Monday, October 30, 2006


The last Halloween party I attended was in 1984, and finding a suitable costume was something of a challenge. For some reason I could never figure out, the man in my life (the magician I mentioned here) was hellbent on going to the party dressed as a priest. He'd made up his mind about that months before and wouldn't even consider any other costume.

I wanted to coordinate my costume with his, but I didn't want to go as a nun, the obvious choice. After thinking about it for a few days, I could only come up with one idea that might work. He agreed to it, we enlisted the aid of a friend, and all that was left to do was improvise our costumes.

We were a little concerned that our choice might offend someone at the church-sponsored party, but it turned out that they all had a good sense of humor. In fact, we won first prize.

Now, tell me what you think we were. (Hint: We were disorderly in this photo.)

And have a happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fall back

I’ve not only fallen back, I’ve fallen behind. Due to Blogger problems, real world interference, personal energy deficits and a three-hour electrical power outage, writing a blog entry is one of many areas of my life that have been neglected lately. I'm looking forward to checking at least this one thing off my list.

The power outage happened today, when I’d promised myself I’d clean the house. My plan was to set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes, clean until the bell rang, then do something pleasurable for the next 30 minutes, alternating until everything was nice and tidy. Unfortunately, the power went out midway through one of the pleasure increments. In the absence of either a working timer or a working conscience, I read for the better part of three hours.

Backing up to this morning, I knew the moment I opened my eyes we'd have a beautiful day. The sun was higher in the sky than it usually is when I rise, and the light was so pretty I couldn't even wait to brush my teeth before taking photos. I loved the way the light shone through my windows and through the trees. I loved the random patterns of the dog-trails through the dew. Most of all, I loved getting up at a time that felt natural.

Last night, I put the extra, end-of-Daylight-Saving-Time hour to good use by reading in bed a lot longer than usual. It felt almost hedonistic to read as much as I wanted without worrying about shortchanging the day ahead. I could get used to that.

Continuing to fall back, my daughter called late yesterday afternoon and suggested a movie night. She went to find us a DVD, and I went to pick up Nachos Bellgrande. The movie was fun: American Dreamz. It’s a lightweight comedy, nothing with award-winning potential, but just right for the frame of mind we were in.

Earlier, while I sat in Taco Bell’s drive-thru lane, I noticed a crape-myrtle tree at the corner of the building. Sunlight was behind the tree, silhouetting what appeared to be lots of leaves blowing and twisting in the breeze. In fact, there was no breeze, and there weren’t many leaves left, either. The shapes I saw moving were dozens and dozens of tiny birds, each about a third the size of a sparrow. They were difficult to see in the sun’s glare, but I think they may have been finches. So much energy in bodies not much larger than my thumb.

Still earlier on Saturday, I worked at the office, catching up on things I’d let slide earlier--things that, left undone, would have made for a chaotic Monday. It was such a pleasure to work alone, quietly, uninterrupted by phone calls or client visits, and to be able to work on one thing at a time to completion. I accomplished more in five hours yesterday than I did in two days earlier in the week. And I did it all in plaid flannel pajama bottoms.

Friday night I had a home-style dinner with my daughter at the local Cracker Barrel, courtesy of a gift card passed along to me by my boss, who’d received it as a thank you from a client. Sometimes we like to eat elegant food in fashionable surroundings, but Friday was the kind of day I just wanted to schlump in and mainline country fried steak and white gravy. My cholesterol count might be slightly more elevated than previously, but that meal was exactly what I craved.

Thursday night was TV night, so many good shows on that I had to record two hours of primetime shows and watch three hours of others. Lucy and Winston slept over on Thursday while my daughter had a much-needed night out with friends. Heavy rains during the night kept Kadi awake. She, in turn, gave minute-by-minute weather updates to the other dogs and me. None of us got much sleep, but I was the only one who had to get up and go to work.

Which brings us all the way back to Wednesday night, when I last posted. There’s something about completing a cycle and "falling back" at the end of October that just feels right.

