Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What was I thinking?

Betty (Sister-Three) of Galla Creek Ephemeris posted a picture today of her little granddaughter riding in the kind of red-and-yellow plastic toy car that's been a favorite of toddlers for years. My grandson had one when he was small (he's 17 now), but the one I remember best belonged to my niece when she was about three years old.

On the occasion I'm thinking about, the family had gathered in my sister's living room in East Texas. As the adults took advantage of the opportunity to visit in person for a change, I noticed that my niece seemed to be a little frustrated that she wasn't getting the attention she was used to. She was riding from person to person in her little car, trying to engage someone in her game.

When she "drove" up to me, I told her how much I liked her car and asked her where she planned to go next. She announced that she was going to the Dairy Queen.

"Oh, good," I said, "I'm really hungry. Would you mind picking up a couple of things for me?" She told me she'd do it, so I reached in my pretend purse, extracted some pretend money, and counted it out into her hand. I asked her to bring me a hamburger and a Coke, and I peeled off a couple more imaginary bills and suggested she might like to get something for herself.

My niece smiled as she drove her car to the far side of the room. I watched her climb out of the car, give her order and her pretend money to the imaginary Dairy Queen worker beside the draperies, then wait for her change and the food. Once that transaction was completed, she drove back to where I sat on the sofa and handed me the food I'd ordered. I thanked her profusely.

Her smile was so bright I decided to extend the game. "You know what?" I asked. "I'm thinking some ice cream might be good for dessert. If I give you some more money, would you go get us some ice cream?"

My niece's smile evaporated instantly. She rolled her eyes and gave me a look of exasperation. "I just got back," she said. "I'm not going again."

Heh! She's all grown up now. I can't wait for her to have a little girl of her own.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sis, do you remember?

Driving home for lunch today, I spotted the large leaves of a catalpa tree and took a quick trip back in time. The second picture on this page (the one with the large green leaves and the small white flowers--the picture I considered "borrowing" and posting here, but we all know we aren't supposed to do that) looks like a catalpa tree that was in the front yard of my childhood home.

There were lots of trees in that yard but only one catalpa tree. Its white blossoms were tubular shaped, with ruffles on their edges, and each bloom was just the right size to fit a small girl's finger. My sister and I used to cover our fingertips with blossoms and pretend we were wearing lacy gloves.

The catalpa tree grew in the strip of grass that separated the sidewalk from the street, the same grassy strip where we played under the streetlights on summer nights: Here I come. Where you from? New Orleans. What's your trade? Lemonade. Show me something if you're not afraid.

Those were the days before air conditioning and television drove everyone indoors. While we kids played under the streetlights or ventured into darker areas to catch lightning bugs, the grown-ups sat on nearby porch swings to stay cool and keep watch. Their murmured voices made us feel safe in spite of the darkness.

I miss those days.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Wide world

This page needs a little color, so I'll show you some horizontal slices of photos that were otherwise without any redeeming qualities. That cropping tool certainly comes in handy.

These mailboxes sit at the end of my driveway:

Here's where I get on the interstate each afternoon to drive home from work:

And here's what I see from the exit ramp:

The road I take to work in the morning is a more rural one. This little cluster of buildings isn't too impressive close up, but I like the way it sits amid the lines of the surrounding scenery.

A helpful gust of wind held this flag out almost straight:

These beasts of burden live in a field inside the city limits, right next to a middle school:

This photo of an unkempt vacant lot proves what a difference the right light can make:

I set the camera directly on the patio to take a picture of this clover patch at the edge of it:

The reason these photo fragments were rescued? There's a slim chance I might someday switch to a blog template with a banner across the top. In other words, it's that packrat thing again.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A not-so-brief editorial

In the last couple of days I've spent hours making notes and "writing" in my mind about the experiences that have made me believe we need better gun-control laws in this country. Each experience was a story that would stand alone, and I figured it would take several posts to tell you about all of them. As it turns out, between the constant news coverage and my own thought processes about the subject, I can no longer stand the idea of immersing myself in that dark place long enough to tell the stories in their entirety. Instead, I'll leave out the details to combine everything into one long post, and tomorrow I'll move on to focus on sunshine and fresh air.

Here are the short versions:

1. My grandfather, a WWI infantryman, kept his service revolver after the war was over. My mother, who was not supposed to touch it, remembered taking it out frequently to show it to visiting playmates. When she told me about it, she marveled at the fact that she'd lived through it to tell about it.

2. My own father, who fought in WWII, brought home a sword instead of a gun. I remember cowering in the corner of my childhood bedroom as my teenaged uncle took the sword from its sheath, pointed it at me and leaped around like a Samurai warrior. He was teasing, intending to scare me but not to harm me. I'm probably alive because he was teasing with a sword instead of a gun.

