Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The gift

We have a basket of shells that on our bookshelf that we've had for over twenty years. I remember the day we found these shells as if it were yesterday.

Usually, when we go to the beach, we'll find a few decent shells. Most of them are as small as thimbles. Every now and again, we found ones that were a little bigger.

Our friends Kaye and Ron had just bought a new house at Blue Mountain Beach, near Seaside, Florida. We'd gone down a few days after Christmas that year with plans of bringing in the New Year on the beach. On New Year's Eve, a storm came in from the south. Lightning jabbed at the empty beach. The lights in their new house flickered like candles. Thunder rattled the champagne glasses on the table.

Sometime after midnight, the storm moved off to the north leaving a sky full of diamonds.

The next morning, it was warm for January. I wore a thin sweater with shorts. When we started walking, I saw a shell in the surf and scrambled to get it between waves. Then I saw another one a little deeper. Rolling my shorts up even higher, I waded in after the shell. Jilda squealed and snagged another one. Soon all four of us were picking up more shells than we could carry.

Kaye, who was an experienced beachcomber, had thought to put a net bag in her pocket. We found more shells that morning than we've ever found before.

Through the years, we've given some of the bigger shells to friends and family but we still have baskets.

The shells remind us of the gift that day gave us.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Knees and Rainbows ~ my column from Sunday's paper

August is a slow month for Jilda and me. That’s why I chose it to do something I’ve never done before.

It will be the first time I’ve ever been in the hospital. I’ve visited people in the hospital more times than I care to remember, but I’ve never been in myself. I’m excited. (Could you feel the sarcasm dripping from that last sentence?)

Today, I had an appointment for pre-admission testing. Soon, I’ll be going into the hospital to get a new knee. I’m fond of my old knee, but in the last few years, it has become about as useful as a cassette player. During the visit, I had knee school. It talked about all the things I can expect after the installation of my new knee. Many of the things I had already thought about. Some I had not. 

My niece Samantha is giddy with anticipation. She is a physical therapy assistant. She will be doing my therapy when I come home. I thought of all the fun I’ve had through the years giving her a hard time. I have a feeling that payback will be hellish. I’m a big boy. Not only can I dish it out, but I can also take it. I will have to put my big-boy-panties on, as they say.

Today, while driving back from the appointment, the August sky was spectacular. Even smoke and smog couldn’t dampen the deep blue sky. At one point, the sky looked like a zoo. I saw a walrus, a whale, and a bear the size of Rhode Island. A few miles down the road the zoo was gone, and it looked like piles of cotton sheets scattered around a dorm room.

When we got home, Jilda had to get ready for work. By the time she’d changed and had a glass of water, our rescue collie Caillou tried to get in her lap. He can hear thunder in Mississippi, but this time it was much closer. I took him to his safe place before stepping out on the screen porch for an analog weather report. The clouds to the west no longer looked as playful as they had an hour before. 

A moment later, the whisper of raindrops in the leaves got louder.  Then came a downpour so hard I could barely see my truck which was less than 30 feet away. 

I had unwritten stories to work on for the paper and now seemed like a perfect time. Fetching my laptop, I flipped it open, clicked on my writing playlist on Spotify. 

The rain began to ease up, and to the west, the sun poked through the rainclouds. Then synchronicity happened. My playlist served up Israel Kamakawiwo’s cover version of the iconic song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." On a whim, I stood and walked to the screen and scanned the sky to the east. Sure enough, I saw a rainbow for a brief moment before the sun ducked behind the clouds.

I took the synchronicity of the song and sky as a good luck sign.

I shot this pictures 10 years ago this month.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


We have a new swing in our backyard. It's actually an old swing that someone gave us. They were going to toss it. 

I picked it up before they changed their minds. We found a place in the shade of the pine and sweet gum trees. 

Jilda and I have never had a swing of our own. We have lawn chairs, loungers, and benches but no swing.

Both our parents had swings on their porches when we were growing up. They came as standard equipment even on old camp houses. Some of them didn't have indoor bathrooms, running water, or air conditioning, but they all had swings on their front porches. 

Sometimes late on summer evenings after dusk chased off most of the light, you could hear squeaking chains on front-porch swings. 

I missed our old swing. Jilda and I kept saying we were going to get one, but we never did...until yesterday. 

After unloading the old swing, we found its resting place. It was covered in some kind of sap that hid most of the yellow paint. Taking the pressure washer, I washed off most of the sap. The rest seemed to be embedded. I headed for the shed for sandpaper, but Jilda insisted we leave some of it on the swing. "It makes it look used," she said. I nodded my head in agreement.

The heat index was over 100 today. This evening, a breeze out of the west began to blow. I took a glass of ice tea out and sat on our new/old swing. It felt right.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Heat was on but fun was had

We had an outdoors gig tonight. The weather people said the temp would start dropping by 7 p.m. But had there been children around they would have chanted liar, liar, pants on fire.

We had several of our old friends playing with us tonight. It was the last outside gig of the summer.

Happy Saturday night and happy Sunday to you.

Friday, August 10, 2018

New Uke

A few mornings ago while drinking coffee in the great room, I was catching up on my reading and blissing out. Suddenly, I heard a song that I love.

Jilda was watching a video that had come across her Facebook timeline. It was Somewhere Over the Rainbow sung by Israel "Iz" Ka'ano'i Kamakawiwo'Ole. Judy Garland's version is incredible, but it makes me sad. Iz's version, on the other hand, always makes me smile.

This was a video I'd never seen before. As always it made me smile. But toward the end of the video, I heard cheering. Hmmm, I thought. Then I realized it was a video of his memorial service in Hawaii. He died years ago, but I did not know about it.

