Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

"My dear acquaintance, it's so good to know you
For strength of your hand
That is loving and giving,
And a happy new year
With love overflowing
With joy in our hearts for the blessed new year!" *

Wishing all of you a wonderful 2014!

The song is "My Dear Acquaintance" by Regina Spektor.
Thanks to George T for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

What I've Been Reading: The Last Books of 2013

Though other activities have eaten into my reading time in 2013, books have remained my number-one form of rest and relaxation, their pages (paper or digital) my favorite places to get away from it all. I've read some really good ones this year, along with a couple of clunkers.

Without checking back to be sure, I think it's honest to say that the best of all the books I've read in 2013 is the one I'm reading now, the one I'll be tucked under the covers with tonight when the horns and fireworks signal the arrival of the new year. I'll pause in my reading to note the passage of time in real life, but my thoughts won't stray far from the time travel events that take place in Stephen King's 11/22/63. When it comes to writing sentences designed to lure readers into suspending their disbelief and buying into a story, nobody does it better than King. This book is so much fun! 

Here are the books that have carried me through the 2013 holiday season:

Last of the Summer Wine: Home Comfort
by Peggy Poe Stern

Finding Out
by Sheryn MacMunn


The Secret Sense of Wildflower
by Susan Gabriel


Whisper My Secret
by JB Rowley


Mother of Ten (Whisper My Secret)
by JB Rowley


Sycamore Row
by John Grisham


by Cheryl Strayed


Life on the Mississippi
by Mark Twain


Defending Jacob
by William Landay


by Stephen King


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

Wishing you happy reading in the coming year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Maybe I Should Earmark Veterinary Funds

About 9:30 last night, at their request, we turned all the dogs out into the backyard. When they came back inside ten minutes later, Gimpy's right shoulder was covered in blood. It took only seconds to determine that the blood was coming from a deep cut on the tip of his ear. We don't know for sure what happened, but the most likely scenario is that Levi grabbed Gimpy's ear while they were playing chase--which they do almost every time they go outside.

Gimpy didn't seem to be in pain. In fact, he didn't seem too concerned at all. Levi, on the other hand, could see the blood and was quite interested in what I was doing to his brother. He hovered over us with his big head in the way until Kim physically removed him so we could get Gimpy into the bathroom. The two of us washed and treated the cut and held the ear compressed in a towel while we washed all the blood off his fur. Just when we would think we had the bleeding stopped, it would start up again all of a sudden, over and over. If this had happened in the daytime, I would have worked on the cut awhile longer to see if we could avoid having to go get it stitched, but it was late. I finally decided to bite the expensive bullet and get the cut checked out by a vet. 

Kim and I quickly got dressed (I threw clothes on over my pajamas), and Kim drove into Baton Rouge to the nearest emergency veterinarian while I sat in the backseat with Gimpy and held a clean white towel to his ear. By the time we got to the animal hospital, where there was enough light to check the cut again, the bleeding had stopped. In fact, there wasn't a single drop of blood on that towel. Gimpy must have stopped bleeding during the four or five minutes we were rushing around getting ready to leave the house. Isn't that typical? We briefly considered turning around and heading back home, but what the heck. We were already there; might as well let them have a look so we could be sure. 

The veterinarian who checked Gimpy's ear was careful not to touch the wound. She told us dogs' ears are notorious for bleeding extensively. "Once you get the bleeding stopped," she said, "don't do anything to it. Don't touch it. Don't even look at it. Wait at least a couple of weeks, and then you can start working on washing the scab out of it." She did give (well, sell) us antibiotics for him: two big capsules, twice a day, for two weeks, so at least we don't have to worry about infection.

Gimpy seemed to consider the whole experience an adventure. First he enjoyed the exclusive attention of the two humans in the household. Later, he was the only dog at the animal hospital and wagged his tail happily while he explored every inch of the lobby, sniffing all the big plants and the various bags of specialty foods on their tall shelves, and made friendly overtures to the "other Goldendoodle" he could see, the one reflected in the glass doors of the entrance.

For the next couple of weeks we'll have to make sure to let Gimpy and Levi outside separately. I learned the hard way not to get between them when they're chasing one another, so we can't allow them to even start that game until Gimpy's ear is healed. They also chew each other's ears sometimes when they wrestle in the house, but I can put a quick end to wrestling without getting knocked down, so I will. 

Sure wish they knew some less rowdy games.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Unbridled Silliness

Photo by Michelle G.
Her name is Olivia. She's two years old and has eyelashes for days. For Christmas she got a microphone, complete with a red-and-white plastic stand. Someone turned up the volume for her, and she happily entertained us, swaying and grinning as she sang the old standards: "The ABC Song," "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," and a snippet or two of "The Little Drummer Boy." As the day wore on she needed a nap, but she was too happy and too busy. She'd crawl up on someone's lap for a moment, snuggle her head into a shoulder, then hop off and start to play again. Her favorite toy (her version of a security blanket) is "Monkey B," a hemmed square of brown plush fabric attached at its center to a brown plush monkey head. At one point she climbed up on the sofa next to me, placed Monkey B carefully on top of my head, called me "Grammyhead," and cackled with joy. Olivia has a big laugh for such a little girl. I loved it. I love her.

