Thursday, December 31, 2015


Another year has gone by in a flash. I cannot believe tomorrow is the first day of 2016--a year which sounds like science fiction to me. It's true how time speeds up the older one gets, it seems like I was just here the other day wishing everyone a Happy New Year at the start of 2015. This is one year I'm not especially sad to see the back of. Not that I haven't had worse, but I've definitely had better!

My crazy mother sent me a Facebook message last night reminding me to do all of our laundry tonight before midnight. My grandmother always said that washing clothes on new year's day would wash away a family member in the new year. Sigh. Who would dare to tempt fate with something so horrible? So while I know it's silly, I'll be scrambling to catch up our laundry AFTER I get off work tonight. Thanks mom!

Gregg and I will probably be headed to Raleigh tomorrow to visit his sister in the hospital  (she's coming along fairly well since the accident, and we appreciate everyone's concern!) and his mom. It's the only day off we have together for the next few weeks, so we need to do it. Since we're planning to leave very early in the morning, I doubt we'll be up much past midnight after seeing the new year in.

So while I'm preparing to head off to work, I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for being here. Thank you for your friendship, and for writing your own blogs that I enjoy so much. I wish for each and every one of you a safe, happy, and prosperous 2016.

See you on the other side!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dog tired

Too much food, too much alcohol, and too many long hours at work combined with weird disruptions in my normal schedule have worn me out. I have a Christmas hangover!

Today I had to go to work at 5am, and got off at 1:30pm. Despite the ridiculously early hour, I'm glad I was scheduled that way. We didn't open until 9:00, so I spent the first half of the day alone in my department, quietly resetting displays and pulling the clearance merchandise aside. Even after the store opened I continued working like that until it was time to leave. Now I'm off early in the day, and I'm off tomorrow too.

The animals seem tired and subdued. I think they also have holiday hangovers! They all got lots of treats, toys, and attention on Christmas Eve and day. Especially the dogs.

They've both been sleeping all day today.

Marco is sitting on my knee right now. Even he's getting droopy-eyed.

Now seems like a good time to join all the animals in an afternoon nap.
It's going to feel great!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ready or not...

You can stick a fork in me, baby, because I am DONE with shopping! If we don't have something at this point, we'll just have to do without!

I went out for a four-hour trek around town today and got the rest of the stuff we need to have a pleasant Christmas Eve and day. Lots of food, including a honey baked ham from Heavenly Ham (they're expensive but delicious) and a caramel cake and assorted cookies from the bakery down the street. I also picked up a nice selection of imported cheeses, olives, wine and champagne. We always eat really well at Christmas time.

I also got lots of treats for the dogs, and new toys for George and Marco (Ginger doesn't care for toys). It's not Christmas without stockings full of goodies for the pets.

Speaking of toys, I've mentioned before that my friend Marla is expecting a baby in February. Since I'll be an honorary Auntie to the child, I decided to buy a little gift for her this Christmas. She's due at the beginning of February.

That little stuffed dog is so wonderfully soft that you just want to rub it against your cheek. Perfect for a newborn. The book I chose to go with it is It's Time to Sleep, My Love by Nancy Tillman. Her books for children are really sweet, and they have the most exquisite watercolor illustrations.

I invited Marla over tonight after she got off work so I could give her the baby's gift. I prepared us drinks to toast with (champagne for me, sparkling white grape juice for her) and bakery cookies to munch on. We had a nice chat. Before she left I gave her a box of bayberry taper candles to burn for luck tomorrow night, and the gift for the baby. It was so nice to see her and wish her a merry Christmas--we've been friends for  quite a few of them, now.

So it's time for bed on this Christmas Eve eve, and as I went around blowing out candles and turning off lights to prepare for bed, I snapped a picture of our dining room table. I think it looks really pretty, shining there in the dark.

I'm ready for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas in literature

I wanted to share an excerpt from one of my favorite novels about pioneer life in America. The following is from My Antonia by Willa Cather. Young Jim Burden has gone to live with his grandparents on the prairies after the death of his parents, and befriends a young Bohemian girl named Antonia Shimerda, whose family have recently come to America. Her father was a distinguished, educated man in the old country, but he and his family are struggling to survive in America and are crushingly poor. And as poor immigrants who don't speak the language, they are not treated very well in their strange, new world.

My Antonia is available to read for free online, as it's in the public domain. (I like the Guttenberg site.) It's a wonderful novel of early American frontier life.


DURING THE WEEK before Christmas, Jake was the most important person of our household, for he was to go to town and do all our Christmas shopping. But on the twenty-first of December, the snow began to fall. The flakes came down so thickly that from the sitting-room windows I could not see beyond the windmill—its frame looked dim and grey, unsubstantial like a shadow. The snow did not stop falling all day, or during the night that followed. The cold was not severe, but the storm was quiet and resistless. The men could not go farther than the barns and corral. They sat about the house most of the day as if it were Sunday; greasing their boots, mending their suspenders, plaiting whiplashes.

On the morning of the twenty-second, grandfather announced at breakfast that it would be impossible to go to Black Hawk for Christmas purchases. Jake was sure he could get through on horseback, and bring home our things in saddle-bags; but grandfather told him the roads would be obliterated, and a newcomer in the country would be lost ten times over. Anyway, he would never allow one of his horses to be put to such a strain.

We decided to have a country Christmas, without any help from town. I had wanted to get some picture books for Yulka and Antonia; even Yulka was able to read a little now. Grandmother took me into the ice-cold storeroom, where she had some bolts of gingham and sheeting. She cut squares of cotton cloth and we sewed them together into a book. We bound it between pasteboards, which I covered with brilliant calico, representing scenes from a circus. For two days I sat at the dining-room table, pasting this book full of pictures for Yulka. We had files of those good old family magazines which used to publish coloured lithographs of popular paintings, and I was allowed to use some of these. I took 'Napoleon Announcing the Divorce to Josephine' for my frontispiece. On the white pages I grouped Sunday-School cards and advertising cards which I had brought from my 'old country.' Fuchs got out the old candle-moulds and made tallow candles. Grandmother hunted up her fancy cake-cutters and baked gingerbread men and roosters, which we decorated with burnt sugar and red cinnamon drops.