Blog posting? Check.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Attempted theft -- an inside job

It isn't intentional, but the themes of my recent entries seem to be repeating. Yesterday I wrote about a microwave incident, the day before was about thieves, and Butch was featured less than a week ago. Tonight those three topics are all tied together. It seems that my beloved fur-boy, about whom I've written lovingly and tenderly many times on this blog, tried to rip me off last night.

I cooked a meatloaf in the microwave and left it in there to cool for a few minutes while I tended to business in another part of the house. When I returned to the kitchen, there was Butch, his nose pointed into the corner directly below the microwave. He makes frequent surveillance trips into the kitchen, so I wouldn't have given it a second thought, except that his behavior totally gave away his intentions.

He must have heard my footsteps at the exact moment I saw him, because he gave a quick sideways glance (listen?) over his shoulder and began backing up so fast he couldn't get any traction. His toenails scrabbled against the floor and he danced a funny little backward jig, until he could finally turn around and hurry back into the living room to join Kadi. "Who me?" he seemed to say as he passed me. "I wasn't doin' nothin'."

Butch's blindness let him down in this instance. He obviously didn't realize that the meatloaf was inside the microwave, out of his reach. Judging by his guilty body language, he must have thought he had a really good shot at getting it.

Poor little guy. He was sooooo busted! I enjoyed a good laugh, but I felt sorry for him, too. He's succeeded in getting food off the kitchen counter exactly twice in his eight and a half years (both times when he could still see), and it must have been disappointing to have his plans foiled when he thought he was so close to the prize.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lunching on rocket fuel

I come home for lunch almost every day. It's a nice break from the office, but the driving time both ways leaves me only about 20 minutes to prepare and eat my food. That's why I was so happy to find a tasty brand of canned chili that takes only two minutes to microwave in it's own plastic can/bowl. It's good enough and fast enough that I have it at least a couple of times a week.

The first thing I do when I get in the house is let the dogs out. Then I put the chili in the microwave, turn on my computer, fix myself a Diet Coke on ice, let the dogs back in, give them a treat, and voila! Lunch is ready. I eat it at the computer while I read as many of your blog entries as I can during the time I have left.

Sometimes, while the chili cooks, I hear popping noises coming from the microwave. It's the beans, popping and exploding inside their covered microwavable bowl. Frankly, I'm glad they do that. They get that gas out of their bean-sized systems so there's no popping and exploding later, when the beans are in my system. The firecracker noises were especially loud today, but I was busy with the two-minutes' worth of chores I mentioned and didn't check the chili even once.

Wow! I should have checked it. The bowl of chili actually turned itself over inside the microwave. Nobody could have convinced me there was enough propulsive power in that bowl to tip over 15 ounces of chili, but there the bowl was, still covered, resting on its side in a big puddle of its own "blood." It must have put on quite a show.

So, two minutes of cooking time plus ten minutes of microwave cleanup left me with ten minutes to eat half a bowl of meat and beans. There wasn't enough juice left for dipping crackers. That's okay. I didn't have time to dip crackers anyway.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Cops and robbers

Eight years ago today, burglars broke into my house.

I came home from work for lunch and found my front door standing wide open. Someone had hit or kicked the door with enough force that the deadbolt lock had been ripped away from the door and was hanging from the doorframe.

My house wasn't the only one. Sheriff's office detectives who investigated determined that at least two, probably more, burglars had parked in the driveway between my daughter's house (right in front of mine) and our neighbor's house on the other side of the driveway. First they'd broken the doors on all three houses. At my daughter's house and the neighbor's, they'd helped themselves to TVs, VCRs, microwaves, computers, and everything else they could carry in the bedspreads and blankets they stole right off the beds. They'd pulled mattresses off the beds and dumped the contents of dresser drawers, apparently looking for cash and smaller valuables. They'd even stolen all the meat from the freezers. (I guess all that bashing in doors and running with loot works up a hearty appetite.)

The biggest scare of the day came when we realized our telephone lines had been cut. That made us think the burglars had considered--and weren't deterred by--the possibility that someone was inside one of the homes and might try to call for help. That fact sent chills up my spine. Later, the detectives reassured us that the burglars were most likely trying to cut security system wires rather than the phone lines.

