Sunday, November 30, 2008


I sat curled up against my father's tombstone this afternoon, back hunched against the north wind, eyes shut against tears, with stray gleams of the sun through the clouds warm on my right cheek. I'd been at Momo's for Thanksgiving Sunday dinner, and I wanted to stop by to visit Daddy, like I sometimes do. I'd taken my map with me from the car, to look over the new route I wanted to try going home, and I'd found myself talking out loud about the road numbers and towns I'd go through.

It occurred to me for the first time that this, too, was something I'd be leaving behind me when I moved. My father's essence I carry in my heart, but the place where his bones rest has been a center for me. If I have any home right now, it's at his side, but I can't live always on that windy hilltop. I still walk above the ground, and I have to find my home out here somewhere. But the times when I've felt soul-weary, over-burdened with the claims I place on myself or allow others to place on me, I've been able to get in my car and drive west. Drive to this place where my roots sink into the earth. It's a place where only the most fundamental feelings can live, where I am truly myself, and where everything else is tested, found wanting, and drops away. It's only an hour and a half from Houston.

It will be almost eight hours from New Orleans.

I was offered the choice between relocating to Florida or Oregon or losing my job when my company closed their Houston site the month after my father died. I couldn't leave then. I couldn't leave my family, and I couldn't leave his grave so far behind so soon. It doesn't have that hold on me now. I've risen from those ashes and gone out and onward, as I had to. Life in this world isn't a high plain of happiness we climb towards, where nothing troubles us and we're content. Life is always walking forward, as pieces of ourselves fall away, and are left behind, and as we find new pieces that become a part of us, adding more without replacing what's lost. But I've always been able to come back so easily to where his body rests. Knowing for the first time that I'd be leaving that behind, I hunched against the warm stone, almost hugging it, as I'd hug him if I could sit by his side again, telling him my plans.

I opened my eyes to the silver-gray gravel that covers the ground that covers him. My eyes were caught by one rough pebble. Maybe it was its shape, a small tablet, almost a tiny tombstone itself. Maybe it was the angle of the sunlight that sparkled on it's face. I brushed my hand through the shards of stone, closing my finger tips on this one. I held it lightly in my palm, then squeezed it in my fist. I slid it into my pocket as I stood up. I'll take this with me now, wherever I go. I'll keep it safe. I'll find some special place for it. And when life gets too crowded, too heavy, too crazy, I'll take it somewhere quiet, and in thinking on it, let the world fall away. It won't be quite the same, but it's the best I can do when I can't be by his side.

I turned to the carved headstone one more time, traced his name slowly with my eyes. I promised him I'd come again, soon, at Christmas.

And I promised I'd come and say good bye before I go.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Roar of the Wind in My Ears

Normally my weeks are paced by days when I don't have any obligations, and punctuated by things I need to be at.

I feel like, until a week into next year, I've been dropped into the headlong rush of constant engagement. I love the holidays, but not this part.

Rehearsals, football games, parades, concerts, appointments with doctors and the spa, on-line courses, hotel reservations, plane tickets, rental cars, highway mileage, Christmas shopping, gift wrapping, shipping and handling, work on the work days, and friends and family on the days I don't work. The last week of this is a vacation in the desert with just me. Sounds like heaven about now, if I can only get there.

A thought sprang up out of my heart a moment ago, as my soul curled into the fetal position and whimpered, "I want to go home." Over and over again. Has it really been so long since I felt this way that it comes as a surprise, or is it that I've felt this way for so long that the litany has become the constant background of my thoughts?

And where is home, if not here? The hills where I grew up? The desire for home pervaded my mind at times even when I lived there. My mother's house, my grandmother's? Where my family is? I love my family, but I feel so distant from them in some ways, even though there's comfort in the way they're always there. Is home where my heart is? My heart has no home. It's not welcome where it wants to be, and it's so tired of searching for a place to rest. Is my only true home in the next world? I could have a long wait, and I'm not a patient person.

The wind of these days is a constant roar in my ears, drowning out and beating down the small things inside. Things happen all around me at the same racing tempo, and they become not changes but a lack of change. Every day there are new things to do, but every day there are things to do, so no day stands above the rest, a goal to reach, a place to pause. There will be days of rest, I know, unseen now, but found again like warm hollows in a winter field. And in these hollows, treasures lie, of love, of hope, of peace, memories to cherish, moments that are, in their own way, a blessed eternity.

But here where I stand now, the wind rushes past me over a vast expanse, featureless and remote. The wind pushes me, stumbling blindly, forward, across the time from now to then.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Lost Socks and Other Slips Betwixt the Cup and Lip

There's been a pattern emerging in my life just lately. A leitmotif, if you will. I've been losing my grip.

No, no, literally, not figuratively. :-)

Things have been slipping through my fingers, falling out of my hands, I've been even more clumsy than usual, and I'm not sure why, or if there's even a reason. The funny thing is, I haven't dropped anything.

In the grocery store the other day, I pulled a bag of chips from the shelf. The one next to it came out, too, and in reaching to catch the second bag, I lost my hold on the first. After a fraction of a second of bobbling chip bags, things came to a stop and I was standing slightly crouched, but with both bags of chips cupped lightly and safely in my arms. A few days later I was measuring spices for a spread I was making, and as I picked up a teaspoon measure, it slid out of my grip. As it fell towards the counter, I caught it up in my other hand. It seems like something similar has happened five or six more times in the past few days, but I can't clearly recollect.

Each time it happens, it makes me think. Think about things in my life that I've lost my hold on. Things that seem to be getting away from me. Things I don't have in hand, and don't have under control. Things I'm afraid I'll lose. This reminds me that even when my grip is tenuous, I can still hang on, and even when I can't hang on, I can reach out again as they fly from me, and grasp them with a grip even stronger. I just have make the effort with confidence and without hesitation. After all, I stumble all the time, but I very rarely fall to the ground.

In the past it's been my habit to jerk away when I drop something. To raise my hands clear and watch it fall. This is because I used to work with soldering irons, when reaching out to catch a falling object could mean a serious burn. I think I've done the same thing on a metaphoric level as well. When I lose control of things and they began to slide away from me, there are times when I've just jumped clear. And there are times when that's appropriate. But there are other times when a quick, deft action can save a situation that seemed lost.

Anyhow, it's something to think about, and maybe an example of the still, small voice that doesn't speak in the tempest, the earthquake, or the fire, but instead through the little things we take to heart. And while we're on the subject of things that seemed lost, but are unexpectedly recovered, I found one of those socks that disappear in the laundry, half of my favorite pair. It's been missing for over a year. I feel like the woman who has twenty pieces of silver and loses one, how happy she is when she finds it, and how she calls out to her friends to be joyful with her. Rejoice with me, for the favorite sock, which I'd lost, has been found!

I think it's a sign. I don't know of what. Presaging other things I think I'll never see again, that may reappear in unexpected places? I don't know.

But I think it's a sign.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

City of New Orleans

Do I give over heart and dreams?
Do I sink them in the river
Baptize them, watch them come up new.
Do I call this home
And wrap it around my soul?
A quick flip of fin or feather
A dark shape slides into the depths
Slipping into narrow streets
I offer heart and soul and dreams.
I lose myself.
I always do.

