Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm a Brazilian Nut

As you all may know, Beth and I have been friends, uh, forever, and since she hates to type (and glad she isn't a blogger), she has been making 30 second videos and sending them to me daily. They are so funny. So, Beth told me how to use Photobooth on my Mac (we both have Macs) to make these silly video emails. Well, I gotta tell ya, our videos are getting crazier every day. Our conversation this week ... (Oh, and I think you have to double-click on the image to get the videos to play if you don't see the controls. If you do see the controls, well, then you know what to do, right?)

As you can see, Beth spent a LOTTA money on that beautiful mane of HOT RED hair with a sexy haircut to boot. But I've gotta tell ya that Beth would look hot in a potato sack with a raccoon on her head. I thought it was an appropriate time to write the story about a conversation we have had a number of times about hair color and cancer. Then I tried to send her the stupid video of me and Alison, but that failed so I had to do things the hard way and post our 5 minute video on Vimeo and then on my blog because I didn't know how else to do it. After she saw that video, she sent me this ...

After she read my story she sent me this...

Of course, I had to send her this (unfortunately I forgot to turn off the fan hovering over my laptop making all the noise ...

Then Sarah wanted to get in on the action (and again I forgot to turn off the stinkin' fan, although I did hit my finger into it and it made a funny noise ...

But hold on...

Of course, Beth is right. I am a nut. A Brazil nut. My daughter Kimberly once said I was "f-ing nuts" to which I replied "Thank you, and I'm a happy nut too." I think I'll keep it that way. I'm enjoying myself too much. I hope TypePad doesn't explode from all these videos in one post.

And "no" I haven't been drinking. As a matter of fact I've never been a drinker. I think alcohol tastes like Nyquil. I'm just naturally nutty like this. I think it must be a genetic defect.

2 Crazy Gals and a Photobooth

Well, Beth has been sending me video emails and I still can't figure it all out, but I did make this video today (a collection of 3 bad videos with bad mouth and all, and this is the only way I could get the dang thing to Beth - why?  Because my stinkin' email wouldn't send it.  So Beth (and anyone else who is interested) here is a crazy, stupid, video made by 2 50-something ladies that had nothing better to do - well, that isn't entirely true because we were trying to finish the video so we could paint.  We finally got to the studio and I live streamed from my studio but forgot to record it.  I told you I stink at this.  Anyway, here's the stupid video - for Beth...

I hope my mother doesn't disown me for saying the "f" word. Sorry Mom. I'll try to keep the trash talk under wraps for all future videos.

Oh my, did I really say that?  God help me.  Alternative words.  I need alternative words.

The Color of Cancer


As most of you may know, I stopped coloring my hair years ago.  As difficult as it was for me to accept the gray and whiteness of my natural hair, something innately told me that this was the right thing to do.  I do not regret my decision one bit and I am going to tell you why.  I am certain that hair color causes cancer.  Every time I colored my hair the thought went through my brain "What the hell am I doing!!!"  And I would sit there feeling the color and chemicals penetrate my scalp and the back of my neck with such a fury that all I wanted to do was get the crap off of my hair and off of my skin.

It doesn't take rocket science to understand that anything and everything that touches your skin - such as lotions and creams and liquids - ultimately find their way into your bloodstream.  Everything we breath also finds its way into our bloodstream.  We can eat something prepared by a person with the flu or a disease and catch that flu or disease.  Just breathing the chemical compound of hair dye will get the stuff in your bloodstream!  Yet, we are not afraid of these unnatural chemicals entering our bodies.  I think we better take a second look at this because it is killing us.


As an artist, I have to be careful with the chemicals and leads that may come in contact with my skin if I am not careful.  They are highly toxic and I wear gloves (most of the time) when I paint.  Actually, I took them off for some UStream videos I was making and now that I think about it that was really stupid.  I should know that if I have to wash the oil paint off my hands, it is getting into my blood. 

Degas went blind after years and years of painting in pastels.  He was breathing the dust and it was surely getting in his eyes.  Van Gogh went a little nuts, cut off his ear and ultimately suicide, and the theory is that he suffered from lead poisoning.  It is a possibility and a strong probability.

First let me say that my mother was diagnosed in 2005 with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  One morning, while sitting at our kitchen table, I leaned over to rub my hand on the back of my mother's neck - a compassionate gesture to let her know that I love her.  Imagine my shock when I found a huge lump, larger than a golf ball, on the back of her neck at her hair line.  Her response was "Oh that's nothing, Susan, it doesn't hurt."  Doesn't hurt!  "I'm taking you to the doctor immediately to have it checked."  And I did.  She had the lump removed and discovered that she had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  My mother has since been through regular treatments of radiation and chemo therapy to treat her cancer.  I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

I will tell you this - my mother colored her hair for years beginning in her 30s.  She was well into her 60s before she stopped coloring her hair. 

I have a dear friend, Alberto, who also colored his hair for years.  I call him an Italian Stallion (he once was my Italian Stallion, but that's another story).  A wonderful and talented man, Alberto hated the aging process as much as any of us, and so he attempted to hold back those years by coloring his hair.  It wasn't until after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma that he stopped coloring his hair and he looks better today than ever before (or at least I think so).  Alberto discovered a lump on his forehead at his hairline that kept getting larger until he finally had it removed and tested.  Like my mother, he got the horrible news that he had cancer.

Although I had not been coloring my own hair for a number of years by the time my mother and my friend, Alberto, discovered they had cancer, it was then that I had a light bulb moment and promised myself that I would not be influenced by unnatural beauty anymore and I would take care of myself and what God gave me.  I would be thankful for the color of my skin, the color of my hair, and would value the state of my mind and my heart more than my body.  That doesn't mean I would stop taking care of myself, on the contrary - what I mean is that I would strive to live a healthier and cleaner life and place more value on the development of my brain, my pathological drive for academia, and love and compassion for others over silly things like the color of my hair. 


What prompted me to write this now?  Well, I'll tell you.  The wife of a fellow blogger (FatCyclist) passed away last week from cancer.  Her name was Susan and she fought a heroic battle with metastatic breast cancer to the end.  My deepest sorrow and prayers go out to her 4 beautiful children and her husband, Elden, aka "Fatty."  Today they are laying her to rest.  It was something in his story about how he met his wife Susan, and their courtship that raised that red flag for me once again and I felt as if I had been hit in the stomach.  I laid down and took a nap and had a nightmare of sorts.  Suddenly cancer was all around me while I was playing a game on a Pinball machine.  Lights were going on and off, bells were blaring.  I had to stop the game.  I woke up and thought about this the remainder of the day.

This is what he wrote:

We Meet and (Very Soon After) Marry

The best place for me to really start telling Susan’s story, though, is when we met. Specifically, we met April 27, 1988. My college roommate was engaged to one of Susan’s roommates, and I was along for the ride when he stopped by her apartment.

When I saw Susan, I was immediately stricken. In addition to her general hotness, she had eyes that conveyed her smile so perfectly.

Plus, I really liked her dark red hair.

I was not the kind of person to ask girls out on dates without spending time getting courage up, but in this case I made an exception.

When I went to pick Susan up the next day, I did a double take — her hair color was now blaze-orange. Which I also liked, but was confused.

As it turns out, Susan was in cosmetology school at the time — she wanted to learn hair as a skill to put in her quiver for her love of stage makeup — and her hair would change style and color roughly twice a week through our courtship.

Our courtship, by the way, didn’t take long. We married on August 13, 1988 in the LDS Los Angeles Temple — about 3.5 months after we met.

After twenty one years (this Thursday) of a truly happy marriage, I can’t help but be amazed that I made such a good choice so quickly.

You know where I'm going with this don't you?  Nobody can be certain that chemicals such as hair color had anything to do with causing Susan's cancer, but the possibility is there that if anything, it may have contributed to it in some way.  I am certain that when Fatty was writing this, that he didn't think twice about hair color. I am not a scientist and I'll be the first to admit I don't have proof, but it seems to me that it is staring us right in the face.  When these chemicals enter our body they have to go somewhere, they have to do something inside of us, and whatever it is it can't be good.

Now for a little science experiment of my own and a bit of information for you:

Hair is made up mostly of keratin. Keratin is a protein and is the same substance found in your skin and your fingernails.  Your natural hair color is determined by a ratio of proteins.  The natural color of your hair depends on the ratio and quantities of two additional proteins, eumelanin and phaeomelanin. Eumelanin is responsible for brown to black hair shades while phaeomelanin is responsible for golden blond, ginger, and red colors. The absence of either type of melanin produces white/gray hair, and in my case I'd have to say that one or the other is totally gone.

Darker hair has a higher percentage of melanin. We all know that hair color is inherited. Melanin and phenomelanin are responsible for giving hair strands their color.  Also, how early or how late you go gray is also written in your gene pool. 

Aniline dyes are chemicals that were developed from coal tar and are used in semi-permanent hair colors. For permanent hair color, products will contain paraphenylenediamine or PPD. It is the only known permanent chemical for hair coloring at this time. There are many different names for this product but they are similar enough that you should be able to spot them on your hair coloring product. Most allergic reactions are a result of using PPD.


In order for semi-permanent and permanent hair colors to be effective, the hair shaft must first be opened. Note that when you open the hair shaft, you are also permitting the chemical to get into your bloodstream.  You might as well inject yourself with it, because that's where it is going to end up anyway.  The most common agent used in opening the hair shaft is ammonia. After the hair shaft is opened, the hair color can then go into the shaft and change your color.  Hydrogen peroxide is also a chemical compound used in permanent hair coloring. These dye products that use dye ingredients such as PPD and hydrogen peroxide are called oxidation dyes. A higher amount of peroxide in the dye will give a faster and lighter result. 

A bit about PPD:

p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) is an aromatic amine with many industrial and cosmetic applications.  It is used as a component of engineering polymers and composites, aramid fibers, hair dyes, rubber, chemicals, textile dyes, and pigments.  It is also used in printing and photocopying inks, photo and lithograph developing chemicals, Kevlar, oil, gasoline, and grease products.  Let's think about that a minute ... after doing a bit of research I discovered that low molecular weight aromatic amines are toxic and some are easily absorbed through the skin. Many higher molecular weight amines are highly active biologically.  

PPD is a preferred chemical because of its ability to withstand high temperatures and retain its stability. It is good for hair dyes because it produces a natural color which doesn’t fade as readily with washing and drying. PPD itself is colorless — it gains its color once it’s exposed to oxygen.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cites PPD as a contact allergen, and should not be directly applied to the skin.  Well, forgive me for asking, but if it should not be applied to the skin, then why is it in hair dye?

People who regularly work with PPD, like your hairdresser, can develop allergies to it, and should take precautions to avoid coming in contact with it.  Now, despite the fact that your hairdresser is wearing gloves while applying the hair dye to your head, and taking precautions to protect themselves, what is being done to protect you? (I'm really trying here to give you food for thought).  Although the most common absorption of PPD into the body is through the skin, it can also cause allergic reactions when it is inhaled, absorbed by the eyes, or ingested.

Now, how many of you have ever applied hair dye and have felt "something" going on on your skin?  Or, how many of you have walked into a salon or colored your hair at home and turned up your nose at the stink?  You are obviously breathing the stuff in addition to coming in contact with it.  I always thought it was a bit of an oxymoron that they give you gloves to protect your hands yet the chemicals are coming in direct contact with your scalp about 1/2 inch from your brain.

One of the most dangerous applications of PPD is when it is added to henna a natural dye. When used for temporary tattoos, henna laced with PPD is known as “Black Henna.” Although this is not an approved use for PPD in the United States, some tattoo artists will illegally add the chemical to henna for darker temporary tattoos that dry faster than pure henna tattoos.  I just thought you should know that in the event you were planning to go out and get a "safe" henna tattoo.  Because the dye is applied while the PPD is in its oxidation process, its potential as an allergen is increased. (Remember, it is all going head long into your bloodstream to mingle with all your red and white blood cells.  Black Henna tattoos often result in a skin reaction similar to a chemical burn, which in turn results in a scar where the skin was tattooed.

Also, once a person who has been exposed to PPD has an allergic reacition, they may suffer a lifelong sensitivity to the chemical. I suggest we all stay away from the chemical during the oxidation process and we'll be healthier for it, what do ya think?

There is ongoing debate regarding more serious health consequences that may result from use of hair coloring.

Recent publications regarding the dangers of hair tints include:

        * A FDA study that found lead acetate (the active ingredient in gradual darkening products such as Grecian formula) to be potentially toxic. 

        * Articles that link the development of some forms of cancer (including leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, bladder cancer, blood cancer, and multiple myeloma) with the use of hair color. 

        * Specifically, prolonged use of permanent dark hair dyes have been found to double a person's risk of getting various types of blood cancer.

        * 4-ABP, a known human carcinogen, was discovered in some hair dyes that you can purchase right off the shelf.

There have been 31 published investigative articles regarding the causal association between PPD and cancer between the years 1992-2005.  These articles have discussed the possible association between hair dye use and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, (which is what my mother and friend were diagnosed with), multiple myeloma, acute leukemia, and bladder cancer.  Bladder cancer was observed in at least one well-designed study with a detailed exposure assessment, but it was apparently not observed consistently across all of the studies.  Still, if we weigh the possibilities, I think you can be certain of the association between PPD and cancer.

I thought you should know, however, that the EPA has not classified PPD as a carcinogen. Therefore, no warnings of toxicity have been printed on boxes of hair dye.  I think it is time they start, don't you?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) list PPD as being a contact allergen only.  Exposure can be through inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, and skin and/or eye contact; symptoms of exposure include throat irritation (pharynx and larynx), brochial asthma, and dermatitis.  If you become sensitive to PPD, it can be a lifelong problem leading to sensitivities to:

  • Black clothing
  • Printer ink
  • Facsimile ink
  • Hair dye
  • Fur dye
  • Leather dye
  • Photographic products.

One maker of this product states explicitly that PPD should not be used directly on the skin. 

Now I know that I am writing a long-winded article here on the perils of hair dye, but I honestly believe, with every ounce of my being, that hair color is responsible for many a cancer in this world.  I believe that just like smoking was discovered to cause lung and throat cancer, that PPD and other chemicals in hair dye will be discovered to cause cancer. 

Have you ever wondered why your Obstetrician (if you are a woman and have been pregnant) ever told you to stop coloring your hair while you were pregnant?  If it is safe, why would it not be safe if you are pregnant?  Again, remember that all of these chemicals go directly into your blood stream.

I am sure that I am going to cause a bit of a backlash with someone from the hair color companies, but have it.  I am so happy to see a greater appreciation for women who embrace their natural beauty and their God-given gray hair.  Personally, I think gray haired women are beautiful.  Now, I know my friend Beth is going to have a hayday with this post because she has been coloring her hair for say - 30+ years?  Beth, my dear friend, and Alison, and Liz, and Lisa, and everybody out there who is coloring your hair or thinking of coloring your hair - DON'T.  It's not worth it.  Your life is more than the color of your hair, the size of your breasts, the roundness of your backside, or the number on your scale.  It is a quilt of your experiences, the value you place on your family, the beauty you find in God's creation, the time with friends, the good deeds we do for others, what positive we give back to this world.  Life is much more than the physical appearances we put forward. 

Now for some positive roll models:


"A lot of times, Mother Nature knows what she's doing," says country queen Emmylou Harris, 52. A decade ago, after a run-in with red henna, the eight-time Grammy winner "bit the bullet," as she puts it, and reverted to the prematurely gray hair that she had acquired in her early 20s. "It's the best thing I ever did."

Amen, says Willie Nelson, who calls her "a natural beauty who knows there is no need to cover up." Agrees singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell: "She's forever young." 


Model Cindy Joseph went prematurely gray and didn't start a successful modeling career until she was 48.  You go girl!

Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren looks beautiful at 62 el-naturel

GrayHairmodel Carmen del Orifice

Beautiful Model Carmen Del Orifice


Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, and now for ...

More beautiful gray ladies ...








Regina Mumme, 48, Homemaker - Gorgeous!


Yamuna Zake, 52, Body work Instructor.

And of course, there is me:


My Big Bear took these pictures this morning...


This is what "50" looks like ladies...I'm not a young chicken anymore, but I think I'll keep my silver locks.  I've worked diligently to care for my skin by staying out of the sun and wearing sunblock when outside.


I kinda like the haircut too.  I think gray hair and a great haircut is sexy and beautiful.  And, if you must know, I receive far more compliments on my hair now than I ever did when I was coloring it.  Honestly, there is no color in the world that is an natural and beautiful and "safe" as your own God-given color.  Accept it.  Love it.  Embrace it.  You'll be glad you did.

Just remember:

It is not the color of our hair that matters in life, it is the colors of our heart.

Personally, I think women who embrace their gray hair and make the most of their natural beauty show strength of character.  I hope that others feel the same of me.

(This article took me 2 days of research and a hell of a lot of reading but I think it was well worth it).


Friday, August 07, 2009

The Secret Life of Bees - A Conversation


I am an avid reader - if you haven't figured that out yet.  I love to read.  It takes me away to faraway places, to another time and place, to a place in my brain where I feel like I've curled up with a blanket in the comfiest chair I can find.  Well, I found the perfect book to take me away this summer - The Secret Life of Bees. 

Yes, I saw the movie with Dakota Fanning, but the book - oh, the book - it is gripping and will keep you hooked from the first page to the last.  It is the story of a little girl, Lily Owens, who breaks her black "stand in mother" out of jail (for insulting 3 of the most racist men in in town) and runs away from home.  She lost her mother when she was four and thought that she was responsible for her death.  Her father was abusive, yet I was led to believe that he was afraid and alone and just didn't know how to raise a daughter, so he took his frustrations out on Lily.


Lily is strong and free-spirited, full of spunk and vinegar, and she is growing up in 1964 South Carolina when racism is rampant, violence is everywhere among blacks and whites, and blacks are trying desperately to carve a life free of judgment, ridicule, and separation from the same freedoms that should be afforded every man and woman.

Lily and Rosaleen head for Tiburon, South Carolina where they meet a trio of eccentric black women who live together in a large pink house and package honey - the best honey in town.  They are beekeepers, yet together, they change the life of one little girl, Lily, and her dear friend and nanny, Rosaleen.


It is an unforgettable story and written with the same powerful prose as any John Steinbeck book I've ever read.  It is a mastery of fiction and if you like curling up with a book, I can't think of any book you would enjoy more than this one. 

This novel is not only Sue Monk Kidd's first novel, it is a remarkable story of divine female power, and one that I have now shared with my daughter.  It's a story that you will want to share with your daughters too.

I do want to share with you 2 of my favorite passages in the book -  Page 147:

"You know, some things don't matter that much, Lily.  Like the color of a house.  How big is that in the overall scheme of life?  But lifting a person's heart--now, that matters.  The whole problem with people is ...

they know what matters, but they don't choose it.  ... The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters."

Page 255-256:

"Knowing can be a curse on a person's life.  I'd traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn't know which one was heavier.  Which one took the most strength to carry around?  It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can't ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies.  Heavier or not, the truth is yours now."

(Conversation with Sue Monk Kidd courtesy of Penguin books)


Sue Monk KiddSue Monk Kidd is the author of two widely acclaimed nonfiction books, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and When the Heart Waits. She has won a Poets and Writers Award for the story that began this novel, as well as a Katherine Anne Porter Award. Two of her short stories, including an excerpt from The Secret Life of Bees, were selected as notable stories in Best American Short Stories. The Secret Life of Bees, her first novel, was nominated for the prestigious Orange Prize in England.


The novel is set in South Carolina in 1964. Did you experience the South in the 1960s?

In 1964 I was an adolescent growing up in a tiny town tucked in the pinelands and red fields of South Georgia, a place my family has lived for at least two hundred years, residing on the same plot of land my great-great-grandparents settled. The South I knew in the early sixties was a world of paradoxes. There was segregation and the worst injustices, and at the same time I was surrounded by an endearing, Mayberryesque life. I could wander into the drugstore and charge a cherry Coca-Cola to my father, or into the Empire Mercantile and charge a pair of cheerleader socks to my mother, and before I got home my mother would know what size Coke I'd drunk and what color socks I'd bought. It was an idyllic, cloistered, small-town world of church socials, high school football games, and private "manners lessons" at my grandmother's. Yet despite the African-American women who prominently populated the world of my childhood, there were enormous racial divides. I vividly remember the summer of 1964 with its voter registration drives, boiling racial tensions, and the erupting awareness of the cruelty of racism. I was never the same after that summer. I was left littered with memories I could not digest. I think I knew even back then that one day I would have to find a kind of redemption for them through writing. When I began writing The Secret Life of Bees, I set it during the summer of 1964 against a civil rights backdrop. It would have been impossible for me to do otherwise.


What parts of The Secret Life of Bees were drawn from your own life experience?

Once, after I gave a reading of the scene where T. Ray makes Lily kneel on grits, someone in the audience asked if my father had ever made me kneel on grits. She couldn't imagine, she said, anyone making that up! I explained that not only had I never knelt on grits, or even heard of kneeling on grits before it popped into my head while writing the novel, but that T. Ray is the exact opposite of my father. I conjured most of the novel straight out of my imagination, inventing from scratch, yet bits and pieces of my life inevitably found their way into the story. Like charm school. Lily wanted to go, believing it was her ticket to popularity. As an adolescent, I went to charm school, where I learned to pour tea and relate to boys, which, as I recall, meant giving them the pickle jar to unscrew, whether it was too hard for me or not. And there is the fact that Lily and I both wanted to be writers, rolled our hair on grape juice cans, refused to eat grits, and created model fallout shelters for our seventh-grade science projects. We also both had nannies, but otherwise Lily and I are more different than alike.

My favorite piece of personal history that turned up in the novel is the honeybees that lived in a wall of our house when I was growing up. We lived in a big country house in Georgia, where bees lived for many years inside the wall of a guest bedroom, squeezing through the cracks to fly about the house. I remember my mother cleaning up puddles of honey that seeped out, and the unearthly sound of bee hum vibrating through the house. The whole idea for the novel began one evening when my husband reminded me that the first time he'd visited my home to meet my parents, he'd awakened in amazement to find bees flying about the room. After he told that story, I began to imagine a girl lying in bed while bees poured through cracks in her bedroom walls and flew around the room.

I couldn't get the image out of my head. I began asking myself: Who is this girl? What is the desire of her heart? That anonymous girl became Lily Melissa Owens, lying there, yearning for her mother.


Are any of the characters modeled on people you know?

I'm inclined to say that no character in the novel is modeled on a real person, but nothing is ever that simple, is it? As I wrote about Rosaleen, I could hear my own nanny's voice in my head. She had a colorful way with words, and some of her sayings found their way into Rosaleen's mouth. For instance my nanny used to say that if you put her husband's brain into a bird, the bird would fly backward. You may recall that Rosaleen said exactly the same thing about her husband. Like Rosaleen, my nanny was also a connoisseur of snuff. She carried around a snuff cup and had a distinct manner of spitting it that Rosaleen inherited. Other than a few borrowed traits and sayings, however, the two of them weren't that much alike.

While I borrowed some trivial details from my own adolescence and gave them to Lily, she was essentially her own unique creation, just as T. Ray, Deborah, Zach, Clayton, and Neil were. All of them sprang to life the same wayconjured from anonymity. As for August, May, June, and the Daughters of Mary, I'm sure I drew on amorphous memories of growing up around a lot of wonderful Southern, African-American women. As a child, I loved to listen to their stories. But I wasn't thinking of any particular one of them as I wrote. The inspiration for August came mostly from a vision I carry inside, of feminine wisdom, compassion, and strength. I just kept trying to imagine the woman I would've wanted to find if I'd been in Lily's complicated situation.


In the past you have written books of memoir. Would you describe the transition you made from writing nonfiction to fiction? Will you write another nonfiction book in the future?

When I began writing at the age of thirty, my dream was to write fiction, but I was diverted from that almost before I started.

I became enticed by the notion of writing memoir. For over a decade I was compelled by the idea of turning my own life into narratives. My books The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and When the Heart Waits were narratives of my spiritual experience.

I think many people need, even require, a narrative version of their life. I seem to be one of them. Writing memoir is, in some ways, a work of wholeness.

I thought I would go on writing only nonfiction the rest of my life. Ah, but never underestimate the power of a dismissed dream.

I think there must be a place inside of us where dreams go and wait their turn. In the early nineties, my old dream of writing fiction resurfaced. To be honest, initially I was both compelled and repelled by its unexpected return. Compelled because it was a genuine impulse from deep within and had a lot of passion attached to it. Repelled because I was, to put it bluntly, afraid I couldn't do it. The dilemma forced me to come to terms with my fear.

I took on the role of apprentice fiction writer. I read voluminous amounts of literary fiction and set about studying the craft of fiction writing. More important, I practicedwriting short stories and rewriting them. Now, of course, I can't imagine my life apart from writing fiction. Will I, then, write another book of memoir? Oh, undoubtedly. I still have a need to create a narrative of my life. To keep writing it until I see how it turns out.


