Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And so this is Christmas

I cannot believe it's Christmas Eve already.

The Christmas shopping is done, the house is clean, the fridge is full of food -- and I had help with all of it, thank goodness. If I'd had to do everything by myself, I never would have made it to this point. If there'd been an extra minute to write something here, I'd have told you about some of the following:

  • How my central heating system chose our snow day to break down and blow only cold air.

  • How a good friend and his daughter-in-law ended up in the emergency room on the same day, one with a mild heart attack and one with a brain tumor. (Both are doing well.)

  • How annoying it is when stores allow customers to stand twenty-deep at the three open checkout registers, while five other registers are closed.

  • How I went to the coat sale too late and only ugly coats were left in my size.

  • How my big, long winter coat stayed at the cleaners throughout our cold spell.

  • How the temperature here ranged from 28 degrees to 84 degrees in a one-week period.

  • How thrilled I am that my brother and his family came for a visit. (It's been six years since I've seen them.)

  • How Butch and Kadi reacted to having company.

  • How this is the first Christmas season that hasn't been sad for me since my mom died the day after Christmas in 1999.

  • How my mom's spirit went shopping with me yesterday, and we got some good stuff! (And, yes, she found me a close-up parking space.)

  • How Kim has made batch after batch of cookies, and I'm eating them as fast as she makes them.

  • How we just got back from the video store, where we selected seven -- count 'em, seven -- DVDs to watch in the next week.

  • How much I look forward to spending Christmas Day at Kelli and Troy's house with my kids and grandkids.

  • How, counting today, I only have to work two days out of the next twelve. Now, that's what I call the twelve days of Christmas.

  • And, since I have so much time off, I hope to be back here soon to fill in the details of at least a few of those topics listed above. In the meantime, I hope all of you spend a safe, happy Christmas with the people (and animals) you love.

    Peace and blessings,
    Velvet, Kadi and Butch

    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Southern surprise

    My phone rang at 6:30 this morning, fifteen minutes after the alarm had sounded but before I'd managed to crawl out of the warm bed. It was my daughter, Kim, whose first words when I answered were, "Look out your window; it's snowing."

    Local weather forecasters had predicted we'd have a "wintry mix" this morning, so I expected to see a few tiny flakes in the air. Instead, the ground was frosted white and the flakes were big, fat, fluffy ones. I've been in Louisiana for 30 years and have never seen more than a very light dusting of snow here, so this was exciting.

    I couldn't wait to show it to Butch and Kadi. As I put on shoes and threw a coat over my bathrobe, I was sorry Butch wouldn't be able to see it and wondered how long it would take him to discover that something was different. Not long, it turned out. He hadn't taken more than three or four steps outside before he felt the snowflakes kissing his cheeks, pointed his nose skyward, wagged his tail, and turned around a few times with his head in the air.

    Kadi, of course, noticed the white blanket and the falling flakes as soon as the door was open and raced outside into the thick of it. She played a while longer than usual before asking to come back inside.

    After our first venture in the snow, we had to wait another hour before there was enough daylight to take pictures. Here's what my backyard looked like then:

    A few minutes later, the snow still falling fast, I walked back through the house and out the front door. Here's the little patch of woods across the road:

    The pretty tree at the right of this photo is my neighbor's pear tree:

    By 1:00 in the afternoon, the snow had melted off of all the roads, a lot of the lawn, and most of the trees. This is how the backyard looked then:

    If you look at Butch's footprints in this early afternoon shot, you can tell that we'd had at least two or three inches:

    In fact, back near the garden shed, the snow was all the way up to Kadi's belly:

    Tuesday, December 09, 2008


    For the past week my thoughts have been scattered, flipping rapidly between operational budgets at work and Christmas shopping lists at home, leaving me with little blogging time and no well-thought-out topic to post about. Instead, I'll share with you just a few scraps of things that have crossed my mind:

    When do the comments commence?
    Last week I discovered that Blogger has a new option which reportedly allows comments to be embedded at the end of a post instead of on a pop-up screen or a separate page. The notice about the new option stated it's easier for commenters, and, as it's a feature I've admired on Wordpress blogs, I was tickled to select that option. Apparently they haven't worked all the kinks out of it yet. After getting a couple of e-mails letting me know readers were unable to leave comments, I switched it back to the old, tried-and-true method. Nothing good comes easily.


    Verifiably nutty
    Speaking of comments, when randomly generated word-verification letters pop up on my monitor, I jot down the interesting ones for my own amusement. Here are some recent ones, along with potential definitions:
    1) zeolzens -- Mary Kate and Ashley in Paris
    2) placeta -- A location, like a "place-ta" hang your hat.
    3) voidists -- People who disregard everything you say.
    4) kabal -- A conspiracy of diners at the Kountry Kitchen.
    5) latedly -- How birthday cards I send tend to be.
    6) bradys -- Mike, Carol, Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marcia, Jan and Cindy.
    7) motortil -- Common phrase in the auto repair industry: "I won't fix your motortil you write me a big check."
    8) sesanati -- A big city in Ohio.
    9) merbopp -- A popular mermaid dance in the 1950s.
    10) fadedine -- The condition of trying to eat when you're about to fall asleep.


    Something fishy
    Sometimes words offered up by spell checkers play tricks on unsuspecting posters. I saw the following comment on a political blog recently: "Obama is right, war is a salmon decision." Um...a solemn decision, maybe?


    One way to love a dog
    Because Butch gets frequent ear infections, I have to clean his ears weekly with an antiseptic solution, a process which he hates. To try to make it just a little easier for him, I've been holding the squeeze bottle of solution between my thighs for the past 45 minutes.


    New use for an old household item
    Have you read that some people are smoking duct tape these days? It's true. In fact, here in Louisiana you can't buy duct tape without proof of identification showing that you're over 18 years old. At the grocery store last week, the guy in line next to me wanted to buy a roll of duct tape and a bottle of motor oil. When the cashier explained why she'd need to see his ID, he shoved the items toward her, said, "Tell 'em they can kiss my a$$," and stormed out of the store. I hope his car didn't fall apart in the parking lot.

    Senate seat for sale
    I can't go to bed tonight without commenting on Illinois's governor, Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested today for reasons that included an attempt to sell Obama's vacated senate seat. Following a political season that made me think politicians' egos couldn't get any bigger, this governor proved me wrong. This is so outrageously appalling that it strikes me as really funny. Maybe I'm just laughing in relief that, for once, it isn't a Louisiana politician making this kind of news.

    Tuesday, December 02, 2008

    Flipping my lid

    This has been a fairly productive day. Work was busier than usual but still manageable, which gave me a sense of accomplishment.

    After work I stopped to buy groceries on the way home. By the time I got to the deli at the grocery store, they had two plates of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy left, so I bought one of them.

    When I got home, I put the groceries away, took the garbage out to the curb, sorted laundry, and put one load into the washing machine, all the time eyeing the meatloaf that would be my supper. It smelled so good. Finally, I was ready to warm it in the microwave.

    I couldn't get it open. After a couple of fruitless attempts, I pulled really hard on the clear plastic lid and managed to get it off, sliding the plastic plate of meatloaf off the counter in the process. It landed upside down on the floor. There went my dinner.

    Butch and Kadi were both tap dancing excitedly nearby, but the meatloaf was full of onions, so I couldn't let them have it. They did get to lick up a bite or two of potatoes and a few good slurps of gravy before I could clean it all up.

    I ended up eating hot dogs, their only appeal being speed of preparation. That was a couple of hours ago. Now I'm thinking about having the bread pudding that I bought at the same deli. But it's in the same kind of dish.

    Maybe if I spread a sheet on the kitchen floor first...

    Sunday, November 30, 2008

    Thirty-six consecutive days

    With the completion of this post, I will have blogged every day for 36 consecutive days, the goal I set on the 26th of October after a long, dry spell. My literary hat is off to those of you who regularly blog on a daily basis. I don't know how you manage to do it.

    Holly, also known as Creekhiker, did this along with me, and I greatly appreciate her company. Those of you who read both Holly's blog and mine may have noticed that she posted something worthwhile each day, while I often posted, well...crap. Many evenings I sat down and typed several paragraphs about nothing. It was a method that worked much better for Jerry Seinfeld than it did for me.

    Tomorrow, unless something happens that I can't wait to tell you, I plan to give myself a break, and after that, until the end of the year, I plan to be here regularly but sparingly. That's because I did my last book review at "Velvet's Bookstacks" all the way back in June, and I'm gonna do my best to catch up between now and the end of the year.

    Things are so much easier when I don't let myself get behind.

    Saturday, November 29, 2008

    Night owl

    Last night, only a couple of nights into the holiday weekend, I read until nearly one o'clock in the morning. Today I got up at six-thirty to let the dogs out, then we all went back to bed until almost ten. This is the kind of schedule I naturally gravitate to, the schedule my body fights against during the entire work week.

    Even if I go to bed at ten o'clock and sleep a full eight hours, getting up at six in the morning is torture for me. Even if I get to work at eight-thirty, I don't wake up fully until late morning. I can talk and I can work, but I'm doing it on autopilot.

    This is on my mind because it's after eleven as I write this. I'm recognizing the weekend trend of staying up late on Friday night and even later on Saturday, only to go to bed early on Sunday and lie awake for hours. With this being a long weekend, I'm postponing bedtime later each consecutive night, and I know that Monday will be a day of reckoning.

    Part of me is sitting here with pursed church-lady lips, disapproving of my lack of discipline. Another part of me is pumping a fist skyward and shouting, "Yessss! I love this time of the night."

    When I think about all the things I'll do when I eventually retire from work, one of the things that excites me most is the idea of being able to dispense with the alarm clock and wake up only when I'm good and ready. In fact, I think about that a lot. I didn't realize how much I think about it until I got all the way down to this fifth paragraph and it started sounding familiar. A quick little blog search shows me it's only been eight days since I wrote wistfully about waking up without an alarm.

    So, now we all know that my memory is slipping. When the day arrives that I can sleep late every morning, I hope I can remember to appreciate it.

    Friday, November 28, 2008


    It's late, so I'll just post a couple of short items tonight:

    1. There were no deviled eggs at our Thanksgiving dinner. It was as if the shells of those boiled eggs were superglued to the whites. I ended up doing as I thought I might, chopping up the whites I could salvage and stirring them into the yolk mixture, making a deviled-egg salad. It wasn't as festive as deviled eggs would have been, but it tasted just as good. Plus, it traveled a whole lot better.

