About Me

Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zest

Do you have a zest for life? Do you wake each morning eager to greet whatever the new day will bring? Do you set out, anticipating the coming hours hold delightful experiences? If so, then you are to be envied.
Many people live lives of quiet desperation. Dreading the morning alarm’s call to rise and face another twenty-four hours of drudgery. For some, life has lost its zest.

But there is hope.  All it takes is looking at life from a different perspective. Our daylight hours are filled with a constant barrage aimed at creating a state of discontent. Our media sources are swelled with images and messages designed to produce a state of wanting ‘something else.’  And that something else shape-shifts into an unlimited variety of forms.

We’re urged to envy those who have what we don’t want; to desire those things not needed in our lives. The challenge is to refuse to surrender to that state of wanting what we don’t have. I challenge you to develop a state of contentment, to be satisfied with what you already have. 

We who live in these United States have so much more that so many in the rest of the world. There should be no cause for discontent. Consider the riches that surround you and be grateful. Rebuild your zest for life.  

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I had prepared a posting about yurts for today's blog for 'Y'. Took the time to locate a couple pictures to illustrate the point I wanted to make about how yurts are used all over the world. It looks like that draft got eaten by the computer.

So, now I'm having to free-fall something else. It's nine-thirty at night and I've had an almost twelve-hour day attending NETWO's writers conference.

So, all I can say is YES.

YES, it was a fabulous event. Our new venue, the Civic Center in Mt. Pleasant more than adequately served our needs.

YES, the new caterer served us the most delicious meals. Thanks Hershel's of Mt. Pleasant.

YES, all the presenters gave us super info and encouragement.

YES, even the feedback resulting from my meetings with New York agent Weronika Janczuk, Publisher Vivian Zabel and Editor Liz Ragland was extremely helpful.

YES, will I attend the conference next year? A most definitely YES!

Friday, April 27, 2012

What's with X?

When it comes to “X”, there aren’t many choices to work with. The Oxford American Dictionary lists only twenty words beginning with ‘X”. Nine on the list are simply one or two-letter words. So, today’s blog posting became a real challenge.

I could go with X – to cancel by writing a series of x’s over. Or I could mention xi – the fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet.

The longest word in the group is X chromosome – a chromosome in which the number of cells of one sex (in human, the female) is twice that of the other sex.

Or how about Xe – symbol xenon? Now what did you learn from that information?

Here’s one that I can comprehend, not that I’ve ever fell victim to it: xenophobia – a strong dislike or distrust of foreigners. Hey, did anyone ever tell you we are all foreigners to someone else?

Before I go x-rated (not to be seen by persons under seventeen years old), I think I’ll end this.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why East Texas?

Why did my husband and I deliberately transplant our family to the piney woods of East Texas? There are many reasons. When we previously existed in a cookie-cutter suburb of Dallas, the at-speed-limit rush of an ever-grasping culture drove the lifestyle we lived. All the while, our souls hungered for a place where we could stop and savor being alive.

Our move to the Longview area and subsequent settling in a farmhouse nestled on seventeen acres outside of Big Sandy brought us the satisfaction we desired. That was thirty-seven years ago.

We chose to live in East Texas because the stillness of our nights is now punctuated by a distant train whistle, not the wail of a speeding ambulance. Now, missing is that subliminal hum of a motorized society restlessly on the move, always chasing they knew not what. Instead, I'm lulled to sleep by the cooing of mourning doves.

Free from the anxieties imposed by a society striving to exceed itself, we take time to drink deeply of each day’s offering. We can pause to hear treetops rustle as the wind passes through, or smile at the raucous squawk of a noisy bluejay. We can sit on our front porch at night without fear of invisible dangers lurking in the blackness.

We don’t miss our former life. Our days are filled with soul-satisfying work and we are surrounded by people who take time to really care about each other here in East Texas

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Valor

The Oxford American Dictionary defines the word ‘valor’as courage in defense of a noble cause.

The 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor, awarded by the government of the United States, was created specifically to honor the 442 public safety officers who were killed in the line of duty during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and The Pentagon.  

Several states, including Maryland, New York and Texas, have established a Medal of Valor which is presented to those serving the public for acts of outstanding personal bravery.

