Friday, December 31, 2010

The moodiest of holidays

I've mentioned more than once on these pages that the New Year's holiday is my favorite of them all. It's a time that always moves me deeply, moves me in a spirit of reflection, remembrance, and renewal. A time for taking stock.

Yesterday I watched and listened to many, many versions of "Auld Lang Syne" on YouTube, trying to find the one that best fits the way this holiday makes me feel. This one, by Daniel Cartier, does it beautifully:

I wish for each of you whatever it is you personally need in the upcoming year to put your life into a balanced, peaceful state, and I hope that each time you take stock of your own life, you find yourself more richly blessed than you were the last time you counted.

Happy New Year to all of you who bring me so much joy.

Saying goodbye to 2010...

...and kissing it, gently, right on the lips.

At the end of 2009 I was unhealthy and depressed. I had retired at the end of July but couldn't relax enough to enjoy it. I'd been told I needed parathyroid surgery, then subjected to test after test that showed maybe I did need the surgery, maybe I didn't, until I felt like a human guinea pig. My blood pressure was higher than ever, and there was constant pain in my legs and knees, pain so intense that longevity was not something I aspired to.

Now, at the end of 2010, I feel like a different person. The surgery never materialized, and if the question of whether I need it or not is still unresolved, I no longer worry about it. I figure if the doctors can dilly-dally about it for a year, it must not be a big deal.

The leg pain stayed with me for the first half of this year, to the point that I actually needed a walker for a week or two this past summer. Then two things happened at the same time: I broke a decades-long Diet Coke habit (4 to 5 a day) and cut my use of Prilosec in half. I have no idea whether it's because of either, neither, or both of those facts, but within a week of those changes, my leg pain began to diminish. I still have achy times, but the pain is no longer constant, and my knees are much more flexible than they've been in years. I can almost (not quite) do a deep knee bend.

At the end of 2010, I'm 31 pounds lighter than I was at the end of 2009. There's no doubt that the weight loss has helped to diminish my leg problems. I'd give it full credit except that the pain began to ease several weeks before I started the low-carb diet in September. There's lots of weight still to lose, but I feel so much better already that I wouldn't dream of stopping now.

My first great-grandchild, Owen, was born this year, a happy, healthy boy who has brought tremendous joy to our family. Three generations of family members are more than willing to do whatever it takes to bring a smile to his face, but it actually doesn't take very  much. Owen smiles easily and often.

Two new fur-babies joined our family this year, too, Oliver in the first week of the year and Levi in the last week. Lucy is doing well, and Butch and Kadi are hanging in there despite age-related issues that increasingly drag them down. I can truthfully say that having Levi around has perked the old dogs up a bit. They've been more active in the last few days, more interested in what's going on around our house, and it's good to see them getting involved.

Butch and Kadi both require expensive medicine now. Fortunately, refinancing the house in October gave me a little budget leeway, plus I'm no longer spending nearly $50 a month on Diet Cokes. The savings in those two areas is paying for the dogs' medicine, which I couldn't have afforded last year.

My daughters are thriving. The younger one has blossomed in her role as "Nana" to baby Owen, and the older one has flexed her wonderful, underutilized writing muscles in preparing five glass-art tutorials this year.

One of the greatest gifts I received in 2010 was reconnecting with my good friend, Annette, who is once again brightening my days with her words, her wit, and her wisdom. We had lost contact somehow about 11 years ago, and Facebook recently helped me find her. I'm so grateful to be in touch with her again, and so pleased that we were able to pick up our friendship right where we left off.

Then, of course, there are the blogging, the photography, the books (and the Kindle my daughters gave me for my birthday), the never-ending genealogy project, and the must-see TV. I'm in the right frame of mind for all those things and to appreciate the time I have to enjoy them.

Is life perfect?  Of course, not. Nobody's life is ever perfect. But for 2011, I'd really appreciate another cup of 2010.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Problems that never crossed my mind

Nobody gets through this life without having problems of one kind or another. There are health problems, relationship problems, financial problems, job problems -- problems related to all facets of life, I suppose. There are big problems and small problems, and if you're a worrier like I am, you've probably encountered many of these problems in your imagination, if not in real life.

But what about the problems that you haven't imagined? What about the ones that wouldn't have occurred to you in a million years? I've had two such problems in the recent past. On a scale measuring problem magnitude, these two might lie near the bottom of the "insignificant" range, though I was stunned in both cases by the need for an immediate solution.

Problem No. 1:

The night before my daughters and I were to pick up Levi from my niece and my sister at a point on Interstate 10 halfway between our homes, I went to gas up my car for the trip. I pulled up next to the pump, popped the little lever that opens the door over my gas cap, and got out of my car with my gas card in my hand, just like I always do.  Except that this time the little door didn't open when I popped that lever. I popped it again and again, and nothing happened. I tried to pry the door open with my car key and couldn't budge it.  I called my son-in-law, told him what was going on, and asked him if he knew of any kind of override thingy that would open the gas-cap door when the lever doesn't work.  No, he didn't know of anything, but he suggested that maybe the door was stuck because of lack of use.