On the day before Christmas, Jake packed the things we were sending to the Shimerdas in his saddle-bags and set off on grandfather's grey gelding. When he mounted his horse at the door, I saw that he had a hatchet slung to his belt, and he gave grandmother a meaning look which told me he was planning a surprise for me. That afternoon I watched long and eagerly from the sitting-room window. At last I saw a dark spot moving on the west hill, beside the half-buried cornfield, where the sky was taking on a coppery flush from the sun that did not quite break through. I put on my cap and ran out to meet Jake. When I got to the pond, I could see that he was bringing in a little cedar tree across his pommel. He used to help my father cut Christmas trees for me in Virginia, and he had not forgotten how much I liked them.

By the time we had placed the cold, fresh-smelling little tree in a corner of the sitting-room, it was already Christmas Eve. After supper we all gathered there, and even grandfather, reading his paper by the table, looked up with friendly interest now and then. The cedar was about five feet high and very shapely. We hung it with the gingerbread animals, strings of popcorn, and bits of candle which Fuchs had fitted into pasteboard sockets. Its real splendours, however, came from the most unlikely place in the world—from Otto's cowboy trunk. I had never seen anything in that trunk but old boots and spurs and pistols, and a fascinating mixture of yellow leather thongs, cartridges, and shoemaker's wax. From under the lining he now produced a collection of brilliantly coloured paper figures, several inches high and stiff enough to stand alone. They had been sent to him year after year, by his old mother in Austria. There was a bleeding heart, in tufts of paper lace; there were the three kings, gorgeously apparelled, and the ox and the ass and the shepherds; there was the Baby in the manger, and a group of angels, singing; there were camels and leopards, held by the black slaves of the three kings. Our tree became the talking tree of the fairy tale; legends and stories nestled like birds in its branches. Grandmother said it reminded her of the Tree of Knowledge. We put sheets of cotton wool under it for a snow-field, and Jake's pocket-mirror for a frozen lake.

I can see them now, exactly as they looked, working about the table in the lamplight: Jake with his heavy features, so rudely moulded that his face seemed, somehow, unfinished; Otto with his half-ear and the savage scar that made his upper lip curl so ferociously under his twisted moustache. As I remember them, what unprotected faces they were; their very roughness and violence made them defenceless. These boys had no practised manner behind which they could retreat and hold people at a distance. They had only their hard fists to batter at the world with. Otto was already one of those drifting, case-hardened labourers who never marry or have children of their own. Yet he was so fond of children!


ON CHRISTMAS MORNING, when I got down to the kitchen, the men were just coming in from their morning chores—the horses and pigs always had their breakfast before we did. Jake and Otto shouted 'Merry Christmas!' to me, and winked at each other when they saw the waffle-irons on the stove. Grandfather came down, wearing a white shirt and his Sunday coat. Morning prayers were longer than usual. He read the chapters from Saint Matthew about the birth of Christ, and as we listened, it all seemed like something that had happened lately, and near at hand. In his prayer he thanked the Lord for the first Christmas, and for all that it had meant to the world ever since. He gave thanks for our food and comfort, and prayed for the poor and destitute in great cities, where the struggle for life was harder than it was here with us. Grandfather's prayers were often very interesting. He had the gift of simple and moving expression. Because he talked so little, his words had a peculiar force; they were not worn dull from constant use. His prayers reflected what he was thinking about at the time, and it was chiefly through them that we got to know his feelings and his views about things.

After we sat down to our waffles and sausage, Jake told us how pleased the Shimerdas had been with their presents; even Ambrosch was friendly and went to the creek with him to cut the Christmas tree. It was a soft grey day outside, with heavy clouds working across the sky, and occasional squalls of snow. There were always odd jobs to be done about the barn on holidays, and the men were busy until afternoon. Then Jake and I played dominoes, while Otto wrote a long letter home to his mother. He always wrote to her on Christmas Day, he said, no matter where he was, and no matter how long it had been since his last letter. All afternoon he sat in the dining-room. He would write for a while, then sit idle, his clenched fist lying on the table, his eyes following the pattern of the oilcloth. He spoke and wrote his own language so seldom that it came to him awkwardly. His effort to remember entirely absorbed him.

At about four o'clock a visitor appeared: Mr. Shimerda, wearing his rabbit-skin cap and collar, and new mittens his wife had knitted. He had come to thank us for the presents, and for all grandmother's kindness to his family. Jake and Otto joined us from the basement and we sat about the stove, enjoying the deepening grey of the winter afternoon and the atmosphere of comfort and security in my grandfather's house. This feeling seemed completely to take possession of Mr. Shimerda. I suppose, in the crowded clutter of their cave, the old man had come to believe that peace and order had vanished from the earth, or existed only in the old world he had left so far behind. He sat still and passive, his head resting against the back of the wooden rocking-chair, his hands relaxed upon the arms. His face had a look of weariness and pleasure, like that of sick people when they feel relief from pain. Grandmother insisted on his drinking a glass of Virginia apple-brandy after his long walk in the cold, and when a faint flush came up in his cheeks, his features might have been cut out of a shell, they were so transparent. He said almost nothing, and smiled rarely; but as he rested there we all had a sense of his utter content.

As it grew dark, I asked whether I might light the Christmas tree before the lamp was brought. When the candle-ends sent up their conical yellow flames, all the coloured figures from Austria stood out clear and full of meaning against the green boughs. Mr. Shimerda rose, crossed himself, and quietly knelt down before the tree, his head sunk forward. His long body formed a letter 'S.' I saw grandmother look apprehensively at grandfather. He was rather narrow in religious matters, and sometimes spoke out and hurt people's feelings. There had been nothing strange about the tree before, but now, with some one kneeling before it—images, candles... Grandfather merely put his finger-tips to his brow and bowed his venerable head, thus Protestantizing the atmosphere.

