Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I was a very young mother, having my first child at the tender age of 18. Being so young and inexperienced, I made many mistakes in raising my children. However, they all waited until they were much older and wiser to marry and have children of their own. My oldest, son Craig, has brought me much joy through the years. Among his many talents is his ability to express his emotions in writing. He is a wonderful parent to his two children, Cameron and Hannah, raising Cameron alone for most of his years. Below is a moving piece Craig wrote and posted on his MySpace page when Cameron left home for college.

"A Big Day"

"I'm writing this three hours after saying goodbye to Cameron, who is just now almost halfway between Dallas and Baton Rouge -- where he's about to begin his freshman year at LSU. I am now officially an 'empty-nester'.
Craig and Cameron 2008

While I knew this day was coming, nothing prepared me for the flood of emotions that I've been experiencing this afternoon. The only comparable day I suppose was the day he came into this world.  While that day was filled primarily with pride, love, awe and joy, this day has also brought about its share of sadness and, I suppose, self-pity.  For not only has my son moved away, so has my best friend.

Don't get me wrong; I'm so proud of the young man my baby boy has grown to become that I could burst. He is truly one of the finest human beings I've ever known. Still, there's a hole in my heart right now; and an empty feeling in the home he and I have shared these last few years. 

Indeed, a bittersweet day.

The memories have surfaced in a flood, as well:

That day in the delivery room when I first spoke his name and his eyes opened wide in recognition as he was being swaddled. You see, I had been talking (and singing) to him in the womb from the beginning. As soon as we knew his gender, we had his name. I spoke it over and over to him as we waited those months for him to arrive. When I held him for the first time and he looked up at me with those big blue eyes, there was no doubt. This was Daddy's boy. Not even his mother would ever disagree.

A coupla days later, they LET US TAKE HIM HOME! Holy s***! We didn't even hafta take a test or anything! I thought that terribly irresponsible of the hospital. They just let us take him. I remember jacking with the baby seat for over an hour. The instructions sucked as bad as those for his crib (some assembly required). When we finally had him strapped in, I drove us home; never going more than 20 mph. Seriously.

Fast forward a few years. He's perhaps 3-or 4-years old. His daycare is putting on a Thanksgiving pageant. He and the other 3-year-olds were very cute singing a song about Christopher Columbus or something. I dutifully videotaped it all. Next, the older kids came out on a stage to do their bit. Well, Cameron and his group had done their performance down on the floor. Next thing you know, Cameron makes a dash for the stage and is trying to climb up there to sing with the bigger kids. He kicked and screamed all the way back to our seats after I fetched him up. I guess that was the beginning. The stage has been his second home ever since.

Then the time he came home from another daycare, at the age of 5, to ask me 'Daddy, why did they nail the baby Jesus to the cross?' Come to find out, they've got these kids rehearsing to put on a pre-school version of 'The Passion Play.' This was a secular daycare so far as I knew.

Yanked him outta there so fast it'd make your head swim.

The next few years flew by. So many memories of me and my sidekick. Daytona, Disney World, Talladega, camping together all over the Rockies. Road trips. Hours and hours of talking and doing my best to answer the most inquisitive mind I've ever been around. Soccer games. Basketball games. Just chillin'.

Choir. Realizing in about 5th grade that his voice was a little better than the other kids' during those goofy Christmas shows. Realizing it even more so when his middle-school choir director kept emphasizing to me that Cameron's voice was something special. 

After his 8th grade year, Cameron auditioned for and was accepted into Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts. This is a school that is world-renowned for its art, music, dance and theater programs. Its alumni include Norah Jones, Edie Brickell, Erykah Badu, Roy Parker and many, many others working in TV, film, recording, on Broadway, etc.

Cameron flourished at BTW. Besides his major in voice, he also was a three year performer in an ensemble group called 'The Entertainers', a group made up of kids from the music, dance and theater departments that would put on Broadway-style productions twice a year. Sometimes these kids would rehearse until 10 at night, especially the closer they came to performance dates. In fact, late rehearsals were a way of life at Booker T.  There was always a performance coming up; a play, a musical, a competition. But still, the kids were expected to keep up academically. 

My son, even taking AP classes, finished 43 one hundredths of a point from an A average. I probably should have leaned on him a little harder!

One of the true joys for me of his high school years was having other parents come up to me and tell me what a great kid I had raised. They were so happy to have their own kids hanging out with him and congratulated me on my parenting. Funny thing is, if you ask me for my secrets of parenting, I haven't got a clue. I've never had to ground him. I've never really had to punish him in any way for anything. I just genuinely managed to get lucky; he's a great human being.

