Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"A long December and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last..." *

May the coming year bring newfound peace to our hearts, our homes, our small towns and big cities, our nations and our planet. Best wishes to all of you in 2015.

Photo shot from my backyard in late afternoon sun - 12/31/2014.
Don't you love it when Mother Nature paints with her palette of pastels?

* From the lyrics of "A Long December" by Counting Crows.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Get Me Through December

The picture below shows the small-town hospital that is nearest to all my Louisiana family members. I took this shot last year, passing by, because I thought the tree at the center of the photo looked pretty. A few days ago my younger daughter suggested that we rent a school bus, pile the whole family into it, and park it right outside this hospital for as long as necessary.

The first in a recent spate of hospital visits came a week before Christmas when my older daughter had carpal tunnel release surgery and trigger thumb surgery. She's done a good job of getting along with one functional hand and is recovering nicely.

An hour after we brought her home, my grandson checked in at the emergency room with severe abdominal pain, where tests were administered that led to an emergency appendectomy. According to doctors, the surgery itself was routine, but my grandson turned out to be the one person in five thousand whose body lacks the enzyme that rapidly metabolizes the drug used to paralyze the patient during intubation. He was left paralyzed and unable to breathe on his own for hours after the surgery. A respirator kept him alive until the drug eventually wore off; only then did the panic endured by his family members subside. He, too, is recovering nicely and was well enough three days post-surgery to get out of bed and cook a gumbo for a family get-together.

When I texted my sister in East Texas to let her know about those two hospitalizations, she told me that her husband had been in the hospital for several days with dangerously high blood pressure and severely swollen legs. I know he made it home in time for Christmas, and, not having heard otherwise, I'm assuming he's doing better now.

On the day after the carpal tunnel surgery and appendectomy, both of my great-grandbabies had illnesses requiring doctor visits. Both kids were much better a day later.

This past Friday my daughters got word that their father was having surgery to relieve pressure on his brain after suffering a blow to the head when he fell off a horse. On Saturday they made the 300-mile round-trip to visit him in the ICU. According to the latest report, he is doing well and expects to go home in a couple of days.

My daughters called while they were traveling back from that trip, and I told them I was glad they were on their way home. I felt fine but was concerned that my blood pressure readings were higher than they'd ever been--some of them in the dark-red range on this chart, indicating that I needed emergency care. I felt well enough that I hadn't wanted to go to the emergency room, and I thought I could bring those readings down by doubling the usual dosage of my blood pressure medications. By the time the girls got home, the readings were lower, though not yet in the normal range. After a lengthy discussion, I promised I would go to the ER if the numbers climbed high again, which they did later that night. Back to the hospital we went. The ER doc assured us that I wasn't in danger since I had no symptoms except a very slight headache. He prescribed double doses of my current medications (just as I had done on my own) and a consultation with my regular doctor after the holidays. I left there feeling slightly silly but reassured. My BP numbers today are right where they should be.

Early this morning my younger daughter was back at the same facility undergoing a previously scheduled colonoscopy. She's home now, she's fine, and she's getting some much-needed rest, the last of us to reach that precious period of relaxation.

Our Christmas celebration together was wonderful, but we won't remember this year's holidays for the lights and laughter, the gifts and good food. I hope we'll be able to laugh when we look back on this season as the one that couldn't be over soon enough.

And, just as I typed that last sentence, one of the dogs threw up. It was Levi, so we'll keep an eye on him.

Come on 2015!


The song is "Get Me Through December" by Alison Krauss.
Thanks to Tiffany Woolridge for posting this video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lullaby, Peace on Earth

It's been sixty-six years since my first-grade classmates and I gathered with children from other classrooms to sit around a huge, brightly decorated Christmas tree in the school hall and sing Christmas carols. The memory is as strong as ever. If I close my eyes and listen to children's voices singing one of the first carols I ever learned, I can almost recapture the magic I felt as a six-year-old back in Missouri.

I hope you have a store of happy memories from your own past Christmases, that each year you take them out and hold them lovingly, the same way you revere the fragile tree ornaments that have been in your family for years. Even more, I hope this Christmas will bring you the opportunity to create some new magical moments with the people you love.

"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night."


The song is Bethlehem Lullaby, performed by the AJ Choir.
Thanks to klingen 75 for posting the video on YouTube.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Gift of Christmas Spirit

Once again, just like last year and most years before that, I've made it this far into December without having made a dent in my Christmas shopping. Yesterday I went to the local outlet mall to see what I could find, but in just a couple of hours my head was spinning in confusion about what to get for whom, and my knees were screaming, "Give us a break, lady!"

Today I tried a different approach. I got up early and went straight to the computer, telling myself there's still time to shop online if I do it right away. By early afternoon I had ordered exactly one thing: a pair of pants for myself. I hadn't found a single gift item that seemed right for anyone on my short Christmas list.

By mid-afternoon I was feeling discouraged, as I always do when time is short and I want so much to buy meaningful gifts for the people I love. So I gave up and took a nap. Then I read for a while. After that, I fed the dogs, then warmed up leftovers for my own supper and ate it while I watched the local and national news.

About that time it occurred to me that tonight's the night the garbage can has to be rolled out to the curb, but there I was--still in my bathrobe. I hadn't dressed all day and wasn't inclined to bother with it when there were only a few hours left until bedtime. Instead, I watched this week's results show on The Voice and waited for it to get fully dark outside.

Finally, I gathered up the trash, threw my very long, dark winter coat over my robe, peeked through the window to make sure no neighbors were outside, then lugged the trash bags to the garbage can. I'd just started rolling the can down the hilly driveway when I began to hear loud music and short blasts of sirens and horns. I stopped to look for the source of the sounds and was surprised to see a fire engine rounding a nearby corner. The big red truck was all decked out for Christmas. Recorded carols blasted out of loudspeakers as it passed slowly along the road in front of my house, its multitude of lights flashing in celebration of the season.

