Sunday, August 28, 2011

blah, blah, blah...

Sometimes I'm a real 'chatty Cathy.' When I'm among my WOWs or WILLOWS, or close other friends, I keep up with the best of them.* I tend to interject when Excy is 'holding court,' because, frankly, he can talk too much or too long (Seriously. Ask anybody).

One thing I won't do is dominate the conversation or go on too long -- underneath it all, I am a bit of an introvert. I can only fully articulate my feelings on the written page. And arguments make me 'shut down.' I am getting better with age at speaking up. I wouldn't call myself a door-mat, by any means, but sometimes it takes an effort when it's a touchy subject.

In the '90s when I was at my last full-time job, I spent all my working days in meetings, interviewing people, on the phone, and writing and editing on the page and for videos. When I needed to write (newsletter, scripts, speeches, brochures, etc.), I was frustrated by constant interruptions. I finally made a sign and tried to establish guidelines of when I didn't mind being interrupted and when I'd be checking email, that kind of thing...of course, it didn't work that well. It's amazing how many people don't think a sign applies to them. They want what they want when they want it. "I saw your sign, and know you're working, but I just need to ask...."

My director was the worst. I guess she thought she had to " pop in for a sec" just to make sure I wasn't face-down on the desk catching a few ZZZZZs or cruising the internet.

The last thing I felt like doing when I got home was talking on the phone. So I started to take 'vows of silence' and refusing phone calls. A ringing phone never bothers me, anyway. I usually let 'the electronic butler' take a message and get back to the caller later. That can drive Excy crazy, since he can not NOT answer a ringing phone. Not to mention a friend who insists on calling just to 'chat' while out running errands. Drives me insane...but most of my friends respect my 'phone phobia,' and I don't mind a good long conversation if it's been awhile since I've seen someone.

Sometimes I spend a whole day not talking at all. No set day, just when I feel I need to refuel from a hectic pace. Honestly, with email and a writing tablet, it's not that difficult to go one day without talking. Excy doesn't mind, knowing I will go at least one full day without interrupting, and I am a captive audience. Unless you call a hastily scratched note an interruption...

* sometimes I catch myself interrupting, which I hate to do, but it's the only way to get a word in edge-wise, at times, with a group of excitable women (particularly ones with wineglasses in their hands)...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Animal Observations

We went to my parent's house for Sunday supper. Not only was it fun to visit with them, I got to see the turtle mom's been talking about for a few weeks. She keeps a bowl of scraps by the kitchen porch for various critters and, in her words, "an army helmet showed up at the back door." Now, every day, the turtle lumbers onto the porch to eat his fill of strawberries, lettuce, stale bread, and whatever else mom puts out. They learned the turtle was a 'he' when they saw him en flagellate with a lady tortoise, who trapped him when she snapped the shell closed on his toes! Dad splashed cold water over her shell and she released him and 'sped' away. (They can really speed when they want to). A chipmunk also seems to be the turtle's companion, hanging out on the porch with him. But maybe he just likes the daily buffet.

For the past two weeks, a red-headed woodpecker has been on the 'bird tree' (a cedar stob we hang the feeders from), feeding one of her kids (who is as big as she is) by plucking out a sunflower seed, prying it open, and feeding him the meat. She is also demonstrating how to peck holes in the stob. The kid waits patiently for his meal and practices his holes under the watchful eye of the parent. I'd love to put suet out, but the 'coons even steal all the suet that they supposedly will not eat (guess they didn't get the memo).

Speaking of 'coons, we still have the two mommas and the five babies between them. Three and two. One mom and two of the little ones were eating the dog food in the yard, and the third wandered onto the terrace to drink from the koi pond. When he realized he was alone, he began to whine. Hearing it, the mama ushered the other siblings underneath the screen porch and then hustled up to the terrace. Seeing that the baby was fine, just alone and disoriented, she kinda brushed his fur and urged him on. If there had been a thought bubble over her head, I swear it would've read, "Oh my're fine....come on, dummy..."

