Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Memories

For our families, Christmas is a special time. Okay, that was so-o-o-o cliche! But we love Christmas - we tend to over-everything at this time of year. My husband's mom was famous for overindulging her grandchildren and decorating anything that wasn't moving. My husband loves to turn out the lights and watch the Christmas tree - he says the lights twinkle when you squint your eyes.

And me - Christmas is an annual milestone in our life journey. It sounds mundane to say that the day simply marks the passage of time, but that's not how I mean it. I can track events in our lives by the Christmases we celebrated.

When our son was a year or two old, we dressed him in a new camoflage outfit at Christmas, and my dad, Papa, convinced him that no one could see him because he blended with the scenery. I think that was the year I made my mom a red velour robe with feather boa trim. Oo-la-la!

One Christmas, Grandma Joann gave our son a two-seater tricycle. Of course, we had to assemble it. We were up til two or three in the morning. He wanted a baby sister that year. Instead he got a "My Little Sister" doll - nearly life-size. Grandma Joann also gave him a "My Little Buddy" boy doll - our son tried to throw him in the trash. He REALLY wanted a sister!

For years, my husband and I shared our gifts Christmas Eve, after our son went to bed, so that Christmas morning was all about our son. When he grew up, we started sharing our gifts on Christmas day, too. And it felt odd, at first.

This is the first Christmas that our son will not be here when we awaken on Christmas morning. We have a family tradition - children receive Christmas Eve gifts of new pajamas, so that their Christmas morning photos show them in pretty new clothes. I called our son to suggest Dad and I could drop off his Christmas Eve gift on Sunday, December 23. He said, gently, "Mom, it's okay. I'll get it when I come over on Christmas day." **sigh**

Time passes. Christmases happen each year, and each year we get older, our children become adults and have children, and traditions evolve. What Christmas memories will our children's children have? What traditions will they carry on? what new traditions will our children establish for their children? And why am I talking in questions?

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. And may all your dreams be as brilliant when you awake as when you sleep. cj

Monday, November 19, 2007

One More for Dinner

It's Thanksgiving week, and once again I am trying to time out my chores so it all comes out even at 4pm on Thursday. I have lists scattered on various flat surfaces, in my purse, on my laptop. I apparently am a compulsive list-maker. At least I don't have a list of my lists.

I am also a compulsive recipe hunter. I can cook nearly anything (and I do it well) and have more than enough recipes to last the rest of my life. But for some reason I must continue to collect food ideas. I watch cooking shows - Iron Chef America, 30-Minute Meals, etc. - and use what I learn to improve the food I prepare.

This Thanksgiving is no different. Last year I learned how (and why) to soak a turkey in a brine solution before cooking from Alton Brown's show, "Good Eats." This year I discovered that World Market carries a jar of turkey brine ingredients - just add water! I'm in heaven! I apply new techniques to old favorites and I still haven't learned not to try new recipes when entertaining.

This year's menu will be roast turkey, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes with streusel topping, carrots, cloverleaf rolls, cranberry orange relish, pumpkin pie, and a cheesecake made by my son. Just when I was worried about having too much food for four people, my husband called to ask about inviting his sister and her family from Detroit. The day is saved!

I love Thanksgiving, and for more than just the food. I love the idea of a holiday dedicated to giving thanks and showing appreciation. I have a wonderful family, a great job, and a lovely home. I have my health, my mind, and my heart. I have more than I will ever need and am so grateful.

I have wonderful people in my life - close and caring friends who continually show me how much they care, the love of a good man, an adult son of whom I am terribly proud, and an extended family/support mechanism. I wish these things for everyone this Thanksgiving. Oh, yeah. And peace.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Me, ABC

Recently I attended the IABC Heritage Region Conference in the Cincinnati area, October 14-16. IABC - International Association of Business Communicators - is a great networking organization for anyone who is responsible for communication at any type of organization. Many of our members are self-employed while others are in various aspects of organizational communication.

The conference was literally packed with informative sessions. I learned how to podcast, how to build my own social networking site with Ning, how to better manage communications overload, why my organization should "let go" and let our customers help shape our communications, and why I should become accredited.

