Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Shoe Shine Philosophy

The shoe shine chair is no longer a place to visit in our city.  Men sat there and talked business or exchanged pleasantries for years.  They nearly always left more than the price of their shoe shine with the proprietor.  But a shine for a teenager with a dime was guaranteed to shine just as well for that dime as it did for the businessman’s dollar.

A man by the name of Robert Engstrom once said that employees are those who build a business.  His son, Bob Engstrom kept that philosophy to the point that his employees had one year of guaranteed employment even after he sold his business to another company.  That guarantee was part of the sales agreement.

The Engstroms believed that if they took good care of their employees, the employees would take good care of business.  Customers who trusted the employees’ honesty would come back again and again and would recommend the company to others.  Reputation—of a company or product—is everything when people spend their money.  Get one dissatisfied customer out there among those who use the same services and suddenly a company’s reputation is on the line.  If the customer is known to be a cheat, it might not matter what he/she said.  But people listen, just the same.  And they wonder, and they watch the bottom line and the service department closely.

I never got a shoe shine by that man downtown.  Only men did that sort of thing.  But I could see that he certainly did a good job.  He was quite a businessman.  But he is gone now.

It was the death of downtown that took away the business for the shoe shine man.  Malls don’t let men put down a box and offer services for a dime or a dollar.  No, rent a kiosk for $2,000 a month or more and see how much a shoe shine would have to cost.

Very few individuals own a business which does not require assistants unless it might be someone like Cari Guidry of Healing Hands.  Individuals have made her business do well because she does a good job.

No, most businesses require multiple employees.  Managing employees takes tact, honesty, and wisdom.  But if a manager or owner will take care of the employees, the employees will take care of the business.  Bob Engstrom proved his theory.  Business owners would be wise to emulate his philosophy.  That philosophy is not a “FIX” for problems.  It is a gold standard for future worth.

Ignore honesty and decent standards of quality; ignore the value of good employees; ignore the actual needs of the customers or overcharge for services:  these are the elements in a formula for failure.  Business owners beware!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Horses Cause Wars!

A few years ago an older friend who loved history repeated his theory that horses caused all wars. Since some people seem to think that religion, politics, economics, or football playoffs cause wars, I will repeat Bob Cole’s theory for the benefit of those who might not have ever met this remarkable man.

In the beginning men walked. Some learned to walk faster and some even learned to run. Why is altogether another subject, but suffice it to say that men have a tendency to travel in one manner or another. The man who gets to a location before another man seems to believe that all he beholds belongs to him alone. Therefore, the first man at a location has an advantage over the man who stays in the walking mode.

Men discovered that horses could be utilized for something other than fresh meat. Burden carriers were perhaps the first order, but eventually men began to realize that the horse provided swift travel—or at least much swifter and longer lasting transport than a man’s feet. Then a horse also provided an advantage other than speed. The sheer mass of the animals was intimidating and useful in battle. Men began to utilize the strength and speed of these wonderful animals to overcome intruders.

Tribes or families of men were strengthened by the number of horses available to them. But the horses required pasturage—which meant that men needed more space to call their own. Therefore, men found a reason—because of their horses’ needs—to fight off any who would claim lands around them and to search out MORE lands for the increased number of horses. Before long, everyone wanted horses and the battles were on!

Each land has been conquered by horses. Two horse spans were the criteria for wealth and wagons. Our roads were made to match—along with the railroads and the tunnels for the trains. The cars and the trains are simply an extension of the horses.

Now, for what it is worth, my beliefs will not change what has become known as the “nature” of man. But blaming religion, nationalistic or ethnic persuasions, technology, economic instability, or natural disasters won’t change how man thinks. Set any man upon a hill and see if he does not feel that all he surveys belongs to him. And truly it does. What we see becomes “ours” within our own range of feeling and sense of rightness. What traveler familiar with acres of wheat fields will not somehow rebel when they “suddenly” become fields of houses and roads?

Dan’l Boone just wanted elbow room, but I sit my horse on this old hill and see MY world from his strong back. Between his ears and over his flying mane, I claim this land as mine! Yes, we know what causes wars—it’s the horses.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From U2s to Google Earth Maps

Many years ago the United States felt the need to be able to SEE what some of the rest of the world did not want us to see. Today the National Archives allows computer access to some of the photos that brought our nation to the brink of war. Moscow and Cuba look pretty stark in black and white, but apparently those who interpreted the differences in pictures could tell when the missiles in Cuba had been taken down or pointed a different direction. Those same archives may include pictures of a very sober President Kennedy who had the responsibility for playing poker with the biggest stakes of all.

Today Google Earth maps are available over much of the earth. Weather maps and even topographical maps reveal much of the effects of man’s “advances.” The satellite pictures over Spain and Italy reveal the multitude of green houses that reflect light back into the atmosphere. Another satellite reveals slabs of ice sliding into the Arctic Ocean. From the International Space Station, smoke from California etches out the latest environmental disaster in living color.

The oldest grandson studied the Civil War last year and one of our gifts to him was a book of maps of the various battlegrounds. That book included photocopies of the actual maps available to the generals at the time of the battles—and then the actual topographical maps of the areas as they were in reality. The differences were astounding. Obviously the battles might have had entirely different outcomes had the maps of the time been accurate. But that brings up a curious thought. What if another nation were to consider invasion of this—or any—nation today?

Despite satellite photography and infrared or heat mapping capabilities, are there areas of America that are hidden from view? From East to West Coasts and from Canada to Mexico, great highways cross our nation for easy access. If the generals of the Civil War were to see the maps of today and consider their options, how would they proceed? If national security depended on the American people today as defenders of their states, would they even consider the lay of the land, or would they look toward the skies? After watching the wars in Israel, Afghanistan, and Iraq on TV, perhaps no nation will need worry too much about topographical maps because we know that even a mountain cannot provide a sufficient bomb shelter.

Our ability to watch wars on TV has given us a false sense of security perhaps. It seems that as long as we are watching, then perhaps we are not really involved. But we need to remember that maps are no longer a deciding factor in wars today. And whatever happens in a small nation across the oceans WILL affect all the continents on that same globe. Pray for peace.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Whichever Way the Wind Blows

A plumber came to re-light my dad's hot water heater--before they discovered that a heating unit was fried--and as he blew into the front door of the house he responded to Dad's question about the volume of the wind outside: "The wind's blowin' so hard that there's white caps on the commode, Mr. P!"

Well, the wind is blowing like that again today.  Oldest grandson shot his new B-B gun and the B-B came back to hit his hand.  Now normally that would be considered a richochet, but Paw Paw told him that the wind was blowing so hard that it threw the B-B back at him.  

A bit ago I heard a strange sound outside.  When I looked outside, three dogs were trying to bark and the wind was blowing their barks right back at them.  Poor critters.  They were so confused. That was not the end of the confusion; the lake looked funny--well, funnier than usual.  It was broken into sections and folded back over itself so that the ducks and cranes would fall plum off one side and down another before bobbing up and falling all over again.  It could make a person seasick just watching those poor birds.

The only thing that makes this weather tolerable is the warmth of the wind blowing in from Amarillo.  Someone up there must have been talking up a storm for us to get all this warm air.  But whichever way the wind blows today, tomorrow will be different for sure.  This is, after all, Texas.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My Personal Calendar

Back when the school calendar mattered to me, my personal calendar somehow had three or four defining dates: the day school was over; the day school started; Christmas; the day school restarted; the day school was out for summer again.

Now that made complete sense to me and to the hundreds of school age children who had to live by that calendar. We got clothes before school started; we got clothes for Christmas; we had to make our shoes last until school ended and try not to bust out of anything else we wore until we could go barefoot and run around in patched clothes.

After the children left home, I thought we could forget about the school calendar--except that I began teaching. Whoops! Here we go again with the school calendar.

Then the grandchildren started school and we began to schedule everything around when they could come visit with us. Oh the wonders of the school calendar and three-day breaks for teachers' in-service days!

