Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Longest Stretch

Today marks the end of two straight months in which I've posted something here at Velvet Sacks every single day. That's a new record for me, something I haven't even attempted before in the seven years I've been blogging. I'm mentioning it now so you'll understand my frustration upon coming home from a class today and discovering that I had no Internet service. It would have been a bummer to get this close and not be able to post on the last day of the second month.

I did all the rebooting, unplugging and reconnecting the router--everything I know to do--several times over, then called the service provider. Their recorded message on two different numbers was, "This number is temporarily unavailable." I figured that if they were getting so many calls that their phone lines were jammed, they were having a worse day than I was. I decided to leave them alone and give them a chance to solve the problem.

Up until that point my day had been a nice one, so I tried not to let myself get antsy over a lost Internet connection. People, that was hard! As difficult as it was for me to relax until service was restored, one would think this computer is a life-support system. Can I not breathe until I've checked email? Will my heart not pump until I've seen the latest Facebook newsfeed?

Anyway, it's back. Everything is okay now. That being said, it was nearly my bedtime when service was restored. As much as I'd like to write something significant today to mark the consistent-blogging milestone, I'm too sleepy now to do it. Instead, I'll offer you a photo of my first gardenia of 2013:

Bless it's eager little heart. I found it when I took the dogs out early this morning. Normally I'd be cheered by the first gardenia, but our weather has been so crazy this year--even this week--that my first thought was, "Aw, that poor little flower doesn't know it's committing suicide." I wish it luck--and warmer temperatures than the weatherman has predicted.

Good night, folks. I'll see you tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Paint Marks of Distinction

Last week I had my first Acrylic Exploration class and enjoyed it very much. We spent the first hour of the class learning about the composition of the paint, how to mix it, color values, light and shading, complimentary colors, etc. In the second hour we pulled out our art supplies and put the first hour's art theories into practice by mixing some colors of our own. I learned a lot that should be useful once it sinks in, which hasn't fully happened yet. I also learned how much paint it's possible to get on one's hands, arms, and clothes in a single hour.

Midway through the class our instructor passed out copies of the picture we'll all be painting in this six-week course. It's trees! You know how much I like trees, right? I took that as a good omen. The first part of our homework assignment was to do a rough sketch of the picture on the canvas or paper we'll be painting on--not a work of art, just enough detail to differentiate between the light and dark areas of the picture. I did mine a couple of days ago. I'm not proud of it (there are some errors in proportion), but you folks have always been supportive, so I'll go ahead and post it here. That way we can see the step-by-step process as the weeks go by:

The other part of the homework, which I did this afternoon, was to experiment further with mixing paints:

See that messy palette paper on the right? I ended up with a mirror image of it on the underside of my forearm. Fortunately, acrylic paint washes off skin fairly easily. (It isn't quite as easy to get it out from under fingernails.)

I realized by the end of the first class that I was going to need some kind of smock or apron, so I've been thinking ever since about what it should be. I knew it needed to have sleeves and should be easy to put on and take off. The fabric ought to be heavy enough to keep paint from soaking through onto my clothing. I thought maybe a men's heavy work shirt would do the job. This morning I was getting ready to go see if I could find one at a thrift store when I spotted this shirt-jacket hanging on the back of a chair next to my backdoor:

It's a little too big, so it'll fit easily over a blouse or sweater. The zipper takes care of the on-and-off issue, and the cuffs will keep the sleeves of my good clothes from falling out. Also, the wide-wale corduroy is nice and thick. It's perfect. I wanted to laugh . . . and I wanted to cry.

The shirt belonged to my mother. It's one of the things of hers that I brought home after she died thirteen years ago. I thought the small stains on the sleeve would wash out, but they didn't, even after several washings. The shirt has been in my closet all that time. I've never worn it even once until I grabbed it last week to wear while I hosed mud off the dogs' feet. Mud washes out, but paint is a different story. I postponed my shopping trip, but the idea of getting permanent paint on Mother's shirt unsettled me.

After thinking about it for a while, I remembered that Mother was the one who drew pictures for my sister and me until we were old enough to draw our own. She was the one who brought home reams of paper and a steady supply of crayons and encouraged us to use them. It was she who bought paint-by-numbers kits when we were adolescents and let us work on them alongside her.

Knowing Mother would support my efforts to try something creative at this stage of my life, I made a decision: I will wrap myself in this shirt and know that she's there in class with me, that every spot of pigment and every splash of color that falls on her shirt will reinforce the memory of something we once enjoyed together. The little stains that have kept the shirt hanging at the back of my closet for so many years will no longer matter. In fact, now that the shirt has a new purpose, I'm thinking it might become one of my favorite things.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The sun has been shining all day today. What a refreshing change! I must say that whatever has been going on in the atmosphere has made for some lovely skies this winter:

Looking toward the southeast from my yard - 1/4/13 - 7:25 AM

Looking toward the southeast - 1/8/13 - 6:56 AM

Looking toward the south - 1/10/13 - 5:26 PM

Looking west  - 2/23/13 - 5:42 PM

Looking northwest - 2/23/13 - 5:43 PM

Looking northwest - 2/26/13 - 5:37 PM

The labels on these photos probably don't mean much to you. Would it make a difference if I told you that once I started labeling them, I got confused and had to stop and draw a map of my house with little arrows and compass points around it?

We aim to please.

Monday, February 25, 2013

From Puppy Dogs to Nuttiness in Five Short Paragraphs

We had a heavy thunderstorm last night: so much rain, thunder, and lightning that Levi and Gimpy chose to forgo their usual outdoor, pre-bedtime ritual. Thinking that might mean a trip outside in the middle of the night and wanting to be sure they could wake me if they needed to go out, I invited Gimpy to stay overnight in my room instead of in his crate in the den. I've made him that offer a number of times since he came to live with us ten months ago, but always before it's made him nervous, causing him to pace until I'd finally get up and open the gate to let him go back into his crate. He put himself to bed in that crate the first night he was here, effectively ousting Levi, and seems to feel secure in there. I understand. I like the comfort of my own bed, too.

Last night, though, Gimpy settled right down and stayed all night in the bedroom with Levi and me. When I woke up this morning, he was pressed against the frame of my bed, sound asleep on top of the sandals I use as slippers. Levi was sleeping soundly, too, as far away from Gimpy as he could get and still be in the room.

Today I drove into town and saw just how much rain we actually had during the night. The waterways along my usual route were swollen so full that I think a good sneeze might have generated waves high enough to wash across the road. At one point I wished for my camera, but I wouldn't have been able to use it, because I was afraid to take my eyes off the road. It's weird. I've been driving that curvy, two-lane road for more than thirty years and have never once drifted off the edge of it, but when the water gets high like it is today, I have the strongest sensation that I'm going to run off the road and into the water.

That isn't a new feeling. For years I've felt as if deep water has not only the power but also some kind of malevolent desire to pull me into it. This is not a full-blown psychosis, thank goodness, just an irrational thought that flitters across my mind when there are no guardrails or handrails between me and a body of water. I have no problem getting into a creek or even into the ocean as long as I can wade in from the shore, but driving close to open water or walking out on a pier gives me a case of the willies. Even walking near my daughter's in-ground swimming pool makes me nervous enough that I give it a wide berth.