3. In the mid-'70s, a young man and his wife, not well known to me but related by marriage, were shot and killed by a friend of theirs. They left a three-year old daughter and two sets of devastated parents and siblings. The killer told the police that the three of them were "partying" together when the two men got into a friendly discussion about whether knives or guns made better weapons. The discussion never even escalated into an argument, because the killer, who happened to have his gun with him, used it to prove his point.

4. In the early '80s, I picked up my husband's gun, one that had been in our home throughout all the years we'd been married, to move it to a safer hiding place before an out-of-town trip. I was careful to hold it by the handle and not touch the trigger, but it didn't matter. Within two seconds after I picked it up, the gun went off and shot a hole through the bedroom wall, all the way through the outside brick. Thank God it was pointed away from me when it fired. And thank God my daughters weren't in the path of the shot that wasn't supposed to have fired.

5. In the course of the past 20 years, members of my family in Texas and Louisiana have mourned with three different sets of friends whose adolescent children, in separate incidents, killed themselves with their parents' guns. My own good friend, walking his dog in the woods behind his house one afternoon, stumbled across the body of his neighbor's teenaged daughter, who'd done the same thing. These four children all came from good families, familes who would have done anything possible to help if they'd only known help was needed. The children, unfortunately, were too young and inexperienced to understand that painful emotions usually don't last. They hurt, they had the means to stop the pain quickly, and they chose to bail out rather than talk about their feelings.

6. For two years in the late '90s, I volunteered as a crisis-intervention counselor on a suicide prevention hotline. Some of the people who called the hotline had given a lot of thought to the idea of killing themselves, and the individual methods by which they planned to do it covered a wide spectrum. Of all those callers, the ones who worried me most were the ones who had access to guns. Those were the people who, if they decided to set their plans in motion, wouldn't have the luxury of changing their minds at the last second and calling 911. Guns are too good at what they do.

I understand that guns can serve a useful purpose in well-trained hands, and I respect the rights of people to protect themselves. If guns were used strictly as defensive weapons, you wouldn't hear a peep out of me. What I don't understand is, if their purpose is protection, why so many of the guns being sold are called "assault weapons."

I totally get the concept that "guns don't kill people; people kill people," but the truth is that people with guns kill other people (and themselves) in numbers that are alarming in comparison to the number of deaths by other violent means. The statistics speak directly to the nature and efficiency of the weapon.

A gun in the hands of a curious child is a deadly accident waiting to happen. A gun in the hands of a despondent person may end his life before he can even begin to imagine a brighter tomorrow. Guns in the hands of street punks and drug dealers fill the ten o'clock news almost every night with stories of young lives ended abruptly and needlessly. And then there are the gun-toters who make the national news, the psychopaths who kill randomly at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and a peaceful Amish schoolhouse.

It isn't your gun I want to take; it's theirs. But promise me you'll be careful with yours.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Blacksburg, Virginia - 4/16/07

Another American tragedy brought to us courtesy of the NRA and the Charlton Heston School of Problem Resolution.

May they rest in peace.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Taking the easy way out

Do you feel guilty when you've neglected your blog for several days? I do. I feel as if I'm reneging on a promise I made to myself, although there never was actually any such promise.

Sometimes I get in a mood where I don't feel like talking, and that mood apparently carries over to writing, too. To be more specific, sometimes it feels as if communicating by any method whatsoever takes more energy than I have available, and the best thing I can do at those times is plop myself down in a quiet spot, plug myself in to one mindless activity or another, and let my batteries recharge.

So, because I'm feeling guilty, and because I haven't recharged enough to write (or even enough to power a pocket flashlight), I'm taking the easy way out with a meme.

I don't remember what this one's called or where I found it. The only rule is that all answers have to be exactly three words long. I won't tag anyone (which would require too much thinking), but help yourself if you like it--or if you have guilt issues of your own to assuage.