But many acts of personal bravery go unnoticed. I am thinking of a recently-made friend who is deserving of a Medal of Valor. Although restricted by the wheelchair that dominates his lifestyle, my friend faces life with a bravado of wit and humor. He is just one of so many who daily overcomes challenges in their lives to reach out and touch others with the goodness within.

Monday, April 23, 2012

U is for The Unending Love

Lying in the examination room, an idea took hold. It distracted Cathy, helped to while away those wasted hours spent awaiting appointments that always ran late. She would make a flower bed; smack-dab in the middle of her lawn to be viewed from several areas of the house. She’d cram it full of flowers in shouting colors; each time she saw it, she’d be cheered.

Through all the tests and examinations, she escaped her surroundings by envisioning the garden with her mind’s eye. By concentrating on the garden, she blocked out the cacophony of monitoring machines that surrounded her. She shifted its shape, changed color combinations, imagined this and that until the design seemed perfect.

The day of her first radiation treatment, a neighbor dug up the area she’d staked out. All the while her body was being invaded and bombarded, she focused her thoughts on planting her new garden. In her imagination, she could feel the crumbly earth slip between outstretched fingers. Taking deep breaths, she could almost taste the satisfying fragrance of newly-turned earth. She couldn’t wait to begin.

Several weeks passed before she recovered sufficiently to begin work. The summer sun caressed her pallid skin as she sank to the grass beside the kidney-shaped area. A gaily printed bandanna, her badge of defiance, wrapped a balding head. Eager fingers reached to pluck away stray bits of uprooted foliage and remove stones marring the garden’s smooth surface. Beside her lay a yellow mesh plastic bag bulging with promise. As her fingers curled around each odd-shaped bulb, she could almost feel the throb-beat of life enclosed within.

From high overhead, a melodious tune floated down and she paused to locate the songbird. Among the hickory tree’s branches, she spotted a flash of red and flashed her appreciation toward the serenading bird. As probing rays of the sun’s heat penetrated her blouse, she felt the knob of bone-cold at her center melt into a warmth that dispersed throughout her body. She disdained a trowel, preferring to plunge her hands deep into the waiting soil. With bits of earth clinging, she scooped out a hollow for each bulb, then nestled each promise of life into its place, pausing often to catch her breath.

Spasms of pain would interrupt her efforts and cause her to halt until they pass. Yet she savored each moment for its simplicity and pure enjoyment. She looked forward with anticipation to when tiny shoots of green would break the bounds of their brown covering. Her thoughts flew to the future, to the promise fulfilled, when this patch of earth would bloom in a riot of colors.

Tomorrow would come; another day in another week spent battling this relentless enemy. But even on those days when she couldn’t rise from her bed, a turn of her head would bring the garden into view. And, yes, even if her struggles ended in defeat, she could pass along hope and a vision of God's beauty to others through this garden.

It’s been four years since my friend lost her battle against cancer. Soon afterward, her home was sold and a new family moved in. I pass by frequently on my way to the post office. What I saw today brought a smile. A mass of blue Salvia spears poke up above a patchwork of zinnias. The garden remains a tribute to her memory. I smile, remembering Cathy’s spirit and I feel Cathy’s spirit smiling back.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Time for the Thymes

'Thymes Square' reads the hand-painted, wooden sign my sister made for me. Proudly it proclaims one of my favorite spots in the herb garden - a  patchwork of alternating squares of 12-inch concrete blocks and open spaces bordered on three sides with narrow raised beds. A primitive post-and-board-fence arrangement that supports the sprawling growth of grapevines provides dappled shade from a hot summer sun that bores down at mid-day.

Even their names evoke a fragrant melange - Coconut, Blue Balsam, Caraway, Camphor. The staid English and  frivolous French halt their feud and share the sunshine with Creeping Red, Woolly and Golden. One of my favorite thymes is 'Odena's Kitchen' named for Odena Brannam, my mentor. It was she who introduced me to and educated me in the world of herbs, just as she has done for many, many others here in East Texas.

My assortment of thyme varieties spill over the neighboring stones. As long as I remember to provide adequate water, these sturdy herbs thrive in their sandy soil, tucking their spreading, shallow roots beneath the protective shade of nearby concrete slabs. Most prolific of all is the green variety of Lemon Thyme and in its persistence, it has sprawled its dense mat to encroach into the gap up to the fence-line. One of my favorite uses for its lemon-tasting leaves is to mince and add a teaspoon or two to a melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookie recipe.