We found a paycheck stub in the grass, and the sheriff's office traced it back to a guy who'd reported his pickup truck stolen that same morning. Other than that, there were no good clues, and nobody was ever arrested and charged with these crimes.

Insurance paid for the items that were stolen and the damage to the doors, less the deductible, of course. The unreimbursable costs were much higher. It took time to file insurance claims, shop to replace the stolen items, take off work while security systems and brand-new doors were installed. There was no compensation for the sleep we lost as we lay awake and listened for unfamiliar noises outside. We didn't get a dime for the sense of security that took months to rebuild.

The one bright spot of the day was that nothing--nada, zip, zilch--was stolen from my house. When I walked through it with the detective, he asked me twice if I was sure nothing had been taken, but everything was exactly like I'd left it that morning. For that bit of good fortune, I take full credit.

You see, I'm not a great housekeeper under normal circumstances, and that week I'd started a new job (the one I have now). My home was in chaos. Laundry was piled up all over the living room, waiting to be folded. Tabletops were covered with haphazard stacks of newspapers, magazines and mail. My bed was unmade, the bedding in a tangled heap I'd created after hitting the snooze alarm one last time.

I'm firmly convinced that any burglar who might have intended to ransack my house took one quick look around and decided that one of the others had beaten him to it.

Rest assured, that powerful anti-theft strategy is still in place. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Under one roof

Tomorrow is an anniversary of an odd sort, and tomorrow's when I plan to tell you about it. Tonight, as a little backstory for tomorrow's post, I'll tell you about my house. There's something unusual about where I live, something that isn't obvious to the casual observer and almost always surprises first-time visitors.

This photo shows the carport right outside my door. To the right of the car you'll see one outside wall; to the left is another. Notice that those walls are not connected in any way, except by the roof. That's because the roof covers two entirely separate houses.

A local contractor built these two homes in the mid-70s, one right behind the other on the same lot. One house was for himself and his wife, and the other was for their newly married daughter and her husband.

My younger daughter found out about this property near the beginning of 1997. She was a re-single mother of two, and I'd been living alone in an apartment for a number of years. Neither of us was planning a move, but when we learned about this two-in-one house, we were intrigued enough to check it out. Next thing you know, we'd bought it.

Each house has approximately 1700 square feet of living space, but the floor plans are entirely different. It was easy to choose which of us would live in which house. The front house has three bedrooms and two baths, sized just right for my daughter's little family. The back house has two bedrooms and one bath. A large den added to the back house accounts for the similar square footage. That den makes a perfect office/library/crafts area for me.

Three years after we bought this place, my daughter remarried. When she and her husband built and moved into a larger house to accommodate their blended family, we began renting out the front house. We've been very lucky, and that arrangement has worked well.

My neighbors across the carport are really nice people. They take good care of the house. In fact, it's because of the lady of the house that there are beautiful flowers in the front yard to welcome me home each day. Her thumb is much greener than mine.

I don't use the front yard, and the neighbors don't use the backyard. We reconfigured the fencing to create a usable "backyard" area at the side of the two houses where their son can play. We share the driveway and carport. We're friendly, but we give each other plenty of space and privacy.

I've lived here for nine and a half years now, longer than I've ever lived in one place since childhood, and this house has become my sanctuary. I'm settled. I'm home.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about a homecoming experience that was extremely unsettling.

Friday, October 20, 2006

OOOooh, it feels so GOOOoood!

Butch's favorite things, in random order, are sleep, rawhide chews, belly rubs and back scratches. I feel all warm and fuzzy when I watch him enjoying the first three items on that list, but the back scratching? That just makes me laugh.

I promise I don't intend to flood you with home movies, but this scene is repeated around here at least a couple of times a day, and I can't wait to share it with you. Turn up your speakers, ladies and gents, and let me introduce you to Iiiiiiitchy Butchieeeeeeee!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hey, Mom, watch this!

