Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fish Fear Me

We're headed out of town this evening and I'm not sure if the place we're staying has wireless access so I'm posting this little blurb now.
We'll be near Helen, Georgia in the mountains. I'm going fly fishing in the morning so hopefully I'll have great photos of me with big fish. If not, I'll try to get some nice scenery. If it rains, I'll pout and post something snitty.
Y'all have a great weekend.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

That's Mr. Procrastination to You

   OK, I'll admit it, I'm procrastinating. I'd rather have a root canal than do our taxes, but Uncle Sam didn't give me the choice. Sooo,  I've got all our records out on my desk and they're staring at me as I write.  Software receipts, energy tax credits, and unearned income statements all glaring at me as if I pooted in chruch. My accountant sharpens all his pencils when I make an appointment.

   Why do I dread doing our taxes? We usually get money back. I think it's because it takes hours of extreme focus on numbers, which do not interest me. If I sound bad, let me tell you about my lovely spouse (that everybody thinks is a saint.) Back in the day when we were both in business school, we took Accounting 101 together.  She would get so frustrated trying to make everything balance, that she'd throw her calculator. Yes the first one she threw against the wall was a top-of-the-line HP financial calculator that did future value, complex interest calculations, yields, rates of returns, amortization, and the life expectancy of albino newts.

   When it hit the floor after ricocheting off two walls of the mobile home where we lived at the time, there wasn't enough of it left to sweep up with a broom. She's great at color, design, music, the culinary arts, and cognitive reasoning, but numbers "ain't her thang." Nor are they mine.  The next calculator I bought for her came from the dime store and only had a plus and a minus function buttons.  As I often say, there are three kinds of people in this world. Those that are good with numbers, and those who aren't.

   Anyhow, it is my intention to quit whining and get all our tax info together and have it to our accountant by early next week. So there, I have a line in the sand. I'm going to do it. I am. I'm not kidding. I mean it now, I'm getting started.....tomorrow.




Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Country Life

A new Mother Earth News arrived in our mailbox today. I've subscribed to this magazine for many years and it's one I rarely throw away.
It always makes country living look so appealing, and easy. The people in the pictures are always wearing clean clothes, straw hats and holding baskets of squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The flowers growing on the edges of the garden are always stunning and there are never any weeds in sight.
What's the deal with that? Do they live above the weed line? That mythical place that is altitude-anally blessed which will not allow the growth of weeds and pests? And dirt and dust will not adhere to overalls or boots?
I can tell you this without hesitation -- living in the country is hard work, and anyone who has a garden like the ones in Mother Earth, has spent a great deal of time on their knees pulling weeds and squishing bugs.
If anyone had snapped a picture of me these last few weeks after working all day lugging lumber, sawing 4x6's, falling off of scaffolds, and swinging a hammer, I can promise you the picture would not be on the cover of Mother Earth -- America's Most Wanted maybe, but not on a gentile magazine.
I love living in the country and I love my Mother Earth, but if anyone thinks it's a square dance on Saturday night, they are sadly mistaken.
You may now return to your regularly scheduled blog reading.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Writer's Block

    I've been in a bit of a writer's slump. It happens from time to time. I spent the morning tapping keys. Sometimes when I simply sit a tap, tap, tap, and idea will pop into my head and I'm off to the races.

    Today, that didn't happen. I fetched my special muse baseball cap from the back of the closet and put it on. I've had it for as long as I can remember and it looks a little sad, but I hold on to it because....well because it's my muse cap. Tap, tap, tap -- nothing.
I flipped through my old pictures, and even put on my kaleidoscope screen saver.
While it did feel as though I was having one of those drug flashbacks they said I'd have, my mind was as clean as a window in a Windex commercial.

    So I decided to go for a walk.  Down behind the barn, I came upon one of our wild honeysuckle bushes in full bloom.


    These are really a type of wild azaleas, but my grandmother called them wild honeysuckles, and even though she's beed dead for twelve years, I wouldn't dare go against her word.
She lived to be 95, and was a snuff dipper. Yep, she bought Bruton Snuff in pint glasses.

    Like most other folks who survived the depression, she wouldn't dream of throwing away a good glass so she had a cabinet full of them.  When the grandkids visited her, they drank their ice tea from a Bruton Snuff glass.

    Once when I took her to the cemetery to decorate graves in the spring, I saw beautiful bush in full bloom. "That's a wild honeysuckle," she said "I think it's the best part of spring."

