Saturday, July 26, 2008


There’s something wonderfully inspiring about people who pursue their dreams.

Randy Pausch, the professor made famous through his ‘Last Lecture,’ was a dreamer who made his dreams come true and facilitated the dreams of others.

My parents were dreamers too.

I have only vague memories of life when things were ‘normal’--my dad coming home at 6:00 p.m. dressed in suit and tie, hair slicked back in 50s fashion. I remember he didn’t smile much.

And then, one Christmas, everything changed.

My dad and a friend built a small marionette stage for my older brother and sister. We have one picture of Karen and Stan with the stage, but then my dad’s dreams took over.

I’ve always wondered how my dad brought his idea up to my mom. Perhaps the conversation went something like this:

‘Mary Kay?’

‘Yes, Ron?’

‘I want to quit my lucrative job as an engineer at Sandia Laboratories and become a puppeteer.’


[more silence]

‘You want to what?’

My parents saved enough money to cover expenses for a year. My dad quit his job. And ‘Ron and Mary Kay Puppets’ was born.

They started by performing at local elementary schools with my brother and sister’s stage and marionettes. But my dad was interested in ‘muppet’ style puppets. So my brother, who was ten or eleven at the time, said, ‘I can make those.’ And so he did.

They outgrew the small marionette stage and built a larger stage for the hand puppets. (Eventually, they abandoned marionettes altogether).

Word of Ron and Mary Kay Puppets spread, and soon they were performing at all the elementary schools in Albuquerque, and even in Santa Fe. They were hired by the local PBS station to perform on some local shows which taught children the basics of music. They did television commercials, appeared on the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and, one summer, traveled the entire state of New Mexico performing a show promoting the Santa Fe Opera.

And they became local celebrities.

I loved it when they came to my school, Montgomery Elementary. My classmates would be in awe, ‘Those are your parents? You get to touch the puppets? Really??? Wow!’

There were downsides of being the child of puppeteers. When I wasn’t in school, I had to accompany them to all their shows, and, to my dismay, I had to share them with other kids. Our house was always in a state of chaos--with puppet fir, foam rubber, and ping-pong-ball eyes strewn across what should’ve been the dining room table. My parents wrote all their own music and recorded their shows in the local studio: our den. That meant silence in the house for weeks while they put the shows together. Our family car, a 1965 white Chevy station wagon, was stuffed to the gills during puppet season with the stage, sound equipment, and puppets, leaving only small pockets of room for the family. My parents argued over scripts, over scheduling, over who was funnier, and, most of all, over finances.

But my dad was smiling.

Ron and Mary Kay Puppets eventually came to an end (for various reasons that require another blog entry), and my parents went on to ‘normal’ jobs. But those were the golden years in our household--years filled with fun and creativity and laughter--and dreams fulfilled.

One of my favorite pictures from the puppeteering days omits my parents entirely. It is a black and white photo of children watching one of their shows. Their faces are lit up by the lights from the stage, and you can see that they are entranced--what better testimony to the kind of joy and adventure my parents brought to others?

My brother created an amazing website about my parents that you can find here:the Ron and Mary Kay Puppets®™ Pages

Saturday, July 19, 2008

That Mysterious Stinky Smell

I was terrified when I went to Albuquerque to care for my mom who was dying of cancer. She had always taken care of me, but now I was expected to carry her through these last days. I felt horribly incompetent.

I had been with her for a few weeks when a mysterious smell began permeating her house. Ordinarily her house was filled with the distinctive aroma of home--a pleasurable mixture of mountain air spiced with New Mexico piƱon.

Each day the odor multiplied, and Mom rightfully began to complain from her rented hospital bed in the den. “Susan, what is that horrible smell?”

My brother, Stan, and his wife, Carol, had recently emptied out Mom’s freezer so they could move it to their house. We propped the freezer door open so that it wouldn’t start mildewing inside, but I began to wonder if it was the source of the noxious bouquet.

I went in to the utility room several times a day, sniffing like a dog after a treat. And although the smell was strong near the freezer, I couldn’t find any mildew or other obvious sources of stench.

More days passed, and the odor permeated everything. I lost my appetite, and Mom understandably lost her patience. “Susan, you have got to get rid of that smell--it’s making me sick.” I didn’t appreciate the irony of that statement until later.

And so I headed determinedly into the utility room. It was so bad in there I thought maybe an animal had crawled under the freezer and died. So I began dismantling the grill at the bottom. I pressed my face to the floor, peering through thickened dust bunnies but seeing no evidence of decaying rodent.

I felt helpless. Here my Mom was dying, and I couldn’t get rid of that mysterious stinky smell. What kind of a caregiver was I? My fear of being incompetent was becoming a reality.