There was nothing else I could do at the gas station, so I drove home, dug out the rarely used can of silicone spray, and sprayed both the lever and the little door thoroughly.  Several times. Finally, I got the darn thing unstuck. Just to be on the safe side, I took the can of silicone station with me and drove back to the gas station to try again.

So, do you see what I mean? Would it ever have crossed your mind that you wouldn't be able to get fuel for your car because that little gas door would stick closed? Of course not.


Before I go on to the next problem, I'll issue you a fair warning:  If you're squeamish, you probably shouldn't read any further. The problem I'm about to discuss is not a pretty one, nor is it something to be discussed in polite company, but I'm going to tell you what happened anyway, because if it happened to me, it could happen to you.


Problem No. 2:

I was driving along on my way to do a little last-minute shopping, almost there, when I sneezed. I always cover my nose and mouth when I sneeze, but this time I didn't. I could tell it was going to be a big sneeze, I knew my eyes would close briefly when it happened, and I wanted both hands to be firmly on the steering wheel.

In fact, the sneeze turned out to so big that I felt something fly out of my nose. (Don't you dare say I didn't warn you!) As disgusting as that was, I didn't recognize the urgency of the problem until I had parked my car. Then it hit me: That thing that flew out of my nose? Where was it? Was it on me? What if I couldn't see where it had landed, but everyone I'd eventually encounter in the store would be able to see it clearly? I was literally trapped in my car until I found it. Me, a full-grown woman, held hostage by a booger. Could you ever have imagined that particular problem?

Thankfully, I located the offending item after a careful, two-minute search, disposed of it, and continued my shopping expedition confidently.

Now that I've exposed this hidden danger to you, maybe you wish I hadn't. Maybe even I will wish I hadn't, but I did it because the same thing could easily happen to you when you least expect it. Yes, it could, too, no matter how hoity-toity you are.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Levi is home

Curly-coated Levi

We brought Levi home today, and all the dogs are adjusting at various rates. Levi and Oliver had a great time playing chase in the yard, but when we came inside, Ollie became territorial about a certain toy. Kadi has snarled at Levi twice, head-butted him once, and seems to need my reassurance that she's still my second-in-command. Butch permitted the requisite sniffing exercises without any apparent stress, but has since growled (not snarled, just a  low warning growl) at Levi a couple of times. Butch has done that with every new dog he's ever met, so I'm not concerned at this point. Lucy checked Levi out once, then seemed to decide that the best course of action is to pretend he doesn't exist.

As for Levi, he is trying very hard to fit in and simultaneously trying not to offend anybody as he samples the available food and water supplies and explores every nook and cranny of the yard and the house. His manners are excellent; I'll be happy when the other dogs show him the same kind of respect he is showing them. I know he'll have to earn their respect, but if he keeps doing what he's doing now, I believe he'll earn it in a short amount of time. He's already won the hearts of us humans.

Right this minute they're napping. All five of them at the same time. Life is grand!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

I hope you're safe, warm, happy, and spending Christmas in the company of the ones you love.  Oliver and Lucy, the granddogs, spent the night with Butch, Kadi and me, and we slept in on this rainy morning. This afternoon I'll be with the rest  of my local family at my younger daughter's home, and tomorrow I'll get to see my sister and my niece. My heart is full of love.

The happy glow I've been feeling for several weeks didn't particularly have anything to do with the fact that Christmas was approaching, but yesterday, when I found myself singing "Winter Wonderland" in the shower, I realized that the Christmas Spirit had finally kicked in.

My little sister made a minor change in the lyrics of that song when she was very young, and it's her version I've loved ever since.  My Christmas gift to you, dear readers, is a tiny snippet of song lyric that might bring you a smile:

"...Later on we'll perspire
As we dream by the fire..."  

Here's wishing all of you a happy, sweaty Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Famous last words

I said I'd get my next dog from a shelter or a rescue group. I said I'd get an adult dog next time, that I didn't want to go through the housebreaking and furniture-chewing phases again. I said I'd get another female, because Kadi has always been eager to please, and Butch has been a little hard-headed. I said Butch and Kadi are so old that I'd hate for them to have to learn to get along with a new dog in the house. I said all those things, and I meant them.

But I also said that my next dog would be a non-shedding breed.  I said it would be no larger than Butch and Kadi, preferably even a little smaller, but not as small as Lucy and Oliver.  Lucy and Ollie sometimes tangle themselves around my feet when I'm walking, so I need a dog large enough to make its presence known. I said I wanted to get a third dog soon, because if Kadi should die before Butch, which is likely, he'd be lost without a canine assistant.

