Monday, April 29, 2013

Zooming Around Uselessly vs. Zooming In with a Purpose

Well, I had hoped to write something interesting for this first post of the second thousand, but it's almost dinnertime, and I haven't written anything yet. My to-do list is long today -- long enough that I find myself vacillating over what's most important and what should be done next, and all that dithering has kept me from making any noticeable headway whatsoever. Levi and Gimpy will start asking for their supper in a matter of minutes, so I'll forget about posting something "meaty" and slap some photos up here. I wanted to show you these anyway.

There's a new kind of bird in our neighborhood this spring, the Mississippi Kite. I've seen several recently but didn't know what they were until one sailed overhead while I was talking with my neighbor over the fence. She knew. (Of course, just to be sure she knew, I Googled it as soon as I got back in the house.)

A day or two later I was outside again when one made several passes over the house, so I hurried back inside and grabbed my camera. By the time I got back out the door, the bird had disappeared. Oh, well. It was a beautiful day, the light was pretty, and the clouds were fluffy, so I took this photo of my garden shed and the neighbors' backyards behind it:

The little tree near the center of the picture above is one of my favorites. You'd be surprised how many times I've photographed that tree over the years, but one can never have too many photos of a favorite subject, so I zoomed in and took another one:

As soon as I took the tree photo, I checked it in the camera's LCD panel. Wait, I thought. What is that dark clump on the right near the very top of the tree?

I zoomed in as far as possible and was excited to take a third shot -- then another and another and another. That "dark clump" was the missing Kite:

Still wanting to get a better look at it, I rushed back inside, uploaded the pictures, and used photo-editing software to enlarge the images further. This, folks, in case you're interested, is a Mississippi Kite:

Pretty, isn't it? A little smaller than the Red-tailed Hawks we were seeing so frequently last year but plenty big enough to catch your attention when it flies. 

Now I'll feed the dogs. Then I'll make a new list so I can get some of today's things done at least by tomorrow.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Post No. 1000: All Those Simple Thoughts

This is my one-thousandth post here at Velvet Sacks. It's taken a long time to reach that milestone -- seven years and three months, to be exact -- but the sense of accomplishment is sweet all the same.

I had no expectation when I started this blog that it would last as long as it has. In fact, I wrote in my very first post on January 27, 2006, "I hope I'll stick to blogging longer than my feeble attempts at journaling lasted. All of my journal entries seem to be dated in the first few days of January--of different years." So what made the difference? You did.

When I wrote in a journal, I wrote alone. Here, I write as part of a community of other writers and readers: warm, friendly people who come together in a joint effort to understand and explain how it feels to be human in today's world. You've made me see that we're all running this human "race" together, and when I've stumbled, you've picked me up. You've kept me going.

There are no literary masterpieces here, but there are a few posts I consider my best work. There are many others that I read and find so lacking in substance that I wonder why I bothered writing them. Then I think about that, and the answer comes to me: I wrote because I was reaching out. I may not have had anything meaningful to say, but I needed to connect with you. Thank you for being there. Here.

Mindful that this significant-numbered post would fall on a Saturday, I searched my iTunes list to pick out a relevant Saturday Song Selection. When I scrolled down to the JJ Grey & Mofro song posted below, I realized it expresses my feelings beautifully. It's a wonderful song about life, but it also happens to be a perfect metaphor for sticking with something that's challenging, even during the times it seems most difficult -- for example, the process of writing an ongoing personal journal on the Internet.

"'How many more days can you hold out,
How much longer can you wait?' she asked.
There was a time I thought I, I could answer,
But my tongue gets tied as my thoughts drift away.

"All those simple thoughts, all those peaceful dreams,
Share the space with a hard-worked, hard-worked day,
But it's the little things, the little things, not expectation,
That make life worth living, worth living.

"Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,
The sun is shining, shining down.
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,
I'm alive and I'm feeling, Lord, feeling fine."

The song is "The Sun is Shining Down" by JJ Grey & Mofro.
Thanks to Jeremy Smith for creating and posting this lovely video on YouTube.
Click here to read the full lyrics.

Friday, April 26, 2013

999 and Counting

Time flies. This week, in particular, has flown by. I thought time would drag once I retired and started staying home all the time, and it seems odd to me that the days pass so quickly now. Especially since one day is pretty much like the next. At the end of most of them it's hard to see what I've done to fritter away the hours. Anyway, here are a few of the ways I've spent my time this week.

Zoo Things
I've already told you about our trip to the zoo on Monday. Mentally, I was still at the zoo on Tuesday, which I spent sorting and editing zoo photos, blogging about our day there, and resting up (reading) after all that walking. I was a little stiff and sore on Tuesday, a clear reminder that I need to resume walking for daily exercise.