We persuaded our guest to stay for supper with us. He needed little urging. As we sat down to the table, it occurred to me that he liked to look at us, and that our faces were open books to him. When his deep-seeing eyes rested on me, I felt as if he were looking far ahead into the future for me, down the road I would have to travel.

At nine o'clock Mr. Shimerda lighted one of our lanterns and put on his overcoat and fur collar. He stood in the little entry hall, the lantern and his fur cap under his arm, shaking hands with us. When he took grandmother's hand, he bent over it as he always did, and said slowly, 'Good woman!' He made the sign of the cross over me, put on his cap and went off in the dark. As we turned back to the sitting-room, grandfather looked at me searchingly. 'The prayers of all good people are good,' he said quietly.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Midwinter Sky

Taken shortly after midday late last week.

Today is the winter solstice. I wish you all peace, health, and happiness as we wait for the return of the Light.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bad luck and trouble

I've said it before, December always means bad luck for me and my family.

The latest: Gregg's sister was in a terrible car accident today. She's going to live, but she's very badly hurt. She has a shattered elbow, broken ribs, a fractured sternum, and an upper femur break in one of her legs so bad that they had to do surgery immediately to insert a metal rod. Apparently her car flipped over and crashed into a tree, and they had to cut her out of the twisted wrecked metal.

Naturally we're very concerned and will probably be going to up to see her in the next day or two. She lives up in Raleigh so their mom is close by, at least. I'm sure she'll be spending Christmas in the hospital and we need to be there to offer her, her kids, and my mother-in-law whatever support they need.

What a terrible day.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Getting There

Hi Friends!

Christmas is only a week away, and despite everything that's not getting done this year I'm getting  into the spirit of the season.

As usual, work has been brutal. Longer hours, crowds of harried, demanding customers, huge shipments of merchandise, a store utterly wrecked each night, and much larger sums of money to deal with every day wears one down quickly.

This year, I've given up on baking and cooking from scratch. Most of our holiday feasting will be on nice but store-bought goodies. Our house has minimal decorations. Just a lighted bough on the mantle, and Christmas candles scattered around the house. I haven't had the  time to do more, what with my dad's recent health issues. There's no one else to help my parents out, so I've been getting them to appointments and being there for moral support on my days off.

Dad had a heart catheterization on Tuesday, and to our surprise and relief,  he had no blockages in his arteries. They still need to figure out why he's having problems, but we're so happy to know that his heart is healthier than we expected. The good news was like an early Christmas gift.

Wednesday night was my book club's holiday gathering.  We read The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank for the month of December, which was, frankly, terrible. As one of the other members observed, "It was like a sappy Lifetime movie". No one liked it very much, but we did have a really nice little party. Everyone brought a dish or dessert  (I bought fruitcake cookies at a bakery because of lack of time) and there was plenty of wine. The food was wonderful, and once the wine started to flow everything began to be quite merry!

After we talked about the book, everyone shared a Christmas tradition they either follow today or had growing up. My friend Marian shared one I'd never heard of. She grew up in the Northeast where it's traditional to burn bayberry candles on Christmas eve, and there's a rhyme to go along with it:

"The candle burned from the tip to the socket, brings joy to the home, and wealth to the pocket."

So the candles couldn't be extinguished, they had to burn themselves out naturally. And they have to be real bayberry candles. I did some research after I got home and it turns out that the custom began with the early colonists. They discovered that the waxy coating of bayberries could be made into sweet smelling, clean burning candles, unlike the stinky tallow candles that were widely used in day to day life.

The problem was that although bayberry bushes grow prolifically up and down the East coast, it takes a LOT of berries to extract enough wax to make candles. For that reason they were usually saved for Christmas celebrations.

Marian still burns bayberry candles on Christmas Eve, and when I expressed an interest in it, she gifted me with a box of them for our house! The only place that sells them around here is Yankee Candle, which happens to be right across the mall from my bookstore. Another condition of the candles bringing you luck (besides burning them all night) is that they're supposed to be given to you by a friend. So yesterday I went to Yankee Candle and purchased several boxes. I'll give one box back to Marian for her kindness in sharing with me, and I'll give the rest to a couple of other friends.

I also bought some small Balsam and Cedar jar candles. I lit one last night and it made our house smell like a freshly cut Christmas tree--very nice.

So despite my messy house, long hours at work, and family responsibilities, I'm getting into the Christmas spirit!

How about you all?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

South Carolina in the 1930s

My maternal grandparents were both born on sharecropper farms here in South Carolina just prior to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

 They grew up very poor, growing tobacco for wealthy landowners and just barely making a living during those long-ago hard times.

Here are some photos taken around the state in the 1930s, of people very much like my grandparents.

Sparrows in Winter

Some thoughts from my favorite nature writer,  Hal Borland, about my blog's namesake birds.

A Song for Supper

"Among the daily customers at the Winter bird feeder, the tree sparrows are almost as common as the chickadees, and usually as welcome. One reason is that the tree sparrow, that fellow with a single dark button on his light gray vest, will volunteer a song for his supper even in the midst of a snowstorm. He doesn't go into ecstasies over the weather in December, perhaps, but his is more than a mere twitter even now. By January he will be as much of a songster as a chickadee, and by February he will sing about Spring, regardless of the weather.

The name is deception, for the fellow is essentially a bird of the bushes and the underbrush. Even at nesting time - and the tree sparrow nests up around Hudson Bay - these sparrows stay close to the ground. And the Summer habits are carried south in the Winter. For the tree sparrow is a migrant, sometimes going as far south as the Carolinas. Those that Winter here will be on their way back north no later than April.

