Thursday, August 31, 2006

Halftime homicide

School starts early in the South, and when school starts, so does football. Fans pour out for the high school games on Friday nights, then on Saturdays a major chunk of the local population dons purple and gold and heads to LSU's "Deaf Valley" stadium. It's a regular pigskin lovefest...except for a handful of people like me.

My grandson plays football, and I'd love to love it for his sake. To be honest, though, I can never follow the ball, and it doesn't take too many minutes of being lost and confused before I'm bored out of my skull.

That being said, I'd like to share my one-and-only special football-game memory:

The first football game I ever saw was in Springfield, Missouri, when I was 10 years old. My uncle Joe, seven years older than I, played for Springfield High School, and on one chilly fall night the whole family went to watch him play. I have no memory whatsoever of the game, but I clearly remember the halftime show.

Springfield High had a marching drum-and-bugle corps, all female, known as "The Kiltie Girls." I loved their cute plaid kilts, their knee-high stockings, and the Scots-Irish music they played. I'd seen them march in the previous year's Christmas parade, and that night at the football game, I recognized them by their uniform and by the name of their group. My six-year-old sister, apparently, did not.

As the girls came onto the field, their rhythmic rat-a-tat-tat arriving ahead of them, the deep voice on the loudspeaker announced, "The Kiltie Girls are marching out onto the field."

My sister gasped loudly, her jaw dropping nearly to her chest. "Oh my gosh!" she said, pressing her hands to her cheeks, Home Alone style.

"What?" I didn't understand her strong reaction.

She looked at me as if I were an idiot, her face a mixture of horror and indignation. "Didn't you hear what the man said? They killed a girl, just for marching out on the field."

Heh-heh. Good one, Sis!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Remembering Katrina

Last year at this time I was preparing to go to bed, as I will tonight in a matter of minutes. My older daughter had spent the night at my house the night before the storm and would stay one more night before going home. My younger daughter was home with her family. Hurricane Katrina had come and gone, but her trail of destruction would scar hearts across the country.

Compared to people a few miles closer to the Gulf, we'd had smooth saililng. Both of my daughters' homes had lost electrical power and I lost cable TV. Period. Not complaining for a moment about that. Even that had been restored before bedtime.

Throughout the day we'd been able to pull in the shaky, grainy picture of one local channel, and we'd watched it all day long, mesmerized by what was happening so close to us. Little did we know that that was only the first day of the tragedy unfolding, that things would get much worse as the week went on.

Both my daughters went to work at the Red Cross shelter over the next few days, and both of them told me stories about the people they met there, people who suddenly found themselves living in an episode of the Twilight Zone. They brought lists of names to me and asked me to do computer searches for those names on databases that were springing up to help people locate their loved ones. Surreal doesn't even begin to describe that week.

It's been a long year if you measure by the damage that's still visible and the people who still don't have permanent homes. On the other hand, if you live anywhere near Katrina's path and there's a tropical storm in the Gulf (which there is), you can measure the brevity of the year by the gooseflesh on your arms.

May God bless all those people whose Katrina memories are so much worse than mine.


For some of the best photos and essays about Hurricane Katrina, check out Operation Eden by Clayton Cubitt.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sole survivor

One question leaped to mind as TV journalists reported that 49 people died in the Kentucky plane crash this morning and only one survived: How would it feel to be that sole survivor? I'm sure there'd be a certain amount of survivor's guilt, but I'd think there would also be an overwhelming sense of responsibility.

I can imagine that if I were that person, I'd spend the rest of my life trying to understand why I was spared. What great thing is it that I'm supposed to do? How can I relax and watch Big Brother when there must be some special reason for my existence? Could you give me just a hint, God, so I'll know where to begin?

In my life as it exists today, I relish the freedom to spend an entire Sunday afternoon reading a good book. What some might see as a waste of time, I see as healthy R&R and personal enrichment. But if I were the sole survivor of a plane crash, would I be able to enjoy a day of relaxation, or would I feel that I'd be cheating the "higher power" that saved me by not spending every waking moment in active pursuit of the betterment of society?

No answers here, kiddos, just questions. What do you think?

Kentucky plane crash

CNN journalists covering this morning's plane crash in Kentucky gave frequent updates regarding the location where families of crash victims were being asked to gather for official information. As I imagined the breaking hearts of those family members whose pleasant Sunday morning had been turned into a nightmare by this life-disrupting event, the words and melody of an Everly Brothers song from 1961 kept replaying in the back of my mind. It was a sad song then and it's especially sad on a day like today.

(Note: Italicized words were spoken instead of sung.)


On a weekend pass I wouldn’t have had time
To get home and marry that baby of mine,
So I went to the chaplain and he authorized
Me to send for my Ebony Eyes.

My Ebony Eyes was coming to me
From out of the skies on Flight 1203.
In an hour or two I would whisper I do
To my beautiful Ebony Eyes.

The plane was way overdue, so I went inside to the airlines desk and I said "Sir, I wonder why 1203 is so late."

He said, "Aw, they probably took off late or they may have run into some turbulent weather and had to alter their course."

I went back outside and I waited at the gate and I watched the beacon light from the control tower as it whipped through the dark ebony skies as if it were searching for
my Ebony Eyes. And then came the announcement over the loudspeaker: "Would those having relatives or friends on flight number 1203 please report to the chapel across the street at once."

Then I felt a burning break deep inside
And I knew the heavenly ebony skies
Had taken my life’s most wonderful prize,
My beautiful Ebony Eyes.

If I ever get to heaven I’ll bet
The first angel I’ll recognize,
She’ll smile at me and I know she will be
My beautiful Ebony Eyes.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Home free!

Late last night I picked up the phone and heard the stuttering tone that signals a voice mail message is waiting. It was Kadi's vet. "The liver biopsy test results came back," I heard her say in a cheerful voice, "and everything looks good."


