Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Work Day at Oak Mountain

       As an avid horse person, I belong to several equine organizations, including a saddle club (one that does trail rides, not shows) and a competitive trail club. Last winter I added the Central Alabama Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of America (BCHA) to my list.

Chad Bowman, Kathy Jones & John Sims
 refill the trenches.
At the national level, BCHA is dedicated to keeping America’s horse trail system open and in good working order.  Our most current major project is fighting to prevent the wholesale selling and giving away of our public lands, something Congress is trying to do with its proposed American Land Act (H.R. 1931) introduced last April. The latter, if passed, will authorize the sale of 8 percent of these lands each year from 2016 to 2021 to an ”eligible entity": (1) a U.S. citizen, or (2) a corporation or partnership created or organized in or under the laws of the United States. The money would go to the Highway Trust Fund.

Legislators say the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management cannot take care of our federal lands, so let’s sell or give way 100 billion acres to the highest bidder, whether it’s a billionaire, a state or even a foreign country. These same legislators fail to mention that they are the ones responsible for strangling the budgets of our federal land agencies.

All over the country, the various chapters of BCHA adopt trails to maintain. The Central Alabama Chapter looks after the horse trails at Oak Mountain State Park (OMSP),  meaning we clear fallen trees, remove rocks, put in bridges and whatever else needs to be done to keep the trails safe and comfortable for horses to walk on. In addition, we have a monthly business meeting at OMSP, hold benefit rides to raise money for various equestrian projects at the park, and have fun camping and trail riding together.

Kathy, Brett Higdon, John & Chad.
Not pictured are Mike Jones and
trench diggers Keith & Beverly Taylor.
Several folks put in many hours of volunteer work each month. Last year, club members built a 14-stall barn at the equestrian campgrounds. Some of the materials came from the park, like the panels of an old round pen that we took down and re-used between the stalls. We bought the gates and the boards for the front and back of each stall, and someone donated the poles to which the panels are attached. A $25,000 ADECA grant will pay for the materials for our next big project, which is to put a roof over the stalls.

Last Friday (December 11) was the first opportunity I’ve had to actually pitch in and do some hands-on work with this organization. Our chapter paid for the materials to install water lines to the barn. Several club members had already dug the trenches, installed and connected the pipes and put in the three faucets. We now have a faucet at each end of the barn and one at the wash pit, which means we will no longer have to connect two or three hoses from one of our camp sites and string them across the camp road to the barn to wash and water our horses.

All that remained to be done last week was to cover the pipes with dirt. So I drove 45 minutes to do 45 minutes of work, but hey, at least I was willing. It was a thrill to turn on the faucets and see that water come out. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Happy Birthday, Moses!

Going...

Yesterday,  December. 3, was the 11th birthday of my American Mastiff, Moses. It may sound corny to celebrate a dog’s birthday, but the truth is, I don’t believe Moses has many more. Research shows that his breed normally lives 10-12 years. My vet once said that it’s closer to 10. So I guess Moses is living on borrowed time.
       Every time I go out of town, and especially when I leave the country, I worry that he will die while I’m gone. I always remind whoever is looking after my critters that should he find Moses dead, he is to take him to the vet. My vet has agreed to keep him in cold storage until I return. I’m one of those people who has to see her loved one after death, even if it’s an animal. It brings closure. I plan on having him cremated and will place his ashes in a special doggy urn, the way I did my favorite cat, Miss Marple. She’s resting peacefully on top of my armoire.


going...

gone!
But I’m getting morbid here, and what I really wanted to say was that Moses, Maggie and I celebrated his birthday with cupcakes. I wanted to get a picture of him eating his cake, the way I did on his first birthday. Knowing how he wolfs down people food, I purposely bought mini-cupcakes so I could prolong the experience. But no matter how many I tossed him, or how slowly, I couldn’t capture him while eating. I even tried putting one at a time on the kitchen counter and encouraging him to get it. Alas, neither I nor my camera were as fast as a dog with a sweet tooth. But all three of us enjoyed the celebration, even if the dogs had no idea what it was all about. 




Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Blessed Day

        Today, I feel truly blessed. I’m not talking about the usual blessings we pause to think about around Thanksgiving, like health, family, friends, a house that’s paid for and a decent amount of money to live on. Today’s blessings came from knowing that at last I have some help with the chores around my place.

Living alone means all the work falls on me. That includes cleaning the inside of the house and maintaining the outside, feeding my critters, cutting fallen trees off my wooded trails, and pasture work such as bush-hogging, seed-planting and fertilizing. When you add to that the fact that I write, serve as contest director for my professional media organization, serve on my county library board, spend oodles of time with my grandsons, ride my horses, and keep my horse trailer, truck and car serviced, you might understand why I always feel so tired and overwhelmed.

       Today was the exception. It started with a good night’s sleep, a rarity for me. When I got up this morning, I felt almost refreshed, and the cold that has had its grip on my head for a week seemed to be receding. But the day just kept getting better. First the two women I hired to clean my house showed up. I’ve had house cleaners before, including one of these women. I usually suspend the service after a few months, primarily because of the preparations I have to make, like putting things away and locking the dogs in their outdoor pen. It seems like house cleaners just get in my way after a while. But I’m keeping these ladies, at least for once a month.