Speaking of weird things, this post is soooo not what I intended to write when I sat down here tonight. That's weird, too, isn't it? How did I get so far off track? Maybe the wicked waterways aren't the only things I need to keep my eye on. Maybe the full moon is messing with me, too.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Involuntary Confinement

A neighbor around the corner whose deep backyard extends all the way across mine must have bought himself a new gun. Twice in the last couple of weeks I've heard shots being fired and looked out to see him having target practice. This afternoon I heard gunfire coming from a different direction, either across the road that runs in front of my house or  across the side street, near the corner. Apparently another neighbor is practicing to use deadly force if necessary.

I've read about the rush to buy guns in light of pending legislation. Although I think it's stupid for someone who never thought they needed a gun before to run out and buy one now "just in case," I respect their right to give in to their Fox-News-induced fears and buy a weapon to protect themselves.

I also understand that I live outside the limits of an incorporated city and that, without the restrictions of city ordinances, people in my neighborhood are as free to fire their guns as they are to shoot off their fireworks, which I'm also not crazy about. If they're going to have guns, I guess it's a good thing that they're working to improve their aim, but the sound of gunshots in the neighborhood still scares me.

I've mentioned here before that my little sister was shot by a ricocheting bullet fired by a neighbor who was aiming at a squirrel up in a tree. Fortunately, that neighbor was far enough away that the only damage to my sister was a big red welt on her neck. Unless my current neighbors are crack shots--and I have no way of knowing if they are or not--I'm concerned about the possibility of a bullet going astray. One bullet. That's all it takes.

So go ahead. Knock yourself out playing with your guns. Levi and Gimpy and I will stay in the house until you finish.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bound for Beaumont - The Epilogue

For those of you who wanted to know what happened after the conclusion of yesterday's post, here are a few more paragraphs that were included in my first draft. Once I remembered that the assignment was to write about the trip--not about everything that came afterward--I had to brutally chop off this ending.

I'll pick it up with the last sentence of yesterday's story:


. . . I didn't know that our summer vacation would turn out to be a life-changer.

My sister was happy to have a daddy at last. I, on the other hand, was convinced my life was ruined. I cried for days. It turned out that Judy was right and I was wrong. School started in late August, we made friends, and by the time 1958 rolled around, we had all adjusted remarkably well. In the spring of 1960 Mammaw and Packy sold their Springfield home to Southwest Missouri State University, which was expanding its campus. They followed us to Texas and bought a small house a few blocks away from ours. Judy and I, along with our new stepsister, Donna (Tommy's daughter, a year older than Judy), and our new baby brother, Joe (born in the summer of 1958), grew up, got married, had children of our own, and survived our joint and separate struggles with as much grace and dignity as we could muster.

Judy and I are now best friends. The events that followed that trip to Beaumont set us on different geographical paths, but the bond between us is strong. Twice we've traveled together back to Springfield. Twice we've stood side by side, remembering, on the university tennis court that now covers the ground where our childhood home once stood. Judy still lives in Texas; I've been in Louisiana for the past thirty-six years. Each of us is surrounded by children and grandchildren; both of us are happy where we are.

Yet both of us, after all these years, still call Missouri home.


UPDATE:  Feb 23, 2013, 6:53 PM:

Having once again realized at the last minute that it's time for a Saturday Song Selection, I checked to see what was the number-one song at the time of our 1957 vacation to Beaumont. I learned that the most-played, most-sold song from before our trip until after Mother and Tommy's wedding was Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear." I had it on a 45 rpm record back then, but it wasn't one of my favorites. I much preferred the flip side of the record, which also happens to be more suitable for a post about one romance beginning (Mother's) and one ending (mine).

The song is "Loving You" by Elvis Presley.
Thanks to mountain824 for posting the video and lyrics.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bound for Beaumont

The following is what I've written for my first Life Writing homework assignment, which was to write in detail about a trip. It's my understanding that I'm supposed to read this aloud at our next class. (Note to self: take water bottle.) You'll have to read it to your own self if you're interested, but I'll make it up to you by throwing in some pictures at the end.


There were five of us packed into my grandparents' maroon-colored 1949 Chevrolet Coupe that summer we went to Beaumont, Texas. It was 1957, I was fourteen, and I was the only one in the car who had never seen the ocean. The aunt and uncle we were traveling to see had promised us a trip to the beach, which would have excited me if the prospect of being away from my 15-year-old boyfriend for an entire week hadn't made me so gloomy and grouchy.

Our trip had begun at home in Springfield, Missouri. I was born in Springfield, as was my sister, Judy, four years after me. About two years after our father came back from fighting in World War II, when I was five and Judy was one, Mother and Daddy divorced. Mother took Judy and me with her to her parents' home, and we'd lived there ever since.

Mother was doing most of the driving on our way to Beaumont. Packy, my grandfather, rode shotgun. He never was a big talker, and on this trip he seldom spoke up at all except to tell Mother what she was doing wrong. Packy's name was Lewis Saunders. Martin's Furniture Company had made him retire from driving their delivery trucks when he'd turned 65, but he still considered himself an expert driver. "Wanda," he'd say, "you ought not to be so close to that center line. Get over." Or, "Wanda June, slow down, now."

Mother had a quick answer for every one of Packy's driving tips. Mother was smart. She worked for B.C. Christopher & Sons, a brokerage firm, where she spent much of her day standing on a step-stool in her high-heeled shoes, transferring stock prices from ticker-tape to chalk numbers on a blackboard. She was beautiful, too. She would turn 34 a couple of weeks after this trip, but she regularly lopped seven or eight years off her age. She could get away with it, at least until I showed up next to her, skinny as a rail but as tall as she was, and called her "Mother" in front of everyone. It hurt my feelings how much that annoyed her.

Judy sat on one side of the backseat, and I slumped on the other side in a deliberate demonstration of my abject misery. Mammaw, our grandmother Lola, rode between us. Mammaw was a peacemaker, a happy person who appreciated the grace of God, the beauty of nature, and the goodness she believed was in the hearts of all people. Judy and I needed that buffer. We had a classic case of sibling rivalry, fussing and feuding over everything from toys to clothes to the nuances of each word that poured forth from the other's mouth. Mammaw would keep us from sniping at each other and from leaning into one another's space, even if it meant riding for twelve hours with her feet straddling the drive-shaft hump in the floorboard.

The '49 Chevy was a two-door car, so no one could get out of the backseat unless someone first got out of the front. I felt trapped in there. The July temperatures only made it worse. We couldn't have survived the heat with the windows up, so Mother and Packy kept theirs rolled down, creating enough wind in the car to keep our hair blowing over our eyes and into our mouths. The little windows next to the backseat were small, triangular in shape, and could be opened about three inches by sliding them back. Judy and I opened ours as wide as they would go and pressed our faces against the open spaces. We deemed the additional air movement worth the price of getting peppered with road grit and smacked by the occasional flying insect.

