Monday, January 31, 2011

Sending Good Thoughts

I haven't slowed down today. The next two weeks I'll be doing interviews and writing stories for the papers in Birmingham.
I'm working on a story that breaks my heart. A young family in town has two children with Fanconi Anemia, which is a rare genetic disease that among other things causes the bone marrow to fail.
The family is desperately trying to get a bone marrow transplant for one their children who's condition is the most advanced.
I've been doing research on the disease in preparation for the interviews and what I'm reading does not sound good.
Jilda and I met these children just before Christmas when we performed at a fundraiser for them. We didn't know the family, but a friend of ours was involved in organizing the benefit and asked if we'd perform.
The little girl who is about four years old, came up to us when we arrived at the benefit and reached up for Jilda to hold her. Jilda picked her up and we talked to her for a long while. We didn't know at the time that she was  one of the children with FA. She was angelic.
I could not be a nurse or doctor in a children's hospital. Well, even if I WAS good in math, anatomy, pharmacology, etc. I still couldn't do that work. It would be too hard. Of course it would be extremely rewarding when you saved a child, but I'm afraid I would be devastated to lose one.
I'm sending positive energy and good thoughts their way.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bare Trees

I love the time between dusk and nightfall. I shot this photo yesterday evening after I finished working at the old house. The bare trees were beautiful against the disolving light. It seems like a magical time of day. Carlos Casteneda talked about this in one of his books, but I don't recall the quote and I don't want to butcher his words, but I always feel strangely energized during the time between daylight and nightfall.
For some reason, it reminds me of a feeling I got when I was much younger, when I was getting ready to go out on a date.
Even if I'd busted it all day long at work, I'd be excited about seeing my girlfriend and going OUT.
When I'd pick Jilda up she often wore really short skirts. I can remember thinking, "I can't believe your mama lets you out of that house in that skirt. It seemed to me that her hands hung down below her hemline.
What's strange is that her folks were really religious and strict on her. We couldn't go to ballgames, or to the movies, but we could drive all over the country, go to dairy bars, and as long as she was in the yard by 9 p.m. we could sit in my car, listen to the stereo, and neck till our lips were chapped. Talk about a magical time.
A few years ago, our good friend Wes invited us to celebrate his 40th birthday with him. The only thing, he'd be celebrating in Las Vegas. You only turn 40 once and we wanted to share the moment with our friend, so we booked the flight and headed west.
We stayed at Bally's and down at ground level there was a concourse that connected Bally's with the Paris Hotel and the concourse was painted to look like that magaical hour between daylight and nightfall.
I'm sure that was no accident. They make money in Las Vegas and one reason is that they put a great deal of thought into ambience.
I know it was a circuitous  path that led this entry from a small farm in Empire, Alabama to Las Vegas, but as I said - that time of day is magical.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Creative Space - Day 3 Final update for a while

Today we wrapped-up work I wanted to do during the first phase. After the porch and shoring up the foundation, I wanted to enclose the kitchen. Several years ago, the old house had another room on the back but it was in bad shape so I tore it off. I wanted to frame up a wall, but the law of diminishing intent took effect which left an opening in the old kitchen big enough to drive my truck through.
That wasn't a problem in the past because as I've said before, the old house was used for storage and the hole in the wall was of no consequence.
But the the new creative space didn't call for a hole in the kitchen wall. In fact, most heating systems are ill equipped to counter uninhibited winter winds.
So we decided to install a garden door. We got the door installed but we ran of the material before we finished the steps.  Hopefully we'll finish those on Monday.
The weatherman is calling for rain next week so I'm guessing it will be some time before the sawmill cuts the siding for the back of the house. That part of the work will only take a few hours.
If you look closely at this picture you'll see something you don't see every day. For years I've been battling a cottonwood tree that grew too close to the foundation. A small limb found its way between the inside and outside walls and reached upward toward the sun. You can see it right up there near the slop-jar. Yes, I said slop-jar. If you don't know what it is, look it up on Wikipedia.
The old house once used Warm Morning coal heaters for heat, so every room in the house had a chimney.  When the heaters were removed, someone improvised and placed a slop-jar over the opening on the roof to keep the rain out.
Now where was I?......Oh yes, You have to love the persistence of Mother Nature. Long after we humans are extinct due to stupidity of one form or another, Mother Nature will work to reclaim her garden.
My nephew James has been keeping up with my updates and decided to bring the fam out for a look at what we've been doing. They posed on the porch so that I could snap a photo.
Anyhow, we're close to starting on the inside stuff which will be a slow go and I'll probably only give periodic updates.
This evening before dark, I went out to put a few scoops of corn out for the deer and I walked on down to the old house and sat on the new porch for a long while.
When I closed my eyes I could feel a warm breeze out of the west and I could smell sawdust. For a moment, it seemed like time slowed down. Even though I was tired, and my joints ached, I felt like I was in sync with the Universe.  I really can't wait until the place is ready.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Creative Space- Day 2

I knew going in to my Creative Space project that some of the work would be less appealing. Today we tackled THAT work. We spent the day dealing with rotted seals, and leveling old wood. It was slow dirty work. I crawled under the old house and thank goodness it's winter. Had it been summer, there would have been spiders as big as chihuahuas under there trying to crawl into my coveralls.
My carpenter,who I discovered today is almost seventy years old, waxed philosophical. "You gotta take the good with the bad," he wheezed, as he tapped a Marlboro out of his pack and and fired it up with an antique Zippo lighter. Some folks may have blown this piece of wisdom off, but I thought it  was a gem, and I filed it away.
We chipped, dug and leveled all day long and when the evening shadows grew long, we knocked off. Neither of us could have been more exhausted had we run a marathon.  I shot a few pictures but they didn't look like much.
Tomorrow, we'll hang the garden door, finish up a few loose ends, and then it will be up to me to start putting the interior in order.
I've gotten some poignant comments on the entries about creative space.  I think we all are creative people longing to do something remarkable.
Some will live their dreams, but others may not. To me, it's not always about success but about working towards something.
So once my creative space is a reality, what comes next?  I'd like to write a book that makes people smile...a book that takes wings and in some way changes the world. I'm an optimist with realist tendencies. I know that success is relative and fleeting.
This much I know. The old saying - "You can't win the lottery if you don't have a ticket" is words that I, and a lot of my blog-buddies live by.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Creative Space - Day 1

