Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why I Stood Up

I take a walk most days, a habit that I hope keeps me at least a bit healthier as I continue to age than I might otherwise be. Research seems to be consistently on the side of this activity even regarding its ability to promote cognitive and emotional well-being. That's certainly been the case for me, I think. My husband can testify that if I take too long a break from my regular walks, I'm a little pricklier than usual. I know I don't cope with stress as well as I used to without my walks. I think it has a lot to do with time spent just letting events and perceptions and new information process correctly in the brain.

Most of my walks are uneventful, although over the last few years I've had some that stood out. There was the time I got forced off the road by an inattentive motorist and came away with an injury that you're tired of reading about, but which left me forever changed. There was a morning I got cornered by a vicious dog, and couldn't make a move without it lunging at me, and was finally rescued by a couple I know from church. The second (and, likely, last) half marathon I walked concluded with a phone conversation with my mother, which would be the last time I ever heard her voice.

I took another walk last week that will always stand out for me. It was a walk up Montgomery's historic Dexter Avenue, from the Court Square Fountain that exists in close proximity to what was once Montgomery's slave market, past the Winter building from whence the telegram instructing Gen. Beauregard to fire on Ft. Sumter on April 11, 1861 was sent, past the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church that houses the pulpit from which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached a message of peaceful resistance, to the steps of the Alabama Capitol building. At the top of that staircase is a star marking the spot where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederate States of America. I didn't need the reminder, but it is very true that no matter where you stand in downtown Montgomery, you stand on ground that was part of this country's darkest moments in history, as well as some that shone so bright they changed the world.

Last Sunday, August 13, I woke after a night of literal tossing and turning in bed. I don't often let what's happened in the world invade my sleep, but I could not shake the vision of scores of angry fellow citizens who assembled in Charlottesville, Virginia, some dressed in Nazi attire and sporting an assortment of firearms and combat gear,  others waving the flag of the Confederacy, shouting that they intended to take back America. As horribly distressing as it was to hear about -- and then see footage of -- one of their sympathizers driving his car down a street crowded with people who were there to counter the protest with their own, striking and killing a woman and injuring scores of others, that's not what kept me awake. What kept me awake were the faces of raw hatred, no longer even concerned that they should hide those faces under sheets. What kept me awake was the tepid response of the President. What kept me awake was the support his response received from people I know. 

When I got out of bed Sunday morning, I opened Facebook and saw that there was a walk planned for that evening up Dexter Avenue. I checked the box saying I'd participate. After I had a cup of coffee and made plans to head to church I had begun to think maybe I wouldn't. I noticed that some groups whose agendas I can't really endorse were taking part, and began to worry that the focus of the walk would be lessened by a barrage of side issues (albeit issues that deserve attention).

I just wanted to walk because, as I went to bed Saturday night with the pictures of those Nazi flags in America in my head, I kept asking myself, "Where were the good Germans? Who were they? What did they do?"  Surely there were activists among them, but for the most part I think they probably did what I usually do:  they assumed that the movement they were witnessing was confined to a few loud people with an oddly charismatic leader. They assumed that the ideas they were hearing were so counter to human decency they'd not take hold. They allowed themselves not to wonder what might happen if they decided to just ignore it and hope it would die down on its own.

And then they were helpless to stop it, afraid to resist it, and became, by their silence, complicit in what is arguably the most wretched episode in the modern history of the Western world.

So, after a little more thought and prayer, and hearing my preacher's impassioned sermon calling us to "get out of the boat," I decided I would follow through. I was proud that my sons and my husband agreed to go, as well. So very, very proud.

The event was just as billed. There were folks from all walks of life, it seemed to me, about 150 of us (which is huge for what is ordinarily a pretty apathetic populace), mostly white. Some of the crowd wore shirts or buttons indicating their affiliation with various groups. My own "badge" was my t-shirt emblazoned with a quotation from 1 Corinthians ("Love never fails") and a cross around my neck, hoping to serve as witness for those who have come to believe otherwise, that there are still those of us for whom being a Christian means you'll know us by our love. When, at the terminus of the walk, people were invited to speak their minds, the messages never devolved into screed, never called for violence, never suggested anybody take up arms, never mentioned the president's name, never ridiculed people because of their political party or faith.

