Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Security Blankets

Toddlers often have a favorite blanket that they drag around with them everywhere they go. Usually, it will be a baby blanket that was used in his crib. As he grows into a toddler, the child will want to sleep with the blanket for naps as well as bedtime. It  becomes tattered and worn, but it continues to provide a sense of security for the child, often into kindergarten and first grade. Linus, a character in the cartoon strip, "Peanuts," is a prime example.

While I don't drag one around with me, I do use lap quilts. They provide warmth when I'm sitting on my front porch in cool weather, drinking my coffee and watching the squirrels jump from tree to tree. I keep the temperature low in my house, and use lap quilts while I crochet or read a book. As a child, I would take a pillow and quilt to my front porch and lie down to listen to the rain.

A few years ago, I started requesting a blanket at my dentist's office. This habit began because it was so darned cold there. I quickly noticed that it had a psychological affect, too, by calming some of the anxiety of being in a dental chair and having that needle or drill coming at me.

There is something so very comforting about wrapping yourself in a blanket. Not only does it provide warmth and security, but if it was made by someone special, it can provide a connection with that person or even a sense of place. I'm not the only person who recognizes this. A friend makes kid-size lap quilts for the local sheriff's department to give to children taken from their homes by child welfare services. I know others who make quilts or crochet afghans for beds at veterans' homes, and others do the same for folks undergoing dialysis. 

We make blankets for babies as shower gifts, too. I've read that swaddling a newborn snugly, even tightly, calms it because it gives her the feeling of being inside her mother's womb. Maybe that's what it does for some of the rest of us. I don't know. I only know that cuddling up in one makes me feel less vulnerable. 

In a world full of uncertainty, we could all use a security blanket now and then.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmases Past & Present

Gabe & Mati making cookies
     It’s two days before Christmas. The boys are here, and we’ve made sugar cookies and decorated them. The boys also managed to decorate the countertop, the floor and themselves as well. But what the heck, we’re not just making cookies. We’re building memories.
I still have some candy to make, and the dessert and vegetable to prepare for Christmas Eve dinner. I also have a couple of gifts to wrap. It’s raining, so the boys can’t play outside. But while the little one naps, and the older one plays with a friend, I sneaked into my office to post this blog.
There isn’t time to write a full-fledge post, so I’m re-posting a slightly revised version of last year’s Christmas essay.
Merry Christmas to all, and have a blessed New Year.

A Touch of Holiday Nostalgia

I usually get very nostalgic and sometimes sad around Christmas. This started long before my husband died, but his death certainly adds to the sadness. I think it has to do with remembrances of Christmas past, when my dad's side of the family got together to celebrate.
Most of my dad's three brothers (a fourth died when I was a toddler), three sisters and their children would gather at Thanksgiving at my Aunt Vera's. She's dead now, and so are all but two aunts. I miss the missing ones most during the holidays. Like they say, when the generation ahead of you is gone, so is the umbrella between you and eternity.
I can still see those long tables set up in Aunt Vera’s basement, laden with the yummy foods my aunts would bring. That's how I learned that mac 'n cheese didn't originally come in a box, the way my mom made it. My Aunt Rubye made the most mouth-watering mac 'n cheese I’ve ever tasted.
After lunch, we’d draw names. Then we'd get together again around Christmas and exchange gifts. Grandpa Hobson used to buy something for everyone, but because there were so many of us, he couldn't spent much on each. They were token gifts, but I appreciated the thought. My mom, however, didn't. He often gave the women hosiery, but at 5'9-1/2" tall,  her legs were too long for any of them to fit. She always resented that.
  As the family grew, exchanging gifts became expensive. My cousin Ed had five children, and announced one Thanksgiving that he could no longer afford to buy the extra gifts. He suggested we let the kids draw and exchange, and that worked out fine. I can't remember when we stopped the name-drawing altogether.
After Aunt Vera died, my Aunt Rubye and I took turns hosting the gatherings. Once I had a friend come to my house dressed as Santa Claus. We took pictures of the kids (and a few grownups) sitting on his lap. No one knew him, and because Ed had not arrived yet (like income tax refunds, he and Diane are perpetually late), everyone assumed it was he. You should have seen the looks on their faces when Ed and Diane walked in! 
(Back) First cousins Pat, Ed & Elaine, with
Elaine's niece, Lennon (center)
One Thanksgiving stands out because of a game. It was my cousin Pat's idea to play "Oldyweds," based on the then-popular TV game show, "The Newlyweds." She picked out three couples who had been married for various lengths of time.  Pat sent the three husbands into one room, their wives into another, and everyone was instructed to contemplate three questions. One of them was: "When was the last time your spouse made you mad?" When my Aunt Violet recalled the last time Uncle Alvin had made her mad, she got angry all over again just thinking about it.
When I moved out here to the country, I tried to keep up the Christmas gathering tradition. It was hit or miss, because aunts and uncles were aging and cousins became their care-givers. Everyone had so much to do during the holidays, so many church and school obligations, that it was difficult to get many to come. So I stopped. It took a cousin's funeral to get us started again.
This year, only two families showed up, but I still had a house full. There were 12-15 of us, including three first cousins. I didn’t have time to decorate for Christmas, because it was Thanksgiving weekend. We chose that time because my brother’s daughter was visiting from California and wanted to meet everyone.
We all agreed we should get together more often.  We’re considering a barbecue and pool party at a cousin’s house next summer. There's nothing like seeing a bunch of old geezers in swim suits to get the nostalgia juices flowing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

No more surveys!

