Monday, December 31, 2007

Looking back at 2007

'Tis the time of year to reflect on 2007 and to plan for 2008.

In January 2007, there were lots of things I never imagined coming to pass throughout the year:
  • Embracing changes at work -- switching jobs within the department, getting two new bosses (and seeing our CFO leave), and looking forward to parts of corporate culture again. I gained more confidence in my abilities, and learned not to fear the unknown so much ... it might just turn out to be a good thing!
  • Looking forward to my 20th high school reunion. I always have ambivalence about those days, but I think I've finally made my peace with the girl I was all those years ago, and loving who I am today. I enjoyed speaking with my classmates on an adult level, not reverting back to the old patterns. A lot of my online friends told me that the 10th was miserable for them, but the 20th was better because everyone was settled. They were right. It was fun and I can't believe I'm actually looking forward to the 25th.
  • Becoming a pet parent. Maddox came into my life needing a good home. I've given him that, food, medical care, others who love him ... but he has given me far more. I love my "little buddy" and can't imagine my life without him. All of us love him dearly -- and he returns that love every day.
  • Doing "Race for the Cure." Sure, I'd planned to do this, but I wondered if I actually could do it. Having Maddox to walk really helped me train -- another of the wonderful serendipities placed in my path. I harbored a hope that I could do it in an hour, and I was only 6 minutes over that. But that's okay -- I have 10 months to work on my timing, and get it under an hour for the 2008 race.
  • Reaching both my 100- and 150-pound milestones. I was amazed to hit that 100-pound mark after 50 weeks on the program, and even more astounded to hit 150 pounds gone in just 6 more months (Thanksgiving week). I still have a good way to go to hit my final goal -- and a year to accomplish it!
2008 is going to be good, and I'm going to do all in my power to bring that end about.

And to all of you, my very fondest wishes that all your dreams come true, and that you have enough resources to meet all your needs (and a few of your wants)!

Much love to you!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Meme from Kate/Susan

Best Album: Raising Sand, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. Yes, while I have completely enjoyed Long Road Out of Eden (the Eagles), something about Sand has kept me coming back for even more. I'm not sure what.

Best Non-Fiction: Well, I don't know if it counts as "reading" (since I listened to it on Radio Reader), but it's John Grisham's The Innocent Man. I am also going to read Too Late to Say Goodbye (Ann Rule), also heard on Radio Reader.

Best TV Series: You know, I just haven't done that much with TV. If it wasn't football, baseball, "Dog Whisperer" or something else on Animal Planet or TLC, I pretty much didn't watch it. Except for my old fave, L&O:SVU.

Best Fiction: Tie -- Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary (both by Deanna Raybourn). And I'm not just saying that because she's on my messageboard. They are actually the best books I read this year.

Best Kids’ Music: I. Don't. Do.

Best Movie: I don't go to the movies. I can't see spending $7 for the probability of getting sick in the cinema.

Best Sign of the Apocalypse: Dustin Diamond actually thinking we'd be remotely interested in him. Period. Oh, and he sucked on CFC IV.

Best Come Back of the Year: Led Zeppelin. Even if it was for just one night.

Best Old TV show you are just getting into: I haven't really.

Best grocery store: My very own Ingles, right here in town.

Best (Summer) Vacation: I didn't go on summer vacay. I took the time but stayed at home for some needed rest.

Proudest Accomplishments this year: Losing ~80 pounds (154 total since May '06). And doing Race for the Cure.

Goals for Next Year: Enjoying each day. Finding something good to celebrate. Looking for goodness wherever it may be.

Most Exciting Sports Moment of the Year: Out of all the ones I've watched? No idea. I've loved so many.

Saddest moment of the year: I don't know.

Happiest Moment of the Year: Spending time with my godchildren, and having them enjoy my company.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The quiet of a Christmas morn...

In December 1993, the "traditional choir" at Santa Bovina church (my old parish) sang with Peatown United Methodist's choir in a two-evening concert series. One of the songs we sang was a gorgeous piece called "Carol of the Manger," which still makes me a little teary-eyed to this day. The final verse (if memory recalls) goes like this:

Mary in the morning, beside the manger
All the shepherds gone, no more angel choirs...
And the future in her arms.

