Monday, January 24, 2011

One Year Ago this week....

1. The Saints won the NFC Championship
It was an incredible time to be a Saints fan. The noise in the Superdome was off the charts. The game was tight throughout, and without all the Vikings mistakes we were sunk. The interception by Tracy Porter, the first of two incredibly important picks in his career, put us in a position to win. The field goal by Garrett Hartley sealed our ticket to Miami. Our household was screaming—a neighbor told me you could hear it down the street. Hell had indeed froze over. My son David and I began thinking about the kind of dress we were going to buy in honor of Buddy D, and we all wished we were in the Quarter to celebrate.

After watching both games this last weekend, they just didn't feel as “electric” as last year's NFC Championship game. No doubt, the Packers haven't won in a long time and their fans deserve to see another Lombardi. I am happy for both the Steelers and Packers' fans—I know how they feel right now. I hope that New Orleans is in the Super Bowl next year—if there is a season next year.

2. I was on my way to Arizona....
I had learned the day before the NFC Championship game that my mother had taken a turn for the worse in her health and was indeed on her death-bed. My sister told me that if I wanted to see her one last time that now was the time to come. I had time to “relax” during the NFC Championship game, but soon afterwards I was packing for the trip noone is prepared for.

I was able to spend one wonderful week with my mother—actually it was only three days before she basically went into a semi-conscious state. I chronicled all my thoughts here:

That week taught me quite a bit. Indeed, it was the final few lessons in life my mother taught me. First, I never want to die like that—I'm too much of a real wimp when it comes to prolonged pain. And I know she was on morphine, but once she fell into that semi-conscious state, who knew whether she really was in pain or not. Second, you only have so many years on this earth—make the best of those years. My mom had her ups and downs, but I truly believe she had done most of the things she wanted to do in life, with the final thing being to see my son David graduate from High School. I appreciate her spirit in life, and I still hope she is happy with how she raised me, even though I know I disappointed her more than I should have. Welcome to Japanese guilt.

One year ago this week.... And so much has happened since that time. The Saints won the Super Bowl, the Giants won the World Series, and I am so in love with my family that I sometimes wonder how one person could be so lucky in life. Life is good—it is truly good. And I have much to be thankful for right now.

Most of all, I am thankful for all that both my mother and father taught me. And I see some of those lessons passing on to Devin. And I really do see some of the spirit of my mother in my daughter Cece, and I see the my mother's empathy for mankind in my son David.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The New Harley

I picked up a new motorcycle on Tuesday. No, I didn't trade in my Fatboy—she's still in the garage ready to go. But the sad part is that I sold my Caddy to get it. I don't want to dwell on selling the Caddy—she had been part of my life for the past 11 years. And all of us had spent wonderful times in that Caddy. But she was really just parked in the garage for the past five years, rarely getting out due to one problem or another, and it was time to pass her on to someone else who I hope will get as much joy out of her as I did.

In my strange “practical” side of thinking, I bought a new Harley Sportster today. “Practical” in that my reason for getting a Sporty was to use it as my everyday rider—one that will get over 50 miles-per-gallon. And with gas prices over the $3.00 mark locally, it was probably a good time to pick one up. Weather-permitting, I will ride the Sporty daily to work, leaving the Fatboy for weekend ventures.

Riding it home this week has been a bit strange. First, I had really forgotten how “small” the Sportser is—or at least how “small” it feels. The novice wouldn't notice this if they just saw me riding it on the street. But the rider knows the difference. It has a much lower profile than my Fatboy, it is thinner, it feels “lighter”, and it just feels “small.” To be sure, it gets up to freeway speeds pretty quickly. It is quite the perky bike. It has more than enough power too to fully compete with freeway traffic. But because of the frame-mounted engine, it shakes like crazy and is clearly not as “smooth” of a ride as I get on my Fatboy.

Because it's a 2004 model, it also has a “choke” that I need to use when starting it up. Interesting process. I haven't used a choke since I drove my dad's 1936 Ford pickup (there's a story behind that truck). I'm sure I'll get the hang of that, but I know I'll be off the mark more than once over the next few weeks. I'm just glad that the bike is garage-kept—that will keep it from getting too cold to start properly.

At this time, I don't have many plans to “modify” the bike in any way. I am sure I'll add a small detachable windshield, and I may end up putting a pair of bags on it. My hope is that eventually Susan will get her license and ride the Sporty with me on trips—with Devin on my bike riding with me. She seems ready for this, though I know she still loves riding on the back of the Fatboy with me. I also plan to give this bike to Devin when he turns 15. I really want Devin to be my riding partner in the future. I think we could have some real fun with it.

It's a good way to start off the New Year—with a new motorcycle. I'm really looking forward to riding it a bit more over the next few weeks. I just hope the weather holds out—it's been beautiful, but cold.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The “Final” Katrina Anniversary

Five years ago, Susan and I began our journey to Central Texas. On January 6, 2006, we moved into a rental house in Harker Heights with literally nothing. We had our “final” insurance adjustment check, and this would provide for our furniture, television, and other necessary items for a normal household. But during the first few weeks in the new home, we were living on air mattresses and stadium chairs. It was an interesting reminder of all we had lost with Katrina.

It has taken me literally five years to recover from that storm....

