Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bird Sanctuary

At CVS today, we saw three birds' nests in the sign. In the "S and in both "a"s.

Bird Sanctuary

Pebble Creek

Jon, Andy and I went out to chase the little white ball today. I don't know what happened. But, there were scores of old people on the course. We ended up waiting and waiting (and waiting). It was a miserable day on the course.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Ty's Birthday Dinner

The full set of pix is here: Birthday Week Pix

We went to Henke Winery for dinner on Saturday night. This was the official conclusion to Ty's birthday week. I bought some flowers for her Saturday. We had agree on no gifts for this birthday because we both buy everything we want all the time, so when birthdays come up, there's nothing left to give. But, she always appreciates flowers.


We decided to go to Henke because we so enjoyed our tour of the wine county (not country) up in Ashtabula County. We were going to go to Vinoklet but, we found out most of their wines are sweet (5 out of 6) and they weren't open on Monday or Tuesday to take our reservation. I called Henke a couple of times during the week to firm up the plans and get information. Joe, the owner, answered both times and he called me on Friday to firm things up.

Joe- The Winemaker

Chuck and Deb, Amy and Tom and Jon joined us. Unfortunately, Julie couldn't make it. We had a great time. George (our waiter) has a very Jon-like sense of humor. So, he was bantering with us the whole evening. The tour bus that as supposed to arrive at 5, ended up arriving at 6 (our arrival time) and messed up our plans a little. But, since we had planned a leisurely dinner, it was not a huge problem. I kept asking about a "tour" and both Joe and George were like "Well, we'll try to work it in."

The Crew (if I knew how to use PhotoShop, I'd plop Julie in)

The wines at Henke were pretty good. The problem, for me, is they are overprice for the quality they are. None were really bad. But at $12-26/bottle, I've had much better values. Also, the white wines were not chilled as cold as I would like them. The Pan Seared Cheese appetizer was wonderful, IMO. It was sharp white Vermont cheddar, rolled in herbed bread crumbs and seared (how do they do that?) The berry-wine sauce it was served on was heavenly.

Ty had salmon and I had the shrimp/pasta special. The salmon was I think the largest portion I've ever seen at a restaurant. She really enjoyed the salmon and her potatoes. The green beans were not so great. I had French Onion soup. And, that wasn't the best either. It was kind of sweet (the first time I've experienced that) and the herbs in it were overwhelming (and tasted like they were freeze-dried rather than fresh). The pizzas there looked great though and the table red wine was pretty good and reasonably priced. So, if we go back, we will probably do pizza.

We finally go that tour. It was hilarious though. George asked if we wanted to to do the tour before dinner. Jon asked how long it took. We gave Jon a hard time about that since the place was pretty small. It was obvious it was not a huge facility. When we got the tour, it was a trip to the basement where in one room they make and bottle the wine and the other room they stored it to ferment. It was literally no more than a 5-10 minute tour. If you saw the picture of Joe and the picture with all of us in it, you saw the "tour".

After dinner, Ty got the most unusual version of "Happy Birthday" anyone ever got. We told George it was her birthday and he said he'd take care of her. We were expecting a slice of cake or ice cream. The owner's wife came over to the table and said she had heard a little "secret". She presented Ty with an etched wine glass. But then, to our shock and dismay, burst into the loudest solo version of "Happy Birthday" any of us had ever heard. It wasn't the standard song either. There was even a huge thigh-slap in the middle of the song. It will not soon be forgotten.

Love that Happy Birthday Song!

It was a great evening. I think we ended up getting out of there around 9:30 (we arrived at 6).

This is Shayna...

'nuff said.

Shayna Being Silly (Again)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Japanese Noodle Dinner

We loved going to the noodle place in Deerfield Township (Nothing But Noodles). Ty and I were pretty upset when we heard they closed. But, I realized I had never made a noodle bowl at home. I can't believe that! So, we gave it a shot. This beef, spinach, udon noodle bowl was delicious (at the risk of being immodest). I've got to go out and get some chopsticks though. I only have a set or two of the disposable ones left.

Japanese Dinner

Vortices, Boxes and Mindfulness

Ty and I had a fight last night (shh- don't tell her I told you). It wasn't a big one. It was mild as arguments go. But, I observed a few things from it that are pretty interesting.

First- some background. Kayla and Shayna had a disagreement earlier in the evening. Normally, Shayna has been sleeping with Kayla. But, last night, Shayna reported something that Kayla did and it embarrassed Kayla. (Everything embarrasses Kayla these days). Kayla, in spite, made Shayna sleep in her own room. At least that's what we assume happened because when we came up to bed, we found them in their own rooms.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. When Kayla exhibits certain behaviors, Ty gets mad at me. This has been going on for years (since Kayla could talk). Certain things that Kayla would say, like making observations about Ty that she found critical or "talking back" to Ty would trigger Ty to attack me blaming Kayla's behavior on me. Not that there is no merit to that. I am a critical person and it's very likely Kayla has picked that trait up from me. But, it would actually turn into an argument between me and Ty when Kayla would say certain things. Last night, the same pattern presented itself. This time Ty came into our room saying "Kayla is so reactive and unforgiving." (OK so far). Then, "I wonder where she gets that from." Uh-oh. Since there are only two of us and I was pretty sure she wasn't accusing herself, I could do the math. To be honest, Kayla is pretty reactive and so am I. That's a fair observation. But, Kayla is not unforgiving at all and neither am I. And, Missy Ty, Kayla's being so easily embarrassed certainly doesn't come from me. But, all of these thoughts I kept to myself. Here's where the vortices and the boxes come in. I decided to step back and not react. The mindfulness practice is beginning to pay off. I felt the emotion rise in me. I felt the violation of my honor and I felt the desire to defend myself as I have so many times in the past. I did not want to go down this vortex into the circular argument I knew we were heading for. After all, what is the point? How do I win this one? No. I decided to let it go. But, Ty had me pegged. She just knew I was going to "react". This is where the box comes in. So often we think we know people so well, we don't even give them the chance to react. We react for them. I consciously chose not to react to her taunting. But, everything I said from that moment on was taken that way. I couldn't escape the box. Now, here's where I made my mistake. I asked Ty why she had gone into Kayla's room and started talking to her. This really had nothing to do with the discussion we were having. But, it was too closely related. I should have said "How about those Reds?" (next time I will). Often when we come to bed, I'll go kiss the girls goodnight first (because I'm usually the first one up). Then, Ty will go in and I hear a conversation. My mistake is that she took this as me accusing her of doing something wrong. That was all it took and we were headed down the rat hole. She told me that Kayla had really been awake when I came in to kiss her goodnight. Possible? Yes. But, she had no way of knowing that. I had kissed Kayla goodnight a good ten minutes earlier and Kayla's door was open. During that time, Ty had yelled up the stairs for me to come down and help her with something. That is possibly (probably) what woke Kayla up. A minor point? Yes. Not worth discussing? Absolutely not. But, guess what? Now we were going to discuss this. I tried to tell her I was merely pointing out that she had no way of knowing whether Kayla had been awake when I entered her room but I was not accusing her of anything (including waking Kayla up). Remember, this is a side-trip from our original argument about how "reactive" I am and my role in passing this trait to Kayla. I was not interested in this detour, so I tried to shut it down. But, the more I tried, the more it was just and example of how reactive I am.

