SOMETHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT

School has been in full swing for a month now, the dog days of summer are over, Autumn is officially knocking on the door but we continue to be blessed with 100 degree weather. I say ‘blessed’ with tongue in cheek. This is Texas after all, and after two and one half years I still don’t have a good handle on what is considered normal for the lone star state. Or perhaps there is no normal; it seems the weather in northern Texas is consistently inconsistent. One thing for sure is that I’ll be on pins and needles come spring and storm season. Last spring arrived with unprecedented floods and hailstones 5 1/4 inches in diameter. The blue covered roofs still sprinkled throughout the area are a stark reminder of the far reaching devastation and the time consuming effort to get all the repairs finished before winter sets in. However, if this winter is anything like the last one it will feel more tropical than not. I’m really not complaining, but it seems there are severe repercussions for having warm winters and the piper must be paid at some point. The cost turns out to be more than most of us want to pay simply to have a mild winter. (And I haven’t even referenced the increased insect population that we are dealing with.)

I haven’t seen many squirrels here but I witnessed one this morning running down the sidewalks stopping at each door he passed for, I assume, any food morsels that could be found. Sadly for the squirrel this is a pretty clean place and it didn’t look as if he found anything at all. I do wonder if the intense heat has dried up all his food sources or if he just knows it’s time to prepare, however unsuccessfully, for the coming winter. I’ve heard geese flying overhead in the early mornings a few times and that raises my spirits a little and gives me hope that cooler weather is on the way. Maybe if I hang on a little while longer I’ll live to enjoy the outside air again.

It’s time for chrysanthemums and I’ve seen some in stores but so far I haven’t been interested in obtaining any. It’s just too hot to enjoy them, besides mums and their pungent fragrance need to be aligned with crisp cool air which is sadly lacking in my part of the world. This makes me wonder now if it’s actually the mums or the cool air that I so love and look forward to, most probably it’s a combination of the two.

I’ve been on a quest to enjoy my life as it is and to find something to be thankful for each day. So I’m thankful that it will only be 100 today and not 105; I’m thankful my outside patio plants are thriving despite the heat; I’m thankful for air conditioning; I’m thankful for my ice maker; I’m thankful for my sweet family; I’m thankful that I feel better than usual today; and oh, did I mention that I’m thankful for air conditioning? Maybe I’m hard to please but I’m thankful too that it’s not cold and icy, although that may be on the menu later in the season. In view of that thought I feel I really must not complain too much about present conditions for if there is anything I hate worse than hot weather it’s cold weather with ice. Thanks for reminding me that it could always be worse. In this life of uncertainties one thing we can count on is that Mother Nature remains unpredictable and no matter how educated and sophisticated we become we can’t change, or even predict with any degree of reliability, what she will do. My final happy thought on this matter is that this very fact keeps life interesting….and as a bonus always gives us ungrateful souls something to complain about.

THE MEMORIES FONDLY LINGER

Some of my happiest memories have been associated with libraries. The public library in my hometown of Conway, Arkansas remained in the same location throughout my childhood and until after I had several children of my own. I often walked there after school and spent an hour or two selecting books before walking to my father’s downtown business for a ride home. The librarian was a tiny prudish spinster who kept her eagle eye on the books I checked out. She often called my mother before letting me have certain books because ‘they were too risque for a young girl to read’…books like Zane Grey westerns or Perry Mason detective stories, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She would certainly be shocked to see what kinds of books are available now, and at the click of a button. Of course my mother always gave permission for me to read those books because she was quite familiar with them having read them herself.

The summer my father was in Alaska, my mother taught herself to drive and we often made the trip to the library. Once while there she sideswiped another car as she was parking and was terrified she’d get hauled off to jail. Sorry mama, I’ve kept your secret for almost sixty years and it’s time to clear my conscience on this matter.

After I had children we made regular weekly trips to the same library to load up on books, each child getting so many it was hard to carry them all. They were always as excited as I to visit that establishment. I loved the musty, bookish smell associated with it as well as the numberless stories to choose from…it was just a matter of which world one wished to be transported to for a time. I felt it was a sad day when a new library was built and the old one discarded. The new library was much larger and nicer but with it in place a very important part of my life was gone forever…but the memories fondly linger.

When we moved to the nearby town of Morrilton we lived on the same street as the public library. We couldn’t have planned it any better if we had tried! We frequented that library as much as the previous one but we had to be careful not to get so many books we couldn’t carry them the two blocks home even though we could go there multiple times a week. Each child was very excited to have his own library card when he became old enough, indeed, I don’t believe the excitement was any greater when they acquired their driver’s license. After the children were grown, one of my sons lived with us for a year after he was married and they took their child down the street to the library for story time. So began the love of books for another generation.

