Tuesday, January 30, 2007

My favorite photographic mistakes...

...would surely include these.

I'm relatively new at taking pictures just for the joy of it. For every good photo I take, there are a couple of others that are deleted immediately and another dozen that I keep even though they aren't anything special. Fortunately, the camera seems to know what it's doing sometimes when the photographer doesn't.

Yesterday, for example, driving to work, I saw a hawk coasting in the wind. I grabbed my camera off the seat, put it against the windshield as I drove and snapped about five shots in the general direction of the hawk. The hawk didn't show up in a single shot, but this photo saved me from disappointment. The tint at the top of my windshield is responsible for the deep blue of the sky, but the wispy, watercolor clouds? I think Van Gogh's angel painted those.

Speaking of watercolors, that's what this next photo reminds me of. I was in the car when I took this one was, too. I had almost--but apparently not quite--stopped for a traffic light.

The next one is from our zoo trip last spring. I was trying to take a photo of a baboon sitting in his little concrete cave watching the people go by. Instead, I got a really nice closeup of a fence, with some soft baboon colors in the background.

I really like the colors of this next one. I took it through the window in my boss's office one day when it had been raining all afternoon. It was supposed to show how much water was standing in the parking lot, but I zoomed in too close and got this instead. Who knew the reflection of a dumpster would look so much better than the real thing?

When I took this one, the wind was huffing and puffing with all the force of the big, bad wolf. The action of the wind, in conjunction with my overzealous finger on the zoom button, created the waves in this photo of what I think was trees. I'll never know for sure.

The Spanish moss hanging down in this next blurry photo gives it a fantasy quality I like a lot. I think the bright colors and gentle curves would make it an appropriate illustration for a children's book. All it needs is a bunny in the foreground.

The fault of this final photo was a fast-moving peacock. I'd lined up what appeared in the viewfinder to be a good closeup, but my "model" took off running just as I pressed the button. Even in motion, these colors are beautiful.

Have I said I love my camera? Yeah, I've said that.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fleeing feet and flying fur

We're only one month into the new year, and I'm already predicting that 2007 will be remembered as The Year That My House Fell Apart. The most recent item on a growing list is my desk (not the computer desk, the one that faces it, with my chair in the middle so I can swivel from one desk to the other).

I bought the desk about five or six years ago and assembled it myself--apparently not very well. Each side of the desk has two drawers, supported between the ends of the desk and wooden panels screwed to the desk top. Last week I opened the top left drawer and took out one item. I closed the drawer, and it immediately fell down onto the bottom drawer. I pulled both drawers out to get a closer look and found that the screws have pulled loose and are probably stripped.

I figured out a way to fix it, so on Sunday afternoon I went to The Home Depot, expecting to come home with what I needed and finish the job. Unfortunately, although the store was open, they must have had a fire drill or something, because the only employees I could find in the whole place were at the checkout registers. I put miles on my Crocs before I gave up and came on home.

All of which is just backstory for the main point of this whole entry: You'd be amazed at how fast a blind dog can move when the situation requires it.

Butch tends to "vacuum" the floor and the furniture all around me after I eat something (although I am NOT that messy). A few minutes ago I had a piece of angelfood cake right here at my computer, and I shared a couple of bites with Butch and Kadi. When the cake was gone, Butch began sniffing inch-by-inch on the floor around me. In the process, he stuck his head into the space where the missing drawers should be, hit the suspended wooden panel, and knocked the whole thing down.

I turned around as soon as I heard the crash behind me, and all I saw was Butch's blond rear-end skedaddling into the kitchen. My laughter eventually brought him back to the scene of the crime. Tail wagging, he approached the desk tentatively, and sniffed around for several minutes. He appeared to be either a) trying to figure out what had happened to make the big noise, or b) continuing his search for crumbs.

My money would be on the cake crumbs.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Too chicken to make your acquaintance

In Janet’s journal entry yesterday, she questioned the wisdom of trying to change one’s personality to achieve certain goals. That’s an issue I’ve had some experience with. As the rest of the introverts out there know, sometimes we feel pressured to be more outgoing.

I’ve struggled my whole life to be more social. I can fake it for a few hours if there’s an important enough reason to do so, but it wears me out. Socializing with family or close friends is fine. They know me well enough to understand that my being quiet is just part of my personality and doesn’t mean I’m not having fun or not feeling well. They know I’m listening, and they know that if there’s something I want to say, I’ll say it--as long as I don’t have to talk over somebody else to be heard.

Interestingly, at work or in the classroom, I’ve always had plenty to say and haven’t been the least bit shy about expressing myself. I’ve spoken in front of groups, appeared in a couple of plays, and sung solos in the school choir, all with minimal jitters. My explanation for this paradox is that those situations are all role-playing in one way or another. On the dais or on the stage, my role is clearly defined. As a worker or a student, I also know exactly what’s expected of me. Usually, if I know what’s expected, I can deliver it.

