Monday, February 28, 2011

Plum Spring

What a difference a few days makes. It was chilly when we headed out of town on Friday but the further south we traveled, the warmer it got. By Sunday afternoon, it was pushing 80 degrees. 
On the way home that afternoon, the evening sun turned the white fluffy clouds into pink cotton candy, and they looked low enough to reach up and grab a handful.
I love cotton candy but I haven't had any in years. It reminds me of the state fair. The state fair was a huge deal when I was younger. It came to Birmingham in October. The sights, the sounds, and the aroma of roasting peanuts, popping popcorn, and cotton candy turned the fairway into a kind of sensual heaven. And I always hummed "I'm Sitting, On Top Of The World" whenever I rode the ferris wheel.
Now where was I before detoured down memory lane.....oh yes, what a difference a few days makes.  
When we got home yesterday, our yellow bells, daffodils, and our ornamental plum trees had bloomed out.
I hope our fruit trees wait because I doubt that we've seen the last of the cold weather. 
I have to say though, with cotton-candy clouds and blooming flowers, it looks plum spring.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some Things Are More Valuable Than Money

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. I’ve cleaned chicken houses, caught chickens, picked cotton, surveyed on the chain gang with the State Highway Department, and I retired from Ma Bell after thirty three years. But I learned more on my first job after I got out of the Army than all the others combined.

Call it fate or serendipity, but my friend Dale Short whom I’d met before I was drafted, was the editor at The Community News in Sumiton in 1973 when I returned from active duty.

He called me up to ask if I wanted a job as a writer and photographer. The entry level job didn’t pay much, but Uncle Sam had a job retraining program that supplemented my income so that I earned enough to live on, though I probably qualified for food stamps.

What the job lacked in monetary compensation, it made up for with opportunity.

For the first time in my life I wasn’t doing manual labor, I was using my mental and creative muscles. With Dale as my mentor, I learned to interview people, write stories, shoot pictures, and use a darkroom.

I know that a darkroom is antiquated technology these days, with the invention of digital cameras, but the darkroom was a great classroom back in the day. There I learned how NOT to shoot a picture. These days if you take a bad picture, you simply delete it and shoot another. That didn’t work with a film camera. When you shot a bad picture you’d often spend hours in the darkroom trying to print something decent for publication — and in those days, Mr. Short, was a taskmaster!

“Yes this would look pretty good,” he’d say “if the kid didn’t have a tree-limb growing out of his ear.” So I’d skulk back to the darkroom to use dodging and burning techniques to try and remove the limb. I learned that you should ALWAYS check the background to make sure it doesn’t make the person in the picture look goofy. Unless of course you didn’t like the person and you wanted to make them look goofy.

The Community News weekly often looked like a magazine. We didn’t do hard news, but features, interviews, and eye-popping photo layouts that spanned two full pages.

Dale had worked as a writer for an over-the-mountain newspaper in Birmingham before coming to The Community News, but was fired because the publisher said,“Dale, you just can’t write.”

In 1974, we entered The Community News in the Alabama Press Association’s Better Newspaper contest, and we all got a free weekend down at the State Convention Center at Gulf Shores to attend the awards event.

It was serendipity at work again, because our seats were directly across from the publisher who’d fired Dale.

We racked up that night, as The Community News took first-place honors in many of the major categories including Best Weekly Newspaper, Best Editorial, Best Use of Photography, Best Feature Article, and Best Looking Staff. OK, I made that one up, but we did look pretty snazzy hauling all those awards back to the table.

In all, the paper won eleven awards — which at that time was the most awards any weekly newspaper had ever won at one event.

The publisher who’d fired Dale won a single award, as I recall it was for eating the most crow.

The three years I spent at The Community News was a gift. It was one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. Even though the job didn’t pay that well, the things I took away from that job proved to be invaluable throughout my life.

It was there I learned that work is not always about the money. Sometimes you learn things that are more valuable than a paycheck.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Almost at the Beach

Jilda and I with our friend about two hours south of Empire. The weather is warm and sunny with a cool breeze off the gulf. We're about an hour from the beach and if I stand still and close my eyes, I can almost smell the ocean.
Even we're performing all three days we're here, it's still like a vacation. Whenever we visit our friends Wes and Deidra it's always about food, good drink and music.
Tonight we play at the art alliance. It's like a comfortable coffee house with easy chairs and sofas. We did a sound check earlier and the audio is exceptional.
After lunch this afternoon, we sat out by the pool and wrote a song. Life is good!
Y'all have a great weekend.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Late Night/Short Entry