I landed in New Orleans after dark, cabbed to the hotel and settled in. The Quarter called to me, but I shied at first. I got as far as the Walgreen's on Canal Street and Baronne, and chatted and laughed with the cashier over my purchases (cookies, pencils, chips, and a map).

I'd planned at first to scout apartments, but I didn't do enough research to be ready for that. Ditto on my second plan, to ride all of the streetcar routes. I finally decided to do the things I'd always wanted to do, but hadn't done.

I'd never visited the Riverwalk Mall. I went there and found the most amazing food court, with pizzas and calzones and a tray of enormous turkey legs. I walked down the river longer than ever before, from the mall to Governor Nicholls wharf. The sky was as gray as the river below and I watched the waves as the Natchez steam calliope began to warm up. I leaned on the railing and watched a snail, a strange little jewel against the steel, as it pushed out into a rain drop, then pulled back into its home. I turned my back on the water and looked down into the streets. Could this be home for me?

Up and down the streets in a fairly aimless wander, I found myself beneath the convent walls. It had just run through my mind how I'd always wanted to go on the tour, and they'd never been running them, when I passed an open doorway and a sign announcing tours from 10am to 4pm. I nearly fell sideways into the archway out of surprise. Two ladies were standing in a little giftshop. I took the tour and asked the poor docent all sorts of questions she didn't know answers to. Then I chatted for several minutes with the lady in the gift shop. When I told her I'd be moving there, she was so excited for me, and made me promise to stop by and see her sometime. I made a friend. :-)

Fried chicken at Fiorella's, then I took a bus tour, something else I've never done. I saw some of Frenchman's Street, St. Louis Cemetery number 3, the spot where the 17th Street Canal failed, the Garden District, and the house Payton and Eli Manning grew up in.

Later that night I decided that while it wasn't something new, I'd like to take the Haunted History vampire tour again. The tour guide last December, Jonathan, had been a great story teller, and had been quite nice to look at, too. I walked to the cathedral where the tour gathered, and saw none other than Jonathan himself. I paid for my tour, and after glancing at me a few times as I milled around, he turned to me and said, "You've been on my tour before." I agreed that I had! "Towards the end of last year?" Yes!

Now, I know exactly why I remember him, and at any rate, I'd only had one vampire tour guide. But he gives these tours all the time, and I have to say I'm pretty flattered that ten months after giving me that one tour, he recognized me. I might have to look him up when I move. It's nice to think a good-looking guy finds me, if nothing else, memorable. :-)

Oh. The next day there was a football game. Rice won. Yay!

I took the ghost tour after dinner on Saturday. My tour guide had a black German Shepherd named Sarah, and I made friends with her. Then I did something else I'd never done. I had my palm read in Jackson Square. I watched Jerik read four other people while I was waiting. They were all so similar that I wondered if he just always said the same things. But he seemed to be indicating the right parts of their hands as he spoke, from what I know about palmistry.

Then he got to my hand, and I was pretty different from all of them. Let's see. I have an earth hand, meaning I am a practical and down to earth person. (That I'm not so sure of.) My intellect line is a full six out of six. "My dear, you are *very* bright, with incredibly good reasoning skills." I have artistic fingers, tapered from base to tip, with a managerial spread to my four fingers, "and about as independent a thumb as you can have and still function when working with others." Some part of my hand indicates that I'm as stubborn as "two Missouri mules, a wooly mammoth, and a house cat, for good measure." Unlike all of the indented mounds of Saturn before me, indicating people who never want to grow up, my mound of Saturn is flat. "You, my dear, really are an adult, though indicates that you will age only slowly, and will probably always look ten years younger than you really are." I have an extensive heart line, and will maintain friendships for a lifetime. I have good triangulation of Neptune, indicating strong people skills. My fertility line is pretty productive, "My dear, you could people a small village if you wanted to. You have the potential for seven children if you care to have that many." And as for my life line, I had the longest one he'd seen all evening, and could easily live into my nineties with none of the serious ailments attending age, like Alzheimers. Of course, I don't believe any of it, but it's kinda fun!

After that, I met up with Chuck and we walked up and down Bourbon Street a bit. A woman with a cooler actually offered to sell Chuck a Miller Lite. One can't really expect her to understand why I doubled over laughing. Chuck got himself a real beer and we wound our way through the crowd. At the Halloween party inside and outside of a GLBT bar, we saw a six-foot Dorothy in ruby combat boots. AWESOME.

The next morning I had the pleasure of introducing Chuck to my favorite bakery, the Croissant D'Or. He quite approved. When he headed back to the hotel to load the buses, I took myself back to Jackson Square. Something else I've always wanted to do but hadn't was go through the history museum in the Cabildo, next to the cathedral, so I did that, wandering through the exhibits and reading the placards while a solo trumpet played full and rich out in the sunlit square.

On the way back to the hotel to pick up my bags and catch a cab to the airport, I stepped into the Jesuit church on Baronne. It was dim and cool inside, adorned with a heavier intricacy than St. Louis Cathedral in the square. It was still and empty and lovely, with the hum from the traffic outside like the sound of whispered prayers, like the hum of an ocean shell. In that church I prayed that I'd find a home here, and also find a great adventure. I had some hours in the airport ahead of me, but here I said good bye to New Orleans, for now.

And that night, landing in Houston, somehow it didn't feel like the homecoming it's always been before.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Case for Literature

I have a friend who asked me an interesting question once, sitting at my dining table with his back to my (now even more full) bookshelves. He looked back over his shoulder, waved a hand, and said, "I've never understood, what's the point of... all this?"

I asked him if he meant... books? But it turns out he gets books. He reads plenty, but it's literature, fiction, that he doesn't get. To explain something that happened, to cast history in a new light, sure, but why spend as much time and money as I've obviously spent on... stories.

I'm not sure how well I explained it, but memoirs, histories... they can only shed light on what was. Fiction, stories, can explore what could be. Not just actualities. Not even probabilities. All the possibilities. Maybe it's just me, or people like me. Maybe that's why I'm such a reader and why I became a writer. Maybe that's why all writers are writers, and something not everyone can understand. I've read accounts of history that deepened my understanding and broadened my mind. But I've read novels that completely changed my life.

I wouldn't be the person I am if Charlotte Brontë hadn't written Jane Eyre. I read it when I was something like thirteen. I guess I fell in love with Victorian England, but more to the point, I met a young woman who was intelligent and intensely rational, but at the same time deeply passionate and loving. Incredibly gentle, and incredibly strong. Young, alone, poor, and a woman when a woman had so little power for self-determination, she was offered everything she loved on terms she considered dishonorable, and offered everything honorable without love. She demanded life on her own terms, and she made that life for herself because no one else could give it to her. Of course, the story ends happy, and that's because it's a story. In life it needn't have, but still it might.