What was the process of writing the novel? How long did it take to complete it?

The novel began as a short story in 1993. At the time I wrote it, I wanted to develop the story into a novel, but I'd only just begun to write fiction, and felt I needed more time as an apprentice before taking on a novel. I put the story aside. Years later I was invited to read my fiction at the National Arts Club in New York. I dug out my short story, "The Secret Life of Bees." After the reading, I was again filled with the desire to turn it into a novel. I still didn't feel ready, but I figured I might never feel ready, and meanwhile I wasn't getting any younger.

It took me a little over three years to complete the novel. The process of writing it was a constant balancing act between what writing teacher Leon Surmelian referred to as "measure and madness." He suggested that writing fiction should be a blend of these two things. That struck me as exactly true. On one hand, I relied on some very meticulous "measures," such as character studies, scene diagrams, layouts of the pink house and the honey house. I had a big notebook where I worked out the underlying structure of the book. I relied more heavily, however, on trying to conjure "madness," which I think of as an inexplicable and infectious magic that somehow flows into the work. Before I started the novel, I created a collage of images that vividly caught my attention. They included a pink house, a trio of African-American women, and a wailing wall. I propped the collage on my desk with no idea how, or even whether, these things would turn up in the novel. Inducing "madness" also meant that I often left my desk to sit on the dock overlooking the tidal creek behind our house and engage in a stream of reverie about the story. I considered this earnest work.


How does having a sisterhood of women make a difference? Have you experienced such a community?

Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa, once said, "All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them." Ever since I first read that line, I've carried it with me. When women bond together in a community in such a way that "sisterhood" is created, it gives them an accepting and intimate forum to tell their stories and have them heard and validated by others. The community not only helps to heal their circumstance, but encourages them to grow into their larger destiny. This is what happened to Lily. She found a sanctuary of women where she could tell her story, and have it heard and validated—an act that allowed her not only to bear her sorrow but transform it.

I have been part of several communities of women over the years. Each of them was created simply because we wanted a place to tell our deepest stories. In every case we found that there is a way of being together that sustains us, and now and then, if we are lucky, returns us to ourselves.


Where did your interest in Black Madonnas come from? Are there actual Black Madonnas in the world? If so, what is the story behind them? How did a Black Madonna end up in your novel?

For a number years I studied archetypal feminine images of the divine and grew fascinated with how the Virgin Mary has functioned as a Divine Mother for millions of people across the centuries. It was during this period that I inadvertently stumbled upon an array of mysterious black-skinned Madonnas. They captivated me immediately, and I began to explore their history, mythology, and spiritual significance.

Approximately four hundred to five hundred of these ancient Madonnas still exist, most in Europe. They are among the oldest Madonna images in the world, and their blackness is purportedly not related to race or ethnic origins, but has to do with obscure symbolic meanings and connections to earlier goddesses. I traveled to Europe to see some of the Black Madonnas and found them to be images of startling strength and authority. Their stories reveal rebellious, even defiant sides. Black Madonnas in Poland and Central America have been the rallying images for oppressed peoples struggling against persecution.

I decided the Black Madonna had to make an appearance in my novel. I had no idea, though, what a starring role she would end up with. I thought she would be a small statue, sitting quietly in the background of the story. Then I visited a Trappist monastery, where I came upon a statue of a woman that had once been the masthead of a ship. It was deeply scarred and didn't look particularly religious. I asked a young monk about it. He told me she'd washed up on the shores on a Caribbean island and wound up in an antique shop. She wasn't really the Virgin Mary but was purchased and consecrated as Mary. I fell in love with the masthead Mary. I imagined a masthead Black Madonna in the pink house. I pictured fabulous black women in grand hats dancing around her, coming to touch their hands to her heart. I understood in that moment that here was Lily's mother, a powerful symbolic essence that could take up residence inside of her and become catalytic in her transformation. Just like that, the Black Madonna became a full-blown character in the novel.


Did you know anything about bees and beekeeping before you wrote the novel? How did you learn so much about bees?

I knew that bees could live inside the wall of a bedroom in your house. Other than that, I didn't know much at all. I began my bee education by reading lots of books. There's a mystique about bees, a kind of spell they weave over you, and I fell completely under it. I read bee lore and legend that went back to ancient times. I discovered bees were considered a symbol of the soul, of death and rebirth. I will never forget coming upon medieval references which associated the Virgin Mary with the queen bee. I'd been thinking of her as the queen bee of my little hive of women in the pink house, thinking that was very original, and they'd already come up with that five hundred years ago!

Books couldn't tell me everything I needed to know, so I visited an apiary in South Carolina. Inside the honey house, I sketched all the honey-making equipment, trying to get a handle on how they worked. There seemed to be thin veneer of honey everywhere, and my shoes stuck slightly to the floor when I walked, something I could never have learned from a book. When the beekeepers took me out to the hives, I was unprepared for the rush of fear and relish I experienced when the lid on the hive was lifted. I became lost in a whirling cloud of bees. So many, I could hardly see. The scent of honey drifted up, bee hum swelled, and the smoke meant to calm the bees rose in plumes all around us. Beekeeping, I discovered, is a thoroughly sensual and courageous business. I got through my bee education without a single sting. The first time August took Lily to the hives, she told her, "Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and long pants."


Did you know how the novel would end when you began it? Did you consider having T. Ray change his ways by the end, beg for Lily's forgiveness, and admit that he shot Deborah?

When I began the novel, not only did I have no idea of the ending, but I was clueless about the middle. My idea extended only as far as Lily springing Rosaleen free and the two of them running away to Tiburon. I didn't know where they would end up once they got there. At that point the beekeeping Boatwright sisters had not materialized. After I wrote the scene where Lily and Rosaleen walk into Tiburon, I was stuck. I happened to flip through a book where I came upon a quote by Eudora Welty: "People give pain, are callous and insensitive, empty and cruel...but place heals the hurt, soothes the outrage, fills the terrible vacuum that these human beings make." It struck me clearly that I needed to create a place that would do that for Lily. I glanced over at my collage, at the trio of African-American women, and it simply dropped into my headLily would find sanctuary in the home of three black beekeeping sisters. As I neared the conclusion, I knew some aspects of the ending but not all of them. I knew that it would not be in T. Ray's character to change his ways, beg Lily's forgiveness, and admit shooting Deborah. There was never a possibility in my mind of that happening. I knew from the beginning that Lily was actually the one responsible for her mother's death. It was a tragic thing, but it made her situation, her emotional life, more complex and layered. And it made her journey of healing so much more essential and powerful. No, the part I hadn't figured out was where Lily would end up. Would she go back to the peach farm with T. Ray? Would she stay at the pink house? Initially, I couldn't grasp how to work it out so that she would get to stay. I was influenced, too, by my impression (right or wrong) that "happy endings" in literary novels were often sneered at. I decided she would have to go back to the peach farm with T. Ray. Then one night I had a dream in which August came to me, complaining about my idea for an ending. "You must let Lily stay with her 'mothers,'" she told me. I woke a little awed and a lot relieved. I knew immediately that I would take August's advice. It was what I'd really wanted all along.


Do you have plans to follow this novel with a sequel? What are you working on now?

This might sound peculiar, but after I finished the novel, I actually felt homesick for the pink house. I missed being with Lily, August, May, June, Rosaleen, and the Daughters of Mary. I moped around for a couple of weeks as if all my friends had moved away.

I was sure that I would never revisit the story. I didn't want to risk tampering with the world I'd created. I wanted to freeze Lily at this moment of her life, fourteen forever, living in the pink house. Then I went on book tour, and the most frequently asked question that I got from readers was: Will you write a sequel? I was surprised by how strongly readers wanted to know what would happen to the characters. I started off saying that a sequel was really not a possibility. Still the question kept coming, along with disappointed looks when I gave my answer. I began saying, well okay, it's not likely, but I'll think about it. And that's as far as I've gotten. I'm thinking.

Right now I'm working on a second novel set in the Low Country of South Carolina. All I can say is that I'm immersed once again with characters, in a place apart, one that I will undoubtedly miss one day the way I missed the pink house.

Just click on any of the book images above and get this book.  You won't be able to put it down. 


Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Daughter and a Driver's License


This was the summer that my baby girl took driver's education.  Every day for several weeks we drove her back and forth from her school to classes.  My fears have started to set in.


Fears that she won't always use good judgment and will be in an accident. 


Fears that she will ride with friends who are not responsible and will get in an accident.


Fears that if something did happen to her I won't see that glorious smile or that cute little peace sign again. But all of these fears are normal for a mother I think.  We have to let our children leave the nest sometime.  But can't we keep them young and little for a little while longer?


I mean, if she wants to learn to drive, let her drive the tractor.  We always need help in the yard and she's good at driving the tractor.


She doesn't always look happy driving the tractor, but she gets the job done and that's what matters - I think.


Maybe if I'm lucky she won't like driving.  Or - she'll like driving about as much as she likes driving this tractor.


I gotta admit though, she handles the tractor like a pro.


And what is a mother to do if her daughter is as crazy as her mother and wants a Harley of her own?  Or wants to drive Dad's Harley?  I really had no idea how my harley riding affected my own mother until now.  Sorry Mom - we're all a bit crazy and free ridin' in this family.  Fortunately, we all still have all of our limbs.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

1990 Was A Crazy Year


You all know my friend Beth, right?  Singingirl?  The cooking queen contributor here on Raisin Toast?  Well, yesterday she sent me some of the craziest pictures of both of us from 1990, and we both had a good laugh.  This one is of Beth standing behind my Harley Sportster.  "You really wanted to ride it didn't you Beth?"


When I look back on these pictures, I remember some things that I'd rather forget - like how insecure I was, despite what you see here of this motorcycle mama, I was terribly insecure.  I wasn't comfortable living alone or being alone.  As a matter of fact, I was miserable.  I was confused.  I was running scared on a Harley Davidson.  


I did, however, decide to go back to school and get my degree, and that is exactly what I did.  In 1990 I went back to college at the age of 31 to Nova Southeastern University.  I traveled over 50 miles up and down Interstate 95 5 days a week on my Harley to classes (talk about a death wish)!


I would stop by and visit Beth every chance I got as she was right in between my home in Boynton Beach and hers in North Lauderdale.  It was always great seeing Beth.

I met a motorcycle deputy from the Sheriff's office and would ride around town with him.  We dated for a while but then I started listening to my red flags and dumped him.  He wasn't good for me - at all.  Good looking - yes, Good for me - never.  Chalk that one up to stupidity.


I did take a course on motorcycle riding with the deputies at the Sheriff department.  They let me test out the course right along with them.  Most of them were a good bunch of guys.  Told you I was crazy back then.

Now though, when I look back on these pictures, as fun as it all was, I remember how wound up around the axle I was all the time.  I remember how scared I was about life.  I remember the confusion and the racing heart in my chest.  It is amazing how life does finally come together for all of us eventually. Sometimes it takes a little longer than most (as in my case).  However, I wouldn't trade a day of those crazy days for calmer ones because all in all they taught me a lot about life and love.  I am who I am today because of those crazy days and I believe I am a better person for it.  


I'm not scared anymore, although I still harbor fears that I think are deep set in my psyche.  But, that is just the way it is going to have to be.  I look over at the love of my life, my Big Bear, and thank the Lord everyday for this man who loves and adores me and our children.  I look at this man who takes care of us all and never complains.  I thank God for blessing me with a wonderful family, a beautiful home, and dear, dear, dear lifelong friends like Beth.

How lucky can one girl be anyway?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Life for a Struggling Creative


I have a confession to make, and deep down, I know that what I am feeling is something that most artists and creative souls experience - a deep struggle with creative satisfaction, a feeling that I will never reach my full potential if I don't let myself experience the process fully.


That's a big thing for any artist, experiencing the process.  Enjoying it is very much a part of what drives so many of us to be creative in the first place.  There are times, however, that I don't enjoy the process, and to put it quite frankly, there are times that I just plain hate it.  Why?  Because at times, instead of feeling my way through my work, I over analyze it, I compare it to similar paintings by artists that I hold in high esteem, and then I feel disgusted, unworthy, almost depressed, and this voice inside my head tells me that what I just put down on canvas stinks.


It's a tough struggle, let me tell ya, and if you were to read the ramblings of many a master artist of the past (Monet, Renoir, VanGogh, Cassatt, Degas, Manet) you would find yourself entrenched in a whirlwind of struggling minds, disgusted with their work, afraid to experience the process, afraid to be themselves, afraid that if they were to put on that canvas what they feel and what they want, that they would be regarded as a garbage artist.  I know, I've done the research.  I've studied the art and the minds of the artists I revere. And, here I sit, facing the same struggles. Sometimes, like now, I feel like I know nothing about what I'm doing and will never amount to anything.  I know, it's my pity and my party and I'm entitled to be a pooper now and then.


Being an artist is not as easy as one might think.  We compare our work to every other artist.  We have favorite living, working artists.  We have favorite dead artists.  We have ideas of how we want our work to look.  We want our work to sell frequently and then we find ourselves discouraged when it doesn't.  It is a horrible game our mind plays with us every time we face a blank canvas, or a blank page, or a piece of fabric, or any creative project.  


I'm an unusual creative.  I love doing everything.  I love to paint in oils, and pastels, and draw.  I love to write (duh), I love to express myself through my writing and my artwork.  I love to sew and quilt, I love to embroidery and cross-stitch.  I think woodwork is fun, and pottery too.  I love to feel the clay between my fingers.  I love to teach children (yes, that is a creative process too!) and feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when they "get it."  I just wish I would "get it."  That is why I'm writing about it.  Have you ever tried to teach or help someone else, explaining the process, only to discover that you found the answer within yourself?  I know I have.  I wonder why that is?


I started a painting about 10 days ago, got the underpainting on the canvas, and walked away.  I wasn't motivated.  I thought the entire composition stunk.  Then, I started to overanalyze my work.  This is lousy, and that stinks.  This one is all wrong, and that one is worse.  I'll never finish that portrait of my son because I can't face the struggle within myself that is required to finish it and enjoy the process.  It drives me crazy!  That painting has been sitting on an easel unfinished for 6 years!!!  


What gives me hope at times is realizing that every artist goes through their own internal struggle, no matter what they create - whether it be writing, sewing, painting, cooking, drawing, singing, composing, playing an instrument, or web design, it doesn't matter - there will always be an internal struggle of some kind throughout the process.  Sometimes it isn't much of a struggle at all, and other times it is horrible. Right now, I'm in the midst of "horrible." 


Even in the last week, I've struggled with what to write which explains why I have not had a post every day, and I do try to post something daily because it is my personal outlet and I enjoy it.  My laundry suffers in the process, though. I really hate laundry.  The only thing creative about laundry is folding it neatly.  


I don't mind telling you, though, that my daughter Sarah has been my inspiration this week.  She has helped me to reflect on my own insecurities that will hopefully help me to be more free with my creative energy, not worrying so much about what others think and what collectors want.  I need to paint what I want to paint and not worry so much about what others think I should paint.  


Have I told you that I think Sarah is amazing?  She really is an amazing human being.  She is doing things at 15 that most people only dream about and she is doing it well.  She has goals.  I am so proud of her. The creative energy just flows out of her and she doesn't hold anything back.  She isn't afraid of her work, she embraces it.  She draws and paints.  She writes (a lot) and is writing a book - 50+ pages already.  She composes music for the piano and plays beautifully.  She embraces her creativity better than I ever have.  It amazes me.  She hates criticism even if it is constructive, but she doesn't let it stop her from expressing herself through her work.  It is flowing out of her like water out of a faucet.  Yes, Sarah has many struggles of her own, being a teenager is a tough job, but she is doing a great job of being a teenager, a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, a student, a budding pianist and composer, a writer, an artist, and a friend. Yep, she is my hero.  I can learn a lot from my little girl, and I have already.  She inspires me to be a better artist, a better writer, a better teacher, and most importantly, a better mother.  I love being her mother.


Learning how to face our struggles constructively can be a tough lesson.  How to face the criticism without letting it completely destroy our process altogether.  No one ever said that humility would be easy, and it isn't, but I truly believe that all creatives need a bit of humility, an open mind, an acceptance of the struggles, and an appreciation for the God given gifts we have been blessed with. The finished product of our life's work may look like it came easy, but much of it was a difficult experience.  I think it is important for artists to share their experiences, bad and good.  It humanizes the creative process and helps others who are struggling to get past the walls they have erected around their work and just let the creative energy flow freely.  I should do the same.  I think I will.  It will be a struggle.  What's the saying - "Easier said than done."

Do you struggle with something?  I'd love for you to share what you experience when you are being creative.  Maybe we can help each other, at least we know we're not alone in the process.


Monday, July 13, 2009

A Walk Through the Wetlands


No, this is not North Carolina.  No, I am not soaking up the sun and sand in Florida ... But Beth is!  Well, sorta.  Beth lives in Delray Beach, Florida and she has a high school reunion in the near future, so she wants to look hot.  Of course, that isn't going to be difficult for Beth because Beth has always been hot - and not because she lives in Florida either.  In my opinion, Beth turned 39 and never aged a day after. Lucky gal.


Being a resident of Delray Beach has its perks.  One of which is you can take a brisk walk through the wetlands with these turtles as you are running away from the alligators and swatting off the mosquitos.  But that's beside the point.  Beth has been taking her camera with her on these brisk excursions in an attempt to lose 5 lbs.  I wish I was right there with her, but for some reason I think the gators would probably get me.


So, Beth and I wanted to share with all of my readers what the Wetlands are all about, and besides, she enjoys the company while she walks. There is the  The Wakodahatchee Wetlands and the  Green Cay Nature Center and both are near her home.  How convenient.  Beth has been whooshing her butt around Green Cay for several weeks gettin' off those pounds.  Green Cay has a 1.5 mile boardwalk course and Beth has been making her mark on every board.  No doubt leaving tread marks from her walking shoes.


Wakodawhachamawhatayacallit is a shorter course, but she's been workin' that one too.  Now Beth, you had better send us pictures from your high school reunion so that we can see what benefits you survived from walking around the wetlands.


Check out those turtles walking on that palm tree.  I bet they have a high school reunion soon too.


Yep, that's quite the course.  I wouldn't have wanted to be the guys who had to stand in all that muck and chase off the gators when they were building the dang thing. In the Seminole language, Wakodahatchee means "Created Waters."  I wonder how they say Mosquito in the Seminole language?    


Beth had so much stuff to look at while swatting flies that she relaxed on her trek around the boardwalk.  Naaah, she doesn't need to burn the calories anyway.


Oh my.  A baby gator.  Just what Florida needs - more gators to scare off all the old people.


Check this fella out.  Her name is "Heron"  As oppposed to "Hison."  Get it?  ha ha.


They have quite the life, don't you think?  I mean, they don't have to worry about the economy or finding a job. They can just hang out on Pickerel Weed and look pretty.


And, did you know that the Cabbage Tree is the Florida State Tree?  Neither did I.  And for that matter, neither did Beth.


There are all sorts of prehistoric creatures wandering the boardwalk in Delray Beach.  This little guy has big ears.


And these guys (or gals) are hangin' out in green gunk.  Better known as "duckweed."  Bet you didn't know that did ya?


I'm sorry, but this stuff is just disgusting.  This fella doesn't seem to mind, though.  He probably doesn't know it's duckweed - as opposed to "heronweed."  It's not like there are any ducks nearby, so what does he care.


"Okay guys, gather 'round.  See that lady over there, she's spending a lot of time taking pictures and I think it looks suspicious.  You, Joe, you keep an eye out from behind.  Ralph, you and Hoocheeman keep an eye out on the East and West sides.  Me and Henry are going to keep an eye out from the front.  Make sure she doesn't take any pictures of the treasure we have buried underneath that dead palm tree, ya hear?"


Oh Lordy.  Beth, if I were you I'd get the heck out of dodge.


I mean really now, is the extra 5 lbs really worth it?


Beth, seriously.  Start running.  Burn some rubber please.  These gators eat old people.  Oh, you're not an old person?  I'm too far away for you to smack me. 


Ol for God's Sake!  Beth, start walkin' girlfriend!  He's got legs too ya know!  Then again, it's not like you are going to drive your car into the swamp.  That's what old people living in Florida do all the time.


Uh, "Hello mister gator.  Watched any football lately?" 


He's thinkin' about it, Beth.  But you look too young.  No blue hairs.  


Maybe on the next pass he'll give it some more thought.   Does she or doesn't she?  That is the question. Only Beth's hairdresser knows for sure.


Beth, you better watch out.  I'm tellin' ya girlfriend, he's comin' around to get ya.


But first he has to find his way through this muck.


Nope.  No sign of him comin' around the mountain.  You're free Beth!  Run!


No peekin' over the edge, Beth - just Run!  Run for your life!  That 5 lbs will be gone before you know it.




Hey!  You over there!  Save me!  Save me!  


"Oh hello there.  Have we met before?  As a matter of fact, I think we have.  Are you following me?"


Aw, look at da babies.  They've been procreating in the duckweed.


What a lovely day.  Especially since you outran that gator and seem to have outrun those vultures planning your surveillance.


Yep.  Looks like Beth had a nice walk through the wetlands.  No gators on this path thank goodness.


And now for your lesson in the wetlands.  And, what is that thing sticking its head out of the water anyway?  Maybe he's the jolly green giant.


There's your answer, and everything you ever wanted to know about duckweed.


Are they running for cover or sunbathing.  Hmmm.  Let me think about that a minute.


I dunno Beth, are you really going back tomorrow?  Better take a slingshot with ya just in case.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Is This All There Is?


What is that song?  That old one that goes "Is this all there is?"  I think I'm having one of those days where I've had too much time to reflect on my life, smile at some of the risky behavior of years past, and mope about opportunities lost that will probably never be.  Yep, it's one of those days.


I've spent my entire life living on the east coast of the United States, with a short detour through Missouri.  Not much to write home about if you ask me.  A very sheltered life.  Yet, in my dreams, I've traveled the world and been to all the places that I've ever wanted to go and experience - like Italy, Spain, Ireland.  


I even had a brain fart the other day and was looking for real estate in Ireland, home of my ancestors, and job opportunities for Bob.  I know, completely ridiculous.  I think.  


Really though, sometimes I just want to pick up and experience an entirely new lifestyle with my family - get the hell out of dodge you might say.


I'm being completely unrealistic but hey, I'm entitled.  Chances of traveling alone or with my family - for a short or a long stint in a romantic location oceans away are entirely unlikely in my lifetime.  Sad, I know.


I envy people who are so blessed as to have the resources to see the world, experience other lifestyles, see the beauty of God's creation from one end of the globe to the other.  How exciting would it be!!


That's it really.  That's my confession.  I want to be swept off my feet in Barcelona.  Kissed in the countryside of Tuscany.  Or spend a few lazy days in Kinsale.  Is that so much to ask?  


After yesterday's post "How to make your own shower curtain" I couldn't help but think "what the hell is so frickin' exciting about making a shower curtain?"  This is the pathetic existence of my life.  At least at the moment.  


Don't get me wrong, I'm happy and blessed.  I have a great husband and wonderful children.  I'm just not as blessed as I'd like to be.  But, I think most of us can make that statement - at least if we're being completely honest.  


I suppose that people who are blessed to travel the world and see the most magnificent places on earth ache for more, wish for something different, hope for something more normal.  What is normal?


I want romance and hot sex in the middle of a lush green field somewhere.  (I've done that by the way - the beach too).  Told ya I was risky.  That was in a past life.


I want to ride a bike (or a horse) down a quiet, peaceful country road in Italy ...


Or through Northern Spain.  I want to breathe the air on that side of the world and sit on this fence.


I want to admire these ornamental trees throughout Italy, then I want to hide behind these bushes with my Big Bear and sneak a kiss.


Oh well, maybe I'll dream about it tonight. 

So, there you go.  From shower curtains to Tuscany to Barcelona, from Kinsale to Dublin and then back to Northern Spain in a day. 

If nothing else, it has inspired me to paint - after I finish the shower curtains of course.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Charlotte Symphony, Spoons, and Lots of Smiles


It was Friday night, July 3rd, and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra was having a free concert in Southpark and there was going to be a wonderful fireworks display too.  So, other than the cost of gas, we decided it was well worth the fun to take the children to hear the orchestra and enjoy the fireworks.  We were also hoping it would not be as crowded as if it were on the 4th.


Wrong.  The place was mega packed.  We drove around for about 40 minutes just looking for a parking space and finally got one about a mile from the concert.  Because it was going to be a very long walk, we decided to leave the lawn chairs and the blanket in the Suburban.  No point in hauling that everywhere with us.  We walked through the crowds. 


And past these nice lookin' young men in uniform.


And the balloons.


We worked our way all the way up to the front of the orchestra and all I wanted to do was go home.  Hate to sound like a party pooper but I don't mix well in crowds, and this was a crowded place.  I'd never survive in New York.


