Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rainy Day on the Mountain

Click on this photo and look closely at the can see one lone raindrop as it hits the deck of the porch. Only in nature can you find something this beautiful.

These large raindrops look more like snowflakes falling in the trees. But with 50 degree temps today, a white Chrsitmas remainly only in our dreams.

My big cuddly dog is mystified by the unseasonably warm weather and the hypnotic soft rainfall.......

.....and so is my little one.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Winter's Day That Felt Like Summer

Today was the kind of day where you could actually see the rays of the sunlight, shining through the pine trees on the mountain.

Today was the sort of day where you go outside without a coat or hat or gloves and take a walk down a one lane gravel road and are in awe of the beauty.

Today was a day when you sit in a rocker on the porch and scan the blue sky, looking for a secret message in the clouds.

Today was the type of day where the plants stand a little taller, soaking up as much sunlight as possible for the gloomy days that lie ahead.

Today was a day where big ole country dogs have sleepy eyes and wander lazily in the sunlight, pretending it is the first week of June instead of two weeks before Christmas.

Today, sunlight bounced off of natural rocks and old buildings adding a beauty to them that is hard to see on dark winter days.

Today was a day when a 50-year old house stood a little prouder and stronger, as if the sunlight gave it new energy and purpose.
Sometimes.....we find that ray of sunshine we need in the least likely places.
Today was one of those places.......

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One day to Make a Difference....

A teacher who brought her Sunday school class from Russellville to Little Rock to volunteer at the CARE free health clinic.

My friend and traveling companion from Danville, Beth Coger (dark pants in center of photo), waiting to transport patients to their individual doctors.

A small portion of the 1200 volunteers at the Free Health Care Clinic in Little Rock today.

Me (center) with two new lovely friends, waiting to register patients.

What common denominator would bring together 1200 Arkansans of various ages, from different cities, backgrounds, races, religious beliefs and political parties on a beautiful Fall Saturday when the Razorbacks were playing their last home game just a few miles down the road? What could possibly unite this wonderful cross section of Americana, all dressed in red t-shirts, jeans and comfortable shoes and cause them to assemble to help their fellow man? Would it surprise you to learn that it is the same cause that has viciously divided this country for weeks?

Health care for everyone was the call that beckoned each one of us to the Statehouse Convention Center today, and for those of us who volunteered to work at the event, it was an experience that went beyond memorable and rewarding.

Even though some of our state-wide media outlets advertised the event as "controversial", none of the volunteers or over a thousand of people who needed, and received, medical care today looked at it that way. There was a desperate need, and these 1200 volunteers came together in a non-partisan, non-judgemental way to fill that need.

I can't remember when I have been more proud of an elected official as I was of our Lt. Governor, Bill Halter. Mr. Halter, his lovely wife, and the top tier of his staff were there when the doors opened and they worked until after dark when the doors closed. All were dressed in their red "volunteer" t-shirts with nothing to differentiate them from the rest of us except their personal name on the mandatory identification badges. They each worked in the "trenches" doing the exact same jobs as all of the other volunteers. They registered patients and showed everyone the same respect Mr. Halter is given each day in his office at the State Capitol. Some people knew who they were, some didn't. And that didn't seem to matter because they knew today wasn't about them, but about the people they had come there to help. What we did know was that Bill Halter had procured the site and promoted the event tirelessly through the local and national media and on his website. As I listened to his brief pep talk to the volunteers right before the doors opened, I realized once again that this was a young energetic politician who actually "gets it".

Each of us working today had up close and personal hands-on contact with the patients. We each heard heart breaking and heart warming stories.....stories none of us will soon forget. What may or may not surprise my readers is that the majority of the patients I registered today between noon and 7:30pm were employed, but could not afford health insurance. Of all of the people I interviewed today, only two had a personal physical. The remainder either went to the emergency room or did nothing at all when they needed health care.

The misconception that this Free Clinic would be for the homeless, illegal immigrants, or other people trying to ride the system is simply not true. Many of these people were hardworking Americans who could not afford insurance or their employers did not offer it, or had recently been laid off due to the downturn in the economy.

