Thursday, November 30, 2006

Photo Night: Through the car window on a rainy day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dog treats -- natural and otherwise

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

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

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

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

Silly Kadi.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Now that we know where we stand...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

Microchipping me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

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

...when I'm 64?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I wish I knew...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you see any clues I'm missing?

Friday, November 24, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Photo Night: Turkeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

First frost

Last night, for the first time this year, the weatherman warned us to bring outside pets indoors for the night. Butch and Kadi let me sleep indoors with them all the time, but the weatherman was right: this gorgeous day began with frost on the ground.

I've always associated Thanksgiving with cool, crisp air. In fact, there's something about snuggling into a warm place on a cold day that never fails to inspire a spirit of thankfulness in me, regardless of the day. Add a good book and my gratitude multiplies.

Wherever you are tomorrow, I wish you safe travels, good company, good food, and love.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Today I Didn't Cry

Another blogger’s post yesterday reminded me of this poem I wrote many, many years ago. I’ve often told others that the best part of getting older is the wisdom, gained through experience, to know that when life dumps a load of misery on your head, you will get through it.

I think these words may affirm something the other blogger already knows. Or maybe there’s someone else out there who needs a reminder that life does, indeed, go on. At the very least, I know my sister likes this one.

Today I didn’t cry.
The tears were there as usual,
Just below the surface,
Waiting to spill forth
As liquid proof
Of the parasitic pain
That feeds endlessly on my spirit.
But today I didn’t cry.

There was a necessary time
For quiet desperation,
For grieving and for mourning
The erosion of a dream.
Now it's time to turn my thoughts
Outside myself.
Today, for the first day in a long time,
I didn’t cry.

The tears I’ve shed have blinded me.
Today I blinked them back
And saw that life exists
Beyond the boundaries
Of my disillusionment.
I looked around and understood
That there is much I want to do.
Today I didn’t cry.

Today, with unclouded vision,
I saw the opportunities
That life is offering me.
If I will open my heart
To release the pain I’m holding inside
And reach out to the world around me,
I will find richness and fulfillment
And the chance to dream again.
Today I didn’t cry.

Tomorrow I will sing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sometimes you get what you wish for

As my son-in-law finished carving the turkey for yesterday's early Thanksgiving dinner, my two daughters pulled the wishbone. The one who ended up with the short, broken end of the bone smiled and said to her sister, "Well, it's your loss. I wished to be a better person."

We all had a good laugh, but I've been thinking today what a great world this would be if everybody made wishes like that.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Holiday head start

When this coming Thursday rolls around, I'll join the rest of the nation in acknowledging Thanksgiving Day. I'll be mindful all day long of expressing gratitude for my family and for the many other blessings in my life. As for the Thanksgiving feast, we did that part today.

My younger daughter and her husband have a blended family. They have five children between them, and the three older ones have significant others of their own. Between two sets of parents each, plus future in-laws, it takes a lot of planning and flexibility for the kids to spend time with all their family members during the holidays. Today, all of them came together for an early Thanksgiving dinner except the oldest boy, who's a U.S. Marine stationed in Virginia. His girlfriend joined us in his absence.

I feel so content right now. My belly is full of turkey and all the trimmings, and the refrigerator is full of leftovers for tomorrow. Most of all, my heart is full of love for these special people who are my family. They're warm and witty, and there's so much laughter when we're all together that a smile stays on my face for hours afterward.

Life is good. One day probably isn't enough for Thanksgiving anyway.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

School days, what-a-fool days

This morning, checking out Annie's blog, I read this post, which included a reference to a familiar song from my childhood:

"School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days,
Reading and writing and 'rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick,
You were my queen in calico,
I was your bashful barefoot beau,
And you wrote on my slate,
"I love you so,"
When we were a couple of kids." *

I remember that song well, but not in a good way. I ruined any pleasant associations with it in sixth grade.

As I've demonstrated here, here and here, the genre of parody appeals to me enormously. It always has. Even as far back as sixth grade.

My sixth grade teacher was a large woman, tall and stout, with a cap of short, tight, gray curls and a stern demeanor. I can still picture her clearly, and I still remember how intimidated I felt in her presence. Mostly, I tried not to draw attention to myself in her classroom.

One day, for some reason I can't remember, I amused myself and a couple of other kids at lunchtime by singing them a parody I'd made up to the tune of "School Days." I sang it quietly and furtively, and we had a good laugh.

Unfortunately, I hadn't been quiet and furtive enough. Another student overhead me. A student, coincidentally, who (a) felt it was his moral duty to report such a breach of manners to the teacher, or (b) recognized a great opportunity to rat me out just because he could.