       Shortly after the pair arrived, a youth from my church showed up to finish blowing leaves from my driveway and to clear the cocklebur bushes from around the pond. Those burs get caught in the fleece of my goat and llamas and I have the devil of a time combing them out. I piddled around in my office while the house keepers worked in other areas, catching up in some bookkeeping in Quicken and tidying my desk so they could get to the top to dust it. Then I made myself a cup of tea. As I sat on the front porch sipping the tea, looking at the sun highlighting the gold and rust colored leaves, the most peaceful feeling washed over me. I felt liberated, without a care in the world. Usually, I’m in a state of panic, especially the day before Thanksgiving. Just knowing I had some help gave a calm, serene feeling. 

       Next week, I’ll have even more help, the thoughts of which added to today’s serenity. An old friend named Floyd is coming Monday to pressure-wash my log house, stain and seal it, then to paint the outside trim work and facia boards. He’ll also handle several other minor projects that have been bugging me for some time.

       When Floyd gave me his price for these chores I nearly fell over from shock. He’s charging me a third of what another painter had bid, and half of what it cost me a year ago. And those were pretty good prices, too.  He also pointed out that my front gate needs painting, something I’ve been keenly aware of, so we’re adding this to my “to do” list. How can he do all this so cheap? He’s comfortable in retirement, and considers it part of his Christian ministry to help widows. God bless him!

       I cannot express how it feels to know all of these projects and chores are being taken care of. I’m now free to handle some of those that only I can do, such as digitize my old home movies. That one has been needling me for several years.

Thanksgiving will truly be a day for giving thanks this year.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Don't Drink the Water, Do Hug the Children

        You’ve heard the axiom, “Don’t drink the water,” when visiting foreign countries. I have another one: “Don’t brush your teeth with shower gel.”

That's what my roommate did on our second morning in Zacapa, Guatemala, last month. "It foamed real good," she says, "but it tasted like soapy yuk.” To add insult to injury, she rinsed the toothbrush under the faucet water. Fortunately, she had brought a pack of six. 
It's easy to become discombobulated on a mission trip. Your "stuff" isn't where it's supposed to be, especially in a hotel room that has no towel bars and few shelves. This was her second trip to Zacapa, my seventh, but I still came home with a list of a dozen items to take next time in order to make the stay more comfortable, like those temporary plastic hooks you can stick up anywhere. 

We were there as part of a team of 18 from several Baptist churches in Alabama and one in North Carolina. “Real Love,” based on 1 John 3:16-18, is the name of our ongoing ministry to improve the spiritual and physical lives of people in the impoverished Zacapa village of Conevisa. Our primary purpose on these trips is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But even Jesus recognized that the sounds of growling stomachs can drown out the voice of the messenger.

Although recently incorporated as a non-profit, Real Love dates back to 2009. That’s when mission teams from three Baptist churches in Alabama started knocking on doors and inviting folks to Shalom Baptist Mission in Zacapa. But it’s a long, arduous walk from Conevisa to Zacapa. So the First Baptist churches of Ashville and Moody, along with Thomasville Baptist Church, furnished the funds to buy a piece of land to build Shalom Jireh Baptist Church in Conevisa. Seven churches contributed money and labor for the actual construction. Many of the men and boys from the village provided the labor, along with some Americans.


The church is strategically located next to Conevisa Elementary School. We started a breakfast program that feeds school children cereal and milk at the church weekday mornings. Last month, our team gave out 132 Blessings Bags filled with commodities such as corn, black beans (a Guatemalan staple) and rice. The men built 30 raised vegetable-garden containers. (See photo.) We left money with the church in Conevisa to buy dirt and seeds for those planters, which have now been distributed throughout the village.

         While the men were building the planters and a one-room cinderblock house for a local family, several of us women accompanied a missionary couple on their weekly trip to the town dump. There we gave out more rice, beans and corn. Some people earn their meager living combing through that dump for recyclables to sell, a dangerous occupation considering the filth, broken glass and used hypodermic needles dumped by local medical clinics. We also had a couple of Spa Days, where we painted fingernails and cut hair. Each of us hugged children and encouraged hurting adults.

But the area where we’re making the biggest physical difference is in education. In Guatemala, public school ends with the 6th grade. Only 20% of the children actually make it that far. They drop out to take care of younger siblings, work in the fields or sell items in the market. So we established a partnership between the church, the elementary school and Elim Christian School in a neighboring village to provide scholarships for students who graduate from the 6th grade with at least a “C” average. Fifteen students attended Elim under this program in 2011. We now have 48 students, each with a U.S. sponsor who has pledged $600 per year through the 12th grade. This covers tuition, books, supplies, three uniforms and transportation.

       Some folks wonder why we bother with one little village, when the needs are so great throughout the country. We believe in doing what we can where we can, regardless of how small the contribution. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sleeping With Gene Bear

Gene presents me with his namesake.
       Quite often, I don’t get a good night’s sleep. It’s not going to sleep that gives me problems, but waking up several times during the night and not being able to go back to sleep. Usually, my bladder awakens me, and I lie there trying desperately trying to ignore it. That's like trying to ignore an itch in public. I know if I get up to use the potty, I’ll have trouble shutting down my mind when I get back in bed. But an urgent bladder keeps me awake, too.

