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Reluctant Gardener

A friend of mine went to the Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh this weekend and helped me out by picking up some roses for my soon-to-be garden border out back. She knows I love old garden roses the best so she picked up Rose de Rescht, Blush Noisette, and Souvenir de la Malmaison. They will soon join the hydrangea, the cherry bush, and the lilac by the back fence. Boy do I have a lot of grass to get rid of!

The bushes will all be spaced eight feet apart and the spaces between them will be filled in with whatever strikes my fancy. I will be looking for a hardy lavender, some rosemary, a bunch of bulbs/tubers (gladiola, iris, tulip, lilly, daffodil, grape hyacinth), salvia, garlic, alium, daisies, coreopsis, monarda, thyme, dianthus, and gosh, just whatever isn’t a dandelion, chickweed, crabgrass, or some kind of thistle, which is what grows there now. I can picture what I want, but not how to describe it. Maybe like a cottage garden – only not as messy.

I’m a bad gardener in that I did not prepare beds at all. I just plopped the bushes in the ground and left all the grass and weeds in and around there. It’s going to make my life a lot harder now to get the border in, but it seemed preferable to leaving the plants in pots to die of dehydration like I have every other year. This is a long term project anyway. It’s not like I’m going to have a picture-perfect border by the end of the summer. There’s a lot of work to do, and I hate digging, being dirty, and heat. But I like flowers, so there’s that. Just call me a reluctant gardener.
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The good news is that the front yard looks pretty good. We have a service do the lawn treatments up front so it’s pretty much all nice, green grass. The front landscape beds are starting to shape up too. Mom’s irises bloomed this year and look nice with the clematis and other plants already in there. The heirloom peony has about 30 blooms on it waiting to burst open. The new peony just got transplanted so it’s a bit small with no buds, but it’s alive and we may get flowers on it next year. The lilies seem to be settling in, and the knockout rose is well, a knockout. Once I get bulbs bought and planted this fall, the front yard should start really coming into its own.

In an effort to get it all down in print before I forget everything, here is part II of our Seattle adventure.

Pleased with ourselves for having squeezed in so much in our first full day in Seattle, we made an early start the next morning. Not that it’s hard to do when you are used to eastern standard time and you’re staying on the west coast. We went down to the handy dandy concierge (gotta love a 5 star hotel!) to help us with our itinerary. They managed to wangle passes to the Pompeii exhibit at the Pacific Center, which is something we wanted to see after the driver told us about it on the way to the hotel two nights earlier. The concierge also let us know that we could have the hotel driver take us where we wanted to go if they were available. Sweet!

OK, I don’t know about you guys, but as much as I enjoy walking, eleven blocks on an empty stomach was none too appealing. And seriously, who gets a chauffeur at their beck and call? Nobody we know! We made our way down to the doorman who called the car over for us right away, just like in the movies. Hello? Black Cadillac town car with privacy screens and a guy in a uniform driving it? Heaven! My jeans and cotton sweater felt a bit casual for the occasion, but who cares? We’re in a chauffeured car!

The driver was super nice, pointing out all the cool places to eat and telling us where we should go to see the best stuff, and what touristy things totally weren’t worth it. Hint, go look at the Space Needle, but don’t spend the money to go up in it. There are taller buildings with better views and cheaper elevator tickets. He dropped us off right at the Pacific Center and wished us a good day. Nice guy.

It was about 9:00 AM and we noticed that not a darn thing was open. Furthermore, there wasn’t anywhere to eat nearby. Fortunately, I had my phone and we found a Subway only four blocks away so we walked over there to get breakfast and had the whole place to ourselves. Subway breakfast is pretty good. We got back up to the Pacific Center about an hour later and things were just thinking about starting to open up. After wandering around for a bit, we happened into the EMP museum and checked out the gift shop. It had a few cute things, but nothing worth dragging around Seattle for the rest of the day.

Our next stop was the Pacific Center to see the Pompeii exhibit. Seeing all those marvelous things from so long ago was fascinating. I wanted to touch all the things, but of course I didn’t. But I’m jealous of all those museum employees who get to handle actual history. Being able to get close to the carvings and glasswork was amazing. I wish pieces like that were more common today. Life would be ever so much more beautiful. That exhibit was huge and totally worth the money. Too bad Seattle was its last stop in the US. What a treat!

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Since we were already at the museum, we spent some time with the regular exhibits. I wished that the kids had been there. They would have loved it, even if they are a bit too old for some of the hands-on type things. I was fascinated by the working bee hive enclosed in plexiglass. It didn’t take too long for me to locate the queen. Bees are cool, even if I am a little scared of them.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the butterfly aviary. I didn’t take any pictures of it, sadly. The variety of butterflies and the tropical plants were just stunning. I could have spent all day in there if it hadn’t been so hot. I suppose butterflies like the heat and humidity, whereas it just makes me want to find a margarita. Sadly, there were no margaritas to hand. I wonder if butterflies like margaritas?