Finally, I realized a couple of things. Mindfulness was not going to save me. She had me in the box, we were on that winding path and no matter what I said, she was hearing something else. Finally, I decided to grab my book and go to bed. Which she took as a sign I was angry and further confirmation of my reactivity to her simple observation. So, what I have learned is that while mindfulness can help me control my behavior or reaction in a certain situation, people's expectations still rule. People will assume they know how I'm going to react and put that on me no matter what I do. So, I've just got to accept that and roll with it.

This morning Ty said she was sorry we fought last night (not that she was sorry for her role in it) and that she didn't sleep well. I told her I was sorry she didn't sleep well (and I am). But, I did not apologize for my role in the argument and I'm not going back there with her again. She is convinced I was angry last night and there is not a thing I can do to convince her otherwise. Part of wisdom is knowing the things you cannot change.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Test-Please Ignore

Testing a new video program...

Japanese Noodle Dinner

We loved going to the noodle place in Deerfield Township (Nothing But Noodles). Ty and I were pretty upset when we heard they closed. But, I realized I had never made a noodle bowl at home. I can't believe that! So, I gave it a shot. This beef, spinach, udon noodle bowl was delicious (at the risk of being immodest). I've got to go out and get some chopsticks though. I only have a set of two of the disposable ones left.

note to self: don't try using left over stew meet when making a noodle bowl.

Japanese Dinner

More Nature in the Backyard

I love cats. I think they are such beautiful and majestic creatures. We had whole trout for dinner tonight and thought it would be interesting to leave the carcasses in the backyard for the wildlife. Ironically, a stray just started appearing around the house. I got some great shots of him. Click here to view a larger image. Click here to view the series.

Wild Kingdom in the Backyard- Stray Cat and Fish

My Version of Sicko

A month ago I posted on how I cut my ear and had to spend hours in the ER. Well, that was only the beginning...

Michael Moore's "Sicko" is playing now. It's a rant on the state of the health care industry in the United States. Thankfully, while I know from trying to sell to them and from an occasional doctor's office visit how goofy the system is, I haven't had too much up close and personal experience with it. About a month ago I got a little peek behind the curtain though and it was ugly. This is the story of how a minor cut on the ear turned into a $940 expense.

I cut my ear playing golf. Yep. Reached into a pine tree to retrieve a ball and sliced it right open. My friend Jon said it might need stitches. "Nah," I said "It'll be fine." When I got home I took at peek at it and it did need stitches. I called up my doctor. I said "I need to stop by. I have a cut on m ear that might need a couple of stitches". I was told the doctor doesn't do this type of thing. Frankly, I wasn't expecting her to. I thought a nurse would. "You have to got to urgent care." I thought, this ain't exactly urgent. But, OK. My co-pay at Urgent Care is $50. Not too bad (oh foolish, naive Brian).

At Urgent Care, the doctor and nurse oohed and aahed at my injury. The doctor said they could not treat me there. "Oh, the cartilage is nicked. You need to see a specialist. You might need a plastic surgeon and surgery." I almost laughed. Anyway, there I was off to the ER. At this point, I knew this was going to cost me the rest of the day. You know the story from there, so I'll fast forward. 6 hours after the initial injury, I finally got to see a doctor. The doctor sent in his PA (physician's assistant) who numbed me up and tortured me through what did turn out to be several (I'm guessing a dozen or more) stitches. A tetanus shot, a prescription for antibiotics and I was sent home. No follow up. No specialist. No surgeon.

I still figured I was going to be out a couple of hundred bucks for the ER visit. But, then the bills and the insurance statement(s) started coming. First, an explanation of benefits (EOB) from my insurance company. It was concerning a bill for about $275.00. The bill was from some billign service out of state (I can't remember where). Basically the explanation was "You owe the whole bill except the $15.00 write off since you get to pay the 'negotiated' rate'." So, I owed the PA $260. Still, not that bad, eh? No more EOBs from the insurance company so I allowed myself to be lulled into the ridiculous notion I was done (knowing deep down there was no way). Then, Bethesda North sends me their bill- $679.90. The insult of the bill wasn't so much the $180 they charged for the materials. It was the $500 they charged for the "ED Visit Level 2" and "Minimal Procedure". I called them up (yep, foolish me). "Hey,", I said, "I already paid the doc the $260 for his time. Why are you billing me $260 for a 'minimal procedure'?" They explained his $260 was only for "labor" while their $260 was for the time I took in their facility. Keep in mind while I was in their facility for hours, I was only actually taking up usable space for a small time and would have been more than happy to just wait in the chairs I was in for most of that time instead of the bed they put me on for the last maybe hour. I wish now I had had the PA meet me in the parking lot and stitch me up. Could have saved some bucks.