OK, I know this is way more than any of you signed up for, but I'm on a mission now and I've got to see it through. Besides my knees and other joints hurt way to much to try and think of another subject to write about. (For anyone who just stumbled onto this blog, take a  moment and scan the entries over the last week or so on Creative Space.)
My carpenter felt like the new porch would take a day and a half, but that was with him working alone. I'm not a carpenter, but I'm actually a whiz and understanding job flow and I can swing a hammer in a pinch.
The first picture is a sad "before" photo. The leaves on the roof have been there for some time because it was unsafe to get up there. Winding up on the ground with a half ton of roof on me didn't sound that appealing. I could have broken a hip.
My carpenter showed up this morning before the frost melted. I think his car payment must be due because he was raring to get started.
He's used to working alone, but as I watched him, I was able to anticipate the tools he would need next and things began to flow.  Once he got the first section of flooring joists level, we started slinging nails on the flooring.
The old house was build back when Woodrow Wilson was in the White House and apparently they didn't have, or at least they didn't use, squares and levels. But my carpenter is old school and very few things throw him a curve so we nailed on.
By lunchtime, we had almost half the flooring laid.  I resisted the urge to record the sound of the screaming saw and the pounding of hammers, but the thought crossed my mind. Maybe I will do it tomorrow and use it as part of the sound track of a short documentary.
By 4 p.m. both of us were whupped, but the first phase of the construction was complete.
I've worked in jobs for most of my life that were never ending.

Progress was measured in status  reports with obscure terms like - uptime, customer satisfaction, mean time to repair, and repeat reports.
This evening as I stood smiling at the camera in my baggy work clothes, my muscles were tired, but it felt good to be standing on our new porch. We have rocking chairs and thinking benches that will live there. I'm even going to add a front porch swing and a hammock just for good measures.
It felt really good to see physical results from my work. Before long, I'll be writing, editing pictures, composing music, and studying in our new creative space.
Tomorrow the work will may be slow going because we've got to repair things that should have been repaired years ago. It's easy to let things slide. "I'll do that tomorrow," you say. But tomorrow comes and a new emergency arises.
Dr. Stephen Covey has a remarkable workshop that teaches you how to be more productive in your life by focusing on What Matters Most.
My company sent me to the training, but I thought it was so good, that I paid for Jilda to attend the workshop.
He teaches to do the urgent and important things, but he also teaches to spend time on things that are important, but not that urgent. Things like planning, training, reading, and replacing rotting seals.
I hope I'm not boring you all with my little project. I know this, it feels good to hear hammers, smell saw dust, and see a physical manifestation of a hard days work.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The sky was still overcast when I got up this morning, but I could see tinges of color in the clouds which I took as a good sign.
Too long without sun makes me morose. My carpenter called to say the wood we'd ordered from the local sawmill was ready sooner than promised and he wanted to know if it would be OK to pick up the wood today and start construction tomorrow on our creative space.
I had to juggle my schedule a little but I was happy to get things rolling. I took "before pictures" today.
The place looks really rough right now, but I have faith that by early next week, it will begin to take shape.
My nephew has a trailer that could haul all the wood, but he had the audacity to go out of town with his wife and young child for some R&R. The gaul! :)
Anyhow, in order to haul all the wood my carpenter needed me to take my truck too.
That was fine with me because it's been years since I've seen a sawmill in action. The last time I was at a sawmill, they had circular saw blades as big as tractor tires. The newer sawmills use a much smaller setup with band saws.
Once the mill-man was finished, we loaded both trucks. My light-duty pickup was loaded to the point that it seemed like my front tires were off the ground as I drove off the lot.
We unloaded in front of the old house and I headed off to Home Depot for nails, blocks, and a new garden door for the back of the house.
I know it looks like a lot of work, but my carpenter is confident that I won't actually have to raid my 401k to pay for all the work that has to
be done. It would be easy think my carpenter is an optimist that over promises but under delivers, but we've worked together in the past. He has that unique ability to see beauty and order in things that other people overlook.
I sometimes envy that gift. My carpenter is a simple man that's made his living through the years with a saw and hammer. He can glance at a job and tell you whether it will be easy and inexpensive, or whether you should get a part-time job to help finance the work.
He works as if his pants were on fire. He takes a few minutes for lunch to eat a baloney sandwich and drink a jug of ice tea and then he's back to hacking and nailing.
He's in his late sixties and I asked him once why he was a carpenter. He smiled and said "I like the smell of fresh sawed wood, and it's all I know how to do."
Anyhow, once my carpenter is through, the real work begins. I'm guessing it will take the best part of a week to get the junk inside hauled off. Once that's done, then my interior decorator (Jilda loves it when I say that) will swing into action.
I believe that by spring, we'll be blissfully working in our new creative space.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Old Cold Rain

Rain has been falling since before daybreak. The first thing I heard this morning was the wind tinkling our wind chimes, and rain falling on the tin roof. 
I started the coffee and then put on my fleece vest to go down to fetch the morning papers. The thirty year old Christmas tree we planted in our yard had a rain-tear hanging from one of its needles. I took a mental picture and then walked on.
Afterwards I went out to feed the chickens. They're always standing at the fence looking toward the house like anxious passengers waiting for a late train. 
As I poured cracked corn in their feeders, one of the chickens pecked at the indigo colored stone in my college class ring.
I've worn the ring for years, but it's been a long time since I've really looked at it. It's a beautiful ring and it holds special meaning to me. You see, it took me a while to get my degrees. 
I went to college out of high school, but then  life got complicated. I had to get a job to buy a car, and then I was drafted into the Army. I knew I wanted, and needed an education, but it would have to wait.
After I did my time in the service, I did go to school on and off through the years. I got my two-year associates degree, then I went on for my Bachelor's and finally got my Master's degree a mere 29 years later. 
When I graduated, Jilda and a bunch of my friends went together and bought my class ring which cost about as much as a new Toyota. We had a celebration and I choked up when I tried to say thank you.
All of this flooded through my mind as I stood in the rain tending chickens. I am constantly amazed by what triggers memory. I'm also reminded that life is a gift and I don't ever want to forget that. 
I'm thankful that our little hen reminded me.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Time Well Spent

I had some time to kill today. I'd visited my mom in the nursing home but I had an appointment a few hours later which created a little dead space on my calendar. 
I could have driven home and sat around for about 30 minutes, or I could find something interesting to do instead.