The professional accreditation of Accredited Business Communicator, or ABC, is one thing that will set me apart from my non-initialed peers. The process is rigorous - 4-1/2 hours of written and oral exams and a peer review of your work - and must be approached seriously. I have decided to prepare to take the exam next October at the regional conference in Connecticut.

I'm a test agonizer. I fret and worry and sweat until I'm a complete mess before exams. Then I pass and swear I'll never do that again. Hah!

Accreditation is the next step for my personal and professional development. I'm actually getting excited - selecting the two work samples that will represent my entire career will be the biggest challenge. I have an idea of the projects I'll submit, but I have to start putting things in writing, fleshing out details and making sure I have everything.

The test will be tough, too. There don't appear to be black-and-white answers; much is subjective. But one thing at a time, I guess. Plenty of time to panic.

Me, ABC. Kind of has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

If you have questions about IABC or would like more info, visit http://www.iabc.com/.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Life Is a Highway, I Want to Ride It All Night Long

I have driven a small SUV for the past year as I commute about 100 miles a day. The car gets about 22-25 miles per gallon, which is not bad for that sort of vehicle. But when gas prices escalated, I one day realized that I was filling up my car's gas tank two or three times a week, at $45 a crack! Whoa! Stop the insanity!

One Saturday I insisted that hubby and I look at hybrid cars. I did my research on the different types of propulsion methods, battery life situations, etc. and settled on the 2007 Toyota Prius. We were met at the dealership by a very knowledgeable and pleasant salesperson, Johan, a South African expatriate with that lovely accent. We went through the process and left that evening with a new car. Bye-bye, PT Cruiser! We had some great times!

I am a self-described tree-hugger (my husband snickers when I say that). Now that I have the Prius, I feel less guilty about driving so far to work. I fill up once a week, about 10 gallons. I average about 50 mpg, but I'm hoping to do better as I get more used to the car. I figure I saved about $90 in gas the first month.

I took a trip to Michigan a few weeks ago in my Prius. I started out with half a tank of gas and drove the entire way without stopping. In fact, I drove most of the way home without stopping for gas - about 258 miles. I can get used to getting 500 miles plus to a tank of gas.

I'm learning to be in less of a hurry - that alone saves gas. I'm paying attention to how I stop and start the car, when to begin slowing down. I get a kick out of seeing my actual current gasoline consumption jump from 45 mpg to 90 mpg when I have correctly gauged the road and conditions and can almost coast along at optimum speed with minimum effort from the engine.

I find that instead of throwing away plastic drinks bottles from my long drives, I now collect them and pitch them into the recycling bin at the end of the day. It's a little thing, but once I started thinking more green, it just seemed like one more good idea.

No, it's not much, and it may not be enough. but this is my way of greening my life, in addition to the low-energy light bulbs and adding insulation around doors and in outlets. What are you doing to green up? What else could we do?

Getting Old Is Not for Sissies

This morning I spent time gathering everything I was going to need from my car for the day so that I could quickly transfer it from my car to the rental car at the dealership. My service appointment was for 7:45 a.m. and I ended up being five minutes late. But as I pulled into the lot, I suddenly wondered if I had the appointment right. I pulled to the side and hopped out to retrieve my Day-Timer from the back. Sure enough, my service appointment is for next week, not today. I sheepishly got back in my car, turned around and headed toward the turnpike.

My memory - how I miss it! Also my waistline, my hair, my flexibility and my stamina. 2007 is a milestone year - I turned 50 this summer and let me tell you, I'm much too young to be this old.

The memory thing, though, that's the worst. I started noticing that I was "losing" words about two years ago, after I had major surgery. I was sure it was due to the anesthesia in my system, but the ability to think and talk off the cuff had drained away.

Now, after talking to many post-menopausal women, I think it is more related to age and changing hormone levels. Suddenly I feel stupid. I communicate for a living, after all! If I can't speak fluidly and candidly, what use am I?

Thank goodness for the written word. When I write, I can put down whatever comes into my head and adjust the words in a later edit. Not so with the spoken word!