We drove straight through from Missouri to Texas without stopping to spend the night. Occasionally, between restroom and gasoline stops, Packy would take over the driving so Mother could get some rest. She slept with one eye open when he was at the wheel, her opinion of his driving being at least as critical as his opinion of hers. Somewhere along the way, after hours we'd spent napping, complaining, heaving dramatic sighs, and consuming homemade sandwiches while the wheels kept rolling, the hills of the Ozarks gave way to the flatlands of East Texas. I saw my first mirage on a two-lane Texas highway and was mesmerized as I watched what appeared to be water in the road disappear magically at our approach. That may have been the first moment it occurred to me that this vacation might not be all bad.

Eventually we pulled into the driveway of my aunt and uncle's single-story, white-painted-cinderblock house. Their sons, Gary, Lew, and Kenny, spilled out the front door to greet us. The boys were stairsteps--eight, seven, and five years old, respectively--and were much taller than they'd been the last time I'd seen them. The whole family had lived down the street from us in Springfield until a couple of years earlier, when they'd moved to Texas to be near my aunt's brother.

My uncle, Neale, was Mother's older brother. He was a quiet, gentle man. He smoked a pipe, handling it in a way that gave him the appearance of being lost in thought, though if he ever had a deep thought, he didn't express it. In Springfield Neale had worked at the U. S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. Now, in Beaumont, he worked as a television technician at an appliance store. That seemed to me like a smart career change: the new job was safer than the old one, and television was getting to be a really big thing. At home we could  already get three channels.

Neale's wife, Yvonne, had grown up in Beaumont. Later she'd been a member of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and had served in England during World War II. That's where she met Neale, who was also in the service. Now her full-time job was reining in those three boys. Yvonne was rather plain in appearance, except for her pretty eyes, and I'd once overheard Mother uncharitably questioning her intelligence behind her back. Yvonne's strengths were kindness (unlike Mother), tolerance, and resilience. Whatever happened, she rolled with the punches.

Once, during our visit in Beaumont, my uncle invited his boss home for supper to meet the Missouri part of the family. Yvonne baked a cake for the occasion. Unfortunately, ants found the freshly baked layers cooling on the kitchen table and quickly swarmed over them. Yvonne was unperturbed. Judy and I were shocked to see her scrape off most of the ants with a table knife, hand-pick the stragglers, and proceed to frost the cake. When she produced it at the end of our evening meal, we kept our mouths shut and politely declined dessert.

The highlight of our vacation occurred a day or two after our arrival in Texas. Mother, Judy, and I piled into the car with Yvonne and the boys, all of us in our bathing suits, and drove to the beach at High Island. I was impressed by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico that seemed to go on forever. The beach itself didn't live up to the expectations I'd built up based on beautiful pictures I'd seen. Hurricane Audrey had slammed into the Gulf Coast only a month earlier, and the shore was littered with driftwood and other debris washed up by the storm. Everything looked dirty. The exposed particles of broken shell in the sand made me uncomfortable about walking on it in my bare feet, but I managed to tiptoe into the water with the others and stay there long enough to be able to tell my friends I'd been swimming in the ocean. Not that I really knew how to swim.

Thinking we could at least go home with genuine southern suntans, we spread our blanket on the sand, ate our picnic lunch, then stretched out on the blanket. We'd been sunbathing longer than I considered fun when a car pulled up beside us, a convertible with three men in the front seat. They stopped to talk to Mother and my aunt, asking where we were from, how did we like Texas so far, all the usual questions one would ask of strangers meeting for the first time.

The men were headed to a seaside restaurant/bar that we could see from where we were standing. They invited us to join them for a cool drink, and Mother surprised the rest of us by accepting their invitation. The restaurant, which I believe was called Breeze Inn, was nearly empty inside. I was happy to be out of the sun. We sipped our cool drinks--soft drinks for the women and children, beer for the men--under breezes stirred by ceiling fans. While the adults talked and laughed at one big table, we kids sat at a separate one nearby, keeping a watchful eye on the restaurant owners' enormous, sleeping dog, the first Great Dane I'd ever seen.

Everything was different after that day at the beach, and I don't remember much about our activities after that. I'm sure we must have done some sightseeing, but I couldn't tell you what sights we saw. I mostly remember that Mother was spending every evening with Tommy, the man she'd liked most of the three we'd met at the beach. He'd pick her up when he got off work, and they'd be together until after the rest of us were asleep. Mother seemed to be having a great time, but Judy and I were left with our grandparents, aunt, and uncle, none of whom shared Mother's energy or zest for fun, and three cousins who had always driven us crazy merely by being boys.

Our trip back to Missouri was much like our trip to Texas a week earlier. We were headed in the opposite direction, of course, and some of us had sunburns that itched like crazy. There was also a new tension in the car. Mother was quieter. She'd cried when we left Texas, and I couldn't understand why. She'd known Tommy less than a week, so it couldn't have been about him.

Back home in Missouri, I was happy again. My boyfriend came over on our first day back. He sat with me on the front-porch swing and seemed glad to see me. We had the whole rest of the summer ahead of us. Except for the sunburned skin that was peeling off my body in sheets, everything seemed to be back to normal.

I didn't know then that Tommy would call Mother long-distance every single night or that he would come to Missouri and marry her on the 8th of August, three weeks from the day they met. I had no idea that the day after their wedding we would pack up everything we could fit into a small trailer, say goodbye to everyone and everything familiar to us, and move to a little Texas town near Beaumont. I didn't know that our summer vacation would turn out to be a life-changer.

This is the 1949 Chevy when it was new, parked in front of my
grandparents' house. Several years later 
Mammaw and Packy bought it from Mammaw's sister Cleda
 and her husband, Ernest. Cleda is pictured here at left with her
daughter, Nadine, and Nadine's daughter, Kathy.
Springfield, Missouri, about 1949.

Our cousins, (L-R) Kenny, Lew, and Gary.
Beaumont, Texas, July 1957.

My uncle, Neale, and his car, which was the one we rode in to the beach.
Beaumont, Texas, July 1957.

My aunt, Yvonne.
High Island, Texas, July 1957.

Linda (me) on the left, my sister Judy at right,
Kenny in front, Gary in rear.
High Island, Texas, July 1957.

My mother, Wanda, with her nephews, (L-R) Gary, Kenny, and Lew.
High Island, Texas, July 1957.

Mother and Yvonne.
High Island, Texas, July 1957.

The men from the beach. That's Tommy in the middle.
High Island, Texas, July 1957.

With Packy and Mammaw (Lewis and Lola) in front of
the home we'd be leaving a day or two later.
(L-R) Linda, Packy, Mammaw, Judy.
Springfield, Missouri, August 1957.

Surprise! Everything turned out okay!

Standing (L-R): Linda, Wanda.
Seated (L-R): Donna (Tommy's daughter), Tommy, Judy.
Orange, Texas, November 1957.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Plumb Crazy

Day before yesterday I wrote that I needed a plumber and had to wait until the next afternoon for one to come. Wrong. He rescheduled and didn't come out until this morning. He and his assistant spent their first hour here digging and bailing water, another ten minutes locating a break in the sewer line at one spot and a collapsed pipe in another place, and the next hour calculating the charges that will add up to a four-digit bill by the time they finish fixing it tomorrow. Ouch!

