Friday, September 29, 2006

Lesson of a Lifetime

Last year, my son went on the "trip of a lifetime" with his Boy Scout Troop. About a dozen of the older boys and leaders went to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for two weeks and 70 miles of backpacking in the wilderness. The photos above are some of the many he took (pretty good for a 17 yo, huh?) - but I particularly want you to pay attention to the last photo.

They trekked from elevations of 6,700 ft up to 12,415 ft. All they had was what they carried on their backs - a tent, water and freeze dried rations. They had to carry all their trash out. Outdoor latrines were the norm. They had to beware of wild bears and snakes - as well as some other critters, the identities of which he thought it best not to share with me. None of this deterred him.

At one point, they were at the top of a gravelly and very steep slope, much like in the last photo. Here, I am going to cheat a little and use his words from a college essay to tell the story:

"I found out that we would be climbing down 1000 feet in only 1/8 of a mile. If this sharp decline didn’t scare me enough, the guide told us that this section of the trail caused lots of major injuries. I was so scared I thought I was going to die. I knew that with the 70 lb. pack on my back, one slip would have me rolling down the mountain like an avalanche. When we finally got to the spot where we would descend, my legs started to feel like jelly. I realized that I had two choices. I could let my fear keep me up there and hold up my crew, or I could overcome my fear and climb down the mountain. The descent really wasn’t as bad as I originally thought it would be. Sure it was steep and there were many loose rocks, but there were also many trees to grab onto in case you felt like you were going to fall. From the experience of Philmont I have learned that I could overcome my fear."

I think this was a wise lesson to learn, at 17 - or any age.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I just got a new cell phone, last May. It did not hold a charge well, so in August I went in and they promised to send a replacement. They sent me a replacement all right - but with no battery or back plate. I had to use my existing battery and back plate. Hmmm, wasn't charging part of the problem here? Isn't the battery the piece involved with charging? But hey, what do I know.

So now I have a phone that has a back plate of a different shade. Plus it still doesn't keep a charge. Last weekend, my husband and I both charged our same model phones, then left them both on all night. His was still fully charged in the morning; mine was dead. There's scientific proof!

So back to the store. They need to test it for 1 1/2 hours. So I come back a little shy of that and wait on line to pick up my phone. They claimed to have had the phone on a call for 1 1/2 hours and it dropped two bars of power, so it's ok, per them. Huh? I wasn't gone for 1 1/2 hours, but I won't quibble over minutes, there are bigger fish to fry here. I pleasantly asked the young lady what this phone was rated for on standby time.

YL: "200 hours."
Me: "Well, my phone only lasts 12 hours, so there must be a problem."
YL: "No, your phone is fine. The battery life depends on the phone options."
Me: "Hmmm - I have the same options my husband has, but his phone held the charge overnight while mine died."
YL: "Well, color phones use more power."
Me: "Ok, is the 200 hour rating for this particular phone?"
YL: "Oh yes, it is."
Me: "Does this particular phone come in a black & white version?"
YL: "Oh no, just color."
Me: "Sooo maybe I can assume the 200 hour standby rating is for this phone, in color?"

At this point, the young lady excused herself to go into the back room to talk to the supervisor. She comes back saying "We can give you a new battery, but you'll have to wait 20 minutes." Great, I'll be back.

So now I just have the back panel that is a different shade than the rest of my phone. I can live with that.

Monday, September 25, 2006

There's Wood Under Them Thar Files!

Ok, I'm not the best housekeeper in the world, much to my husband's chagrin. But honest, I've really been trying hard since the kids have been off to college. Normally, I take piles of paperwork that accumulate all around the house and carry them over to the desk, where I place them and pretty much don't think about them again. For the past three days however, I have been exerting a herculean effort to reduce the Mt. Olympus sized pile of papers on my desk. I have forced myself to look at every single piece of paper and decide - right then and there - how to dispose of it. Could I afford to part with it? Is it something that I positively will never use again in this lifetime? Ok, reluctantly into the trash - after all, there MUST have been a reason why I held onto it - what if I just can't remember right now?

