Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tonight included a little something I always enjoy - starting a new journal. Peggy gave me this in December and today I was in the mood to start it. I have multiple journals going at any one time. But I decided I wanted one to be stationed at my writing desk in the downstairs sunporch. So, this was the choice.

I've really been enjoying having my desk downstairs. I generally spend some time there every day - often in the early morning hours or in the late evening hours.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Happy Customer?

I said last night that my cell phone company would have the opportunity today to make me a very happy customer. Well, I would say I'm "happy," but not "very happy."

The reason I'm happy is the assistant manager of the Hutchinson Sprint store, Kim - and an intelligent customer service rep at corporate we spoke to this afternoon. The reason I'm not very happy is the person I spoke with at their corporate headquarters this morning. I have already blotted out her name because that would mar my general happiness level and none of us wants that.

I decided I wanted the new Treo phone. The website showed a price of $279 with a $50 service credit. I have a "loyalty credit" of $150. So, I was thinking with that and the service credit that would make the phone a very, very, very cheap $79. This, of course, meant I would be paying more per month because I would be buying a data package as well, but I was prepared to do that.

So... I go to get the phone last night and they say... oh no... the $200 off is already included in the $279 - that's the $150 plus the $50 credit. So, I come home and look at it online and basically anyone off the street, who has never been a Sprint customer, could get that deal. So, "loyalty credit" is meaningless. There's no loyalty involved - it's just the deal they're offering at the moment.

This morning I called and talked to someone about that. I was very nice. I just explained I didn't consider a deal they were giving to anyone was a reward for being with them for years. She was polite but unhelpful. She referred me on up to someone else.

When she started talking about policies and procedures and how they couldn't be broken I said, "well, obviously, someone has the authority to break policies and procedures - please transfer me to that person." She refused. Hmmm... that is NOT the way to make me a happy customer. Unless you are the company president or own the company, you are not the final authority - transfer me, dammit. I should have just hung up and called back but I knew I would explode at the next person and it wasn't their fault.

I was Sprint's FOURTH customer in my community of 50,000 plus, according to one of their employees in Wichita years ago. I have convinced a slew of other people to go with them so we all had free sprint to sprint calls. I have never once been late with my payment in the decade or so I've been with them. So, I'm a person who deserves a loyalty credit. I explained all this nicely and that giving me the same deal you're giving anyone is NOT rewarding my loyalty.

After my phone call with their corporate office, and talking to Ms. Policies and Procedures, I started hunting for a new plan with a new company. I had decided that on July 29, when my contract was up, I would be an Alltel customer. That wouldn't be convenient for friends on Sprint - particularly Greg - since we talk very casually a lot with those sprint to sprint minutes. But I figured I'd just have to work it out.

After lunch with Trish - when I had calmed down considerably due to pleasant conversation - it works wonders - I decided to go by the local Sprint office and thank Jeremy, the young man I've been dealing with the last couple of days - update him because he was expecting to sell me accessories and such - and look at phones just to see if there was something I had overlooked.

When I went in he wasn't there and the young lady asked if she could help me. I don't know - something came over me - maybe it was being surrounded by all that yellow sprint logo stuff - but I was instantly pissed all over again. As nicely as I could I said, "I just want to look at phones." She asked me something else and I said, as nicely as I could muster, "really, you don't want to talk to me - I am a very ticked off Sprint customer at the moment." After a few minutes the assistant manager asked if there was anything she could do to make me happy. I explained the whole deal... she called sprint... and guess what....

I could have a service credit - I pointed out so could anyone - they couldn't believe it but looked on the website and saw it was true. Then I could have extra minutes - well, I don't use the minutes I have now so I don't need more. Then they offered 5% off my bill... hmmm... it would take me a long time to recoup that supposed "loyalty credit." Then they offered 10% - same deal... my plan is good - I have no issues with it - it's not pricey - I'm not going to make up $150 in a really long time.

Finally, she asked Kim what I wanted. So, I talked to her and told her what I wanted was the $150 loyalty credit really applied as an actual loyalty credit to the cost of the phone. Eventually they did it, but without the $50 service credit. I decided I'd split the difference on that - they really gave me a credit for being a loyal customer. And I took it. I signed up for another two years.

The phone will be here in 3-5 days - I'm hoping sooner rather than later so I can have it before I go to DC. I'll go get the plan changed at the store locally and I'll buy the accessories there so they at least get something for all their trouble.

So, the moral of this story - corporate needs to take a lesson from Kim. She handled the obnoxious customer (me - despite my best efforts otherwise - and I certainly was not obnoxious when I started early this morning) masterfully. And I am happy.

Pretty much, by the time I was off the phone with the second person I talked to there was no hope of making me very happy. I had already had to invest too much time and energy in something that should have been straightforward. I would have been happier if they'd given me the $50 service credit too, but I'm happy. And they were able to lock me in for another two years, which should make them happy. And they'll get more money out of me each month, which should make them even happier.

This would an opportune time to say I've been overall content with Sprint service, although I HATE it that I don't have service in Kentucky at my family's. But, overall they've been good.

However, a lesson for anyone who deals with customer service - every time I have to deal with someone who is just apologizing to me and talking about policies and procedures, it erodes my general contentment level. Apologizing just ticks me off - I don't want you to apologize, I want you to address the problem. And every time I'm lied to - which is what happened today when I was told policies and procedures stated that no further discounts could be taken - it means I'm overall less content. And eventually that will be the undoing - that I'm generally less content than I was a year ago or two years ago or five years ago - so I'm starting any conversation with one foot out the door already.

Speaking of one foot out the door, until today I didn't really know what my options were. Now I do, because some fool at corporate ticked me off enough to look. In two years I'll have more options. This is a case where knowledge is a very, very, very dangerous thing. I now know I have other options - good options. You'll have to work harder to keep me two years from now.

But, for the moment... I'm happy... and I'm a Sprint customer for another two years. And I'm extremely appreciative of Kim and the person at corporate I spoke with this afternoon. I'm sure I'll enjoy my new phone/toy/widget.

OK... now... let me state for the record... I know people have far more important things to be concerned with than phones and phone plans and whether or not they can check their email and surf on their phone. I know. I'm petty. Aren't we all at times?

Typewriter, anyone?

Does anyone still use typewriters? I haven't used one in probably a decade, other than for art projects when I want the look of typewritten pages on something. In that case I have this wonderful old behemoth that a lovely volunteer gave me years ago. The thing weighs about 500 pounds, but it gives you that typewritten look. I know there are fonts for the computer that do that, but they don't give you the impression a typewriter does. If it doesn't have that indentation of each little letter it's not the same.

OK... so... where was I?

Oh yes... I got rid of TWO typewriters today. When I took my job five years ago we had two typewriters. I couldn't imagine why we still had them, but we did. I have moved them through four office moves, wanting to just throw them in the trash each time, but not being able to bring myself to do it. My mother lives on - there's no point in wasting anything. I'm not sure how them sitting on the floor in my office is "not wasting" them but it made more sense to me than them being in the landfill.

A few weeks ago I asked my predecessor if she had any use for them at the agency she runs. She said yes and I was thilled. I asked if I could give her both of them and she agreed, saying they sometimes have to type forms. Today I got around to dropping them off. Obviously, she has some use for them and I no longer have to move them or look at them. It's the quintessential win-win.