I am sure there were plenty of folks there whose causes I don't support, but that ultimately made no difference to me.  I took that walk in opposition to those who espouse cleansing of our nation until it fits their narrow, hateful vision of who is fit to be an American. I will walk abreast of anyone who feels the same way.

There was no singing, no "We Shall Overcome." Instead, we were encouraged to walk with people we didn't know. A young black man and I talked most of the way. He's not from here, and was surprised to know that I was born and raised here. He admitted to me that he came to Montgomery with a pretty firmly held idea that if you were a white person raised in the South, you were a racist, even if you were polite about it. I pointed out to him along the way the church my great-grandparents attended, which is across the street from Dr. King's church. My roots run deep here. I love my hometown. I want him to love my hometown.

I walked because I needed something to do with my outrage. After nearly a week's reflection, I'm left with nothing more articulate to say about why I took part than what a friend said about her experience.

"I don't show up thinking I will change the world by being there. I just hope somebody looks up and says "look at that nice old lady up there standing for what she believes. Maybe that's not such a bad idea!!"

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Best Stuff This Week

Spring showed up on the calendar this week, folks! Spring typically hangs around Montgomery for about 47 minutes, and then we just dive right on in to summer. But those 47 minutes are grand. 


One of the surest ways that we know it's spring in our household is when our new zoo membership cards arrive in the mail. I am not kidding you when I tell you that this is the best investment we make every year. If you have kids or grandkids -- even if your grandchildren only visit a couple times a year -- you won't find a better value anywhere. I mean it.  Our grandchildren have been utterly delighted by the new ringtail lemurs, and I am just holding my breath waiting for Stingray Bay to open!


I never, ever, ever win anything. Well, that's not exactly true, but I so seldom win anything that I can be forgiven for forgetting that it happened before it happens again. I'm using Goodreads to keep track of my reading these days, and especially to keep track of books I want to read. That's something I didn't really have to do much of all those years when my job including being the the same room with books every weekday. I mean, my TBR list was just there. One of the cool features of Goodreads is that once you've marked a book as something you want to read, you  begin to get notices of giveaways. It's really simple to enter, and of course the odds are usually pretty slim that you'll get one of, say, 10 copies of a book when 2,257 people have signed up for the same giveaway, but it does happen, and here's proof. 


I hope you can make out the hawk in this photograph. I had gone to feed my boss' dogs for her this morning, and on my way back saw this magnificent creature perched on the fence around the high school's parking lot that's near my home. I couldn't believe it was so still, and turned around to go back to find it still there. What I'd missed on the first pass was that the mate had just made a kill, to which it was attending on the ground.  I really do geek out over this stuff, y'all, but then I was raised on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and I still miss Marlin Perkins, who outgeeked every present day geek there is. If you'll click on that hyperlink, you'll see a particularly harrowing episode of that great show. But come back afterwards or I will just be crushed.


This was another sign of spring I discovered today. The tiller came out and this guy is getting around to do his planting. I'm not sure what's going in those beds this year, but I do hope I'll have some vote.  I need cucumbers. I really get to craving them this time of year, and I eat 'em whole. They are really good for you, and if you have any doubt about that at all, watch this.

 Note: When I posted this video, I couldn't help but notice that the screen shot is of Macka B. holding up some okra, which I also hope makes it into this year's garden. Just in case anybody's with a tiller is paying attention.....