Last night I learned something new, and the really cool thing is I get to demonstrate it here for you, dear readers. First, a little backstory:

With all the news about Google's purchase of YouTube, I found myself exploring the fast-growing video site a little more closely and thinking maybe, just maybe, I could figure out how to upload a video. I mulled it over for a few days and decided last night to give it a try. The uploading process was a real exercise in patience, but here's my first (obviously not edited at all) video:

Remember when this peacock was hanging around my neighborhood during the early part of the summer? That was the first time I tried the "movie" setting on my digital camera. I wasn't even positive it was working, but, sure enough, it recorded my close-up contact with the peacock, including the goofy audio.

My older daughter congratulated me for taking the leap to YouTube and also for having the guts to "put your silly-voice out into the world." Ahem. That was NOT my silly-voice. That was my I'm-gonna-get-as-close-as-I-can-to-this-bird-and-I'm-gonna-talk-softly-and-try-not-to-spook-him voice. While it isn't at all unusual for me to talk to animals, I didn't have a clear concept of what this particular bird would enjoy discussing, so I was making it up as I went along. It all kind of fell apart when I got right up next to him and realized he had those "sharp things" on his...on his what? I deliberated briefly (thus the awkward pauses) and chose "ankles" to move the dialogue along. But do birds really have ankles? I don't think so.

There's clearly a lot more I need to learn about taking good quality videos, and then there's the whole video-editing process to work through. I hope to learn to do both, a little bit at a time. In the meantime, Steven Spielberg can rest easy... but the rest of you might want to give YouTube a try.

Like Blogger, YouTube is free. Can you believe we get to have so much fun for nothing? Life is good.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lessons of the Trees

When strong winds blow your heart around,
you’ve had all you can take,
then face the wind like the willow
that bends but doesn’t break.

When what you’ve done’s the best you can,
you know you gave your all,
then face the wind like the redwood
and stand up straight and tall.

When others make demands on you
to be someone you’re not,
then face the wind like the oak tree
with all the strength you’ve got.

Remember on those windy days,
“to thine ownself be true,”
for every walk through the woodlands
kicks up a nut or two.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Whine country

Sunday night would be a good time to write something thoughtful and inspirational, but right now I don't have anything like that in me. I waited until the last Diet Coke was gone and the last dogfood was in the dish, then I waited another two hours for the rain to stop, and then I couldn't wait any longer. I had no choice but to go to Wal-Mart.

I'd been in the store about ten minutes when I turned down one of the main aisles and heard a tiny voice calling, "Daddy!" A few steps farther on I spotted the source. A small boy, no more than two years old, was sitting in the child seat of an otherwise empty grocery cart parked between two display tables. He wasn't crying yet, but he was sounding more distressed each time he called for his daddy.

I looked around and didn't see anyone near him, so I stayed beside him for a minute. Finally, a man two aisles down stuck his head out and looked our way, then turned away and disappeared again. I kept my eye on the child as I moved down far enough to see into the aisle where the man had been. That's when I saw him laughing with an older boy, a teenager, as they looked at what appeared to be ammunition. When they saw me watching them, the man sent the boy to check on the baby.

Has this man never seen the news? Or was it just too much trouble to push the cart 12-15 feet farther to keep the baby with him? There were a lot of people in Wal-Mart tonight, but not so many in that particular area of the store. If someone had been inclined to snatch that baby, it wouldn't have been too difficult to do. What an idiot!

Now that I think about it, that whole end of the store was practically empty. I'd just been to the pet food aisle, and nobody was there either, except two teenaged employees. I heard one boy say to the other, "You'll like it back here; it's hard to get in trouble when you work back here." Isn't that at the top of everyone's job criteria list? A place where it's "hard to get in trouble"? Fool!

Later, in a crowded checkout line, a lady whirled around and screamed right into my ear, "GET BACK HERE!" Her daughter, who appeared to be a middle-schooler, wasn't more than three feet away and immediately returned to stand next to her mother. It didn't matter. The mother had plenty more to berate her about, and the rest of us in line got to listen to every word. Shrew!

