Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

In years past, we partied until the wee hours on New Year's Eve, but the last few years we've celebrated quietly at home. 
The roads can be treacherous on this particular night. Good people who've had too much fun, can  run you over without realizing it. 
Even if you've behaved yourself when you go out, and only had a glass of champagne to toast the new year,  you could get stopped at a roadblock on your way home, and wind up in the pokey.  Being dead, or in jail is not the ideal way to start a new year.
Tonight Jilda whipped up a pot of her world famous beef stew and we sat on the screen porch and listened to the rain.   Off in the distance we could hear an ominous  thunderstorm stomping its way toward us. We have our fingers crossed that we don't lose power before daybreak. But if we do, we'll welcome the new year by candle light. I could think of worse things.
I got a set of tuned wind chimes for Christmas and we hung them on the porch and they entertained us as we dined. Click here to hear.
We'll be watching a movie and waiting for 2011 to arrive.
I hope the new year is kind to you all and you attain more than you dreamed possible.
Happy New Year from Rick and Jilda.






Thursday, December 30, 2010

Po Boys

I just finished reading The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke. Dave Robichaeux is a character that appears in many of his novels. Robichaeux is a sheriff's  deputy in New Iberia Parrish in Louisiana. 
I've written about Burke in past entries, but in Rainbow, he mentions a few times about having shrimp and oyster po boys, and I got a hankerin' to have me one.
In 1980 after Hurricane Fredrick demolished Mobile, Alabama, my company sent me down there on a long term assignment to help restore phone lines in the city.  I was there a few weeks when I realized I needed to have my wife down there with me. The third weekend I got to go home and it didn't take a lot of convincing to get her and our german shepherd in the truck heading back south.
The thing about living on the gulf coast is the seafood is remarkable. We had raw oysters, boiled shrimp, and every kind of fish you can name. I must have had hundreds of po boys during my time there (almost a year). 
.....now where was I? Oh yes, after reading the novel I told Jilda that I would really like to have a po boy. Yesterday when she went to the store, she bought up all the fixin's and whipped up some shrimp po boys for lunch today.
She apologized before we sat down because she didn't have the right equipment to fry the shrimp just right, but you could have fooled me. They were delicious!
I hit the big 60 in January so for my birthday, we are going to spend the weekend at the beach. 
You can safely bet that we'll spend some time at Bahama Bobs and slam down some po boys and a few adult beverages. 
I can't wait.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Getting Ready for the New Year

I spent time today reviewing the good, bad, and ugly that happened in 2010. The ugly is, I resolved to sell a bunch books and I fell woefully short of that goal. I also had a goal to write twelve new songs. I missed that one to.  There wasn't enough ugly to whine about, but the good was really good.  I reached three of my life goals. 
I retired at 59
We paid off all of our debt
And I lost over twenty pounds (though unfortunately I did find a few of them during the holidays).
This week has been an exercise in deciding what I really want to do during the next phase of my life.
I won't go into specifics now because it's the topic for my newspaper column this week, but I encourage everyone to spend some quality time contemplating the question - "What do I want".
My wife challenged me to sit and write my list down. I thought it would be easy, but it proved to be more difficult than I thought. Most people approach the question with blinders on - well, I can't REALLY do what I want because I can't make enough money to feed my family, or it would require me to move, or to go to school, or to.........
I wish I had spent more time on this question when I was fresh out of high school. 
Here's a verse to a song Jilda and I wrote called Do What you love.


There are so many people
Who work day and night
At jobs that they hate
They're wasting their lives
There's a lesson worth learning
They don't teach in school
You gotta do what you love, and love what you do


Kids, do yourselves a favor -- find your bliss.



Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Knock Knock

Over the Christmas holidays I had an opportunity to howdy up with my great niece Zoe. She's in the first grade this year and she LOVES jokes.
Zoe: Knock Knock
Rick: Who's there?
Zoe: Boo
Rick: Boo Who?
Zoe: Sorry I made you cry!  Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Rick: Zoe, do you know how to call a deaf rabbit?
Zoe: No.
Rick: HEY RABBIT (screamed at the top of my lungs). Zoe spewed sweet potato pie on her new Christmas dress.

Zoe: Do you know the difference between snot and a bowling ball?
Rick: No 
Zoe: You can't eat a bowling ball!  Ha ha ha ha ha.

I decided to end the joke telling before Zoe's mom started yelling at both of us.

I do love jokes. When I was in the military, we had an instructor that loved dirty jokes. He couldn't tell them worth a flip, but he loved hearing them. 
One day after lunch, he challenged me and another guy in the class to tell as many jokes as we knew. As long as we told jokes without pause, we wouldn't have class. 
The two of us fed off each other and told jokes the rest of the afternoon.

If you have a clean g-rated joke suitable to tell a six year old, feel free to comment.
Also, what are you doing for New Year's Eve?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Five Years and Counting - Sunday's column in the local paper

As I drummed my fingers, trying to think of a topic to write about this week, I realized that January 2011 begins my fifth year as a columnist for the Daily Mountain Eagle. Time has wings.

It’s interesting how I landed the job. I’d been writing for a long time, but wanted to move up to the next level.

I called for an appointment with the managing editor at the Eagle and told him I was interested in writing a column for the paper.

I’m guessing it wasn’t the first time he’d been asked, because he shifted uncomfortably in his seat before he spoke.

“Well, a lot of people want to write a regular column for the paper, but they usually only last a few weeks before they start missing deadlines,” he explained. “Next thing you know, they’ve moved on to something new and we have an empty slot to fill in the paper.”

But when I explained that I’d been writing a daily blog (web-log on the Internet) for well over a year and that I had more than 50 columns already written, he straightened in his seat.

I took the manila folder from my lap which contained 10 or so of my best columns, and handed it to him. He flipped through my work nodding his head agreeably. After a few more pleasantries, he promised to read the stories, and told me he’d be in touch.

