Sunday, December 27, 2009


After weeks of careful planning and last minute adjustments, Christmas week was planned out perfectly. You can guess how this story is going to end up.

On Sunday, the 20th, Ricky's out-of-state sister arrived with her husband for supper and an overnight visit. Ricky's out-of-town brother and family showed up for the same period of time and his in-town sister and local family joined us for supper also. It was a nice Christmas time visit that allowed all the siblings to visit their declining mother, who is seeing her last holiday.

Then the plan was for us to go up to my family in Oklahoma before Christmas, our visits always worked around when my brother has custody of his daughter. We and the boys would go up on the morning of the 23rd, with the other three kids, all adults, driving up together that evening. After a good family visit, we would all leave the next afternoon in time to attend our Christmas Eve church service back in Texas. My married kids were then going to spend the night at our house and we would all wake up together Christmas morning. I couldn't believe how the stars had aligned to allow this to happen.

Our schedule went as planned until it was time to leave Oklahoma. As we threw our stuff in the cars, the Blizzard of '09 stormed in. Hoping it wouldn't be that bad, we took off, making it to the top of my parents' driveway. We sat there, stunned by the conditions. The windshield wipers could not keep up. With fifty mile per hour winds there was near zero visibility and concern that the smaller Hyundai could be blown off the slick roads. (We, of course, were in our bigger SUV.) After several cell phone conversations between the cars, we reluctantly concluded that road conditions were unsafe and we would spend an extra night in Oklahoma.

It was the right call. Oklahoma received a record 14 inch snowfall over the next few hours and I later read there were ten traffic deaths and hundreds of people stranded for hours and hours on Christmas Eve.

(Wiley and I went sledding in the blowing snow.)

My son-in-law's family began adjusting their scheduled plans and we all hunkered down to wait out the storm, hoping to get out later in the day, but of course the terrible weather conditions did not abate until late in the evening.

Christmas morning was bright and clear, the roads buried in ice and snow. Although all interstate highways in Oklahoma were officially closed, we determinedly left. Unfortunately, we had not left our cars at the top of the driveway, so it took an extra thirty minutes of pushing and pulling to get out again.

You can see the slope of the driveway, which becomes steeper further along.

We started south, I driving the Tahoe and Eddie driving their car. Brian decided to count the abandoned vehicles and set the "over/under" at 130 for how many we would see before getting to the Texas state line. Ricky and I laughed, so Brian adjusted it up to 230. We still took the "over."

The trip, all on I-35, was precarious, requiring detours around closed ramps and empty vehicles. There was about six inches of snow and ice pack on the road most of the drive. About three hours in, Eddie caught an edge and ended up off the road in the median.

Ricky and Brian ran back. Wiley and I drove ahead to the next exit so we could double back and come up behind. By the time we got there, a van of people had pulled over to help. Four big guys joined the effort and finally they all were able to push the car back onto the road without getting hit by oncoming traffic. (One of the girls in the van was videotaping the rescue. Maybe we're on you-tube somewhere. They said we were the 10th car they had helped.)

By the time we got to Texas we had counted 461 vehicles off the road. We saw semi's, trucks, vans and cars, all abandoned to the ice. We saw cars stacked together, in pieces, facing the wrong direction, smashed through fences, some even burned. Lindsay and Eddie objected to their inclusion in the count, but if we hadn't counted them, we would have counted double points for the snow plow in a ditch. There were 30 more cars abandoned in north Texas. Our drive normally takes a little over three hours. This time it took six.

But all's well that ends well. We adjourned to our respective homes for hot showers and clean clothes. The men, having been in tennis shoes and short socks during all the car pushing, appreciated getting dry and warm. We reconvened for supper of homemade tamales, crab cakes and steak. Santa came while the kids had dessert in the kitchen and we had a wonderful family evening, Eddie's family having graciously delayed their Christmas traveling until the next morning.

Next year my motto will be to make it simpler. When you have older kids, with plans of their own, you can not do it all in such a compressed time frame. We have had the same traditions for about twenty-five years. Now it's time to shake them up. It will be great. It already is.

For those of you reading this, I hope your holiday season has been and continues to be safe and merry.

Monday, December 21, 2009

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things doesn't belong

Tyson and Rascal.
Within thirty minutes of putting the soft tree skirt under the tree, both orange cats had checked it out.

Tyson and friends.

Krista and friends.

Coffee (Eddie and Lindsay's cat) and friends.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Welcome to the Club

My son has been in his apartment for a little over a week now. Yesterday he met me at Walmart so we could do the promised first time in an apartment shopping run - the kind where he shops and I pay.

He had been keeping a list of the items he really needed. Of course he forgot to bring the list. But he did comment that it was okay, he would remember the items on the list because he had actually written them down, and writing them down made it easier to remember.

I wonder if he has yet realized that the "write it down" concept applies to schoolwork as well? I know I've told him enough times, but that's just another example of having to let your kid learn things for himself. (Maybe we should have kicked him out to an apartment the summer after high school!)

But I digress.......

We headed toward cleaning supplies after a detour to buy a shower curtain. He then exclaimed over dish soap, sponges, spray cleaners, toilet cleaning items, trash bags and, for the apartment dweller, the indispensable roach traps. We added other items including toilet paper, hand soap and salt & pepper shakers. And of course he included a bottle of Febreeze, a young man's best friend. (If you live in the same house with a teenage boy, Febreeze is essential for odor management.)

At the checkout line both the checker and the lady in front of us chuckled at Brian and his cart. "First apartment, right?" We three parents exchanged knowing smiles.

Brian loaded up his truck, detoured by our house to pick up a few remaining items, then headed to his home with his loot. I don't really know how he managed the first eight days without a shower curtain or soap, but I chose to make another judicious use of my "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

He called me this morning, to thank me again for the stuff, and to brag about how clean and tidy his apartment is now. He also mentioned he keeps a rack by his front door for his friends to put their shoes on, so his carpet will stay looking nice.