But at a party or some other kind of social gathering? When I'm there as the real me? I don’t know my lines and I have only a vague idea of my role. I expect that whatever comes out of my mouth will be the wrong thing and that all of the people I’m meeting for the first time will judge me forever based on that one event. I’ll smile and be polite, but I’ll be cautious about revealing anything about myself. It's too scary.

My heroes at social occasions are the people who introduce themselves to me, the ones who ask questions I can answer and draw me into an honest-to-goodness conversation, not just small talk. Those people make me comfortable, and I'm grateful for their presence. The sad thing is that I rarely meet the people whose company I'd enjoy most, because they're sitting quietly in a corner, too, waiting until someone approaches them.

So, getting back to the subject of trying to change one’s personality, I’ll give you an example of one time I did try:

In the late ‘80s, my job in human resources led me to become involved with a group of HR people who met regularly with the head of the local Department of Labor to discuss staffing needs, employment issues, etc. At one point I was a district chairperson of the group (not a position that was highly coveted, I assure you). This was easy for me; I knew what I was expected to do when it came to leading a meeting.

There came a time, however, when a large event was scheduled with the chairpersons of all the districts in the state and a lot of DOL bigwigs. The problem was that it was a banquet meeting, and I would be sitting with nine total strangers at a round table for nearly an hour before the meeting began. Even worse, there would be a "get-acquainted social" after the meeting.

I steeled myself for the occasion well in advance. I told myself over and over to go forth and be social, to stick out my hand, introduce myself, pay attention to people’s names, all those things that are so difficult for me. "You can do this," I said to myself. "It’ll be good for your career to get to know some of these people."

The luncheon wasn’t bad. Because of the huge floral centerpiece on the table, I really didn’t have to interact too much except with the people immediately adjacent to me. The lady on my left was part of a group of three women who came to the event together, so she had others to talk to. Fortunately, the guy on my right picked up the conversational ball and tossed it to me, and I felt fairly comfortable while we chatted and ate our lunch. Lunch, by the way, was a tasty dish containing chunks of chicken in a creamy, bright-yellow sauce.

As lunch was ending, I learned that I'd be expected to sit on the dais during the meeting. They hadn't mentioned it before because I wouldn't have to speak, but I’d be introduced. And so, for the next 45 minutes, I sat looking out at an audience of people while the Secretary of Labor and others spoke about things they hoped were important enough to justify the cost of the event. Occasionally, as they spoke, I’d catch the eye of someone in the audience, and I’d acknowledge the eye contact with my brightest smile.

The speeches ended and it was time for the social hour. My insides were trembling, but I worked that room. I made my way around, introduced myself, shook hands, and "networked" with a lot of people. Mostly I smiled--my warmest, glad-to-meet-you smile. All the people were polite and pleasant. They looked me right in the eye–-sort of--and introduced themselves back to me. To my surprise and delight, they didn’t linger and act as if they expected to chat. They moved along rather quickly. I realized, with relief, that if that's all there was to it, I could do that.

I met a lot of people in about half an hour, enough people that I felt I’d conquered the challenge. With my spirits lifted, I excused myself and made my way out of the banquet room to go back to work. Just before I left the hotel, I ducked into the restroom, then washed my hands. I touched up my lipstick and did the quick smile-in-the-mirror thing to check it.

At that moment, I had a flashback of all those people I’d smiled at from the dais and all those people I’d introduced myself to afterwards. Right then, all alone in the hotel restroom, I smiled at my reflection and saw a big chunk of chicken, coated in bright-yellow sauce, wedged between my two front teeth.

The social-networking part of me was born and died in the course of a single event. Fortunately, my sense of humor--and a deep and abiding appreciation of the absurd--lived on.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Let the sun shine...

We've had two straight days of sunshine, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Everybody I know was feeling gloomy earlier in the week, worn down by endless rain and perpetually gray skies.

I've never been a sun worshiper (too fair skinned to stay out in it long), and I've never thought I had any traces of seasonal affective disorder. But now that I've seen what a dramatic difference a couple of sunny days have made in my mood, I'm beginning to wonder. Sun, if you had feet, I'd be kissing 'em today.

This is how the woods across the street from my house looked last week:

And this is how they look today. Even the trees seem to be happier.

The dogs have noticed the difference, too. It's nice for them to be able to stay in the yard for a while and visit their dog friends in the neighbors' yards on either side of us. The well-worn paths where they meet along the fence are still muddy. Two days of sunshine haven't eliminated the task of paw-washing, but I don't mind it so much when the pups have been outside long enough to enjoy themselves--and wear themselves out a bit.

Kadi tends to scout out spots in the yard that would be called puddles if it weren't for the grass growing in them, and then she lies down in the muddy water. Her belly gets washed almost as often as her feet.

As I cleaned her off this afternoon, I found a few tiny snails clinging to her fur. This is the first time I've seen the snails this year, although I remember them well from previous wet winters. They're dark grey, almost black, and about the size of baby green peas. They obviously live in the wet grass but like to vacation on large household pets.

