Friday, December 31, 2010

Possum Post!

So last night, FryDaddy goes outside to bring in the Spooky-dog, only to find that said Spooky is sharing her pen with a squatter - in this case, a large representative of the species known as didelphis virginiana. Yep, the sanctity of Spooky's pen had been invaded by a big ol' possum. Spooky didn't know what to think and I couldn't blame her. The possum was curled up acting as if it were just about to be an ex-possum - labored breathing, faint hissing, bared teeth. After a hasty consult, we took the coward's way out and just left it alone.

Silly humans!

As soon as the critter was sure the lights were off for good, he scrambled to his tiny li'l feet, ate all of Spooky's food, licked the bowl clean, and scampered off into that good night, probably shaking his prehensile tail at us while making a note of just where the suckers who leave out tasty treats live.

Now, possums are just downright weird animals. Living fossils, actually. They're marsupials with kinda-prehensile tails (they can't really hang from them all that well, but can sort of do it). Gentle omnivores, they "play possum" in a last-ditch effort to escape threats, after first trying hissing and retreat. Although all mammals can catch rabies, possums have a marked resistance to the disease. They've got more teeth than any other mammal and a nigh-immunity to pit viper poison - they chow down on copperheads. Oh, and they've got opposable thumbs on their back feet!

Freaky.

Then it occurred to me - what we have here is a redneck mongoose. A Rikki-Bobby-Tikki-Tavi, if you will. No one's idea of a pet, but they've survived nevertheless. People will spend a bucketload of money on Persian kitten or a collie who's been overbred to the point of inherent bad temper and health problems, but those same people will threaten a gentle possum with the business end of a broom when the critter just wants a taste of Gravy Train.

So I'm glad we let him alone and honestly, I'm glad he got a free meal out of the encounter.It's bound to be hard to be a possum in a pedigreed world and I think all of us have days when we can relate more to the possum than the pedigree. And I hope that when I'm next having a hard time fitting in (which I shall now call a "possum day") someone doesn't whack me with a Swifter.





Friday, December 24, 2010

Stop It! Just Stop It!

No, I don't mean "stop Christmas." That would be a silly thing indeed. Even the Grinch knows better than to attempt to stop Christmas. Especially when there's only "one more sleep 'til Christmas."

What I mean is to stop worrying so much about it. Face it, by now things are either done or they're not. I know of which I type. I still have a smallish stack of presents that need to be wrapped and wrapped they will be. I'm not promising sharply-creased corners and cunningly curled ribbon, but the contents will be concealed from prying eyes. (As a point of interest, the mere fact that the presents are wrapped in holiday paper is worth noting. I come from a family that often recycled the Sunday comics for that purpose and it's a habit I find quite charming. When Sam gave Dean his Christmas present wrapped in crumpled comics lifted from the Sunday paper, I knew the Winchesters and I had something in common. Aside from that and an aversion of meadowsweet wreaths, not much, but there is that.)

It's Christmas! Stop worrying about the details. Trust me, your house is beautiful. The tree is gorgeously decked with ornaments and lights. The cookies are yummy and the stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

So get out of there for an hour or two! After all, Christmas isn't tinsel, as much fun and sparkly as that is. Go drop off that check to the Empty Stocking Fund. Take a box of old magazines to the rest home. Smile at the bell ringers and drop in folding money instead of change. Grab a couple of friends and go caroling in your neighborhood - the neighbors will probably invite you in to warm up. (Or, in my case, to bribe you with hot cocoa to stop what you enthusiastically term "singing.") Read the account in St. Luke and spend a few minutes "pondering these things in your heart." Toss a couple of handfuls of birdseed on the ground for the feathered ones. Remember that we're all in this together and none of us have it exactly figured out.

Merry Christmas, everyone. May life be kind in the lessons it teaches us this year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Countdown!

My semester finished up today. Classes officially finished yesterday, with final grades due in today. Just in time, too. The weather has turned bitterly cold (we simply do not do "wind chill of 12 degrees" here in upper Dixie) and Old Man Winter has even lacked the decency to snow. (Technically, I guess it's still "Old Man Fall" until the 21st, but whatever.)

For me, the end of a semester is always a little melancholy but that passes quickly with the looming holiday season. There is still much, much to do - some gift buying remains, plenty of wrapping, cards need to be written (I like that tradition, even if the cards don't contain lengthy messages, so I try to keep it up), and other assorted tasks. FryDaddy and I try to not take things too seriously - we're not Martha Stewart and really - we're fine with that. In fact, I'll let you in part of our secret. Ready?

We moved Christmas.

Yep. We celebrate early. Make sure supplies are laid in (including a boatload of Christmas movies), take the phone off the hook, and turn the area under the tree into a veritable wasteland of crumpled paper several days before the "official" calendar date. So very much easier and less stressful. We've found that it allows us to enjoy "actual" Christmas much, much more.

It might not work for everyone, but everyone doesn't live here.

Also, I'm discovering that I have a dark streak when it comes to Christmas music. Don't misunderstand me, I loves me some Messiah and I even can stand "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" (among other Christmas staples), but I really like the lonely ones. It could be the Irish in me - a people of whom Chesterton said, ". . . are the men that God made mad, for all their wars are merry/And their songs are sad." But I actually like "Fairytale of New York" and the incomparable John Prine's "Christmas in Prison." I think that stands to reason. The poor and the forgotten are with us always and yes, that includes the hale and hearty holidays.

Don't forget them, please. There are children who go without presents and parents who worry (I mean really worry) about the rent. There are the lonely who would like a warm pair of gloves and there are the lost who would like to know that, even if it's just for a single day out of the whole stinkin' year, the world doesn't just rush obliviously past them.