Photo by Kalyn H.
His name is Owen. He's three and-a-half years old with blond hair, blue eyes and a huge imagination. He took Olivia's mic stand apart, assembled two pieces of it into an L-shape and called it a gun. (It doesn't matter if we don't give toy guns to children; boys can and will make pretend weapons out of anything.) He quickly shot a couple of us dead, then, possibly remembering previous discussions, reconsidered and announced, "No, this gun doesn't make people dead; it only makes them sleep." His mother warned him to be careful with the tubular-plastic assemblage he was waving around, so he looked each of us directly in the eye as he aimed it at us and said sweetly, "It only shoots marshmallows." Then he pulled the imaginary trigger and made a soft "pow" noise. We all fell over anyway, of course, which delighted him enough to up the ante: "Now they're fire marshmallows!" he shouted. Like Olivia, Owen was happy but tired--and wired. He laughed and laughed, talked a blue streak, changed the mic stand/gun into a one-segment "freeze gun" and froze his Nana, my daughter, into a stiff human replica of all sorts of things, one after the other. He aimed it at me and declared me to be a "chicken eyeball," getting such a kick out of his own good joke that he didn't even notice I had no idea how to portray such a thing. I loved it. I love him.

I am quite willing to be a Grammyhead, a chicken eyeball, or anything else it takes to make those little ones laugh out loud. So were the rest of the adults at our Christmas gathering. I loved it. I love them all.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Visits with Santa

Every new Christmas evokes memories of all the ones we've celebrated before. Over the past week I've dug out some kids-with-Santa photos, so today, for the sake of nostalgia, I'd like to invite you to walk back through time with me. 

Unless you were alive and old enough to experience 1971, 
you'd never dream that the daughters of that year's mini-skirted moms
begged for ankle-length dresses like these that my beautiful girls
 wore when they visited Santa in Miami, Florida.

This earlier photo of Kim on Santa's knee was taken in Orange, Texas.
This dress was short, a bright red plaid that she wore with red tights.
By the length of Kim's hair and the fact that there's no matching
picture of Kelli, I'm guessing this was December of 1964. Kelli would've
been only nine months old then. If she'd been even a year older, I'm sure
I'd have propped her on Santa's lap one way or another.

Stepping back still further in time, here's my sweet sister, Judy, with Santa.
(I must note here that this Springfield, Missouri
Santa looked much more realistic than the Texas and Florida Santas
of my daughters' days. Except for his deep tan. Could that have been
windburn, do you think, from all those long sleigh rides?)
This must have been no later than 1950, because the next picture
shows me with the same Santa, and by the Christmas of 1951
I no longer believed in him. 

Of course, it could have been 1951, and I could have agreed to sit on Santa's lap
only to help keep the secret safe for Judy. I feel certain Mother would have asked me to do something like that, and it might explain the goofy expression on my face.
Or, if it was 1950, as I first guessed, maybe my eyes were lifted up because
I was concentrating on remembering every single thing on my Christmas list. 


Maybe not.


Actually, now that I think about it, that expression seems kind of familiar.
I believe I've seen it on someone else's face. Fairly recently, I'm pretty sure.

Hm. Let me think...




Still thinking...




Googling images...




Oh, here it is! I remember now.

Merry Christmas, y'all!

May the Grinch stay away from 
your house all season long.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I'm Always Excited About Christmas Once It Gets Here

It's been twelve days since my last post -- twelve days of mental (and some physical) preoccupation with Christmas shopping. Every year I swear I will never again wait so late to get it all done, and every year I end up right here at the last minute with the shopping unfinished and no idea what to buy or where to find it.

There's no excuse for this. There are reasons, but reasons and excuses are two different things.

The number-one problem is that I lack confidence in my gift ideas and can shoot them down faster than I can come up with them. My gift list isn't a long one, but the people on it are important in my life. Selecting presents for people I hold in such high esteem involves too many days of head scratching and cyber browsing on the front end of the process, narrowing the time allotted for boots on the ground (or rubber-soled shoes, to be more precise) at the mall, reducing the number of shipping days available for online purchases.

Equally troublesome is deciding what goodies to take to the Christmas festivities. I don't have a specialty. Anything I make will be just one more option on a menu that has all the taste bases covered already, so I've been scouring websites and cookbooks for that one recipe that will be unique and will appeal to the most people. Never mind the great-grandchild with the nut allergy; he can eat something else if he has to. Never mind the half dozen folks who don't normally eat carbs; they'll (we'll) gladly suspend that abstinence on an important holiday. I'm looking for a recipe that is delicious and also fairly easy--just in case it turns out to be so good that it gets elevated to specialty status.

Anyway, here I sit, four days before Christmas, ready for it in spirit but not completely ready in any tangible way. This is the point where--every year--I become a little bit frantic and have to fight the urge to crawl into bed, cover my head, and wait till the whole thing passes.


About those carbs I mentioned earlier: I cut them out of my diet a little over three years ago and saw almost immediate health benefits. I hadn't felt so good in years. Somehow, this past summer, I started getting careless, eating a couple of cookies here, a few crackers there, and cake on special occasions. It seemed harmless, but it led to a recent spate of "oh-what-the-hell" indulgences that I'm paying for physically--especially in the stiffness of my joints. I'm experiencing leg pains reminiscent of those that put me on a walker for a while a few years ago, and still I'm eating malted milk balls, spicy pumpkin pecan ice cream, and sweet-potato chips, promising myself I'll be "good" again after the first of the year.