Home ownership is not for the faint of heart. One has to be brave in the face of broken pipes, air-conditioners that zonk out in August, and roofs that are vulnerable to southern storms. But if you love the nest you've built there, you do the same thing you do when your child is sick or your dog develops a limp: you buck up, arrange for help, and pull out your wallet with a smile on your face because you'rs so appreciative that someone is helping you make things right again.

 I'm especially grateful that this round of plumbing issues didn't disrupt access to running water or flushing toilets. When a plumber shows up to fix those kinds of problems, it's hard to stop myself from kissing him.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sycamore Haiku

Dappled sycamore
catches shafts of sunlight, then
tosses them to me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Little Bits

Life Writing
I've had my first class in the writing course I'm taking--so far, so good. It's a small group of people, I like them all, and that's all I'm gonna tell you, because the first thing we learned was: "What happens in Life Writing stays in Life Writing." So much for blog fodder.

It's evident that the challenge for me is going to be adjusting the topics assigned for homework so that I can write about something I haven't already explored to death here at Velvet Sacks. This week we're supposed to write about a trip we've taken. The last traveling I did was the trip with my sister to the Smoky Mountains in 2011, but I milked that one for all it was worth as soon as we got back. (I still use pictures from that vacation on my photo blog.) It would be very easy to regurgitate an old blog post for homework, but I won't learn anything if I do that. And learning is the whole point.

Hm. There is a possibility that I'll post my completed homework assignments here. Judging by the small number of comments I get, what happens at Velvet Sacks stays at Velvet Sacks.

The other class I'm taking is Acrylic Exploration. It's been nearly thirty years since I went through an acrylic-painting phase, and I enjoyed it despite the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. I registered for this class because I thought it might be fun to try it again after learning a little something about it.

Today I got the list for class supplies and headed out to Michael's to buy everything. Holy crap! Who knew paints were so expensive? This had better be fun, and I'd better be reasonably good at it, because I'm gonna have to play with these paints at least weekly for the next three years in order to get my money's worth.

The Blessings of Rural Life
My son-in-law called this afternoon to relay a message from the man who rents the house in front of mine. That man is one of the neighbors I wrote about yesterday who were out mowing their lawns, making mine look worse, and he reported that there's water standing in the front yard. The front yard is on a little hill, so rainwater drains off easily and standing water is a sign that something is wrong. Because of the location of the water, my son-in-law's best guess is that the pipe leading away from my septic tank is broken. Uh-oh.

I've called the plumber, who can't get here before tomorrow afternoon. That's fine, since I'm not having problems in the house (knock on wood!), but if he doesn't start digging until tomorrow afternoon, it's likely that he'll have to come back the next day to finish the  job, and I hate when things drag on like that. I'm just speculating, of course. I know plumbing is about s--t, but I don't know s--t about plumbing. Maybe it'll be a quick fix.

Cell Phones
My son-in-law had attempted to reach me on my cell phone, but I was at Michael's and didn't get the call. My smart phone might as well have had a lobotomy; I don't use it enough to justify paying for the extra Internet connection. In fact, when it comes to using that phone, I'm as brainless as it is. I know how to make and answer calls, and I know how to text. There are no other features I use often enough to remember them, so when the phone somehow gets switched in my purse from ring to vibrate, it takes a minute to figure out how to fix it. Actually, it takes about an hour and a minute: it's always at least an hour before I think to check it and discover that I've missed a call.

As for turning off the phone? Pfffft! I don't have a clue how to do that. I used to know,  when the phone was new. Now I don't even think about it until the rare occasion when I see a turn-off-your-phone sign upon entering a movie theater or a doctor's office. Being unprepared to whip out the instruction manual on the spot, I have no choice but to ignore the sign. Afterwards, I forget about it again until the next time.

According to Levi's inner clock, that's what time it is now--and he's right. He just came over, laid his head in my lap, and rolled those big, caramel-colored eyes up to meet mine. I like the sweet way he lets me know when he needs something, so I'll reinforce that behavior by stopping this right now and going to dish up the kibble.

Later, folks.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Grass, Grass, a Pain in the . . .

Here we are in mid-February, and all around me today I heard lawnmowers being cranked up and put to work taming the grass and weeds that are already growing like . . . well . . . weeds. We've had so much rain and so many warm days that the vegetation clearly believes spring is here. If you see me standing in the backyard with a calendar in my hand, talking to the healthiest dandelions you've ever seen, you'll know I'm having a come-to-Jesus meeting with them and asking them to cut that nonsense out.

The man who cuts my grass called last week to see if I was ready for him to start regular mowings again, and I asked him to hold off until I call him. For one thing, the ground is still holding water, and I don't want him to get bogged down in it like he did last year. And for another, I thought I could forgo the expense of lawn care at least until March. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Yeah, I know. It is what it is.

Now that everyone around me has mowed, I suppose I'll have to rethink it. I don't want to be known as that neighbor.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Labor of Love

It's a glorious Sunday, cold but sunny, and I've appreciated it mostly through the windows. A couple of days ago I got new genealogy software in the mail, so today I sat down to copy the data on 7,900-plus close and distant kin from one program to another. So far it looks like everybody made the journey unscathed.

I made the switch in preparation for posting our family tree online, something I didn't foresee when I started gathering information twenty-four years ago. Because I expected to keep everything private, I felt free to cut and paste notes from all over the web, sometimes making notations about sources, sometimes not. Oops. I guess we learn as we go.

A couple of members of my extended family have already started online family trees, but I think they're doing it the hard way, entering a few people at a time. I'm hoping to be able to upload the whole shebang at once. (Don't worry, family; doesn't publish any details about living people, not even their names.) Before I can do that, there's some clean-up to be done.

Today I worked on eliminating duplications that the new software brought to my attention. That happens when John Doe marries Jane Smith, who, unbeknownst to either of them, is his fourth cousin. (Or maybe they did know it; I'm not one to judge.) If I enter John's family history, going back generation by generation, then do the same for Jane's, sooner or later, bingo! We have a duplication. The same thing happens when siblings of one family marry siblings of another, possibly their nearest neighbors on the same side of the mountain. Or the bayou. It's going to take me a few days to straighten it all out, but it'll be nice to have it done.

Of course, no genealogist can complete a lengthy family-history task without taking a break to do a quick search in the hope that some new nugget of information will pop up to be admired and savored. Today's nugget was this photo I'd never seen before:

The couple at the far left of the photo are Martha and James Barclay, my great-grandparents.  They had twelve children over a span of twenty-seven years, my grandfather being third from the youngest. Martha passed away in 1915 at only fifty-six years old. I'm not surprised. Click on the picture and see how tired she looked.

