Saturday, July 17, 2010

Time Passages

[Note: This is the first in a projected occasional series of posts about my family history.]

I've always thought one of the most formative aspects of my childhood as well as one of the more interesting things about me was my parents' age. You see, my parents were older than the parents of my peers. 

Today it's not unusual for a woman to have her first child at age 33. It's not even unusual for a man to have a child a couple months before his 50th birthday, especially a child by a second marriage. But in 1955 that was a little late for people to start a family. 

The story of how my parents met and fell in love and so forth is a story for another post. But mom and dad had independent lives before they met, and they got a rather late start in the business of raising a family.

Dad plowed fields with horses. He remembered when tractors and cars first appeared in rural Nebraska. He remembered the horrors of the influenza epidemic of 1918 And in settling down late he was following a family tradition. Both his father and grandfather had also married and had their families later than usual. Paul was born in 1870. And Dad's grandfather George was born in 1826. 

Think about it. You may know, or have known, one of your great grandparents. John Quincy Adams was president of the United States when George Hanson was born. 

Dad's mother Linna's brothers and father served in the Civil War. And her daughter Pauline's husband John served in World War I.

On my mother's side, I reach back into history due to her large, close extended family. We were close to her aunts and uncles. Her father Bob and several of her uncles served in WWI as well. And my mother's three oldest brothers served in WWII.

So the stories told around our family tale were of a different time. We heard stories of several generations of a family of immigrants living together. Of young married women with children of their own shocked to realize their mother was pregnant. Of young men going to travel in Turkey or fight in Europe when it took weeks to get to those places. Of the Great Depression. Of a mother newly arrived in the US, suddenly widowed, raising her children on her own. Of people moving and visiting and staying in touch. Of people falling out of touch and sometimes reconnecting years later. 

The stories I heard gave me an appreciation of family and taught me that -- sometimes shortly and sometimes over the course of decades -- things generally work out. Bitter feuds can be mended; sad estrangements can end. Decisions that seem foolish today turn out OK. And family endures.

Today, my family is greatly reduced. My only close relative is my sister Linna whom I don't see as often as I'd like. But she and I have shared memory and history that bind us more tightly than bands of steel. We are estranged from our brother Paul but maybe someday we'll see him again. 

I have extended family. They are scattered and I don't see them often. But the funny thing is this. Family still endures. In moving to South Carolina I'm now closer to a couple cousins here in the Eastern US, so maybe our paths will cross again.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cat Tales

Most of the fathers I've known are pretty tough cookies when it comes to buying gifts. They don't have a long list of wants, and the usual ties/coffee mugs/tools are just so much clutter for many dads. 

The father in my life right now is Frank's father, also Frank Young. He's a really fine man and a great guy, and he's been so very good to me over the last few months. I've usually been able to find good presents for him in the past, and I wanted something special for him for Father's Day. I was chatting with my mother-in-law, Melinda, and she came up with a great idea. 

They'd been thinking about getting a second cat for awhile. Melinda and Frank are both cat people. Their cat, Monty, is a pedigreed Siamese. He acts -- and is treated -- like the lord of the manor. I've said several times my ambition in life is to be reincarnated as one of Frank's cats. 

Now, Frank is about the biggest Dean Martin fan on earth, so Melinda came up with a brilliant idea: "We'd" get a tuxedo kitten for Frank, and we'd call him Dino. She was the brains behind this idea. The execution was now up to me. 

Well, finding Dino was quite an adventure. We call him the 400 mile cat, because that's about how far I drove in my quest for him. I searched a couple on-line databases for tuxedo kittens and the cats I found ran the gamut of adoptability. 

Melinda and I figured that this would be a good time of year to find a kitten. Well, yes and no. The shelters and rescues I first contacted were so strict in their adoption policies that getting a Top Secret clearance would have been easier than adopting one of their cats. And I know what I'm talking about because I've observed the Top Secret clearance application process. 

One woman wanted to do a home visit which would have involved a 120 mile round-trip drive for her. And the cat is question -- while a tuxedo -- was over a year old, and has a rare heart murmur. Adopting him involved agreeing to take him to Charleston annually to have an ultrasound so some vet could study his condition. Um, no thanks. Why doesn't the vet adopt him, or at least help place him somewhere near Charleston?

One rescue had picked out "my kitten" before I visited them, and already had plans for his cage as soon as they could get me out the door. Again, their idea of a kitten and mine were a bit different, since this cat was clearly fully-grown and was so shy even the foster dad couldn't hold him.

Finally, I found a listing in a County shelter a mere 40 miles from me. They're open from 3:00 pm until 6:00 pm only, so there was no way to contact them by phone. I drove to the shelter and, guess what? He wasn't there. Oh, he was still available, but they were fostering him an additional 50 miles farther away. Nevertheless, he still sounded promising, so a couple days later I set out again to see him. By now it was the Friday before Father's Day and time was running out. This kitten was the last chance I had. 