Somewhere in the background of my memory are school closings for cotton picking, pecan crops, and other necessary tasks that required the assistance of the family's children. My personal calendar never included those breaks, but at least school openings used to consider the vagaries of the weather. Children cooped up in a hot building was not conducive to intellectual stimulation, so school was released at the end of May and began sometime in September. However, ask any older teacher what it is like to have 40 to 60 little bodies steaming in a warm room in the wintertime, and it is easy to understand how really cold weather could be just as difficult as very hot weather for classrooms.

One of these days our schools will not be part of our calendars because technology will enable parents to have children educated at home without a live teacher. The children may lose all sense of having a personal calendar; no last day of school will tantalize them with its closeness. But while they may lose the sense of anticipation of the beginning or ending of classes--and socialization that comes of being crammed into a room with umpteen other children--they will also have the advantage of learning at their own pace. No cotton pickin' duties will call them away from their studies or pecans roll away from their fingers. They will just have to create their own personal calendars based on their own needs. Those calendars may really create havoc on grandparents, but it may be the best havoc that ever came our way. Grandkids and grandparents rule!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas on the Ranch

I didn't write this little 'pome' and its author was listed as anonymous when it came to me. But I certainly like the attitude, whoever originated it.

'Twas the night before Christmas & out on the ranch
The pond was froze over & so was the branch.
The snow was piled up belly-deep to a mule.
The kids were all home on vacation from school,
And happier young folks you never did see-
Just all sprawled around a-watchin' TV.

Then suddenly, some time around 8 o'clock,
There came a surprise that gave them a shock!
The power went off, the TV went dead!
When Grandpa came in from out in the shed
With an armload of wood, the house was all dark.
"Just what I expected," they heard him remark.
"Them power line wires must be down from the snow.
Seems sorter like times on the ranch long ago."

"I'll hunt up some candles," said Mom. "With their light,
And the fireplace, I reckon we'll make out all right."
The teen-agers all seemed enveloped in gloom.
Then Grandpa came back from a trip to his room,
Uncased his old fiddle & started to play
That old Christmas song about bells on a sleigh.
Mom started to sing, & 1st thing they knew
Both Pop & the kids were all singing it, too.
They sang Christmas carols, they sang "Holy Night,"
Their eyes all a-shine in the ruddy firelight.
They played some charades Mom recalled from her youth,
And Pop read a passage from God's Book of Truth.

They stayed up till midnight-and, would you believe,
The youngsters agreed 'twas a fine Christmas Eve.
Grandpa rose early, some time before dawn;
And when the kids wakened, the power was on.
"The power company sure got the line repaired quick,"
Said Grandpa - & no one suspected his trick.
Last night, for the sake of some old-fashioned fun,
He had pulled the main switch - the old Son-of-a-Gun!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Baby It's Cold Outside!

The children of the family “furnished” our household with animals over the years.  Currently a dog of indecent ancestry and a Norwegian Forest cat dominate the premises.  We won’t discuss the Boston Terrier and Labrador incident, but Harley B was the result.  He isn’t really “our” dog; we are dog sitting for the youngest son.  The fluffy grey cat with hairy paws was the result of the compassion of the youngest son; he was a rescue—the cat, not the son.

Harley isn’t prepared to stay outside in this cold weather.  Yes, he has a dog house, but he also has the terrier coat—too light for outdoors in Texas winters.  Oliver Twisted is supposed to be a house cat—at least, we tell him he belongs in the house.  But both animals are convinced that they need to be as close to us as possible right now.  They seem to think we need our laps warmed or feet cuddled.

The dream I had about a motor boat was a direct result of having a sneaky cat curled and purring around my head one night, but normally we really don’t want our animals in our bed.  However, whether animals are kept in crates or in a separate room from the rest of the family, most pets should not be out in this cold.  It is just too severe.  Fresh water in a pan or bowl—unconnected to the toilet—plenty of food, and their own bed (or couch, or chair, or top shelves of a bookcase—depending on your cats’ tastes) are about the least we can furnish our pets right now.

The only lovely thing about winter—other than the lack of mosquitoes—is the fact that we know spring is next.  Spring brings its own problems--shedding, more heartworm meds, hairballs, and wild dances in the mint beds---but at least the animals can sleep outside when the weather is warmer.  Everyone else may be looking forward to Christmas and New Year’s.  I am looking forward to having a certain cold nose a warmer shade of pink.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Just for Fun!

Just for today, just for fun…how often does a day come and go and leaves that sense of accomplishment or pride in a job well done or even leaves the memory of the smiles or laughter created? Years ago my work schedule allowed only the Christmas break for surgery. At one of the local stores we found a Christmas nightshirt with striped stockings. On the shirt a straggly Santa sat astride one of the reindeer while making the comment, “Ho, ho, whatever.” The nurses got the idea and laughed with me.

With so many people out of jobs, it may be difficult for some to feel much of a sense of accomplishment. Not everyone gets a charge out of super neat closets or a tool box as clean as a lunch box. So….how do we ‘accomplish’ something? What about the things we all put off until ‘someday’ when we have time? Here it comes…..ORGANIZE your world!

Separate the family pictures so each child can have a copy. Give an album to each child as a present or as a happy surprise. Don’t forget to label so that the next generation will have a clue when memories fade.

Get those files in the filing cabinet whittled down to the necessary. Pitch what is out of date or otherwise useless. LABEL each file and put them in alphabetical order—remember? A, B, C…?

Oh look! The bookcases are full to overflowing. [Disregard the tacky comments from the collector of Mustang Magazine!] We’ve already given away the Encyclopedia Britannica in favor of Google, so don’t say we are afraid to give away books! Dictionaries do change, but just how many are necessary? And about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales….in ‘ye olde English’ already!

Does everyone have a junk cabinet? Where else would one keep the shoe polish, duct tape, extra batteries, furniture polish, flea shampoo, and an extension cord or two? Maybe just a good cleaning and stacking would make this one look/feel better.

A friend suggested that we invite someone over to "inspect" the cabinets and under the sink just so we could feel our chests swell with pride. Now that sounds like a good party opener! A house cleaning party--but at MY house first! Fang can have friends over to help him clean tools and stack paint cans. The friends have to help get rid of stuff, however. My friend says that her guy just restacks stuff and won't throw things away. SO...we have a deal; she throws away MY stuff and I throw away HER stuff and neither of us takes home any more 'good stuff' to add to our collections. How much trouble could that possibly cause? Can you see this big evil grin?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Good Help Is Hard to Find

Jerry gets up at 5:30 on the mornings that he goes to work; he said that he hoped to get off tonight by 7:30 if nothing came up.  Alice zipped up and down the halls all day today and took a deep breath long enough to smile and tell me that her home is in Vernon.  Joyce and I talked about how things have changed in nursing and how much she appreciated working with Alice.

These three people and the many techs and specialists who work together have been taking care of MIL.  Each time one shift goes off, another comes on to take over her care.  Tomorrow it may be Mary, Jody, and Jo Ann, but their names will be on the board opposite MIL’s bed.  The board is nice, but all of the employees are good to tell MIL who they are each time they talk to her.

Today was busy with surgery and the post op procedures for more than one patient.  But every time one of the crew stepped into the room, that person stayed long enough to take care of whatever needed to be done.  With fifteen patients to care for, it is a wonder they stayed calm and could even remember to take a deep breath.  But their attitude was never flustered or frustrated.

Andy came today and while he replaced a connection on a piece of equipment, he asked if there were any changes or improvements that could be made to their service.  Why change a good thing?  Alice was organized and did whatever needed to be done.  Joyce never rushed when she worked with MIL and was as gentle as if Joy were the only patient she had.  Jerry knew exactly how to talk to MIL and make her happy even when he changed the oxygen tubes that she was fighting.

Yes, good help is hard to find, but apparently URHCS has found some of the best.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chicken Soup and Biscuits

Some people just have to have a certain food or drink during a sickness.  Maybe it is an Americanism to want chicken soup, but today I ordered chicken soup for MIL for the THIRD time.  She never remembers if she has eaten or not, so I suppose she won’t get tired of something like chicken soup.  But she did tell me that she knows that anything she raises is going to taste good.  It’s been nearly thirty years since leaving the farm, raising her chickens, milking the cows, and fattening out a steer for beef.  But I assured her that her chicken soup would always be good.

