Saturday, July 30, 2011

The NEW music in my head

We may be smack in the middle of a hot, steamy summer, but it feels like Christmas to me this morning. I was about to buy an iPod the other day when Kim told me she had one she wasn't using and would give it to me as soon as she got her music off of it. She brought it to me this morning and helped me get started uploading all my favorite tunes, so now I can have music wherever I go.

I know you're used to my posting videos that take us down memory lane, but this morning I want to stay in the present and share the soulful music of a newer group I discovered online last year: JJ Grey & Mofro. I've downloaded several of their songs since I first heard them, and when this one played while I was sitting outside earlier today, I knew it was destined to be this Saturday's song selection.

In addition to the music, I love the imagery in the video. It was probably filmed in Florida, since that's where the band is from, but I've lived in four southern states (Florida, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana), and the scenes in this video could take place in any or all of them.

Introducing "The Sweetest Thing" by JJ Grey & Mofro:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Foto File: Old Scars

The sad-looking little girl in this Friday's photo was me, about 66 or 67 years ago. I went looking for this picture earlier in the week when I discovered that the burn scar on my leg has become visible again after many, many years in which I neither noticed nor remembered it.

I got the burn by falling on a hot floor register. The rectangular pattern of the scar stretched out and became fainter as I grew, and by the time I reached middle-age, it took a practiced eye to find any trace of it. What's different this year is that I've acquired a rare suntan during those early morning breakfasts outside, and that little bit of color was all it took to make the scar pop out again.

The reappearance of the scar seemed metaphorical to me: I think all of us have a few scars, possibly physical but more likely spiritual, that lie dormant and hidden until some combination of conditions raises them to the surface again. The good news is that age gives us perspective. We may find, when an old scar resurfaces, that the pain that caused it in the first place no longer holds us in its grip.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Poor, patient pooch

If I fail to close my bedroom door before I get on the computer at the other end of the house, Levi makes a beeline for the bedroom. He loves to rip chunks out of foam rubber dog mattresses, and all he needs is five or ten minutes' worth of opportunity.

Here's a picture I posted exactly two weeks ago today of Butch sleeping happily on his unblemished bed (the second bed he's had exactly like this):

Well, last night I forgot to close that door, and I got on line and stayed there a while.  While I was on the computer, Butch lay on the floor beside me, and Levi was in and out. I realized later he was more out than in, because when it was time to go to bed, I went into the bedroom and found about one-third of a dog bed and a carpet strewn with foam rubber.

I've shown you that kind of stuff before, so I didn't even bother to take a picture. And, as it was quite late, I decided cleanup could wait until morning. Levi was locked in his crate by then, so I left Butch alone and went to brush my teeth. When I returned, I found this scene and decided it was photoworthy:

Poor baby! Bless his little put-upon heart.

In spite of that pitiful photo, there's another part of this story that makes it at least a little bit funny. You see, even though I hadn't cleaned up the mess, I had taken a minute to retrieve the last, mostly intact dog bed in the house and put it in the spot where Butch's bed normally is. And I'd watched him sniff it, climb on it, and begin circling and pawing the bed like he does every night before he lies down. He was circling and pawing when I left to go brush my teeth.

That means that at some point in the going to bed process, Butch changed his mind and made a choice to sleep on this ragged little piece of a bed bunched up in a corner.

Hmm. I guess it's still pitiful, any way you look at it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Living with Levi

Levi turns one year old today, a joyful adolescent who toggles between the wild abandonment of puppyhood and an earnest desire to be a "good boy." He tries. He really tries. He looks so elegant with his stately posture and intelligent, caramel-colored eyes, but he's all dog -- 77 pounds of dog. He's clumsy, clownish, and frequently upside down. He's destructive, but not nearly as much as he was in the beginning. Still, when he gets a wild hair and an opportunity at the same time, he lets 'er rip. The difference is that now he gets an expression of sincere regret on his face when I discover what he's done. He loves toys, tennis balls, chasing lizards, chasing his tail, digging in the dirt, and rolling on dead things. And I love him, in spite of -- or maybe because of -- it all.

Here are a few memorable moments and some photos, to boot:

I'm eating dinner in front of the TV when Levi races into the living room. His head is low, as if he's carrying something, but he runs behind the coffee table and I can't see what it is. I say, "Levi, what do you have?" He drops the object instantly and raises his head. I get up and walk around the table, where I see a wooden-handled steak knife he has stolen from the kitchen counter. I check his mouth for cuts and am relieved that he apparently grabbed the knife by the handle. I am chilled at the thought of what could have happened and vow to remember to put things well beyond his reach.

Levi relaxing on the dirtiest spot in the yard -- the burn pile!
February 2011

I'm in the shower when Levi's nose pokes through the curtain. He's done this before, and it makes me smile. This time, though, he grabs the hot water faucet in his mouth and pushes down on it, immediately raising the temperature of the water that's falling on my skin. I grab the faucet from him and adjust it, wondering if anyone in history has ever been scalded by a dog.