I decided to run by the Bankhead Heritage House in Jasper. It was the home of William Brockman Bankhead. Will Bankhead served in the U.S. House of Representatives and was the Speaker of the House in 1936.  Many thought he'd be Roosevelt's choice vice president, but that didn't happen.

I say I want to write, but to be a good writer you need to be curious. Apparently I'm not THAT curious because  I've lived here all my life and I've driven by this particular house a thousand times but I never knew it's historic significance. 
William's daughter was Tallulah Bankhead, the movie star and she was married in this house in 1937. 

I didn't realize it, and obviously they didn't say much about it in the hometown museum, but Tallulah was a wild woman. I looked her up on Wikipedia and I was amazed by her story.

The Bankhead family was one of the most influential families in the country during the first part of the last century. At one time, the father and son presided over both houses of congress for the first time in history. 
As I walked through this house, I was amazed by how little I knew about this place I call home.

So, I'm glad I decided to drop by the Heritage House today instead of running home to check my email. While I love getting notes from my friends and blog-buddies, I really enjoyed a little history lesson even though I was slow getting it. I think this afternoon was time well spent.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Potato Soup

Several of you asked for the recipe for Jilda's potato soup and I finally got a moment to type it up. So here goes:
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbl butter
Can of Cream of Chicken soup
Can of Creamy Celery soup
Bag of frozen hashbrowns
6 cups of chicken broth
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup of grated cheese
1 cup of milk
Saute chopped onion in butter until soft
Add broth, bring to a boil
Add hashbrowns and simmer for 10-12 minutes then add salt, pepper - soup and milk
Stir until mixed.
Simmer another 10 minutes - stir in cheese (she uses a mix of cheddar and smoked gouda)
Get naked and serve.
....OK I just put the get naked part in there to see if you were paying attention although I do sometimes get the urge to get naked, dive into some of her dishes and eat my way out. I know that's a picture that may haunt your dreams for a while, but I hate it for you. I love good food.
Before I was un-jobbed, I used to tell my co-workers that I ate prepared meals at home every night. Most of the people I worked with lived in town, and simply could not imagine that Jilda and I didn't eat out in the evenings.
The thing is, we live on a rural farm where the nearest restaurant is eleven miles away. By the time both of us got home, the last thing we wanted to do was to go back out.
Most of the women got really defensive and would say, "well I work!" When I told them that Jilda worked too, most of them walked off in a snit.
I wanted to call after them and say that my wife loves me more than they love their husbands, but I didn't want to widen the crevasse.
The thing is, my wife does love me, but she also loves good food. She learned to cook at a very early age from her mom who was an excellent cook. We like to go to the farmer's market on our day off and browse through the fresh fruits and vegetables.
She's almost as good as Jesus at making a feast out of almost nothing. A few sweet potato's here, a little pasta and tomato sauce there, some leafy spinach, a little olive oil, toasted bread or other ingredients that others would overlook, and then it's bon appetite!!! We're dining with fresh flowers and chamber music.
......OK, I'm guessing you never dreamed a recipe for potato soup would end up like this, but sometimes I'm left at the keyboards without adult supervision.
I hope you all enjoy the soup.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Writing Day

I've been writing all day on stories that are due on Monday. Mid-morning, Jilda invited me to go for a walk. My back was as stiff as starched Levi's, so I gladly bundled up and headed outside without my hat and gloves. By the time we circled the barn, I wished I'd remembered them. But after about thirty minutes of a brisk pace, I no longer noticed the wind. The sky was cloudless and the sun was warm on my face.
The dogs love this weather. I hated for the walk to end because I knew I'd be back at the computer for several more hours.
I had just taken my jacket off when our carpenter knocked on the door.  So I suited back up and headed down to the old house to help take measurements and discuss what all I wanted to do with the "Creative Space" that I wrote about on Monday.
I was excited when I first started discussing the project with Jilda a few weeks back, but today as we stretched the tape measure, wrote down dimensions, and finalized the material list I realized that it was only a matter of time (and some hard work) before we'd be able to check an item off our "What We Really Want" list.
I fretted that the project might take weeks, and cost more than a new Mercedes, but our carpenter called this evening and gave me the price tag for the material list and it wasn't bad at all. He plans to begin construction within the next two weeks if the weather cooperates. And he said the work wouldn't last more than a few days. I realized it will take longer than that to sort through the junk stored in there but looks like it's a go. I will document the work and share with you all.
We had company coming for dinner tonight but I managed to knock out drafts of both my stories before they arrived. I love writing, but sometimes it can be overwhelming when deadlines sneak up on you.
Y'all have a great Sunday.