While we talked about chickens, I reminded her of how wonderful I always thought her chicken and dumplings tasted.  She made the dumplings with her biscuit recipe—a recipe I was never able to duplicate.  Then I told her about my first attempt at making biscuits after Fang and I married.  He really TRIED to eat one, but I had to throw them out to the dog.  The dog couldn’t hack them either apparently because we saw her bury them in the flower bed out front.  Years later when we decided to dig up the flower bed, we found those biscuits only slightly worse for the wear than a rock.  Even the earthworms wouldn’t try them!

As I was feeding my MIL today she looked up at me and said, “I hope I never have to return this favor for you.”  She meant that she hoped that I never needed that kind of help.  But she has already done it.  When our youngest child was just a little critter, he nearly fell off the bed and I caught him.  I knew it hurt my arm and back, but the next morning I thought I was really messed up when it hurt to move or breathe.  Dr. Schaffner told us that I had torn some kind of muscle and had to lie flat of my back for ten days to give it a rest while taking muscle relaxants.  I had no idea how I was going to take care of my family and lie down at the same time.  Fang said not to worry and called his mom.  She came and took care of everything.  She even taught Little Boy the story of the Three Little Pigs.  I heard that story at least 15 times a day.  I finally had to ask MIL to teach him another story, but the new story still had the huff and puffs in it because he liked those and the chinney chin chins.

Oh, it doesn’t matter if the chicken soup comes out of a can and if the biscuits never saw real cow’s butter, but I wish MIL could understand how much The Three Little Pigs meant to me then and still does when I think of the love she gave us.  Maybe that is what we are looking for in that soup can—the loving care of our mothers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How Quickly Life Changes

Tonight we left the local hospital where Fang's mom is lying in Buck's traction.  Her situation reminds us of just how quickly life can change.  Five years ago she was still working as a nurse; now she has lived in a nursing home for two years.  Just recently we noticed that she didn't call us by name, so we would call out each other's name to help her.  Oh, she knows us, but the names don't always come out for her.  This is just part of the slow slide into the human mind that comes to some of us if we are around long enough.

Even with double pneumonia and a broken hip, today she picked back at the doctors and nurses.  That is part of her charm.  One doctor from some Eastern European country came in and asked her how she was.  She got out, "Fine as frog's hair" before she ran out of air.  The little nurse with him tried to explain to him that it was an expression.  I just shook my head and told her that the man obviously didn't speak Texan.

Senile dementia is difficult for everyone involved.  So much of the time, MIL makes perfectly good sense.  Then she woke up from a short little nap (induced by the morphine, no doubt) and tried to explain to her nurse that she really appreciated the recipe that she made for her.  Hers was better than anyone else's recipe.  Blank looks on our faces and just nodding our heads and smiling.

Then I dared to appreciate a compliment she gave to me when she told the doctor that "This is my daughter-in-law and she has been such a blessing."  I really do hope that is how she feels.  

Our hospital is busy around the clock.  It makes one wonder how the staff ever gets it all done.  And it also makes me wonder how older people can get the care that they are going to need without family with them.  A lady across the hall had no one with her.  She cried most of the night according to my sister-in-law.  I would never want that to happen to MIL.  But nurses can't stand there and soothe and talk to the patients until they are quiet and comfortable.  MIL KNEW we were there, and it was as comforting to us to be there for her as it was to her to HAVE us there.

Life is too precious to throw it away or to decide it is not worth the bother.  Young or old, we all have something to offer others.  MIL still has a smart mouth---the nurse asked, "How are you feeling?"  Her answer, "With my fingers!"  That was worth a smile.  

We don't want our parents--or anyone--to hurt, but even pain can't totally take away a personality.  That indomitable spirit has value to show us life's worth--even when it changes so quickly and drastically.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gone to the Dogs

Our neighbors’ granddaughter is coming home tonight from the Children’s Hospital in Dallas.  The young aunt and uncle are responsible for doing a ‘thorough’ cleaning of the house in preparation for her arrival.  “No pets” was apparently one of the major rules sent home by the doctors.  That means the dogs have to go; the birds have to go; and the snake…well, the uncle thinks that he may get to keep his snake if the child doesn’t handle it.  I never would have thought of a snake as being a relatively clean creature.  Go figure.
It is so easy to think that we are all relatively safe from viruses or their bad effects until something slaps us in the face.  This child came home from daycare with a virus that shut down her kidneys.  Now she will be on dialysis.  Her mother and grandmother have trained to do the procedure at home, but this is a very active little girl—or at least she was active.
However wonderful new procedures may be that allow us to live more freely, we seem just as susceptible to sicknesses as did any of our forefathers.  In fact, we may be exposed to a multitude of viruses simply because of technology.  While I would never suggest that we all take up pen and paper rather than a keyboard, I do believe that sharing a keyboard, a telephone receiver, or any office machine can easily put us in contact with tough little germs.  And think of the surfaces that come in contact with our children!
No one wants to be obsessive about cleanliness, but it may be time for us to rethink germ control whether it is at home, in the office, in a hospital, or in a daycare center.  Some of the vegetables that are not easily cleaned with water are now irradiated to kill germs before they are even shipped to stores.  Where is the entrepreneur who will give us a simple device to use to kill viruses?  Our moms used hot soapy water, sunshine, bleach, and scrubbed us until we yelled calf rope.  But we can’t do that to a keyboard.  Here is a need.  Are any inventors available?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dirty Dogs, Messy Kids, and Just Some Men

Living on the lake, our dogs quickly became experts at finding the nastiest dead fish or other species of stinking critter when the children took them on their daily exploration trips. The children finally gave up watching out for dead things because the dog(s) were permanently banned from the house. In all probability, if they could have managed a club house big enough for all three or four or more children, the kids would have been willing to stay outside as well. It wasn’t that they minded taking baths and cleaning up, it was just SO much fun to get totally yucky dirty and come home and rinse off under the water hose. If they got chilled, they all piled in the big tub for a warm bath—clothes and all. Sitting here shaking my head and remembering a room full of kids and towels everywhere.

Over the years the children brought home a couple of ducks that had been wounded and needed attention. Fang wasn’t too appreciative when he came home tired from work and found a duck in the bathtub, but that beat the big fish that he had to kill and clean because Mom didn’t ‘do’ fish. But the day he came home and found Ma Bell in the bathroom just about frosted his flakes. The kids were concerned that someone’s rabbit was loose and the neighbor’s dogs were chasing it. We caught the rabbit, and she dropped her first baby right on the doorstep. Before she was through, she had produced six bunnies and had stripped all the plastic off the telephone cord—thus the name Ma Bell. At least the number of little rabbits was handy—one for each hand for three children.

Our grandchildren visit for a week at a time and always manage to get impossibly dirty—even the little girl. They roast wieners, climb trees, dig in the dirt, and paint anything that isn’t moving. The boys always look for geckos or lizards in the summer time, and little girl wants to paint pretty pictures or decorate things—glue, glitter, polish, shiny things, and tiny beads. But whatever Fang is doing, even if it involves grease and grime, ALL the grandchildren want to be a part of it.

Which brings us to the real kids: men—at least SOME men—just love to get dirty. Just like a pile of dirt is an open invitation to little boys, something with a motor and a little grease calls to some men like the sirens of the fabled seas. Anything that requires a big shiny wrench or one of those things that says ‘impact’ has an irresistible lure to it. A few hundred pounds of torque means something to some men. And if the tool can make a humongous amount of noise, so much the better.

Fang took a course under Dr. Phil Plubell and learned how to take apart and put together a computer. In fact, he even built a new computer for me. Now he is working on a laptop and a remote system that is way beyond my understanding of computers. But when the weather is pretty, the grass will begin to grow and give him an excuse to go outside and play with his big tractor. He will dig a few holes, topple a tree or two, and spread an acre of gravel or two. Then he will have to ‘service’ the tractor. That means he gets to get greasy, grungy dirty, and as happy as a man can get. And frankly, that must be the best kind of man because those boys grew up to be good men, and they are just like him.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Raising Teenagers

One lady we know used to go around town telling other people how to raise their children; and some people actually thought that she was some sort of expert.  But she had no children; she was a teacher.  Somehow being a teacher is not quite the same as being a parent.  The two are not necessarily interchangeable.