On a most sad note, we lost our 17 yr old domestic horse a few weeks ago. Leroy came from Santa Fe, and we rescued him after he had spent a life in hard service in a working cowboy's string of horses. He hadn't been well cared for. He helped Excy round up the 'wild ones' for a few years, but when a stallion challenged him, he apparently decided he was getting too old for the work, and so he was retired to the corral where he lived with our two adopted mustangs and they all were close friends. Apparently he got kicked hard in the upper shoulder during some rough-housing. The vet confirmed the leg wasn't broken, and so for a week he was dosed, and since he couldn't walk or move to keep the flies off we aimed a fan into his space. Excy checked on him every few hours. Towards the end of the week he seemed to be a bit more comfortable, but by the time he was checked on and we watched a movie, he had fallen and died, and rigor mortis had set in. The vet said it was probably the pain and shock of the fall that killed him. It took Excy and a helpful neighbor 8 hours to get him out of the corral and down a hill and buried the following day. The two boys in the corral seem to be better now but they sure missed him at first.

This has been a sad year....not just with the loss of human loved ones, but with the loss of two beloved cats, one raccoon, Francis the Fox and her family MIA, and now the horse...I am hoping that's all...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Menagerie

Two of my 'essay/tales' are being published in a book from Temnous Publishing for 'Tales of the South.' The only stipulation is the stories be true. I thought you'd enjoy reading them, so here is #1...

One afternoon this summer I stepped into a jewelry store and ran into an acquaintance from high school. I was embarrassed she remembered me, calling out my name, because while she looked familiar, I couldn’t quite place where I knew her. But she had been in a different graduation class, and we had never known one another well, so I didn’t feel too awkward when she re-introduced herself. Besides, high school was more years ago now than I care to remember. We passed the time chatting about this and that, and then I told her about the ‘wild bunch.’ My husband and I live on Wye Mountain, in the countryside near Little Rock. We are caregivers to a small herd of mustangs across the road, having saved them from slaughter, and we starting a nonprofit sanctuary for their care. When I tell people this, they are invariably curious, and want to come see for themselves. When my old high school acquaintance heard about the mustangs, she let out a whoop -- “My son loves horses!” she trilled, “he’s absolutely crazy about them; we’d just love to come out!” She seemed so eager we consulted the calendar on the spot, and made a date for the first available afternoon.

I was raking leaves the afternoon the car pulled in the drive. ‘T’ jumped out, crying greetings, followed by a young boy and then yet another boy. I was a bit startled by the sudden on-rush of bodies pouring forth, and noticed more passengers still in the car. My mind flashed to those clown cars at the circus. “This is Braxton, my son, and his friend, Jack Russell. When Jack found out where we were going, he insisted on coming along.” “Hi,” I said, walking towards them. “Jack, you’re named after one of my favorite dogs.” I cringed when I heard the words come out of my mouth, but since Jack Russell stared at me blankly I assumed he didn’t know the breed.

“What’s that smell? I’m allergic to hay!” whined Braxton. ‘T’ whirled around towards him. “Stop it!” she said. “We’ve heard it driving out here four times now; you’re allergic, you’re allergic! You’ve had Benadryl, you’ll be fine!” she glanced towards me with an apologetic shrug. Just then, I noticed a woman climbing out of the driver’s side of the car. She trudged forward, glaring at me. I wondered briefly if I knew her, as she seemed to know – and disapprove -- of me – but her face didn’t ring any bells. “This is my friend, ‘T,’” said the first Ms. ‘T,’ “and she brought out her friend, Mimi, who wanted to get out of the nursing home for the afternoon,” said the first ‘T.’ By now I really was thinking this was a clown car. The passenger door cracked open and a wizened woman with a deficit of teeth popped her head out. “Hello,” I said, walking over to her side. “So glad you could join us…” “SHE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” shouted the second Ms. ‘T.’ I took a step backward. Mimi couldn’t walk, either, and a wheelchair was hauled out of the trunk. “Sorry about the gravel, but you can drive the car across the street to see the horses in the pasture,” I said. “That’s fine, I’ll just walk her around the corrals over here,” said ‘T-too’. Mimi settled into the wheelchair. She glanced towards ‘T’. “Who’re you?” she asked. “Why, you know me, Mimi, I rode out here with you,” replied ‘T.’ “You’re FAT,” Mimi said. ‘T’ stood shock-still. “I’m fat?” she echoed in a small voice.

