Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Angels

We headed out early to Birmingham this morning for Jilda's monthly infusion treatment. The nurses wanted to get away by noon so they asked if we'd mind coming in early. These folks are angels, and anything we can do to make their lives easier, is find by us.

Spirits were higher than usual. It seems for some folks, the pall of 2014 somehow felt lighter today, and the new year held promise.....even hope.

Some of the people who come to that room are so close to the edge, that a simple bump in the road can cause them to slip away.

Going there each month is no party, but it seems Jilda refuses to give in to the depression that is so common among the regulars. Sitting there today I watched as she carried on with her friend Louis whom we befriended when she first started coming. Together they lift the spirits of everyone around them.

Even newcomers, when they hear the laughter, and stories, they tend to smile. Often they scoot their chairs a little closer. And sometimes they join in.

The nurses now know to schedule Louis' treatments for the same day that Jilda is there. He's been through several bouts of cancer and has been a regular in the treatment room for 18 years. It's almost as if he holds court. No one comes into the room or leaves without an acknowledgement and a smile. He too is like an angel.

I was thinking about those things this evening after sunset when I stepped out onto the back deck.  A cloud drifting off to the east caught my eye. The sun, which had dipped below the horizon, changed the cotton cloud into what looked like a rose-colored angel with wings spread. I was so awed, I almost forgot to capture the moment.

I hope you all have a safe and prosperous New Year.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The year's winding down

If the old year were water in a bathtub, it would be swirling around the drain, and making a sucking sound.

In looking back at my goals for this year, it was hit and miss. About 70% of the goals I wrote in my journal were accomplished, but I lost site of others.

Some of the goals were too easy, and I aimed high on others. I think it's OK if you aim high.

The goals on my list for the coming year involve travel, a new book project, and more home improvements.  We also plan to get a new vehicle to replace Jilda's Volvo. Ingrid, as she calls the old beast, has over 300,000 miles on the odometer. She still runs good, but the repairs are getting more costly.

The list is still evolving, but I'll write the final list in my journal tomorrow night before the ball drops in Times Square.

I hope 2014 has been kind to you and that 2015, will be the best year yet.

Happy New Years Eve-Eve.




Monday, December 29, 2014

Babysitting lesson ~ my column from Sunday's paper

Teachers and mothers of young children will snort with laughter when they read this. But I’m an uncle who only babysits occasionally, so I guess the following was an easy trap to fall in to.

It was the Friday before Christmas and the kids got out of school early. My niece asked if we’d consider keeping our six-year-old great nephew Jordan and his classmate Ella.

Both of us were off that day, so we agreed. Jilda is an old pro at keeping youngsters occupied, but me, not so much.

The day started out roughly when Jordan’s big-red dog tried to play with Ella, who didn’t realize the goofy dog was playing. She came out of the tussle with a scratch on her cheek and fear in her eyes.

After the dust settled and the frayed nerves were calmed, the real fun began. They decorated and baked Christmas cookies. The cookies ended up with more sugar sprinkles than cookie dough, but that’s part of the fun. When they finished, they had green fingers, and red tongues.

Next came painting Christmas ornaments for their mothers. In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to give them old tee shirts to wear over their clothes while painting. But the label on the jars said the paint would wash out of clothes. Let’s hope that’s true.

After baking cupcakes, making Christmas cards, and several other projects, Jilda started to look a little wilted.

I’d been sitting on the sideline, but jumped when the coach put me in the game.

It was still quite chilly outside, so I got them in the laundry room, which also serves as our TV area. They watched some Christmas shows but quickly grew bored.

Soon they noticed the mountain of cardboard boxes we put behind the couch until the weather permitted us to burn them.

Some of them still had the Styrofoam peanuts and white spacers in them, which are used to protect the contents of packages during shipment. One of the boxes was big enough for a kid to sit in. They asked if it would be OK for them to play with the boxes and I thought, “ANYTHING TO KEEP YOU OCCUPIED IS FINE WITH ME!”

This turned out to be an unwise decision, because faster than I could say “Home Shopping Network,” there was Styrofoam everywhere.

With all the jumping and tossing, the Styrofoam pieces became statically charged which allowed them to stick anywhere. The kids had tiny chunks in their hair, sticking to the side of their faces, and down their pants.

The TV room looked as if it had been snowing inside for days. I tried to do damage control and clean up the mess before Jilda came in and busted us, but the perimeter expanded. Jordan and Ella were hysterical with laughter.

Upon hearing the commotion, Jilda ventured a peak inside. She started laughing too.

The kids moved on to other activities leaving the cleanup to me. I swept the big pieces and then attached the hose to the vacuum cleaner. I sucked up a bag full of tiny chips from the floor, the couch, and the walls.

After finishing, I went into my bathroom to get a few moments peace. Looking in the mirror, I saw pieces of Styrofoam that looked like tiny snowflakes on my head, my beard and in my ears.

That evening when the parents retrieved the kids, Jilda and I looked like those mug shots you see on the post office wall.

Every day is a school day.

Happy 2015.

A few drops of gas on a rain-slick parking lot.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Through all the noise

I read today that there are 172 million bloggers on Tumblr and 75 million on WordPress. Blogger, which is the most popular platform, does not share the numbers of bloggers online.

Between the the smaller platforms and the big boys, I think it's safe to say a half billion people blog.

Mind you, there are a lot of bloggers that post a few times a week. Some only post once in a blue moon, but there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 or 80 million blogs posed each day somewhere in the world.

It's a little hard for me to wrap my brain around that number as I sit here in rural Alabama pecking away on this piece.

That's a lot of words, a lot of ideas, and a lot of pictures. People pouring their hearts out into the ether for others across the globe to read.

I'm often asked why I blog every day. Many of the "Professional Bloggers" say it's silly to post daily, and maybe that's true. 

But I've found that writing each day, even when I don't have a lot to say, takes discipline. Sitting down nightly to arrange a line of thought that's engaging, helps me to refine my voice.

My great niece asked me recently about blogging. She wanted to know how people would find her blog.  