After a bath -- June 2011

Levi sits on the sofa next to me, night after night, flinging his tennis ball from his mouth to my lap. I toss it into the airspace over his head, he leaps to catch it, then he throws it to me again. When the ball rolls under a piece of furniture. Levi lies on his belly and tries to reach it with his extended paw. Sometimes he can pull it toward him, sometimes he can bat it so that it rolls out the other side, other times he just can't get it. When he gives up, he sits and looks at me. That's my signal to reach for the broom, which nowadays, for just this purpose, lives behind the end table next to my favorite spot on the sofa. I use the broom handle to knock the ball out into the open so Levi can grab it and resume his game. One night, when I'm interested in a TV show and tired of playing ball, I decide to end the game by ignoring both the ball under the table and Levi's attempts to make meaningful eye contact. A minute later I become aware of a commotion in my peripheral vision. It's Levi. He's trying to get the broom from behind the end table.

"Throw it again, please, please, please!"-- May 2011

After I take the dogs out for the last time of the day (and I don't know how Levi knows it's  the last time), he comes in and goes directly into his crate. He seems perfectly happy to spend the night in there, but he never goes into it in the daytime unless I ask him to do so when I'm leaving the house. One morning after I take a shower, I put on the clothes I plan to wear when I go into town a few hours later. Levi takes one look at me and runs to sit in his crate.

Levi in doggy jail -- July 2001

Late one night Levi runs toward his crate and I turn my back on him to get bedtime treats for him and Butch. When I turn around, the crate is empty. Levi is standing right next to it, in the narrow space between the crate and the bookshelves. He stands perfectly still, watching me, his brow twisted into a puzzled expression. I'm puzzled, too, until I notice that the door on the crate has been accidentally closed. Under the circumstances the boy has done the best he could.

Comfy on the couch -- May 2011

Each morning I parcel out my medications, vitamins, and fish-oil capsules in my room, then go into the bathroom to get a cup of water. One morning, as I put the various pills into my palm, Levi watches me for a few seconds, then disappears. I go into the bathroom and find him sitting there, waiting for me.

Guarding the carcass of a "dead" stuffed squirrel -- June 2011

Levi is a pretty dog, fancy-looking, if you prefer that term, not a German Shepherd, Doberman, Rottweiler, or any other dog that looks as if it deserves respect and caution. But he is a watchdog. He stays alert, and when a sound outside captures his attention, he gets serious. Instead of the play-bark he employs when he romps with Kim's little Oliver, there is a deep, fierce bark accompanied by a throaty, menacing growl. Someone intent on breaking into the house wouldn't expect to find those intimidating sounds coming from such a curly-haired dandy.

Such a beautiful boy! -- April 2011

Levi's best pal is Oliver, who has been willing to race through the backyard with him since Day One. Though about one-fifth Levi's size, Ollie is the alpha dog. He established that at the very beginning of their relationship, and Levi clearly understands it still. Inside the house, the two of them play mind games, mostly centered around Levi's very large Nylabone. Each dog feigns disinterest in the bone while the other one has it, but the instant the possessor drops his guard, the other dog steals it and runs. The game is an elaborate one, involving much skulking, hiding behind furniture, and approaching stealthily from the rear. Kim and I should probably keep score, but we're too busy laughing at them.

Oliver telling Levi how the cow ate the cabbage -- June 2011

Levi hasn't yet managed to make Butch his buddy (God knows he has tried!), but he seems to have earned at least some grudging respect from the older dog. He used to try persistently to get Butch to play with him, but Butch hasn't been much interested in playing with other dogs since he outgrew his own puppyhood. (He will play with people, though, especially children.) Butch tolerates Levi now and is patient with him. Levi wakes up earlier than Butch does in the morning, so I let Levi go outside by himself. When he comes back in, he gets a treat and takes it to the bedroom, sits next to Butch on Butch's bed, and eventually comes back to me with Butch in tow. Kadi used to herd Butch toward the house when he'd linger too long at the far end of the yard, and Levi has recently taken over that job. It's helpful, especially late at night when the grass is wet.

"What do you want me to do next, Mama?" -- April 2011

Levi has made eyes at Kim's little Lucy since they first met, and, until recently, Lucy treated him as if he had cooties. She didn't seem to fear him as much as to find him disgusting, overzealous, and unmannerly. If Lucy was on the sofa and Levi jumped up to sit beside her, Lucy would promptly leap down and find another place to sit, rolling her eyes as she went. Only in the last month has she deigned to sit beside him occasionally, probably because he's learning to approach her more gently.