Friday, January 21, 2011


This evening I delivered a pot of Jilda's world famous cheese potato soup to a friend who's going through a difficult time just now. 
Our friend lives about fifteen miles away so I decided to take the back way, across the foothills instead of taking the "road most often taken". 
As I crossed a ridge, I looked off to the west and it felt like I could see forever. The setting sun highlighted dissipating contrails of some passing planes, and the sky looked like a dusty rainbow. 
I tried to pull over and take a photograph, but a fellow traveler rode my bumper like a hobby-horse, and by the time I found a wide place in the road to let them pass, it was too late to get the picture, the moment had passed. 
I could rail against inconsiderate people who can't pause a moment to enjoy rare beauty, but I'd be railing against myself. 
You see I've been that inconsiderate driver in the past. I can recall too many times when in a hurry, I swore at old farts who had the audacity to brake for beauty. "Don't these idiots know that I must get to Wal-Mart for cheese doodles and Mountain Dew??????? Who the hell do they think they are trying to take a picture of a rainbow???????
But things changed for me within this last year. Even thought I'm quite busy, I'm not in as big a hurry as I was in the past.  When I see something remarkable, I take a picture, or at least I take a moment to enjoy the rare gift.
I forgive the inconsiderate driver tonight. The truth is, pictures are never as good as the ones you take with your mind. It is my wish that one day the young motorist will get to a place in their lives where beauty does matter, and they will slow down enough to take a picture.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I recommend a change in locale from time to time. The last few weeks I felt like I was in a bit of a rut, but a little time on the road and my mind threw off the chains.  New ideas began to flow like an artesian well.
As I drove through Montgomery yesterday I thought of Rosa Parks. I saw a picture of her once that was taken a few years before she passed away and she looked angelic. It's the picture of her that I hold in my mind whenever I hear her name. She was the black lady who refused to give up her seat on an Montgomery bus to a white person in 1955. At the time, her actions were considered scandalous by "the establishment", but her actions changed the course of history in America. 
As I drove on my way to my job assignment I made a mental note to stop on the way back and shoot a photographs in front of her house.
Then for some reason, I thought about Steven Young, who wrote and recorded the song Seven Bridges Road. His version never got traction, but then The Eagles recorded it and made it a LOT more popular. It is a hauntingly beautiful song written about a road near Montgomery. I made a mental note to try and find seven bridges road on the way home.
Yesterday evening as I approached Montgomery on my way back home, I thought about Hank Williams.  
He was, in my opinion, the greatest country music singer/songwriter ever. He was born in Mount Olive, Alabama but he's buried in Montgomery. A friend once told me that he and his friends used to go out in the cemetery to his grave, drink beer, and play Hank songs late into the night. Some would think this disrespectful, but my friend is not the disrespectful type. They loved Hank, and on some level they understood him, and felt his pain. 
As I drove through Montgomery on my way home, all that was left of the setting sun was a few gold and amber streaks in the evening sky, and I realized I didn't have time to do the things I wanted to do.
It would have been easy to beat myself up for not hurrying through the day and making time for the things I wanted to do in Montgomery.  But instead I found myself smiling. I silently thanked Rosa, Steve, and Hank for lifting me out of my rut. I might not have paid my respects yesterday, but I hope they know they hold a special place in my heart. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Gun That Killed Ol' Yeller

I've driven over 400 miles today. I got up early and headed down south to do an interview for the paper. I left early so that I'd miss rush hour in Birmingham and I'd have plenty of time to enjoy the ride.
The Alabama logo used to be, "The Heart of Dixie".  If that's the case, I drove through the heart, of the heart of Dixie today. I ended up in Abbeville, Alabama which is somewhere around Dixie's left knee.
I reached Montgomery about mid morning leaving the foothills of the Appalachians, and the farmland stretched out far as the eye could see and was as flat as a pool table.
The day was overcast and the oak trees on the banks of the Alabama River and moss hanging from the limbs looked like ancient grey beards.
I interviewed a guy that owns Great Southern Wood. I'm guessing he's one of the richest people in Alabama if not the entire south. But he was a delightful person to interview. He loves his hometown. He made the decision to leave the headquarters of his company, which has sales of over a half billion dollars a year, in Abbeville. He is passionate about education and helping kids get in to college.
He also was key in helping to revitalize the small downtown area of Abbeville.
I drove through the town and stopped by a small soda fountain/restaurant which was just a few doors down from the Henry County Courthouse.
The place was called Huggin' Molly's. Huggin' Molly is the ghost of Abbeville. I didn't get a hug, from Molly, but I did get one of the best cheeseburgers and helping of home fries I've ever had.
The Cheryl Yawn, the hostess sat with me and talked while I ate. She pointed out one attraction at Huggin' Molly's which was the Gun That Killed Ol' Yeller. Now obviously, the gun really didn't kill Ol' Yeller, because Ol' Yeller was a movie and even back then they didn't indiscriminately kill lovable dogs for the sake of family entertainment, but it was the prop used in the movie.
When I got back home tonight, my back was stiff and my eyes were tired, but I had a great day at work.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Have a Buzz That's Not Good

Our heat-pump is acting up and I don't like the sound of it! The inside unit comes on but the outside unit buzzes and the fan never kicks on. If I were to describe this with a technical term, it would be ungood.

The last time something similar happened many years ago, I had to knock off a Jiffy-Mart on check day to pay for the repairs.

I could get all snippy or maybe throw a temper tantrum, but the outside unit would keep buzzing, so I choose look on the bright side. I'll be putting money into an ailing economy.  Perhaps it will help some struggling heating and cooling technician make a payment on his Mercedes or pay the last year of college for one of his kids.

I heard a funny heating and cooling story a while back:
Seems there was this brain surgeon in Alabama with a busted airconditioner in August. He called a local technician who promptly came out and fixed the problem in about thirty minutes.
When he handed the surgeon the bill for $1800, the doctor was aghast. "I'm a brain surgeon and I don't make that kind of money for a thirty minute job," he sniffed.
The airconditioner guy said, "Yes, I know. I didn't make that kind of money when I was a brain surgeon either."

Maybe the a/c gods will be with me and the tech will squirt in a little freon and my unit will spring to life.
If not, I'll be casing Jiffy-Marts.

(I'm not sure if there are any policemen who read my blog, but if any do, I'M ONLY KIDDING ABOUT THE JIFFY-MARTS!!!)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Creative Space

I've finally realized that having free time in retirement is a myth. I'm busier now than I've ever been in my life and important things are being left undone -- things I promised myself I'd do when I retired.

Life seems to be coming at me faster now than at any other time in the past. Part of the problem is that I'm so “connected”. I have a desktop computer, a laptop, and a smartphone which means I can check my email anytime day or night just by touching a few buttons. I get up to the second news with pictures, sound and video. I get the scoop on friends and family by clicking on Facebook.