I finished my lunch, tossed my brown paper sack in the trashcan and headed for the playground. Just before I stepped out the door, Miss Engleking caught me by the arm and said, "Come here just a minute."

Uh-oh. "What were you singing?" she asked.

"Who, me? Um...I wasn't singing anything...I don't think."

"Oh," she said, "that's not what I heard."

"Well, I don't remember singing, so I don't know what song it could have been."

She wasn't buying it. "Someone told me you were singing a song about me, and I'd like to hear it."

With that, the jig was up. I ducked my head, turned red as a beet, and whined, "It wasn't really anything, it was just silly."

Drawing herself up to her full height (about eight feet as I recall), she said, "I want you to sing it. Here. Now. Loud."

So there I stood, next to the table where all the teachers sat and watched, and, voice quavering, sang this:

"School days, school days,
Darned old golden rule days,
Reading and writing and 'rithmetic,
All put together they make me sick,
We are the slaves of Miss Engleking,
She doesn't look like a human being..."

There was more, but I no longer remember it. There was something about her being fat (which I am now; karma is a bitch), and something about her being mean.

The other thing I remember, besides the horrible awkwardness and embarrassment, is what happened when I finished singing. Miss Engleking laughed, and then she encouraged me. She told me the song was "very clever" and that I should write more to develop my writing skills. Then she added one more bit of advice: "Next time, though, try to write something that will make someone feel good."

Miss Engleking, I think it would make you feel good to read that I took your words to heart.

* Music by Gus Edwards; Lyrics by Will D. Cobb, 1907

Friday, November 17, 2006

A poem for my gardenia bush

O lovely shrub,
your flow'rs are sweet
and pleasing to the eye.

But if your leaves
turn brown and drop,
I shall not wonder why.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Photo Night: Moon Shots

Here it is, Photo Night again already. This week I didn't actively stalk my surroundings to take new photos, so I've pulled together a few I've taken over the past few months.

At different times on different evenings, when the full moon hovered over the backyard and challenged me to capture a decent photo of it, I took dozens of moon shots. Most of them were blurry and awful. I haven't read up on nighttime photography, and I couldn't usually hold the camera steady enough to take crisp photos. Still, I got lucky a few times. I'm not sure how many photos of the full moon anybody needs, so I've just picked out a few and will toss 'em your way.

Yesterday, I took my camera to work. Coincidentally, there was a plumber there, bending over while he worked on my leaky toilet. So here, as the grand finale for the Moon Shots theme, I present...

Nah, just kidding. I thought seriously about it but couldn't bring myself to take a picture of the plumber in the end.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lola, traveling light

This entry, posted by Creekhiker yesterday, prompted me to tell you a story I’d planned to save for later in the year, for the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. I’ve told this story to almost everyone in my family, and I’ve often told it to others when they experienced the loss of a loved one. I can’t explain it and won’t attempt to label it. All I know is that it happened to me at a time when I was wide awake, and it changed forever the way I think about death and eternity.

This is a photo of my granddaughter with my grandmother, Lola, whom we called Mammaw. Mammaw was 91 when I took this picture in her home in May of 1988. Before the end of that year she would have another birthday, be confined to a nursing home because of the debilitating effects of the morphine she was prescribed to control the pain of cancer, and face a losing battle with that illness.

Until she was 90 and her family insisted she stop driving, Mammaw made the rounds each Sunday morning to pick up younger members of her Sunday School class who needed transportation. She took care of her home, dusted (not washed) her old Chevy as needed, visited with neighbors and family, and was a vital, active individual. For as long as I can remember, she was the consummate positive thinker.

I grew up living in Mammaw’s home, along with my mother and sister. When my mother remarried and we moved from Missouri to Texas, Mammaw and Packy, my grandfather, followed us about three years later. A few years after that I was the one to move away with my husband and family.

In the late 80s, after my children were grown and my husband and I had parted ways, I lived in Baton Rouge in a townhouse apartment. Mother visited me there numerous times, but Mammaw never did. She and Mother both told me that Mammaw wanted to come with Mother, but Mother was afraid the trip would be too hard on her. Despite Mammaw’s protests, she stayed home.

On December 4, 1888, Mammaw died. She’d been in a tremendous amount of pain. As much as we grieved her loss, we were relieved that her terrible suffering had ended. I went to Texas for the funeral, then returned to Baton Rouge and slipped back into my routine.

