Saturday, April 30, 2011

Help! We're being invaded. It's the year of the cicada!

Thirteen years ago, in the sleepy little town of Van Wyck, South Carolina - right across the North Carolina border , a cacophony of strange noises filled the air.  Cars stopped at the corner where we live and the drivers would lift their hoods to see if their car was falling apart, then glance around nervously when they realized the noise wasn't coming from their car..  Animals who normally sleep outside suddenly wanted to stay inside.  We had just put up a fenced in area with a brick patio in the back yard but the sound drove us so crazy we couldn't bear to be outside to use it.  We were held hostage in our own home.  What were these creepy little critters that packed such a loud punch?  It was the year of Cicadas and thirteen years later, it looks like we're in for it again.

I had always heard about the Periodical Cicada but had never seen them in action until 1998.  These are not to be confused with the annual cicadas that are very pleasant to hear on warm summer evenings. The cicada's in our area have a thirteen year life cycle.  If you are lucky enough to have them, not only will you have a about a million holes in your ground, your ears will be ringing for days.

When the young nymphs hatch, they dig themselves into the ground. They spend their life in underground burrows and go through their growth stages and finally come out to get rid of their ugly little bodies and get new ones. They do not live long after their mating rituals - they die soon after the females lay their eggs.   That doesn't seem very fair.  If I had been given a brand new body, I think I would want to use it awhile on this side of the dirt instead of under it. 

I've made some pictures outside this week to show part of their life cycle.

Notice the burrows under one of  our trees when I pulled back the plastic from under our pine straw.  In the hole on the top left you can see one of the nymphs whose shell has finally hardened enough to come out of the ground. He is in a beetle-like stage now.  Before they harden, they are very soft and defenseless.
They climb up on things - especially trees -  and shed their shell.  See this one emerging from the beetle-like stage. They are very vulnerable at this stage.  They are easy prey for ants, wasps, and birds.  The ones to the right are just shells that will remain stuck to the tree for many months - even years if you don't brush them off.
Here you can see an empty shell, a freshly molted cicada above it, and finally at the top you'll see one that has been out a few hours and ready to fly.

Over the next few pictures you will see how they climb on ANYTHING to start their new life cycle:
Even my pretty flowers

All over the trees

And even on the wheels of cars!  The car itself is too slick for them to stick to.
And finally, Olive enjoying a freshly molted tasty morsel.  They even make great chicken food!

After they all hatch out, they will fly into the top of the trees and start their mating cries - The females make a noise like a normal summertime cicada but the males are the ones responsible for the loud whirring background noise. His "song" comes from a pair of vibrating structures behind his back wings.  There's some funny things I could say here, but I'll save them for another time.

I have recorded the sounds on my Flip Video and uploaded them to youtube - just go to the following link.  You may have to copy and paste.  It's worth hearing - it's very noisy.  Just turn up your volume to get the full effect.

We will probably have to put up with the sound for another week or two - it will get much louder as they are still migrating out of the ground by the thousands - then they'll be laying their eggs on twigs, the twigs will fall onto the ground, the hatched eggs will burrow their way anywhere between 1 and 8 feet under the ground and in the year 2024, we'll hear them again - if we're not deaf from their current noise making, that is.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A new twist to the Ghost Rider on Hwy 5 story

There's a new twist to my previous blog from last night.  It just keeps getting weirder.  I told you about the strange apparition of a man on a bicycle that we saw as we traveled Hwy 5 near Blacksburg, SC yesterday.  I was still trying to make sense of it this morning so I emailed the Chamber of Commerce that covers the Blacksburg area and told them what we had seen and had there been any other reported sightings like that around that area.  I also tried to assure them that I was not some kooky "ghost adventures" kind of person and that even though I'm a little kooky at times, my husband is certainly not. 

Almost immediately I got a phone call from one of the ladies that works at the Chamber which is located in Gaffney.  She was amazed at the story because of a personal link to it.  Her father-in-law's family had grown up on a farm on Hwy 5 near Blacksburg.  There were several children in the family and they only had one bicycle between them.  And I'm sure you can guess the rest of the story.  Yep, one of the boys was killed on the bike in a car accident.  She thinks this was in the 1930's.  She is going to try to get in touch with the only surviving uncle who lives in Chicago who has recently been in the hospital to find out more about the story.  She said that she remembers hearing the story several times of one of the uncles commenting that not only had they lost a brother, but they had lost their only bicycle as well.  I guess back in the '30's during the depression years, the loss of their only bicycle was a big thing - loss of transportation and entertainment. 

Ghost Rider on Hwy 5 - that has a catchy sound to it - maybe I'll write a song about it, you know, like Johnny Cash's Ghost Rider in the Sky.

Do you have any ghost stories to tell?  I would love to hear them.

