Friday, September 29, 2006

Frozen in time

My sister surprised me with the best birthday present ever: She took her free time (of which she has nearly none) and scanned some old family slides, which she then e-mailed to me!

Our dad was known for his love of documentation. He wanted to record everything from family events to church events to everything in between. For instance, he delighted in being able to pull a notebook out of his file cabinet that had documented every light, gas, and water bill they had had for decades. Want to know what they paid for that washing machine? It's there. Want to know what the hospital bill was for Mom's appendectomy shortly after they got married? It's there, too.

As a choir director, he didn't want to repeat hymns too often, as he wanted lots of variety, so in his personal hymnal, he would jot down the date each hymn had been used. In another book, he recorded the choir's anthems and the dates they were performed. Oh yes, if you needed to know some family or church information, no matter how trivial, our dad was the one to go to.

His most important documentation legacy, though, was not trivial at all. He wanted to document our growing up, mostly with reel-to-reel tapes, slides, and home movies. Years ago, we had the home movies transferred to VHS, which, of course, still needs to be transferred again to digital media. My sister has from time to time transferred some reel-to-reel tapes over to cassettes (which, again, needs to be transferred into digital at some point). Thanks to scanners, we are scanning old photographs to digital, and now we are finally getting around to the slides. A digitalized version of these slides is my wonderful birthday gift.

There we are, two sisters, frozen in time. Professional photographs are truly cherished, but these candid photos taken in our home in Memphis tell so much more. The picture above was taken in what was supposed to be a "den," but was our bedroom, because our elderly paternal grandmother was living in the extra bedroom of our small house. (Joy and I always shared a bedroom until one of us left home.) The window behind us looked out into the front yard, and on hot summer evenings, our parents would turn on the attic fan and we'd open that window and get the refreshing breeze that the fan extracted from the outside.

Joy and I are a year and 9 months apart, so we have always been close. It is a pleasure to look at our two faces, a snapshot of happy childhoods, close family ties, and those 2-piece pajamas that snapped together.

I remember that once before Dad died in 1980, I asked him about the new-fangled "talking home movies" that were coming into the technological realm. "Oh," he smiled, "that's great, but I'll leave those for y'all." I can also remember how early on, Dad tried to teach us how to "pan" the movie camera slowly, to avoid the hurried, dizzying feature that was one of the trademarks of the amateur home movie enthusiast.

When a new reel had been developed, you'd think we were in a big Hollywood production company reviewing the daily footage. We wouldn't bother to put up the big screen for those; Dad would just set the camera on the dining room table and projected the movie onto the wall. It wouldn't be long before we'd see Dad sitting at the same table one evening, using his splicer to edit the new movies and attach them to the appropriate large reel.

As fun as the movies were, we got used to them. We knew every scene, but they never got boring. It was endless fascination as we watched ourselves grow, commenting on the stupid-looking clothes, or our excited expressions.

The slides, though, were seldom seen, because it was such a long process to get the slide projector set up along with the big screen. So that's what makes this birthday gift even more precious.

Thanks, Dad, for the memories. Thanks, Joy, for sending them to me.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

It's all in the head (or on the bed, or being fed...)

I do believe that my dreams have gotten stranger as I advance in age. Last night I dreamed I was making an entire quilt out of Butterfinger candy bars. Believe me, that was no easy feat! I don't know if my subconscious is wanting to quilt or pig out on sugar. I will say one thing, though - it gives an entirely new meaning to "Sweet dreams."

Friday, September 22, 2006


"Default, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." OK, I guess it's too early in the morning to mess with Shakespeare, but I've been thinking about the word default all week.

I am talking about default in the computer sense. This is the definition that has swept through our language since the beginning of the technological revolution:
A preselected option adopted by a computer program...when no alternative is specified by the user or programmer.

For those of you who aren't computer literate, I'll state it differently: My computer has its mind made up. It has a predefined way to format things I type, and, unless I specify otherwise, it assumes I want "the usual" and every document I create will be set up in that predetermined way. I guess it's like going into your favorite restaurant and having your waiter bring you your usual glass of iced tea before you even order it. You always have iced tea and your waiter knows this. It's automatic - no planning, no thinking, no decision-making involved.

