Sunday, July 31, 2005

Que Sera, Sera

I would have a hard time deciding who my favorite movie star is, but there are several for whom I have a definite weakness. One of these is Doris Day. I happened across one of her romantic comedies on TCM this morning, one I had seen many, many times, and enjoyed it thoroughly none the less. There is something relaxing in watching a Doris Day film. It's all fluff and romance and you know exactly how it is going to end and you can enjoy the ride all the way. I already have my favorite two Doris movies on DVD and I think I'm going to start looking for more. What a fine way to chill out during a stressful month. I chilled out so much this morning that I decided I deserved an entire weekend off for a change and did not one lick of work for the rest of the day. Here, in no particular order, are movies that I will stop and watch for the umpteenth time and feel good afterwards.

Pillow Talk - the best of the lot. Doris and Rock were an unbeatable combination. Slick and sophisticated comedy for its time.
Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. The other two Doris Day/Rock Hudson partnerships. I never really like Rock Hudson in anything else, but in his three movies with Doris Day, he was fabulous.
The Glass Bottom Boat. A spy spoof, co-starring Rod Taylor, Dick Martin, Paul Lynde, Dom DeLuise, Arthur Godfrey, and many more comedy actors. Lots of fun, if a totally ridiculous plot.
On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon. These are early Doris movies, co-starring Gordon McRae and based on stories by Booth Tarkington (of Penrod fame). These period pieces, set at the turn of the century, are a delight.
The Thrill of if All and Move Over, Darling. These two movies teamed Doris with James Garner. I love James Garner in anything and he is almost as good a teammate for Doris as Rock was. He does frustrated husband really well.
The Ballad of Josie. A western where Doris accidentally kills her abusive husband with a pool cue and then takes on the entire male population when she decides to raise sheep in the midst of cattle ranches. This movie never got much attention, but I enjoy it and I wish it would be released on DVD.
Calamity Jane. Doris at her scruffiest, playing the quintessential tomboy. Also the source of the song "Secret Love".
That Touch of Mink. I never quite bought the combination of Cary Grant and Doris, but it's fun anyway.
Teacher's Pet. Another odd combination, pairing Doris with Clark Gable. Gable is always nice to watch, but the 23 year difference in their ages made the romance a little hard to believe.

And, even though Doris was the queen of light comedy, she could turn in a stellar dramatic performance from time to time. In fact, many of her early films were dramas. I don't make it a point to catch her dramas, but I can say the following two are worth a watch.

The Man Who Knew Too Much. Hitchcock, James Stewart, and Doris Day. And she sings "Que Sera, Sera" for the first time in a film (it won the Oscar for best song that year). Enough said. Give it a watch.
Midnight Lace. A story akin to Gaslight. Is she crazy or is someone trying to kill her?

Hard to believe that Doris made her last movie in 1968. But then, again, the times were changing and people were losing their taste for fluffy romances. I'm sure she could have reinvented herself and maintained her popularity, but I admire her for refocusing her energies on behalf of animal rights. She turned 81 this year, but I'll always remember her as that trim little blonde who drove Rock Hudson crazy. The perpetual sweet, young thing.

After Doris Day, I guess the actor most likely to get me to sit through the 100th showing of a movie would be Audrey Hepburn. That's another list for another time.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Back to Work

My workload has not decreased by much, but I did let myself off the night shift for a few nights to finish the new Harry Potter book. Hard to concentrate on dull programming when that thick green book is winking at you from the bedside table, so I figured I might as well finish it so I could get my mind on something else. Like work that pays for the book habit.

Yes, a major character died in the end. No, I'm not going to spill the beans. Just suffice it to say that my analogy of the plot as following along the Star Wars path remains intact. Figure it out yourself. I had it pretty well nailed by the half-way mark, but kept hoping I would be surprised.

If you are a Harry Potter fan and want to while away some time, visit the official J. K. Rowling site at . I have not solved the mystery of how to open the door yet. Not enough time available to waste on solving games these days.

I've made another change lately and have started getting a regular massage at Bastrop Massage & Therapy Services. Every other week, as long as I can afford it. I'm hoping that eventually we will convince that knot in my back to go away and stay away. Wonder if the folks at Hogwarts have a spell for that?

