Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oops! Thursday

Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to write a blog post on the iPhone keyboard, but this is too big an Oops! to skip:

I missed my flight!

I have flown quite a bit in my life—eight trips to Europe in 2000 alone—but I have never missed a flight. I pride myself on always leaving the house no later than (driving time + 2 hours) before my flight. But this has been a hectic couple of weeks. I kept glancing at the itinerary and seeing 12:30. So I left the house at 9:00.

Sounds good, right? Except for the fact that my arrival in Orlando, not my departure from Pittsburgh, was 12:30.

I'm thankful the Pittsburgh airport is so nice. I'm thankful I never schedule the last available flight. I'm thankful there are seats available on the 8:00 p.m. flight. And I'm thankful I put two books in my purse.

Woo hoo - a day of forced relaxation. Sign me up!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Playing Catch-up

I've had a very hectic few days, and I had to look back at the blog to see what I had written about and what had slipped through the cracks.

On Thursday I learned that my oldest brother, Jerry, would have a triple bypass on Saturday. I put everything on hold, thinking I might have to drive to North Carolina and get Mother, to drive her to Orlando. She decided to stay at home rather than trying to see Jerry before his surgery. He made it through the procedure fine, and got a pacemaker at the same time. By Saturday night he was sitting in a chair, and Sunday afternoon he walked to the end of the hallway and back. Jim, the next older brother, and his wife, Molly, spent the weekend in Orlando to be near Jerry. Molly's BlackBerry was in frequent contact with my iPhone.

I'm flying to Orlando tomorrow on a multifaceted trip:
  • I'll visit Jerry tomorrow afternoon, shortly after his defibrillator is inserted;
  • I'll have dinner and a nice long visit tomorrow night with my college suitemate, sorority sister, and dear friend, Cindy;
  • Friday morning I will play the piano for a wedding and reception for two of my high school friends who have found each other after 40 years;
  • Friday afternoon I'll drive to Tampa to spend some time with Jim and Molly;
  • Saturday morning I'll run down to Sarasota and spend the day with my dearest friend from my years in D.C.
  • Saturday night back to Tampa, then Sunday morning to Orlando to catch a flight back to Pittsburgh

Tired yet?

I will not take my laptop, and refuse to blog on the iPhone with that two-fingers-at-a-time keyboard and unwanted error-correction. So you've got plenty of time to read all the blogs on my blogroll until I get back Sunday night.

Two birthdays while I'm gone: My darling Ridley turns 6 on Friday, and my mother turns 96 on Sunday. Happy Birthday to both.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Salute to Two Great Parents

Two moments of my weekend illuminated and emphasized what wonderful parents my son and daughter-in-law are.

Moment 1:
I picked up Boston and Ridley around dinnertime on Sunday for a sleepover. We decided to go to Crandall Park to play on the jungle gym for a while before dinner. I pulled the car up to the curb and the kids popped out of the car. Boston looked down to the play area, then turned around to ask if I had a grocery bag in the car. When I asked why, he pointed out all the trash people had left on the play area.

Before running and climbing and playing, Boston and Ridley took the bag I had in the car, picked up every piece of litter they found in the play area, and deposited it in the trash receptacle.

Tyler and Jaci, I salute you for the awareness of the universe you are instilling in your children. Keep up the good work!

Moment 2:
This afternoon, after an hour or so at a new favorite playground, Ridley went home and Boston came back to my house to ride his Razor scooter. As we were hanging out, he asked if his mom had invited people over for dinner. He thought, because it was a holiday, that his family should be having a "dinner party." He wasnted me to call his mom and have her invite some people over. I told him that probably wasn't possible, as his mom had worked on Saturday and spent all day Sunday cleaning the garage, so the house really wasn't presentable for company. We called his mom and threw together an impromptu family dinner, he got his desired hot dogs, and we sated his need to observe traditions.

