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Velvet Sacks

for the safe preservation of thoughts, memories, wishes, and dreams.

Updated: 2018-02-14T16:56:13.125-06:00


Tennessee Darkness


This true story contains details that are bound to be boring unless you have a good imagination. If you do, then place yourself in the backseat next to my thoughtful brother-in-law, David (who gave up the shotgun seat because I get carsick in the back), and take a little ride with us.Small towns in Eastern Tennessee abound in pumpkins and scarecrows in October. Cornstalks and bales of hay adorned with witches’ hats and cut-out black cats decorate store fronts and residential front porches, reminding local citizens and tourists alike that Halloween is fast approaching, that ghosts and goblins lurk in the shadows, awaiting their designated night to prowl.I traveled with my sister Judy and her husband, David, who had invited me to share their rented vacation cabin in Sevierville, Tennessee. We arrived at our destination late in the afternoon, guided by the detailed directions in the cabin owner’s email. She had warned us to take care on the steep, graveled driveway, but we made it just fine the first time. We dropped off our luggage, explored and admired the cabin and the colorful fall foliage surrounding it, then set out to find dinner.We drove to a nearby Mexican restaurant the owner had recommended, but it was closed that Sunday evening. So was the cafe across the street. Confident we’d find an open restaurant in an area that caters to tourists, we headed toward the main road that runs from north to south, from Sevierville to Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg, with nothing but road signs to distinguish one town from another. We started in Sevierville that night but didn’t find dinner until Pigeon Forge.We settled on a Cracker Barrel exactly like the one here at home. It was crowded; we had a long wait. We finished our meal after eight o’clock and were eager to get back to the cabin for some much needed rest. Judy pulled up the cabin’s address on the GPS. We’d expected to drive north on the main road back to Sevierville, but the disembodied voice of the GPS lady had other ideas; she wanted us to drive south toward Gatlinburg. That didn’t seem logical, so Judy made a U-turn and drove north for a distance while the three of us debated what to do. Should we follow the GPS instructions or strike out on our own to try to find the cabin? Logic reigned over boldness; we made a second U-turn and listened to the GPS lady.She took us almost all the way to Gatlinburg before instructing us to turn left and then turn left again immediately. In other words, we made a third U-turn. This one took us off the main road and onto a backroad that ran through a thick forest on the side of a mountain. The road was barely wide enough for two cars to pass, but no center line was painted on it, nor were white lines painted on the edges, even where the ground dropped off precipitously on one side or the other. Worst of all, we were surrounded by blackness.The light of the full harvest moon we’d noticed earlier didn’t penetrate the broad canopy of treetops. My sister’s SUV has headlights that switch automatically between normal and bright when they sense another vehicle nearby. That feature didn’t work in the forest. The headlight sensor must have interpreted the trees or the mountainside as traffic. The lights stayed on low-beam, never shining higher than two feet above the ground or farther than two car-lengths ahead of us.Did you know that a mountain road can turn sharply in either direction in the distance of two car-lengths? Did you know that the blackness at the far end of the lights can disguise a wall of rock or wood as well as a sudden steep drop downward? Can you imagine how frightening it is to find yourself in the middle of an unfamiliar forest on a curvy, hilly road on a pitch dark night with no one in the vehicle both fit enough and brave enough to hike for help if necessary?About the time we started wondering aloud what kinds of creatures hid themselves in those woods, a mist started rising from the road. Its long, white streaks curled upward, waving like cheerleaders’ spirit fingers, further obscuring the roadway.[...]

Disturbed, Distressed, Disillusioned, Hopeful


Fresh from his impassioned speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last night, Vice President Joe Biden will be about ten minutes up the road from me today, in Baton Rouge to attend a community memorial service for the three law enforcement officers who were shot and killed here eleven days ago. You've all heard about it on the news. Officers Matthew Gerald, Montrell Jackson and deputy Brad Garafola were murdered by a Missouri man who drove here in a rented car for the express purpose of gunning down police officers.July has been a terrible month for the Greater Baton Rouge community. The trouble started  on the 5th of July, when Baton Rouge Police shot a black man named Alton Sterling at close range. A viral video of that shooting made the necessity of the police action appear questionable at best. One day later, as outrage about the Sterling shooting grew, a new video surfaced, recorded by a remarkably self-controlled black woman immediately after her fiancé, Philando Castile, was killed by police during a Minnesota traffic stop. The entire nation was shocked and saddened.On the 7th of July I went to Walmart to buy groceries. My heart was heavy, and I felt reasonably certain everyone else in the store was feeling the same way. I wished I could talk to those strangers, especially the black ones, wished I could hug them, tell them how sad I felt, assure them that most white people are not racist. I believe that last statement to be true, but comments I read on social media make me wonder about the truth of it on an almost daily basis.I didn't have those conversations, of course; I'm not that outgoing. Most of the black people I saw there had their eyes downcast, appearing to consciously avoid eye contact. They were the ones I most wanted to talk with, but I didn't. Others, mostly younger women, behaved as though it were just another day, nothing unusual about it all. I smiled at them and they smiled back. I exuded friendliness, wanting them to know I wasn't one of "those" white people, filled with hatred instilled in childhood. I've never felt more fake in my whole life. I smiled and exchanged pleasantries when all I really wanted to do was hold them close and cry.There were protests in Baton Rouge almost every night after Alton Sterling was killed, protests in other cities across the country, too. My step-grandson, a sheriff's deputy, was called out to help keep order at local protests. Day after day, we feared for his well-being.On July 10th, following a peaceful protest march in Dallas, Texas, a sniper ambushed law enforcement officers, killing five of them, wounding nine others. Our shocked nation wept, including many of those who had been protesting the night before. Most of them hadn't expected or intended for things to get so far out of control.On Sunday, July 17th, about the time local civil unrest had settled down a small notch or two, the Baton Rouge officers were gunned down by an outsider who had no legitimate business here. It was almost impossible to believe.Since then we've had vigils instead of protests, fundraisers instead of marches. I've watched three funerals, three processions of police cars and motorcycles, three instances of fire trucks with ladders raised to hoist an enormous American flag over the paths of the processions. I've cried with the sadness of it all and with the beauty of the tributes to the fallen officers, with the coming together of the community, the love demonstrated by citizens of all races.In between watching news of killings, protests and funerals, I've watched TV coverage of both presidential campaign conventions. The speeches of one party leave me feeling hopeful and inspired; the other party's speeches fulfilled their intended purpose of instilling fear and distrust to motivate voters. Both campaigns appeal to vast numbers of citizens, making me shake my head in amazement that all of us--family, friends, neighbors, co-workers--manage to get along as well as we do when our world views differ so widely. That, too, gives me[...]