01. Where is your cell phone? On the charger.
02. Boyfriend/girlfriend? Long gone, thanks!
03. Hair? Cut it myself.
04. Your mother? Did her best.
05. Your father? Mostly wasn’t around.
06. Your favorite item(s)? Old family photos.
07. Your dream last night? Sorry, can’t remember.
08. Your favorite drink? Icy Diet Coke.
09. Your dream guy/girl? Handsome professor type.
10. The room you are in? Needs more light.
11. Your fear? Losing my independence.
12. What do you want to be in 10 years? Busy with hobbies.
13. Who did you hang out with last night? Two silly dogs.
14. What are you not? Energetic, neat, mean.
15. Are you in love? With my doggies.
16. One of your wish list items? More reading time.
17. What time is it? Fast approaching bedtime.
18. The last thing you did? Folded clean laundry.
19. What are you wearing? Comfy soft knits.
20. Your favorite book? Tademy’s Cane River.
21. The last thing you ate? One perfect banana.
22. Your life? Very few regrets.
23. Your mood? Is usually better.
24. Your friends? Few in number.
25. What are you thinking about right now? Chores still undone.
26. Your car? Unexciting imported sedan.
27. What are you doing at this moment? Limiting word usage.
28. Your summer? Heat, humidity expected.
29. Your relationship status? Content without one.
30. What is on your TV screen? Diamond jewelry commercial.
31. When is the last time you laughed? Today on telephone.
32. Last time you cried? Monday, March 19th.
33. School? Always wanted more.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Flush with Success: A Mathematical Formula

1 Peaceful Lifestyle Near Shopping = 1 Semi-Rural Area

1 Semi-Rural Area - Tax Dollars = 0 City Sewer Systems

0 City Sewer Systems + 1 Necessity to Dispose of Waste = 1 Septic Tank

1 Septic Tank + 8 Hours of Steady Rain = 5 Inches of Debris Floating at Top of Tank

5 Inches of Debris Floating at Top of Tank = 1 Clogged Sewer Drain

1 Clogged Sewer Drain + 2 Large Loads of Laundry = 30 Gallons of Waste Water With No Place to Go

30 Gallons of Waste Water With No Place to Go + 1.5 Hours of Watching TV + 1 Head Up Ass = 10 Gallons of Waste Water Pouring Under Wall into Living Room + 10 Gallons of Waste Water Rising in Bathtub + 10 Gallons of Waste Water Leaking Out Under Toilet = 1 Plumbing Emergency

1 Plumbing Emergency + 1 Late-Night Call to Plumber = 0 Plumbers Available

0 Plumbers Available = 0 Beverages Consumed + 2 Precautionary Imodium Tablets Swallowed + 1 Desperate Use of Toilet Anyway + 1 Lid Firmly Closed + 1 Bathroom Door Closed So Dogs Can't Drink Nasty Water from Tub + 1 Early Bedtime Before Need to Pee Arises Again = Large Quantity of Ignoring Problem Until Next Day

Large Quantity of Ignoring Problem Until Next Day = 1 Early Morning Use of Disgusting Unflushed Toilet + 3 Ounces Purell to Clean Stinky Body Parts + 1 Lunch Hour Spent with Plumber

1 Lunch Hour Spent with Plumber + $89.00 = 1 Drain Cleared + 100 Measures of Gratitude that Problem Wasn't More Serious = Flush With Success

Monday, April 09, 2007

My favorite drop-in visitor...

...came by Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I have to write fast in case he comes again today.

On Friday evening, when our dogs and the neighbor's had loud barking fits, Kim and I went outside and found the peacock on the roof again. This time he was peering over the edge as if he were looking for us. We ducked back in the house, shut the dogs in, grabbed a handful of dry cereal and apple bits, and stepped back outside to offer our guest a snack.

We started by tossing the treats up onto the roof where he snatched them up as quickly as they hit the shingles. Apparently we weren't dispensing them fast enough to suit him. He dropped to the ground, stayed a safe distance away for just a few minutes, then walked onto the patio and helped himself to the bites that had fallen short of the roof.

Saturday evening was a rerun, only the peacock didn't waste so much time sitting on the roof. As soon as he'd assured himself there were no dogs around, he jumped to the ground again. This time, he appeared to be quite interested in whether or not we had something to give him. He was cautious at first, waiting for us to pitch treats to him, but after a while I was able to coax him closer and closer until he took a couple of bites of cereal from my hand.

Yesterday he came early. Just before noon I heard him calling repeatedly, making more noise than I've ever heard from him. I picked up the goody bag and headed outside to find him sitting on the roof of the shed. As soon as he saw me, he hopped down and came quick-stepping. He ate all but the first bite out of my hand. When I decided he'd had enough and stopped feeding him, he walked at a leisurely pace to the very back of the yard, jumped up on the fence, then down on the other side and continued walking until he was out of sight.

We were concerned about feeding him something that might not be good for him, so we checked the Internet to find out what he can eat. Cereal and fruit are okay, thank goodness, and as soon as I go shopping again, he'll have his own personal supply of (highly recommended) dry cat food.

I normally don't like drop-in company, but I'm willing to make an exception for special friends.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

"This is my Father's world...

...o let me ne'er forget..."