Thanks to the sunshine, I feel as if I've been on vacation, too. It's been wonderful to get away from that dark, rainy place where I lived just days ago.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I think my VCR is possessed

One evening shortly before Christmas, I walked into the living room and discovered that the VCR was busily recording something I knew nothing about. Based on my unfortunate history with all things mechanical and/or electronic, my first thought was that I'd done something wrong. I thought maybe I'd accidentally hit the "record" button on the remote control when I'd turned the TV on earlier. Oh, well, no harm done. I pressed the "stop" button and turned off the VCR.

A couple of days later, it happened again. That time I was watching television when I heard the VCR click on and start recording. There was no way I'd pressed "record." I had a plate in my left hand and a fork in my right, and the remote control was lying untouched on the end table.

The second time happened at approximately the same time of day as the first time did, so I considered another possibility: What if I had somehow programmed it (accidentally, of course) to record something every day at that time? If that was it, all I had to do was delete the program, and I knew how to do that. I pressed the "menu" button, then pressed the number to "review existing programs." The message on the screen told me there were no existing programs. There was nothing to delete.

But the next day? Same time? The darned thing started recording again.

I started paying attention. Every Monday through Friday--but not on weekends--the VCR turns itself on at exactly 6:00 p.m. That's 6:00 p.m. actual time; 5:59 p.m. according to the VCR clock. I don't know what time it stops because I've always turned it off manually.

It occurred to me that the VCR might be getting a signal from an outside source, a neighbor's VCR perhaps, so I conducted a little experiment. I have two more VCRs in the house, so the other day, as soon as I got home from work, I set the clocks on both of them and put in fresh tapes. At 6:00 p.m. the VCR in the living room started recording right on schedule. The other two? Nothing.

I realize that this isn't a huge problem in the total scheme of things, but it's definitely an irritant. If I record something to watch later, I don't dare rewind it unless I'm gonna watch it immediately. I learned that the hard way, after it turned itself on and recorded over most of an Ugly Betty episode I'd taped.

The otherworldly, non-programmed recording isn't the only happening with the VCR. When I watch anything I've previously recorded, or when I'm watching one channel and recording another, weird bars of seemingly random letters and symbols show up on the screen. The bars vary in length, number and position. Sometimes they appear on the VCR menu screen, too, blocking out the date or time or some other vital piece of information I need to enter.

At this point I'm out of ideas. Are there any techies out there who have a clue what might be happening here? Any exorcists?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Book Tag (it was this or several paragraphs of whining.)

Every suitable blog topic I can think of tonight deserves more energy than I have to commit to it. For some reason (days and days days of rain? things breaking around my house? a flaming canker sore in my mouth?), I'm stuck with a mild case of the blues.

It isn't helping that I'm reading a wonderfully/terribly sad book, Jacqueline Mitchard's Cage of Stars, or that one of my earliest blogger friends, Patsy, is in the hospital. And if that isn't enough reason to bring out the box of tissues, George Bush is giving his State of the Union address tonight.

At any rate, this seems like an excellent time to latch on to a meme, so I've borrowed the 123Meme from Sunflower Optimism. Here are the rules, freshly cut and pasted from Sunflower's blog:

1. Grab the closest book to you.
2. Open to page 123, look down to the 5th sentence.
3. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog.
4. Include the title and the author's name.
5. Tag 3 people.

Okie dokie, here we go:

"In this example, the Levels command was applied to just the field in the foreground.

"Checking the Preview check box displays your edits in the document window.

"Did you know?"

That stunning bit of prose was from Digital Photography: Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks, by Gregory Georges. It's a really good book for its purpose, but perhaps not suitable for this meme. It was, however, the closest book to me.

As a person who sees things in a hundred shades of grey, never in black or white, I feel free to bend the rules of this meme and get the second-closest book to me. Here I go...reaching with my left hand...reaching blindly over the wastebasket and the paper shredder and the top of one of the bookcases that surround my desk...grabbing something sight unseen...and, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner:

Page 123, fifth, sixth and seventh sentences (Take Two):

"It was beyond cornball. 'Tell 'em to check out the tortoise-and-the-hare story. Remind 'em about the long view.'"

Those three sentences were from Joseph Finder's Company Man,
a really good read if you like suspense.

This was actually kind of fun, and I'm feeling a bit perkier now than I was when I started. I won't tag anybody, but if you want a quickie post for your own blog, help yourself to this one.

P.S. Get well, Patsy.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

My secret bond with Jamie Leigh Curtis

I've been reading a wonderful book today, The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. The plot revolves around a doctor whose wife gives birth to twins, a healthy boy and a girl with Down Syndrome. In a split-second decision, the doctor sends the baby girl away to an institution and tells his wife that their daughter died. The rest of the book is about the ramifications of that one act.

Part of the story is about how the girl grows up, happy and healthy, with a mother she believes is her own. And that's the part of the story that triggered a memory of my own.