This morning I asked my daughters if they could remember what our family did to celebrate the 4th of July exactly forty years ago. Neither one could, of course, and they were astounded that I remember. As it happens, it's the only 4th of July ever that I can recall with any specificity. Even last year's holiday has escaped me.

On this day forty years ago, in 1976, America was celebrating the United States Bicentennial, the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. We lived in Farmingdale, New York, then. It was hot that summer. While many of our fellow Long Islanders spent the 4th at the beach, we headed off instead to the coolness of a second-run movie theater. We'd missed a blockbuster the summer before, and this was our chance to see what all the hoopla had been about.

At first we sat in near darkness, listening to the whispering of parents passing out candy brought from home, hearing the crinkling of candy wrappers and the tinkling of ice in paper cups, wishing everyone around us would be quiet so we could watch the previews. Then the movie started. and everyone did get quiet. Except for occasional audience-wide gasps and screams, they were quiet until the film ended.

That was the day we saw Jaws. Forty years later I only have to think about it for a moment to get shivers running up and down my spine.

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Happy Independence Day to you! I hope you're having a great time with your family today. Don't eat the potato salad if it's sat too long in the heat, be careful if you're creating your own fireworks display, and be oh-so watchful if you're about to step into the ocean.

DNA? Do. Not. Ask!


Near the end of April, when had a sale on DNA testing, I decided to go for it. I mailed a tube of saliva to Ancestry and got the results a short five and a half weeks later. There were no surprises except that I'm more Irish than I knew. Given my love of all things Irish, I'm happy about  that.Here's my "ethnicity estimate":While I waited for the results to come in, I decided it was time to take the plunge and put my genealogy database online. I'd read several reports that the genealogy software I was using was not properly exporting files to Ancestry, so I didn't even try. I began entering names, dates and places one item at a time.From the very beginning, I couldn't see my family information in tree form. I had recently become unable to load photos on Facebook and to view YouTube videos. Something was obviously wrong with my computer.I plodded on. It was slow going, but I had time. I worked on my family tree every day, and every day I lost one more capability. Eventually, I could no longer even enter information into the Ancestry database.My computer was seven years old, something of a record in my technological experience. After much consideration, I bought a new one--same brand, newest model--and began the process of setting it up like the one that's nearing death. What a nightmare!I had two genealogy programs on the old computer. Neither one is compatible with the new computer's operating system. What's more, the manufacturers don't plan to issue any newer versions. I opted for a different program on the new computer. It works, but I don't like it much.I've had two printers for years: an old laser printer that's economical for black and white prints and an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier for color printing. The old laser printer isn't compatible with the new computer, and I couldn't tell about the color printer because one of its six ink cartridges was empty, so it wouldn't work. I bought a new yellow cartridge to replace the empty one, then the printer gave me a message that the light magenta and light cyan cartridges had "expired" and the printer would not operate with expired cartridges. I made another trip to Walmart to buy ink cartridges. They only had four of the six color cartridges. You want to guess which two colors were missing? Yep, light cyan and light magenta. Days later, after all the new ink had been installed, after an hour of tinkering with cables and printer drivers, the expensive-to-use color printer now works with the new computer. The laser printer still works with the old computer.My attempts to follow directions and transfer my email mailboxes and messages to the new computer were dismal failures. For now I'm checking email on the old computer until I can summon the mental fortitude to call tech support services.In the meantime, I'm still entering one name at a time into Ancestry's database. So far I've accounted for about one-eighth of the people on my suddenly obsolete software, with about another seven thousand to go. The good news is I can now view my ancestors in brightly colored tree form. The bad news is I don't seem to have inherited the luck of all those Irish ancestors.[...]

What I've Been Reading


Holy moly, Mama, I've missed most of the month of May! Time seems to pass so much more quickly than it did when I was young. Some days I enjoy that phenomenon; other days, not so much.  May has been a busy month--if one doesn't equate busyness with productivity. I've done a lot of genealogy housekeeping, a lot of TV-series-finale watching, and (the best part) a lot of reading.Let's look at the books and call this a post:Out of the Shadowsby Diane Greenwood MuirVignettes - Out of the Shadowsby Diane Greenwood MuirUnexpected Richesby Diane Greenwood MuirA Funeral for an Owlby Jane DavisFinding Jakeby Bryan ReardonThe Dirty Parts of the Bibleby Sam TorodeMistressby James Patterson and David EllisThe Mermaids Singingby Lisa CareyThe AbductionMark GimenezHomesick (non-fiction)by Sela WardThe Drowning Gameby LS HawkerThe Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Societyby Darien GeeTo read a description and reviews of any of these books,click on its description above.[...]

"The days were sweet, our nights were warm..."


