Monday, January 30, 2012

R.I.P., Ms. Vickie

I would be remiss to let this month go by without writing about Ms. Vickie, a woman I greatly admired.  I first met her in March 2000 when I went to interview her for my first CASA case at her cramped, dark apartment, off MLK in Atlanta.

Until their mother dropped off her two great-nephews, ages 3 and 5, Ms. Vickie lived alone.  She had no children of her own and never married.  After a few days of trying to contact their mother, Ms. Vickie realized that she wasn't coming back to pick up her sons.  So Ms. Vickie filed a case in Juvenile Court to get legal authority to take care of these boys.  She really stepped up to the plate when she decided to keep the boys with her.  It would have been easier to let them loose in the foster care system, but she didn't want to do that.

So this single lady on disability raised these boys for the last 12 years.  It wasn't ever easy for her - money was always a big issue as the parents of these boys weren't inclined to pay child support.  I'm not sure how she was able to manage but I know it was a struggle and a source of constant stress for her.   She always drove an old, rattletrap of a car that never seemed to be working right. She even learned how to do many repairs herself with secondhand parts and would often explain to me how she completed the repairs, which was always way too complicated for me.

With her own high school diploma framed and prominently displayed on her living room wall, Ms. Vickie stressed education with the boys and was more than a "hands on parent".  She watched them like a hawk, and they could get away with very little.  She encouraged them to be in sports and ROTC with her hope being that the older boy would join the Marines when he graduated this spring and the younger boy, a great student, would go to college.  She was far from perfect.  She was a hoarder and her house looked like the ones you see on that hoarding show on tv, actually pretty scary. But she made up for this with good parenting values, and I realized there were some things I just needed to overlook.

Over the years, we became unlikely friends as we bonded over the boys' best interests. She would call me every couple of weeks to report on the boys, both good and bad. Sometimes we would commiserate over how hard headed teenagers can be. Sometimes we'd rejoice together over an award or accomplishment.  These calls continued, even after I left Atlanta.  I still wanted to know how the boys were doing, and she still wanted to tell me.

A few weeks ago, she left me a voicemail on January 9th.  I didn't get a chance to call her back that day, and when I called back the next day, the older boy answered her cell phone.  He told me she had a heart attack and died just that afternoon, January 10th. Such a sad day - she was too young (a few years younger than me) to go this way and to miss seeing the fruits of her labors by watching the boys turn into the fine adults I hope they will be.

I somehow hoped that I had heard wrong on the phone and that she would be calling me back soon, but it didn't happen.  Instead, her brother, who lived across the street in their small Georgia town, called me to let me know he would be taking care of the boys. I've never met him but hope that he can fill the big, empty shoes that Ms. Vickie left behind.  Rest in Peace, Ms. Vickie.  You will be missed.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Here's to a Year of Expecting MORE

2011 was a year of transition for me, and that's always tough.  So I basically gave myself a pass on many things, acknowledging that just coping with new places, people, culture, climate, etc., was probably enough without expecting much more.  My life definitely changed a lot in 2011 - much more hermit-like.  I hate to admit it, but there are many days (due to a lack of places to go and people to see, combined with cold temperatures) when I never actually leave our building.  

But now here we are in 2012, a whole new year ready and waiting.  I'm personally a fan of new year's resolutions because it's always good to take stock of where you are in life and where you want to be.  I enjoyed re-reading my 2011 resolutions that I wrote on this blog a year ago and seeing how I've done.

So I apologize if I bore you with my resolutions for this new year, and please feel free to stop reading right here.  I write them because it makes me a bit more accountable, and I also believe that if you envision it, it's more likely to come true.

Without further fanfare, here are my 2012 resolutions:

The first two are perennial resolutions, and the rest are particular to this year.

1.  Lose weight.  I made some successful inroads on this perennial resolution in 2011 but not enough to cross it off the list.  I'm probably about halfway there.  I continue to work with trainer Courtney a/k/a Killer who has perfected the double-stinkeye dirty look when she suspects I have not been diligent in my exercise and food intake.  I wonder if they offer classes in dirty looks in trainer school.

2.   Have more fun.  You can never have too much.

3.   Expect MORE of myself in all aspects of my life.  The transition year is over, and I can be quite lazy.  Time to take myself to task and get more accomplished.

4.   Finish (and I mean really finish) the book that I have been working on for many years with my friend Ruth.  After a hiatus of at least a year, we have started working on this again with a total rewrite.  I want to complete this project and move on to something new.

5.   Buy a place to retire in California.  Last year, one of my resolutions was to sell our house in Atlanta, and that was accomplished.  So this year, we hope to buy a place that we can look forward to when we eventually leave Denver.  We've done a bit of looking already, and it's complicated.  More to come on this at a future time.

6.   The year of the puppy!  We have been dog-less for a couple of years now.  While there are definite advantages to not owning a dog, we very much miss the canine company.  So hopefully we will add to our family in 2012.

7.   Spend at least 3 hours per week organizing closets, drawers, cabinets.  I've learned that, for me at least,  general goals (like #2 and #3 above) don't work as well as very specific goals.   So rather than just say organize my stuff, I want to be much more specific.  Although our apartment looks neat, what lies beyond the cabinet and closet doors and file drawers is not so pretty.  When we moved in, I didn't really have the time to go through individual items but now I do.  I really want to get rid of all that is extraneous, as I know there is another move in our future that will benefit greatly from the time that I put in this year.

8.   Do something new, whether it is volunteer someplace new or take a course in something.  Last year, I volunteered at a day shelter for women and will continue to do this.  I've volunteered to help the same shelter with their gala/auction, something I feel comfortable that I have the experience to do.  I also took  cooking classes with a friend, which I'd never done before.  I learned, among other things, that I didn't even know how to crack an egg properly (I always did it on the edge of the bowl, which is wrong).

May your 2012 be healthy, happy, grateful and productive as we all strive for doing and enjoying MORE.