“Do you have any other animals?” asked the boys. I told them we had three cats in the house, and they asked to see them. ‘T’ said she also wanted to see the house, so we left Mimi and T-squared on their walk to the corrals and went inside. Once in the house, however, the boys proceeded to run through the rooms, down the hallways, and into the master bedroom, racing after one of my now-terrified cats, which had been dozing peacefully on the couch in the living room. By the time ‘T’ and I walked back to the bedroom, all three cats were cornered on the screened porch, teeth bared and claws extended. Fearing for their safety, as well as the boy’s skin, I quickly suggested we go back outside.

By this time, my husband, Excy, had driven up in our 6-wheeler. “Hello, boys,” he called out, “Who wants to load a bale of hay and go see some horses?” “Oh, boy!” crowed Jack Russell. “I’m allergic to hay!” whined Braxton. Braxton eyed the 6-wheeler dolefully. “I wanna ride in the car with you, mom!” The two Ts climbed in the car where Mimi had been deposited, having seen the horses in the corrals over here and gotten back in the car while we were still inside the house. “I’ll just stay here,” I said weakly, glad of the opportunity to be alone again. Excy and Jack Russell led the way across the street and through the first gate. But the car had stopped and sat at the gate. And sat. And sat. And sat. Finally, Braxton and his mother climbed out of the car and strolled back towards the house. “I have ‘ta use the bathroom!” shouted Braxton. I gave them directions to the hall bathroom and continued raking yard debris. Fifteen minutes rolled by. Just as I was considering going in to see if they needed anything, they came out the front door. “We’re just like a circus!” ‘T’ sang out merrily as she and Braxton joined the others. “Uhm,” I replied.

They were across the street a long time. Then I saw the car exit the pasture lane and drive off. Guess they had to get back to town, I thought, not at all upset they were unable to say goodbye. Shortly afterwards, though, Excy drove up with Jack Russell, Braxton, and ‘T.’ “What happened?” I asked. “Mimi had some ‘health issues,’ and she didn’t want to miss dinner at the home. They serve at five,” said ‘T.’ “But don’t worry; she’ll be right back.” “Right back,” being a 45-minute trip one way to the edge of west Little Rock. I quickly calculated another hour-and-a-half of visiting. “Can we see your horses over here?” she asked. We walked over to the corrals by the house. Excy dropped the boys off, and without saying a word, drove down to his studio, where he disappeared for the rest of the visit. ‘T’ and I sat on the porch of the tack room and watched the boys toss a rubber ball from the horse corral back and forth, dirt rising like mushroom clouds that enveloped them in greater circles with each throw. “I’m thirsty!” said Braxton, as he walked over to grab a ‘Big Gulp’ cup out of ‘T’s hand. “Where’s your drink, mother?” he added sweetly, taking long sips through the straw. ‘T’ ignored the query.

“I’m bored,” wailed Jack Russell. “Can we go watch cartoons inside your house?” “No,” I said. “I just had the house cleaned yesterday, and ya’ll are filthy; besides, you freaked my cats out.” Both boys frowned. “What if we take our shoes off?” said Jack Russell. “What good would that do?” replied ‘T,’ saving me the trouble. “I don’t know,” he grumbled. “I’m sorry…” I began. “Don’t worry about it!” replied ‘T.’ “I make Braxton strip before he can come inside the house all the time!”