       An article in the November issue of Prevention magazine has some sleep-inducing suggestions. Keeping your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees helps because lowering your body temperature is a precursor to falling asleep. But that’s something I’ve done for years, so no change needed.

       Another sleepy-time suggestion is a no-brainer — read a good book. Prevention says you should avoid computers, phones and tablets for an hour before bed, because light-emitting devices suppress sleep hormones and disturb deep sleep. “People who read printed books before bed drop off faster and are sharper the next day,” the article says. So I stopped playing crossword puzzles on my iPad right before bedtime and started reading in bed. That combination helps me drop off quicker, but does nothing for my middle-of-the-night wakefulness.

       I’ve decided that the key to getting a good night’s sleep lies buried deep in our childhood psyches, in the form of a stuffed animal. In my case, it’s a teddy bear. For the past two or three nights, I’ve slept with one that my brother gave me for my 60th birthday. It’s one of those “build-a-bear” toys that you stuff and dress the way you like. Gene dressed this one in bluejeans and a red shirt, and wore a matching outfit when he gave it to me at my surprise party. Thus the name, “Gene Bear.” He also put a recording device in each paw, then recorded four greetings. Press one paw and Gene says, “Hi! I’m Gene Bear, and you’re old,” while another announces, “I have gas.” The third one says, “Don’t forget, you share more cooties with me than any other person on the planet earth.” My favorite, though, is, “Let’s make some brownies and watch a horror movie.” 
       
       Gene Bear decorates my bed during the day, propped against my pillows. At night, I usually shove him aside or put him on my dresser. But two nights ago I grabbed him and hugged him, listened to one of his greetings, then cuddled him all night. I still woke up at least once during the night, but squeezed him tighter, smiled, and went right back to sleep.
       
       If you’re having trouble sleeping, try ditching the meds and buying a teddy bear. Any child will tell you it’s the best sleeping pill on the market.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Tundra Isn't Always Frozen


  


    
        The Wilderness Tour Companion booklet that guides hand out calls Denali National Park and Preserve “A Living Tapestry.” The majesty and color of this richly-woven fabric, with its alpine tundra, wild moose and grizzly bears, more than made up for the clouds obscuring our view of the High One.
      In September, I had the pleasure of visiting Denali on a National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) pre-conference tour hosted by Alaska Professional Communicators. About 50 NFPW members and their companions watched through the bus windows as bears foraged for soapberries and the ungainly-looking caribou nibbled exposed lichens. 

Grazing caribou
Originally dubbed Mt. McKinley National Park when established by Congress in 1917, It was renamed in 1908 and expanded more than three-fold. At six million acres, it is now larger than the state of New Hampshire. The tour bus system limits the amount of traffic in the park, which helps preserve its delicate ecosystem.

The vast taiga, or northern boreal forest, cloaks the lower elevations, including the first dozen or so miles through which the 91-mile park road meanders. Its acidic soil allows only a few plant species to grow. White spruce reach a timid 50 feet tall, about 150 feet shy of their Alaskan coastal brothers. Pockets of aspen, paper birch and balsam poplar grow alongside these modest evergreens. 

Where the ground is soggy, black spruce dominate the taiga. Many are stunted, no taller than six or seven feet. Some “drunken” trees lean at crazy angles, struggling against the wind and cold to attain their modest heights.

By contrast, in the tundra small plants and lichens hug the ground. During the 100-day growing season, pink fireweed, purple lupine and yellow cinquefoil color the landscape like a Monet painting. Alpines grow at some higher tundra elevations.

Dall sheep
Wildlife in the park includes many species of animals, such bear, caribou, moose, Dall sheep and wolves. We saw the first two roaming the taiga, and spotted several clusters of Dall sheep on wind-blown ridges. Some of them mooned us, as if to say, “Take a picture of THIS, you camera-laden intruders.” A wolf sighting, we were told, is quite rare, but the rarest sighting of all is the wolverine. Some folks at the front of the bus did see a lynx at the side of the road, though.

Sounds are important in the park, especially to predators listening for their prey. So we strained our ears, but never heard a wolf howl or the purring sound baby bears sometimes make while suckling their mothers.

Visitors who plan to hike through the park or to camp there are given an orientation that includes what to do if they encounter a bear. The first rule of thumb is to stay several hundred feet away from them. But if the encounter gets too close for comfort, you’re supposed to make a lot of noise. A bear standing up doesn’t mean it’s about to attack, either. She’s probably sniffing the air to determine whether you smell familiar. Your scent and your verbal qualities tell her you aren’t something she ordinarily eats. It was comforting to know that the park has had but one human fatality involving a bear.

As I mentioned, we didn’t get to see The High One, as the Athabascan Indians call Denali, due to a cloud cover. But the rock-studded, snow-streaked mountains we saw reminded me of rocky-road fudge drizzled in marshmallow cream. I must have been hungry that day.

Our guide pointed out two types of valleys among the hills, the V-shaped that were formed by shifting mountains, and the glacier-carved U-shaped valleys. For the life of me, I couldn’t differentiate between the two, but it didn’t matter. Both types made even National Geographic pictures pale in comparison. 

       My tundra experience was somewhat surreal. It was as if I were in a foreign country. But Denali, like Alaska, belongs to the USA, and I wish everyone here could fly up for a visit.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lost & (Sometimes) Found

        I have a bad habit of misplacing stuff. I’ll have something in my hand, walk into another room, turn around, and poof, like the rabbit in a magic show, it disappears. Sometimes, it will turn up in an unexpected place. Other times, it’s gone for good.