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Of course, we visited the gift shop. There were tons of things we liked and would have gotten, but they were mostly not exclusive to the museum and had huge mark ups. We figured if we really wanted those things, we could search them out on Amazon later for a better price, and we wouldn’t have to trek all over Seattle lugging them in my tote bag. We visited a few of the souvenir shops in the area that we did buy some things from. After all, you can’t go away with your husband on a lovers’ vacation if you don’t bring something home for the kids, or the folks taking care of them. How is your child going to complain about only getting a T-shirt if you forget to bring home even that, amiright?

Then it was time for the #1 reason I wanted to go to Seattle – the Chihuly museum and garden! I wish I could recreate that at my house. It was so light, airy, and full of color. I can’t imagine how many gardeners they employ, but it’s certainly beyond my meager budget. The gardens are all themed, based on the colors of the glass objects installed in each one. Everything was beautifully balanced and delightfully arranged. If a Dr. Seuss book was brought to life, I expect it would look a lot like that.

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The museum itself was awe-inspiring. The first room took my breath away. It was the size of a small ball-room and the center of it, end-to-end, featured an enormous multi-hued spectacle of shapes and colors. There was a room that had all items inspired by southwestern Indian culture, with glass imitating the woven baskets and rugs they were displayed alongside. Then there were several spectacular rooms of ocean-themed glass, followed by the Persian ceiling. My pictures do not do any of it justice. I need a new phone that can take photos in low light without blurring. Moe bought me the exhibition book so that I would have some decent pictures of the art.

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At this point Moe and I were getting a bit tired and footsore. We debated the merits of taking the monorail halfway back, or calling the chauffer. However, Moe found a glass-blowing shop that would be right on the way back if we walked. Despite the knowledge that we would have to walk 11 blocks, we decided to go to the glassblowing studio. It was totally worth it. I got to do some serious geeking and spent some time touring the hot shop and warm studio. They also had a lot of local glass art for sale. Since I was disappointed that I couldn’t afford a piece of glass from the Chihuly museum, I consoled myself with a beautiful dichroic marble from a Seattle artist. Every time I look at it I will remember what an amazing trip it was.

We walked the rest of the way back to the hotel, stopping only to get some sodas and junk-food from a pharmacy along the way. After about a 45 minute rest, Moe went back out exploring, and I spent the next two hours practicing repertoire on the violin. Thank goodness for metal hotel mutes!

Moe and I had a wonderful dinner that night at the Capital Grill. It was expensive, but I can’t say that I’ve had such a good steak or table service like that in a very long time. Honestly, if you go to Seattle for no other reason, go for the food. We ate our way through that city and would do it again in a heartbeat. I gained 6 pounds and have only just now lost it, and I would still hop on a plane tomorrow to dine in Seattle.

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I’ll get back to recording Seattle memories in a bit, but today I want to talk about something else. My company is very small. There are only 32 employees and we have one location. That’s how small we are for an institution with the reach we have.

Anywho…..

The president was brainstorming with some of us about team building activities. Most of us on the “upstairs” staff (read: primarily credit officers) push a lot of paper and do a lot of face-to-face interaction with clients, while the “downstairs” staff do all the heavy lifting as far as getting the real nitty gritty taken care of (read: correspondence services), and the remote folks are rarely ever seen. So he was looking for a way for us all to do something social and fun together. What we came up with was a running/walking team since most of us are either already avid runners/walkers, or are looking to get more healthy.

The first event we picked is the Sportsbackers Corporate 4 Miler. It’s a nice, laid-back run/walk event on a Thursday evening in June. I’ve run it before and had a lot of fun. Eight people joined the team. I think 25% participation isn’t bad considering a number of folks are either remote or on travel most of the time. We’re getting team technical shirts and everything. It’s awesome that everywhere I have worked in the last 20 years has fielded a running team and let me take part. Hopefully these shirts will be better than the ones at my last two jobs. Ask me to show them to you if you ever want a laugh.

Unfortunately, I no longer have a cardio base. I’ve run a few miles here and there since my last half marathon two and a half years ago, but nothing that would adequately prepare me for a four mile road race in nearly 100 degree temperatures after a long work day.

I started to prepare for the race this week by running 1.7 miles a couple of times. Tomorrow I’ll do 2+ miles, and will attempt to get up to four miles by the weekend before the race. It’s a month away. The plan I’ve come up with doesn’t feel too ambitious. Hopefully it works so I don’t look like a dork getting passed by all the lunchroom walkers. Worse comes to worse I’ll just Galloway the race.