At least it sounded like Brian on the phone. Could have been an alien, I guess, but he sure made me smile, whoever he was.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Amazing, but true!

I was talking to one of my friends tonight. She is forty something. She has never seen the Jimmy Stewart movie "It's a Wonderful Life."

How can that be? I can not comprehend it. I thought every parent in the world would have seen that movie. What else do you watch when it's 1:00 am Christmas Day and you are still applying decals and hunting for batteries? (Did you know there are convenience stores that stay open all night Christmas Eve, stocked with all battery sizes? There's nothing worse than thinking that Santa is all finished and then discovering you needed "D's" instead of "C's"!)

There were a few Christmases when "It's a Wonderful Life" was not copyrighted, so that every station seemed to run it every late night in December. I know at least one Christmas Eve Ricky and I watched it through three times before Santa's chores were done.

I am not exaggerating in saying I've seen the movie at least a hundred times. Ricky may have seen it even more. He uses one of the scenes, the scene with Mr. Potter taking over the banks at the start of the 1930's depression, as an illustration in his economics classes. We both can speak the dialogue from most of the movie.

There are other great Christmas movies. "A Christmas Story" is the classic of the last decade, usually available on TV around the clock December 24th and 25th. My friend hasn't seen that one either.

Every mother should watch and cheer the mom in "A Christmas Story" as she tricks Randy into eating his mashed potatoes, hides Ralphie's misdeeds from his dad and "accidentally" shatters the ugly leg lamp her husband won as a prize. Every mother identifies with her admonition to Ralphie that he not shoot his eye out with the coveted BB gun.

Every father should watch "A Christmas Story" and cheer the dad who remembers his childhood joy well enough to know when he should give his own son a similar cherished gift. And it doesn't hurt for dads to watch that movie and realize that children copy what a dad says and does, not what a dad tells them to say and do. I'm thinking of the time Ralphie has to spend with a bar of soap in his mouth.

There are a lot of traditional holiday movies and television specials this time of year. So which ones will you take time to watch?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Enough Said

"Government's view of the economy
could be summed up in a few short phrases:
If it moves, tax it.
If it keeps moving, regulate it.
And if it stops moving, subsidize it." -Ronald Reagan

Monday, December 7, 2009

Looking ahead

My boys had some milestone moments last week.

Brian moved out to his own apartment on Saturday. He didn't have to. He was welcome to stay here (for free) as long as he was in school. It has been a fairly "cush" life for him the past six months, immune as he is to my nagging. He could come and go as he pleased, eat and sleep as he pleased. I even did his laundry most of the time, my choice.

But he recognized the need to make a move, a need to put some struggle back into his life so that he would grow. He should do fine. He has more than enough talent and ability. It has been a distaste for effort that has temporarily derailed him the last couple of years.

Over the past week, as he waited for his move in date, I would occasionally question him. Did he need anything? Did he want to go through the attic and garage picking out old furniture? Did he want things out of the kitchen? What about a grocery store wish list?

That's what moms do. We look ahead and anticipate and prepare. Each time I spoke my son's eyes glazed over as he looked ahead. The date would come. He would move his stuff. If he needed something, he would take care of it then. No additional thought required.

My other son tried out for and made the high school soccer team. This is a significant achievement in our school district, as the ninth graders are in junior high rather than high school. A ninth grader must be exceptional at his sport to be permitted to leave his junior high campus to participate at the high school level. Thirty-five freshmen from three junior highs tried out for eight spots. Wiley was one of the eight and the only one from his school to make it.

As the tryout date approached, I would occasionally question him. Did he have his paperwork done? Did he have the right equipment? Was he prepared to work hard during the very brief tryout and not take anything for granted? Would he be okay if he didn't make the first cut? Was he prepared if he did not make the final cut?

Each time I spoke my son's eyes glazed over as he looked ahead. The date would come. He would make it or not. If he needed something, he would take care of it. No additional thought required.

As we approach a new year and a new decade, I will continue to look ahead and anticipate, but more and more as an observer rather than a participant. My children's paths are their own, whether straight or curved.

Of course I will not be able to suppress an occasional "have you thought of......?" My kids will just have to humor me. And if their eyes glaze over as I ask the question, I will understand.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Getting back to the start

When I was a little girl and Christmas was most magical, our family would put up a "real" tree. I loved the lights and the tinsel, put on a single strand at a time. There wasn't a theme or color scheme. We had a variety of glass ornaments, accumulated slowly at first due to my parents' frequent moves. We also used garlands and beads and popcorn strings, which gave a lot of bang for the buck. From pictures, I now realize those trees were modest. But as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, each tree was gorgeous.

About the time my brother arrived, our family switched to an artificial tree. My mom had enough to do without pine needles and brittle branches.

I have to admit we had a silver aluminum tree. With blue balls. I tried to like it, really. I did enjoy helping my dad put it together, fitting each numbered branch individually into the pole and the end of season reversal of the branches to the slots in the storage box.

This is the part where my mom will tell me that I'm remembering it all wrong. I know there was a flocked tree for a season or two, also, only slightly better than plain aluminum.

But I think this is just more proof that if you don't like something in your past, you can choose to block it from your memory.

Once we had used the (ugly) aluminum/flocked tree enough years to justify its purchase price, our family switched to a more traditional artificial tree. From then on it was fine, a traditional green tree with lots of colors and lights.

Starting married life, I was determined to once again have a real tree. So of course that's what we did, small trees during the law school years and then larger. We tried the tinsel "icicles" a few times, but with both of us working full time, we didn't have the patience to put them on one string at a time (the only correct way!) or keep our cats from eating them. We've always had multi-colored lights and have collected multi-colored ornaments over the years. Ornaments signify vacations, children's achievements and interests, and of course angels and bells and other symbols of the reason for the Christmas season.

