Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bipolar blues

I think Mother Nature was off her meds today because the sky was bipolar. One moment it was the color of a topaz ring and the next moment it looked like a thunderstorm was imminent.  

We had errands this morning but were napping on the couch before having a late lunch. After eating, Jilda did things around the house as I compiled research on a story that'd due this coming week.

Cabin fever set in so we headed out for a walk. I had on a short-sleeve shirt, but the wind out of the west was a little chilly, so Jilda jacketed up.

By the time my band buzzed saying I'd reached my daily goal of 10K steps, my shirt was wet enough to ring out. 

This evening, I finished up with the first edit of my next book. I fixed all the errors that my friend Marti found, and I printed out an updated copy for Jilda and my friend Asa Faith. They take another look at the manuscript to see what they can find.

If there's one thing I've learned as a writer, it's that you need eyes on your work before it goes to print because afterward it's too late.   I'm grateful for friends (and my lovely wife) who are willing to help me be the best I can be.

I hope you all have a remarkable week.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pets can be sensitive

We were out of town last night and had no WIFI Internet connection, so I had to post my blog from my iPhone, which is a challenge for fat fingers on a tiny keyboard, but I managed.

Today was a travel day. Jilda, her sister, her niece and I hit the road before lunch and made it home around 3 p.m.

We'd gotten some steps in before we headed out this morning, but more steps were needed after we got home.

The road always makes me weary, so a nap was the first order of business, but after that, we decided to walk. Both Taz and Caillou were beside themselves. The collie kept barking and pulling my sox off as if that would get me ready more quickly.

As we approached the back gate, both dogs were running rings around us barking with pure joy.

Once outside, I realized one of our chickens had hopped the fence and was cruising outside for bugs that had popped out to enjoy the sun.

I alerted Jilda, and we were in the process of herding the chicken back through the gate when Caillou realized we needed his assistance. He charged the chicken as if he were herding a wandering cow, and the chicken freaked. I hollered at Caillou in a tone that was harsher than I had intended. I wanted him to stop chasing the bird. But the tone of my voice broke his heart. Without realizing it, I'd crushed the joy of his experience of walking with me.

He lowered his head and ran back through the gate and into the doggie door. Dang, I thought, that's not what I wanted to do.

After getting the chickens back in the pen, I went inside. He was at the foot of our bed lying on his mat.  I chided myself before sitting on the floor beside him. Petting him for a long while, and talking in soothing tones, I finally coaxed him outside, and we finished our walk. By the time we got our steps in, he was fine.

It's easy to forget how sensitive animals can be. Harsh words can cut deep, but they are quick to forgive, and I'm thankful for that.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Berry pretty

We have bushes in our yard with berries the color of tiny rubies. They are beautiful and I know I should know there name but I don't. 

We didn't plant them so I'm assuming they are some collaboration with birds and Mother Nature.

Right now, they are the only color in our yard. 

Note to self: Research these berries and get thei story. They are too much of a gift to ignore.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A beautiful sky

Today was a short day for me. I'd put in a few extra hours on Tuesday which allowed me to finish my work early enough to attend a genealogy meeting in town. It's been months since I last attended and I've missed them.

The people who show up each month are some of the most knowledgable people I know. You can ask them about any family in the area and if they don't know the history, they can point you to someone who does.

Most of them could write fascinating books about local history, though few of them have. They carry their knowledge around in dog eared binders and in their heads.

After the meeting I headed home. When I looked at my steps for the day, I shook my head. I hadn't moved much.

So, I put on my walking shoes and woke Caillou the wonder dog from a deep sleep and we headed out to put some steps on my band.

This morning my windshield had a curtain of frost that I scraped off with my insurance card, but by this afternoon, clear skies and a warm sun made the walk pleasant.

After my band buzzed saying I'd reached my goal, I sat on a hay bale to cool off before heading inside.

The setting sun had dipped below the horizon leaving a sky full of clouds the color of orange sherbet.
I snapped a picture, but something was lost between lens and picture. I guess you'll have to take my word that it was a beautiful sky.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Magic Tree

Jilda named the dogwood in our front yard The Magic Tree. We've kept (babysat) our nieces and nephews for years, and now we're keeping their children. Kids are like sponges. You can entertain them for a while with painting, building monsters with Playdough, playing go fish, and doing crafts, but then you must get them outside and run them ragged to deplete some of their energy or they'll drive you up a wall.

Early on, Jilda came up with this idea that the kids would enjoy.  While climbing The Magic Tree, she conjured up stories on the spur of the moment that kept them intrigued. I'm not sure if it was that they got a chance to test their skills and courage climbing, or if they enjoyed the stories she told, but the combination seems to have resonated. Even the grown kids call the dogwood The Magic Tree.

This evening when I walked, I paused to get my breath for a moment on the tailgate of my truck.

I looked over at the setting sun on the branches of the dogwood and realized what a beautiful tree it is. Even with the leaves and the berries long gone, it stands in our yard like a sentinel. It's one of the biggest dogwoods I've ever seen. My father-in-law planted it in the 1970s when he moved here with Jilda's mom.