I love that he has a heart for tradition. I love that, to him, holidays mean opening one's home to family and friends. I love that he thinks his mom can throw a dinner party together at the blink of an idea. This child is not an introvert or selfish or thoughtless. He knows how to live life because of the wonderful parents whose genes mixed together to form him and his sister.

He is one lucky boy!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

People Who Make a Difference

My favorite year of high school was my sophomore year. The administration building of my high school had burned down weeks before the beginning of my freshman year, and the solution was to run split shifts. Freshmen and seniors went to school in the afternoon; sophomores and juniors in the morning. So my sophomore year I would catch the bus at 6:00 a.m.

Why did this make the year good? Because every morning Daddy would drive me to the bus stop two miles away and wait with me until the bus arrived. He had always worked from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., so this was the year of my life when I saw the most of him—when I got to know him the best, this champion of my life.

And once the bus arrived, the father-substitute for us all was behind the wheel. "Uncle Tom" never had a bad day. I don't know what his tenure was as bus driver for Forest Lake Academy, but he was always there, always glad to see you. He knew every student by name, and remembered you forever. I lived the farthest away from the school, so I was always the first person on and the last person off the bus—I spent lots of time with him. When I saw him at our 40th reunion, he still recognized and remembered me, asked how my brothers were, where my mother was living now. He cared, and you knew he cared.

Uncle Tom—I can't even remember his first name (was it Mark?), and no one called him "Mr. Tompkins"—never took a sick day, never complained, never raised his voice. What he did do was instill a sense of worth in kids who were having a hard time, and reinforce the value of every student who crossed his path. His voice always held a smile. Uncle Tom was the person you never wanted to disappoint.

I don't know if the dorm kids knew him as well as the town kids, but we town kids were blessed to have this warm, caring, loving man in our lives.

He was ageless and timeless, and so it seemed impossible to learn, yesterday, that he had died.

I vaguely remember that he had a son and daughter a few classes ahead of me, and my heart goes out to them in their loss. If he was as successful as a parent as he was as a mentor for thousands of teenagers through the years, then his children lived a charmed life.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Run For the Wall

I had a fabulous adventure yesterday! My buddy, Lee, is riding in the Run For the Wall, from the Los Angeles area to Arlington, VA. Lee is riding this year in honor of his best buddy, David Simmons, who lost his life in Vietnam at age 23. Lee had been trying to find David for many years, and just found his grave a little over a year ago. Lee is carrying with him a beautiful sandstone plaque inscribed with David's name. As he crosses the country, Lee is having various veterans autograph the plaque. He was excited to have met two Navajo Code Talkers in northern Arizona and get their signatures.

He will take the plaque to the wall, then send it to David's niece in Michigan, who adores the stories she's heard of her uncle, and even named her son for him.

I drove yesterday to Hurricane, WV, just west of Charleston, where I met up with Lee. We drove to a site where we could watch the 350 bikers roll off the Interstate, Then we had dinner in a wonderful Mexican restaurant and just caught up on our lives, including his new love.

I'm so happy for this wonderful, selfless man to finally have a woman who loves him the way he deserves to be loved.

After three hours of visiting, I turned around and drove the four hours home. I enjoyed every minute of the trip!

Oops! Thursday

Today's topic is instant messaging. The point to be made? Slow down!

At IBM, we used an IBM instant messaging program called SameTime. One of the problems with the program, at that time, was that the default setting was for new messages to pop to the front of your screen, even while you were typing into another SameTime (ST) window.

My buddy, Ed, and I were STing about one of our colleagues, a woman on the east coast who should have retired five years earlier. To say she was dense would be a gross understatement. I was shocked at one point to learn this woman possessed an M.B.A. Her business sense, her logical thinking abilities, and her usefulness to our storage Web team were just a shade above nonexistent.

In the middle of a ST conversation with Ed, a message from this woman popped up. I typed, "How stupid can one person be?" and hit send. Oh shit. I thought I typed it to Ed, and then realized I had typed it back to her.

