Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year of Ups and Downs

It took a while to decide on a title for this post. Yes, there were ups in 2012, and plenty of downs to balance them out. Except nothing felt balanced. The goods and bads weren't always separate and distinct, so it all felt jumbled. Sometimes the bad stuff bled into the good and tainted it, and sometimes the good stuff took the sting out of the bad.

The economy has improved slightly; that's an up, right? I guess it's a question of perspective. Acknowledging the improvement without acknowledging that the nation's finances are still stuck in the dumps is a little like being grateful when the surgeon announces he'll be amputating a shorter length of your leg than originally anticipated.

My candidate won the presidential election. I was happy about that. Even more than happy, I felt relief. Now, just remembering that election campaign season unsettles me,  because I've never before seen so much hatred and anger spewed out over the airwaves, the Internet, and printed media. It's hard to be happy when "we the people" are screaming at one another. But we won. That's an up, I think.

Assault weapons rose in prominence in 2012, primarily for the death and destruction they caused in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut, just to name the worst of the year's mass murders. This all falls under downs; not a single thing up about it.

The year brought ups and downs on a personal level, too:

Early in the year I lost my beloved Butch to melanoma. As heartbreaking as it was, that loss was put into perspective two months later when my nearest neighbor lost his beautiful, young wife to a different type of cancer. I still grieved for Butch, but I considered myself lucky.

Gimpy joined our family in April, bringing with him a steady supply of ups and, only occasionally, when he has experienced a behavioral lapse for which he has always been very sorry, a well-chewed down. He's not only Levi's brother, he's his best bud. Together, they keep me grinning.

I've had wonderful visits this year from Texas relatives, visits that have reminded me that the ties that bind are indeed blessed, and I've been fortunate to share big and small moments with generations of my family here in Louisiana. I love these people, and any one of them can turn a down moment into an up one with nothing more than a quick word and the flash of a smile.

You know, the more that I write today, the more that I think about it, some years are better than others, but all of them have their ups and their downs. All of us humans have them, too. Sometimes the distinction between ups and downs is a matter of luck or circumstances, sometimes it's a matter of attitude or perspective. Viewing 2012 through a wide angle lens, I see a lot that went wrong. Zooming in, though, everything and everyone close to me at the end of the year looks as good as ever.

Stay safe through the end of your New Year's Eve celebration, and I'll give the year a temperate "thumbs up."


As I typed the next-to-last paragraph above, a little snatch of a song lyric flitted through my mind, and I had to Google the words to see if I could find where they came from. The song at the end of the search turned out to be one I'd completely forgotten about, though I had enjoyed it very much back around 1969. I don't usually include music videos in back-to-back posts, but this one fits too well to pass up:


The song is "Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs" by Charlie Rich.
Thanks to 2much4mymirror for posting this video on YouTube.
Click here for the lyrics.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Last Saturday Song Selection of 2012

The end of the year is always a time of reflection for me--and for many others, I'm sure. And if today's featured song isn't reflective, then I don't know what is.

I found this song online earlier this year and fell in love with it. It's different from the kind of music I usually listen to, but it's raw and pure and evocative. It takes me to a place and time I never actually experienced and lets me tap into the life of some of my ancestors. It speaks to my heart through my connection to them.

I'm dedicating today's song to the four blogging Powell sisters, PatsyFletaBetty, and Helen, because it reminds me so much of the stories they've told.

Note: If you click on the video and get a message that it's restricted to certain sites, just click on the link to watch it on YouTube.


The song is "Ellis County" by Buddy and Julie Miller.
Thanks to antoniostrohs for posting this video on YouTube.
Click here for the lyrics.

Friday, December 28, 2012

What I've Been Reading

A quick skim through the pages of this blog made me realize its been two months today since I last posted about books. Granted, I haven't read as much as I usually do -- it's the holidays, after all, and my new iPad has eaten up some of my reading time -- but I've managed to read at least a few chapters every single day. So, considering that we're right here at the end of the year, I'm just gonna dump all those books into this one post and start with a clean slate in the new year. Here goes:

For a description and reviews of any of these books,
click on its image below.

Auschwitz by Laurence Rees:

This book was lent to me by a neighbor, who highly recommended it. I found it hard to read on a couple of levels. First, it read like a textbook: lots of dates and place names, characters (real people) mentioned only anecdotally. Also, the subject matter was so atrocious that I had to read it in small doses. Read it I did, though, every last word. My thinking was that if all those human beings lived and died in the horrible circumstances of a Nazi concentration camp, then I, in their honor, could certainly suffer through reading about it in the comfort of my own home. It's informative, but not something you'd want to read for pleasure or entertainment.