I'm also out walking again, after a hiatus that has lasted too long. Part of that is down to having really zapped my ankle back in the fall and the impossibly long time it's taken to truly get it healed again, but it's at least 95%, and I expect that's as good as it's going to get. You work with what you have, and decide that it doesn't matter if you've gotten fat again (don't argue with me about that - I am owning it and naming it). Working with what I have, where I am means my walks aren't particularly challenging, and the best part of them is heading out to see what there is to see again. Yesterday I opted to head out to the Blount Cultural Park, where I used to get a fabulous cardio workout taking the "big hill" on the other side of the footbridge. I wasn't planning on doing that yesterday because I know I'm too out of shape, but when I saw that the footbridge was closed I was bummed! I hope it's a temporary thing, but the setting is still so pretty. 

After one short lap at Blount, I decided to check out Ida Belle Young Park again.  It provides a well-maintained flat walking track, and interesting glimpses at how nature gets along without us. In the streams that run through it, which serve as a filtration system and are therefore horribly littered, I spied several sets of nesting ducks and geese. The other thing I spied there were children on the playground with their parents -- all of whom were talking on their cellphones. Every single one of them. I can't go totally old-fogey on that, but I would very much wish those young parents could know how fast these days will be in the rearview mirror, with no way to go back. 


Before I go from preachin' to meddlin, it's time to stop and smell my own rose
delivered to me yesterday from my back yard by my gardener. 



And finally, this. This is the reason I write this blog, really. It's for the people I'll be part of who'll never know me, but who might find themselves curious about me somewhere down the road. 



Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Read on Kindle

Ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn, in less talented hands than Becky Masterman, would have been the worst kind of caricature, but Masterman clearly figured out how to exercise the sort of restraint that would keep that from happening.

Rage Against the DyingQuinn has given up her career and married a gentle, widowed, retired priest, whose house"came with a set of Pugs, which are sort of a cross between Peter Lorre and a bratwurst." When, however, she is made aware that a man has confessed to being the serial killer suspected of being responsible for the disappearance of Quinn's protege years before, she gets caught up in the investigation.

This is not a novel for the squeamish, but if you've got marginally thicker skin there is so much here to really get excited about. Quinn is 58 (like me!) and she's kick-ass tough trying hard to soften her hard edges because she loves her husband so and wants this very different life to work out for herself.


1965 Pulitzer Prize Winner The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
One final note. I have no idea why some of the text showed up blue. I've tried to fix it five times. 
Life's too short to go for number six. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Week(s) in Review

Oh, I know. I missed a week. Things got a bit hairy around here last weekend, and my attention was divided in too many ways. By the way,  if you really want to experience the feeling of utter humility, let a scheduled blog post go missing. Prepare yourself to hear a whole lot of this:

Anyway, this one will be fast and furious and to the point since there's so much catching up to do.


After a spate of spring-like days, I decided it was time to break out the sandals again. That means it's time to expose feet again, and mine were looking pretty rough. I treated myself to a pedicure a week ago Friday......   after which our temps plummeted again for another week of winter.


We took Jimmy and Rosemary to the zoo last Saturday to celebrate Zoo Weekend. It was a madhouse, but a happy one.

We even braved the playground area in order to get to the petting zoo so they could pet all the soft, furry animals.

Uh huh. 

Jimmy made a bee-line for the tortoise, and as you can tell, offered the poor fellow some directions on how he might best escape the crowds. 


The zoo offered pony rides. Nothing doing.

Girl had to ride the camel.


I attended my Little Old Lady Literary Luncheon this week. The table arrangements were simple and quite lovely. When I got up close to this one I discovered that the arranger had used dried split peas to stick those roses and tulips in. I have no-zip-zero-nada esthetic abilities, so this sort of thing just amazes me. 


Oh, let me back up to that whole zoo thing for a second. You might remember that I keep a pseudo-journal on my desk in the home office. I write notes like "got pedicure yesterday, but too cold to bare toes today -- bummer." You might also remember that Rosemary sneaks into my office at every opportunity, and that she has discovered my journal. She left a little Valentine message a few weeks ago, you might recall, but this time what cracked me up (and warmed my heart during this past week's cold snap) was discovering that she'd taken it upon herself to journal our zoo visit  to save me the trouble. 