However, what if one day you walk into the restaurant and you have a hankering for Coke? Even more importantly, what if you have evolved into a bona fide Coke aficionado and you never want iced tea again? Before you can even open your mouth to voice your order, here comes your waiter with the iced tea. Iced tea has become your default order, and you'd better speak up pretty quickly if you want something else instead.

Or you could have a private conversation with the waiter and tell him you want Coke from now on as a general rule.

The word processing program for my iMac is called Pages. and in general I think it's a great program for my needs, but there was one minor problem I wanted to overcome. When I open a blank document, the default setting is a rather ample space between paragraphs. I don't like that space, so each time I begin a new document, I go into the formatting options and narrow that space. It doesn't take very long to do this, but my lazy but productive self thought there must be a better way. I needed to have a personal conversation with the waiter and change the standing iced tea order. I could not, however, figure out a way to change this default. So I did what any normal person would do - I asked my geek family members to figure it out for me.

My son Matthew came up with the method, I changed the default, and now I'm content....well, almost. Now I want a default for my life.

For one thing, I'd like my eating and exercise habits to have a reliable default. One that says, say, 90% of the time I eat right and exercise regularly without even thinking about it, and I'd allow the other 10% of the time for slacking. I want a default so that without even thinking about it, I would exhibit patience over irritability, love over anger, generosity over selfishness, acceptance over anxiety, and hope over pessimism. I want good habits and good attitudes to be my default approach.

Now my Pages software has its spacing default set to a narrower width. Every time I create a new document, it will automatically have that narrower width spacing. It is set until I decide to change it again.

I wish life were that easy!

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Wedding Dress

It's 4:30 a.m. and I decided to just get up. Believe me, if you knew how much I would rather be in bed snoozing, you would wonder why I'm up and blogging on my day off. Well, a strange dream woke me up and I felt the need to document it.

I dreamed we were pastoring a church at an unknown location, and a young man and woman in our church were getting married. It was the night before the wedding, and for some reason, I took the beautiful wedding gown home. As is the case in many dreams, I can't offer a reasonable explanation why I had taken the dress home, but I did. It was therefore my responsibility to make sure the dress arrived to the wedding on time and in perfect condition.

I had to make the journey to the church on foot through all sorts of terrain. A busy highway, a pothole-filled dirt road - you name it and I had to carry that beautiful, heavy, embroidered, pearl-encrusted gown. The journey was filled with peril at every turn - mud, animal feces, holes, limbs, speeding cars, and darkness. At one point, I tried carrying the dress directly above my head to keep it from dragging the dirty street, but it was just too heavy. I tried folding it up so it took up less space, but it just unfolded itself. I had to do a serious juggling/balancing act, as I tried to keep the dress unharmed while watching the road surface and my surroundings, and try to remember the directions to the church. Hey, that was no dream - that was a nightmare!

When I got to the church, I was relieved to find the gown intact, and as the wedding coordinator saw me bring it in, his joy soon turned to curiosity. "Where is the garment bag?" he asked. The garment bag? Oh yeah, the garment bag - the one I was supposed to put the gown in to carry it on its journey. The one which would have protected it and kept it clean. The one I totally forgot about. That garment bag.

I would have slapped myself in the head vis-a-vis those old V8 commercials, but at that point I woke up.

The time is drawing near when we hand over the house. Closing is Halloween, and we will move out the week before that date. We have been responsible for this lovely old house for over a decade now (owning it 12 years and living here over 10 years). It has been important in our lives; indeed, it is a piece of our lives now. It is nearing time to hand this heavy, delicate, pearl-encrusted jewel of a house over to its new owners. We have a month and a half to keep it in perfect condition, making sure the embroidery doesn't unravel. The journey always has elements of risk involved. The need for coordination is paramount.

And, in the end, we are relieved yet saddened to hand the gown over to the bride, for in reality, during the whole journey to the church, the dress was hers all along; we were just temporary stewards.

As a veteran list-maker, I have extensive lists of what we have to do, when we have to do it, what we have already done, and what we have left to do. As a chronic worrier, I have the nagging sensation that I may forget to take the garment bag, that I am overlooking some tasks that would make our journey smoother and less complicated.

Oh, well. The "Journey to the New House" is just one part of the "Journey to Simplicity" and the "Journey of our Lives." It gives me great comfort to know that in my dream, I managed to get the dress to the bride intact and she was able to wear the dress with joy and pride. We may forget about a garment bag, but we will make the successful journey anyway.