    Today, as I walked empty headed down behind the barn, I came across this gift, and I thought of my grandmother. All of a sudden, my writer's block drifted away. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A New Desk

I went by Restoration Hardware the other day when I went for my Apple training. I had a few minutes to kill so I walked around and drooled over some of the stuff in this store.
I'm looking for a desk for my creative space. I don't want to spend a small fortune, but I do want a good desk.
I think a good desk is important -- it sets the tone for the work that you plan to do. If it's too cluttered, it can be distracting, but it needs to be inviting.
I saw two desk at Restoration that I loved. Both cost more than my truck. This wooden desk is just the right size for my computer with space for a few books and other things I'd need.
I also saw a desk made out of an airplane wing that looked really cool too.
You guys are going to have to click on a bunch of my Google ads for me to afford either of these so -- chop chop, click click :)
Actually, the wooden desk looks like something I could build myself out of some of the old wood I removed from the barn.
Maybe I'll give that a shot in my spare time.
I have several interviews set up this week so I won't get as much work done on my construction projects.
My knees are already thanking me for the rest.
Y'all have a great week.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It May Be A Long Night

We had dinner with friends tonight and just before time to head home, tornado sirens began to wail. I pulled up the weather on my phone and saw the weather service had placed our county under a tornado warning.
We stayed put for a long time to give the clouds time to move off to the east, before we made a made a mad dash for home. On the way home we saw downed trees and power lines in the road. Lightening to the north looked like the constant flicker of an arc welder.
Alabama and other parts of the south often have early springs and beautiful weather much of the year, but there is a price to be paid. Along with early-blooming azaleas bushes and cherry trees comes the threat of violent weather.
The line of storms have now moved off to the east, but it's no time to rest because off in the distance I can here rolling thunder. Weather radar shows a weather train to the west that heading our way. Fifty miles to the north the temperature is 53 degrees, fifty miles to the south it's 75 degrees. 
We've got the dogs inside and fresh batteries in our flashlights. We're hoping for the best, but it may be a long night.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Good Ol' Kurt

   I was drawing a blank tonight as I tried to come up with something new to write about. I went to one of my idea generation tools - "Stumbling Upon". It's a tool that lets you select topics that interest you, and then it serves up random sites that meet your criteria.
 It's a great way to wake up your muse.
   
 Tonight I came across a site that had quotations by Kurt Vonnegut. I've read most of his books and he always pushed the envelop. 
   
He wrote: I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.


   Dang, how profound is that? Here in the country we say "you can't fly on one wing," which is the Appalachian American way of saying the same thing. 


   I think a lot of people don't live life to the fullest because of fear. They fear that someone won't approve, or that someone will make fun of them; they fear they might fail.


   To me, if you don't sample all that life has to offer, you've already failed, without trying.
Life is short and I doubt we'll be lying on out deathbeds saying "dang, I wish I'd played it safer."


Thanks Kurt.












Thursday, March 24, 2011

Silent Hammers

   Our carpenter hammered in the last nail before lunch today and to be honest, I was glad to see him go. I sat down on the grass in the backyard and surveyed all we'd done and started making a mental list. Seeing the progress is exciting, but it's also a little overwhelming with all that's left to be done.

   The wind out of the northwest was cool, but the morning sun was warm on my face so I laid back on the grass and watched the clouds for a while.  Bluebirds are house hunting right now, and watched as the male and female took turns going inside our birdhouse. "Well, it looks a little small," she seemed to be saying. "It's the same size as the other house we just looked at." I'm pretty sure he rolled his eyes as he said that.
"Well, it needs some paint, and I want a new door, if we're going to stay here," she seemed to be saying. He looked as weary as I felt.

  I'd almost dozed off when our big dog Astro sneaked up and licked me across the face. I jerked upright and we bumped heads. He yelped and headed for the porch thinking I was angry.  I had to catch up to him and make it right between us.

  I think Jilda and I are going to rest for a few days before launching into the cleaning, painting, and other stuff that we need to do.

  I know you are all sick of hearing about all this stuff.  I can assure you, when we finish up we are going to celebrate!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Jilda

In the last few giddy days before graduation in 1968, I felt like I was on top of the world. I was dating a girl that I was crazy about.  But in the blink of an eye, things went south and we decided to break up a few days before I turned the tassel on graduation day.
I didn't want to go to graduation alone, so I asked my ex-girlfriend's best friend if she'd like to go with me.
She agreed.
Her name was Jilda. We quickly found we had a great deal in common. We loved the beach, we loved playing music, and we loved good food.
We dated a few years but broke up when I left for the Army. When I returned in 1973, we started dating again. One thing led to another and we married on Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) 1974.
Getting dropped a few days before graduation was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me. This year we celebrate out 37th anniversary.
Today, is Jilda's birthday and she has been overwhelmed with well wishers. The phone has rung off the hook, and her email inbox is full. Thanks to our blog buddy Bouncin Barb, Jilda has picked up a bunch of new blog followers today as well.
My lovely spouse is a very special lady. Her work as a yoga therapist at a drug and alcohol rehab facility touches the lives of thousands of troubled souls. She also works with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from post traumatic stress.
She cooks some of the best food I've ever eaten and she sings like an angel. As I said, that day in May of 1968 was the luckiest day in my life.
Happy Birthday Jilda.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