Friday, August 25, 2006

Things are getting out of hand

Earlier this week I found myself thinking about the broad spectrum of human character. I wrote down some of those thoughts and planned to make them the subject of today’s blog entry. But then something else happened -– also character related -– that I decided to write about instead.

I was kind of shocked at something that occurred today while I was on the interstate, driving home for lunch. I was in the fast lane, driving a mile or two over the speed limit. The last time I’d looked in the rearview mirror, there was nothing behind me for at least half a mile, but this time I glanced up and saw an SUV approaching like a bat out of hell.

The reason I was in the left lane is that I was in the process of passing a string of slower vehicles to my right. As the SUV came speeding up behind me, I was watching for a safe opportunity to move back into the right lane. The SUV, unfortunately, couldn’t wait to see what I planned to do. Instead, he moved right up on my bumper, did a last-minute zig in between two closely spaced cars to pass me on the right, then a reckless zag back in front of me, just barely missing my right front fender.

That kind of driving scares the heck out of me, but it wasn’t shocking. What took me aback was what happened immediately afterward. All of a sudden, I found myself watching my 63-year-old left hand, entirely of its own volition, whip itself into the air and extend its middle finger skyward. Can you believe it?

I can count on the fingers of one hand the times in my life I’ve made that particular gesture, and most of those times it was done in a joking way. Why in the world would my hand make an ass of itself now, when I couldn’t back up such an aggressive gesture if my life depended on it?

Now, I’m pretty laid back, but I'm not pretending that I never have a mean or angry thought. Once in a while I do. I guess everybody does. Most of us, fortunately, have learned that life is much easier when we don’t act on every random thought that crosses our minds. It’s called “self-control,” and up until today I thought it was something I’d pretty much mastered.

So here I sit, thinking about character again. I’ve decided that I’m fairly comfortable with the content of my character overall, but there are some individual parts of me that need attention. Among other things, there are my feet and knees that have become increasingly uncooperative. Also my butt. The lazy thing parks itself in a chair at the slightest excuse. And now I’ll have to keep a close watch on this errant hand.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Maintaining the physical me

Yesterday was Kadi's day at the doctor; today was mine. It was time to get a checkup so I could get my regular "old person" prescriptions renewed. I know I could probably eliminate a couple of meds if I'd make up my mind to eat only from the foods-that-taste-like-cardboard group (that gives a whole new meaning to the term "box lunch," doesn't it?), but I'll just take the pills for now. I'll live and die as a flavor junkie.

In addition to the routine stuff at the doctor's office, I mentioned to her that I'm having trouble with my feet and lower legs again. That was a major complaint about five years ago on my first visit to this doctor. At that time, and again today, the discussion went something like this:

Dr.: Do your heels hurt?

Me: Ohhhh, yes.

Dr.: And when you first get out of bed, do you kind of hobble around, but then it gets better after you've been up for a while?

Me: That's it exactly.

Dr.: You have tendonitis.

So, I'll be going back to doing exactly what she told me to do five years ago -- the thing that helped me feel so much better that I eventually defied logic and stopped doing it. Once again, I will be wearing sturdy, ugly athletic shoes, the expensive kind with really good arch supports, all the time that my feet are on the floor. No more little slip-on shoes or going barefoot around the house. And the kicker? This time, the doctor suggested that I consider wearing support stockings.

Sob. In case there might be one person out there who doesn't recognize me immediately as an old person, my clodhopper-supported feet will out me in a flash. I guess it's just wishful thinking that someone might think I'm wearing these shoes so I can go for a run.

I also mentioned to the doctor that by the end of each day my legs seem to have rolled themselves down to my ankles. She explained about valves vs. arteries and said that women's veins are normally weaker than men's (that's "veins" -- not "brains" -- just clarifying for my male readers). The weaker veins, along with age and gravity, she said, are responsible for most older women having some problems with swelling ankles. In the absence of other medical conditions, i.e. diabetes, congestive heart failure, etc., the swelling itself is apparently not a big deal.

The serious ankle-swelling ailments the doctor named are the very same ones I'd found on Google (search criteria: feet + ankles + "swelling like hell"). I'm glad she ruled them out.

From now on I'll try to keep my feet propped up for part of each day to better distribute the fluid that's moseying from one end of me to the other. I'm thinking I'd better be careful not to go too far with that. The people who already like me probably won't change their minds just because my feet are swollen, but I doubt they'd be so tolerant of a swelled head.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What's up, Doc?

Good news, that's what! The ultrasound of Kadi's liver and spleen looked great, no sign of any problems at all. We still have to wait for the results of a needle biopsy they did today, but the vet seemed really confident. Up until now I would have described her as cautiously optimistic; today she seemed to be enthusiastically optimistic -- a significant upgrade that means a lot to me.

Happy campers at our house today!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Feather or not

Since I started writing this blog, it’s as if my brain has developed a filter dedicated specifically to this effort. Every mundane thing that happens in the course of my day must pass briefly through my “blogworthy” filter. Most days this process is sort of like panning for gold in the bathwater.

After I bought the digital camera –- mostly for the purpose of adding color to my blog –- the same kind of filtering mindset started happening with whatever passes across my line of vision. “Oh,” I think, “let me take a picture of this interesting patch of rust; I may need that someday.”

It’s because of this skewed thinking that I was briefly excited yesterday when I opened the door to let the dogs in and spotted a single feather lying right outside the door. “That’s kind of pretty,” I thought, “let me get a photo of that.”

In the span of mere seconds, I took a half dozen steps, picked up my camera, took off the lens cap, turned the camera on, and headed back to the door. During that same span of seconds, Lucy (one of the dogs I’d just let in) watched my every move. I opened the door and she darted out, grabbed the feather in her mouth, and ran out into the yard with it. Lucy’s brain apparently has its own filters.