I immediately started typing to her, purposefully, that the message hadn't been directed to her, but to Ed. She typed back, asking what I had been talking about. I started making up things on the fly, telling her one of my children had done something that I thought was incredibly stupid. Then she wanted to know more, and I spent the next 20 minutes writing on-the-spot fiction until she was placated and felt she had helped out with my emotional turmoil. If I had saved that ST message, I could publish it today and retire from full-time employment—it was that good!

So the moral of the story is: slow down; make sure you know where your words are going; and be careful what words you translate into pixels.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Handscrafts versus Junk

During my years of not-working in Tucson, I took lots of arts 'n' crafts classes. I got into them as a vehicle to give my Virtual Stepdaughter (EEFFH's then 13-14-15-16YO daughter) something at which she could excel. She had been schooled in Sweden through 6th grade, and came to the U.S. doing math at a 2nd grade level. Additionally, she was verbally fluent in English, but could neither read nor write knowledgeably. (The Swedish educational system practices socialism by not testing or grading children until they reach the 9th grade. By then, if they have a problem, it's not easy to repair. The stepdaughter will graduate from college in London in a week or two, and she still cannot spell or write in English.)

She enjoyed all the classes we took, but her real motivation in life was watching television, much like her father. I, on the other hand, loved every class I took. Stained glass, mosaics, warm glass (fusing and slumping), lampwork bead-making, pottery (hand-building and wheel), fabric painting and dyeing, quilting, beading—all brought me great joy. The more classes I took, the more I realized how much I loved learning. It wasn't important to me to master any particular art form—the joy came from learning how to create all the beautiful things I saw at arts and crafts shows.

A result of my education was the refinement of my tastes. Where in the past I had admired most everything I saw at arts and crafts shows, my newfound knowledge made me admire only those things that I couldn't create because they were too advanced or too elaborate. I became much more discerning.

Many of the close friends I made in Tucson were women whom I met in classes, particularly pottery classes. I loved molding the clay, seeing the bisque come out of the first firing, experimenting with glazes, and sharing life stories over every pinch of clay. Each finished piece made me feel proud of my accomplishment.

Now six years have passed, pots and bowls have come out of storage, and all my work is lined up on the mantle in my new sun room. And I look at each item and wonder why I thought it was wonderful. I noticed a lidded bowl I made for Tyler that he had on the bar in his office—I told him it was crap and he should throw it away. The last time I was in his office, it was gone. I presume he felt relieved.

I think part of reducing the clutter in one's home is to decide what's really important to you, which of the possessions you've amassed through your life bring you joy, and which are just there, collecting dust, waiting for you to die so someone can give them to Goodwill. I realized, in the past two days, that it's time to hold and caress each piece, deciding which ones I really love, and which need to go to Goodwill and bring joy to someone else.

In my opinion, education is more about expanding one's brain, about the learning process, than it is about finishing yet another lopsided bowl. Decluttering your home is about being surrounded only by those possessions that truly bring you joy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Time-Telling for the Young

When the babes have a sleepover with me, Boston is happy as a clam and could stay for weeks without a second thought. He and I bonded early and strong. Ridley, on the other hand, is her mama's girl, and resents every moment she must be separated from her mother. She enjoys time with me, but she always counts the moments until she can go back home.

The previous owner of my house left lots of goodies in the house for me, including the Audubon bird clock. If you're not familiar with this clock, there are twelve birds on its face, and a different bird call sounds out each passing hour. The Montessori school also has one of these clocks, and Ridley—being stomach-driven—knows very well that the Great Horned Owl means it's lunchtime.

On Saturday morning, I promised to have the children home by 10:00 so their parents could get them dressed for their soccer games. At 9:00, Ridley came to me and asked, "Is it time to go home yet? It's three birds to the Great Horned Owl."

I laughed out loud.

She is absolutely the most precious almost-six-year-old girl who's ever been in my life!