Today's Saturday Song Selection is more than twenty-five years old, but it's new to me; I'd never heard it before March of this year. This one plucks a few of my heartstrings.

I've lived more than half my life within half an hour's driving distance from US Highway 90, both in Texas and Louisiana, though never near the parts of Texas where bluebonnets grow. I especially relate to the lyrics about a wife who stays home while her husband goes away to find work. I've lived through separations like that. Those were hard times. The separations would have been unbearable had we not believed we were sacrificing time together in the name of building a better future.

The song reminds me of what might have been--and what was for a period of years. I never counted on getting used to the months apart. On enjoying the peacefulness of them. On acquiring a taste for solitude. I guess that would be a whole 'nother song.

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The song is "Gulf Coast Highway," performed by Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson. Thanks to toshiboss for posting the video and lyrics on YouTube.

Little Bits of Weirdness


It doesn't take much to amuse me. For example, I get tickled every time I think of these recent telephone conversations:

Glad I Didn't Inconvenience Him:

A ringing phone roused me from sleep early one morning. "Hello, is this Ms. James?" the male caller asked.

"No," I replied. "I believe you have the wrong number."

"No problem," he said and hung up.

The Lo Mein Test:

Ever since a particular Chinese restaurant opened several years ago, we've been ordering takeout once a month or so. Without fail, each time we've called to place an order, the Asian lady on the other end of the line has asked one final question: "You know we on Highway 73, right?"

Last time she surprised me with a slightly different question: "You know wheah [where] location?"

"Yes," I assured her. "I sure do."

After a moment's hesitation, she spoke again in a doubtful tone: "Wheah? Which highway?"


Hahaha! People! You gotta love 'em.

What I've Been Reading - Big Batch o' Books 121-132


These last twelve titles finish up the long list of books that carried me through the past nine and a half months. Through intense pain and depression, through surgery and rehabilitation, through physical, mental and emotional healing, books were there to make my life better. God bless writers and the readers who motivate them.

  1. The Devil's Deep - Michael Wallace
  2. Come Away with Me - Ruth Cardello
  3. The Third Life of Grange Copeland - Alice Walker
  4. Blood Moon - Jana Petken
  5. Dark Shadows - Jana Petken
  6. Blue Molly - M. D. Grayson
  7. Safe Harbor - Antoinette Stockenberg
  8. Dust Tracks on a Road - Zora Neale Hurston - (non-fiction)
  9. Ask Him Why - Catherine Ryan Hyde
  10. Criminal Intent - Sheldon Siegel
  11. After I'm Gone - Laura Lippman
  12. Vignettes-Bellingwood Book 11 - Diane Greenwood Muir

What I've Been Reading - Big Batch o' Books 81 thru 120


  1. The Serial Killer's Wife - Robert Smartwood
  2. The Funeral Dress - Susan Gregg Gilmore
  3. Judgment - Carey Baldwin
  4. The Diary - Eileen Goudge
  5. Tidewater - Antoinette Stockenberg
  6. The Crossroads Cafe - Deborah Smith
  7. Flowertown - S. G. Redling
  8. The Secret Daughter - Kelly Rimmer
  9. A Memory of Violets - Hazel Gaynor
  10. Amber Light - Virginia McCullough
  11. Angel Falls - Kristin Hannah
  12. Brailling for Wile - James Zerndt
  13. Dance Upon the Air - Nora Roberts
  14. Dark River Road - Virginia Brown
  15. Flowers in the Snow - Danielle Stewart
  16. Kiss in the Wind - Danielle Stewart
  17. Heaven and Earth - Nora Roberts
  18. Stars in a Bottle - Danielle Stewart
  19. Garden of Lies - Eileen Goudge
  20. Look Always Forward - Diane Greenwood Muir

  1. Lowcountry Boil - Susan M. Boyer
  2. The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove - Susan Gregg Gilmore
  3. Mountain Angel - Suzie O'Connell
  4. Only Time Will Tell - Jeffrey Archer
  5. Power Play - Catherine Coulteer
  6. Shelter from the Storm - Tony Dunbar
  7. Staggerford - John Hassler
  8. The River Rolls On - Diane Greenwood Muir
  9. You Only Get So Much - Dan Kolbet
  10. Worthy - Catherine Ryan Hyde
  11. Pawnbroker - Jerry Hatchett
  12. Far From Perfect - Barbara Longley
  13. Saving Grace - Pamela Fagan Hutchins
  14. Thanksgiving 1942 - Alan Simon
  15. When You're Ready - J. L. Berg
  16. Lifelines Kate's Story - Vanessa Grant
  17. An Unexpected Grace - Kristin von Kreisler
  18. Accused - Mark Gimenez
  19. The Case Against William - Mark Gimenez
  20. Painting the Moon - Traci Borum

What I've Been Reading - Big Batch o' Books 41 thru 80


Forty more:

  1. Tomorrow's Promises - Diane Greenwood Muir
  2. Through the Storm - Diane Greenwood Muir
  3. Pages of the Past - Diane Greenwood Muir
  4. I Shall Be Near You - Erin Lindsay McCabe
  5. Irreparable Harm - Melissa F. Miller
  6. Miracle Boy Grows Up - Ben Mattlin - Non-fiction
  7. The Hurricane Sisters - Dorothea Benton Frank
  8. Megan's Cure - Robert B. Lowe
  9. The Color of the Soul - Tracey Bateman
  10. Once in a Blue Moon - Eileen Goudge
  11. Wish You Well - David Baldacci
  12. The Truth About Butterflies - Nancy Stephan - Non-fiction
  13. Fall From Grace - Clyde Phillips
  14. Blindsided - Clyde Phillips
  15. Sacrifice - Clyde Phillips
  16. Unthinkable - Clyde Phillips
  17. The Casual Vacancy - J. K. Rowling
  18. Natchez Burning - Greg Iles
  19. The Bone Tree - Greg Iles
  20. Replacement Child - Judy L. Mandel - Non-fiction