Tomorrow I’m going to check out new shoes and some new gear. I weigh 15 pounds less than I did when I was training before so most of my gear is too big. I guess if you’re going to have a gear problem, that’s not such a bad one to have. It just sucks because I have to replace all of it – even the shoes. My feet have shrunk a size.

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One of the things my mom’s untimely passing made me aware of was how much time I was wasting. Mom worked hard all her life. She scrimped and saved so that she could have enough money after retirement to be comfortable and still indulge in her love of travel. She was able to visit Italy and Austria only a few weeks before the terrible accident, but she had so many more places to go. Mom had never been to New York City, for example. She loved travel so much that she chose a teaching job out of college that took her to Okinawa where she met my dad. When they got married she put those travel dreams on hold. Seeing the world was going to be her retirement “thing”. She waited 45 years to do it, and ended up missing her window of opportunity.

You all know how it goes. We have dreams but think we have no time or money to see them through; so we leave it for some future date. “One day I will see the Grand Canyon.” “We’ll take a cruise when the kids move out.” “When I retire, I’m going to take up oil painting.” Somehow those things never really happen, and folks end up regretting that they wasted the years when they had good knees and the energy to sprint through the Chicago-O’Hare airport, or they can no longer see well enough to render a sunset.

I don’t want to have regrets. To that end, I spontaneously (for me, that is) made the decision to take a trip to Seattle, Washington two months ago. My husband and I flew out there during spring break last week. Our base of operations was the spectacular Fairmont Olympic Hotel, which I can’t praise highly enough. Honestly, we truly felt spoiled. How can you not when you have a chauffeured town car at your disposal, a concierge to book tickets and make reservations for dinner, and the most deliciously decadent surroundings to live in? Oh, we splurged! If I’m going to make an once-in-a-lifetime visit to the opposite coast, it’s five-star for me all the way! When you go, don’t miss out on the room service. It’s fantastic.

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My reasoning for picking Seattle was several-fold. As a glass-worker, I was drawn to the ample glass-blowing opportunities, and the Chihuly glass garden. Neither my husband nor I have ever been to the West Coast. It was our first true vacation since our honeymoon as well. We have traveled for the SCA, but that’s always a working trip, not a vacation at all.

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I also wanted the opportunity to meet some ladies with whom I have had an online acquaintance for several years. We are members of a Facebook group for Adult Starters of the Violin/Fiddle. It’s a bit of a support group for those of us who have picked up the violin for the first time as an adult, or have taken a significant break from childhood lessons. It is wonderful to have people all over the world who share our passion; because as an adult beginner, most of us are too new to be very good, and no longer cute enough to make up for the lack of skill. Although some of us are quite adorable, and more than a few have achieved a remarkable level of ability on their instruments.

The first evening there we found ourselves in the hippest, trendiest bar I have ever been in. It had a sunken conversation area around a shiny, modern fireplace, and was all chromed out, with fringe everywhere. Not Mexican tour bus fringe – more like swingy, single layer 20’s fringe from ceiling to floor. The drinks were excellent, and our appetizers so good my mouth is still watering. BTW, brie and apricot preserves are fantastic together, if you didn’t know.

The next day one of my online buddies picked us up for our violin date. We met at the home of one of the other ladies and spent the next several hours sight reading duets and trios. I had an absolute blast! It was so wonderful to have the opportunity to fiddle around with some of my violinistic peers in a no-stress, open session. We each brought music to share and just played for the sheer fun of it. Playing with others is simply the best. I’m so grateful that these two strangers were willing to take a chance on me and arrange that session. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.

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Afterwards Moe and I wandered down to the pier to take in the sights. We chose not to go into the Aquarium, but I really wanted to ride the huge Ferris wheel. The first go round was really scary, but on subsequent ones we relaxed and I got some decent shots.

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There’s much more, but this post is too long already. I’ll try to post more later.

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The Omission

My oldest son is doing some online genealogy at school. I suppose it must be for a project because it doesn’t sound like something he’s likely to pursue on his own. He’s more likely to study video game cheats, conspiracy theories, or ways to beat the school’s built-in fire-wall.

When I picked him up from school yesterday, he got in the car and the first thing out of his mouth was “I finally found out your dad’s name”. I froze and rapidly rewound every conversation I could remember in my head and realized that I have never discussed my father with my children. We’ve always concentrated on their living grandparents. Besides my mother, who was killed in a tragic accident just over a year ago, we never bring up the subject of family members who have passed on. Pets, yes. People, no.