I'm guessing someday I'll get an EOB from Anthem that will explain why they wrote off almost $400 on the bill. My guess is it's due to the "negotiated rate". An irony of our system is if you're not insured, you are billed at the maximum rate possible. Having insurance means the hospitals and doctors can only gouge you for so much. It could have been worse, much worse. My contribution to this whole fiasco "only" ended up being $540.

Thankfully, we do have the money to pay the bill. We took the high deductible knowing we'd have to set money aside in case anything happened. But, now I'm really concerned about what happens if one of the kids falls and needs a few stitches. And I tremble thinking about people who don't have insurance or money to pay unexpected expenses like this. On the left side of my bill is a financial assistance statement telling people how to apply for assistance. Hmmm.... wonder why that's necessary? Could it be because a small cut could cost you $940 and half a day of work?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nature in the Backyard

There's a nest of bunnies under the swing just about every year. Ty found three of them in the backyard while doing some weeding.

Wild Kingdom In Backyard- Baby Bunny

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kayla Sewing

After how many months, Kayla and Ty finally broke out the sewing machine we bought for her. Why the sour face? Kayla is now suspicious whenever I pull out the camera because she just knows it's going to be posted on my blog. She was not happy about the "My Little Geek" post.

Kayla Sewing

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ty's B-Day (Part I)

Tywana doesn't have a birthday, she has birthday weeks. Her birthday week kicked off with a trip to Red Robin for the free hamburger. Kayla was very upset we were going out the day before Ty's actual birthday.

Ty's B-Day Dinner- Red Robin

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter Craze

I hate to admit it. But, I guess we, kind of, succumbed to the Harry Potter hype. Everyone's been talking about Book 7 which was released yesterday. It's been on the news for months. Where was it being printed? Who had a leaked copy? Which characters would die? Amazon had a deal where you could order the book from them and have it arrive the day it was released (or some such nonsense). We were not about to go stand in line to get it for Kayla. But...

Yesterday, we made our pilgrimage to Costco. We were feeling withdrawal symptoms because we had not been in over two weeks (16 days to be exact). I had thought Costco would probably have the book, soon. And we would probably buy it for Kayla, eventually. But, there it was, in the case which said "Do Not Open Until July 21st". Shayna couldn't stand it. She had to buy the book for Kayla. So, we got it for her. And, that is how Kayla got the last Harry Potter book on the day it was released.

Yesterday was a perfect day weather-wise. We're still kind of recovering from our trip last weekend. So, after the Costco trip and cutting the grass, I just relaxed. I sat on the deck and did some reading. It was 80 degrees, low humidity and there was a nice breeze. I took some shots of just how beautiful the sky was. Rarely is it this clear in West Chester. There was work to do, but the weather beckoned me to blow it off and I did. I'm finally reading Martin Zender's "How to Quit Church Without Quitting God". As I do, I am once again just amazed how so many Christians can't see the hypocrisy in the standard Christian "gospel". I was also looking over a brochure about Ohio Wineries, planning a trip for next weekend.

The British Open is this weekend. Tiger's not playing so well. Today's the final round and I haven't seen any of it live. When Tiger's not in contention, my focus just isn't there. I'll watch it today though (DVRd) after church. I have to be there early to help set up (there's just no escaping the work when you attend a nano-church).

OK. It's 7:30. Time for a bike ride. I haven't exercised in almost 2 weeks.

Mr. Blue Sky

<Reading Materials for a Perfect Day

Friday, July 20, 2007

What I Did On My Summer Vacation- Monticello

This blog entry is a combination of my blog and personal journal. So, it'll be long and maybe not very well organized. I want to capture some thoughts/emotions I'm feeling after a pretty enlightening weekend. Where to begin? I just returned from the Monticello Community Gathering in Charlottesville, VA at Monticello- the home of my great, great, great, great grandfather (hereafter referred to as great4 grandfather) - Thomas Jefferson. This was a gathering of the descendants of the Jefferson family, slaves, artisans, anyone connected to Monticello. This entry includes links to pictures of our trip. There are are about 240 pictures in all. The links only go to a few. To view the full collection go here: Monticello Community Gathering Picture Collection. The weekend was something I was not looking forward to for several reasons.

  • Glorifying plantation life is similar to glorifying concentration camps. My ancestors were stolen from their homelands, forced into labor, killed and raped to support the plantation system. I really had no interest in listening to people talk about the "good old days" of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

  • I hate being away from home. Nights in hotels- yuck. I'm practically agoraphobic (not many people know that). I only leave home when I have to.

  • It was a 9 hour drive and I'm not much for long drives.

  • It cost money and I'm cheap.

  • I'm just not into genealogy or history for that matter.

  • I'm not much for family reunions.  I'd rather have a party with people I know than meet more and more "cousins" I'll never speak to again.

I went for the girls and for Mom & Dad. Since finding out that our family includes Thomas Jefferson about a decade or so ago, I've been mildly (at best) interested. My first reaction was "Did he leave us any money?" Being a descendant of Thomas Jefferson didn't have any impact on my daily life. So, I really wasn't interested. That changed this weekend as the faceless names on the pieces of paper that people were telling me was my family tree took on flesh and blood and became real to me. This entry is not going to be a rant about how bad the experience was. It was surprisingly pleasant and informative.

