Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why wait?

My sister called this morning and surprised me with the news that her newest grandchild, a boy, arrived last night -- five weeks early. This baby is my niece's first child, and I can so identify with her right now.

My own firstborn arrived six weeks early, before we'd bought diapers, a crib or anything else. I'd thought there was plenty of time. For weeks I'd been embroidering tiny, gender-neutral diaper shirts, none of which was completed -- by the time of her birth or ever. Babies change plans, and when they arrive this early, the only thing that seems important is that they're healthy. My niece and I both got lucky in that regard.

This little boy will grow up in a family where love and laughter are plentiful. He'll be welcomed by parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles who'll be charmed by every hair on his head and every breath he takes. Maybe he knew that somehow. Maybe that's why he couldn't wait.

Why wait
When now is the right time?
Today could just pass you by,
Why wait?
It's your turn, it's your life,
The future is what we make
So why wait?

*Why Wait
By the Cheetah Girls

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

To You-Know-Who-You-Are Surveys, LLC

Get a clue, okay?

If you call someone's home phone number a half-dozen times over the course of a week, sometimes during the day, sometimes at night, and you never, never get an answer, which of the following possibilities do you think is the most likely scenario:

a. Nobody's ever home at this number, but the people who pay for this phone would really, really like to participate in your survey and would feel terrible if you didn't keep calling back until you finally reached them; or

b. The people who pay for this phone have Caller ID and have no intention of talking to you, no matter how many times you call back; or

c. There's a remote chance that one of the people in the household you're calling might be sitting right next to the only phone in the house that doesn't have Caller ID and might be expecting a call and might reach out and answer the phone without screening it first.

Crap. The correct answer was "b," but you picked "c," didn't you?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Lest ye think I exaggerate...

About a year and a half ago I posted a photographic example of my ongoing dog-hair problem. There's hair on the floor, hair in the air, and hair constantly falling off the dogs as they walk through the house. It mostly collects itself into tumbleweed-like puff balls and hides under furniture, so it isn't as if I have to kick a path through it. And I don't consider it dirty, exactly, because if the hair were still on the dogs, I'd have no objection to hugging them. It just gets a little overwhelming, that's all.

It would be easier to manage if I could just vacuum up the hair, but there's too much of it. It fills up more than one vacuum cleaner bag, and at five dollars a bag, I can't afford to use more than one per session. So I sweep before I vacuum. I pile all the hair into a corner, sweep the pile onto an open sheet of newspaper, then fold up the paper and put it in the trash.

You can imagine the volume of hair that accumulates if I get behind in the sweeping and vacuuming. Say I'm busy with a barbecue one weekend, a birthday dinner the next, then I get involved in a really, really good book, and then, just when I'm finally getting around to tackling chores, I get invited to trek through a nature preserve instead. Time flies by sometimes; what're you gonna do?

Today, I made up my mind, was no-nonsense day. I got Kadi and Butch both down and brushed them vigorously, determined to get every loose hair off of them before I began sweeping. Then I made a deal with myself.

Sweeping hurts my back, so I decided I'd sweep for 15 minutes, then do something I enjoy for the next 15, alternating until the job was done. I watched TV and drank a Diet Coke after the first 15 minutes, then picked up the broom again. As I swept, my mind began focusing on the possibility of a new creative project, something I've never seen anybody else do.

The timer rang and I got started. First, I needed a spray bottle of water to make my sculpture medium pliable enough to hold shape. After five minutes, I had just what I wanted, so the next step was to photograph it. It took about a minute to get the right shot, then another three or four minutes to get the photo loaded onto my computer. With five minutes left, I opened the photo file into the Paint program and went to work "painting" little facial features. Done, just in the nick of time.

This is supposed to be a vacuuming period, but I'm so pleased with the results of my art project that I couldn't wait to show it to you. Do you know how many times I've joked with people that there's enough dog hair in my house to make a whole 'nother dog? Maybe now they'll believe me.

I think I'll name this one Fluffy (may she rest in peace).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Under the white-hot sun?

Some of you have already written about cool nights and the need for warm blankets, but we're not there yet. Right now we just feel lucky that the temperature has dropped in the last week to a daily high of no more than 89-90 degrees.