This is the earliest thyme each season to offer its pale pink blossoms for my pleasure - another reason for favoritism. I'm careful to share the tiny blooms with busy bees who add their accompanying hypnotic hum to the melodious rendering of a nearby wren. And abundant pleasure I receive, even when I'm hard at work pulling weeds with the blazing sun boring into my bent back. The still air is filled with a delicious blend drifting upward from the disturbed plants.

Through an unhappy experience, I've had to concede that Elfin Thyme is too fragile to withstand the fierce onslaughts of our Texas summer sun in the open garden. After watching its minute growth struggle and finally shrivel away in August's intense heat, I decided to give a new plant special attention. Tucked into the soil of a large clay pot, it is protected beneath the sheltering arms of a rose geranium. Just like some people, this herb chooses to 'walk a road seldom traveled.'

Friday, April 20, 2012

Experiencing Stonehenge

A leaden sky encompasses the sentinels while a cool mist falls on the flat, open plain that spreads to the far distant rolling hills. Today, there are no milling masses, only a handful have dared the bitter elements to pay their homage. Slowly we walk the graveled path approaching the wonder that is Stonehenge. A brisk wind tugs at coattails and tumbles hair-dos. My father must lean close to keep his words from being snatched away.

The giant stones tower over we few humans scattered at their feet, making us appear as insignificant insects in comparison. Their precise formation remains as it has for centuries.

Along with the millions of previous visitors, my credibility is overwhelmed by the immensity of this accomplishment achieved by ordinary mankind, unassisted by modern technology. Who? How? Why? In spite of past suppositions, the questions remain unanswered.

I sense an almost physical feeling of timelessness as I stand at their feet, a feeling that echoes the forces of nature now invading my contemplation. In spite of the cold and wet, I remain a vigil, held by the presence or aura of the place.

Then, seeing my father shiver inside his long wool topcoat, I agree to reluctantly seek shelter. As we drive away, passengers are spilling out of a tour bus.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

R is for Rosemary

Ah-h-h, the trials a person endures to grow a rosemary. At first, the only way I could tell the difference between it and lavender was to take a big sniff of their distinctively different-smelling leaves. Never being one who had too much success growing from seed, I decided to adopt one of those bedding plants you find in the spring; plush and green, bulging out of its four-inch pot. Be forwarned, you will not relax until it enters the teen-age years.  Moving it into a clay pot helps, but you must be sure it doesn't get too dry or too wet.  When you bring it inside for the winter, be sure to set aside your sunniest window for this plant known as 'dew of the sea'.

If it survives past its third or fourth year, like all young adults it should be encouraged (change that to forced) to move out into the real world and make it on its own. Hopefully, you can provide a spot in the garden that has excellent drainage, receives some welcome shade from our intense Texas sun and will have some kind of barrier to shelter behind when Old Man Winter blows his harsh winds. If this sounds like a difficult plant-child to raise, let me say that is true through the teen-age years only, like most children.

Once permanently established in your garden year-round, you will be rewarded with an evergreen, fragrant shrub that delights you with pale blue blossoms in the middle of February. And, it will continue to bloom off and on way into summer. If you are lacking a garden, let me recommend the prostrate variety. It looks loveliest cascading over a stone wall or spilling out of a wooden barrel. The Botanical Gardens in San Antonio have a gorgeous display of prostrate rosemary as you exit the parking lot and head for the entrance.

So, don't be discouraged; someday you, too, will be able to brag about enjoying the piney fragrance of a rosemary who has been a faithful friend for ten years or more.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Q Is For Quilting Memories

The special appeal of making patchwork quilts is that you find yourself crafting with your soul. Woven into every quilt we make are bits of imagination, history and memories. One of my most rewarding projects is a special collection of miniature quilts.

Even the materials used had special significance. I had the privilege  during her last few months of caring for my youngest sister who died of a brain tumor. We worked together, tying up the loose strands of life’s business as she prepared for her homecoming. Also an avid crafter, she gave me permission to pack up anything I wanted to take home with me.

Upon my return, there were several boxes of material I had shipped confronting me. I gave some thought to what I’d like to do with all this newly acquired supply. I wanted some task that would commemorate my sister’s passing and help ease the grief of her loss. I decided to use Jeannette’s material to construct miniature quilts for my three remaining sisters and myself. Since we all live in different states, these quilts would be a way to remember one another and the sister who was no longer with us. To make them extra special, I used my sister’s accumulation of Christmas prints.