    2. The rest of the dinner was wonderful. I ate too much at lunchtime and then did it all over again for supper, and everything was just as good the second time around. I was so miserable after consuming all that food that you'd have thought I'd learned a lesson, but I woke up this morning craving another helping of sweet potato crunch.

    3. Lucy and Winston spent the night last night. At one point this morning, all four dogs were on the sofa with me. It wouldn't have been comfortable for long, but for the ten minutes it lasted, it was pretty special.

    4. Speaking of the dogs, Butch does something that drives me batty. He comes up to me while I'm at the computer and uses his nose to knock my right hand off the mouse. If he does it several times, I give up, stop typing, and get up to let him outside. The minute I stand up, he hurries to his food dish and starts eating, so I have to stand there and wait for him. I wish I could convince him to eat first and then let me know he needs something.

    5. I'm behind on reading other people's blogs and leaving comments, as well as responding to comments on my own. I'm also behind on answering e-mails. If I owe you, I'm sorry, and I'll catch up as soon as I can.

    That's it for now. Good night.

    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    In times of plenty and in times of need...

    ...we still count our blessings and appreciate the goodness that's ours to enjoy in this lifetime. Today I will be with my family. I'll fill my stomach with wonderfully prepared foods (except for my failed deviled eggs), and my family will fill my heart with joy, pride, and gratitude that I am lucky enough to be part of this particular group of people.

    While I'm counting my blessings, dear readers and fellow writers, please know that you're among them. The stories and feelings that you share so freely have enriched my life and made me feel connected to a much larger world than I was before I discovered the blogosphere.

    I hope you are safe and warm today and with at least some of the people you love. Happy Thanksgiving from Butch, from Kadi, and from me.

    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    The devil is in the details

    I'm only contributing one dish to tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner, a simple dish that I've made dozens of times: deviled eggs. I ought to be able to do it in my sleep by now, but everytime I make them seems like a new adventure.

    Are the eggs too fresh? If so, they'll be harder to peel, so I'd better boil extras to make up for the ones that end up with big chunks out of the whites. And what about the timing for boiling the eggs? I know that if I put the eggs in cold water, bring them to a rolling boil for one minute, then take them off the heat, leave them covered for 20 minutes, then flush with cold water, they'll be cooked perfectly. That's worked for me for years, but my new glass-topped stove is different. It takes forever for the water to begin boiling. Should I allow for the extra minutes that the eggs were in very hot water that was almost but not quite boiling?

    It's anybody's guess. The good thing is I know they love me. If I show up with beautiful deviled eggs, deviled-egg salad (a distinct possibility), or empty-handed, I'm pretty sure they'll let me in and feed me.

    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    Chinese, please

    I worked late this evening to get a head start on things that'll need to be done immediately after the holidays. I struggle with Monday mornings all the time; there's no sense making the Monday after a four-day weekend even harder than it needs to be.

    When I finished up, I looked at the clock and realized I could reward myself for the overtime. I'd worked late enough that my favorite Chinese restaurant was open.

    I used to stop there to pick up dinner once a month or so, but my work hours are slightly different now, and I usually arrive home five or ten minutes before the restaurant opens. As much as I like the food, I don't like to wait or to drive back there later.

    Tonight I had sesame chicken (yum!), egg rolls, fried shrimp, and crab rangoon, with enough food left over for tomorrow -- all for under $10. The leftovers are two completely different dishes, so they won't even seem like leftovers.

    With a bargain like that, I guess it's unrealistic to expect that the fortune in the fortune cookie will make sense. The one tonight read, "A business trip will bring you excellent results." Hmm. I don't take business trips. Unless I find money someone dropped in front of the courthouse or the post office, I'm guessing this fortune cookie was intended for someone else.

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Long lost playmate

    Every year on November 24th, I think about one little girl: Jean Lee Benning. Today is her birthday, and I remember it because it's very close to mine, a fact that felt like a special bond when we were classmates and playmates.

    There weren't a lot of kids in our neighborhood, but Jean Lee (I always called her by both names) lived close enough that we were allowed to walk between her house and mine. She was one of my first friends from school.

    Jean Lee had brown hair that she wore in long, neat braids. She played the violin. It was because of her that I begged my mother to let me take violin lessons, too. (Mother, who was correct in her assessment that I'd soon lose interest in it, said no.)

    I couldn't begin to tell you what we played when we played together. I mostly remember us walking from one house to the other together, and I remember that inside her house was the narrowest, steepest staircase I'd ever seen, so steep that climbing the stairs was a little bit scary.

    We were little when we played together, first or second grade, probably, and then her family moved away. I've often wondered what happened to her, and I wonder if she has any idea that once a year for sixty years, someone has thought of her and wished her happiness.

    Maybe someday, if she idly Googles her own name (we all do that, don't we?), she'll come across this post, and it'll make her smile.

    Sunday, November 23, 2008


    I'm not one to spend a lot of time on the telephone, but apparently there's enough of a pattern to my phone chats that Butch and Kadi have learned all the signs. I've noticed in the past that they always ask to go outside as soon as I hang up, but I've assumed they were just getting up because I did. That might have been part of it, but I learned tonight that it's not the whole story.

    Earlier this evening I had a long phone visit with my sister, during which Butch and Kadi both slept on the sofa beside me. Near the end of the conversation, I told my sister I'd enjoyed the visit and asked her to "give my love to everybody there." I hadn't moved, and I hadn't said goodbye, but both dogs leaped up simultaneously, jumped off the sofa, and stood excitedly in front of me, wagging their tails in anticipation. I have no idea what words or behavior signaled them.

    My sister was still on the line, so I told her what was going on. "You should see them," I said. "They know the call is ending."

    My sister laughed. "There's no telling how many secrets they've heard you tell. If I were you, I wouldn't let them talk to the neighbor dogs for a few days."

    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Potatoes, potahtoes

    At work the other day we had a brief discussion about deception. The consensus was that it isn’t a good thing, but, in the course of conversation, I confessed to an ongoing act of deception when I was much, much younger.

    My husband (first one) worked late when my children were small, so I usually fed the children early, then kept his dinner warm in the oven. Since it was difficult to cook and care for two hungry toddlers by myself, I took shortcuts, one of which was the use of instant mashed potatoes.

    One evening when my husband came home earlier than usual, he saw me using instant mashed potatoes and said, for the first time, that he didn’t like them. He said he didn’t want anything but real mashed potatoes in the future, ones that would have to be peeled, cubed, cooked for 45 minutes and then mashed. As he was the nominal head of the household, I fully intended to comply with his wishes and cook the potatoes the way he liked them. At least that was the plan.

    A few days later, while I still had dry instant potatoes in the house, the children fussed about being hungry. To hurry their dinner along, I decided to cook them something quickly and fix something else later for my husband. I pulled out the instant potatoes again.

    Unfortunately, I used too much water, and the potatoes were a little soupy. I tried to thicken them by adding more dry potato buds. That made them look like they should, but it also made them lumpy. None of the potato buds I'd added in the second go-round had absorbed enough liquid.

    That’s when my husband walked in, early again. Before I could stop him, he stuck a fork in the bowl of potatoes and took a bite. “Mmm,” he said. “Now, that’s more like it.”

    Quickly assessing my options, I kept my mouth shut. We were married for about two more years after that, during which almost all of the mashed potatoes I served him were lumpy instant ones. He never complained about them, not even once.

    So, I ask you: do you blame me? What would you have done?

    Friday, November 21, 2008

    Friday night freedom

    I haven't decided for sure, but I've been thinking about it this evening, and Friday night just may be my favorite time of the whole week. Here are some reasons why:

    1) Work is over and I don't have to think about it for two whole days.

    2) I have Saturday and Sunday to take care of shopping and other weekend chores, so I don't have to do any of them -- or even think about them -- unless I choose to.

    3) I can go to bed early or stay up as late as I want without worrying about how I'll feel in the morning.

    4) When I do go to bed, I can read until I'm sleepy. There's no pressure to make sure I sleep for a certain number of hours before the alarm goes off. In fact, there won't be an alarm.

    When Saturday morning rolls around, I'll still be able to choose how I spend my time, but Saturday feels like the beginning of something. It's the start of a two-day slice of time that slips away all too soon. Friday night isn't like that.

    On Friday night time feels suspended. The work week has ended, the weekend hasn't officially begun, and I can float through those few hours in between.

    Tonight I had a good dinner with my daughter. I've snuggled with Kadi and Butch, read for a while, and watched a little TV. When I finish writing this, I'll crawl into bed between clean sheets and read some more. Later, just before I go to sleep, I'll say a silent prayer of thanks for my family, my furbabies, my home, my job, and for the sense of fulfillment that I feel intensely almost every Friday night.

    Thursday, November 20, 2008

    Might as well talk about the weather

    Ho-hum. The weather here is cold. No, wait, it's hot. Or is it? I haven't been outside in two hours, so I have no idea.

    The outside temperature has dropped below freezing in the past couple of days, but it's also been up in the 70s. To keep the temperature in my house at the most comfortable level, I first have to decide whether to turn on the heat or the air conditioning. At bedtime it's a big decision, because I have to project whether the house will get colder or warmer before morning.

    During the day I'm dressing in layers, knowing that I like the office a little on the cool side but a couple of others like it toasty warm. It's easier to peel off a sweater than to sneak the thermostat back five degrees every couple of hours.

    We're supposed to have a cold spell this weekend, but I'm not sure what that means. Below freezing again? Or just colder than 70 degrees? Is it possible for a cold front to move in overnight, followed by a warm front around lunchtime?

    For all I know, the weather may have changed in the short time I've spent writing this post, but one thing didn't change in that time: the subject is just as boring at the end of this as it was at the beginning.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Dragging out another old poem

    After work this evening I had to make a dreaded stop at Wal-Mart to pick up a few things -- pet items at one end of the place, grocery items at the other -- so now I'm ready to just kick back and put my feet up.

    In the interest of posting something that wouldn't require me to engage my brain tonight, I hit the old-poem folder again. This time I pulled out a poem I wrote for a friend in 1989, just a few words of advice when I thought she was about to take a flying leap off the deep end. Let's just say it was an expression of a lesson I'd learned the hard way.


    Passion fades.
    The rose blooms only briefly
    till its petals fall and leave behind
    the memories and the thorns.

    Cultivate the ivy.
    No bold flowers there,
    but one small sprig whose tendrils
    reach a solid structure
    grows to cover, brick by brick,
    the tallest tower wall.

