Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Morning

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Can it be nearly three months since I last posted? And why today did I decide the time was right to resume writing? I guess I am in a reflective mood, and when I get in those moods, I want to write.

Since the last post in early October I took a new job -- one helping older people get the services they need to remain living independently or in jargon it's called aging in place. I once worked in a senior center, got side-tracked with other matters, and have now returned to a job whose focus is this age group. To me, age is relative. Some of the "youngest" people occupy the oldest bodies.

Through the new job, I am becoming reacquainted with how Thanksgiving (and other holidays) may be observed among older people.

Is there a more iconic portrait of the American celebration of Thanksgiving than Norman Rockwell's Freedom From Want illustration, which was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943? A modern version of this scene is still repeated around the country, but I have found older people who prefer to celebrate in their own fashion. Maybe it's a free Thanksgiving meal from a local church, a meal they make themselves, or one delivered by a volunteer.

Some continue to embrace the traditional family celebration, often traveling to be with children or other relatives. Others prefer the comfort of their own homes and say traveling and adjusting to the younger crowd's schedules and ways is too much. Then, there are those for whom holidays are a stark reminder that as we age, we lose loved ones and friends. One of my older relatives tells me she "hates holidays." She humors her closest relations, though, and dutifully goes to the family farm where she grew up to spend holidays with them. I imagine her niece tells her that it wouldn't be the same without her. And it wouldn't.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

What Lies Within

 "Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see further." Thomas Carlyle

"What lies behind us & what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nic is making great strides these days. With the help of adaptive pedals, he can ride a trike. Soon, he’ll be getting his own wheelchair. However, unless you or someone you know has a child with the sort of special needs that require wheelchairs, adaptive toys like a trike or bike, walkers, special bath equipment, braces, immobilizers, and a lot of other products, I don’t suppose you can possibly imagine how this complicates child rearing.

Not that they have time to read this, but I just want to acknowledge Nic’s parents who coordinate weekly sessions with physical therapists, meet with social workers, visit specialists, drive to aqua-therapy, travel to doctors at the Mayo Clinic for botox injections, arrange occupational and speech therapy, and call about insurance coverage, all while just trying to be a mom and dad who provide for their family.

On top of all of the above, throw in learning about Nic’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As he approaches his third birthday, the Individualized Education Program, commonly referred to as an IEP, will become important as the blueprint for crafting educational experiences for him. And Nic’s parents will now really hone their advocacy skills.

I wish Nic’s parents and all of those other parents who perform heroically on a daily basis didn’t have to fight so hard for their children. I wish America would move closer to the spirit of these laws. But most of all I wish for Nic a life without limits.

Links I like:

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

United Cerebral Palsy: Life without limits for people with disabilities 
where there is located a link to: The State of Disability in America: An Evaluation of the Disability Experience

Lekotek: The country's central source on toys and play for children with special needs.
Toys R Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids

Publish Post

Friday, September 03, 2010

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer

Well, there's not too much that makes a University of Alabama grad happier than the start of football season -- especially after last season's National Championship. Bama opens against San Jose State this Saturday minus Heisman-winning Mark Ingram, who's out due to a knee injury. It'll be interesting to see how the team adjusts.

Our family is thinking about watching the game with other Crimson Tide fans at the suburban gamewatch location in Downers Grove at a sports bar called Another Round. Wonder what Nicolas would think of multiple screaming Bama fans?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Clearing the Dust

Blow the dust off the clock. Your watches are behind the times. Throw open the heavy curtains which are so dear to you -- you do not even suspect that the day has already dawned outside. Alexander Solzehnitsyn

There’s a thick layer of dust over nearly every surface in my home. While more pressing matters have captured my attention of late, today I suddenly realized that I’m tired of dust. Today is going to be the day I attack the dust. Well, first I’m distracted a bit by this post, which is probably the lamest I’ve written in a while.

However, I suppose the dust is a metaphor – a parable in the making.

While there are always pressing matters and I am prone to distraction, there are times when the dust must be cleared before the shine can be revealed.

