Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oh what a perfect day

On Tuesday, I drove up this drive and spent the afternoon in the company of some warm and friendly people who share a special place in their hearts for my father.

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This is what greeted me when I approached the building.

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And all over, this familiar sign.

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And these familiar valves and valve stamps.

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There was a cake with a photo of my father fishing superimposed atop it, and all associates joined in a room and shared memories of my father. His large hands and generous heart were in many of the stories, his belief in people was in many of the stories and there was one story of his inevitable arm wrestling challenge. They spoke of his kindness, of his sense of humor, of his always asking of each person How are you and listening to the answers because he cared. They spoke of him being a man of the people, an intimidating man by size and title, and yet a man that insisted on being called Ed and not Mr. Groth.

A slide show of photos played on a screen hanging on the front wall. There were photos of fishing trips and photos of his retirement party. There were photos of Christmas parties from the late 80s and early 90s. And there were a couple videos of speeches he had given, speeches that encapsulated so perfectly who he was and his belief in people, that I was frozen in time once again hearing his voice and listening to his wise words and witnessing again his enthusiasm and sense of humor.

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Later, several of us went out for dinner and since Edward Groth Jr. Drive is in Louisiana, that dinner included grilled oysters, fried artichokes, fish, gumbo, shrimp and oh the yummy sauces and toppings that accompanied the food. The dinner also included fond stories of both my parents, some I hadn't heard before and some I thoroughly enjoyed hearing again. More than once we raised our glasses to Ed and Betty and more than once I realized that their legacy lives on. And that, friends, had me feeling so very proud of my parents and so very happy for them. Their influence, beliefs and hard work live on. They made a positive mark on many, many lives. That is success.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Later we met at an Irish pub and everyone brought pictures and stories

X - It's so good to see you!
O - You too!
X & O - [big strong hugs, broad smiles]
X - You look so happy, so well. I'm so happy to see your happiness
O - [much of the same]

X and O talk, catch up.

Tick tock tick tock

X - How is...?
O - [big silence... long silence...]
X - ???
O - Um, I didn't want to tell you, not so soon, but last night XX called me and he was found dead yesterday. He... he is dead.
X - But how, what happened?
O - We don't know yet.
X - ??
O - ...

X & O - Tears

X - [Through her tears] He was so good to me, always so nice to me.
O - He really cared about you.

X & O - Tears

X - ...
O - ...

Leaving Las Vegas

I've been to Las Vegas a handful of times and each time I'm not unhappy to leave, not because I don't like Las Vegas but because I love it. I overly love it. And I manage to over do, over indulge, over shop and generally do what so many do in Vegas, which is to say that I go overboard. Which is why Vegas is one of those places where everyone who has been has an opinion of how long one should stay. Some can go for a week, some a weekend, but the most common preferred duration that I hear is three nights. Which is what we did, though we had four full days there. I waited until that fourth day to do my over-the-top-ness, which I've pinpointed the beginning to be when I had a mimosa while playing poker as my friend slept in late. Both are equally easy to do in Vegas, sleep in or have a mimosa in the morning, as keeping track of time in that city is near impossible. As the day progressed, I sipped by the pool, sipped while shopping, sipped by a water wall and sipped in the room. Naturally clumsy, I don't need assistance when it comes to doing the tango with gravity and so much sipping left me tripping. Literally tripping. And while normally what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, yours truly is sporting two strawberries on her forehead as a result of that sipping and tripping because in my case, too much sipping + tripping = FALLING ON MY FACE. And that particular fact of what happened in Vegas simply cannot stay in Vegas since I'm wearing it on my forehead.

Other mementos that traveled home with me, intentional mementos that is, include some cool lighters, a coffee mug and a great grey polo and royally red program from Elton John's show.

I took these photos from the plane during takeoff as we began our journey home. And this, my friends, will be the end of my words and photos from my trip to Las Vegas. (Trip? Did I just type that? No pun intended there, seriously.)