The only two things I'll take credit for are his love of music and his political bent. The apple don't fall far.

Of course, his senior year he kicked it into high-gear. He made all-state as a vocalist. He was an outstanding soloist in his opera workshop. And, LSU offered him a full ride scholarship to study vocal performance. 

And today, he left for Baton Rouge

I had this great speech prepared where I would tell him that, although I may not have been the best father he could have had, he was certainly the best son I could have ever hoped for. But, there was no way I could have said so much without crying like a baby. Instead, I just said, 'Make me proud.'

Like he could make me any more so." 
Craig, one of my true joys when you were growing up was having parents tell me what a great kid you were. What a fine man you have grown up to be; and what a good son you have always been to me. You make me very proud.

Love and peace,
Mom (Marilyn)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"They're gonna put me in the movies...

They're gonna make a big star out of me"..

Age 4
Remember that old Beatles' song? Well, ever since my younger son Matthew was just a tiny tot, I've been thinking that about him! He has always been something of a ham, and loved to pose for photos and home movies. Once, when he was about four years old, he and I were watching an old clip on TV of Sammy Davis, Jr. dancing when he was a kid. Matthew ran to the noncarpeted part of the living room, saying "I can do that, I can do that! Watch, Mommy!" Those little feet stomped around like a real hoofer! Through the years, he developed a knack for getting attention without anyone realizing what he was doing. He could tell a tall tale that would have you hanging on every word, he was so believable (acting skill?). His fascination with guitars led me to believe he might become a musician someday, like his big brother Craig, who had his own "rock band" when he was in his teens.

Age 3
Matthew is many years younger than his brother and sister, and he was so adorable that he was truly spoiled by the family. 

As he got older, he still loved being the center of attention and would entertain you at the drop of a hat. Although music did not turn out to be his biggest talent, he loved to sing when riding in the car with me when he was four and five years old. I remember how he stood behind my shoulder as I drove (horrors - no seat belts or car seats in the rear in those days), belting out, "Delta Dawn". Not necessarily on key. Later, I encouraged him to try a musical instrument. I couldn't believe this is what he wanted to play (at the time).
Alas, music in any form other than the radio or stereo (or later, Wii) was not to be his path in life.

Matthew developed his love of adventure at an early age. His tricycle morphed into a bicycle, and then into his first dirt bike when he was about twelve years old. He began dirt bike racing when he was thirteen. He worked on all the neighbors' small engine vehicles as well as keeping his own family's equipment running well. Around this same time Matthew played Little League Baseball, even pitching a no-hitter game. However, he preferred motorcycles to sports.

I have to admit that, although I was never fond of his riding motorcycles, his fascination with scuba diving scared me more than anything!  I have some wonderful underwater photos he took in Grand Cayman one year. Someone took this of him and a giant Southern Stingray.*


Matthew loved costumes of one kind or another when he was growing up, as you can tell by all of his photos. He has now graduated from this (at right) taken at Halloween during his teens:
 To his latest costume on the set of the NBC TV series "Revolution":
"And all I gotta do is act naturally"... Yep. Matthew finally found time to show up for one of their casting calls for extras. He is supposed to be a Marine Commander at Gitmo in Episode 16 (no spoken lines, but a costume!). They tried to do a second day of outdoor shooting for this episode during one of our really cold, wintry days, but had to call it off after several hours of waiting around. Matt said he enjoyed hanging out with some of the stars of the series as well as other extras that day. I don't know when or if they will re-schedule it.

Now lest you think Matthew is all about fun and adventure, those of you who know our family know that he has been a hard worker since he was a kid. Besides working on motorcycles, he worked on automobiles at garages and then dealerships after high school, soon winning accolades nationwide in contests they held for auto "technicians". One out-of-town dealership would even call him for advice when they worked on his sister's Lexus! He started the trend of having all of the technicians wearing surgical gloves while working on cars at BMW in Dallas, after sister Carajean told him that women would not want to go out with someone with dirty fingernails!

A few courses early on at Stephen F. Austin University in East Texas honed Matthew's spelling and writing skills. He has created his own website and blog for his business, and beats the heck out of me (and his big sister) in Scrabble or Word! If anyone is thinking of taking him on in those games, let me remind you that he was a Spelling Bee champion in elementary school. He's always been a big talker, even if you are often unsure if what he's relating is for real. A course of Dale Carnegie's on public speaking has paid off big in his career as well.