You might think that would be the end of this little anecdote, but you’d be wrong. You see, I walked outside today and happened to notice that same feather sticking up in the grass. I kept it under surveillance while Butch and Kadi were outside, trying not to alert them to my interest in it. They couldn't have cared less.

As soon as I got the dogs back in the house, I grabbed the camera, did a quick 180-degree turn and went back outside by myself. I retrieved the feather and posed it ever so carefully on the patio, just where I’d seen it yesterday, and took the picture without any canine interference.

This photo, then, is a testament to my tenacity. If I ever manipulate the environment to set up a shot that shows my spirit of spontaneity, I'll be sure to post that, too.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Flies on the rise

It's not unusual for me to to find a fly inside my home in the summer; it usually happens two or three times a year. When it does, I swat the vile thing and go on about my business.

Something has changed in the past few days. The flies have become more aggressive. As I sit here writing, two of them are taking turns buzzing my head and landing just out of reach. Yesterday I killed three or four others, and there were a couple more the day before. My home is becoming a habitat for flymanity. My daughter says she's been seeing more of them in her home, too, so I'm not the only one under attack.

I don't notice more flies than usual outside, but the ones that are out there seem to be hell-bent on finding their way into the house. They're like six-legged illegal immigrants, plotting to find weaknesses in my borders and sneak across in search of a better life. Except I don't think they'll really find anything much better once they're inside.

The outside food supply should be more than adequate; there's a virtual fly buffet as close as my garbage can. If flies can get through the tiny crack under the back door, they could easily get inside the tied end of a plastic trash bag.

No, they must be looking for something else. The only thing I can think of that they can find inside the house but not outside is cool air. Has the earth's atmosphere warmed to the point that even the insects are desperate for air conditioning?

I'm trying to put this fly-thing in perspective. I've lived through worse cases in my own life. When we lived in Georgia, the flies were so thick one summer that it was nearly impossible to barbecue outside. On one occasion my husband came up with the idea of offering a bounty on fly carcasses -- a nickel each fly, plus a 25-cent bonus after every 20 -- and my girls racked up.

It's not even as if I'm an excellent housekeeper and the flies defile my otherwise pristine environment. My dogs probably track in more germs than the flies bring in, but Butch and Kadi don't make a beeline to put their dirty feet on the rim of my Diet Coke. Flies do. There's just something about those nasty little creatures sitting on my things, rubbing their front legs together like greedy hands, that offends me to my core. "Ohmigod," they seem to say gleefully, "look at all this stuff just here for the taking."

I know it's petty to whine about a couple of flies in the house. I see television news documentaries in which flies are crawling on the eyes and mouths of impoverished African children. Those poor kids just take it in stride; flies are the least of their worries. I know I should be ashamed of myself, and I promise I will be -- as soon as all the flies are gone.

Ah, well, maybe it's unrealistic to expect to keep all the flies out. They sure don't call them "houseflies" for nothing. Hmmmm. Now that I think about it, I haven't seen any spiders in the house in a couple of months. Maybe I should let a couple more of these guys in to assist me.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Cooking with Velvet

Dateline is on as I write this, and Stone Phillips is talking about how much responsibility the food industry should bear for the obesity epidemic in America. They're showing stacks of Oreos and close-ups of people taking huge bites out of Big Macs. Man, this is making me soooo hungry!

I agree that the food industry influences both children and adults to make poor diet choices, but I believe adults, at least, are responsible for their own choices. If I decide to shove fat-and-sugar-laden goodies in my mouth -- and pay somebody to let me do it -- I shouldn't be allowed to sue that somebody.

I do have to admit that there are a lot more choices to tempt children now than there used to be. When my sister and I were kids, we managed to get pocket money a couple of times a week to spend on comic books, candy or ice cream (although the ice cream purchases didn't always work out). Most of the time, though, we made snacks with whatever was available at home.

So, in the interest of encouraging healthier eating, I thought I'd post recipes for a couple of snacks that my sister and I made over and over. The first one was our favorite:

* * * * * * * * * *

Mustard Sandwich

2 slices fresh white bread
1-1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard

Spread mustard on one slice of white bread, being careful not to get any on the crust.

Place the second slice of white bread on top of the mustard.

Wipe a clean spot on the kitchen counter and place the sandwich on that clean spot. Climb up on the counter and sit on the sandwich, wiggling back and forth until sandwich is paper thin. (NOTE: Final step of preparation should be performed by oldest, heaviest child.)

* * * * * * * * * *

Pickle Sandwich

1 large sweet gherkin
1 slice white bread

Dry pickle thoroughly (under your armpit is a good place, if your shirt isn't too dirty).

Place pickle at one edge of white bread and roll, jelly roll style, squeezing bread tightly around pickle as you roll.

Finished sandwich should look like a greyish-white cylinder with a puffy bread-crust pinwheel at each end.


* * * * * * * * * *

Okay, that's all the food talk I can stand right now. I'm goin' to Mickey D's or Sonic (depending on whether or not traffic allows me to cross to the McDonald's side of the road).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A book as old as I am

My cousin K. asked me in a recent e-mail if I'd ever read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I remembered that there'd been a movie by that name, but I couldn't remember if I'd ever seen it, and I was positive I'd never read the book. A favorite book of hers, it was written by Betty Smith and published mere months after I was born.

K. told me she'd read "Tree" for the first time at age 10 and several times since then. She said she was in the mood for it again and asked if I'd be interested in reading it at the same time. We could have our own book club via e-mail, she suggested. I agreed to give it a try, ordered the book, and started reading it at bedtime Saturday night.

In a word, wow! I feel like crying, not because of what was in the book, but because of what wasn't. I finished reading the book, but the book is clearly not finished with me. I want more pages, additional chapters. I want to know much more about what happened to these characters who etched themselves into my heart in approximately 500 pages.

