Monday, July 31, 2006

Bake-off Bulletin

I mentioned in yesterday's post that the reason I'd been standing in the fresh-cut grass on Friday was to talk to my grandson. The main thing I wanted to ask him about, the thing that had aroused my curiosity enough to ignore the grass pollen, was his rumored participation in an upcoming bake-off.

This young man, who towers over me now, spends a huge portion of his time on the sports field, football and baseball mostly, but from the time he was just a little guy, he's had an interest in cooking, too. I dearly love a man who can cook, and we have several in our family now.

The story my grandson told me is that his sister and her fiance were discussing which of the two of them could make the best dessert, and that discussion led to one challenging the other to a bake-off. My grandson, never one to leave his two cents' worth out of a good discussion, ended up with an invitation to put up or shut up. And that's why my older daughter, his aunt, ran into him at the grocery store the other day when he was purchasing "practice" ingredients.

I missed the bake-off, but I talked with my younger daughter, his mom, a few minutes ago, and she gave me the play-by-play. Three judges had been selected ahead of time. Apparently, they took their job seriously. They used pads and pencils to make notes as they sampled the various entries, and they discussed among themselves the specific flavors they tasted in each dish.

Here are the final results:

My granddaughter, who served tiramisu, topped with shaved chocolate, in martini glasses, won first prize for presentation.

Her fiance served a triple-chocolate cake and won first prize for taste.

My grandson would have won, the judges agreed, except that he accidentally left the eggs out of his white-chocolate cake, leaving it rather flat and crumbly.

Never give up, big boy. There's always next year.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Alas! It's grass!

For the better part of the past two days, I’ve been in a Benadryl-induced stupor, necessitated by an allergy to one of the best-smelling things in the world: fresh-cut grass. To my knowledge, I never had allergies in my life until I was 42. One night that year I went to bed with a light case of the sniffles, and the next morning I woke up in a world of spinning rooms. For the next three days, if I ventured out of bed at all, I lurched like a stumbling drunk.

At the time I had no idea what caused it. My grandmother, Lola (a/k/a Mammaw), used to have “dizzy spells” occasionally and had been told by her doctor that it was an inner-ear condition. I assumed that must be my problem, too, and in a way it was. At the time, I was too sick to go to the doctor for a diagnosis. Mammaw lived to the age of 92 despite her occasional dizziness, so I decided just to stay in bed and wait it out.

My boyfriend back then (the magician), suggested that my dizziness might be allergy related, but I pooh-poohed that idea immediately. Allergies were his affliction, not mine. Then, a few days after I was on my feet again, I picked up a magazine and discovered an article about allergic reactions. One of them, to my surprise, was dizziness. The article described symptoms just like those I’d experienced, and it suggested antihistamines for relief.

Next time--and there have been many next times, more in the spring and fall--I was prepared. I’ve learned through experience that I can prevent full-blown vertigo by taking Benadryl at the first sign of symptoms. If I don't pay attention to the least little bit of drippiness in my nose, that drippy fluid will build up inside my ear canals in a matter of hours and I'll become one sick drunk.

You'll be glad to know I’ve just deleted an additional half page full of boring, allergy-related stuff. Let’s just sum it up by saying I walked outside on Friday while my daughter was cutting my grass–-even though I knew I shouldn’t be out there–-and inhaled a snootful of airborne grass pollen. The histamines my body produced in response to that particular dose of pollen have put up a mighty battle, so I’ve taken more Benadryl than usual. And all I’ve wanted to do this weekend is sleep.

Now that you’ve read all the boring, allergy-related stuff I didn’t delete, I’m sure you could use a little nap yourself. Sweet dreams.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thy page offendeth me

Way back here, in one of my first blog entries, I wrote about how nervewracking it is to be distracted in the middle of a good book by errors that should have been discovered before publication. Tonight I'll write about it again, because it drives me insane.

I'm not talking about an occasional typo; we've all done that, and it's hard to spot when you're proofreading your own writing. I'm talking about segments of text that make you go, "Huhhhh???" With a book, especially, you'd think at least a few people would have read it prior to publication, and you'd think that at least one of them might have stumbled over the offending passage.

I've read several books in Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware series and liked them all, but it seems as if all the editors were Gone when it came time to proofread his newest one. On page 57, Dr. Delaware and his homicide-cop buddy, Milo Sturgis, are interviewing a witness, one Shayndie Winograd. A good third of the page is devoted to Shayndie's son, Gershie, who is running around the apartment, and Dr. Delaware notes that "he looked to be about three."

Reading a little further, then turning the page, Shayndie excuses herself to "check on the babies." When she returns, Milo inquires about how many babies there are. "Twins," she said. "Seven months ago."

Milo was thinking like I'm thinking as I read this. "Mazel tov," said Milo. (Okay, I didn't think "Mazel tov," but I thought the next part.) "Three's a lot to handle." That's probably what you were thinking, too, but then Shayndie comes back with this:

"Shayndie Winograd smiled. 'Three would be easy. I've got six, five are school-age.'"

Okay, now, wait just a doggone minute! She has six kids and five are school aged? Even if Gershie Yoel, who "looked to be about three," was small for his age, what about the seven-month-old twins? The word "twins" means two babies as far as I know. Six kids minus two kids would be four possible school-aged children, right? Not five. Unless one of the twins is a genius, and the other is a...well, a seven-month-old baby.

I rest my case. I'm still reading, but don't think for a minute that this isn't stuck in the back of my mind, making me wonder what kind of a fool they think I am and what they're gonna try to pull on me next.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stairway to a hasty exit

On the car radio today, I heard Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," a song I'd enjoy listening to except that it always reminds me of how lousy I am at making small talk.

In 1981 there was a lot of stuff on the news about "backward masking" on popular record albums. For you young whippersnappers, we're talking vinyl albums here, records that would normally be played in one direction on a turntable but could, with a little manual effort, be turned backward to produce a garbled sound. The news was that Satanic messages were being recorded backwards in an attempt to imprint those messages on listeners' subconscious minds. "Stairway" was one of the songs implicated.