Well, on to the next pieces of paper. Into the receipt box. Into the medical file. Into the trash. Into the contractor file. Trash, trash, trash. Hey, this isn't so bad! Oops, I really should pay this bill, right now. Ok, bill paid AND filed away! Now we're getting somewhere. Is that an encouraging little speck of desktop I see over there??? Now to go through a batch of newspaper sections, looking for the articles that I had found interesting at some point. Hmmm - now WHICH article was I interested in? Ah yes - cut it out AND file it - remainder into the paper recycling pile. ATM receipts - filed. Checking statements - filed (oh, do I have to look at those?) College loan papers - filed. Recipes into the recipe box, where they belong, of course.

Trash, trash, file, trash, file, file. It's like an archeological dig. Is this really my life? No, I don't think so, which is why I'm so disinterested in it. But on the other hand, getting to see more desktop is exciting! Although I'm not quite sure why . . .

I finally see the full desktop! There's my stapler, tape and letter holder. But I also see a beautiful blown glass piece in the shape of a small milk bottle, decorated with random millifiori, that we had purchased at an art show; a spectacular red and gold glass piece from St. Petersburg, given to me by a friend who visited Russia; a handmade wooden box with beautiful inlay, that I was surprised to win in a free raffle sponsored by a fine craft guild; a Waterford votive candle holder given to me by my dad, one Christmas. Such treasures and memories. I had forgotten about them, buried beneath the everyday detritus of life.

I think I'll tackle another room tomorrow and see what other long-lost treasures I can recover.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blood Done Sign My Name

Well, I've tried thinking of things to write about in this brandy-new blog of mine. But every time I do, my mind heads to the same place. So I have no choice but to share a bit about a non-fiction book I read recently. It's not a clever or fun topic, so I understand if you pass this one by. But I really do hope you read on.

Blood Done Sign My Name by Tim Tyson, was the book selected for this year's "One Read" program, at my son's college. I can't say the last time I was so affected by a book - it gave me the chills. Tyson, who grew up in Oxford, NC, relates the story of how his friend's father - a white shop owner - chased, beat and murdered a young black Army veteran in cold blood. I was thinking how horrible the racial strife was in the South and how I'm glad those days are long over. Until I read that this murder occurred in 1970. I couldn't get over the fact that this happened in MY lifetime. My goodness, I remember 1970!

Tyson fleshes out the book with his personal experiences, growing up as the son of a minister during the fight for civil rights. Now an adult who is a Professor of African-American History, he has placed his experience within a historical context. He talks about how English law originally stated that the status of a child, free or slave, was the same as the status of its father, However the American slave owners changed the the law so that the status of a child derived from the mother. When a white slave owner fathered children with his slaves, not only were there no repercussions, but the slave owner was increasing his slave population, or his property holdings. Tyson talks about the history of slavery in this country - and how the crime of slavery was so great that the monstrous lie of white supremacy was devised to ease the white conscience. Well, I knew the crime of slavery was huge, of course - but I never recognized it as the reason for the birth of white supremacy. It all makes sense, doesn't it? I was a math/science person, never liked history and I guess I never put it all together until I read this book. What an admission of my stupidity! In my own defense though, I don't think the history books of 40 years ago delved into the matter in quite the same way as BLOOD.

Tyson, a white man, relates how he saw black people being treated as less than human, not so very long ago. He talks about what his father did to aid the civil rights movement through the pulpit. He discusses segregation, which resulted from the big taboo, of needing to keep black men away from white women - because of the old idea of a child's status being derived from the mother, how could one then justify keeping down a child born of a white mother and a black father? He also discusses the continuing intellectual and emotional toll on black people, caused by the idea of white supremacy.

