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  • Rebuilding, Redefining and Fancy Restaurants

    March 9, 2010

    My hard disk died a week or so ago.  I knew it was coming. It had been complaining loudly and moaning and groaning for quite some time and then one morning, it gave one last long gasp.  The skies went dark and the blue screen was torn in two.

    And I didn’t even care. In fact, it was liberating. The death of my PC was a sweet release in a way.

    I was cut off from my on-line world except for my iTouch — which is a good device for lurking to some degree, but not much for participating. That teeny tiny keypad is not very useful for 50-year-old eyes.

    The fact of the matter is that for some time now, I’ve been feeling like Forrest Gump in that scene where he is jogging down the highway out in the desert with all those people following him and he just stops. He’s been running hard for five years and one day, he just stops.  He doesn’t really know why.  It just seems right.  He turns and tells all the people that he’s tired now and he’s going home.

    That’s sort of how I’ve been feeling about blogging lately, just sort of called away, feeling like it’s time to slow down, be quiet, do something else, invest elsewhere.  I don’t plan to stop completely, I don’t think so anyway, but I’m going to take away some of the time and energy I give to this blog and invest it in my photography and elsewhere.  Is that called balance? I don’t know.

    There’s probably a bit more to it than that, which I don’t fully understand, but I feel like I’ve entered a new season of life and I don’t know to what degree blogging fits in. We’ll just have to see.

    So there’s that…

    This morning Sean and AD were at the breakfast bar and for some reason we were talking about fancy restaurants and how they are different from the kind we frequent.

    I told him fancy restaurants usually have table cloths, flowers and a waiter who brings you a menu.

    Sean added, “And they usually have hang down lights at the table too.”

    I said yes, that was often the case. I thought that was an interesting observation and tried to think of any fancy restaurants we might have taken him to where they had hang down lights (which in the design world we call pendant lighting) but I drew a blank.

    “Just like at Panda Express!” he said.

    I like the size of his world right now, where Panda Express with its hang down lights is a fancy restaurant.

    No One Drops In For Coffee Anymore

    February 22, 2010

    As I was driving home from dropping Sean off at school the other day, I noticed the long line of cars wrapped around Starbucks and the crowded parking lot and I got to thinking how no one drops by for coffee anymore.  It seems that everyone goes to Starbucks instead.

    Friends dropping in for coffee is all but a remnant of another era and I think that is kind of a shame that we aren’t available for spontaneous interaction anymore, that we don’t open our homes for that sort thing, that we are just too busy or that we don’t think our homes perfect enough or clean enough or whatever enough.

    As I have mentioned here before, my parents live in the same house they bought in 1956.  In that time, they have served approximately 23,436 cups of coffee to neighbors, wayfarers, odd-ball relatives and the occasional long-lost friend who just dropped in.  My parent’s coffee pot has been on for 54 years.

    My parent’s kitchen defies everything Southern Living tells us we need to create a warm and welcoming space for visitors.  Their home is not big and bright and you certainly will not find anything new or matching or from Pottery Barn there.  Their kitchen would make Martha Stewart cry.

    The avocado green paneling is circa 1972. The pattern on the linoleum floor is all but worn off and slick from the constant ironing of the rolling chairs. (Aside:  I’ve always thought that chairs with rollers were an interesting choice for a kitchen so small you can reach anything without having to get out of your chair.  And in a 100-year-old house that has settled substantially, rolling chairs on slick linoleum means you could potentially roll out the back door if you are not paying attention.)

    The refrigerator is covered in pictures of grandchildren and great grandchildren and postcards and magnets with wise sayings.  The table is always so cluttered that you have to scooch books and puzzles and prescription bottles aside just so you might carve out four square inches of real estate to set your cup down.  The trick is scooching it all en masse, like a tectonic plate, to just the correct degree, so that whatever is on the other end of the table doesn’t fall off like California into the Pacific.

    The 45-year-old Melmac coffee cups don’t match, nor do any of the not-silverware.

    My mother does not serve fancy or flavored coffee — it’s Folgers or whatever is on sale and if you want cream, it’s store brand Coffeemate.

    Their kitchen is teeny tiny and cramped and cluttered and woefully out of date.  It’s not fancy or comfortable and would not pass the white glove test.

    Nonetheless, people want to go there and hang out for a time and chat,  and they have for more than half a century.  Something there draws ’em in and it ain’t the kitchen or the coffee.

    Must be the conversation and the company.


    January 13, 2010

    Not far from where I live is a two-lane road that used to connect one small town to the next smaller town.