More recently I've been changed again. I always meant to read Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear, but I only got around to it this year. And after that I had to read the sequel, Valley of the Horses. Then the next book and the next. I devoured all five of the novels in the Earth's Children series. They present an incredibly deft portrait of civilizations like nothing I'd imagined. Of course, there's very little we know about those who really peopled those times and places, but it doesn't really matter that they may not have existed. They are evokative not because of strict factuality, but because of the possibility. If they don't show us what was, they show us what very well could have been, and by doing so, show us a surprising amount about what is and what could be, even now. These novels have made me feel and think in ways I never have before. I've changed in ways difficult to describe right now, because I continue to think on them, and to change.

So that's why. That's the point of literature, for me at least. It can change a person. It can change an ethos. Don't ask me to prove that in a blog. It's more of a doctoral thesis topic. And like I said, maybe that's just me.

But I wanted to ask you. Have you ever read a book that made you who you are today?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Alaska Photos Up!

Friday, October 03, 2008

It's My Move...

I've been talking about moving for almost a year now. I came to Houston at eighteen for college, and going to school here and living here with the wonderful friends I made then and continue to make has been an amazing experience for me. I've lived here now longer than I have in any other place, but this has never been where I wanted to spend my life.

I've chickened out on moving this year, because it would mean finding a new home and packing up this one in the next two months (my current lease is up on December 1). I don't want to spend Thanksgiving that busy, and I want one last Christmas playing with my band. So I've signed a six month lease, which puts me moving at the end of May. This gives me another basketball season and six more months to watch Dylan grow. This should also be a better time for finding a new place to live.

Last year in December I took a short vacation in New Orleans. I had business in the Big Easy, and decided since my flight was paid for, I'd tack on the weekend. I had borrowed Interview with a Vampire from a friend, and my goal was to read it while I was there, in the midst of its initial setting.

I fell in love.

Not with Bourbon Street, of course. And not even with Cafe du Monde or the touristy ghost, vampire, and voodoo tours, even though I love taking them.

I fell in love with the Mississippi River. With quiet courtyards behind wrought-iron gates. With the narrow old streets, steeped in history. With the pork chops at Fiorella's. With a ham and cheese croissant and a mille fois at Croissant D'Or. With beignets for breakfast on a bench in Jackson Square. With St. Louis cathedral, its choir, and the bishop who welcomed all the people in town for the St. Louis football game, but pointed out with a mischeivous, beatific smile, that God does love cardinals, but saints are even better.

I fell in love with the way this city haunts my heart and pulls at the edges of my mind like a memory out of a dream. I don't know if it's a call from the past or the future. I don't know if there's anything there for me but the adventure of starting out somewhere new completely on my own. But I'm ready for adventure. I know what is there for me. A town I'm eager to explore, and the security of a job I already hold.

There are downsides, of course, but Ike has reminded me that Houston isn't any safer as far as hurricanes go. I'll need to talk to my boss. I'll need to plan out a great apartment hunt. I'll need to remember, when fear makes me think maybe I should just stay put, that I can always come back, or move elsewhere if things don't work out. And I'll need to remember that I can't escape the things I want to leave behind just by moving. They'll follow me, and it's up to me to be stronger than they are, but I can hope that adventure and new experiences can weaken them, make them easier to shake. There are a lot of questions I still have, a lot of doubts.

I have eight months to hash them out, so here goes!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Home Safe

After beginning with a logistics tangle of nightmare proportions due to the impending hurricane, my vacation was lovely and I arrived home about half an hour ago, a day before I'd planned, but then, I'd left two days before I'd planned, and I was ready to be back and see for myself that all was well in my own little den.

It's not that I didn't trust Tim's reports on the exceptionally untouched state of my abode and the return of electricity. But after hearing the news and seeing the pictures, I just needed to be home to feel that it was over and to really understand that I'd dodged that bullet, and everything was going to be okay.

And I did. And it is. And I'm sitting here crying, out of exhaustion after a long day of traveling, yes (at midnight Sunday I was in Canada), but also out of an overwhelmingly humbled sense of gratitude.

I am all the more amazed at how untouched my life was by the storm buy seeing how much of Houston was violently touched. It's visible on an enormous scale, and in tiny details. As we approached Hobby and were descending over the city, I was sobered at how dark Houston still was. So many unlit patches. So many broad areas without power.

I had to pay in the lobby of the garage I parked in instead of the exit booths because of the skeletal power system they were running on, and even in the lobby the employees were all fanning themselves in the dank, heavy air. Hobby isn't in the best neighborhood, but now the place looks deserted, like a ruin, with traffic lights dark, some hanging by wires still, store fronts unlit, street lights off. I had to stop at all three of the intersections you go through at Broadway and I-45 to get on 45 northbound. The signal lights weren't flashing. They were completely dark. It scared me.

The enormous light poles over the freeways are running, but again I was bothered by a difference. There's light, but nowhere near the level of illumination of surface, of underpass, of signage, as I'm used to. And it may be hypersensitivity on my part, after my time in the more pristine air of the Pacific Northwest, but the city, the entire city, smells like a stale drain. It's not rank, but it's pervasive and ubiquitous.

As I got to my street (the exit ramps to which are no longer under water, thank goodness), there were signs blown away, small trees and some tree limbs down, and one building severely damaged, but the general infrastructure seemed sound and lights were lit, traffic signals functioning. Still, the smallest things seem to glare at me. All the street light poles used to be straight. Now each of them leans at a slight, and slightly different, angle. It's a tiny thing, like I said, but it adds to the unsettlement I feel after seeing all of the large things. There is no haven of perfection. No place untouched.

Until I drag my luggage across my complex and up the stairs to my own unit. Open the door. Flip the switch, which actually turns on the lights. I go over and turn the thermostat back on and the air conditioner kicks in. I look around at all the things I left behind, and left in God's hands, because there was no way I could take care of them before leaving town. I open my refrigerator which doesn't reek because Tim cleaned the perishables out for me. I open my freezer and find the popsicles that have been in my freezer forever, and all of a sudden seem perfect.

I guess it's not untouched and perfect. I lost some food. My network seems to have forgotten that I named and secured it. What preparations I did make are still in place. But it's SO much better than it could have been. Nothing I own was damaged. My friends are all okay, and none of them suffered irreparable losses. Oh, God. I'm so overwhelmingly, unbelievable grateful, and at the same time I hurt to see that so many people were so hurt when I haven't been at all. I'm tired, like I said, so just about anything is going to make me weepy. But it does all make me cry all kinds of tears.

I have journals from my trip that I will post at some point, but now doesn't feel like the right time.

I'm just so glad to be home. I'm just so glad you guys are all okay.

