Monday, December 21, 2009

May her song always be sung

Watching from my perch high up on the sides of Auburn University’s Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum as 1,509 graduates made their way to the stage at Friday’s graduation ceremonies, I could always tell which black-robed graduate was our Mary Claire Walburn, class of 2009.

That’s because of the yellow square and blue peace sign she had affixed to the top of her mortarboard. Plus, she was sitting then standing next to friend and fellow BA in Business in Supply Chain Management graduate James, who had written MOM in yellow electrical tape on top of his headgear, in honor of his mother’s birthday.

Now, every one of the graduates likely stood out just as much to their parents and grandparents, as we all leaned down to catch a glimpse and hear our graduates’ names called during the two-hour ceremony. Despite the “shout outs” which I found somewhat annoying and often drowned out the next graduate’s name, the ceremony was intended to give every graduate a moment in the spotlight.

But Mary Claire with a peace sign on her head was a fitting image as I watched my only daughter graduate where her parents graduated about 30 years ago.

Mary Claire, who identified herself as a rock-n-roll girl since she was 5 and who had to be talked out of naming one of our dogs Rainbow instead of Henry, enters the adult and post-college world with the same enthusiasm, uniqueness and well-rounded openness.

Her mother’s daughter, she loves music and cool things and never had to change much to dress up as a “hippie” for Halloween. Thus, the peace sign seemed a logical symbol (any politics aside) as she and James planned their top-of-mortarboard statements.

We all made homemade cards for Mary Claire to give to her at graduation, her brother Will scanning in a photo of her as a baby with her big brother, her daddy Frank posting then and now Auburn tailgate pictures, and mine being the photo of a 4-year-old Mary Claire with the Auburn Eagle, and one of us fishing together when she was a toddler.

In my note to our graduate, I used the Eagle symbolism to encourage her to fly like an Eagle. I praised my smart, beautiful, kind, caring, funny and fun daughter who has faced her challenges with smiles, faith and determination.

And, as expected, I quoted Bob Dylan’s Forever Young, a song he wrote for one of his children and a Dylan poem-song which expresses better than I can the hopes I have for our children.

“May God bless and keep you always, May your wishes all come true,

May you always do for others And let others do for you.

May you build a ladder to the stars And climb on every rung,

May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young,

May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous, May you grow up to be true,

May you always know the truth And see the lights surrounding you.

May you always be courageous, Stand upright and be strong,

May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young,

May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy, May your feet always be swift,

May you have a strong foundation When the winds of changes shift.

May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung,

May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young,

May you stay forever young.”

We can’t keep our children forever young, I know, but we can, and I think we should, continue to ask for God’s blessings on them as they become men and women from boys and girls.

We can hope we’ve nurtured them and taught them to do for others, to be courageous, righteous, strong, upright, true and joyful – characteristics which will serve anyone well through life’s journey.

For Mary Claire, finding a job in the logistics, transportation, purchasing, or process management fields that encompass her Supply Chain Management major is the next challenge.

And, I know Mary Claire will tackle this next step in the same determined, thorough and smiling way she has shown in facing life’s next-steps since she completed our family 23 years ago.

Happy graduation Mary Claire -- our beautiful, smart, sweet and caring rock-n-roll girl.

Picture of the day: Mary Claire Walburn, Dec. 18, 2009

Song of the day: Forever Young, Bob Dylan

Monday, December 14, 2009

Family, friends, hometown miss all things “Blue”

The first time I met Blue Jones, it was obvious I was meeting “the nicest smart aleck in Alabama” as I later heard him described. But I didn’t know that night – when he immediately started teasing me and my husband, who was not even there – that this smiling, red-headed banker would become such an important part of our lives in Camden.

But, by the time he died on Dec. 15, 2006 -- snatched way too soon by a rare cancer -- I knew that he was a unique no-matter-what friend. We all knew by then that there was no one like Blue Jones.

See, I met Blue right after we moved to Camden, Blue’s hometown, from Selma. I was at Gaines-Ridge Dinner Club in the fireplace room, sandwiched between Camden people who would become our best friends during our 15 years living there. Blue, who was nicknamed that because his hair was so red, and his wife Kay were sitting catty-corner from me.

“Where’s yo’ husband? Blue asked.

“Oh, he’s at a biathlon, you know, bicycling and running,” I said, explaining that husband Frank and a work buddy were in north Alabama participating in a charity biking and running event.

“BI-athlon?” Blue answered, making sure that everyone at the table could hear him. “BI-athlon? I think it’s more like a DI-athlon, you know, drinkin’ and dancin’!”

So began the friendship with Blue and his not-a-smart-aleck wife Kay, with Blue teasing and getting the laugh. I’d learn that Blue teased folks he liked. He didn’t bother with those he didn’t.

Blue died three years ago this week. I doubt Dec. 15 will ever pass without us all thinking about Blue. The hole he left in Camden and in our lives remains and probably always will.