I have a friend who told me that when his dad started to move slower and more stiffly and grunted or groaned when he rose from his chair, the son was unsympathetic. He thought, why are you making such a big deal about it? Just get up!

Then my friend turned 40 and suddenly, it seemed, he moved slower, got stiffer, and had some aches and pains when he got up in the morning. Now he understood and had sympathy for his dad. His dad wasn't lazy or looking for sympathy - he was just growing older.

The good news, though, is that while time has temporarily robbed me of some vocabulary - temporarily because eventually I figure out the exact word I want to use - I still have my wits, intelligence, humor, and optimism. I'm still me, just a little slower.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Mom's Little Boy Is All Growed-Up

Nothing makes you feel older than watching your offspring become adults. Nothing makes you feel better, either. My son, Frank, recently started his career after graduating and passing the state engineering exam. This past weekend he moved into his own apartment (second floor, no elevator). I'm achy but I feel like we've given him a good start. Here's how:
  • Education - Frank chose his school, Case Western Reserve University, based on several factors, not the least of which was the strong academic scholarship offer he received. He applied himself and while not everything was to his satisfaction, overall it was a solid and rewarding experience.
  • Opportunity - We always tried to be sure our son had the chance to try anything (a) in which he had an interest and (b) we could afford. The experiences included travel, music, sports, cooking and sewing, even reading scripture at our 20th anniversary renewal of vows ceremony. Every experience in life adds to the person you become.
  • Responsibility - We've tried not to rescue our kid (too often) and made sure he understood the concept of personal responsibility. We know too many people who won't take responsibility for their lives and/or actions - our child will not be one of them!
  • Humor - What's the point of slogging through life with no fun? (You are hereby authorized to break into song - "Always look on the bright side of life...") Frank is a funny guy who appreciates many types of humor, but not at the expense of others.

So what? So he has turned into a young man with whom I would want to be friends if he were not already related to me. He likes our adult friends, he's kind to animals, enjoys cooking, reads science fiction (like his dad), runs to stay in shape even though he doesn't enjoy it.

I'm bragging, but - this is my blog and I can use it to promote my kid if I want! If you don't like it, get your own blog! I look at my son - my adult son - and remember...his birth...toddler giggles...frustration over trying to learn to read...learning to tie shoes left-handed... Scouting...early band concerts...agonizing in the stands as he took and gave hits on the football field...soccer games...driving lessons...first accident...awards banquets...graduation parties...

I also recall that when I was his age, I was getting married, had a high school education and a low-paying dead-end job. On the one hand, I feel very old at this moment...but on the other hand, I see myself in his eyes and mind, and I feel young again. Now I'm tearing up and have to stop writing until I can see the screen again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Well-Traveled Mind, or What I Did on My Summer Vacation

So my girlfriend Cynthia took an overseas assignment in the UK and said, "If you ever want to visit..." and suddenly my husband and I cancelled our plans to bask in the sun on a Mexican beach for a week in June. New plans: twelve days in England - five in and around bustling London, seven more in the Lake District up north. Weather: alternately sunny, cloudy, drizzly, stormy - often in the same afternoon. Temperatures - warm in the south, cooler in the north. Sweater weather - definitely not Mexico!

Highlights of the trip:
  • Top of the list - visiting my friend in her new environment. Her leased home is lovely and very cosy - the kind of home I would look for myself. She and her bullmastiff, Max, have settled in nicely and seem to fit in well.
  • Visiting another old friend, Andrew, for lunch near his London office. Catching up on friends, accomplishments, frustrations, family - it was wonderful.
  • Two day-trips to Edinburgh, Scotland - we liked the city immediately, did a lot of sightseeing, visited a local Rotary club, took a whisky tasting tour!
  • A really nice resort, Thurnham Hall in Lancaster, Lancashire, built from what was originally a 12th-century manor house.
  • Three castles, a palace, three museums, and a prison - lots of history, older than I can fathom.
  • More pubs than I can count, but very few with the silly names that we Americans attribute to English taverns (did see one called the Slug and Lettuce). Learned that I like a half-pint of hard cider, chilled, and a good ploughman's lunch.
  • All the delightful Brits we met - Ann and Leo from Brighton (Leo is a square dance caller!), a couple from Nottingham, and so many more - plus the other Americans on the road.
  • Marks and Spencer's (M&S) stores, especially the fresh ready-to-cook meals!

