Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Morning Ramblings When Fog Delays Your Cruise Ship

--The Christmas season is fraught with unfulfilled expectations. You think it's ok to simply wish for everyone's cookies to be placed on an appropriate shelf with just enough stretching to making them tastier but not enough to strain themselves?

--When packing for a week away, is a bag and a backpack excessive?

--The credit card company had me prove I was me several times while I tried to regain the funds that someone decided was more theirs than mine recently. Good news was that I happened to check while the charges were still pending. "Makes me tired" news is that I had to keep an eye on whether the charges moved from pending after cancelling the card and then and only then could I make a claim. These folks are busy people. I'd be delighted if someone wanted to busy themselves with creating a phone system that allowed people in distress (that would be me when I think someone is using my identity and accessing my limited funds!) to actually forego the computerized voices and menu selections and tell their tale to a real, breathing, and hopefully caring individual from the start!

--My name and the name of my ex's new wife sounds the same but the spelling is different. Seems when that happens and the party of the first part is trying to sell a home, the party of the second part and all other parties must prove they are who they say they are. And how do the parties do this? By completing a form and signing it. So all I have to do is say I am who I say I am and they accept it.

Does anyone else feel that someone somewhere is getting paid for lots and lots of mindless paperwork?

--Lights in the Heights is a good thing. I love that people are generous enough to throw a party and invite ... let's see ... THE CITY to join them.

--My hairdresser has the coolest blue eyes and when she wears a blue dress like she did at the party her salon threw on Saturday night, she's stunning. Wait ... she's stunning no matter what!

--My friend spent much of last night burning tree limbs and claiming it was his redneck coming out. As a fellow redneck, I might have to challenge his definition slightly. I'm not that mesmerized by burning bushes. Wait ... he's a preacher. Maybe that explains it. Wonder if he heard voices?

--The fog is delaying my trip South. I'm supposed to be sailing by 4 p.m. today. Chances are . . . that's not going to happen at that time. This is me . . . crossing my fingers and waiting for the sunshine.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I'm baaaaaack . . .

Class is over. I discovered a great deal but the biggest is that I love to teach.

What I'm going to do with that and still sustain the lifestyle to which I had grown accustomed is the next item on my agenda.

But until then . . .

I have a cruise to take.

I'm taking a road trip east to see friends and family.

And, I'm scheduled to be in Tanzania mid-January until the end of February.

Life is good . . .

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

November . . . Whew!

Hope you all got a chance to be part of the land of the free and the home of the brave yesterday!

I'm in class during the day, studying four hours at night and still trying to keep up with November as Novel Writing Month (an Internet encouragement to write 50,000 words in a month which they guarantee us will be crap but it will be completed crap) and I'm going to try and blog.

But not here.

The course I'm taking is called a CELTA course and if I pass I will be certified in teaching English to non-English speakers. If you want to more check out www.celtastuff.blogspot.com. That's the blog I'm doing this month. I'll link you later but if I don't stop now, I'll be late for class!

Friday, November 02, 2007

YeeHa!

Did my first rodeo speeches this week. Seeing Houston elementary schools is an eye opener and I think I may get more out of these gigs than the kids. I was very impressed with the one I attended today because despite the community (lower income, several strikes against it with parental support of the children at a minimum) this school was bright, cheerful and clean. I remarked to my assistant for the day that i imagined that some of the children might find the school to be somewhat of a sanctuary.

"We have a hard time getting some of them to leave," she said, shaking her head sadly.

Though they may come from some tough situations (one or more parent in jail, etc.) the teachers are not giving them any slack on the discipline front. They used the "zero" to call the kids to quiet and some of those men and women could have given drill sargeants a run for their tough guy status!

Lots of the kids wanted to linger if you gave them just a smile. Kinda broke my heart a time or two.

But so far, as I've shared with the kids the vast knowledge (ahem!) I've gained on all things chuckwagon so I could mesmerize them for 20 minute stints and encourage them to "do good in school, don't do drugs and maybe you can get a scholarship from the rodeo" (and yes, I really said that because they combined the no drugs day with rodeo day and asked us to!), I've had a few chuckles I've had to squash as well as a tear or two to hold back. Here are a few highlights:

One girl asked me if I was a real cowgirl. One boy wanted to know if I had a horse.

One 5th grader was rather enthusiastic in her query as to whether I was a close friend of Hannah Montana.

On the day after Halloween a girl with what I thought was residual makeup on her face asked, "What do you do about the girl with marks on her face?" I asked her to repeat her question and she did. I said, "Marks?" She said, "I was attacked by a pit bull." I said, "I'm sorry you were hurt. I have marks on my face too!" She said, "Yep and they're called freckles." Then she smiled and walked away.

Several third and fourth graders said their favorite food was sushi. I had no clue what sushi was in the fourth grade.

I think I'm going to like this gig but as my buddy Roger says, "No good deed goes unpunished." When I drove away from the school parking lot I noticed not a chip but a gash in my windshield. Seems a baseball must have found a way to have intimate contact with the passenger side of the front window.

Oh well . . . the adventure continues. Can I get big yee ha?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Questions, Questions and More Questions

Tonight we saw the new flick "Gone Baby Gone" and if you deal with ethics in any way you need to take an afternoon and check this one out. The question is vividly played out: Is it better to do the right thing or the "white" as in black and white thing?

When faced with a dilemma, is there a right answer that doesn't fall into black and white thinking?

If you'd seen the movie, email me. We MUST talk!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Goza Makes Me Laugh

My friend, "Chaplain Cindy Goza" as she sometimes introduces herself with mock importance, told me of a conversation she overheard recently at the hospital. (As far as I know, no HIPAA rules were broken in the telling of this story.)

Man by the elevator: "Yeah, you know she's got that post partum depression . . . that thing you get in Iraq."

Cindy tried not to guffaw as she silently considered, "Is he talking about a soldier who got pregnant? Is Iraq really a cover up for unwed mothers?"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California Road Trip -- Final Highlights

Bryn (left) takes care of Richard. Richard takes care of all of Robin's friends who crash in their uber cool basement. Life in San Francisco with the Paolis is a good thing. Much thanks must be offered for nosh foods every night before the dinner meal, great wine pairings, vegan-sensitive menus planned by a man who is definitely carnivorous but also a true host, coffee and scones for breakfast, much needed conversations about writing and possibly the best tour guide I've ever encountered.

Other highlights include:
-Having the gumption to return a pair of shoes just to use the 20% off coupon I had forgotten to offer at check out . . . something I have never done before!
-Giving lots of massages but especially having Judah's help when I gave one to her mom (Judah also requested her own version of a massage and with her mother watching I followed that child's orders!)
-Watching Robin and Larry take on the cold waters of the Pacific while playing with Judah in the sand
-A trip to the wine country in the VW, wrapped in a blanket in the back seat with Larry
-Sipping whites with Robert at each winery where we stopped
-Teaching both Quiddler and Farkle to friends
-The view from above the Golden Gate bridge that Robert got on our day back from the country
-Taking the southern route through California (and yes, we missed the fires by one day) and then opting for the backroads through Arizona so that we wound our way through the mountains
-In and Out burgers while sharing the fries and a shake . . . ok that's a girlie thing to say but he's cute and at this point I'm at the stage where I'm sappy
-Sedona, AZ at sunset
-Finding a hotel with a hot tub and not being able to stay as long in the sauna as one aforementioned cute guy
-Mountain vistas, desert vistas, mountain and desert vistas . . . lots and lots of vistas
-My cute, little, red VW packed to the max
-Goza welcoming me to New Mexico

and the adventure continues . . .

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Girls Will Understand This One

Remember those girls back in high school (and I'm sure NONE of you were guilty of this) who -- once they got interested in and the attention of someone -- totally ignored you for days on end as she relished being with her new interest and just assumed you'd understand and think it was perfectly acceptable?

Well . . . high school isn't all that long ago it seems and I'm guilty!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

See Larry Run a Half Marathon?

See Larry waiting for race (and the porta-potty).


See Larry getting set with other fast runners.


See Larry stretch after race.


See Larry show off his medal from race.


See Larry enjoying sweet victory!


Note what you don't see: Larry actually running the race! Why you might ask? Well . . .

I got up at 5:15 a.m. to support Larry. Rode in the dark and fog and then walked sluggishly to the race area. Finally found coffee and an English muffin and was revived enough to give the man a pep talk and assure him he could beat his personal best time of 1:50 and make his goal of a half marathon in 1:45. I even walked alongside the runners for two miles and then turned around to get back to the finish line in time to see my friend cross it.

That's when I noticed they were picking up any signs that there'd been a race. All indicators of "turn here" or "here" were gone. And I was in San Jose, CA with not a clue of how I got to the little side street with the colorful houses. In a true Southern "bless your heart" moment (or what folks in San Francisco would say was just a stupid move on my part), I wandered and finally one hour and 50 minutes after starting my trek I made it back to the race area in time to see the pace flag for 1:45 a half block away and headed for the finish. At first I thought I could catch up. Then it hit me they were running and I was walking with a back pack and far less training in speed!

By the time I met Larry at the location we'd agreed on, he was stretching.

However ....

HE EXCEEDED HIS GOAL TIME!

And even if I wasn't there to capture it, a chip on his shoe and the smile on his face was proof enough.