Taken by Barbara Freethy: 

Hide in Plain Sight by Marta Perry: 

A Family Affair by Mary Campisi:

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult:

When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke:

Ferris Beach by Jill McCorkle:

In the Midnight Rain by Barbara Samuel:

Rock and a Hard Place by Angie Stanton:

Collision Course by S. C. Stephens:

The Hurricane by Hugh Howey:

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman:

Long Time Coming by Edie Claire:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern:

I've only begun reading this one, but it may be the last book I finish in 2012, so I'll include it here. Let me say that I am loving this book. It is so different, so intriguing, so well written that I'm torn between racing through the pages and pacing myself to savor every morsel. There is nothing normal about this book. If you value imagination as highly as I do, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

For a description and reviews of any of these books,
click on its image above.


Note:  I read all the books on this list except the first and last ones as Kindle downloads. Some were quite good and none was so unimpressive that I regretted the time spent reading it. (I did encounter one book of the latter description recently but chose not to waste my time either by finishing it or by listing it here.) I'm telling you this because most of them were under $5 and several were free on still are at the time of this posting. You may want to check them out for yourself.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In the Afterglow

It was Two Thousand Twelve, twenty-fifth of December,
A day that it fills me with joy to remember.
Our families came to spend Christmas together
In spite of some terrible, threatening weather.
The skies, they were black, and the rains were torrential,
Yet Christmas lost none of its magic potential.

The weather forecasts for Christmas Day were dire at best, with violent storms, possibly including hail and tornados, predicted for precisely the time of our own Christmas gathering at my daughter Kelli's home. I don't like to leave my dogs at home alone in bad weather, and I don't like to drive in it, but there was no way I was going to miss a chance to be with that particular group of people on that special day. 

I decided to leave early and see if I could get there ahead of the storm. I just made it. The skies opened up and dumped rivers of rain, then, oddly but quite nicely, fizzled to a drizzle as each new carload of family members arrived.

The young and the older, arriving in shifts,
Brought smiles and good wishes and armloads of gifts,
And inside the house, with its lights all aglow,
The merriment rose with each paper and bow
Tossed aside by a toddler, a sweet girl or boy,
Whose eyes shone more brightly with each unwrapped toy.

The youngest of the grandchildren is twenty now, so the excitement torch has been passed to the great-grandchildren, Owen and Olivia. Olivia was more interested in the bows than in the presents, but Owen, at two and three-quarters now, enjoyed the whole shebang. He played Santa's helper, happily delivering gifts as directed by his PopeƩ, Troy. Among Owen's own gifts was a kid-sized tool bench. He, having a small amount of nasal congestion, promptly dubbed it "the tool bitch," and you can imagine how often we tried to work that phrase into the conversation over the course of the afternoon.

On Dasher, on Dancer, on Donder and Blitzen--
Just smell the aromas that come from the kitchen!
There's shrimp fettuccine and crisp crawfish pies,
And pot roast and meatballs and audible sighs
At the display of cookies and candies galore.
Taste one, then another, then sample some more.

There was so much good food that I didn't even get around to tasting all of it. God knows I tried. Last night, for the first time in over two years, I had to unzip my pants after I got home, just to find enough comfort and breathing room to last until bedtime.

The kids were the focus till late in the day
When we knew it was time for the grown-ups to play.
A Christmas Day game is traditional now,
So we pondered the options that time would allow,
And decided charades would be given a go--
There's an app for that now, in case you didn't know.

According to an earlier post, the Christmas games tradition began about 2004, with the men and women on opposite teams playing Battle of the Sexes. Charades, though an old game by almost every standard, was new for us.

This year we chose teams by size instead of by sex, playing tall against small, and the teams turned out to be fairly evenly matched. The best-acting Oscars would have gone to Jeremy on the tall team and Kandis on the smalls. Both of them seemed to have remarkable abilities to zero in on the most important aspects of their allotted words or phrases and act out clues that conveyed them almost instantly. The words weren't easy, either: claustrophobia and turbulence, for example.

It's often a leap of faith for people to step outside their vulnerable skins and throw themselves into the spirit of a silly game. It's an exercise in trust and, in the best cases, a heartwarming demonstration of love and acceptance--all played out amidst riotous laughter.