I, who had sneaked outside under cover of darkness, was caught right there,  alone on the hill, in streams of colored lights. And you know what? All of a sudden it no longer mattered that they could see me dressed in my oversized coat and incongruous summer sandals or see my hair that hadn't had a brush run through it in hours. What did matter was to let them know that I could see them, to let them know they had touched me.

Thank God for our firefighters. I'm sure they've seen much scarier sights than the apparition of an unkempt old woman emerging from the darkness, waving her arms wildly, traces of sentimentality glimmering in the corners of her eyes, and a smile on her lips almost as bright as their emergency lights.

 Fire Department - Gonzales, Louisiana
Photo dated December 18, 2006

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Game Time: My Move

Today I did something I'm not proud of. I voted in a congressional runoff election for Edwin Edwards, Louisiana's 87-year-old, four-term former governor, four-term former congressman, convicted felon. I voted for him in the general election on November 4th, too, with just as many reservations, and was surprised to see him get as many votes as he did.

There were a number of Republicans on the ballot in November, and votes were split among them, resulting in Edwards getting more votes than any other candidate by a narrow margin. Things are different in today's runoff election. This time Edwards has only one opponent, Republican Garret Graves, whom I expect to beat him soundly in this red state.

I voted for Edwards both times as a protest. There was no candidate I wanted to support in this election. Garret Graves might be a decent guy, I don't know, but he seems to be toeing the party line every step of the way, and I expect Washington's puppet masters to keep him reined in tightly if he's elected. I hope Edwards gets enough votes that Graves will remember that there are plenty of people in Louisiana who didn't choose him, plenty who expect more of a U.S. congressman than to do what was the overwhelming theme of his political ads: stop Barack Obama. There's already been too much stoppage in congress; now I'd like to see them get a few things done.

If I've gambled wrong, and Edwards somehow pulls out a win, I'll be shocked. In that unlikely event, I'm counting on the fact that he got little if any support from the Democratic party and, therefore, may not feel as obligated as he might otherwise have been to political party movers and shakers. He might welcome an opportunity to buff some of the tarnish off his image by representing his constituents rather than the powerful one-percenters. At his age he can take a stand without having to worry that unpopular congressional votes might generate repercussions that negatively affect his long-term political future. Plus, he did say this, which I'm pretty sure is true, about his decision to run for congress: "I can't make it any worse."

It is now a few minutes past eight o'clock, the time the polls closed. I'll watch the returns and then sleep comfortably in the knowledge that in the days ahead there will be no more political ads, no more robocalls, no more glossy mailouts that twist the words and deeds of both parties' candidates, no more lies, no more games.


It's Saturday--time for a Saturday Song Selection--and it's kind of sad yet kind of reassuring that the lyrics of a song made popular in 1969 still apply today. Sad that we haven't made more progress, reassuring that the game playing has been going on for so long without causing total destruction.

The Song is "Games People Play" by Joe South.
Click here to read the lyrics.
Thanks to murpicus for posting the video on YouTube.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Home is Where the People Aren't

The quieter it is in my house, the harder it is for me to leave it. Right now I need to go grocery shopping, but the dogs are all sleeping. How can I bear to leave this peacefulness and head out into the busy marketplace?

Sometimes I think I have a case of agoraphobia-lite. It's similar to real agoraphobia, except that the fear is removed, the anxiety reduced by half, and a fair amount of self-indulgence and antisocial tendencies are added to the equation. I suppose that makes it exactly like garden-variety introversion. I don't panic at the idea of going out among crowds; I just generally prefer not to do so. There are certain things so good they would overcome my reluctance to leave home--a must-see movie based on a favorite book, a James Taylor concert in an intimate setting, a figure-skating exhibition--but shopping isn't one of them.

I have never and can't imagine that I will ever insert myself into the "fun" of Black Friday shopping; no bargain is that good. And you would be surprised at what I'll eat for dinner if it means I can postpone grocery shopping one more day. Today, when there are actually two viable dinner choices in the freezer, staying home is a no-brainer.

Grocery shopping is hardly the worst thing, of course. Yeah, it requires bathing, dressing, doing hair and applying minimal makeup, but at least it doesn't involve a lot of talking to people. Parties are much more difficult unless I know all the people there and they all know me well enough not to be offended when I leave early. Family parties, in fact, are wonderfully comfortable. I look forward to them.

On the other hand, the pressure at parties full of strangers is almost insurmountable. I skipped a toddler's birthday party two years in a row, intending to show up both times, then bailing at the last minute. I rationalized that the toddler, whom I love dearly, would be too excited about her gifts to notice whether or not I was there and that her immediate family members (who are also mine) would be too busy for me to hang onto their coattails while pretending to be invisible to the other guests. Lingering guilt is the price I pay for skipping the parties.

So here I am today, home alone with four sleeping dogs, happy as a pig in you-know-what, even if I know it means I must get an early start tomorrow or suffer the consequences of an empty pantry. The good news is, if I make a good shopping list and do a thorough job tomorrow, I won't have to go again for a week.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"...there is a season"

November is my favorite month, the month of my birthday, of Thanksgiving, of cooling temperatures and, for much of the nation, of colored leaves swirling through the air, sometimes followed days later by snowflakes. This year the colors of Louisiana's November have been bolder than ever--maybe no match for the vivid reds I remember from early years spent in Missouri, but quite pleasing nonetheless.

Kim and I spent Thanksgiving Day at Kelli's house, where the food was wonderful and the company even better. Before leaving Kelli's, I sat on a stool next to three-year-old Olivia. "I had fun with you today," I told her.

"Yes," she replied, with a smile on her face and a cookie in her hand. "We laughed."