Christmas is for all of us. So please - take a box of old clothes to Goodwill. Drop a five in the red Sally Army kettle. Buy an extra toy while you're shopping and drop it off with those sharp-dressed Marines manning the "Toys for Tots" display. Gracious, just write a check to your local Empty Stocking Fund.

Christmas is for miracles. Go be somebody's.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Love & Miracles

. . . well, that's what I was planning to write about, anyway. Seemed like a nice, feel-good, fuzzy-warm sort of thing to write about at this time of the year. And so many Decembery celebrations have the twin elements of love and miracles at their hearts. The Baby God born in a manger. The blessed oil that somehow burns for eight days. The return of Light on the darkest, longest night of the year. Proof for seekers that the Divine cares for and cherishes us.

And yet. Maybe I'm better off not looking at the Big Picture and should instead only focus on small details, such as the continual broadcasting of stop-motion animation featuring Burl Ives snowmen.

You see, Ramona, my little, funny, shy-until-you-know-her godchild had a sharp lesson in separateness and intolerance this week when her best friend told her that they couldn't play together any more because the two seven-year-olds aren't of the same religion.

Let's pass right over the fact that one's a Baptist and one's a Lutheran. FryDaddy and I, along with her parents, have all been tumbling over ourselves trying to figure out what happened, exactly who said what and where the idea came from in the first place. (The other little girl's parents aren't talking much, making me wonder if this wasn't a childish misunderstanding but is instead rooted in some ugly truth.) The girls have been best friends since forever and have attended after-school care together and even gone to Vacation Bible School together, for Pete's sake. So the argument of "you're not like me" doesn't hold water (holy or otherwise) in the first place.

Beyond that, what would the big screaming deal be if the two little girls weren't following the same faith path?

All I know is this. The exchange has left me sad, angry and confused - and I'm a Woman of a Certain Age who's had her fair share of bumps, bruises, and abrasions in life. How would I feel as a seven-year-old if my bestest friend told me that I wasn't good enough? Dear Angels in Heaven, that's enough to cause parents to start a therapy fund.

Why must so many of us believe in such a cramped, petty God? Why are so many of us so afraid of anything that isn't just like what we already know? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that I believe that God often shakes His (or Her, or Its) head over the nonsense that is perpetrated in His name.

Either we're all God's children or none of us are. And Love and Miracles are well worth celebrating, in whatever form we find them.

Now you'll have to excuse me. I need to go make latkes and spin a dreidel before I start the Yule log burning as I sing Christmas carols.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thankfulness, Gratitude, & Pie

We're on the other side of Thanksgiving now. A large portion of my family gathered up in the mountains of North Carolina for a feast and mini-shopping frenzy. Before FryDaddy and I headed up the mountain, we had our own pre-Thanksgiving ritual - no, not watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, although I greatly enjoy that. No, we watch "Pangs," the Thanksgiving episode of Buffy. While the episode is not without controversy for its somewhat stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans, I can easily overlook that to enjoy lines such as, "I know it's a sham. But it's a sham with yams. It's a yam sham" and the inimitable Anya's, "To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. A ritual sacrifice. With pie."

The Thanksgiving feast for my family is pretty typical - roast turkey, cranberry sauce from the can, dressing, a variety of vegetable casseroles featuring lots of cheese and condensed soups, crescent rolls (again from the can - my contribution this year) and a table groaning with desserts. Truly a carb-fest - Dr. Atkins can stay far, far away from our table and we'll thank him for the favor.

I like Thanksgiving, primarily for the whole idea of taking a day out and thinking about the good stuff that's going on. Given the still cloudy economic situation, the fact that my beloved Carolina Panthers are playing with the passion of a two-day-old dead fish, and the overall cussedness bordering on paranoia in much of the current political discourse in my country, it's good to declare a one day time out. Because there has been (and is) an awful lot of good going on this year; to wit (as my lawyer friends would say):
  • Late winter into spring - write, write, write. Because people wanted to hear me talk, talk, talk.
  • May 1 - FryDaddy and I got married with much love and joy and very little fuss.
  • Mid May - FryDaddy completed his first two years of college, even donning a flimsy polyester gown and very flat hat for the occasion.
  • Early June - Slayage 4 was held down in the lovely town of St. Augustine, FL where we hope to return.
  • Fall - FryDaddy began his final years of undergraduate schoolin'.
  • August to November - I discovered Supernatural and found a whole new way of looking at angels, some of which are quite scary, yet deeply, deeply satisfying.
Yes, I know the list is heavy on the pop culture references, but . . . and there is the prospect of decorating for Christmas and maybe even spending an afternoon not grading. With hot chocolate.

Indeed, life is good!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Right about now I wish I was back in a TV show."

The title is from "Changing Channels," a Season 5 episode of Supernatural. Let me explain.

When FryDaddy left to continue his education full-time at a university that was close enough to allow him to come home often, but far enough away to not allow him to live at home, it was suggested that we find a way to meet in the middle for dinner once a week and further, that we find a TV show to watch so we'd have something to talk about that wasn't school or work related. We listened to this sage advice and decided (after three years of people patiently trying to get through to me) to give Eric Kripke's Supernatural a try. I'll admit that I wasn't too sure - it seemed like the anti-Buffy and maybe a little too guy-centric for me.

One of the marks of an adult is that she can admit when she's wrong.

We started out with the idea that we'd watch one episode a week. That barely lasted a month and that was back in Season 1 when the show was still finding its feet and the scripts had a certain "Monster of the Week" feel. Then we began bending the rules and ripping through the seasons - we're about a third of the way through Season 5 today and will probably finish that season by Thanksgiving. (We did keep the rule that we have to either watch together or watch the same episode apart - no getting ahead!)