My husband grew up in a family that usually decorated its tree in the same color of ornaments. And his daddy preferred a real, but white flocked tree, so they often had those. Initially, Ricky expressed mild dismay at the multi color approach to our tree. Bless his heart, what husband can win that kind of argument with his wife? I think we did do a flocked tree once, but again, my memory is fuzzy.

Each year in early December Ricky and I and eventually our kids would head to the tree lots, voting on trees until a consensus emerged. The tree needed to be big enough, fresh enough to keep its needles and reasonably symmetrical. Ricky would wrestle it into the house. After waiting a day or two for the branches to settle, Ricky, like my dad, would add the lights. Like my mom, I would fuss until the lights were arranged as I wanted. Then we all added the ornaments.

I have loved every tree, pausing many an evening to sit in the dark to enjoy the random light show from the blinking strings and reflective ornaments. (The pauses are briefer now that our house stays alive much later each night with older kids at home.)

As our oldest approached college age, we faced a dilemma. If everyone was to decorate the tree together, we would have to do it over Thanksgiving or wait until mid December. The first option would create a fire hazard with a real tree. The second option would result in an unbearable delay in the start of the Christmas holiday.

We now have a large artificial tree that we always decorate over the Thanksgiving holidays, when everyone can help. With over thirty years of ornaments to apply, there must be many hands to make light work. We also added the tradition of a daughter helping me "fluff" the branches from their compacted storage before the decorating started.

Other than that, the rhythm continued each year. Ricky wrestled the tree into the house. I fluffed the branches. Ricky added the lights. I critically supervised. We all put on the ornaments.

A few years ago, it dawned on me that I could do the lights myself rather than berate my husband for not being able to read my mind. Much better. And in a moment of inspiration this year, I realized that putting on the lights is a snap if done before the branches are "fluffed."

Once again, our tree is gorgeous.

I'm not sure what we'll do when this tree wears out in a few years. We'll probably get another artificial tree, perhaps a little smaller. Ricky and I will have an argument over whether to do one that is pre-lit. I can not predict that outcome.

By the time that next tree is worn out, my children should all have homes of their own. By then I may be ready to let them take the ornaments from their childhood that they would like to use themselves.

Then I think I would like to get a real tree again. Ricky will wrestle it into the house. He will put the lights on it and I will fuss. Then we'll both decorate, maybe with tinsel put on a single strand at a time, always with the special ornaments we will still have.

Then we'll pause in the evenings to sit in the dark, admiring our gorgeous tree and remembering the wonderful life it represents.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Your Choice

This is my winner as the best Thanksgiving weekend sale ad.

Which item tickles your fancy - a marshmallow gun using "powerful air compression" or a 120 piece art set?

Which department do I race to when the doors open at 4:00 am?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Appreciating Beauty

I actually had dinner with my spouse at a restaurant Friday night, without any children tagging along for free food. It was nice to catch our breath and have some real conversation.

Ricky told me about a young woman he saw earlier in the week when he was leaving the hockey game with our daughter. He said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Noticing her while she walked down the street with friends, he said he was totally stunned by her beauty. I asked what she looked like. He said waist length blonde hair, short skirt, just super model beautiful. Maybe she is a super model - we get those in Dallas.

I'm not jealous. Actually, I'm glad I don't have the burden of stopping traffic wherever I go.

My husband is a fan of other models and actresses. I notice, but don't pay much attention and couldn't tell you who they are. I thought I might quiz him a little more about the mystery girl, but he said he could either feign forgetfulness or describe her in great detail. I decided I didn't really want to know.

In real life I don't have any competition. He picked me for my brains, personality and a few other attributes, all of which I still have. We've made it over thirty years, I believe we'll go the distance.

But it did start me thinking about the men I've admired over the years. I tend to go for the guys with a swagger, a combination of cool and rugged. I like the man who starts out ordinary and ends up extraordinary.

I really like Sean Connery. He just has that look, putting you in his spell. It's even been pleasant to watch him age, providing hope for the rest of us.

I flirted with Tom Cruise for a while. Talk about swagger! But then I figured out it was the role he played in "Top Gun" that I liked so much. And Tom Cruise is short. Once I noticed how truly short he is, I get side-tracked whenever I watch him, looking for the camera angles and other cinema tricks they use to make him appear taller. And Cruise is a goofball. Goofballs can be pretty and fun, but not beautiful.

Harrison Ford made my list next. On the down side, he's catching up with Sean Connery, looking more like brothers now than father and son.

Pierce Brosnan is always on my list. Whether faking detective work, heisting art or saving the world, he's got it.

Daniel Craig surprised me, but he's as close to stunning as I've seen. I need to go watch that torture scene again to refresh my memory.

Lately, my fancy has turned to Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp just made the cover of People magazine as the world's sexiest man, but it had to be the mystery and self-confidence of Captain Jack that gave him the title. I see the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies the first weekend they're out. I even see them twice. A couple of Christmases ago my daughter gave me a door poster (nearly life size) of Jack Sparrow. Last year Ricky gave me a Jack Sparrow figurine. They're both in my office.

Now that I think about it, though, I'm not sure. Daniel Craig? Johnny Depp? The next James Bond movie (#23) starring Daniel Craig and "On Stranger Tides" starring Johnny Depp are both scheduled for release in 2011. So I have another year to make up my mind.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No Excuses

When you were growing up, were there forbidden words?

In our house, the usual foul language started showing up at about age ten. With some words, all it took was asking my child the definition. Usually, he didn't know. After learning it, and having to discuss the definition with his mother, I didn't hear the offending word again.

In the teen years the words might slip out now and then, but were always followed by an apology. As the good parent lurking on MySpace and Facebook, I did step in when my son referred to girls in a pimpy manner and made him change his posting. After all, he had a mom and sisters included in the insult.

There is only one phrase, though, that makes my blood boil, and I have absolutely banned its use. It is the two word phrase "but, Mama..."

