Saturday, March 31, 2007


We pause to consider. We knew it was inevitable, but we thought it would be awhile longer before the invaders made it to Bastrop.

As of Thursday, the infection took root in my own backyard.


They're heeeere....


Friday, March 30, 2007

Teachers, Part 2

Along about 6th grade, we all hit puberty. The boys' collective mind ended up in the gutter for the year and any comment that could be remotely construed sexual in nature sent them into gales of laughter. The girls, hormones all atwitter, were delighted to discover we had a young male teacher not too many years out of school. He pretended not to know we all had a crush on him and managed to teach us a few things that year. There was one day I remember that he pushed my temper to the limit. We were scheduled to have a quiz that day, and I had spent the previous night in feverish study for it. Instead of our customary quiz sheet, he announced that the quiz would have only one question. He wrote on the blackboard, "Why?". The compulsive students, of which I was one, were lost and could only panic over the thought of a blight on our academic record. Of course the results of the quiz did not become a matter of record. What it taught me was not to be blinded to the obvious by sheer panic.

Seventh grade was a major disappointment. We acquired a teacher who was having some kind of personal problem and was ultimately unable to cope with our little band of hellions. The boys were quick to spot and exploit her weaknesses. She failed to understand that we were not sweet little kids, but devious little teenagers. To make things worse, she was prickly, sensitive to perceived slights, and generally irritable. Needless to say, she did not endear herself to us and only incited us to harass her at every opportunity. She ended up taking medical leave and we finished out the year with "Miss Mittie" Bundick. Miss Mittie was another born teacher who didn't take any crap from her students. We had run amuck for much of the year, but she planted her thumb firmly on our little psyches and we kept to the straight and narrow until the term was over.

Now, what I learned from Mrs. H was never to underestimate my opponent. What I learned from Miss Mittie is that it's better to be in a class that is under control. You actually learn something.

In eighth grade we began to change classrooms and teachers for each subject. Life became more interesting when our world began to expand beyond the competence or incompetence of one person. Many of the teachers we encountered in the eighth grade would be the same teachers we had through high school and will be remembered in the next installment. There is, however, one thing that stands out about the eighth grade.

This was the year we were introduced to the concept of home economics and shop classes. These were new subjects for the Smiley school and it was the first time the girls and boys were split up for a period each day. Miss Thomas attempted to teach us to cook and sew. Mr. M took the boys in hand.

I thorougly enjoyed my year in home economics. I learned two things in particular that year. One was the art of making bread. The whole process fascinated me and I still like to make a loaf of bread from time to time. But more importantly, it was Miss Thomas who taught me to knit and crochet. We didn't learn any fancy stitches, but we did make some slippers and in the process I caught the knitting bug for life. From those basic knitting lessons I learned enough to be able to teach myself the fancy work later on. If not for Miss Thomas, I would probably never have learned to knit and I would have missed a lot of pleasurable moments clicking those needles together.

During the last six weeks of that spring semester, the administration in their infinite wisdom decided to send the boys to home ec and the girls to shop. I'm sure they thought it would be a good trans-gender experience, but Lord we girls were completely lost in that strange world of band saws and planes and various hard woods. In later years when I developed my fondness for dollhouse construction, I've thought back to that semester and wished that I had realized at the time what an opportunity I had been given. Instead, I spent six weeks pretty much immobilized from sheer terror of this strange world I had landed in. I did my best to just survive. Now I wish I had spent that time learning how to use a router. Hindsight.

I did get one other thing (other than panic attacks) from Mr. M that year. We acquired our first small dog from him when their dog had a litter of puppies. She was a little thing we named Dobie because she was half toy doberman. We adored that little dog and we've kept little dogs in the house ever since.

It was also in 1968 that I encountered the Mr. B who assigned us the task of compiling a family tree. He was our science teacher, so I'm not sure how he managed to work genealogy into his curriculum, but he did. I was generally bored out of my skull in his classes (the man seemed to always be talking about caliche). But one day he decided to talk about family history and I've not stopped talking family history since. He also let us knit in class, so I really should be more charitable toward him. But I sure got tired of talking about rocks.