Luckily he turned out to be Dino. He was, oddly, being fostered at a dog kennel. He was racing around like a mad thing every time a dog barked, but who could blame him. And clearly he had no fear of the dogs, so I thought he'd stand up to Monty. So, I delivered him and he is just what Melinda and Frank wanted. He's super cute, about 8 weeks old, and a bundle of kitten energy. He's got great tuxedo markings, and the tip of his long tail is white. As I expected, he shows no fear around Monty, and he's already making himself at home.
Of course, I'm on Monty's list forever for bringing this interloper into his domain. And Monty WILL have his revenge. Turns out Melinda and Frank are going away for a week in July and guess where Monty and Dino will be staying . . . I figure it will be like Vacation Bible School. We'll do crafts -- building birdhouses springs to mind -- make s'mores and sing around the campfire. Or maybe we'll just sit and watch the birds outside, run around the house like lunatics and nap a good deal.

Fred, as you can imagine, is not amused.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


I see it's been about a month since I last posted. I can't believe I've been so negligent, especially since so much has been going on with the house.

First, the house, to all intents and purposes, is done. I've made my final payment to the contractor who, all in all, did a great job for me. There are a half dozen very minor items on my punch list which he will take care of on Friday.

The electrician still needs to do a few things including put the connectors on my internet lines. But since my friend John helped me order and install a wireless router the hard-wired internet outlets are something of a moot point. The router works just fine, and I can use wireless anywhere in the house. I can even connect to it on my iPhone, although I can't use the phone in my iPhone.

I've installed my land line phone, after a brief kerfuffle over the serving CO and getting the cable laid across my property. I have ordered DirecTV and it's due to be installed tomorrow. This will be the first time I've ever had anything other than broadcast TV, so this will be a treat for me.

Today I ordered a sofa for my den. This is the sofa. And the fabric.

My mother in law helped me pick it out. I ordered some pillows in a wild, coordinating fabric that will really perk up the room.

Yesterday I found a cat to adopt. He was given up by an elderly man who was going into assisted living. He's a 7 year old male and seems very friendly. He was taken to a local county shelter where they would have put him down. Luckily the vet they called said she thought she could place him. He's been in her office for a couple weeks, and I think he'll be glad to be in a home and be the only animal here. I will pick him up tomorrow. I am naming him Fred after Georg Friedrich Handel. His coloring is pure Siamese, but he's beefier and shorter than a Siamese. 

Lastly, I have been unpacking, sorting, purging and organizing my stuff box by box. I'd say I'm about half way through, with plenty still to unpack. But it's getting done. It's getting done.

The important thing is that the guest room is ready for guests, so when your travels bring you my way, I will have a warm welcome ready for you.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Living Color

I'm pleased to report that the house is proceeding on-track. It's still looks like I'll be able to move in within a week or ten days. 

Every time I visited the place this week the drive was packed with trucks belonging to workers tiling my kitchen back splash, doing the finish electrical work, and painting. And I use the term "workers" advisedly The painter even had his wife there for a couple days. He says she's almost as good with a paintbrush as he is!

I'm including chips from the Sherwin Williams website so you can get a more accurate idea of the colors. My photos are pretty dark The living room, dining room and kitchen are painted Lagoon. It's a fairly deep tealy-green, and is a lighter shade of the same color as the exterior of the house. 

My bedroom and the guest room are Vesper Violet, a medium-value grayed violet. I have no clue about the intended purpose of the electrical outlet half-way up the wall in my bedroom. I will say that this house absolutely will not lack electrical outlets. Frank ordered PLENTY of them!

I plan to use grass green and yellow as accents in the bedrooms -- more green in my room and more yellow in the guest room. My father-in-law says he won't sleep in a "purple" bedroom, but I'm hopeful my other men friends are more sanguine. 

The studio is Daydream, a shade lighter of the same grayed violet as the bedrooms.

My bedroom in California was a violet so pale it was almost white. I liked the color and decided to amp it up for this house. 

I'm fearless with colors in my quilts but for some reason  I'm timid with paint colors in my house. I'm trying to be more bold; we'll see in the fullness of time how successful I've been.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Biggest Quilting Tool in the World

Chances are that if you have a hobby you've noticed this phenomenon: Tools specifically marketed to hobbyists are more expensive than the same tool marketed to the general public. Cycling socks? If regular socks cost $7, cycling socks cost $20. Model railroad board? If a sheet of regular plywood costs $12, a sheet of model railroad board costs twice as much and is one-fourth the size. You can buy a package of a dozen spring hairclips at the dollar store for, well, a dollar. A package of 30 of identical clips, packaged by Wright for quilters to use when binding a quilt, retails for $7.00.