See Larry. See Larry run.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Questions Held at Bay

“They asked themselves questions they’d long held at bay.” -- seen in Hope’s Edge by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe

A sequel to the 30-year-old bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, this book takes the reader on a journey to five continents to examine the global food and hunger challenge.

I’m not going to write about that. They did for more than 400 pages and don’t need my input.

But that sentence – read before I even got out of the Opening Note – made me pause.

What questions have I “long held at bay”?

Hmmmmm . . .

Now that I’ve spent some time around some bays, I can see a whole new aspect to the question. While to hold something at bay is to keep it away, the whole “out of sight/out of mind” kind of thing, I can also tell you that bays tend to hold their fog fairly well.

That’s more along the lines of what I’ve been doing with some of my big questions – keeping them in the bay, in the fog, with some parameters but plenty of room to disappear into the great sea of nothingness.

The whole idea of this year-of-not-a-vacation-and-not-9-to-5 is to give some time for the fog to move on and really examine the questions that maybe haunt me more than I know.

One is definitely about the whole God thing. What do I believe, hold dear, claim above all else?

Another question that slithers in on occasion is what am I to do about the plight of human kind? And which exact plight concerns me most – or at least enough to do something about?

Here are a few more … though I don’t know if they are phrased exactly right – keep in mind the fog still lingers:

Do I think love – as in what one person has for another that keeps them together for a lifetime – exists? Is being “in love” simply a Hallmark/Hollywood invention?

What wouldn’t I do for a friend?

When something exists because of “the system” (and here I mean political, familial, social, etc.) what makes me give up before trying to address it?

Last night I had dinner with a man who had come back from Iraq after three years of service there (and 20 years with the Marines before that) and the first thing he did when he landed in the Chicago airport was to get a beer. He hadn’t one in three years. His refreshment was tarnished however when a suited young man spoke loudly to the two women he was with about his views on the war, the military and specifically how Marines were nothing but “killing machines.”

Still attired in his military garb, this man knew the comments were for his benefit and – in his interpretation of the event – walked to the young man and politely asked him to refrain from including him in his earshot since he had seen good men die as the result of this conflict that he didn’t agree with either but was willing to do what he could for the country that had asked him. The young man then told him what exactly he could do to himself. At which point, my new friend suggested that if he didn’t refrain he would tear his head from his shoulders and . . . well, you get the picture.

Our government and in some ways our society is a system practicing the attributes of insanity. We keep doing what we’ve been doing expecting different results. If we didn’t learn from Vietnam that we can’t blame the soldier for the “solutions” prescribed in faraway strategy rooms, then will we ever learn?

And if I care enough, what does one person do to say “enough.” I told my friend that I often felt like a drop of water in a big sea that has little to no affect.

He said, “Take it from someone who knows. When you’re in the desert and you lift your canteen and all that falls is one drop, you’re pretty damn grateful for that drop.”

Here’s a toast to my first efforts at drops to lift the fog . . .

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Life is like a portabello sandwich . . .


Larry and I have had several discussions about his veganism. I applaud his commitment to living his convictions. He understands that I don't have that same level of conviction. And we both allow ourselves the space to just be. Makes for a peaceful co-existence.

But the conversations have been lively and fun. For instance, he might mention that some vegans choose their lifestyle out of respect for creation. They don't want to kill anything -- even mosquitoes. I counter with the surprise fact that I've practiced "capture and release" form of pest control in my abodes for years. If I spot a cockroach for example and it's possible to shoo its crunchy exterior out my front door, I will. However, if a blood sucker comes my way, I'm all over survival-of-the-fittest and given that I'm a little higher on the food chain the circle of life is going to start back at ground zero as far as that critter is concerned.

Hasta la vista, baby!

(calming from my mounting aggression . . . breathing) So, yeah, I get the respect for that which has been created. But I also think in systems. And a system of predator and prey seems to have been established for balance. While hiking part of the Tahoe Rim I learned from one of the guides with me that in order to protect the lake from the possibility of being destroyed by fire, they have to thin out the trees. Now some folks don't want the thinning. And some folks don't want the potential for devastation. Leaves me wondering what the system can hold or if we don't sometimes come to a point where new systems must be established.

Pretty deep question that pretty much originates at the mosquito question. At this point, I'm still under the influence that the "way of the world" demands that things get squashed, trees get thinned, and folks with no power must rely on advocates to advance.

If someone's come up with a way that works that allows power brokers to discuss it over a steak lunch, we may have a new answer. Until then I continue to view myself as what I long ago surmised was a "pragmatic optimist". I want to believe there's a better way but until we find it, I'll do what I can to build up my muscles for the wrestling match around the corner.

By the way, Larry has chosen his lifestyle because of the corporate powers that control so much of the world's resources that their waste could feed third world countries. He's a good man with a big heart and an evolving definition of what can go on his plate.

One of my favorite choices is portabello . . . juicy, meaty tasting, and no guilt . . . the kind of food that makes you feel exotic even if all you do is put a slice of cheese on it and call it a burger. Not unlike this new life I've chosen, heh?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Waiting for the Shower in Lake Tahoe

While I wait for the shower (five of us in a condo with only one makes for some wait time), I thought I'd share some recent sights:

-1600 year old tree
-band billed as Celtic Rock was actually a Southern Rock band with a barefoot girl lead taking on "Born on the Bayou" and I don't think she was
-older couple dancing together to above music with grace and poise and I wanted to be her
-me dancing to above music and glad I was me
-Donner Summit
-Gold Rush town with exhibit of REAL gold
-Lake Tahoe at sunrise (yep, I said "rise")
-snow on the mountains
-more ways to eat without meat than I thought and some of them are quite tasty

Friday, October 05, 2007

3 Rs . . . Ok, 3 1/2

Larry and I were chatting as we made our way along the seaside of Santa Cruz.

(For all you Texans and landlocked friends reading this we will now observe a moment of silence for the appropriate degree of envy to set in.)

I was telling him of how I had begun to view the experience of packing up my belongings, setting forth on this journey, and trying to settle into the processing and preparation I wanted to achieve in order to begin to map out the next phase of my days.

Together we came up with a series of words that seems like a worthwhile reflection tool set.

Romance -- Initially I was caught up in the romantic idea of writing, traveling, and volunteering. You know what I mean . . . the tendency to focus on the sights I would see and the people I would meet rather than the fact that I had to have a new tire for the car and 12 hour days of driving meant you just want a hot bath and a bed, not fodder for a inspirational post on a blog! (You are somewhat inspired, right?)

Reality -- You may love your lover for all he/she is worth but, fact is, he/she snores, smells like a bad pair of wet sneakers after exertion of any kind or any number of fill-in-the-blank reality checks. I have posted previously about the tension I feel with living the dream and facing the reality that other folks who I love dearly are realizing their own dreams without my being in the near vacinity. For someone as connected to family and friends as I am, that's not the easiest of ideas to digest. I'm enjoying my cake and eating it with delight, but I can't help but wonder what the cookie I can't quite get to tastes like either. Don't hear this as a complaint . . . it's simply reality.

Reliving/Reinterpreting -- I've often said, "It's all about the story." Larry takes it one step further and acknowledges that for him the biggest pleasure is the retelling and reinterpreting his life by the experience. He's not as moment-focused as I am. He relishes what he's going to get out of whatever is happening now so he can be an even better in the later.

As we played with the ideas, he offered up one more for all you philosophical types to enjoy. He spoke of consolation and desolation. As he experiences life, he feels consoled by his Creator in various moments where he's absolutely sure of the conneciton. But there are times, empty spaces he calls them, where God appears to be absent. In those times of desolation, Larry is convinced that God exists as well and he's trying to lean into those times and discover new truths about himself.

Hearing him, I crossed my fingers that my friend wasn't into the whole suffering movement that many spiritual pilgrims embrace. He assured me that he enjoyed pleasure too much to take up pain as a pasttime. But what he has found in a rather catholic train of thought, he said, is that he indeed is in a place to learn more about himself when he's almost convinced he's without comfort. A runner, he compared it to having to lean into the wind and take on the resistance in order to gain strength and excel.

Just thought I'd share . . . don't know what I'm going to do with this tidbit of conversation but definitely wanted to share.

I'm NOT on Vacation But . . .

Several folks I've chatted with of late have referenced my new "normal" as a vacation.

No. Nada. Nunca. X-na on the acation-va.

I'm in a new place in my life and a new kind of life. Every day is a celebration of what might be. Every day holds opportunities for relaxation, pleasure, learning, and making the space I take up more worthwhile because I've done something good with the time I've been given.

But I can't view it as a vacation because that particular word denotes that I'm taking time away from something to which I will return.

That's not going to happen.

So, yes, I'm on a break from the 9 to 5 world. But I may never return to it. I'd love to find a way to write, be creative, train and do all the things I enjoy doing while simultaneously fulfilling other folks' expectations enough to actually get paid for it. You've now heard my current dream. If I don't pull that off, then current plan #2 is to find something that will pay the bills and also allow me to pursue passions like writing and volunteering. We shall see.

I mention the v-word because while I am not on one, Stan, my traveling companion was. He left on Wednesday night and we spent Tuesday and the time until we left him to his own devices to get on the peanut-laden Southwest flight home traversing the city with the help of two most excellent tour guides.

World, meet Richard and Larry! Richard and Robin will host me the last week I'm in California. Larry has made provisions for me to stay among the Redwoods in a very comfortable room on the campgrounds where he works. Robin wasn't in town but Richard, with his vast knowledge of San Francisco architecture, real estate, history, food, wine and well . . . just about everything . . . served our cause of getting Stan a good sense that he'd "seen" the city. Of course, with the top down on the Beetle you can see plenty!