I told her that even with the billions of words being written each day, if she writes with honesty and with regularity people will find her.....even through all the noise. 



Saturday, December 27, 2014

It's hard to put a value on some things

The rain moved in after dark this evening. Our friend Fred came over earlier to have dinner with us. We'd invited him over on Christmas Eve, but a nasty stomach bug kept him away. 
But he enjoys a good steak as much as anyone I've ever met, so he came today. 

We enjoyed a great meal with him and we sat around talking. We solved most of the world problems, and thought about tackling world peace, but decided it would take a little longer. Thankfully he left for his long ride home before the rain set in.

In the past when it started raining at night, we wouldn't realize it unless I stepped to the back deck to dump coffee grounds in the compost, or went outside for something.

But that changed a few years ago when our old roof began to leak a little.  

We did the math and realized another shingled roof would be cheaper and keep us dry, but we both wanted a metal roof.

After a lot of thinking, we decided on spending the extra money.  As fate would have it, the rain dodged our house for months after the new roof went on. 

But even so, we'd set our lawn chairs in the back yard and instead of looking down toward the garden, we looked at our new roof.

The function of a roof is to keep you warm and dry. Our roof does that, but it provides a value added function, of soothing your soul on rainy nights, and it's hard to put a value on things like that.

This is not a great picture of our roof, but you get the idea

Friday, December 26, 2014

Good for the soul

Today was a beautiful day. I needed to do some work on my computer, but I kept looking out the window at the blue skies and warm sun. Snapping the laptop closed, I put on my coveralls, work boots, and headed outside on a mission.

There's a pile of debris in the side yard that's been building since spring. Whenever limbs break in the wind, I drag them to the burn pile and throw them on.

At first it was just a few limbs, leaves, and some wood scraps left over from replacing the kitchen floor and adding the closet. But the summer was dry, and there wasn't much rain until late fall.

At any rate, the pile kept growing and became an eyesore.

We got four inches of rain this week, so the pile was slow to catch on. I teased it with some starter fluid that I use on the grill, but even that didn't help much.

But with that much wood, if you continue to feed it with dry straw and small twigs, it will catch on.

Jilda brought me a glass of sweet tea, and I sat in my lawn chair to watch the pile and encourage it from a distance.

Then, just as I was about to go buy some diesel fuel, the fire slowly grew.

Caillou strolled up to supervise to make sure things were in order.

There is a log that's been at the base of the pile since the tornadoes swept through in 2012. I wasn't sure if fire would ever fully consume it, but the slow-burn today did.

I walked out a while ago to make sure it was contained, and it was little more than ashes.

Sometimes a little manual labor is good for the soul.




Thursday, December 25, 2014

Gratful

Violent weather is not as prevalent in winter, but still it's not uncommon. Every few years in Later November, or December when the wind out of the south hits your face, an uneasy feeling crawls up your skin. It's almost is if you sense a spider on your arm, before you feel or see it.

Experience has taught us here that you can never really let your guard down. Just when cold weather moves in you think you're out of danger for a few months, the wind direction changes and thunderstorms with hail and high winds will rake through your back yard and blow down your favorite apple tree. 

Christmas Eve, eve was was like that. Four people in neighboring Mississippi died in late season tornados. 

My niece who now works across the street from where I worked for 30 years didn't get off until after dark, which is when the rain began.

Her brother who lives in Mississippi, started toward Alabama at roughly the same time. 

I fretted and worried until they arrived safely at home.

Just before dark, I went outside to secure the chicken pen, I snapped this picture over the backyard fence.

The weather cleared late yesterday and was stunning today. For that I am grateful.

I hope you all have had a safe and blessed Christmas.



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Jilda does hand-painted Christmas cards each year and sends them out out to our friends. 

Here is the card for 2014.

Merry Christmas to all.




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Getting ready for Christmas

I heard thunder this morning while we drank coffee. No storms have stomped through here since summer, so I was surprised to hear this one. The weather doesn't often get nasty in December. In fact, I remember a few times it was almost warm enough to swim on Christmas.

Jilda's grandmother Mamie always said that if it thunders in December, it will snow that day in January. So we marked our calendars to see.

I thought it was a bunch of hooey, but a few years ago when it thundered in December, it snowed one month later in January.

The beauty of old wives tales is that you don't remember when it doesn't happen, but on the one time it does, it's stamped into your brain like a prison tattoo.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We'll have breakfast with Jilda's brother Ricky who lives next door. All their kids and grandkids will be there. It's a madhouse, but a great way to begin the feasting.

I hope you all have a remarkable Christmas.


Snow Cyprus - my blog buddy Granpappy painted a
beautiful watercolor of this picture and sent it  to us as a gift
a few years ago.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My first memories of home sweet home ~ My column from Sunday's paper

Thirty-one years ago this week, we moved into our new home. Spending our first Christmas here changed our lives...it became more permanent.

Our first 10 years together, we lived in an old gray and white singlewide trailer. The wafer-thin insulation allowed the winter wind out of the north to flutter our kitchen curtains.

In August, the trailer became an oven, so we often spent evenings in folding lawn chairs in the front yard of the trailer park until bedtime. I think we were both anemic from all the mosquito bites.

I worked as a reporter for The Community News and Jilda worked at Keynote Fashions dress shop. Together, our salaries were barely enough to keep the lights on. Thankfully, our families had deep freezers, and shared with us when there was too much month left at the end of our money.

Christmas was a little thin in those years. Our first tree was one we cut from the side of an old red-rock road. We didn’t spend much on Christmas presents, but they were creative.

Then, in 1976, my job outlook darkened when I was fired on Jan. 15. As it turns out, it was also my birthday.

I was out of work a year, but we somehow made it through “drawing my pennies,” and picking up odd jobs.

Then, in December of ‘76, I got a call from G.M. Young, a gentleman I’d befriended while working at the paper. He said that I should fill out an application with South Central Bell.

I’d never considered a career with the phone company, but my unemployment checks had run out and I had no prospects, so I jumped at the chance.