Take my black slip, for example. I gathered some items from upstairs, including the slip, came downstairs, and lost the slip. Somewhere between my second and first floors, it disappeared. My staircase has but 13 treads. Ahh, you’re thinking, therein lies the problem. The cursed No. 13.

After a few weeks, I gave up the search and bought another slip. Several months later, while preparing for a summer beach trip, I pulled out one of my beach bags and there it was. Apparently I had used that bag to carry stuff down the stairs, but forgot about the slip when I placed the bag in my closet. 

A few months ago, I was taking off my earrings after church, when I realized I was wearing only one. “Oh, no,” I thought. “It must have come off when I took off my sweater during Sunday School.” I searched under my bedroom furniture with a flashlight anyway, and spotted something shiny among the dust bunnies. I went for my broom. What I swept out was my lost earring. It had the back on it, which means it never actually made it through my ear lobe, but fell from my hand after I raised it to my ear and put on the back. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, why no one at church had noticed that I was wearing only one earring.

Another lost-and-found was an expensive electronic dog collar. My two dogs each wear one, keeping them inside the boundaries of my underground fence. When I returned from a short trip one day, Maggie wasn’t wearing hers. Figuring she had snagged it on a fallen tree branch, I searched the woods immediately around the house as best I could. With all the forest debris, however, it was like searching for pirate’s gold buried in the sand. I borrowed a friend’s metal detector, thinking it would pick up the metal in the battery case. No luck. About a year later, my tenant found the lost one when he was walking through the woods behind my house and got off the trail to the barn.

Usually, when something goes missing, it’s because I set it down in a place that it didn’t belong. I wear glasses around the house, but take them off frequently to read or work at the computer. A few days ago, they skipped town. I searched all the logical places: my bedside table, the end table next to my sofa, the window ledge in the bathroom next to my commode, my computer desk. Remembering the “Most things turn up eventually” axiom, I gave up the search. Next day, I opened a desk drawer, and there they were!

I misplaced my drill battery once, but found it a day or so later on top of my hot water heater. Doesn’t everyone keep her drill battery there?

Unfortunately, some things defy the law of “most things turn up.” I haven’t seen my spare car keys or good binoculars in several years.

I often think I’ve lost my mind. It could be anywhere. If you happen to find it, please send it home. It comes in handy when I’m trying to find things.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Denali and the Name Game

       


       When President Obama changed Mount Mckinley’s name to Denali, my first thoughts were, “What gives him that right?” Then I heard the background story from some Alaskan friends, and I changed my tune. Now, I’m singing, “Right on. It’s about time!”
        In truth, it wasn’t really Obama who changed it anyway. It was Sally Jewel, Secretary of the Interior. She did it under authority of federal law, one that permits the head of the Department of the Interior to name geographic features if the U.S. Board of Geographic Names does not act within a reasonable period of time. I agree with Jewel: 40 years is more than reasonable.

That’s how long the name of the highest mountain in North America (20,320 feet) has been a subject of dispute. It was in 1975 that the Alaska legislature asked the U.S. federal government to officially change the name from Mount McKinley to Denali. It had been unofficially named in 1896 by a gold prospector who liked the Democratic presidential candidate, William McKinley, because he favored a gold standard for the U.S. currency. The name became official in 1917, in honor of the president who was assassinated in 1901.

Denali, which means, “the high one” in the tongue of Alaska’s Koyukon Athabaskans, is the English spelling of the native name for the peak. Part of the Alaskan Range, it was always commonly referred to as Denali by mountaineers and natives of our 49th state. But every time the state would petition the federal government for the name to change back to Denali officially, the Ohio delegation in the U.S Congress would block the petition, because McKinley was born and raised in Ohio. Never mind that he never set foot in Alaska, or that Ohio has no business trying to tell Alaska what to name their mountains.

In 1975, the Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name of the mountain to Denali, and at the governor’s behest, the state’s legislature officially requested that the U.S. Board of Geographic Names (BGN), the federal governmental body responsible for naming geographic features, change the name. Under BGN policy, the Board cannot consider any name-change proposal if congressional legislation relating to that name is pending. So every time the idea surfaced, an Ohio Congressman would either introduce language into Interior Department appropriation bills, or introduce a stand-alone bill, that directed that the name should not be changed. This effectively killed each Denali name-change proposal.

After a January 2015 bill submitted by an Alaskan senator re-proposed the name change, Secretary of the Interior Jewel took matters into her own hands. On August 30, she announced the name change, citing the board’s failure to act on the state’s four-decade-old request. President Obama sealed the deal during his trip to Alaska in September.

Surely most states can identify with Alaska on this subject. After all, “home rule” is a sore topic in each state, and no one wants  the federal government, much less someone in another state, telling them what to do.


Regardless of its name, Denali’s beauty is beyond belief. Next week, I’ll write about my trip through the national park and preserve last month and show you more photos.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Making Lists

     I’m an inveterate list maker.

     I make grocery lists, Christmas gift lists, farm projects lists, who-to-call lists, and so on. But my all-time favorite is my to-do list. 

