Friday, August 31, 2012

Warm Day in Alabama

Jilda had a procedure at 8:00 and I took my journal, my laptop, and a book to read. The beauty of being a freelancer is that with a laptop, any place with a wireless connection is an office.
Before my high-tech earphones, the area had to be quiet, but that restriction is now history. 
Today I sat in a buzzing waiting room with a TV droning at a volume that could do permanent ear damage had I been a step closer, but I plugged in my earphones, and clicked on Mozart, and the noise faded like life in your rear-view mirror.
I had opened my research for a story I'm working on and was just about to dive in head first when Jilda walked back out to the waiting room.
I thought she'd come to get me to sign papers, or to sit with her during the scan, but she was through and ready to head home.
I snapped the lid of my laptop down, satcheled it and we were on our way home less that 15 minutes after we arrived.
We returned home and I worked for a few hours on the story, and tying up some loose ends before the holiday weekend. And just before noon, my stomach began making noise.
If you happened to read her blog last night, she mentioned that she really wanted a Po Boy from the Blackrock Grill for lunch today. That actually sounded very good to me so we headed out.
I think I've written about the Blackrock Grill before, but I heard (though I've never confirmed this story) the people who started the restaurant fled from New Orleans after Katrina. They landed in Jasper and decided to stay. They opened the restaurant and it's some of the best food around.
Today I got a shrimp Po' Boy with fries, and Jilda got an Oyster Po' Boy with sweet-potato fries. Both were delicious. We drove home in a bliss that comes only from being well fed.
The weather has been strange this week. We were fortunate that Hurricane Isaac skirted around us, but today reminded me of the time I spent in Panama.
It was 80 degrees at 7 a.m. this morning and when the sun came up the mercury lept into the low 90s. The rest of the day was a sea-saw of rain and blistering sun. The sun made it like a steam room and the the rain came back again. It was a vicious cycle.
Tonight our great-nephew called to say that the moon was out and big. I realized that the full moon tonight is the second for August, which means it's a blue moon.
I hope you all have a great Labor Day Weekend.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Regularly Scheduled Life

I think America was once a civil nation with kind and caring people. Politicians rarely saw eye to eye, but they hooked and jabbed and found middle ground. Not everyone was happy but in the end, Americans won. We might not have agreed totally with the outcome, but it was usually something we could live with.
Maybe all the dirty stuff has always been around forever, and I was just too naive to see it. I know this: when both sides of the political spectrum sling mud, tell lies, and stoop to new levels of low each day, I feel almost as if they are dragging me down with them. 
I for one will be happy when the elections are over, and we can get back to our regularly scheduled lives.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Creative Writing

I'm reading a book by John Dufresne entitled "The Truth That Tells a Lie." It's a a guide to writing fiction.
Most of what I write now is non-fiction, but I have a hankerin' to write a novel. I've got ideas buzzing in my head like a nest of yellow jackets.
I asked my friend Dale Short what he'd recommend I read and he suggested this book. I also looked on and bought several other used books on creative writing that were recommended by other  writers of note.
The books I've collected so far are:
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephen King
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

I have my work cut out for me. In the past, I've listened to more books that I've actually read. That's because I've traditionally spent a great deal of time commuting. But that's not the case now, so I've got to re-cultivate the habit of reading books.
John Dufresne passed on a reading list that was given to him by his mentor and creative writing professor and I scribbled down several books and short stories I want to read.
He says the only way a writer can get better is by reading voraciously. I really want to learn to write well so it's my intention to read, study, contemplate and practice.

On another note, I know I've whined a great deal about all the work that's gone into formatting, editing, and getting my book ready for press, but once I submitted it, I knew within 12 hours that the format was acceptable. I ordered three proof copies of my book last Thursday, and today as I sat on the screened porch working, I heard the UPS truck rattling down the road toward our house.
I ripped open the package and there they were.
I've convinced one more reader to put fresh eyes on the book. I'll do any final edits and I should have my inventory by mid-September. I'm very excited.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lung-munching gnats

An approaching band of rain as wide as Florida prompted us to walk early this morning. The humidity was high, but a breeze out of the southeast felt good on my face.
On the second lap I'd just walked up the steep part of our trail when a gnat came out of nowhere and flew straight down my windpipe.
I've coughed so much I have a headache and my throat is sore. I'm not sure if that little bugger is still down there somewhere crawling around or not, but that's what I imagine. 
UPDATE: I just called the nurse-line for my insurance and she said I would most likely live and I was glad to hear those words.
She said it was probably already gone but if I felt it tickling my lung I should call my doctor in the morning.
I'm about to drink a cup of hot tea and call it a night. I plan to sleep tight and not let the lung-munching gnats bite.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Audible Tattoo

Have you ever had a song to stick in your mind like an audible tattoo? 

The other morning when I stepped out to feed the chickens, the grass was so thick with dew that my shoes looked as if I’d been wading in a creek. After filling the feeders with cracked corn and laying mash, I walked over to the fence to survey the morning sky. 