Every farmer and every gardener who knows his birds welcomes the tree sparrow, who probably consumes as many weed seeds, ounce for ounce, as any bird alive. In a state the size of Connecticut the tree sparrows alone will eat as much as eleven tons of weed seed in a single season. What they eat at the feeding station is small pay for such a service. And even the handouts are paid for in song as well as service. Who could ask for more than that?

Hal Borland
"Sundial of the Seasons"
December 1959

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Holiday Laugh!

One of my favorite blogs of all time is Hyperbole and a Half by the amazing Allie Brosh. It hasn't been updated in a long time, but there is years' worth of brilliantly funny reading to be found there. She also released a book two years ago (and is working on a second one) that I highly recommend for a fun read!

 I wanted to share one of my favorite blog posts of hers for your holiday enjoyment. My friend Marla and I both laughed until we cried when we first discovered this, and we now make jokes about Kenny Loggins every Christmas. It's become a tradition.


Last of the Season

I went to the small farmer's market down the street this morning to see what vegetables and fruit I could find. They will only be open for another week, and then will close until March. I bought potatoes, onions, and turnips. They were also doing a good business in fresh Christmas trees from the North Carolina mountains, and wonderful looking citrus fruits from Florida.

I'll miss the market for the next three months.

Pine trees and citrus smell like Christmas!

Monday, December 7, 2015

In the dark (literally )

I'm at work and our store (as well as the whole mall we're attached to) is without power. We've heard that there was a bad car accident down the road and a transformer got smashed. That was at 5pm, and we're waiting to see if the power is restored by 7pm so we can get two more hours of operation in for the day. If not we'll be leaving early. In the meantime, there's nothing to do but wait.

There aren't many things much creepier than a dark deserted shopping mall with only emergency lights to see by. I keep thinking of that zombie movie from the 70's or 80's where the hordes of undead flocked to the shopping mall.

I want to go home!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Visit with Santa

Last night we had a fun time at the bookstore. It was our annual Christmas event where we have a reading of The Polar Express, and it's also a pajama party for the children. They show up in their pjs and are given hot chocolate and a cookie as they gather around to listen to the story. This year we had a special surprise guest--Santa Claus! The kids were thrilled!

I also had the chance to talk to Santa before the event, to tell him what I want for Christmas. I've been a good girl all year!

Selfie with Santa!

Friday, December 4, 2015

One Week In

If the first week is any indication, December is going to stay true to form and be a total mess of a month. It's simply been one thing after another.

My dad is feeling better, but he had a stress test on Wednesday and when the nurse called him this morning and tried to get him to come discuss the results with the doctor, he put it off until Monday. He's afraid to know what they've found. The nurse did say the doctor found "a blockage". Which I'm sure is going to mean bypass surgery.

While I certainly understand his and my mom's fear, what I don't understand is their desire to remain in the dark for as long as possible. When Gregg had cancer, every single test he had (and there were a lot) were terrifying for us both. Not knowing what's wrong and what is going to have to be done about it is almost unbearable to me.  I prefer to know the worst as soon as possible and to get on with doing something about it immediately.  That's just me. Hopefully dad will keep his appointment on Monday and we'll know how things stand after that.

Gregg caught the illness I had last week. He's felt awful for about 3 days now. Last night he was up almost every hour throwing up. All I could do was offer a warm wet cloth for his face and be there with him. I was sure he would need to see the doctor this morning, but he woke up feeling very much improved. So that's a relief, at least.

We've had another mass shooting in America this week. It's a daily occurrence here and not even very surprising anymore. This time it was a husband-wife team that caused the death of 14 and injured another 21 people. They were Muslims recently back from a visit to Saudi Arabia, but last week it was a crazy fundamentalist Christian that shot up a medical clinic so that makes no difference as far as I'm concerned. It's all terrorism. Churches, schools, doctor's offices, social services agencies....lunatics with guns might be anywhere these days. No place feels safe or sacrosanct anymore.

So with all these bright thoughts I'm sending's your week going?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


"This first week in December brings the earliest sunsets of the year, though not the shortest days because sunrise will continue to lag for another month. We are approaching the winter solstice and, in terms of daylight span, the very depth of the year. Now we begin to pay that promissory note we signed last summer for those endless sun-tanned days with early dawns and long, lingering twilight. Nights now are as long as the days were in June.

We pay the debt with coin that has an icy clink, and the coin itself is important as a corrective. These December days are in themselves a challenge to our environment. Man boasts of his power and his control over the world around him. True, he can cut the trees, bulldoze the hills, drive out the animals, discourage the birds, even kill a few billion insects. But he still can't divert the course of a blizzard, temper the winter wind, or put a legal limit on the depth of a snowfall. All he can do is armor himself against them or hide from them, which is something less than domination.

December is going to be itself, no matter what we say or do. Sometimes it has all the trappings of late autumn, and sometimes it is a full-fledged partner of late January. It will bring a full moon this week (in 1968...2015's full December moon falls on December 25th), with moonlight that makes one wonder why we can't leave the moon alone. It will be green with pine and bright with berry, and it probably will be spangled with frost and snow as well as tinsel. And before it ends the days will be lengthening toward spring again."

Hal Borland
"Twelve Moons of the Year"
December 1968

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

World AIDS Day

I just found out that today is World AIDS Day. I wanted to share a link here on my blog to help raise awareness of this awful disease. AIDS is absolutely devastating some parts of the world to this day despite all the gains we've made in treating and preventing it. I hope one day that this disease is eradicated from the face of the Earth forever. It's claimed far too many victims.

I'm remembering my friend Michael Shirley today who died of AIDS ten years ago when we were both only 30 years old. Michael was brilliantly funny, kind, and caring. The world is a darker place without him, and he is loved and missed. If talking about Michael can help raise awareness and prevent even one new infection, then his death will not have been in vain.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Worried--Updated in the comments

Just a quick post today as I get ready to head out the door. Not to work, as expected, but to go visit my dad. He had to make a trip to the ER this morning, and I'm worried about him.