When I get up after sitting for a while, my knees are too stiff to stand up straight, so I can't walk until I've stretched them out for a minute. I used to not know that sugar was responsible for all that inflammation in my body. Now I do know, but I'm planning to poison myself for a week or so longer before I begin to correct the situation.

How stupid is that?


In my last post I wrote about getting a new dryer. It was delivered and set up sixteen days ago, and is doing a fine job so far. If I could change anything about it, I'd like for the signal at the end of the drying cycle to be louder, and I'd like for the store's computer system to be upgraded.

Almost every day, sometimes twice a day, I get an automated call from Sears, apologizing for the fact that my dryer delivery has been delayed and requesting that I call a certain phone number to reschedule. I've called that number. Three times. Each time I had to hold for several minutes to make contact with a (barely English-speaking) human, who asked an endless list of scripted questions and then requested that I hold again "for about four minutes" so they could "update the system." I can't imagine why they can't update the system without me, so I've chosen to hang up instead of holding for the second time. Maybe that's why my calls haven't done any good yet.

I've also tried to notify them online that the dryer is here. The choices on the customer service menu lead me to a place where I can reschedule delivery, but not to a place where I can report that I already have it.

Shaking my head.


Also shaking my head about the weather. As I write this, It's 77° F. outside with high humidity and brisk winds, and it's supposed to get quite stormy before the day is over. I think I'll stop writing, change into shorts and a T-shirt, and treat my dog boys to a short game of fetch before the rain sets in.

Then I'll get back to thinking about Christmas some more.

Monday, December 09, 2013

I Have Met Santa. His Name Was Tim.

When I called to schedule a dryer repairman, the girl who answered the phone told me that the charge for a diagnostic call would be $69 plus tax. If I decided to proceed with the repairs, that fee would be waived in favor of actual repair costs.

Two repairmen showed up at the appointed hour, both friendly guys, and the one who seemed to be in charge took a look at my dryer and said, "This is one of the best dryers ever made." I thought so, too. It had worked beautifully for sixteen years. Then he turned the dryer on, listened for about ten seconds, and said, "This is not gonna be good news: it's the motor." I wasn't too surprised. The same day the dryer had started overheating and cutting itself off, it had also begun making a screeching noise, the distinct sound of metal on metal.

The repairman continued, "I can pull this out and take it apart if you want me to, but I already know it's the motor. Replacing the motor will cost about $400, not counting any other bad parts we might find when we're in there. We'd be glad to have your business, but I don't know if it makes sense to repair it, especially right now while all the holiday sales are on."

I agreed with him. "That's what I've been trying to decide," I said. "Now that I know what it would cost to repair it, it makes more sense to buy a new one."

"Look," he said, "I'm gonna give you a break. I'm only gonna charge you $29 for this call."

"I appreciate that," I told him, "but the girl already told me what the charge would be, and I chose to take that gamble."

He said, "Well, I have the authority to make decisions about charges, and I'm gonna charge you $29." He then spent another fifteen or twenty minutes talking to Kim and me about which brands of dryers hold up the best, which ones to avoid, what features add value and which gadgets people don't actually use all that much. By that time Kim was on the internet looking at sale prices on dryers. He walked over to stand by her shoulder and point out the best of the bunch on her screen at that time.

By the time the two men left, wishing us a merry Christmas, I felt much better equipped to make a good purchasing decision than I'd felt before their arrival. Kim and I both got online, narrowed our searches to the "good" brands, and compared notes on our findings.  Within an hour after the repairmen left, we'd placed an order for a new dryer with features similar to the one I was replacing. Between a holiday sale and a "cyber discount," I got it for 39 percent off, and it was delivered the next morning.

So, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Sometimes he doesn't have a big, snowy beard, and sometimes he wears a mechanic's uniform and drives a white repair van, but if he comes to your house, you'll know it's him.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A Year of Broken Things

There are only 24 days left in December, three-and-a-half weeks until the year ends and we get to wipe the slate clean, right? I hope the only thing that breaks between now and the stroke of midnight that signifies the beginning of 2014 is the spell that seems to have been cast over my household in 2013.

I've spent a huge chunk of my meager savings this year on things that have broken down and needed to be repaired or replaced. In February I told you about our broken sewer line. In July we had to replace the roof. Also in July my cell phone lost its texting capabilities. In mid-November the microwave oven met its demise, and days later I had to ante up for some car repairs. Earlier this week the dryer broke down. I ended up having to replace it. Actually, the story of the repairmen who came out to look at the dryer is a rather nice one, and I'll write about in a day or two when I have more time.

In the meantime, it's Saturday, and I'd like to dedicate this week's Saturday Song Selection to my 40-year-old house (with special emphasis on its wiring, plumbing and climate-control systems); to my appliances (large and small); to all the electronic things I managed to live without just fine before I got them and learned to love them; and to my eight-year-old automobile that I've only driven 42,000 miles and expect to drive for the rest of my life. May your parts be strong and your lives be long.

"When you try your best but you don't succeed,
When you get what you want but not what you need.
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep,
Stuck in reverse,

"And the tears come streaming down your face,
When you lose something you can't replace,
When you love someone but it goes to waste,
Could it be worse?

"Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones,
And I will try to fix you." *

* The song is "Fix You" by Coldplay.
Thanks to TheNewCitizen for posting the video and lyrics on YouTube.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Okay, Where Were We?