Nothing good comes after the words "but, Mama."

"But, Mama" announces the transition to an argument or an excuse or a complaint or an attempt at justification. All are fingernails on a chalkboard to my ears.

I eventually developed a coping strategy that did not include physical violence or screaming. Whenever the disagreements become unbearable, I give myself some peace and quiet.

My daughters, whining champions both, would spend an occasional childhood afternoon locked out of the house until they decided to be pleasant. During a particularly turbulent period, one daughter would head straight to her favorite sitting spot on top of the brick mailbox. She laughs about it now, and probably would admit the forced solitude gave her necessary practice at improving her attitude.

Today, as usual, I was graciously providing a ride home from school to my son. I was reminding him about what he needed to do in order to get to the car in a timely manner. The "but, Mama's" started and continued, even after several warnings and requests to stop the excuses.

I made my final request and then it was "get out of the car, please." He knew then he was done. My only mistake was not bringing the dog with me as I usually do. The dog would have enjoyed the long walk home.

My son did, too. It was his choice, after all.

It is hard at first, no matter what your age, to take responsibility when you are wrong or should accommodate someone who is your superior. Actually, one of the most disconcerting things you can do is agree with your critic. More often than not it increases respect and improves the relationship.

So give yourself some peace and quiet - admit your shortcomings and move on. No excuses needed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Boys will be boys

We returned late yesterday from a fun filled weekend in Houston, Texas at our thirty year college reunion. Lots of friends showed up, so that made it especially memorable. Our football team won its first game of the year, so even better.

But the most fun I had was Sunday morning, watching Ricky play three games of volleyball as part of a men's volleyball team alumni get-together.

Earlier in the month he was reluctant to attend the reunion, and even more reluctant to attempt volleyball. But wifely pressure prevailed, and we went.

We did manage to arrive in town too late to play sand lot volleyball on Friday. Only a few played the sand game, figuring the legs would only be there once, and Sunday would be better.

It was amusing to watch them warm up Sunday morning, hitting balls against the walls, practicing serves, setting each other for hits, peeking sideways to see how the other guys were doing. Showing up were nine men who played competitively for Rice in the late seventies and early eighties, their coach and a couple of club players from the current team. So they were able to play six on six - three games to twenty five.

Ricky didn't warm up much. He joked that he only had five jumps left and didn't want to waste them. No one expected to do great - there was just the fear of being awful in front of the people you used to be great with.

But the game began, and they quickly settled in. Old rotations and plays showed up as if used yesterday. The taunting, the laughing, the language - all the same. And they always knew what the score was.

Everyone had at least a couple of good hits and saves and there were many long rallies. Ricky did well as long as he didn't have to hit twice in a row! He even managed to do his famous backwards roll at the end of a dig. So maybe a few more balls hit the floor or the net than in yesteryear, but not much else differed.

Well, maybe the sore shoulders and knees and ankles for the next few days is a little different than thirty years ago. With a legal drinking age of eighteen, college guys never stayed sore after beating themselves up on the court.

Thirty years ago they would drive all night, play match after match and then drive back to school, crammed five or six into compact cars. Even now they can recite specific plays and tournaments and outcomes and team pranks.

Even now they are boys who can play and have a good time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And that's what you want?

I was speaking with a friend who was pleased with the progress of healthcare "reform." I asked what she knew about it and why she was in favor of the House bill that recently passed.

She reads headlines. She cited the "fact" that hundreds of thousands die because they don't have health insurance. (That reminded me of the Congressman in a speech referring to the "hundreds of millions" of Americans who do not have affordable health insurance. Since there are only about three hundred million people in the United States, I believe that statement is not credible.) I reminded my friend that most people do, in fact, get treated.

She referred to the inconvenience and long lines in emergency rooms, none of which she had personally experienced or knew of. (Have you read those polls where a majority of people are not experiencing a certain problem, but think everyone else is? Ah, the power of the media.)

Finally, she cited the experience of her nephew in the military. He had a brain tumor and it took months and months and months before the military would authorize his treatment with an "outside" specialist, since there was not an appropriate specialist available within their system. Perhaps they were waiting for one to graduate from medical school, I don't know. But his treatment required approval from within the military hierarchy and it took a long time. Approval was finally granted and the tumor, thankfully benign, was removed.

I don't understand how that anecdote translates into a preference for government supervised healthcare.

When our daughter was diagnosed with cancer at age fifteen, we did not have to wait in line for a specialist or outside approval for treatment. We had the choice of where she was treated. We were able to do enough research on our own to determine if we would benefit from a second opinion or treatment at a different facility. Thank God there were specialists available, doctors who had put in hard years of training in order to be able to diagnose her rare condition and offer a path to healing.

Had we been dissatisfied, we could have changed her course of treatment during the process. Unlike medicare recipients, if our insurance did not cover expenses, we had the option of paying for costs ourselves. If we had needed to sell our house or liquidate our retirement plans to pay for her life, we would have done it. To put it bluntly, life is not fair. And when you're the unlucky one, you do what it takes.

I don't regret having to pay for her treatment while the indigent child in the next room was served without payment. That's part of life, too. I don't begrudge any of the doctors their incomes, either, these men and women who make life and death judgments every day.

I would be ballistic, however, if I or someone in my family was denied or deferred the opportunity for treatment. There is no "one size fits all" in the world of medicine.

Shouldn't there be many paths to explore in developing better healthcare outcomes for us and our fellow citizens? Do you really think that creating 111 additional government boards and panels with their thousands and thousands of administrators is the first option to try? Do you really think that most Americans are so callous and uncaring that the alternative to government supervised health care is to let people die? I think not.

Rather than reciting headlines and misleading statistics, we all should think for ourselves and investigate source information directly before flippantly assuming the position. With all the research available at our fingertips, there is no excuse for being uninformed or worse, a parrot of others.

