Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Call Me Gadget Girl

I love electronic gadgets. I am not embarrased. I am just a techie at heart. I know it's usually a "guy thing" but I have had gadget guys tell me I am worse than them.

I don't have to have the latest toy as soon as it comes out. I let other people buy up the first models while they work out the kinks. But when I see the relevance to my life, I must have it. Some examples:
  • I have two digital slr cameras, a point and shoot digital camera, and a film slr camera. Oh yeah, and a video camera. I use them all.
  • I have a cell phone and a blackberry (now known as the "crackberry") for work.
  • I just bought my kids new Instinct touch screen phones for Christmas.
  • I'm on my 2nd Ipod and my daughter is on her 3rd.
  • We have two Tivos and a DVR - one for each TV we watch regularly. We have a drawer of nothing but remote controls. Only one TV is a large LCD, HDTV.
  • We have 3 DVD players - again, one for each TV we watch regularly.
  • We have 2 desktop computers and two laptops.
  • We have a portable GPS for our vehicles.
  • We have a Wii and a Wii Fit, the only game systems that we have ever really enjoyed at our house.
  • I love my XM radio in my car.
Wow, that was hard to look at. I just love convenience and new inventions, that's it. Is there a Serenity Prayer for gadget addicts? Well, apparently this gadget addiction has been studied. By real professors at real universities. See here and here and here. According to that last article, "There is a thin line between addiction to gadgets and enthusiasm for 21st-century life, writes Claudine Beaumont". So what does that mean for me?

I'm not really an addict. Really. I can put the crackberry down any time. Yeah, I can go without updating my Facebook status for 8, maybe 9 hours. Sure I can. Really. Just don't take my cameras away, okay? Or my Tivo. Or my laptop. Ok, maybe I need help.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Captured Moments

Plans. We make plans for the holidays. Then we get frustrated when things don't go as planned. Not me. I like to have some idea of a plan but I have found that the best times have come when we do things that are not in our plans. I have learned to have a flexible outline, if you will, of how things will go but to not be surprised when we change it at the last minute. It's so much less stressful that way. And more fun. This Christmas was no different and was one of the best ever.

My sister and her family were joining us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from Louisiana. My Dad was driving over on Tuesday evening from the Nashville area. Dad was to arrive at around 6pm Tuesday and my sister and family were due at around noon on Wednesday. That was the plan.

Dad decided to leave a little early and popped over, arriving at around 2pm. I told him that I hoped he didn't mind that I was still doing laundry and we sat and chatted. My refrigerator had stopped cooling this week and the repairman had been there that morning. The cable box had gone out on one of the TVs. Dad and I drove to the other side of town with the cable box to switch it out for one that was working. We talked in the car about a wide variety of things and it was nice to just enjoy each other's company. We stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things and returned home to cook dinner. Not the dinner I had planned but it turned out yummy anyway.

On Wednesday morning at 5:45 AM, I was startled out of sleep as the dogs started barking and running to the front door. My sister and family had arrived early too! They had driven through the night without stopping. We installed them in the sunroom to get some sleep. I, however, was wide awake. So I made some coffee and sat downstairs and watched the Today show on the TV with the now working cable box. Then I put my makeup and festive holiday clothes and began breakfast. Not the one I planned but it turned out yummy.

My cleaning people come on Wednesdays and they were due between 11 and 12 that day so we would need to get everyone out of the house for a couple of hours. My daughter had to work that afternoon so I decided to take everyone else to pick up one of her gifts - a snowboarding jacket - that was due in to the store that day. While wandering the store, waiting on them to find the jacket, we decided that it would be fun to take the kids snowboarding on Christmas Day. My nephews live in Louisiana, not the snowy capital of the South, so they don't get the opportunity very often. And my daughter and boyfriend were both getting new snowboarding gear for Christmas so they would be excited to use it. It would be fun, we decided. As we left the store, we still needed to kill some time so we headed downtown to market square to go ice skating on the temporary rink. My daughter ended up not having to work so she joined us. We shopped a little while the kids skated and then grabbed a bite to eat before the last restaurant closed for Christmas Eve then headed back to the house.

We had planned to eat Christmas dinner at about 7, then open gifts. My daughter's boyfriend's family was doing their celebration at the same time so we decided to wait since my son didn't get off work until 10pm anyway. Dad and my sister surprised my son at work. My sister and I decided we would start cooking when we got ready to, and whoever was there when the food was ready would eat. Then we would open gifts at 10 when my son and his roommate arrived. Not what we had planned but it was what we did. And my sister and I got to spend most of the afternoon, side by side, with our laptops, trading photos while they guys watched sports. Then at 10, we had the present opening fest and finally got in bed around 2:30am. That certainly was not in the plan.

Christmas morning we had Santa for my daughter, started breakfast and as people woke up, they joined us. Dad began preparing for his drive home and he left at about 11, sticking with his plan. The rest of us gotready to drive to the snowboarding adventure. The four kids had the best time on the slopes while the "grown ups" watched and drank hot chocolate. There was a viewing area where we could watch and take photos but stay out of the cold. We stayed until about 7:30 that evening before my sister and family left to have Christmas with my brother-in-law's family in Kentucky. It was so much fun we have decided to make it a yearly tradition and started making plans to get a cabin for next year. Uh, Oh . . . there we go trying to plan things again.

My flexible outline did not include ice skating, shopping, snowboarding, or changing meal times. But it wouldn't have been the special Christmas it was without all of that. And it was one of the best. I hope yours was too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cookies and Cakes and Candies, Oh My!

I am not usually a holiday baker. We are not really a family of sweet eaters so it is a waste of time and ingredients for me to bake during the holidays or any other time of the year. Give us cheeses or dips or pigs in a blanket or just about any appetizer type food and we will fight you for the last bite. Cakes . . . not so much.

So why am I baking? I spent Sunday baking two different types of cookies and a spicy fruit cake. Last weekend I made rum cake and bourbon balls. I will do the chocolate stuff - cookies and candies - today and then tomorrow will be the chocolate yule log.

My family is coming. My sister, her husband and their two teenage boys will be joining us from Louisiana and my dad will be coming from the Nashville area. At first I thought that might have spurred on the urge to pour sugar into bowls and add fruit and chocolate. But they don't really eat sweets either.

Maybe I'm nesting. It's the holidays, I am on vacation, family is coming. Hmmmmm, that didn't translate to decorating . . . we got the tree up and a wreath on the front door but little else. Our sunroom looks festive but the rest of the house looks like the grinch lives here.

Whatever the reason, maybe it's just the season. Holiday celebrations deserve holiday sweets. So I am making them. Lots of them. Want some?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It'sThe Thought That Counts

Well if it's the thought that counts, I should make people very happy this Christmas. I have thought A LOT about the gifts I will give this year. And thought about it. And thought about it.

I haven't done a lot about it though.

I have recently started my online shopping. I tend to shop on line as I hate to shop in stores. I know, what kind of girl hates to shop? This girl. Except online. But I digress.

I spend a great deal thinking about what each person enjoys and try to come up with a creative, unexpected gift. But the people in my life tend to be blessed and they don't need a lot. And if they want something, they buy it. Good for them, bad for those who would desire to give them gifts.

I know people that take very little time with gift giving. The latest candle holder or fleece blanket that a store has stocked up on and then put on sale should be just fine for the 5 people for which they need to buy. I can't do that. It's just not in me.

I have to think about it. It has to be right for the recipient. They should love it. It doesn't have to be perfect but it has to be "them". It's exhausting! And the thought that someone might re-gift one of my gifts . . . devastating!