I stood there a long time lost in thought when I realized I was humming the tune to “California Dreamin’.” I hummed or whistled it all day long.

Just thinking about that song is like stepping into a time machine with the dial set to August 1967. 

I was 16 the first time I heard the Mamas and Papas do that song. We didn’t have a record player then, but my sister had a Sylvania transistor radio the size of a brick and the color of the setting sun. It had a tan leather carrying case with a long strap so you could carry it over your shoulder.

She let me listen to it one night in the summer of 1967. I laid down that night with the radio on my pillow. It was turned down low so not to disturb the family, but “California Dreamin’” came pouring through that tiny speaker loud and clear.

I was not a rebellious kid, but hearing that song made me want to pack my belongings into a bag and hit the road for San Francisco.

Jilda said she was 15 when she bought her first copy of that record. She played it so much the needle of her phonograph practically wore grooves through the vinyl. 

By the time we married in 1974, it had been played so many times I think I could have seen through it had I held it up to a decent light.

Fast forward to this past week. Our yoga buddy Janie bought an old CD by the Mamas and Papas at a yard sale. She brought it to class on Monday night and gave it to Jilda as a gift.

On the way home, my spouse put the CD in her player and jacked up the volume so loud my nose bled. 

“All the leaves are brown, Leaves are brown, And the sky is gray, the sky is gray” 

According to Rolling Stone Magazine, “California Dreamin’” is one of the most popular songs of all time. So it would seem a lot of people had the same reaction to it as I did.

It’s a mystery to me why some music resonates and other music is forgotten quicker than the junk mail that comes in the mornings. 

“California Dreamin’” happened to come along during a time in my young life when I was full of expectation and angst about what I wanted to do with my future. 

I knew I wanted to go places and do things that were well beyond the vision of the future my mom and dad shared for me.

They wanted me to go to school, find a job, get married and buy a house nearby. A yard full of grandkids would have been icing on the cake. 

But at 16, I wanted to do something remarkable. Those were the thoughts tumbling through my head on that warm summer night when I heard “California Dreamin.’” 

The song became a part of my life story. That’s why I still carry it with me after all these years.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Feng Shui

I love our back deck. It's green with plants, citrus trees, and flowers that drive hummingbirds crazy this time of year. It overlooks the garden and the fields beyond. I've watched seasons pass sitting in our wrought iron chairs.
Having said that, the feng shui has always been a little off kilter. It was hard to put my finger on, but I felt it.
Back in the spring Jilda and I sat out there early one Sunday morning dipping chocolate biscotti in our coffee. Out of no where, Jilda said we need new steps off the back of this deck.
The original steps were to the side which made it closer to the driveway, but as I sat there I realized she was right.
I called our carpenter who came up and wrote me a material list. The building supply delivered the wood this week.
When I called the carpenter to get on his calendar, he asked if I minded if we worked on Sunday.
I'm normally slothish on Sunday, but I really wanted the new steps built. If we had passed on this date, it would be weeks before he could do the work.
He was here this morning before I had my second cup of coffee and we got to work. A few hours later, Jilda snapped this photo. I was a tired puppy because I do most of the grunt work for the carpenter.
Tonight as we sat out on the deck and watched the last traces of amber disappear from the western sky, we both realized that the deck feng shui is just right.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Living In the South

When you live in the South, you make a kind of commitment. We are at the bottom of most lists: literacy, infant morality,  high school graduate rates, and so on.
But we top many lists: Obesity (the county I live in is one of the most obese in the country....or maybe even the world), murder rate, drop out rates for high school and college, teen pregnancy, UFO sightings (I'm not kidding), and the number of weird weather events. Everything from earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and locusts (OK, I'm kidding about the locusts, but I did see some strange bugs munching on our peas today.)
But the picture would not be complete unless you considered, the writers, the music, the food, and college football.  
When you look at the globe, there are few places that have it all. I love California, but most of those folks have never heard of grits, or fried green tomatoes. Ireland has some great writers, and they're very fond of music, but most of them have never heard of the Crimson Tide. 
The thing is, when we live in a place, we learn to take the good with the bad. We keep our sanity by focusing on the things we love, and try to do what we can to make sense of the bad, and do what we can to improve the place we call home.
Today when I looked at the weather, one of the projected paths of hurricane Isaac has it heading into the mouth of Mobile Bay.
That last blow that did that was still a hurricane when the eye came over our house in the wee morning hours, and we are over 200 miles inland.
The upside is, Alabama plays Michigan to open the College Football season in 10 days. I just hope the power is back on by then.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friending Up

We drove into the city tonight to dinner with our friends Jerry and Carol. Rain drops as big as dimes began to splatter our windshield as we parked so we had to make a run for the restaurant.
Carol is a professor at The University of Alabama, and Jerry is a musicologist.  It had been a while since we've seen them and we talked long after the tab arrived.
After hugs and handshakes, we paid our bill and made a run for the parking. The rain was more steady and the temperature had dropped some. We smiled as we headed for home.
The past few months it seems we've done a better job of seeing our friends. I'm not sure why we don't hire some big, ugly, ex-con to beat the crap out of us when we don't see our friends often enough.
"You ain't seen Tom or Judy, Brenda or Danny, Kaye or Jammie in six week. You know y'all got this comin'."  Kick, kick, stomp, stomp. 
I'm guessing that if we had a thug on the payroll, we'd be more mindful of our calendar and do a better job of friending up the people we love.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Perils of Walking