We played Just Folks Coffee House in Elba tonight and it was delightful. The crowd was good and into what we were doing. It was a mix of original and cover songs and I did some readings from my book. 
I'll write more tomorrow. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On Being a Writer

We've been watching the weather all afternoon. There's a line of storms off to the west marching toward us at an alarming pace.
This evening I checked the generator and made sure we have gas in case we take a power hit.
Even now, the high level winds are roaring like low-flying jets.
I spent the morning writing a story about a young couple that has two small children (5 and 7) with Fanconi anemia. FA is an incurable genetic disorder that results in bone marrow failure in well over 90% of those affected.  The list of maladies these children could face is too sad to write. It was one of the most difficult interviews I've ever done. 
Today, as I listened to the transcript of my interview with this beautiful young woman, it broke my heart. All my petty grievances seemed absurd!  
I'm wishing I could get more followers, or sell a few more books, or songs, and she praying her children will live until their 25th birthday.  
It was not my intention to bring you down tonight, but writing is an interesting profession. You sometimes write about people who are on top of the world, but sometimes you must write about people to whom life has been unkind. I love what I do, but sometimes it's hard.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our Neighbor's Dog

We set out on our walk early this morning because we both had things to do today. Our dogs are always excited, but lately our neighbor's collie has been hanging around our house.
I'm sure it's because we spend a lot of time outside when the weather is good and we pet him like he was one of ours.
The lady has come for him time and again, but the moment we we start our walk, and he hears the excitement of our dogs, he runs as fast as he can to join us.
He's still a puppy although he's as tall as any of our grown dogs. Today on a whim, I picked up a stick and tossed it ahead. He charged after it, wheeled around, picked it up in a dead run, and dropped it at my feet. 
I've tried for years to get any of our dogs to fetch and they all look at the stick, then look at me as if to say - huh?
As we came back by the creative space, we sat on the porch for a while admiring the day. A moment later, our neighbor's dog was resting peacefully, awaiting the next leg of the walk.
I don't mind him walking with us. He is a delightful creature. Our dogs are getting used to him now.  One day our neighbor may get tired of coming for him and let him stay. 
I think he'd fit in well with our canine crew.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Use of Creative Space

Our great nephew Jordan has "repurposed" the porch of our creative space. I envision the porch as a writing space for spring and fall days with a nice breeze out of the west making the Alabama humidity tolerable. Where I write prose so poignant and true, that people openly weep as they read my words.
I also see it as a stage for house concerts where touring singer songwriters bare their souls with music new and raw, and our music loving friends lounge around under our hundred year old oak trees, sipping a nice Bordeaux and saying - man, it's good to be alive!
Jilda sees it in terms of light and shadow - color and texture.
Jordan on the other hand sees it as a place where blocks of freshly sawed pine become cars, trucks and buses, with the longer pieces becoming houses, garages, and obstacle courses.
Each time he comes to visit, he says, "we need to go check the barn."
He waits patiently while we put on our shoes and then he runs down through the field as fast as his legs will carry him to the old house and barn. I choose to believe that only a magical place would have this effect on a child this young.
The love of this place is something we share. Another thing  I love about this child, is that whenever he sees Jilda and I, he gets this radient smile on his face that makes my heart soar.
We often argue - I love you more than you love me! NO, I LOVE YOU MORE THAN YOU LOVE ME! It goes on and on.
His mom finishes school until May, and then he starts pre-school in September. I'm sure we'll do babysitting duty from time to time, but the weekly Tuesday and Thursday routine will end.
Some people might think giving up two days a week to sit for a child is big sacrifice.  But I view it as a rare gift. And I think the new creative space is a perfect place to help our imaginations grow.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hard To Believe It's Been 25 Years ~ Column from Sunday Paper

I pulled To Kill a Mocking-bird from our library shelf today and something slipped from between the pages. When I picked it up, I realized that it was the laminated obit for my dad who died in the spring of 1986.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 25 years since we lost him. I reflexively wiped my thumb across the the picture, and stepped closer to the light filtering through the window to get a better look. As I read the obit again, it occurred to me that I am now just two years younger than he was when he passed away. A wave of sadness came over me and I fought back tears.

Back in 1986, I remember thinking how old he looked just before he died. The last few years of his life had not been kind to him and he seemed to look tired and frail each time we visited.

He worked hard as a welder for most of his life and he spent every free moment in the woods or on the river. He loved the outdoors.

After he got sick and couldn’t drive, he spent most of his time sitting in a recliner in the corner of the living room. I think toward the end, he’d made up his mind he was ready to go.

I was in Atlanta on business when my mom phoned my office to tell me he’d been rushed to the hospital. They tracked me down in Atlanta to give me the message. My boss at the time wanted me to stay for a meeting, but I told him I felt like I needed to go home.