Monday, May 18, 2009


Boston packed his own bag for our Friday night sleepover. He packed his favorite big stuffed dog, and his favorite Grandma-made blankie. But then his bag was so full, he didn't have space for clean undies or socks.

It's all about what's important, right?

Perspectives of a Thespian

Boston and Ridley have a whole new appreciation for musical theatre since their performances in The Music Man.

Lucky Grandma hosted the babes both nights this weekend, and we watched the 1999 London production of Oklahoma, starring yummy Hugh Jackman.At one point, Boston turned to me and said, "Those songs and dances would be really hard to learn."

Does it sound to you as if he's been bitten by the acting bug?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Shades of The Music Man

I told my mother the other day that I was glad she had taken me to the Singer sewing class out on West Colonial Drive in Orlando back in 1963. I didn't know how she knew I would take so well to the art of sewing, but I definitely have.

When I spoke with her this morning, she brought it up again. She said, "You remember the man who taught that class?" I didn't even remember that it was a man. But she continued, "He tried to date me. Another doctor's wife knew of it and threw it in my face until the day she died."

Mother finished by saying, "That's how traveling salesmen are."

After a three-month family focus on traveling salesmen hawking boys' bands, I just had to laugh at these words from my almost-96-year-old mother's mouth.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oops! Thursday

Today's topic is e-mail. There are three major points: always proofread your e-mail content as well as your addressees; if your content might be perceived as controversial, save the e-mail as a draft and sit on it for an hour or so; and be quick on your feet to come up with a backup story, a plausible explanation for why you wrote what you did.

Case in point (names changed or disguised to protect the guilty): My friend Veronica's_Mother (VM) and I were working at a major arts organization in an Arizona city. VM was working for the executive director at the time, and had just sent out a very detailed, well-written, and triple-proofread e-mail to the board, with PDF'd documents attached for their review. One of the board members, who was a chronic PITA, responded to the e-mail asking how to open the attachments or some equally inane question. VM forwarded the note to me, the manager of information systems, for me to manipulate the attachment so the board member in question could download it. VM's written comment to me was "Some people can't read." Under pressure and in a rush, I neglected to delete VM's comment before sending the doc back to the board member. Oops!

Moments after hitting Send, I realized what I had done and went to talk to VM. We knew this PITA would communicate horrible things to the executive director about VM, possibly costing her that job, so we decided to peremptorily hit it hard. We decided that "Some people can't read" really meant "Some people can't read" really meant "Some people can't read the attached document." I dictated as VM quickly wrote another note to PITA, explaining that she realized what she wrote might be misinterpreted, and that she was asking me to fix the document so people could read it. She cleverly noted how the nature and use of e-mail has resulted in writers leaving out key nouns, clauses, subjects and objects.

VM received a kind note back from PITA, saying she was certain VM hadn't meant what the e-mail sounded like she meant. Whew! VM and I have laughed about this story over drinks for years. It's one of our many classic "I've got your back" stories.

And the moral of today's story: sometimes e-mails cause more problems than they fix. Be careful!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Yes, I've been quiet since Saturday.

I had a wonderful Mother's Day weekend attending performances of The Music Man, staged by Youngstown's Easy Street Productions. I sat in the front row of the balcony for the Friday night performance, Orchestra row two house left for Saturday night, and Orchestra row two house right for Sunday matinee. It was a wonderful performance. Tyler and the other barbershop quartet members did a fabulous job; Jaci was darling as a pick-a-little lady; Boston as a member of the boys band and Ridley as a chorus member were precious. Ridley wore one of my dresses for the two Friday performances (morning performance for the local schools), and a different dress, with pinafore, for the Saturday and Sunday shows. How fun to see my handiwork on stage.

I took my little Nikon Point & Shoot camera with me on Sunday and got about 15 or 20 photos. When I got home, after dinner with the family, including Tyler's dad and stepmother, I tried to transfer them to my computer. Alas, either Vista or Picasa or some combination destroyed the files. I've been in mourning ever since, as these are irreplaceable photos, from an event that will never be recreated. Very sad.