The first chapter of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is set in the year 1912. About that same time, give or take a year, my grandmother's youngest siblings, Ruth and Loren, posed for this photo. They would have been only slightly younger than Francie and Neeley were, and I imagined, as I read, that the fictional kids in Brooklyn might have resembled these two Missouri kids.

The central character, Francie, was a book lover from an early age, as was I. I'd like to know if books continued to enrich her life as she aged beyond the pages of the story. And I wonder if Francie's first heartbreak made her forever cautious about falling in love. How many times did she give love a chance before she finally found it...or stopped looking?

Francie's younger brother, Neeley, was growing up into the physical image of his father by the end of the book. I'm under the impression that he became a stronger person than his father, but did he accede to his mother's wishes and become a doctor, or did he follow his own heart?

And what of their mother, Katie? She was a pragmatic and cynical young woman (much like my own mother). Did she soften as she grew older and her life became a little easier (much as my own mother did)?

I thought of my father (not the most responsible of young men) as I read. If he'd been around more in my early years, would his parenting style have resembled that of Francie and Neeley's father, Johnny (another not-so-responsible young man)? Would he have loved us more freely and indulgently than our mother did, because he had a wife and two children, while Mother (like Katie) had two children and a man-child to worry about? I think I understand both my parents better after reading this book.

By the final chapter, set in the fall of 1918, World War I had affected people in Brooklyn in much the same way it affected my Missouri ancestors. My grandfather, pictured here in his gas mask (no, I do NOT look just like him), went to fight in France. My grandmother found a job as a telephone operator. They wouldn't meet until 1919, after he came home. As I read this book, I began to imagine them as young people just beginning to make their own way in the world. I know how things turned out for them, but I wish I'd thought to ask them if things turned out the way they'd dreamed they would.

To my cousin K., I'd like to say thank you so much for recommending this book. It's amazing how relevant it is this many years after it was written. I'd also like to say that if you'll be so kind as to consider this blog entry part of our two-person-book-club discussion, then it's your turn now. Tell me what this book means to you.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

U R 2 good 2 B 4-gotten

School started this week in Ascension Parish. Seeing so many little ones crossing the street hand-in-hand with their parents, ably assisted by the crossing guard, I'm reminded of the excitement I used to feel in my own childhood at the beginning of each school year.

I loved school more than anything in the early grades, and the start of a new school year was the best part. I especially loved school supplies.

There was someting about fresh tablets and sharpened No. 2 pencils that signified new beginnings. I might make mistakes later on, but no blemishes would go with me into my new classroom.

On the way to school that first day I'd stick my face into the bagful of school supplies and inhale the magnificent aroma of crayons. The only thing in there that smelled almost as wonderful as the crayons was the oil cloth. I shopped carefully each year to find the most beautifully patterned square of waterproof cloth available, even though it was destined to remain rolled up, rubberbanded, and stashed in my desk to await the occasional messy art project.

Scent wasn't the only attraction. Somewhere along the way I'd picked up the bad habit of biting my pencils. Each new yellow pencil soon became ugly, but there was something indescribably satisfying about the sound and feel of my eyeteeth crunching into wood. I'd also discovered that the elongated pink erasers were pleasingly chewy, but the big square art-gum erasers crumbled too easily. Then, of course, there was creamy white paste. I didn't eat it by the jarful the way a couple of my classmates did, but I tasted it often enough to understand why they did it.

Along with the excitement, the first day of school always brought a little uneasiness. Would my classroom be upstairs or down, and what if I couldn't find it? Which teacher would I get? Would she be nice or mean? Would there be some kids I already knew in my class? What if one of the books that was issued to me had been written in by the kid who'd had it the year before and the teacher thought I did it? Somehow, all those worrisome issues resolved themselves without trauma.

When my sister and I traveled back to our hometown a few years ago, we visited all of our old schools. It was summertime, so the schools were closed, but we stopped the car long enough at each place to see what we could see.

Our longest stop was at Phelps, the elementary school we'd both attended. I think it felt natural to both of us to be back there. We pointed things out to each other, noting, for example, the recessed area on the back of the building where we'd played the dreaded dodge ball games. We stood on the same stairs we'd climbed over and over as our legs grew from first-grade length to several inches longer. We smelled the schoolyard dust of hundreds of past recesses and imagined long lines of children, arms entwined, shouting out the commands of Red Rover.

Most of all, through our peaceful moments of reverie, we paid silent homage to old classmates and old teachers. They signed our autograph books way back in the 1950s, and they also wrote their names in our memories and our hearts.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Slow news day

One might think I could get a job for Inside Edition, as adept as I'm becoming at repackaging the same news and stretching it out over several days. There's nothing exciting or original about this blog entry, but feel free to "stay tuned for recent developments" in my rather bland existence.

The vet called today and said, "Kadi's test results were good; she doesn't have Cushing's disease." Now, that was good news, but we aren't out of the woods yet. I have to take her back next Tuesday for an abdominal ultrasound. They're still trying to find some reason for the abnormal results on her initial blood test.

Still no electrical power at the office today. I stayed there until just before noon, by which time my hair and clothes were soaked with sweat and I smelled like I'd been running a marathon. (That should probably read "like I think I'd smell after running a marathon"; it's a lot easier for me to imagine the smell than it is to imagine the running.) The electricians had completed repairs of the wiring on the building, but the city inspector still had to come out and give his stamp of approval before the electric company could connect their power line (which they'd left hanging in a nearby tree) to the box.

This afternoon at 2:30, while I was stretched out on the recliner with a book, I got a phone call saying that the power had been restored. I did the right thing and called my boss at home to tell him the news, and he did what I was hoping he'd do and said it was too late to try to save the day. That was all I needed to hear. I put down the book and took a nap.