When I got outside, it was raining again. As I stood in the rain and loaded groceries into my trunk, a huge pickup truck pulled up and waited behind me. I can't blame the driver for wanting my good parking spot (thank you, Mama-Too), but it irritated the heck out of me that he felt it necessary to rev his engine over and over. It was kinda scary, too, as if I were stuck somewhere in the pages of Stephen King's Christine. Jackass!

I drove home and pulled under the carport, then realized I wouldn't be able to put Butch and Kadi outside while I brought the groceries in. They don't do rain unless it's their idea. That meant I had to leave the indoor gate locked, the gate between my living room and kitchen. Which meant I'd first have to bring all the bags of groceries into the living room, so I could shut the front door, and then I could open the gate and pick up all the bags again (including two huge bags of dogfood) to move them to the kitchen. Butch and Kadi barked the entire time. Ungrateful little jerks!

I missed "The Amazing Race," and I'm so tired I've lost my appetite. I'll probably wake up hungry in the middle of the night, which means I'll be tired all day tomorrow. On Monday, the worst workday of the week.

Aren't you glad I spewed out all this venom? I wanted to post something tonight, and by golly, I did it. Now I need to stop writing and go spend some time making peace with the woman in the mirror. She's being a real bitch!

Friday, October 13, 2006

No bad luck today (knock on wood)

The day's not quite over, but I'm in couch-potato mode, so the possibilities of what could go wrong in the next few hours are limited. I microwaved my dinner without incident. I have enough Diet Coke to last until noon tomorrow. The batteries in my toothbrush could die, but there are replacements in the broom closet. It's unlikely that my computer or TV will explode. Blogger could get bogged down, of course, but that happens so often it doesn't seem to fit the category of bad luck.

The only thing I really have to do is let the dogs out one more time and then I can go to bed. All in all, I don't think I'm tempting fate by saying this Friday the 13th has been an okay day.

I'm not very superstitious. If a black cat crosses my path or I break a mirror, I make a mental note ot it, but I don't dwell on it for more than a minute. If someone sends me a chain letter, by snail mail or e-mail, I won't forward it, no matter what dire threats it contains. So far, to the best of my knowledge, this hasn't resulted in misfortune raining down on anyone in my family. Knock on wood.

That's about my only superstition these days, that knocking-on-wood thing. I have an irrational fear of jinxing good fortune by calling attention to it. I also have a tendency to say what I'm thinking most of the time, so I need to knock on wood fairly frequently. Once, in a metal-and-plastic, industrial environment, I stealthily knocked on a No. 2 pencil. But that was a long time ago. I can control the wood-knocking impulses now...if I have to.

Even in childhood I was skeptical of most of the superstitions I learned about, but there was one I took very seriously. The consequences of ignoring the warning would be too high, and they wouldn't be my consequences to pay. I couldn't, with a clear conscience, take any chances. For eight years, from first grade through eighth, I walked to and from school every day. And every step of the way, one thought quietly persisted in the back of my mind: "Step on a crack and you'll break your mother's back."

I was always careful, and my mother stayed safe.

So there, I've told you mine. What are your superstitions?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dancing with the Stars Shanna

Well, I am officially bummed out. Willa and Max were voted off of “Dancing with the Stars” tonight. Willa Ford, the “star” half of the duo, danced beautifully last night, and Max, her professional-dancer partner? Let’s just say Max put stars in my eyes.

Max is Maksim Chermerkovskiy. Even if I didn’t like to watch ballroom dancing, which I definitely do, I‘d have watched this show for Maksim-um exposure. So what if Social Security is lurking right around the corner? I’ve never met a woman of any age who didn't enjoy looking at a handsome man.

Max’s brooding good looks and hungry-lion dance moves make me want to pull out my old favorite romance novels –- the Kathleen E. Woodiwiss series, for example –- and reread them all, this time with a mental image of Max as the hero. Now that I look closely at those book jackets, every one of the guys in the cover art looks very much like Maksim.

My romance-novel phase ended about 20 years ago, so I don’t actually know if I’d like them as much now as I used to. In fact, last time I read one, I found myself skimming over all the pages that once would have caused me to linger. (Tip for readers of romance novels: The word “turgid” is a literary code word which, when it appears in a novel, signifies that the reader may safely skip the next two pages without missing any pivotal plot points.)