If you've read many of my blog entries, you're probably waiting for the philosophic turn or the personal revelation about now. Much as I hate to disappoint, sometimes I just feel the need to chronicle events - or non-events - and this trip qualifies. But if forced, I offer these insights:

  • Immersing oneself in another culture (and language - don't let them fool you that we speak the same language as Brits!) is or should be healthy, eye-opening, and cause for self-reflection.
  • Driving on the opposite side of the road and navigating too-narrow lanes and rotaries (roundabouts) is (a) not for the squeamish, (b) best done as a team, and (c) a good time to keep your mouth shut.
  • Don't assume you understand how the trains and/or the underground works - ask questions repeatedly until you get a complete and thorough explanation, or you will end up spending more money and/or being threatened with fines for trying to cheat the system.
  • Pack more underwear and socks and less of everything else, plus a rain coat and small umbrella. And real walking shoes, not just decent athletic shoes.
  • Pay the extra money to fly first-class or business-class if flying overseas - 7-8 hours of hunching between two large people, especially if you have personal space issues, is not fun!

That's it. Sorry for not offering anything deeper or more profound, but I'm still dealing with the jet-lag thing. If unhappy, I'm happy to refund your deposit!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mothers' Day Musings

Dear Mom,

Thanks for all the great stuff! I love the hair - all curly and dark. I could use more of it, but I suspect that was Dad's fault. The blue eyes - my husband loves them! Great choice!

Oh, and all the freckles! Nothing like freckles to make a person seem approachable and down-homey.

Thank you for my sense of humor. It's gotten me through some tough times. Ditto for the quick wits and improvizational skills. Who knew?

Thanks for bringing me into a generation in which women can achieve more than your generation ever believed possible. Thanks for letting me try and fail as often as try and succeed. Thanks for being my example of strength, femininity, playfulness, and common sense, all rolled into one.

Thanks for letting me see that you're not perfect. That makes it easier to admit and to bear my own imperfections. And thank you for seeing me as perfect, when I know I'm not but I like hearing you say it.

Thanks for being there whenever I needed you, even if I got so busy with my own life I forgot to call or write. Now that I have a grown son, I see how hard it must have been for you to go so long between phone calls.

Life is busy, but that's okay. You'd still be my mom if life was boring, or leisurely, or frantic. So thanks for everything. I love you.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Alternative Universes

People have commented for years about my upbeat attitude. I am an optimist - I can see a silver lining where none seem to exist. I had a boyfriend break up with me once because he needed to brood occasionally, and I couldn't help but cheer him up!

Part of my optimism, I think, is my belief in alternative universes. You know the old science fiction idea: Bob in universe A goes to school and gets his degree in accounting, becomes a CPA, marries Ann from the tax department and they have 2.3 kids; Bob in universe B buys a Harley Davidson, follows the Grateful Dead around the country, in essence lives out the daydream of straight-laced Bob over in universe A.

Making decisions is easier if you believe that somewhere, some time, you get to make more than one choice. Can't decide between two courses of action? It might help if you believed that choosing one action doesn't necessarily mean you never ever get to try the other.

For instance, I had the chance when I was much younger to form a singing group, called Chansons d'Amour, and go on tour. How tempting! After much deliberation, I turned the offer down, opting to work, get married, have a family, etc. But what if another me in another universe said yes? She would have gone on the road, singing and traveling. Would she have made it big? Would she end up singing cabaret tunes in a dimly-lit lounge, growing older alone? Or something in between? No one will ever know (at least in this universe), but it's nice to think I would have been a hit.

The point is this: Very few decisions in our lives require the energy and emotion we seem to pour into them. Instead of asking ourselves, "What if I had done that instead?" delight in imagining it all - the good and the bad. Imagine that somewhere another You chose the red Camaro instead of the blue minvan, or that you ran for office instead of signing up for the volleyball league. And if you can see yourself doing whatever it is that you're imaging...couldn't you do it here, now, in this universe?

