In 2008 I attempted to complete a photo challenge in which I was to post one picture per day (366 in all, since it was a leap year) taken during the year, each one representing a theme from an assigned list. Sadly, I fell short, only completing 266 photos. I let that challenge rest for both 2009 and 2010, and am now ready to take it on again. I'll give it my best try. You can check my new blog (click HERE) on a regular basis, starting on January 1, if you wish to follow along. (Link is also posted in the side bar, to the right.)
On Thursday, December 23, Dan and I folded down the seats in our little SUV, packed it to the brim with luggage, presents and groceries, and headed to my mom's house in Carlsbad, in preparation for a family Christmas. Tim left Albuquerque at the same time, in his rental car (his own car is still in the body shop), and we kept in touch along the way and stopped in Roswell for lunch together. We were glad that there was no inclement weather or bad roads this year.
Christmas Eve day was relaxing and enjoyable. Dan, Tim, Mom and I got in a lot of visiting, since the only tasks I had to do that day were to roll out some pie crusts for Christmas Day dinner and wrap the last of the presents.
I rose early on Christmas morning and started making our breakfast kolaches and baking pies. Chris, Kelsey and the children were due to arrive at Mom's house around 9:00 a.m. They were driving from Pecos, TX, where they had enjoyed a huge Christmas Eve celebration with Kelsey's extended family.
Shortly after 9:00 our Christmas Day became less relaxing, more energized and animated, and even more enjoyable than our Christmas Eve had been. Children are to Christmas morning as lights are to the tree; they make the day glow!
Clara waited patiently, with eager anticipation, until she was given the okay to start passing out the presents. Robert, who only a month ago celebrated his birthday, and just the day before had celebrated Christmas at his other grandparents' home, knew what opening packages was all about, but he was a bit slow, so big sister helped him along at times.
Our Christmas dinner was a roasted pork loin, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pasta salad, apple sauce, and bread rolls, with both pumpkin and pecan pie for dessert.
That evening, and the next day, we spent as much time as possible playing with the children. Robert walks - and even runs - all over the place now. He and I had fun playing the "Where's Robert?" game. He would run out of the living room, into the kitchen, where I couldn't see him. I would ask, "Where's Robert?" which was his cue to peek around the corner and wait for me to say "Peek-a-boo, there he is!" He would laugh, run and hug me, and then dash back into the kitchen, waiting for my next "Where's Robert?" Over and over. Such fun! Clara and I took a walk to the river, played games, read books, tried out her new bicycle (her Santa gift) and her "stompers." She's such a sweetheart, and getting to an age where we can talk about so many interesting things.
Tim left on Sunday, right after lunch, because he had to be back at work on Monday. Chris and Kelsey and Dan and I planned to stay until Tuesday morning. However, our plans changed. Both Robert and Chris started having respiratory problems. Robert hardly slept on Sunday night because of a bad cough. All four of the Texas Judds were sleeping in the same room at Mom's house, so when Robert didn't sleep well, neither did the others. They decided to head on home on Monday. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Robert ends up visiting his doctor once they arrive back home.
As for Dan and I, we also opted to leave on Monday. On Sunday night, Dan tripped on a large wooden planter box that sits just outside Mom's front door, and fell down hard onto the pavement. We were so thankful that he didn't sustain any serious injuries -- nothing broken (except his Nook - his e-book reader), nothing sprained, just a few scrapes and some sore muscles. We felt that going home on Monday was the best thing to do, after such a shake-up.
Despite the less-than-perfect ending, we have many wonderful memories of our time together. I'm so grateful for my mom, who, at 84, was willing to host all of us; for Tim, who took time off work to spend time with the family; and for Chris and Kelsey, who always put family first, even when it means traveling so far with two little ones.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith This novel, considered a classic, first published in 1943, is a coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan, a young girl from an Austrian/Irish-American immigrant family, living in Brooklyn. Francie, like the Tree of Heaven which grows, literally, out of the cement of the Brooklyn streets and sidewalks, is resourceful and able to thrive despite the hard times suffered by her family.
Personally, I was hooked from page one, when I discovered that Francie, who was eleven years old when the story opens, was born in 1901, the same year as my Grandma, who immigrated from France as a little child.
Tai-Pan, James Clavell Long ago I read Shogun, by James Clavell. Shogun was an epic tale about the Japanese feudal system, and I found it fascinating. Although Clavell’s books are long and detailed, I felt I was ready to tackle another one.
Tai-Pan is a story of the European and American sea traders who seize the uninhabited island of Hong Kong, with its natural harbor. It takes place at the close of the first Opium War.