As I stood to take one more look at the freezer, my left foot bumped into garbage bag on the floor. I thought it was empty, a leftover from Stan and Carol’s freezer raid. But, I decided to look in it anyway.

The smell hit me like a hot West Texas wind. I felt my stomach churn, and I gagged. There inside the green garbage bag was the culprit: a package of no-longer-frozen shrimp emulsifying in the summer heat. Stan had apparently thrown some things away when he and Carol cleaned out the freezer, but he forgot to take out the trash.

“Mom,” I called, triumphant. “I found it. And it’s Stan’s fault.”

You’ll have to forgive my moment of churlishness. You see, childhood rivalry never really goes away, and it felt good to know that Stan was to blame, not me.

Gingerly, I carried the trash bag with its offensive contents out the front door to the garbage can. The mystery solved, I relished in the fact that my mom was comfortable again and that I had managed a crisis, albeit a small one. And somehow, I felt a little more confident about facing the many serious challenges ahead, thanks to that mysterious stinky smell.

Friday, July 18, 2008


I never really intended to read books about vampires. I mean, yuk. Vampires: blood, gore, Bela Lugosi, Anne Rice, creepy sagas of cold-blooded killers. Nope. Definitely not for me.

But then I downloaded Twilight by Stephenie Meyer to my Kindle and reluctantly started reading it. I really shouldn’t have--the books are written for a teenage audience, after all, and I haven’t been a teenager in a long time. But other middle-aged women had commented on Amazon about how much they enjoyed the books, so . . . well . . . if they read them, so could I.

I found myself hooked.

The premise of the Twilight Series is intriguing. The vampires at the heart of the story are “vegetarians!” What that means is that they deny themselves human blood because they refuse to engage in the violence necessary to gain it. Instead they drink animal blood (obviously they aren’t vegetarians in the usual sense of the term), and live among humans as “normally” as possible.

But what is most compelling about these books is the love story between Edward (a “veggie” vampire) and Bella (a human). The two are drawn irrevocably to one another, and their strangely dangerous relationship is electric. Because, while Edward no longer drinks human blood, he still longs for it, and Bella’s blood is especially alluring to him. Whenever she is near, he is torn between his love for her and his insatiable desire for her blood.

The result is a love story with an added element: danger. In spite of his love for Bella, at times Edward fears his desire for her blood might overwhelm him so much that he would kill her for it. And so, they dance between elemental desires--love and thirst, salvation and destruction, desire and denial. Each touch, each kiss, each moment in one another’s company carries with it these underlying tensions.

The result is a strangely wonderful and pure love--a love that is expressed in restraint and self denial rather than uncontrolled, selfish impulses. In a day when “lust” and “love” are so easily confused, it’s refreshing to experience a story where virtue prevails in the midst of passion.

Vampires, as it turns out, can be deliciously irresistible.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I didn’t realize what day it was until Betty called. I had spent the day, just like any other summer day, doing virtually nothing. Then the phone rang, Kelly answered and gave it to me.

I hadn’t talked with Betty in quite awhile. She is a neighbor who lives across the street from my childhood home. I just thought she was calling to catch up on things, so even the fact that she had called didn’t clue me in until she said, “Well, I just wanted to see how you were doing today. It’s been three years since your sweet mama died.”

It hit me then. It was my mom’s deathday, July 2. I had forgotten.

After I hung up the phone, I sat bewildered for awhile. My mom had died three years ago to the day. That event marked the conclusion to the most traumatic three months of my life--watching my mom succumb to cancer. And I had forgotten.

Then I began to beat up on myself. “How could I forget what today was?” I asked. “How could I be so callous, so insensitive? How could I forget?”

Kelly told me it was a good thing that I forgot--that it meant I was healing. But for me, forgetting my mom’s deathday meant that I was forgetting my mom, plain and simple--even though I have dreams about her almost weekly; even though the furniture I inherited from her reminds me of her every time I look at it; even though I hear her voice advising me dozens of times daily. I forgot that she had died on this day.

Why is it so important to remember the dead? Because that is how they live on. If we forget them, they truly do die--regardless of one’s views on the afterlife. If we forget them, they die to us.

I haven’t forgotten my mom, but I don’t want to forget the events that imprinted upon me the fragility of life and the cruelty of untimely death. So, I marked my mom’s deathday on my calendar. I won’t forget ever again.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Embarrassment is never much fun, especially when you’re a teenager. In fact, during pubescence you expend enormous amounts of energy trying to avoid being embarrassed. Unfortunately, if you’re a teenager with a father like mine, avoiding embarrassment is impossible.

One day, my father accompanied me to the mall. I don’t remember why we were there, but what I do remember is that I was absolutely mortified that I had to be at the mall with, of all people, my dad. It was an unforgivable faux pas to be seen with a parent at a hotspot where teenagers could (normally) mingle without adult interference.