Art Stuff
On Wednesday I finished the fourth assignment for the Acrylic Exploration class, which was to paint a copy a Manet painting. Here's the end result:

I'm happier with this one than with the first three, but it seemed to me that the painted tablecloth under these painted roses grew darker and darker (and greener) every time I worked at it. Maybe one day I'll go back and lighten it up. Then again, maybe I won't; it's a pretty good color to go with my bedroom walls right now.

At this week's class we started a new painting, the first one that isn't a copy of someone else's work. We were each given a brightly-colored cloth, a stemmed silver cup, and two pieces of plastic fruit to arrange any way we chose. My stepsister (an interior decorator and watercolor artist) won't be shocked to know that after multiple attempts at placing the objects on the cloth in a pleasing way, mine ended up more or less in a row. I wish I'd done a better job of it, but now, having drawn the whole arrangement in preparation for painting it, it doesn't much matter. I don't like my apple (it's honking BIG), I'm not crazy about the colors I'm working with, and I'm struggling with proportions and perspective, so my expectations for this painting aren't very high. That being said, I love this class and the people in it, so the process is more important to me than the finished product. Plus, I do understand that I'll learn more by working outside my comfort zone.

People at Walmart
I've been doing my weekly grocery shopping right after art class, which is working out well for me. For one thing I'm already dressed and wearing makeup, which eliminates the need to go to that trouble just for shopping. For another, shopping after class means I finish up just about the same time the afternoon batch of rotisserie chickens are ready, so the timing is good. This little change in routine has me going to a store that's close to the art class instead of the one where I usually shop, which is closer (but on the other side of) home. None of that is important except to explain where I was in relation to where I normally would have been yesterday. It turns out that right when I was shopping at art-class-Walmart, some guy was arrested at closer-to-home-Walmart while walking the aisles and simultaneously (um, how shall I word this?) "displaying his merchandise."

I'm never around when anything exciting happens. That's probably a good thing.

Today--and Then Tomorrow
Today started out like most days: reading blogs, answering email, working the crossword puzzle at I enjoyed both breakfast and lunch outside, using my left hand to carry food from the table to my mouth, my right hand to throw a slobbery tennis ball, and my lap to hold the mystery novel I was attempting to  read on my Kindle. While I was out there, I took four pictures of a mockingbird and one of a hawk, all of which I've uploaded and since deleted (too blurry to take up hard-drive space).  Also today, I've scheduled a week's worth of photos for A One-Pic Pony and posted another of my grandmother's stories at Audrey's Ambition. After that I went over my iTunes list, played a few bars of quite a few different songs before settling on one, then scouted out a YouTube video of it to post tomorrow. Tomorrow's Saturday Song Selection piece will be my one-thousandth post here at Velvet Sacks.

As I said at the beginning of this one, time flies.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

One Day Off

In the days when I was a working woman, I'd spend my days off doing all the things I love to do -- the same activities I do almost every day now that I'm retired. Is it even possible, then, to take a day off from that? Wouldn't a day off from enjoying hobbies be a day spent working in some way? That seems right, but that's not what I did on my day off yesterday. Kim took off with me -- a traditional day off in her case -- and we went to the zoo.

It's been seven years since the last time we went. I remembered how to get there, but we took a different route, thinking we'd avoid traffic by traveling around Baton Rouge rather than through it. We got lost. Kim has a GPS on her phone, but what good does it do to read "go north" or "go west" if the sun is directly overhead and you don't know where the heck you are? We stopped and asked directions once, but the girl who was so nice about helping us assured us we'd see a sign that read "Audubon Zoo." Since that zoo is in New Orleans, well south of home, and the zoo we wanted was in Baker, well north of home, we didn't trust her directions. Finally, after retracing our tracks several times, we zeroed in on our destination.

The weather was perfect, weekday attendance was light, and it felt as though we stepped out of the car into a world of peace and calm. It was wonderful. (Don't forget to click on the photos to enlarge them.)

This is the entrance to the Greater Baton Rouge Zoo.

Through the entrance and over the footbridge, this lake awaits.

Then there's the koi pond.

We soon discovered we'd arrived at nap time.

The tigers were napping.

The alligators were snoozing.

The capybara was asleep.

And so were the bears.

We left them alone and spent most of our time with the animals that were up and around.

The elephant was siphoning water straight from it's source . . .

. . . like this.

The pelicans were feeling frisky.

The tiny dik-dik were aware and watchful.

