Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Fun with kids

We had fun with "the kid" today. Jilda and I had appointments in town and our great nephew Jordan went with us.

I won't step Jilda's entry tonight, but while she was seeing the acupuncture doc, Jordan and I hit Starbucks where I got a coffee and a New York Times. Jordan is not into coffee yet so he opted for some apple juice and a cake pop treat.

We sat outside and watched traffic while we waited to go fetch Jilda.

We decided to do a selfie to taunt Jordan's mom who was working. It used to be her that went with us to the mall and to eat.  We tried to do a straight face, but we failed miserably.

When we sent the selfie below, she responded with a frowny face. Jordan and I howled.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


We planted the sunflowers and zinnias for the bees, but other critters like them too. I'd been seeing these little rascals sipping nectar for the last few weeks.

Yesterday, I took my camera from the bag and attached my telephoto lens. Walking out to the backyard, I dragged a chair close to the fence and sat.

I started snapping pictures of flowers at first. It only took a few minutes before I saw this little sucker having her way with our orange sunflowers. We'd never planted them before, but we're already in love and I'll let the hummer speak for itself.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Find time with those we love

Last Sunday we invited some of our songwriting friends over to break bread and play music. Few things in life provide as much joy as friends and music. 
We keep our house reasonably clean, but whenever we have company coming, we work ourselves silly, making the place presentable. As our friend John Elliott used to say before he passed away, “Fun ain’t cheap.” 
We worked for days getting the place ready, and I thought we were set. Sunday morning while we were sipping morning coffee, Jilda pointed upward and said, “You have to dust the ceiling fan.”
The ceiling in our great room is 14 feet high at the apex. I hadn’t noticed, but there were dust bunnies and dangling cobwebs on the blades. It looked like Spanish moss swirling around. Setting my cup down, I went out and dragged the stepladder inside to do the deed.
Once the house was shipshape, Jilda started working on the extras. She cut fresh zinnias and sunflowers from the garden and put them in vases in the great room and bathrooms. She put a fresh tablecloth on the table with linen napkins. 
Even when we tell our peeps that we’re just having hotdogs, baked beans, and chips, she always has an ace up her sleeve when it comes to food. For this gathering, it was her freshly baked lemon pound cake. 
She assembled the cake from scratch with essential ingredients like butter, flour, sugar, and lard. (Just kidding about the lard.) She’s meticulous in making this cake. Our niece once asked Jilda to tell her how to make it. Explaining the steps sounded more complicated than enriching uranium. “There are no shortcuts,” she said. 
While the cake was baking, it filled the house with an aroma that smelled like Heaven’s kitchen. 
After our friends arrived, we talked for a while, played music until our fingers bled, and slammed down some dogs. Then it was time for dessert. Jilda sliced off chunks of pound cake, put on a dollop of whipped cream, and topped it off with a handful of blueberries that I’d picked earlier in the day. Did I mention that we also had ice cream? The next few minutes involved a lot of grunting. 
Our friends lingered into the night before we said our goodbyes. They might have still been here had we not heard the rumble of thunder and the sound of rain gently tapping the metal roof.
I thought once we retired we’d have more time to spend with our friends. That has not happened. It seems like we need a Cray computer to work out the logistics and get everyone’s calendars together. In fact, I don’t know how I ever found time to work a full-time job.
This much I know for sure – there is more sand in the bottom of the hourglasses of our lives than in the top. We lose close friends every year.
As we cleaned the kitchen after our friends left Sunday, Jilda and I made a promise to ourselves.  We vowed that we would find a way to spend more time doing the things we love with the people we love.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


 Bougainvilleas are finicky shrubs. The Mandevilla on the porch has been blooming for almost two weeks, but the bougy just sat there sulking.

I read where they are not fond of water. Aha! We water the flowers, shrubs, and garden stuff daily so maybe that's why the bougainvillea was not blooming. So I cut back.

Jilda came inside today and said you need to check your problem child. When I walked out the first blossoms had popped out.

It's a beautiful blossom. It looks as fragile as a spider's web. Last year the blossoms were a cross between orange and beige. This year they are crimson.

Soon the deck will be blazing with bougainvilleas.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Lessons learned in a darkroom

I started an online photography course today from Michigan State University. It's actually a set of five courses that cover all aspects of photography. I've been taking pictures for a long time, but I want to get better.

Both instructors are older and they talk about spending time in darkrooms developing film and pictures. I can relate. 

When I first started working for the weekly newspaper in 1973, one of my jobs was to take pictures and print them for the paper. I spent countless hours under a dark amber safelight. 

I'm sure some of my weirdness comes from inhaling photographic developer and fixer for so many years.

Even after I left the paper, I bought an enlarger and built a darkroom in the barn. 

Watching an image appear on a blank white sheet of photo paper has always seemed like magic to me.

I know there are millions of photographers these days who shoot remarkable photographs and they've never gotten a "fixer buzz" after midnight in a darkroom.

I'm not one to judge but this I know for sure. All those hours I spent in a darkroom fixing pictures that were shot poorly has helped me understand how to approach taking pictures in a digital world.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Mushroom rose

Walking today, something caught Jilda's attention. She'd forgotten her phone, so she called me back to have a look at a mushroom that looked like a rose.

I know the color is wrong, and it looks like some slugs may have had their way with the shroom, but still.

It wasn't there yesterday, but we got a downpour at dusk yesterday. Mushrooms love the rain and the humidity when it's hotter than a steam room. They thrive. If it keeps raining, this mushroom rose could be as big as a volleyball in a few days.