Oh how I wanted to sit down.  Oh boy did I ever want to kick that guy out of his lawn chair and sit right in the middle of the sidewalk.  But then, as we got smack in front of the orchestra, I looked to my right and saw a grassy patch.  Empty.  With room for 5 butts.  Ours.


We had a front row seat.  As usual, Sarah's hair was in her face and she was looking a little too "teenagerish" for me.


Of course, handsome Matthew was all smiles.  Big Bear was sitting on the ground behind me and he made quite a nice, comfy lawn chair.  I knew there was a reason why I married this man.  He makes a great pillow.


What is it about teenagers?  They turn 15 and suddenly acquire this "look" like they're too big for their britches or something.


Then again, there is Glen.  He is the polar opposite of Sarah.  He forgot to brush his teeth and has peanut butter smeared on his cheek from that pbj he wolfed down an hour before.


The best part was that I got to sit back (yes, against my Big Bear) and enjoy the entertainment.  The conductor was a funny guy.


Being the strange person that I am, I couldn't help but think how horrible it would be if the orchestra fell into this disgusting looking, mosquito infested, green, gross, water.  And then I decided I wouldn't think about that anymore.


And, for some odd reason, the flag was stuck in this position.  But, it was still nice to see someone had tried to get it up.  (get your mind out of the gutter.  There is no way I could say that without sounding - wrong.)


Nice lens you got there buddy.  He must work for one of the local papers.


The musicians were wonderful.  The music was beautiful.


And the conductor was very entertaining.  He looked as though he was really enjoying the music too.


The orchestra put on a great show!  And it was Free!  I love Charlotte.


Have you ever heard a guy play the spoons?  Well, I'll tell ya, I've heard one person play the spoons in my life, and that was my former father-in-law Tom LeVasseur, Sr.  He came to our house in Maryland when I was a wee 20 yr old and was marrying his son, Doug.  We sat around our family room and conversed.  Then Doug said "Dad, play the spoons for everyone" and so, we handed him several spoons and he smacked his knees and kept the beat like nothing I had ever seen before - until this past Friday.  Yep, this guy was just as good as Tom LeVasseur, Sr. and he got quite the applause after his performance.  


This fella brought back a lot of good memories from 30 years ago.  Tom LeVasseur, Sr. has since passed away, but I'm sure he is playing the spoons somewhere and entertaining the angels.


The sun had gone down and now the orchestra played as the fireworks display went into full swing.  They were red...


They were white...


They were blue.


And they were beautiful.


And they were big.


And they sparkled.  The kids were so happy. 


I love hearing my children giggle and get so excited over the fireworks.


It made it all worth while. 


I'm so happy we came to the show.  I'm so happy we heard the orchestra.  I'm so happy the kids were happy.


I'm so happy I wasn't standing in the midst of crowds.


I just leaned back against my Big Bear and enjoyed the fireworks.


And the smoke.

Happy Birthday America!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Phantom is Mesmerizing


For over 20 years I have wanted to see "The Phantom of the Opera" at the theatre.  And Sarah was just as anxious to see the play after seeing the movie and falling in love with the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  So, a couple of months ago, we purchased 3 tickets for an afternoon at the Belks Blumenthal Performing Arts Theatre in Charlotte, and Sarah, Matthew, and I spent several hours being completely mesmerized by the performance.


Tim Martin Gleason plays the Phantom.  His voice is powerful and his performance is outstanding.  The passion he portrays as the Phantom is believable and entrancing.  


Trista Moldovan plays Christine Daae, the love interest of the Phantom.  She is beautiful, and her performance and voice are equally beautiful and mesmerizing. 


Sarah and Matthew were sitting on the edge of their seats taking in every moment and every scene.  This was the first time that any of us had seen the Phantom at the theatre and it did not disappoint.  Belks Theatre is a beautiful place.  I felt like I was sitting in a Mary Cassatt painting.


There were people dressed in gowns and people dressed casually, but we were all dressed for the theatre, and we all felt as though it were a special day just as I am sure Mary's sister felt when she attended the theatre.


Or how about this nice lady taking in the performance?  She was smart.  She brought a pair of binoculars to get a close up view.  I not only forgot my glasses, I forgot my binoculars.  I won't make that mistake again, and I hope there is an "again" someday.


Every detail from the costumes to the changing scenes were designed to perfection.  The boat moving through the lighted path of fog that appears to be on water was incredible.  At one point fire bursts from the floor of the stage and Matthew, Sarah, and I all jumped in our seats. 

The music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is incredible.  Sarah loves the song "Music of the Night" whereas my favorite is "Think of Me."  We both have every song in our iTunes library. 

The performance is in Charlotte until July 5th and will continue to travel the country.  Hopefully, it will be in a theatre near you.  If so, you really must go see it.  It is a theatrical performance that you will remember for a lifetime.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Take A Look At Yourself And Then Make A Change


Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Man in the Mirror

AN UNPRECEDENTED PHENOMENON HAS OCCURRED ACROSS AMERICA!!! Apparently thousands of 40-60 year olds have been admitted to hospitals from coast to coast in Cardiac Arrest due to a night long dance tribute to Michael Jackson.  We can't seem to get enough and the memories are flooding back as if our youth was a floodgate of music and dance moves.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

The Way You Make Me Feel

Our sympathy is hugely resulting from Michael Jackson withdraw syndrome for the past 20 years. Our feet don't move like they used to. Damn.  Our backs don't sway like they used to. Ouch.  Our butts are bigger, our waists are wider, our moves are missing.  But dang, we still have the rhythm.  Let me tell ya baby, we still have the rhythm.  We are having some difficulty pulling off that moon walk though.  I couldn't do it in my teens either.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

You Rock My World

I was a Michael Jackson aficionado.  A 70s Disco Queen.  When he stopped singin' I stopped movin' and that's been my downfall for the past 20 years.  He slowed down and so did thousands of 40-60 somethings around the world.  We're toast.  Especially now.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

You Are Not Alone

Why?  Because if you're like me, you've been up all friggin' night watching every single Michael Jackson Video ever made.  Our bodies are swaying to the music and bobbin' to the bumps.  Our feet are tappin' to the beat.  Our hands are slappin' our thighs and our hips.  Our necks are jerkin' to the left and then to the right.  We know disco baby.  Yeah, we know the moves.  And let me tell ya, I had some great moves in my day, and after tonight I think I still have 'em.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music


And so, to mark this very sad farewell to the King of Pop, I've picked my butt up off this couch and started dancing around my family room to the shock and amazement of my children.  My Big Bear is still poured into his recliner, but then again, he never did have the moves.  Nope.  He doesn't have rhythm I'm sorry to say.  But oh boy ... Have I Ever Got the Moves ... (Remember Tim?) I'm on the floor doin' the Thriller.  What did they call that dance?  Anyway, I'm doin' it.  Right now. 

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Billie Jean

So, get your butt off the couch, put on your dancing shoes, and ... Dance ... Billie Jean won't care.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Beat It

You gotta beat it across the floor.  Sweep your feet back and look down.  Just don't bother grabbing your crotch.  Naaah.  Michael can get away with it, but I'm not sure any of us can.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music


And when you're dancin' to Michael Jackson songs, you feel "bad" man, really "bad" - especially if you're out of shape.  Suddenly I feel a rush of heat going to my head like I'm flushed from all the physical activity.  My children's mouths are hanging open wondering "who is this woman and where did she come from?"

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Smooth Criminal

Just cock your hat to your nose, turn around real fast on your toes.  Yeah baby, you are one hot mama or papa - or grandma or grandpa.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Rock With You

I want to Rock With You.  Are you dancin' yet?  I mean really now.  Just turn on the video, get your butt out of the chair, and think about those days when you were really cool.  Sexy.  Crazy.  In shape.  Flirty and Fun.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Another Part of Me

Of course, you can collapse now and call 911.  Because every American who grew up with Michael Jackson needs resuscitation - I know I do.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Don't Stop Till You Get Enough

My body has had enough, but my feet are still movin'.  What's with that anyway?  I'll bet that's why so many people suffer from restless feet syndrome.  They grew up in an era of Michael Jackson videos and music and their feet haven't stopped movin' since the 70s.  They're permanently stuck on the disco floor.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Remember the Time

"Honey, I need 3 Advil, a back rub, a foot rub, a neck rub, an ice pack, and a heating pad.  I was not ready for Michael Jackson's demise ...

Were you?"

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Black or White

For me, having grown up loving all of his music from the Jackson Five's ABC, and every song in his professional career, Michael will be sorely missed for his music, his humanitarian efforts, his artistry, his charisma, and those dance steps that seem to defy gravity.  He was a creative genius and I believe overall a good person.

Michael Jackson |MTV Music

Heal the World

Last, but definitely not least, and probably one of the most important songs of his career - Heal the World. I think Michael carried the weight of the world's woes on his shoulders. He was a delicate spirit and a fragile soul. All the good he did in this world far outweighed whatever bad he may have been accused of. I'm not sure I believe some of the accusations. He was different, yes, but that didn't make him a bad person by any means. He will be remembered here for all the good he did, all the joy he brought to this world through his music and creative genius. I hope that all who knew him through his music, and all who knew him - will love him, remember him for all the good he did in this world, and pray that he is at peace and with the angels in heaven just dancing from cloud to cloud.

By the way, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below - What were your favorite Michael Jackson memories? Your favorite songs?

My top favorites are: Heal the World, Man in the Mirror, and Black & White. I hope you have enjoyed some of the videos. I know I have.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hello, I Must Be Going

I just finished reading the book "Hello, I Must Be Going" by Christie Hodgen, and as much as I enjoyed the book, I found it to be, at times, puzzling.  The young narrator is Frankie Hawthorne, who is growing up in a lower-income family with a younger brother, Teddy who can be difficult at times, a mother, Gerry, who is a waitress at a Friendly's Restaurant and a chain smoker, and a father, Randall, who was a Vietnam Veteran and an amputee, who masks his depression through his comedy.  The book is supposed to be set in the year 1980, but I sense it more to be set in the early 1970s as the family is suffering from a detached appreciation for Vietnam Vets as a result of a very unpopular war. 

HelloIMustBeGoingMedI say "supposed" to be, and this is where I'm puzzled, because the images that I conjure up in my brain while reading Hodgen's story is from the 1960s and early 1970s. The Lawrence Welk show, Dick Van Dyke Show, Jackie Gleason, The Three Stooges, Black & White television.  1960s right?  I mean, I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, I remember what went on, and I found myself checking the inside flap of the book 3 times while I read it just to make sure something wasn't wrong with my eyesight. 

However, with a father that is a Vietnam Veteran and attempting to go back to school to complete his education, I can see how that would be the early 1970s.  Still, there were periods of confusion in the storyline that conjured up images of a different decade than the one I "think" I was supposed to be in.   

Nevertheless, the story was sad, funny, and interesting.  Frankie is struggling throughout the book, because early on, after returning home with her mother and brother from a Christmas outing, she runs into her father's office to get him and discovers he has committed suicide.  This, of course, haunts her throughout the story, but how she deals with it is through silence and detachment. 

Frankie likes to take her situations, and at times, replay them in her mind in the third person, or sketch something silly in her sketchbook (illustrations are throughout the book), or banter back and forth with a school psychologist named Mr. Jolly.  It is all a bit odd and sad.  You get the sense that Frankie really wants to talk about her feelings of loss, but she never gets around to it.

Teddy doesn't have a voice in the book, although I sense he was growing apart from his family more and more as he got older, ultimately resulting in a car crash.  He survives, but you never really know what happens in his life. 

Gerry, the mother, struggles with single-parenthood, her own feelings of loss, and ultimately meets someone who "I think" cares for her and wants to build a home with her.  However, towards the end of the book, Gerry and her daughter, Frankie are putting everything they own in the house on the front lawn and grappling with people over price and condition of furniture and toys.  Apparently, Gerry is certain that her new boyfriend is going to buy all new furniture for the house, but we never really know.  All we know is that they are now living together and the kids aren't too happy about it (they aren't really "kids" anymore by the end of the book, they are late teens I suppose). 

HelloIMustBeGoingMedI enjoyed the book, albeit somewhat depressing, but I don't really know where the author was trying to take me with this story.  There was not a firm conclusion or even a hint, really, of a conclusion that I could grasp.  I know that Frankie ultimately goes to college in New York, but although the author leads us in a direction of apprehension and fear of New York for Frankie, she never validates that fear or writes anything about her experience in college once she gets there. 

As for Teddy.  Beats me.  After the accident, he was injured, but I'm left wondering what ever became of his life.  Also Gerry - what becomes of her life going forward?  And in the beginning there is an uncle Harpo who is their father's brother who pays an unexpected, but very interesting visit and then leaves.  Although he is remembered fondly throughout the book, we are left wondering what the heck happened to him?  Where did he go? 

I enjoyed the story, but I feel like I am left with a lot of unanswered questions.  I tried to contact the author, but could not find any contact information.  So, if she happens to come across this book review, I would love for her to answer some of the hanging questions I have for her story.  I very well could be missing something here, but I have a memory like a steel trap, so I don't think I overlooked anything.  If it was the "unwritten" that I was supposed to grasp, and didn't, then that explains it.

You will enjoy this book.  It is a good summertime read!  If you would like to get a copy, click on any of the book covers you see above for "Hello, I Must Be Going!"


CHRISTIE HODGEN is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC).  She was educated at the University of Virginia (B.A.), Indiana University (M.F.A.) and the University of Missouri-Columbia (Ph.D.). Her novel, Hello, I Must Be Going (Norton 2006), was featured in Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers series. Her collection of short stories, A Jeweler’s Eye for Flaw (University of Massachusetts Press 2003) won the AWP Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Georgia Review, Quarterly West, New Stories from the South, and Scribner’s Best of the Fiction Workshops. Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, and the Faulkner Society Medal for the Novella.

I give this book  3.5 stars out of 5.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

We Need Fathers to Step Up

By President Barack Obama

(And a tribute to my own father at the end)


As the father of two young girls who have shown such poise, humor, and patience in the unconventional life into which they have been thrust, I mark this Father’s Day—our first in the White House—with a deep sense of gratitude. One of the greatest benefits of being President is that I now live right above the office. I see my girls off to school nearly every morning and have dinner with them nearly every night. It is a welcome change after so many years out on the campaign trail and commuting between Chicago and Capitol Hill.

But I observe this Father’s Day not just as a father grateful to be present in my daughters’ lives but also as a son who grew up without a father in my own life. My father left my family when I was 2 years old, and I knew him mainly from the letters he wrote and the stories my family told. And while I was lucky to have two wonderful grandparents who poured everything they had into helping my mother raise my sister and me, I still felt the weight of his absence throughout my childhood.

Obama-family-4 As an adult, working as a community organizer and later as a legislator, I would often walk through the streets of Chicago’s South Side and see boys marked by that same absence—boys without supervision or direction or anyone to help them as they struggled to grow into men. I identified with their frustration and disengagement—with their sense of having been let down.  

In many ways, I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence—both in my life and in the lives of others. I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill. We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference. 

That is why we need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.

As fathers, we need to be involved in our children’s lives not just when it’s convenient or easy, and not just when they’re doing well—but when it’s difficult and thankless, and they’re struggling. That is when they need us most.

Obama-01 And it’s not enough to just be physically present. Too often, especially during tough economic times like these, we are emotionally absent: distracted, consumed by what’s happening in our own lives, worried about keeping our jobs and paying our bills, unsure if we’ll be able to give our kids the same opportunities we had.

Our children can tell. They know when we’re not fully there. And that disengagement sends a clear message—whether we mean it or not—about where among our priorities they fall. 

So we need to step out of our own heads and tune in. We need to turn off the television and start talking with our kids, and listening to them, and understanding what’s going on in their lives.

We need to set limits and expectations. We need to replace that video game with a book and make sure that homework gets done. We need to say to our daughters, Don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for your goals. We need to tell our sons, Those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in our house, we find glory in achievement, self-respect, and hard work. 



We need to realize that we are our children’s first and best teachers. When we are selfish or inconsiderate, when we mistreat our wives or girlfriends, when we cut corners or fail to control our tempers, our children learn from that—and it’s no surprise when we see those behaviors in our schools or on our streets. 

Obama-04 But it also works the other way around. When we work hard, treat others with respect, spend within our means, and contribute to our communities, those are the lessons our children learn. And that is what so many fathers are doing every day—coaching soccer and Little League, going to those school assemblies and parent-teacher conferences, scrimping and saving and working that extra shift so their kids can go to college. They are fulfilling their most fundamental duty as fathers: to show their children, by example, the kind of people they want them to become. 

It is rarely easy. There are plenty of days of struggle and heartache when, despite our best efforts, we fail to live up to our responsibilities. I know I have been an imperfect father. I know I have made mistakes. I have lost count of all the times, over the years, when the demands of work have taken me from the duties of fatherhood. There were many days out on the campaign trail when I felt like my family was a million miles away, and I knew I was missing moments of my daughters’ lives that I’d never get back. It is a loss I will never fully accept. 

Obama-03 But on this Father’s Day, I think back to the day I drove Michelle and a newborn Malia home from the hospital nearly 11 years ago—crawling along, miles under the speed limit, feeling the weight of my daughter’s future resting in my hands. I think about the pledge I made to her that day: that I would give her what I never had—that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father. I knew that day that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless she had every opportunity in hers. And I knew I had an obligation, as we all do, to help create those opportunities and leave a better world for her and all our children. 

On this Father’s Day, I am recommitting myself to that work, to those duties that all parents share: to build a foundation for our children’s dreams, to give them the love and support they need to fulfill them, and to stick with them the whole way through, no matter what doubts we may feel or difficulties we may face. That is my prayer for all of us on this Father’s Day, and that is my hope for this nation in the months and years ahead. 

Published on 06/21/2009

Parade Magazine



Dad1 I read this letter in today's Parade and it really touched me.  My own father was ever present in my life until his sudden death when I was 21 and 5 months pregnant with my 2nd daughter, Kimberly, who was born 4 months later with heart disease that almost took her own life.  I reflect on my younger days when my father was alive, vibrant, involved, and interested in our lives.  He always let us know how much he loved us and how proud he was of my brothers and me.  He passed away far too young and it makes me reflect on my own mortality. 

Most of all, even though my father was a staunch Republican, I truly believe he would be proud of our current President because he would see that Obama is a man of integrity and virtue.  My father was not perfect, but he was a man of integrity.  He looked up to those men and father's of higher standing who were men of integrity, successful in family and career, and intelligent, and tried to live a good life.  He recognized his own shortcomings, and only hoped that his children would succeed him in education and success throughout their lives.  We are all blessed, and we have our father to thank for our glorious journey through life, no matter how difficult it has been at times - for the bumps have surely made us stronger. 

When I reflect on the days that I would sit with my own father and we would talk about what was going on in my life, what I thought about certain things, or just chatting, I recall how interested my father was in me and how valued that made me feel.  It was "our" time and it was important to me.  He let me know it was important to him too. 

Dad if you can hear me - "I love you and I miss you every day.  I cannot believe it has been almost 30 years since you passed away.  Maybe you were a little too anxious to jump into that cold swimming pool in your shorts just 6 days after moving into your new home in Florida.  I remember your call to me on that day telling me that it was blue skies and white clouds and sunshine and that you couldn't wait to see us that Christmas 1980.  Your sudden death was a shock to all of us.  I still hear your voice, I still feel your guidance, I know that you are always with me and helping me walk through this life.  I can even hear your counsel when I need you.  Thank you Dad.  You may be gone from this world, but you are always with me in spirit.  You are never forgotten.  You are always loved.  And, you are dearly missed." 

Your loving daughter, Susan (Soapsuds)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Click click Here, Click click There


This is my good friend, Liz.  Her hair is a bit of a mess, but she drove to Atlanta and back to Charlotte on Sunday and by the time she got to our house for Bob's Birthday party she was tired.  Still beautiful, but tired.  She didn't want me taking her picture.  She smiled for this one though.


And this one.


But not for this one.  I had to chase her down with the camera.  "Susan! Stop taking my picture!"


I snuck (is that a word? snuck, sneaked?) in a picture of Liz here ...


And Liz talking to our friend and neighbor, Dan, here ...


But, uh, "Susan Stop it!  Stop taking my picture!"  Of course, everyone knows that you can't come to our home without running smack-dab into my camera.  Sorry, but those are the rules.


Here ya go - a great picture of Liz with her beautiful daughter, Ashley, who just graduated from high school and begins college in September at the University of Georgia.  She is one smart gal!


Liz is so proud


And so is Big Bear (no looking at our unfinished kitchen.  I need another 12 years to finish these cabinets)


And Sarah is proud of her friend, Ashley, too. "You Go Girl!"


And me too!  I am very proud of Ashley!  She graduated with a 3.8 gpa and worked hard for it too! 


I handed the camera over to someone (can't remember who - must be short-term memory loss) and got a picture with Liz.  And you wanna know something weird - we all just turned 50.  Liz turned 50 on April 20th, I turned 50 on April 27th, and Bob turned 50 last Sunday.  He's such a baby.


Of course, once the camera is back in my hands ... "Stop it! Susan! Enough already!"  Did I hear someone say something?  Liz?  Did you want to eat in peace? 


Now here's a willing picture-taking-participant.  He's 9.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Child Abduction Emergency in North Carolina?


You've got to be kidding, right?  Everyone is in bed sleeping and Matthew was spending the night with his best friend next door.  They are always having sleepovers.  Well, at almost 1:00am the phone rings and it is Matthew crying and wanting to come home.  "Sure bud, I'll meet you outside.  Is everything alright?"  I asked.  "I don't feel good, Mom.  I want to come home."  So, I ran outside in the drizzle and met my little boy in the driveway.  He ran into my arms and we walked inside.  He was shaking and really upset.


When we got indoors, I hugged him and said "What's wrong sweetie? Why are you so upset?"  He was crying and said "There is a child abduction alert for all the counties in North Carolina until June 19th."  I looked at Matthew stunned and hugged him, smiled, laughed a little, and reassured him that he was going to be just fine.  But, I could see that he was clearly and understandably upset.  So, to reassure him, we went online and I honestly did not think I would find anything, especially since he told me he was watching the Disney Channel or Cartoon Network or something like that when he saw the alert flash across the screen like a weather warning alert. 


Well, you won't believe this, but as it turns out, North Carolina put out a Child Abduction Alert and posted it across the screen of cable and local channels like a weather emergency and it scared my son clean out of our neighbor's house at 1am in his skivvies. And from what I read online, they do this regularly!  I mean, what's the deal with that anyway?  They don't give any information - none whatsoever - they just flash a generic warning across the screen that reads: Child Abduction Emergency for the following counties in North Carolina...Union, Mecklenberg ... until June 19th. 


Okay you guys with the weather alert and child abduction alert system - what are we supposed to do?  Tie our children to their beds or lock them in their closets until June 20th?  Or maybe we should only let them play outside as long as we are behind them with a large blunt object to ward off any shifty looking fellas who might be roaming the neighborhood.  Better yet, how about we just sic Adolf on the next child abductor that crosses our path.  That oughta do the trick, don't you think?


Put it this way, if the North Carolina Child Abduction Alert/Emergency system is going to broadcast an alert like this, especially on a children's channel, at least have the decency to explain what's going on.  My son was so upset he ran home in his pajamas shaking all over afraid for his life.  The poor little guy thought there was a mass child abduction going on until June 19th in Union County, North Carolina for God's Sake!!!  The first thing he asked when we sat down on the sofa and cuddled up was "Mom, where's Adolf" In 2 seconds flat Adolf was at his feet and lickin' his face.  "Feel better now?"  giggles - "Yep."


It is now almost 1:30 in the morning and I think I am going to cuddle with my little boy on the sofa and we can veg out together and watch some television with 2 glasses of chocolate milk and a cozy quilt to keep our toes warm.  The house is locked and bolted.  The alarm is on.  And Adolf is on Red Alert for any shifts in the wind within 500 yards of our front door.  He knows how to take off an arm - Big Bear found that out today in Schuntzen training.  Adolf had a grip so tight the trainer could sling him around off the ground.  If the trainer had not had on a bite sleeve, Adolf would have taken off his arm.  Thank you Adolf.  I feel much safer now - and so do the 3 precious children we have in our home and especially the little man you just licked. 


Now which one do you think is more ruthless? Harmless, eh?  Don't underestimate this little gal, she's a mean ankle biter and been known to chew up quite a few pencils.  Oh, and she is Adolf's sparring partner - growling, teeth, and a bounding leap to boot. 

I think we'll just settle down now on the sofa with some chocolate milk - and Adolf.  How's-a-bout-it-bud?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Bit of Heart & Soul on the Homefront


Sunday was a great day.  Big Bear turned 50 and he can no longer call me his "old lady."  Yep, I'm 6 weeks older than Bob.  Big deal.  My gpa was higher than his when we graduated from high school too.  ha ha.  Okay, time to get back to the music ... 


