Monday, December 22, 2008

Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

Science has helped to solve one of the great mysteries of my life. Finally! I see the value in science. Antibiotics? MRIs? Wireless communications? The atom bomb? These are OK, but I just had the ultimate encounter with science. I got my results from the doggie DNA company -- I know the breeds that are in Nick, my dog!!

Matt and I have the sweetest, gentlest, funniest, fastest, whiniest, humpiest dog ever. He is our boy, and we love him dearly. I rescued him 5 years ago. My sister and I walked into a PetSmart to look (and only look) at the puppies. There were all these precious little puppies, most of them mutts, all of them begging for attention. I spotted Nick, however, and it was love at first site (on my part). I picked him up and didn't put him down again until we got home with him. He instantly became a large part of my life.

But I've always wondered "What is he?" Mutts are the best dogs, but you don't know what you're getting. With pure-breeds, you know that there are certain character traits that you can expect, but what do you do with a Heinz 57 dog? Does he have Labrador or German shepherd in him? I've had people stop me and say that he looked like a Rhodesian Ridgeback (had to look that one up). He's thin and fast, so maybe he has some greyhound in him?

So, when I saw on TV that doggie DNA kits had been invented to help pet owners like me to identify the breeds in their mutts, I was all over it! Matt thought that I was crazy. Would knowing what he is change how I felt? (Like finding out that he had poodle in him was a deal breaker?) No, but curiosity was killing me! I had to wait to save some money (curiosity isn't cheap), but I was able to buy my kit in early November.

The kit arrived, I swabbed Nick's mouth, sent the kit back, and began to wait. And wait. And wait. And today, my patience was rewarded with Nick's breed certificate.

I don't think it unusual to want to know what Nick's "made of". Don't we all want to know what we're made of? Isn't that why some people jump out of airplanes or try to climb Mount Everest? I know that for we humans finding out what we're made of is more about our inner characteristics and qualities. Will we be brave in a scary situation? Will we make the right choice when faced with an ethical dilemma? We spend a lifetime figuring out these things about ourselves. We learn as situations test us, as we face happy times and tragedies, as people move in and out of our lives. It would be so much easier if we could take a DNA test and know that we are genetically programmed to be kind or to be cranky, like a Labrador is prone to chew. But alas, no test exists to figure out what we're "made of", so we continue to learn about ourselves as we go.

My feelings for Nick haven't changed at all since I know his breeds. It does help explain why his nose stays irritated and explains where he got his muzzle, but Matt was right after all -- he's really made of sweetness and unconditional love and I knew that all along.

P.S. Collie, Australian Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdog

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cooking With Idiots

Matt and I had a great Saturday yesterday. His schedule for the past week had been such that he and I had spent no time together. So, we went out for breakfast, took a nap, watched one of our favorite movies ("The Bourne Identity") and did a little Christmas shopping (for ourselves). Matt also planned dinner by preparing a stew in the crock pot -- it simmered all day, filling the house with great smells.

The stew was really good. We, like most families, especially two-member families, often find it easier to grab a bowl of cereal, a sandwich, etc., then to go to the trouble of cooking a full meal. Thus, when one of us do cook, it is a special treat.

The only small complaint that we both had about the stew was that there was too much garlic in it. Garlic is like a lot of things in life -- a little bit is good, a lot of it is deadly. And there is a thin line between "right amount" and "too much". This is true for M&Ms, vodka, ice cream, and "Beverly Hills 90210" reruns. First-hand experience with garlic is essential when cooking.

I will never forget my first real cooking experience with garlic. Like many people, it was only after graduating from college that I was forced to cook for myself (or others). I discovered recipes -- what a great invention -- a how-to for creating a dish. Cooking wasn't that hard -- why did people complain?? Get your ingredients, add this, stir in that, bake at this temperature, et voila. Supper.

Thus, I decided to try lasagna. Since I had been so successful with earlier recipes, I wanted to try a complicated lasagna dish, or at least more complicated recipe than what I had grown up with -- hamburger, noodles, ricotta cheese, spaghetti sauce. I picked out a recipe that called for Italian sausage, where the sauce wasn't from a jar but made from scratch, where there were three or four different kinds of cheese. I was ready to turn it on for the lasagna.