        If I get one more request to complete a survey, I’ll puke on my computer.
        It seems that every time I call a service or tech rep, place an order online or take my car to the dealer for a recall, I get a request for my “feedback” via a survey. Yesterday, I even got such a request from American Express. The first question was, “Do you recall logging into your account December 11?” Hells bells, I can’t remember where I logged in yesterday, much less four or five days ago!
        I’ve gotten to the point where I  delete most of them. They take too much of my valuable time. Individually, it doesn’t seem like much, but collectively, I could spend an hour a day on them.
        Usually, their questions are skewed in their favor, and they never ask the one you would really like to answer. Like the hotel survey that failed to ask, “How was the maid service?” Because I’d really like to tell them about how she forgot to leave me any coffee one day. I guess she was too busy changing out the soap that I’d used only once.
        Then there’s the aforementioned American Express survey, which wanted to know how many times I had to log in to get my question resolved. Good grief, I only logged in to check my balance. How many times does that normally take?
        Netflix usually sends an email wanting to know which day I returned a DVD. If you held a gun to my head, I couldn’t recall on Friday whether I mailed it Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday! Does it really matter? Geez.
        I don’t know how to avoid these surveys, so until I do, I’ll just continue to delete them.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Planting Rye

I’m always running late, whether it’s for appointments or doing chores. So it should come as no surprise to most folks that I didn’t get my winter rye sown until the first week of this month.
When the summer bermuda dies down, it’s great to have a winter grass take its place. But that rye should have been spread in October or November.
I started on Monday afternoon, December 1, but quickly realized I had a brush as big as Texas to remove first. I should have burned it last year, but let it sit. It was too late in the afternoon to start a burn, because I didn’t want it to smolder overnight unattended. So I spent an hour and a half scooping and piling the woody brush into my tractor bucket and dumping it over the fence. By the time I had finished, it was too dark to spread rye.
Horses enjoy grain, even when the grazing is good.
Next day, I loaded the rye grass into my spreader, read the spreader chart for the rye opening, then took off. I figured it would take about six to eight passes up and down myhilly pasture, but the seed was gone in 40 feet! 
Back I went to Central Seed for more rye.
“What setting did you use on your spreader?” asked Lamar, one of the store’s employees.
“I used the rye setting,” I answered. 
“Which rye setting?”
“There was just one.”
Turns out the "rye" setting on the spreader is for cereal rye, which is much bigger than the seed for grass rye. Who knew?
So I bought another bag of rye seed, enough to cover two acres. I’m not sure how big that section of my pasture is, but I figured that amount would do it. 
By the time I got home with the bag of seed, I had to get ready to leave for an appointment. 
On the third day, I actually spread the rye seed. I set the hopper opening so low that it took repeated passes over the same territory to get it all out. But I didn’t mind. I love being on my tractor, and I was just happy to get the job done. 
When the rye starts coming up in February, I’ll have to spread some nitrogen to fertilize. If I had planted in October  or early November when I should have, perhaps it would have come up earlier. Or perhaps the November frost would have killed the young buds, as happened with a friend’s pasture. 
Sometimes being late turns out to be a blessing.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mint Madness

        I love a mojito, which is made with white rum and fresh mint. So when I spotted an abundance of mint plants in my late neighbor's yard last summer, I decided to help myself to one or two.
      I quickly discovered that you can't dig up one or two mint plants from a bed of many. The roots were so long, and so intertwined, that I wound up with five. Wisely, I  put them in large pots. I later read that they will take over a garden. 
     The mint plants flourished. I thought I had lost them in August, though, when I  returned from 12 days in Peru. My tenant had overwatered them, and they looked pitiful. But they soon bounced back. I thought I'd lost them when the temperatures dropped below 32 degrees this month.  But they're hardy little devils, especially when they're among friends. The pot with only one plant froze to death, but the one with three made it just fine. I then brought it inside, and it's still producing.
     So, the question is, what do I do with all this mint? There are only so many mojitos a woman my size can drink. That goes double for mint juleps, which are way too strong for my tastes anyway. 
     A gardening friend freezes fresh herbs in ice cubes, and uses them in soups and stews during the winter. Hmmm. Would that work for mojitos? I froze a couple of ice trays as an experiment. But I can only store so many ice cubes.
     I found a recipe for Green Beans, Snap Peas and Edamame Toss (sic) with Cilantro-Mint Pesto in Publix's Family Style magazine. You steam the veggies, then toss with the pesto. It’s a yummy dish. So I'm making it again for Thanksgiving. I've already made the second batch of pesto. Then I experimented with a batch of mint walnut pesto. I think it will be good on pasta.
     And still I have mint. 
     So I posed my mint dilemma to another friend, who apparently spread the word among her friends, and she sent me three lists of recipes. Most were a bust, because they either used too little mint or were too complicated, but I saved a couple. One was Tomato, Cucumber and Red Onion Salad with Mint. That reminded me of a dish I had in Istanbul last month, which a Turk told me was very Turkish. However, my Persian friend makes it, too, and she’s from Iran. It combined chopped cucumber and mint with slightly thinned plain yogurt. It was quite tasty. Another was Grilled Sweet Potato Fries with Honey Mustard Mint Dipping Sauce, which comes from Bobby Fray on the Food Network. It appears to be a tad time-consuming, because you cook the potatoes in boiling water, let them cool, cut them into wedges, then grill them. But I love sweet potatoes, so I saved that recipe, too.
     My friend suggested adding finely minced mint to my next batch of chocolate frosting and/or a batch of brownies. Hmmm. Mint and chocolate. That's a winning combination.
     So, do any of my readers have other suggestions for using mint? 
     While you're looking through your recipe files, I'm going to enjoy another pineapple mojito.
     Bottoms up!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Saving the Fish

