Sunday, December 31, 2006

Out with the old...

For the past two days, I’ve been busy tossing things out, shredding old receipts, boxing up books I’ll never want to read again, learning to let go. I am a packrat, no question about it. Maybe it comes from having moved so often while my children were growing up, leaving behind all the things that would take up too much space in the moving van.

Or maybe it goes deeper than that. I remember collecting comic books, paper dolls, and trading cards in my childhood. I remember sitting on the daybed in the basement, where my teenaged uncle slept during the hot summer months, looking one by one, with much admiration, at each specimen in his matchbook collection. (One of those matchbooks contained what I now recognize as a condom.) There's just something about groups of similar objects that appeals to me.

Most of my books will still be on their shelves when this bout of de-cluttering is completed. My elephant collection will be intact, as will my more recent collection of tiny replicas of beautiful shoes. I’m not yet ready to give up the old vinyl record albums, either, but I’ve begun to think about it.

As much as I enjoy reflecting on the past -– and a single piece of paper can transport me back thirty years –- I want to live more in the moment. I want to rid myself of some of the clutter that steals my time and diminishes my enjoyment of the here and now.

Part of my "packrat-edness" has been my desire to leave a trail for my children and grandchildren, a path of documents and mementos to show them where they came from and to tell them what happened along the way. And so I’ve stuffed things into drawers and onto shelves, waiting for the right moment to dump all that “stuff” into their laps. My goal for the new year is to break that habit. Coincidentally, the accomplishment of last year's goal will help me do it.

I don't make resolutions, but my "goal" for 2006 was to set up my own blog. I thought it would be a difficult process, and I postponed it for a few weeks into the year. Then, one night in late-January, I sat down to explore what I’d need to do to get started. Before that evening was out, I was up and running. What a thrill!

And here I am nearly a year later, realizing that the stories I want my children to know, the photos I want them to see, don’t have to languish in a drawer or on a dusty shelf. With a few keystrokes, I can send them out into the universe via the Internet, where they can be retrieved with a few more keystrokes if and when somebody’s interested. How about that for a neat space-saving device!

Blogging has brought something else into my life, too. For introverts like me, those of us who thrive on calm, quiet places, it’s painful to put ourselves out into real-world gatherings long enough to scout out others like ourselves. In fact, the others like us are not usually found at large gatherings; they’re home in their own calm, quiet places. Many of them, I’ve learned this year, are at their computers, opening their hearts, baring their souls, making friends the way we like to do it: one at a time, slowly, quietly.

You, dear readers and writers, have made my year! I wish each of you, as well as my delightful and widespread family, a happy, healthy 2007. May your candle burn even brighter in the new year.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Meat and greet

I almost forgot to tell you! I got "hit on" the other day by a man who made a rather bold move. That might not be an unusual event for you younger women out there, but it's been a while since it's happened to me.

He...uh...he was the...uh...Wal-Mart greeter. He pulled out a shopping cart for me and then wouldn't let go of it. For more than ten minutes.

He said he was just about to grab a hamburger and invited me to join him, but I explained that I was expecting company and just needed to pick up a couple of things and hurry home. He still wouldn't turn loose of the cart.

He began to tell me about his war experiences and all the places he'd traveled when he was in the service. We're talking World War II, people. I was surprised when he told me he'll be 85 in January (he didn't look a day over 75), but that would explain why a plus-sized, 64-year-old woman might appeal to him.

He'd tell me something about himself ("my wife passed 13 years ago") and I'd make a polite response and try to pull the cart a little closer. He'd tighten his grip on it and tell me something else ("my son and his family live in Baton Rouge, but I like it better out here"). We seesawed that shopping cart back and forth a dozen times before I wrested it away from him.

I'm not gonna kid myself that I was the only woman he tried to pick up that day. In fact, based on what he told me in the first five minutes, I don't think he's working for the money. He said he has a "brand-new car" ("I don't know why I bought it; I sure don't need it") and a "real nice RV." Nope, I think he signed up for the job as a way to meet chicks.

I've gotta admire his resourcefulness, and I wish him well. I think his plan has merit. No doubt lonely women pass through those automatic doors numerous times daily, women who'd be happy to cook a few meals and take care of an old man in exchange for the use of a new car and a nice RV. If he makes enough moves, he's bound to find one of those women.

It ain't me, babe.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A test of wills

Until I walked into my bedroom tonight, my arms full of freshly laundered sheets, I didn't realize that Kadi had already gone to bed. I told her to get down, but all she did was crawl from my side of the bed to the center. I told her again to get down, and she turned away from me and laid her head between her paws. I told her several times. I pushed on her butt and she dug in tighter.

Okay, I thought, we'll do things the hard way. I started putting the fitted bottom sheet on the bed. I tucked in the first corner. "Kadi," I said, in my best leader-of-the-pack voice, "you have to move." Nuh-uh. Two more corners and we were here:

I told her again, "Kadi. Get. Down. Now!" She looked at me, smiled, and held her ground.