Richard was gracious beyond belief in that we stuffed his probably close to 6 ft frame in and out of that car with little room to spare and not once did he complain. Instead, he just added another story of travels on the road and challenges as well as delights he'd experienced there.

Larry sent us on our way the first day in because he had to work but told us how to get to the DeYoung museum and oh, oh, aren't we glad!?! Loved the view from the tower that is just another way San Francisco can "na na na boo boo" the rest of the country with its grandeur. Also loved that a towering docent (truly tall beefy guy) felt the need to offer us his own account of one particular fashion exhibit. When he left us, i asked Stan, "Now why do you suppose we, of all the people in this room, merited that little extra?" Stan offered, "Well he glanced at me and studied you, so I'm thinking he's leaning your way."

I do so love men talk with the men!!! I thought my breasts were being appreciated but Stan confirmed it. Ahhhh . . . not everyone here is saluting the Castro flag, now are they?

We did a lot of twisting and turning and topping of hills. We also took in some great art including murals painted on the walls of the Mission District, particularly along Balmy Alley. Stan thrilled me when he proclaimed the last several days to be the most fun he'd had in years.

Yes! Yes! Yes! I wanted to reward him wih a great time. He rewarded me with his delight. We all come out winners.

Unfortunately, he missed the biggie as far as I was concerned. When we dropped him off we came back by the AIDS memorial and then made one more stop at the remembrance of the Holocaust. As I approached the cut out on the hillside that allowed for the statues the first thing I noted was a white "wire" fence (think plaster when I say white) and a man's back. The statue was to appear to be facing out, perhaps even looking at the incredible view from his vantage point. As I came closer, the intake of breath happened almost before I truly comprehended what I was seeing. Behind the man lay numerous bodies on the concrete floor. All plaster white -- big, small, men, women, clothed and not. Stark. Just close enough to real to serve as the harsh reminder of man's inhumanity to man I'm sure it was created to be.

God, help us. Hate doesn't go away just because we create memorials.

So . . . no, I'm not on vacation. I want to see and write and wonder and maybe, just maybe, figure out my role in working away at that hate . . . one thought at a time.

God, help us indeed.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

2,377 Miles Later, We're HERE!!!

Got in at midnight. Just before we arrived at camp in the dark of night along some of the curviest roads you can imagine, I had commented on the fact that while I was more comfortable driving at night than Stan, I still was having difficulty with the halo affect my contacts created with the reflectors. Then we had to go through a plethora of the darn things because of a construction project (underway at 11 p.m.!). After that a fog set in. Then two deer decided it was playtime in the middle of the path to the camp. I'm describing the last 30 MINUTES of a four-day trip!

You can call my life any number of things but you can't call it boring!

California Road Trip – Day 4, Less Sightings and More Musings


This post will be less about what I’m seeing and more about what I’m feeling. Two reasons for this turn of the blog . . . today we’re driving through the desert and after a while there’s not much more you can say except, “Yep, that’s a desert.” And, I’ve finally begun to slow down enough in the trip mode to get beyond finding radio stations to listen to, learning new things about Stan, and grasping that Dorothy and Toto aren’t in Kansas anymore to actually embrace the silence and think.

Plus I’m an extrovert who doesn’t really believe a thing has happened until I’ve had a chance to debrief with someone else. Tag, dear readers, you’re It in my “someone else” department these days. Feel free to comment or, for you shy introverted types, email me directly!

Here’s the compilation of hmmm’s I’ve come up with to date. Feel free to chime in on any point. And, just so you who don’t know me can get to know me better, this invitation is not an open door to “fixin’ me.” I just delight in perspectives!

• Being a free spirit isn’t free. The act comes with a cost ... including being intentional about connecting with old friends who were always there when I needed them but not an everyday phone call, newer friends who I was just developing patterns with, and brand new friends who don’t know me well enough to know I have patterns, rituals, and the like that keep me going. I find that I’m struggling with being present in the moment and wanting to share the significant moments in the lives of those for whom I care deeply.
• Hello, my name is Karen and I’m a news junky. (I’ll pause here and wait for your “Hello Karen” support group reply.) . . . Three days without an update on what’s happening in the world and I need a fix. Of course when I asked someone to feed my habit yesterday by reading me the headlines, the best he came up with was that the Houston Chronicle was marking the 50th year since Sputnik. Seems I was jonesing on a slow news day.
• Kinda related to my first one . . . I’m experiencing the tension of wanting to live in the moment and delighting when that moment includes planning for future moments. Here and now versus then and there is taking up some of my conversational time these days. Good news is that I’m not forfeiting much of the now in these future-based planning sessions given that “now” includes a lot of travel time and down time in just off the highway hotels. But I can’t help thinking about what’s next with so many areas of my life. I want desperately to maintain a healthy balance of enjoying what is while anticipating what will be.
• Cheesey Alert: Since we were heading to (and now in) California, Stan and I launched our journey with a bit of the Beach Boys. (Told you it was cheesey. Now comes the serious part.) He told me that he had read that Brian Wilson never completely enjoyed his success with the band because every time the Beach Boys would have a number one hit in a few weeks the Beatles would top them. As we now know, Brian suffered from several sad plights and one of them was depression. We got to talking about the fact that no matter how good a communicator someone is a “glass-is-half-full person” cannot describe the glass well enough or in enough detail to ever help the “glass is half empty person” see it. In other words, no one can make anyone BE happy. Here’s a case when knowing I’m helpless actually helps me be of more help. I spend less time these days trying to change someone’s mind and more time accepting them as they are.
• Someone who has only recently gotten to know me is embracing the fact that I’m not all that judgmental. When he commented on it, he celebrated me so I further added that I didn’t think it was my job to judge. He asked, “So if it’s not yours, whose is it?” I kinda liked my reply, “Whoever you give that power to. Could be yourself, your mother, your lover, your spouse, your friend, or whoever you deem your Creator to be. But the one thing I know is that it’s not me.”

Well, that’s about all for today. Can’t wait to see if any of you have further thoughts on these or other subjects you’re willing to share!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

California Road Trip -- Day 3

“Here’s nothing. Not make something of it.”

That’s the dialogue that plays out in my mind whenever I encounter an ingenious act, production, or someone’s rags to riches story. That’s what I heard today standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.

If that last line sounds familiar it’s because you’ve heard the Eagles sing it as “such a fine sight to see: it’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at me.” The good people of Winslow – or in the scenario of my conjecture, one irritatingly persistent musician turned businessman who saw the potential tourist attraction no one else could see and convinced enough towns folks to approve it – turned a random corner of the city into the main reason people stop and on a sleepy Sunday morning line up to take photos with a statue of a man and his guitar positioned in front of a brick wall with a mural of the aforementioned girl painted as to appear to be a reflection in the window.

An eagle is even perched on the make believe windowsill to offer credit where credit is due. The band’s songs blare out of a nearby store where mostly motorcycle mamas and t-shirt clad families familiar with the Bedazzler can stock up on magnets, more t-shirts, shot glasses and caps.

We asked and the town boasts a population of around 5,000. I think the source was being generous. But what they lack in volume they make up for in ingenuity. The Penney’s building on which the mural was painted actually burned a few years ago but the wall was saved and a park is soon to grace the backside of the now singular wall that attracts visitors every day.

The whole experience made me smile. Of course, I was in a better postion to do so after having FINALLY found a restroom. I mentioned Winslow is sleepy and on Sunday morning everyone and every business (save those two tourist joints) were on an extended siesta. I was contemplating spots on the side of the road when we were vainly searching for some relief when I spotted a hotel. La Posada claimed to be open though we saw signs of either destruction or con when we drove up. I didn’t care. I raced inside.
As focused as I was on that particular destination I couldn’t help but take in a deep breath when I realized this was no rundown, run of the mill, sleeping establishment thankful for the occasional RV driver who is longing for a hot shower and a bed with box springs.

The high ceilings, heavy wooden beams, New Mexican color scheme and artwork practically shouted at me to slow down. I glimpsed indications that I couldn’t make this a slam bam thank you mam kind of visit as I desperately sought out the relief facilities. When I had concluded my business, I gave them some with the purchase of a small basket I thought the folks back at my former business could use as a thank you for my going away. Then I went in search of Stan.

He, of course, had found the other gay man on the premises who happened to be the hotel clerk or manager. Engaged in conversation when I approached, Stan paused to update me on what he’d discovered thus far. The hotel was popular in the 30s, abandoned in the 50s and had been empty until it was restored in 1997. Our new friend and self-appointed tour guide seemed inspired by our obvious pleasure in the place or Stan’s cute legs and offered to show us some of the rooms, each decorated differently. They were named for famous celebrities and politicians that had once stayed in the resort stop for trains back in the day. His favorite was the Harry Truman room with its king size bed and Jacuzzi as well as a sitting area that overlooked the garden. I preferred the double jaccuzzi next door as I had just finished one of my sensual stories I’m working on apart from this blog and it seemed like it would make an excellent setting.

Betty Grable had a room. Jimmy Stewart. Howard Hughes actually stayed in the room that they had graced with his name. I asked if the hotel was doing well given that the evidence to date was that it wasn’t exactly a thriving metropolis and he assured me that they were constantly busy, booked up to a year in advance and currently working on opening up 10 additional suites.