After his first haircut -- July 2011

It's quiet in the house. Nearby, Butch is sleeping and Levi is shredding the disemboweled skin of a stuffed animal, when suddenly Levi leaps onto the sofa and bounds across it to sit on my lap and lick my chin. He is so heavy--not the lapdog he seems to think he is--and I have to help him settle into a position where I can comfortably give him the hugs he seeks. Then, just as suddenly, he's off again, back to pursue another thought or activity or shiny thing, leaving me just a little more smitten than I was before.

"Yee-haaaaa!" -- July 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Earlier in the week I went clothes shopping, a chore I've absolutely detested in recent years. This time, though, I was kind of excited about it. I've now lost 64 pounds, and as my body has slimmed (although not yet to the point where it needs to be), my clothing choices have widened, making shopping much less stressful. I must admit that as I waited in line I felt a sort of smug satisfaction, pleased that I had found what I was looking for in my size -- on sale, no less.

As the cashier began to ring up my purchases, I noticed that the window on my side of the cash register showed the cost of each item as well as a brief description of it. What caught my attention was the last item the cashier had rung up, a blouse with big buttons on it. The truncated message in the cash register window read:  "$19.99 BIG BUTT."

Maybe so, but I'm still working on it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Me and you, an open road, and fishing poles

This Saturday's song selection is from 1971. We lived in Miami, Florida then, and many weekend days would find us packing up the family, the fishing gear, cold drinks and  sandwiches and heading out to surf fish in the Atlantic ocean.

As much as I enjoyed the fishing, the feeling that has stayed with me most was the sense of joy and well-being that filled my heart as the narrow, two-lane road played out in front of us on the way home. I can still see my husband at the wheel, our beautiful, golden-haired little girls in the backseat dribbling the juice of fresh peaches down their wrists, and myself riding shotgun, bare feet propped on the dashboard. We were salty, sandy, sun-kissed, a little sleepy and, yes, slightly smelly, but we had fresh fish for supper, that much again for the freezer, and enough happiness to tide us over until the next time.

Today, when I place myself back in that time, in that car with the people I loved most in the world and the setting sun shining through the windshield, I hear this song playing on the car radio:

"Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" by Lobo
Video posted on YouTube by rwells47 (thanks!)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Foto File: Just a little squirt

I've gotten in the habit of sitting outside to eat my breakfast every morning, and the little squirt bottle above is one of the things that goes out with me. I also take my breakfast (of course, usually a  protein bar), a tall glass of ice water (that I must finish before I can go back in the house), a towel (in case there's still dew on the metal chair), the phone (so I'll hear it if it rings and also because it shows the time), my Kindle (or whatever book I'm reading), and Levi (Butch doesn't get up that early).

I never stay out there for more than half an hour, but it gets hot so early some days that a couple of well-placed squirts on my arms and legs can keep me cool until I've finished drinking the mandatory big glass of water. Not to mention that Levi adores having water squirted onto his tongue.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Oh, say can you see?

You bet I can! Last week I went for an eye exam and ordered new glasses. They came in yesterday.

I bought my last pair of eyeglasses just after the style changed to the narrower, rectangular lenses. At the time I was afraid that might be a fad, so I chose some that were slightly smaller than the pair I was replacing, but otherwise very similar. That was in 2004. Little did I know then that my prescription would stay the same for the next seven years.

So here we are in 2011, and the 2004 glasses are beginning to fall apart. The right lens falls out every couple of weeks, which means I have to sit there and blindly attempt to hold everything together while I tighten the tiny screw with something so small it has no business being called a screwdriver.

The repetitious falling apart thing, plus the fact that the lenses were covered with little, almost invisible scratches, made me decide it was time to get new ones. Even though I had thought I could see perfectly with the old glasses, the eye exam showed that my prescription has indeed changed. But only slightly.

When I put the new glasses on yesterday, so much light came through the lenses that it hurt my eyes until I got used to it. And in the "old glasses" photo below, I notice that the color of my eyes is muted. Apparently those old lenses were more scratched than I'd realized.

Old glasses

New glasses

So, the bad news is that my brand-new eyeglasses have been in fashion for at least seven years, and the style is bound to change before I'm ready to buy the next pair.

But the good news tickles me to death! After years and years and years of struggling to tweeze my eyebrows, I can finally reach my brows with the tweezers and see what I'm doing at the same time.

No more excuses for any pesky Andy-Rooney-looking hairs.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday fluff 'n' stuff

Sometimes it's nice to just sit back for a moment and think about the little things that make up one's typical day -- things not worthy of a blog post on their own account -- so that's what I'll do here.


Should I go ask Alice?
Does anybody out there know what kind of mushrooms these are? I found them in my backyard the other day when I was on a tennis-ball-rescue mission. Their coloring is beautiful, though their asymmetrical shape is a little off-putting. Their aroma (odor?) is very strong. I know that dogs and mushrooms don't usually mix well, and my online efforts to identify them were unsuccessful, so there was nothing left to do but get them out of the yard before Levi discovered them. Any ideas?


