Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Things go South when Dad is Away

Rich's packing list

I dread when Rich leaves town for international destinations because bad things happen when he is away. I say 'international' because there is more time for more things to go south.

My anxiety starts when he makes his typical packing list. See above. Rich is a list maker.

Take for example the latest. Rich and I just returned from separate trips. He went to Croatia and Rome, and I went to NYC. Of course Rich's trip involved lots of exotic foods and activities and speaking at the UN. He was gone for 2 weeks compared to my 3 days. Despite the character of his international trips-- long trips, short trips, good trips or bad trips-- terrible things happen when Rich is away, which is why I rarely go out of town at the same time.

Someone has to stay behind to pick up the pieces.

While Rich was tromping around on a private forest preserve dreaming of shooting wild boar (and I was seeing Patti Lupone in Gypsy) James was lost in the 'Vortex of bad luck when Daddy is away'. This time, James couldn't find his ACT registration ticket to retake the last test that could apply toward college scholarships. He was just a measly point or two short of the 'winning' score for some serious dough.

James couldn't find his 'ticket' on the nail on the bulletin board under the family calendar inside the pantry door (where I always put it). He couldn't find it in his ACT account on-line. He also couldn't find his name on the list at either of the schools where he would ordinarily take the test.

So, he decided to go to the LSU/Georgia game at Tiger Stadium instead.

When I called to see how he had done, he was at the football game. At that point I told him to go directly home. I added that he was 'in BIG trouble.'

I never said I was the perfect mother.

Rich continues to maintain that he registered James for the ACT. Yet after our return neither of us could find any materials evidencing said registration, anywhere.

So, at least we determined that it was his father's fault.

Generally, fault-finding is not so clear cut (or is it.....?). Some of the many oddities (to downright disasters) that have occurred when Dad was away were:
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • My mother's chest pains and heart stent surgery
  • My mother's internal bleeding, colonoscopy and hospitalization
  • Daniel accidentally shoving his hand through the door window
  • Daniel falling out of a shopping cart onto his back
  • Daniel breaking his collar bone playing mud football
  • Oh, the bat invasion: Several thousand of them had apparently settled in our chimney. The day after Rich left they invaded our house, our attic and all of our duct work.
  • And my favorite: James swallowing a button (watch) battery. That event put us in the ER with a doc that recommended a messy emergency surgery to dig around in my 3 year old's bowel. Thank God for the young intern that whispered for to me to flee! and call the 'button battery hotline'. I checked out 'against doctor's orders.' Surgeons do not like when you do that.
There are more, particularly with respect to James, but I can't elaborate. Either I can't recall them with my aging brain, or I've been told to be silent due to pending litigation (kidding).

I am thinking that there must be an age limitation on these weird events. So, for example, maybe they only occur for family members between the ages of 19 and 80. I thought that maybe since James was 18 on October 1st, he would be at a good age for his dad's trips. But that doesn't seem to be the case. So, I'm hoping that 19 is the magical year.

That still leaves my 87 year old mother. She lives in our backyard. And she isn't getting any younger.

So for the near future I will only dream about romps in Europe with my husband, and I will live vicariously through his beautiful photographs. Following are a few.

Villa d' Este

Villa d' Este

Ville d' Este Fountain

Ville d' Este Fountain

Streets of Rome

Bell at Presidential Forest Preserve

Our friend Leo at Villa d' Este

View from Villa d' Este

Tiber River, Rome

Gladiators at the Pantheon (Do these guys look fighting ready to you?)