In a month or so when the angle of the sun shifts and the days get warmer, the leaves will peek out, followed by the buds and then the blossoms that look like objects d'art carved from bone.

When the blossoms fall, the tree provides shades for our cars from the brutal summer sun. Then in autumn when the leaves fall, it has tiny red berries. 

As I watched the light fade from the branches this evening, I thought to myself, this IS a magic tree. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

An old rainy day

Rain moved in midmorning. I knew it was coming so I loaded my truck last night with things I'd need on my job today.

Unloading at school was a dry event, but by the time I settled into my desk, the bottom fell out. I stepped to the window and parted the blinds to get a better look at the courtyard. Rain spattered on the cobblestones.  A hooded student dashed from the main building toward my building and when he slogged through the door he stomped water off his tennis shoes and shook the sweatshirt jacket off. 

Just then my phone rang. Someone had questions about the workshop today. Ten people signed up to get help looking for a job, but I guessed that the rain would keep some of them away. Turns out I was right. People don't get out when it's raining unless it's a matter of life and death. I was happy with the five that did weather the wet stuff.

I hoped the rain would let up a while so that I could walk, but no such luck so I took my raincoat from the coatrack, pulled the hood over my head and stepped out Waterville. 

Fortunately, I'd walked in the building a great deal today, so I only needed about four thousand steps to hit my goal.  Soon I fell into a routine and the time passed seamlessly.

I loved walking in the rain when I was a kid, and during the last leg of my walk today I looked up at the sky letting the rain sprinkle my face.  The wet leaves in the woods had an earthy aroma. 

It would be easy to curse the rain, but where would we be without it. Just my thoughts on a rainy Tuesday.

Monday, January 25, 2016

I just try to make the best of it

Jilda made reservations for my birthday getaway just after New Years, and we’d been looking forward to a few days by the shore, but life is funny, and sometimes things fall short of your expectations. At that point, you have two choices — you can whine and get all “foldy-army”, or you can laugh, learn the lessons the situation has to offer and move on. This past weekend, we chose door number two.

The rain was falling as we loaded the car on Friday, and I expected to see snow flurries at any time, but that didn’t happen. We fed the chickens, the dogs, and the wild birds before buckling in for the ride to the beach.

We stopped at a restaurant in Prattville to grab a bite of lunch and hit the bathrooms. Aging has taught me that I’m like a dog in that I never pass up a chance to use the bathroom…maybe that’s a little too much information, but I don’t think I’m alone here.

South of Montgomery, the Spanish moss began to make the oak and hickory look like grey-bearded sentinels. The rain turned into a mist, which made the windshield wipers squeak like sneakers on a gym floor.

Finally, the sun burned through the clouds, and I switched off the wipers and put a Road Song “mixtape” I’d compiled for times we’re traveling.

My stress level dropped as the roads dried. Stopping in Greenville, we got a coffee drink and inspected the plumbing.

We arrived in Gulf Shores at 4:30 p.m. and checked into the hotel. After unpacking, I looked at the weather app on my phone and found that sunset was at 5:12.

Grabbing our jackets, we headed out to get some sand in our shoes and listen to the sound of the surf as we watched one of the most beautiful events on earth – sunset at the beach.

Sandpipers skittered around at our feet looking for supper in the surf. We sat on the trunk of a palm tree that had washed up on the shore and watched in silence as the sun inched down toward the water.

After a long while, we headed back. Stopping to stomp the sand off our shoes, we stepped into the lobby. Jilda stopped at the desk and asked the clerk for a recommendation for dinner. She suggested a place nearby that was “popular with the tourists.”

“Where do you go when you want seafood?” The clerk smiled and said that most of the locals went to Desoto Seafood Kitchen in Gulf Shores. That’s where we went, and it was great.

Once back at the hotel, Jilda asked me to grab several bottles of water from the case in the back floorboard. The plastic wrap, which is used to secure the bottles, is curiously strong, so I took the point of my key to poke a hole in the plastic so that I could pull some bottles free. Just then, the key snapped in two. The metal end ricocheted around the floorboard and disappeared.

I looked up at Jilda and asked if she brought her keys. I knew the answer before I heard it. She’d left her key ring at home so her brother could use our truck while we were gone.

Putting a smile on my face, I told her we’d worry about it in the morning though I knew sleep would be fitful.

The next morning I went down, and with a tiny flashlight searched for the broken key. I found it lodged halfway under the front seat on one of the metal rails.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I fitted the metal part of the key into the switch and cranked the car. Relief swept over me for a moment, but when I tried putting the car in gear, a little key light began flashing on the console, and it wouldn’t go into gear. DANG (my words were much worse.)

Back upstairs, I gave Jilda the bad news. As we tried to figure out which relative would drive five hours to bring us the spare key, an idea occurred to me. When I fitted the broken pieces together, the car cranked and went into gear, but then the end fell off, and the light began to blink again. A quick call to the local Honda dealership was no help because they couldn’t replace the key until after the weekend.

After a few more attempts, we got the key parts together. Rather than be stranded at the beach, we decided to cut our vacation short and head home. Once on the road, we didn’t turn the engine off until we pulled into our driveway.