The echos of laughter, the joy that still lingers
From down by my toes to the tips of my fingers,
Remind me that love is where everything starts--
The thoughts in our minds, the peace in our hearts--
And if we let love guide the actions we take,
The words that we say, the decisions we make,
Though storms may rain on us and strong winds may blow,
Love will see us through safely, wherever we go.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Wherever you're going for Christmas . . .

. . . may you and your loved ones be laughing all the way!

Merry Christmas!
from Linda, Levi and Gimpy

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas on the Cheap

Cutting back on expenses has become a way of life this year. Almost everybody's doing it, and knowing that has made it seem like less of a sacrifice. Sometimes, unfortunately,  the need for a balanced budget trumps the desire to shop where I can feel morally superior, so I find myself at Walmart. One day last week a brief stop there brightened my day.

The man waiting patiently in the next express lane was hard to miss: He was wearing a Santa hat. He was also wearing a white, short-sleeved shirt with khaki pants held up by wide brown suspenders. His white hair sat comfortably on his collar, and his full white beard glistened as if it had never once encountered spaghetti sauce.

It was amusing to see Santa in his everyday clothes, and a quick look into his grocery cart made my smile grow even wider. The only item in there was a cellophane-wrapped Santa Claus suit.

Like I said, everybody's cutting back.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sleep, Pretty Darlings


Once there was a way to get back homeward,
Once there was a way to get back home.
Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby.*

* From the lyrics of "Golden Slumbers" by the Beatles.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Saturday Song Selection: Shenandoah

One of my all-time favorite songs is one I first heard when I was really, really young. The lyrics refer to the "wide Missouri"--the river, not the state where I spent my childhood. Nevertheless, every time I hear the song, it takes me to the state of Missouri again. It takes me home.

The song has been recorded by so many different artists I can't count them all, but I've never heard a bad version of it. This rendition just might be my favorite:


The song is "Shenandoah" by Sissel.
Many thanks to Somewheremaybe--especially for the beautiful images--and for posting the video and lyrics on YouTube.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Why I Didn't Miss Thanksgiving

I've waited almost too long to write this post. The title suggests that the topic has passed its expiration date, but I assure you it's still very fresh in my own mind.

The Thanksgiving Surprise
About a month before Thanksgiving, my younger daughter, who always hosts our family celebration, asked if I'd mind having our get-together on the Saturday after the actual holiday. She explained that all the young adults in the family had conflicting obligations on Thanksgiving Day. I had no objection at all. Having the entire family together is the most important part of the day for me. That and sweet-potato crunch.

When I showed up on the appointed Saturday, covered dish in hand, only my daughter and her husband were in sight. There were other cars there, though, so I assumed all the kids were in the house. My daughter met me as I got out of my car, and we chatted as I followed her to the pool area, where she stopped. I continued talking, eventually turning around to follow where she was looking, and saw the rest of my family lined up in a row at the back end of the pool.

Why were they all standing there smiling? The lack of motion was completely unlike them. I did a slow double take. There was a "Happy Birthday" sign above their heads. And then I saw my sister, my sister who lives in Texas, whom I hadn't seen in more than a year. And then, through tears, I saw her husband, her children and their children, standing among my own daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. All of their spouses and significant others were there, too. I could not believe it.

As hard as it was to wrap my head around the idea that this was a birthday party instead of a Thanksgiving dinner, it was even harder to believe they'd pulled it off without my being the least bit suspicious. It was truly overwhelming--and one of the best days of my life.


Children in a Cage
My son-in-law built a backyard chicken coop earlier this year, and the six hens were the surprise hit of the birthday party. We already knew that Owen, my great-grandson, loved the chickens, but my sister's grandkids are "townies." Invited into the chicken coop (or chicken "hoop" as Owen calls it), they went nuts over those birds. Shown by adults how to hold the chickens carefully, the kids kept track of each time they picked up a hen. By six-year-old Presley's account, she personally caught 40 of them.

The hens were very gracious about being carted around by little hands and proved it the next day by laying their usual number of eggs.


Being surrounded by family was definitely the best part of the birthday party, but the gifts were pretty spectacular, too. My daughters presented me with an iPad--a luxury item I've wanted but never expected to have. Others gave me a leather cover/stand for the iPad and iTunes gift cards to use for the purchase of apps. And, boy, have I used them over the past couple of weeks. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that downloading and trying out iPad apps ate up a huge portion of the time I normally would have used to write blog posts.

