Archive for March, 2014

Ten Years Later
March 28, 2014

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College was especially sweet because of the positive, hopeful atmosphere of a college campus. ~ Jerry Kramer

Where does the time go? Ten years ago, Shannon graduated from Memorial High School here in Houston. The four years she spent there went by in a flash, and her college years went by even faster. And so it goes. Now, here we are, ten years post high school!

In the spring of her junior year, Joel and I went to MHS to hear a speaker talk about the college application process. We left that meeting thinking that we were way behind the ball, and that we’d best get busy researching various colleges with an eye towards finding just the right one for our precious baby angel girl.

We soon realized that we had no clue where to begin or how to compare the apples to the oranges. Certainly Shannon’s input was important, but how much would a 17 year old know about all the various options available to her and how to research and compare, especially the financial aspects?

Given the scope of this search and the lack of time that her school counselors had to help her (there were hundreds of kids in her class), we opted to use the services of a private educational counselor who, among other things, specializes in placing students in colleges that fit their needs. Dr. Marshall Shumsky is his name, and he was beyond helpful to us.

Before our first meeting, Shannon had made her course selection for her senior year. Because she had fulfilled most of her required courses for graduation, she had planned to take various electives to make for an interesting and fun year.

I remember that first meeting well. Shannon, Joel and I all sat there in Dr. Shumsky’s office as he talked to Shannon about her grades, her test scores, what she was interested in studying in college and where she might want to go.

It seems funny to me now, but two of her particular criteria for a college were that it didn’t have a football program nor a fraternity/sorority system. And, by the way, she wanted to be up in the northeast, in order to be close to New York City, a place that she just loved (and still does!).

Dr. Shumsky looked at her transcript, test scores and her planned course of study and gently told her that if she wanted to get accepted to a college like she envisioned, she would need to take another year of language (she’d already had 3 years of Spanish) and another lab science (after Biology, Chemistry and Physics). I could see her lower lip begin to tremble, and I thought to myself, “Oh no, she’s going to cry!” All her visions of a fun senior year were melting away.

Dr. Shumsky could see the same thing and asked Joel and me to leave them to talk between themselves. We went out to the lobby, and I was a nervous wreck, wondering how Shannon was coping with this unhappy development, and how it would all unfold.

And then suddenly, there they were! Shannon was beaming and announced to us that she was going to take a year of German (helpful in a singing career), and a year of Aquatic Science. Right then and there, if Dr. Shumsky did nothing else for us, he earned his fee.

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For if WE had even suggested that she needed to do that, she would have balked, and there would have been unpleasant repercussions. But since HE guided her to this place, it was all right with her.

They had also identified 25 schools that fit her criteria, and her assignment was to research them and cut the list down to 12. This she did (solely by looking at their websites), and we picked 8 to visit that summer (which ended up being a really fun trip to New England). 8 days, 8 colleges, 8 states!

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She immediately fell in love with Bard (in the beautiful Hudson River Valley, NY), but she also liked and applied to Bates (Maine), Skidmore (NY) and as her “safety school” Manhattanville (also NY. I didn’t like that one, but didn’t forbid her application. She not only got in, she got a huge scholarship offer, but declined, which I was happy about).

That fall, she and I flew up north so that she could interview at both Bard and Bates. This was also a fun trip, but it would have been more fun if Joel had been there, especially because I was the driver and uncertain about navigating in NYC and Boston. This was before the days of GPS, so I was winging it as best I could. We survived.

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 Bard’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts


Bard was still her first choice after that trip. There she sat in some classes after her interview, and I remember when we left to head up to Maine, she said she didn’t want to leave Bard, but just stay there forever!

She nixed Skidmore, which didn’t surprise me, because if I’m not mistaken, they DO have Greeks there. As it turned out, Bard wanted her just as much as she wanted Bard, so it was a match made in heaven.