    The rose’s scent seduces,
    but its flower wilts when touched;
    the ivy touches roughness
    and discerns a place to hold.

    Passion fades.
    Love grows leaf by leaf.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    Cake art

    At some time while I was doing assorted things that kept me from getting here until late this evening, I was flipping through TV channels and came across "Ace of Cakes" on the Food Network. I love to see the creativity of these master bakers and cake decorators. What could be more appealing than edible art?

    Anyway, the show reminded me of a cake we commissioned for a co-worker's birthday a few months ago. The birthday guy is something of a Mr. Fix-It on the side, so we requested a toolbox cake. And the talented lady who baked it? Baking cakes is her sideline; in her day job she's an attorney.

    Here's the cake:

    Pretty cool, huh?

    Monday, November 17, 2008

    You show me yours...

    ...and I'll show you mine.

    Patsy posted a beautiful picture of a squirrel today, and since I happened to catch a squirrel in my camera lens recently, I thought I'd join her in a little squirrely show and tell.

    This guy was hanging out in a tree above the bench where my younger daughter, Kelli, and I rested a few weekends ago when we spent a delightful afternoon touring the grounds and gardens of Houmas House Plantation.

    Evidently accustomed to visitors, he was watching us as intently as we watched him. He moved slowly through the tree from one vantage point to another, keeping a curious eye on us the whole time. I'm guessing he may have encountered visitors with edibles once or twice in his life.

    Patsy wrote about having squirrel for dinner, and I know there are avid squirrel hunters here in Louisiana, too. I remember sampling squirrel stew one time in the late '60s, but when I was taking pictures of this pretty squirrel, it didn't occur to me to think of him as a menu item.

    I hope I never do begin thinking of squirrels as food. I have a hard enough time looking cows in the eye.

    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    The compliment of his trust

    It's standard procedure at my house that when the dogs come in after going outside to take care of their business, they get a little treat. As long as they don't take advantage of us by asking to go outside over and over solely for the purpose of the treat (which one dog tried), they can depend on it.

    One recent night after Kim had worked here in her shop until late in the evening, she let the dogs out before heading for home. Lucy, Winston, and Kadi were glad to go. Butch, however, was way too comfortable. I was leaning back on the reclining end of the sofa, and Butch was lying beside me, his head on my chest. His ears perked up when Kim asked, "Who wants to go outside?" but he didn't move.

    Five or ten minutes later, when the other dogs came back inside, Kim got out the dog treats. I could hear her handing them out to each dog individually, so I'm sure Butch could hear it, too. He still didn't move.

    Immediately I could hear Kim's footsteps coming toward the living room where Butch and I snuggled, and as she came through the doorway and turned toward us, Butch simply raised his head a few inches and opened his mouth really, really wide. And Kim placed a treat on his tongue.

    Kim and I were both moved to know how confident Butch was that he wouldn't be left out. It's a great feeling to be trusted.

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    In Charlemont

    It's late Saturday night. I've been sitting here poking around on the computer, trying to think of something to write, and was coming up empty until the cast of Saturday Night Live started singing a parody to the tune of "Ode to Billie Jo." Instantly, I was transported back 40 years.

    A check on Wikipedia shows that this song was released in 1967, but I associate it more with the following year. Early in 1968 I met the man who would become my second husband only four months later. A couple of weeks after we married, we packed up my two daughters and moved into a beautiful home.

    We bought the house from a man whose company was relocating him and needed him to move fast. They were going to reimburse him for any loss on the sale of his home, so he was willing to accept a low down payment. That made all the difference, because the steep price of $28,500 for the house was just barely within our means. The monthly mortgage payment was a whopping $128.

    We had good times in that house. It was in a nice neighborhood and our neighbors were wonderful. On many weekend nights our neighbors joined us in our den for music and dancing. The kids danced with us until well past their bedtime, then we bundled them all into bed together and didn't mind if they stayed awake and listened to the music. "Ode to Billie Jo" was definitely on our play list.

    That was the house we lived in when I fell and broke my knee, the knee that gives me such fits these days. That happened the week my older daughter started first grade, and the neighbors picked up my slack and got her to school for six weeks until I could drive again.

    That's where we lived when my new husband taught us how to pick the sweet meat out of boiled crabs after catching the crabs earlier in the day with nets and chicken necks tied to string.

    It's where my girls' new daddy became their hero when he marched down the street to get their peanuts back from the kid who took them away.

    It was a house full of promise. I thought we'd live there forever.

    Friday, November 14, 2008

    Separation anxiety (mine)

    I left work a little bit late this afternoon, made a quick stop at the post office, then found myself unable to make a necessary left turn in the rush-hour traffic. After throwing in the towel, I turned right instead, intending to go to the second traffic light, where I could turn left with a green arrow and double back to the route I wanted to take.

    It wasn't so easy. Roadwork blocked off the route I knew, and I was forced to zigzag my way through an unfamiliar neighborhood until I found a through street.

    Running late wouldn't have been such a big deal except that I knew Butch and Kadi would be concerned. They like their routine, and they seem to have a pretty good handle on what time of day certain things are supposed to happen. Also, they'd been alone all day. Kim and her pooches are normally at my house for part of the day, but today they didn't come over. Yep, I thought, Butch and Kadi will be waiting anxiously.

    I drove under the carport about twenty minutes later than usual, parked the car, locked it with the keyless-entry fob that causes a short honk, and noticed as I unlocked the house (noisily) that I didn't hear my dogs. In fact, it was so quiet I felt an immediate pang of concern.

    I flipped a light switch, dropped my purse on the coffee table, and rushed toward the den where I'd left the dogs at lunchtime. That's when I saw Butch on the futon. He raised his head and pointed his nose in my direction. Kadi, on the dog bed nearby, lifted her head then, too, and blinked at me like a deer caught in the headlights.

    I woke them up.

    Bless their little hearts. They were obviously so anxious about my tardiness that they forced themselves to go to sleep to keep from worrying, right?

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Monday's washday -- but that's not cast in stone

    My grandmother used to clean house according to a schedule. Monday was washday, on Tuesday she did the ironing, and so forth. I think I remember reading or hearing somewhere that most women followed a similar schedule back in the "olden days," but I don't remember ever knowing how that schedule got started. Who decided Monday would be washday, and how did that person get the rest of the women to go along with it?

    I don't have a cleaning schedule. I clean when the spirit moves me, which may or may not be when it needs to be done, or when I think someone who'd care might be coming to my house.

    Did your mother or grandmother clean according to a schedule? Do you? Does it make it easier? I've heard there are women who actually enjoy cleaning house. I don't even aspire to enjoyment; I'd just like to know something that would make me hate it less.

    Intellectually, I think a schedule would be helpful. I've read the FlyLady website more times than I can count, and all of it sounds wonderfully efficient. I read it until I begin to think about the big results I could achieve by making a number of little changes in my daily routine. Usually that's enough to give me a warm glow of possibility and make me tell myself I'll start first thing tomorrow. So far that glow has never survived the REM sleep.

    And, speaking of sleep, I do have a schedule for that, at least during the work week. Good night.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008


    The Country Music Awards ceremony is on TV as I sit here and look at this blank Blogger screen, and right now Reba McEntyre
    is singing with Big and Rich. I don't even care what they're singing; I'm just delighted that the sight of Reba reminds me of something I can write about tonight.

    In the early '90s, when I worked in human resources, a young man came to my office for a job interview. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of Reba McEntyre. To break the ice, I asked, "So, are you a big Reba fan?"

    "Well," he answered, "I'm trying to be."

    I ended up hiring him. At least he had some kind of a goal.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    Keeping us safe

    The six o'clock news this evening included one small segment about Veterans' Day, not as much coverage as our veterans and enlisted men and women deserve, perhaps, but enough to start me thinking about them.

    While I watched that news program, I sat on the sofa in my comfy living room. The lamplight in the room gave it a pleasant glow. There was a good book on the end table, close enough to read a few pages during commercials so I wouldn't have to be bored for even two minutes. I'd just finished eating a delicious dinner, leftovers from the Lebanese-restaurant lunch my daughter had brought with her when she visited earlier today. Butch lay sleeping at the other end of the sofa, Kadi on the floor by my feet. They'd spent time outside this afternoon, sunning themselves in the grass in the fenced-in patch of earth that's ours. I felt safe at that moment, and in that safety, I felt gratitude.

    Thank you, veterans, for keeping us safe in our homes.

    This World War II photo was sent home to my grandparents by their son, my Uncle Neale (standing second from left in front of the Little Helper.)

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Exercise equipment

    There was a period of time in the late '70s when I walked four miles a day. We lived in a neighborhood that had sidewalks, and a good friend who lived across the street walked with me. With the exception of those long walks -- and quite a few nights of dancing -- I can't honestly think of any physical exercise I've ever really enjoyed.

    In recent years I've exercised rarely, even though I understand how important it is. My knees are arthritic. If I sit too long, they lock up. I know exercise would be good for them, but most types of exercise I've tried have caused my knees to flare up and hurt so much that I've quit. I've been looking for something I could do that wouldn't put a lot of stress on my knees, and I think I may have found it:

    The large box contains the Resistance Chair. Have you seen it on TV? (I won't advertise by linking to it, but Google it if you're interested.) I like the fact that the ads show older people using it. I also like the fact that I'll be able to do many (not all) of the exercises while sitting on my ample behind. In addition to the chair, I also ordered the Mini-Bike Exercise Cycle (smaller box in the photo) that goes along with it. I'm hoping that the strength-building and resistance exercises I'll do with this equipment will build up the necessary leg muscles to make my knees a little more stable, and that maybe that will alleviate the pain somewhat.

    Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must point out that I ordered this equipment more than two weeks ago. It arrived more than one week ago. I took the photo tonight, and you'll notice that the chair and the mini-bike thing are both still in their boxes. It seemed like such a good idea to order this stuff, but I haven't yet pulled the first staple out of the packaging.

    Contrast that with three new packages that arrived today. I opened these three boxes as soon as I got home:

    These books are exercise equipment, too. They'll exercise my imagination, and one or two of them might even exercise my brain. And they won't hurt my knees.

    Sunday, November 09, 2008

    The measure of a man dog

    Each of the sofas in my living room has three cushions, room for three people to sit comfortably or more than that if they're friendly. I sat on one end, reading quietly, and Kadi lay next to me, her head touching my thigh, and stretched across the second cushion onto the third. Butch decided he wanted to join us.