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday, laundry Sunday

Cheyenne looks as excited as I feel when it comes to folding this basket of laundry.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Luck was a lady last night

Early Wednesday morning I found myself second in line at Half-Price Tickets, in hopes of getting tickets to a show for Wednesday night. We didn't have a specific show in mind, we had discussed a few so it was going to be up to what tickets were released that day. We didn't want to see any of the Cirque shows and my friend didn't want to see any magic shows so as I waited for the desk to open, I looked at the board as it scrolled the options for shows that night. One in particular caught my eye: Elton John. Last night was Elton John's final performance of his four-year, 241-date Vegas show, The Red Piano, at Caesar's Colosseum. Words cannot express the excitement I felt or the relief I felt that I was standing in the number two spot as the line got longer and longer behind me. I just knew that every one of those people wanted Elton John tickets but I also knew that I was going to be getting them. Thirty minutes later, I had in my hand two tickets in the Orchestra section, front and center, for a fraction of the cost that our seat neighbors had paid for them. I could not believe my luck. By the time I left the ticket office, there were no more Elton John tickets available. It pays to get up early, I can tell you that.

Elton John and Las Vegas are the perfect marriage. True to the title of the show, his piano was red. Big and red and beautiful. David LaChapelle designed the show and the stage which was like one gigantic moving photograph coming to life, a life of dripping color and imagination, of Pamela Anderson and Marilyn Monroe, of dark pink roses and cherries, of pinballs dripping from the sky and planes flying over Vietnam, of enormous letters and of Love. The show was larger than life and I'm not sure how to describe it beyond what I've just written so I'm going to show you instead because even though cameras were not allowed, you and I both know that I'm a master at getting around that particular hurdle.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Destination reached

The view from our window.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Travel plans

Indeed, I'm heading out tomorrow. The flight is early and direct. That's a good thing because I'm traveling with the friend who together we are completely incapable of going from Point A to Point B without experiencing some kind of crazy and by crazy I mean experiencing airports we never intended, layovers we didn't anticipate and first class flights to countries that were never on our agenda. And all the while we get caught up in hidden manicure/pedicure salons or frequent flyer lounges with fresh salmon and lemon wedges and tiny bottles of oil we shove in our pockets because we've fallen in love with the flavor. Together, we do enjoy the destination but it's the journey that usually ends up being the story.

Will we arrive at our destination on time? Will we arrive at our destination at all? And, if against all odds we do arrive at our destination, what will we do when we get there?

Where are we going? I can't tell you that. Since we don't travel well together, wherever we end up, I like to pretend that we had something to do with the destination. I think they call that wishful thinking.

Stay tuned.

You know I love you. XOXO

Sunday Farmers' Market

Since being laid off, I've been helping a friend during weekends at farmers' markets around town. I've learned a great deal about sustainable farming, local food, real food, and the flavors I'd forgotten, flavors so good that by comparison make produce purchased at the grocery store taste like cardboard.

My neighborhood has an antiques and feed store that recently launched its own farmers' market, on the first and third Sundays of each month. It's a wonderful idea for this spot to host a farmers' market and for the past couple weeks, I've been in countless conversations with neighbors all abuzz with excitement. This Sunday was our first to participate and it was a great afternoon of good weather, local food, and good locals.

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Before I took off for the market, I texted about a zillion (okay, really 20) of my friends, asking them to stop by. A few did. Here's a picture of one of those friends. She recently got a motorcycle and I have no idea how I missed her roaring in, but I did. She bought a few things, put them in her bag and took off. I followed her out and took this shot. I think you'll agree with me when I say she's a pretty cool gal.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And then they said, "I do"

At 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon at the Christ Church in Staten Island 59 years ago, the man and woman who much later would become my parents were wed. They were referred to in the newspaper announcements of their engagement and wedding as either the Mayor's Son or the Banker's Son and the Vassar Alumna. I have a folder of over 40 of these announcements and each year, I go through the folder and imagine their day, imagine how excited and nervous they both were that morning, imagine the details leading up to and of their wedding.

She was a beautiful bride, the glow on her face and happiness in her eyes comes through in all photos I've seen from the day. For her wedding gown, my mother chose ivory slipper satin with Alencon lace outlining an off the shoulder neckline and a long train. Her veil was of ivory French silk and she carried a cascade bouquet of eucharist lilies and stepanotis. She wore a simple pearl necklace around her neck on her wedding day and that necklace she gave to me years ago.

For their honeymoon, they travelled to Bermuda which is where the photo below was taken by the Bermuda News Bureau.

I've always been proud of my parents' marriage. A wedding day filled with beautiful flowers and people and hopes for a bright future is one thing; a marriage that endured times both good and bad is something else altogether. Theirs was a solid partnership that survived much and enjoyed much more. That day though, the day their union began, was the first step in my own life, a life I'm forever grateful to them for giving me. I could not have hand-selected two better people to call my mother and father.