The night I first read in the newspaper about that subject, my initial reaction was to doubt it seriously. I didn't think music moguls would waste their time (spelled m-o-n-e-y) to do such a thing. It just didn't make sense.

I showed the article to my daughter, who had that album in her collection, and we decided to give it a test. We put the record on the turntable and used one finger to spin it backwards. Most of it was inaudible, but the words "because I live with Satan" were quite clear. Hmmmm.

My daughter and I stayed up late that night discussing the implications of such a thing. We talked about why somebody would want to do that in the first place (a gimmick to sell records was our best guess), and we talked about how anybody could possibly believe that people's brains could hear a subliminal message and somehow know subconsciously to reverse it into a relevant phrase. Get real. We had a lively discussion that lasted until well past midnight.

The next day I had a date. We were going with a group of people on a motorhome to the LSU-Ole Miss football game. I don't know why I agreed to go in the first place. I'm not a football fan, I get carsick riding sideways, and I was going to be confined in close quarters with a bunch of people I didn't know. Oh, goody.

During the get-acquainted portion of the ride, when snacks and drinks were flowing freely (my drink of choice was Tab back then), the men all clustered at the back of the motorhome. The women, of whom I knew exactly one, stayed up front on the built-in sofas.

I'm shy, so I'm not usually quick to pick up the conversational ball, but that day I was still pumped about the interesting discussion with my daughter the night before. When there was a lull in the conversation, I brought it up: "Did any of you read that article in the paper yesterday about 'Stairway to Heaven'?"

A couple of people said they had, so I told them about our experiment, and I told them what we'd heard. I didn't express an opinion or make any judgment about it whatsoever, just introduced it as a topic of discussion. And they all smiled politely, blinked a couple of times, and looked at me as if I had a huge booger hanging out of my nose.

Somebody mumbled, "Hmmm," and shook her head for emphasis, and that was pretty much all of our discussion. Within less than a minute the conversation had shifted to something the rest of the ladies found much more stimulating: where to buy diamonds at a discount.

About that time the carsickness (or some other kind of nausea) took hold, and I moved to the front of the bus to sit by the driver, facing forward. That's where I stayed for the rest of the ride.

Okay, I'll admit to being naive. I like nothing better than a discussion you can sink your teeth into, and most of the really good friends I've had in my life have been the same way. Somehow, it hadn't yet registered on me that not everyone in the world finds fun in a vigorous exchange of ideas, but I learned it pretty quickly that night. It wasn't that kind of a party. Okay. My bad.

I learned something else that night, too. I learned not to reveal too much of myself to people until I know them really well and know that their minds are (a) open and (b) engaged. I also learned to avoid those kinds of close encounters as much as possible. If, God forbid, you should happen to catch me at one of them, you can find me easily. I'll be the lady munching on the Doritos and the seven-layer-dip...just listening.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Driving ambition

I just came from an online visit with sassy-sistah, who had surgery recently. She wrote that today was the first day she's been out of the house since then and said, "It felt a little strange to drive again, to be honest."

That reminded me of a woman I used to work with (let's call her "Lynne") who lived with her elderly mother and spent a great deal of time taking her mother here and there for medical and dental appointments, shopping, etc. At one point, Lynne's mother had to have surgery, and Lynne took off work one morning to take her to a pre-op doctor's appointment.

When Lynne returned to work, she told us the appointment went better than expected. "In fact," she said, "Mama's not dreading the surgery any longer; she's actually looking forward to it now."

"That's odd," someone commented. "What did the doctor say that made her change her mind about it?"

"Well," Lynne said, "he told her that she'd be able to drive three weeks after the operation, and Mama said, 'Ooh, that's wonderful, Doctor, 'cause I ain't never been able to drive in my life up to now.'"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Two steps forward, one step back

First step forward:
Uncovering the stepping stones. When I moved here, there were stepping stones from the driveway back to the shed only. If we wanted to go from the patio to the shed or from the patio to the driveway, especially if rain had turned the backyard swampy, we were S.O.L.

I'd thought about adding more stepping stones years before we did it, but Butch's impending blindness was the motivation I needed to finally get it done. I wanted him to become familiar with them while he still had a little vision, so we rushed the project and completed it mere weeks before his eye surgery.

The stepping stones weren't my idea; I'd read about their usefulness in a book on blind dogs and I can testify to their value. Butch depends on them. If we call him when he's way at the back of the property, he takes off in a trot toward the house. He runs until his feet touch the stepping stones, then follows their path to the patio. Today, thanks to a crew of people with weedeaters and edgers, we reclaimed them from the thick St. Augustine grass that threatened to swallow them.

Second step forward:
This afternoon I spent an hour or so with the ongoing project of scanning all my old photos. This was a baby step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless. I could scan them much faster if I could control my need to study each and every one of them, but then it would be just labor. Doing it this way is a labor of love.

And one step back:
A step in time, that is. Friday night I had the pleasure of a phone call from friends we'd known in 1970 when we lived in Miami. They were good friends for the year and a half we were there, and after we moved away, we stayed in touch through Christmas cards for a few years. Then we moved again...and then they moved...and after a couple more moves for each of us, we lost touch.

Thanks to the Information Age and the excellent memory of the husband in this pair, he tracked my ex to the home of my former mother-in-law, who told him of Hus2's death and gave him a clue that led him to a successful Internet search for me.

It was fun to spend time on the phone catching up with them. We've all lived through a lot since those carefree days, and we've all changed a lot, too--inside and out.