  1. The Fixer - Joseph Finder
  2. Closure - Randall Wood
  3. Conspiracy of Silence - Martha Powers
  4. The Good Lawyer - Thomas Benigno
  5. The First Lie - Diane Chamberlain
  6. Whiskey Beach - Nora Roberts
  7. The Lost German Slave Girl - John Bailey - Non-fiction
  8. The Watcher - Jo Robertson
  9. Love Will Find a Way - Barbara Freethy
  10. Kimimela - Donna Mabry
  11. Special Circumstances - Sheldon Siegel
  12. The Right Society - Donna Mabry
  13. Two Dogs and a Suitcase - Sarah Jane Butfield - Non-fiction
  14. Meely LaBauve - Ken Wells
  15. A Stranger in Town - Cheryl Bradshaw
  16. No Cry for Help - Grant McKenzie
  17. Loose Ends - Terri Reid
  18. Unforeseen - Nick Pirog
  19. City of Beads - Tony Dunbar
  20. The Reluctant Midwife - Patricia Harman

What I've Been Reading - Big Batch o' Books 1 thru 40


It's been months since I've done a "What I've Been Reading" post, and I'm now accepting the fact that I'll never catch up if I try to do these posts the old way, with links to book reviews. I have kept up with my book list, though, so I know which ones I haven't posted.As I acquire a book by one means or another, I save a photo of it. Then, as soon as I've read the book, I assign a number to its photo. That's how I keep my book list in chronological order. At this point I'm 132 books behind. Sigh. Today I figured out that I could take screencap photos of groups of books, list the titles for easy searching, omit the review links, and knock out all 132 of them in three or four quick posts. You may think I might as well skip the whole batch, but when I'm ordering ebooks, this blog is the fastest place to search to see if I've already read a title I don't remember.For the next few days it'll be all books all the time. Once this is complete, I'll go back to posting ten or twelve at a time, complete with links. Here goes:Hush - Anne FrazierOverlay - Marlayna Glenn Brown - Non-fictionCity of Angeles - Marlayna Glenn Brown - Non-fictionBrownie Points - Jennifer CoburnOlivia, Mourning - Yael PolitisThe Way the World Is - Yael PolitisWhatever Happened to Mourning Free - Yael PolitisYellow Crocus - Laila IbrahimMaude - Donna MabryBeloved Woman - CC TilleryJessica - Donna MabryPillsbury Crossing - Donna MabryThe Cabin - Donna MabryDaughters for a Time - Jennifer HandfordStill Life with Murder - P. B. RyanHushabye - Celina GraceMurder in a Mill Town - P. B. RyanBreath to Breath - Carrie MaloneyTake Me with You - Catherine Ryan HydeLake Woebegon Summer 1956 - Garrison KeillorSpare Change - Betty Lee CrosbyTaking Stock - Scott BartlettCold Fear - Rick MofinaDeadly Stillwater - Roger StelljesThe Glassblower - Petra Durst-BenningThe American Lady - Petra Durst-BenningThe Kindness of Strangers - Julie SmithOnce Upon a Summer - Janette OkeTrick Question - Tony DunbarThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel JoyceTin God - Stacy GreenAshes and Bone - Stacy GreenSkeleton's Key - Stacy GreenAll Roads Lead Home - Diane Greenwood MuirA Big Life in a Small Town - Diane Greenwood MuirTreasure Uncovered - Diane Greenwood MuirSecrets and Revelations - Diane Greenwood MuirLife Between the Lines - Diane Greenwood MuirA Season of Change - Diane Greenwood MuirOne Perfect Honeymoon - Diane Greenwood Muir[...]

The Baby and the Boudreaux's


This is a good week to have thunderstorms, which we do again. There's nowhere I need to go, having run all my critical errands during last week's beautiful weather. We're well stocked with human food and dog food, and I have lots of unread ebooks. If the patter of rain makes me sleepy, well, I can take a nap if I want to. Life is good, mostly, but sometimes little glitches pop up.

One of last week's errands was a trip to the auto shop to get my car inspected and get the oil changed. The shop was crowded; I ended up being there for an hour and forty-five minutes. For most of that time I was entertained by a twenty-month-old girl who kept bringing me items out of her diaper bag. She was cute as could be, and we got along fabulously, but the longer she played with me, the more concerned I became. She had a bad cold. Her mom tried her best to keep her nose wiped, but every time the tiny girl returned with a chapstick, a thermometer, or a baggie of Goldfish, the snot made another run for it. Bless her heart, she'd give it a wipe herself with her free hand, then that hand would be the next one to fish around in the diaper bag.

After the breathing difficulties I had during a bout of bronchitis early this year, I did not want to catch that baby's cold. More than that, though, I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I kept a smile on my face, my worries to myself, and, for at least half an hour, a germy,  economy-sized tube of Boudreaux's Butt Paste clutched in my right fist.
That hour and forty-five minutes felt like a long time. When my car was ready, I blew off the rest of my errands and drove straight home. I sanitized my hands first, then grabbed a handful of Clorox wipes and worked my way backward through my purse, the inside and outside door knobs, the door handle on my car, the seat belt, the steering wheel, the door of the glove compartment, and the cover of the little book that holds my insurance and registration papers. Better safe than sorry.

What about you? What kind of rigamarole would you go through to keep a baby happy?

March Happened.


Oops! Looks like I missed the month of March. I hate when that happens.

