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.