Dad's health is very poor. He has some chronic conditions that he's been living with for years now, not least of which is congestive heart failure. Over the weekend he started having severe shortness of breath. He wouldn't go see a doctor until this morning (mom says he was frightened), and it turns out that he has a lot of fluid building up around his heart, and his blood pressure is sky-high. He won't have to be admitted to the hospital, thank goodness, but they're giving him a lot of medications to drain the fluid and to stabilize his BP and he has to go back Wednesday to have a stress test and some other tests, too.

Even though dad won't have to stay in the hospital, I still feel like I need to go see him. My parents live an hour's drive away, so it's not too far. I had to call out of work, and mom and dad both tried to talk me out of doing that, but family comes before my job. Always. Also, my boss was super nice about it. Even he's not enough of an asshole to begrudge a callout when it's a family emergency!

Part of the urgency on my part to go see my dad right now, today, is partly superstitious fear. Both his father and his brother dropped dead of massive heart attacks without any prior warning at all, at relatively young ages.  My uncle was in his late 50's and younger than my dad is now.  And unlike dad he had no prior health issues and no history of heart trouble. He just felt bad one day, went to take a nap, and his wife found him dead in bed a couple of hours later. I'd never forgive myself if I said, "Ok dad, since the doctor thinks you'll be ok this time I'll just wait to visit", and then something happened to him tonight.

Also, tomorrow is the first of December. I know what I'm about to say is going to sound ridiculous and superstitious, but for me that's the month that's always meant death and disaster. I've blogged before about all the bad things that have happened in my life in the month of December. There have been the sudden deaths of relatives, pet deaths, cancer diagnoses, and job losses...always in December. I dread it every year, and superstitious or not, I'm not taking a chance with not going to see my dad today. I need to go make sure he's okay.

I'll update this post later today or tonight after I've seen how he is. Any good thoughts sent our way will be much appreciated!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Typical Sunday

I had today off, and there were about a hundred things I should have been doing.

My house is a shameful mess. Between being sick last week, and the Thanksgiving holiday, and all the extra work involved with Black Friday sales when you work in retail, and my husband only having one day off in the past two weeks..........things are in serious, serious need of a real deep clean.

Also, I woke up at 6am and went to the kitchen for a drink, and discovered a hose under the sink (that connects the cold water from the pipe up to the faucet) had sprung a leak and water had drenched everything stored under there and had run out all over the kitchen floor. What fun to step barefoot into a big pool of icy-cold water at the break of dawn! I had to wake up Gregg to help me turn the water shutoff valve, which he was less than thrilled about. So the day wasn't off to the greatest start.

I really should have tried to catch up on some cleaning. Instead, I went to lunch with a friend and then we spent the day watching The Great British Bake Off and talking. She's the one who's expecting a baby in February. It was so nice to see her!

She doesn't care about my messy house because her house is a mess, too. We're both comfortable with that, which is part of why she's such a great friend! I'm really looking forward to the birth of her daughter.

Now I'm off to find some kind of dinner that doesn't involve turkey. I roasted a small one on Thursday for Thanksgiving, and we've eaten turkey sandwiches for three days now. I've had enough for the moment! I'm thinking some Chinese takeout or else a pizza. Then some more tv, some reading, and bed.

I don't suppose the housework will be going anywhere!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

November Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

My favorite read for the month of November was a re-reading of one of my favorite classics, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

The book is set in the early 20th century in the slums of Brooklyn. It's a coming of age story about a little girl named Francie Nolan who lives in extreme poverty with her hardworking but uneducated mother, her loving but alcoholic father, and her little brother Neeley. Her parents are the children of immigrants who have to struggle to survive, and life is hard for the family. In fact, it reminded me of Angela's Ashes and Francie's character is a bit like Frank McCourt's American counterpart. Francie is a sensitive girl trying to make sense of the harsh world she was born into and during the course of the book she slowly grows up to be a young woman with a bright future despite the hardships of her childhood.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn captures something of the American spirit in the early years of the 20th century when immigrants and first generation citizens were struggling to make a life for themselves here. There is sadness and struggle and plenty of harsh realities, but also love and beauty and resilience. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an American classic and well worth a read if you like stories about the human condition and the triumph of the human spirit.

Friday, November 27, 2015


Just a quick post tonight as I head to bed. Thanksgiving and the repulsive Black Friday are now over, finally.

I'm due to write a book review for The Cephalopod Coffeehouse, but it's going to be a day late. I had to be at work this morning at 5 am to set up our BF sale, then when I got home at 2pm I fell asleep for a few hours. I was exhausted.  Then it was time to get up, eat some leftovers, walk the dogs, and prepare for bed so I can head back to work at 7am tomorrow.

Tomorrow afternoon I'll post my November book review. Until then, sleep tight!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Late November morning

I'm still trying to recover from this nasty flu I caught. I was off yesterday and today and I'm grateful for that--I wouldn't have been able to go in had I been scheduled to work.

 I'll also have Thursday off for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I hope I feel well enough by then to cook a small festive meal for the two of us.

No way will we go to Raleigh to see my mother in law as we had planned--her health is bad enough without exposing her to my germs.

We had our first hard frost last night. The temperature finally dipped below freezing and this morning everything was icy and sparkling when the sun came up. It's going to be a gorgeous day. I wish I felt well enough to take the dogs out for a good long walk to enjoy it.  Maybe a short walk will be manageable once it warms up if I take some ibuprofen and fortify myself with several cups of hot, strong tea. We shall see.

Speaking of walks, I want to share this essay by the great American nature writer Hal Borland. He wrote "outdoor editorials" for The New York Times from 1941 until his death in 1978. His work was compiled into two or three books which are out of print and hard to find nowadays. I first discovered old, old copies of them lying dusty and forgotten in the public library. I fell in love with his work and recently discovered a Facebook page dedicated to him (Readings from Hal Borland). Two or three times each week they share a selection of seasonal nature essays that are nice reading if you love the outdoors.