Vista of the Forum


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rich's Photography

I have been learning how to use Adobe Photoshop so that I can showcase (read sell) Rich's photography. I have been experimenting with photo correction and color augmentation, etc. and just learned how to create a contact sheet. I know, simple stuff, right? But, that hasn't stopped me from now coveting the CS4 version. :-)

Of the two of us, he is the artistic one. But you already knew that! Here is an example of his outdoor photography. These were taken in Switzerland, France, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, New Mexico, Oregon, New York & Louisiana.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Senior Retreat Letter to James

Daniel & James in the Jacuzzi Outer Banks, NC

(Sweaty) James trying to hug his Dad after a Cross Country Run

James in Scrubs (after the NLYF in Medicine Conference) Hugging his Mom

James and Daniel with Grammy

James, Cousin Steven and a Jelly Fish

James (3) at his YMCA Swim Lesson

James with newborn Kellan

James with "Jasmine" at Disney World Summer After 8th Grade

Now that James has had his Senior Year Retreat and opened the letters from his family I can share a portion of the one I wrote to him. Even though, I'm sure my sons appreciate these letters, I'm afraid that they will lose them!

It's my job to chronicle. So, here they are (the prior post was my letter to Daniel in 2003). And although it might seem that in comparison James needs much more guidance than Daniel (due to the length of this letter), I can say with confidence that this is not the case. They are/were pretty similar in their behavior and development at this stage. I've also dug up some of my favorite pictures of James in the last few years.
Above are the pics. Below is the letter.

"Dear James;

This is your mother writing: The woman who bore you and who has been your greatest fan, and in the last year or so, I’m afraid, the person who has been your greatest critic. We have been lucky, you and I, in that we have now, and really always have had a very special relationship. I don’t know many mothers that have the kind of relationship with their children that I have with you. I can’t imagine what life would have been like without you. What a loss that would have been for me!

You have been one of the bright lights of my life.

I thought that maybe I ruined our special relationship when I left you for 3 months to go to Sri Lanka and India when you were a youngster, and also when I went to Duke University for two years, nearly 5 years ago. But, you have stuck by me through thick and thin, even though I haven’t been the perfect parent. (Maybe the greatest good that will come out of those absences will be that you’ll realize that ‘mothers’ and ‘wives’ have dreams too. Your future wife will appreciate me for those forays much more than you have or will.)

As you have stuck by me, I have stuck by you. I have stayed with you through your travails in life. Lately, this has meant: Sleepless nights, multiple phone calls, signing up for and learning how to text message, incredible frustration, and nail-biting worry. It’s a wonder that parents don’t stroke-out from the whole experience of raising teenage children. But, you know what? It’s taught me some great lessons, the most notable of which is surrender. A great gift.

Growing up is so painful, not only for the person doing it (you) but for the parent watching it. However, these difficult times have begun to bear fruit: I have seen such growth in you in the last 6 months or so. You have found your balance, have been moderate in your behavior, and have direction. You’re a great friend, a wonderful uncle and brother, and a very special son. Please, keep going. Don’t sell yourself short. You, more than most people, have the potential to have an extraordinary life.

What I want you to know is that mistakes and pain are often the precursors to great growth.If you’re like your mother, you will go through such growing-pains again, probably often throughout your life. Your job is to find the lesson from these experiences, grow and improve. In the process, try not to hurt the people you love. It’s not their fault.

This letter is supposed to be sage wisdom and a recounting of the special times in your life. So first the wise advice: If I wasn’t going to be around for the next 18 years, here are a few of the things that I would want you to remember:
As your Grandfather Marvin always said, "moderation in all things."

As Grammy says,“I never promised you it would be easy.” And as your mother says,“it won’t be."

On the really big decisions, pause before you act. Look before you leap. But then follow your gut.

Stay close to God in all things, in whatever religion you choose, or not.

I’ve learned over the last 50 years not to follow a 5 or 10 year plan: Have direction but then follow the opportunities that God presents to you.

A person’s kindness and ability to love is more impressive than the depth of their intellect or the amount of money, possessions or power they have.

Appreciate what you have. The grass is not always greener.

Most important things can not be measured in dollars.

Looks are not the most important thing, which is related to another truth which is "Looks can be deceiving."

There is no substitute for spending time with your children and spouse. You can never recoup that time.