All the luck

I feel like the luckiest person in the world today. Actually, it started out with a bang. I was on a six-foot scaffold this morning hanging siding on the back of the house before the sun cleared the eastern horizon.
I stepped back a half step to get a better angle so I could heft the concrete siding plank a little higher. The half step was a half step too many because I stepped off the scaffold and I fell off flat on my back.
The world seemed much clearer in the moments it took for me to fetch my breath, which had escaped to somewhere near the Ionosphere. My poor carpenter who was holding the other end of the plank almost had a heart attack. He jumped down much to fast for a 70 year old.
I started laughing when I realized nothing was broken. If I had fallen a few feet in either direction, I would have landed on things that would have made my life unpleasant.  For the rest of the day I was much more mindful of my movements.
As the work day wound down, it became clear that I had not ordered enough siding. When I called the lumber place, he said they were out and wouldn't have any more until next Monday. This was a little disappointing because I wanted so badly to finish up tomorrow.
The owner of the lumber place is an honest country businessman. I know he needed my business, but he told me where I could find what I needed at one of his competitors. I don't know if he realized it, but he became my building materials provider of choice.
So, I went to the competitor and got the material I needed. Jilda had a few errands so she rode with me.
After we did our errands, we'd started home with 30 pieces of concrete siding on the back of my truck.
Probably 400 pounds of heavy but delicate siding.
As we started up a hill, all the siding slide out of my truck and landed in a neat pile in the middle of the road. Oh crap!!! I exclaimed (the G Rated version).
I put on the hazard lights, and we got out to survey the damage. We weren't sure how we were going to load the siding back on the truck and make it home without getting run down.
All of a sudden, a young guy in a big 'ol pickup pulled up and said, "you need some help buddy?"
We could have hugged his neck.
In less that a three minutes, we had the siding loaded and we pulled the truck safely to the side of the road and strapped everything down.
He wouldn't take any money for helping us, but Jilda tossed some money into his passenger window as he was walking back around to get in his truck.
There are those who would view this day as a bad day, but to me it was a gift. It just proves to me that things sometimes happen -- but when you step back and take the long view, it was just a small bump in the road.
Tomorrow is the 59th birthday of my lovely spouse Jilda. Feel free to pop over to her blog and wish her a happy birthday.
I hope you all have a remarkable Wednesday.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Incubator

Writing this blog is almost like a test tube environment. I feel free to experiment and write about the first thing that comes to mind.
I can tell fairly quick if the topic connects with readers or lies there on the screen/page like a freshly swatted mosquito. This is an asset to me because may of my ideas offered here in this blog, make the transition to my newspaper columns.
Case in point - the "What If" blog entry I wrote on March 9th got 10 comments, and several comments on my Facebook account. I also had a person who reads my blog, stop me in Wal-Mart to say how much she like the entry. Fortunately my pants were zipped (see March entry on March 7th for an explanation this statement). So, this past Sunday's column was based on the "What If" idea.
I had an appointment with my doctor early this morning, and after he worked on my aching knee, he stayed for a long while giving me his thoughts on the "What If" column. I was flattered that he read my work.
So, if any of you out there want to test the waters in printed media, I suggest you look back through you past work, pick out your best entries, pitch them to the local paper, "and see if that dog will hunt."
That's what I did and it's worked out for me. I picked up another paper a few weeks ago. Now, if I could only pick up about another 250 papers, I'd be set! :)
Have a happy Tuesday.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Juggling

I think being successful in life is to become a juggler. I've been consumed with the construction projects here on the farm for a little over a month. Planning, fetching materials, sketching, scheduling, and helping our carpenter. 
When I get knee deep in one effort, it's easy to lose focus in the other areas in my life -- the exercise, practice, writing, and performing. Sometimes we have to burn the midnight oil to get it all in.
I sometimes envy people who are single minded and work toward one goal. Perhaps that's what makes some folks more successful than others, but for me, there are so many things that interest and fascinate me. I think I'd rather sacrifice some level of success, for variety. 
Any way, that's where I am right now -- juggling. We're getting up early to walk, I'm measuring, sawing, nailing, and caulking during the day -- then at night, I'm writing, practicing, and working on other stuff that has to be done.
I may drop a ball every now and then, but that's a small price to pay for doing what you love.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