While the inside changes may have been the most profound, the outside are the most obvious. This photo was taken in Miami in 1970. My girls grew into women a long time ago, and I grew, too, expanding my horizons as well as my waistline. I like to think that the free-spirited woman pictured here is still very much a part of who I am, but, much like an old tree, I have a lot more rings beneath my bark than I did 36 years ago. Inside and out.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sister Mary Katherine

Dog discipline at my house consists of rolling up a newspaper in one hand, slapping it in the palm of the other hand, and saying, with a stern voice and expression, “Do you want me to spank you with a paper?” That pretty much stops the unwanted behavior. And if I’m incapable of judging which behavior is unwanted, Kadi stands ready to help me.

Have I mentioned that Kadi is a card-carrying goody-two-shoes? Her mission in life is to be THE perfect dog, and if she sometimes falls short, it isn’t for lack of trying.

Early in John Grogan’s wonderful book, Marley and Me, he wrote about his childhood dog, Shaun, a/k/a Saint Shaun. That struck me really funny, because Kadi, a/k/a Kadi Marie (I’m in Catholic country; all kids have to have a saint name), has long been called Sister Mary Katherine, as well.

I love that her goals are so lofty except that she applies her high standards of behavior to all the rest of us. One example: My daughter was getting ready to do laundry here one day and I was in another room. I could hear her talking softly, then she called, “Mom, what’s the matter with Kadi?”

I hollered back, “What do you mean, ‘what’s the matter with Kadi?’ What’s she doing?”

My daughter said, “Well, she’s just acting weird. She’s sitting here with her head hanging down and her ears back, looking like she’s just lost her best friend.”

I walked back into the kitchen, where my washer and dryer are, and spotted the problem immediately. My daughter had dumped all the clothes out into the middle of the kitchen floor to sort them into loads. Kadi sat right next to them, and the expression on her long face said, “I cannot believe you’ve made this mess. I love you, but I’ve never been more disappointed in you than I am right now.”

When Butch was a puppy, Kadi ratted him out every chance she got. She’d come and find me, her ears laid back flat against her skull, and give me that “you’d-better-come-with-me-it’s-an-emergency" look, and, sure enough, I’d find a pile of poop or new chew marks on the furniture.

Recently, Kadi seems to have focused her behavior modification program on Lucy, my granddog. Granted, Lucy isn’t perfect. She’s a year old now, but she’s still a wild baby thing who likes to explore her every impulse. A couple of weeks ago Lucy’s impulse was to chew on the corner of my coffee table, and Kadi, thank goodness, came running in to get me. Kadi weighs five times as much as Lucy and probably could have stopped the chewing on her own if she’d wanted to (I’ve seen her head-butt Lucy on more than one occasion), but she apparently wanted me to see it for myself.

One of the not-so-endearing things Lucy has been doing a lot lately is frenzied scratching on the door. It doesn’t matter whether she’s inside or outside, she pretty much wants to be on the side where she isn’t, and she wants one of us to open the door for her. Now! The reason all this is on my mind is that Kadi just now demonstrated the new trick she's added to her tattling repertoire in the last couple of days.

Lucy scratches on the door, I yell at her to stop it, and Kadi runs up to me and shoves her big head under my armpit. She stays like that for a few seconds, her eyes covered by my arm, then she peeks out and rolls her eyes at me imploringly. “Oh, gawd, she’s doing it again,” she seems to be saying. “Do you think maybe you should roll up a newspaper?”

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Green Peace

The last few entries I've written have been exceptionally long, so I thought I'd give us all a rest tonight--and brighten up my blog at the same time. Here are a few peaceful images I snapped earlier this year. (Warning to fellow allergy sufferers: Beware of hidden pollen in these photos.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Pegboard predicament

Sweet-Sister Three commented on yesterday's post as follows: "Tie the can behind your car and drag it to their office. Leave it there. Take the cheese and stinky stuff along!!" Not a bad idea, and the visuals it conjures up are hilarious. The reality is that I don't think I'm up to the task of towing a trashcan in traffic. I'm still suffering from the trauma of a bad experience I had when we first moved to Long Island, New York.

Prior to the move to New York in 1973, we were living in tiny, sleepy Vidalia, Georgia. (We lived there twice, actually; this was the first time.) I don't think there was any road in town that had more than two lanes. In fact, the major traffic problem in Vidalia was getting stuck behind someone who'd stopped to talk to a friend in an oncoming vehicle. Traffic would line up in both directions while the friends exchanged pleasantries, then they'd wave goodbye and we'd all mosey on down the road. We were in Vidalia for almost two years, and I got used to that leisurely pace.

Fast forward to New York. We'd moved to Farmingdale, about a 30-minute drive from New York City, and I never really knew where Farmingdale ended and the next village began. They were all crammed together, one after the other, all the way into the city. Slicing through them, separating the North Shore from the South Shore, was the Hempstead Turnpike, at that time eight lanes of fast-moving traffic.

As soon as we'd unpacked our furniture, Hus2 started fixing up his workshop in the garage. He liked to build things, and he liked to have all his tools organized just so. Since I wasn't doing anything, he asked me to go to the lumberyard and get him two 4'x 8' sheets of pegboard. I was kind of nervous about the fast traffic, but it was a fairly straight shot from home to the lumberyard, and Hus2 told me I needed to get used to driving in that traffic. The girls jumped in the car with me, and off we went.

At the lumberyard, I asked for pegboard. Because I didn't know the difference between tempered and untempered pegboard (it's an issue of strength), I made my decision on the basis of price, and we proceeded to the checkout counter.

I was driving a brand-new 1973 Monte Carlo, so even though Hus2 had assured me the lumberyard would be able to tie the pegboard securely to the roof of the car, I was skeptical and said so. "They do it all the time," he'd said. "It won't be a problem."

The guy at the lumberyard didn't seem to think it was a problem, either. He whipped one sheet of pegboard up on top of my car, poked twine through one of the holes at the front end of it and made a long loop that he tied to my front bumper. Then he laid the other sheet of pegboard on top of the first one. He ran more twine through the front car windows, wrapping it over the middle of the two sheets of pegboard to tie them together to the top of the car. He moved back a couple of feet and repeated the process by running the twine through the rear windows of the car, then tied it off. "That," he said, brushing his hands together to dust them off, "should do the job."