The only non-iPad-related gift I got was a very cushy--and very purple--faux-fur throw. I knew when I opened the present that I'd enjoy the comfort of it while watching TV, and I also knew I'd have to fight to keep it for my own. Gimpy loves soft things.

Every time I've left it on the sofa, I've come back to find that he has either settled onto it right where it lay or moved it to the other sofa, pushed it into a ball, and cuddled with it there. Thank goodness he's been very gentle with it, probably because it contains neither stuffing nor a squeaker. I might let him rest his head on it once in a while, but I'll never let him think it's anyone's but mine.


The Warm-Fuzzies
No, I'm not still talking about the purple throw. I'm talking about the happy thoughts and feelings that have stayed with me ever since the party and the surge of emotions  every time I've considered writing about it. "Overwhelmed" was the word I used earlier in this post; it still applies.

The truth is that app-time isn't the only reason I haven't written about this sooner. I haven't felt capable enough as a writer to adequately express how much it meant to me. I will always remember the joy of watching Owen interact playfully with the Texas cousins he's never met before. Of listening to my daughters swap stories and philosophies with the first-cousins they've seen too few times in their lives. Of having the beautiful person who is my sister right there beside me, watching all these familial relationships grow stronger.

My wonderful daughters worked a special kind of magic when they pulled this whole event together. It might have turned out to be a birthday party when I was expecting a Thanksgiving dinner, but there's no way in the world I could have felt more thankful.

So much laughter. So much love.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Big Seven-Oh

Yep. Today is the day I turn seventy. How the heck did that happen so fast?

They say age is just a number, but I find that particular number a little sobering: both parents and two of my alloted four grandparents passed away in their seventh decade. What's even more sobering is that they seemed so much older than I think I am now. Sometimes I wish I could view myself through a younger person's eyes, although that perspective could be as skewed as my own, only in the opposite direction. (I remember clearly how old thirty seemed when I was seventeen:  Over. The. Hill.)

I feel better than I did ten years ago. That's a good sign, don't you think? I'm thinner, more agile, and have more stamina than I did then. I'm eating healthier foods, seeing my doctors on a regular schedule, and taking medications as prescribed--fewer medications these days, in fact. And I have good intentions about exercising more.

Nevertheless, I recognize the signs of wear and tear on my body. Neither my eyesight nor my hearing is as keen as it was ten years ago. Come to think of it, my nose isn't as sensitive, either. Or my taste buds. As for my skin, at some point it apparently assessed its long-term career of holding my body together, then muttered "Whatever!" and turned loose. Yesterday my daughter was taking my picture and asked me to stop squinting. I wasn't squinting; my eyelids are droopy. My brows are going all Andy Rooney on me, too.  The individual hairs are springy (the only perky body parts left). They grow out in random directions, making it difficult to tweeze them into narrow, feminine arches. And, speaking of random directions, one of my teeth has kicked out slightly in front of the others, and a few of my fingers and toes no longer line up with the precision of the good soldiers they used to be.

It's also possible that my brain function may have declined a little bit. Words and names seem to slip away more frequently than they used to, though they still pop right back into my head shortly after I force myself to stop grasping for them. I don't honestly know whether that actually happens more often than it used to or if I'm just noticing those incidents more. I am paying closer attention. In fact I've become hyper-vigilant about signs of memory loss, as if I want to make sure I'm the first one to know if I start losing it.

Last night my uncle called from Minneapolis. In the course of wishing me a happy birthday, he said he's read that seventy is the new fifty. He's seven years older than I am, so he probably wants to believe that even more than I do. I told him my plan is to keep myself in good enough shape to at least outlive my two dogs, Levi and Gimpy. They're slightly over two now, so that could be doable.

We all know plans are subject to change, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to mention that timeline, just in case God is open to suggestions. I think I'll proceed under the assumption that He is. It'll make me happier about stepping over the threshold into my seventies.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Counting Our Blessings

Thanksgiving shifts our focus. For at least that one day of the year, unless someone is so deeply mired in desperation that he or she has hunkered down there for the duration, we accept the implied challenge of Thanksgiving and take a mental inventory of everything that's right in the world. We'd obviously be a happier lot if we'd consider those good things on a daily basis, but calling attention to them annually is better than nothing. Especially when you throw in a big serving of sweet-potato crunch.