I've mulled over all these dog criteria for a long, long time, thinking I'd know what to do when the time became right.  I've thought about them almost obsessively since mid-November, when I began to fall in love with this guy:

Photo by Jennifer Rives

It's a one-sided Internet romance; I've never met him in person. He's a few days shy of five months old, definitely still a puppy. He'll probably grow to be near Butch's size, in the neighborhood of fifty pounds, but nobody knows for sure. Yes, he's a male. He'll have to be housebroken at the time of year when my backyard is at its muddiest, and if he's anything like Butch and Kadi were, chewing will become his reason for living in the next few months. The good news is that he's supposed to be good natured, smart and easy to train, and he'll shed very little. And I guess it's because of how much I love Butch and Kadi that I just have some kind of a "thing" for big yellow dogs.  

My niece raises Goldendoodles, a deliberate cross between a Poodle and a Golden Retriever. One night in November, just before bedtime, I saw the above picture that she had posted on Facebook, and I sent her a message asking for more information about him. In the middle of that night, when I woke up to take Butch and Kadi outside, my first thought was, "What the hell am I thinking?" I came back in the house and sent an immediate follow-up message, something along the lines of "Never mind sending the info; I've come to my senses and I'm not ready for this."

But that was then and this is now. In the meantime I've seen more pictures of him, and each one has tugged at my heartstrings more than the last. My two daughters, whom I've always encouraged to use their heads, have respected that I was using mine, but they've subtly urged me to follow my heart in this matter.

Two weeks ago I began thinking about what I would name this dog if he were mine, or  what I would name the one just like him that I would get sometime in the future when it was the right time to get another dog. I settled on the name "Levi." Of course, Levi wouldn't be appropriate for the female dog I planned to choose.

Naming this dog made me want him even more. I could imagine rubbing Levi's belly or throwing a tennis ball to Levi in the yard.  I could imagine dealing with Kadi's attempts to correct Levi when he breaks the rules. Levi began living with us in my imagination, though I'd made no more real-life inquiries about him.

I thought for sure someone would buy him, at which point my obsession would end, but Monday night, there he was on Facebook again, the last of his litter of five, in need of a forever home by Christmas. He was no longer just for sale, he'd been discounted, and a couple of my niece's Facebook friends were showing interest. I realized that I was sitting by and watching my dog be sold out from under me.

So I made the phone call. I had lots of questions, and my niece patiently answered them all. I explained that I wouldn't be able to make the six-hour round trip to get him until the week after Christmas, and she said she doesn't mind keeping him a little longer while we work out the logistics of getting him from her home in East Texas to mine in Southeast Louisiana. We made a deal.

Sometime next week, Levi is coming home. I hope Butch and Kadi will understand.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

One more dishpan post

In my last post I wrote about my grandmother's old dishpan and showed a picture I believe was taken in the mid-1950s.  Marion commented, "Do you know, I had a big old dishpan just like that. My first husband and I had a cabin on the ocean and when we were there, I would bathe my young children in it."

That comment made me remember seeing an old picture of a baby sitting outside in some kind of tub, so this morning I hunted up the picture and looked at it again.

Yep, it's the same dishpan.  And that cute, chubby baby in it?  That's my mother, who was born in 1923.

Things were made to last back then.

Monday, December 06, 2010

So much more than dishpan hands

Last night for some reason I started thinking about my grandmother's dishpan and wondering whatever happened to it. It was already old when I was a little girl, its cream-colored porcelain chipped in many places, but its size made it a useful item in our household. If you'll clasp your hands together, then raise your arms to form a circle parallel to the floor, you can see how big it was.

What I was remembering last night was the occasional joy of coming home from school to find that big dishpan sitting on the kitchen table, filled with Mammaw's freshly baked sugar cookies. She always sprinkled a little cinnamon on top along with the sugar, and the wonderful aroma of those cookies would greet me as soon as I opened the front door.

The dishpan was also our family's popcorn bowl. We popped corn the old-fashioned way, shaking the kernels in hot oil over a gas burner until they'd popped so high that the lid on the pot began to rise. Last night I remembered one time when I was the evening's corn popper. I'd put two whole potfuls of popped corn into the dishpan, sprinkled it all with salt, and poured an entire stick of melted butter over it. As I carried the dishpan into the living room where my family watched TV and waited, I caught my toe on the edge of a little throw rug and spilled the entire buttery mess right in the middle of Mammaw's good living-room rug. You might not think that would be a good memory, but it is. I remember that I didn't get scolded.

That old dishpan was still on my mind this morning, so I went looking for this photo:

I was drying that day, and my little sister (little enough that she had to stand on a stool) was washing. You can see the old dishpan in front of her. You can also see an Ivory Snow box behind the dishpan. I'm thinking this picture was taken in 1954 or '55, more than a decade before Madge the Manicurist convinced us all to switch to liquid detergent.

All my memories of Mammaw's dishpan are related to growing up in Missouri, but dishwashing wasn't a daily chore for us until we were older, after we'd moved to Texas.  By then I was in high school and my sister was in junior high.  We did the supper dishes every night in a divided sink that made the use of a dishpan unnecessary.

The thing I remember best about the nightly dishwashing ritual in Texas is that my sister and I, and our new stepsister when she was with us, sang in harmony as we washed and dried. Until this very day I think we sounded fantastic. What with the glorious sound of our blended voices, I'll never understand why my stepdad used to ask us to be quiet so he could hear the news. (I wonder if my sister will back me up on this.)