Tomorrow is another rare free day. I'm thinking about checking the beehives to see if there is any honey to harvest. That should be fun.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Rain on the river

I had a council meeting to cover this evening, but there wasn't a quorum, so the mayor canceled the meeting.  That made me happy.

It was almost dark and raining when I headed home. Most of the day I've been at my desk writing several stories. This meant that I hadn't had a chance to stop by the Forks of the river today. I decided to correct that situation.

Pulling into the lot this evening, I saw several cars and trucks sitting there watching the rain falling on the river.

Since the Tyson pollution spill and subsequent fish kill in early June, I've stopped by the Forks every day.

The last tests taken shows the river is back to normal. I still haven't seen any fish jumping. I'm guessing it will take some time for them to repopulate.

I switched off my engine and put on my straw hat. It seemed unwise to let my Canon camera get wet, so I shot a few pictures of the waining light with my phone.

I never knew that rain on the river could be so beautiful.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

It doesn't take much to amuse me

The weather has been hard on Jordan's chickens this week. I put an oscillating fan in their pen and that helped a great deal. They are drinking about three gallons of water a day. They are still small chickens, but they are thirsty.

A few days ago, Jilda picked a double handful of basil and other herbs and put them in a bowl of water. She then put the bowl in the freezer. 

Yesterday, I took the chunk of ice with the embedded herbs down and put it in the pen. They didn't know at first what to do, but it only took a moment before they were all clucking a sigh of relief.

This evening after I put another two gallons of fresh water in their pen, I stepped back onto the deck and sat for a few minutes and looked at the clouds in the evening sky. There is a half-moon straight overhead.

As I started to go inside, I noticed a pink Mandevilla blossom on the plant next to the door. When I squatted down to shoot a picture I had an idea.  

My knees complained, but I squatted lower and shot a picture of the blossom with the half-moon photo bombing the flower. 

It doesn't take much to amuse me when it's hot.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019


Mean people would have preferred to stay in Hades today rather than Empire. We walked at 7:30 a.m.  There was not a hint of a breeze. The dogs walked one lap and almost took the door down to get inside.

Jilda and I did a few more laps. We were almost to the back fence when we decided to walk a few hundred yards to check on the fig tree.

Last year the bush came our in early spring trying to get a jump on summer but a late killing frost turned a bumper crop of figs into a handful of fruit that we ate warm from the bush in August.

This year, in August we will have enough figs to feed the county. Yum.

Monday, July 08, 2019

A moment of nostalgia ~ my column from Sunday

I had an interview in Doliska this past week. Afterward, I decided to drive through old Dora. I didn’t realize it, but the street is closed now. Years of rain, heat, and neglect have taken their toll. The concrete slabs on the roadbed have leaned and buckled. The street is impassable now except for determined explorers.
I sat there for a long time with the motor running reflecting on my old hometown. The place I remember as a child began migrating to the “new highway” in the 1960s. You can move businesses, but you can’t move memories.
When I was a kid, that old town was Mecca to me. I wasn’t allowed to cross the highway on my bicycle and go to Sumiton, but I could roam up and down the street of Dora until my legs turned to rubber. 
Coke, Pepsi, RC, and Grapico bottles brought a three-cent bounty in those days. I spent a chunk of my youth searching roadsides, and vacant lots for empty bottles. The return deposit for one bicycle basket full of empty bottles was enough to buy a chocolate shake, a bag of peanuts, and a kite. 
Before the post office moved, they used to hang bags of mail on a pole at the train depot. The conductor on the afternoon train had some kind of hook, and he would snag that bag off the platform without stopping. If the term High Tech had been invented back then, that’s what I would have called that mail pickup.
After I started driving, my horizon expanded. I spent less and less time in old Dora. After graduation, I started to college and later got a job on the night shift. Old Dora slowly became a ghost town.
After returning from a stint in Panama with the U.S. Army, Dale Short hired me to take pictures and write stories for The Community News in Sumiton. We covered all the hot topics in East Walker County. 
Dale had an old 8 mm movie camera, and we decided to have a fun day at work. We had a lot of those during the three years we worked together. We loaded our cameras and headed to old Dora. That was in 1975. 
Buildings were only on one side of the street, and the other side was a concrete wall. Beyond that was railroad tracks. I don’t recall any graffiti in those days, but through the years that changed. Seniors from local high schools started spray painting their names and some interesting poems on that wall. 
There were a few hold-out businesses in 1975, but most had moved on. Dale and I spent hours exploring and photographing the old vacant buildings that loomed large in the memories. 
At one point, Dale was exploring the old Masonic Lodge (I think), and I climbed the stairs to the railroad depot. I sat down on the platform and dangled my legs off the edge. An old faded Frisco boxcar sat vacant on a sidetrack. 
In my youth, Dora was a bustling town, and if you closed your eyes, you’d hear the sound of commerce, but all I heard that day was the sound of crows cawing.
This past week when I got home, I searched YouTube for the video that Dale posted almost 10 years ago. Seeing those old images of my hometown made me both happy and sad. 
If you’d like to see the video, search YouTube for Exploring Old Dora 1975.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

I love days like today

We had a gathering at our house this evening for a group of our songwriter buddies. We've done it for years, but not often enough.

We talk about music. We talk about where we're playing. We showcase new things we've written. We talk about what we're reading. Where we've been. What we plan to do when we grow up.  We eat, we laugh, we enjoy kindred spirits.

I didn't get everyone in the picture this evening, but three of the guys wanted to have a look at the garden, the barn, and the beehives.

I snapped a picture of Bob, Fred, and Jon on the thinking bench. I think if we'd had a few more minutes on that bench we could have come up with a solution for world peace and true happiness.