One does have to wonder what happened when the sun came up on Christmas morning -- what Joseph and Mary must have thought. Here they were, a teen mother and her betrothed, with a miracle child announced to them separately by angels. Here they were, stuck in a cave at best, a crude barn at worst, and laying this precious little bundle in the feeding trough because nothing else is available. And in the midst of all this miracle stuff that they're trying to process, here come shepherds -- simple, poor, country people -- wanting to see their baby.

Can you imagine what Joseph might have said at that time? "Our baby? But why? Wait, wait -- you were on the hillsides with the sheep and the skies opened? Great light came through and an angel -- Mary, what IS it with these angels? -- an angel told you that you would find the Messiah in Bethlehem? Swaddling clothes ... lying in a manger? Well, yes, that would be us. Oh, and there was an angelic choir alongside? You know, given everything that's happened over the last year, it doesn't surprise me at all. Yes, please, come in ... here he is."

And once the shepherds were gone, and the sun was up, and it was just this tiny little holy family. The hubbub has died down, and it's just them. The first day of life outside the womb for eternity-stepping-into-time and boundlessness-into-physical-space (thanks to Fr. Sandy for the phrases). Reality sets in and the quiet of regular life comes tiptoeing in. A baby who does cry, who pees and poops and yawns and does everything else a baby does.

Of course, there's more to come in the story ... much more. Spread across two Gospels, and the timing is still not quite known for sure. We can take guesses. We know that they were in Bethlehem for a while. We know that he was circumcised on the eighth day, in accordance with the Law. We know that forty days after, because he was a boy-child, Mary was to go to the Temple for purification and to present him. We know that at some point, they were in a house -- so they might have stayed in Bethlehem for Joseph to do some work to earn enough money for the return trip to Nazareth, but who knows? And while they were in this house ... perhaps when Jesus was even around 18 months old or so ... astrologers from the Orient came to find him, unwittingly stopping by Herod's to inquire about the new King. Rut-roh!!! They found him, and gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Myrrh? An embalming spice? What the...? Oh well, it brings lots of money.

Mary & Joseph were going to need it. Once again, angels intervene, to both Joseph and the Oriental sages -- Get out now, Joseph -- head toward Egypt. Trust us on this. Hey, magi: Go back home a different way! Herod, in his madness and anger and fear at losing his kingdom, orders all males under age 2 in Bethlehem and the few surrounding hamlets slaughtered. Rounded up and killed for no other reason than insanity.

But before all that happened, it was a quiet morning in Bethlehem. A little cooing, a little stirring, a couple of changes of swaddles, and probably a lot of napping. And lots of pondering. In the quiet, lots and lots of wondering just what all the events of the night before meant, and how it would all turn out.

***

Every major religious festival in this time has a similar theme: light triumphing over darkness. Whether it's the lights of the menorah, the fire of the Yule log, or the light of Christ, it all shares the universal hope for peace and justice.

During this time of celebrating the light, enjoy the quiet of the Christmas morning. Best wishes to you and yours.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in Crackerbox Palace

A few years ago, one of my friends had read Grisham's Skipping Christmas, and passed it on to me to read. We both were pretty much tired, over, and done with the "Canned Christmas Spirit®." She said to me, "Does this not sound like a wonderful idea in theory?" I loved the book and understood every bit of sentiment in it -- including that desire to "fit in" (when they're hounded by the neighborhood to put up Frosty).

As for me, Christmas really hasn't been the same since about 1981. Oh, the traditions stayed the same, but the location and ambience changed, and there are moments I'd give anything to whisk back to around Christmas 1977 or 1978. For much of my life, until the mid-90s, Christmas Day consisted of getting up, opening the presents, having breakfast, and then taking one present with me and going to my grandmother's for the day.

At that time, my grandmother lived in this little townhouse-style apartment. It was like a crackerbox -- just a small screened-in front porchlet, a teensy foyer next to the stairs, two medium-sized rooms downstairs, a very oddly shaped kitchen (long and narrow). Upstairs was the lone bathroom, and two bedrooms. Now imagine roughly 30 people crammed into this space. The kitchen barely had enough room for two people to work in -- there was no hope with 4 or 5 people all needing to warm stuff up. The downstairs rooms weren't huge either -- and with Granny's huge Christmas tree, there was even less room. But it was warm, loud, and full of love.

