Wednesday, February 26, 2014

School Days Again

Earlier this year I enrolled in two courses: a third series of the Life Writing classes I've enjoyed so much and Drawing 101, taught by the talented instructor of the Acrylics Exploration class I took last year. Those two, two-hour courses started last week, and they, along with their homework assignments, are eating into my blogging time in a big way. But I love them. God, I love school. Always have.

The first two Life Writing lessons have focused on research skills, which we certainly need to know, but I hope we'll soon get back to writing exercises. I'm always fascinated by the diversity of stories generated by different individuals' interpretations of an assigned topic. If my life had been more interesting, perhaps I'd consider writing a book about it, in which case the research skills would come in handy. Unfortunately, my life is best described in a series of anecdotes that skip over all the boring parts.

I decided to take the Drawing 101 class to gain a better understanding of how to use light and shadow, perspective, and other techniques that will help with painting. I haven't painted a single time since the end of last year's classes, but I intend to take it up again soon. (I even ordered an easel yesterday, mostly to make my order large enough to get free shipping, but I do think an easel will help me keep my sleeves out of the paint.) Anyway, we've only had one drawing lesson, and I've already decided I like painting better, mostly because paint covers the surface a lot quicker than pencil marks do. I do have to give our instructor credit and say I'm impressed by how much she taught us in just one class. About half an hour into it, she handed out realistic plastic oranges and asked us to sketch them. Here's my rough attempt:

I realize this is too long for an orange, but that's what it is:
an orange with lights shining on it from several directions.

For the next half hour she talked to us about lights and shadows, how to give a drawn object dimension, and what kind of pencils and other tools to use for different drawing tasks. Then we tried drawing the oranges again:

Still not a great-looking orange, but
definitely better than the first try.

After further explanations and demonstrations, she assigned us homework: "Go home and get a fruit or a vegetable--something your brain is already familiar with--and draw it." Here's the vegetable drawing I did this morning:

I'm kind of pleased with this bell pepper. It's a long way,
from perfect, but I think it shows a lot of improvement,
especially after only two hours of classroom instruction. 

Do you see why I like school? Learning something new is so much fun, no matter how old you are.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Promises of Spring

I cannot adequately express how happy I am to type the following short sentence: It's warm today.

In fact, it's in the mid-70s. Earlier this afternoon I sat out on the patio, leaned back in a chair, closed my eyes and let the sun beat down on my face for several long minutes. What bliss! Then I opened my eyes, took a good look at Levi and Gimpy, and marched them one by one to the driveway, where I could hose the mud off their legs without creating more of it in the yard.

The man who cuts my grass called yesterday to ask when I'd like him to start again. We agreed I'd call him when everything dries up enough that his lawn tractor won't get bogged down. As expensive as lawn maintenance is, right this minute I'm looking forward to the kind of weather that hits me hard in the pocketbook.

Remind me of that when I start complaining about heat, humidity, and grass allergies, would you? Until then, these birds and I will sing in praise of warmer days.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"That Window You Never Fixed"

Before I retired in 2009 I frequently took CDs to the office so John, my boss and good friend, and David, another attorney in the office, also a good friend, could listen to one song or another I thought they mght like. They did the same thing sometimes. Later, with the advent of YouTube, we graduated to music videos. John wasn't much into computers, but even before he learned how to send an email, he mastered accessing his favorite tunes on YouTube.

Sometime in the last few months of work I heard a bittersweet Ryan Adams song that strongly reminded me of John, but I never played that one for him. The "Dear John" of the song title was deceased. Even though I loved the poignancy of the lyrics, John was going through major health issues at the time, and putting the thoughts and feelings of a widow in his head wouldn't have been kind.

John had excellent skills as an attorney and as a sportsman but readily admitted that household repairs were beyond his capabilities. I'm not sure he could have hung a picture on the wall by himself if his life had depended on it. Like many of us, I imagine, he excelled at the things that interested him and chose not to bother with those that didn't. More even than the fact of his name in the title, it was this verse of the song that brought him instantly to mind:

"Ten years pass
And I ended up with a house full of cats,
But most of them went missing
Through that window you never fixed,
The door you never latched."

Some parts of the lyrics don't apply at all (is art ever perfect?), but isn't it interesting how our brains can override the non-applicable parts and focus like a laser on the words that matter to us?