We got back inside the car, and the first thing I noticed was that the pegboard was hanging by several inches over the front and rear windows. I slouched down in the seat a little to see through the windshield better and decided I'd have to rely on the side mirrors to see what was behind me. Very carefully, I pulled out onto the Hempstead Turnpike, worked my way up to a speed consistent with the rest of the traffic, and moved into one of the middle lanes.

That's when all hell broke loose. A gust of wind caught up under the inexpensive, untempered pegboard. It might have sent both whole sheets flying, except the twine held them down in some places. Instead, the wind just broke them all to pieces. Pieces of pegboard, large and small, were flying from the roof of my car across multiple lanes of traffic. It must have looked like they were raining from the sky. Brakes were squealing all over the place and drivers were swerving from one lane to another to try to avoid getting hit.

It was extremely frightening, but the part my daughters and I remember most is the rest of the drive home. There was no more pegboard on our car except for one piece, about the size of a cookie sheet. It was the piece that was tied to my front bumper by twine through one of its holes, and it twisted and flipped on its long tether, waving and threatening other vehicles, all but screaming, "Over here, look at us!" For three more miles, all the way home, that freakin' piece of pegboard bounced and banged against my brand-new car, and I was too scared to stop and untie it.

My husband, poor thing, saw us drive up and didn't realize how much danger he was in when he asked, reasonably, "What happened to my pegboard?"

I tossed him a fierce look over my shoulder as I speedwalked toward the front door, my shoulders hunched and my purse tucked under my arm. "If you want your damned pegboard," I snapped, "you go get it. It's all over the Hempstead Turnpike." Then I burst into tears.

So, Sweet-Sister Three, yours was a good idea, but I think I'll pass. I can just imagine that big blue can flying over my car at the end of a tow rope.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Garbage Man Can

You must be sick to death of me whining about my garbage can woes, but you're not half as sick of it as I am. Last night, once again, I couldn't move my lidless garbage can because it was full of rainwater, and I had to wrestle the can to the ground to pour the water out so I could take the garbage out to the road.

In fact, last night was the worst night yet. It rained almost every day this week, so the rain had steeped in the can for a few days and turned into a foul, sun-brewed, refuse tea. As I poured the vile stuff out, trying to keep it from running over my feet, it carried a few french fries and half of a rotten fish sandwich out with the flow. You can imagine how much fun that was to pick up.

I tried to call my "waste management company" again today. Once more, I waited on hold for an interminable amount of time and, once more, I had to give up to answer a call on another line. Of the times I've tried to call, I've only made contact with a human being once. Obviously, it's time to try a different tactic.

I've thought about writing a letter for a while now, but they must get stacks and stacks of them considering their recent service problems. What are the odds they'd draw mine out of the complaint lottery and respond to it?

Well, I think I am going the letter route, but outside the regular channels. Before I do something I might regret, read this, if you have time, and tell me if you think it might work:


Unnamed (for now) Waste Management Service
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Dear Person Who Opens the Mail:

Yes, that's right, I mean you, the mail-opening person. Can you help me, please? I've had a problem with my trash pickup service recently and can't seem to connect with anyone who has the authority to resolve this problem; therefore, I'm hoping to enlist you in my endeavor to get a new garbage can to replace the one that's been broken for weeks now.

I would deeply appreciate it if you, my new mail-opening friend, would direct this letter to the person in your office who has the best singing voice and/or the most guts, then persuade that person (and backup singers if there are any volunteers) to take it to the office of the Vice President in Charge of Who Gets Replacement Cans, then sing the enclosed song aloud to that V.P. I'd be grateful beyond words.

I look forward to hearing from someone representing your company within a week from the date of this letter. I've taken the liberty of posting this request online on my blog (without identifying your company at this point) and will be happy to post the company's response as well.

Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide. I can be reached by phone at the numbers above.

Velvet Sacks (Readers, I'll use my real name, of course.)

Here's the song:

(to be sung to the tune of "The Candy Man")

1st Verse:

Who can take my trashcan,
(Who can take my trashcan)
empty out the load,
toss the can and leave it
helter-skelter in the road?
The garbage man can.
Oh, the garbage man can.
Just look at what he did,
holy crap, he broke the lid,
I need a new trash can.

2nd Verse:

When next I took the trash out,
(When next I took the trash out)
there'd been a lot of rain,
I couldn't budge the can until
I tipped it o'er to drain,
but the garbage man can.
Oh, the garbage man can.
He spied my broken lid
and he hauled it off, he did,
I need a new trash can.


No lid's on the bin;
rain keeps pouring in;
flies go in and out as they please,
crawl on spoiled tuna and cheese,
lay their eggs and spread disease.

3rd Verse:

I called your office number,
(I called your office number)
requested a new can;
the girl said she'd discuss it
with the manager man.
Oh, the garbage man can.
Yes, the garbage man can.
You have not returned my call,
and I'm begging now, y'all,
I need a new trash can.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A little story about a special day in the woods

This is a true story. Only the species have been changed to protect the innocent.

Once upon a time there was a mother bird whose nest had been tossed and blown by mighty winds until mere pieces of it, fragments that held her precious young, clung precariously to the forked branch where it rested. The mother bird was sorry she hadn’t made her nest stronger, but she’d built it by herself, without the help of her mate, and it was the best she’d been able to do.

The mother bird could have considered her plight quietly. She could have gone about the business of finding worms and bugs to feed to her baby and ignored the fact that stronger winds were on their way. She could have tucked her head beneath her wing and mourned the inevitable future loss of her nest. But this mother loved her baby too much for that.

Instead, she sang out. She flew far and wide, singing her loudest song to every creature of the forest. She sang about the nest that was falling apart and the baby whose safety depended on it. In her strong, clear voice, she asked for help, if any could offer it, and the other forest creatures heard her, loud and clear.