I love days like today.

Saturday, July 06, 2019


I knew today would be toasty when I stepped down before sunrise to feed and water the chickens.  

We didn't have a lot of outside work planned. That was fortunate.

We did go see our great nephew Jordan swim. He is one of the smallest swimmers on the team but he's competitive. Today gave him an opportunity to swim with kids that were in high school. Swimming on that level, it's not about beating the swimmers in the lanes on either side of you, the race is against the clock. 

I'm not sure what the algorithm works, but it's fair for all the kids swimming. 

This is the first time we've seen him swim this year. He did good. I'm proud of that young'un.

Friday, July 05, 2019


We got a nastygram from the IRS in early June. It said we owed $814. I scratched my head and said some unkind things about Uncle Sam and my accountant...but that number sounded familiar.

When I looked in my records, we paid $814 in April when I filed my taxes We did a cashier's check and sent the payment through certified mail.

I checked the IRS site, it said they had not received the payment.

I looked at my U.S. mail receipt and verified the envelope containing our payment was delivered. I then called the bank to make sure the check cleared. It did. 

I sent a snooty letter to the IRS pointing out their error and slept soundly that night.

Today, we got a second notice with added late charges, penalties, and poo-poo charges.

I tried calling them and went through 1776 options before being placed in the right queue. I was there about 30 seconds and I got a recording saying the had a high call volume to call back later. It then hung up on me.

Had I taken my blood pressure at this point, my BP cuff would have said - CALL 911.

I took a few cleansing breaths and then called my accountant. He chuckled and said bring him the documents and he'd handle it Monday. Apparently, he had a hotline that the IRS actually answers.

Next year, I may drive my taxes to the IRS and demand a signature.

I'm about to drink a cup of sleepytime tea and hit the hay.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Happy 4th of July

Today has been fun. 
I hope you all have enjoyed a remarkable 4th of July.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

We are different

No matter how much we want to believe that we are like others, and how much we want to "fit in", we are different.

We can have the same parents, grow up in the same hometown, read the same books, go to the same schools, and have the same teachers, but the things we take away are different than even those with whom we share DNA.

We learn differently, we see things differently, we hear things that resonate that others discard as noise.

Others may scoff at something that moves us to the core. We are different.

That thought struck me today as I walked to our field of flowers. We have a field of zinnias that we planted for the bees.

Jilda walks down every few days and cuts fresh bouquets for our bathrooms and the great room. 

Today when I walked down, I noticed a lone white flower in a rainbow of zinnias. It was no better or worse than the other beautiful flowers, but it was different.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Looking at clouds

Last night after yoga class, I dragged a bag of mats to load in the Outback. The bag has about 20 mats and they are heavier than I expected.

I hefted them up and into the back of the SUV with one hand. The grunt I made was not attractive.

As I clicked the hatch closed, I turned and leaned against the back of the car to assess the sky. When we drove in a few hours before, the sky looked like rain, but that all moved off to the east.

As I looked toward Birmingham, I saw a couple of cloud formations that looked like they'd been brushed in the sky by a talented watercolor artist.

The picture below is straight from my camera with no filters or editing. Did I mention that I love looking at clouds?

Monday, July 01, 2019

Tree Hugger

People call me a tree hugger. That doesn't bother me, because it's true.
Some people mean it as a jibe. For me, it’s a compliment. I love forests, hollows, fields, and streams. We have trees on our property that look as if they've been here forever. Something happened to one of them back in March that made me sad. 
The date was Thursday, March 14, one week before the official start of spring. The day was warm and humid. By mid-afternoon, I could hear the sound of thunder in the distance, and smell the scent of rain on the wind.
I put Caillou the wonder collie in his safe place before he started ricocheting off the walls. Stepping out on the back deck, I stood for a long time. 
A light breeze plays melodic tunes on the wind chimes hanging on the back deck, but songs of impending storms are discordant. They are harbingers. 
I darted back inside when I heard lightning slam down somewhere off to the south.
Jilda was at work so I sent her a text to tell her storms would be heading her way and then I went through my storm plan. The first thing is to switch the AC unit off. I'm not sure if that keeps it from being damaged when lightning strikes the power grid or not, but I always do it. My dad did it, and it still seemed like the smart thing to do. I also power down my computers.
Taz, our little rescue Yorkie, hopped up on the couch and shivered in my lap during the thick of the storm. Then I saw a strobe through the windows of the garden door, and an instant later, thunder shook the windows. The lights blinked twice, and then the house was dark.
The following day on the ides of March, we had things planned, but our great nephew Jordan wasn't feeling well, so our plans changed. He spent the day with us.
After breakfast, he wanted to go for a walk. We shoe'd up and headed out. Down in front of our old house, I was taking a picture of lichen on a limb that had fallen to the ground. Jordan looked up into the ancient oak in front of the old house. 
He said, "Something scratched that limb on the oak." When I looked up, my heart sank. What he'd seen was unmistakable. During the storm the day before, lightning struck the oak. It looks as if one of the higher limbs was shaved with a hatchet. 
I wanted to believe that it would be OK. 
When the weather warmed the oak put on a full coat of leaves. I smiled when I saw the "scratched" limb had new leaves.  Seeing the fresh green leaves gave me hope.
Earlier this week as I was picking blueberries, the morning sun had just crested the trees in the hollow spotlighting my beloved oak tree. There was no mistaking the change in color of the oak. They were turning brown.
Jordan stayed with us today. After we fed his chickens, we stepped over and sat in the backyard swing. I directed his attention toward the oak. I heard him say, "Oh, no."
I guess people will call Jordan a tree hugger, too.