Early in American history, parents would ‘exchange’ children or send their children to apprentice under someone who had a desirable or necessary trade.  If a blacksmith was needed and someone had a sturdy teenager who needed to sweat out some of the hormonal influences of his age, the young man was sent to live with or work under a village smithy.  A young girl was sent to learn dressmaking or put to work in a hotel cooking or cleaning.  The young people might not have been terrifically happy about the situation, but the substitute parents had no emotional ties to the young ones and could easily ‘correct’ them without distressing themselves.

At one point when our last two children were entering their teens, I wished for a farmer who had need of a good hand with fence building and wrangling or maybe a camp in need of a teenager who could keep up with about fifteen or twenty little kids.  We didn’t have a horse or a cow for a kid to chase, and the dog couldn’t outlast them, so we had to deal with the roller coaster of living with emotional teenagers.  Remembering back today at how helpless we felt, I can well understand why to some parents Nebraska looks like the perfect place to take teenagers.

Recently an insurance agent related to us his visit to the school where his son was walking down the hall swinging his arms.  The teacher scolded the child for not walking straight and with his hands at his sides.  Sitting here thinking about what constitutes a child, I think that woman was WAY out of line.  The parent told her she was lucky that the boy was walking, much less walking straight and not swinging his arms.  The kid is ADHD—another term for uncontrollably antsy.

Kids NEED physical exercise and a place to vent.  If I had my way, each child would have his or her own donkey by age 8 and a horse by age 12.  And the CHILD would care for and groom the animal before school and ride after school each day for at least an hour.  A donkey teaches balance as no other animal can.  It also can teach patience.  A horse gives a child a companion who can love back and who can give the child some area of life to control.

Horses have become luxury items or liabilities for some families.  But for parents who have teenagers who need someplace to grow up just a little, I would definitely recommend a good horse farm.  Maybe by the time the grandchildren need a horse—probably next year—we will be able to find someone who needs a little wrangler to help care for critters.  Hmm.  Seems like someone in the family has a horse ranch in Pennsylvania.  That is just a bit farther than Nebraska . . .

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Ok, it was that--ok.  As fairy tale/wizard tales go, it was ok.  I don't know what I expected, but after enjoying the Harry Potter books, well . . .The Wizard and the Hopping Pot plus the The Fountain of Fair Fortune were good replacements for almost any fairy tale I remember from my youth.  The Warlock's Hairy Heart had a moral that may not have been exactly what was intended by the author--a woman with a good heart should never associate with a heartless person.  Anyway, the tales are not for small children--but maybe most fairy tales we heard as children weren't all that good for little ones either....a wolf who ate Grandma...a witch who caged children until they were fat enough to eat....Sheesh.  Come to think of it, maybe The Tales of Beedle the Bard are pretty good.

At least the money from the book goes to a good cause.  

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rebel in Blue Jeans

Beverly Stowe McClure wrote a good book--considered a 'YA'--young adult book. Shucks. I haven't been that young in a while, but I still enjoyed the book. It deals with parents separating and other issues that arise in the lives of young people. I would whole-heartedly recommend it as reading material for both the parents and the teens of parents who must face the confusion caused by separations. While I can pray that this never happens to any of our children or grandchildren, the situation is handled realistically and with genuine understanding. When I hand this one over to the oldest grandson to read, we will get another viewpoint. He will recognize the 'good guys' in this story and probably grin at the 'boy humor' in many of the scenes.

I hope that Mrs. McClure continues to handle topics of this nature. Her books will definitely find a place on my book shelves and on my gift list.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Where Never Is Heard

Ok.  The moon and earth and a couple of planets are lined up and dumping out their presence into the atmosphere—and then moving on in the course of the heavens.  And I have to tell you, it is really strange.  Yes, I know; strange things happen every day.  In fact, the best liar around could not make up some of the strange things that really happen to real people in this world.

Each day this week, some discouraging words filtered over the Internet or the TV to add to the already bleak economic outlook.  The people who try to sell scrap metal can’t even sell metal because no end products are being sold.  Not only is recycling not paying—neither is producing nice big cars, according to the Big Three in Detroit.  Those who don’t have jobs don’t buy anything beyond basic necessities.  When no one buys products, businesses lay off or let employees go—no matter the consequences.

Just to add a note of ironic humor—one company decided to lay off several thousand workers—both full-time and part-time employees.  The company also intended to adjust the wages downward of all remaining employees.  Only one glitch changed their plans:  the computers which needed to be adjusted for the financial changes only ‘spoke’ COBALT—and the only employees who were capable of ‘speaking’ that language had already been laid off.

Americans are caught between possibilities and pragmatics.  Technology advances daily, yet more and more families lose the ability to touch the possible while dealing with the realistic.  No handouts of dairy products, peanut butter, and beans can make enough difference for those who want to work and can’t find a job.  Men, and some women, identify themselves with their work.  How is an unemployed America going to recognize itself?

Yes, things are strange when one’s child figuratively puts his hand on the parent’s shoulder and says, “God has always provided—not just for our needs, but even for some of the ‘wants.’  Just be patient.  It will be ok.”

Oh, for such an encouraging word for all those who have lost their jobs!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oh Pioneers!

No cowboy and Indian wars loom over the horizon.  The cavalry has gone off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.  So where are the pioneers?  Oh, they are just over in the next county—or down the street.  But don’t look for men with rifles and women with long skirts.  Instead, look for those brave souls who are seeking a way to fight stagflation, recession, depression, and general lack of confidence in a ‘standard’ way of life.  But that does not mean that they lack for enemies other than attitude.  Hand held to eyes to shade the glare from all the ‘super stars,’ prize athletes, politicians, and ‘trumped’ up billion or millionaires…

No bank robbers with masked faces staked out accounts this past year, but the one-armed bandit down at the gas station still did a pretty good job of depleting the budget.  And no one wore a mask at the checkout counters scanning the groceries.  So the new pioneers have their battle lines drawn; but what weapons will prevail against doubt, dismay, and double digit inflation?

The Great Depression of the 30s found the pioneers of the economic battlefront making do or doing without.  But most of them had never heard of credit—much less a credit card.  Today’s pioneer goes to battle carrying the burden of past excesses.  Now the jobless who carry credit card debt have no choices left—housing, transportation, food—just the essentials of life—these are no longer choices.

Years ago and several generations back, the backwoods cabin in Jack County had a rock cistern for water and a rock trail hewn down the side of the mountain to level ground.  A mule, a rifle, a fireplace, and a bit of luck with the wildlife provided sustenance.    Each of those pioneers was a ‘small business owner.’  Somehow those pioneers survived to invest in the county co-op.

In New York City, Dallas, or in Wichita Falls, a mule, a rifle, and a fireplace might not help anyone survive today.  But, like those early pioneers, we still need to feel it is worth our while to invest in our community—investing by building homes, buying local products, or raising our families here.  Most are willing to work for that investment—when work is available.   Even a pioneer needs a plow, a hammer, a way to connect with community.  All over our country we need those tools; they are called jobs.  Hooray for the ‘small’ business pioneer who can provide even one more job!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Floor Wax, Yeast Breads, and Mother’s Soup

Memories spark up like static electricity when certain smells and colder weather hit at the same time.  Mother always waxed the hardwood floors with Johnson paste wax before the holidays.  She always baked fresh breads, but it smelled better when the weather was cold.  And then she made soup.  Cold weather and Mother’s soup were meant for each other like ducks and shotguns were made for hunters.

Years ago when our house was full of young things and all their shoes, boots, and clumps of icy gloves, we would have a pot of soup and I would remember home.  And when I baked fresh bread, we always had to have two loaves without any heels left because each child and a husband thought that was the best part of a loaf.  And I remembered home.