And like the lyrics from Jerome Kern's Pick Yourself Up, which was composed for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie Swing Time (1936),

Nothing’s impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
Start all over again. 

Don’t lose your confidence if you slip,
Be grateful for a pleasant trip,
And pick yourself up,
Dust yourself off,
Start all over again.

Happy Saturday Dear Gentle Friends.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Place Matters: Looking for Mitford

The review pretty much hit the nail on the head:
Mix one part All Creatures Great and Small with two parts Lake Wobegon, sprinkle a little Anne of Green Gables and get: Mitford, the pinnacle of provincial life, where homespun wisdom, guarded tradition, and principled faith are the precepts of good living.
These days Jan Karon’s At Home in Mitford is on my car’s CD player each morning as I drive to work. I long for a place like Mitford. Small town. Southern. People care about each other. Know about each other. Not too much drama. Peaceful.

Oh well, this is fiction and I am only on the first book of the series. We will see if I stick with it beyond the first. But, I can see why it captured my attention as I explore my longing for what I call a sense of place – a place where I belong.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation offers a straightforward approach, calling sense of place:
Those things that add up to a feeling that a community is a special place, distinct from anywhere else.
In writing the blog this morning, I discovered that The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a This Place Matters Community Challenge now through Sept. 15 where you can pick a community and vote to support the community. The winner gets $25,000. 

I am throwing my support behind Orion, Illinois and its attempt to save Main Street. The folks of Orion say:
Our small community of Orion is "Rural America at its Finest!" Volunteers with Main Street Orion work tirelessly to avoid the fate suffered by other surrounding communities empty storefronts, shuttered homes, devalued properties, crumbling infrastructure, and shrinking population. Can it happen in Orion, too? Yes, and it has, to some extent.
The way the challenge works is communities "rally as many people around the grassroots issues of preservation in our communities as possible. This means that unlike a traditional voting-contest, participants are allowed to align themselves with one organization, one time throughout the Challenge and recruit as many people as possible to do the same."
Here's how to help Orion. Join me and see if we can help them out. After all, it's the neighborly thing to do.

And I’ll let you know when I get to my Mitford.
Happy Saturday!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mr. Obama and the Ceremonial Gulf Coast Vacation

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud President Obama’s mini-vacation trip to Panama City Beach, Florida, USA. But when I read, according to the New York Times, that the trip was scheduled to last a mere 27 hours and that after a quick three-day fundraising trip, the First Family would be taking a 10-day vacation on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, I wondered, “what if?”

What if the Obama family had decided to stay in Florida longer? Wouldn’t that have really set the tone for Gulf Coast tourism recovery?

Y’all regulars know I’m a Yellow-Dog Democrat with Alabama roots, but I am looking for President Obama to step up to the plate in a grander way. Yes, it is a beginning, but as they say in the South, “It’s a day late and a dollar short.” Hey, I even wondered why didn’t Mr. Obama’s Press Secretary Bobby Gibbs, a native of Auburn, Alabama, tell the planners that surely they could have come up with a day or two more activities besides miniature golf and a dip in the water? Well, what do I know about how Washington operates? Anyway, Gibbs seems a little on the outs right now. But I’ll betcha he visited PC when he was growing up.

Of course, I am a bit prejudiced when it comes to the Panhandle since that’s where my family took vacations back when you could run barefoot out of your beachside motel room on to the prettiest, white sandy beaches. Maybe the Redneck Riviera pales in comparison to the French Riviera. Since I’ve never been there, can’t say for sure. But I sure enough love this area.

I do know that there’re enough activities to fill a few more hours than 27. Just take PC alone. The Obamas could have boated over to the remote Shell Island (watching out for sunburn), gone go-carting, golfed for real, and shopped the beach-front souvenir shops.

Later, they could have motorcaded over to Destin, self-dubbed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” and President Obama could have gone deep-sea fishing while Mrs. Obama and Sasha hit Silver Sands Factory Stores outlet mall, whose tagline is “the nation’s largest designer outlet center.” Since this was family time, they would have had to skip the bar scene, which has duly earned its reputation as a spring break mecca.

