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September 5, 2010

So much for plans to write daily….

So this morning is what I consider my first morning of fall. It’s around 60 degrees or so, the sky is cornflower blue with no clouds to be seen, and the air has that fall-type light quality–crisp, clear, clean with brilliant sunshine reflecting off the leaves and grass. Unlike many I’ve heard lately, I’m not ready for summer to be over. But I can’t deny that days like this are my favorite. I just wish my coffee wouldn’t cool down so darn fast as I sit on the front porch!

Yep, that’s what I’m doing. My favorite weekend morning past-time when the temperature is right. This morning I’ve switched from bare feet and my silk robe over my pajamas to my suede-and-furry Clarks and my plush blue robe (still over summer PJs).

We’re enjoying the last few days of our hummingbirds. Didn’t see them all summer, not even when the coneflowers were in bloom. Then boom, they started showing up about a week ago. Mom, Dad, and teenager. Jeff says we should take the feeders down by September 15th to encourage them on their migration while food sources on their southern trip are still plentiful enough.

So Jeff and kids are going to head out to his dad’s later this morning to help repair the fence in his backyard. I wish they would stay home so we could ride bikes and clean out the garage and my son could get the front yard cut.  I’m staying here to work on cleanup on the home front–inside. We’ve been lazy since returning from the beach. When the mom of one of Airria’s friends popped her head in to say hi the other night I was truly embarrassed. While the weather has me wanting to be outside cleaning out the garage today I must stick to priorities (right? I must, musn’t I?). Maybe I’ll listen to some records while I work. Yes–records. Jeff just bought a digital turntable so we can download our records. We got out one box, which has been in the garage for 10 years, and so far everything is playing beautifully!

Whatever I do, I need to keep myself away from my Nook. I’ve been on a spree lately of downloading samples of a real cornucopia of literature and could happily stay here on the porch and browse through them all afternoon. Here’s a sampling of the eclectic samples I currently have: “The Confessions of St. Augustine,” “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” by James Martin, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Science” by Seethaler,  “Last Child in the Woods” by Louv, “How to Teach Physics to Your Dog” by Orzel, “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis, “The Quest” by Wilbur Smith, “Spook” by Mary Roach, “Affinity” by Sarah Waters, “Other Worlds” by Barbara Michaels, “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom, “Odd Thomas” by Dean Koontz, “Angelology” by Trussoni, “The Jeeves Collection” by Wodehouse.

Somewhere in the boxes of books we have in our garage is a compilation of essays on nature by a scientist whose name escapes me. I read his works for a class in college and was captivated — think “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” only better. I spent an hour browsing through titles online last night trying to find his stuff, to no avail. It drives me nuts that I can’t recall his name or the titles of any of his books. They are exactly the kind of contemplative and engaging narrative to accompany this wonderful weather, my front porch, and a cup of coffee. Maybe I will spend a little bit of time digging through the garage today…

Journaling

One of the reasons I bought my Fujitsu Lifebook was its reputation for a monitor that you could read outdoors. At the moment, I’m sitting on the deck of a hotel room in Bethany Beach directly facing the ocean — and the accompanying 8:00 a.m. sunshine. And I can read what I’m writing here. This was the best investment I’ve ever made. I wish more of my financial decisions had been half as successful.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking I should get back to some kind of writing. While I haven’t been able to find the time to do so at work–writing for our blog–a figure I can spare a few personal minutes each morning or evening for my own thoughts.

So, the kids are still asleep and Jeff has headed out to Giant for lunch makings and yogurt. The motel we’re staying at–which we’ve stayed at for years and Jeff’s family has stayed at for years before that–has great efficiency apartment suites. It makes things like breakfast and lunch a bit more reasonable for the budget when you’ve got a good fridge. I’ve never used the stove, however.

I think today was the first day ever that I’ve been at the beach and woken up at 7:00 a.m. Usually I revel in my vacation lethargy till around 10 a.m., ignoring my sister-in-law’s knocks on the door to see if we want to go walking with her. But today I was up at 7:00 and accompanied Jeff on his morning beach ritual–walking to the bakery for donuts. When we’re at the beach, every morning he goes out for fresh donuts. It’s a good thing we’re only here for four days! I, however, have vowed to avoid these luscious confections this year and bought myself some Mini Wheats and 2% milk.