A music fan
On Sunday evening my air conditioner stopped cooling. It broke late enough in the day that ceiling fans kept me from being miserable, but I couldn't sleep a wink that night. The fan in my bedroom has become a little bit wobbly, so that it makes a rhythmic clacking sound: CLACK-clack-CLACK-clack-CLACK-clack-CLACK-clack-CLACK-clack. That rhythm was enough to set off the music in my head. Apparently, there are many, many songs that can be sung to that beat, so all night long my inner jukebox was playing songs like these:
"YANK-ee-DOO-dle WENT to TOWN a-RID-ing ON a PO-oh-NY..."
"ALL a-ROUND the MUL-berry BUSH the MON-key CHASED the WEA-sel."
Toward dawn it switched to poetry:
"BY the SHORES of GIT-che GU-mee,
BY the SHIN-ing BIG-sea-WA-ter,
STOOD the WIG-wam OF No-KO-mis,
DAUGH-ter OF the MOON, No-KO-mis."
I thought it would drive me insane!

The good news is that the sky was overcast on Monday morning, keeping the day relatively cool until the A/C repairman arrived about ten a.m.  The problem turned out to be a bad starter on the compressor, which took him only about 15 minutes to replace, after which -- for the sum of $286 -- we were cool again.

Monday night I slept like a baby, but with no lullabies whatsoever.


The weather and other outdoor stuff
Speaking of overcast skies, high temperatures followed by heavy afternoon rains have been the norm around here lately, making everything a little steamy. Here you can see that the rising sun shining through the condensation on this empty bird feeder lighted it up like a lantern:

Continuing to mosey down that trail, the reason the bird feeders were empty, having been filled only a day before, was that this fat mama and her feathered friends had knocked all the seeds to the ground:

One of those seeds surprised me by making its way to the other side of my patio fence, where it made me smile by growing into this:

Also making me smile was this playful little lizard, found frolicking on the doggy fence:

Leapin' lizards. Gotta love 'em.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Trinkets and Treasures - No. 5

This delicate ring, so small it fits only on my little finger, was my mother's second wedding ring. Not the ring from her second marriage, but the second ring from her first marriage. My father hocked her original wedding ring when she was in the hospital giving birth to me, their firstborn child. Logic tells me he probably needed money for the hospital bill, but I don't think Mother was ever completely convinced of that.

When my father eventually replaced Mother's original wedding ring, he told her he had chosen this one specifically because of its symbolism: two larger hearts representing each of them and a tiny heart in the middle for me. Whether that was the truth or merely a convenient means of persuading mother to accept a ring of much lower quality than her first one, the story still makes me smile.

You see, my father had a way with words, and it kept him out of trouble on many occasions.   Even when he failed to talk himself out of a sitution, he was still proud of that particular talent.

So, if you detect the slightest bit of amused skepticism in regard to the story about the ring, consider this: My father once casually mentioned that he had made "plenty of extra cash" when he was overseas in World War II. How'd he do it? He wrote love letters home for other soldiers -- for a fee.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The house that holds my heart

This is the home I grew up in, my grandparents' home, the only house I lived in longer than the one I live in now:

The photo above was clipped from a newspaper.  It was a real estate ad placed when my grandparents wanted to sell the house in order to follow my mother, sister, and me to Texas.

The real estate agent prepared the handout shown below:

If that house still existed, furnished as it was when we left, I could walk through it blindfolded now, 54 years after we left it. I remember every nook and cranny, every closet and whose clothes were in it, every opening into the attic, every part of the basement, and even the area underneath the house where I was never supposed to go: the area that could only be reached by going through the door from the main basement into what was once the coal bin, then climbing through a crawl space into the dirt-floored area that was otherwise surrounded by lattice work. I only went under there once, when I was playing hide and seek with my uncle, Joe, and his friend, Jimmy. I sat about a foot away from the lattice and watched their feet go by time and again. They never found me, and when I bragged about where I'd been hiding, my grandmother warned me about the possibility of an old well being in that space.

The house had five bedrooms, and Mother, Judy and I shared the 12x12 bedroom on the right at the top of the stairs. I slept with Mother in a full-sized bed; Judy had a small, white, youth bed on the other side of Mother. When Mother decided to paint over the floral wallpaper in that room, the paint color she chose was "Dusty Rose." She painted all the woodwork white, and it looked wonderful -- and so modern, we thought.

My sister in her little bed -- about 1953.

And me on the bed I shared with Mother -- same day, same year.