Indeed we did. We laughed a lot, and I'm grateful that each of the children and grandchildren in our family was born with a sense of humor.

We left Kelli's late in the afternoon, needing to be home in time to give the dogs their supper. Kim drove, and I sat in the shotgun seat and aimed my camera through the windshield. The sun was in our eyes, and as it sank lower and lower during the course of our twenty-minute ride, it lit the trees from behind, causing the translucent leaves to grow brighter with each mile we traveled.

On that day I recognized how much I have to be thankful for. I still do. I always do, yet November, beautiful as it is, has been a hard month. Colder weather has made my knees hurt. My feet, having known the freedom of sandals for months now, are not happy about having to wear more substantial shoes. All the pants that fit me a month ago are too tight now. Comfort food is not my friend.

Even as I am grateful on a larger scale, I am frequently irritated on the small scale that weighs the success of individual days. My coping skills don't seem to be functioning as well as usual. Little tasks (such as calling the doctor to find out why two long-term prescriptions that expired were renewed for one month only) require more effort than I've been able to muster up, yet must be done before we get much deeper into holiday-related office closures. I'm comfortable with routine (set in my ways?), and holidays disrupt it.

I'm getting old. I've never been a high-energy person, and I find I'm getting tired more easily now than I used to. As much as I like November, its physical changes remind me that life is seasonal, that slowing down is a natural process, followed in the plant world by the process of shutting down, either temporarily or permanently and, if nature intends it to be so, followed then by a period of rebirth.

I am aware that a life span is finite, that burying myself between the pages of a book is a lovely way to spend a cold autumn afternoon but not the most productive way to use the remainder of the unknown number of days allotted to me. There are things I need to do.

These thoughts about mortality are caused partly by the changing of the seasons and partly by the notice I received yesterday that my online friend and fellow blogger, Patsy, has passed away following a long illness. Considering words Patsy herself has written about her suffering and her faith, perhaps she was ready to reach this final milestone. I will miss her wit and her wisdom.

I am not ready. Not yet. The splendid colors of the season remind me to take care of business while there's still time.


The song is "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)," written by Pete Seeger, performed by The Byrds.
Thanks to mhcaillesrn for posting the video and lyrics on YouTube.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Canine Comedy Hour

The dinging of a timer bell is a common sound in our household. The microwave timer sometimes goes off several times in short succession if I'm keeping an eye on something and unsure how long it will take to cook. Same thing goes for the oven timer. I also set the oven timer throughout the day so I won't forget soft drinks being quick-chilled in the freezer or Oliver, who always wants to stay outside a few minutes longer than the other dogs do.

Levi has decided that the timer is important, maybe because I stop what I'm doing and get up to tend to something every time it sounds. In fact, he has appointed himself Timer Monitor. When that bell dings, he stops what he's doing, too, and presents himself at my feet, presumably to call my attention to the timer's signal or, possibly, to let me know he stands ready for duty should I need his capable assistance.

I think that's pretty cute. Last night, however, it became problematic. Not for me, but for Levi.

All four dogs were asleep in the living room when I tuned in to watch Vegas ER. Have you ever noticed how much beeping there is in a hospital emergency room? Every time a piece of medical equipment beeped, Levi woke up, climbed off the sofa he'd claimed all to himself, walked over to where I sat and reported for duty. It took a time or two before I noticed what sound he was responding to, and he seemed confused when I didn't jump up in a hurry to do something about it. He'd stand there looking at me for a minute, then return to his place on the sofa.

I watched two one-hour episodes in a row. I can't tell you how many times Levi showed up at my feet, but it was obvious that the frequent sleep interruptions were getting to him. Each time he came to me, he was more dazed and confused than the previous time. I tried to explain to him, the way I explain when the dogs respond to a barking dog or ringing doorbell on TV: "It's a TV noise." He didn't get it. He was so tired by the end of the two hours that I felt really sorry for him (hugged him a lot), but that didn't stop me from cracking up laughing.


A similar story:  All four dogs rushed over to my desk the other morning when I watched a video that featured yelping puppies. Lucy, Oliver, Levi and Gimpy all barked their concern for a moment, then three of them wandered away. Levi stayed behind just long enough to push past my knees and do a quick puppy-search under my desk. He's responsible, that one. And thorough.


Oh! I almost forgot to tell you one more funny thing that happened last night. Gimpy was asleep on the other end of the sofa I was sitting on. The constant ER bells on TV didn't bother him at all, but he tends to participate actively in his dreams. At one point, sound asleep, he started running, his legs moving slowly at first, then faster and faster, stretching himself out to a full-length hard run before suddenly trying to stand up. Fortunately, he woke up just before he flung himself off the sofa. He looked sheepish for a second, then flopped over and went right back to sleep.

My life would be so boring without these dogs.

Gimpy (left) and Levi.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Potato Soup Weather

Last night wasn't the first night I've turned the heater on this year, but it was the first time the heater has had to work so hard to keep the house warm. Tomorrow it's supposed to be ten degrees colder, possibly breaking a record according to the local TV weatherman.

The sky is gray and dreary this morning, but the oak tree next to our driveway is more colorful than I've ever seen it. Vivid foliage is a rare treat this far south.

Today I'm especially aware of the blessings of retirement. There's no place I need to go, nothing I need to do that would take me out into the cold. The dogs have been outside twice this morning and don't seem eager to go again anytime soon. Last time they went out it was raining lightly, which I didn't realize until they all came back wet. It tickles me how firmly their routines are established in their canine minds, how patient the four of them are as they line up and wait to be dried off with a towel.

Tonight we'll have potato soup and cornbread for supper, a favorite cold-weather meal that I haven't had in way too long. I haven't started cooking yet, but I'm almost salivating just thinking about the smell of potatoes and onions simmering on the stove.