In front of us at the bakery was a mom with two young kids–a little girl who looked to be about 3 and little boy about 5. I thought back, visualizing Gen and Kevin at that age. It’s hard to believe the teenagers asleep in the room behind me are the same people as that little curly haired girl and light-haired boy. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed. In front of me on the beach, a young father, looks from here to be in his early 30s, is running in and out of the surf with his son, about 6. It calls up Kodachrome slides of my dad with my brother and I on the beach at Long Beach Island. I have a great photo of the three of us, my dad on hands and knees in the sand and my brother and I jumping on his back. It’s crazy how time passes. Our folks grow old, we grow up and follow their footsteps as mom and dad with our own little rug rats, who grow up to…follow in our footsteps? Who knows.

We’ve been visiting colleges with Kevin. That’s another pastime that kind of hits me like a punch in the gut, a reminder of age and time and the inexorable forward momentum of the years. The best years of my life–the kind of years that you want a do-over for, not to fix things but to enjoy them–were my college years. Now let me be clear–I’m not saying my college years were “better” than my life with husband and kids. It’s apples and oranges. Life before marriage, heck, life before supporting yourself, is a completely different animal than life as an independent adult. Not only that, but I’m not at a period of my life where I want to go back and relive any part of the past 20+ years. They have great memories but I don’t want to step away from whatever comes next with my husband and teenagers to a time “before.” But those four glorious years of of independence (at least the 9 months out of each year when I lived on campus) had a freedom and spontaneity that simply can never be recaptured. Neither before nor since have I had so many, and such close, friends. Neither before nor since have I had so much time to be me as “me,” as contrasted with me as “employee” or “spouse” or “mom”–or at the moment all three at once.

Well, enough maudlin prose. It’s 9:00 and the sun is getting really hot, and I need to go inside and wake the kids return to the present.

Alonzi!

In Loving Memory

I’ve missed having the time to write here. A lot has happened lately and I find myself feeling like a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be put together. Sometimes I think how nice it would be to be a cat, or a squirrel — to have an awareness of what’s going on around me now, yet not be concerned with larger things like the future, relationships, consequences, time, finances.

Dad\'s casketMy father passed away on May 11th. He would have been 89 this month. His health was fragile but not frail, his mind was sharp. It was all quite sudden. He had been in and out of the hospital and skilled nursing the previous months for heart and infection problems, but had been home for six weeks and seemed to be making a steady recovery. Then his neighbor called. He had never opened his kitchen curtains or bedroom blinds that day, and the door he normally left unlocked for her was secure. They found him in bed–he got hit with a massive stroke. Five days later he died.

I got the call from the neighbor on Wednesday evening immediately after they called 911. It was my 20th anniversary. Our planned celebratory family dinner at The Melting Pot turned into Pizza Boli’s in the dining room. I was up at the hospital the next morning — my dad lived about a 2-and-a-half-hour drive away. Staff were wonderful. They all knew him well, as he had taken care of my mom for 14 years and had been in and out of the hospital with her many times, as well as in himself a few. They all loved him, and everyone had some memory to share. As various nurses and doctors heard his name and connected it with “Leona’s husband” they came over to see him and talk.

The stroke had left him with very little movement on his left side. Ninety-eight percent of the day he slept. But the killer, literally, was losing the ability to control his throat muscles on that side. He couldn’t swallow.

Dad had made it very clear that under no circumstances did he want a feeding tube. No heroic measures. He had always felt that way, and dictated so in his living will. That didn’t leave many choices.

I made what choices I could over those three days, and we moved him into Neighborhood Hospice on Saturday. My mother had been there–and had died there–and I knew dad admired the staff and their loving dedication to their residents. I went home Saturday night so I could spend Mother’s Day with my kids.

My brother and his family, who also live in Maryland, drove up to see Dad on Sunday. Thirty minutes after they left, the hospice nurse called to tell me my dad was breathing his last.

My mom passed away in October. About 25 years ago she had her first stroke. Dad forced her to recover. He was a loving but unrelenting task master. After a year or so of rehab, anyone who hadn’t known my mom previously wouldn’t have had a clue she had suffered a stroke. Physically she was well. Mentally she was fully capable. But the stroke did rob her of her passion, her enthusiasm.

Then 14 years ago, in January, seven months before my first child was due, she had a massive stroke. Dad was the same loving but unrelenting task master. That winter, somehow, they were able to travel to Maryland for my son’s christening. But I don’t remember much of it. What I do remember is mom sitting in her wingback chair in their living room. A lopsided smile on her face, eyes watching but dimmed, a hard-won laugh or sentence making it past uncooperative mouth and throat muscles. I remember her, a brace on her left leg, her right arm around dad’s waist, grasping the waistband of his pants, and his arm around her waist, as they walked from the living room to the kitchen. I remember trying to do the same thing with her when dad was out at the grocery store, she and a I laughing as we both stumbled along.