We ended our week going to the rodeo last night, which was always a huge deal when I was growing up. My Grandpappy (who was inducted, posthumously,  into the Alabama Cattleman's Hall of Fame in 2001) was a world-famous auctioneer. He died just before I turned nine years old, but to this day, because of the trips I took with him to the stockyards, the earthy-clean smell of dirt and animals summons the feeling that he is very much still a presence in my life. Henry and I used to take the boys when they were little, but we haven't gone ourselves in a number of years. It didn't take me 30 seconds after entering Garrett Coliseum to feel like a kid again. I want to come back as a barrel rider in my next life. I want to know what it feels like to be in control of that much beautiful power, that much speed. I cannot imagine anything more thrilling.


The week for our Rosemary ended with her experiencing a pretty big thrill. She and her Mama and little brother went on a camping trip with their Granna and Papa Marsh, where she caught her first fish!  It was kind of a big deal, as you can plainly tell. I'm so grateful for modern technology - this is a moment her Pop and I were thrilled to be able to witness. 




WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes the hype is true! I cannot wait until my grandchildren get to read this story about being different, and loving people who are.

Like all really great books for kids, this one works because, at its heart, it's about just how tough and glorious just being a kid can be. There are universal themes: being the new kid at school, the weird push and pull of not being a little kid anymore but not quite being ready to let go of that... all of that.

Garnethill (Garnethill #1)Garnethill by Denise Mina
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This first-in-a-series had been on my TBR list for a long time. I jumped through lots of hoops to get my hands on a copy: the person I just knew had a copy was in the middle of a move and couldn't put her hands on it, the local library didn't have a copy, it wasn't available for Kindle download, and I am on a "book diet" trying only to buy bound copies when it's a book I am certain I want to have in my home library. I finally found a used copy on sale, and bit.

Quite a mixed bag for me: strong start, enough interest to read the second in the series, and probably only disappointed because of heightened expectations I had for it. 

In Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War IIIn Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War II by Rhys Bowen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Actual rating: 3.5 stars

I chose this one because it was offered at a discount to download to my Kindle, and Rhys Bowen is an author with whom I was familiar, although I'd never read one of her books. One of my old bookselling saws is that there are great writers and there are great storytellers. Even when a writer is only one of those, I find their books well worth my time, and this novel was certainly that. Bowen is a solid writer, and a very good storyteller.

Set during WWII, when the German invasion of England was imminent, there were a group of British citizens who cooperated with the Germans. They weren't Nazi sympathizers, they were (in their view) pragmatists who didn't want their country's architectural and national treasures destroyed by bombing. It is from this piece of history that Bowen weaves her tale.There are many elements in this story that readers looking for different things can get hooked on: wartime romance, spies, the ongoing fascination that Americans have with the British aristocracy, and Bowen manages them all with nary a misstep. There were a couple of wild leaps, but hey!, it's fiction. Altogether an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. 

(and will probably splurge on) 


Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Weekly Whatever

My husband traveled to New Orleans this week, in time to celebrate Mardi Gras, although he was busy working the whole time he was there. Of course, while he was there, he suddenly remembered that he had a Twitter account and that his phone could be used as a camera and that those two things could work together.... just about the time I'd decided that, bless his heart, he was probably holed up in his hotel room wishing I were there with him. 



Meanwhile, back at the office..... 

No holiday goes unobserved at the office, and Fat Tuesday was no exception. The table on the Board room was covered with beads, and there was a box of these beautiful iced cookies from Ligers Bakery, and a King Cake. It was almost exactly like being in NOLA, less the opportunity to wake with a hangover on the first day of Lent. 


One hears lots of music when one is in New Orleans, but I'm betting you cannot find a 7 year old girl dressed as her favorite Pokemon character Pikachu practicing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture when you're there. 

... and if there is music there should always be dancing. 