People assumed we’d be disappointed by the experience, but we weren’t. I learned I should never substitute car keys for pocketknives. We learned ALWAYS to have a spare key. Also, we learned that a beautiful sunset, the sound of the ocean and an excellent seafood meal are enough to make a trip worthwhile.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Busy Week

It's been an eventful week and next week will be chocked full too.  The New Orleans visit was one of the highlights. The only thing that could have made the trip better would have been if Jilda had gone too and we had a few extra days to explore, eat, and what not.

Looking through my stack of mail from last week, I pulled the latest edition of Garden & Gun. The name of this magazine put me off at first. Even though I have a few guns I've had for most of my life, I'm not a hunter. But flipping through a friend's copy last year, I realized it's one of the best magazines I've ever read.

The content is about the South that I love. The food, the music, the architecture, and the people. All the stories are by excellent writers. Rick Bragg, who is from Alabama, is a columnist and one of my favorite personal novelists, wrote an article in this edition. Roy Blount Jr. (Forest Gump.) The magazine features many other good writers, but I digress.

In the current copy of Garden & Gun, there are pieces about New Orleans. There's an interview with Matthew McConaughey, who is currently living in the Garden District of New Orleans while he finishes up some movies set in the south.

And I said all that to say this: There are beautiful places all over the world. America has its share with cities large and small that are incredible.  Northern California, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, I could go on. But there are cities in the south that are also incredible.

My blog buddy Jack has done (and continues to do)  an incredible exploring this country. Jilda and I've had our moments but haven't traveled as much as we'd like. I think it's time to get busy.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Another Saturday night

Today was fun but I'm worn to a frazzle. We had family over for the January birthdays. Our niece Samantha came over early to enlist Jilda's help in creating a MineCraft birthday cake for her son

She had a picture on her phone to use for a model and Jilda mixed food coloring so the buttercream frosting would match the colors in the picture. It took a minute, but I thought it came out well.

The kids wanted chili spaghetti, hot dogs, and baked potatoes. Jilda whipped up some regular spaghetti too for those who weren't as adventuresome.

For a few hours, the place was abuzz, but when everyone left just before dark, I had my pajamas on before they reached their cars.

There is a picture of Jilda and Samantha, but I sent it to her in case she wanted to post it on her blog tonight.

I hope your Saturday was a good one too.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Snow Walk

It rained most of the morning but the breakfast temp was the highest of the day. Schools let out a half day and things started getting a little crazy. We needed chicken feed and wild bird seed so we headed to the local seed and feed store.  We also needed a few things for our January Birthday Party for everyone who was born the first month of the year. We swung by the grocery store (I promise it wasn't bread or milk), and the place was buzzing.

We don't get a lot of snow here and when it does, we get excited.  Some folks long for an excuse to
drive faster. Snow and ice give them that opportunity. Before we got home, flecks of snow and sleet ticked off our windshield

By the time we'd unloaded the car, our great nephew Jordan was calling from next door. "Do Y'all want to walk in the snow?" None of the flakes were sticking but we rarely pass up a chance to spend time with that youngun'.

We ran, wrestled, chased dogs, and I shot a video of him trying to catch snowflakes in his mouth.  He was a little disappointed that the snow didn't stick enough for him to deliver me a snow pie, but we all had a great time outdoors. Afterwards, Jilda whipped up a batch of hot chocolate with marshmallows.

We texted pictures and a short video to his mom, who was working this afternoon. We helped raise her too and when she was eight-years-old, she was the one running through the fields behind our house trying to catch snowflakes in her mouth.

There's a chance we'll get more of the white stuff tonight, but it's hard to say if it will happen or not.
More to follow.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


I pulled out of the parking deck before daylight this morning. My short stay in New Orleans was a
good one, but it felt good pointing my truck toward home.

Blinking signs warned of low visibility on I-10 and by the time I reached the city limits and hit the bridge over Lake Ponchartrain, the fog was thick as a shroud.  The people there drive more sanely but I'd seen a video on YouTube last week about a chain reaction accident that occurred during a low-visibility situation and I was VERY alert to the movement of traffic.

Up ahead I saw the tail lights of two 18-wheelers. Inching up next to the first one, I turned on my blinker to snuggle in between him and the truck in front of him. I think the driver understood and backed off a little to put some space between us as we safely navigated through the fog.

About 25 miles outside the city, I-59 peeled off to the north through the Honey Island Swamp and on across Pearl River.

The fog lifted, but sporadic rain and mist dampened my windshield until I got to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Jilda had to work this evening so I decided to take a short nap before my daily walk. When the phone rang (wrong number) about two hours later, I jolted from a deep sleep.

I'm writing early tonight because I figure my bed will be calling out to me. I can tell you, it's good to be in Homeville.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Winding down

The meeting that brought me to New Orleans finished up just after 4 P.M. this afternoon which was too early for dinner. My boss was arriving about 5 and wanted me to dine with me and his entourage, so I had a little time to kill.

The hotel is next to the Mississippi River and I walked over to the Riverwalk.

The Creole Belle riverboat was docked and loading for one of the river tours that leaves every 30 minutes or so.