Hmmph! I can be stubborn, too. I tucked in the fourth corner:

We were closing in on 25 seconds when I got nervous. Except for the barely perceptible motion of her breathing, Kadi hadn't moved a muscle in all that time. I pulled the sheet back, and she just looked at me. Then she s-l-o-w-l-y stretched, crawled to the edge of the bed, and lowered herself to the floor.

I'm calling it my point.

Christmas 2006 Recap

Christmas has come and gone, and I'm still basking in all the joy that Santa brought.

I didn’t plan to put up a tree this year, but I found this tiny thing while doing some last-minute shopping and couldn’t resist it. It was fun to see Butch discover it a couple of hours after I set it out in the living room. He may be blind, but he doesn’t miss much.

My older daughter spent the night with me Christmas Eve. We ate good snack stuff, played with the pups and watched them frolic with their Christmas toys, and had one very long game of Trivial Pursuit before we called it a night.

Christmas morning was quiet, mostly spent preparing a couple of dishes to take to my younger daughter’s house later in the day. And that’s where the Christmas spirit really came together for me.

We had so much fun! The grandkids arrived at different times throughout the afternoon. We exchanged gifts as each new group arrived, which worked out nicely. We used to wait until everybody was there, but as the kids get older and their schedules get busier, doing it this way takes some of the pressure off and gives us extra time for the highlight of our Christmas celebration: the annual "Battle of the Sexes" game.

This is our third year to play this board game on Christmas night while we have the whole family together, and I don’t think a single one of us would want to miss it. It’s the guys against the gals, across generations, and it’s hysterical to listen to the logic and the negotiations that go on as each team tries to agree on an answer.

My favorite game moment to date came last year, when the seven or eight manly members of the opposition sang “The Brady Bunch Theme” in unison, under their breath, as they tried to figure out the first names of Mr. and Mrs. Brady (Mike and Carol). What I wouldn’t give to have that on videotape.

Last night’s game began with the same kind of competitive enthusiasm:

Grandson: “Grammy, you’re goin’ down.”

Granddaughter’s FiancĂ©: “Dude, you’re trash-talking your grandmother?”

Grandson: “Yeah, I’m just warnin' her.”

Granddaughter’s FiancĂ©: “High five, man; I like your style.”

The female team won for the third year in a row, but, in all fairness, the guys’ team was short a couple of players. They’re planning to bring in reinforcements for a New Year’s Day rematch.

After all that fun –- not to mention all that food -– we were very tired and very happy at the end of the day.

So, the long holiday weekend winds down on a positive note. My heart is full, my head's in a good place, my home is fairly neat, and today I scanned an entire decade's worth of photographs, getting a head start on my goals for the new year.

It's a shame to interrupt this glow by going back to work tomorrow, but you know what? I can handle it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

Once again, I've waited until the last minute to do everything I need to do for Christmas. The gifts have been purchased but not yet wrapped, because I didn't have all the Christmas giftwrap paper I thought I did. (I vaguely remember throwing out several rolls of it when I cleaned and reorganized my hall closet last Spring. It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Today was serious-house-cleaning day. My feet and knees won't hold out for housework and shopping on the same day, so I'll go early tomorrow to scrounge up some giftwrap paper and enough ingredients to make the dip I'll take to my daughter's house on Christmas Day.

To those of you who are way more organized than I am, my fur-trimmed, red hat's off to you. I wish you a wonderful Christmas!

And to those of you who are still scrambling, like me, I assume you won't be reading this until at least two or three days from now. I hope your Christmas was really great, too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Raggedy man

One day when my granddaughter was eight or nine, we went Christmas shopping together. As we waited in a long line of cars to turn left under an overpass, we saw a homeless man holding up a cardboard sign at the end of the block. He was tall and big-boned with a Raggedy-Andy-length mop of tangled red hair. His dirty black trench coat had no buttons, and there were no strings to tie his weathered work boots.

As we sat in traffic, I tried to decide whether to give the man some money. I've developed a set of vague guidelines about that kind of thing over the years. The first question is always whether or not I can afford it. If I'm on my way to spend money for something other than basic necessities, I figure I can spare a little extra for someone else. The second issue is whether I can hand money to a stranger without putting myself in danger from him or from the surrounding traffic. The third factor, the argument I have with my cynical side every time the issue arises, is whether I'll be helping someone in need or encouraging a con artist. That argument usually ends the same way: I'd rather err on the side of kindness and let God sort out the other person's intentions.

On this particular occasion, all three criteria having been met, I decided I'd give the man enough money for a fast-food meal as soon as I got close enough to him. I pulled a five-dollar bill out of my purse (which was enough back then), tucked the purse between my hip and the car door, and waited for the light to change so we could move closer to the corner. We moved, but not far. I watched for the man to look in our direction, and when he did, I held the money up to the windshield and waved it to signal him. He quickly started walking toward us.

Just as the man stopped beside the car, I remembered that my car window mechanism had broken earlier in the week. The window wouldn't roll down. I had a fleeting moment of panic at the idea of opening the car door to a stranger when my granddaughter was with me, then I realized there was no possible way he could carjack us in traffic that was barely moving.