The otters were having too much fun to hold still for pictures.

And the flamingos were apparently in
the middle of a rehearsal of some kind.

I'd like to thank Kim publicly for her patience while I took over three hundred photos. She didn't complain even when my camera was aimed at non-exotic animals like squirrels and redbirds. Some of the photos turned out better than I'd dared to hope, and those will begin showing up one at a time on my photo blog this coming weekend. 

Kim was also my partner in crime as we ditched our diets for the day to eat chili dogs at the zoo and ice cream treats from the Dairy Queen on the way home. When we take a day off, by golly, we take it off all the way.

Today everything is back to normal. Except it isn't quite, you know? I'm doing the same things as always, but I feel different. I was in a good mood before our zoo trip, and I'm in a better one now. The colors in my world seem brighter. The birdsongs seem louder. I think everyone needs a healthy dose of nature now and then.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Here's Gimpy, ambling around on one side of the backyard, looking for the perfect place to make a "deposit":

Here's Levi, who's positioned himself in a spot where he can intercept Gimpy if Gimpy tries to head back to the house:

You might think Levi is just standing there, but he isn't. He's locked into his "play-like-I'm-a-border-collie-guarding-the-sheep" stance, every muscle tensed, and he's stalking Gimpy. He waits patiently for Gimpy to take care of his business but doesn't take his eyes off him for a second. He's initiating one of their favorite games. I call it "pounce," and I hate this game.

Gimpy finishes pooping and takes a few short steps, first in one direction, then another, and behaves as if he's totally unaware that Levi exists on this planet, much less in his near vicinity. Then, as if somebody fired a starter pistol, Gimpy springs into action and makes a fake-out move, racing away from the house and behind the garden shed. Levi stays where he is, his head swiveling from side to side as he tries to decide whether to chase after Gimpy or wait for him to come around the other side of the shed. Suddenly, Gimpy bursts back onto the scene, making a wide loop through the yard and moving so fast that he forces Levi to turn around and chase him from the opposite direction. Gimpy zigzags through the grass. If Levi isn't chasing him fast enough, Gimpy runs toward Levi to make the game more interesting. Now Levi can get him. Here's the moment and . . . pounce:

Usually Levi does the pouncing and Gimpy is the "pouncee." Gimpy is smaller but faster than Levi, so these roles make for a good chase, and the chase almost always leads to a wrestling match. That's the part I don't like: these boys are rough! They growl and grunt, grab one another by the leg or the neck or the collar (collar-grabbing is a foul in my opinion), and flash teeth at each other. Sometimes, after they wrestle for a bit, they switch roles and Gimpy chases Levi. In this second version of the game, Levi runs away from him for a little while then stops short, waits for Gimpy to catch up -- and then Levi pounces on Gimpy again.

Fortunately, pounce is a high-energy game, so it doesn't last long at a stretch. When they've wrestled for the last time, they roll over, stand up, and trot side-by-side to share a cool drink, much like two buddies stopping to have a beer together after a competitive golf game or tennis match:

Then it's time to take a break and relax in the shadow of the gardenia bush. If there's a tennis ball handy (and there almost always is), Levi picks it up and takes it with him. That often means they'll expect me to join them in their next activity. That's okay with me. I don't mind fetch, but I stay as far away from pounce as I can. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Heart of a Firefighter, Soul of a Poet

This has been a hell of a week: a bombing at the Boston Marathon, a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, and an earthquake today in China. If you believe the old wives' tale that bad things happen in threes, then maybe we're due for at least a brief respite from the catastrophes that have been raining down on the world.

But today I want to talk about a firefighter. No, not one of the many firefighters who have proven their mettle and their merit in the past few days, though God knows not enough words of praise can be written about them to thank them as much as they deserve. I'm talking about one specific firefighter, South Carolina's Warren Stone, who has caught my attention and made my old heart and its partially blocked arteries go pitty-pat on this season of The Voice. He's a nice-looking guy and a really good singer, but what grabbed me in his first performance (in the video below) was the passion in his voice and his face. It always moves me when someone sings as if he (or she) believes what they're singing. That soul of a poet is what I like most about this guy. That and his eyes.

Since this week's Saturday Song Selection is as much about the singer as it is about the song, I'm posting the short (audition) version today. If you want more, the full studio version has also been posted on YouTube, and the song is available for download on iTunes. I don't know if Warren will win the competition, but I'm sure I'm only one of many thousands he can count among his new fans. I've been playing--and humming--this song steadily for nearly two weeks now.