There'll still be telephone system issues to tackle tomorrow morning, but at least we'll be cool and comfortable and can start getting our ducks in a row.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Putting tomorrow on hold

Do you know how much a modern office relies on electricity? I got a good lesson in that when I arrived at work Friday morning. A truck had hit the corner of our building the night before, tearing down the conduit for the wiring and pulling the electrical box itself off the wall. Uh-oh.

I couldn't answer the phones because our phone system runs on electricity. I tried to use my cell phone to retrieve voice mail messages but couldn't get a signal inside the metal-roofed building. Even if I'd been able to get calls, I couldn't have scheduled appointments, because my calendar is on my computer.

I couldn't type letters or documents because the transcriber and the computer were down. I couldn't mail the letters I'd typed the day before because I couldn't make file copies of them or use the postage meter.

As I sat there in the narrow stream of sunlight that came through the open door, doing everything I could do with nothing more than paper, pen, and a working stapler, the lack of air conditioning became increasingly problematical. Finally, at 10:00 a.m., I called it quits, put a sign on the door, locked up, and headed for home. My boss wasn't in the office on Friday, but I'm quite sure he would have done the same.

The owner of the building told me they hoped to have the power up late Friday afternoon, but "to be honest, it'll probably be sometime on Monday." The battery backup on our phone system lasts a matter of hours, not days, so even if we do have electricity in the morning, I'll have to wait for a telephone systems repair service to come out and reprogram our phones. Only after they finish their work will we start getting calls from all the people who were frustrated in their attempts to reach us on Friday.

But that's tomorrow's mess to deal with. That and whatever the vet has to tell me about Kadi's test results. Tonight I'll fold my laundry, watch Big Brother with a large yellow dog tucked under each arm, and go to bed with a good book.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Where the mild things grow

My older daughter has fond memories of a large fig tree that grew in a special backyard of her childhood. She planted this tree last year in a corner of my backyard. It's still small, but it's producing enough fruit to feed her appetite and her soul.

She also planted this tangelo tree, still a scrawny thing in its second year. All of its energy seems to be going into fruit production and none into the expansion of its own height and breadth. It might have grown larger if we'd nipped some of the fruits in the bud, literally, but that would have seemed like a lack of gratitude to a little tree that was obviously trying so hard. Maybe next year.

The gardenia has been blooming for months now, but the summer heat is taking its toll. This blossom, the brightest on the bush, seems faded in comparison to the earlier flowers. But close your eyes and take a whiff. The fragrance is as bold and fresh as ever.

Our neighbor planted the morning glories on the fence between our homes. The vines creep out longer each day, the tendrils reaching out from the fence and seeking purchase on the driveway. In the evenings I notice the encroaching vines. In the mornings, all I see is brilliant blue-purple flowers raising their faces to the sun. Glory, indeed!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Veterinary veterans

Butch and Kadi both had appointments with the vet yesterday. It was time for their annual checkups and vaccinations, so I scheduled them for dental cleaning at the same time. They’re 8 and 9, respectively, and I have personal experience in the importance of being able to chew properly when one is getting on up in age.

The dental cleaning requires anesthesia, so the dogs couldn’t have food or water after midnight Wednesday night. For Butch that wasn’t a problem, but Kadi woke me up no less than five times to alert me to the fact that the water dish was empty. Yesterday morning, when I opened the gate that keeps them in the bedroom area at night, Butch trotted to the back door, as both of them usually do, but Kadi ran instead to the second water dish, the big one we keep in the den. Much to her dismay, that one had been picked up and moved, too.

I didn’t want them to eat grass or drink rainwater, so instead of opening the door to let them run into the backyard on their own, I put their leashes on and went out with them. It was still dark outside. I squinted my eyes to try to see the wet ground better and avoid stepping in poop. Instead, I stepped into a hill of fire ants. Believe me, I'd rather have stepped in the poop.

By the time we got back inside, both dogs were thoroughly confused by the change in our morning routine. I took their leashes off and they ran to stand expectantly in front of the treat cabinet, the next step in the usual beginning of our day. When I skipped that step, they looked at me as if they thought I’d totally lost my mind.

I can handle Butch or Kadi on a leash, but not both of them together, so my daughter came over early to go with us to the vet. Thank goodness.

This was the first time Butch has been in the car since his checkup a few days after his eye surgery last year. I was worried that he’d be afraid, that he’d remember the trauma of that experience and spend his day in fear. In fact, he was trembling as he rode in the car, but when we got to the vet’s office, you would have thought we’d just walked through the gates of Disney World. He started sniffing the floors and wagging his tail, turning enthusiastically toward each human voice he heard. “I know where I am,” he seemed to be saying, “and I have friends here.” I guess soooo. He spent a lot of time at that animal clinic last year, and he won the hearts of everybody there.

Late in the afternoon, when we went back to pick them up, I spoke to Dr. Lee, the vet who’d performed Butch’s eye surgery. “Did you see my boy?” I asked.

He smiled and said, “See him? We hung out and played for a while.” He beamed when he told us that Butch had recognized his voice. “He was in a cage with his back to me when I first saw him,” he said, “and then I spoke and he just went crazy. He knew exactly who I was.”

All in all, Butch had a pretty good day. Kadi, on the other hand, didn’t get her teeth cleaned because pre-anesthesia blood tests showed she might have a problem that would make anesthesia dangerous for her. They called to tell me what was going on, and I authorized them to do another diagnostic test. The problems Kadi was having back in June, although they’ve subsided to a large degree, may have been symptoms of something more serious.

We should have test results by Monday at the latest. In the meantime, we’ll go about our business as usual, and we’ll wait. I will not borrow trouble.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The leader of the pack

I usually enjoy the sounds of a good thunderstorm, but we've had one almost every day for the past couple of weeks. Frankly, I've reached my quota. That's enough rain, thank you very much.

In this part of the country, thunderstorms frequently mean power outages, and today I was one of the Lucky Lightning Lotto winners. I stepped into my living room after work, flipped the light switch, and nothing happened. Oh, joy! No air conditioner, no computer, no TV, no phone (except the cell).