Our neighbor, Pat, is a musician - and a dang good one too - and he and his wife, Janet, are also our friends.  We invited them over to celebrate this wondrous event.  Yes "wondrous" because he has reached the top of the mountain so to speak and everything from here on out is all down hill.  Suddenly seeing the other side of the mountain (if we are so blessed to experience a long and healthy life) is not so glorious.


Pat is a wonderful musician, and he was really impressed with Sarah's "Waterfall" composition.  Nobody at the party could believe that she wrote the piece herself.  But, "yep" she sure did.  We're all proud of her.  Pat immediately sat down with Sarah and said let's play "Heart & Soul" and he proceeded to show her what he wanted her to play and then he would improvise on his end of the keyboard.   Pretty cool, eh?


Sarah loved it, and Pat was definitely in his element.  The next time he has a gig around these parts, I'm going to tote my video camera with me and you can see for yourself.  Talk about great music!


They started banging out some tunes together on the piano and it was great. 


We were all greatly entertained.  Thanks Pat!  Thanks Sarah!


But you see, I wasn't thinking clearly when they were entertaining us all at Big Bear's Birthday Bash.  Nope, I was mesmerized by the music, and so, I was taking pictures instead of video taping the entertainment. 


I did finally snap out of it, but unfortunately it was in the final 15 minutes of the musical heroics, so, once I grabbed my video camera, I only got a little more than a minute of entertainment before Pat jumped up.  I think the video camera intimidated him a bit.  They messed up at the end.  What a laugh.  But what great fun it was.  So, I am going to give you that minute of entertainment at the end of the evening right here ...

Enjoy ...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Adventures of Gregory


Sunday was Big Bear's 50th Birthday and we were ready to celebrate.  We invited 20 of our close friends and neighbors over for the celebration.  I, however, had my sights on the cutest fella at the party - Gregory.


This little guy was my favorite guest.  I wasn't the only one who had their eye on this little fella, either.


Gregory was very animated - and he had his eye on the cake.


His mother gave him a toy instead.  Of course, it didn't taste nearly as good as the cake.


Look at the face on this sweet baby.  Is he scared out of his mind or is he still looking at that cake?


I think he is still looking at the cake.


"Wait a minute, there's more food over there.  I want it Dad, take me over there"


Dad handed him over to another guest, Wendy, and she became immediately enamoured with Gregory's cuteness, and Gregory immediately started eating her hair.  Mmmm, good.


Ol no, Wendy's a gonner.


Totally.  I feel for ya, Wendy.  He sure smells good doesn't he?


Of course, when he didn't smell so good anymore, Wendy handed him over to his mother.  Stephanie didn't mind, though.  He's loads of fun, even with a load in his drawers.


Yep, Gregory made his rounds.  I played with him too, but since I was the only one with the camera at the time, it was difficult to take pictures and hold Gregory too - so I kept handing him over to his father.  Big Greg did what father's do best with their sons - give him a ride on his shoulders.


"So Dad, when are they going to cut the cake?"

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Time Has a Way


I woke up this morning reflecting on the fact that time has a way of healing all wounds - well, maybe not all wounds and not all the time.  When the wounds concern your children, whether they are self-inflicted wounds, inflicted by your children, or inflicted by others - they still hurt.  There is always a grieving process.

In that process, there is always some lowlife out in the world who wants to rub your nose in it, make you hurt more, kick you while you're down.  Yes, there are some seriously sick individuals out in the world as I have unfortunately come to learn as a result of having this online journal.


I've had one person who has been getting a thrill out of coming to my site, reading my stories, and either leaving a nasty comment, or sending me a nasty email.  You know who you are.  I've had remarks like:

"We all know Kathleen is a drug addict and our tax dollars are paying for her and her son." 

Not on both points.

"Why don't you ever talk about Kimberly?  

None of your damn business.


"How come you never write about Kimberly? Did you run her off too?"

Again, None of your damn business, and when I'm ready to talk about Kimberly - the daughter I lost 21 years ago - I will.  That is not your place or anyone's place to ask such a question.  This is my life story.  If you don't like it, then get off my journal and go berate some other blogger.  I've done nothing to hurt you, but you are certainly doing your best to annoy the hell out of me.  Fine.  If you get your sick kicks out of leaving nasty comments and sending nasty emails to people who share their life story - the good, the bad, and the difficult side of life, then you should get some serious help.  Sounds to me like you have some serious issues of your own.


"You are only trying to be like the Pioneer Woman."

That's not even possible.  First of all, I don't live on a ranch.  Secondly, my blog isn't about everything that is good in life, nor am I as funny as Ree, although I wish I had her humorous wit more often.  Thirdly, I write about what is really on my mind, and what is "really" going on in my life.  Not that Ree doesn't, but Ree is living what I consider to be every woman's dream - with a ranch, a stud for a husband, beautiful children, horses, cows, bulls, and lots of financial resources at her disposal, for anything she wants to do including wonderful giveaways and contests on her blog.  Other than the beautiful children and the stud for a husband, I don't claim to have anything else.  Ree is always happy and funny.  I think it's great reading because her stories take my mind off of my own stories.  However, her stories do not reflect real life - at least not for most people.  Fortunately for me, most of my stories are happy ones, fortunately for you, I suppose, I choose to share all the stories - even the difficult ones that helped to shape the person I am today.


This blog was never intended to draw any attention from anyone other than family and friends from coast-to-coast who enjoy keeping up with our going's on.  My online journey began with ebay, grew to be an online baby boutique for 2 years that I successfully grew and sold, and then an online site to display and sell my artwork emerged from that.  Wanting to give back to the visual arts community, I created Red Easel, but struggled with having a regular story to share, so I added a gallery of incredible artists, information and resources for artists, and more.  Because I am a perpetual writer, I wanted to share my life experiences with my family and friends and so began "Vaughn Family Traditions," but I thought the name sounded corny, and so I tried "Boomerbaloo" for about 2 months, and didn't like that either.  One morning while in a creative mood, and eating raisin toast, I decided to start my personal blog from scratch and create a site that was about "everything" going on in my life, so I merged the stories from the two other blogs into "Raisin Toast" and here we are almost a year later.  


I just want to say that I have met some lovely people during this year's journey.  It has been a roller coaster ride, but most of my life is just that - a roller coaster ride.  Personally, I love roller coasters and prefer them to the predictable ferris wheel any day. 

There have been a number of times I have thought about ending this online journey, but then I always have something to write about - like right now - and I love taking the pictures and sharing the stories with my family and friends - old and new friends. 


I knew I had a choice when I started this blog, I can tell the truth or I can sugar coat the truth.  I can talk about real life or I can write imaginary stories.  I can share my true thoughts or I can appeal to my readers and tell you what you may want to hear.  There is always a choice to make when one starts an online journal or blog - I chose to tell my life story, to tell the truth as I see it, to talk about real life, and to share my true thoughts.  I chose to build that story around pictures of my family from years gone by and days of old to present day.  I made a decision that no matter how difficult this journey, I would be open and honest about my life experiences, including the ones I am not proud of.  And, that in my journey, I would have to accept that there will be people out there who will want to be the critic, be ugly, and kick me when they can.  


I decided that I would be true to myself by telling the stories from my eyes and my perspective.  There are always 3 sides to every story - My side, Your side, and the Truth.  Whatever that truth may be, only God knows.  I am only sharing my side of the story as I see it.  I've been wrong before.  I'm human.  I will say, though, that I have tried to humble myself to my past mistakes and learn by them.  I have tried to understand the underlying lesson in all of my life's journeys.  I have tried to sit in the front seat of every roller coaster ride with my hands and my head held high, and my faith on a wing and a prayer, knowing that there will be the climb, the fall, the loops, and the bumps that nearly dislocate my spine.  


I also realized that there were benefits to having this online journal.  A huge benefit - especially to my family, because if anything were to happen to me and my life were to end, my children and my family would have this piece of me that they could take with them if they desired.  They would know not only who I am, but what I loved to do, what I loved to read, what I was passionate about, and what scared the hell out of me.  They would know how I became the person they grew to know in life.  They would also know who my mother was, and my father, and my grandparents.  They would be able to read my stories and share them if they like. They would see first hand what brought me joy and what brought me to my knees.


Unfortunately, there are those who enjoy seeing that I am brought to my knees and held there.  That does not seem like a valued life calling to me.  Yet, there are entire blogs and magazines devoted to tearing people down, kicking them in the teeth, and serving them up for dinner to the hyenas.  Satan is everywhere, and believe me, he is alive and well on the internet.


Bottom line, nobody "has" to read my blog.  It is just my story on this journey through life.  Some parts of that journey are more difficult than others, but writing is cathartic for me - and so I write.  That is also why I love reading blogs - the stories of life, love, and even cow manure.  There are some blogs that are so positive and everything in life is great (like Ree at the Pioneer Woman) that it almost doesn't seem real.  Yet, I am happy for her.  She has lived a gifted life and continues to live a gifted life.  She is happy, beautiful, funny, and blessed beyond most.  Ree has every reason in the world to share her joys on her blog.  She is so happy, in fact, that she would otherwise probably explode if she couldn't get it all out on a daily basis.  We should all be so blessed.  So instead, we live vicariously through her by trudging through the cow manure and the recipes of her life with her.


There are blogs that are sad too - about the loss of a child, or the loss of a job.  There are blogs about living with cancer and living with a loved one with cancer.  There are a million mommy blogs out there, including mine, although I don't know that I would call mine a mommy blog.  It is more a life blog, as I share everything in my life that surrounds me from my painting to my photography, my children and the homeschooling experience, my terrible cooking to my friend Beth's wonderful cooking, my Big Bear's desire to get a good job to his desire to be a true farmer.  I share everything from injured toes to injured hearts.  The good days, the bad days, and all the days in between.


I suspect there will always be someone out there who will want to tear me down, kick me hard, and make it their life mission to destroy me on this journey.  It is a sad reality that there are people like this.  Still, for that person, do what you feel you must do to get your kicks in life.  I suppose that tearing people down is part of your life journey.  I'm not going anywhere - because this is my life story and I am writing it for my family first and foremost.  Secondly, I don't owe you anything, including an explanation, but this was on my mind this morning and so I write ... it gives me comfort, and it is the best course I know to having peace of mind.  I hope you find some of your own someday.

Note: Cyberstalking is a crime and if it continues, I have saved every email and every comment, every IP Address, and every fake and real email address, that I will gladly turn over to the authorities.  So, please find another hobby. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

You Can Lead a Horse To Water


We've all heard the adage "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."  Well, this horse has walked away from the water entirely.  That horse being Kathleen. 


The 3 months that she has been home have been wonderful (for the most part).  I'd say that 95% of our time together was positive, good, loving, and productive.  But, Kathleen suffers from what I used to suffer from - a chronic case of PMS, and about 4 days before a cycle kicks in, the bad attitude kicks up.  Fortunately for me, though, I had that "thing" taken out about 7 years ago and have been at peace ever since.


Regardless, Bob and I have tried to provide Kathleen, at 30, every opportunity to get her life back on track, and it looked as though it was headed in that direction.  I helped her start her own website and blog.  We got her laptop fixed and then replaced.  It was a real mess when she got here.  She stopped smoking if for no other reason than we refused to buy her anymore cigarettes.  So, after she ran out of the cigarettes she brought here from Florida and smoked outside, she was done.  And, she did well in quitting cold turkey.  We are proud of her for her cold turkey bravado.


She gained weight (almost 25 lbs) in 3 months and she looks fabulous and healthy.


Kathleen got in touch with advertisers and had a good thing going with her blog, and an opportunity to kick that up a notch or two.  It was beautiful what she was creating.  Kathleen is extremely talented and creative.


Since she has been here she has helped around the house and decorated her room so that she was happy with it.  She even took up photography and took some wonderful pictures with the extra digital cameras we had around the house.  I thought her photography was beautiful.  I know I enjoyed photographing her.


We went shopping together and took walks together. We laughed together and cried together a few times. All in all, it has been good.  It has been wonderful having her home and helping her find her own happiness.


While here, she reconnected with an old boyfriend who is going thru a tough time and is serving in the Army in New York.  They spoke multiple times a day.  We really like him.  He is a good guy.  And, last month, he asked her to marry him, but first, he had some personal issues to resolve, and then he had to serve 15 months in Iraq beginning in October.  Having Kathleen and Glen in his life gave him something to look forward to.  He has a lot of love for Kathleen, as we all do.


Well, I don't really understand what happened really.  Bob had gone to Maryland for his interview and Kathleen had found a job at a local restaurant and started on the morning that Bob left for Maryland.  I put the kids in the Suburban and drove to the restaurant to pick her up at 7pm.  She had been at work since 11am so she had had a full 8 hour day in training.  I, too, had had a full day with the kids and cleaning up, doing laundry, and putting a desk together for our sewing machines.  Kathleen wanted to get started on her fashion designs again.


We stopped by the grocer on the way home.  We were out of milk and some essentials.  Everything started to go downhill from there.  Kathleen complained she was tired, and I understood, as I was too, but the way she communicated it was by being temperamental.  I let it ride.


We got home and the kids helped me with the groceries.  Kathleen retreated to her room and got comfortable.  I fixed dinner for the kids and for Kathleen and called her to dinner.  As I walked back into the kitchen I noticed that Kathleen had dropped her shoes in the middle of the kitchen floor, as had the kids.  So, in addition to asking the children to please pick up their shoes and put them in the shoe closet (yes, we have a closet just for shoes right inside the garage door), I asked Kathleen if she would do the same.  She walked into the kitchen grabbed her shoes and pitched them into a pile of shoes that were hers and accumulating next to the back door.  I asked her if when she was done with dinner if she would kindly put her shoes in the closet.  She said "No.  I'll do it in the morning. I'm tired."  And then she had a few choice things to say that I won't repeat here.


To make a long story short, she was short with me and disrespectful.  It would have taken her 10 seconds to put her shoes away.  So, I said "fine" and said "Well then, out they go" and I threw the entire pile out the back door onto the deck.  By the way, I've done this with the children's and Bob's shoes as well when they are left all over the kitchen and have taught them to put them away when they come home.  A few times I put Bob's shoes in the freezer.  Tough love can be tough, let me tell ya.


Well, Kathleen called me some names in front of the children and I told her that she "will" treat me with respect in our home or "there's the door."  I told her that when she can treat the members of this family respectfully, including her son who she treats harshly, she was welcome back.  I explained to her that this is our home and our family and this should be the most supportive and secure place for every member of the family.  When one member throws a wrench in the works, it upsets the entire applecart.


Kathleen retreated back to her room and packed her bags.  With attitude, she walked out the door.  She did not come home that night.  Monday morning, she came to the back door and started banging on the window.  I opened the door and said "Good morning.  Are you ready to treat us with respect?"  Kathleen turned on her heels, called me a name, and walked away.  I watched as she walked up the driveway with her purse and her suitcase on rollers.


4 hours later the phone rang and it was a sheriff asking if Kathleen was my daughter.  Of course, I said "yes."  He told me that she wanted me to pay her bus ticket back to Florida.  I said "No." I told him that she needs to come home and get her head out of the sand.  She needs to go to work the next day for a job she just started.  She has a son whom we are raising and she needs to think of him.  She needs to stop being so stubborn and treat the family respectfully and learn to appreciate all that we have done for her to help her.  He understood and said he would talk to her.  An hour later he told me that he had dropped her off at the bus station and that she had no money.


I heard nothing till the next day.  I did talk to her boyfriend, however, and he had not heard anything from her in almost 48 hours.  We were both worried, but to be perfectly honest, I was angry.  Angry that she had used us and found it so easy to walk away without a word or a care. Angry that in her bedroom I found a bag of moldy food, trash, and empty soda liter bottles under her clothes in her closet.


This morning we got a call from her in Florida.  She had made her way, somehow, back to Florida and back to the townhouse where she lived with a friend for the last 2 years.  He didn't want her back and didn't know what to do.  He had rented out her room.  But, he let her in the door and now he's stuck.  But not as stuck as Kathleen.

Hard headed.  Stubborn.  Disrespectful.  Selfish.  Unappreciative.  Ungrateful.  Unable to face responsibility and make good on her own life.  


I have this to say:  "Kathleen, we love you.  We have wanted nothing more than to give you the opportunities you need to make a good life despite the fact that you are starting so late in life.  We tried, but we expect every member of this family to be respectful and considerate of each other.  We are all human and we will all fail at this at times, but walking away from the family and running away from your responsibilities when you don't get your way is foolish and childish.  We all need to communicate, not berate.  I love you and I miss you, but with all that I have done for you, that we have done for you, including raising your son - I refuse to put up with the crap and I don't have to.  I don't know what your plans are, but we should talk.  Let's work this out.  Running away never solved anything.  There is always tomorrow and always hope."


June 5, 2009

Kathleen ...

I'm sorry.

I should have never let you leave that night.

I should have come after you the next morning when you walked down the driveway.

I should have been a better mother when you were growing up.

I should have given you more.

I should have tried to better understand you.

I am sorry.

That is all I have to say.  I expect nothing from you.  Absolutely nothing.

I am hurt and I was angry.  I know you are too.

I forgive you.  I do not expect you to ever forgive me.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Injured Toes, Bunny Ears, and Nice Folks


Two days ago, while playing at his best friend's house next door, Matthew rammed his little toe of his right foot into a chest of drawers.  Ouch.  He came home and put ice on it and he seemed to be okay.  He even slept well that night. 


Yesterday morning, however, Matthew was limping and complaining that his foot, and that little toe, were really hurting him - bad.  I could tell that he wasn't feeling well.  So, I called his pediatrician and took him yesterday afternoon to have his toe checked out.


But, the doctor told me that he wanted Matthew to have his toe x-rayed the next day at the hospital to make sure it wasn't dislocated or broken.  And, that is exactly what I did today - I took Matthew and Glen to Presbyterian Hospital Matthews (As in "Matthews, North Carolina) for Matthew's x-ray.


He didn't look so happy.  As a matter of fact, he tried his level best to look miserable.


Glen tried to get Matthew's attention and make him laugh, but Matthew was determined to show everyone just how miserable he was.


Of course, if I berate him enough, he gives in with a crack of a smile - or is that a snicker?


Oh wait!  He's miserable again.  He is trying his best not to crack a smile.  Nope, he is hurting, and hurting and smiling don't make a good mix. 


Is this good acting "hurt and in pain" or what?


Obviously, he can't hold it in any longer.  I think he is going to burst.


Yep, he burst alright, and now I couldn't get him to stop smiling.


Of course, that was Glen's clue to make a scene in the waiting room and embarrass me terribly.  He's good at that.


This nice gentleman was very entertained with the boys.


And for a while there, he too, looked like he wanted to look miserable.


Until his lovely wife was called back for an x-ray and the nice gentleman helped her up out of her chair and told her to please not kick the doctor.  That made Matthew laugh, and then he smiled.


Seeing that he had Matthew's attention, he asked Matthew if he liked Baseball and Matthew said "yes."



So he asked Matthew if he had read today's paper about the baseball player, Randy Johnson, who will attempt to win his 300th game on Wednesday when San Francisco plays Washington.  Matthew, said "Nope."


This nice gentleman had a captive audience in Matthew (and me too!) and so he began telling Matthew all about this milestone that was in Randy Johnson's reach.


He told Matthew the story, and let Matthew read along ... that "At 45, the San Francisco lefty owns a World Series ring and co-MVP honors, five Cy Young awards and is a 10-time All-Star selection.  He's thrown two no-hitters, including a perfect game, and ranks second on the career strikeout list." 

Matthew was really impressed.


He continued to read the story ... "Some of his best seasons have come in his later years - he's won more games in his 40s than he did in his 20s." Matthew thought all of this was very interesting.  And, if nothing else, it took his mind off of his sore toe.


Yes, he was a very nice man, and he knew a lot about baseball.  And, that was fine with Matthew, because Matthew loves baseball.  He loves playing baseball too.


They called Matthew back and we made our way through the halls.


And, we sat in another waiting room where we met this very nice gentleman, Preston.  He liked my camera, although he probably thought it was strange that this woman was asking him if I could take his picture while sitting in the radiology department of a hospital.  He's probably thinkin' "dang, she's a strange camera totin' lady."  That's okay, I don't bite - promise.


The radiologist laid that heavy cloak over Matthew.  He stuck his head up only after he realized that the rest of him was plastered to the table.  Except for his feet of course.


Matthew's thinkin' "You know, this really is no big deal.  I don't know what I was so upset about."


"I mean, my mom takes my pictures all the time, (a little too much if you ask me) and this is just a bigger camera, and of course, I have to wear a lead suit to protect the family jewels because Mom and Dad want more grandchildren some day."


Before you knew it, we were all done.  Matthew was putting his socks back on with a smile and Glen was acting like a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  That's normal, right?


We waved goodbye to the very nice radiologist.


And we stopped and admired the wonderful artwork of local youngsters on the walls of the hospital.


There were lots of really cool pictures to take little minds off of sore toes.


I even took my favorite boys to lunch after our excursion, and they were all smiles the rest of the way home.  I think Matthew handled himself quite well under the circumstances.  He is such a little gentleman.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009:

I have not heard back from Matthew's doctor yet.  I am waiting for him to let me know what the results are from the x-ray.  I will let you know here just as soon as I find out! 

2:15 pm: Just got a call from the Dr.'s office and the x-ray came back negative.  So, Matthew is going to be fine.  He seems to be walking around better today too.  I'm sure he'll be watching where he puts his toes from now on!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Opportunity Knocks


Yep, Big Bear is on the road again to Maryland, another 9 hour drive - but this time he isn't carrying a casket in the back.  Nope, he's going on an interview - a very promising opportunity, and he is looking forward to having the conversation.


Thank you Tim!  My dear friend, Tim (not the guy pictured with my Big Bear), is the man who put Bob in touch with a friend about a job opportunity that was right up Bob's alley.  It is a perfect fit and Bob is the man for the job. 


After 9 months of unemployment and no opportunities that panned out, Bob has continued to hold his head high and have faith that the right opportunity would come along in God's time, not his, not mine, but God's time.  We have always had faith that God would provide and lead us in the right direction.  He always has.  The waiting has been tough, but Bob has made it a full-time job looking for work, in between mowing the lawn and tilling up the gardens, putting in drainage, cleaning out the garage, cleaning his home office, caring for his mother, riding his motorcycle, kissing me, and keeping our kids on a short leash.


We make a good team, Big Bear and I.  We rely on each other to be strong, communicate, and throw in a few hugs here and there.  For instance, take this suit shopping we did the other day.  My Big Bear is a big man.  He even growls and chases me around the house on occasion.  He could not shop for new suits without me.  I'm his right-hand woman.  I'm his pal.  I'm his partner in arms.  I'm the eyes in the back of his head.


When we lived in Maryland, finding a good suit for Bob was tough.  There wasn't much of a selection for a man his size.  He's built like a linebacker - a really big guy.  So, when we moved to South Charlotte, the first thing we did was find a place for Bob to do all of his clothes shopping, and we found that place.  Esquire Big & Tall in Charlotte.  It is family owned and operated by the entire family - Mom, Dad, and Son.  They make a great team too, and they know how to fit a suit very well. 


As a matter of fact, Esquire suits up most all of the Carolina Panthers.  Heck, even I enjoy shopping with my Big Bear at Esquire.  I love their selection, and their suits are first rate.


Jason, the owner's son, helped out my man, and got him suited up well.  Knowing that Bob needed a suit for his interview on Tuesday, he made sure that he had one ready to go by the next day.  That's service if you ask me. 


All in all, Big Bear walked out with 3 beautiful suits, a pair of jeans, ties, suspenders, socks, and a smile.  I helped him pick everything out and enjoyed critiquing the way the suit looked and what alterations should be made.  I'm good like that.  I want my man to look good, dangnammit, and I'm picky about his suits.


The one problem he seems to have, though, is with his pants.  Given about 5 minutes, they are riding down and slacking off.  I told him I wanted him to start wearing suspenders like Larry King and I thought he'd look dang good with them on.  I think suspenders look sharp, and since I think Bob is a sharp looking man, he should have himself some snazzy suspenders.


They aren't as fancy as Larry King's, but they looked good.  And, the best part of all - they hold up his pants.  No more slacking off. 


We went back yesterday and picked up his suit, but not before we made a few last minute adjustments.  Joe, the tailor, is good like that, and does a very good job tailoring suits to fit perfect. 


In the end, Big Bear looked sharp.  He looked ready to take on the world.  He looked ready to take on this interview. 


So - let's all wish him a little luck on a wing and a prayer, and hope that this job is the perfect fit, kinda like those pants.

UPDATE: Tuesday, June 2, 2009:

The interview went very well and lasted several hours.  He hit it off with the hiring manager and a VP within the company.  I think we have a good opportunity here, but only time will tell.  Next steps?  Don't know yet, but he is on his way home and will take care of everything else from this end.  Thank you all for your prayers and support!  Let's hope this opportunity materializes! 