One morning, about two weeks after her death, I stepped out of the shower, dried myself off, and stood in front of the bathroom mirror to put on my makeup for work. I was thinking about the day ahead of me when I suddenly had an uneasy feeling that someone was standing behind me in the cramped bathroom space. It was such a strong feeling that I looked over my shoulder...and there was Mammaw, smiling a huge smile. “I finally got here,” she said.

I was stunned. I knew Mammaw had died, but I could see her. In fact, as I stood there gawking at her, I became uncomfortably aware that I was still naked from the shower. I felt embarrassed and tried to cover up with my hands, then I felt ridiculous for being embarrassed in front of someone who couldn’t possibly be there.

Mammaw was wearing a dress I remembered, its gray flowers outlined in black and scattered across a white background. I couldn’t see her shoes because nothing existed below the approximate area of her hemline. The rest of her was complete. She appeared to be in excellent health and a few years younger than her actual age. She was translucent, rather than transparent, and a soft light seemed to both surround her and pass through her.

I didn’t know what to think, but an overwhelming sense of happiness came over me. Then I watched her begin to move, still smiling, toward the closet that contained the water heater. She passed quickly through the closed door and then was gone.

I needed time to decide if I was losing my mind, so I didn’t tell anyone about Mammaw’s visit until a few weeks later, when I went back to Texas and talked to Mother. By that time I’d decided to accept the experience as the gift it was, whatever it was, because it made me so happy.

From that day forward, I’ve been unafraid of death. I’m not in a hurry for it, mind you, and the idea of dying painfully is frightening, but the thought of passing from this plane of existence into the next one holds no fear at all.

Most of the time, when I tell this story, I expect it to be greeted with disbelief. I try to relate the experience in a neutral way, just reporting what I experienced without attaching any particular belief system to it. If there’s something about it that gives a person hope, I’m delighted, but I also understand if it's met with skepticism.

What’s surprised me most is that for every person who has raised an eyebrow after hearing this story, someone else has responded with a similar tale of their own. Whatever I experienced, there's apparently a lot of it going on.

I'm confident I'll see Mammaw again one day. If it happens at her place, rather than mine, I’ll smile my biggest smile and tell her, “I finally got here.”

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Nothing. Much ado about it.

Let's see, should I write about my early-morning trip to Baton Rouge in pouring-down rain? Nah, the new service roads kept traffic moving pretty well, considering.

Oh, I know, what about the fact that it was a trip to the dentist? Nope. It was just a routine cleaning, nothing interesting about that. I suppose I could get a paragraph or two out of the dentist's extra charge of $47 for spending less than a minute to tighten a wire on my partial with a pair of pliers. Huh-uh. I didn't believe it; why should you?

Hmm. I might get some blog mileage out of stopping at home to let the dogs out on my way back to work after the dentist. It was still raining, so when Butch and Kadi came back inside, I had to dry them off with a towel, and I got yellow dog hair all over my black pants. No, I'd better just do with that idea what I did with the dog hair: brush it off and say "to hell with it."

Oh! Okay, two hours after I got to work, I went to use the restroom and discovered that somebody had gone in there while I was at the dentist, somebody who didn't know that the toilet leaks if you don't jiggle the handle. I could write about discovering water standing all over the bathroom floor, water that ran across the hall and under the door into a corner of my office, where a cardboard box of files was wicking it up like a sponge. Another angle to that story would be the part where I tried to blot up the water, and we only had half a roll of paper towels, and I couldn't leave to buy more until my boss got back to the office, and after I finally went out and bought $12 worth of paper towels, I spent 45 minutes blotting up water. But maybe I shouldn't write about that either. To write it accurately, I'd have to include too much cursing.

This is hard. The only other thing I can think of to write about would be stopping at Taco Bell on the way home to get supper for Kim and me. There was a long line of cars, so instead of checking the bag they gave me immediately, I pulled up to let the next car get to the window, and it might be amusing to tell how I thought they'd given me the wrong order, how I waited five minutes for an opportunity to make a left-turn so I could go inside (in the rain) and get the right items, and how I finally gave up and drove home with the mystery order. The surprise ending could be how I apologized to Kim for not having the patience to wait, and how we opened the bag and it was exactly what we had ordered, only the wrappers said "chicken" on one side and "steak" on the other. Nah, that's not funny.