And...half a minute ago the dogs asked to go out again. The sun came out right as I opened the door, giving the appearance of warmer weather, but the wind has kicked up and an icy blast nearly blew the door out of my hand. It's definitely colder than it was a few hours ago. Time to pull out the sweatpants.

I hope it's cozy and colorful where you are today.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Word Origins

My life-long interest in words and their meanings has given me a great appreciation for the near-miss words that children sometimes use, mistakes that often make as much sense as the correct words they replace. For example, one of my young daughters, upon hearing a new bit of information, responded by saying, "The clot thickens." The same daughter, who was undeniably hard on her toys, once opened a box containing a new toy or game and suggested that we begin by reading "the destructions." Both of those errors  made their way into the vocabulary that our family still uses today.

Last week, in line at a grocery check-out counter, a small girl stood with her mother directly in front of me. At the child's eye level was an upright, plastic display of Bic lighters. I could tell that the girl had been warned about the lighters, because she was careful not to touch a single one of them. Instead, she poked one small finger into each space between the lighters--the empty spaces from which other lighters had been removed--and accompanied every tap of her finger with a single spoken word: "Fireable!"

"Fireable, fireable, fireable, fireable!"

Her word made me smile. It made perfect sense to at least two of us.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

"And I have heard all the stories, you know the stories..."

In the fall of 1973, I moved with my husband and daughters to Farmingdale, New York. If I'm remembering correctly, that's the first place we ever lived where cable TV was more prevalent than rooftop antennae, so, like a good neighbor, we signed up for it. HBO was part of the package. On the day the cable was hooked up, I was quite shocked to turn on a movie (Serpico, I believe it was) and hear Al Pacino drop the F-bomb several times in succession right there in our living room. (Hm. Hadn't thought about it, but HBO may be partly responsible for the potty mouth I struggle with daily; I've always blamed it on my old friend Jude.)

My husband didn't like to go out to the movies, mostly because he couldn't smoke in the theater, but he did enjoy watching popular films on TV. The rest of the family did, too. Many nights found us all curled up together on our family-sized, orange crushed-velvet sofa, eyes glued to the latest offerings on HBO.

A few of those movies still stand out in my mind forty years later, mostly because of the feelings they evoked at the time. One that moved me profoundly is Buster and Billie, the story of a popular high-school boy (played by Jan Michael Vincent) who unexpectedly falls in love with the shy, good-hearted town slut, a relationship that eventually leads to harsh consequences for both of them.

Do you remember that movie? If you saw it, I'll bet you do. And I'll bet you still remember the theme song and that hearing even a few notes of it calls up feelings of sweet, sweet love and heartbreaking sadness. Listen and see what you think:

The song is "Billie's Theme" by Hoyt Axton.
Thanks to Skye Moppit for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Friday, November 07, 2014

What I've Been Reading--and Thinking

It's tempting to blame my recent blogging lapse on writer's block, but that would be a lie. The truth is I've been heeding that old adage: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Half of my friends and family are Republicans, and I didn't want to offend any of them by ranting about what I really think about the Grand Old Party and its billionaire backers who are itching to get their hands more deeply into the pockets of America's senior citizens than the hands of the Nigerian email scammers we've all been warned about will ever go. The difference is that the billionaires will rob us a few dollars at a time, controlling Congress to tweak one bill here and another one there in favor of corporate earnings, until the middle class is nothing but a thing remembered from the olden days. 

I remember when it didn't cost $13 to buy enough ground beef for a meatloaf like the one I made last night. Food prices are astonishingly high. And I laugh when I hear newscasters rejoicing because the price of gasoline has dropped pennies below $3 a gallon. That's still way too expensive, people! It's as though everybody who's bought gas in recent years has been held up at the pumps by an armed robber who took all the money out of their wallets, and it's happened so many times they've begun to expect it. In fact, the holdups are still happening, only now the robber is allowing each victim to keep, say, a $10 bill, so the gas customers are smiling and the news reporters are positively gleeful. Personally, I'd say the news about gas prices is better than it has been but still isn't up to the standard of good. 

Anyway, you can see that it doesn't take much thinking about this for me to start ranting, which I had not intended to do today. I've avoided ranting for the past couple of weeks by escaping into books, specifically these:

Black Butterflies
by Sara Alexi

Deadly Offerings
by Alexa Grace

The Saints Go Dying
by Erik Hanberg

Ava's Man
by Rick Bragg

Surviving Goodbye
by Morgan Parker

by Dana Marton

Prince Edward
by Dennis McFarland

by JD Nixon

Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places
by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects
by Gillian Flynn

Courting Cate
by Leslie Gould

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

My favorites in this batch were Rick Bragg's biography of his grandfather, Ava's Man; Dennis McFarland's Prince Edward, a true-to-life novel about the integration of schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia; and the three chilling novels by Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects. Those were excellent reads; the others were all pretty good. (I also attempted to read a couple of real clunkers that, as a favor to you, I have not included in the list above.)

Okay. I thought a reading list would be a good way to ease back into blogging and leave political vitriol behind. That plan seems to have been only partially successful, though I do feel more peaceful at the end of this post than I did at the beginning of it. Now I'll go make an expensive meatloaf sandwich and read a book while I eat it. Tomorrow I'll try to muster up a Saturday Song Selection video, possibly one with a pleasant story to go along with it, and maybe I can get back to regular posting after that. If not, I'll blame it on writer's block. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Preparing for the Inevitable

Life writing class has officially ended until February. I will miss those weekly get-togethers with strong, good-humored, thinking women. Our last assignment, just in time for Halloween, was to write our own obituaries. Wait...if you think you've already read this, you haven't; we did the same assignment last October, and I wrote about it then. There were a couple of new people in class this session, so the newbies wrote their obituaries for the first time, and the rest of us gussied up our old ones.

