Thursday, December 30, 2010

Left leg lean.

I spend a lot of time dealing with situations that I really don't have much control to change, or alter. That in itself used to be frustrating. Between how my health has sometimes challenged me, and other things in my life that have cropped up,  I have practiced a lot of relaxation techniques. Relaxation is all in getting the tension out of the mind and or out of the body. Some people drink it all out, until they get over the hangover. Some people drive fast, shoot, a LOT of people drive fast, impatiently, and aggressively. It doesn't seem to help in my opinion. And some people I guess just don't give a fresh cow patty.

I'm pretty fortunate, as I have a foolproof system for relaxing. It is always good, never impatient with me, never turns me down when I need a little quiet time. Oh, I never hear a harsh word even when I am a pure pain. Of course one may think that kind of relaxation is either a lie, or highly illegal. It's neither, and all I can say is that I'm glad I have it. I think everyone would enjoy seeing what works so well, so take a gander:

This is Myrtle. She is a 3 year old boxer. She was given to us because her previous owners didn't really have the time to give her the attention she needed. If you know much about boxers, you know they need to be kept busy, or they need a companion pet. Myrtle gets to play with Gracie, my daughter's and her husband's dog. She is so worn out when Gracie goes home that when she lays down on her bed, she rattles the walls snoring.
Myrtle is our second boxer. Our first boxer and our daughter grew up together. But that is another story for another time. Myrtle is pretty laid back as boxers go, at least around me. I think she brings out the calm that I need. We kind of feed off each other. She seems to stay calm when I am wound up, and I help her to calm down when other people are around. Myrtle exhibits some pretty typical boxer behavior, one of which gives me a pretty good body workout.  All dogs I guess want to be close to their owners, but I think some dogs, boxers for instance, really take the closeness to the extreme.

Each morning during the week I awake at 5:30 am to get ready for work. Myrtle is so habituated to the time, that she comes in the bedroom on my side of the bed within 3 or 4 minutes of the alarm going off. I arise, throw on my slippers and head in the living room where we greet each other. She leans into my left leg looking a lot like a sausage on four legs curved mid- body around me. As a matter of fact, when I am in the yard, on the porch, just about anywhere, she is there, leaning into my left leg.

Myrtle is a great companion, though she shows little concern for what I am doing when she leans in on me. It gets dicey when I am working in the yard, or grilling, or trying to sit in a chair. She responds well to "Back" and "Off" commands. I just need to use them more. This time of year, I get cold very easily, and maybe I overlook her leaning on me, or sitting on my legs. Well, there are worse things, and I still smile when I come home, open the back door and she is there.  That stubby tail a blur, her body doing an imitation of a bent bratwurst, and the shear joy she displays, all just because I walked in the door, or rubbed an ear. 

Myrtle is here, because of my wife. She was contacted by a friend about Myrtle. When she heard what the boxer's name was, she told me she really thought it would be a good idea to have Myrtle. After all, Myrtle was my wife's nickname when she was growing up. It was meant to be.It was love at first sight.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

One long cast.

  Along the Peace River near the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, the water moves in and out, guided by the tides, which are guided by the moon's jealousy.  If the ebb and flow were a story, it would be about a jealous lover, never wanting the wandering waters to be too far away.  She would pull at her love and he would wander away never too far, but always just out of reach until she would hide in the darkness of the night.  When she glowed with the fullness of her face, she would pull him closest.  It would be that way, always that way, if it were a story.

    But the moon and the water had worked together to provide me with a sight I found to be so heavenly that I wanted it to be part of me.  The measureless motion of water heading to the Gulf of Mexico flowed past me and I felt the motion in my body.  The waters were full of hyacinth and ribbon grass torn from their anchor, the water's rich black texture contrasted against the shimmering surface. How can something be so clear close to the hand, and so dark in the panorama of the living sheet of liquid that poured past me?  Where I stood was a good spot; a quiet spot where water spun small swirls, and rolled short-lived curls in the surface. It was a wide place where the red mangrove limbered itself to the edge of the riverbed.  Here when the tide was peaking, the water invaded the mangroves and nourished the sandy river bottom.   The soup of life thrived here. From the smallest crab to the smallest trout, the babes of the sea would grow here until they could venture beyond the maze of mangrove roots out into the vast oak stained river.