     I make to-do lists almost every day. The best part of making one is getting to check the items off as I complete a task. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. My happiest days are those when I can strike off each and every item from my to-do list. It’s rare, but it does happen. Too often, I can't complete all the errands and tasks I outline for myself, because my expectations are greater than the number of hours in a day or my energy level. That’s very frustrating. If i don't complete a to-do list in one day, i'll carry leftover items until the next day...or the next...or the day after that.  Did I mention i'm also a great procrastinator?

     I used to use the Franklin Planner paper system, and then went to the Palm electronic system. With each of those, I was able to rank my tasks according to importance, so I could do the really necessary ones first. Too often, the urgent replaces the important, something Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson calls, “the tyranny of the urgent.”  I haven’t figured out a way around that one.

     My iPhone has a built-in app called Reminders. But I find it cumbersome to type the items on my iPhone, and I don’t feel that tingling pleasure I get when checking something off a piece of paper.


     At the top of my list for the past three days has been, “Write and post blog.” At least I can check that one off for this week.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Alaska

         Everything you’ve heard about the beauty of Alaska is true. Majestic snow-capped mountains, blue-white glaciers and abundant wildlife make the nation’s 49th state well-worth exploring.

Elaine accepting her award from
 outgoing NFPW President Teri Ehresman 
         The National Federation of Press Women Conference took me to Alaska Sept. 4-15, and I did  some touring while there. The conference was in Anchorage, which is in the southern part of of the state on the Cook Inlet. That’s where I picked up my first national first-place award for the NFPW 2015 Communications Conference. It was for a personality profile I did of Cropwell resident Clayton Garner. (If you’d like to read it, go to discoverstclair.com, click on, “Archives,” then scroll down to the June 2014 issue and look for, “A Character.")

          Our pre-conference tour took us more than 400 miles north to Fairbanks. Along the way we visited a very old cemetery that combines Russian Orthodox and Native American burial rites. We explored a musk ox farm, took the Tundra Wilderness bus tour through Denali National Park, and a riverboat cruise. During the cruise, we saw the champion sled dog kennels of the late Susan Butcher, four-time winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Her husband, David Monson, who is also a musher, showed off some of his dogs and spoke to us from the banks of the Chena River.
         
         A highlight was visiting the Iditarod headquarters in Wasilla and riding in a dog cart pulled by sled dogs. To the delight of the two Alabamians on the tour, the head musher turned out to be a Winfield native. We had a brief photo op at a highway pull-out where the famed trans-Alaska oil pipeline runs above ground for a short distance, then went to the Chena Hot Springs for a renewable energy tour and an appletini in an ice museum.

         On the way back to Anchorage, we stopped at Creamer’s Field in a vain attempt to see the Sandhill cranes during their migration south. We missed them by a week. However, the owner of the field put on an interesting crane demo with puppets that most of our group won’t soon forget. We also stopped in Talkeetna, where some of us got to meet the mayor, a 17-year-old tabby named Stubbs. 

         It was the one-day post-conference tour that took us to Whittier, where we boarded a huge catamaran and got up close and personal with glaciers, sea lions, seals and the Chugash Mountains.

         What we didn’t get to see, however, was Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, because it was behind a cloud cover the entire trip, or the aurora borealis, because the Northern Lights didn’t put on a show for us. Maybe next time.

         This is just a teaser, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about some of these experiences individually. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Home For My Rocks

       I'll never look at a rock the same way again.
       A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about growing rocks on my property. I pondered the idea of selling them, or getting the government to pay me for not growing them. But that was before my high school chum, Annette, started my western garden. The rocks have found a home.
       Annette is a whiz at designing and implementing garden plans. When she visited me in the spring, she took some pictures of the area I wanted to beautify, then made some sketches and came up with an idea. She starts with one idea, but it grows and multiplies as she digs. That, and the fact that we only work on it when she's here, make the garden a work in progress.
       She has a gift. I wish I shared it. But it's all I can do to dig a few holes. Annette did 95% of the work, starting last spring and continuing when she was here in August for our 50th high school reunion. We wanted the area to be a desert garden, but admittedly, we've taken a few liberties. That's why I call it my western garden instead. The plants in it require little maintenance, which suits my lifestyle.
       Phase One included a rough outline of a dry stream bed and three small yucca plants. The sales lady at Lowe's tried to be humorous with that purchase. "Yucca, yucca, yucca," she said, when I told her we had three of them. Annette outlined the yuccas and the dry stream bed with rocks found around my house. We put a small spill pot in place, too.
       Phase Two took place this trip, when she "planted" huge rocks and smaller ones in the bed, found prettier rocks to outline it, and filled in with store-bought pond pebbles. I use the term, "planted," because that's what she calls it. She likes for them to look as if they are growing out of the ground, not just lying on top of it. We also planted rocks in various positions throughout the garden, and put Mexican heather, yellow purslane and red portulaca (moss rose) throughout for some annual color. The red and yellow flowers look so natural tumbling out of the spill pot.
       On a return trip to a local garden shop, we found some light-green monkey grass, the kind that doesn't take over your garden, two cone flower plants and two sedums. I actually planted the monkey grass myself!
       We went next door and dug up some prickly-pear cactus, with my neighbor's permission. Despite wearing gloves, we each got "prickled," and those tiny barbs can really sting. We tried to get samples with roots, but we're not sure how well they'll take to their new home. If they die, no problem, there are plenty more where those came from.
       There's still work to be done, including propping some old wooden fence rails up and marking a path up to my former hot tub deck. I hope to find a few western garden ornaments when we pass through Texas and Arizona on our Route 66 road trip next spring. We're also planning to add more monkey grass among the rocks outlining the stream bed, and some type of low-growing ground cover to fill in some areas.
       Most of the rocks came from my property. Some are pretty slabs of limestone left over from the construction of the retaining wall behind my house. We wore ourselves out hauling those rocks until I enlisted one of my tenants' help.
        I've never been much of a gardener, but after this experience, I see possibilities everywhere. I had already planted a rosemary bush on either side of my retaining wall steps. Now I want to add more rosemary, then plant money grass along the top edge of the wall.  I can envision caladiums behind the boulders under a tree at one end of the wall.
       Annette suggested a bench at the top of my western garden. I can envision that, too. I could sip my morning coffee and watch the butterflies land in my garden. And the rocks I encounter during my walks to the barn have taken on a new meaning.
       Thanks, Annette, for adding color to my haven of woods and
greenery.