I just recalled that it was in eighth grade that I decided to go out for the basketball team, so I also had Coach H for PE. I really should look that man up and apologize.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Teachers, Part 1

Some teachers are remembered fondly, others not so much. I was reminded this week how one of my favorite pasttimes has its roots in an assignment made by a teacher that I despised. Much as I hate to admit that the man has had a lasting influence on me, it is unfortunately a fact that such is the case. Maybe I would have gravitated to the hobby naturally on my own; however, it was Mr. B who initially focused my attention on the addiction that is genealogy. I got to thinking about other teachers in my past and their lasting presence (or absence) in my life today. So, permit me a few digressions on my educational past.

First the rules. Those I remember fondly will get credit. Those I remember with less enthusiasm will be identified by initials only.

Mrs. Gertrude Tillman taught me to read. Definitely on my plus list. She was a sweet woman and a great start to my educational years. She seemed ancient to me at the time, but she was a middle-aged 61 when we met. She was a born teacher. My clearest memories of first grade, back in 1960, was reading. I can remember her sitting with a small circle of us, patiently guiding us through the forest of words. I can remember her setting up a chart with our names and putting a little cut-out book beside our name every time we completed reading a book on our own. I had a very long line of little books beside my name at the end of the year. Everything I've accomplished in my life has its roots in learning to read with Mrs. Tillman.

Mrs. B, my second grade teacher, I remember hardly at all. I'm surprised I even remember her name. The year I entered second grade, the third grade was bursting at the seams. The solution was to split the third grade and move half of them in with us, since the second grade was small. Mrs. B ended up devoting most of the year to working with the third graders and pretty much left us second graders adrift. I can't remember anything about that year that matters, except I spent two weeks at home with the mumps and I played a dancing doll in the Christmas pagent. I can't remember doing any school work, but I do remember a lot of chatter among the students and a lot of art work. I have one dim memory of Mrs. B showing me how to put a pretty edge on a picture I was cutting out from a magazine. Aside from that, I can't remember any relationship with the woman at all.

Third grade occurred in a different school. Mrs. P spent the first six weeks we were together mispronouncing my name. I never quite forgave her for that. Her teaching methods left something to be desired, but I do remember learning a few things. An improvement over the previous year, though not by much. Mrs. P divided the class in groups according to the row you sat in. She would post work to be done on the blackboard first thing in the morning and then would work with each group of students in turn in their reading, while the remaining students worked on the posted assignments. We actually made friends toward the end of the year, but she was not an easy woman to warm to and she just couldn't seem to get it straight how to say my name. One lasting influence she had on me was not really her fault. The Victoria schools taught cursive writing in fourth grade. When we left Victoria and moved to Smiley at the end of the year, I learned that cursive writing was taught in third grade in Smiley. So, having slipped into an educational crack, I basically taught myself cursive writing.

"Miss Reba" Bundick was a good teacher. She had taught nearly everyone that lived in Smiley and knew what she was doing. I can remember lessons about Ecuador, long division, and being groomed for the U.I.L. Picture Memory contest. And, of course, that was the year I became proficient in Roman Numerals, though it was Coach M who taught me that and not Miss Reba. Miss Reba was another born teacher and not only taught us well, but also encouraged our creative sides. I can remember being mortified that I just could not seem to grasp the concept of long division and being kept in at recess as a result. But the extra individual attention she was able to give during that time finally got me over the hurdle. Miss Reba was a force and a character that caused grown men to tremble in her wake. Her college ring was a large ring intended for male graduates and she would rap it against her desk to get our attention. She retired not too many years after my sojourn in her kingdom, but her influence was felt for several generations of Smiley citizens.