   It was because the children of the sea and their older kin lived in relative security beneath the jade mangrove leaves, that the larger fish came here.  The snook, a fish with hooked jaw and a brown racing stripe down its middle face into the escaping tide. Snook, like assassins, are swift, lethal, striking with loud ferocity. The speckled trout, is named for its spots and its mouth, a silver fish, with soft flesh. Trout have to be on the ice or in the pan for fear they would turn soft too quickly. Mullet lived here. I think a mullet is frustrated because it has seen its cousin, the flying fish broach the blue waters of the gulf and skim for great distances above the water, flying from wave top to wave top. Being the shape of a bullet, the mullet can only emerge from the water in short powerful bursts, always attempting and always failing to fly as far as its cousin, the flying fish. Sometimes overcome by the futility of flying, the mullet simply jumps and flops back in the water, resigned to the fact that it will never fly like its cousin.

    Other fish are here, mingo snapper, mighty red fish, croakers, gars, pinfish, and many others.  One fish lives here in the summer, one they call the king.  The king tarpon is a silver fish when it comes directly in from the Gulf.  But after living in the tannin waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River, it becomes a golden toned king, befitting its image as the supreme ruler of this water. The tarpon is fitted with armor like large scales, the size of silver dollars.  To own one of those scales is quite the prize. It's bulldog appearance befits it image as the bad boy in the stream.

   This was morning, and I had traveled to this spot because I wanted to catch a trout, or a snook, or anything else that would rise to my bait.  All the hunters of the shallows were indiscriminate about what they ate as long as they could catch it.  That was to my advantage and so I came with spinning reel in hand with strong line and my favorite lure, a blue rebel.  The lure was blue on top, a bright blue, and its sides were silver to attract fish with the reflection of the light from the sun or water.  It was white on the bottom and its hooks had been bent back in place a number of times with needle nose pliers. It was well used, and many a snook, trout, and river bass had been landed with the lure. It didn't dive quite right because a wanton fish had taken a small piece out of the side, most likely a snook.  But it attracted fish because it had the peculiar habit of sinking to the left and wiggling back to the surface when I waggled my line.

I stood where the river met the mangrove.  Straight ahead of me, the flowing coffee colored waters moved with the intent of an elephant, the river’s size belied its quickness. Only by watching a hyacinth or some other object in the water speed toward the salty waters, did one get a real sense of the hurried nature of the water. To my right was the mangrove and further to my right a creek emptied into the river. I was at a point across from the edge of the mangrove.  A good place because where waters meet there are often fish.  I could throw my lure sidearm across the creek and to the edge of the vegetation that dipped just to the water surface. With a little more time the tide would be out and I could see the skinny knees and gnarled legs that made up the thick trees in the water.  But now was the time to fish, as evidenced by the busy motion under the mangroves.

     Old adversaries were facing off, trout and bull minnow, snook and pinfish. Life and death struggles ensued just beyond me. I unhooked my rebel lure from an eye on the rod and let the lure hang. I watched it twirl and unwind, checking out the swivel that attached the twenty pound test line  on one end and the thin wire leader on the other.  My lure of choice, dented, and marked  crooked treble hooks dangled and  waved in the air, waiting to be launched into the sky toward the mangrove.  I threaded the line on my pointing finger, tripped the bale and brought my arm back.  The air was still, no need to throw low on the water. Instead I arced the lure toward the middle of the mangrove and watched as it dropped down into the water, just outside the reach of the branches. It slipped underwater and bobbed to the surface, sending circles of water ever expanding away from the landing. 