We're so close

I know my posts have been a little lame these last few days, but I'm worn to a frazzle. The construction work, replacing the deck and installing Hardiboard is moving slow.  But this evening as the sun dipped below the western horizon, I sat on a bannister, sipped a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, and admired our work.
I snapped some pictures today but they weren't very impressive. With all the old wood, stacks of lumber, and construction debris all around, it looked like a mess, but it's coming together.
I looked back through my journals recently and for the last several years, I've had the same things at the top of my list --  install a metal roof, repair the decks, install Hardiboard, repair the old house, and barn.
I know now why it took so long to make it happen -- it's a lot of work!  But in a few days, I'll be able to check these items off my list.
Writing on a list, and wishing for something, doesn't put nails in boards, or hang windows.
I think this is true with almost anything you want to do. Imagining it is important because everything begins with a thought, but then you have to figure out if it's doable, affordable, practical, and the right thing to do.
Wanting to write a novel is a noble goal, but the words won't write themselves. It takes guts, commitment, and determination. Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. It sounds almost glib, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how profound this statement is. You can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket!
......Now where was I? Oh yes. Tonight as I stood out on our new deck, the moon rose to the east, and I felt a profound sense of accomplishment. I know we still have a few days work to finish all our projects, but we're so close we can smell the barn, as they say here in the country.
I'll will post some "after" photos soon. Y'all have a great Sunday.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Some Things They Don't Teach in School

The last few days I've worked really hard. I'm not whining, just stating a fact. The final stage of construction kicked off Thursday and the work that had to be done was not glamorous.
Our house is almost 30 years old and our back deck is at least 25. It wasn't built right and each time it rained, water flowed, not off the deck, but back toward the foundation.
I knew there were problems with the sills because the deck was sagging a little. I didn't know how bad it was until we began work. The frame of the deck was good so we decided to tear the the top boards off, move the frame away from the house, repair the foundation, and then reattach the deck, and replace the walking surface of the deck.
I wasn't looking forward to this part because the piers on which the front of the deck was anchored, were sunken several feet into the ground with concrete poured around the posts. Digging them up would take hours.
As I was collecting the shovels and other equipment needed to dig the piers out, my old carpenter said, "I have an idea. Why don't we use the house jacks and jack the piers out?"
Within twenty minutes, the piers were out of the ground and were were replacing sills in the foundation of the house.
My carpenter is 70 years old and quit school in about the fifth grade. Many would say he was uneducated, and they would be right -- but being uneducated does not mean he isn't smart. In fact, since we've been working together these last few weeks, I've realized that he's very smart.
There are some things they don't teach in school. Advanced problem solving is a valuable skill, and I've known a lot of educated people who couldn't solve a simple life problem with a ream of research and a team of computer programmers.
Anyhow, we should be through with the construction within the next few days and after that, Jilda and I will dive into cleaning and decorating the creative space. We're both excited.
I hope you all have a great weekend.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patty's Day

Happy St. Patty's Day and I hope you all have the luck of the Irish. This evening we had corned beef and cabbage and Guineas beer. We watched The Matchmaker which is one of our favorite movies about Ireland.
Each time we watch it, we both long to return to the place with so many shades of green, even an articulate person would have a difficult time describing it.
Ireland must have a million miles of stone fences. I don't recall ever having seen so many stones.
We went to the Cliffs of Moher and stood in awe as the waves crashed to shore hundreds of feet below. I remember feeling so small as we stood there looking off to the west.
We might have to knock off a liquor store to fund the trip, but we're going back to Ireland. We both feel the need to get our green on.
Have a Happy St. Patty's Day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What do you want to be when you grow up?

  I had lunch with our financial planner today. He's a good bit younger than me but he's really good at what he does. After we talked a little about the markets, the allocations of my portfolio, expectations, and results, he asked if I missed my old job.

  I almost spewed cashew chicken on the table. Thankfully I didn't laugh hard enough to choke. He got tickled at my response and as I gave him a rundown of all the projects I'm currently working on, he just shook his head.

  It was then I asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. It's a question I ask almost everyone. His answer is a little rare in that he really likes what he does, and he said he'd be happy doing financial planning at 70.

  The response most people give is that "I'm never growing up." But then, as they begin to consider the question, they often say, "I really don't know what I want to do." It's an important question no matter how old you currently are.  John Pasco once said, "You're never to old to become what you might have been." How powerful is that?

  It's a question that I think the seniors of 2011 should give serious consideration to. A lot of people will offer them a bunch of doom and gloom, but I see a world of opportunity out there. Also, it's not always about the money.

  On a sad note, we lost our old dog Charlie this evening. He'd been going down hill for some time but today, he died.

  I was supposed to go out of town today, but I had some issues with my truck and some other things came up. Now I'm thankful I didn't because Jilda and I both are having a hard time with losing our old friend.