Sunday, June 30, 2019


Back in early spring, Jilda and I visited her holder sister Nell. She loves gardening more than we do...if that is possible. Before we left, she gave us several packages of sunflower seeds. One packet was lemon drop sunflowers and another that she did not name. The lemon drop flowers are about the size of a softball and the color of butter. A flower from the other packet bloomed this week. It was bright orange.

Bees love the Zinnias, but Sunflowers provide nectar and pollen which is a good thing for beefolk.

I snapped pictures of both colors of sunflowers, but I'm posting the orange one. This is an unedited picture I took midmorning with my iPhone.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Bon Voyage

It's been a few years since we took our first cruise. We had a room with a window. We saw dolphins, sunsets, and lighthouses. 

We browsed artisan barns for handmade things you can't buy at Walmart. 

The WIFI reception onboard cost a fortune. We had our phones, but with poor or no reception, they were paper weights. 

We knew this going in so we both wrote several blogs and then scheduled them to post at their regular times.

At first, the lack of connectivity was an issue. I mean, someone could post what they were having for lunch and I would be oblivious. 

But after a while, we fell into the rhythm of the sea. 

And then there was the food. 

It took a while to assimilate the experience, but looking back, the time we spent on the ocean was some of the most relaxing time we've spent in years.

I'm not sure if computer AI is reading my mind or not, but I've started getting some attractive cruise packages in my email.

I'm not sure if this is something we will do in the near future, but it's something we are considering.

Maybe we could get a bunch of our blog buddies to go on a blog cruise. What would that be like? 

We might not write anything meaningful, but I bet we could enjoy a few meals.

Friday, June 28, 2019


The last few days have been long ones. My brain is tired. When looking for photos I came across this one I shot last Sunday. It was in its color prime. 

The next day it had morphed into a white mushroom that looked like a giant tooth.

I hope you all have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Important work

Today has been interesting. I had an opportunity to interview a WWII veteran from my hometown who was part of the invasion at Normandy.  He's 95 years old and a few weeks ago, he went back to France for the anniversary of that invasion. It was incredible.

Two members of the paper's video team went with me and I had an opportunity to watch them set up to video the interview. 

It was important work. It's why I love doing what I do.

The only downside is the veteran now lives in North Alabama about 120 miles away so I've spent a lot of time behind the wheel.

Fun ain't cheap.

The image below has nothing to do with what I did today. I just liked the picture.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Evening storm

It's been beautiful for most of the day. Our great nephew Jordan stayed with us today. He had a swim meet last night, and he didn't do well. I'm not sure if he was distracted, tired, or wasn't feeling well, but his performance bothered him.

When I was his age and did badly in a ballgame, I'd beat myself up for about three minutes, and then I'd go looking for a hotdog and some Grapico.

Jordan got the royal treatment for most of the day. He got popsicles, watermelon (one of his favorites), and for lunch, Jilda whipped up mac and cheese, corn on the cob, and baked chicken. By the time he went home, he was feeling much better.

I dropped Jilda off at work and drove to Starbucks. That's our routine on Wednesday. I'll get a coffee and a New York Times and work on my column while she's working.

On the way home, we could see clouds gathering on the western horizon.  We ran through some showers, but by the time we pulled into the driveway, the sun was blazing.

While munching on supper, I heard thunder again. When I walked outside, there was a patch of blue sky to the south, but clouds were moving in.

I snapped a picture of the field between our house and the barn. It was beautiful in color, but the black and white made it more dramatic don't you think.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

With sunshine on a stalk

In the garden today
A new flower bloomed
A carpet of zinnias
Can't compete  
With sunshine on a stalk.

Monday, June 24, 2019

My river

When people learn that I’m a columnist, they often ask what I write about.
I smile and say, “It’s about me.” As a rule, I’ve always steered clear of religion, politics, and other hot-button issues. That strategy has served me well.
But I decided to break that rule this week after Tyson Inc. in Hanceville, dumped thousands of gallons of pollution into Dave Young Creek which flows into the Mulberry Fork. That event turned MY river into a sewer.
Yes, I claim the Mulberry Fork as my river. I don’t actually hold deeds or other claims to the waterway, but I think history should count for something.
Since I was old enough to hold a cane pole, I’ve been going to where the lazy Mulberry Fork flows into the Sipsey Fork. It’s a magical spot. I caught my first bream on the banks of that river. 
I helped my dad build a family cabin on the water a few miles downstream from the Mulberry Forks. During the summer, my friends and I would load into my dad’s old boat and putter upstream past the Forks to fish. 
Switching off the old Evinrude motor, we’d drift down the river zipping our Zebco reels from one bank to the other. When it got hotter than a jalapeno from Hades, we’d reel in our lines, pull off our tee-shirts, and dive into the cool water at the Forks. 
After Jilda and I married, we found a spot of land in Empire. We moved here. One of the benefits of living on our small farm is that we drive by the Mulberry Forks almost daily. 
Three or four times a week, I wheel my truck into the parking lot behind T&R Grocery and ease up close to the water’s edge. Often, members of the “Liar’s Club” are there sitting in the shade and telling the news. When no one is there, I often sit for a long while listening to the sounds of the river.  It’s a beautiful place. My time spent at the Forks has been priceless.
Some reports after the Tyson spill on June 6 said an estimated 175,000 fish were killed. I’m not sure how they came up with that number. I watched dead bream, bass, gar, and suckers float down that river for days afterward. Did those fish get counted? What is the bloated carcass of a gar worth? 
What about the Black Warrior waterdog. This is an endangered species. If this pollution killed them, how would someone put a price on that?  
One of the first pictures I took with my new camera last summer was of a blue heron sitting on a log at the Forks. It was eating fish in the water flowing from the Mulberry Fork. That bird was majestic and as graceful as a ballerina. I’m not sure if the Tyson spill harmed the bird, but I can’t imagine it hanging around while bureaucrats ponder the extent of the damage. I haven’t seen the creature in weeks.
When I think of that river, I struggle to put a price on something that means so much to so many people. How can one calculate the cost penalty when a company repeatedly pollutes an irreplaceable river? 
Only time will tell how long this latest spill will affect the Mulberry Fork. 
My hope is that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ensures that Tyson Inc. does the right thing for the future of my river.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Proud father