Fast forward from that "ancient" technology, to modern technology. I finally decided on the phone I wanted, only to find out that the pricing they had on the webpage was not really straightforward and it was going to cost about $150 more than what I had assumed. I'm just not ready to chunk that out. I've been their customer for many, many, many years. I'm not under contract. There are other companies.

Tomorrow I will call them and see if they're willing to cut me a deal on the phone I want. If not, it may be time to look at other services.

This is something companies just don't grasp - I have no loyalty to you - why should I - you have none to me. You offer all the great deals and perks to your new customers. So what do I get for being a loyal customer? Nada. Zilch. Squat. So why should I be a loyal customer?

Years ago when long distance companies were in so much competition I chose the company that had the perk I wanted - miles on a particular airline. That airline changed companies and so did I. The first company called and wanted to know what they could do to get me back. I said, give me the perk I want. They started telling me why their company was so much better. I said... please... it's all the same to me. I pick up my phone, I call, it rings, I talk, end of story. I went with you because you had the perk I wanted. Now Company B has the perk and I'm with them. Simple.

But, tomorrow this company will have the chance to make me a very happy customer and lock me in for another two years. If they make me a happy customer, you'll hear about it here. If they don't, well... you'll hear about it here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Holiday Weekends

Even though it was a three day weekend, I need more time to get things done in my personal life. Maybe that's because I worked so much this weekend. Honest to goodness, my butt hurts from sitting at the computer so long. I want to do something else now. So, of course, I'm blogging. That makes good sense. Right?

I am in the midst of preparing for the Tenth Annual Hutchinson Garden Tour on June 24. It's a fundrasier for the MHA and it requires a tremendous amount of energy from me for the six weeks prior. So, I'm in the middle of that. It is really rewarding, but it is time consuming.

In addition, we'll be doing our annual tea on August 11 so I'll barely be done with the garden tour until I start on that.

This weekend I was doing some preparation for Martha's shower on June 16, including freezing the ice ring with fresh mint and lemon slices. I did it in multiple layers so the lemons and mint would freeze in a pretty pattern. You'd think I would learn, considering how many ice rings I've made by now, that no one but me ever knows that and I should just dump everything in, pour the water over, and be done with it. But, oh no, that's not my way. I made lemonade with fresh lemons and a simple syrup and froze layer after layer of lemons and mint in a pattern, in the lemonade, so as it melts it won't water down the punch. Yes, I know, I sometimes make things complex. But, it's very pretty now. And I want everything to be nice for the shower.

I did get some housekeeping chores done this weekend. I want to get the house pretty well ready for the shower. Because did I mention that in the midst of prepping for the garden tour, and giving a shower, that I'm going to DC for six days? Yeah, I thought I left that out. It's a conference, so the weekend before the shower, two weekends before the tour, I'll be in DC.

But, everything will get done. It always does and I'm sure it will again. I'm relying on my committee for the garden tour to really come through for me this time and do a lot of leg work.

Well, it's nearly 2 a.m. Time for me to make a post office run and then get some sleep. I have a meeting in the morning. Early!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Phone Decisions

I'm getting ready to replace my phone. Again.

I'm considering the new Treo 755 so I can combine two devices - the phone and PDA. I've looked at the Blackberry but user forums indicate people are overall happier with the Treo and the idea of being able to use the Palm OS is appealing since I'm already familiar with it.

Frankly, I hate the whole process. There's always something I forget to take into account when I get a new phone and therefore something I miss once it's too late and the new phone is already in my possession.

I can already tell that I'm giving up the ability to use analog roam this time around. It's not an option on very many phones anymore. So I have to decide how important that is to me compared to what else I'd be giving up by getting one that still can get an analog signal. Always trade offs.

Ultimately, as with any technology purchase, you just have to jump in and know you'll be disappointed shortly. In eight weeks whatever you buy will be passe and
the latest version will be far superior. But in the meantime I need a phone that works better than the one I have. So, there you go.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Why You Always Want To Keep A Photo Expert Handy

My friend, Greg, ( is an exceptional photographer. Many years ago, when we first met, I remember having a conversation with him in which I took the foolish position that photography was not art. That was before I had seen photography done by a true artist, which is what Greg is. I have since realized the error of my ways.

He has an extraordinary eye and can always be counted on to get THE shot. When we do freelance things together I never, ever, worry that he has the picture to illustrate whatever I'm writing about. He always has it. And it's always perfect.

Yesterday we were headed out to dinner and spotted this little guy in my flowers in front. Greg just snapped a few pix and they're all wonderful.

I'm very, very, very fortunate to have my own personal photographer. Greg is very generous with his talents.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Who Are the Terrorists

I am so tired of the idea that speaking the truth in this country is somehow unpatriotic. The latest victim of this near police state is Rosie O'Donnell. Rosie, like most of America, does NOT support the war in Iraq. Unlike others of us, Rosie has a public forum where she can say this. And, thankfully, she has.

Since Rosie has been on "The View," I started taping it on occasion. It has been more interesting than it ever has been in the past. I happened to see it the day this conversation between Rosie and Elisabeth went on:

O’DONNELL: …… I just want to say something. 655,000 Iraqi civilians are dead. Who are the terrorists?
HASSELBECK: Who are the terrorists?
O’DONNELL: 655,000 Iraqis — I’m saying you have to look, we invaded –
HASSELBECK: Wait, who are you calling terrorists now? Americans?
O’DONNELL: I’m saying if you were in Iraq, and the other country, the United States, the richest in the world, invaded your country and killed 655,000 of your citizens, what would you call us?
HASSELBECK: Are we killing their citizens or are their people also killing their citizens?  
O’DONNELL: We’re invading a sovereign nation, occupying a country against the U.N.

I did not see it earlier this week when Rosie and Elisabeth got into a heated debate about this. But, of course, like everyone, I've seen excerpts.

Elisabeth was the one who started the whole thing by continually interrupting Rosie when the original discussion was going on. If she could ever just let Rosie finish saying what the rest of us are thinking there wouldn't have been any issue.

Rosie never called the troops terrorists.

The troops are not terrorists. The troops are a pawn in a war for oil that George Bush wanted to start so badly he lied to congress and the American public to get it going. The troops are just being sent to carry out the war mongering of the administration. The troops families are left to worry and wonder and offer some sort of support, otherwise their loved ones are in harm's way for no real purpose.

As I have said here many times, I DO support the troops. I want them safe. Why those who want them fighting a useless war are "supportive" and those of us who want them home with their families are not, I've never been able to figure out. You want them dying and that's supportive. I want them home and that's unsupportive. huh? I'm completely confused.

Rosie didn't say it, but I will - the real terrorists are the Bush administration. They pushed for this war, knowing there wasn't any real proof of weapons of mass destruction. They manipulated information to get congress to agree and get the public to accept it.

What Rosie says here is the truth - and I believe the truth can always be spoken. We invaded a country with no reason to do so. That does not make our soliders terrorists. It makes those who lied to get us there terrorists.

A terrorist is, by nature, one who induces terror? Do you think Iraqi citizens were terrified when bombs started falling? Let us not forget the first casualty of the Iraqi war was a mother - not a soldier, not a terrorist - just a mother. Note that phrase, "just" a mother. Is that how you feel about your mom? Probably not. It's probably not how her child felt about her either.

One of the things that Americans can just not seem to understand is that people are much the same all over the world. People from all countries bleed and cry and rejoice - just like we do. One of the phrases I hate on news in the US is, "no Americans were hurt," as if American lives are somehow more precious than other lives. People, we are not special.