Alternative universes are fun to imagine and let me relax in some of my decision-making, but they can never be an excuse for taking the easy road in life. Why should I let my alternative self have all the fun?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

My Temporary Daughter

I have a son - 23 years old, dangerously handsome, wickedly funny, amazingly intelligent, and still single. I thought our family was complete and perfect. Then a few weeks ago my niece, Emily, moved in for the semester as she completes an internship in the area. Now I have a daughter, for the time being, and it's great!

Emily is 24 years old and about to graduate with a degree in Communications...hmmmm, just like me. She's bubbly and excited about life in general, which keeps my mood light. She's outgoing and friendly, generous with her time and anything else she has to give. She's also naturally blond and athletic - my antithesis.

Suddenly I have someone to do things with. For instance, shopping. I've never shopped for sport, as do some of my friends. Find something that fits, buy two. Otherwise, shopping for clothing is a chore - so few things fit me, a short, stubby woman with actual curves.

However, I can smell a bargain! So I've been hitting the sales, dragging Em along with me. It's been fun to find things for her. We have similar tastes, unlike her mother and sister. I encourage her to try fun styles, like gauchos and boots. It's fun, too, to have someone with whom to share the thrill of the hunt - like when I scored turquoise lace-trimmed camisoles, in our sizes, for $4 each. We high-fived and made plans to return for more bargains. My husband, on the other hand, says, "That's nice," but is probably thinking, "And did you really need another camisole?"

Emily also met a young man her first week here, the son of a co-worker. They hit it off immediately and are virtually inseparable. And although I'm not her mom, I find myself working hard not to give unsolicited advice and cautions. Of course, I'll have to face my sister at some point, so I'd better keep tabs on the relationship. Well, we all have to make our mistakes and find our own way in life. Auntie will be there with a shoulder to cry on and a new sale to hit if/when things turn sour.

So I find I like being an Auntie/mom figure. I'll be sad when Em goes home to her "real" family. But she's already talking about moving to this area after graduation, so maybe I'll have a longer-term temporary daughter. What fun!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Blog this!

My life has escalated from full, past busy, zipping right up to frantic. Everything happens at once, it seems, and that pesky little limitation of 24 hours in a day is a real pain. Not only is it not possible to do everything, I've decided I simply don't want to.

I want to write when I feel the need, not because I'm fast running out of time or ideas or both. I want to eat only when hungry, not because the big hand and the little hand are both on the twelve. I want to exercise because I love it, not because I'm flabby and out of shape. And I want to say no to things I don't want to do (or can't do) without being judged.

I learned how to say no about fifteen years ago. However, the people I say no to have not necessarily learned how to accept it. I recall being asked for the umpteenth time to join the church choir and commit my Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings to rehearsals and services. I was taking night classes, working days full-time and being a parent of a school-age child, with all the accompanying activities. I told the choir director that I declined her invitation because I had decided to go back to school at night. When she began pushing, suggesting that I could find a way to fit another four hours or so of activities per week in my schedule, I'm afraid I snapped. I turned to her and said sharply, "Thanks so much for supporting my decision!"

She didn't deserve my tone or my sneering words, especially in front of others (although, honestly, she didn't have to keep pushing me in front of others, either). But don't try to guilt me or make light of something I've spent a lot of time thinking about!

Self-help books and classes tell us to put ourselves and our families first; women are told to take time for themselves in order to reenergize for their families. We're told that we're no good at saying no and that we should practice saying no, for our own good. But does anyone teach the rest of the world to accept our no?

When I say no, I can do it in several different ways. I can say it bluntly, without even thinking about it. I can agonize over it, then spend time trying to get the other person to understand why. Or I can say no, with or without explanation, then walk away with my head held high and move on with my life.

The second hardest thing, it seems, is to say "No, I'm not able to (or I'm not going to) do that." I feel I should explain my reasons: the scheduling conflicts, my own needs, etc. The hardest thing is to avoid saying "I'm sorry" when I say no. I've learned, instead, to say "thanks." "Thanks for asking me, but I really have no interest in professional wrestling tickets." "Thank you for thinking of me, but I'm not able to bake 18 dozen cookies tonight for the football team." "No, I've already committed my limited resources to another charity, but I appreciate you asking and I wish you success."