The Ghost riding a Bicycle

What I am about to tell you, you will not believe.  I wouldn't believe it either if someone told me.  I have always made light of our ghost named Jim and have told many a tongue and cheek story about him - all done in trying to explain weird things that happen in our old house - after all, all old houses should have a ghost, right?  But this is not about our Jim - this is something far stranger that Henry and I saw today on Highway 5 on our way to Blacksburg, SC.

Hwy 5 was always a small two-lane road from Rock Hill to Blacksburg, but now that they've made a good bit of it a four lane, we've started going that way when we're heading toward Spartanburg.  Today we were speeding through a remote stretch of road about four or five miles before we reached Blacksburg.  There was a hill coming down on the left side of the road and an embankment going down on the right side with railroad tracks running parallel with the road.  There were no side roads or trails and it was open country.  There were several cars in front of us, but we were all pretty scattered apart - there was no heavy traffic at all.  All of a sudden, about fifty yards ahead of us, out of nowhere there appeared a bicycle crossing the road from the left - I mean it just appeared out of nowhere.  It crossed within a few feet of one of several cars ahead of us that were heading in the same direction we were going.  Henry said "What in the world is that?".  "It's a bicycle", I said, "but a strange sort of one".  I don't know how to describe it other that it looked like a silhouette of an old-fashioned bicycle or a shadow of a bicycle with a thin man riding it.  It came across all four lanes of traffic from the left side of the road to the right.  A few seconds later, when we got to where it had crossed, there was absolutely nowhere that it could have gone but there was no sign of a bicycle.  At the speed it was going, it would have tumbled down the embankment toward the railroad tracks.  The terrain was plainly visible - but no bike!  But we had plainly seen it cross completely across the road - where had it gone?  What had made it look so strange was that it was in monochrome - it seemed to have no color to the bike or the man riding it.  It looked like it was from an old black and white TV program.  When I told Henry what I saw, he confirmed that it was exactly what he saw.

Now, Henry does not believe in ghosts in any shape or form.  He laughs when I talk about our Jim.  But today he wasn't laughing.  There was absolutely no explanation for what we saw.  I searched on-line for sightings of ghosts riding bicycles and/or ghosts in Blacksburg.  I did find one story about a haunted house near Blacksburg that was supposedly haunted by a man whose daughter was killed while riding a bicycle.

We came home a different route.  We were both still a little spooked by the disappearing man on the bike.  Henry's comment on the whole thing:  "That was weird with a capital W".

Please continue to check out my new blogs for updates as I try to solve the mystery.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Lady with the Alligator Purse

"Fit as a Fiddle", that's what the doctor pronounced after he did my annual physical today. "Of course, you do need to see an orthopedic specialist about that bunion, and you need to see a dermatologist about that basal-cell carcinoma on your forehead, and since your gynecologist retired, we need to schedule you an appointment with a new one, and oh, by the way, I'm going to write you a prescription for support hose to help with your veins and the swelling in your ankles." 

"Uh, Dr. Tuttle, I thought you said I was fit as a fiddle", I said.  "You are", he said, "these are just natural signs of aging".  Aach!  Shush, don't say those words!   I went in to his office feeling "fit as a fiddle" and I came out with "natural signs of aging" ringing in my ears. 

The important thing is that I am basically healthy.  I feel wonderful, my blood pressure is normal, my cholesterol has always been excellent and I'm confident it will be again after my blood work today. I'm shrinking in pounds, but not in height.  Wiktionary definition of "fit as a fiddle":  Perfectly fit, in excellent health, in excellent condition.  All good news!  The kind of news we all want to hear at the doctor's office.

As I was driving home from the doctor's office, I started thinking about one of those hand-clapping games my girls played when they were in elementary school.   I have no idea what brought it into my head - maybe because it's about a doctor and nurse.  I always loved watching them as they clapped hands and chanted this sing-song rhyme - and I laughed thinking, what did a lady with an alligator purse have to do with the song? - to make it funny, I presume? - and to make me start chanting it many years later.

Miss Lucy had a baby, she named him Tiny Tim,
She put him in the bathtub, to see if he could swim.
He drank up all the water, he ate up all the soap,
He tried to eat the bathtub, but it wouldn't go down his throat.
Miss Lucy called the doctor, Miss Lucy called the nurse, 
Miss Lucy called the lady with the alligator purse.
In walked the doctor, In walked the nurse, In walked the lady with the alligator purse.
Mumps said the doctor, Measles said the nurse, Nothing said the lady with the alligator purse.
Out walked the doctor, Out walked the nurse, Out walked the lady with the alligator purse.

I'm sure there are probably many variations of it, but this was all I could remember.  Do any of you remember silly rhymes from your past?  If so, I would love to hear them.  If I tune out the noises around me and close my eyes just so,  I can still see these little blond and brown-haired girls not missing a beat as they....clap, touch hands.....clap, touch hands.....clap, touch hands, all the while singing "out walked the lady with the alligator purse".