At that moment, it would have been easy to think — oh well, I tried, but I smell a rejection.

As a songwriter, I knew all about rejections. In fact, Jilda and I could have wall-papered a room with all the rejection letters we’d received through the years from publishing houses in Nashville and New York.

But as I drove out of the parking lot on that frosty January afternoon, I had a gut feeling I would not get rejected this time.

As it turns out, I got a call the next day from the Eagle confirming I had the gig, and I haven’t missed a deadline since, though I’ve been close a time or two. (You may remember the column I wrote a while back about “Nothing.”)

When I meet new people they always ask what my column is about. “It’s about me and my strange and wonderful journey through life,” I say. They often scrunch up their foreheads and say — huh?

I used to worry that people reading my columns wouldn’t like my words. I guess I thought my situation was unique and that no one would identify with my stories.

I grew up in the small coal mining community of West Pratt in Sloss Hollow, and we didn’t have a lot. But as it turns out, the most common comment I get is, “I feel like you are writing about my life!”

I was part of a much larger community without realizing it.

By far the most popular topics I’ve written about have been about growing up as a kid in Sloss. My email inbox filled up after the story about “The Peddler,” and the one about my uncle Marvin Lee Ferguson, who died too young at Pearl Harbor.

I also found out that people seem to enjoy the columns where I encounter misfortune — like when I whacked myself on the nose with the handle of my wheelbarrow.

That’s OK because when my nose stopped throbbing, I thought it was pretty funny, too.

I also had a woman tell me that she cried when she read the story about our mama hen Flossy who sacrificed her life when a hawk attacked her baby chicks.

Writing has become a permanent part of my life and it’s a part that I enjoy. My book Remembering Big continues to sell and I have a new book that I plan to release later in 2011. I now write for newspapers in Birmingham, Mountain Brook and Mobile. People from around the world read my blog each day.

I’m turning my daydream into reality thanks to the Mountain Eagle and my friends here in Walker County.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow

video
The view off our back door this morning looked like a snow-globe that had just been shaken.
I really thought the snow had moved off to the east overnight, and it looks like the worst of it did, but we woke up this morning with a fresh blanket.
After coffee, Jilda and I layered up in warm clothes and walked the dogs.
Our big dogs love cold weather. They're getting old now and they are lethargic from May till September, but cool mornings seem to revive them.
Everybody who visits, makes fun of our dogs. They are all "well fed". Our oldest dog, Bear, weighs right at a hundred pounds and our old pit bull mix weighs just slightly less than a Honda Civic.
Our home security alarm had issues recently and when I called the company to report the problem, I talked to a black lady that could do voice-overs for the comedian, Wanda Sykes.
I told her our dogs kept tripping our alarm. "How big are the dogs," she asked. When I told her we had two that were about a hundred pounds and one that weighted right at ninety.
She said....I kid you not...."You got three dogs in your house bigger than me? No damn wonder your alarm's trippin'".
I had to laugh when she said that, which got her tickled too. I could hear her cover her mouthpiece and share our conversation with a co-worker.
After a few more minutes, she gave me some tips on how to configure our security system to keep the dogs from accidentally bringing carloads of armed policemen to our quite neighborhood.
Now where was I? Oh yes, we had a delightful walk with the critters today and they were in heaven for a while.
But as often happens here in Alabama, the sun came out this evening and melted all the snow except for shady places.
The weatherman says it will be almost warm enough to swim by week's end. Oh well, at least we had snow on Christmas, and Boxing Day.
For all of you heading home tomorrow, travel safe.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life

We watched It's a Wonderful Life tonight and the ending always chokes me up. George, through no fault of his own, hits bottom and feels so alone. He finds himself wishing he'd never lived. But then he gets an opportunity to see what life would be like had he never lived.
At the end when all his friends come to his rescue, pouring in throwing in a few dollars here and a few dollars there to help George in his hour of need. It's a great story that never gets old in my book.


Closer to home, we came close to having a white Christmas this year. It's been many years since we had enough snowfall on Christmas to actually stick, but by 10 a.m this morning, the ground was beginning to turn white.  Thankfully it wasn't cold enough to make the roads dangerous, so we made our rounds.
I ate enough turkey and dressing to spew. I'll have to fast for the month of January to get back on track. 


I hope you all had a great day, and that 2011 is the best year yet!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas

I walked down after sunset this evening to put out some Christmas corn and Christmas apples for our deer friends.  The wind kicked up as I stood there looking at the sky. Off the the west, the sun had dropped below the horizon, but low hanging clouds caught the waning light and turn the color of a grape Popsicle. 
I realized that I was shivering and I wondered to myself why I hadn't worn my vest.  
It was a beautiful end to a fun day. 
We breakfast-ed this morning with Jilda's brother and his family who live next door. He has three grown kids and they all have kids now. Jilda and I have lived next door to them all their young lives and as extended families often do, we had a hand in helping to raise them.

The great nieces and nephews came over after lunch and we made Christmas cookies. It's a tradition here.
It's always fun when the kids get their hands in the cookie dough and the decorative sprinkles.
The smell of baking gingerbread cookies smells like Christmas to me.
After stuffing the kids full of cookies, chocolate, fruitcake, and other Christmas stuff, we sent them on their way with their parents. Being an uncle is fun!
After the dust settled, and the sprinkles swept up out of the floor, and the evening chores completed, we settled down and opened our gifts to each other as we listened to Christmas music.
After the stress and high drama that often accompanies Christmas, it felt good to sit on the couch and bliss out for a while.
I hope all travelers safely reached their destinations, and I hope all good children get the Christmas they've dreamed of.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two Shopping Day Till Christmas

