Saturday, September 19, 2009

Less is More

I just got off the phone with my husband. His last words to me were, "remember, less is more". I chuckled. Women get the bad reputation of being the pack-rat, but in our household I think Rob is equally to blame. His statement to me though was about his mother. He and his brother and brother's wife are all in Columbia packing up my mother-in-law who has only been in assisted living there since January when she and my father-in-law moved in right after he was diagnosed with cancer. When we moved them in we took mainly their bedroom furniture, a couple of chairs, clothing and toiletries. A few weeks after they moved in my father-in-law had his desk/cabinet combination moved up to their apartment there at the assisted living so I'm sure Rob is dealing with getting that moved out (which by the way he wants to move into this house).

In the subsequent months after my father-in-law died Rob and I have gone down nearly twice a month working on getting their main house packed up and things donated, distributed, sold.
Besides just being emotional going through over 60 years worth of things packed into a house they have lived in for the last 25 years and trying to decide what to do next it has become somewhat frustrating. You see, we moved into our new home in December of 2008 and hadn't unpacked when we found out Rob's dad was dying. So when they moved into their assisted living we suddenly found ourselves bringing some of the items they wanted us to have into our new home. Our garage looks like it could be a used furniture and appliance store - albeit some nice furniture since one piece is my mother-in-law's china cabinet she wants Laura to have and another piece is an antique maple secretary; and then there's the bonus room of our house - I can barely stand to go up there and that's what I did this morning for a while - yikes! When did we accumulate so much - STUFF!

The problem with our STUFF is that Rob and I find ourselves somewhat sentimentally attached to pieces of furniture. I have this buffet and china cabinet and two corner pieces that belonged to my Aunt Bertha (my grandfather's sister) - in 1984 after she died her grandson didn't want them and sold all four pieces to us for a song. I love those pieces because they are solidly built (sort of like Aunt Bertha was) and date back to probably the mid-1940's. The pieces were made in Alamance County, NC and that means something to me since most new pieces are now made in China or some other foreign country and not made as well. But the thing I like the most is that on the corner of my buffet where you would really have to look hard I can see my cousin Drew's name etched into the wood. I imagine he was a little boy learning to write and either wrote on the buffet (he was precocious) or he bore down hard on a piece of paper while printing his name.

We also have Rob's parents maple bed that they started their housekeeping with in 1946 and one day it will go to Laura. When we got it from them some years ago I had it refinished and when we got it back it was beautiful. Will's bedroom suit is from his great-grandparents and that furniture dates back to the mid-1920's.

The oddest piece of furniture though that Rob and I can't seem to part with and is rather silly of us too: it's a 1978 Lazy Boy recliner. Yep, I'm ashamed to admit that I just can't part with the darn thing. The chair belonged to Rob's Uncle and when it was new it had that 70's gold and orange plaid thing going on so we did re-upholster it in 1994 - it's a lovely (I'm kidding) dark green corduroy - in my defense that was a nice fabric when I selected it in 1994. Rob's uncle loved that chair and honestly it works perfectly and is still comfortable, but I do long for a more stream-lined less Archie Bunkerish style chair that doesn't take up much room and is more "modern"! At some point we'll put it up in the bonus room because eventually that will be "Rob's Man Room". Don't ask - and don't imagine too much either!

But - back to Less is More. I really did well with not accumulating too much, but when our relatives started downsizing and dying we seemed to get stuck - I mean - inherit these pieces of furniture. When we moved from our home in Greensboro to this one we promised that we would get rid of excess stuff and we did to a point, but I can't give up the kids stuffed animals which are now stuffed into Rubbermaid or the children's books - I love children's books and someday hope to be reading them to grandchildren -then there is my Terry Competition solid mahogany water ski, the 1970 something coke machine, the 400 pound butcher block table (that by golly will get moved into my kitchen at some point), the two beautiful sinks Rob brought back from Mexico but refused to install in our house in Greensboro because we might move and build a house one day - okay - get the picture! Please don't even email me about Craig's list and eBay - not going to happen. Been there done that - hate it.