I have recently been in touch with my second cousin, Kitty. Our grandmothers were sisters. We've been exchanging old family photographs and filling in blanks for one another over the course of the last couple weeks, via email, so I decided to reopen an old valise that belonged to my grandmother, which contains a world of old letters, a scrapbook, and loads of pictures. Within the scrapbook I found this charming little bit of newsworthy gossip pertaining to my grandparents, Tom and Sarah McCord, and their behavior on the dance floor. Not only did this delight me to know, it delights me that my Nannaw carefully preserved it, and that it remained in this valise as a treasure for me to find. 


On Friday night, Henry and I began to work through our DVR queue and watched the episode of This Is Us in which Randall and his biological father William go on a road trip that becomes, quite literally, the journey of a lifetime. Let me just say this: I cry at the drop of a hat, so that's never a good gauge for anyone to use to judge what sort of emotional wallop a book, movie, TV show, or Coca-cola commercial might have on them. But honey? This particular episode threw me right into the sort of cathartic cry I haven't had in years, the kind that you're pretty sure -- if you went and got on the scales when it was finished-- would have meant you'd lost weight. 

And, by the way, if you aren't watching This Is Us, I'm not sure how we can remain friends. 


It's been a long week for this girl, and a couple hours before I picked her up for the ballet, she and her Mama made it home from a road trip to Texas. Her great grandfather, Jack Hanifan,was laid to rest just a couple days ago. I only met him once,  when he was in town to see his granddaughter marry my son a decade ago, but I will never forget the sparkle in his eye, and the way he looked at his granddaughter when he saw her in her wedding dress for the first time. He was 92, and he had lived well, and was loved even better. 

The ballet, a series of vignettes featuring the Disney Princesses (Aurora, Jasmine, Pocahantas, and Belle), was an enchanting presentation by the wonderful dancers of the Alabama Dance Theatre. Rosemary enjoyed it, and loved meeting the dancers (in full costume) afterwards, but she was just pooped. She wanted to walk down to the Court Square to see the fountain afterwards, and we did, but by the time we'd perambulated the couple blocks between the theatre and Court Square, she was done, just like this week's edition. 


Books I Finished This Week:

The Sleepwalker
Borrowed from public library
The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this one for a couple reasons: I have never been able to get his powerful novel, Midwives off my mind, and because one of my children was, for about an year-long period in his life, a sleepwalker. His were not benign midnight rambles: he suffered night terrors which, frankly, terrified me and my husband as well. They finally ended the way they'd begun: abruptly and with no explanation, even to this day.   (Read the rest of my review by clicking HERE.)

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Read on my Kindle  

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Look, I'm not going to spend tons of time reviewing this book. It's another of those that everybody read when it first came out, and it had been on my TBR list for a long, long time. So here's my review:

This is a lovely, lovely novel, and you should absolutely make time to read it.

Favorite passage: “Oh, it’s simple pragmatism, Dad. It’s called the real world. If we refused to do business with the morally questionable, the deal volume would drop in half and the good guys like us would end up poor. Then where would we all be?” “On a nice dry spit of land known as the moral high ground?” suggested the Major.

What I'm reading now: 

Garnethill by Denise Mina  (bound book)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Kindle)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Weekly Roundup

The week started off with another CACF staff Surprise Grant trip to the Children's Center Adult Program (CCAP). We got to tour the campus, tucked away just on the outskirts of Downtown Montgomery. The clients, all young adults with severe physical and/or mental disabilities, benefit from the passion of the staff and volunteers who provide an amazing array of activities. I spent most of my time in the art room, where I was intoxicated by the energy of the instructor and the clients who were taking her class. Art has a way of triggering reflection, and that was certainly the case for me.

Artwork by the clients at CCAP

When I asked the instructor to talk to me about the art projects I saw displayed on the walls, she started with this one.  You know how you do those things: you plunk some paint on one side of a piece of paper, then fold the paper. What you get, when you open it up, is a mirror image of the design you started with. Perfect symmetry. 