I opened the door and handed the money to the man. He smiled, gave his shaggy head a nod, said, "Thank you and God bless you," then turned away and walked back to the corner. The traffic light turned green, and we moved up only two or three places before it changed to red and brought us to a stop again.

After a moment, the man glanced back in our direction. He suddenly began waving his arms--big, frantic motions--and pointing behind us. His mouth was moving, but with the window up, I couldn't understand him. He started moving toward us again, first walking fast, taking big steps, then breaking into a run. Once again he stopped beside my car. His urgent demeanor made me nervous, but I opened the door enough to hear him. "Your bag," he said, breathing hard from the exertion. "Your bag fell out of your car."

I looked behind me and saw my purse lying at the edge of the road, back where I'd been when I gave him the money. There was Christmas-shopping cash in the purse, money I'm sure he could have used. Credit cards, too. A dishonest man would have recognized the opportunity, kept his mouth shut, and thanked his lucky stars. Not this man, though. I retrieved my purse and it was my turn to thank him. This time, his smile was even broader.

Every year since then, when I'm Christmas shopping, I think about that man. Thousands of people must have been shopping that day, but I can't imagine that anyone else got a better bargain than I did. Who knew it was possible to have one's faith in human nature restored for a mere five bucks?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Somebody's Son

Somebody’s son
sits alone beside the highway,
waits for another fearless stranger
to drive him farther
down the road.

Somebody’s son
carries everything on his back,
runs away from one thing,
toward another,
keeps moving, always moving.

Somebody’s mother
looks out the window,
watches the mail,
waits for the phone to ring,
wishes things had been different.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Coming out of the fog

A thick fog has greeted me when I've opened the door the past few mornings, the kind of fog that softens the hard edges of the world. I've been in a bit of a mental fog, too, recently, but I think it's finally lifting. The past few days have been productive ones.

Work was beginning to get the best of me. Too much paper, too many clients spitting out anger and hostility about the other guy (or gal). The edges of my work world needed to be softened. Fortunately, things were quieter this week. I was able to tie up some loose ends that appeared to be growing and threatening to strangle me.

At home I decluttered a couple of "hot spots" and managed to maintain the clean spaces for a few days. There's a distinct possibility I'll tackle a few more of them before the weekend's over.

There are still Christmas presents to buy, but I've finally decided what I want to do. That'll make the actual shopping much less painful.

I've switched from old-style blogger to the beta version, and the obsessive part of me sat down last night and added labels to all 282 previous posts. It wasn't that it needed to be done; it was that if I were ever to want do it, it would be easier to tackle it right then, before I added one more post.

For months I've wanted PhotoShop Elements, which seems to combine the best features of the other three photo-editing software programs on my computer. I bought it earlier this week and installed it this morning. I had planned to use it to edit these three photos but reverted to an old, familiar program after I realized it would take me longer to learn the new software than it would to crop these the old way.

Apparently, a few vestiges of mental fog remain.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Photo Night: Through the looking glass

I posted this photo earlier in the week, so please pardon the repeat. This time I'll ask you to look beyond the two little girls (my sister and me) and notice the mirror on the wall behind the lamp, right next to the front door. That mirror was my grandmother's and was in her house for as long as I can remember until she died in December of 1988.

After that, for the next 11 years, my mother had the mirror. Mother loved Christmas and all its trimmings. I'm pretty sure that the timing of her own death--the day after Christmas in 1999--is one reason why I struggle so much with all the Christmas hoopla these days. I think about her all year long, but this time of year she's on my mind all the time.

The mirror is probably older than I am. I have it now, and it hangs next to my own front door. Sometimes I think about how the mirror moved with my grandparents from Missouri to Texas, then from my grandmother's home to my mother's, and then from Texas to Louisiana with me. So many familiar faces and furnishings have been reflected in that mirror. I wish it could talk and tell me stories about what it's seen.

This is another old Christmas photo I scanned the other day. I'd planned to include it when I posted the others but changed my mind. I didn't think it would add anything to the story.

I've changed my mind again. One of the good things about viewing old photos on the computer is the ability to zoom in and get a better look at smaller items in the pictures. That's what happened today, the first time I've ever looked at magnified versions of these particular photos, and I'm so glad I did. The mirror's in this one, too, barely visible, but look at the close-up version below. There, just above my little sister's head, like a ghost from Christmas past, is the reflection of our mother's slender hand on the camera.

And who says there's no Santa Claus?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The sweetest carol

These photos of my little sister and me (in the spiffiest cowgirl outfit ever) were taken on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 1951.

The following year, when I had just turned ten and she was a few weeks shy of five, my sister gave our mom the best school-made Christmas present I’ve ever seen. Each student in her Rountree Kindergarten class had sung a Christmas carol, and each solo performance had been recorded on a separate 78 rpm record.

I hope my sister still has that record. I haven’t seen it in nearly 50 years, and if she doesn't have it, it's gone. But after all those years, I can still hear every note and syllable in my head.