Don’t let familiarity take the joy and surprise out of your relationships. Don’t be cranky or pick on the people you love. Be creative in your relationships.

Be gentle with your family and people you know. People are fragile.

Often the best first course of action is to listen and shut up.

Learn from all people, regardless of their educational level or level of income. There are a lot of idiots and evil people with degrees and money.

See the magic in everyday things. Know you aren't the center of the universe. Find the humor in the absurd. Decide to be happy.

If you make a mistake, say you’re sorry. Reverse course if necessary.

Talk and stay close to your parents.

Stay close to your brother. You need each other. Believe me.

A partner is a man’s best asset. Men don’t belong alone. They need female energy.

Don’t pick a spouse who is tortured or who you have to ‘fix,” even if she is the most interesting and sexy thing around.

Don’t forget that you were named after my father. He was a great man, even though during his later years you may not have known that.
Finally, I want to close this letter with snippets of things I remember from your life, that I will cherish always.
You hopping on one foot on a chair reciting the names to 1000 dinosaurs in our State College basement when you were 18 months old.

Making colored cake frosting with dye made out of beets, because you were on a “no artificial color or flavor diet.” And you never complained.

Reading books, any books and you saying, “More!”

You running after me wanting “breasting” at 3 years old!

You and Daniel rolling like a couple of squirrels on the floor and me wondering whether you were going to maim or kill yourselves doing it. And I couldn’t make you stop!

As a young child, you telling me that although my trip to Sri Lanka would be very hard for you, you "wanted whatever I wanted and whatever was the best for me."

Our trip with you to Disney World to toast the end of your childhood (the summer after the 8th grade). You chose the rides, the hotel movies, and the time we got up and went to sleep: which of course meant that we went to bed at 2 a.m., got up at noon, and went on the scariest rides during the hottest part of the day!

Our sailing trip on Lake Pontchartrain for dad’s and my sailing class graduation. You loved the speed, the waves and the wind as much as we did!

You taking me to the movies to see “Knocked Up” because I was stressed. I was the oldest person in the audience by 3 decades! It was so great to spend time with you.

Our trip to Atlanta to visit Emory. You drove the rental car even though you weren’t authorized to do so because I was such a nervous wreck in the Atlanta traffic. You said to me, "if you were an animal you would be shedding." I had such fun.

You coming into our bedroom and playing silly, “Flight of the Conchords” songs for me. You make me laugh!

Your beautiful poems to me and your father. My favorite was “you hath clothed me and you hath loved me.” It hangs on our wall.

You throwing Kellan up in the air and yelling,"Duuuummmmbledooorrrre!!”

Your always smiling face. Your big heart. Your love of your friends and their families.

Helping your Grammy ‘on demand’ in the garden!

Your interest in cooking.

Us cooking together!

You encouraging me to write anything, but mostly a cookbook!
I can’t wait to see what happens during the next 18 years!

I love you James;


Friday, October 10, 2008

Senior Retreat Letter to Daniel

Daniel and James with Nellie, one of my father's best friends, at Dad's Wake

James and Daniel at our Outer Banks family vacation

Daniel with Grammy and Papa before his Senior Ball

Daniel (3), Risa our dog, and Mom on a Hike in Washington

James and Daniel with their Grammy last Summer

Brandi, Daniel & Mom at the Museum of Natural History, NYC

Dan and his Dad with a Pregnant Brandi

Daniel and Brandi with baby Kellan 1 year ago

Now is the time of year that we parents of children in U-High (also known as the LSU Laboratory School) write letters for our children to be read by them at their Senior Retreat. Rich and I wrote James' letters last week, and he will discover what is in them, as well as what is in his grandmother's letter and his brother's letter on this Wednesday to come.