He wasn’t happy, but I really didn’t leave room for negotiation and when I landed in Birmingham, Jilda picked me up at the airport and whisked me to the hospital.

I went straight to intensive care to see him and he gave me a faint smile when I took his hand.

I hadn’t been there 20 minutes before the machines began to beep slower and his vital signs weakened. With my brother Neil and I holding his hands, he slipped away.

Even though it’s been 25 years since my father died, I still smell the aroma of his Rose Hair Oil, and remember the short black comb he carried in his right hip pocket next to his wallet. I can hear the clattering sound his keys made when he laid them on the dresser next to his bed at night.

He had an Army footlocker as old as the hills that he’d painted white with a brush. It’s where he kept his personal things.

After he died, mama wanted me to go through the trunk and try to figure out what to do with what he had left behind. Inside the trunk was a life time of souvenirs. An Old Timer pocket knife, and an ink pen with the image a woman in a bathing suit. When you turned the pen upside down, the bathing suit disappeared. He also had some cat-eye marbles, and an antique Zippo lighter with the cover worn smooth on one side from years of flipping and zipping.

It was an interesting experience browsing through the things that my father had kept for all those years.

A ringing phone snatched me back to the present, and as I cradled the phone between my shoulder and ear, I put daddy’s obit back between the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird. I know it will make me sad again the next time I run across it, but this bookmark will also help me to hold onto memories of my dad.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blue Skies, Bare Trees, and a Winter Sunset

Jilda and I did our daily walk early today. We had quite a bit planned and we wanted to do first thing first.
As the day wore on, we managed to finish up early enough to take an evening stroll. On the walking path to our meditation rock, the evening sunset came into view and I felt compelled to snap a photo with my trusty iPhone.
I know there are better cameras out there, but as I read somewhere, the best camera in the world is the one you have with you when you see something remarkable.
I've found this to be so true. I've always taken a lot of pictures, but there have been so many other times I found myself saying - DANG, I WISH I'D BROUGHT MY CAMERA!
I'm not sure I've ever thanked Steve Jobs (Mr. Apple) for his contribution to my life. I'm at a loss to think of the world without his contributions.
On another note, it will be bedtime soon. I have to be up and At'em early in the morning. I'll be on the local radio station in the morning doing a promotional spot for the Read Alabama author event on Tuesday. 
I hope you all have the opportunity to enjoy blue skies, bare trees, and a winter sunset.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Best You Can Do

Jilda and I played a gig at a nearby restaurant tonight. I think we did good, but it's hard to say because I'm always so focused on remembering words, and where my fingers are supposed to be at any given time, that I don't have a chance to listen closely enough to evaluate the performance. So after the show tonight, I instinctively started beating myself up a little. I'm really my own worst critic. 
Time shift back to earlier this week - Jilda was reading  an article in a women's magazine which was supposed to shed light on personality traits based on the day of the week you were born. Both of us take this stuff with a grain of salt, but she looked up my birthday and year for fun. She found out that I was born on Monday. 
One of the things the article said was that people born on Monday's tend to be perfectionists. That's not the image that comes to my mind, but Jilda has a different view, and based on the evidence she shared, I would probably be convicted by a jury of my peers. I'm not sure I like that about myself. I mean I want to always do well, but perfection?  It's an unattainable goal.
So, it is my intention to the best I can do in the future, and not worry so much about perfection....I don't care if I was born on Monday.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Diamond Story

A guy who lives nearby read my "Diamonds" column in the local paper Sunday and left a voicemail earlier this week saying he had a story that I might be interested in. I've been so busy, I had not had a chance to return his call.
When we talked today, I learned that he spent time in the Navy. As I listened he told me one of the responsibilities of his Naval unit was to retrieve NASA space modules from the ocean when they returned to earth from space missions.  
In a voice as deep as a toad, he told me his team retrieved the Apollo 11 module in July of 1969. My mind jerked into gear as I realized that Apollo 11 was the mission where man first walked on the moon!  As it turns out, he was the first to welcome Neal Armstrong home (in person) after his moonwalk.
He said he had pictures and other items of interest. I can't wait to do this story! I'm going to try and video tape the interview if he doesn't mind, and see if I can put together a short piece.
The fun begins!

On another note, I mentioned several times that I'd met author Rick Bragg at last year's Read Alabama Event sponsored by Bevill State College. He's written several very successful books, but he was also a feature writer for some prestigious newspapers. While writing for The New York Times, he won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of feature stories he wrote.
Click the link below to see the stories The Times submitted on his behalf to the Pulitzer committee. You tell me if you think this guy can write.