Here's what's been going on since my last post:

I've had a birthday. The good news is that both my daughters shared it with me. Their company was delightful and our lunch was delicious. The bad news is that I ate way too much cake. It's also a bit of a bummer that I'll never see seventy again.


I went to the ophthalmologist for an appointment that was two years overdue. He said my vision is better now than it was the last time I was there, then he said I need to get new glasses every year at my age. Like I'm going to go shell out several hundred bucks just because I've turned a few pages of the calendar. I guess not. I'll go get new glasses when the ones I have now don't do the job anymore.


We celebrated Thanksgiving at my younger daughter's house. The food was wonderful, as was the visit with the family, even though some of my favorite people were absent this year. I missed them, but we had fun anyway. Isn't it amazing how much entertainment one two-year-old girl can provide?


As Kim and I prepared to leave Kelli's house on Thanksgiving night, Kelli noticed that one of my tires was low. Turns out all of them were low. I tried to remember when I last checked the tire pressure. Hmm. I bought these tires either right before or right after I retired. That was in the summer of 2009. Is it possible that I haven't...? Nah, surely not. Anyway, Kim aired them up for me, and I bought new valve stem caps to replace the ones that have mysteriously gone missing in the last four years, so I'm good to go again.


Still on the subject of my car, I've driven it 190 miles since it failed inspection last month. That's 40 miles farther than the inspection mechanic said I'd need to go for the sensors to record all the data necessary to give his equipment an accurate reading. I now know how to test whether or not the sensors are in the "ready" state, and they're not yet. Guess I'll go for another drive tomorrow.


Or maybe I won't. Tomorrow is when a repairman is scheduled to come out and fix my dryer that has suddenly started overheating and turning itself off mid-cycle. There's good airflow through the vent, which eliminates the only potential problem I could have corrected without professional help. The dryer's old, but it looks great and has worked fine up until now. I hope it won't be too expensive to fix. With all the holiday sales right now, I'll kick myself all over the place if the repair cost approaches the sale price of a new one.


In the past week we've had three days when the temperature fell into the mid-20s, followed by three days in which people have been walking around in their shirt sleeves. Frankly, the three days of cold weather were more than enough for me, but the dogs seemed to love it. Click the photos to enlarge them and see how much they enjoyed the frosty mornings:

All of them except Lucy, that is.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"I just looked around and he's gone..."

What I remember most about that day is the overwhelming sense of despair, a heaviness that settled over America's shoulders in the hours after the news broke and may never lift entirely.

JFK was my president. I hadn't voted for him -- wouldn't be old enough to vote until four days after his death -- but I'd stood toe-to-toe with my parents and other potential voters more than once before the 1960 election and argued vigorously on his behalf. He was an inspiration to me and to so many others whose hopefulness and innocence would be shattered by the bullets fired on a November day in Dallas, Texas.

I've been to Dallas, toured the museum at the Texas School Book Depository, and paid my respects to President Kennedy there by writing what he meant to me in a book provided for that purpose. I was there with my younger daughter, Kelli, and her daughter, Kalyn. Because Kelli was the baby I'd carried in my belly on the day the president was shot, it was especially meaningful to be with her at that museum, to give her a sense of the historical events that took place shortly before she was born and to affirm for both of us that life goes on beyond our bleakest days.

We stood outside the Texas School Book Depository on a sunny July day and watched the people come and go. It seemed such an ordinary place, a downtown building typical of its era, a structure incongruous with its tragic history.

Texas School Book Depository - Dallas, Texas - July 1996

We walked on the grassy knoll, a patch of green that wouldn't have drawn a second look until the people who stood on it fifty years ago today witnessed the assassination of a United States president.

Grassy Knoll - Dallas, Texas - July 1996

It's been half a century since those fatal bullets flew. The wounds still feel fresh.


The song is "Abraham, Martin & John" by Dion.
Thanks to Somewheremaybe for posting the video and lyrics on YouTube.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Genie in the Vacuum Cleaner

In August of 2011, I wrote about buying a new vacuum cleaner and getting a $75 gift card:
After a little online research helped me pick out a new vacuum, one that happened to be on sale at the time, I called my daughter Kelli and asked her if she wanted to go shopping with me.
We went to the mall, where the department store had one vacuum cleaner left in the model I wanted, and we had to wait for about 45 minutes until the lone salesclerk was available to help us. I might not have been so willing to wait except that the sale price was $80 off the regular price and I had good company while I waited. When the clerk finally rang up the sale, we were surprised when the cash register displayed a message: "This purchase qualifies for a free gift card." I whispered to Kelli that I didn't want to wait another half hour for five or ten dollars, and right after that the clerk finished entering the sale information on her gift-card screen and another message popped up stating that the value of the gift card was $75. The clerk was as shocked as we were and had to check with her manager to verify that this sweet deal wasn't too good to be true.
I now think of my new cleaning appliance as my "lucky vacuum."
I must have been back to that store half a dozen times in the two years since then, always expecting to spend that gift card. Each time I left without buying anything, the card still tucked away in my wallet.

Last week Kim needed something from there, so I went with her. Once again I didn't find anything I wanted or needed--until Kim finished shopping and I stood beside her in the check-out line, where I saw Amazon.com gift cards for sale. I bought three $25 Amazon cards with the $75 department store card and walked out with a big grin on my face.

