Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wonky Wednesday

Our day began early today. Jilda had a class at 7 a.m. and a doctor's appointment in Birmingham at 9. Normally, I write my column while she's away teaching but I decided to do the doc visit with her.

Her doc visit required lab work so I drank coffee alone while she sat there and watched me sip with what appeared to be a bit of malice in her eyes. Did I mention that she LOVES coffee?

At any rate, I went out to feed the chickens before we left and they were still on the roost. On the way back into the house I noticed the Blazing Star was blooming again. Normally, it blooms in early summer but once it's done the show, it shuts down until next summer. But this year, it decided we needed one more show. 

Crimson flowers bigger than softballs blossomed out all over the gangly bush. Light is not optimal at that hour, but I pulled the phone and snapped a picture anyhow. I was surprised when I looked at the image tonight.

Breaking my writing routine took its toll on my creative flow and I struggled for a few hours before hammering out my column for Sunday. But when I have a deadline, I put my big boy panties on and git-r-done. I may not win a Pulitzer, but it wasn't bad.

Hope your Wednesday was a good one.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hot day

The weatherman and the blinking bank sign said it was only 96 today, but I pulled out my camera and
snapped a photo. the picture was telling. How hot does it look to you?

I was on the road early this morning and I was thankful I got the SUV loaded before the sun peeked over the college roof. But once I drove a few hours to the destination, there was no place to hide.

Parking in a no-parking zone in front of the building, I heaved the books, equipment, and refreshments out and wheeled them up the access ramp for people with disabilities, before parking in the lower forty.

Did I mention that registration is up at all campuses and parking is non-existent?

After the workshop, I fetched the vehicle and left it idling in the same zone with the AC blasting while I went inside to fetch the stuff. Thank goodness for a rolling cart.

By the time I got home this evening, I'd walked 8,000 steps. With the temps at one million degrees, I cut myself a little slack for not getting 10k steps.

I hope it's cooler where you live.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Old Tools ~ my column from Sunday's paper

There’s an old rake in our shed with a handle worn smooth from use. We inherited it from Jilda’s mom Ruby along with many other things. Our great nephew Jordan loves playing with the rake. The first time he saw the old tool, he immediately understood its purpose, and within a few minutes had raked up a mountain of pine straw which he used to practice his swan dive. This tool will still be useful long after we’re gone but this is not the case with other ones that became obsolete as technology evolved.
For example, a few days ago when I lost a bolt on the garden tiller, I headed to the barn. Jilda’s dad Sharkey never threw away a nut or bolt, but tossed them in a bucket. Whenever I need small pieces of hardware, I look there first. Over in the corner, I noticed an old plow. Beginning at the turn of the last century, farmers hitched these tools behind scrawny mules to break ground for gardens.
The first time I saw one in use was when my cousin James Lee Robbins plowed my mama’s garden in the late 1950s. He used unique words to communicate with the old mule. “Gee” meant turn one way and “haw” meant turn the other. Dragging the old plow, he managed to break up a nice garden plot in a little over an hour. The plow in the barn has been there since we moved here in 1980. I could sell it for scrap but I keep it to remember how far things have come.
Another tool we inherited was a “clinker-getter” tool. I named it that because I was unsure what the real name was. It’s a device about three feet long with a mechanical pincher. People used it to remove clinkers from a coal-burning stove or fireplace without burning their hands. It’s no longer useful for that, but I repurposed it for entertaining visiting kids. You wouldn’t believe the things they do with this device. I’ve seen it used for picking up June bugs and flinging rocks. Grownups also find it handy as a steely mouthed monster used to terrorize a yard-full of young’uns. It is a handy tool. I’m glad we kept it all these years.
The tools treasured by those who came before us were vital for survival. These devices that were used to scratch out a living from the land are now considered relics. The only place you see them today is hanging from the ceiling at Cracker Barrel.
As the nature of work changed, so did the tools we use. There’s not as much heavy lifting today, even with jobs requiring manual labor. I’m sure my nephew Haven who is a plumber would argue this point, but even he would be the first to admit that tools have made his life easier.
These days, much of my work requires computer keyboards, small digital cameras, electronic communications, and social networks. A majority of the heavy lifting I do now is mental. But some days after hours on a keyboard, it feels as if I had spent the day hoeing cotton.
As I wrote this column, I tried to imagine what early settlers would make of things today. I’m sure they would struggle with how much tools have changed. It took hours of sweat and toil to break up a garden spot of a few acres with a mule and plow. I’m sure it would be difficult to wrap their reins around the fact that today they could sit in the air-conditioned cab of a high-end tractor and break up the same plot in minutes.
I read where that some of these old tools are making a comeback for people moving “back to the land.” I’d be willing to bet if the early settlers had a choice between cussing a mule or riding on a tractor, they would choose the latter.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Film at Eleven

A freak August snowstorm blanketed Empire Alabama today. CNN Reporters contacted Rick Watson, an author and fellow journalist in Empire to get the scoop on the breaking story he'd reported.