The dormer windows in the photo at the top of this post were in my uncle's room, the little 8x12 bedroom that sat straight ahead at the top of the stairs. Right under those windows, my grandfather built a storage unit (shelves with doors on them) around my uncle's twin bed. My uncle could pull the bed out at night to sleep on its full width or slide it partially under the shelves to provide daytime seating. The only other furniture in the room was a small desk. The summer after my uncle graduated from high school and went into the Army, I slept in his vacated room. I found two nudi$t-camp* magazines stuffed behind the shelves, so I was happy to have that room until I was sure there was nothing more I could learn from the grainy, black and white photographs (all shot from a distance) of nak3d* people -- all shapes and sizes of them -- playing tennis and volleyball and eating lunch at picnic tables.

When school started again, my grandparents rented my uncle's room to a college student, and I moved back in with Mother and Judy. The third upstairs bedroom, the one on the left at the top of the stairs, had beds for two students and was nearly always rented all year around. I still remember the names of some of those students.

The fact that I remember the details about this house so clearly -- and with so many good feelings attached to the memories of it -- lets me know how important it was to me. My sister may be the only other living person who finds this as interesting as I do, but that probably won't keep me from continuing the house tour some other time.


* I apologize for typing in code. I don't think the coded words are bad ones, but I didn't want to lure a bunch of Googlers here under false pretenses, either.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Creepy crawlies

It's a jungle out there. Out there in my yard, that is. I'm spending more time outdoors this summer than I usually do and seeing more bugs because of it. Or maybe there actually are more bugs, what with most of the nearby birds now dining on store-bought sunflower seeds.

Here's a fuzzy caterpillar (about two and a half inches long) lurking on the mat outside my back door, just waiting for me to open it so he can dart into the house!

And take a look at this giant grasshopper-looking thingy:

That big guy was nearly four inches long, and look what happened when I moved in closer for an overhead shot:

Is all that red supposed to scare me?  Is it a warning?

I'll tell you what I saw on the patio that didn't scare me until I found out what it was:  a red velvet ant (which is not really an ant but a wingless wasp). She was beautiful, about the size of a bumblebee, and walking so fast that if I'd had my camera with me, any photo I'd have taken of her would have been blurred. Once I had identified her on the Internet, I went out to try to find her again and get rid of her, but she was deep under cover by then.

Fortunately, since the birds don't seem to be helping, there are other creatures one step up on the food chain who seem more than willing to assist in controlling the insect population. This tiny gecko bagged a cricket:

And this little toad appeared to be waiting for me to get the light out of his eyes so he could eat the black beetle he had captured:

Still another step higher up the food chain, this hairy beast was eyeing that very same toad:

Fortunately for the toad, he was protected inside the doggy fence I had put up to try to get the grass to grow over one of Levi's freshly-filled holes in the ground.

Like I said, it's a jungle out there.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Subconscious shower songs

It occurs to me that the habits we humans develop take many forms. We fold the laundry a certain way, we read the newspaper in a certain order, our path through the supermarket is tried, true, and predictable.

Habits become so ingrained that they become part of our subconscious. Have you ever arrived at work, for example, and realized as you pulled into the parking lot that you'd been daydreaming and had no recall of making the familiar turns along the route?

My subconscious apparently chooses songs for me to sing in the shower. I may start out, consciously, singing snippets of something I listened to earlier in the day, but as the water falls and the lather builds up, I become relaxed, my mind begins to wander, and the next thing I become aware of is that I'm singing one of my old-standby shower songs.

There are three of them, all songs I like, but none that I'd call a favorite. And they're old. I have no idea when, why, or how these songs became part of my shower repertoire, but I've been singing them for a long time. Ironically, after all that time, I still don't know all the words to any of them. I just sing what I know and hum for a while until it's time to sing that part again.

Here are the songs (with thanks to those who posted them on YouTube):

My third-most-sung shower song:
From 1955, "The Man in the Raincoat" by Marion Marlowe. So mysterious, with the whistling and all. (I can't do the whistling part.)

My second-most-sung shower song:
From 1961, "Joey" by Shelby Flint. I remember thinking this song was soooo romantic.

And (drum roll, please) my number-one-most-sung shower song:
This one is from 1968: "Les Bicyclettes de Belsize" by Engelbert Humperdinck. Why?? Couldn't tell you. (Sorry, but when you click to play this, you may get a "restricted" message and have to click on the "Watch on YouTube" link to hear it.)


Now, then, I hope you'll tell us if you have shower songs of your own. I'm willing to bet yours are way cooler than mine.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Foto File: Black and White

Sometimes, when the light is right, pictures pop in black and white. I'm pretty sure you'll like these photos better if you'll click on each one to enlarge it.

Tree behind my back fence in early morning light.

Bird on utility pole.

Neighbor's garden shed.

Old barn in downtown Gonzales.

Beautiful Levi.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ashes to ashes

Last year a 52-year-old attorney in this area died suddenly in an automobile collision. His obituary was so moving that I saved a screen-cap of it on my computer. I came across it again a few minutes ago and wanted to share a portion of it with you:

"Since the hour of death cannot be forecast, the family requests that in lieu of flowers, you spend time with your loved ones--go to a movie together, get ice cream, go out to dinner or to breakfast or have a picnic in the park and tell them that you love them every day."