After filling out a mountain of paperwork, and taking a battery of what I thought were strange tests, I got the call.

They offered me a job as a garageman beginning Jan. 3, 1977.

I started out earning $3.17 an hour gassing up trucks. I thought I was robbing the phone company but I didn’t share that with anyone. I showed up early and worked a little over each day.

We began saving our money, and in 1983, we signed a contract to have our house built. It wasn’t big or fancy, but it was something we could afford.

The thing that sold us was the vaulted roof with floor to ceiling windows in the living room that made it hard to tell where the outside world ended, and the inside world began.

In some ways that seems like a lifetime ago, and then.... well, you can finish the sentence.

As I stand at the front windows this evening looking at our yard, I can see the first Christmas tree we had in this house. It was a white pine.

I stood on my tiptoes and placed the Christmas star on it without a ladder. It’s now over 60 feet tall.

Through the years with Ma Bell, we flourished. Many of my coworkers asked why we didn’t move to the south of Birmingham, which was much closer to work. The houses were bigger and the neighborhoods more affluent, but we never saw a place there that looked like home.

Merry Christmas.



Sunday, December 21, 2014

Walkin

Tomorrow should be a fun day. It's been years since my last root canal and to be honest I've missed it.
Sick? Twisted? Maybe.

There are things we inherit from our parents. My dad's side of the family offered good teeth and hair after 60, but the DNA on my mom's side of the family had different features.

My older and younger brothers took after my dad, but I was the middle child and I took after my mom.

All her people were bald by their mid 30s and many of them had teeth they kept in a jar on night stands while they slept.

When Uncle Sam called me into the service, I danced through all the testing, scoring high in most categories, but when they looked in my mouth they fretted.

As a result, in advanced training and the first six months in Panama, I went to the dentist three times a week.

They trained half the dentists on the Eastern Seaboard on my teeth.

I was always freaked by needles as big as bicycle pumps going into my mouth, but after a few weeks of routine visits with Army dentists......I somehow hyped my brain into believing that I enjoyed going to the dentist.

Woo Hoo! I love the smell of Novocain in the morning.

So, in the morning I'll get my coffee down early and head out so that I'm in the dental office by 8 a.m. I have no appointment, so they'll have to work me in. I'm praying that most people have decided to forego dental work until after the New Year and I can 'get 'er done' first thing in the morning but we'll see.  I can barely contain my excitement.



Saturday, December 20, 2014

Threw a cap

I now whistle when I talk, and my "F's" aren't fully formed. No, I haven't been drinking, but I did lose a cap from a front tooth. When I smiled in the mirror to check the damage, I looked like one of those guys from the movie Deliverance. I even thought I heard banjos.

Yes, it's less than a week before Christmas and things weren't quite hectic enough so I thought I'd throw a cap.

I was tickling my great nephew Jordan, who was spending a few hours with us while his grandpa worked.  He didn't bump me or anything, so I'm not really sure why my cap decided to pop out, but it did.

There's no telling how old the crown is, but I think Reagan was in the White House when I got it.

Jordan saw my reaction when the tooth came out and was alarmed. He's a tender-hearted kid and thought he'd done something to cause it, but when I told him he hadn't he was relieved.

He spied the broken cap on the floor under my chair and scooped it up gingerly.

When he realize I wasn't hurt, or that I wasn't upset, he got a huge grin on his face, and started singing, "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth."

I howled in mock fury. He squealed with laughter and the chase was on.

I'll probably have to knock off a liquor store to pay for getting it repaired, but I think money is only valuable when it's in motion.

Jordan climbing the magic tree.



Friday, December 19, 2014

Chicken emergency

We kept our great nephew Jordan and his friend Ella today. Both of them showed up just after 8 a.m. I had a Christmas Breakfast to attend but I was home by a little after nine.

They're both six-years-old and were sooooo excited to be coming here to bake Christmas cookies,  paint Christmas ornaments, and have fun at The Watsons.

Jilda had a day jam packed with activities and they were ready for duty.

After baking and painting, Jilda handed them off to me. Once in the back yard, we fed and watered the chickens. Ella and Jordan gathered eggs and then we played games.

They had lawn games that Jordan's mom had brought, but as it turns out, they like the special agent mission games I invented on the spot.

I pull the phone from my pocket and talked into it like it's a secret communications device.
"Your mission to save the earth, is to take an acorn, run to the hickory tree, toss the acorn into the bluebird house, then run to the bale of hay, and touch it with your right hand. Then you must run back here before I count to 13. If you fail, life as we know it will cease to exist. OVER AND OUT."

Bam! They were off.

After several missions in which we saved mankind, it was time to go in for water, and some more Christmas cookies.

I looked out the window and the chickens were out. Ooooops, someone forgot to close the door to the chicken pen.

Had Jilda video'd the next several minutes of us trying to herd up the chickens, I can promise you we would have won the America's Funniest Video contest, hands down.

By the end of the day the kids were sitting quietly watching the Christmas movie Prancer. To be honest they were both on the edge of sleep.

When they left at 5 p.m.  Jilda looked tired, but she still snorted when she looked at me. We looked like those mugshots in the post office.

We had fun, but it will be an early night.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Snow Deer

While looking for a picture for tonight's post, I came across one I shot back in February after a rare snowfall.

It was taken at sunset, in low-light so the picture of the deer feeding under the apple tree was fuzzy. I almost deleted the photograph, and then I thought that I might be able to run it through the Oil Paint filter on Photoshop to see if anything could be salvaged.

As it turns out the muted light of sunset cast a slight rose-glow on the snow adding interest to the scene.  Does it work? Who knows the mystery of that? But I thought it was perfect for tonight's post.

It rained a little last night and today, clouds as dirty as dishrags hung low in the sky for most of the day. It wasn't freezing, but the combination of a cool north wind and high humidity, made my bones creak whenever I stood too fast. It felt a lot colder than it was.

Tonight, we cranked up the fireplace and sat for a long time feeling the warmth bathe over us like a few sips of a fine wine.