There's even a book - available on and other on-line stores

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shabby Chic and a happy trash bag lady

A few years ago every decorating magazine you picked up featured small cottages full of painted furniture - either time-worn or hand distressed for a lovely romantic look.  Fabrics were vintage cottons, linens and chenille in soft pastels and almost always featured pink roses.  Roses also dominated the rest of the decor on ceramic plates, vases and teacups, pillows and artwork. And vintage wicker - definitely a must have!  It was the Shabby Chic look and everyone wanted it.  Well, almost everyone - most husbands found it to be too effeminate and felt a little intimidated in their own bedrooms that looked like Victorian boudoirs.  Personally, I've always loved the soft, feminine, romantic and cozy look of it.  It's just so comfortable and inviting.  I think the main appeal is that you can mix and match to create a really unique look - not the typical Big Box store "every house looks alike" look. It's nostalgic and sweet and gives you a little glimpse of the past.
A typical Shabby Chic bedroom.

When the popularity of the "look" first started, I was already heavily entrenched in Ebay selling.   I would scour estate sales, yard sales and flea markets for anything that looked or smelled like roses, anything whitewashed with a touch of class, and especially dainty, Victorian teapots and china.  By a little wordsmithing in my description and a catchy phrase in my title, I could usually double or triple my investment. Even a little crazing, the fine lines that appear with naturally aged ceramics, was totally acceptable in the Shabby Chic style.

Some of these treasures needed a little work to get just the right "shabby" look.  Too much and it just looks old, too little and it looked feeble.  It took just the right combination of sanding and tea dying to get it to qualify as chic. Eventually, they started manufacturing upholstery and fabrics to fit the style.  There was too little of the old stuff to go around.  Shabby Chic is one of those styles that has withstood the test of time - going in and out briefly, but always coming back.

You can imagine what a poignantly sweet nostalgic moment I had when I attended a yard sale this weekend and stumbled upon yards of predominantly pink, green and off-white upholstery and pillow fabric!  Roses, roses and more roses!  That crisp $20 bill looked insignificant in my pocket as I pulled it out prepared to dicker.  "$5 for the whole trash bag full", the lady told me.  "Sold!", I said as I quickly stuffed it all in the bag  hoping that no one else saw it and offered her more.
Just a small sampling of my fabric find from the weekend.

Now what am I going to do with it?  I brought it home and lovingly ran my hands over the nubby weave of the pink, the satiny feel of the pink and white stripe, the silky off-white sheer fabric with embroidered roses, and the rich textile feel of the pink and green floral.  Should I upholster my dining room chairs?  I don't have enough of the same material to do all eight.  They're off-white now so could I just do the two chairs with arms and leave the others?  If so, I could pull out all my old teapots and chintzy china to display where I now have my Roseville pottery.  Or... I think I have enough to make a quilt (which I don't know how to do).  Or maybe I could dig up some small foot stools and chairs to reupholster and sell on-line.  I've recently seen cute handmade purses made with shabby chic fabrics.  I also have a fabulous old Eastlake upholstered rocker upstairs that could use a face lift.  Or maybe I'll just look at them from time to time by displaying them on my old quilt rack.  There are endless possibilities for this fabric, I'm sure.  I'm just not very creative.  How about it crafty friends?  I would welcome any suggestions.

It's funny how a little scrap of fabric can brighten your spirit and lighten your heart.  It's like scraps of your past weaving intricately with the scraps of your present - making a delicate weave of fabric that - like Shabby Chic, can withstand the test of time.
Just a smattering of some of my stash that I consider Shabby chic.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

But words are things, and a small drop of ink

We have an awesome responsibility for the things we write and say.  I have a serious side and a "tongue in cheek" side so some of my writing you can take with a grain of salt.  I trust that my readers can tell the difference and know when to take me seriously. A few months ago I had written a post about depression and the fact that I battled it for most of my life.  It was one of my "serious side" posts.   If I had been making light of depression or criticizing people who have it, I wonder what my words would have meant to this person who emailed me a few days ago

When I wrote that post, I remember hesitating about sharing with the world that I had dealt with clinical depression   There is still a stigma attached to those words and some still tend to think it's a mental illness, a weakness or a character flaw.  I have never looked at it that way.  Mine is a chemical imbalance that can be treated with the help of medication just like diabetes or high blood pressure. I can just remember being very relieved when a doctor put a label on what I had been feeling and told me that 1 out of every 4 women suffer from clinical depression at some point in their lives. Depression can be a serious illness if not treated - and I would urge anyone with feelings of emptiness or hopelessness to get professional help.

I do not know Karen but she emailed me to tell me how much she appreciated what I wrote. The post was one I had written on January 27th.  She told me that she had been at a very dark moment in her life and felt like there was a void inside her and that her heart felt empty.  She had googled "a void feeling inside" and my post popped up.  It was one I wrote titled "A void inside a void....nothingness".  She had read where I had written that my faith had helped me get through some of my toughest moments.  She wanted to tell me that my words had been just what she needed at the time.