This is a special tradition, and so indicative of the Louisiana culture of love of ritual, family, friends, community and sentimentality. And although I am so excited and anxious for James (our Senior this year) to read our letters, I can't post them, as James might peek at this blog and then see them before he should (this is a very slight risk as I'm sure my 18 year old NEVER reads this blog). So, instead of posting James' letter, I will post Daniel's letter that I wrote to him 5 years ago.

He has evolved into such a wonderful man, partner, dad, and graduate student. And our relationship gets better by the day. But, I brag. Here is the letter I wrote to him in 2003 (Good Grief! Where does the time fly?). Let me also find some treasured pictures, not necessarily of him then, but in the last 5 years, to accompany this missive:

"Dear Daniel,

I am writing this to you to be opened at your November Senior Retreat, a ritual for U-High students getting ready to graduate from high school. I consider your graduation to be a major accomplishment and a goal you’ve achieved by overcoming some huge obstacles, obstacles that other kids never have to face. I am so proud of you.

There was a time when school was nothing but trouble; when you thought that you would be better off without it and without your mother who was always on your back riding you about the importance of your education. During those tough times, I hoped that one day you’d be able to experience the excitement of learning and the anticipation of looking ahead to college. I think you’re at that place right now (despite having to take Physics) and it gives me such great pleasure to see you happy and planning for your future life. Although things could change, at this point, you’re looking at majoring in Sports Management at Southeastern, which sounds perfect for you. Do you know how many people your age have no idea what they want to do? Worse, there are people who don’t find anything interesting. There are a million things you can do and learn. This is just the first of many adventures for you. Remember to include us in your plans along the way. They give us so much joy, just as you do.

I have so many memories of you Daniel—the first time we saw you in Korea (Daddy described you as a little ball with a head), you directing the “band” in that front playroom in Seattle (where the “band” was Grammy, Papa, Dad and me and where Papa had on a plastic majorette’s hat); you and dad driving off together in Fred the Red Ford Falcon to your Montessori School in Seattle; you and James tumbling on the floor like a couple of cats, playing in the basement of the house at Penn State; you, James and Daddy falling trees on Grandma Marge’s property in NY; you walking around the streets of Seoul alone buying food; teaching you about dinosaur names and buying you “teenage mutant ninja turtles”; you and I playing tennis in the rain outside in our backyard in Tara and at the courts at Orange Beach; you driving me around in that golf cart at Destin and stopping and starting so abruptly that I almost fell out; you and I awake on New Year’s in Rome, watching people throw furniture off of their balconies; your first dances and us buying the corsages; watching you become so independent and self motivated with your jobs (the card shop, the yard work, filming games for James’ team); you helping so much taking James to his activities and becoming such a good mentor to him; some of our dinners out as a family in the last several years where you and James are hilarious and so fun to talk to; enjoying you at Robin’s wedding in NM, and more.

So most of my memories are good! Yes, we’ve had rough times, but that’s mainly because you have certainly had your share of rough times, too many. I’m sorry if I’ve been hard on you but I felt—right or wrong—that you needed some limits and a push or two along the way. I wanted you to grow-up to be a fine man with many opportunities for a great life. Now you know that you can overcome, and that’s a good thing to know in this life. There will be other disasters and successes; and I’m always here for you to help you celebrate or grieve. As I told you recently, you can always come home.

I love you Daniel. And I’m sure glad that for whatever reason, the little boy from the South of South Korea found his way home to us. How would we have been a family without him?


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Remembering My Dad

On a boat of course-- this time in Alaska

I am relieved September is over because the tail end of it will always be sad for me.

Two years ago, during the last week of September, my dad died. I was devastated, probably at least in part because I felt that his move from Oregon to Louisiana to live with me was a contributing factor.

As a friend recently reminded me, it doesn't matter how old you are or how old he is -- when your dad dies, it hurts.

My dad had not been well for so long prior to his death that it was hard for me to remember him as the father of my youth, instead of the father of my middle age, which is pretty much the difference between being the caretakee and the caretaker. As time passes, the essence of him becomes clearer, and for that I am grateful.

