Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Accidental Corporate Terrorist

Visiting the promised land is triggering a flood of memories from my past...

It all began innocently enough. Post college, in the 70s, I worked in the credit department at Sears, Roebuck and Company. But this wasn't just any credit department. It was situated in the downtown store in Houston, Texas. But this wasn't just any downtown store. It also housed the offices of the district managers and supervisors of Sears.

My boss, the local credit manager, was a former IRS investigator, and an incredible judge of character. He would sit in his office surrounded by a cloud of smoke from his Camel cigarettes and watch the customers as they arrived at the counter. During slow times in the day, he would invite one of us into the cloud and share stories from his past. During one of these sessions with me, he suggested that I consider climbing the corporate ladder at Sears, that there were scads of opportunities in management positions for women.

Then I would walk out into the shared space of phones, filing cabinets, and typewriters, right past the desk of his secretary, a kindly woman who had started working there in the 40s for the grand sum of ten cents an hour. Thirty years of loyal service, through raises, had brought that up to $1.75 an hour, still
less than the rate I was hired at just a few weeks previously. I would shake my head and return to the counter to assist someone with a "credit problem".

But my boss persisted in offering me opportunities. I was sent to the Better Business Bureau to learn how to investigate credit records via a fancy teletype like machine. Thereafter, part of my day was spent typing names into the recently installed metal monster and producing credit reports right there on the spot.

Up on the third floor was a large, climate controlled room containing banks of primitive mainframe computers. These computers were attached, via telephone line, to bigger computers in Dallas, where regional credit information was stored. It became my job to periodically visit the third floor room and enter the numbers of lost and stolen credit cards.

All went well until that fatal Saturday. I was sent upstairs to the third floor, climate controlled room which housed the mainframe. In the last 30 years, computers have become second nature, available, tiny. But back in the day, they were awe inspiringly huge. And noisy. And mysterious. (I'm reminded of Terminator, the Sarah Conner Chronicles.)

It was 11:30am on a Saturday when I started typing in the numbers I was given to alert the system of lost/stolen cards. There were about fifteen of them. Halfway through my input, the phone rang. Instantly life kicked into slow motion and black and white--the computers started vomiting reams of paper, a buzzer was sounding, all the district managers and supervisors from the fourth floor were piling into the room in a panic, asking me what happened.

Keep in mind, it was high noon, on a Saturday, downtown Houston, store full of shoppers, and every cash register frozen.

It was later determined that one important fact was left out of my training--if the phone rings, immediately stop input. That call was from the bigger bank of computers in Dallas, updating. Any input after the ring would throw our computer into a loop spitting out all the numbers that were not in the system.

Folks, that's a lot of numbers!

Curiously, I didn't lose my job. My credit manager thought it was funny. I think he enjoyed the sight of so many of his bosses running around in sheer panic and confusion.

I lived to tell the tale of how I singlehandedly brought a major department store to its knees one sunny Saturday. But I still get nervous every time I go through airport security. What if they ask me if I've ever been involved in a terrorist act?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Here's looking at you, kid

I love old movies. I think it's the combination of craft, class, and a bit of hokiness that sucks me in everytime. One of my favorites is the classic Casablanca. iPodite's main squeeze, Spike the Cheekywawa has agreed to stand in for Bogey.

Spike has that Miami Vice 5 o'clock shadow and a blend of strength and softness while still being all masculine. (Well, mostly masculine. We won't talk about the "snip snip" in deference to this being a family friendly site.) He's also a very accomplished Humphrey Bogart impersonator.

Oh, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Principessa's cat Chester will be the off screen voice of Captain Renault.


"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."


"Tell me, who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo, or were there others in between? Or ... aren't you the kind that tells?"


Captain Renault: "What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?"
Rick: "My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters."
Captain Renault "The waters? What waters? We're in the desert!"
Rick: "I was misinformed."


"Play it again, Sam."


"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."


"Here's looking at you, kid."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hot Down Here

Modern travel is truly amazing.  I can go from shooting bunnies outside my window, uh, let me rephrase that, I can go from taking pictures of bunnies outside my window

Peter Cottontail

and watching the grass grow,

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to attempting to solve the maze that is public parking in a huge metropolitan area whose predominant language and culture is Spanish.


