Remembrances

For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.  ~William Penn 

This morning, I sat on the edge of the bed, having dressed and readied myself for the day.  But I was unprepared.  Unprepared for news that would reach me in the way we get news these days.  I sat staring at my phone on the dresser’s edge.  I had just read, via Facebook of all things, that my grandmother had traveled on in the night.  I sat still, and calm, and unworried because, though I didn’t know my grandmother well (which I will get to), I did know her well enough to know that her faith enabled her to reach new life and celebrate that newness with her husband once again.  And, regardless of where you sit on that fence, the great divide that is religion, faith and the hereafter, you know whereof the faith that I speak and you know its power.  I know that is what helped her throughout her life in times of trial and sadness.

As I said, I didn’t know my grandmother well.  We didn’t have the typical grandparent/grandchild relationship for a variety of reasons which were never any one’s fault, the situation just worked out that way.  The few memories that I do have of her involve the small farmhouse where she lived and the accompanying garden and field and they are fond memories.  A small white farmhouse with a wide cool front porch that sat across the road from a cemetery, engaged in an endless staring contest with the grayish stones that stood silently in the field.  Oddly, the same cemetery in which she’ll be buried.  A massive sloping field that bordered a pond where we would catch sunfish and bluegill and you could race clouds through the tall grass where cows had grazed until you reached the lonely sycamore at the back of the lot.  A small efficient garden that provided nourishment to a family of six, and continued to provide once that family grew beyond that house.

I remember her slightly raspy voice telling stories of relatives and acquaintances I hardly knew while we, my sister and I, sat on the floor and examined the most curious of items, a small empty jug with a corncob stopper.  It was a curiosity, but that and the fact that there was always a bowl of nuts with a handy cracker nearby are vivid memories.  I remember her descending into her root cellar, mostly because I didn’t know anyone else who had a root cellar, and when she opened the door in the floor (another thing I enjoyed immensely) the waft of earth and cool that breached the edge of the door was like opening the gateway to the mines of Moria.  I also remember a few afternoon meals with tea brewed in the sun and rhubarb pie.

My grandmother was, in my eyes, a complex person with simple needs and desires.  I very rarely saw her smile, but I remember her laugh.  In both her wedding photos and mine, there’s hardly a hint of smile…but her laugh would fill the small spaces of her home.  She lived all her married life in the same house with the same garden to tend.  I don’t imagine that she ever dreamed of some place else because it was what she needed.  Up until the illness made it impossible, she drove herself to church, volunteered at the hospital, and made the bingo rounds at the Knights of Columbus hall.  And true to people who’ve lived through the Great Depression, she’d save her pennies and each grandchild and great grandchild would received rolled coins in their Christmas gift each year; a gift that if it were handmade, which it often was, would smell “like Mamaw’s house.”

It is difficult, always, to say goodbye to one who is loved, but I am grateful that she did not suffer too much.  I have seen the ravages of lung cancer and I am thankful that she was spared most of those difficulties.  Though she’s gone, she won’t be far from her earthly home and I will always have the memories.

Doris Alma (Wiseman) Vowels  1926-2011

Everybody’s working for the…

The cold is coming.  The weekend is upon us.  Thanksgiving lurks behind the turning of the leaves.  And Christmas…Christmas is bearing down on you like a train in a Denzel Washington film.  Stress?! What stress?

The truth is, I feel better about the state of things today than I did earlier in the week.  I’m not sure if I’ve managed to just push past it, or if I’ve simply ignored it until I’m no longer thinking about it.  Nothing has really changed, but I believe I’ve made peace with the mountain of things I need to do.  Check with me in about a week to see if that’s still the case.