How would Americans feel if Germany suddenly started dropping bombs on us because they think the way our country is run is wrong? We'd be pretty pissed. We wouldn't be throwing flowers at them, which is one of the most ridiculous ideas I've heard in a long time - that the Bush administration really believed the people who's country we were bombing - at least those who survived - would welcome us with open arms and be throwing flowers at us. When someone is trying to kill you and destroy your country that's not a normal reaction. I'd like to be liberated from the Bush administration too, but I don't want Canada to start dropping bombs on us in order to facilitate that.

So, let me answer the question Rosie asked. Who are the terrorists? The Bush administration.

I know Elisabeth has been brainwashed by this administration, by her church, or by Fox "news" to believe that we are all in imminent danger and that the Bush administration is keeping the terrorists at bay. They always point out there hasn't been another terrorist attack. Well, there weren't any before Bush was in office either. So, if you want to manipulate statistics and draw cause and effect where none exists, chew on that.

We have to be able to speak freely in this country and Elisabeth has as much right to it as Rosie. But, please, lets do try to stick to the facts. Rosie never called the troops terrorists. She was pointing out a basic and important question that needs to be asked and answered by every American before we go to the polls to vote - who are the terrorists.

Your Life Story

How do you tell your life story? Well, researchers now say how you tell the story is important and that there are similarities that are interesting. The New York Times published an article by Benedict Carey on May 22. I provided the link below, but am copying over the story in case they take it down. It's quite fascinating.

This Is Your Life (and How You Tell It)

Published: May 22, 2007

For more than a century, researchers have been trying to work out the raw ingredients that account for personality, the sweetness and neuroses that make Anna Anna, the sluggishness and sensitivity that make Andrew Andrew. They have largely ignored the first-person explanation — the life story that people themselves tell about who they are, and why.

Stories are stories, after all. The attractive stranger at the airport bar hears one version, the parole officer another, and the P.T.A. board gets something entirely different. Moreover, the tone, the lessons, even the facts in a life story can all shift in the changing light of a person’s mood, its major notes turning minor, its depths appearing shallow.

Yet in the past decade or so a handful of psychologists have argued that the quicksilver elements of personal narrative belong in any three-dimensional picture of personality. And a burst of new findings are now helping them make the case. Generous, civic-minded adults from diverse backgrounds tell life stories with very similar and telling features, studies find; so likewise do people who have overcome mental distress through psychotherapy.

Every American may be working on a screenplay, but we are also continually updating a treatment of our own life — and the way in which we visualize each scene not only shapes how we think about ourselves, but how we behave, new studies find. By better understanding how life stories are built, this work suggests, people may be able to alter their own narrative, in small ways and perhaps large ones.

“When we first started studying life stories, people thought it was just idle curiosity — stories, isn’t that cool?” said Dan P. McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern and author of the 2006 book, “The Redemptive Self.” “Well, we find that these narratives guide behavior in every moment, and frame not only how we see the past but how we see ourselves in the future.”

Researchers have found that the human brain has a natural affinity for narrative construction. People tend to remember facts more accurately if they encounter them in a story rather than in a list, studies find; and they rate legal arguments as more convincing when built into narrative tales rather than on legal precedent.

YouTube routines notwithstanding, most people do not begin to see themselves in the midst of a tale with a beginning, middle and eventual end until they are teenagers. “Younger kids see themselves in terms of broad, stable traits: ‘I like baseball but not soccer,’ ” said Kate McLean, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. “This meaning-making capability — to talk about growth, to explain what something says about who I am — develops across adolescence.”

Psychologists know what life stories look like when they are fully hatched, at least for some Americans. Over the years, Dr. McAdams and others have interviewed hundreds of men and women, most in their 30s and older.

During a standard life-story interview, people describe phases of their lives as if they were outlining chapters, from the sandlot years through adolescence and middle age. They also describe several crucial scenes in detail, including high points (the graduation speech, complete with verbal drum roll); low points (the college nervous breakdown, complete with the list of witnesses); and turning points. The entire two-hour session is recorded and transcribed.

In analyzing the texts, the researchers found strong correlations between the content of people’s current lives and the stories they tell. Those with mood problems have many good memories, but these scenes are usually tainted by some dark detail. The pride of college graduation is spoiled when a friend makes a cutting remark. The wedding party was wonderful until the best man collapsed from drink. A note of disappointment seems to close each narrative phrase.

By contrast, so-called generative adults — those who score highly on tests measuring civic-mindedness, and who are likely to be energetic and involved — tend to see many of the events in their life in the reverse order, as linked by themes of redemption. They flunked sixth grade but met a wonderful counselor and made honor roll in seventh. They were laid low by divorce, only to meet a wonderful new partner. Often, too, they say they felt singled out from very early in life — protected, even as others nearby suffered.

In broad outline, the researchers report, such tales express distinctly American cultural narratives, of emancipation or atonement, of Horatio Alger advancement, of epiphany and second chances. Depending on the person, the story itself might be nuanced or simplistic, powerfully dramatic or cloyingly pious. But the point is that the narrative themes are, as much as any other trait, driving factors in people’s behavior, the researchers say.

“We find that when it comes to the big choices people make — should I marry this person? should I take this job? should I move across the country? — they draw on these stories implicitly, whether they know they are working from them or not,” Dr. McAdams said.

Any life story is by definition a retrospective reconstruction, at least in part an outgrowth of native temperament. Yet the research so far suggests that people’s life stories are neither rigid nor wildly variable, but rather change gradually over time, in close tandem with meaningful life events.

Jonathan Adler, a researcher at Northwestern, has found that people’s accounts of their experiences in psychotherapy provide clues about the nature of their recovery. In a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in January, Mr. Adler reported on 180 adults from the Chicago area who had recently completed a course of talk therapy. They sought treatment for things like depression, anxiety, marital problems and fear of flying, and spent months to years in therapy.

At some level, talk therapy has always been an exercise in replaying and reinterpreting each person’s unique life story. Yet Mr. Adler found that in fact those former patients who scored highest on measures of well-being — who had recovered, by standard measures — told very similar tales about their experiences.

They described their problem, whether depression or an eating disorder, as coming on suddenly, as if out of nowhere. They characterized their difficulty as if it were an outside enemy, often giving it a name (the black dog, the walk of shame). And eventually they conquered it.

“The story is one of victorious battle: ‘I ended therapy because I could overcome this on my own,’ ” Mr. Adler said. Those in the study who scored lower on measures of psychological well-being were more likely to see their moods and behavior problems as a part of their own character, rather than as a villain to be defeated. To them, therapy was part of a continuing adaptation, not a decisive battle.

The findings suggest that psychotherapy, when it is effective, gives people who are feeling helpless a sense of their own power, in effect altering their life story even as they work to disarm their own demons, Mr. Adler said.

Mental resilience relies in part on exactly this kind of autobiographical storytelling, moment to moment, when navigating life’s stings and sorrows. To better understand how stories are built in real time, researchers have recently studied how people recall vivid scenes from recent memory. They find that one important factor is the perspective people take when they revisit the scene — whether in the first person, or in the third person, as if they were watching themselves in a movie.

In a 2005 study reported in the journal Psychological Science, researchers at Columbia University measured how student participants reacted to a bad memory, whether an argument or failed exam, when it was recalled in the third person. They tested levels of conscious and unconscious hostility after the recollections, using both standard questionnaires and students’ essays. The investigators found that the third-person scenes were significantly less upsetting, compared with bad memories recalled in the first person.