I don't know how old I was when I first heard about adoption, but there was a period of time when I was nine years old that I gave the subject some serious consideration. For reasons I don't remember, I wasn't a particularly happy kid that year. I thought my family didn't understand or appreciate me, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought I knew why: I was not theirs.

My mother had talked numerous times about the day I was born, as had my grandparents, but I began to think they'd made it all up. Yes, I looked quite a bit like my mother, and I could also see some of my facial features in photos of my father, but wouldn't it be natural that they'd try to pick out a child who resembled them? Of course, they would.

I began to fantasize about my real parents, the ones who'd been looking for me ever since I'd disappeared in my infancy. Not that I thought the people I lived with were baby-stealers, nosiree bob, they were decent folks. It's just that they lived such boring lives: cleaning house, going to work, cooking meals, working in the garden. I knew, deep down, I was different. I was meant for better things.

From time to time I pondered the situation, trying to figure out who I was, where I belonged, and what I could do to make things right once I knew the answers to those questions. I studied faces in magazines and movies (we didn't get TV until the following year), looking for people who might be my real parents.

Finally, I thought I found them: Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Janet Leigh and the woman in my house who claimed to be my mother had a lot of similar features, so it was conceivable Janet Leigh's baby could pass as my mother's. And Tony Curtis was so handsome; who wouldn't want him for a dad?

I loved this idea. I could see myself riding between them in a convertible, waving to fans as we drove down the streets of Hollywood. We would live in a big white mansion, and I'd probably have a pony. I'd have lots of dolls, more beautiful dresses than any other child I knew, and I'd never--not once--be asked to sweep off the sidewalk when I'd rather be reading comic books. These would be my people. They'd know I was born for greatness.

There was one little problem. I was in fourth grade, I was good at math, and the numbers just didn't add up. I had no idea how long it took to have a baby, but I knew a woman couldn't have one unless she was married. I'd read that Tony and Janet had gotten married only the year before, and as hard as I tried, I couldn't think of any way they could have a daughter who was now nine years old.

I thought about it a lot. I tried to make it so. I tried until the hard, cold arithmetic interfered too many times with my fantasies and wishes...or until whatever had been bothering me at home resolved itself. All I know is that my adopted-child phase fizzled out.

There were other times after that when I felt sad and other times when I wished certain things in my family were different, but I never again wished for a different family. In fact, the older I got, the more I learned to appreciate the people who loved me in spite of my fanciful ways, and the more I wanted to be like them.

I've grown up to clean house, go to work, cook meals...all those things that are necessary parts of raising a family and making a house a home. I've done all those things with a sense of honor and gratitude for the people who supported me physically, financially and emotionally until I was able to do those things on my own. I know who I am and where I belong, and I wouldn't change it if I could.

My adoption fantasy is so over. When I think about it these days, there's only one part of it that still makes me a little wistful: Jamie Leigh, if you read this, would you let me know if you ever had a pony?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

This is my 300th post...

...according to Blogger. Had I paid attention to the number of my last post, I'd have tried to make this one worthy of the occasion. I would have selected a subject of universal interest, and I would have given special care to every single syllable and punctuation mark. Unfortunately for you, this one will run more along the lines of a holy-crap-it's-been-two-days-since-I-posted entry. So, without further ado, for my 300th post I'll show you a couple of photos and talk about the weather.

Last weekend I was running around in short-sleeved shirts and enjoying it immensely. My neighbor's roses enjoyed the warmer weather, too. They behaved as if it were entirely normal to bloom so boldly in the middle of January.

At the beginning of the new week, though, someone threw the weather switch and the temperature dropped forty degrees. I've been cold all the way to the bone since Tuesday, and today the dreaded rain is back.

There. All done. (I'll work a little harder on the next 300 posts.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Where did the time go?

Cleaning (yuck!)

Back in November, I wrote about my tendency to procrastinate and listed all the things on my desk. I took this photo that same day:

I was embarrassed to show you the "before" picture until I could follow it up with an "after" one, which I couldn't do until now. Here, thank goodness, is how it looks today:

The front rooms of my house got a thorough cleaning while I was off work during the holidays. They've pretty much stayed clean and needed only dusting and vacuuming this weekend. The kitchen and bathroom, of course, get dirty on a daily basis, so they were due to be cleaned again over the weekend. All of that I could have managed if I'd put my mind to it, but the den where my office is? Just looking at the mess in there overwhelmed me.

My office area is at one end of the den. At the other end is a table that used to be a perfect place to do crafts or work jigsaw puzzles. For the past two years that table has been piled high with the tools of an ongoing redecorating project: paint cans, brushes, rollers, drop cloths, etc., all of which had become covered with a layer of dust. Add several stacks of books and a heaping pile of cardboard boxes (for transporting items to Goodwill), and I couldn't even imagine where to begin.