It's a beautiful jewel of a house, and I am thankful we were able to be a part of its long, eventful life. Weddings always make me cry.

Friday, September 08, 2006

"Jack - Come on Down!!!"

The Price Is Right, I believe, is one of the oldest shows on TV. Who can forget their signature call when Bob Barker identifies the next contestant? "Mary Smith - COME ON DOWN!!!" Next thing you know, the audience erupts in chaos and Mary Smith jumps two feet out of her seat and runs down to the stage, clapping and screaming all the way.

We had to use that phrase today. You see, when the painters painted the exterior of our house a few years ago, they neglected to paint a 6-foot area of trim. Now that we are selling the house, the buyers understandably have requested that that trim be painted. Sounds easy, right? It's only 6 feet. You know there has to be a catch, right? It's under the eaves on the third floor.

Most of the painters we have contacted do not consider getting paid $50 to paint 6 feet of trim on the third floor "easy money." In fact, they don't consider it a job worth their time at all. After considerable effort, we finally turned to a man I'll call Jack, whose real name in this post will not be mentioned as a gesture of goodwill on our part.

Jack is a local resident about 60 years old who makes his living doing what they call "odd jobs." We have utilized him many times for taking trash to the dump, since we don't own a pickup. (Not regular garbage, but the special extensive trash one generates with a good basement or garage cleaning.) He has always been dependable and can always use the money, so Ed called Jack and gave him an offer he couldn't refuse. He told Jack that he would pay him $50 for just a few minutes of work - painting the eaves on the third floor - assuming he owned or could borrow a ladder long enough to reach said area. Jack said, "OK, why not?" I personally could think of several reasons why not, but Jack, as nice as he is, has always seemed to be, well, not the wisest of men.

Sure enough, this morning he arrived in his red pickup truck with a long, long ladder, which he proceeded to stand against the house in the appropriate vicinity.

Alas, the ladder was tall enough, but it wouldn't reach the eaves, so he left and came back with two more ladders and some rope. Up the ladder he went for the second time, holding a can of spray paint in one hand and the shorter ladders in the other, the rope dangling by his side.

Meanwhile, I was in the house trying to stay busy to distract myself from poor Jack on the roof. I heard the little noises associated with ladders and climbing, but just tried not to think about it. Finally, I was forced outside when I heard the electrician drive up. Ed was busy holding Jack's ladder, and I realized I would have to deal with the electrician.

There we were, the three of us standing in the driveway, shielding our eyes from the sun as we watched Jack clumsily maneuver around with his equipment. I was going to take the electrician in the house to show him what needed to be repaired, but I couldn't move. It was like watching a car wreck or a horror movie. You want to turn away, but you can't.

Jack had climbed all the way to the roof, and had tied a rope around his waist, which had been strung around the chimney, then crossed over to a gingerbread wooden ornamentation. As we watched anxiously, Jack shouted down to the driveway. "D'ya think that will hold me?" he asked, pointing to the small piece of wood. My husband yelled back, "I have no idea. It's been there over 100 years." I couldn't tell if Jack took that to mean it was sturdy or to mean it was so ancient it could disintegrate at any moment. Jack warily shuffled across the roof and still couldn't reach the eaves.

Well, that's just great, I thought. Jack will fall off our roof and kill himself, our chimney will come with him, and the ladder will probably fall back and hit the electrician's truck. At this point, I turned to Ed.

"Get him down," I whispered.
"Get him down."
"But he's already up there."
"Make him come down. Tell him we will pay him the 50 bucks - just make him come down."
Ed looked up at the scene on the roof. He sighed. "OK."

"Hey, Jack!" Ed shouted. "Never mind it - just come on down!"
Jack looked perplexed. "Huh? Hey, Ed, d'ya have a roller brush on an extension pole?"
Ed shouted louder. "Never mind, Jack! Just come on down! We'll pay you the $50, just COME ON DOWN, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE!"

Jack, though confused, finally acquiesced. He removed the rope from its various stability points, threw it to the driveway, and, as Ed held the ladder, Jack slowly made his way down. I could hear him mumbling something about "didn't really do anything." He felt guilty about taking the check, but I was so relieved he was finally on the ground that the $50 didn't matter to me much at that point.