And so it goes. I find them, catalog them, and send them a little love with every keystroke. I don't know who will pick up this torch when I'm ready to pass it, but I work with confidence that someone, somewhere, will be as happy to know about these people as I am. It's just a matter of time until somebody else gets hooked.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

"Thou Mayest"

I was excited to see Mumford & Sons perform at the Grammys last weekend. I heard their music last year for the first time and have been a fan ever since. My favorite song of theirs is called "Timshel," and it's this week's Saturday Song Selection. Curious about the title, I looked it up earlier in the week, expecting to find a one-sentence definition of the word.

Wow! I found a lot more than that. In fact, I've had a mini-education through reading online discussions about the title word, the song, and the meaning behind it all. It seems the song itself is based on John Steinbeck's East of Eden, and the title comes from a particular passage in which the characters discussed how various translations of the Bible can influence its followers to assign different interpretations (and, therefore, beliefs) to God's words. Here are a few relevant paragraphs from East of Eden (emphasis is mine):
“After two years we felt that we could approach your sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis. My old gentlemen felt that these words were very important too—‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Do thou.’ And this was the gold from our mining: ‘Thou mayest.’ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin.’ The old gentlemen smiled and nodded and felt the years were well spent. It brought them out of their Chinese shells too, and right now they are studying Greek.”
Samuel said, “It’s a fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”
“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.
Timshel. "Thou mayest." There's that "free will" we've all been told about: the right to decide whether to do right or wrong, to choose how we will respond in the face of life's blessings or misfortunes. That's a lot to think about. It gives the song depth and substance and makes me like it even more.


The song is "Timshel" by Mumford & Sons.
Thanks to mab24pred for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Expanding My Comfort Zone

When I started this blog seven years ago, I wrote in the "About Me" section: "I'm never happier than when I'm at home with my dogs and a really good book." That's still true. Last month--the nastiest, rainiest January in recent memory--I went beyond the boundaries of my yard a grand total of three times.

The forecasters were predicting foul weather for the beginning of the new year, so I stocked up on groceries the day before New Year's Eve. As a result I was able to postpone my first shopping trip of 2013 until a clear day sometime around the 9th or 10th of January. Again I stocked up and again my supplies lasted about a week and a half. Realizing the month was nearly two-thirds gone, I made a second grocery-shopping trip and bought enough to tide us over until the beginning of February.

By that time staying home had become some sort of a weird contest in my mind. A notice came in the mail that Levi's shots were due mid-January, but I decided they could wait a couple weeks. I downloaded low-priced Kindle books instead of going to the library. Those thirty-one photos for the One-a-Day Photo Challenge? I photographed something for every single topic either inside my house or from the vantage of my yard.

My third trip away from home in January could have been avoided, but I have trust issues almost as old as I am, so I won't leave bill payments in the mailbox with the flag up. To me that just shouts, "Hurry! Hurry! Come steal my checks!" I pay all my bills online except one, so I drove to the post office during the last week of the month and dropped that check in the mail. Apparently I place greater value on financial responsibility than on whimsical challenges, which is a good thing, I think.

When February arrived and I went out on February 1st to buy groceries again, I felt unbelievably free, no longer locked into some crazy, self-imposed confinement. I like being able to come and go as I please. I've always liked it. It's just that I like being home more. Sometimes I think I like home too much, and I know I need to push myself to get out more often.

So, that's what I'm going to do. For starters I've registered for two classes beginning next week. They aren't too far from home and they won't require any night-driving, two points in their favor. Plus, I never met a school I didn't like. I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy these two short courses and, if so, maybe there'll be others after that.

It's a start. We'll see.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

". . . Yet You're My Favorite Work of Art . . ."

I've spent most of this day at the emergency room with one of my favorite valentines, my older daughter. She is at home now, recovering nicely from an unbearable headache that may have been caused by dehydration, stress, a migraine, or some combination thereof. The doctor couldn't be sure, but at least other, more serious possibilities have been ruled out, and an IV cocktail of fluids and medications got rid of the nausea and turned down the headache several notches.

Her sister, my other favorite valentine, spent her lunch hour at the E.R. with us, a thoughtful, pleasant visit that reminded me once again what it means to be a family. We stick together. When one of us hurts, we all do. And when we're together, even the sickest among us joins in the laughter.

I dropped off my ailing daughter at her house (where I hope she is sleeping soundly now) and came home to dig out some Valentine's cards my girls made when they were children. These letter-sized, cardstock Valentines--indeed, all the cards and drawings they made when they were little--are unquestionably my favorite works of art. I'm sure every mother among you understands why.

The card in the lower left-hand corner of the photo reads:

To My Family
I love you!
You are the 3 best and lovable people I know. I will love you all as long as I live.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Thank You
(inside) for being a wonderful family.

The card isn't signed, and I no longer remember which daughter made it. I guess it doesn't really matter. The number 3 has expanded over the years to include another couple of generations of family, but the sentiment remains strong. Any of us could have written the same thing today.

Happy Valentine's Day to those of you who firmly believe in the power of love and to those of you who need to believe in it. That should cover everybody.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

If Looks Could Kill

There's something about hawks that I admire. Maybe it's the way they hold themselves so tall and erect, as if they know their own power. Or the way they coast on an air current, circling through the sky as if they have nothing better to do than enjoy the ride. It excites me to see them. I know they prey on smaller birds (birds I also admire), but as long as I don't witness it, I can pretend that they feed only on rodents and reptiles.

The other day as I ate lunch in my den near the glass storm door that opens to the patio, I saw a burst of activity in my peripheral vision. I looked up just in time to see a hawk swoop down into the corner of the patio and pluck a tasty brown morsel of some species out from under the drainpipe. I know that the eyesight of a hawk is fabled to be superb, but how in the world could it spot something small enough to hide under a drainpipe in the corner of a patio? And why was it even looking there in the first place?

Not only that, but a chair was pulled out about four feet from the drainpipe, blocking any direct flight path. The hawk must have helicoptered into that narrow space. When it left, it flew almost straight up, clutching its little prize in its right talon. It turned its head as it rose and spotted me on the other side of the glass.

I swear to you that the hawk gave me a dirty look: a full-face, mind-your-own-business glare. You may think I'm making that up, but I'm not. I'll admit I don't know all that much about hawks, but I certainly know a dirty look when I see one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


A new angel passed through the gates of Heaven this morning. Her name was Ginny. She was the mother of my second (and last and best) husband, and she was always an angel in my eyes.

Ginny's life was not an easy one, not at the beginning, not at the end, and certainly not in the middle when she laid two of her three children to rest before their time. Yet she was not deterred. She faced life's challenges boldly, doing what needed to be done, providing wisdom, counsel, and comfort to others, standing on her own two feet and lifting others to theirs.

I wish I had kept Ginny close. We stayed in touch for a while after her son and I went our separate ways, but when he remarried, I drifted away, thinking that the kind thing to do was to relinquish the in-laws to the new wife. That decision may have been a thoughtful one, but it wasn't very smart.

Ginny was a rock, a role model, a mother who supported me in ways I wished my own mother could. I'm pretty sure I told her more than once how much I appreciated her, but I hadn't told her in a long, long time. Too long.