I made the unfortunate decision to do a mall run today to pick up Jilda's contacts. She's having to scrape the old contact off each night with a bobby pin, so we both agreed new ones would be a good idea.
We ordered them last Friday with a projected arrival date of Tuesday. Commerce, like the traffic, was slowed to a trickle so we got a call yesterday afternoon to say the contacts were in.
Today as I headed in to town, traffic was lethargic, and slowed to a crawl as I neared the destination. Once inside the loop road that circles the mall I was home free. I walked right in to the vision center and I had my contacts within a few moments.
When I got back outside and headed home, I sat idling in the parking lot for almost 45 minutes. I noticed snails and turtles moving faster. Finally the police showed up and started directing traffic and I managed to get out of the parking lot and onto the interstate. As luck would have it, a wreck unfolded right in front of my eyes. One moment we were moving and in the next a car just ahead of me flipped for some unknown reason and ended up on its roof. It didn't look as if anyone was hurt, but as you might imagine, we sat there for a while.
When we began to move again, I thought - what the heck, I've blown several hours today anyhow, why not go to the Apple Store in another nearby mall.  It's probably no accident that Apple chose the second mall, because traffic, while heavy, moved efficiently.
When I walked into the Apple Store, it was jam packed, but withing three minutes a kid young enough to be my grandchild (if I had grandchildren) walked up and asked if he could help. I told him I wanted a Mac.
He whipped out his little iPhone looking device and tapped the screen a few times and a few minutes later another guy walked up with my new computer. The kid swiped my debit card on his device and the deal was done. I literally was not in that store more than 15 minutes. Unbelievable. The rest of the retail world could learn a great deal from Apple.
I had one dreadful experience at mall 1 and a delightful experience at mall 2.  So here's the deal. If I ever decide to make a run to the mall 1 on Christmas Eve-Eve, you have my permission to jab a sharp stick into my eye and twist it a few times for emphasis.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

End of Year Brainstorming

The weeks leading up to Christmas are always crazy around here, but the week after Christmas is a different story. I plan to spend quality time thinking about what I want to accomplish, and how to approach 2011.
I plan to self publish another book of my columns. I learned a great deal about grass roots marketing with my first effort, and I plan to do more book signings and speaking engagements to help support the new book.
Jilda and I also wrote enough songs for a new singer/songwriter cd, and it is our intention to bring that project to life in 2011 as well.
On the home front, we've put back up enough cash to redo our back deck, and some other improvements on the house and barn.
I'm excited about the new year because for the first time in my life, I can pursue work that makes me smile instead of ambling off each morning  to work for "The Man" with a head full of dread. 
My mind is buzzing with all the possibilities. Jilda is an amazing yoga teacher and we'll also be working on relaxation/meditation audio and video for her as well. 
So I guess you can say we're excited about the new year. I hope you all have an amazing holiday season, and the best year yet in 2011.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Songwriter Workshop in January

I'm co-hosting a songwriting workshop with my lovely spouse Jilda at a local bookstore on January 8, 2011  It's an introduction to songwriting class that covers a lot of the very basics of the craft. The tools you would normally need to write a song might include:
A Dictionary
A Thesaurus
A Rhyming Dictionary
Your instrument (mine's a guitar, but Jilda writes on a piano). Obviously if you do lyrics only, you'd need to partner with a co-writer to help with the melody.
And you'd need a hook-book. A hook-book is a blank notebook that you keep with you and capture your ideas for songs. I actually keep up with my hooks in my iPhone, but anything will do as long as it's available when ideas strike.
A small digital or tape recorder is also invaluable to capture the songs during the writing process because we've written songs before and then forgot the melody. Bummer.
We'll also discuss the various song structures. Most of the stuff we've written falls into the country, folk, or Americana genre, but we can offer some limited guidance for other genres too.
People ALWAYS want to know about copyrights and when they should register songs. 
For those who want to get serious about songwriting we'll discuss a little about co-writing ethics, performing rights organizations, publishing, and record companies.
We'll probably write a group song during the workshop to show people how the process works.
I think it will be fun. If any of you live around central Alabama and would like to attend the event, just let us know. The location is Woni's Bookshelf and admission is free.
Jilda have been writing for well over thirty years and we've posted some of our songs on our new website. If you'd like to hear a few of the things that were cut (recorded) by other people, click here:
http://rickandjilda.com/Music.html






Monday, December 20, 2010

Hoping you skies are clear

Tonight will be special, though we may not be able to witness it. For the first time since 1638, we'll have a full moon, with a total eclipse, on the winter solstice. Now that's rare.
I'm setting our alarm clock and we're getting up to see it, though the weatherman says it might be overcast.
The last eclipse I watched was on February of 2008. I shot some pictures and posted them on the blog. If weather permits, I'll shoot some tonight/in the morning.  
I'm a sucker for natural events. I remember just after we built our house and before we built our back deck, we had a total eclipse of the sun. It was May of 1984 and I wore welder's goggles and stole a few glances. Mostly, Jilda and I sat on our back steps and watched the reaction of birds and small animals. It fell quite, and seemed a little eerie. 
It was before the Internet (as we know it) and so I described the event in my in my journal.   
So tonight, I hope your skies are clear.

Christmas Tree is Finally Up

OK, regular readers, the following may look a little familiar but it's new and improved. As often happens with me, I take a blog entry and then expand and enhance it and use if for my Lifestyle column in the paper on Sunday. What follows is the column from this past Sunday.


Jilda and I are NOT early celebrators of Christmas. In fact we're more like Loretta Young, in the old black and white Christmas movie "The Bishop's Wife," who put their tree up on Christmas Eve.

We'd planned to go last Saturday, to pick out a tree, but obstacles kept popping up and Jilda said, "We'll go tomorrow (Sunday)." 

That was before we watched the weather forecast which called for winds out of the north at near hurricane force, snow showers and an outside temperature cold enough to turn your tongue into a Popsicle if you were foolish enough to stick it out at someone. Note to self - keep tongue in mouth.