Next week is Christmas. We have a few more things to finish, but we're so close to being ready we can smell the barn.

Happy Thursday evening.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sumac Sky

Tonight, I'm out of words so I'll leave you with a sumac sky.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The water

You can probably tell by flipping back through my posts from the past, that I'm fond of water.

Many of the major rivers in this country, flow through Alabama at one point or another. We're blessed with an abundance of creeks, lakes, ponds, and deep-green rivers. 

My dad bought a small lot on the Sipsey Fork of the Warrior River in the late 1950s. I helped him build a small two-room cabin on the water. And I spent most of the summers during my high-school years at that cabin.

We had a small jon boat with a 10 hp Evenrude motor and I could drive a boat before I learned to drive a car...and I learned to drive a car young.

I learned to waterski in one lesson and got up on the skis the first time.

So, as you might imagine, I'm drawn to water. 

When I need to think, I'll often go somewhere close to water's edge and sit. Sometimes I don't figure out my dilemma, but I don't consider the time wasted.

A few weeks ago when I took the long way home, I passed by the scene below.  There was a car on my tail and I started to drive on, but I felt like the moment was too important, so I pulled to the side of the road and waved the tailgater around. 

I then slowly backed up and sat for a long moment. I'm glad I had the good sense to snap a picture before heading home for supper.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Feature

It wasn't that cold this even, but I got a little wet when I ran to the truck after work. It was only a fleeting shower, but it was enough to run down the neck of my sweater and soak my sox.  The forecast said it was only 53 degrees, but it felt as cold as the picture below.

I'm not sure what's happened the last year or so, but in the past, I rarely remember getting cold. It was almost as if my thermostat was on a sliding scale.

I'd wear a jacket if I thought about it, but it was no big deal if I forgot it. That's not the case now.

I guess that's another feature of getting older.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas at home

Thirty-one years ago this week we moved into our new home. We'd spent the first ten years of our lives together in a gray and white single-wide trailer that was cold in winter and so hot in August, we often sat in lawn chairs in the front yard of the trailer park until the mosquitos ran us inside.

I worked as a reporter at a weekly community paper and Jilda worked at a dress shop. Together our salaries were barely enough to pay the light bill and put a few groceries on the table. And then in 1976, my job outlook darkened when I was fired on January 15. As it turns out, it was also my birthday.

I was out of work a year, but we somehow made it through.

Then out of the blue, I got a call from G.M. Young, an old gentleman I'd befriended while working at the paper. It was December of 76 and he said that I should fill out an application with the phone company.

I'd never consider a career with the phone company, but my unemployment had run out and my prospects were thin, so I jumped at the chance.

After filling out a mountain of paperwork, and taking a battery of what I though were strange tests, I got the call. They offered me a job as a garageman beginning January 3, 1977.

I started out at $3.17 an hour for gassing up trucks. I thought I was robbing the phone company but I didn't share that with anyone. I showed up early and worked a little over each day.

We began saving for a house, and in 1983 we signed a contract to have our house built. It wasn't big or fancy, but it was something we could pay for. The thing that sold us was the vaulted roof with floor to ceiling windows in the living room that made it hard to tell where the outside world ended, and the inside world began.

In one way that seems like a lifetime ago, and then.... well, you can finish the sentence.

As I stand in our front windows this evening looking at our yard, I can see the first Christmas tree we had here. It was a white pine that I placed the Christmas star on without a ladder. It's now over 60 fee tall.

There are six other Christmas trees that we've had through the years that are visible through the windows.

Through the years with Ma Bell, we flourished and many people asked us why we didn't move to the south of Birmingham into one of the affluent neighborhoods, but we always resisted. Sure the drive was a pain, and the houses were much bigger, but I never saw one that looked like home






Saturday, December 13, 2014

This time of year

The sky was fairytale blue this morning with wispy clouds drifting off to the east.  I could smell woodsmoke from the neighbor's fireplace when I stepped out to feed the chickens. It was chilly last night leaving a layer of ice as thin as an onion skin on the birdbath.

Our great nephew Jordan's mom had to work today so he arrived early and had breakfast with us.
When the day warmed some, we headed out with an ax. We were on an annual Christmas mission. Each year since he's been old enough to walk, we've cut a small Charlie Brown Christmas tree from behind the barn and decorated it for him at his house.

On the walk down, he and Jilda sang Christmas carols at the top of their lungs. I wouldn't call it melodic, but I can say it was the most interesting version of Deck the Halls that I've ever heard.

The only rule for the Charlie Brown Christmas tree is that it has to be his choice.  Today's tree was actually a good one.

When I cut the small pine down, he insisted on dragging it home himself. He's growing so fast.

This evening, Jilda worked on her Christmas cards for a while. For the last twenty-five years she sketches them with pencil and then paints the cards with watercolor. Each year is a different design.  Some of our old friends have framed artwork with nothing but her cards they've received through the years.

Jilda made an Irish Fruitcake today and slipped it in the oven this evening. Dinner was hard to enjoy because of the aroma drifting from the stove. It was difficult not to sick my head into the oven and eat it while it baked.

But it was worth the wait.

I love this time of year. It's a sensual feast. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes can be so exquisite.



Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday stuff

My great nephew Jordan's folks had to work late today so I picked him up at school. I waited outside on the stone wall that just happens to be perfect for sitting in the afternoon sun like a river turtle on a log.

When he stepped through the door, he had his backpack over one arm and papers in his hand. His face lit up when he saw me there.

 I strapped the seatbelt around him and soon we were off. He didn't want anything to eat, so we aimed the truck toward home.

As we neared Sipsey, I said, "Do you want to run by the forks?"  "Sure!"  He's always ready to stop by the river. I'm not sure if it's because he knows I love the place so much, or if he's developed a love for the place himself.

We walked around and skipped a few rocks.  We sat on the bank in the sun for a long while. A blue heron took flight, dragging his long stick legs behind until he cleared the surface, and then gracefully glided down river for more peaceful surroundings. 