“What our experiment showed is that this shift in perspective, having this distance from yourself, allows you to relive the experience and focus on why you’re feeling upset,” instead of being immersed in it, said Ethan Kross, the study’s lead author. The emotional content of the memory is still felt, he said, but its sting is blunted as the brain frames its meaning, as it builds the story.

Taken together, these findings suggest a kind of give and take between life stories and individual memories, between the larger screenplay and the individual scenes. The way people replay and recast memories, day by day, deepens and reshapes their larger life story. And as it evolves, that larger story in turn colors the interpretation of the scenes.

Nic Weststrate, 23, a student living in Toronto, said he was able to reinterpret many of his most painful memories with more compassion after having come out as a gay man. He was very hard on himself, for instance, when at age 20 he misjudged a relationship with a friend who turned out to be straight.

He now sees the end of that relationship as both a painful lesson and part of a larger narrative. “I really had no meaningful story for my life then,” he said, “and I think if I had been open about being gay I might not have put myself in that position, and he probably wouldn’t have either.”

After coming out, he said: “I saw that there were other possibilities. I would be presenting myself openly to a gay audience, and just having a coherent story about who I am made a big difference. It affects how you see the past, but it also really affects your future.”

Psychologists have shown just how interpretations of memories can alter future behavior. In an experiment published in 2005, researchers had college students who described themselves as socially awkward in high school recall one of their most embarrassing moments. Half of the students reimagined the humiliation in the first person, and the other half pictured it in the third person.

Two clear differences emerged. Those who replayed the scene in the third person rated themselves as having changed significantly since high school — much more so than the first-person group did. The third-person perspective allowed people to reflect on the meaning of their social miscues, the authors suggest, and thus to perceive more psychological growth.

And their behavior changed, too. After completing the psychological questionnaires, each study participant spent time in a waiting room with another student, someone the research subject thought was taking part in the study. In fact the person was working for the research team, and secretly recorded the conversation between the pair, if any. This double agent had no idea which study participants had just relived a high school horror, and which had viewed theirs as a movie scene.

The recordings showed that members of the third-person group were much more sociable than the others. “They were more likely to initiate a conversation, after having perceived themselves as more changed,” said Lisa Libby, the lead author and a psychologist at Ohio State University. She added, “We think that feeling you have changed frees you up to behave as if you have; you think, ‘Wow, I’ve really made some progress’ and it gives you some real momentum.”

Dr. Libby and others have found that projecting future actions in the third person may also affect what people later do, as well. In another study, students who pictured themselves voting for president in the 2004 election, from a third-person perspective, were more likely to actually go to the polls than those imagining themselves casting votes in the first person.

The implications of these results for self-improvement, whether sticking to a diet or finishing a degree or a novel, are still unknown. Likewise, experts say, it is unclear whether such scene-making is more functional for some people, and some memories, than for others. And no one yet knows how fundamental personality factors, like neuroticism or extraversion, shape the content of life stories or their component scenes.

But the new research is giving narrative psychologists something they did not have before: a coherent story to tell. Seeing oneself as acting in a movie or a play is not merely fantasy or indulgence; it is fundamental to how people work out who it is they are, and may become.

“The idea that whoever appeared onstage would play not me but a character was central to imagining how to make the narrative: I would need to see myself from outside,” the writer Joan Didion has said of “The Year of Magical Thinking,” her autobiographical play about mourning the death of her husband and her daughter. “I would need to locate the dissonance between the person I thought I was and the person other people saw.”

The link is:

Home making

I've been in a real homemaking mood today. Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of someone else paying my bills, so I had to work. What I really wanted to do was clean the kitchen and fold the laundry and dust mop the floors and cook.

Why, you may logically ask, would I want to do those things that are considered drudgery? Because they're good, solid things stable people do and I want to feel like I'm one of those kind of people who do those kinds of things. Because there's a beauty to kitchen counters that gleam and lemonade made with freshly squeezed lemons and a simple syrup boiled in a heavy saucepan. Because there's satisfaction in having the laundry all done - a task that can actually be completed. Because those things give me a sense of control when life feels very out of control.

I did get some of those things in today, but they're not as enjoyable when I'm constantly thinking about the other things the world wants. That list seems to grow exponentially day by day. And it is filled with things that take tremendous energy and brain power and can drag on and on. Sometimes I want to tackle a task that I can actually complete, with a defined beginning, middle and end - like washing the dishes.

But some tasks today gave me an opportunity to be in the moment and appreciate the simplicity of them. I planted a cucumber, an eggplant and some flat parsley. I made an ice ring with lemon slices and mint pulled from my flower bed, frozen in freshly made lemonade. I washed dishes for a bridal shower I'll give in a few weeks. And I thought about how I want to make a living being me. Some days being me means homemaking. And everyday should include some beauty and it is often found in simple things.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Flooding in Hutchinson

This is my mailbox. It used to be on solid ground. Water in some places is up to the middle of car doors.

I'm faring better than some of my neighbors to the east.

We live on a major street, with four lanes, but only one of them is navigable and that's not really a lane so much as it is straddling the middle of the road - even then cars are making big splashes.

And my flowers that were so beautiful this morning are trashed. We've had hail three more times since the initial one.

In case you can't tell, that was a beautiful lambs ear that's now a puddle of light green, beaten to pieces. The pink is what is left of my pinks. The yellow was once a daylily. The speck of purple was salvia. Poor flowers - it's only mid May and they've had frost, snow, hail and a flood. It's not shaping up to be a good year.

Oh... more hail just started. I should get away from windows I suppose.

Hail in Hutchinson

This afternoon we have had one of those storms I dread - a hail storm in Hutchinson, Kansas. As you can tell, we had some significantly sized hail. I just scooped these up out of the yard and took a photo on the porch so they had already melted a little bit.

It came with lots of rain. The white swirls you see on my walkway are hail that is being swept away with the torrent of water toward the sidewalk.

I haven't been able to go look at the car yet, but I'm sure it shows signs of the events. I'm also certain my flowers didn't enjoy this too much. I may have to replant my herbs and tomatoes.

I couldn't even go out to get a photo because it was hailing onto my covered porch. I tried to go out twice before I did, but the hail was pelting my lower legs so hard I couldn't stand to be out. That was on my covered porch. But, as you can see, it accumulated some hail.

I guess there's nothing left to do except call the insurance agents. I don't relish dealing with all that. My guess is I may have some roof damage as well. We'll see.


Some weeks ago I was asked to donate a hand painted journal to an auction. The proceeds are going to help the family of a middle school girl locally who's undergoing treatment for bone cancer.

I'm happy to donate. I'm unhappy that it's necessary.

It makes no sense at all that in a country where people make millions of dollars a year to play basketball or sing songs when they're not busy baring their private parts or pretend to be someone else in a movie or run a company who's main business is to bilk people out of their retirement, that a family in Hutchinson Kansas cannot afford medical treatment for their child. What kind of sense does that make? None. Absolutely none.

I am happy to donate this, but I'm unhappy that it's necessary. The few dollars it will bring at the auction will not make a dent in this family's bills. They're occupied thinking about paying for treatment when all they should be focused on is their child.