Everything seemed to be going well until it came time to add the minced garlic. The recipe called for 3 cloves of minced garlic (I remember the exact amount 15 years later). I had purchased the prepackaged jars of minced garlic instead of mincing my own (I may have wanted to try something more complicated, but I didn't want to do more work than absolutely necessary). I added the required amount of garlic. Five minutes later, I thought the wallpaper was going to start peeling off the walls.

Through the tears streaming down my eyes, I tried to discover why the fumes were almost visible in the house. Rereading the recipe and then the jars of garlic, I realized my error. One clove of garlic was equal to 1/2 tablespoon of the minced garlic from the jar. I had misread the jar and thought that 1 clove of garlic was equal to 1 jar. So, three jars of minced garlic had gone into my lasagna. I estimate it to be about 167 cloves of garlic.

We did not eat lasagna that night. We could barely live in the house for the next week. I learned to read, reread and often have someone else read the "this amount equals this amount" directions on any jar of ingredients. And I don't eat anything that makes my eyes water (or repels vampires, zombies, inferi or friends).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best Gifts

My co-worker went to his 5-year old's Christmas pageant today. When he returned to work, he regaled us all with stories of how Donovan and his fellow kindergartner students performed. The students decided that, like the Magi, they would give Jesus presents and were instructed to give Jesus the things that they love the best. They drew pictures of their gifts and told the audience what they were giving to Jesus. Many gave their favorite dolls, their Wiis, their plasma TVs, even their little sister -- because those are the things that they love best.

I had to laugh at the student that gave his little sister. I would have given up my little sister, as well, when I was in kindergarten, but not because she was the thing that I loved best, but because she was disrupting my world. Until Ashleigh was born, I was queen of the world, top of the heap, the cat's meow -- you get the picture. And suddenly, I was sharing the spot-light. The applause wasn't just for me any more.

I would like to say that I quickly got over my sibling jealousy and embraced my new sister. But, I didn't. For most of my young life, I struggled with my need to be the family "It Girl". Luckily, I took a big dose of the antidote known as time and maturity. By my late teens, I had learned what a treasure I have in my sister.

Ashleigh is someone that I love beyond words. She has grown up to be an amazing mother and a tremendous woman. She exhibits strength, confidence and a serenity that I have always admired (and often envied). When I observe her with her children, I am moved by her wisdom and her patience. She is a woman that I am proud to know -- and I am lucky enough to be her sister.

I applaud the young kindergarten student who gave Jesus his little sister -- sounds like he learned much earlier than I did to cherish his sister. Hope that he continues to cherish his sister, because sisters are treasures, better than any gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Cards

I just joined Facebook, which is just one more way to completely eradicate the need for face-to-face contact with other people as well as further diminish the number of real letters and cards that are sent through the mail. Nothing comes through the mail anymore except circulars and Geico Insurance mailers. (Thank goodness for the number that you can call to stop credit card offers, or two of those per day would still be coming, as well.) With the invention of bill pay on-line, most of my bills don't even come through the mail, any more.

But, this time of year is different. I love to go to the mailbox during the holidays. CHRISTMAS CARDS! During the month of December, I get an average of one card per day. The days when two or three come are the best. A card, a letter, a picture -- a real, honest-to-goodness piece of mail that someone addressed, licked and stamped. For at least 20 seconds, I was on some one's mind.

I am a Christmas card junkie and hoarder. All my Christmas cards are displayed on my fireplace mantle (and this year, this is the extent of our Christmas decorating). Each year, after Christmas, the cards are stowed away, and the pictures are placed in an album. I have Christmas pictures of all my friend's children, their dogs / cats, their vacations, etc. in my photo albums. I do not toss away at the end of the holiday season -- I save and cherish.

What is my fascination with Christmas cards? I'm not sure. And I don't send out particularly great ones myself. I don't include write-ups of what I've been doing the past 12 months (hint: working, sleeping, working, occasional trip, working) because there are usually no great dramas or milestones (thank You, Lord, for the lack of drama). This year was the first year that I sent out a "picture" Christmas card.