I rather liked the hippy-dippy "child of the universe" obit I'd done previously, so I didn't change too much about it. I did reduce my guesstimated age at death from 90 to 86, having read an actuarial table earlier in the week. But who knows? I may kill myself any day now if the phone doesn't stop ringing with political robocalls.

Anyway, in the spirit of the assignment, I wrote about somebody else's funeral that was the kind of informal send-off I want for myself, and I also wrote this little piece:

Notice of Death
(to be published in the event of my untimely demise
if I have correctly predicted the cause of it)

Linda (Last Name) died today.
She fell and hit her head, they say,
Tripped on Lucy, underfoot,
Alive one minute, then kaput!


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Flower Girl and Ring Bearer

Photo by Michelle Gomez

Last night my great-grandbabies posed for a moment before they walked down the aisle in the wedding of their Uncle Brad and his love, Rachel. Congratulations to the bride and groom and also to these two little ones, who seem to have been pretty proud of themselves.

Well, Frickety, Frick, Frick, Frick!

If you've left a comment on this site since early August, I've read it, appreciated it deeply and, just minutes ago, accidentally deleted it. I should have learned by now that it doesn't pay for me to do anything important until I've been awake at least a couple of hours. But noooo, the house was quiet, and it seemed like a perfect time to do a little housekeeping on the blog.

I pulled up the page where all the spam comments are listed, checked the box that marks up to fifty comments at once and hit delete. Nothing happened. I do this routinely, about once a month, and have never had a problem with it before. I tried again. And again. Still nothing happened. I decided I'd delete them one by one if I had to but couldn't make even one of them go away.

So, I rebooted the computer and tried again. Pulled up the list, marked fifty comments with one keystroke, hit delete, and voila! They all disappeared in the blink of an eye, just as they were supposed to do. Only then did I notice that the list I'd pulled up was not the spam comments but the published ones--the ones you put in time and effort to write.

I am so sorry.

You know, I don't very often make the same mistake twice, but my capacity for making new ones is apparently unlimited.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Slow Drive, Uphill

Learning to drive was a long, slow process for me--and not an easy one after I lost confidence on my very first try. I managed to describe the learning experience succinctly in the three-word title of this post, but putting it on paper for Life Writing Class called for more details and more words:


 I have no recollection of what kind of car we were in that day, but I clearly remember what I saw through the windshield: a narrow, rutted, dirt road stretched out between two fields of tall grass and a bright blue sky that seemed bigger than the one we’d left behind in Missouri. The next image I can picture is my stepfather’s arms, in short shirtsleeves, reaching across me and grabbing the steering wheel as he shouted, “Stop, stop, stop!” I don’t recall what else he might have said. In hindsight I know what I’d have been saying if I’d been in his position, but the man I hadn’t yet started to call Daddy didn’t like cusswords and didn’t use them.

That was my first driving lesson. Last one, too. Mother had remarried weeks earlier and moved my sister and me to Texas. The plan was to get a house in the town of Orange before school started, but until then we were staying in nearby Bridge City, all of us crammed together in my stepfather’s rented garage apartment, where the sweltering August heat rose up into the two rooms plus kitchenette and the ancient window air conditioner chugged for all it was worth but didn’t stand a chance.

I don’t know whose idea it was to teach me to drive. Not mine, I’m pretty sure. Maybe my new daddy thought it would be a bonding experience. I was 14 years old, and in Texas that was old enough to get a learner’s permit. Which I never did get. My main problem--the one that scared the dickens out of Daddy--was a tendency to oversteer. When a bump in that country road had made the steering wheel jerk a fraction of an inch to the left in my hands, I’d held on tightly and steered to the right, way too far it turned out, then tried to correct that with a forceful turn back to the left, then back and forth, back and forth over the ruts, my foot on the gas pedal the whole time. After the hollering and steering-wheel grabbing, I got the car stopped, and the very short driving lesson ended. Daddy got out of the car and started walking around it, so I knew I was supposed to do the same. We traded places and he drove home. By then I knew what I’d done wrong, but I never got another lesson, so I couldn’t prove it. Not that I ever asked for a second chance; I’d scared myself as much as I’d scared Daddy.

All through high school, neighborhood carpools delivered me safely to school and back, but I had to bum rides from friends for after-school events like choir practice and play rehearsals. After graduation, when I got my first job, Mother scouted around and found a neighbor, Mary-something, who worked across the street from my office and was willing to take me to and from work for a dollar a week in gas money.

I never told anybody, but I did drive one time that first year after graduation. I went with a guy named Ted to meet some friends and go swimming (another thing everyone but me seemed to know how to do). Ted and these other people were not kids I’d known from my school in Orange; they were my best friend Jude’s friends from her school, a wilder bunch who’d gone to West Orange High. They smoked and drank beer. I’d tried to smoke but had given it up after two weeks and one pack of Kents, and I thought beer tasted nasty, so I didn’t drink it. Ted apparently liked beer a lot. When it was time to go home at the end of our date, he handed me the car keys. I looked up at him, surprised, and told him I didn’t know how to drive. He said, “There ain’t nothin’ to it,” gave me a minute’s worth of instructions and fell asleep in the shotgun seat. I drove us home.

The next time I drove I was married and living with my new husband, Bill, in Bryan, Texas. Bill had bought a little piece of land that he called “the farm” in Iola, northeast of Bryan. We’d go there sometimes on a weekend day. Two animals had come with the farm, a friendly, pregnant cow named Hoover and a mean Shetland pony called Silly. If the animals needed shelter, they could find it in the wooded area at the rear of the property or else under a rickety, wooden structure that was nothing more than one wall and a roof held up by a couple of posts. I liked the woods better myself. I’d take a book back there, sit on the ground with my back against a tree and read for hours while Bill did whatever he wanted to do. The only time I knew for sure what he did was the day he borrowed a tractor from the farm’s nearest neighbor so he could mow. When we picked up the tractor that morning, Bill said he’d drive it and I could follow him in the car. The route to the farm was a straight shot on a paved road, so the drive was an easy one.