The medical system in this country is an embarrassment. It should embarrass all of us that we have not demanded better for ourselves and our communities.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Linens and Other Things

Today I washed the pile of hand-embroidered pillowcases I've amassed over the last couple of months. I hung them out early this evening and they have that wonderful fresh air and sunshine smell to them. I absolutely adore linens dried outside.

I'm just starting to hang things out again. I love the crunch of a towel that has been dried in the wind instead of the dryer. To top it off, they're more absorbent without fabric softener in them, so that's an added bonus.

Tonight was Creative Sisterhood and for the first time in ages all six of us were present. I took the opportunity to use my recently purchased dishes. It is very nice to gather with women I feel connected to.

We will soon celebrate our third year of Creative Sisterhood. It started with me wanting to get a group of women together monthly to gather and share meaningful conversation. I wanted to create a group that would bond but would be different enough to offer multiple levels of interest. I contemplated who to invite for awhile, and tried out different combinations with notes in my journals, until I thought I had the winning group.

From the first night we gathered, the group developed a real personality of its own. It was quite fascinating to watch. By the second time we gathered it would have been impossible for someone new to be added.

I tried to create another group, and pushed the limit of "different" in it and it didn't work. I figured it would be spectacular if it did work, but I didn't have a great deal of hope the bonding would happen.

I have thought a great deal about how these things work and I've drawn some conclusions.
1. Groups must have a "home" - a place where they belong. In this case we gather at my house. I think it needs to be a consistent place, too.
2. I think someone's home is more conducive to a group than a sterile gathering place. There's a different feeling in a home.
3. I think it's good for people to share food together - preferably food someone has prepared themselves, with some intention to share it with people they care about. There's a reason Aunt Betty's pie tastes better than what you get at the corner cafe.

I always bake something for us to share. Tonight it was a lemon poppy seed cake, with orange glaze. I used the rose pan Kim got me for Christmas.

I'm so thankful warm weather has arrived and brought many of my perennials with it. I have bought quite a few plants, but mostly herbs and tomatoes. I've needed very few flowers to add to the front. I need to figure out what to plant so I have plenty of things to cut and bring inside. That's really what I like - to bring them indoors.

I don't really know anything about flower arranging - I just stick things in a vase and let them be "natural." Vases are one of the usual things I'm hunting at goodwill.

Monday, May 21, 2007

El Yunque Rain Forest in Puerto Rico

Almost two years ago - July of 2005 - I went to Puerto Rico. I have been meaning to share some photos with you but just hadn't gotten around to it, other than a brief post shortly after I returned.

Finally, something spurred me into action. Maybe it's that summer is around the corner and that makes the thought of the tropics more uppermost in mind. For whatever reason, I've been looking at photos tonight. I have some nice pix.

These were all taken at El Yunque Rain Forest. I wish I had had more time there, but it was lovely. These views were taken from the top of  the Yokahu Observation Tower.

The tower looks ancient, but it was built in 1962. You can climb the 96 steps and look out where you get these beautiful views of the clouds and the plants and the mixing of the two.

The day we were there it was raining off and on and the others in my group took refuge in the car. I couldn't stand not knowing what I'd see at the top of those stairs. I got very wet when the rain was coming down so hard it was coming through the open areas that serve as windows as you climb the spiral staircase. But I'm glad I persisted because the view was more than worth it.

Frankly, none of these photos do it justice.

In the park area around the tower, the rain gave flowers a dewy look, which I'd noticed earlier during my visit at other places. It rained a lot over the time I was there.

I couldn't resist some closeups of leaves a few days earlier when they were covered with rain drops.

It's the jungle, so there are lots of different kinds of plants and everything is moist and lush.

What you don't get a sense of from the things online about El Yunque is how "civilized" it is overall. I'm certain there are some places where it's more "wild," but you'll have to get off the beaten path to find them. The beaten path is paved over, as a matter of fact.

I was with other people so didn't get to do as much exploring as I would have liked. Most people start at the visitor's center, but my main memory of it is getting a cell phone call that some projects I had going in my house had run into some difficulties. That should tell you two things -
1. I had cell phone signal so it's not the wild jungle you might expect
2. There was nothing there that was keeping my attention sufficiently to keep me from answering the phone

You can see some beautiful scenery, even without getting off the pavement.

I have more photos to share and I'll try to get to them before another two years passes. Looking at all these has made me want to go on a trip again.

Check for the blog, art, and more.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Moon and Venus

The Moon and Venus are putting on a beautiful show tonight. Go outside and look - it's stunning. Greg furnished this fabulous photo. See more of his work at

Quote of the Day

I shall feel bad if I do not write and I shall write bad if I do not live.~ Francoise Sagan

Advertising and My Attention

The world and how we interact with it has changed dramatically in the last few years, and advertising has to change too. Businesses are very slow to change and continue to throw their ad dollars away.

One of the biggest wastes of advertising dollars is yellow pages. You know what I do with the phone book they plop on my porch? I pick it up and take it directly to the recycling bin. I never open it. That $50,000 you just spent to get the back cover ad - wasted. I never saw it, unless it happened to land back side up in the paper recycling bin and I caught a glimpse of it before I dumped the Fingerhut catalog, which I also never look at, on top of it. Just because I buy things through catalogs on occasion does not mean I will buy something from your catalog.

You may be thinking - but where do you get phone numbers? Online, of course. And if you're hard to find online I'll just call your competitor. And, by the way, I want it now. If I have to order it, I'll just order it online instead of having you do it for me. So how could you get me interested in your phone book? If it were digital and would easily dump into my PDA. Then you could get my attention. Or, if you were giving me a list of cell numbers instead of land lines. I call very few people on their land lines. I have one and never even answer it. I should just have it disconnected, I just never seem to get around to doing it.

Of course, you could argue that I'm not your customer, and that may be true. But I am a person with some income, with which I purchase goods and services, so I'm someone's customer. But you're going to have to be a little more savvy if you want me to be yours.

The trick is to figure out how to get to me. Where do I put my attention? Well, generally places where you can't find me easily. I listen to radio, but I also listen to podcasts. I read news online. I do watch some television, but I'm a button pusher - changing channels or fast forwarding. I read magazines and that's probably one of the best mainstream ways to get to me. To top it off, magazines are very niche marketed.

That's the reason they often ask what magazines you subscribe to - it says something about who you are. If you're reading sports magazines or decorating magazines or science magazines it all says something about who you are and what you're about. I suppose I could do marketers a favor and share the list of what I subscribe to here, but I don't know that I'm feeling that generous.

Oh, what the heck - it's the weekend - let me see if I can remember them all... in no particular order:
Mary Englebreit's Home Companion
Martha Stewart Living
Oprah's O Magazine
Cottage Living
Midwest Living
Scientific American Mind
National Geographic Adventure
The Crisis (NAACP Magazine)
Sierra Club Magazine
AAA Magazine
Smart Money
Taste of Home
This Old House

Others I subscribe to off and on:
House Beautiful
Country Living
Southern Living
New Yorker
National Geographic
Travel and Leisure
Bon Appetit

OK, so, what do you know about me now? Well, it's obvious I'm not a sports fan. I did one time have a subscription to Golf Digest but it was a computer error. You can tell I'm not into cars, although at the same time I had a subscription to Road and Track - also a computer error. I had a bf at the time who took those off my hands.