So this year, I have thought about it and thought about it some more. I have come up with a few things. I still need to come up with some more. Again, exhausting!

Is there a therapy group for co-dependent gifters?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's Starting To Feel A Lot Like Christmas

We have been working on getting some holiday spirit. Today, the elf meter rose a couple of notches.

After making some homemade chicken soup for my son's ailing room mate, I was in the mood to bake. I put the Ipod on the speakers and hit the Holiday Playlist.

My daughter made a dash to the grocery store to pick up some missing items and then we got busy.

She loves to make sugar cookies and decorate them. What a mess! But she worked for over two hours rolling, cutting, baking, decorating with icing, sprinkles, and sugar. It makes her happy. She ended up with 10 cookies, 4 of which we are not allowed to eat because "they are too pretty".

While she baked, I made a rum cake and chocolate bourbon balls. Holiday goodies in the south just seem to beg for a spike or two. We sang along with the traditional Christmas carols and the new, modern holiday songs.

So I think my Bah Humbug period may be coming to an end. I guess it's something you can't force, it just hits you when it feels like it. Welcome Christmas.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gearing Up For Holiday Cheer

Meet Cleo.

Cleo is a 3-legged, foul breathed, snaggle-toothed, seizure afflicted, yappy princess with lesbian tendencies.

Her full name is Foxy Cleopatra, just Cleo for short. We adopted her from the shelter a few years ago and we think she is over 10 years old. She has a back leg that is useless but it really does not slow her down whatsoever. She has seizures occasionally and she keeps "humping" our yorkie poo, Zsa Zsa.

She is blissfully happy and doesn't care what season it is. Not a care in the world.

Me, I am painfully aware of the season. I really would like to get rid of this humbug thing I have going on.

A friend of mine gave me a prescription for Christmas spirit suggesting I watch the movie "Elf" 5 times in a row. I had actually watched it 3 times already in the past two weeks. No change.

My daughter and I put up the tree. We started decorating. I starting purchasing a few gifts, mostly online. I still feel like something is missing.

I think it's the feeling of having small children around for the holidays. With young kids, everything is exciting and the anticipation of Christmas is contagious. I miss that.

I love my life and where my kids are in their lives. I wouldn't change a thing. But I would like for Christmas to be fun again. Maybe with grandchildren????

For now, Princess Cleo seems excited to have the tree up and for Christmas to be here. Maybe I can catch it from her.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

After The Storm

She loves him. She loves him not. She loves him. I hate them both.

Why am I dragged on the roller coaster with them?

They have decided to give it another try. That's fine I guess as long as they don't talk to me about it. I have shared my opinion when asked and kept my mouth shut when not asked. It's hard to watch your child grow up.

As if the roller coaster were not enough to distract me from my work, her wrecked car ended up not being totaled. "Just tow it back to my house" I very nicely, through my teeth, told the insurance adjuster. Then I began calling auto salvage businesses. Between the check from the insurance company and the salvage guy, I got more for it than I could have if I had fixed it then sold it.

However, the new Jeep, yeah, it broke down last Sunday. Towed it back to the dealer who fixed it, no charge. However, the repair took all week. So I was the chauffeur for the teenage undecided all week. Gotta love parenthood.

But the sun is coming out, figuratively, since it is gray and cloudy outside. This week will be better. Their relationship is steady for now, she has a vehicle, and maybe I can get some laundry done.

It's all about those little things that hint to you that normal is returning. Today, I love being able to get to the laundry.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Broken Hearted


But I don't think time is gonna heal this broken heart
No I don't see how it can if it's broken all apart
A million miracles could never stop the pain
Or put all the pieces together again

From Broken Hearted Me by Anne Murray

How do you tell a 19 year old that her broken heart will mend? How do you tell her that she will be happy again one day? That this is really for the best?

You don't. I repeat . . . do not say any of that.

Moms. We watch as the tears roll down their cheeks and we listen. They lay on our bed and cry. We rub their backs. We listen, just listen.

Inside, our heart breaks for them.

We know in our heart that this is the best thing, that this relationship would not have lasted. We see that she was not truly happy and we know that there is a soul mate out there for her. But her heart is breaking.

She believes he is the only one, that there will never be another, that she's willing to put up with his shortcomings because she loves him.

I can't fix it. Only time can. So they say. I think I disagree when it comes to that first strong love. I still remember what it felt like some 30 years later. My logical head knows it wasn't right for me and that he was not the one, even though I thought so. But my heart still hurts just a little bit. Rejection sucks.

And my heart hurts for her today.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Love Is In The Details

Thanksgiving is about family. The family in the photo is my grandmother's. Most all of the women in the photo are her sisters or her nieces. My grandmother is standing. My brother and I are up front and center.

You can't really tell by the photo but my grandparents didn't have much. But on occasions, such as Thanksgiving, my grandmother went all out. She pulled out the dishes that were for special occasions - they all matched. They were not china and from what I remember, she got them with S&H green stamps. But they were special and only used for special occasions.

The serving dishes came from estate sales and flea markets. But they were beautiful and were well cared for. And the food was plentiful and tasted so good. My grandmother and her sisters were all amazing cooks.

My mother followed in the tradition. Special occasions were treated with special care. My parents also did not have a lot early on but while they were stationed in Germany, my mom was able to purchase a set of china and some silver goblets. She always set the table with a beautiful table cloth and matching napkins. She made an arrangement with small angel figurines in the center of the table. We used our best manners. Friends of our parents visited one year for Thanksgiving and one of the children surveyed the table once my Mom had worked her magic. He innocently shared "My momma sets the table real pretty too but we ain't got no statues or tin cups."

I cook Thanksgiving dinner every year. I could use paper plates and plastic ware. It would be so much easier. But I use special stoneware in fall colors or my mom's china she gave me several years ago. I use my grandmother's serving pieces. I put a table cloth on the table. I make everyone's Thanksgiving favorites. Does it matter to anyone? I don't know.

But it matters to me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Honda Accordian

My daughter had an accident Thursday night. She was leaving work, pulled out onto one of the busiest roads in town and merged into the traffic. She called me on her cell phone to tell me she was leaving work. I was driving back from Nashville.

She got about a mile down the road, still on the phone with me, and let a fellow driver in a mini-van, who was signaling, into her lane. Such a courteous driver. A few seconds later, the mini-van driver slammed on her brakes and my daughter, after slamming on her brakes, went right into her rear end. I heard the whole thing, still on the phone. The lady said she was trying to avoid hitting someone in front of her. Everyone was fine, no one hurt. But my daughter's Accord is now an Accordian.

She cried. It was her first accident. It scared her. She handled it well. A friend of mine went to the accident site to help her. Thank goodness for friends. Once I got home, she called the insurance company. They are sending an adjuster but advised us that it was probably totaled. No kidding!

So we got on the internet and started looking for vehicles. She used to have an SUV and has wanted another one for a while.

We test drove several pre-owned vehicles this weekend and she tried to make an intelligent decision rather than an emotional one. We found a great deal on a Jeep Grand Cherokee. She checked out several Explorers. She called a friend's dad who is a mechanic to ask for advice. She researched reviews online and in consumer magazines.

She signed the papers last night. She is now a Jeep owner and is a car-payment-making-grown-up girl too. New responsibilities.

I know she has a lot ahead of her. I am glad she wasn't hurt. I'm glad she was able to purchase a vehicle so quickly. I am proud of her for thinking through her purchase. And the look on her face last night as she drove off in her new Jeep was priceless.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Comfort Food

I think it's the cold weather.

The weather affects so many things in my life. I have become pretty inactive, vegging out in front of the TV or computer. It affects my attitude towards work, how I spend my weekends and what I choose to prioritize.