Watson says he was amazed. One moment he was weed eating and sweating like a politician under oath and the next moment a cool Canadian breeze swept through with low-hanging clouds that dumped several inches of snow in the area.

CNN dispatched local crews to the area, but by the time they arrived on the scene, the sun was back out, and it was hotter than a livid Lucifer.

All the snow had melted leaving a few residents scratching their heads.  

Watson pointed to a moist area at the edge of his chicken pen and said we had a snowman right there.

Reporters left the scene mumbling that Watson must have been hit on the head or sampling the wacky tobaccy that grows wild in the area.

Film at eleven. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Maintenance Day

It's been a week of maintenance for home, body, and soul. Life is a cycle of peaks and troughs. Last week felt a little trough'ish to me. Is that a word?  I've live long enough to know that if you never felt down, you wouldn't appreciate the times when you were up.

Usually, when I feel this way I get down to the basics and do things that require little brainpower. That's why I replace steps on the porch and repaired torn screens. 

In the scheme of things, everything is important. Some things seem more important than other things because they carry a sense of urgency, but everything is important. 

Taking care of some of the things on my list that were not urgent felt good. 

Today was a low-key day. I finished up some of the trim work around the screen, while Jilda picked a few of the late tomatoes and peppers. The brutal heat killed all the hybrid plants, but the heirloom survived. I wasn't surprised. 

Over at the edge of the garden, the Old Maids were still putting on a show. I needed a picture tonight so I snapped one.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cloud falcon

Tonight will be a short post. I covered my first high school football game of the season and by the time I got home, I was whupped.

Just as the game began, everyone was watching the opening kickoff, but I was drawn to the falcon in the clouds to the west.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Olfactory mystery.

We love our floor to ceiling windows in the great room, but we discovered that at certain times of the year, light reflecting off the glass causes birds to become confused. Many fly toward the glass but realize their error just before impact and pull up short. They can't stop, but their natural motion causes their breasts to hit the glass. Usually, it knocks the wind out of them for a while, but they recover and fly off wiser.

But some birds don't react and hit the glass head on. The sound is different. Whenever I hear it, I head out back to get the shovel, because they don't survive.

These past few weeks, each time we walked from the driveway to our doorsteps, we smelled something rank. I kept looking for dead birds but could not find anything.

Our dogs are notorious for slaying chipmunks, but I couldn't find and dead critters either.

This morning I stepped outside while the coffee was brewing and the stench almost made me wretch.
Roadkill mushrooms
When I told Jilda, she said, "Do you think it could be those mushrooms that are sprouting up all over the yard?" I didn't think that was the case, but I told her I would investigate.

This evening after work, I walked out to see if I could find the source of the stink. Over near the bird feeders, a mushroom as big as a softball had turned dark brown and was about to return to the earth. With a small shovel and a stick (I wasn't sure if they were poisonous) I scoop the decomposing mushroom into the shovel and moved it close to my nose.

It only took an instant to determine that the 'shrooms were causing the stink.

Over the next twenty minutes, I must have shoveled up 30 decomposing mushrooms and buried them.
I'm glad we finally got to the bottom of this olfactory mystery.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Productive day

We built our screen porch about 15 years ago and it changed the character or our home. Nine months out of the year, we enjoy morning coffee there. I ran speakers wires from the stereo through the attic and installed small speakers on the walls of the porch. Soft music makes our time out there even more enjoyable. It's peaceful.  You will not stay stressed long out there. The tinkling chimes and songbirds forbid it. 

A while back as I carried 50 pounds of dog food through the screen porch and into the adjoining pantry, I felt the steps give a little. After storing the bag, I stepped back outside to inspect the steps.

We don't have gutters, and rain rushing off the metal roof bathes the steps each time it rains. Left to their own devices, time and moisture do their intended job – returning things to the earth. When I realized they had deteriorated, I put replacing them on my "List."  

It took a while, but it slowly moved to the top of the list and today was the day.  I had to pick some things up yesterday afternoon and the Home Depot so I bought the lumber and this morning before the day got hot, I jumped on the chore.

After about 45 minutes, I placed a tick mark by this item and it was officially off my list.  

The next thing is to replace the garden door, but this one will require assistance and my old carpenter has retired since he last worked here.