Ty and I took the girls down a day early so that I could relax from the drive before the festivities began. We set out for Charlottesville on Thursday. We didn't get out as early as we would have liked because we had some backorders to get out and had to wait for product to arrive in the mail on Thursday. Finally, around 1 pm we got on the road, putting our ETA into Charlottesville after dark. We had an uneventful trip, in spite of some anxiety caused by Google maps' lack of detailed information and the mile markers on I-64 in Virginia changing twice causing us to not know if we had an hour left on our trip or nearly 4 hours, at one point. Note to the state of Virginia: A couple of signs along I-64 with the mileage to Charlottesville would be very nice. Kayla, overhearing all of our conversation began to worry (as Kayla does). Shayna wanted to know why we kept trying to figure things out and didn't just take the word of the Google map or the girl at the hotel's word for it. We pulled into the Sleep Inn around 10 o'clock, checked in and had a good nights' sleep. We shared a room and were a little concerned how much sleep we'd get with the girls there. But, both of them were out like a light when we finally crawled into bed around 1 am.

Friday, we had some spare time so we went to the Omni and checked in early. We then spent some time walking up and down the mall which is a group of shops, restaurants and street vendors that stretches in
front of the Omni. It is a very nice eclectic mix, very inexpensive and the people in Charlottesville were wonderfully friendly. Any meal that we didn't eat with the "gathering" we ate on the mall. Five Guys Hamburgers was great. There was a little noodle shop where we had some very unusual cold noodles (mine came with a spicy sauce and slices of apples). Shayna ate at Christian's Pizzeria which had everything from broccoli to ravioli to avocado toppings. Of course, she had cheese pizza. The rest of the family rolled in Friday (except Brent who had a couple of days from hell- having to drive to Cleveland to visit Sherri's dying father and comfort her mother before heading down to Charlottesville and hitting a deer about 11 o'clock that evening).

Friday evening we had a reception at the University of Virginia on the Pavilion behind the Rotunda. The significance of the location for the reception escaped me until I got there. I had forgotten that Thomas Jefferson (great4grandfather) was the founder of the university. The design of the rotunda and the living quarters of the students and teachers is amazing itself. The rotunda is the anchor point at the end with two wings down either side under covered walkway (you see this same architecture at Monticello). The teachers lived above the classrooms and the students in rooms between. That way, the students and teachers were living in close proximity to each other, creating a real sense of community. The reception was in one of the gardens, which was beautiful. We remembered to bring bug spray to Charlottesville for Kayla (high sensitive to mosquito bites). But, we dressed for an indoor reception worried more about air conditioning (and the girls getting cold) than bugs. Once I got two mosquito bites, we hustled Kayla out of there. Miraculously, she had none. She's always the first to be bitten. We had wonderful appetizers (my first experience with parsnips which were marinated, roasted and delicious).  Also of note was some very nice brie (which I normally don't like) and my first taste of goat cheese (pretty good). But, I hate to say it, Charlottesville, you're not much on the wine-making.

At the reception, the Carr family welcomed us. I might get this wrong because I haven't followed this whole thing. But, I think that was pretty significant because I think the Carr family was kind of a roadblock to the black side of the family (the Hemings) being accepted as descendants of Thomas Jefferson. Dabney Carr was Thomas Jefferson's boyhood friend and married Jefferson's sister. After the deaths of Dabney and Jefferson's sister Martha, Jefferson took the Carr children and raised them as his own. Frankly, a week ago I wouldn't have given a hoot about this one way or the other. But, meeting a guy named Dabney Carr and seeing all the descendants of that story brought it to life for me. The Carrs were very welcoming and played a major role in the gathering. Actually, they used the word gathering rather than reunion because this event was about more than just family, it was about the entire Monticello community. Monticello required more than just slaves to run, there were overseers, artisans, skilled laborers, etc. that Jefferson brought in as part of Monticello. And all the descendants of those people were welcome.

As I was snapping photos at the reception, I was overcome with a sense of belonging that I rarely feel.  I'm not into genealogy, I think for several reasons. Ostensibly, it's been because genealogy divides rather than unites. Genealogy, to me, says "I'm part of this clan and you're not.". I've always been more of a brotherhood of man kind of guy. I look at people as just human rather than part of one family or another or one race or another. I go back to the fact that we're all family through Adam (or spiritually through Jesus- if you want to go there). I don't give a damn who your father or great grandfather was, you're still my brother. But, subconsciously, I think another reason I'm not into that stuff has been jealousy. Maybe my reaction was a sour grapes kind of thing. While my friends could say "I'm Scottish", "I'm French", "My mother's family is from Germany and my father's from England", "My ancestors came over on the Mayflower", etc.; I could only say "I'm Black. My ancestors came over in the holds of ships, many of them dying along the way.". Slavery, over 400 years later still has an impact on the psyche of African Americans. We have been denied the sense of history, of roots, of belonging that is so common among white people. While they can go visit the castles of Europe and imagine what it was like for their ancestors to hold court there, we get to go to the Freedom Center or a plantation and imagine our ancestors being raped, beaten and just eking out an existence. Look back at history? You ask. No thanks. Let's just move forward, please- quickly.

But, something was different at the reception, as I looked around, I loved the fact that all these diverse people were acknowledging a common heritage. Since it was an expanded reunion, we were not all related by blood. But, in fact, many of us were related by blood. You could see the transition in our family from white to black and sometimes back again. My family reunions normally have a pretty wide range of shades at them anyway. But, this was pretty wild. At the reunion, it was apparent, that most "African Americans" are not that at all, we're mulattoes, mixed race people. But, we're forced to wear the simplistic label of "Black". The thing that is wrong with that it denies a big part of who most of us "African"-Americans are. Not only were our ancestors stolen from their lands and our genealogies lost to us that way, when our European ancestors mixed races with them, they denied the resulting children of half (or more) of their heritage. Sally Hemings, my great4 grandmother, was three-quarters white. Thomas Jefferson's wife was her half-sister. Sally Hemings was described by one of her contemporaries as "mighty near white" (unfortunately, no pictures of her are still around). My great3grandfather, Thomas Woodson was 7/8 white. Yet, for both, being mostly white wasn't enough. They were Black enough to be slaves. When Thomas Woodson moved to Ohio, many of his descendants "passed" and blended into the White community, leaving his later descendants in the dark about their true blood-lines until recently. At the reception, when I saw a group of people who not only accepted, but embraced this heritage, I felt a true sense of belonging. In this group, I was finally neither White nor Black, just a darker skinned cousin. We were all there to celebrate our common heritage and the racial divide was set aside. It simply was not an issue for these three days. That was a glimpse of the way things should be every day! For so long, I've wrestled with whether to simply allow people to classify me as "African American" or not. For the sake of simplicity, I usually do. But, I know my heritage is much richer (and checkered) than just that. When I go o just my "normal" family reunions, I can look around and see the results of the melting pot. But, we have to have things in neat little categories. People want to pin me down as an African-American male Christian. Who has the time to find out that 'm not only a son of slaves, but a son of kings (so to speak)? Not only Christian, but heavily influenced by Buddhism and other traditions? Not simply a Democrat or a Liberal, but someone who decides things one issue at a time?