I do know the season will change soon, though, and there's one more photo I want to show you before cool weather makes it untimely:

It's such a simple shot, really. The colors and the bleakness make me feel the kind of loneliness I experience when I look at Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World, but much warmer thoughts come to mind when I remember the day the photo was taken.

If you have the time and the inclination, tell me if the picture reminds you of anything or anywhere in particular. Then I'll come back in a day or two and give you the backstory.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

That's me, right there on the red carpet

Interviewer: Umm, you're on the red carpet, so I know I'm supposed to know you, but could you say your name for the viewers, please?

VS (leaning over to speak directly into the mic): Velvet. Sacks. My name is Velvet Sacks.

Interviewer: Uh, yeah, right, where are my notes? Ummm, Miz Sacks, can you tell us a little bit about your latest,, album?

VS: Well, I don't have a show or film or album; I have a blog.

Interviewer: A blog? Like on the Internet? Like thousands and thousands of other people have?

VS: Precisely.

Interviewer: And is your blog famous?

VS: Well, there are at least half a dozen people who read it regularly. Plus family. Well, not all my family, of course, some of them are busy with actual lives.

Interviewer: Oh, I see, well, ummm...tell us who you're wearing tonight.

VS: Dress Barn. Plus.

Interviewer: Hmmm, we don't see that here too often. Can you tell us what kind of fabric that is?

VS (rolling eyes): It's velvet, okay? Between the heavy, fuzzy fabric and the TV-adds-10-pounds thing, people are gonna think I'm fatter than I really am.

Interviewer: Heh-heh. Well, tell us why you're here tonight. Have you been nominated for something?

VS: Nominated, my ass! I've already won two awards, you doofus, and the most recent one was for being nice! Can you freakin' believe it? Now get outta my way; I need to get inside and see if they have any of those little finger sandwiches.


Jackie gave me this award, and I'm delighted, if somewhat embarrassed, to accept it. While I don't think I'm a mean person, "nice" isn't the first adjective I'd apply to myself. Are there any graphic artists out there who could digitally transform this into a "Not Usually a Jerk Award"? That might come just a little closer to the real me.

Jackie also posted these words that go along with the award: “This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends, and those that inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Once you have been awarded, please pass it on to seven others whom you feel are deserving of this award.”

Now, that last part I can do. I can think of way more than seven nice people I've met through blogging. Many of them have already received this award, and since every recipient is supposed to send it to seven others, I'm scrambling to get this list up fast.

I'm honored to present the "Nice Matters Award" to:

Austin of The People Behind My Eyes;

Maxngabbie of Maypoles of Life;

The four sisters who are quite nice but try their best not to show it:

Patsy of My Life and Times;

Betty of Galla Creek Ephemeris;

Helen of A Little of This-n-That; and

Fleta of Dirt Road Lives.

The seventh blogger whom I've chosen to recognize with the "Nice Matters Award" is, ta-dahhhhh:

Robbin with 2 B's of Cedar Chest of Dreams.

Robbin is, coincidentally, the person who gave me my very first award, the "Rockin' Girl Blogger Award," back in July. As much as I appreciated it, I missed my window of opportunity and then felt awkward writing about it: "I got this really nice award a lonnnnnnng time ago." I thanked Robbin on her blog, but if I'd had my ducks in a row back then, if I hadn't been so lethargic, and, well, if I'd been a nicer person, I would have been much quicker to post the award and thank her here. Sorry for the delay, Robbin. It does mean a lot that you thought of me when passing out these awards.

Speaking of passing out, I know this post is getting extremely long, but if you can take a deep breath and hang with me a bit longer, I'm supposed to give out five of the "Rockin' Girl Blogger" awards. These, I'm proud to send out to a special Fab Five:

Carmon of Life at Star's Rest;

Janet of Janet's Ordinary Life;

Alison of Inspired Work of Self-Indulgence;

Holly of Creekhiker; and, bringing us full circle:

Jackie of Jackie's Garden.

Not only do these ladies rock; they're nice, too. In fact, all of them have already received an award for that.