So, here's to you Lowell. I dearly miss you.

Here is the letter I wrote right after he died, and some pictures of him doing what he loved to do best.

"It's hard to lose a dad. He hadn't been well his whole life but always triumphed over illnesses. He had had every single illness possible from the time he was a child (including polio and rheumatic fever) and probably survived them only because he didn't listen to my grandmother, who would have had him in bed for the rest of his life, and because my mother watched over his health like a hawk, when he’d let her. And the boys, he lived for his grandsons. In these last years, his main nemesis was his diabetes (which really made him feel crappy because he refused to eat appropriately) and his mini strokes (which changed his personality).

Through it all, however, he absolutely loved his daughter and his grandchildren. If there was ever a person to love you unconditionally, it was my father. Daniel is taking it very hard, as even when he was "in trouble" with us, he could do no wrong in the eyes of his Papa. That isn't the kind of support you get often in life, if at all. So, Daniel has been orphaned, in a way, by this. Daniel and James went over to their house often to visit. Even though he wasn't much of a talker, they loved being with him. I never heard them once complain that he wasn’t like other papas that could play ball or roll around in the dirt.

He wasn't any sicker than usual on Wednesday; in fact, he was just as ornery as usual. On the night he died, he had a piece of chocolate cake before dinner and one before bed. He refused to buy that $7,000 hearing aid right up until the end. And he drove his favorite car (a 1992 white Olds 88 with red leather interior) to the donut shop around the block, even though he was on the verge of having his license privileges revoked! He died at home, in his sleep at 3:00 in the morning probably from a massive stroke. We speculate that after he died his spirit flew to Oregon and went to Long Beach, down the Columbia River Gorge to Multnomah Falls, over to Hood River, and then to the Cascade Locks for a piece of pie. We will have a Memorial Service at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge next week to make sure that the priest can help him find his way home.

My father was a very important man. He was the Secretary Treasurer of the Retail Clerk’s Union in Portland for many years and organized many white collar businesses in town. Even today, the neighborhood grocery stores pay well and have good benefits mainly because my dad unionized them years ago. Later, he was a State Mediator for labor disputes—an interesting job but one he didn’t love nearly as much. He spent a fair amount of time in Washington DC, lobbying important political people, including presidents (Kennedy and Humphrey among them). He took me and mom to all his conventions all over the US; I think back on talking with all of those interesting activist folks at those conventions and how lucky I was to be included, as most times I was the only child in the room.

My dad didn’t have a file folder of friends. In fact, I’m not sure he liked most people. But, for those family and friends that he did love and trust; he was fiercely loyal, in a quiet sort of way. He had friends from his childhood in Hardman and Heppner, Oregon – farming communities in Eastern Oregon – life long friends from Rosenblatts and his union days, a multitude of his daughter’s friends that he took out on his boat or out to dinner over the years, and his son-in-law, who he fathered after Rich’s dad died soon after we married.

My dad and mom married late-- but marrying my mom was probably the best thing he ever did.
She forced him to have an emotional life. For various reasons attributable to both of them, they couldn’t get pregnant. Mom’s doctor arranged to adopt me, although dad was very reticent about adoption. He just didn’t see how you could love a child that wasn’t ‘your own’ but he did it for my mother. Of course, he and I fell madly in love. When we adopted Daniel, he wasn’t for that either. He couldn’t see how you could adopt a child from half way around the world and love him like ‘your own’. Well of course, Daniel came home and it was a love affair for 20 years. Then when I got pregnant with James, all dad could say was, “What about Daniel?”—he was so worried that James would take away Daniel’s thunder. Of course he loved and was very proud of James, who we named James Lowell.

I called him Lowell a fair amount of time but he was my dad. I was lucky."

Dad and I taking a break from a drive, at a rest stop in Oregon

With mom and me in Washington DC where he lobbied for the Retail Clerks Union

With me by his Buick

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