People used to accuse me of being "afraid to be Black". I'm not afraid to be Black. 'm happy to be who I am. But, I am not what people assume me to be when they hear I am Black. And, I will not pretend to be what I am not to live up to (rather down to) someone else's expectations. I was not raised in the 'hood (ghetto). I do not speak Ebonics. And, all my ancestors were not slaves or Africans. I don't fit into the neat little boxes people want to put me in. It's cramped and dark in there. I want out.

Saturday morning, we had the keynote address and introductions. The Monticello families were listed on a PowerPoint slide and each family had a representative give a brief accounting of how they were related to Monticello. My favorite though was the matriarch of my branch (whom I hadn't met until Friday). Mary Casells Kearney is 85 years old and told a powerful story of wanting to belong and of her heritage being denied her. She was a child when her father sat her and her siblings down with a little brown leather journal. But, from the way she told the story, you could tell in her mind it was like it happened yesterday. Some powerful emotions must have be brought forth for that day to have made such an impression on her. From this book, her father recited her heritage to her- how she was descended not only from slaves but from one of the most influential men in American history (and in world history), Thomas Jefferson. Mary is a light skinned woman, as you can see in the picture. But, as a child, when she looked at the ictures in the book, she said with surprise "Those look like white people in that book." She had been told her whole life she was Black (I'm guessing the word was "colored"). She had no idea about how she got the light skin. It was a story of a proud heritage. Yet, at the end of his recitation, the other shoe fell. He told them to learn their heritage, but not to speak it to anyone. A lump came up in my throat and tears came to my eyes as Mary said she didn't care what historians or scientists said, she knew she was a member of the family. It was obvious Mary did care. She carried that book with pride and she loved the fact that finally, finally, the rest of the family was acknowledging her as a member. Mary received a standing ovation.

Prinny Anderson, who did a lot of the coordination of the event, did an excellent job of kicking things off and sharing her reflections on what was happening.  Prinny has been very active in the effort to bring both sides of the slave legacy together, participating in the Coming to the Table project. When she spoke, it was obvious that this discovery of the "other side" of her family had had an impact on her. When she introduced her "cousin Connye Moore-Richardson", old habits made me (and others)expect a white woman to stand up. But, Connye is a beautiful black lady from Los Angeles, CA. It was another reminder of how deeply race and its divisions has been put into us.

The Mayor of Charlottesville, David Brown, addressed us and welcomed us to Charlottesville. Obviously, Monticello and the University of Virginia are major parts of Charlottesville, both given to the city by our great4 grandfather. The mayor gave us a warm welcome. I have to admit, I swelled with pride (just a little). How many family reunions have a mayor address them and talk about the contribution of their family (actually the Monticello community) to their city?

The keynote speaker was Associate Professor of History at University of Alabama, Dr. Josh Rothman. His speech was long (too long for some- especially the children). But, I thought it was fascinating. He could not have delivered the information he had to deliver in any less time. I appreciated his thoroughness and was glad he took his time. I was expecting a dry recitation about life on the plantation (which was wonderful if you were White but sucked if you were Black). But, that's not what he delivered. He talked about the complexities of the White-Black relationship, the codependencies and the fact that it truly was an integrated society (even if both sides were uncomfortable with it). He acknowledged (much to my happiness) the fact that Monticello could not have existed without the forced labor of many men, women and children. He did not whitewash (pun intended) the often swept-under-the-rug part of that life. He talked about the complex relationship between slave owner and master. The masters often talked about benevolence to slaves. Yet, most did not hesitate to use the whip or to break up families or rape women. They wrote lofty words about how all men are created equal, yet they traded men like cattle and treated them worse than they would their dogs. They said Blacks were sub-human, yet reproduced with them. They said Blacks were unskilled and untrainable. Yet, while Monticello started off as a very cosmopolitan place with craftsmen from all over the world imported to make the things Jefferson sought, those craftsmen transferred their skills to these "subhuman, untrainable" Blacks who provided free, skilled labor to produce Jefferson's necessities. Masters would often give slaves the opportunity to earn money to buy things for themselves (sometimes selling these goods back to the masters- Jefferson did this). Occasionally, a slave could even purchase his own freedom. But, were these things done out of paternalistic concern, humanitarianism or because it was good property management? Who knows?

One major point the professor made that I hadn't really thought about before was that the plantation life was an integrated community, not segregated. And, it was a community. Blacks and Whites worked shoulder to shoulder and were intimately (in all meanings of the word) involved with each other. It was after slavery that we tried segregation in this country. But, slavery forced us together.

