Monday, June 30, 2014

Run in with a chicken snake ~ My newspaper column this past week

One thing I’ve learned through the years is that farming is not for wimps. In the scheme of things, our farm is tiny, but it still takes a lot of work.

We have chickens, dogs, a small orchard, a nice garden and an impressive collection of Japanese Beetles, cutworms and other vermin. It’s a constant battle, but it’s worth it.

Each year we have fresh fruit, berries and vegetables. Our hens provide us with more fresh eggs than we can eat, so we share them with friends and family.

The girls take the winter off, but once the sun warms in spring, they get back into their nesting routine.

Currently, we only have two hens, but each morning I toss in a little scratch feed and give them fresh water. In return, I get two large eggs that look as if they have a tan.

Experience has taught me that hens are more apt to lay if there’s already an egg in the nest, so each spring I put an X on an egg with a magic marker and leave in the nest. This past week, there were fewer eggs in the nest. Last Wednesday morning there were no eggs, not
even the marked egg. That meant one thing — VARMINT.

I marked another egg and vowed to solve the mystery.

Friday evening as the sun slipped toward the western horizon, I went down to check. When I stepped in the pen, a huge chicken snake was curled up in the nest with an egg in its mouth. 

It saw me, spit out the egg and made a hasty retreat.

I grabbed it by the tail and tried to pull it out, but it was stronger than I realized. It pulled free, sliding through a crack near the bottom of the nest and slithered to safety beneath my shed. Varmint 1, Rick 0.

I put another marked egg in the nest and continued to check it throughout the day.

This past Sunday, Jilda made a peach and blueberry cobbler. When I walked out to toss the peach peelings into the pen, the serpent was back with an egg in his mouth.

I silently stepped back out of sight and headed back to the house to suit up for battle with a long-sleeve jacket and leather gloves. An old breadbox in the shed, I decided, would make a perfect snake carrier. Jilda came out to supervise.

I reached into the nest, grabbed the beast and dragged him wiggling out of the nest. 

“Be careful!” she squealed, as if I’d be reckless with the snake. 

As I stepped backward, my leg was tangled in the bottom slats of the roost, and I went sprawling. I landed on the snake, which almost caused a hygiene emergency. 

But I was on my feet quicker than a cat. Still holding the snake, I flung it into the breadbox and flipped the lid closed. 

I could hear that rascal writhing in the box. 

He was not happy, but I took that bad boy about 10 miles from my house and dumped him in an unpopulated part of the county. 

I snapped a photo of him exiting the box. He looked at me as if to say, “Where do you expect me to get eggs out here?” He then turned and slid into the undergrowth.

This morning when I went to the pen, all was well. My hens looked happy, and there were two new eggs in the nest. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Early-morning yoga

I got up before six this morning and punched the brew button on the coffeemaker. When I stepped out on the back deck, the clouds to the south were the color of salmon. After snapping a photo, I sat for a long while listening to the morning birds chattering and chirping in the pines.
This would be a good morning for yoga, I decided. So I fetched my mat and pulled the phone from my pajama pocket., dialed up a Calm Radio station on Pandora and hit play. The sound of an eastern flute drifted from the tiny speaker.
The mat flipped from my hand with a POP, and settled on the deck as flat as asphalt. Often when doing yoga, my mind races, no matter how hard I try to calm the jabbering monkey in my head. But today was different.
I felt the breeze on my face, heard wind tinkle the wind chimes, and noticed how my breathe felt as I exhaled through my nose.
Forty-five minutes flew past without notice and today I've felt a little taller. If only it could be that way each time.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Nutin' honey

I'm using my "get out of jail (or get out of writing and update) free card tonight. I've worn the arrow off my backspace key tonight and the only honorable thing to do is to post a psychedelic picture
with no explanation and sign off. I could legally be declared as brain dead just now and the things I write could be used against me  later :)
I'll do better tomorrow.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Happy Birthday Little Anthony

