Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Big Birthday Extravaganza!!

If you read here obsessively (and who doesn't?) you know that I've been planning MBBE (My Big Birthday Extravaganza) for a long time. Here on my blog, we had that controversial vote on what kind of patio furniture I should buy (still referred to today as "The Great Firepit Brawl of 2008"), I wrote up a riveting piece about getting the house ready for company and I've mentioned MBBE whenever the conversation seemed to be steering away from ME. So, yeah, you should be aware of it.

I received six confirmed "yeses" from out-of-town guests and made up a list of our favorite local friends to include in a party. I considered various venues and finally settled on "The Swinging Door", a restaurant/Texas dance hall.

This past month was the big push. I sewed curtains, cleaned out closets, planted flowers, made lists and learned a new language (hey, you never know where an extravaganza might take you). I came up with an itinerary for my visiting company so that the weekend would be dazzling and awe-inspiring- the kind you return to in your memory for years to come. (Hey, I can say whatever I want now. Who's to know?)

And then we had an unexpected visitor one week before company was arriving: Hurricane Ike. Damn you, Ike! (I'm shaking my fist at my computer screen.) I called off the BIG party before Hurricane Ike hit and put the out of town folks on hold. I wasn't sure what conditions would be like here after the storm, but I wasn't ready for everyone to cancel their flights just yet.

Ike swept through, our house and those of us inside it survived, but we were without power and phones. Most stores, restaurants and local attractions were closed. By the third day of this, I still wasn't sure what to tell my guests. And even if I knew what to say, I wasn't sure I could get in touch with them.

We were finally able to get through to my Mom the day before she was to fly in and she said she still wanted to come. She was coming a few days ahead of our other guests because she wanted to be available to help me around the house. Lucky for her, our electricity was restored as she drove with my husband back from the airport.

Lucky for her, not such great timing for me. The lights came on and I could see the dirt and leaves tracked through my house. Laundry was piled up, bathrooms needed attention. The frig was empty. I did what I could before Mom walked into the house and then all I could do was stay out of her way as she took over.

I would have been happy with making sure my guests had clean bathrooms and sheets but Mom was going for perfection. She cleaned walls and blinds and ceiling fans and anything else that couldn't run away from her disinfecting sponge. By the time my three sisters, one brother-in-law and one college friend arrived, the house was gleaming.

We had a great time. We managed to find a Mexican restaurant and a Texas bar-b-q place open for business for a couple of our meals. We even pulled off a small-scale Extravaganza!! back at the house with about ten local friends in attendance. The requisite embarrassing stories and photos were shared, good food was consumed and drinks flowed.

I'm still a bit disappointed I couldn't have a party with loud music, dancing and ALL of my favorite people, but I got a more intimate version of what I wanted. Despite Ike's best efforts, we managed to throw together a gathering that filled my house with good vibes that I can still feel today even though the gleaming spaces are now empty.

Mission accomplished.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Note: See that little girl, top, left? I got a present in the mail from her yesterday. She's a sister from another mother.

I never cared about age. Every birthday was a celebration and the opportunity for something special to happen. But this birthday is bothering me. I feel time slipping away, I feel anxious and antsy. There's something I was meant to do and I haven't done it yet. The problem is, I don't know exactly what it is.

I watch for signs, I try to seize opportunities. All I know for sure is that I haven't done my best work yet and the years are ticking down. If I throw myself headlong into those projects I always wanted to finish, the thing I was always meant to do may become obvious.

I've never told anyone this, but ever since I was a young girl, I've felt special. I quietly watched the world go about it's business as one person after another shouted their importance, tripping over their shoelaces as they went off to boast about their greatness to someone else. I'd smile to myself and think, "Just wait. Have I got a surprise for you."

I don't mean to say I felt superior. Just special. But now I fear I'll waste the gifts I've been given. I think it's time to roll up my sleeves and see what I'm really capable of. I'm scared, though. I'm not afraid of failure, I'm afraid to succeed.

I don't like drawing attention to myself. In fact, I'm becoming uncomfortable writing about myself now. So let's end it here with a promise to myself to work harder, to dig deeper and to face my fears. I have some ideas in the hopper that may pan out to be that one great thing I was always meant to do.

Just wait. Have I got a surprise for you.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Henry's Got A Squirrelfriend

I haven't been online much lately for several reasons, but I plan to work on a new blog entry today or tomorrow. I had to post a quick little sumpthin' about my crazy dog, Henry, though.