Our guide’s story was an easy one to retrieve. I just asked and discovered he had five kids (we saw pictures of when they were small) had been born in the area but left until the kids (note that it wasn’t the wife) asked him to return and he’s worked there for a year to date.

After a bit more small talk, he left us to explore and I returned to a room of paintings that I’d seen from the corner of my eye when in search of the ladies room. The mural at the top of those steps was at least 30 feet wide and still allowed for another of the same size on its right should they ever need to display another. The name was as intriguing as the artwork which at first seemed to be a party scene but upon close inspection appeared to be table after table of corpses, each painted carefully to resemble folks you thought you might know. Sure enough, when we read about it we learned it was A New Years Eve Party in Purgatory with Liberace Dropping in from Heaven Just for the Hell of It. The notes helped us out by identifying some of the guests – Marilyn Monroe, Sid Vicious, Jimmi Hendrix, and a couple of artists Mark Rothko and one local one who took his life upon learning that he would soon be blind. The artist is Tina Minon and after reading about another large painting she’d worked on just before the Berlin Wall fell in which she juxtaposed nuns with Babushkas, we discovered that she had married the man who had first established some international peace walks she’d been part of and that the two of them were the owners and chief renovators of the hotel!

Ingenious and serendipitous are our words of the day, kiddies!!! A bathroom break prompted the setting for what will have to be a focal point in an upcoming story, an introduction to some local lore, and a touch of cuteness for Stan to enjoy. One woman’s investment in her own sense of justice netted her a new life in Arizona. And one small town is now more than just a spot in the road.

Sometimes takin’ it easy is the only way to go!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

California Road Trip -- Day 2

Nothing like starting the day with a windblown walk to see 10 Cadillacs buried nose down in the earth.

God, you gotta love Texas!

The Cadillac Ranch was exactly as I'd imagined and not. I had seen the cars before in photos. I had never seen the surrounding area for what it is -- vast, empty plain! Wow! The wind can treated my little VW like it was not much more than an empty Coke can. Walking to the exhibit meant taking on about a 100 yards feeling like you were in a wind tunnel at NASA!

The cars get painted white regularly but it doesn't take long for the graffiti folks to add color. I was surprised at the lack of profanity as well as the lack of protest -- no anti-war messages, no hate messages, no nothing . . . except a lot of who loves who outside Amarillo, Texas.

The midpoint of Route 66 is in Adrian, Texas. We found some wonderfully tacky souvenirs and had a scrumptious cinnamon roll (whoever came up with the combination of butter and sugar was a sheer genius . . . and the spawn of the devil if I consider the impact on my hips!).

We moved between I40 and old Route 66 (which, when it became a dirt road, was not on my "must do" list) and after a few hours of scenic mesas and valleys and canyons and blue skies with puffy white clouds which we viewed easily because the top was down I was soon "freckle-licious".

Santa Fe was as I remembered it from my visits years ago as a good Baptist making the journey to do training in the conference center at Glorieta, just a few miles away. I smiled that both Stan and I have come a long philosophical, theological, emotional way since then.

Traveling to Gallup for the night, we pulled off for a moment to take the top down again and take in the stars. Stars dancing indeed!!!!

Tomorrow . . . Winslow, AZ where we hope to see a girl in a flatbed Ford and then on to Las Vegas.

Road Kill Ruminations

“May the road rise up to meet you” isn’t such a great thought when road kill is involved.

And dead varmints seemed to be in surplus this past weekend. In Louisiana, our host told of hitting such desecration as to need an emergency run to the car wash to prevent the scent from his truck from prompting passers-by to wonder if they needed to call in CSI.

Driving home from my sister’s (the arduous journey of 13 whole minutes from her college town to my hometown that my mother often felt was too much to ask me to cover in an afternoon of errand-running) I encountered what I think might have once roamed the world as an opossum and reduced its hindquarters to mush.

And while powerwalking Hwy. 45 for my daily constitutional I noted what I thought and hoped was a mound of paper blocking my way on the sidewalk ahead. I was wrong. I’m not sure what the swollen, rain-soaked mass once was exactly because I chose to risk the oncoming traffic rather than get too close to the odiferous mess.

The last encounter got me to thinking about how rural areas tend to deal with death. They (or should I say “we” given that my roots are rather deep in unconsolidated soil) are rather practical about it. Pretty much, if there’s a dead skunk in the middle of the road you either move it or leave it up to the elements. Once when I took out a deer with my 1972 Malibu the most asked question was not how the five teenaged girls in the vehicle were holding up but rather who got the deer for processing. (And if you’re one of those people, I’ll go ahead and tell you that it was the county jail.)

This practicality may be the reason I never found it odd that my high school job at the Dairy Queen often required me to get the details on who was also at the funeral home next door. The owner of the DQ was also the town mortician. “Has Jimmy got a body?” was the first question of the shift. That fun fact never fails to amuse my non-small town friends.

My mother is on the benevolence committee at her church. When the pastor reported on Wednesday night regarding the status of “Miss” Patty, a fellow church member slightly younger than my mother, Mom remarked to me later that she’d need to make a run to Sam’s to pick up the needed paper products to feed the family after she passed away. She'd picked up her cue from the pastor's public proclamation that after his hospital visit that day, he could report that "Miss" Patty wasn't doing well; she wasn't doing well at all."

Don’t get the idea that we’re vultures, awaiting the inevitable. But death happens. And life goes on. And sometimes the best thing to do is recognize that cleaning up is inevitable so just get to it. You need to know the language to really catch what's going on because practicality doesn't usually equal transparency. "We'll work 'til Jesus comes" as the song says but we'll whisper while we do it.

I prefer the practicality to the occasional but lame attempts at philosophizing. When my brother died at 38 from a totally unanticipated heart attack, my mother was “comforted” by any number of folks assuring her that “God must have wanted another bass in the choir” or “Bart was just too good for this world.” Months later mother asked me about the comments.

I responded with a question of my own. “Do any of those words provide you with comfort?”

“They make me mad as a hornet!” she exclaimed.

“Good!” I offered. “’Cause I think their stupid statements made by people without a clue.”

“So what should I do?” she asked, ever wanting the next practical action to take to “fix” the situation, to step in and at least do something.

“Grieve. Be angry. Do whatever works for you, Mom. And don’t listen to them. If you want, tell them to shut up. If you don’t want to, get away as soon as possible. But this is yours, Mom, and you don’t have to live up to anyone’s standards.”

“You think?” she asked, her voice filled with the hope of one who longed for comfort.

“I don’t know much, Mom, but I know this. Your grief is your own.”

She sighed.

Psychology isn’t a hallmark of small town living. We whisper when asked about the idiosyncracies of our own, offering euphemisms such as she’s a bit “touched in the head” (unless of course you’re my sister who just notes that they’re “bat shit crazy”). And therapy is limited to the lame of foot, not of soul. If you’re suffering inside, another trip down the church aisle to confess your sins should do the trick. Otherwise, troubles are best kept behind closed doors and alluded to in public with only knowing glances and nods.

I once rebelled against the system that hid rather than identified and examined the issues. Now I accept its inevitability as what works for them. My science teacher balloons and loses weight to skeletal proportions every three years or so. A high school girlfriend kicks her husband out of the house on a regular basis for imagined shortcomings and while the church folks question the wisdom of her being allowed to take on a leadership role in her unstable state, she’s in charge of one of the more popular Sunday School classes. Another fellow alumni and now teacher once told me that she was having to have massive amounts of dental work as the result of all the vomiting she’d done in her bulimic days. I nodded and wondered quietly if those days were as much a thing of the past as she was trying to indicate.

Road kill and secrets are inevitable in small towns. (And now I must revert to) They may not have the best or healthiest system for cleaning up the destruction but they take care of their messes.

Perhaps that’s the biggest reason why I visit rather than live there anymore. I can only hold my breath and whisper for so long.

California Road Trip -- Day 1

For those who love a good dose of juxtaposition . . .

1. Welfare and Comfort are west Texas neighbors.

2. We’re riding in a VW Beetle convertible. I’ve plugged an inverter into the cigarette lighter so that my Mac can power up. We’re listening (via the amazing VW speakers) to the Ipod I just charged. And we’ve just left Comfort, Texas where I paid $7.50 for a BLT and salad and we tried to decide if the Double D Restaurant, Bakery and Biergarten was painting their brown walls white or their white walls brown as we seemed to have caught them in mid-paint. That or they liked the cattle hide motif the walls suggested in their current spotted form.

3. Stan asked what one might call a resident of Comfort.

I offered up, “Comforter?”

“But definitely not a Duvet,” he concluded.

Yes, we’re having a good time.

4. Fact: Red VW Beetles do not fly under the radar in west Texas! they do however get off with a warning from cute State Troopers clocking them at 77 mph in a 70 mile zone. Stanio Andretti (as Brit referred to him) that was driving at the time in case you're curious. And, no, we're not sure which one of us batting our eyes at him made the difference.

5. Stan saw the terrain shift from city streets, to hill country, to flat plains and noted spottings of sheep, goats, cows and horses. I spent much of my non-driving hours writing (which is what I do now in this non-vacation existence that some folks are having a hard time grasping as my new 'normal' and how I hope to make a living) and listening for his alerts to views worthy of notice. The sunset, as always, took up the entire sky on the left and was suggestive a spilled can of red paint. The moon, humungous on the right, comforted me and rivaled the glow of the Mac.