I got sick of writing stories, formatting ebooks, and looking at computer screens today so I closed my laptop, put on my walking shoes, and headed for the back door.
The dogs know somethings up when I start strapping on my shoes, and they get beside themselves.
I walk with a stick that I cut from the limb of a poplar tree with my pocket knife. I learned early on that it's wise to have a stick with you in case you walk upon a snake or other critter. 
There are stretches of our walking path where the limbs of trees form a canope, making the trail like a verdant tunnel. It's in these tunnels where you get a face full of spider web, and sometimes a big ol' spider to boot.
I'm not afraid of snakes or spiders as long as I see them first. But there's nothing like walking with your mind in deep contemplation of the Universe, and all the gifts it has to offer, and when you least expect it, you get a face full of spider web with a spider as big as a Chihuahua.
The times this has happened to me, I've woven a rich  tapestry of profanity that you don't often hear. I string together creative combinations of unexpected objects, animals, people, and minor deities.
Fortunately that didn't happen to me today. 
I hear the kettle calling. We're going to enjoy a nice cup of Sleepy-time Tea and hit the hay. Y'all have a great weekend.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Measure Twice, Cut Once

 The proverb: Measure twice, cut once, is actually some of the best advice you can get. Simply put, it means take the time to check before you commit.
But as is the case with all advice, you actually have to follow the advice for it to work. I've known measure twice nugget of wisdom all my life, but I can't tell you the number of times I've bungled something, and afterwards said: "dang, I wish I had checked this first."
I had a self-imposed goal to have my book at the press a few weeks ago. I'd read over the manuscript so many times I was sick of it.
Jilda read over it too, and found several errors, which I corrected. As one last check, I sent it to my friend Dale who is a writing mentor to me and an excellent writer, and editor.
The only hitch, it would take him some time to work through the manuscript.
I started to forego the extra set of eyes on my work to meet my deadline, but that little nagging voice (the good one, not the bad one) kept saying, "What's your hurry? Let Dale check it."
I took a breath and decided to miss my deadline, and I'm glad I did. He found a ton of formatting errors, which neither Jilda nor I were looking for, but he also found several instances where I misused words, and he found grammatical errors too. He gave me a paper copy of my book with all his suggestions.
I was surprised by the number of squiggle marks he'd added, but I blew through them and I started to submit the book again.
Then that little saying flitted through my head. Measure twice, cut once.
So I took a felt-tip pen and went error by error in Dale's document - checking the corrections against the  electronic document I was about to submit. I found five instances where I'd failed to correct mistakes.
Now I'm confident that my manuscript is as good as I can get it. That's not to say there won't be any errors, but I know for a fact there will be fewer than there would have been had I not Measured Twice and Cut Once.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Righting an Unintentional Wrong

I had an interesting morning. My first interview was at 9 a.m. It was with a set of triplets who all became Eagle Scouts recently. That's quite an accomplishment.
I haven't done any research, but I'm guessing that not many sets of triplets do all the work necessary to become Eagle Scouts. They were delightful kids, getting ready to head off to college tomorrow.
The interview went well and just before I left, a member of the Alabama House of Representatives from the local district came to present the boys with a commendation from the Governor. 
After the interviews, and photos, I gathered up my laptop and camera bag and started out.
The representative said "I'll walk out with you." 
He was very complementary of my writing for the papers. I told him the stories to which I'd been assigned were remarkable.
I mentioned the story I did back in March with the WWII pilot whose plane was shot down over France. I could tell he hadn't read that story because he was spellbound.
When I told him the pilot was notified of a promotion to Captain the morning of the day he was shot down. But everyone thought he was killed when the plane crashed, so his promotion had been canceled.
I told the representative that I wish I knew someone who could help him get his promotion.
The representative became animated. I could tell he was extremely taken by the story and wanted to help. He asked me to send him the information, and I did.
I'm sure these guys get all kinds of requests constantly and he may or may not be able to right an unintentional wrong. I will tell you this --  if he can make this happen, it will restore some of my faith in our elected officials.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Waiting for Someday ~ my column from Sunday's paper

I sat down with Jilda this week to eat dinner, and she called up an action comedy she’d recorded earlier. “Knight and Day” starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz probably won’t further the cause of world peace or true happiness, but one of the lines in the movie was profound and resonated with me.

Cameron Diaz’ character said that she would like to visit the southern tip of South America someday. Tom Cruise’s character got a far away look in his eye and said, “Someday is code for never.”

Jilda could have flipped the movie off at that point as far as I was concerned because I heard little else. The words rang in my ears like an ancient gong.