And so, I decided to pretend that he wasn’t my father, stealthily lengthening my stride so that I could walk several yards ahead of him. Proud that I could maintain my adolescent dignity, I strode to the escalator that carried me to the next level, my dad far behind.

I reached the top and continued walking, focused on reaching our destination without fatherly interference. But then, I heard a ruckus behind me--a huge sound like the thumping of an uncoordinated elephant. And a voice--a horrible, plaintive voice . . .

“Suuuuusssssaaaaannnn! Ohhhhh, Suuuuuuuusan! Your poor old father fell off the escalator. Susan, Suuuuuussssan Day!!!!!”

I stopped in my tracks, blushing furiously. As I turned, I could see the triumph in his eyes. My father had trumped my insolence by tripping purposefully (and loudly) off the moving staircase. I waited in brooding silence as he ambled toward me, grinning. No words were spoken, but the lesson was very clear: “Spurn me and I will single-handedly humiliate you.”

Never again did I try to “lose” my dad. No, I always stuck close by because, as shameful as it was (in my mind) to be with him, it was far, far worse to leave him behind.

Underwear and Bubblegum

Running away was Jenny’s idea, not mine. I mean, I loved my home. My Mom baked yummy things for dessert all the time, my parents were famous puppeteers (at least in Albuquerque), and I always had great birthdays and Christmases each year.

But Jenny didn’t feel so happy. She had convinced herself she had a wicked step-mother who treated her like Cinderella. So, one day she said, “Let’s run away.” She was the Alpha-female in our relationship, so I said, “Okay.”

We went back to respective homes to pack. In my five-year-old mind, the most important garment was underwear. I knew you had to have underwear to live the good life, so I dumped out my Little Kiddles bag (a tan plastic round job that zipped up and had a handle), and packed it full of underwear (and nothing else).

Jenny met me outside my house, and we walked down to Bob White’s Grocery Store a few blocks away. We needed sustenance, of course, so we combined our pennies and bought a healthy supply of bubblegum from the machine. Amply stocked, we stepped forth on our grand journey to freedom.

We made our way to the busy corner of San Pedro and Candelaria. Somehow we crossed San Pedro with no problem, but Candelaria was not so simple. We made it to the center median and stepped out into the street right in front of a huge RV. Fortunately, the RV stopped and we scrambled across and made our way South towards the mall. We were further from our houses than we had ever been by ourselves.

As we neared the mall, Jenny had a brilliant idea (well, it would have been brilliant had she thought of it earlier). She said, “Let’s go to Mrs. Camel’s, she’ll take us in!” Mrs. Camel lived about two blocks from where we lived, so implementing Jenny’s plan meant we had to turn around and go back the way we came.

We were walking up Colorado St., a block from our own houses when Jenny’s mother streaked by in her Kelly-green VW bug. She screeched to a halt, turned around, and stopped right next to us. My mom was with her, and both of them told us to get in the car immediately. The looks on their faces told us we were in big trouble (but, admittedly, I was relieved—being caught meant I could go back home).

As I remember it, I was sent to bed without supper. As my mom remembered it, she was so glad to have me back safe I wasn’t punished at all. I know Jenny didn’t get off so easily.

I unpacked my underwear and saved the bubblegum. I never tried to run away again, but whenever I pack for a trip, I still bring every pair of underwear I own.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Journey to Mac-dom

July 10, 2008 9:47 AM

On June 23, 2008 I took the last step to a complete Apple conversion. I bought a Macbook (thanks to Best Buy’s 24-month, no interest offer). Yes, I am a complete Apple fanatic, but moving to a Mac is the best thing I’ve done in a long time.

Not only do Macs work better IMHO, but their interface, presentation, and software possibilities put them well beyond PCs. Most importantly, some of the software I’ve discovered has given new life to my creative thinking and motivation to prepare for classes. For example, I am using Nova-mind Pro to work on classes, a Sunday School Lesson writing project for Smyth & Helwys, a garage sale, a summer party, and a whole host of other things. Novamind is mind-mapping software. It’s different from outlining because it’s more visual--I’m a visual person, and this whole process makes brainstorming and planning easier for me. It’s also provided me a way to boost my creativity--to think outside the box. As burnt out and bored as I have been with my teaching, this program is a godsend. It’s available for PCs too, so it’s not a Mac-only app--but I never would’ve discovered it had I not moved to Mac.

Other programs I’m currently evaluating are Macjournal (I’m using it right now to post this to my poor, neglected blog), Devonthink Pro, Things, Scrivener, as well as others.

In any case, there’s nothing profound in this posting. I’m just trying to get myself back into blogging, because I really enjoyed it when I did it before.