That same afternoon I uploaded all three cards to my Amazon account and ordered two Kindle books that were priced beyond my pre-gift-card budget.  The next day I learned in an e-mail that the purchase of one of those books, a best-seller in the mystery genre, entitled me to buy more books in a select group of mysteries and thrillers for the highly discounted sum of $0.99 each. I think I downloaded about ten of them.

Kim called my vacuum cleaner "the gift that keeps on giving." Can't wait to get into those bargain books and see what kind of prize is in there.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

See Ya Later, I'm Going for a Drive

Back in September I wrote about the pesky "service engine soon" light that had been shining on my dashboard for a while. Yesterday, because Kim was off work and could pick me up at the auto repair shop, I took the car in for service. I should have done that six weeks sooner, before my inspection expired, but time got away from me. You know how that goes.

Anyway, the problem was diagnosed as two faulty sensors. Five hours and $400 from the time I dropped the car off, it was repaired and ready to go. Kim drove me back to pick it up, and I went straight from there to the inspection station. It flunked. The mechanic who did the inspection explained that there was most likely nothing wrong with the car, but the repair work had reset all the sensors, and I need to drive the car approximately 150 miles to allow the sensors to collect enough new data to determine if everything is working properly.

I have put fewer than two thousand miles on my car in the last year. I told the inspector that, then rolled my eyes and said, "I guess that means I need to take a little trip."

"Oh, no, that won't work," he replied. "It can't be highway miles. It has to be in-town driving, with lots of starts and stops."

From what I've since learned on the Internet, each model of vehicle has its own specific "drive cycle" pattern that must be followed in order for the sensors to record the necessary amount of information to satisfy the inspector's test equipment. I have thirty days to get this done and pass the inspection test. For the next two or three weeks I'll have to drive around and around town at low speeds on busy streets, repeatedly passing the police station and the sheriff's office and bored motorcycle cops, all the while sporting a giant red sticker on my windshield that just screams, "PULL ME OVER!"

Holy crap!

It also occurred to me yesterday to check the expiration date on my driver's license. Good thing I did; it was due to expire on my birthday next week.

After leaving the inspection station, I soldiered on to the DMV, where I carefully parked with the rear, un-red-stickered end of my car facing the building. The drivers license renewal process went smoothly and even fairly quickly, thank goodness. The new photo is ugly, clearly reflecting the deer-caught-in-the-headlights frame of mind I was in, but I don't care about that. At least my license will be up to date when I get pulled over.

I hope those pull-over stops don't mess up the drive-cycle pattern.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Odds and Ends and Those Darn Dogs

This time last week the temperature was beginning to drop. Sunday afternoon I pulled the electric blanket out of the closet and rigged up its wiring behind the headboard and under the bed to take the chill off the sheets before bedtime. I also set the thermostat so the central heat would come on if the temperature dropped too low in the night. Which it did.

For two nights in a row the temperature hit the freezing level. I kept the heat on in the house all day and dressed in sweats and thick socks. The third night the heat didn't come on, and I kicked off the covers because the room was too warm. The next afternoon I slid the switch from heat back to air conditioning, and the A/C has been on ever since. Yesterday I wore shorts and sandals to play ball outside with the dogs.

I picture the weather gods as geeky guys in a control room, pushing buttons, turning dials, and laughing so hard their sides hurt. Cut it out, you guys. It's not funny.


My microwave oven died. Well, I suppose that's not technically true; it had irreversible turntable failure, so I euthanized it. It was eight years old and getting quite rusty where condensation had accumulated under the turntable, a sure sign that death was imminent. The decision to put it to rest came about because the turntable stopped turning altogether. The cooking function still worked, but I convinced myself that the little turntable motor, straining to turn and unable to do so, was a fire hazard. The fact that I'm spoiled and lazy didn't have anything to do with it.

Remember when microwave ovens were new to us and we had to manually turn the dish of food several times during the cooking process to evenly distribute the heat? It wasn't a big deal then, but it sure seems like a lot of trouble now, don't you think?

Anyway, Kim and I both checked microwave oven reviews online, then we went shopping and picked out one that was on the list she'd made. It looks and functions very much like the last one (different brand), but the inside is operating-room clean, and I'll be a lot more careful about wiping condensation out of this one. Long may it nuke.


I was on the phone with my sister a couple of weeks ago when I had to interrupt our conversation to holler at Gimpy, who had suddenly decided to dig a hole under the gardenia bush. He's a fast digger, so the hole grew to about four inches deep by the time he understood why I was yelling at him. Apparently that hole is the perfect size to meet his needs.

Levi and Gimpy take play breaks under that bush all the time. Now, when they lie there, Gimpy positions himself so he can drape his front paws over the side of the hole. (This is Louisiana, folks. Think swampland. Any holes we dig are mudholes.) Not only does Gimpy get his paws muddy, he drops the tennis ball into the hole and bats it around like he's kneading dough until it's covered with a thick coating of smelly mud.

When they've rested enough, Levi is the one who sticks his mouth into the mud to pick up the ball and bring it back to me to throw. My reaction? To use a local phrase, "Ain't no way!" I make them wait while I go inside to get a paper towel, then make sure they're watching while I use the towel to pick up the ball and throw the whole mess in the garbage.