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Life Well Lived


This has been a difficult week.  A somber week.  A sad week.  Even my own dreams have been strange - a feeling of being lost, alone, frightened.  Losing a parent is second in heartfelt sadness only to losing a child I think.  There is something about the loss that changes the entire dynamic of our lives.  It forces us to reflect on our own lives and our own legacy in this world.

I want to remember my mother-in-law for the life she lived.  A pictorial walk down memory lane for those who knew her, those who were a part of her life, and those who never knew her.  She was a special lady.  Full of spunk and vinegar.  Full of love and laughter.  We are all better for having known her.  So here, I want to share with you a bit of what I know about my mother-in-law ...


She was born on May 14th, 1921 and was given the name Elva Geneva Newman.


She was the eldest of 6 children.  Not pictured here is a baby brother who had not yet arrived on the scene, and an older brother who had passed away at 18 months.


She grew up in Ripley, Tennessee. 1940.


She never graduated from high school.  It is my understanding that her parents took her out of school to help on their farm in Ripley.  1941.


And here she stands by the family car in a pretty floral dress.  Geneva loved dresses and dressing up. 1941.


She started to develop a more sophisticated style by 1942.


And she started to date. 1942.


A lot.  There was an entire photo album dedicated to past loves.  She was somethin' else.  Let me tell ya.  She must have been a flirt in her younger days. 1942.



For a while, she worked as a long-distance telephone operator in Memphis, Tennessee. 1943.


And she continued to sow her oats.  She was feisty.  Looks like she had some feisty friends too. 1945.


Yep.  Geneva had a fun youth.  She loved the beach too.  Here she is with a friend from New Orleans. 1947.


The older she got, the more stylish she became.  Geneva was always particular about hats, shoes, and matching outfits.  Easter 1948.


She won the title Miss Mechanics of the Bay. 1949.  Love those shoes.


I have these earrings and this necklace tucked away with all her jewelry.  She took good care of her things.  Don't you just love the hairstyle?  1949.


Geneva went to church dressed to the nines.  She was always the lady. 1949.


And always elegant. 1949.


And sometimes saucy and sexy. 1949.


Geneva had style and sophistication and great shoes. 1949.


Her hairstyle got a bit shorter, but she was always the consummate lady. 1950.


She caught the eye of Ken, aka "The Mayor of Georgia Avenue."  Ken wasn't about to let this gal slip through his fingers. 1953.


Ken took her to church. 1953.


And he took her to the beach - and laid a nookie on her to make her knees go weak. 1953.


And they played and acted silly together. 1953.


And then he proposed to his best lady, and she said "yes." 1953.


Geneva found the wedding dress of her dreams, a satin beauty.  Sept. 1953.


And we still have her wedding dress and veil packed neatly away in our cedar chest.  I pulled it out the other day and admired its beauty.  Not nearly as beautiful as the woman who wore it. Sept. 1953.


"Oh my, this is my big day!" Sept. 12, 1953.


Here they come - the happy couple.  Sept. 12, 1953.


Onto the reception and a toast for a bright future together. Sept. 12, 1953.


Off they go into the sunset and a lifetime of love and memories together. Sept. 12, 1953.


They began to build a life together. 1956.


And they enjoyed their trips to the beach. 1957.


Geneva was stylish even during her pregnancy with Bobby. 1959.


Nearly six years after they married, their first and only child was born - Robert Kenneth Vaughn, Jr. on June 7, 1959.  He weighed in at almost 9 lbs.


Bobby grew up fast, and eventually they started referring to themselves as the 3 Musketeers. 1963.


Now this is a sight for sore eyes.  What's with those glasses on Bob anyway?  I mean, he has perfect vision - or at least he did until just a few years ago. 1963.


Bob was getting taller.  Geneva was getting a little bit heavier, but she always looked great. Durham, North Carolina, 1969.


The family eventually moved to Olney, Maryland. 1970.


And they would live there for more than 30 years.  Bob was 12 years old in this picture.  I met Bob when he was 11.  His mother worked for my father and their political party when my father ran for U.S. Senate back in the 70s, and Bobby and I went to school together. I don't know that I'm diggin' those white socks and black shoes with shorts.  As a matter of fact, I know I'm not.  1972.


Eventually, Bob was towering over both of them which begged the question "The milkman?" I can remember thinking in high school "Dang, he's a tall dude."  And skinny, and he really liked my girlfriend Barbara.  1974.


Ken never failed to give Geneva exactly what she wanted for Christmas. 1975.


And Geneva never failed to keep Ken happy. Ocean City, Maryland, 1976.


They traveled the world together and celebrated the fact that their son had now graduated from high school. 1977.


They loved their home in Olney.  Geneva planted some beautiful flowers and Ken had taught Bobby well - how to care for the lawn.  Bob still loves working in the yard (aren't I a lucky gal?) 1977.


They were always happy together.  Always kissing.  Always flirting.  1978.


See what I mean? 1978.


I mean really you two - get a room!  1978.


In 1978 they traveled the world together.  They went to Germany and Italy and so many other places too numerous to mention.  Here, Geneva is relaxing in a Gondola ride. Ken took the picture. 1978.


They sure did love each other.  Ken never failed to show her just how much she meant to him.  They were always exchanging cards on holidays, and sometimes just because.  1983.


I'm sorry, I just had to put this picture in the story.  She looks too cute if you ask me. 1983.

Well, that's it for today.  More to come in the next few days. 

"We miss you Mom.  But, we know that Ken is kissing you and chasing you all over heaven right now."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Passing On to Be With Her Beloved


At 2am, Bob and I received a phone call from the nursing home where Bob's mother, Geneva, resides.  They didn't think she was going to make it through the night and thought that we should get there as soon as we could.  Exhausted, Bob and I left the children in the care of our oldest daughter, Kathleen, and drove the hour to the nursing home.  It was a quiet and somber trip.


Geneva has had Alzheimer's for about 6 years now.  Just last week, she celebrated her 88th birthday, just a mere whisper of the vibrant woman she used to be.


She has been slipping in and out of a coma for the last 12 hours or so and we expect her to pass sometime today - although, knowing Geneva as I do, she may just continue to be the stubborn ol' coot that she has always been and not go out without a fight.  And boy is she fighting.  She is struggling with every breath she takes and her blood pressure is dropping.  She is not responsive to our touch or talking to her.  But - she is still alive. Amazing.


We said a prayer for her and told her that Ken, her beloved husband of 52 years, and Bob's father, was waiting for her to help him with the gardening and that it was time for her to go home.  Bob is being brave and stoic through this difficult time.  I don't know how he does it.  He is an only child and this has all fallen on his shoulders in addition to the hardship of still being out of work since his layoff last September. 

I felt inclined to write a poem for my mother-in-law, Geneva, on this sad day. 

By: Mary Susan Vaughn
to my Mother-in-Law, Geneva
May 21, 2009

If hugs could bring you back to us
And kisses bring a smile
We'd smother you with lots of love
We'd go that extra mile

If words could bring a twinkle back
to your eyes so far away
We'd talk and sing about your life
We'd read to you and pray

If holding your hand and touching your cheek
could bring back the memories gone by
We'd do all these things and much more for you
We'd give it our best prayerful try

But your mind is in a distant place
Your soul on angel's wings
Your spirit floats on memories
Your voice no longer sings

You've lived a life so full of love
You've lived a life that's good
You dedicated your life to family
You did all that you should

So fly above the clouds so high
Feel the breeze upon your face
Welcome Angels at your door
Bow down to God's full Grace

Your spirit lives within us all
Your joy and laughter too
Soon eyes will get their twinkle back
But ours will be deep blue

Thank you all for your prayers.


May 22, 2009:


Geneva passed away peacefully at 2:30 a.m. this morning, May 22, 2009.  Through the tears Bob and I agreed that we could hear his father, Ken, in heaven saying "What the hell took you so long woman? ... What's your name?"  Of course, Geneva replies "Poot-n-tane, ask me again and I'll tell you the same."  And together they kissed and embraced each other, smiling, and then ...


Ken grabbed a boob and Geneva said "Ol Ken, stop that."


all the while Geneva laughed at Ken's silly jokes.  At least now he has her home with him - together forevermore.

"We love you Mom & Dad.  Take good care of each other until we meet again."

Bobby & Susan

Monday, May 18, 2009

A BIG Day at the Races!


There is no way to explain clearly the excitement and enthusiasm, the downright joy and jubilation, that a 12 year old boy experiences when told by his daddy that he has 2 tickets to attend the NASCAR All-Star Race at Lowes Motor Speedway.  Nope, I can't begin to tell you the lifetime memory that day had on my boy.  All I can do is show it to you in pictures and share with you the stories they told me about their dad & son day out this past Saturday.

There is something else you need to know about this experience.  I gave Big Bear and Matthew both digital cameras.  I gave Big Bear my Nikon D300 with the Nikkor 24-120 zoom lens (He insisted on taking the Nikkor lens and not the Tamron - men.  He should have taken my Tamron 28-300 zoom lens. Live and Learn).  And I gave Matthew our Olympus Camedia Digital Camera, showed him how to use it, and let him have at it.  More than anything, I wanted Matthew to document his day with Dad - from his perspective.

Let me tell ya - give a kid a camera and you'll be surprised, shocked, and smiling ear-to-ear when you see the pictures.  So, I am going to share with you all the pictures that Matthew took and a few that Big Bear took this past Saturday, and I'll tell you who took the picture too in () parens.  It'll be fun.  You'll see.   How about I start by telling you that Matthew took the picture you see of himself above.  Is that a happy boy or what?


(Matthew) Yep, from Matthew's perspective, Dad's a big man.  His hero.  His mentor.  His buddy.  And, they were going for the ride of their life - together.


(Big Dad) Enjoying his experience with his son.


(The Waiter) A wonderful lunch at Harper's Restaurant in Charlotte before the big day at the races.


(Matthew)  He saw Charlotte and threatening skies while heading down the highway, and said a little prayer that the weather wouldn't spoil his perfect day with Dad.


(Big Dad) They rode in golf carts to and from the parking lot.


(Matthew)  He saw big balloons and clear blue skies overhead reminding him that he was really at the Speedway and his prayers for a clear day had been answered.


(Matthew) Wow!  Race Cars!


(Matthew) And Lug Nut!


(Big Dad)  Lug Nut was tickling Matthew and putting his hand over his face teasing with him.


(Big Dad)  Dad took pictures of Matthew taking pictures.


(Matthew) Oh My!  Strange banners flying overhead.  I guess Geico had to get in their 2 cents worth since Nationwide is a sponsor at Lowes Motor Speedway.


(Matthew)  Ya think he had his eye on some goodies at the souvenier store?


(Matthew) Matthew had his eye on the Jeff Gordon race car ...


(Big Dad) Because for Matthew, Jeff Gordon is bigger than life.  His race car hero.


(A Lowes Speedway guest) A nice person took this picture of Dad and son at the speedway before the big race.  Dad bought Matthew his Jeff Gordon car and a hat too.


(Big Dad) They met Trooper M.W. Whitener and Matthew's eyes got as big as saucers when he saw all the stuff in his car.


(Big Dad) So, Trooper Whitener gave Matthew a thrill and let him sit in the driver's seat of his State Trooper car. 


(Big Dad) After Matthew sat in the Trooper car, he stood on a Big Dang Truck.


(Big Dad) Yeah Man, these are some Big Dang Trucks!


(Big Dad) They found some of the local wildlife to be very entertaining.


(Matthew) They are in their seats now, and Matthew can hardly contain his excitement. He couldn't believe how many vehicles were in the infield of the racetrack.


(Matthew) "So Dad!  Ya Ready for the Big Race?!!!"


(Matthew) "Whoa! Look at this place.  This is so cool!"


(Big Dad) "Look Matthew - What's that on the other side of the track?"


(Matthew) "Look Dad!  It's a little stunt car!"


(Big Dad) This sure looks like fun.


(Matthew) "Look Dad!  The race is starting!"


(Matthew) "I do wish I wasn't ..."


(Matthew) "... so short."

And so, Big Dad took over all the pictures from here ...


There they go, making their entrance with the pace car.


"Matthew Look!  Here they come!"


"Matthew, this is so cool, bud!  This is great!"


"Looks like someone has issues."


And so, the race had begun, with a lot of excitement on a clear day.


It was dark now and between races, so the celebration continued with an exciting fireworks display. 


Everyone in the bleachers were having a NASCAR Good Time.


And chuggin' down a few beers ... just a few mind you.


"Look Dad!" yelled Matthew - "It's our Man - Jeff Gordon!  Go Number 24!!!"


"Yeah Baby!"


"There's our guy again!"


It's a race to the finish!


Jeff Gordon and Sam Hornish, Jr. are neck-in-neck.


"Woohoo!  Our Man's in the lead!"


It's a grand day at the races.


And a fun day in North Carolina.


Big Bear and Matthew met a lot of nice people at the races.  Everyone was having a great time.  This is what we love about North Carolina - the nice people.


I will say this - the next time any member of this family goes to the races, we're going prepared - with earplugs or earphones.  Big Bear and Matthew told me that if we were to turn the stereo up in our family room full blast and then double it, that's how loud the noise was from the engines.  It was deafening.


Then it happened.  Kyle Busch cut Jeff Gordon short and caused him to wreck.  Darn.  He was in the lead too.


Uh, yep, I think we second that reaction.


"Can you believe that guy?  I mean, who does he think he is?"  "Well, bud, I don't know, but I don't know who you are either."


Tony Stewart went on to win the race.  It was an exciting day.


It was filled with fun, fans, and fireworks.


Most of all, it was the most exciting day Matthew had ever had.  The fact that he shared it with Dad made it that much more memorable. Matthew is now a NASCAR fan for life!  Go Jeff Gordon!

And, a very special "Thank You!" to our neighbor Pat Garvey for giving us the tickets to the race. 

The End.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Where Have My Babies Gone?


I can't help it.  I'm a bit melancholy lately.  I look around me and see my children - a few all grown up.  Others close behind.  And, a grandson who is rambunctious and growing up so fast too.  Where have my babies gone? 


I think they've left their mark on my skin, my hair, my hands, and my heart.  They've left an indelible print on my life and my existence.  They've given me memories and moments, heartaches and headaches, hugs and happiness, worries and wonderment.  I suppose the world must go on, but must they grow up?


They are all asleep in their beds right now.  The house is dark and quiet.  I take comfort in knowing that they are here, just a few steps away, from a hug and a kiss on the cheek, from the reassurance that they are loved and adored.  They are still my babies - even if one is 30 years old now.


I think back on when they were babies, and toddlers, and youngsters full of joy and laughter.  Now my oldest daughter is 30, my youngest daughter is 15.  My only son is 12 and my grandson is 9.  The years have rolled by with the creep of a roller coaster going uphill and the speed of the ride going straight down.

Yep, life is like a roller coaster and then you're at the gate wondering why the ride was so short. 


As you can probably tell by my place here on the web, I love to take pictures.  I love to hold those memories in the palm of my hand for a little bit longer.  I love to go back and revisit them from time to time, Oh!  And now I look over and watch as my daughter clicks away holding on to those memories of her lifetime with her son.


Still, it's tough.  It is one thing looking in the mirror and examining the new wrinkle that I never noticed before, or the deeper recesses around my nose and mouth, but it is altogether different having my daughters all grown up beside me looking in the mirror and getting all dolled up.  I look at them in amazement at how beautiful they are and how blessed I am to have them in my life.  I'm also amazed at how recently, it seems, that I was young and youthful, full of energy with a head full of great hair, bright eyed and bushy tailed.  I remember those feelings of looking good and feeling good.  Oh how time has a way of passing the torch onto our children.  It is their time to shine now - and my time to admire them in their youth.


I still wonder where my babies have gone?  I wish I could pick them up out of their crib and hold them in my lap and close to my breast again.  I wish I could rock them to sleep and sing to them as I did when they were babies.  Wasn't that just yesterday?

Song for a Fifth Child
by Ruth Hurlburt Hamilton (1958)

Mother, O Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.

Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I've grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullabye, rockabye, lullabye loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo

The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew
And out in the yard there's a hullabaloo
But I'm playing Kanga and this is my Roo
Look! Aren't his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullabye, rockaby lullabye loo.

The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Tribute to My Mother, My Hero, My Friend


My mother.  Her strength amazes me.


Her own mother passed away when she was only 11 years old.  I don't think my mother ever recovered from the loss.  I wish I had known my grandmother.  She was so beautiful.


That is my mother on the left.  I loved the dresses back then.


I love to see pictures of my mother as a child.  The look of pride on my grandmother's face says it all. Can you believe that my grandmother was 43 years old when she had my mother?  Even now I find it amazing when a woman in her 40s has a child.  The older you are the more difficult it is.


And here she is with her mother and father and sister.  They were a happy family growing up in Kentucky - until her mother became ill and passed away at the age of 54.


My mother was like any other little girl.  She loved to play dress up in her mother's clothes with her sister.


My mother grew up into a beautiful young woman, catching the eye of my father who was serving in the Army during WWII.


Of course, he wasn't the only one who had eyes for my mother - that is not a picture of my father next to that blanket.


Yes, my mother was a looker back in her day.


My father showed up at the theatre where my mother worked just after returning home from the war.  They dated for 6 weeks, fell in love, and got married in 1946.


Of course, a little bundle of joy showed up over a year later.  My brother Mike.


Four years later, my brother Billy arrived on the scene.  Here they are with my paternal grandmother, Mama Lill.  She was a feisty lady and the best grandmother ever.  Believe me when I tell you that she didn't put up with any crap - from anyone.


Even after 2 boys, my mother tried to stay in shape. 


Naturally, when I popped up (or popped out) in 1959, that was the end of wearing bathing suits.  Sorry Mom.  I know how you feel.


We traveled a lot growing up.  Mom and Dad always tried to squeeze in an annual vacation.


Why did I stand this way - with my knees locked back.  Strange child I was.


I had great parents and 2 wonderful brothers growing up.  They teased me and wrestled with me in the living room.  They refused to play bikes and cars with me.  They told me to "shut up" and to "get lost."  Yes, it was a grand childhood.


My mother tolerated a lot while I was growing up.  As you can see from the look on my face, I had my eye on something and wasn't about to cooperate with the photographer until I got it.


And the more I fussed, the more frazzled my mother became - as is evident by her hair.  It didn't help that what I wanted to hold in the picture was a skunk.  I was a difficult child.


My dad had big ideas and big dreams.  He ran for Congress and U.S. Senate back in the 60s.  My mother stood by my dad through all of his mis-adventures.


And even managed to get herself in the paper a few times.


My dad loved to entertain and show my mother a great time.  Nothing was too much when it came to spoiling my mother.  She was a great mother.  A good wife.  A wonderful housekeeper.  And a good typist too!


From the time I was born, my mother and father gathered ideas for their dream home, and when I was 11 years old, their dream home became a reality.  Sitting on 7 acres in Brookeville, Maryland overlooking Tridelphia Lake, my parents built their home.  It was a wonderful place to grow up.


My mom and dad were a happy couple.  There were a few rough patches along the way, but that's life.  That's marriage.  Getting through the tough times together is what family is all about, and my mother was the glue that held us all together.


I have always been proud of my parents.  I am especially proud of my mother.  I miss my father.


Sadly, 5 months after this picture was taken of my parents dancing for the last time in our Brookeville home, my father passed away.  I was 5 months pregnant with my 2nd daughter, Kimberly, when he passed.  My mother was strong.  She cried and she needed us, but she was still remarkably strong.  I think I would have fallen apart in her shoes.  I did fall apart.  "Mom - you are an incredible woman.  A fantastic mother.  And a true example of what a mother should be to her children."


Yes, my mother is a special lady.  She has picked up my falling pieces more than a few times too.


I have always been very proud of my mother, never knowing where she gets her strength and her energy.


She never fails to make me laugh and make me smile.


She was in the delivery room with me for the birth of 3 of my 4 children, helped me raise 2 of my children, moved in with me and my family 12 years ago, has been there by my side with my last 2 children, and has helped us raise our grandson, her great-grandson, as well.  Remarkable?  Absolutely. 


Unusual for her?  Not at all.  She is one tough cookie.  A hot chick. The best mother ever, and she has the smile to show it.  Of course, we are still driving Miss Daisy ...

I love you, Mom.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Daughter's Day Out


This is the best Mother's Day weekend I've ever had.  I am surrounded by all of my children and it is wonderful.  To celebrate this wonderful event we had a daughter's day out - Kathleen, Sarah, and me.  All smiles, all happy, just a perfect day with my girls.

My girls were beautiful, happy, funny, and anxious to shop.

And anxious to look at the cute waiter's too. 

We shopped for clothes.

We shopped for handbags.

I drooled over Coach.

Sarah drooled over Juicy Couture.

Kathleen drooled over Kate Spade.

Our eyes popped at Vera Wang.

And as much as I wanted to take advantage of this special going on for Vera Wang fragrance, I was very proud of myself for not being impulsive.  But it sure did smell delicious.  Oh, how I love Vera Wang.

And all the colors and all the Spring clothes were bright!  They made me happy.  I love happy colors, don't you?


Do you think these fine Southern women know that the economy is on the fritz?  I mean, this line was about 20 women deep. 

And I did what all mothers of grown children do when they are out & about town ... I looked at all the adorable children.  Isn't she gorgeous?  I just want to pinch her cheeks.  And those eyes! 

And then after the excursion to Southpark Mall, we headed on over to the book store.  Our favorite place to shop.  All 3 of us couldn't wait to find a few books to take home.  And we did.  Books are our favorite spoil of all.  And we found some great deals too!

All in all, our day out together was loads of fun. We laughed, we teased, we shopped, we ate, and we enjoyed every second of it.

Isn't that what it's all about?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A Miscellaneous post


Sometimes you just have to say something, and I've been working so hard to update my site that I haven't posted in what? 2 days?  So here's what's happenin...

Kathleen and I have been sitting on the sofa for hours on end with our laptops updating our sites and building her site at Katrunk. (that stands for "Kathleen's Trunk"). It looks so pretty.  She has done this all herself - with a little help from me.  But, she did figure out how to do the top navigation on her own.  I'm so proud.

Bob, Kathleen, and I have had an upset stomach for about 3 days now.  We're all feelin' a bit yukky.  Charmin has made it tolerable for all of us.  So has Pepto Bismol and Coca Cola.  I think we still have remnants of last week's flu dragging us down. 

Glen learned how to vacuum the family room today.  Reluctantly.

Matthew tried to skip out of the house to visit his friend without finishing his chores.  He didn't make it out the door, though, as Glen ratted on him.  Brothers.  Aren't they wonderful?

Sarah got home from school and talked about her day for 40 minutes straight.  I have no clue what she said, because my brain could obviously not visualize all that she experienced in her day.  As long as none of it involved being in the company of someone with swine flu I guess she's okay.

We watched the weather channel all day.  Until Oprah came on and then Kathleen and I drooled over Hugh Jackman who I swear looks like a young Clint Eastwood.  Don't you think? But, Hugh has a bit more integrity.  I have always loved Clint Eastwood, but Clint Eastwood has had how many children with how many women?  Hugh has been married for 13 years with 2 children.  He seems settled and committed.  That is so sexy.

I'm a slug.

Kathleen's a slug. 

Bob's a slug.

Glen's a hard worker when we hound him 357 times. 

Matthew's a hard worker too when he has nowhere else he'd rather be.

Sarah got 3 "C's" and 1 "A" on her report card.  Hmmmm.  Not sure I'm very happy with that.  Last semester it was 3 "A's" and 1 "B." 

I need a shower. 

I need pepto bismol.

I think I'll go make me a dish of Big Bear's delicious Chicken Alfredo with roasted peppers. 

Then I'm going to shower and go to bed and watch some television with a cup of hot cocoa, prop up my feet, and sleep in in the morning.  

I finished a bowl of Big Bear's Chicken Alfredo.  I'm stuffed.

But now I'm stuck in the family room at the moment with 2 sleepy dogs and watching the History Channel's Commander's of War.  War is a strategic game.  I thought it was funny when the Russians dug ditches to "tank" the German tanks. 

I wonder if there are reruns of Sex and the City on tonight?  When is Mad Men going to have new shows?  When is Big Bear going to have a job offer?  What day of the week is it?  Am I really here?

I think I'm going to bed early tonight. 

Tomorrow's a new day. 

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Favorite Things


The other day, Kathleen asked me to make a list of my favorite things and then she wrote them all over a Renoir painting.  Sorry, Auguste, but my daughter is creative like that.  I wanted to share her story with you that she published on her new blog: Katrunk (an abbreviation for Kathleen's Trunk). 

My Favorite Things
by: Kathleen Smith

The best things in life aren't things at all..

In fact, they are the moments we share that landmark the things we remember. The very things we keep as mementos in our minds to remind us why those moments were so special.