That settles it. I don't have anything to write about tonight. I'm just gonna post a couple of pictures.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Killer vs. Fluffy

Something happened on this week's episode of The Bachelor that induced a flashback to the stupidest argument I ever had. The bachelor himself, Prince Lorenzo, took one of the three remaining bachelorettes to an amusement park, where he coincidentally (wink-wink) won her a big red stuffed dog. He asked her what she was going to name the dog. She said, "I think he looks like a 'Fred,'" and he said, "'Fred'? Well, I think he looks like a 'Simon.'" Whereupon she promptly declared the stuffed dog's name would be 'Simon-Fred.'

That's all it took to send my mind reeling back about 20 years to a time when I actually participated in an argument about an imaginary dog.

The man in my life (the one pictured here in the priest costume) went to a Crime Stoppers meeting one night. The next day he told me a little bit about the home security measures he'd learned the night before, then he made a request that struck me as just a bit odd:

He: "I need you to help me think up a name for a dog."

Me: "Huh?"

He: "They told us it's good to have a watchdog, but if you don't have a dog, you should make it look like you have one. A big one. They said to put a dog dish in the yard and put a name on it that sounds like something you'd name a really large dog. So I need you to help me think of a name."

Me: "Well, I see what they're trying to do, but I think that's going a little too far.

He: "Whaddaya mean?"

Me: "Most people don't put their dog's name on its dish. They put the food in the dish, and the dog eats out of it and understands that it's his dish."

He: "You're missing the point. The name should be something like 'Killer' or 'King' or something like that, not 'Fluffy' or some small dog's name. It's so a burglar would think there's a big dog in the yard."

Me: "No, I get it, but you could accomplish the same thing just by getting a really big dog dish."

He: "What do you have against putting the dog's name on the dish?"

Me: "I just think it's stupid. If you have two dogs, you might want to put their names on their dishes in case you need to tell them apart, you know, if you want to feed them differently or something. But if you only have one dog, you don't need its name on the dish. The dog can't read!"

He: (After a pause) "You're not being very helpful."

Me: "You know what? I'm running late. It's your dog; you name it."

After thinking about it for a while, I came to two conclusions: I was right about not needing the name on the dog dish, and he was right that I wasn't being helpful. The next time I'm asked to name a huge dog that will never even exist, I'll just suggest something like "Maximus" or "Hulk" and keep the rest of my thoughts to myself.

Holy crap! Blogger is down!

I'm late posting tonight because I was having a hard time thinking of anything to write about. A halfway good idea came to me while I was watching The Bachelor, but when I came back to the computer to write it up, I could no longer view my Velvet Sacks page.

If you can see this, you know that I was able to log on to, but whether this will post or not is a mystery. For now, I'm gonna forget about what I intended to write and hit the "publish" button to see if I can get this out there in time to keep my posting-something-every-day-during-November streak going.

Since I may not be able to see for myself whether this really and truly posted, could you possibly do me a favor? If you read this before midnight of November 13th, would you please send me a short e-mail ( to let me know it's up? I'd be so grateful. Here goes!


UPDATE: Well, Blogger seems to be working again. That was certainly weird. I could view some blogspot blogs and not others, and there was an "access denied" type of message when I tried to view my own. If you sent me an e-mail, I appreciate it, but guess my e-mail server is down. It's that kind of night, folks.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Teaching my eyes to see

For a period of time when my children were very young, I didn't own a camera. That fact has led to a thousand apologies from me to my younger daughter for the lack of pictures proving her existence prior to the age of three. There was also a brief, camera-less period in the early 80s. I left my camera in San Franciso then, along with the film record of my trip to that beautiful place.

For most of the rest of my adult life, I've owned a camera of one kind or another, and I realize now that I've always been stingy with it. The camera rarely came out of its case except for special occasions: holidays, first days of school, vacations, visits with distant family members, and visits to tourist attractions.

Don't get me wrong; I treasure those photos and spend time looking at them regularly. They're the first things I'd grab in case of a fire (other than my dogs, obviously). The memories connected to them bring me immense joy. It's just that the pleasure in the pictures is associated only with the people and the places; there was nothing at all special about the experience of taking the photographs.

My first digital camera, purchased in February of this year, changed everything. Maybe it's the instant gratification of seeing the photos immediately or the freedom of knowing it isn't wasteful to take as many shots as necessary to get a good one. Maybe it's the zoom lens that lets me see detail that was never visible before. Perhaps it's the ability to rotate a digital photo a few degrees left or right to straighten it up or the ease with which I can crop out the ugly, unwanted portions.

Whatever it is, I'm in love with it. These days I'm all about light and shadow, lines and angles, softness and sharpness, and color, vivid color that distinguishes one shade of green from another and helps me see individual trees instead of a single patch of woods.