I have some of the songs we sang together in my current iTunes collection. I still love them today, though it's the associated memories I love now more than the music. Here are some representative samples from our nightly repertoire:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Stand Up

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, so I actually do have a few things to write about. Since all of them but one will require that I take a little time to organize my thoughts into coherent sentences, I'll do the easy one first, while it's timely.

Did any of you spend Thanksgiving night the way I did, feeling full from Thanksgiving dinner, happy from time spent laughing with people you love, then finally settling down in front of the TV to just bask in all those good feelings? If so, then maybe you, too, had your heart filled all the way up to the brim by watching "CNN Heroes."

I look forward to this show every year. The "heroes" inspire me deeply. They're everyday people who see a need and get busy filling it, regardless of personal sacrifices and obstacles they may encounter along the way.

When I typed the words "everyday people" above, I almost followed them by the phrase, "like you and me," but that would have been a lie. You might have their special kind of substance and character, but I know I don't have as much of the "right stuff" as they do. I wish I did.

Now, before you get the idea that I'm a total loser, let me defend myself. I think I'm capable of standing up for the underdog in scenarios such as those set up on ABC's "What Would You Do?" I probably have just enough gumption to take on one abusive boyfriend or binge-drinking airline pilot at a time.  But show me a problem like child slave trafficking or millions of African children with no light in their homes to study by, and I'm out of there. I'll feel very sad about it, but I'll go home and watch "American Idol" to get it off my mind.

Back to the "Heroes" show. After listening to the stories of all ten nominees, I was both shocked by the magnitude of the problems they have recognized and immensely inspired by the actions they've taken toward solving those problems. These are people who have seen for themselves how harsh the world can be, and when they smiled and even danced as they waved a "LOVE" flag during the final musical performance of the evening, I was moved to tears. I realized then that love is the key to the whole thing. Yes, these people have extraordinary amounts of courage and fortitude, but they do what they do because of their great love for humanity.

If you didn't see the special, watch the heroes wave the flag in the video below and listen to Sugarland sing "Stand Up." The song itself will make you want to be a better person.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Adventures in anatomy

On Wednesday I had my first ever colonoscopy. Light anesthesia left me with no memory of the procedure itself, though I will long remember the gallon of nasty-tasting liquid I had to consume the day before, and I haven't yet forgotten the gas cramps that were more troublesome than I'd expected.

All in all, it was no big deal, and I'm glad to check it off my to-do list.  I am left with a clean slate, colon-wise, and with four vividly colored, glossy photos of scenic spots along the way. You know how much I enjoy posting photos, but I'll spare you these.


My younger daughter, Kelli, had surgery this morning on her wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome) and her elbow (cubital tunnel syndrome). The doctors used some kind of nerve-blocking method instead of general anesthesia, so Kelli was able to call me while her husband drove her home. She said she's doing great "except for the dead weight" that is her arm at present.

I know she'll be fine, but the idea of her having elbow surgery gives me unpleasant flashbacks to a time in 1975, just weeks after her 11th birthday.

I arrived home from work late one afternoon, having stopped at the grocery store, to find my daughters and some friends playing in the front yard. As I popped the trunk lid to unload the groceries, Kelli approached and said, "We were playing a game where one kid stands on a broomstick while two other kids pick it up, and I fell off and hurt my elbow." I'm sure I must have made some attempt at a soothing, maternal reply, but I don't remember the specifics.

Kelli helped me carry in the groceries. Only when I noticed she was still hanging around the kitchen did I stop to take a look at her elbow, and I was shocked to find it swollen nearly twice its normal size. We sent our dinner guest home with nothing to gnaw on but  apologies, then drove immediately to the emergency room. That's where we learned that the tip of Kelli's "funny bone" had been broken off and would need to be surgically repaired the next morning.

In those days, at least in that place in New York, parents were not allowed to spend the night in the hospital with their children. In fact, parents' visitation was confined to regular visitation hours. The doctor did assure us we'd be able to see Kelli for a few minutes  before she went into surgery the next morning, and someone told us exactly what time we could come. Kelli was brave, but I was heartbroken to leave her there alone.

The following morning, because Kelli's accident had happened after I left work the day before, we left the house extra early, stopped by my office to leave file-cabinet keys for my boss, and arrived at the hospital half an hour before the time we'd been told we could see Kelli. We weren't early enough. They'd moved her surgery ahead by more than an hour, and she was already in surgery when we arrived. It still makes me tear up to think about her facing that experience alone.

After the surgery, the doctor told us that they had successfully screwed the broken bone fragment back in place and that Kelli was in recovery and doing well. We asked when we could see her. "Why, tonight, of course, during regular visiting hours."

Visiting hours arrived, and so did we. We walked in to see Kelli with a cast on one arm and a pot of flowers in the other one. She was up, walking around, moving the flowers for another little girl who'd been moved in to share her room. That's my girl.

