Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A beautiful place

I started therapy on my knees a few weeks ago. Each year, doctors inject the joints with my knees with a substance designed to add cushion. For a five or six months my knees are not bone on bone. The needle used for these injections feels like it's as big as a Dixie straw, but that's probably just me being a wimp.

The injections are followed by therapy. My niece Samantha is a physical therapy assistant. She cuts me no slack. When I start to complain, she gives me that "suck it up whiny baby" look and I buckle down.

This morning's session was at 9 a.m. and by 10:30 I was on my way home. My windshield view was a perfect late-summer sky. Blue sky and clouds that looked like the innards of a home-cooked biscuit.

At one point, there was a field of corn on the crest of a mountain. I've pulled into the entryway to this field during fall and winter. When I walk to the edge of the garden and look toward the west, it looks as if I could see Mississippi. It's a beautiful view. 

Pulling in today, walked to the edge of the field, the corn was as thick as thatch. I didn't want an observant farmer mistaking me for a critter, so I stepped back and settled for a picture of the sky.

I'll shoot another picture from this vantage point in late Autumn when the corn is plowed under, and the leaves have fallen. I think you'll agree that it's a beautiful place.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Passing of time

I have a program on my laptop. It has only one function. It reminds of passing time. The program on my laptop is set to sound a Tibetan gong every 30 minutes.  When I hear this soothing sound, I stand. If I'm extremely busy, I remain at my desk a stretch. If I'm between task, I walk a lap around the hallways. But strangely, the gong helps keep me focused on the important tasks.

Most of us think nothing about the passing of time. I know people who watch TV for hours and only stand up when they need to go pee.

The sound of this gong makes me aware that time is passing. Two gongs and an hour has passed.

I read a feature on two Irish businessmen who started Square. Square is a small credit card reader that clips into the earphone jack of a smartphone. The software behind the little reader makes it possible for small businesses across the world to accept credit cards for their wares. When I started accepting credit cards at my book signings, my sales tripled.

These amazing brothers are two of the youngest billionaires today.

One of the brothers has a clock on his wall. It's not a regular clock, but one that shows how much life he has left. He did research on his expected lifespan and programmed his clock to count down. At any given moment he can tell theoretically how much time he has left. Obviously, this does not take into account, disease, accidents, or disasters. But it for this young man, it serves to remind him that there are only a finite number of days, hours, and minutes left.

This kudzu flower has nothing to do with passing time, but I shot it two years ago today. That in itself was a wakeup call because I didn't realize it had been that long.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Back Roads

Back roads are the best route. For years I've looked for the fastest route between point A and point B.
Cutting off ten minutes here, and three minutes there made my day. Then I realized when I arrived early, I often wasted the saved time looking at unimportant things on my phone or some other trivial activity.

After I retired, I slowed down. It's hard seeing things when you're in a rush. I rarely stopped in those days to take a picture no matter how remarkable the light was on the subject. The last few years have been different. I slowed down and took the scenic route even if it took five minutes longer. And if I saw a photo op – well I'd have to arrive a little later.

After work today, I headed home. One road that I don't often take has a pond that is almost hidden. Cars pass within 20 feet of the pond and most drivers don't slow down enough to look through the mimosa trees lining the soggy banks.

In the past, I've seen ducks sitting on the railing by the road. The must have tired of swimming and climbed on the rails to watch the passing cars. Today, I pulled in and parked at a wide spot next to the road.

Gravel crunched under my boot heels as I stepped out of the truck. I heard a squawking sound coming from toward the water. Three Muscovy Ducks were coming up to greet me. I'm guessing they thought I was someone bringing them a treat. I squatted down and tried to coax them closer but they wanted no part of that.  So, I apologized for not bringing food and stood up. They continued to look at me expectantly. Pulling the phone from my pocket I snapped a few frames. It almost seemed as if they were posing for me.

As I shoved the phone back into my pocket, I thought to myself as I climbed back into the cab of my truck, "You don't often see this stuff on the Interstate."


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday stuff

I know Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, but Jilda and I haven't stopped today. We had had lunch with Jilda's sister Pat. Jilda cooked a meal for our nephew James's family. They have a newborn and the mommy is having issues. Plus we had invited company for dinner this evening.

I worked inside and out to get the house in shape and Jilda has cooked for most of the day. When our company left this evening, we looked at each other and without a prompt, we went to put on our pajamas.

The kitchen was a mess as you might imagine. We don't go to bed with a dirty kitchen, so that was the next flurry of activity. After a time, the kitchen was as tidy as an Army barracks.

I almost played a get out of a blog, free card.

Below is a picture from the archives. I wish I knew the name of this plant but tonight I'm too tired to look it up.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

From out in left field

I'm here brushing the dust from between the G and H on my keyboard and Jilda's sitting not three feet away writing her blog. Her keyboard sounds is if it has a woodpecker on it. She makes me mad sometimes.  I want to lean over and smack her upside the head.

Of course, I'd never really do that because I'd have to go to sleep some time and there's really no telling what misfortune she's heap upon me. Also, I'm very fond of her cooking and I'm certain I'd never get a chance to eat any more of her food unless it got REALLY cold in hell.