Will the coffee and freshly flipped pancakes be the smells that awaken memories for our little ones?  Maybe it will be furniture polish.  Whatever sparks their memories, we can always hope that those memories will bring them home again.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

If Onlys and Should Have Beens

In the best of all possible worlds, everyone would consider each thought, action, and word and their effects on others. No one would suffer from an inferiority complex or lack of role models in life. All animals would be properly cared for; all children would be avid readers; all teachers would truly love students and teaching; all companies would have work for employees for a lifetime; everyone would be conservative and ecologically conscious of the environment. Every idea would be considered on the basis of value to life.

If only ideas were implemented as easily as words are spoken, those plants by the roadside that we consider weeds would be converted into biofuels. Acres of scrub mesquite would be uprooted and converted into building materials and fuels. Acres of prickly pear cactus would burn as clean fuel in our vehicles—vehicles which would be made from recycled plastics into a rubbery substance which would not break when bumped into a curb. The current billions of acres of plastics floating in our oceans would be reclaimed and made into building materials—providing millions of jobs in the reclamation process.

And as long as the perfect world exists, the huge holes punched into the landscape of Arkansas in the search for bauxite for aluminum would be reopened and converted into strip mines and then refilled and converted into gigantic gardens to feed the nation healthy foods untainted with poisons. The poisonous waters in those deep mines would be reclaimed and recycled into clean waters for drinking and irrigation. The poisonous residues from the water would provide another source of fuel for vehicles specifically used for farming—without contaminating either the soil or the atmosphere.

Finally, in the best of all possible worlds, all institutions from banks to governmental agencies would operate with scrupulous honesty and common sense. If only.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Commodity of Life

Unlike Roosevelt, we can’t claim that Black Friday will be a date that goes down in infamy; in fact, unless we read some of the headlines, we might not even have noticed that an occurrence on this particular Friday should have shocked and shamed us.  Ignoring headlines or the lack thereof, the shame remains for those who simply care more for things than for people.  Acquisition of things (or the desire for things) led the pack through the doors and over the body of a man who was trampled to death in New York.  How utterly shameful!

When the shoppers/murderers were asked to leave because a man had been killed, they argued that they had stood in line since Thursday and were here to shop, refusing to leave until forced to do so.  Callus is not quite the word for these people.  Starving wild boars and sows can at least be herded.  Insensitive belligerence should be treated with the cattle prods necessary to deal with unruly livestock.

What part of sanity completely unhinges for the word ‘sale’?  What part of civilization is so ‘civilized’ that a most ‘developed’ country can suffer a stampede of greed?  How can anyone justify hanging a big screen TV on the wall if its acquisition directly led to the death of an innocent person?  Has life truly become a dispensable commodity?

God forgive us!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Word Play

Thanksgiving was quieter this year than ever.  The grandchildren were calm and unusually quiet and were ready to eat when the adults sat down to ask the blessing.  Of course, at least one came back to the table to protest that all she really wanted was turkey without all that other “stuff.”  But other than the usual requests and compliments, it was a quiet group that sat at our son and daughter-in-law’s table.

Most unusual was the one phone call that we actually made ourselves in order to include our youngest son and his lady in our day.  That was one of the few times that everyone seemed to be talking at once and laughing about what happens when we feed leftovers to the family dog.  But little conversations eddied around the room and were easily heard by anyone interested.  And wonder of wonder, everyone seemed interested in whatever someone mentioned.

We can be very thankful for the improvements in communications today.  Calling that family member thousands of miles away makes us feel much less alone.  But the ubiquitous cell phone has had an unfortunate side effect that just frosts my flakes.  Some people seemingly want to include everyone within earshot in their conversations.  Oh, they don’t REALLY want to include anyone; they just seem to want everyone to know that the phone call is so important—or that the recipient is so important.  Once in a while I really wonder if someone is on the other end of that call—but PLEASE don’t put the caller on speaker phone to prove it!

New words come along all the time to explain our behaviors.  “Communifaking” covers the desire to appear to be communicating when we really are not.  Now that we have the word, surely we can try to understand the desire—or can we?

The restful quiet that our minds require does not necessarily represent solitude.  The house was quite full of children and adults on Thanksgiving Day.  And we all had reason to be truly thankful for the blessings of health and happiness.  Within the family no one felt the need to seem more important than anyone else.  No one needed to communifake or exaggerate to feel loved or appreciated.  Any play that could take place after that sumptuous and satisfying meal had to involve word play among the adults because we were simply too satiated to do anything physically demanding.

If this nation needs one blessing any more than another, surely being quietly capable of restful listening is one we could seek.  Word play should be an exchange, not a display of disruptive dialogue like communifaking.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Family Elm

Trees have families occasionally. Oh, the ones out there along the highways may not all have families, but some trees do. The old elm out front on this street definitely has its family. It grew up in the Dickerson fence from some dirt that came up from the Bonita farmland. Fang’s dad didn’t pull it out of the fence line when it was little, and it grew to be bodacious before the family even grew up and the kids were grown. By the time we got married, it towered over the yard and the front end of the house like a many-armed sentinel. It sucked up all the moisture from the front flower beds and dropped bushels of leaves all over the roof and yard, but it also provided shade and a refuge for birds.

By the time our children were old enough to climb trees, the tree was too tall to be safe climbing territory. A few swings hung from the lower limbs for a few years, but it was safe from the tree house mania which warped a few other trees around the yard.

Struck by lightning several years ago, one of the stranger characteristics seems to be a whiter streak of wood down one side of the old elm. And the worrywart of the family had some of the lower branches which hung over the roof removed about the time the lightning struck. The result of storms, worrywarts, and the electric company mandatory trimming has changed the overall shape of the old elm, but not its character.

This afternoon a certain unnamed grandson walked his way up to the very wide crotch of the tree. He used a webbed tie down as a rope and threw its hook across the crotch to snag a younger branch. When I finally saw where he was and where his little sister was demanding to go as well, I had the proverbial hissy fit and insisted that he come down immediately. Unfortunately, the child is genetically aligned with his grandmother’s inability to go back the same way he goes forward. My mother taught me to get down from wherever I had decided to climb by refusing to help me get down. A grandmother does NOT refuse to get a grandson down, so I hauled out a ladder and then made him help me put it away after he was down.

This old elm has its family, but I plan to keep it a nice arm’s-length relationship. No climbing—only shading and shedding. They can rake up piles of leaves for jumping in, through, or among, but the limbs need to remain childless. Some family members serve best who only stand and shade.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tall Tales and Bible Stories

Back when our first child went off to public school, we wanted him to know the difference between tall tales, fairy tales, and stories from the Bible. Even back then a story circulated about the two little boys who were discussing Satan. One told the other that Satan was sure to turn out to be just like Santa—just his dad after dark.

Ignorance is pretty pathetic, but determined ignorance is deplorable. We don’t need to study Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic to know the basics of the Bible any more than we need to learn BASIC computer programming to use a computer. But some things are pretty essential to sharing in the foundations of American thought patterns. Our laws are based—for the most part—on the Judeo-Christian heritage—the Ten Commandments. If we break it down to the two great commandments, we still acknowledge that there is a power or authority above all men and that we are our brother’s keeper.

At one time, when I did my first teaching of adult classes at college level, I naively assumed that every student would know the story of the three little pigs. A young man from the inner city area of Houston assured me that bedtime stories were not a part of his childhood. During that same year, a fellow student asked me about the story of Job because we were studying the play J.B. by Archibald MacLeish. Again, ignorance had the power to astound me.

While the level of ignorance has become more understandable because of the proliferation of different kinds of knowledge, some things are simply too basic to ignore. Our children and grandchildren are quite capable of text messaging and using the controls to the X-box with a dexterity that would astound many an older craftsman. And the children continue to practice these skills as if becoming proficient might determine the direction of their lives. Who knows? Perhaps these are the skills of the future. However, the ability to read, the ability to understand and apply knowledge to their lives, and the ability to discern the connections between the laws of the spirit as opposed to the rules of governments will determine the quality of life for future generations.