I figure Rob and I have about 25 years to really pare down our belongings and I am determined to do so. I plan to do as our relatives did - give it to my children! I have threatened everyone I know telling them to please not buy me anything that is a nick-knack. You know what I mean - those cute little "things" that sit on shelves, dressers, or are stuffed into cabinets. Seriously, what was with people of my mother-in-law's generation and collecting things. I don't mind pieces that integrate with the decor, but to have pieces just sitting around collecting dust - no thanks. I like useful objects, practical things. They can be pretty, but they must be functional. Okay I can hear people who know me saying, "what about all your books". That's different. Seriously though - I get it - less is more - but when it comes to getting rid of STUFF - who's STUFF are we going to get rid of? I vote Rob's STUFF! (Just kidding dear!)

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Blood Runneth Orange

Last night I found myself yelling at the TV. Clemson was playing Georgia Tech (and not doing too well during first half) and it will not matter if I live out the rest of my life in NC and that my daughter is a UNC grad and my son is a student at East Carolina my blood is at least half orange.

Growing up in SC you were either a Clemson fan or a Carolina (SC that is) fan and there wasn't any in between. As for me I had no choice. My grandfather went to Clemson from 1915-1917 and my dad went to Clemson in the early 50's. Both grandfather and father were drafted into military service before they finished college. My grandfather into WWI and my father into the Korean conflict, but they both were HUGE Clemson fans.

If I had been born two days later both my doctor and my dad wouldn't have showed up for my birth. For many years and as far back as when my grandfather was at Clemson the BIG game was played on what they called BIG Thursday. The third Thursday in the month of October. Lucky for my mom and me I happened to be born on Tuesday before BIG Thursday and yes my dad and doctor did leave on Thursday for the game.

Clemson football ruled my autumns. I had to make sure when planning my wedding that the date didn't interfere with a Clemson football game - luckily October 1, 1983 was an open day. But one thing for sure: I have great memories of growing up going to Death Valley on Saturdays. I don't think I have ever had tailgate food as good as what my mom packed. She would go all out; fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans, homemade biscuits filled with country fried ham and brownies (nothing healthy - just southern goodness). We would load up in the family wagon and take off for Clemson. We especially loved homecoming where all the fraternities and clubs would build these great displays some of them even mechanical (after all Clemson is known for engineering). (I must admit when our daughter went to UNC and we went up for their homecoming game I was disappointed - no displays and there just wasn't the spirit like at Clemson.) Dad always made sure we were dressed from head to toe in orange and we could chant the C-L-E-M-S-O-N-T-I-G-E-R-S cheer.

To dad's disappointment, although he never said this, neither my brothers and I went to Clemson, and was just as proud or at least acted like it when we went to Lander College (now University). We still met my parents over at Clemson during the fall of our college years and I have some good memories of going over to Clemson during college years. I think that is what I admire the most of my dad - he would have loved for my brothers and I to go to Clemson, but he supported our decision to go to Lander and when I decided to go to graduate school I had to make a tough choice and I entered USC because it was the best choice for me at the time - my dad supported me. Our daughter was accepted to Clemson in 2005 and my dad was so proud, but because we live in NC and the whole in-state-out of state thing she went to another ACC school - that one in Chapel Hill - Dad was proud. The bottom line is that dad was just proud that his children and grandchildren got an opportunity to go to college and to finish college something he and his dad didn't get or didn't get a chance to follow-up on.

I will always chant for Clemson and admit that when they play UNC I do find myself a bit divided (basketball is always tough for me because UNC usually has the better team so I like pulling for the underdog which is usually Clemson). I will always associate Clemson with good memories and with my dad. He and mom went on vacation this week and I knew Clemson had an away game when they planned their trip because he would never miss a home game! So as I turn 50 I am grateful to have had a dad who was just proud of me for going to college and for a dad who gave me pleasant memories!

Monday, September 7, 2009

When September Comes (and goes)

September has been with us a few days now and when September comes and Labor Day passes I feel that fall has arrived when technically it doesn't arrive until the 20th or is the 21st? I can never remember exactly, but in the south summer often extends into October even if fall officially arrives in September.