Hopefully, in the next few weeks, this one too will be marked off the "List." I hope your day has been productive too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Drive Inns

I drove north today to do some marketing a smoozing. I posted flyers for my upcoming session. Whenever I have sessions in the outlying areas, I go the week before and pass out flyers in high-traffic areas to generate interest.

Today the last stop was noon at Walmart. I get permission to stand out front and give the information to customers as they walk in to shop. Today I stood out front for about 45 minutes. The sun bore down. The narrow strip of shade got narrower the longer I stood.

I was supposed to be there an hour, but even after extensive hydration, I felt wilted so I called it a wrap.

On the way home, I decided to take another back road instead of the Interstate. Just outside the small town of Winfield, I passed Blue Moon Drive Inn Theater. Looking in the mirror to make sure no one was behind me, I did a U-turn and drove into the gravel parking lot. It appeared workers were inside doing something so I didn't go in, but I had to snap a photo.

Drive Inns were a big deal when I was a kid. Just about all small towns had a Drive Inn. I remember my folks taking me to see God's Little Acre, and the Interns. I was 11 years old when that movie came out. Later we saw Thunder Road with Robert Mitchem.

Do you have any fond memories of Drive Inn Theaters?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Summer in Alabama ~ my column from Sunday's paper

Things change as you age and this lesson came into sharp focus this week as I prepared for a workshop down in Carrolton, Alabama.

The weatherman promised the temps would be lower this coming week, but apparently, the
mercury hasn’t gotten the memo yet because it was hotter than Lucifer in latex.

The books, handouts, and equipment for the sessions are stored in plastic boxes the size of Army footlockers. I realized these things weren’t going to load themselves, so I got an early start to beat the heat. But I was too late.

Loading the SUV was a chore. By the time I finished, it felt as if I’d showered with my clothes on. Pausing to wipe sweat from my eyes, I glanced at the reflection in the back glass. It looked as if crystal beads were rolling down my face and neck.

The two-hour drive to the workshop in East Alabama was almost to the Mississippi State Line.

Cruising down the two-lane roads gave me a lot of time to reflect. I remember that hot summers didn’t use to bother me.

My first job after graduating from high school was with the state highway department. One of my duties on the road crew was to inspect asphalt in August. We had to ensure the contractors weren’t cutting corners and spreading the asphalt too thin in places.

This job rotated through the younger members of the crew, but it usually fell to the member who had made the crew chief mad. Afterward, my boss told me that I looked like a mirage standing there in the rising heat waves. It was brutal work, but I loved hot weather back then.

This week’s workshop was over around 3 p.m., and the SUV had been sitting in the hot sun for three hours. The inside was as hot as a kiln, so I cranked the AC up to super-duper cool.

Before hitting the road home, I sent a text update to my lovely spouse. She replied back to be careful and watch for school buses. Leaning forward, I tapped my head on the padded steering wheel and thought to myself, “Why are we torturing kids by sending them back to school in summer?”

Her advice was timely because approaching a curve near Poplar Springs, I glimpsed a yellow bus with flashing caution lights about to offload a herd of kids. With backpacks slung over their shoulders, they dashed off in every direction. Some of them looked a little wilted from the heat.

The Farmer’s Almanac says that last year’s warm winter was an anomaly and that we can expect colder weather beginning in November. Jilda was almost giddy this morning as she read this factoid aloud.

She’s no fan of hot weather and the older I get, the more I’ve come around to her way of thinking.

We both know people who want to wear shorts and tank tops to Walmart year around. These people whine when it gets chilly in January. I sometimes wonder why these folks don’t move to South Florida or Jamaica.

Jilda joked that she was going to buy a stun gun and if she heard one person complain about the cold weather she was going to zap them. I told her that sounded a little wacky, but summer in Alabama does that to both of us.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Magenta Mushroom

We recharged soul batteries today. The wasn't a lot on the agenda so we took advantage of the downtime.

I read, did some manuscript edits, brainstormed, and of course we walked. Our niece Samantha hasn't had an opportunity to walk with us much this summer, so she joined us.

Midway of the field between the house and barn, I noticed a tiny mushroom the size of a nickel. I snapped a picture for the blog tonight.

When I started trying to "Name That Color" I couldn't. So I Googled the question. The closest I came was magenta.

I was afraid getting close with my phone would cause the image to blur, but it came out better than I thought.

Every now and then I need a day of rest. I think it behooves us all to find a day from time to time.

Do you enjoy a day of rest occasionally, or does it sometimes make you feel guilty to sit down and rest a spell with so much to get done?