A squirrel lives in our yard and Henry is obsessed with him (her? Let's go with "it"). He loves to patrol his property looking for the squirrel and when it makes an appearance, Henry will gleefully chase it up a tree. They both seem to enjoy the game because the squirrel occasionally hops closer to Henry to look down at him, before taking off in the other direction.

It's fine, but an interesting thing has happened. I've noticed Henry has started doing two strange things:

1. He tries to climb one of our smaller trees. He doesn't stop at merely putting his front paws on the trunk, he hops inside the tree where a bunch of branches shoot out and tests them to see if they'll hold his weight. He hasn't gotten any further than that yet.

2. He's started gathering nuts!! C'mon, that's weird for a dachshund. I don't know if he's gathering them so the squirrel can't have them or if he's copying the squirrel's behavior, but pecans have been showing up in my kitchen:

If he goes to live in a hollowed out tree trunk, I'll let you know.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

To Quote Tina: I've Had Enough Of You, Ike!

We're fine. I'm not sure the rest of the country realizes what's going on down here, though. Millions of people were without power and though it's slowly being restored, there are a lot of communities that will be without electricity for weeks.

Galveston Island is completely off-limits. It's uninhabitable at the moment and no one is allowed on. We were looking to buy a beach house east of Galveston, on Bolivar Peninsula, which was the area hardest hit by Hurricane Ike.

We were literally weeks away from making an offer on a house. and now the houses we walked through just a couple of weeks ago may be completely gone. We've seen video of the area and it's just one cement slab after another where houses once stood. It's so sad.

My little family went without electricity for 3 days, so we got off easy. The only damage we sustained was to our fence. No biggie.

The hurricane hit during the night. We slept in the living room because it was the safest place to be and at times the wind rattled the boarded-up windows so loudly, I was afraid they were going to crash in on us.

Henry started to cry at one point, so I went inside his penned-in area to comfort him and fell asleep with him on his dog bed! That's where my husband found me in the morning.

I missed fresh brewed coffee in the morning. I missed TV. I was surprised by how much I missed my blog! I wound up putting pen to paper like a freakin animal! That's right! An animal!

Here is my pathetic missive:

Day 3: No electricity and no phones. Not even cell phones. We have water, thank goodness and natural gas, so we can boil water on the stove.

Need some boiling water? I'm your go-to girl! Actually, we're OK. We have plenty of food and water. We have a battery-powered TV, so we can keep up with the news.

It's driving me nuts though, being cut-off from family and friends. Our neighbor's friend had a phone that worked the morning after the hurricane, so I did speak to my sister up north to let her know we're OK.

This morning, Greg's blackberry rang for the first time in three days. It was my other sister, so he was able to give her an update. But after he hung up, his blackberry went dead again. He can feel e-mails getting through occasionally (it vibrates) but if he tries to respond, his message won't go through.

Occasionally, I glare at my impotent phone and it looks back at me, ashamed. Good! I charged the damn thing the night before Ike hit, so it has plenty of juice, but no signal.

I miss my blog. I'm sure people are worried by my silence. I think Taylor should come down here and do a show to lift my spirits. That's right, a show just for me! Right here in my backyard (which has become our living room). Think of the publicity! On my blog! haha. At least I haven't lost my sense of humor.

But seriously, I think he should get right on that.

I miss RHS, too. See what you've done, taysharmonica? I'm sitting here in my yard (because it's dark and hot in my house) with today's food in a cooler next to me, an impotent phone staring at me and what am I jonesing for? A peek at your blog.

Well, we did find a newspaper yesterday, so I'll sit back and enjoy it while I sip on a hot cup of coffee. Damn! Now I miss Starbucks. Guess this tepid bottle of water will have to do.

Day 4: I've lost the will to clean. Maybe you read about my Big Birthday Extravaganza that I've been planning for months? Well, guess the friggin what? It's this weekend.

My Mom arrives today and I don't even care that the house is dirty and we still have no power and no phones. Cell phones work occasionally. You can manage to get about one call thorough a day. I got through to Mom last night and she said she still wanted to come.

I have five other people flying in in three days!! Mom says they still want to come as well. The bathrooms work and I think we can find beer, so they told me they're good.

My son just yelled that the electricity is back on, so I'd better go see if it's true!

Glorious electricity! That night I had a cold soda and watched the finale of Big Brother. It's all going to be OK.