Here, Sis, let me play it for you now:

My name is J____ B________ and I’m five yeahs old. I go to Wountwee Kindahgahten. I’m going to sing:

Siiii-hiii-lunt night
Hoooo-ho-ly night
Allllll is calm
Allllll is calm
Wounnnn John vuhhhhh-huh-gin
Muuuuthow and child
Hooooly innnn-fant-ly
Teeeeendow and mild
Sleeeeep in heavenly peeeee-heace
Slee-heep in heeeeeavenly

I’ve heard a lot of people sing "Silent Night" in my lifetime, but this version will always be my favorite.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's beginning to feel a smidgen like Christmas

Just when I thought the Christmas spirit was going to blow right by me this year, I smelled a little whiff of it.

It happened yesterday, when I went to our new neighborhood supermarket for the first time. As I walked across the parking lot (the most distant space in the whole lot would be considered a close parking place at Wal-Mart), I heard Christmas carols playing. I was immediately struck by the fact that the carols didn't annoy me, unlike the ones that began playing on the radio the day after Thanksgiving.

The second thing that perked me up was that all the people inside the store were smiling--especially the customers. Even me. I hadn't seen smiling grocery shoppers in a long, long time. By the time I left the store, I was humming carols right along with the piped in (piped out? to the parking lot?) music.

I have only one memory of Christmas before I started school. My father was home from the army the Christmas after I turned four, and there was a brief moment of childhood trauma on Christmas morning. One of mother's nylon stockings had been hung beside the front door while I slept. They'd filled it with fruit -- apples, oranges, bananas -- and hard Christmas candy. My father thought it would be a good joke to tell me it was my mother's leg hanging there. Mother tucked one leg under her skirt and agreed that it was true.

I could see the fruit, but there was a long moment of uncertainty before they laughed and eased my concern. It's interesting to me that I can't remember the joy of the Christmas presents, but that anxious moment has stayed with me so clearly.

That's my only bad memory of Christmas morning, and I consider myself very fortunate. All the ones since then have more than made up for it.

I'm beginning to think this one's gonna turn out pretty well, too.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Does anybody out there speak Dog?

More so than the other dogs, Butch walks to the rhythm of his own drummer. Usually, if one dog wants to go outside, the others go, too. But if there's only one who'd rather not go at that particular time, thanks anyway, it’ll be Butch.

Throughout his life he’s been the one to go off into a dark, distant room to take a nap all by himself. He can be very social when he wants to be, so it seems to be a matter of what kind of mood he’s in at any given moment.

Kadi is pretty easy to read. I can tell by the expression on her face whether she’s happy, sad, anxious, jealous or totally ticked off about something. With Butch (even when he had eyes) it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking. I’ve always suspected that he doesn’t think too much about anything. Maybe that's why he's normally such a happy-go-lucky pooch.

Every now and then, though, Butch gets an idea. It's usually food related, but sometimes it has to do with something that requires me to open the door for him. When he gets something fixed in his mind, he's the most overbearing mutt I’ve ever seen.

He paces. He stands directly in front of me and wags his tail as hard as he can. He makes little grrff-ing noises. He steps on my feet and grabs my wrist in his mouth, sliming my arm and pulling me to go with him. He doesn’t give up until I give in.

Last night I was comfortable on the recliner end of the sofa, my feet propped up and Kadi lying next to me. Butch had been across the room napping on the dog bed, but he suddenly got up and went into his Demando-Dog routine. If I tried to scratch his back, he turned in a circle. If I tried to rub his head, he grabbed my arm. He yipped and grffffed. Loudly.

I told him repeatedly to settle down. He didn’t. I asked, “Do you want to go outside?” He made no move toward the door. It crossed my mind that he wanted a treat, but I didn’t ask about that. I didn't want to say the T-word because I didn’t want to reward him for behavior that bordered on being aggressive.

I was getting annoyed. “BUTCH!” I said sternly, “WHAT do you WANT?” He stopped and stood perfectly still, his ears at attention, and said quietly, “Rrrut-rrrut.” Then he waited.

I turned to look at Kadi, who’d raised herself to a sitting position and was watching the action intently. I shook my head in frustration and said, “Kadi, what is he saying?” She looked me straight in the eye and said, "Rrrut-rrrut.”

Yeah, that's what I thought he said.

I don’t know what the hell he wanted, but I gave each of them a rawhide chew and they let me read my book.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Photo Night: This One's for the Birds

As soon as my feet hit the floor each morning, I let Butch and Kadi out the back door, the door that leads first to my patio and then to the backyard. Once they're outside, I take care of my own immediate personal needs, and then I let the dogs back in the house.

That second time I open the back door is when I take time to look around. Almost always, I see birds perching on top of a telephone pole in my neighbor's yard. Sometimes, if my camera is close by, I snap a few shots of the birds...even though I've done it over and over before. Most of my bird-on-the-pole photos are redundant, but here are a few of my favorites (click on a photo to enlarge it):

"I'm sittin' on top of the world..."
Bobby Darin

"There is always room at the top..." Adam Ant

"I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way..."
Frank Sinatra

"Take it easy, take it easy, better slow down, girl..."