Born and raised in Wilcox County and educated at his beloved Auburn University, Blue Jones was a leader, friend, coach, businessman, outdoorsman and cattle and timber farmer. He volunteered at Wilcox Academy and with most every cause that served his hometown of Camden and the people of Wilcox, including his church, Camden United Methodist Church.

At Camden National Bank, Blue could talk to a millionaire one minute and the next, counsel with the poorest customer, working to help them figure a workable way out. Camden and Wilcox County did not have a better champion.

Blue was also a River Rat, capital Rs. He loved the Alabama River – having been raised on it. Countless boat rides – including some when he had to jump in and tow us out of the mud, or, in one instance, swim-tow us in after a prop fell off – complete our memories of Blue. Whether it was pulling children on a tube or just tooling up and down and around the Alabama River, Blue was there and happy. And if your boat broke down, you wanted Blue around. Today, we still go on boat rides; sometimes Kay comes with us, and we always think of Blue.

We began a tradition of family vacations together at the Alabama Gulf Coast, the Jones, the Walburns, the Huggins and the Williams. Most times, Blue brought the pontoon boat, the red one with the plastic chairs for supplemental seating. You could hear our laughter, above the hum of the engine, as our rag-tag crew cruised around Ono Island, a happy contrast to the yachts and the Boston Whalers zipping by us. We truly would not have traded places.

Blue loved music and dancing and having a good time. He loved Neil Young, despite Southern Man or maybe because of it. After he died, we argued over what was his favorite rock n’roll song, but Kay was the final arbitrator. It was Gimme Three Steps by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

We had a party at Blue’s camphouse the night after his funeral. “Party,” he had mouthed and motioned to Kay, during his final days in UAB’s intensive care unit. So, we had a party at the camphouse, like we used to do. We laughed about things that were “so Blue.” His grown children, Bill and Anne, were there with their friends, and we tried to surround Kay with her friends and happy memories shared.

It was a bittersweet night. The camphouse, at the center of family land Blue tended and loved, seemed to be waiting on him to return. His wading boots hung on the end of the hammock, where he had left them to dry.

The camphouse, his family, his friends and his hometown -- they all still miss Blue. We see him in the Eagles flying above the Alabama River or in the turkeys through a field. We see him in the sunset over Pine Barren Creek, and we miss him.

But, in typical Blue fashion, he’d tell us all to ease up.

“Don’t go wishing and worrying your life away,” Blue would say.

“You better enjoy the day the Lord has given you. You don’t know what’s coming next.”

Amen to that, Blue.

Picture of the day:

Blue and Kay Jones, on a boat ride at the beach.

Song of the day:
Heart of Gold, Neil Young

Monday, December 7, 2009

Kicking the bah humbug blues, one decoration at a time

I almost said bah humbug while ago and meant it.

Up until Sunday evening, when I draped the may-be-decade-old white lights with garland across the back porch railings, there had been no decked halls at our house.

Dec. 6 may be the latest I’ve ever waited to start Christmasing. The tree might wait this long to be decked, since we are a live-tree-only family, but I usually at least get out the stockings or the Santa collection or start doing cards or cookies or something by now.

Not one gift purchased. Not one list begun. Let’s hope Santa’s more prepared than I am.

I know it’s still two and one-half weeks to the big day, but despite the twinkling lights along the Hoover roads I travel daily and the been-there Christmas stuff in the stores, I am not feeling the Christmas cheer.

I don’t know exactly prompted me to begin to mutter the aforementioned “bah humbug” let’s-just-don’t-fool with-this-Christmas-stuff comment. Maybe it’s losing Suzie, the wonder dog. Or maybe it’s facing my second Christmas as an unemployment statistic.

Hey Debbie Downer, give us a break.

It may be as simple as Christmas coming so quickly this year. It was just Halloween, wasn’t it? Thanksgiving streaked by, then the Iron Bowl (War Eagle anyway!), and then, BAM! It became Christmastime when I wasn’t looking.

So, I swallowed the bah humbug mid-sentence, and hung a wreath. I put the guitar-holding, rock-around-the-clock dancin’ and singin’ doll on the table on the back porch where he usually spends the holidays.

I’m kicking the bah humbug blues, one decoration at a time.

By the time the stockings are up and the multi-colored lights in the Leland Cypress trees in the front yard, I’ll forget I ever considered bah humbugging at all. Because, you see, my normal state is annoyingly cheerful and childlike about Christmas.

Whoever does the decorating at your house knows the feeling of rediscovery when a prized and ancient decoration is pulled from the tissue-and-newspaper-packed plastic crate.

There’s Mom-Mom’s Santa, with the removable boots, who used to clutch a Coca-Cola bottle, that tiny bottle lost to packing or a curious child years ago.

There, too, are the pictures of children Christmases past, innocent and shining from Christmas picture frames.

In boxes all their own are the ornaments, the one from our first year, our first house and our children’s first Christmases. I even have the foil-covered-toilet-paper-roll ornament I made in school more than 40 years ago. I tell Mary Claire and Will the origins of all the ornaments, as we trim the tree, hoping eventually they will remember to tell their children. This, after all, is what Christmas traditions are about.