Of course, few things in nature are balanced perfectly this way. That was very obvious standing in that room with these young adults, many of whom live in bodies that are bent from their physical challenges. But it's true for all of us in less obvious ways. Speaking for myself, one eye is slightly larger than the other; hair on one side of my part refuses to lie the way I want it to, no matter how much time I spend trying to force it to so it'll "match" the other side; and one of my feet is just enough larger than the other that it can be challenging to find shoes that fit comfortably for both.  

The most that most of us can hope for - figuratively and literally - is balance, symmetry's kissing cousin.


We all get a fresh canvas every day, although that doesn't mean you get to completely leave aside your experiences, or the wisdom you've gained from coloring outside the lines of your life, or the messes that you sometimes leave behind. It only means that you get another chance to create something beautiful in the midst of all of that. 


And would it be too trite to say that seeing the whimsical garden outside the otherwise rather institutional building reminded me to bloom where you're planted?



Okay, okay, enough of platituding my way through a post....

I've begun to revive a long dormant habit of keeping two books going at once, and most weeks make it a point to have a bound book at hand to read curled up on the sofa and another going on my Kindle. I was nearing the end of the bound book (an ARC) I'd chosen (Edgar & Lucy by Victor Lodato) when I flipped it over to read the back jacket. I thought it deliciously serendipitous that one of the blurbs on the back of it was written by the author of the very book I was simultaneously reading on my Kindle! 



Yesterday my oldest son and I took his children to the zoo. Their Mama is away on a business trip, and it was just too pretty to keep them cooped up in their house. Jimmy, the two year old, was utterly fascinated by the dead leaves that were constantly skittering across the walkways, and, of course, was mostly interested in the ducks, never mind that they are pretty much everywhere in town right about now. How easily we forget that the ordinary is extraordinary?


And this final "dedication" goes out to anybody who finds they need this reassurance today.

Out of the mouths of babes and all that, you know.


Best meal this week:

Grilled Gulf Shrimp Tacos and a nice margarita (or two) at El Rey Burrito Lounge.

Book finished this week: 

Edgar & Lucy by Victor Lodato

click on title to find my Goodreads review

Currently reading: 

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (kindle)
The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian (bound book, on loan from the library) 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Best of Week Six

Note: I'm late on the roll out of this one. Life happened!


The theme last week surely seemed to be love. Who am I to mess with centuries of tradition?

Last Sunday, I loved attending a benefit showing of Franco Zefferelli's 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet at the Capri Theatre. In my lifetime (and it was here before I was born) I've seen that wonderful space change and grow and claw to stay open. When it was rescued from its darker paths by Martin McCaffery, it became a not-for-profit independent theatre. The going has been slow, but it is truly a labor of love for all those who pledge their time and energy and money to it, and recent renovations have really given the old gal an extraordinary new look.

When I was a young teenager, it's where we'd go to watch those godawful B-horror pictures, many of which seemed to star Shelley Winters, like Whoever Slew Aunty Roo? and What's the Matter With Helen?  Here's what I learned from those, by the way: never, ever leave Shelley Winters alone in a room with children or rabbits.

University of Montevallo - Hanson Girls

But back on topic: the very best part about attending the benefit last week was having a friend from my college days (who was one of my bridesmaids, to boot) show up with her husband! They drove down from their home just south of Birmingham and we had a great time. It's probably a good thing we don't live in the same town, by the way. When we get together, we tend to revert! Love you, Rhonda!


For Valentines Day I got my husband a Kindle. He got me one for Christmas - over my oft-stated objections to them - and I have discovered that they can, in fact, co-exist peacefully with bound books. I've fallen into a habit of having a "real" book at hand to read when I'm out in the den, and having another book in process on my Kindle for bedtime/portable reading. This is working surprisingly well. He had begun to reread one of his favorite fantasy series (The Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks), and it was painful to watch him try to read the tiny print of that mass-market book. I even hauled him down to the library yesterday to get his library card renewed so he can begin to check out ebooks from the Overdrive app, as well. It's been a booklover's week around here, for sure!