This past weekend, motivated by an impending first-time visit by a new online friend, push finally came to shove. Even working at the fastest pace I could manage, I underestimated the amount of time it would take me to finish. Fortunately, on the second day, my daughter pitched in. She can be something of a Discard Nazi, and, thankfully, she worked her tail off as she talked me into tossing out a trunkload of stuff I just might need someday.

My house is more orderly right now than it's been in the past two years. In fact, it's so clean that I had no fun at all yesterday, because I couldn't bear to do anything that might mess it up.

Company (yea!)

Our Sunday visitor was even more delightful in person than she is online. She comments here as FrontHallGlass, and she came bearing homemade macaroni and cheese in one hand and a precious eight-week-old puppy in the other. We had a delightful evening full of good conversation, good food, and one fairly pathetic game of Trivial Pursuit. I look forward to doing it all again.

Convalescing (yikes!)

That would be Butch, who, ironically, managed to injure his right front leg while he was home and I was at the veterinarian's office. He was fine when I left home to go get a new supply of heartworm meds for him and Kadi, but by the time I got back he was limping. Nothing appeared to be broken, and there were no visible wounds, so we think he probably hurt himself jumping off the futon.

I waited out the weekend, hoping he'd improve, before I finally broke down yesterday and took him to the vet. They kept him for a couple of hours, checked him out, and came to the same conclusion I did: he probably didn't need to go to the vet. Still, they gave him some anti-inflammatory meds. So far, the drugs have done a lot more for my guilt complex than they've done for Butch's limp.

Catching up (yippee!)

I've buzzed quickly by a few of my favorite blogs in the last few days, and I hope to catch up with everybody soon. Right this minute, though, I have a major

Conflict (yup!)

The new season of American Idol starts tonight. See y'all later!

Friday, January 12, 2007


The road that runs in front of my house is a two-lane, winding road that shouldn't be as busy as it is, but a lot of chemical plant workers use it as a route to avoid an even busier four-lane highway east of us. The four-lane highway runs in roughly the same direction, only in a straight line.

There are only two places on the map where those two long roads are connected by shorter ones. The shortest linking road is extremely busy, too, as long lines of plant workers use it to make their way from the winding road to the main road and access to I-10. One end of the shortest linking road is near my house. The other end, a half-mile away, is the scene of a future fatality. Unless a traffic light is installed there soon, it's just a matter of time until someone is killed.

It's nearly impossible to turn left at that T-intersection, because a couple hundred yards to the left is an Interstate 10 exit, spilling a steady flow of cars and trucks down the off-ramp to merge with heavy traffic on the main highway. Traffic has always been a problem at that spot, but the Hurricane-Katrina-induced migration to this area has increased it to a volume our existing roads aren't capable of processing. I almost never attempt to turn left there.

Straight across the main road from the linking road which tees into it is a new McDonald's restaurant. I'd like to go there more than I do (especially during McRib season), but getting across the main road is almost as difficult as turning left onto it. In fact, having the McDonald's at that spot has made the traffic problems worse. Some people will risk their lives for a Big Mac or a Happy Meal.

The safest way to get from the linking road to the main road is a right turn, and even that requires good luck and excellent timing. Yesterday, one of those elements must have been missing.

I waited in the right-turn lane for several minutes for a break in traffic so I could make a quick turn and go back to work after lunch. Just when I thought I could make it, just when I moved forward about five feet, a truck next to me in the left-turn lane pulled out a few feet and came to a screeching halt. I couldn't see around him to see why he was stopping, so I stopped, too, to be safe. Unfortunately, the driver of the pickup truck behind me must have been looking at the screeching truck, too, because he plowed right into my rear end.

We were traveling at such slow speeds that there wasn't any damage except for some of his white paint ending up on my smoke-colored bumper. That and a couple of very tiny scratches. No dents, thank goodness. I think most of the "skidmarks" on my bumper can be polished out. (Tip: A well-maintained coating of dirt and road film apparently provides protection for a vehicle's paint job in the event of a collision.)

The young man who hit me turned out to be a neighbor whose younger brother is a friend and teammate of my grandson. He came out of his truck with his driver's license and insurance documents in his hand (he knew the drill so well I suspect this wasn't his first accident), and the first words out of his mouth were, "Are you okay?" He couldn't have been nicer or more respectful, and I was so happy not to have to deal with a jerk at a time when my nerves were rattled.

We surveyed the damage (none to his truck, just what I've described above to mine) and the injuries (none to either of us) and exchanged identification and insurance company information. We discussed whether we should report the accident to the police. I decided it wasn't worth it, and that seemed more than okey-dokey with him. As a matter of fact, there were sheriff's deputies almost within shouting distance, directing traffic because an existing traffic light had malfunctioned. They appeared to have all they could handle right at that moment, and I was already late to work.

Having worked for an attorney for years, I've often wondered if some people exaggerate their injuries in a rear-end collision. I felt fine at the scene of the accident, but later, near bedtime, I was shocked at how stiff and sore my neck and shoulders were from that tiny jolt. I'm fine today, but it helped me to appreciate that a more severe whiplash injury could do some lasting damage.