Working at home two days a week has had many benefits. First of all, I'm saving gas money. That 47-mile one-way trip burns up $2.19/per gallon at an alarming rate. Secondly, I get about double the production in a day at home. You really don't realize how much time you lose being available to folks at the office who find it necessary to call at least once a day to find out how you are doing on their project. I've bitten my tongue many a time to avoid telling them I would be 20 minutes a day ahead if they would let me call them when I'm finished. The addition of email has helped tremendously, but there are still those folks who must use the phone.

Next, I get to spend some quality time with my babies. It's a great stress reducer to sit in bed, working on the laptop, with a little fur-butt snuggled against my hip. They are all for this working at home business. They think it would be a fine idea to make it 5 days a week.

I don't know how long I will keep this schedule going, but I'm already sleeping better and feeling better. It's bad enough to have a heavy work load, but add to that the daily stress of caretaking and sooner or later you end up with a twisted back. Mine was beginning to look like a pretzel, but an hour massage session earlier today with Angie has got me feeling like I might just get some of the program snarls straightened out this afternoon.

Who knows. I'm thinking about yoga next. This stress-reduction theme I have going these days is a good thing.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Requiescat in Pace

The Starship Enterprise has lost a second crew member. James Doohan, also known as Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer, died yesterday. DeForest Kelley, Dr. McCoy, died in 1999. (I guess we should also count the ultimate Captain, creator Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991.)

Having grown up with television, it's always a shock to me when we lose someone who was a regular visitor in my home. I spent many afternoons watching reruns of Star Trek. (I'm sorry, but in my opinion none of the spin-offs ever had the charm of the original.) Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov were a team that has never been equaled.

Rest in peace, Scotty. We'll miss you.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Out of Control

I have a serious book problem. I haul in at least 1 book a week and that's a slow week. Usually I haul in a sack of books. My bookshelves runneth over. My to-read pile beside the bed has taken on the characteristics of a bedside table. Just about every cabinet in the house hides a cache of books. Everywhere in my house is books, books, books.

It's genetic. I can't help it. Don't think I would even want to help it, if I could. Just walking into a bookstore can lower my blood pressure and calm my nerves. My idea of a good day off is going to a research library and rustling the pages of old, musty books. I nearly swoon when I walk into a courthouse vault and see ancient record books lining the room.

I wanted to be a librarian. I could have been happy spending my working life cataloguing books. I spent a summer or two substituting part time for the public library in Bastrop, back in my college years. There were days when hours would pass without my seeing another living soul. I didn't care. I was in charge of a building full of books and that was more enjoyable than anything else I could think of at the time.

To my sorrow, there was no college anywhere close that offered a library science degree, so I opted for second best - a business degree. I probably came off a lot better financially for that choice, but I will always regret that I didn't find a way to spend my life among books.

My bookshelves groan under a weight of history books, reference books, knitting/spinning/crocheting books, dollhouse related books, and the recent addition of audio books yet to be listened to. In my upstairs hallway is a collection of antique books by turn of the century author Amelia E. Huddleston Barr. On a small shelf in my bedroom is my collection of miniature books. In Mother's bedroom are the mysteries, the poetry volumes, the novels, and the gardening books. A cabinet in the dining room and a cabinet in the kitchen hide my large collection of cookbooks. In the garage are the books that haven't yet made it to the Goodwill donation center.

And still I bring in books. I hit Half-Price Books at least every other week. On the alternate weeks I will hit a Barnes and Noble or a Borders. I don't think I've ever walked into a bookstore and left without at least one book.

Books have always been my escape. No matter how bad things get, you can escape into another world for a few minutes. I try to keep a book in my purse or in the car for those times when you're stuck in a traffic jam, or waiting at the doctor's office. Nowadays I usually have an audio book playing while I drive.

I'm currently reading a series of 17 books by Elizabeth Peters (I'm on number 8) involving the adventures of a Victorian lady Egyptologist. I love finding a new series to read. Nothing makes me happier than to look over at the bedroom bookcase and see a pile of unread books involving characters I've come to love. It's nice to know that I have the rest of the summer's reading on hand and ready to go. Not only am I provided with a means to escape the troubles of real life, I'm learning a lot about Egyptian history. Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels aka Barbara Mertz has a PhD in Egyptology and brings her stories alive with factual information.