I don't remember how many days Kelli stayed in the hospital, but I do remember that the doctor told us she'd be released as soon as he made his rounds on Friday. Friday happened to be a Good Friday. The doctor happened to have decided to get an early start on his Easter weekend trip to the Hamptons, and he didn't make rounds that Friday. When the three of us (including older sister, Kim) showed up to take Kelli home, we were advised that we couldn't do that, because the doctor hadn't released her. He'd be back on Monday, they said.

We stood there for about half a minute, grappling with the idea of leaving an 11-year-old girl in the hospital for two extra days unnecessarily, then my husband bent and scooped up Kelli in his arms. I followed his lead and grabbed her stuff, and the four of us headed to the exit.  We stopped once, in an attempt to pay the bill, but they told us they couldn't give us a total until after the doctor released her. My husband replied, "Well, then, I guess you'll have to bill us later. I'm taking her home now."

And he did. She was home for Kim's birthday sleepover that night and home for her Easter basket on Sunday morning.

The only other thing I remember about this episode occurred later, when I took Kelli to the doctor's office for a scheduled follow-up appointment. We showed up at the appointed date and time, only to discover that the doctor's office was locked up tight and had a sign on the door: "Closed for Duration of Strike." Yes, there was a doctors' strike in New York in 1975.

I don't remember how or when we got the cast off Kelli's arm, but I know we got it done.

Reheating my last post

The heater repairman returned on Monday. This time he had a new instrument in his toolbox, and, after a couple more hours of trial and error, got the warm air blowing again. It turned out to be an electrical problem.

Immediately after he left, I went to get something from my bedroom, switched on the light and got...nothing. I figured he had accidentally left a breaker switch turned off, so I went to the breaker box and found that the one labeled "master bedroom" was indeed switched off. Easy to fix, right? Well, no, it wasn't.

The repairman had removed the cover to the breaker panel, and when he screwed it back on, it slipped a little lower than it should have. Just low enough that it covered half of the master-bedroom breaker. And tight enough that I couldn't flip the breaker switch. My dining room and den lights were also affected.

He'd only been gone about five minutes when I called him to come back, but he was just pulling into another customer's driveway.  Fortunately, that job turned out to be an easy one, and he was back here in less than an hour to set things right again.

The weather warmed up enough on Tuesday that I haven't used the heater since early that morning.  Please cross your fingers for me that it works the next time I need it.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Please, Mr. Heater Man, come and turn it on again!

The air grew cold on Thursday night,
So Friday, when I rose,
My fingertips wore icicles,
And frost was on my nose.

The heater blasted out cold air.
I shivered in the chill
And knew I'd have to call for help,
No matter what the bill.

I called the AC/heater man,
And he arrived by ten.
He needed parts he didn't have,
So left and came again.

At two he came the second time
And climbed the attic stairs.
He tried this thing and then tried that
And maybe whispered prayers.

It seemed that nothing he tried worked.
The pilot light ignited
But cut itself back off again
Before the furnace lighted.

He called this job "the devil" but
Would not accept defeat.
He fiddled with a grounding wire
And finally got some heat.

He finished at four-thirty and,
As I was pleased to see,
He ate the hours he'd wasted
And did not charge them to me.

I settled on the sofa as
Warm air began to blow.
I felt all comfy, cozy,
Because then I didn't know

That four short hours later
It would all begin anew:
The heater fan was on full force,
But only cold air blew.

I'd wasted all day Friday with
The heater service man
And so decided not to have
Him come right out again.

Instead, I'd tough it out, I thought,
And get some errands run
And call him first thing Monday
After all my chores were done.

So extra blankets kept me warm
When weekend nights grew cold,
But frosty mornings let me know
My bones are getting old.

I turned the bathroom heater on,
The oven, then the dryer,
To try to raise the temperature
At least a little higher,

And here I stand on Sunday morn,
Ashamed of what I'm wearing,
But if you ever get this cold,
You'll thank me, then, for sharing.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Hello, Tech Support?

This is a picture of my keyboard and the two mice (mouses?) that I switch between using.

The mouse on the left came with the computer and works fine, but its short cord easily gets tangled on the corner of the mousepad. (In the interest of full disclosure, I removed the mousepad before taking this photo, after suddenly realizing it's dirty to the point of being disgusting.)

One day Kim heard me muttering under my breath at the mouse, and the next day she brought me a wireless mouse she wasn't using. That's the streamlined little "rodent" on the right in the photo. The wireless one aggravates me, too. I can't seem to remember to turn it off, so it eats batteries.

None of this has been a really big deal until one day last week when the corded mouse fell off the back of the keyboard tray and hung there for a minute, after which it didn't want to work anymore. (It has since miraculously recovered.) I did everything to it I could think to do in the course of about a minute, then switched to the wireless mouse.

The batteries were dead.

I changed the batteries and tried again. Kim had told me more than once that it takes a moment for the computer to recognize the wireless mouse, so I waited until the mouse pointer appeared on the screen, then I was ready to get back to business. Except I couldn't.