As a quilter I'm always on the lookout for tools in unlikely places. Often tools purchased at the dollar store or at Home Depot will be cheaper and will work better than tools made especially "for quilters". Need to label your blocks or stabilize them for signatures? A roll of masking tape ($2.00) will do the trick nicely. Need an unusual template? A window shop will cut a piece of acrylic in the shape of a bunny or an acorn for a buck or two. Need a guide for stitching that perfect 1/4" seam? A little stack of Post-It notes from Office Depot will handle that task easily.

So you can bet I'm patting myself on the back. I've just acquired the largest quilting tool in the world and it was absolutely free. It's the vinyl floor in my new studio. You can see the pattern is a black and white checkerboard. The squares are 9". When I need to block a quilt, or measure a piece of fabric, or pin-baste a quilt sandwich, this grid will keep things nice and square. 

Of course, the floor wasn't free, but it didn't cost anything extra for this pattern. So I'm calling it free.

Oh, and the studio is 15' x 30'. I think it's fair to call a 450 square foot floor the largest quilting tool in the world -- until someone challenges me for the title.

By the way, if you want to keep a pair of thread snips handy to your machine, do what my friend Mattie does. Pick up a key coil. Thread your machine's cord through the ring, and fasten the clip to your scissors. Voila! Your snips will always be at your fingertips.

In the latest news on the house, the interior painting began today, and the finish and trip work progresses. Tomorrow I'll be shopping for mirrors, towel bars and such for the bathrooms.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

I'm Floored, or At Least The House Is!

Yes, it's true. The hardwood floors are stained, sealed and varnished, and the vinyl flooring is laid in the studio. And last Tuesday the Silestone fabricator measured and made the templates for the countertops; he said they'd take no more than two weeks to make and install.

This week I hope to see:
  • the baseboard molding installed
  • the bathroom cabinets (which have integral sinks) installed
  • the interior painted

I think then the final steps of the construction will be installation of the kitchen countertops, the light fixtures and fans, the toilets and the appliances.

I have an appointment for the delivery of my studio furniture on Thursday. I'm going to shop for the guest room mattresses on Monday. And I'll call the antique dealer to ask him to deliver the guest room beds this week as well.  

My mother-in-law and I are mapping out our moving and move-in strategy. 

I've given notice to the woman who rents me a room that I'll be moving out the weekend of May 15. Keep your fingers crossed for me that we have no slips in the schedule!

Friday, April 23, 2010

In the Kitchen

My antsy-ness to get the house done continues, but so does progress on the house. The hot news this week is that the kitchen cabinets are in and they are gorgeous!

I wanted the cabinets to go all the way to the ceiling, but I read in a design blog that solid cabinet doors would look too "monumental". They suggested putting a second, shorter bank of cabinets with glass doors up near the ceiling. And that's what I did. I can put my fancy/pretty stuff up top. It won't be used as often so it's OK that I'll have to get out a ladder to access the upper cabinets. The space on the right against the far wall is where my fridge will go. The "window" on the left is a pass-through into the dining room.

I believe we'll be measuring for the Silestone counter-tops next week. 

The tile has been grouted. The air conditioner has been installed.

We had a bit of a delay this week caused by discussions between the painter and the contractor about whether the floors should be finished before the interior is painted, or vice-versa. Finally they determined the floors should be done first. The sanding is occurring as we speak.

Today my wonderful father-in-law brought up the boxes he built for my Square-Foot Garden. I have been reading about this raised-bed technique for years, and it's about to become a reality. This soil-less technique requires vermiculite as part of the growing medium. It's a bit hard to find vermiculite in the quantities needed at a reasonable price, but abundant, inexpensive vermiculite is one of the joys of South Carolina. Vermiculite is mined in Spartanburg county and the mine referred me to a nearby processing plant that let me buy 8 cubic feet of it for a song. A nice country drive up to Enoree, a visit to the plant (where the operators filling and palletizing the bags of vermiculite reminded me of my bill-print plant in Houston) and I was in business. I'm going to try to start my planting this weekend. My father-in-law built the boxes for me in exchange for a promise of part of the eventual harvest!

I'll close with an amusing anecdote. When Frank and I first discussed moving to South Carolina we were still in Southern California. I'd never lived in a house with air conditioning. I asked him if we could have AC if we got a house in South Carolina. He looked at me rather strangely -- as if I'd asked if we could have indoor plumbing. Very kindly he explained to me that virtually everyone in South Carolina has air conditioning and that, yes, we could, too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mid-April House Status

For some reason I'm antsy about the house today. Some days I'm pretty cool and calm about how the project is progressing. Other days I'm just ready to be DONE. I think a couple reasons I'm impatient today are that I just wrote a big check, and we seem to be on the home stretch. But we seem to be ambling along the home stretch rather than racing towards the finish line. 