My housemate, who earns his living as a techie, was unable to recover the photos. I've tried several other data recovery programs and cannot get them. It just makes me sick. If you're on Facebook and a FB friend of Jaci's, you can see some backstage photos she's posted. (If you're not a FB friend of hers, just send her a friend request and tell her you're a friend of mine and want to see her photos.)

My bottom line: every minute I spent sewing those costumes—both Ridley's dresses and Boston's knickerbockers—was worth the time spent. I learned more about sewing, and I was rewarded by seeing my creations on stage.

I'm one lucky grandma!

Thursday, May 07, 2009


A quick, unretouched photo of Ridley's "The Music Man" costume, finished except for an inch-and-a-half of lace that was inserted under the 1" tuck in the skirt. The armscye had three insertions—two sleeves plus the little eyelet cap over the sleeves. The back has a three-button closure, with little flower pearlized buttons.

Also included in the package were several bows out of the same fabric so Jaci can adorn Ridley's hair.

This has been a fun project. I'm so lucky to have a daughter-in-law who recognizes my talents and loves to challenge them. I grow as a sewist with every project Jaci dreams up!

Come see the finished product at Powers Auditorium on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.

What Are You Reading?

This morning I started on the second of two fabulous books recommended by The Professor, from whom I still occasionally hear.

I mentioned the first, Michael Gates's "How Starbucks Saved My Life" on two previous occasions, here and here. This morning I started Garth Stein's "The Art of Racing in the Rain."

I found both books riveting. The miles pass quickly under my tires while either of these books is playing. I'm thinking the Starbucks book will become a monthly or quarterly read—it's that good!

What are you reading?

(I didn't post yesterday, which happened to be the 34th birthday of my baby boy, Tyler. He's reading things on his new Kindle 2 and loving every moment of that innovative device.)

Oops! Thursday

My memory of high school is that I was not really popular. I wasn't unpopular or shunned, so to speak, but was simply not cool. I wasn't pretty, wasn't graceful. I was gawky and was known simply for my musicianship.

As a sidenote: In 1991, 24 years after leaving high school, I dated a Seventh-day Adventist man in Washington. The first time I attended church with him, we sat down his regular Sabbath School class and I glanced around the room. A man locked eyes with me and said, "Do you still play the piano?" That's how closely I was identified with my musical abilities.

Being not so cool, I didn't date much until late in my junior year, when I finally had a steady boyfriend. Earlier that year, I had a date with Larry, a really cute guy who drove a Mustang. We double-dated with his buddy, who was dating a friend of mine.

I have no idea where we went or what we did on that date, other than driving through the Steak 'n' Shake. For some reason, I thought it would be funny to scoot down in my seat to make it appear that Larry was chauffeuring the couple in the back seat.

I may have thought it was funny, but to Larry—I later learned—it seemed like I was ashamed to be seen with him and that I was hiding. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, but I was never given another chance to prove that fact.

As I have looked back at this incident over the past 43 years, I have wished many times that I could go back and wipe the slate clean, start over and behave as a sane, grounded person.

And the lesson I took away is that what's funny inside my head isn't always perceived—is rarely perceived—as funny by my audience.

A stand-up comic I'm not. Maybe I'd just better stick to my music!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Checking In, Checking Up, Checking Out

As I observe my housemate and his ex-wife communicating with regard to their darling daughter, I am impressed at how they use technology to their advantage.

When FMOC and I had to communicate regarding our children, I always felt discomfort. I didn't like the way he treated me, hence I was never eager to talk to him. I felt I had to advocate for my children, yet I didn't believe he ever gave any credence to my words. So even the simplest task as updating pick-up times was painful—at least for me.

Nowadays the non-resident parent can just text, "Tell X I said 'good morning' and I love her." Boom. Done. The child feels secure and loved; the parents can communicate sans emotion; everybody wins. It's brilliant!