P.S. Just for the record, I didn't forget about Annie of Little Rock Daily Photo fame. Other people beat me to her.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ti-i-i-ime is on my side, yes it is

I'm really enjoying my new job, and one of the best things about it is getting off work thirty minutes earlier in the afternoon. That extra half hour is improving the quality of my life in a number of ways. For example, I can:

1. Be on my way home before the worst of the rush-hour traffic begins.

2. Make it to the post office before the afternoon pickup.

3. Get to the supermarket before the deli is out of all the good stuff.

4. Cook something for dinner instead of settling for whatever's fastest (because I'm not as hungry when I get home as I used to be).

5. Do a week's worth of laundry on a weeknight, freeing up a chunk of my weekend.

6. Sit outside with the dogs or cuddle them on the sofa.

7. Spend an extra half hour on the computer, reading your blogs or writing mine.

8. Blog before my favorite TV shows rather than after, which means I can get to bed at a decent hour.

9. Answer e-mails (oh, gawd, I'm sooo far behind).

10. Clean one room each evening to keep my house nice and tidy.

All of these strike me as really good ideas except the last one, which just misses being a good idea by virtue of being a blatant lie, not to mention a surefire way to ruin a perfectly good half hour.

If you suddenly gained an extra half hour each day, how would you use it?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

If you don't mind spiders and snakes... should have been with us today.

There was an actual pleasant breeze this morning, prompting Kim to call and talk me out of sweeping up dog hair (no arm twisting involved) and into an adventure. After reviewing our options, we ended up having a light lunch at one of the trendy chain restaurants near the mall, then visiting Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center, just a couple of miles down the road from there.

The Bluebonnet Swamp is a much more controlled, people-friendly environment than McElroy Swamp, the one I showed you back in March. That means it doesn't have the abundance of both beautiful and frightening wildlife that McElroy Swamp has, but it's still a wonderful, peaceful place to be.

This is a display of snakeskins on a table inside the Visitors' Center. All of these were found on site.

There are three designated trails through the nature center, varying in length to accommodate different levels of physical stamina, and wooden bridges and boardwalks lead through the wetland areas.

I took dozens of photos of trees and plants and cypress knees, but the lighting wasn't great, and most of the pictures were unspectacular. I did like these big, loopy branches, though.

Early on we encountered this bright spider, who appeared to be waiting patiently for her lunch.

A couple of curves later, this blue-tailed skink scurried beside the trail.

We saw clusters of these beautiful berries throughout the swamp. If you know what they are, please tell me.

Spiders like this one were all over the place, too, always suspended just above eye-level.

Our most exciting encounter was with this snake. Fortunately, we were on a wooden walkway when we saw him, and he was on the ground below us. This is the only shot I got of him that wasn't blurry, but I wish I could have captured one that showed his pink, forked tongue. He was waggling it rapidly, no doubt disturbed by the scent of us.

Judging by the broad shape and triangular nose of this insect, I believe he was some kind of stink bug. Whatever he was, he was big, almost two inches long.

As the day grew hotter, the trail seemed to grow longer. This photo was my last shot of the day and was taken at a moment when I was anticipating cold, refreshing relief. These beauties grew next to the menu beside the McDonald's drive-thru lane.

It makes me feel good to know Baton Rouge's park system supports a place like Bluebonnet Swamp. We'll go there again.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"To everything (turn, turn, turn)...

...there is a season (turn, turn, turn)..."

...and it was way past time to update the look of this blog.

It's been about 20 months since I settled on the "Velvet Sacks" blog title, then chose a template with a dark background and neon-colored dots. The colors made me think of velvet -- or at least of velvet Elvis paintings.

Recently I was motivated to change to a different look, but it took awhile to figure out what to do. You wouldn't believe how many photos I tried with the new template. In the end I bit the bullet and accepted the fact that if I wanted to continue with the "velvet" theme, I'd have to bust out the props and take a new header photo. If there are any Pente players among you, you may recognize the velvet bags and colored glass stones of a 1980s version of the game. As I write this, the parts of the game are scattered across the bed in my spare bedroom, along with a pretty scarf (also from the '80s) that I came that close to giving to Goodwill.

