Thursday, March 30, 2006


One summer evening, when I was 16, I briefly dated a quiet guy who looked just like Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter. He was very kind and sweet and I couldn't come up with any valid reason why I wanted to break up with him, except that my friends were much more fun and I was bored with him. And, every moment spent with him was less time with my friends.

I was eating dinner at home with my family when I saw him drive up to pay me a surprise visit.

"Oh no!" I sighed. "Please tell him I'm not home!"

My younger brother got up to answer it. We all sat, quietly eating.

"Is Shawn home?"
"Sure!" said my brother. "Come on in."

I bolted out of my chair and with my half-eaten dinner plate and hurried outside to the back.

I ran out into the garage and then through another door into a very dark workshop filled with dust and spiders and cobwebs. I hid behind some old chairs and a sign that read: "Anyone caught stealing on these premises will be shot" that my dad actually stole.

I could hear my brother say, "Hmmm. Maybe she went into the garage. Let's have a look." I could hear them shuffling about heading toward where I hid. Surely, he wouldn't take him back into the workshop. With my dinner plate still in my hands, I crouched below the work counter completely hidden behind the "do not steal" sign. I held my breath. I was horrified they might find me.

He didn't let up on his search. "Could she be back there in that dark workshop?"

My brother turned on the light and then walked around, moving away a few chairs before lifting the sign to find me hiding. Vinnie took one look at me and told me to go to hell.

I sat there long after he left. Staring down at my shoelaces and petting my dog and feeling ashamed that I couldn't just tell him I no longer wanted to go out with him.

I saw him recently walking through a strip mall parking lot pushing a woman in a wheelchair. He was with others doing the same thing. Those in wheelchairs were handicapped in various ways. As they headed toward my direction I stopped abruptly and quickly darted into a store, unseen, and watched them through the door at them.

He and a few others pushed their way over to a small yellow bus and he began to help them board.

I stood there for the longest time, hidden from view, waiting until he boarded the bus so I could go on my way. Yet I just felt small and ashamed of myself --not only from my 16-year-old behavior but here I was, hiding from him again.

So I walked back out of the store and walked up to him. He smiled, instantly recognizing me and acted like he didn't remember me hiding in the dark workshop that night with my dinner plate. Here he was, this kind, gentle soul, taking care of those with special needs.

We only said a few words and I went on my way with a sigh of relief and a comfort in my heart that I was able to push beyond my feelings and walk up to him. I am still learning and growing. But often times, I'm still that 16-year-old girl with her own special needs... still hiding behind a stolen sign that says "do not steal".

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I'm back from the desert

I just returned from having a fun and relaxing time in Phoenix.

Four days of being in the desert warmed me to my core.

It was such a wonderful reprieve from our lengthy cold wet weather back home. We're two days shy of having the wettest March in the Bay Area. I think it might even be the wettest season on record. And the weather folks don't see any change in sight.

So, today I unpacked and went back to work on some designs, stopping occasionally to stand over my heater, pretending the heat was the desert sun, imagining myself being back there with a friend I feel so comfortable with; who I never tire of being around.

I took these photos while we sat enjoying our magical dinner out on the terrace at The Phoenician in Scottsdale on Monday night. Some day I hope to return to this place.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Phone Calls

As a kid, I remember dialing up my friends on the telephone, and when no one answered, I was patient enough to let the phone ring for as long as I could tolerate it.

"Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer... you take one down, pass it around... ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall..."

I would sing it until maybe the 50th bottle. Because I knew that as soon as I hung up, they would walk in the door and miss my call.

There were no answering machines in my childhood.

I used to have the patience to wait on a busy signal. I once read Amelia Bedelia, The Littles Take a Trip and one of the Encyclopedia Brown books with that busy signal honking in my ear before I decided the busy signal tone wouldn't just change into a ringing tone.

I am still puzzled to this day, why a busy signal tone can't transfer into a ringing tone. ...."If we can put a man on the moon......"

I remember getting my first answering machine in either 1985 or 1986.

The large brown machine used a cassette tape and was attached to the phone by cords.

"Hello, this is Shawn.
I can not come to the phone right now.
If you leave your name.
Your telephone number.
And a brief message.
I will call you back as soon as I can."

I stole those lines off the instructions to my answering machine manual.