Yesterday was one of those occasions for my mother. It was her 50th birthday and I have chosen to dedicate my brush to create a painting which captures what's special to her.

The title for this piece is "My Favorite Things"

This will be a Master Copy of my Mothers favorite artist, Auguste Renoir. The girl in this portrait is remarkably identical to a photo taken of my mother when she was a small child which makes this piece especially significant. Framing the portrait is a whimsical list of all my mothers favorite things, be it Music, Movies or .. Me!

Sincerely, I couldn't resist.

I certainly look forward to the completion of this lovely memento.


Thank you Kathleen!  You sure are growing up fast.  Oh, you're already grown up?  But wait a minute!  I'm not!  I'm still a kid!

Well, this week sure has been a busy week - and a memorable one too.  My children made it the best birthday ever - all week long.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...


It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...


I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.


So, let's make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we're together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?


Won't you please,
Won't you please?
Please won't you be my neighbor?


Don't ask me what made me want to break out into song from Mister Roger's Neighborhood.  Maybe it was this lopsided cake.


Or the chocolate donuts that the kids and I wolfed down in about 50 seconds.  Get it? "50 seconds?" Yeah, yeah, you get it.


Or maybe it was this exceptional work of art presented to me by my grandson, Glen.


Then again, maybe it was this picture that sent me over the edge with joy singing "It's a Beautiful Day in this Neighborhood."


But wait!  There's more!  While I was napping yesterday after having been up all night with worry about Geneva (my mother-in-law), Matthew tiptoed into my room and put birthday surprises all around me.


And they were all hand made I'll have you know!  My goodness!  No wonder I broke out into song!


And all this love and all this joy!  All the good intentions! ha ha ...


Just made me want to do a jig - and there was a lot of huggin' going on too.


And you know, it really is the sentimental things that mean the most.  Take this beautiful painting by Renoir, for instance - Kathleen knows that Renoir is my favorite artist, and she thinks this little girl looks a lot like I did when I was a child, and so she had me make a long list of all of my favorite things and then she wrote them on this painting.  But this is only a reference for something bigger as Kathleen is going to paint this Master painting for me with all my favorite things written around the edges.  What a beautiful gift! And, she posted a beautiful story for me on her blog Katrunk.

And sweet Sarah. She dedicated this song to me for my birthday, and posted it on her blog The Pink Life, because she knows that in the 70s I was the dancing queen - young and sweet - only seventeen! Oh my! Don't get me started!


Oh, and as for the "Soapsuds" - that was my nickname given to me by my Daddy when I was a baby because I cried every time my mother took me out of the Mr. Bubble bubble bath.  I wanted to play until the water was 50 degrees.  Get it?  50 degrees?


I received phone calls and emails from old boy friends ...


and the best girlfriend in the world - Beth, who sang "Happy Birthday" to me over the phone. Which, by the way, was the most beautiful rendition I have ever heard - but, of course, that is because Beth is a professional songstress and has been singing her heart out for 30+ years (when she's not cooking).


Now that I think about it, the fact that I had me a glass of very sweet Alice White Wine from Australia with my dinner and my slice of cake may just have something to do with me breaking out into song to Mister Roger's Neighborhood - off key a bit too (and a little off balance). (Thank goodness Beth wasn't within ear shot).


Yep, everything was a little off balance this birthday, except for the love, the joy, the family, and friends  that surrounded me.

And, I think I'll keep that with me for another 50 years.  How about it neighbor?


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And then I Turned 50


April 27, 2009

Kathleen made this collage for me today.  I got the message loud and clear.  I'm 50.  Now what?


April 28, 2009

You know, though, the more I look at this collage the more I love it.  I think 50 is awesome and I am going to savor this positive frame of mind going forward.  I am going to enjoy today, learn from yesterday, and live for tomorrow.  I'm 50, and that's pretty great.

Thank you Kathleen for all the hard work you put into creating this banner and for making my birthday so special and fun.  I am truly proud to have you as my daughter, to have learned so many growing-up lessons with you and from you.  We sorta grew up together and took the tough shots along the road of life together too.  I am thrilled to have you home, to have you close to me, to have you in my life.  I look at you in amazement that you are my daughter - my 30 year old daughter at that!  We have a lot to learn from each other and a lot of life to share.  I am looking forward to helping you reach your goals each day and to make your dreams come true. 

I love you Kathleen.  Thank you for showing me how much you love me too.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Irony is a Strange Bedfellow


This is supposed to be a happy day.  Today is my 50th birthday and will hopefully be the day I get my second wind.  But, for the last 25 years I have thought, in the back of my mind, that I would not live to be 50.  Death seemed to knock at the door of my subconscious.  Well, death is knocking at the door, and the call came at 3:00am as we were all sleeping.  Not mine, but my mother-in-law's. 


Geneva and I have had a strange relationship from the beginning.  A relationship that began in my pre-teen years when she worked for my father in politics.  Bob used to come to our house from time-to-time to stuff envelopes for our political party or attend the parties we had at our home that were politically centered.  I never gave Bob a second look during those years, but that is beside the point. 


When Bob and I announced that we were getting married, the day after Christmas 1992, we did so with Bob's Aunt Bernice and Uncle Tommy present in addition to Bob's father, Ken.  We did this strategically, because no woman was good enough for Geneva's son, and we knew she would react.  We could never have guessed how she would react though - although we knew it would not be joyfully. 

KandG2 Bob and I sat on the fireplace hearth and Geneva was in her recliner facing us to our left and Ken was in his recliner to our right, also facing us (facing the fireplace).  When Bob announced that we were getting married, Geneva launched out of her recliner like a bullet and came for my throat screaming "No! No! No!"  She got her hands around my throat and I proceeded to smack her off of me as Ken and everyone else were yelling at her to sit down and shut up.  Bob, being the 6'4" 240 lb bud that he was at the time, picked his mother up, threw her over his shoulders kicking and screaming, and promptly sat her butt back down in the recliner and told her if she got up again he would call the police.  She was having a temper tantrum worse than a child and it was pathetic. 

She began to scream obscenities about my father (who had passed away 12 years prior).  She began to judge me and call me "tramp" and anything else she could wrap her brain around at the time - until Uncle Tommy piped up and said "Geneva, sit down and shut the hell up!  If the daughter of Jesus Christ were to want to marry your son, she wouldn't even be good enough!"  And, with that, Geneva sat down with horns coming from her skull and flames coming from her nostrils.  It was not a pleasant experience.  As it would turn out, Bob and I got married almost 3 weeks later in a lovely, rather private ceremony at our church, and as we turned to walk from the alter, I gave a single red rose to Geneva, who was sitting in the front row looking lovely.  It was my way of extending to her a peace offering.  Peace that would not come until years later, until she developed Alzheimer's disease.


Bob and I have been married now for almost 17 years, and in that time, we have had some hair-raising arguments with Geneva.  Most of them were emotionally driven (by her) but even I understood that that had to do with the fact that she was uneducated (she quit school in 9th grade) and didn't have the tools to control herself or think clearly, logically, intelligently, about certain situations.  She reacted to everything emotionally and argumentatively.

KandG9 We noticed in 2000 that she was having difficultly remembering things and taking care of Ken.  Ken was a severe stroke victim and suffering from many physical and mental challenges of his own, and he needed someone to take care of him - not the other way around.  And so, after months of what was obvious deterioration, we made the difficult decision to move Ken and Geneva in with us just after September 11th - and our already large family of 6 that included our 2 children, my mother who had lived with us for years, and my grandson whom we have raised as our own since he was 2 weeks old, became even larger.  Our house may have been situated on 3 acres, but it was bursting at the seams with only 4 bedrooms - and 4 very small bedrooms at that.  But, we managed.

We managed for 4 years, and a tough 4 years it was too.  During those years, Bob and I remodeled and upgraded his parent's home of 32 years, and we did it all together.  We worked tirelessly to bring it to the point of being able to sell.  It looked beautiful and we sold it within a month of putting it on the market.  Those were different days, though, too. 

In addition, both Geneva and Ken had become incontinent, and caring for their needs became my responsibility - showering them, helping them dress, serving them, coming their hair.  It was exhausting work, but Bob was their only son and I loved him dearly - and I still do.  For Bob I would do anything within my God-given power to care for his parents, and I did, even when it was the most emotionally and physically trying experience for me.  This is not to say that Bob did not help, he did.  Believe me he did.  He also cooked for the family and helped clean and do the laundry which was the size of Mt. Everest.  We shared in the lawn care and cutting 3 acres was a job, but we also cut the grass of several of our neighbor's each week and they were also on 3 acres each.  You try cutting 18 acres each week for a few extra bucks and see how hard it is - especially on your back!  My back was put through hell during those years of all that yard work and landscaping business that Bob and I had on the side.


During that 4 years, my mother had a hysterectomy, I had a hysterectomy, I discovered a lump on the back of my mother's neck that turned out to be lymphoma, Ken broke his hip, Geneva broke her hip, Bob lost his job, I just about lost my mind, Geneva went through numerous stages of not knowing any of us, including her husband of 52 years, and then Ken got pneumonia, but didn't show any symptoms.  Bob even took him to the doctor who said he was clear.  I knew something was wrong.  I even took his picture because I thought I had to and I am glad I did.  I told Bob that we should take his father to the hospital.  It was a Sunday.  Bob said that his father just needed to rest and that his doctor said he'd be fine.  (You'd think after all our years of marriage he would've learned not to argue with me on issues like this) Something in me told me to get Ken to the hospital immediately, and so I called 911 and told Bob, who was out on the tractor, that an ambulance was coming for his father.

KandG12 Ken sat in our front hall and all of us took turns hugging him and kissing him on the cheek and telling him that we loved him.  Ken really liked my mother and they would joke a lot together.  He looked at my mother, Mary, and said "Well, Mary, I guess this is it."  My mom replied "Ol, Ken, you'll be back here before you know it.  You are going to be fine."  He knew otherwise.  He knew.

Bob and I followed the ambulance to the hospital and the rest of the family stayed at home.  They x-rayed Ken's lungs and discovered that not only did he have pneumonia, but that one lung was completely full of fluid and the other was nearly 3/4 full.  Why had the doctor, just the day before, not caught this?  Well, we learned something that day - that when the lungs are full or nearly full, they sound normal.  They don't make noise to indicate that there is fluid in the lungs.  Bet you didn't know that did you?  So, they put him on an aggresive antibiotic, but he had already gone septic.  We prayed.  We waited.  The hospital staff did everything they could for him. 

By 2am he looked like he was turning the corner and may recover.  We prayed some more. I looked at Bob and said "He's going to be fine, sweetheart, he'll be coming home and joking with all of us again in no time."  Bob, with tears in his eyes, looked at me and said "Hon, we haven't reached the witching hour yet." "Huh? What's the witching hour?" I asked.  "That's the hour that most people pass away.  The hour is 4am."  I had never heard of that.  I said "No way. Dad is going to be fine."  Bob just looked at me sadly and said "Let's hope so." 

KandG14 At 3:45am Ken's vital signs started to deteriorate.  He had been in a coma for about an hour or so. The doctors called us back into Ken's room.  The doctor said that we should stay with him and that they had done all they could.  It was his time.  Bob stood on one side and I on the other, and we both held one of his hands.  We told him we loved him.  We kissed him.  And then we watched him take his last breath at 4:00am.  Irony is a strange bedfellow don't you think?  Even more ironic is that they didn't have a cemetary plot, but my family had several.  My father-in-law is buried in the same cemetary with my father, my uncle, my paternal grandparents, and my paternal great-grandparents.  He is toe-to-toe with my family. Ironic isn't it?

Geneva had to go into a nursing home shortly thereafter for Alzheimer's patients.  As if fighting her when she had her faculties wasn't tough enough, fighting her with Alzheimer's was next to impossible. 

Before we put her in a nursing home, though, Bob and I felt we needed to make a decision.  An important decision.  You see, we both had grown up in Maryland.  Maryland was our home, but living there had become increasingly too expensive.  We were being taxed out of our own home you might say.  So, while the iron was hot and the market was perfect for selling our home, we had our home re-painted, and we fixed it up beautifully, and we sold it.  But, not before we decided where we would like to move.  And where we moved was to somewhere we had never been before - Charlotte, North Carolina.

KandG15 It is beautiful here, and the cost of living was far less than in Maryland.  We liked the people (most of them anyway) and we liked the architecture.  We liked the weather and the mild seasons.  We liked the schools (if we decided to put our children in a public school) and the colleges are some of the best in the country.  And so, shortly after Ken passed away in 2005, we found a place to call home in South Charlotte and we found a nice place for Geneva as well.  A place where she would be comfortable and cared for, and close by.

So here we are.  It is now a little after 5:00am and we are awaiting a call from the hospital.  Geneva fell earlier in the evening and was complaining that her hip hurt.  She has had a few tumbles in the last several months and we think they may be mini strokes, but we aren't sure.  We have kept close to the phone and they have kept us updated of her condition.  Shortly after 3:00am we received a call from the hospital.  It doesn't look good.  Geneva has a UTI and it has gone septic.  They are treating it aggressively and are doing all they can but it doesn't look good.  We are praying.  Bob is holding up stoically at the moment.

We all got up and got dressed, prepared to go to the hospital.  They were transferring her to another hospital with better facilities to treat her condition and an intensive care unit that had space.  And so we wait.

TKandG5oday is my birthday, and if you have been reading this blog for any time at all, you may recall that I have had a suspicion that I would not live to be 50.  Today, at 3:13 this afternoon, I will be 50.  I have had this nagging feeling since I was in my mid-twenties that I would see death's door before 50.  Much of my family have a short lifespan.  Here's hoping that this will change.  Still, death knocks at the door.  It is not my death, but rather, it is at the door of my mother-in-law, Geneva.  Maybe it is her time to go home.  To be with her dear husband Ken.

 I was nervous this weekend when I went out shopping with my daughter to get her clothes.  I had my eye on every side street looking for someone to run a stop sign or for someone to cross over into my lane.  Believe me I was overly cautious this weekend when I went out.  Plus, having been sick with the flu all this past week didn't help and I'm still not completely over it. I wasn't taking any chances.  So, when the call came at 3:00am that Geneva had taken a turn for the worst, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Irony is a strange bedfellow.

Oh my God, please don't let her die on my birthday.  On my 50th birthday.  Lord, please let her pull through this ordeal.

I'll let you know.


P.S.  If you get a chance, pop on over to my daughter, Sarah's website The Pink Life and read her post dedicated to me.  It is her special way of wishing me a happy birthday.  Naturally, it made me cry, but I sure did love the music at the end!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Making Beautiful Music Together

Saturday was an interesting day, the best part of which was listening to the children play music.  Thanks to a very nice tax return, we pumped up the creative processes in our music room by hooking up the baby grand piano to a midi interface and a MacBook laptop with Logic Express so that Sarah could create and turn her music into notation, record, and then upload it to iTunes.  Right now, she is the only one working the hardest to get her beautiful compositions on iTunes.  Matthew still has a way to go.

Garageband is really cool, and we also downloaded some tutorials from Sarah's favorite artists.  Like the song "Bubbly" by Colby Caillat. 

Sarah practiced all day.

And of course, Matthew and Glen wanted to get in on the action.

Matthew loves playing the guitar in striped pajamas.

Glen enjoys playing the drums.  And, I enjoy it too just as long as he has on the earphones and I can't hear it.

Hannah seems to always be at Sarah's feet when she is playing the piano.

Pretty cool setup, eh? 

Pretty crowded too, but I don't care. 

Sarah got into the swing of the whole setup, and was determined to learn her favorite song.

She practiced and practiced.

She enjoyed the video of Colby teaching how to play "Bubbly" on the guitar.

And I enjoyed listening.

"Hey, quiet down there, I'm trying to show Mom something I learned on the guitar."

"Mom, this is really annoying.  Why can't I have this room all to myself?"

"I really hate sharing.  I'm going to disconnect all of Matthew's instruments one day - soon."

"Finally - I have the room all to myself." 

Not for long. 

Note: All of these pictures were treated with Totally Rad's Action "Pool Party." 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

African Safari - "No, this is Not the Zoo"


In 2006, Big Bear went on a safari.  A real one.  It was a business trip, so he was obviously employed at the time.  I was so jealous.  He went for 10 days to Africa and brought home some of the most beautiful souvenirs, the best of which were the pictures and the movies.  Since yesterday, I have been going through the pictures and wanted to share some with you.  As I finish editing and uploading the videos, I will share them as well. 

I hate to admit it, but I have never been out of the United States.  I am not a traveled person and I envy anyone who is.  Traveling the world has always been a dream of mine - if I can muster up enough energy, time, and money.  So, while Bob scurried off to Africa, I stayed home with the children and took care of the homefront.  I remember how anxious I was for Bob to get home - safely.  I even pulled up the flight tracker and tracked his trip on every flight. 

So, today, for starters, I am going to share with you some of the pictures that Bob took on his safari from the cab of a jeep.  I was amazed how close these animals got to their jeep.  No, Bob did not have a zoom lens.  As a matter of fact, he took a cheapy Olympus pocket digital camera because it was easy to carry around.  The pictures were beautiful and some of them were amazing. 

If you have never been on safari - like me - then you might wish you had the chance when you see these pictures.  National Geographic we are not, but Bob tells me he sure wishes they would offer him a job.  Enjoy ...


Isn't he beautiful?  Big Bear just told me a story about the lions - The lions, and only the lions, were kept in a separate area and preserve of the several hundred thousand acre game preserve and this is done for a good reason.  That reason is because the lions will naturally hunt and they wreak havoc on the rest of the animals.  The other animals are free and do kill each other, but not as proportionately as the lions.  They let the lions out once every week or two to do a natural kill but they are tracked by radio transmitter so that they can be located, tranquilized, and recaptured.


So, see the fence behind the lions?  This is their protected area of the preserve.  I can't get over how beautiful they are.




Here is a water buffalo.  Bob said he just took a picture of him staring at him. 



An antelope or a gazelle


This hyena was the smaller of the others that were stalking in the bush.  This one walked out in the road and dared them to come close.  He walks with such a deliberate strut that he knows he's a bad ass and dares you to tell him otherwise.  These hyenas were almost the size of the small lions.  They are really huge and very ugly. 



This was looking out over the park.  They were out for about 5 hours.  Bob said that if you break down you had better hope somebody comes along to help because you wouldn't want to be stuck out there at night.  Uh, Nope, wouldn't want that to happen.


The zebras tended to roam near the wilderbeasts.  The zebra uses the wilderbeasts as a radar for danger.  If the wilderbeast gets nervous, the zebra knows to get out of the way and seek safety.


This is a wilderbeast.  Bob saw them in herds of thousands and occasionally stampeding.  They are the most numerous animal in the preserve and a source of food for the predators.



My favorite shot of all.  Bob has a video of these 2 elephants getting rough with each other right in front of the jeep.  I can't wait to edit the video of that and get it uploaded.


Someone else wants to get in on the action.  This is a younger elephant who wanted to be part of the action, but they wouldn't let him because he was still too young. Poor little guy.


Maybe 3's a crowd.  Ya think?  This is funny, Bob said that the elephants started off fighting about 30 yards away from their truck and in a grand game of tug-o-war, the group of elephants backed their way up against the vehicle and actually bumped them back and forth.  At one point, Bob was able to reach out and touch one of the elephants during the fight and then thought better of it as the guide tried to quickly get them out of there.  Remember, these are not trained elephants, they are wild and going thru the mating ritual.  They are practicing tusk wrestling in preparation for their mating season.  Ladies watch out!


He and his colleagues stayed at some golf resort.  The view was beautiful.

That's it for today.  I'm still trying to shake this flu believe it or not.  It's been over a week and I just can't shake it entirely.  So, while I've been resting, I've been looking through discs of images that I've come across, uploading them to my computer, making some edits as necessary, and then uploading them to Flickr.  It is a breezy, beautiful day outside and I should probably take a walk.  As long as no hyenas get in my path, it ought to be enjoyable.  I do, however, believe that it will not be like any walk through Africa.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Motherhood's Identity Crisis


I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about my life and motherhood.  Too much thinking if you ask me, but enough that I wanted to talk about it.  You see, I'm going to be 50 in one week, and the strange thing is, is that I did not think I would make it this far.  Actually, I haven't yet - I still have a week to go and just about anything can happen in the course of a week - let's hope it's all good. 


Ever since my father passed away when I was 21 years old I've had this feeling that I was not going to live to a ripe old age, that somehow, due to my family's history of kicking the bucket at an early age, that somehow I'd be the one to go before my older brothers, before even my mother, before my husband, and definitely before my children.  Somehow, though, I think a lot of that has to do with fear.  There is no other way for me to explain it.  Take a look at this picture, for instance.  Now, is that introspective or what?  hmmm.  To think how far we've come.  See my brother Bill on the left?  He had a heart attack in December, 2007.  He has always had a laissez faire attitude about things.  He told me the other day that I was going to live to the ripe old age of 96.  Not.  I don't feel it.  I don't feel like there is this life and years ahead for me.  But Bill - I hope you're right.  You're still going to outlive me.  You watch. 


And Mike, the guy on the right.  He's my older brother.  He is 11 years older than I.  He has had skin cancer from spending too much time out in the South Florida sun.  But he's okay and wearing protection now.  It's about damn time.  My father - he passed away at the age of 55 in 1980.  I was 21 years old and 5 months pregnant with my 2nd daughter when he passed away.  My mother - she has lived with us for 11 years and is now visiting with my brother Mike and his wife in Florida.  Keeping Mike out of trouble (just kidding).  Mom will be 85 this year and is still as sharp as a tack.  A little rusty around the joints, but otherwise sharp where it matters - upstairs, and her hair looks a lot better now than it did back in the 60s.


You see, I've always lived with fear although you probably wouldn't guess that from this picture.  Isn't that strange?  I mean, I've really had no reason to be afraid, I just have always been insecure, fearful, feeling alone even when I'm surrounded by people who love me and whom I love.  I told you I had a lot on my mind.  I can remember as a child being terrified every time my parents would argue that our home and family would fall apart.  I had this recurring dream that I was outside alone in a ferocious wind storm clinging to a tree and holding on with all my might as the wind began to carry me away, and just before I let go someone would save me - it was usually my brother, Billy.  Don't ask me why, but he was always the one saving me from the evil storm.  Maybe that had something to do with all the motorcycle wrecks I had while riding on the back of my father's motorcycle when I was a kid.  We were always getting into accidents and I always had my arms around him clinging for dear life with my eyes closed feeling the wind beat against my face and the whoosh whip past my ears and through my helmet just before we'd fall over and dad would end up sitting on my head.


As I got older, I still had that dream, but there was this underlying feeling that I was alone.  I had a desire, at an early age, to be a young mother.  I wanted someone in my life who would never leave, who could never leave.  Wrong.  I was so naive.  I didn't have a clue.  I was afraid of what I couldn't do, and almost equally afraid of what I could - does any of that make sense? I also felt an urgency to find love and to make a home and family of my own, because something inside of me told me that my life was not going to be a long one.

Susan1 I was looking through my high school year book with my daughter yesterday and it rekindled some of those old feelings of inadequacy and fear.  All through high school I felt like I wasn't pretty enough or smart enough.  I was afraid to eat in the lunch room because I didn't have anyone to sit with.  I was afraid of being teased.  I don't know what for, I just was.  Probably middle school disasters coming back to haunt me.  Still, my fears kept getting more complicated, not less.  Talk about having issues.

I wasn't the type to hang out in cliques, so I ended up being a loner.  I had friends, but I didn't hang out with them when they were around their other friends.  Strange, I know.  When my father left home for another, much younger woman after 30+ years of marriage to my mother, I felt my world fall apart, and that was for most of my high school experience.  I couldn't wait to grow up.

Well, a lot of years have gone by since that time, and some of the fears have waned, but I still think about them.  I have this fear that if something happens to Bob, my whole world will collapse.  I fear that when my mother passes that I will surely lose my mind.  I fear that I have not made enough of my life in my own right to support myself or my family if I had to.  I fear I would be a failure not a survivor.  I have not had a fear of riding motorcycles, though.  I know, I'm weird.


It's strange, this getting older experience.  I still don't know who I am, and that even scares me.  Is there medication for this?  No, I'm not depressed.  No, I don't have anxiety.  I'm turning 50 in a week and what the hell do I have to show for myself?  I've turned into this frumpy, pajama wearing, barefoot image of my mother - only worse.  At least she gets dressed every morning.  I don't even do that most days.  I mean, I'm not going anywhere or seeing anyone except my family, so why bother?  Who would I be dressing up for?  And good grief, doesn't that just add to the already mountainous accumulation of laundry?  Why add more work for myself?  Am I pathetic or what?


I am in serious need of a vacation.  I look at celebrities and models in their 40s and 50s and some are even in their 60s and I wonder if they look like those pictures every day, or if that is just an illusion.  Probably the latter, but that image is still there making me feel old and inadequate as a woman who should be starting the second and best half of her life.  Instead I feel like I'm headed to a dead end, not the glorious journey.  Wasn't it Oprah who said that life begins at 50?  Then why the hell do I feel like mine is coming to an end? 