There are many times the weatherman points to globs of green, yellow, and dark red things on the TV screen and jabbers about impending "bad weather". Oftentimes they overreact, but they nailed Sunday's forecast.

As the coffee brewed Sunday morning, I looked out the garden door toward the barn and saw snow blowing horizontally. When I stepped outside for an old fashion weather report, I cursed the weatherman under my breath for being right.

Later in the day we bundled up as tight as link sausages and headed off to the tree farm. We arrived just after they opened the gates, and no other customers were in the parking lot. The tree-digger-upper-guys were bundled up and wore ski masks which made them look like liquor store bandits. When they heard me shout - "Is anybody home?" they peeked their heads out of the heated shed, and they didn't look too happy to see us.

Once I started moving around, I actually began to feel my feet. Jilda loves cold weather, which is a character trait that I blame on the fact that her family lived in Chicago during her formative years. 

My macho streak wouldn't allow me to whine about the cold, so we ambled off into the howling snow-flecked wind as if we were strolling arm and arm down the Vieux Carre in July.

I found a good looking tree and shouted over the sound of the wind to Jilda - THIS ONE LOOKS NICE. A cloud of mist billowed from my mouth and I'm sure from a distance, it looked like my lungs were on fire.

Jilda liked the tree, but wanted to BROWSE a little more. My eyes felt like frozen grapes. After a while longer, we found a great Christmas tree and the young liquor store bandits dug that baby up and had it in the back of the truck in record time. I gave them a nice tip, but I doubt it kept them from dog-cussin' us for taking them away from their warm fire during the blizzard.

We went inside, and as we paid for the tree, the heavenly aroma of hot apple cider wafted up my frozen nose. One of the tree-guys poured us a cup, and we walked around the gift shop sipping our cider. 

I found myself thinking as we left the tree farm that I was glad we came Christmas tree shopping during the "great snow storm of 2010." My old friend John Hamilton Elliott, said it best -- "fun ain't cheap." If we had come on Saturday when the weather was nicer, I wouldn't have had anything to write about this week. 

Looking back, our little adventure put us both in the Christmas spirit. In fact, as we drove away from the tree farm, the tune to "It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas" drifted through my head, and I had to smile.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Charlie Brown Trees

We're an equal opportunity Christmas tree putter-upper-family. In the past when we were broker than the ten commandments, we cut down loblolly and buttermilk pines and placed them in the corner of our trailer. They were  little Charlie Brown trees, but they served us well.
Later, when I got a job that paid something other than Cracker Jacks,  we built our new house and started the tradition of buying trees we could plant after New Years.  We've had Christmas trees that were white pine, cedar, spruce, cypress, and hemlock. The first white pine we planted in the front yard twenty seven years ago is well over forty feet tall now.
We planted a hemlock tree by our front walk about ten years ago and for some reason, it hasn't grown much. So we decided to start decorating it each year at Christmas.
Today, when I strung the lights and plugged those babies up, only about half the lights came on. I know, I should have tested them before stringing, but I didn't.  So, I pulled up a chair and had resigned myself to checking each bulb.
As it turns out, the third bulb I tested was blown and when I replaced it, the strand sprang to life. Sometimes you get lucky.
Our niece Samantha spent a great deal of time with us before she started to kindergarten.  Each year, in addition to our regular tree, we did her a small Charlie Brown tree. She made many of the decorations herself, and it was an event we looked forward to each year.
She outgrew the tradition, but we enjoyed it while it lasted. She's in college now and has a two year old child of her own now. She called today and asked if we still had the stuff to decorate a Charlie Brown tree. She wants us to do one with her for her son Jordan. I smiled as Jilda relayed the conversation.
We've spent a lot of time and energy with our nieces and nephews. We'd like to think we've had a positive impact on their lives, but sometimes it's hard to know for sure.
I think it's a good sign that our niece wants to do a Charlie Brown tree for her child. Maybe he'll think of the experience when he's older, and remember it as fondly as we do.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mother Ginger

I'm not sure if we have bad breath or other hygienic issues of which we are unaware, but we got only one  Christmas party invitation this year. In years past, our dance cards were punched for the first three weeks of the month.
We did get invited to a party in Tuscaloosa by one of our dear friends. He'd also invited several people from the local Alabama Public Radio station.  It would have been a great opportunity to do some networking as one of my goals is to do stories for NPR in the future.
But as it turns out, our great nieces and nephew had roles in The Nutcracker and it was scheduled for tonight.
We still might have considered skipping the play and going to the party, but my nephew (the father of the great-nieces/nephew in the play) played the role of Mother Ginger, and that was something we couldn't pass up.
Now imagine if you will, a Colts offensive lineman dressed in drag. Well if our nephew James hadn't had bad knees, he could have easily played first-string O-line for the Colts.
If you've ever seen The Nutcracker, Mother Ginger is supposed to come out with all the polichinelles under her skirt and then the kids are supposed to pop out and surprise the audience. These young actors weren't having any part of that. They followed Mother Ginger out keeping a respectable distance, lest they be stepped on by the giant dude with makeup.
I know I'm prejudiced, but this was the best performance of the  I've ever seen. The entire show was delightful.
I'm very proud of all "the kids". It was a good decision to go to the play.
Note - Jilda also has funny story about our nieces and nephews. Go to Transformation Information 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas can be a little sad