When the mowing was done, we reversed the procedure. Bill pulled the tractor through the gate, turned and parked it beside the road, then told me to go on ahead while he locked up. He said he’d meet me at the neighbor’s in a couple of minutes. I drove our big, bulky Buick (or whatever it was) through the gate, made the tight right turn, and kept my eyes on the road ahead. Once at the neighbor’s, I waited for a long, long time. It was almost dark when Bill got there. He said I’d bumped one of the big tractor tires when I pulled out, bumped it hard enough to nudge it into a slide. I told him truthfully I’d never felt a thing, but he said the tractor was just slipping into the bottom of the ditch when he turned around after locking the gate. He said he’d stood in the road behind me and waved and waved, but I never even looked back.

By the time I drove again, baby Kim had arrived, and the big Buick had been replaced by a Volkswagen, a much smaller car that had its engine in the back. Kim was asleep and Bill wished he was, so when I mentioned that we were almost out of baby formula, he said he thought it would be good practice if I went the few short blocks to the store by myself while he stayed with the baby. I drove there tentatively and had no trouble until I’d bought what we needed and started for home. Still in the parking lot, barely moving at all, I gently eased the car backward right into a concrete pillar. A close inspection showed not even one tiny scratch on the car and too many scratches on the pillar for anybody to pick out one specific one that I’d caused. On the way home I decided there was no need to mention what had happened. It must have been a week later when Bill asked me if I’d hit something with the car. I confessed immediately and asked, “How in the world did you know that?” He said he’d tried to check the oil but couldn’t raise the hood because the bumper was pushed in about two inches.

After our second daughter, Kelli, was born and my days got busier, it soon became clear that I needed to stop relying on other people for transportation, so I drove a lot more often. I steered mostly with my left hand so I could fling my right arm across the two tiny girls bouncing around on the bench seat next to me and protect them from sudden stops and bumps. Somewhere in that time period I got a driver’s license, but I don’t remember doing it.

When Kim was five and Kelli was three, Bill and I divorced. I was working then, driving every day in a little yellow Corvair Monza convertible, shifting its four-speed transmission with ease, carrying those little girls around with a measure of confidence that didn’t accurately reflect how much I still needed to learn about driving. All I can say is we were lucky.

Then came Richard. He was my second husband, and he cared enough to pay attention to a lot of things, including how I drove. He gave me driving tips, not in a lesson, but one at a time over the course of several years. Once, when he realized that I leaned slightly forward while I drove, he figured out that I was keeping a close eye on the forty- or fifty-some-odd feet of road directly in front of the car. He explained that I needed to focus farther away, far enough down the road that I could spot a hazard before I was right up on top of it. That one change made driving a lot less scary. Another time he noticed how carefully I watched the edge of the road and the centerline to make sure I stayed between them. He suggested that I stop worrying about the edges and line myself up over the dark, oily swath that runs down the center of each lane. He said as long as my wheels straddled the greasy strip, I’d be fine. I‘d always been careful to slow down on a curve, but Richard told me I’d have better traction if I’d slow down ahead of the curve, then accelerate slightly as I went into it. He was right, and I’ve done it his way ever since. One night I asked him about the blue light that mysteriously showed up on my dashboard from time to time. I felt silly, but also quite pleased, when he told me the blue light meant that my bright lights were on. Up until then the only way I could ever be certain about the brights was to test out the headlights on a dark road or the side of a building. I’m just guessing, but the blue-light incident might have been one of the times Richard hugged me close, chuckled in my ear, and called me his “dumb blonde.” He could get away with that once in a while, because I knew that he knew I wasn’t actually dumb. Or blonde.

I’ve driven many miles between then and now, on cross-country family moves, dozens of job-related trips between Baton Rouge and Houston, daily commutes to and from work in heavy traffic. These days I don’t drive a lot. Daytime traffic is hellish, and night blindness shakes my confidence after the sun goes down. Also, I don’t know whether it’s a consequence of aging, long-term trust issues or the fact that so many people can’t seem to put their dad-gummed cell phones down for even a minute, but something has happened in recent years that makes me question the skills and good sense of every other driver on the road.

Even so, there are still times when I’m driving along and it occurs to me out of the blue how much I’m enjoying it. When that happens, when it’s a clear, sunny day and I’ve started out early and I’m on a pretty, tree-lined road where there isn’t much traffic, I get the feeling that I’d like to just keep on driving, keep on going and going until I end up someplace new and different, someplace where I can see new scenery, new faces, and have a little adventure of one kind or another. I think about how freeing it would feel to be that spontaneous. I think about how it would be such a gratifying experience that it probably wouldn’t take more than a day or two before I’d be full of it, ready to turn around and head back home to what’s familiar, what I love. I think how someday I’m going to do that, just drive away and follow the road wherever it leads me. Someday. But not that day.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Where Happy Little Bluebirds Fly

We had a hard rain yesterday afternoon. Sometime after it stopped I opened the backdoor to let the dogs out and saw this:

I didn't realize how long it had been since I'd seen a rainbow, but I bought my first digital camera in February of 2006, and these are the first rainbow pictures I've ever taken.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"Lately I See Her Ribbons and Her Bows"

It's getting late, just enough of Saturday night left to post a Saturday Song Selection if I hurry. Sometime, somewhere, I read the lyrics of tonight's song described as "an exploration of woman's vulnerability"--or other words along those same lines. Vulnerability is one of several possible answers to a question that's on my mind tonight, a question about why someone I know makes some of the choices she does. Not that it's any of my business when it comes right down to it.