In reflecting back through the years, I’ve said, “I’m going to do that someday,” more times than I care to remember. I’m sure there were “good” reasons I didn’t go places I wanted to go or do things I wanted to do, but I can’t recall what those reasons were.

One factor is that like most younger folks, I thought I’d live forever. So I guess I fooled myself into believing that there was plenty of calendar left. 

But what I didn’t realize then is that life can be like a runaway train. I’m fairly sure I’m not onboard alone.

A classic excuse that people often use is “I’ll do that when I get out of school.” 

But after school you have to scramble to find a decent job and then focus a great deal of energy on keeping it. And if you want to move up the ladder, there won’t be many slots available on your calendar. So the things you want to do someday take a back seat.

Marriage adds another dynamic and layer of complication to your life. For those with children life can get even crazier, and you find yourself with barely enough time to grab a burger at the drive-through at the local fast food restaurant. 

We don’t have children, but the rest of this scenario easily fits like a puzzle that’s been put together too many times. The other night as I sat on the loveseat, I began to think about the calendar of my life. 

I realized that I’ve torn off more pages than I have remaining, and I can no longer afford to put off the things I want to do. 

I’ve wanted to visit Paris for as long as I can remember. Ever since we first married, Jilda and I have dreamed of riding to New Orleans on a train. Each month while reading my magazines, I use my fountain pen to circle fly fishing excursions to Montana. 

The refrain that drifts through my mind is “I’m going to do this someday.”

I think it was Mark Twain who said something like “In the end, you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” 

Old Mark must have spoken the truth, because there are very few things I’ve done in my life that I truly regret, but I know I will kick myself if I never get to hear the hypnotic sound of steel wheels clacking on rails as we rock our way to New Orleans.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


We invited company over last night, but something came up and we had to postpone until tonight. Today both Jilda and I were scurrying around like a squirrel gathering hickory nuts for winter and about mid afternoon, we sat down to catch our breath.
We both started to say something at the same time, our words colliding in the space between us. She went first, but her words mirrored what I was about to say -- We need to de-clutter.
Our house is fairly small and it's jammed full of the things we love and things we can't bring ourselves to part with.
I think we both reached a point in our lives where it's more important to have less clutter than it is to hold on to dusty memories.
So, the plan is this: take one room at a time and be brutal. If something has sentimental value, snap a photo of it, and put it in Goodwill.
The truth is, we often keep magazines we'll never read, books we've read, but kept because one day we might want to re-read them. 
I've got junk in my shed that should have been tossed when Clinton was in the White House.
We both pulled out our day planners and set a date to commence. Only time will tell if we actually go through with it. But I think it's past time we simplify.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust

The photo shoot went good yesterday. The publisher of the magazine is a young guy that had never fly fished before.
Call me fiendish, but I'd rented some waders for him so that he could get out in the river and shoot the pictures. I also fitted my old fly reel and rod with some dry flies, just in case.
After he shot the pictures, I asked him if he wanted to fish for a while. I immediately thought of those anti-drug commercials they produced years ago where the drug dealer offered the kid some drugs.
Yes, I'm a fly fishing pusher. One cast and they're hooked for life.
He started out a little jerky. His line tangled after the second try, but then I let him use the "good stuff" (my good reel and rod) while I untangled his line.
He started casting like a pro, and his fly began to sail across the stream and into eddies near big mossy rocks. A few minutes later the water swirled up around his fly and he instinctively pulled the rod skyward toward the sun. You coud hear him squeal all up and down the river. He landed his first rainbow trout.
He had appointments and couldn't fish long, but he started peppering me with questions like, where d can I buy waders? Where did you buy your reel and rod? And have you ever fished in Montana?
I smiled as I pulled out of the parking lot, and thought to myself - another one bites the dust.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Old Photographs

We have company coming tomorrow evening so I've spent time today cleaning out my office and the yard.
I came across a box of old photographs and my work came to a screeching stop. I've been taking photographs ever since I was in the Army in 1971, and for that reason, I'm not in a lot of family photos because I'm behind the lens. But I didn't take any of these photos.
This picture ran in the newspaper in 1975. The local heritage association had saved an old log cabin and moved it to the campus of Walker College in Jasper.
Our friend Winfred Sandlin who worked at the school and is a historian, asked us to play for the dedication for the log cabin.
I started growing a beard the following year and I've had one ever since.
Jilda's mom Ruby clipped this photograph from the paper, framed it in a Woolworth frame and hung it on her wall. We took it down and packed it away after her mom died and it's been in my office under a stack of computer books for software I haven't used in years.
I didn't want to lose the picture again, so I scanned it and put it in a folder so that I know exactly where it is.
I hope you all have a remarkable weekend.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cha Ching