But, you can probably deduce that I am into my house, that I have some interest in cooking, decorating and travel. You probably have a sense of my politics to some degree. You might also figure that I'm into investing because of Smart Money. That would not be true. I'm trying to make myself think it's fun, though. Elle is also an anomaly - I got a great deal on it and thought I'd see what it was like. There are some interesting articles in there, but they're surrounded by so much shallow crap it's hard to find them. Even if I had their bodies, I wouldn't dress myself like Lindsey and Paris, I have better taste.You might also guess I'm interested in science and news, which is true.

Truth be told I got a great deal on Time, or I wouldn't be subscribing to it. I do enjoy it, but it's overpriced. Especially these days when magazines make their money from advertising - they could give away the product, but they need the subscription numbers so they can charge more for the advertising. That's why you can get magazines for about $1 each by subscription - or often far less. You're part of the numbers game.

So, the big question is how do you get to me, or others like me? If you send me text messages you just piss me off, and the same with email spam. If you call me on my home phone, which you shouldn't do because I'm on the no-call list, I'll be even more pissed off. If you call me on my cell phone, I'll be beyond pissed. The message? Don't involve the phone in selling me something - it pisses me off. The phone is reserved for my friends and family.

How about the mail? You might have better luck with me that way, but let me just say that I have a shredder and a recycling bin within arms reach when I open the mail. And if you're just sending me a paper bill - that will piss me off too - I'm paying it automatically or online anyway so why are you cluttering my mail box? You're wasting paper, killing trees, harming the environment, spending the money I'm paying you wastefully by buying postage and paper, not to mention the manpower involved. All it tells me when you send me paper there's no reason to send is that you are out of touch with the modern world and likely to be gone in a few years. I might as well cast my lot with another company that's more on top of things.

I spend a lot of time online, but rarely do I pay any attention to online ads with the exception of Google ads on people's pages, which are generally very targeted to content. I read blogs and if someone I read regularly writes about a product in a genuine way - not a blog whore way - I am likely to pay attention. It's the modern equivalent of word of mouth advertising, which we all know is the most effective.

You might get to me with POP - that's "point of purchase" for those of you whose minds are not littered with advertising terms. That means those cool in-store displays, where they're encouraging you to try their crackers because some celebrity I've probably not heard of has their head on a cutout. If you have a NASCAR person on your display I'm not even going to look at your product because you've already told me it's not something I'm interested in by your choice of spokesperson. Put a nice grand motherly type up there holding a plate of crackers and I might give it a second look.

If you say something on the packaging that impresses me I might try your product. I'm what's called an "innovator" and an "early adopter," which makes advertising people drool. The terms came from a book in the 60s where a guy named Rogers wrote about the "diffusion of innovation." It's often used to apply to technology now, but the terms can be used in any field.

What it means for advertising is that I'm the kind of person who will buy something and try it out, even if I've never heard anything about it before. This is very, very, very exciting to people who are paid to introduce new products. After I try it out, I'll tell others about it. This makes advertisers drool even more.

The trick is, you have to get my attention, and therein lies the rub. Like everything, the population is spread out over a bell curve. There are very few innovators, a few more early adopters, but they are the left edge of the bell curve that the five categories spread out over and we're rare - even put together we're a smaller segment of the population than any of the other three categories.

How else do you get my attention? Well, an oldie but a goodie - you put your message where I'm likely to go and see it. Flyers in a store I frequent will get my attention. Tent cards in a restaurant I go to will be something I see. Well placed online advertising will get me. Someone telling me about it will do the trick - particularly if it's email or some other medium I'm using every day.

I'm thinking about this more and more, because I know that so many of the traditional ways to reach people don't reach me most of the time. And I know there are lots of people like me out there. So, I'm trying to figure out how I would advertise to myself. It's an interesting exercise. I recommend it as a process. Please share your thoughts as I'm trying to gather information.

Friday, May 18, 2007

New Things

Well, today I have been introduced to an antibiotic I've never heard of before - Avelox. It is used to treat bacterial infections of the lung and sinus - it sounds like just what I need - I certainly hope so.

This morning I woke up with a little tightness in my chest. Again. I decided not to give it the weekend to grow more little bugs and went to the doctor. This is round FOUR of antibiotics in the last month. He also gave me some Singular so I can breathe a little better.

As the day has progressed I've gotten more and more congested so I'm glad I just went to the doctor instead of waiting to see how I felt in a few days.

I know... wah, wah, wah. I hate it when people blog endlessly about their various illnesses and here I am doing it... and it's not like this is even an exciting or exotic illness... quite mundane. I'll find something more interesting to write about later - like that's a high hurdle to overcome. Maybe I'll just google and steal someone else's blog entry like people steal mine.

OK, not really. Well, I mean I wouldn't steal someone else's entry. People do steal mine on occasion, which I find rather pathetic. I'm living my life and I know it's not that exciting and they're stealing info about it - tres pathetique. Is that the correct French spelling? I guess if I were more up on my FTM I'd know that.

However, I'm pretty confident no one will steal this entry. If they do that will be beyond pathetic. But, I feel better after blathering on for a while about not feeling well so I guess it was worthwhile. I think I'll feel even better after a quick little nap so upstairs I go.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Nice Normal Day

Today was a nice, normal day - some work, some fun, some friends, some outdoors, some conversation. Daily life is something we just don't fully appreciate most of the time. I try to remain thankful at all times, but sometimes it's easy to let life just happen without taking note of it.

But, today I made a conscious effort to be thankful. I was very thankful I got a good report at the dentist. I am one of those people who has a small fortune invested in dental work so hearing the dentist say I do not need to give him more money is always reason for celebration. As I wrote the $135 check for today's cleaning, bite-wing xrays and exam I was thankful to not have to do that again soon.

I continued dispensing money at various locales including buying gasoline. It was $3.09 for a few days and I was hoping it would go down. Two days ago it went up to $3.19. I decided my waiting method wasn't working out too well and filled up. How is it that while we're fighting a war for oil I keep paying more at the pump? Frankly, I don't pay too much attention to it - I drive until my car needs gas then I stop and fill up with gas. I drive again until I need gas and repeat the procedure. I am just not going to drive out of my way to buy gas at a penny less a gallon.

Late today I went and got more plants. I bought three more tomato plants and some more herbs. I also got cilantro, coriander and French tarragon and a couple of additional flowers. I think I need to make notes about when things are blooming and such. This must be why people keep garden notebooks.

My "garden notebook" consists of a composition book I painted (which looks very cool by the way) and then taped in the little pegs that tell you what flower is what. I'll admit, it's not much of a system. But, it's something. I did that last year. Well, with most of the things. I did just toss out some little pegs when it was winter and I still hadn't gotten it done. But, as I look at my flower bed I see the wisdom in knowing what came up and what didn't. I grow more fond of perennials by the moment.

Of course, it would be more logical to do that on computer I guess - just taking periodic snapshots. If I could just find a few more hours in each day I could get all these little things done that I think about doing. Honest to goodness, I'm not a person who takes much down time now - it's not like I'm sitting around doing nothing.

The funniest part of the day - when I got in the car today there was this high pitched whine. I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. I searched the glove compartment. I looked around the car. I even looked under the hood. It was just this faint whine. When Greg and I went out to Stutzman's and Dutch Kitchen tonight he heard it for the first time. He looked a little bit. He couldn't find it. So, we're leaving Dutch Kitchen and he opens the console and it's suddenly much louder. He roots around in there and pulls out my pedometer, who's battery was going down apparently. Mystery solved.