Over the years she had a few more small strokes. Eventually, she couldn’t do anything — anything — her self. But she still commented on things from time to time and responded to questions. Her ability to form words — physically, not mentally — became more difficult for her. On top of that, she struggled with three stubborn wounds that refused to heal. I had no concept of the medical term “wound” until I saw one of hers, a stage 4 pressur ulcer. The first time I saw it I thought I was going to be sick. Dad tended them daily without a wince. We had the most wonderful neighborhood nurses who came every other day to check on her and change the dressings. I think I’ll be in touch with them always — they became like family. When they weren’t there, dad did it all. Changed her dressings, changed her bedclothes, washed her, dressed her, did the laundry.  He was an expert at it. And never once did he resent it.

Everyone who knew my dad during those 14 years came away with a deep respect for what most considered the only person they had ever met who whole-heartedly embraced his marriage vows of “in sickness and in health, till death do us part,” always with love, never with resentment. Few experience the depth and strength of love my parents had for one another. When mom died, dad’s personal sense of direction and strength kept him looking forward. But in his heart, his reason for being had gone. Yes, he loved my brother and I and our families. God still granted him time on this earth and he would do his best by it. But he had always lived for mom.  

For some people, this whole experience would shake their faith. For mom and dad, it strengthened it. He prayed the rosary with her every day, prayed to St. John Neumann–through whose intercession once before, our family is convinced–removed all trace of a tumor from my mother’s body, prayed to the blessed Infant of Prague, whose image now graces both of their prayer cards.

Kim, Dad, Genevieve, Kevin These things don’t shake my faith because I don’t see them as actions caused by God. They are simply life. God’s involvement comes if we are open to it, giving us the grace to learn, to grow, to somehow find it in ourselves to become stronger and better people from the awful things life can throw at us. In that sense, I agree with those who say there is always a purpose for our suffering. If, indeed, that is true, I believe the purpose of my parents’ long suffering was to change the lives of those who came to know them.

My brother and I are both adopted children. I can honestly say I believe I’ve truly been blessed with the parents God gave me.

 

freefoto.comThis afternoon I’m going to buy a tape recorder.

 I go days — weeks — between writing blog posts for my job or for this blog mainly because I just don’t have the time to think, no less write. During the work day I consolidate various emails and articles that generate post ideas but by the time I complete my immediate job responsibilities it’s time to close up shop and head home.

It’s the same at home — open the mail, skim through the paper — oh, that’s interesting, put it aside to blog about — dinner, bills, kids’ homework, catch up on freelance work or volunteer responsibilities, catch up on email — I’m beat, time to crash.

But when I’m in the car, mostly in the morning on the way to work, the ideas come — and of course I can’t write anything down. So I think I’ll give the old tape recorder a shot. Maybe there’s a really a burgeoning podcaster inside me trying to get out!

photo courtesy FreeFoto.com

Clutter

clutterThe web is my job. Yet sometimes I wish the web never existed.

My husband set MSN.com as our homepage. When I logged on this morning I was confronted with dozens (feels like hundreds) of options-

  • –Monster storm sweeps across Calif.
  • –20 easy tips to save money now
  • –Stocks start 2008 with big losses
  • –Tupperware-style taser parties feed on ‘girl power’
  • –9 health foods that aren’t
  • –5 mortgage moves for the new year

That’s about one-sixth of the items above the fold.

Then there’s my Google Reader account for work. I haven’t had time to sit and read anything since before the holidays. Even though my feeds are all work related there’s no time at work. When I get home the last thing I want to do is sit back down infront of a computer screen and read. I’m seriously thinking about buying a Sony Reader PRS-505 just so I can download my RSS feeds and read them on the couch. This morning I have 2388 unread posts–and that doesn’t count Mashable, Lifehacker, BoingBoing.

Then there’s Facebook and all the groups I belong to; Gather and those groups; not to mention Newsvine, Digg, Mixx…

And–oh yeah–I have two kids and a house to clean.