In an effort to reverse this trend, Jilda and I made a pact at the first of the year to find a “creative space”. A place free of distractions with no phone, no Internet connection, and a place that is far enough off the beaten path that someone would have to go out of their way to pop in on us.

A cabin on the river or off in the woods would be nice but that would mean going back into debt, which is a path we decided not to take.
The ideal space has been sitting a few hundred feet away ever since we've lived here on the farm. It's the old house that sits down by the barn. For years its only function was to store stuff that we “might need later”.
As a result the old house is stacked from floor to ceiling with junk that you couldn't give away at a yard sale.

I think the first order of business is to rent a dumpster and be brutal -- toss everything that can't be used NOW.
The old house has power but no phone nor cable. It needs some work, but I've talked to my carpenter and he's ready and willing to put things in order.

Part of the charm of the old house is that it sits beneath hundred year old oak trees.   It feels ten degrees cooler down there, even when the August sun is as hot as a grill.

All the rooms have large windows and the diffused light filtering through the trees makes the world look softer, like an old photograph.
I'm on the lookout for a writer's table and comfortable chair. I'll be building bookshelves, replacing windows and a few other things to spruce the place up a bit, but we'll leave it rustic and authentic.

The house is big enough that we're making Jilda a creative space too. She's a remarkable painter, jewelry maker, writer, cook, and the list goes on.  Her current creative space is a cramped desk in the laundry room. You have to move stuff around for her to sit down in her space, and it's hard for her to hear herself think over the sound of a clanking clothes dryer.

Our carpenter is coming as soon as the snow thaws to begin work.   Jilda and I are both excited to finally have our creative space. The old house is peaceful and it just seems right to finally have a creative place without noise.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Train, Boats, and Planes

Jilda and I get a lot of magazines. Jilda is a voracious reader and can read books and several magazines in an afternoon. I read a lot, but I don't read so fast.
Teachers would be crucified today, but when we were in grammar school, readers were classified into three groups -- airplanes, trains, and boats. Jilda was in the airplanes. I, on the other hand, was a reader third class on the boats. A snail could crawl down a pager faster than my eyes could take in the words.
But I kept with it and over the years, I improved. By the time I reached graduate school I was reading fast enough to at least be the captain of the boat if not the conductor on the train.
Slow reading has kept many from the joys of reading, but not me. I let the words bathe over me like an incoming tide at the beach.
I tend to skim some materials like the newspaper (unless the story is really well written about a topic that I like), some technical books, and some magazines. But I get one magazine that I read from cover to cover.
Oxford American is the best magazine about the south that I've ever read. It touches on all things southern, from music, culture, sports, events, and stories. The writing is incredible.
The magazine is holding a Summit for Ambitious Writers in June. It's four days of intensive workshops and instruction on how to write better.
I've filled out the application and if I'm accepted as one of the 90 attendees, I'm going, even if I have to knock off a liquor store to pay for it.
I picked up some new followers over the weekend and I'm so grateful to the new folks and the old. I hope you all have a remarkable week.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I call it - Squirrel Eating Seed on the Deck

I got a new photography app for my iPhone and I tried it out on a squirrel eating breakfast on our deck. The app allows you to take slow motion photography. You've probably seen pictures like these taken at night and the effect turns the headlights of passing cars into colorful strings of light.
I must admit this photograph was not quite what I was shooting for, but I think it resembles an Impressionist painting, especially after having a few glasses of cabernet sauvignon. You kinda have to squint your eyes and view the picture with your peripheral vision. And for the best effect, look away and then look back really fast! YES, I do realize you can't really see the squirrel (said in a really condescending and sarcastic tone of voice) but isn't that often the case with art?
I could take the Arteeeest approach and say, hey, it's art, I shouldn't have to explain my work!!!
The downside to this approach is that I have blog buddies that would bust my chops and have a great deal of fun at my expense.
Hmmmm. I'll give this app a few days and if the pictures don't get any better, I'm asking for a refund.

NOTE: I also want to thank all of you that sent me birthday greetings. Today was a good day. The weather has been a little sad, but I've had fun with the spousal unit.
As a birthday gift, she's giving me/us a get-away to attend the L.L. Bean fly fishing school in Freeport, Maine in the spring. I"ve been drooling over the catalogs for years. Obviously she'll go and do the lodge thang, but is this a great gift or what? I'm crazy about this girl!

Friday, January 14, 2011

My First Award

I received a Stylish Blogger Award from Elaine AM Smith yesterday. I've never gotten one of these before so I wasn't sure how it worked. Elaine was kind enough to explain. So here goes -
1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you the award... thanks Elaine
2. Share 7 things about yourself
3. Pass the award on.

7 Things About Me
1) My family didn't have an indoor bathroom until the year I graduated from high school
2) It took me a mere 29 years to get my master's degree (I did take a few years off during this time)
3) I'm a newspaper columnist
4) I self published a book of my newspaper columns
5) I cowrote a song that went to number 1 on European Indie record charts
6) I'm the middle child in a family of five kids. My older and younger brother both died too young
7) I've been married 36 years but it seems like only a moment.

I'm going to pass the award on to: Jilda at Transformation Information. She pours her heard and soul into her work and into her blog. Each time she posts, I read something inspiring.