Karen and I have emailed back and forth a few time in the last few days.  She was wise to see a physician and she is now using her faith to get back on track. Karen has made me realize that our words are meant to bless, encourage, and lift people up, but never to tear down or destroy. We never know how God will use our words.

I found the following in a book of poetry that I have: 
"But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think."
- George Gordon Byron

Choose the words you write or say carefully.  You never know who will be reading them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Final Chapter - Mouse versus Man

A new contraption

This will be my final chapter of the story of Houdini the mouse.  The man who watched the story unfold bought a new contraption today.  It was simple.  You bait it with peanut butter, the mouse runs in it to eat the peanut butter and it captures him and you set him free in your neighbor's yard.  This is what the nameless man made me believe.  So as you can see above, that's what I did.  Tonight as we were watching TV, the mouse ran up to it and looked at it and then ran back behind the sofa.  He did this three times so I go find my Flip Video recorder.  Of course he didn't do it again. The nameless man went to bed and I stayed up to write some things.

As I was on my computer, I heard a noise.  I went into the living room and here's what I saw. 
Notice the difference in the lever position.

A picture can tell a thousand words. The man who will remain nameless swears that he thought it was a catch and release.  It wasn't.  I'm sorry mouse lovers everywhere! Tomorrow, we will hold Houdini's funeral.  Visitation is at 8 a.m.  Refreshments will not be served.

UPDATE:  Funeral is over - it was a double ringer.  Apparently Houdini had an accomplice.  I had set two traps and Bingo!  See photo below of a cat in mourning.
Cello, the cat in mourning - shortly after attending the funeral

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hickory Dickory Dock, the Mouse Climbed up the Clock

As far as I know, Houdini had not climbed up my clock yet. The title is a little misleading but I just wanted you to read the post and the title made it seem more exciting.    Before I waste more money on mouse traps and such, I'm using a thing that you plug into an outlet and it supposedly makes a loud, irritating noise that only mice and other pests can hear. I think Henry might be able to hear it since he's been complaining about ringing in his ears.   I seriously doubt this thing will work and I'm sure that Houdini is either laughing his socks off, or is doing a little dance to the beat of it. Let's hope that by tomorrow, this is what he'll have to say:

Houdini's poem continued...

The real estate agent
Was deceptive at best
When she sold me this house
for a nice summer's rest

It is such a nice house,
so cozy and clean
But that crazy old lady
is just downright mean

There's a loud ringing noise
Something's askew.
Hope my lawyer will ask
for a change of venue.

A change of venue,
A change of venue,
If he doesn't, then maybe
I'll ask him to sue.
        copyright Houdini the Mouse

to be continueed........

Houdini's side of the story

Houdini, the mouse has been interviewed and this is his side of the story.  He's quite a poet, don't you think?

I've found a new home
It's got all the right features
I'm a loner by choice
and there's no other creatures

It's a very nice structure
and roomy inside
There's a very cool attic
with places to hide

I scamper and slide
on this old hardwood floor
I'm really quite cozy
Who could ask for more?

There's lots of old clocks
that chime in the night
But lately I've noticed
that something's not right.

There's this crazy old woman
who gives me good food
But I've noticed each morning
She's in a foul mood

I don't know if it's normal
or if it's something I've done
Lighten up, lady
I just want to have fun.

With peanut butter and cheese
I could grow quite fat
But I get plenty of exercise
being chased by the cat

The food bowl is strange
It's quite a contraption
If the spring would get sprung
It could cause a reaction.

You thrill me but you'ld kill me
I just don't understand
I would much rather deal with
your nice lazy man

Who sits in his chair
and just watches me run
He laughs at your antics
and thinks it's all fun

But bring it on crazy lady
I think it's a game
You just have to remember
Houdini's my name.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Houdini - the mouse in the house

We have a mouse in the house and he has plenty of places to hide. We've named him Houdini.  We live in a century old house with four fireplaces to climb, attic rafters and floors made of heart pine, and compact beadboard closets with shelves climbing twelve feet in the air.  And before you think we live in a wonderful old plantation house, we don't.  It's one of those houses that was a flip of a coin when we moved here sixteen years ago.  Should we tear it down and start over or should we put our life savings in it and restore it?  We settled for somewhere in between.

It's a pretty solid and airtight old house with insulation enough to insulate the White House so I'm not sure how this mouse got in.  We've had only a half dozen or so mice since we moved in and the cats quickly took care of them.  Cello, our current cat is fat and lazy and not earning his keep.  He's an outside cat who only comes in to eat.  He may cuddle up and sleep on our bed for an hour or so but goes right back out, never stopping to smell the roses mice.  I did pull back the sofa and threw him behind it once, but he just found an old marble and started rolling it around.

I first noticed this mouse about a week ago.  We were in the living room watching TV and he ran out from under the sofa into the fireplace.  Too bad we don't have remote control gas logs or he would have been toast.  The next day I bought two kinds of traps.  I thought I would give him a chance with a glue trap.  I imagined the whole scenario.  I would wake up the next morning to a little mouse glued tight to the trap, I would take trap and mouse outside and release him into the woods.  Henry laughed.  "What?" I said.  He said he was just amused at the thought of me picking up a live mouse when I scream every time I see one. "I can do it", I said, glaring at him and muttering under my breath, "Buddyroe, you're the one that's going to do it.  You just don't know it yet."