Ginny turned 91 last month. She lived a long life. I have already told you she had a hard life. I'll tell you now that she had a good life, too, good because she wanted it to be so and because she made it happen. Her life was full of people she loved and people who loved her. She will live on in the hearts of all those she touched, those of us who believed her when she said, "Be strong. You can do this. It will be okay."

Monday, February 11, 2013

What I've Been Reading

Reading time has been limited around here since the beginning of the year, when I began posting a new blog entry every day. (Your guess is as good as mine as to how long that will last.) I still read every night at bedtime and most days while I'm eating lunch, but it's been a while since I've given a whole day to a good book. It's kind of a shame; this rainy weather is perfect for reading.

Anyway, here's what I've read since my last "What I've Been Reading" update:

A Friend of the Family
by Lauren Grodstein

Pictures of You
by Caroline Leavitt

Darkness, My Old Friend
by Lisa Unger

Private London
by James Patterson and Mark Pearson

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

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Two somebodies we all know and love were in the doghouse yesterday. Their desire to get in on the action of the next-door neighbor's dog, who was barking loudly outside, overcame both their training and their good sense. They completely ignored my "stay" command, burst through a narrowly opened door, and raced through the yard at breakneck speed. Levi was particularly wild, frolicking in the deep, soupy mud at the fenceline, running back and forth, back and forth, working the mud higher up on his body with each pass. Gimpy made a couple of big loops through the yard, then stopped to watch the other dogs. He sank in only up to his ankles.

I had just finished cleaning the floors.

There was nothing to do but turn on the hose and spray their legs and underbellies to wash off as much mud as I could. At the simultaneous appearance of the hose and the leash, it seemed to suddenly dawn on them that the situation had taken a serious turn. Funny, my waving arms and shouting hadn't given them a clue.

Training experts tell us that tone of voice is of the utmost importance in communicating with dogs. I evidently used the wrong tone when I told them firmly to stay and a different but equally wrong tone when I yelled, "STOP IT! STOP IT! COMEHERETHISMINUTEORIWILLKILLYOU!"

I did a more effective job of communicating when I talked to them non-stop while hosing them off and continued speaking to them while I mopped the floor. Again. By the time I finished talking it all out, they seemed to understand that I was unhappy. They possibly even understood the context of a few new words I had repeated several times during our little talk.

Or maybe they just recognized the expression on my face. Whatever. At least I got their attention.

Gimpy (left) and Levi, posing for mugshots

UPDATE: February 11, 2013
My two boys could not have been better today; I think they may have learned something after yesterday's muddy misadventure. This morning, once again, they rushed out the backdoor before I told them they could go. I made that awful aaaaaccckk sound in my throat and said, "In the house," and they turned around and nearly tripped over each other in their rush to get back inside. That's more like it.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

When Will I . . . Know What Day It Is?

A few minutes ago I was watching a movie on TV and heard a song that spoke to my heart. I put the movie on pause so I could Google a few words of the lyrics and learn the name of the song. Next I found it on YouTube, listened to it all the way through, and thought yep, that's it--that'll be my next Saturday Song Selection. Then I began to calculate how many days it would be until Saturday.

Holy crap! Today is Saturday -- and the day is almost over.

Here's the song, just in the nick of time:


The song is "When Will I" by Candi Staton.
Thanks to shobopisme for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Now, back to the movie . . .

On the Far Side of a Very Thin Curtain

On the phone one day with my friend Annette, I told her I would either send her a copy of my notes about this or, if the hastily scibbled notes weren't entirely legible, I would post about it here. This is that post. It's a long one. I won't hold it against you if you choose to skip it.

The events described in the following account are entirely fictional, although the human beings referenced exist in real life. Explanations of some portions of this story can be found in the footnotes.


My adolescent daughters and I were on vacation and were staying at a cabin in the woods. The cabin was built of boards, not logs, and was basically a big square, laid out into two main areas: an L-shaped living room/kitchen combination and a single bedroom behind the sparsely furnished living area. The entire time we were there I never saw the inside of the bedroom.

Immediately after our arrival, we dropped our bags inside the cabin and headed outdoors to explore. There was a grassy, cleared space directly in front of the cabin, but beyond that in all directions we were surrounded by tall trees, mostly evergreens. A path at the edge of the cleared space led to a nearby lake, one that was within walking distance, or so we'd been told. We never made it to the lake, either.

While we explored that first afternoon, staying in sight of each other but not together, I was startled when my younger daughter, Kelli, came toward me with a strange-looking animal1 held carefully in her outstretched hands. "Look what I found, Mom!" she hollered. I shouted for her to put it down, but she held on and brought it closer to give me a good look at it. It appeared to be some kind of reptile, either a short, fat snake or a legless lizard. It was about two feet long and shaped rather like a carrot, as thick as my calf at its head, tapering to a narrow, pointed tail. There were horizontal stripes around its body from head to tail, wide bands that shaded from light brown edges to a much darker center. The most distinctive feature of the animal was an image on its back, just behind its head. It was the image of a coiled snake, an image so sharp and detailed it almost appeared to have been tattooed there. The creature seemed to be neither frightened by the fact that Kelli was holding it nor threatening to her in any way, but it's ugliness--and its two rows of sharp teeth--suggested to me that it could be dangerous. At my insistence Kelli put it down.

We continued our exploration of the woods. Over the course of a couple more hours we saw at least another dozen of the strange creatures, all with the coiled-snake image on their backs. They were too short and fat to slither; instead they propelled themselves across the forest floor by flipping from one side to the other, fishlike. We stayed out of their way.

On our second day of vacation we ventured out again, occasionally encountering other people in the woods. At one point Kelli told me she had talked to a local man about the animal she'd picked up the day before and had learned that it was called a Melungeon.2 That word was familiar to me but not in the context of an animal. I gave Kelli a questioning look and started to say something. "I know, Mom," she interrupted. "It's not the same thing. This one is spelled with two L's -- M-E-L-L-U-N-G-E-O-N."

As Kelli and I were having that conversation, Kim suddenly burst through the trees, her cupped hands spilling over with brilliantly colored jewels: necklaces, bracelets, and a variety of loose stones.3 Her eyes were huge, as was her excitement. "I found these in the hollow of a tree," she exclaimed. We held each lovely piece up to the diminishing sunlight, admiring their collective beauty while we debated what we should do about them. With darkness rapidly approaching, we took them back to the cabin to discuss the situation further.

Later, after dinner, we heard an unusual noise outside. I opened the front door and was stunned to see dozens of what I thought were insects gathered on the ground near the doorstep. They were every imaginable color and looked to me like large, wingless grasshoppers. They seemed to crouch close to the ground, then leap into the air, and as we watched, they made their way inside. They continued to leap, now leaping onto us and biting whatever body part they landed on. The bites, though painful, did no lasting damage, and after a few frightening moments, all of the insects left the same way they had come in, through the front door.

After a restless night, the girls and I went out the next day to check out the area where Kim had found the treasure. We looked in trees and under bushes, and we did find more of it. Frankly, it hadn't been hidden all that carefully. We had decided that we would take all the jewels to the local sheriff at the end of our stay; in the meantime, we'd look for more of them. Treasure hunting had become the unexpected highlight of our vacation.