I wonder how many balls we'll dispose of before they make the connection that the mudball is a game ender.

"Before" and "after" tennis balls.


At the center right of the photo above you can see the wicker basket (formerly a dog bed) that holds the dogs' toys. We keep it up out of their reach so we can monitor which toys they're playing with and not leave them unattended with anything that might present a choking hazard. When the dogs show an interest in the toy basket, we set it on the floor and let them choose. The boys, Levi, Gimpy and Oliver, like to empty it out, one item at a time. Lucy doesn't show much interest in it.

The other morning the boys had taken all the toys out of the basket and were playing happily with one thing, then another. Kim and I were nearby, working on our separate computers at opposite ends of the den, when we heard a loud crunching sound. We glanced at each other, simultaneously asked, "What was that?" and got up to look.

It was Lucy. She was lying comfortably in the empty toy basket on the floor between us, eating the sides of it. How convenient!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Linda thought about writing a book. She did not.

I've just finished reading the worst-written book I've ever read. Granted, there have been other books I didn't like and didn't bother to finish, but this time the bad writing is what kept me reading. Each groan-provoking grammatical error, misused word, or ill-written phrase spurred me on to find another one that might be even worse, essentially turning a reading experience into a contest. Winning my vote as the funniest sentence in the whole book was this one: "K-----n stopped walking suddenly as did her breathing." Bwahahaha!

There were more misplaced commas and apostrophes in this book than I've ever seen in any other. The correct usage of there/their/they're was a crapshoot. The author's attempt at dialect missed the mark. "Don't chya"? No, I don't. He used gimmicks. Many different paragraphs in the book contained consecutive sentences in which the main character wanted to, thought about, considered, or expected to do something that she did not then go ahead and do. For example, a passage might read (paraphrasing here): "K------n wanted to ..." do whatever. "She did not. She wanted to ..." do something else. "She did not. She wanted to tell him ..." such and such. "She did not." Ho hum.

I suspect that the author had been advised at some point in his life to add more details to his writing in order to bring it to life and help the reader visualize the action. He did that mainly by telling us which hand K-----n used to touch her brow and which balled-up fist the angry man smacked into the palm of which other hand. The book contained so many right and left descriptors that I was not surprised (but was tickled) when I read this one: "S----n affectionately patted her on the rounded bottom of her right butt-cheek ..."

This was a cheap, self-published e-book and I got what I paid for. I can't complain about wasting my money. The fact is that I've bought a lot of inexpensive, self-published books in the last couple of years and have been pleasantly surprised by most of them. Self-publishing is a great way for new authors to get their work in front of readers who might enjoy it and be willing to pay more for future works by the same writers. I wholly support the self-publishing concept.

I also support the concept of kindness, so I'm not going to tell you the title of the book I've written about here or the name of its author. I will tell you that the book has four-and-a-half stars on Amazon.com and that I wish I'd bothered to balance out the five-star reviews I read before I ordered it with the one-star reviews I didn't read until today. I've tried not to put anything in this post that might lead the author here through a Google search. Who am I to disparage his work on my piddling little blog? I'd no more tell him his book stinks than I'd tell him his baby is ugly.

He tried, by golly. He has guts. He put his name on his work and he put it out there, which is way more than I can say for myself. I've certainly never written a book. I've never thought I could, never even tried. But now that I've read his book? Heh. Let's just say that the bar has been lowered. I'm thinking maybe I could do it after all.

Don't hold your breath, though.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

What I've Been Reading

There were plenty of days in the past two-and-a-half months when I didn't find time to write, but not a single day passed that I didn't manage to carve out at least a little time to read. Reading keeps me grounded. A good story wipes the worries and to-do lists out of my head and allows me to rest for a while in a different time and place. There are usually problems to be solved between the first page and the last, but they aren't my problems.

Because so much time has passed since the last "what-I've-been-reading" post, the newest list of books is a long one. Posting images of all of them would cause this page to take too long to load, so I'll make photo links of my four favorites from this batch, stick to text links for all the others, and leave the one clunker off the list entirely.

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

These is My Words (P.S.) by Nancy Turner


Sarah's Quilt by Nancy Turner


The Star Garden by Nancy Turner

Looking for Jane by Judith Redline Coopey


Redfield Farm by Judith Redline Coopey

Waterproof by Judith Redline Coopey

Okatibbee Creek by Lori Crane

An Orphan's Heart by Lori Crane

The Legend of Stuckey's Bridge by Lori Crane

Coming to Rosemont by Barbara Hinske

When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Clay's Quilt by Silas House

Sweet Song by Terry Persun

Burning Sassafras by Annie Stokes

Just Run by Chris Culver

The Tide of Life by Catherine Cookson

The Dwelling Place by Catherine Cookson

Unseen by Karen Slaughter

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs

Just for the record, I'd be delighted to read other books by these authors. Some of them (like Catherine Cookson) have been favorites for a long time. Others I've only discovered recently, but they'll be on my watch list from now on.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Peaceful Days and Changing Times

What a gorgeous day! Sunshine, mild temperature, gentle breeze--all the things I love about our southern autumn, which typically lasts only about three weeks.

Kim's been living here a full week today, a very pleasant week, in fact. Kelli left here minutes ago after a fun visit that lasted just long enough to remind me again what a sweetheart she is. The four dogs played in the backyard for about an hour; now they're back indoors and each one is sacked out on the horizontal surface of his/her choice.