SusanProm Yep, I'm having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment.  But I am sure that this too will pass.  I'm not the thin, shapely, sexy, attractive young woman I used to be.  My life revolves around my children and my family.  I thrill for their successes.  I give them all I've got.  I no longer take care of myself like I once did and swore I would always do.  I no longer see the woman in the mirror that I once was.  I see a mother.  I see a wife.  I see a daughter, a sister, a friend.  I no longer see Susan, though, and in many ways, I miss her. 

I am sure that what I am feeling is not unique to me, and that is why I'm opening up here.  I wish I could say that I was looking forward to my 50th birthday, but I'm not.  I'm afraid. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Protect our Children from High Tech Abuse


It wasn't too long ago that I, as a parent, thought that technology was a good thing - for parents and children alike, but the more involved my own children have become in social networking, chat rooms, myspace, facebook, cell phones, twitter, instant messaging, and God knows what else, I realize we have a whole lot more we need to do to protect our children from predators - those sick bastards out there who think nothing of luring our children into their web of lies and abuse. 

When my children were little, we bought each of them a cell phone (no camera or fancy stuff) just cell phones.  That was after we had purchased a Motorola walkie-talkie so that we could communicate with our children when they were out playing with friends in the community - and after we heard some man trying to get sassy with our daughter after hearing her talk to us over the walkie-talkie.  That was the end of that.


Cell phones were safer and we have discovered ways to protect our children.  For instance, they can only call certain phone numbers and can only receive calls from certain phone numbers.  I also like the tracking feature that parents can attach to their child's phone.  So, yes, there are benefits.  BUT, I have also learned that if a child wants to do things they know are a big no-no with their parents, they will surely find a way around it.  We may be able to protect them from some things, but we can't protect them from life.  And now, life is full of techno gadgets and gizmos, and internet programs and sites that lure in even the most behaved of children.

These same gadgets we enjoy at home - computers, cell phones, digital cameras, and social networking sites, are the same gadgets that criminals have at their disposal too, taking the sexual abuse of children to a whole new level.  Knowing this is the first step we can take, as parents, to protect our children. 

Here are just a few tips that might help you keep a closer eye on your child ...

Top 9 Things Every Parent Needs to Know:

1. Every child who has access to the internet is at risk.

Predators are experts at luring children—even smart, good-natured children can become victims. Young children are lured by love and are very trusting. Men who are predators know this and take advantage of our children.  A grown man who is a predator knows exactly what to "say" and ultimately "do" to entice an emotionally vulnerable child.

2. Understand technology and its potential dangers.

Purchase software that will restrict your child from potentially dangerous areas of the Internet, and only let your child access sites that you know are safe.  Keep the computer that the children use in a main part of the house, somewhere where you can see what they are doing, look over their shoulder if necessary, and monitor the time spent online.  Do Not put a computer in your child's bedroom. 

Screenshot_253. Don't keep your children in the dark.

Talk to your children!  Tell them stories that will alert them to the dangers of the internet.  Be open with your children so that they don't think that you are punishing them, but rather, protecting them.

4. Keep your personal computer locked down.

Do you have a laptop or personal computer in a home office?  Keep it locked down, so that when you are not at your computer, your child cannot access the internet.  My personal computer and laptop is password protected, so if I am inactive for a few minutes, my screensaver pops up and if I move the mouse, it requires a password to access.  This will keep the sneaky little boogers from getting on the internet where they don't belong.

5. Monitor your child's activity regularly.

If you purchase cyber safe software to monitor your child, it isn't going to do you or your child any good if you don't check to see what they've been up to.  Cyber software can only do so much and it isn't the internet babysitter.  It is ultimately your responsibility as a parent to protect your children on the internet at home.  Remember, it isn't enough just to monitor their computer activity.  As parents, you need to monitor their cell phone activity as well.  This isn't snooping - it is protecting your child.

6. Talk to the parents of your child's friends.

Do your children have a best friend that they visit regularly?  Do they have sleepovers?  It's time to talk to the parents.  How safe are their kids on the internet?  How much access do the friends have to the online social network?  Do your child's friend(s) have a cell phone (with a camera?) and do they have a computer in their bedroom?  Not to be nosy, but hey!  As a parent, it is our responsibility to know these things and ask the important questions.  Don't trust that your child is safe just because you think the friend is a nice kid or their parents are nice people.  They may not be as computer safety savvy as you'd like and it's time you enlighten them.  Bottom line - if you feel uncomfortable or sense a red flag - forget the sleepover, or better yet, bring the sleepover to your house where there are no computers or cell phones in bedrooms and every other computer is chained and locked down.

Screenshot_27 7. Communication is key.

All of your child's friends may be taking pictures with their cell phones, talking in chat rooms, and setting up profiles in Facebook, but that doesn't mean yours has to.  Talk to your children.  Educate them of the dangers of the internet and of taking pictures with their cell phone or digital camera.  Most of all, do your research and get to know your child's friends and the parents of those friends.  Communicate with your child.  Communicate with your child's friends, and communicate with their parents.  Asking too much is better than not asking at all.

8. Talk to your children about what is inappropriate.

Children are trusting and don't think that pictures that they take of themselves and each other even in a bathing suit could be considered pornography.  Set them straight.  Explain to them the dangers of taking such pictures and how they can get in the wrong hands.

9.  No Texting.  No Camera Phones.  No Problems.

Bottom line, if you don't want your kid to shoot his foot off, don't put a loaded gun in his pocket.  Giving your child a cell phone is one thing, but having a camera in hand and texting and internet privileges on that phone is an entirely different animal.  Don't give it to them and they won't miss it.  Well, they may want it because their friends have it, but that doesn't mean you have to give in to the pull of society's evils.  Your kids will thank you some day for keeping them on a short leash.

Now that I've got all of that off my chest, here are some links to software that can help you to take the first step in protecting your child online:

Go McGruff
Kid Innovation
Net Nanny
Spector Software

Intervening in your child's activities, on the computer, with friends, at school, especially when you feel your child may be in danger is not invading their privacy, it is being a responsible parent. Any time you feel a sense that your child may be in danger or that there may be a risk to your child's physical safety, character, or morals, it is time to step in.  We've had to do that several times to protect our children and we don't regret it.  So they get angry with you and have a temper-tantrum - so what.  Let them burn off their energy getting angry, but at least you did the responsible thing as a parent to protect them.  If you feel that your pre-teen or teenage child is being exposed to anything that's bad for them—a friend who is a bad influence, dangerous or inappropriate e-mails, unusual phone calls, or inappropriate instant messages or chats—you should be vigilant about helping your child.  Start with communication. Eliminate the source of the problem if you can and do your best to protect your child going forward.


Beautiful Days - in Bed



I almost didn't post anything today, but then I thought "What the goober" I'm going to write something.  That's because I am sitting in my bed looking out the window at an absolutely gorgeous day that I can't seem to enjoy.  Why, you ask?  Because I've been laid up sick as a dog all week with the flu.  It's been nasty.  Kathleen and I seem to be having the hardest time shaking this illness and we both look like walking, moaning, miserable, sniffling, coughing, droopy, disgusting creatures.  Kathleen really needs to find some other activity than Twitter.  Every few seconds, I get a twitterific pop up.  Her latest tweet ...

"Ok, I've buried myself in tissues, time to come up for air and clean up a little."  Ya think she'll come to my room and clean up my mountain of tissues while she's at it?  Probably not.  Her's are gross enough.

Every time I blow my nose I get this horrible stinging and burning all the way up my nasal passages to my brain.  It hurts like hell.  Like brain freeze when you eat ice cream too fast only worse.  I'm afraid I'm going to blow a blood vessel in my brain if I keep this up.

So that's it folks.  I know this is a lame post, but I'm feelin' pretty lame right at the moment.  And I do wish that Kathleen would stop twittering so much because I keep getting those stinkin' pop ups on my computer screen. 

"Kathleen - Twitter is not meant for blogging." 

By the way, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you all about Kathleen's new blog - Charlo |Trunk.  She never thought she'd be a blogger, but she is such a great writer I convinced her otherwise.  I'm glad I did.  She is funny and very articulate.  I hope you will stop by her blog and leave her a comment.  She will be happy as a peach to read them.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sick and Blessed


Yep, I'm blessed.  Blessed to have a husband who waits on me hand and foot when I am sick.  He brings me juice, he brings me Advil, he rubs my feet.  I may feel like crap, but I sure am lucky to have such a great guy in my life.

We've all been sick in our house - well, almost all.  Sarah and Matthew seem to be holding out, but the rest of us have been down for the count. 

Sore, scratchy throat, congestion, sweating, dragging, horrible cough, achy, miserable.  My head feels like it is going to explode, and it is so congested I could probably use the congestion to patch the drywall.  I know - ewwww.  Can't help it.  It's true.  I feel green. bleck.

So, forgive me while I sleep, and sweat, and cough, and swallow and whine.  It's the best I can do at the moment.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jesus of Nazareth

Every Christmas and Easter we, as a family, watch the 1977 epic movie "Jesus of Nazareth" with Robert Powell as "Jesus," Olivia Hussey as "Mary," Anne Bancroft, Ian McShane, and Laurence Olivier, just to name a few of the incredible cast.  The movie is extremely powerful, and every year it is as though I am watching it again for the first time.  The production, cast, and story, bring to life the life of Jesus beginning before the Nativity and extending through the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Below is an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount:

All the majesty and sweeping drama of the life of Jesus as told in the Gospels is played out in such dramatic detail that I promise you will learn something and be changed by the movie.  The film provides the setting and background for the birth, childhood, baptism, teaching, and many miracles of the Messiah, culminating in the Divine Resurrection.  If you have never seen this movie, I highly recommend you make this a "must" for your Easter viewing.  It will delight you with the Word of our Lord and inspire you from beginning to end.  We have made this movie a family tradition for 17 years and we continue to learn from the Biblical message as it is portrayed in this movie.

What amazes me the most is that it reflects what I envision the experience would have been, almost as if the images in my mind from reading the stories in the New Testament are being played out in living detail in this film.  It is truly amazing. 

The movie has 2 discs.  We watch most of the 1st disc during Christmas which is the birth of Christ and his childhood.  Then we stop.  Over the Easter weekend, we watch the remainder of disc 1 beginning with scene 31 which begins with Jesus baptism from John the Baptist , and then move on to disc 2 continuing thru all 91 scenes up to Jesus' Resurrection. 

The movie is the quintessential biography of Christ. Spanning the entire life of Jesus, as documented in the Gospels.  It features a commanding and dynamic performance by Robert Powell as Jesus.  It was originally created in 1977 as a mini-series, accurately and passionately exploring the life and death of Jesus Christ in a way that remains timeless and undeniably significant. 


10 of the Best Quotes from "Jesus of Nazareth":

1. Love Your Enemies!

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?" - (Matthew 5:43-47 )

2. Don’t Worry About The Future

Sometimes insightful sayings seem obvious once you hear them - I think that is the case here. Live in the moment you’re in!

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today." - (Matthew 6:34)

3. How To Treat Others

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets." - (Matthew 7:12)

4. The Most Important Commandment

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” - (Matthew 22:36-40)

5. Spiritual Greatness

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.” - (Mark 10:42-45)

6. Gaining The World, Losing Your Soul

Here, Jesus highlights that the eternal and spiritual dimension is more important than the temporal physical one. Those who choose to follow His teaching will make physical sacrifices for spiritual rewards.

Then, calling the crowd to join His disciples, He said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And ,what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in the Glory of His Father with the Holy Angels.” - (Mark 8:34-38)

7. The Kingdom Of God Is Not Physical

Christian faith should not be militant, things like the crusades were not in line with what Jesus taught, or even the concept of Christendom. He also taught that the Kingdom of God was in the hearts of men.

The statement below was said in response to questioning in His trial before the Roman Govenor.

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”  - (John 18:36)

8. God Loves Everyone

This well known passage is actually a quote from Jesus.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him."  - (John 3:16-17)

9. Ask, Seek, Knock

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."  - (Luke 11:9-10)

10. His Claim To Be God

While it seems Jesus didn’t make a point of telling everyone that He was God, He did make it clear on a few documented occasions. This quote is taken from Jesus’ court trial, from which the resulting conviction of ‘blasphemy’ led to His crucifixion.

I include this quote, not because it’s a great teaching, but because it affects how one perceives His teaching. It’s hard to think of Jesus as [just] a good moral teacher when you know that He thought himself to be God. (And I know him to be God)

Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God - tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  - (Matthew 26:63-64)


Truly the best movie ever made about the life and teachings of Jesus.  I've added this image link above so that you can add this movie to your DVD collection and begin a tradition with your own family that will be as meaningful and inspirational to your own family as it is to mine. 

Happy Easter!  And Many Blessings!

I hope that all of my readers have a blessed Easter, remembering Christ's sacrifice for all.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sarah Vaughn - Pianist, Composer ... and full of Giggles


Sarah has come a long way with her piano, thanks to her dedication and her teacher, Claire Ritter, who is a renowned Jazz composer and pianist.  In the last couple of years, Sarah has been composing music that reflects her inspiration from nature and the seasons.  It has been wonderful listening to Sarah play daily, especially when we know that she is creating something altogether new for our listening pleasure.  We couldn't be more proud.

The other evening, Sarah participated in her high school talent show.  She was one of 14 acts.  Of course, we thought Sarah's was the best - but then again, we're biased. 


 Sarah aspires to be a renowned composer, and pianist, and hopes that someday she will be entertaining the masses and making her music her career.  I believe that she will get there.  She is dedicated, and her dedication can be heard in everything she plays. 


Sarah takes inspiration for her compositions from some of her favorite composers and pianists - Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, Claire Ritter, and George Winston

Now, I know that you've heard of Keys and Jones, and some of you may even be familiar with Jazz artist, Claire Ritter, but how many of you have heard of George Winston?  Well, that won't be a problem any longer, because I have included a video of George Winston playing one of Sarah's favorites, "Rain." 

After watching the George Winston video, sit back and enjoy the sounds of "Waterfall" by Sarah Vaughn.  Tell me if you see a similarity in their style of music.



Wasn't that wonderful? Now, enjoy Sarah as she plays her most recent composition, "Waterfall." 


I think Sarah's music is outstanding. I enjoy it so much I record it on our player piano and replay it when she is at school. (Neat trick don't you think?)

Great Job Sarah!

NOTE: If you would like to see the video from the high school talent show, click on the Vimeo Video to the right of the Waterfall video at the "bottom" of this page.  It's about 30 minutes, but includes some original, some not so good, some funny, and some interesting (to say the least) acts from the talent show.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers


I recently finished reading a book "The Kindness of Strangers" by Katrina Kittle.  The cover caught my attention initially at Barnes & Noble.  I always judge a book by its cover, don't you?  ha ha.  Anyway, when a book grabs my attention I usually look at the cover first (obviously), then I flip it over to read any reviews or information about the story.  I would have never surmised by the cover or the information on the back that this book was about child sexual abuse.  This book grabbed at my heartstrings and opened my mind to some of the horrors that children may face - even at home. 

It read:

On a quiet street in the suburban Midwest, a popular, seemingly stable family keeps a terrible, dark secret behind closed doors-a secret that will have life-changing consequences for all who know them.

Sarah Laden, a young widow and mother of two, struggles to keep her own family together. After the death of her husband, her high school aged son Nate has developed a rebellious streak, constantly falling in and out of trouble. Her kindhearted younger son Danny, though well-behaved, struggles to pass his remedial classes. All the while, Sarah must make ends meet by running a catering business out of her home. But when a shocking and unbelievable revelation rips apart the family of her closest friend, Sarah finds herself welcoming yet another young boy into her already tumultuous life.

Jordan, a quiet and reclusive elementary school boy and classmate of Danny's, has survived a terrible tragedy, leaving him without a family. When Sarah becomes a foster mother to Jordan, a relationship develops that will force her to question the things of which she thought she was so sure. Yet Sarah is not the only one changed by this young boy. And as the delicate balance that hold her family together begins to crumble, the Ladens will all face truths about themselves and each other-and discover the power to forgive and to heal.

Powerful and poignant, The Kindness of Strangers is a shocking look at how the tragedy of a single family in a small, suburban town can effect so many. Told from varying perspectives, Katrina Kittle, has created a haunting vision of the secret lives of the people we think we know best. With gripping and heartrending storytelling, The Kindness of Strangers shows that even after the most grave injuries, redemption is always possible.



The book took me away (that's a good thing) from the first page I got all caught up in the story; and, by the time I was almost finished, I sat up all night finishing the book.  It was worth it.  A real page turner. 

I'll give you a brief about the story so as not to spoil it for you.  The book has some very interesting characters:

Sarah - A mother of 2 boys, and a widow whose husband, a doctor, passed away from cancer.  She is left raising her 2 boys and supporting her family with a catoring business, creating cakes and exotic dishes to make anyone's mouth water. 

Nate - Sarah's eldest son, a teenager.  He's a bit of a troublemaker at first, but ultimately does a lot of growing up and turns out to be very level headed after all.  I like Nate.  He's a good kid.

Danny - Sarah's youngest son.  He is a pre-teen, maybe 11 or 12.  He stays in the background of the book.  You'll understand what I mean if you read the story.

Jordan - Danny's best friend.  He is also an 11 year old boy.  Jordan is the only son of parents who are well-regarded in the community.  His mother, Courtney, is a doctor.  Sorry Katrina, I can't remember what Mark, Jordan's father does for a living.

Courtney - Jordan's mother, a doctor, and Sarah's best friend.  Courtney used to work with Sarah's husband at the hospital.

Mark - Courtney's husband and Jordan's father.

There are a few other characters in the book, but these are the main characters who are critical to the story.

The first word out of my mouth when I finished the last sentence of the book was "Wow."  It was difficult to read - not from a prose standpoint, but from a subject matter standpoint.  As a mother, I cannot fathom that anyone would ever intentionally hurt their child - any child - like this.  That is all I will say about that.  I want you to read the book.  Still, it left me wondering - what prompted Katrina Kittle to write such a story?  Was it her own personal experience, a story that she created out of the depths of her mind, or inspired by someone that she knew or had met?  I felt as though I had to know and I am glad I asked. 

I contacted Katrina and we began a conversation.  I feel as though I have made a new friend.  She is dynamic and interesting and an extremely talented and gifted writer.  She is the author of 3 books:


Two Truths and a Lie (2001)


Traveling Light (2001), and,


The Kindness of Strangers (2006)


I will be reading the other 2 shortly.  In the meantime, though, I asked Katrina if she would answer a few questions about her book for my readers and she said an enthusiastic "yes."  Here begins our conversation:

Hello Katrina!

How about we have a conversation?

Having just finished reading your book "The Kindness of Strangers" it made me think, sadly, of whether we really know our friends or the people in our lives.  Heck, if you watch enough Oprah you realize that you may not even know the people who are closest to you in your life.

That's why the title works. It wasn't my original title and at first I resisted it, thinking "but they're not strangers." The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought they really WERE strangers. They had no clue of the real truths in each others' lives.

I read on your site that a child you met inspired your story line for this book.  Can you share with me how this child's story affected you, changed you, and prompted you to write this difficult story?

For several years, I free-lanced in many different schools either doing theatre workshops or working as a writer in residence. I was in a school, working with a group of ten- and eleven-year olds doing theatre improv, which is tough for that age. There was a boy who was immediately my favorite, even though you're not supposed to have favorites—he was smart, funny, quick, cute, clever. Because I was only going to be at his school for one week, I gave everyone an index card at the end of our first session and said, "Write down three interesting things you want me to know about you." I could use the cards as a "cheat sheet" if there was an especially shy child; it would give me a topic that might help draw them out. So, lunch time comes and I'm flipping through the set of cards and I can't wait to see what the smart funny boy has written. I get to his card and I'm stunned. He has written as #1: "I have HIV." Now, mind you, this was in 1995. My first novel was about AIDS, I'd worked for an AIDS service organization, and I knew my AIDS facts. In 1995 there was no way that boy I'd just been talking with had been born with HIV. Fortunately, this is no longer true, but at that time, there's no way he would've been the healthy ten-year I was just joking with. Which leaves us with the traditional means of infection...and he's only ten! First, I go to his teacher, hoping hoping hoping this is a mistake—that maybe he doesn't really understand what he's written or he's trying to get attention. But, no, the teacher tells me that it is true. All she tells me is that he'd been sexually abused, that his biological parents were incarcerated, and he was with a foster family. That blew me away! She must've told the foster mom about the index card because at the end of the day, the foster mother sought me out. She was thrilled he'd written that fact on his card--which was something I didn't understand at the time--and thought it was a huge step for him. She volunteered more of his story: both of his biological parents had been doctors, well-respected in their community. No one knew that they had serious cocaine habits. No one knew that they'd accrued huge debt because of their habits. No one knew that for nearly two years, when they couldn't afford to pay their dealer, they allowed their dealer and his friends to "use" their son. They were essentially prostituting their only child for drug money. This story leveled me. I knew right away I would write about this boy, but not in any graphic, exploitative way. The word that kept occurring to me was RESILIENCE. If someone had told me this boy's story BEFORE I visited the school, I would have guessed I could pick that child out--he'd be the shy, withdrawn one who didn't relate to or trust anyone else, right? Wrong! This kid had not just survived, but thrived. He was happy and typical...and THAT'S what I wanted to capture: that triumph, that spirit, that resilience and strength.  It's not a book ABOUT abuse--it's a book about healing (the abuse is over when the book begins).

Obviously, that boy's story is NOT the story of The Kindness of Strangers. That wasn't my story to tell, but he did inspire the story. I'd already written about both AIDS and about addiction, so I left those elements out of this novel. Removing the cloud of HIV from my fictional character's life allowed for a much more hopeful ending.

Does this child know that his story inspired your book?

Unfortunately, this boy passed away before the book was published. He acquired chicken pox at school which is devastating for someone with HIV. He had, though, been adopted by his foster family. I really only knew him for five hours...but he had a profound effect on me.


Did you find it difficult to write about the feelings and actions of the characters you created in your book?

At times the material was very heavy and depressing as you can imagine. When I began the research, I realized I had many, many misconceptions about child sexual abuse. There were several wonderful experts who helped me (all listed in the acknowledgments)--doctors, social workers, police officers, child psychologists, etc. What kept me going was the knowledge that there were these talented, amazing, brave people in the world working on behalf of very real kids every day. I had the luxury of stepping away from the book if things got too dark. But the real heroes don't have that luxury. Their Jordans aren't fictional.

How did you relate your own life's experiences to your characters?

I think writers "use" everything they see and experience. It's nearly impossible not to do that! We are told from the time we're kids in school to "write what you know," so of course I write about things I've experienced or know well. My characters are always fictional creations, but many aspects of them are composites of people I know. Sarah in The Kindness of Strangers, for example, looks like a friend of mine, is the cook I wish I could be, and keeps family rituals that I have heard about from three other different friends' families. The bat incident actually happened to me, although it was not my idea to get rid of the bat the way Sarah does. Our life experiences have a way of worming themselves into our fiction. I guess I would draw the line at using anything deeply personal that would be recognizable as anyone I knew.

I was surprised that you did not give more of a voice to Danny, Jordan's friend, in the book.  Was there a reason for this?

For every book the writer has to make choices. At one time, there were far more voices in the book--Courtney, Detective Kramble, Ali, Danny, (and a five-year-old daughter who got cut out of the story altogether)! I have to laugh at myself--my problem is never writer's block, but usually the opposite. My book's first drafts are WAY too long and need to be cut and cut and cut. Eventually, though, it's crucial to decide "whose story is this, really?" and which voices are all necessary for the reader. Which voices add to the effect you wish the reader to have, which voices take it in an entirely different direction. It's always a struggle to decide how to coral all the ideas and keep some kind of focus. That is why Danny was given those "book ends" to open and close the book. I found his perspective from a distance more interesting than his confusion while he was in the main events.  Nate and Jordan both have knowledge that Sarah doesn't have, for instance, which makes their voices enlightening to the reader. Danny, in the past, didn't have any information that the reader didn't already know (he actually has less than the reader) he was not as interesting a choice as the other two boys. Choices, I tell my own creative writing students: "Who tells the story controls the story."


Also, the way that Jordan wanted to end his own life in the beginning of the book seemed terribly dramatic for a child so young.  What prompted you to write this scene?

That came directly from the research. In a heartbreaking number of cases, the abuse is discovered through a suicide attempt (this was the case for the boy I met who inspired the story as well). Many of the adult survivors I spoke to told of reaching the point where they decided they "couldn't  do it [take the abuse] anymore" and attempted to end their lives.

I'm interested in knowing how you came to name your characters.  They all seems to have Biblical names.