“We can pull strong grasses,” the rabbits said in response, and began to do so at once.

“And we can carry twigs,” said the squirrels, who sprang into action without waiting for anyone to tell them what needed to be done.

“Leaves,” said the robins. “We’ll pick leaves.”

The redbirds sang out to the rabbits and the squirrels and the robins, “Bring us your grasses and your twigs and your leaves, and we’ll work together to weave them tightly onto the branches.”

And off to work they all went. They pulled grasses, carried twigs, picked leaves, wove it all together, and stood back to observe the nest they’d built. They knew the nest was strong enough to withstand the next mighty wind and even a few strong gusts after that. The mother bird sang in the nest beside her baby, and all the forest creatures felt touched by the magic they’d created together.

All the forest creatures, that is, except one.

At the other side of the forest lived a skunk. He was once a popular creature in the woods, but that was before he began to spray his putrid scent into the faces of the other animals at his whim. If one creature remarked, “Look what wonderful long ears the rabbit has,” the skunk sprayed the rabbit at their first encounter.

“My ears,” said the skunk, “hear better than the rabbit’s, and what’s more, I heard first.”

If another creature remarked, “Doesn’t the squirrel have a glorious, fluffy tail?,” the skunk could not rest until he had sprayed the squirrel.

“My tail is the most wonderful tail of all,” said the skunk. “And all the other creatures only wish they could spray like I do.”

If the robin said of the redbird, “Those are the most beautiful feathers I’ve ever seen,” the skunk sprayed the redbird. And the robin.

“You think red is the most beautiful color?” the skunk asked in disbelief. “Look at me. Look at my shiny black fur with its white stripe down the back, the stripe that I designed and generously granted God permission to use. Doesn’t it just take your breath away?”

Most of the forest animals tried not to cross the skunk's path at all. Some of the others who had known the skunk for a while, and many who knew him only by reputation, had tried to get along with the skunk by agreeing with everything he said before that special day. “Of course, you are the most beautiful,” they’d always said. “Your ears are wonderful, and your tail...oh, please, could you show your tail again? Very carefully, perhaps?” They’d always said those things before because they knew one thing for certain: should they disagree with the skunk, they were in for a powerful spraying. It was easier to befriend the sprayer than to be the one getting sprayed.

By the time the day arrived when the creatures built the nest together, the skunk had developed an unfortunate problem. The trouble was that he’d used his sprayer too frequently. He’d sprayed and sprayed and sprayed until the forest reeked of his scent, and all the other creatures had long since learned that his stink wouldn’t kill them. The skunk, who had not yet learned that same lesson, continued to spray at every opportunity.

And so, as the forest creatures gathered together and admired their handiwork, they weren’t too surprised when the skunk ambled out of the bushes and walked slowly toward them, curious about what had drawn them all together.

Said a rabbit, “Oh, here comes the skunk. We knew he’d show up sooner or later.”

Said one squirrel to another, “He has a reputation for spraying, but don’t worry about it. The scent won’t cling for long.”

“Well, look at this,” said the skunk, making his way into the center of the circle. “I see you’ve all worked together to build a nest; isn’t that special?” The skunk looked around from one animal to the next, studying their faces with a smirk on his own. “You’ve wasted your time, squirrels,” the skunk said. “You should have been gathering nuts. And you,” he said to the rabbits, “what’s in this for you? You should be out digging burrows.” The skunk roared with laughter at the other animals. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “I could have built that nest faster and better all by myself.”

At that very moment, a breeze kicked up and the leaves on the trees began to stir. The skunk, startled by the movement, stopped laughing and planted his front feet firmly on the ground. He lifted his back legs, raised his tail, and began to spray with all the fury he could muster. Before the animals could move, a mighty wind blew in from above, and the animals watched in wonder as a powerful little twister swirled right in the middle of their circle, completely surrounding the skunk.

As the wind died down, the animals looked up at the tree, not at the skunk lying soiled and disheveled at their feet. They smiled and congratulated each other as they saw the mother bird standing on the edge of her very sturdy nest, feeding her baby. And they felt really good.

Then a beautiful, gentle redbird flew low around the circle of his forest friends and sang in his sweetest voice, “You know, the skunk was once a magnificent creature; you have to give him that. He does have perky little ears, and that fancy tail with it’s sprayer attachment is a powerful tool. That stripe design is pretty awesome, too.” All the other creatures nodded in agreement. “The sad thing,” the redbird sang, “is that all the stink has finally stuck to the skunk.”

The end.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Thanks for BEARing with me...

This week has definitely been the worst period of blogging negligence in my entire (short) career. I feared that some of you, thinking I’d abandoned this feeble noble effort, might have moved on to plow more fertile fields. Nothing was growing on this idle plot of cyberspace.

There was only one night that I was actually too busy to get to my computer. That was Wednesday, the night my daughter came over with eight huge bags of goodies for the benefit auctions. There were so many donations that it took two of us working until well past my bedtime to separate them into reasonable auction lots, and it was really fun to do. Unfortunately, that experience demonstrated once again how much stamina I no longer have. My behind dragged the floor for two days afterwards.

On Thursday night I darted in after work and plugged in that little haiku-thingie, so you’d know I was alive and well, and planned to come back and post something more substantial after Big Brother. Hah! I fell asleep and didn't wake up until after the eviction. I watched the last few minutes, then hurried back to my computer to see the kickoff of the first batch of auctions. Whoopeeee! Very exciting! And that's about the time that my computer started sloooooooooooowing dooooowwwwwnnnn and then just froze.

I'd tried to switch back and forth between eBay and my favorite blogs right before that happened, something I've done a hundred times before without any difficulties whatsoever, so my first thought was that I shouldn't have clicked on the "install updates" window that had popped up the day before. I rebooted and tried again. It started up okay, but I could only switch between windows half a dozen times before it would lock up again. Talk about aggravating! I’d read somebody's blog, write a comment, enter my login information and try to submit the comment, and it would just sit there. It wouldn't send, nor could I even move to another window. In fact, by that time I couldn’t even reboot; I’d have to push the button to turn off the computer. My sparklingly brilliant comment, of course, would be lost (as would be my temper).