I'd post a link to the lyrics, like I usually do, but I haven't yet found any accurate ones online. That's okay. Joe Cocker didn't seem to know them all that well, either, and it's still a great song.

The song is "Just Like a Woman," performed by Joe Cocker.
Thanks to Steve Walker for posting the video on YouTube.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Toads Among the Princes

Our last Life Writing assignment was to make a list of all our old boyfriends and say a little something about each of them. I'd done that several sessions ago when the writing topic was "love," so I flipped the topic on its side and wrote this:


Some people say you have to kiss a lot of toads before you find your handsome prince. I say it’s just too much trouble to figure out the difference between them. My first husband didn't seem at all like a toad until I married him, then all I heard for the next six years was "Ribbit! Ribbit!"

Richard, my second husband, was a prince of a man, albeit a prince with a wandering soul. Seven times in twelve years my daughters and I followed him on his quest to expIore what was over yonder hill. When we got to Small Town, Louisiana, I said, “Enough, already!” and he promised we‘d stay. Two years later he left for California. He tried to lure us there with tales of constant sunshine and a remarkable absence of mosquitos, but we chose to stay behind.

That’s how I ended up alone and princeless in the land of the good ol’ boys, where the average guy drives a pickup truck with a shotgun mounted in the rear window and would rather die than be caught reading a book. To be truthful, I have met some above-average men over the past thirty years, even a few princes, but never that special one whose hopes, dreams and lifestyle matched up with mine.

Now that I’m retired, I don’t go out much, preferring the comfort of my own modest castle. Unless an elderly gentleman who likes assertive fat women shows up on my doorstep, my chances of falling in love again are slim. And even if I were surrounded by eager, eligible suitors, it’s exhausting just to think about the amount of time and effort it would take to distinguish a prince from a toad. A toad like these I once knew:

Toad No. 1 - Let’s call him Jake (rhymes with flake):

I’d known Jake years earlier. We’d been neighbors when Richard and I still lived in Texas, and I’d liked him a lot. When he called me one day out of the blue, said he’d been divorced for a while, would be in Baton Rouge the following weekend and would love to see me, I was thrilled. I’d always admired Jake’s calm, cool demeanor and looked forward to a pleasant reunion. And it was pleasant--for an hour or so. We talked as he drove through LSU football traffic. I learned that he was not only divorced from his first wife, who’d been my friend, but from two other women he’d married in the 16 years since I’d last seen him. The third wife had been the widow of a co-worker and good friend who’d been killed on the job. Jake had married her, he said, because his dead friend’s spirit had inhabited his body shortly after the funeral and compelled him to take care of the widow and her children. The widow had left Jake after a couple of years, but I wondered if the invasive spirit might still be around. Perhaps it was he who was driving aggressively, short-cutting through corner gas stations, driving over curbs, cutting people off right and left, swearing loudly and making rude gestures out the window. That sure wasn’t the Jake I’d known before.

Toad No. 2 - Let's call him Herbert (rhymes with pervert):

My good friend Jean and I were just starting dinner in a Baton Rouge restaurant when Herbert walked over, introduced himself, pulled out a chair and sat down at our table. I thought at first that Jean knew him; she thought I did. His dark hair, black-rimmed eyeglasses reminded me of Clark Kent. He was mild-mannered, too, pleasant enough that we didn’t ask him to leave. Over our protests, he insisted on picking up our dinner tab. Jean and I talked afterwards about how weird that was, but we agreed that he seemed harmless.

The three of us had discussed our jobs during dinner, and a day or so later Herbert looked up my work number and called to invite me out dancing. I loved to dance, so I ignored the little signals my brain was flashing and accepted. Herbert took me to a dimly lit neighborhood bar that was decorated with smoked mirrors and red-flocked wallpaper where most of the patrons were older than we were. A small combo played crooner tunes next to a stamp-sized dance floor. In between dances, Herbert ordered cocktails; I stuck with my usual, Diet Coke. Even before his hands began to wander, I’d decided I didn’t like him at all. I wasn’t sure a fake headache was enough to get me home, so I pulled out the big guns and told him I had a bad case of cramps.

At my doorway he asked if he could come in for a cup of coffee. I told him the truth: I didn’t drink coffee and didn’t keep it in the house. He said, “Well, can I at least come in for a minute and use your bathroom?” I let him in and showed him to the downstairs bathroom. He came out of it bare-chested, his shirt and undershirt draped over his forearm. I told him to get dressed and get out, and he got angry, calling me names, yelling that he hadn’t spent his good money on dinner and drinks for nothing. He made a grab for me, but I ducked out of his reach, snatched up the phone and started dialing. He threw on his shirt as he stormed out the door.

Toad No. 3 - Let's call him Peter (rhymes with cheater):

I didn’t date for about a year after Richard and I split up. Peter was one of the first men I met after that. His shiftwork schedule limited the amount of time we could spend together, but I was in no rush to move things along. Most of our so-called dates were low-key events. Sometimes we’d drive around town and talk for an hour or two, sometimes he’d stop by my house for a short visit after he got off work. I was delighted when he had a whole Saturday free and took me to the Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales. We danced, enjoyed the music, and saw a lot of people either he or I knew. We’d been dating about six weeks when I invited him to escort me to a company dinner. Peter looked nice in his coat and tie, and I was proud to be seen with him. It did pique my curiosity when he walked across the room to get a drink and spent several minutes chatting with my co-worker, Rosie (rhymes with nosy).

I was still in bed when Rosie called early the next morning. “Did you know Peter’s married?” she asked bluntly. I was stunned. I remembered the tiny sneakers I’d seen in his back seat. When I’d asked about them, he said his roommate had borrowed his car the weekend before, that the shoes must belong to his roommate’s kid. Rosie continued: “I’ve known Peter and his wife for years. I asked him last night, ‘Do you know that that’s my boss you’re with?’ and he said, ‘Well, don’t tell her nothin’, and I’ll put in a good word for ya.’”