Family and friends, of course, are always right at the top of my gratitude list, as are my beloved dogs. (In the interest of full disclosure, if I listed everyone by name instead of by category, the dogs might be a teensy bit higher on the list than most of my friends. The dogs, after all, are family.) Good health and a safe home are high on the list. In my working days, a good job and a living wage were on it; now I'm thankful for retirement and Social Security instead.

Maybe it's natural to become more reflective as one ages, but these days I find myself thinking about a lot of simple things that make me feel consciously happy. Sunny days and the percussive sound of thunder on the rainy ones. The way my bed feels when I crawl into it at night. Good books and good music. "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Amazing Race." The technology to fast-forward through commercials. "How-to" repair videos on YouTube. Diet soda in 12-packs. Rotisserie chickens and frozen vegetables in steamable bags. Being agile enough to close the damper in the chimney before the animal I heard in there fell into my den. Which reminds me: birds. And trees--every doggone one of 'em. The list goes on and on.

So much beauty. So much joy. So much to appreciate if we pay attention. So, yeah, Thanksgiving is a good idea.

I hope yours is wonderful.


The song is "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong.
Thanks to RoadVideo404 for posting the video and lyrics on YouTube.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Picture Me Smiling

After having a bad cold that seemed to hang on forever, I was glad to see the weather warm up enough that I could get outside and try out my new camera. One day last week I took it along when I drove to the post office. The main road along that route is under construction, so I knew there'd be plenty of opportunities to stop and snap photos out the car window.

I suspect that the first ten shots were magnificent. We'll never know, unfortunately, because I had failed to remove the lens cap. Instead, here are a few others from that short trip:

 (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

As you can see, Louisiana is still mostly green.

I thought this one was pretty (after I cropped the construction
equipment out of it).

This is one of the gorgeous "Seven Oaks" near the entrance of 
the neighborhood that's named for them.

Another tree, this one draped with moss, outside the same neighborhood.
Apparently, the road work has kept the mowers away for awhile.

You know, of course, that I had to try out the camera as soon as I got it, even if I didn't feel like leaving the house. So, here are a few earlier shots I took while standing in my own backyard:

Levi and Gimpy have been very patient with my
following them around with the camera. They're good dogs.

This is my next-door neighbor's grapevine, hanging over my fence.

This tree rises high above the same neighbor's house.
(The grackles are back!)

I've saved the best shot for last, a clear example of why I wanted a more powerful zoom lens:

I happened to glance out the window just in time to watch a huge,
well-camouflaged bird land in this little tree in the same neighbor's yard.
It's a young red-tailed hawk (no rust-colored tail feathers yet).
If you want a better look at this beautiful creature, there's a
closeup on my photoblog today.

Now I need to take the camera someplace spectacularly scenic and see what it can do. Who wants to go with me?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hold On Just a Doggone Minute!

According to the news, in the wake of President Obama's re-election, citizens of a number of states have signed petitions requesting that their states be permitted to secede from the United States. This evening's local news reported that Louisiana was the first state to gather enough signatures to meet the requirements for a review of their petition by the White House.

Now, I like a good protest as well as the next person, but what are those petition signers  thinking? We're talking about Louisiana, right? Louisiana, the state that's either at the bottom or second from the bottom (after Mississippi) of every damn list except the ones that rate college football teams, good food, or (now) secession petitions? Holy crap!

Imagine some high-ranking official using a checklist to determine whether or not to allow Louisiana to secede:  High crime? Check. Bad roads? Check. Eroding coastline? Check. Hurricane-prone? Ohhhh, yeah, that's a real budget buster.

I'm scared the U.S. government will consider Louisiana's petition as the opportunity of a lifetime and lop us off the map without a second thought. Then what are we gonna do?

I've lived in Louisiana 34 years now. Most of those years have been great ones. Now that I have children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren living nearby, you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming from this state. And there are plenty of wonderful people here. It's those other people--the kind of hotheaded, sore-loser, Fox-news-watching good ol' boys and their womenfolk who would go so far as to sign a secession petition--who make me shake my head and wonder how I ended up here in the middle of them.

Life sure plays tricks on people sometimes.

Friday, November 09, 2012

If You Say So

In reply to a comment on my last post, I mentioned that sometimes I "rein in" what I say or write about controversial topics. Those who know me well might be quick to point out that I haven't mastered the skill of self-censoring, but they're basing that opinion only on  what they've heard me say. They have no idea how much I've held back.