My husband will read this and tell me I really don't know how to say no. Here's what he doesn't understand: he looks at the things I agree to do and thinks these are the things I should say no to, but I said yes to those things because they are the ones I really want to do. I've already said no to everything else.

Maybe I could say no to more things, but my goal is not to sit around each night surfing for reruns of CSI. My goal is to fill my life with the things I love and enjoy doing. I guess I'm pretty successful after all. How other people take my saying no is really their problem, not mine.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Travels with My Sister

My sister and I took a spin a couple of weekends ago. I drove to her home north of Detroit and spent the night with her family. Then we piled our junk into my little SUV and drove several hours northwest to Cadillac, MI. Along the way, we detoured to the Soaring Eagle Casino and made a contribution to the Indian reservation.

In Cadillac, we stopped at the Elks Lodge downtown. The occasion was the monthly meeting of the local Red Hats group, the Red Hat Rascals. Our mother was in charge of the day's event and had invited us to teach eight lovely ladies how to make garden stepping stones. My sister and I are too young to qualify as Red Hats, so we wore pink hats instead, as allowed in the rules.

The group was appreciative and willing to get their hands dirty. We enjoyed the challenge and in an hour, these ladies had each made a personalized concrete stone about 9" round. The stones were simple but touching. One simply said "God Bless" and featured a cross of colored stones with a pink faceted heart at the center. Another dedicated her stone to her graddaughter Libby, and others were decorated with simply flowers or dragonflies.

They also conducted their club business, read some poetry, and enjoyed a skit (put on by my mother, sister and me). Then they retired to the bar for wine, popcorn and chit-chat.

My sister and I spent the evening with Mom and Dad - dining, playing cards, looking through old report cards and photos, and laughing. The next day, we piled everything back in the SUV and headed south, pausing again at the casino, where I took back my donation from the day before.

It was a long and tiring drive, from Cadillac to Cleveland with a detour to drop my sister off at home, but it gave me plenty of time to think. The trip was probably the most time I had spent alone with my sister since before she got married 27 years ago. Without having to "perform" in the kitchen (usually we see each other over family holidays with hordes of people milling about and asking for things), we got to be kids again. We laughed a lot - but not at each other. We remembered shared events - and sometimes we remembered them differently. We compared notes on husbands and grown children, on education and work, on our parents and retirement, and on musical preferences (she's country, I'm undefinable).

So what did I learn? Well, we will always be two very different people. I'm dark-haired, she's lighter. She smokes, I never have. I have a master's degree, she stopped at high school. I live and work in the city, she's on a rural route. I live and breathe by the computer, she hardly uses one.

But we are also cut of the same cloth. We have a shared history that no one else can ever duplicate. Our senses of humor are set in tandem, so the same things set us off and we think of the same punchlines at the same time. I write for a living and she is a clever poet, although she doesn't see it that way. It's corny, but in a sense, we complete each other. My sister is as much a part of me as my memories are.

I remember thinking a while ago that I was not very close to my sister, but this little weekend jaunt (our Thelma and Louise trip, if you will) has taught me that we are much closer than I imagined. I hope she feels the same way, and I look forward to more sister-bonding trips in the future.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Look at the birdie and smile!

I am not a great photographer. My photos are just okay, but I can't seem to get a clear shot with my digital camera - it's always a little fuzzy. If the fuzziness isn't pronounced, I can adjust for it on my computer using Photoshop. I can also brighten a dim scene, improve the contrast, even turn a photo into a charcoal rendering.

I am self-taught, so there's a lot I don't know about Photoshop. Most of the application's bells and whistles are wa-a-a-a-y beyond me. But the things I can do in Photoshop made me think about what I would edit in my life, if such a thing was as simple as Photoshop makes it.

Of course, the first thought is to edit out a few pounds and a blemish or two and maybe add some thicker hair. Could I stretch myself a few inches taller using the free transform feature? I am human after all. But if I could, what else would I edit?

I might soften some deadlines and maybe sharpen my memory. I would definitely crop some of the clutter. Since I live in Cleveland, land of the perpetual grey sky, I would brighten my days and add more color to the landscape.