We sat in the sun for a long while before heading home.  He is growing up so fast. His bag was half full of books he'd bought at the book fair today. Ninjas, space travel, and 101 Gross Things were among the books. 

It's our intention to enjoy him while he still thinks we're cool.




Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sitting in for Santa

I got a call today at work from my nephew Haven. He's always jacking me around but he said, "Hello, is this Santa??

I said that it was Santa.

Then in his daddy voice, I heard him say, "Anthony is not eating is supper, could you have a word with him."

I told him I would and then he handed his phone to his son who is four.

"Anthony Haven Phillips," I thundered.

I heard nothing but silence on the other end, but I trudged on.

"I understand that you are not eating your supper?"

"You should eat your supper, and you should obey your mother and father," I said as I Ho Ho Ho'd.

"What do you want for Christmas?"

I could hear him saying some things timidly.

Then I told him I'd see him Christmas, and to be a good boy.

I heard him say, "Merry Christmas Santa."

I Ho Ho Ho'd as I hung up the phone.

A while later, I got a text from Haven saying his eyes were as big as saucers as I talked to him and that he ate everything on his plate.

I think I'd make a good Santa.




Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Watson Family Christmas Tree

Wednesday is now an off day both Jilda and me, so we hit the ground running today. We have a lot of Christmas stuff on our list and the Charlie Brown Christmas clock on the wall says, tick tock.

We'd planned to head to Mr. Frye's Christmas Tree farm today for our tree, but a call during coffee delivered the unexpected news that he's not selling trees this year.

Plan "B" on acquiring a tree was a little fuzzy, so we went through the list of other things we could do. Then Jilda had a great idea, "Why don't you dig up the tree we planted last year."

I rolled that over in my mind a time or two and realized that it wasn't a bad idea.  At 9 a.m. there was still frost on the pumpkins....well, had we had pumpkins there would have been frost on them, so I cocoon'd up in long-handles, sweatshirt, and boots. I then headed out to feed chickens and survey the tree.

It seemed quite happy there. It was fuller than last year, and I think it has grown a few inches taller, so I proclaimed to anyone in earshot that was lucid at that hour, that it was a perfect Watson Family Christmas Tree.

Taking the sharpshooter shovel from the shed, and donning my work gloves, I went to work loosening the soil around the roots.

Soon, I was able to lift the little tree out and put it into the wheel barrow. Moving it to the back steps, I hoisted it from the wheel barrow into a  #3.

There was a lot of decorating to do before the tree came in, so I staged it out back and waited further instructions from the boss lady.

Jilda spent most of the day doing her magic on our little home. The cabinet by the entryway held candles, candy, and an antique snow globe that was made when Jimmy Carter was in the White House. In the bathrooms she used Santa figurines she'd bought earlier this year. The living room mantel held our Christmas stockings, and a couple of Christmas pieces we've had for years.

During the decorating, we listened to December, which is our favorite Christmas music. It's solo piano played by George Winston. We've had the music in one form or the other since 1982. We bought it first in vinyl, then CD and later we downloaded it to play on our phones when that technology matured.

Tomorrow we'll move the tree inside and on Friday, our great nephew Jordan will be here to help trim the tree and put the finishing touches on the decor.




Tuesday, December 09, 2014

It's finally beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

I'd forgotten how work changes your life. It's been almost five years since I have had a day gig.  Even back then, I had time for everything, but I had to prioritize, and I rarely had pajamas on at noon.

This morning, I disturbed the chickens. They never actually sleep, but I could tell they were surprised I was out so early.

The hen looked around, and I could almost hear her saying, "If we'd known you were coming this early, we'd have baked you an egg custard."

But I hugged and kissed a sleepy wife and was on the road before the school buses.

One of the main drawbacks of a job is that, taking a nap after lunch is frowned on. If I were like the Chairman of Labor, or something like that, I'd push legislation through that required each worker have a 20 minute nap after lunch. I think it would boost productivity, and ultimately be good for morale,  America and what not.

Thankfully my job is only part time, and I have Wednesdays off. So tomorrow, Jilda and I are going to get our Christmas tree.

Year before last, it snowed the day we went for our tree. I have a short video clip of Jilda in her winter coat, cap and mittens standing in a groove of Christmas trees. Snowflakes swirled around her face. She was smiling as though she were holding the winning $400 million Power Ball ticket. "It's snowing," she said gleefully.

The next few days we'll decorate the yard, and put up the tree.

I guess you could say, It's finally beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Happy birthday Mom.

The alert on my phone chirped early this morning reminding me that both my mom and Jilda’s mom have birthdays in December.

I was already awake because the wind blew hard for most of the night causing the water oak in our yard to drop acorns on our metal roof. It sounded like an army of mice roller-skating in the attic.

I’m not sure why I put that alert on my phone, because we’ve never forgotten their birthdays. In fact, we bought flowers for their graves over a week ago. Most people buy their flowers prearranged, but Jilda prefers to mix and match to put her personal touch on the arrangements. She has a gift for this. Later, we drove to both cemeteries to place the flowers. We stood in silence for a long time.

The sky was a stunning shade of blue with cotton-candy clouds drifting slowly off to the northeast. There’s nothing like an autumn sky. This was my mom’s favorite time of year. When our parents were living, we usually spent Thanksgiving with Jilda’s family, where we ate until we almost spewed.

In the afternoon, my family would converge on my mom’s house to begin the annual Christmas decoration ritual. The women folk worked on the tree, tables and mantle inside, while the guy’s hauled weatherworn snowmen, faded life-sized Santa’s with reindeer and sleigh across the yard. She also had giant candlesticks and candy canes carved from plywood that we’d prop up in her yard. Each year as we began, there was a lot of whining and grumbling as we untangled mountains of Christmas lights. Each strand had to be tested to make sure that all the lights worked. She kept replacement strands that she’d bought at the after Christmas sale the previous year.

Those with good knees climbed the ladders and strung lights around the eves. The rest of us wrestled the larger decorations into place and ran extension chords.