As the video showed his friends scattering his ashes in the Pacific, the video showed the beach and there were hundreds of people there cheering and blowing conch shells. They were celebrating the remarkable life of Iz. The video brought tears to my eyes. Click here to see it on YouTube.

I hummed the song for the rest of that day. And the next day.

Yesterday, after I left the eye docs office, I made a management decision. I stopped at the music store and looked at ukeleles. They had one acoustic/electric uke that had been scratched. Originally, it cost more than a hundred dollars. They had marked it down considerably.

I pulled a C-note out of my mad-money stash and plopped it on the counter. A few minutes later, I was walking out the door strumming my new uke.

Thanks, Iz for convincing me to buy an instrument that I should have bought years ago.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Point and shoot

I covered a city council meeting tonight, and on the way home I realized I hadn't taken a picture for my blog tonight. 

A hard rain had moved through earlier and was moving off to the north. I snapped this picture out of the windshield of my truck. I was driving so I didn't even look at the scene before I snapped the photo. I just pointed and hoped for the best. Sometimes it works out well, and at other times it's just sad.

I haven't decided which this one is.

Earlier in the week, my days were well planned. When I scratched my eye, everything changed. 

Driving back to Birmingham after lunch, I got in to see my eye doc immediately. I was thankful for that. She looked at my eye with her looking glass and said the meds had worked and that the scratch had improved dramatically. That was good news.

Tonight, I am road weary. So I'm about to drink some Sleepy Time tea and hit the hay.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Called in drunk

Not much in the noggin tonight. I think the muse called in drunk. I normally write my column on Wednesday, but it didn't happen. I've tapped enough keys to have written War and Peace. Instead, I have a lot of characters like ^%GH*&%ZZ65^&& F. And another thing – +)J^^!#Bzkdrv

So, I looked back through my photo archives and found this redbud bloom that I shot six years ago in August.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The eye has it

I somehow got something in my eye last night when I took my contacts out. I couldn't see anything and when Jilda had a look she didn't either.

It felt a little better before going to bed, but this morning it was much worse.

My calendar was packed, but I rescheduled some things to fit in an appointment with my eye doc.
She didn't see anything, but she did see where something had been. I had scratches and that was causing the problems. She prescribed some eyedrops that were laced with gold dust. Not actually, but the thought crossed my mind when I paid the copay.

I didn't have any pictures so I found one of Caillou last summer. He looked much different at the first of this summer when he got a buzz cut, but he's looking more like the dog in this picture every day. I'll take a followup picture of him early in September.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Traveling the last miles alone

I have an elderly neighbor who is going through some changes in his life. Before he lost his wife a few years ago, they kept the roads hot. The loss of his wife took the wind out of his sails, as the old saying goes.

These days he spends his time in his recliner with the TV tuned to the channel that shows Westerns 24/7. On days when the temperature is bearable, he sits in a swing in the shade of a hickory tree in his front yard. It’s a good place to watch life go by.

His only family is a daughter who lives in Texas. He doesn’t talk to her much these days. She knows his health is declining and a while back she tried to convince him to move into an assisted living facility nearby. “There will be people your age there, and the staff can help you keep up with your medicine,” she reasoned. 

His pride and a stubborn streak as wide as the Mississippi made him resistant to the point of harsh words. Since then his phone does not ring as often as it did before the spat. He told me this recently as I sat with him on his creaking swing. 

He has two older dogs that are always by his side. He pointed to the nearest one and said, “I could never leave my dogs. They are the only family I have here now,” he said. 

He pointed out correctly that the assisted living places wouldn’t let him keep his dogs. 

I could tell he was down. 

The next day, I sent his daughter a text and told her about my visit. I asked if she’d like to talk to him if he was agreeable. She was thrilled because she’d been trying to call him for weeks, but there was no answer. She assumed he was still angry with her. 

When I walked over there, he was in his living room watching "Gunsmoke." The volume was loud enough to rattle glasses on his coffee table. I asked if he wanted to walk outside for a moment. 

Once outside, I told him his daughter had been trying to call him. He looked surprised. When I looked at his phone, his ringer was set on silence. His old phone had died a few weeks earlier, and he hadn’t figured out how to make the new one ring. 

Pulling out my phone, I dialed his daughter’s number and put the call on the speaker. When he heard her voice, he beamed. “Hey baby, how you doin’?” It was like they had never quarreled. 

He smiled as the call ended and sat up a little straighter in the swing. 

I know the call was just a reprieve. There is no getting around the fact that age is robbing him of his health, his hearing, and his mental acuity. At some point in the near future, hard decisions will have to be made. 

There are no manuals for aging. There are plenty of books and talking heads on the TV that can offer advice, but people have to travel the last few miles of their life journey alone. 

Many of us will take those steps if we live long enough. 

Sunday, August 05, 2018

I've been there

An afternoon interview this past week took me down a road I hadn't traveled in years. When you travel familiar paths, it seems much of the landscape is invisible. Something out of the ordinary would have to draw your attention to bring you back to mindfulness,

That's not the case when you travel places you haven't been in a while. I found myself looking for landmarks and trying to see what had changed.

I came across a wide spot in the road and on one shoulder was a patch of daisies. A quick glance in the mirror verified there was no one behind me.

Pulling to the edge of the road, I stepped out long enough to snap a couple pictures.

Soon someone did come into view. They slowed when they saw me parked in the middle of nowhere. I'm guessing they wanted to see what I was up to.

When the guy pulled up next to me, he slowed to a stop and rolled down his passenger side window. He saw that I was taking a picture of the wildflowers. He said he traveled the road daily and hadn't noticed the daisies.