Still, it might be fun to fantasize. In real life, I’ve always thought my perfect mate would be the professor type, the quiet but confident, intelligent man in a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. (Who knows? I might meet someone like that at the Social Security office.) But is there a little part of me that can appreciate a long-haired fancy man who wears patent-leather dancing shoes? As this photo (Miami Beach, 1971) clearly shows, you bet there is!

Disclaimer #1: Lest you think I'd gone totally wild, somewhere in the world is a matching photo of my then-husband on stage with the female half of the flamenco dance duo. We were picked from the audience to particpate in their floor show.

Disclaimer #2: I'd had absolutely nothing to drink but Coca-Cola.

Disclaimer #3: I NEVER -- not once -- let my dark roots grow that long without a touchup. It must have been a shadow.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A song for dog lovers--and jailbreakers

There are some country songs I love and a whole bunch of others I don't like at all, but every afternoon, driving home from work, I switch back and forth between two country music stations and listen for something new. If neither station is playing anything interesting, I switch to an oldies-but-goodies station. If that doesn't work, I switch to a CD. The rock/talk station I listen to in the morning is too jarring for afternoon traffic.

Yesterday, on one of the country stations, I heard a song I'd forgotten about. I like the lyrics so much I decided to post them here for those of you who may not have heard this song. Even if you don't like country music, I think you'll enjoy the story this one tells.

Ol' Red
As sung by Blake Shelton.
Written by James Bohon, Don Goodman and Mark Sherrill.

Well, I caught my wife with another man,
And it cost me ninety-nine,
On a prison farm in Georgia,
Close to the Florida line.
Well, I'd been here for two long years,
I finally made the warden my friend.
And so he sentenced me to a life of ease,
Taking care of Ol' Red.

Now, Ol' Red, he's the damnedest dog,
That I've ever seen.
Got a nose that can smell a two-day trail;
He's a four-legged tracking machine.
You can consider yourself mighty lucky,
To get past the gators and the quicksand beds.
But all these years that I've been here,
Ain't nobody got past Red.

And the warden sang:
"Come on somebody, why don't you run?
"Ol' Red's itchin' to have a little fun.
"Get my lantern, get my gun,
"Red'll have you tree'd before the mornin' come."

Well, I paid off the guard and I slipped out a letter
To my cousin up in Tennessee.
Oh, an' he brought down a blue tick hound,
She was pretty as she could be.
Well, they penned her up in the swampland,
'Bout a mile just south of the gate.
And I'd take Ol' Red for his evening run,
I'd just drop him off and wait.

And the warden sang:
"Come on somebody, why don't you run?
"Ol' Red's itchin' to have a little fun.
"Get my lantern, get my gun,
"Red'll have you tree'd before the mornin' come."

Now Ol' Red got real used to seeing
His lady every night.
And so I kept him away for three or four days,
And waited till the time got right.
Well, I made my run with the evenin' sun,
And I smiled when I heard 'em turn Red out.
'Cause I was headed north to Tennessee,
And Ol' Red was headed south.

And the warden sang:
"Come on somebody, why don't you run?
"Ol' Red's itchin' to have a little fun.
"Get my lantern, get my gun,
"Red'll have you tree'd before the mornin' come."

Now there's red-haired blue ticks all in the South.
Love got me in here and love got me out.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My inner Abe Lincoln

We're on our second straight day of crisp, cool air, air that, when I breathe it, infuses me with a sense of all things autumn and mentally transports me to my favorite place I've never been.

Years ago, when I took the self-hypnosis class, the instructor taught us a relaxation technique that I still use today. She encouraged us to create in our minds an image of a place where we'd feel perfectly safe and comfortable, to explore that place until we knew it in intimate detail, and to go there as often as we wanted or needed for a few moments of absolute peace.

My place is a log cabin that sits in a clearing in the middle of the woods. The clearing is the perfect size: if the tallest tree were to fall into the clearing, it would narrowly miss the cabin. The cabin is the perfect size, too. It's basically one all-purpose room, a small kitchen nook to the left of the front door, and the sleeping/living area to the right. (It's occurred to me more than once that there's no bathroom in my magic cabin. The magic of it is that I never need one when I'm there.)