    Most of the other streets around here have been turned into four-lane roads lined with stoplights, Starbucks and subdivisions with fancy sounding names.  But not this one. It has no curbs or sidewalks — it is a lane, it is a breath of country in a burgeoning suburb.

    For a half a mile or so, you can drive along under a canopy of Live Oaks and past long stretches of Kentucky white fences that hold back horses and a few small stone houses which care not for progress or the new millennium or subdivisions with precisely trimmed boxwoods and pansies all in a row.

    Along this lane, there is a mysterious old house that hides back behind a thicket of brambles.  The only time you can catch a glimpse of it is in the winter, after all the leaves have fallen from the trees, and then only if you are driving slowly and know to look for it.   Perhaps the brambles grew up around the house to protect it from the world that had grown up around it.

    As I was driving past the house just the other day, there were no cars behind me, so I slowed to get a better look at the old house.  It is mid-January now and all the trees have given up their leaves to winter except for the Texas Live Oaks which are quirky and stubborn and won’t shed their tiny leaves until spring.

    I stopped and rolled down the passenger side window to peer into the tangle of gray vines and briers.  The mostly naked undergrowth would yield nothing more than a puzzle-piece size view.  But it was enough.  It was more than I had ever seen before.  Through a tiny peep hole of brambles, I could see a once grand two-story home with white columns which shelter a big porch.

    At the street, there are two crumbling columns of bricks that flank a rotting wooden gate held up only by the thick and woody trumpet vines that have overtaken them.  At one time, the gate lead visitors right up to the big porch. But not anymore. No one had passed through that gate for years.

    I saw in my rearview mirror that another car was approaching behind me. Disappointed, I pushed on the gas and moved on.  I left with mixed feelings. One the one hand I felt as though I had won something, some bit of information. On the other hand, I didn’t really know anything more than before I took the time to stop and peer into the underbrush like a Peeping Tom.

    I drove away thinking about how it is in winter, when all the abundance and jewelry of life falls away, that hidden things are revealed.  It is then that we tend to slow down and peer into the underbrush for that glimpse of something special.

    When life is green and good, we just drive on past.

    Mathy or Artsy?

    June 1, 2009

    I am not a math person. Math people will tell you that the world is described in numbers. I am a creative type. To me the world is described in color and texture and line and form and the well-chosen word.

    Clearly, God made me to see the world through the lens of creativity.  I have always loved to make stuff.  Creative efforts satisfy me and feed me.  But is it also possible that I was also made with some math ability that for one reason or another, never developed and eventually withered away?  Is it possible that if my life had taken a different turn that a quadratic equation would feel as lovely as the color of cinnamon?

    My parents were young and blue collar and had three kids in five years. One worked days and the other worked nights.  They were busy trying to keep the wheels on. They didn’t have the time, energy or resources to provide the kind of learning opportunities that we are able to provide for Sean.

    And, it was a different place and time.   In my neighborhood, teaching kids was the job of the nuns, not the parents — even if they did have time.  In addition to that, because I was hospitalized off and on throughout elementary school, I missed a lot of school. One day I left school and we were doing addition and when I came back, we were doing long division. And I never caught up. Consequently, I have learned how to avoid math my entire life. My worst nightmare is not that I show up naked in the classroom, it’s that I show up and am expected to convert fractions.

    But how might I be different if my parents had had the time to sit down and teach me or what if I never missed out on those fundamental math classes? Maybe I would be an accountant. Or maybe I’d still be bad at math.

    At this point, it appears that Sean is an artsy creative type; he seems to be less inclined towards math. But what I really don’t want to do is nurse that assumption and transfer my own math insecurities onto him.  I don’t want in any way to send the message to him that math is not his thing.  Because it could be.

    If in fact, it turns out that math is not his thing, then I want to get on top of that early and make sure he learns how to do it, and at the very least develops an appreciation for it.  I don’t want him to be like me and live a life terrified that he will have to do long division in his head.

    So tell me oh wise internets, at what age do the right and left brain tendencies emerge?  And to what degree do you think nurture and nature impact those tendancies?  When will I know if I should hire a math tutor?

    The Mourning Dove

    April 29, 2009

    Early one morning last week, I glanced out my kitchen window and noticed a mourning dove perched upon the fence.  He paused to look around, as if making sure no one was looking.  He hopped sideways down the fence a few quick steps and then disappeared into an effusion of jasmine.

    Dainty yellow buds shivered and fell away to the ground as he rustled around in the thicket. A few seconds later, he popped back up onto the fence, tried to look nonchalant, spread his graceful wings and flew away.