This essay made me think of my blogging friend Yorkshire Pudding and the beautiful, interesting walks he takes over in England.

I hope you all enjoy it.

                The Answers

"Those who would look for simple answers to the big questions should go for a country walk on a November afternoon, out where leaves scuffle, squirrels scurry, jays cry havoc, and the fundamental shape of the hills is now revealed.

Choose a crisp leaf, not matter whether maple or oak or ash, and try to catch it. And know that leaves are almost as varied as snowflakes. Watch the wind as it turns silvery in a clump of milkweed stalks, a shimmer of floss-borne seeds streaming from each open pod. Watch the glistening streamer from a pasture thistle's heads as the wind passes, airy down full of minute flecks of fertility. See how goldenrod and asters add to the aerial cargo, and know a few of the meanings of infinity, numbers that make counting a meaningless mumble.

Hold in your hand the empty shell of a beetle or the shed husk of a locust. See the intricate parts, the ingenuity of life, now gone elsewhere, to the egg, to the pupa. Chitin, the horny substance much like your own fingernail,but only a few weeks ago a living thing, an entity. Watch a rabbit scurry, a crow fly overhead. Look at your own hand. Know that life is more than protoplasm, more than a fertile egg or ovum, that it is ultimate order in complexity.

Feel the earth underfoot. See the sky overhead. Listen to your own pulse, rhythmic as the tides. There are the answers, for those who will feel, and see, and listen."

Hal Borland
"Twelve Moons of the Year"
November 1970

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Hello friends, please indulge me for a minute here while I whine. I can't help myself. I don't blame you if you want to stop reading now because this will be some self-indulgent pity - party listen-to-me-complain kind of post. Not interesting in the slightest. You've been warned.

Still here? OK.

 I feel soooo bad. Like I've been run over by a Mack truck that needs to come back and finish the job. I have a shitty headache and a shitty fever and (in case you can't tell!) a shitty attitude. Irritability is a sure sign that I'm sick. Driving home from work today I found myself cursing aloud at other drivers, not because they were doing anything wrong, but because just the very look of some of them inexplicably pissed me off. It was kind of absurd. Who does that?

Then I had to make three stops on the way home before I could reach the sweet sanctuary of my pjs and my bed. Each one felt like a herculean task what with my whole body aching and feeling feverish.

 First, the low fuel light in my car came on, so I had to stop for gas. I wasn't prepared to risk running out and getting stranded. Then I went through the bank's drive up ATM to deposit a check that had to go in if I wanted tomorrow's car payment to clear. And then I had no choice but to stop at the grocery store because we were running out of things like toilet paper and bread. Necessary stuff even if you do feel like you might die at any moment, if only for the sake of the other person who lives here. I thought I'd never make it home!

So here I am, in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a blanket, sipping iced cranberry juice and typing this out on my phone.  Settling in for the night has helped me feel a tiny bit better. I might live after all. Maybe.

Friday, November 20, 2015

At least the sun came out

I woke up today feeling like I'm coming down with a cold or some other funk. I have a sore throat, runny nose, headache, and some slight body aches.

After a few Motrin and a couple of cups of hot, strong coffee I feel as if I can manage my night at work. I wish I could call in sick but there's no other manager who could easily close the store for me. I'll just have to tough it out.

At least the rain cleared overnight and the weather is nice. It's a pretty day outside.

George loves a sunny day.

Have a good weekend, friends.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday stuff.

Today was a really weird day at work. I'm tired and stressed out. So this is what's going on in my den as of 5:30 pm...

A Whiskey Sour, made with mid-priced Kentucky bourbon that a friendly one-armed man at the liquor store helped me pick out. (He's apparently quite the conisseour of whiskey). Whiskey Sours are definitely on my top ten list of favorite cocktails to unwind with.

I'm assuming I didn't get the job I interviewed for last week. They made it clear they were in a hurry to make a decision. Whatever. (sigh.) I was hoping this was it--my current job environment is extremely dysfunctional. So dysfunctional that a long time employee (and personal friend of mine) walked in last night with a resignation letter, and with no notice whatsoever (or even another job to go to!!) she quit on the spot! I don't blame her at all; in fact, I envy her. She's just the latest in a whole long line of people that have jumped ship recently. I'm ready for my turn! Our workplace morale is the lowest I've ever seen at a job.

Thankgiving is next week. I'm not sure yet what we'll be doing. We thought about taking advantage of the day off work together to go see Gregg's mom, but I'm afraid she'll feel obligated to try to cook a meal if we do, and she's not in good enough health for that. Also, there's the chance that she and her husband are planning to spend the day with other extended family members.We may just end up staying at home together, which is our standard Thanksgiving. It's nice. We stay in pajamas until late in the morning, and I start cooking early. I usually roast a small turkey, because Gregg likes turkey sandwiches made from leftovers, and I make a few side dishes and desserts to go with it. We usually walk the dogs over to the park and in the wooded lot behind the church. And of course, Ginger and George eat really well that day, too. I won't mind if we end up staying at home alone.

Speaking of food, I've recently gotten addicted to The Great British Bake Off! It's so much fun to watch, but I find myself wanting to bake stuff but being thwarted by my limited free time, and, if I'm honest, my messy and disorganized kitchen. Still, I love to daydream about making elaborate pastries and pies and I have a fondness for cooking shows. And the GBBO is so much fun! I especially love Mary Berry, and might order myself a couple of her cookbooks at Christmastime.

That's it, my life on a rainy, gray, dull November Thursday evening. Cooking shows and big glasses of whiskey! Haha.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Overdue Note of Thanks!

Last month the lovely, generous Jen over at Rue and Hyssop did her annual October book giveaway, and I was one of the winners! Last week my book arrived and I couldn't be more thrilled with it!