Isn't that beautiful? What wonderful words those are to reflect the values of someone who loved life.

Anyway, reading that again set me to wondering: do you ever think about your own funeral?

You younger readers may find this topic morbid (I'm sure my daughters do), but I'll bet those of you nearer my own age have given it some thought. I thought about it quite a bit when I first retired, mostly because my diet back then (eat as much as you want of whatever you want) was making me sick. I did come to a few conclusions:

I want to be cremated. That's for sure. And I don't want the funeral home to make one more dime off of my dead body than is absolutely essential. One reason I don't want to be buried is that I hate making wardrobe decisions and don't want anyone to have to do that on my behalf. I don't know how it's been in your family, but for some reason the tradition in my family has been to bury the women in beautiful nightclothes, as if they're going to Heaven to sleep, and to bury the men in suits, as if they'll have business to tend to on the other side of the Pearly Gates. What's the deal with that? I certainly wouldn't want to be buried in my nightgown, but being buried in casual clothing doesn't seem appropriate, and I have no interest in getting all gussied up in the kind of fancy dress I rarely wear anymore. Nope, cremation it is.

I haven't figured out where I'd like my ashes to be scattered. Really, anyplace with a lot of trees would be fine. I know am pretty sure that the spirit of the deceased isn't locked into the human remains and that my own spirit will stay near my daughters to watch over them like a guardian angel if that's at all possible. I think it is possible because my grandmother visited me after she died and my late mother rides along with me almost everywhere I go. What I'm trying to say is that it doesn't matter too much to me where my ashes end up, because I don't expect to be there with them. But, if my daughters decide they need a particular patch of earth where they can visit me, they can bury the ashes if they want to.

The idea of burial--even of ashes--raises the issue of money again. Burial plots are expensive. Accordingly, I have an idea for a compromise. There's a beautiful new cemetery a few miles down the road from where I live. Its offices are in a lovely antebellum home that used to be owned by a doctor, and its neatly trimmed grounds are shaded with live oak trees. It wouldn't be a bad place to be buried, but I'd be surprised if it isn't some of the most costly real estate around here. I've jokingly suggested to my daughters that, if they feel they need a grave to visit, they visit that cemetery, look around, pick out an existing grave that seems nice to them, and remember the name on the tombstone. Later, they can make a second visit to that gravestone--it would probably be a nice touch to take some flowers--and surreptitiously sprinkle my ashes in the grass right there. They could visit whenever they wanted and save a lot of money in the bargain.

I don't especially want a traditional funeral, either, but a small memorial service would be nice. I realize that the presence of friends and family at some sort of ceremony provides comfort--and a small measure of closure--to those left behind. During that period of ill health I referred to above, I even picked out some songs that I'd like to be played at my memorial service. I chose the songs for different reasons: a) I love them; or b) there's a message in there somewhere; and c) they're beautiful enough that my family will probably enjoy them and remember them, but it's not likely anyone will hear these songs on the radio at random times and unexpectedly feel sad again. (I had intended to make a CD of those songs, but then I started feeling a whole lot better and haven't had time to get around to it. Putting that on my to-do list now.)

I know everybody has different ideas about this subject, but people rarely talk about it, and I'm curious. So, if you've thought about things like this, are you willing to share those thoughts? If so, you can do it in a comment here, or, if you want to turn it into a blog post of your own, how about leaving a comment to let us know where to look for it?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I used to tell you stories regularly about Butch's courage, his loving nature, and his antics. Butch has changed a lot in the past couple of years; anything I'd write about him now wouldn't be as funny as some of those earlier stories. He's 13-1/2 years old now, and the years haven't treated him too kindly. He still shows moments of incredible sweetness or great heart, but his senior years have brought out new aspects of his personality. He is stubborn. Bull-headed. Demanding. Those in my family would probably know what I mean if I said that Butch now reminds me of Daddy.

My stepdaddy, in the latter years of his life, could be charming when he wanted to be, but he didn't often see the need to turn on the charm. Butch is the same way. Daddy complained a lot, and Butch has adopted a shrill whine as his means of communicating when he wants a treat or when he wants me to let him outside or inside. If Daddy thought Mother's cooking was a little too salty, he was sure to tell her about it. If the treat I give Butch isn't the kind he had in mind when he begged for it, he spits it out, whines some more, and waits for me to try again. Now, don't misunderstand me: I loved Daddy, and I love Butch dearly, but both of them fit clearly into the category of "grumpy, old men."

Like Daddy, Butch sleeps a lot now that he's older. If I were to guess that he sleeps 20 hours a day, I wouldn't be far off. He gets up for mealtimes (his and mine) and when he needs to go outside. He usually gets up when we have company, and when that happens, he acts like his sweet, old self for a little while. It's rare that he stays awake much more than an hour at a time.