I smiled knowingly as he drove off. "I've been there," I thought.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

A good Saturday

I hit the ground running this morning. The legs on a bench I built about 15 years ago had gone south. It lives on the deck. It holds flowers and herbs year around. Jilda painted it with morning glory vines. We love that bench, but the legs had rotted at the bottom.

I used a pattern to cut the legs when I built it. Since it's not like me to throw something like that away, I figured I still had the pattern stored somewhere in the shed. I was right. I'd bought the 2x12s earlier in the week. This morning I traced the legs from the original pattern and buzzed the pattern with my angry saw. 

The battery-powered screwdriver made short work of removing the rotten legs and installing the new ones. In less than an hour, the repaired bench stood proudly on the deck and ready to serve. 

Next, I cut grass, weed-whacked the back fence, and around the blueberry bushes. I will get up early in the a.m. when the temps are still bearable and lay down the pine bark mulch around the blueberry bushes.

Next, I cut about five acres of grass. On the newer property, I noticed some leaves getting a jump on autumn. I pulled up and snapped a few pictures.

These items that have been languishing on my todo list for weeks.

After a lunch, Jilda and I both showered and took a nap before heading to Zuzu Petal's first birthday party.

Tonight, we grilled a couple steaks and we're laying low. It's been a good Saturday.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Looking forward

My lower back has been wonky. I've been putting off going to the chiorpractor for a few weeks, but this morning I decided to go.

After walking in and filling out a ream of paperwork, the bonecracker called me back. When I told him the issue he shook his head knowlingly.

I know it's your back hurting, but it's probably because your left knee needs replacing. I think I already knew that.

He did an adjustment and it feels a little better, but I think it my back will get better immediatley after the knee surgery later this month.

It's been hot again today. We walked early, but it looked as if I showered in my clothes. We should start seeing changes in the next several weeks.

I would never wish a moment of my life away, but I think it's OK to say that I look forward to cooler weather.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Not for me

I'm a little claustraphobic. My older brother locked me in the trunk of an old Chevy parked in our backyard when I was in kindergarten. The little prank cost my brother a butt-whuppin' from my mom, but it also left a memory etched on my brain like as homemade tattoo.

Fast forward - Today I covered a media day event for the local college. It was to talk about a class for new miners. The 15 that graduated start to work tomorrow for a coal company. The average starting wage is $85 K. Experienced mine electrictions routinely make $150 K and more. 

The presenters took the media through a mine simulation environment. Mentally, I knew it was a metal building configured to look like the inside of an underground mine. But my childhood experience made this the longest 45 minutes of my life. 

I remembered what my lovely wife teaches. Just breathe. I did. Soon I stopped feeling my heartbeat in my throat and temples. I never got comfortable, but I managed to make it through without bolting.

When I got outside, I looked into the sky and thought, "I know miners earn a lot of money, but the work is not for me."

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Fun day

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain drumming the metal roof. Our house is insulated, and we don't often hear what's going on outside, but the rain is different.

It sounds like distant drumming. There's a rhythm, but it's unlike the sounds made by the human hands. I laid there for a long while listening. I find it meditative.

The clouds were so thick the streetlights were still lighted. Slipping out of bed, I punched the brew button and then set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes.

I spent those minutes alone meditating.

When my phone chimed, the coffeemaker was ready and I poured myself a cup and one for Jilda. She has nasal radar and almost sleepwalked to the living room toward the aroma.

We sat for a long while watching the rain.

After a while, the dogs became interested in something outside. It was our great nephew Jordan running from his mother's SUV. I opened the door just in time for him to launch in and onto the couch. With one practiced move, he dove under the comforter and became a human cocoon.

His mom came in bringing his iPad and a few other things. He would be spending the day with us.

We had a great time. I wrote most of the morning, and Jilda entertained him. After lunch when she got ready to head to work, I stepped in.

The rain had moved off to the east by the time she left for work so Jordan and I decided on a roadtrip.

We ran by where his mom works and she familiarized me with the exercise equipment I will be using soo for my therapy.

When we left there, we headed to the bookstore. They were having a huge sale. We lit on that place like locusts. Afterward, we stopped by Yogurt Mountain, which is one of his favorite places.

We got two cups of yogurt with all the toppings. When I paid the tab, I almost had a heart attack. I had no idea it would be so expensive.

As I always say fun ain't cheap.

On the way home, the clouds began moving back in. I stopped a few miles from our house to snap a picture of the clouds.

These clouds look menacing, but they were actually just rain clouds.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Problem solved

I had errands in Jasper today. It's the county seat. Also, the newspaper office is in Jasper. We had an editorial meeting. Everyone talked through their stories in the works. We also talked about anyone having time off in August.

As it turns out, I raised my hand. I'm having knee replacement surgery toward the end of the month. I'm excited. Wait, let me take a handkerchief and wipe the sarcasm off that last sentence.

After the meeting, I had several errands. The first stop was the bank. After that, was a run by the feed store. The birds and dogs need  a'feedin'. When I left out of the bank on my usual route, a city crew had the street blocked. Detour signs pointed to a new way.

The homes on this back street were incredible. Rolling lawns. Rock gardens, and ivy green driveways on both sides of the streets. Homes built with old stone. Deep pockets. Old money.

Tonight I was struggling to come up with a topic. I did what I always do - I looked through all my pictures on Google Photo. I came across the picture below that I shot two years ago today. I took it in Florence, Al. It was taken at an old farm. A doctor owned it. It was as manicured as an exclusive golf course.