If you haven't watched the show and have any interest in it, you might want to stop reading now. I have tried to stay basically "spoiler-free," but you just can't help but learn a few things along the way and I'm sure it's colored how I look at a few things. (And I know there's a Season 6, so I'm going to happily assume that both my boys make it through Season 5 and somehow triumph over the looming Apocalypse, emerging with bodies and souls relatively intact. If I'm wrong, please don't bother to tell me.)

So - why care? I mean, it's a fantasy-driven TV show about two brothers who are always on the move, fighting Darkness in any number of small, mostly mid-Western towns. Their classic car has an arsenal in the trunk and a cassette player ready for the best of 1970s arena rock. They live in a series of seedy motels (with truly hideous "theme" decor) that even the Gideons steer clear of and fund their activities through questionable poker games and (probably) credit card fraud.

I grant you, it sounds either (a) ridiculous or (b) like a really bad movie made for the SyFy Channel (see again (a)).

But Supernatural isn't about that. Like high school in Buffy, that's the cover and the wise are not taken in by covers. Supernatural, at its best, is about the Big Questions. Life. Love. God. Angels. Demons. Evil. Destiny. Free will. Compassion. Sacrifice. Choice. And boy howdy, is it about consequences - intended and otherwise.

It's about taking home with you and holding tight to those you love, even when you really can't stand to be in the same room with them. It's about Duty and Pain and fumbling to do the right thing when no one bothered to tell you what that was.

And it'll make you laugh. Horse-laugh, out loud. And, if you have a heart that beats and has ever known loss, it'll make you cry.

I marvel that it took me this long to find it. But I'm in the Impala 'til we run out of road.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fall's Here!

I can tell not only by the annual turning-back-of-the-clocks (and the other part of that yearly ritual, the finding-of-the-clock-you-forgot-to-turn-back), but by the heaps of leaves stacked by the curbsides of my neighbors. My yard is still covered in colorful leaves that the trees have shaken off. Oh, there will be more - it's sort of like Spooky shaking off after an (all too infrequent) bath. You'd think with so many water droplets that she'd have to be dry, but there's always one more good shake in there. Same with leaves.

I really enjoy fall. The crisper air is a pleasant change from the sticky heat of the Southern summer (we're not lazy, we're languid) and I have a thing for fresh apple cider, so it's my time of year! And big bubbling pots of beef stew. Or chili. Or vegetable soup. And pumpkin pie.

Might even toss a log in the firepit out back.

This change of seasons is also marking the end of the "wedding season." This was a "hitching year," make no mistake about it. This past weekend, my brother took the walk down the aisle (actually, he stayed in one place and his lovely bride did the walk thing, but you get the concept) and I was thrilled for him. They're an excellent couple who truly seem to complement each other and it was great to be able to be there (complete with my still-stylish walking boot!) to witness the event.

And no, it was wedding cake, not pumpkin pie.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

People All Over the World . . .

It's been quite a weekend. I was a guest at an out-of-town wedding this weekend, so I had the very "girl" problem of figuring out what outfit would look best when accessorized with my ever-present walking boot. (My bum ankle continues to heal, but certainly at its own pace, not mine!) The wedding itself was lovely - a very personal expression of the two parts of the couple. With cake.

That same day, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held their rally on the National Mall aimed at giving voice to the moderates among us. Squeaky wheels, we are told, are first in line for the grease and there's been no shortage of whining from both sides of the aisle, leaving most Americans sighing in the middle. The idea behind the rally was to demonstrate that there really are a large number of people who can disagree without thinking the other guy is Hitler. Stewart summed that up in his closing speech, saying that compromise is not just necessary to move forward, it's something we all do every day, without making a large fuss about it.

I thought about that. I have neighbors, family, acquaintances, and friends of various political stripes. We could vehemently disagree on issues and scream our suspicions at each other, but that doesn't get leaves raked and houses looked after. So we do what I suspect most people do - we shrug off our surface differences, plant our own election signs in the yard, hand each other surplus home-grown tomatoes and take care of pets while one another are out of town.

Same with marriage. That happy couple won't always agree straight down the line with each other (they're people, not sheep), but that doesn't mean one of them's totally right and the other is evil.

At the rally, there was the "Train trifecta" - "Peace Train" gave way to "Crazy Train" and the two sides couldn't agree on either one. It took the sweet Philadelphia soul of the O'Jays to bring everyone together.




It left me humming - "People all over the world join hands . . . "

And it gave me hope. If we can laugh, even at ourselves - strike that, especially at ourselves - we'll probably be all right.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Browncoats and Candy Corn!

An odd title, perhaps - but bear with me.

It's been a rather frantic time in the Nest. It's that time in the semester when students have realized that it's time to get real or get gone, and (for some) it's a tough choice. I'm behind on grading (and finding a surprising amount of truth in the application of Kubler-Ross's stages to the process), although it's not as bad as it was about a week ago. Like most instructors I know, I try hard to get things back to students within a week or a week and a half at the outside - but sometimes that's just not going to happen. Students are understanding, but I still don't like it and often run myself down telling myself that I ought to be more efficient, work harder, take more stuff home, and in general, be the Grade-A-Matic Mark 2.4.