 Our grandchildren spent the night Friday night, and after they'd been picked up on Saturday, I headed to my home office to do a little work on my computer. I discovered that Rosemary had decided to add some illustration to my desk engagement calendar. 

No, we do not know who Ashlyn is or why Rosemary seems to know that her brother's birthday was on Valentines Day. It's just a Rosemary kind of thing to know.

By the way, the Farmer's Almanac engagement calendar is my absolute favorite. I've used them for about 10 years now; they are hardcover, and are perfect for keeping not-really-a-journal-but-sort-of-a-journal type notes in. Plus, you learn about all sorts of fascinating things. Best thing last week? A quarter cup of maple syrup contains more calcium than a quarter cup of milk. Pancake time!

 I feel like I should have awarded myself some Brownie points for not picking up this clearly very healthy cereal at the grocery store last week.

Brownie points.... get it?   


Books Finished This Week:
(click on titles to find my reviews on Goodreads)

The Risen by Ron Rash

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Book Ditched This Week:

In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell

Best Meal of the Week: 

The hot dogs that were delivered to us at the office by Charles Lee (That's My Dog), in appreciation for our having awarded him the first of the Central Alabama Community Foundation Surprise 30th Anniversary grants for his nonprofit, That's My Child. This was one of three trays of dogs we got. We had to sample some from each tray, of course.....  these were the That's My Conecuh Dogs, but we also had That's My Nacho Dogs and That's My Gump Dogs.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Week's Best - Fifth Edition

A bit of a departure today, before I launch into the "best of" list.

When our first grandchild was born we, like every other grandparent in the world, discovered that the most delicious part of parenting happens after your children are raised and start their own families. My not-really-all-that-tough old bear of a husband had pined for a daughter after we had our two sons, but he let me be the one to call the shots about expanding our family, and I was done. When our son's daughter Rosemary was born, then, it was especially sweet for her old Pop and, truth be told, for me, too.

When she was a toddler, we all noticed that she just wasn't hitting those marks that other kids do. What little speech she had was nearly unintelligible. She didn't invite people into her world, didn't ask questions about every little thing, didn't try to get your attention if you were busy doing something else.There was no doubt in the world that she was very bright, and very curious, but she just had a way of staying on her island with all of that. So marked was this delineation that neither my husband nor I will ever forget the first time she picked something up off the sidewalk, looked at it, then turned around to look at us and said, "Look! A STICK!"  The moment was so profound we both teared up. She was about 4 years old at the time, and it was the first time she had chosen to initiate sharing one of her experiences with us. 

Her parents undertook what has been an arduous, more than three year journey to discover what it was, exactly, that was at the heart of these questions we all had. From speech therapy to communication and occupational therapists, the support they asked for and got for her allowed her to blossom and thrive. She underwent an exhaustive battery of multi-disciplinary testing at the Communications Disorder center at Sparks Clinic at UAB a couple years ago, and what they learned was reassuring -- she doesn't have ADHD, she doesn't have any hearing issues, she doesn't have any of a very long list of other communication, psychological, or neurological disorders. But there was one final concentrated area of testing the clinic wanted her to undergo, and after more than a year on a waiting list, she and her parents went back to the specialized Autism Clinic less than 2 weeks ago. After an exhausting day of evaluation and tests and observations and tedious questionnaires and parent interviews, we finally got the diagnosis we had been advised we probably would:  Our beautiful granddaughter lives her life and copes with the rest of us from her place on the autism spectrum. This diagnosis opens up avenues for further support for her, and while her diagnosis comes as a surprise to people in our lives who have been only casual observers, that is just testament to the unerring, utterly devoted and dogged determination of her parents.