Like many parts of the country, we've had rain, rain, rain for the past month. The grass grows tall while the ground beneath it stays so soggy that lawn tractors and dog feet sink right into the mud. My feet would, too, I'm sure, but I'm not about to step off into the muck. Especially since the man who cuts my grass told me he killed two baby ground rattlers last time he mowed back there. Local TV newscasters warned that flooding in low-lying areas was driving snakes to higher ground, but I foolishly assumed they meant other people's higher ground.

So, without going into greater detail, the bad parts of March were snakes, heavy rains, terrorist attacks and Donald Trump, not necessarily in that order. The month held some good things, too.

Our Easter celebration was fun as always. My great-grandson, Owen, just turned six, has recently discovered jokes. He took it upon himself to entertain us. First came the knock-knock jokes, then the cross-the-road jokes, then a mixture of those that he made up himself. We laughed at all of them, and Owen laughed loudest until he told one that made no sense at all. The rest of us laughed, but Owen's smile faded quickly. "Actually," he said, "I didn't find that one all that funny."

Great-grandkids with the Easter Bunny
(L-R) Owen, Jolie, Olivia

A week earlier we'd all attended the first couple of hours of Owen's birthday party. His friends had been invited to a backyard camp-out, and those of us who would not be spending the night stayed long enough to enjoy the cook-out and the company. Little boys that age are so cute and funny--and SO LOUD! I believe the vibrations created by their combined voices could have been detected on the Richter Scale.

My Life Writers' group is back in full swing, and I'm enjoying it as much as ever. It's so interesting that six people can write about a single topic in such different ways; yet, for all their differences--and our differences--the stories remind us how much we have in common. They draw us closer.

Books, music and favorite TV shows filled many March minutes, crowding out whatever housekeeping chores could wait another day. Or week. I'm aware that I need to get busy around here. That was on my mind yesterday, so I bought Swiffer duster refills while I was grocery shopping. And then I bought a jigsaw puzzle.

Spring doesn't end until June, right? There's plenty of time to worry about spring cleaning.

A Pie Dough Kind of Day


When my grandmother baked a pie, she'd roll out the dough, place a turned-over pie plate on top of it and trace a knife around the plate to get the right-sized crust. Then she'd gather up all the scraps that fell outside the circle, roll them together into a small, flat patchwork crust, sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, and bake it alongside the pie as a special treat for my sister and me. I think that's how we got Leap Day. Horology experts (who presumably had grandmothers) figured out they could tidy up the calendar by sweeping up all the bits of leftover time from four years' worth of ordinary days and smooshing them into one whole extra day.

So is Leap Day a treat? Should it be a holiday? I'd like that, I think. How nice it would be to wake up and think: "Ah, it's Leap Day--twenty-four hours that don't count. Today I have time to read or write or paint or sit outside and daydream in the sun." Actually, being retired, I have time for that on almost any given day, but it feels self-indulgent to do fun things while the rest of the adults in the family are busy at their jobs. Guilt ruins a lot of potentially nice moments. 

The only momentous thing about this particular February 29th is that my grass was cut this morning for the first time in 2016, signifying the transition from tracked-in-mud season to tracked-in-grass-clippings season, the only two seasons that exist here in South Dogdom. If that's all that makes this Leap Day special, so be it. Life is good, and an extra day of it suits me just fine.

Dust, Plain and Fancy


During the recovery period that followed my total knee replacement, Kim and I were inattentive to housekeeping. I couldn't stand for long periods of time, and Kim, after standing for hours at her job, spent her evenings maintaining basic home sanitation and doing all the things necessary to keep us fed. Dusting wasn't a priority. Where dust fell, we were careful not to disturb it.The thing is, this house seems to be a dust magnet. I don't know how so much dust gets in the house. My neighbors complain of the same problem. We look around outside and see grass, green grass everywhere, no patches of bare dirt. Maybe our dust is of the educated, civilized variety that deliberately migrates to comfortable indoor quarters. I don't know, but it's a problem.On a recent weekend, Kim and I decided it was time to do some deep cleaning. We didn't want to knock dust off tabletops and into the air, so we used vacuum cleaners--two HEPA-filtered ones with brush attachments. We carefully sucked up all that dirt and confined it in plastic bags so it couldn't escape before we disposed of it in the outside trash can. There was a lot of it--so much that we began to feel like hunters bagging prey: "Look how much I got in the living room!" We were determined, we were thorough and, afterwards, pleased but quite achy.Two days later I sat down in our sparkling clean living room to watch television. Rays of late-afternoon sunshine beamed through the small window in the front door, and my jaw dropped open. I could not believe the galaxy of dust motes visible in those sunbeams. I didn't think Kim would believe it, either, so I got the camera and zoomed in on the offending particles. Is this what's in the air we're breathing in a clean house? Yuck!As appalled as I was at all the dust, I have to admit to being fascinated by the photo of the dust. I thought all dust was grey. Click on the picture to enlarge it, then notice all the colors: pinks, blues, greens, yellows. It's almost like miniaturized confetti. Or glitter--yeah, that's it, glitter. Glitter in the air, like the Pink song.Wish I could think of it in such positive terms when I'm trying to clean shelves and shelves of books. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="375" src="" width="500">The song is "Glitter in the Air," by Pink.Click here to read the lyrics.Thanks to maaanu90 for posting this song on YouTube.[...]