Aunt Jackie made this ornament; neighbor Mildred Mott from Selma this one. Mother knitted all these, the bells and angels which have survived my creative Momma by decades.

The only ornament losses over all these years came during the inevitable Christmas tree crashes. A live Christmas tree family, as previously stated -- in part because of husband and father, Frank the forester -- our tradition calls for a bought live tree every other year, alternated with a cedar cut fresh from the woods.

This year is a live bought tree year, after a towering cedar, grown to be a cedar, not a Christmas tree, last year. That one crashed to the floor as I was finishing the decorating last year. In a crash that really seemed to happen in slow motion, the toppling cost a few more glass ornaments and that day’s Christmas spirit. Will and Frank righted it and used fishing line to anchor it to the window sashes.

I probably murmured bah humbug word a few times that night, as I redecorated the stabilized tree. But it was a work of art when finished, a stable work of art that didn’t sway or tilt until we wanted it to after it was undecorated and carried out the front door a few days after the big day.

The previous Christmas tree crash was in our Camden home, when the tree (probably a from-the-woods one) hit the floor mid season, water spilling and mixing with broken glass. That crash took out some keepsake glass ornaments, like the three-glass-bell ornament Momma gave us her final Christmas. I cried then over broken ornaments, but rallied as I placed the remaining treasure trove of ornaments back on the righted tree.

I have too many memories tucked into Christmas boxes – and too many blessings all around -- to allow the bah humbugs to remain in our holiday home. I hope the same is true for all of us.

My brief case the bhb virus passed quickly – aided by flashing lights and the anticipated unwrapping of baby Jesus and the wise men.

If you’ve got even a slight case and feel the bah humbug fever creeping in, I highly recommend getting out those Christmas boxes and setting free for another year those happy memories, jolly Santas and other twinkling things.

Picture of the day:
Cedar Christmas Tree, 2008

Song of the day:
Happy Christmas, John Lennon

"So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear"

Monday, November 30, 2009

Suzie and Us: A wonder dog remembered

Our Suzie, the wonder dog, died Saturday.

The 9-year-old, big, black Labrador with the knowing eyes, wagging tail and boundless love for us slipped away painlessly, after a week in which she rapidly lost use of her left legs.

Suzie Q. Walburn (named for the CCR song) came into our home in 2000 as a puppy, following son Will into the house and everywhere he went, a practice she continued until she could no longer get up to follow any of us around, no matter how hard she tried.

We called Suzie a wonder dog because she was just that. During her years with us, she was hit by a car, out-swam an alligator and survived a gunshot to the head. The vet thinks that gun shot -- inflicted by a crazed, heartless SOB who knows who he is -- and the remaining shrapnel on the left side of her head may have been the cause of a stroke which left Suzie paralyzed and unable to function.

So, don’t get me started about the person who shot her (and killed her daughter dog Gracie with the same shot or shots on a night we remember as a nightmare) some six years ago. I’ve written a letter (but have not mailed it yet) to the shooter, who never admitted or apologized. He even, with his wife, smirked about it to the police (who knew he did it, too). But this writing today is not about that shameless person, who will pay for what he did somehow, someway.

This is about our Suzie, the best dog ever.
Suzie was a testament to facing adversity with courage and hope, and always, love. She kept on going, loving, serving us, through all the challenges her life brought. A four-legged epitome of persistence and love, Suzie helped her family in countless ways.

Dogs love you no matter what, and Suzie had a Ph.D in this unconditional love. Whatever obstacles any of us faced, Suzie knew and comforted. She’d nuzzle, hand you her paw and look into your eyes as if to say, “It’s gonna be alright. I love you.” If that didn’t work, she’d climb her 100-plus pound self into your lap and comfort you that way.

Even at the end, during the final days when one of the four of us would pet her and cry, it was us Suzie was worried about. She’d struggle to raise her head to see what was hurting us (even though I think she knew) and to offer comfort. “It’s gonna be alright,” she told us with those brown eyes. “I Love You.”

We will never know for sure what happened to cause the paralysis which took Suzie down quickly during Thanksgiving week -- be it stroke from the gunshot wound or a tumor somewhere in her nervous system.

We just knew by Saturday that we were being selfish to want “one more day with Suzie.” Our vet in Birmingham, Dr. Roger Dieguez, who will take care of any pets I ever have as long as I live here, came to the house and helped us help Suzie out of her suffering.

If there is a pet heaven, and I think there must be in some form, then Suzie arrived shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday, with a collar full of jewels, for the love, joy and life lessons this simple dog gave to us.

There, Suzie will run and she will jump. She’ll eat as much Moist and Meaty as she wants. She’ll get to go on a ride every day, her window down all the way and her face smiling into the wind. She’ll bark as loud and long as she wants, and she’ll dig the biggest holes ever. And, in pet heaven, Suzie will chase chipmunks and win the race.