You want to know what started me thinking about redecorating this little corner of Blogdom? I stumbled across Time Goes By, a delightful blog written by Ronni Bennett, and found her list of "elderbloggers." Right there on her sidebar were a lot of people I'd been trying to find, older people like me, folks whose blogs I could read to gauge whether or not I'm where I should be at my age, developmentally speaking. What a find!

And then I read Ronni's rules for inclusion on her blog list. I thought I could possibly make the list except for one tiny glitch (there was one instance in the not too distant past when I felt bad and went longer than a week without posting) and one big violation of the "no-light-colored-text-on-a-dark-background" rule. Hmm. That one was a doozy. I personally love a dark background because it makes the pictures pop, but I have read that some people find the light-on-dark blogs hard to read. Maybe that's the reason for the rule.

Anyway, after mulling it over for a few months, I've finally cleaned my blog house, and it feels good to see my words in fresh surroundings. Whether Ronni adds me to her list or not, I'm happy with the changes. I hope you'll like them, too. If you'd care to sit and visit for awhile, there's cake.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Night moves

I was tired Monday night, almost asleep in front of the TV until Kim called. We talked for a few minutes, and I remember telling her just before we hung up that I thought I’d go on to bed early and read for awhile. It wasn’t quite nine o’clock then.

The trash can goes out to the curb on Monday night for pickup at the crack of dawn Tuesday, so before I could go to bed, I set about emptying wastebaskets and gathering things to take outside. Then something on TV caught my eye. I don’t even know what channel I was watching, but the program was one of those prime-time news programs featuring all the details of a true-life crime.

For the next hour I watched in sadness and horror the story of a family whose home was selected at random and invaded in the middle of the night by two parolees who had met in a halfway house. During the long hours they were in the family’s home, they beat the father with a baseball bat, drove the mother to a bank and made her withdraw $15,000, then returned to the house, raped the mother and an 11-year-old daughter and, eventually, set fire to the house. The father escaped, barely, but the mother and her two daughters died.

Even though the perpetrators were captured by the end of the hour, the time I spent watching the family’s ordeal and imagining the fear they must have endured left me feeling more than a little unsettled.

By then it was ten o’clock, and the garbage still had to go out. It’s normally quiet in our neighborhood at that time of night, but Monday night was different. The next-door neighbor’s dogs were barking persistently at something I couldn’t see. In fact I couldn’t even see the dogs in her yard until I let Butch and Kadi out into our backyard. My dogs immediately began barking, too, and the neighbor's dogs materialized at the fenceline to fill them in on the latest news.

I went to my front doorway and stood there for a few moments, studying the darkness and looking for any sign of movement. Finally, I summoned up my courage, flipped the carport light on, grabbed two bags of garbage and hurried to the trash can.

With the carport light behind me and the streetlight at the road, there was plenty of light in the driveway. My path to the road was clear, but the complete darkness around that lighted pathway made me feel exposed and vulnerable.

I parked the trash can next to the mailboxes, directly under the streetlight, and turned briskly to walk back up the hill to the house. The woods across the road were at my back now, and I was keenly aware of them. When I reached a point where I could see the light in my living room through the glass storm door, I imagined how easy it would have been for someone to have hidden in the shadows, then slipped inside my house when I turned away to push the trash can to the curb.

"Cut that out!" I scolded myself, all the while moving my eyes from one dark place to another, scanning the shadows. I'd made it about halfway up the driveway when a loud, shrill scream -- OOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH -- came from in or near our big oak tree and split the night wide open. If I’ve ever had any doubts about my ability to move my ample backside fast when the occasion calls for it, they were vanquished in that instant. There could have been six strange men standing in plain sight in my living room -- six big strange men wearing ski masks and carrying an assortment of lethal weapons -- and the sight of them wouldn’t have deterred me from running into their midst and locking the door behind me.

I had to read for a long time before I could go to sleep that night.

The next day I told my boss about what had happened and he guessed that the screamer might have been a screech owl. I’ve heard owls around here lots of times but never one that sounded like that. Fortunately, due to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to google “screech owl sounds” and eventually listen to one that proved him right.