Heeding the Warnings


When I stepped outside with the dogs a few minutes ago, I looked up. Not a cloud in sight. Curious, I turned 360 degrees to see the sky from all angles. It was a canopy of pure, uninterrupted blue.The sky shots I took yesterday were more interesting:Those Wednesday photos show how heavy the clouds were, low to the ground with dark underbellies. The blue sky behind the clouds--and the glare of the setting sun in the bottom photo--made me feel grateful that Tuesday's terrible weather had moved on.Here in Southeast Louisiana we get tornado watch announcements all the time, so frequently that the loud, screechy alerts are annoying. They interrupt television shows, overriding important bits of dialogue, and they never seem to amount to anything. Lately, we've been getting more warnings (as opposed to watches) than usual. People with smart phones are receiving calls warning to seek shelter immediately. The first such middle-of-the-night warning prompted my daughter to wake me up so we could gather the dogs and hunker down in a safe, centrally-located place until the storm had passed through. Kim and I,  bleary eyed, listened for train sounds in the light rain that fell outside while all four dogs  sat and looked back and forth from one of us to the other, telegraphing a message that said clearly, "What the heck is going on and why did you wake us up?" After a few minutes we all went back to bed. All these alerts began to seem like the National Weather Service announcement that cried "Wolf."This week, Monday's weather forecasts predicted bad storms on Tuesday, with a "moderate" chance of tornadoes. When Tuesday rolled around, I went grocery shopping early to beat the impending rain. Two hours later, a tornado ripped up buildings in a shopping center about half a mile from where I'd bought groceries. That was only one tornado out of several that struck in nearby towns, all part of a storm system that moved through here in one day and has continued to wreak a large swath of havoc across several southern states.Two people died on Tuesday in an RV park 15 miles away from where I sat paying close attention to weather reports and frequently updated warnings. I have no doubt that those warnings saved many lives.I took no pictures during Tuesday's storms. Any photos I might have shot would have shown a blur of waving tree branches against a dark grey sky, all of it behind a rippled curtain of rain.Today's cloudless sky might not be too interesting, but it's a welcome sight, for sure.[...]

Tightly Packed


Our assignment for the most recent Life Writing class was GROWING UP IN YOUR FAMILY. As part of that, it was suggested that we characterize the members of our family. I've done that here, to the best of my memory and ability, but I'm curious: I wonder whether this story would be largely the same or quite different if my sister, Judy, had been the one to write it. She's the only one still alive who lived this with me. Well, she and my Uncle Joe, but he skipped out early. Speaking of Judy, I mentioned in the story that we "didn't always play well together." That was true, but I can't think of anyone I'd rather "play with" now than Judy. We have an amazing number of common interests now that I've given up paper dolls and she's given up horse pretensions.Tightly PackedI shared a double bed with my mother until I was almost fifteen. Our big dresser stood to my right, Mother slept to my left, and my little sister, Judy, slept to Mother’s left in a small bed of her own. Judy shared her youth bed with a collection of dolls and stuffed animals. It’s a wonder any of us had room to turn over.Ours was one of three upstairs bedrooms in my grandparents’ home in Springfield, Missouri. The room directly across the stairway landing from ours was usually occupied by renters, college students who attended nearby Southwest Missouri State Teachers’ College. A smaller bedroom centered between our room and the students’ belonged to my Uncle Joe, who was only seven years older than I.Downstairs, my grandparents, Mammaw and Packy, had the bedroom at the front of the house, a corner room where light flooded through sheer curtains on two sides. A narrow hallway ran from their room all the way back to a fifth bedroom, where my great-grandmother, Dora, could wake up in the mornings and look out on the bright colors of Mammaw’s flower garden. In 1953, when I was ten, we got our first television set. Grandma Dora passed away in October of that year. The following year Joe graduated high school and promptly took off for Mexico with his best friend, not telling anybody where he was until he called and said he’d be back from time to time, but first he wanted to see the world. Mammaw was distraught, and Packy was fit to be tied. I don’t recall what Mother and Judy had to say about the situation. As for my own reaction, I kind of enjoyed the sudden expansion of elbow room. I thought I might get a room to myself, but I didn’t. Things gradually returned to normal. Judy and I went to school, Mother and Packy went to work, and Mammaw stayed home to keep the household running. She had the hardest job of all. She climbed upstairs to clean the college boys’ room and downstairs to do the laundry in the basement. She did it all while wearing clunky, two-inch high heels, nylon stockings rolled to her knees, and a fresh, clean apron over a crisply starched housedress, usually one she’d made herself. She hummed as she did her housework. Her smiles were warm and plentiful, and she never complained. When Mammaw rested, she read: Good Housekeeping, Redbook and several other magazines she liked. She also liked flowers, soap operas, and everyone she ever met. Packy, a World War I veteran, was pleasant but stoic. He didn’t talk much, but he did dispense a little discipline by calling Judy or me to come back and shut the screen door properly every time we’d run through and let it slam. Packy wore khaki shirts and khaki pants with suspenders to his job at the furniture store and didn’t change out of them until bath time, whether he’d spent the evening working in his big vegetable garden or watching TV. Mammaw kep[...]

Wait, I'll Just Write This Post First


The Life Writing group I belong to meets every other week from February through May, takes two months off during the summer, meets every other week from August through November, then takes off another two months. Next week we'll start up again. My recovery from knee surgery and a long bout of bronchitis fitted nicely into our recent December/January hiatus, and I'm excited to get back to this delightful group of women and hear what they've written. They're all good writers, and their stories never fail to trigger fond memories of my own.

I'd be even more excited about our upcoming meeting if I were not such a world-class procrastinator.

Our group began as a class that met once a week for six weeks, two or three six-week sessions a year. I always finished my story in the alloted week but usually completed it either the day before or the actual morning of class. Later, when we formed our own group and scheduled meetings once every two weeks, I was pleased we'd have twice as long to work on our stories. I thought it would take the pressure off. It did, at first, but I soon fell back into the habit of waiting to write until the last possible day.

The theme for the story I'm supposed to read aloud a few days from now was announced way back on December 9th. It seemed like a luxury then to have two whole months to get the job done. Time flew; I don't know where it went. My story isn't ready. Oh, I haven't ignored the assignment completely. I've composed a phrase here and a sentence there, but only in my head. Not a single word has been committed to print.