I've been watching them for days. Like an expectant father, I've hovered. Each time I went by, I said soothing words. I coaxed. I bragged. I ask Mother Nature for her special favors.

Then a few days ago it started. It was unnoticeable at first, at least to the casual observer, but I saw it. A subtle change in the mornings before the due had a chance to join the larger cause...which was to make the air drinkable.

Then today, it was time. Of course, I had to document it with a picture. If I could have gotten low enough, I would have taken a selfie with them. But I decided, they could stand on their own.

Our first tommy toe tomatoes.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Things of value

I drove by the old school this past week. To be more accurate I drove by where the old school once stood. It burned a few years after the county built the new school. All that's left is the entryway of the old football field and the gymnasium.

These two structures were built during the depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps. 

FDR put people to work during the depression. They built things of value. This was not wus-work. They dug stones for quarries, hauled them to cities, towns, and villages. 

With toil, sweat, and well-earned muscle they built useful things. Things like bridges, libraries, schools, gyms, jails, and tunnels. 

As I drove through the ghost of a past town, something struck me. The things the CCC built over 80 years ago are still standing. They may no longer be in use, but they could be.

This entry gate that fans of the Dora High School Bulldogs walked through for many years is still standing.

I would venture to say that baring vandalism of some kind of natural disaster, it will be standing after we're all dust.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Water Gun Party

I'll probably have to launch a Go Gund Me page to help pay my water bill this month. As I mentioned last week, our great nephew Anthony wanted to have his birthday party at our house. Well, today was the day.

The brought a sack full of super soakers, water pistols, and every kind of squirting device made. They even brought devices to fill water balloons. 

It was 97 degrees when the party started, but the backyard was shady, but after everyone was soaked to the bone, it didn't feel that bad.

They had a large time. Grown-ups who looked in on them from time to time were soaked too. It was that kind of party.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Last day of spring

I had an interview this morning. When arranging a place for the interview, the subject suggested the clubhouse at the local golf course.

The town where I was born has a beautiful municipal golf course and they built a new clubhouse a few years ago.

While I waited, I ordered a cup of coffee and sat on the deck overlooking one of the green. The clouds look more threatening than they were. A front moved in from the west and swept the clouds off to the east like yesterday's news.

While I waited, I could help but snap a picture.

By this afternoon, the last day of spring looked like a page from a magazine.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Rose of Sharon

I'm not sure if it's the heat, the pollen, or the alignment of the stars but some evenings the words won't come. 

My friend Elephant's Child (CLICK HERE) offers word prompts each Wednesday. For some reason, the words ricocheted off me. In passing, I mentioned that I thought I would do better with pictures. 

When she posted her blog yesterday (she lives on the other side of the world where it's tomorrow) she posted two pictures. A passage came to me and I posted it.

That's the thing with pictures – people see things in photographs. The angle of the light, the color, the scene digs deeply into our psyche and dredges up memories long forgotten.

Below is a Rose of Sharon. It was one of the first shrubs we planted when we moved here in 1980. Now we have several that are white, and varying shades of purple. They are easy to tend. Bees and hummingbirds adore them.

This one is beside the bird feeder outside or great room window. It's one of the first things we see each morning as we sip our coffee. They bloom until frost. 

I'm so glad they do well here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Ornamental Ginger

We got a plant from my sister several years ago. She couldn't remember the name but she called later and said she thought it was ornamental ginger.

When I Googled ornamental ginger, it returned the plant. The real name is Curcuma Elata.

We planted it close to one of our shrubs and the ornamental ginger is almost hidden from view. A few days ago, Jilda was out feeding the birds and discovered the beautiful pink and yellow flowers hiding under the shrub.

She took a picture and shared it on her Instagram account. I waited an appropriate length of time before taking a picture.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Raising chickens ~ my column from Sunday's paper