Saturday, August 20, 2016


The light filtering through the white pine just outside our window this morning was stunning. The living room had the ambiance of a sanctuary. Condensation collected on the outside of our floor-to-ceiling glass making it look as though we'd installed stained glass.

The hummingbirds arrived early sipping sugar water from the feeders as we sipped our coffee. I heard the paperman/woman drive by, so I pulled on my slippers and walked down for the morning paper.

On the way down I noticed a lavender Rose if Sharon out of the corner of my eye. The dappled light from the morning sun backlit the flower. When I stepped closer, droplets of dew clung to the undersides of the fragile petals. The phone lens wasn't sophisticated enough to navigate the delicate lighting, so I stepped back and snapped a few pictures of the flower which was beautiful in its own right.

The day heated up and by the time we walked, the humidity was oppressive. The weatherman swears that it will cool down by Monday, but I'll believe it when I turn down the AC.

I hope you all have had a picturesque weekend so far.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Low-Key Day

Today has been a  low-key day. Both Jilda and I were off work, and she's been a little under the weather.

We did get out and walk early and get some chores done, but I spent much of the day reorganizing the songs we've written through the years.  I always record a version of the songs we write and it would be clever to save them in a folder together so that finding them would be simple, but alas I'm sometimes not that clever.

After several hours of organization, I did backups on the cloud in case my computer went south along with the backup drive.

This evening she did us a small hamburger steak with English peas and quinoa. She also sliced some fresh tomatoes from the garden to round out the meal and it was delightful.

 At one point while waiting for the steaks bake in the oven, she stepped over to the garden door to look at passing clouds. I snapped a photo.

I made it a black and white photo in honor of the first photograph that was taken 190 years ago.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Strange Cookie

We had Chinese Food last week and when I cracked open the cookie, the "fortune" fell out. It was perhaps one of the strangest ones I'd ever gotten.

Birds are entangled by their feet and men by their tongues :)

What's that all about? I've never seen a bird trip over its own foot. Even Flamingos that are all legs and feet seem as graceful as ballet dancers.

Well, our rooster Zeus stumbles around when he walks but that's because his spurs are too long and they make it difficult for him to maneuver.

And, men by their tongues. Now that's more believable than the other. 

I Googled the saying to see if it was actually a Chinese saying and apparently it was. And it means something like birds do better on their wings, and men sometimes get trapped by their tongues.

But what does that mean and why did the Universe feel that I needed that particular message at this point in my life.

Somebody help me here. Was somebody sniffing too much ginseng or simply having fun with us wacky Americans?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dear God

I noticed something else interesting on my journey down country roads yesterday. It was something I'd never seen before.

On the way down, I saw it out of the corner of my eye and made a mental note to stop on the way out to have a look.

After the workshop, I drove northward toward home.  The population is thin in that part of the country, but several miles out I saw the cemetery ahead to the left.

Pulling into the grassy drive, I left the engine idling and waded through grass over to a mailbox. It was attached to a post made of car rims and it was against the cemetery fence. 

I looked at it for a long time thinking about the story behind it. Why would a cemetery with no houses within miles need a mailbox? I know it's probably illegal, but I pulled open the lid and had a look. I thought, if there were a letter inside, it would interesting to check the postmark to see where it came from.  And if it was a letter going out, where would it be going? 

P/O Box 1

What would that stamp be worth? 

I know you may think I'm a little twisted and maybe I shouldn't divulge much information as to how my brain works, but I found the mailbox fascinating, even if it was empty.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Country roads

The weatherman says the temps will be in the 80s on Monday with night time temps much lower. Apparently, the mercury didn't get the memo because when this afternoon when I drove by the blinking bank sign 101 was on the display...and that wasn't the time.

I had a workshop at the campus down near Tuscaloosa which is over two hours away.  Once in the office, I made sure all the boxes on my checklist were checked and then I hit the road.

Topping off the gas tank before heading out is always a good practice, but once I hit the road it was smooth sailing. The skies were the color of Liz Taylor's eyes with clumps of white fluffy clouds bunched up in places.

Most of the country roads are two-lane country lined with acres of hay and cotton fields that are beginning to bloom. They haven't had as much rain in that part of Alabama. I passed a pine tree that had obviously fallen years ago. It was bleached by the summer sun and looked like an ivory tusk lying by the roadside.

Each time I make this drive I see something remarkable. Today I passed a field of sunflowers.

The good thing about country roads is that congestion is non-existent. Pulling to the edge of the road, I left the engine running, stepped over to the fence and snapped a few pictures.