I recorded my voice over and over and over again. It never seemed quite natural. Like I was reading it. Or... I phrased it wrong or swallowed in the middle of it all or didn't sound like myself. (actually I probably sounded too much like myself, and I wanted to sound more sophisticated). Many times the phone would start ringing in the midst of me leaving the message so I would have to redo it. But. Whatever the reason, it would always take me about two hours to leave a ten-second internal message, sitting under the kitchen table feeling shy and embarrassed to make this recording.

I remember being warned. NEVER say "Hello. Today is August 30th. We cannot come to the phone right now, as we're camping at the Russian River and won't be home until September 2nd. Gordon, the key is hidden under the Welcome Mat as it always is. The window in the bathroom is still broken if you lose the key and need to climb inside. To all others, leave your name and telephone number and a brief message and we'll call you back when we return. Have a nice day!"

So I learned to always say, "I can't come to the phone right now" as opposed to "No one is home to take your call." It was to keep burglars away, of course.

You know what was even worse than leaving that internal message? It was much worse when I was on the other end having to leave a message. I would call a friend and the answering machine would pick up and I would have to leave a message on the spot. Without any sort of rehearsal.

I was too shy to leave messages that first year.

If it was really urgent, I would hang up, write down what I wanted to say, try it out a few times with different expressions and then read it outloud on the message machine. I just couldn't adlib back then. Eventually I started to get brave as others were beginning to become brave and leave messages on mine.

The answering machine was a hugely new invention. And, it took us all awhile to get comfortable. And, then we eventually did.

"Oh hi!!! This is Shawn. Well. ...You probably already knew that. Um... Are you there? ... Hello? ... Are you there screening your calls? ... I can hear you breathing. ... No, I guess not. ... What? ... Hello? ... Oh. ... Sorry. I thought I heard a click. ... Annnywaaaay, I guess you're not at home. ... Well... if you get home before 10, can you call me at --- beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. (my fifteen seconds were up).

I remember before cell phones, I would be at a pay phone listening to my messages and I would inevitably get, "Hellooo Shawn. Where are you? Where are you? Pick up. Pick up. Pick up. Are you there? It's me! Hello? Are you there? Are you going to the bathroom? I'll wait. I'll sing to you.. "La-la-la-la-la".. okay, take your time. I'll just tell you a funny story that happened to me at the grocery store.. " and they fill up 15 minutes of my cassette tape before they decide I'm not really home. Meanwhile, I'm depositing coins left and right.

And then after that long message, I would get these:

Beeeeeeep. "Hi Shawn. This is John. Guess you're not home, so give me a call." (Time: 2:06 pm)
Beeeeeeeeep. "Hi Shawn. Are you there? Guess not. It's John. Give me a call when you get home." (Time: 2:13 pm)
Beeeep. "Hi Shawn. It's John. Give me a call." (Time: 2:22 pm)
Beeeeeeeep. "Hi Shawn. This is John. I'm tryin' to find you. Give me a call." (Time 2:51 pm)
Beeeeep. "Hi Shawn. It's me, John. Just giving you a call to see if you're home. Give me a call when you get home." (Time 3:13 pm)
Beeeeeeeeeep. "Hi Shawn. It's just me, John. I thought you'd be home by now. Give me a call. Bye." (Time 3:51 pm)


Now, sometimes I prefer leaving a message on someone's answering machine. I've gotten quite good at speaking on the spot. I can even sing a good Happy Birthday song to anyone on an answering machine. But who gets to leave messages anymore? Everyone owns a cell phone now, too. So if you miss them at home, you can easily catch them on their mobile phone.

I certainly don't miss the endless ringing ... but.. every now and then, I secretly hope I get to leave a message ---- just like the good ole days.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Spring is in the air

We've had our fair share of snow and rain this past winter and I'm giddy with excitement that Spring is just around the corner. The sun is shining today. It seems like a long time since I've felt its warmth.

I've been sitting at my computer working on some designs, but I feel as though I need my creative battery recharged. I sit here sometimes and feel stifled in my design work. A friend of mine said to get up and out of the house for a bit and I'll be amazed at how quickly my creativity will return. So I'm off to mow my backyard as the lawn is in great need of a haircut. Then watch Lloyd act in his High School Play this afternoon.

Next weekend I'm flying to Phoenix to meet a friend and will stay here.

The change of scenery and new adventure will do wonders for my creative soul. But for now, I'll settle for the lawn mower.