    He stood on the floor at the far end of the sofa, sniffing Kadi's extended feet, then turned his head and shoulders to sniff the arm of the sofa. Then he did it again. Back and forth he went, sniffing Kadi and the sofa arm five or six times before I realized what he was doing: He was carefully measuring his target area.

    Satisfied, he stepped to the center of the measured distance, bunched up his hindquarters, leaped up, landed, turned around, lay down, and rested his chin on the arm of the sofa, his feet a few inches away from Kadi's.

    It's been a little over three years since Butch lost his eyesight. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but I'm still impressed when he demonstrates his problem-solving skills.

    He's a mighty fine dog.

    Saturday, November 08, 2008

    I hope Tom Armstrong got away

    I’ve had my head buried in genealogical research today, not looking for anything specific, just randomly picking out any name that falls at the dead end of a branch of the family tree and trying to find a clue to help trace that line back a little farther. I chose this project for today because I’m trying to wean myself away from the political news that has kept me riveted to the television set for weeks on end.

    Still, the recent election is very much on my mind, and the historical importance of it captured my attention again today when the cursor on my computer screen trailed across one particular name: John Jude.

    John Jude was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side. He was born about 1708 in Powhatan, Virginia, and later lived in nearby Cumberland County. John Jude was a slaveowner.

    When a slave named Tom Armstrong ran away, John posted an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette newspaper in which he described Tom as having “a bad scald head” and being “pitted with the smallpox,” telling me Tom Armstrong’s life hadn’t been any picnic prior to his escape.

    I learned about this when a Google search directed me to a photo on a University of Virginia website entitled "The Geography of Slavery." It’s a photo of the actual newspaper ad. The site is copyrighted, so I’ve resisted the temptation to capture the photo and post it here. If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, click here, then go to the second item on the list and click on the date, October 13, 1768.

    It’s been 240 years since John Jude placed that ad, but only a couple of years since I found it. I’ve wondered more than once about what happened to Tom Armstrong. Coming across John Jude’s name today, while part of my mind was still thinking about our first black president-elect, made me hope more than ever that Tom got away.

    I’d like to think he lived a long and happy life, with a loving wife and many children. I’d also like to think there are some great-great-great-great-great grandchildren of Tom Armstrong alive today, somewhere far away from Cumberland County, and that they’re as proud of our country as I am at this moment.

    Friday, November 07, 2008

    Hurricane stew

    When I was a teenager, my stepfather's second home was the boat club he visited almost every day after work. Boat club members liked good food and took turns cooking for the group on special occasions. The first time it was my parents' turn to cook, Daddy showed Mother how to cook Kentucky burgoo, a thick, delicious stew they cooked in a pot the size of a tall washtub. It was wonderful.

    As we all grew older and I moved away, I always remembered the taste of that burgoo, with it's corn, lima beans, and shredded meat. I tried to replicate it, leaving out the okra that wasn't a favorite ingredient, and reducing the quantity of ingredients to a size my family could consume in a couple of days.

    I must have cooked it a hundred times through the years, varying the ingredients slightly according to what I had on hand. Each time I made it, it was different from the time before, but the blend of meat and vegetable flavors always tasted like home.

    On the last night my sister and her family were here because of Hurricane Ike, I made a big pot of the soup/stew. That batch turned out to be especially good, and my sister asked for the recipe. I explained that there was no recipe, but "I remember exactly what I put in it this time, and I'll write it down."

    I had good intentions. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the month when I couldn't string sentences together to write blog posts, and writing down that recipe seemed equally daunting. I had put in a handful of sugar. I knew what that handful looked like, but she wouldn't. I had sprinkled black pepper and basil generously across the surface of the soup, and I remembered what it looked like, but I didn't know how much I'd used.

    After several weeks, it occurred to me that the only way I'd be able to produce an accurate recipe would be to make another big pot of it, measure the ingredients as I used them, and write it all down as I went along.

    So that's what I did. And because it's already done, and because I can post it here and not have to think of anything else to write about tonight, that's what I'll do.


    Non-stick cooking spray
    1 pound beef stew meat
    1 pound pork loin
    3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
    6 to 8 cups water (this measurement is approximate – do NOT add water all at once, and less water will make the end result taste better than more water.)
    6 medium potatoes (slightly bigger than fist-sized)
    1 large sweet onion
    2 cans whole kernel corn (with liquid)
    1 can cream-style corn
    1 can lima beans (with liquid) – (this is the small green limas, not butterbeans)
    2 cans Veg-All (or equivalent) mixed vegetables (with liquid)
    1 large (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
    1 can Swanson chicken broth
    1 jar Tostitos brand medium salsa
    5 teaspoons sugar
    2 to 3 teaspoons salt (I used 3, but start with 2 and add until it tastes right to you.
    1½ teaspoons black pepper
    2 teaspoons basil

    Spray non-stick cooking spray inside bottom of large stew pot (mine is 8-quart and it’s just barely big enough), then add beef stew meat. Allow stew meat to brown slightly (stirring occasionally to keep from burning) while you chop the pork into 1" chunks. Add pork, stir, add more water if needed, continue to cook while you chop the chicken into 1" chunks. Add chicken and stir. Pour in enough water so that the level of the water is about 1" higher than the meat. Put a lid on the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken begins to pull apart with a fork. This will take a while. (You can add water as needed to keep all the liquid from cooking away, but the goal is to get a good, rich meat stock at a level equal to or slightly higher than the meat.)

    When the chicken begins to shred, peel the onion and chop it coarsely (½ -inch pieces). Put all the onion pieces in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave on high for about 4 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the cooked onion to the stew pot and stir. Peel the potatoes and chop them into 3/4" pieces. Add the potatoes to the stew pot and stir them in. Add all the vegetables (including liquid), tomatoes, salsa, and broth, sugar, and spices. Stir thoroughly, recover the pot and continue cooking over medium heat (stirring occasionally) until the potatoes are tender enough to pierce with a fork, all the meat is tender and beginning to shred, and the liquid begins to thicken.

    This will be good enough to eat by the time you finish cooking it if you’re desperate, but it’s much better (richer and thicker) if you refrigerate it overnight and reheat it to eat the second day.

    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    Citrus season

    This is the time of year when citrus trees bear fruit in Louisiana. I don't know the psychology behind it, but fresh-picked fruit is much more soul satisfying than the store-bought variety. I would imagine that people who grow their own vegetables feel the same way. Maybe it's some kind of primal, connection-to-the-earth thing.

    One of my boss's former clients has come to the office twice in the past couple of weeks to deliver bags stuffed with satsumas, oranges, and the biggest lemons I've ever seen. We've eaten them for snacks at work, and we've all taken home plenty to share with our families.

    Tonight, though, I tasted the most satisfying fruit of all, a tangelo grown right in my own backyard. The spindly little tangelo tree is only three years old and isn't much taller than I am. It's produced fruit every year since Kim planted it, but we picked it too early the first two years. This year we exercised a little patience, and the results are juicy and delicious.

    You know, I may have missed something by not trying my hand at gardening. Except for the dirt, the hot sun, the constant watering, the allergies, and (not the least consideration) my aversion to physical labor, I think I might have enjoyed it.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    Tears of promise, tears of hope

    In the neighborhood of modestly priced homes behind my office, one lone house has sported a campaign message in its front yard, a single Obama/Biden sign that miraculously stayed in place for about two months. This morning, the sight of eight identical signs in that same yard made me laugh out loud. I could imagine that family happily and proudly hammering signs into their yard at 10:00 p.m. CST.

    First I laughed, then I cried. Again. I’ve cried off and on for two days, not noisily or blubbery, but tears that seemed to spring from a well deep within me, a well overflowing with emotions too powerful to contain.

    I’ve been happy with election results before, and sad about them sometimes, too, but never in my life have I been as moved as I am this time. I’m not sure what inspires me most: the historical aspect of the election, the idea of so many people working together to make the moment happen, or the realization that my dream of a peaceful, unified nation is a dream shared by many, many others.

    Today I’ve read blogs written by others who admit to bouts of election-inspired weeping, and I’ve seen familiar news anchors and television personalities break down in mid-sentence. It’s reassuring to know that others feel the way I do, that my tears aren't an indication of personal wussiness.

    And if you haven’t yet been moved to tears, then go get a tissue and watch this video:

    God bless America!

    Tuesday, November 04, 2008

    On pins and needles

    The polls are beginning to close in the eastern part of the United States, and the numbers are beginning to come in. I can't wait.

    This presidential campaign has been the longest I can remember. I was beginning to think it would never end, and, just when I thought I couldn't stand another day of campaign ads, the big day arrived.

    Right now I'm trying to figure out how I can possibly leave the television long enough to cook dinner and take the garbage out to the road. I understand intellectually that my temporary absence won't change the vote tallies, but the early numbers show the vote to be very close, and I don't want to miss the moment when one candidate (my candidate) starts to pull ahead of the other.

    I hope I can stay awake until that happens. And if it doesn't happen? Then I'll freeze the meatloaf left over from tonight and dine on crow tomorrow.

    Monday, November 03, 2008

    "...and the Lord taketh away."

    Barack Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died today.

    Whether Senator Obama wins or loses tomorrow, our children will one day read books and watch movies about this historical presidential election. Being a lover of books and movies -- and an enthusiastic supporter of Senator Obama -- I've thought a lot about his story. I've mentally cast the lead actors in some future film and imagined long lines of average citizens waiting for a chance to be cast as extras in the campaign rally scenes.

    Much of the movie would be filmed on location, in the exotic locales of Obama's childhood and in the streets of Chicago's South Side, and the tension and excitement would build as he continued to gain grass-roots support in state after state despite the unlikelihood that such a thing would ever happen. Moviegoers would get a big dose of history and inspiration for the price of a ticket and a box of popcorn.

    As clearly as I can imagine all this, it would never have occurred to me to include a scene in the movie in which the candidate's beloved grandmother dies on the eve of the election. That would be too much irony; I'd be afraid no one would believe it.

    Can you imagine the conflicted feelings Senator Obama and his family are experiencing tonight? They must be exhausted, physically and emotionally, from the fast pace of the campaign, and I wonder at the strength of character it must take to absorb one more major life event at a time like this. Even as they dream of winning tomorrow, they suffer a loss today.

    Life is unpredictable.

    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    If I hadn't promised... post something every day this month, I wouldn't be writing this. It's almost time for bed, and I can't wait to get there.

    As much as I love getting the extra hour of sleep when Daylight Saving Time ends, the earlier darkness always makes me want to go to bed early. I'd be there now if it wasn't for one load of laundry still in the dryer and the need to write this (feeble) post.