Our great-nephew Jordan joined the 4-H Club at school. He thought long and hard about a project for the summer. He was leaning towards raising chickens, but he had a few problems. 
The first thing was he knew nothing about chickens, and the second, he didn’t have a chicken pen. He should become a diplomat because, within a matter of minutes, we were the great-aunt and great-uncle of 19 tiny fluffy chickens.
The first several weeks, the little chicks lived in a big plastic tub in his bedroom. Usually, that wouldn’t be an issue, except for the first two weeks the baby chicks have to stay toasty. This means they live under a heat lamp 24/7. I can tell you from experience that after dark, heat lamps are actually brighter than the sun. 
I was surprised at how attentive he was with his new peeps. Each day, he would call and give me a report. 
Before agreeing to keep the chicks at our house, I told him our pen had to be rebuilt to make sure raccoons and possums didn’t get in and have the girls for supper. He agreed to come over on a Saturday and help with construction. 
A few weeks later, we had a carpenter come and help with the heavy framing on Friday so that it would be ready for the final phase the next day.
After breakfast on Saturday, he and his mom were knocking on our door and ready to get to work. It took him a while to get used to swinging a hammer, and he whacked his fingers a time or two, but he was a trooper. 
When we were satisfied that the area was critter-proof, they brought the chicks over and turned them loose in the new pen. That first day, we stood there for a long time and watched them. I never knew how comical they could be. 
The next morning, Jordan ran by before school to feed and water the babies. That evening, we pulled chairs and a swing over close to the pen. Jordan, his mom, his nana, Jilda, and I spent the next hour or so sipping tea and watching the chickens play.
Several days later, I stepped down to toss some lettuce into the pen when I saw something wasn’t right. While the pen was effective at keeping critters out, the small holes in the chicken wire were big enough for a chicken snake to crawl through. I always thought that the snakes only ate eggs, but one look at that snake and I knew it had eaten one of the chicks. 
I am a live-and-let-live kind of guy. I’ve caught a half dozen snakes and released them in another zip code. Things didn’t turn out as well for this snake. Jilda could see from the deck that something was up and she stepped down to help. I caught the snake, and when it wrapped its body around my arm, she almost had a hygiene issue. I won’t gross you out with the details, but I did verify that the baby chick was dead. 
After that excitement, I drove to Tractor Supply and bought some things that are supposed to keep snakes at bay. So far, they’ve worked.
Fortunately, the little chicks have grown at an astonishing rate, and I think they are now too big for snakes, but we still spend a lot of time throughout the day watching them.
Both Jilda and I were happy to help Jordan with his project, but we are glad he didn’t join the circus and get a panda cub.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father's Day

I have a picture on my desk of my dad and me. It was taken around 1955. He’s squatting in front of our old 1947 Chevrolet, and I’m standing between his legs wearing a cowboy hat and a smile as big as Texas. I love that photograph. It makes me smile, and sometimes, it makes me sad.

My dad always loved the sound of trains chugging from one destination to another. When I was still in grammar school, I remember the two of us sitting on our porch after supper in the summertime. He would pull a pouch of tobacco from his pocket and roll a lumpy cigarette. He’d smoke while we sat in our front-porch swing and waited for the train.

Off in the distance, we’d hear the train coming from the west through Cordova. As it neared Frenchtown, the engineer would sound the whistle to warn drivers who might be crossing the tracks in Dora. The train whistle echoed through the hollows for miles. The sound was haunting. I think he’d dreamed of riding that train one day.

On the second Sunday in June each year, my dad would go to Davis Cemetery in Dora. He’d and at daylight and collect donations when people brought flowers for Decoration Day. The money was used to keep the grass cut. His people were buried there, and he felt it was the right thing to do. 

Last Sunday, I spent the morning collecting donations at the cemetery like my dad once did. He is now buried at the top of the hill next to my mom. I was the first one at the cemetery. Standing there, I ate a breakfast biscuit and sipped on a steaming cup of coffee. Off in the distance, I heard the sound of a train rattling and screeching on the rails. Closing my eyes, I listened for the sound of the whistle that I knew would come soon.  

Hearing the whistle brought a smile to my face. I know somewhere, my dad was smiling too. 

Happy Father’s Day.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Sea of old maids

Our great nephew Anthony asked Jilda and me several weeks ago if he could have his birthday party out our house.

They have a beautiful home but the yard was not designed for a herd of kids.

Here, we have a fenced in yard for the little ones and about 12 acres of land with hills, hollows, creeks, and rocks as big Volkswagen. 

They can play croquet or dodgeball inside the fence, but if they decided on games that need more space it's in the field between the house and barn.

I said all that to say this: We've spent most of the day preparing the place for company next weekend. 

It felt good to submerge myself in work that doesn't require brainpower.  We planted a patch of old maids and they are coming up on force. Jilda planted them in neat rows, but it was where we had them last year and hundreds of seeds "volunteered' to come up. 

I snapped a picture of a section this morning.

Friday, June 14, 2019


The meeting I attended last night was even further in the country than where we live. It was a community meeting. A company owned by Tyson Inc. dumped thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater into the Mulberry Fork. That's the river where I visit almost every day.

The pollution killed thousands of fish. People have also taken pictures of turtles, and other aquatic life that lived in the river.

This is not the first incident for Tyson. They are repeat polluters. I fear they are killing our little piece of paradise.

I got a notice today that the annual Kayak Race schedule for next weekend has been canceled. 

This is breaking my heart.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Swallowtail ..... I think

I had a late meeting to cover this evening. Usually, when I have a late meeting the story doesn't run until the following day. This one had a short fuse so I had to write it tonight.

I'm thankful I snapped a picture of a Swallowtail Butterfly...I think.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Blogging is sometimes painful

It's been a slow day in Empire. I did take Jilda early this morning to be jabbed by a bunch of needles by Dr. Zhao. It seems that acupuncture is helping with many of the inner ear issues she has. 

I dropped her off at the office and then headed to a nearby Starbucks to sip coffee and work on my column. When I got back an hour later to collect her, she looked like she'd knocked back a few stiff drinks while I was gone. She also looks a little taller.  A good acupuncturist can do that for you.

Yesterday while we walked, I saw a new lily in the woods by the walking path. I was wearing shorts and blackberry thorns racked my legs and I navigated over close enough to snap a picture.

Blogging is sometimes painful.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Squirrel bomb

After the rain moved off to the east, a cool front blew in from out of the northwest and dropped the temperature by 20 degrees or so.

Walking this morning was blissful. The first lap we always let the dogs amble. As we walked up the road in front of the house, something fell within inches of my head and hit the asphalt with a WHACK! 