I reached 136 followers today. I'm amazed. Thanks to you all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow Doves

I've been trying to wrap my arms around this blogging thang, but I'm not having much luck. As I stumble through cyberspace, I come across some incredibly talented people. Reading their words and seeing their pictures is a humbling experience.
I see blogs that are works of art. Many of the big names in blogging stake out a claim on a topic and mine it like a seam of pure gold.
I sometimes think I should be more focused, but then I'd have to start making hard decisions about what "fits" the theme of my blog, and what doesn't?
And then there's the name of my blog - Life 101. What's that all about? When I started writing this blog over five years ago, I imagined I would be sharing what I've learned in my life. But I've come to realize I don't know diddly about life or anything else for that matter. I have way more questions than answers.
As I sat on the couch this morning drinking coffee and thinking about what I should do in my blog, I saw these doves and wrens looking for breakfast in the snow.
I smiled to myself as I snapped the picture, because they had answered my question for me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Senses

Snow is still on the ground here which is rare for Alabama. Frigid air blew down from the north last night turning the landscape in to one gigantic vanilla snow cone.  The cold seeped through my gloves and stung the tips of my fingers. Jilda and I made our way down our walking path, and the crunching made by our footsteps sounded like a platoon of marching soldiers. I flashed back to my time as a US Army Private in basic training - I started chanting:

Ain't no use in going home
Jody's got your girl and gone
Sound off, (one - two)  sound off (three- four), sound off ( one - two - three - four -- one -two!)
Jilda looked at me as if I'd lost my marbles. 

It's interesting what can trigger a memory. I can smell the diesel exhaust from a city bus and it transports me back to Hammond, Indiana in the late fifties when my family traveled north to visit my grandparents. I'd never seen a city bus and I'd never smelled that smell. It wasn't bad, nor was it good, it was just a smell I experienced when I was young and excited about visiting some place I'd never been. It stuck.

The sound of a flapping flag takes me to New York City 1971. I felt alone in a city of millions on my first trip there.  I walked the streets all morning amazed at the sights, sounds, and aromas.  I made my way to Yankee Stadium to watch an old timer's game on July 4th. Sitting up high in the stands I was close enough to the flapping pennant flags to reach out and touch them. 
As I sat there soaking up the ambiance, I heard the announcer say before the game began, "Let's have a moment of silence for Ivy Paul Andrews, from Dora, Alabama." I couldn't believe my ears because I was born in Dora, Alabama and my homeroom teacher was Paul Andrew's wife Josephine. He'd passed away earlier in the year, but I had no idea he would be mentioned at the game.  But in that moment, I felt a little closer to home, and the sound of flapping flags was etched in my brain like a prison tattoo.

I read a book recently called the History of the Senses and it digs deep and describes the senses and how they evolved.  To me, some of the best writers uses the senses coax us deeper into their make us feel like we are there.  I try to incorporate the senses into my writing, but it's a challenge to do without sounding lame. Like everything it takes practice.

Anyhow, I enjoyed our walk this morning, and it gave me something to write about tonight, in a roundabout way.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Barn

After three days without sunshine, my mood started heading south. I felt myself getting a little snippy so this evening I walked down to the barn to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. Off to the west I saw the clouds beginning to part and the sun peek through just before it dipped behind the horozon and I felt my spirits lift.
I got a few scoops of corn to spread out under the apple tree for the deer because I know it's tougher for them to find food in the snow.
By the time I got back to the house and kicked the snow off my boots,
I heard Jilda saying "awwwwwww". I stepped back to the door and looked out to see our little deer family chowing down.
I don't really have a decent telephoto for my good camera, so I snapped this one with my trusty iPhone.
Not the best photo, but it sure beats no photo.
Tomorrow is supposed to be below freezing all day, but the sun should be out. That works for me.
I hope you all have a great Wednesday.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Turning 60

I'll turn sixty this week on my birthday and I've spent time reflecting about the concept of age. Age is something I don't normally think about. Well that's not exactly true – I do think about my age when I stand up on cold mornings and my knees click like castanets. I also seem to spend a lot of time looking for a bathroom these days .... but perhaps I've said too much about that. I can honestly say I'm not bothered by my age, but I am mindful of time.
Everybody told me that forty would be my hardest birthday because I'd finally realize I'm not a kid anymore. Maybe that's true, but I didn't miss being a kid that much. When I was younger, I stayed broker than the ten commandments and spent a lot of time trying to make a living instead of making a life.

By the time I reached fifty, I got a little smarter and started doing more things I enjoyed. Jilda and I traveled all over the country and to Ireland, playing music, taking pictures and writing.
I became more mindful of my time when I finally realized that I wouldn't live forever. That's a humbling realization.
I read a book called Your Money or Your Life and as you probably guessed from the title, is about the relationship between life and money.
It's a fascinating book that looks closely at how much time one can expect to live, based on statistics. It breaks the number down into hours.
For example, someone here in America who is sixty can expect to live to be about seventy eight years old. The eighteen years between sixty and seventy eight comes to 158,000 hours give or take a few. That is if you don't smoke, don't drink too much, abuse drugs, or find your self driving on a narrow country road with someone doing some of the things listed above.
When I was younger, I thought I'd live forever and have an infinite number of hours to waste as I saw fit. As a result, I found myself wishing my life away – I wish it were Friday, or I wish I were out of school, or I'll be glad when I retire.
But once I read Your Money or Your Life and I realized just how many hours (hopefully) remained, it was a sobering experience.
The book not only slaps you in the face with how little time you have left, but also makes you question how you're spending your money.
To put it in perspective, if I'm bringing home twenty dollars an hour working, do I want to spend 1500 of my remaining hours of life to pay for a new Mustang GT? Or do I buy a used Camara and spend the hours I saved fly fishing in Vermont, or having fun with family and friends? I won't depress you by saying how much of my life-force we spent on our house. Let's just say, it was a huge investment.
Life is like a gently flowing river and what's moved past you is gone forever. All you have here on earth is right now – this moment. The Good Book backs me up on this point.
The gift I'm giving myself on my sixtieth birthday is a promise that I won't fret about being sixty, but I will be more mindful of how I spend the hours I have left in my life.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Snow Day