Using the diagnostic computers (Matthew is a self-taught computer "whiz" - my term) at the auto dealerships gave Matthew the expertise needed when he went to work for ALLDATA the year he married Amy. He was working in Austin selling Porsches at the time. They didn't want
First of Many
him to take off for his honeymoon, so he quit. After the honeymoon, he sold the ALLDATA computer software used by the diagnostic computers in auto dealerships and garages. Matthew advanced quickly, becoming regional Top Salesman of the Year more than once. He was in middle management when the economy started going downhill and the company laid off many of their employees. That is when, ever resourceful, Matthew started his own company out of his home. As luck would have it, he hadn't been in business very long when ALLDATA wanted him to promote one of their products to his customers. I'm happy to say he turned them down. Their loss. He now successfully sells more than one product to auto dealerships, among them are GPS locators for car dealers to place on their cars. You wouldn't believe how many cars are stolen when someone takes a "test drive". These locators aid the police in finding them. Also big are the re-insurance policies he sells to the same dealers. Still working out of his home, Matthew now has time for making TV movies and playing golf.  And his fingernails are always clean!

As you can tell, life has never been dull in our family since Matthew became a member. Now, as a father of two smart and talented children of his own, he is experiencing some of the exploits he put us through. Being aware of the danger in some of his early adventures, he is keeping a tighter rein on his own kids. In my defense, Matthew was never one to be stopped or even slowed down!

Before I close, one of my dearest memories of Matthew from his younger years is when he and I shared a chair while watching TV when he was about four years old. As we snuggled, he looked up at me and said, "Lovin' sure does feel good, doesn't it, Mommy?" I told him it sure does. You know what, Matthew? Loving you all these years sure has felt good - and it still does!

May each of you feel the love, and may you have peace of mind if you have a child like Matthew!


*I mistakenly called this a Manta Ray.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Of course, this is my opinion, but the news items below deserve kudos. These are not in order of importance. Anything I've missed that you would like to share?

  • Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he was suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state, announcing a move that he hopes will enable officials to "join a growing national conversation about capital punishment." (Feb. 11 - USA Today)
  • "On Tuesday the Obama Administration announced a national strategy on wildlife trafficking, including new restrictions on the ivory trade designed to create "a near complete ban" on the commercial sale of African elephant ivory in the U.S." ( Feb. 11 - Nat'l. Geographic) 
(According to experts, an elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its tusks.)
  •  " active player has ever been open about his sexual orientation when Michael Sam, a star college player at the University of Missouri and NFL draft prospect, came out publicly to the New York Times and ESPN that he is gay." (Feb. 9 -Daily Beast)
  • "House Republicans will allow a vote Tuesday on a measure to increase the government’s borrowing limit with no strings attached, a clear concession to Democrats that comes after weeks of GOP wrangling." (Feb. 11 - Time)
  • "Tea party loses as House approves debt ceiling increase without condition" ( Feb. 12 - Star-Telegram)
  • "North and South Korea on Wednesday started their highest-level government dialogue since the North’s nuclear test last year prompted fears of armed conflict on the divided Korean Peninsula." (Feb. 11 - New York Times)
  • "Canada, Netherlands, and Norway lead the medal tally at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. The three countries all sit comfortably atop the current medal standings with a total of 7 medals each. The host country, Russia, is currently at fifth place behind the U.S. (fourth place!) and Germany." (Feb. 11 - Int'l. Bus. Times)
(Feb. 12 - Fan Sided ) We are still ahead of the Russians. For some reason, that matters to me. Could be I was indoctrinated during the "fear of Communism" era!

And, last but not least, we all watched as the Russian skier broke his ski while racing in the free sprint yesterday. How heart-warming to see what happened next!

"Justin Wadsworth, Canadian Coach, Helps Russian Skier Anton Gafarov With Broken Ski" (Feb. 11 - Huffington Post) 
“I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line,” Wadsworth told the Toronto Star's Cathal Kelly, as he gave Gafarov a ski he had saved for a Canadian skier, who had already finished the sprint.

What a magnanimous gesture by Mr. Wadsworth. Now that's the spirit of the Olympics!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014


My oldest granddaughter Audrey is working on her Master's Degree in Environmental Management, with a concentration on Ecosystem Science, at the Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment. During the recent holiday break, she applied for and got a job for the summer with the City of Austin Urban Forestry Department. "I will be helping implement a plan that went live at the beginning of the new year. It will require a lot of interaction with other city departments, which will be a great networking opportunity for me. Additionally, I will work with them on a tree planting prioritization project, which involves using mapping/spatial analyst software that I've learned to use in one of my classes! It's truly a great opportunity."
(Wesley Snipe in NC Outer Banks by Audrey)

