Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

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

Wishing all of you a wonderful 2014!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Out
by Sheryn MacMunn


The Secret Sense of Wildflower
by Susan Gabriel


Whisper My Secret
by JB Rowley


Mother of Ten (Whisper My Secret)
by JB Rowley


Sycamore Row
by John Grisham


by Cheryl Strayed


Life on the Mississippi
by Mark Twain


Defending Jacob
by William Landay


by Stephen King


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

Wishing you happy reading in the coming year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Maybe I Should Earmark Veterinary Funds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure wish they knew some less rowdy games.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Unbridled Silliness

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Visits with Santa

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

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

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

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

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


Maybe not.


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

Hm. Let me think...




Still thinking...




Googling images...




Oh, here it is! I remember now.

Merry Christmas, y'all!

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

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I'm Always Excited About Christmas Once It Gets Here

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

How stupid is that?


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

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

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

Shaking my head.


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

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

Monday, December 09, 2013

I Have Met Santa. His Name Was Tim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A Year of Broken Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Okay, Where Were We?

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

All of them except Lucy, that is.