I feel sorry for people who don't know the joy of recreational reading. I would hate to think that I was stuck in the world of data processing and tax law with no chance to expand my knowledge of other times and places.

Yes I'm addicted to books. No, I don't want to be cured. And maybe someday, when I decide to retire from delinquent tax collection, I can snag a job as an assistant at a library. I can't think of a better way to spend my old age.

(By the way, other writers who have written series that are well worth seeking out are Joan Hess, Sharyn McCrumb, P. D. James, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Ann B. Ross, Janet Evanovich, Anne Tyler [not so much a series as a style of writing], J. K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket, Ellis Peters...I could go on for quite awhile and will stop here. Go out and read something!)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Hell Hath no Fury

You have not seen high dudgeon until you have seen a very little dog who has just had a needle jabbed in his butt. He was incensed and he let everyone in the room know it. At least he didn't blame me. Then. Later on when I absent-mindedly picked him up and put my thumb on his sore spot - well, then he blamed me. It's something when a dog with a short stub manages to tuck his tail between his legs and look at you balefully. Broke my heart.

But we are friends again. And the good news is he is in perfect health and now weighs 2.8 pounds. Sister Coco is now 4.4 pounds and weathered her rabies vaccination with no problem. She's done for now, but Mojo has to go back in 3 weeks for another shot. I may wait in the hall next time. That little boy has got my number.

In other news, my copy of the new Harry Potter book arrived today. Probably be August before I get a chance to read it. I continue to be amazed at the uproar that accompanies the release of each book in the series. One pious fellow interviewed in the Austin paper ripped the books apart and then admitted he had never read any of them. Probably a Republican. They are used to spouting opinions on things they know nothing about. God forbid they should make an informed decision on anything.

What's funny is that the plot thread of this series is similar to the Star Wars saga. Good vs. evil. Young protagonist vs. former great warrior gone wrong. You don't see the religious nuts picketing the movie houses. And all because the stories have a background of wizards and magic. For Pete's sake, did any of us suffer moral decay because we watched Mary Poppins or The Sword in the Stone or The Wizard of Oz or Bedknobs and Broomsticks? Not to mention years of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. Apparently today's kids can't tell truth from fantasy. What a tempest in a teapot.

I think the real issue is that the naysayers are jealous. J. K. Rowling is a gifted writer with a real knack for characterization. In another's hands the story would be a stale remake of a tried and true formula. The lady is an artist and deserves to reap the rewards of her talent and hard work. I plan to enjoy every word. Those who have their noses in the air, sniffing disapprovingly, deserve to miss the fun.

The babies have snuggled down and are fast asleep. I think I will follow suit.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Double, double, toil and trouble

I hate May and July. Those are heavy work months for me and I spend a lot of Sundays working, when I would rather be napping with the puppies. (I did sneak in a 1/2 hour nap today, cuddling the two babies, regardless of the piles of work staring me in the face.) Personal time during those two months is pretty much nil, so I get even more behinder than usual in answering my email, following up on my research leads, and cleaning the house.

In a bid for a moment of freedom, I took myself off to the Hallmark Shop yesterday to attend the 2005 ornament premiere. I try to get my annual collectible ornaments purchased on that weekend to take advantage of the extra points you get for buying at the premiere. I hauled away a bag full of ornaments.

Sometimes I wish I weren't so honest. When I got home and began to review what I had purchased, I discovered that I had not been charged for 10 of the ornaments. (No wonder I thought I had gotten off cheap this year.) I had been waited on by two clerks, one ringing up and one bagging, and all I can figure is that some got bagged before they got rung. So Tuesday I have to return to the scene of the crime and pay up. My conscience might have excused one missed ornament, but it's hard to ignore 10 at the prices those things cost. All I can say is I hope they were more on the ball the rest of the time. There are a lot of folks out there that would just chortle to themselves and let the store take the loss. Not me. I would hear my grandparents clucking their tongues from the other side. I have enough on my mind without that.