The song is "Colder Weather," performed by Warren Stone.
Thanks to NBCTheVoice for posting it on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What I've Been Reading

Today I'm totally preoccupied by breaking news out of Boston, where one suspected Boston Marathon bomber has been killed and the other, his brother, is on the run. Judging by the popularity of the crime fiction genre, I'm not alone in my fascination with stories like the one in today's news. In fact, three of my four most recent reads have involved police pursuits. Can't wait to see how today's real-life crime drama ends.

Fall of Giants
by Ken Follett

Touch & Go
by Lisa Gardner

Alex Cross, Run
by James Patterson

Broken Prey
by John Sandford

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Short Shorts

Today looks like it's going to be a busy one, so I'll scratch blogging off my to-do list as soon as I post these short items:

Senior Moment
The other day I thought all afternoon about what I could have for supper that wouldn't involve grocery shopping. By the time suppertime rolled around I had remembered a plastic container of chili in the freezer. I put it in the microwave to thaw, then fed the dogs and took them outside afterwards. Do you want to know where and when I remembered the chili? I was at Burger King, and the young man at the window had just handed me the white bag with a burger inside.

Sparrow Spa
We had storms again earlier this week, lots of wind and enough rain that there's still water standing in the back corner of my yard. I can't see the puddles from the patio, but I know they exist because I saw three birds bathing together in the grass there yesterday.

Self Recognition?
Levi was lying flat on his side while I cut his hair. When I needed him to turn over, I let him get up to stretch for a minute. Immediately upon standing he walked across the room and checked himself out in the door mirror, first facing it, then turning around and looking at it again over his shoulder. I swear. To avoid being accused of anthropomorphizing, I'll admit that his actions could have been entirely coincidental. But you know what I really think.

All Thumbs
I've told you here before that I text my daughters every morning just to check in. I don't remember whether or not I've told you that I never talk to them (or text them) without telling them that I love them. (My sister and I have always done that with our kids, maybe because it was so hard for our own mother to say those words and we both wanted so badly to hear them.) As I was clicking on the names of people to receive this morning's message, the phone slipped in my hand, and I accidentally checked more names than I meant to. I thought I'd made the necessary corrections, but apparently I wasn't thorough enough. I wonder what the people at the emergency veterinarian's office thought when they read these words: "I love you a thousand times more than you know."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston: Hitting Us Where It Hurts

Yesterday, while eating lunch, I finished reading a James Patterson novel. There were three serial killers in that one book, and I asked myself how likely it was that three people with so much evil in their hearts would be active in one community at one time. A few hours later I turned on the television for company while I gave Levi a haircut. Regularly scheduled programming was interrupted by news of the bombings at the Boston marathon. Now I had a new question: how much evil must be in the heart of someone who would do a wretched thing like that?

There were three bombs in Boston, including the one that didn't explode. It's being reported today that the bombs were built in pressure cookers and hidden in backpacks. That leads me to believe that more than one person is responsible. I understand that one backpack wouldn't have stood out among the many that were at the scene of the marathon, but one person with three backpacks might have drawn attention. It would also seem to increase the risk of exposure for one person to navigate the logistics of placing three bomb-laden backpacks in three separate locations--at least riskier than it would be for three separate individuals, each carrying one backpack, to unload their bombs.

So maybe James Patterson had it right. Maybe on any given day, in any given place, there are a number of people who are evil (or crazy) enough to murder remorselessly. Some of them use automatic weapons; some use shrapnel-filled pressure cookers. It's tragic no matter how it happens.

I watched the news for hours yesterday and again for a short while this morning. I won't watch continuous coverage any longer. I want to know about new developments, but I don't want to immerse myself in that overwhelming sense of sadness that was exploded into the atmosphere yesterday. It feels cowardly to admit that, because a part of me feels that if some people are forced to live through such a terrible event, I should at least have the courage to watch the news coverage.

I don't. I won't. I'll watch small snippets or read the latest reports online, and I'll pray for all those affected by this stupid, senseless, evil act of terrorism, but I won't succumb to the fear and hopelessness that the bomber(s) tried to instill in all of us.

I'm safe today. I'm comfortable. I have food, water, and shelter. In those ways I'm like most Americans--not all, but most. Also like most of us, I'm grateful, and I don't take my good fortune for granted.

We all took a hit yesterday, but it'll take more than a few sick f--ks to break our collective spirit.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

People in the Local News

Right off the bat let me say that I'm "iffy" about the practice of publishing mugshots in the newspaper. Am I interested in knowing which members of my community have been arrested? Abso-damn-lutely! But do I think this practice might violate the rights of citizens who are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty? Yeah, I think it might. The arrest makes the news, but the disposition of the case months later seldom does. Unless the crime is a major one, no picture of the accused is published after charges have been dropped or innocence has been declared.