Y'all have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Acres of Diamonds - Column from Sunday

I read a parable entitled Acres of Diamonds. It's a story about an African farmer who sold his farm and went off in search of diamonds. He searched for treasure most of his life but died penniless.

Meanwhile, the man who bought the farm, found a glittering stone in the creek. The farm turned out to be the largest diamond mine in Africa. The first farmer had lived on acres of diamonds and never realized it.

I feel a little like the first farmer because I've looked far and wide for interesting stories, but unlike the first farmer, I wised up and discovered fascinating stories right here in Walker County - literally acres of diamonds.

I wrote about visiting the Bankhead House and Heritage Center last week and it seemed as if my mind started to buzz. I saw old photographs of the cities and towns of Walker County and some of the people who've lived here. I got ideas for a half dozen stories as I strolled through those rooms.

Then recently Jilda and I were invited to perform, along with our friend Skip Cochran, at the Old York Opry show at the Bull Pen in Oakman. WJLX Oldies 101.5 FM will broadcast the program live from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. on February 19, and we are excited!

Station owner Brett Elmore and the owner of the Bull Pen Restaurant, Richard "Bull" Corry, invited us down this week to check out the stage. Afterward, Bull gave us a tour of the Bull Pen, which is a restaurant and what I'd call a museum. I was amazed by this place, and they have great food to boot!

He has family pictures on the walls going back many generations. Bull fell into a rhythm as he described the people in the photographs and told stories about each of them. Bull has acres of diamonds, right there in Oakman, and I think it's a story worth telling.

It's almost like I've been sleeping all the years I've lived here, and as a result, I've taken my home town for granted.

While all of this was stewing in my head, I made a decision to do something about it. It's my intention to go out into the community and take a fresh look at this place we call home, through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time. I want to talk to folks, take pictures, shoot video, and ask questions.

What I'm beginning to understand, is that everyone has a story, if only we take the time to listen. I was standing in line at McDonald's waiting for my friend Pat to whip up a hot mocha, and I noticed a gentleman in front of me wearing a U.S. Army Calvary baseball cap.

I struck up a conversation and he told me he was a Vietnam vet. We only had a moment together -- just enough time for a piece of his story, but I was fascinated by what I heard.

So here is what I plan to do -- in the future, instead of feeling sorry for myself when I can't think of anything to write about, I'm going to go out and do a little prospecting in the acres of diamonds here in Walker County.

If you have a friend or family member with an interesting story to tell, send me an email at and we'll see if we can find a diamond.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Barn Repair - Third and Final Day

We finished all but the cosmetic work at the barn and the creative space today. We'll paint the new wood over the coming weeks and begin the task of cleaning up and out both spaces.
It's been hard work. I got my hands dirty and I whacked my thumb more than once. But the longer I worked, the better I got at measuring, cutting, nailing, and placing.
My carpenter is a down-home philosopher. Just watching him work was like watching an artist. His moves were calculated and wasted energy. When he measured, he jotted the number with his carpenter's pencil on the wood so that if I forgot, he didn't have to remeasure.
As we worked over the past few weeks, I picked up bits and pieces of his life story. He grew up hard. His dad left their family when he was a kid. He wanted to go to school, but he had to work to help put food on the table.
So he spent his life building things and he learned his craft well.
These last few weeks has been a rewarding experience. Doing the repair work on the old house and barn has had two payoffs. One was the obvious -- we now have a creative space and a solid barn that will be here as long as we have a use for it. The second was a chance to get to know a remarkable individual. And to hear a story that few people have heard.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Barn Work Day 2

Thanks for all the visitors, comments, and words of encouragement. I only got to work with the carpenter half a day today which slowed the progress a little. I had to do a couple interviews for upcoming stories, so my carpenter worked alone all afternoon.
He still made a lot of progress. We should complete the work by mid-day tomorrow. Jilda talked to a guy at the paint store and he's confident he can mix paint to make the new wood match the old. 
I'd also like to paint the roof green to match our house, but that's a project for the future.
What's interesting is that we have a tree growing in the foundation. It was part of the reason the side of the barn had rotted so badly. 
I struggled with the decision whether or not to cut the tree down. When I talked to the carpenter, he felt it was not a big deal. He said he could replace the foundation on both sides of the tree, and replace siding to allow for the growth of the old cottonwood.
The right side of my brain said cut it down, get rid of it! But the left side of my brain said, it's a tree, man! Do you want people to call you a tree-slayer?
How many people have a tree growing out of the side of their barn? 
In the end, the left side won and the tree lives on. The photos I took of the tree didn't look that good, so I'll shoot a good one tomorrow when we finish.
Oh yes, I was so excited about the barn that I didn't mention the Apple video editing class I took Monday.  I was amazed by how easy it is to edit video.  My instructor was great, but I don't think he was old enough to vote. I know for a fact that I have sox that are older than he was. But he was remarkable.
The video I used was just junk I threw together, but he showed me how to cut the gems out of a piece of video, and add music, still photos, and effects. I was totally blown away.
I'm not prepared to share any video just now, but I will have some soon, so stay tuned.
Again, thanks to all of my remarkable followers.  I know I've been a little remiss in reading your blogs, but this weekend is catchup time.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Barn Work