The old home place sits vacant now. My mom had a number of health issues some years back and she went to live with my older sister. 
My niece lived in the old place for a while but she moved out several years ago and it's been empty ever since. These days, it's just sad to see.
Vandals broke in, ripped out all the copper pipe, and wiring out of the house.  They knocked out windows, and stole anything of value. Thankfully we'd already removed the photographs and other irreplaceable keepsakes.
My mom was one of the most generous people on the planet. She was a volunteer at the local Mission of Hope, which distributed food to the hungry, and gave used clothes and appliances to those who lost their homes in fires. To think someone would destroy her house and steal her things, saddened me beyond words.
I drove down there earlier in the week and sat in the yard for a long time just looking at the place. Back when we lived there, the house was alive with lights and festive Christmas decorations that went up the day after Thanksgiving.
Whenever you walked into my mom's house, you waded into the aroma of baking cookies, or a confection of some kind.
When I returned from the Army I married Jilda and we bought a place of our own, but each time we visited, we never left her house empty handed. We'd always have a pecan or apple pie, or something else that would make you fat and happy.
This week, sitting in the yard, all those memories flooded through my mind and I felt a little melancholy. 
A few months ago, we moved my mom into a nursing home permanently. She'd been living with my sister, but my mom's health continued to decline which made it difficult for my sister to continue as primary care-giver, so we faced the hardest decision any of us has ever made.   
Christmas is a special time of year, but for me, this year will be a little sad too.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Short and Sweet

This post will be short and sweet. We've spent the day helping our friend Edie Hand with a book promotion event and we just got through. Both Jilda and I are brain-drained.
I'll do better tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thinking Mac

I'm thinking about buying a Mac computer. All the computers I've ever owned have been Windows based machines. This is due to the fact that I worked in the corporate world for many years and they always used Windows machines.
But now that I'm retired and freelancing, most of my work involves media - pictures, video, websites, writing, music creation and graphics. Windows machines can do this work, but I've come to understand, that Apple's do this work eloquently. 
I sat down for a brief demonstration at the local Apple store yesterday and the unassuming young guy asked me simple questions, like what will you be doing. Well, I'll be doing web work. He then pointed to an icon and said click there. Instead of taking control and doing the stuff while I watched in awe, he let me drive and with a minimum amount of direction, I was doing stuff intuitively on the Mac. Stuff that for years, I've been struggling through with the Windows machine.
Anyhow, I'm doing the numbers now and if our budget will allow it, I plan to buy it before the new year so that I can claim it this year as a business expense.
If anyone has any experience with a Mac they want to share, please feel free.
 . 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Learning Never Stops

Anybody who thinks their education ends the day they walk out of high school might as well be smoking dope, because they could not be more clueless. When you leave high school (or college), life’s teachers take over and they can be harsh. In the school of life, you get the test, BEFORE you get the lesson. These lessons can be quite expensive and if you don’t learn the first time, you get to take the course again and again until you learn it. Yes, I’m here to tell you, every day’s a school day. 

This week’s lesson for me came when I tried to install a new dishwasher. Let me start at the beginning.

We’ve had our old dishwasher for years and have washed a train load of dirty dishes, but earlier this week, when we opened the door to take out the clean dishes, the bottom was full of foul smelling water. Now that I think of it, the water was just slightly less disgusting than our drinking water’s been over the last few weeks…but I digress. (Note to those who don't live near me in Empire, Alabama - we've had problems with the water supply that has made it almost undrinkable. This was a jab at the city fathers.)

When I did the math, I realized the dishwasher was about twelve years old so it seemed reasonable to me that it needed to be replaced. The search for a new one began.

I priced a few units in Birmingham and I found some in our range, but I really like doing business closer to home. When I ran by the local appliance store I found just the unit we wanted. With a swipe of a debit card and a handshake, we were on the way home.

My brother-in-law who is a master plumber offered to help, but he stays really busy, and I hated to bother him, so I decided to install the new dishwasher myself — STRIKE ONE.

I removed the screws that secured the old unit to the cabinet and I began to slide it back and forth to get it out, I heard something snap. I thought to myself, this can’t be good! A moment later, the copper pipe was gushing hot water like a fire hydrant from behind the dishwasher. I’d forgotten to turn off the water BEFORE I started the replacement. I was quickly sloshing around in water and my mind felt as if I had a head full of cold molasses because I couldn’t remember where the cutoff valve was located. — STRIKE TWO.

When my brain finally decided to join me, I dashed to the shed, snatched up a crescent wrench and ran, toward the water cut off valve down by the mailbox. Anyone viewing this from a distance would have thought I’d stepped in a yellow jacket nest.

When I got back inside, the water was almost deep enough to water ski. Jilda fetched all the towels in the closet and began drying the floors.

It was then she phoned her brother and asked him to come over and assist me. He walked in shaking his head knowingly. But in a matter of minutes he analyzed the situation and we were in the truck heading to the plumbing supply store to get parts. The rest of the job went smoothly, and soon we were loading the new dishwasher for its maiden voyage. I listened intently to all the clicks and whirrs of the new unit and I found myself smiling. The smile quickly vanished when I opened up the new dishwasher to unload the clean dishes and found the bottom full of water, just like the old unit.

As it turns out, it appears a $10 air valve in the sink, through which the dishwashers drain, went bad and caused the problem — STRIKE THREE.

So, what did life teach the Rickster today? Well, I learned NOT to assume. I learned to take time for due diligence and isolate problems BEFORE digging deep into my wallet to buy unneeded appliances. And, if a professional offers you help, take it!!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Heavens