Fifth grade came along and I had my first male teacher, Mr. K. The thing that sticks out in my mind about fifth grade is that my focus took a holiday. I had a hard time remembering assignments and I seemed to be moving in my own little orbit that year. I maintained my grades, so I can only surmise that for some reason I was either bored or unchallenged and creating my own mental exercises that kept me distracted from what was going on in the classroom. Weird year. Can't remember too much about Mr. K. Can't remember much of anything about that year. I do recall that he threatened to give licks to a group of girls at one point, which scandalized the entire class. He was pretty attached to that paddle board and used it frequently on the boys.

Thus ended my elementary years. Two winners, one loser and a couple of draws.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Happy Dog

Mojo is in bliss today. This morning I went out and hosed off the deck and it's the first time since last summer he has been able to fight the water hose. Thorougly wet, but utterly satisfied, he stuck by my side while I disassembled the "greenhouse" on the other deck. He barked at squirrels, fought the broom while I swept the debris of 3 months of plant droppings off the deck, and again got to attack the water hose when we watered down the liberated plants.

Mom, thoroughly exhausted, sat down for a second cup of coffee and an episode of I Love Lucy. Mojo jumped up in the chair beside me and snuggled down beside me. Then he turned toward me and gave me a look of complete satisfaction. For an instant his eyes took on the triangular shape that was Bebop's unique way of showing his total happiness. It was almost as if Mojo was channeling my former best helper. Caught me off guard. For a split second it was Bebop sitting beside me.

I would not be at all surprised if I had two helpers with my work this morning.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ken and Barbie and Xana and Scout

Way, way back in about 1963, I acquired one of the very first Ken dolls. Those first Kens sported fuzzy hair that did not hold up well to play. My Ken became pretty much bald in a very short period of time. Mother remedied the situation with a black marker and Mattel, realizing they had a design problem, moved to a Ken with a molded head of hair.

Skip ahead 45 years. Mattel has been reissuing anniversary dolls and Ken turned 45 this past year. So they issued an anniversary edition of the very doll I had, complete with flocked hair. I couldn't resist. Today my old Ken (on the left) met the new/old Ken (on the right). My old Ken lost his swim trunks somewhere over the last 45 years, but you'll notice his sandals are still in pretty good shape. The new Ken is a fraction taller and his head is a bit rounder, but he's not far from the original.

Also in the shipment I received today was the latest in the Barbie and Ken Wizard of Oz dolls. When I get a chance, I will get them all out and take a photo. I have Barbie as Dorothy, Glenda the Good Witch and now as the Wicked Witch of the West. I have Ken as the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. I also have a few Kelly/Tommy dolls portraying some of the Munchkins. The cool thing about my new Barbie Wicked Witch is that she's green, right down to her legs. It's a weird collection, but we all have to collect something, right?

I worked at home today so I could run Xana over to the vet in Elgin for a follow up visit. We were pleased that her weight has held, her blood work came back improved and the doctor felt she was responding well to her fluid treatments and new drug. There's no escaping we have an elderly dog, but she's stabilized somewhat and that's good news.

Sometime during the afternoon I glanced over at the window seat and saw that Scout was still for a change. Not only still, but being incredibly lazy.

What a hard life.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Wide, Wonderful World

Yesterday I went to the Bass Concert Hall on the UT Campus to see The Lion King. It was an extraordinary experience. The story of the stage production is the same as that of the animated movie, with music by Elton John and Tim Rice. There the resemblance ends. The costumes and stage sets have to be seen to be believed. The actors portraying the various animals are seen and heard in their own costumed personas, but each works with a mask or puppet that take over and you stop seeing the actors and start seeing the characters almost immediately. The casting was superb, the singing lively and energetic, the dancing outstanding and the staging awesome.

In the first few minutes of Act 1, various animals come down the aisles of the theater. This included antelopes, zebras, and a humongous elephant. In the first few minutes of Act 2, colorful birds flew over the heads of the audience, with the puppeteers sprinkled throughout the auditorium and the balconies. The heavily child-populated audience was spellbound.