It was overcast, but the air was thick with humidity making the 55-degree temp feel much warmer.

Sitting on a bench under a palm tree, I did some people watching.

I must have looked like a hayseed sitting there watching, listening, and closing my eyes trying to identify the different smells on the wind off the river.

The Aquarium is here. And snapdragons bloomed in the bed of flowers on the sidewalk. A napkin had blown into the bed so I picked it up and tossed it in a nearby trash can.

I love visiting places I haven't visited in  a while.

My boss texted me just after 6 and we walked down the street to the Grand Isle restaurant for dinner.

He got a pound of boiled shrimp. They were huge and in fact, looked more like trout.

I opted for a shrimp Po' Boy sandwich with a cup of gumbo. The food was good and I learned that my boss is a hoot when he's away from his desk.

My bags are packed and I'll be ready to head out at first light.

I miss my lovely spouse and my dogs. Jilda said they were both a little listless today (the dogs I mean.)

When I'm home, they mostly ignore me but apparently they miss me when I'm gone. The trip was good, but there really is no place like home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

City of New Orleans

When I turned off of Interstate 59 onto I-10 West and headed into New Orleans, the sun was squatting over Lake Ponchatrain and was as hard on my eyes as a photographers flash, that didn't turn off.

It's been over 35 years since I've been to New Orleans. Jilda and I came here often during the year we spent in Mobile after Hurricane Fredrick swept into Mobile Bay in 1979.

The phone company had this thing about customers being out of service. So I headed down I-65 in a
caravan of repair trucks almost a half-mile long. The phone company wouldn't send us down until danger had passed and all the live power lines had been secured, but once there, we worked from daylight until dark for almost a year.

After about a week, I missed Jilda terribly so I convinced her to load up Duke, our German Shepard, and come down. Most people thought it would be a vacation for her, and she did get the best tan she's ever had during those months, but she got a job...sort of.  The guys (about 20 of us) got tired of eating
Rick and Jilda 1980
out and convinced her to cook every evening.

She loves cooking so it seemed like a win-win situation. Every morning she'd propose a menu, and all the guys would throw money in the hat for her to buy groceries and when we got off at dark, we'd all enjoy a communal meal around the pool.

On most weekend, we'd head to Pensacola, Gulf Shores, Biloxi, or New Orleans. We worked hard that year, but we had a GREAT time.

Rolling in this evening it's obviousl the city has changed since Katrina stormed asore here, but it's still a beautiful place and the food is incredible.

Jilda decided not to come this trip because it would be short, and I'd be tied up in meetings most of the time I'm here. But I've got the fever now, and I can promise you it will not be 36 years before we return for a visit.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A trip down memory lane ~ my column from Sunday's paper

My birthday is later this week and I decided to buy myself an early present, but I didn’t realize it would require a walk back in time to find it. Let me explain.

Jilda told me this morning on my way to work that she was making Fagioli soup. We discovered this soup a few years ago while eating at Olive Garden and fell in love with it.

My lovely spouse is like the Pink Panther except she cracks recipes instead of safes. My stomach rejoiced when she cracked the Fagioli soup code. She’s made it several times and if there’s a better meal on frosty winter evenings I’ve never eaten it. Of course, soup requires cornbread. Spending time up north, I learned that a lot of folks there ate crackers instead of cornbread, which I consider almost sinful.

I don’t cook a lot of things, but in my opinion, my cornbread is exceptional. Through the years, I developed a secret recipe with a thin top crust that is crunchy and golden brown.

The only good way that I’ve found to bake cornbread is in an old fashion skillet that’s as heavy as a blacksmith’s anvil.

The perfect crust is almost an art form. The skillet preheats with the oven.

When the timer dings saying the oven is at 400 degrees, I remove the empty skillet and toss in a scoop of coconut oil, which melts instantly. This greases the skillet so the bread doesn’t stick.

When the cornbread comes out of the oven after about 30 minutes, it’s an excellent complement to most any kind of soup.

The one problem is that all our skillets are about as big as manhole covers and in the past we wound up tossing half the uneaten cornbread out to the chickens.

Solving this problem is where the walk back in time came in. I’ve never seen an iron skillet at the big-box stores. You can get the thin ones made in Asia, but I wouldn’t use one for cornbread.

Yesterday, I walked into Andrew Posey & Son’s Hardware store in Jasper humming happy birthday to me. A small bell on the door jingled. It wasn’t an electronic chime, but a real bell. Hearing the bell triggered a déjà vu experience. The wooden floors looked as if they were made from heart pine and creaked in places as I walked up and down the aisles.

On the old shelves were tools, toys and aqua-colored mason jars used for canning. The store is jam-packed with all kinds of useful things for the house and garden. When is the last time you saw a place that sold butter churns, cookie cutters, and replacement ax handles?

Out front was a line of Radio Flyer Wagons. There’s an old photograph of me as a barefoot kid in a diaper riding in one of these wagons. I must have pushed that baby a million miles.

It’s a miracle I didn’t max out my credit cards before I walked out. But when I left, all I had was a new iron skillet that’s about half the size of our old ones.

