Friday, April 28, 2017

Queen of Random Skills

I've discovered my secret identity: I'm the Queen of Random Skills. How this happened, I have no idea. I was just like ... hanging around and then I was trying to figure out how to get great Christmas presents on a budget.

So I learned to make things. The first year, I learned to quilt. Oh my gosh! You would absolutely LOVE quilting if you would take the time to learn it. You take some scraps of fabric, cut them into clever shapes, then sew them together. You can do this at night while watching TV. You can be methodical and draw out shapes and colors on paper before beginning but old-timey quilts were just throw together out of whatever scraps of fabric were lying about. Flour sacks were used, along with pieces of old shirts and jeans. The result is a multi-dimensional, but soft and cozy work of art.

My first year, I made about 6 lap quilts and everyone LOVED their Christmas present that year! YAY! Can't ask for more than that!

The second year I painted everyone's gift. I had taken oil painting lessons in my early 20's. Me and my girlfriend wanted to do something fun together so we chose art lessons. And we had so much fun! Every week, we'd look forward to Tuesday nights. We were such open and eager students. My friend, Bev, didn't stick with it though. But I did. I bought canvases and painted everything from white daisies to puppies in a basket. It was sooooo much fun. I really enjoyed every single painting I did and I learned so much about me and life from painting.

We all sometimes over-work the area. When you overwork an area on your canvas, everything gets muddy. The colors turn to gray. You lose perspective and contrast. The colors and shapes don't pop anymore...everything is bland.

I once painted a dense green forest with a small stream nearby but I couldn't get my trees right so I kept painting over them. They disappeared into greenish-gray nothingness. My life did that very thing 17 years ago. I was going along thinking things were good, then a bomb went off and destroyed everything I cherished.

The third year I learned how to build small tables and shelves. Woodworking...I could talk all day about that topic. I love creating beautiful things, so woodworking is perfect. You take a raw piece of wood that's flat and long and looks like nothing, then you transform it into a cute 12 inch by 24 inch table that stands 18 inches off the floor. You can use it as a night stand or end table.

If you combine your painting skills with your woodworking skills, then you wind up with a one-of-a-kind, hand painted table or shelf. We finally amassed enough of my homemade stuff that we started setting up a booth in local flea markets. I loved those years. My husband is a talker so he'd spend the whole day talking to strangers about everything from the moon to Christmas. Me? I'd show them all our cute items for sale.

We usually had a great day and made a little money, but went home exhausted. Those were good years.

Year 4 -- Must be left for another time. Suffice to say that, after all these years, there's almost nothing I haven't done. In my heart, guess I'm an explorer. I wanted to go everywhere and do everything during my brief visit to earth. And so I did.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I Dreamed of An Endless Highway


I dreamed of an endless highway. Daddy was driving. There was a long bayou on the right of our car, like a ditch. It ran for miles.

The day was bleak and dreary; the trees were barren. Momma was humming a song about mockingbirds.

I have to travel that highway again soon. It takes me somewhere I’ve never been. Somewhere I’ve been destined to go since birth.

That road is lonely but it feels familiar and I’m not afraid of the adventure. We’re old friends.

I weep as I begin this journey. The tears are for all the wasted years and yet I know they weren’t wasted at all. They brought me here…here to this place. The end of one journey; the beginning of another. The cycle of life continues.

The tears are also for the faces I leave behind me. God! I loved them so! They were my whole world. I woke up each day just for them. But now they’re gone…a distant memory.

The tears are for all the new places and people I’ll come to know and love. Places and people who will burrow into my heart like red hot lines of coal.

I’ll move on from them too one foggy morning, always searching for something. Knowing in my heart that the journey is the only thing that truly matters.

Sojourners are like that. They come into this world knowing that it’s not their real home. They’re like explorers who go out to seek what they can find. But at the end of the day, their heart belongs somewhere else…a heavenly realm that exists just beyond this one.

I will go home one day. Momma and daddy will meet me at the gates. Jesus will be there too, along with the faces of all those people I met along the way. My journey was bittersweet.