    This morning I had big plans for the day, a whole list of things I wanted to do. Of the few items I checked off the list, only one was important to me: to cut my hair.

    I've cut my own hair for about the last ten years, mostly because it's faster to do it myself than to go to the hairdresser, plus I wear it in such a simple style that it doesn't take a lot of expertise to do it. That being said, I'm not as good at it as I used to be. This time I got it a little too short, and every time I've passed in front of a mirror today, I've spotted another little strand of hair that's needed to be trimmed a quarter of an inch.

    The good news is that I don't much care. A little touch-up with the curling iron before work tomorrow is all it'll need to pass as grooming, and these days that's all I'm after. It just needs to look like I made the effort.

    Which, coincidentally, is exactly what I would say about this particular blog post.

    Good night.

    Saturday, November 01, 2008

    Why did the chickens cross the road?

    The McDonald’s restaurant closest to my home sits on a corner where a major east-west interstate highway crosses a busy four-lane state road. Traffic at this particular intersection is almost always fast and frantic, definitely not for the faint of heart.

    There I was, sitting in the drive-thru lane at McDonald’s, when a movement at the edge of the parking lot caught my eye. I turned to get a better look and saw two hens, one red, one white, walking together next to the curb like two women on a mission.

    All those cars whizzing by on the interstate? Didn’t seem to faze them. The hens walked with a purpose, as if they knew where they were going, stopping only for a moment to pick up a discarded french fry, then continuing on their eastward path.

    I wondered how the hens got there. How and where did they cross the busy road? Did they recognize the danger they were in? And had they consciously decided that the reason for their trip was worth the risk? Why did those chickens cross the road?

    One possible answer occurred to me, but even as I thought it, my mind wanted to reject it. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies on the Lifetime Channel. Maybe it was just my imagination running wild, but do you remember the movie about the woman who traveled to the seamy underbelly of the city in search of her runaway daughter, who had been drawn into prostitution against her will? No amount of danger could have kept that woman from searching for her daughter.

    I thought of that movie as I saw those determined chickens. Were they crossing busy roads, dodging SUVs driven by people on cell phones, in a desperate search for their missing offspring?

    The possibilities continued to play out in my mind, and just as an arm reached out the drive-thru window and handed over my breakfast order, I had an even more horrible thought. It stayed on my mind all the way home.

    I almost cried as I ate that Egg McMuffin.

    Friday, October 31, 2008

    Pumpkin patch

    On Monday of this week I posted a picture of three plain, plump pumpkins (say that three times fast) and issued a challenge to any interested readers to digitally "carve" the pumpkins for Halloween.

    Here's the original photo:

    Naturally, I had to try it, too. Googling "pumpkin carving templates" turned up plenty of great ideas, but it took a while to figure out which patterns I might be able to duplicate. Actually, the word "duplicate" is a stretch. I didn't succeed in duplicating anything, but I think you can figure out what I had in mind.

    Here's my best effort (click on the photo for a close-up):

    Response to the challenge was underwhelming. One brave reader said she'd do it, and another said she might.

    Click here to see Creekhiker's pumpkins, which look like they've really been carved and make me wish I'd used black instead of the yellow "lighted" look. Good job, Holly!

    Janet said she'd "give it a shot" and let me know. No pumpkins on her site as I write this (before work Friday), but I'll be watching for 'em.

    Happy Halloween, everybody.

    UPDATE: Janet came through! Go see her pumpkins.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    Here I am, Senator!

    I watched Barack Obama’s infomercial last night, then switched to Larry King Live to see his interview with John McCain. McCain’s take on the infomercial was that it was made possible only by the suspicious contributions of “mysterious donors.” That would be me. I’m one of those.

    Earlier this year I made a $100 donation to Obama, the first time in my life I’ve ever donated to a presidential campaign. Oh sure, once in a while I’ve checked the presidential campaign donation box on my income tax form, but who counts that? The problem with my $100 donation, apparently, is that it was under $200, the minimum amount that the government has declared must be recorded and made public. If I’d had another extra $100, I’d have been glad to give it -- more, even -- but I didn’t. That means my donation is buried with millions of others the Obama campaign received, even though I had to give my name, address, employer information, credit card information, and swear to my American citizenship before they'd take my money.

    Another reason the Republicans would never suspect me as a donor is the fact that I’m a white woman, 65-years-old. That puts me in a category they were convinced would not support Obama. Isn’t that great? My identity is a natural disguise.

    Elisabeth Hasselbeck said yesterday that she thought the idea of spending money on a political infomercial was “repulsive.” In truth, I, too, am appalled at the amount of money required to fund a successful presidential campaign. I hope that changes one day. For now, though, campaigning costs money, and that’s why I and the millions of other “mysterious donors” sent money to him: so he can spend enough to win. I want him in the Oval Office. He’ll have plenty of time to be budget conscious once he gets in office, but if he doesn’t get there because he hesitated to spend one thin dime of my donation, then he doesn’t deserve to be there.

    I look at the cost of this campaign the same way I viewed the expense of purchasing energy-efficient appliances when I remodeled my kitchen: Obama may cost more up front, but he’ll pay for himself in the long run.

    Anyway, Senator McCain, I just thought I ought to step up and be counted. Maybe enough of us will do that so you don’t have to spend the last few days of your discount campaign searching for all of us suspicious boogeypeople.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    Butch and Kadi, host and hostess

    It was interesting to watch Butch and Kadi while my house was full of company. The differences in their personalities were easy to see.

    Kadi was tolerant. Just barely. She likes things in their correct places and takes comfort in routine, and it was obvious by her demeanor that she was a little stressed out by the disarray. Even though I’ve never seen her snap at a person in her entire 11 years, I felt nervous when the little ones played near her. She let them pet her, but she certainly wasn’t enthusiastic about it.

    Butch, on the other hand, had an entirely different reaction, one that could be summed up by a single word: “PARRR-TEE.”

    Once Butch learned to navigate around the extra feet, luggage, and air mattresses, he had a blast. He played so hard the first full day that he woke up in the middle of that night, tried to stand up, and screamed out in pain. I’d noticed him limping before bedtime and thought at first that he’d injured his foot. When he got up and moved around, he stopped crying and wasn't limping anymore. I couldn’t find any injury, so I concluded his old joints were stiff and sore and punishing him for exercising them too vigorously. Once I nipped his wrestling career in the bud, he was fine again.

    Both dogs learned quickly that my two-year-old grandniece always traveled with a bag of chips in one hand. They followed her everywhere she went (giving me a clearer understanding of the phrase, “dogged her every step”), happy to clean up any crumbs that might fall.

    Butch and Kadi also exhibited some pack behavior that kind of surprised me. They seemed to decide between themselves that the two smaller guest dogs were fine, but the large boxer was not. Inside or outside, they’d leave the poor boxer alone until she moved anywhere near me, then they’d slip into junkyard-dog behavior. Butch was just as nasty as Kadi was, snarling and barking as if he’d rip the boxer apart as soon as he figured out exactly where she was.

    Often, when I sat down, both dogs lay by my chair, one beside me and one in front, their noses nearly touching at the corner. At night, instead of seeking out their separate favorite sleeping spots, they slept side by side near the foot of my bed. It made me feel good that they included me as part of their pack.

    Now, if I can only keep them convinced I’m the alpha dog...

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Hurricane Ike spawns a future SNL star

    This is old news, but it was a big event for my family, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t write about it.

    If you happened to read the comments on my September 23, 2008 post (the last one I wrote before falling out of the blogosphere and onto the end of my sofa for an extended period of time), then you know that my sister and her family spent a few days with me when they evacuated their East Texas homes to escape the winds and waters of Hurricane Ike. As close as we are emotionally, we’re just far enough apart geographically that we hadn’t managed an in-person visit in the three years between Hurricanes Katrina and Ike. I was delighted that the winds blew them in this direction.

    It made me feel good that they were willing to “hunker down” here, all of them having lived through this experience during Katrina and knowing full well that my house isn’t the most comfortable port in a storm. I have two bedrooms and one bath, plenty of room when I’m by myself, but with six extra adults, two teenagers, a five-year-old, a two-year-old, an 11-month old, three extra dogs, tons of luggage, and a few air mattresses, we were stacked like cordwood.

    It was great. Tight but great.

    It’s rare that I’m around small children anymore, so it was a special treat to watch the little ones. The baby learned to walk while he was here. He looked so proud of himself as he took steps from one person to another, pausing in between walks to accept our enthusiastic applause.

    And, on the same weekend that Tina Fey did her first spot-on impression of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, my sister’s two-year-old granddaughter won the impersonation contest at our house. After CNN aired video of one Galveston, Texas girl who survived the storm, our own little comic regaled us with her impromptu interpretation of what she’d just witnessed on TV. For the remainder of the visit, she’d scrunch up one side of her face on command and say, in her best gravelly voice, “Sep in CAAAAWSET!”

    They’ve been gone a month and a half now, and I still miss them.

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    A pumpkin challenge

    Are you good at carving pumpkins? Do you think you can fake it? I'm not sure I can, either, but I'm going to try.

    Weekend before last, I snapped this photo:

    What I'm suggesting, for the creative types among you or for those who just can't resist a challenge, is that you capture this photo (right click on it, then select "save picture as" and save it to your computer) and use your Paint program or favorite photo-editing software to digitally "carve" or otherwise decorate one or more of these pumpkins for Halloween. No rules except that this specific photo of three pumpkins on the stairs should be the background for your work. Other than that, paint, cut and paste, or whatever your muse dictates.

    If you decide to give it a try, please leave a comment with a link or url address to your blog or website and let us know to count you in. Then, on Friday, October 31st, you can post your edited pumpkin photos on your own site, and I'll post links here so everyone can see your results.

    I realize time is short and apologize for not thinking of this sooner. I considered saving it for next year, but who knows if I'd remember it until then?

    Interested? Okay, then, get to work.

    Sunday, October 26, 2008

    I've tied myself to this chair...

    ...and I’m determined to write something--anything--before I get up again.

    I’ve already procrastinated for half an hour playing Mahjongg and another 15 minutes looking at all the pictures I’ve taken over the past month or two.

    How did blogging become so difficult?

    Okay. Take a deep breath. Get ready. Get set. Write!

    Lately I can think (and talk and write) of almost nothing except presidential politics. I read political blogs during the day, then I come home and watch the cable news networks until bedtime, switching channels frequently in search of any morsel of information I haven’t yet absorbed. I'm afraid I’ve crossed way over the line that separates keen interest from obsession.