I'm going to do my best not to bore you all  to tears with all this barn work, but we made a great deal of progress today. The carpenter was afraid that it would take several days to replace the sills (thanks to my buddy Ken Owens who pointed out that it was sills and not seals), but the helper I hired was just the ticket and they finished replacing them today. I B SOO Happy!
Tomorrow, we'll focus on getting the siding replaced and clean-up work.
I can't tell you how good it feels to be making progress on long-term goals.
Sometimes you get slammed and you let some things slide. That's OK to do now and then, but you simply can't make a habit of letting things slide.
The last few years in corporate America, I found myself letting too many things slide. The barn, the old house, and our home all needed attention, but I was simply too busy to slow down long enough to take care of important things, that weren't that "urgent".
I found myself saying - "well, this doesn't matter". But the truth is, everything matters. Not everything carries the same importance or priorities but everything matters in the scheme of things.
A barn with rotting sills and siding might not seem important, but each time I walked by the barn and old house, (which is almost every day) I would look at what needed to be done, and silently kick myself. I know it sounds weird, but I think it affected my self esteem.
OK, maybe I've drifted too far from the shore here as the old gospel song goes, but I can tell you this:
As I sat on the bed of my truck this evening admiring the work that we did today, it felt good somewhere down  deep inside.
I think everyone has "a barn" that they struggle with. My wish for you, is that you find a good carpenter, and get your "barn" back where it needs to be.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

First Apple Class

I have a busy week ahead. Since the weather should be almost warm enough to swim tomorrow, my carpenter, who has cabin fever, will be here in the morning before I finish my coffee. He knows the warm weather will only last a few days and he want's to get started on the barn repairs. I shot the picture to the right a few years ago during the spring. The spiderweb coated with dew caught the morning light, and fortunately I had my iPhone with me and captured the moment.
I also have my first Apple class at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow to start learning how to edit video.  I think video skills will dovetail nicely with what Jilda and I are trying to do. 
She is doing some incredible work with yoga and meditation. I'd like to do some video instruction that can be used to help with post traumatic stress, as well as pain management.
And when we get our new singer/songwriter cd project recorded, I'd like to do video for some of our songs.
We are also kicking around the idea of doing some short documentary films on subjects near and dear to our hearts....but that will come after we clear off out plates a little.
Anyhow, lots of exciting stuff to come. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Barn Work

I knew before sunrise that it would be warm today. I got up before dawn to let our old dog out. When I stepped out on the deck, the sky was ink blue and the stars were bright as embers with no clouds in sight.
After coffee, I called my nephew Haven and he agreed to take his trailer down to the saw mill early to pick up the wood to repair the barn. If the weather cooperates, we'll get started on repairs by mid-week and hopefully we'll be through by weeks end.
You can't tell by this picture, but it's actually a beautiful old barn and it's stood strong even through years of neglect.
Repairing the barn has been on my todo list forever, but writing it on a list and actually doing the work is a horse of a different color, as the old saying goes.
When people come to visit us, they always want to walk around and look at things. Our little place seems to send out good vibrations.
The old house and the barn look as old as time itself. I'm not sure if it's the giant oak and hickory trees, or the house and barn that were built with rough cut lumber, but they look like something from an old cherished picture.
I bought rough-cut lumber to do the repairs, and I'll repaint the barn once I'm through and then it will be up to father time to put the patena back where it belongs.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Short and Lame

Tonight was a late night for me. The paper for which I write had a trivia team in a local Rotary Club fundraiser. Some of their team bailed out at the last moment so in a fit of desperation, they called me to join the team. 
I thought I was pretty good at trivia, but I learned tonight that thinking and being are two totally separate things.
I think I answered 2 out of first 20 questions. Thankfully others on the team did know the answers.
Toward the end, I found my rhythm and came up with a few answers in a clutch, but all and all, I'd give myself a "D".  The team as a whole came in third out of 21 teams, so not a bad showing.
So, tonight it's a short lame post. I'll do better tomorrow.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