Today was my great nephew Anthony's birthday party. He was in Disney World for his actual birthday, but the family and his friends celebrated it today.
What better place to celebrate a 4-year-old's birthday than with a splash pad party? They all had a large time.
I shot a few pics and a 15 second video.
Y'all have a great Sunday.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Just in case

Cleaning out the shed last fall, I came across a corner of old tools that had once been useful, but through the years had fallen into disrepair. A handle breaks, a tine bends, or a new tool is invented to make work easier, and the old tools fall by the wayside. You see a lot of these noble tools hanging as conversation pieces at Cracker Barrel Restaurant.
I found these in the corner of our barn. They weren't my tools, they were left here by owners who are long dead, but during all the "cleanout sessions" I've always found a place to store these "just in case."
I know it's a weird quirk in my personality, but I simply can't part with them. I'll always find a place to store them, so they'll be there....."just in case."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Life Changes, Just Breathe

My third book, Life Changes, Just Breathe came by UPS today. It's been a long time in the making.....well, it didn't take long to write, but it took a LONG time to get it edited. It's a book of 39 columns and two of my favorite news stories I did last year.
People ask me constantly how I come up with ideas for my columns. I'm quick to say that blogging is the best way to generate content, and more importantly it helps you to develop your voice.
I know a lot of seasoned writers who've never really found their voice. Their words are informative, but they don't put the reader in the story.
One of the best books on writing was Stein on Writing. He said the writer builds a relationship with the reader.
I'm not sure how successful I've been, but that's what I strive to do. Any how, The book goes on sale in soon. Additionally, if any of my readers would like a signed copy, click here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Playing Around

We had an opportunity to play the Cloverdale Playhouse recently.
It a beautiful reallocation of an old church that had moved to a new location.
The sound was incredible and the sound guys were pros.
I wish all the places we play could be half as nice.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Memories of summer

Summer is here. Back in December, the hourglass flipped and daylight gradually grew longer until this week, when it flipped in the other direction. 

The meaning of summer for me has changed through the years.

During junior-high-school, summers meant endless hours fishing, swimming and floating down the river like a turtle on a drifting log. 

I learned to waterski, bait a trotline, cook over an open campfire, skin a catfish and drive a boat.

Then, in high school, my focus changed. Summers found me dreaming of Panama City, Florida and girls in skimpy bathing suits. I can still close my eyes and smell Coppertone suntan lotion. It probably didn’t have any sun block in it, but it contained something that made my teenage hormones rage. I loved that smell.

The dread began in late August because school started right after Labor Day back then.

Once in college, summertime changed again. The days of the free ride were over.

My parents helped me get into college and let me stay at home free of charge for a time. But they didn’t raise me to be a freeloader, so I went to work and began paying my own way.

It took most of my weekly paycheck to put gas in my car. At that time, I drove a 1965 Impala SS with a motor bigger than most of the states on the Eastern seaboard.

My gas consumption was not calculated in miles per gallon as it normally is but gallons per mile.

It was fire engine red with Raider mag wheels. I’d roll down the windows and punch my favorite tape, which was the size of a peanut butter sandwich, into the eight-track player. 

Even when it was hotter than the devils bar-b-que pit, I’ve never looked cooler in a car. For me, it was the perfect summer ride.

Uncle Sam drafted me out of college, and the time I spent in Panama was an endless summer.

After the Army, I joined the workforce and summers were compressed into two weeks, which is all the vacation I got in those early years.

It seemed by the time we packed the car and drove to our vacation destination, it was time to turn around and head back to the grindstone.

I learned to enjoy long-weekend vacations to summer festivals, the beach and to state parks.

Once I retired, summers began as soon as the earth warmed enough to plant a garden, or when the sun on my back made it warm enough to go fly fishing on the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River.

These days I can go wet a line any morning during the week, when most of the working folk are hard at it.

Now, summer also means doing those chores I’ve put off all winter. Last winter seemed to go on forever, so my list this year is much longer than usual.

Another thing about summer these days is that the fruit trees, berry bushes and grape vines that we planted years ago are maturing, giving us an abundant harvest.