I am a novice quilter, seeking only to create a pleasing finished product. So, my first attempt was a basic Nine Patch quilt and was destined for a sister who lived in Connecticut. My next project followed a pattern called the Snail’s Trail. I knew the intricacy of the pattern would be appreciated by a sister who also loved to sew. This challenged my skills but after a few false starts, I was satisfied with the results.

By now, creating quilts took up an ever-increasing part of my life. For a third sister’s quilt, several patterns appealed to me. I couldn’t decide which to do. I solved the problem by making my next quilt a sampler. I made individual blocks of each of those patterns and put them together in a quilt which would go to my sister living in Arizona.

The following Christmas, each quilt was lovingly packaged with an explanatory note and mailed. Not until a year later did I find time to make that last quilt–my own. Each time that season of the year comes around, I take out my special quilt to display it. It has become a constant reminder of my “growing up years” in the midst of a loving family and causes my thoughts to dwell on those I love, both here on earth and gone ahead.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Un-explain-able Peace

It had been a year since I was last able to visit my father. I wondered if he would remember who I was. Eighteen months ago his deteriorating condition from Alzheimer’s made caring for him at home impossible and he now lived in a full-care facility. I live in Texas which makes the trip to Conn. to visit him difficult.

While my sister stopped at the reception desk to sign in, I went looking for Dad, expecting to find him in his room. He wasn’t there but later I found him in the sunlight-filled library. It was a logical place to look since I knew how much he loved books. He looked up from the book spread before him and I saw puzzlement come into his eyes. He sensed he should know me; that I was someone whom he should be familiar with. Yet even though he couldn’t label this person standing before him, he didn’t become anxious.

We exchanged polite conversation for twenty minutes or so. All the while, I noticed how he sent piercing glances my way as if to spot some clue that would solve the puzzle. I could almost see the atoms scurrying about in his brain as they ducked into one memory-filled section after another, trying to find my identification label.

Then the sudden remembrance entered his eyes. His face spread into a welcoming grin and a series of questions erupted: “How’s the family?” “How are you?” “When did you get here?” “How long you staying?”

I answered each in turn, realizing these questions helped him solidify his grasp of reality. Never mind that each time I visited, whether days or weeks had passed, he would repeat his I-don’t-see-you-very-often kind of welcome as if it was the first time. He joked about my head of gray forgetting it had been that way for several years. I told him Diana was also here and we left to find her. I picked up his forgotten cane which he had left hooked over the back of his chair.

When I suggested getting a breath of fresh air, he zipped up his lined jacket before stepping out into the enclosed garden. We took a turn around, a dozen steps or so, then paused to sit on a convenient iron bench. A breath of wind teased his white locks. Within minutes he was clutching his collar closer even though the sun was warm on our faces. I caught the shiver he tried to hide. “We’d better get back inside before you catch cold,” I said.

We met Diana in the hall. My father hooked one hand in each daughter’s arm and we  matched our steps to his faltering ones. As we shuffled along the facility’s corridor, he would stop often to introduce me as “his daughter from Texas” to every passing attendant and nurse. He stopped to pat the hand of an elderly woman in a wheelchair. “How are you today?” he asked before moving on as if he knew she couldn’t respond. “Sometimes you just have to do the little things,” he said to me, embarrassment forcing an explanation.

As we pass a recreation room, I glanced in and caught sight of solitary woman seated beside a window, golden sunlight flooding the card game of solitaire she played. She never looked up. I wondered at her concentration in the midst of this constant activity. Perhaps she, like my father, had learned to draw on the peace within.

Poet Dylan Thomas advises in his familiar poem: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” But what if your life’s journeying is not leading you into a fearsome blackness, a deep blank of unknown to struggle against? What if instead, you find yourself moving toward a light, a light that grows brighter the closer you approach? Shouldn’t that be the experience of every Christian who take that walk from this life into eternity?

I sense this is my father’s experience. As time passes and he draws closer to the source of the light, it’s as if the trappings and necessities of his human existence loses significance and falls away. Those activities and involvements that drove or maintained purpose for so much of his life seem to have lost importance and have simply faded away. The closer he gets to the light at the end of his life, the more the “hay and stubble” of his life is erased from his memories.