Some photos from my neighborhood:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Before Ike (No, it's not a Tina Turner biography!)

(Look at the clear blue sky.)

Well, it's Friday morning. All is calm. Some of our neighbors are still boarding up their windows. We don't expect to have any flooding here, but we'll have to deal with some wind. We were told on the news that our area should "shelter in place" and leave the roadways clear for those people who are under mandatory evacuation.

Yesterday we saw the flow of traffic go by our neighborhood as people left the coastal areas. Late in the day, after working outside in the heat to secure the outside of our house, my husband said he felt like a beer. I told him I'd venture out to see what I could scare up. Traffic was back to normal by then.

I went to the nearest convenience store and found it still pretty well stocked. The line was long, and I noticed that just about everybody was buying beer! A woman in front of me had so much that a man behind me offered to help her carry it to the register. Everyone was friendly. She said to me, "well, might as well start drinking now!" Everyone within earshot nodded in agreement.

What can I say? We've done everything we can and we honestly expect to come through this just fine. The beach houses we were looking at to buy are another story! I worry for those people, but the only thing they should lose is "stuff". They should all be out of there and somewhere safe by now.

We expect to lose power, so don't look for a new blog entry right away. I'll check back in as soon as I can.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Ike

Well, now it looks like that sucker is headed right for me. Damn. We don't live near the water, so we aren't being told to evacuate. We live south of Houston, near Sugar Land.

Yesterday I started to prepare. I went out to fill our gas tanks and the gas stations were already running out. I was able to get both gas tanks filled up, but I had to wait on long lines.

This morning I worried that I didn't have enough water in the pantry, so I went out to the grocery store. Mad house! Everyone was very nice,smiling as they passed and sharing advice on what to have on hand. I bought more water, bread, milk, sandwich meat, batteries and finally, a candy bar.

I never eat candy, but that thing was calling my name. I'm nervous. I'm afraid I'll forget something and my family will wind up wandering the streets destitute because of me. All I can do is follow the instructions they're giving us on the news. I've done that.

I'll do my best to let you know how we fared, but we expect to lose power when the hurricane hits early, early Saturday morning.

Just now, on the news, they said Houston needs to stay put and let the people who live right on the water use the roadways to evacuate. Will do.

"Hurricane" Bob Dylan

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ray LaMontagne

I see in the paper that Ray LaMontagne is coming to my area in October. Wonder if I should go?

And just because I love Kelly Clarkson's voice:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Taylor Tuesday- How Do You Talk To An Angel?

This past Friday, I was privileged to speak with Taylor Hicks on the phone. Though I had won the call at taylorhickshq a while ago, it had taken time for his management to work it into his schedule since "Grease" had come up pretty suddenly.

The reason no one ever heard about who won was because of me. I apologize for that. I asked the administrators at HQ not to announce my name as winner and they were great about working with me.

I accepted the delay and in fact, wonder if it may have contributed to Taylor's unhurried manner while talking to me. If he had called me in the midst of rehearsals and costume fittings at the beginning of the summer, the call may have been a quick two minutes, instead of the chatty twenty minutes he gave me during the show's last week.

I have to say, I wasn't expecting that. I had jotted down some questions and comments weeks ago, assuming the call would be brief. During one uncharacteristically quiet moment in my life, I asked myself, "What do you really want him to know?"

It all came down to the music. I wanted him to know that he has the ability to take a sound and turn it into a feeling. I don't understand it, but it happens. He opens his mouth to sing and my body reacts with goosebumps, tears or a smile.

So I picked one performance to talk about first and foremost in case that would be the only thing we got to discuss. Then I listed some questions should he be in a talkative mood.

Finally, the phone rang and Kevin from HQ connected us:

Taylor: Hey, Caryl, what's happening?

Me: Hi, how are you doing?

Taylor: I'm doing well, sorry it's taken so long to get connected, but now we're here.

Me: Yeah! So, how are ya feelin?

Taylor: I'm feeling great, I just went in for a check up. I'm ready to hit this last weekend on Broadway. I'm pretty excited about that. I have friends coming up. There's gonna be a party for everyone and the cast after the show.

Me: That should be fun. I have a couple of questions if that's OK .

Taylor: Sure.

Me: But first I wanted to tell you that I recently saw a video of you sitting in with Spoonful James at Ona's in May. You sang "Bring It On Home To Me" with Wynn Christian and it was sooo beautiful. It stuck in my head for days.