The book is full of Tyson's observations and includes many interviews with those involved in the civil rights movement. He is able to discuss the civil rights movement extensively as an eyewitness; the peaceful marches, as well as the violence used to gain equality. Civil rights were never just "generously" bestowed on black people by the whites - they were a hard fought and hard earned "right."

When we went to Parents Weekend at my son's school, they had a Parents Book Club discussion about BLOOD. The large lounge was SRO and the refrain I kept hearing was "I can't believe I was so ignorant of what was really happening." That is exactly what I thought. I'm now 50, just three years older than Dr. Tyson. I grew up in NYC and had friends of all colors. I never considered myself a racist. But when I finished this book, I really had to take a good, hard look at myself. The following from the book really hit home for me - "Many people who care are mired in guilt, as if the agonies of history could be undone by angst." I care and I feel guilt, but I don't even know why and I'm sure it doesn't serve any purpose. I am first generation in this country; my parents are from France. Perhaps I feel guilt because I know my parents to harbor various degrees of racism? Perhaps I feel guilt for just being white and having a white person's privileges? Or is the guilt there because I see the injustice still existing today and have not stepped up to do anything constructive about it?

I am still reeling from this book - it has altered a perspective that I did not think needed altering. I have asked my family to read it - my husband was just as affected by it. It should be required reading in every high school. But what are the chances of that happening? Every high school in NC now has a classroom set of BLOOD with a study guide. It's a start. I have called my local school district to ask them to consider putting this book in the humanities curriculum. It is a gripping book, but very readable because of the personal context. If you get the chance to read it I guarantee you will not come through the experience unchanged.

I guess we still haven't come as far as we pat ourselves on the back for, when it comes to equality for all Americans.

Addendum - Just reread this post this morning - I don't want to give the impression that this was a dry book of just legalities and interviews. This is Dr. Tyson's engrossing memoir of growing up in Oxford, from the age of 10 to young adulthood. It is a life story, placed within the greater context of the civil rights movement. I don't care what color you are, it is a book not to be missed - and no, I am not getting any kickback royalties on it. Shucks.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I have been amending as I go along here, pretty much NOT knowing what I am doing. But today I taught myself how to edit the side bar - not completely what I'm thinking of, but it's a start. Then, I also wanted to figure out how to upload pictures. I love taking photographs, especially with a digital. I was trying to select a few photos to post, for "practice." In my "Interests" one thing I put down is color - I love color. When the fall hits here and the trees go all red and gold my brain goes on color OD. I can just stand and stare - well, maybe not for hours, but for a long time. I've picked out a few photos with lots of different colors and textures. I hope you like them too.

This was a beautiful sunset, from our last vacation. I just kept snapping away, as the sun sank, very calming.

This is from the south of France. My parents are from there, I'm first generation here. I suspect I'll be writing a bit about there, down the road. The stonework on this building was incredible, very detailed. The teal blue shutters were just so unusual, especially on such a stately building where one would expect plain, somber black.

This is a local spice vendor at the weekly "Marche" again in Provence, in the south of France. Can't you just smell the lavender, cinnamon, paprika, cumin - and the delicate dried rosebuds, all the way in the back?

Here are some great warm neutral shades for both the terrain and the beast. I don't know if she's a donkey or a mule, but she was sweet!

Hmmm. . . seems it didn't matter whether I selected medium or large size when uploading photos - both came out the same size. Will have to research this discrepancy further.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mr. Toothpicker

Last night we went to pick up a car that had been in for service at our local Jeep-Chrysler dealer. It was after hours, so I had to go into Sales to pay and get the keys. I walked through the doorway and I could see two salesmen at the back counter. One was standing in front of the counter, talking to the one seated behind the counter. The guy behind the counter had half his hand in his mouth, apparently picking at a back molar. He continued picking at his teeth, even as I walked up to the counter. The other guy asked how he could help me and tried some inane banter. I wasn't biting and just told him I needed to get my car.