The upside of this ritual is that we worked off all the turkey and dressing we’d eaten earlier, making room for the desserts that awaited us inside on mama’s table.

After the decorating was finished, we gathered inside around the fireplace to sip mama’s Christmas punch, and sample the holiday pies, cakes and candy that filled her table.

We usually didn’t leave until dark. Those old decorations didn’t look like much in daylight, but at night her yard, and the community around her, were transformed into a winter wonderland. People from all around would drive slowly through the community to admire all those twinkling lights. That made my mom happy.

I’m sure the power company added workers at the steam plant during the holiday season to keep the generators humming for those power hungry Christmas lights at her house.

In those days, I complained as loudly as anyone about the decorating ritual, but standing here today at the foot of her grave, I realized I’d give anything to have spent Thanksgiving evening at her house this year. Happy birthday Mom.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Cool weather

I know when I say it was cold this morning, most of my friends from up north smile a little. I hear what they're saying, but temperature is relative.

I've heard them complain about it being hot up there during summer when it was 106 degrees here with humidity thick enough to sip with a straw.

To them, 39 degrees is not that cold, but to me 97 degrees is not that hot :)

My knees have been giving me a great deal of grief for the last few months, so I haven't gotten the exercise I need, but they are much better since my last visit to the bone doc. Today was kind of a test
so I put on my sweatshirt, pants, and gloves along with my walking boots and headed out. The dogs were thrilled but for me, not so much.

But after a few minutes, both Jilda and I fell into a rhythm and the brisk air felt good.

Last winter was brutal for us here. We had several snows which is rare for us, but the one in January was beautiful. Our old house and barn looked like Norman Rockwell paintings.

The government forecasters say this coming winter will be normal for the south, but the Farmers Almanac said it would be another cold one. I guess we'll see who has it right.


Saturday, December 06, 2014

Immune Deficiency Foundation meeting

We attended an Immune Deficiency Foundation meeting today. Jilda's condition falls under that umbrella and this conference was amazing.

Some of the speakers were researchers and their talks were WAY over our heads, but there were others who put the "hay down so the goats could get at it," as the old saying goes.

We learned a great deal today. Some of the stories of the attendees were heartbreaking, but others were encouraging.

If you have a loved one who seems to catch every cold, flu, or other infection that comes around, you might want to encourage them to get tested. If they find their immune systems are compromised, I would highly recommend they contact the IDF. What they've shared with Jilda has already improved her life great deal.

I hope you all have a remarkable Sunday.

Blueberries are maybe the perfect shrub

Friday, December 05, 2014

Peach sunset

The rain's moving in, but you couldn't tell it by the sky at sunset. We kept our great nephew Joran this afternoon. His family was working late and I got off at noon so I swung by and picked him up after school.

He and I spent the evening outside. At one moment, the sky would be total overcast and the next the clouds would break up and let the sun peep through.

We spent a lot of time describing the sky. "The sky is black," he said as matter of fact. "Would you call it black?" I asked. He thought for a long time and said "I think so."

I pulled out my phone and asked it to show examples of the color black. When I held the pictures against the sky, he agreed that the sky wasn't black."

I punch in a few keys and the screen showed various shades of grey and slate.  When I held the phone against the sky, he jumped with knowing. "The sky is slate, the sky is slate," he said.

When I looked at the phone, I had to agree.

When the clouds burned off just after sunset, the clouds were putting on a show, again I asked the color of the sky.

After several queries on my phone, he started hopping again. "Peach, the sky is peach."

One look at the clouds to the west and I knew he'd nailed it.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

I couldn't have said it better

Today was my first day back in the workforce in almost five years. I think I was actually listing to starboard and drooling slightly from the corner of my mouth on the drive home.

When I sat down tonight to post an update, the keyboard might as well have been made of slate.

So, I did what any self-respecting blogger would do when they have nothing to say.....I posted a quote.

This one is from my old friend Ben Franklin.

 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The dog ate my homework

Yes, I know my assignment was due today and I'm sorry it's not ready....but I can explain.

I spent weeks preparing it. The research was burdensome, with volumes of footnotes,  references, and attributions.

Eloquent does not begin to describe the prose that flowed on the pages like warm honey. Some first readers wept as they read.

The words rang true as the bell of freedom. You would have been enlightened -- your life forever changed......if my dog had not eaten my post tonight.


She's more vicious that she looks in this picture



Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Happy anniversary

This entry marks my ninth year as a blogger.  On December 2, 2005 I wrote my first tentative entry. At the time I had no idea where I was going, or what I would say.

I wasn't sure that first night whether this would be an occasional entry, or something I'd do daily. I don't think I understood then, the investment it would take to do it daily. But I wrote.

There have been only a few days in the past 10 years when I did not post. I never forgot, but we live where stormy weather is commonplace, and there were times when we had no power and I couldn't post. I've missed fewer than seven days in nine years.

The first entries were an extension of an alumni website I've maintained since 2002. The idea was to write stories about things the people who graduated from my old high school might enjoy.

Then something interesting happened. My audience expanded. One of the first people to follow my blog was Ms Soup from Australia. I rarely got a comment and somedays I wondered why I bothered.

But early on I discovered there was power in writing every day.

My first entries were good ideas, but my writing was sloppy and choppy. It's a wonder anyone bothered to read what I wrote.

As with most anything you try, practice is the key.

In reading over my older work, I can tell my voice then was filtered through the advice of high school and college classes. Not necessarily what the teachers were saying, but what I thought they were saying.

Looking back, the work they encouraged me to read wasn't meant to be hard and fast rules, but a pathway that could help me find MY voice. Too bad I didn't grasp that sooner.

At any rate, these blogs gave me enough confidence to approach the local newspaper editor to ask for a weekly column.

I've moved gently forward since the first post nine years ago tonight. Making that commitment to blog, changed my life.

Autumn blueberry bushes.



Monday, December 01, 2014

The path we leave behind ~ my column from Sunday's paper

Jilda and I were almost killed in our car this week. One moment we were talking, laughing and listening to our favorite song on the car’s stereo … and the next moment a pickup truck was passing an oncoming car on a hill and full in our lane.