Getting away from the office is a good thing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hard to imagine

While walking yesterday, I noticed something I hadn’t seen in years. It was a half-gallon milk bottle from the 1950s sitting on a sill just inside the barn. The glass bottle was the kind that used a cardboard stopper the size of a half-dollar as a lid.

Our milkman delivered Barber’s milk to our house once a week in a yellow refrigerated panel truck. You could follow his progress through our rural community by the sound of barking dogs. Times have changed.

The first science fiction programs gave a hint of what was to come. I watched shows on a black and white television that hummed when I turned it on. Sometimes the TV had to be smacked smartly on the side to stop it from scrolling. The smacking didn’t stop the picture from flipping, but it made me feel better.

But while watching those early shows on Saturday morning, I did not dream the far-fetched science fiction would come about in my lifetime.

Once computers came to the masses, things began to accelerate; slowly at first, but this day and time it seems like you need to fasten your seatbelt just to check your email or morning headlines.

You could call me an early adopter. I worked third shift with MaBell back in the 1980s. The job title was Computer Attendant, but what that meant was I loaded digital tapes as big as a medium-sized pizza onto machines that were larger than most refrigerators. These tapes were for storing and retrieving data for the mainframe computer. My work kept me busy early in the shift doing system backups, but later on, it was a struggle to keep my eyes open during the wee morning hours.

One night I noticed a new IBM personal computer in the corner of the data center. The manager had purchased the PC to do spreadsheets and type letters. No one used the contraption at that hour, so I was free to learn about it.

Sitting down tentatively, I watched a tiny square slowly blinking on the corner of the green phosphor monitor. My journey began.

That computer had 28k of memory and two floppy disk drives. The watch on my arm today is more powerful than that old PC, but that computer was state of the art back then. Creating those first few documents was all it took to hook me. I realized that typewriters would soon follow the dinosaurs. The impact that would send them to extinction wasn’t a giant meteor but a tiny green blinking cursor on a monitor.

Some time later, I watched my friend Ken Owens, who also worked at the phone company, log on to via a modem and telephone wire connected into the back of a PC. The modem screeched as it connected to Prodigy which was one of the first internet providers. Looking over his shoulder as he searched the internet, I watched text and pictures slowly appear. The screen looked like a colorized Etch-a-Sketch as it loaded.

In those first few moments, I realized how small the earth was, and I knew this new technology would be tremendous.

These days with smartphones, Facebook, and online banking, it’s hard to think of what life was like before them.

When I look at my young great nephew Jordan, technology is easy for him. He understands how complicated software and games work.

He can use our remote control without saying bad words. And when I think of the state of technology when I was his age and how far it’s come in my lifetime, I wonder where it will be when he reaches 65?

What will be his typewriter or glass milk jug? It’s hard to imagine.
Trying to imagine the future.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tiger Swallow Tail

Jilda called me to the deck this afternoon. A Tiger Swallow Tail butterfly was sipping nectar from our butterfly bush. This one wasn't shy. I walked up within a few feet and put the camera less than a foot away to snap a few pictures.

After it flitted away from the butterfly bush, it went over to have its way with the blazing star bush on the other side of the deck. The crimson blossoms of the blazing star are as big as grapefruits.

It took a moment too long to relocate and I missed the picture. I need to get one of those telephoto lenses for my phone.

Can you believe it's almost the middle of August?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Good guys

My blog buddy Jack wrote about going to a store today and there being an issue at the register that caused the line to back up. He chose the path less traveled and made the best of the situation by having fun with fussy kids in line. A little of his magic created a little magic in the group of people who were "stranded" in line by circumstances beyond anyone's control.

I think this is a great lesson. Life is too short to waste it on being miffed at something as insignificant as a slow-moving line. The best policy is that if you're in a hurry, don't stop at a place that can slow you down. The law of "obstacle-lation" kicks in which will throw you further behind.

I can't do magic like my friend Jack, but one thing that I do while waiting in a line moving at a glacial pace is to read the headlines from the National Enquirer. Apparently, JonBenet Ramsey is still making headlines. For those of you who don't remember JonBenet was the six-year-old beauty queen that was mysteriously murdered twenty years ago on Christmas Day.  I do believe the National Enquirer has named every member of her family, her community, and the state of Colorado as the actual murderer. So who wouldn't want to stay on top of this developing story while they are waylaid in a slow-moving line?

Seriously, you can tell a great deal about a person by how they treat waiters, waitresses, and cashiers at a big-box store. People in those positions would lose their jobs if they took the crap you loaded onto them and put it back in their laps, so they have to "take it."

Maybe it makes people feel superior to be ugly to the "hired help." But in my eyes, it makes them something that would thrive in the shallow end of the gene pool.