Although there are many characters in the novel, the story centers on the competitive relationship between Dirk Struan and Tyler Brock, owners of the two largest shipping companies vying for domination of the Chinese market. Dirk Struan, whose company is the largest in all of Asia, is known as Tai-Pan, translated Supreme Leader.
I learned a lot from working my way through this book, but I did find it to be work. When I read Shogun, I found myself being emotionally tied to the characters and didn't want to come to the end of the novel. Tai-Pan, although an interesting story, left me with an emotional disconnect to the characters, and a feeling of satisfaction and relief that the book was finished.
Paranoia, Joseph Finder After working my way through Tai-Pan, I wanted something much less academic. I found it in Paranoia. It is a fun novel, with twists and turns around every corner. The main character, Adam Cassidy, is involuntarily trapped in a spider-web of corporate espionage, which turns dangerous when he falls into the roll of a double-agent.
The Help, Kathryn Stockett I kept running into people who recommended The Help. I avoided reading it for about a year, thinking it was probably too similar to The Secret Life of Bees, which I read recently. Finally, however, I thought I’d give it a chance. I’m so glad I finally succumbed.
I was correct that there were some similarities in this book to The Secret Life of Bees, in that it centered upon black-white relationships in the Deep South. But the similarities stop there. The Help, as suggested by the title, itself, tells the stories of some of the African American maids – the help - who worked in the homes of the white socialite families of Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s.
Their story is told in an original and clever way. Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a recent white college graduate, has moved back home with her parents, on their cotton plantation in Jackson. Her passion is writing, but she has been unable to land a job in her field. Skeeter, herself, grew up in the loving care of Constantine, her family’s maid, but upon her return home finds that Constantine is gone and has been replaced by a new maid. Skeeter’s questions about Constantine’s disappearance are avoided and not answered by her family.
Those questions, however, lead Skeeter to a new and unprecedented relationship with two of Jackson’s African American maids, Aibileen and Minny. From this relationship grows a clandestine book-writing project and, eventually, a true and deep friendship. The book they write, in the midst of the historical drama of the civil rights movement and the assassination of Medgar Evers, in Mississippi, eventually involves the cooperation of a dozen Jackson maids and puts them all at serious risk.
The story plays with the emotions, as it has complex shades of humor, tension, fear, sadness, grief, admiration, joy and love. I highly recommend its reading.
On our recent trip to Texas, our first over-night stop was Abilene, where Dan and I went to college and where we met.
In the morning, while Dan was getting read for the day in our hotel room, I turned on the TV and flipped through the channels. A commercial caught my eye. It was for a dentist named Dr. Estes, and it was saying something like, "Dr. Estes is back! Come and see him for your dental needs." They flashed a photo of Dr. Estes, showing an older gentleman.
Now I don't know if this Dr. Estes is the Dr. Estes I remember from Abilene in 1971 or 1972, when we were newly weds and I was still finishing up my degree, but judging by his photo in the ad, it's possible. He was quite young at back in the '70s. Whether or not this is “my” Dr. Estes, the ad brought him, fondly, to mind.
In that long-ago time, I had been having a nagging toothache and, foolishly, was doing my best to ignore it. I was busy with school and we were on a pretty tight budget, with no dental insurance. Eventually it came to a point where ignoring it was not an option. The tooth, which was a front one, became abscessed, and I was in excruciating pain.
I didn't have a local dentist, but someone recommended Dr. Estes to me, telling me he was a good dentist and a fellow member of the church of Christ. I called his office. Because I was in such pain, he said to come in immediately, which I did. I was crying when I got there. I told him that I just wanted him to pull the tooth. Pain does funny things to your brain; I didn't care if I left his office with a gaping hole in the front of my face, as long as I wasn't hurting. Just PULL IT OUT, I begged him.
I remember Dr. Estes’ kind, but firm, words to me: “I’m not in the business of pulling teeth. I’m in the business of saving them.” He told me that he wanted to drill a tiny hole to release the pressure and then do a root canal. That was the first time I'd even heard of a root canal procedure, and I wasn't convinced that it would leave me pain-free. Plus, as I told him, we had no dental insurance and couldn't afford such an expensive procedure. "Just pull it," I cried out in my misery.
But Dr. Estes saved me from my own foolishness. Despite my protests, he performed the procedure. The instant he drilled into that tooth and released the pressure, my pain was GONE, and I could, at last, think more clearly. Then he took away my financial worry by telling me there would be no charge for his services that day. I wanted to hug him! In fact, I think I did.
I'll never forget Dr. Estes for his skill, his professionalism, his generosity and his kindness to me, a young, struggling college student, 40 years ago.
And now, I’m going to do my research, to find out if the dentist featured on the ad is, indeed, “my” Dr. Estes. And if so, I’m writing him a thank-you note.