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


         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, 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


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.