"Rise up this mornin', smiled with the risin' sun,
three little birds..."
Bob Marley

"Wherever we go, whatever we do, we’re gonna go through it together..."
Bette Midler

"All by myself...don't want to be..."
Eric Carmen

"High flyer, high flyer,
fly high tonight,
fly angel, fly higher,
fly safe tonight..."
Phil Collins

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Just what we've been missing

Pearl Harbor Day is a day for remembrance, not celebration, but I'll be celebrating tomorrow all the same. Tomorrow is the opening day of a new supermarket within a couple of miles of my house.

This area has built up a lot in the almost ten years I've lived here. We now have multiple restaurants (fast food and not-so-fast), a video store, a health club, a dentist, several beauty shops and nail salons, and approximately a dozen other small businesses. The last year has seen an amazing building boom, most likely spurred on by the influx of people who moved here after Hurricane Katrina. As of tomorrow we'll have our first nearby supermarket. Not only is it close, it's on my way home.

My nearest options for grocery shopping up until now (except for convenience stores) have been five miles in one direction and eight miles in another. Because of the distance--and because I hate shopping--I've made a habit of buying a month's worth of groceries at a time. Unfortunately, the positives of shopping only once a month are offset by the negatives of unloading and putting away that many groceries at the end of a long shopping trip.

My hopes are high. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that being "the only game in town" won't tempt the new store to charge premium prices, although I'm willing to pay a little bit more for the added convenience. It would be soooo nice to be able to stop on my way home and pick up a few items--few enough to use the express lane. Multiple thirty-minute shopping trips will be much easier on my feet than one monthly buy-a-thon.

This is the first time I've been excited about grocery shopping in years. I probably won't visit the new store tomorrow, but you can bet I'll be there before the weekend is over.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Androgynous moon

There's been a wonderful full moon for the last couple of nights. Right after darkness falls, it hangs low in the sky and appears to be twice its usual size. When it's big like that, when it looks almost close enough to touch, I feel connected to the man in the moon and all the other mythical, mystical creatures that inhabit the night sky.

All my life I've heard about "the man in the moon." Lately, though, I've been listening to a song that gives the moon a decidely feminine persona. I'll post the lyrics for you to read, and if you'd like to hear the version I've been playing over and over, click here.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress*

See her how she flies
Golden sails across the skies
Close enough to touch
But careful if you try
Though she looks as warm as gold
The moon's a harsh mistress
The moon can be so cold

Once the sun did shine
Good Lord it felt so fine
The moon a phantom rose
Through the mountains and the pine
And then the darkness fell
The moon's a harsh mistress
It's hard to love her well

I fell out of her eyes
I fell out of her heart
I fell down on my face
I tripped and missed my star
I fell and fell alone
The moon's a harsh mistress
The sky is made of stone

The moon's a harsh mistress
She's hard to call your own

*As performed by Joe Cocker
(Written by Jimmy Webb)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

My inner chef

The other night I dreamed I was at my niece's wedding reception. It was late, and most of the guests had already left, but a few of us lingered to chat for a few more minutes.

Earlier, the line at the buffet table had been so long I didn't want to stand in it, but now there was nobody there, and I was hungry. I walked up to the table, got myself a plate, and checked out the food that was left.

One thing caught my eye: a tray full of bird-shaped pastries--pretty, golden-brown things, each about the size of an actual sparrow. Each one had a plump body, a perky tail, a pair of folded wings, and a pastry head complete with a pointed little beak. The birds were all lined up in neat rows in a steaming, stainless steel tray. I put just one on my plate and headed back to my table.

When I pierced the little bird with my fork, I was surprised to find that it's crispy brown body had been formed around a meatball. It was delicious! It wasn't a spaghetti-type meatball, more of a tightly packed ball of meat-and-rice dressing that tasted wonderful inside the buttery pastry.

A quick Google search for "pastry + bird" turned up lots of variations of chicken potpie recipes, but nothing like the meat-filled pastry birds of my dream. If any of you cooks out there need an impressive meat dish, see what you can do with this idea. And if it turns out to be something you'd want to make again, please post photos and a recipe. I'd kind of like to have some more myself.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Just a quick post tonight to show you the beautiful dog I've been visiting through the fence each day for the past couple of weeks. I don't know if my next-door neighbor has adopted her and the gorgeous chocolate lab that showed up at the same time, or if she's keeping them for a friend, but I just love looking at this one.

Check out her eyes: one green, one blue. They're almost hypnotic. Her spotted coat and pastel features make me appreciate the artistry of Mother Nature.

UPDATE: Here's some information on what causes heterochromia (different eye colors) in case you're interested. I find this kind of stuff fascinating, but I realize not everybody does.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Well, I thought I’d feel better better if I let loose with a loud scream. It didn’t help. I feel like screaming, I feel like crying, I feel like yelling at somebody. I feel like I have PMS, but I don’t. (Although I still P, I haven’t M’d or S’d in about 20 years.)