We’ve put up five gallons of blueberries so far and the bushes are still hanging full.

We still love the beach, but not so much in summer when those crowds of pesky high school sun-worshiping kids fresh out of classes swarm like bees to sweet flowers.

Summer, like most of the things in life, changes with time, and with all things considered, that’s fine with me.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Slow ride

Our friend was back today. I knew he would be. He slips in every few days, to grab an egg or two and then slithers back under the shed. Check the chicken pen several times a day had been the routine.
Jilda made a peach and blueberry cobbler just after lunch for our dinner guest this evening. When I walked out to toss the peach peelings into the chicken pen, he was there with an egg in his mouth.
I quietly stepped back out of sight and went back inside for my long-sleeve coat and my gloves.
There's an old bread box in the shed where I'd stored old tools that I knew would be a perfect snack carrier. Emptying the box in another toolbox, I slipped into the chicken pen.
 While he was dining, I grabbed him in the middle. Jilda came out to watch from a distance and when I came out of the nest with this snake that was longer than I am tall she hollered "Be careful."
As I stepped backward with the snake in hand, my leg got tangled with the bottom of the roost and I went sprawling. When I landed, the snake was partially beneath me. I almost had a hygiene emergency, but I was on my feet quicker than a cat. Still holding the snake, I flung it into the bread box and flipped the lid closed. I could hear that rascal writhing in the box.
He was not happy, but that bad boy was about to take a slow ride to the county line.
I found a wide place in the road and pulled to the side.
Hefting the box from the back of the truck, I laid it on its side and opened it a little.
I pulled my phone from my pocket, and waited for him to make his exit. I thought I'd take one of him exiting and then get a full-length picture of him, but he was camera shy. A split second after this photo, he was out the other side of the box and in the underbrush before I could take another photo.
Hopefully when I introduce the new chicks into the big pen, there won't be any unwanted guests until they get big enough to fend for themselves.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Change of venue

We headed out early this morning to the festival about an hour north of us. Last year's event was in the parking lot of the local high school.
We chased scattered showers to the event last year and when the sun came out just before noon, the place was a sauna.
The planners told us there would be change of venue this year so we were unsure of what to expect. But today we drove to a wooded park with lots of shade. Our stage was a pavillion built of rough-hewn cedar logs. It was beautiful.
Our audience was transitional. People would come and listen for a while and then move on to make room for others who drifted up.
We don't have a picture of us playing, but we took pictures of each other before we started.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Warm Day

This morning was beautiful.  As we drank our coffee in silence, we watched hummingbirds and squirrels outside our windows.
Jilda looked at the petunias which are showing out right now, and just beyond them the purple Rose-a-sharon was blooming.
A local women's recovery house asked us to play a street-festival benefit. Even at 8 p.m. it was hotter than Hades asphalt. By the time I got home, I felt wilted.
We have another outdoors gig at 10 in the morning. Hopefully we'll be home before high noon.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Which came first?

I taught a class for the Chamber of Commerce today at the local college. It was a small class, but we had fun learning how to build a simple website. Some of the chores I normally do before sunrise, I put off until this evening.
This past week we weren't getting the number of eggs we normally get. I thought the chickens were probably on strike for better scratch feed or cooler water, but this evening I got to the bottom of the mystery.
A chicken snake well over six-feet long was in the nest and had one of the eggs in its mouth. I reached for my phone to snap a photo but the snake spied me, spit out the egg and made a hasty retreat.
I grabbed him by the tail and tried to pull it out, but it had lodged itself into a crack near the top of the nest and he wasn't giving up the fight. He was a lot stronger that I realized.
He did escape, but I'll have my eye on the nest. If we can't live in harmony without him getting my eggs, he'll go for a ride to the other end of the county.
But in this case, I think the answer to the modified age-old question: "Which comes first, the chicken snake or the egg?" The answer is obvious.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Let it coast