Since I last wrote about the house, 
  • The interior walls are primed.
  • The bookcases in the hall are in.
  • The garage doors have been hung.
  • The hardwood floors are laid -- excepting for about four square feet in my bedroom where they ran out of flooring. 
  • The tile floors are being laid as we speak.
  • The drive has been graded and spread with crush-and-run. 
  • The light fixtures and ceiling fans are ready to be installed. 
Next steps include:
  • Finishing the wood floors.
  • Laying the vinyl flooring in the studio. 
  • Installing the bathroom cabinets and toilets.
  • Installing the light fixtures.
  • Painting the interior.
The cabinet maker is working on the kitchen cabinets. I'm expecting great cabinets since the bookcases are really nice. This design element was my idea. The hall was built wider than usual to permit bookcases to go in on either side. My father-in-law remarked he was skeptical, expecting the hall to seem narrow and cramped, but it's still a good four feet wide, even with the bookcases in place.

Last week I ordered furniture for my studio -- a sturdy table, a couple kitchen islands on casters which I can use for cutting and pressing stations, and some chairs. I also ordered a small table for my kitchen. This furniture is unfinished and I'm looking forward to finishing it. It's been a few years (probably 20!) since I finished any furniture, and the products available now for the DIYer look pretty user-friendly. I also found a pair of twin beds when my mother-in-law took me to the Metrolina Antique Show near Charlotte. They are mahogany and seem to be sort of Art-Deco style -- perhaps from the 20s or 30s.

So I'm hopeful that the end is in sight. I'm ready to be in my own home, sorting through stuff and settling in. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Taken by Surprise

One fact has been brought home to me in the aftermath of Frank's death: I have many wonderful friends who will go out of their way to help and support me. 

Last week I stopped by the house to pick up my mail. No one was working that day so I thought I'd walk through and enjoy the peace and quiet for a moment. I noticed I had a voicemail on my iPhone, so I checked it. One of my quilting friends from Florida, Sharen, left a message saying I should check my US mail box because something was waiting for me. 

Intrigued, I continued to wander around the house. The mailbox had held the usual bills and circulars, but no notice of a package waiting at the post office. Then I saw it. Apparently the mail carrier had left a package for me at the house the day before. The workers set it carefully aside where I'd see it, but where it would be safe. Oddly, it wasn't from Sharen; it was from another quilting friend, Aileen, in California. And it was a good sized brown cardboard box. 

With all the self-control of a child I opened the box and my jaw dropped. Inside was this lovely, lovely quilt. Aileen included a letter of explanation. 

My quilt group, A Pocket Full of Mysteries, the quilters who make my mystery quilt patterns, had organized this project. Each block -- 82 in all; there's a block on the back -- was made by one of the members. The blocks arrived from all over the US and from many foreign countries. There are embroidered, paper-pieced, appliqued and embroidered blocks -- personalized with the block makers' names and locations. It is no exaggeration to say that the love and care that went into each block clings to my quilt like a fragrance. Quilters all over the world organized this project, made the blocks, designed a setting, assembled the top, quilted the sandwich, bound the finished quilt and labeled it. Words are quilted into it -- words of comfort as well as the names of quilts I've designed for the group. 

Aileen's wonderful letter touched me deeply. She wrote (in part), 
I consider myself a writer, but words failed me when I heard about Frank. I spent a lot of time moaning, "It's not fair,'' as did so many of your quilting friends. And as quilters do when we can't reach out and hug, we sewed ... May our threads wrap you in love and hold you near when you need us ... May we have many more years of stitching together. 

I sometimes think a quilter is the perfect recipient for a gift quilt. She understands the care and work that go into the project. In this quilt every stitch is very dear to me, and I will cherish it always. I can't wait to move into the house and display my quilt proudly on my bed.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

South Carolina Explorations

Last Saturday I attended a small Sacred Harp singing at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Pendleton, SC. Pendleton is in the northwest corner of South Carolina, near Clemson University. My visit was a great opportunity to learn a little more about the history of my new state, and to reflect on how important history is to South Carolina. 

Remember, I'm from Southern California where few residents can trace a family connection back 70 years. Still today, many Californians are from somewhere else. Most of the oldest buildings date back to the turn of the 20th century, and old buildings are often razed to make way for new ones. 

Not so in South Carolina. Most people from elsewhere think of the Civil War when they think of the history of this state. That war and its aftermath was, indeed, hugely important. My father-in-law has filled me in on some of the gaps in my understanding of that terrible conflict: South Carolina started it; the opening shots of the war were fired at Fort Sumter, just off the coast near Charleston. South Carolina never surrendered. And the proper name for the conflict is The War of Northern Aggression. Monuments to Civil War incidents battles and other incidents abound. 

But South Carolina was first colonized by the English in 1670. So at the outbreak of the Civil War, the notion and the reality of South Carolina was already two hundred years old. The University of South Carolina was 60 years old in 1861. South Carolina was in the thick of the American Revolution, and several battlefield monuments commemorate that period. 