As a Rule

We got just over three inches of snow last night and it was the moist fluffy kind.
Jilda and I got out early for our walk and the cold air was invigorating. By early afternoon, the clouds had moved off to the east toward the Carolinas and the sun felt as warm as a heat lamp.
When we headed in to town this evening, all the snow was gone except for shady places.
I did shoot a photograph of my old bicycle down at the barn this morning. I'd moved it out of the barn some time ago when I was doing repair work, and I'd forgotten to move it back. When I saw the snow on it this morning, I considered it a gift that I'd forgotten to put it back.
When I glanced at Facebook, a lot of people around here were whining about the snow. But those same people will be whining in July and August about the heat.
My fifth grade teacher used to quote a poem that seems appropriate in this situation:

As a fool, man's a fool
When it's hot, he wants it cool.
When it's cool, he wants it hot
Always wants what he ain't got

Truer words were never spoken.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Snow advice

I opened the door a moment ago to survey the weather and I could hear the whisper of falling snow. Our deck is covered now in what looks to be about an inch of the white stuff. The chairs look like they're wearing sheepskin coats.
Driving tomorrow morning could be treacherous. The Irondale Chamber of Commerce asked me to speak tomorrow but I got an email late this evening saying the meeting had been cancelled and to be honest, I'm glad. It should be a short-lived dusting because the temps will reach the 40's by mid-day.  
 I've had my nose to the grindstone the last few days.....well, to lose the metaphor, I've been tapping keys the last few days.
I've written two full length feature stories, two bio's for upcoming speaking engagements, and my column for next Sunday's paper. I sometimes get lost in words.  
I read a book a while back where the author suggested that writers should strive to use the "right words" when they write.
That sounds simple enough, but in reality it's sometimes not that easy. I started a recent article with a funny story that was probably not true. The story stressed a point, but readers needed to understand that it was "a story". 
I toiled with the opening sentence trying to figure out how to tell the story, but let readers know that it wasn't a true story. My friend Dale helped me out when he suggested apocryphal which means "of doubtful authenticity. I could have written all day and never captured what I wanted to say without this word.
Some of the best books, blogs, and stories I've read make a habit of using the right words. 
My vocabulary is not where I want it to be, so when I'm reading and run across a word I don't know, I look it up. It takes a little longer to finish my reading, but it's worth it.
At first it seemed like I was constantly stopping,  but I don't have to stop as much anymore.
Unless you're among "the gifted", getting really good at something takes study and practice. There are no shortcuts. 
OK, I'm through spewing advice now so you can all return to your normal blog-surfing activities. 
I just put on a kettle on the stove for evening tea, so Jilda and I will unwind the great-room, sip our tea and watch the snow turn the ground into a cotton blanket.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Newspapers and Magazines ~ My Sunday Column

Call me old fashion, but I like to read books, newspapers, and magazines. I’m not talking about reading on a computer screen or some new fangled electronic gadget but the real thing. I don’t think I’m in the minority here.

When I’m out of town and don’t have access to the Daily Mountain Eagle, I will call it up on my laptop computer and check the local headlines and obits, but when I’m home, I’m trotting down to the paper box at day break and fetching the paper.

I like the smell of ink and the feel of the newspaper in my hands. The crinkling sound it makes when you turn a page is oddly comforting to me.

No Sunday morning would be complete without a hot cup of coffee and the morning news – it’s one of life’s little pleasures. It wouldn’t be the same with an electronic gadget on my lap. Then there’s my wife. She loves reading the paper as much as I do. The way we handle it is she reads the headlines and the front section then passes it to me, and moves on to the next section. She’s a fast reader so the delay is tolerable.

If we were to read the paper on one of those gadgets, how would we divide it up? I can promise you there would be a hassle. I’d wind up in the doghouse ignorant of what’s going on that day in our community and the world.

Who knows what would happen if we spilled coffee on that contraption like we sometimes do with a newspaper. I don’t even want to talk about trying to cut out coupons.

An entire wall of our great-room has book shelves full of books of all kinds. We have the classics, like War and Peace, Catcher in the Rye, Atlas Shrugged, and works by Dickens, Shakespeare, Vonnegut, Frost and Twain. We also have shelves dedicated to gardening, philosophy, religion, geography, modern fiction, and self-help books.

Sometimes when I have writer’s block and need inspiration, I’ll go over and randomly pick a book from the shelf to read. Nine times out of ten, I’ll get an idea and the writer’s block blows away like dust in the wind — as the old song goes.