“Let’s go sit on the back terrace,” I suggested, leading the way through the yard. Braxton plopped on the chaise lounge beside us. “Look,” said ‘T,’ “I’ll give you $50 dollars if you catch a lizard – but you have to show it to me.” “Geez, ‘T,’” I said. “For $50 dollars I’ll find a lizard!” Jack Russell jumped off the terrace wall. “I’m gonna go find me $50 dollars,” he said, ambling off. Braxton didn’t move. Ten minutes later, Jack Russell was back. “Couldn’t find one,” he said, his voice trailing off weakly. “What??” I said. “I just saw three sitting here!” He went off to try again, this time with Braxton in tow. But they were soon back, having exhausted all possibilities of capturing an allusive lizard. “What’s in there?” asked Jack Russell, pointing to the goldfish pond, and he and Braxton, without waiting for a reply, were soon merrily trying to capture the fish with their hands, splashing and dislodging plants and the filter. Relieved they were briefly preoccupied, I didn’t bother telling them to stop, though I know the fish were mighty disturbed, and that Excy would be spending the early evening putting the plants and equipment to rights again.

Just then, ‘T-too’ drove up and joined us, and some the foursome were on their way back towards the car. “Thanks a lot,” said ‘T,’ as the boys huddled together and giggled, no-doubt complaining to each other about what a Nazi I had been about not allowing them back inside the house. Without saying a word to me, they climbed into the car. Without a further word by anybody, the car disappeared down the road. When I told the story to a friend, she laughed so hard she snorted. Wiping tears from her eyes, she said, “Braxton? Are you sure it was Braxton? Maybe his name is Brat-son.. You were a free afternoon’s entertainment!” I laughed, and made a mental note to find a different jewelry store to frequent.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Paper Trails and Trials

I read in the August issue of Real Simple magazine that 83% of human-resource managers feel that the state of an employee's office affects their perception of his/her's professionalism. I think that's trite, but since I heard once that it takes about 10 seconds for someone to size you up before forming an opinion, I guess it's not that surprising.

I knew someone who was fired for her disheveled office. J was a good friend and a solid (though slow-working) graphic artist. She was creative and hard-working. Incidentally, she was also a hoarder. You couldn't walk in her house easily, and even then, in a single-file path, as 'things' were stacked from floor to ceiling. She had two metal racks full of costumes in her dining room, for some reason never fully explained when I asked. You couldn't see the furniture for the junk. She also had a crammed-to-the brim storage unit, and she had a layaway tag on so many items in antique stores in the state that a fellow worker and I used to joke to one another about how we knew it was 'J' before we turned a tag over on an item we wanted.

This was before the TV shows on hoarders, so we didn't know quite how (or if) we should approach the issue. I felt as long as she wasn't affecting anybody and it didn't interfere with her work, it wasn't our place to intervene, other than to let her know we'd help should she want to have a garage sale (!) I went as far as to suggest we might team up to tackle each other's houses for any 'daunting' cleaning projects or painting chores, but she didn't seem interested. I let it go. Unfortunately, our bosses didn't feel that way. I heard raised voices one afternoon and our 'head' boss from DC was loudly inquiring how he was supposed to walk into her office without stepping on 'something important,' and that she 'couldn't possibly be efficient and organized in a mess like this.'

I tried to talk with her a few times after that to let her know people were talking, and whether or not I could help her organize. She insisted everything had to stay in place and everything was necessary for work, despite my picking through stuff like 4 rough drafts of edited papers that had long been published...

Well, you know where this is going...she was fired after being put on probation a few months. She went back to school and is in a totally new career and much happier. Sadly we don't get together too often anymore, and when we do we go to a restaurant. So I haven't seen the inside of her house.

Every time I sigh over the 'trail' Excy leaves throughout the house, I remember J and don't feel quite as bad. But I have had to 'surrender' the library over to Be (his dad's) paper until he gets all the mess sorted out. He's promised to let me have a bonfire this fall.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Alternate Realities

Life has been so terribly difficult and depressing. I never consider 'things can't get worse,' as invariably life then conspires to show me how yes, it truly can. I am almost to the point of going back to Mayberry: my fallback decompression mode for when life gets so suck as to be nonexistent --retreating into the simple pleasures of Andy Griffith tapes. (Blog post 'Back to Mayberry' was written 9/25/09. How do you make a link?).