If our children and grandchildren have no sense of the origin of our social mores, they will not understand why we have lived our lives as we have. Whether it is an elective taught during zero hour or an extracurricular activity after school, Texas has made a good step in the right direction by offering the Bible as a class for our young people. No matter who teaches the classes—ministers or English teachers—nobody’s brand can cover up the entire hide and hoof to disguise what is really in that book: His Story.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Smorgas--What? Smorgasbord!

Well, if the black and white termite will settle down on the saddle blanket we put down for him, we might make it through another cool night. This critter doesn’t have the triple fur coat that our Chow had, so he gets a little cold outside. Naturally, that means he gets to come in with the rest of the family, including the cat hanging off my shoulder at the moment. No, the dog doesn’t get to rest on my shoulder, but if he thought I would let him, he would try. Oliver Twisted just tries to help with my computer keyboard, but he can’t spell any better than Fang can.

Cold weather has its advantages. Granted that perspiration was rolling off my nose today as I painted near the ceiling, but at least we didn’t need air conditioning just to stay in the house. But cold weather does seem to make paint dry a little slower. We have two rooms to paint and one wall to repaint in the kitchen. The lady at Sutherland’s wanted to know if we would EVER be finished with all our work on this house. I am not sure that it is even possible to ‘finish’ a house if a person plans to live in it or keep living in it. And we really don’t do things to the house just to have something to do or just to have a fresh change.

Our DIL has inspired Fang to do something a little different when painting this time. I suppose it is the new fashion to have the walls different colors in the same room. Our entire house has been one color ever since we completed the major part of the ‘overhaul’ or remodeling. Sutherland’s doesn’t sell that color any longer, so now we have a major change in the room which used to be the office—one wall is now R-E-D. Something about a little red wagon . . .The rest of the room will be a tan color called ‘dried stem.’ One thing about it, we aren’t likely to lose that little red wagon amongst all that dried grass.

Fashion has never been one of our biggest concerns—or even ONE of our concerns; but it is not that difficult to understand that some people’s tastes differ drastically from others. Cars, music, TV shows, or even the latest in technology are some of the areas that exhibit differences in taste. And then there are things that never change: religion and politics, civil liberties and senior disorganization, pot holes and public excuses, animal rights and biogenetics, global warming and nasty hangnails. Oh, if our tastes are somewhat eclectic, we can find just about anything for agreement or disagreement should we care to discuss our concerns. It’s wonderful to have such a smorgasbord of choices. But we can be most thankful for cold weather. At least we know it WILL change.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No Laughing Matter!

Today a couple of ladies at the Texas Workforce Commission--now called Workforce Solutions--helped me hold my mouth just right to finally change some of the entries on some job applications. One lady seemed to think that it helped to hold one foot up in the air while attempting to get the right selection of forms and codes for same. If artists need the correct techniques to get beautiful results on canvas, in music, or in dance, these folks need more than practice in techniques. They need a magic wand!

Three of the women at TWC this afternoon seemed to be about on their last leg with fatigue, but they were still pleasant and very patient. To still have a sense of humor after a very busy day has to be an art form--or the outgrowth of empathy. Whichever, as difficult as it can be to have to search for employment, these people are there to make the attempts less stressful. Apparently they are mirrored all over the state of Texas--and all over the nation. Unemployment is not a laughing matter.

Saying that something is not a laughing matter always makes me smile and think the opposite. Nearly everything we take seriously has been made into a joke of some kind. For instance, the hijacking of that huge ship full of oil makes me want to suggest that we dress up a garbage ship off the East Coast to look as if it were valuable and send it to Somalia. Fix their wagons!

Here in WF we have a principal of a grade school who took the trouble to insist that repairs were much more sensible than new construction--to insist that a local small school was better for the students. Common sense! Hooray for common sense and American do-it-yourself enterprise! Those studies concerning the impact of new buildings or search committees for a new superintendent are more expensive than remodeling or running a job search with TWC. Local companies around here can do the construction work created by remodeling our buildings--especially since these are the days of fix it and make it do. And it wouldn't hurt to trust TWC to find a good man or woman for the superintendent's job! We have a good school board; let our school board interview a few folks sent to them by TWC. It looks like we can trust our school board's judgment of people.

No, TWC doesn't have a magic wand to replace lost jobs, and Wichita Falls doesn't have a fairy godmother; and even holding one foot up and grinning might not be very helpful. So what can we do for ourselves? We don't need to waste money on studies just because that is the way it has always been done (and it has NOT), and we can help create local jobs for those who are able to work. And no, despite helping to remodel this house as Fang's right-hand woman, I don't do construction work. But I admire those who can step outside the normal pattern to refuse to accept the closing of a school or who can have common sense enough to look for an employee who is qualified without having to hire a search team.

Patience and good humor--that's what the folks at TWC had today! Maybe it is because they are Wichitans. Wichitans always have to find a little bit of humor in life just to live here. Never can tell--maybe the next high wind will blow in a fairy godmother!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Harley's Pencil Habit

Today we received a small package containing a DVD, a note, and 39 cents. The return address was interesting: the rotten kid. The other address was almost that bad—something about the old folks. But the note inside explained the 39 cents—for Harley’s pencil habit. That blamed dog ate our carpenter’s pencil when it fell off the saw table. The pencil didn’t even get a chance to bounce!

We sat down and watched the DVD. Youngest son has now jumped out of an airplane into the wild blue yonder—and very quickly back down to old mother earth. It must have been a remarkable experience because he is still talking about it and finding ways to compare ‘normal’ life to what can be lived. If someone threw me out of a plane from any height—and I lived to tell about it—I would probably be pretty excited too.

The package we received was light weight and pretty funny. Then we went to Wally World and bought a very heavy package for Dad’s birthday. It’s noisy too, so he will be able to hear what he is getting for his 82nd birthday. Mom’s little package will not make much noise, but she won’t care. It is neat that their birthdays are within a day of each other and easy to remember. They get a year older right about Thanksgiving every year. Getting older still beats the alternative, and I suppose having birthdays is one habit we can keep.

Harley has a noisy habit—barking. Once in a while I look to see if he has actually discovered something worth the effort, but usually it is a stray cat, a squirrel, a motorcycle, or a sound from across the lake. The dogs on the other side of the lake have a Morse code all of their own. Two barks and a yip call for two woos and a woof from our back yard. If we ever break their code, we may discover a news source better than Fox ever hoped to be.

Other than making a little noise or shedding on everything with which he comes in contact, Harley’s only other bad habit is trying to be a lap dog. I honestly don’t know anyone with the right size lap for a Harley dog. And since carpenter’s pencils have lead in them, I guess we will just have to work on satisfying Harley’s main habit—chewing boots. If we can find one of those huge bones to let him drag around the back yard, maybe it will keep him off the tractor. If he ever learns to drive that thing, we are going to be in trouble! The insurance premiums for teenagers are terrible! And he is only four!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Smart Mouth!

They get it from us! Let’s not deny it—or even try to deny it. The kids get their smart mouths from us. Dr. Mardy Grothe had a quote from one of his readers this morning:

This week's contribution comes from Robert Kvinnesland, who writes:

After a heated argument with my keen-witted teenage daughter, I said in anger: "You know, since the day you were born, you've given me little joy!"

Without missing a beat, she smugly replied: "How about nine months before that?"

[Visit Dr. Mardy's web site: www.drmardy.com]

One daughter (who will remain nameless to protect the innocent—if there are any innocents left) was about to be chastised by her mother for a public display of affection. The mother began: “Young lady, when I was your age . . .”

That was as far as the mother got when the daughter reminded her that at HER age, the mother had a husband and two children. Mother went on about her business.

Then we heard about the teenager whose latest escapade garnered a lecture from his ‘other’ father figure. The kid cocked his head to one side and confided: “Don’t you think my dad really kind of DESERVES to have a kid like me.”

We have all heard the quips or maxims: You are paying for your raising; the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children; train up a child in the way he should go, and WHEN HE IS OLD, he will not depart from it.