I took my camera to work with me two days this week so I could photograph any octagons I might find. Along the way, I found so much more. It's been there all along, but without the camera I didn't bother to look for it.

This bright red barn, in use as a kennel now, is hard not to notice. In fact it always catches my eye as I pass it. What I never saw until this past week is the row of trees framing it so beautifully.

If you had asked me whether or not there was a vacant lot across the street from my office, I wouldn't have remembered it. I've always looked at the buildings on either side of the lot. When my camera was with me, though, I stepped out of the office, locked the door, and turned to see the setting sun painting this wide space with Autumn colors.

Exiting I-10, waiting at the stoplight, I looked to my left and saw these little trees silhouetted directly under a tiny white jet trail: a photo waiting to be taken.

This one is my very favorite. A big, new house was built about three years ago on a corner lot where I turn left at least twice a day. I've always focused on the house as I approach the corner, then the road as I make the turn. This week, trying to see things differently, I looked behind the house and saw trees and light and this wonderfully rustic garden shed.

I'm a novice in the photographic arena, and it's thrilling to think about the possibilities that will grow with every new thing I learn. Who knew I'd find a new adventure at this stage of my life? I feel like Dorothy. I'm off to see the wizard and a whole lot more.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

How to change the world

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that Oprah has changed times (and networks) in this area and now comes on at 9:00 p.m.--a time when I'm actually home and can watch it if I want to. This past Thursday I did just that, and it was one of the best, most thought-provoking hours I've spent in a long time.

The subject was a program called Challenge Day, designed specifically for high school students but equally suited, in my opinion, for adults. It's a program designed to break down barriers between students of different backgrounds, to minimize clique behavors and bullying.

There were 64 students participating from the school chosen for Oprah's Challenge Day experiment, a racially diverse group featuring a mix of the athletes, the scholars, the most popular kids and the most unpopular ones, the goths, the gays and the chubbies. The program was developed to teach the participants that they were much more alike than different.

One of the first things the students were taught was American Sign Language for "I love you." The kids were encouraged to display that sign whenever they felt moved to show love for one another during the Challenge, and let me tell you, they showed some love. The tears rolled down my face for an hour as I watched these kids become vulnerable, open and honest. You could see the light of understanding dawning in their eyes as they learned the truth about each other.

I started to link you to the Oprah site (it's if you want it), but given the time limitations that plague all of us, I think you'd get more out of Challenge Day's own site. Spend a little time there if you can and check out these videos. If you only have time for one, watch "Part 2: Lines that Divide Us." It's a pretty powerful demonstration that none of us is alone.

I know some of you are teachers and others are mothers of school-aged kids. If you haven't heard of Challenge Day before, I hope this brief exposure to it will inspire you to get more information and consider introducing this program to your schools. An experience like this, one that opens minds, can be life altering. I'd like to see it in every high school in the country, and if someone could figure out a way to get adults to participate in a similar program (maybe as a prerequisite for voter registration), I think we'd all be better off.

If you saw this Oprah show or have first-hand knowledge of this program, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Until I have solid evidence otherwise, I'll have to agree with Oprah: "This is how we change the world."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Automotively challenged

If you happened to be near my home or office recently, and if you happened to notice a woman driving a late-model sedan with all the apparent difficulty of parallel parking a loaded log truck, that would have been me.

I only have 10,000 miles on the car, but for the past few weeks, when I first start the engine, the steering is as stiff as George Bush's upper lip has been since Tuesday. It loosens up and becomes nimble and quick again in the space of about half a block, so I, not being particularly nimble and quick myself, haven't rushed to do anything about it.

This week a loud, groaning noise began accompanying the leaden movements of the steering wheel. On Wednesday somebody asked me about the horrible noise coming from my car, and that prompted me to go ahead and make a service appointment.

A nice guy who works next door to my office volunteered to take a look under the hood this morning. He said the power steering fluid level was really low and there might be a leak, then he prepped me on what to say to the service representative. He said it would be best to go in there acting like I knew some stuff so they wouldn't try to take advantage of me. As there's only about a thimbleful of car knowledge mixed in with the comparatively massive amount of trivial stuff I do know, I appreciated the assistance.

I dropped the car off this afternoon, a friendly smile on my lips and my best little "automotive lady" spiel spilling out of them, and left with my daughter to do some other things while they worked on it. A couple of hours later, the service rep called and said all they'd had to do was add power steering fluid. He said they'd checked the pump, which was fine, and they'd looked for leaks without finding any. He said the only thing they could think of to explain the low level of fluid was that it had come from the factory without enough fluid in it. "Maybe there was an air bubble in there preventing it from filling up with the proper amount of fluid."