When I saw it today, it reminded me of my detour today. Writer's block problem solved.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Customer Service ~ my column from Sunday's paper

A few years ago, one of the buttons came off of a polo shirt that I’d had for years. I asked Jilda if she could sew one back on. She didn’t have a matching button, but she’d bought the shirt from an L.L. Bean catalog. She called their support line and asked for a replacement button. A few days later, a new shirt arrived in the mail. Jilda called and told the lady we hadn’t expected a new shirt. The woman said that L.L Bean stands behind what they sell. 

I love it when people say what they do and then do what they say. Jilda and I try to buy from companies that have the same philosophy.  Although they aren’t always the cheapest option, we’ve learned that it pays in the long run. That lesson was reinforced this past week.

A few years ago, Jilda bought me a watch for Christmas. It was simple with a leather band. She chose it from L.L. Bean’s Christmas catalog. I fell in love with my new timepiece the instant I opened it.

A few weeks ago, I put it on my arm and hit the road. Glancing at my watch a while later, it read 11:32. An early morning fog was hanging low on the Warrior river so I knew there was no way it was already 11:32. I reflexively shook my arm. For some reason, I do that even though shaking has never brought a watch with a dead battery back to life. I looked at the second hand hopefully, but it didn’t budge. 

Once home, I pulled out my watch kit. Jilda has about 20 watches she’s bought through the years, and at any given time one of them needs a new battery. 

Opening the back of the L.L. Bean watch, I flipped out the old battery with my thumbnail. Taking a small probe, I gently pulled back a keeper pin to seat the new battery. But, when I tried to put the pin back in place, it popped off.  Popping pins are rarely a good thing.  Even with the new battery in place, the watch would not tick.

I’d kept the original box in my dresser drawer and when I opened it a slip of paper fell from inside. The directions said that when the battery needs replacing to return it to L.L. Bean. For $8, their craftsmen would replace the battery and return the watch. I wished I’d remembered that before trying it myself.

Packing the watch up, I sent it back with a note saying if the cost was more, let me know, and I’d pay the difference. 

A few days later, I got a call from L.L. Bean. The watch repairman said they received the watch, but one of the pins inside was broken. He asked me if I’d tried to replace the battery. I could have fibbed, but fibbing rarely turns out well so I “fessed up.”

He said the broken pin made the watch unrepairable. He could hear the disappointment in my voice. I told him it was a Christmas gift from my wife. I told him to mail it back to me, and I’d keep it in my souvenir box.

I could hear him clicking through our file on his computer. He said, “You and your wife have been customers for a long time. I tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to replace this watch.” He didn’t pass the buck or put me on hold to ask permission from a supervisor. He made the decision to treat an old customer right even though the fault was clearly mine.  

Some companies say they stand behind their products, but L.L. Bean put action behind their words. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Next year

We could be charged with garden neglect this year. We have no defense. One look at our garden and any garden detective would ask, "When's the last time those tomatoes were weeded?"
A, I'm not sure officer. "Shut up slacker. I see the answer in the knee-high grass around the roots."

"What about these peppers?"

Well, it was my intention......

"The road to HELL is paved with good intentions, SLACKER!!!"

"These poor zinnias. Well, actually that grass growing around the zinnias is a variety that butterflies love, so I'll no write you up on those."

This has been a crazy summer. It rained and then turned into Hades. It's been hectic. Even though our garden has been neglected, it keeps baring.

If I took a picture of the tomatoes, herbs, and other plants we have in planters, they would tell a different story.

I said all this to say, next year, we plan to do raised bed gardens.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

State champs

We headed out early this morning to catch our great nephew Jordan's swimming match in Birmingham. We were heading to COSTCO afterward, but this match was a big deal. Jordan's been training for this since swim season ended last year.

He's been to swim camps and has practiced three days a week with his swim coach without fail. The local high school in Jasper wants him to attend there.

During the swim camp at my Birmingham Southern, my old alma mater, one of the people over scholarships at the school expressed interest in Jordan. She asked about his swimming, about his grades, and she talked to him about the facility at Birmingham Southern, He turned 10 in January.
I couldn't spell college when I was 10.

We arrived at Birmingham Sportsplex about 30 minutes early and sat by his nanna while he warmed up.

The swim-a-torum was PACKED and it was toasty in there. They keep it warm for the kids, but when you get that many people THAT close together, you're glad you showered and put on deodorant before you left home.

His first race and the only one we could stay for was a four boy freestyle relay. When the whistle blew, the first boy dove off the blocks and the race was on. Teams from all over the state were competing in the race. The noise level approached the level made by an F-111 at takeoff.

The second boy launched off the blocks and he held his own. Jordan was the third and he hit the water like a dart. He made up time, but his team was still trailing when he tagged the wall launching the fourth boy. He was tied for second place when he hit the water but I think I saw smoke on the water behind this kid. He tagged the wall a full second before the other two finished.

Jordan's team are state champs. I don't remember screaming, but I'm hoarse tonight. When I looked at Jilda and Jordan's mom Samantha, we all three had tears of joy on our faces.

We are so proud of our young'un.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Hello butterfly

We left our lettuce to go to seed in a small tray on our back deck. It was almost ready to harvest this week when I noticed some of the leaves were gone.

Looking more closely, I realized it was filled with worms. They looked like a smaller cousin to the ones that eat tomatoes. But they were different.

We had a similar problem last year. Catching them early in their feeding frenzy, I smited them smartly. After I'd cleaned house, I Googled the critters to see what kind they were.

As it turns out, they were monarch butterfly caterpillars. Had I left them along, we would have had even more butterflies in our yard. It made me sad that I didn't realize this before it was too late.

But this year, I knew better so I let them eat the lettuce. When they'd eaten all the lettuce, I moved the tray down to the ground under our butterfly bush. We read that they like those bushes too. We weren't excited but them eating our beloved butterfly bush, but taking the long view, it was a small price to pay.