    A minute later he was back again.  This time I noticed he had a small twig in his beak.  Once again, he looked around to make sure no one was watching, and once again he plopped down into the jasmine.  After another round of rustling and rummaging, he hopped back up on the fence and was off. Again.

    I watched him off and on throughout the morning. He must have made 30 trips back and forth to the jasmine, each time carrying a tiny twig.


    Later that afternoon, my curiosity got the better of me.  I had to see what was going on, so I quietly crept down the driveway towards the jasmine to take a look.

    This time of year the aroma of Carolina jasmine is so thick and sweet it makes your head hurt and so bright and pretty it makes your heart ache.  I stood on my tiptoes and carefully pulled back a long wayward leafy tendril.  There in the middle of a tangle of vines was a mama dove, almost the exact same shade of gray as the weathered wooden fence.  An eye, perfectly black and round,  stared back at me.  She made no move to send me away, but sat as silent and still as a stone.  I gently let the vine down, as though I were drawing a curtain, and left her to her privacy.

    The next several days brought cold, razor sharp rain and whip cracking wind.  After the storms passed, I peeked in on my dove to see how she had fared.  I thought I might find an abandoned nest or worse.  But there she was.  Undaunted, she blinked the rain from her eyes and continued to sit patiently on her nest.  No amount of misery was going to separate her from her eggs.

    I let down the vine and left her once again to the business of brooding. As I walked back up the driveway, my mind was filled with the pitiful image of her protecting her beloved eggs with her own body as rain pelted her head and the wind rattled her delicate home of twigs.

    I would do the same.  The very same ancient and unseen thing that drives the mourning dove to suffer any discomfort, to bear any burden, to do whatever it takes to see her babies safely out of the nest… drives me too.

    As It Relates To Swine Flu

    April 27, 2009

    So what are you telling your children about the Swine Flu?  Are you talking to them about it, and if so, to what degree?  How would you rate your level of concern?   Are you planning to change anything, travel plans or whatever, because of it?

    Let Goliath Fall

    March 21, 2009

    I was listening to a popular financial radio show the other day and a caller asked the question that people like me have been thinking:  Why do we “have” to bail out the automakers?  Why couldn’t we just let GM fail?  Two of the reasons the talk show host cited was because it would damage the US economy too much and because no parts could be made for existing cars.

    First of all. What?  The economy is already a gaping bleeding wound, so what’s the point of putting a zillion dollar band-aid on it only to rip it off two minutes later and apply another one.  Sometimes wounds heal up much better if you just leave them alone.

    The bailouts might alleviate some pain in the short term, but I don’t want to be the generation that goes down in the history books as having put a financial cement yoke around the necks of their great-grandchildren.  Instead of the Greatest Generation we will be known as the Stupidest Generation or the Greediest Generation. The sins of the father indeed.

    To his second point, I would bet my hat that if GM (or the automaker of your choice) closed its doors, that 100 companies would pop up overnight to make parts for existing cars and wouldn’t that be good for the economy?  My theory is that when big companies fail, opportunities are created for smaller, smarter, more agile companies.  That’s how supply and demand works.

    My third point is this:  I think economies that hinge on a handful of  bloated mega companies are dangerous.  They don’t allow Financial Darwinism to work because we can’t (or won’t) allow them to fail — and that is fertile ground for greed, corruption, mismanagement and criminally ridiculous executive compensation packages.  It is not an environment that brings out the best in people, but the worst.  It makes them untouchable as is evidenced by the “retention bonuses” given to the very people who couldn’t be trusted to manage the companies in the first place.

    I say let Goliath fall and let the sound of his corpse hitting the dirt be a warning to all.

    Vainly Imagined

    March 16, 2009

    Over the weekend, I watched a documentary style news program where Alan Greenspan was waxing philosophic about our current economic condition.

    Mr. Greenspan said that our nation didn’t become  great and prosperous because we had more resources than other nations. No, he said we became so great because we are smarter than everyone else.  Of course this is a paraphrase because I wasn’t watching television with a notepad and pen.

    I think Mr. Greenspan is a super smart and awesome dude, but I must disagree with him on both points, although clearly America has produced some of the hardest working, most resourceful, best and brightest.

    When I was in college, I took two semesters on the history of science and technology and I learned that while England and the Old World had skilled labor, their natural resources were depleted after thousands of years of civilization.  On the other hand, in the New World, we had more resources than we could shake a stick at, but not much in the way of skilled labor to take advantage of it.  So, I think Mr. Greenspan is wrong – we did,  and I think still do,  have more resources than other countries.  It’s anyone’s guess as to how long that will be true.