I can hear Jilda tapping away at the keyboard right now as I type and I know she'll be writing about him.
So, check out Transformation Information tonight. I know she'll have something interesting to say.
  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tricky Business

     I was reading over the mountain of info that comes into my inbox each day and a piece on what music A&R (Artist and Repertoire) people are doing now to discover new bands caught my eye. It seems they are looking more at the audience than at the artists themselves.

     They look at how the audience responds to new artists - do they "Like" them on Facebook, do they Tweet about them, do they Google them, do they look on Wikipedia to get more information, do they hit the bands' fan pages? What songs are the fans listening to, and what videos are they watching?

     The A&R folks are looking at the impact the music has on the people who lay down their hard-earned money for songs, concerts, and product.

     I thought about this for a long while and it occurred to me, that the same probably holds true for writers.
For me, in looking back at my past entries, it's interesting what people react to. Pieces that I think are good and will resonate with readers sometimes get few comments, or views, but sometimes the things I don't expect to fly....soar.

     It's tricky business to try and anticipate what your readers want, but it seems the things that get the most traction are the topics that offer hope, or ones that make people smile. Sometimes it's the topics that force people to look within.

     This much I know -- there are few things as rewarding as writing something you're proud of, and having readers acknowledge it.

     Tomorrow, I'm having another video editing class at Apple, and then it's lunch with my financial planner.
     Happy Wednesday all.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Frequency - My Sunday Column


America is in bad need of some good news! I'm reading a book on the recommendation of my lovely spouse about the power of feelings.

The book talks about the fact that most people spend too much time thinking about the things they DON'T want. If they ever let their mind dwell on something they do want, (for example a new car), they usually think of it in terms of how much it costs and the fact that they'd never be able to afford it on their current salary.


The book says that  all things in the universe, including feelings and emotions, have a frequency, meaning they vibrate like a tuning fork.  Like frequencies attract like frequencies. Love, empathy, caring, and the feeling of accomplishment vibrate at a higher frequency than say, jealousy, hate, fear, and envy.


Bear with me because it gets complicated – if you have a two tuning forks tuned to say 256 hertz. If you strike the first tuning fork with a mallet, the vibrations will cause the second tuning fork which is a distance away, to vibrate even though it was not struck. 



Like vibrations attract like vibrations. A tuning fork tuned to say 400 hertz will have no effect on the second fork tuned at 256 hertz. I researched this and this is an actual classroom physics experiment and it does work.

So, what does this have to do with bad news? Well if all we are thinking about is bad news, then all we'll attract is bad news. 


But here's the thing – the media today seems to thrive on bad news. Some of the most popular shows on radio and TV are people spewing hate, anger, and fear.



It seems that national and state politics thrive on issues that divide, instead of spending time finding common ground, somewhere near the middle where we can compromise, and develop policy that's right for country.

With all this bad news, comes low level vibrations and it seems too many of us are vibrating at that frequency.  If you don't believe it, go sit in a coffee shop somewhere and just listen. People will talk about how bad the economy is, how high gas has gotten, the latest meth bust, or murder.


You may feel that this talk of frequency is all new age mumbo-jumbo but, I believe there's something to it. I know for a fact that fear is contagious. Franklin Roosevelt came into office when our country was in the depths of the Great Depression, and he gave America hope. In his first inaugural address he proclaimed “There's nothing to fear but fear itself.” I think people embraced that idea.


It took time, but this country stopped the free-fall. Slowly people went back to work, and things eventually turned around.


Whether it's mumbo-jumbo or not, I'm weary of bad news. Tell me something good for a change!

Since the only thing I can change is me, it is my intention to lose the fear, stop participating in the political bickering, and become a tuning fork tuned to the frequency of good news.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New App

I've got a new app on my iPhone called the Bucket List. I've had a Bucket List ever since I saw the movie.
At the risk of writing about a topic that has been over written, I still find the idea compelling, so I'm writing about it once more.

This new app on my phone allows you to share your list with others around the world. I click on a button and I see that Alexia7 wants to"
Fall in Love
Swim with Dolphins
and Donate her hair to a cancer patient

Johnxxx, on the other hand wants:
To have a 3 Some
To Make a hole in 1
Finish college
and jump out of an airplane.
He didn't mention a parachute but I think it was implied.

ChazDaddy wants to:
Punch a Llama
Go snowshoeing with his girlfriend
and get his family together and happy

How interesting are these lists? There's no way to tell if Johnxxx is a male or female or for that matter if he/she is 18, 38, or 88.