Nevertheless, I study those mugshots when I see them. Part of the reason is that I'm looking for familiar names and faces, people whom I might have encountered when I worked for criminal attorneys. Once in a while I see one.

Recently I've been noticing a trend. It seems that more and more of the arrestees pictured in the newspaper are smiling. What's up with that? What's happening at the jail that's funny enough to make someone crack a grin while they're being photographed for booking? I'm wondering if there's someone new in charge of mugshots, perhaps a pudgy, jolly deputy with a quick wit that puts them at ease. Or maybe these people are smiling because they're happy to be reunited with former high-school buddies who are now law-enforcement officers. I don't know.

It's obvious from the smiles that there was no police brutality in these arrests, so that's a good thing. On the other hand, I think the old-style, grim-faced mugshots were more useful for identification purposes. I suspect that if an officer shines a flashlight into the face of any of these people in the future, the officer will see the customary deer-in-the-headlights expression rather than a smile.

I've compiled a sample of these smiley-faced mugshots to show you what I'm talking about. I've purposely made the sample a large one--and masked the faces to obscure their identities--because there is one person here whom I recognize.

There's no reason to expect that that person would see this post in a million years, but in that unlikely event, I'd like to say this:

You were young when you first started showing up to see the attorney who was my boss. You aren't so young anymore. You were funny then, and it looks like you're still relying on your charm. As Dr. Phil would ask, "How's that workin' out for ya?" I always hoped you'd stop doing drugs and straighten yourself out. You were bright--you're probably still bright--but you've thrown away your youth and your future.

I remember well that every new arrest brought you back into the office with an embarrassed, apologetic smile on your face, a big baggie of freshly caught fish for the lawyer, and a rose from your grandfather's garden for me. With that in mind, I've done one tiny favor for you today, even though you'll never, ever, know about it: I've photoshopped you a tooth to fill the empty spot in your smile.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sweet and Loew

It's going to be a long day. My next-door neighbor is having a garage sale, and my dogs (in fact, all the neighborhood dogs) are having fits about the steady parade of unfamiliar cars and people. We are well warned about stranger danger this morning.

Given the way Levi and Gimpy have been pressing their noses against the storm door, the most relevant tune for this week's Saturday Song Selection might be "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window." Unfortunately, that one hasn't been a favorite since the year I was ten, so I'm going with a song I love instead. I bet you love this one, too.

Hope you have a great weekend, friends.


The song is "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Thanks to k8tb52 for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Road Home

The image above shows the view I have when I'm headed south, about halfway home from an eight-mile-round-trip grocery shopping expedition. This beautiful stretch of rural road has a hill on one side and a swamp on the other. The folks who make their homes in this unincorporated area reside in every kind of dwelling from mobile homes to modest houses like mine to mansions. The road is curvy, and the drive is fun, especially when afternoon shadows stripe the asphalt and turn the sun into a dizzying strobe light.

It's impossible to make this drive and hold on to a bad mood, even if the store was out of my favorite peanut-butter protein bars and tomato-basil whole-wheat crackers.


P.S. There's a new post up today at Audrey's Ambition: "The Year 1933."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Art and Storm Recovery

First they said the storms would hit our area around ten p.m., then, right at bedtime they changed it to two a.m. and said we were under a tornado watch. How does one keep an eye on the sky at that time of the night? I went to bed and took my chances.

It still hadn't rained by the time I got up this morning, but the weatherman said the thunderstorm would get here soon and it would be severe. I took the dogs outside to let them run for a while before the weather turned bad. The wind was kicking up quite a bit, and the air felt as hot and muggy as a mid-summer day. We went back in the house and waited.

Around noon it started raining. There wasn't much force behind the rain, but the temperature had dropped in double digits. I wondered, is this all there is, or is this just the beginning? I needed to know, because the new series of art classes was set to begin at one o'clock, and I had to decide whether to take a chance that I might be on the road in hazardous conditions or just stay home in case my roof and/or my dogs started to blow away. At the last minute I went to class.

I'm glad I did. There were 13 people enrolled in the first series of classes. This time around there are only five, all of us from the first group. Two of the five are women I've been meaning to tell you about. I asked their permission, and they said I could share their story.

This is not the first time these ladies have taken art courses. They knew each other when they both lived in New Orleans, and they painted together there. In 2005 they both spent part of a late-August day preparing for an art exhibit. They took all the paintings they'd done to the exhibit venue, where they matted them, framed them, and hung them for the next day's show. The show never happened, because Hurricane Katrina arrived the next day, wiping out most of the Crescent City, destroying their homes and their neighborhoods, uprooting their families, washing away every trace of their artwork.