The whining began near the end of last year, back when Kadi was so sick. For every trip Kadi took to the vet, Butch took another one. I thought then that the whining meant something was hurting him. We checked out his ears, because ear infections have plagued him since he was a pup. We checked out his arthritic hind legs and began medicating him in case they were the problem. We checked his behind, where his anal-gland surgery had left him with some residual problems. Even though no new health issues were discovered, everything that could be medicated was medicated, just in case. Still he whined.

As Kadi became sicker and sicker, I began to read everything I could find about how to know when it was time to euthanize a dog. Almost every one of those articles stated that the dog's quality of life should be the determining factor. That threw me for a loop. Kadi was obviously sicker than Butch, but she was also happier than he was. Until her very last days, she was pleasant and engaged. Butch, on the other hand, had begun to isolate  himself in the bedroom and to whine through many of his waking hours. What kind of life is that? I didn't know which dog I would lose first, and the thought of having to put down both of them at or near the same time was horrifying to me.

In Kadi's final week it became clear that her illness had reduced her quality of life to an unacceptable level, and seeing her that way helped me to see a clear distinction between her health and Butch's. I knew then what I had to do.

In the days after Kadi's death, I concentrated on Butch and started Googling "why does my dog whine?" I expected to find information about hidden medical conditions that might be troublesome to an animal. What I found instead were training techniques. It hadn't occurred to me until then that Butch's whining might be a behavioral issue. I realized then that I had been rewarding his bad behavior by fussing over him when he whined.

So, I made some changes in my own behavior. Butch's whining hasn't stopped, but it has decreased to a point that no longer drives me insane. I also changed my expectations once I connected the dots between Butch's whining and Daddy's complaining. That helped me to understand better where Butch's attitude is coming from. He's old and he's tired. He's achy sometimes.

It's been six years since Butch lost his eyesight, and in the past year or two he's gone almost completely deaf. He can hear the phone ring, and if I speak loudly, right in his ear, he seems to hear that. He gets disoriented more frequently, but he thinks he knows more than he does, and he thinks he knows more than I do. He thinks he knows exactly where he is and what he needs to do to get from Point A to Point B, but he's often wrong about that. If he's about to walk smack into a wall and I grab onto his collar to steer him in the right direction, he digs his heels in and refuses to budge until I let go. Then he walks into the wall, corrects his course, and sets out again, often in a different wrong direction.  Sometimes he bumps into every piece of furniture between the bedroom and the back door rather than let me guide him.  He usually bumps them gently, though, as if he expects them to be there and "test bumps" to be sure. The only way he will let me lead him is if I put him on the leash, but even then, if he doesn't want to go (outside, for instance), he digs in his heels and stands his ground.

Riding in the car, something Butch has always hated, has become almost impossible to get him to do. I needed to take him to the vet last week for another ear check, and he wrestled me so long that I had to stop trying at one point and call the vet's office to let them know we'd be late. He's heavy enough that it's difficult for me to pick him up, but even after I managed to do that and get him on the backseat, he jumped out before I could extract my arm and shut the door. Do you know how dangerous it is for a blind dog to jump out of a car onto a concrete driveway? I finally lured him into the car by sprinkling the seat with his favorite treats. He refused to eat them, but they distracted him long enough for me to get the door closed.

Fortunately, Butch's sense of smell is still strong. He can sniff me out anywhere in the house and is quick to do so when he wants something. Then, when he finds me, he whines. If I'm at the computer, he uses his nose to bump my hand off the mouse. Usually when he seeks me out it's because he wants a treat. He still tries to con me by asking to go out and back in several times in a matter of minutes. He gets a treat the first time he comes in, and I'm willing to let him go out the second time just in case he forgot to do part of his business while he was out there the first time. He gets a little treat the second time he comes in, too. But that's all. I've learned to be firm when he asks the third time, to stand between him and the door and make him back away so he knows the jig is up.

Butch used to spend whole evenings on the sofa beside me with his head in my lap. Now he's too stiff-legged to get on the sofa by himself and too hard-headed to let anyone help him. If I try to pick him up, he panics and fights me. My own bad knees make it difficult for me to get on the floor to give him the doggy massages he used to love, but I try to give him as much stroking and petting as I can when he's awake and erect. Sometimes he'll lie down in front of my chair, where I can rub his belly with my feet and enjoy the kind of sweet moments we used to take for granted. Last night he ate his supper, then stood right next to me for half an hour, not whining, while I ate mine. I suspect it was the scent of the  chicken on my plate that kept him there, but I enjoyed his company regardless. Still later, instead of retreating to his bed, Butch followed me to the computer and napped on the floor beside me. I feel so honored when the interaction between us is his idea instead of mine.

