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.