I know that the interior walls of the cabin are made of logs, but the logs aren't visible except upon close inspection. Every wall is lined with bookshelves, floor to ceiling, and every shelf is covered with books. All my old favorites are there, along with a few new ones I can't wait to read.

Immediately to the right of the front door is a desk made of old, dark wood, its surface scarred from years of use. There's a computer on the desk. When I sit in the comfortable, worn leather chair and write on the computer, the words flow easily and naturally, and I never have to backspace.

My bed is next to the desk. It's a twin-sized bed placed lengthwise against the wall. The mattress is extra thick, topped with a a layer of soft goose down. There are two blankets on the bed to keep me warm on chilly nights (autumn is the only season in my special place), and the bedspread is a brightly colored quilt of no particular design.

During the day, I pile lots of pillows on the bed and use it for a sofa. There's a large window over the bed and bright sunlight washes in. I love to sit cross-legged beneath that window and read, while my dogs sleep peacefully in the square patch of sunlight that brightens a braided rag rug.

There are sounds -- but no noise -- in my special place. I hear rustling leaves, singing birds, and chattering squirrels. I can hear a clock ticking, not in an urgent way, but steadily, ticking off seconds to send the message that time, like life, goes on no matter what. If I want manmade music, I can play CDs on my computer. Sometimes, I sit outside on the top step and listen to Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman singing "Time to Say Goodbye," and my heart swells with wonder that human voices can make such beautiful sounds.

When I see myself step out the door of my cabin in the woods, I notice that I'm wearing a flannel shirt and that thick wool socks are bunched up around my ankles. This is interesting to me because I've never owned a flannel shirt, nor have I ever owned socks like that. The part of me who inhabits the cabin wears that type of clothing comfortably and naturally.

The woods around my cabin provide a sense of wilderness and solitude that nourish my spirit, but, in the interest of honesty, there's one more thing I must tell you: When I draw back far enough to get an aerial view of the cabin and its surrounding area, I see that the isolation stops at the outermost boundaries of my patch of woods. There are plenty of other people -- and convenient shopping -- less than half a mile away. I also know, though I've never seen it, that there's a reliable vehicle, with a full tank of gas, parked near my cabin. Those facts (imaginary facts?) are comforting, too. I can be alone as much as I need to, but the aloneness need never become loneliness.

You're welcome to use my cabin whenever you like and stay as long as you want -- but only when I'm not there, okay?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Baby boy

My niece, who didn't meet Butch until a year ago, told me then that she'd like to see a picture of him from the time before he lost his eyes. I hope she agrees with the old saying about "better late than never."

My fat, bright-eyed boy, shown here playing with big "sister" Kadi, was no more than eight weeks old when we snapped this shot. Couldn't you just take a bite out of that plump thigh?

In this one, still bright-eyed, he was about nine months old. This was after he discovered the pleasure of sleeping in my dining room "fortress" but before he chewed up the rungs on every single one of these chairs.

This is a shot from just a couple of months ago. Butch is eight years old now. His muzzle isn't as black as it used to be and, of course, he has no eyes, but I still think he's a handsome dog.

In fact, to my way of thinking, his face these days looks pretty much like a grown-up version of the sweet pup shown here sleeping under my computer desk. This is the baby boy who stole my heart. He still has it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The day the mime had the last word

I haven't been to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, but today I was remembering past visits there. I always looked forward to the street entertainers in the French Quarter: artists, musicians, dancers, magicians and always at least one mime. I wonder if they're still there.

About this time of year in 1983, when the weather should have been cool but wasn't, I went to New Orleans with a relatively new boyfriend. At 6'6" tall, my friend walked with his head above the crowd. He was hard to miss.

We ambled along Bourbon Street in the thick of a Saturday afternoon crowd, and I noticed a mime across the street and down the block a little way. He was a slender young man, wearing full-face white makeup and dressed in a black-and-white-striped shirt, black pants held up by red suspenders, and a shiny black top hat. He was at the center of a small group of people, pantomiming with exaggerated motions while remaining totally silent, as mimes are supposed to do.