So, I got a grip and stopped blaming my lack of ideas on her. Soon this squirrelly idea came to mind and I went with it.

I'm stuck on butterfly pictures. I know they must be tanking up right now. They are swarming the zinnias like mosquitos around a fat baby right now.

When I stepped down this evening to dump the scraps into the compost bin, I saw a swarm of butterflies and walked over to snap a few frames. Tonight, that's all I have to give.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Eclipse is a coming

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but I'm a  celestial-esk kind of guy. I love the sun, stars, and most anything up there beyond my reach. The upcoming solar eclipse has me psyched. 

The last eclipse I saw was on May 30, 1984. It wasn't a total eclipse, but it was close. It was only a few months after we moved into our new house. We hadn't built the back deck yet. Jilda and I sat on the back steps for a long time. The warm May temperature seemed to drop while the sun hid behind the moon. It was just after we moved into our house. Jilda and I sat on the back steps and experienced it. I had my dad's old welding goggles so we got to see it while it happened. It was just before noon, but it looked like that twilight time just between dusk and dark. The roosters crowed. The birds and other critters didn't know what to make of it.

I didn't blog back then, but I wrote about it in my daily journal. The upcoming total eclipse happens here on August 21, 2017. The timeline looks like it will be total around 2ish.

Looking on Amazon, I found 10 pairs of eclipse glasses for just over $8. I was pretty sure neither Jordan or his mom would think to get glasses and I didn't want them to miss it. There won't be another total eclipse in my lifetime or theirs. I'm just hoping it's not cloudy.

Our glasses arrived today. Jilda snapped this pic of me on our deck looking skyward.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fishing report

The college was a ghost town today. The kids and teachers won't be back until next week. This left the staff to keep the ship tethered to the educational dock. My work involves people over 50 who aren't really students. 

My calendar was clear today which gave me time to catch up on all the things that kept getting pushed to the next day, next day, next day, next day. It was refreshing just checking things off.

Once I left for the day, I stopped by the forks of the river to get the fishing news. It seems that the fish weren't biting. That's common during the Dog Days of summer. I could have told them that no self-respecting fish would bite because the cows are laying down. I verified that in the picture I posted yesterday. I should probably explain that there's an old saying that proclaims: If the cows are laying down, the fish won't bite. I wonder if that means the fish don't bite when the cows are sleeping either? I'll have to ask an old geezer about that to verify. No wait, I'm an old geezer. 

So, the news from the forks today has been independently verified. 

In my broadcast voice – Don't bother fishing today because the cows are laying down. No self-respecting fish would dare bite.

Enough of that drivel. I shot another picture of a butterfly. I can't help it if I love these little critters.






Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Cows and bitterweed

The sun's been hiding for the last several days. I won't wish away the rain. After going through a drought last year, I promised myself I'd never curse the rain...but still, I miss the sun when it's on vacay. 

This morning was no different. When Jilda left for her early morning class, the fog was thick as meringue. 

I'm doing physical therapy for my knees, and my appointment was at 9 a.m. in a town twenty miles to the east. The fog had lifted, but the sun was still MIA.  I saw some possible pictures, but the muted light made the subjects look as flat as onion skin. 

Just after lunch, Jilda, our great nephew Jordan, and I drove to Aldi's for produce, chocolate, and chips. We somehow walked out without the chips. We don't eat a lot of chips, but we love those carried by Aldi's.

On the way home, the sun peeped through the clouds. Jordan who was buckled in the back seat rolled down the window and looked out. I think he missed the sun too. 

Passing a pasture, I noticed cows lying around enjoying the afternoon sun. I slowed as I passed. Pulling into the driveway of a nearby barn, I turned around and parked on the roadside. 

The cows were interested, but not enough to stand. The just laid there munching and mooing. The name of the yellow plants in the foreground is bitterweed. 

Since I hadn't shot a fresh photo in a few days, I thought it was time.


 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Wus report

I put in highway miles today. An early-morning community access TV show had me yawning while I drove. 

The day didn't slow down until about 10 minutes ago. I passed a number of photo ops, but the clouds hung low keeping the scenes unphotogenic. So I opted to go the way-back machine and snag a picture from ten years ago this week. I think it's the last time we grew chili peppers.

Although it's only 6:30 p.m., I've removed my contact lenses and put on my pajamas. As I've aged, I've adopted a new mantra – It's never too early to "jama-up." Sure, in my younger years I was a naysayer. I'd fight bedtime like a rabid beast, but I'm no longer among those ranks. 