Whatever else you say about Disney, they know how to put on a good show. The Disney of today may be more concerned with making a buck than the one I grew up with, but they still know how to entertain.

The one I grew up with gave me many enjoyable moments when my parents took me to see Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, The Absent Minded Professor, Pollyanna, and hundreds of Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck cartoons. I went to see Old Yeller, too, but I can't say I enjoyed it. It may be a good movie, but my little heart was broken at the end. Terrible thing to show a child. I still won't watch that movie.

I can remember being completely taken with Sleeping Beauty. I was treated to a charm bracelet promotional item that was sold at the screening. I wish I still had that bracelet. For my fifth birthday, one of the few where I actually had a real party with kids, I received a set of paper dolls and I played Sleeping Beauty happily for a long time, until the dolls fell apart from use.

I have another clear memory of a Saturday afternoon long ago. I was preparing to watch the Disney show and my father was preparing to hand-crank a freezer of home-made ice cream. We set up shop in front of the television and I sat on the freezer to hold it down while he cranked. I remember distinctly watching a Goofy cartoon with a cold rear end. Funny how things connect in your mind. I seldom think of the Disney show without thinking about ice cream.

I've had a lot of enjoyment watching Disney movies. I have quite a few in my DVD collection today. I would much rather watch The Sword in the Stone than some bloody, gory adult movie any day. Good entertainment is good entertainment whether you are six or sixty and Disney can usually be counted on for good entertainment.

Those were the days of Hakuna Matata.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tea and Art

About 15 years ago, I bought a set of black oriental miniature furniture in an antique store. It's been a long time in finding a place in a room setting, but today I finally created a vignette that I've named "Tea and Art".

The box is a display case usually employed for displaying collectible footballs. The sides are glass and highly reflective, which makes taking photos difficult. Hopefully you can tell what's going on here.

The focal point for the room was purchased a couple of weeks ago in San Antonio. The red chair is by Bespaq, a high-end line of miniatures. This is the one and only piece I own, primarily because I can't usually afford it. I happened across a 30% discount that allowed this chair to come home with me.

On the floor is a red Persian-style rug. There are two cork miniature scenes, one purchased in an antique store and the other from World Market. On the round table at left are three porcelain vases with white and blue designs. Mini-Ming. A black screen stretches around the chair and is flanked by two small display tables that each hold a mini "ivory" Buddha. At the far side of the box is a red, carved trunk that I found at an antique store some time back. Above it is a painting of a lovely oriental lady dressed in red. To the right of the painting is a tall display unit holding an "ivory" pagoda that was unearthed on a junking tour of Georgetown. In the far corner is a black chest that holds a red Buddha statue purchased at the outlet mall in San Marcos.

In front of the chair is a table holding a teapot, teacup and jar of Oolong tea. The owner of this room collects Chinese art and likes to sit and have a cup of tea while enjoying his surroundings.

See what trouble I can get into when I'm not having to worry about house cleaning?


Top of the Morning

And a happy St. Patty's day to all!

Today I celebrate my Irish ancestry through the Dunavan and Hughes lines. These two are Irish for sure and I believe I have Irish blood coming down through some of my other lines as well. My Hughes kinfolk were weavers and may account for my affinity for knitting and crocheting.

Today I also celebrate having a clean house for a change. I ran into my former cleaning lady a couple of weeks ago and she's back in business. Yesterday she cleaned the house from top to bottom and it was quite a job. I did not inherit a love of housecleaning from any of my ancestors and the best I can normally manage is a lick and a promise. (Those promises seldom get fulfilled.) It's just too hard to work up any energy for housecleaning after a week of aggravating work and that two hour commute every day. I plan to sit back and enjoy my clean surroundings today, since I know they won't last very long.

My Irish blood doesn't mind a little dirt in the corners and animals on the furniture, but my English blood thinks it would be nice if we had these clean up sessions a little more often. Which, if my cleaning lady's health holds up for awhile, I hope will happen.

So in honor of St. Patrick's Day and my clean house, I leave you with a traditional Irish blessing:

May you live to be a hundred years,
With one extra year to repent!