Anyway, it occurred to me as I wrote that reply that I've been struggling my whole life to decide when to speak out and when to hold my tongue. The last time I acknowledged that inner conflict may have been in a brief conversation with my grandmother when I was about ten years old:

Mammaw: "Linnie, why don't you sweep the porch?"

Me (remaining seated on the couch, comic book in hand): "If you want me to sweep the porch, just tell me to do it. You're the grown-up and I'm the kid, so I have to do what you say. But if you want to know why I don't sweep the porch, I can tell you."

After that, as I recall, I immediately jumped up and moved out the front door--out of range--where I swept the porch as if my life depended on it. Mammaw never asked my reasons for not wanting to sweep it, and I never again volunteered to explain them.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

"It's a sad, sad situation, and it's getting more and more absurd"*

With the exception of responding to half a dozen comments on Facebook, I've deliberately avoided posting political opinions during the recent presidential election cycle. Too many people I know hold viewpoints different from my own, and I wanted neither to step on their toes nor push their buttons. Instead, I mostly bit my tongue.

Today, remembering that one of the reasons I write this blog is to leave a written trail that my descendants might one day follow, I realize it would be a historical error not to mention the present state of our union and our human condition.

As a nation, we are more deeply in debt than ever before. Money is tight, jobs are scarce, crime is high. Some of our elected leaders are working diligently to address these problems; others do only what is politically expedient, even if it means sitting spitefully on their hands and refusing to do the work that we, the taxpayers, pay them to do. Perhaps because some people find these conditions stressful, or perhaps because some  are mean-spirited by nature and now have the technology to dispense their negativity, our American society is not as polite as it used to be.

I've lived long enough to watch our country struggle through the Civil Rights era and, later, through the hostility surrounding the Viet Nam War, but I was on the periphery of those violent, hateful times, aware of them only through the evening news. Never before now, though, have I witnessed so many people--including some I know personally--publicly exhibiting the kind of Jerry-Springer-style behavior I've seen lately. Where does it come from, this anger, this need to call names, tell lies, spread fear? I see it on television--especially on Fox News--and I see it on blogs and on Facebook posts. How did we get to this ugly place?

Yesterday Barack Obama was re-elected (by a narrow popular-vote margin) to serve a second term as president. I'm glad about that, but I know many others are not. I also know the shoe could easily have been on the other foot. Regardless of who won or lost, we, the people, need to get a grip. We can begin to make our world a better place by picking up the remnants of the manners our mothers taught us and showing some civility.


So . . . if you happen to be reading this many, many years from now, check the history books to read about the success or failure of the Obama administration. It'll all be clearer in retrospect. While you're at it, see if you can find what's been written about hatred, anger, and intolerance in U.S. society in the year 2012. I hope, by then, you'll find it hard to believe it was ever like this.

Stepping off my soapbox now.

* From the lyrics of "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" by Elton John.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

All I Needed Was a Sign

A couple weeks ago I was browsing blogs and came across one that had particularly sharp, clear photos on it. (I'd link to it but can't remember its name.) The writer posted about how pleased he was with his new camera and its amazing zoom capabilities.

Now, I love me some zoom. I love it on the camera, and I love using it as a telescope to figure out if that "brown thing" near the tree in my neighbor's yard is a squirrel or a hawk. If eyeglasses came with a zoom feature, my no-line progressives would have it. Naturally, once I discovered how much more magnification is available now than it was when I bought my current camera, I began to yearn for it.

Being a practical person, I didn't think about it too hard. Often, maybe, but not too seriously. Every time it crossed my mind, I stifled the thought. My camera has been good to me, and it didn't make sense to replace it when there wasn't a thing wrong with it.

Until today. Today the Gods of All Things Digital must have convened to discuss the needs of amateur photographers everywhere, after which they sent me a sign. My trusty camera broke this very day. If that had happened a month ago, I'd be sitting here feeling sorry for myself and writing some kind of what-am-I-going-to-do post. Instead, I almost hollered "Yee-haw!"

I've loved my old camera, and I could hardly believe what I was seeing when I tried to use it today. The zoom lens no longer moves consistently. Sometimes it zooms out and won't zoom back in. Sometimes it freezes halfway out and the shutter button won't click. The playback feature has ceased to operate, so I can no longer preview the photos I've taken. Stranger still, sometimes the camera fires off a few shots all by itself when my finger is nowhere near the button. Here are a few of the pictures the camera took on its own today:

Something is clearly very wrong. Isn't that wonderful?