I think I mentioned a few posts back that I'd gotten a gig writing a piece for a magazine. The article was due this week.
After I finished the article, did about a thousand edits, and had Jilda read it so many times she almost memorized it. I sent it.
When I hit the send button I was immediately swamped by those voices in my head. What were you thinking dude. The publisher will think your a loser. You couldn't write if the spirit of William Faulkner  crawled in your ear, set up a typewriter, and started banging keys like a drunken Jerry Lee Lewis playing the piano.
I went for a long walk and shut the voice out. Yesterday I got an email from the guy and he loved the piece. He said it was exactly what he was looking for. I'm meeting him in the morning for photographs.
I must say I dressed down that little voice in my head. Since this is a G-Rated Blog, I won't go into detail about what I said to him, but rest assured I said some unkind things about his mother.
I hope you all have a remarkable Friday and the rest of the weekend.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Common Things

I've spent a great deal of time trying to think of extraordinary subjects to write about, but I've come to understand, by reading the works of Flannery O'Connor, John Cheever, Truman Capote, and others is that the true measure of a writer is to cultivate the ability to write about common things.
I think the value of writing daily in a blog, journal, or other outlet is essential to developing your skills as a writer.
I try to remember this when like tonight, my creative well runs dry and rather have an 18 inch knitting needle jammed into my eye than to write another word.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ebb and Flow

A few years ago Jilda and I went to the beach on my birthday. We rented a friend's condo which is on the beach at Gulf Shores. 
We arrived the night before and the next morning I got up early and walked to the edge of the ocean and sat listening to the surf.
As the morning slowly came alive, I looked to the east and then to the west and I could not see another soul.
I sat by the water's edge and Jilda walked barefoot down to the water and brought coffee. We sat quietly and watched the sun rise. The ocean sounded like the breath of God. 
That memory came to mind tonight as I struggled with a topic for this entry. 
The last few weeks have been intense with deadlines approaching like fast-moving trains.
I could have gotten in a tizzy, but I'd write for a while and then take a walk.
There've been times in the past, I would have tried to simply grind on through, but I've learned that if your mindful of the ebb and flow of your energy, you can work effectively longer. Or, that's the approach I've been using this week.
I still have a few more days before I get far enough into the tunnel to see a light at the other end.
Maybe when I get caught up, Jilda and I can head down to the beach for a few days. I think that would do my spirit some good.

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Column from Sunday's Paper

NOTE: I used part of a post a few days ago for my column this week. 

I’ve spent time today thinking about life events. You know the ones I’m talking about — things planned, and unplanned, that happen to you along your journey. 

Those things that resonate somewhere down deep inside, and you understand on some level that when your life story is written, these are the events that added color and texture to the tapestry of your life.

On a whim, I decided to list my top 10 life events. I guess I’ve lived a blessed life because distilling it into 10 things was difficult. I’m sure Jilda will read this and pepper me with 50 other things that I failed to include, but here goes my short list.

1. The gift of my first car — My first car was a 1947 Plymouth coupe that had belonged to my older brother Neil. My mom sort of repossessed it from him for non-pay. 

She would have bought the car for him, but he wanted the flexibility to do with it as he pleased, so he elected to borrow the money from her.

When he started missing payments, he gave her the keys. He’d grown tired of it by then because he spent more time pushing it than he did riding in it.

Mother gave it to me for my 15th birthday. I know this is crazy, but I drove that car for a year without a license or insurance. I kept it until I got drafted and my dad sold it while I was in Panama. (I’m still a little miffed about that.)

2. My first flight on an airplane — When I was drafted into the Army, my first duty station was at Fort Monmouth, N. J. After basic training, I flew from Birmingham to Newark. That was on July 3, 1971. 

The terrain was flat and uninteresting until the pilot went into a holding pattern which took us over New York City. I almost rubbed a blister on my forehead looking through the tiny portal on that flight. 

3. Celestial event — When I was in Panama in 1972, a bunch of us from the barracks decided one night to do some star gazing. We headed to Fort San Lorenzo, which is an abandoned Spanish fort situated at the edge of the jungle on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic. 

No one realized it before hand, but as we lay there drinking in the vastness of the sky, the show started. The shooting stars went from horizon to horizon in slow motion. I’ve seen meteor showers since then, but none have compared to the show in Panama.

4. Getting married — Jilda and I “ran off” to get married on May 5, 1974. We were heading to the beach but stopped at the home of a preacher friend in Brewton. We tied the knot on the front porch of their house trailer.

5. Our first cut — Jilda and I have been writing songs together since before we were married. We spent incredible time, energy and money pitching songs in Nashville. 

After years of pitching, a record producer heard one of our songs and loved it. A short time later we were in a recording studio on Music Row listening to a young country music artist singing our song. 

The memory of sitting in that studio listening to the sweet sound of our music flow through speakers the size of my pickup puts chills on my arms even today.

6. Our first house — We built our first house in 1984 and we moved in the second week of December. We spent the first 10 years of our marriage in a 12’ x 65’ house trailer with no air conditioning. That was one of the happiest Christmases I can remember.

7. Our first new car — After years of driving second-hand cars that had been worn out long before I ever sat behind the wheel, we finally saved enough money for a down payment on our first new car. There is no other smell in the world like the smell of your first new car.

8. Our first trip to San Francisco — We both, in the words of our good friend Joe, contracted scenic sclerosis as we took in the sights, sounds and smells of that city. It’s one of my favorite places on earth.