But most of all, the weather affects what I want to eat. Mostly it's comfort food.

I have shared recently my obsession with macaroni and cheese - that's ongoing. My most recent post was about country ham, bacon, and homemade biscuits. Last weekend I made beef stew and vegetable soup with cornbread. Do you see a pattern here?

Last night, I decided I wanted to make cupcakes. Pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese icing. I started about 7pm and finally got them iced at about 10pm. But it was worth it. They were yummy. I shared some with work friends today since there is no way that my daughter and I could eat (or NEED to eat) so many. I didn't take a photo to share with you but the recipe for both the cupcakes and icing can be found here at Patent and the Pantry. Try them. I added pecans to the cupcakes just because I love nuts.

I guess this time of year is good for comfort food. Thanksgiving cooking is all about it. I am looking forward to next week. Call me a happy couch potato.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cookin' It Old Skool

I occasionally become obsessed. Usually with a type of food or a process.

I am on a never ending hunt for the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe. I have tried many and have not found the *perfect* one yet. We have been through a LOT of cheese.

My latest obsession is doing things the old fashioned way. I recently ran across an article on Benton's Smoky Mountain Hams in a national magazine. Benton's cures hams and bacon the old fashioned way - smoked in a smokehouse and then aged for 8-10 months. Their meats are used by famous chefs at famous restaurants all over the country. And they can be ordered over the internet. But they happen to be in my back yard.




So I took a little road trip yesterday down to Madisonville, Tennessee about a 40 minute drive from where I live. They have been in business since 1947 but things look about the same as they did in 1973 when Mr. Benton bought the business and moved it to this location. It is one room with a white board on the wall with the strong smell of the wood smoke used to cure the meat hanging in the back room. Look at the white board, tell 'em what you want and they cut it for you. I asked for 3 country ham steaks and 2 lbs. of bacon. I had to resist getting some bologna. For those of you not from the mountains, thick country bologna on saltine crackers is like hillbilly crack.
This morning, I got out the iron skillets. To cook country ham, pour some coffee in the skillet, toss in a spoonful of brown sugar, throw in the ham steak and cover it to let it steam for a while on medium-high heat. Once the coffee cooks down, take the lid off and turn it several times to let the coffee/brown sugar cook down and caramalize on the ham.

I also cooked some of the bacon. It is thick and smoky, almost chewy. Yum.
I whipped up some homemade buscuits and then made ham biscuits and bacon biscuits and poured myself some fresh coffee. I am a happy girl.

Is it healthy? No, not terribly. Is it good? Absolutely. And I fed my obsession for old fashioned processes - iron skillets, homemade biscuits, smoked meats from someone that shares that passion for doing things the old way.

Now, let me get back to my blackberry, cell phone, and DVR.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Autumn and Acorns

I moved a lot when I was young & I still ache a bit at the thought of all those autumns in new & unfamiliar landscapes.

-Storypeople

I love autumn. It is right up there with spring as my favorite time of the year.

The colors where I live have peaked and now the leaves are starting their descent from limb to earth.

The acorns have descended upon my roof, pinging off the eaves and resting under the oaks for the winter, looking up to see what they will become. They are cute but they are loud.

I sit in my sunroom, reading or catching up on tv and I snuggle under a fleece blanket. I drink hot tea. I get out my socks and put away the flip-flops. I love my sweaters. And comfort food.

Autumn asks you to slow down. To savor the moment. To spend time with family. Autumn asks you to appreciate beauty.

I am listening.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Rare Moment

It's been a while since I took pictures of my kids. They have grown up with a camera in their face since they were born. So to go more than a few weeks with no pictures is kind of unusual. We see my son about once a week lately and my daughter has been busy at work. Time together has been rare.

The other day, it all came together perfectly. I was done early at work. My son stopped by for a visit. My daughter was getting off early. The weather was perfect. The fall colors were unbelievable - at their perfect peak. They agreed to let me do some portraits. We headed out to find the perfect spot.

It took a while as the perfect spot seemed quite elusive. Where the trees were beautiful, there was not a good place to pose. We drove around for about an hour and ended up in a local park by a lake. The leaves were bright yellow and beginning to fall from the trees.

They posed. They laughed. They swung on the swings. They found piles of leaves and threw them. They pulled on the branches to get more leaves to fall.

We had fun. They had fun. And I got some fun shots.

Those moments are just wonderful. They are also rare. I guess that's why they are so special.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Red State or Blue State, Whatever!

My condolences to Senator Obama whose Grandmother passed away today.

I generally don't discuss politics on my blog. This political season has been vicious at best and I do not need people telling me how to vote or what they think of me for how I vote. I also don't like to try to tell others what to do, think, or how to vote or to be perceived as doing such. And I feel very strongly about an American's right to keep that private. But I do love to talk politics. And I have some thoughts.

This election has been historic. The use of technology, the changing voter, the way the media has covered the campaigns, the influence of Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show.

I have been more interested in this election than in any in the past 30 years since I became able to vote. I have never watched a debate in it's entirety in my life. I watched all the televised debates with fascination. And with my daughter. Without tying her to her chair.

I have been so impressed with my daughter and her friends. They know where each candidate stands on the issues. They have spirited discussions and sound intelligent. They leave emotion out of it. I wish everyone I know could do that.

But I am truly fascinated by how Obama has made me appreciate the American people. I sat on an airplane next to two gentlemen the day after the debates at Belmont University. One was an older man, kind of a geeky pencil protector scientist looking guy. The other was a redneck from way back with his trucker hat and cowboy boots who asked if I minded if he dipped some skoal. I eavesdropped as they began to discuss politics and I quickly and judgementally sized them up as McCain supporters. Then I listened. They began to talk about his calm demeanor, the way he handled the questions, the down to earth way he interacted with the crowd. They both said they were originally for McCain. His choice of Palin was an issue for them. His attack ads frustrated them. They were voting for Obama!!!

That is what I am finding everywhere. The American people, stereotypes that we are, are making a statement. Even those I know who would never vote for a black man say they are voting for Obama because they know we need him to regain our place in the world and to move in a new direction. Tennessee is projected to be a red state. It might be, but I think it will be much closer than the polls show. And I actually think it might go blue.

I already voted, well over a week ago and yes, I voted for Obama. And I am proud of it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I Didn't Inherit That Gene

My Mom loved holidays. She was quite crafty so she made most of our decorations when we were younger. And she went all out for every holiday. It was like a complete redecorating process every few weeks from October through Easter.

Halloween was amazing. She always made our costumes and she always dressed up. The photo at left is Mom dressed for Halloween in 1969. She made her witch costume, blacked out a few teeth with one of our black crayolas, applied scary makeup, added funny groucho nose glasses, made a red yarn wig, and crafted a witch hat. Then she stayed in character the whole night, handing out candy, speaking and laughing like the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz.

I didn't inherit that gene.

Early in my 20's I tried to follow in her footsteps. I worked in childcare as a teacher and that was back when we actually celebrated Halloween with costumes and parties. I dressed up as a crayola one year, a little girl another year, a witch the next. And I was a great witch. I can do the witch voice and laugh just like Mom. "I'll get you my pretty!" "And your little dog too!" "AAAAAAHHHHHHH - HAAAAAAAAAAAAA - HAHAHA". Mom would be proud!

I loved helping my own children with their Halloween costumes, being creative, decorating the house, painting faces, making sure they were having a great holiday.

Over the years, I just quit participating. On the day of Halloween, I began to devise ways to be gone during trick-or-treating time, either with my own children or, as they grew older, just because I didn't want to buy the candy. Or I bought the candy and my daughter handed it out. Mom would be embarrassed.