Taylor: Our voices compliment each other. We've had that kind of chemistry since college. Wynn's a great songwriter, too.

Me: I thought your version with the quiet harmonies was just so beautiful.

Taylor: That's a good version. We've always done it that way, since we were younger, you know, at Auburn.

Me: I read that your next CD will have a country influence. Is that true?

Taylor: Well, just because you go to Nashville and write songs doesn't necessarily mean that they're country. I think they're more Taylor than anything else. You can take a country song's an example, did you know that all of Gladys Knight's hits were written by a country song writer? A lot of her Motown hits were country songs, they just made it fit her style. A great song is a great song, whether it's country, blues or rock, it doesn't matter. You just have to make it your own.

Me: Yep, I agree. I also read that you were thinking about adding a verse to "Somehow".

Taylor: Yeah, I was...I think it needs it...but then again, if it's not broke, don't fix it, ya know?

Me: Sure. You've got more life experience though, maybe you have more to say.

Taylor: That's very true.

Me: You looked great, by the way, at the Kentucky Derby. Did you work with a stylist?

Taylor: Yes, I do have somebody. If I have an event to go to, we go shopping. She helps me facilitate my ideas about clothing.

Me: That reminds me, what you wore to A Capital Fourth was pretty nice, too. I couldn't quite figure out what kind of fabric the suit was made of. It almost looked like leather.

Taylor: It wasn't leather! (laugh) If I'd been wearing leather you would have seen me drip completely off the stage. It was about 98 degrees.

Now I started blabbering about a show I went to where I thought I saw his brother. (Yeah, I agree, who cares? But gimme a break. At this point I was wingin' it!) He said, yes-indeed, his brother was at that show.

Me: He looked like he was enjoying every minute.

Taylor: He's a great guy. I keep in touch with everybody, ya know.

I asked him about the Otis Redding album he stole because I've never heard specifically which album it was and I want to check it out. He said it was a compilation of his greatest hits.

Taylor: But you know what's great. An album I was listening to this morning...Sam Cooke, Night Beat. There's a song on it called, "Mean Old World", a very cool, haunting number. During the "Somehow" time period I was listening to a lot of Sam Cooke. So I guess you could say it inspired "Somehow". You should look for it: Night Beat and the song, "Mean Old World".

Suddenly lots of sirens.

Me: What's going on over there?

Taylor: This is called what you hear in New York City when you're walking down the street. There's like 25 different cop cars that cruise around New York City, you know, for security. I ducked down the other way so I could talk to you. You hear all kinds of stuff.

I didn't realize we were talking as he walked through the streets of New York. I'm assuming he was walking from the doctor's office to the theater, but I didn't ask. (None of my beeswax.)

Me: Can you move around the city without being bothered?

Taylor: Yeah, all in all. The hat is key. I've loved living up here, being able to do the Broadway thing and that being such a success has opened a lot of doors for me, not only in theater but in music, too.

Me: That's great! I wasn't so sure about it when I first heard about it, but you found a way to make it cool.

Taylor: Yeah, I wanted to definitely make the part my own, that's kind of the reason for the suit and the harmonica. It's worked out really well. It also allowed me to be in front of new fans. There's people who come to Broadway from all different parts of the world and they see me play harmonica and it's been able to broaden my fan base. It's a really cool thing.

Me: Well that's great, I'm glad it all worked out for you .

Taylor: Yeah. I'm excited about the next chapter. It will be... unfolding...before our eyes...very soon. (He said this mock-dramatically.)

Me: *giggle* I hope it's not too long.

Taylor: Yeah, well, I gotta get into the studio. I got a couple more cowrites to do. I don't want to make the record like I made the last record. I want to take the time and be able to find the right players to fit the song. You have to really get it right. You have to get the music right. That's kind of where I'm at. I'm gonna take a little break and then get into the studio and make the songs that I have in my repertoire right now that I want to put on the record. I really want to make them right.

Me: Well, that's what we want from you. We want... what you want the music to be.

Taylor: This time around I'm in complete control of that. It's going to be awesome for my fans and I.

Me: I know that you're under contract where you can't talk about some things connected with AI but will you ever be able to talk about those things?

Taylor: It depends on what they are. I think the next record is definitely the most important thing right now. And it's really cool, there's no bad blood there at all.

Me: Really?

Taylor: Not at all.

Me: That's good.