In Texas, after tort reform, hospitals are finding their liability insurance costs dropping 20 percent. The hospitals are using these savings to provide additional charity care, upgrade staff, upgrade facilities and equipment, or in some cases simply stay open. Just imagine if you multiplied that across the nation.

If the choices are "lead, follow or get out of the way," I vote for the government to get out of the way. Let the smart, talented citizens of the greatest country in the world work on the problems directly.

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's not your mama's marching band

If you live in north Texas and want to see fantastic musical theater, come to Pennington Field in Bedford, Texas, Tuesday, November 10, 8:30 pm.

The LD Bell High School Band is giving a community performance, in full uniform, before heading to its final competition in Indianapolis.

Words cannot adequately describe the motion and the music and the majesty. It is stunning.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Physical Fitness

This weekend there was a news story featuring a female college soccer player. In the featured game she had been shown a yellow card by the referee.

A yellow card in soccer is similar to a technical foul in basketball. The yellow card means the player has made a dangerous play, been unsportsmanlike or expressed dissent (argued with the referee or used foul language.) A second yellow card or a red card and the player is ejected from the game, the team then playing a man short.

During the remainder of the game this player punched players in the back, intentionally kicked them instead of the ball, and at one point she yanked the opposing player down to the ground by her ponytail. The referee did not catch these egregious offenses, but the cameraman did. The player has since been suspended by her coach indefinitely.

Soccer is not a sport for sissies.

My son the soccer player does not usually engage in these types of shenanigans. He plays with hard shoulder to shoulder contact and moves aggressively for the ball. He does not hold shirts, tackle with cleats up or shove in the back. With boys there usually is not a hair pulling option, but if available, he would not use it.

He does tend to step on the heels of the forwards he marks and I'm sure he mouths off some in defense of his territory. He's not nasty, he's just quite irritating. And he is very good at taking the ball away.

A kind parent took these pictures for us.

Wiley has taken the ball away from the forward.

The forward has no ability to prevent the pass, but he's coming after Wiley anyway.

The pass is away, but not the opportunity to vent some frustration. The referee could have called a foul on the other player, but our team already had control of the ball.

Wiley is just laughing, and he laughed about it again when we showed him these pictures, recalling the satisfaction of that particular play.

That's the great thing about boys and about boys who play hard, but fair. There are no grudges that carry over the end of the game. And if an opponent gets a little frustrated and needs to vent, that's okay. After all, when you're winning the game, you can be forgiving. And have fun.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No Batteries Required

The Christmas toy catalog from Target arrived in the mail today. For the first time in twenty-six years, I don't need to even look at it.


Also expensive - you know that old saying, "the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys."

Christmas shopping isn't quite as easy and cheap when the kids are grown, so I'm in the habit now of picking up things all year long. (I'd tell you where stuff is stashed, but the wrong people might read this and find out!)

The holiday season is going to be great.

My parents are coming to OUR house for Thanksgiving dinner. Due to all the make-up games needed after rain outs, there will be no (out of town) soccer tournaments during the holidays. I get to meet my brother's new "gal" at Christmastime, and I hear she's a keeper. My youngest will get his driver's permit. Our dog will fiercely protect us from the Christmas tree.

We will all be together at least a couple of times.

Blessings, indeed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Homemade Treasure

My mom has hinted a couple of times, wondering what will happen to her possessions when she can no longer use them. Our hobbies are different and there are many items cherished by her that are not as interesting to me.

She has collected dishes and furniture and decor and many beautiful things. But they are not top on my list. The day my parents can no longer use their large home, I'm making a bee-line for the closets and gathering every quilt my mama has made. Once they are secure, only then will I begin negotiations with my brother! And he had better bring a lot to the table.

Maybe it's a girl thing, the security and comfort I feel snuggled up in a quilt. Maybe it's recognizing the scraps of material from clothes I once wore, or appreciating the intricate design or quilting stitches. Somehow only a quilt can warm my always cold feet.

Do men appreciate quilts? I don't know.

In my home I have quilts my husband's grandma made, quilts my grandmas made and have the quilt my mama made for me as a wedding gift, using all the fabrics of my childhood. Then a few years ago, she worked on a quilt with bold and bright colors that I loved. What a surprise when I opened my Christmas package to find it inside.
What is it about quilts that touches us? My daughter burst into tears at her bridal shower upon opening the quilt my mom made for her. That same daughter has her own precious quilt which she made in high school, using bandanas accumulated while bald from chemotherapy.

I guess quilts are special because of their uniqueness and the time and care required to complete them. A handmade quilt is the manifestation of love and thoughtfulness and peace.

I found this poem that my mom wrote many years ago.

With all the conveniences of modern life, there is no substitute for the homemade quilt. So add that to my to-do list for the next couple of decades. I don't want my granddaughters to miss out.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Orange You Happy It's Halloween?

When I was growing up, there were two times a year you got candy, Halloween and Easter, a rather odd juxtaposition if you think about it. Candy was seldom in the grocery budget, but everyone splurged at Halloween, except for crabby old people, and there weren't too many of them.

The neighborhood kids and I would plan our trick or treat routes, remembering which streets gave the best candy - M&M's, Snickers, Hershey's, peanut butter logs, even candy corn. At dusk on Halloween night we fidgeted in our front yards, waiting for the first parent to release us. It was a good night if you had to make a pit stop to dump your full grocery sack and go out for more, literally racing from house to house. One of the sadder moments of my childhood was when I rang the doorbell of a house and was identified as a big kid rather than a little kid. Big kids got less candy. I was in third grade and my childhood was over!

I still have my Indian costume from second grade, last worn in college. Handmade by my mom from burlap and decorated with sequins and beads, the floor length tunic is thigh length now. It was too itchy for my picky daughters to wear, but maybe it'll get used again someday.