We buried her at one of her and our favorite places, at our camphouse and land in Dallas County, a pretty place under a giant stately oak, marked by a cross with Suzie’s name, and the appropriate title: The best dog.

On Sunday, four eagles soured high in the blue skies above Suzie’s resting place. I know that Suzie’s spirit soared with them.

Rest in peace, Suzie Q, our wonder dog.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Being Thankful, and Jobless

It’s a big week for being thankful.

I know we are supposed to be thankful year around, not just on the holiday with Thanks in its name. And, I am, or I try to be.

Regardless, it is a particular time to be thankful. I don’t have to take much of a searching glance around to see much to be thankful for: family, home, health, pets, life itself.

To be more specific: A patient, loving husband who still has his job, a beautiful daughter about to graduate college, a working son who gets his degree in June, a old dog who has a hurt foot right now but still wags her tail when any of us come around and a regal, elderly cat who still curls up in our laps.

Does it get much better? I doubt it. And, that's not counting extended family and friends.

Still, this Thanksgiving, as last one, I am unemployed. On this Thanksgiving, I am thinking about that and the millions, I say millions, of others who are in the same boat. Like me, they have lost their jobs; they've been laid off and downsized. I hope they all have other things to still be thankful for, too.

Checking the official statistics, I am one of 15.7 million unemployed workers in the United States. These are people who are actively looking for work. That’s up 558,000 in October, when unemployment reached 10.2 nationwide. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and more) – that’s my group -- was little changed in October, at 5.6 million. These Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers are scary enough, but when you put a face, a home, and a family with each one of them, it’s easy to get discouraged.

“They” say the economy is improving, and maybe it is in some sectors, but the jobs in my field are few and far between, and the competition is keen. I try not to get discouraged. “Managing expectations” is my mantra when I apply for any job.

Yes, I have considered going back to school to study something else, to acquire skills for field where they are plenty of jobs. I’ve considered the medical field, where there seem to be jobs. And, I may do that eventually.

But, for now, I am still a writer, editor, experienced public relations and communications manager. That’s what I’ve done for 30 years.

I am not afraid to change; I just don’t know what to change into.

So for now, I look for a job every day, and I bother friends for referrals. I write this blog, to keep my name “out there” and the mind still churning out ideas. And, I write on the novel I’ve mentioned before, now into the final stretch of writing on it every day until I finish the first draft. Then, I will begin bugging everyone I know who has ever published a book for referrals to agents or publishers, but that’s for another day.

On this Thanksgiving, I can in some ways even be thankful to be where I am, unemployed, one of the 15.7 million jobless. That's because I can be thankful having the time to write my first novel and a chance to catch my breath and spend time with my family instead of on the job and on the road.

Still, none of those benefits pays any bills.

If I have a lesson from more than a year of looking for a job -- more than a year of doubts and fears -- it would be that to deal with it, sometimes you really have to look at the other side. You have to look at the “other hand,” the positives that come from negatives, and move on.

Each Thanksgiving, we have a tradition of placing three kernels of corn (actually pop corn kernels) beside the plate of each guest at Thanksgiving dinner. Before the blessing, we go around the table and each person tells three things they are thankful for, as they place the kernels back into my grandmother’s crystal sugar bowl.

Despite it all – the uncertainty of being an economic statistic and all that goes with it -- this year, I will have still a hard time narrowing it down to three.

Picture(s) of the day: High water

How high's the water?

Both piers are under water, and only the pole
with the still-shining solar light still shows in this picture of our pier on Pine Barron Creek. This was a day or so after Tropical Storm Ida came through the South.

Below is what it the pier scene normally looks like.

Song of the day: High Water for Charley Patton, by Bob Dylan

"I just can't be happy, love

Unless you're happy too

It's bad out there

High water everywhere."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Listing lots to like about lists

It’s Monday, so it’s time for a list, or lists.

My list-making habits didn’t end with my gainful employment. I still start each Monday with a to-do list for the week. Only now, instead of “finish communications plan for Project Whatever,” or “plan mill visit for Congressman Whoever,” it’s more likely to be “write on book, exercise, Go to Fred’s (dollar store), return library books. Laundry.”

I used to put on the list: “get a job.” But that’s not even funny anymore. Plus, looking for a job -- the networking, checking job sites, updating my job matrix list – has become second nature to me now. It does not have to be on the list; that giant task called job hunting now seems as everyday to me as breathing.

Today I had at the top of my to-do list: write on blog. After last week’s heart-felt essay on Danielle and her Daddy, I wanted to ruminate on something less emotional and more practical. Hence, this is a look at lists.

Aside from week-of to-do list, I keep a running list on the counter in the kitchen: garbage bags, dishwashing liquid. I also keep long-range lists, but too often, these fall into the “I’ll get right on that, Rose” category or into the “do wonders…eat rotten cucumbers” status.

See, “I’ll get right on that, Rose” is a line from a movie which my daughter and I say, referring to things we need to do but don’t want to do. The cat litter box needs changing. “I’ll get right on that, Rose.”