After the sad events of this week, this one was destined to be today's Saturday Song Selection:

The song is "Dear John" by Ryan Adams.
Thanks to Macfae for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Best. Funeral. Ever.

John's funeral today was not a traditional one. There was a visitation service from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., followed by an hour-long celebration of life. By the time I arrived at the funeral home shortly after noon, the noise level of the visitors had reached a buzz that could be heard clear down the hall. There was a steady procession of people milling about, all talking at once, catching up with old friends, telling stories, hugging, shoulder-clapping. If there'd been drinks and hors d'oeuvres, you'd have sworn you were at a party.
I'm sure things would have been more subdued if there'd been a body there, but John had requested that he be cremated.

So many people: lawyers and judges in suits and ties and younger men, those whom John had taught to hunt and fish, wearing camouflage in his honor. His own hooded camouflage jacket was hung up and displayed with a handful of his duck calls, reminding me of the quacking noises that frequently emanated from his office when I least expected them. His life was well represented among the family and friends who loved him and who gathered in that large chapel.

There was no priest or pastor leading the service, using the opportunity to indulge in seemingly obligatory soul-saving amid a few brief remarks about the deceased. That's okay if you like that, if you want that, but it's always kind of bothered me. It's almost always seemed insincere--like a paid advertisement for Jesus at an event where people need healing, not to be reminded that their mortal souls are in jeopardy.  

Instead, John's son, Charlie, had written a beautifully moving tribute to him which was read aloud by a friend at the beginning of the memorial service. In it Charlie expressed what his dad had meant to him and why and recounted the life lessons John had taught him. Among those, reinforced by specific anecdotes, were the importance of living life honestly and honorably and the equal importance of living it to the fullest.

John's best friend, Ralph, gave the eulogy. He began by saying how honored he was to have been asked to do so. He said he'd started to write a speech, then thought, "Wait a minute! If I had died and John was going to give my eulogy, what would he do? He'd wing it." And so Ralph did. He spoke from his heart about John's love of his family, his passion for hunting and fishing, his forthrightness, his love of a good argument, his contrariness--all the facets of his personality that made him a unique human being. "He was a character," Ralph said. That he was.

For the first time ever I left a funeral feeling uplifted instead of mournful. I walked out of there with a keen awareness that I'm alive and that it's up to each of us to pay attention to all the possibilities that are open to us, to make the best of the time we have left. I feel energized and inspired.

What a gift!

I loved this celebration of life and love. I know John would have loved it. And I'm pretty sure God would give it an A+, too.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Yesterday I lost a good friend. His wife, also my friend, called early to tell me that he had died in the wee hours of the morning. As far as anyone knows so far, the cause of death was a heart attack. Ironically, it's been almost seven years to the day since the first and only time I wrote about his heart condition, and he's had his ups and downs since then. Lately, I'm told, he's had mostly ups.

He was a good man and a successful, well-liked lawyer. He cared about the clients who could pay him and the ones he knew probably never would. Unless he was scheduled for court, where a suit was required, he showed up for work in starched, neatly-ironed jeans. It was common to walk into his office and find him kicked back with his cowboy boots up on his desk, a big stack of law books on the floor beside him and another book open in his lap. He liked to listen to music while he worked, everything from opera to zydeco, and it makes me smile to remember how many times he cussed the CD player when he couldn't make it play what he wanted to hear.

On slow days we had time for long talks about hunting and fishing (he talked, I listened), dogs (his and mine), books, movies, and other people. We argued sometimes (which lawyers like to do and so do I) when we veered into discussions about various aspects of politics and religion. More than a few times we speculated about whether or not there is an afterlife. Today I find myself oddly envious of the fact that he now knows for sure.

He had called me Christmas morning. We spoke for only a few moments then (he said he still had his brothers and others to call). He asked about my family, I asked about his, and he laughed as he told me about the new love in his life, a Yorkshire Terrier that had recently joined his family. He sounded really good.

He's touched a lot of lives, and a lot of people are going to miss him. As sad as it is, I felt much better yesterday after going to his house and spending time with his family. The stories about him were already flowing there, stories about things he's said and done over the course of his lifetime, enough of those stories to keep everyone who knew him laughing for years. We'll shed tears every time it hits us anew that he's gone, but when we remember him, when we think about who he really was, it'll be impossible not to smile through the tears.