Of course, this means we are $50 poorer and we still need the trim painted. But Jack, bless his soul, survived intact, and on top of that, the electrician got an interesting story to tell his friends.

Jack would never make it to the stage on The Price Is Right. I think they want people a little more excited to come on down.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I work only a few blocks from my house, so I used to drive home for lunch every day. Most of the time when I got back to work, my parking space (near the door, because I am the first one in the office every morning) was usually taken, and I had to scour the parking lot for another one. After a few years of playing "musical cars," I decided that the lunch hour excursion to home was not worth the hassle, and settled instead for a sandwich at my desk while I checked e-mail.

Today, however, for various but predictable reasons, the office stress became too much, so I came home, had a quick lunch with Ed, then headed back. When I returned to the hospital, it was the same familiar scenario - my spot was taken. I found another parking space and went back to work. At quitting time, I was walking out to my car, heading in the usual direction, when I had one of those momentary lapses in memory. Why was another car in my parking spot, and why wasn't my car there instead? Then I suddenly remembered. "Oh!" I said out loud (I tend to talk to myself out loud). "That's right - I moved!"

I had to chuckle. How I have wanted to say that lately - "I moved!" That will have to wait, though. Closing on the house is scheduled for October 31, and it will be another month before we actually move into our new house.

What a versatile word - "move." I moved my car. We will move into the new house. That piece of music really moved me. The first two examples note a physical change in position. The third example has a different, more abstract meaning. When I listen to beautiful music, I may not move physically from my chair, but I definitely move spiritually. My emotions move to a totally altered state of consciousness. Those transcending minutes can carry me through sometimes.

I hope the next three months will be full of moving moments for us. Both kinds!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Hands Can

I bought Caroline a book when she was younger called Hands Can. It rejoices in all the various things hands can do. For instance, "Hands can catch/and hands can throw./Hands can plant seeds in a row." Now Charlotte is enjoying the story of hands.

What drives me and others like me to be creative with our hands? I don't go sledding or cycling because of my innate fear of injuring my hands. I make my living with my hands, of course, and would be financially devastated if I could not transcribe anymore. But the creative things I do with my hands - play the harp and piano, quilt, cross-stitch, sew, bake bread, write - these are the things I would really miss if I sustained a hand injury.

Ed always said that when we lovingly make something with our hands (or minds or both), we are actually "co-creators with God." Out of nothing comes beauty. Out of unorganized ingredients comes form and shape. Things that are useless by themselves (flour or fabric or a harp sitting silent on the floor) are touched and as if by magic, they transform our worlds. Our chosen creative outlets enable us to use our gifts. I believe everyone has gifts, and one of the most important duties for parents and teachers is to help children discover their individual gifts. So many of these gifts can be brought to fruition through the hands.

My sister in Memphis has been deluged with figs from her backyard fig tree. Even after giving some away, she still had too many that would spoil quickly unless she did something. So she decided to make a jar of fig preserves. Never having done anything like that before, she did some research, bought the jars and tops, and brought forth her creation. She burned her hand a little because she didn't have all the proper equipment, and I figured that, by the time it was all said and done, that jar of preserves cost a lot more than the one at the grocery store, but all the same, she actually made a jar of preserves which fed more than her stomach - it fed her spirit. She also enjoys working with her hands doing woodworking.

I can feel a void in my life when I don't take time to be creative. There is nothing like the feeling of the harp strings vibrating under my fingers, or running my hands across a soft quilt, smiling at the designs, remembering when I purchased the fabric, and reminiscing about what was going on in my life when I hand quilted it.

Why do we bother? With our time constraints, why don't we just buy a blanket at Wal-Mart or a jar of preserves at the supermarket? There's just something about that act of co-creation that refreshes our soul. There are other quilts and other preserves, but none exactly like the ones we made. As individuals we are unique, and our creations can be, too.

Ed and I recently read some articles on whether food made with love tastes better. There is general consensus in some groups that when you make something with your hands (especially if you are loving the process), that love flows through your fingers into the product, and indeed it affects the product in an invisible way. Sleeping under a quilt handmade with love brings an unseen comfort that you don't get with a Wal-Mart special. We are more powerful than we ever imagined.

Hands can; they can, indeed!