That night was a repeat of the night before: the grasshoppers came back. This time we were ready for them. I had found a flyswatter in the kitchen, and I put it into action. As the grasshoppers leaped, I swung the flyswatter, succeeding in knocking several of them out of the air. A few of those crawled to the door, but one fell right in front of me. I bent down for a closer look and was shocked. These were not grasshoppers. They were tiny, four-inch people, dressed in tiny modern clothing. The one I was inspecting4 had the dark skin and features of an African-American. He was wearing khaki cargo pants, a red-plaid shirt, brown work boots, and a tan driving cap. I left him there on the floor and went in search of a jar to put him in, desperately wanting to show this specimen to someone knowledgeable. A couple minutes later, when I came back with the jar, he was gone. All of them were gone.

Somehow, during that second episode, I had begun to suspect that the grasshopper-people were there because of the jewels. I knew we were in for a great deal of trouble unless we could figure out what was the right thing to do. Should we just hand all the jewels over to the grasshopper-people, or should we take them to the sheriff first thing in the morning and tell him the whole story?

I sat down, my head in my hands, and tried to think. It occurred to me then to call someone who might be able to help me understand what I was dealing with. I called a highly intelligent friend, Scott.5 Scott knows a lot about a lot of things. I told him about  everything that had happened, including the Mellungeons and the tiny leaping people, and asked him if he knew anything at all about creatures like that. Scott was silent for a moment before he answered, then he said he did not know about them but didn't doubt their existence. He continued in a somber tone, "I've read enough Stephen King to know that there's a very thin curtain between our world and the others."


That's it. I'm sure that if you've read this far, you've figured out that these fictional events happened in a dream, and Scott's statement about other worlds is where I woke up. The dream was entertaining enough that I tried my hardest to go back to sleep and continue the adventure, but I couldn't do it. Instead, I got up and wrote everything down while it was fresh. I began at the end, while I could still remember Scott's eerie declaration word for word. Those words struck me so funny that I did not want to forget them.

Now, the whole point of this post, the question I want to raise, is how weird are our sleeping brains to come up with this kind of stuff? I can put my finger immediately on what lies beneath certain parts of this dream, but it cracks me up that the sleeping brain--the "dreamweaver" if you will--can pull up random bits of information it has stored and weave them together into such a bizarre scenario. This is where the footnotes come in:

1 The creature Kelli was holding looked very much like a reptile version of an Atlantic Wolffish (see the top one in this image), without the tail and the fins, but with the delightful addition of a coiled-snake "tattoo." I had a frightening personal encounter with a wolffish many years ago when we were surf-fishing near Miami. A three-foot-long one swam toward me in clear water, sharp teeth flashing, sending me high-stepping out of the knee-high surf at a speed that sent my husband and children into gales of laughter. Let's just say I now recognize a wolffish, even one wearing a disguise.

2 Also many years ago, I read a long article about Melungeons, a mixed-ethnic group with only one L in its name. It was an interesting article, but not one I've thought about any time in recent memory. Still, even in a dream state I recognized that the animal Kelli was holding was not what I understood a Melungeon to be. There is apparently some logical part of the brain that monitors dreams and says, "Tsk-tsk!" when it catches an obvious error. In this case I have to give the dreamweaver credit for quick thinking in amending the story to cover up the mistake. How clever: add an extra L--and spell out the whole word for good measure.

3 These were not your typical jewels. Their intense colors and distinctive shapes were familiar to my wide-awake self. I see jewels like these several times a week when I take a break to listen to music and play Bejeweled 3. Kudos to the dreamweaver for mounting most of those blatantly artificial stones into wearable necklaces and bracelets. Nice touch.

4 In the dream I didn't know the tiny grasshopper-man whom I knocked out of the air with the flyswatter, but upon waking I recognized him instantly and was delighted that he'd made a guest appearance in my dream. He was Emilio, a favorite fashion designer from Project Runway All-Stars, which I watched faithfully. Apparently the dreamweaver did a little custom-designing of its own, creating a special "woodsy" outfit for Emilio to wear in the dream.

5 My friend Scott is the husband of my good friend, Annette, who blogs at Writing My Novel. He's a smart guy, and he does know a lot about a lot of things. I don't know if I would have called him in real life to consult about Mellungeons and piles of jewels and grasshopper-people, but I suppose it's possible. (Highly possible, now that I'm doing a quick mental run-through of all the people I know and eliminating those who for sure wouldn't know about such strange things.) Anyway, I can guaran-damn-tee you that if I had called Scott with questions about those things, he would not have referenced Stephen King as the reigning expert on factual other-worlds. Scott would have referred to a scientist. The dreamweaver clearly didn't know or consider Scott's reading habits (nor do I) but, knowing what a King fan I am, threw in what must have seemed like a deal-clencher. Unfortunately, hearing Scott make a statement that was at once so profound and so absurd tickled the non-dreaming part of my brain enough that I laughed out loud and woke myself up.

Most of the time I don't remember my dreams. Sometimes I do. Sometimes they're so much fun I'd buy tickets to see them again. What about you? Do you dissect your dreams to see what they're made of?

UPDATE - February 12, 2013
Well, I'm laughing again, because I just found the source of the coiled-snake "tattoo" on the Mellungeons. It's on an album cover, and it just now popped up on my computer screen when a certain iTunes song began to play. I listen to iTunes frequently while I'm at the computer but don't consciously look at what's playing. My subconscious apparently does pay attention--and takes notes.

Dreamweaver, you are SO funny!

Friday, February 08, 2013

A Clean Bill of Health

It's been nine months since I've had to take one of my dogs to the veterinarian. Imagine that. In Butch and Kadi's final years it seemed I was there with one or the other of them on an almost monthly basis--sometimes more often than that.

Levi's annual shots were due, so we took care of that today. When he got his shots last year, he weighed 87 pounds--not roly-poly fat for the size of his frame but definitely solid. The vet advised me then to cut back on his food by one-third, so that's what we did. Today he weighs a svelte 75. With all that hair, it's hard to see the difference.

He has lost a bottom tooth since his last visit to the vet. I know exactly when it got knocked out, though I didn't know it had happened until about a month later. One day last summer he came in from outdoors with a bleeding, busted bottom lip. Because of his tendency to poke his muzzle into water, mud, shrubbery, his food dish, and Gimpy's throat, the wound stayed moist and kept reopening; it took more than a week of home first-aid for it to heal. In all that time of doctoring his lip, it didn't occur to me to look inside his mouth. When I did, weeks later, I discovered the tooth gap directly behind where the lip injury had been.

Levi was a good boy at the vet's this morning; he made me proud. It's good to know that he's officially healthy . . . though he is a little tired after that outing.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Planning Committee

A lot of people--mostly those who don't have dogs--question whether animals actually think. I propose that not only do they think, they also plan.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote this:
While I'm sitting at the computer, Levi and Gimpy come running around the corner together--it's always both of them--put their front paws first on my knees as they rise up on their hind legs, and then on my shoulders. The trick to getting them down without using force, I've discovered, is to ask one question: "What?" As soon as they hear that word, they jump down, turn around, and walk away, watching me over their shoulders to make sure I'm following them.
When I posted that, Levi and Gimpy were using that technique regularly, but only when they wanted me to set their basket of toys on the floor. They have since expanded it.