“I’m gonna do wonders and eat rotten cucumbers.” That’s a quote from Lona, the mother of my long-time BFF Janet, referring to ambitious plans and good intentions. Long-term lists can land in this category: lose weight, eat more vegetables, clean out the basement storage area, negotiate world peace.

List-making is a great time management tool. We all know that. But, key to making list-making work is two-fold: 1. Look at the list and do the items. Or more specifically: Refer to list often during the day or week, and do the items on it, marking them off as you go and adding tasks as needed. 2. Don’t ignore, lose or forget said lists. Or if you do, re-write them.

I know there apps for task lists on my phone, and in my computer’s e-mail and calendar functions. But, like my news and my books, I prefer paper and pen lists over digital ones, despite those cool-to-check-off-as-done symbols the computer-generated lists have.

Maybe it’s just me, but nothing is more satisfying than marking tasks off a to-do list. You can mark through the item or put a check or X mark by it. There, that’s done.

It’s a multitasker’s motivation and reward all in one.

So, today, in writing about lists I will be able to mark one task off this week’s list: write on blog. Check.

Now, I can move down that list. And, you never know, this week may be the week when I really do finally, “do wonders and eat rotten cucumbers.”

Picture of the day:
Directional signs to our camphouse, a.k.a. the Wild Kingdom or WK for short. Signs custom-designed by Mary Claire and Jackie.

Song of the day: Choctaw Bingo, James McMurtry

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Remembering a Daddy and his daughter

My daughter’s best friend lost her Daddy Sunday. He was too young; it was too soon, and it’s all too sad.

John Welch lost his brief battle with cancer Sunday night, surrounded by his family and friends, and he had a lot of those.

I knew John as Danielle’s Daddy, first meeting him as we sat in the uncomfortable bleachers in the Wilcox Academy gymnasium, watching our girls plays basketball. Danielle was a starter who charged up and down the court, a threat to perhaps throw an elbow and foul out early. Then, my daughter, Mary Claire, might get in the game.

John was there for Danielle’s ball games, and for the prom, where I remember him waiting with me in front of Gaines-Ridge Dinner Club, for the lost limo driver to come take our beautiful girls and their dates to the prom, also at the gymnasium.

That’s how I remember John – being there for his Danielle.

I knew John Welch as just that, Danielle’s Daddy, and I don’t have a bio or obit information to guide me as I write about him. But that’s okay, because, you see, it was Danielle that John was most proud of.

He’d tell you that his beautiful blonde daughter was what he’d done best in his life.

As far as background, I know John Welch grew up in Birmingham and went to school here. Professionally, he ran restaurants and believed in good food and hospitality. Most recently, he managed the Dream Land barbecue restaurant in downtown Birmingham. (This picture is Danielle, who we call D, and John Welch at Dream Land in Birmingham.)

I know John loved rock n’ roll (having followed the Grateful Dead around for a brief period in his young life) and I know he was a Bob Dylan fan, like me, one of those music lovers who get Dylan. John also loved serving folks good food and being a good host.

But most of all, John loved his daughter Danielle, his only child, a love child, even, and he was always, always there for her.

And when John was diagnosed with cancer just a couple of months ago, it was Danielle who was there for John.

Danielle quit school for the semester, withdrawing from Southern Union, where she was studying radiology, moved out of the Auburn trailer where she lived with Mary Claire and others from Camden.

I remember her sitting on our back porch, after she had made the decision to drop out this semester, saying “I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t spend every minute I can with Daddy, just in case he doesn’t make it,” she said, crying, and even then, bolstering herself for what she feared was coming. Danielle negotiated with her grandfather, John’s father, a retired Texas A&M educator who, by nature, disapproves of dropping out of school. Danielle made the tough, adult decisions she had to in order to be at her Daddy’s side, and she was, every step of the way.

I was 23, probably a year older than Danielle, when I lost my mother to cancer, too. So, I feared that I knew what was coming for Danielle and her Daddy, and I knew that she was right to be there for him as much as she could, and she was.

Danielle was there (and Mary Claire was an honored guest) when John was baptized by his father at the Church of Christ he went to as a child. She was there for the doctor meetings, the radiation, the discomfort, the visiting friends and family and more friends. They all moved in together, grandfather, Danielle, John and, for much of the time, and at the last, Danielle’s mother Kelley, and Kelley’s mother, a nurse who I know only as Nanny.

During his final weeks and months, Danielle and her Daddy went out to eat, watched movies, looked at old pictures. They went to an Alabama football game and to see Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers. She rubbed her Daddy’s back, and helped figure out the meds, made sure he tried to sleep and to eat. She learned more than she ever wanted to about how quickly cancer can move in and devastate.

But, I know that John Welch was right with the Lord and with his family as he faced his final weeks, then days, then hours, with his family and friends, and his Danielle, at his side.

And, I know something else with certainty. Danielle Rose Welch was John Welch’s pride and joy, and he was her hero.