And all accomplished in a matter of hours, without leaving the confines of my second native country, the good ole USA.  (My first country is, of course, Texas, but you knew that already.)

So here I am in lovely downtown San Antonio, taking in the traffic, (you'll hafta use your imagination.  The traffic downtown was obviously not that big a deal, but it was too dangerous to take a picture of the REAL traffic, on the freeway, at 65ish miles per hour.)


the riverwalk,


and the elevators at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. 


These elevators are a trip in themselves. They are encased in glass so you can experience acrophobia going from the lobby to the ballroom, just one floor up. Take my advice and face the door. You don't want to know what is going on behind you.

I'm here for a conference, or was here for a conference.  It's over now.  It was wonderful after I discovered where the stairs were.  I did a lot of trekking back and forth between the hotel for the workshops, and the Municipal Auditorium for the general sessions. 

In the sunshine and heat.


This was not an intentional special effect, folks. It's the condensation that happens to any lens when it goes from an air conditioned area like a building or car directly into the 100+ degree Texas weather.

I am reminded of General Sheridan's remark, "If I owned both Texas and Hell, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas".

I gotta admit, proud Texan that I am, the summers can get pretty hot down here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Dreamer

It was a dark and stormy night.  Well, not really.  It was actually a pretty nice summer day in central New York, 25 years ago, when our baby, Son #2 The Dreamer, and our lone little yankee, was born in a nice, modern, but not air conditioned hospital.  (It was the first June this pregnant momma had lived through sans air conditioning, so of course that fact was memorable!)  

The Dreamer was one of life's little surprises.  We thought our family was complete with Son #1 The Preacher and Principessa, but God had other plans.

And we are so glad He did.

We had moved to New York from the promised land (Texas) only 10 months earlier for my Dear Professor to attend graduate school.  I had joked, after getting over the shock of this pregnancy, that I would bring a small bag of the promised land with me to the hospital so that The Dreamer could be "born on Texas soil", but it was left behind in the rush to delivery.  I read a few months later about another Texan in the area who had done that very thing.  We Texans are a bit peculiar that way. (All right, we are a bit peculiar in a lot of other ways, too.)

MeMom, Dear Professor's mother,  had travelled up from Texas to help out in the first week or so of The Dreamer's arrival. She almost started a riot at the hospital as she loudly lamented, while visiting the new babies, how we could move up here and have a baby in the midst of "all these yankees."  (The Civil War may be gone, but below the Mason Dixon line, it will never be forgotten!)


(Before the infamous collision with the teeter totter that cost The Dreamer his two front teeth)

The Dreamer has always been interested in music,

and we were overwhelmed by his comedic talent from an early age. He had an entire routine (a la Jonathan Winters via Bugs Bunny with a touch of Robin Williams) with which he regaled us one afternoon, using a little plastic tool box filled with various toys.

He was only 4 years old.

(After the infamous collision with the teeter totter.)

His first grade teacher confirmed his ability to keep her and the class entertained, and of course there was that joke from his Uncle Bern .


My most difficult moment with The Dreamer was when he announced his intended solo drive from PA to CA. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and so shortly after taking this picture, I hugged him and wished him well. He returned a few months later with tales to tell, but safe and sound. The Dreamer has been other places as well, Haiti, France, but always returns home.

And we are so grateful he does. Perhaps he should be named The Explorer?

The Dreamer has many other talents beside music and humor (and a gift for nicknames that predates the character of Sawyer on the tv show Lost), but the most surprising has been the discovery of his abilities as a child whisperer. His nephews and niece adore him. I think someday, when he has satisfied his desire to wander, The Dreamer will be a wonderful dad.

And so, our dear baby, our thoughtful man, we wish you a day full of fun and Dairy Queen cake. You have filled your parents with wonder, awe, and at times, panic, but our lives would have been empty without you.  

We love you, Dreamer, and wish you a wonderful 25th birthday. May your best dreams come true.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Muscle and Energy, Elephants and Fathers

Donald Miller is a best selling author who grew up fatherless in Houston, Texas.
Miller is hip, unpretentious, and serious about the importance of mentoring relationships for young boys. He is part of the Mentoring Project .

In To Own a Dragon, Miller writes about his experience, and how a documentary on orphaned elephants taught him the importance of mentoring:
“I learned a great deal about myself while watching a documentary a few years ago about elephants in a wildlife trust in Africa. There were twenty-five elephants, all of them orphans, and they had been brought to the trust twenty years before. They were becoming teenagers– in elephant years...