A new deadline looms. Dadgum it!

Branded Man?


Unless you've been living under a rock--or you never watch TV or pick up a newspaper or magazine--you've probably heard the name Steven Avery a lot recently. I did, but I didn't pay too much attention to it until my daughter Kelli convinced me to watch all ten episodes of Making a Murderer, a documentary currently on Netflix. Wow! What a story!

Avery is the Wisconsin man who, despite massive alibi evidence, was convicted of sexual assault in 1985. He served 18 years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence. Two years after his release, he was arrested again, charged with the murder of a 25-year-old female photographer. Avery was tried and convicted of that murder and sits in prison today, as does the slow-witted, then-teenaged nephew, Brendan Dassey, who testified against him in a statement, then recanted that testimony in court.

If you have believed, as I always have, that if you should ever be questioned by the police, all you have to do is tell the truth and they will be reasonable, the recorded interrogation of young Brendan will scare the pants off you.

It seems that almost everyone who has watched this documentary has an opinion about Steven Avery's guilt or innocence. I don't, actually. Avery has done some despicable things (he once threw a kitten onto a fire), so I do have an opinion about his character, and it's conceivable to me that he might be capable of murder. It's possible he committed this one. The problem is, whether he did or not, he was framed for it. On that basis alone, he deserves a new trial.

As for Brendan, I think his only crime was being young and stupid and using his big imagination to try to give the cops the answers they so clearly wanted.

If you've been following this case, I'd love to know what you think about it. And if you're unfamiliar with it, you might want to delve into it and find out how seriously things can go wrong when people in power have pre-conceived ideas and lofty personal goals.

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The song is "Branded Man" by Merle Haggard.
Click here to read the lyrics.
Thanks for Allen0955 for posting this video on YouTube.

Ten Years Later


I had intended to post a new blog entry yesterday to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Velvet Sacks, but first the shower curtain fell, rod and all, then the dogs went outside and came back in with thick mud-soup all over their paws, and by the time I got everything cleaned up, straightened out and rehung, I was no longer in a writing mood. Doing laundry seemed like a better idea.

Well, guess what! This morning I realized that today, not yesterday, is the actual anniversary date. Apparently, fate intervened and kept me from posting a stupid, self-congratulatory mistake on the Internet. Way to go, Fate (or Coincidence)!

Some things were different ten years ago, some remain the same. I was working full time when I started the blog in 2006; now I'm retired. I didn't have health insurance; now I'm safe in the arms of Medicare. My knees were just beginning to give me trouble; now I have one new, sturdy knee and another, still unstable one, in line for replacement not too far down the road.

My two beloved dogs from ten years ago, Kadi and Butch, have passed on and made room in my home for two new ones, Levi and Gimpy, who share their days here with my grand-dogs, Lucy and Oliver. Lucy was with us back then, but Oliver came along later, after Winston passed.

The size of our family has both grown and diminished. Three of my five grandchildren have married during this blog's existence, each of those three marriages has produced a baby, and a fourth child is on the way in a few months. In that same time span I've lost aunts, uncles and a few good friends. This very morning my great-niece gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl, and this afternoon a 58-year-old niece by marriage will be laid to rest, too early, near her mother.

Ten years ago I was complaining about President George W. Bush. I was so glad to see the end of his two terms, yet if I match him up against today's crop of GOP candidates, he seems a little more sensible than the rest of them do. Or at least a little less idiotic. That doesn't mean I'd want him back.

Ten years of water under the bridge, and life goes on. So will Velvet Sacks for the foreseeable future. Many thanks to all of you who have joined me in this journey.

Distinguished Visitor


President Obama visited Baton Rouge this past Thursday for a brief speech and a town-hall type meeting at McKinley High School, the first high school established in East Baton Rouge Parish (in the early 1900s) for African-American students. TV news programs showed videos of people camping out overnight to be first in line to get tickets to the event. I would have loved to have been among them, but not enough to camp out on the street.

Instead, I watched live coverage from home. I was moved by the faces of the people who did get tickets, mostly black people, all of them beaming with joy. Hundreds of people who didn't have tickets showed up and milled around peacefully outside the school, hoping to catch a glimpse of Barack Obama--their president even more than mine. When he spoke to the estimated one thousand people assembled in the auditorium, the folks outside gathered around news vans and listened attentively to his every word.

I don't recall another president in my lifetime who has faced as many obstacles as this one in terms of opposition from the other side of the aisle, yet he has maintained his dignity and even his sense of humor through all of it. He appeared light-hearted and relaxed during his exchanges with the Baton Rouge audience the other day, and I hope that the kind of love exuded by hometown crowds like that one will tide him over when he gets back to business as usual in Washington.

I'll bet he's counting the days until his term is over. You know Michelle is.

Dreams of Flowers in My Hair


Helen, who writes at A little of this-n-that, ended 2015 by sharing a secret she's held since 1969: she really wanted to go to Woodstock. Her post was entertaining and awakened a similar memory I've held close to my metaphorical vest.

The year was 1967 and half the young people in the US (or so it seemed to me) were going to San Francisco to celebrate The Summer of Love. I had just left a bad marriage, taking my two small girls with me, and was working in a new job as secretary to an East Texas district judge. As happy as I was to be out from under the thumb of the husband, I sometimes felt that I was in way over my head. I'd been a stay-at-home mom and was learning that working a full-time job and then coming home to an evening of caring for energetic children was exhausting. Money was tight--very tight--so I worried constantly about that, and I worried that the job didn't allow me enough quality time with my kids. And I was lonely. Truthfully, I'd been lonely for a long time, throughout most of the six-year marriage.