9. Our trip to Ireland — One of the high points in our lives so far was a sunny day standing on the Cliffs of Mohr, Ireland, looking westward toward America. The sound of the pounding surf, and the squawking of Guillemots (seabirds) are as fresh in my mind as the coffee I’m sipping as I write these words. 

10. Retiring from MaBell after 33 years — Working for the phone company was not a bad job. Working there enabled us to do many of the things on this list. Also, I befriended people that are still important in my life. But since retirement, I’m doing the work I love, and I haven’t looked back.

Obviously I’ve had many life events that were less joyous, but the older I get the more focus I place on events that leave me smiling.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ol' Buddy Loves to Ride

It's been so hot since summer began that I dared not let Ol' Buddy (our little black mutt) ride with me in the truck.
But a front moved through Friday evening and dumped four inches or rain in the area. As the clouds moved off to the east, it took the brutally hot weather with it.
All the rain put the grass in overdrive so I decided to mow the farm. When I reached for the gas can, it was near empty so I tossed it in the back of the truck.
Ol' Buddy watches me like a hawk whenever I move toward the truck and this morning he stood nearby looking pensively. I realized that it was cool enough for him to ride, so I said let's go Buddy.
He bolted toward the driver's side. He's so short, I have to boost him up into the seat, but when I picked him up he licked my face. He is one dog that had rather ride than eat.
I rolled my window down and leaned over to the passenger side and rolled his window down half way. He's never tried to jump out, but I always err on the side of safety.
The country store is about five miles away and I was in no particular hurry. The sky was deep blue with no trace of haze. A few puffs of cloud were scattered like cotton tumbleweeds.
I leaned out the window to the wind in my face. It felt good to be alive.
When I looked over, Ol' Buddy had put his front paws on the armrest to get his nose closer to the opening. His ears flapped and he yipped a few times which I took to be his confirmation that in fact it is good to be alive.
I pumped that gas into my can and went in to pay the clerk. I looked over from the register and they had those giant Slim Jims.
Once back in the truck, I peeled back the wrapper and bit off a piece for Ol' Buddy. I think I can safely say that he was one happy mutt.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What's Your Excuse

Jilda saw a blurb from the Paralympics recently and the title was "What's Your Excuse".  I have to admit, that struck a little close to home.
What's your excuse? I have a list of things a mile long that I should do to do to advance my career. The list hasn't changed much over the past year (well maybe it got a little longer). What's my excuse?
Sadly, I don't have one. I could whine about this and that, but in the end, I think it boils down to sometimes spend major time on minor things.
How do you combat the laws of diminishing intent? You're fired up and the longer it takes you to get started on a project, the less likely it is you will finish it.
The Paralympics start next week. I interview a cyclist who is competing in several of the events. She's had several traumatic brain injuries, and she was diagnosed with MS. But she's the fastest woman in the south on a bicycle. I can't wait to see how she does.
I set my clock a little early in the morning to work on a project that means a great deal to me. I want it to get underway before it falls prey to the law of diminishing intent.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What if you lost your online data?

I read this week where a hacker managed to get into  journalist Matt Honan Apple iCloud account and from there it was just a hop-skip-and and jump to get into his Amazon account, Facebook, Twitter, and his Google accounts. Read his account here.
Not only did the hacker delete the journalist's blog, but he also deleted all his Google Documents, and his Gmail account.
Once the hacker broke into the journalists Gmail account, he was able using what he found to hack into his Twitter account and start sending our racist and homophobic tweets.
Then the hacker proceeded to wipe the data from journalist's MacBook, his iPad and iPhone. All of his digital data stored in "the cloud" was deleted, included a year's worth of photos of his baby daughter.
Reading this story was a wakeup call for me. I immediately took action to tighten security of my Google accounts and also added an additional layer of backups that I store offline.
Even with added security, I think we are all at risk. As technology emerges and we all race to climb on board, there will be those who try (and succeed) to exploit it.
It was not my intention to for this post to be a downer, but I think it behooves us all to have a plan   to deal with a worse-case scenario.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Weather Report

The sun was shining when I left home this morning. I had meetings and an interview in Birmingham which is over 30 miles away.
The first meeting was with the Alabama Media Professionals at the Homewood Library at 11 a.m.. As I flipped on my blinker to pull into the parking lot, a few drops of rain peppered my windshield.  But less than a minute later as I backed into my parking place (yes, I always try to back into parking spaces) I heard a bolt of lightening strike something dangerously close. Then it started raining sideways.
I reached behind the seat for my trusty umbrella that's as big as a parachute. I shouldered my laptop, cracked the door, and jabbed the umbrella skyward before clicking the release and pushing the ribs up.
When I stepped out and closed the door, a gust of wind caught the underside of the umbrella and it felt as though I were being launched back into the street.
I hunkered down and made my way inside; mindful that I was clinging on to a metal lightening rod.
When I reached the lobby, my shirt was dry as snuff, but my legs from the thighs down looked as though I'd been fly fishing without waders.
The meeting lasted about 90 minutes and the lights flickered several times, but when I walked outside afterwards, the sun was back out baking the pavement making the city a big honkin' steam room.
I'm not whining. We need the rain. I complained a few years ago and it didn't rain between the months of June and September. My garden was dry enough to smoke.
So, just consider this post a local weather report for Birmingham, August 9th 2012.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Feeling Small