I frequently watch nature programs on PBS, and I am dismayed at the loss of so many of our wetlands and habitats for wildlife in Texas (as well as all over the world). To observe someone as beautiful and talented, with so many options for her future career, decide to work in an area as important as the environmental ecosystem, fills me with pride. The path Audrey has chosen is very demanding upon her - both physically and mentally. When I asked if she is still dancing (she is an accomplished ballerina and violinist), she informed me that she doesn't have the time to attend the closest studio, but she manages to do Yoga daily and go on nature walks whenever possible. The extreme cold weather of late has put more stress on this activity. 
(Tundra Swans in NC Outer Banks by Audrey)

Audrey relayed one incident to her mother, Carajean, when she recently went on a class field trip in frigid conditions. She had yet to get a coat warm enough for the winter they were experiencing, so she layered quite a bit. The class wore waders to get into the river. Shortly after entering the water, Audrey's waders got a leak. This forced her to spend most of the day in heavy layers of wet clothing! Luckily, she is a strong, healthy young woman, and survived this incident. She was not very happy about it, though. Not that I blame her!

This good looking guy is Audrey's brother. His mother told me of some of his activities this school year: 

"Tanner continues to play tennis. He and his dad have a lot of fun attending monthly tennis tournaments all over the state of Texas. He auditioned for All Region High School Orchestra (without my prompting) and made fifth chair (Tanner plays cello) out of twelve chairs. This was quite the accomplishment, for high school competitions are very difficult and we were worried he wouldn't make it at all!  He continues to work hard at remaining on the A honor roll. Tanner will also start driving this year - yikes". 

Yikes, indeed! Tanner and his mom, Carajean, were here weekend before last for another tennis tournament. (Tanner won his first game that weekend.) He is such a delightful young man. He's growing up so fast and developing a sense of humor that reminds me of his dad, Branch. He's now a freshman at the same academy that sister Ashlyn attends. When he was twelve, he was enticed into participating in Cotillion. When he was here, I asked him if he still danced. He answered emphatically, "No!" His mom and I teased him and told him he must learn to dance so he can someday please his wife by taking her out dancing. He was not convinced. He has grown a lot since this photo (at right) was taken... and also grew a head full of curly hair!

Tanner has made some terrific videos, using techniques I thought were far beyond his years. I believe this was the first one he sent. He made it about three years ago. He's also the star. He did a few others after that as he grew up, but now his "movie-making" is on hold, he told me, as tennis is taking up so much of his time. I know he will get back to it someday, as he truly has a feel for it.

Is it in the genes? One doesn't have to look very far to see the origin of the talents and academic gifts of my daughter Carajean's and her husband's three children - Audrey, Ashlyn, and Tanner. I've written at great lengths about Carajean (see There was a little girl,  published in April, 2013), and their daughter Audrey wrote a brief description of Branch in my blog Gamification in October, 2013. She wrote: "My dad is one of those intellects that just doesn't stop... he's a radiologist M.D. with a PhD in Physics... and also a professor.." 

Branch has been working on a Master's Degree in computer science, while teaching computer programming online - as well as keeping up his medical practice. He commented that the tests for the last two courses he was taking were as hard as studying for medical school tests. I'm happy to say he recently got that Master's Degree, Summa Cum Laude! At times I wonder how he puts up with us mortals. 

Oh, yes, Branch also has some musical abilities. Since they have been married, he learned to play piano, and Carajean told me he courted her by singing and playing the guitar when they were both in medical school. When I said to her, "How romantic!" She answered, "Not really, Mom." "Why not?" I asked. "He can't sing!" Well, I happen to remember Carajean singing along with our Barbra Streisand LP when she was a young girl. Can she sing? Let's just say the voice talents lie with her big brother Craig's family! You guys can't have everything.

May you all love and appreciate your children and grandchildren as much as I do! After all, they are our future.


Friday, February 7, 2014


Ashlyn Senior Year 2013-2014

Ashlyn had her 18th birthday in December. I must say she has always been a beautiful child, and has now become a beautiful young woman, as you can see in her photograph. She sent me a delightful email last month filling me in on her activities. She plays guard on her basketball team, and they played a district game in El Paso right after she wrote me. (I forgot to ask how the game turned out.) Ever the enthusiastic athlete, she will be doing all kinds of running events in track when the spring season begins. She said she would let me know which events as soon as she knows.

Ashlyn seemed very excited about being accepted to attend Oklahoma State University in the fall. She said the Advanced Placement courses she is taking are extremely difficult. I guess now she feels that all that hard work is paying off. She will major in biology, and her mother told me that Ashlyn had indicated to her that she would like to become a Physician's Assistant like her mom was before she decided to stay home and be a full-time mother. Ashlyn still plays the violin, and the school orchestra will be going to contest in the spring. Her older sister Audrey played violin in this same orchestra, as does brother Tanner, who plays the cello. (Mom plays violin in the Amarillo College Chamber Orchestra.)