Friday was more of the same, but by then I’d figured out that I could get online as long as I didn't mess around. I'd have to take care of urgent e-mails, check the auctions, read one or two blogs if I could, then reboot again. Over and over. Still, by late Friday I’d managed to find out that Carmon had gone away to an art show, Janet had been stuck in an elevator at the hospital, Mike's father-in-law had passed away and Mike was taking good care of Daisy, and Dooce could be brave and funny in the face of newly discovered skin cancer. That’s how fast things were happening in other people’s lives while I sat here and fought with my stupid computer.

Today was much better. It dawned on me this morning to check my cookie cache. I tried to identify which cookies I needed to save, but it didn’t take long to remember that I’m not that detail oriented , so I just adopted a mercenary attitude and deleted every single one of the little suckers, friend and foe alike. My immediate computer problems were solved instantly. The problem of figuring out what the heck all my passwords were will take a bit more research, but at least it won’t have to be done all at once.

Soooo. Enough complaints. The good news is that the auctions have raised more than $10,000 in less than 48 hours, enough to save the house, provide a little cushion for the lampworker who is no longer a damsel in distress, and put big grins on the faces of all the people who pulled together to make this happen. It felt so good today to give a big hug and a hearty high-five to the one of them I love most.

It feels good to be back here, too. I know it hasn't been all that long, but I’ve missed being among my fellow writers and readers and can’t wait to catch up.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Haiku FAQ

Why limit it to
five syllables, then seven,
then five more? That's stupid dumb.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bead Angels

If you've happened to link to my daughter's site lately, you've noticed that she's been immersed in a huge project for the past couple of weeks. A fellow lampwork artist, struggling to keep her house after her son's medical bills nearly put them under, told her story on her own website and hoped for a miracle. Someone on a lampworking forum read it and suggested a benefit auction on eBay. Before the day was out, people from all over came together to try to make a difference for one of their own.

I've been amazed to see the packages roll in. I'm an optimist by nature, but never in my wildest dreams did I think people would respond this generously. Whether or not you're interested in the auctions, you might enjoy seeing the beautiful beads that some of these artists have created, as well as the wonderful jewelry that other designers have made with lampworked beads. If you're not particularly interested in that kind of thing, click on the link anyway; just scroll through the pages really fast and enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors.

I'm sure that our semi-rural mail carrier is ecstatic that today was the last day for donations to be received. There's a lot of work still to be done, and the goal is to have multiple auctions up and running by this Thursday night. It's been exciting to sit close by and watch this project come together.

I don't know what constitutes a miracle these days, but if miracles involve angels, I know where to find a lot of them.

History of Art Glass Lampworking

Monday, July 10, 2006

Droopy Drawers

That's what they called me back in 1944-45, when elastic was in short supply because all the rubber was needed for the war effort. As you can see by this snapshot of me with my uncle (who's only seven years older than I), I earned the nickname honestly.

If I were to post a current photo of myself, you'd definitely see the resemblance to this baby picture. Especially in the cheeks and thighs; after all these years, they look pretty much the same. I couldn't pull off a hat like that now, but I'd probably try the sweater, weather permitting. Also, I'm pleased to tell you that my shoes and underwear fit better these days and that I've always worn my skirts at a more modest length (except for a couple of years in Miami in the early '70s).

The only other thing I'd like to point out is that by the tender age of two, I'd mastered Renee Zellweger's over-the-shoulder red-carpet pose. Hmmmm. Maybe I should have gone into show biz.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tennis elbow and other ailments

Tennis, tennis, tennis! Crapping all over my TV schedule! Well, maybe not all over, but it's totally rearranged my Must-See-TV.

I sat down this morning with a Diet Coke, the Sunday paper, and a plan to catch the news on TV at the same time. I expected to watch Weekend Today at 8:00, like I always do, so I was a little surprised when I flipped on the TV at 7:58 and Weekend Today was ending. Hunhh?

When Meet the Press started immediately afterward, I had to go look at two clocks to be sure I hadn't somehow lost a whole hour of my life. And then it hit me: Wimbledon.

I've never been either an athlete or an athletic supporter (old joke, sorry). I've never enjoyed playing games where balls were being hurled or batted toward my face. My instinct, which should have been to hurl or bat the ball back, has always been to throw my arms over my head and duck.

There are only two games involving a ball that I actually enjoy. The first is fetch, which I'll play with my dogs as long as they agree to bring the ball back to me, not throw it, and the other is bowling. I like the fact that the bowling ball moves relatively slowly and is supposed to stay away from people's heads.

I haven't been bowling in a long, long time, but I still think of it fondly. That's probably because the only athletic achievement of my life occurred when a friend talked me into joining a bowling league way back in the '80s. My score didn't improve much from beginning to end of the season, but I did win a trophy--for perfect attendance.

Tennis, on the other hand, evokes memories of nothing but pain and humiliation. I enrolled for tennis lessons in the early '70s. (What was I thinking?) At the first lesson, we chased balls for the better part of an hour, then we started working on our serves. I watched the instructor intently and listened carefully. Still, when it came time for us students to try it for ourselves, I was apparently the only one who'd missed a key piece of advice. With my left hand, I tossed the ball up into the air, just as he'd demonstrated, but with the racket in my right hand, I reached back and whacked the hell out of the backside of my head. Somehow the concept of straightening out my elbow had escaped me.

That first tennis lesson was the last one, too. Wimbledon, schmimbledon!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

If I Were a Carpenter *

If I were a carpenter

and you were a lady,

Would you marry me anyway,

Would you have my baby?

The carpenter in the top photo was my great-grandfather, Ernest Ray Smith (1873-1951), and the beautiful lady he married was Minnie Lee West (1883-1962). My grandmother, Audrey (1900-1987), was the only child born of their marriage.