Taylor: Everything's great. I'm gonna take a little break and I'm definitely excited about getting back into the studio.

Me: Do you think you'll do any shows before the CD is finished ?

Taylor: Possibly. But my main goal is to create the best record I can. That's where all my focus is going- to make a really good record. You don't want to stray too far from what you want to get out there next.

Me: It seems like this is really your time because now you've got the resources and you've got the freedom.

Taylor: I do have that. I think in the long run that's gonna be beneficial for me and my fans, to go into this thing with a clear, stream-lined concept with people around me who have my career in focus.

Me: Yeah. *pause* Do you go anywhere online?

Taylor: Oh, yeah! Yeah, I do. I definitely am aware of what the fans are saying and stuff . I'm tuned in. As long as you guys are tuned in, I'm tuned in.

Me: Well, good. Hey! I've got a silly question. Why do you sometimes play the harmonica with your nose? (OK, I'm cringing. That was a stupid question!)

Taylor: Uh...

Me: Is it just because you can? *nervous laugh*

Taylor: *laugh* Well, yeah, ya know. It's fun for the people in the front. And it's fun for me.

Me: Oh, OK.

Taylor: Listen, Caryl, I've got to run.

Me: OK.

Taylor: I've got to go to the theater. It was so nice to talk to you.

Me: You too, thanks for calling.

Taylor: Sorry it's taken so long, but I'm glad we got to talk.

Me: Me too, take care.

Taylor: Bye.

What I hope you'll take away from this is that Taylor really does seem to be all about the music. He became the most excited talking about Gladys Knight, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. And he said many times how important it is to him to get the next CD right.

I'm sure Taylor feels the pressure from his critics and frankly, from us as well, to create a CD that's a true representation of him as a musician. Maybe we should all take a break, like Taylor. Push away from the computer, work on something you're passionate about. And when he's got the album "right", come on back and celebrate. That's what I'm going to do.

I'll leave you with the song Taylor recommended. I imagine some of you will want to read too much into the lyrics, but the impression I got from him was that he just thought it was executed really well. So, enjoy it for what it is because, after all, "a great song is a great song."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wake Me Up When September Ends

September used to be my favorite month. As a girl, I looked forward to buying a new outfit and supplies for a fresh start at school. It was a month for new beginnings, since my birthday is also in September. In fact, with four birthdays and two anniversaries in my family, September has always been a month of celebration for me.

Now there's a thick, gray, gritty cloud hanging over my favorite month. Flipping August away on my calendar, my heart sinks and I see that cloud rushing through the streets of Manhattan, sending everyday people like you and me screaming for their lives on September 11th, 2001.

My sister and her family live close enough to the city that they could smell the cloud that stretched out over Long Island that day. But they were touched by it in an even more personal way. On September 11th one of their best friends didn't come home from work.

We didn't know it at the time, but while we waited for some news, Ed's driver's license was fluttering down from Tower Two and landing in the street below. It was recovered and returned to his wife months later.

The summer after 9/11, I visited Ground Zero. There wasn't much to see. It looked like an ordinary construction site. But to those of us familiar with New York City, it's not about what you see there, it's about what you don't see. It's all about that vast, gaping empty sky.

We left Ground Zero and walked around outside Trinity Church which had been set up as a triage center and later, a respite for rescue workers. The church itself was closed while cleaning crews readied it for normal services.

But all along the fence which surrounds it was a makeshift shrine of flowers, photos, cards and origami peace cranes. Typically loud New Yorkers and tourists viewed it in silence. With a sick feeling, we passed vendors selling World Trade Center souvenirs.

I don't know how to make sense of it even now, all these years later. I think about the stories I heard, and it doesn't seem real: a friend of mine who was supposed to be very near the World Trade Center that day, but canceled his meeting the day before; my sister who works in Boston and thought a woman she knew may have been on one of the planes; my cousin who works at the pentagon but was mercifully out of town that day.

And details about Ed Lehman who didn't make it out of Tower Two. He had been in a meeting on the 92th floor when word came to evacuate. In the stairwell somewhere around the 78th floor, he was told that no one was sure if everyone had gotten out. He wanted to go back up to double-check but was urged to stay with the group moving down. He broke away from a coworker's grasp and was never seen again.

It's just too much. So I'll observe September 11th the way I lived it in 2001: horrified, baffled, nauseous but deeply connected to my larger family: those of us who proudly call themselves American.