I stopped in my tracks and looked down. It was a squirrel bomb. When I look up toward the top of the pine I saw a squirrel wagging its tail at me and gibbering. If I could translate the gibberish, I'm pretty sure the little fuzzy critter would be saying some unkind things about me and my heritage. 

I shook my finger at the squirrel as he munched on a cone preparing his next bomb.

Monday, June 10, 2019

How does your garden grow

We're growing our tomatoes, eggplant, and onions in raised beds this year. Jilda prefers planting in the ground, but keeping the weeds out of raised beds is much easier.

Each morning we step down there and talk to them. I'm also keeping a close eye out for cutworms. Those evil critters can butcher healthy plants in no time.

This morning after a brief rain shower, the sun came out. We headed out to walk the dogs before the rain started again. When I swung by the tomatoes, I decided to snap a picture to show you their progress.

About another week or so and we'll be munching on BLTs with the T's coming from our garden.


Sunday, June 09, 2019

Decoration Day

Today was Decoration Day at Davis Cemetery. My people are buried there. I have brothers, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on under those markers.

I was there with breakfast biscuit and a steaming cup of coffee before the sun rose. It was my shift to man the booth that takes up donations from people who have people buried in the cemetery.  We use the donated money to keep the grass cut throughout the year.

Some people reach in the ashtrays of their cars and scratch out a few coins to drop in the bucket. Some write checks for hundreds of dollars.

The old cemetery is a historic place. One of my ancestors who fought in the Spanish American War is buried there. There are also soldiers buried there who fought in the Civil War.

I take the early Sunday morning duty. It's the same shift my father did. He started in the 1960s and was there on the second Sunday in June for as long as he was able.

There aren't many young people that come to the cemetery these days. I'm not sure who will be sitting at the booth on the second Sunday in June when I am no longer able.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Pull the plug

I'm kind of like the old hippie saying, "I'm down to seeds and stems." Tonight my creative vessel is low.

I have a friend who is a veteran that is writing a book. He's 92 and doesn't have the technical skills to prepare it for publication.

I thought it would be a short simple process, but his book is like a history book and it's taking more time than I thought.

I've worked on it several hours today and I'm on the downhill side of the project, but tonight if I were a brain trauma patient, they'd pull the plug.

I did manage to snap a picture of our Bleeding Heart between rain showers this afternoon. It's a beautiful plant that Jilda's grandmother Mamie gave us over 40 years ago.

Each year as winter approaches, we trim it back and bring it inside. It's paid off. Each year it helps beautify our back deck.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Unhappy face

The plants in the raised beds look as if they've grown several inches since the rain began late last night. I keep them watered from the outside spigot and it helps them live, but they seem to prefer to bathe in Mother Nature's showers.

During our walk this morning, I discovered another root that I'd scalped sometime last year.

This one looks like it has an unhappy face in the image.

Can you see it?

Hope you've had a great Friday. We have.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Thursday report

This morning I had an early interview. It's Alzheimer's Awareness Month and the woman I interviewed lost her father, mother, and husband to the disease within the span of a few years. 

I'm not sure I've ever met anyone as strong. 

She smiles, but there is a hurt inside her as deep as a bruise.  I'm guessing the story will run on Sunday.

On the lighter side, we woke up to rain this morning. It's the first time in a month. As the coffee dripped, I walked down to feed the chicks and check on the garden. The tomatoes seemed to be dancing. 

I noticed a root that I'd clipped with the lawnmower last year. I know I photograph weird things, but I thought it looked interesting.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019


I tapped keys today. Some days I write stories. Some days I write columns. But some days I tap keys.

It's on these days that I notice things in my office. EVERYTHING in the room is covered in dust and obviously MUST be dusted before I write anything meaningful.

I can't believe I actually talk on a phone with that much dust. I mean, how can I pick up the receiver?  And, don't get me started about the screen of my computer. I'm appalled. If company came into our house and saw a screen that begrimed, they might not eat the pound cake with blueberries and whipped cream that Jilda made.

Cleaning them before writing a word was the only prudent course of action.

And THEN I remembered...............

You get the picture. I tapped keys.

I'll have to get up early in the morning and have another go at it. I have blinders that I made from aluminum foil and duct tape. I'll wear that tomorrow while I whip out a deeply insightful column for Sunday's paper.

Thank the Good Lord I accepted Jilda's invitation to take a walk or the morning would have been a total waste.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Interviewing veterans

The paper now refers most of the military and veteran feature stories to me. Since I'm the only one working there that has been to boot camp, they figure I have a point of reference. Veterans tend to open up a little when they realize I've worn the uniform. That's OK with me.

Today, I interviewed a Vietnam veteran who served in 67 and 68. He was wounded three times before leaving South East Asia.

His story put chills on both my arms.

His sons kept encouraging him to write his story down. After more than 50 years, he did. I got an autographed copy of his book but I have not yet read it. The title is Jimmy, The Marine.

This is another story I'll post once it publishes toward the end of June.

In other news, the Zinnias are blooming. This evening when Jilda stepped down to get a jalapeno for the pasta, I went down and leaned on the fence to make sure she picked a good one.

I realized that the Old Maids have been blooming for several days and I haven't snapped the first picture. I fixed that tonight.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Example of true love ~ I mentioned this story a few weeks ago

OAKMAN –Chad Hagwood of Birmingham believes it was divine intervention that brought his high
school sweetheart, Patti Armstrong, back into his life last year.

The two dated in high school, but after college, they drifted apart. Childhood friends of both Armstrong and Hagwood always believed the two would end up together, but they had no idea it would take over 30 years, a helicopter, and the Indian Creek Youth Camp in Oakman.