Every summer, my pond becomes a mud hole. I’ve never been able to keep water in it, so I haven’t had much luck with fish, either.
When I moved here 13 years ago, I had 18 catfish and dozens of bream. The fish would feel the vibration of my car on the driveway, and swim to my small pier. I’d throw them fish food, and they’d jump out of the water to get it. It was great fun, and I was looking forward to letting my grandsons feed the fish, too.
The pond is now a work in progress.
But it’s a runoff pond that’s dependent upon rain to keep it filled. When we have lots of rain, the pond is about a third of an acre in area, and several feet deep at one end. However, when we go through a dry spell, the pond shrinks up to a muddy, child-size wadding pool. The poor fish that are left become easy pickings for the blue heron that feasts there every year. A few years ago, when we had a particularly bad drought, I lost all those catfish, including the one with the white face that I called Grandpa.
Besides the receding water, I had a lot of vegetation to deal with, both in and around the pond. Norm Haley, a regional extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s forestry, wildlife and natural resources division, advised me on a herbicide that’s safe for fish and the groundwater downstream. However, it was extremely difficult to spray the sloping banks, much less the reeds and other vegetation in the pond itself. I liked the reeds, but they were slowly taking over.  A tenant got into a copperhead nest while chopping them down. Grass carp wouldn’t help, according to Haley, because the pond gets too low for them. He said I wouldn’t have the vegetation problem if I cut the banks steeper.
I had ducks once.
After 13 years of saying, “I ought to have that pond dug out while it’s shallow,“  I  put my money where my mouth is. Bobby Isbell, a neighbor who has an excavation business, did the job this week. Once the rains fill it in, the pond will be three to four feet deep from one end to the other. When the pond has enough water, Bobby will come back with a truck load of chicken litter, which he’ll spread over the water with a blower. The litter will sink to the bottom and fill in the cracks. Once the leaks are plugged, I’ll be able to keep fish in it, and maybe some ducks on it.
Bobby had to pump out some water before he could start the excavation, and I wanted to save the few fish that were left. So Phillip, his employee, scooped them out with a butterfly net and by hand as the pump sucked out the water. Some of them scooted into the mud, where they flopped around until Philip could grab them.
We put several dozen small bream in one water tank, and two catfish, a bass and a carp in another. Phillip suggested that the raccoons probably would make a feast of the smaller fish, and I was okay with that. At least they would die as part of the food chain, instead of from asphyxiation. But they were either too crowded, or the cold night temperature got them, because next morning, they were all dead. 
Well, at least I tried.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Alabama dancer gets paid to sail the seas