You were one of a kind, John. I hope the hereafter was ready for you.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Labor of Love: The Owen Poems

My granddaughter, Kalyn, will turn thirty this week, and just over a month later her son, Owen, will turn four. When Kalyn was Owen's age and spent the day or night with me, I loved making up silly rhymes and singing them to make her giggle. She thought they were funny enough that they became a routine part of our time together. To this day she remembers all the words to one song that started out simply as lunch menu suggestions:

You can have pimento cheese
Or ABC's & 123's,
I'm begging you on bended knees,
Please don't make me eat green peas.

Actually, I love green peas; she's the one who didn't.

I don't get to spend as much time with Owen as I did with Kalyn, but during the recent holidays I saw him enough to know that he's developed a pretty good sense of humor. The boy likes a joke. I could tell that by the way he laughed uproariously every time he used the words, "chicken eyeball," which he did repeatedly on Christmas Day.

A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that one way to build a closer relationship with my great-grandson between visits would be to send him letters. That was the start of the Owen Poems. Since then I've been making up short verses and "borrowing" photos from Google images to illustrate them. My plan is to send him a new poem--or something--every week or ten days until he loses interest.

With a little help from his mama, a clearly excited Owen called me after he got this first one:

You'll have no trouble guessing what the illustration is on this next one I'm mailing today:

Owen Poem #2
Owen Asks the Body Question

Owen suggested, "Pick only one thing:
From your hair to the tips of your toes,
What part of your body do you like the best?"
Claire answered, "My eyes, I suppose."
Nicholas said, "I would pick my right arm
Because of the cool way it throws."
Jonathan said, "I can wiggle my ears,
so I think I'm gonna choose those."
Emily's choice was her curly red hair,
And Anthony? He picked his nose.

Rounding out the first three (all I've written so far) is this one:

Owen Poem #3
Up and Down

A dog named Up and a duck named Down
once walked together into town.
They walked along a railroad track
and didn't bother looking back
until a whistle made Up shout,
"A train is coming! Down, look out!"
The train was moving very fast,
but just before it roared on past,
the friends did what they had to do:
down Up jumped and up Down flew.

What about the pre-schoolers you know? What kinds of things do they find funny?

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Five Things I Really, Really Like

  1. Saturdays. Who doesn't?
  2. Piano music. This goes back to my childhood. When I visited my Grandma Audrey, she would let me spend hours picking out "tunes" (at least in my mind they were tunes) on her upright piano. I never learned to play, but I've always loved the piano.
  3. Ethereal voices. Those light, airy, haunting vocal instruments that run their fingers up and down my spine. 
  4. Nashville, ABC's nighttime soap opera about the music industry. I wait for it from one Wednesday night to the next, caught up in between in a gnarly ball of characters and plot lines, looking forward to the next twist in the story and the next new song.
  5. One particular song from the 1/29/14 episode of Nashville. With rare exceptions, all the Saturday Song Selections featured on this blog are ones I've bought and paid for, either through iTunes or on CDs that I've converted to MP3s to include them on iTunes playlists. Today's song is so new that it isn't even available for purchase yet. I know, because I've checked on it every single day since that episode aired to see if I could buy it. Instead, I've listened to it on YouTube enough times that it's now playing virtually non-stop in my head -- in a good way, not an earworm way. 
So, here are all five things wrapped up in this week's Saturday Song Selection:

The song is "Black Roses," performed by Clare Bowen.
Thanks to Kou Vang for posting the video and lyrics on YouTube.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Color in a Box

It had been a long time since I'd worked a jigsaw puzzle, but I bought one recently when I knew we were going to be iced in for a few days. I was at the store to buy soup ingredients and other food to tide us over for the duration. A shortcut from the dog-food section to the grocery aisles took me past the toy department, where puzzle boxes were stacked at the end of an aisle. The colors in this one just reached out and grabbed me:

The after-effects of working a jigsaw puzzle never fail to delight me. While I'm putting it together, and for a day or two after I finish, I see the world differently. Instead of trees, I see the varied colors and shapes of leaves. I notice individual shingles on neighbors' rooftops, smaller ones at the peaks, larger (closer) ones near the eaves. I see shadows, grasses, flowers, woodgrain, chips in paint, spots of rust--all the little details needed to properly place a single, small piece of scenery into its surroundings. It's magical for a brief time, then it fades, and I go back to seeing only the big picture.

Right now the big picture outside my home is mostly shades of beige and gray, some drab greens clinging to the live oaks and long-needle pines, and the sky such a faded shade of blue that it looks as though it isn't even trying. If this scenery were a puzzle, there would be no joy in working it.