The next morning I ran to look at the trap before I made my first cup of coffee.  It was gone.  I found it five minutes later under Henry's recliner with a big gob of fur stuck to it.  Oh great!  Now I have a bald mouse running around my house.  That night I was working late at my computer and heard a noise.  I glanced up just in time to see something scamper across the hallway floor. It was too dark to see if it was bald.  It was time for the big guns.  I proceeded to set two old fashioned spring loaded mouse traps and put peanut butter as bait.  Sorry, Mr. Mouse, you didn't allow me to be humane.

The next morning, with much less enthusiasm, I went to see what gory sight awaited me. Both traps licked clean - no peanut butter - no mouse - still spring loaded.  The next three nights I set the traps a little more loosely.  So loose, in fact that I scared myself to death by tripping one as I carried it to the living room. Same scenario each morning -licked clean and not a trace of a mouse.  I could swear I heard the mouse laughing in the background. A friend on Facebook told me that mice go to seminars for that kind of thing. I'm beginning to think she's right. I'm making a trip to the Feed and Seed store today.  I'm planning to cut back on his allowance.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Challenge is a challenge

I love challenges.  When Writer's Digest on Facebook prompted it's readers with a challenge last week, I couldn't wait to get started.  The challenge was go to your email in-box folder and look at your messages - then randomly pick two of the subject lines to write a story about.  The first email subject line would be the first sentence in your story and the next email subject line would be the last sentence in your story.  It had to be 500 words or less.  I don't like word counts - I like to ramble too much, but I had a few minutes so I decided to do it.  I immediately went to my email in-box folder and then remembered I had just that morning cleaned out all my messages. Of course there was plenty of stuff in my SPAM folder, so I looked through it.  Aha -  much better than my in-box would have been anyway.  By the way, my Spam folder has lots of weird subject lines - pills you can take for this and that and some things just downright bizarre.  Most of them are ads for products or services, trying to sucker you into buying something.  I'm sure Spam folders all over the world are the same.  I found two that would work for the challenge and away I went.  After writing it, checking the word count which was way too many, reducing the word count which was way too few, I finally narrowed it down to this.  It's a strange story limited by words, but a story nonetheless.

New Pearls in Eye-catching Shades – The sign caught my attention as I walked past the jewelry kiosk in the mall on my way to buy shoes to wear to my best friends wedding.  I did an abrupt u-turn!  I needed a gift for Alana that would be a bit unusual and this could be it.   There were strands of exquisitely colored pearls in the display case. “Are these authentic?" I asked the sales clerk.  “Oh yes, the oysters are farm raised and natural dyes are used to color the sand in each pond that the oysters inhabit which in turn colors the pearl in the shell.  These just came in today”.   I should have known better, but the price was right and I left the kiosk with pearls in an exquisite shade of blue.  I couldn’t wait to give them to Alana tonight at the bachelorette party.  I found some great shoes, finished my shopping and went home to get ready to party.

Kim was to be our designated driver and as soon as they all arrived at my apartment, I saw that Alana was wearing a shimmering blue cocktail dress.  Perfect, I thought!  I told her to close her eyes and carefully fastened the pearls around her neck.  She opened her eyes and gasped, “Oh my gosh, they’re beautiful!  Are they real?”  I explained the process to her and she was thrilled.

The party was at the Cityscape Bar and Grill.  The staff greeted us and treated us like royalty.  Alana got many compliments on the pearls and I was glad my gift had been such a hit.  We had a bit too much of the house wine and decided to make an early night of it since the wedding was tomorrow. 
At 8:00 am my phone rang.  “Jane, please come over here!”  It was Alana and she was in a panic.  “What’s wrong”, I said, thinking maybe she was having cold feet.  “Please, just come over!”  Uh oh, this was serious.  I was there in ten minutes.  When she opened the door, I was dumbstruck.

In five hours, Alana would be having the wedding of her dreams and her neck was a vivid blue.  She was crying. “I forgot and slept with the necklace on last night.  I’ve been scrubbing and it won’t come off”.  “Don't worry", I said, "This is what best friends are for”, and went scurrying out the door to the corner pharmacy.  I came back with face cream, toner and a skin lightener.  With repeated attempts and a soft bronze powder, her neck was beautiful once again. She thanked me, we hugged and I drove back home to relax before getting dressed.  I was envious – I didn’t have a boyfriend and here was Alana getting married.

As I sat at my computer, I felt deflated.  You just can't believe anything anymore. Colored pearls! Huh! That's the last time I'm getting suckered by a sign, I thought.  Just then, a pop-up with a flashing sign appeared on my screen and I sat up a little straighter.  Just this once, I thought, and before I could stop myself, I clicked Looking for Love? Find Singles in your Area.