The narrator talked about the frustrations these few elephants were feeling because they had gone into early musth cycles... This phase produced aggressive and violent behavior, the elephant equivalent of sexual frustration.

The filmmakers followed these orphan elephants who were always on their own, staggering about the wildlife refuge, fueled by a pent-up aggression they couldn’t understand. They weren’t acting like elephants– they didn’t know what an elephant was supposed to do with all his energy, all his muscle.

To me, life was something you had to stumble through alone. It wasn’t something you enjoyed or conquered, it was something that happened to you, and you didn’t have a whole lot of say about the way it turned out. You just acted out your feelings and hoped you never got caught.

...Upon finding a mentor, the young elephant’s musth cycle ends. The older and younger begin to travel together, to find food together, to protect each other– the older one teaching the younger what elephant strength is for, and how to use it for the benefit of himself and the tribe.

Watching television that night, I wondered if humans aren’t like that, too. I began to wonder if we guys were designed to have a father, whose very presence would cause us to understand more accurately what our muscle is for, what we are supposed to do with our energy."

This is a rare picture of my Dad with his girls. It is rare because he was usually the one behind the camera. In his right hand Dad is holding a light meter. He had set up the shot and asked a fellow tourist to click the button. He used his muscle and energy to love his wife, provide for his children, and teach us girls what a real man looks like.

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My father-in law was a quiet man. He used his energy and muscle to teach his son (and daughter) the importance of integrity and family.  He left this world all too soon.

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Our Son#1 The Preacher uses his energy and muscle to love his wife and children (seen here with his firstborn son, Boo), mentor his high school students, and shepherd his congregation.


And My Dear Professor, following the example of his father, has used his muscle and energy in providing safety and love and wisdom for his three children and grandchildren.

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I love you sweetheart!

All these men, these fathers and grandfathers, have used their muscle and energy for the good of their society and their families.  I think the world is in some small part a better place because of the choices they made.

For them, and for all those other unsung hero Dads out there, Thank you!

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Daddy's Darlin'

Dear Daddy,

I wrote Mom a letter on Mother's Day and I didn't want you to feel left out.


It was an incredible gift to me to be able to take care of you those last six months of your life. I know being with us in the Frozen North and so far away from your church and friends of 60 years was difficult, but to this day I marvel at your good nature in the midst of those very trying circumstances. It was not easy for you to lose your memory along with your independence, but you never lost your sense of humor.

card sharks

I love this picture of you and Mrs Fer and her Adorable Hub. They had driven down from New York City just to spend some time with you. You really enjoyed people, especially your grandchildren.

houston family tags

You wouldn't believe how much your great grandkids have grown. Mr Boo is such a sweet little guy, and Miss Bee is quite the talker. I need to teach her that rhyme you taught me so many years ago:

"Roses on my shoulders, slippers on my feet.
I'm my Daddy's darlin', don't you think I'm sweet?

We've added another one to the ranks! The day after Christmas last year Son #1 The Preacher and Beautiful Mommy had their third, another little boy. He is adorable, and growing much too fast.

I think both iPodite and I have inherited your love for gadgets. She is a computer whiz, and I have fallen in love with cameras all over again. Every time I take a picture, I think of you and the story Mom told about your going around the corner to the drug store for a fifty cent magazine for her and coming back with a fifty dollar camera for yourself! One of our most precious treasures from your life is the photographs you left us.

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I believe it takes a very special man to be the father of girls. You certainly were. I can't imagine what it must have been like for you to live in a house full of estrogen, but you did it with grace and humor.

Speaking of your sense of humor, I just laughed out loud, having come across a story from your childhood of your running an electric wire from the window to the porch swing just so you could goose unsuspecting visitors. Now THAT is one picture I would love to have seen! You may not have graduated from college, but you had an inquiring scientific mind. And always a twinkle in your eye!

What I am most grateful for is that you loved us, took care of us, and taught us about Jesus. We may not have had a lot of money growing up, but we had a lot of love and faith, and that's really a child's most pressing need.

Daddy, my biggest regret is that I wasn't there in your final hour to wave you across that river to the eternal shore. It must have been wonderful to see everyone waiting for you to make that final leg of your life's journey.