Driven by reflex and pure adrenaline, I swerved completely off the road and all three vehicles passed abreast in a space barely big enough for two cars.

The truck brakes were screaming and boiling rubber trying to maintain control. I was surprised he didn’t swerve into the other car beside him, but he didn’t.

When my heart retreated from my throat, I said some unkind things about him, and questioned his linage.

I struggled to understand what would be so important for someone to pass another vehicle on a blind curve or hill.

I’ve heard people say that their lives flashed before their eyes at times like that, but not for me.

The incident drove home the fact that life can change from one breath to another.

It also brought on an epiphany — as some people move through life, they leave a swath of destruction in their wake.

I’ve had friends and family who did this. The destruction wasn’t caused by cars, but by the addiction to alcohol and sometimes drugs.

I guess they believed somewhere deep inside that they were only hurting themselves, but the damage was broader.

No treatment, counseling, begging or pleading helped. Whenever these folks tried to come to terms with their condition, they looked outward for the root cause of their problems.

They blamed parents, siblings, bosses  and friends, but they never considered the responsibility for the problem lie elsewhere.

Those fortunate enough to rise above were usually the ones who finally looked deep inside to discover the true culprit.

In looking back over the last few paragraphs, I realized I’ve strayed a little, but in the broader view, I’m still inbounds.

Sometimes it takes a sickness, the loss of a close friend, or a near head-on collision for you to start thinking about your life and the footprints you are leaving behind.

It’s easy to look outward and to see where others strayed off course, but it’s much harder looking at your own life.

But the Greek philosopher Socrates nailed it when he said, “… the life which is unexamined is not worth living…”

That’s as bitter as green persimmon to swallow, but I think it’s essential for self-growth. The only way anyone can get better is to understand what they’re doing wrong and change.

I really hope the driver who ran us off the road last Saturday had to change to a clean pair of underwear after that episode. I also hope the next time he’s in that big of a hurry he’ll leave a little earlier so that he doesn’t risk his life, or the lives of others.


The sky tonight.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keeping memories fresh

The wind blew hard for most of the night. Resting was fitful because each time I dozed, warm winds out of the gulf ripped through the water oak in our yard, rattling the roof with the sound of rolling acorns.

This morning the cloud cover was as thick as a dirty curtain, and it looked as if rain were coming, but when I stepped out onto the back deck, I could smell no rain on the wind.

Soon after sunrise, the clouds burned off and the sky was stunning.

Both my mom and Jilda's mom have birthdays in December so we decided yesterday to buy some new flowers for their graves.

Most people buy the flowers prearranged, but Jilda prefers to mix and match to put her personal touch on the arrangements.  

Today after lunch, we drove to both cemeteries, and after we placed the flowers we stood in silence for a long time.

In reflecting back, it seems as if we lost them only yesterday, and then again it seems they've been gone forever. 

Placing flowers on graves seem so inadequate for the sacrifices they made for us, but it's something we can do the keep those memories fresh.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Waiting

If there's one lesson I've learned over the last three years, it's how to wait. Waiting is interesting. People who are new at it are ill prepared, and spend their time shuffling their feet, reading three-year-old dogeared magazines, and huffing a lot.

I did that a great deal in the beginning because waiting can be frustrating. It's almost as if you can hear your life draining through the tiny opening of the hourglass. You look at your watch, and look annoyed as your wonder why it's taking so long for you or your loved one to see a doctor.

At first I would never make eye contact in the waiting room. Who in their right mind would want to talk to that crazy twitching man with the ill-matching sox and skin flaking from his forehead. He might want to start a conversation with me about his ailments, afflictions, or his life that is spiraling out of control. Who would want to hear about that?

 It took some time, but I don't shy away from those conversations now.

In fact, I've met some remarkable people. Yes, some of them are wacky, and only talk about themselves, but many folks have had life experiences not unlike my own.

I've laughed and cried, but I've also made fragile friendships with some of these patients. I've lost some to the grave, but held others longer.

Two of our waiting room friends joined us for Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday. It was delightful seeing them here instead of our usual place in the infusion room.

This week, Jilda takes treatment 36, and three years of waiting has taught me a thing or two. I take my own magazines and books so I stay current with my reading. I take a list of calls I need to make, and after finding a quiet corner, I catch up on my business and social calls. I also take my Macbook Pro and noise canceling headphones, so I can write when I need to.

And I've learned by the look on the faces of those around me, who wants, and needs to talk. When one of those people arrive in my life, I save my work, or place a bookmark in what I'm reading so that I can listen.

I've come to understand that in the scheme of things, I get about as much productive work done in waiting rooms as I do in my office, though it took me a while to get my attitude right.

I'm just sorry I didn't pick up on those lessons sooner.



Friday, November 28, 2014

Not much to say

Walking today was more like wading. The foliage that was so stunning just over a week ago, is not a tangled-brown-crunchy carpet.

Our tiny dog Taz that tips the scales at just over six pounds almost got lost beneath it all.

I walked today as the sun was setting and noticed the pin oak was still in color so I snapped a quick photo before wading on.



Thursday, November 27, 2014

I love shopping on Thanksgiving

I think, as a nation, we've grown soft. The pansies are whining about all the violence surrounding Pre-Black Friday sales that start just after Thanksgiving supper. 


I for one, consider it a sport. I survived a few hours of shopping with only a dislocated shoulder, a puncture wound just above my navel, three cracked teeth, and a stone bruise.

The closest call was from a woman who wanted the last remaining 32 foot big screen TV. She almost had it on her basket when I arrived and intervened, taking the device for my workshop. 

She would have been a little more of a challenge had she not been holding 18 month old twins and pushing her paraplegic husband in a wheelchair. 

She had a wicked back-stroke elbow slam which gained momentum with the weight of the twins. The force of the elbow caught me off guard and sent me sprawling blood dripping from the corner of my mouth. 