It was unbelievably dark at only 5:30 in the afternoon. Even with the blinds open, there was barely enough light for me to find my way to the candle stash. While I was feeling around for matches, with Kadi pressing her agitated self against the back of my legs, something crossed my mind that brought a big smile to my face.

I realized that in the worst case scenario -- candles burned down to nubs, flashlight rolled out of reach under the sofa -- all I'd have to do was hold on to Butch. My little blind dog knew exactly where he was.

It made me feel good for him to have the advantage over us for a change, even if he didn't know it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Maximum mall bangs

Prompted by my sister's joy at meeting her newest grandchild yesterday, I've been thinking off and on all day about the differences between parenting and grandparenting and how much easier the latter is. I don't know whether the difference lies in an increase of patience as we grow older or a decrease in responsibility. After all, we grandparents can hand the kids back at the end of the day.

One specific Saturday with my granddaughter stands out. She was eight years old. She'd stayed with me the night before, and we were headed to the movies to see Beethoven, a Disney movie about a St. Bernard. She had her picture taken at the movie theater that day, her head resting on the back of a live St. Bernard that was there for just that purpose. I wish I had that picture to prove my point, but I'm sure she took it home with her that evening.

Up until that day, if she stayed with me, she'd let me do her hair before we went out. That time, though, she told me she could do it herself. She opened her suitcase to show me she'd brought all the necessary equipment. I loved her beautiful hair, blond and hanging to the middle of her back. All it needed, I thought, was a good brushing, and she could certainly do that.

Wrong! She stepped out of the bathroom with her hair looking as bad as I'd ever seen it. She had teased the front into the most atrocious pile of mall bangs you can imagine and sprayed them to stand about five inches high above her forehead. The thing was, though, when I was finally able to tear my eyes away from those bangs and look at her face below them, I saw a beautiful child who was positively beaming with pride. She thought she looked wonderful. That was all I needed to know. The bangs stayed. I told her how proud I was of her that she could fix her hair herself, and we went to the movies.

If either of my own daughters had botched a hairdo at that same age, I'm sure I'd have stepped in to redo it before I let them out in public. They might have messed it up later, but by golly, they were going to walk out the door looking good. I wonder now if I did that for them, or if I did it because their appearance might reflect on my motherhood credentials.

By the time my granddaughter came along, how she felt about herself was way more important to me than what strangers at the movie theater might think of either of us. I wouldn't have burst her bubble of pride for anything in the world.

In my own childhood, my mother was the critical one who pushed me to do better, and my grandmother was the one who just loved me the way I was. I preferred the unconditional approval, of course, but the things my mother taught me were important to my becoming a civilized human being with a modicum of socially acceptable behavioral skills.

If I came to any conclusion today, it was this: mothers and grandmothers have different roles to fulfill. Working together, we provide a pretty good balance.

Five generations in 1984: L-R, my mother, my grandmother, my granddaughter, me (speaking of big hair), my younger daughter.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Welcome, Presley Paige...

I've been waiting on pins and needles tonight for a call from my sister, and the call just came. Today she welcomed into the world her fourth grandchild, a beautiful baby girl. Mother and child--and the rest of the family--are doing well.

Just wanted to take a moment to welcome you into the family, little one. You'll find that we're far from perfect, but you'll have a good time and you'll be well loved.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Myassa's Dragon -- for Sandy, because she asked

Sandy’s blog, ”To Touch a Unicorn,” is a mystical place, a world of fairy tales and fantasies and all things magical. It touches a spark of imagination that lets my inner child run free, and I love to visit there.

In today’s entry Sandy tells about the Chinese legend of dragons, their origin and their magical powers. If you haven’t read it, go there now; I’ll wait for you.

Oh, there you are. Did you have a nice visit?

In response to Sandy’s post, I asked her if she’d ever heard of a dragon that’s become well known to me in recent years. With a smile, she requested more information. Now, I don’t know how old Sandy is, but I’m guessing she’s many years younger than I. Otherwise, she’d know about this legend. Or maybe she does know and just wants to hear the story.

Apparently, many centuries ago, there was a lively village girl named Myassa, who could work all day and dance all night, until one day in her 20th year. On that day, at the edge of the dark forest, she encountered a huge dragon, with blazing red eyes, his body covered in deep-green scales the size of dinner plates. This was not a fire-breathing dragon, oh, no. Instead, it was a fire-inhaling dragon. It stopped in its tracks when it saw Myassa, cocked its head to get a better look, and then, with one mighty intake of breath, sucked all the fire right out of her.

From that day forward, the legend goes, Myassa was just not the same. She still worked –- she had no choice-- but she tired quickly. And if the fiddlers and the pipers played, Myassa was content to watch the others dance and remember the days when her own feet flew.

As much as I loved fairy tales in my childhood, I was an adult before I ever heard about Myassa and her dragon. Even then, when I heard it mentioned, it was sometimes whispered, almost as an apology.

I’d say to my husband on a Saturday night, “I have a good idea; let’s get a babysitter and go dancing tonight.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” he’d say. Then he’d look at me, seeking understanding, and say, “Myassa’s dragon, you know?”

I’d ask a friend, “How’d you like to go to the fair this weekend?”

She’d shake her head and say, “I’m sorry, but I’m just not up to it. Myassa’s dragon.”

I didn’t have to hear that phrase uttered too many times before I became aware of how dramatically that particular dragon had affected Myassa and all those who encountered it after her. And then, sometime after my 50th year, I met the dragon myself. I've never been able to see its green scales and red eyes the way Myassa saw them, but the dragon has revealed its presence to me in many, many ways.

If you were to ask me today if I’d like to ride with you to Wal-Mart just to get out of the house for a little while, I’d say, “Thanks for asking, but no, I’ll stay home. Myassa’s dragon.”