Maybe so. I drove my last car for ten years before trading it in, and I don't remember having to add power steering fluid to it in all that time. That's ten years for the old car compared to fourteen months for this one. Must have been some air bubble.

I'll keep an eye on the situation, but the car's driving like a dream, and it's nice and quiet again. I suppose it's possible that they checked everything they should have checked and that I won't have to take it back again in two weeks. I'll think positive for now.

In the meantime, I'm ready to move on to my next automotive hassle: getting a new inspection sticker. The not-so-current sticker now on the windshield expired at the end of August. Unfortunately, it's been about that long since I've found a perfectly good day to ruin by waiting in line at the auto inspection place. Maybe tomorrow will be one.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Photo Night: Octagons

This photo-night thing has turned out to be more fun than I thought it would be, at least from the photographer's perspective. It's been like a 24/7 scavenger hunt; pick a topic, then go out and find it. This week I've scouted out octagons, and the hunting was pretty good.

This bedpost at the foot of my bed is the first octagon I see in the morning. There are three other matching ones, but this is the one I hold onto while I shake the circulation back into my legs.

From my driveway I can see this louvered octagonal vent on my neighbor’s boat shed.

As much as I love this eight-sided box, you'd think I'd have dusted it better before I took its picture. I'll have to take a wet Q-tip to that center part.

This one's a twofer. By rough calculations, I figure I must have passed this little house at least 4,400 times in the last eight years. It never caught my eye until I started watching for octagons.

When the weight of my purse makes me lean me to one side, it's time to dump the change. It's fun to go through this box to search for specific state quarters to add to my collection.

This pretty office building, with its angled roofline and octagon-shaped window, is on my route to work. At the other end of the building is a cafe that serves wonderful muffins.

This old, reliable clock hangs on my living room wall. But I don't need a clock to tell me it's time to wrap up this post. Enough about octagons, already.

Just one more photo and I'll

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Peevish, peckish, petulant

I'm so tired. I don't feel like talking to anyone and I don't feel like writing, and if you don't feel like reading this stream-of-consciousness rant, I totally understand where you're coming from.

My best guess is that a lot of people in this country are disappointed today, a lot plus a few thousand are happy and hopeful, and a whole other segment of the population doesn't have a clue that anything interesting was going on. I imagine even all of the happy people were cross today because they stayed up late and didn't get enough sleep. But maybe that's just me.

Work was harder than usual today. In fact, of all the folks who came into the office, only two were pleasant. Those two came late this afternoon and were so nice that if I hadn't recognized them, I'd have been sure they were in the wrong place. The operative word of the day was cranky. But maybe that's just me.

When I got home from work, Butch and Kadi barked their heads off as they waited for me to open the gate and let them into the living room. It wasn't excited, we're-so-happy-to-see-you barking, it was demanding. "You were 20 minutes late," they seemed to be saying, "Where the hell were you?" But maybe that's just me.

It might have been nicer if I'd skipped posting tonight and spared you this diatribe. Under normal circumstances, that's just what I'd have done. But this is November. I said I was gonna try to post something every day this month, and by golly I am. I'm writing it, I'm posting it, it's five paragraphs long now, it is what it is, and I think it'll do. But maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What do you make of the election returns?

If you're like me (and happen to live in the U.S.) you're gonna be glued to the TV tonight, watching election returns with your fingers crossed. If you want to take a break to stretch your legs--and your mind--join me in one of my favorite childhood games.

What do I make of the election returns? Well, here's what I made out of the word RETURNS: nest, nets, nuts, rents, rest, reruns, runs, runes, rust, ruts, sent, set, stern, stun, sure, tens, terns, true, turns. (Ha! Some of these words seem appropriate to the context.)

Add to my list if you want, or start your own with words made from ELECTION or POLITICIANS. You don't have to do it all at once. Put up a few words, then come back later and add more.

If you aren't sure about a word, here's a link to one of my favorite resources:

My other option for a blog subject tonight was how I think everyone should have voted and why. Somehow, the word game choice seemed a whole lot safer.

Have fun!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Twenty Minutes at the Office

Black clouds circled, low and swift,
and made us think about tornados.
I wondered if we'd recognize
the sound of one in time,
and he said, "If we're hit,
where would you go?"

We watched the skies and saw
in other doors and windows
neighbors' worried faces
peering out to do the same.
"Don't go now," one shouted, "Save
your errands for tomorrow."