On the drive home tonight, my friend Beth and I wished that everyone who does not believe or acknowledge this segment of our population exists (or conveniently chooses to ignore them) could have spent just one hour with us today. It would have been for them, as it was for us, a life changing experience.....and one we are so grateful for the opportunity to have been a tiny part of.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Seinfeld Moment

People who travel for a living have a saying: "It's all about the upgrades".

Book your airline flights on one or two carriers throughout the year and you rack up all sort of frequent flier miles, free companion flights and priority upgrades to first class.

Stay in one hotel chain over 200 nights a year and gain platinum status which allows you to receive automatic upgrades to the best rooms and suites and an obscene amount of bonus points for free nights in any of their properties around the world. And when you book your many rental cars with the same agency and have a clean driving record, they give you free upgrades, lightening-speed check-in, and preferential treatment.

Therefore, it was no surprise when we stopped by the Hertz desk at the Tampa Airport last Wednesday, gave them our name, signed a piece of paper and were told that we had been given an upgrade. The whole process took less than 60 seconds. What did surprise us was when we located our car slot and found a brand new Cadillac DTS (the HUGE model). We burst out laughing and simultaneously said "Seinfeld"!!!

Anyone who has ever lived in Florida can tell you that the "unofficial" state car for the enormous retired population (mostly migrated there from the North) is the Cadillac.......the bigger model the better. Larry David even wrote several episodes of Seinfeld centered around Jerry buying his retired parents in Florida a new Cadillac.

We stood in the parking lot and had a discussion about whether or not to keep the absurdly large and opulent car, but once we opened the doors, we became enticed by the intoxicating new car smell and the luxurious leather seats that wrapped around us like a favorite blanket.
The back seat was the size of our sofa and a flat screen television would have not seemed out of place there. The trunk could outfit a condo-size kitchen, or someone's entire wardrobe. It was just too much to turn down, especially when we were only paying for a "normal" car.

So off we go down the interstate, counting how many similar cars we passed, giving up when the number passed 50. Dennis observed that most of the ladies sitting in the passenger seats all had the same gray or white helmet-style hairdo.

People driving these cars seem to belong to some secret club where the rules require that the members smile, nod or politely gesture to fellow Cadillac drivers. They are a very friendly bunch.

As we made our way down the 2 1/2 hour drive from Tampa to Ft. Meyers on a beautifully clear November afternoon, the bright blues of the sky and water glistening off the flawless silver Cadillac exterior, we felt warmly welcomed into Florida's oldest club.

A Friday Afternoon Drive

Driving across Tampa Bay between St. Petersburg and Sarasota, FL.

I can't seem to find the words to describe the beauty of this......

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Irish Wake at an Italian Restaurant

Death has a way of bringing the most unlikely people together for a like cause. And in this scenario, tonight two attorneys, a businessman, an artist/actor, a retired priest, an adopted child and I came together to celebrate the life of a lady we each loved in our own special way.

It had been a long seven days since our beloved Hazel had passed away and each of our hearts was heavy with the loss of someone who was larger than life. Everyone admitted to tears in private but was attempting to maintain an exterior that didn't lend itself to a public display of grief. There were things to do, roles to play, business to take care of that dictated proper decorum, and after all, with the exception of the child and me, these were grown men. Somehow, we all knew that if we could just make it through the week, tonight, things would be much better. So we gathered at Hazel's favorite restaurant, dragging our grief through the door like a weight almost too heavy to bear.

We toasted her memory with a glass of wine and a picture of her I had taken several months ago in that same restaurant with a glass of wine in her hand a a smile we had all seen a thousand times before. As we each began to share our memories, we learned a little more about the woman we thought we knew so well. We listened, we shed a few tears, we hugged....but mostly we laughed. We laughed long and hard at the antics of this wonderful person who had taught us all to laugh at ourselves above all else. I don't think she ever took herself too seriously and probably got a bit frustrated at the rest of us when we often did.

Despite working every day until a few years ago when she could no longer drive and enduring the pain of the loss of a husband and daughter, she loved life. She knew the meaning of life and tried to milk every once of it from each day. And how she did that was the subject of the stories we told. Hazel looked for the humor in everything, and if it wasn't evident, she would create it. Life was never dull when she was around.

Maybe that is what each of us fear the most......where will that spark, that sparkle come from now that she has left us? Will we fade into mundane lives now that she isn't here to point out the folly of it all?