But I know that we work to have meaningful lives outside of work. (OK, I want to have meaning inside work as well, but stick with me here.) I have my family, my Nest, my friends, my writing, etc., etc. and those relationships and activities require time, energy, and attention as well as the stuff I do for a paycheck. It's all about distinguishing your real Work from your employment-work and it can be a tough, tough balance. Sort of like juggling with monkeys - those suckers cling, which makes tossing them in the air whilst simultaneously catching the ones coming down a mite difficult. (Don't ask how I know. Besides, I hear there's a place where the chief form of entertainment is juggling goslings. Now that's weird, although some people find in the phrase a richness of philosophy.) Sometimes in this life, you just have to pull hard and toss, doing the best you can with the resulting simian rain. (Bribing them with bananas can help, but that takes another hand and you're already using both, so it's at best a partial solution.)

At any rate, I put the grading aside for two events this weekend. The first was attending Day One of the 2010 Browncoat Ball where I had been asked to put together (and be part of) an author panel. It was great fun - you can read more about it over on the Whedon-centric blog, linked here.

I didn't stay for the whole event - I'm sure the shindig is a fabulous thing and that I'd have enjoyed it immensely - but I had a Halloween party for four little girls to help carry out. And who else is going to teach these young ladies the importance of holding your mouth so that your candy corn fangs don't tumble out? It's not the job of the schools and it has to be done. I take my responsibilities to the youth of American very seriously, thank you.

And my goddaughter won't be seven for long. When she gets older, I doubt she'll care that I had a book-signing this weekend, but I hope she'll remember that I was there acting the fool for her party.

Those papers? They'll get done. And they'll probably get done faster if I stop confusing my work with my Work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Salt - Don't Leave Home Without It!

When FryDaddy moved away to school, it necessitated quite a bit of adjustment for both of us. Add to that situation that he moved in to the larger family Nest and the jokes began to write themselves. Just imagine the Hollywood pitch: "OK - there's this college student, see? A little older than most, and he just got married. They're both happy and all, but he has to go away to school. Ready for the kicker? He moves in with her parents! See the comedic possibilities? It's a can't fail!"

Yes - my life is a sitcom. Probably on Fox and probably on Friday nights.

But we're managing. Cell phones help and we want to try Skype. Distance is such that FryDaddy is away during the week, but home for the weekend. And we try to meet in the middle for dinner once a week.

During these dinners, it was suggested that we find something to talk about that wasn't school or work. So, after three years and gently shrugging off the notion, I've become a Supernatural fiend. Neither one of us had watched it, so we watch in our separate homes one night, then talk about it at dinner the next. (And load up on episodes on the weekends!)

I'm really enjoying the show. There were some stand-alone, "Monster of the Week" eps that didn't really work for me early on, but now that we've finished Season 2, the major pieces are on the chessboard and I think the opening moves are just about to come. Now, I study Buffy and other Whedon work (just presented some ideas on Dollhouse - check out the more academic blog here for conference thoughts) and I have to say that I'm enjoying the Winchesters quite a bit, although it's sort of the "anti-Buffy." (Favorite example of this so far [that very well may turn into a presentation title] - Dean is telling li'l Jo why she shouldn't come along to fight demons due to her lack of training and Jo accuses him of being a chauvinist. Dean's laconic reply: "Sweetheart, this ain't gender studies." Tee-hee!!)

Meanwhile, FryDaddy seems transfixed with a mystical Colt. And we both notice where the salt shaker is in restaurants. Common, and quite effective, demon repellent, don't you know.

And I have to admit that yes, I created a Supernatural playlist for what I'm calling my "Impala moments."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lucky I'm Not a Horse

About two months back, I was participating in a Zumba class. Just to clarify, this is a dance-based exercise class - you'll see them advertised on TV and think that they're populated only with rock-hard, highly-trained dancer types. They're not - they let me in, even though I occasionally have trouble counting to eight while remembering how to distinguish my right from my left. The one piece of advice I can give you concerning such classes (which I had taken and enjoyed before) is this - don't wear sneakers! This one time, I forgot my exercise shoes and went in just my faithful Keds.

Pop.

Well, that was just my shoe squeaking against the floor, right? As I gamely try to keep up with the Latin beat.

Turns out no.

For the last eight weeks, I've pretended that the ankle was just a little stiff in the morning, but it hurt. Well, at least "heavy discomfort" and it didn't really get better. I went to the doctor after FryDaddy began referring to me not as his "Best Beloved" (a man who quotes Kipling. I had to marry him!), but as "Festus." A short course of steroids helped temporarily, but I wouldn't stay off the ankle to really let it heal - ten thousand steps a day is the goal, right?

Wrong.

X-rays and an MRI later, I wound up in an orthopedist's office, being cheerfully told, "Oh, no. You didn't snap the Achilles. If you had, you wouldn't need an X-ray to know it. But something's not right back there."

So I'm now the proud owner of the season's most sought-after accessory - a stylish black walking boot that immobilizes the ankle and causes me to lurch about. Wags have suggested that this should make my Halloween costume a cinch - Frankenstein, Ahab, Long John Silver, or perhaps a generic zombie.

Sigh. At least it's not a "real" cast, or something requiring surgery, or injections. And they're not talking about putting me down like a high-strung racehorse.

And if anyone asks, this is all the result of a thrilling trapeze accident.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Long Hauls & Lessons Learned

My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mockingbird, celebrated their Golden Anniversary this past weekend. It's a funny story - when Mom was considering the wedding date, she didn't choose to commemorate their first date, or some equally romantic time, for my mother is nothing if not pragmatic. So she selected the anniversary of the date my dad received his Navy flight wings. As she puts it, "He won't forget that one!" That's them up in the corner - happy and joyous on their wedding day.

But the wedding is not the same thing as the marriage.