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Seeing Through the Eyes of a Little Dog

When it rains a long, sustained rain like we had earlier this week, our little dry creek behind the house becomes a little babbling brook. Yesterday afternoon the dogs and I took a walk down our gravel road and I could hear our little brook cheerfully gurgling its way down the hill. Mojo could hear it, too, and he wasn't at all sure what he thought about it.

Just the day before he had peered down the deep (to him, anyway) chasm and thought about making his way down to the bottom. As he approached the same vantage point after the rain, he couldn't quite figure out what had happened. He cautiously peered over and then looked back to me as if to say, "That wasn't there yesterday!". He was quite bemused.

A little later on, we headed up into the woods behind the house to make our way home and he unexpectedly plunged into a puddle that was disguised by a mat of pine needles. Again he looked up at me in puzzlement. "That wasn't there yesterday!", he seemed to say again. It put him on guard and a few minutes later he sounded an alarmed bark when he spotted a trash can that had been blown out into the yard. He knows where things are supposed to be in his world and he doesn't like it at all if his environment gets shaken up a bit.

He's still upset by that strange dog that keeps watching him in the mirror.

What fun to watch a little boy grow up.


Saturday, March 10, 2007


You may recall a post awhile back regarding the demise of a little stuffed bear. I thought then that it couldn't get any worse. Poor, naive me.

This morning I was greeted by the delinquents when I opened my door and a pair of more cherubic souls you could not ask for. And then I turned on the bathroom light and saw the carnage. A thorough examination of the premises has revealed the following.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, a dalmatian Beanie Baby was savagely attacked in the family room. His life blood of white plastic discs, each about the size of a small lentil, had been spilled across the family room floor. There was also a considerable amount of tissue, in this case polyfiberfil, strewn about. The trail of blood and tissue continued up the stair case and into the bathroom, where he was left cold and lifeless in the bathtub as his life force drained away from him.

You would be surprised how many of those little plastic discs there are in one average Beanie Baby. I was tempted to call one of those crime clean up companies to deal with the hideous aftermath. Thank goodness for my two Oreck vacuums. It was quite a job to remove the evidence.

My two little murderers are strolling around, looking quite pleased with themselves for having created such an entertaining activity for their mommy at 5:30 in the morning.

Anybody know of a good reform school for cats?


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Music Appreciation 101

I received a free CD of classical music in the mail this week with an offer to sign up for regular shipments of additional CDs. I immediately toss any kind of offer like this in the trash, but the free CD was worth keeping since it was basically a greatest hits collection of Mozart. I listened to it on the way to work this morning and enjoyed it thoroughly. Especially one of the pieces. It's an old friend of mine.

Back in my Mary Hardin-Baylor days everyone was required to take 3 hours of fine arts. It was an easy choice for me and I embarked on a semester of Music Appreciation. We met in an upstairs classroom of the old Presser Fine Arts building. It was an evening class that began at 6PM. And it was springtime. Perfect atmosphere for the appreciation of classical compositions.

My old friends Beethoven and Chopin were well represented. And, in my early years, Daddy had purchased a 12-record collection of the greatest classical pieces performed by the Longines Symphonette which had included many of the pieces we were to study. There were some surprises, like Stravinsky. At the time I thought Rite of Spring was bizarre, but I've come to appreciate it over the years. It may be that many of those in the class were suffering through the semester because it was a requirement, but I was at home with Bach, Brahms, and the other old boys and enjoyed my rare departure from the no-nonsense business department.

One evening stands out in my mind and it was brought back to me this morning as the first notes of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G Minor began to play. For some reason I had missed learning any Mozart pieces during my years of piano lessons. I was familiar with some of his work by virtue of the Longines Symphonette and wide study of the works of Bugs Bunny, but I had never before encountered Symphony No. 40.