Yours may have been a quiet life, but you touched a lot of people. Mine was one of them.

I love you, Daddy, and miss you terribly.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Son #1 The Preacher

It was just thirty-one years ago that my Dear Professor and I were driving the 45 minutes to the hospital to welcome Son #1 The Preacher into this world. In those dark ages the baby's gender was not determined until they came out of the chute, so to speak, so we didn't know during that fateful ride whether we would be bringing home a boy or a girl.

One thing I did know. I wanted this over. Fast!

I had been in back labor for what seemed like 48 hours. You just don't know what to expect the first time you're expecting. We had taken a Lamaze course, so we were prepared for the delivery. Or so we thought. When the time came, my Dear Professor was so awestruck by the events unfolding that the attending nurse had to take over as birthing coach!

We only had one "slight" complication. The Preacher had a huge head. I mean really big. How big, you ask? Big enough that the physician needed a screwdriver, a four foot pipe wrench, a bottle of whiskey, and four Oiler linebackers (remember this was the dark ages, back when the Houston Oilers were in Houston!). Actually, it was ME that needed the whiskey. "Natural childbirth" was "in", I was convinced that doing this "cold turkey" was most healthy for our baby.

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And perhaps I am exaggerating a bit. Perhaps all the doctor needed was a pair of forceps. All I remember is that I found a voice I didn't know I had. My parents, sitting outside the delivery room with my Dear Professor's parents, didn't know I had that voice either. There is an unconfirmed story that citizens of the next county were responding to what they thought was an air raid siren.

Son #1 The Preacher, before we knew he would be a preacher, arrived shortly after the forceps and the siren. It was then I knew I was in trouble. They wheeled him into my room and left him there. With me. Alone. I came face to face with my worst nightmare. I had never changed a diaper before. At least not one on a real baby. Somehow, in the midst of the exercises, and breathing, and focusing, they forgot that little detail.

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Things worked out, though, as long as you don't count the Trevi fountain incident. It happens to every family of a baby boy at least once. Hint, never leave a male infant unattended or uncovered in the nether regions while changing their diaper. White boy babies may not be able to jump, but they can "squirt" remarkably high.

Son #1's most important claim to fame is being the husband of our second daughter, Beautiful Mommy, and the father of our three Sprittles (Mommo loves you Boo, Bee, and Colonel Mustard!) That, and the incredible support he was for his Mom the day his grandfather and namesake, my Dad, died. He threw his arms around me, gave me a hug, and told me the exact words of comfort I needed to hear.


Mommo loves you, too, Son #1. Very much. Happy Birthday!

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

I'm a dropout, I think


Early in February of this year I joined Project365 on Flickr. It sounded easy enough, a daily journal entry of one photo per day. I could do that, I thought. It would help me become a better photographer, I thought. And I kept at it for 27 days.

And then the unthinkable happened.

her blog

I started a blog. I started a blog with pictures that chronicled my day. I became a better photographer. I started taking more pictures than Imelda Marcos could shake a shoe at. As I understood more about blogging, I created a second blog, just for pictures. And a third blog just for my thoughts on the deeper meaning of life. And a fourth blog for recipes.

It must have been somewhere in the midst of this post that it happened--I dropped out of Project365. At least that seems to be about the right time. I was so immersed in my four blogs, I forgot all about it.

Or did I?

I think that even though I didn't keep the letter of the law over at '365, I may have kept the spirit. I did take(and still am taking) pictures every day. Believe you me, I took pictures every day. Just ask my little hard drive that is doing its best to keep up. The '365 group allows you to play catch up. I could easily do that from my picture blog.

So, the question remains, am I a dropout, or not?

If you are interested in hopping into the action over at Project365, I don't think it's too late. You have over half a year to go!

(Thank you to Shutter Sisters for this post that made me stop and think about Project365 again.)

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Photoshoppin' Phreak

I've been wandering around Iron Acres the past few days taking pictures of stuff that would normally mortify me (cobwebs in the dirt floored coal room under the den, dirty windows, bark fungus, you get the idea.) And it's all because of something called textures and layers in Photoshop.