I'm not looking forward to Monday either. I have to take the babies in for shots and I already dread having to hurt them, however briefly and for however good a cause. Mojo tangled with a couple of fire ants this weekend and cried until Mom found the culprits and dispatched them. I can't stand for the little guy to be unhappy. He had his first lesson with the leash today and it was an utter failure. As soon as he realizes he's tied, he starts doing his imitation of a catfish on the hook. Flip, flop, flutter and squeal. He ended up getting carried while the other two enjoyed their walk. He was utterly content to cruise down the street cuddled against Mom. No, he's not spoiled.

To round out the day, Mother got it in her head that she was supposed to go to the vet's with me tomorrow and fell while trying to get a dress out of the closet. Did I mention I threw my back out yesterday? After a day of Advil and heat, it was almost back to normal. It remains to be seen how much ground I lost hauling her up.

So today was pretty much a pain in the back, except for the 1/2 hour nap. And the periodic breaks to play with the babies. And the rain, which we sorely needed. How I look forward to August.


Saturday, July 09, 2005

All the Gruesome Details

My grandmother was a terrific person and I remember her fondly. She had one habit, though, that gave me the willies. She had a voracious appetite for true crime magazines and books. I thought of that last week as newscast after newscast replayed the recital of the BTK killer's confessions to the murders he had committed.

She would have been sitting there at her tv set, soaking up all the gruesome details. I had to change channels before he made it through recounting the second murder. I never understood her fascination with the psychotic mind. We would ask her every now and then why she read that stuff. Her answer was that it was important for people to understand what could happen. Maybe she had a point, because it only took reading a couple of her magazines to convince me that you always had to be on guard against the good-looking, glib-talking stranger who drives a van.

Books that delve into psycopathic murders have been banned from my reading list since the summer I read Helter Skelter. I was just home between college semesters, spending a week pretty much alone since Mother and David were not yet out of school for the summer and Daddy was off doing whatever the church required of him. I have never been so spooked in my life. It got so bad that the slightest rustle of wind outside my window would make me jump a foot. I finished the book somehow, but the grisly details stayed in my subconscious for weeks. It was quite awhile before I quit looking over my shoulder.

My grandmother never tired of the gruesome details. Even when she lived alone in her later years, practically an invalid, she kept up her habit of reading true crime. I would have been a basket case, but it never seemed to disturb her. She would recount details of murders in nearby Austin that would make my flesh crawl. I think her appetite for the local grisly details was even greater after her son became an Austin cop. Something about that quasi-personal connection to the scene of the crime, as it were.

There were times when she managed to freak me out pretty well, and in fact I can still hear her in my mind reciting facts of a few of the Austin cases. After awhile I learned to protect myself by basically tuning her out when the conversation turned to murder. I assiduously avoid true crime literature and pretty much confine myself to headlines when the newspapers are wallowing in the blood and gore of the latest mass murderer. I'll read murder mysteries of the fictional variety, but like my mother, I prefer the cozy murder stories where the killings are committed by nice people.

Come to think of it, seems like those cozy murders would be more disturbing in a way. The idea that a nice person could be moved to murder. That would make anybody you know capable of murder under the right circumstances. But the stories are so patently fiction. No, it's the real thing, committed by psychotic sociopaths that chill me to the bone. I don't like to think about the real crazies moving in our midst. Maybe my grandmother was right about one thing. I keep my guard up because I know what could happen.

That's enough for me. I don't want to know the gruesome details. I think instead I shall go prowl the bookshelf for one of those cozy murders in turn of the century England that was committed by a nice person. They always put me to sleep.


Monday, July 04, 2005

July 4th, 1973

It doesn't seem like it's been 32 years. On the other hand, it seems like a hundred years ago. And at this point in my life, when I've become a staid member of the establishment, I could almost be convinced that I was never stupid enough to pull some of the stunts I was guilty of that long ago. Almost.

I was between my freshman and sophomore years at Mary Hardin-Baylor College, a nice small Baptist college that had been co-ed only a couple of years in 1973. The wildest thing I did back in those days was to, uh, hmm. I don't think I did anything wild back in those days. I was a nice quiet, well-behaved child of 19.