The other day on a walk, I came upon a rock bluff with a tree in bloom. I decided to shoot the photo with my Hipstamatic app. Sometimes I pick a lens and film at random and let the iPhone have its way with the subject.
Many times it's a bust, and I immediately delete the image from my camera. But sometimes the image is interesting and not at all what I thought it would be.
Our brains are taught to recognize patterns and categorize data so that it takes less brain power to process. I understand why it does this...if it had to process all new information as if it were unique (which if often is) it would slow your brain down to a crawl and probably overheat...especially in summer. But this image jumped out at me.
Sometimes I have to knock my brain out of gear and let it coast.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The important part of fishing

I went fishing this morning but apparently Dagon, the god of the fishes, had taken the day off. There were others on the river this morning. I could hear them laughing and saying "Whoa, that's a nice one!" But apparently the trout considered my flies the equivalent of sow belly because they turned their noses (do fish have noses?) at my lures.
I almost wish I'd taken a stick of dynamite with me. Drop a half stick under water and my net would be full,. But that takes a lot of the sport out of it so I opted to cuss my fly rod, and reel as well as all the lures in my tackle box.
When you're on a dry spell, it's easy to forget that the "important part of fishing ain't the fish but the fishin'" as the folk song goes.
The day warmed up quickly but I was waist-deep in cold water and it felt good. Off in the distance a woodhen rapped on an old dead oak, looking for breakfast.
On the way out I passed a fisherman landing a trout. I asked him what he used, and he showed me a tiny brown fly. I showed him what I'd just been using and he said, "It looks like the same fly." Oh well.
He told me he lives about 3 hours away in a small town in central Alabama. When he mentioned the name, I smiled. It just happened to be a town where my column runs. When I told him, he was surprised. Life is full of funny coincidences.
Below is a photo that has NOTHING to do with this post.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Junk or treasure ~ My Column from Sunday's Paper

There’s an old saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” As I look around our home, many people would say most of our things fall into the junk category, and that would probably be true, if it weren’t for the stories behind them.

There’s a plant in the corner of our deck that we’ve had as long as we’ve been married. Jilda’s mom gave it to her, but her mom got it from Jilda’s grandmother Mammie. It’s called a bleeding heart and it’s as white as fine porcelain with what looks like a red tongue sticking out from the center.

Through the years, we’ve tended that flower like a baby cutting teeth. I’d give anything to hear Mammie tell how she got the plant, but we never asked, and she never said. And now it’s too late.

A few years ago, I interviewed an octogenarian from Mountain Brook. Her house was old and unremarkable on the outside, but inside it was filled with treasure. Everywhere I looked were photographs, books, and paintings that looked very old.

She brewed some hot mint tea to sip during the interview. As we drank from antique china cups, I asked her about a figurine on her coffee table. The little mummy was the size of a Cracker Jack toy. It looked like it had been carved from bone. 

“Oh this,” she said picking up the piece. My father gave it to me many years ago.” She went on to explain that one of her father’s clients got the figurine out of a pyramid during an expedition to Egypt in the 1920s.

When this lady passes on, her things will likely be thrown into a bin and sold as junk at a yard sale and the stories lost forever.

Jilda and I will be in the same boat someday. When I look around my office, there are so many things with interesting stories.

The pencil holder on Jilda’s writing desk for example. It’s a small cedar cup with eight sides. But on each side are tiny hand-carved pieces of different woods that form an intricate design. A friend of ours who is a filmmaker picked the pencil holder up at a open-air market while shooting a documentary of the Syrian peace talks back in the 1980s. 

Wouldn’t that be a cool invention? The ability to put a chip into the things we love that could tell their story after we’re gone.

The bowl on our coffee table might tell this story:

I am a bowl, carved from the stump of an Irish Ash tree by Dominique Madden. The Irishman pulled me from a fireplace one night while performing with Rick and Jilda at Characters Pub in Tullamore, Ireland. Dominique stomped out the fire with his boot and then he told Jilda, “I’ll make you something out of this.”

He turned me on a wood lathe and polished me until I glowed like glass. 

