Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Sadly, we lost our sweet little bird Pearl last Sunday night. Most likely, she had a heart attack. She had been perfectly healthy up until that day. Burke and I were with her when she passed away. She was fourteen years old! Thanks to her, I never lived alone, even when I had my own apartment. She filled every home I had with music and beauty. She was like a cheery ray of sunshine brightening up the room.

Pearl was a hand-trained bird purchased from a breeder. In addition to having uniquely beautiful plumage (most cockatiels are gray and yellow), she was very tame and liked to be petted. She would put her head down while you "preened" the feathers on her head, closing her little eyelids with its tiny white lashes. She could say "Hi, Pearl" and imitate a human whistle with a call-and-response song. When she was let out of her cage, she liked flying across the room to land on one of our heads. She was totally in love with Burke and tweeted excitedly every time he came in the room.

Goodbye, sweet little companion and precious friend. You will be missed.
Pearl sleeping, with her head buried in her wings.

Holiday Time

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! Burke and I were in Texas for almost two weeks celebrating (and yes, we missed the big NYC Blizzard '10). We had a brand-new niece and nephew to visit! Hailey is the daughter of my brother Luke and sis-in-law Melisa.
Here we are with my mom, who's holding my step-nephew Korbin.
Hailey is an unbelievably happy, cute baby! I mean, just look at that face.
Christopher, Burke's sister's baby, is our new nephew. Here I am with him and Daniel (who's only 3 but very wise for his age). Gotta love the fire-truck PJs.
I also got to visit my sweet friend Brooke, who lives in Dallas.
And her cats--including Jack, who I knew back when he was just a tiny 2-pound hairball.
We celebrated our anniversary at the scene of the crime--I mean, place where we got married: the Driskill Hotel in Austin.

And saw our wonderful friends Thomas and Doreen. Here's Doreen with Thomas Jr. (aka Little T). Why the big ol' grin? Well, his mom is the most hilarious person I know, so I can't blame him. :)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rest in Peace, Dad

Me and Dad, on the day I was born

Ten years ago, on January 3, 2001, my father passed away in the night, from sudden heart failure.

I often find myself wanting to pay tribute to Dad by describing him thoroughly and in as much detail as possible, for the people who didn't know him the way those of us in the family did. But how do you fully and accurately describe someone's entire personality, their entire life? Of course this task is impossible, but it seems like there must be a way to come close.

I think that there are two methods of describing someone. One is to use broad words that give a general sense of the person as a whole. For Dad, I would use the words confident, capable, intelligent, and independent. It's hard to stop at just those four words--many, many more would also be fitting--but I think these qualities were the strongest ones in my father, and that he passed on these traits to many of us who knew him.

The second method of description involves giving specific details about the person. I think this approach is more insightful because details really shed light on what someone is like. So here are a few details about my dad:

-He loved music, especially the Beatles. For him every song had an apex, his "favorite section," during which he would crank up the volume and announce excitedly, "Here comes the best part!" He also knew how to read music, and whenever we shared a hymnal in church, he would point out the notes in the bass clef that he was singing.

-He encouraged intellectualism and creativity in our household. He would often ask me to describe the scene outside the car window as a writer would. (This happened a lot in England, as we were driving across beautiful, green countryside.) He rewarded me (often with cash) for good scholastic performance and encouraged me to compete in spelling bees. He once even taught me how to spell the longest word in the dictionary: antidisestablishmentarianism.

-He had a fun streak and made time to enjoy life. He particularly liked outdoorsy activities like fishing and camping. "Take a deep breath, Kay," he said to me on a family trip to Taos. "Just fill your lungs with that fresh mountain air!" He always owned a bass boat and took us kids out to the lake to fish with him several times. I recall the utter horror I felt when I dropped the fishing pole he bought me into the lakewater and it disappeared, never to be seen again.

-He was a thrill-seeker and even bought a motorcycle when he was in his 50s. When I was in college, I met him for a ride one time in the Hill Country and was touched to discover that he had bought me a Harley Davidson T-shirt.

-He had a real sweet tooth. Thanks to him, we often had dessert after dinner, and my mom kept ice cream and cookies on hand. He also liked chips and salsa and in fact requested to have some mailed to us while we lived in England!

-He was very smart and had a near-photogenic memory. I encountered this many times, after snooping through or using his belongings--papers, coin-sorting machines, handkerchiefs--only to discover later that he could tell exactly what had been moved out of its usual position.

-He had a sense of humor, and often hammily recited jokes, like (while trying to assemble a complicated electronic device) "When all else fails, read the instructions!" or (at the dinner table, standing up dramatically after a meal) "Well, it's been real, and it's been fun, but it hasn't been real fun."

-He made me feel special. Once when he needed to repair a shingle, he let me get up on the roof of our house on Downing Drive. We carved our names in the replacement shingle with a nail.

-He was philosophical and nostalgic. He made toasts and drew attention to special occasions, like Christmas and other family moments. Even eating dinner together was important to him--he wanted us all to sit at the table together, with the TV off, and talk about our day. "Someday you'll look back on this moment and realize how precious and rare 'family time' is," he often pointed out. And he was right.

These random details offer a partial glimpse of what the man Douglas Lee O'Shields was like. They are the precious memories that often pass through my mind and make me feel grateful to be his daughter. I hope they create a worthy, though limited, representation of him as a person.

I miss you dearly, Dad. I wish you could have been here over the last ten years. I like to think that, since I always have you in my heart, you never fully left us.