Thomas Jefferson wanted to be completely self-sufficient. It's ironic that he could only do this on the backs of almost 200 slaves. The plaque at Monticello references only about 110. But,from what I've read elsewhere, the actual number is closer to 200. If Jefferson could make a thing at Monticello, he did. He had wool spun, fabric produced, buttons made, a nailery (where they made nails), they produced their own charcoal, they did their own carpentry, at least one carriage was made there), he grew his own grapes for wine (from grapes imported from Italy). And that's just the tip of the iceberg. However, when I look at plantation life, it's not with a sense of longing for the "good old days" or even admiration for what they accomplished. I see an economic engine that benefited a chosen few. An engine whose fuel was the blood, sweat and tears of men, women and children. Monticello, while fascinating in many ways, was still a plantation. Even while I was admiring Monticello during the tour, I never wanted to forget that and I never will. It's not so hard to achieve financial success when you have a virtually unlimited pool of free labor.

After the professor's speech, Lucia Cinder Stanton, Senior Research Historian at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation (and probably the world's foremost authority on slave life at Monticello) spoke to us. She told us about a "day in the life" of Monticello. I assumed this would be a generic, this is what would happen on a typical day. But,
great4 grandfather was a man who I'm guessing would be diagnosed with OCD
today. He kept a journal on every detail of his (business) life. So, when you do a day in the life of Jefferson, you can pick a day like July 14, 1814 and do that day. He began his day by noting the weather making notes like "CAR" (clear after rain) and giving the exact rainfall, down to two
decimal places). He gave us the decimal monetary system and tried to take the nation to decimal measures all around. He spent this particular day riding around the property (up to 5,000 acres back then) noting how things were going. Earlier I said he wanted Monticello to be completely self-sufficient. So there was a lot to check on. He would note how much fabric was produced in the mills (by each worker), how many hours each worker worked, how many nails were produced, when the tomatoes would be ripe (three days from now), etc. There are journals covering decades of exactly everything he bought. Yet, such a detail oriented man died in debt (way in debt!). He was obsessed with living the good life and apparently, he was going to have what he wanted, no matter the cost. He said he detested slavery. Yet, he only freed two slaves during his lifetime, allowed two to "run away" and freed five after his death. We did hear stories of others who freed more slaves (in life and in death- it's easy to give them up when you don't need them anymore). But, I always wonder how a man who could write the words of the Declaration of Independence and father so many children by a "Black" (remember Sally Hemings was 3/4 white) woman could sleep at night knowing his crown-jewel, Monticello, was built and run by enslaving men, women and children. Most of us think of slaves as dark skinned, nappy headed Africans. That would at least distance them from the masters in appearance. But, many slaves looked no different than their masters. Children with the same father and different mothers grew up on the same land but in completely different worlds. There's a report of at least one person remarking how much one of Sally Hemings children (a slave) looked like Thomas Jefferson himself. Thomas Jefferson, while a great thinker, public servant and full of ideals was complex and flawed as we all are. He could only live the lifestyle he chose to live by making the decision to keep slaves. Given the compromises I made every day to provide for myself and my family, I cannot honestly say that I know, to a certainty, I wouldn't do the same thing. But, I don't think I would. ...I hope I wouldn't.

After the speeches, it was time to head up to Monticello. I say "up" because Monticello, which means "little mountain" is scenically located just outside Charlottesville up on a "little mountain". From the right vantage point, Jefferson could look down and see his handiwork, the University of Virginia. We missed the scheduled children's tour because they neglected to tell us that you can only drive up to about half a mile away from the house, then you have to take a bus up. But, I think that turned out OK. We were told the next (available) tour of the house didn't start until 5:10 (and it was about 3 o'clock).  I was amazed at the number of people touring Monticello. So, we decided instead to walk the grounds and see the house later (at the reception where we got exclusive access to rooms not available to the public). I as kind of dreading this. As I said, I see plantations as just several notches above concentration camps. The difference being plantations were set up on a system dependent on the exploitation of an enslaved people and concentration camps were set up for a people's destruction. Plantations could not have existed without forced labor. he South could not have produced its cotton and rice (rice shown to them by Africans) without the labor the stole from Africa. As I strolled the gardens that Jefferson strolled, viewed the beautiful views he looked over and walked into the bedroom where he and Sally Hemings may have conceived children that he denied, I felt conflicted. Ty made the comment that my ancestors had worked
these fields and lived in these 12'x20' slave houses. But, I had to remind her (and myself) that my ancestor also owned these fields, owned my grand4 grandmother and penned the Declaration of Independence.

After walking through the gardens, we strolled down to the Jefferson cemetery. That's something I normally would have taken a pass on. But, hearing the stories orally, from real flesh and blood people brought these names to life for me.  Not only was my grand4 grandfather buried there. But, the relatives of many of the people I had been meeting over the last few days. We joked about being buried there in the family plot, knowing that ain't gonna happen. I later found out that a certain part of the family blocked having the sunrise service in the graveyard the following morning. And there is still an issue with anyone descended from slaves being buried here. But, we didn't know either of those things at the time. As we returned to Monticello for the evening's festivities, we noticed the slave burial ground, almost half of a mile from the main house- way down the hill. Despite the detailed records of commerce at Monticello, there was o record of the slave burial ground. It was only discovered in 2001. Slaves were buried with maybe a rock to mark the grave. No inscriptions.

After the graveyard, we strolled up along Mulberry Row where much of the work was done, back in the day. There were people making cabinets, making barrels, making nails, making baskets from oak (I had no idea how they split the wood to make those things) and demonstrating how the slaves cooked. As I watched the skill involved in those things, I continually thought "How could they say Blacks cannot be self-sufficient when many Blacks were practicing crafts way above the level of the average White person of the time?" It's amazing to me what people can rationalize. Blacks could obviously speak, think, show emotion and reproduce with Whites. Yet, somehow White people managed to dehumanize them. I've heard that Blacks were often compared to animals or to children (of limited capacity). But, when it came to using them for skilled labor or for having sex with them, White people gave them responsibilities they would never give to children and did things with them they would not have done with animals.