Thank you Jack for being one of the good guys.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Watch the light

Someone asked me recently how to take good pictures. I smiled, because I've asked others that same question. Dale Short, one of my mentors in writing, is also a master photographer and I've helped him shoot pictures for years. What he told me was that the magic is in the light.

Also, anything you see from day to day has to potential to look incredible if you frame it right, and be mindful of the light.

You've probably seen and taken pictures of subjects when the light is behind them. If you're doing silhouettes, that's great. But if you're trying to capture a landscape, a portrait, or something else where detail is important, it won't happen because the light is not right.

This evening I ran back by the forks for a moment because a thundershower had swept through earlier. I knew the turbines would be on which meant there would be mist on the water.

I shot a great picture of the clouds and sun, but it was too close to a picture I shot a few weeks ago, so I turned the lens downstream. Sitting on a big rock, I waited for the right moment for the evening light to fall on the water. It didn't take long.

These days, we've become a visual people. If you want to write a blog or tell a story, you get more traction if you have a picture. I'm thinking about a short ebook that will help people take better pictures with their cameras or phones.

Of course, I follow blogs written by people who are better photographers than me, but I'd like to share a few things I do know.

Stay tuned.

Watch the light

Someone asked me recently how to take good pictures. I smiled, because I've asked others that same question. Dale Short, one of my mentors in writing, is also a master photographer and I've helped him shoot pictures for years. What he told me was that the magic is in the light.

Also, anything you see from day to day has to potential to look incredible if you frame it right, and be mindful of the light.

You've probably seen and if you're like me, taken pictures of subjects when the light is behind them. If you're doing silhouettes, that's great. But if you're trying to capture a landscape, a portrait, or something else where detail is important, it won't happen because the light is not right.

This evening I ran back by the forks for a moment because a thundershower had swept through earlier, and I knew the turbines would be on which means mist on the water.

I shot a great picture of the clouds and sun, but it was too close to a picture I shot a few weeks ago, so I turned the lens downstream. Sitting on a big rock, I waited for the right moment for the evening light to fall on the water. It didn't take long.

These days, we've become a visual people. If you want to write a blog or tell a story, you get more traction if you have a picture. I'm thinking about a short ebook that will help people take better pictures with their cameras or phones.

Of course, I follow blogs written by people who are better photographers than me, but I'd like to share a few things I do know.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Right place and the right time

I coaching sessions in Jasper this afternoon. It's about 15 miles away and I've driven it so much, I don't even think of distance.

The sessions went good and the folks in my program are progressing along. On the way home I decided to stop by the small grocery store and bait shop near the forks of the river to buy some boiled peanuts. They have them in a crockpot on the shelf of their ice cream freezer. Space is at a premium in small country grocery stores.

The hot peanuts were still steaming in the cup when I cranked the engine to head home. But instead of pulling onto the highway, I decided to drive down to the boat launch to see if anyone was catching fish.

There was only one truck there, and a young man walking up the ramp from the riverbank.  Since I didn't see anyone I knew, I did a slow turn to head out, but I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the guy was trying flag me down.

I didn't know him and I was a little leery, but I breaked, rolled the window down part way leaving the
truck in gear in case the guy was a thug and I need to make a fast getaway.

He said, "Do you have a pair of wire cutters?" Then he held his hand up to show why he needed them. He had the hooks of his fishing lure jabbed through one of his fingers.  He'd caught a fish and was about to take it off his lure when the fish thrashed violently as they sometimes do. This was enough to put the hook through his finger.

"Holy Sh**!!!" popped out of my mouth involuntarily. I threw the truck in gear, got out, flipped my seat down and got my toolbox. Rummaging through, I found my trusty side-cutters (as they are called by telephone technicians.) I handed them to him.

He held his hand over the bed of my truck and clipped the barbed end of the hook off and pulled it free.

He said, "I can't tell you how grateful I am that you drove through and helped me." I told him I was glad I could help.

As I drove out of the parking area, I realized that it was a fluke that I stopped there today. Maybe the Universe knew the guy needed a hand...or more specifically, a pair of wire cutters.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A good day

Jilda had an early-morning yoga class and was out by 6 a.m. I shouldered the laptop and headed to the screen porch to write with a steaming cup of coffee triggered around my finger.

The milk bottle I mentioned in last night's blog was the spark, though I had no idea where the story would lead. I love that about writing. Less than an hour later, I had a 600-words draft and I was in the rewrite stage. The rewrite is where the magic sometimes happens. You see where the words get tangled and repeated. With a little key tapping, you sort all that out. This is also where I find similes that fit.