Somewhere up there, those two celebrate their 59th anniversary. At around 5:00 p.m. this evening, if you tilt your head just so, I expect you'll be able to hear their glasses clinking in a toast to one another.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Sun shining in

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On being welcomed

Easter is an occasion that I used to spend with my family. We'd gather at my parents' house Sunday morning and attend church together and, following church, prepare a meal and dine together. I enjoyed attending church with my parents and with my sister's children, enjoyed hiding and finding eggs, and always receiving a chocolate rabbit with its ears bitten off by my father, something I did not enjoy so much when I was a little girl but grew to love.

I miss my family during the holidays, miss being a part of the familiar morning fuss of my father running early and my mother running late, of zipping up my mother's dress as she applied her lipstick, of organizing who would ride in what car, who would drive, arguing over which of the two obvious routes was really the quickest, and then the calm of finally arriving at the church, realizing that we had made it on time, and quietly catching our collective breath and enjoying the moments of quiet and splendor before the service began.

Last year was my first Easter without my parents. I had recently lost my mother and internally was mulling the lyrics of the spiritual Motherless Child as I faced my future. As Easter got closer, I was filled with dread because I was filled with a feeling of not belonging anywhere. Of course I would go to church and of course I knew I was one of God's children but I yearned to feel that I belonged with people. With one child in college and one not particularly interested in Easter, with my sister happily situated in Austin and an estranged relationship with my brother, more than a motherless child, I was feeling family-less. I wasn't at all sure what I would do with myself.

That's when my dear friend who lives in Vermont threw me a lifeline. She and her husband and their two girls travel to Houston annually to stay with her parents during Easter. She asked if I would like to attend Easter brunch with the family, followed by the Easter egg hunt on the grounds of their country club. Of course I said yes. It was a wonderful day and I very much enjoyed spending time with her parents who I've known since I was a little girl, and my friend, and her expanding family. Again this year I was invited to join the family in their Easter ritual. It felt good to be taken into the folds of their routine, to be included and to feel so completely welcomed.

On Easter Sunday, two close friends joined me for the morning services at my church. Following the services, I had been invited to brunch hosted by the mother of one of those friends and attended by the mother of the other friend. I enjoyed having brunch in my friend's mother's home and enjoyed watching these two friends interact with their mothers, listening to stories of when my friends were little girls, and also filling my plate from an enormous spread of wonderful food that tasted so good that we all overate and I'm pretty sure I waddled out of there like a woman seven months pregnant.

When I got home late Sunday afternoon, I changed out of my Easter dress and into comfy sweats and settled onto my bed to read for a bit. That's funny, thinking I would read, because two and a half hours later I woke up from my nap. It was a nice, long, satisfying nap that came from the excitement and contentment of being included, of feeling that I belonged again, belonged with new, chosen families, ones that extended their arms and opened their doors and warmly invited me to join them. Those extended arms, those are the arms of some true friends.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

24 Hours

On Thursday, Cheyenne and I went to the cabin for a 24-hour break, a break in which we swam and relaxed, breathed fresh air, watched the sun go down and heard all sorts of birds during the day and humming insects at dusk and dawn. On Friday we came back to Houston. It was a perfect mini-vacation. It was so brief, however, I'm sitting here right now and shaking my head asking did that really just happen?

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Above all, make a difference where you can

Do you remember the winds of Hurricane Ike? (I ask that as if you lived here, otherwise, please look at Houston's weather for, I don't know, maybe today and it's pretty much the same except today they call it windy for Springtime, and there's no rain involved). I mention the winds because every time I step outside my front door or answer the phone lately, a lot of what I experience is high winds, winds that have tossed all the calm in life into swirling bits of debris and large chunks of reminders that life is not in our control. There is cancer, for one -- no, wait, there's actually three people I know who have cancer in their life this week who just two weeks ago did not, or did not know they did -- and there's a car wreck and there's a lost soul and there's the pretentious danger in a naive whatever attitude. Oh and wait, there's the recession and mortgage scams... and I don't have a job and... wait... let's not let this little blog get blown away.

Where was I going with this, you might be asking. I'll answer that right now. Today I received a note from someone I used to work with, someone whose career with my former company was much briefer than mine and ended years ago but in that brief intersection was impact enough to years later create another intersection that has me feeling very good, and throwing the windows open even while I was bracing the door against the hurricane winds of the day. What this person said to me was this:

I was sorry to hear (read) that you were let go from [...]. I know that "life on a pause," as you put it, can be stressful but I am a firm believer that there is something better that awaits you! My [company name] experience helped me to realize all the things that I did/do want out of life and that I am not willing to sacrifice myself for less. You played a key role in helping me to realize my potential. You were the one that pushed on my behalf to get the position... [promotion into new role]. Though it did not work out for me there, the experience paved the way for my decision to go back to school to gain the knowledge that I lacked to be a successful business woman today. To be honest Alison, that is why I've wanted to contact you so many times, to say thank you! Thank you for believing in me at the time. I know it did not all work out for the best at [...] but in the end I am right where God wants me to be and I have found happiness.