6. We didn't stop in Happy but we did note our passage through.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tragedy, Loss and Other Happy Thoughts

Mark mumbles.

Mark also wears a day glo orange baseball cap on his closely cropped hair, suspenders that keep his pants below his protruding belly but at least up, and a sweat stained t-shirt. He drags his right leg slightly as he walks his "route" around my hometown.

When I was in my 30s, I heard that teenaged Mark had been in an accident. The town rallied with prayers and family support as he came out of a coma. They prayed harder when the recovery started. Then, they still held out hope for the Mark they'd known to return.

He didn't. Now almost two decades later, the town that rallied often runs when they see him heading in their direction. As we say in these parts, "Mark just ain't right."

The town does support him. Odd jobs keep him busy. Everyone does chat with him or at least attempt to because, really, all you can understand are one or two words in the stream of sounds coming from him.

My stepfather is one of his benefactors. He keeps him sweating with outdoor jobs that no one else in town would want to do and especially with the demanding tone that Doc often uses when he's focused on a task. Mark does them with a mumble or he simply leaves and comes back the next day. Their relationship works in some Odd Couple kind of way. Doc can't hear. Mark can't speak. And together they survive each other's personalities.

Mark's recently gotten into some trouble with some of the other townspeople. He's said some inappropriate things, popped up at a door at the wrong time, etc. Still, the town keeps supporting. They just do it with eyes open and no longer the innocence of thinking their good deeds are going to be rewarded by Mark suddenly becoming something he's not. Mark is and will always be a grown man, emotionally and physically stunted by a tragedy.

Mark's plight made me think of Dolph. He was only a few years younger than me when I got word that he'd had an accident on the football field. A bad tackle and this outstanding quarterback, blonde teenaged hottie, and all-around great guy was paralyzed. Thirty years later he's still in a wheelchair. He's about the size he was back then. But he's also degreed and working in a management position in the rehabiliation center where he recovered what he could of his body.

What exactly makes the difference? One tragedy puts a man on the streets. Another is equally as tragic but has something of a better ending. Both have families. Mark isn't homeless. But Dolph maintained the essence of who he was. Mark left more than his physical ability at that roadside wreck.

In a workshop, I once used a Winnie the Pooh video about Tigger losing his stripes. After his friends tried to help him answer the question of who he might be if he were not a Tigger (the popular thought being that without his identifying stripes, he must no longer be a Tigger), he became frustrated with the failed attempts to make him a Rabbit, Piglet, Pooh and even a Christmas tree. Frustrated until Eeyore saw him on a dark road, "Evening Tigger" he moaned.

"That's the second time today you've called me that," the Tigger-who-thought-he-wasn't exclaimed.

"That's your name isn't it?" Eeyore offered.

"But Tigger's have stripes and I don't have my stripes!"

"Just because you don't look like a Tigger on the outside, doesn't mean you're not still Tigger on the inside. It's all in the stuffin!" and with that, Eeyore went his not-so-merry way and Tigger bounced, reclaiming his signature stripes.

After showing the video, my friend Pat made her way to the front of the room. Pat had had a stroke a few years before. She'd been in management then. At this point, she had a job at the building where we both worked but she no longer had a career. She, too, dragged her left side. As she made her way to me, the familiar rise of guilt started. The guilt came as I and other friends had been there in the beginning of her crisis with good intentions, prayers and a flurry of activity but eventually we had each fell away as we realized that our image of Pat was a memory and would never again be reality.

She spoke first and when I saw the tear forming in the corner of her eye, my tears started organizing as well.

"You know that's true, don't you?"

"Yes, I do."

"Just because I don't look like Pat on the outside, doesn't mean I'm not still Pat on the inside," and now her tears were flowing.

In that moment, I agreed. I agreed with the IDEA that she remained the same. I agreed because I wanted to support her at least one more time. But in truth, I didn't believe it. She wasn't Pat, not the one I'd known, not the wise-cracking, irreverent creative but practical manager of time, people and projects. She was a new translation, not any less than but never to be the same. And I had little in common with this Pat, the one prone to depression, anger, and quick to point out her limitations.

Eventually, she married someone from rehab, someone who knew her as she was post-stroke and would never compare her to the Pat before. We celebrated with her and sent her own her way. I've seen her once in the two decades since.

Wouldn't it be a testament to the goodness of humanity if the initial efforts around a tragedy were sustainable? Wouldn't it be worthy of note and possibly celebration if we could adjust from what was to what is now without hesitation, frustration, or failure? But we can't, can we?

Pat has the husband she'd often longed for but still limps. Dolph has a career but needs care and maneuvers with a wheelchair. Mark stays busy but still mumbles.

And me? I watch and still feel the guilt.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Accent-uating the Positive

(on phone)

Him: How long have you been in Tennessee now?

Me: Four hours or so, why?

Him: Sounds like it's been longer.

For those who are keeping track . . .

Hot air balloon ride -- check
Day at the lake in Louisiana -- check
Visiting family in Tennessee -- in process, returning to Houston on Thursday

Next:
Road trip to California with Stan including stops along Route 66 -- Friday through next Monday or Tuesday
Lake Tahoe and detoxing with Larry at Redwood Glen (hiking, learning his vegan lifestyle) -- couple of weeks in October
Pretty much ruining the detox when I spend a week with Richard and Robin (both great chefs) -- third week in October
Road trip back to Texas with stop in New Mexico to pick up Roger for last leg -- beginning around October 20 and returning October 27

Week of nothing but trying to figure out where all my stuff that just got packed and stored in four different locations now is, having lunch/dinner/whatever with whoever that is available, trying to get a handle on my rodeo speaking commitments and writing

ESL certification class -- daily throughout November

Playtime!!! and working for rodeo speaking committee in Houston -- first two weeks of December

Road trip to Alabama and east Tennessee to see family and friends -- third week of December

Holiday with mom, Doc and family

New Years Eve in Houston

Ten weeks in Tanzania beginning in January

RODEO -- last two weeks in March

And then ????
(plans currently include Taiwan, spending some time at a cabin in New Mexico, and one more trip to Australia before the big adventure concludes)

Behind the Scenes of Hope

Sing for Hope.

The event is annual, has been for 13 years. What started as a something-just-above- “we’ve got a barn, let’s put on a show” has evolved into the biggest fundraiser for Bering Omega, the AIDS-based community service program that includes the hospice where I volunteer. Up to 10 performers from across the U.S. converge on Houston and put together a half opera/half show tunes 90 minute program of excellence – with only two days of rehearsal.

A couple of years ago, the organizers heard me when I mentioned I had some backstage experience. Since then, I’ve headed up the crew that ensures props are where they are supposed to be and when they are supposed to be there. We stand in the wings, invisible in our black-on-black attire, and wait for cues to act. However, our performance is best if no one ever knows we’re there.

Since we are volunteers, total cloaking isn’t usually the case. We are also human and on occasion a chair can be dropped, a prop misplaced, or some other slight. But for the most part, we run a smooth operation and I’m proud of the continuing emphasis that Bering places on the value of volunteers working alongside professionals. I’m not a nurse but I assist with resident care. I’m not a stage director but I keep my crew alert and ready.

This year, I added a couple of other duties to my responsibility list (since rounding up props and keeping up with changing scripts wasn’t consuming nearly enough of my time) by being part of the hospitality team.

Brian is our captain and he’s a wonder. He orchestrates all airport pickups and extracurricular requests from the artistic folks. He guarantees that some form of transportation will be on hand when needed and he sincerely puts forth every effort to make the artists happy they’ve come. I drove for him last year. This year driving and massage therapy were on my agenda.

The therapist who usually gives his time for the event was getting married. My massage therapist was happy to give of his services but he was only available on Friday night. Still he enlisted a couple of other guys and they handled that night with ease and compliments.

But no one was free on Saturday. So I said yes to two massages and then added another half before my morning was over.

The first was a hoot because the New Yorker wasn’t accustomed to all our air conditioning and took the opportunity while in her room to avoid the cool blasts by not turning on her unit AT ALL. I walked in to what felt like a sauna. Fifty minutes later, I looked like I’d been in one. She had had her eyes closed throughout the massage and actually gasped when she finally saw how badly I was sweating. I began the second massage with an explanation since I was sure my next “client” would be frightened by my appearance. She laughed when she saw me and, quite reasonably, asked why I hadn’t mentioned the heat. I told her my basic philosophy about giving massages – I may not be a professional but what I can do is give you my best and allow my time with you to be totally about you. As a mother and wife and performer, she really liked that idea!

Two of the women tried to tip me. I thought it was a sweet gesture but as an amateur I didn’t think it was right for me to accept it and, really, I wanted them to know it was a gift. While I don’t hit a high C or know a major from a minor chord, I do know how to help a person relax. Put a bow on it and call it my contribution.

We raised more funds this year than ever before. After the stage was clear and the champagne had been poured, after all the artists were safe in their rooms or wherever they chose to unwind after the show, Brian opened up his home for some of the volunteers to finally breathe. And we did. Hot tubs are good things, you know?

I actually wasn’t completely through however. I had an airport run the next day and I still needed to get the U-haul truck back to its location. But the sun was shining a bit brighter on that Sunday morning and the breeze was definitely cooler and the company was most excellent so it didn’t seem like work at all.