The mouse pointer was at the very top left of the screen, and when I pulled back on the mouse to try to put the pointer on my text, the pointer stayed at the top left of the screen.  I made repeated backward motions with the mouse, and the harder I pulled back, the more the pointer bounced and clung to its position. It was as if the little arrow-thingy was fighting me.

I was already frustrated, and then things got even crazier. As I set the mouse back on the pad, it slid slightly forward. The pointer fell to the center of the screen. Hm. Progress, I thought. I pushed again, and it fell lower. I moved the mouse to the right, and the pointer moved to the left. I zigzagged the mouse back and forth, and whichever way I moved it, up, down, right or left, the pointer moved in the opposite direction. It was bizarre!

A seed of an idea popped into my mind. No, I thought, it couldn't be that simple. I took my hand off the mouse and took a good, hard look at it. You see that little medium-grey apple near the bottom of the mouse? When I looked closely at the mouse that day, that little apple was upside down near the top of it.

Maybe I should stick with the corded one.

Someone told me once, "You're book smart, but you have no common sense."  I feel  highly indignant when I remember that remark, but I have to wonder if there isn't some truth to it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fun fiction and fanciful "fotos" to frighten friends and family

Only fools and innocents wander alone when darkness falls on South Louisiana. When the sun goes down, uneasy spirits rise and roam the land, and almost everybody who lives around here knows it.

There are plenty of haunted places in these parts, patches of land tucked between snake-infested swamps and fields of sugarcane, many of them situated near the levee that strains daily to hold back the mighty Mississippi River.

Vast plantations used to stand in these places, and so many human spirits were crushed there in the name of commerce that it’s no wonder those ancient souls don’t rest in peace.

Most of the old plantation houses have been reduced by time to weed-covered rubble, but some have been restored to their original splendor, their cash crops tourists now instead of sugarcane. It doesn’t matter. Either way, the spirits have staked their claim to the property and don’t mind letting us know that in the dark of night it belongs to them.

At one time I didn’t give much credence to stories about local hauntings, and I felt completely safe, especially in the daylight, to walk the grounds of one of those restored plantation houses. To tell the truth, it felt wonderful to stroll through the gardens in the fresh, autumn air.  I took dozens of photographs of flowers, trees, fountains, and statues.

And if the Spanish moss hanging from hundred-year-old oak trees did remind me of cobwebs, well, it didn’t make the atmosphere feel oppressive.

Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed so late. If I’d gone home earlier, those good feelings would have gone with me and I'd have them now. But you know how it is. I kept wanting to take “just one more shot,” and time slipped away.

As late-afternoon shadows started to fall, a subtle uneasiness began to settle on my shoulders. The oak trees that had looked so stately earlier in the day began to seem threatening somehow. When I looked at them through my camera lens and saw limbs hanging so low they almost touched the ground, my nervousness increased. The limbs stretched across the manicured lawn like long, thick arms, and I could easily imagine one of them reaching out to grab some unsuspecting tourist.

Don't be silly, I chuckled to myself at the same moment I decided it was past time to head toward the parking lot.

I'd gone about halfway back down the path when I came upon a scene I’d passed earlier in the day. Before, in the bright sunlight, I’d thought it beautiful. A stone bathtub was nestled there amid flowers and lush greenery, all of it under an enormous, overhanging tree branch.  When I stood there the first time, I imagined a young child playing in the tub, and I could have sworn I heard the laughter of the child and the songs of birds perched high in the treetop.

Now, though, in long, late-day shadows, I saw the scene in a different, ominous light. I still imagined the child in the bathtub, but now, as the child splashed happily, I saw the heavy tree branch begin to move. It dropped slowly, menacingly, lower and lower, inching its way closer to the tub and the child inside it, and in my mind I heard the child's terrified screams as the branch descended on him and pushed him under the water.

A big shiver ran down my spine. I shook my head to clear the gruesome thoughts, admonished myself to stop being so stupid, and started back along the path. Only a couple of steps later, I stopped again, startled, unable to move forward after my eyes fell near the base of the tree trunk and registered the screaming face trapped there in the bark.

Fortunately, my feet gained their good sense before the rest of me did, and I almost ran the rest of the way to the parking lot. Once in the car, I drove away as fast as the blind curves of River Road would allow. Despite my love of photography, and despite the beauty and peacefulness of those magnificent gardens in the bright sunlight of day, I’ve never returned.

Except in my head. I’ve gone over and over that experience in my mind, trying to understand what happened. I don't think about it as often anymore, but the memory and the feelings that accompany it are especially strong at this time of year, when Halloween is near and ghost stories are passed around like candy corn. It still gives me goosebumps. I still wonder what was real.

Was the dreadful drowning I envisioned in that shadowy place entirely a product of my own twisted imagination? Or did a young boy’s spirit, captured for eternity in a screaming tree, tell me his story that day?

I don’t know. I don’t think I even want to know.

Happy Halloween, folks!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trick or treat...

...can be tutu tiring.