Jesse Calvert at Thessaloniki, Greece

If you’ve ever taken a cruise, you’ve no doubt noticed that most of the crew members are from all over the world. It’s rare to meet a ship’s crew or staff member from the USA. Imagine my surprise, then, during my Greece and Turkey voyage last month, to hear the ship’s captain introduce a staff member from Brushy Pond, Alabama. I just had to meet this gal and find out how she got where she is today.
As it turns out, 25-year-old Jesse Calvert, cruise sales manager, danced her way onto the ship. After graduating from Birmingham-Southern College with a degree in dance, she left Brushy Pond, a small community near Cullman, for the bright lights of Atlanta. “I danced with a small company there,” she says. “I’ve been dancing since I was five.”
In 2012, she auditioned for the cast of Royal Caribbean Productions, which provides entertainment for the entire cruise line. The audition lasted three hours, but a week later, she had a job on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. The cast of 12  rehearsed together seven to eight hours per day, seven days per week, for six weeks, in Hollywood, Florida. She spent six months on the ship, sailing in the Baltic region, to Iceland and to Eastern Canada. “It  was my first time on a ship, and it took two weeks to get my body to adjust to the ship and stage always moving,” she says. “It was very different from anything I had done before, and I loved it.”
  A summer spent studying art and literature in Paris proved useful when she started helping the ship’s art auctioneer keep up with the bids. “It became a side job, and I earned a little in commissions,” she says. When her contract was up in January 2013, she did a couple of shows with her old dance company in Atlanta. She was scheduled for another ship that June, but got a call in March about an opening for a dancer on the Azamara Quest. After eight weeks of rehearsals, she signed on to the Azamara in late May as part of the crew, staff and entertainment. That first tour was from May-December of 2013, and she got home to Alabama two days before Christmas. 
“Contracts usually are for six to eight months, but a lot of entertainers do repeat contracts because they get addicted,” she says. With the Azamara, she works four months on, two months off, sometimes spending those off months  in Atlanta. Her experience with the auctioneer on the Brilliance of the Seas helped her land her current job as cruise sales manager. “It was a big jump going from dancing to speaking in public, and it took a lot of preparation,” she says. “This this job is detail oriented.”
        When she's not on duty, she likes to explore foreign ports-of-call. Her favorites are Iceland, because of the geo-thermal hot springs at its Blue Lagoon, and Sorrento, Italy,
because it feeds her cameo collection. "In Sorrento, they carve cameos out of the conch shells they collect," she explains. "You can watch them carve one, then buy it."
      One of the first things I noticed about Jesse was her lack of a Southern accent. “I worked at that,” she explains. “When doing boat drills, for example, people from other countries don't understand a Southern twang. But when I go home, in two days, my twang is back.”
Eventually she’ll want to settle in one place, but not for a while. “You’re always  visible on a ship this size,” she says of the Azamara, which houses up to  694 passengers and a crew of 407. “You do crew duties, too. You meet people, and you make friends. I like what I’m doing.”
It has to be more exciting than life in Brushy Pond!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

All Hitched Up and No Place To Go

Some friends enjoyed another trail ride.

        I was supposed to go trail riding in the Bankhead National Forest one recent Saturday. I hooked up my trailer the day before, and had planned to load my tack while my horses were eating breakfast. 
However, it was pouring down rain when I got up at 5 o’clock that morning. Some weather reports indicated a 40% chance of rain throughout the day, and the one for Bankhead said 80%. I just don’t like riding in the rain. Even worse, I don’t like loading up in the rain.
So I took my cup of coffee to the front porch to watch the sunrise and contemplate my choices for the day. The festival at Homestead Hollow? Nope, not in the rain. Besides, I wanted to take my grandson there Sunday afternoon. Clean the house, or at least a portion of it? Nah, maybe I could hire someone for that.
Guess I could have worked on that quilt I started a year and a half ago. It’s the one I’m making from a blanket I bought in Guatemala. It’s not one of those beautiful handmade blankets often seen in the Indian markets. This one is polyester, with an ugly gold fringe. I bought it because it has a purple horse on it, and I had painted my room lavender. However, the blanket was much too thin to act as a quilt, so I decided to turn it into a coverlet. I removed the fringe and spent $200 on fabric for the border, backing and coordinating bedskirt and pillowcases. 
I got so far as to applying the iron-on backing to stabilize the wiggly, misshapen  blanket, then put it away. For a year.  About two weeks ago I took all the materials over to a quilt-making friend’s house, and she helped me trim and square the blanket and cut the strips for the border and backing. 
My goal is to get it ready for Pat at the Ashville House of Quilts to quilt it for me on her long-arm machine while I’m in Greece. A rainy day seems like the perfect time to sew. But guess what? The sun came out about 9:30 or 10! 
Somewhere in Bankhead Forest the Outback Riders were looking at fall foliage from the backs of their horses that Saturday. I looked at it through the sunny window above my sewing machine.
I hope those riders got soaked.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Llama Drama