When you are president, you just naturally can’t do anything right it seems. What’s that expression? Some attribute it to Abraham Lincoln and others to John Lydgate. You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

This Morning I Cried

GULF SHORES, Ala. – Dolphins and sharks are showing up in surprisingly shallow water just off the Florida coast. Mullets, crabs, rays and small fish congregate by the thousands off an Alabama pier. Birds covered in oil are crawling deep into marshes, never to be seen again.

I cried when I read the beginning to the Associated Press story. I don't what else I can say, but I am deeply saddened to see this happening to the region I love. My memories are intact but the hurt I feel right now for the animals and people suffering the insult inflicted by the BP oil spill simply overrides them.

artwork by Joan Daugherty

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wile E Coyote

Greetings from Batavia, Illinois, and Happy Saturday! Son Scott is back at Fermilab with his summer job in the computing division. He loves the people at Fermi and says, "It's like working at the United Nations." However, I think the actual environment at this massive national laboratory funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy captures his attention just as often as interacting with Russians, Germans, and people from all over the world. The 6,800-acre Fermilab site contains wetlands, woodlands, grasslands and more than 1,100 acres of reconstructed tall-grass prairie. And, a cute coyote pup!

photo from June 11 Fermilab Today credited thus: "PPD's Terry Tope spotted a coyote pup in the woods on Pine Street on June 5."

In the area and want to visit:
Fermilab's site is open to the public every day of the week from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from mid-October to mid-April and from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. when daylight hours are longer. Fermilab visitors are allowed to visit two buildings on their own: the first and ground floor of Wilson Hall and the Lederman Science Center, which is open Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. A map of Fermilab's Public Areas is available online.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Fine Day in Chicago

There’s a vacation. And then there’s a staycation. I think we took a daycation yesterday. Scott and I drove into Chicago for the day. Just a little outing, but I’m always energized by a visit. We headed to the Art Institute, one of my favorite spots in the whole of Chicagoland.

I’ve driven enough in Chicago to no longer be too anxious, and I accept that paying $25 to park the car comes with the territory. So, once we parked in the Millennium garage, headed over to our destination, and plopped down 30 more bucks, we were ready to see some art.

We had in mind what we wanted to see and focused on that without being distracted by all manner of “art.” The quotes are because for the life of me I can’t appreciate some contemporary art. Maybe if someone could explain it to me, I’d say, “Yes, I see.” But I don’t. And I’m fine with liking what I like.

We spent the most time viewing the museum’s Impressionism and Post-Impressionism collection. Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec — whose famous paintings I never tire of visiting. The contemporary section held less interest, and I readily agreed with Scott that an immense canvas with charcoal and crayon doodling looked suspiciously like the artist might have been a preschooler. Picasso and a quick walk through the ancient Greek and Roman section of the Institute made up for our disappointment. An hour and a half in all. Just enough culture for the day.

With the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs, this day the whole city seemed awash with Blackhawk banners and t-shirts. Even the stately Art Institute lions proclaimed their support with giant black hockey helmets.

As Scott and I exited the Art Institute, a wedding party scurried across the street in front of us.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Waiting Game Plays Out in Gulf Oil Spill

I hate to think about the impact of the oil making its way to Gulf shores as I listen to the news. Some of my earliest memories include running out of a motel room right onto a bright white beach. Those were the days before the condos came to the Redneck Riviera. Now,  those mom-and-pop motels of my childhood where our family stayed when we went to the beach are nearly gone.

Tough environmental lessons are learned when places you love are threatened. Will the Alabama-Florida Panhandle beaches escape? Today, Gulf Shores, Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City Beach, you are all on my mind. Maybe I can return one day to those beautiful beaches I remember so well. I hate to think not.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Can Email Be Far Behind

One of my colleagues at work and I had a friendly, ongoing difference of opinion. I said, “Web site,” and she said, “website.” Every time we’d edit work for each other, I would correct her “website” and she would mark my “Web site.” And I would say, “I follow the Associated Press Stylebook (dubbed the Journalist's 'Bible').” To which she’d reply, “It’s website.”