Just got this from Andy Rowe at meteorite. I sent it to my 14-year-old, but I wish I could have replaced XBox with Wii! Another wonderful alternative for your gift-giving this year.

worldvision.org.uk

I’m getting tired of supporting the big-box stores every holiday, so I’ve been looking for options that enable me to find great gifts and help someone else in the process. I’ve also been looking for alternative gifts that appeal to my children’s gift giving spirit – and budget. Local artisans like those I’ve mentioned in previous posts offer one option.

If you’re looking for a way to spread goodwill farther a field, here are 10+ great fair and alternative trade gift resources.

  1. World Wildlife FundAdopt a … World Wildlife Fund is one of several organizations that let you “adopt” an animal, putting your contribution to work saving endangered animals and supporting conservation efforts. The Nature Conservancy offers gifts of “adopting an acre”of rainforest in Costa Rica and rescuing a Coral Reef, and makes it easy to shop by putting together packages for him, for her, for kids, and at different monetary levels. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation lets you “give a gift of a tree.” Most of these organizations also have merchandise stores and provide other gifts of donations, like gifts in memory or in honor of a loved one.
  2. Heifer International – Probably the most well-known alternative trade organizations and my favorite. This is one organization that truly represents the meaning of Christmas. The concept of giving a “gift of a goat” or other animal to someone in need is motivating in itself. But what really got me is Heifer’s great marketing. Their catalog is a series of stories about real people. Each recipient of a Heifer animal promises to give back to their community by passing one of their animal’s offspring on to a neighbor in need. Heifer now has a gift registry which makes it easy to share your wish list with family and friends. Even if you aren’t up to giving mom a llama this Christmas, visit Heifer’s “Explore the World of Heifer” site and learn more about this incredible organization.
  3. Oxfam Unwrapped – Another organization that embodies the spirit of the season, Oxfam International’s gift shop’s categories include Emergency Essentials, Furred & Feathered, Green Gifts, Making a Living, Women & Children, and School Days.
  4. Alternative Gifts International – AGI describes their gifts as “gifts of peace and justice, gifts that are sustainable and that build security.” Browse AGI’s wide range of projects. You’re sure to find one that speaks to you. AGI also has a gift registery.
  5. Unicef – Unicef’s cards and gifts help children around the world. This is where I’m buying my holiday cards this year. They need my support more than Hallmark.
  6. Global Sistergoods – If you’re looking for wonderful handmade gifts, try Global Sistergoods. This sister-owned small business imports fairly-traded crafts from women around the world. In their words, they “… provide a living wage to economically disadvantaged women in fragile economies by supporting entrepreneurship, self-reliance and micro enterprise development … [and] sustain traditional craftmaking techniques as we provide high-quality products and educate consumers about women’s issues in the countries our artisans live in.”
  7. A Greater Gift – SERRV international, a nonprofit alternative trade & development organization works with artisans and farmers around the world. It was interesting to find out that they offer these partners up to 50% advance payment on orders, which helps them not only purchase raw materials but sustain a somewhat more regular income.Other organizations that provided fair trade arts and handcrafts from around the world include:**Two Hands Worldshop – this store was founded by a couple in Lawrence, Kansas after they returned from working in Guyana, South America. Live in Lawrence? Watch for a Two Hands Worldshop opening on Massachusetts Avenue soon.
    Lotus by League of Artisans **Lotus by LoA – looking for more luxurious gifts? This League of Artisans effort offers “responsible luxury” products, helping to build sustainable businesses in India.
    **World of Good – another fair-trade organization that works with artisan cooperatives around the world. Does fair trade really make a difference? Read their 2006 Social Impact Report.
    This weekend – December 1 & 2, 2007 – 50% of all World of Good proceeds will fund health and education projects in artisan communities.
    Find more fair trade certified products through the Fair Trade Federation or look stores where you can find fair-trade goods at TransFairUsa’s website.
  8. Shop the Frontier – Looking for something closer to home? This nonprofit rural marketplace created by StoneSoup, serves rural women in the U.S. and their communities. All their profits support “business training and micro-lending programs for women and small business and, as we grow, we’ll fund local youth technology and area business start-ups.”
  9. Women for Women – this organization offers more than a one-time gift. Women for Women International helps women survivors of war by giving them the resources to gain economic self-sufficiency. Your sponsorship will pair you directly with a woman in need.
  10. KivaKiva – Kiva lets you lend to a specific entrepreneur. While loan requests range from $200 to $1,000 or more, Kiva’s micro-loan program through PayPal lets you loan as little as $25 at a time. You can also purchase gift certificates, which gets your gift recipient involved by letting her select her own loan recipient.

Have a recommendation? Share it with us.