Thank God.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Letter Home

I wish I could send this home to you

Salt in a breeze that snaps the sails

Stinging tang of spray from a wave

Shy head of smoke as a harbor seal looks back at me

Blue, blue, living, heaving, swirled with white, blue all around

Gull cries and ship horns and the rustle of air and water

Gleaming gold sun setting in pure sky behind mountains, dancing on waves

Shivering silver of the full moon on still waters

Lights of the port towns twinkling and the DASH… dot flash of a lighthouse

The Big Dipper pointing to the North Star and a north by northwest path of light thought the darkness







I wish I could send this home to you
With all my love

Monday, August 18, 2008

Balm in Gilead

4 new tires on the pavement, a full tank of gas, and a well-maintained engine in a car that's comfortable like an old friend, and loves the road

a full moon banked in cobweb clouds, etched in light like a fine engraving and ringed in rainbow

a warm light in a stranger's eyes, a smile returned, a joke, and shared laughter between people who've never shared before

the diamond ring my father gave my mother shining on my little sister's hand, and still dimmer than her smile

trial seems to be the cost of joy, but joy comes easy when it comes, and there is no healing without wounding and no wounding without healing

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

After the Storm

I watched the rain all day. Gray curtaining a gray sky, behind young leaves and slender, writhing limbs. Leaves brought to peridot brilliance, stamped against the dull dim white of a million falling drops. When it ended, I couldn't stay in, flushed out into the clearing air under a sky still heavy and damp.

The smell of woodsmoke filled the air, it seemed to drift up from the coppery pine needles that laced the path. A swirling breeze brought water smells from the muddy surge of the swollen bayou, and, passing drooping, dripping sunflowers, glaring golden against the thick brown billows, a hint of summer honey sweetened the air. Fitful gusts flung the cold sharp spray of a few last drops. And glimmering on the soft green ground, caught along each blade like beads of sliver, raindrops lingered, perched trembling on the shivering strands, as if the soft gray sky itself had settled, sifting through grass fingers.

Caught and held captive by each small crystal, I slowed and stopped and wanted nothing more than to be some small animal so I could bend and drink my fill. A bird, maybe, flitting down from my sodden branch with a beak like smooth glass, dipping up a shimmering sip and with back-tilted head, take in the rain. Or a mouse with deft and delicate paws pulling a blade to sniff this bit of fallen sky with whiskers wet, and then with tiny tongue, explore the shining, cool and cleansing wetness down the center.

I wanted to be something small, to look around and find myself amid a field of silver treasure. I knelt and touched my finger to one drop, poised atop one small, arching blade. The globe of dampness bulged unbroken, until I drew my hand away, then split in two, I held a tiny round of cloudy sky, then brought my finger to my lips, and tasted the rare, pure sweetness of new fallen rain.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Exciting News!

My little sister is now engaged! Scary. Kind of hard to wrap my head around the fact that she's an adult.

So anyway, if you see her on Facebook, give her a shout. She's very happy, and we're all very happy for her!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Mom's surgery went even more smoothly than the surgeon anticipated. Got to see her for a bit while she had a drink of water and settled into her room. Then she zonked out again, and I left her snoozing. Brooke'll be staying with her tonight, and all's well. I'm back home, relieved, exhausted, and gotta pack!

Thanks for all the well wishes!

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Sun'll Come out...

Tomorrow, I'm a little nervous about. Mom's scheduled for surgery at 11am. I'm going to try to meet them at the hospital before she's admitted. I'll be working on my laptop, so I'll stay occupied. I'm not *really* worried about how things will go. It's a routine thing to fix herniated discs. And it's not like Mom hasn't had a surgical procedure, like, when I was born. Still, I get nervous. And I don't much care for hospitals.

Still, I want to be there in case the doctor needs to anything. And because I want to know the score. When she'll get out, what she'll need. My sister's got class, then work, and, I dunno, I just don't want my mom dropped off at the hospital and left there until the next day. It's not likely anything will go wrong, but it could, and someone should be there. Family. I hate that my mom lives alone, and I'm just so glad my godparents are letting her stay with them in Bryan while she recovers, and that my sister will be in the same town if Mom needs anything.

And, well, I'll be there tomorrow, it's the least I can do. But I have to come back tomorrow night so I can fly out to Louisiana tomorrow. And I'll visit on Saturday. But... I feel bad I can't do more. I mean, she's my mom.

So, anyways, thoughts, prayers, fingers crossed. Here's to a safe, successful surgery and a quick recovery! It's going to be a long day.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Projects Beget Projects

My project for today was to get ready to do a painting. I've been tired of the canvas over my couch for a while, but it's better than blank wall. Still, it's an unfinished seaside landscape from Big Sur. I haven't touched it in years, and now I realize I never will. I've lost interest in the project, and I don't see a way forward.

Still, I need something over the couch, and it's a $65 canvas.

I decided on something that would pull together elements of the Tuscan countryside, the architecture of Siena, and the colors of the contrada flags I brought home. I've been working all day on some ideas. I've been working with Photo Shop and a picture I took through an archway at San Bernardino. I cropped and moved and scaled and copied and pasted to get something that looked right. Then I used Visio to work out a technique I learned in drawing class, superimposing a grid and cross-hatch over the image, to give me landmarks to work with when I begin painting, to get proportions and spacing right. I still have to piece together my print out, which will end up being the same size as my canvas. Still a lot of work to do, but I feel better about being able to finish this one.

I do need to get some photographs to figure out how to do the draping on a contrada flag I want to include. I've had them hanging above my patio doors, folded and fastened with hem tape. I need this one to hang differently for my studies, and I've been wondering if the tape was the best idea anyway. Thus a new project is born.

I've discovered that pulling at the tape doesn't rip the fabric, but it does distort the weave. And it's hard to detach. It turns out, Goo Gone is my friend. Which then washes out fairly well without bleeding the color. So the next project is to pull them all down, remove the tape, wash them out, and press them. After I get my photos to help with my painting, I plan to fold them the way I want to hang them, press them into that shape, then hem them with a minimal amount of stitching. Then I'll need help hanging them again.

I think when I finish my painting, I'll post pictures of all the things I've done in the process. But for now it's a surprise. :-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


A long time ago, we visited Grandma and Grandpa, and Grandpa showed us the new carvings he'd been working on. Visiting Grandpa's shop was always memorable for me, and as he showed us the bigger, more sophisticated pieces, my unsophisticated eye was caught by a small carving, maybe three inches tall, a little blue jay. More stylized than realistic, and painted, unlike most of his pieces. A simple little thing, but I fell in love.

I asked Grandpa what he was going to do with it, and he smiled and said he didn't know, and I could tell he knew I wanted it. I didn't want him to think I was greedy, and I don't think I could ever ask an artist to give me even the smallest work of his hands. We went home, and I put it out of my mind. When I unwrapped my present from Grandpa the next Christmas, and I saw that little blue jay carving, I don't think I've ever had a gift that made me happier.

Grandpa died back in 1998. When I got the news, time stopped. I hung up the phone and walked to the window. They were unremarkable moments, everything my eyes fell upon were things I'd seen every day. I looked out of my apartment into the courtyard, and heard the call of a blue jay. I stared blankly into the sunlight, my mind empty, and the jay fluttered down onto the sidewalk, the sunlight irridescent on wings like lapus lazuli. He looked at me looking at him, and cocked his head, hopping a bit, then he flew away as my eyes filled with tears.

Ever since then, blue jays bring Grandpa to mind. Daddy died on the same day, four years later. The pair of jays that nest outside my window at work give me pause every time I see them.