One thing I tend to forget is how small the US was in that time, how sparsely populated most of the country was, and how many of the major players were related to one another. A few examples: Both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis served as superintendents of West Point before the Civil War. Jefferson Davis was married to Zachary Taylor's daughter. And at the start of the Civil War the standing army had only around 2,500 officers. 

And so my visit to Pendleton revealed to me some facinating connections among the movers and shakers of the South Carolina Piedmont and Blue Ridge regions in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. St. Paul's church was founded in 1822. One of the gentlemen at the singing told me that it was founded by Thomas Clemson and Floride Calhoun. Thomas Clemson was the statesman who left his fortune to found the institution that became Clemson University. (He did not specify in his will that women and blacks should be excluded from the school, unlike the founders of some other Southern universities.) Floride Calhoun was the cousin and wife of US vice president, senator and statesman John C. Calhoun, and a landowner and manager in her own right.

What my informant failed to mention was that Clemson was married to one of the Calhouns' daughters. So we have a close connection between these important individuals that sheds light on the society of the time. 

The church appears to be wholly original. We found a hand made nail on the floor. Examination of the pews and floor showed that this was the fastener used throughout. The joinery is careful, but amateur. This is not a monumental cathedral but rather a frontier church, built for use. It's surrounded by a graveyard still in use. Floride Calhoun traveled to New York to buy the hand-pumped organ. The organ was sent via ship to Charleston, then up country via river and road until it reached its home where it is still in use today.

As I drive around the state and get to know it, it's fascinating to see the juxtapositions -- old and new, history and today, city and country. South Carolina is bigger than I expected, and it's also more interesting, more diverse, more complex. I still have plenty to learn, and I'm enjoying the journey.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

House Update, or The Drywall Is Finally Drying

It's been about a month since I signed the supplemental contract for my house so it's time for a status report. So here's where we are: 
  • The drywall is hung and mudded. Since the house was open for several wet months, it took longer for the mud to dry than anticipated but . . . 
  • The house is closed up, the heater is installed and the house is heated. 
  • The exterior painting is almost done.
  • The kitchen cabinets and bookcases for the library/hall are under construction. 
  • The door frames for the garage doors and the pantry doors are complete. 
Next steps include hanging the garage doors and priming the interior. Laying the floors shouldn't be far behind. The bookshelves should go in this week and the kitchen cabinets a couple weeks after that. The drive will be re-graded and spread with small gravel in a couple weeks.

I've ordered the appliances and chosen the flooring. I'm looking at light fixtures, tile for the kitchen backsplash and fans this week.

You may recall that we had some legal issues with the contractor. He and Frank had a parting of the ways back in October and we ended up with a mechanic's lien against the property and a half-completed project. At the time of his death Frank was working on finishing the project on his own, acting as the general contracting himself. He found that some of the sub-contractors were happy to work with him, but he was having trouble replacing others. 

I know that Frank would not have approved of my continuing the project with the original contractor, but in evaluating the situation I realized I needed to accomplish four goals: 
  • Receive a warranty on the entire house. I didn't think a new contractor would warranty the first contractor's work.
  • Cancel the lien.  
  • Generate as little ill-will and publicity in this rural area where everyone knows my business.
  • Finish the project in which I have insufficient subject-matter expertise. In other words, I didn't feel qualified to act as the general contractor.
I feel disloyal to Frank in having chosen to work with the original contractor. It's not the path he would ever have taken. But in contemplating my options I've concluded that decisions that were right for us are not necessarily right for me

The supplemental contract requires the house to be completed by May 31. We seem on-track to meet that milestone. With a little luck we may even come in a couple weeks ahead of schedule.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Instrument You Were Born With: My First Sacred Harp Singing

Today I attended my first Sacred Harp Singing at Wofford College in Spartanburg. My experience was exhilarating, interesting and educational. 

What, you may ask, is Sacred Harp singing? Sometimes it's known as Shape Note singing. It's a tradition of a cappella sacred choral music that was popular in America from the eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries, and continues to be practiced today. Its notation uses the usual staffs and notes from conventional music, but instead of all the notes being ovals, different notes have different shapes. This notation was developed to help people without formal music training learn to sing multi-part hymns easily and accurately. The tradition today uses reprints of traditional hymnals, and some devotees still compose new hymns that use the traditional forms. 

The traditional Sacred Harp books are not "revised" like the hymnals most churches use today, so the lyrics reflect American Christian beliefs popular when the songs were composed: the closeness of death, the need for salvation, the expectation of being united with loved ones in Heaven, the magnitude of Christ's sacrifice. These songs are not necessarily politically correct. For instance, since I was raised a Roman Catholic, I was particularly charmed by one hymn we sang today, The Romish Lady, in which a young woman defies her mother's teachings, ignores her priest and dares to read the Bible for herself. 

At a Singing participants are divided into four groups: trebles, tenors, altos and bases. They sit on the four sides of the open square where the leader stands to lead each tune. The leader sets the pitch and tempo and selects the hymn. At our Singing, each leader led one song at a time in turn, in some cases a favorite, in other cases a song they'd not led, or even heard, before. 