Like many other people who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, those two ladies ended up here, in a small town outside Baton Rouge. That was eight years ago. They hadn't painted since then until February of this year when the first round of Acrylic Exploration classes began. "I forgot how," one of the ladies explained. "I couldn't remember anything I'd ever learned about painting. My mind was just a blank."

It was those women I was thinking about when I decided to go to class today. I was pretty sure a little rain and thunder wouldn't keep them away, and I was right. They were both there, both smiling, both with their own lovely versions of the almost rotten peaches we'd been assigned to paint. Every time I see their beautiful work, I remember their story. The trauma of a hurricane may have erased the "how-to-paint" instructions from their brains, but I can assure you they're relearning it in leaps and bounds.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


I'm standing at the edge of the patio, facing the house, my back to the yard where Levi romps along the fence line. I have my camera, and I'm looking up, to the right and left but always up, studying the beautiful cloud formations and the way the afternoon sun lights up my neighbor's oak tree, its leafy branches visible over my rooftop. I find my angle and take the shot.

I glance down, and there's Gimpy. He's sitting right beside me at the edge of the patio, facing the house, his back to the yard, and he's looking up and down, left and right, quietly studying the drainpipe, the table and chairs, the spaces between the slats of the fence. He knows there's a lizard hiding somewhere, but he hasn't spotted it yet. He'll pounce when he sees it.

Perched on top of the patio umbrella is a green anole lizard, its back to the house, facing the yard. It's looking down, to the left and right but always down, studying the woman and the predatory dog. It's dangerous to climb down right now, and the fence and the edge of the roof are too far away to leap there for safety. Better to sit here and wait. And watch.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Maybe Today I'll Do the Laundry

It's warm today but a little cloudy. If it rains, I might be forced to do some housework. Aaaaaaand, wouldn't you know it? As soon as I typed that first sentence, the sun came out. Okay, then, God, I got your message, and I thank you very much. Another play day it is.

Yesterday started out the same way. I took my Doodle boys and my camera outside early. While Levi and Gimpy played, I checked up on Mother Nature to see how she's coming along with spring. A couple of crows were already inspecting the pecan tree that stands right behind my back fence. I'm sure they were as pleased as I was to see those branches beginning to leaf out finally.

My next-door neighbor's grapevine has new leaves, too. I love the perfection of these baby leaves, every feature of the fully grown version already there in miniature.

The clover didn't need inspection. It's been thriving for weeks now, patches of it sprinkled on every yard I can see from my own. I know it's considered a weed, but I think it's pretty anyway.

The lawn-maintenance man showed up mid-morning, effectively banishing me and my allergies from the yard for the rest of the day, so I worked (played) a bit more on the blog dedicated to my late Grandma Audrey. When Audrey was 70 (the same age I am now), she participated in a project to preserve the songs of the Ozarks, a collection that is available on the internet, and yesterday I posted links to her songs in the sidebar of Audrey's Ambition. I think her descendants will get a big kick out of hearing Grandma's voice. As for the rest of you, I know Grandma sang in the church choir for a number of years, but I would . . . um . . . respectfully suggest that by the time she was 70, she was better at writing than at singing.

Once the song-links were ready, I ate lunch and read for a while (finally finished that long, long book about World War I and started a new, user-friendly, mystery novel), then committed to a messy afternoon of painting. The second session of the Acrylics Exploration class starts later this week, so I needed to work on the last project from the first session. I turned my iTunes up loud and painted all afternoon. At the bottom of the next photo is my version of three overripe peaches on a plate:

As usual, I see plenty of room for improvement, but I'm so proud that my knife has straight edges that I'm gonna quit while I'm ahead.


While I've been writing this post, my next-door neighbor has been getting her lawn mowed, so it looks like another indoor afternoon after all. Okay. Laundry it is. First load (dark clothes) coming up.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Fulfilling Audrey's Ambition

Yesterday was delicious! The combination of warm sunshine and a gentle breeze tickled my senses and enticed me to stay outside and play ball with Levi and Gimpy slightly longer than I should have. Today I'm paying for it with a stuffy nose and watery eyes, and my shoulders and neck are a little pinker than they should be, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. And that wasn't even the best part of the day.