It was a perfect spring evening and the windows of the classroom had been opened wide. The trees outside the windows held birds who provided interesting harmonic complement to the music playing inside. I have no memory of what specific element of composition was supposed to be represented by Symphony No. 40, but I can remember when I first heard that first bar of music.

I was struck dumb by the beauty of the thing. Perhaps it was the setting. To be wrapped in the arms of a gentle spring breeze and to be exposed to a particularly beautiful piece of music was something I was unprepared for that evening. I found myself almost moved to tears without warning. I've never listened to that piece since and felt quite the same intense emotional reaction, but it always fills me with contentment.

That Texas spring evening I knew music appreciation in its purest sense.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Living Ala Carte

I'm about ready to tackle dinner this evening. It seems that tonight I will be cooking 4 separate meals.

First of all, I plan to play hooky tomorrow, so I'm going to make chili beans out of the pot of beans I cooked yesterday and have them ready for tomorrow night.

Second, much to the frowning disapproval of the vet, I cook for my dogs. I don't like the words that appear in the ingredients portion of dog food labels. Like "by-products". Who wants to eat by-products of anything? My babies deserve to be fed decent food that could be ingested by humans. So, I shall be frying up some ground turkey to be mixed with a can of unsalted veggies for the dogs.

Third, I've suffered from sinus congestion all day. I slept very little last night, finally moving downstairs to the couch in a fit of desperation. By morning I had been joined by two of the dogs and had had to get up once to lock the cats in the utility room because they wanted to play with my feet. I had no choice but to work most of the day so that I could afford to play hooky tomorrow and I sat here at the desk oozing vile things from my nose and trying to focus on the CRT while my head was vibrating. I finally began to feel better about 4PM, took a hot shower, dressed in comfy clothing and decided I should whip up a batch of Chicken Tortilla Soup. That should make me feel all better.

But Mother doesn't like Chicken Tortilla Soup, so I'm also preparing a steak and salad for her.

That's four separate meals I'm cooking tonight. I think I may have missed my calling. I should really be a short order cook.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Spring Green and the Land of Oz

I am going to love my country commute even more when spring arrives. There are already signs that its arrival is just around the corner:

Tractors are tilling up the cotton fields
Horses are frolicking in the green grassy pastures
New calves are playing little calf games
Brahman bulls are bucking the authority of the rancher (he settled down with a touch of the cattle prod, but there for a minute I thought he was going to make a break for it)
Tender buds are forming on the trees
Dead skunks are littering the pavement

That last one makes for a fragrant ride to work. I'm going to wear out the button on the electric windows lowering them an inch to let the stink out.

And, of course, this is the season for unstable weather patterns. Last night a tornado tore through a school in Alabama and the news this morning was full of photos of the aftermath. I thought to myself that there is one experience I hope I never have. I have no desire to see a tornado up close and personal. I can't fathom what drives the storm chasers.

I've actually had a distant encounter with a tornado, but I have very little memory of it. In fact I hesitate to mention it at all because I don't know how much I actually remember and how much is memories of others that I've adopted as my own. I do have several very clear flashes of the day that are all mine.

I was probably 3 or 4 at the time. We were visiting the kinfolk in Elgin and I've been told that Mother and I were napping in the back bedroom. One of those clear flashes is looking through the screen window in that room, so I fully believe that I was lying on the bed close to the window. The next thing I think I know is being hustled to the truck and becoming aware that the grownups had decided to drive out from under the threat of a tornado that had formed and looked to be heading our way. I don't think I knew what all the fuss was about, but I remember the sense of urgency and I can remember looking up through the pickup window.

I've been told that we were driving away and came to a crossroads where it was unclear which direction would be the best escape route. About that time the tail of the tornado took a little jig in one of the directions and we turned in the opposite.

I'm not sure what happened next. I guess the storm passed over and the fear went with it. I can remember that we encountered my father on the road, driving back from whereever he had been and we stopped. I have a clear memory of looking out the driver's window at my father in the other car.

I'm hoping that was my brush with the Land of Oz and that I never get another experience with it. After all, there's no place like home.