Yet I absolutely love getting Christmas cards from my family and friends. I love knowing that people were thinking of me, putting me on their "Best Wishes" list, going to the trouble in this day and age of instant messaging to find my address and addressing (ah, the tedium) an envelope. When I look at my mantle and the number of Christmas cards, it's a visual reminder of the sheer number of people in my life that care for me and for whom I care.

I don't suppose that most people know that when they send me a Christmas card they are saying more than "Happy Holidays", "Merry Christmas & Happy New Year" -- they are also saying "you are loved". Back at you all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Out of Control

It's been a long time since I've had a chance to sit down and put down any thoughts. A whirlwind of activities and events have been taking place around me, and sometimes I have literally felt that I have been observing the proceedings rather than actively engaging (or directing) them.

The lack of control (or the perception that I lack the control) has colored much of my life and played an important part in my outlook, attitude and mental health most of my thirty-ahem-odd years. It's amazing how anxious and nervous and rattled we humans become when we don't feel like we have the answer, the we know the outcome, that we're prepared for the unexpected.

I recently read a daily devotional that described how flying and surgery are two of the few times that people knowingly and willingly give up all control -- we board a plane / lay on a operating table, buckle our seat belt / close our eyes, and allow the pilot to lift us off the ground / anesthesiologist to put us to sleep and the surgeon to cut us open. And we have little to no say in how they perform those tasks.

I have a hard time letting go, letting the chips fall, saying que sera sera. There is so much that is, well frankly, just scary out there. Yet, my powers aren't super and my knowledge is omniscent. I'm vulnerable and prone to make errors. So, what is the answer?

I'm not sure. It's as simple as that. I don't know, but I've made it thirty-ahem-some years without screwing it up too badly. I think that some of it is not taking yourself too seriously. I think some of it is leaning on your family and friends when you need help (and when you don't). Some of comes down to (as Tracy Jordan from "30 Rock" said) "Live every week like it's Shark Week." I'm pretty sure 100% of it is trusting in the Lord.

There is a song by the Indigo Girls in which the question is asked in the chorus "What would you give for your childhood fears?" I've thought about that question a lot over the years -- what did I fear when I was young? My friends not being my friends any more; Mom and Dad being mad at me; not getting the "cool" pair of jeans or sneakers? In retrospect, those seem like such silly, small fears that who wouldn't trade their scary, adult fears (mortgages, lay-offs, divorces, addictions, etc.) for their childhood fears. But I wouldn't. I think that I'm better equipped now to handle my big, scary adult fears.

So, I'm feeling a little out of control. Lord, before You take this plane off and perform my surgery (cause I'm putting this into Your hands), could I get a drink, an insurance policy and a hug?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Where Did That Red Hair Come From?

I have suffered from headaches for as long as I can remember. In an attempt to control them, I have been going to physical therapy recently to relieve the tension in my neck and shoulders. While I was at the physical therapist office the other day (which is really one big room where several people are doing exercises), an elderly lady was working on her hips and knees. It was her first visit, and she was struggling with her exercises. As she was finishing up, the therapist told her that after she came in the next time, they would give her "homework" that she could get her children or "...her 100 grandchildren" to help her with. The lady laughed and replied, "Don't give me any more than I already have. I only have 45 grandchildren."

I almost fell off the table. Forty-five grandchildren!! Wow! Did she remember all their names? Did all the cousins know each other? Did they get together at Christmas? What about Sundays?

I grew up in a family where my mama's side of the family ate lunch at my grandparent's house every Sunday after church. I saw my maternal cousins almost every Sunday. On my father's side, I didn't see my grandparent's nearly as often, but we spent at least one week each summer with them in their RV while they were camping at in Boone, and they always came to spend some time with us at Christmas and several other times during the year.

What would it be like to have 40+ first cousins? I couldn't imagine. And then I think of my parents. Both of them come from families where they had many more first cousins than my sister and I. I don't think that either one of them had 40+, but there were a lot. They kept their families together by family reunions.