That sign was all I needed. I spent the rest of the day online researching simple-to-use cameras with lots and lots of zoom, and in eight-to-twelve working days, the one I chose will be delivered to my door. Out of loyalty and gratitude to my now ailing old camera, I decided to go with the same brand. The new one will have seven fewer levels of magnification than the one that ignited my zoom envy, but twenty more levels than the one I have now.

Thank you for your faithful service, old camera. May you rest in peace.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Tonight I Get My Hour Back

When I was a member of the workforce, the end of Daylight Saving Time seemed like an annual blessing, an extra hour of sleep that helped to reset my circadian rhythm and straighten the off-kilter axis of my world. Now that I'm retired--meaning now that I can read late into the night and sleep as late as I want the next day--it doesn't seem nearly as important. At least to me.

Levi and Gimpy, who always eat supper around five-thirty, are going to listen to their body clocks and wonder--about four-thirty tomorrow--why I'm so slow about fixing their meals. And what about dairy cows? Will they have to wait an extra hour to be milked, or do farmers have to set their alarm clocks (and roosters) one hour earlier to keep the cows comfortable? And what about kids who have to walk home from school? Will any of them have to walk home in the dark now that the sun sets earlier?

So, I'm searching my mind and counting as I go. Is that it? Are there really only three groups of beings negatively affected by the end of daylight savings time? Or can you add to this list?
1) Pets and other captive animals used to being fed at a certain time;
2) Heavy-uddered dairy cows, for whom being fed on time is only a secondary concern;
3) Children (possibly mythical) who are still allowed to walk home after school. By themselves. In this day and age.


This week's Saturday Song Selection is nothing if not timely, and it's one most of you will remember. Unless you're sleep deprived, but that'll be resolved by tomorrow.


The song is "Time in a Bottle" by Jim Croce.
Thanks to KEN NIEVES for posting this song and its lyrics on YouTube.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Friday Night Rites

Five years after I moved into this house a new high school was built to serve students who live in this area. The school is about a mile from my home by car or half a mile as the crow flies. I rarely think about the school unless I'm going there to vote (it's my polling place) or I happen to pass it at a time of day when the school-zone speed limit is in effect.

In autumn, though, Friday nights often make me aware of the school's proximity. Even with the windows closed I can hear the band playing. Not the whole band, really, just the drums. The heartbeat of the band. If I step outside, I can sometimes hear the football crowd, its roar reduced to a whisper by the time it reaches my ears. Levi and Gimpy, with their far superior hearing, cock their heads in the direction of the distant sounds, then begin to bark at them.

Those sounds excite me in their familiarity. I never cared much about football games, but I liked our high-school boys in their padded uniforms and helmets, and I loved the energy of the crowds that cheered for them. Sitting high up in the bleachers with my friends, the cool fall air kissing our cheeks with promises of relief from East Texas's scorching late summer days, I felt like I belonged there. Almost.

When the sounds of 2012's home games waft through the Friday-night air, vivid memories come flooding back. I still remember the words to some of the cheers we chanted. I remember how much I loved the trumpet solo when the band played "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White." Good memories, all of those, with good feelings accompanying them.

Then another memory surfaces and I think about the fact that once in a while, even as I clapped my hands and stomped my feet in rhythm with the rest of the fans in that stadium, I wondered how it was possible to feel so alone in the middle of all those people. Funny. Even that darker memory feels no worse than bittersweet after such a long time.

It's odd how a cluster of barely audible sounds have the power to transport a person from a current Friday night to other ones more than fifty years earlier. I smile when I think about the kids in that nearby stadium tonight. They have no idea how long these fall football games will stick with them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When Any Day Could Be Halloween

Subtitle:  This one's for you, Judy.

See these two neatly dressed girls standing on the front porch of their home? See their pretty hair, the result of bobby-pinned curls made by the patient hands of their mother? See the innocent smiles on their faces?

Now picture the two girls in an upstairs bedroom of the same house. They sit cross-legged on the wooden floor, their shoulders hunched, heads close together. They aren't smiling now.

Between them on the floor is a small brown suitcase with a wide beige stripe on top of it. The older girl opens the suitcase and exposes the record player inside. She places a 78-rpm record on the turntable, lifts the mechanical arm, and carefully sets the needle down on the outer edge the record. Both girls lean back slightly and wait, their eyes bright with anticipation.