Names take a long, long time and lots of thought. Sometimes the reasons are practical and logistical--not too many that all start with the same letter, or end with the same syllable, or have the same number of syllables. That sounds silly, but it truly effects a reader's enjoyment and ability to keep all the characters straight. But then, there are more thoughtful, symbolic reasons as well. The Biblical Sarah, of course, gains a son late in her life...and this Sarah does as well (even though she already has children). Her biological sons have Old Testament names fitting a good Jewish family. Jordan is the most obvious in the idea of "reaching" or "crossing" Jordan on the way to a better place, or promised land. It's a long struggle to get there, and the character has a long struggle ahead as well, but the name implies that the struggle will be worth it and will lead to redemption and hope.

Why did you create a character, Sarah, that had lost her husband to cancer?

In an early draft, Roy was alive and well. I belong to a very helpful writers' group where we share and give feedback on each others' work. When I read early chapters, they all suspected Roy of something dark because he worked with Courtney. I went back and revised, writing scenes that showed Roy to be a good dad, a trusted husband, yada yada yada only to have my writer friends suspect him even MORE because I was "giving him so much page time--there has to be some pay off." Sigh...  I'm a runner, and I work on scenes while I run. I was jogging along when the thought occurred to me "What if he were just dead?" I remember stopping in my tracks so abruptly a car slowed to see if I was all right! But...the minute the thought hit me, I knew it was right. It was one story to have this happy, whole, intact family reaching out to help someone in dire need. But it was a richer, denser, more interesting story if the family reaching out was broken and grieving in their own ways and they STILL found it in them to help someone worse off than they were. It is in their reaching out that they begin their own healing! So, killing off a character actually strengthened the entire theme of the story.


How did you research for this book, and did you get to know the child who had been victimized - the one who inspired your story?

All of my books center around social issues I care deeply about and I always begin my immersing myself in research. First I do all I can on my own using libraries and the internet, to build a good base of knowledge before I approach the experts. That way, I don't waste their valuable time asking them questions I could easily find out on my own. I contacted a police officer, who let me accompany him on a shift one night and ask him questions when we weren't otherwise occupied. This same police officer put me in touch with a detective, and another officer who gave me a tour of the jail and showed me where a child would meet with an incarcerated parent. I contacted some pediatricians at Children's Medical Center in Dayton, who were incredibly helpful and they put me in touch with the amazing organization CARE House. The social workers at CARE House were invaluable. They allowed me to go through the Stewards of Children training provided by the organization From Darkness To Light.   I encourage anyone interested in protecting children from the scourge of sexual abuse to check out their site--   Their mission is "To diminish the incidence and impact of child sexual abuse, so that more children will grow up healthy and whole." Their website is incredibly helpful and offers a free download of "Seven Steps" to begin.   I worked extensively with a child psychologist who specializes in trauma like Jordan's to get therapy and recovery details right. I even paid for this psychologist to have a session with my fictional character!!!

How did this story, the writing of this story, the research, and the experience change your own life?

I think I've always been drawn to the ways human beings "are broken" by the world but come back stronger, and this was an astonishing case of that. I sincerely believe every one of us has a story, and some of these "darker" stories actually help us and inspire us if we don't turn away. Human beings, and their strength, never cease to amaze me!

Could you tell me a little something about the restaurant that Courtney and Sarah frequent in Ohio?

This restaurant is real and one of my very favorites! It's also mentioned in my first novel, Traveling Light. It's Hispanic, with an ever-changing menu featuring a different Spanish-speaking or Latin American country's cuisine. Fun, fabulous, and the best paella I've ever eaten! It's my very favorite restaurant in Dayton! I often just ask Bill or Mark "what should I have tonight?" and let them decide for me. I have never, ever disliked anything they've set before me. They offer cooking classes and dance classes, too. It's just a wonderful place owned by dedicated, talented people.

I am really looking forward to reading your other 2 books.  When you write, do you find that the story just flows from you at times?  Most of the time?  Not often?

It really varies. Each book has been different, and each stage of each book is even different. It's a tough question to answer! There seems to be no pattern to the "flow" but I believe in being at the desk regardless. I work a set number of hours each day, as if it were any other job, so when the inspiration flows I'm there to catch it, and when it doesn't, I'm there plugging along, keeping in shape, anyway!  But thank you so much--it's music to my ears that you want to read my other titles.


Do you struggle with your story, and if so, how do you put your mind back in the zone necessary to continue writing?

Again, I think the discipline is everything. I no longer have a zone necessary to write, just as I didn't have a zone necessary to teach when I was a full-time teacher. I taught on days I didn't feel much like it...and usually ended up forgetting my initial resistance eventually and really getting into it. I am at the desk at the same and for the same time every day whether I "feel inspired" or not. I'm a firm, firm believer in Natalie Goldberg's "writing practice" from her great book WRITING DOWN THE BONES. She compares it to running. We keep at it to stay in shape. You can't set out to run a 5K if you haven't run for days, right? Same with writing. It takes a daily discipline and practice to build up the stamina.

As an artist, I know the "struggle" I face at times when taking on a portrait because I am trying to capture the true essence of the person I am painting.  Do you ever face that "struggle" as a writer?

Yes. I struggle with getting my "vision" to match what I'm actually creating on the page. The "vision" is always so much better! I just keep in mind that my goal is to "serve the story" and I usually plod forward. I imagine every artist struggles with this. I can make peace with the struggle if I truly believe a book represents the best possible work I was capable of at the time. There's a great Lao Tse Tung quote above my computer: "Do your work, then step back. The only serenity."

Are you a great cook like your character, Sarah?

I'm not nearly as good or trained as Sarah, but I sure do love to do it! I take cooking classes for fun and love nothing more than to make dinners for friends so we can all sit around talking and eating for hours (and so far my friends are all very willing guinea pigs when I'm trying something new). The comfort Sarah finds in chopping and stirring while she mulls over problems in her head is one I share! My friends tease me that when I'm "cooking" figuratively on a book, I'm cooking literally a lot, as well. It's the best way (besides running) to work through problems in scenes or figure out the next step in the plot.

I have to say, Katrina, I was deeply moved by your book.  It was an interesting story and a real page turner.  I found myself absorbed in the story till all hours of the morning, totally messing up my next day, but hey!  That's the jewel of a true author and storyteller is someone who can create the entire situation in the mind of the reader.  You took me there, Katrina.  It was a scary place to go at times, but you took me there.  I will never forget the powerful way you shared this story.  I cannot fathom the devastation that children must experience who are living a life with sexual abuse.  It must be terrifying for them.  I can't imagine that they would ever trust anyone - ever.  It is a sad and tragic reality.  Because of your book, I feel more qualified to discuss sensitive subject matter with my own children now in hopes that maybe, God forbid, if they are ever faced with a difficult or uncomfortable situation, that they know to scream, run away, tell someone that they trust without being embarrassed.  Children are so easily embarrassed.  They are fragile beings.  Hopefully, your book will save at least one child from the horrors of predators - even if that predator is a parent.  I learned something valuable from your story, Katrina.  Thank you for writing this book.  As difficult as the subject was for me to wrap my brain around, I'm glad that you made it a great story from the beginning till the very end.

Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. As you imagine, this book had a tough time finding a publishing home because of the subject matter. I really believed in it and messages like yours are affirmations that I was right to do so.



Be sure to visit Katrina's website at:!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

SixApart - Wanna Hire Me?



Ever since I started my first TypePad blog, Red Easel, I have had an overwhelming need to learn web design - or maybe that's just blog design.  Whatever it is, I wanted to design and build a site that I was proud of and I hoped would eventually grab the attention of visual artist readers,  I wanted it to grow to be a special place on the internet.  It has grown slowly, but that's my own fault for not dedicating more time to it.  I have over 500+ subscribers to my email newsletters and almost 100 visual artists in the gallery.  That's a good thing.  The bad thing is that I redirected my attention away from Red Easel to start Raisin Toast and this site has become my baby you might say, surpassing my wildest expectations for a personal blog.

More importantly, I have learned a great deal over the course of the last couple of years about blog and web design and I am convinced that TypePad has the best looking and most professional blogs out there.  Wordpress blogs are everywhere and many of them look fabulous too, but you have to find a host if you really want to build a "website" from your Wordpress blog, whereas with TypePad, SixApart is your host.  Everything you need to build a first class blog is at your fingertips and the price is right.  The basic template is very easy to learn and manipulate and just as easy to customize, although if you really want to get down into the nitty gritty of what is possible with TypePad and blog design, you'll need a Pro account and an Advanced Template.  I did just that, but first I created a Testblog so that I didn't trash my own site while I was still learning how to design and build things for my blog behind the scenes.  I've come a long way since those first days as a new blogger.


In the last 6 months or so I've really hit my stride.  Not only have I got my nose into Javascript, CSS, HTML, and all that other "stuff" as I call it, but I actually understand how it all connects - well, I understand some of it.  I'm gettin' there.  I will say this, though, whenever I have had any questions for SixApart regarding my Advanced Template, scripts, codes, CSS, or whatever, I have usually been able to easily find an answer within their knowledge base, and if I can't find it there, then there has always been someone to help who has found the answers and passed them on to me.

I've come to know a few of the customer service representatives over the past several months.  They are first rate.  As I've been learning, though, I find myself wanting to do more and more to push my design within TypePad Advanced Templates, and so I spend some time each day on Get Satisfaction in the Six Apart section seeing what other users are having trouble with and ultimately, I find myself handing out advice and answers to their design questions. 

So, I now have another question for SixApart - you wanna hire me?  I'm a hard worker and I love your product.  I believe in it too.  I promise I'll be worth your investment.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Friday Night - Movie Night

Friday night is movie night at our house.  Every Friday, we all huddle up in the family room and enjoy a movie together.  Last night was no different and we took in the movie Marley & Me.  We loved it, and of course, being the schmucks that we are, we all cried at the end.  The only disappointment is that the last dog that portrayed Marley didn't look anything like the other dogs.  The producers did a fairly good job of creating believability until the last dog.  But it didn't matter all that much - well maybe it did a little - but we all still cried.  Plus, Jennifer Aniston's character never changed her hairstyle, Owen Wilson never changed his hair either, and although Marley was a puppy just before they had their first child, the oldest child in the movie was about 8 I suppose when Marley died.  In other words, it just didn't all fit together that well.  Oh well, the kids enjoyed it.  We all did.  And, we always enjoy "Friday night movie night" no matter what's playin' on our big screen.

I've even got the book "Marley & Me" on my nighttable right now.  I'm a reader if you haven't figured that one out yet. 

Just to keep things interesting around here, I found an interesting quiz that I thought you might enjoy if you're a movie buff like we are.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Smile Blind


Sometimes Kathleen will write something or do something that is so profound I can't quite wrap my brain around it.  Yesterday, when Kathleen got up, I had to ask her if I could publish her story.  She wrote a story that I knew took a lot of guts to write.  After placing her head in my lap and shedding a few tears she agreed to let me publish her story.  I ran my fingers through her hair, kissed her on the forehead and told her she was very brave - and I was proud of her.


Here is her story in her own words ...

So I have to fess up… well… I don't actually have to but, as of late, I am motivated to confess in spite of the embarrassment this will surely cause me.  I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.  Anyway, back to my confession...

My entire life has been filled with challenges.  Frankly, that is a serious understatement.  One of many is my smile.  I wish I could say that the smile in my picture was my own … although it is … it isn't.  Ah, the wonders of Photoshop.

(And "no" to those who are thinking it, this isn't a belated April fools)

Once again back to my confession...

I strongly suggest anyone reading this to take a moment and reflect on your own dental hygiene because at this moment, and for the last several months, I have been regretting not taking better care of my teeth. Truthfully, I am scared to post a photo of my smile Un-retouched.  For so many years I have been ignorant of the dangers of poor dental care and recently I am forced to face the realities of my own ignorance and fear.

Yes, thats right.… Fear.

I, like many Americans, (and surely non-Americans too), have grown up afraid of dentists because their procedures have always been uncomfortable and painful.  For this very reason, most people will avoid seeing a dentist for prevention and only go when serious treatment is needed.  Often, they validate this behavior with the cost of procedures and how they are saving money, when in fact they are losing overall for the cost of the damage.

The cost of treatment shall far outweigh the cost of prevention and currently, I have no dental insurance, no job, no money, and just last night I lost one of my teeth.  I am only 30 years old.

"Was I punched in the face?"  you ask.  Although there are some who at some point in knowing me would have liked to, I'm sure… actually "no."  I was drinking grape juice.  But a drink is a liquid and applies no pressure to the tooth so how can this be?  Allow me to explain in not so dramatic detail.

The tooth I lost was a molar. One of the teeth in the back, and I am fortunate it wasn't in the front.  As a kid I developed a cavity in this molar and my parents had it filled.  If I recall correctly, these 'silver' fillings are also known as "amalgams," but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.  Anyway, these fillings, after time, blacken, which can stain the filling and the tooth, and can also come loose or dislodged.  I never had this tooth maintained over the years or the filling replaced.

One day in my mid-twenties I was having dinner with a friend when my molar cracked while I was eating.  I had already known my filling in that tooth had shifted slightly, but in my ignorance it never occurred to me this would ever be an inconvenience.  At the time, the crack was very small, and since I wasn't covered by any dental insurance and it caused me no pain, I ignored it.

That was my first mistake.

Over time this crack in my molar got progressively worse, longer in length, and wrapped around the tooth until eventually the regular stress placed on it from daily eating began to break it off in sections.

Once the first portion was gone, it wasn't long before the rest of the tooth became too weak to hold up. So, the simple act of leaning back to drink, the pressure of my tongue alone was enough to push the tooth off.

"Oh, Boohoo" you say, "Your young and pretty and lost one tooth" actually, my story doesn't end here.

After years of poor dental hygiene for reasons ill save for another post, I have developed periodontal disease, tooth decay, stains, and Halitosis which is a fancy word for bad breathe. Its best to say these are the reasons why I'm speaking to you from behind the computer and not face-to-face.

It is my only wish that I could afford to have my teeth fixed, but the expense is far too great and, unfortunately, I don't have any rich relatives… in fact, they're poor too at the moment, some as poor as I am with no thanks to our current economic crisis. ( Go to hell Wall Street crooks ).  I have estimated it would cost me approximately $30,000USD for the treatments, dental care, and veneers. An expense I will probably never in my lifetime afford to get.

So instead I wish that others will take the time to take care of their teeth.  Although I wont be smiling without the help of Photoshop, maybe someone else will smile in my place.

Sincerely and fearful of your criticism,
Kathleen Elizabeth

Note: Bob and I contacted our dentist (who conveniently lives directly next door to us) and he came over as soon as he got my message.  He looked at Kathleen's missing tooth (the root still in tact) and will be removing it completely or doing something with it on Monday.  My heart breaks for Kathleen and I know that is why she doesn't work outside the home at the moment and has been cooped up living with a friend for years until now - because she is ashamed of her teeth.  No "I told you so" necessary here.  Kathleen has learned a difficult lesson and has humbled herself to her own inequities.  That takes a great deal of inner strength if you ask me.

Bob still has not found a job.  He sends out resumes daily and searches for hours on end every day.  Looking for work that will pay our bills "Is his full time job."  Unfortunately, we are without health insurance, so we are careful not to go skydiving or drag racing, ice skating or mountain climbing (just kidding).  I'm hoping if Kathleen goes back to school that we will be able to put her on our health insurance policy when Bob finds a job.  I'll have to do some research on that. 

If anyone knows of a dentist in or around the Charlotte, NC area that will provide Kathleen with charitable dental care, PLEASE let us know!!! 

Now, go brush your teeth and take care of your smile!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

It's All In the Game of Love and War


Adolf can't get any rest around here.  He tries, but the love of his life keeps upsetting his rest to play.  Hannah has him pegged.  She's got him all figured out.


And no matter where Adolf is, you are sure to find Hannah close by - usually very close.


They play together, they sleep together, but they do not laugh together.  Hannah never seems to get the joke.  Adolf kinda reminds me of that bear in "The Jungle Book" - what was his name?  Balu or something?

Anyway, I just love watching them play.  Hannah thinks she has one over on Adolf until Adolf body slams her into the carpet.  So, for your entertainment, I put together this little video of our dogs - Adolf and Hannah, playing, fighting, nipping, growling, and lovin' every minute of it...


Get 'im Hannah! You can show him who's boss around here!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

He's a Cool Dude and a Heart Melter


That's my boy.  He's a cool dude. He's going to have the ladies wrapped around his finger some day.  Even now, when he's out in public view, the girls take a double-take.  They wink.  They smile.  They fan their faces.


I don't know about you, but I can definitely see the resemblance to another cool dude. 


There's just no mistakin' it.  He's got the "I'm cool and I know it" look down pat.


Like another cool dude from the past.  All Matthew needs to do is fluff his hair up a bit and he'll be a hot tamale for sure.


Then again, maybe he's already accomplished that look.  Now we just need to fix the bunny teeth and he'll be as good as James Dean.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Yo Yo Central


Do you remember when you were a kid and would try to do all those fancy tricks with a yo-yo?  I sure do.  Matthew found this yo-yo in his night table drawer and he wanted to show me some of his fancy moves.


Of course, the first thing I did was to fetch my trusty camera.  I mean, if my little man is going to show me some fancy olympic yo-yo moves, I had better catch the action.


And catch the action I did.  Doesn't he look cute in those white socks?  Why is it that little boys are just so huggable? And adorable.  And pinchable on both sides of his nose. 


Check out these moves.  He should win a gold medal.


At the very least a gold star, don't you think?


I think I'll go fetch one right now.  In the meantime, though, why don't you take a load off and watch him in action ...


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Puppy Play


Who can forget the famous Coppertone Ad of the puppy pulling down the little girl's bathing suit and exposing her bottom?  Well, we've got a bit of that going on at our house right now with Hannah.  Fortunately, she isn't pulling down anyone's underwear, although she does find them in the laundry room and walks around the house with them on her head.


Still, I took some pictures of Hannah just after Sarah got home from school the other day.  Hannah is always so excited to see Sarah that she pulls on her pant's leg wanting Sarah to play with her.  It is adorable.


Of course, Sarah ignores her because all she wants to do is share with me everything that happened in school that day.


"Mom, will you please tell Sarah to play with me? Pleeeeeease?"  - "Sarah, play with Hannah."

So, since Sarah won't stop talking and I didn't understand her plea for my help, she took things into her own hands - or should I say her teeth? 


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Trust But Verify


Story updated 3/21/2009:

As you all may know, I have a teenage daughter.  She is 15 years old.  She is also my 3rd daughter - in other words, I've been through this stage before with my other daughters, and it isn't easy.  The occasional sarcasm, stinky looks, crossed arms, sassing back, sneaky behavior, little white lies, and rolling of the eyes.  For the most part, Sarah has been a good girl and a good student - until this semester.  Her grades have been suffering a bit and so has her attitude.  We had a situation this past week that required our immediate attention and we took care of it.  We nipped it in the bud before it got entirely out of control.


Most teenagers think they are pulling one over on us, but they aren't.  As for Sarah, we can follow every move she makes on her computer.  Our problem is that we haven't been following through with the spy tactics and we had some issues that needed to be addressed.  Like boys.  Actually, one boy.  We discovered a chat between Sarah and this boy from school and it was serious.  Not only did he solicit her for sex, but he threatened to hurt her if she didn't do as he says.  It was the most pathetic thing I had ever read and it alerted me to the potential of Sarah getting hurt.  We printed it off. 


Then we went searching around her computer for other such chats, letters, documents, anything that might give us a clue as to what more might be going on, and we found a few things.  Last week we had a meeting with one of her teachers, and the Principal and her school counselor to discuss her grades this semester and the threats.  First, though, we called the school and informed them of the threats and asked them to contact the boy's parents. The school met with the boy's parents and they now have copies of the conversations and we were told that they were just as disturbed by it as we were.  They were also given our phone number (at our request), but we thought it was interesting that they have not contacted us to discuss this situation.  I mean, if it were my son, I would call the girl's parents promptly and at least have an adult discussion about our children.  But, that's just me, I suppose they don't think like that.


What hurts me the most is that we have trusted Sarah to be forthright with us, and for the most part she has.  Until recently, she has not given us any reason "not" to trust her.  Actually, she really hasn't given us any reason "not" to trust her, she just didn't open up about this situation as promptly as we would have liked her to.  We did catch this early - within 48 hours of the conversations, but we just wish she had shared it with us right away.  So, I suppose it goes without saying that even if you believe you can trust your teenage children, it is probably a good idea to verify that trust - regularly.  "Trust but verify" is what my father used to always say to me.  "I will trust you, but I will also verify that you can continue to be trusted if I feel you are slipping."  Nothing ever got past my dad.  I thank God for that.  Fortunately, although we will be doing more verifying to protect her, Sarah really has been open with us about most everything else going on in her life. 

As for the chats we found and the issue with the boy, she explained to us that she saved them on her computer because she was going to try to handle the problem on her own.  She later told us she was grateful that we found the conversations and that we took care of it.  It was a big weight off her shoulders and she feels safer now.  

I, personally, can tell that she is doing better now that we have addressed this problem with the boy.  This has been bothering her for a while now and I believe was responsible for her slip in grades.  Why do I feel this way?  Because in the days following the meeting with the school, she has taken several quizzes and has received 100% on all of them and is now entered in the school talent show - something that she initially insisted she did not want to take part in.  She seems a lot happier and is more cheerful.  And, she is coming home from school and getting right on her studies.  

We, as parents need to pay close attention to our children - like radar, we need to be in tune to their changes in behavior, grades, friends, the way they dress, speak, sleeping habits, and more.  We need to communicate with them and be open and honest with them if we expect them to be open and honest with us.  Most importantly, we need to respect our children.  Respect begets respect. 


I honestly believe that it is harder on the parents than the child in situations like this.  Whenever we discipline our children we put everything on lock down - computers, cell phones, iPods, Television - Over.  Done.  No more.  Not until there is resolution, communication, and an understanding of where they slipped up. I believe Sarah's grades are back on track - to the A's and B's, and her focus is back on her academics and not the boys and the girlfriends and the popularity contest at school.  School should not be about popularity and socializing, although I know that it is a given and a big part of the high school experience, we want Sarah to keep her eye on the ball - her education and her future goals and dreams. 

Bob and I have even thought about taking her out of the public high school and bringing her back home for homeschooling.  We're talking about it.  It might be a good idea. We are not going to make any hasty decisions, though.  We want to do what is best for Sarah.  We respect her and her feelings about any decisions like this and her high school education experience.


I must say, it is hard to reconcile in my brain that my little girl was having conversations that were completely inappropriate for a 15 year old.  Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but at some point parents need to step in and protect their children.  15 is much to early to grow up, and our daughters should not have to grow up at this age.  Just so it is clear, Sarah did not initiate any of the conversations - the boy did.  She tried to handle it with a bit more oomph than I would have expected from her, but I give her credit for trying.  Actually, the more I read and re-read the conversations she had had with this boy, the more proud of her I was for some of her responses - like "I choose my friends wisely and you're not one of them" and "I'm saving myself until marriage" and "you're a jerk, leave me alone."  If I wasn't so intent on being parental at the moment, I'd give her a high five.  She tried her best to handle it on her own - I suppose because she knew if we knew about it we would be upset.  Not with her so much, but with the situation as a whole.

We spoke to Sarah's teacher, Principal, and School Counselor the other day, and we are all on the same page.  We are going to work closely together to see to it that this boy no longer speaks to Sarah and bothers her, and we are going to make sure we understand what all of her assignments are, when they are due, and when her tests are scheduled so that we can help her with her studies as needed. 


Bob and I are very involved with our children.  We try to stay on top of all that is going on in their life, who their friends are, who they are hanging out with, and what's on their mind.  Sometimes that can be really tough. 

I think we have this one nipped in the bud.  We had a nice long conversation with Sarah and initially put her on "lock down" from all those things she takes for granted - like computers and cell phones.  But we have since lifted those restrictions and trust that she will let us know promptly when and if any conversation makes her feel uncomfortable.  She knows she can come to us and discuss these things now.  Sometimes we, as parents, have to take a hard line with our children.  I don't think we ever stop being parents.  Good grief, I am almost 50 years old and I still need my mother!  And, my 30 year old daughter has moved home because she needs me too.  Once we become a parent, we are always a parent.  We never stop caring for the welfare of our children.


Now that I have had a chance to calm down from this week's debacle with Sarah, I realize that our children need this hard line now and then.  They need the discipline and structure.  They need to know that we love them enough to listen when it is necessary, and respect them as well.  They need to know that we will trust them until they give us reason not to, and hope that they won't take those privileges for granted. 

This past week was tough - I'm sure the weeks to follow will be better.  Sarah's future is what we care about the most.  We want her to be able to stand on her own 2 feet and have inside of her enough self-respect and dignity not to be controlled by or verbally abused by anyone.  I hope she learned that lesson. She is better than that.  Nobody deserves to be verbally abused, insulted, and bullied.  Thank God we caught this early.


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