I slept last night for the first time in ages where I felt really rested. I woke up a bunch of times, but overall I felt like it was a deep sleep. I think I've dreamed about tornadoes every night since Greensburg was hit. I haven't been having nightmares or anything, but it's a recurring theme. Not surprising, considering we were there. It left an impression, obviously.

I had a busy, busy, busy day - everything from a conference call to my board meeting with dozens of other things tossed in for good measure. It ended with dinner at about 9:30 tonight. After dinner I went to Wal-mart to buy bananas and after selecting my bunch was nearly mowed down by an employee running to the front door. When I turned toward the front, I saw three other employees - all management types with ties - also running to the front door. The guy stocking produce was looking toward the front door and employees were streaming from all parts of the store toward the front door. I asked what the deal was and the produce guy told me someone tried to steal something and they always try to get a license plate number when that happens.

I hauled my bananas, strawberries and pears up to checkout where I questioned the checker even more. Apparently the guy tried to steal a computer. Greg was waiting in the car and said the guy was running really fast when he noticed him. I don't know if the woman at the door caught him or what, but it was quite the extra excitement. What can I say? I live in small town America. Things are quiet here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bedside Meetings

I'm always suspicious of bedside meetings - you know, those times when someone is so ill that people have to gather at their bedside to get their approval, opinion, blessing, fill-in-the-blank. It's never a good idea and I'm always suspicious of the people gathering 'round the bed. They're generally trying to take advantage of someone who's too ill to think clearly.

I used to work with a woman who when her husband's aunt was dying had the attorney draw up new papers giving her and her husband the vacation home the aunt had verbally promised her.

My guess is the aunt had promised her something to get her to shut up, a technique those of us who worked with her could only dream of pressing into action. There was no such luck for us. So we had to listen to her justify having the aunt sign the papers on her death bed for the remaining six days of her life. And frankly, "justify" is a bit strong - that would imply she felt like it wasn't completely appropriate - she felt it was the only normal thing to do.

I'll just fast forward to the part of the story where the husband left her for a woman a third his age, and got possession of the vacation house at the same time. While he was no prize, he at least didn't show up at his aunt's bedside with a new will for her to sign before she died. Maybe only because he had a wife to do it for him, but for whatever reason, he didn't dirty himself that way. Which is just as well, because he was plenty nasty already. I see him around town every once in awhile, and wonder if the current wife knows her days are numbered.

She'll be gone, too, as soon as he meets someone younger who wants to enjoy the vacation home. Then he'll have an affair with her and get divorced and marry her instead. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is an opportune time for me to mention one of the obvious rules of relationships - If he cheats with you, he'll cheat on you. Write it down, ladies, it's a rule to live by. Frankly, write it down, gentleman, it's just as true for women.

Well, you may be wondering where I'm going with this meandering jaunt about bedside meetings. Well, my friend, Mark sent me an AP story this morning about yet another bedside meeting where, yet again, someone was trying to take advantage of an ill person.

And, here's another tip - when even John Ashcroft is iffy on it, don't go there - not at the bedside or anywhere else - just say "no."


White House pushed Ashcroft on wiretaps

By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press

President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program was so questionable that a top Justice Department official refused for a time to reauthorize it, sparking a battle with top White House officials at the bedside of an ailing attorney general, a Senate panel was told Tuesday.

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that he refused to recertify the program because Attorney General John Ashcroft had reservations about its legality just before falling ill with pancreatitis in March 2004.

Comey, the acting attorney general during Ashcroft's absence, said then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card responded by trying to get Ashcroft to sign the recertification from his bed at George Washington University Hospital.

During that dramatic meeting, also attended by Comey, Ashcroft lifted his head off the pillow and appeared reluctant to sign the document, pointing out that Comey held the powers of the office.

Gonzales and Card then left the hospital room, Comey said.

"I was angry," Comey told the panel. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general."

The hospital room confrontation had been previously reported, but this was the first time Comey has spoken about it publicly.

Monday, May 14, 2007

I snapped this photo the other day when Greg and I were headed out in the country to interview someone for the Greensburg story. Obviously, they were not in town. I loved the view because there were no utility poles on either side. It's so rare to find that anymore - even in the country.

The artist in me loves the vanishing point on the horizon. The graphic designer in me wants to slap copy in the sky so the road is pointing to it. Mark Twain had it right when he said our experience colors our view.

I have spent the day working on a variety of projects. I've been multi-tasking at a rate that's unusual even for me and I am a multi-tasker extraordinaire. I also did a number of things today that I've been putting off. It's good to have them out of the way. Of course, I still have more to do. For some reason there are just things I always want to put off. I've let some pile up and have got to slog through them - some of them are pretty important things to get done.

I'm getting ready for the MHA Garden Tour and there are a ton of details to handle. I also have some freelance things to get out of the way. I've been doing MHA stuff day and night the last couple of days to get caught up. But when I do that then I'm behind on the other things so it's a vicious cycle. And there are still a long list of things I want to do that don't fall into either of those categories - work on my house, paint, sew, crochet, cook, etc. etc. etc.

And I need to plant. I bought some herbs the other day and they're still sitting in their little containers in a box lid on the front porch. I got some basil, lemon balm, chives, dill, lavendar, thyme and one tomato plant. I'm going to plant more tomatoes but that was the only one they had that looked really good. I bought three basil plants this year. Last year I had two but I discovered that basil is very popular and easy to give away so thought I'd get an extra one this year. My parsley and oregano survived from last year. I haven't ever grown dill but I'm really hoping it does well. The same with chives. I bought two lavendar plants. I'm going to put one in the front and one in the back. I've never had much luck with it so hopefully I'll find a place it likes this time.

The mint in the front flowerbed is growing like mad. I have to go pull it out periodically so it doesn't choke out other things. When I did that yesterday I discovered my calla lillies are coming up, which I'm thrilled about. I adore calla lillies. I've been running the mint down the garbage disposal to scent it when I have to discard some. Of course, I've also been using it in ice water and it's a lovely addition.

I will have to go shop for some more tomato plants. I love, love, love tomato basil soup made with fresh ingredients. Nothing like some tomato soup with pesto mixed in. mmmmm mmmmmmm good.

Google Earth images of Greensburg, Kansas

I had a comment from Mike and Kelly who pointed me to the following site where you can see before and after Google Earth images of Greensburg, Kansas. It's quite amazing to see.

Thanks, Mike and Kelly.

Working Weekend

I have worked most of the weekend. Yesterday I finished a radio piece about the Greensburg tornado and today I have been working on MHA things as well as some writing I promised would be in email at 8 a.m. Monday.

It's hard to believe this month is half over. Somehow I have missed the last couple of weeks. That usually means I'm not living as intensely as I should so I must address that.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

As if on cue, my white rose bush has put forth some buds in honor of Mother's Day. In the south, you wear white roses in your Mother's Day corsage if your mother is dead and red roses if your mother is living.

I always ordered my mom a corsage with three roses because she had three children. I don't know if people still do that sort of thing, but I certainly hope so. Mother's Day was always a day when the church was full, with children visiting from near and far.

We buried my mother six years ago today. It was a beautiful spring day, just like she loved. She had just turned 82 a few weeks earlier.

This photo was taken the day we celebrated her 80th birthday with a community wide celebration. It was May 8, 1999 - the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend, held at the Barlow house, a historic home in Barlow, Ky. We had not been able to do it near her birthday on April 24 because the house was unavailable. We made that decision early on and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because she broke her hip at the end of January that year and had just gotten rid of the walker the day before her birthday party. That, of course, did not deter her from wearing her usual high heels with her dress.