I won't go into the gory details here in deference to those of you who aren't interested in this sort of thing. Let's just say that for the camera hounds in the group, it's fun to go from eeeeeeeeeewwwww using a picture of greasy grimy gopher gutsy cobwebs like this---

green web darkened

and a closeup of a glass of iced tea like this,


and a butterlfy, to aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh creating a purdy picture like this---

butterfly green

or this---

rose background

It lends a whole new meaning to before and after, n'est ce pas?

If you have a use for it (web template background, powerpoint, etc), feel free to download the purdy ones. And you can always download the "ugly as homemade sin" one, too, and save it for Halloween. Just right click on the pic and do a "save as" to your computer.

Here and here are just two of several Flickr groups dedicated to providing free, downloadable textures along with tutorials. I'm still learning, but I have a few here.

Who knows, you may turn into a Photoshoppin' Phreak like me, too! (just don't say I didn't warn ya!)

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Monday, June 15, 2009

That's not a hill I want to die on

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for this beautiful painting.

It's so idyllic, so bucolic,
so. . .peaceful.

But after this month, I am taking a closer look at nature's shadowy underbelly, and it ain't pretty.

There must be an expiration date on the "great Penn's famous treaty made." At least that's what it looks like in this corner of his woods.

This was the year I decided it was time to find homes for most of our critters. The llama and goats and 7 goslings left for greener pastures leaving only a trio of adult geese plus 3 goslings, 4 muscovey ducks, Misty the freecycle wonder dog, and the Great Bundini to roam Iron Acres.

I was enjoying the peace and quiet. But it didn't last long.

This is also the year the wild animal kingdom declared an all out assault on Iron Acres. I had no problem at all with the robins that made nests in the lilac and apple trees,


but I draw the line at the Peter Cottontail who invaded the garden, decimating the broccoli and cabbage (where's Farmer MacGregor and his hoe when you need them?),

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one raccoon who took up residence in the attic, another who tried to gain entrance to the kitchen via the breezeway, the kamikaze honeybees who committed suicide in the den,


a young grackle who fell through the chimney into the fireplace, and the ground hogs leaving their holes and, ahem, "calling cards" in the pasture and yard.

dandelion feast

This evening on my way home from the park, I was musing about all these goings on and thought about the one animal that had yet to engage in the battle of Iron Acres. A wily foe, puny but pungent. I was continuing these ruminations as I strolled down to the barn to check on the sitting ducks. I glanced into the barn and found the goose family to have taken up residence a few feet away in the open air. Normally they vigorously protest my approach, but tonight they were curiously calm and composed.

As I peered into the darkness, trying to discern the black and white outline of a mama muscovey, I spied instead a black and white outline with more of a plume than I remembered. It was then that I realized what I was watching was not mama muscovey . . .


. . .but (dundunduh!!) this!


Yes, gentle reader, Iron Acres has been officially skunked. Mr (or Ms, for reasons I am sure you will understand, I was in no hurry to solve that mystery) Skunk was too engrossed in duck eggs and the poultry feed to notice my attentions. THANK GOODNESS!!!

I wished Pepe(or Pepette) Le Pew a silent good night and stole away in the opposite direction.

That's not a hill I want to die on.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stained Glass Reflections

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Today we are motoring down to visit friends in the Big City. I invite you take a look at my images with accompanying thoughts here.

See ya Monday!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's easy being green

That great philosopher, Kermit the Frog, once said it wasn't easy being green. Although I have much respect for Mr. Frog, and his human Jim Henson, I beg to differ. The reverse is true.

Being green is easy. Especially if you live in the country. In the northeast. And you have a really wet spring.

It's the middle of June and our grass is going crazy. Of course, this is the first time in 17 years that a trip of goats wasn't keeping the lawn in check. (believe me, goats really ARE a trip!)

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I cannot tell a lie. This is not my lawn, it's a nearby Amish grain field, but my lawn looks a lot like this. Just ask my garden tractor. We just finished a two hour argument over the lawn. JAS--"you can do it." LT--"Are you CRAZY? You need to bale this stuff."

Of course, the Great Bundini is happy, very happy with her daily wad of luscious greens, aren't you Bundini?


I told you about these hidden lawn beauties here when I wrote about their sad demise.


But others have moved in, and they are just as wonderful to behold.


Of course, today they went the way of their predecessors. (thank you, Mister Lawn Tractor.)

Tune in next week for the next exciting installment of "American Idle."

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