Regarding my father, he rarely comes up even in my own life. He died in 1984 after a difficult battle with cancer. I knew him sober for only a year before the cancer took over. My years growing up with my dad are difficult to remember. Dad was a heavy drinker, and was in and out of treatment facilities. Growing up with an alcoholic parent is never easy.

When he was sober, he was an amazing person. It’s simple to see how my mother could fall in love with his charming good looks, sparkling personality, and rapid-fire intelligent wit. But he was an ugly and violent drunk. We never knew when he would be reasonable or if something minor would rile him up. My younger brother and I took refuge in our rooms when we could. It’s probably why I’m such a voracious reader today. Reading was a good excuse to lock my door and stay out of the way.

I don’t know how to discuss my dad with my kids so I have avoided it. Do I only talk about his Army career? I can tell them some things about his tour as a tank gunner in the Korean war, or as a paratrooper in Vietnam. I could describe how hard he worked to get his college education after he retired in 1976. His long hours holed up in his office, typing papers, and cobbling together two Apple IIe plus machines to form a network so he could FTP into the William and Mary College library to do research might make a good story. But my good memories are so few compared to the bad ones that I really don’t have much to say after that. Perhaps I just felt that if you can’t hold your dad up as a hero and a great role model, it would be best just to leave his memory be. Maybe we could just ignore anything that happened before my Junior year of high school.

Dad had a lot going for him when he was young – drive, passion, a strong sense of responsibility coupled with national pride, keen intelligence, and a desire to help people. He was a lead dancer at his mother’s ballet school, taught himself Spanish style guitar, and a was wicked good roller skater. He told us how my grandfather lied for him at the Army recruiting office, telling them he was 18 when he was only 17 so that he could sign up to go to war in Korea. Dad was hoping the Army would train him to be a doctor, but that didn’t pan out. He never lost that dream, and he hoped to pursue a PHD in Psychiatry after retirement, but he was derailed by his descent into drink and finally died too early at the age of 50, shortly after earning his Masters degree.

From what I was led to believe, he drank to manage the pain from nerve damage to his feet incurred by jumping out of planes through two tours in Vietnam. My earliest memory is me standing with him at the front door as he was headed out for tour number two. The sun was coming up behind him, and my mom was giving him a hug. The dog (we had a dalmatian at the time, named Snoopy) was trying to get in the action. That last tour broke him. War does horrific things to people. When dad came back, he was an entirely different person. Nothing was ever the same after that.

In retrospect, it’s not odd that I have not told the boys about their grandfather; but it’s not right. I need to ferret out the good parts – try to remember them – and give them a piece of history to hold onto. I see so much of what made dad a good person in my oldest son. It seems a shame to keep that from him. I’ll try to do better.

LTC Richard “Dick” Del Randall – B: 2/18/1934 D: 12/14/1984
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String Trio

Life has been pretty busy of late. Last month, my youngest son came home from 4th grade completely enamored with a group of kids that came over from the middle school to play their stringed instruments for his class. He fell in love with the string bass. So much in love, that I looked all over town for a 1/4 size bass to rent, but nobody had one. Fortunately, I know a few cellists, and they talked him into learning the cello until he is big enough for a bass.

When I took youngest boy to rent his instrument, oldest boy admitted that he would like to learn to play a string instrument too, but he wasn’t sure which one. He finally settled on the viola because he thought the violin is too screechy, and his brother already was going to play the cello.

I found teachers for both boys. The youngest is with a wonderful lady who teaches in the schools and subs for the Richmond Symphony. The oldest is learning with my violin teacher, who also teaches viola. We were lucky enough that my teacher could just extend my session by 30 minutes and we share a lesson. It works out great.

My boys picked string instruments! To say that I am thrilled is a bit of an understatement. I truly hope they stick with them. Playing can be so rewarding, once you get past the basic stage. And a little part of me hopes that they will play with me sometimes too. The cool thing is that I get to try their instruments too, which I’ve been dying to do forever.

Now if only money would fall out of the sky. I was saving up to buy a new violin, but with the addition of two instrument rentals and two more sets of lessons, all that money is going away. I don’t mind though. Music education is just too important to me. My new instrument can wait.

It’s so fluffy!

I find myself conflicted. Losing weight is supposed to be a positive thing, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. My body isn’t the same as it was the last time I was at this weight. Some of my old clothes fit. Some of them don’t. It’s been so long since I was at this size that half the stores that my work clothes are from don’t exist any more, and the clothes are out of style. I’m also older so some of the clothes are not as flattering or appropriate. It sucks, because I basically threw 10 years of my life away being fat.

Honestly, I don’t like the way I look now. Hopefully things will improve once I get where I want to be. It’s going to take a lot more work.

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