So tonight, my plan is to go see a movie. Sad. But it is what it is. I will call my youngest sister to tell her Happy Birthday and hope that when I have grandchildren, the motivation and my mother's influence will return.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gettin' Kind of CHILI Out There.

Chili is just a part of fall and football.

Yesterday was one of the first chilly days this fall. And, for college football fans in East Tennessee, it was an important football Saturday.

I have always loved football. When I was 12, I wanted to play professional football and truly could not understand why women could not play. I could name the starting lineups and positions of the Dallas Cowboys, the Miami Dolphins, and most of the Washington Redskins.

In high school, I was the equipment manager/statistician for our varsity team. OK, admittedly, I did it to spend time around football players but also because I loved the game.

Over the last 20 years, I have grown to love college football. I lived in Alabama during the Bear Bryant years, one of my coaching idols. I had always been a University of Tennessee fan but living in Alabama and being married to a dedicated Alabama fan, you can get sucked in. I drank the Kool-aid. The crimson Kool-aid.

Then we moved to Knoxville, home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. Home of Neyland Stadium, the largest football stadium in the US. It holds 110,000 people - an average size city. Everything in this city is orange. I have seen an orange and white checked riding lawn mower. Really. On fall Saturdays, the downtown area around the campus turns into a sea of orange and white and crazy people. It is so much fun.

Yesterday, Tennessee played Alabama here in Knoxville. We are a house divided. My daughter followed in her dad's footsteps and is a rabid Alabama fan. I returned to my pre-marriage dedication to UT when we moved to Knoxville. Sometimes it's better if we don't talk football.

So I made chili - yummy chili. With cheese, green onions, and sour cream. It's one thing we can all agree is good come football Saturdays.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rainy Days and Mondays (or Fridays as the case may be)

I love rainy days. They hold no gloom for me. I enjoy sitting in my sunroom - yes, I see the irony - and listening to the sound of the rain, watching as it drips and falls off the eaves of the house and the leaves of the surrounding trees. I am suddenly aware of the need to clean out the gutters but I can easily put that out of my mind until another day.

Today is such a day. My boss said to all of us, "Good job, go home early." I did not hesitate. I headed for the grocery store, intent on acquiring the necessary ingredients for yummy chili. I was soaked by the spitting rain as I loaded the bags into the trunk of the car. That's ok, I thought, as I headed home. Chilly and wet just means I will get home and change into my long sleeve tshirt, yoga pants, and fuzzy socks. Which is exactly what I did.

I will be catching up on my DVR shows this afternoon, snuggled up under a throw, listening to the rain.

It's a good day.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sacrifice


I am continuing with a few more family stories in my attempt to show the impact one can have on our history. I also want to remind everyone to write down their own family stories. You may think they are insignificant now but one day, they may help another generation understand their world.

No matter what you think of the Civil War - North vs. South, slavery vs. state's rights, good vs. evil - the fact is that many families were greatly impacted by the war no matter the reasons they were fighting. My family was no exception.

Mason Lee Wiggins was a planter and Senator from Halifax County, North Carolina. His wife, Elizabeth or Betsy, came from a family of soldiers and was the daughter of General Jeremiah Slade who was a hero of the war of 1812. Mason and Betsy had 12 children and lived at Woodlawn in Halifax County. Betsy kept a detailed diary and many stories we know of this family come from her diary. She was also a prolific letter writer. I have several letters from her sons and nephews to Betsy and one from her to her son, Blake, after his marriage.

During the war, Mason and Betsy had 7 sons serving in the war. Blake was a surgeon in Mississippi, Will and John were in the Texas Rangers, Alfred (also a surgeon), Tom, and Octavius (Octa) were in the Scotland Neck (NC) Cavalry and the youngest, Eugene, ran of to South Carolina at the age of 14 to join.

Alfred was killed at the head of his cavalry charge at Bull Run. Octa and Eugene were both severely injured in battle. Here are their stories:

From a letter from Betsy to her son Blake dated July 14, 1862:

Your Pa went to Enfield in the carriage to carry Tom (who came up to bring Al) and when the carriage returned I saw some others besides your Pa and thought it might be Eugene and ran out to meet him. The only one I recognized was cousin Jerry Slade of Ga supporting some one that seemed very feeble with his head bound up. Supposing it to be some wounded friend of his, when your Pa said "Betsy don't you know Eugene". I thought I should have fainted as my poor boy laid his arms around my neck and was made to realize it was indeed my own baby Eugene.

He fought through the thickest of the Thursdays and Fridays battles 26 and 27 June and escaped unhurt. Mondays battle near the James river he had received nine buck shot wounds in his left arm between the elbow and wrist and a ? rifle ball past(sic) through his jacket sleeve above the elbow had his haversack and canteen both shot off but he did not flinch but continued in the battle until after night when he was struck down- ? with a red hot cannon ball from the enemies gun boats.

When he came to his senses three days after he found himself in the Leabrook Warehouse hospital without sight or hearing. The ball had not touched him but came so close as to burn off the rim of his hat. It was supposed it was the concussion from the ball that had injured him so, bursting the blood from his ears, loosing his teeth, and bruising his shoulder. Soon after his senses came to him he could see and hear a little from his right eye and ear. He knew no one in the hospital and they would not let him out.

All this time we had telegraphic dispatches that he was safe up to Tuesday which quieted our fears at home while a lad only 14 years old was suffering what he had to go through among strangers. He stayed in the hospital until Monday nearly a week. He said he new(sic) he should die where he was and concluded he would get out if he perished in the ?streets? so when the servant came in the unguarded door with bread he slipped out and got in the ? where he providentially met with ?J. Snow our sheriff who carried him to the exchange where Dr. Joyner and Dr. M. Perry were. Dr. Joyner had been looking for him for nearly a week and with him he came out to Enfield meeting with cousin Jerry at Weldon, going home with a sick furlough.

The girls courage me to hope Eugene's sight will be restored which I pray God may be so but as yet he has no power to open or see at all out of his left eye. His health has improved a great deal the short time has been at home. You may imagine his altered appearance when his own mother did not recognize him after only 4 months absence.

Eugene lost his eye and it took a very long time to recover. His brother, Octa, however, had many adventures to come. Octa was a Lieutenant in General Lane's Brigade and apparently, pretty fiesty.

As reported by General James H. Lane in Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 9,1881, Pages 145-156 and pages 495-496:

On May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania Courthouse, was seen by General Lane, caught unarmed in the woods by the enemy, daring two Yankees to fire on him. He not only escaped but by his boldness, immediately afterward captured the flag of the 51st Pennsylvania , bringing the flag and several prisoners with him.

Also during the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse he was wounded in the charge of May 21st.

Was captured at Petersburg during Grant's attack (he received a head wound and was left for dead then taken prisoner), confined in the Old Capitol Prison (he spent his 21st birthday there), While being transferred to Harrisburg by train, he jumped from the car window just as the train crossed a bridge and as it was dark and rainy, he made his escape.

He obtained a working suit and valise to avoid recapture and worked in Baltimore until he made enough money to buy a new suit and pay his passage to Richmond. When he reached Richmond, Lieutenant Meade and General Lane dressed him in soiled military clothes and a lady friend escorted him to the Provost Marshall at the Baptist Female Institute. He surrendered there as a "straggler", was paroled and given transportation home to North Carolina.


Octa recounted his stories in a small booklet that he made for his daughters. He tells of being at Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Spottsylvania where it was believed he had been killed. In fact, when he finally arrived home, his family still believed he was dead. What a surprise for them as he slowly walked up the long oak lined avenue at Woodlawn to his grieving family.