But I was tempted that summer by an all-day concert that was to be held on July 4th out in the country just west of Dripping Springs. There was a new movement in country music by a group of singers that had been labeled as "outlaws" and their ringleader was Willie Nelson, who had recently moved his headquarters to Austin. He had decided to lend his name to a 4th of July picnic and concert, and a stellar list of country music legends had agreed to attend. This was not the first picnic/concert to be held in Dripping Springs, but it was the first to be associated with Willie Nelson. The list of performers was very tempting to a country music fan, but the thing that sold me on attending was the announcement that Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge were to perform. I had to go.

The men of the family weren't interested, but Mother agreed to go with me. Also on board for the adventure was a country music loving friend from Smiley, the mother of my brother's best friend. That morning, the three of us loaded our lawn chairs and cooler in the 1968 Ford Galaxie and headed out for Dripping Springs. We had not one idea what we were in for.

Our first clue was just after we turned off Highway 290 onto the narrow gravel road that would take us about 20 miles deep into the country to a ranch where the concert was to be held. It was bumper to bumper traffic and was moving at a snail's pace. If I remember right, it took us more than a hour to creep our way to the concert site. It was a miserably hot day and that old Galaxie started over-heating before we had gone very far, so we had to forego air-conditioning for the last part of the trip. After parking, we had to hike a ways to the stage area, carrying our gear.

When we got there, it was to find that the stage was set up in something of a natural bowl, with not a scrap of shade to be seen. Filling that bowl was a sea of sweating humanity. We found a spot for our lawn chairs and made ourselves as comfortable as possible, considering the lack of shade and breeze and the hot sun bearing down on us. But as we arrived, Charlie Rich started his set and we were re-energized with the thoughts of who else would be performing. I can't remember everyone who performed that afternoon, but I do remember Waylon Jennings, Sammie Smith, Billie Joe Shaver, and of course Willie. It was really an impressive lineup and we couldn't complain about getting our money's worth for the price of admission. Which, I believe, was $10.00.

It was late in the afternoon when I began to get nervous. There were a lot of normal folks like us around, but there was a whole lot of folks there with pretty rough edges. At one point in the afternoon an announcement was made that some bad heroin was being circulated and people were getting sick. It was quite a shock to three Baptist ladies to know that we were in the presence of illegal drugs. (It was along about the same point that we suddenly realized what that sickly sweet smell in the air was.) Between the drug users and the beer drinkers and the heat, the crowd was becoming increasingly woozy. The later it got, the wilder the crowd got, and the edgier I got.

And Kris and Rita had still not performed. It was almost dark when they finally took the stage. By that time, I was having a hard time enjoying the music. My thoughts were a constant spin of all the things that could go wrong - from the car failing to start to getting knocked over the head by a stoned out addict. We were definitely out of our element and at 9:30 we all decided we had had enough, even though Kris and Rita were still singing, and we started the hike back to the car.

The ride back to the highway was almost as bad as the ride in, since we weren't the only ones calling it quits for the day. People were exhausted and many had parked a considerable ways down the road. As we drove by, some would try to leap up on the hood for a ride back to their cars. I don't know what worried me more - that I would have these odd-balls hanging on to the car, or that they would fall under my wheels and get mashed. We finally made it out to the highway and headed back to Bastrop.

It was a weird experience, but in retrospect I'm glad we went. I would never attempt something like that now. Crowds bother me, heat bothers me, drunks bother me, and the idea of being that far out in the middle of nowhere with a flaky car and no communication to civilization is mind-boggling. I guess it's true that the Lord protects fools. He took care of at least three of them that day.

Who knew that Willie Nelson picnics would become a regular event? I'm glad I went to the first one. I'm glad I never went to another one. Not too long after that, we attended a Kris and Rita concert (with Willie crashing the party for a few songs) at Palmer Auditorium, and it was a much more satisfying experience. I decided that outdoor concerts were not for me.

These days I generally spend July 4th somewhere with air-conditioning. Every year at some point I think about that day out in the Hill Country, even all this time later. It may have been a fool hardy thing to do, but we had an unforgettable experience and I don't regret one moment of it.