There really are blue pearls. They're expensive! This photo came from

OK - to all my writer friends out there - I challenge you to do the same.  Check your email inbox or spam folder for messages and use the subject lines to write a story - just like the instructions above.  Post it as a comment here or simply do it to practice your writing skills.  I am always trying to improve mine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Where do you go when you write?

Where do you go when you write?  I have so many distractions that it's hard to find a quiet place to write.  I dreamed of retiring, locking myself in my office, putting on some quiet music and write one book after another.  I figured I had several years to do this as my husband didn't plan to retire until 2015.  Neither of us knew that the economy driven construction industry would fall over on it's face and force him into an early retirement.

I now write in snippets - little moments that I slip in while going with him on road trips (he tries to be quiet).  I steal an hour here and there when he's outside or watching TV in another room.  With only "snippet" time however, the writing doesn't flow.  I also try to write after he goes to bed - not a bad time except my brain tends to be withered after 10 p.m.

Now I've found a new place to write - at the school bus stop. I've been going early to the bus stop to pick up Gen - it's at the end of my daughter's long driveway with no-one around.  The scenery and atmosphere are very conducive to writing - no laptop, just my notebook.  Of course, I'm sure if I sat there all day, I would attract attention and look rather suspicious.  What would I tell the passing patrol car - that I'm waiting for my granddaughter's bus at 10:30 a.m.?  I guess I need to find another place - it's just another snippet of time, even though it's been productive.

I'm thinking of setting up a writing space in the sun room.  I fixed it up last year, decorating it  with antique rods, reels and lures.  It has the look and feel of a fishing & hunting lodge - really quite peaceful.  It's ironic that I fixed it for Henry as a "man space" and he never goes into it - he prefers to hang around me.  Maybe I'll put a "gone fishing writing" sign on the door and hope for the best.

Anyone have any ideas?  I would love to hear what you do through a post or email.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A bucket of chicken - Olive style

As I was finalizing our church's quarterly newsletter this week, I needed a filler to take up some space so I googled Stewardship quotes or poems. I didn't use this one, of course - it would have looked a little weird in a church newsletter, but I liked it. This is our philosophy on chickens also. That's why ours are free range.
Treat your chickens kindly.
Let them walk on God’s green Earth.
Let them promenade in sun light
With a shelter for their berth.
Don’t you pin ‘em up in boxes
Or a tiny wire hold
Suspended over fecal sluices
Where their wings cannot unfold.
Don’t feed ‘em antibiotics
Within each and every bite.
Don’t breed ‘em so they cannot walk.
You know that isn’t right.
Don’t grow ‘em by the zillion
And extend them with fake light.
Don’t snip and grind away their beaks
Because they’re wedged too tight.
Don’t make ‘em breathe-in air that’s choked
With amoniated dust.
Don’t make ‘em drink from water troughs
All filled with mold and rust.
Let ‘em harvest bugs and grasses
And scratch pebbles from the ground.
I implore you, treat ‘em kindly.
They’ll be the best chickens around.
                               2007 Mark Pearce

Speaking of chickens, Olive has become broody this week. We were not home for the weekend to gather her eggs. A broody hen will "sit" her nest, trying to hatch baby chicks. The problem is that Olive's eggs are not fertile. The only roosters we have are much smaller than she - plus she keeps her distance from all of them, flying off if one even comes near her. When a hen is "broody", they sit for days on end, hardly coming off for food or water. They go into a trance and nothing phases them. I don't want her to do this without a silver lining of chicks at the end!  I read that one way to deter a hen from sitting is to get her off the nest and dunk her bottom  in a bucket of cool water. Cruel? I'm not so sure.  It supposedly keeps a hen from trying to sit. It lowers their body temp which has been raised while she's broody - and it will get her out of the mood. I've taken a picture of her sitting and will post it below. Of all places to lay eggs, she picked a corner inset beside the house behind a Nandina bush. At least it's hidden away and relatively safe from predators. They have a dozen or so laying boxes filled with hay and they never lay in them. Chickens are odd little creatures. Maybe I should video my little "chicken in a bucket" adventure (if I attempt it) - hens are not happy when you take them off the nest. You may see Olive's bucket moment on America's Funniest Videos.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Way too "cool" for words

There's an old Welsh Proverb that goes: Perfect love sometimes does not come till the first grandchild.  The Welsh are on to something there.   My readers who know me, know that my grandchildren are my pride and joy.  If not, you will probably figure it out while reading my blogs.   I've also been known to brag a little.  I'm pretty sure that my first grandchild's other grandmother and I danced a jig and did a hip bump the moment my son-in-law came out of the delivery room with the news that he had arrived.  If we didn't, we should have.