Song of the day: Pride and Joy, by Stevie Ray Vaughan

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Remembering Auburn then, now, and Dylan singing "Here Comes Santa Claus"

Saturday was a good day.

Auburn University won a football game -- after a three-week losing skid of twilight zone proportion -- and my copies of Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart came in the mail.

Auburn won, again.

The good Auburn University football team showed up for Saturday’s game, and we won. The confused, dispirited Auburn team of the three-game-losing streak was replaced by the prepared, determined Tigers who made the Ole Miss game as exciting as any this season.

I think of Auburn, too, after viewing a Facebook photo album by fellow Auburn Plainsman alumni and photographer Gordon Bugg, who has worked as an engineer and soldier since then. His pictures of Auburn in the late 1970s, when we were there and publishing the student newspaper each week, ignited memories and reminded us how much the campus (and we) have changed since then. One of my favorites from his “Auburn evolving” photo album, is this shot of Auburn's War Eagle, from 1977.

Must be Dylan singing Christmas carols

My two copies of Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart arrived Saturday. I’ve listen to all the selections once, and a few twice. As a Dylan fan, I know I’ll like the CD even more with subsequent listens.

But what’s so cool about this Christmas album from the coolest of the cool singer-songwriters and American legends is that he really means it.

First, all the proceeds from the sale of Christmas in the Heart go to Feeding America. Overseas sales will go to similar charities which feed the needy. This guarantees that more than four million meals will be provided to more than 1.4 million people in need in this country during this year's holiday season; plus the Feeding America and the international charities benefiting from the album receive all future royalties, in perpetuity.

Secondly, Dylan sings holiday standards with enthusiasm and, well, heart.

The whole deal is like a gift, really. Dylan's gravelly, wise and time-worn voice is wrapped in his precise arrangements of well-known Christmas songs and packaged with his always-on-the-mark band members and studio musicians and “mixed voice” back-up singers.

America’s best songwriter didn’t write any of the tunes, even though he’s written albums full of Christian songs. But, he put his masterful talent to arranging popular standards and traditional hymns like The First Noel and O Little Town of Bethlehem .

Christmas in the Heart is a treat for folks who love holiday music, Dylan fans, and, I suspect, most others who bother to listen. For needy people in our country and abroad, Christmas in the Heart is what it's name implies. And it is a concrete, WWJD act of Christmas kindness.

Early favorites from  my early listening are Here Comes Santa Claus, Little Drummer Boy, and Must Be Santa (a fun sing-along and what could be the only polka-beat song from Dylan).

I say I got two copies of Christmas in the Heart. One is mine, and it is already being enjoyed, even as I pack away the electronic flying bat and rake into the trash what’s left of our shrinking carved pumpkin.

Christmas in the Heart will be the soundtrack for my Christmas 2009, and if people will take a listen, and remember the reason for the season, it will become a Christmas music standard.
As for my other copy, it will be one of our presents for the family Dirty Santa present swap at my husband’s mother’s house, where we draw numbers and gleefully fight over gifts, some good, some not so good. I hope whoever gets Christmas in the Heart doesn’t get it snatched in Dirty Santa before they can listen to it, and listen to it again, and appreciate the effort and intent of my musical hero’s holiday gift to us all.

Interested in Christmas in the Heart or ordering a copy? Go to

Song of the day: Gotta Serve Somebody, Bob Dylan

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cyber connected, but let me keep newsprint-stained fingers

I’m Linked In. My face is on Facebook. I can Tweet anytime I want to. And, last week, folks other than my best friends read my blog posting and commented on it.

I’m feelin’ the love of cyber connecting.

I can Google myself (try it sometime), and I find what I wanted to find: web listings for Jackie Walburn, writer, editor, communicator and JOB SEEKER. Google no longer just finds quotes and media mentions from my most recent job as a spokesperson/public affairs/region corporate communications manager for a big company.

I’m there in Google-land representing myself, and that was the goal when I set out recently to create a cyber presence to assist in the continuing adventure of life after downsizing. I listened when experts in my field -- communications, public relations, writing, editing – said, you’ve got to be out there, or rather in there, in the interconnected social media world. I got the message. I posted the profiles, asked for friends and connections, and continue to learn ways to maximize these connections.

However, even as I celebrate with a virtual happy dance, must make one non-hip disclaimer.

First and foremost: I will not start “getting all my news on-line.” Sure I can go to for Alabama news or any number of sites for national and international news and comment.

Just give me a newspaper, please. I still want to read the newspaper; I want to turn the pages. I don’t even care if I can newsprint on my fingers. I love newsprint on my fingers.

The economy and this cyber world have combined to make this a tough time for newspapers everywhere. But hey, for what it’s worth, newspapers everywhere still have a loyal reader in me. Although I have not worked regularly for a newspaper in about more than a decade, I grew up in newspapers. I majored in journalism (and meant it) and worked exclusively as a newspaper reporter, editor and photographer for many years, until economic realities and opportunities combined to launch me on a career change as a communications consultant, then into public relations, then corporate communications.