A Baptist church in Pelham, AL, had its annual Blessing of the Animals earlier this month. I believe mine are already blessed, or they wouldn’t have survived  their recent escapade.
Monday was a day of drama for the llamas, Rio and Beeper. As my weekend house guests were preparing to leave, I got a call from a neighbor who lives about a mile up the road. “Elaine, your llamas are out,” she told me. “Are they outside the gate?” I asked, because some folks see them grazing by my pond and think they have escaped their pen. “Yes, my daughter saw them down by the church.”
Beeper and Rio
That’s about two blocks from my gate. Fearing the worst, one guest and I jumped in my UTV, then I drove like a wild woman to my barn and grabbed llama collars, leashes and a couple of strong lead ropes. We high-tailed it down the hill as fast as we dared in a vehicle with brakes that are almost metal-to-metal. My other guest jumped into her car and followed us. We prayed all the way to the church that the llamas were safe. We also wondered which one of the workmen putting up fencing in my pasture had let them out. I had warned them that when entering or leaving my property, they should stop until the gate closed behind them, to make sure the llamas didn’t dash out.  Obviously, someone didn’t heed my admonition.
As we passed the little church graveyard, we spied the llamas, prissing down the road as if they owned it. My friend Calvin, who lives near the church, had spotted them, too, and stopped his truck to help us herd them home. We had a feed bucket with us, so Beeper came right up and started eating. I quickly threw a lead rope around her long neck, then slipped on her halter. But her mama, Rio, wouldn’t get close enough to eat, much less be caught. We had her surrounded, but animals can slip through such a paltry posse as we presented.
Figuring she would follow where Beeper went, I ve-rrr-y slooow-ly drove toward home, while my friend held onto Beeper’s lead rope. Beeper wasn’t  happy about this arrangement. She stubbornly pulled back on her lead rope, and it seemed to take us 10 minuets to get 10 feet. Even the feed bucket wasn’t enough to entice her, so I jumped out and let my friend drive while I walked with Beeper. Her mamma followed us, stopping frequently to graze or stare at passing traffic.
My friend's roommate followed behind in her car, while the motorist who had been patiently waiting for us to get the llamas out of the road slowly followed her. Calvin drove across the street and parked just outside my fence, then punched in my gate code. As the gates slowly opened, Rio loped across the main road and through the opening gates. Whew! One down, one to go. 
I thanked the Lord profusely as Beeper and I passed through the gates, too. Then we ponied Beeper from my UTV up my hill and back to the barn, a distance of about 1,800 feet. I put the llamas in my arena so they couldn’t escape again, gave them  hay and water, then chastised the contractor for letting them out. I knew it was he, because his was the last vehicle to come in before the llamas got out. Turns out he hadn’t seen them and didn’t realize they were nearby.
This story could have had a very different ending. If the llamas had been hit by a car, they could have been maimed or killed. They would have suffered either way, and I would have mourned their loss and been angry with the contractor who left the gate open.  As it turned out, the llamas had been blessed, even without the church service.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fresh Eggs

  You know your eggs are fresh when you watch the seller take them out from under her hens!
I've been buying my eggs from Sue and Al Maddox at the Old Farts Farm in Springville for a couple of years. I'm not making up that name, either. It's on her signs. She raises and sells rabbits, pygmy and dwarf goats, exotic ducks, peacocks and several breeds of chickens, including Silkies and Rhode Island reds. She sells the animals, as well as baby chicks and fresh eggs. Her small farm is crowded with cages, pens and pools, old tires studded with tomato plants and various other vegetables and flowers. She gets so many folks wanting to just browse the place that she had to start charging for tours.
She has several kinds of chickens, so she has eggs all year round. She was charging $2 per dozen, which is cheaper than the grocery stores. I stuck with her when she went up to $2.50, because I know they're fresh. When she went up to $3, I started looking around for a new source. I found one just down the road from my place, which is a wee bit closer than the Old Farts Farm.  But that lady charges $3 too. Well, at least she's closer, I reasoned. Meanwhile, Sue has gone back down to $2 per dozen, so I'm back with the Old Farts, where many folks think I belong.
Her eggs aren’t graded by size. You get several sizes in a dozen. You also get several colors, from the traditional white to solid brown to speckled. I guess that’s because she has so many different types of chickens.
Last week when I went by to get a dozen, Sue was out. She had sold the last two dozen earlier in the day, and her hens were molting so they weren't producing as many as they usually do. "Let's check the nests and see if they've laid any since this morning," she offered. So I dutifully followed her around her hen house, plastic egg crate in hand because I recycle them, while she unceremoniously lifted first one hen and then another from its nest. "Nope, none here," she'd say. The hens clucked at the indignation, but she merely chortled and clucked, too. "Come on, girls, we need some eggs," she added.
One of her pea hens had strayed into the chicken house, and was running around trying to find its way out. She finally darted between us when we weren't looking. "Silly hen," Sue said. "She keeps getting lost in here."
Sue managed to scrounge up seven eggs, so I offered to buy half a dozen for $1. I used those up over the weekend making brownies and banana bread. When I went back Sunday for more, she was still out. When I went to my second source, she was out, too. I was forced to buy a dozen from the (gasp!) grocery store.
I wish Sue’s hens would stop molting and start producing. I like my eggs fresh out of the nest.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Cat Peed On The Mattress