     



Thursday, September 3, 2015

One Grand At A Time

        Wednesday was a busy day with my youngest grandson, three-year-old Mati. After spending Tuesday night at his house, I brought him home with me the next morning instead of staying at his house. I had let his older brother stay a few extra days without Mati recently. Mati wanted a turn at NahNah's by himself, too. 
As soon as we got home, he wanted to ride his and Gabe's pony, Jazzy. It was 10 a.m. and already a steamy day, but when it comes to horses, I can't say no. However, we spent more time tacking up than riding. After a couple of turns around the arena, he was ready to dismount. I found that discouraging, but didn't want to press it because I wanted him to have a good experience. After unsaddling, we bathed Jazzy, then let her out to graze.
When we got back to the house, we had a tea party. I drank iced tea, while he preferred his hot. He used the Fisher Price tea set that belonged to his mom as a child. I poured the fresh-brewed tea into his tiny pink teapot, put a couple of tablespoons of sugar into his sugar bowl, and let him take it from there. Of course, he spilled sugar and tea everywhere, but we were on the back porch, so what the hey. It's a wonder he didn't get a sugar high, because he ate the granules that didn't go into his tea.
He played for a few moments in the upstairs playroom while I ate lunch. He wasn't hungry, which isn't unusual for him. He does well to get one decent meal in a day. I coaxed him into a late afternoon nap, and after an hour, I got up and did some more packing for my Alaska trip. When he got up, we ate ice cream, then soaked my new western garden and my tomato, pepper, basil and mint plants. After watering the rosemary bushes, we pulled weeds from along the top of the retaining wall. I've always hated that chore. I can remember my mom forcing me to help her do it when I was a teen. If I was lucky, she'd give me a quarter afterward. Mati's reward was getting to load the weeds onto the trailer of his little mechanized John Deere and hauling them into the woods for me. You'd have thought he was at DisneyWorld, from the look of delight on his face.
Soaked with sweat, I worked on my fingernails while he watched "Babes in Toyland." It didn't matter one iota to him that it was a holiday DVD. He sat enraptured until it was over. Then we ate taquitos and fruit and took a shower together. We propped ourselves up in bed, and while I wrote this on my iPad, he watched a couple of Scooby-Doo spooky tales on the portable DVD player. It helped him to wind down before turning out the lights.
       Too often, I get worn out and frustrated when I have both boys. Wednesday, though, I stayed calm and stress-free. It sure is easier with one grand at a time.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mentone Revisited