I’m not disturbed by it. I recognize my father is at the end of his life’s journey. The light which fills his days with so much peace and joy erases the imperative to hold on to yesterday, even the immediate past. He no longer has to concern himself with temporary matters. My father lives in the now and is content.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What's With Oranges and Apples?

I decided to call this blogsite Comparing Apples and Oranges because that's a key phrase around our house. Seems like any difference of opinion usually boils down to two people using totally different points of view to win their argument.

My husband spent his life checking notations of drawings used to fabricate steel. That was his occupation - he was a checker.

I, on the other hand, discovered I had a talent for organization.

Now, you'd think we would be able to come to the same conclusion seeing as we both have a tendency for order and sequence of events.

Nah! I've found the more I push for a logical reasoning of his difference in opinion, the more the discussion revolves around the virtues of "oranges" when I'm talking "apples."

So how have we been able to remain sane and whole through fifty-four years of marriage? When that point comes in the disagreement where it’s certain neither of us is going to be able to convince the other…that’s when the apples and oranges comment makes its appearance and we agree to disagree.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

N Is For Night

Night settles like a downward-drifting veil. It subdues the day's harsh sunlight, causing bleached-out vegetation to take on deeper, richer shades of green. As the light fails, it releases deepening shadows. Surroundings shift in substance, changing in increments and degrees.

The sun drops from sight below the horizon yet continues to exert its influence by painting the sky in ever-changing colors; rose deepens to lavender, then darkens to indigo.

The last rays of sun above the earth's edge gilt low-hanging clouds and I pause to take inventory. Another day has come to an end. Did I spend these hours profitably or do I chalk up this day as one of wasted opportunities? If I can look back and see a moment when my smile lifted another person's burden, then all is not lost. I may count the day as a good one.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Morning Moment

Life is richer with an herb garden in your life. A morning walk among the dew-laden herbs provides opportunity to indulge all senses and can be one of life’s sublime pleasures. This particular morning, the summer sun had begun to lighten the eastern sky as I pick my way along the grassy path. From deep within the entwined branches of the rose arbor, a mockingbird sings a solo. 

Soon my shoes are wetter than the cold coffee in the cup I’ve carried from the house. Beneath the apple tree, the up-turned faces of Johnny-Jump-Ups smile their morning greeting. I stoop and lightly brush the yellow and purple blossoms until they look like a crowd of nodding faces.

Further along, a rosemary sprawls its blue-dotted branches over the path. An accidental brush releases its unique fragrance, triggering pleasant remembrances of past encounters with this herb. At the spreading clump of oregano, I stoop to examine the minute pink clusters of blooms. I’m reminded of a class of young ballet dancers, twisting and turning, sometimes slightly out of step with each other. A drifting waft of this plant’s delicious scent brings visions of a favorite pepperoni and cheese pizza.

I can’t resist plucking the leaf of one of my favorite herbs, lemon verbena. With its pale-green crinkled shape nestled beneath my nose, I take a deep breath of its delicate scent. When I pass a mint patch, I snatch one of the peppermint’s cool-tasting leaves to nibble on. 

Pausing in the midst of my herbs, time seems to stand still and I feel a strong connection to others before me who have experienced moments like these. I smile to realize other gardeners will follow. They too, will have the joy of experiencing unique moments in their herb gardens.
            It’s time to return to the present, retrace my steps and head back for the house. On my way, I gather a tiny bouquet of chives, parsley and dill to season my mid-day salad. Tucked away in my heart is a moment when I touched eternity.

Friday, April 13, 2012

My 'Lookout Mountain'

Does your childhood hold a ‘lookout mountain’?  Was there a special place, known only to yourself, where you went to consider the mysteries of life?

Mine was located directly behind my childhood home. The ground rose so steeply it was necessary to lean forward to climb to its plateau. Once arrived at the top of this well-worn New England hill, I could lie down and be out of sight beneath swaying tall grass. There, warmed by the sun, only nature’s creatures invaded my private place and thoughts.  

When I sat up, it was possible to see my familiar surroundings and much more beyond. Alone except for an occasional fly or bee, my thoughts could roam far beyond the confines of daily existence, exploring possibilities only the imagination could conjure.