A few months later, he mailed me to the Watson’s with a poem he’d written entitled “Bowl with a hole.” I’ve been a candy dish on their coffee table since 1999.

When we are gone, the relatives left will sort through our things and wonder why this odd assortment of things meant enough to us to keep. They will not know what’s junk and what’s treasure because they won’t know the stories, and it’s the stories that make things valuable.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day

I've spent more time than usual on Facebook today. Almost everyone of the friends I follow, put up pictures and messages to their fathers.
They all made me smile, but the most poignant messages I've seen today were those from people like me who've lost their fathers.
My dad went to work early in his life which left no time for school. He learned his lessons the hard way. He worked hard and provided for his family. None of us ever knew what it was like to go hungry.
He taught us that we could have most anything if we were willing to work. He was the needle on my compass that always pointed in the right direction.
My dad wasn't without faults, but he had a good heart and he loved his family.
Rarely does a day go by that I don't think of him.
If your father is still living, don't go to sleep tonight without telling him how much he means to you.
Happy Father's Day

Saturday, June 14, 2014

No place I'd rather be

What if you could flip through a catalog for days and choose anything you like, what would you choose?
Some folks would like a rainy day, with thunder rolling off in the distance. Some people would order up a roaring surf, blazing sun, and shoes full of sand.
I like those days well enough, but if I had a weather catalog, the order for my perfect day would be this:
"I'd like high cirrus clouds, blue sky with lots of sun, but with a nice breeze so it doesn't get too hot." 
Today was incredible. We did long-neglected work around the house and afterwards, we visited with friends. On the way home, we stopped to buy some nice steaks.
I fired up the charcoal around five and Jilda did her special marinade. I poured some red wine we'd been saving for special occasions and we had dinner.
Soon the weather will be so hot that we'll be cussing the south like drunken sailors and wondering why we don't leave for Nova Scotia.....but today, there is no place I'd rather be.
Below is the view of the day at 6:45 a.m.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Morning Lillies

Today was trash day. I never put the cans down at the road the night before because I usually have to scramble to pick it up. Prowling neighborhood dogs find our trash most interesting. Once the can is knocked over, they explore each package, can, and envelope. Things that disappoint them, they shred finer than confetti.
So even those who did poorly in school eventually learn not to give the dogs much time to explore.
This morning after coffee, I started out to roll the can to the road, when a monsoon hit. I waited five minutes and the sun peeped up over the eastern horizon, casting dappled light on the backyard.
Slipping my shoes on, I wheeled the can to the road.
After scooping the newspapers from the box and starting up the path, I saw blooming lillies with spring rain drops dripping from the petals.
My iPhone was in my pocket so I snapped the photo below.
I hope you all have a weekend to remember. Happy Friday the 13th, with the added bonus of a full moon.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

I'd gotten a little down with all the rain these last few weeks. By our calculations (adding up the rain we've poured out of our rain-gauge, we've had 12 inches of rain in the past several days.
I've spent several hours on our screened porch listening to rain drum on the metal roof and listening to thunder roll off into the distance.
The wind playing with the chimes can almost lull you to sleep until lightening slaps the ground too close for comfort and the thunder is more of a crack than a rumble.
But today things were different. The clouds moved off to my friend Keith's house in Kentucky and the skies turned blue as an aquamarine. 
I had a chance to shoot a hanging basket of yellow flowers at the local produce stand which is below.
I hope you all have a remarkable Friday.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rain gear

The weatherman predicted the rain would move off to the north and give the soil a chance to drain. I say the weatherman is a big fat LLPOF (liar, liar, pants on fire).
It was dry enough this morning that I could get to the blueberries without a Seadoo and water skies.
Still I wrote for most of the morning and Jilda did some projects she'd had on hold. The idea was that we'd get outside this afternoon and work in the yard a while.
We left long enough to pick up the final edit of my new book, and stop by the supermarket to get some bananas. As we stepped out of the car, this was the scene. The cloud is headed for our house. 
The drive home was slow because we could only see a few feet in front of the car. At one time it seemed to be raining sideways.
After this cloud moved on northward, I rearranged the deck furniture in case it had somehow trapped the low pressure system over our house and caused all the rain.
I know from experience that it's not nice to complain about Mother Nature because she can take the rain away for a very long time....just ask my friends in California.
I actually look pretty good in rain gear :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Life jackets on my tomato plants