    This was the best time in the fishing.  I knew that somewhere under the water, a fish, maybe a snook, maybe a trout, might have noticed the lure. It may have turned and with the quickening pulse of a predator, expanded its gills and floated upward toward my lure.  If I waited long enough, I could get the fish to strike... if I worked the lure right.  If I waited too long, the artificial sense of the blue rebel would be exposed and only a young or juvenile fish might make a hasty attack. I rolled the slack in, careful not to move the lure toward me and away from the dark waters under the mangled trees. Then like one had felt a tick in their arm, I sliced the line out of the water.  The transparent link between myself and my lure dripped water as it rose just off the surface causing the lure to dance and dive beneath the surface.

    As the lure rose, I saw in my vision, some distance to the left, back toward the entry to the river,  a tell-tale movement.  The water bowed up, but it didn't break.  The thought occurred to me that the motion reminded me of a child crawling beneath a blanket, his movement identified by forward motion and by the blanket lowering  and rising with the child's movement.  The uprising disappeared. I twitched the lure again. The lure zagged right and went down, then waggled and floated up to the surface.  The pressure point in the water appeared again and a streak of gold, maybe silver beacon-ed its position and disappeared. The fish was large, and the bright color indicated it was most likely a snook.  It seemed too large to be a trout and too bright to be a red fish.  I anticipated the struggle that would come, the work I would have to do to keep the fish out of the tangled roots opposite myself. If I could just make the lure do what the fish wanted I would have it, or at least the fight.

     This cast was nearly over. The lure had made its way down the edge of the foliage and the water had carried it along at a good angle.  Soon it would be at the exodus of the swamp and  float into the river. No slack remained, and it was time to twitch the lure one more time.  There was no time. Just as I pulled the lure, it dove beneath the surface awash in a cacophonous loud vision of water and sound. My line stood at attention, my rod bent to the river and the fish swallowed my lure and began its run to the river. It was a big fish,  its pressure and power muscling my line.  My drag, set moderate so as to only slow a fish, began to click and soon it was a whirl of sounds as the fish took my line on a ride.  I pulled back on the rod, setting it up as straight as I could to turn the fish.

   There was no turning, or stopping, or even impeding this fish. I felt the tension in my rod and I put both hands on the stock. I could hear the gears strain and lose the test of wills.  Then as often, things do, I felt myself apart and watching the scene unfold in a slow procession of frames. It was no snook and it was no great redfish, it ran too swiftly and too straight. It was however, in the middle of the river, a long ways from  me and pulling more and more line off my reel. At that moment I knew the line would break, instead the line went slack. I thought the fish was gone. But it wasn't, it was there and I could feel the line slide along the surface of the water. .  This fish was going to surface and jump. 

    I began to reel my line as fast as I could, but it wasn't fast enough because the water before me, a stones throw away, exploded in foam and wave. The fish rose out of the water, and then I knew it was a king tarpon. Its mouth flew open, gills extended, bright, red, flush, with purpose.  The color was bright silver, and its length was as long as I .  It was a master of flight, head arched, dog lip dropped and its tail fin slapping the air with the power of  a fish not used to being turned. It rose vertically and snapped its head toward me, its large luminous eye seemed to find my eye and for an instant we were linked in time by fortune or misfortune. I grabbed that moment and banked it because it was a moment when two creatures met, from different worlds with each one’s intent, to own the other or to escape the try.

   The tarpon fell to the water, long side meeting the river.  The resulting entry was of the magical nature, with water like a fountain rising upward all around the king.  Its entry finished, the waters fell and drop for
drop I heard the water settled back into the black river. It was then that I felt the line slack.  The king had thrown the lure as it launched on its desperate flight, jackknifing the lure high into the air.  It fluttered and tumbled back to the water.

    I stood there for a while, overwhelmed by the suddenness of battle and the silence that followed. The river rolled on, the mangrove fluttered in the rising wind.  I had seen the king and the king was gone.  It never occurred to me what I would have done if I had been fortunate enough to land the tarpon... But of course I knew my tackle would have given in before that happened.  It was silly of me to think like that, no one at home would believe I could catch a tarpon, much less hook one.  I looked at the river and the creek and the sand and the sun now rising above the opposite bank. Herons and egrets, king fishers and ibis milled in the trees and on the waters edge, others circled in the sky.  In the water the play continued with fish and prey, water and wind, time and tragedy, a salty leaved red mangrove serving as the stadium.