I still read as varociously as ever I did but for many years I’ve not been in a public library, reading books instead on my kindle. While I love my kindle, something has been lost in not checking out physical books from a library…or even going to one. So I’m excited to soon be visiting the library in Morrilton once again. My son Chris is now a published author and will be doing a book signing in that very library in conjunction with its centennial celebration, so it will be with two fold excitement that I enter therein. I can imagine it now, I’ll soak up the scholarly atmosphere and the nostalgic smell of old books and ink and do a bit of reminiscing as my son adds his novel to the already crowded bookshelves. Can it get any better than this?

HOT AS HADES

Long ago in my childhood I’d start out walking down a dusty summertime road barefoot but soon find myself running to reach the next shady spot. When my feet had cooled sufficiently, off I’d go again at a run to reach my destination. Sometimes there would be no shade so I’d have to keep running despite the ‘stitch’ in my side and the unbearable burning in my feet. Why I didn’t wear sandals was anybody’s guess; it must have been against that unwritten summer code. A code that involved blistered feet, splinters, cuts from broken glass, nail punctures and sometimes snake bites. I was lucky that I never stepped on a snake but my feet suffered from all those other things numerous times. The tried and true remedy  was to soak the injured foot in Epsom salt water before having some kind of ‘magical’salve applied. Mother, under the tutelage of my grandmother, was quite adept at treating such injuries with medicines obtained from nature and handed down from one generation to the next. She was also a believer in mercurochrome for scratches and insect bites…it burned like heck but it was an an agreeably obvious testament for my plight, whatever it happened to be at the moment.

Not that my mother was against doctors, no not at all. She knew when professional help was needed and saw we got it. We, for instance, were some of the first in line for the polio inoculation when it became available as well as for that nasty small pox vaccination. We were happy to get the polio vaccine because that meant no more restrictions on playing in the summer rain, which for a time was believed to cause polio. And we had a family doctor that was as close as a phone call away and that did most of his business as house calls…he also carried gum and candy in his black bag. We often feigned illness just so Dr. Ed could visit, but mama was a hard one to fool.

Anyway, I digress from my original thoughts which were about the heat of summer. At some point I quit feeling like I must abide by that summer barefoot code and my life became easier and much more pleasant. I surmise it was about the time I discovered boys but I can’t say for sure. Perhaps it was when we moved to town and I only had cement sidewalks to traverse which would have made a huge difference in whether or not I wore shoes.

And this leads me to my main thought about the intense heat here in Texas. It’s as hot as Hades…or as hot as I’ve heard It is. After several days in a row of triple digit weather, the sidewalks and the rock facade on my front porch are like branding irons, searing to the touch. Someone baked cookies on the dashboard of their car the other day. I’m sure I could bake cookies on my front porch in the afternoons. The heat comes right through my shoes as I hustle quickly out to my car or mailbox and the poor little geckos are baked in place clinging to the rock walls. It’s disquieting to see their lifeless forms perching all around my front door where the afternoon sun is too brutal for their escape. I have to sweep them off occasionally just for my piece of mind and I’m getting quite a collection of them on the side. In winter, the afternoon sun is welcome on my porch and I’ll try to keep that in mind as I drag through these dog days of summer. Our last winter was only a light-jacket winter which may have some bearing on the heat we’re experiencing now. I think I’ve learned my lesson; the next time it gets really cold I’ll bite my tongue before wishing for summertime….yea sure I will. Well maybe I really will if I remember all those flash baked geckos. Here’s a stray thought, I wonder if they would make a good snack, you know little crispy baked critters?

LAND OF THE FREE AND HOME OF THE BRAVE

My parents were not wealthy nor were they poor; I suppose they were somewhere in between when I was growing up. They both grew up poor though…as pertaining to material things. They were both very patriotic, they loved our country, and they were as honest as the day is long. My father and all three of my brothers served in the military. They taught us to love our country, our home, and our God, and revere our flag as a symbol of our many freedoms. And they taught us to respect the President of these United States. I can’t help but wonder if they would still feel that way if they were alive today; I can’t help but wonder when we, as a nation, lost respect for our President as well as for the office itself. And I can’t help but wonder how we allowed ourselves to be caught between two such unworthy presidential candidates.

Are these things just a symptom of the times we’re living in with full media exposure, or does it speak to something more fundamentally wrong? We seem to be more divided as a people than I ever remember. We seem to be more selfish, more insensitive to those around us. Could it be…could it possibly be because we have taken God out of our homes, schools, workplace, and even government buildings? Could it be because most of us no longer have Christian values, seeing those values as ‘old fashioned’ or restrictive? The new mantra of ‘more is better’ at all cost, of fitting in with our enlightened times and discarding anything our parents held dear is like a sickness…a sickness that will ultimately lead to our demise as a nation.