Life on this planet has a great potential for excellence, beauty, fun, joy…but it often disappoints us. Most of the time, the joy escapes us, overridden by worries about menial stuff, like paying the bills.
We never learn the art of enjoying a moment until the moments of our life are numbered and few. Oh, the irony of life! It can be so bitter and yet so sweet.

Moments can be so warm and familiar, while others can leave you cold and jaded.

People can leave you that way too. They leave their mark, whether meaning to or not. How I long for those people and those memories to be better than they truly are. I wished it so hard for so many years, but that dream never came true … only the nightmares.

So here I am, left with so many memories that trouble my sleep. So many faces I won’t see again in this life. So many people … good and bad. People you loved. People who let you down. Moments you pray you never forget mixed in with moments you can’t bear to remember.

Life has left me disappointed and sad. I’m sorry for the people like me. I wish God would suddenly shine a beam of light on our misery and turn it into joy. But that never happens. And yet we go on.

We put one foot in front of the other every day regardless of the pain involved. That will to survive … to keep moving forward … that will is so strong in us humans.

So … we see it through to the end. It’s like a bad movie we wasted a lot of time and money on and now, we can’t get up and leave the movie theater. We have to stay and get our money’s worth … even though staying is such misery.

With each new day and each new moment, there’s a sliver of hope that things might change and life might suddenly become wonderful. Perhaps that tiny sliver of hope is the fuel that pushes us forward through another weary day.

Monday, April 10, 2017

What Time Is It?

I’ve noticed a trend toward advertisers running their ads before, during and after a holiday. In the old days, once Labor Day had passed, advertisers would take those ads down. Now they don’t. They just keep running them weeks after the holiday has passed.

It’s not uncommon to see Presidents Day sales running on TV a full two weeks after President’s Day has come and gone. The obvious problem with this is that older people, whose memory may be fading, get really confused.

It’s hard enough to know what day it is anyway when you work from home. I can work at 2am Sunday or at noon on Thursday. It doesn’t matter.

So I try to make finding out the day and date a purposeful activity. I remind myself to check. It’s pretty easy with computers, phones and even cable. If you flip to the channel guide, it tells you the exact time, day and date.

I still listen to the TV ads talking about the big Valentine’s Day sale at Kohl’s and think, “Hmmm … didn’t we already have Valentine’s Day?”

So then you have to google, “When is Valentine’s Day?”

Oh yeah! It’s February 14th!! So then, you have to pull up your calendar. Today is April 9th – So I have to assume that Valentine’s Day is over. But then you still wonder….
  • “Did I fall asleep and just dream all this?”
  • “Maybe I’m still sleeping.”
  • “How can I tell if I’m awake or not?
  • “OH GOD! I can’t tell if I’m awake or not!”

You want to just walk down the hall to the Lobby and casually say something like, “This weather is amazing for this time of year.”

Then they say, “Yeah, spring has really sprung. My petunias are blooming.”

“So Daylight Savings Time … glad that’s done!”

If they look surprised, then you must assume that Daylight Savings Time has not come and gone yet. Time to just walk away. Smile and walk away.

There aren’t very many people that you can just walk up to and ask point blank: “Hey, what day is it?” Especially once you get older. It’s like … everyone is just hanging around waiting for you to screw up so they can put you in a nursing home. So, you have to constantly pretend you know what’s going on.

When I was 35, I told my family this: “Please remember when I’m old, that my memory has always been bad, that I constantly misplace things and that I really don’t give a crap what day or time it is.”

They smiled a knowing grin and shook their heads, promising to remember and NOT think I was losing it just because my age was reaching triple digits. This plan would have worked better except that now, their memory is fading too, and they don’t recall that conversation at all.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Hurricane Gypsies - New Orleans 2005

October 27, 2005 - New Orleans - Hurricane Katrina

I wish I had words to tell you what it’s like in New Orleans and all outlying areas … places like Slidell and Chalmette.