       
        Next to Gulf Shores, the former resort town of Mentone is my favorite place to visit in Alabama. So when my high school buddy Annette Vining came down from Chicago for our 50th (ouch!) high school reunion, it was a no-brainer to take her there.
This is all that remains of the Mentone Springs Hotel.
Mentone began its existence as a health spa with mineral springs on Lookout Mountain. The Great Depression ended the initial glory days of the community. It rebounded, however, and continues as a fun place to explore bed and breakfast inns, shops, cafes, and natural wonders such as DeSoto Falls and the nearby Little River Falls. While it snoozes during the week, it comes alive on weekends. During the summer, there’s a farmer’s market under tents on Saturday mornings, where you can buy locally-made jams, jellies, bread and sweet treats.
Annette and I had a wonderfully lazy day eating at the Wildflower Cafe, shopping in the Log Cabin Village and taking pictures from an overlook on the brow of the mountain. We capped off our adventure by driving down U.S. 11 part of the way home, winding past verdant pastures with horses and cows grazing lazily in the afternoon sun. We went through Fort Payne, where we visited the Alabama Fan Club store, took pictures of the statues of the band members on a corner of Main Street, and noted with surprise the signs proclaiming that the infamous Trail of Tears went through that area. I had no idea.
At the Spinning Wheel, a Log Cabin Village shop in Mentone, I couldn’t resist a cloth apron emblazoned with cowboy boots, spurs, hats and words like, “rodeo,” “giddyup” and “ride ’em cowgirl.” The purple ruffled hemline only added to the appeal, purple being my favorite color. The apron has nothing to do with the store’s name, which comes from the fact that owner Mildred Lowry spins yarn from her own sheep, alpaca, llama and angora goats. She and daughter Wendy weave and crochet vests, shawls and other clothing accessories, and sell some of the yarn in small batches.
Jeff Rymer makes doors, too.
In the same village, I bought some homemade lemongrass soap at Daisy May’s, owned by Steve & Ashley Sisco. (ahsisco2010@yahoo.com). Its lemony smell wafts up every time I open my bathroom dresser. I need to finish off the olive oil soap I bought in Greece, though, before actually using it.
We stopped by Jeff Rymer’s shop, Southern Style Log Furniture (SouthernStyleLogFurniture.com), because I wanted to see the beds he fashions out of cedar and pine. His one-of-a-kind headboards had enticed me last year when I saw them. He gets his lumber from Georgia, but when I asked whether he could use the two cedar trees from my front yard, he offered to cut them down himself. “You just have to be willing to wait for them to dry,” he said. I’ll need to sell the
manufactured log bed I own, but that’s what eBay is for.
Tony Goggians
Our lunch at the Wildflower Cafe (MentoneWildflower.com) was a sensory experience for the ears as well as the taste buds. We ate the Brunch Sampler of quiche, tomato pie, a fruit cup and a strawberry crepe. We added a side of sweet potato biscuits. While we munched on these mouthwatering treats, Tony Goggians (sic) entertained us with voice and guitar numbers that spanned several genres. “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Walk The Line,” “Wooly Bully,” and “Kingston Town” were all part of his repertoire. Cafe owner Laura Catherine Moon, who goes by “Moon,” joined him on “Baby Face” for a couple celebrating their 63rd wedding anniversary. Moon, who came to Mentone from Birmingham via California, has owned the Cafe for eight years, and features live music every weekend.
It was sad to view the ruins of the old Mentone Springs Hotel. A fixture in the town since 1884, the massive structure burned down in 2014. Although I never stayed there, I had been inside the historic structure a couple of times. I first saw its charred remains in July of 2014, when my grandson and I took Highway 11 from Chattanooga to Mentone before getting on I-59 South to Ashville.
        All-in-all, it was a great way to spend the day with a good friend.

Friday, August 21, 2015

High School Reunions

       
Cheryl Deroy Lee, Vic Kelley & Elaine 
       High school reunions are great levelers. Folks who wouldn't give you the time of day as teenagers grab you in a big bear hug, like a long-lost friend. The cliques and popularity contests disappear, and it doesn't matter who was a cheerleader or who played football. As alumni, you’re all on the same playing field.
My 50th took place in Birmingham the weekend of August 14-15. My Beach-Boys-and- Beatles-buddy Annette Vining Greaves flew down from Chicago, and we rented a room at the headquarters hotel so we wouldn't have to drive the 45 miles back and forth to my house.
Kathy Bailey Dobson &
Annette Vinning Greaves
  Of the 700 or so who graduated from Woodlawn High School in January and May of 1965,  about 140 attended, plus 100 or so guests. Many folks were quite recognizable, many weren't. While most of us were skinny back then, we aren’t anymore. Lots of the men have receding hairlines and paunch bellies. Most of the women have gray or white hair, while a few are still clinging to that bottle of Miss Clairol. But everyone was beautiful.
Coy Lowery Hughey, Sandra Moreland Barfield,
Kay Merrill Miller & Jenny Adams Atkinson
  Several elementary schools fed into Woodlawn during the 1960s. I went to Kennedy with folks like Vic Kelly, Coy Lowery Hughey, Jerry Dean, Sandra Moreland Barfield, Kay Merrill Miller, Virginia Strock Moseley, Patsy Swafford Rhoades, Carmen Coulombe Allcorn, and Jenny Adams Atkinson, who couldn’t have gained more than five pounds since our grammar school days. I grew up on the same street with James "Booty" Graves, who says he got his nickname from an early love of wearing cowboy boots. 
James & Linda Graves
While a handful were already grandparents by our 25th reunion, many are now great-grandparents. Several are widowed. I have heard of folks hooking up with old boyfriends or making new ones at reunions, but the only guy I talked to who was single lost his wife last September and is engaged already. "I can't be alone for 15 minutes," he admitted, which seems to be more true of widowers than widows.
"Where did the 50 years go?" was a phrase heard often, but the most common conversation opener was, “Do you remember…?” Jim Nix, head of the reunion committee, insists we had a long conversation in my Volkswagen one night in 1966, but I can’t recall it. I don't think I had my VW until 1968, my senior year of college. This has been a running conversation between Jim and me at every reunion we've attended and in emails, too. He admits he was bummed out that whole year over a breakup with his girlfriend, so his memory may be cloudy. "If it wasn't you, then who did I talk with for hours in a VW that night?" he asked recently. We still laugh about that.
Sharon Blice Mikula & Elaine
The highlight was the tour of our alma mater on Saturday. The WPA mural in the auditorium has been restored,  the boys and girls gyms are gone, and there is a new addition. The outside of the addition blends so well architecturally that you can't tell it from the original.
Along the hallways, fellow classmates were commenting on who taught in which classroom and where the boys' and girls' advisors offices were. Their memories are much better than mine, because I couldn't recall anything but the main entrance, the auditorium and the old stadium, which is also gone. I had many classes under that stadium, such as speech with Rose B. Johnson and history with Tall Paul Caudle.
During the Saturday night dinner, a video I took at the 25th reunion played in one of the rooms. Being a reporter, I interviewed folks up close and personal, asking each one to identify himself and tell where he lived and what he was doing. Several of those folks have died since then, making the interviews bittersweet. I wish I had done something similar at our 50th, because who knows who will be gone by the time the 55th rolls around.