A few years ago, when Mom was moving to Schertz, one of the dogs got into one of the cardboard boxes, and one of the things in that box was my blue jay. Mom tried to glue some of the broken off splinters back, but finally asked if I just wanted her to send it to me. I said that would probably be best, but when I saw it, all I could do was cry and put it back in it's wrappings.

The second and third times weren't much better. But finally I was able to take a look at the damage and Mom's repair. Most of what she'd done I decided I'd need to undo, so I started in with an exacto-knife. I cut away the glue and shaved some slivers off some of the edges so they'd fit better. I glued the tail back together, and set it aside. I wasn't sure how to proceed, and it was still pretty emotionally draining work.

Yesterday I was putting some things back in the tool box that we'd used in setting up the new TV. And I saw the wood glue. And I got an idea.

I pulled out some tooth picks, put down a paper towel, and started dripping wood glue into the cracks where things had to be glue back, and to fill the pits where Ollie's teeth crushed in the wood. The glue softened the wood some and I was able to push some things back into place. Today I pulled down my acryllics and my brushes and began to paint over the glue.

I'm not the artist he was; I haven't put in the time. And I don't have the paints he used so I couldn't match the colors just right. But you'd have to look a lot closer to see the damage now. It's fixed, and I can display it with his other carvings. It means so much to me, and I'm so happy I'm crying. :-P

I was talking to Tim last night about my repairs, and I asked him, at what point, as I poke and prod and glue and paint, does it cease to be my grandfather's work?

Tim answered, "It's a collaborative art project between your grandfather, you...

"and your mother's dog."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Quick Update

In as few words as possible. Details available upon request.

* Mom's having her surgery on July 2.
* I'm getting a new TV tomorrow.
* Danny asked if I still wanted to move to New Orleans. Maybe in December...
* I've now held a job for 2 years.
* I switched to Green Mountain Energy and have started drinking herbal teas.

Other than all of that, life is pretty much what it's been for the past few years.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Through a Glass

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. - 1 Corinthians 13:12
Lately it’s occurred to me that while I have been successful in preserving a certain innocence and wonder in my life, I have, in some of the best ways, become a grown up. It’s not the fact that I use adult language at times (especially on the freeway), or that I’ve learned to enjoy certain alcoholic beverages (only very sweet ones). It’s not that I have a job, pay my bills, or even that, well, I was married.

When I was a child, dad would joke about me becoming a doctor or a lawyer, so I could afford the best old folks home there was for him. It made me uncomfortable, the thought of taking care of my folks some day. Of being the one in charge, instead of being the one they cared for. It was before my sister was born. I felt like it would of course be my duty, and that I loved these people and would certainly do the best for them, but it felt like it would be a weight, and I was so little, I couldn’t imagine ever being old enough to bear it. But now I do have a job and pay my bills, and can take care of myself, and I find myself feeling protective of my mother. She doesn’t need my care yet, of course, but I do care. I like giving gifts, things that people would like, but my mom… there’s no way I can ever pay her back for what she’s given me. She’s an amazing woman whom I respect more and more as time passes, and if I could buy the world I’d give it to her in a golden bowl. She will never be a burden. I know what I owe her, and I will give her nothing less.

A big part of this, of course, is that I’ve learned to take care of myself. When I was a child, adults seemed to me… capable, competent, confident. I was unsure of myself, wasn’t sure of my place, or if I found a place, if I could fill it. But over the past few years I’ve realized that wherever I am, I can make a place for myself and fill it with ease and grace and joy. Not because I’m perfect and never make mistakes. But because I know what my failings are, I know my limits. And I’ve had PLENTY of experience cleaning up my mistakes. Knowing I can fix what I don’t do right takes a lot of the fear out of just living, and I think that maybe not all grown ups are lucky enough to have found that place for themselves, I know that in that sense, I am a grown up by the definition I always held. I’m capable, competent, and confident!

There are many childish things I will never put aside. I am not ashamed of the magic I find in a world hemmed in by the prosaic machinations of mundane minds. I’m not ashamed to be awed by a dew drop or babble with a baby, or event to blush and refuse to participate when things that are private and powerful to me are joked about crudely. I’ve never gotten plastered, or had a one-night stand, or gone crazy the way some people did when they wanted to grow up faster. I never wanted to grow up, and certainly wasn’t about to speed up the process. It happened, of course, but in a different way, and it’s hard in some ways, but it’s made me who I am, and I’m very happy with that.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11

When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. – C S Lewis

Monday, May 26, 2008

We Won't Forget

Who I'm remembering and am thankful for today:

  • Uncle Earl, WWII, fought in the Pacific on a submarine crew, who can't remember much any more
  • Grandpa, WWII, ship's cook on a naval sub, died of cancer in 1998
  • Popo, WWII, served in the army in North Africa, died in an accident in 2001
  • Daddy, navy submarines, died of a heart attack in 2002
  • Bud, my godfather, who was stationed all over before going back and getting his degree at A&M, and who still loves his country, and would probably serve if he could
  • Mr. Butler, Korea, my old English teacher I haven't talked to since I graduated high school, but who would tell stories about the trenches and the rations
  • Marvin, whose navy tattoos were the first tattoos I remember seeing on a person :-P
  • Em's Brad, Iraq, who came home injured, but is doing okay, thank God

And those are just the people I can name. I'm so thankful for everyone who has fought or is fighting. Who are you remembering today?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Homemade Soup and Other Warm Thoughts

After last night's soup stock disaster, I wasn't sure it would work out. I left work and went straight to the store. I got home an hour later with a five pound boneless ham (ever hopeful), a better masher for the beans, and a serious scrub brush.

Between the scrub brush, a rough sponge, and about a cup of baking soda as an abrasive, the 16 quart stainless steel stock pot nearly ruined by the catastrophe that still laces the air of my apartment with the lingering oder of burnt beans, rose from the literal ashes and now shines *almost* like new.

I boiled up that ham, mashed those beans, added the already cooked venison sausage bits, and after two hours of simmering, mashed up the beans and ham cubes some more (I really like my masher, it gets the grrrs out). I skim it every so often as it cools, and I've already had my first bowl. It's delicious and rich and warm and filling. My stomach feels hugged. I am now faced with the ubiquitous soup quandry of, "NOW what do I do with 6 to 8 quarts of soup?"

It's a comfortable sort of evening. I've been trying so hard to get to a better place in my life that I have probably missed numerous opportunities to make *this* a better place (though to be fair, I've siezed a fair number as well). A few days ago I felt like Iwas in a circling eddy current I couldn't get out of. Now I feel like maybe I've found a sheltered cove to drowse and dream in. A time to stop, to sit down in this little furrow with my back to a bank of tilled earth, with the honey smell of summer grasses and the scent of fresh moist soil in my mind. I have sown. I will harvest. Now is a time of waiting. A time of rest. And after I reap the bounty of my patience and peace...

I'll make more soup.

Friday, May 16, 2008

First Harvest

Bit of a meager harvest. I can't really seem to find the right balance for watering. Some more beans out there, just not very big yet.