One of my favorite memories growing up is the Baker family reunion. Every year at Thanksgiving, my fraternal grandmother's family would get together at Ocean Isle, NC. All of Grandma's brothers and sisters, their kids and their grand kids. We would leave out early every Thanksgiving morning (hardly any traffic on Thanksgiving Day), arrive in Ocean Isle around 1 pm, and stay until Sunday. This was the one time during the year that I would see my cousins, John, Jr. and Jason, my cousin, Leal, my cousins, Michelle and Mitch. These weren't my first cousins that I knew so well, but my "mysterious" second and third cousins that lived in exotic places like Roanoke, VA, and Columbia, SC. John, Jr., was so cute and played the guitar. I knew that he would fall in love with me one day and we would move to a place where cousins could legally marry (by the way, when applying for mine and Matt's marriage license, I discovered that John, Jr. and I could have married here in NC, but the desire to marry him was, alas, gone).

Those trips to Ocean Isle each year were gifts that my grandmother and her siblings gave to me and my cousins because they allowed us to meet family that we probably never would have ever known. As my grandmother's generation has passed on (only my grandmother and one brother are now still with us), the reunions ended. Now there are great-grandchildren (even some great-great-grandchildren), but I don't think that these Baker descendants will ever know each other except maybe in stories.

That is too bad. Because they may never know that the Bakers were tall, had red hair and liked to laugh. And if one of the descendants suddenly has a tall, red-headed, funny child, they won't know that's "the Baker in him coming out." And Baker is a pretty good thing to be.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Swimming Lessons and Such

My mountain home was calling my name, as well as the fact that Matt and I received an invitation to join some friends at their mountain cabin for a float down the river and some ribs on the grill. As a result, we had a quick trip to the mountains this weekend, including an exciting trip down the New River in the middle of a thunderstorm and some of the best ribs that we've ever had.

The canoe trip wasn't what everyone expected it to be, though I believe that we all still had a lot of fun. It had been many years since I had spent any time on the New River, but I was glad to see that it was as bucolic as ever. Only our hosts were master canoeists, so there were many trips into the river by the rest of us. Luckily, the river was low, so no swimming experience was necessary to save one's self from the "mighty waters".

If someone had needed water rescue, however, then they were lucky that I was there. Thanks to years of swimming lessons when I was growing up, I'm sure that I could have provided some aid. My dad was and is a strong swimmer, acting as a life guard during summer breaks. My mama's family, on the other hand, was not a family of strong swimmers. Swimming was just not a pastime that they pursued while growing up in the mountains. Mama says that she and all her sisters were warned constantly to stay away from water, that they would surely drown if they went any where near it. The threats worked since I don't believe that any of my maternal aunts can swim. When they started having children of their own, they determined that they wanted their children (me and my cousins) to be raised without fear of water and with the ability to swim.

Thank goodness for my Aunt Mary June, also known as Aunt Mur (or Mur). Aunt Mur worked for the school system, so in the summers, she became the taxi driver for us. Years before anyone had ever coined the phrase "soccer mom" and years before the release of the minivan, Aunt Mur was showing soccer moms and their vans how to do it. She drove the original minivan, the station wagon, a wonderful car that had seats in the rear that faced backward, so you could see where you had been! (This was also before I suffered from car sickness.)

When my sister and I, plus my cousins Wendi and Matt (Aunt Mur's kids) and Tina had swimming lessons, we would pile in Aunt Mur's station wagon, and she would burn up the road to get us there (we were usually running a little late). The station wagon also had an 8-track tape player and a Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits 8-track, and we sang "The Gambler", "Lucille", "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" and "Coward of the County". Even now, 25 years later, I think of Aunt Mur whenever I hear Kenny Rogers.

Those two weeks of swimming lessons every summer were always so much fun. Mary June would laugh with us kids as we told each other silly jokes and we girls giggled over boys, she sang with us in the car, and she would often stop by the Dairy House after our lessons and let us get some ice cream (and extra special treat!). Driving us to a hot swimming pool to sit for 2 or 3 hours every day for two weeks never seemed like a chore for her but the best part of her summer, as well.