Speaking of cooking, did you like the looks of the spread in that picture? Well, here's what each slave was given to live on for the week. That's a peck of corn and a little "fat back". I know they didn't know a lot about nutrition 200 plus years ago. But, they knew this wasn't enough to keep a person healthy. Slaves supplemented their rations by farming, hunting and fishing. But, since they worked, for the master, sun up to sun down 6 days a week, there wasn't a lot of time for this. Masters would though buy back excess food from the slaves, giving them their own spending money. Jefferson allowed the barrel makers to keep every 31st barrel of the barrels they produced. This could be sold for some income. The lady doing the cooking (she had just made an awesome looking chicken stew in a dutch oven) told us about how dependent the plantation was on the slaves and we talked about it for a while. From our name tags, she knew we were with the Monticello Gathering. But, I don't think her presentation was tailored to us. I was happy to hear that visitors to Monticello were being given both sides of the story. She told us she was honored to have us there. That was a strange feeling. Honored seemed like a strong word. But, it was another nice welcome home.

After freshening up for a bit back at the hotel, it was time for the reception on the lawn at Monticello. And, we could finally go in
"the big house". The reception was great. The food was even better than the day before. I was happy the kids got to experience the "fancy" reception. The tour of the house was just fascinating. The first thing I noticed was the clock above the doorway (both inside and out) and the weather vane indicator on the porch. In the entryway, there is the first sign that Thomas Jefferson was not perfect. The clock is operated by a weight that moves from day to day. You see Sunday through Friday. But, then there's hole in the floor and no Saturday. Saturday is in the basement. The clock mechanism is actually too high for the room. Oops! We were allowed to go
up to the third floor into the "dome room" and a couple of pretty plain bedrooms. These rooms are normally not accessible to the public. I was disappointed by a couple of things though. The dome was built below the roof-line on the front of the house. I really thought of Jefferson as sitting up there and looking out over Charlottesville. Not! The windows on that side of the dome don't allow that view. You might notice in this picture, the bottom half of the round windows is mirrored because it's below roof level. Also, there are no high porches or decks he could have sat out on. Major surprise to me. There's a door at the opposite end of entrance to the dome room that looks like it would open onto a deck. But, it opens to a storage area. "Proper architecture" dictated the door be put there to balance the doorway on the other side of the room.  But, there was no where for the door to lead to.

Inside, I guess I was most fascinated with Jefferson's library and his bedroom (which were connected). His office was literally right next to his bed. He had a thermometer in the bedroom right next to his bed (which struck me as odd since there was no central air or heat). The clock is right at the foot of his bed. It is said he arose when he could see the clock. That's early that close to the East coast. I know because the sun woke me up pretty early Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There is a chamber ("closet" above his bed, someone said that's where Sally Hemings spent many nights. A closet with ventilation holes?

The kitchen arrangements also were worth noting. The kitchen, cooks'
, smokehouse,
dairy, etc. were down a kind of outdoor hallway on the left side of the house. The other side of
the house had a similar hallway with stables, etc. But, the dining room was on the complete opposite side of the house. The cooks (or runners) had to take the food from the kitchen, down this passageway, through the basement, up the first floor. Then, it was put on a lazy susan (to the right side of the dining room) and spun around to the house slaves who actually served the White people. That way, the White people
didn't have to see or smell the sweaty slaves who had to make these trips.

After the tour of the house, we stood outside for family pictures. We took one with the whole clan. As we were arranging ourselves, someone (I'm guessing of us "darker" cousins) broke into a spontaneous chorus of "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge. But, they changed "I got all my sisters with me." to "I got all my cousins with me.". It was one of the goosebumps moments. I don't have that picture yet.

A few more observations on my family. I was thrilled with the way everybody came together. There wasn't a whitewashing of the past or a denial of the past nor was there anger or bitterness over the past. We talked about the past, accepted all of it, shook our heads and said our "sorrys" about parts of it, embraced parts of it and were willing and ready to move on. We acknowledged that there were good things and bad things about it, just as there were good and bad things about great4 grandfather. He was a complicated man, just as we all are. He had many good and brilliant traits. He was an amazing architect, botanist, entrepreneur, political leader, philosopher, etc., etc. Yet, he was not without his flaws. He didn't know when to quit acquiring. He didn't nearly live up to the ideals he set down on paper concerning freedom. He denied and enslaved is own children.

As I said, I'm not much on history, genealogy, all that stuff. But, the trip was good. I'm proud of my ancestors. My White friends often wonder aloud why the Black community is so dysfunctional. Their perception is slavery was a blip and the civil rights movement of the 60s fixed everything. Most of us (including myself sometimes) underestimate the effects of the diaspora on Black people. It was more than a scattering, as the term diaspora implies. They were ripped from their homeland, lost their names, their culture and had another culture thrust upon them. Children were born with their fathers denying them. We still see this happening generations later- so many Black childen growing up without fathers. The effects are still being felt. The ripples have not smoothed out yet. OTOH, it was fascinating recognizing the other part of my heritage also. Thomas Jefferson, one of the most influential men of all time is a part of my family. The slaves that left Monticello led fascinating lives themselves, becoming leaders in their own communities, probably due to his influence. As I look at my own family who has escaped much of the misery and poverty other Blacks still suffer, I wonder how much of that goes back to the fact we were fortunate enough to have come through Monticello rather than some other plantation.

As we drove back yesterday, I asked the girls what they thought about the trip. They loved it. But, they loved seeing Brent's kids (Alyssa and Brianna). Kayla seemed to appreciate Monticello. Shayna... not so much. That's to be expected for Shayna. But, I told her I hoped she would remember the trip because we learned some very important things and I don't think we'll be making it again as a family. She said "I'm never going to make that trip again in my long, long life?" I told her she probably would come back there some day with her family and show them what she saw and appreciate it more then. The trip back was good. The girls were great.