All the Easter Sundays of my childhood were happy ones, filled with baskets of candy and dyed eggs, fluffy, brightly-colored baby chicks, patent-leather Mary Janes, frilly dresses made of pastel organdy or dotted swiss, hats with bows that tied under my chin, and, of course, Sunday School and church packed with other bright and shiny people. Of all those Easters, there’s one I remember best.

In the spring of 1947, when I was four, we lived in a tiny duplex in Springfield, Missouri. In the backyard was what I understand now must have been a chicken coop at one time, but I thought of it as my playhouse. It was about the size of an average bathroom. The top and all four sides were made of wire, and the entire structure was overgrown with leafy green vines.

I remember in particular the contentment I felt as I sat alone inside that green enclosure, leaning against one wire wall, my legs stretched out in front of me with my Easter basket in between them. Birds were singing, and sunbeams pierced through the leaves, brightening the cool, shady spot I’d chosen to enjoy what were two of my favorite things even that long ago: chocolate and solitude.

"This is my Father's world,
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their maker's praise."

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spring is in the air...and in the nostrils

Last spring I wrote about the bedtime ritual Butch and Kadi have established. It's still pretty much the same: Kadi sticks with me to make sure I get the right dog biscuits, while Butch races to wait for us in the bedroom doorway.

One thing is a little different this year, and it bothers me a lot: Butch has been bumping into things as he races from the back door, through the den, the dining room and the hall, and finally into the bedroom. I've noticed him bumping into things outside, too.

In the past month he's smacked into things more frequently than at any time since the days after he first lost his eyes. It doesn't seem to upset him; he just backs up, gives his head a little shake, adjusts his direction and moves on. He still runs, too, which makes me believe his accidents aren't diminishing his confidence.

It isn't as if he bumps into things constantly, more like once every two or three days. If I had no eyes, I'd be thrilled to be able to navigate with no more bumps than that. Still, each time it happens, it breaks my heart.

The only thing I can think of to account for the change is pollen. There's a ton of it this year, and my own allergies are giving me fits. Without his eyes, Butch has to rely on his ears and, even more, on his nose. If his nose is as messed up as mine is, he may not be picking up the subtle scents that signal him to put on the brakes or veer to the side of a fence or a wall.

Before his eye surgery, I bought a variety of scented oils and used them to mark specific places in the house. I'd read that this was helpful, and indeed it was. In the beginning, until Butch got used to the various scents, I freshened the oil markings about once a month. After a while, just as I'd read, he was able to pick up minute traces of the scents and I no longer needed to freshen them.

I think it's time to dig out the oils again and splash on a liberal dose of each scent. I hope I can find the "cheat sheet" I made back then. Putting the rose scent where the strawberry belongs would only confuse him more.

Monday, April 02, 2007

OK, I'll tell you, but I wish you hadn't asked

My taxes are done, thank goodness. Completing the tax forms wasn't difficult. Rounding up all the records I needed was a greater challenge. I knew exactly where everything was supposed to be, but I'm not conscientious enough about putting every piece of paper in its designated place. I had a little stack of papers here, a little stack there, here a stack, there a stack...well, you get the idea. In fact, I found one small pile of receipts in a basket underneath my coffee table, stuffed there in the midst of a hasty clean-up. They were in a plastic grocery bag on which I'd carefully printed with a Sharpie marker: THIS IS NOT TRASH!

At least the taxes are done. There's one more piece of government-mandated paperwork I have to finish, then I can file all my receipts away again.

Have you ever heard of the American Community Survey? It's put out by the U.S. Census Bureau, who stated in the letter that accompanied it: "The Census Bureau chose your address, not you personally, as part of a randomly selected sample. You are required by United States law to respond to this survey."

The letter also states: "The information collected in the ACS will help decide where new schools, hospitals, and fire stations are needed. The information also is used to develop programs to reduce traffic congestion, provide job training, and plan for the healthcare needs of the elderly." Those goals seem worthwhile, don't they? Who wouldn't want to help out with that?

On the back of the survey form, the Census Bureau estimates that "for the average household, this form will take 38 minutes to complete. Ha! Maybe I'm not average, but it took me more than 38 minutes to gather up all the receipts I need to answer their questions about earnings and household costs. Questions such as how much my mortgage payment is and how much I spent in the last 12 months on gas, electricity, water, etc. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I've spent hours poring over old census records looking for information on ancestors, so I appreciate the work the Census Bureau does. I totally recognize the need to collect basic information about U.S. citizens. But I can't imagine why it's important for the government or anyone else to know what time I leave for work in the morning and how long it takes me to get there.

Before I started answering the survey questions, I did a little research about it on the Internet. Here's someone who has some concerns about it, and here's a publication that puts the best possible spin on it.

What do you think?