These photos are all new to me, given to me in the past few months by an aunt and a cousin whose names I won't mention (unless they read this and give me permission to edit and add their names). They, along with another aunt, another cousin, and an uncle, have been filling me in on my father's family history, bit by bit, and I am cherishing every photo they send and every story they tell.

One aunt, in particular, has worked hard to accumulate stories and essays written by her mother, my grandmother, and to put them in readable form. I'm hoping like the dickens she'll set up a blog and publish some of the photos and stories she's collected. She writes well herself, and I think she'd be a natural for a project like this. Right now she and her daughter are busy playing nuns in a little theater production of The Sound of Music. When she has more time, she said, she'll think about doing a blog.

I've assured her that setting up her own blog is a lot easier than she might think. If you feel like offering her some encouragement or letting her know about your own experiences with blogging, please leave a message for her in the comments section of this entry. Maybe we can persuade her to give it a try.

*If I Were a Carpenter

Lyrics and Music by Tim Hardin

Sung by Bobby Darin, Johnny Cash,
Harry Belafonte and Waylon Jennings,
among others.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Balancing Big Brother and You

The votes are in. Last night Julie Chen announced the cast of Big Brother All Stars, and I’m in Hogs’ Heaven once again.

Before I discovered the fascinating online journals of strangers, reality TV provided the best way to satisfy the voyeuristic tendencies that lurk beneath my vapid calm exterior. Big Brother does that better than any other show.

The Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule of highly edited episodes may not be enough to hold the interest of every casual viewer who checks out Big Brother, but we veterans know that the TV show is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole lot more going on behind the scenes.

The real key to Big Brother’s success is the live feeds, around-the-clock coverage from cameras all over the house, cameras that show all the action all the time (well, almost) to those willing to pay the $39.99 access fee. I’m too cheap to pay for the live feeds, but there are bigger (and certainly wealthier) fans than I who set up camp at their computers and spend the entire season transcribing the action for the rest of us. I love those rabid fans. They allow me to feast at my leisure on the fodder they place before me at TV Clubhouse and other online fan sites.

When my sister and I talk to each other on the phone during Big Brother season, we quickly dispense with the business of asking about the welfare of each other’s children, then move right on to who’s doing what to whom on Big Brother. It gives us a chance to gossip the way our mama taught us better than to do about people we really know. We can be judgmental and sarcastic (for which we both have a natural gift that we've had to learn to stifle) and we can do it all without real-world repercussions. It’s so freakin' freeing!

It’ll take some clever time management to find three-plus hours a week to devote to Big Brother and still keep up with my blogging activities, but I’ll make it happen somehow. I’m addicted to you guys, too. Who knows, I might enjoy you even more if you’d hook up cameras in your homes and provide 24/7 live-feed coverage.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I scream, you scream...

...we all scream for ice cream. Remember that from your childhood?

Somewhere in time near my first exposure to that old saying, an actual ice cream incident occurred that has been repeated endlessly in my family. If my sister and I hadn't lived so far apart geographically for so many years, the details as to who did what to whom may not have been blurred. Somebody would have corrected the story soon after its first mistelling. Now, though, through many repetitions by each of us to our own respective audiences, the truth has been corrupted. My memory is that I was the outraged party, and my sister is equally adamant that she was the offended victim. Either way is a distinct possibility.

A little backstory: In the 1950s a nickel would buy a single-dip ice cream cone. With a dime, one could buy a double-dip cone or two single-dip ones. One block from our house was a drugstore/soda fountain, and in the summertime we wore out the sidewalk between there and home.

Okay, to continue with my story, on the day in question only one of us went to the drugstore. The other one stayed home and waited. My sister's theory is that because I'm four years older than she, it's obvious that I'm the one who would have walked to the drugstore to buy ice cream cones for both of us while she, the younger innocent one, stayed home and waited. My theory is that she was most certainly old enough to have been the one to run that particular errand, because both of us walked past that drugstore every school day from first grade on, and she was ten and a half years old when we moved away, for God's sake.

There's no way at this late date to prove whose memory is correct on that one issue, but as for the rest of the details, we're right in line. We both agree that the walking sister started out to the drugstore with two dimes. We both agree that approximately fifteen minutes later the walking sister came home empty-handed except for one double-dip ice cream cone, which she was licking enthusiastically. We also agree on the exact words of our ensuing conversation:

Waiting sister: "Where's my ice cream cone?"

Walking sister: "I lost your dime."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dragonfly Haiku

Dragonflies feast on
mosquitos in my yard that
thought they'd feast on me.

The morning after

At 7:30 last night, just before dark and just after the first big blast of 4th of July fireworks, I drugged my dogs. The vet had prescribed Acepromazine, “two tablets as needed.” I didn’t know how long it would take for the sedative effects to kick in, and I wanted Butch and Kadi to be relaxed before the worst of the noise began.

Fifteen minutes after he’d had two bites of sedative-laced ice cream, Butch walked to a throw rug where he sleeps sometimes, lifted one front paw and teetered on his other three legs, then plopped down and went into a deep sleep. Kadi, who’s 10 pounds heavier, was sitting on the sofa at that time, her head hanging and the tip of her tongue protruding between her teeth. She rolled her eyes to look at me as if to say, “I’m feeling really weird right now; something’s not right.”

Kadi didn’t sleep except for about five minutes over the next three hours. She did lie down, but her eyes were mostly open and her ears twitched in response to every explosion we heard. Except for some mild panting, she didn’t display any of the panicky responses she usually does. I could never be certain if she was actually less afraid than usual, or if she was just too far out of it to respond physically to her fears.

About 20 minutes after Butch went to sleep on the rug, he woke again and tried to move to his big yellow pillow, but he could hardly walk. His legs were wobbling and literally slipping out from under him, so he half-walked/half-crawled to his pillow, then conked out again. That worried me.