I'm sure the inventors of texting never dreamed of the far-reaching effects of their technology.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

I Love Old Houses (part deux)

I love old houses. Really, I do. Oh wait! I said that yesterday!

But what I learned today is that, even though I had the electric service upgraded before I moved into this house, I'm pushing the limits.

I moved my sewing room to the basement to make room for Brad. The room I chose for my sewing room has two separate overhead lights, one over the space where I have my sewing machines.

So when I go to sew, the first thing I do is turn on the overhead light. The switch doesn't quite work, so sometimes I have to flip that switch several times to get the light to come on and stay on.

Then I turn on a sewing machine, an Ott floor lamp, and the radio or DVD player. When I need to press a seam, I turn on the iron and another Ott floor lamp that illuminates the ironing board.

Oh, I neglected to tell you one key fact: there are no outlets in my sewing room. I have a 25-foot orange extension cord that I plug in on the far wall and run clear across the basement. Into that, I plug a little device called an octopus or something similar. It gives me six outlets coming off that one extension cord.

Last Sunday and Monday, when I spent much of the day in the basement working on Music Man costumes, I realized the basement was quite damp. My nose hurt by the end of the day. So on Tuesday I ran into Sam's Club and bought a good dehumidifier.

It took Brad and me about three days to figure out how to get the dehumidifier to work correctly. And, by the way, it's plugged into the same outlet as the extension cord.

Then on Saturday my new washer and dryer were delivered. Sheer heaven to have an efficient set of laundry appliances again. The dryer is gas, but the washer is plugged into the same circuit on the same wall as the extension cord and dehumidifier.

Tonight Brad was doing laundry, the dehumidifier was doing its thing, and I was sewing, with both Ott lights running, along with the sewing machine, the DVD player, and the iron.

The circuit breaker tripped at least three times tonight. I've learned that I cannot simultaneously do laundry and sew.

The Gardener (remember him?) suggested on the phone the other evening that he'd love to come up to visit and help me out with the house. This boy is an electrician and an all-around fix-everything kinda guy. An electrician as a houseguest for a week or so? It's sounding better and better!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

I Love Old Houses

Really, I do. I love old houses. Oh, wait, did you hear me saying that last Saturday, also?

Today's Historical House surprise was Brad telling me his sink was leaking. My new washer and dryer were delivered today, and a very nice plumber came to hook up the gas line to the new dryer. While he was here, I took him upstairs to look at Brad and Makayla's sink.

Oops! Damn! Oh Shit! Choose your expletive-of-choice.

Not only does the pipe under the sink have a problem, the sink itself is cracked and irreparable. But, wait—there's more! The fittings are 82 years old and are not made any more. I can't have a corner sink or a pedestal sink. I've got to buy a bathroom vanity that is 24" or less. Preferably or less. If it's 24", I will have to lose the quarter-round at the baseboard and the little metal bell-shaped things that go around the bathtub pipes where they meet the floor.

I love conquering a shopping challenge, so I guess I'm equal to the task. My new best friend plumber is leaving in the morning to go fishing for a week, so I've got seven days to find a suitable vanity and sink.

But there is goodness in my house today. See those gorgeous cellular shades? In the family room there are lovely ecru double-cell shades, to provide insulation and a little darkness for TV watching. In Brad's room are ivory shades, to go with the ivory paint and beautiful refinished woodwork. And in the bathroom, bottom-up/top-down cream shades that allow light into the bath while preserving our privacy.

I am so happy to have these shades. We'll ignore the fact that the designer neglected to order my bedroom shades, and that she mis-estimated the amount of time I'd have to live with no covers on my windows. The bedroom shades will arrive this coming week, and the Blind Man (really, that's his company name) will come back next Saturday to finish the installation. My neighbors will be so happy to not have me flashing them any more!

The other niceness for today, discovered while washing windows in the family room this morning, is a beautiful dogwood tree just outside my family room window.

I love this old house.