When it came time for her to enroll for Bard’s 3 week orientation immersion into campus life (now called the  Language and Thinking Program) in August 2004, we drove her and her “stuff” up north, which was a 3 day road trip. I know I was anxious that she find some friends and like her roommate, and I’m sure she must have had some anxieties, as well. But it all worked out- great roommate, fun friends (one of whom is now our son in law!) and a wonderfully eclectic and artsy education, which she thrived on.

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Tewksbury Hall where Shannon lived her freshman year.Circa 1950’s, it was not the most idyllic place to live, but it sure built character!


The bonus was that we loved visiting Shannon those four years while she was at Bard. Gorgeous and interesting, historical and a haven for foodies, I highly recommend planning a trip to Rhinebeck next time you are up that way.

Thanks, Dr. Shumsky. You earned every penny of your consulting fee!

The Treasure Hunt
March 21, 2014

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One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries. —A.A. Milne

My mother in law recently moved from her apartment into Assisted Living (and subsequently to Skilled Nursing), which meant packing up all her “stuff” and deciding what to do with it.

There were boxes and boxes of papers, keepsakes, photos and souvenirs. I probably could have pitched them without looking at the contents, but you never know what you might find!

And yes, while I threw out much of it, there WERE some very dear treasures that I knew Joel and his brother would enjoy. So anything I thought they might like to see, I saved.

For instance, here are some notes that Joel wrote to his mother in the early 1960’s. I love the formality of them and his neat penmanship!

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Someone asked me what the asterisk stood for… ha!

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Wonder what he did that was so bad?

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Words that every mother loves to hear!

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Ace was their dog. Poor Ace.

And the last one,

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Funny, he never says anything like this to me!

Apparently my husband was a very stubborn little boy and butted heads with his mom more than once! I tucked all of these hilarious notes into her 90th birthday card, and she got a good laugh out of them. It made me glad to see her so happy.

Back when she was about the same age as her father was when he wrote the above notes, my daughter created some artwork for me one day when I was in a foul mood. Her teacher used to draw these little smiley faces on her good work, so Shannon carefully drew one for me and wrote the following note:

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“Cher up, Mom!”

Anyone who can remember what the singer, Cher looked like in those days (late 1980’s) would laugh at the suggestion that I “Cher up!” Can you imagine me wearing some of those outlandish outfits or fixing my hair like she did back then?

Note how much neater her father’s penmanship was than hers at about the same age. Can’t say that it is today!

Shannon’s sweet note continues to make me smile every time I see it (because it’s stuck on the refrigerator), just as Joel’s notes to his mom made her smile, all these years later.

Sometimes it’s good to keep “stuff”…  but then scan them for posterity, and voila! No more piles of papers!

Houseguests
March 12, 2014

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We dare not trust our wit for making our house pleasant to our friend, so we buy ice cream. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are empty nesters, and as such, we have some spare bedrooms that are sometimes filled with assorted, interesting people. For instance when Shannon and Kat were married, we had three lovely young ladies in the wedding party who bunked upstairs. That weekend was a virtual whirlwind of activities; I don’t think we ate many meals here at all.

But lately we’ve been asked to keep some guest musicians for the Houston based Mercury ensemble. And now we have agreed to keep two singers from the British group, VOCES8, who will be performing at our church this weekend.

Voces8 Group Promo

Our first two musical visitors (both clarinetists) were ex-pat Americans, but based in the Netherlands. They were young and fairly self sufficient. I wasn’t sure what to expect nor what they expected. Actually, they have now stayed with us twice. All they needed was a bed/bath and an internet connection. And coffee. I didn’t go overboard providing elaborate cuisine for them, and frankly, I’m glad.

The Brits arrive tomorrow. They are both guys, and I have no idea what they are like, what they expect or what I am going to provide for them. They will be with us for an entire week. In addition to their performance, they will do musical outreach here in Houston and spend time with young musical students, which I think is very cool.

Supposedly, the main meal I am to provide for them is breakfast. I eat a bowl of cereal every morning. Joel eats a boiled egg or toast and peanut butter. I have a sign over my desk that says, “Bed and Breakfast. Make Your Own.”