I know some people take the Bucket List with a grain of salt, but I put a great deal of thought to my list.
Here is my current list, though it changes from time to time:
Go fly fishing in Vermont (or Montana)
Play all the Coffee Houses on the East Coast
Go to Paris
Attend the Grammies
Own a house by the water
Finish my first novel
Build a party barn (I've made progress on this one)
Drive across America and write about what I see
Ride the Orient Express
See the sun rise in Hawaii

I wrote about this a while back seeking comments about Bucket List ideas, but I didn't get much feedback. Maybe people don't think that much about what they want to do before they die, but as I get older, it's becoming more important by the day.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Congrats to Berkeley Bobs

Our friend Bob Keefe at Berkeley Bob's had a songwriter to cancel on him at the last minute. Jilda and I weren't busy tonight so we took the slot.
The crowd at Berkeley Bob's is always unique. He has some regulars, and he always has new people to drift in.
We learned tonight that Berkeley Bob's has been named one of the best places in Alabama to hear live music. It was quite an honor for Bob and I think he deserves it. They listed the coffee house in the tourism brochure.
Congratulations to you Bob, and we appreciate you for having a great place for singer songwriters. I think I speak for all songwriters - Thank You from the bottom of our hearts.
Have a great weekend everybody.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pushing a Chain


My class today was remarkable. We dissected features, and analyzed what made these stories so good. All the ones we looked at today had won Pulitzer Prizes.
What jumped out in each of the stories is that the writers started with a powerful topic, and then wove simple words into a compelling story. 
The writers we looked at today used words to show the reader instead of telling.
Instead of saying the woman was small, Rick Bragg said --

She is 5 feet tall and would weigh 100 pounds with rocks in her pockets. Her voice is so soft that it disappears in the squeak of the screen door and the hum of the air-conditioner.

He could have said that she was frugal but instead he said--

She spent almost nothing, living in her old family home, cutting the toes out of shoes if they did not fit right and binding her ragged Bible with Scotch tape to keep Corinthians from falling out.
That painted a picture in my mind.

We also talked about interviewing techniques and how to "be there" when you're interviewing someone. Pay attention to the setting, body language, mannerisms, and physical attributes of the subject.
Then work to weave these facts into the story without "listing them."
It sounds so simple, until you try to do it yourself. Then it's kind of like trying to push a chain.
I left the class feeling good about where I am, but also realizing that there is still so much to learn.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I dare you

I'm going to a creative feature writing (newspaper) workshop tomorrow.  My friend (and part time boss) has a brother that teaches journalism at a college in Philadelphia, and he's flying in tonight to do the workshop tomorrow.
He sent us several features to examine before the class. Some of the stories were written by Rick Bragg.
All the stories he sent blew me away - he knows what's good and he wants to help us get better.
Take a look at this story if you have a moment. If you have any doubt about the power of words, I dare you to read it. 
The more I learn about writing, the more I realize I don't know squat, but this much I know -- I want to grow as a writer, and be the best I can be.
I've written several features in the past several months that I mentioned here in this blog. In the next day or so, I will post links so that you can read them if you like.
There are so many fascinating stories out there, and we need to write them down.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

What if?

I'm amazed! I have followers and I follow people from other countries, who speak other languages. 
With the click of a button, I can translate Spanish, French, Turkish, or Greek into English. 

I know that I often use slang in my writing so I can only imagine how it appears to my foreign friends, but I find it fascinating that I can now read the words of people, a half a world away, who speak a language that I don't understand. But new technology makes those words and ideas accessible to me....and my words and ideas accessible to them.

How interesting is that? I believe that people all over the world are alike in many ways. We want food when we're hungry, we want to keep our families safe, and a chance to do meaningful work with our hands and minds. I don't think that's too much to ask! After all, we live in a garden. There is enough to go around, if we can learn to take only what we need, and share the rest.

Imagine if all the countries around the world didn't have to spend vast amounts of money of defense. What if those dollars were spent on food production technologies, education, training, and renewable energy sources...for all countries?

I know it's a pretty big leap from and translate button on my blog to World Peace and True Happiness, but
What if?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

It's Raining

The sun came out for a while this morning and I thought for a while it would be a nice day today, but then clouds thick and grey as chimney smoke moved in. Soon an old cold rain began to fall. Slowly at first, then it came down in buckets. 
I'd originally planned to start work on the deck and house, but my carpenter didn't return from out of town as soon as he expected so we'll begin the work later this week or next week when the weather improves.
So I spent most of the day writing which is actually a good way to spend a rainy day. 
When I started work for MaBell years ago, I worked as a phone repairman and cold rainy days were my least favorite days of the year. 
These days, aside from the fact that I get a little melancholy, the rain doesn't bother me as much.

When I drove down to see my mother this afternoon, I shot this little piece of video of the rain, with my phone.



video

Monday, March 07, 2011

Lessons Learned

Life is a very good teacher. I’ve talked about the lessons I’ve learned in past columns but it seems we’re never too old to learn — especially me.