This need for a ‘lookout mountain’ must be a peculiar American thing as our country has several spots designated with that official title. Most well-know is the area just minutes from downtown Chattanooga, TN. Lookout Mountain, Tennessee provide a spectacular view of the Chattanooga Valley. From its observation deck, seven U. S. states can be seen on a clear day: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. 

Other states that boast their own Lookout Mountain include Montana, Oregon and Minnesota. Lookout Mountain Summit in Lewis and Clark County, Montana has an elevation that peaks at 8,180 feet. At 6,525 feet, the summit of Lookout Mountain, Oregon provides a stunning view of the east face of Mount Hood. Lookout Mountain Loop, Minnesota at an elevation of 1,545 feet includes views of Lake Superior and waterfalls on the Cascade River, all packed into this interesting 4.1-mi loop. 

If you’re interested in planning a trip to include a couple Lookout Mountains, be forewarned: the driving distance from Waconia, Minnesota to Lookout Mountain, Georgia is 1,016 Miles/1635 Km. How many hours? 17 hours. 17 mins.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Key

Some time back, I turned over dirt for a new garden bed and uncovered a buried key. One of those old fashioned iron ones sometimes referred to as a skeleton key. Got me to wondering who lost it and how long had it lain beneath the surface?

We've lived on this property for over thirty years. To my knowledge,  there's never been a house on that part of the property. Obviously, the key's been in the ground longer than we've lived here. Talking with neighbors who've lived around here all their lives, I learned nothing but cows ever roamed these acres. One neighbor told me a family once lived closer to the highway and there could still be an old well hidden by overgrown brush. The appearance each spring of flowering bulbs seems to substantiate that. Could my found key belong to that long-gone house? But how it ended up such a long distance away continues to mystify me.

Have you ever come across an object and wondered about its past life? I find it's those little unsolved mysteries of life that fuel the stories I write.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Fun's at JibJab

Most everyone has made the acquaintance of JibJab.com.  Founded in 1999 by Evan and Gregg Spiridellis, JibJab is a digital entertainment studio begun in a Venice, California garage.

Their political satires have made the site well known. JibJab is arguably most famous for its "Year in Review" videos, which are usually released late in December.

Then in 2007, JibJab decided to put photographs of people's faces in some animated JibJab videos with the option to send them to other people as e-cards or "sendables."

Building on their success with “sendables”,  JibJab now offers JibJab Jr., geared toward the kids market. This line produces children's books for the iPad. The app allows parents to personalize the stories with a photo and name of their child. 

All they wanted to do was figure out a way to earn a living making people laugh. They succeeded.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Indecision

I is for indecision of which state of mind I find myself regarding today's assignment. Or perhaps I should place the blame on insomnia since I am typing out these words at two-thirty in the morning.

Then again, perhaps the culprit is indisposition since it is a stuffed-up head that has awakened me because my breathing is impaired.

However, I shouldn't task myself too severely. Beside me in the bed I just left, my husband struggles for each  breath he takes. A recent bout with bronchial infection has severely hampered his ability to inhale anything but labored shallow breaths. It's Easter weekend and we may be adding a trip to the emergency hospital room to our itinerary.

As you can see by the above, our English language is rich with lovely "I"  words.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Making a House a Home

Thirty-two years ago we moved a farmhouse from its city lot to our acreage in the country. Extensive renovations followed including a gutting of and complete rebuilding of the kitchen. We battled the mice, spiders, occasional snake and even a scorpion for possession of the building. We cleared brush, thinned trees and built gardens.

Then came a period of self-sufficiency, like all 'back-to-the-landers' of that period, when a parade of chickens, rabbits, ducks, turkeys and even a pig that was a FFA project of our high school son passed through our lives.

We planted a stand of pine seedlings that now tower overhead. Recently we hired loggers to harvest the marketable hardwood trees, a hard but necessary decision to make.

As the years slip past, we find our stamina isn't what it used to be. Two winters ago, we exchanged our wood-burning stove for a propane heater because my husband couldn't maintain the need for firewood any more.

To me, the little farmhouse is just a part of our home here in piney East Texas. Home encompasses the land, the area, the state.

So, what makes a house a home? I don't really have an answer. Would like to hear from my readers about that.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ghosts From The Past

He strode through the crowd with the cockiness of Billy the Kid, gathering curious stares in his wake. With his battered beaver top hat, black frock coat grayed with age, and knee-skimming leather boots, Jim Davis looked like a re-incarnated apparition from an earlier time. All that was missing was a set of holstered pistols hanging on his slim hips.