Since the above paragraph seems to have nothing in common with the title of this blog, I will weave it so that it does.  I looked up definitions of the word "cool" in several on-line dictionaries.  I've used the word since the '60's when it was cool to be "cool".   It was embedded in our vocabulary and we used it excessively. It still carries the same meaning and it's hard to go anywhere the English language is spoken without hearing someone use the word “cool.”   The "slang" dictionaries offered several definitions: okay; socially well adjusted; nonchalant; very good, excellent; and fashionable / hip.   I think I'm safe in saying that a "cool" combination of these definitions describe my grandson.  Let me explain why.

My daughter, Laura did homeschooling with Jake from third through eighth grade.  This past Fall, he entered public school as a ninth grader - high school!  Because of the excellent education he has received from my daughter and the social interactions he's been exposed to, he has adjusted both academically and socially without skipping a beat.  He's in honors classes and has made excellent grades all year.  He is active in his church youth group, has lots of hobbies and recently got his driver's permit which I don't want to think about.  Those are pretty cool statistics, right?  But I got to witness the coolest of "cool" last Thursday night.

A few years ago, Jake got interested in beekeeping.  Jeff, a family friend sparked the interest.  He lets Jake assist him with harvesting the honey and helping him maintain his hives.  Jake then purchases the honey at wholesale from Jeff and sells it at a local farmer's market. He has saved quite a chunk of change from his "honey money".  Laura incorporated this into one of his homeschooling activities -  a Saturday project - something a public school teacher would never have time to do.    He's learned a lot by assisting Jeff in presentations, developed social skills in dealing with the public, and learned to account for and manage money - the kind of skills that are useful in all walks of life.  His knowledge of bees is fascinating.

About six weeks ago, I asked Jake if he would do a presentation for our Woman's Club - each month we have a guest speaker and it was my turn to round up one.  He didn't hesitate and said yes he would - he seemed excited that I had asked him.  He's fifteen - not many fifteen year old boys would be eager to speak in front of thirty women.  He called me several times over the weeks while he was working on a PowerPoint presentation to ask me a few questions and I was glad that he was preparing so far ahead of time.  His grandmother is a procrastinator - he is not.  The program title was "The Amazing Honey Bee".

I knew that Jake would do well, but I was not prepared to be blown away.  Jake got there early, set up his equipment, chatted politely with all the women who I'm sure were all wondering what a teenager was doing there.  The meeting was called to order and I introduced him as our program guest.  He introduced himself with all the poise and professionalism of a public speaker.  He was cool, calm and collected and did an extremely knowledgeable, interesting, witty and amazing program.  I know that's a lot of adjectives, but they're all true.  He was constantly interrupted with questions and handled them beautifully - never getting flustered or off track. His PowerPoint presentation was awesome.  Grandma was beaming and all the other ladies were charmed out of their socks.

My grandson - way too "cool" for words!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be at your back

As I sit in the waiting room at Charlotte Radiology's Breast Center, I can't help but feel a little anxious.  The notebook that I carry everywhere almost goes back in my purse, but I force myself to get it back out again so I can capture my feelings and observations.  Take a deep breath, I say to myself.  You've been here before under the same circumstances and it was ok the other times.  I'm here because my mammogram from a month ago was "inconclusive".  Such an innocent, innocuous kind of word, but one that can evoke a wide range of emotions when used in the right context - like this one.  

I am in the diagnostic center where most of the women here have either had reports like mine or are coming back for follow-up visits after breast cancer.  I look around the room and see five other women.  Four of the women are close to my age or older.  They are reading magazines or chatting.  The fifth is in her thirties.  She is sitting in the corner all alone.  She has a blank stare and is tapping her fingers on the arm of the chair and constantly crossing her legs, and then putting both feet on the floor.  I want to tell her everything will be fine, but I can't because I don't know.  We make eye contact and I smile - she smiles back. 

They call me back quickly.  The technician gives me the drill on what to take off and what to put on and leaves me alone in the dressing room.  She comes back later and takes me into the "room".  This being a diagnostic mammogram, they go a lot further by taking more images and the machine turns into a torture chamber.  I have a high pain tolerance and have never really minded a normal mammogram, but this takes it to a whole new level.  The technician makes small talk.  I make small talk back, but I really want to tell her to shut up and get it over with.  But I'm nice.  I'll have bruises tomorrow. 

Now I'm in the other waiting room waiting for the radiologist to see me. I am wearing a sleeveless blue paper shirt that snaps in the front - very fashionable if I do say so myself. It's cold in here. This place definitely doesn't cater to comfort.  As I'm waiting, I can hear through the door my technician calling someone else back to the "room".  For a moment, I think about sticking my head out the door and warning the poor soul of what's to come, but I'm a civilized person and don't want to make waves for the technician.  Besides, I might have her again next year and I want to be in her good graces.