What I thought when I read the note was who in the world does this person think they are writing to/about because that person clearly made a difference in the writer's life and I wanted to meet the kind of person who could elicit such appreciation. And then I realized that person was me. ME!! And the breeze blew through the open windows and I reflected that no matter what is going on in my life or the lives around me, I am a believer and a cheerleader and I am God's tool when it comes to making a difference. The thing I like most about myself is that I try to make a difference, that I take my ability to support and encourage and fight for what I believe in and I try to inspire the lives of others. What that person recalls was nothing more than me being who I am, and I won't take credit for that because who I am is a powerful tool given me from God.

The note brought me so much joy and excitement that honestly I can't wait to say my prayers and fall asleep tonight so that I can wake up in the morning and see what else I can do. It also reminded me that sometimes when things look dark and frightening, we should not fear. The hurricane winds, those are winds of change and we should hold on because there is a new dawn coming. I promise you that.

To the note writer, I say thank you for taking the time to let me know that I'd made a difference in your life because I do remember the time and I meant it, my belief in you, and I'm so very happy that it helped you find a path that led you to the happiness you now have.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

What I've learned

During lunch with a friend today, she commented on my "things to do while I can" list, which I'm building and posting here. She said to me that I've done so much already in my life, and then she suggested that I put forth something similar to the "What I've Learned So Far" column in Vanity Fair magazine. Immediately I grabbed a piece of paper and started writing. And as I was writing, I realized that the biggest lessons are the most simple.

Don't do anything you don't want to do (if you don't have to do it)
Don't take your parents for granted
Help others
Plant trees
Love, seriously love love love
Keep your mouth shut
Hold hands
Respect your elders
Give of yourself
Get a dog
Break up as gently as you fell in love
Art is personal - hold on to your opinion
Tip big
Leave the change
Get up when God wakes you
Listen to your Doctor
Make a difference for the better where and when you can
Clean up after yourself (and others if need be)
Never underestimate those things you don't understand
Remember that at one time you too had no idea

This is weird. I have two running lists. Things I know, and things I want to do. I think this is part of being unemployed. While not the same, the lists are similar in tone. What this exercise has shown me is that I like where I am and what I know, and I also like what I want to learn and where I want to go. Funny thing, life is, when you're sitting upon a pause.

Friday, April 03, 2009


I have a friend who is so far gone that we don't know what to do... a friend who drinks vodka for breakfast (100 proof), a friend who spent time in jail recently from her first DWI. A friend who graduated from University of Texas back then, was so smart back then, but cannot today recall where she parked her car. I have a friend whose childhood was so messed up and physically abusive that all she does to survive is go deep inside her shame and her bottle. And everyone focuses on the details of the risk, of her driving, her car, THE RISK OF HER BEHAVIOR ON OTHER'S LIVES, while patting her drunken head because the nightmare in her head is not something we recognize or even have a clue how to help. Who is she? Do you know? She has trouble in her past, trouble like I can't tell you, and denial and a family sweeping it all under the rug. She's two years away from 50 and her birthday is in four days. She has an addiction to alochol but that's not her problem. Her problem is that her problem has gone on for so long that we have no idea how to help her now. Do you know how to help her? Do you know how to help us help her? If you do, I want to hear from you. After so many years, and many battle scars, we've run out of ideas.

Working on the list

While I'm working on the list of 100 things I want to do, I'm also crossing off one item on the 25 I've already posted, that being transform my little yard into a place I visit and enjoy.

The first step was finding a landscaper whose work I liked and who I trusted. Luckily for me, that part was easy. I've known her for years and have seen a couple of projects she'd recently completed, projects in small spaces like my own little yard. She's a wizard with small spaces.

The second step was removing the jungle and overgrowth and dead grass and thriving weeds that I'd let take over the space. I did not get a before photo of that because I wouldn't have had the nerve to post the shame.

All that we left behind was the two Bradford Pear Trees, and the Confederate Jasmine on the fence. This is what the yard looks like now and the blank canvas has me very excited.

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