Light Festival from Cool Hunter site
I stumbled across a new website that is visually stunning. The site is Cool Hunter and has things like Architecture, Lifestyle, Food, Fashion, Art, and the list goes on. I spent some time perusing and it didn't take long to realize the website is stunning.
One of the "Events" I clicked on was a light festival in Belgium which is the photograph to the right.
Another even was a balloon festival.
Looking through the architecture section revealed some amazing structures.
(Shifting gears, but still on a tenuous thread) I'm listening to a book on tape (actually it's an Audible book on my iPhone) entitled De Vinci's Ghost.
I am absolutely blown away by what these folks did a thousand years ago without the benefit of computers, modern instruments, or other tools that makes it possible to do our work today.
Only a few thousands pages of Leonardo's notebooks have survived.
The knowledge lost when the Library of Alexandria was destroyed is incalculable.
All I know is this: looking at the world around us, and reading about the giants of history, I feel kind of small.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


Click to see the oil painting effect
OK, I'll have to admit, the garden is a little sad. We're still getting tomatoes, strawberries, and some peppers, but I have't tended it as I should.
When I stepped down today, the sun was setting off to the west and highlighted this weed.  I started to pull it up, but I reached for my iPhone instead and snapped this picture.
As I often do, I used the oil paint filter on Photoshop to turn it into something else.
If only you could Photoshop the garden in real life.
Use a few filters and brushes to take care of the weeds, darken to soil around the plants to make it more fertile.
Put a layer of rain to give thirsty roots a drink.
On the upside, I used the new tiller to work another part of the garden to plan okra and purple-hull peas. They are growing like this weed.
I expect I'll have purple fingers from shelling bushels of peas within a week or so.
I'd rather not Photoshop that, because shelling peas is something I actually enjoy. It's an activity that lets you see instant results from your work.
After you finish, you get to feast on hot-buttered cornbread and field-fresh peas, and I know from experience, there are worse things in life.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Life Happens ~ Column from Sunday's Paper

I've learned something through the years as a writer. When it comes to putting out books, writing is the easy part. 

I've finished my second book, “Life Happens” and am in the process of formatting it. I learned quickly that formatting is a lot more complicated than I thought it would be.

With my first book, “Remembering Big,” I simply took it to the Birmingham News Specialty Press, wrote them a sizable check and they made it happen. 

I had to sell a kidney to get enough money to keep from bouncing the check, but I had faith that I could sell enough copies to cover my expenses. 

Thanks to my friends and readers across the South, I did sell a lot of books. I was really encouraged.

But again, writing the words was the easy part. I spent the better part of two years speaking, going to book signings, book readings and other author events. I learned a great deal about how to connect with readers, and I actually got the hang of selling.

That was several years ago and I knew it was time to release another book. Since I couldn't spare another kidney, I decided it was time to learn how to do the formatting myself.

I did a great deal of research on the types of software I needed to put everything together. I decided on Adobe Indesign which allows you to not only prepare a book for print but also format it for the ever-expanding electronic book market.

I thought to myself, “Hey, I'm a computer-savvy guy. I can master this software and have my book ready for print by lunch.” I thought wrong.

I've spent a total of 48 hours this past week watching training videos, doing tutorials and trying to learn how to use this software which is designed to make the process of formatting books simple.

Earlier this week after hearing guttural sounds coming from my office, Jilda did a sweep through to remove all sharp objects. “I might need that letter opener,” I protested. She ignored me and locked it up in her jewelry case with the scissors and all my long pencils.

This morning I got up earlier than I normally do and put the coffee on to brew. I went into my office, opened one of the videos I'd already seen a dozen times and watched it yet again. 

This time it was almost as if someone had translated it into a language I could understand.

When I opened my book project, I managed to get 90 percent of it finished in a few hours. I wept with joy.

If the stars line up just right, I'll have the book completed this week so that Jilda and my buddy Dale Short can do a final read-through to check for mistakes.

Once the final draft gets the stamp of approval, I'll ship that baby off to press. It should be in the printer's hands by the end of August. 