After several hours, we said our goodbyes with gratitude for the therapy the evening provided. On my long drive back home, it occurred to me that this was the sort of evening Hazel would have looked forward to all day. She would have planned this sort of gathering and invited these exact same people to this exact same place. And for the first time in seven days.........I found comfort.

Rest in peace my dear will never be far from my heart.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bob's World

I have often wondered what Bob the Beagle would have done had he ended up in a family that forced him to live outside, hunt, or do something to earn his keep. A family that didn't understand he is to be rewarded with a Beggin Strip for letting a human pet him or for going to the potty or just as a routine bedtime snack.

Bob is cold-natured, or pretends to be, so he has a fleece jacket for cold days when he accompanies me to the post office and for afternoon naps, he has not one, but TWO beds tucked under Dennis' desk, complete with a blanket. It makes legroom for Dennis a little sparse, but Bob is certainly comfortable.

I guess we all eventually end up doing what we are supposed to do, in the places we are destined to be, with the companions that are meant for us. And after 7 1/2 years, Bob has definitely got us trained very well.

Or, we think we are........but he may have a little more educating to do before he gets us exactly the way he wants us!

Gotta go........I think my typing is disturbing Bob's nap.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Special Memories of a Friend.......

Hazel and Betty on the beach in Florida (see story below in the previous post). Those are not ear muffs.....they are headphones for Hazel to enjoy some of my favorite music. Yes.....we DID dance!

Hazel and Betty on Hazel's 99th birthday.

Farewell to Hazel Cooper

Today, I lost one of my oldest and closest friends. She also just happened to be my great-aunt, who next Wednesday, would have turned 100.
Hazel loved life. No matter what the circumstance, she found something humorous in it. She was always open for a new adventure and rarely said no to anything. She knew all of my flaws and my deepest, darkest secrets, and she loved me anyway.
Until recently, we tried to have lunch together at least once a month (complete with a glass of wine) and we always celebrated our birthdays together, along with her lifelong friends Gary and Jim. On my birthday in 2006 when I was on crutches with a broken ankle and she had medical issues that required a walker, she refused to let those silly little details curtail our annual shopping ritual. We were quite the sight, making our way through the isles of Dillards, crutches and walker knocking things off the racks as we went. We laughed until we had tears in our eyes at our predicament!
I will always remember the day we left our expensive meal at the Capitol Hotel half-eaten to run out the door and jump on the trolley, just to see where it was going.
The pictures above are my favorite pictures of Hazel because they capture her carefree spirit. About eight years ago, Hazel and Gary and Jim came to visit my home at the beach in Florida. One beautiful evening, we decided to take a blanket, some wine and the CD player and head to the water's edge to enjoy the sunset. Being the lady she always was, Hazel hadn't brought anything to wear for a wade in the ocean on a chilly evening, but didn't hesitate for a second to borrow sweat pants and a sweatshirt from my closet. It was a perfect sort of spontaneous evening that comes along far too seldom in our lives........and I will never forget her laughter as the waves splashed over her feet and the wind and sea spray made a mess of her perfectly coiffed hair.
And should I ever be fortunate enough to see a beach sunset again, I will look for Hazel's face in the pinks of the sky and hope to hear that laughter once again as the waves kiss the shore.
Farewell, my beautiful friend.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Hauntingly Familiar Face......

Dennis saw this shirt in a store window in the Boston Airport, and almost missed his flight, stopping to buy it for me. A little too real, huh?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Migrating Geese

If you look closely (click on the photo to enlarge it) between the limbs of these two trees, you can see a small portion of the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of geese that flew over the mountain today. There were so many and they were so loud, I could hear them from inside.

Autumn in my Yard

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dogs in their Natural Element.....

It was a cool, crisp, cloudless morning. The kind of morning you dream about on hot summer days and freezing winter ones. The sort of morning you wake up early and look for reasons to spend as much time as possible outdoors because, as with all perfect things, your heart knows this is a fleeting moment.
My beautiful dogs found this to be the perfect day also because they had the opportunity to engage in one of their favorite sports.....chasing something up a tree. This seems to be to be the canine version of "Lord of the Flies". But, as always, the wise raccoon knows eventually the dogs will tire, get bored or hungry and one by one, wander back to their houses, leaving him an escape route.