    I also disagree with his point that we got where we are because we are smarter than other nations, and here, I will quote Lincoln who said it better than I ever could.

    “But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”

    ~ Abraham Lincoln

    A Case Against Prayer In Public School

    March 12, 2009

    Or wherein I alienate 90% of my readership.

    About once a week I get an email asking me to sign and forward a petition to the president to reinstate school prayer.

    And I promptly delete it.

    This may come as a surprise to you because I am a Christian and I deeply believe in the power of prayer. I am in favor of prayer. Just not in public school.

    The problems with nationally mandated school prayer are many, but I’ll address just the first few that come to mind.

    I suppose first and foremost, I am a vehement believer in the separation of church and state.  I do not want to live in a theocracy.  Moreover, religion and prayer are matters of the heart and government mandates don’t change the heart. I don’t want the government imposing my prayers to my God on others and I don’t want the gods and prayers of others imposed on me.  Beyond that, is the sound of required prayers pleasing to the ears of God? I don’t know.

    If prayer is so important to you, then YOU should be praying with your children before school. If you are a Christian, praying with your children is your job.  And really, don’t our public school teachers already have enough to do just trying to teach kids how to read and write without also having the mandate to pray with your kids too?  I think so.  Imagine if prayer in school was mandated how much time it would take to pray to each of the gods represented by the population of public school families? Even it if was just a watered down, catch-all global version to the goodness of the universe, why bother?  It just doesn’t make sense.

    I think publicly funded schools should be for academics only. In my radical view, I question whether sports should be part of public schools, but that there is blasphemy in Texas.  (And there goes the rest of my readers).

    Prayer is very important to our family. We think that prayer is direct communication with God, the creator of life and the universe. We think prayer is  a very holy and serious thing to do and that there is a good and proper way to undertake such a serious matter and frankly, we don’t want to abdicate that to someone with whom we may or may not share a like view of the world.

    I do believe in the power of prayer to change the world. I don’t believe nationally mandated school prayer can.

    Radical Change

    March 3, 2009

    The other night I was watching an episode of House Hunters on HGTV.  A single lady was looking to move from her traditional family home in the suburbs to a small one-bedroom apartment in the city. She planned to get rid of her car and her gardening tools and all kinds of other stuff she wouldn’t need in a city dwelling.

    When she bought her home in the suburbs she was excited about all the room, hosting family events, decorating, gardening and all the other romantic notions that come with home ownership. But ultimately, she found it all to be just too much.  She said she really sort of felt burdened by all of her stuff and the space and all that it required of her.  And as it turns out, her family didn’t come to visit all that much. So, she decided to make a radical lifestyle change and scale back to the bare essentials.

    As I watched I thought about my big backyard with its mole holes everywhere and the flower beds that I can’t maintain and a garage so full of crud I can’t find anything.   And the idea of scaling back in a radical way was exceptionally appealing.

    I know of another lady who is married and has grown children. Her husband is an executive and they are very well off.  Like most couples in their tax bracket, they had accumulated and collected a house full of precious and lovely things that go along with fine living.

    One day they had a garage sale and sold everything.  And I do mean every thing.  They moved from a home of several thousand square feet into a small unheated one-room cabin that overlooks a river in a very rural area.  They have no closets, just two or three hooks and a couple of shelves. They have just one each of the things they need instead of one in every color, like many of us do.

    When I visited her cabin and saw her one or two hooks and one or two shelves for all of her clothes, I couldn’t imagine not having a walk in closet!  But honestly, in spite of having a closet full of clothes, I wear the same four or five outfits most of the time. If I were willing to make a radical change, I could probably get by with a couple of shelves and hooks and be perfectly happy.

    Radical change.

    How do you get to the point where you are willing to make the leap out of your comfort zone into something so different?  Even if all that comfort seems a little heavy and not all that comfortable.

    Is it a push? Is it something sharp and pointed that pokes you out of your nest?

    Or is it a pull? A sweet and lyrical song that draws you away into another life?

    Or is it merely discontent?

    I don’t know. I have been thinking a lot lately about making a radical lifestyle change, but I have neither a push nor a pull, so maybe its discontent.  Or maybe it’s just a case of the wintertime blues.

    Maybe instead of selling all my stuff, I’ll get a radical haircut instead.

    * * *

    When you think about making a radical lifestyle change, you have to consider not just the burden of the material “stuff” littering your emotional landscape, but also the burden of psychological obligations – like blogs, twitter, social media, television, clubs and other things that you have made space for in your life that require maintenance.  ~AM.