The sound of Sacred Harp music must be heard, for it's indescribable. It is polyphonic; it employs fourths and fifths, largely ignoring third intervals. To me it has a sort of "drone" to it. The hymn still in use that's closest to Sacred Harp music is Amazing Grace, but our current version of it is different from the versions in the Sacred Harp books. Attending a Singing felt to me like sitting inside an organ.  

In the movie Cold Mountain, the congregation is played by experienced Sacred Harp singers and this clip gives you an idea of the sound. Notice that before the congregation sings the lyrics of the song, they "practice" the tune by singing its musical notes. Also, some of the congregation members keep time with their hands, just as the leader does. This clip is from an actual Singing rather than a Hollywood movie and gives a very authentic look at the experience. 

So, why would I -- who really can't sing -- attend this event? The sound appeals to me. The music is visceral. A Singing is not a concert; it's participatory. I thought that if I spent a few hours literally singing my heart out I would find comfort and catharsis. I was right, but I also found wonderful, warm, friendly people -- and the altos were too nice to kick me out for my very inexpert efforts!

If my experience has piqued your interest, you might want to stream the video Sweet Is The Day: A Sacred Harp Family Portrait or rent the video Awake My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp. And the Wikipedia article on Sacred Harp is informative.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Clearly Stated

I’m taking time out of my busy schedule to provide, as a public service, a geography lesson that the world sorely needs. You know how there are some places in the world whose names you've heard, but you don’t quite know where they are? Like Tajikistan  and Burkina Faso and Liechtenstein? Well, today is your lucky day. After this lesson you’ll have added an obscure place to your body of knowledge. You’ll know where it is and, even better, you’ll know where it is not. The place? South Carolina.

About five years ago Frank and I bought 29 acres in rural South Carolina. Frank was from South Carolina, and we figured we’d eventually build a home here when were ready to retire. And ever since then, I’ve had to explain, over and over, that we were moving to South Carolina, not North Carolina.

Apparently when I say “South Carolina” most people hear “North Carolina”. I’d be a wealthy woman if I had a dime for every time I told someone I was moving to South Carolina and he said, “Oh, my brother-in-law went to Wake Forest (in North Carolina)/Chapel Hill (a branch of the University of North Carolina)/Duke (also in North Carolina).” Or she said, “I love Ashville/Charlotte/Raleigh-Durham (all cities in North Carolina).” South Carolina is not the home of your cousin’s favorite sports team, the Hurricanes, the Panthers or the Sting. And South Carolina is most certainly not the bastion of vinegar-based bar-b-que sauce.

News bulletin, my friends: There are two US states with the word “Carolina” in their names. They were named for Britain’s King Charles I. North Carolina is like the more popular, outgoing sister, the one who was the cheerleader and the prom queen. But South Carolina is real. It has an Atlantic coast. It's between Georgia and North Carolina. It boasts beautiful cities like Charleston and Columbia and Greenville. It's home to two national forests, numerous national parks, many Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields, and historic sites galore. You just have to stop, and look around, and seek out South Carolina.

I’m beginning to think South Carolinians are partially to blame for this confusion. They don’t toot the South Carolina horn much. I think they prefer that when people hear “South Carolina” they head a few miles north to Wilmington or Winston-Salem or Greensboro. They relish the idea that South Carolina is less well-known, and they can keep it all to themselves.

But you are welcome to visit. Just be sure that when you come to see me you turn right, not left when you get to Knoxville.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reunion With an Old Friend

Frankly, I really don't have a whole lot to do these days. I've registered my car, got my South Carolina driver's license, filed our 2009 tax returns, done some legal business. I know when the house is done I'll have PLENTY to do sorting through all our stuff in storage, setting up the house and getting rid of the excess. In the meantime I'm metaphorically twiddling my thumbs.

I figured this would be a good time to do some sewing. I'm behind in making class samples of several of my quilt designs. I have, of course, sewing tools and fabric aplenty, but the thought of trying to find quilting paraphernalia among a couple hundred boxes was pretty daunting. Yes, as you might point out, I could have planned better and put together a kit of essentials in a clearly-marked box when I packed -- if I were as smart as you are. However, this is the real world, and one brown cardboard mover's box looks astonishingly like another. There was no way I could find the literal needles in the proverbial haystack.

So I hied myself off to the nearest fabric store. Now, coming from Southern California via Houston, I was used to a quilt store at every major intersection (between the nail salon and the dry cleaner). Here in rural South Carolina? Not so much. I did some web surfing and asked for recommendations on my quilting lists. The closest place is about 40 miles away. It's small but had a nice selection of fabrics, so I got the yardage I needed for my pattern Raising Cane. Then one day last week, as it turned out the day of the sleet and snow storm, I drove about 50 miles in the other direction to Hancock's Fabrics for some tools.