People who know me well will be shocked to hear I am finally resorting to considering meds until I can regain a will to continue. I hate to take anything, and resist 'feel-good' drugs--it would be odd not to be depressed at this point - but it's time to pull out bigger guns...

Lately I have been reading even more than usual -- which is a lot, anyway. And the books I am grabbing off the shelf are true-life accounts of people who have lived through harrowing times. Reading of their hardship and perseverance and strength of spirit gives me some measure of strength and will power.

The first book I highly recommend is finally out in paperback: Empire of the Summer Moon. As related on the cover, it is about the rise and fall of the Commanche nation and also the account of Quanah Parker, who was the son of a white captive and a tribesman chief. Parker became the 'last' Commanche chief who never surrendered but acquiesced and became a leader in helping his people live and adapt once they moved to a reservation. The book is full of fascinating stories about Mexico and Texas from the 1600s on, the rise of the Plains Indians and the mustang, the beginnings of the frontier and the Texas Rangers, range wars and horrific battles between Indians pushed to the warpath, and white settlers trying to claim a stake...I think I highlighted every page and poured over the notes and bibliography for more books to read.

The second book is Unbroken. The true account of a poverty-stricken kid who was a real juvenile delinquent who was saved from no-doubt a criminal life when he discovered running, and became an Olympic athlete whose career was cut short by WWII. He was a bombardier whose plane ditched in the ocean and he and two other survivors broke a record of drifting 47 days in a life raft, fending off sharks with no food or water. When they were found by the Japanese and interred in a POW camp they missed the raft. He was imprisoned 2 1/2 years in conditions and treatment I don't know how he endured. The book has a happy ending - thus the title - but it's a heart-rending read.

I received Same Kind of Different as Me, about the relationship between a modern-day sharecropper slave turned homeless man and a millionaire and his wife, and it's also a diverting read.

I have tons of others stacked on the bedside. So many books, so little time. It helps me when I have no energy for anything else.

What are you enjoying reading?

Monday, August 1, 2011

I (Heart) Myrna!

I share my birthday (August 2) with my favorite movie star: Myrna Loy.

I couldn't believe it when I first found out.

Born in 1905, the fabulous Myrna died age 88 in 1993. She never received an Oscar for a single performance, but did receive an honorary Oscar in 1991. Acknowledging the recognition was her last public appearance.

I first became enamored with Myrna watching the entire Thin Man series -- Nick and Nora Charles and their dog, Asta, are so cosmopolitan and suave as they solve crimes. They have a fabulous life; watching it just makes you want to be a part of it.

In every film, Myrna is poised, witty, sophisticated, funny, pretty without being distractingly gorgeous, and, while always a lady, she can be disarmingly down-to-earth and bawdy. She treated everyone equally, getting along with everybody no matter who they were.

She was miscast when she first began in films, playing exotic roles, femme fetales, and vamps. She came into her own in the '30s when she got scripts where she was allowed to be witty and showcase her comic timing. She was an excellent comedienne -- and her slight air of ditziness and clumsiness further endeared her to me, since I seem to share both traits.

Some of my favorite films are the Thin Man series, as mentioned, as well as Libeled Lady (one of my favorite screwball comedies), Test Pilot, Wife vs. Secretary, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House. She worked with them all: Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, William Powell -- and held her own with all of them. Her most frequent co-star with the debonair Powell. They were in 14 films together.

She was rumored to have affairs with Spencer Tracy, Leslie Howard, and William Powell.

Personally, she sounds as awesome as I would have hoped she would be. She all but quit acting during WWII to concentrate on raising funds for the war effort and to work with the Red Cross.
She spoke out against Hitler so vehemently she was on his blacklist. She was an advocate for equal rights. She supported black performers when it wasn't popular to do so.

She married four times but the marriages just didn't work out. She never had kids, but was close to the step-kids she had. She was a breast cancer survivor in her later years. Sadly, she died during an operation.

Myrna Loy was class. There will never be another like her, and more's the pity.