This makes a great addition to my library. Thank you, Jen! I love it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th

I had a job interview today! And I felt really good about how it went. I'm hoping that Friday the 13th will prove to be my lucky day.

It's for a position as a bookkeeper at a school. The principal was warm, outgoing, and easy to talk to. And 30 minutes into the interview she said such nice things to me that I was almost embarrassed. ..Things like, "I'm flattered you want to work for us as a bookkeeper, but I think you'd make an extraordinary teacher...have you considered going back to school to get certified to teach? It wouldn't take long since you have an undergraduate degree, and you could do it at night while working days. I could even help you get funding to pay for it, too." And she also asked me how much notice I'll need to give at my current job if they hire me--which has to be a good sign.

I should hear back very soon, as the current bookkeeper is starting a new job at another school on Monday.  I'm crossing my fingers and hoping I get this job!

Edited to add....

As soon as I hit "publish" on this post my husband came and told me about what's happening in France. How utterly tragic. My heart is heavy and I feel so sad for the good people of France. Here's part of a quote from President Obama in response to this atrocity that I wanted to share :

"France is our oldest ally. The French people have stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States time and again. And we want to be very clear that we stand together with them in the fight against terrorism and extremism."


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sunny at last!

The sun is finally out today! To take advantage of it while it lasts, I took Ginger and George for a walk to the wooded lot behind a neighborhood church. There were beautiful sparkling puddles under the tall pine trees. The dogs love sniffing around back there.

They also love getting outdoors after so many rainy days!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I swear, it's done nothing but rain here for weeks and weeks. I'm so sick of it. Everything is damp and nasty and when you factor in the short days with the lack of sunshine, I just want to curl up in a hole somewhere and sleep until spring. I hate this time of year even when it's not pissing rain every single day.

My intention was to buy Gregg a new tent for his birthday--he's missed going camping since our last tent got damaged--but the lack of appropriate weather for camping made him indifferent about shopping for one. We have a long weekend off coming up and had hoped to take the dogs and go spend the night at a local county park. Too bad. Not only is it far too wet out, but there hasn't been a frost yet and mosquitoes have been terrible this year with all the standing water. Snakes are a concern, too. Our vet told me he's seen 50 or 60 dogs bitten by snakes this summer, so until we have some real cold weather, we won't be going to sleep in the woods!

Since buying a new tent had lost it's appeal for the moment, I picked up a couple of books for small birthday gifts. I also picked up some fancy cupcakes at a local bakery called Sweet! .

My favorite. There's a dollop of salted caramel in the center of the cupcake.

We had a nice dinner and spent the day indoors because of the rain.

Gregg seemed a bit down all day. I think it's because his mom forgot his birthday for the first time ever. She has Lewy Body Dementia but has been managing fairly well, so I had hoped she would remember.  He didn't mention it, and I hated to bring it up, but I know it made him sad. It's terrible watching your parents grow old.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Birthday greetings from the dogs

Today is my dear Gregg's birthday, and as usual he got two cards, one from me and one from the dogs. Here's the one from the furry members of the family!

Friday, November 6, 2015

My good deed for the day.

So on my way to work today I spotted a little dog running around in traffic, scared to death and about to get hit by a car. I couldn't stand to just drive on, so I turned my car around (almost getting hit myself) and pulled over onto a side street. I called the dog to me, and she came right over and jumped into my car. The poor little girl was whimpering in fear, but kept nuzzling up to me and licking my ear and obviously needed help. There was no collar on her, but she seemed very well cared for. I didn't know what to do. I knew she probably belonged to someone who lived nearby.

After calling work to tell them I'd be late, I decided to drive down the side street near where I'd found her, to see if anyone was out looking for her. I saw two young guys walking down the road so I pulled over, introduced myself,  and asked if they recognized the dog. They didn't, but one of them was very concerned for her and he offered to keep her at his house around the corner and to help me get the word out on Facebook and at the local shelters. We exchanged information, and he took the dog home so that I could go to work. I put a post up about a lost dog on Facebook, and so did he, and after I went to work we exchanged a few text messages about the situation.  Three hours later, the owner had been located! The dog is back at home now, safe and sound. I'm so very grateful to the young guy who helped me rescue this sweet girl!

Lost dog with good citizen Clark.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Aquarium art

After reading John Wooldridge's last post over at Of Brambles and Bears about setting up a planted aquarium in the the style of the late, great, Takashi Amano, I had to share a couple of pictures of with you all.

 Gregg creates and maintains aquariums for a living at various local businesses, schools, and hospitals. (He also manages the aquarium section of a retail pet store). He doesn't want me to share any photos of our current home aquariums,  because he's growing out aquarium plants in them to sell online and so they don't have the kind of design he would want to show off, but he did send me a picture of a tank we had last year, as well as one that he's currently caring for at an elementary school. 

These are works of living, underwater art.

120 gallon planted tank
in our den, with discus.
Here is a close up of the 120 (another incarnation).

One of several planted aquariums
he maintains at local schools.

Close up of the school tank.
The fish are called Rainbows.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse book review..."The Ghost Writer"

It's time for my monthly book review hosted by The Cephalopod Coffeehouse  over at

For October I decided to review The Ghost Writer by John Harwood.  It wasn't the best book I read this month, although there really weren't any standouts. Since tomorrow is Halloween I thought that a horror novel would be appropriate.

Well. This book was definitely creepy in parts. It's the story of a young boy named Gerard growing up in Australia whose mother had immigrated from England before he was born. Her early life is a mystery, and she refuses to tell him much of anything about her past. He sneaks a look inside a locked drawer one day and discovers a photograph of his great grandmother, who wrote and published ghost stories in the 1890's. His mother goes absolutely mad with rage when she finds him going through the drawer but still won't tell him anything about why there's the need for such secrecy.  Shortly afterwards, a mysterious young girl named Alice writes to him and wants to become pen pals. Then things get really weird....