    I’ve always been interested in presidential elections, but never as passionately as this year. This time around I want to know everything, as if I’m cramming for the most important test of my lifetime. My mission is to be able to answer calmly, correctly, and explicitly when someone asks me, “Why are you voting for Obama? Don’t you know he [insert rumor or lie of your choice]?” So far I’ve been able to do it. That’s the good part about immersing myself so deeply in the campaign coverage.

    The bad part is that this campaign addiction has left me feeling depressed. For one thing, I have an intense aversion to conflict, a long-term issue born of the bickering that existed in my home during my teen years. Even if I'm voluntarily watching panels of pundits talking over each other and vying for the last zinger, it makes me feel uncomfortable and anxious.

    It also discourages me to see the leaders of our country and their minions repeatedly spread outright lies or misleading information when I know they know better. If somebody confronts them on one show with proof that what they’ve said is false, I expect them to say, “Okay, perhaps I was mistaken,” and not repeat it. Instead, I see them an hour later on another network making the same false claim. How stupid do they think we are? And do they think lying is okay with the average American citizen?

    What distresses me most of all, though, is video footage of McCain campaign rallies. If you're old enough, think back to the Bible-story movies that were popular in the ‘40s and ‘50s and remember the scenes that showed arenas full of people watching Christians being fed to lions. Picture the jeering faces of the crowds who watched the slaughter. Those are the kinds of faces I see at the McCain rallies. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me to see large numbers of people like that who have been assembled and charged up by inflammatory rhetoric.

    In real life, of course, I know many perfectly nice people who plan to vote for John McCain in this election, and I’m sure that many of the people at his rallies are perfectly nice as well. They’re the ones whose faces are not contorted with anger or smugness. What frightens me is the idea that large numbers of zealots and bigots come out of those rallies, walk our streets among rational people, spread their hostility to their offspring, and make our world less safe.

    Okay. That's enough of that. I have written. If I’d written anything at all in the last month, it would have ended up about like this or worse. Because of that conflict thing I mentioned, I’m always hesitant to express strong negative opinions for fear of offending readers I care about. If I’ve done that, I’m sorry, but the truth is, if I’ve offended you to any large degree, we probably wouldn’t get along in real life anyway, so there’s no great loss to either of us. Go away and read Rush Limbaugh’s website.

    On the other hand, if you’re still with me, I’ll promise you this: Barring computer outages or medical emergencies (human or canine), I’ll post something every single day between now and the end of November, and most of it will not be rants like this post. Some days it might be just a photo, but there'll be something new each day. I hope that the process of posting every day will help me find my missing sense of humor, reestablish the blogging habit, and make up to you for my just-ended month of self-indulgence.

    Hope to see you here tomorrow.

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008


    It's been 13 days since my last confession blog entry, and I've been anxious about it for the last seven of those days. I don't want to disappoint people, I don't want to lose readers, and I don't want to get kicked off of Ronni Bennett's blog list for not posting at least once a week.

    So many writers whose work I admire have written about the fact that writing was something they've always done, about the satisfaction of putting their words on paper, and about their almost burning desire to write for at least a portion of every day. That's how I know I'm not a "real writer." Sometimes I'd rather be poked in the eye than have to sit down, organize my thoughts, and write them down in any kind of logical sequence.

    That's how I've been for at least the last week. There's plenty to write about (back-to-back hurricanes have provided a lot of blog fodder), but for some reason all I've wanted to do after getting home from work is sleep. I don't think I'm sick, and, although I've felt really tired, I've had so much rest that fatigue couldn't possibly be the problem.

    Blogging isn't the only thing I've let slide. I have e-mails to answer and phone calls to return. There are dishes in the sink that only need to be moved to the dishwasher. There's laundry to be done, but I'm not out of towels or underwear, so it can wait. There are bills to pay. They aren't late yet, but if I don't get down to business by tomorrow, some of them will be. I haven't wanted to read, and if the TV has been turned on, I've dozed in front of it. Whatever the cause of this malaise, I know I'm coming out of it, or I wouldn't be writing even this much.

    This blog is important to me. I love the idea of having a place to record my thoughts so my children and grandchildren will have something left of me after I'm gone. I love the friends I've made online, and I love reading what the rest of you write, stories and essays that demonstrate the common experiences of humankind. For all those reasons, I have a strong desire to nurture this blog, but I haven't done that lately.

    My first question to you, then, is am I the only one who has a love/hate relationship with his or her blog? Does writing blog posts always come easily to you, or do you, once in a while, think of your blog as a big, hulking thing that's demanding to be fed immediately or else it will (a) roll over and die, or (b) devour you?

    If you ever feel the way I've just described -- or maybe if you're just a rational, reasonable person who sometimes gets too busy to post for a few days -- what do you do to keep your blog alive until you're ready to write again? Photos? Reruns? What?

    The guilt is killing me, people. If you have some suggestions, I'd sure like to hear them.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008

    Liars and tyrants and boors, oh my!

    When I was in the tenth grade, my boyfriend, a senior, lived just a few houses down the street from me. Both of us were honor students and both of us were churchgoers. We were decent kids, white Cosby kids, if you will, who wouldn’t have dreamed of smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer or doing anything in public that might embarrass our parents. And yet...

    I clearly remember telling my mother one Sunday evening, “[Boyfriend’s] daddy says he can use the car tonight as long as he comes home right after church is over. Can I go with him?” Mother agreed.

    I remember the phrasing about coming home “right after church is over” because I was very careful to imply –- but not to say –- we were going to church. We were not. Instead, the boyfriend picked me up in his daddy’s car and we drove to our favorite parking spot, a lonely dirt road on the edge of town, where we planned to make out for an hour and then go home, true to my word, right after church was over.

    As we indulged ourselves in every teenage passion short of going “all the way,” we each kept an eye on the clock, knowing our parents would be none the wiser as long as we made it home on time. Except it didn’t turn out that way. It rained. Hard. The dirt road became a muddy swamp. Boyfriend’s daddy’s car got stuck in the mud. Boyfriend had to walk half a mile to a stranger’s house, borrow the telephone, and call his daddy. Boyfriend’s daddy, since we were in the family's only car, had to call a tow truck to come after us.

    When I arrived home, two hours late, Mother was furious. “I can’t believe you lied to me like that,” she fumed. “Oh, no,” I said, “I would not and did not lie to you. I never said we were going to church; I said we’d be home ‘after church is over.’”

    Mother didn’t buy it. I don’t know whether she was angrier that I twisted the truth in the first place or that I thought she was so stupid she’d accept my little disclaimer without an argument.

    I mention this incident to prove that I recognize when the truth is being twisted and when lies are being fabricated by words or phrases taken out of context. I know that lies, whether by commission or omission, are breaches of trust. And, just like my mother, I am furious when I know I’m being lied to and furious that the liars think I’m that stupid.

    The problem is, some people are that stupid, and some of those stupid people will vote in the upcoming presidential election.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve stated here before that I support Barack Obama, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the opinions of those who prefer the policies and philosophies of John McCain. If you cast your vote because you’ve researched the issues thoroughly and you genuinely prefer Senator McCain’s policies, then that just means we see things differently, have different needs, different priorities. If all voters were well-informed and the majority elected a different candidate from mine, I’d accept the majority-rules philosophy with grace and dignity. You and I might stop talking politics, but we’d still be friends.

    Some people, unfortunately, will vote against Obama (as opposed to for McCain) because of the McCain campaign’s attack ads and viral e-mails based on innuendos, distortions, half-truths and outright lies. I am appalled at some of the things I see on television and on the Internet that are presented as fact and that I know to be untrue. It’s a mind-warping experience to watch an entire speech one day, then see a few choice words from that speech used to portray an entirely different concept in an attack ad one day later.

    There have been times in my life when I’ve voted Republican. In fact, I voted for the first George Bush, at least the first time around. It was when he ran for a second term, against Bill Clinton, that I began to sense the emergence of a vocal mean-spiritedness in the Republican campaign. It turned me off.

    In the years since then, that mean-spirited, cut-their-legs-out-from-under-them attitude has gotten steadily worse. I thought John McCain would be different. He used to be different. I thought this had the potential to be a clean, high-minded campaign. Instead, it's deteriorated into the worst kind of lying, lying, lying!

    Does “putting the country first” mean “winning at all costs”? Does winning an election justify gutter politics? Is it okay to tell any damn lie the public might swallow in order to get the stupid-people vote?

    I don’t think so. It’s my country, too, and I want my leaders to be men -– or women –- of honor. I want to respect them. I want to believe them. I want to trust them.

    I learned the hard way that trust is earned by honor and truthfulness. That’s what my mother expected from me, and that’s what I want from my president.

    Monday, September 08, 2008

    Thought you'd like to know...

    ...that one of my favorite neighbors survived the hurricane, too. Think this guy is looking for a bag of ice or an MRE?

    (Notice the fallen tree in the background. This is right across the street from my house.)

    Saturday, September 06, 2008


    This is a long one, folks. I'll understand if you want to skip it.

    Monday, 9/1/08: Labor Day and landfall day

    We rise early, let the dogs out, and have breakfast while we watch the news. Gustav should make landfall around noon, so the local channels are airing non-stop coverage of hurricane preparations. I must say I’m impressed with how our new governor is handling things. If he’s being truthful about all the agencies that are standing by to offer assistance, there’ll be no repeat of the Hurricane Katrina debacle.


    At 10:30 a.m. our power goes out, comes back on, repeats the same cycle twice more, then goes out for good. We go to the closet to get candles and matches to put in strategic places for later in the day, when we’ll need them, and we pull out the battery-operated radio/flashlight that’s been in my closet for more than ten years. It was a safety prize when I worked for the company founded by Alison’s father, and for the next few days it will be our lifeline to what’s going on in the hurricane-affected area.


    The radio says the hurricane has been downgraded to a Category One, which is a good thing, but I’ve never felt stronger winds than those that make my house creak. Gustav spared New Orleans, but the Greater Baton Rouge Area sits in the northeast quadrant of the hurricane’s path, the place where the winds are most forceful. I feel outwardly calm, but the subtle burning in my gut tells me I’m internalizing my anxieties.

    The rain pours down steadily, not in sheets like many southern thunderstorms, but in wet strings that resemble beaded curtains, strings that are visible as the wind blows them first in one direction, then in another. I watch Kim as she steps outside into the carport. Even though she’s well under the roof, I see her legs get wet as the wind blows the rain sideways.