This is one of those days where I’m not feeling much into blogging, so I’m pretty much phoning it in.  This is what a phoned-in blog post looks like.  So, to keep in line with that course, here’s some:

RANDOM THOUGHTS

  • Ginkgo trees have the best colored foliage in the fall.  Plus, their leaves are really cool.
  • I think the shirt I’m wearing today is too small, which is sad because it’s new and I rather like it.
  • I have a burning desire to go camping, yea though I have no equipment to do so.
  • Are you so excited for the new Harry Potter film?  And doesn’t Emma Watson look fabulous with her new pixie cut?
  • The sports page has been of little interest lately without baseball.  I’m not a huge football fan, and basketball season doesn’t really ratchet up until late January.
  • Speaking of sports, I’ve become even more interested in soccer lately, and what with NESV buying Liverpool FC, I’m a very big fan of the Reds across the pond.
  • Finally…and so this will spark even more interest in this blog Aside: not that a little celebrity name-dropping from time to time doesn’t answer me these questions three:
    • What was your favorite Christmas gift?
    • What would you like to receive most this year?
    • Have you ever re-gifted?

See you in the funny papers!

Oh, good, I haven’t missed it.

I have a fairly well documented dislike of the Christmas season.  For me, it has become an overblown collection of infectious songs, energy-sucking light displays, and colossal waste of human resources to ensure the happiness of a very few individuals.  However…and I know that you’ll want to keep reading because it will be beyond belief that I have penned these words…I believe that I may have found myself some of that old Christmas spirit that everyone keeps yammering on about.  For the last decade, and probably even before that, I found Christmas to be a chore, an unnecessary evil that needed to be dealt with simply to maintain social convention.  I participated, but I disliked practically every minute of it. This year will be an exception.

Now many of you will claim that it’s due to the birth of my daughter this year and while I must admit that she’s been the absolute joy of my life these seven months, she is not the reason for my shift in Christmas jollity.  Some will claim that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn on his very best day.  This may be true, but the law of averages demands that I would’ve had Christmas spirit well before now if that were the explanation. No, the truth is, the return of my Christmas spirit was due in no small part to a group of people I’ve never met before and who have very little idea of their impact on me.  Truth be told, many of them may be feeling the exact same way I do.  And, lo and behold, this very saving grace occurred to me during an evening at the theatre with the in-laws.

Last night, we ventured out to Actor’s Theatre of Louisville to see A Christmas Carol.  Truly, it has been many, many years since I’d seen this classic nugget.  I believe, even, the last time I saw it, Mickey Mouse was playing the part of Bob Cratchit.  I had lumped it in with a great many other holiday classics that the mere mention of make my eyes roll and my mouth groan and had avoided it like the plague.  Yes, Virginia, that includes such schmaltzy nuggets as Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life, and even, A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Yep, I had become the Scrooge of all curmudgeons and was firmly planted in my dislike of Christmas.  But, last night, I became unstuck.  There were several moments during the play where I found myself wiping away a tear and truly enjoying Christmas; remembering why there are reasons to celebrate this season.

I have been blessed in this life with family and friends and I know that this is the true wealth, the true happiness.  And to that end, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas season and a joyful New Year that might bring you the same happiness that I’ve been given.  And, just to show you that I’m not above tacky and overly sappy…God Bless Us, Everyone!

See you in the funny papers!

Best of 2009 – Packaging

Well, I know it’s been a while since I posted and I believe that if you go back through the archives, you’ll find that this part of the year is particularly hectic for me.  This year is no different and, honestly, it seems a little bit more chaotic in some ways with the baby Aside: though, I know, those of you with children will merely shake your heads with that knowing look because you’ve already been through this before…it’s new to me C. even made a “Christmas Stress List” after our trip to see The Nutcracker see the Events page for more which ennumerated the myriad things to be done before the actual day descends upon us.  To quote the mother from “The Middle”… Christmas is HARD!