I struck up a conversation and learned Jim had recently moved back home to the family farm in East Texas after spending his adult years in Arizona. Hearing I was the from same town, he broke into a grin.

"It's great to be back," he said.

When I asked about his get-up, his blue-gray eyes sparked with his zest for being alive. "I got this group I formed out in Arizona. We do shows...re-enacting gunfighter shoot-outs. Some of the fellows are coming out next February for a show I got scheduled."

He certainly looked the image, his shoulder-length brown hair that fell from beneath the hat's broad brim contrasted with the white handle-bar mustache trailing to his chest. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned his pleasure in reconnecting recently with a  boyhood chum.

"I would have walked right past him like a stranger if my wife hadn't spoken to this woman. While they were conversing, the man who was with her took a couple steps closer and said, "Jim Davis?"

I stared at him, wondering how he knew my name, he said. "When he said his name was Tim Newton, my response was, 'No way! Tim got killed in Vietnam. At least, that's what I always believed.' We hugged each other's neck, bawled like kids, to find out we'd both been wrong."

"You see," Jim went on, "we grew up together, played ball together and joined up at the same time. When we got sent to Vietnam, we got separated, went to different units. Both of us assumed the other got killed over there." He shook his head, a bemused expression on his face. "Just think, if my wife hadn't spoken to his wife...I didn't recognize him...," another shake of his head.

Jim went on to talk about his experiences in handling powder-loaded guns and participating in re-enactments. over the years.

When he finally walked away, I was left with the sound of his jangling spurs as they dragged on the concrete. I gazed at his retreating back and had to admire a guy who straddled two worlds and felt comfortable in both.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Is It Figure…or Is It Figure?

At times I’m befuddled by our English language. Take the word figure – I’m amazed that this one word can convey two entirely dissimilar concepts.  

On the one hand, it is used to describe the manipulation of numerals, as in “crunch the numbers” or “I’ve got to figure my taxes”, an oft- heard expression this month since the deadline to file one’s Income Tax looms in the near future.

Then the word is often used to describe a woman’s body as in “She’s got a great figure.”
Perhaps the connection comes about as a result of that recognized combination of  numerals – 36-24-36 – that has come to exemplify the perfect Barbie-like female form.

Seriously, how many females are you acquainted with who conform to that ridiculous image? I leave you to figure it out.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Ingenious Envelope

Have you ever taken time to wonder about the envelope? It's simply a sheet of paper, ingeniously folded and glued, to form a safe pocket which contains its contents. So what came first, the envelope or the stamp?

The envelope predates the postage stamp with the first use of paper envelopes recorded as far back as the 10th Century. The first known envelope was nothing like the paper envelope we know of today. The first envelopes were made of cloth, animal skins, or vegetable parts. It can be dated back to around 3500 to 3200 B.C. in the ancient Middle East. Hollow, clay spheres were molded around financial tokens and used in private transactions. 

Up until 1840 all envelopes were handmade, each being individually cut to the appropriate shape out of an individual rectangular sheet. During the Civil War,  the Confederate States Army occasionally used envelopes made from wallpaper, due to financial hardship.

Traditional envelopes are made from sheets of paper cut to one of three shapes: a rhombus, a short-arm cross, or a kite. These shapes allow for the creation of the envelope structure by folding the sheet sides around a central rectangular area. In this manner, a rectangle-faced enclosure is formed with an arrangement of four flaps on the reverse side. The use of the diamond shape for envelopes is a tidy and ostensibly paper-efficient way of producing a rectangular-faced envelope but its origin is debated. The folded diamond-shaped sheet (or "blank") was in use at the beginning of the 19th century as a novelty wrapper for invitations and letters. 

King Charles I established the first State postal service for the conveyance of private letters in England and Scotland.

In 1653, Frenchman, De Valayer attempted to establish a postal system in Paris, offering to deliver any letters placed in his post boxes as long as they were enclosed in the envelopes that he had on sale. Simple wrappers by design, but containing a printed receipt for postage paid. A schoolmaster from England, Rowland Hill invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1837.  Hill's stamps made the prepayment of postage both possible and practical. Hill created the first uniform postage rates that were based on weight, rather than size.