It's been cloudy for most of the day, but this afternoon the rain moved north, and in places, the evening sky was the color of lime sherbet. 
I went out this evening and put life jackets on the tomato plants. They require a lot of water, but it's better if the annual requirement doesn't fall in one afternoon.
I shot this photo with the Hipstamatic app and let it have its way with the light. 
This morning I had a doctor's appointment and the primary care doc said I looked great for an 80 year old. When I told him I was 63, he busied himself with something very interesting on his laptop and cut our conversation short.
Afterwards I had a Chamber of Commerce meeting, and then came home to write. Tonight I'm bone tired. I'll have me some hot tea, and fade into the night.
Happy Wednesday to you all.

Monday, June 09, 2014

I love breakfast

Breakfast is my favorite meal. That’s not to say that I don’t love hamburgers, fish, steak,
pork chops, vegetables, fruit, grains and most breads, but the aroma of frying bacon can rouse me from a deep sleep.

The only two things I don’t like is tripe (made from a cow’s stomach) and fish bait (sushi, calamari, anchovies and all that stuff.)

My love of breakfast started young. Mama cooked for us kids most mornings. We didn’t always have meat with every lunch or dinner but for breakfast, we’d have bacon, sausage or ham.

Sometimes she’d send me out to the chicken pen to gather eggs. The roosters and hens fussed when you entered the henhouse. Every now and then, I’d have to reach under a fat hen to get eggs. There’s an art to sneaking eggs from beneath a nesting hen without getting a face full of claws and feathers. The eggs were warm to the touch.

Mama’s gravy didn’t look like what you get at Jack’s or Mickey D’s. Her gravy was the color of bisque with flecks of black pepper. 

Jilda’s mom made great biscuits, but my mom’s biscuits were different. She would scoop a glob of lard the size of a tennis ball and plop it in a cast-iron skillet with dappled sides from years of use. 

She’d set the skillet on the small eye of the electric stove to melt the lard while she mixed biscuit dough in an ancient white-speckled bowl.

When the lard melted, she’d place 10 biscuits in the skillet with one in the middle that looked as big as a hubcap to my hungry eyes. Once out of the oven, they had golden tops, with a bottom crust as brown as a graham cracker. The biscuits crunched slightly as you chewed, which added a pleasing texture that went well with fried eggs and gravy. 

On mornings when we had ham, she’d make redeye gravy, which raised the experience of biscuit sopping to a new level.

For variety, we’d sometimes have grits instead of gravy. The dollop of freshly churned butter in the pile of grits on my plate was as yellow as an egg yoke.

I became a coffee drinker before I started to school. She’d pour the morning nectar in my cup with a spoonful of sugar and enough cream to make it look like caramel.

The kitchen at the old place had a curtain-less window the width of our sink. On the sill, she had flowers and green plants that grew year around. The light coming through the windows made our kitchen feel like a happy place.

You might not be surprised to learn that the idea for today’s column came to me when Jilda asked if I’d like biscuits and gravy for breakfast. We usually have cereal or a blueberry-protein shake, but she cooks a mean breakfast that’s a rare treat for us.