The dismissal of the pledge of allegiance, the burning and trampling of our American flag, the derision of public prayer, the move to delete our National Anthem, the wanton killing of innocent people, the freedoms that we are losing every day, through bliss or ignorance, will soon be so great that we will no longer be able to say that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But we will certainly live with the consequences we are now creating, however unknowingly.

I don’t fear for myself but I do fear for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I do fear the new world that seems to be materializing right in front of us. I hope the rising generations will be strong enough to stand fast and make order and sense out of the chaos now surrounding us. Where there is a will there is a way, and with God’s help and blessing it can be done. Hope springs eternal in the human breast and each new day brings renewed hope…for our country, and for ourselves. 

CHECK YOUR OIL!

I never exactly thought of myself as being a wimp but recent developments have solidified the fact that I am, and glad of it. I remember an incident in my childhood when I was captivated with the beautiful red peppers in my mothers kitchen. They were going into town for something and she specifically instructed me not to touch the peppers. I was old enough to stay alone with my older brother for a short period of time and certainly old enough to follow her instructions.  However when someone is told the paint on the picnic table is wet, the response is to touch it to see if it actually is. If a waiter in a restaurant brings your food on a smoking hot iron skillet and tells you not to touch it because it’s hot, the natural human response is to see if it really is. I guess that’s why I not only touched those peppers but determined to line them up just so and play with them. By the time my parents returned home I was screaming and crying in agony, my hands and arms swollen and as red as the peppers. I don’t recall her scolding me but why bother for I’d already learned my lesson….the hard way. For the rest of the day my hands were immersed in ice water which gave me some measure of relief. That was a lesson I learned well and took to heart.

I never had much to do with hot peppers after that, except for pepper sauce.  Fast forward many years to the time when I had a kitchen of my own and was preserving and canning food by the bushel full for my ravenous family. I did like to have pepper sauce for the mustard and turnip greens that I so loved to eat with my cornbread, so I’d put on rubber gloves before packing hot peppers tightly into jars and filling with boiling vinegar. Just a jar or two were sufficient because when the vinegar was gone a refill of boiling vinegar resulted in another jar of fiery liquid.

At some point I realized that the peppers were disappearing faster than the liquid covering them. That’s when I discovered my boys were eating them right out of the jar…even having contests to see who could consume the most. For some reason they loved them and all but the two youngest had iron mouths and stomachs. I soon decided that if I wanted to keep pepper sauce for myself I’d have to keep hot peppers for them as well. I like a little heat with my food, a very  little so I’ve never tried to develope that taste, for obvious psychological reasons.

 This brings me to an unexpected culinary experience I had over the weekend. One of my sons took me to dinner at a popular Italian restaurant. My dinner came with a salad and I asked for vinegar and oil on the side as my dressing of choice, as I always do. It came to the table quickly and I proceeded to pour some of both on that lovely looking salad. One large bite took my breath away; my mouth, throat and stomach were on fire and my heart was beating overtime. I seriously thought I would throw up right where I sat, or black out….or both.

My son recognized something was wrong and checked what I was eating. He called our waiter over who confirmed the suspicion that the oil was not as innocent as it looked. The manager was soon on the scene, apologizing profusely. It turns out that the oil they brought me was a special habanero oil they only use for hot wings…and only a drop at a time. What, a drop at a time?!!! He also said that particular oil was expensive and was kept in a special bottle on an out of the way shelf. Humm, what does that suggest, someone did it on purpose as a prank? The manager offered to give me anything I thought would help, perhaps milk or cheesecake? Someone else suggested I eat some bread with olive oil which was already on our table. I did this and slowly my stomach began to settle down, although my mouth was still on fire. When I woke the next morning my lips were red and swollen and even the corners of my mouth were fiery red. I looked a sight going to church with what looked like a bad lipstick job. In fact I could have worn no lipstick and looked like I’d put some on in my sleep. As the day wore on slight scabs formed at the corners of my mouth. Today my mouth isn’t as sore and the redness has faded to a dull pink….still not pretty but a definite improvement.

Needless to say our meal was on the house that night, along with the desert of our choice. I eventually managed to eat a portion of fettuccine Alfredo but wasn’t able to finish my wonderful scallops. I really wonder what would have happened to me if I’d had a heart condition; someone might now be working on my eulogy. Even though the food was good….I think, I won’t be patronizing that restaurant again and I may just stick to the soup instead of the salad from now on. Here’s a bit of free advice for those of you who like oil and vinegar on your salad…..check your oil!

WORD GAMES ANYONE?