If you were to see the puffs of yellow dog hair on my floor and wonder why I haven’t swept them up, there’d really be just one reason: Myassa’s dragon.

Myassa’s dragon stole into my life and sucked the energy right out of me, and I will blame it from now until the end of my days for all those things I can’t seem to get around to doing.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Losing My Prescriptions

If REM were to sing about my Saturday afternoon, it would go like this:

That’s me at the corner,
that’s me at the stoplight,
I’m leaving my prescriptions,
trying to keep up with bags
and I don’t know if I can do it,
oh, no, I’ve paid too much,
I haven’t bags enough,
I thought they were in my backseat,
I thought they were in my trunk,
I think I’m not too old to cry...

Here’s what happened: The last stop on my list of errands today was the Kmart pharmacy to pick up prescriptions. While I was in Kmart, I decided to shop for some other things and ended up walking toward my car with a cart containing a number of plastic shopping bags and other large items.

When I’d parked, I'd pulled through one parking space and into another so I wouldn't have to back out. Another car had immediately pulled into the space behind me. That would have been fine if I'd stopped after buying the prescriptions, but now I needed my trunk, which was no longer accessible. Not only that, but the cars that had parked next to me while I was in the store were so close I couldn’t squeeze the shopping cart through to reach my trunk from either side. I briefly considered putting everything in the backseat, but I'd have had to make a dozen trips, closing the car door after each one because of the narrow passage.

There was nothing to do but get in my car and pull it forward, even though that meant blocking one lane of traffic for a couple of minutes. I tossed stuff into the trunk as fast as I could, gave the (seemingly) empty cart a little push toward a group of others nearby, jumped back in the driver’s seat, and headed for home.

Fifteen minutes later, as I pulled into my driveway, it crossed my mind that I didn’t remember putting the bag of prescriptions into the car. I don’t normally put them in the trunk because of the heat, but I didn’t remember putting them anywhere in the car. The last time I’d seen that little bag, it was nestled in the kiddy-seat part of the shopping cart, right behind the big, solid-plastic flap that covers up the leg holes –- the only piece on the whole cart you can’t see through.

I took all the bags into the house, checked inside each one, then went back out to check the car again. I was mentally kicking myself all over the place. If I’d left the bag of prescriptions in the cart, I thought, they’d be long gone. No doubt some young punks trolling the parking lot would have found them and would be on their way to peddle them, pill by pill, to kids who wanted to get high. Kids who wouldn’t know the pills were for high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

I'm one of the 45 million Americans who don’t have health insurance, and those five prescriptions cost me $414. Trying to find a bright side to the situation, I reminded myself that there are a lot of people in worse shape than I am. I do have some savings. I could come up with the extra money if I had to. I’d call Kmart, and if nobody had turned the prescriptions in, I’d just ask the pharmacy to refill them and I’d suck up the loss. That’s a high price to pay for stupidity, money I certainly can’t afford to lose, but I'm old enough to know that some of life’s lessons are learned the hard way.

That train of thought was followed by another, more alarming one: it wasn't going to be that easy. All those medications were on the last refill. I’d called in for updated prescriptions a couple of times already. This time I'd have to go back to the doctor before I could get new ones. Well, I thought, maybe the pharmacist could call the doctor and get her to approve just one more refill of each medication. Surely they’d all understand the situation. But at nearly 5:00 p.m. on a Saturday, how much would they care?

I fumbled through the phone book. By the time I found Kmart’s number, I was in a state of high anxiety. In the high-pitched, whiny voice that I detest but can’t seem to control, I told the girl who answered the phone that I’d left there less than 30 minutes ago and had left a bag of prescriptions in the parking lot. She asked for my name. I gave it to her, and she said, “I have your prescriptions at the service desk.” That’s when I burst into tears. Thank God for good Samaritans!

I’d worry that this might have been a “senior moment” if I hadn’t done things like this occasionally throughout my life. I’ve left half a dozen umbrellas in restaurants over the course of the past 20 years. Usually, I’ve been lucky (knocking on wood here) and the more important items I’ve left behind have been found.

My self-confidence took a hit today, but there's no question in my mind that I got off easy. What will I remember most about this incident? No question about that, either; I'll remember the kindness of strangers.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The temptation was unbearable

Did you see the news about Barney, the doberman who tore up a teddy bear once owned by Elvis? I saw it on the Today Show the other morning, and I don't know which was funnier--the look on Barney's face as he stood among the ruins, or the laughter that the show's off-camera people couldn't hold back.

Here's a link to the Today Show segment. You'll have to click on the "Launch" button and sit through a short commercial, but it's worth it.

Then, if you're interested in more details, try this link to the CBC interview. This time, click on the Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld video.

If you own or have ever owned a dog, you can almost imagine how something like this could have happened. I would have loved to have been able to read Barney's mind right about the time he began to think this would be a good idea.


He's baaaaaack!

Arriving home from work yesterday, I stopped my car at the end of the driveway to check the mailbox and noticed my son-in-law's pickup truck parked by my house. About that time I saw him in the backyard, passing by on the riding mower. And about three feet behind him, I saw this guy:

This is the first time I've seen the peacock since the long visit I posted about back in June. The hen hasn't been around, either. We're at least a month past the incubation period for peacock eggs (according to various Internet sources), so I guess the nest full of "peababies" I'd hoped to see didn't exist--at least not nearby.

When my son-in-law stopped the mower, I commented, "Looks like you had some help back there."

"I did," he said, "and he's been following me like a dog."