Anyway, the point of this post is to talk about the best packaging of 2009.  This seems like a very odd thing to post about, but me being the odd person that I am, I really have an entry for this.  Recently, I ordered some items from Dr. Bronner’s because their stuff (the soap, the lip balm, and the shaving gel) is amazing and it’s good for the earth AND it gives me something to read in the shower because their bottles are covered with text.   But what excites me even more is the package that it came in.  All 3 things were wrapped very tightly together with bubble wrap and placed in a box just slightly larger than all the items and the extra space was filled with cornstarch peanuts.  It was pretty much the most environmentally friendly packaging of anything I’ve ever ordered and that made it an even better purchase.

So here’s to Dr. Bronner’s and their excellent packaging.  And, I highly recommend their products.  Anyway, back to Christmas!  I’m trying really hard to stay in the Christmas spirit.  I haven’t done that too well in previous years.  This year seems to be going well.  I’ve been listening to Christmas music a lot more, I’ve tried to be a little more jolly in my own sarcastic way…and, I didn’t curse under my breath a single time while waiting in line to see Santa Claus last night.  I’m actually looking forward the event which is a change from recent memory, although, it’s only the 15th, so we’ll see how it goes.  I have decided that you can’t have Christmas without the following:

  • Thurl Ravenscroft singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
  • Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”
  • Lou Rawls, Peggy Lee, and Burl Ives
  • Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • pointing out the hideous Christmas inflatables that you would never, under threat of death, have in front of your house, e.g. Santa playing poker at the North Pole

See you in the funny papers!

O Come All Ye Faithful

When I started dating my wife, I acclimated to a tradition of her family by venturing out into the wilds of Indiana and selecting a fresh Christmas tree, cutting it down and dragging it home to decorate.  Previous to this, I had merely pulled out the dusty tree from a box in the closet and placed it in the corner, but now, here was a new exciting part of the holiday that felt exotic and exhilarating.  There is truly something invigorating about wandering in a field in the cold, crisp weather and breathing in that beautiful pine scent; the sharp odor of fresh cut wood.  I really enjoy the moments outdoors selecting our tree.

All of this is to say that yesterday, we went out again into the cold with our daughter and C.’s mom and dad and we chose our tree and it was, yet again, a serene experience to be in the company of family, participating in an old-fashioned tradition, and enjoying the beginnings of our holiday season.  Also, part of this tradition is the listening to Christmas music, particularly John Denver and the Muppets, but several other Christmas CDs as well, which leads me to my minor “conversion” moment this morning on the way to church. Notre Dame Cathedral

Now, one would think if I were already headed to church, I wouldn’t have needed a conversion moment.  And, I don’t want to alienate anyone who thinks I’ve jumped on the “crazy Christian” bandwagon, because that wouldn’t be an accurate account either.  Truth is, I attend church for a lot of reasons…one is that it’s a job, I get paid to sing.  Second, the community that is shared among the group of friends at our church is really second to none.  We, my wife and I, really enjoy the friendships we’ve made at church.  But, the main reason I attend church is that I don’t have all the answers and, honestly, there’s quite a bit of doubt.  I AM the “Thomas the Apostle” for my generation.  Still, there are clear and shining moments wherein the voice of God breaks through the cloud of mystery and doubt and floods my heart and mind.  This morning, I was going to change the cd in the stereo because we’d listened to it at least 3 or 4 times yesterday during various trips across the county, but I left it in because I wanted to hear Earl Scruggs play “Jingle Bells” on the banjo.  Well, a few songs later, Patty Loveless began her version of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and that is the moment that it made sense to me:

O Come, All Ye Faithful

It was an invitation; an invitation to be a part of a season, a tradition.  Sure, it specifies the faithful, but also the joyful and the triumphant.  I would venture to say that it was also an invitation to the doubtful, the disheartened and the downtrodden.  I felt a part of the faithful, not necessarily the believers, but those who have faith, however shaky it might be, that there is good and purpose in the world.  And, we’re invited to share in a community with other faithful.  I’d like to propose that the comma in that opening line is maybe premature.  Maybe, instead, it should read:

O Come All, Ye Faithful

So, during this season of Advent Aside: for those of you who didn’t go to church this morning, Advent is the season of preparation that precedes Christmas.  You won’t find it in the Hallmark card section as it goes largely unnoticed by the general populace. as we prepare for our Christmas traditions with fresh or dusty trees, fresh or dusty faiths, I’d like to believe that we’ve all been invited to attend, to celebrate in the joy of this season.