But bless the reporters and editors working away at today’s newspapers. Fewer pages, fewer advertisers (those are directly linked) and an increasing emphasis on the on-line versions of newspapers make it challenging for newspapers and newspaper reporters these days. I understand that, and know that “breaking news” is indeed that when it can be posted on-line instead of waiting for the next edition of the newspaper. Writing for print and then writing and updating it for on-line is the new norm.

However, newspaper reporters and editors are nothing if not resourceful, and evidence shows they are embracing the new media, even while some of them, surely, still like the idea of newsprint on their fingers.

A recently-published study, "Life beyond Print: Newspaper journalists' digital appetite,” written in-part by a fellow Auburn University journalism grad Vickey Williams, shows that almost half of today's newspaper journalists think their newsroom's move from print to digital is happening too slowly, and they see their future selves engaged in news reporting even as the print-to-digital-and-mobile-devices changes continue and speed up.

The study, published by the Media Management Center at Northwestern University, identifies six types of journalists inhabiting the typical newspaper newsroom in 2009. These range from the "Digitals" (12% of the workforce) who spend a majority of their efforts online today, to the "Turn Back the Clock" contingent (6%), who long for the day when print was king. I’d probably find myself in the middle.

One of the reasons this blog appeals to me is how similar it is to writing a newspaper column, which I did for years in college for The Plainsman, then as a part of a small staff at a small weekly and then a small daily. Now this blog gives me a chance again to write about whatever I want to (within reason), even if it’s not printed on newsprint and my readership is limited but growing, a few friends at a time.

All that’s missing is newsprint-stained fingers, and, somewhere in cyberspace, there’s probably an app for that.

Picture of the day:

Fishing off the pier: Here's what I did Saturday afternoon and Sunday, fished for crappie off our pier. Few bites, one catfish for me and a bream for Mary Claire, but great view from pier.  This photo is actually from last Spring, but you get the picture.
Song of the day:
Summer Days, Bob Dylan
"Standing by God's river, my soul is beginnin' to shake

Standing by God's river, my soul is beginnin' to shake

I'm countin' on you love, to give me a break"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fine to be finally on Facebook, finding friends

I fought Facebook and Facebook won.

See, I saw the social networking site as a place for college kids, as it started out, and frowned on it, too, because of an unfortunate, trouble-causing, illicit substitute profile a crazed acquaintance put on my daughter’s Facebook profile once upon a time.

So, I had not put up a Facebook profile. I had no Facebook friends; I couldn’t Facebook anyone or write on anyone’s wall. I was one of only two people who didn’t raise hands as Facebookers when social media was the topic at a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) meeting earlier this year. The other person was a young lady; I wondered then what her excuse was.

But, in my continuing effort to learn social media and have a cyber communications presence (and have a place to promote this website/blog) and tired of being seen as a digital dinosaur when I can Google, e-mail, and otherwise digitally communicate as well as anyone, I took the Facebook plunge last week.

Today, I have 57 friends and counting. I found so many friends and acquaintances from my former lives – as a Fairfield High School and Auburn University student, from days as a reporter and even from my most recent career in corporate communications. The long-lost include my ex sister-in-law and my junior high school best friend. I've not seen either in 30-plus years. I’m having lunch today with another long-lost Fairfield person. And, you never know when one of these long-lost friends might know about a potential job for me, as I have learned that networking is as important as a resume, maybe moreso. Plus, my Facebook friends include my children, my nieces, my nephews and my non-ex sister-in-law.

It took maybe an hour or two to put together my profile, and that included creating photo albums (one for my immediate family, one for friends and family, and one for music and recreation, mainly so I could post my prized picture of me and Billy Joe Shaver). I loved that part, having been a newspaper photographer in one of those former lives.

I’ve learned, however, that the time consumption comes later, after the profile, when friend requests come in, along with the need/compulsion to comment, write on walls or Facebook mail them. Time spent in a mostly social-only pursuit would be the downside, if I can find one. Time spent checking Facebook is added to time spent checking e-mail and job searching and away from my writer self’s current goal of writing at least 1,000 words a day on my almost-through-with-the-first-draft novel.

The book with its working title of Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone is waiting on me, even as I spend time today posting a blog on my website and flipping back to e-mail and my Facebook page to see if I’ve been friended, or have messages or hearts or comments. Plus, there must be time for the on-going job search and daily job board checks and follow ups. Thank goodness I don’t actively Twitter. I might never get Mojo back where he belongs.

Still, after less than a week as a Facebook participant, I can see the advantages and wonder now why I fought Facebook so long. It was about perceptions, I suspect. Now it needs to be about time management and priority setting, tasks I have much experience in as a career-long multi-tasker.

But, isn’t most of our life’s work and play about that, finding time for what we need to do and what we want to do?

See you on Facebook.

Picture of the week: Rising moon at sunset over the Alabama River, Dallas County, Alabama.