The peacock stuck around for a while, looking for goodies in the fresh-cut grass. I, having learned my lesson with last week's grass-allergy problems, didn't go out to play with him this time. But you can bet I have fresh batteries in the camera in case he comes around over the weekend.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Outdoor plumbing

There was a reference to an outhouse in a blog I read yesterday, and my mind immediately flashed back to the one time in my life when I had the misfortune opportunity to visit an outhouse. It happened sometime in the 50s, when we lived in Missouri, but I have no idea whose property we were on or why we were there. I do, however, have some pretty specific memories about my outhouse experience:

The smell.
Admittedly, one outhouse is a small sample, so I don't know if they all smell that bad. The scent of that one seems to have permanently imbedded itself in my brain in a matter of minutes. There's no doubt in my mind that if someone blindfolded me and led me into that outhouse, I'd recognize my surroundings without touching a thing.

The darkness.
It was broad daylight outside, but the only light in the outhouse was the little bit of sunlight coming through the cracks between the boards and the cut-out on the door. Must have been scary at night. (Lanterns, maybe?)

The floor plan.
I don't know whether this is an unusual thing or not, but this particular outhouse was a two-holer. That may have been the first time in my life I'd ever considered the possibility that there might be pairs of people who'd enjoy sitting side by side as they answered Nature's call.

The black holes.
Maybe outhouses are designed to be dark so people can't see what lurks beneath the cut-out seat. When I looked in, all I saw was blackness. The hole appeared to be very, very deep.

My little sister's love. This one surprises you, no doubt, but it's the reason why this outhouse memory is an important one for me. I don't know how old we were, certainly no older than six and ten. However old my sister was, that's how many years it had been (from my spoiled perspective) since she'd ruined the good thing I'd had going on. She'd singlehandedly destroyed my queendom by virtue of (a) being born and (b) being especially cute. I would be grown before I'd understand that she hadn't done it on purpose.

That day at the outhouse, though, I found out she loved me in spite of our sibling rivalry. I might never have known her true feelings even then if she hadn't peered into one of those deep black holes and become mightily afraid. As for myself, I was desperate. I moved past her, pulled down my shorts and my pastel, day-of-the-week panties, and perched over the edge of a hole that was way bigger than my skinny bottom. And that's when my little sister, in an act of love that moves me to this day, dropped to a squat on the ground in front of me, wrapped her arms tightly around my dangling legs, and held on for dear life until I was finished.

Sis, I haven't thought about this in years and years, and I wonder if you remember it at all. Whether you do or not, I just want to tell you how much I appreciated your concern that day. That was possibly the first time in my life that I came close to falling into deep s**t, and you were there to save me. Sure wish you'd been around some of the later times.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mama-Too

I've never been a stickler for celebrating a birthday on the exact anniversary of the birth, but my nonchalant attitude about it didn't come from my mother. Her birthday was her special day, and any acknowledgment of it before or after that exact 24-hour period didn't count. Today's the day, and I'm not about to let it pass without recognition.

My mother, christened Wanda June, acquired a new name on this day when she held my firstborn child. As much as she loved my new daughter, she was less than thrilled at the idea of being called "grandma." After all, she was only 38 years old. Before the day was out, she had named herself "Mama-Too"--as in, "I feel like I'm her mama, too." More grandchildren followed, and the name stuck.

For most of my adult life, I've lived geographically apart from my mother. We kept in touch by mail or long-distance calls, and in the last two decades of her life, I lived near enough that we could visit two or three times a year. Always, though, I was acutely aware of the distance between us.

Her death in 1999 came unexpectedly. The shock of it left her children and grandchildren with a pain so raw and open that, for a number of years, it was her death, not her life, that came to mind when we thought of her. I can still tap into that pain in the span of a heartbeat, but time has been kind. In the memories that come first these days, she is very much alive.

I'd read enough to expect that the grief would diminish with time, but something else has happened that I never would have imagined. The distance I always felt between my mother and me has completely disappeared. In fact, I feel closer to her now than I ever have, and the whole idea of that just knocks my socks off.

In the first years after Mother's death, I'd frequently catch myself wanting to pick up the phone to call her and talk about something I'd seen on the news or something that had happened in the family. Each time was a fresh reminder that I couldn't talk to her anymore. And then, one day, I discovered I could. She doesn't talk back, so it isn't exactly a discussion that we have, but we do have a connection.

This reconfigured relationship with my mother isn't a "ghostly" thing. I don't see her or hear her. I don't "feel her presence" in a literal sense. Somehow, I just know she's with me. In fact, it seems that she's with a number of us, and she's chosen a unique way to make us aware of it.

My mother was famous in our family for her uncanny ability to pull into a crowded parking lot and find an empty space right in front of the door. It happened so regularly that we began to take it for granted, and it never failed to delight her.

I don't know how long it was after Mother died--a couple of years at least--before I noticed that I'd been having a string of exceptionally good luck finding parking places. I began to pay attention. It doesn't happen every time, but more often than not, I'll drive in and find a prime parking spot without any extra effort. Soon after I noticed this unusual good luck, I got in the habit of saying, "Thank you, Mama-Too," each time it happened.

After a while, I mentioned it to my daughters. Both of them told me they'd begun to notice the same phenomenon as they ran their own errands. They, too, began responding, "Thank you, Mama-Too."

After a year or so of privileged parking, I went on a road trip with my sister and her husband. Miles and miles into the trip, while we were talking about Mother, I risked raising their concerns about my sanity by telling them, in a joking way, that Mother had been helping my girls and me find good parking places. To my surprise, this wasn't news to them. "The same thing's been happening to us," my sister said. "It happens all the time, and every time it does, we say, 'Thank you, Mama-Too.'"

Now, you might think our fortunate parking experiences are just random events in the universe. Or you might think that nothing's changed at all, that we just pay more attention to the good parking experiences than the bad ones. You might possibly be right, but don't even think about saying those things to me. All I know is that every single time it happens--and it happens a lot--I get a huge rush of joy and an immediate mental image of my beautiful mother, laughing out loud in delight at her own cleverness, letting us know she's still around.

Happy birthday, Mama-Too, and thank you. Thank you for everything.