        Oh, how quickly a furry love affair can turn quickly as it takes a cat to pee on your bed.
In an earlier post, I wrote about bringing Barney-the-barn-cat indoors. He was my first barn cat, he’s probably eight or nine years old, and I didn’t want him to disappear the way most of the others have done. So I tried to make him a house cat.
Of course, I chose a most inappropriate time to do this. It was early August, one week before my trip to Peru. So for the 12 days I was gone, I boarded him with the vet. I also got him caught up on his shots while there. That cost me $140.
Since then, I’ve left him locked in my bedroom suite up to nine days at a time while out of town. He did fine, although you can imagine the smell coming from the litter box when I returned. My intention all along was to train him to go in and out of the house via an old cat door, so he could do his business outside. To that end, I shoved him through the cat door one day, and he ran off.
I was very upset, and prayed unceasingly for his safe return. He had often disappeared from the barn/pasture area for four or five days, so I kept telling myself he’d come back. Sure enough, five days later, he showed up for breakfast. I grabbed him, hugged him and penned him up in my bedroom suite again.
An affectionate cat who seemed content indoors, he never could adjust to being so near the dogs. When I would bring him into the Great Room to watch television with me, he’d spy the dogs and run back to my bedroom. One day after such an episode, he peed on my bed. Fortunately, I had just installed a soft, thick mattress cover so that my grandson’s occasional diaper leaks wouldn’t soak through to the mattress. But I spent two days washing the new cover, the sheets and the blanket I use as a coverlet. I forgave Barney, though, chalking the experience up to his being scared.
No sooner had I put everything back in its proper place than he did it again. This time, the blanket wasn’t on top to provide an extra layer, and the mattress got wet. Phew! I did my best to soak up the spot with a dry cloth, then scrubbed it with Fabuloso, let it dry, then sprayed it and the room with an odor eliminator. Once more, I forgave him, because the dogs had scared him again.
The third time he peed the bed, however, the dogs weren’t involved. The mattress was. Fuming over having to wash the linens again, I bought a waterproof, zippered mattress cover. I put it on top of my covers, beneath an old blanket that I use when I let the dogs sleep with me. The next two or three times he peed (I lost count), the plastic caught the brunt. It was becoming odoriferously obvious that this was developing into a habit. Oh, and he pooped on the bed once, covering it with the doggy blanket.  But I’m here to tell you, it was much less smelly and much easier to clean up than the wee-wee.
I contemplated taking him to the vet to determine whether he had a bladder problem. I contemplated calming pills. Do they make Valium for cats? Either way, I saw dollar signs. And day after day of bed-linen washing. I decided I had already spent enough time and money on this ungrateful creature. So I tossed his butt out.
Yep, I picked him up, opened the back door, and put him down. He hit the ground running. He’ll probably show up at the barn in four or five days. But I won’t be bringing him inside again. Nope, I’ve emptied his food dish, cleaned out his litter box and put it away in the shed. Already, my bedroom smells better. 
Some animals just weren’t meant to stay indoors.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Real Friends

Katherine, Annette & Elaine

“A real friend is someone who knows how totally crazy you are but is willing to be seen with you out in public,” read the travel mug advertised in a recent mail-order catalog. 
I’ve spent some time with such friends over the past few weeks. Some are fellow media colleagues, another went to high school with me. All of them put up with my quirks  and laugh at my silly jokes.
Many are members of the National Federation of Press Women, with whom I shared a tour bus, a zip line, a horse-and-buggy ride through old Charleston and some laughs over drinks and dinner. I get together with these remarkable women every year at our annual communications conference. It was in Greenville, SC, earlier this month. Next September, it will be in Alaska. Every year with these folks is like a big family reunion. But we keep our escapades to ourselves, trotting them out only to laugh about them as we recount conferences gone by.
My roommate at these events is Katherine K., of Oregon. We met at the 1995 NFPW conference in Mississippi, and we’ve roomed together every year that both of us have attended. I’ve missed a handful, but she hasn’t. Through the years, we’ve shared  stories about work, death, boyfriends and now, retirement. Like an old married couple, we’ve worked out a morning routine that includes her taking a shower first because I get ready quicker. She has always liked to turn on CNN as soon as she gets up, while I prefer silence that early. Our compromise has us waiting until I’ve had my first cup of coffee before turning on the telly. 
Katherine has visited me three or four times, usually coming home with me after a conference in the South. This year, her boyfriend, Mark, flew in after we returned from conference. She wanted him to experience my Shangri-La in the woods. I was excited that he was willing to work on my Honey-Do List. My high school chum, Annette, flew in from Chicago. This is the woman who attended Beach Boys concerts with me in the Sixties. She witnessed my humiliation over screaming when Mike Love reached down from the stage and touched my head while I was trying to snap a picture. Now that she is a widowed grandmother like me, we have even more in common.
All four of us spent a few days at Orange Beach, Alabama. We had a blast doing whatever we pleased. We collected shells on early-morning walks, took naps, ate some great seafood and tried a new drink called a Pineapple Mojito. And we never stopped talking. That’s how it is with old friends. We talk up a storm about anything and everything, and in the rare moments of silence, there is no awkwardness.  
And no matter what happens, we’re still happy to be seen in public with each other.

Friday, August 29, 2014

For Want Of A VIN

Neither Moses nor Maggie could find the VIN, either.