Hard rain came from all directions.
We watched it roll in waves
across the parking lots, in sheets
across the canning factory's tin roof.
Cars and trucks passed slowly,
raising giant rooster tails.

Wind pushed through the narrow crack
around our glass front door,
blew it open far enough
to ring the bell, then sucked it back
and slammed it shut
like a bad-tempered child.

Thunderstorms are common
on Louisiana afternoons,
but this one wasn't ordinary.
Threatening, menacing,
it warned us, "Call your children,
say 'I love you' one more time."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Procrasti Nation: my country of origin

Yesterday I took a "before" picture of my messy desk area, books and papers piled literally a foot high in some spots. My plan was to clean it up, get organized again, then take an "after" photo so you and I both would know how it's supposed to look.

Uh...the "after" shot will have to wait a while longer. I've made some progress, but there's still a lot to do.

Here are some of the things that were on my desk (two desks, actually) at the beginning of the day:

  • Printouts of my first four months of blog entries, except for those I gave to someone who "doesn't like to read online";
  • Eight different stacks of genealogy research printouts;
  • Two genealogy books;
  • One website-creation book and four pages of HTML code;
  • A reverse dictionary and a book on American slang;
  • A stack of two non-fiction and five fiction books that were moved to my desk "temporarily" when a nearby shelf broke;
  • Two identical 2006 Ascension Parish telephone directories and a 2004 Baton Rouge phonebook;
  • Two fold-out maps: Baton Rouge and Missouri;
  • At least a hundred photographs, scattered in little stacks;
  • Assorted utility bill receipts and bank statements;
  • My great-aunt Hazel's diary covering January 1942 to September 1944;
  • My own well-worn baby book;
  • A sympathy card that wasn't mailed within a decent amount of time;
  • A delicious-sounding recipe for corn casserole (already misplaced and probably in the trash);
  • Assorted CDs, DVDs, zip disks and 3-1/2" floppies;
  • Two empty softwear boxes and two unopened (free) ones;
  • Three looseleaf binders of computer, electronics and appliance manuals;
  • One book of logic puzzles;
  • Things you'd expect to see, like the stapler, Post-Its, paper clips, tape, and more pens and markers than any human needs.

  • This process would be so much easier if I could focus on the task at hand. I have well-organized files to put papers into, but do I pick up a piece of paper and put it in it's proper place (Peter Piper)? No. I read it, and I think about it, and it reminds me of something else, and there I go, off on another tangent.

    There've been distractions, too. Saddam Hussein received the death sentence and another religious leader crashed and burned. I finished one really good book and started another. I read part of the Sunday paper. Chocolate covered cherries are in the refrigerator and keep calling my name. I had nice phone chats with both of my daughters. Kadi and Butch have had to go in and out a number of times, and sometimes they just needed their bellies rubbed. And when I sit at my desk and look out the window toward the neighbor's yard, I see golden sunshine, blue morning glories, white lattice and green leaves.

    Who can work with all that going on?

    Saturday, November 04, 2006

    It's a's a plane...

    Although I've never witnessed it, I'm sure it takes my son-in-law longer to get undressed than it takes you or me. The ballcap would come off first, of course, then the Nike sneakers and socks, followed by the sweatshirt or T-shirt (depending on the season), and the pants. That would leave him standing there in his Superman suit. I'm positive he wears one, and if cell phones hadn't caused the near extinction of phone booths, I'm sure I'd have seen it by now. He's come to my rescue too many times to count.

    Today he fixed my heater.

    First he mowed the lawn, and when I went outside to thank him, he made the mistake of asking, "Is everything else okay?" I swear I wouldn't have mentioned the heater if he hadn't asked, but he did and I did. And in about 20 minutes he had it working. He checked a number of things, in the progressive, systematic way he does everything, and found a sticky valve. He unstuck it.

    And tomorrow morning, while he's up early tucking the tail of his red cape into his jeans, Kadi, Butch and I will be toasty warm.

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    Just chillin'

    Last night was the first time since the end of February that it's been cool enough to turn on the heat. A little chill settled around my shoulders as I watched TV, so I got up and flipped the central-heat switch, then sat back down and snuggled under a chenille throw. The heater fan came on, and I could feel the air begin to move.

    After a few minutes, when I expected to smell the burning-dust odor that usually accompanies the heater's first use of the season, I noticed that the smell was absent. Not only that, but the air coming out of the vents was as cold as the cool air I'd been paying high dollars for all summer long.