We arrived home safely. I love my little retreat here. From now on, I'll think of it
as my own little Monticello. No slaves. But, we are pretty self-sufficient running our own business and making many of our own products. We are pretty active in the community, too. So, maybe a little of great4 grandfather is still in there. To be like great4 grandfather and give some detail, it took 8-1/2 hours back (about 450 miles) and about 9 hours to get there. The weather was good. Sunny most of the way, rain coming through the South Eastern part of Ohio. A little CAR (clouds after rain). We made a few stops.  But, only one stop for breakfast at McDonald's on the way back (no lunch). It was nice to pull back into our own little Monticello, up on the hill, sit on the deck and enjoy our view.

All in all, I'm glad I went, very glad I went. A good time
was had by all.

P.S.- Since coming back I've already been in touch with Prinny and
Connye again.  Maybe we can get a little Internet community

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Snow In July?

This picture reminds me of a song from the only Garth Brooks album I own (done under the pseudonym Chris Gaines)- In the song, Garth asks "It ain't even cold. How can it Snow in July?"

Granted, it was a little chilly and the humidity was down. But a jacket and socks on July 17th?

Jacket and Fuzzy Socks in July

Friday, July 13, 2007

Charlottesville- Family Reunion

We're in Charlottesville, VA. We're here for the Jefferson family reunion. After a 9 hour drive last night, we arrived at the Sleep Inn, our accommodations for the first night. The girls, Ty and I shared a room. It didn't work out too bad. The girls were very good on the trip. Very patient. Shayna slept a little. But, they didn't use their usual and ask every five minutes when we'd be here. It took about an hour longer than Google Maps estimated (and MapQuest) and, the mile markers along I-64 were very confusing as they changed twice in Virginia causing us to not know if we were an hour away or 4-5 hours away (fortunately, it turned out to be closer to the former).

Today, Mom and Dad arrived with "the cousins". So, the kids are in heaven now. They love spending time with Brent & Sherri's kids. We had lunch on the walking mall in front of the restaurant. It's a great area with quaint shops, sidewalk vendors and small restaurants. Mom and I did a little shopping. She, of course, did some damage. Tonight is the reception at the University of Virginia, founded by the man himself- Thomas Jefferson. Tomorrow, we tour Monticello. I have mixed feelings about that. But, it should be a great experience for the girls.

Tywana, Kayla & Shayna Shopping

Monday, July 9, 2007

La Dolce Vita

Just another example of the girls living it up. They had a sleepover with the Gilberts on Sunday night. They went out and played "Flashlight Tag" (Megan lost both her shoes). Then, they watched a movie until almost 1 am. Monday, they get up and have a leisurely breakfast on the deck.

La Dolce Vita

Friday, July 6, 2007

Stroke Clinic

The girls took swim lessons at Windwood Pool this year. I finally got up there the last day to see them. They had a great instructor. At the Beach, they wouldn't let the parents watch the lessons until the last day. Supposedly, it was so the parents wouldn't interfere. I think the real reason is the teenagers they had teaching were worthless. Both girls improved tremendously in just a week. Kayla has signed up for the second session. Shayna thought it was "boring". So, she's sitting this one out. BTW, Shayna thinks everything is boring.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Low Key Fourth Of July

We had a very nice 4th. But, it was very low key. Tuesday, we went over to the neighbors to watch fireworks. There must have been a couple of hundred people there watching about $600 worth of imported (Indiana) fireworks. Yesterday, the girls and Ty hung out at the pool until the thunder started. Since the weather was so iffy, we decided to skip going to Blue Ash or Sharonville for fireworks. Instead, we grilled some Black Angus steaks (the girls and mine were just brown on the outside and cool in the center), sauted some kale and I invented up a sweet potato casserole recipe. Then, we watched Les Miserables. The girls loved it. Poor Shayna though bawled like a baby when Fontine died. It took her about 15 minutes to recover.

Just as the girls were coming up to go to bed, we noticed all the fireworks shows were going. It's hard to get an exact count. But, we could see at least 10 clearly from our front yard.

No pictures from yesterday (bad Brian!). Sorry.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What Was He Doing?

If you can figure it out, let me know. I took the picture and I don't know what this pose was about.

Tuesday all the day-time workers took off a day early and they were all at Walden Ponds. It was more crowded than most weekends (so I hear). We played with Andy Ransdell and Tim Armstrong, two acquaintances from the Vineyard days.

I had a good round. I didn't keep score. My drives were unbelievable. Rarely (never) have I been the long hitter in the group. But, I think I was pretty close today. The lesson and the practice are paying off. My iron play was not so hot. Jon had a good round, too. Jon had an appointment, so we had to rush through the last few holes. I was feeling pretty flustered. But, then, I hit my tee shot onto the green on 9 (we played the back first) and made a 30 footer for birdie. All's well that ends well.

Click on the picture to see more photos in the set. I'm going to try to start putting photos up in sets. So, this will work for the last few posts, also.

What was he doing?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Kayla's Scrapbook

Kayla's been asking Ty to get the scrapbook back out and start on it again. I think Ty's only about five years behind.

I think she's figured out the key to scrapbooking though. Wait until they're 10 and they can do it themselves.


Squid- It's What's For Dinner

We were at Jungle Jim's a few weeks ago and saw a box of calamari for sale. It was incredibly cheap. ($6 for 3 pounds). What I didn't realize was that it wasn't cleaned. I had to look it up how to clean squid on the 'net. I jokingly asked Shayna if she would help (knowing she would say no). To my shock, she said said "yes". Not as surprising, she was actually able to do it and cleaned several. She is amazing with her hands.

Unfortunately, she couldn't get over the thought of the raw squid and didn't enjoy them after we cooked them. But, I am so proud of her effort.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Bursting at the Seams

We're wrestling with when to move and where. Do we buy a bigger house and keep doing the work out of here? It's so nice to be able to pack and ship without driving somewhere. Or, do we lease a warehouse space? When do we hire full time employees? We're making decent money now but, we're working more hours than I would want (well, at least I am). Decisions... decisions...

This is what used to be my media room. We gave up on trying to keep it straight. Not enough room and not enough hours in the day.

Busting at the Seams