Personal Victory

I am proud to announce that the Onshore Piping document that I began about a year and a half ago, as one of my first big projects for Shell and IDI went live last week, and all of the old redundant and out-dated documentation it replaces has been archived and obsoleted.

I thought that thing would *never* die.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Bean Progress

More photos are up in my Beans! album, but in spite of some problems we're having, we've started to produce!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Work of my hands

Tomorrow is the last class for the beginning drawing class I'm taking. I just finished my homework drawing, and I'm very proud of it, so here's me showing off. My scanner wasn't big enough, so the top and bottom curves are cropped, but you get the idea. I've posted other homework drawings here, and will probably post the other projects I've been working on inspired by this class later.

This last one, though, I think I'll frame.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

But something makes paths.

I found a secret, hidden in plain sight.

The signs that say Stonewood Nature Trail lead to a gate in the fence around this place. The gate opens into a path down into the bed of the small stream that drains into the bayou. You can see it's mouth from my patio.

The steps are beginning to crumble. Two picnic tables are covered with last autumn's dry leaves. The debris of human traffic lies half buried in the dust, and it seems as probable that it was washed here by the last high water as that it was discarded directly by human hands. Beyond one forgotten table, surging mounds of green rustle knee deep on either side of a narrow crease, some lost path, studded with tricornered white flowers no bigger than dimes.

Carefully threading my steps into the void between the ground cover, I walk only ten or fifteen paces into a world that's almost natural forest. With my back to the chain-link fence on the other side of the stream, and to the power lines that run along the opposite ridge, I stare up into a fold of land pillared by tall trees and draped in greenery. Grape vines hang down from the branches, with younger tendrils winding their way up thicker, older vines. A house sparrow, one of the birds that looks ragged and sooty pecking motes out of the asphalt in a parking lot, flits by, and seems transformed from a tattered scavenger to a crisp, alert little wood spirit, eying me not with the skittish edginess it shows in people's world, but with a friendly, if aloof, sort of welcome.

You'd think that the fence and the power lines and the sudden click and whir of an air conditioning unit on the bank across the creek is more than enough to account for my "almost natural" bit above. But those are large, obvious things. And blatantly obvious things are the things that can sometimes be most easily ignored.

The reasons I say almost natural are the things that nag at my mind, that it takes me a moment to pin down. Those broad leaves on the other side of the pooled and trickling water, those aren't native. They're elephant ear plants run wild from some one's yard. The same goes for the huge clover leaves and purple flowers running at the edges of the white-flowered plant that seems to have taken over most of the cleared ground. I've seen them along manicured lawns, never in the wild. There's a smell in the air, pulsing through the earth and water and tree smells, warm on gusts of a high wind that does little more than gently breath down this gully. Then I have it. Rose bushes. From a neighboring yard.

And I wonder what makes the paths. They remind me most of deer trails, but there can't be any deer here. I suppose these could just be very old and almost overgrown man-made trails. Or maybe even water runoff. It's a bit of a mystery, here where people don't seem to have been for a long time. But perhaps the visitors come briefly like me, and leave little behind, not even bothering to sweep the debris from the tables.

I stand in stillness, move only my eyes towards any sound that doesn't seem wind-made. I watch a speck float in the pool below me, cradled in brown banks. I watch my speck speed up as it heads towards silent ripples over ivory colored gravel and fine brown sand. I watch it float into a broader pool. I turn slowly, soaking in sights and smells and sounds from all around.

Then I walk back, so intent on trying to see if any of those itchy little leaflets three are around that I almost walk face first into grapevines. I should come back down in late summer to see if there are any grapes. The idea of picking grapes from wild vines to make jelly takes me back years and miles to Momo's house outside of La Grange. Picking dewberries from the thorny brambles that hide rusting metal in an old scrap yard. Driving up and down the dirt roads, stopping by clumps of trees covered over in broad green leaves to search out the small, dark, sweet mustang grapes.

In spite of the exotic garden plants, in spite of the power lines and leaf-blanketed benches, suddenly this feels like home.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


A week ago I visited the Pompei exhibit at the HMFA. I promised Kerri I'd let her know what I thought, so I took a few notes while I was there, and I've let it settle for a while, so here's what I thought.

First, I probably would have enjoyed the experience a lot more if it had been less crowded, so Kerri, if you can go during the week, maybe a morning, and avoid any sort of school field trip, you might like it a lot more than I did. They also had free audio tour headsets, but I didn't want one, so I don't really know what I missed with that, but I'm kind of grumpy that I would need one. And it made me grumpy how people would talk to each other (somewhat loudly) about what they were hearing in their headsets. I guess I would have just liked a little more quiet to contemplate in.

So, what's in the exhibit? I mean, a chronicle of the explosion would seem more fitting for the HMNS, really, so why the art museum? Well, the feature pieces are the wall frescos, the statues, the amphorae and urns and jewelry. Not the people who were caught, or the architecture buried under the rubble, but the precious and beautiful possessions the wealthy returned to recover. Of these I was most caught by the rings that held polished precious stones carved with tiny pictures of hens and chicks, gods and godesses, and other tiny icons. They were lovely, intricate, meticulously and delicately carved.

Most of the labels and descriptions were well done. There would be a portion describing the piece itself, possibly where it was found or with whom, and then another paragraph describing the significans or prevalence of that form of art or object in general. Those paragraphs were somewhat redundantly scattered across the exhibit, but if you didn't read and retain it at one piece, I guess it needs to be with all of the applicable pieces. I just would have like a little more detail, but I guess that's what the headsets were for.

One inscription in particular was noticably poor. I mean, bracelets that were very obviously snakes were quite particularly labeled "realistic snake bracelet in gold" and huge gold necklaces from which a tiny crescent pendant dangled were inscribed with care to make sure you noticed the crescent. But one small object, about a half an inch long, was only labeled, "Silver pendant."

Well, it was a silver pendant of male genetalia. I would have liked to know what the significance might have been, or with what sort of person it had been found, but no cultural or anthropological insight here. I suppose it was too embarassing.

It seemed a strange sort of prudishness, though, in light of what I found most disturbing about the exhibit. In each room, as a sort of center piece drawing more people than the objets d'art, were single or grouped casted bodies. Most were the older plaster casts, one was a newer resin cast, showing both shape and, through the translucent medium, bone structure.

I suppose there was a gritty realism in the way they sprawled on the floor, trapped in death and clear protective walls like insects in amber. And I've seen mummies and such in museums. But this in some ways sickened me. On entry there's a sculpted replica of a group of skeletons huddled and slumped in death, as found, along the quay of a port where they tried to shelter and escape. It was powerful and moving, but it wasn't real. It was a re-creation. The casts, those are real. All that is left of people that died in terror and hopelessness. Covering their faces with veils. Children cringing into the sides of their parents. A child, laid down beside his family, tiny face almost like life, like sleep, full lips and the trembling shell-like eyelids that, even in plaster, seemed like they could blink and slowly, sleepily open. I stood by that child and wept.