My mother used to say fall was a depressing time for her and I would joke and ask, "how can fall be depressing - two of your children were born in October? For her it marked the time of the year when her father died. But I have always loved the fall - I love the cool crisp air, the color of the leaves and the smell that fall brings.

Yet as this autumn falls forward I have to admit that I have found myself thinking about those I've known who haven't made it to their 50th birthdays. I have felt grief over their passing so much this year. I have found myself at times almost blinded by the grief I have felt and sometimes the unfairness that they died so young.

I have also thought about friends who died during my teens and think about what could have been. I had three friends who died tragically before they were 17. Recently I found their photographs in a box of my high school memorabilia. I stared at those faces frozen in time wondering if after graduation we would have drifted apart just as most of my high school friends and I have or would we have stayed friends.

A year ago last spring a young man from our church family a young man who was a youth in my youth group who had lived with cystic fibrosis all of his life was killed in an automobile accident. My first memory of this young man was when I took the youth group on a mission trip. I didn't know he had CF until the morning we left when his mom stood outside the window of the van we were leaving in telling me that Will had CF. She explained that he knew what he needed to do if he became sick. I was shocked - we hadn't lived in the community long and this was a new church - but in the months prior to me taking this group I had no idea.

Over the years I grew to love this young man because he didn't let his life be defined by his disease. The reality was that CF would probably have taken his life, but then his life abruptly ended. We had no time to prepare, but in some ways the community had always been prepared. There have been days over this last year I have thought about Will - a song will come on the radio or just something will strike me that reminds me of Will. I also thought about Will this summer when my own Will could have died in an automobile accident.

For some reason my Will was spared and while my Will was trapped for over 45 minutes in that jeep overturned on the roof of an historic mill in the middle of Wilkes county, NC I felt that the other Will was with him calming him. I also felt my father-in-law was bargaining with God asking God not to take my Will right now - to let him live and for some reason God saw fit to let him live.

Then there was Tom. Tom was diagnosed with cancer two summers ago and fought hard. He had a lovely wife and two daughters and Tom was just a friend to everyone. When our Will got into a little trouble and when most people in his profession would have probably been very judgmental and would probably never have let their daughters hang out with Will (oh did I mention Tom was in law enforcement) Tom not only didn't turn his back on Will, Tom loved Will. Tom showed Will that people could still love and trust him and that a mistake is just a mistake if you make good and learn from that mistake. I think Tom's love and trust in Will is what is going to keep our Will more honest than even the love and trust we, his parents, have in Will. When Tom died in December Will who had not gone to a funeral of anyone whom he really loved because he just felt he couldn't went to Tom's.

There have been so many others over the last year and so many others over the last years who have died before 50. And when I remember them I remember them for the things that they did accomplish in their lives whether they died at 47 or 15. Each one made a contribution in a positive way. So - as I approach 50 I shall make a renewed promise to myself to do my very best to live each day in a positive way and when I leave this life I hope others will say, "she lived, she really lived."

Friday, September 4, 2009


This afternoon I drove down the mountain to visit my parents. My parents have been married 51 years (last week) and still live in the same house that they started their married life in three months after the marriage (they spent the first three months living with my grandparents while re-modeling the house). I love "going home" to visit with them. The home place looks very much like it did when I was growing up. The garden is in the same spot, the barns are still there, the house looks pretty much the same except my mother can grow flowers - who knew! Her mom had a green thumb and it wasn't until my brothers and I were grown that we learned our mom has a green thumb.

As I sat outside in a rocker listening to the goats "baaing" in the background and trying to get my dog that is still afraid of people who now lives on the farm with my parents to eat a piece of bologna from my hand I realized that my former home represents so much to me. I can almost see my brothers and me hauling in the firewood from the little wooden shed in the back (where my dad now houses his restored 1930 A-model); hear my dad as he says to the mule Jim "gee", "ha" as he plows the garden or look at the barn where the goats are and remember when I was 8 how dad told my brothers that we were supposed to feed the two pigs he just put into the barn daily. Yep - Oscar and Meyers the two pigs that we fed daily and loved were where the goats are now. One day cold winter day we came home, rushed out to feed them only to discover that they were that night's dinner. We were so mad at our dad that he never kept the hogs in that barn or allowed us to make pets out of the livestock again.