As a truly older kid, I gave out the candy while my baby brother got the loot. The house I lived in during junior high had a courtyard with a wrought iron gate. The gate could be opened from inside the house with a string. I'll never forget the three year old girl who reached for the handle to open the gate. The gate opened before her hand touched it. She then reached further, grabbed the gate, shut it and fled, her dad laughing out loud. (Dads are like that.)

Over the years, my girls were bunnies, witches (sometimes troll headed), Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Eyore, a spider and other home made costumes. The Disney costumes I made are heirlooms - the funny things we mom spend time on. The boys were clowns, ghosts and superheroes. Once I figured out pajamas made great costumes we had a bunch of years for Batman and Superman, the pajama companies obligingly providing the capes as well. My favorite though, was three year old Wiley putting on a Tigger costume. The first thing he did was jump and land on his bottom. He thought he would bounce on Tigger's springy tail. Tonight Wiley was a ninja, using black shirt and pants with black soccer socks for the head and feet, and a plastic sword held in place with shoestrings.

Fifteen years ago we lived in the perfect Halloween house, a three story Victorian style with the big front porch and lots of gingerbread woodwork to drape things from. We would do spooky music, a fog machine, black lights and strobe lights. My oldest, dressed as a witch, lay on a bench as if dead. When kids jokingly referred to the mannikin and reached out to touch it, she would move and they would scream. My husband wore a suit and tie, but with gorilla hands, feet and head, to pass out candy.

One neighbor served hot dogs. Who would have thought it? But they made a perfect treat for the kids in the middle of all the sweets. Another neighbor put a spiked dog collar and chain on his twenty year old son. The son, wearing t-shirt and jeans and chained to the front porch post, acted the mad dog guarding the candy bowl. He played his part so well, he even scared the grownups. The braver kids still somehow managed to make it past him, though.

Our neighborhood would get several hundred trick or treaters. Those were good times.

Now there are too many crabby old, and not so old, people. They want to complain about the safety, the noise, the inconvenience. They gripe about the teenagers being too old for trick or treating or people coming to the door who "are not from our neighborhood."

Bring them all on, I say! At a time in history when our kids have so few traditions they can keep, what's the harm of Halloween fun, whether you're four or fourteen? Our kids can't wear costumes to school or have spook houses at the school carnival in case someone might be offended. Trick or treating is frowned on because there might be poison, or razor blades, or a costume might catch fire, or you might catch the swine flu or get a cavity.

Good grief! Whenever you can, let kids be kids and while you're at it, do a few things yourself just for fun. Halloween only comes once a year, so trick or treat!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Guest Book

There are seasons of celebrations in life. There are bridal showers and weddings often followed by baby showers. Then the baby grows and the cycle starts again. First it was our own weddings and babies. Now it is our grown children we celebrate.

When our family had its first wedding last year, it was interesting to see the names in the guest book that are repeating over the generations, both family members and friends. We'll see many of those names again when the first grandbaby arrives years from now.

The celebrations of life continue as well, with an increasing frequency noticeable to me on the back side of fifty. A couple of years ago I helped celebrate the life of a dear friend who died suddenly. Two weeks after last year's wedding, family gathered again to honor and lay to rest my husband's father.

Last week I attended a client's funeral and was struck by how his widow, an elegant, gracious woman near eighty, had signed the guest book. On the first line was written simply, "me, my love."

It startled me, that poignant expression of a deep and enduring love. It reminded me of the importance of relationships. Aren't our relationships the only real, lasting things in our lives?

There are two types of eulogies. If a person was difficult in life, the eulogy focuses on the love and care given to the person, the place he held in the heart of his family and the family's belief in redemption at the end. If a person was successful in life, the eulogists acknowledge how much the person impacted the lives of those around him.

At my client's funeral, no one spoke of his financial wealth. Instead, they spoke of the relationships he had with God, his wife and his family. His son, my age, referring to the compliments he had received on his own family, said "I have a beautiful family because I had a wonderful father."

I hope my husband and children and family and friends will consider me successful when they're signing my last guest book.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My New Toy

I love gadgets that I can understand.

See the greatest thing since sliced bread:
This is my new "Temporal Artery Thermometer."

What did you think it was, really?

You scan it across a forehead or behind the ear and in micro-seconds you have a temperature reading. What's even better, it has a "Silver Ion Antimicrobial Head" and "probe covers not required." I think that means I don't have to clean it or keep up with spare parts. I've already scanned our heads. I'm 98.2, Ricky's 98.6, Willey's 99 - all historically reasonable.

I'd like to ambush my older son and check it out on him when he gets home from school tonight. But my better judgment will likely prevail.

His recent bout with a severe stomach virus and up and down fever that lasted over a week got me thinking our family needed a new thermometer. The old one has been used hard and put up not very sterile, actually not sterile at all. And I just happened to ask a nurse about them recently during Wiley's appointment (good recommendation.) And then the ultimate sign that it was meant to be - there was ONE left on the shelf at Sam's Wholesale Club tonight.

I'm a firm believer in signs.

I'm not sure I would have bought one of these a couple of years ago. This is what the advertising looked like:

To me that looks like something out of the Twilight Zone or maybe Star Trek - a mechanical Vulcan mind meld device. And I know that having "accuracy comparable to rectal" was never on my priority list.

The instruction manual for this older model was twenty-eight pages. How could you ever need twenty-eight pages to explain how to slide the tip across the forehead, then read the numbers?

The company's marketing is improved, but still needs work. The thermometer itself no longer looks like it's designed to suck your brains out and the packaging reference to rectal accuracy is now part of a Harvard Medical School seal of approval in a more discreet location. (That makes me laugh.)

But isn't 75.7 degrees more likely the temperature of a corpse?

Hope someone gets sick soon so I can "take his temperature."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Free Range Puppy

We took our eleven month old shiba inu camping last month. This fastidious dog normally wouldn't stick her nose outside if there was a hint of rain and especially avoided our swimming pool. So where did she head first?