This was supposed to be a good week. My boss is on vacation. On Monday and Tuesday, before he left, we caught up on everything urgent. I expected the remainder of the week to consist of calm, mellow days in which I could work on a few ongoing projects at an unstressful pace. Hah! Was that ever wishful thinking!

First of all, I’ve been dealing with toilet issues at work for more than two weeks. I don’t think I ever saw either of my husbands as much as I’ve seen the landlord and the plumber lately. I'm tired of seeing them, and I'm tired of talking about the damn toilet.

They’ve replaced all the guts inside the toilet. They’ve pronounced it “fixed” and “that ought to do it” and “it’s good to go now, heh-heh” practically every other day. And then I use it and flush it, and the next time I go back in there, there’s water on the floor. I call the landlord to report that it’s still leaking, he runs over and turns the water off, making the toilet unusable, and I wait two days for the plumber to come again.

During those wait-for-the-plumber days, my option is to hold it (not the easiest thing for a 64-year-old woman to do) or to use my boss’s toilet. His toilet sits in a closet-sized bathroom built inside his office, about 12 feet from his desk. There’s no way I’m using that one while he’s in the building.

This week, though, while he’s out of town, I thought I’d have easy access to at least one working toilet. Today I used his bathroom before lunch, after they’d fixed/unfixed and turned off the water to mine again. In the middle of the afternoon, I went in there a second time. I opened the door and stepped into water. It seems his toilet leaks now, too.

I was supposed to be off work this afternoon, but I made the mistake of answering the phone one more time before leaving and didn’t get away until four o’clock. The afternoon was filled with client emergencies, the unexpected crises that seem to come up only on Fridays and rarely have easy resolutions. There was little I could do except listen. I listened and listened, made a few phone calls, clucked my tongue and offered encouragement until I was at my wit’s end. My empathy reservoir has been drained completely dry.

All the way home, in crazy traffic, I fought back tears of frustration (I can throw one heck of a pity party if I put my mind to it). I can’t adequately express the joy and relief I felt when I pulled into my driveway. Home, I thought. Peace. Quiet. Calm. Wrong.

I opened the car door and was blasted by LOUD, LOUD NOISE. So loud that it’s too loud even inside the house. Outside, it’s earsplitting. Apparently, my neighbor two doors down, he who has periodically assaulted the rest of us with extreme drumming for the past six months, has recently begun hosting practice for his wannabe (butneverwillbe) heavy metal band. I don’t want to be the neighbor who calls the cops, but I’m really hoping there’s a cop-calling kind of neighbor nearby. It's driving me insane.

I feel like screaming, I feel like crying, I feel like yelling at somebody. I feel like I have PMS, but I don’t. If only it were that simple.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Photo Night: Through the car window on a rainy day

Here we are at the last day of November--and the end of the post-every-day-for-one- month challenge--and it falls on Photo Night. This week's theme isn't the one I'd planned, but my camera was with me as I drove to work in a rainstorm, and the rain kind of "artified" some otherwise drab scenery.

Directly across the road from the end of my driveway is a patch of woods. I took several shots of the trees through the windshield with unsatisfactory results. Then I turned the wipers off and got this one that I kinda like:

The squatty little car on the road in front of me almost disappeared in the falling rain:

This is a cropped photo of a pretty little cemetery I pass every day. The original shot was twice as high and twice as wide--with a huge image of a windshield wiper diagonally across it.

Normally, there isn't much water visible at this spot, but today's hard rain quickly raised the level of the creek.

I really like this shot--except for the dadgum rearview mirror. Unfortunately, cropping the mirror out also took out either the water and the lacy tree or the majority of the rusty orange color.

If you look closely at the bottom left of this one, you can see rainwater blowing around the car and splashing up on the road.

A lot of people couldn't work today because of the weather. At least a few of those rained-out folks sought shelter in Henry's Bar.

The rain slacked off early in the afternoon. Now that November is over, I plan to slack off a little bit myself. The challenge was fun--especially with a "racing partner" like Carmon blogging along with me day after day after day--but I'm ready to reclaim some recently missing parts of my life.

I've missed having all the time I need to cuddle on the sofa with Butch and Kadi. They've let me know, mostly by scratching my leg and bumping their heads against my mouse hand, that they've missed the cuddling, too. I've fallen behind in reading your blogs and look forward to enjoying them at a more leisurely pace. My house is even messier than usual, and I paid late fees on two bills that I kept waiting "one more day" to pay. It's definitely time to get things back on track.

I'll be here a lot, but without the pressure of posting something every day. As for tonight, Grey's Anatomy has started and supper's waiting. The slacking off starts right now.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dog treats -- natural and otherwise

Lucy, my daughter's Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, has a big appetite for a little dog. All summer long, she hung out at the base of the fig tree, consuming by far the biggest share of our fig crop. Then, the other day, she had her eye on the fruits of the tangelo tree. Maybe she recognized something edible, or maybe she was just excited to find so many tennis-ball lookalikes clustered in one spot.

Kadi's favorite find-it-yourself treats are the pecans that fall into our yard sometimes (but not this year) from the neighbor's tree just on the other side of the fence. When there's a good pecan crop, Kadi will spend an entire afternoon outdoors, cracking the shells in her jaws and carefully picking out and eating the nutmeats. Butch likes them, too, but not enough to crack them for himself.