Note: I had to edit this piece for posting here, losing a couple of funny lines in the process. One never knows who'll get their feathers ruffled if they happen to stumble across themselves in someone else's true story on the internet. Also, there was a Toad No. 4 in the original piece, but I've already told you about that one in an earlier post, so I won't repeat. 

Final thought: I love going to this class and listening to other people's stories. They're all so different, yet there are always common elements, bits that strike a familiar chord and remind one or more of us of another story yet to be written.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Making Hay While the Moon Shines

Now that insomnia has become an issue, I'm trying to make the best of it by keeping a bottle of water, a protein bar and my iPad on the nightstand. The iPad comes in handy as a flashlight, an ebook, and a quick resource for answers to most of the stupid questions that cross my mind and won't let go in the wee hours of the morning.

One of those questions last night was, "When is the lunar eclipse?" I looked it up and discovered it was happening right at that moment. Quickly collecting my bathrobe, the dogs and the camera, I stepped outside, took a few literal shots in the dark, then returned to bed and slept soundly until morning.

As proud as I felt for putting ten minutes of can't-sleep time to good use, you'd think I'd feel bad about how much time I waste during daylight hours. I don't, though. A little bit of sheepishness is all I can muster.

Friday, October 03, 2014

What I've Been Reading: Non-Fiction

While I don't think my own life story has been interesting enough to appeal to the general public, the work we're doing in Life Writing class has made me wonder what's the best way to tell it to any of my descendants who might be curious someday in the future. As a result, I've been reading a lot of memoirs lately, paying attention to where the writers begin their stories (not usually at the beginning), how the books are organized, and so forth. The books listed below held my attention as well as good fiction does, which is important, I think.

The Liars' Club (a re-read) was particularly interesting because much of it took place in a small Texas town about twenty minutes away from where I went to high school and where my sister and nieces still live. I loved the author's mention of familiar landmarks and will try to remember to put those kinds of specific details in my own stories. 

Black Boy
by Richard Wright

The Liars' Club
by Mary Karr

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

Comet's Tale: How the Dog I Rescued Saved My Life
by Steven D. Wolf

Sunlight on My Shadow
by Judy Liataud

Kevin and I in India
by Frank Kusy

by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer

Sweet Baby Lover
by Jule Kucera

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

What I've Been Reading: Fiction

Okay, here's the reading list I promised yesterday--at least part of it. I'll break the list into two posts to (hopefully) make it load faster. Let's start with the fiction, some old, some new, every one worth the time I spent reading it:

Coming Home
by Laurie Breton

Silent Run
by Barbara Freethy

Cracks in the Sidewalk
by Bette Lee Crosby

Elizabeth Street
by Laurie Fabiano

Unspoken Bond
by Blake O'Connor

Fade to Black
by Leslie A. Kelly

The Guestbook
by Andrea Hurst

Ellen Foster
by Kaye Gibbons

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

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Odds and Ends and Reasons to Floss

September ended with a suggestion from the man who mows my lawn that it's probably safe to cut back from once a week to every two weeks now. Yay! Lawn care is my third-biggest monthly expense, after house note and telephone/cable/internet bundle, so reducing and eventually eliminating lawn care for the cooler months serves as my version of a Christmas Club Account.


I try to get all four dogs to go outside at the same time, but that doesn't always happen. When Gimpy asked to go out yesterday, I called all the others to the door. Until I opened it, I hadn't noticed that a light rain was falling. Gimpy and Levi went outside anyway, but Lucy and Oliver steadfastly declined. That's what made it so funny afterwards when I towel-dried Levi, then Gimpy, while Lucy and Ollie queued up behind them for their turn with the towel. It reminded me of our last set of dogs (RIP, beautiful babies!), when Butch needed ear drops twice a day, and the others always lined up behind him, rolling their eyes and looking gloomy, while I pretended to put drops in their ears.


Seems like it was about this time last year when Levi and Gimpy discovered a possum on the fence. It happened again the other night:

The possum sat as still as a statue while the dogs repeatedly leaped and threw themselves against the fence. They seemed to have no fear whatsoever of the ugly creature. The next night, however, a cockroach (yuck!) got into the house and strolled boldly through the living room. I might have missed it, except that both Levi and Gimpy stood very still, swiveling their heads back and forth between the nasty intruder and me, until I got up to see what they were looking at. I killed it, of course. I guess I don't blame them for not taking care of it themselves; they weren't wearing shoes.


I've been reading, reading, reading in the daytime and at bedtime, taking a break in the evenings to watch the season's new episodes of Survivor, The Amazing Race, Grey's Anatomy and Nashville. Also burned some CDs so I'd have new tunes to listen to on weekly trips to Walmart or Life Writing Class. 

I wanted the songs in the second (bottom) CD insert to be numbered from 21-40 but couldn't figure out how to make iTunes do it that way. Meh. Teenagers may think they originated the "whatever" attitude, but I have it way more in my seventies than I did in my teens.


If you're retired, do you sometimes get your days mixed up? I missed a dental appointment a couple of weeks ago--first time I've ever done that. I knew the appointment was on the 23rd; I just didn't realize that that particular day was the 23rd until they called to see where I was. Fortunately, they had an opening later the same day, so they didn't charge me extra for wasting their morning slot. 

Wouldn't you know that my one molar that doesn't already have a crown on it suddenly needs one? I'll dig into my savings and let them fix that tooth, then I'll look forward to seeing what dentist-income source they can find to fix the next time I go in for a cleaning. They've been pushing me for years to replace my partial with implants, but I have no intention of paying for teeth that will live longer than I do.


That's about all that's going on around here. Book list coming up tomorrow.