“We met at church in 1984,” Hagwood said. The two attended Center Point Church of Christ. He saw her getting out of her car one Sunday. She was the new girl at church. As he watched her walking across the parking lot, he remembered telling his mom, “That’s the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.  Even today, he still agrees with that first assessment.

In 1988, Hagwood decided to take the relationship up a notch. “After I got my driver’s license, Patti was the first person I asked out,” he remembered.

Their first date was a disaster, according to Hagwood. He was all thumbs and tongue-tied. Turning the wrong way down a one-way street was not helpful - as well as being pulled over by the police for having an expired tag.

“I was more anxious about asking her out than getting to the tag office,” Hagwood said.

“I had been going to Indian Creek Youth Camp (in Oakman) every summer religiously since I was 10 years old,” he said. Hagwood hatched a plan when he was a senior in high school, and Armstrong was in college. He lobbied with the staff of Indian Creek for Armstrong to be asked to be a counselor with him that summer at the camp.

This was in 1989.  They were there together the entire week.

“There were no phones, radios, or computers to distract you, according to Hagwood. “You actually had to talk to people,” he said. “You get to visit with people one on one.”

June 22, 1989, was the last night of youth camp. That’s when Hagwood and Armstrong kissed for the first time. “It was a beautiful starry sky that night,” he remembered. “It was a pivotal moment in a young man’s life.”

After college, their paths diverged. Armstrong enrolled at Faulkner University in Montgomery. Later she got married, started a family, and became a teacher. Hagwood went to work with Hunt Real Estate Capital, where he financed commercial real estate across the country. He was married to his career.

Then last year, the two ran into each other at Highlands in Birmingham. She was single again, and her younger brother had taken her out for her birthday. Hagwood came over, and they sat and chatted for a while, according to Armstrong.

Timing is everything. “I’m not sure what you call it, but it had to be divine intervention,” Hagwood said.  “It was the right time, the right place when you’re ready.”  He’s a big believer in that type of stuff.

 “I’d been raising children, so I had not been out and about,” she said.  Hagwood invited her to spend some time with mutual friends. “It was fun and light,” she said. “No pressure, just to get reacquainted.”

They weren’t in a hurry at first. “People change over a period of time, and you wonder how they’ve changed,” he said. He doesn’t think people’s core personalities really change.  “When you get older, hopefully, you are a better version of who you were,” he said.

“I’ve always loved and enjoyed Patti’s company and friendship,” Hagwood said. “I’m 47, and I know who I am, and who I’m not, but there was no doubt she was always the one.” Rekindling the friendship felt very natural, they both agreed.

You do things subconsciously whether you realize it or not, according to Hagwood. They learned at their bridal party through stories of their friends that both Hagwood and Armstrong continued to talk about each other even though they had not been together in years.

Hagwood still has the car he had when they first dated. Around five years ago, he started restoring the car, and he wasn’t sure why at first.

"Why did I keep that car? It’s a 1990 LeBaron, and it’s not exactly a collector’s item,” he said, noting replacement parts for the car are difficult to find.

Later he realized that the car was an inanimate connection to Armstrong. The prom mixtapes they listened to when they were in high school are still in the glovebox, according to Hagwood.

Somebody asked Hagwood how long it took him to plan the proposal, and he answered, “About 30 years.”

Once he had a pretty good idea that Armstrong would say yes, he began putting a plan together. When considering places to pop the question, he first thought of the beach, or maybe New York. But he wanted a place that was unique to their story. Then it occurred to him that the ideal place was Indian Creek where they had their first kiss 30 years before.

Once he decided on the perfect place, the planning began. Had the couple driven to Oakman, it would have taken over an hour. “That might give a little too much time to think about it,” Hagwood said with a smile.

He decided on the quickest most efficient way to get there that has a little zing to it and adds a little mystery. They flew to the camp in a helicopter on Oct. 6, 2018. 

At liftoff, Armstrong had no idea where they were going. “It was a tightly kept secret,” he said. “She thought we were going to dinner."

Armstrong’s dad and children knew because Hagwood had asked for their blessing first, but they were sworn to secrecy, according to Hagwood.

When they left Hagwood’s house to go have “dinner with friends,” he told her he had to turn left instead of right to keep from scraping the bumper of his new car. But they continued going in the wrong direction.

“You’re going to have to turn around because there’s a helicopter down there,” Armstrong remembered telling him.

Hagwood told her they were going for a little ride. She said, “OK, but we’re going to be late for dinner.” Once airborne, she thought they were going to look at some projects that he was looking at. When they started descending, she had no idea where they were until she saw a softball field and the back of the church sign at Indian Creek Youth Camp.

When she saw the LeBaron, she was even more confused about what was going on. He told her they were going to take a little drive.  He’d had his co-conspirators set up a tent near where he planned to propose.

Once they arrived at the tent and saw people there, she figured out what was coming next. When they got to the tent area, Hagwood asked her to marry him.

“Luckily she said yes because Plan B would have been a very long drive home,” he said.

The couple will get married June 15, and they will honeymoon on a little off-the-grid island near Belize. They will honeymoon on the 30th anniversary of their first kiss.

Even though they drifted apart, all their friends kept telling them that they were meant for each other.

“One of my childhood friends told me that it was just a matter of time,” Armstrong said.

When asked about their hopes for the future, she said she wanted to be an example for what true love is. Hagwood agreed and added that he feels their story is extremely unique and speaks to true love, hope, and happiness.

“It’s a big beautiful road ahead of us now,” he ended.

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