One year, when pecans had been plentiful, I bought myself a box of Jordan almonds to snack on while I watched TV. Butch and Kadi appeared at my feet seconds after I sat down with the candy, so I gave each of them one candy-coated almond. Butch stood beside me, crunched three or four times, and his was gone. Kadi took hers around to the other side of the coffee table, lay down where I couldn't see her, and stayed there for several minutes. Every now and then she'd raise her head and look at me with a quizzical expression on her face, then she'd duck down behind the table and get back to business.

Curiosity got the better of me. I got up and walked around to see what was taking Kadi so long. Finally, I understood the problem. Kadi held the almond between her paws. On the carpet in front of her was a neat little pile of pink candy shell pieces she'd expertly--and tediously--removed from the nut.

Silly Kadi.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Now that we know where we stand...

...let's talk a little bit more about yesterday's post. There seems to be a consensus (which includes me, now that my tongue is no longer poking into my cheek) that our government can't be trusted not to misuse technology that might otherwise be beneficial to us. Doesn't that just scare the pants off you?

Maybe I've been reading too many spy novels. A few months ago it was John Grisham's The Broker and David Baldacci's The Camel Club. In the next night or two I'll finish Baldacci's sequel, The Collectors. These books are fiction, I know, but they all involve governmental agencies spying on each other or on private citizens and eliminating anybody who gets in their way. That seems to me to be a rather extreme system of checks and balances.

Does anything like that happen in real life? I don't know. I look at the representatives of both major political parties battling it out with big words and distorted facts on TV and with legislative maneuvering and manipulation in Congress, and I wonder how far they'd be tempted to go in their efforts to achieve and maintain power. What lines are they willing to cross? Thinking about it gives me the creeps.

Here we sit in the land of the free, home of the brave, afraid that the government we voted into office might stick it to us, given the opportunity and the technology. I don't mean for this to be a political commentary, as I don't think our fear of Big Brother applies exclusively to the current administration. I think it's timeless and universal.

The truth is, I'd venture a guess that if there were suddenly a mandate to microchip the entire population of the world, we'd more willingly put our trust in our own government to administer the program than in that of any other country. Our government is flawed, but it's what we know.

So maybe our vigorous protests against the idea of microchipping and monitoring people aren't as much about distrusting our government as they are about protecting--not taking any chances with--our personal freedom. That's what we've all grown up with. Even if freedom isn't something we think about often, even if we sometimes take it for granted, we value it beyond measure. And it's what we know.

Things haven't looked too good lately, but they could be a lot worse.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Microchipping me

My daughter and I had a conversation recently about microchipping pets. Three of our four dogs have already been microchipped.

That conversation segued into whether or not there'll be a time in the future when human babies are microchipped at birth. For most of my life I'd have been offended at the mere suggestion of something like that, but now? I'm beginning to like the idea.

So what if the government could follow my comings and goings with their fancy Global Positioning System? I'm not planning to go anywhere I shouldn't, and I couldn't care less if the government watches me go to work or to Wal-Mart. Even if I were inclined to go somewhere I shouldn't (as I any of us might have done a time or two in my the distant past), awareness of GPS monitoring might make me think twice before making a bad decision.

As for all those people who do make a habit of going where they aren't supposed to, I don't care if the government knows about them, either. Think of all the time that could be saved in criminal court and divorce court. "He was there, Your Honor, and here's the printout to prove it."

There'd be no more point in murdering someone and trying to hide the body. Just think about it. If a young, pregnant woman turned up missing, let's say on Christmas Eve, she (or her body) could be tracked down in minutes after being reported missing. We wouldn't have to wait while her husband makes fake pleas for help on TV until his girlfriend sees one of the spots and turns him in. Before he ever stood in front of his first microphone, the cops could tell where he'd been spending his time.

Better yet, let's all have home GPS kits. That way, the young wife mentioned above might still be alive. She'd have tracked his sorry behind on a regular basis and kicked him to the curb well before he had time to harm her.

Another thing I was thinking is that home-based tracking systems could help old folks maintain their independence for a longer period of time. Let's say, for example, that sometime in the future my mind starts to go (I know, it's a stretch, but play along with me) and I start leaving the house periodically and wandering aimlessly down the road. If I had a microchip implanted so my daughters could keep track of me, I might get to stay in my own home longer.

Whichever daughter had the portable GPS in her purse for the week could check the screen every half hour or so. If it shows I'm home, no problem. If it shows I've flown the coop again, I imagine there'd be a conversation along these lines:

Daughter #1 (answering the phone): "Hello?"

Daughter #2: "Hey, it's me, whatcha doin'?"

Daughter #1: "Not much, what's up?"

Daughter #2: "Mom's walkin' southbound on Airline Highway, headed for Sorrento, and it's your turn to go pick her up."

I'm a civil rights advocate from way back, but I swear this idea has potential.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Will you still need me, will you still feed me...

...when I'm 64?