Progress and change are inevitable. Many of the old hardware and dry goods stores were lost in the rush toward things that are cheaper, faster and shinier. I’m thankful that some of the stores have survived in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to give us an opportunity to walk back in time and buy things that will last.
I bought one of those wagons years ago for my
great nephew Jordan

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Recap of the weekend

Even though we cut our weekend short, it was still remarkable. When we drive, it can often be more aptly described as a meander. We stop and stretch more often than we did when we were younger and we're like puppies because we rarely pass up a chance to pee (sorry if this is TMI.)

But we enjoyed our trip down to the beach on Friday. We ate at a place near Montgomery and stopped in Evergreen to get a coffee drink. 

I pulled over at a few places to get pictures of the bearded oak and hickory trees hanging full of Spanish moss, but the light wasn't good and the pictures were unremarkable.

We arrived and checked in at the beach after 4 p.m. When we settled into our room, I stepped onto the balcony and realized the sun was sinking low.

A quick hit on the Weather Channel said the sun would set in less that 15 minutes, so we headed downstairs post haste.

When the elevator door dinged open in the lobby, there was a roar. When we turned the corner to head to the walkway to the beach, we saw HUNDREDS of kids. Apparently, our quiet weekend wouldn't be as quiet as we thought because we chose the weekend of Ocenanfest. Oceanfest is some kind of weekend religious retreat for kids...LOTS of kids.

We managed to excuse ourselves through the crowded lobby and make our way to the sea in time for sunset.

I shot a lot of pictures and after a long silent walk in the sand, we walked back to the room and got ready for dinner at a local Mom and Pop seafood diner.  It was a delightful meal of seafood cooked to perfection. 
Even though our stay was cut short, I didn't feel cheated. When some of our friends learned that we had to come home early, they assumed we'd be upset.  But being upset is not a good experience. It taints the goodness and abundance that you've enjoyed in your life. Unexpected things happen from time to time and you can either be a whiny-baby about it or you can see it at what it is...something unfortunate that happens from time to time. 

I had a beautiful birthday. There were so many Facebook happy birthday wishes, that FB wouldn't let me respond to them all. My email inbox filled up, and I got Linkedin and Instagram birthday greetings. Also, I have an excellent column idea about my experience.

Tomorrow is a holiday and later this coming week, I'll travel to New Orleans for my job so I should have pictures and stories to tell. I hope you all have a remarkable week.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Birthday sunset

We arrived at the beach yesterday about 30 minutes before sunset. Once in the room, we actually took a 10-minute nap before heading downstairs to get our feet in the sand.

Sunset is a big deal at the beach, and there were many other people making their way outside. The elevator dinged and stopped on every floor. I'd check, and sunset was at 5:12 P.M.

We bolted off the elevator and out of the lobby door. We got onto the sand as the sun squatted on the western horizon. I think it was waiting for us.

We sat in the sand and watched my birthday sunset.

Our get-away was cut a day short by something strange that happened in the back floorboard of our car, but since I plan to write this week's column about it, you'll have to check back a week from Monday to get the story...sorry.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Birthday Boy

I love birthdays. Some people get a little squirrely and what not, but I think they're gifts. Today was a great day. The only birthday I struggled with was my 25 and I don't remember why. But that was a lifetime ago.

Today I celebrate my 65 birthday and it's been a great day. We ran out after lunch and the clouds were grey, but I took my sunglasses. It's a good thing I did because the rain clouds parted (for a while) and the sun came out for just for me.  I snapped the picture below during the respite...but I digress.

I'm not sure what it is about birthdays that makes people dread them. In thinking about what to say tonight, I thought of a poem that Jilda told me about entitled Ithaka. It's a Greek poem with a beautiful twist. It was read at Jackie Kennedy Onassis' funeral. I hope you'll take a moment and read it.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.

May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lives of great men

I need a change of venue, menu, sinew or perhaps buy A clue. I've been reading Jack Kerouac's Big Sur this week.  His work is amazing. His use of language, pace, and imagry are incredible. But it's obvious he was burning the candle at both ends and I'm surprised he lived to be 47 years old. He sucked the marrow out of the bone of life.

When I read his work, I can see he influenced a generation of writers who came after. I wonder if he realized the impact he would have.

Thinking about Jack reminded me of a verse from a  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem is etched in my mind like a tattoo -

Lives of great men all remind us 
        We can make our lives sublime, 
    And, departing, leave behind us 
        Footprints on the sands of time 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


After the first frost, we dumped the dirt into the back flowerbed from the potted flowers and veggies on the deck. Most of the pots we stacked upside down on the rock flower bed border where they will rest for the next few months.

The garden is at rest too with a blanket of hay and oak leaves to keep in comfy when the mercury dips south of the freezing mark.

And we rest too. Most evenings in spring, summer, and autumn I find something to do outside....till, plant, rake, burn, stack, mow, and/or chop.

But in winter, I wrap up and walk, but not much gets done in the yard or garden. I let nature have its way with the root and soil.

Spring slips into the south earlier than most places. The sun in late February and early March makes it almost warm enough to swim on some afternoons through the worst snowstorm in my lifetime was in March of 1993...but I digress.