Jilda does a free yoga class on Monday nights at the community center in town and we just got back home. Only the hard core yoga-folk were there tonight because it was colder than an ice chest, here in Alabama. 
When we walked in the community center, it was 22 degrees outside. It didn't feel much warmer inside either. The city has the building on a timer and we couldn't kick up the heat. After a few minutes, of core work, I warmed up enough to feel my toes. 
When we got home, I grabbed the flashlight and went down to check on the chickens. I know birds are fine in cold weather, but I still put a small electric heater in their coop, and installed  a heated water unit so they wouldn't have to peck on ice to get a drink.
When I looked in on them tonight, they looked comfy on their perch. I got a few extra scoops of corn for the deer and scattered it under apple tree where they feed. 
I stood for a long time in the garden looking up at the sky. Even though the moon is only half full, the sky was bright. Off to the northeast I saw a shooting star spark across the night sky. A few seconds later, I saw another one that darted across my field of vision.  
I stood there for a full five minutes longer until my teeth began to chatter like an engine running cheap gas, and I didn't see any more meteors so I headed inside to warm by the fireplace.
Tonight is one of the best meteor shows of the year. The Geminid showers yield 45+ shooting stars per hour. Most meteor showers occur when bits of comet particles enter the earth's atmosphere. I guess the earth blows through the trail left by a comet at some time in the past and as trailing particles come in contact with the earth's atmosphere, they create the light show that we call meteor showers. But the Geminid meteor showers were from a asteroid.
I bet you didn't count on getting a sky-watching class tonight, but even though I know very little about astronomy, I'm still in awe when I look to the heavens at night.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Perfect Day for Getting a Tree Day

 Jilda and I didn't make it to get the tree yesterday as originally planned, but we made a pact that we'd get it this morning. That was before we realized we'd have a late afternoon deluge with overnight temps plunging into the low thirties.  
That meant there was a chance we'd have to strap on our ice skates to get our tree today. As it turns out, the rain stopped sometime in the night and a raging wind out of the north dried the roads up nicely. 
This morning, as the coffee brewed I looked out the garden door toward the barn and snow was falling horizontally. I stepped outside for an old fashion weather report, and noticed right off that the wind chill was already down into the twenties.
We bundled up as tight as sausage links and headed off to the tree farm. We arrived just after they opened and there was not one customer in the parking lot. The tree-digger-upper-guys were in their heated shed, and did not look too happy to see us.
Jilda and I ambled off into the howling snow-flecked wind as if we were strolling down the Vieux Carre in July.
We found the perfect tree (actually not the one in this picture) and the young guys dug that baby up and had it in the back of the truck in record time. 
As we walked to the gift shop to pay for the tree, the smell of hot apple cider hung in the air and the guys poured us a cup before we left.
It's funny how things work out. We'd planned to get the tree yesterday, but even with the weather brutally cold for Alabama, today seemed to be a perfect day for getting a Christmas tree. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ol' Duke

I had a few moments today as I waited on Jilda to finish getting ready to hit the road on our errands. We'd planned to get a Christmas tree today, but we ran out of time and decided to bump that until tomorrow. 
But I sat down to scan the blogs I follow for updates and I ran across one profile of a woman and her German Shepherd. This was a beautiful animal and it reminded me of the first dog Jilda and I got after we married. 
He was a magnificent animal named Duke. I was helping her dad do a plumbing job during the summer of 1974. Duke live at the house where we were working, but he took an immediate liking to me. He made every step I made all day long.
I sat out in the yard playing with Ol' Duke as we waited for the lady to write us a check for our work.  

Jilda's dad was having fun at my expense when he said "I think that lady's is going to give you that dog." I looked up in total surprise and said, "are you kidding!" 
She happened to be within earshot and heard him say what he said.
"Actually," she said, "we have a new baby and we were thinking about getting rid of the dog." She called her husband at work, and a few minutes later, the dog was mine.
I opened the tailgate and Ol' Duke hopped in, and he never looked back.
On the way home, I went by the store where Jilda worked and Ol' Duke sat out on the sidewalk while I ran in to fetch her. It was love at first sight.
We took that dog with us on all of our vacations. He went to the beach, the mountains, and even rode seventeen hours in the cramped cab of our Datsun truck when we drove to Michigan to visit one of my Army buddies.

We kept him thirteen years and when he died, we both cried as if we'd lost a child.
I hope the woman in the blog I read today, loves her dog half as much as we loved Ol' Duke.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Time's a Coming

I've written today until my fingers are raw. The holidays have compacted my deadlines, and jammed everything together. I'm editing my last interview now, and when I'm finished, I'll be through until after the first of the year.
This is the first Christmas in years, that I haven't either had to work, or be on-call. It almost feels funny, not to have a pager on my side, and fret that it might go off.
Last year, I was on-call the week of Christmas when a high priority computer system failed. I was on an outage call for what seemed like days. As I read back over my personal journal, the story repeated time and again through the years.
Jilda and I never had children, and most of the folks with whom I worked did, so I usually volunteered to cover holidays, so they could be home with their children. 
For those of you who are new to my blog, I retired in March of this year. The circumstances were strange. The company said it had to reduce headcount, but asked for volunteers who were in a position to retire. 
I could have sat tight and kept a job, though I would probably be on-call the week of Christmas. But had I not volunteered, someone with less time with the company would have been forced out. 
As it turns out, I was ready. So I took....now get this....voluntary/involuntary separation. I left so that someone else could stay. But the thing is, I was ready to go. 
I've spent years dreaming about what I'd do once I retired. I knew it would involve music, writing, photography, and travel. I retired nine months ago and we've been doing all of those things.
And this Christmas, I won't worry about a pager, or an outage. I plan to spend quality time with my family.
Tomorrow, is tree day here. We plan to get out early and get us a tree, and spend tomorrow evening, drinking hot apple cider, and trimming the tree.
I'm excited.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Animals and Children

I think it was W.C. Fields who said "never work with animals or children".  He was an actor/comedian/philosopher and he's said some really funny and insightful things. But what he said about animals and children is right on the money. 
Many years ago, Jilda and I used to play in talent shows. Not sure why, we just loved to play and sing, and talent shows were just another venue to us. We could hold our own with most acts, but if there were animals or children in the lineup, we knew we didn't have a prayer of winning. 
The reason is obvious. The quickest way to tug the heartstrings of any caring adult, is through children or animals. 
Some of the most popular pieces I've ever written were about kids or critters. The column I wrote for the newspaper last Sunday was about our old dog Charlie, and it got an incredible response.
A local TV station read it on the air last Sunday, I've received calls, emails, and comments on my blog and on Facebook. 
A woman whom I did not know stopped me in McDonald's yesterday and told me the story about Charlie made her cry.
This week I'm struggling to come up with a topic for my column. The words of W.C. Fields seem to ring true - how do you follow a story about animals or children?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Change In The Weather