This holiday season, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on these last five years. The two things that remains ever important to me are family and friends. Without both, our recovery would have been impossible. We spent the months after the storm living with Susan's parents in Tennessee. This last December, we again journeyed up to Tennessee to engage in much socializing and fellowship with her family. They probably don't know how deeply I feel indebted to their hospitality after the storm. Over the years, we have all become closer. This last visit up there was our second consecutive Holiday Season visit, and we intend on making this our annual tradition.

The friends we have made here in Central Texas have truly been wonderful. Many would get a glimpse of our interpretation of New Orleans when we threw our first Mardi Gras party in 2006. Dinner parties, movie nights, and spontaneous drinking and celebration have become our trade-mark. I have come to appreciate how our real close friends know that they can come right on in to our house without knocking—something that I really like. Our dog Stella doesn't even bark when they come into the house. Now that's true friendship.

I have struggled over the past five years with meeting people or getting too involved with any activities here in Central Texas. Once we settled in here five years ago, we started our frequent trips back to New Orleans. On average, we return home every three months. It was through the kindness of two special friends in New Orleans that helped make possible these frequent trips. They don't know how important their help was in recentering me on what is important in life. But New Orleans really kept us from totally connecting to this area. Frankly, I know that my family will never be fully invested in this region. But year-by-year, we do and will become more personally grounded here. It is our new home, and we truly realize we are not going back to New Orleans for many, many years.

These last few months, probably since August, Susan and I have begun to get more active in the Central Texas community. No doubt, most of that activity has centered in Austin—the one city that comes closest to replicating our New Orleans experience. The music and culture are completely different, but at least there is music and culture :)

And I keep meeting more people. The one thing that helped with this over the last year was the motorcycle. This has opened all kinds of new doors to Susan and I. The people I've met through this network have been wonderful. Very down to earth. They like to drink and have fun—two things that bring us back to New Orleans :) As I've written previously, this will be a network we will further tap in to this year.

As I reflect on this last bit of Katrina memory, I guess I am thankful that we have landed on our feet here in Central Texas. Who would have thought we would ever land here. I was born in Texas as an Air Force brat. My family moved away from Texas when I was one year old when my father became stationed in Sacramento. It took over 40 years, but I eventually landed only 2-and-a-half hours away from my birthplace.

In the final assessment, this really isn't a bad place. The politics suck, but that is becoming true for the rest of the country as well. The schools are ok, but when they start teaching Devin about alternative biology or cooked up history, we will pull him out and home-school him. The job is challenging and at times exciting. The friends are great. The music is close. And I can get most ingredients for all my cooking needs.

It has taken me five years to kill that bitch Katrina. Though she will continue to haunt me at times, I believe I have laid that bitch to rest.

It's all good :)

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The New Year's Blog

I do not “do” New Year's Resolutions. What I have done in the past, though, is look back at my year and determine which of my goals I achieved and which, if not attained, need to be moved to the top of my “to do” list or totally discarded for lack of either effort or interest.

I have worked hard this year to further develop the curriculum within my college. I have many hard working colleagues who have helped the college achieve this goal. It has come with some significant headaches and perhaps the fracturing of what once was a very good personal friendship. In the end, though, my effort will help build a solid foundation for the College of Arts and Sciences.

My goal this year is to branch out to local community colleges and develop partnerships with them.

I wanted to have a book under contract at this time. The excuse I have for not achieving this goal is the heavy load I carried as an administrator. I also taught too many classes to do anything with my research.

My goal this year is to probably drop the book idea and submit three papers for publication. I think this is more of an achievable goal as long as I don't teach more than my normal load.

This has been a very good year with my current nuclear family. Devin, Susan and I have continued to build a healthy and fun household. David and Cece seem more distant now, given that David no longer lives with us and will soon be joining the Navy. Cece and I had a wonderful two weeks in New Orleans, but she is so similar to me in that she can narrowly focus on those in her current close networks and neglect those who are outside or at a distance. I fully understand these new relationships with my older children, but it still doesn't feel good to me. Susan and I continue to live like best-friends “with benefits” and I am so happy she is in my life.

My goal this year is to play with Devin more outside. I want to teach him baseball, and also work on his soccer. I also want to work with his schoolwork more. If this is a priority, then I've got to rearrange some of my other current priorities that take time away from him and my family.

“The Bike”
My one outlet right now is riding my motorcycle. For those who don't ride, I don't think you will understand this feeling. For those who do ride, you know exactly what I mean. Over the past year, I've participated in rallies and events, gone on more organized rides, and have “hung out” in biker related places and have thoroughly enjoyed it. When Susan is with me, it is all the better. Riding the bike has become my “substitute” for my strolls in the French Quarter. It centers me to a certain extent.

My goal this year is to continue to dive into the motorcycle culture. I plan to use my field experiences to write an article on motorcycle culture in this area. I plan on joining some motorcycle club—most probably the local Harley Owner's Group, but I may start a biker club for academics. That latter idea is probably something to do next year.

Social Life
We seem to throw a party every week, in one form or another. Susan and I have successfully brought this part of New Orleans to Central Texas.

My goal here is not to increase the number of parties but to increase the number of people who participate. I've written off my suburban neighbors, but perhaps more of my biker friends will come over and have a drink and enjoy some good food and company.

There are other things that are part of my life that I should evaluate, but these topics will do for now. I feel pretty good about what we achieved and where we went as a family in 2010. We have our health, our love, and good friends. I don't think we should or can ask for anything more.