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.