I went out before seven this morning to feed our chickens and their watering jars were as solid as lead crystal. I almost had to put them in the microwave to thaw them out enough to refill them. The chickens seemed to be picking up one foot, and then the other as they looked at me. And if they could have talked, I think they would have said, "dang, it's cold out here."
I headed out a short time later for a routine checkup with the doctor. As I drove, low hanging clouds as grey as wood smoke, looked like they were close enough to reach up and touch. 
When I walked to the truck after the visit, spits of snow/ice clicked on the windshield.
I wrote most of the day, but this evening I quit long enough to run a few errands before nightfall.
The clouds began to move out after sunset. As I drove I looked off to the west and saw a distant water tower that looked like a purple mushroom silhouetted  against the horizon.  The evening sky turned a thousand shades of brown, orange, amber, blue, and red.
Alabama might be last in every category measured, but we must be close to the top when it comes to the different kinds of weather we have. I've seen it snow in the morning and almost be warm enough to swim by the end of the day. We've had hurricanes, earthquakes, freezes, snow, ice, tornadoes and weather so hot you can cook breakfast on the hood of your truck.
I'm not wild about earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes, but for the most part, I do like a change in the weather every now and then.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Letters

I got a note from my old Army buddy Jocko today. He found me on Linkedin and sent me a note.
He didn't go through basic training with me, but he was at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey in the summer of 1971. We also spent a year in Panama together.
We kept each other entertained while doing Uncle Sam's work. I'd played the guitar since I was young, but I quickly learned that Jocko was much better and I picked his brain like a buzzard on roadkill. I came home a much better musician than when I went into the service.
We kept in touch through the years, more with letters through the mail, than with email. He is great with words and says things you don't expect which often makes me smile.
One casualty of the Internet (email) is the personal letter. I miss them. These days you're lucky if you get a personal word or two on the lame jokes that get forwarded.
I think blogging (especially Blogger) has been a blessing. Sometimes when you write something interesting, you'll get personal comments. I love those. I read the blogs of others and comment too, but not nearly as much as I should.
....now where was I, oh yes, letters. I plan to exchange snail-mail addresses with my friend Jocko, and do my small part to revive the lost art of letters.

Monday, December 06, 2010

There's No Dog Like ol' Charlie

We have an old shaggy dog named Charlie. On most days he looks like he just got out of the spin cycle of our old Maytag washing machine, and at other times like Albert Einstein on a bad hair day. Like most of our mutts, Charlie is a "throw-away" dog.

We live on a dead-end road where some people think it's acceptable to dump their garbage, deer carcasses, and unwanted animals for us to enjoy. But Charlie's story is a little different.

Charlie lived with a family across the road from our house. They had three or four young children along with Charlie and another dog of questionable pedigree.

The family lived there about a year but they kept to themselves. On warm days you could hear the kids out in the yard playing. I've often heard one of the little girls calling Charlie up for supper. "CHO-LEEE, come here boy, CHO-LEE," she'd call. You could see her and the unkempt mutt rolling around in the grass having a large time.

I think the father must have lost his job and gotten behind on the rent, because one day they were gone with no forwarding address. The only things they left behind were their two dogs.

The mobile home is a rental and there has been a number of families who lived there through the years, so it was not an unusual situation. Except, they'd left Charlie and his friend. 

We assumed they'd be back, and apparently Charlie and his friend did too because they camped out at the end of the driveway and spent their time looking down the road, waiting for their family to return, but they never did. 

It was hard for Jilda and I to imagine the family abandoning the dogs, knowing how much their children loved the critters. While it is true that dogs are a man's best friend, the opposite is not always true.

After a few days, Jilda started leaving bowls of food and water for the dogs up in their driveway. I didn't realize this at first, though I would not have objected. We already had four dogs of our own, so I thought about taking them to the humane society where they could hopefully find a home. 

But Jilda pointed out that the two dogs seemed to be soul-mates and that the chances of someone taking two adult, scruffy looking mutts were slim.

After several weeks, Charlie and his friend Dawg began to venture into our yard and eventually they decided to live with us. 

A few years ago, Dawg went to that happy fire hydrant in the sky and Charlie mourned the loss for months -- he can be quite moody at times. 

Charlie, who is older than Dick Clark, is the smartest dog at our house. We learned the hard way that he figured out how to open the gates of our backyard chain-link fence. We came home from an overnight trip and all our dogs (except Charlie) greeted us from the front yard which is outside the fence. I assumed a prowler had been in our back yard and left the gates opened, but nothing had been disturbed.

A few days later, Jilda watched out the back door as Charlie leaned up on the back gate and knocked the latch open with his nose. Our other dogs darted out the gate to freedom while Charlie ambled back to the deck. As Jilda stepped outside, Charlie looked up as if to say, "those dogs are not smart and you should put them down as soon as possible." I'm convinced that if the dog had thumbs, he'd be able to crack safes.