Well, in case you are not a language nerd (credit Washington Post writer Rob Pegoraro with that term), you might have missed the hoopla over the AP’s decision a couple of weeks ago to change to “website.” Faster Forward writer Pegoraro wrote, “My instinctive reaction is to stick with traditional practice, but I'm not completely sure what to think.”

A couple of days after I read the news about the switch, I printed out a post about the change and left a copy on my colleague’s desk with a note: “I guess I’ll be changing to website.” However, I didn’t say she was right. Or that I liked it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

National Library Week

“Batavia in some ways looks like a town that time has left alone.”
Mayor Jeffrey D. Schielke

Whether it’s a quiet haven for reflection or story time for kids, Batavia Public Library (my current home-town library) is a warm and inviting example of what a public library should be. Grab a cup of coffee on the way in, find a comfy club chair and settle in for an hour of reading.

Libraries have changed over the years with technology driving libraries to provide banks of computers nestled among the books. Yet, the library still has a special hold on my heart.

Growing up in Prattville, Alabama, I’d spend Saturday mornings at the library. I hung out there so much that eventually the two ancient white-haired lady librarians put me to work shelving. It’s amazing how much a curious junior high kid can find out about sex education from medical reference books.

I loved the dusty smell of old magazines like Time, Saturday Evening Post, and Life. They provided me a visual history of the first half of the 20th Century, which I think is largely responsible for my love of history. Given the liberty to poke around at will, I delved into fiction and non-fiction.

Today, we can hold a iPad or Kindle, text a message on our phones, and from our computers download all manner of information. But there’s still just no better place to hang out than the library.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

German Dutch Baby Pancakes

This morning is a quiet one. After a week with mom, College Boy returned last evening via Greyhound bus to Drury University. I do not recommend travel by bus, at least not Greyhound. When I was a college student myself eons ago, I once made the 90-mile-trip home from the University of Alabama to Prattville on a rickety old Trailways bus. Let’s say the trip motivated me to find another way home. I think I can safely say the same for CB, who definitely picked up a couple of stories to write about. Some things never change.

CB is good company though, and I do miss him already. We watched a couple of movies, Crazy Heart (recommended with a caveat or two: It reminds me of Robert Duvall’s 1983 Tender Mercies — whose plot summary according to IMDb is: “Alcoholic former country singer Mac Sledge makes friends with a young widow and her son. The friendship enables him to find inspiration to resume his career.” Well, Duvall won an Oscar in 1984, and so did Jeff Bridges this year, and who I am to question reusing plot lines if it works. But I did ask myself what the heck moved a young thing like Maggie Gyllenhaal to shack up with a broken-down man like Bad Blake?). CB and I also watched Blind Side, and being from the South and loving football, how could we not like this one?

One night, elder son made us homemade pasta and sauce (Bolognese with pappardelle), and another night, I barbecued (a.k.a. burned up) some chicken slathered with the remaining Montgomery Inn barbecue sauce I was saving for a special occasion. The chicken was accompanied by my potato salad, which CB had requested.

On my morning off, CB and I went over to our favorite Batavia breakfast spot, Lume’s, and indulged in a Dutch Baby German pancake. If you have never had one, I recommend you try them. In these parts they are rather expensive, and I thought I’d give making them at home a try. And thus, I discovered, they are amazingly easy to make and right tasty too.