The mime was amusing, and we kept watching him as we continued to walk. Suddenly, he looked in our direction. He raised his painted-on eyebrows, formed his lips into a big round "O", and did an exaggerated doubletake. He placed his palms flat together, praying-hands style, at waist level, then quickly stretched his arms forward and parted his hands, gesturing to the crowd to part and let him through. With dancelike movements, his body leaning forward like a man on a mission, he zizzagged through the tourist-filled street and continued moving toward us.

We realized the mime was coming our way and stopped walking to watch him. So did other people near us. Trying to figure out what had attracted the mime's attention, we glanced quickly at the people around us, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The closer the mime came, the more it appeared that he was directly approaching my friend and me. In fact, that turned out to be exactly what he was doing.

The mime stopped about two feet away from me. He stared intently into my eyes, pointedly ignoring my unusually tall friend. He walked around me in a tight little circle, not touching, but close enough to cause my friend to step back. Then he stopped abruptly and faced me again. Leaning in close, his eyes still locked on mine as my friend towered overhead behind me, he spoke the only words I've ever heard from a mime: "Are you alone?"

Monday, October 02, 2006

Winken, Blinken and Nod...and Poose and T-Rich

In a conversation today about local politicians, somebody mentioned a parish councilman who's best known by his nickname: Needlenose. I am not making this up. When he's up for re-election, that name goes on his campaign signs and bumper stickers. My best guess is that few people in the community could tell you his real first name, although that's on his signs, too, but almost everyone has heard of Needlenose.

I remarked to my friends that this is the only place I've ever lived where so many adults are better known by their nicknames than their actual given names, and I wondered aloud whether there are other parts of the country where this practice is common. That's when I got the idea of mentioning this to you, oh-frequent-readers-and-fonts-of-unusual-and-unlimited-knowledge.

I've lived other places in the south with an abundance of Billy Bobs and Bubbas, but what we have here is beyond that. To give you an example, I made a quick scan of the local telephone book, all the way through the B's (okay, so research isn't my strong suit), and made note of the names I found listed in parentheses. I eliminated derivative nicknames (such as Tony for Anthony and Freddy for Alfred), and here's what was left:

Under the surname BABIN (rhymes with cabin): Dink, Tut, Kye, Sneaky, Brother, Rookie and Poose.

Under BERCEGEAY (rhymes with purse-uh-jay): Nub, Winky, Pamp and Ponk.

Listed under the name BOURGEOIS (rhymes with...uh...nothing I can think of): Poochie, Bean and T-Rich.

Moving on down to BOURQUE (rhymes with work): J-Boy, Brush and Cotto.

Under the surname BRAUD (rhymes with toe): Boxcar, Noonun, Tippie, Whitey, Pookey, Putsy and T-Boy.

And then there's BREAUX (also rhymes with toe -- go figure): Dukie, Black and Punkin.

I also found, in onesies and twosies, the following: Potchie, Happy, Twink, Tokey, Nuby, Buzy B'Z, Tanks, Buck, Woody, Shot, Bulldog, Butsy, Burger, Red, Bo, Dub, Bean, Brick, Bud, Coon and Dude.

I'd love to know the stories behind these nicknames. In the book I'm currently reading, Saving Fish from Drowning, author Amy Tan writes: "He was called Black Spot by his friends and family, a nickname given for the birthmark on his hand. As in China, such nicknames were meant to be unflattering, a ruse to discourage the gods from snatching babies away. But in Burma one could get stuck with a new nickname to reflect a change in circumstances or reputation." Maybe the same concept applies here; as far as I know, none of these local guys was ever snatched away.

Based on what Amy Tan wrote, I'll have to give China and Burma (now known as Myanmar) credit for having the most nicknames in Asia. So let's leave Asia out of it. When it comes to the rest of the world, I think I might be sitting right smack in the middle of the nickname capital.

Whaddaya think? How common are nicknames where you live?