Call me a wuss if you want but I'll be vegging out soon. I dare y'all to join me.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Happy Birthday Ol' Hook ~ my column from Sunday's paper

One year ago this week, a bulldog appeared in our yard. He was thirsty and starved. I could see his ribs. He had mange, and the white hair left on him was full of fleas. My conscience would not let me drive him from our yard hungry. I checked with a few neighbors, but I knew the answer before I asked. A heartless person had abandoned the animal, hoping that he would starve, or that someone would put him down. It broke my heart. But the story doesn’t end there.
I took the dog to the vet with the intention of putting him down. The dog, not the vet. The vet looked him over and read out a long list of maladies. The worst things on the list were heartworms and the fact that he was deaf. Even without the benefit of hearing, the dog followed the conversation between the vet and me. The critter somehow knew his life depended upon the outcome. When I looked down into his sad eyes, I could not do it. Pulling the phone from my pocket, I called Jilda to let her weigh in on the decision. She said we didn’t need to go to the beach right now anyhow. I handed the vet my Visa card.
This pic is a rerun. Please forgive.
The vet tech stood nearby and stepped closer when the doc left the room. “You know, quirk dogs are the best ones,” she said. It turns out, she was right. He is a quirk dog, and he’s one of the best critters we’ve ever owned.
The treatment included a round of meds and surgery to neuter the mutt. When I picked him up afterward, he hopped up into the cab as if he’d been doing it forever. He then looked over at me as if to say, “Let’s go home, Daddy.”
It took a while for him to figure out where he fit in with the other two dogs, but it was much easier than I thought. It wasn’t long before his quirks began surfacing.
He went out with me one night to close the chicken pen gate. When I flipped on the flashlight, he ran around the yard barking and chasing the light beam. He will do it ‘till he drops. He also chases the shadows of butterflies.
He can’t hear me calling him, but when we’re walking, he responds to hand signals. The collie Calliou and the Yorkie Taz rarely come when I call unless I’m holding food.
His bed is in front of our great room windows. This position gives him an unobstructed view of the front of the house. When squirrels scamper down the trees to raid the bird feeders, he watches and quivers with rage. I can almost hear him thinking, “Daddy, those fuzzy critters have the gall to eat our bird seed! If you will open the door, I’ll put a stop to that.” Sometimes I do open the door for fun. He’s on top of those squirrels in a millisecond, but they are much too fast for him to catch one.
The other two dogs are terrified of fireworks and thunderstorms. Ol’ Hook sleeps through all of that.
A while back, a bounty hunter knocked on our door. We don’t get many visitors here, so I opened the door with caution. The guy stood well over 6 feet tall and had tattoos all over his arms and neck.
He was looking for someone I didn’t know. The bail jumper had left a nearby address. Ol’ Hook walked to the door and leaned against my leg as he evaluated the visitor. When the bounty hunter’s eyes fell on the dog, he involuntarily took a step back. “Is he mean?” he asked. I told him he could be if someone bothered my wife or me. “I can see that,” he said. He thanked me for my help and backed away toward his truck.
Since we have no idea how old Ol’ Hook is, we celebrate his birthday the first week of August. While I can’t comprehend why someone would abandon such a beautiful, loving creature, I am grateful he found his way to our yard.
Happy Birthday, Ol’ Hook.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

New figs

The lawnmower I bought four years ago is having major problems. It's underpowered for the amount of grass on our property. It will go see the lawnmower doc this week. I think I will need its appendix removed along with some steering bushings.

The grass on the adjoining property is almost knee deep. I may have to invest in a goat.

When we walked today, we waded through the grass and rounded the fig tree. It got a head start on spring, but a late frost bit it back. I was afraid it wouldn't have any figs this year, but I was wrong. As we walked by, I saw several figs the color of a bruise. I plucked one off an popped it into my mouth.
I LOVE fresh figs.

We picked about a quart and there will be more to pick later in the week. Jilda will toss some in our morning shake.

There are two more young fig bushes we planted beside the old one that's been there for years. Soon, we'll have figs-o-plenty.


Saturday, August 05, 2017

Welding goggles

Last night I mentioned my trouble in coming up with a topic for the blog. When that situation arises, I do goofy things. This process sometimes kicks dormant synapsis into creative action. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Last night I put on my dad's old welding goggles. It didn't work. My blog buddy Joe asked to see a picture of me wearing the goggles. This awakened one of my sleeping synapsis. The result follows.

My dad wore a hood when he did arc welding.  When he used an acetylene torch, he wore these goggles. For decades they've dangled on a hook in my home office. Every now and then, I'll pick them up and slip them over my head. The world is a much darker place when looking through them. The only things visible are surfaces that reflect the ambient light in the room. It's like one of those horror movies. 

The goggles give a different perspective on the familiar things around me.  I tried wearing them while I typed, that was an unproductive experiment. 

So, I usually just put them on for a few minutes and see if anything happens. The company where my dad worked, issued these goggles to him in the 1950s. He took care of his stuff. When he retired in the early 80s, his supervisor gave him his work gloves and these goggles.

Last night, I closed my eyes and held the elastic bands close to my nose. I wanted to see if a trace of him remained.  Either time had taken his scent away, or taken my ability to smell it.

Usually, the only thing that happens when I wear the goggles is that it makes me a little sad. My dad was not a yapper. When he said something, it carried weight. I didn't always listen, but I should have. 

When you're in your 30s, you can't imagine that you're parents won't always be with you. I wish I had been wiser then.  I had no idea cancer would take him so soon.  Now, all that's left are memories, old pictures,  and an old pair of welding goggles.



Friday, August 04, 2017

Inspiration on vacay

Some days it's a struggle coming up with a topic. I rifled through a box of souvenirs, read a book of quotes, and flipped back through old pictures. Nada. 

I sat gazing out my office window. I put on my dad's old welding goggles, and twisted the key on a tiny music box on my desk. I hadn't heard those tinkling tones in a long time. It didn't help, but I enjoyed those few moments of music.

So, I went back in my Google Photo archives to August of 2009 and picked a picture at random to post. And tonight, that's all I have. Maybe tomorrow inspiration will come back from vacay.


Thursday, August 03, 2017

Telling stories

I heard something today that made a great deal of sense to me. Stick with me on this one.

One of the folks in my program expressed an interest in grant writing. In a serendipitous fashion, shortly after my conversation with him,  I received an email from a local community foundation announcing an upcoming grant-writing-training session. I forwarded the email to the candidate that wanted to learn more about the skill.

He's an educated person, and he asked the training facilitator during the session, "What makes some grants successful and other grants fail? He said he got a very technical answer from the facilitator, which is what he expected. But an attendee at the training who actually approves grants for community projects or denies them gave him a more interesting answer. Fast forward to today.

Today we had a coaching session and I asked how the training went. He said it was a very good session and he learned a great deal about how to write grants.  He said he learned the nuts and bolts of the process, but the community rep gave him the most valuable advice.

The grant reviewer told him that any grant that expects to be approved have to answer the basic questions, but the grants that get approved not only answer the questions, but they must also tell a better story with their words.

I smiled when he told me that. I've known it for years, but it's always good to have validation. We as a species love stories. Some people can tell stories and some people give you the facts. 

The most valuable thing I've learned from blogging for over 10 years (every day) is how to tell a story. Sometimes my stories are lame. Sometimes they resonate. But it's doing it daily that helps develop the writer's voice. It's that voice that has the ability to tell stories. And that's what it's all about.

I know you are wondering when I'll get a fresh topic for my photos. Maybe tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Wednesday on the homefront

Ol' Hook jumped a rabbit on our afternoon walk and he was off. My first impulse was to call him back, but since he's deaf that would have been wasted wind.

We finished out walk and came back inside to cool down and hydrate. Normally, Ol' Hook comes back after he realizes he outrun his backup and hustles back to the gate. This evening, that didn't happen.

After about an hour, I was concerned. Jilda and I both slid on our shoes and headed back out. Our old bulldog Taylor went missing several years ago in August. The weather was brutal.  We called for hours and she did not return. After several days, I walked through the wood in the hollow beside the barn. I expected to find her body. I found her half buried. She'd chased a rabbit in a hole and tried to dig him out. She was still alive. I had to run home and get a shovel to dig her out. I took her to the vet, but they weren't sure she'd make it. Thankfully she did. But that's what I envisioned for Hook.

Thankfully, when we rounded the barn and started back up the road, we heard him running as fast as his legs would carry him. I guess he smelled our presence on the wind and decided it was time to head home. I scolded him, but it's hard to stay mad at this goofy dog.

On the way back, I saw some tall grass at the edge of our garden. The setting sun was highlighting the tips of the grass. Pulling the phone from my pocket, I snapped a few frames.  I'm not sure what I did before I got a phone with a camera.

I hope you've had a good Wednesday.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

What my eyes saw

It's been beautiful here again today. The morning was cool for summer here. I had another early-morning appointment so I was off before sunrise. Passing a mountain top cattle farm, I slowed and rolled my windows down. The road is not much more than a pig trail so there was no traffic in either direction.

Pulling to the side, I watched for a moment. I switched off the engine and looked at the cattle pond in the distance. The only sound was the wind and the lazy sound of a mooing cow. It sounds as if they don't have the energy to make a substantial sound.  They were making their way to the water for a morning drink.

I was afraid it was too dark to get a decent picture, but with a little adjustment it came out OK. The iPhone camera is good, but I don't know it well enough to adjust for exposure. With a DSLR camera, I can evaluate the light and make choices with exposure. By selecting the right aperture and shutter speed one can take perfect pictures without Photoshopping. But then I can't pocket my DSLR camera which weighs about 7 pounds when it has the telephoto lens attached. So you'll have to forgive my tweaking. This picture is close to what my eye saw.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Recovering

My lovely spouse had oral surgery today. The earliest appointment she could get was at 1:30 p.m. She could have a light breakfast, but nothing past 7 a.m. She was actually a much better sport about it than I was when I had work done back in December. I know for a fact that I go cranky.

It was on a front tooth. A crown with a post broke off clean about a month ago. Today they cut what remained of that baby and did a bone graft. You would not believe how much fun this procedure brings to the recipient.  

She was biting down on a wad of gauze. When she tried to talk, all I heard was mwa mwa mwa mwa. When I asked her to repeat, she said the same thing, only louder. I started shaking my head as if I understood her message and drove on toward the house. 

I'd cleared it with my boss to work from home today and tomorrow. I'll keep a close eye on her progress. She's in pain, but she already feeling a little better.

I normally post my column from Sunday's paper, but his week's column was about our friend Louis. It was totally different from the blog entry I wrote last Sunday but I thought I'd leave that subject alone.

A flower from our backyard bed

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Power problems

We run our bedroom box fan year round. The whirring sound of the blades creates a soothing noise that muffles the world outside our window. Before we learned the fan trick, we could hear barn owls, night birds, stray dogs, and the noise of late-night cars screaming past our house fast enough to break the sound barrier. You'd think a narrow dead end road would elicit more caution here in the sticks, but you'd be wrong.

Last night just after midnight, I sensed that the power had failed. The fan fell silent. I was thankful the weather had cooled down. Pulling the flashlight from the nightstand drawer, I eased out of bed and made my way into the office to call the power company. 

The power goes off fairly often out here. The reps write it off to antique wires and switches out here and future plans to upgrade the infrastructure. Typically, they wake a technician up and send him to a fuse located about 200 feet from my house. He resets the fuse and the fan springs to life along with the air conditioner.

Last night was no different. Less than an hour after my report, our power came back on. Then about five minutes later it went back off. This time it stayed off until daybreak.

Apparently, there was a live wire on the ground about a mile from our house, and when the technician engaged the fuses the first time, the live wire started a small fireworks show. This threw the fuses again. This time the tech call in some linemen to hang a new segment of wire.

The humidity was much lower today, and even though it was still warm, it felt good outside. 

On our morning walk, I snapped another picture of a butterfly. This one is a swallowtail. It seemed to be posing for me.

I hope you all have a great week.








Saturday, July 29, 2017

Take time to notice

One of the self-assignments from the book I'm currently reading is to notice things. Our minds are constantly bombarded throughout the day. If you own a smartphone, the problem is amplified tenfold.

An average brain just cannot process all the information coming at us. As a result, we filter. If new data is not something we're looking for (like a bathroom when we have to pee) then we often see it, but it doesn't interest one of the brain cells assigned to make us notice.  We simply let it drift by like a leaf on a fast-moving stream. If on the other hand, it says an oncoming car is on the wrong side of the road, this immediately engages the old "FIGHT OR FLIGHT"  reflex and you become quite interested in the new information. In fact, it may trigger a hygiene issue while you're trying to figure out how to deal with the new info.

This not noticing is your brain's way of dealing with excess input. There's a flower on the side of the road. I've seen a million of them. No eminent threat there, move on. Over in that field, is a 100-year-old barn. Your brain says, if you've seen one cow palace, you've seen them all.

On long drives, this brain processing is quite helpful. It keeps information from squirting out your ear when your head fills up.

But, this can also do you a disservice – especially if you're a writer. 

Today, on the way home from Mississippi, I saw a field with bales of hay.  I've seen a lot of hay, especially during the heyday of my travels (I couldn't resist.) But when I actually noticed the field and the way the light fell on the field, it was a photographic moment. The only reason it's not the picture for tonight's blog is that there was a log truck close enough to my rear bumper that I could read the serial number on his radiator. But I noticed it.

Further along was a fencerow. Barbed wire kept cattle from wandering into the country road. Many of the fences seen these days are held up by store-bought fence post all straight as Army cadets.  The barbed wire held as taut as a guitar string. But this morning we passed a fence strung during the last century. Many of the posts were ones cut from nearby saplings. About every fifth post was a railroad crosstie. This was the fence from my childhood. Buying a fence post would not have occurred to a farmer in those days. Noticing the fence today, triggered a stream of thought that would normally have drifted past me. I'm thankful I took the time to notice it.

Closer to home, I noticed a field I'd passed in early
August last year. I shot a picture of
a field of sunflowers and posted it.
But today as we passed, the field lay fallow, and I noticed it. 





Friday, July 28, 2017

World on fire

This summer remind me of the year I spent in the tropics while serving in the Army. It's hot at breakfast and once the sun rises above the trees, it squeezes the mercury toward the roof of the thermometer. Then after lunch, the dogs start acting squirrelly. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to know that thunderstorms are a'comin'.  

Then when the rain moves off to the south, the sun comes back out turning the world into a sauna. 

One day this week, the storms didn't move in until later in the day. As I walked out of yoga class at 8 p.m. the setting sun through storm clouds on the western horizon looked as if the world were on fire. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

All I have to give

I've been a road warrior this week. My work this week took me to the edge of Mississippi both yesterday and today.

After the meeting in Fayette, I had an appointment with my boss to upload quarterly reports. After lunch, when I parked and lugged my laptop inside, he told me the phone system and the Internet was down. Oh well. There would be no more productive work today, so I headed home.

Thankfully, I shot several pictures of our flowers yesterday.

Today, this is all I have to give.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tired fingers

I've spent most of the day today writing and my fingers are tired. My blog buddy Fran at  Fishducky
asked me to post the picture of Jordan and the gigantic watermelon I shot last Sunday. So below is the picture.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Zen ferns

Do you believe in Zen ferns?  I KNOW. It's a stretch but stay with me. Yesterday as Jilda and I were heading to yoga class, the setting sun lite up our fern and fountain. We were running late for the free class she teaches at the local community center. 

I took a second to take it all in. There are not many things more beautiful than scenes painted by evening light. 









Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts from the garden ~ my column from Sunday's paper

During the last few weeks after planting our garden, it looked manicured. The tomatoes had grown from small seedlings into bushy plants that required cages to keep them upright. Watching our garden grow is a favorite summer past time. It’s a simple joy that’s hard to describe to someone who’s never grown a garden. Most of the time there is no better stress reliever. But gardens are bounty or bust.

Several mornings toward the end of May, I’d walk down to the garden. Leaning against the fence with a steaming cup of coffee hooked to my finger, I’d sip while surveying our work. Closing my eyes, I could taste the bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich on toasted bread with mayo. A BLT in summer is like heaven on wheat bread.

One morning I noticed some of the top leaves of my heirloom tomato plant missing. Beneath the plant were tiny green balls of poop. After a few minutes, I found a hornworm as big as my index finger munching on my prized plant. The worm was enjoying an early morning meal of tender tomato leaves. His day went south. With my free hand, I plucked his squirming body from the vine. Squashing his head between my thumb and forefinger, I tossed the remains over the fence into the backyard. The chickens raced toward the tender green prize. The fastest pecked the worm up and was off to enjoy its special breakfast.

The peppers, squash, and tomatoes were doing great until the rain came. After weeks of showers, the plot was a mess. One day when stepping into the tilled soil, the mud sucked the shoes from my feet. I tried for a while to keep the garden maintained, but plants like people can’t survive with too much water. Weeds, on the other hand, seem to thrive in soggy soil. Soon the blossoms fell off the squash before forming fruit, and all our beautiful tomatoes started splitting open on the plant.

The dry days these past few weeks gave us hope that the garden would survive, but that looks doubtful. I’m thinking about plowing it under and planting another crop with bush beans, cucumbers, a few more tomatoes, and squash. The Farmer’s Almanac says that now is the time for late gardens.

Gardens for us is more of a hobby. The same was not true for our parents and grandparents who grew up during harder times. Gardens were essential. A bad year in their gardens meant bare pantries and less food on the table during the fall and winter.

I used to help my great-grandmother tend her garden when I was still in grammar school. She’d put on her sun bonnet in the mornings and wander through her garden picking what it offered up that day. By the time we finished gathering each morning, her straw baskets were brimming with vegetables. She’d be huffing and puffing from exertion by the time we carried it all into her kitchen. I asked her once why she worked so hard in her garden. Her answer was simple – “I like to eat.” That pretty well sums up why Jilda and I have a garden each year.

Ol' Hook supervising the new garden plot

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sad Sunday

We drove into Birmingham yesterday to visit our old friend Louis. He was one of Jilda's chair-buddies for the three years she underwent infusion treatments for her immune system condition. Our friendship with him is the best thing that came from the time she spent in those chairs.

I've written about him before. He attended our Thanksgiving dinner the last few years and our summer fish fries. 

The last six months his health has gone south. We went to see him yesterday in the nursing home, and he was unresponsive. He'd lost lots of weight. It broke our hearts seeing him that way. We sat for a while and held a one sided conversation. Then we said our goodbyes.

We decided to stop by the produce stand on the way home. We picked up several items including a watermelon that would have required its own zip code had it been a piece of land. The helper grunted when he picked the melon up and again when he hefted it into the car for us. 

My grunts were louder and accompanied by some foul language when I hauled it inside the house after arriving home. The things we do to enjoy fresh fruit – I thought to myself.

I awoke a few minutes later than usual this morning. Even if we stay up late, the dappled morning light seeping in around the shades forces my eyes open. I laid there a few minutes breathing deeply, taking an inventory of the morning aches and pains. Not bad I thought, so I slid out of bed and started the coffee maker gurgling.

We read two Sunday papers, as we sipped coffee and listened to cello music on the stereo. It was a good start to a Sunday.

After our walk, Jilda decided to cut the watermelon. We called our nephew Jordan over for a photo op. He loves watermelon, and this one almost outweighed him. We thought he'd make a good benchmark for gauging how big the melon was. The picture was a hoot.

As Jilda cut the melon, I sat at the table and observed. I felt the phone buzz in my pocket. Pulling it out, I saw that I had a new email.

Touching the screen, I saw the new missive was from Louis' friend James. His note said that Louis had died this morning. 

I waited until the kids had their watermelon and went back home before telling Jilda the news. Tears filled her eyes, and she said "I knew it would be today. I'm not sure how I knew, but I did." 

A while back before his health got so bad, Jilda talked to Louis every day. Before hanging up, she always said, "I love you, Louis." He responded, "I love you more." We will miss our friend.

RIP Louis.


Our niece Alesha, Jilda, Bert, and Louis during better times.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Remembering July in Telluride

I've been thinking about Telluride, Colorado this week. This afternoon while grilling veggies and Conecuh Sausages, the heat index was 100+.  Standing there as the aroma of eggplant, squash, and zucchini wafted over me, I realized the heat from the grill made it a little hotter.

I didn't have a picture for my blog tonight, so I was flipping back through photos of July's past. I stopped on pictures from July of 2010. Jilda and I spent the week of the Fourth of July in the mountains of Colorado.

My friend Wes and I went fly fishing. That was back when I was getting back into the sport, and I'd never had an opportunity to fish anywhere other than the river here at home. I loved that experience.

On the night of the 4th, we walked together to the city park to watch the fireworks show. As we stood there, it was chilly. I'd never been cold in July, except for the summer that I worked in the package store before starting the job with MaBell. I always volunteered to stock the coolers when the weather was hot outside...but I digress.

While standing there in Telluride waiting for the fireworks to start, snow began to fall. It only snowed briefly time, but it left a lasting impression on me. These days whenever the temps begin to rise in July, I remember the time Telluride when snowflakes fell on my face while watching fireworks on Fourth of July.



Friday, July 21, 2017

Monarch Morning

I know that it is theoretically possible for there to be a more beautiful creature than a butterfly, but I can't name one at the moment.

This morning after our early walk, I stopped at the garden (if you still call it that.) The rain and heat have made it almost impossible to keep it maintained. The heatwave over the last few days has dried out the soil and the tomatoes seem to be making a comeback, but weeds have taken over. It will take a great deal of early-morning work to get it back in shape. But I digress...

Before going through the backyard gate, I stopped for a moment to look at the Old Maid flowers. They are the old heirlooms that know how to survive wacky summers in Alabama. When it's hot and dry they thrive. When it's cooler and wet they thrive. They keep our house colorful till autumn.

Just as I turned to head inside for water, I noticed a monarch butterfly flitting between blossoms. I took this photo with my phone.

Even after sliding the camera back into my pocket I watched the butterfly dancing on the flower. The movement of their wings is almost hypnotic. It's almost a pulsing motion.

Turning to walk back inside, I thought to myself, there's not much better than a Monarch Morning.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Squash

I know a few weeks ago when I posted a picture of my great nephew Jordan with this plant that volunteered to come up in our backyard that I said it was a watermelon.

That post may have left you with the impression that it was, in fact, a watermelon growing in our backyard. But you would have been mistaken.  The bigger the plant got, the more it looked like the squash plants in our garden plot.

After Googling pictures of watermelon plants, this one looks nothing like them. I should have known that as I've grown watermelons in the past. I assumed that the plant was the result of Jordan and me eating watermelon on the backyard bench. Apparently, that was not the case.

I put a tomato cage around this plant when it was small to keep the chickens from scratching it up. With all the recent rain, the squash had a growth spurt and it's now grown through the top hoops of the tomato cage.

As you can see, the plant is blooming so it will not be long before I'll confirm that it is, in fact, a squash plant. If not, I will tell you that you were again mistaken :)

More to follow.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Red wasp saga

A few weeks ago I filled the tank of the tractor before bush hogging chores. My nephew came by later to help me work on one of the implements. He noticed that the gas cap was missing. Well crap, I thought. I hadn't tightened the cap, and it fell off while I was working. Stuffing a rag in the opening to keep out dust and critters, I made a note to pick up a new cap at the tractor place.

Today was an errand day. The tractor place is a good 30 miles from here, but my calendar was free, and it was a lovely day, so I drove. 

Stopping by the co op, I picked up some wild bird seed and egg cartons. We supply our family and friends with fresh eggs, and egg cartons are the last things that are returned.  

At the tractor place, I lusted after a new lawnmower. I'm pretty sure I drooled on the model I
looked at. 

When I got back home, I headed to the barn to put the new cap on the tractor tank.  Once I heard the satisfying click when I put the new one on, I turned to walk back to the house. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bird's nest on the workbench. Gingerly stepping over to have a look. I saw that the eggs had already hatched and the nest was empty. 

I made a mental note to show the nest to Jordan, who loves this kind of thing. My mind was elsewhere as I turned to head on when all of a sudden, I felt a stabbing pain on the back of my head. "DAMN RED WASPS,"  is what I said as I hurtled out of the barn. A second red wasp was in pursuit.  Snatching the ball cap from my head, I smacked that flying devil down and stomped him into the red clay of the barnyard. Other's were buzzing about looking for something to torment.

My head throbbed in the afternoon heat. After cooling off, I headed to the store for wasp spray. I was on a mission. At Walmart, I found a two for one sale on the spray, so I bought them both.

Once home, I headed down to the barn for a showdown. A stream of petrochemical based poison and the nest was history along with the offsprings that were throbbing inside the little nest cells.

I don't kill critters for the fun of it, but if one hurts my family or me, things will end badly for it. 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

On the road again

Today was all about asphalt. Sessions in Northwest Alabama had me on the road early. I stopped by the coffee house and got a mocha for the road. The drive was uneventful. It's not uncommon to see deer or wild turkey on stretches where there are no people in sight. But today it was just me, blue skies, pillow clouds, and the miles that lay ahead.

The last time I had a workshop up there, it rained so hard in places that visibility was not much further than the front bumper. But today I think I could have seen a gnat in the next county if I'd cleaned my glasses.

On the way home, I made sure there was no traffic behind me before snapping a few random pictures of the road ahead.  I'll let the picture describe conditions at that time.


Monday, July 17, 2017

AC or not AC

Electronic guts of my AC
On Mondays, Jilda leaves for work before I get home in the afternoon. When I arrived around 5 p.m. the house seemed warm. Our collie Caillou wears a coat thicker than a mink. He doesn't summer well.  He met me at the door panting. 
Placing my laptop and backpack on the bench by the door, I stepped into the hall to have a look at the thermometer. Had Jilda left the setting too high, I was going to fire off a
chiding text. She mindful of our critters, and rarely makes a mistake, but I checked.  The thermostat was set to 74 where we keep it during the day, but the temperature said 77.  Hmmmmmmmm?
I could feel the fan blowing away, but the house was too warm. When I stepped to the deck, my heart sank. The outside unit would normally be whirling away doing its magic. It wasn't. 