Apparently they will. Today's the day, and my daughters are taking me out to dinner this evening to celebrate.

This date 64 years ago happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day. My grandfather joked for the rest of his life about having to eat a hamburger for Thanksgiving dinner because of me.

Today, the holiday weekend is ending as it began, with gorgeous blue skies and mild temperatures. I've had four straight days of pleasant company, delicious food, good movies and books, and as much rest and sleep as I've wanted. It feels wonderful to be alive on a day like this.

There are lots of bumps along life's road, and I've traveled over a few that jarred my teeth. Everybody does. Experience tells me there'll be more bumps ahead (or potholes -- this is Louisiana, after all). That's okay. It's worth it.

Right now, at least for this day, I'm coasting along on smooth blacktop, enjoying the scenery, and waiting eagerly to see what lies around the next curve.

UPDATE: I almost forgot another reason for celebration today: Happy anniversary and much love to my sister and brother-in-law. You guys are the best!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I wish I knew...

...the stories behind some of the old photos that have made their way into my collection. Here's one of my favorites:

Standing (left to right) are my great-aunt Ruth, her mother (my great-grandmother), Dora; and my grandfather, Lewis. Seated on the running board are my grandmother, Lola, next to her sister-in-law (my great-aunt), Hazel. My great-grandfather, Joe, sits on the ground and holds Ruth's older son, Bill, in his lap. The trees are bare, and everyone except my grandmother is wearing warm clothing, so my first thought was that the family may have gathered for Thanksgiving.

But then there's this photo, which appears to have been taken on the same day. It shows Lola and Ruth pulling Bill, my mother, Wanda, and my Uncle Neale in the wagon. Little Bill was born October 9, 1924. His brother, Bob, who doesn't appear in these photos, was born two years later on November 6, 1926. It's possible that Baby Bob was asleep in the house, but I can't imagine they'd have taken family photos without including the newest child. Also, Aunt Ruth's dress looks to me like it might be a maternity dress, even though the dark color camouflages any hint of a baby bump.

In the absence of Baby Bob, I'm deducing the photos were taken in 1926, but earlier in the year than Thanksgiving. Uncle Loren (who probably took these photos) and Aunt Hazel married in July of 1926 and hadn't moved away from Missouri yet, or I'd think their visit was the reason for the get-together.

If the family gathered just for the heck of it, I don't think they'd be all dressed up and taking pictures of the occasion. It wasn't easy to get my grandfather into a suit.

I'm left with only one idea: Little Bill's second birthday. October might have been early enough in the year that my grandmother thought she could get by with short sleeves. I'm not sure about the trees being so bare in October, but I remember trick-or-treating in the snow once, so I suppose it's possible.

Can you see any clues I'm missing?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home...

Sitting near a window yesterday, I kept seeing dark shadows flit across my peripheral vision. My first thought was that the wasps had returned to one of their favorite spots, but a closer look revealed that these particular dark shadows were tiny -- and there were lots of them. I couldn't be sure from the little bellies pressed against my window screen, but I thought they might be ladybugs.

I grabbed my camera and stepped outside. Sure enough, they were ladybugs, literally hundreds of them, the first swarm of them I've ever encountered.

The ladybug has the distinction of being the only insect I will willingly let crawl on my body. Someone taught me early on that they're friendly, and I've spent quite a few peaceful moments throughout the years watching one little cute, colorful body at a time climb up my sleeve. Yesterday, I called my daughter to come and take a look, and the ladybugs were all over our clothes and all around us in the air. I felt as if I were in fairyland.

There's no sign of the ladybugs today. Through a Google search, I learned that these particular visitors were Asian Lady Beetles. Much like Carmon's Western Conifer Seed Bugs, they "like to overwinter indoors" and "they emit an unpleasant odor and a stain when squashed." I'm sure Carmon would much rather find ladybugs in her jeans.

It was fun to see so many ladybugs at one time. I hope they'll come back someday, and I'll be extra careful not to squash 'em.

UPDATE - Same Day, 1:30 p.m. - They're baaaaaaaaaaack. The ladybugs are swarming again at the same corner of my house. Now I'm wondering if they're moving into my walls for the winter. You know, cute can only get you so far. I still like 'em, but if they start any trouble, I'll evict their little polka-dotted asses.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Photo Night: Turkeys

I had to go all the way back to 1969 to find a family photo taken on Thanksgiving Day.

Those were the days when we thought a turkey had to be roasted. Since then, we've learned about smoked turkeys and, best of all, fried ones. Talk about good! If there's any way to add seasoning and extra calories to an otherwise healthy meat, someone in Louisiana will discover it.

The last live turkey I saw up close and personal was this one, strutting his stuff earlier this year at the Baton Rouge Zoo:

There's no doubt in my mind that his "gobble-gobble" translated into: "My Gawd, I'm a handsome devil."

We watched him prance for a few minutes, then the reason for the over-the-top display of his masculine charms made her appearance -- unfortunately (for him) on the other side of the fence.

I hope you've all had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. Unless you have room for more turkey, the next photo will be the end.