Today after I got my 10,000 steps, I sat on the stone bench outside cooling off. The sun was sinking low in the sky and when I looked behind me, I saw it highlighting a moss-covered pot.

I snapped a picture hoping it would trigger a thought for tonights blog. As it turns out, it did. I hope you all have a restful winter.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Winter evenings

My Fitbit buzzed after three laps around the barn this evening just after sunset. The temps had risen earlier in the day, but by late afternoon, the wind kicked up making a jacket feel like a smart idea.

I'd worked up a sweat so I sat on the concrete bench in our firepit area to cool off a bit before heading inside to write.

Up in the evening sky, a jet dragged a cotton vapor trail toward the south.  Trying to identify the sound, I closed my eyes. It wasn't a whisper, but more like the sound of air escaping a punctured bicycle tire. Whhhiiiissssss.

Most of the time I don't even notice the aircraft overhead. The barely audible sound is masked by the wind, birds, and everyday things. But on cloudless evenings, after the winds die down and birds have settled in, it's hard to miss them. There was another jet traveling in the opposite direction that slipped behind the pines before I pulled the camera from my pocket.

I sometimes wonder about the travelers. Where they are going...and what they see as they look out their portal windows sipping their drinks from plastic cups. I wonder if they wonder about me here on the ground? A splotch of ground in the middle of nowhere.

It's funny what you think about on winter evenings.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A milestone

This year is a milestone for me. In January 2006, I decided I wanted
to be a writer and that decision was life changing. It’s no coincidence 
that it happened when it did because I approach each New Year as if 
it were an empty paint-thirsty canvas, except I wanted to paint stories.

Lona Williams was the Lifestyle Editor for the Daily Mountain Eagle 
then and I approached her about the possibility of a weekly column.

She told me to contact the editor who was Brian Kennedy in those 
days. I made an appointment to meet with him the following day. Like 
most newspaper editors, he wanted more local content but had 
concerns about adding a new writer. “We’ve tried other local writers in 
the past and they were excited at first, but a weekly deadline was 
more than they could handle. We wound up with empty spaces to fill.” 

I’d planned for this argument and came prepared.  Pulling a manila 
folder from my backpack, I slid it across the desk to him. “What’s 
this?” he asked. With a sly grin on my face, I told him it was enough 
columns for a year.  Did I mention that I felt a little cocky? He sat back 
in his desk and smiled as he peeled the flap open on the folder. “I'll read a 
few and I’ll get back to you,” he instructed.

The next day, he called and told me he had space on the front of 
the Lifestyle section for me.  I howled like a hound on the full moon.

My columns started off with stories about growing up dirt poor in 
Sloss Hollow. For the first few years, writing the columns was a 
cinch giving me the illusion that the source of stories was coming 
from a creative artesian well.  After a few years, I realized that any 
well can run dry, and the words of Brian Kennedy came back to me. 
“We’ve tried other local writers in the past and they’re excited at first, 
but a weekly deadline was more than then they could handle. We 
wound up with empty spaces to fill.” 

These days when I need a little motivation, I think back on what he 
told me.

Most of my writing now comes from personal experience. I do some 
goofy things from time to time, and there’s no better person to poke 
fun at than me.

One thread that runs through most of my writing is I try to look on the 
bright side. We’re bombarded with bad news constantly, and the last 
thing I want to do is to add more negativity. There’s no bigger thrill 
than putting a smile on someone’s face during troubled times.

Writing has been a blessing. My column now appears in newspapers 
across Alabama, and in Kosciusko, Mississippi, and people around 
the world read my blog. I’ve met amazing folks across the country 
that I would have never met had I never made the decision back in 
January 2006 to become a writer.

So, happy 10-year anniversary to me!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cool day

Icicles formed in my beard as we walked this morning. A stern wind out of the north turned my cheeks the color of a blush and made me thankful I'd thought to slip on my gloves. But walking briskly in cooler weather felt good.

The grey shroud overhead gave me an idea of how the skies in Bejing must look like on most days. I wasn't convinced  the sun would ever shine again.

But this afternoon when we were loading our car to go to our monthly songwriter meeting, the clouds parted and the winter sun felt warm on my neck.

By the time we got home most of the heavy clouds had swept off to the east leaving a beautiful evening sky.

Both Jilda and I have made headway on our goals we set for the new year.  I hope your weekend has been a good one.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Happy girl

Jilda hasn't been happy with the car we got to replace her beloved Ingrid (the Volvo). The Honda Civic we have now is a good car. It gets good gas mileage, and it has heated seats, which I thought was a fru-fru option until the first cold morning last January. 

She reached over to the console and flipped the switches on for both of our leather seats and a few moments later, my sizable rear end was toasty. After that day I wasn't sure I could live without one in my truck.

At any rate, I promised her we'd find her another car that she liked. 

She is a researcher...doing her homework with every major purchase. The vehicle that kept popping up was a Subaru Outback. When she showed me the specs, I had to admit it would be perfect for gigs because the rear seats fold down which would allow us to carry all our equipment without a hassle.