Finally, in keeping with Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 challenge, today’s “Best of” is workshop or conference.  I don’t attend many workshops or conferences.  My job is not such that it’s necessary, however, this year I did attend a marriage retreat that might fall into this category.  My wife and I, as part of the aforementioned church, journeyed down to the All Saints Conference Center in Leitchfield, KY for a short marriage retreat.  We truly enjoyed the retreat and were able to further solidify our marriage by recognizing that we share many of the same constructs for making our marriage work smoothly and joyfully with a minimum of distraction and discord.  It was a very nice weekend and I feel like it strengthened our marriage.  So, even though it’s the only one, I’d say it was the best one of 2009.

See you in the funny papers!

I don’t even know what to title this post.

I have a number of things to get through, so just sit down, hang on and stay as quiet as possible.  I realized when I was thinking about this post that my mind kept jumping back and forth between topics…plus, I found a story on NPR this morning which demanded my attention, so today you’re getting it all.  Plus, I know I haven’t been around much since Thanksgiving, so you’re probably starved for attention anyway.  So here goes:

Tiger Woods – I know, you’re probably tired of hearing about it, but I only rarely deign to dwell in the celebridiot world, so indulge me just this once.  I can think of only three reasons why you might cheat on your wife.  One is you’re lonely or bored.  This is the believable aspect of this story as it must be difficult to travel around the world, I assume without your family by your side Aside: although, surely they could afford the extra plane fare and so you search for companionship when you’re away from loved ones.  This is not an excuse and should not be tolerated, but it is a plausible explanation.  The second reason is you’re stupid.  This is not as plausible because Tiger has not shown himself to be anything but intelligent and dedicated, at least on the golf course, and his ability to maintain a top ranking worldwide as well as position himself as one of the top earners in endorsements doesn’t lend credence to the idea that he’s an idiot.  So, he’s not stupid, or at least not obviously so.  That leaves us with reason three which is egomania, and this is by far the most logical of the three reasons.  There is reason to believe that Tiger’s ego Aside: which arguably has only been enhanced by his status, his model wife, and his place as golf’s media darling has created a reality for him in which he believed himself to be infallible or incapable of being caught.  This is, at best, misguided and now that his world has been crumbling around him one would hope that his ego has been sufficiently damaged to show him that he’s not “bulletproof.”  If this is truly the case, you feel slightly bad for him, but not enough to make him the victim, or god-forbid, a martyr.  The real victim in this case is, of course, his wife and I can imagine that she’d want to take a golf club Aside: how ironic?! to his vehicle, or even his head.  Some will say, well, how could he cheat on such a hot woman.  That’s immaterial.  Cheating on your wife shouldn’t involve whether or not she’s hot by some bizarre fantasy standard…it should be based on whether or not you love her, and no one who cheats on their wife can say that they are in love with them.  It’s antithetical.  And that, Intertubes, is all I have to say on the Tiger Woods affair.