The only thing, I've checked every day since I moved them and they aren't in the bush. I figured the birds had eaten them. This morning I snapped a picture of our blazing star which is nearby. I didn't notice them at the time, but just now when I enlarged the picture to post, I noticed my friends on this bush. If you look closely, you can see them too.

Hello, butterfly.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

When I got home this evening, I had a private message from the Tiara Lady. I copied and pasted it here:

Marlene: Did you see that Wal-Mart President and CEO tagged me a message? I'm so excited and ty for doing the article.

Rick: Wow! That's incredible. I loved the interview. It's been shared 810 times so far on Facebook. You're a rockstar.

It's taken on a life of its own. I'm so happy this lady is getting a little recognition.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Looks like snow

While sipping coffee this morning, Jilda scanned her email.  One of the missives was from the Famer's Almanac. The headline read, "Fluffy white clouds against a blue sky on July 25, means snow in the coming winter.

Jilda sqealed. Did I mention that she loves snow? Of course, the snow here is normally not like the snow up north. A few years ago we woke up to one morning and watched the snow falling outside out great room windows.  By afternoon, a front moved through and it was almost warm enough to swim. Every now and then a snow will linger for a few days before the sun sends the white stuff to the creeks and rivers.

The only snow that remained on the ground more than a few days was in 1993. The snow was the deepest I'd ever seen here. The temps plummeted and it remained frigid for over a week. We lost power, and phone service. Toward the end of the week, we lost water because it takes power to pump water into the supply tanks. 

Our home was total electric then. A total electric home sounded so appealing. When we built our home, we thought total electric was a PLUS. After a week of looking like homeless people in our home, we decided to go to plan "B". 

When the snow melted, we drove to the nearest propane gas dealership and bought space heaters and a gas fireplace. We bought a new gas grill. We also bought a gas BBQ grill for the backyard. Winter's have been more pleasant since then.

Now, where was I......? Oh yes, fluffy clouds and a blue sky.

Jilda did babysitting duty while I went for my pre-knee replacement pep talk with the surgeon. When I walked outside, I was struck by the sky. Smiling, I pulled the phone from my pocket and snapped a few pictures. 

I sent one to Jilda with the caption: Looks like snow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

On the road again

I'm road-weary this evening. The interviews I'd been trying to schedule for weeks all came together...today.

It's been so hard scheduling them that I didn't want to try to find time on our calendars to reschedule, so I put my big boy panties on and hit the road.

There was a city council meeting at 9 that turned out to be a non-event because they didn't have a quorum. They had sick folks and others who were vacating. 

After this, I got an update from the chief on a young man that's been missing since February. 

The local library had a fun day that was the finale of the summer reading program for kids. There were about 50 kids in the park swing, climbing, and wooshing down a water slide. The smiles almost broke the lens on my camera.

Next was an interview with a man who's documented all the cemeteries in the county. The county is fairly small as counties go, but he's documented 343 cemeteries here so far. Some of them predate the Civil War.  We stood on the hill at Davis Cemetery. There was a shady spot that was about 15 feet from where my parents are buried. We sat on the tailgate of my truck and talked for over an hour about cemeteries. He looked around and pointed off into the distance and said, "There's a story in every grave." 

The last interview was with a woman that works with the Girls Rock program. They take about 30 girls between the ages of 9-16 and teach them to play an instrument. They learn to play drums, guitar, bass, or keyboard. They also write a song that they perform at the end of the week. 

The finale is a showcase at a local venue. The girls get full makeup, new hairstyles if they want them, and the works. When they walk out onto that stage, they are rockstars.

One young girl told this woman a few years ago after she completed a week of rockschool, that the program had saved her life. That put chills on my arm.

So, today has been a great day. I do need to take these interviews and write stories.

One of my features ran this morning. The link below will take you to the short piece on the Taira Lady who is a greeter at Walmart. So far, it's been shared 367 times. There's an icon at the bottom that will allow you to share it on Facebook. If you would like to spread some good news instead of doom and gloom, it would do my heart good :)

Taira Lady

Monday, July 23, 2018

Time for a swimming pool? ~ My column from Sunday's paper

I never think seriously about owning a swimming pool until deep summer.

Jilda has wanted one since we married in 1974. Each summer she does a mock whine, “Why don’t we get a pool?”

I always thought pools were more trouble than they were worth. It was easy coming up with a litany of reasons why a pool was a bad idea. It will make our power bill skyrocket, they are hard to keep clean, they’re a pain to maintain in winter, and so on. But in late July when it’s hot enough to bake biscuits in the dash pocket of my truck, my resistance wilts.

I’m not sure why I’ve remained so resistant to the idea. Thinking back, I’ve always loved the water. I learned to swim during the summer between first- and second- grade. The Martin Hole was a wide spot in a gently flowing creek that ran through the heart of Sloss Hollow. The Martin family had lived nearby in the early 1900s.

Even today, when looking on Google Maps, you can see where the stream originates. It’s not coming from a lake or larger stream, but from deep within the earth under the canopy of oak, hickory, and pine, somewhere between Dora and old Highway 78.

The Martin Hole was about a half mile from my front porch. When it got too hot to run and rip outside, “the crew” would head to the swimming hole to cool off. I’ve never dipped a thermometer in that creek, but I’d be willing to venture it’s about 60 degrees year around.

Everyone went commando then, which meant we wore cutoff jeans and little else. We didn’t have to change into a swimsuit because we were wearing it.

The creek was about waist deep, and the bottom was covered in a layer of rocks worn smooth by eons of water flowing over them.