Because of her I learned how to do the side-stroke, how to sing the lyrics to "She Believes in Me", and how to give with a cheerful heart. Next time I'm home, I think I'll take my Aunt Mur to get some ice cream and see if we can find some Kenny on the radio.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How We Became the Griswolds

Matt and I went out to eat tonight at one of my favorite restaurants. On our way home, we drove over one of the many bridges that span the lake. It was a great day for the boat owners to get out with their "toys". We saw lots of families out on their boats or wave runners, enjoying the last few hours of sun before the new work week begins.

Living in a town dominated by a lake is an experience. Everyone seems perpetually tan. The second question (after "What do you do?") that most people ask upon meeting you is "Do you own a boat?" The attraction of spending hours cruising the lake appears to most as impossible to resist.
Matt and I do not own a boat, but I have spent my fair share on the water. For most of my life, my father, Tom, has owned a boat of some variety. Sometimes it was a fishing boat, sometimes a ski boat. Once it was a little jet boat. He has even owned a cabin cruiser upon which he and his girlfriend lived for several years. He has kept his boats on lakes, on the Intracoastal Waterway, and even on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, where he currently resides. The type of boat may have changed, but I don't think that he would ever be comfortable without ready access to the water.
With so much experience on boats, in different types of environments, most would assume that a trip with Tom would be fairly routine. This would be an incorrect assumption -- something always seems to go wrong. The engine blows, or the plug is missing (I swear that happened, like the stopper was gone), or there is water in the line. It is always an adventure just to get started on a boating trip with Tom.
My favorite and most memorable trip with Tom, however, began before we even got in the water. Sometime late in my teens, we decided to go and visit my Aunt Linda and Uncle Philip in Charleston, SC. As part of the trip, we would haul the boat to the Intracoastal Waterway near Myrtle Beach, SC, load up and cruise the waterway south to Charleston. The journey would as much fun as the destination.
The trip to Myrtle Beach was routine until we hit the small town of Conway, SC. As we were driving through the town, the engine on our Ford Bronco died. Tom was able to coast into the parking lot of an Amoco gas station and assess the situation. It should come as no surprise that Tom's luck with boat engines carried over to car engines; something was always dying, breaking, blowing up, smoking or doing other things equally as expensive.
Tom had a plan. He knew a local that could help us. His name was "Spanky". Spanky would know who to call to get us out of this jam and back on our way. First thing Spanky was going to do was call the Ford dealership to get help for us with the Bronco. They would come, tow the Bronco, quickly get it fixed and we would be on our way in no time.
As the minutes progressed into hours, we had no choice but to make the best of the situation. Stuck in a parking lot, in the middle of summer in South Carolina, sitting in our broken down car wasn't an option. Sitting on the boat, still on its trailer, was a much better option. Ashleigh had on her headphones, listening to her music, sun-bathing, pretty much ignoring the rest of us. Mom sat in the co-captain's chair, sun-bathing, reading her book. I tried to lie down on one of the bow seats, keeping my head low from the people who continued to drive by and shout directions to the water, while Tom sat on the dive platform, drinking beer, swinging his feet back and forth, waving at all the passersby.
For four hours, we sat in our boat, in the parking lot of the gas station, enjoying our vacation. We even sat there for a while without the Bronco after the dealership tow truck came and towed it away and before Spanky could come with his truck to hook up the boat. At least we had access to the gas station's restrooms, but it definitely felt like a "Griswold" vacation.
The dealership had to order a part in order to fix the Bronco, and by that time it was too late to put into the water. We did not spend the night on the boat in the parking lot of the gas station, but slept in a hotel. We cast off the next day for Charleston, leaving the truck behind for repairs until we returned. I remember my Aunt Linda and Uncle Philip getting a good laugh out of that story.
Over the years, we have also laughed at this memory, at how silly a family of four must of looked sitting in a gas station parking lot, in a boat, on a trailer, doing the things that you do when you're on the water. Of course, with gas prices as high as they are now, I'm surprised that I don't see more families enjoying their boats in their driveways (or a gas station) instead of the water. I did learn that day that the water isn't what makes a boat fun -- the people in the boat are the reason that boating is fun.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Favorite Couch

Today has been another Saturday completing tasks necessary to sell my house. If I were an overly analytical person, I would question how long it is taking to even get my house on the market; one might think that Matt is not chomping at the bit to have us living in one house. Yet, we are slowly making progress.