I have a program on my iMac that reads the words back to me in a female Australian accent. I can tell you that if something is wonky, it will sound even more so in an Australian accent. When I get the words right, the reading sounds lyrical.

I'd just finished the first draft when our great nephew Jordan came over. All his folks were working today, and they called yesterday to see if he could stay with us. We're always up for that because he's delightful.

The rain kept us inside for most of the day, but we don't let something like a little stinking wet weather put a damper on our fun.

Just after lunch, the power company showed up to fix some long-standing problems that have caused frequent power outages.  In order to resolve the issues, they had to turn our power off for and hour or so. When they finished up, the power guy came into the yard to give us the scoop. It sounds like they have gotten a handle on the problem but time will tell.

This afternoon when Jilda's brother stopped by he brought a sale paper from a discount store about 20 miles from here. The store had the grill on sale that we've been wanting. It was almost $300 at the big-box store but this discount store had it for $129.

I called the store and they had a few left. An hour later, it was in the back of my truck and headed home. I love it when a plan comes together. It's been a good day.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Where Ideas Come From

I watched a remarkable TED talk video today with the author, Amy Tan. She talked about creativity and where ideas come from. If you have a few minutes to invest, I'd recommend watching this piece.

It resonated with me because writing a weekly column can be hard at times. Not the writing, but coming up with fresh ideas. Jilda gives me a lot of ideas because she's an idea factory. But sometimes ideas come by happenstance. I will smell, see, feel, or experience something that triggers a thought. I pick at the thought like a patch of itchy ivy on my arm. Sometimes the thread leads nowhere, but sometimes it turns into a story with substance.

The column for next Sunday came today as I walked. On the last lap, the sun finally made an appearance after hours of showers. When I rounded the corner of the barn, I noticed something I had forgotten. It was a half-gallon milk jar.

It's an antique and it triggered a thought about how times have changed. Stay tuned for the column this coming week.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Slow on the homefront

Not much happening on the homefront today. Clouds rolled in and the chance of lightning kept me from my walk this afternoon.

Once when the sound of thunder moved off to the north, I headed outside, but lightning slammed something close by and made the telephone ding so I headed back inside.

I had to flip through my pictures to find one to post. I shot this photograph several weeks ago during a lull in the filming on the set of the documentary. The good doctor had a handsome place.

Sunday, August 07, 2016


We attended a wake this evening and a thundershower swept through the area while we were at the funeral home. On the way home, steam hung over the highway like a veil for as far as the eye could see. Off in the distance, a hint of a rainbow arched against a grey backdrop of thunderclouds.

Holding my phone over the steering wheel I snapped a few random pictures without looking at the screen in hopes of capturing the color, but when I looked at the results just now, the rainbow was nonexistent.

Flipping back through my pictures, I found a photo taken earlier in the day while mowing the lawn. Two giant mushrooms had sprung up.  I'm not sure why they grew so tall. Maybe it was because of the Olympics in Rio, or maybe it was caused by Trump flailing campaign or Hillary's email server. The jury is still out at this point, but one thing is for sure. A herd of frogs should have enough room to have a picnic under the giant toadstool umbrella.

The largest was as big as a soccer ball cut in half.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The right decision

The first time I saw the bulldog three weeks ago as he peered through our great-room windows, he looked like death eating a cracker, to use a tired old phrase. His tongue was lolled out from thirst, and it was obvious he hadn't eaten in a while because you could count his ribs.  

It was unclear those first few days whether he would survive. He'd obviously been mistreated, I knew he had health issues...and he was deaf.

Jilda and I both struggled with the question of whether or not putting him down might be the kinder path. But there was something in his eyes. 

When we took him to the vet, they returned with a litany of ailments. The thing was, most of the maladies were treatable. I gave them the go ahead and my debit card. 

When I went the next day, he was woozy from the neuter surgery, but he was happy to see me. Getting him in the truck was like trying help a drunk into a bucket seat.

On the ride home, he laid his head in my lap and looked up at me as if to say, "I forgive you, but I will miss the boys."

He's been on antibiotics, heartworm meds, and drops to clear up an ear infection all week. He's gained eight pounds in seven days. 

I fretted that he wouldn't fit in with the other two dogs but they act as if they've been lifetime friends. 

Sitting outside this afternoon after our walk, Jilda snapped a picture of me and Ol' Hook.  I'm glad we decided to keep him.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Looking without seeing

I took a backroad again today as I headed to my friend's house to check his mail, and make sure burglars hadn't made off with his guitar. Thieves have hit the house twice, and he's a little gunshy. So each time he travels, he asks me to keep an eye on the place.