    We watch the trees across the road and those behind the house as they sway precariously. The big tree beside the driveway is a source of constant concern; if it falls, it will land right on top of us. We see its branches waving like the arms of a giant orchestra conductor, but its trunk remains stable.

    Oddly, the storm produces no lightning or thunder, so the dogs don’t seem particularly concerned about it. I’m grateful that we don’t have to deal with their anxiety on top of our own.


    Thank God for cell phones. We touch bases with the various branches of our family, feeling blessed to learn that everyone is safe. My daughter Kelli tells me about watching the pecan tree fall in their yard, seeing its roots pull out of the wet earth as it tipped over onto the fence between their house and the neighbor’s.

    I speak with my sister several times through the course of the day. She and her family evacuated their Texas Gulf Coast homes yesterday as a mandatory precaution against any last-minute changes in Gustav’s track. She’s relieved that they won’t suffer a repeat of the damage they experienced during Hurricane Rita, but she’s concerned about the Louisiana branch of the family.


    We eat supper by candlelight, listening to the radio, and finally make preparations to go to bed. Earlier, Kim inflated her air mattress. There have been tornado warnings on the radio all evening, and if the weather gets rough, we plan to throw the air mattress under the dining table and crawl under there for safety.

    The house is hot. Uncomfortably so. Kim calls from her bedroom next to mine and tells me not to come in there and be shocked, that she’s going to strip down to her undies to try to beat the heat. I tell her I’m doing the same thing. After a few minutes of quiet, we talk again, and this time we come up with the idea of getting wet washcloths to place on our heads or our chests to try to feel cooler. We get up and get the washcloths, and go back to our separate rooms, where we agree out loud that “this feels better.” A few more minutes pass and I remember that there are ice packs in the freezer, that even if they’ve thawed, they could still be cold enough to slip into our pillows. Kim volunteers to get up and get the ice packs, and they do feel good. Just before we fall asleep, I get a mental image of the two of us lying in our separate rooms, dressed only in panties and washcloths, and I call out to Kim that if there’s any chance that a tornado will hit the house, this would be the time.

    Tuesday, 9/2/08

    We made it through the night, and the house is cooler this morning by several degrees. We know it won’t be that way long. The rain has stopped, and the weather forecasters on the local radio station don’t seem to think it’ll be coming back. That means our septic tanks won’t fill up with groundwater and our toilets will continue to work. Also, our water supply wasn’t contaminated, so we’ll have plenty of fresh water. That makes us luckier than many. City water isn’t available at my daughter Kelli’s home; they’re on a well. When the power goes out, so does the well pump. Fortunately, they have a generator, and they can plug the pump into it on an as-needed basis.


    At mid-morning, friends of Kim's drive up to check on us. They’ve been out hunting gasoline for their van and for their generator, and we’re happy to see them. They describe the destruction they’ve seen on their way from Baton Rouge to our house, and we feel even luckier than before. They invite us to gather up our dogs and stay at their house, where they’re cooking on a grill and a generator powers a refrigerator, TV set, and a room air conditioner. Kim is tempted, but I don’t want to go. I recognize and appreciate the generosity of their offer, but I want to stay home, and I don’t want to get out on the hazardous roads. If I change my mind later, I promise them, I’ll let them know.


    I’m worried that I haven’t been able to get in touch with Kelli today. Our landline phones aren’t working, even the hard-wired ones, and cell phone service is scarce. On the radio, I hear a request for people to forgo casual cell-phone conversations so first responders can get their calls through.


    I also hear on the radio that the number of homes and businesses without power across Louisiana has reached more than seven digits. Entergy Corporation, my own power provider, has 1.2 million customers out of service. Estimates range from days to weeks, depending on the location and the severity of the destruction, before service will be returned.


    My sister calls to tell me they’ve made it home safely. She says the national news is all about New Orleans and the nationwide sense of relief that there is no major flooding. She hasn’t been able to find any news about the Baton Rouge area. This kind of makes me mad. Don’t the networks think it’s newsworthy that hundreds of thousands of people are without food, shelter, gasoline and electricity when the temperature is soaring near 90 degrees? Isn’t it significant that thousands of businesses are closed, that companies are shut down and hourly workers are losing wages? Doesn’t it matter that courthouses and government agencies are shut down, without computers, without telephones, and that business as usual is a phrase for the past and the future but not for the next few weeks? It matters to us, and I want people to know about it.

    Yes, I’m glad that the death toll of Gustav is nothing compared to Katrina, but there’s still plenty of suffering to go around.


    Kim ventures out to her friends’ house and comes back with a hot sausage sandwich for me and a deep conviction that we need to buy a generator. I tell her I’ve been listening to the radio about long queues of people lining up at building supply stores in futile searches for generators. Window-unit air conditioners are in short supply, too, and the air conditioning is the main reason I’d want to get a generator. Not only that, I’m hearing that the things drink gasoline. Only a few gas stations are able to pump gas, and people are waiting in line for hours to buy gasoline. Personally, I don’t want the hassle. Kim tells me they’ll go out and find the generator, they’ll find the air conditioner, they’ll find the gas cans and the gasoline; I won't have to do a thing. Maybe in a few days, I say, but not now.

    Someone told me around the time of Hurricane Katrina that our neighborhood is on the same power grid as the new high school, the one that’s being used as a shelter, and that, for that reason, we’d be among the first places to get power. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it doesn’t get any hotter, I’m willing to wait a few more days


    In the afternoon, my cell phone finally rings and it’s my brother. I’m thrilled that the phone is working and particularly delighted to hear from him. My love for him never falters, but we both have lousy communications skills, and we go for long periods of time without talking. We call each other at birthdays and holidays, but if the phone calls go unanswered, as they usually do on those busiest of days, we extend our good wishes through voice mail and call it done.

    We have a great conversation, quickly getting past the subject of the hurricane and moving on to the mundane news of our lives. I had almost forgotten how much I love the sound of his laughter, and it warms my heart to hear it again.

    As soon as we hang up, the phone rings again, and it’s Kelli this time. I’m relieved that we’re back in touch, even if I was pretty sure she and her family were safe. She feels the same way.

    My sister calls (she’s kept in close contact for days) and once again invites all of us to drive to Texas to stay with them until we get our power back. She even invites all of our dogs. I know she means it and I love her for it, and I promise we’ll go there if things get really bad.


    Kim has cabin fever. She’s hot, she’s bored, she says she doesn’t know how much of this she can stand. She asks again if I’d consider taking the pooches to her friends’ house where we could at least sleep in comfort. I tell her I don’t want to go, but I think she should go ahead, and she tells me she can’t go without me. She says she’d feel like she’d be abandoning me, and she isn’t willing to do that. I tell her I’m perfectly safe where I am, with plenty of food in the house and a car full of gasoline (not to mention air conditioning) if things become too uncomfortable. I encourage her to go. When she’s with me, we pretty much sit and stare out at the driveway and the road beyond, which is driving her nuts. When I’m by myself, I can read or work Sudoku or logic puzzles to pass the time.

    I remind her that in staying with me, she’s already displaced from her home. It isn’t a big step to pick up her bag and go to her friends’ home. For me to do that, I’d be trading the familiarity of home for cooler but unfamiliar surroundings. I also remind her that I’ve lived through this kind of heat before. There were days in my childhood when the temperature reached 100 degrees, and we had no air conditioning. On those days, we stayed inside with the doors and windows closed against the heat and humidity, shutting the drapes on first one side of the house, then another, following the offending sun. We had no television then, either, so reading and listening to the radio were the norm.

    With a promise to call her if I need anything at all, I finally convince her it’s all right for her to go. I ask her to leave her pups with me, so they won’t feel stressed out by a strange home with strange dogs, and she reluctantly agrees.


    I go to bed early. I’ve discovered that Kim’s battery-operated lantern puts out a light that’s bright enough to read by, and I happen to have a new book I’m excited to begin: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. It’s about a boy and his dogs, and surrounded as I am by Butch, Kadi, Winston and Lucy, it seems a fitting story for a night like this. Once again, the wet washcloth and the ice pack are part of my bedtime story, and I feel safe and happy as I lie in bed and read.

    I also feel proud of myself. I’m proud that I prepared adequately for a time like this and proud that I haven’t let the heat beat me down. At the same time, I’m honest with myself. I realize that if this had happened a month earlier, when temperatures were really high, I’m not so sure I could have survived without air conditioning. I recognize that luck is more accountable for my wellness than any personal fortitude.

    Wednesday, 9/3/08

    The temperature outside has dropped a couple of degrees, and there’s an occasional breeze. I decide that sitting outside for a while might make the heat indoors seem less oppressive. In the interest of cooling off the dogs, I fill their swimming pool. Kadi is the only taker. She climbs into the four inches of water and lies down while the rest of the dogs go to the door and ask to go back inside.

    I’ve seen strange butterflies through the window for the past couple of days, strange in the sense of being unfamiliar to me. They’re quite large, with lavendar wings. While I sit outside by Kadi’s pool, I see one of the butterflies flittering from branch to branch on the tangelo tree. I go inside to get my camera, come back out, aim, focus...and get the message: “Change batteries.” I go back in the house and replace the batteries, determined to try again. I step out the backdoor just in time to see the lovely butterfly go over the back fence.

    I sit in a lawn chair next to the gardenia bush, a cold drink in one hand, a book in the other, the camera hanging around my neck. A bumblebee buzzes close to me and settles onto a nearby blossom. At least the camera activity wasn’t a total waste.

    Kadi is ready to go back inside. I dry her as thoroughly as possible with a towel, hoping her wet fur will keep her a little cooler once she’s back inside.


    The neighbor who lives directly in front of me comes to the front door and brings us a bag of ice. We are thrilled. She tells us the ice is being distributed at the Expo Center. “The line is long,” she says, “but it moves fast." Kim and I drive there immediately and join the long line of vehicles snaking half a mile or more to the distribution site. There are beat-up, old pickup trucks and luxury SUVs in line with us, demonstrating the equalizing nature of a storm like this. As we wait in line, we discuss how fortunate we are that we’ve never had to seek out assistance like this before. To our left, we notice a yellow, single-wide mobile home, so insubstantial in its bearing that it’s a wonder the strong winds didn’t blow it over. We chuckle when we realize its windows have been carefully boarded over. That, my friends, is optimism.