Yesterday, I found a nice used one on the Internet and called about. The vehicle sounded perfect and was in a price range we could easily afford. I had the added advantage of being the color of Ingrid.

We headed out before lunch on some errands and to drive the Outback. I knew the moment Jilda slid into the driver's seat that she'd like the vehicle. A huge smile crept over her face as she settled in and started exploring the interior. A quick flip of the sun visors revealed that both had lighted mirrors. It too had heated seats, and all the other features she'd hoped for.

We have to work out a few details before driving that baby home but I'm hoping we can make it happen this coming week.

After driving the car, we had a few other errands to run and we decided to grab lunch before heading home.

Stopping at a Cajun Restaurant, we order shrimp Po' Boys. Jilda got red beans and rice and I got a cup of seafood gumbo. This was a good warm up for my birthday at the beach.

All in all, it was a great day, and my spouse is a happy girl.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Small price to pay

Jilda and I headed out early this morning. I clicked the remote to unlock the doors on her car, when she realized she didn't have her phone.

I sat on the hood for a moment while she went back inside. It wasn't raining, but the air felt thick as velvet. The wind was out of the west and the sky was grey with cloud.

Looking up, the bare limbs of the giant water oak above our house, looked like a web overhead. Even without leaves, it's beautiful in my eyes.

Who knew that the tiny tree at the corner of our house when we built it in 1983, would grow to be so big.

This tree is beautiful throughout the year. Summer, the canope is so thick, that no sunlight touches our roof from noon until sunset.

In autumn, it dumps mountains of leaves which I rake and spread over our garden as mulch. It's work but it's a small price to pay.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Ride in the country

Meetings took me to Alabama's edge today. I could have thrown a rock to Mississippi, or so it seemed.  Long stretches of road with open fields of sage with scattered pine.

I passed an ancient tractor that looked as if it had not been cranked since Clinton was in the White House. At one community, a 1960 Mercury Comet, with it's rear wings and slanty taillights sat alone by the side of the road with a hand-scrawled "For Sell" sign on the windshield.

On the way in, I passed a small brick church sitting in a cotton field and I made a mental note to stop on the way home and snap a picture.

My meeting was a productive one. The two folks I met with are facing problems similar to the ones I face in my work helping older folks find jobs. We live in a rural area and it's hard to get the numbers that city colleges get. Our only option, is to do the best by the people who do show up.

I grabbed lunch and headed home just after noon.

A few miles outside of town, I slowed on the approach to the church I'd seen earlier. The sky was dreary with low-hanging clouds and most of the cotton was picked in the fall, but I shot the picture anyhow. I love country churches.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Nice day

We met friends in the city today and lunched at Chez Fonfon, which is a French bistro near Five Points South in Birmingham.

One of our friends we ate with today is a chef and he said that one national magazine rated the hamburgers at Chez Fonfon as one of the best in America. I haven't verified that, but he doesn't throw facts like that around indiscriminately. When it comes to food, he's never steered me wrong.

After lunch, we headed back to the sticks. My brother-in-law has worked two jobs for most of his life decided at Christmas that he wanted to retire. I thought he was joking, but he called yesterday to ask if I'd ride with him to put in the paperwork.

We drove to the county seat where the board of education is located. He wanted me to go because I'd already retired and been through the process so hopefully, I could help him ask the right question.

About an hour later, we were on our way home and he looked as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "Maybe we could go fishing," he said tentatively. I told him that was an EXCELLENT idea.

This evening when Jilda and I walked, we had a lilt in our steps. Both of us felt a little lighter.

Behind the barn is her dad's old Ford truck. It belongs to my nephew, but he's leaving it behind the barn until he can come up with the money to restore it. When Jilda and I came around the side of the barn, the sun had just dipped below the horizon. The old truck looked a little sad down there. Maybe it was wondering when it would get a chance to retire.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016


The clouds moved out yesterday leaving a clear blue sky. I walked a few hours before sunset and at one point, when I peered up through a thicket of trees,  a vapor trail as thin as a thread stretched almost to the horizon.  A low-level wind blew out of the north which made 40 degrees feel more like 20.

I fell into a rhythm as my fitness tracker silently ticked off the steps. When I rounded the barn on my last lap, I noticed something I hadn't seen before at the edge of the path. Stepping over, I realized it was a piece of newsprint. It was as fragile as onion skin, but I managed to get a look at the page and the date at the top of the page. It's from the Birmingham News Wed, July 25, 1979.

How this little tear of newspaper ended up behind my barn 38 years after it was published is a mystery to me.

It could have been a harbinger. As you can see from the two stories visible on the page, the House was wrestling with gas rationing, and big oil companies were enjoying huge profits. When I drove by the gas station this evening, gas was as low as it's been in years. I think this phantom clipping was telling me not to get used to low fuel prices.

Your thoughts?

Monday, January 04, 2016

Wacky Weather ~ my column from Sunday's paper

The cooling temperatures finally have me looking for sweaters instead of shorts, and I’m glad. It was obvious we were in for a wild weather ride last week when the tiny yellow stars of confederate jasmine bloomed out on the arbor covering our front walk, and blueberry buds as fat as ticks popped out on the bushes in the garden. Neither are good signs for December.