I’m another year older and I’d like to say ‘wiser’ as well, but I don’t think that statement will hold water. I mean I may be wiser but I’ve forgotten so much that I can’t say with any certainty that what I’ve learned this year makes up for what I’ve forgotten. The information I acquire slowly ebbs out as from a leaky bucket, in fact, many times it’s gone almost instantaneously. I may soon be left an empty shell of a person with only marbles rolling around in an otherwise empty head.

I’ve tried to compensate for my failing memory by writing notes to myself about things I want to remember. The trouble with that is unless I have the notes properly labeled I forget what the note referred to….or where I put said note. My memory isn’t so bad that I can’t function, it’s just bad enough to cause frustration and headaches because of those marbles that have started to loosen and roll around in my noggin.

I don’t think technology helps either. On the one hand it’s amazing to have dozens of phone numbers standing ready on our cell phones waiting only for the touch of a finger; but the flip side is that because of this I don’t have to remember a single one except for my own. If I lost my phone I wouldn’t be able to call anyone for help…and that’s a scary feeling.

Then of course everything is now computerized. We do our banking on line, even depositing checks with the click of a button if they aren’t automatically deposited. We pay all our bills online; we shop on line; we make Doctor appointments and order our medicine online; we order food online; we make airline and hotel reservations on line. The list goes on and on but the point is this, we must have user identities and passwords for each of these sites which of course must periodically be changed. There is no way on this green earth that I can remember each ID and password for these different sites or even which one goes with each site. So the solution is a small book with all this information written inside. If I lose this book my life is…OVER, and that’s a very stressful thought.

I have another small book with addresses and a GPS with pertinent addresses inserted as well. The GPS certainly makes life easier but before my husbands demise he stopped using it because he understood that using it stunted his brain. Relying only on technology to find our way around robs us of much of our independence and brain power. (Unless, like me, you are directionally impaired). In our older years especially, we must use and stretch our minds to keep them pliable and working well. That becomes even more important when you don’t have much of a mind to begin with.

I suppose a birthday is a good time for self reflection as long as we don’t become filled with self pity. So happy birthday to me; I sincerely hope the coming year will not to be too hard on my remaining memory and that I will find ways of keeping it from completely atrophying. Word games anyone?

SUCH IS MY LIFE

The bulldozers and earth movers have been busy changing the landscape across the street. Gone are the gently rolling hills and fields of bluebonnets. Gone is the peaceful green interlude in this concrete urban setting. Gone, gone in the name of progress. It’s not clear yet just what form progress is taking; perhaps more apartments, or maybe another shopping center, or even another fitness gym or gas station.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, a change was inevitable. I mean I knew that choice street front property, just hanging out doing nothing was bound to attract someone’s attention eventually but I was hoping it would be later rather than sooner. My peaceful quiet life has disappeared. I can’t sit on my patio now early or late because of the noise generated by heavy equipment making the most of these long days; it’s even too noisy to leave my patio door open for fresh air. I can’t help feeling my life has taken an unpleasant turn.

If all that isn’t enough I haven’t even been able to find peace and quiet at night for a couple of weeks. After the hailstorms pummeled us the electric meters located on the outside of my bedroom wall started buzzing along about dark and continued until daylight when they magically became quiet…just in time for the activity to begin across the street again. Most nights the buzzing has been bearable but a few times it has been so loud that I’ve almost been driven insane and have strongly considered taking a hammer to the whole wall of meters. One night I tried sleeping in my living room recliner. I quickly decided that while a recliner is great for a nap it’s sadly lacking for an all night sojourn. I then tried sleeping on my love seat which made my body hurt from the contortions required to fit on it lying down; the floor also turned out to be a no go. The second time this exact scenario played out, which was mercifully several nights after the first, I talked to the apartment manager about my predicament. She called the electric company and a serviceman came out and replaced some broken meter covers and worked his magic. I’ve now been ‘buzz’ free for three nights. They say silence is golden and I’ll happily concur with that. I may just give that serviceman a big kiss when I see him again…I sure hope he doesn’t press charges.

Well such is my life now. I’ve almost forgotten what it was like to sit on the deck in my country home and watch horses, cows and sheep run and frolic; to gaze at the stars on a warm, dark night; to watch dozens and dozens of dragonflies and butterflies flitting through the air; to hear the lulling call of peepers and bullfrogs. And sadly, I may never get to taste Polk salad again. All those things, along with many others, are part of a past life. My new reality is one of apartments and houses, businesses and stores all jumbled closely together with the few green belts quickly disappearing…and for now, the ever present noise of construction work. I just hope the end result of all that activity will be something of true benefit, although I find it hard to visualize something of more benefit than a lovely field of bluebonnets.

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