After painting the trim work in the bathroom earlier today, I took a break on the couch to watch a movie. I hate this couch. I have told Matt on many occasions that we can leave this couch behind when we move to his house. You can't take a good nap on it, two people can not lie down on it very comfortably, it is not somewhere you can sit for a few hours and watch TV without getting a crick in your neck or, in my case, a headache.

Not so my favorite couch. My favorite couch has been a part of my life since I was born. It is a traditional couch, three cushions, low arms, with a skirt. My parents bought it and a matching chair and ottoman for their living room before I was born. I remember what it originally looked like: white (or cream) with large yellow flowers (it was the seventies). When they built our house in the mountains, the living room had beautiful yellow carpet to highlight the yellow flowers on the upholstery.

About the time that I was eleven or twelve, we got new furniture for the living room. We were all very excited as new furniture was very unusual in our house since money was so tight. Mama was "green" before it was a concept and had our yellow floral furniture reupholstered to use in the den, recycling it for continued use. Now, instead of yellow flowers, it was much more conservative, upholstered in a dark blue fabric, that was so soft to the touch, but still durable.

Now in the den, the couch that once was used so rarely (as living room furniture often is) was used daily. Suddenly, we discovered what a gem of a couch we owned. It was long--Tom could stretch out comfortably on it, without feeling cramped. It was wide--Ashleigh and I could both lie on it, heads at opposite ends, without deteriorating into the inevitable "She's touching me!" arguments. It was comfortable--the back of the couch was supportive, without being too soft or too firm. We loved our couch!

As the years passed, the couch became so much more than a place to sit. Ashleigh spent a lot of time there while healing from surgery to her knee. We both spent time on that couch, sitting next to this or that young man, trying to be cool in front of Mama, watching a movie on the VCR. Saturday nights for years were spent on that couch watching "Saturday Night Live" with our cousins, JJ, Wendi and Matt, as well as friends. After the prom, everyone came back to our house, and we all gathered in the den (20 to 30 of us), watching movies, eating, and laughing all night long. One of my favorite pictures from this era is a picture of me and my prom date sitting on that couch looking at our year book. Some of my most in-depth and important talks with my mama took place on that couch, with my head in her lap.

Not all of my memories of MFC (my favorite couch) are happy ones. When my first real boyfriend broke up with me during my junior year of high school, I spent way too many hours on the couch crying, in what my mama dubbed "the fetal position." I would assume that position many more times in the future as, during my 20s, I dated someone for 10 years (my Starter Relationship). As we broke up time and again over those 10 years, MFC became my refuge. I could lose myself in a movie, in a book, or simply in thought. Or I would curl into the fetal position.

I know that MFC is also my mama's favorite couch, as well. She spent a lot of time on that couch, never in the fetal position, but working through her own dreams, ideas, issues, etc. And sometimes she was just working. She worked from home her last several years of outside employment, and MFC was her favorite place from which to work. She tells a story of working all day on the couch, and at 5 p.m., she put away her work and began to clean house. As she vacuumed, she lifted the cushions on MFC, and as she lifted the cushion on which she had been sitting all day, a squirrel flew out and ran out of the room. She had been sitting on the squirrel all day and did not know it. I am quite sure that they don't make couches like that anymore.

When I got my first apartment, Mama sent MFC with me. When I bought my first house, it came with me. As I struggled with depression as an adult, there were times when MFC continued to support me as I found that there were days that the only place that I found relief was on that couch.

A couple of years ago, I was finally able and ready to pass MFC on to someone else. Even though the couch was at the time nearly 38 years old, structurally, it was still better built than most brand new couches. Mama and my stepfather, Jim, came and picked up the couch to deliver to one of my cousins. As we loaded it, Mama and I commeted on the fact that it was the best couch ever.