Things get a bit confusing sometimes  because several of Viola's (the great grandmother) stories are told in the course of the novel. Her children and grandchildren find and read them, and it's quickly apparent that some of them are actually coming true. The characters are hard to keep straight after a while, and the ending is kind of messy. But there are some genuinely spine - tingling favorite is when a woman is reading in a library, and a thick fog starts to creep up around her. Then she realizes that a porcelain doll is coming after her in the fog....and she can hear the rustling of it's dress....and as she tries to feel her way out, she keeps waiting to feel it's cold little porcelain hand touch her....the thought made me shudder! There's not much creepier than porcelain dolls, in my opinion!

Overall, The Ghost Writer was a good Halloween read, but not something I would bother re-reading.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Grandma in the Window

I found this touching story at the Huffington Post and wanted to share it to offset the negativity of my last couple of posts. It made me feel good, and I hope it spreads a little cheer to you all as well!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

One photo says it all...

I got a photo in the grocery store today that illustrates everything that's wrong in the USA in 2015. The fact that we have idiots like this walking around in public, proudly displaying their ignorance for the world to see...

In case you have trouble seeing it, the full caption reads: "ASSAULT it or get the hell out!!!" And there's a picture of two assault rifles along with the ol' stars and stripes, and a skull.

That about sums up our culture, right on the back of a fiftysomething guy in the produce department of Food Lion.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The longest week of the year so far

This week has seemed never-ending, and it's been stressful and a little bit weird, too.

At work, the holiday store set is poised on the horizon.  Starting tonight, we have several overnight shifts (that I'm in charge of) to complete literally hundreds of projects. The tsunami of work bearing down on me is stressing me out. I'm not sleeping well. I feel overwhelmed and unappreciated. I hate my job to begin with, and this is the absolute worst time of year for retail workers. And I had really hoped to have a new job before the holidays rolled around again. I'm disappointed that that hasn't happened.  But at least when Tuesday morning gets here the transition should (theoretically) be done and I'll be able to relax a little.

Then there's some stuff going on in my husband's family that's downright......weird, to say the least. Apparently our 19 year old niece down in Florida just had a baby that no one in the family knew was coming. My brother-in-law and his wife have been totally distancing themselves from everyone for almost a year (including his mother) and I had started to wonder why......I guess now I know. I'm not really offended that no one told us, but I'm disappointed. I had hoped to be close to Gregg's siblings and nieces and nephews, being an only child myself. But you can't have relationships with people who refuse to do their part to maintain them---that goes for his sister and her family, too. Everyone has become distant and non-communicative. And to keep a new baby a secret until the child is actually born is the strangest thing I've ever heard of. My mother-in-law was the one who called us on Wednesday, having just heard herself. So we still haven't talked to our niece or her mother or father. And I'm not exactly inclined to call and offer congratulations since they haven't bothered to talk to us at all!

So that's been my week so far. Here's hoping the next few days are both uneventful and go by quickly!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My little amigo

Over the past year I've made friends with a little boy from Guatemala. His daddy brings him to the book store every now and then, and since he's only 4 years old and hasn't started school he doesn't speak any English yet.

 I'm still working at learning Spanish so I always take the time to chat with them as much as I'm able (the father's English isn't much better than my Spanish so we struggle a bit sometimes).

A few months ago the little guy came in with a cast on his right hand. There was some sort of accident (I'm not entirely sure what kind but I think it involved a lawn mower) and the poor baby got his hand mangled and ended up losing the little finger on that hand.

He's going to be ok. There have since been two surgeries and now he's in physical therapy to regain use of that hand. Whenever I see him now, I say to him (in Spanish), "Here's my big brave friend! How are you?" And he giggles and is too bashful to answer. His dad says he always looks for me first thing and gets upset if I'm not at work. He's such a sweetheart. And I spoil him as much as I can, giving him stickers and little toys left over from events in our children's department. I also take him over to the cafe in our store and buy him cupcakes and cookies.

 Last night when he came in I told him to pick out a snack and he chose a Rice Krispy treat. When his dad asked him, "What do you say?" he looked at his feet and whispered in a tiny little voice "Gracias..."

My heart melted right there on the spot.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sunshine and big blue skies

Here in South Carolina the flood recovery is underway, and for the first time in several weeks, we have bright sunny skies. Everything  seems fresh and clean after the record setting rainfall we've had.

I was off today so a friend and I went to lunch, and then browsed around the farmer's market. We both enjoyed the gorgeous weather, and resisted the urge to spend money on fall flowers and decorations. Everything is so pretty at the market this time of year! I wanted to buy some of everything!

After so many days of rain and gloom, sunshine and blue skies are good for the soul!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

State of emergency---Flood!!

Even though South Carolina has been spared the hurricane, another emergency is unfolding...floods!

This area has already received anywhere from 14-18 inches of rain in the past two days, and between 8 and 12 more inches are expected through tomorrow night.

I've never seen anything like this in my life. My city is under a mandatory curfew and parts of this county are being evacuated. Most of the counties in Eastern and Central South Carolina are experiencing flooding on an historic level. I couldn't even drive back home from work this afternoon in my small car. My husband had to come pick me up in his truck, and we weren't sure we were going to make it, the roads were so bad. It was a relief when we finally found a way into our neighborhood. Several access roads were absolutely not accessible.

Here are some photos from around the state. It's a very serious situation.

These next two photos are fuzzy, but I'm including them anyway. It's an old cemetery in Mount Pleasant, SC, and you can see what's happening to the graves.....

The next few photos are from my front door. This is my front yard and the street in front of our house this afternoon and just after sunset.

I'm thankful that my friends and family are all safe at home right now. I hope things don't continue to go downhill tonight, but with several more inches of rain forecast I must admit that I'm nervous. I'll try to update the blog tomorrow.