I had watched with only mild interest the nightly news images of flocks of "flower children" showing up in San Francisco, but late that summer, just about the time I filed for divorce, my interest piqued, driven by one song that played endlessly on the radio. I was nothing even close to a hippie, had never done drugs nor aspired to, and didn't have one red cent available for traveling, but I fantasized regularly about joining those throngs of long-haired, bell-bottomed "gentle people" who were picking up and heading west.

Even if I'd had the means, I wouldn't have gone. I was a mommy, my girls were my life, and the proverbial wild horses couldn't have dragged me away from them. But sometimes, when it was late, when I was physically and emotionally fatigued, when the girls were wild and wouldn't settle down even after I'd put them to bed, I'd imagine what it would be like to thread a few flowers into my hair and shuck all responsibility.

It's rare today to hear that fantasy-inducing song played on public media, but sometimes it shuffles up on my iTunes. Even today it draws me into longings as deep as those I felt in 1967.

It's funny how something I never did has held a place in my heart for nearly fifty years.

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The song is "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), performed by Scott McKenzie.  Thanks to oMyBadHairDay for posting the video on YouTube.

Rediscovering the Viewfinder


One of the things I've missed most in recent months is photography. I couldn't walk easily enough to seek out pretty scenery, and I was really, really tired of taking pictures from my patio. I know now (despite the fact I'm battling bronchitis this week!) that it  won't be too long before I can get out again, go to photogenic places and try to capture their beauty with my camera.I was surprised the other day when something unusually pretty popped into my view and prompted me go get my camera. That hadn't happened for a while. We'd just finished dinner, something that was spicy, greasy and delicious, and the little dabs of color and the arrangement of the grease bubbles on my dirty plate inspired me. (Okay, I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Whatever.)Anyway, that kind of primed my photographic pump, and I've taken a few more pictures since then. I still can't get out too far, so most of those new photos have been shot--deja vu--from my patio. Only now I don't seem to mind so much.Over the years I've taken dozens of photos of birds sitting atop the utility pole in my next-door neighbor's yard. Here's the newest of them:The sycamore tree two doors down was split in half by a summer storm in 2015. I can only see the very top of it now:This is Gimpy on a windy day:Here I was aiming the lens through the back fence into another neighbor's yard. Can you believe how green everything is?Turning the camera a little to the left toward the same back fence, here are two pecan trees gleaming in the sunlight:I saved that pecan-trees photo to show you next-to-last because I just so happen to have a picture taken almost exactly one year ago of the same two trees. Here's how the scene looked on January 6, 2015:Looks like last year got off to a gloomy start and never got a whole lot better. I  hope to expand my photographic boundaries in 2016.[...]

"Wake up, open your blinds..."


So began Sister-Three's comment this morning on my last post, which was written three months ago. Many thanks to her and to the others of you who left notes of encouragement while I was absent from the blogosphere.

Yesterday, the last day of 2015, was the first day in months that I was able to sit comfortably at my computer desk and type a few complete, coherent sentences. "Comfortably" and "coherent" are the key words there. My old, worn-out knees were causing me so much pain that most of my thoughts weren't pleasant ones, and if a positive thought did flit across my mind by accident, I couldn't hold on to it long enough to write it down.

But that was last year. This is 2016, and things are different now. Now that the brand-new, metal and acrylic knee I acquired in mid-November has healed substantially, it has given me the gifts of diminished pain, improved mobility, and one heck of an attitude adjustment. I had never realized that pain could be so debilitating, could drive someone to such deep depression that the future looked uninviting, but I have been schooled.  That darkness is behind me now, thank goodness.

An acquaintance recently told me that his father's orthopedist, discussing impending knee-replacement surgery, told him, "You're going to hate me for six weeks, and at eight weeks you're gonna love me." I now understand that completely. I'm at the end of week seven, the pain from the surgery itself is finally abating, my head has been clear of medication side effects for a few weeks, I'm off the walker and mostly off the cane, I've just resumed driving short distances (freedom!), and all of a sudden my personal skies are blue again. What a relief!

I don't want to leave this topic without saying how much my daughters have helped me in the past few months; emotionally and physically, they've been there for me, and I don't know what I would have done without them. Having always prided myself on my independence, it was difficult to acknowledge that I needed help, let alone ask for it. My girls didn't wait for me to ask. They've pitched in with the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the pet care, the hospital stay, and miles and miles of transportation to and from doctors' visits and physical therapy. They've let me cry when I needed to, and they've made me laugh when I didn't think I could. I'll be forever grateful.

So, back to the future: I'm awake and my figurative blinds are once more open. I'm excited about blogging again, though I'll admit to being a little anxious, too, hoping the burst of enthusiasm I'm feeling today won't fizzle out before I get back into the swing of writing regularly. Thank you for continuing to check in here now and then. I hope you'll stick with me while I give it my best shot.

Happy New Year to all of you! Woo-hoo, 2016!

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The song is "Believing" by Nashville cast members Charles Esten, Lennon Stella and Maisy Stella. Thanks to kaid030795 for posting the video and lyrics to YouTube.



The last day of September has arrived and I don't have a single blog post to show for the month. Pathetic!

Painful knees, allergies,
Overwhelmed by both of these.
Family doc and orthopedist,
Keep chin up, don't be defeatist.
On the walker, limping yet,
Dentist visit, dog to vet,
Mammogram again this year,
Flu shot season once more here.
Make appointment, not too late,
Make one more, coordinate,
Make the phone calls, make the lists,
Rub my eyes and clench my fists.
Headache, headache! Blow my nose.
Take these pills but don't take those.
Knee replacement coming soon.
Back to bed to sleep till noon.