I know there will be a time when the family place will not be occupied by my parents or even family and while that makes me a bit nostalgic I also recognize that my family home represents a certain stability that I was so fortunate to have had. Sometimes I regret that my own children don't have a "family home" to go home to, but I also know that they have Rob and me. What I mean is that hopefully Rob and I represent stability to them. While we have moved what did I say in that first blog - something like 10 times our children were in several different schools in three consecutive years (one in middle and one in elementary) - that they do recognize that Rob and I are stability for them. Oh I won't even pretend that life as a married couple has always been easy - seriously??? I mean do you think it is easy when he would travel three weeks out of the month leaving me at home with two elementary age kids (especially a 3rd grader), but the important thing is that they know we do love each other and have been able to work through issues. As Rob once told our son when our son tried to cause a little trouble, "son, one of these days you are going to be grown and leave us - I plan to be married to your mom for a long time - so don't even think you are going to cause trouble between us." One of the many reasons I love my husband! Okay...enough of being - well - gooey!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Accidental Career

Over the last couple of days I've been in meetings with folks from all over the state of NC who work in downtown development. As I looked around the room of about 40 people I realize that there are only about six of us in that room who have been working in this field in NC for at least 20 years. While I took some time off on being employed full-time in this profession I would occasionally volunteer or be hired to go into a town for a day or two to work with the town on a specific issue, but none-the-less I realized that my career in downtown revitalization is nearly 20 years in the making and it was very much by accident and thanks to my husband I ended up in this field.

THE STORY: after I married in 1983 I went to work as a features writer for a small newspaper in Virginia. I loved writing my feature stories covering Southside, VA, but I did not particularly care for the owner, publisher, editor of the paper who after sending me to cover a town council meeting would take my story and "edit". He would edit to change just a small word or two thus creating a more controversial article than intended and I would get a call from the town manager who was usually yelling at me. But the plus side is that one day I interviewed the station manager at the new radio station which was about to air and he offered me a job. I couldn't quit fast enough. I worked in radio for about four years, but after two more moves and having two babies I was pretty much a stay-at-home mom. It was after the birth of our second child that my husband came home one day and asked me how the day had been. I said, "shh...Mr. Rogers is on and he's teaching us how to make crayons". My husband sat down and started scanning the papers (looking at the want ads for a job for me). A few minutes later he said, "hey I see a notice that the town is looking for someone part-time to do their downtown revitalization program and focus mainly on promotional events. You should apply."

Well - I stared at him a minute rather upset that he would want me to give up daily puke on my shirt, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, cooking dinner then it also hit me that he wanted me to work and do all of that as well (not really I'm married to a pretty good guy who would help out - most of the time), but then I said, "fine, I'll apply, but they won't hire me...I have been at home too long!"

I got the interview. I'll never forgot going in and sitting at the table and there were all these men and one woman. As I've stated in an earlier blog I am only 5'2 and at the time I only weighed 109 pounds (two children sort-of slimmed me down). As I was getting ready to go into the interview I noticed a very nice looking tall, statuesque looking woman exiting. I walk in to the interview and we go through some typical questions then a city councilman asked, "I see you've moved a lot - what does your husband do?" (illegal question, but I answered), "so how long do you think you'll be here, " (illegal question, but I answered and decided to be a smart-ass). My response, "how long does anyone think they'll be anywhere..." Then he asked the question that nearly 20 years later has stuck with me: "you're a rather small woman and people here can get rather mean how do you think you'll handle them?". By this time I was more amused than anything and also thinking what the hell have I gotten myself into, but again the smart-ass got into me and I sat up really straight then leaned over and looked him straight in the eye and said, "Mr. Brewer, have you ever heard that dynamite comes in small packages?" and gave him my best smile. The town manager, the one woman and a merchant burst out laughing. I am convinced that answer led me to this career.