Charlie is part of our family and we love this wacky mutt. He loves it here too, but sometimes on warm, sunny days, he seems to get a little melancholy, and he will amble up to the end of our driveway and look off down the road.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Benfit

Jilda and I joined our friends Steve Norris, George Scherer, Dan Farmer and Mark (didn't get his last name) to play a benefit show tonight in Birmingham. Two children (a brother and sister) under the age of six have a rare genetic disease and require a bone marrow transplant. The benefit was to raise money for the family.
I'm guessing there were a hundred and fifty people there listening to music and bidding on items donated for a silent auction.
Just before we went on stage, the four year-old girl came over to us and reached for Jilda to hold her. We'd never seen the child before but apparently she was drawn to Jilda. That happens a lot with Jilda. Small children, dogs, deer, birds and other small critters follower her around like she was the pied piper.
But she loves most all critters. She once stopped traffic on a very busy county road to rescue a huge turtle that got freaked by passing cars and holed up in his shell right in the middle of the road.
A few drivers wheeled around her vehicle, horns blaring, but then a coal truck driver saw what she was doing and stopped his truck in the middle of the road and brought traffic to a screeching halt in both directions until the turtle was safe.
The truck driver looked like an NFL linebacker so the other drivers kept their honks to themselves.
We enjoyed playing tonight and doing a small part to help the family out. It made me sad to think about all the invasive procedures these children will undergo in coming weeks, but seeing the little cotton haired girl sitting there in Jilda's lap smiling broadly, put a smile on my face too.
I hope you'll consider keeping these children and their family in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Trees

It's time to start thinking of trees. We're not in the group of folks who put up Christmas lights on Halloween. We're more like the Bishop's Wife (the old David Niven/Cary Grant/Loretta Young movie) who puts up the tree on Christmas eve.  
We don't wait until Christmas eve, but we do wait until December before thinking about decorating. To us, Christmas is a special time of year and to decorate too early makes it less special.
We always do a live tree with roots that we can plant after New Years. We've had remarkable luck with our live trees, though the last two we planted died during the drought this summer. But our yard is full of trees we've planted through the years.
Our first tree was a white pine that we planted after our first Christmas in our new house (1983). It now stands well over forty feet tall. It's a beautiful tree and when we tell people it was  our first Christmas tree inside the house, they look at us as if we're pulling their legs.
I shot a photo this past winter that I called "The Snow Cyprus."  It too was one of our Christmas trees. Our blog-buddy Grandpappy did a watercolor of the photograph and gave it to us when they visited this past summer.
He does beautiful work and Jilda and I were blown away by the gift.
So, this week we'll begin our search for our new tree. We'd like to have another white pine, but we remain flexible because when we find the right tree, we know it.
Once we find the tree, we'll put on a batch of Jilda's world famous hot apple cider brewed with cinnamon red hots, we'll crank up Christmas music on the stereo, and we'll ease our way into the Christmas season.
If any of you are interested, I'll post Jilda's recipe for the cider. If it doesn't make you want to hug Santa's neck, I'm not from Alabama.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Lost Follower

I lost a follower tonight. I'm not sure why. Maybe someone took issue with my point of view, or perhaps they didn't like my looks, or maybe they were abducted by aliens. It's a mystery. Maybe they moved on to greener fields.
I know this: I've spent some time reading a lot of blogs lately and there are some incredibly talented people out there. I've read jaw-dropping poetry, seen photographs that looked like they belong in one of those expensive coffee table art books. I've read encouraging stories, funny stories, and pieces that brought tears to my eyes. 
To me, the most powerful thing about the information age is that it's given voice to those who've never had a voice. Some write for the sake of writing. Some write for the money, and some write as if they are the last living being on the planet, calling out into the ether trying to connect with anyone who will listen.
We live in interesting times. I hope my lost follower finds words out here that help them on their way.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Today is my 5th Anniversary of blogging. On this day in 2005, I wrote my first entry. Being new to the world of blogging, I really didn't know where it would lead. I guess I thought I'd write every now and then, but the next day I made an entry and then the next. I've only missed two days in five years and both those times were because I didn't have access to the Internet.
At first, my only followers were from the website I do for my high school alumni, but then something interesting happened - folks from all around the globe began to drop by now and then. These days, most of the people who visit my blog are not from around here.
But not only did I find new friends, but the encouragement I received, gave me the confidence to approach a local daily newspaper about doing a weekly column. They were hesitant at first. When I sat down in a leather chair in the editor's office, he was quite direct. "We have a lot of people who want to write, but most of them soon become bored, or can't seem to make the weekly deadlines."
When I told him I'd been writing a daily blog for over a year and I had at least fifty columns already written, he decided to give me a try. That was four years ago. I've since picked up additional news papers, and landed a part-time job doing interviews for yet another paper.
I've published a book based on the first year of columns. I didn't make a fortune, but I sold enough copies to pay for the printing and I continue to sell books.
Here's the thing - the more I learn about writing, the more I realize I don't know squat. But the only way you get good at anything is to put in the reps. You can wish until you pass out, but if want to be a writer, you have to write and read other writers. If you're not doing these things, you're wasting your time.
So happy anniversary to me. It's been an investment, but it's been fun and the folks I've connected with really make it worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

It rained until after dark last night, then the wind out of the north drove the temps down into the low 30's. When I went out this morning to feed the critters, I should have worn ice skates because the deck was a rink.
The dogs put on a show when they charged out the doggy door to help me feed. Two of them looked as if they were in a Three Stooges routine.
When the sun came up, it made it safe to walk about, but the wind still made it chilly enough for a fleece vest.
Today was my mom's birthday and so I went out to the nursing home to visit early. By the time I arrived, the staff had already brought in balloons and sang happy birthday to her. She was eighty six today.
All of her brothers and sisters have passed on. She was the middle child out of thirteen. She had a brother to die before I was born. She had another brother killed at Pearl Harbor in 1941. The others passed on through the years due to various reasons.
She seemed to be in good spirits, and she says she still can't believe she's eighty six. Since the battery replacement in her pacemaker, she looks stronger than she's looked in a long time.
I have a milestone birthday coming up next month - I'll be sixty. Some people fret about getting older, but so far, I feel good about where I am. Age, to me, is not necessarily chronological. I've known thirty year old people that seemed older than dirt, and ninety year old people who seemed as vital as a youngster.
So let's raise our glasses to aging gracefully.

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