On the way over, I noticed an old house overgrown with trumpet vines that I hadn't noticed before. The rearview was clear, so I slowed to a stop and backed up to snap a picture.

Stepping out, gravel crunched under my hiking boots. Outside the reach of the truck's air conditioner, the humid air hit me like a damp blanket. 

I moved back and forth as I searched for the best angle. I glanced down to make sure a copperhead wasn't camouflaged by the knee-high ryegrass.

I had snapped several pictures before I heard a screen door slap against the jamb behind me. An older gentleman that lives across the road was curious about what I was doing.

I waved and held up my phone in explanation and pointed to the old house. He nodded and went back inside.

Satisfied that I'd gotten the picture, I stepped back into the truck and soon the AC was cooling the beads of sweat trickling down my face.

I consider myself an observant person. Writers have to be, but it's interesting what we look at daily and never see.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Fading away

The old town I went to as a kid is a ghost town now. The old street that was once bumper to bumper on Saturdays, is rough and rarely sees a car. When someone does drive through, it's to reminisce. "There is where the Masonic Lodge once stood. There's the bank.  The old theater was between the dry goods store and Johnson's Barber Shop."

These days the west wall is covered in layers of faded graffiti, proclaiming the class of......

I've worn the soles off many pairs of shoes walking the street (singular).  Up on the hillside just above the old Dora Motor Company, and overlooking the L&N Railroad tracks was the old Dora Library. It was built from stone dug from the earth around the town during the Great Depression. President Roosevelt's plan to get out of the depression was to pay people to do useful work.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the old high school gymnasium and the archway into the football field. They also built the old library.

The facility was closed in the 60s and the building fell into disrepair. Soon the brush and brambles hid the old building from view except for those adventurous enough to tunnel through.

A few years back, I parked at the foot of the hill and made my way toward where I thought the old building stood. I had the forethought to take a machete with me and hacked a path in.

The old structure was still standing. The roof and floor had since rotted, but the stones set by the CCC were still standing proud almost a hundred years later.

I wish there was some way this historic old building could be revitalized, but I fear this is a pipe dream, to use a tired cliche.  There is so much need today, that a project like this wouldn't stand a chance to get funded.

It's just that each time I drive through the old town, it seems a little piece of my past has faded away.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Pasture fence

A friend is out of town this week and he asked me to pick up his mail and check on his place while he was out of town. So today after Jilda and I did our running around, I drove to his house.

The road to his house goes over one of the high points in our area. On the crest, I looked off to the west and could see nothing but blue sky, white clouds, and foothills as far as the eye could see.

An old farmer owns about a thousand acres on this crest.  A pasture thick with green grass is full of fat cows. Each evening they meander over to a scenic pond and drink while looking at one of the most beautiful vistas in the county.

I tried to shoot a picture of the cows today, but I didn't have my big camera. The iPhone is remarkable for close work, but any pictures that are off in the distance, look exactly like things off in the distance. Unremarkable.

So I had to settle for orange flowers growing on the pasture fence.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Sometimes you feel like dancing

I took a walk after work today. The collie I've had for years hates hot weather. Maybe the mink coat he wears makes him lethargic when it gets hotter than Lucifer in latex. But Hook, the new kid in town was excited.

We walked for about 30 minutes and on the last leg of the walk, I stopped by the old truck at the barn. It belonged to Jilda's dad and was built when Bill Clinton was in the Whitehouse, but it's been sitting behind our barn for many years.

Hook ran up to the door of the old truck and sniffed. I figured a chicken snake had probably crawled inside so I opened the door to have a look inside. There was a snake skin under the seat, but I didn't see a live snake.

Before I could close the door, I felt a burning pain on my ankle and then several more around my knee.

WASPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I screamed along with an interesting combination of profanity unheard of in these parts. I also did this little dance that would have gone viral on social media had someone had the good fortune to film it.

Slamming the door, I had to pull Hook away by the collar because he wanted some level of revenge for their treatment of me. I limped a little as we finished our walk.

Icing down the knee, it immediately felt better so I stepped onto the front porch to wait for Jilda who was on her way home.

The sun was lazing on the horizon spotlighting the impatiens hanging in a basket by the birdbath. I snapped a blog photo. 

As I surveyed the red spots on my ankle where I'd been stung, a weird thought passed through my brain. For some reason, I remembered the old song, sometimes you feel like dancing, and I had to smile.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Red Sky At Night

I normally post my column on Monday night, but the seeds of this week's column came from a post I did last week.

So tonight as Jilda and I walked out of yoga, the sky to the west called to me. I snapped a picture with my phone so that's what I have to offer you tonight. Maybe tomorrow the shy muse will return.

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