So it is with a bit of trepidation that I face the thought of making a real breakfast every day for a week. My foodie friends probably think I am a total loser and would have no problems baking pastries from scratch or whipping up pancakes/waffles/croissants/whatever. I’m thinking, “who in the heck does that every day?”

This, coming from someone whose mother whipped up a three course breakfast meal for us six children every day of the week when we were growing up. Eggs, bacon, toast, oatmeal, berries, sausage, pancakes, waffles, you name it. Milk and juice, too.

How did it happen that I am so inept at making a decent breakfast? I have no idea. Maybe just having the one child has dulled my sense of creative cuisine? Her favorite special breakfast was making Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and cooking up some turkey bacon. I think it still is her favorite!

On ordinary days? Here honey, have a Pop Tart!

So here’s my plan. I’m going to get in some kolaches for that first morning. I’ve already have some fruit. Got coffee. Need to get tea.

But before I go spend any more money on things that may or may not be eaten, I’m just going to ask them what they would like to have for breakfast. And then I’ll go to the store and do my best!

Or send them to BB’s for breakfast every morning… 🙂

August 18, 1970
March 7, 2014

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Emily: Live people don’t understand, do they?
Mrs. Gibbs: No, dear-not very much
~ from Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”

As I pore over all the papers and photos in my mother in law’s files, I discover treasures daily that I put aside for Joel and his brother to look at. For example, here is handwritten letter to both of her sons, dated August 18, 1970. They were up at Lake Cherokee (in east TX), visiting her favorite cousin, Tootsie and her husband, Arthur. What fun folks they were! I loved them both.

This particular letter captured a moment in time, but it was full of ordinary details. Joel had just graduated from TH Rogers Junior High (back then it went through the 9th grade). He was getting ready to enter the 10th grade at Lamar HS, and among other things, his mom wrote about how Joel and his neighborhood friends would get to and from Lamar.

Lamar was maybe a mile east of their Afton Oaks home, straight up Westheimer, and if he had had a mean old mother like MY mother, she would have made him walk it.

(note: my mom made me walk to Lanier Jr. High with our neighborhood group of girls. It was seriously a mile there and back. We were so deprived! Just kidding, Mom. I was very fit after walking miles to and from school uphill in the snow both ways!)

But no, the moms of his friends were discussing how all the guys could ride the public bus together, and she said in this letter that she wanted Joel to have a bus card. I’m sure Joel was absolutely thrilled to hear this news! It was totally not cool, but at least he wasn’t going to be alone in his misery.

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His mom went on to mention how quiet it was without them at home, and she described how all the pets felt deserted, even Freddy the sparrow. She said “He just gave a few feeble cheeps occasionally. He sat all hunched up and dispirited. Think I’ll turn the radio on for him today.”

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(note: Freddy was rescued as a fledgling by Joel’s grandmother, and lived for 13 years in their home. The life span of a wild sparrow is 3 years. Freddy ate chicken and eggs and all sorts of cannibalistic things and sang all sorts of songs that most wild sparrows would never sing!)

The history of our families is remembered in the ordinary moments, such as this letter describes. It reminds me of the Thornton Wilder play, “Our Town” where Emily wants to return from the dead and experience a day back with her family. She wants everyone to savor the ordinary, but of course, no one can hear nor see her.

I cherish this letter from my mother in law, just as I have cherished my mother’s letters from my childhood.

But what will the next generation cherish? That’s a very good question! My mother keeps telling me to print out my blog posts, but I haven’t done so (yet).

(note: the cynic in me wonders that perhaps the NSA can help all of us re-capture our e-mails, FB posts, tweets, etc. when the time comes?)

My advice to my daughter and her friends is to keep journals and save your memories in print. Someday your ancestors will appreciate your doing so!

Who knows? They may enjoy reading about your surviving the polar vortex of this winter and all the derechos, earthquakes and other such momentous events of your Lexington years and beyond.

Just sayin’… 🙂