When the weathermen and women began pointing to red blobs crossing Arkansas and Mississippi heading our way a few days before Christmas, I was concerned like everyone else, but I wasn’t surprised.

On Christmas evening, we spent time at my sister’s house, but we kept our eyes on the sky. And when the curtains of rain began to fall, it was hard for Jilda and me to enjoy our family time. In fact, we cut our visit short so that we could drive home before “dark-thirty,” and that was a fortunate decision.

Rivers of water washed over the rural road in several places. I crept toward home to avoid hydroplaning, but there was a driver who apparently wasn’t as concerned as I was about being swept off to Mobile because he rode my bumper.

At one point where the drainage was particularly poor, I pulled over allowing the impatient driver to pass. I figured if rushing water swept him down to the Black Warrior, I’d call 911 once we made it to higher ground. Mother Nature has a way of weeding out the gene pool.

Fortunately, he made it through, and I followed tentatively.

By the time we made it home safely, my temples were pounding like a drum line, and I had trouble sleeping.

Later, I heard horror stories from Christmas night, and over the following few days watched the rivers rise to levels I’ve never seen before and felt for those who’d had to abandon their homes because of the rising water.

The clouds moved out late yesterday afternoon, allowing the setting sun to paint the sky a shade of peach on a stark blue canvas. By this morning, the water level of the Mulberry River at the Sipsey Fork had dropped several feet, which is good news for people around here, but the water is headed south.

The only problem we had here is that my chicken pen flooded. When I went down to feed them, the smell almost knocked me down. As my grandpa used to say, “It smelled worse than a billy goat’s beard.” I added a chore to my list for today.

After hauling several wheelbarrows full of soggy hay and a mountain of chicken manure out of the pen and onto our garden, I put fresh, dry hay in their laying nests and on the floor in their sleeping shed.

I’m not sure what will happen to our poor, confused plants once the temps plunge over the next several days. I’m sure they’ll be wondering how they could have misunderstood, but I’m hoping we have no more wacky weather, and they survive until spring.

Sunday, January 03, 2016


One of the things I'll be focusing on the coming year is habits. I had some habits I'd been holding on to for too long and they weren't taking me in the direction I wanted to go. Some of them were time-hogs. I had a long talk with myself the last few days of 2015 and I said, "Self, you stop that crap! And start doing something that moves you along the path."  And I said, "Well OK. What would you suggest?" And so on.

But, when the conversation was over, I had three habits that I wanted to quit. Wasting time in the morning flipping through Facebook, and Flipboard. I want to read instead. I have several unread books on becoming a better writer and several on songwriting. 

Another habit was that I put off unpleasant chores until they became problematic. The idea is to put them at the top of the list and not move to things I enjoy until I get the unpleasant one off my list. 

The third was to stop making excuses for not exercising daily. I'd already started working on this one several months ago when we bought fitness trackers.  Already I feel stronger and have more vitality.

I may not accomplish all the goals I set for myself this year, but if I can replace these three bad habits with the good ones, it will make a huge difference in my life.

As speaking of the beach, here's another shot.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

We'll be spending my birthday at the beach

It's written in ink on our calendars. If we're wishy-washy about an event, we pencil it in, but when it's in ink it will happen. I'm talking about our annual trip to the beach on my birthday midmonth. It's been too long since we've been near the big water.

The thing is, the beach is not that far away. During off season when traffic is minimal, we can be there in just under 4 hours if we get our food to go and don't dally. But then, we like to dally now and then. 

We don't have an agenda or meetings. Just a few days by the sea. We'll crack crab legs, eat oyster po'boys, and spend time listening to whooshing waves. The sunsets there are stunning. 

It's an incredible way to get the year off to a good start.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year

Last night was a late was New Year's Eve, but my college team also played in a semifinal game against Michigan State last night in the Cotton Bowl.  Our team was readier than Michigan State. They played well, but come up short. Alabama will play for a national championship a week from Monday night. It's against the #1 team in the country and should be a great game.

We both meant to sleep in this morning, but my internal clock went off in my head at 5:30 a.m. Tossing and turning until 6:30, I slipped from the covers and went into the kitchen and hit the brew button on the coffeemaker.

Usually I sit reading through my email and wish people happy birthday on Facebook, but I decided to start the New Year off with one of the behaviours I'd like to turn into a habit – yoga.

I fetched the mat I use every Monday night in Jilda's class, I flipped it flat and let it settle on the hardwood floor. The next 30 minutes I did a very good routine and when finished, I felt a little taller.

By the time I was ready to roll up my mat, Jilda got up and we started had a nice quiet cup of coffee.

Today was productive. I began working on a story for a magazine that I'd been putting off for a while, and did several other things I'd been dreading to set the tone for the coming year. Yucky tasks, you can run, but you can't hide from the Rick-o-later. You will get done mister smarty-farty thing on my DO IT NOW!!! List.

This afternoon, we visited sick folks, old friends, and made a passle of calls to friends we haven't talked to in some time.

I hope the first day of 2016 was a good one and your task list fears you.

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