The last stumbling block to starting my project was a sewing machine. Luckily I had the foresight to mark my machine clearly so the movers would keep it upright; the box was easy to spot. With some undignified crawling and wriggling, I was able to drag the box out from under the dining room table where the movers had placed it for safekeeping. 

So here it is in all its glory. Not much to look at, right? But it really feels like an old friend.  Recently I met Janet through a quilting friend. When I asked her if she quilts, too, she said, "No, I don't have one of those machines with 2,000 fancy stitches." I chuckled because I don't, either. My machine has, well, one stitch. But it's a doozy. It's a good, accurate straight stitch. I guess you could say it's got two stitches, because if I press down that lever on the right side, it sews in reverse. My sewing machine is dependable, simple, strong, low-maintenance, dedicated. What more could one want in a friend?

My machine is like my friends. I'm lucky in my machine and I'm very lucky in my friends.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Thirty Years of My Life

Yesterday I retired from AT&T after over 30 years of service. 

I started with Pacific Telephone in Southern California on July 17, 1979. I remember chatting with a co-worker on my first day. We both said that we’d work as there for a year or so, then move on to something else.

I did, indeed, move on, but all my work was with the same company. One of the benefits of working for a very large company was that I had the opportunity to work in different parts of the company and perform different assignments.
For the last ten years I’ve led teams working in very different areas of AT&T’s billing organization.

While I’d never seen myself as a “leader” that’s where I ended up. As I look back on my last few assignments, I realize I’ve learned some helpful things and I’m sharing them in case you find yourself in a group setting – and, face it, most of life is a group setting!
  • Every group has the same people in it. This sounds counter-intuitive. Of course everyone you meet will be a unique individual. But each group will have certain types of people: the workaholic who can’t let things go, the insecure person who may just need a little push to become a star, and so forth. As you begin to recognize these “types” you can recall what helped you work with their predecessors. This is the foundation of the wisdom that’s your payoff for age.
  • Other people aren’t like you. What motivates you, what makes you happy, what annoys you may be very different from what your work-mates prefer. If you’re a hiring manager it can be tempting to hire other people just like you. Resist this temptation. You will create a comfortable workplace, but you’re likely to lack the dynamic (if sometimes frustrating) atmosphere that makes the strongest teams. And coach your people to be tolerant of one-another.
  • When you’re in a work situation, you’re on stage. All eyes are on you. You know how a two-year old will fall and look at you to see how to react? Adults aren’t much different in this respect. A good part of your job will involve keeping people calm and focused, in evaluating problems and keeping people on track to solve them, and in learning from errors so you don’t repeat them. Keep your cool. A single event when you lose your temper can send years of calm, professional behavior down the drain.
  • Don’t micromanage. If you have to check up on every whip-stich, in essence doing or re-doing your people’s jobs, you don’t need them and you won’t have time to do your own work. Surround yourself with people you trust. Within reason work progresses best if each of us tends to our own knitting and trusts our team members to cover their own responsibilities.
  • Deal with problems promptly. Nothing kills morale faster than a team member who’s not pulling her own weight, and whom the boss doesn’t handle. On the occasions I’ve wussed out and decided to “wait and see” I’ve betrayed my good workers and the consequences were more grave than if I’d acted promptly.
  • Be decisive and be flexible. This may sound like a contradiction; it’s the tightrope you walk. Sometimes the time comes when a decision is needed, when discussion and fact-finding have reached a point of diminishing returns. Sometimes you have to put a stake in the ground. Just know that most of the decisions you make will not be moral, ethical or legal decisions – they will be business decisions. Often there’s not one right way, but you must chose A right way. Do it, and be willing to make adjustments or even abandon the plan later if it doesn’t work just so.
  • Take the blame. Blame is like mercury. It’s easy for it to get spread around and impossible to recover. If someone’s made an error, deal with him. But in the end, it’s your shop, so own it.
  • Spread praise liberally. If a member of your team had the good idea, make sure everyone knows it. Never pretend you’re standing on your own. It’s your team that makes you look good. You’ll never lose by making sure your people get credit for their good work.
These were some of the principles that I developed over the last ten years or so of my career.

What can you share about how you work in groups?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Single Woman Sees A SINGLE MAN

Yesterday I went to see the Tom Ford movie, A Single Man. It’s based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood and stars Colin Firth. The action takes place on a single day in 1963 as George Falconer, an English professor whose lover’s death in a car accident a year before, has left him stricken with grief he cannot express openly. Over the course of this day we watch George meticulously plan his suicide.

Perhaps this was an odd choice of a movie for me to see – but I’m glad I went. At the risk of spoiling the movie for those who haven’t seen it, I took away some insights and some comfort about my fresh grief.