In retrospect, I can see that my timing in letting the couch go coincides with the time in my life where I became the most mentally healthy that I had ever been. So, maybe it is good that I don't have MFC; I don't have the option to ball into the fetal position anymore. I have learned to deal with my stresses and problems in much more effective ways. I still miss MFC, though.

And I still hate the couch I have now.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Love Letters

I have had computer problems for the last week. I haven't been able to use my home computer, and I was very surprised by the feeling of helplessness that followed. How am I going to know how much money I have in the bank? How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to keep up with the latest news? How am I going to talk with my friends and family?

Wha? Have I succumbed to the internet's pull and left human contact behind? A 2002 study by Lutz Ebring, a professor of Mass Communication from the University of Berlin, concludes that "For each minute spent on the Internet during the last 24 hours, there is a reduction of approximately one-third of a minute spent with family members." Professor Ebring estimates that at current usage, this means that the average American is spending one less hour per week with his or her family.

That doesn't mean that we aren't emailing them or instant messaging them, but apparently, we aren't phoning them or visiting them, and we definitely aren't writing letters to them. I know that my contact with my family was drastically reduced the last week. Yet, the postal service was still available to me. Why didn't I write a letter?

Writing a letter is an art form that has seemingly been lost. My roommate from college was a genius letter writer. Betsy could write a letter that would leave you feeling like you were right there with her, sharing a great conversation, witnessing the same events, feeling the same emotions. While I missed her terribly every summer during our four years of school, the letters that she sent me during the breaks almost made the time apart worth it. Getting a letter from her was an event.

During our time in college, Betsy and I spent a semester in France. I was terribly home sick -- my French was weak, I missed my mom, my sister and the rest of my family, I felt very out of place, and my solace during this time was writing letters home. I wrote constantly. If I knew you, you probably received a letter from me during this period. It wasn't unusual for me to mail two or three letters each day. And my loved ones were awesome and wrote me back often, brightening my day during a time when I was really struggling to be strong.

Unfortunately, I went through a "purge phase" several years ago and threw away a lot of the letters that I received during my time in France (as well as the great letters from Betsy). Two of the letters that I kept, however, are two of my most treasured possessions -- letters that my Mamaw wrote to me.

I love to reread these letters. Mamaw had the same letter writing genius as Betsy. She wrote as she spoke. Reading her letters thousands of miles away in France felt like sitting in her kitchen having a conversation with her.
"Well, I had the usual crowd for lunch today. Ashleigh's [my sister] girlfriend the Ham came with her. She is a pretty girl to live up Poe Hollow."
"If you see a cute boy over there, leave him be."
"Wendi [my cousin] came out Sunday. She ate two tables down, bless her heart. It was good to see her eat."
I can hear Mamaw's voice when I read these letters, and it almost hurts to think about how much I miss her, but I'm reminded of just how wonderful she was. I am so thankful that I have these letters -- an email wouldn't be nearly as good. Maybe all our computers should go down on occasion and we should write each other some letters.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"....Aunts...are back in fashion because they are necessary."

I had a great night last night. I visited my sister and her family, including my two nieces and my nephew. They are beautiful, healthy and happy children, and I have loved them since they drew their first breaths. I love being their Aunt Cristy!

Being with them last night reminded me of how lucky I have been in the aunt department. My mother is one of seven daughters, and my dad had one sister, blessing me with 7 aunts in my life. As a result, I have spent my life surrounded by women. Aunts, a sister, my mother, female cousins. It creates a rhythm, routines, it helps to shape your sense of humor, your expectations of who you're going to be when you grow up, who you're going to marry, even what you will do on Sundays.

While my aunts shared similar qualities (least of which was that they loved all their nieces and nephews as much as I love mine), they also each had their own special qualities that made them unique and remarkable. I received some special gift from each of them -- a love of reading and books, a distinctive laugh, a sarcastic sense of humor. Aunts were never out of fashion with me, but have always been necessary. All hail our Aunts! Lexi, Brady & Cali -- your Aunt Cristy loves you!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Home Improvement

My husband, Matt, has been working diligently around the house the last four days. Mowing the lawn, trimming, grouting the new tile floor in the master bathroom, putting down new moulding around the floor in the bathroom. All this work in anticipation of listing our house with a realtor.