Photos by Jennifer Rives

I've been waiting a whole year to show you these pictures of my niece's little girl. I don't think she's usually this quiet, so I'm guessing her mom took the pictures before she collected a big bagful of candy.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Owen's growin'

My granddaughter gave me permission to snag pictures from her Facebook albums to share with you.  This is her happy baby boy at seven months old:

Several teeth have poked through in the last month.  He's not quite crawling, but he's learned  that rolling over and over will take him where he wants to go.

As precious as he looks in the photo above, the next one is my favorite of the recent batch:

I'd give anything to know what he was thinking.  What do you think was on his mind?

Photos in this post by Kalyn Hoover

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Snap! Grackles hop! (Photographing moving birds)

Do you have grackles where you live?

Several times over the past three weeks, Tippi Hedren's worst nightmare has descended upon my backyard in the form of an enormous, cackling flock (several different flocks?) of  grackles. They seemed to come from nowhere, their dark shapes flickering past my windows as they settled en masse onto the grass. So many of them, stopping all at once. Did one bird signal the rest to stop here? They made so much noise (and they all looked so much alike), how did they keep up with which bird was the leader? Was this yard a spur-of-the-moment decision, or had they sent a scout out ahead of the flock to scope out dining areas?

The picture above shows just a small area of the yard, but the entire yard was blanketed with these iridescent black and blue and purple birds. And perhaps I used the wrong word when I wrote that they "settled" in the yard. They landed softly, then hopped and fluttered  from place to place, leaping over one another like winged Chinese checkers, searching out the tastiest morsels of . . . what?

The previous photo is blurry because the grackles were in constant motion. In fact, I took dozens of photographs, and nearly all of them are blurry. And the next one is one of the blurriest of all, because as suddenly as the birds had descended, they lifted off as one and flew over the fence to a neighbor's yard.

A few minutes after the grackles left, I let the dogs outside. They stopped short just past the edge of the patio. You can see by the tilt of Kadi's ear that the enclosed yard she's so familiar with had suddenly become rich with possibilities.

Until I saw the dogs' reaction, I hadn't considered that several hundred grackles were doing more than finding food at this particular rest stop.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What I've been doing instead of blogging

Wow, it's been a month since my last post? Are you serious?

I knew it had been too long (my smirking, goody-two-shoes, inner faultfinder has been calling it to my attention regularly), but I didn't realize a whole month had passed.  I've been busy doing other, non-fascinating things:

Medical stuff.  Making an appointment,  going to the lab for blood work, and going to the doctor.  Because if I didn't, I couldn't refill my prescriptions again.    Standing in line at Walmart to get prescriptions filled, not checking the prescriptions until I got home, even though I realized they cost more than usual.  Discovering after I got home that one of the prescriptions was for twice the usual dosage -- which made it five times more expensive.  Calling Walmart and finding out that once I left the store with the wrong prescription, they wouldn't take it back.  And because the error wasn't the pharmacist's, there was no adjusting the price, either.  Learning lessons the hard way.


Counting carbs.  Cutting sugars and starches out of my diet. Boiling eggs, scrambling eggs, frying eggs.  Realizing, once again, that I don't much like leafy, green vegetables. Scouring the Internet for low-carb recipes. Learning to love rotisserie chicken.

Refinancing the house. Mortgage rates are so much lower now than they were when we bought the place 13 years ago that it seemed foolish not to try to refinance.  But, ohmigosh, the paperwork!

Taking Kadi and Butch to the vet.  One at a time.  That's two trips into Baton Rouge.  Two hours of total driving time.  They needed their annual checkups and shots. Both of them are doing pretty well, "considering how old" they are.  Each of them is dealing with age-related issues, with which I completely identify.  Spoon-feeding them, still.  Who knew they'd take to this idea so eagerly?  They deign to take an occasional bite from their dog dish on the floor, but they get jump-up-and-down excited when it gets close to suppertime. Loving them, 24/7.


Cutting my own hair.  It's getting harder and harder to get the back even, and the pile of clippings gets grayer with every cut.


Genealogy.  I never get tired of snooping the trail to track down one more long-gone ancestor.


Reading other people's blogs.  And checking out news sites, reality TV gossip sites, puzzle and game sites.

Keeping up with family and friends on Facebook.  You think I'm bad about blogging? I almost never post anything on FB.  But I do enjoy reading what my daughters, grandkids, sister and nieces are doing.


Reading new books and rereading old ones.  I spent a glorious few days living a horrible existence Under the Dome in a Maine town full of characters born of Stephen King's imagination.  Then I moved south to Mississippi (and back in time to the 1960s) to get acquainted with the patient ladies who were The Help.  Still time traveling, I lived in the Tennessee plantation-home-turned-Union-Army hospital with The Widow of the South. 

Keeping up with my favorite TV shows. These days I check the television schedule days in advance and set up the DVR to record the shows I enjoy. Fast-forwarding through all those commercials saves me lots of time.


Playing Sudoku and Mahjongg on the computer for way too many hours.


Visiting all the houses I've lived in on Google Maps Street View.  I hope the people who live in this home now enjoy it as much as we did in the late '60s.