When my friend Fiona who made an excellent U-haul driver and I returned to Brian’s for a final goodbye he was preparing a Sunday brunch to rival our city’s best restaurant’s. We stayed and chatted and finally parted about mid-day.

The women I massaged commented on how they were grateful for my gift of time throughout the weekend and how they hoped I was being taken care of as well. No worries. Between Brian, my most excellent crew, and my dear friend who gifted me with a kicking hairstyle on the night of the performance, the pay-it-forward theory was definitely being realized.

Sing for hope . . . even though I can’t carry that much of a tune . . . I do sing with my hands, my connections, my car. And I do hope, waiting with expectation for the day to come when the songs will be only those of celebration.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Launching THE Big Adventure

When the shadow of the hot air ballon was visible on the stone wall of the Shreveport factory, I was visibly reminded that every experience has both its bright and dark side.

While more than a hundred feet above the city, the lush green of the treetops was the first thing to grab my attention. Then I noted the street life of the inner city neighborhood -- the drab shops, buildings with windows broken, men walking home in the early morning hours from a night out, a garage sale in full swing at a gas station, dogs barking (lots of dogs barking!) and reality set in. Life was going on. I was above it all and not.

We waved. We called out. They waved and answered back.

"Coffee on?"

"Sure thing! Come and get it!"

When we arrived at the meeting location, I felt a tinge of worry. The pilot was over six feet five inches and pure Louisiana redneck. He was slightly put off because we were late, having stopped for Southern Main donuts at a shop that also advertised their outstanding fried catfish. He shifted to giving orders quickly as we drove to the launch site.

"When my guys get started I want everyone out of the way. You men might be asked to help out, but you ladies (I was the only one) will have to stand back."

I held my tongue given that I was about to put my life in his hands. Later I would remind him of his comment and he would assure me that he wasn't a male chauvenist and was simply concerned for my safety. I pointed out the three other women in the other two balloons -- one of whom was a pilot -- but he didn't notice the contradiction.

We floated. We ooo-ed. We ahh-ed. We took photo after photo. And we simply took it all in.

We also hit the tree tops at one point to make a right turn (not sure if this wasn't a convenient explanation for a steering error or not). And we landed with ease.

Rather than the traditional bottle of champagne at the close of our trip we were treated to eggs and fried pork products with hashbrowns at a dive that knew our pilot well and allowed him to come back and help serve the plates.

We chatted up the crew who helped launch and pack the balloon and discovered they were all volunteer, mostly retired and felt that our storytelling talents would allow us to fit right in with their make-shift family.

I smiled. When the pilot asked which of the three men with me was my husband I had assured him that not one of the handsome men was attached to me. I didn't mention that Roger had dated both Geary and Carlos. We still needed a ride back to the car!

When we got to the vehicle and said our goodbyes, I found out what a Lousiana tip feels like when the non-male-chauvenist-pilot pushed himself against my breasts and grabbed and tickled my ass.

Beauty in the shadow of reality . . . I was struck throughout the day with how exciting all that I have planned has already been and is going to be but I was also more keenly aware of all that I'm also going to be missing. My friends are moving to new homes. New relationships are forming. Babies are going to be born. Hearts are going to be broken and mend. And that's just in the next few months. I want to see it all and still live the adventure and yet I can't.

Today I choose the adventure. Today I choose to rise above the treetops, to eat the bacon, to watch the 8-year-old football game that looked like a field filled with bobble heads, to ride the hydro behind the boat, to hit the wake while on the jet ski. Today I choose to live full out. But . . . I still noticed the shadow and remembered all I couldn't see, couldn't be a part of.

Seeing both the light and dark -- not a bad way to start a journey of reflection, I'd say.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All About the Story ....

My 11 year old charge was sitting in the back seat of my convertible with the wind in his hair (because he and his little sis like the top down) and he piped up, "You know we have all those facts and stuff on the Internet, Karen?"

"Uh ..." not sure if I was supposed to offer a reply I went with keeping the conversation open for him to feed into it, "Why don't you tell me?"

"So that we can pass the stories down from one generation to the next; the way it's always been," he practically beamed at how pleased he was with that answer.

Another storyteller, I thought. Gotta love it.

At least I do. I tell folks all the time that it's all about the story. When my friend Larry took me on a 40 mile hike for his 40th birthday, I reminded him and me along the way when I was breathing hard or his buddies weren't keeping the pace he wanted that we'd have stories to tell. And we do!

Last night I spent a wonderful evening with three incredible women -- two of whom owned the fantastically modern house with such clean lines an architect would salivate just to see it -- and they were explaining how they had come to see the stories that were behind every one of the estimated 10,000 decisions they had had to make in the building of it made the living there that much richer.

I marveled at how two people could be so thoughtful. From the ramps for the dachsunds that are prone to back problems to have free reign of the first floor to the mud room to the elevator that goes directly to one of their mom's wing of the house to space that was designed for entertaining, this house speaks to looking outside one's own self and to the needs/wants of others.

I imagined walking through the house in a few years and hearing the stories upon stories that would be added. I've already fashioned a few of my own there.

Of course, the best part of storytelling is when the moment the great aha comes.

I see the next few days as prep for one of the biggest ahas of my life. What stories I will tell! Hope to see lots of you here in this space.

For direct contact, I'm going to be at kccomm@hotmail.com.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ouch! Ouch! Double Ouch!

I hate it when I have slap my own hand!

Recently, I spent a lunch hour with an agnostic and listened intently as he told me of what he "sort of believed". Later, I chatted with several theological conservatives and secretly rolled my eyes at what I was actually not hearing.

A day had to pass before I realized that I was acting the role of hypocrite. I was willing to embark on this faith journey open to what the Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, agnostic or wiccan might have to share that would give me a different perspective on what this world looks like to others. But I was unwilling to listen to those using the language with which I was most familiar; I was convinced I'd heard it all, been there, done that.

Ouch!

So . . . I commit to opening my ears to many voices -- including those with tales I've heard before.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Pocketful of Paradox

The rodeo mixer at the bar and grill elicits more talk of God than my entire day at work at a denominational entity.

One of only two participants in a workshop I did today on communicating effectively across generational lines was so entrenched in his way of thinking (shaped mostly by his being raised by his grandparents than his generational issues) that I had to practice what I was preaching in order not to throttle him.

The wisest woman in the room today had the least amount of formal education.

I'm ready for change and terrified that it's right around the corner.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

God is great ... God is good ... let us thank him ...

A friend who is caring for her ailing mom in a nearby state texted me on Friday.

"Know you would appreciate this. The church ladies have indeed kicked in. I'm looking at a lemon meringue pie with 2-inch high meringue, having just put two pans of brownies in the freezer and found a place for the chicken and dressing in the fridge. This comes after a peach cobbler last week. Of course, mom can't eat any of this so that means I'm going to weigh a ton -- or two. And, by the way, all this except for the dressing was cooked by two 85-year-old women!"

I replied, "Baptist women -- we can't fix what ails you but we can certainly feed it."

Later, I had to laugh at my amusement-filled reply given that I did the exact thing when I was told at the AIDS hospice on Saturday morning that two of our residents were "actively dying." Knowing that translates into family members streaming in and out for their final goodbyes throughout the day, I inquired about the status of our freezer/fridge. We always have food at the house, but, many times, it's donated food and while quite filling and very appreciated, there's only so many ways you can make frozen chicken nuggets tasty.

My fellow volunteer and I found some ground beef (actually, we probably found a half a cow ground up in one-pound-packages of brick-like frozen tubes) and a few things for sandwiches. I asked if she would mind if I vacated the premises for a few minutes to take a drive to the store. She ushered me forth and soon I had all we needed for a large pot of soup with FRESH vegetables and aforementioned ground beef, cornbread and some tuna salad.

I left my four-hour stint knowing that the 30-year-old who had to sit up with almost 100% oxygen hitting him as he fought valiently to breathe while drowning in his own fluids and the 30-something-young woman who was so out of it she barely knew we had to give her a suppository to break her 103 degree fever would absolutely not care that their families had soup and sandwiches for later. But I knew. And as a Southern woman I had done the one thing I knew to do. Care for the living. Pray for the dying.

Amen.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Seeing and Believing

Yesterday I was recounting to a friend how I had talked with the home office for the volunteer gig I want to do next year in Tanzania and how it was really coming together that I would probably be there for 10 weeks starting in January AND how I had been accepted by the ESL certification program and would start 9 to 5 days M-F in November for four weeks AND how one of my instructors is from the one country I know I want to try and teach in and probably has the connections I will need to make that happen.

After the bubbling brook of information and enthusiasm for my initial days of my great adventure subsided she said, "I would say how great it is that it is all working out for you but that sounds like it's just happening and you've put a lot of work into making this 'just happen.'"

I love this friend.

She sees things like that and doesn't let them go unsaid. I have researched and called and networked and am continuing to do so. Lots of folks just observe the outcome and don't recognize the foundation on which its built.

She does.

May her tribe increase ... and may she herself get some good news this weekend!!!*


*Even though many of you don't know her and I'm not using her name, just say a prayer, ok? She's one of the good ones who loves deeply and one she loves is waiting for some good health news.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Rainy Night in Houston and I'm Standing in Line with THE List

I heard the words that my friend, a mother of three who is in the midst of a move and starting her own new school year as a high school teacher, was saying. But I didn’t grasp the real meaning until I was standing at a ransacked shelving unit in Target asking complete strangers if they had, as yet, found college ruled notebook paper. Discovering that, yea verily, Super Target was not so super as to have ordered enough of that particular product to satiate the masses who were set forth, lists in hand, by our educational system the first week of school. Neither, I discovered, was Office Max and they topped off my buying experience by having a credit card machine breakdown in the line I had carefully chosen because it didn’t have three weary mothers with carts overflowing with book covers, 2-inch (not half inch!) binders and multi-colored highlighters.