I hope you have a wonderful Mother's Day. 

Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 11

Today is the six year anniversary of my mother's death. Each of the previous five years I have made it a point to commemorate the day in some way and to be doing something I love. One of the greatest gifts my mother gave me was teaching me to be happy, so on the day of her death it seemed important to honor that by doing something that made me happy.

The first year after her death I was in Paris. I went to Notre Dame that morning and at 11:32 - the exact moment of her death given the time change - I was staring at stained glass in Notre Dame and saying a prayer. I spent more than an hour there, crying, praying and healing. Afterwards I went to Angelina's and had my favorite chicken curry salad for lunch and finished off with their famous hot chocolate. I then walked down to Catherine's, my favorite perfume store in Paris, and shopped. It was a lovely way to commemorate the day.

In other years I went to Quivira, Amarillo and Santa Fe/TaosLast year I was at the artist's retreat in Ohio. Each of these has been a different kind of spiritual experience. I have always believed in what I call "geographic therapy" and it does well by me.

Last year I decided that it would be my last year to commemorate in exactly that way - that five years was enough - that I must learn to cope without travel. After making that decision I realized that this year the days of the week would fall the same way - she died on Friday, May 11 and we buried her on Sunday, May 13 - Mother's Day. The days and dates are the same this year. So, it seemed like a starting over in a way, a good time to take a fresh approach.

I also realized that this day is of importance only to me. Even the first year when I was traveling with someone, I went to Notre Dame alone, I went to lunch alone, I wrote alone. Grief is private for me, but not because I don't want to share, but because others don't treat it respectfully. To be involved with a person's passing from this world is an honor, and should be treated as such. I refuse to share that with anyone who doesn't give that the respect it's due.

The morning my mother died I drove to the hospital where my brother, Jim, had been with my mom. He called my other brother's house, where I was staying, telling us the end was near. We had known the end was close and I was just getting ready to go out the door when the phone rang. I had wanted to go early that day because we thought it might be the last one. So, we drove the 30 minutes to the hospital.

Greg asked if I wanted him to drive and I said, "no, I would make it or not - whatever was meant to be." When we arrived Jim was waiting in the parking lot for us and no words needed to be spoken - I knew she was gone. Jim and I embraced and cried while Greg looked on. He told me later it was the most genuine emotion he'd ever seen from people.

All three of us were blessed to adore our mother, and at the end of her life we all filled different roles. None of us cared which of us was with her when she died, but we wanted someone to be there. We took shifts and someone stayed with her around the clock the last few days. I've often thought Jim was the perfect one to be with her at the end. He was strong enough to tell her it was OK to let go, something that needed to be done. I hope I would have been strong enough to do it, but I don't know that I would have been. Things work out the way they are supposed to and Jim was with her when she passed and she went very peacefully after he told her she didn't need to hold on for us. I've been so very thankful he was there to do that. We all just wanted her to be comfortable and peaceful. What more can you hope for?

I was hoping to share a photo of my white roses in honor of Mother's Day, but with the late frost I don't have any blooms yet. So, I snapped a couple of pix of my mini pink roses today. I thought this one the perfect one to share since it has three roses, each in a different stage - just like life.

If you are fortunate enough to still have a mother here, take this opportunity to tell her you love her.

Related Posts:

Remembering Mama

I am No One's Daughter

Real Life (scroll down - second post on page)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Greensburg Kansas Tornado Pictures

I have spent the last couple of days working in Greensburg, Kansas for Landline Now on XM Satellite Radio. They hired me to produce some radio reports for them about the tornado and its effect on truckers and their business. I was fortunate I could take a couple of days vacation in order to do this freelance work. One piece ran today and there are more to come. I snapped some photos and will share more here in the coming days.

Frankly, the devastation of the town cannot truly be captured in words, pictures or video. It is mind boggling. The intersection of Main Street and Highway 54 has a huge pile of rubble, more than a story high, with a piece of farm equipment perched on top of it upside down.

Official estimates are that 95% of the town is gone. I don't know where the other 5% is that's supposedly OK. We were all over town, and I saw nothing that was undamaged. There are structures that are upright, but I saw nothing that wasn't damaged in some way.

A couple of blocks from that intersection, across from the grain bin, which is standing although it has damage, was a sight that became commonplace - a light pole snapped off. This pole was not much taller than I am and showed the distinctive look all of the ones I saw had - the splintered top, splayed outward.

Utility crews were working at a frantic pace and I'm amazed at all they've accomplished. The mayor said yesterday that Greensburg is going to have a whole new town and it's not hard to believe when you see all the new poles and cable going in, as well as other signs of hope. The bank was open yesterday - under a tent in front of the damaged building. Everywhere people are sifting through their belongings, looking for anything worthwhile or precious. Some businesses are starting to show signs of life as well, even without roofs.

The resilience of people is astonishing. People's homes have been turned inside out - literally - and they're going through their lives in plain view of everyone - and yet you hear laughter. Yes, laughter. People are laughing with their neighbors. They're hugging. They're gathering on street corners to share their survival stories. And they're celebrating. Yes, celebrating. They're alive. Their children are alive. Their neighbors are alive. Of course, lives were lost, and you also hear people acknowledging that.

Throughout town are flags - draped over rubble and flying high. They're bright punches of color in a landscape that has been stripped of much of its color. Grass is covered with rubble, flowers have disappeared, and trees have been denuded of bark and leaves.

Trees all over town are sheared off at the top. The bark has been pulled from them and deposited somewhere. Everyone is struck by different things in a disaster, but one of the most disturbing things I saw were places where a house was gone - literally - just taken away with very little left behind other than the foundation. Those folks can't even go through what's left of their homes - the entire home has disappeared.

On one corner, there's a tree that has been stripped of its bark on one side but not the other. The house on the corner is completely missing - a few boards and a foundation, but nothing else. It's the only one in sight where this is the case although all the others are damaged.

It's so poignant it's heartbreaking, because for the residents of Greensburg this is now just daily life - at least for now - the sorting through of their lives. And they are rising to the occasion, as are the National Guard, firefighters, EMS workers, and volunteers of every imaginable kind.

There are signs of optimism everywhere - and humor. Signs proclaim properties are "For Sale" or "Newly Remodeled, Skylights Installed."  Teddy bears are perched on what's left of stairs and Santa is overlooking Main Street from his second story vantage point.

Across the street from Santa is what's left of Hunter Drug, which featured a beautiful old soda fountain. The spigots are still visible in the rubble. I had an email the other day from someone who told me their grandfather started Hunter Drug. I have asked them to share some stories of him and the early years of Hunter Drug here on the blog. I hope they will do so.

Mother Nature's power is not to be minimized. We humans can build our worlds very carefully and she can destroy them in a few minutes. One of the gentlemen I spoke with said it lasted 20 minutes and then it was over. It took years to build and minutes to destroy a town. The Greensburg Tornado left its mark.

I cannot truly capture what it was like to walk around there - it felt like Holy Ground. What you're seeing seems impossible to believe. The brain does not want to process it. It doesn't fit anything you know about how a town is supposed to look.

It was an honor to be among these people working to reclaim their lives. I'm thankful for those who allowed me to share their stories, I am humbled by them.

Check for the blog, art, and more.