With any luck, “Life Happens” should be on the shelves of local gift shops, book stores and restaurants in time for the holiday season. I'll be shaking hands, kissing babies and signing books before Christmas.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Impromptu Gathering

It was an impromptu gathering. We got a call while gassing up Ingred (Jilda's Volvo) just after lunch. My nephew James said he, his wife Andrea, and "the kids" were coming for a visit this evening. 
Daisy, Jordan, Stone, and Breeze
While it was not explicitly said, it was implicitly implied that we should have eggs....a lot of eggs.
His kids love Jilda's deviled eggs. There are four of those kids and I think they could eat three dozen deviled eggs. I base that on the fact that they ate two dozen (1/2 eggs) tonight without breaking a sweat.
They love coming here because Jilda has wooden building blocks in a special tub with water colors, brushes, play dough, puzzles, books and puppets. No time for TV here, there are activities to be completed. 
What was interesting tonight was Caillou the Wonder Collie's first exposure to ALL the kids at the same time.
He's a herder by nature. He likes for all his peeps to be close to each other. These kids were all over the house and it was driving this dog crazy. As soon as he fetched one kid and got them back into the herd, another one bolted. He fretted all evening until the kids left.
Our house is a quite place. A place where you can do yoga, or meditate for long stretches of time and not be interrupted. 
But tonight it was a madhouse. We loved having them over, but like Caillou, I was worn out by the time they left.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Your Last Post

I've been blogging for almost seven years. For those of you have been following me for a while know that blogging gave me the opportunity to write a weekly column for the lifestyle section of the local paper.
Those columns turned into a book, and now a second book that I finished formatting tonight. These blog entries are like a springboard. They give me a chance to try out ideas and see which ones resonate.
But it occurred to me tonight as I struggled to come up with a topic that in a way, you're only as good as your last blog post.
You could have written something worthy of a Pulitzer Prize last month, but for a new blog visitor who stumbles across your work, they make a decision as to whether they like what you do or not, on your last post.
Everything matters. So the flippant post I started to write tonight got the hook and I put a little more thought into what I wrote. It's probably not Pulitzer quality, but there's a nugget here and there that might persuade a new reader to dig a little deeper.

I shot yet another picture of the evening sky. I hope you don't mind.

Friday, August 03, 2012


I've formatted, formatted, and reformatted my new book today. Things that should have been so simple turned into gnarly-mangy-ill-tempered bears today.
I've said so many wordy-durds today that I'm not sure what kind of penitence will be required to get them stricken from my permanent record.
I started back one this project just after coffee this morning and I worked straight through until 1 p.m. when Jilda insisted I take a break, eat lunch and take a nap.
I tried to nap, but I kept seeing object styles, paragraph styles and glyphs on the inside of my eyelids. She headed out to work at 2 and I came back in my office where I duked it out for another two hours before I decided to take the dogs for a walk.
It felt good to get out and sweat a little. After the walk I started again. It's like a quest now. I cannot let it defeat me.
I saved all my files tonight just before I sat down to write this. I could ship the book off as-is, but there's a little additional sprucing up I'd like to do. 
I can tell you right now, this stuff is not for wimps. Writing this book was the easy part. Of course, what I'm learning now will make book three and beyond a piece of cake, but I can tell you putting this one together has been brutal.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Path Frequently Traveled.

10. I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. -- Wizard of Oz
9. Here's looking at you kid. -- Casablanca
8. What we've got here is a failure to communicate -- Cool Hand Luke
7. I'll be back -- Terminator
6. They're here - Poltergeist
5. Show me the money -- Jerry McGuire
4. Good food, good meat, gettin' late let's eat -- Thunder Road
3. I've always depended upon the kindness of strangers -- Streetcar Named Desire
2. Life is like a box of chocolates -- Forrest Gump
1. I feel the need. The need for speed -- Top Gun

These were a few memorable lines from famous moves. OK. Busted. I couldn't think of anything to write about tonight so I took the path frequently traveled. Sometimes you have to do that.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Life Events

I've spent time today thinking about Life Events. You know, those things, some planned, but many unplanned, that happen to you along the journey.
I guess I've lived a blessed life, because distilling it into 10 things was difficult. I'm sure Jilda will read this and pepper me with 50 other things that I didn't include, but here goes my short list.
1. The gift of my first car. It was a 1949 Plymouth coupe that had belonged to my brother, and my mother bought it for me for my 15th birthday. I know this is crazy, but I drove that car for a year without a license or insurance. I kept it until I got drafted and my dad sold it while I was in Panama (still a little miffed about that).
2. My first flight on an airplane. I flew from Birmingham to Newark. The terrain was flat and uninteresting until we flew over New York City. I almost rubbed a blister on my forehead looking through the tiny portal on that flight.
3. Seeing a meteor shower over the Atlantic Ocean, from the walls of Fort San Lorenzo, in Panama. The shooting stars went from horizon to horizon in what seemed like slow motion.
4. Getting married on the front porch of a house trailer in Brewton, Alabama on May 5, 1974.
5. Getting our first cut of a song that we wrote. Sitting in the studio listening to the artist and great musicians do one of our songs. I still get a little chill when I recall that memory.
6. Spending our first Christmas in our new house, after living 10 years in a 12 x 65 foot house trailer with no airconditioning.
7. Driving off the lot in our first new car.
8. Our first trip to San Francisco. We both, in the words of our good friend Joe, contracted scenic sclerosis.
9. Standing on the Cliffs of Mohr, Ireland looking westward toward America.
10. Retiring from my day gig after 33 years. It was not a bad job, and I love the people with whom I worked, but I'm now doing the work I love, and I haven't looked back.

NOTE: This list may grow.

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