When I hear these stories, I realize that I have no idea what their politics were or how they felt about the reasons for the war. I only see the sacrifice they and their family were willing to make.

My genealogical line is as follows:
Mason Lee Wiggins married Elizabeth Slade.
Son of Mason Wiggins and Elizabeth Slade Wiggins, Blake Baker Wiggins married Mary Lorrain Dewees
Son of Mary Dewees and BB Wiggins, Blake Baker Wiggins III married Trinkins (Eddie) Cabaniss
Daughter of BB Wiggins and Trinkins Cabaniss, Aline Dewees Wiggins married Frank Cunningham
Son of Frank Cunningham and Aline Wiggins, Frank Cunningham Jr married Georgianna Marcella Gilligan
Son of Frank Cunningham Jr and Georgianna Cunningham, Frank Cunningham III married Annette McKnight
I am the daughter of Frank Cunningham III and Annette McKnight

Friday, October 17, 2008

Revolutionary

Although I am quite obsessed with it, I have no intention of discussing the current election. In this forum, I prefer to look to the lessons of the past and how they have shaped our nation. In my family history, there are several who gave service to our country whether as political activists or as fighters for freedom, some famous, others unknown. But they all have interesting stories. You have them in your family too, you just have to do some research, ask some questions. I thought I would share with you some of my family members that have had an impact on our great nation.

Timothy Matlack was born in 1736. He is my 8th great grandfather. I will outline the genealogy below for those that have interest in it.

Some movie buffs recognize the name - in the movie "National Treasure" his name was part of a clue which leads to the characters stealing the Declaration of Independence. We have known about him long before the movie though.

Timothy Matlack was a Quaker, most well known as the scribe who penned the official Declaration of Independence on parchment in 1776, now on display at the National Archives. He was also a colonel during the revolution and a quite colorful leader as well as a political and social radical.

He was a gambler and loved being around those of all social classes. This behavior and others got him kicked out of the Quakers. He promptly joined other disowned Quakers that had supported the war to form the Free Quakers and continued to challenge traditional practices such as slavery. He had no patience for those who did not support the new country's independence and wrote letters to George Washington warning of Benedict Arnolds treason. Later he served as prosecutor at Arnold's trial.

Timothy and his wife Ellen Yarnell had five children and died after a long life in 1829. My genealogical line is as follows:

Timothy Matlack married Ellen Yarnell
Daughter of Timothy Matlack and Ellen Yarnell, Martha Matlack married Guy Bryan
Son of Martha Matlack and Guy Bryan, Timothy Matlack Bryan married Anna Elizabeth Wilson
Daughter of Timothy Bryan and Anna Wilson, Mary Wharton Bryan married Oscar Lorrain DeWees
Daughter of Mary Bryan and Oscar Dewees, Mary Lorrain Dewees married Blake Baker Wiggins
Son of Mary Dewees and BB Wiggins, Blake Baker Wiggins III married Trinkins (Eddie) Cabaniss
Daughter of BB Wiggins and Trinkins Cabaniss, Aline Dewees Wiggins married Frank Cunningham
Son of Frank Cunningham and Aline Wiggins, Frank Cunningham Jr married Georgianna Marcella Gilligan
Son of Frank Cunningham Jr and Georgianna Cunningham, Frank Cunningham III married Annette McKnight
I am the daughter of Frank Cunningham III and Annette McKnight.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What's In Your Bag?

The things women carry in their purses! I always thought you could tell a lot about a woman by what she had in her purse but I had no idea of the interest others had in the same subject.

I recently ran across a Flickr group called "What's In Your Bag?" People lay out the contents of their bags/purses and take a photo. Of course, I had to join in.

The funny thing - this photo has been viewed 594 times as of today! My photos on Flickr average about 30 views each. My next most viewed photos, all of my feet, have 150 views each. The foot people are busy. But apparently, the purse people are even busier. Go figure!

So what is in my bag? Here is a list from the top left side

  • My purse is by Fossil - it is the most wonderful purse and I love it but it cost more than anyone should ever spend on a purse.
  • My pink notebook - for reminders and general jotting down of things
  • Small makeup mirror - I never use this and have no idea why I keep it in my purse
  • My orange and red wallet - holds money and credit cards
  • Toothbrush and floss - I had just been to the dentist
  • My Ipod - it is always with me
  • A napkin with movie times and the movie ticket stubs for "Nights in Rodanthe" and "My Best Friend's Girl"
  • Turquoise wallet by Vera Bradley - holds all my store discount cards and punch cards
  • Chapstick with 45 SPF
  • A pen engraved with my name - a gift from one of our VPs for beating budget last year
  • Keys - work, home, and car
  • Pepcid - a recent development, now all better
  • Yellow "Moo" card holder - Moo cards are mini calling cards with my photographs on them
  • Oxy Clean spot remover spray, purse size
  • My Vera Bradley Checkbook cover which holds my checks
  • Lip stuff - which I rarely wear but I am always looking for the perfect shade
  • A random red ribbon
  • My name tag for the American Business Woman's Association
  • My business card holder which holds . . . my business cards ;)
  • The best lip balm ever from Bath and Body . . . minty
  • Nail file - it says "Season's Greetings" and I have had it for about 3 years. It is worthless.
  • Tylenol
  • A zip drive - I'm a geek.
  • Toothpicks from The Boathouse, a restaurant in Chattanooga.
  • My work cell phone
  • My Vera Bradley notebook (are you seeing the theme here?) in which I write ideas, blog topics, etc.
  • Point and shoot camera
  • Blackberry, better known as a Crack-berry
  • Dental toothpicks
  • Discount coupons for Talbots. These are just in case I find some money laying around that needs to be spent on me, me, me, I'll have a coupon.
  • A set of keys for each of my kids cars.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I am not a Vera Bradley addict. I do own a lot and I like the stuff but most of all I have was given to me by others, mainly my daughter. I have another wallet, a computer case and two bags. OK, I like it a lot.

So - how brave are you? Are you willing to dump the contents of your purse for all to see?

Monday, October 6, 2008

To Give Or Not To Give

I have heard a lot of discussion lately on homelessness and panhandling. In Atlanta, where panhandlers are known to be aggressive and pushy, even violent, the city has installed meters, similar to parking meters in locations around downtown. They ask that rather than giving to panhandlers, you put that amount into the meter where it can be redistributed to social service agencies that support the homeless.

Other cities that have many tourists and many panhandlers are doing similar things. The goal is to curb the panhandling, providing a comfort level so the city can draw more tourism. And to redirect the money from those that are fraudulent or addicted and to get it to those that truly need it. It is very controversial and there are valid arguments both in support of and against these efforts.

I have heard many discussions on this topic. You can't talk about panhandling without the lines blurring across homelessness, addiction, and mental illness.

We all have stories, from our own experiences or shared with us by friends, of giving a panhandler food or offering a job and having them laugh or cuss at you saying "I just want the money Pal".

We have heard the stories of students who, as a social experiment for class, dress in shabby clothes, stand on a downtown street corner and ask for money. It is not uncommon for them to make as much as $50 an hour. And there are many for whom this is their full-time job, not just a social experiment.

My heart breaks for those who really need help but my logical mind reminds me that there is help available. As I visit my son downtown, I see the same people over and over and my son calls them by name, chatting with them for a minute and reminding them that no, he doesn't have anything to give them today either. He lives around the corner from 2 shelters.