Moss-covered logs jutted out over the edge of the water on the far bank. They looked as if Mother Nature had upholstered them in green velvet. They were big enough to stand on, but I learned the hard way the creek was not deep enough for diving. I tried it one time, and I pulled gravel out of my scalp for days afterward. Every day’s a school day.

Edging the creek were ferns, honeysuckle, and a kind of vegetation that I cannot name. Dragonflies thrived in this environment. Once while floating on my back, a neon blue dragonfly lit on my nose and looked me in the eye for an instant before flitting off. In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony, and as a good luck charm. I chose to believe that this was true.

I spent a lot of time during the summers of my youth in that creek. It was a gurgling Dog Days oasis.

Fast forward to this week ...

While pulling the weeds from around our tomato and pepper plants yesterday, sweat soaked my T-shirt and dripped from the brim of my hat. Once back in the house, I fixed a tall glass of ice water and sat in front of the box fan.

I thought to myself, “Maybe it’s time to think about a swimming pool."

Sunday, July 22, 2018

What more could one ask for?

Did I mention that the performance we attended last night was HOT. We arrived at 6:30 p.m. to eat before the show. We thought we were early for the show that started at 8 but we learned we were late.

The place was packed. The stage is under an outside pavilion. That was full. We got a table with under a tent that was adjacent to the stage. They had chicken fans blowing from each corner, but the sun had not set and the table where we sat was not shaded. We had to tough it out for about 30 minutes before the sun dipped low enough to give the chicken fans a chance.

The two ladies who'd let us sit with them got a better offer for a table in front of the stage so we told the waitress that if they had people looking for a place to sit they could join us. Four people were there within minutes. A young man and his young daughter were the first, and then a couple of newlyweds on their second go-around at love arrived a few moments later.  We had a quorum.

A girl about seven years old had been sitting at the table behind us came up when she noticed the young lady at our table. They were the same age and became instant friends. In fact, they made it their mission to keep us cool.

The picture below was taken in harsh light. I exposed the pictures for the colors in the fan, but I had to tweak the exposure so that you could get a glimpse of an angelic face.

Had we chosen to sit alone, we would have sat simmering alone. As it is, we had our own personal air conditioners. What more could one ask for?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Music Saturday

We went to hear music tonight. The Muscle Shoals area is a magical place. Go into most any restaurant, bar, coffee house, or theater in the area during Handy Festival week and you'll hear musicians that you've heard all your life.

Jilda did an update on her blog about coming so I won't bore you.

I did want to do an update on Cailou the wonder dog. If you recall, he got what the groomer called a summer cut back in May. I called it a scalping. His hair is finally coming back out. He should be back to his old self by fall.

He's actually done much better with the heat this summer but I'm still not sure I'll get him scalped again.

I hope your Saturday was a good one too.

Friday, July 20, 2018

It doesn't take long to make toast

We had a gig scheduled for tonight. I'm not sure why, but Jilda and I both felt uneasy about it. I know most people think we're all New-Agey and what not, but that's the way we roll. If something doesn't "feel" right we move on.

This morning, the weatherman was forecasting severe weather this evening. We watched the feeds until 10 a.m. and then made a management decision to reschedule the gig. The owner of the coffee house was OK with it and we let our songwriter buddies know.

As it turns out, the weather still looks bad, but it's arriving later than the weather-folk said it would. But here's the deal - I still think we made the right decision to reschedule. 

Rewind to this morning during our walk. It was oppressive even at 8:15 a.m. One the first lap, I saw this oak limb lying in the middle of the barn road. Squirrels do this in the summer with oak and hickory trees. I guess they are keeping their teeth maintained.

I wasn't there the day before but already it was a dry as thatch. It doesn't take long to make toast in this weather.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Working toward world peace

I spent most of the day in the cab of my truck. I had an interview with a beekeeper north of Birmingham. Way north.

The community was a new one to me. I turned onto the street as my GPS directed and I drove to what I thought was the last house. The person living in the house came out and said, you're looking for Bob. He pointed further in the direction that I'd been heading.

I drove through a gate and the road turned to gravel. In the middle of the field was a house trailer. Out beyond the trailer were beehives.

Pulling in, I pulled my camera and the tape recorder from my bags and knocked on the door.

I spent the next 90 minutes hearing about how this gentleman was working toward world peace.

He does have bees, but his main focus is inventing devices that can kill the various mites and parasites that threaten the survival of bees.

I've read it before, but he echoed what I've learned about bees. And that is that bees pollinate fruits, vegetables, and nuts around the planet. If we don't help bees survive, much of our fresh foods will be in danger. If we can't produce enough food to feed our people, the hungry will rise up. Thus his contention that he's working toward world peace. I'll write this story over the coming days.

I took the picture below when I stopped to eat on the way home. The restaurant had these hydrangeas and grass growing in one of their beds. I thought it would make a good picture.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Too hot for pestilence

We planted our sunflowers late. Then came the heat and rain. We waited for locusts and pestilence, but luckily they have not arrived. Perhaps the heat and humidity are too much. The locusts figured they could get a better deal in Georgia or maybe North Carolina.

I'm guessing it's hot and wet there too.

One thing that did arrive today was our first sunflower blossom.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

As I get older

I came across a photo op yesterday. A poison ivy leaf had fallen onto a bed of moss in the barnyard.
The recent rains had turned the dull green moss into little pieces of velvet carpet under the oak and hickory.

The poison ivy leads the pack in color. They start mid-summer with a few leaves get a headstart turning crimson before the others follow in September and October.  

Mother Nature's ebb and flow are easy to overlook.  It wasn't until my 5th decade that I began to notice things that had long escaped me. 