Tonight we get our extra hour back, the hour we lost in March when we sprang forward for Daylight Saving Time. I don't know what you'll do with your extra hour, but I plan to sleep through mine. If I get lucky, there'll be sweet dreams during that extra sixty minutes of sleep, and I do enjoy waking up with fun dream images still fresh in my mind.

It would be easy on a peaceful day like today to forget about government upheavals, international espionage, airport shootings, and hateful political propaganda spread by otherwise nice people on Facebook. Maybe I'll just put all those discouraging things out of my head for a day and focus on the good things of life.

Today's Saturday Song Selection is a ridiculously obvious choice, but I'm feeling like doing everything the easy way today. Besides, it's a great song and still relevant after fifty years. I wonder if Bob Dylan had any idea that the times would be a-changin' as slowly as they have.

The song is "The Times They Are A-Changin'," by Bob Dylan.
Thanks to comoassimvelho for posting this video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scary Is in the Eye of the Beholder

The waning moon was large enough to cast a faint light across the sky, but everything at ground level was steeped in shadow. The nether regions of my backyard were dark. Very dark.

It was past bedtime. Twenty minutes had elapsed since I'd let the dogs outside for the last time of the day. I stepped out onto the patio and called them, softly, so I wouldn't wake the neighbors. They didn't come. I called again. And whistled. Still nothing, except, in the distance, the muffled clanging of something bumping against the wire fence.

I went inside to get a flashlight, shined it from one corner of the yard to another until its beam fell on Gimpy and Levi. They were standing on their hind legs, stretching upward against the fence, their front paws batting at something I couldn't make out in the dim light. I could see that something's eyes, though. 

If I'd go closer, I thought, I could grab Levi by his collar. I knew that if I could do that,  Gimpy would follow Levi back to the house. In my ankle-length, navy-blue bathrobe, the one with the hood, the one that looks black in the dark, I traipsed through the damp grass toward the back fence. The dogs started barking. I wondered what the neighbors would think if the noise woke them and they looked out to see a dark-hooded form, holding a torch, moving through the pre-Halloween shadows.

Once I got close enough, I could see that the object of the dogs' interest was a possum (an opossum, if you want to get technical about it, but here in Louisiana we don't do technical) that was huddled on the fence rail, its prehensile tail just out of their reach. The possum wasn't moving, and the dogs wouldn't leave it. To lean over far enough to reach Levi's collar, I'd have had to turn my back on a possum that would be no more than two feet away from my head and shoulders. No way did I want to put myself in that position.

I turned around and slogged back to the house to get Levi's leash. And the camera. If I was going to risk letting a possum jump on my back, I was at least going to get blog photos out of the deal. 

Once more I trudged toward the back fence, a witchlike figure with a digital camera strapped around my neck as if I'd been elected public relations coordinator by a majority vote of the coven. I raised the flash attachment, pointed the camera at a patch of darkness in the general area of the dogs and the possum and hoped for the best. After half a dozen shots, the flash quit working (it's working fine today), but I got some pictures of the creepy thing.

Gimpy in the red collar, Levi in the black. 

Stealthy night visitor.

I got the leash on Levi and dragged him away, Gimpy followed as predicted, and we all went to bed and slept soundly. This happened several nights ago. I haven't seen any sign of the possum since. I know it's out there, though, probably nesting somewhere with its mate, the two of them raising a pouchful of ugly possum babies, teaching them to lurk in the darkness and look like they're planning to pounce. 

Are we safe in our own backyards? I think not.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yesterday We All Died Laughing

Yesterday nine women--eight students and one instructor, all over the age of sixty--squeezed around an oval table in a pleasantly decorated room at the local center for senior citizens and took turns reading aloud to each other. It was the last class of our six-week session of Life Writing, and we were reading the homework that had been assigned at the end of the previous class: to write our own obituaries. Does that sound like fun?

You can't imagine how much fun it was. For one thing, we had snacks, brought from home to celebrate the completion of our writing course. We filled Halloween-themed paper plates with hummus and carrots, crackers and dip, caramel popcorn and fun-sized candy bars, then we chomped and chewed through eight recitations of death notices and the boiled-down biographies that accompanied them.

I think most, if not all, of us approached the assignment reluctantly, and, judging by the end results, we each approached it from a unique perspective. There were basic similarities, of course--names, dates, and lists of survivors--but there was so much more than that. The collection of readings ranged from poignant to humorous, from brief to expansive. There were burial instructions, last wishes, expressions of faith and love, and even some softly sung phrases from favorite funeral hymns. The experience we'd expected to be morbid turned out to be beautiful.

In between the readings, we talked. We talked about mortality, our own and that of loved ones, about special moments we'd personally experienced at funerals, about final gestures of love for the deceased. We spoke of the ridiculously high cost of publishing obituaries in the newspapers. We laughed about how squeamish our adult children are when it comes to discussing death and the decisions to be made in its aftermath. Somehow, in the years that have passed since we were their ages, we've begun to make peace with the inevitable. It was freeing to discuss end-of-life issues and ideas openly, to bat them around with no greater sentiment than if we were discussing plans for an upcoming ladies' luncheon.