While I'm sure my parents have had downs as well as ups (it's been fifty years, after all. And we're Southern, so we can hold a grudge good and tight), they've always been excellent role models for me. While I made more than my fair share of (ahem) unfortunate romantic decisions* prior to meeting FryDaddy, I always knew what I wanted, even when I wasn't sure how to get there. And those were lessons learned, in large part, from my parents.

Chief among those lessons is that people don't usually change that much after marriage, they just become more of what they already are. Take me, for example - I'm an indifferent housekeeper at best. I'm most unlikely to suddenly become Martha Stewart and it would be a foolish thing to hold your breath waiting for that to happen. Oh, I always have good intentions of dusting the shelves and emptying the ironing basket, but - well, that's part of the Road to Hell Paving Company. After a certain point in time, you just can't domesticate people, so it's best to look around carefully and decide if you can accept what you see.

Mom and Dad apparently did and it seems to have worked out well. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

*In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that not all of my decisions were unfortunate. Bad timing, yes. Unfortunate, no.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remember

In the years since 9/11 became a shorthand notation for A Bright Line Event That Changed Life Into Before and After along the lines of the Kennedy assassination and man's walk on the moon, the eleventh of September has taken on great weight and meaning for Americans. A sort of calendar gravitas, if you will.

It has long been said that disasters bring out both the very best and the very worst in people and I imagine there's truth in that statement, for scared people are as apt to do extremely stupid things as they are to look beyond their own fright to offer assistance to others.

But there are those who do just that.

It is exactly for this reason that I take great comfort in the story of Fr. Mychal Judge, one of the fallen heroes of that awful, hellish day nine years ago. I never had the privilege of meeting Father Mike, but his story resonates with me - to the point that every 9/11 I re-read his story and I'll freely admit I still cry a little.

Black 47 sang his story - you can find the lyrics here - and they did it well, for he was a regular at the band's gigs, but there was far too much to fit into any song, no matter how powerful and moving. Fr. Judge (funny how that sounds, isn't it?) was Irish and Irish stories are at their best when they're funny and sad and wondrous and, most of all, epic. He was all of this.

He was - among other things - a twin born two days before his sister, a dedicated priest, an alcoholic who found redemption in the Twelve Steps as much as he ever did in the church he so devoted himself to, quite possibly gay, although he took his vows of celibacy seriously, so who's to know for sure. He loved New York and he loved the firefighters who protected the city. He was a chaplain for the NYFD and he accompanied his boys to the Twin Towers that clear September morn when death and damnation rained from the impossibly blue sky.

And he was the first official victim of the tragedy of the Twin Towers.

He died ministering to his boys and was, in turn, ministered to by them. His broken body was carried in a chair from the lobby of Tower One and was then reverently taken from the ongoing disaster scene to nearby St. Peter's Church and laid on the altar, his helmet on his chest. The picture at the top of the post was taken at the scene.

The firefighters paused to remember their priest and went back to work.

It's what Father Mike would have expected, they say.

You can read his story here. I do, once a year.

There's a movement to have Father Mychal Judge canonized as a saint, but to me that seems wholly unnecessary. The lessons of Father Mike's life are found in his life, not in his death. He took time for people. For all people. He practiced unconditional acceptance and love of people as manifestations of God, no matter how screwed up they may have been. He loved drunks and addicts and the diseased and the beaten-down. He loved the frightened and the brave. He loved the struggling and the recovering. He loved when it was hard to do so. He felt called to love and he didn't scold God for who he sent Father Mike to love. "They're all My children," God seemed to say to Father Mike. "How can I choose which ones to love? So how can you choose which ones are worthy to love and care for?"

So Father Mike loved 'em all.

There is a prayer attributed to Father Mike that I think sums up the man's life both succinctly and well. It simply states: "Lord, take me where You want me to go, let me meet who You want me to meet, tell me what You want me to say, and keep me out of Your way."

I spend so much of my time worrying - being a scared person on the verge of doing stupid things. Father Mike reminds me that we're all called and we're not called to worry. We're called to love and minister to the hurt and bruised and downtrodden. With a smirk and a joke, if at all possible.

Requiescat in pace, Father Mike.

Monday, September 6, 2010

White Shoe Alert!

Traditionally, today is the last day that it's okay to wear white dress shoes. The rules have been relaxed tremendously and that's a good thing! Still - there's something about white pumps that seems to belong to the hot summer months. Sort of like seersucker, which would really, really look out of place at a Christmas party. Or potato salad, which also would look out of place at a holiday shindig.

So it's time to begin thinking about the cooler weather that's ahead. Here in the Nest, the heat broke a few days ago and, while there's plenty of warm to go around, we're not sweltering in the high nineties at the moment. I'm not much of a hot-summer-month person, so saying "Buh-bye" to the heat waves doesn't spark a sense of sadness with me. I'm set for fall. Let's see if I can come up with five reasons to look forward to Life After Labor Day:

  • Corn mazes, complete with pumpkin trebuchets
  • Spiced apple cider
  • Candy corn
  • Pumpkin pie scented candles
  • Knowing that Halloween is coming soon

Yep. Count me as one of those who's ready to pack away the summer shoes! But let me just finish that potato salad before we call it "quits" on summer . . .

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Five Years Out

Today marks the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina smashing into the Gulf Coast. I have neighbors because of this tragic event - two folks who were moving to the area anyway, but decided to move up their plans somewhat. I'd like to think that we as a country learned a few things from Katrina and maybe we did. Then again, we tend to be rather thick, so maybe we'll have to learn these lessons all over again. The one thing I know for sure is that Mother Nature will bring the lessons to us - whether it's a simple brush-up refresher or a total re-taking of the course is up to us.