Finally, Mr. Toothpicker extricated his hand from his mouth and said "Phil, I'll get the young lady her car." Phil said, no, that's ok, I'll get the paperwork. I was thinking, "Please, please Phil, get my paperwork, don't let Mr. Toothpicker near anything I have to touch!" But no, Mr. Toothpicker got my paperwork. Then he got my keys. Then he took my credit card. Then as I frantically and unsuccessfully looked for a pen in my bag, he handed me a pen to sign my charge slip. All with his toothpicking hand.

I got my car. Then my husband and I headed off for a quick bite at a local fast food Mexican place. As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I told him what happened at Jeep, and immediately went to wash my hands. Now, I'm not a neat freak, as anyone who has ever been to my home knows. My son has come back from a week of Boy Scout camp, crusted in dirt and bragging about how he ate ants on a dare, none of which phased me. But this toothpicking business was, for some reason, beyond what I could deal with.

Please, Mr. Toothpicker, although dental hygiene is an admirable quality, can you please save it for a more appropriate and private moment?

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Beautiful Day

It was a beautiful day. The sky was a deep blue, with no clouds to water down the brilliant color. The weather was somewhere between warm and crisp - past summer's heat, but not chilly enough to require a sweater. You couldn't ask for a finer day.

I had gone to work and was glazing a client's master bath, about eighteen feet up on a scaffold. I was concentrating on the decorative painting and listening to my discman. All of a sudden my cell phone rang, which was unusual. My children were in high school; my husband was at work in the city. It was my daughter screaming "Where's daddy, where's daddy?" I was confused and told her he was in the city. She kept screaming at me "I know, but WHERE in the city?" I told her he was probably at corporate, and I asked her to calm down and tell me what was going on. She told me about the WTC getting "bombed" - details were still sketchy. She calmed down a little when I told her that her father was uptown and I told her I would try to call him. I was on my hands and knees on the scaffold, shaking and not trusting myself to be able to climb down. I knew when he went in for a corporate meeting they frequently had off-site breakfasts or presentations. He could be anywhere. No luck reaching him. Then my daughter called again and told me about the Pentagon. I couldn’t begin to understand what was happening.

My client came in from her tennis lesson and told me New York City had been attacked. She turned on the TV, but I was too frantic trying to reach my husband to watch. My husband's secretary finally called - they had been able to get a call out from corporate to my husband's office and she in turn was calling families to let us know our loved ones were okay.

My first instinct was to get my children and keep them safe at home. But was home safe anymore? I decided the distraction of being in class and with their friends was better than watching the horror on TV. I went back to work, so that I wouldn’t have to think; art has that power, to absorb one’s being.

When I finally got home and turned on the TV, my brain couldn’t take it all in. The wound in this city I was born and raised in, my city - where everything between Wall Street and Ft. Tryon Park had been part of my playground growing up. I could only watch the news for short bits at a time. We went to a special church service. We came home and watched again, all the while not believing, not understanding. I can still feel the love and community of that day – also the sorrow, grief and helplessness. For months after, the NY Times printed daily pages with a small picture and bio of each of the victims. I read every single one and said a silent prayer for each of them and their families. How could I not?

In the years to follow, whenever there was an especially spectacular fall day, I could never figure out why a chill would suddenly run through me. In 2004, I finally realized it was because of the similarity to that beautiful day, 9/11/01. I thought it was just me, that I was being freakishly sensitive. But no, after speaking to many other New Yorkers, I find it is a too-common eerie feeling.

I’m not a poet or a writer. I’m just a New Yorker. I am so very proud of my city, all it has overcome, how life and living continues despite the immense shadow of those towers that no longer exist. I can’t forget the enormous evil, the murder of all those poor souls. To echo the bumper stickers I still see every day, “I will never forget.” 9/11 is never very far from my consciousness, or any New Yorker's.

Today was another beautiful and perfect fall day. But here it is, five years later, and the wound is still as raw as if it happened yesterday. We lost 2,948 people - people like you and me - on 9/11. We have lost another 2,657 service men and women in Iraq since then. When does it end?