I probably wouldn't change anything too drastically, though. I am who I am, and no amount of blurring or dodging or sharpening will change that. The changes I would make are superficial. It might be simple to drop my image into a lush tropical landscape or onto a stage, but it's all make-believe after all.

And what's wrong with that? Nothing, as long as we recognize that fantasies are just that - make-believe - and not real life. We can edit real life, though, by the choices we make every day. Here are some things we can do - using life's "free transform" feature:
  • Choose kind words to a stranger over terseness or looking away
  • Elect to properly discard or recycle the newspaper or soda can rather than litter or dump into a landfill
  • Soften your words, your heart, and your face - smile and mean it.
  • Stretch yourself - not thin, but beyond your self-imposed limits.
  • Sharpen - your wit, your memory, your skills, your resolve...but not your tongue or your heart.

I think I'll take a Photoshop class to improve my graphic skills. But to edit everything else, I'll need to make careful choices every day. I think I'm better at that than at Photoshopping. So what would you change, if you could edit as if you were a photograph?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

New Life Found at Auto Show

There's something about an auto show that brings out the hope and wonder in a person. The men in my life are driving to Detroit this morning to visit the big one - Cleveland's auto show later on simply cannot be compared to Detroit's - and to dream.

Oh, the glamour, the excitement, the music, the pretty women...oh, yeah, and the vehicles! It's been decades since I visited the Detroit auto show. I remember seeing futuristic concept cars and wondering when we would get to drive them. Usually, never. A few cars made it from the show floor/drawing board to the streets (think DeLorean), but generally the concept cars were displayed as an attraction. Kind of like the old freakshows at the circus.

I'm not much of a car fashionista. When I find a car I like that "fits" me, I will drive it until it crumbles. My husband, on the other hand, gets fidgety after driving a car for a couple of years. He starts to grumble about what is wrong with the vehicle and then starts ogling other cars with lust. There should be a commandment against this!

Once, we got a new vehicle, a Dodge minivan, that I was supposed to drive. He was driving an older K car at the time, so you can imagine the whining! (No offense, dear, but it's true.) Finally I handed over the keys to the pretty new minivan, swapping cars to keep the peace. =sigh=

Me? I drive a new Ford Escape, but it's not "my" car. "My" car is a four-year-old PT Cruiser. The car fits me like a glove, with a seat that's high enough that I don't feel like I'm sitting on the floor and have to pull myself up and out, but not so high I have to climb up onto the seat. It has 75,000 miles on it, so when I took a job that requires a 100-mile daily commute, dear hubby insisted that I needed "more reliable" wheels. So we bought what can only be described as "his" car - a burnt orange Escape with a sunroof (definitely a "him" requirement). He gets to drive it for long trips and weekends, and I have to clamber up into the seat for my daily commute. I'd be very comfortable doing my daily drive in the Cruiser, but c'est la vie.

So he's off to the auto show with our son. I'm making him leave the checkbook home. Read my lips - no more new cars! At least not today.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On My Way, Wrong or Write

Well, I've finally gone and done it. I started writing my book. Whoa. That sounds so strange. I write every day, but a book! Of course, I only have a few pages written, I already hate them, and I've already rewritten - twice - but nonetheless, I am writing A BOOK! phew!

The feeling of weight - of responsibility - is incredible. When I write a manual or letter or speech, it's short and to the point, maybe clever and witty, and almost always inconsequential in the long term. But a book is a legacy. If well-written and accepted for publishing, a book becomes a concrete means of documenting my existence, if not my talent. If not written well and/or not embraced by the publishing world, it is still a work of many hours, anxiety, and devotion.

Either way, I have begun the arduous process. It is hard to carve out the time needed to write. I tend to write on my lunch hour, a cup of yogurt or half a sandwich at my elbow as I type, then delete, sentences. And each time I save my work to my thumb drive, I feel a sense of satisfaction. It's not as if this is the best I have ever written - at least, not yet - but there is a feeling of accomplishment.