• Here’s my version with slight modifications to the recipe found at How to Make German Pancakes—Dutch Babies. I used the smaller version, which the author says serves 2 to 4. First revision: I ate the whole thing but would say it would serve 2 non-gluttonous individuals quite well.
• The eggs and milk were just out of the refrigerator. I am an impatient sort.
• Forget the business about bread flour as opposed to all-purpose flour. I can’t imagine my Dutch Baby any higher.
• I used more vanilla and skipped the cinnamon and added about a quarter cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of butter instead of 7 teaspoons, which might be the equivalent but I didn’t want to calculate differences in tablespoons and teaspoons.
• I used a well-seasoned 8-inch cast-iron skillet and would recommend a 10-inch instead simply for the reason that instead of a quarter-inch bottom, I ended up with a half-inch depth. Not bad—just might have been a tad better if it had been thinner. Be sure to follow the recipe as to getting your oven and skillet hot before adding the butter (probably ought to melt it) and then the batter. My Baby cooked in approximately 15 minutes. So, I would suggest you check on your pancake prior to 20 minutes just to be on the safe side.

Well, you can see from the photos the Baby turned out pretty pouffy. After sifting confectioner’s sugar over the Baby, I served it with lemon slices and syrup. Somehow I felt the Baby deserved an upgrade from Hungry Jack Lite syrup, but that was all I had in the house.

Happy Saturday!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

I Wonder

Nothing happens until something moves.
— Albert Einstein

Elder son asked if I had written anything on the blog lately. I said, “No.” And I started to wonder why. Certainly, I’m never short of something to say. However, I am a bit tired these days. Tired of politics for sure, shaking my head at the seemingly impossible impasse at which our two political parties here in the U.S. find themselves. I don’t recall feeling so discouraged in quite a while.

I could rail on the need to address the greater good but find I am fighting an urge to turn inward and tend to my own good.

Remember in the 80s when Looking Out for #1 topped the New York Times best-seller list? I am, of course, dating myself, but I have grown tired of self-help books like Robert Ringer’s as well as the “wisdom” dispensed by Oprah Winfrey. Life’s complicated and if I’m going to figure it out, I’d just as soon trust my own instincts rather than theirs.

I did finally get back to the gym this weekend after letting the excuse of a bad cold sideline me. I’m in better spirits. As I walked at a goodly clip goin’ nowhere (listening to my favorite Chris Isaak CD) on the treadmill, three posters on the weathered brick wall in front of me caught my eye. One said, “Possibilities,” another “Opportunities,” and the final “Action.”

That about sums it up as best as I can see. Life is about action. When we succumb to inaction for whatever reason, I believe we are merely walking through life zombie-like. I think that it’s a worthy goal to be that person of action. It becomes #4 on my list of resolutions.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Split Infinitives and New Year's Resolutions

Never much for New Year’s resolutions, I have nonetheless resolved the following:

1. I will try to live in the now and not the past nor the future.

What is this day like? Can I enjoy it and not worry about the number of days or years that I may have left? Can I banish the ‘what ifs’? What if the car breaks down (oh, I know it will eventually—it’s got quite a few miles on it just like its owner)? What if I get sick, or slip and fall, or lose my job, or become homeless, living out of the car with quite a few miles on it? What will I do now that I am living alone for the first time ever—just yesterday College Boy left for a new college a day’s drive away? What will be my passion? Should I return to school? Should I join a group to stave off loneliness? If I do, what kind of people should I surround myself with?

Can I let go of past hurts? Can I hold onto pleasant memories without wishing to relive them? Can I go forward al a Star Trek with a personal “five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before”?

We shall see. Perhaps, yes, with these fears and old habits verbalized.

2. I will finish reading more books, and subscribe to some magazines and the newspaper.

This is doable. I already read a lot, but since chemo, my concentration has been off and sticking with a book seems like an impossible chore. How many books I have started and put aside! That can change. I am nearly finished reading a book now. Strangely, for a person who majored in journalism, I have fallen away from reading magazines and the daily paper. What a shame! TV is a poor substitute. I resolve to change.

3. I will move forward with creative pursuits.
This is the one resolution I am most excited by, but more on this later.

Three resolutions, about the right number I think. I have a couple of others but they are the rather common ones that we all seem to share and then quickly toss aside. You know—lose weight, eat right, exercise, save money.

Happy New Year! May the coming days be filled with good health, good times, growth, and kindnesses both given and received.