When I was in my freshman year of college - the first time I was seriously away from home - my college was flooded. Really flooded - something like a dozen feet of water. Cold sandwiches came to us from the college kitchen via the outdoor club's canoes. This was prior to cell phones (yeah, I know - I'm old, deal with it) and phone lines were down, so it was several days before any of us could get to a phone and tell our parents that we were okay. The school was closed for about a month and it took ten years for the college to fully recover - the library was hit hard and while a great number of books were saved through the frantic efforts of volunteers, many were lost. But there was no loss of life, despite my own stupid idea of going for a walk to gawk at the destruction when there were live power lines down and lots of lovely electricity-conducting standing water around. I was young - it was an adventure, instead of being a crisis.

With that experience, until Katrina, I'd never really thought about being able to throw a few belongings in the car, whistle for Spooky and high-tail it out of wherever I was as a blessing. I have family and friends who will gladly loan me a couch and the property is insured, so replacing things would involve a painful amount of paperwork, but ultimately, it'd be mostly okay.

I'd never thought about not having that option. About being so down and out that staying was a bad option, but there was no way to leave. About not having the supplies you need - clean water, canned food, medicine - to ride out six or seven days until help might (just might) be able to get to you. Think about it - can you make it, totally on your own, for a week? No power, so no lights, no refrigeration, no computer, no air conditioning. Your house is flooding, so you seek shelter in the attic - can you chop your way out to the roof if need be? What about your kids or animals? Can they get up there? Can they get to the roof? Do you have food and water? Do you have a first aid kit to bind up the hand you cut open swinging the axe to smash through your own roof? Do you have anything to rig up as a shelter once you're out there on the roof? What about medicine for your allergies or your mother-in-law's asthma? You can't run to the drugstore to get a prescription filled. Did you grab a bucket to take care of certain personal hygiene issues? And I think we can forget about abiding by Clinique's three-step skin care regime.

Say a prayer for the Gulf Coast. And add into that prayer a little breath of thankfulness that it wasn't you having to answer those questions.



Sunday, August 22, 2010

In Praise of an Empty House

Strange time, this. The house is empty now – well, not exactly. Spooky and I are still firmly in residence, but FryDaddy has gone away to get some schoolin’. This is a good thing, don’t misunderstand me, but it makes for some melancholy in the air. While it’s nice to be able to straighten a pile of clutter and have it stay straightened until I decide otherwise, I miss his clutter.

Sigh.

To combat this tendency towards sighing, I’m trying to flip my thinking around. Rather than being sad and various shades of blue (I was up to 26 at the last count), I’m trying to focus on why this is a good thing. Three things come to mind:

1. FryDaddy is one smart cookie. School’s a good place for him to be. He’ll sharpen his thinking, have some ideas challenged and hopefully, come out on the other side of this a thoughtful, compassionate, hard-working so-and-so. (Sure, he already has those qualities, but maybe this will make it even more so.)

2. School matters. Yes, you can make it in the cold, hard world without a degree – I know plenty of people who have done just that; some of them quite successfully – but that precious piece of paper does carry some cachet. Not to mention, it shows in a very tangible way that a person can set himself a task and stick to it until the goal line is crossed.

3. This separation is temporary and really, not that big a deal. People run on opposing schedules all the time – especially in a family that has to deal with shiftwork. My sister and brother-in-law once had to spend several years separated by three states due to a job transfer. And all of this is flat-out nothing compared to military families who have to deal with deployment, perhaps even into a combat zone. Compared to that, two hours on the interstate isn’t much.

Still, this is going to take a little while to adjust. Thanks to technology, we’re talking often (Skype is coming soon!) and we’re going to try to meet mid-week for dinner. We’re also taking the suggestion of several good friends – we got two copies of the TV show Supernatural and we’re going to watch that episode-by-episode before we meet for our weekly (?) dinners so we can talk about something other than work and school.

What about you, Gentle Readers? Any suggestions on dealing with life changes and distance? The lines are open and operators are standing by to take your calls . . .

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

It's true - summer speeds by on gossamer wings. The fall semester starts again tomorrow, which means that tomorrow is likely to be a day marked by students coming in a little late as they figure out where the classroom is or where to park to get inside the building in the first place. Many will wander as if shell-shocked. For my end of things, the first day handouts are ready and the proper information is available on Blackboard. Rosters will be (mostly) up to date. Regardless of all my planning, I'm sure I'll have my shell-shocked moments, too.

It probably won't help that my ankle is still gimpy. Maybe I'll go into the first day looking like a surly schoolmaster character out of Dickens, wrapped head to toe in black and banging a heavy walking stick down with each step as I grumble about "insufferable children." Hmmm - while not a good one, you have to admit that it's a plan.

At any rate, I think I'm ready for it. FryDaddy is also returning to school tomorrow, although for him, it's a one-day orientation to the university and then he's back here for a bit. Classes commence for him a smidge later than for me. So I have the abnormally-quiet house to myself for a night. Time to spend thinking about the role of education for adults, time to get excited about the prospect of a fresh page, time to puzzle over which patron saint of education comes the closest to meeting my needs (yes, you can shop for saints - but don't wait for the Christmas rush! Pick from this list. Or maybe this one!).

Wish me luck! And reserve your copy of Buffy in the Classroom! A must for every teacher and student returning to the hallowed halls of learning this fall! (OK, yeah, you got me - I'm in it, but still - it's a good collection!)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

That Snapping Sound You Hear . . .

. . . is my spine unlocking.

Yes, the honeymoon is in full swing now, but today is one of those grey, rainy days at the beach that make a day of watching movies and eating copious amounts of junk food seem like a very, very good idea! And I discovered that I have the necessary Internet connection here to allow me to access this blog, so here I am, for at least a few minutes.