Taking photos while Kim melted glass for the beadmaking tutorials she's been writing.  This has been a fun photography project.  


Editing photos in Photoshop Elements.  I can easily pass a whole day playing with my pictures.  Or even just enlarging them and looking at them, really.  It isn't the photos that I love so much; it's the subjects of them.


Making music.  If you can call it that.  I've never had a lesson, but I've learned to pick out a few songs on this old keyboard that was a gift in the mid-1980s.  I've also learned to ignore the many false notes I hit; they do not count.  The keyboard lives near my back door these days, and when the dogs go outside, I indulge my inner Liberace while I wait for them to come back in.


Listening to music.  All those activities above that are done on the computer? They aren't done in silence.  I was given several iTunes gift cards last year, and I've put them to good use.  Music has always been an important memory trigger for me, so it's been fun to create playlists of songs I've loved through the years. As for new music, I find most of it on TV and movie soundtracks.  When I hear a song I like, I jot down a long string of lyrics, Google the lyrics to learn the song title, search for the song title on YouTube until I find out who sings the version I like, then order the song on iTunes.  That'll work until the gift cards run out.

Sometimes I like to pull up a list of all my iTunes songs, scroll up and down the list several times with my eyes closed, then stop scrolling and click the mouse to give myself a musical surprise.  Whoooeeee, there's a lot of spice in my life!


So that's it.  That's where I've been.  Not very much to blog about, is it?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bird's eye view

Earlier this week Kim came in carrying a package she'd found by my front door. It turned out to be a gift from my Aunt Shirley, youngest of my dad's siblings, and it was a book created by her son, my first-cousin, Jason.

I've never met Jason, who is half my age and lives more than 600 miles away. He's a helicopter pilot and a talented photographer, and his book of aerial photographs took me on a happy journey to places very near Springfield, Missouri, the town I still consider home.

This afternoon I've spent some time browsing beautiful photos on Jason's website, Now I'm really homesick.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Another Brick in the Wall

Pink Floyd sang, "All in all you're just another brick in the wall." In the context of the song, that lyric seems intended to point out the lack of importance of a single individual to the grand scheme of things. That's one way to look at it, I suppose. On a bad day. Usually, I see bricks in a different light.

One brick alone may not be much more than a doorstop or a paperweight, a useful object, but one that won't garner much attention. A lot of bricks together, though, can become buildings: churches, schools, and very sturdy houses (remember the three little pigs). And each individual brick is important to the completion of the building.

It works the same way with us human "bricks." When we stand together, our combined strength can accomplish great social movement. Unfortunately, it's also true that a lot of brick-headed people working together can quickly throw up walls that prevent progress. That's happening a lot in our nation these days. It makes me sad.

I wonder when our leaders and our extremist mobs will recognize that when they build stand-alone walls, they don't have much. A wall that doesn't meet and join with other walls will never be a cathedral. It can only be an obstacle.

I worry sometimes because so many "bricks" in our society seem to be crumbling. And I wonder what kind of mortar it will take to put us back together again.

Friday, September 10, 2010


In a recent phone conversation, my younger daughter, Kelli, casually asked, "So, have you seen "Swamp People"?  I hadn't seen it, so she told me about the people featured on the show, an assortment of Louisiana folks who make their living hunting alligators.  Because we both know a local attorney/State legislator who hunts gators as a hobby, I was kind of intrigued.

After we hung up, I checked it out on the Internet, watched some video clips, and learned that the first three episodes were going to be shown back-to-back on the History Channel last Sunday night.  This didn't seem like the kind of show I would normally find interesting, but I was curious enough to set the DVR to record all three episodes.

Late Sunday night, after I'd watched my regular Sunday TV lineup, I thought I'd just take a quick peek at "Swamp People" and then go to bed.  Oh. My. Gosh!  I was hooked every bit as tightly as the huge alligators shown thrashing about on these Cajun men's heavy-duty, chicken-baited hooks.

Midway through the second episode, my older daughter, Kim, came to pick up her pooches that had spent the weekend with me.  She sat down to watch with me for a minute and stayed all the way to the end of the last episode.  

I'm not sure what fascinates me most about this show. The scenery is certainly part of it, reminding me of the quiet, natural beauty that thrilled me on my own trip into a different but equally wild swamp (which I wrote about here, here, and here), and also my visit with Kim to a more tourist friendly swamp (which I shared with you here).

The show is worth watching for the scenery alone, but it's the people I find myself thinking about after the show is over. I'll admit that a couple of them initially gave me "Deliverance" flashbacks, but I quickly got past that and came to like them. I like some of them a lot. They seem to be honest, hard-working, and extremely family oriented.

If you're turned off by the antics of the "Jersey Shore" kids and the various sets of "Housewives," you might find "Swamp People" as refreshing as I did.   Full episodes are available on the "Swamp People" website in case your Sunday nights are otherwise occupied. If you decide to check it out, be sure to let me know what you think.

Photos in this post were taken at McElroy Swamp,
Sorrento, Louisiana, in March 2007,
the last one with a long zoom lens.