It’s been almost 2 months now since Hurricane Katrina hit and there’s still no electricity, water or sewer in many areas. Certain areas seem to be recovering some…Metairie for example. A few restaurants opened, a few gas stations, a few hotels. Now some stores up at one mall have opened…and a Laundromat, thank God!

We could use a nail and hair salon though. Out in Chalmette, the parking lot of the old Walmart is being used by the Red Cross and others as a staging area. They offer free haircuts there in a little tent. I took some great photos yesterday. It’s like a 3-Ring circus out there. There are army jeeps and armed soldiers everywhere and thank God for them! It feels safer now to be out on the streets every day, from sun up till sun down.

Here in the French Quarter, a few restaurants have re-opened, many of the bars are up and running, a few hotels. It’s still not unusual to go into a place that is open and be told that you can only get a few things on the menu and they can only take cash.

Every store, gas station or restaurant that is operating right now is always packed. There are lines everywhere you go. It can be exasperating. Credit card machines often don’t work. Hard to find a working ATM machine, the crappy phone service will drive you nuts…imagine a city this big and you have to drive and drive just to mail a letter.

Raising Cane’s Fried Chicken on Independence opened a few days ago. Every time I go by there, the line is at least one block long. I just don’t have that kind of time to waste, so it’s no fried chicken for me.

We’ve all gotten used to seeing dead refrigerators lining all roads for 50 miles in every direction. None of us even notices if there’s a mattress in the middle of the freeway to dodge. Or a piece of aluminum, rubber cables, shoes, trash…sometimes there are boats, cars and parts of houses. Daily we run over all kinds of strange debris. You can’t tell what it is sometimes.

It seems to be getting worse instead of better. At lunch I go up to the Walmart and the Red Cross feeds me. While there I pick up an MRE and that’s what I eat for dinner. Most of us are taking all the inconveniences in stride and going about our day, but Hurricane Katrina is still the major topic of discussion, whether you’re in line at the store, at a gas station (I still carry 10 gallons in my trunk just to be on the safe side) or in a bar.

Too many people lost too much. It will be a long time before they forget…a long time before it stops hurting so badly. Even the men break down and cry at some point during the interview. It never stops bothering you to hear them talk about the homes and lives they used to have…before the hurricane tore it from them.

I sense a desperation in them now….some thoughts have settled in their minds. The realization that this is not going away. They won’t wake up tomorrow and find it’s a terrible dream…this is the way it will be from now on. No place to live, no furniture, moving around constantly.

The Hurricane Gypsies, I call them. I can’t imagine what their lives will be like this time next year. Will they all be living in FEMA trailer parks, raising their kids? Mowing tiny yards? Trying to forget the lovely homes and things they once owned?

This morning I did an inspection for a sweet old lady. She said, “Well, normally I’d invite you into my kitchen and we’d sit down at the table to sign these papers.”

I smiled. “I bet you’d have coffee and muffins or something.”

She smiled back and nodded. She was 78 and pretty spry. She told me that the things she missed the most were the pictures of her family…she said it nearly killed her when she realized they were all lost in the storm.

She also lost several quilts her mother made for her. She had a Shirley Temple doll from 1939 that was irreplaceable. I listened to her and tried to imagine what her kitchen would have looked like. It would have been a warm, nurturing place that smelled of cocoa and cinnamon.

It was cold here this morning, a sharp biting wind whipped thru me all day. This would have been a great morning to sit down at her kitchen table with coffee while we signed the government papers.

Instead, we stood outside beside her auto in a road still littered with large piles of debris … dead and broken things. We tried to ignore the awful stench of nearby rotting refrigerators. We climbed over parts of a couch and table to get up to her house but couldn’t go inside because of the snakes and deep mud mixed with oil and benzene…thank you Murphy Oil Company!

It was hard to stop thinking about the sweet 78 year old woman who had lost everything she saved and collected for a whole lifetime. Some nights, it’s so hard to sleep.

Say a prayer tonight for the Hurricane Gypsies.

NOTE: Recovery from Hurricane Katrina took many years and cost $108 billion dollars. Some of the residents never went back home.