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)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Week's Best -- 4th edition

This was sort of a "meh" week. We all have those. Even so, it had its moments. 


We made the transition from January to February, which always prompts me to check the calendar to see if we are in a Leap Year. (We aren't. You're welcome.) And February means we all sit back and wait for a large rodent to tell us whether we should move the spring wardrobe back into our closets. 

The way the weather has been going for us in Montgomery these last few months, any prediction he might have made would have stood a better than 50% chance of being right, so I could certainly forgive him if he wanted to pass the buck entirely. 


My coworkers and I took a road trip yesterday into rural Macon County, Alabama. Despite having between us 4 smartphones with mapping software and a Garmin on the dashboard, we got almost hopelessly lost on the way to our destination. We all got to laughing so hard about this I almost could not catch my breath. To the list of things I love about my job, add that we laugh - hard - about something almost every day.  Anyway, when we got where we were going -- the Macon County Humane Society -- we got to visit with all the dogs that are housed there, including two litters of adorable puppies. 

I use the adjective "adorable" as though all puppies are not. 


I like dogs just fine, but I'm not what you'd call a dog person. Even so, had that little one with the dark splotches been ready to find a new home, it would have been right here on Crawford Street with us last night. It's enough for me to know, though, that because of the surprise grant CACF gave the MCHS yesterday, those puppies and all the other dogs who are housed there will continue to be looked after with tremendous love and commitment until they do find their own people to adopt. 

 All in all, that made for a really nice day at work. 


It was fun to see Bowling Green, Kentucky in the news this week. I'm not going to delve into those waters at all, but it was nice to see my Mama's hometown in the headlines, and to have the opportunity to remember another day that folks across America had cause to think of Bowling Green. It was the day this blog post launched. It became one of the most widely read and shared posts I've ever written. I never understand why one post "launches" and another doesn't, by the way, but I am still glad this one traveled around a bit. 


Books I finished this week: 

They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Quote of the Week

At the end of our lives, we become only memories. 
If we’re lucky, someone is passing those down. 

~~ Plum Johnson 


And finally, this. When I told my husband about all those puppies at the Macon County Humane Society, he got all misty-eyed and said he would have another dog one day, when he retires, and it'll be a beagle, because a beagle was his first best friend. 

There was a Bluejohn had a dog, and Bingo was his name-oh!

The Weight of Him - Ethel Rohan

The Weight of HimThe Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a lovely, heart-breaking, heart-mending novel. Big Billy Brennan, all 400 pounds of him, is grieving the death by suicide of his beloved son when the notion occurs to him to raise money for suicide prevention. To do so, Billy will put himself on something of public display and invite the public to donate money for every pound he can lose. His family is not supportive: they can hardly bear being in the same room with one another as the fog of grief is yet so dense. But he plows on, putting his pain to use, finding unexpected ways to cope with the loss and to make whatever sense he can of it.

Big Billy's weight has served as insulation from pain and from the people in his life. His efforts to shed himself of the weight of that baggage--literally and figuratively--speaks eloquently of the battle every one of us who struggles with our own weight fights. I cheered so hard for Billy from beginning to end; I think you will, too.

Ms. Rohan has delivered something beautiful from unimaginable places.

View all my reviews

The Way I See.... the Surly Bookseller

They Left Us Everything: A MemoirThey Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Actual star rating: 3 1/2 stars.

My mother died in the fall of 2011; my father on the last day of the year 2014. Between those years my father moved into a dementia care facility and my siblings and I cleared their belongings from their home, each of us taking the things that meant something to us. By some process I became the person to whom the archives -- papers, letters, photographs, scrapbooks -- came. I am nowhere close to even opening the things on the tops of all those piles, as each time I begin I lose all track of time and continue to deal with what I have called the Little Landmines that seem to be around every turn.

I have become quite fascinated, because of this, when I have the opportunity to talk with others who are charged with this same task. How do they handle it? How do they decide what is worth keeping forever? After so many conversations, and certainly after reading Johnson's memoir, I come to a couple of truths about it.

First, it's almost never the biggest or finest things to which we discover ourselves most attached, when the time for pitching out comes.

And second, the process changes you if you are lucky enough to take the time to carefully sift. What Plum Johnson and I and so many of my friends have discovered in those dusty boxes and in the bottoms of pocketbooks and pockets of coats on their way to Goodwill are the people our parents were, when they weren't busy being our parents. What a gift.

Pocket litter turns out to be ground zero, the debris left behind that no thrift store will take: small mounds of ash, yet mountains to climb, for me.

Reading that line, early in Johnson's memoir, brought back exactly the feeling I had when I opened one of my mother's evening bags and discovered a cigarette butt, stained with her lipstick. The moment I saw it the tears began to flow, and in short order I was little more than a puddle on the floor. This was months and months after her death, when I thought I was done with the deepest grieving.

What I wish is that Johnson had spent more time talking about this process, and all the discoveries she made, because when she did, this memoir was magic. When she chooses instead to write about her parent's histories I was less enamored. They had certainly lived interesting, story-worthy, lives, but I had come to this book as a fellow finder of "pocket litter," and could really only connect with Ms. Johnson over those moments.

I certainly do recommend this book, even so.

View all my reviews