I was fascinated by the documentary Reversal Of Fortune. the story of Ted Rodrique who had been homeless off and on for 20 years. One day, as Ted scrounged in his normal dumpster for cans and bottles, he found a briefcase containing $100,000 that had been hidden there by the filmmaker, Wayne. Wayne says he was inspired to make Reversal of Fortune because of his daily interactions with homeless people in Los Angeles. His question - '"What would happen if I actually was able to give someone $100,000 and the free will to do with it what they wanted to do?" "Would that turn their life around or would it create more problems?"

Ted started out well and with the best of intentions to improve his life. But between his demons, old habits, and a series of bad choices, within a year Ted was homeless again. You can read more detail about this story here. It is quite fascinating.

I don't think meters will solve this problem but I don't think giving panhandlers money solves it either. Some people want to be in the position they are in. Others need help that our guilty couple of dollars cannot give them. I think Rabbi Shmuley has the best advice. He suggests giving when you can give, not giving when you feel you shouldn't, but always treating the person with dignity and respect. And always look them in the eye. No matter the circumstances, they are a human being.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

It's My Bloggerversary

This week last year, I started my blog. It was Breast Cancer Awareness month and I had so many things to say . . . about my plans to walk in the Race For The Cure, scrapbooking at the Crop for the Cure, my mom and her battle with breast cancer and the happenings since her death.

Today's photo is also in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness. It is for Boobiethon 2008 to raise money for research.

Breast cancer was the impetus for my start in blogging. Little did I know that one year later it would have become so much more in so many ways.

This is an outlet for me. I can use my photography and words to share a story. I am not a good writer but I do love to tell stories. And I love visiting my blogger friends to hear their stories.

I have "met" so many friends across the country through their blogs and weirdly enough, I feel like I know them all so well. Family members stay updated. Interestingly enough, the people that I thought would support my efforts are NOT the ones who are regular readers. Some friends/family members read and rarely comment but send me emails. Others read stealthily and later repeat one of my stories to me at gatherings. And I love that strangers stop by. And come back.

Thank you all for visiting over this past year and for your kind comments. I look forward to sharing with you all for some time to come.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Upside Down World

There's upside-down people who walk down the street
With upside-down shoes on their upside-down feet
In an upside-down world

There's upside-down clocks that make everyone late!

Upside-down food that won't stay on your plate
In an upside-down world
In an upside-down world!

There's upside down everything all over town
It all looks so funny that I've got to frown
'Cause a frown is a smile when it's turned upside-down
In an upside-down
What side down?
Upside-down world.


It's been a long week. Early this week, I had to "react in an appropriate manner" with 3 people. I hate it when that happens. I hate it for them. I hate it for everyone.

I had to calm people down without giving explanations. "Trust me" was what I wanted to say but how could they? They don't really know me. To them, I am just a name on a letter or voice mail message. Why would they trust me? So I didn't say it.

Yes, I am being vague. Sorry about that. It's hard to express feelings about a situation but this forum is not the place to give details about this situation.

So my real point in all of this was that I actually feel good today. It was a stressful week for all involved. But I was there. Every day. I was as honest as I could be. I addressed situations that needed to be addressed. And today, the end of the week, they now trust me. They have confidence that it will be better. That it was the right thing to do. They know me and what I stand for. They trust me.

That makes it all worth it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My daughter bought a pumpkin yesterday. A very large pumpkin. She has taken over the holidays this past year and that's okay with me. As my interest in holiday and seasonal decorating wanes, her desire to do things on her own has increased.

This evening, she brought out the pumpkin and the boyfriend. He SAID he had no interest in carving the pumpkin. He SAID pumpkins stink. He SAID he hated the goo inside. But he decided to watch and joined us outside.

My daughter started out the process. He helped cut the top out. She dug out the innards. They decided on the type of jack-o-lantern face they would carve. He started carving the eyebrows. I drew the rest of the face. He began cutting out the eyes while she made suggestions.

I went in and starting transferring photos from my camera to my computer. A few minutes later my daughter came in and sat down with me.

"I would love to carve some of my pumpkin but Mr. I Hate Pumpkins is doing it all." I suggested she go back out and calmly negotiate for some carving time. They switched places for a while.

Pumpkin carving. Relationships. Some of the time, one of you does the yucky work and the other does the fun stuff. And other times you switch. They made it through this pumpkin just like they have passed the last year and a half. Giving up some of the control so the other one can have some fun too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Clearly Full Of Drama

I have a friend. She is a very good friend. We have so much in common. Except for one thing . . . she attracts drama. I hate drama.

Every Monday (and sometimes during the week) she shares the drama from the weekend. It is always juicy. I enjoy hearing her tell the stories because she has a great sense of humor and it becomes quite funny. The drama never really involves her kids. They are great kids and she has a wonderful relationship with both of them. The drama involves
  • The much younger live-in boyfriend of 5 years
  • The much younger boyfriend's crazy ex-wife and young son
  • The much younger boyfriend's judgemental family
  • The much younger boyfriend's druggie cousin
  • Widowed mom who happens to be somewhat of a hypochondriac
  • Late father's crazy family and the dispute over her grandmother's estate
  • Ex-husband, father of her children, dead beat dad.
  • Other ex-husband, a momentary lapse in judgement who is financially in crisis
  • Trashy friend that is married but sleeping with her ex-husband and her co-worker
  • Other trashy friend that is also sleeping around but is also an alcoholic
If you just met my friend, you would never know that she had all this going on. She is funny, the life of the party, always joking and making sure people are having fun. She is NOT sad or tragic behind the scenes, she truly is happy. So why does she attract all this drama?

Because she is trusting and caring. She tries to help. She genuinely likes people and makes friends easily. But she is not terribly discerning about people. Where I tend to be cautious and have a few close friends, she dives right in and has tons of friends. And we joke that she must have a flashing "counselor" sign over her head. People seem to vomit their problems all over her. I know it's true because I do it too. When I am frustrated or crazy, I go to her.

I am honest with her when I listen to the stories. I tell her when she is being stupid. Nicely. She tells me too. I think at some point, I thought I was going to help her to remove herself from the drama. But now I think she just likes it there. It's her thing.

So I guess I will just listen. And learn.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Right Or Wrong Or Right

I have been listening to Oprah on XM again. Driving, listening, thinking. Oprah was talking to Reverend Ed Bacon, the rector at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California. They were discussing reconciling your faith with the "new age" philosophies on spirituality, spirit, etc. It was a great discussion in which Rev. Bacon and Oprah talked about the attacks on Oprah for her focus on the book "The New Earth", her support of "A Course In Miracles", and the exploration of spirituality vs. traditional Christian doctrine. If you have not heard, there is a movement of extremists that are branding Oprah as The AntiChrist. You can catch up here.

I would love to attend any church that had Rev. Bacon as a leader. His words were so true and he seemed to understand the confusion of all who are questioning their belief systems. It doesn't mean they are losing their faith, only that they wish to understand further. I have always been a searcher. I think Oprah is too. My mother was a searcher. It doesn't mean you don't believe in God, Jesus, or the Bible. It sometimes means you do choose to believe something else but not always.

I dearly love my brother-in-law. He is one of the best guys I know. He loves my sister and their two boys and he searches for ways to be a better husband, better father, better person every day. But I cannot talk about religion with him. So I don't. But it is his favorite subject so sometimes it is unavoidable. Like a few months ago when he and my sister were coming through town and we met for lunch. It was the day after the Unitarian Church shooting, my church. So as we discussed the tragedy, he listened quietly. Then he hesitantly asked me "What exactly do Unitarians believe?"

I explained that there was no doctrine, that they were all on their own spiritual path, discovering together what they believed, learning from each other. I explained the history of the church, traditionally Christian, and that many of the founding fathers of our country were Unitarians. I shared that many Unitarians follow Christian traditions and believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. Others believe that Jesus was an amazing man, a prophet that changed the world, but not of divine birth.