    It was almost nine o'clock, so my options were limited. I flipped the switch off and on a few times, always with the same results. (It doesn't hurt to make sure.) Finally, I left it off.

    Then I started thinking maybe the pilot light was out. Would that mean I'd been pumping gas into the house? I didn't smell gas, but I took the dogs and went outside for a few minutes, leaving the back door open to let any odor-free gas out and about a thousand mosquitos in.

    Back inside, I piddled around for a while to make sure that the dogs and I weren't unusually lethargic, but at that time of night it was hard to tell. I decided to go to bed and read for an hour or so. My current book's a good one, sure to keep me awake long enough to notice if I was getting sleepy faster than usual. I piled Butch's favorite old bedspread on the floor next to his bed (which is next to my bed) so he could burrow into it if he got cold in the night. Kadi, I knew, would get in bed with me if she needed a warm spot. We lived for another hour, then I turned out the light. All of us slept great.

    I'm thinking a lot of people must have turned their heaters on for the first time last night, because when I called the A/C people at 7:45 this morning, they were already booked up for the day. The soonest they can come out is Monday afternoon, when they'll "try to squeeze me in."

    It isn't supposed to get colder than 38 degrees over the weekend, and the days are expected to be in the high 60s. That won't be too bad. After talking to a few people, I'm pretty sure the problem started way back here, on the first day I turned on the air conditioner.

    I'm told that A/C repairmen are required to turn off the gas before they can change out an A/C unit that's connected to the heating system. I'm betting the people who installed the new A/C forgot to turn the gas back on. That would be good news in terms of repair costs.

    It'll be a chilly weekend. If I'm lucky, the cooler temperature will motivate me to move around to stay warm. And if that happens, my house might finally get clean.

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Photo Night: Shadows

    Since this is my favorite TV night (Survivor, Ugly Betty, Grey's Anatomy and Shark), I'm gonna temporarily designate Thursday as Photo Night here at "Velvet Sacks." I'm thinking it might be easy fun interesting to post photos that fit a different theme every Thursday.

    With a little planning, I should be able to upload a group of photos earlier in the week (to compensate for Blogger's occasional moodiness) and post 'em on Thursday after work. That way I can spend the rest of my Thursday night in the recliner with the remote control in my hand.

    Do you think this is cheating on my commitment goal of posting something every day during November? I realize I'll be doing a lot of the work in advance, but the photos won't actually be published until I click all the right buttons on Thursday. It'll be like having my suitcase packed and ready, then picking it up as I leave to go to the hospital to give birth. Nah, that isn't cheating. The baby's birthday is the date of delivery, after all, not the day the suitcase was packed.

    Today's theme is shadows.

    The shadow of a lawn chair put this pretty pattern on the patio. (Say that three times.)

    Here, the shadow of a lampshade is reflected in a mirror that once hung in my grandmother's home. It's in my living room now.

    Sunlight, shadows and jagged cracks worked together to decorate my driveway.

    Most of you will look at this photo and see a half-shadow of me. Sandy, of "To Touch a Unicorn", will see that, too, but she'll also see the partial profile of a man's face, his big nose facing left. Ha! "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" The Shadow Nose.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Fear of failure?

    A few weeks ago I read on the Fussy site about National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). Hmm, I thought to myself, that’s intriguing. The idea of posting a new blog entry every single day during the month of November would be a challenge I might just be able to meet.

    It’s been stewing in my mind for weeks. Should I sign up or not? It could be fun, I’d think, and that thought would be followed immediately by a question: How can I commit to something like that when the future’s unknown? Something better might come along to occupy my time, and then I’d face a dilemma of my own creation. Why would I want to do that?

    Today’s November 1st. It’s put-up or shut-up time, and I've decided to do neither. I didn’t sign up for NaBloPoMo, but I’m going to try to post something every day this month anyway.

    It’ll be kind of like running a marathon alongside the official track, only without the number on my shirt. And if I get hot or tired or thirsty and decide to quit “running”? That’s the best part! All I have to do is veer off course, merge into the crowd, and stop doing it. It wouldn’t be quitting because I was never actually in the race.

    According to the rules I’d be following if I were following the rules on the Fussy site, entrants can post “pictures, poems, observations, critiques, or bald-faced lies.” I’m sure I’ll post a variety of things because of different time constraints on different days, and I’m warning you now that some of my entries may be crap. That being said, if you can’t tell the difference between this month’s crappy entries and everything else I’ve published up until now, I would deeply appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell me that.

    Feel free to “run” along with me if you like. I’d welcome the company, but I can’t promise how far we’ll go.