I'm looking forward to this improving insight as I get older.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Fly Fishing Fever ~ my column from Sunday's paper

I caught a bug when I was in Telluride, Colorado several years ago. It’s rarely fatal, but I’ve found it’s incurable. Professionals call it “fly fishing fever.” 
Jilda and I were surprised when our friend Wes and his wife Deidra asked us to spend the first week of July in the Mountains. But it was hotter than Satan’s sauna here in Empire, and we both feared that if we didn’t get away, we’d melt like a candle on asphalt in August. 
So, when our friend offered us free room and board for a week, we jumped at the chance. I wasn’t sure what to pack for the trip, but I put long-sleeved shirts, and blue jeans in my bag. 
Soon, we were winging our way over Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Kansas before touching down in Denver. From there we took a crop duster to Durango, Co and a shuttle picked us up at the airport and drove us the last few hours to the resort.
The mountain air was thin but much cooler. It made me feel taller. 
Our friends had several things on the agenda for the week. The next day was the 4th of July. We ate ourselves silly, watched a parade, and that evening we went to a fireworks show in the park. 
Watching the fireworks explode against a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains is a sight I will never forget. While standing there in the park, it started snowing. It was only a few flurries, but enough for me to catch flakes on my tongue. 
The next morning, Jilda, Deidra, and their girls headed to the spa while Wes and I headed for the water. He’d hired a local fly-fishing guide to take us fishing. It was cool that morning. We stood on the
water’s edge listening to the guide’s safety briefing. My breath came out in clouds. As I looked around at the water, and the mountains in the distance, I thought to myself, “I could get used to this.”
I thought I knew how to use a flyrod, but I spent the first half hour untangling my line and fetching flies from nearby bushes. 
There’s an art to casting a lure which weighs less than a sneeze. It took a while to get the hang of it, but I soon fell into the rhythm. After a few hours, I could put a fly almost anywhere I wanted in the range of my fly line. 
The fish were a little slow to come to the fly, but as I’ve said before, fly fishing is not about the fish. I got several strikes, but my timing was wrong when I tried setting the tiny hook. I learned that there’s an art to that too. 
We ate a sack lunch as we changed locations. Coming to an old farm, we parked near a pond fed by a cold mountain stream. The first cast, I caught a rainbow trout. It wasn’t a big fish, but in retrospect, I realize that’s where I caught the “fly fishing fever.” 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sadness at the Forks

 I took this picture on June 9. As always, I pulled in one evening after I finished an interview in Birmingham. The guys were sitting there shooting the bull with fishermen as they came into the loading ramp after a day of fishing.

I sat with them for a long while watching the water. The mallards that took up residence here squawked around looking for bits of food or bait discarded by the incoming boats. Even with the distant drone of outboard motors heading in, it's peaceful at the Forks.

When I left I told them I wanted to interview each of them the next time I came down for a story. As always I got some serious responses and a boatload of grief :) I love those guys.

Then one day last week, Jilda was reading the obits and exclaimed Kenneth Suchey died! I had her read it again and then read it for myself. It was true. One of my buddies at the Fork had died.

When I talked to Leo, who is the unofficial mayor, he told me the story. He said that Kenneth started having problems breathing a few weeks. ago.  He went to the doctor and learned that he had lung cancer. One week later, he died.

I'd known Kenneth for most of my life. I saw him pitch in a semi-professional baseball game when I was in junior high school. It was a playoff game. That night the batters could not have hit his pitches had they used a boat paddle. He was in the zone.

He was a kind-hearted man who was quick to smile and slow to anger.

I haven't had the heart to stop at the Forks in the evening since.

Kenneth is second from the right in the picture below. He will be missed.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Kayak race

I was out early this morning. The Sipsey Heritage Commission held their 2nd Annual Kayak on the Sipsey race. I told the editor I don't normally work on Saturdays, but this is my place.

A few hundred feet north of where I took this picture is where I fly fish. The river winds 12 miles through unmolested land.

When I arrived, I took pictures of the kayakers getting ready for the race. There was a VW bus there that had been converted into a camper. Apparently, at least one boater didn't want to be late.

I shot about 50 pictures for the paper. I think they are putting together a picture page for tomorrow but I'm not sure. I'll know along with everyone else when I open my paper as I sip coffee.

The winner stood and used the kayak as a paddleboard. He shot out from under the bridge, which was the starting point, and he never looked back. He did 12 miles in about an hour and 45 minutes. This wasn't his first kayak rodeo.

The temps were sweltering, but the water was 52 degrees. Standing next to it felt as if I were standing in front of an air conditioner.

Below is a photograph I shot from the bridge over the water.  It was a beautiful thing to behold.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Somewhere where it's cooler

It was hot enough to bake a biscuit in the dash pocket of my truck today. Jilda works at a place where they have people coming in from other parts of the country. When these visitors come in the spring or autumn, they fall in love with the area. 

The ones that stay until July and August usually say, "How the hell can you people live here??????"

We take it one day at a time. We exercise early before the sun comes up and we take it easy when the temp spikes after lunch.

Tonight as I was looking for a picture to post, I came across this one that Jilda took of me a few years ago when we were in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in October. 

The first day the sun was out and we woke up the next day to snow. I would never wish my life away, but looking at this picture makes me think we should summer somewhere where it's cooler.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lunar Eclipse

There's a lunar eclipse in our future. Some folks are non-chalant about this, but Jilda and I celebrate celestual events.

We prepared for the last solar eclipse weeks in advance. We bought special glasses and had an eclipse celebration. Our great nephew Jordan was here to experience it with us.

We've instilled the excitement of these events in him and he's excited about the upcoming eclipse too.

I now have a much better camera than I had the last time so I hope to capture some pictures to share.

If you live in much of Europe, much of Asia, Australia, Africa, South in North America, South America, Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and Antarctica could see at least part of the eclipse.