In particular, I understand better now how life compels us survivors as inexorably as the tide that catches George and Kenny during their midnight swim. Most newly-bereaved people experience the disjointed feeling when the rest of the world wags on as our world has changed profoundly and irrevocably. But tragically and magically, our path has now taken a different fork from that of our loved-one. Resist it as we may, we must follow the fork before us.

A couple weeks ago I signed up for an on-line mail list for widows and widowers, and it isn’t for me. The members range in distance from their spouse’s death from a week to over a decade. But they all seem to have the same story: Their spouse was their perfect soul-mate; they are paralyzed with grief; life no longer has meaning and purpose; life is over. They cannot imagine how life can go on without their spouse; they cannot even imagine that it CAN go on.
I am sad that Frank is gone; I’m shocked; it’s unfair; he was too young. My life will be very different than the life we planned together.

I need to forge this new path, but forge it I will. My life will, indeed, go on . . . because that’s what life does.

Note: Yes, I did see the end of the movie. But the beauty of art is that we may take from it what we need.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Stove, A Fridge and a Dishwasher, Oh My!

The number of items one must choose for a new home is astounding. Right now it's time to pick kitchen appliances. I need a stove, a refrigerator and a dishwasher.

And I'm really at a loss. I mean, I like to cook. And when I have guests, eating out won't be a good option. So I need a stove that will, well, cook food. And I need a fridge that will, well, keep food cold. And I'd like a dishwasher that will, well, clean the dishes.

I don't need a Bosch dishwasher or a Sub-Zero fridge or a Wolf range -- at least I don't think I do. And, in frankness, my powers of concentration and my interest in kitchen appliances aren't really firing on all cylinders today.

You see, the house was really Frank's project. He would have had me select the stuff I'm working on now, but up to this point he'd been in the driver's seat. And without him, part of me is whispering, "What's the point?"

But that's only a part of me. The realistic, practical, managerial, control-freak part of me is saying, "It's your LIFE. Pull yourself together and GET ON WITH IT."

The choices will get made -- as will the choices of floor covering, and paint colors, and all the rest. Because as much as I'd like to hit my life's PAUSE button for awhile, life has an odd and annoying way of rolling merrily along.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Being Homeless

Let me be clear: I know most certainly that my situation is very different from someone who literally has no roof over his head. But I have no home of my own right now. And this experience is giving me a good opportunity to reflect on what home is and how important it is.

I went away to college at age 17 and have had my own home since. Yes, I've had a couple roommates and a couple husbands. But I had a home -- it was mine or ours.

Now, I don't. In October Frank and I decided it was time to give up the apartment in Houston preparatory to our final move to South Carolina. So I packed up our stuff and called the movers. We also had a bunch of stuff in storage -- 1000 cubic feet of paraphernalia that had been in storage since we'd arrived in Houston in early 2007. The movers transported everything to storage in South Carolina. All I kept was clothes, my laptop and a few things, and all of it fit into my car.

I then moved into a room offered to me by a kind acquaintance in Houston. John and his dogs, Quincy and Nikon, were gracious hosts. I had a room, a bathroom and access to the U-Verse and broadband. It was affordable; my hosts were tolerant, kind and funny.

A week or so after Frank's death my in-laws and I decided I should find somewhere to live while I finished work on the house. I needed to be closer to the house, and I think they found me a constant reminder of the son they'd lost. I will never forget how kind and generous they were to me in the weeks after we lost Frank -- and they continue to treat me the same way.

Now, Newberry, South Carolina is not a metropolis with unlimited housing opportunities. I went on Craig's List and found a single possibility -- a room for rent in a house. I came to visit and took the place on the spot. It's in a quiet neighborhood, the woman who owns the house isn't here much, it's affordable, it has DSL -- really it's just what I need right now.

But it's not mine. Being here is forcing me to plan ahead to the time when I can move in to the new house. Remember, I have stuff that's been in storage for 3 years, all of Frank's stuff -- as I unpack I'll be getting rid of lots. I think I'll be pretty darned careful about what I have in the house (Is it useful? Is it beautiful?).

And I know that my few months of "homelessness" will make me very, very grateful when I'm back in my own home.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Building a House. And a Life

I'm surprised to see that it's been two years since my last post to my blog. It's time to re-activate it.

Most of you know that my husband Frank died unexpectedly on January 22. I had planned to retire on January 29 and join him in South Carolina. Our house was about half-way done. 

With Frank's death my first task has been to  re-commence work on the house. This past Friday, the contractor and I signed a supplemental contract and work has already begun. You can see from this photo that we began painting the exterior that very day. The paint is a little less green and a little more blue than I expected, but I think it will be fine. My goal is a house that will blend in with its surroundings -- it's low and unobtrusive in its setting.

The contract calls for the construction to be complete within 90 days. In the meantime I'm living in a rented room in Newberry, the county seat of Newberry county. I'm about 12 miles from the house.

I see that building and organizing the house will be a metaphor for building and organizing my life without Frank. We had plans . . .and you know what they say: Making plans is a good way to make God laugh.