As Butch's personality has changed, so has his physical appearance. Both of his ears used to fold over, but for the last few years the right one has always stood up straight. There's a little bump in the middle of his forehead that we think might be a cyst formed around a bone chip, possibly from one of his harder head bumps. It's never seemed to bother him, and the vet doesn't think it's anything to worry about. His left eye socket bulges with fluid that stretches the skin tight, fluid from a gland that has apparently reactivated itself in the years since his surgery. The vet who did the eye surgery told us ahead of time that that could happen someday, and the vet who treats Butch now agrees with me that draining the fluid for aesthetic reasons could unnecessarily open the door for infections.  The swollen area is ugly, but it doesn't cause Butch any pain. He doesn't mind at all when it's touched or rubbed.

Butch has several new skin tags, including the big, black, mole-like one on top of his head. Last year one of his top front teeth began to turn grey and receded behind the other teeth. Last week I noticed that the tooth was no longer there. It, too, may have been a casualty of one too many bumps.

Butch is heavier than he's ever been, though I can still feel his ribs, so I'm not worried about him. It seems to me that his pleasures are few at this time of his life, and while I'm willing to cut back on his food and treats a little bit for health reasons, I'm not inclined to cut back so much that he notices.

These days, when I think about the quality of Butch's life, I know it isn't an easy one, but I think he's okay for now. He's had more than one dog's share of troubles and has faced his struggles with a lot of courage and character. His life isn't as interesting as it used to be, nor is his body as strong and resilient as it once was. I think he has reason to complain about his current state of affairs. And, remembering how long Daddy lived as a grumpy, old man, I believe Butch will be okay for a while longer. He's making an effort to live with the hand that's been dealt him. If he's a little disgrunted about it sometimes, maybe he has a right to be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trinkets and Treasures - No. 4

This bone-handled carving knife has been in my family since before I was born. It was a wedding gift to my maternal grandparents, who married in 1919. My grandmother and mother used it in preparation of most of the meals I ate until my mother remarried in 1957 and we left my grandmother's house to move to Texas.

After Mammaw died in 1988, Mother used the knife in her own kitchen on a daily basis. It came into my hands when Mother passed in 1999, at which time I retired it from regular use. No doubt it would still work beautifully to make perfect slices of tomato or roast beef, but its blade is almost paper thin, and I don't want it to break on my watch.

The knife is a thing of beauty, chipped and battered as it is. I'd like to mount it in a shadowbox and hang it in my kitchen. So far I haven't found the right-sized shadowbox, but I'm still looking. I think the knife has shown its durability and will wait for me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Whaddaya think?

Today I came across a new widget that Blogger calls "Reactions" and added it to this blog. It gives you, the readers, an opportunity to grade my blogging efforts simply by checking a box labeled "good," "so-so," or "a waste of time."

Now, comments (a/k/a "pearls of wisdom") light up my life, and I certainly hope this new feature won't replace any comments you might feel like writing. Still, I know there are some people who read this blog regularly and never comment. I thought the new buttons (located at the bottom of each post)  might encourage those folks to express themselves with an easy, non-committal mouse-click.

You lurkers may not realize it, but I appreciate your visits and would like to know what you think.

Time travel

The other day I wrote about being homesick. Often, when I feel that way, I jump on the magic time machine called the Internet and go visit places where I've lived.

Recently I traveled through Google Maps to visit the home I grew up in. The house is no longer there, having been demolished in the early '60s to allow for expansion of the Southwest Missouri State Teachers College campus, the southeast corner of which used to be diagonally across the street from our home. Through Google Maps' street view I was able to stand on what would have been the very end of our driveway and look down the brick street I had crossed so many times in my youth. The multi-story building on the left-hand side of the street didn't exist back then, and instead of the modern buildings pictured on the right, there were stately, two-story houses with pretty lawns held back by retaining walls.

We used to sit at the top of the driveway in our red Radio Flyer wagon, its handle turned backward to use as a steering device, then push off and roll downhill, turning at the last minute onto the sidewalk. If we'd ever missed a turn, we would have wound up rolling into the street near the bottom right of this picture.

In the photo below you can see the driveway and the wagon. I'm the curly-permed blonde in the middle, holding my baby cousin Gary, and that's my sister, Judy, sitting on the ground in front. The other girls were neighborhood playmates.

After leaving Google Maps, I went to the MSU website and took a virtual tour of the campus. There are so many new buildings there now, but some of the ones I remember are still standing. I paused the tour video long enough to take a screen-cap of one of those older buildings:

There was a playground in front of this building in the early-1940s for use by children who attended the college-sponsored elementary school, Greenwood. Mother used to take us to play there sometimes when school wasn't in session. The photo below shows Mother with me at the top of the seesaw (which we called a teeter-totter in those days).

I love how today's technology allows us to travel across miles and years to walk down Memory Lane.

Incidentally (and apropos of nothing), I don't know who the little boy was in that last photo, but apparently I liked him: