Thursday, April 27, 2017

Yellow Yarrow

Jilda and I walked on our new property yesterday. Part of the land is as tended as a golf course. Just beyond the field, is a stand of old growth oak and hickory. Near the edge of the field was the remains of an old stump. The tree that once stood there was a casualty of a spring storm about 10 years ago. Our small community lost hundreds of stately trees in that storm.

The man who owned our new property back then had the trees cut in small sections to burn in his fireplace. The woodpile behind his house grew to mountainous proportions.

Now, all that's left where the trees once stood are little mounds of loam. The roots and the stumps were reclaimed by Mother Earth. The soil is a perfect place for wildflowers.

Yesterday as we walked we came upon a small patch of yellow yarrow. I stopped and leaned in close to smell of the blossom but with a steady wind out of the northeast, I couldn't catch an aroma.

The property looks more beautiful than when we first bought it. The only change is, we paid the last payment on the property in March.

In the scheme of things, do we really "own" anything? We may take possession for awhile, but when viewed through the eternal lens, our lifespan is but a blink of the eye. Still, it's comforting to know that for a while, we can call this little place our own.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sun bathing

I was off from work at the college today, but I always write my column for Sunday on Wednesday. Jilda teaches one class for the staff at the rehab center. She has to be there at 7 a.m.  

Shortly after coffee, she heads into work and I head to the screen porch to write. Today's column came easy. I'd been thinking about our old friend Louis who is struggling to hold on right now. The column wrote itself.

Jilda and I'd bought more tomatoes, herbs, flower seed, and other goodies to plant. Rain is supposed to move in tonight so we wanted to get everything planted.

When she got home, we donned work clothes and got at it. By mid-morning, the sun was high but there was a steady breeze out of the northwest that kept things perfect for garden work.

When we finished up, and I was rolling up the hosepipe, I looked inside the fence and saw Ol' Hook sunbathing. You can tell by the picture how hyper this dog is. He's totally deaf, but his eyesight is like lazervision.  

Today while we worked in the garden, he chased a butterfly shadow until he dropped. I guess he figured that time was right to roll over on his back and get a little sun on his tummy.

He is a comical dog.




Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Friendy forecast

I knew the day would be a good one even before it began. I'd just come back inside the house after feeding the chickens and prepared myself a bowl of Nature's Harvest cereal. 

Pouring the honey and milk onto my bowl, I started to sit down to eat. Just then, something caught my eye. Up near the northern rim of my bowl was a sliver of almond in the shape of a heart.  Is that a sign or what?

Not everyone looks for clues in their cereal bowl to get a feel for the day's forecast. Partly cloudy with a dash of drama? Add a little angst and handwringing on the side and you have a something to grind your teeth about.

Seeing that almond heart at breakfast told me today would be blue skies, friendly smiles, and a get out of the doldrums free card.

I hope your day was a good one too.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Universal Truths ~ my column from Sunday's paper

One of the most profound things I’ve discovered stumbling through life is that there are Universal Truths. These truths are things that any unbiased witness would affirm. What follows is my short list of Universal Truths that I’ve observed.

Education does not make you smart, and the lack of education does not make you stupid.

I’ve met highly educated people who could recite verses from ancient texts. They could argue about virtue, ethics, politics and religious theology. But they found simple life skills baffling. I’ve also known people who never finished grammar school analyze a complex problem and come up with an easy solution.

Attitude is everything.

My work at the college has me working with local employers. In my discussions with the people making hiring decisions, they often say when given a choice between two people, they would hire the one with a good attitude even if their skills aren’t quite as good as the other candidate. I’ve worked with talented people with rotten attitudes. Poor attitudes are toxic on groups that work (or play) together.

Silence is sometimes the best path but not always.

Abraham Lincoln said something profound on this topic: It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. But there are times when silence is not an option. Realizing which path to take requires wisdom.

Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.

Henry Ford contributed this universal truth. In my opinion, that thought is more valuable and important than his contribution to the manufacturing process at Ford Motor Company.

Each day I hear people say, “I could never do that.” It’s their first line of defense against almost any idea. When asked why they do not feel up to the task, they come up with a litany of lame excuses why something would not work. Sometimes rather than challenging them, I’ll say, “Then it must be true that you can’t.”

The road is long.

One of my favorite Aesop’s Fables is the Tortoise and the Hare. That childhood story is a profound truth. Life is not a hundred-yard dash. There will always be people faster, smarter, have more money, and better looking. History is filled with stories of people who came from nothing and over time became giants. Of course, the opposite is also true. The grandchildren of Cornelius Vanderbilt squandered an estimated $200 billion on big homes, fine cars and expensive wine. I guess they were all educated, but as I mentioned in my first universal truth above, education does not make you smart.

Procrastination is a thief.

I’ve learned this truth the hard way. Life is full of unpleasant tasks. These things can be ignored, but neglect will not make them go away. They hang around like lint on a black sweater. You can put these tasks on the back burner for a while, but they remain there festering like a splinter in your finger.

My wife Jilda had a ding in her windshield. For months I kept saying, I need to call and have that repaired. Had I not procrastinated, the insurance company would have sent a repairman and fixed the ding at no cost. But last week, a crack began spreading, and it didn’t stop until it reached the rubber seal. I called the insurance company and scheduled the repair. It took a half day of my life. Procrastination stole money from my wallet and time from my life. And that’s the truth.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

A grand weekend

There's been a change in the weather. Last week the mercury lounged in the low 90, but yesterday the rain moved in. As were drove an hour northward last night for our performance in the northern part of the state, the wind rocked the car as we drove on the Interstate.

We unloaded our guitars just as the rain began to fall. By showtime,  water rolled off the awnings outside in sheets. The people who braved the weather darted under the covered sidewalk and stomped water from their shoes. Once inside, the headed straight for the barista for a fix of hot coffee before the show began.

The crowd last night wasn't that big but we played as if we were playing for a stadium full of people.
It was a fun gig and we made new friends as well as howdy up with old ones.

The temps dropped all through the night and by this morning it was in the low 60s and did not reach much higher today.

When we walked after lunch, took a moment to snap a few pictures of the flowers blooming by the mailbox.

These flowers are beautiful now, but as the summer wears on, they get as gangly as a teenager with raging hormones. They are also invasive. A small patch here will turn into an acre of them if left unchecked.

After the blossoms fall off, I'll smite the with a weedeater.

Tonight, I plan to retire after I post this blog and make a nice cup of herbal tea. 

I hope this has been a good weekend for you. It's been a grand one for us.



Saturday, April 22, 2017

Built to last

A few days ago I posted a note about our air conditioner and that it seems the newer things weren't built. One of my blog buddies termed it "Planned obsolesce."  I thought to myself, that's a perfect description to some of the things manufactured today.

On the other hand, some things were built to last. For example, the old Ford Tractor pictured below belonged to my father-in-law. He bought it in the early 80s. Even then it was an antique.  The old workhorse was built just after World War II in 1949.

With a fresh battery, a tank of gas, a little air in the tires, and a squirt of starter fluid in the carburetor, to have this baby fired up and ready to roll. It doesn't have all the new fangled gadgets that today's tractors have, but it has a bush hog, a cultivator, and a turning plow.

Our nephew leaves his tractor parked in our barn so I haven't had to use the old tractor in years, but today as I walked, I saw it sitting patiently in the barn awaiting my call to duty.

What would the world be like today, it things were built to last?


Friday, April 21, 2017

Feet don't fail me

I've never given much thought to feet and knees. When I was younger and long before bicycles, cars, trains and airplanes they were my mode of transportation. 

After I was drafted, the Army took feet seriously. I read in one of the manuals that a soldier could be court-martialed for neglecting his feet. Apparently, they knew something I didn't understand – which was that your feet and knees are important.

One of my duties while in the Army in Panama was walking through swamps in the jungle to ensure thieves didn't dig up the communication cables, cut them into small lengths, and sell them for the copper. Apparently copper brought a big price even then.

So three days a week, I caught a train that wound through the jungle next to the canal, and I got off in no-mans land. I then had to walk what seemed like 20 miles to ensure there was no one out there digging up cable.

The duty didn't bother me because I loved the outdoors. During my walks, I saw exotic birds, monkeys, and gator sized Iguanas. 

During those walks, my feet got wet and stayed wet for hours until I reached the end of my tour. Once I got on the train and headed for home, I always pulled my boots off. The Panamanian passengers gave me a lot of room. I didn't think my feet stank, but I'm sure they did. Rather that be a rude American soldier, I made my way to the platform on the back of the train, removed my boots, and dangled my feet off the back.  By the time I made it to my station, my boots and feet were dry. 

I did get some kind of fungus and ridding my feet of that was not easy.

This is probably way more information that you needed on this Friday night, but I have a point I promise.

A few years ago, my knees began to give me problems. They are OK most of the time, but when I spend too much time on concrete, they hurt. So these days, I finally understand what Uncle Sam was saying back in 1971. Take care of your feet and legs.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Diversity Day

The college celebrated Diversity Day today. The coordinator asked me last week if I'd consider manning the Non-Traditional student booth. When I asked what non-traditional meant, she cleared her throat and said "older students."

Now there was something I could wrap my head around. This picture doesn't show it but I decorated my booth like a front porch. There's a rocking chair just to the right, I have a wooden screen behind me, and a bucket of candy in a blue speckled roasting pan. I covered the quilt with a quilt. All the things decorating my booth were antiques. The rocking chair was over a hundred years old. The cooker was probably that old as well. We've had the quilt forever, and of course, I'm 66 :)

My pitch for visitors is that just because we're older (non-traditional) students doesn't mean we plan to spend our lives on the front porch. We're going back to school, learning new things, and getting great jobs.

It was fun spending lunch hour out in the fresh air in the college courtyard. It did get toasty toward the end but I passed out a ton of posters, notebooks, and candy.

Maybe we'll get a few older students come into the program. Who knows.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Water problems

Last night I heard the sound of water dripping. I opened my eyes and listened. Hoping the sound was dream related, I opened my eyes and focused on the dark ceiling of the bedroom as if the focus would improve my hearing. A moment later, I heard the sound again.

Slipping out of bed, I heading the closet where the inside part of the AC is housed and opened the door. Water was pouring from the bottom of the unit. OH CRAP! Grabbing beach towels from the laundry room I threw them down onto the closet floor to keep the water from spreading.

After a few moments diagnosing, I realized the drain pipe on the unit had stopped up and the excess water overflowed.

I clicked the AC off and made a mental note to check it in the a.m.

After I wrote my weekly column, I put on my work clothes and went to work. After a few hours, I'd unstopped the drain and serviced the unit. I'm hoping it will last a few more years. But it will celebrate its 15th birthday this summer. I'm not sure what the life expectancy is, but today's components don't seem to last as long as the ones built back in the day.

On my walked this evening, I snapped a photo of some yellow wildflowers that are growing by the path. Jilda beat me to the punch and posted a similar picture earlier in the week but this one will have to do for today.

Hope you all have a great Thursday.




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Survivor

We thought our old apple tree had given up the ghost after the drought last summer and fall. Normally, it blooms early. Sometimes during the first week or so of March. But this year, the skeleton of branches stood in contrast against the trees around it.

The last few days have been in the upper 80s and low 90s and as I stood sipping coffee and gazing through the garden door this morning, I saw some white at the top and on the tips of the lower limbs.

This evening when I stepped down after work, I saw that the blossoms sprang out almost overnight.

I pulled the camera from my pocket and snapped a few frames. The sun had dipped behind the horizon and the light was waning, but there was enough ambient light to have a decent picture.

I thought as I walked back toward the house, that tree is a survivor. And it makes me happy that it decided to stick around at least another year.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Fleeting beauty of life ~ my column from Sunday's paper

This is what I believe: No matter how long we live, life is short. This idea of impermanence has been on my mind lately.

Last weekend, Jilda and I went to the Birmingham Art Museum to watch a Buddhist monk work on a sand mandala. This sand mandala comes to life when the monk pours colored sand on a piece of board. It is temporary art. The piece takes two weeks to complete, and the result is beautiful. Once finished, the monk sweeps it away.

I’m not a Buddhist, but I’ve read about it. Impermanence is one of the three marks of existence for Buddhists. The older I get, the more I realize just how impermanent life is. Nothing here on earth lasts forever. Well, the only exception is when one misbehaves in grammar school. That information, as we all know, goes on your permanent record.

Last Saturday, Jilda called our niece, Samantha, to see if she and her son, Jordan, would like to go to the art museum and see the monk in action. Afterward, we told them we’d go to Niki’s. That was the hook because Niki’s is one of their favorite places to eat in Birmingham. They were excited.

We left at 10 a.m. and drove into town. After walking through several of the exhibits, the monk came in to continue work on the mandala.  At 11:30 a.m. the monk planned a meditation. Anyone interested in taking part was welcome to join in the exercise. The meditation was for anyone regardless of religious beliefs. Jordan came to the museum to explore and wasn’t excited about sitting around silently with people he didn’t know. He and his mom headed off to the kid’s area where he could explore and do creative things. Jilda and I did the meditation. There were about 30 others there as well. It was a peaceful experience.

Afterward, we had a chance to get a close look at the piece of art the monk was making. It was a thought-provoking piece of temporary art. It was a good day for us all.

Fast forward to this morning. Jilda smiled as she walked through the door after fetching the mail. She said, “the John Rose is blooming.” The news made me smile too. I think Jilda’s grandmother called these climbing roses The Seven Sisters.

Jilda named ours the John Rose because it was a gift from our good friend John Elliott around 1990. We think of him often, but especially at this time of year. He died not long after he gave us the rose cutting. He had a rare form of aggressive cancer and died during the blizzard of 1993. He left us too soon, but his passing reminds us that life is short. Impermanent.

When Jilda and I were younger, we got with our circle of friends almost every weekend. We had parties at the drop of a hat.

Someone would say, we can do it at our house, and everything came together organically. Someone would bring the meat, someone else brought the buns, everyone brought cold beer, and at the end of the day, we all went home smiling.

These days, it seems the only time we all get together is at funerals. I would like to change that because life is impermanent — all we have is this moment. The old saying, “Live each day as if it were your last,” is a wise approach to life.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter fun

Today was stunning. With temps in the low 80s, blue skies, and cotton clouds that looked low enough to touch, it was perfect for family gatherings.

We lunched with Jilda's sister, then ran by my sister's house to howdy up with her family before heading home for more kinfolk fun.

We grilled brats and dogs. Jilda made sweet tea and lemonade. The kids played soccer in the field while the adults watched from the porch.

I hope your Easter was as much fun.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Garden lesson

We headed out to Lowe's after coffee this morning. We needed soil, peat moss, and flowers. While there, we picked up some tomatoes and peppers.

We have family coming over tomorrow afternoon, so we had things to pick up at the grocery store. By the time we got back home, the sun was hot and we decided to wait until evening to plant. We had other work to do around the house.

This evening, we call my niece Samantha and her son Jordan. He always loves helping do any kind of planting.

Jilda read about a great way to plant tomatoes in the Farmer's Almanac.  The process involved digging holes and planting the plants much deeper than we normally do. The almanac said if they were planted deeper, they would withstand longer stretches without rain. That sounded like a plan.

Jordan wanted to try his hand at digging the holes. Pulling out the post hole diggers, I handed them to him. It took a while for him to figure out how to operate the diggers, but after a few tries, he had the hang of it. He doesn't realize it, but he will wake up with sore arms tomorrow. Post hole diggers use muscles that one doesn't normally use.

We had our flowers, tomatoes, and peppers planted before sunset. It's been a good day.

Happy Easter.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Angry Tool

The new weedeater is a beast. The past few years, I've worn out a hundred dollars worth of chainsaw blades cutting privets. I worked for hours clearing a few feet of those insidious bushes. By the time I finished cutting at the end of the day, the chainsaw was as dull as a butter knife, and I swear I could see the privets springing back up and growing before my eyes.

I kept saying I needed a weedeater with a saw blade. I've been saving my mad money that I earn with my newspaper columns and selling books. This past Wednesday I drove to the place where they sell the good tools. Not the consumer brand that's disposable after a few years, but the good ones that last.

I cranked it Wednesday and cut a few small bushes around the barn. The new weedeater made short work of it.

Today, before the temps reached into the 90s, I cut privets that sprang up next to our walking path. It barely grunts when cutting underbrush that's about an inch in diameter.  I tried it on some sweetgum trees by the path. A few of these were as big around as my forearm and the weedeater blade whacked them down easily.

Keeping privets under control just got a little easier.

Happy Good Friday.


I have my angry tool face on.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Riverbliss

After work today I ran by the Forks to get the fishing report. People were catching a few crappie, and a skipjack or two but none of the hybrid bass that comes up river toward the headwaters to spawn. There's something about the Forks where the muddy Mulberry meets the Black Warrior that draws those big fish like moths to a streetlight. People have caught monsters standing on the banks here.

Today, there were lines in the water, but it wasn't the lure of catching a fish that attracted the fishermen – it was a chance to sit in the springtime sun filled with riverbliss (don't try looking it up because it's not really a word – I just made it up.) But if you ever spent a few minutes here you would know what it feels like.

I snapped a few pictures (my way of fishing) and stood for a while letting the riverbliss seep deep into my bones.

As I stepped back into my truck, I felt a little taller.




Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Young magnolia

Each day is greener here. Spring seemed a little hesitant at first, but now I see changes if the flora and fauna each day.

After the bushwhacker guy worked here last month, I noticed that he'd left a small tree just across our fence. When I looked more closely I realized it was a magnolia. We've never had a magnolia on our property. The closest magnolia to us is almost a mile away and I can't imagine how it got here. And yet, there it is. He also left a redbud that I had no idea was there. Both the trees were hidden in a prison of privets.

We walked earlier this morning because the weather forecast said the day would be warm...into the low 80s.  It's not steamy here yet, but it won't be long before we'll be able to bake biscuits in the glovebox of my truck.

As we walked, I stepped over and shot a picture of the redbuds beside our creative space. The pine cone in the picture was one that fell from a nearby pine and became tangled in the redbud branches.

I used my mad money that I make from my newspaper columns and selling books to buy a new weedeater today. Not only does it have its way with weeds, but when I attach a small saw blade, I can cut timber :) More to follow about this angry tool.




Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The luv guv

Today, Alabama has a new female governor. The man who was elected fell off the fidelity wagon. He might have survived the affair, but he did a lot of things he shouldn't have done trying to cover the whole thing up.

While still married to his wife of many years, he'd given her his state iPad. He didn't realize that the iPad was on the same account as his state iPhone. When he began the affair with one of his young (married) female aids, he began sending his new amore texts. Each time he sent or received a text to or from his new girlfriend, his wife got a copy on her iPad. Things went downhill from there. 

He pleaded guilty to some misdemeanor charges in a deal where the state dropped felony charges in return for his resignation. 

It's a sad day for our state. I didn't vote for the man and I hope his replacement will get the state back on track and do what's right for the people who live here. 







Monday, April 10, 2017

The love of coffee ~ my column from Sunday's paper

I’m “procaffeinating” this morning. That’s the tendency to put off doing anything until I’ve had coffee. It’s an affliction that began early and I’ve struggled with it all my life.

The blame rests on the shoulders of my mother. We lived in the old house in Sloss Hollow when I was in grammar school and my older brother and sister were in high school.

My mom rose early and cooked breakfast for my dad, who left for work around 5:30 a.m. But the first order of business each morning was putting on the coffee. She was a little scary until she had her coffee.

After she got him off to work, she made another pot and had a few moments of peace to herself before she had to get us ready for school. During those moments, she sat at our old Formica kitchen table sipping her steaming cup of coffee.

I loved the smell of her coffee, so one morning I asked if I could have some. She thought for a moment and then poured a little coffee in a cup, put in milk with a spoonful of sugar and pushed it across the table to me. It was love at first sip.

Thankfully, my wife Jilda is also a coffee connoisseur too. I’m not sure I could have gone through with our wedding had she not been into coffee.

For years, we had a membership with Gevalia Coffee. Every month we received a new shipment. Coffee from Brazil has a different flavor than coffee from Africa.

One of our favorite kinds was Sumatra coffee from Indonesia. During the holidays, Gevalia shipped us flavored coffee, which was a treat. Hazelnut Mocha was one of our favorites, but there is no substitute for the “REAL THANG.”

Some of our favorite venues where we perform our music are coffee houses. Without exception, coffee houses are the best places to play. The people there tend to be ones who embrace new tastes, not only in coffee but in music.

We normally spend the money we make performing on bags of coffee for our stash at home. Music for the nectar of life seems like a fair trade for us. Our motto is: “Will Play For Coffee.”

Coffee first appeared on the African continent in Ethiopia during the 11th century. It quickly spread to Yemen, Istanbul and other countries in that region. The coffee flower smells like jasmine according to Wikipedia, and they called coffee beans, “The Magic Fruit.” I get that.

When either Jilda or I have a doctor’s appointment that requires fasting, it’s the lack of coffee that is problematic. Both of us are easy going people but encounters with us are risky on coffeeless mornings. (Is that a word?)

This morning, I sat tapping the keys trying to think of a topic for this column. I could hear our coffee maker gurgling in the kitchen. When Jilda asked if I’d decided on a topic yet, I shook my head.

She said, “You’re procaffeinating!” The coffeemaker beeped indicating that my morning fix was ready. I smiled, not only because I was about to enjoy that first taste of coffee, but also, I knew what my column would be about this week.

NOTE: I will be signing books at Jasper Mall today from 2 until 4 p.m. Y’all come by, say hello and bring me a cup of coffee if you don’t mind.


Sunday, April 09, 2017

No other place

The book signing I mentioned earlier in the week at the Library was canceled. A problem arose
that couldn't be resolved prior to the event so they decided to cancel.

I'd been advertising the event on my social media, and had people who planned to attend.

Calling the local mall, I asked if it would be possible to sign books there. The mall manager said she would love for me to come and sign books.

I mentioned the change of venue on my Facebook page and wrote about the change at the end of my column that ran in today's paper.

Neither Jilda nor I had high expectations but we said we'd do it and we did. As it turns out, it was one of the best events I've had in several years. We saw old friends we haven't seen in a long time and met some new friends.

Life is funny like that. I could have gotten all foldy-army about the problem at the library, but those folks do a great job...sometimes Life Happens.

Instead, we decided to go out and mall watch. If we managed to sell a book, that would be icing on the cake.

Today, we had an opportunity to do both. The local community access TV channel showed up with a film crew and did an interview for an upcoming program of People and Places. I love small towns. On the way home afterward, I thought to myself, "There's no other place I would rather have been."



Saturday, April 08, 2017

Impermanence

We saw in the paper this week that a Buddist Monk would be doing a sand mandala at the Birmingham Art Museum.

The sand mandala is temporary art. It takes two weeks to create the intricate design with colored sand. The end result is beautiful. Once complete, it is immediately swept away. I'm not a Buddist, but I've read up on most religions and one of the marks of existence is impermanence. Nothing here on earth lasts forever. Well, the only exception is the memory of when one poots in yoga class, but nothing else lasts.

So, yesterday we called the kids and asked if they'd like to go to the Art Museum and see the Monk in action. Afterward, we told them we'd go to Niki's. That was the hook because Niki's is one of the best places in Birmingham to eat. They were in.

So we left at 10 and drove into Birmingham. After walking through a number of the exhibits, the Monk came in to work on the mandala.  At 11:30 he did a meditation and anyone there who wanted to participate was welcome.

The kids weren't up for it, but Jordan wanted to visit the kid's area where there are tons of activities that allows them to do creative things.

Jilda and I did the meditation. There were about 30 others there as well. It was a peaceful experience.
All in all, it's been a great day.


  

Friday, April 07, 2017

Best gift ever

I was in the field this evening before dark, mowing. Jilda stepped to the back garden gate and waved me in.

Coasting under the pear tree, I cut the engine. The engine ticked as I slipped off my gloves and dust mask. "Jordan brought us a gift," she said.

When I came into the yard, Jordan was on the porch and he had something in his hands. As I got closer all I could see was the smile on his face.

Once on the porch, I got a good look at what he was holding. It was a solar powered, bicycle light. Yard Art. I love Yard Art. He had to demonstrate that the light on the front of the bicycle worked and was powered by a tiny solar cell under the seat. The wheels were windcatchers.

It seems he was with his Nana shopping this afternoon and saw the Yard Art and wanted to buy it for us. He knows we buy him things all the time and he wanted to give us something.

The gesture actually put a lump in my throat. Jilda and I both told him it was the BEST GIFT EVER!"

I snapped a picture of him demonstrating how it works.


Thursday, April 06, 2017

More clouds

The sky today was remarkable. It seems that's always the case after a storm. All the pollen that invaded my nose at every breath and painted my black truck yellow washed away in the rain or blew off to the east.

By mid-morning, the storm clouds moved out leaving a sky almost blue enough to see the stars beyond. 

I ran around this evening putting up posters for our workshop next week. At one point, I decided to snap a picture. I didn't see any faces in these clouds, but I like it anyhow.

It's my intention to take pictures of something besides clouds for the next few weeks.


Wednesday, April 05, 2017

A face in the cloud

The weathermen were antsy last night. They pointed to big masses of cold and warm air that I could not see. I'm not certain they seem them either, but the computers did and it made the silicon inside them twist and shout.

The Governor declared a state of emergency for today. This was enough to close schools in advance of the weather threat.

As it turns out, we barely got a shower here but up in the heavens, you could hear the angry wind gods roar. Friends to the south and east weren't so lucky. I'm hoping no one lost their life.

This evening, the dogs were careening off the walls. They wanted to walk and made sure everyone knew it. When Jilda opened the gate, all three dogs darted in different directions.

After a few laps, we headed inside so that she could finish the chicken and rice we were having for supper. I sat out on the deck and watched the clouds. The wind out of the southwest felt good on my face. I snapped a few pictures but they were unimpressive.

When I sat down to write my blog, I took another look to see if there was a picture that might work. That's when I saw it. It was a face in the clouds. A man with a beard looking off to the east.

It's interesting what you can see in the clouds. When I was a kid, we made a game out of cloud images.

Below is the picture I first saw. The smaller picture is the face cropped from the larger picture.





Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Library event

The local library invited me to participate in an event this coming Sunday to help kick off National
Library Week. I will be one of several authors "meeting and greeting" those who attend.

I did one of these a few years ago and it was a good experience. Not only did I have a chance to meet readers, but I also sold a few books.

The event also gives me a chance to meet new local authors. I often buy more books than I sell.

I happen to be one of those people who believe that one cannot own too many books.

Jilda is going with me so we should have pictures to show.

If any of you live in the path of the severe weather predicted tomorrow, keep your eyes to the sky.



Monday, April 03, 2017

Fake News tips

When I was in grammar school, I got the Weekly Reader. It was a kid’s newspaper that we received at school. I loved the Weekly Reader because the editor chocked it full of facts. There were articles about space, history, geography, and other interesting facts. It was news I could use.
My grandmother Willie Watson also got weekly newspapers. Her papers were the National Inquirer and Weekly World News. A headline that stuck with me through the years was, “Legless Boy summersaults two miles to save dad.” Even though she read it religiously, she knew it was fake news.
It’s part of human nature to look for horrific news. Misfortune and the societal underbelly draw the reader’s attention. Bad news sells. A newspaper or magazine can have headlines for 10 inspirational
stories on the front page with one scandal. Most of us will read about the scandal first.
You can also observe this behavior in drivers when they pass a bad wreck on the highway. Drivers instinctively slow down — not to be safe, but to have a look at the carnage.
These days it’s hard to get on Facebook without seeing questionable news. When you scan the comments, you see that everyone’s undies are in a wad.
I saw a news article that accused Matt Lauer and the Today’s Show of deleting the word Christ from an interview with the widow of a Navy Seal. Christians were appalled and rightly so, had the story been true. But it wasn’t. It was fake news, and it spread like wildfire on Facebook. Following each share were threads of comments from outraged readers.
Trying to let someone know that what they are posting is untrue is risky. I’ve had people turn on me and say that they didn’t care whether it was true or not. Fake news and alternative facts reached a new level since the presidential election. I’ve seen fake news coming from both camps.
Back when Walter Cronkite was on CBS Evening News, there was no question about a story being true. If Walter said it, you could take it to the bank. That’s not the case these days. Both conservatives and liberals have news sources they trust. I usually like to read news from the British Broadcasting Corporation. I’ve found them to cover stories fairly. I don’t always like what they are saying but I’ve found they are a reliable source for news.
I developed a method to help me navigate Facebook and online news.
Rick’s Rules
• If a news item comes across my Facebook timeline and it galls me...I mean pushes ALL my buttons, there is a better than even chance it's a lie.
• If I see one of these stories and want to share my outrage with my friends, I ALWAYS look on a fact checker site to see if it's true or false. There are several sites where I can verify stories.
• If it's FALSE I don't share it no matter how badly I want it to. Just because a story fits with my point of view, it doesn't make it true.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

The first step

We had nothing on our schedules today. We decided to use this Sunday to "Git R Done".  I had a mountain of debris since early summer last year. Once the drought hit and the burn ban issued, we could do nothing except add to the pile. And it grew.

Earlier this week, we had a crew come with an angry machine that made small work of the wall of privets that sprang from nowhere (or so it seemed.)

This evening, I feel like I've been "rode hard, spurred deep, and put up wet," but the place is finally looking much better. The road is long and there's still a lot of work to be done. But every journey begins with a single step, as the old saying goes. Today, we took the first step.



Saturday, April 01, 2017

Clever gift wrapping

Jilda and I drove a few hours north this evening to attend a wedding shower for the daughter of our good friends Wes and Deidra Laird.

The event was at a home on Lake Guntersville. We arrived and said our hellos as the sun went down. Stepping out to the deck, I shot a few pictures of the evening light on the water.

The gift we took was bath and hand towels. Jilda tried to figure out how to wrap them but they package looked wonky and we didn't have a box big enough. She never has a wrapping emergency because she can always think of something clever.

She anticipated the problem and picked up an old fashioned foot tub. Rolling the towels tight, she managed to get them arranged in the foot tub and the gift looked great. Had I been clever, I would have snapped a picture of it, but alas I didn't.

We stayed a while and munched on finger food before saying our goodbyes. We had a long drive home on unfamiliar roads but the drive was eventless which was a good thing.


Friday, March 31, 2017

New girlfriend

Our niece Samantha called early this morning in a panic. She had an early appointment to take her dog Lady in to see the vet, but she had to be at work earlier than she'd planned. We live about 20 minutes from civilization so taking the dog back home would make her late. She needed me to follow her to the vet's office and bring Lady home after the checkup. Friday is an off day for me so I told her I'd go.

After the visit, Sam paid the tab and headed to work. Lady was a good girl during the visit, so I decided to give her a treat. 

Instead of heading directly home, I ran through the drive-thru window at Jack's which is a local fast-food restaurant that does breakfast well.  I got me a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and Lady a sausage biscuit. I placed the bag between us as I paid for the food. Lady smelled the bag and was very interested in the contents. 

I pulled into an empty parking space and sorted out the food. When I put the biscuit down in front of her she was SOOOO happy. I snapped a selfie just before we headed home.

I think she's now my new girlfriend.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thursday weather report

Forecasters predicted a slight risk for violent weather this afternoon so I headed out from work a little early. Jilda heads to work at two on Thursday so I wanted to get home to be with the pups in case there was stormy weather.

Our dogs prove Bob Dylan was right when he sang, "It don't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."  Our critters let us know bad weather approaches.

When Jilda left, I walked to the deck to get an analog weather forecast. The clouds weren't dark, but the trees swayed in the wind like hula dancers. All three dogs were underfoot.

As it turns out, the wind blew hard but the storms moved off to the east.  but distant thunder was enough to have Taz the wonder dog reaching up to get into my lap.

When she looks at me with that little otter face, I cannot refuse her. Ol' Hook looks at her, then at Caillou, before looking at me. He's deaf and totally confused as to why everyone is so excited. All he wants to do is play fetch with a tree limb about the size of the business end of a Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat.  

Before settling down on the steps of the back deck for a while, I snapped a picture of Taz. 

Hope you all have a great Friday and weekend.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bush hogging beast

I've been fighting privets and mimosas for years. Each summer I spend entire weekends cutting small
sections and dragging them to the burn pile.

It seemed that when I got to the end of one area, they had sprouted back up where I started. I said things the could likely have me in the hot seat on judgment day.

Jilda and I decided to hire a bush hogging service. He came out about a month ago and walked the property with me. He said it would take about four hours to cut down the underbrush and mulch it. When I looked around, I had my doubts but decided to leave it to the professionals.

He showed up at 1:30 this afternoon, and at 5;30 he was pulling his bush cutting tractor back onto his truck.

The place looks fantastic. I was too tired to shoot pictures of the finished project, but I'll do that tomorrow.

Tonight I'm weary, but I'm happy.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Be here now

On Monday it was warm enough to lunch outside in the courtyard at work. The sun had warmed the cobblestone nicely and I had the picnic tables to myself.

In my lunchbox was a carton of homemade chicken soup that Jilda made the night before. I was hoping she'd send some to work with me and she didn't disappoint.

Sitting alone there, I had a chance to not only look around but to see.  Sometimes it's easy to miss things.  For example, this amber eye was on the sun-bleached picnic table hidden under my glass of tea. When I took a sip, I saw the wood eye observing. 

It seemed to be saying, "Slow down. Listen. Look. Smell the earth. Be here now."

After snapping a picture, I thought about that concept. Be here now.  Jilda teaches this in her yoga classes. It's harder than it sounds. But when you get it right, it's worth it.



Monday, March 27, 2017

Lost art ~ My column from Sunday's paper

There are memories from my childhood that faded with time, but some are as fresh as cut flowers. One such memory is of my great grandmother working in her tiny kitchen.

During the summer, she canned fresh vegetables she’d picked that morning from her garden. The lines of Mason Jars filled with squash, tomatoes, peppers and pickles looked like rainbows on her pantry shelves.

She was meticulous in her approach to her work. When I asked her where she learned how to can food, she said, “There’s an art to it that I learned from my mother.”

Another memory is of my grandpa working in his blacksmith shop behind his house in Sloss Hollow. The ping, ping, ping of his hammer against the hot metal of horseshoes sounded like a broken bell. Again, when I asked how he learned to be a blacksmith, he said he learned it from an old friend.

A few years ago, we decided to restore some old chairs that we inherited from Jilda’s family. They were cane-bottom chairs, with bottoms long past their expiration date. We asked friends where we could have our antique chairs repaired. A friend told us about an older gentleman who lived on a back road between Morris and Pinson.

Loading the chairs in my truck, I wound my way to his house on two-lane roads. He greeted me in his front yard. We agreed on a price, and I left the chairs in his care. A few days later, he called to say the chairs were ready. When I arrived, he had them sitting out next to his driveway. They looked as good as new except they now had a story behind them. His workmanship was amazing. We stood in the warm morning sun and talked for a while about the art of canning.

When these craftsmen are gone, we will have lost something valuable.

I always thought there was a need for a folk school that taught these skills. A school that helped to keep folk art alive.

Several years ago, I heard about the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell. But a busy schedule kept me from pursuing the things they had to offer.

This past weekend, Jilda and I had an opportunity to attend the Alabama Folk School Songwriting Workshop. When we researched the presenters, we realized they were the “real thing.” Tom Kimmel and Sally Barris both are successful songwriters. They write the kind of songs we strive to write.

The rustic lodge where we stayed stood on the edge of a hollow overlooking a small creek. There were groups attending workshops on water conservation and blacksmithing, but these groups were in other lodges around the property.

Settling in, we found the area peaceful. Carrying our bags, I heard the soothing sound of an acoustic guitar somewhere in the distance. I knew we would have a good experience here.

One young woman looked around at the circle of songwriters and said, “This place feels like home.” She wasn’t just talking about the buildings but the people and the things we were learning. We all nodded in agreement.

Learning new things can be life changing. The Alabama Folk School is a good place to start. Check out the calendar of upcoming events at www.alfolkschool.com. You may learn something new that will help keep folk art alive.



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Getting all philosophical and what not

I fretted that the cold snap this past week would nip our Carolina Jasmine that canopies our arbor. The 80-degree temps earlier last week temped the plant to put on fat buds. I know, some people fret about world peace and true happiness, but I fret about our plants.

But today when Jilda stepped out to feed the birds, I heard her say, the jasmine is blooming. That made me truly happy. So in a sense, I was fretting about true happiness...but I digress.

At lunch today, our great niece and nephew invited us to lunch with them. They just moved into a new home they built. It was a beautiful place. Huge kitchen and bathrooms, with closets that were big enough to hold kindergarten classes. Both of these kids work really hard. Jonathan spends more time in Europe and the Middle East than he spends at home. She does medical research. Both are incredible kids. My fellow baby boomers tend to crack on the younger generation, but what they/we don't understand is that they grew up in a different time.  Some of the young folks are slackers, but there were a lot of slackers in our generation too. 

I know you didn't expect this post to address generational topics as well as world peace and true happiness, but hey – I've learned that when you are in the blogosphere, there's no telling what you might encounter.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Wild Honeysuckles

The hollow beside our house and barn are filled with wild honeysuckles. They are related to the azaleas if I'm not mistaken. The bushes closest to meditation rock down behind the barn bloom first. The morning sun warms rocks as big as Volkswagens, and the bushes closest to that warmth thrive.

We've tried a number of times to transplant the bushes from the hollow into our yard. A few years ago, we decided to give it one more try.

Apparently, we found the right place or perhaps we were holding our mouths right when we planted it, but this one lived.

Jilda saw the first blossom before I did and snapped a picture for her blog. I waited a few day and shot this picture yesterday.

Mother Nature knows her stuff.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Cane bottom chairs

We have several cane-bottom chairs. One of them is a chair that Jilda's grandmother Mamie gave Jilda and me when we married. It was old when she gave it to us. Now it has to be a least a hundred years old. 

The cane in the bottom weakened from age, and some of the strands began to break. Rather than keep it here, we stored it in the old house down at the barn.

We have three others that her mother gave us. A few years ago, we decided to restore them all. We started with two of them.  An elderly gentleman who re-canes chairs told us he could do that work. We decided to give him a try. He worked slow, but the end result was beyond expectation. The two chairs he repaired were beautiful.

Attending the folk school last week, reminded us that we still had two chairs that needed repair. When I called Mr. Lofton, he said he moved even slower these days, but if we weren't in a hurry, he'd be happy to re-cane our chairs. We took them this morning.

We stood in his yard and talked for a long while. He said that people asked him all the time why he didn't retire and "stop fooling with those old chairs?" His response was, I love doing that work. I'm glad he does and I can't wait to get Mamie's chair back in our house.







.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Happy Birthday Jilda

Jilda and I first met when she was in eighth grade. She had on an antique dress and playing the pump organ at a history fair. She must have been 13 years old. She had long blonde hair and blue eyes the color of the 1956 Thunderbird that I loved. We didn't chat much, but I remembered eyes.

My senior year in high school, I dated one of Jilda's best friends. Just before my big day, she broke it off with me, leaving me dateless on graduation.

I asked her if she would consider going to graduation with me. Actually, I think something suave and debonaire like, "You wuddn wanna go to graduation wid me wud you? She said yes, and it started there.

I was drafted in 1971, during Vietnam. We ended up parting while I was away. But not long after I returned in 1973, we got back together. A year later, in 1974 we married on the front porch of a house trailer in Brewton, Alabama. The preacher who lived in the trailer was once the minister at the church where Jilda and her folks attended.

That was May 5, 1974. The day was warm. I had a Canon camera that cost more than the car we drove. It was a fully manual film camera. The preacher's wife shot a ton of pictures during the ceremony, none of which were in focus. To say our ceremony was a blur is an understatement.

Today, Jilda celebrates her 65 birthday. I've helped her celebrate almost fifty of them. It's been an amazing journey. 

I am so thankful her friend dropped me on the eve of my graduation. 

Happy Birthday to Jilda.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spring cleaning phase I

It was cooler here today. The morning began with an overcast sky, and I wondered if it would rain.  But it didn't.

Jilda drove to work, but the regular attendees were no-shows, so she headed home. 
We decided to approach spring chores differently this year. In the past, we chose a day, worked until we were frazzled, and then crashed. Tender knees and sore shoulders have taught us to pace ourselves. So that's what we did today. 

We made a list of all that we need to do and then divided it into chunks. The first piece we worked on today.

It's actually much easier using this approach because we weren't dragging at the end of the day. In fact, I decided to do a little prep work in the yard. 

Firing up the old lawn mower, I cut the backyard. After that, I decided to till up our small garden patch by the fence.  Ol' Hook went out with me to the garden and chased butterflies.

The mower and tiller cranked as expected, so I made short work of the last two chores of the day.

Color me spring-happy. I hope your day has been productive too.




















Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Happy spring

I checked out a state car from the carpool today and headed west to Fayette. It's spring break at the college, but the staff still works. That's OK with me because if I don't work, I don't get paid. 

My partner is still new to the job, and he needed some coaching on how to enter data. He would have driven to my office, but it was such a lovely day, I decided to take one for the home team :)

Punching the Audible icon on my phone, I listened to the last few chapters of the Bruce Springsteen autobiography as I drove. The vehicle had all the fancy stuff. At one point, when I looked at the dash, the thermometer read 87 degrees. The first days of spring and it was warm enough to swim.

It's amazing what a little warm weather does to plants. At one point on a winding country road, I came upon a scene that caught my eye. The mirror showed no one was in sight either behind or ahead of me, so I pulled to the side of the road. Leaving the car idling, I got out and stepped over to a pasture fence and snapped a few pictures. I'm not sure what kind of grass has yellow flowers, but I plan to do research and plant that grass in my fields.

We had a few days of chilly weather this winter, but I didn't need a coat.

Happy spring.




Monday, March 20, 2017

Are there any UFOs still out there? ~ my column from Sunday's paper


Click HERE to see source for picture

I wonder what happened to UFOs? When I was younger, people around the world reported seeing them in the sky. Those living in Alabama and Mississippi trailer parks had a front row seat. Maybe the crafts used magnets for propulsion and metal structures attracted them. Or maybe it was the smell of fried chicken that enticed them to the south, but UFOs were more common here. Jilda and I lived in a trailer park for almost ten years, but we never saw any UFOs.
I worked for The Community News in the early 1970s. One evening I got a call from a reader that lived in the Red Star Hill community below Dora. “We can see UFOs down here.” Ever the newsman, Jilda and I hopped in my trusty, rusty Plymouth Valiant and headed down to Red Star Hill.
We arrived as dusk faded into the darkness of a moonless night. There were about 20 people standing around swatting mosquitoes off their arms and looking into the sky.
After greeting us, Mrs. Combs pointed to the east and said, “They would hover there for a few minutes and an instant later they’d be over there.” She pointed to the south. “They had flashing lights that changed colors, and moving faster than any airplane I’ve ever seen.” Several neighbors nodded in agreement. I had no doubt they saw something in the sky.
We stood outside with eyes glued to the sky for a long while. A photograph of an unidentified flying
object would be big news. I saw a couple shooting stars, but no UFO.
When the munching mosquitos became unbearable, Mrs. Combs invited us inside for a glass of ice tea. Jilda and I both knew Mrs. Combs for most of our lives. We sat on her sofa and talked about UFOs and the possibility of intelligent life “out there.”
Fast forward to the present. Astronomers announced in February that they’d found seven inhabitable planets. That means they could potentially support life. One scientist said, “…They are all about the same size as earth. And they’re at the right distance from their star so that they could have a kind of climate that, you know, you might enjoy in Washington D.C.” The planets are in the TRAPPIST-1 system which is 39 light years away. Since we haven’t developed a Star Trek hyper drive yet, it might be a minute before we can travel there. But who knows?
I think the work has already begun. I read recently where the billionaire businessman Elon Musk is working on a project to send a manned spacecraft to the moon in 2018. His goal is to make space travel available to regular citizens with pockets deep enough to pay for a ticket. I think I’ll wait until they work out the kinks before buying a ticket. But taking a honeymoon cruise around the moon would be exciting. It’s fun to think about. It might only be a matter of time before Wal-Mart opens a location on Lunar Avenue.
If a UFO came to our planet today, there’s a chance we’d be out of luck. Once they saw all the insane things going on, they might assume there is no intelligent life here and move on to other parts of the Universe.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Better art

There is something soul-affirming when you are surrounded by a group of kindred spirits. I'm talking about people pursuing an art or craft for the pure purpose of perfecting your work...so that you can do something you love even better.

Our instructors for the weekend were Sally Barris and Tom Kimmel. They both have songs recorded by artists you've heard on the radio, and some of their songs were used in movies.

They gave freely of they knowledge, skills, and experience in a difficult field.  Making money writing songs has always been difficult, but the way the world now consumes music is changing. People are moving away from commercial radio and listening more to streaming services where they can make everything on their playlist a song they love.

That sounds good, but streaming services pay a fraction of what radios pay in royalties. That means less money for the creators of music. But as I've often said, "If you're getting into songwriting for the money, you're getting into the wrong business." 

Most of the people attending the workshops this weekend didn't come to learn how to earn money writing songs, but to learn how to create better art.

Stone and Iron Sculpture in the front of the chapel at Camp McDowell

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