Off the top of my head, here are 10 things that stir up my creativity:

1. Being around inspiring and creative people.
2. A place with a view.
3. Browsing through a bookstore.
4. An outdoor picnic.
5. Walking along the beach.
6. Listening to good music.
7. The beautiful grounds at wineries.
9. Warm weather Vacations
10. A brand new ultra-thin sharpie marker and a pad of paper.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Do you remember playing Ker-Plunk?

It's a clear plastic tube filled with marbles, which are supported by crisscrossing sticks inserted through the tube. Then, each player takes a turn pulling out a stick, trying to dislodge as few marbles as possible. As the game progresses and fewer sticks remain, it gets harder to keep the marbles from going ker-plunk! And, at the end of the game, the player with the fewest marbles, wins.

Ever since I bought my 1950s home two years ago, I have looked forward to updating my kitchen with a modern dishwasher. But, for now, I am the modern dishwasher.

I play Ker-Plunk on a daily basis. But it's not that game we played as a kid. I play it in the kitchen. It's a test of coordination as I skillfully pull out each stick---err, cup and dish and glass and pan from my dish drainer hoping nothing drops.

One small mistake and everything goes crashing to the floor. The object is not to lose your marbles. And, I'm about to lose mine if I break any more glasses.

Just thought I'd let you know.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Chin Up!

My dearest friend lost her grandfather last night.

She called him Papaw... growing up in Texas and all. Her grandparents have lived in this small lake town in East Texas and attend the same church as Lance Armstrong's grandfather for many years. Aww. That just made me smile. It would make you smile, too, if you ever visit this sweet small town a couple hours from Dallas.

Brenda's grandparents "Mamaw and Papaw" were still driving all over the place just a couple of months ago. But ya know, what happens when old age sets in. It just sets in. They are in their mid 90s. It tears my heart out. You can't fight old age. It's a dirty trick .. this growing old.

Papaw was so alert to the end, but his lungs filled up. I knew him for more than ten years but only really knew him a short time. The first time I met him was July 4, 1995 at his home. Brenda and I pulled into their driveway that warm windy night on Independence Day, and he was in his shop working on clocks because even in his 80s he was a clock repairman and he poked his head out from the garage and said, "Booo!" in such a cute, adorable way.

"Boo". I still see and hear his sweet voice and face and I often replay that image in my memory like a "quicktime movie".

He touched me to my core. I felt my eyes glisten with emotion.

He seemed to die without much suffering so he lived this wonderful life deep into his 90 years of life driving anywhere his next adventure would take him with his wife always by his side. There was never an ill word spoken from him. He was an incredibly wonderful loving man.

Brenda called me late last night. He had just died and she just returned from the hospital after seeing him her last time. They picked up his belongings.

When we said our goodbyes, I said, "Chin up!"

It was an expression I have never said before.

She said, "whaat?"

It sorta caught me off guard, too.

I said, "chin up! Keep your chin up."

She said, "Shawn! That's exactly what Papaw would say to me each time we said "our goodbyes".. He would say "chin up!"

It sent a chill through me.

Chin up, Brenda.

I heard you, Papaw. Thanks for your message.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Humbled and Grateful

Where has the time gone? It seems like a long time since I've written anything here.

I am here. The days have a way of melting into the other... and now it is March.

I somehow missed watching the Winter Olympics and now it is over. I was busy though. Something else grabbed my attention and it wasn't the ice skaters or the snowboarders or the ski jumpers.

I keep hearing a whisper in my heart that says this is going to be my year.

So, I'm focusing on my dreams and goals in my life. I write them down in my heart and on backs of receipts and paper bags and napkins and post-its notes.

I whisper them outside and let the winds carry them on their way.

Over the Presidents Day weekend, I wrote down on my wish list how much I wanted to design fabric. Yesterday, I walked into a Fabric Company and showed them my portfolio. They hired me to do some designs for them.

I am humbled and grateful and excited over this new direction I am headed ... and in the power of dreams.

. . . I caught frogs and called them prince
And made myself a queen
And before you knew me I'd traveled 'round the world
And I slept in castles
And fell in love
Because I was taught to dream

I found mayonnaise bottles and poked holes on top
To capture Tinker Bell
And they were just fireflies to the untrained eye
But I could always tell

Cause I believe in fairy tales
And dreamer's dreams
Like bedsheet sails
And I believe in Peter Pan
And miracles, anything I can to get by
And fireflies . . .

© Lori McKenna / Fireflies (from her CD: Pieces of Me)