The next time he woke up and tried to walk, I picked him up (not an easy task) and put him on the opposite end of the sofa Kadi was on, then I sat between them to keep a close eye on them. Butch, the little sweetheart, whipped his drunken head around and gave my face about a dozen slobbery kisses, then passed out again.

By 10:00 p.m. they were both awake but still under the influence. The fireworks noises had dwindled significantly and Kadi hesitatingly went outside with me to take care of her urinary needs. I tried to take Butch out, too, but he was still fairly wobbly, and Kadi wouldn’t let him go in the backyard. She stood just outside the door, barking right into his face, backing him deeper and deeper into the den. I admire her determination to save us all, but it can get annoying when she overreacts.

I let Kadi back inside and penned her by herself in the living room (my son-in-law built me a decorative indoor picket fence, just for that purpose) and tried again to get Butch to go into the backyard, but he wouldn’t budge. I attached a long lead to his collar and tried to lead (okay, drag) him outside with that, but he twisted and resisted and slipped out of his collar–-twice.

In a last-ditch effort, I got out his serious “going-places” leash, the one with the choke-chain collar that he can’t slip. As soon as he heard that leash jangling, he staggered over and waited by the door that leads to the driveway. For some reason I can't fathom, he always seems to find the fireworks in the sky over the driveway less frightening than those in the sky over the backyard. Go figure. Anyway, he finally did his business and we all went to bed.

I feel wonderful today, much better than I usually do on the morning of July 5th. Butch and Kadi seem a little hungover, but they’re perking up as the day goes on. I think the medication helped, but I still don't feel good about doing that to them.

Note: The photo at the top of this post was taken on an earlier date, when Kadi and Butch were not drugged. This just happens to be one of Butch's favorite sleeping positions.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dependence Day

As I write this, Butch has wedged himself between my left leg and my wastebasket, and Kadi has squirreled herself under my computer desk. She's presently lying on top of a bunch of cables, including my mouse cord. Whether this thunderstorm continues or the weather clears up in time for fireworks celebrations, there'll be no independence at my house today. I'm trapped by fearful canines.

I wrote in February about my dogs’ thunderstorm phobias. The bad news is that fireworks, to them, are even worse.

Butch doesn’t exhibit the panic symptoms Kadi does–-quivering, panting, pacing, trying to climb onto my shoulders–-but he burrows into a hiding spot and steadfastly refuses to step one paw outside until at least an hour after the last popping noise. Kadi will go outside if I go first, but there’s no way she’s going to stand still long enough to pee. Instead, her focus is on trying to get me back in the house before I get us both killed. She circles me and barks frantically. She stands on her hind legs and hurls her 65-pound body at me, trying to push me toward the door. It’s painful to see how frightened she gets.

The fact that my dogs are too afraid even to relieve themselves on the 4th of July means we usually don’t get to bed until two or three in the morning, well after the fireworks have stopped. And that means that the more fun my neighbors have, the more miserable our night will be.

It’s been eight years since I’ve looked forward to the 4th of July. Celebrations are out of the question as long as fireworks are popping, and all my energy goes toward keeping things as normal as possible and staying as calm and reassuring as I can. Up to now, though, my pooches haven’t bought it for a minute. They seem to think I'm too lame to comprehend the danger we’re in.

Today I’m allowing myself to feel a little bit hopeful. Right now, although Butch and Kadi are hiding from the thunder and lightning, they haven't hit full panic mode. Today I'm prepared to keep things from getting that far.

Last month when I took Kadi to the vet, I described her response to fearful situations and asked the vet how he felt about tranquilizers. I told him I’ve never wanted to take that step, but I’m worried that the dogs are getting too old to handle so much stress. (I know I am.) He reassured me that Butch and Kadi should have no problems with the type of medication he prescribes, and he recommended that we give it a try.

So here I sit, armed with sedatives and hoping I'll know when it’s time to use them, and I do have some barbecued sausage, baked beans and potato salad for my own private celebration. The truth is, my dogs give so much to me all year long that I don't mind one bit devoting this day to their sense of security.

Happy anniversary, America. You all have a wonderful 4th, and I’ll let you know tomorrow how ours turns out.

Monday, July 03, 2006

'Scuse me, Oprah, do you have a minute?

Oprah...may I call you Oprah? Ms. Winfrey? Okay, well, I'm off work today, and it seems like a good time to mention something that perhaps no one else has called to your attention. You see, I love your show, but I work full time, so I only get to watch it on holidays. What I've noticed many times in the past--and again today--is that most of the time when I watch your show on a holiday, it's a show I've already seen...on an earlier holiday.

Now, I realize you like to take trips to Africa and make enormous contributions to the children of the world, and that's a wonderful thing. (God knows I don't do enough of that kind of thing myself.) I know you need a vacation every now and then, too, and I'd be the first to say you deserve it. I'm just mentioning these things to show you that I do understand there'll be times when you have to show reruns. I get that.

My question is, since I'm only off work about 12 weekdays each year, and you must have at least a hundred new shows during that same year, do you think you could talk to your staff and ask them to shuffle the reruns a little better? Like, make sure there are enough reruns to cover all the holidays without repeating?

Sorry to bother you with this, but considering some of the things I've seen you accomplish, I'm sure you could fix this with a snap of your fingers. I'd be ever so grateful.

Thanks for your time.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Summer Sunday Shower

Today's shower was a welcome event. Fireworks are legal in this parish, and the thought of those beautiful sparks shooting into the air and then falling to land in dry grass is a little unsettling. If it'll rain again once or twice between now and Tuesday, we should be in good shape.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Birthday, Big Guy

Today's the birthday of the youngest of my siblings, who's waaaaaaaaaaaay older than the two years he was in this photo. He grew into those ears early, well before he reached six feet tall, and then he grew a few more inches just for good measure. Maybe it took that extra growth spurt for him to get big enough to house his huge, hearty laugh. That's one sound I could never hear enough of, and I hope those around him heard it often today.