When it came time for dinner, all the adults and older grandchildren ate in the main rooms downstairs. We younger grandchildren ate on the stairs, in age order -- turning in opposite directions so that we could at least see each other. My brother and youngest cousin were always at the bottom.

In 1981, we had it at my uncle's house. Granny had had a stroke earlier that year, and wasn't up to maneuvering in her apartment just yet. In 1982, she had one last Christmas at the apartment. Then my uncle found a nice, one-floor, spacious apartment for her in an elder-complex in his town. My grandmother made sure to nab the activities building for our Christmas celebration each year. That continued until 1994 (if memory serves). That was after Granny moved to the nursing home ... and my aunt used her church's social hall for the dinner.

Granny died in October 1996. We had one last dinner there. It didn't seem right not to have it. We decided to make it the Sunday after Christmas, which was probably one of the smartest things we'd ever done. We had the largest crowd ever. I met some of my cousin's children for the first time; he's in the military and it was the first Christmas he'd ever had a chance to come down to the family dinner.

Then, as things go in families, the good will fell apart, and for the next several years, we had no Christmas gathering. At all. Nothing. In 2001, several of the cousins closest to my age were talking at my cousin's wedding, and we realized how much we missed our Christmas gatherings. None of us really wanted to do anything on Christmas Day itself -- especially given that so many of the cousins are married with kids and have other obligations. But something to mark the season.

So I came up with the idea of meeting in January, once all the holiday hubbub was over. I also figured if we had it at a restaurant, there would be no muss or fuss over who was bringing what, and who would be responsible for whatever. This way, you would show up, bring your money and your appetite, and that would be it. If you couldn't make it, we understood. If you could, fantastic! I'm working on #6 of the January Dinners. I look forward to those, because they're fun, they're drama-free (for the most part), and I love seeing everyone! While I miss those home-cooked meals, I enjoy the family time more.

But it's not the same as the days in Crackerbox Palace.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Of truckstop cafes and other surprises.

Here it is, the weekend before Christmas. A limited amount of Christmas spirit, at least as the retail industry would see it. I did some shopping -- for others and myself. And I have a little more to do tomorrow, and then I am DONE! But you know, I'm having a better Christmas even without all the hype and hoopla.

Today, I went to Atlanta to pick up some citrus fruit from a friend. On the way down, I stopped at a truck stop to pick up some water. I was fairly well impressed. This particular one (part of a national chain) was very clean, didn't smell like forty ashcans, and even had (are you ready?) fresh fruit at the checkout. That's a concept completely foreign to our area's largest convenience store chain. From what my friends tell me, several chains in Georgia carry fruit at their checkout. So I got my apple today too! I plan to write a letter to the owner of the local chain and ask him if that's something he'd consider implementing in his stores.

On the way home, I got in a mood for meat-and-three. If you're not sure what that means, "meat-and-three" is when you get some entree (usually off a list of about 4 or 5 options) with up to 3 sides -- can be veggies, but not necessarily. Well, there's always Cracker Barrel for that type of food, and there were a couple on the way home, but I just didn't want to stop there -- especially given that one of them was located at the Commerce exit.

Commerce, Georgia is home to a buttload of outlet centers. Any other day, it's fairly congested, but for the weekend before Christmas? No way was I even considering getting on that road. So I saw a sign for a couple of truck-stop restaurants a short distance away. One was a different location of the chain I'd visited that morning. So that gave me hope that I might get something fairly healthy.

My father drove a truck for about a year when I was in my teens -- and he loves truckstop cafes and Waffle Houses. Awful Waffles have their place, but not exactly my favorite eatery. It has to be before 11 AM or after 11 PM before I'll consider the Waffle. Daddy loves the places that aren't normally on everyone's list of must-eat-here --- not dives, mind you. Just overlooked places. He always said, "You know, if you're ever on the road, you can get a good meal at a lot of the larger truckstops...." I would smile politely and roll my eyes in my head.

But then a few years ago, I'd had a rather nice experience at one. Some friends and I decided to have a late breakfast before we went to an amusement park. The only place that we could find was at a truckstop (a large chain). We were pleasantly surprised -- they had great omelettes! So today I figured, "What the hell? At worst, I can get a salad, right?"