I must share what Ashlyn wrote about the newest pet in their family:

"I'm not sure if my mom told you, but we have a new pet in the family, and his name is Chips. He is a gerbil I bought because I turned 18, and I felt that was my way of rebelling. Yes, instead of getting tattoos and all kinds of strange piercings, I chose to buy a pet gerbil as strange as that is. He's super cute."

I asked her if her mother had told her that she had a pet gerbil when she was a young child. Its name was Judy. Carajean loved that little gerbil, but didn't like to clean its cage. One day she decided to speed up the process by using the vacuum cleaner to suction the litter in the bottom of its cage. This was an old vacuum cleaner -- an Electrolux tank type with a long hose. She put the hose in the cage, turned on the vacuum, and -- you guessed it! Judy was quickly vacuumed up. Carrie immediately turned it off and began to scream for me. Big brother Craig and I ran to see what was wrong this time. (Carrie had been bitten by a squirrel not long before this, thinking she could make a pet of it. A rodent is a rodent, after all.) When we heard through her sobs what had happened. I immediately took the hose off and looked into the vacuum bag. No Judy! I looked into the hose,
holding it up to the light. I could see that Judy was about halfway along the hose. Nothing we could do would coax her to come out. I was afraid she might be dead. After a few minutes, I said there was only one thing to do -- turn the vacuum back on and suction her into the bag. Carajean was sobbing hysterically by now. After I did this, I ordered Craig to carry the bag downstairs to the outdoor garbage can and dump the contents, while I tried to comfort Carrie. A short time later, Craig was yelling from the back yard for me to "come quick". We ran downstairs and I looked into the can - which had been empty. There, amid all the dirt and lint from the vacuum bag was a dusty little gerbil running around frantically trying to get out! Judy lived a few more years, even making a couple of long trips with us when we moved to Albuquerque.

Hannah as Beth/Dorothy in "OZ"

Another budding beauty in our family, Hannah is also bright and multi-talented. An 8th grader in a North Dallas middle school, she excels in everything she attempts. She is a straight A student, taking multiple pre-advanced placement courses. One in which, U.S. History, she made 100. She also made 100 in Theater Arts. Hannah sings in the choir, under the same choir director as her brother Cameron did when he attended. She sings soprano, and was again chosen to be in the Dallas All-City Choir.

A couple of weeks ago, Cameron returned to sing with the choir, much to Hannah's delight. Hannah plans to audition for the Booker T. Washington Performing Arts High School, that Cameron  also attended. He said that she could be accepted in either talent -- theater or voice. Big brother loves to brag on how talented his little sister is! For Christmas I received a delightful DVD of her performance as Beth/Dorothy in a one-act production of a funny take-off on "The Wizard of Oz". She was wonderful.

After graduating from LSU where he studied voice, Cameron is now working to help pay off some student loans, save for another trip to Europe, and eventually go to graduate school. In the meantime, he is teaching Sunday School, and keeping his voice from getting rusty by singing with a group called The Uptown Carolers. They recently performed "One More Day" from Les Miserables in a wedding flash mob performance. Cameron is the tall long-haired blond in the grey suit, who sings bass. One More Day. It was a delightful surprise from the bride's parents.

Hannah and Cameron were gifted with their dad's intelligence and talent. Craig was also a straight A student, even though he was moved from school to school many times growing up. When he first decided he wanted to play guitar, I eagerly sought out the best music teacher in Albuquerque. At his suggestion, I rented Craig's first guitar and signed him up for lessons as a Christmas present when he was 11 years old. I was surprised when he came home unhappy after his first lesson. This teacher wanted him to learn music, and was going to teach him classical guitar. The Beatles were popular with his age group as well as the rest of America (he even had a "Beatles" haircut), and classical guitar was the last thing he wanted to learn. Later, in college, he turned to classical. He learned music! We all loved to hear Craig play anything at our family gatherings and especially the 4th of July celebrations. No classical guitar there... I later swelled with pride when he played the beautiful love song "Evergreen" at his sister's wedding. He and Cameron have since entertained us with many a guitar duet.
Enough bragging on family for this time. I, of course, have much more to share about the others, and some of my observations about the advantages these children have had that contribute to their successes. I am dismayed when the State of Texas cuts funding for education. The under-privileged children who live in poorer districts are the ones who suffer most. My grandchildren are blessed with good school districts and programs that many aren't.

Peace, love, and music for your souls,