    We wait in the line for an hour and a half before we pull up to the area where young men and women in military camouflage are passing out supplies. Each car stops for less than a minute. We pop the trunk open and strong arms place two large bags of ice, two boxes of MREs (meals ready to eat), and one blue tarp inside. We tell them how much we appreciate them, and we’ve never meant it more.

    On the radio later we hear about people who waited four and six hours in supply lines. Once again, we realize we were lucky.


    Kim has gone back to her friends’ house, and I am having a hot meal: my first ever MRE. Each box we were given contains 24 meals, four each of six different varieties. I decide to try the southwestern chicken with black beans and rice. When I open the package, I’m surprised that in addition to the entree, there are crackers, cheese, fig bars, a shortbread cookie, a pack of raisins, a tube of raspberry drink flavoring, a packet of pepper, a spoon, and a moist towelette. Each item is packaged separately in sturdy, waterproofed material.

    I follow the instructions to place the meal pouch in the heating envelope and add the saline solution that starts the chemical heating process. After the prescribed 12 minutes, I carefully remove the hot pouch, knead it thoroughly to distribute the heat evenly, then tear off the top and taste it. It’s seasoned surprisingly well, not bad at all, though the texture is a little gummy. There’s no question this food would stick to your ribs. The only other item I try is the large shortbread cookie, which is as good as any I’ve ever tasted.

    I know it’s silly, but I feel almost giddy with happiness to be eating this meal, not because I’m so hungry but because of its origins. I’m proud of the people who eat this food in the line of duty, and I’m honored to share at least this one meal in common with them.


    I’m not having a good night. My legs are aching, and it’s almost too hot to breathe, even with the wet washcloth laid on my mid-section. The cloud cover lifted early in the day, and the sun’s heat has lingered to make this the hottest night yet.

    The dogs are restless, too. Butch and Lucy seem fine, but I’m worried about Kadi and Winston. Kadi is panting constantly, and Winston wheezes as if he has asthma. Sometime in the pre-dawn hours, I rise to take them outside, and as I do so, I realize I’m dizzy. I must have sat too long by the gardenia bush today and activated the allergies that upset my equilibrium. Minutes after the dogs come back inside, when I’m almost drifting off to sleep again, I hear a loud crash inside the house, followed quickly by another identical one. I grab the flashlight and make my way from room to room until I come to the dining room, where I find two chairs lying on their backs. Butch is in the living room and Kadi is in the den, equidistant from the scene of the crime, both of them watching me. One of them, I’m sure, was seeking shelter under there.

    I go back to bed and try again. I’m lying on my right side, and I feel something land on my left upper arm. I quickly fling my right hand up and grab it, hurling it to the floor. I imagine that the size and heft of the thing would be about the same as a cockroach. I reach for the flashlight and shine it all around my bed, but I don’t see anything. There’s a towel on the floor beside the bed. I poke it with my toe, but nothing crawls out.

    It’s a long night.

    Thursday, 9/4/08

    The sun is shining this morning. At first I think it’s the contrast of the sunlight outside and the shadows in the house that reminds me of the house where I grew up in Missouri, but then I realize it isn’t the light as much as the sound. There are no generators running this morning. No air conditioning, no television, little or no traffic. It sounds as quiet as the summers of my childhood. Apparently, the noises that have polluted our environment through the years have come on so gradually that I never noticed them until they stopped. For a brief while I sit alone and enjoy the sense of being back in that time and place.


    Kelli, Troy and Michelle come over to visit. They live 20 minutes from my house, not so far in normal times, but quite a distance when all the traffic lights are out.

    Troy surveys the house and seems pleased that the damage is insignificant. We’re missing a handful of shingles from the roof, the gutter is hanging a few inches low on one corner, and that’s about all there is. I mention that we lost one fruit-laden branch from the tangelo tree, and both of them, in turn, admit to having hit that branch accidentally while they mowed the lawn. They weren’t too sorry to see it go.

    Their visit is brief, but we all feel better for having seen each other in person.


    When Kim comes back, she brings me a brown-bag lunch packed for me by her friend. It contains a banana, two buns, lettuce and tomato in a plastic bag, and a sausage link and a hamburger patty, hot off the grill. I think I’m in heaven.

    Kim thinks I need to get out of the house, and I don’t particularly want to go anywhere. We discuss our options, and I finally agree to go out for a ride if we can clean out the refrigerator first and take the spoiled contents to the dumpster behind my office.

    As we ride, we see more houses with tree damage. Near the middle school, we see what’s left of a school-zone sign. The pole stands almost erect, but the rectangular sign itself is shredded and twisted.

    We stop at Kim’s apartment. Her power is still off, but it feels a little cooler there than at my place. We talk about possibly spending the night there, but I don’t want to move. Hot as it is, I want to be home as long as I’m able.


    The neighbors in front have bought a generator. As we watch them work together to set it up, we have another discussion about the pros and cons of getting one for my house. I’m still not convinced. I’ve been in Louisiana for 30 years now, and this is the first time I’ve needed a generator. I think I can wait a little longer.

    It’s late afternoon before the neighbors get their generator operating. I encourage Kim to leave so she’ll get where she’s going before dark, and I settle on the sofa and turn on the radio. When Kim and I talked about generators earlier, we also talked about fans, including the big, cord-operated fans used long ago in southern plantation houses. Thinking about that conversation led to thoughts of the hand-held, cardboard fans we used in church on hot Sundays when I was a kid. I have an idea. I take the flashlight and go to the laundry area of my kitchen, reach up on a shelf and grab the blue plastic handle that fits into a Swiffer duster. Next, I go in the den and retrieve three letter-sized sheets of card-stock paper, tape them together, insert them into the notch on the Swiffer handle, and tape the long blue prongs onto the card stock until I’m sure the whole thing will hold together. I go back to the sofa and settle down again. Kadi is on the floor at my feet. For the next half hour, I fan the two of us. That subtle movement of the air makes a world of difference. I feel simultaneously pleased at my creativity and stupid for not having thought of it days ago.


    Moments later, the lights come on.

    For a few seconds, I can’t believe it, and then the euphoria sets in. Kadi and Butch are right there with me, up and active, Butch cocking his head to listen and Kadi prancing around from room to room, all of us caught up in the excitement of the moment. Kadi seems to visibly relax, as if the world had been askew on its axis and was suddenly set right again.

    I call both my daughters and then my sister to share the good news. I get a cold Diet Coke from the ice chest, put crackers and canned chicken salad on a paper plate, turn on the television to a local station and, for the first time, see video footage of some of the damage I’ve heard described on the radio.

    I want to laugh, and I want to cry. It’s hard to imagine that I’ve always taken something as important as electricity for granted, and I don’t want to forget this, ever.

    I post a brief blog entry to tell my online friends the news, then I take a shower, let the dogs out one last time, and crawl into bed. Butch is in his usual spot, as is Kadi. Kadi is breathing normally for the first time in days, and I’m grateful for every easy breath she draws.

    I say prayers of gratitude and sink into a long, deep sleep.

    Friday, 9/5/08

    I’ve slept for 10 straight hours. I do remember letting the dogs out once during that time, but that memory is vague. I’ve slept so long that I feel sluggish.

    Because of the air conditioning, I feel cool and clean. I gather up laundry loads of sweaty shorts and T-shirts, and other loads of sheets and towels. It seems almost magical to push buttons on the machines and have them agitate and spin until the laundry is done.

    There’s ice in the freezer, perfectly frozen semi-circles that were manufactured all through the night. I’m so proud of them you’d think I gave birth to them myself.

    I talk to Kelli early in the day. She doesn’t have electricity yet, but they’re making do.

    Kim calls early, too. She’s had a restful night, and a friend is with her now. They’re both eBay sellers, and they’re taking advantage of her reborn electricity to contact their customers. She wants to know if I’ve heard of any area post offices that are open, but I don’t know of any.

    My boss calls. He’s gone to a meeting with other officials of the local justice system to develop a plan for the immediate future. If the power comes back on at the office, we’ll go back to work on Monday.


    I stay in my bathrobe all day long. I want to write about this experience but can’t seem to wrap my mind around it yet. I read a little bit and watch a little TV. In the pre-storm days, I kept the TV on most of the time for background noise, but today the chatter annoys me. I turn it off and enjoy the silence.


    Kim’s going grocery shopping and offers to pick up some things for me. I make a short list that includes hot dogs and meatloaf ingredients. I want comfort foods. I’ll need to completely restock my refrigerator and freezer, but with hurricanes Hanna and Ike still threatening, I’m not ready to do it yet.


    As I take towels out of the washing machine, the last load of laundry and the one that includes the towel from the floor beside my bed, half of a large cricket falls from the folds of a towel onto the kitchen floor. I can’t explain why, exactly, but I find a cricket much nicer than a cockroach, especially when I think about it having been on my arm.

    Saturday, 9/6/08

    Kelli calls early to tell me her power’s back on. She sounds ecstatic. She also tells me about driving to the store and seeing a convoy of utility trucks coming into town. She says it made her cry, the same kind of tears of pride and gratitude that spring to her eyes when she sees a caravan of military vehicles. I know exactly what she means.


    Kim comes over to work in her glass studio. She has custom orders to fill and is eager to get back to work.


    I pick up all the candles and matches and put them away. The flashlights and batteries go back in their places, and the battery-operated radio goes back in the closet to wait for the next time we need it. Except for the unusual quantity of canned meats and other non-perishable foods in my pantry, things at home are pretty much back to normal. In the isolation of my house, it’s easy to forget that there are thousands and thousands of people nearby whose lives remain upended.


    Gustav wasn’t the largest or most powerful hurricane ever to come this way, but those who’ve been around long enough to know are saying it’s the most devastating storm in the history of this area. At least in terms of physical destruction and business interruption.

    While we’re speaking in superlatives, I’ll acknowledge that this is the longest blog post I’ve ever written. It would have been even longer if I’d written about the days of preparation for the hurricane, the government’s mostly successful efforts to provide guidance and assistance, and the countless other ways our lives have been affected at least temporarily. There’s been no mail service in the last week, for example, and we don’t know when it will resume. For another example, helicopters fly over multiple times daily, so often that the dogs no longer pay attention to them.

    My boss calls again this evening. He’s about the same age I am, so I don’t know if it's an age thing or if the younger generations feel the same way, but we both agree that an event such as Hurricane Gustav enables us to establish our priorities in an instant. The safety of our loved ones is the only thing that matters. As long as everyone’s okay, the rest of this mess can get sorted out, piece by piece, all in its own good time.

    Life goes on here. Pray for the people in the paths of Hanna and Ike.