All the dog treats in the house are kept together in one cabinet except for a box of extra-large, peanut-flavored biscuits. That box is too big for the cabinet, so it's kept on a shelf about six feet away. The other day, after the dogs signaled me to follow them, the act of rising from my chair was enough to send Gimpy racing around the corner and into his crate, where he sat expectantly, tail wagging. Levi, however, stopped far short of the crate and pointed his nose toward the box of peanut-butter biscuits.

It's the fact that Gimpy ran into his crate that makes me think he and Levi planned this together, right down to the detail of which treat they wanted and who would do the asking. They get treats several times a day--a variety of them, in fact. But those big, peanut-butter biscuits? In an entire day they get only one of those. They get it at bedtime, as soon as Gimpy is in his crate.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Gray Days and Grave Danger

The fog is back this morning, and it's thick, sucking all the color out of the earth and sky. Fog brings with it a sense of isolation, restricting our access to the business-as-usual going on outside our field of vision. It shrinks the world into a gray space no larger than that which we can see through cobweb-laden eyes. I find the phenomenon interesting for all of about two minutes, then it becomes tiresome, and I'm ready for it to burn away.

Unless the fog is part of a story. Then, I enjoy it immensely. In a good story fog becomes a character of its own, a living character, and one to be reckoned with. It can be deliciously thrilling when it enshrouds the forest that a child entered for the first time half an hour earlier, thinking the leaf-covered path through the trees might be a shortcut home. Or when it settles over a vast lake, obscuring the shoreline from a man who has been fishing alone in a small boat and suddenly can't get his bearings. Or when great, blowing puffs of it surround the car in which a fearful woman drives in the night on a narrow, two-lane road, frantically fleeing the abusive husband she knows will awaken too soon from his drunken slumber.

Imagining those foggy scenarios made me remember a favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie, Midnight Lace, in which a newly married American woman (Doris Day) is stalked in a dense London fog. Ummm-ummm. Fog like this produces the best kind of shivers:

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


When we had sidewalks poured in the backyard about two years ago, the stepping stones they replaced were picked up and stacked in front of the garden shed to wait for me to decide where I wanted to use them.

They're still there. Unless I'm actively thinking about what to do with them, I don't even notice them anymore. Apparently, someone does.

The other day I saw Levi pull up short as he was trotting past them. He stopped, sniffed, then stood on his hind legs and stretched to sniff the top of the stack. When I walked out to see what had captured his interest, I found this little mess:

While I've been looking for squirrels to photograph in the treetops, it seems at least one of them has come down from the trees and enjoyed a pecan picnic lunch atop my stepping-stone version of Lookout Mountain.

I wish I hadn't missed that shot.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Is Somebody Trying to Tell Me Something?

Coincidences never fail to pique my interest. In fact, when their timing knocks me over the head, I always wonder if the universe is trying to get a message to me.

This afternoon I took a break from cleaning to sit outside with a book and toss the ball for Gimpy and Levi. We were out there no longer than fifteen minutes, so, subtracting the minutes I spent throwing the ball, my reading time was limited. I'm currently reading Darkness, My Old Friend, an enjoyable mystery by Lisa Unger. At some point in that brief time outside I read the following passage about a phone call from a former police officer (Jones) to an officer still on the force (Chuck):
. . . "In the meantime can I give you her tag number?" he said. This was the real reason he'd called Chuck. There was new license-plate-recognition software. Using security and CCTV cameras that were all over the place, cops could track plates now. It was something that was happening very quietly, under the radar of the media and civil-rights groups. As a civilian, Jones didn't have accesss to that anymore, and the technology was so new that he didn't have a private contact. "Maybe you'll get a hit on her vehicle somewhere?"
I hadn't heard about that technology before. Even after I read about it, it wouldn't have been of particular interest outside the context of the book, had it not been for what happened next.

I brought the dogs back into the house, gave them a treat, washed my hands, and sat down at the computer for a quick Facebook check. Instead, realizing I hadn't yet read the local news this morning, I clicked on the link for The Advocate, Baton Rouge's newspaper. The lead story, right above an article about the Super Bowl, was titled "Extra 'eyes' aid deputies." It reported on the same type of surveillance technology I'd read about less than twenty minutes earlier in a book published in 2011.

What a coinkydink.

Now that I've read the newspaper article, I do find the technology and the controversy surrounding its use interesting. If it pops up on my radar again, I'll pay attention, though I can't imagine that this is anything I'd ever need to know about.

So. How do you feel when this type of coincidence occurs in your life? Do you immediately write it off as the random chance it probably is? Or--for at least an instant--does the hair on the back of your neck stand up and give you a little woo-woo moment?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Home Decor

My stepsister, Donna, is an interior decorator. Her last visit here was her third one, and she felt comfortable enough by then to offer a couple of helpful tips. I can't remember the specific words she used, but to paraphrase what she told me, I was being too careful about where I placed things, too lined up and squared off. She said things look prettier, more natural, when they're placed more randomly. She picked up a few objects from here and a couple from there, juggled them around, and showed me what she meant. By golly, she was right.

From that time until now I've been very careful not to move those items when Swiffer-dusting them. Now that I'm in deep-cleaning mode, though, I wanted to give all those objects, plus the flat surfaces they sit upon, a thorough wash and wipe. That meant taking everything down.


I understand the theory of randomness, but I don't yet trust myself in the practice of it, so I photographed these two arrangements before dismantling them:

The photos were helpful when it was time to put everything back; however, since photos are only two-dimensional, I had a little trouble recreating the various depths at which Donna had placed the objects. Using the pictures as reference, I moved several items back and forth an inch or so at a time until I thought it looked right. There. I'm done.

It's a satisfying feeling to know that all these things have been situated so precisely at random.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Making Progress

Parts of my house are positively sparkly now, other parts show progress, and the den is  still dusty enough to look like the people who used to live there left and moved away in the middle of the night--years and years ago. I'll stick with the job as long as it takes and hope to get it all deep-cleaned before the shiny parts need polishing again.

It's embarrassing to hate housework as much as I do, and I don't know where that comes from; my mother and grandmother weren't like that. I enjoy having everything neat and clean, but doing the work required to keep it that way feels like torture. There are just so many, many more interesting ways to spend my time.

Have you noticed that they don't write novels or make movies about women doing housework? There's a reason for that: no one would read them or watch them. If housekeeping is even mentioned in a novel, it takes up less than a paragraph of the entire book.

So here I sit, stalling, feeling put upon because I have to do what most people take in stride and what seems even to me to be a reasonable activity. I feel childish for resisting it. You'd think I'd have made peace with it by now.

Anyway, it's time for a Saturday Song Selection, so I'll post one that feels appropriate, then get back to work.

The song is "Dark as a Dungeon" by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Thanks to millsbrothers for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.