I went out and tried to jumpstart the fan by turning it with my screwdriver, but no go. Last summer, ants got into the unit which prevented the compactor from working properly. There were no ants. 

I noticed an electronic box next to the unit. It contained fuses as big around as my thumb. My thinking was that something might have caused one of these fuses to blow. 

I pulled one out and headed to the hardware store. In the mean time, I called my nephew who knows every craftsman worth knowing within 30 miles of where we live. The temps will be close to 100 tomorrow and I knew every AC tech in Alabama had packed schedules, but I sent my nephew a text. Less than 5 minutes later, my cell phone chirped. It was a local AC guy. He said he was slammed but he could come tomorrow and check our unit. When I told him I was on my way to get some replacement fuses, he said it was doubtful this could be the problem but was a good thing to check.

Once I arrived home, an evening thundershower was over the house. Sheets of rain poured off the metal roof. Unfortunately, the AC and the fuse box were in the drip line. 

In a moment, the new fuses were installed, and I was shaking rain off my head and hands. Stepping into the hall, I turned the unit back on and said a prayer to the AC gods. 

Nothing happened for over a minute. But then the unit kicked on. When I stepped to the back deck, the outside unit was purring like a Nordic kitten.  If there has ever been a happier human on this earth, I'd like to shake his/her hand.













Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mother Nature and the sweet gum tree

When we first built our house, the sweet gum tree in the backyard was more like a sapling. It leafed out early in spring and was one of the few shades in the yard. Jilda's folks had scraped the land flat when they moved their double wide trailer here in the late 70s. But the sweet gum somehow managed to survive.

The young sweet gum thrived and by the time we realized it, the tree was massive. The trunk measured better than two feet at the roots. 

One of the many storms that blow through here took the top of the sweet gum out and it fell on the back of the house. Luckily, it did no damage, but it became clear the tree had to come down.

We called a tree cutter. He and his team worked for most of the day. The last chore before they left was to rake up a few leaves and chainsaw chips.  

We asked him to leave the root up high enough to use as a table. We sat our BBQ grill close by and we used to stump to hang the grill brush and as a place to set our wine glasses while we cooked.

For years it looked as though it would last forever. Then I began to see signs of decay. The bark peeled off in sheets and underneath were tiny worms, ants, and bugs I couldn't name gnawing away.

This past year the pace of decay increased and now I think I could push it over with the tractor. 

Today as I cut grass and did some weed eating, I saw mushrooms attached around the bottom. Pulling the phone from my pocket, I snapped a picture or two. These weren't colorful mushrooms like the ones I photographed last week, but they are still beautiful in an earthy way.

Mother Nature is methodical in her approach to reclaiming all things back to their basic form. Humans have only walked the face of this planet a short time. If the scientists are right, our days here are limited. Some people scoff and it's not my intention to start a political debate about science, but if they are right, I wonder how long it would take Mother Nature to make mushrooms of us all.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Something new to read

I started a new book this morning. The author is Verlyn Klinkenborg. I'd just finished his book A Rural Life and it blew me away. He's a columnist for the New York Times and he writes about rural life on his farm.

Each day when I sit down at the keyboard, I try to find fresh ways of describing unexceptional things. It's not easy and I often miss the mark. But sometimes when the word gods smile upon me, I get close.

Often, I try to say too much in my sentences. This sometimes makes the meaning unclear. The book I just started is entitled A Few Short Sentences About Writing "puts the hay down where the goats can get at it" to use a tired old saying.

Jilda recently finished the book and she said it changed her approach to writing. It's too early for me to make that claim. I will give a report once I finish.

I hope this Saturday has been kind to you.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Another face

We walked early this morning. Heat builds quickly up as the sun gets higher. If a walk is in the cards, it's best to do it early. 

The dogs were exhilarated.  They always are. Barking, nipping, and running in circles with a kind of joy I knew as a kid. A morning walk to them is like free tickets to the county fair was for me when I was 12. 

Once we started, Jilda told me that a dead tree had broken apart and fallen onto the barn road. I hadn't walked yesterday, but she discovered it on her morning walk.

We rounded the barn and headed up our barn road toward our mailbox which is on the main road. In summer, the barn road is like a tunnel through low-hanging oak and hickory trees. Midway on the road, I came across pieces of a dead tree lying like pick-up sticks. 

After tossing all the large pieces to the edge, I found one piece of rotted wood with a knot hole. Some kind of lichen grew around the edges. I know I do this constantly, but I found a face in this rotted limb. Tell me you do see the face of a dog here.



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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ebb

It's been an ebb and flow week, but it seems I've done more ebbing that flowing. My energy level is lower than normal. That happens from time to time.

My niece took my older sister to the emergency room Sunday evening, and it took the medical staff a while to isolate the problem. She had surgery this morning and she's recovering now. That is a weight lifted.

I did upgrade my phone today. The picture below is the first one I shot with the new one.

We plan to sleep in tomorrow. That means we won't get up until 6 a.m. instead of five-ish.  So expect some major Friday flowing.




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