That's exactly what happened. They didn't have a meat-and-three, and the buffet touted on the sign existed no more. But they did have a nice selection -- nicer than you would think. Mel's Diner it was not. Color me very pleasantly surprised! They had a nice variety of appetizers, salads, grilled items (beef and poultry), sandwiches, breakfast stuff, even a good listing of desserts (more than I would have guessed). Even a sugar-free cheesecake -- say what? I ended up getting the grilled chicken BLT salad -- a nice grilled filet, salad mix, tomato, a couple of slices of bacon, olives, onions and even fat-free dressing.

I'm not sure why I was so surprised. Sometimes those off-the-beaten-path places can be the very places you need to be -- and so it was with me today. I did a little shopping but not as much as I'd planned. The mall exit was backed up to the interstate -- there went that. And the outlet exit was not as bad but traffic there is always nightmarish. I would have just about lost my mind today in those spots. Instead, I ended up in a place where I could slow down for a few minutes and enjoy the simpler things: a kind word, good food, friendly conversation.

And one of those little, off-shot places is part of the story behind this season: "But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah -- too small to be among the clans of Judah -- from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:1 NAB) The little places -- exactly where we need to be.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Innocent Age, indeed

Both Talmadge and Bolivar have written beautiful thoughts about the passing of Dan Fogelberg. I have pondered his passing all week, especially since a friend's husband is battling prostate cancer himself (and if I recall correctly, had surgery this week).

As my own tribute, I've been listening to a nice playlist of his music I put together on Rhapsody. The initial track is "Longer" (which Tal mentioned that I sang in his and Sera's wedding). It was one of my favorite songs anyway, so it was a joy and pleasure to sing that for them. The whole list has been great -- and surely beats the endless barrage of holiday music!!!

I admit that I haven't always been an album person -- I love singles to death, but only about a third of the time am I intrigued enough to get the full album. And so we come to The Innocent Age. Forgive me if you've heard the story before .........

It was spring 1982. WANS-FM came to "Freedom" High School (grades 7-12) and showed a film about the music industry. Lou Gramm of Foreigner was one of the persons featured -- primarily because 4 had been such a HUGE success the previous year. Anyway, I don't remember much about the film except that it highlighted "Jukebox Hero" at the end. And then the DJ said, "I need four people for a trivia contest!" I threw my arms as high as my short 4'11" frame could take them. Other people around me started pointing at me -- "pick her! pick her!" And so they did -- I was the final contestant.

My question: which of these groups has never had a Top Ten hit? My choices .... I forget the first two, but I remember the final two: Van Halen and the Grateful Dead. Okay, I figured that Van Halen had recently (off Diver Down; didn't they?).... so that left the Dead, and I knew somehow that they hadn't. I remembered reading something about it. So I said, "Can you repeat the question?" (quite the little pro, wasn't I?). Everyone laughed, including the DJ and myself. After the repeat I replied, "The Grateful Dead?" ..... AND WON! WOO HOO! My prize: the double album The Innocent Age, on VINYL, by God!

A couple of my friends were like, "Oh girl. You got the booby prize." I knew they were wrong and that I had a treasure. I took it home, and listened to it. I was right -- I listened several times through over a few weeks. I was scared to death to damage the vinyl further, so I put it away and didn't listen except on special occasions. And most of those times, I went back to the singles that I loved -- "Hard to Say," "Run for the Roses" (I'll like it for you, B & T), and "Same Old Lang Syne."

Until this week. In addition to my own playlist, I listened to all of The Innocent Age for the first time in about 25 years. It was as good as I remembered. I also re-discovered a couple of songs that I had liked back then -- the beautiful "Only The Heart May Know" and the title track. I also cyberspun Phoenix a couple of times. Completely beautiful, and I think I'll get the CD of that. I also will be digging out the copy of The Innocent Age that Tal was so kind to burn off my vinyl for me.

And this year, when I decide to take part in "Freedomtown Idol," I'll audition with the song I wanted to use last year anyway ... "Hard to Say."

In pace requiescat, Mr. Fogelberg. Your music was a part of my formative tween/teen years, and I am appreciative of the gift you shared with our world. Like you sang, "I thank you for the music....."

Monday, December 17, 2007

One week to go...

And one gift purchased. One. That's it. Okay, not counting the stuff I bought for the dog last month, but I wasn't counting that. One gift.