I never knew.

I’ve lived this long and was clueless that such a ritual existed. “They” have The List. But “they” don’t divulge it until the children/youth are seated in their classrooms and thus a system is born.

I’m thinking it’s a Wal-Mart-based conspiracy.

I also suggested that with the one package of 150 sheets of aforementioned college rule paper that my 15-year-old charge found tossed in a bin of writing utensils, we could have perhaps had an auction right there in Office Max and perhaps paid for her first semester of college.

I’m just saying.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Faith Wow!

This weekend the big news was that Mother Teresa had doubts. In fact, she spent most of her ministry wondering where God was.

When I read the account, I had two reactions. First, I thought, "My God, I finally have something in common with Mother Teresa!"

My second was a bit startling. Since she really didn't want her letters of confession published it hit me that she could have possibly lacked in a community who would accept her in her unbelief, a community who gave her the freedom to doubt.

"I have that!' I thought. "I never doubt that I have room to doubt and still be loved by my friends. . . Wow . . . I'm one up on Mother Teresa!"

Wow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Perhaps I'm Smiling TOO Much!?

Today I had to fill in for my boss who was filling in for our other boss but who had to take care of family business so she wasn't there for my organization's quarterly business meeting.

Still with me?

So I pinned up my dress so I was somewhere near conservative in the cleavage department, reviewed all the Powerpoint slides she'd prepared for a state of the union address and called upon my incredibly gifted co-workers to be ready to fill in the blanks should I stumble with facts and figures -- not my strong suit. I'm all about the story, remember?

But before the report, I had to play her as interviewer. We wanted to feature this incredible pastor who maintained his successful export business while pastoring a church that in the last year or so has started 18 churches which in turn have started 6 more. He's also been "detained" in North Africa when he was picked up on the street because he'd openly answered a woman's question about his faith, and his network of small churches have raised thousands of dollars (and they are mostly churches of immigrant Hispanics) for wells in Mexico. I LOVE this guy!

I also interviewed the co-worker I bragged on in an earlier blog entry.

They were great and I was almost giddy.

I think people suspected I might be a bit toooooo happy about the resignation letter they were also seeing for the first time!

That announcment was in their package of papers but came later in the meeting. Nice things were said about me and I smiled.

After a few more announcements and updates, the rest of the staff and I went to the front of the room to fill in the blanks of the slides. I called on each one of them at one point or the other and they made the stats come alive with stories of what those stats translate into.

I smiled.

I also encouraged, challanged, and declared that since I was leaving I could take a personal point of privilege and say that this staff was one of the most incredible group of consultants I know doing what they do in this country.

I smiled as I acknowledged that I would probably never again work with a group of this caliber.

I smiled when I asked the folks in the room to support the efforts of this staff.

I smiled when we concluded our time with one more pat on the back to those who were there and those who helped to move toward the organization's vision every day.

I smiled when some pastors I've met through the years came forth to hug me.

And I smiled when I walked away, got in my red VW, and saw that location that has housed this meeting for most of my nine years of quarterly meetings in my rearview mirror.

I am, in fact, still smiling.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Every Change Changes Everything

I'm a big fan of systems thinking. Once again, while reading The Week, I was rewarded with a wonderful illustration that serves to unpack this complex subject. The piece, written by one of my favorites -- William Falk -- also prompts the question . . . so what? we do nothing???

On my Saturday shopping expeditions, I've noticed a change over at the Whole Foods. A new sign has popped up here and there amid the heirloom tomatoes, specialty cheeses, and fresh-roasted coffees, bearing the single virtuous word: "Local." It's a wonderful salve to the conscience: My fellow shoppers and I live amid such embarrassing abundance, yet simply by paying $4 for a head of local lettuce, we can do our part to save the planet from global warming. Or so it seemed, until some scientific spoilsports at Lincoln University in new Zealand ran all the numbers. To accurately calculate a product's cabron impact, they found, you have to go beyond "food miles" -- the distance that kiwi or artichoke-flecked sausage traveled before reaching your table -- and figure in how much fertilizer, transported water, electricity, and other energy was used to produce it. Lamb raised on New Zealand's sunnier, grasier hills and hipped 11,000 miles to Britain, the study found, produced a mere 1,520 pounds of carbon emissions per ton. "Local" British lamb, which requires more intensive ccare, prodcued 6,280 pounds --- four times as much.

As if that heresy were not upsetting enough, a British scientist has calculated that walking to the store contributes more to global warming that driving a car. Walking, it seems, burns calories, which have to be replaced by eating food. And producing food -- especially beef and dairy products -- is more carbon-intensive than burning a smidge of gasoline, particularly since ruminating cattle emit so much methane. Now does this mean we can do nothing to slow global warming? No. It only means that the world is enormously complex, and that simple soulutions to big proplens--solutions that make us feel comforted and virutous -- are almost always illusory.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Gotta Love the Irony

I'm on hold with the Baptist-based financial organization that has collected my retirement funds for the last 20 years. I'm sitting at my desk. I'm waiting to ask questions related to how I can get my money out of their hands and into the hands of a not-tied-to-the-denomination financial group.

The "on hold music" is a rousing piano solo of some old time gospel song. Meanwhile, my office radio is blasting away with Tim McGraw's "I'm gonna live like I was dying."

I'm thinking, "I'm working on it, Tim, just give me time!"

Learning Takes All Forms

Cross cultural work begs the metaphor. Some have suggested that diversity is like a patchwork quilt. Others say it's more like a stew. Still others have claimed the mosaic. As with most comparisons, the similarities eventually leave us at loose ends, blend into mush, or crack in some way.

But I love that we strive to connect something visual and artistic with the joys and struggles of communicating across/around worldviews and cultural beliefs.

I also love when the work creates in us the possibility of something heretofore unimaginable.

One of my cohorts at work is, by appearance, the least likely cross-cultural guru one could conjure. She looks dowdy. She dresses economically (which means that long skirts with shirts tucked into her rounder than her bustline waistband are her preferred uniforms ... with good shoes or flip flops). Her haircut is one that she could get at a barber shop since it's so short. She doesn't look her age (older than me) nor does she look young. She's timeless in her appearance ... pretty much the same woman I saw the first day I came to work here over a decade ago.

I made the mistake of initially judging this book by its cover. DOH! What an idiot I am!

She has transformed herself in the time I've known her -- not once but over and over again. She doesn't have a degree, yet she can now stand before thousands (and has) and speak to them of orality and how to address cultures who don't think in outlines and arguments. She doesn't capture your attention when she walks into a room because she's shy enough that she's usually looking for a space in the back where she can blend in. But the moment you offer up the floor for questions, she has them.

She spent much of her early adulthood raising two children as a single then remarried mom voluteering at a church as a preschool teacher. Now she uses experiential learning better than any education professor I ever had. In fact, she may be better at it because she doesn't rely on theory but her own experiences and she doesn't bother with trying to convince you of anything. She trusts the experience to do her teaching for her.

Recently she spoke of a small group she's brought together around the Russian language (a locale she's adopted and now helps to develop evangelistic strategies for) and scripture. Only most of the group aren't believers. And she's cautioning the one who is to keep it in check and allow thought-provoking questions just hang. (Challenging I'm sure to the the former Pentecostal who might usually have jumped on opportunity to provide THE answer.) In this group, she's got a physicist who knows three languages, an aging Ukrainian, and an atheist . And she speaks of their journey with more joy and enthusiasm than I've ever seen come out of a revival speaker.

Her latest tale involved them talking about the animals affected by the fall. Using her best take on scientific lingo, she asked, "Since we've spent some time on the assumption that the creation and fall of man stories are not true, let's give some equal time to the assumption that they could be true. If so, what about the animals who -- without sin -- had to die to cover the nakedness of Adam?"

When your audience has just spent several discussion minutes laboring over the animal kingdom, that kind of question is going to stop them in their over-analyzing tracks!

She's come a long way from home living centers in Sunday morning classrooms with fake kitchens and baby dolls. And yet she hasn't. Because for her, it's always been about learning and still is.

I'm going to miss all this woman has to teach me. I can't wait to see who will fill her shoes (flip flops) in my life.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ever Happened to You?

Sooooo . . . I'm all about living as honestly as possible, allowing folks to be who they are, hoping that they grace me with the same gift, and earnestly seeking to be mature in the practice of being a human.

Here's the rub . . . I recently spoke up and said what I needed from someone. Healthy, right? I offered that I had no expectation that just because I said it that it would now translate into reality and acknowledged that my need to set a boundary wasn't to be taken as a demand for them to honor it. I simply needed to say aloud what I needed. The problem is that after this very healthy exchange where no one got defensive, emotions were expressed but not projected, etc. etc. etc., I wanted to call later and say, "Are you ok? Because really, if I hurt you, just forget it."

I'm thinking the road to emotional health is filled with just such speed bumps as these.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sailing, Sailing

He held out his hand and I took it, wondering if he could guess the strength of my grip was only a suggestion of the power of my soul. Our eyes met . . . and that was the last time they would that day.