   I reeled my line in, all the time wondering what I could say to anyone.  It was no use, no one would believe this boy had hung a tarpon.  I reeled the last of the line in, watching my lure now half submerged in the water, waggle and work convulsively back to me.  And in an instant I remembered, there is fortune for those who believe. On the lure, unbelievable, inconceivable, and wondrous there was an offer.  I pulled the lure to me out of the water, and carefully, as if I was handling fragile life, pulled the king tarpon scale from the treble hook and laid it in the palm of my hand. One King tarpon dollar, paid in full.

Time to get outside.

I've been home nursing a bad back. I was supposed to get a massage today, but the poor lady that was going to do that for me is home sick. God Bless you, I hope you feel better soon. Myrtle, our boxer, is outside, where the temperature has finally crept above the 40's and is now around 60 degrees.She has spent the last few days being completely worthless like me here in the house. I can feel the fat cells expanding as I write this. I truly think just looking at some food has increased my girth and killed my ambition. As I said, Myrtle is outside, not too happy with me,  but she is fine. It's not windy, the sun is bright, and she needs to get over my being here and her being there.

I need to get outside and take in the  the sun and fresh air. The problem is that I think I am suppose to be productive and do something. There are plenty of somethings to do from raking leaves to cutting limbs to finishing up the great hole I am digging next to our screen porch. It will be a patio one day, but the foundation area needs to be dug out. The gravel and all the other goodies that need to go in the area await at some place that I need to research. Of course, I need exercise to help my back, but digging isn't exactly what I need to do. Perhaps a walk downtown, or maybe a drive over to the beach. I am pretty sure I'd have it pretty much to myself. The sands that have been brushed by the northern winds of late are probably beautiful, sans, the footsteps that one would usually find there.

 I need to get off this machine, and go do something, nothing too steeped in effort, but enough to kill a couple fat cells, and give my back some work. Here is what I love about where I live. Come visit, but please move to the peninsula, it has more to do, less to ruin, and is generally more "progressive" than around here. I love stereotypes, sometimes they play to or favor. This area needs business, clean, smart business. If you have to move to Florida, and you have a smart, clean business, come see us!

Sunset on Santa Rosa Sound

                                                        Sound side near Navarre Beach
                                             There is a very nice bike path along the beach.

                                                 National Seashore looking west to Pensacola Beach

                                           Imagine how this would look without the National Seashore.
                                                  Feeding frenzy, there were about 100 pelicans in all.
                                                        Tides have a creative side too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Santa Fe

Somewhere in the past, the river ran true, unfettered . The river moved against the banks rising slowly, sometimes caressing wooded scape, or brushing cypress trees leaning over the cool waters. I cannot imagine the river any different, but it was, it was cleaner, and fresher, wider, and deeper.

The river hid limestone shelves, and boulders, and rising, bubbling, crystal springs beneath its tannin cloak. Fish faced into the lazy current, rising just to the surface, waiting for damsel flies and may flies, crawling water bugs, waiting to snack on insects who in turn waited to feed on bits of plant-life. A chain of life, from particle to scale to flesh.

Every morning, waking to the whispering mists of cool water against warm air, the river ambled on its undeniable path. Drifting timelessly over the water, spread out like dough on a marble board, the drought quieted waters whispered to the wind. Only a ripple, or a glint of sunlight against an eddy gave away the irrepressible march of water, and plant, wood, and sand westerward away from the sweet earth that birthed the river inland.

Wood storks stood on matted islands of living and rotting vegetation, wedged in crooks and bends. They poked their great wood like beaks in the green mass, probing like new surgeons for snails and insects, and unlucky crustations. While further up the river, hugged into narrow dark channels of clear deep water, white egrets stood like bouy markers in the islands of green. The white plumed birds waited silent, solid as soldiers for the unsuspecting fish below to come within striking distance.