I took my laptop to the screened porch and when the timer chimed announcing the biscuits were ready, I’d finished this piece.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy a nice country breakfast soon.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Wild daisies

Driving home this week, we passed a neighbor's pasture. Beyond his fence is cows, horses, and a carpet of wild flowers.
Sometimes on early spring mornings, a veil of mist hangs over the creek that flows through the property and the scene looks ethereal.
I pulled to the side of the road just as the sun peeked over the hillside and snapped a photo of these wild daisies.
Tonight as I flipped the the photos on my iPhone to find a picture to post, my thumb landed on this picture. I knew at once what my post tonight would be about.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Stormy weather

My cellphone just chirped and when I looked at the message, it was the storm alert system that send messages when fowl weather is near.
When I looked at the radar, nasty red and yellow stuff is swooping down from the north. Even as I type, the lights are flickering a little. I know from experience that this is lightening dancing on the powerlines.
So tonight's post will be short. I'll get the storm lights ready in case we lose power.
Below is what my mother-in-law called a spider bush. It started blooming this week. It's a beautiful thing to behold keeping our bottletree company.
I hope you all have a great weekend.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The old house

The old house on the back of our property is almost a hundred years old. We bought the property from an elderly neighbor and her husband built the old house and barn just three years from the start of the Great Depression.
Even when the old windows are cleaned with Windex, they are a little cloudy. Sitting inside looking out you can see slight imperfections in the glass.
I write down there as weather permits. The wind in winter blows unimpeded through the cracks in the walls and windows.
Thankfully in summer, the oak and hickory form a leafy canopy over the old house, and even when the temps are brutal everywhere else, it's cool sitting on the front porch.
Some of my best ideas have come to me sitting at my desk down there.
I guess I could tear the old place down and build a modern structure, but I'm not sure something new would contain the same magic.
Maybe I'm just a sentimental sap. It's hard to say.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

It's the stories

There's a plant in the corner of our deck that we've had almost as long as we've been married. Jilda's mom gave it to her, but her mom had gotten it from Jilda's grandmother. I'm sure the plant has a story even beyond that, but I'm not the one to tell it.
One thing aging has taught me is that most of the things we have in our home that we cherish, have a story. Very little of what we have would be considered valuable unless they could somehow tell their story.
Wouldn't that be a cool invention? The ability to put a chip into the things we love that could tell their story.
The bowl on our coffee table might tell this story:
I am a bowl, carved from the stump of an Irish Ash tree by Dominique Madden. The Irishman pulled a burning chunk of wood from a fireplace one night when he was performing with Rick and Jilda at Characters Pub in Tullamore Ireland. Dominique stomped the fire from the chunk of wood with his boot and told Jilda, "I'll make you something out of this."
A few months later, he mailed the bowl to the Watsons with a poem he'd written entitled "Bowl with a hole." I've been a candy dish on their coffee table since 1999.
When we are gone, the relatives left will sort through our things and wonder why this odd assortment of things meant enough to us to keep. The answer is simple, it's the stories.

Bleeding heart that once belonged to Jilda's grandmother

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Ridin' on a train

One of the things on my bucket list is to ride a train. I rode a train in Panama from one end of the canal to the other, while in the Army, but that's been a long time ago.
Also when I worked for The Community News in the mid-1970s I did a story about trains and I had the opportunity to ride with the engineer in the lead engine of a freight train. But I want to ride a train to New Orleans with Jilda and dine in the club car while the countryside glides by through the windows at our table.
We had friends who did this trip recently and they loved the experience.
A while back when we play in Kosciusko, Mississippi, there was a train caboose behind the newspaper office.
My nephew James snapped this photo of Jilda and me with the caboose behind us. I thought it might light a fire under my behind to make the train trip happen, but so far that hasn't worked.
Here's to wheels clacking on steel tracks as the train wobbles south to New Orleans. Perhaps we'll take our guitars and play the Steve Goodman song Ridin' on the City of New Orleans made popular by Arlo Guthrie.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

He Home Depot

Here's the thing. I know a lot of women go to Home Depot, and the corporation goes to great lengths to hire women, and design advertising to make the store look woman friendly, but from where I sit, The Home Depot is a guy store.

This week we took our great nephew Jordan with us to buy tile and paint. He just turned six, but he gets it. As we walked around the store he'd point to a drill and say, "Paw Paw needs that." When we walked by the grills, "Uncle Haven needs that." In the section where they sell decorative bricks and stepping stones he said, "We could put these around our fire pit." Everything that is ours is his and he knows that.