Did you catch that last one? When he is OLD, he will not depart from it. It makes me wonder how old one has to be before one loses that smart mouth. I asked Fang, but he still isn’t sure if it was the training or the age thing; but he thinks I have a bit to go yet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Googling YouTube

Kim Komando’s Video of the Day » Blog Archive » Arnel Pineda: The full story

I like receiving the Kim Komando newsletters because she invariably finds some of the most interesting stories about people, animals, and events. The story of Arnel Pineda is typical of her finds. But Arnel is not your typical person as we think about 'typical' here in America. He was blessed with a loving mother and a voice with range and emotion. The two are a winning combination for him now, but getting from childhood to where he is now could not have been easy for him.

Journey was a popular band in the 80s and has created some major statistics for itself, but more importantly, it has developed a following among various generations. With the addition of Arnel Pineda as lead singer, Journey now has a following among those who want to believe in the fairytale possibilities of becoming an American singing idol.

YouTube has done it again. From distributing scientific inventions to a dream of dancing horses, we now have Internet connections for those who are looking for band members, mechanics for compressed air engines, and places of escape in nature. Whatever our minds can imagine, we can look for with Google and find on YouTube. Amazing!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bond with a Social Conscience

Quantum of Solace was an excellent movie—but not because it was another James Bond movie. Oh, the acting was good, the chase scenes exciting, the fight scenes believable, and the sex not quite so obviously a part of the ‘mystique’ of our favorite action hero. This time we saw no dazzling displays of future tech spy gadgets. The space-age hotel that blew up made me wonder why it managed to be so highly explosive, but the scenes from that part of the movie were particularly gripping. No, explosions, gun and knife fights while hanging from a rope and crashing through layers of glass and the usual cast of bad guys were all present and accounted for; but this was definitely not just another Bond movie.

The plot made sense without being grandiose—no moonrakers were going to colonize outer space this time. Instead, the eco-green movement became a force which contrasted poorer countries against the riches of their greatest natural resource—their—no, not oil. I won’t spoil the plot for anyone, but if I were to see this movie again, I would note who it was that stated: If we don’t do business with the bad guys, we won’t be able to do business at all.

Somehow we are never too sure who ARE the bad guys. If one nation can manipulate the political regimes of other countries, then are the manipulators as guilty as the leaders of those countries when people are made to suffer? As for the ‘silent consortium’ of schemers who work behind the scenes to control resources, one is made to think that this is more than a possibility.

Quantum of Solace is worth seeing. It leaves room for reflection.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Read It Again, Sam!

If all the books I have ever read were able to parade into this house and stack themselves against the walls, we would have to move out! When the children were little, it was very difficult to actually finish a book a week; so those people who don’t have children must have a much longer list of books than mine. My mother, father, and brother have always seemed to simply consume books the way some people eat potato chips—by the bag full. Amazing!

Attempting to ‘clean out’ the bookcases may be one of the more difficult chores for this family. Which books are really ‘necessary’ and which can be tossed or donated? Do we keep that ancient crumbling copy of Dodge Engines and Their Repair? What about A Guide to Old English? Somehow I honestly don’t think that either of us will ever need these books again.

One excuse for my own collection may no longer hold water: one of the children ‘might’ need a book on some particular subject. The Complete Works of Jack London might go to one of the children or grandchildren, but An Anthology of Modern English Poetry is not going to contain any of the ‘modern’ poetry from this generation. Sigh.

Some of the same problems we had in determining what to do with records and albums have now surfaced with VHS tapes and cassettes. We have outlived the technology of our youth. Our grandchildren wouldn’t even know how to play a 45 rpm record. They might know how to use a cassette tape, but in another ten years, children may wonder what those are and how they were used.

Today newspapers still have an appeal that online news sources, radio, and TV have not quite eclipsed. Something solid is in a piece of newsprint that announces certain accomplishments. The Internet seems so ephemeral in its content and capacity. And reading an e-book can be wonderfully cheap, satisfying, and otherwise brilliant, but being able to underline certain phrases in a book has never been more satisfying to some of us than it is now. No, the economic impact of the Web has definitely affected our local newspapers, but enough old timers still exist to keep ‘The Paper’ a necessity for our community.

Many of the stories we see in ‘The Paper’ seem to come straight off the Web, but enough local interest stories exist to keep most of us reading and waiting for our own particular brand of outlook. And let’s face it: a local newspaper reflects local values, concerns, and our particular needs. Generally speaking, we don’t really give a rat’s patootie that some idiot so-called man is in his second pregnancy. Our concern is for the young girls in our own community who should not yet be mothers. Economic stimuli for the nation matter to us, but jobs for the unemployed matter more. The cost of community services, the availability of good schools, and the future of our area: these are our immediate concerns. For these concerns, we have our local newspaper. Tomorrow I will pick up a copy and look at ‘the news.’

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

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Fang and HarleyB

Feeling Pretty Small

It never ceases to amaze me at the influence of teachers in our lives. It is absolutely scary! In all the years I taught, I can only hope that I never hurt the self-image of any of my students. It is almost certain that I hurt some feelings at least once. But students are not the only ones who can be hurt. Teachers have feelings too. No, our skins are NOT as thick as rhinocerous hide. Whether it is a comment from another teacher or some remark by a student, we all have feelings sitting out there on the sleeve not too far from our hearts.

Yesterday we hosted a luncheon of four friends who we got to know over the years as I taught. John is the sweetest and most humble person I have ever met. But he was the most patient man I have ever known as a teacher. Quietly pointing out how to accomplish each step of a task, he encouraged hundreds of students to 'learn to learn' on their own. He refused to do their work for them because he knew that they would have to be able to do it for themselves on the job. He reminded them of that truth daily. He retired this past spring, and it was a great loss to our group.

Phil had been working on his doctorate for some time, and we have all been calling him Dr. Phil for quite a while. He would grin and take everything in stride. Now he has been hired on by the local university to work as a full-time faculty member. He will be a great asset to that faculty. He taught Fang how to understand so much about computers and even how to make one of his own. Now if I had only been able to teach Fang how to do touch typing....

We all wondered how Dr. Phil had remained so calm during the past year after our favorite director retired. Well, the secret is out! When someone is sending nasty e-mails, just don't read any e-mails from that person. That works!

Cheryl taught business classes for six years and now is doing placement for the two days of the week that she is at the school. The rest of the time she is the youth minister for her church, a Girl Scout leader, a mother, a wife, and a new room builder with all that entails. In fact, one of the reasons for our friends' visit was to see the new office that Fang built for us. Next meeting will take place at Cheryl's house to see her new sun room. The day she was here she had cut 26 ceramic tiles and had 26 more to go.

It seems we all are builders in one way or the other. John is remodeling a house; Phil just remodeled a new home for his family. It is always great to feel a sense of accomplishment.

All of these friends have been teachers for years. I know that each has a love for teaching and a very real regard for their students. That is why it hurts so much to hear that a student has been made to feel small by comments from teachers. Words can raise us to another level; they can also take us to the depths of hell--IF WE LET THEM. Something Elenore Roosevelt said belongs here: We can only be made small--or whatever other injury someone intends--by others if we LET them.

The man who is featured in the news clip from this link reminds me that we don't have to be to feel small. Note that at the last part of the message, his life work has a dollar value for at least one other person. Not to say that a person's value has to be in dollars! I just don't believe that for a minute. But isn't it something that some people who received lemons can make such valuable lemonade.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

More Termites!

Sitting here shaking my head in wonder . . .The tree in the side lot next to the house has almost all the bark stripped totally away from the trunk from about a foot off the ground to about the height of a boy. True, the tree was already dead; but seeing the corpse standing there waiting for—well, what does a dead tree wait for? A good fire?

All three boys took part in stripping the bark from that old elm, and they probably worked harder at that task than anything that their parents ever required of them. Funny how a task like that can be fun if it is THEIR idea. Now if we had wanted that bark for some reason . . .
Little girl spent most of her weekend painting fingernails, playing with her new pink ‘cell phone’ chap stick holder, and doing an awesome job of very detailed coloring of all the ‘hello kitty’ pictures we could print off on the computers. She used her spare time to watch the boys build a fire, throw dirt clods, and dig in the dirt. But for the most part, she preferred the company of her Aunt J, her Paw Paw, or Oliver the cat. In fact, her bedtime partners had to include ‘Heavy Baby’ and the cat.