Annette & Elaine at WHS
Meanwhile, I'm thankful for the renewal of old acquaintances and the forging of new friendships. Several of us vowed to keep in touch, and I believe we will, starting with a get-together at a local restaurant Saturday night. There should be folks there who weren't at the "formal" 50th reunion. I can't wait!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

How I've Spent My Summer Vacation

        This has been a busy summer, and it’s not over yet.
It began with Vacation Bible School (VBS) the first week of June. My oldest grand was with me four of those five days, and the youngest for three. That was a hard week, because I had never taught VBS. I didn’t like VBS when I was a kid, because it always fell the week after school let out. I hated having to get up early for another week. My recent experience showed me two things: VBS still isn’t for me, but I like working with sixth-graders. 
As VBS ended, Daughter No. 2 and her husband joined us between closing on the house they sold and the one they were buying. The household was topsy-turvy during that week, but we did manage a trip to Spring Valley Water Park in Blountsville with the grands.
The third week of June I was supposed to be at a friend’s bay house in Elberta, near Gulf Shores, with both daughters and their families. Something came up, and Daughter No. 2 didn’t get to go, so I had to return early with Daughter No. 1. All was not lost, however, because we visited Bamahenge, dinosaurs and the Lady in the Lake at Barber’s Marina. I’ll save the details for another blog.
My brother, Gene, Aunt Lera & Me
During the middle of July, I flew to California to visit my brother and his family. I hadn’t seen them in almost three years. While there, my brother and I drove down to Sun City, near Menifee, to visit our dad’s last remaining sibling. Aunt Lera is 79, and I hadn’t seen her in nine years. She suffered a stroke a few years ago that rendered her left arm useless. She still has her wits about her, though.
Two days after returning from L.A., I did a site visit of three hotels that are under consideration as the host for the National Federation of Press Women’s 2017 communications conference in Birmingham. My conference co-director and I spent a night at the Sheraton downtown. After taking her back to Leeds, I came home, washed clothes and re-packed, then spent the next night with Daughter No. 2 and the grands before heading to Troy. That’s where I picked up my college roomy and BFF. We went to Tallahassee to visit mutual chums from college.
When I got home, I was bushed, to say the least. Now I’m trying to clear my slate so the grands can spend a few days with me before school starts. “Clearing my slate” is a euphemism for catching up on all the stuff that needs attending to, such as answering emails, writing this blog, spending an hour on the phone with Apple tech support, setting up doctor, veterinary and farrier appointments and planning a trip to Chattanooga with the grands for later this week. Whew!
        Like I said, it has been a busy summer, but it has given me much fodder for future blogs. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Doing the Roomba

        Most of our modern conveniences were born out of the desire to save time. However, if you’re like me, you find that they often cost us just as much time as we save.
Take the dishwasher, for example. You have to rinse the dishes, sometimes even scrub off the caked food, before putting them in the dishwasher. Later, as you add more dishes, you have to re-arrange what you’ve already loaded. By the time you do all that, you might as well wash them by hand.
Same thing applies to the new robot vacuum cleaner I bought. As I write this, the Roomba, as it’s called, is whirring its way back and forth across my Great Room floor. No, wait, I hear it in my back hallway now, and because I didn’t close any doors or block any entrances, it will no doubt make its way into my office soon. It’s very thorough, crawls easily between my rugs and bare floors, and when it runs out of battery power, it returns to its base for re-charging. It saves lots of back-bending vacuuming time.
Moses examines the Roomba.
However, I have to put all my chairs on top of counters and tables so it has access to the entire floor. I have to move the cedar chest-cum-coffee-table away from the sofa so it can get between them. I have to move the child’s rocking chair and a small end table because it won’t fit between their legs. I unplug electrical cords that dangle between the sofa and an end table so they don’t become entangled, and so on and so forth. Granted, it’s good to move those obstacles anyway before I mop, but I only mopped once every six months before buying the robo vac. That brings up another time-costing conundrum: Now I feel compelled to mop every time I use the Roomba.
It’s kind of spooky, sometimes, to see it do its thing. It whirs and turns and glides with a mind of its own, like something out of a sci-fi movie. I have to watch my step if I’m in the same room while it’s vacuuming, lest it bumps into me or I step on it. Fortunately, my dogs don’t give it much attention, unlike the cat seen in the YouTube video riding on top of one. When it hits a snag, such as inhaling a piece of jute, or it can’t maneuver out from under a small table, I hear it complaining from another room. It actually speaks, telling me to check its brushes or move it away from an object, like some disembodied voice from the Great Beyond. 
After each use, I have to take the thing apart to clean it. I empty the trash bin, get the hairs out of the brush rollers and knock the dust off the filter. While these processes are less tiring than pushing a canister vacuum cleaner around for half an hour, they are just as time-consuming.
I could go on forever and a day talking about the time I spend with tech support on cell phone, internet and computer software problems. Then there’s that darned email that demands to be answered several times a day. 
If these contraptions are time savers, then why are they costing me so much time?