I wasn't what he expected and I knew it. He'd seen photos. He'd heard stories. But he was obviously disappointed and it showed.

After the obigatory toast when we boarded the 70 ft sailboat, he directed all his monologues towards Gary and Traci. I use the term because he wasn't really engaging anyone in conversation. I wanted to stop him at some point and suggest that he could breathe, that I got the message, and that I had no intention of jumping him -- physically or verbally -- in the next three days we'd be together.

We soon learned that the ship had much in common with an aging drag queen -- somewhat spectacular from a distance but upon close inspection the cracks were not only showing but affecting performance. They had been hit by lightning a few days before and the rainy summer had not been a profitable one for charters so money was tight and repairs were still on the "to do" list. Batteries were the big loss so we couldn't flush after each use, the showers worked only after the motor had been running a while, and the speakers for the promised music were iffy as well.

As soon as I learned what we had boarded, I made a slight adjustment in my thinking and had a great time. Luxury charter? No. Camping out at sea with an incredible view no matter which way I turned? Absolutely!

The first mate made me laugh and that made up for the silent treatment I was getting from the captain who was almost twice the young man's age. He had a way of telling a joke that was almost as amusing as the punch line. He would grin, announce that he had a joke, pause, grin again, and after a few moments when I came to realize he was retelling it in his head first, laugh aloud before launching into the telling. I laughed every time.

Gary asked the 28 year old what he had done in high school (because he truly looked like that was only a few years before) and he replied, "Drugs." Traci asked what kind. He said, "Uh yeah."

Should give you some sense of the cadence of the guy's stories.

While I was obviously not the captain's choice in the looks department, I did seem to be his therapist of choice. Granted, I'm all about questions so after the dead silence of the early morning with him three feet away smoking the first of his pack of cigarettes for the day and me writing in my journal whenever he made noises that his personality was now fortified enough to emerge, I would start simply.

"Your neck still bothering you?" this came after I had offered up massages all around and he had noted that he carried his tennsion there.

And he would begin ... I learned his work background, his Navy career, how many times he's been to the doctor this year and previously, how much needed to be done on the boat, how little he had with which to do it, his plans for the future, his regrets from the past and much, much, much more.

Reminded me of the time I hit the jackpot on a penny slot machine and how the $800 payoff I won after only two tries made itself known with a droning tickety tick sound that just kept going and going and going. Only this "payout" wasn't going to buy me dinner or cover the cost of a show.

I finally told him that I understood why he liked to shoot craps for his gambling of choice. He did it every day he sailed.

I had inquired about working on the boat prior to seeing the captain or the ship. He said he had a full crew for the fall. At the time, I was slightly disappointed that my year of adventure wouldn't be launched as dramatically as I thought. Now, I'm quite content in knowing that my three days on board made for a beautiful vacation (you should have seen the full moon reflecting off the water as the breeze blew over the deck) and will leave chasing that dream to a captain whose eyes can't see what's right in front of him.

Magical Sunday

I'm overwhelmed when I least expect it. Today, I watched the movie Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman and one of my favorite actresses -- Stockyard Channing. The movie is more than a story of spells of course. The real story is the power of hands held tightly together in love.

Something in that film made me know that the time has really come for me to leave. Perhaps the focus on finding one's heart's desire prompted it. Maybe it was the lessons learned even in the mistakes made (and Nicole's character was a definite screw up). Possibly, I longed to believe in something again with the absolute "rightness" that the "aunties" believed in themselves and the power of their family. Or maybe I just want to find my own Aidan Quinn!!

What I know is that you can't truly leave by running away and for the most part, I'm not. I also know leaving wouldn't be possible for me without the promise of arms outstretched to embrace me at each return. Those arms are not the arms of a lover, partner, husband or anyone committed to me by words. But each day, I'm reminded that I am not alone. And that un-aloneness makes the idea of a few goodbyes so much more bearable.

If I could conjure some magic, I would cast a spell so that every time I thought of someone I hold dear, they would smile. Then we could share that moment no matter how many miles separate us.

Smiling even now . . . .

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Happy Bday 2 Me! Happy Bday 2 Me!



WARNING: You may tire reading this birthday account. Perhaps you should sit down. Breathe. Now hold on ....

My friends really came through for me this weekend. Miss "e" worked on making me a pretty girl all Friday afternoon. After she got through with me, I had a new color on my hair, my eyebrows and CURLS!!!!

I went home and slipped into the most cleavage-bearing dress I have ever worn in all my 46 years!!!!

Then Shane and Brit escorted me to a downtown restaurant where about 25 folks showed up to wish me well. Most of them were shocked that I'd gone the girly route. I must admit to varying degrees of amusement watching their reactions!

After good eats and conversation, we walked over to the Alley where we saw a play called The Gospel According to Tammy Fay. She was an icon in the AIDS community and among gay folks since she was so accepting early on when many in the church were more focused on condemnation. We found out Sunday that she died the night we saw the play! Wish I could brag on the play but what I can do is not pick on it so I'll just tell you that several of us (we'd lost a few and gained a few more at the theater) went on to the Chocolate Bar after the first act of one hour and forty minutes was over.

At this point, my wonderful escort Shane also took me to get jeans casual. A woman of my age can go the girly route only so long, you know?

Now back to the evening ... Imagine if you will a place where vanilla doesn't belong, isn't even allowed to enter! Candies, cakes and ice cream all featuring chocolate -- ahhh!

Chatted there a while and lost a few more but gained a few too and soon we were headed for a country and western dance place. Not much dancing going on there however because there weren't that many people either. So we packed us up and tried another locale. FUN TIMES!!!

We actually closed that place down or close to it and Brian was gracious enough to offer his place as our next stop. He's got a pool, hot tub and extra suits. We agreed and ended our "night" around 4 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Saturday was all about getting ready for a more intimate dinner party Roger and Brit were throwing at my place. Since I like to cook I served as her sous chef. Mostly that meant I chopped.

I left the premises at 2 p.m. for errands and to allow my humble apartment to be transformed by Geary, Bob and Roger. When I re-entered, they had created a bistro! Four linen clad tables with linen napkins, centerpieces that stood at least four feet tall with white flowers and a single butterfly in each (because Dian said that was the perfect representation of my new life), candles, and lanterns softened the room. We even had a cocktail bar where my dining table usually sits and my leather sofa made for a warm cozy corner.

Geary was also the culprit behind some yummy mojitos. Brit had worked on some olive stuffed cheese balls and also had out edamame and cheese and nuts.

First course was two salads -- grape tomatoes with mozarella and basil in a balsamic vinegrette alongside one of my concoctions of English cucumbers and red onions with champagne vinegar over avocado.

Next came a cold pasta dish with Asian dressing and shrimp and vegetables.

After that we paused for a bit. The next course was butter chicken with Indian spices and vegetables over basmati rice.

Dian and Cyndi cleared plates each time and kept the kitchen tidy. Brit and I plated. The conversations kept going as we occasionally mixed up the seating.

Dessert was Stan's famous carrot cake with cream cheese icing (he even brought me my own container of that yumminess) and Brit's family recipe for an almost flourless chocolate cake that would just make you cry if you weren't so happy to indulge in it!

Several wanted to return to the country and western place and so some did and this time I got in at least three dances! Woo hoo! and Yee Haw!!

Sunday we restored my apartment to its sanctuary status and I drove out to Tomball to do something I've wanted to do for quite a while -- give my friend Becky the massage she was due back when she helped so much when my international friends were in town. She's down 30 pounds so we celebrated with my longest massage to date and some of the best conversation we've ever had.

AND I had a very, very, very happy, happy, happy birthday weekend!!!!

*We even shared in the festivity by calling my mom on Saturday during the dinner and singing to her for her 77th!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Happy Birthday to ME!!!! (and my twin brother and my mom and ...)

Kelly came out 20 minutes earlier than I did so someone's been around me from pre-emergence into this world. May explain my love of a good party. I have a feeling he and I may have had a little cake in the womb before we decided to say hello to the rest of the world.

My mom's birthday is the day after ours. At no point growing up did I ever have a non-shared birthday.

As an adult, I was amused at the idea that finally I would know what it was like to be the center of attention ... until I started working my very first job post-seminary and the executive director of the more than a million strong organization had the exact same birthday. Ahhh ... thanks to buddies I really never suffered from a lack of a good time at the mid-July point when we were usually traveling with workshops but still ...

Last year, I was once again on the road for the actual day. And as I sat and chatted with the young man who had been such a terrrific host to a bunch of would-be emerging leaders, he revealed that he was having a birthday ... at the exact same time that I was.

Sooooooo .... (looking around for any evidence to the contrary) .... I think .... that I am actually celebrating without anyone else to share the limelight. And you know what? I'm nervous!

But tonight I plan on sharing good times with a loads of folks I love as we eat, drink, laugh and then make our way to a production on the life of Tammy Fay (yep, that one) that will help support one of my favorite local AIDS support networks. Who knows what will follow? And tomorrow we're going to keep the party going with a smaller dinner at my house.

Today, I woke up to torrential downpours and darkness. I decided then that I was going to be the warmth in people's lives today that we've been missing in these parts. I've shared my birthday wishes with those who have sent any kind of acknowledgement and I've fashioned each wish for the person who sent me their good thoughts. I figure that if I'm getting older there has to be some benefits and wishes to share is one of them.

So here's wishing you warmth, friendship and the joy of knowing there's always someone to share your birthday with.