‘Heavy Baby’ actually had clothes on this weekend. A few times she has accompanied the girl and somehow managed to leave her clothes at home. However, on at least one of her visits, some of her clothes were applied to Oliver the cat. Oliver was patient, but not overly impressed by the selection of cat couture. But ‘Heavy Baby’ showed no resentment. She is the perfect little girl’s baby doll. Miss R’s other grandfather was asked to care for ‘Heavy Baby’ once while the little girl was waiting with him at a restaurant. Suddenly Granddaddy realized that the baby he had on his shoulder and was patting ever so gently was NOT one of his grandchildren. ‘Heavy Baby’ really doesn’t seem to mind if she is carried like a football.

Oh, my friend Carla says that all the greatest questions really all boil down to two: should I get a dog, or should I have children. My answer: why not both!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Termites and Gopher Wood

Nothing—and I mean nothing can try the patience of a carpenter—or even a semi-carpenter—like termites and gopher wood. Some years ago we discovered dry rot in a window sill and decided to replace the window unit in its entirety. Well, guess what! Dry rot in a window is just the beginning of problems for a house. Three years and every wall in the house later, we had totally remodeled our home except for one room. We really had no idea what to expect when we started this project!

All the sheetrock that we took out of the ceilings and walls was considered half inch thick, but the same size sheet weighed much more than what we put back up. Something had changed since the original house was built in 1951. We discovered other changes when we tried to measure and replace studs and other pieces of wood. It seems a 2 x 4 is no longer truly 2 inches by 4 inches—if it ever was. That means that all measurements that we made were more like guestimations. That has been so much fun. And, of course, over the years the house has settled a bit here and there. Even after the floor was leveled from underneath, I still think we lean toward the lake.

We are down to the last few strokes on that last room this week. The new wooden walls are up and we no longer wobble when we walk after the varnish finally aired out of the house. The laminate floor is laid and the trim is almost finished except for the side where the door goes. A door! Sitting here shaking my head and wishing I had held out for a beaded curtain! Anyone who has ever put in a door—pre-hung or otherwise—needs a medal IF he or she has managed to put one in without shouting, using barnyard language, or otherwise threatening the carpenter’s helper. To top it off, the black and white termite we call a dog was in the house today. Fang put something on the chop saw table and knocked off the carpenter’s pencil. I don’t think it even hit the floor before that darned dog ate the thing! Tonight we informed the youngest son that he owed us 39 cents for a new pencil. He wanted us to put it on his tab. Figures!

We finally sawed off enough on the bottom of the door that a full grown possum could walk under it, so maybe tomorrow we can get the door up and the final trim put in place. But first we have to find a drill strong enough to drill into gopher wood. It could be oak. Or it could be bois d’arc. Whatever kind of wood is in the top of that door frame must have become petrified or something. We visited Sutherland’s this afternoon and the lady at the counter wanted to know why we even bothered to come over there since we NEVER buy anything under $5. But today we bought a couple of good drill bits in hopes of drilling holes in that door frame. Maybe we could put that black and white termite on a ladder and let him CHEW holes in the door frame!

Sitting here wondering if Sutherlands and Fang are going to be able to adjust to not needing each other. Hmm. Maybe we can start on landscaping…

Thursday, October 30, 2008

If All Else Fails, Talk About the Weather

Some people are not going to be happy about anything and want everyone to know their opinions about everything from the price of stamps to the ubiquity of cell phones. About the only way to avoid a confrontational diatribe concerning their opinions is to get in the first word and keep going back to it in a positive manner—vociferously if necessary. The first word in Texas just has to be the weather.

If global warming has had any effect upon the weather in Texas, no one would notice. In fact, one July 1st, back in 1956, my grandmother and a friend were down on a creek bed for some reason when Grandmother snorted her opinion that it would be a cold day in hell when something happened. Not thirty minutes later a little snow shower fell on her and Faye Lyons. Now to this day I could not tell you what started that conversation, but it was Grandmother’s 50th birthday and her friend was trying to cheer her up. She apparently got her wish in a backhanded way; not everyone got snow on her 50th birthday—especially in July in Texas!

For quite awhile now my friends have been attempting to get me to check out every e-mail ‘factoid’ with snopes.com in order not to look like a fool when I passed on some opinion that I thought was based on fact. Not every opinion, ‘fact,’ or strange story will show up in Snopes right away, but eventually the controversial e-mails make it to that site to be checked for veracity. Learning to check for facts has also been interesting when ‘photo-shopped’ pictures make the same rounds of gullible folks like me. I just tend to believe what I want to believe. Proof of the facts certainly can deflate an opinion or a cherished belief in a hurry.

Now not everyone got to see that snow flurry back in ’56, but I would bet my upper plate on its occurrence if for no other reason than because of how much fun those two old ‘hens’ got out of that birthday gift. Snopes won’t be able to go back to Clay County weather records for that particular creek bed near the Zachry ranch, and you can bet no one from any other state who hadn’t ever seen a strange blue front roll in across the Red River Valley would believe the story. But at least that weather story probably wouldn’t cause a fuss in politics, religion, education, or which operating system is best for a computer. No sir, the weather just might be the best topic for right now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Pumpkins are so pretty. Well, they are not pretty like flowers or lovely flowering bushes, but in their own humble, bright orange way, they ARE pretty. They remind me that fall leads to Thanksgiving and family gatherings--and pumpkin pies. I am not fond of making pumpkin pies, nor do I do the carving thing. In fact, I have read that the great big pumpkins have very little taste. The little ones make good pies and good pumpkin soup or bread. I vote for the pies and bread. Anyway, here is my less messy offering for fall fun. Carve your own virtual pumpkin.

Happy Halloween !!!
This is addictive! Use the little blue knife to carve your pumpkin then press done - It's fun! http://www.coasttocoastam.com/timages/page/pumpkin_sim.html

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What to Leave Out

Grandmother Pollard had one of those little signs carved out of wood that looked as if it were the alphabet trying to find a word. After glancing at it in just the right manner, the sign would spell out Jesus. Other signs and t-shirts have words that can be read as opposites--love or evil, for instance. And recently a friend sent us a video of a fountain in a Japanese mall. The fountain spelled out words as the water fell. What struck me about these messages was the idea that what was left out was just as important as what was left in.

Clich├ęs like ‘less is more,’ advertising slogans or cartoon quips, and technological terms used as verb forms eventually become a form of shorthand communication. Our language is still evolving—so much so, in fact, that someone from our age could not have been understood in the early 1900s; nor would a person from our times understand many of the terms from those earlier days. If truth be told, English from country to country can be very difficult to understand without the differences produced by time, technology, and media influences.

Helpful articles about how much to put in a blog entry suggest that short blogs are easier to read—and more likely to be read. So perhaps leaving out certain indicators allows a reader to use his or her imagination to fill in the spaces. However, writing lacks the capacity for a smile and quick nod of the head without the use of words. No matter what age or manner of technology writing represents, the connections created by the writer for the reader will have gaps left for understanding; but those gaps only matter when the words filled into the spaces make sense to the reader.

A so-called language puzzle asks the question: how far can a wolf run into a forest. Supposedly the answer is half way because the wolf would then be running out of the forest. As far as I am concerned, the wolf has run “into” the forest as soon as he passes the first tree. After that he is running “in” the forest no matter which direction he might go.

The word-puzzle example highlights our dependence on the lowly prepositions—the same words that make me look totally ignorant in my use of French. Some terms simply do not translate when one attempts to use prepositions that have two or more meanings in a language. The only recourse given to a writer who has my particular limitations is to leave those suckers out and use active voice—put the blame on the subject where it belongs. Elisa Doolittle might have said that the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. I, on the other hand, would have to say: Rain hit Spain today!

Does it matter what is left out? Does ACCURACY matter? You decide.