As I would share something, he would quote from the bible with a verse showing why that was wrong. He never said it was wrong, only what the bible said. He asked what I believed about heaven and hell and I said I didn't know and that it didn't really matter because none of us can truly know all the answers. He shared his belief and that he was absolutely certain that he was right. He quoted Bible verses to tell me why he was right. I told him I wish that I had his faith in what he believes but I don't.

I have immense respect for those that are completely sure of their beliefs. But I can not stand someone trying to "change" mine. I love to discuss religion and I love to learn. I take issue with people trying to convert me. Educate me please then allow me to make my own decision.

So as I listened to Oprah and Rev. Bacon, it came to me why my brother-in-law, so wonderful in every area of life, gets under my skin when it comes to religion.

He believes he is right and I am wrong. I believe I am right and so is he.

I somehow feel better now that I know this. I think I will handle these discussions with him better in the future. Or maybe I'll just continue to avoid it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Moving On

This week held anniversaries. Anniversaries are simply a yearly reminder of an event that occurred on that day. Most are remembered because they are joyful - a birth, a wedding, a graduation - and we mark them with celebrations and parties. Occasionally anniversaries remind of tragedy or sadness and they are remembered quietly.

The anniversaries I acknowledged this week were not joyful. But as these anniversaries have occurred more than once, I have come to have accept the sadness that comes with the day but have learned to embrace joyful life that exists today in spite of the sadness.

September 10th came quietly this year. I wrote the date on a check and felt a tug in my stomach but didn't know why. I wrote it again on a form at work and pondered why I had that feeling again. Late in the day, one of my sisters called and asked if it was bad that the day had passed without her realizing that it was the 3rd anniversary of our mother's death. I admitted that I had done the same, knowing it was significant for some reason but not identifying why. We decided it was neither bad nor good. It just meant that it hurt less and we were making peace with Mom's passing.

September 11th came with significantly more notice. I hope that we never forget this day. There are children in elementary school now that will study this day in their history books and only know that it occurred before they born. They can never understand the terror and devastation that occurred that day. I hope they never have to understand. The details of the day will be reduced to bullet points. They will be tested on times of day that the planes hit the towers, the Pentagon, the field in Pennsylvania, on the number of firefighters that died, on the number of employees at Cantor-Fitzgerald. They will not hear the personal stories of the families of those that were lost or of those who survived.

I have so many memories of that day.

I was getting off a plane in Atlanta at 8:50am and jumped on a conference call while waiting for my connection. As people came on the call, they were talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. While we were on the phone, the second plane hit. The Atlanta airport announced that all flights were canceled. Our boss told us to get off the phone. I got one of the last rental cars in Atlanta and drove home. My parents and my in-laws knew I was on a plane. They were frantically calling. My children were at school but they were watching the TV coverage. They knew I was on a plane. They knew I was on a plane at the time the planes were hitting buildings. My son went to the bathroom several times to use his cell phone to try to reach me. No one could get through. My husband had died 3 months before. They were panicked.

As I drove away from the city of Atlanta towards home, the calls started to come through. Nerves were calmed. I listened to the radio coverage. There was so much confusion and speculation. No one knew what was really going on. I went straight to my children's schools to pick them up. We huddled in our den and watched the TV coverage. I cried as the reporters clarified that the sounds we heard, which sounded like falling boulders on metal, were the sounds of people jumping from the building. The people covered with soot looked horrified. The twisted metal of the destroyed firetrucks brought memories of my husband's profession.

Everyone over the age of 10 has a memory or many memories of that day that will stay with them forever. How will we memorialize that day in the future? The names of the lost will be read for many years. There have been hunks of stone and steel placed already and there will be more to come that remind us of the lives lost and the heroic efforts of those involved. But I hope that everyone, everywhere, writes down their story. The survivors, the families of the lost, the observers. Everyone has a story. That is the way to help those that did not experience that day to understand that it is not just the facts they need to know. In each story lies the way September 11th, 2001 affected everyone in the country and the way it changed the way we live every day.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Teach Your Children Well


Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.
-Emily Post


I was always frustrated by those who made an issue of which fork to use, what order should be used to introduce someone, and the formality of a receiving line. But I have always been an advocate of manners that protect one from infringing on the comfort and enjoyment of others. I have always encouraged my children to say please and thank you and to wait for others to go first.

I find that I am one of the few parents that feels this way. My children don't have too many rude friends. They don't tolerate rudeness. But I see a new generation in which common courtesy is sorely lacking.

I began noticing this in classrooms. I frequently have teachers that ask me to observe in their classroom to help with discipline issues, especially in classrooms of two year olds. I began to see a pattern. Discipline issues seemed to occur in classrooms where please and thank you were never encouraged. As I modeled for the teachers, the tone of the classroom changed. They were amazed that encouraging children to say please or thank you to their peers or teachers could make such a drastic change. They report later that it really makes a difference. Now, this is not the be all and end all of addressing discipline with children but it is certainly one of the basics that you have to have.

Yesterday, my daughter and I were shopping. She was looking for a birthday gift for a friend. We went to a new store called "Bath Junkie", a wonderful store where you blend your own scent to be added to a variety of bath products. The staff were very friendly and helpful. There was a two sided "blending station" in the center of the store with 4 stools where one can sit and experiment with different oils to make a personalized scent. There was a party going on at the time, a group of about 10 girls that seemed to be 9 or 10 years old. There were also a few parents with them. The girls were everywhere and loud which really didn't bother me or my daughter as we work around children every day. The staff member, Casey, apologized. We said it was okay.

Casey showed us around, explaining each of the products and helping us pick out a gift as well as to choose something for ourselves. "When you get ready to use the blending station, let me know and I will ask the girls to move around to one side." We chose some lotion and bath salts and headed for the blending station. Casey asked one of the girls to scoot over a little so I could sit down on one of the empty stools. I thanked the young lady and began experimentation. My daughter stood beside me to the side of the table.

The girls ran from side to side, reaching across my body to get to the oils on the opposite side. It was stressing my daughter OUT. She walked away. The girls then reached across from that side. One of the moms stood beside me. She reached her arm across my right side to pick up oils, talking loudly the whole time to her daughter. Like mother, like daughter. My daughter walked back over and said "Okay, can we go?" I was done. I went to Casey and asked her if we could come back in an hour. She apologized again and said she would hold our items until we returned. And we did return about 2 hours later. We had fun and love our new products.

Do not email me and tell me that they are just children, excited, having fun. That is why I didn't leave as soon as I saw them. But when parents don't correct behavior and make children aware that there are other customers, the behavior never changes. Then we see them as teenagers in the mall, carrying on loud conversations and cursing as they run into you because they were'nt watching where they were going. They become the drivers who forcefully squeeze their car into the merging traffic at the last minute or "steal" that parking place as you so patienly wait for someone else to pull out. Here they are with the world revolving around THEM.

Please, Thank You, Excuse Me. Teach your children well.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

And The Cow Says Moo

I loved books as a child. Someone was always reading to me. This photo is of my Pappaw reading to me in "his chair". He only went to the 8th grade but he loved reading and passed that on to his family.

I learned to read when I was four. I say learned but there was never any sounding out of letters for me. I just *knew* how to read. I just started reading. My mom never really figured that out but it didn't matter. My youngest sister did it too.

My mom read to us constantly and she was always very animated when she read. Every character had a different voice. I read to my kids the same way. I don't really understand people that read to children in that monotone, "gotta read to the kids" voice.

