a few that they’d always hang themselves. Alex always hung the baby Jesus in half a walnut shell, that I bought for her at Crate & Barrel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago for her first Christmas in 1976; Katharine always hung the Hallmark pressed glass crescent moon with star and angel that I bought for her at Marshall Field’s in Chicago for her second Christmas, in 1979; Mike and Chris always hung the set of wooden firemen (and what a dilemma; there were 3 firemen, so they always let me hang one), that I bought for them at Crate & Barrel in Dallas when they were 3, in 1988. My own favorite, and the one that I always insisted on hanging myself, is a Chinese red wooden swan with woven wings that I received as a wedding gift in December, 1973.

We used to do theme areas on the tree. The kids got a kick out of hanging all of the cat ornaments beneath the bird and fish ornaments, and we had a Santa section, and a fishing boat section, etc., etc. I have a zillion tiny European wooden ornaments, and lots of beautiful blown glass ornaments. I don't know how many ornaments I have, but I've been collecting them for over 30 years, and I have boxes of them.

This year, with all the chicks out of the nest, I considered not putting this tree up. After all, this tree is BIG, 10 feet tall, and at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, it just seemed like too much work. But when I realized everyone would be here on Christmas Eve, there was no question I’d put up this tree, and the garlands, and the zillion lights. I didn’t hang many ornaments, though. Hanging them alone just leaves me feeling sad, and hanging them is so personal, I can’t bring myself to invite friends to help me do it. It’s strictly a family sort of thing, but Katharine and Brenden had their own tree to decorate, as did Chris and Stephanie, and Alex was in Chicago, and Mike in Tucson, and hanging ornaments has never been Anthony's favorite thing...so I only hung a few ornaments, but still, it looked beautiful.

Mike leaves for college again on Wednesday morning, so tonight, with all the other detritus of Christmas packed away, he and Chris were going to take down the tree for me and put that away, too, until next year. Waiting for them, I plugged in the tree. Denuded of ornaments, but still brilliant with a couple thousand lights, it had it’s usual effect on me.

Mesmerized, I sat in the living room and just gazed into it for a while. Mike came home and joined me. He said, "I feel like I haven’t had a chance to do this this year; everything has gone by so quickly." I nodded in agreement, and we sat there together for a bit, reminiscing. Eventually, Chris showed up. He walked into the living room, looked at the tree and sat down with us. The three of us sat staring at the lights for a while, without saying anything, and then Chris said,
"We can do this tomorrow night."

And I guess we will, but...I wonder...do you think it would be too weird to just leave it up until next year? Because there’s something very nice about all those lights...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

Happy New Year. I had a great New Year's Eve. Last night I went to hear the Dallas Bach Society play the Brandenburgs on antique instruments, something I've done to celebrate New Year's Eve several times in the past few years, and I'm never disappointed. Afterward, we had champagne and watched the ball drop in Times Square via cable, and then Mike and I watched an old DVD (Patriot Games). Today, most of the family in town (Anthony, me, Mike, Katharine, Brenden, Melanie & Xander) met at a favorite Cajun restaurant, Dodie's on lower Greeneville, where we enjoyed fried crawfish and shrimp, gumbo, red beans & rice, and Dodie's terrific vinegar coleslaw, and we shared a serving of the to-die-for bread pudding for dessert, while sitting outside and enjoying the 70-something degree weather. Xander entertained us by, among other things, looking at a large billboard advertising Silver City (a Dallas strip club) and saying, "Look, Grandma, that's YOU!" Uh, thanks, Xander. I appreciate that. I really do. Tonight, we had one of the most beautiful sunsets ever, and Mike and I grabbed our cameras and ran out to get some shots, and I caught the shot above. Beautiful, huh? I'm about to make Hoppin' John (for good luck in the New Year). Happy New Year everyone.