If I ever find the idiot who decided where to stamp the vehicle identification number (VIN) on a Honda small engine, I swear I'll strangle him.
I have an 18 horsepower Honda engine in my EZ-GO ST 4x4, which is a golf course utility vehicle. The oil fill cap disappeared a couple of months ago. Without it, oil gets slung all over the engine, causing it to smoke, sputter and die at the most inopportune moments, like when I’m pulling one of the many hills on my property. I tried stuffing a rag in the opening. That lasted about 10 minutes. 
      I tried various bottle stoppers and duct tape. The stoppers weren’t big enough and the duct tape came off when the engine got hot. In desperation, I emailed EZ-GO. The reply stated the engine wasn't in their purview, and that I should contact a Honda small engine shop. I went online and found a small engine parts house, called up and talked with a customer service rep. I was told that I needed the engine's VIN, because there are 84 different Honda engine oil fill caps in their database, each belonging to a different engine. Who would have thought?
So I contacted Honda to find out where the VIN is located.  "It's stamped near the bottom," the Honda rep said. "You've got to be kidding me!" I wailed. So my engine repair friend, Calvin, came over and crawled under the 4x4  with his flashlight. The only numbers he could find were the engine model and capacity numbers. "That should do it," Calvin said. Nope, said Honda when I called back. There are several engines with that model number. They must have the VIN, and suggested I take it to a small engine repair shop to get someone to find it. Yeah, I'll just drive it onto my non-existent rollback truck and haul it in. IF I COULD DO THAT, BUDDY, I WOULDN'T HAVE CALLED YOU IN THE FIRST PLACE, I snorted.
So back outside I went, with flashlight, cleaning rag and exercise mat in hand. I cleaned a few areas on the engine, discovering to my surprise that it has a red housing on it.  I also found a couple of metal plates with numbers. I used the mat to lie on the gravel while I peered up at the engine from beneath it, trying to read one of them. Mission Impossible, as it turned out.
A nice lady at a small engine repair shop in nearby Oneonta researched the   model number for me. She thought she had found the part I needed, but it turned out to be the oil dip stick, which is a separate entity from the fill cap. She said she would keep looking. I haven’t heard from her in three days. If she does find it, I'll dance at her wedding with a cow bell on, as my mother used to say.
While pondering my next move, I’ve stuck a wine bottle cork in the opening. It worked for the short trip to my barn and back. But with my luck, it’ll either fall into the oil well or swell so large that it won’t budge. I can just picture myself using a corkscrew to get it out when I need to add oil.
Meanwhile, I'm looking for the guy who decided that the VIN should be stamped beneath the engine. I have fantasies about choking the life out of him while Calvin whomps him up side the head with an oil can.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Processing Peru

Balloons add color to a volleyball game.
“How was your trip?” asked the friend who picked me up at the airport. It’s a natural question when you’ve been out of the country for 12 days. I didn’t know how to answer her. So I told her I was too exhausted from the 28-hour return segment to think about it. “Let me process it for a few days and I’ll get back to you,” I half-heartedly promised her.
     I went to Pomabamba to work with Southern Baptist missionaries Russ & Sherri Fleetwood, church planters among the Northern Conchucos Quechua. This indigenous Indian people group lives in the state of Ancash, Peru. The couple linked me with a group from Redmond, OR, that has been working with them for six years. We helped the Fleetwoods host a youth retreat at their home.
     Getting to Pomabamba required a flight from Birmingham and an overnight stay in Houston, then another 12 hours of flying, making a connection in Panama and sitting around airports, then an overnight bus ride and eight-hour trip by truck.
The elevation in Pomabamba is more than 10,000 feet. While acetazolamide tablets fended off nausea and dizziness, they did nothing for my lung or leg capacity. I never could catch my breath, and despite walking my own hilly terrain for a couple of weeks to get into shape, my thighs never caught up, either. 
During the first day of the retreat, I stumbled around in a haze of exhaustion, wondering what I was supposed to be doing. The group played a lot of volleyball, with balloons, beach balls and a real volleyball. The youth loved it, because it was a complete departure from their daily chores of tending sheep and smaller siblings. I never have liked volleyball. No matter what position I take, my hands never touch the ball. So when I wasn’t giving my Christian testimony or telling a Bible story, I felt lost. When our team leader noticed me taking lots of pictures, he appointed me official trip documenter. At least, I had a job.
I’ve been on many mission trips over the past 14 years, four of them to other parts of Peru. Normally, I am eager to tell folks about my experiences, and normally I’m armed with the type of information they want to hear. They don’t really want a travelogue, just to know that I had a great time and, in the case of missions, to hear the statistics.  Like most North Americans, we Southern Baptists are results-oriented. Often we allow the statistics -- how many eye glasses we handed out, how many teeth we pulled, how many folks we won to Christ -- to tell our story. 
This trip wasn’t about numbers, though. It was about relationships. We wanted to strengthen those already formed by the Fleetwoods, and to foster new ones. Did we accomplish that?I don’t know. Like an old computer whose hard drive is full, I’m still processing that.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Never Say Never