Interestingly, my older daughter had an almost identical accident last year, rear-ended as she turned right from the I-10 off ramp just beyond the corner where I had my accident yesterday. She and I talk frequently about the need for a light at that intersection, but I don't know how many collisions will have to happen before we get one.

We were both lucky. Someday someone won't be.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On being a stick in the mud

You'd think, on a day when most of the clouds in the sky are manmade, that you wouldn't hear any complaints about the weather. This week has been mild and sunny. The fact is, though, that my personal outlook is partly cloudy because of last week's downpours.

If you've ever seen photos of Louisiana graveyards (by golly, there's one right here), you may have noticed that many of the dearly departed seem to be resting aboveground. The reason for that is that the water table lies much closer to the surface here than it does in most areas of the country. We can't dig too deep a hole without getting our shovels wet, and we don't want our dead to float away.

For that same water-table reason, when we have a few straight days of rain, as we did last week, the ground can't absorb all of it. In my front yard the excess rainwater simply rolls down the hill. In the back, though, it stands, invisible beneath the thick mat of dead, yellow grass and thriving winter weeds, waiting for an unsuspecting creature who'll attempt to bypass the cement and take a shortcut across the yard. One false step, and an errant foot is sucked below the grass and into mud deep enough to cover a shoe top.

If it's humanly possible, we humans stay off the grass when the ground is like this. The dogs, unfortunately, have business to tend to in the yard, business I'm glad they choose not to conduct on the stepping stones. They return from their forays into the yard with feet that look like these--or even worse.

Butch doesn't like the mud on his paws and tends to stay on the stepping stones except for urgent business. Kadi, on the other hand, is in her element. She races through the yard, her feet making slurping noises as she runs, splashing mud up onto her belly as she bares her teeth in her best canine grin. When I insist that it's time to come back inside, she barrels toward the door along a path of her own making, a muddy trail that lies about two feet to the right of and parallel to the perfectly good stepping stones.

I've calculated that I've been averaging an hour a day, broken up into multiple 5-10 minute segments, wiping mud off of dogs' legs with a series of wet towels. It's become so routine that when Kadi comes through the door, she immediately hits the floor, rolls over on her back, and sticks all four feet up into the air to be cleaned. She doesn't appear to enjoy it, but she knows it's gotta be done before she gets a treat. That's eight legs to be cleaned, twice in the morning before I can even go to work, once at lunchtime, twice again in the evening, and last night (I wanted to shoot them) in the middle of the night.

I clean their feet, then I mop up the floor with the damp towel. At the end of each day I have to wash a load of muddy towels. All this muddy water is taking a toll on my hands. Just look at the semi-permanently puckered prunes that try to pass themselves off as my fingers.

There's one more problem that's directly related to the wet ground, one you might not have considered: spiders. Every year, when the yard reverts to the swampland it must have been in a previous lifetime, these spiders move out of the yard and into the house. They're little (I zoomed in for the closeup), but they creep me out. They like to lurk in shadowed corners, and they seem to have a special fondness for hiding under piles of damp, muddy towels. Many of the spiders (most of them, I hope) aren't particularly adept at lurking, so (with apologies to Charlotte and Wilbur) I stomp two or three of them every day.

I don't know about you, but I'm hoping for another dry season soon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Is that a new wrinkle, Sis?

No, of couse not. My eyes are just not as good as they used to be, which, of course, is one of the many problems of aging.

My sister turns 60 years old today. I wish her the happiest birthday ever, and I couldn’t be happier about this special day. I realize she'll always be four years younger than I am, but it makes me feel better to know she's at least rolled over into the same decade.

Actually, "rolled over" is probably a poor choice of words. More than likely, she has glided gracefully across the line between 59 and 60. I used to think she'd go kicking and screaming across that line, but I didn’t give her enough credit. The years have been kind to her. She's young enough in heart, mind and body that she needn't worry about numbers.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've met my sister before, and you know how much she means to me. She's commented here, too, occasionally, first under our uncle's nickname for her:

Fatty Grubbs

and then under a screen name I suggested because I thought it suited her so much better:


Any resemblance to the “Fatty Grubbs” picture is long gone, but if I were to show you a photo of my sister today, you could still see plenty of “Splendorella” in her face.

Happy birthday, Sis, and welcome to a decade I think you'll find enjoyable. The calendar might declare you officially old, but everyone who knows you knows it isn’t true. You’re youthful and beautiful, inside and out, and I love you more than ever.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

To have and to hold...

In the year 2000, our family grew by four members when my younger daughter married a fine man who came equipped with three children. It grew again yesterday when his 19-year-old daughter married a fine young man of her own.

