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.