I have always worked with children and before I had kids of my own, I collected children's books. And my mom saved all our books from when we were children and gave most of them to me. There is just something about childrens books. They are simple, straightforward, and usually have a lesson. Sometimes they are just fun and make no sense whatsoever.

My son loved for me to read to him. From the time he was born really. When he was a little over a year old, he would wake up in the middle of the night and cry until I would come into the room. He would hand me a book and I would lean over the edge of the crib, half asleep reading "Goodnight Moon" or "I Love You Forever" until he was ready to go back to sleep.

My daughter had little interest in me reading to her. She would wander around the room as I read to her brother, too busy to sit down with us. I tried to sit with her alone. She would listen for a second and then quickly dash off to do find something more active in which to involve herself. She had one favorite that I can remember - "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See". She could say the whole thing when she was two.

But lately I have come to realize that she must have been listening a little bit. My daughter is teaching 2 year olds. She loves to read to them. She laments that the books in the classroom are boring. "Mom, can you give me some of your books?" She reads to them with exaggerated expressions and all the characters have fun voices. "I remember this book from when I was little, this is a good one" she tells me. Tonight she wanted to go to the bookstore to pick out new books to read to the kids. She has good instincts.

I used to say that at least one of my kids loved to read but I guess really both of them do. That makes me happy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Eat More Chicken

My father has been visiting my brother and his family out in Washington. He was due to fly home today. Instead, he will be there at least one more day. What follows is a recap of the last 24 hours.

Monday 11:40pm - the phone rings, waking me from a dead sleep. It's my brother.

Him: I thought you would be up. We have laughed so hard we are crying and we thought you would be up to share it with us.

Me: I'm up now.

Him: We have been having dinner and got to laughing. Listen to Dad . . . (in the background I hear a loud gagging sound). He's trying to hock up some broccoli or something and it's so funny that we are both laughing and crying. Sorry, we thought you would be up. Go back to sleep.

Tuesday 8:40am - blackberry message from my brother:

"Dad was cracking up earlier but hasn't stopped. We've been at the ER for three hours now. They think he has something stuck in his throat because all he pukes is mucus and saliva. They are calling in a GI doc to maybe scope his throat and pull out that chunk of broccoli or chicken. Will let you know what happens."

8:41am - call from my brother:

Him: Do you have Mary's number? (My dad's girlfriend)

Me: No. What the heck?

Him: Listen

(Very loud extended gagging followed by "oooowwwwwwwwwwwww".

Me: (laughing hysterically) Oh my gosh! I am so glad it's you.

Him: Hey Dad, she's laughing at you.

Me: Call me later.

9:20am - I send my brother a blackberry message:

"Could he have sucked it into his lungs?"

9:24am - He responds: "Nope. It's blocking him from swallowing rather than breathing. We would be talking about the will if it had gone down that pipe 11 hours ago. He got to talk to Mary. He just really likes it out here and wanted to figure out a way to miss his flight."

9:35am - I respond: "It's in your long term best interest that he make his flight."

10:08am - He replies: "I'm pretty sure he'll be asleep at his scheduled flight time of 1:30. They are getting ready to take him to the GI Lab. He may just move in if I'm not careful."

10:14am - I say: "Not a good idea. You know he can only do "Good Pappaw" for short periods of time."

10:18am - He says: "He's much better at Good Pappaw now than he used to be. Around my kids anyway. But just as Superman steps into a phone booth, once our father has me alone, Tourettes Man emerges. It's amazing how people are a lot stupider when I drive somewhere alone with my father."

12:37pm - My brother: "They started an upper endoscopy 10 minutes ago. Should be simple, go in, push the blockage through, and done. Waiting to see the doc. It sucks to hear our father say he's scared."

12:38pm - Me: "I love you."

Approx. 5pm - Phone call from my brother:

Him: Well it took so long because the doctor said that in 25 years, that was the most food he had ever seen impacted in an esophagus.

Me: (Laughing hysterically) In 25 years?

Him: Yeah, and when they tried to wake him up from the anesthesia, he did his Ozzie Osborn impression.

Me: (Laughing so hard I was crying) Is he okay now?

Him: Yes, he's sleeping at my house now. He will probably fly out tomorrow if he's okay. I am going to bed. That is if I can ever get the image out of my head of my father, in his patient gown, butt nekkid, trying to get down off the gurney. He didn't get out far enough and got his testicles caught on the edge. My God, my father had a man-gina!

Me: (crying, laughing, snorting) Go to bed. I will call the others. They can call you tomorrow for the details.

Now you have heard the newest of the many "Cunningham" stories that we retell at family gatherings. This one will be told and retold. Get sick in a funny way, we WILL laugh at you. There is nothing sacred in our family.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Love StoryPeople

Do you know about StoryPeople by Brian Andreas? Until a few weeks ago, I did not.

My youngest sister was looking for a sign. She believes strongly in signs and was looking for one that would tell her that things were going to get better. Something that would give her some comfort that our Mom was nearby. She was getting nothing. She called a friend. She called me. She cried. She was killing some time while her son visited with his paternal grandparents. After hanging up the phone, she wandered through some shops in Laguna Beach. She found some comfort in a new age store among the crystals.

Later she saw a store with funky prints that were different than what you normally see. The drawings looked like they had started as doodling that turned into something more ethereal. The prints had "stories" on them. She found her sign. It said:
"I used to wait for a sign, she said, before I did anything. Then one night I had a dream & an angel in black tights came to me & said, you can start any time now, & then I asked is this a sign? & the angel started laughing & I woke up. Now, I think the whole world is filled with signs, but if there's no laughter, I know they're not for me."
She was calm again. And excited. She read more. She found more "stories" that related to her life. She called me again. "Have you ever heard of Brian Andreas? Write it down. Look it up on the internet". So I did. And I loved it too. I went to the website where I found hundreds of the stories to browse through. I signed up for an emailed Story of the Day. I ordered most of his books. I will order his prints as I can afford them. They also have a blog called PeopleStories. I have become a little obsessed.

All I know is how I feel when I read the stories. Some are funny, some touching. I always find one that applies to me right now, however I am feeling at that moment. The one above says:
"Is willing to accept that she creates her own reality except for some of the parts where she can't help but wonder what the hell she was thinking."
Let me know what you think. And I am sorry in advance if you become obsessed too.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Read Much?

I read junk. I would love to say that I have read the classics and devour a new novel each week. That would be a lie.

I really love to read and actually read all the time. But I have a hard time focusing on novels. The problem is if it's interesting, I want to stay up all night and read. But I always fall asleep while reading, not because it's boring but because reading puts me to sleep. I can't go to sleep unless I read.

I read lots of trivia books and magazines because of my short attention span. I have had a subscription to People for so many years that I have forgotten how long it's been. I have been reading People since it first started in the 70's. Every night, I go to sleep with my People.

It's always the same . . . the new weekly edition arrives on Friday. I start that night on the first page, read the reviews and trivial stuff in the first section. Then, in the articles, I look at all the photos and read the captions but don't read the articles. I do that until I get to the end. Then I go back and read the articles. This process takes about a week because I always read until I fall asleep. Some nights, that's after a few words and sometimes it takes a few pages. It has become difficult to stretch it to a week lately as People has shrunk. There are WAY less pages than there used to be.

It's kind of hard to fit a novel into my People routine. Occasionally I find one that interests me and it becomes my priority. I read a review for the book above - "What Happened To Anna K.?" and it really sounded interesting. It is an updated retelling of Anna Karenina set in a Russian immigrant section of Queens. So I bought it and I am going to start it this weekend. We will see.

What are some of your favorite books?