Barney on his closet pallet

After my last house cat died in 2011, I vowed never to have an indoor cat again. A couple of friends and my grandsons are allergic to them, for one thing.  For another, I got tired of clipping toenails and putting tape on carpet edges to prevent them from patting out biscuits wherever they pleased.  I had several barn cats to enjoy when I felt the need for kitty company.
What I hadn’t counted on was the casualty rate of my barn cats. Through the years, I’ve had half a dozen that I spayed and neutered. All but two have disappeared. Barney, my first, took up with a former tenant a couple of years ago. They fed him, renamed him Ming because he has so much Siamese in him. When they moved, they left him behind, knowing I would care for him.
I couldn’t get him to leave their former home, however. Twice I took him to the barn, but, as the old Sonny James song said, “The cat came back.” Finally, I hit upon a bright idea to re-acclimate him to the barn. I assembled my Mastiff’s wire cage, put a blanket, water bowl and food dish inside, along with a small litter box (it IS a Mastiff’s cage, remember), then somehow wrangled Barney inside. I released him three days later.
Low and behold, he had bonded with the barn again, so he stayed. That is, as long as the other barn cat, Mittens, wasn’t around.  It got to the point that I’d only see Barney every four or five days. He was my all-time barn cat favorite, perhaps because he was the first or just because he was such an affectionate kitty. So I decided to bring him indoors next time I saw him.
Last Saturday, I spotted him in the pasture, got him into my car, took him home and enthroned him on my bed. I put water and food bowls in my bathroom, and an old litter box in my whirlpool bathtub. I have no shame.
For a cat that has been living in outside all his life, he sure has taken to the indoors. He sleeps in my closet during the day, with me at night. He comes out for petting and rubbing against me whenever I enter the room. Sometimes, I take him to the Great Room and let him watch television with me, much to the chagrin of my dogs. Otherwise, he’d never leave the room.
Eventually, I’ll unbar the cat door and train him to use it, thus eliminating the need for a smelly litter box. I’ll also move his food and water dishes to the laundry room window ledge, which the dogs can’t reach. However, before I moved to the country, my city vet told me to keep the cats indoors for a month so they would become accustomed to the house and its smells. That’s all well and good, but I’m headed to Peru. My tenant  will keep an eye on my house, but he has enough to do without cleaning a litter box. I can’t start Barney’s kitty-door training, either, because the dogs would probably chase him out and he’d never come back.
So what do I do with him? Board him at the vet, of course. It will cost $128, plus another $50 for exam and shots. He’s a bit behind, because my former tenants never took him to the vet.

The things we do for our animals.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where Have All My Heroes Gone?

When James Garner, aka Brett Maverick and Jim Rockford, died over the weekend, something inside of me died. I think it was another chunk of my childhood.

Never mind that I haven’t been a child for more than 55 years. My past is still inside of me, and every now and then, episodes run through my mind like a Super 8 movie.
 I used to write to movie and television stars to get autographed photos. Garner was the first guy I wrote to, back in 1959. I still have all those photos in a vertical file. 
“Maverick,” his long-running western TV series about a roving gambler with a sense of humor, introduced me to the man. I swooned over him every week, and rarely missed an episode. Once I disobeyed my parents and they refused to let me watch it that week. The episode was one I had really looked forward to, entitled, “The Day They Hanged Brett Maverick.” They didn’t, of course, and I got to watch most of it with the folks next door while mom and dad were away.
The sense of humor his characters displayed must have been more than a stage persona. I recall seeing him on a late night variety show when the host asked him how his marriage had lasted so long (58 years at time of death at 86). He didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, dear,” was his quick-witted reply. 
With an increasing pace, my childhood heros are disappearing from this earthly scene. All of them are either six feet under, or have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. In 2011, James Arness, the tall, lanky sheriff on “Gunsmoke” for 20 years, died at 88. In 2010, we lost Fess Parker, 85, TV’s  “Davy Crockett” and “Daniel Boone.” Leslie Nielsen,  84, also died in 2010.  I interviewed him at a Cerebral Palsy telethon in Birmingham when his early-Sixties TV series, “The New Breed,” was popular.  When I wrote to him afterward, he replied with a hand-written note on the back of a photo card. I got the autograph of Steve McQueen (“Wanted: Dead or Alive”)  at another CP telethon.
        My photo collection includes Eric Fleming (“Rawhide”), Richard Boone (“Have Gun, Will Travel”), Michael Landon (“Bonanza”) and Guy Williams (“Zorro”). I saw Williams at the Melba Theater in Birmingham. I lived across the street from the theater manager, who got me an autographed photo.
Clockwise, from top left: Richard Boone, Leslie Nielsen,
  Eric Fleming and Steve McQueen.
Remember Duncan Renaldo, aka “The Cisco Kid?” I met him at a Birmingham shopping mall in the 1950s. For many years, whenever I’d be in a group playing, “Guess Who Said This,” I’d write down, “I was once kissed by the Cisco Kid.” I credit his series with starting my lifelong interest in the Spanish language and culture.
Can anybody besides me recall Scott Brady of “Shotgun Slade,” Don Durant and Mark Goddard on “Johnny Ringo,” Allen Case of “The Deputy,” Rory Calhoun of “The Texan,” Hugh O’Brien as “Wyatt Earp,” or Clint Walker, the hunky  “Cheyenne?”
         David Hedison from “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” George Nader of “The Man and the Challenge,” Robert Reed from “The Defenders” and “The Brady Bunch,” John Bromfield of “U.S. Marshall,”  Craig Hill of “Whirlybirds,” David Frost of “That Was The Week That Was” and movie actors Laurence Harvey and Audie Murphy also have slots in my files.

         All are dead except Goddard, 77, Hedison and Walker, 87, and O’Brien, 89.
         My childhood is slipping away, one hero at a time.