About ten minutes pass and the radiologist walks in the door followed by the technician.  Uh oh, does she need backup?  They're both smiling though and they give me the good news that they have a good image and nothing is wrong.  Of course, I'm relieved.  As I'm sitting there half hearing what she is saying, I think about all the other women who have sat here before me and heard a different story.  I say a silent prayer for these women and all the ones who will sit here after me and hear bad news instead of good.  I have a dear friend who lost her mother to breast cancer a few years ago.  I saw what they both went through and how Jill continues to miss her mother today.  I have three good friends who have recently had breast cancer and have gone through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  It has been a difficult battle for each of them but all three - Lynn, Rita and Carol - are women of great faith, and with God's help they have gotten through.  

Please take a moment as you read this and say a prayer for all the women of the world who are facing this right now and a prayer of praise for the women who have beat it. There is an old Irish benediction that goes:

“May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”  I like to imagine a large meadow where the sun is shining warmly and our omnipresent God is seated while each one of these women passes by Him.  He reaches out to them gently  and holds them briefly in the hollow of his hand to give them comfort and peace.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Is this love baby, or is it just a confusion?

Henry and I will be celebrating our forty-fifth wedding anniversary in a couple of months.  It is a big milestone for us.  We were both just kids when we married - I was seventeen, a couple of months shy of my eighteenth birthday.  We were far too immature to marry - the truth is, I was probably too immature to marry when I was twice that age and I think Henry has just now reached the maturity level to be married.  Maybe.  But somehow we made it through those tumultuous years and I marvel every day that we did.  It sure wasn't easy and I would NEVER advise anyone in their right mind to marry that early.  It's not that we didn't love each other - we did - but we looked at marriage as only children from our era saw it - a June and Ward Cleaver fantasy game.  We lived in the present and hardly discussed the future. I think a lot of young marriages start out that way - especially ones that take place during war years.

Although Vietnam was designated a "conflict" and not officially called a war, we all know that it was.  The year was 1966 and we were fresh out of high school.  Henry had a good job, and I had been accepted at two universities and had been offered a full scholarship to one.  He had registered for the draft as was mandatory for all males at the age of eighteen and had been given the prestigious status (pun intended) of 1-A (eligible for military service).  Several of our friends who had no plans for college had already enlisted in the Army or Naval Reserves to avoid being drafted and to hopefully avoid being sent to Vietnam. I wanted him to do the same but Henry preferred to take his chances on being drafted, large as they were.

There was such an uncertainty about serving in a war where there was so much confusion about the issues and our involvement. There were news reports every day of the thousands of young men who were killed or wounded in a war that was hard put to even be identified as a war.  Our boys were risking their lives, but we asked ourselves again and again - what were they fighting for?  Like a lot of young couples during those years, we married out of fear of losing each other.  My fear that he would die - his fear that I would find someone else.  Not a great reason to go into a marriage - but we were young and didn't know better.  A few days after we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, that dreaded letter came with the the Selective Service as the return address.  We both knew what that meant - we looked at it as a death sentence. We wanted to put it back in the mailbox and mark it, Return to Sender - Address Unknown, and move around the country hoping they would never find us. It was a thought, but of course we didn't and he's proud of his years of service to our country.  Besides, wars never make sense - it's just as senseless today in Afghanistan as it was in the years of Vietnam.  As it turned out, even though he received orders for Vietnam, we received a blessing and he got sent to Germany instead.  And I went with him and received another blessing - our oldest daughter - born there in 1968.

I sometimes think we muddled our way through the years like an old car whose steering is a little off - drifting off the side of the road, hitting rocks and puddles, drifting across the center line, but eventually getting to our destination intact.  And with a little help from the Great Mechanic, being stronger for it.   Our two beautiful daughters  were the glue that held us together and once they were out on their own, we found our own bond.

And such a strange but strong bond, marriage is.  If you tried, you would have never found two people more different.  Marriage is a game of compromise which neither of us did well.  I spent many years of self-righteousness - which is a bitter game in marriage. He spent many years of selfishness - which was worse, my self-righteous little self would claim.  Both of these traits contributed to the biggest obstacle in our marriage - never learning to share our feelings.  And I truly believe that sharing things, good or bad, is one of the cornerstones of a good marriage.  It's a piece of advice that should be mandatory in writing, and agreed upon by both parties before a marriage license is issued. Your spouse cannot read your mind.  And share your joy - share your pain.  A mutual love and respect comes out of sharing.

Here we are, forty-five years later and still muddling our way through but it's a happy and contented kind of muddling now - filled with less stress and more sharing.  I often wonder what would have happened if we had gone our separate ways instead of rushing into marriage in such a tension-filled period of our country's history. Would I have completed my education - I would like to think so.  Would we have married others and would other marriages have failed where ours has lasted?  There's no way of knowing.  I do know that the children and grandchildren we love so dearly would not be the same people with the same genetic makeup, and despite our inadequacies, we produced some mighty fine kids

We have a lot of happy memories, we have a love that has lasted despite the differences, and we hope to share these milestone anniversaries for many years to come.  Share is the magic word.  And like the Jimi Hendrix song goes - Is This Love Baby, or is it Just a Confusion?  We both know that it was love -it just began in a world full of confusion.