The bride was beautiful. Her braces came off earlier in the week and her smile was radiant. The groom, an Ethan Hawke lookalike, looked great in his white tuxedo. The bride’s younger sister was one of the bridesmaids, and she looked prettier and more grown-up than I’ve ever seen her. The bride's brother, home on military leave for the occasion, was as handsome in a tux as he is in his uniform. The parents of the bride and groom were also dressed formally. They were suitably elegant to attend a gala event at the White House instead of a wedding in a small southern town.

The wedding was held in a large church, one large enough to have a really good audio-visual system. A hidden camera focused on the the bride and groom during the proceedings, projecting their faces onto large screens and letting us see close-up the subtle nuances of their expressions as they exchanged vows. Their love and their joy were evident.

The bride and groom both make church a huge part of their lives, way more than I ever have. As part of their commitment to their religion and to each other, they opted for a covenant marriage, which requires counseling before marriage and makes divorce more difficult to obtain. The church’s online wedding policies state: “No changes to the vows will be allowed.”

I must admit that one tiny part of the vows rankled my inner feminist. The words for the bride and groom were mostly the same, except that where he promised “to be faithful to her,” she promised “to serve him.” “Serving him” wasn’t in the wedding vows I took in 1961 (or again in 1968), but it was the societal mindset then, so it might as well have been. Unfortunately, it was also a concept that slowly eroded my self-esteem. I’m hoping that a 21st century bride can serve her husband without losing sight of her own worth.

Weddings always make me cry, no matter how much I tell myself ahead of time it won’t happen again. This time it was the faces of the bride’s parents-–two sets of them--that brought on happy tears. Their eyes showed so much love for their daughter on this day she’d always dreamed of...so much hope for her future.

Their faces reflected feelings I remember well, feelings of my own during a special wedding ceremony in the year 2000.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Photo Night: Louisiana Rain

The rain arrived sometime during the night, just as weather forecasters predicted. I don't know how much rain we've had so far, but I can tell you this: I've already had enough.

Update: Here's what our part of Louisiana sounded like all day today:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Better late than never

One weekend in February 1987, I attended a Progoff Intensive Journal Workshop®. The workshop was focused on writing exercises designed to develop self-awareness. We were supposed to continue the exercises on our own after the workshop ended, but I went home and never cracked the book again until yesterday. (I’ve always been better at starting things than at finishing them.)

Even though the workshop was a great experience, I haven't thought about it in years. Yesterday, continuing my recent de-cluttering spree, I came across the Intensive Journal Workbook®. It doesn't take much to derail my half-hearted cleaning efforts, so I stopped immediately and began to read what I’d written nearly 20 years ago.

One of the exercises involved writing dialogues, and the workbook included dividers with these labels:

  • Dialogue with Persons
  • Dialogue with Works
  • Dialogue with Society
  • Dialogue with Events
  • Dialogue with the Body

    We completed the first two dialogue exercises during the course of the workshop. All of them were done privately, unless the writer decided to read something aloud to the group.

    What interested me most yesterday was the “Dialogue with Works” section, which I’d totally forgotten. The “work” could be an actual paying job or it could be other work, including creative work, that was important to us. We were asked to give a written voice to whatever work we chose and write a dialogue with it, letting the “conversation” flow without censoring or editing it. The work I chose, even way back then, was writing.

    We began by allowing our chosen work to make a few statements to us, and this is what my dialogue partner, Writing, had to say:

    "I was born in the first stories that were read to you. When you learned to read, it wasn’t enough; I made you want to write. I was in the song you wrote about Miss Engleking in sixth grade--clever, but it got you in trouble. I was with you in Short Story class in ninth grade, encouraging you all the way. I felt very proud when your story was published in the high school paper. I was with you on your Senior English term paper, when you got a perfect score. That was my perfect score--you didn’t help much--or work very hard. I’ve been with you in letters to your family. Now you put me away and use the phone. I’ve been with you in poetry, expressing your deepest emotions. I want to live and grow. Please let me out.”

    On the same page, after skipping a few blank lines, the dialogue between Writing (W) and me began:

    Me: “Hi, Writing, I’ve been thinking about you lately.”

    W: ”Hi. You’ve been thinking about me for years.”

    Me: “What do you mean, exactly?”

    W: “It’s like thinking is all you do. You plan and daydream and talk to others about what you’d like to do with me, but you just don’t do it. You always put other things first.”

    Me: “Maybe that’s because I haven’t really felt worthy of writing before. Until now I didn’t feel I had anything to say worth listening to.”

    W: “So what’s changed that will make things different? Your life hasn’t exactly gotten terribly exciting all of a sudden.”

    Me: “No, but I’ve changed. My perspective has changed. Until now, when I looked at a flower, I saw just a beautiful, red flower. Now I can see all the parts of it: the stem, the leaves, the petals, the pistil, the stamen-–and I can smell it, too. Before now, I was locked up in some way, and all I could have written was, “There was a beautiful, red flower on the riverbank.” Now, though, working with you, I can make others see it: ‘On the edge of the riverbank, growing among the ragged green grasses, was a beautiful flower, its tall stem lifting it out of the green proudly. Slender petals, red with the sheen of satin, cupped the downy yellow center as if protecting it from the wind, and long, tapered leaves reached upward in praise of the sun.’ There! See the difference?”