Let me start at the beginning. When I first started writing a weekly column in the Mountain Eagle, people would come up to me on occasion to say they read my column. I’ve always been flattered by this gesture.

These days, as my work appears in more and more publications, it has become very common for people to approach Jilda and me when we’re in restaurants and grocery stores to say that they read my work.

Since I often talk about Jilda in my writings, people recognize her when we’re out together.

Recently a woman said to Jilda, “it must be fun living with Rick!” I’m a little surprised that Jilda didn’t roll her eyes, but she simply smiled and said, “he’s a lot more amusing in print than he is at home.”

Then a few weeks ago I ran down to Walmart to pick up a few things while Jilda was working.

As I walked around the store, I saw a couple from a distance looking in my direction and smiling. I thought to myself, these are people who recognized me from the paper.

I smiled, nodded my head in acknowledgement, and finished up with the shopping. The things I needed took me all over the store.

After I loaded my stuff in the truck and got in to drive away, I noticed my pants were unzipped.

I sat there for a long moment and then I remembered the couple on aisle 12 smiling and looking at me.

In my mind, I was trying to figure out if they were smiling because they recognized me as the guy who writes for the paper, or were they smiling and saying to themselves; “Look at that guy prancing around Wal-Mart with his pants unzipped!”

Or, worse yet! “Look, there’s Rick Watson, the guy writes for the paper, prancing around Wal-Mart with his pants unzipped!”

For the record I was NOT prancing, but I think you get the picture? Even though I was sitting alone in my truck, my face started a slow blush that originated somewhere around my socks.

I debated on whether I should go back into Wal-Mart and try to find the couple to apologize, but it occurred to me that the whole store could have seen me traipsing around the store.

If my first blush wasn’t thorough enough, my brain threw up a fresh coat of crimson for good measure. When I looked in the mirror, it looked like I was sunburned.

When Jilda got home I told her the story and she laughed so hard she spewed ice tea on the coffee table. I have a feeling the next time one of those women makes a comment about how much fun it is living with me, she’ll tell them this story.

Since this episode, I’ve been so paranoid that I’m tempted to only wear pants with elastic waist bands and no zippers.

I’m here to tell you that whenever you get too cocky, life will bring you down a peg or two. When it comes to zippers, I’ve learned my lesson.....ALWAYS CHECK THEM!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Flowers

I had a little time to kill on Friday between interviews so I went into the little community grocery store in Mountain Brook.
They had some of the most incredible flowers I've seen in a long time.
I'm not sure what it is, but flowers seem to make food taste better. Have you ever noticed that? I mean, I could be eating hamburgers and fries, but if there are fresh flowers on the table, dang if it doesn't make the burger more tasty!
One of my blog buddies, Jacqueline (with her sister Victoria)   has a great blog. It's called Beauty in the Ordinary and they do an incredible job of pointing out beauty that's all around us. Their blog is always fun to visit.
In a few more weeks we'll be planing our garden and with it, we'll plant flowers.
Last year they bloomed until late autumn. We had sunflowers as big as saucers.
Spring is a fun time around the Watson household. I hope you all have a remarkable week.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

An Old Rainy Day

It was an old cold rainy day here today. I got chilled this morning when I went out to feed the critters and I stayed cold most of the day.
Jilda is on the final stretch of her yoga therapy certification and had class this weekend so I was on my own today (as well as tomorrow).
I did a lot of work I'd been putting off. I transcribed interviews and updated several of the websites I maintain, including www.rickandjilda.com. I also worked on a slideshow for one of our songs. 
Learning new software can be slow work. One of the hardest things for me is to unlearn how to work on Windows software.  Once I got the hang of putting the pictures and transitions in, I got into a rhythm and it flowed from there.
I did listen to the song about a million times while I was editing, and I'm officially sick of it. I now have a new appreciation for working with film. 
It looks like the rain is moving out tomorrow so maybe I can get in a few hours work cleaning out the creative space. I hope to have some semblance of order there by the end of March.
Jilda is getting excited now about the next phase which is to make our space not only habitable, but artful. She has a knack for that so I'm excited too.
I hope the rest of the weekend is remarkable for you all.