"Who's that coming down the street?
Are they shovels or are they feet?
It's the new schoolmaster.
What's his name?
Ichabod, Ichabod Crane." 

The girls were my sister and I, and that record I loved so much was the soundtrack of a 1949 Disney animated film based on Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," narrated and sung by Bing Crosby. It was the story of Ichabod Crane, a skinny, timid but charming schoolteacher, the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel whom Ichabod loved, and the big, brutish Brom Bones, Ichabod's rival for Katrina's affections. At the heart of the story was a frightening Halloween legend. My favorite part of the record--the part that never failed to send a delicious chill down my spine--was Ichabod's fateful encounter with that legend's dreaded Headless Horseman.

This morning I found a YouTube video clip from that Disney film. The legend is explained in the first three and a half minutes of the clip, but if you want to go right to the scary part, start listening at the 3:40 mark.

I use the word "listening" deliberately. You can watch the clip if you choose--the animation is colorful and entertaining--but I would challenge you to close your eyes and just listen. Travel to the 1950s and huddle in that bedroom with my little sister and me. Do as we did: listen and let your imagination create the images as Ichabod tries to flee the Headless Horseman. To a child's mind it's the best kind of scary.

Happy Halloween, boys and ghouls!


Thanks to Sherry Cherry for posting this video on YouTube.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

In my next life . . .

. . . I hope to be born as my granddaughter's child. She has a way of making every day an adventure for her son, and he thrives because of it. I'm sure he has no idea that every child isn't lucky enough to be born into a world so rich in imagination and opportunity.

Yesterday my granddaughter and her husband hosted a family-style Halloween party, and I was blown away by the festive atmosphere: the Halloween-themed food, the decorations, the activities she had planned for the children. Of course, the kiddies themselves were the best part of the event. They threw their little costumed selves into the spirit of Halloween without reservation. Running a close second to the kids were the costumed adults. It's wonderful to be part of a family in which responsible, hard-working, level-headed grown-ups are occasionally willing to throw seriousness aside and get in touch with their sillier sides.

Here we have Betty, Bam-Bam and Barney Rubble.
(Their best friends, who have a baby girl, came
dressed as Fred, Wilma and Pebbles Flintstone.)

Zombie Cop and Lady Pirate
(Zombie Cop explained that the "C.O.P."
on the party-store badge stood for
"corpse on patrol.")

"NO! I'm NOT Bam-Bam! I'm OWEN!"

Baby Monkey, Monkey's grandfather, Banana Tree, and Top Banana

After I dressed in my homemade costume, I was a little concerned that it might be too scary for the smaller children, but I needn't have worried. My granddaughter took one look at me and said, "Look, Owen! Grammy is dressed as the Itsy-Bitsy Spider."

On a side note, the only person at the party who was older than I am said, when she recognized me, "You look just like an old lady!" Ahem. I am an old lady. But I was wearing a disguise. I was supposed to look like an old black-widow spider.

This is Thai, dressed as a skeleton. Or else it's a skeleton, dressed as a pug.
I'm really not sure.

Owen's decorated playhouse was a big attraction before,
during, and after the organized games. (Using the term
"organized" loosely here; kids will be kids.)

All lined up and ready for a sack race.

The sack races were winding down as we said our goodbyes. We rounded the corner beside the workshop and met a small group of sack racers coming toward us. Owen was at the end of the pack. He was no longer wearing a sack, but he hopped anyway, lagging behind and smiling widely in the joy of the experience.

As I wrote above, it would be great to be my granddaughter's kid.

What I've Been Reading

Home Safe
by Elizabeth Berg
A pleasant enough way to spend a few hours.

True to Form
by Elizabeth Berg
I loved this book! Its many cultural references to the days of my own youth helped me identify to its protagonist, Katie, and Katie's story reminded me that, even in simpler times, life could get complicated.

Red Bones
by Ann Cleeves
My one-word opinion:  tedious.

The Bodies Left Behind
by Jeffery Deaver
Jeffery Deaver is one of my favorite story-tellers, and in this book I enjoyed the thrill of attempting to escape from killers. On foot. Through dark and scary woods.

The Litigators
by John Grisham
This book is a fun read and would probably be even more fun as a movie. I hope it becomes one.

To read a description or reviews of any of these books,
click on its image above.