The six-week Life Writing course that ended yesterday was the second session I've attended, the third for some, the first for others. Our instructor drives a long way to and from each class, but she keeps coming back, keeps urging us to dig deeper, write more, go into detail, tell our truths so that those who come after us can learn who we were and how we lived. And we do. We write about things that matter to us; in that way we get to know each other better and faster than we might if we were to meet under other circumstances. We write, we read, and along the way we build trust and friendship.

We're all different, the nine of us, and it's those differences that keep our stories fresh and interesting. What's most important about our stories, though, what makes us care about them and their writers, is that they remind us of the countless ways in which we're all the same.

Yesterday's class was reminiscent of the time just after a funeral's over, when family members and close friends gather at home, pull off their neckties or kick off their high-heeled shoes, eat comfort food from covered dishes delivered by thoughtful neighbors, and swap favorite anecdotes about the dear departed. They know there'll be plenty more crying in the days to come, but right at that moment it feels so darned good to laugh again.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Moving Day

Kim and her friends have been here with the big van, unloaded the furniture and boxes that are moving here with her, and gone on to take the rest of the load to the storage facility. We'll have other boxes and random smaller items to move in the car over the next couple of days, but as of tonight, she'll be living here again. She stayed with me for a couple of years when she first came home from New York, but that was more than a decade ago. It'll be a change for both of us. A good change, I think.

Her dogs, Lucy and Oliver, moved in a week ago so she could pack without their interference assistance. They're getting along beautifully with Levi and Gimpy, perhaps because Oliver established his alpha status a long time ago, and there's no longer any need to fret over it. Gimpy and Lucy have taken a special liking to one another. He waits for her before he goes outside each morning, and she occasionally seeks out his company even as she behaves as if Oliver and Levi don't exist. Levi has assumed the role of canine interpreter, serving as spokesman for the pack when it comes to letting me know what they want or which dog is in the process of breaking a rule. I appreciate his watchful eye; it's as if he's channeling Kadi.

It'll take a few days to get everything sorted out and in its proper place. It'll probably be an ongoing process for Kim and me to make the personal adjustments necessary to accommodate each other's needs and habits, but we're going into this arrangement with an abundance of love and goodwill, we both want it to work, and I'm confident it can.

It's a brand-new day.


The song is "Brand New Day" by Van Morrison.
Click here to read the lyrics.
Thanks to vanthemanxx for posting this video on YouTube.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sometimes We Get Lucky

In May of 2007 I wrote about favorite photos I'd misplaced two years earlier. At the time of that post I'd given up hope of ever finding them, assuming I must have accidentally tossed out the file folder they were in when I'd last seen them. Last week, going through yet another plastic storage box stacked in the closet of what will soon be Kim's bedroom, I found the file with the photos in it. I felt as though this discovery was a reward from the universe, a vote of confidence that Kim and I are on the right track with her upcoming move into my home. It also occurred to me that there was a subtext to the message: Stop giving up so easily! I'll try to remember that.

The fact that these photos are some of my favorites doesn't necessarily mean that my daughters are all that crazy about them, so I hope they'll forgive me for posting them in spite of that. I bet you'll understand why I love them.

These little pirates are Kelli (on the left) and Kim (with her jaw stuffed full of candy) when they were 2 1/2 and 4 1/2, respectively. We lived in Bridge City, Texas then and snapshots from that period are rare.

This shot was taken in 1969 at a scenic overlook somewhere between Texas and Ohio. I don't know where the dog came from, but the expressions on the girls' faces show that they were more interested in the dog than in the mountains.

My daughters wouldn't be caught dead wearing these clothes in public, and they may kill me for posting this one. There was a lake behind our first house in Georgia--a lake full of catfish and also full of mallards. Unfortunately, the banks of the lake were covered in ducks--t, and the girls weren't allowed to fish in anything but their oldest, worst clothes. I hope that sufficiently explains Kelli's high-waters and Kim's shorts/tights combo.

Same lake the following summer (1973). Nobody ever swam in the lake (again because of the mallards), but there was a city swimming pool three blocks from our house. I like the view of the lake in this one, but what makes it special is the view of my daughters' pretty hair. I still remember how Kelli's curls and Kim's long, straight locks felt in my hands.  Edited 5/3/2014:  I have edited the above photo after realizing that this post gets a large number of hits from people who have seen this picture on Google Images and clicked on it for a closer look. One daughter is wearing a yellow bathing suit, the other an orange one, but I guess those colors don't show up clearly in a thumbnail photo. Ewww! 

This one was taken much later ('78 or '79) after we'd moved from Georgia to New York, back to Georgia, and then here--Louisiana. Kim was touching up her Farrah Fawcett hairstyle before heading off to her after-school job. So pretty!

This is my other pretty girl, Kelli, in 1980. I don't know where she got her natural curls, but I love the way this photo shows them off. The sofa in this picture is the bargain couch that lasted more than twenty years. On the wall behind Kelli are two of four door mirrors, with halves of placemats, cut lengthwise, between them. I had asked my husband months earlier to hang them for me, and he kept putting it off, explaining the complications of the arrangement I wanted. One afternoon it dawned on me that I could use a small book to measure the distance between the mirrors and a larger book, its spine laid on the back of the sofa, to measure where the bottoms of the mirrors should be. I had them all hung in an hour.

There were other photos among the missing ones, now recovered, but these are the ones I remembered when I'd think about what I'd lost. The universe gave them back to me, now I'm putting them out in the blogosphere.