To one of the ponds. She's on the long leash here. The black dots on the horizon are a herd of cows.

Then I took the leash off. What joy! This is a breed that loves to run independently. Living in town, she seldom gets that chance. She did laps around the pond, splashing in the mud, at one point getting in up to her chest. But no worries, shibas just dry off totally clean. And if I could just patent that ability and sell it to families with teenage boys I would be rich!

After one session of cavorting around the pond she went through the fence on the other side, noticing the cattle in the distance. As she moved a little closer, they started moving and the chase was on.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me, so my cell phone had to do. It didn't really matter - there is no way a still camera could capture the seventeen pound brown ball of fur flying after thousands and thousands of pounds of cows.

As she caught up to the herd, she got more excited, but the cows also realized that she wasn't much of a threat. Krista went through the herd and came around from the other side.

At this point, my dog is crouched in the grass, feeling invisible, stalking the cows again, but we have caught up to her and have the leash back on.

The cows kept coming, protecting their turf. One in particular got about six feet away and snorted.

This picture gives you an idea of the flight reflex, but understates the difference in size between the two animals. We just about died laughing at our dog who thought she was so tough.

She was much more comfortable checking out the turtle

and the catfish.

But little did I know that she had yet to face her biggest nemesis.......

I thought she must have identified a coyote or something in the barn. But no, her growling, howling, barking, pawing and stalking were all aimed at the barn itself. I don't know what it is about barns and vacuum cleaners....

At least she had sense enough to leave the cows alone this time. She pretended she was in charge, though.

And a last picture, just because I like it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Life in the Laundry Room

I just finished vacuuming the sand out of my washing machine, yet another reason my laundry room is an excellent site for an archaeological dig.

The washing machine was full of sand because, once again, it is RAINING, and my son played his football game tonight in the pouring rain. Which means his uniform and accessories were full of sand and mud, more than the machine could process in one cycle. So I've vacuumed and wiped and now round number two is under way.

I don't know why I can not win the fights with the laundry. I really am good about washing, drying, folding and hanging. Unfortunately, I'm not very good about putting the clean stuff away.

Using oil and gas industry terms, I have "cushion gas" or "line pack" in my laundry room - a base layer of stuff that always stays in the laundry room, its presence forcing me to keep the rest of the clothes moving along. It includes the lone socks, spare towels, lay flat to dry items - all those things that are going to get put up "next time." But the next time I already have a basketful of the current load and so the extra items stay put.

It doesn't help that I have a five drawer lateral file cabinet full of client files in the room, too, including stacks of files waiting to go in the drawers once the laundry is out of the way. Or that the laundry room is soccer central for all things uniform. And of course what better place to store the sewing machine and all the sewing supplies and the wrapping paper and ribbons and bags and the cat box and the cat food and the roomba and ........ you get the idea.

The few times I have my laundry room clean and empty are golden. I tend to just stand in the doorway and gaze, knowing how brief the moment will last.

But I have no one to blame but myself. I may not do many things traditional, but laundry is my duty by choice. I have a near photographic memory for washing instructions and stains. I know what needs special attention, what items mix together well in a load and how to time it so that the last load only has items that don't have to be folded, so it can finish drying after I go to bed.

For years and years my desperate husband would try to help me out during my busy times by doing some laundry. But no matter how careful he was, something would slip through the cracks and end up shrunk or permanently stained. So he does the grocery shopping, I do the laundry.

Sometime in the next week or so I will get the room under control again. I will put absolutely everything away, clean the floor and the washer and the dryer and the countertop. Maybe I'll even throw away the lone socks and spare towels and the extra hangers. It's a nice thought. But for now, time to go move a load.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Year Too Late To Gig 'Em

In the fall of 1974 (thirty-five years ago, oh, my!) I was a freshman at Rice University in Houston, Texas. One of the reasons I picked that school over similar Ivy League schools was its participation in Division I intercollegiate athletics. I love sports, whether playing or watching. Rice was a member of the old Southwest Conference, which included schools such as the University of Texas and the University of Arkansas.

I had a date to the Texas A&M game that fall, the game held at its College Station campus, about a hundred miles north of Houston. Although their team has struggled the last few years, A&M was a football power house in the old Southwest Conference.

My date and I, wearing our Rice T-shirts, walked to the field from the parking area through a tunnel of silent hostility. I didn't fear for my life, but I was a little nervous, glad that my friend was six foot two and "built." The year before Rice had not only won the game 24-20 in a stunning last minute victory, but the Rice Marching Owl Band (MOB) had made serious fun of some of the Aggies' serious traditions.

The Aggies have school traditions that continue to this day. The student body, as the "12th man," stands for the entire game. They have midnight yell practice (which I went to a few years later.) The Corps band marches in military style with great precision marching. Seniors in the Corps wear dress boots, considered an honor. The Corps also cares for the school mascot, a dog named Reveille. The Aggies have a particular rivalry with the University of Texas, resulting in branded cattle and huge bonfires. My former business partner is an Aggie, along with my niece and nephews. I'm still holding out hope that one of my kids will go to A&M, but if not them, maybe a grandkid in twenty years. Unless they're playing Rice in baseball, I root for the Aggies over any other Texas team.

That being said, I still enjoy the story of the Rice-A&M football game on November 17, 1973, the results of which created the hostility I met a year later at Kyle Field. The 1973 game was held at Rice Stadium, a huge venue host to Super Bowl VIII in 1974. The stands were mostly filled with Aggies, though. Rice, with a class size of about five hundred, could have put every alumni from inception into its stadium and it would not have been half full.

The following paragraphs are the script of that half-time MOB show, a script that mocked the Aggie traditions with an aside tribute to Marvin Zindler, a Houston area news reporter who exposed a brothel posing as a chicken ranch - a story memorialized by a Dolly Parton movie.