Cycling and Road Rage – Pursuant to this article on NPR, I thought I’d add my $0.02 that I’m certain I’ve shared before in this very space.  Cyclists are entitled to the rights and privileges afforded to other vehicles in those very same spaces.  As well, they are also bound by the laws and restrictions concerning those spaces.  There are any number of persons, both cyclists and drivers, who, on a regular basis, fail to heed those laws and restrictions and should be penalized as such.  They are dangerous, literally and figuratively, for those of us who are careful to abide by the law regardless of which mode of transportation we choose.  As a regular cyclist, I do worry about being the victim of road rage…and I have been targeted for verbal abuse on several occasions.  I also try to stay out of the way as much as is humanly possible so as not to be a hindrance to drivers because I know I’m not traveling as fast as they are.  As a driver, I try to consider the safety of both drivers and cyclists when I am driving and I also get frustrated at cyclists who flaunt the rules to achieve their own personal happiness.  This is trite and overused, but “Can’t we all just get along?”  For my part, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a small, but growing, acceptance of cyclists in this city.  Unfortunately, there are still many uneducated cyclists and drivers who contribute to the sad state of affairs as related in this story.   Also, shame on NPR for using an image with this article that plainly shows a cyclist riding improperly in traffic which is direct conflict with the number one cycling tip listed in the article.  At least the guy has a helmet on though.

Christmas – Christmas is coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  There will be lights and music and family and traffic and myriad other things that will delight and annoy at alternating intervals.  My goal this season is to attempt a Zen-like approach and allow all of the noise and chaos to simply wash over me and, hopefully, emerge in the New Year without a holiday scratch.  We’ll see if that works.

New Goals – I had made previous mention of new goals and I had hoped to unveil those at the beginning of this month.   What’s that they say about the best laid plans…anyway, I’m now prepared to announce these goals.  The first of these goals is to run in the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April.  That’s the full marathon folks…all 26.2 miles of it.  I’m not a country music fan, per se, but the marathon is relatively close in proximity to my home and it’s relatively flat which will be a good “first marathon” for me.  The second goal which will include the first one to some degree is that I’m going to attempt a new “virtual run” that will take me around the perimeter of Kentucky.  I’ve decided to dedicate two years to this attempt Aside: not the least of reasons is that my wife scoffed at the idea that I could complete it in one year and she’s usually right about this sort of thing. which will mean 50 miles per month for the next 2 years.  Round trip…1200 miles.  I will, of course, be showing you a map on a semi-regular basis (per my whims, of course) and in return, I’m hoping that you can donate a little money to a cause.  I’m hoping to use this “virtual run” to generate funds for a cause dear to my heart.  I would donate any money raised to either the “Pennies of Promise” campaign or to an activist organization that supports the banning of mountaintop removal, likely KFTC or something similar.  If you’re not moved by those ideas, feel free to suggest another possibility, or choose not to donate.  My theory is that if you pledge, say, a penny per mile, then if I do manage to go the distance, your total outlay would be $12.00 which is not a great deal of money over the course of two years.  I would hope that some of you with deeper pockets Aside: assuming there are those of you WITH deeper pockets who actually read this would be tempted to wager a bit more on my abilities and if I fall short of the goal…well, then you’ve saved a few bucks.  Either way, the goal starts on January 1 and hopefully I can put together a page for donation collection by then to make it easier for you to support me in this endeavor.  And, for those of you who simply can’t afford anything (which I completely understand) I am also accepting generous helpings of moral support and encouragement.

Finally, because if you’ve read this far down, you’ve really stuck with it for the long haul, I’d like to wish my beloved wife a wonderfully happy birthday.  I know that as we get older birthdays become a little less exciting and a little more annoying, but I always want hers to be special and I hope that she has a great day.  I love you C. and I hope your day is magnificent beyond measure.

See you in the funny papers!

NaBloPoMo 2009 – COL

It’s been a Monday…but a very productive Monday.  I made some very good progress on a project that I hate.  I was able to make a flight change for an individual that gives him more time with family over the holidays and it only cost the change fee, which is really nice.  It’s been relatively quiet around the office today which has been very good.  I’m tired today, but I think it’s because IvyCat the munchkin has a cough which keeps her up at night…consequently keeping me up at night.  I feel bad for her, but I wish she had the wherewithal to just cough and then go back to sleep.  On the other hand, she really has taken to solid foods Aside: well, one solid food, sweet potatoes and, honestly, by the time she gets it, it’s not really all that solid anymore and I’m hoping that bodes well for future nights where she might learn to sleep more than 4 or 5 hours in a row.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

Christmas is coming, as is Thanksgiving.  I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving as we’ll be in Knoxville, TN for a couple of days visiting family.  My Christmas list has now been published…so I hope Santa is reading it wherever he might be.  If you’re interested, I can certainly provide you with a copy.  Let me know!