Amber, my overweight chocolate lab is a little out of her element out here, but every now and then, I let her out of the house and join the group. A through bath always follows before she is allowed back in.
She thinks it is worth it!

The old large black and white Walker is Bo, father of the beautiful red dog, Teddy, and the smaller black and tan hound Maggie. If Bo were a human, he would have been dropped long ago by his insurance carrier and be campaigning for a public option because he has so many pre-existing conditions. Some days, he can barely walk. But it always amazes me that he seems to have one more hunt left inside of him. I love this dog dearly.

The chocolate lab keeps an eye on the prey. She has to save her energy for the long
walk back home.

This is Maggie, daughter of Bo. Maggie is probably the best natural born hunter I have ever seen. She will stay on a tree for days.....or until I put a leash on her and take her back to her house.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Lloyd

My father's birthday is today.

I can only hope the young college man (pictured left), whistling a tune, without a care in the world, was able to accomplish all he set out to accomplish and lived the life he dreamed of when this picture was taken.

That is all any of us can ask for........isn't it?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Tree Outside my Backdoor

This time of year, I get a new slideshow each day, simply by looking through my backdoor.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Growing Grass on a Rock

When we first moved to the mountain after living at the beach in Florida, I was fascinated by the wild and natural state of our new surroundings. But as we began to make improvements - clearing the underlying brush, cutting all low tree limbs, etc. - I began to miss having a lawn.

I mentioned this to my dad on several occasions over the years, but he always gave me the same condescending smile and said "You can't grow grass on rock". Which was true.....if you weren't looking down at rock, it was lurking just below the surface. But I never quit thinking about a lush green lawn beneath my feet.

Then, six years later and four weeks ago when the first hint of fall crept into the air, I began to buy rye grass seed, 50 pounds at a time. Every afternoon, I would set out on foot, broadcasting the seed - by hand - throughout the clearing around the house. Occasionally, I would see my husband on the porch, watching me and shaking his head as he has done so many times over the years when I pursued one of my (MANY) silly ideas. But he indulged my foolishness, as he has always done, thinking it was better to let me learn for myself than to point out my folly.

But a week into my endeavor, something miraculous happened. It was one of those things that can only happen in nature and is far greater than anything mere humans can control. IT BEGAN TO RAIN! But this rain was not just a couple of afternoon showers. It was day after day of beautiful soft soaking misty rain like an enormous expensive shower head on the perfect setting. This was my sign! My tiny grass seed would have the water it needed to grow that I had no way to provide otherwise.

So, each day for the past three weeks, in the rain, I have been out spreading grass seed. As of this afternoon, 400 pounds of it to be exact! I am sure I resemble some sort of itinerant farmer, straight off the pages of the Grapes of Wrath, walking up and down the hills in my muck boots and rain slicker, carrying the heaviest pail I can manage.

But as the rains kept coming and the days passed and I began to see the fine green strands, peeking through the rocks, those trips up and down the hills felt less tedious and my pail of precious seeds less cumbersome.

And last week when my husband looked out over the mountainside that I fondly call my "yard" and said "Well, I'll be..... Looks like you did it!", I felt vindicated.

I only wish I had a way to show my dad that with a little help from a force far greater than ourselves, we really can grow grass on a rock!

Wonders in the Woods

One day, about five years ago, Dennis was working in the woods above our house when he looked down and saw a vaguely familiar shape. Curious, he began to clear leaves, brush and dirt from the rock and the more he cleared, the more a distinct outline began to materialize. He carefully dug the rock out of the ground, and hauled it down the mountain on an old tire attached to the back of his Rhino by a chain.
This rock has NOT been chiseled or enhanced or altered in any way whatsoever.
We think he is a beautiful tribute to "Man's Best Friend" and hope we have found an appropriate place of prominence for this natural work of art.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nature Versus Man

We are still in monsoon season up here on the mountain, and most of our outdoor work has been halted or hindered by the water.
While we are looking for indoor projects to conquer, mother nature isn't taking a timeout due to the elements. At daylight this morning, we found these two beautifully crocheted webs. The perfection of each one is breathtaking.
I know in time, the wind and rain will destroy these delicate little pieces of art. But until the elements follow their due course, I don't plan to interfere. Why would I destruct something more masterful than anything I will ever be capable of creating?