Friday, March 04, 2011

I had my cake

I headed out by 6:30 this morning to visit my mom in the nursing home. I didn't get to go yesterday because I was babysitting and after that, I waited for the delivery truck to bring lumber and building supplies until late.
This morning after a quick visit, I headed off for a full day of interviews in town. Gas has gotten so expensive lately that I try to line up as many as possible on the same day.
Today I interviewed a doctor who is also a beekeeper. I was fascinated by all that goes in to keeping bees. As a bonus, I got two jars of honey when I left. Did I mention that I have a SWEET job now? He and his wife were delightful people.
After that, I interviewed several independent pharmacists for a feature on the role they play in a small community. All of these pharmacies do home delivery, and many of them have in-store charge accounts, and a human answers the phone, which is unheard of with the chain stores. 
Healthcare and big business are trying their best to weed our the small community independent pharmacists, but they provide a service that cannot be matched by chains. It was a very interesting inside look at what they are up against and how they survive.
I also interviewed a guy that owns a music store that has sold guitars in his community for 35 years. His business is not unlike independent pharmacies in that huge music chains have moved into town with thousands of instruments.  
Like the pharmacies, they survive by going the extra mile for their customers. As I sat down and talked to the music store owner, he had an orange slice cake and a pot of coffee brewing. We sat for a while eating cake and sipping coffee while musicians who wandered in off the street to try out guitars, played beautiful music on an ancient couch.
I thought to myself, why would anyone choose to buy from a chain when the only thing they have going for them is the price is "a little cheaper?"
For some people, price is "the only thing". To me, I think personal service and a piece of fresh orange slice cake goes a long way.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Adventures in Babysitting

Jilda skied out at midmorning to meet her girlfriends for lunch. She hasn't had a girls day out in a long time so I agreed to fly solo keeping Jordan (for new readers, he is my 3 year old great nephew).
Her exhaust still hung fresh in the driveway as Jordan says - let's go to the barn! HEY! I said, that's a great idea!
We headed off down to the barn and pal'd around for hours. I took him down to meditation rock for the first time. 
I didn't dare turn him loose long enough to take a picture of him down there because there is a drop off of about a hundred feet at the edge of this rock. At the bottom is a natural pond fed by a small creek.
We sat there for a long time with him in my lap. I identified every tree within sight and we also had a lengthy discussion about moss.
I'm trying to get him to be more mindful of little things.
On the way back up to the barn, we saw deer tracks and I explained the difference between doe and buck tracks. We also found some rabbit poop and some tiny violet flowers with blooms about the size of a match head.
He laid down in the sun and took a really close look. He asked if he could pick a bouquet for his mom, but I changed the subject quickly and we were off to the house for a good cold glass of water.
It was almost time for his nap, which he thinks is a waste of valuable barn time, so I whipped out a bottle of bubbles and started blowing them at him from the deck. He ran around the back yard for about thirty minutes stomping and swatting at bubbles on the wind.
When we went inside to drink more water, he sat on the couch and within a matter of minutes he was out like a light and slept for almost three hours.
We waited all day for "the big truck" to bring the lumber for the last leg of our home construction project, but it didn't arrive until after his nanna picked him up this evening.  I know he will be disappointed when he realizes he missed all the excitement. 
He'll be fine once he finds out he'll be able to supervise the work on the deck next week.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Home Alone

It's been almost warm enough to swim here today. I spent the morning lining up interviews for Friday and doing research.
After lunch I took my laptop down to the creative space and sat on the porch to write my column for Sunday's paper.  I've moved tons of junk out of the old house, but there's still a long way to go. But sitting on the porch was nice too.
I have one more construction project to complete before I begin to focus on the creative space and the barn.
The back deck on house we live in needs to be replaced. While my carpenter is here, I'm going to have him replace several of the windows with the newer energy efficient windows. We're also installing Hardiboard on the back and sides of the house. The siding is made out of concrete and it's guaranteed for 50 years. This will put our place back in shape.
Of course, I might have to deliver pizza's at night to offset the costs, but I'm looking forward to finishing up with construction.
Jilda is having lunch with a bunch of her girlfriends tomorrow so that means our great nephew Jordan (3 years old) and I  will be "home alone".
I'm not sure what all we'll get in to, but I'm betting we'll be eating Popsicles, mac-n-cheese, and bananas, which are three of his favorite things.
I also think he'd move in down at the barn if given a choice, so we'll be spending some time down there.
I hope y'all have a great Thursday.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

I Can Think of Worse Things

We had a great time this past weekend. We played three gigs and we wrote a song. On Saturday afternoon, I sat on the deck toying with a new melody on my friend Wes' guitar.  He listened as he tended a rack of ribs slow cooking on his grill.
All of a sudden he said, "Hey! I have an idea for a song that came to me while I was out on the road earlier this week and I think it will fit that melody." He grabbed a pen and his digital recorder.
We took everything out to the shade by the pool and starting writing the song. Jilda and our friend Fred came out to see what was going on and soon we huddled in a circle around a yellow legal pad. The song came together like it was metal shavings being pulled together by a magnetic force.   We finished it before leaving for the Art Council show.
There are a lot of songwriters that don't like to co-write, but I love it! Especially when I'm writing with a group of folks I enjoy being around.
We've written a lot of songs with Wes and Fred. Not everything we write will change the world, but some of them are really good. I can think of worse things than sitting around with friends and creating music.

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