From now on, the garbage goes out before the sun goes down.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

In a perfect world, we'd all speak perfectly

I like to believe that there's some kind of spirit life after we die, whether it exists in a place called heaven or in some other realm we don't know about. If I imagine the faces I might see there, I picture representatives of both sexes, all races, all nationalities, all religions. In my mind, all of our faces are smiling, and we're talking pleasantly in a common, universal language.

Then I think about one particular group of real-life people and realize I wouldn't be smiling if I were forced to listen to them speak for an extended period of time. The more I think about them, the more I'd kind of like to believe they'll be segregated from the rest of us, tucked away into their own little corner of the Pearly Gates Retirement Community. The truth is that if I knew I'd have to spend eternity chatting with people who say "excape," "ex cetera," and "expecially," I might not climb aboard that heaven-bound bus.

I've heard a local weatherman say "expecially" three times in the past week. Each time I heard it, I found myself wishing one of his lightning-bolt graphics would zoom across the screen to zap him in the head and put us all out of our misery.

Is that particular mispronunciation just a southern thing? I don't recall hearing it when I lived in other parts of the country. Maybe I did hear it and it didn't register back then. Maybe I've just grown older and crankier.

Another thing that sets my teeth on edge -- and I hear people make this mistake over and over on television -- is "between you and I" or "he gave it to Jessica and I." The word "me" seems to have fallen out of favor among the young lovelies and hunky heroes who inhabit our TV screens. It's obvious by looking at them that "me" is very much on their minds, but they rarely say the word.

I suspect that the people who are afraid to use "me" as an objective pronoun are the same ones who were instructed repeatedly in childhood not to use it at the beginning of a sentence, as in "Me and Johnny are going to ride our bikes now." They seem to have absorbed part of the lesson but none of the logic.

Anyway, when these people's souls ascend to wherever it is that we all hope to wind up, I hope I don't have to talk to them, either. Perhaps they could be situated between the "ex"-talkers and the rest of us. That way we can at least admire their good looks.

Most of the time when I'm engaged in conversation with someone, it's the content of what they say that interests me, not the structure of it. I'm sure I could fill a fresh notebook every week with the poor grammar I hear around here, but most of the time I don't even notice it. I'd love to know why it is that I can ignore the overwhelming majority of mangled language I hear, yet the two types of errors I've described in this post always, always set off alarms and irritate the heck out of me.

In other words, the level of annoyance I feel doesn't expecially make sense, but I can't seem to excape it.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Perfect timing

Recent conversation between my daughter Kim and the girl who was shampooing her hair:

Shampoo girl (working up a lather): "You have the tiniest ears!"

Kim: "Whaaat?"

A full week and a full belly

Last week was a long, busy one, but every day of it was good -- even the trip to the dentist, where my teeth were cleaned by the hygienist I've nicknamed "Nancy the Nazi." She's a super-nice person despite her torturously thorough technique.

I'm really happy in the new office. In addition to newer surroundings and a nice group of co-workers, there are just enough new responsibilities to keep the job interesting. We've been there for three weeks now, and I finally finished unpacking and organizing my files Friday afternoon, just in time for the long weekend.

The holiday weekend was especially enjoyable. My granddaughter and her new hubby hosted their second annual barbecued rib cookoff. There was sooooo much good food.

My daughter Kelli won first place in the rib competition for the second year in a row. She also won first place in the only other category -- "anything but ribs" -- with a bacon-wrapped shrimp and pineapple concoction that I'd willingly eat three meals a day for a long time.

My grandson and grandson-in-law were also among the prizewinners. Just in case you were wondering, there are much worse things in life than being surrounded by so many good cooks.

Their recipes are top secret, of course, but my own (non-competitive) contribution to the event was my former mother-in-law's pound cake, and I'll share that recipe with you. I first tasted her pound cake forty years ago, and in all the years since then, I've never had a better one.

Ginny's Buttermilk Pound Cake

2 sticks margarine
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp. soda
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour

Grease and flour pan (bundt pan or two loaf pans). Mix ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

If you try it, be sure to let me know what you think.