I woke up antsy this morning and I'm not sure why. If I had dreams during the night, I didn't remember them. The best way I've found to counteract this feeling is yoga.
Jilda teaches a free yoga class at the local community center each Monday night and I've attended it for years. As a result, I know a bunch of poses.  So when I do yoga alone, I do every pose I can remember.
It's not pretty, but it gets the job done. When I get up after relaxation, I feel taller. It did the trick this morning, and today has been delightful.
This evening sleet started ticking on our metal roof just before dusk. I stepped out on the deck to get an up-to-the-minute forecast and the wind was brutal. I closed my eyes and turned my face to the sky and let the sleet pepper my skin. As it fell through the trees, it sounded almost like bacon frying on the stove.
My great-nephew Jordan, who turns 3 later this month, came over before dark and he was SOOOO excited. He jabbered something but I couldn't understand what he was saying. His mom told me he said that he was coming over in the morning and hit me with a BIG snowball.
I've always liked snow, especially Alabama snows. Most of the time it's here today and gone tomorrow. But in years past, I always dreaded weekday snow because my job required me to be at work. That's not the case now so I plan to bundle up tomorrow and have fun in the white stuff with Jilda, Jordan and his mom Samantha.
If any of you are affected by this particular event, y'all stay safe and warm.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

What Catches Your Eye

It's interesting what catches your eye. Today as I stood at the garden door looking out toward the barn, I was struck by the intensity of the winter sky.  In my mind I tried to name the shade of blue in the sky, and the red of the cardinal eating seed from our banister.  The evening sun pouring through the garden door, warmed my face, and it felt good to be alive.
I stood there a long time mesmerized by all the activity. There were grey squirrels, and turtle doves fussing over some corn I scattered on the ground earlier in the day. Up in the sky, a jet headed westward toward the sun, laid a cotton trail on the cloudless blue sky.
Jilda called from another room to tell me we needed to start getting dressed for our gig at Berkeley Bob's Coffee House tonight, and her voice jolted me out of my bliss. When I turned, I noticed the sunlight falling on the table and our toothpick holder.
I'm not sure I realized it, but the little crystal holder belonged to Jilda's mother and it's very old.
Her mom grew up dirt poor and never had a great deal of money in her life, but she loved beautiful things. Before she passed away, she gave her children most of her stuff. She knew Jilda had a weakness fo beautiful things too, so she gave her the toothpick holder.
When I saw how the evening light played on the crystal, I pulled my iPhone from my pocket and snapped a picture. I then went to fetch my good camera to take a "good picture", but by the time I returned, the light had changed, the moment had slipped away. I read somewhere that the best camera in the world is the one you have with you. I must say that I totally agree.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Snow's a comin'

OK, even if we needed milk and bread, I wouldn't go buy it for fear of being taped by the local news team out filming snow-hysteria.
So many times the weather people get everybody all cranked up about an impending "snow event" and people run to the store to stock up on more stuff than they would ever need.
I'm beginning to think the weather people are in cahoots with Walmart and other large grocery stores and they smile all the way to the bank each time a cloud comes up in winter.
But, to be on the safe side, I went out today and tried to crank our generator. It hasn't been used since a hurricane swept through last year and blew our lights to South Carolina.
It's never let me down before but when I pulled the crank this morning, it wouldn't crank. I had a ton of errands to run today so I stopped by the parts store and picked up a few things that will hopefully get that puppy up and running.
I'm tempted to say - to heck with it but then I remember back in 93 when a "snow event" swept through Alabama and we didn't have power for almost a week. Our house was total electric then and we almost froze to death. Jilda's brother had gas heat and stove so we managed to have hot coffee and camp food.
As soon as the snow melted, we installed a fireplace and an infrared heater. We also installed a gas range.
We'll know more tomorrow about when, where, and how deep.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Visit From Old Friends

Our friends Kaye and Jamie bought me Amavida Coffee, Baroque Blend for my birthday and I decided to give it a pre-birthday whirl. I poured the beans into our ancient grinder and hit the button. It screamed like a tiny weed eater. When it finished, I removed the lid, I held it up close and sniffed the aroma. If I were a better writer, maybe I could come up with something more eloquent than "dang, this stuff smells good!"
It smelled even better as it brewed. Jilda always sleeps in until the coffee's ready but this morning she got a whiff and stumbled out of bed to investigate.
As we sat quietly sipping (I've learned to keep my mouth shut until she's fully awake), I heard her do a sharp intake of breath. My eyes followed her gaze out the front windows and there stood three deer not twenty feet away. 
It's been a while since they've visited. Back during the summer, they came almost daily to drink from our birdbath and lick up seed from the bird feeders, but they made themselves scarce during hunting season.
I grabbed my iPhone to shoot a picture, but by the time I got it turned on and shot this picture, two of the deer had moved out of view.
I'm not sure there is a better way to start the day than with a great cup of coffee and a visit from old friends.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Rick's Rules of Successful Blogging

Blog Often
There is a great deal of information "out there" on blogging. Obviously there are millions of people writing blogs for fun and profit. A lot of bloggers update infrequently which to me is one of the fastest ways to lose readers.
If I go to a blog that hasn't been updated in several weeks, chances are slim that I will return even if I think what they have to say is valuable.
If a blogger updates regularly (not necessarily every day), I will stick around and read through several posts to get a feel for what the blog is about. 

Blog About The Things You Love
My favorite blogs are ones where people write about the things they love - fly fishing, photography, gardening, writing, and music.
My least favorite blogs are political blogs at both ends of the spectrum. There are professional pundits out there making a killing writing about politics, but if you are an unknown blogger trying to build a following, you might want to steer clear of politics. If you're conservative, you'll hear a swoshing sound as the liberals blow on by your blog - and visa versa. 
I personally think that Americans have forgotten how to compromise. Each side feels the people on the other side are idiots and are driving the country down the toilet. I think there are smart people on both ends and if they ever found common ground, we could get our country back on track. Will this ever happen - the jury is still out.
I'm sure there are a lot of who would take a moment, and re-read the title of this post.

Lose The Automatic Music
I also think it's unwise to have music that automatically plays when you go to a blog. This may be just a personal thang with me, but I rarely even read the first paragraph if music is playing. I simply click NEXT and move on. 
If someone has a player on their blog that contains their favorite songs, or songs they have written, that's another story. If I like what the blogger has to say, I'll often listen to music they create or music they love.