The advent of  e-mail in the late 1990s appeared to offer a substantial threat to the postal service. By 2008 letter-post service operators were reporting significantly smaller volumes of letter-post, specifically stamped envelopes, which they attributed mainly to replacement by e-mail. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D Is For Dragons

I thought I’d take a look at dragons today and was quite surprised at what I learned. A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. Varying stories about monsters have been grouped together under the dragon label.

Did you know there are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies and the Chinese dragon with counterparts in Japan, Korea and other East Asian countries?

Dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various religions and cultures around the world. In the New Testament book of Revelation, the devil takes the form of a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns in his battle against Archangel Michael.

Dragons and dragon motifs are featured in many works of modern literature including J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. The popular role playing game system, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) system makes heavy use of dragons, and has served as inspiration for many other games' dragons.

A good friend of mine, Galand Nuchols, has incorporated dragons in the children’s books she writes. Dragons for Kris and its sequel, Dragon Hatchling, focuses on a young boy who is abused by his uncle and has to find a way to get out of the abusive situation.  You can find out more about her books at: http://www.dragonsforkris.com/.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Return of the Carriage Age

Daily headlines scream of the rising fuel costs for our automobiles. Our carriages of convenience have become albatrosses of conveyance. Technically speaking, the automobile is a coach, not a carriage.
Designed for private passenger use and for comfort or elegance, a carriage is an open, wheeled vehicle for people. The word carriage is from Old Northern French cariage, to carry in a vehicle. Here’s a tidbit of trivia to store away for some future Jeopardy program: Upper-class people of wealth and social position, those wealthy enough to keep carriages, were referred to as carriage folk or carriage trade.

The earliest recorded sort of carriage was the chariot during the 9th century. The medieval carriage was typically a four-wheeled wagon type, with a rounded top ('tilt') similar in appearance to the Conestoga Wagon. 

Early colonial horse tracks quickly grew into roads and Colonists began using carts as these roads and trading increased between the north and south. Consistent use of these roads led to surfaces that enabled carriages to transport goods as well as people.

A bewildering variety of horse-drawn carriages existed. The names of many of these have now passed into obscurity but some have been adopted to describe automotive car styles - coupe, victoria, brougham, landau, and landaulet, cabriolet (giving us our cab), phaeton, and limousine – all these once denoted particular types of carriages.

Carriages and coaches began to disappear as use of steam propulsion began to generate more and more interest. Steam power quickly won the battle against animal power. The word, carriage, was so familiar that early models of the automobile were called horseless carriages.

The horse-drawn carriage has become a popular vehicle of entertainment and are available to rent in most larger cities. Find one near you and take time to breathe deeply as you experience the slower pace instead of rushing through life in your horseless carriage. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Three Cheers For Blue

My favorite color of all time is blue. Just a quick look-over of my closet and home will confirm that. It's an unconscious preference; I just naturally gravitate to the color blue in all its various shades.

Perhaps I sub-consciously adhere to the age-old tradition of associating this color with royalty. It was the Spaniards who gave the world the notion that an aristocrat's blood is not red but blue. In ancient and medieval societies of Europe, the veins of the upper class appeared blue through their untanned skins, in contrast to the working class who were mainly agricultural peasants. A nobleman would hold up his sword arm to display the filigree of blue-blooded veins beneath pale skin to prove his aristocratic birth.

The bluegrass region of the United States, associated with the thoroughbred horse raising considered the "sport of Kings," lies mostly in northern Kentucky. Bluegrass territory is characterized by fossiliferous limestone making its rolling hills highly fertile for growing pasture.

Another common phrase that incorporated the word "blue" in a selective usage is what is referred to a "using a blue pencil." Editors traditionally used a blue pencil to edit or correct something and how that came about is also interesting. In the nineteenth century, editors and censors commonly marked up manuscripts with colored pencils so their comments stood out. By the 1880's, British military censors had standardized on blue pencils.
Around the same time, the first photo-mechanical printing process came into use. The system being monochromatic - insensitive to all visible light except blue - an editor's blue marks transmitted as if they were white, making them invisible. You could see the color but you couldn't photograph it. Dumb luck has kept the non-photo blue pencil in service for well over a century.

For us writers, nothing plunges us into a true "blue funk" like the liberal use of a "blue pencil' on one of our manuscripts. That is why, when I edit, I try to always use a red pen.