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.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


With fifty minutes to spare - another tax season ends.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another day, another dollar

I'm really looking forward to "blogging" this weekend - after the fifteenth.

For over thirty years my life has been measured by "fifteenths."

Yesterday, I worked twenty-one hours. It keeps me young, though, like I'm still in college doing all-nighters.

Except I get paid for these all-nighters!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Coming Full Circle

In May, 2006, after about a five year hiatus from cat ownership, we brought an adorable, beautiful five week old tuxedo kitten home. Addie snuggled, she played tag, we all had fun. Then she grew older and less content with amusing herself.

Over time, her favorite spot became the top of my desk, particularly when it was covered in paper. This was problematic for me, the high-powered paper pusher who's too soft hearted to move a lonely kitty.

Solution? Get Addie a companion. In December, 2007, we brought the kitten Tyson home from a shelter. Tyson is loving and eager to please. He waited patiently for Addie to adjust. Addie never really played with Tyson, but liked hanging out in the same room with him and keeping an eye on things.

They were not in my office.

Then we got the dog in December, 2008. Addie liked bossing the dog around, even shushing Krista to sleep her first night in our home. Addie has not been crazy about our other cat or dog, but she always seemed interested in what they were doing.

They were not in my office.

In late July our daughter, with her cat Rascal, moved back home for a while. Rascal is a few months younger than Tyson and has only lived alone in a small apartment. He is very similar in coloring and size to Tyson, but acts more like a ghost. Rascal seems to have unhinged Addie, and my cat's psychosis has gradually increased over the past couple of weeks.

To avoid the whole situation, Addie has been hanging out in our bedroom closet during the day, doing unmentionable things. Today I tossed all the cats out of our bedroom and shut the door, forcing Addie to "socialize." Addie, crazed and wacko, hissed and yowled, wanting back into her hiding spot. Eventually she gave up.

Where did she go? Here. In my office.

Where did Tyson follow? Here. In my office.

Somehow I screwed up the grand solution to a cat constantly sitting on my desk. Thank goodness the dog can't jump that high, or I'd have all three of them in my way.

Where's the ghost cat? Don't know, but at least he's not in my office.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Coming Up Soon

For air, eventually.

It's my last major work deadline for the year. October 15 is like April 15, except worse - there are no more extensions.

So I'm working like mad, or madly working (which may be the more appropriate term for me dealing with the IRS.) Since I won't have time to eat or sleep, I probably better not blog much. I think my family would mutiny if I sneak time for posting but can't find time for laundry.

At least it's supposed to rain all week AGAIN, so I'm not missing any beautiful fall weather.

Coming next should be the highlights of Dog meets Farm. Or come to think about it, maybe I'll have to talk about Life in the Laundry Room - that's a whole other world, too.

Have a great week, friends! And if you're feeling sorry for yourself, just think of me in my small corner of the world filling out form after form after form after form after ..................

Friday, October 2, 2009

Rio-l Memories

In March of 1981 I made my first trip to a foreign land (unless you count my college recruiting visit to Boston a few years earlier.) I was part of a two man team traveling across Central and South America for three weeks, preparing tax returns for U.S. citizens working abroad for my firm's clients.

It was quite an assignment - Panama, Rio, Sao Paulo, Lima, Bogota, Caracas, Acapulco and Mexico City. On the flight from Panama City to Rio, the refueling stop was in Quito, Ecuador. We got off the plane on the tarmac during that break, so I've actually stood on the equator.

I don't know if South America was second world or third world, but it definitely wasn't my world. Of course, living in Chicago at the time, I didn't complain about missing the slushy streets of late winter.

Brazil was our longest stop, with four days in Sao Paulo and two days in Rio de Janeiro. I am actually rather pleased that the Olympics of 2016 will be in Brazil. When I watch the Olympic background stories seven years from now, it will be interesting to see how Brazil has changed from my memories of thirty years ago.

Sao Paulo is about three hundred miles inland from Rio. It was then and still is a metro area of over twenty million people. Back in 1981, the smog and smell of gasoline were overwhelming. The streets and highways resembled the lines of a completed jigsaw puzzle, the only road design requirement the avoidance of immovable objects. We often had to go miles in the wrong direction to be able to access the road we wanted in the direction we needed to go. The sea of buildings continued to each horizon. The city had grown so fast there was a minimum two year wait to get a telephone line.

The food in Brazil was terrific, a beef lover's paradise. T-bone steaks, considered cheap cafeteria food, spilled over the edges of their plates. Flowers were everywhere, dazzling in color and variety. Street vendors sold roses for twenty five cents a dozen.

But there was a tremendous chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots." It started on the plane, where we sat in first class, the rest of the plane crowded with people and packages and chickens and small goats. The disparity continued as we ate in top floor restaurants with a view of nearby slums and rode in our chauffeured limo past the street beggars.

The Americans working in Brazil, mid-level executives back home, lived as royalty. One family we ate with gave us a tour of their rented estate. As the residents, they were considered rich and, to avoid an angry community , were expected to hire many people. They had a cook, four maids and two gardeners. Monthly wages for domestic help averaged about $20 plus room, with rooming privileges the main draw. The garage floor was waxed twice a week, just for the servants to have something to do.

And there was an edginess to being out in either city. Although we didn't travel with armed guards as in some of the other countries, we had to be careful. In Rio, I couldn't leave my hotel room, even for the hallway, without my work companion. An unescorted female was fair game.

Rio de Janeiro was a city of painted beaches, flashy hotels, rampant pick-pockets and lots of skin. From all reports, it hasn't changed much.

The Statue of Christ and Sugar Loaf Mountain dominated the skyline. I'm sure we will see these images constantly during the Olympic coverage, but unlike with most cities' landmarks, I don't think I will tire of this eye candy.

Congratulations and good luck to Brazil, a fresh face for the Olympic Games!