There's not much to report. (It is a honeymoon, after all. You're not pruient enough to care about the details, right? Right.) It's been a wonderful trip so far - lots of sunshine, sand, water and time to do as much or as little as we please.

In short, it's been heavenly!

Hope your week has gone well and signing off for now, but back soon.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The "Getting Ready to Go" Part

Tom Petty may have wailed that "the waiting is the hardest part," but I'm not so sure. I think the week or so leading up to a trip (be that trip pure vacation or work/conference) is the hardest part. Right now, I'm several days out from leaving for what promises to be a blissful honeymoon with my, well, my honey and the days whipsaw from almost manageable with loads of lists to just out and out crazy-busy.

There's a reason. There always is, I suppose. When we return, I'll only have a week before fall classes start, so I'm trying to get everything as ready as it can be. My school is also in the throes of pre-registration in an economy that would have Adam Smith saving money in a sock. Funds had been earmarked for some badly-needed renovation, so the halls are stacked with furniture while the floors of classrooms are re-done with more durable tile. I still have one writing project to edit into shape and send off. And there are a myriad of little things hither and yon that can look terribly important if you only glance in that direction instead of keeping your focus.

Which I haven't done too well lately.

I hate being worn out like this.

But this cheered me up. Twilight crossed with a delectable Southern picnic. Yum!

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where's That Alligator Float?

Lo, and the shimmering beach is beckoning, for the delayed honeymoon is quickly approaching!

When FryDaddy and I made the decision to enter into the exalted state of matrimony late this spring, we knew the traditional wedding trip would have to be put off somewhat. We went away for the wedding night to a bed & breakfast just up the road (and liked it so much that we booked for our one-year anniversary before we left!) but decided that a longer, "just us" trip would need to wait until the end of July when I was done teaching and his fall plans had solidified and a whopping chunk of time could be taken off. We laboriously saved for more than a year to be sure we could do whatever we wanted to do without breaking out credit cards, which I must sadly admit is a bit unnatural to me.

But - O frabjous day! Callooh, callay! That day is nearly here!

While I haven't started packing just yet, trust me - I've started figuring out what I want to take. We're both total book geeks, so we will both take pounds of books with us and return with yet more pounds of books (there's this great little used book store that's our version of a secret stash. I'd tell you more, but then extreme measures would have to be taken). I'm hoping to finish what I'm reading now before I go - it's the end of a hard SF trilogy by Peter Watts that's been patiently waiting for me for months as I worked on other tasks. Solid writing, but far from a usual "beach read." Although, now that I think about it, I started it in a laundromat down at the beach way back when, so perhaps I should revise my remarks. And I hope to take a variety of books with me. Don't bother to tell me, "Why Mockingbird, what are you doing, taking books on your honeymoon?" We're book people. It's what we do, but I solemnly promise that it's not all we do. And that's enough on that topic.

Sun, sand, the ability to pay as we go, and large parcels of time spent alone with my tall, handsome, bookish, funny, curious husband.

Looks pretty good to me!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Inside Pruning

There comes the day when you wake up and say, "Well - how did I get here?"

(Apologies to the Talking Heads.)

But it's true - one day, you look around the house and go to bed thinking, "Hmm. I could really stand to do some work around the house." And that continues until the day you wake up the next morning and look around the house and say, "Dear heaven, no decent person would live like this!"

I'm nearly there.

I'm not a hoarder - well, certainly not in the pathological, let's-have-a-show-on-A&E-which-by-the-way-has-next-to-nothing-relevant-to-either-arts-or-entertainment-anymore sort of way. But I am a stacker of clutter and I've reached the point of needing to be willing to take a long, hard look at myself and say, "Self, the stacks are out of control. Time to sort, straighten, and yes, toss."

This is one (of the many) reasons I'm not such a hotshot gardener - I don't like to prune things back. I know it's for the long-term good, but I have a hard time with it.

But I just don't need two dozen butter tubs, even if they are clean and perfectly useful for - well, for something. So they've gotta go!

Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Pleasures

In the hot, humid Southland, it's not so much that it's "summertime and the living is easy," regardless of what Porgy & Bess might think. It's sticky-hot and you wish fervently for a thunderstorm to cool things off, although you know that the harsh reality is that the storm's just going to add to the general stickiness of things.

But we have camellias and magnolias, so there are consolations.

There are other summertime pleasures, too. I decided to sit in the air conditioning and contemplate some of them. They include:
  • Air conditioning. I grew up in an old, rambling, non-air-conditioned house and let me tell you, my brother-in-law got it right when he said of his summer days spent a-courting my sister, "I'd stay in the guest room. I'd lie awake at night, drenched in sweat, praying for dawn." So yes, air conditioning tops the list.
  • Baseball. A love of baseball doesn't just run in my family; it pretty much gallops. If you have a chance to sit in the shade (careful of those aluminum bleachers!) and watch a chaotic game played by seven-year-olds and some very patient coaches, take it. It's an excellent opportunity to be reminded that sometimes, joy is every bit as important as skill.
  • Cheerwine sherbet. I just discovered this recently. Cheerwine is a regional soft drink - cherry flavored and just out of this world! Soft-freeze that and I'm yours.
  • Dogs. Especially when coupled with the above-mentioned seven-year-olds.
  • Friends. During the worst of the heat, you don't want to go out much, but when a friend suggests that you try Zumba (in the a/c, naturally!) at the local YMCA, think twice before you say "no." Good exercise and you get the added benefit of working out your sense of humor as you figure out right from left to a throbbing Latin beat.