You can find a lot of good information on the Internet, but when I need inspiration, even a simple search on say Shakespeare the writer, will bring up Shakespeare fishing equipment and then my mind is off floating down the Warrior River in a boat, casting in the reeds for a trophy bass.

And if I ever glance at my email or Facebook, WOOSH! That’s the sound of a pound of sand passing through the hourglass of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, the Internet is a vital tool in my line of work, but I’m just saying it provides too many distractions when I’m trying to focus. That’s not an issue with books.

Recently when I attended the Tallulah Bankhead Birthday Party at the Bankhead House and Heritage Center several people stopped me to say how much they enjoyed reading my column in the paper (Note to self, I need to ask the boss for a raise). During a conversation with two ladies there, one said she read the newspaper, but the other said she read my column online. Two people, with two preferences., the mammoth online book retailer reported late last year that for the first time in history, online Christmas sales surpassed physical books. I realize the popularity of electronic books, newspapers and magazines is growing exponentially.

There may come a time in the distant future where resources become scarce and the cost of handling physical books and papers is too high for publishers to make money, but until then, just leave me with my trusty newspapers and dusty old books with highlighted passages, and dog-eared pages.

If that makes me old fashion, then so be it — but I think I have a lot of company.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Looking Forward to Spring

The wind blew straight out of the northwest today and by this evening, the air was cold as a Popsicle. After yoga tonight, the American flag that hangs at the community center looked as if it had been starched and pressed as flat as a poster. The keeper chain made a clanging sound like hot water running through cold radiator pipes.
This has been the coldest fall and winter I can remember. Of course, I sometimes forget where I park my car when I go to the grocery store, but that's another story. I think I'd remember weather this cold.
I know this, I long to see the sun high and warm in the sky. When the weather moderates, my carpenter and I are going to do some repair work on the barn. The barn is as old as the hills too, but there's work that should have been done years ago, but I simply didn't have the time.  It needs a few sills replaced and some of the outer siding.  It looks rough right now, but I think three days of warm weather will put it right again.
I wouldn't dare wish a moment of my life away, but I can say without hesitation, that I'm looking forward to spring.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Go Bears

We watched the Super Bowl with friends tonight. We don't watch much NFL football, but it seemed sacrilegious NOT to watch the game. Jilda was in to it from the first with her chant : GO BEARS!!! 
When we explained that the games was between the Packers and the Steelers and that the Bears weren't in the game, her interest waned somewhat.  She used to live in Chicago and she's loved the Bears for years. Some of the commercials were kind of interesting, though I think the money spent by Dorritos was a waste...I'm not a pro when it comes to advertising, but I'm just saying.
Anyhow, I've run out of steam so this post is short and a little lame. I promise I'll do better.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Great Day in the Neighborhood

Today was a fun day. I got a letter from an old 401k plan that I thought I'd closed out years ago. As it turns out, I'd left a few hundred dollars in there and it's been collecting interest. It's not enough to retire on-no wait, I'm already retired. Is America a great place or what!
We received an invitation to go to a local restaurant for an early dinner this evening and we accepted. We got there early enough that the owner gave us a personal tour through the restaurant/museum/roadside attraction. I've heard of this place for years, and we actually had dinner there once, but we didn't really get a chance to SEE the place before today.
You could tell the owner had Irish blood and when we asked, he smiled broadly and began to weave us a story of his family and how they come to be in Oakman, Alabama.
The old family photographs hanging on the walls all had interesting stories behind them. 
We sat down in front of a stone fireplace to talk as hickory logs snapped in the warm fire and it felt good to be alive.
After a few hours there, I realized there is a killer interview, and story that I will write about the Bull Pen in the near future. I also think it would even make a very good short documentary.  
There's an old fable called acres of diamonds that tells of a farmer that dreamed of owning a diamond mine. He traveled all around his home searching for diamonds but could find none. He became frustrated and sold his farm for pennies and moved away. The new farmer went to the stream to fetch water and found diamonds on the stream-bed. As it turns out, the first farmer had been living on acres of diamonds.
When we find a place like the Bull Pen in Oakman, I sometimes feel like that first farmer. We've been all over the place looking for places to see, good food to eat, and interesting people to write about. Now that we've finally taken the time to look,  we're finding interesting places right under our feet.