Hopefully there’ll be a running update tomorrow.  I really don’t know if I’ve met the goal yet.  Last week’s running was subpar and I think I need new shoes Aside: ON THE CHRISTMAS LIST! because my knees are not responding well to the beating they’re taking and I don’t think it’s the extra mileage.  That’s it for now.

See you in the funny papers!

Christmas: The Altered Reality

We try so hard every year, and every year we become exhausted, stressed, and depressed in a futile effort to make this the Best Christmas Ever.  Why?!  Why do we insist on working music to death from October to Christmas Eve?  Why do we spend hours, days even, in the kitchen making favorite dishes for family we see exactly once a year?  Why do we struggle and curse in the traffic (both vehicular and pedestrian) at the malls and department stores to find yet another something that will most likely land in a pile in a closet somewhere?  Our Christmas is not a holiday to be celebrated, but rather a labor akin to something Achilles was rumored to have endured.  Or, at least, mine isn’t.  And, I know I’m not the only one.

My choir director, while displaying some cheerful notion about the glory of music, wishes desperately that it would all go away.  Same with Easter for that matter.  My mother rearranges her entire home in a desperate attempt to fit 24 people into a space designed for about 10 or 12 in the hopes that we can all eat together, all so that her own mother is not disappointed, and she certainly would love nothing more than to have it all go away.  For two solid weeks, my mother-in-law details all the things she works on to get ready for a Christmas Eve event that disappears in the blink of an eye once the clock strikes midnight.

All of this is done because we believe in some vain notion of Christmas spirit, in holiday tradition, in the eternal glory of the ideal Christmas.  And yet, behind the scenes, we find that the anxiety, the exhaustion, the desire to have it all dissipate into the ether is the real Christmas.  It’s not candlelight and carols; it’s not brotherhood of mankind.  It’s all a sham, regardless of how many times you’ve seen A Christmas Carol.  Call me Ebenezer if you like, but I’m done with Christmas.  I’ve sung all I’m going to sing.  If I want to eat with family, I’ll do it on my own terms in my own home.

Still, I’m sure that we’ll do it all again next season, forgetting all the pain and ridiculous hoops we went through to get this point.  We’ll chop down another tree, set the kitchen in motion, welcome basic strangers into our home, all in the hopes of the ideal Christmas…all the while knowing that it doesn’t exist.

See you in the funny papers!

Missing the heat

It’s winter here in Kentucky, no doubt about that.  It’s cold outside, it’s cold in the office, and my Christmas Spirit gauge shows that I’m about 3 quarts low.  Check that, it’s flat dry.  I don’t have the desire or the energy to put up with Christmas in any form: holiday luncheons, choir practices, etc.  I’m tapped out.  I attribute some of that to the cold…but a lot of it is due to the overkill.  Christmas is such a drain on my system and to not have it be at least in the 70s during this time wears on a person.

And, the sun…where is the sun?  It has been overcast for the past 3 days here, not to mention that with daylight savings, I’m already heading to/leaving from work in the darkness.  It’s so depressing.  I even put on some Dropkick Murphys to shake out some of the blues today, and it worked for a minute or two.  But it’s as if Old Man Winter is trying to suck the life out of me one gloomy day at a time.

In other news, I’ve been adding old posts, slowly, to the back end of my blog.  Basically, I’m back dating old stuff so that it shows up in the right order…so if you want to check out some of the old me, I highly recommend scrolling all the way to the bottom and checking out the past.  Sort of a “Back to the Future” kind of event.  One particular favorite is August 1, 2006.  It’s about the heat!

See you in the funny papers!