There are other summertime pleasures, I'm sure. Suggestions?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Father's Eyes

Today is Father's Day. For me, this is a happy occasion. As I get older, I realize more and more how very, very fortunate I was in my draw of parents. I have friends and associates whose luck was more - well, let's be kind and say "varied" in that department.

I resemble my mother in a lot of ways, but when people who know my father first meet me, they almost always burst out with, "You have your father's eyes!" Now, that's an understandable reaction, since both my father and I have bright blue eyes with a distinctly darker blue ring around the iris that really makes our eyes "pop" amongst our features. It's a little unusual and that's what people are referring to. At least, that's what I think.

But I know what I secretly hope they're referring to.

For an explanation, I have to go to my list of Things I've Learned From My Dad. This list is still under construction, as my dad is a smart cuss and I keep adding items to the list. However, among the items on the list are:
  • Pretty's nice; smart's better.
  • It's not unladylike to know how to change a tire.
  • While we're on the subject, don't ride the clutch.
  • When buying anything, always ask, "What's the best you can do?" You might be surprised.
  • It's okay to make mistakes - and it's much better than not trying.
  • When you make a mistake (and you will), own up to it and do your best to fix it.
  • Be polite to everyone. Saying "sir" and "ma'am" might be old-fashioned, but it's in style around here.
  • You've got advantages a lot of other people don't have and you got them mostly through other people's hard work. Don't look down on anybody. No one has the right to do that; you just know it 'cause I've told you.
  • If you can help someone out, do it, even if it inconveniences you a little.
  • Life is hard and you never know what demons someone else is fighting, so be kind whenever you can.
Based on this list, yeah - I do hope I have my father's eyes. For this is how my dad views the world. It's rough out there and compassion is in short supply. Look at the other person as an actual person and react with gentleness whenever you can. Take a breath, smile, and remember that at the end of the day, we're all just doing the best we can.

Thanks, Dad.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Take a Day!

When I was just a half-fledged Mockingbird, I would occasionally get sick. Nothing bad - I was always pretty fortunate in that area, but sometimes I'd catch whatever strain of creeping crud was making its way around school. Not too often, but every now and again, it'd be bad enough to stay home and bedridden for a day instead of going to school. I liked school (still do, although I'm now on the other side of the desk), so I had to be pretty far under the weather to miss it. Also, my parents were very much in favor of their kids being in school as opposed to at home, so staying at home meant a fever or other such tangible evidence of physical ailments. Once I was better, my mother would send me back to school with a note explaining my absence.

I think I need a note today.

Not for sickness - I'm actually quite hale and hearty - but because sometimes you need a sick day. Let's call this one a mental health day - I can take a day off now before I get too scorched, or I can do it later in the form of my body calling a screeching halt to my running about with my hair on fire.

Oh, there's plenty to do. My house is cluttered and messy, crowded with unanswered mail and clumps of dog hair. Stacks of research material are piled both hither and yon. Thank-you notes need to be written and wedding announcements still need to be sent. Laundry is piled up, the recycling is threatening to overtake the carport and my kitchen floor is a disgrace to my upbringing.

And it'll all wait until tomorrow. If it doesn't, that means the house sprites have attended to it, which would be fine by me. But they're probably on vacation right now, so the mess will still be there. But by taking a day off from it all, I won't be crazy.

So I'm writing my own note today, temporarily excusing myself from adult 'spsponsibilities. The mess will get straightened, the checkbook will get balanced, notes will be written and so on. But today is glorious and hot outside and sometimes you need ice cream for lunch.

So go ahead - take a day! I'll write you a note.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Look For Me Over There!

Remember, Gentle Readers, that I am currently attending the 4th Biennial Slayage Conference down in the sunny and supremely humid climes of St. Augustine, Florida.

I'm posting over in unfetteredbrilliance about the conference and other related goings-on. Click here to go there.

Won't you join me?

Back here later!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

It's Kinda Quiet Around Here . . .

. . . and you know what happens next in a movie after that line!

Seriously, I'm enjoying a little bit of "quiet time" before the Memorial Day weekend ramps up. We're lucky, in that nothing more strenuous than a dance recital and a cookout is planned. The dance recital involves two good friends (and one goddaughter) tapping like Ann Miller and the cookout involves watching a Kiwi deep-fry anything that isn't nailed down. (And even then, he'll probably pry about for loose nails!)

It's the beginning of full summer around the Nest. Dust off the white shoes, folks.

Memorial Day is an odd holiday. It's really only a "half" holiday - some businesses stay open, others close. My college, for example, will be open for classes. There are some parades, but most places hold off until the Fourth of July when schools are out. There are some speeches and some wreath-laying, but all in all, I think Memorial Day is thought of as potato salad and grill day.

And as I get older, that bugs me.

I come from a family with strong military ties - nothing special there, really. It's true of most American families, at least until mandatory service was discontinued with the rise of the all-volunteer military. My dad served in the time between Korea and Vietnam, one uncle made the Army medical corps his career, and several cousins served in Gulf 1 and the ongoing wars. I have friends who currently serve and a host of students who attend classes under the modified GI Bill. Those are not sacrifices that should be brushed aside. I may not like our involvement in Iraq, but I honor those who serve. (Afghanistan is another matter - I believe we had legitimate reasons for going in, but that hilly hell-land is called the "graveyard of empires" for a reason.) And North Korea is rattling sabers right now, which could lead to who-knows-what version of a mess.

I have a friend, Binary Biker, who is off on a Memorial Day trip to visit his new grandson. He's taking along a chunk of little paper American flags with the intent to visit a cemetery and place the flags on graves that are marked as the final resting places for veterans. It's a good idea - quiet and respectful.

Give it a thought, would you?