Recently, an adult who is an important part of Rosemary's life asked me to help her understand. This is what I told her. (Keep in mind I am not a professional; I've done a great deal of research, talked with parents of children who have autism, and read whatever I could get my hands on that has been written by adults with autism to try to understand what it is like, and these are my general observations from all of that.)  Every minute of our waking day, we are bombarded by visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile and gustative input into our brains. Typically, without having to make any real effort, our brains prioritize the information in a way that allows us to respond to the most urgent messages appropriately. The brain of a person who lives on the spectrum, though, gives equal or inappropriate weight to all those things at once. It is no surprise, then, that people on the spectrum struggle, each in their own way, with this chaos. That can evidence itself in so many ways: frustration, temper tantrums, locking down (If I can't take it all in, I will shut it all out), or one or more sorts of physical or verbal releases, called stims.  Rosemary's most common stim is verbal: in response to stress or fatigue she "runs lines,"  generally from movies she's watched (often after only one viewing), and she's pretty damned good at it.

Of course, nobody hopes and prays that their child or grandchild is diagnosed with something that may well cause her to be a square peg trying to get into round holes for the rest of her life, so what's the good news about this?

It's that the elephant in the room now has a name, and that her parents made a choice to be public about this, and that Rosemary herself is now taking part in that conversation, although to be truthful, right now she doesn't find it terribly interesting.  Nothing about her changes, of course. She is funny, and smart as a whip, and loving, and talented. We are all excited about where her road can lead, now that we know which one she's on.


So, on to what made this week's list....

Sister Barbara Ann has her standards.

On Tuesday, my Central Alabama Community Foundation co-workers loaded up in a car and presented our third surprise $3,000 grant, this time to The City of St. Jude. Sister Barbara Ann served as our tour guide through their food and clothes bank.

They truly serve the least of these every single day. The one-armed statue of Jesus that overlooks their clothes closet stands as an eloquent reminder that He was broken for us, and that He expects us to treat those among us who are the most broken just as He would have.

I confess we all cracked up when Sister Barbara Ann showed us where she hides contraband clothes for the most firmly entrenched homeless men she encounters. They (City of St. Jude) generally don't accept donations of used underwear or socks, but there's nothing hot water and bleach can't fix, and if it's down to going without or having clean used things, she's going to err on the side of dignity every time. But honestly, folks? Next time you're at a warehouse store, grab a big old bag of new briefs or boxers or socks, send them to The City of St. Jude, and call that just a tiny bit of rent for being able to live on this planet, under a roof.


This guy was sitting on the curb in front of our office Friday morning when I got to work. I asked him what his cat's name was. "Emmaline," he answered with a big smile.  She appeared to be very well-fed, and very much loved. I hope the same can be said for him. 


One of the most famous landmarks in Montgomery is Chris' Hot Dogs. It's been around for nigh on 100 years. During lunch in our board room on Thursday, I discovered that one of my co-workers had never been there.  I was gobsmacked. The entire staff went to lunch there with her on Friday, because this situation just had to be remedied. I am very pleased to report that she was quite taken with the whole experience and with the hot dogs and the very special sauce and with being introduced to the most famous of the employees -- Eleanor the Waitress -- who promptly told us that one of the other waitresses was her granddaughter, whose mother she finally had to make "get fixed," because she kept "droppin' 'em like they was hot."  Her words. At work we would hashtag that -- #YCMTSU.  Chris' Hot Dogs is where you really can get an idea of my beloved hometown at its best, because folks are just folks there. 


And finally, last night my sister-in-law and I attended the Broadway-bound production of Because of Winn-Dixie at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. It was a real treat to see so many Tony award winning and/or nominated professionals in and around a production, but I'll confess to a certain prejudice for local actor Charlie Hill, whom I've known since he was a bun in the oven. He's going to go as far as he chooses in the performing arts, mark my words. 


Books I Finished This Week: 
(click on titles to read my very brief reviews on Goodreads)

The Lewis Man by Peter May

A Breach of Security by Susan Hill

Best Meal of the Week (other than Chris' hot dogs and fries): 

The Sunday Dinner Noodle Bowl at Kudzu Noodle Bar.

(Fried Chicken, Ramen Noodles, Soy Marinated Deviled Egg, Charred Okra, Grilled Squash, Chow Chow, 
Garnished with Diakon Sprouts)