Do you remember that I wrote last month about starting a blog to publish my Grandma Audrey's stories? Now that my own writing class has ended, I have time to tackle that project, so I began to think about what that blog should look like. I wanted it to reflect Grandma's tastes and personality, so I called my Aunt Shirley in Missouri early in the afternoon to ask her some questions. (Actually, because my eyes skipped up the page while I was dialing Shirley's number, I ended up talking to my Aunt Carol, too, which was the most delightful mistake I've made in a while.)

"What was Grandma's favorite color?" I asked Shirley. Hm. She didn't remember, but she has a picture of Grandma wearing a red blouse, so she may have liked red. And she wore a lot of prints. "Did she have a favorite flower?" Shirley said that Grandma didn't have time for gardening, having nine children and all, but there was definitely a spirea bush in the yard, because that's where the switches came from. Nine children, six of them boys? I guess Grandma did need a switch occasionally.

We talked and talked about Grandma's stories and about which of her children or grandchildren might be in possession of certain documents and photos Shirley remembered. Of particular interest were some letters Grandma found in her late Grandmother Amy's trunk, letters written in Amy's hand which were supposedly dictated to her by spirits. Yep, Amy was a spiritualist. Grandma wrote about her, and I'd love to see those letters. Shirley has already sent me lots of family photos and writings, and she promised more as soon as she can get someone to scan them. She's into this project as deeply as I am.

I told Aunt Shirley and Aunt Carol it would be a while before the blog was up and running, but while my mind was on it, I decided to go ahead and see if the url I wanted was available, which it was. I nabbed it, then put the title in, and the next thing I knew it was after one o'clock in the morning. Grandma's blog was up with photos and first posts and a poem she wrote about writing. The header is beige, representing the somber side of her I knew best, but the quilt in the background (Grandma was an avid quilter) has flashes of her fiery red side that others remember.

The name of Grandma's blog is Audrey's Ambition. I probably won't post there more than once a week, because the supply of her stories ceased in 1987 when she died, but I hope you'll visit there and read what she wrote. Most of her stories are presented as fiction but are actually autobiographical, with the names changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.

There's a link to Audrey's Ambition in the sidebar (under "My Other Blogs") and another one on a tab under the header above. If those aren't easy enough for you, just click right here. Maybe it's just a wacky trait I inherited from Great-Great-Grandmother Amy, but I truly believe Audrey will know you're reading her stories. And I know that if she does know, she'll be so proud.

Audrey Smith Barclay

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Music City

My favorite new TV series of the past season is Nashville. It's an intriguing, behind-the-scenes look at politics and the music industry in Tennessee's second-largest city. The story is interesting, the characters are well drawn, and the music has been consistently good since the beginning. This week's episode featured a number by Lennon and Maisy Stella, 13- and 9-year-old girls who are sisters in real life and also on the show, playing daughters of the show's main character. What a treat!

With that brief introduction, I'll make their performance this week's Saturday Song Selection. You go, girls!

The song is "Ho Hey" (by the Lumineers), performed here by Lennon and Maisy Stella.
Thanks to LGH1993 for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Sofas, So Far - Part II

At the conclusion of yesterday's post, I had just moved to Baton Rouge, where I lived alone, an official "empty nester." The remaining pieces of the conversation-pit-style furniture that had been in the living room of our family home were now in the living room of my first-ever apartment. To continue:

The sofa sat beneath the front windows and the love seat against the opposite wall. The extra-large hassock had been converted to a coffee table by the addition of a heavy glass square on top of it. In that location the sofa knew me as a woman who was absorbed in her career but wanted almost desperately to meet "Mr. Right" and start a life with him. It didn't happen. The best person to come into my life while I lived in that apartment was my beautiful granddaughter, Kalyn, a happy baby whose personality sparkled from her earliest days.

Baby Kalyn, balanced on disarranged sofa cushions.

I did meet Mr. Almost-But-Not-Quite-Right while I lived in that apartment, and eventually my furniture and I moved to share a house with him. We knew from the beginning that the arrangement wouldn't last, because he had his heart set on moving someplace tropical and living near the water, and I had my heart set on not doing that.

My daughter Kelli, leaning against my sofa while
visiting in the house I shared with a significant other.

The relationship and the living arrangement were good while they lasted. Even if nothing else came out of it, the sharing of expenses enabled me to save enough money to replace the beat-up car I'd inherited from my older daughter when she moved to New York. It had been wrecked a few times. The air conditioner didn't work, and the headliner came unglued and hung down to rest on my head as I drove.

One more interesting tidbit: My boyfriend's hobby was magic, specifically illusions. If that sofa could talk, it could tell plenty of secrets about how magic tricks are done. I promised I'd never tell, but the sofa never made such a promise.