So today I took a vacation day to do some much-needed shopping, and to have some work done on my car. I had plenty of days to spare, and as it is, I'm taking one more day and cashing the rest in. I could use it, that's for sure.

We'll see how much shopping I can do once the car repair bill comes in.....

I'm still not subscribing to the Canned Christmas Spirit®. Instead, I'm just going to enjoy things as they develop. I'm not going to go crazy over what I can and cannot do. I'm just going to give gifts with a spirit of love and gratitude, and happiness over being together, when so many other families can't say that this year.

Isn't that what it's supposed to be about anyway?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The season is here.

Brag-n-Gag®, that is.

Now, I personally don't mind most yearly-update Christmas letters, because most of the ones I get are from my college friends. We're spread all over the state and sometimes cross-country. So those, I look forward to, and enjoy reading. I also send one out to them, and to a few other friends that I don't get to see or speak to regularly. And I include it to certain friends with whom I do converse on a regular basis.

But Brag-n-Gag® is a kind all its own...... they come straight from Lake Wobegon. Because you know that "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." It's the "oh look how WONDERFUL we are, how PERFECT everything is in our world, DON'T you wish you were US!" mentality in the letters that just make me howl and hurl.

There's the older relative that sends one, detailing all the wonderful things their grandchildren are doing and all the mahvelous places they've been (thank you, Lewis Grizzard; God rest your soul). This year's letter was no different .... the "highlight" was when they flippin' listed the various degrees and numbers obtained by their offspring, offsprings' spouses, and the grandchildren. And naturally, they mentioned all the mahvelous places they visited. Skzzzzzzz-snore.

I also get a yearly B&G from someone I knew in school (haven't gotten this year's yet.... can't wait). I apparently have been in the presence of the most perfect children since Christ himself walked the earth, and didn't know it. Academics? Sheer geniuses. Athletics? Leading scorers; team couldn't do without them. Other extra-curricular stuff? Nothing to it. I have a lot to say about that particular family and its dynamics, but not here.

Now, my best friend sends one that has me howling. It's intentionally funny, and worth every moment! I aspire to have one that funny!

I enjoy the updates, just be honest in them. So little Billy was suspended for four days for punching out the school bully -- GOOD FOR HIM! So little Jessica dropped out of ballet -- FANTASTIC! What difference does it make?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My religious beliefs are being tested.

I'm the type who believes that silly prayers just irritate the pee outta God. You know: "pray for my stubbed toe" or along that line. Now, I admit to sometimes having my moments, usually during a migraine .... but praying, "Oh God, please make it stop" is not the same as "I bind these headache demons and demand God do something about it." And before you laugh, there are groups who do this "binding" stuff, and it freaks me to no end.

I figure God can't solve the problems of world peace, war, etc. because we're too busy bombarding him with silly requests. Not saying God doesn't care for our welfare, but I figure he says, "You know, instead of praying for that mashed toe, how about hauling your carcass to the doctor at the very least, and check to see if it's broken? I'm busy trying to keep the Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other."

Well, my beliefs are now being tested -- and with my dog, of all things.

Maddox had his yearly wellness checkup along with his vaccinations on Saturday. Routine drawing of bloodwork, easy-peasy sendoff. No big problems expected. Except.... Monday, I get 3 frantic phone calls from my mom telling me to call the vet ASAP. I spoke to the practice manager, and he was as dumbfounded as I was. Two panels came back elevated -- both connected to the liver functions. The thyroid panel (which just SIX weeks ago was normal) was now below the low end of normal. We were going to switch his diet immediately and keep him on some sulfa that he's been on for six weeks for a skin infection.

I went to my car at lunch, called my mom with the update, and we both cried. And she said, "I have cried every time I've looked at him. I've even prayed for him. I called (my cousin, also a dog owner) and told her and she's gonna pray too."

There went my religious theories on prayer, right out the window. Serious prayers went up to God, St. Francis, and whomever else was listening.

As it is, this morning, I spoke to the practice manager again. After some further research and consultation, the doctor is thinking that a different approach might work. Boost the thyroid with medicine, back to regular food, and hope (and pray) that the liver functions come back down normally. Test again in 30 days. See what happens.

If it means I give him a thyroid pill every day for the rest of his life, fine by me. I just want him here with me for many years to come!