I think we'll crank up the firepit and do s'mores while we enjoy the show. Do they make lunar eclipse glasses?

This is not an eclipse but it's the only picture I'd taken that I  could find of a full moon. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A place of honor

Ol' Hook has made every step I've made today. I'm not sure why some days he doesn't want to be in the same zip code and other days he wants on my lap. All 90 pounds of him. Today he's been a lap dog.

I hauled my computer bag out to the screen porch after coffee. Actually, I took my last cup with me as I wrote my column for Sunday's paper. Hook had been snoozing on his bed by the front windows, but when he realized I was no longer on the couch, he came in pursuit.

The door was closed to keep the bought air from escaping, but he started barking for me to let him out. He is persistant. I could ignore him for a while, but I've learned that he will not stop.

The ceiling fan silently whurred overhead, which made it comfortable for me, but it was warm for him. He found a spot and laid down.

I stood up and stretched when I finished the column. He must have sensed the movement because he stood, stretched, and sat down leaning against my leg. His behavior reminded me of Ol' Buddy.

If you've followed my blog for a while, I've written about Ol' Buddy before. He was my sidekick for years before developing cancer. Once afflicted, he lasted less than a month. It broke my heart when I lost him. I have this picture of him in my office.

One day, Ol' Hook will hold a place of honor in my office too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fell in my lap

Driving home this week I saw a painted rock that I've seen at least a hundred times. The first time I noticed it I thought it was a cool thing to do with a rock. Then I didn't think about it, but it made me turn my head as I drove by. 

Finally, the feature writer that was sleeping in my brain woke up. I'd been to the only store in Empire for lawnmower gas. When I drove by the rock, I thought to myself, "I wonder what the story is there?" 

When I got home, I mentioned it to Jilda. She said, "You know his daughters, send one of them a note and ask if her dad would mind me shooting a picture of the rock.

I sent the note and within five minutes she'd responded. "He said he'd love to talk to you about the rock. He said if you're not busy, to come now." 

I grabbed my camera and hopped in the truck. My intention was to get a picture and enough information for a cutline for the picture. I wound up talking to the gentleman over an hour. I think it will be a remarkable story.

I won't say much more until the story is published but I will post this one once it runs.

Until then, I'm posting a picture of one of our sunflowers from a few years ago. The ones we planted this year have not bloomed yet, but they are on the cusp.

Monday, July 09, 2018

A fun Fourth ~ my column from Sunday's paper

We had some of our nieces and nephews over this week to celebrate Uncle Sam’s birthday. We don’t do midday heat very well, so we asked our guests to come later in the day when our house and yard are in full shade. After a meal of ribs, potato salad, and baked beans we retired to the back deck where we spent a few hours watching the kids. It’s one of my favorite past times. 
Most of our nieces and nephews live in subdivisions. Their yards are beautiful and suit their houses, but they aren’t designed for a yard full of kids playing the old games. We have enough room here at our house for them to stretch their legs.
I’m not sure who taught them how to play freeze tag, red-light/green-light and kick the can, but they played these games in our yard. It’s funny because these are the games we played when I was a kid. We didn’t have phones, iPads, or other electronic games. The most high-tech toy I owned was a bicycle. 
Every few minutes, one of the kids would run to the porch to get their moms to brush grass off their legs and backs. While the mamas brushed, the kids tanked up on lemonade or juice boxes.  Now and then we had to doctor them up with Bactine and Band-Aids before sending them back into the game. As they say, “Fun ain’t cheap.”
I thought to myself, these kids will sleep good tonight. 
Someone snapped a picture of me sitting there leaning against a deck rail. When I saw the picture, it reminded me of my mother. She lived for holidays. Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day were special to her. The weather was usually warm, and the kids could play outside instead of being underfoot. 
One Fourth of July before her health declined, she played touch football in her front yard. Her grandkids and a crew of neighborhood kids ran over to join the fun. Even in her early 70s, she wasn’t a bad wide receiver, and none of them could trash talk better than her. She’d taunt the opposition with things like, “You get in my way, and I’ll call your mother you little squirt.” They usually gave her a lot of room. 
All these things came to mind when I saw the picture of me on the deck. Now that I’m older, pictures are like time machines to me.
At dusk, our niece Samantha pulled a bushel of sparklers from a plastic bag. She began lighting the sparklers and passing them out. Soon our backyard was filled with what looked like fizzing lightning bugs. After those were gone, she pulled out a larger bag of multicolored sparklers. The kids ran around the yard leaving trails of rainbow smoke behind them. 
Our nephew Haven provided the fireworks finale. His were the colorful aerial fireworks. 
After the smoke cleared, the kids came in and tanked up on ice cream and pound cake that was fresh out of the oven.  
It was a fun “Fourth” for Jilda and me. I know my mother would have loved it.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Hope for a happy ending

Jilda's sister Nell called yesterday to talk for a moment. During the conversation, she told Jilda that someone had dumped a mama dog and three puppies near her barn.

She has her hands full now with her husband and daughter. Both of them have health issues. Also, her sister has a small farm and she spends a lot of time tending her critters. She cannot have any more critters just now. She told us she was going to take them to the local shelter.

Often when dogs and cats go there, things don't end well for them. If no one adopts them within a few days, they are euthanized to make room for other critters that people bring in daily.

I told Jilda to tell her that I'd take a picture of them and see if we could find them homes with some of our Facebook friends.

I took the picture below. It was hard holding all three of them so we settled for two. I put the picture on Facebook with a brief note. The post was shared a dozen times within a few minutes. I've had three people send me private messages so far asking for my sister-in-law's number. 

I have my fingers crossed that things end well for these little guys.

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