That'll change. I browse through my photo files and see pictures of beautiful, bright-colored flowers, shots I snapped in late January and early February in previous years, and they give me hope. They're there, I know, ready to break through the soil as soon as the time is right. All we need is a little stretch of typical Louisiana weather, a few days in a row of warmer temperatures. I think I can wait.

In the meantime, I'll find my color in a box, one piece at a time.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

What I've Been Reading

My tried-and-true method for choosing a book is to read the first page--or maybe two, if I'm still undecided at the end of the first. If a story hasn't reeled me in by then, I pass it up. It's certainly possible that I've missed out on some good books that way, but I haven't often been disappointed in the ones I've chosen.

Here are the books I've snuggled up with during our recent cold weather, every one of them a good read:

Funerals for Horses
by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Walk Me Home
by Catherine Ryan Hyde

The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt

Until Tuesday
by Luis Carlos Montalvan

War Brides
by Helen Bryan

The Patron Saint of Liars
by Ann Patchett

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

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Bits and Pieces

This is the view from my backdoor day before yesterday:

I expect to see a similar view as soon as I take a shower, do my hair, put on makeup, get dressed and step outside to go to the grocery store. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can just barely see that it was pouring down rain. Who needs more of that?


This is what I found on the den floor yesterday, about an hour after the dogs spent a few minutes outside:

All the dogs were sleeping when I found the dead lizard, so whichever one had caught it must have tired of it quickly. Dead lizards are not good for much.

On the other hand, over in East Texas a couple of days ago, my niece's dogs killed a cat that had strayed into their fenced-in yard. She found it on her porch, where her sleeping puppy was snuggled up with it.

We dog lovers tend to forget that our precious pets are natural-born predators. I wish they didn't have such a gruesome way of reminding us.


While Kim and I watched TV last night, we heard a strange noise and couldn't identify the source of it. A few minutes later, we heard it again and got up to search it out. The refrigerator I'm not kidding; it sounded exactly like this. It makes that noise half a dozen times spaced a couple minutes apart, stops for several hours, then does it again a few more times. Otherwise, it seems to be working fine. If my car were making that noise, I'd take it to a mechanic, but I think I'll wait to see what happens with the refrigerator. It might stop cooling, but at least it won't leave me stranded.


On a serious note, I wrote the following on April 1, 2006: "...I can’t say enough good things about Philip Seymour Hoffman, who starred in the role of Truman Capote.  He’s been in so many movies that my daughter and I have joked about it for several years.  One of us will ask, 'Who’s in that movie?' and the other will answer with a list that always ends in '...and Philip Seymour Hoffman.'  He hasn’t been blessed with leading-man looks, which may be why he’s had time to hone his talent in supporting actor roles, but I think he’s brilliant!  It’s about time a movie came along that allowed him to shine."

Rest in peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman. We will miss you deeply, but your star will continue to shine.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The River Ain't the Only Thang Runnin' Deep Around Here

Here we are on the first day of February already, also the first day of Black History Month, which might have skipped my notice if I hadn't just finished reading the local library's monthly bulletin. Despite my lily-white heritage, I do have a deep interest in African-American history, as demonstrated by many of my favorite reading and movie-watching choices over the years. I've always been inspired by stories about overcoming adversity. If that theme is prominent anywhere, it's in black history, where so much has been accomplished--and there's still so much to be done.

I was reminded of that last fact earlier this week on the night of the State-of-the-Union Address. Because President Obama was a few minutes late starting his speech, a Facebook friend referred to him as "arrogant." I know from the trend of her other posts that what she really meant was "uppity," and I'm still steamed about it. Don't like his policies? That's fine by me; we can agree to disagree. But I detest racism, no matter how someone tries to pretty it up.

Okay, enough ranting. I'm glad you're here, regardless of which side's Kool-Aid you've been drinking--mine or another flavor.

Today also happens to be Saturday, time for a Saturday Song Selection. (I totally forgot about a song last Saturday, because I totally forgot that last Saturday was a Saturday.). The old spirituals seem well suited to this particular post, so I'll choose one of the many that touch my heart. I dare you to listen to the first few bars of this and see if you can remain unmoved by the soulfulness of it.

The song is "Deep River," performed by Mahalia Jackson.
Thanks to StudiosHawaii for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.