In fact, he found a home for almost everything we saw at the store.

I picked him up and sat him on a giant green and yellow John Deere lawn tractor. His eyes glazed over as he tested the wheels and shifted the transmission. "If you got this, I could cut your grass," he said. I smiled at the unintentional harbinger and thought, "You'll be cutting my grass for date money soon enough littleman."

Jilda shot the picture below and I'm not sure if the cropping was intentional, but you can see from the photograph of Jordan and Me. In the background was the store marquee  "He Home Depot." I think that's telling

Monday, June 02, 2014

Life is rushing by ~ My column from Sunday's paper

I’ve read that high-school students have ringtones set to very high frequencies so that older teachers can’t hear the cell phones ring.

Another cruel trick that time plays is a sound that only older people can hear. It’s the sound of life rushing by. I can hear it as I type these words.

Something that seems to come more frequently with age is losing friends. When I was younger, it happened from time to time and was always brutal, but I’ve found that it happens more as I’ve gotten older.

This past week we lost one of our dearest friends. Steve Weisberg was a musician who’d traveled the globe in a Learjet with John Denver when the crooner was at the top of his game.

As sometimes happens when fame and fortune smiles on an individual, he began to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Things began to spiral out of control and he lost his job with John Denver, his house, his wife and money. 

With the help of his parents, he got clean, and died this past week with a 24-year coin from Alcoholics Anonymous. He fell victim to cancer, which is the cruelest executioner.

We’ve made many friends in the clinic where Jilda gets her monthly treatments.

The majority of patients there are getting chemo for cancer. We’ve formed a kind of kinship with each other because these friends know firsthand what the others are going through.

Jilda is the type of person who can meet someone and 10 minutes later, she walks away with intimate details of their hopes, dreams, family history and love life.

She’s a rockstar in the treatment room. People change their treatment dates so they can be there when she’s there.

The sad part we’ve learned is that this group of friends die even more frequently. We’ve attended several funerals these last three years.

Last Saturday we had friends and family over for an old fashion fish fry. It was a picture-perfect day. One of her chair buddies felt well enough to come too.

We placed picnic tables with lawn chairs in the back yard, iced the drinks down in a No. 3 wash tub nearby, and we sat around in the shade of oak and pine to eat some of the best fried fish I’ve ever put in my mouth thanks to my nephew Haven.

I thought nothing could put a damper on the day but after all the guests had gone home, we learned that a friend that we’ve known for over 30 years who is a cancer survivor, found out this past week that the cancer may be back. 

At this point, it’s not clear if treatment is an option. I’m sure they are wrestling with the decision of whether to opt for quality of life over quantity. The thought breaks my heart.

As I thought about the best way to end this piece, I remembered a song that Jilda and I wrote a while back that seems appropriate for this column. The song is entitled “Turn Around.”

“When you’re young you think you’ll live forever, Can’t hear the sound of life rushing by,

“See no need to be in a hurry,

You’re just along for the ride.”

These days the sound of life rushing by seems louder than ever. 

Read more: Daily Mountain Eagle - Life is rushing by 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Changing in the weather

Sometimes I feel like we live in the tropics. When I was stationed in Panama many years ago, the weather was wacky at times.  Most days the sky was deep blue with white clouds so low it felt like you could stand on your tiptoes and poke your finger into them.
Then without warning the clouds swept in off the Pacific and suddenly the rain fell sideways. Fifteen minutes later, the sun would return turning the earth into a sauna.
About 30 minutes ago I heard thunder in the distance stomping northward toward us from the Gulf of Mexico. The lights flickered and the UPS on my iMac leaped into service, but then the lights stabilized.
The next thing I heard was rain roaring on the tin roof.
Just now as I helped Jilda clean the kitchen, I stepped to the deck to dump the scraps into the compost bin. Pausing for a moment, I looked up. The sky was dark as velvet covered with tiny specks of light. Off to the west the quarter moon smiled at me. How quickly the weather changes sometimes.
Below, our lemon tree is blooming again.

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