I never intended to be in this type of work - heck - I never knew that I could be in this type of work. Of course Downtown Revitalization professionals didn't really happen until the 80's after nearly all of our historic downtowns had been adversely affected by the concept of "urban renewal". While I never intended to end up in this field I think I was destined for it since my childhood - after all my favorite song when I was a mere child was Petula Clark's "Downtown". As I near 50 and sometimes think about the careers that could have been I am glad my life took this career turn - I've met some great people across the state of North Carolina because of this work and more important my children learned words such as "facade", "parapet" and could spot a Greek Revival style or an art deco style all before they were six - a life skill that they do not appreciate fully now, but hey who knows???

So as 50 approaches and while there are sometimes some serious doubts about the way my career has gone or not gone - I think of my father-in-law who recently passed away at the age of 89 who with a smile would say, "I have lead a life with no regrets". You know, with each day as I reflect back I agree with that - "I have lived a life with no regrets." Would I change the way I have handled some situations, you bet I would, but did I learn from those situations, you bet I did. I can only hope that my children will have as much fun in their line of work as I have had in mine!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 3 of Blogging - On Turning 50-My Brain is Mush

So...the big news of the day 50 years ago was that President Eisenhower landed in Paris.

I was planning to add to this, but I think my brain has gone to mush. I'll try to get back by Friday or Saturday of this week. I still work and today was a rather long work day!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Are you kidding??? I have a Pimple...

Counting down to my 50th and this morning proved that I really am a teenager trapped in a body that is nearly 50...I had a pimple on my forehead ... I had to laugh. I always say that I feel like I'm a younger person than I actually am so this proves it, right??? Funny...when you're in your teens you go through hormonal changes and as a woman fast approaching 50 - I'm going through hormonal changes - again! They say that is part of going through "the change". I find that phrase humorous - The Change. Like what the heck am I going to change into? I want to change into Angelina Jolie please....okay, I'd settle for Catherine Zeta-Jones. Seriously, "the change"... I assure my one reader (yes I have one reader - okay so what if it's my daughter)..that this count down is not going to be about hot flashes, and other things that "old" people talk about. Enough of that already.

Last night was my first blog. So this morning I woke up thinking about what I'd share this evening and I had some really profound thoughts then I saw the pimple and those profound thoughts flew out the window.

But really - my one profound thought I did remember was this: that from now until the big day I'd do a "this day in history 50 years ago"; apparently nothing of serious consequence happened on September 1, 1959. On September 2 however - oh - you'll have to wait until tomorrow for that big news from 50 years ago. Then I decided to see what was going on in my life on September 1, 1975; apparently nothing was going on then either - I didn't have an entry on that day, but I can say that I was hoping that some boy named Steve would ask me to a party. Steve - from 1975 - I have no clue as to who you might have been. That's the other thing - I think my memory is going.

1975...I was a sophomore in high school and I decided to go from freshman cheerleader (I was a terrible cheerleader) to playing volleyball (and an even worse volleyball player). Here's what you have to understand, I was and still am all of 5'2"...I am the "5'2 eyes of blue" gal. At that time I may have weighed 108 pounds - my teammates had at least 4 inches on me and Priscilla had not only 4 inches, but about 9 inches and 60 pounds. I was awful, but I loved to play - or at least try. This morning as I did read in my journal from 1975 that I was feeling the burden of being the worst player on the team so I had gone to my coach to quit. I told my coach that I felt it was best to quit since I wasn't any good, couldn't serve over handed and it wasn't fair to my team. My coach could have said - you're right you do stink you should quit. Instead, she encouraged me to keep playing. While I wouldn't be a star player I could learn to serve and she would teach me how to serve underhanded (back then you could still legally do that in high school). She told me that my team was fine with me it was me that wasn't fine with me. So I stayed on the team and she did teach me how to serve to the line often scoring a few extra points for my team since the opponent always underestimated me.

To this day whenever I think about quitting something or I get the "I can't do it" attitude, I remember my coach. I remember her showing me how to do something a different way and encouraging me to be a part of the team. It was good being a part of a team and at least out there trying was better than sitting in the bleachers.