So imagine a football stadium teeming with Aggie maroon, all fired up after watching their band fill the field with their hundreds of military uniformed members marching and playing perfectly. Now picture the Rice MOB, fifty kids in vests, berets and tennis shoes, some of them playing kazoos, running out to the fifty yard line. As you read the script, add in that the MOB used appropriate props for boots and fire hydrants and may have even formed boobs to represent Dolly Parton.

The announcer begins the show:

Band lines up on north end of field. Called to attention.


Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the 1973 Marching Owl Band, or MOB – [pause] the only thing funnier than a good Aggie Joke. The MOB is directed by Mr. Bert Roth, with twirlers Janet Breston, Suzan, McCorkle, Liz Moy and Karen Blackwell. And, in his last appearance with the MOB today, the person responsible for pulling together the halftime shows this year, Drum Major Bob Hord.




Today the MOB salutes Texas A&M and the Aggie band. So to begin, the band will warm up with a little old-fashioned military marching. [in German accent] You will enjoy!

Field Action:

Band goosesteps out to old Germanesque march. Stops. Marches into chicken leg.


Before we go any further into our halftime festivities, the MOB takes time to pay tribute to Mr. Marvin Zindler. [pause] Yes, you heard correctly – the MOB has formed a large chicken thigh, and Marvin Zindler (the most hated man in Lagrange) will twirl to that famous greeting "Hello, Dolly."


"Hello, Dolly"

Field Action:

Band marches into boot to cadence.


The MOB has formed a famous Senior Boot, the greatest thing to happen to Aggieland since the manure spreader. [pause] Aggie freshmen will agree that at the base of every Senior Boot is a big heel.


"Get It On"

Field Action:

Marches into fire hydrant to cadence.


The MOB now salutes Reveille, the mascot of the Aggies. This is a little dog with a big responsibility. But even Reveille likes to make that pause that refreshes. [pause] So the MOB has formed a fire hydrant and plays "Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?"


"Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?"

Field Action:

Band marches into giant 'T'.


The MOB now salutes the Marching Band from Aggieland by forming their famous marching T. [pause] Watch now as the MOB has it their way.

Field Action:

Band plays bugle call into to the Aggie War Hymn and transitions into


"Little Wooden Soldier" March.


There you have it, fans, the band that never sounds retreat. Thank you and goodbye.

Field Action:

Band runs off while trumpets blow "Retreat".

The Aggie fans were stunned by the MOB's performance and later by the outcome of the game. Totally incensed, fans trapped the MOB in the stadium tunnels for hours after the game ended. Rice administration used food service trucks to haul the MOB out of the stadium to safety. The snarling Aggies were forced to watch at attention as the Rice kids played the Star Spangled Banner during their departure.

As a Rice alumna, November 17, 1973 is a day of glory. The Aggies have had their revenge in subsequent annihilations on the field, but "The Half-Time of Infamy" will live forever.

Rice twirler leads an invisible dog on a leash.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What's in a name?

Yesterday was a big news day - a homemade weather balloon escaped from a backyard, with a six year old boy possibly inside it. My older son, home from school, announced that if he had parents like that, he'd be doing everything possible to escape from them, too. You see, the parents had named their son Falcon. "Who the heck names their kid Falcon?" my son asked indignantly. I answered, without knowing, that it had to be hippie parents from Colorado. And of course I was right.

You can tell everything and nothing by a person's name, everything about the family and not much about the person, because, after all, most of us have nothing to do with what our name is.

I like this idea from a historical novel by Deeanne Gist. The following excerpt from the book, set in the Washington Territory at the end of the Civil War, is a dialogue between a ten year boy and the novel's heroine:

"This here is Two."

"Excuse me? I didn't quite catch your sister's name."

"Two, we call her Two."

"I see. And what's her real name?"

"She hasn't decided yet."

"What do you mean?"

"We get to pick our own names when we're old enough. So I'm One, she's Two, my brother's Three, and the baby's Four."

"Now, now, no loving parent would ever name his children One, Two, Three and Four."

Well, I would have! I did not want to name my kids personality unknown.

Pregnancy and childbirth were snaps compared to the daunting task of selecting names. How nice it would have been to wait a couple of years to get to know my child before deciding his name. Without that option, I was paralyzed with uncertainty. I was not fond of most traditional names, not from a family that passed down names, and did not want to be too trendy. So my kids ended up with the rather boring names of Kelly, Lindsay and Brian. I admit to a little imagination with the naming of our second son Wiley - the sneaky little devil born six years after we took "permanent" birth control measures. Time will tell whether he enjoys wearing the name as much as we enjoyed naming him.

I do think it is important that a person like his name. How many times have you heard someone say "that's my name, but I go by.....?"

My mother is from a family where the kids were named Thelma, Thaddeus, Owen, Mildred, Gearldine, etc. Almost all of them picked their own nicknames as children, and those are the names on their tombstones. My mom legally changed her first name to Jo when I was in high school. I don't know why more people don't do that when they dislike their given name.

My husband's first name is Ricky, not Richard or Rich or Rick, but Ricky. Family legend says his sisters picked his name out of the phone book.

One day, after I finished a telephone conversation with him, my secretary came into my office to apologize. It seemed when my husband Ricky called, she initially hesitated to put him through, since she knew my husband's name was "Rick." He explained to her that no, he usually went by his name Ricky, but many people, including me, called him Rick. I was the one who ended up apologizing. After dating for over two years and being married for over six years, I hadn't bothered to find out he preferred his "real" name instead of a shortened version. I've made a point since then of asking people what they "go by" when there is any hint of ambiguity.

I believe I lucked out in the name department with Kerry. It went perfectly with my maiden last name of McCarley and goes fine with Balthrop now. It's gender neutral, which quickly allows me to toss as junk mail anything addressed to "Mr." I can identify my close friends as those who spell it correctly. And I think it will wear well in old age. But that's just me, Kerry Layne McCarley Balthrop.