Just over three years after I moved in, I moved out again to a different apartment in the same complex where I'd lived before. I was happy the first time I lived there and happier by far the second time around. I was steadily gaining confidence in my own ability to handle whatever challenges life threw my way. Romantic inclinations waned, replaced by job interests and the joy I found in being a grandmother. The sofa, now in its fourth home, saw me travel as often as three times a month to Houston, where the home office of my employer was located. It heard plenty of laughter, too: my own and that of visiting grandchildren, as we spread a plastic tablecloth on the floor in front of it and made countless Play-Doh masterpieces. The sofa, love seat, hassock, and I stayed together in that apartment for nine years.

My daughter Kelli (center) and grandkids, Kalyn and Koby,
in my second Baton Rouge apartment.

Early in 1997, Kelli (who was divorced by then) and I bought property together: two houses, one behind the other with a carport in between, all covered by one roof. It's where I still live today. The three remaining pieces of the conversation-pit group moved here with me to this 1970s-built home and lasted for three more years. That roomful of furniture we had purchased for $295 in 1978 held together for 22 years. It might have lasted even longer, but Kadi and Butch (see them in the sidebar) joined our family during our first 14 months here, and they were hard on the sofa fabric.

This is how my living room looked when I first moved into my present home.

In the fall of 1999, my daughter Kim moved back here from New York and lived with me for a while. My mother passed away at the end of that year. When my siblings and I discussed what to do with Mother's household furnishings, it quickly became clear that none of us wanted her sofa. Kim, upon learning that, asked if she could have it. She'd never seen it, but she knew she'd be moving into her own place soon and figured having any kind of sofa would reduce move-in expenses. Since my old living-room suite was looking very shabby, I agreed to have it hauled off and to replace it temporarily with Mother's taupe sofa, matching love seat, and burgundy, faux-leather recliner. Mother loved shades of pink, but these are not my colors.

The sofa and chair "we" (Kim and I) inherited
 are shown here in Mother's home. It looked nice there, 
but it wasn't even close to the earth tones I love.

I couldn't find any photos of Mother's furniture after it was moved into my home. I can tell you that Kim changed her mind about wanting it the instant she saw it, and that I was stuck with it for several years. I slipcovered it once, but the slipcover wouldn't stay in place with the dogs jumping on it. I think this sofa might have felt unappreciated in my house. Mother had taken good care of it; I, on the other hand, watched the calendar pages flip slowly and waited for it to die.

Early in 2005 we discovered that Butch had primary glaucoma that would ultimately leave him blind. He needed surgery before the condition grew so severe that medication couldn't control the associated pain. The surgery, unfortunately, would render him blind instantly, so Kim and I began to prepare for that eventuality. Part of the advice we read stated that rearranging furniture was extremely disorienting for a blind dog. We began to make permanent changes while Butch could still see them so he could remember where everything was after his sight was gone.

That's when my home became all about the dogs. They were the heart of it, the heart of me. I knew I wanted leather sofas (easy to wipe the hair off) and began shopping for them while work was in progress on redoing all my floors. I quickly found the sofas I wanted but couldn't afford them. The search continued until one day that store had a special sale, offering a deep discount on every sofa in stock with the trade-in of a used sofa or love seat. Bingo! I traded in Mother's sofa and love seat and bought the two leather sofas I'd been admiring. A neighbor was excited to get the worn burgundy recliner, which she promptly reupholstered in a lovely, soft fabric. It lived with her family for another 12 years.

I wrote above that my home is "all about the dogs."
These woodsy colors, though, are all about me.
They make everything feel peaceful and calm--just the way I like it.

We finished the flooring, painting, and furniture procurement in the summer of 2005, and Butch had his surgery that August, a few short weeks before Hurricane Katrina made landfall an hour south of here. Butch adapted to his sightlessness beautifully and had no qualms about leaping blindly on and off the new leather sofas. He and Kadi spent many comfortable hours there.

 Kadi (left) and Butch

Kadi and Butch are both gone now, leaving room on the sofas for the next generation of canine family members:

Gimpy (left) and Levi

I think these sofas will last for a while, and I think they'd tell you, if they could, that this is a happy, comfortable place to live. They'd tell you there's a lot of love in this old house, and the lady who picked out these cinnamon-hued sofas is still strong and healthy enough to pull one of them away from the wall and retrieve a tennis ball that's rolled behind it. The sofas aren't old enough to know it, but I can tell you something else about that lady: She's a lot older, wiser, and more comfortable with herself than she was when she chose that bright-orange, crushed-velvet, freeform sofa 40 years ago.

That's the way life's supposed to change us, right?