I'd thought her husband was a quadriplegic but he had full use of his arms and drained a high-output taser he'd been concealing the diaper bag. It had grounding probe which hit me in the lower stomach. (Puncture wound I mentioned). 

While I was twitching on the floor, the woman did a Victory Star Drop move banned by World Wrestling Entertainment as being too violent. 

Breathless, I rolled out of her reach when one of the nursing twins bit her distracting her momentarily. 

Unfortunately I came too close to  her five-year-old who pulled a quart can of mace from her backpack and blistered both my eyes. She also kicked me in the teeth with her steel-toed Uggs. I didn't see that coming.

I gained my footing, drop-kicked the kid into the toy aisle where she immediately tied up with another kid over a Disney Princess  doll, which was a stroke of luck for me,  It leveled the playing field significantly.

When the woman leaned over to put the twins in her husband's lap, I did a spin kick with lead-toed work boots and she was down for the count.

I strolled up to the checkout with my booty and reached for my wallet and realized I'd lost it in the melee. 

A few counters over the woman pushing the wheelchair was ringing up $3000 worth of pampers, popcorn, Marlboro Lights, and Diet Mountain Dews  purchased with my credit card.

I saluted her as she shuffled out. She shot me a bird.

I LOVE BLACK FRIDAY. 
 .


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sunset through the pines

Last night was cooler than I expected, and when I rolled out of bed to get the coffee dripping, I had to step back to my closet for a sweatshirt.

Our priorities changed this week which rearranged my writing schedule and I struggled with my column out on time. That happens from time to time. 

Sometimes the words won't come no matter how hard I coax. I used to fret, but now I've come to realize that not everything I write will qualify for the Pulitzer :)

I do my best. When it's finished, Jilda edits, I make corrections and send that baby winging its way through cyberspace to all the papers that run it.

It was pretty for most of the day, but by late afternoon, clouds rolled in from the gulf and I assumed it would be a sad sunset, but like yesterday Ol' Sol wouldn't be denied.






Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Everything coming up roses

I think I got a job today. I've been kicking around the idea of going back to work for a while now. We want to go to Europe next year while our great niece and nephew are in London. His job is taking them there for about a year and they asked if we'd like to visit next fall. It's really a no brainer except we would have to take money from savings.

A few weeks ago I began poking around to see if there was any part-time work available. As it turns out, the local college has a part-time job helping people over 50 go back to work.

I sent my resume, transcripts, and some solid letters of recommendation. They review my package and said they'd get back to me.

They called late last week and asked if I could meet with them today. My calendar had things like, check the air conditioning filter, reorder planner refills, and straighten the wires in back of my computer, so I figured I could find the time to meet with them.

The person that interviewed me gave me a brief rundown on the responsibilities before asking, "Does this sound like something you'd be interested in? 

"As a matter of fact I would," I muttered.

A few moments later I was signing an intent to hire, and filing out a stack of forms as thick as War and Peace. 

There are still a number of obstacles I'll have to go through, but it looks like I'll be employed this time next week. I'm excited.

The sky had been beautiful all day, but I walked out of the interview into foreboding skies. I hoped that was not some kind of harbinger.

As I got closer to home, I saw the sun setting beneath the clouds making the horizon look as if it were ablaze.

I wheeled to the side of the road even though the driver behind me showed her annoyance by laying down on her horn. It was a small price to pay for a few moments of heaven, and a signal from above that everything is coming up roses.




Monday, November 24, 2014

A treasure of old photographs ~ my column this week

I stumbled upon a cache of old photos of Jilda’s family this week. She’d almost broken a hip trying to get sweaters out of the depths of my closet. From the darkness, I could hear muffled curses and unkind words about the way I stored my winter clothing.
I’d be the first to admit my storage methodology is a bit unorthodox and hard for others to grasp, but it works for me.
After the sermon, I started packing away all my summer things and fetching the sweats, sweaters and long johns from the bowels of my closet. In the back corner, I found a large plastic storage box the size of a footlocker.
It was filled with things her mother had kept for almost a century. We’d found it in the back of her closet while cleaning out her house after she passed away.
Once I had it out in the open, I poked it a few times with the broom handle to make sure no spiders or wintering mice hopped out.
Popping the plastic lid, I found old cards, letters, photographs, and yellowed newspaper clippings as fragile as a butterfly wing.
Jilda and I started dating when she was barely 16, so I attended holidays, funerals, family reunions and vacations. I took many pictures through the years. But these pictures predated me, and they showed a part of their lives that I’d never seen.
A rolled picture that resembled a scroll stood in one corner. It was about 12 inches tall, but about three-feet wide. I had to put a book on one end to weigh it down, and gently unroll the picture with the tips of my fingers.
The photograph was taken during the early days of WWII when her dad Sharky served as an Army medic. There were 112 soldiers posing in rows for the camera.
Normally with that many men, the photographer would have to back up so far that the faces in the picture would be unrecognizable.
But somehow, the photographer used a lens that allowed him to get close enough that every face was clear. I guess that’s why the picture was so wide.
Standing in the third row in his kakis with his garrison cap tilted to one side, was the young Sharky Phillips looking pensively at the camera. I couldn’t believe I’d never seen that photograph.
Another older picture was of Jilda’s mom Ruby standing outside in a dress and hat, holding her firstborn child Herbert. She was 15 years old at the time. The picture looked as if it could have appeared in Vogue magazine.
Jilda heard me say “Wow!” as I looked at it for the first time. She said, “Mama was so afraid that someone would steal her beautiful baby, that she pinned him to her breast pocket with a diaper pin whenever she took him anywhere.”
There was another picture of Jilda's mom in her Captain Anderson waitress uniform that was taken in 1942 when Sharky was in training at Kendall Air force base.
We both looked at the photographs for a long time. I wish I knew the stories behind all the pictures, but I’d never seen them before, and now it is too late to ask.
Old photographs add richness to the story of our families, and at the risk of sounding like a cliché, they add color to the tapestry of our lives.
I made a decision right then to scan all these one-of-a-kind images.
It would be a shame not to share them with others in our family so they can be passed down to the generations that follow.


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