It's different from mummies, from burial relics. No one but death closed these eyes. No friend or mourning loved-one arranged these limbs for the last sleep. These people are held in the moments of their greatest horror, fears, supplications, dispair, all fixed forever. No funeral, no parting, just the unceremonious, unfeeling dump of natural disaster. And now here they are on display. The false skeletons at the front are cast in false soil, with images around and behind them, giving them some semblance of archeological significance. They are placed in a setting of ruin and the slow decay of time, and partially unearthed by the artist in the same way they would have been gently uncovered by the scientist. But the bodies in the exhibit halls lie on the floor, against the deep red paint and carpet that so effectively sets off the gold and gems of their goods. One cast reveals a man crouched against a wall with his hands covering his face, the grief of catastrophic loss and the knowledge of inescapable death in every line. And something in me rebelled. No one should be looking at that, under brilliant lights and flamboyant paint, wearing our polo shirts and torn jeans and our informative little head sets. There was a twisted figure of a dog that the inscription said had tried to escape by climbing on top of his dog house. Now body wrapped around agony and mouth open, it lies on a slightly raised platform surrounded by bronze statues and golden jewelry, and the man beside me looked at it and laughed.

There were things I enjoyed about the exhibit. I did like that many of the objects were described in terms of the places and people they were recovered near. Goods from a goldsmith's shop. Lamps held up against the gathering midday gloom. Treasures of the rich and treasures of the workers. Small statuettes of the god Mercury in silver, intended to protect travelers. Places named by the finds within, like Alley of the Skeletons or House of the Gold Bracelet. The powerful reminder that we will be identified by those who come after us not by the people we are so much as the things we owned, because this will be the only thing that remains of who we are. And the things these people left behind paint a rich and fascinating picture.

Not only adopted Greek gods are given artistic significance. Egyptian gods and goddeses cover small shrines and cups. A lamp is carved with a face bearing features of deeper Africa. A picture of a people both sophisticated and cosmopolitan, yet still identifiably Roman emerges. Powerful women, who owned land in their own right and influenced the politics of their world. Gladiators once slaves fighting for the entertainment of the rich, but with such skill and bravery that they have been freed and given a place in the world that they were once only a spectacle for. Paintings from a tavern wall showing seduction, gambling, comeradery, conflict, and the publican evicting his rowdier clients. Doesn't sound very different from today's bars.

It was in some ways a fascinating, informative, and moving exhibit. It was in other ways lurid and, in my opinion, degrading. I watched the film on the way out, however, that described the destruction of Pompei as a moral for "careful, respectful use of the land." It was the last impression I took away from an exhibit I was already not sure I liked. The idea that by farming in rich volcanic soil, these people brought down this destruction upon themselves is untenable and gratuitously neo-eco-evangelistic without even being apt. I left the exhibit frustrated and angry.

My verdict on Pompei? It was okay, but it could have been so much more.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Good Balconies Make Good Neighbors

Today was moving day for the beans. Many hugs and thanks to Kevin for meeting me at Lowes after work and helping me haul dirt. I still need another bag, though. But I think I can handle it on my own, Kevin, don't worry.

Wrist deep, sometimes elbow deep in moist soil. Gently teasing apart the delicate root webs. Snugging the transplanted sprouts down into new beds and pulling and patting the soil around their new homes. Sweat beads rolling down my neck and dripping off of strands of my hair. Crumbling clods in my hands. Stooping. Standing. Stretching. Pushing hair off my forehead, smudging dirt on my nose. The smell, the feel, the rich brown and fresh green.

About half-way done, my new neighbor across the corridor came out onto her balcony and called out to me. We introduced ourselves and chatted about some problems she's having with the unit (due to poor housekeeping on the part of the previous tenants). She and her husband moved here from Ohio, and she's glad to be away from the snow.

Between the agriculture and the neighborly conversation, I felt like I was home again.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Streeeetchy Sprouts!

So, I took some photos of my brand new sprouts yesterday when I first met them. I've posted two below.
So I went out today, one day later, expecting a little progress. Well.... There's been... A little progress! Check it out!

I've uploaded more photos here.

I really need to thin them SOON. I didn't really expect them... ALL... to come up. But I don't want to lose any of them. Yes, yes, I've become attached to my bean plants. Sigh. I think I'll need more than two planters for decent cross pollination anyway, so I may bet two more planters on my way home tomorrow, and some more soil, and just transplant them.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Sprouts Sprouts Sprouts!

Little green tubulets poking little arched necks out of the soil, about to lift their little green beany heads!


Sunday, March 16, 2008


I have three packets of green bean seeds. I borrowed a nickel from my mother and paid for them in exact change. $0.65.

I bought a watering can and two long rectangular planters that are sitting by the door to my back porch.

I also bought two bags of organic potting soil specially for potted vegetables that are sitting in the trunk of my car because they’re heavyish and bulkyish, and I can only handle one of them at a time.

Eddie has a note to make sure I keep Easter Saturday clear, because on that day, I will plant my little seeds.

Then I will have green beans a plenty, and hopefully enough during the summer to eat fresh, and then some to freeze for the rest of the year.

Mostly I can’t wait to have tiny sprouts to tend.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A leeetle too close to home...

You've seen my wall of books. Or perhaps you can just imagine...

That's got to be one of the most common questions anyone who sees it asks. Have I read them all. Well, no, I haven't, but... most of them...

Oh well. As I told Willie yesterday. I can only be myself. And if that's off putting, so be it. Being what they want will make me unhappy until I stop, and at that point, being who I am will make them unhappy. Not going there. Ever again.

Oh, and still no word on the project that might lead me half-way around the world. When I do, be sure I'll let you know!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Au... Au... WHERE???

Subject line of the boss-lady's e-mail:


*Meep* Must read deeper...

As a remote possibility someone may be interested....this note is to extend a project invitation to one of the three of you. It would require being pulled off , obviously, for several months.
We're about to start a large desk procedure/process project for ...

As a separate project, asked if we could find a writer who would be willing to go to their HQ in Australia and then possibly to Costa Rica for a couple of weeks to help get the processes in place. This would take place probably midsummer after we've completed the desk procedures.
The overseas stuff is a bit open-ended: dates, locations, formal amount of travel have yet to be discussed.
Thought I'd check with you first - if there is any interest, please let me know.

Now, the other two folks aren't quite as portable as single little me, so...

Well, I'm interested. I have personal travel plans in September, though, that would need to be accommodated (i.e. I've already paid a bunch of money for the trip), so if that's a problem, I won't be able to do it. Aside from that, sounds like a good opportunity.

Additional boss-lady e-mails have been forthcoming...

Good! I had a feeling you might be interested.
Am not sure what Sept will be like but most probably can work around your vacation....


It's actually, Melbourne (sp?; primarily), Santiago, and West Africa, based on my notes I re-read.

If this changes anything for you, let me know.

and finally, my response...

That only changes the immunizations I might have to get. I'll have to look into that. I checked my passport last night, and it's good through 2016.





Sunday, February 10, 2008

Makayla's 1, and Her Mom's a Genius

Edit: For those who were amused that all the pictures are of decorations, and not the birthday girl, all I can say is that *I* barely saw her, she was so popular and was being handed around so fast. :-) Im sure someone got pictures.