Song of the week: Blind Willie McTell, Bob Dylan.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Under Vulcan watch, Todd Snider rhymes of optimistic chances

Under the watch of Birmingham’s giant iron statue Vulcan, I spent a partly-clear Sunday afternoon on Red Mountain listening to singer-songwriter Todd Snider spin his rhythmic, rhyming, sometimes-optimistic realism at a Vulcan Aftertune’s music event, and I felt much better for it.

Snider, who plays blues guitar and harmonica and sings his clever word-play songs while barefoot and smiling, has been called “one of roots music’s slyest and smartest songwriters.” (SPIN magazine).

On this Sunday afternoon in Birmingham at an outdoor concert held at my hometown’s mountaintop statue of the Roman god of fire and metalworking, Snider retained his place on my list of favorite singer-songwriters.

Plus, with songs like Slim Chance, he soothed my unemployed, sometimes poor-me soul with an optimistic look at hard times and extenuating circumstances.

I knew of Snider for his many songs, among the most well known being Alright Guy and the clever, college-age mantra Beer Run, and for Waco Moon, a brutal, sad and honest tribute to Eddy Shaver, the late son of another of my songwriting heroes, Billy Joe Shaver. In Waco Moon, Snider laments that if you “Quit too late you're gonna die too soon,” about the talented, guitar-playing Eddy, who died of a drug overdose on New Year’s Eve 2000.

Like Billy Joe Shaver -- the original Honky Tonk Hero who wrote that hit for Waylon Jennings and suitcases full of other classics with lines like “the devil made me do it the first time/the second time I did it on my own (Black Rose) -- Snider writes songs that make you listen, think, reflect, laugh, cry and hope.

But it was Snider’s upbeat take on dealing with what life brings you which helped me on this day. His latest release, The Excitement Plan, includes a great, rocking duet Don’t Tempt Me, which he co-wrote and sang with Loretta Lynn, and the song Slim Chance, which spoke most plainly to me, as I approach the one-year anniversary of my downsizing and surpass the 15-month mark in my employment search.

There’s always hope; it just depends on how you look at it.
I think that’s what Snider was saying to me, the usual optimist, in Slim Chance.

“I found a four leaf clover/In my yard today
It had one leaf missing off it/But that was okay
Looking it over I could easily see/Four is only just one more than three
That's close enough for me/Must be my lucky day

A slim chance/Is still a chance.
A slim chance/Is still a chance
Hey hey/You don't necessarily have to pay the fiddler to dance”

Thanks Todd Snider, I needed that.

Picture of the day:
Todd Snider plays at Birmingham's Vulcan Aftertunes, October 11, 2009
Songs of the day:
Slim Chance, Todd Snider
Old Chunk of Coal, Billy Joe Shaver

Monday, October 5, 2009

If the resume fits, send it

On my to-do list this morning is to help my daughter update her resume, as she graduates from Auburn University in December in Supply Chain Management, and needs to attend a career fair this week, and to help update son’s resume, to include the industrial technology courses he is completing at Jefferson State with a soon-to-be complete goal of getting certifications in several areas including automated manufacturing (the computers that control processes in manufacturing and energy production). They will add their new information (daughter’s internship and son’s current technical courses) and I will proofread and edit.

Being the family writer and editor and resident wordsmith, I am often the final stop for my family’s written submissions. Plus, I have new, first-hand experience in resume writing and editing and modifying. I currently have four versions of my resume and there may be room for more.

Targeting your resume to the job(s) you are applying for is just one of the strategies I’ve learned during the more than one year of job searching after being downsized. Having worked as a “generalist” public relations and corporate communications manager, doing everything in multiple states, then adding lobbyist and governmental relations to those responsibilities the last two years, my accomplishments and skill sets are wide-ranging and applicable to various job types.

So, I have a general public affairs and communications professional resume, plus a writer-editor resume (which highlights my experience and skills in writing, editing and publications), a corporate communications resume (which lists details of my qualifications and experiences in issue management, internal and external communications and media relations) and an event planning and marketing version, which, you guessed it, lists accomplishments in event planning and marketing.

I was a newspaper reporter and editor for years, too, but haven’t bothered to create a reporter resume, since newspapers are trimming staff, not adding to them.

Targeting resumes to specific jobs is just one of tactics I’ve learned during fifteen months of job searching in an historically-tough market. Another critical tactic is the ever-important and intangible tool of networking or KNOWING SOMEONE. More about that later.

Picture post for today:

An Auburn sunset on the Alabama River, summer 2009

Song of the day: Things Have Changed, by Bob Dylan. Check it out. Things HAVE Changed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The first post is the deepest

This is my first post in my first blog in my first official effort to develop an on-line communications presence.

Since being downsized last year, I am now writing the novel all writers intend to write, tending to the business of being a housewife, looking for the elusive great job and learning more about social media, blogging, widgets, gadgets, hyperlinks and other funny-sounding digital communication tactics and tools.

Hence, I used, recommended by a friend, another former newspaper writer and editor, to create this blogspot. I plan to keep it updated, with the disclaimer that I really should be working on my book. More about that, inspirations and aspirations later.