Talk to me in a year, though. I'll be I'm either tired of the effort and disappointed in what I have accomplished or I'll be pressing on to finish, eager for the next steps. The latter is usually how I approach my life, but who knows? Let's agree to check back in next year at this time and see what's done.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Live long and prosper!

I live in fear of Alzheimer's disease. My maternal grandmother suffered from the mind-robbing disease, and it was terrifying. Grandma was a poet. She wove wonderful rhyming tales about her world - her children, the world around her, her home - and shared them with family and friends. She loved to read and do crosswords. She crocheted, fast and fluffy, making a lifetime's worth of afghans and blankets. She worked outside the home for years for Gold Bell - remember the retailers who gave out little stamps that you collected in books and redeemed for merchandise?

Grandma's descent into senility was rapid and unrelenting. She left gas burners on, gave away photos and other belongings, and wandered off from her woodland home. She forgot the youngest grandchildren first - I guess because they were the newest and had not been in her memory for long.

When Gramps was diagnosed with cancer, he had to care for both of them, so he sold their belongings and moved with her into a tiny mobile home closer to town. It was sad to hear her offer pictures of the grandkids to anyone who would listen, "because we don't have room in the new place." Eventually, Gramps had to place Grandma in a skilled nursing facility and moved to an assisted living facility. He felt guilty, but it was all he could do to wage his own battle with cancer.

When Gramps died, my mother tried to tell Grandma about his passing. When Mom said, "Mom, Daddy died," Grandma thought her own father had passed. She was inconsolable. When my mother realized the misunderstanding, she tried to correct the error by using Gramps' given name, but it was too late to reason with Grandma.

At the skilled nursing facility, most of Grandma's handmade afghans disappeared, as well as a lot of her personal things. I visited with my little boy, but the visits scared him. Grandma would ask a question, then repeat it twice, each time at a higher decibel, until she was shrieking. She was frightened most of the time - frightened and lonely, because by then we were all strangers to her.

Her children signed a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, but when Grandma's heart gave out, the DNR was ignored the first time. I am not ashamed to say that we felt relief for her when she finally passed away.

A few years after she died, her children had Grandma's poems printed and bound for the grandkids. It was a way for her to live on like she used to be - sharp as a tack, witty, clever, funny. If I can do so without choking, I will pull out that book and print one or two of the poems in this space later.

Now, whenever my brain is full and I forget a word or something simple, I worry that it is Alzheimer's disease, rearing its ugly head again. I know my mom gets the same way. The "experts" say you can keep Alzheimer's at bay by keeping your mind sharp - say, by reading, doing crosswords, writing poetry, and doing handicrafts...like Grandma did. So I read voraciously, do every Su Doku and crossword I can lay hands on, take classes, get degrees, and worry. Will the mental gymnastics be enough to keep control of my mind and memories? I wish I knew.

Monday, January 1, 2007

New Again

It's January first, the day we reset our annual clocks and vow that we start over with a clean slate. We promise to eat better and less, to exercise faithfully and more. We will stop smoking, start school, clean the closet, find a new job.

To me, the new year is not so much a time to review the past or set ground rules for the future as it is a time to assess, to take stock. Where am I on this road of life? Have I stayed the course (not likely) or have a wandered a bit askew (more likely)? Should I make a course correction? Maybe I like this new course better.

Life is a trail blazed with milestones - birth, love, death are but three. This past year, I passed a significant personal milestone when I completed coursework for an MBA (I will "walk" in May). That's a big milestone, one I've watched coming closer for four years, and I am glad to have passed it. But often we don't know an event qualifies as a milestone until it is past, and then it is too late to change how we react or carry ourselves. How sad to have our negative actions come to mind every time we recall something that became a milestone in our personal history.

I guess that means we - I mean "I" - should start treating every day, every person with whom I have contact, every minute as if it will someday mean something special. It means I should consider my words before speaking them. It means I should comport myself as if my mother is watching. And it makes me think that the Golden Rule we were taught as children is spot-on as a saying by which to live my life.

I'm not a resolution maker by nature, but I hereby resolve to live each day as if I know it is my last, to love my family and friends deeply and to let them know it, and to enjoy all of the milestones of my life as they happen, never looking back in regret.