Friday, February 04, 2011


I received an invitation to be a guest author/speaker at the "Read Alabama" event at Bevill State College this week. The event is scheduled for February 22nd  at the Bevill State campus in Jasper and it's a big deal.
I attended the finale event last year when Rick Bragg spoke - I was blown away! He is a phenomenal writer and speaker.
I've been really excited, but there's a part of me that's a little nervous too. I've been before large groups of people in the past. Jilda and I, along with our buddy Steve Norris played our songs at City Stages in Birmingham and there were thousands of people there. But many of them were milling about and a lot of them were drunk.
But this event is different. While there will only be a few hundred people there, they will come to hear me and two of my peers talk about writing. And they will be sober - the crowd I mean.
I can tell you this. When I was sitting alone pecking away at my keyboard, and dreaming of becoming a successful writer, I really didn't put a great deal of thought into all that it requires.
My success so far with my first book has been modest, but I've put in a lot of face time with the media and with the book buying public.
You have to be clever, interesting, funny, and have the ability to think on your feet.  You also have to sell. You have to sell yourself, you have to sell your book, and you have to constantly think of ways to keep your name before the public in a positive light for as long as you're trying to be successful.
I guess I always thought there would be "people" who handled that for you. Probably, if you're famous and successful enough, you do have "people" to do it for you.  But I have a feeling many of you are in the same boat with me so you better start giving some thought to what you're going to do when you get up to the plate.
So tonight I'm flattered and humbled by the invitation and I want to shine because it sets the stage for my next book which is due to come out later this year. I started working on my presentation today so if any of you know any good writer jokes, I'm all ears.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Snow Again

It's been an odd winter here in Alabama. In the past, we've gone years without any significant snowfall, but  this winter we've had several dustings and one significant snow event.
Yesterday both Jilda and I ran around like chickens with our heads cut off. I did some interviews and shot some photographs for the paper and Jilda did her yoga therapist duties. Last night after we wrote in our blogs, we both fell asleep on the couch while reading.
Today was our day to babysit for your great nephew Jordan. He usually shows up around 9 a.m. but his fam had early appointments today so he was knocking on our door at 7:30 a.m.
He's been sick this week and very fretful which is rare for him. He felt better today, but he still required a LOT of attention which can be draining. He fell asleep about 11:30.
We had lunch and decided to take a nap ourselves while we had the chance. When I opened my eyes about an hour later, I saw snow falling outside our window.
The nuthatches, cardinals, and doves were in a feeding frenzy pecking at the seed and suet. The finches were battling for prized seats on the feeder and the redheaded woodpecker knocked up one side of our persimmon tree and down the other.
When we flipped on the weather they were saying the roads would be hazardous by late afternoon. I put the kettle on for a cup of hot tea thanked the Good Lord that I wouldn't be one of those stressed out commuters trying to make their way home in the snow.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Happy Groundhog Day

Happy Groundhog Day! Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow so all of us early spring lovers should be celebrating!
Jilda and I did what we do every Groundhogs Day, we watched the movie Groundhog Day. 
As an eternal optimist, and a self help devotee, I absolutely love this movie. I'm guessing many of you have seen it, but if you haven't, it's a story about a shallow, self-centered guy (Bill Murray) who keeps reliving February 2nd, over and over.
At first he does all the things you'd expect a shallow person to do. But when he keeps returning, he finally "gets it". Instead of wasting each day, he works hard on himself, and he helps others. He moves toward becoming all that he can be.
I sometimes wonder what I'd do if given the chance to keep getting do-overs until I get it right.
I'd like to think I'd learn foreign languages, become a master at guitar, write a best seller, and learn to play cello, maybe learn to dance, and finish reading War and Peace.
I've known people who had the vision to know what they wanted from life, and the discipline to work toward that vision each day. That to me is a remarkable person...a person I long to become.
So from Empire, Alabama I hope you all have an early spring, and the life that you imagined.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Few Days in the Sun

Last week was a gift in the dead of winter. For a few days the sun came out and the rain moved off to the east.  I walked around in short sleeve shirts and spent a great deal of time smiling. The days my carpenter and I worked on the creative space, I worked up a sweat in the afternoons.
But now the clouds have moved in and today the wind-swept rain fell horizontally and the high level winds sounded like a passing jet.
Late this afternoon, I put on my raincoat and went out to give the chickens a snack and put some corn out for the deer. I decided to walk down to the old house and see how it looked in the rain. 
We've put an ancient garden bench and rocking chair down there so I sat for a long while listening to the rain. We put a metal roof on our house, this spring and it sounds great in the rain, but our cottage (as Jilda calls it) has a lot of insulation in the roof so the sound of rainfall is somewhat muted.
That's not the case with the creative space. I think it was built before insulation was invented. As I sat on the porch today, the rain sounded like an untuned tin drum. I recorded a few seconds of audio on my trusty iPhone which you can listen to by clicking here
It's supposed to get really cold here in the next few days and we could have ice and snow by the weekend. 
But I am grateful we had a few days in the sun.

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