Entertain, Teach, or Make Them Laugh
Other good ways to build a readership is to entertain them with funny stories, jokes (I always keep my "G" rated), or killer photographs.
I routinely return to sites that teach me something or give me hints on how to get better, be more healthy, smarter, taller, be a better father, person, fisherman, or have more hair (just kidding, I'm at peace with not having hair).
And, if you can do the above and make people smile, I can assure you readers will return.

This is just to get the conversation started. If you have things that make you want to return, or run away from a blog, please share.

More to follow.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


My friend Dan just got back from Key West. He went down for a vacation and did some fly fishing while he was there. Just looking at the pictures made me envious.
It's been years since we've been to south Florida. MaBell sent me down there to train some data center folks and they put me up in a hotel on South Beach. Jilda had never been to South Florida so we sprung for an extra ticket for her.  On Saturday we drove south out of Miami and headed down to the Keys. We stopped at a cafe for lunch and had shrimp and crab claws. 
The cafe had its own dock where fishermen brought in fresh seafood during the day. As we ate, we watched one boat maneuver in. Birds of all description flew into the mangroves around the dock to see if they could pick up a little seafood too.
It was a beautiful trip. I'd love to return this year and do a little fly fishing too. Maybe Santa Claus will bring me that for my birthday next week :)

Monday, January 03, 2011

Bits and Bytes

I rarely feel or act my age, but today I feel like my old brain is vibrating like a rusty tuning fork. I've spent most of the day learning Photoshop and Dreamweaver software. I do websites and other media work for local businesses and this software is designed to make that work flow easier......well I'm here to tell you "that ain't happened yet!" Both packages are powerful but the learning curve is steep and I've been struggling. 
My first exposure to PC's began in the mid-eighties when I worked with MaBell. Back then they only had floppy drives and 16k of memory. These days, my watch is more powerful. When IBM first started installing hard drives, they were twenty meg drives.  I have single files now that are bigger than that. 
The advantage of working with them early on, I came to understand a lot of the fundamentals of how they worked and as they became more sophisticated, my understanding grew, for the most part, along with them.
But it seems to me in the last ten years, the complexity had grown exponentially to the extent that relatively few people know how they really work.
OK, now it seems like I'm just whining so I'll stop now. I will not let this thing get the best of me.  But tonight, I think I'm turning in early and hopefully I won't dream about bits and bytes.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

What I Want - Today's Column in the News Paper

I always spend the last week of the year thinking about the things I want to do the coming year. I feel kind of like I did when I was in kindergarten and got a new notebook and a fat cedar pencil. It’s a fresh start, where the possibilities are endless and the sky’s the limit.

I’m writing this column the week between Christmas and New Year’s — the old year’s winding down and soon to be a collection of journal entries and photographs on your computer desktop.

In the past, all my New Year’s resolutions revolved around things I wanted to accomplish like losing weight, selling more books, writing more songs, becoming debt free. (We actually did this in 2010, but we didn’t “become” debt free, we had to work our rear-ends off and live on less than we earned.)

But my resolutions were, for the most part, a to-do list.

When I started talking with my lovely spouse Jilda about some of the possibilities, she asked me a question I didn’t expect. She said, “What do you want?”

I know this seems like a fairly simple and straightforward question, but the longer I thought about it, the more I realized it’s a fairly deep question. Figuring out what I REALLY want would involve some soul searching.

For most of my life, “what I wanted” seemed almost immaterial. I had a demanding job, I had family responsibilities, and other things that laid claim on my time.

Oh sure, I daydreamed through the years, but when it came right down to it, I didn’t have a lot of time to sit around thinking about what I wanted out of life.

This year is different. I’ve been “retired” for over nine months, and although I don’t ever seem to slow down, my time is more my own now than at any other time in my life.

Her question hung in the air like the Goodyear Blimp with these words written on the side — “OK Bubba, the ball’s in your court, what do you WANT from life?”

I put my thinking cap on and headed off down to the barn, climbed the stairs, dangled my feet out of the hay-loft, and sat quietly for a while. Life always seems a little clearer from that vantage point at the barn. The only things that can distract me down there are the sound of old ploughs rusting, and the wind blowing through the hickory, oak, and pine. Well there are birds, but they’re more of a muse than a distraction.

I made a short mental list of the things I really enjoy. I’m not talking about things I can do to make money, but things I REALLY enjoy doing.

When I removed all the boundaries, and pre-conditions, it was exhilarating. I felt almost as if I were flying.

The things I really enjoy doing are:


•Playing music and writing songs


•Having dinner with friends

•Interviewing interesting people

•And fly fishing

This list is not all inclusive, but I felt it was a good start.

Saying what I want is one thing, but how do I go from saying to doing. Well, that part of the plan is a little sketchy. I do know this – when I was a little league hind-catcher I used to harass batters from behind the plate. I’d tell the pitcher – he can’t hit what he can’t see!

This little life lesson could be amended to say, “you can’t do what you want, if you don’t know what you want.” It doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like “he can’t hit what he can’t see,” but it holds true, or at least it does to me.

I now have what I want written on a sticky note and stuck to the wall above my computer. Now that I can “see the ball,” I intend to knock a home run this year.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year

We had friends over tonight for dinner. Since we're from the south, we had to have greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. One of our guests was born and raised in Florida and told us he didn't like collards or black-eyed peas. I told him I was reporting him to the committee on UnAmerican activities and that he would most likely be placed on the terrorist watch list. He'll have problems flying out of Birmingham from now on :)
After we ate, we sat around and played music for a while. I can't think of a better way to get the new year started.
Happy New Year!

Happy New Year and here's the Po Boy recipe

I wrote my first check of the new year and I got the date right. 1/1/11.
We watched the New Year's celebrations in various locations. The one in Mobile, Alabama looked like fun. At midnight, a gigantic Moon Pie dropped from the RSA Bank building. Everybody had Moon Pie necklaces. Here's the link to a news report about the Moon Pie.
Several of you asked for the Po Boy recipe a few days ago. I finally remembered to post it.
This recipe came out of the 2004 Taste of Home recipe book. And like all foods here in the south, the sauce has a few dashes of Crystal Hot Sauce added.

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