Matt is very handy with tools (one of the talents that Mama said a man should have). He is also very willing to try most any home improvement project. Everything that he has done at our house(s) so far has turned out really great, both in quality and in how it looks.

Whenever I see Matt working around the house (especially so successfully), I have to compare his abilities to my father's. Home improvement was not his forte. I can understand why -- he wasn't taught home improvement growing up. I don't remember my Grandfather ever attempting to fix a leaky faucet or unstop a toilet--his talents were elsewhere.

With my father, I vividly remember the time the back door lock jammed -- the time I like to call "The Christmas Eve Door Incident".

Obviously, the back door lock jammed. I don't remember how long the lock had been broken, but apparently it hadn't bothered Tom until Christmas Eve. Quite possibly, he was trying to sneak out to his car to gather Christmas presents (just recently purchased, I'm sure).

Thus, when the back door lock interfered with Tom's plans, Tom decided to "fix" the lock. We're not sure what Tom did, but a jammed lock ended up being a back door flung into the back yard. On Christmas Eve. In a small town where all stores close early on Christmas Eve and do not open again until the day after Christmas. In the mountains of North Carolina, where it tends to get cold in December. You get the drift that this wasn't the most convenient time to have your back door in the middle of the back yard.

This ended Tom's ventures in home improvement -- to our relief. I have to admit that one of the (many) reasons that I fell in love with Matt was his ability to fix things. I know with him that the cold air will never come in.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Whew! It's Friday!

I am always so glad when Friday rolls around! I work for a Fortune 50 company, which I am convinced stands for "must attend no less than 50 meetings per week". The result is that I am usually so zapped by Friday that I all want is a quick dinner, some decompression time, and then early to bed.

The only thing that I don't like about Fridays is that I usually don't see my husband. We only got married in December, and we each still own a house. Until we get my house on the market and sell it, my husband (God love him) is living in two houses. Since he knows that I am so tired on Fridays, he usually spends his Fridays at his house as I unwind at my house.

I was 37 years old before I got married. But I am so glad that I waited because I married an amazing man. He is smart, funny, considerate, honest, able to fix things and simply fantastic. There are days that I still pinch myself to realize that he married me. I hope the honeymoon stage lasts a little longer -- I really like it!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Things My Mama Said

As implied by the title, I have learned a lot from my mother. God blessed me when He gave me to this woman. She is very wise and full of knowledge, all of it useful, but some more relevant than the rest.

My mom always talked to me and my sister, willing to explain the "why" behind her actions. Except for a brief time while I was 15 years old, I usually was on the same side as my mama. And she has been a great ally.

The older I get, the more I appreciate her teachings. She was right many more times than she was wrong. I find myself drawing on the things that she taught me as I deal with daily problems, and even with bizarre problems.

Here are some of the most memorable things that she has said.

  1. Any man worth having has three things: tools that he knows how to use, a pickup truck and a chainsaw

  2. If you always ask for what you have always asked for, then you'll always get what you've always got

  3. You'll get over it (whatever "it" was) before you're married twice

  4. Pretty is as pretty does

  5. You'll never get a job / husband / education / house (fill in blank) if you have sex before you are married (please note: I guarantee that there will be several individual blogs around this one)

  6. No one stands by you like your family

  7. Sleeping naked doesn't get you anything except a bed full of pubic hair

All these have served me well the last several decades. They have served well those with whom I have shared them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

First Musings

So, this is my first foray into blogging. People have been urging me for years to write a book. I don't know that I have a book in me, but I definitely have a lot to say.

As the title of my blog indicates, most of what I have to say involves my family. Past, present, and I'm sure future. I've got what my counselor has called " of the most interesting families" around. Coming from someone that is professionally trained to deal with "interesting", I don't believe that is a compliment. Well, maybe it is, if being unforgettable is a compliment.

I don't know how this experiment into writing will go, but I'm game. And, I'm realizing as I get older that I need to leave a little bit of me and of my family's history behind. You know, in the end, family is all that matters, and I've got a great one. I don't want the stories and the love to disappear.