    W: I see what you’re talking about, but I’m not sure I trust you. You try to do too many things-–and you’re lazy!”

    Me: “I haven’t had a lot of trust in you, either. Because I’ve felt you might not be perfect, sometimes I haven’t let you be at all. And I’m not lazy as much as I’m afraid of failing.”

    W: “I’m here for you if you’ll let me help, but you have to open the door for me. It hurts when you shut me out.”

    Me: “It hurts me, too. I feel like I’ve abandoned a friend. A demanding friend, maybe, but one who cares about me.”

    W: “I know you’ve started the writing course.* Will it help us?”

    Me: “I think it will. I think it will work like counseling. You and I have a problem, and an impartial third party may help us negotiate a better understanding.”

    W: “Well, it’s a start, but I’m still skeptical.”

    Me: “I guess I don’t blame you. I’m sorry if you think I wasted time. I prefer to think of it as a gestation period.”

    W: “Unborn things need nourishment, too.”

    Me: “I think I understand that now."


    It was enlightening to read this dialogue yesterday, and even more enlightening to realize it took me another nineteen years to begin writing on a regular basis. I guess what I need to say now is, “Thank you, Writing, for your patience. I’m having a great time working with you on this blog.”

    * Just for the record, I didn’t finish the writing course, either.
  • Tuesday, January 02, 2007

    The holiday that almost wasn't

    After a lovely day off yesterday to celebrate New Year's Day, and after the second straight night of fireworks-disrupted sleep, I dragged myself out of bed early this morning to go back to work. It was difficult to do, but I accepted the necessity of it and knew I'd feel more awake and alert as the day went on.

    I pulled up in front of our building right at eight-thirty, our usual starting time, and mine was the only car in the parking lot. That made me feel worse. All of the other offices were apparently enjoying a two-day holiday, just as most of the government offices were.

    I turned on the lights, cranked up the heat, turned on my computer, checked for voice mail messages, and wondered where my boss was. He's usually there before I am.

    As I sat there at my desk, I began to wonder. "Hmmm," I thought. "We discussed what days we'd take off for Christmas, but we never actually talked about the New Year's holidays." Since there are only two of us in the office, the boss and I, and we've worked together for eight years, sometimes we assume we know what each other is thinking. Sometimes we're wrong.

    I decided I'd wait until nine o'clock to call his house. At eight-fifty, the phone rang. It was one of his buddies. "Is he there?" he asked. "He's supposed to meet me at my house at nine to go hunting, and I couldn't reach him on his cell phone. I'll call him at home."

    My day was starting to get better. "I haven't heard from him this morning," I replied, "but if you catch him at home, would you please ask him to give me a call? If today is a holiday, I'd sure like to know about it."

    In less than five minutes the phone rang again. "I'm so sorry," the boss said, "I thought we talked about this last week."

    "Oh, no," I said, "please don't be sorry; I'm thrilled to death."

    It took less than two minutes to shut things down, then my holiday resumed. Of all the days I've had off in the past couple of weeks, this one is the most delicious.

    Monday, January 01, 2007

    ...and in with the new

    Beautiful weather greeted us this morning, making the first day of the new year bright and shiny, just as it should be.

    New Year's Day is my favorite holiday. Remember how it felt to open a new tablet when you were in first grade? One that didn't have any writing in it, let alone any mistakes or erasures? That's what New Year's Day feels like to me. It's clean, it's fresh, and it's largely up to me to mark up the year like I want it.

    Granted, sometimes I make mistakes in spite of my best intentions. Sometimes other people or circumstances beyond my control scribble on my pristine new year. Sometimes it seems as if whole pages get ripped out, wadded up and tossed away. But the next year? I get to start all over again.

    I'm still trying to sort out which things I want to do better this year. It's a good thing I didn't make a resolution not to overeat, because I'd have already broken that one. We went to my younger daughter's house again, where we had ham, brisket, black-eyed peas, broccoli and cheese casserole, and a cabbage dish that I'd give up dessert for any day--except that I didn't have to. I ate dessert, too.

    That was at lunchtime. When I left there late this afternoon, after one game of Battle of the Sexes (the women won again) and two games of Scrabble, I brought home a big plate of leftovers and did the whole lunch thing all over again for supper. If someone were to offer me an after-dinner mint right now, I'd have to just put it in my purse.

    One thing I want to do this year is get more sleep, which means I need to stop reading half an hour earlier at bedtime. That'll be tough, but I can really see an improvement in my energy level when I get enough sleep. And if I could improve the quality of my sleep time, in addition to the quantity, I'd probably feel like a brand-new person.

    It seems some of us are just naturally better sleepers than others:

    I think I'll go to bed early tonight and give Butch a run for his money. Good night, all.