My cousin Stephanie's little girl Makayla turned 1, and we all celebrated her birthday at Momo's this past weekend. Stephanie had food and decorations like you wouldn't believe!

I helped fill balloons with helium, and put together the arrangement below.

The kitchen was bestrewn with hors d'ouerves and hanging decorations.

The dining room was all done up, and that's where the desserts were.

Check out the dragonfly treats made from pretzels!

And of course, all the sugar cookies hand decorated by Stephanie herself. Geez.

And of course, a throne for the birthday princess. :-)

A birthday cake worthy of the food network...

And the birthday girl's own special birthday cake, all for her own. Ladybugs were the theme for the day. My invitation was a hand made ladybug whose wings spread open to show the invitation info.

The most *amazing* fruit bouquet. Not only was it gorgeous and full of color, it smelled amazing; filled the whole kitchen with the smell of fresh fruit.

Oh, and check out the strawberries. What did I tell you about ladybugs? This was perhaps the coolest thing, to me.

Uncle Steve made ribs, which I got to get a sneak preview of, because Ihad to leave before everything was ready to serve. But it was really great to get out there and see the family. My cousin Shane was there with his kids, and had some remote-controlled cars he and his boy Jeffrey were tinkering with. Abby ran around and barked at them, keeping a safe distance, of course. All in all, it's a bit of a long day when you drive out there and back all in one afternoon, but it was a gorgeous day yesterday, and a nice drive, and I'm glad I got to be there with everyone.

Happy birthday, Makayla!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thou Art Beautiful

When I first learned of her, I couldn’t have been any older than seven years old. The book was part of an encyclopedia of science for young people. I forget what technical question sparked this gift from my parents, but there was a set of narrow books from A to Z and there were the extra, “bonus” books that truly fascinated me. Fish, Mammals, Birds… and Primates.

Somewhere in the lucid text and glossy photos there it was: an evolutionary tree showing the relationship between man and ape. In the pages around this chart I found and was enchanted by her story. The discovery of a few scattered bones fossilized in an African dessert valley. Their amazing scientific significance and the astounding depths of time my young mind now had to comprehend. My first lesson on evolution.

This wasn’t Eve. This was Lucy.

I had seen my family tree, with my name (appropriately, it seemed to me) at the apex of a branching sprawl of other names, some so old they belonged to people that died before I was even born, but still recognizably a part of myself. So I knew what I was looking at when I found this particular picture and poured over it, lying on my stomach on the living room floor. I was related to gorillas and chimpanzees? I was a part of a tree with roots going back more years than I could in any way comprehend? I came from beings with names Mom and Dad couldn’t even pronounce? I was confused.

I had already asked Mom about the dinosaurs. If God had created all the animals and then us in six days, and put us in Eden to live until we were foolish enough to get ourselves kicked out, well, how did dinosaurs fit in? How could they possibly have existed thousands of years before people (in spite of what the Flintstones would have you believe) the way my books said? This was science, but what about Genesis?

Mom put forward the theory that God created fossils to test our faith in His Word. I pondered this, but even then it didn’t sit well with me. My book spoke of “missing link” hoaxes since the days of Darwin, and the idea of God basically perpetrating the perfect hoax bothered me. No doubt He could if He wanted. He is all-powerful. I do think that this dichotomy of science and religion is a test, just nothing so simplistic. But dinosaurs were a mental exercise to me. Lucy was more personal. She made me question not just how God works, but what He might intend for me. I came up with my own theories and feelings, and I’ve worked on them all my life as I learn more from without and within about my world and myself. For me, God is still wondrous and mysterious and no matter how He created the earth, I feel that greatness in my heart. That doesn’t mean it’s easy for me as a rational and analytical person. Without limiting God’s power, without disputing the veracity of His Word in the Bible, and without discounting powerfully compelling scientific evidence, account for the universe. Ready, set, go.

And in my mother’s defense, she continued to buy me dinosaur books.

Ever since I first read about her, then, Lucy has had this incredible impact on me. Meeting her and learning of her connection with me began a personal spiritual and mental dialogue that has strengthened my faith even as it has challenged the views that I accepted freely in my childhood. When I learned that she would be coming to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, I was floored. I’ve seen pictures of her bones and artists’ renderings of her face, but I never thought I’d get the chance to see her remains myself, in person. This was an opportunity I just couldn’t miss.

I went to visit Lucy yesterday. In Ethiopia, her home, she’s known as Dinkenesh, which means, according to one of the educational videos, “Thou art beautiful,” or to another, “You are wonderful.” Either is perfectly appropriate.

She is wonderful. I wanted to approach her with reverence. I read carefully all the accounts of the prehistory she was a part of and the history in which she was rediscovered. I watched the videos about her country today and the video in which her discoverer was interviewed. I took all of these things into my heart, along with the child’s awe undimmed from my first acquaintance with her. I still can’t remember all the long Latinate names, but I tried hard to focus on the story of human evolution that was beautifully displayed in a mural around the walls of the room she lies in. A mural flanked by mirrors.

Then I approached the case that holds her bones.

I was moved nearly to tears. Her bones are so small, her remains so scant. Barely an outline of a form, and yet these few fossilized bones mean so much. They had an enormous scientific impact at the time she was found. For me they have had an enormous personal impact for years.

Her tiny hip joint is like ours in miniature in features that show that she walked like we do. Her pelvis is marked, they say, in ways that show she might have borne a child. Her tiny toe bone, so small and so perfect. A vein of minerals glistens in a bone of her foot, and the marrow of her thigh is fossilized in darker stone than the surrounding bone. Splinters at the end of her humerus, even in stone, make her arm look so fragile, so delicate, like a child’s bones, and this made her more real to me than I can really describe. She has gone from being an image in my head to being someone I feel like I know. Someone I’ve had the privilege to meet.

She makes me question my own place, not only in my world today, but in evolutionary history/God’s plan. We aren’t descendent from Lucy per se, but perhaps from a contemporary. This makes me wonder, if gorillas and chimps aren’t driven to extinction or to the brink, where their genetic pool no longer has enough depth, what might they evolve into alongside ourselves? Yes, I’ve seen Planet of the Apes, but I’m serious. What could they become? What could we become? How strange might we look to someone so distant from us as we are from Lucy? (Supposing, of course, that anyone was around that far into the future, which is, as it was when I was seven, more than I can really comprehend.)

I hope we are as beautiful, as meaningful, as wonderful to them as she is to me.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year, 2008!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' auld lang syne?

I need to go to bed soon, but first I wanted to share my pictures of my busy and fun filled New Year's Eve party.

I got my candles all burned, with only one minor setback. I got some great pictures. For those of you who know about my pyrophobia, you should be proud of me, though mostly my fingers never got anywhere near the fire, and I *was* pretty nervous. But I managed.

I watched my Mythbusters, chatted with Katy after she texted me at midnight her time, drank and ate my yummies, and had fun melting my candles. I wrote in a journal for the first time in a long time, and now I'm ready to call it a night. Tomorrow I start the new year in earnest. Happy New Year, my loves!