Then with the speed of lightning, and without the clap of thunder, they jabbed, splitting the surface, grasping bream with a vise grip. For a moment the orange beak pauses, as the egret eyes the meal wriggling at the end of a living skewer. With a quick flick of the beak, the fish is turned head first and down the gullet, bulging for a moment in the long curved throat, then disappearing into the gullet, warming the bird, returning energy to the muscles, and wings that propel the bird both in flight and across the island of lettuce like plants growing on the surface of the old and ancient river.

It flowed before man, and during man's infancy. The river roared with the waters of hurricanes and tropical storms. Years marked in flood stages, like rings in a tree, told the story of drought and dryness. Times when the river barely slid past the ancient seafloor that was now its bed, those times are unknown in memory, known in science. Man will come, and live his life, like the waters, flowing and ebbing, living and dying. No one part of the river will be remembered, but all will be eternal, like man. No man will live forever, but eternal is his legacy. Sometimes in a boat, the water and man become one, if only in thought, surface and boat bottom become almost inseparable. Sliding along, drifting in their inevitable journey to salt and soil.

What this blog is about, at least when it strikes me.

One of the things I enjoy about Florida is the diversity of environments found from the far reaches of the western panhandle to the islands training south from near Homestead to the last point at Key West. My hope is to see as much of this wonderful state as I can. I won't get into the environmental vs growth argument. There is little I can bring to that argument.
People that actually get out in the hammocks, the wire grass pine lands, or any of the other unique landscapes of Florida are highly outnumbered by those that come to Florida to live inside, play inside, and work inside.

Florida can be a harsh environment, with high humidity, temperatures that are stifling, and during the summer months a lightning wonderland, or hurricane horror.
It is a place to wonder at in the cooler late fall months and the winter. That is the time to see it for what it is.

It is a micro-ism of America, with fall colors in the panhandle, sometimes even a bit of snow. It's central landscape, dotted with tangled arms of mighty live oaks, rivers dark, and rivers blue, ribbons of transportation a millennium before I-75, or I-95 was ever set to a designer's blueprint. In the south, lime-rock floors support an ancient, and very efficient drainage system that is struggling to survive our love affair with La Florida.

This is not an advertisement to come to Florida. It isn't meant to read like a tourist package on the internet. More,it is my appreciation for a place that accepted me from my youth to my middle age. I never once was rejected by the pine flats of southwest Florida, or the black rivers like the Santa Fe, or Wacissa. My life in its way has mirrored what one finds in Florida. That is a wide ranging land with vast regions unpopulated, to the squeezed in to the mile likes of Miami, or Orlando.

It is my home, La Florida.

Monday, December 27, 2010

No Clowning

The infant and toddlers unit is joined to the school age adolescent unit by a hallway. Rooms hold children in their cocoons safe from the word of nasties and meanies, that float in the air or creep up from beneath beds at night. Nurses sprint, sometimes literally, administering medicine and performing procedures with a gentle hand and comforting voices. Doctors come and go, sometimes working for, sometimes worrying for a toddler quietly sleeping, or an infant beneath warm lights. Walking along the hallways in the "IT" one can glimpse out of the corner of one's eye, children laying still, or moving about in the small world they occupy. Many doors are closed, but a few are open to varying degrees, depending on how much the attending adult wishes the door to be open and the outside world to be near.

My usual work area is the school age adolescents unit, rooms 345 through 364, but not exclusively those rooms. Often illness and opportunity take me to other rooms, other floors, or procedural rooms. I'd like to say that I see a child, during their stay at the hospital and then they move back into their home and school environment, leaving me behind as a distant memory. That's not always the way it works. Some children return for various reasons, life-threatening reasons sometimes. Sometimes they come for procedures that enhance life. Then some come, hoping that life will be extended, longer, brighter, without the mean nasties.

So it was that I was asked to see a child in the IT. I rarely work in this area; I thought that perhaps there had been a mistake. I went to the room I was given to meet a little child, a very ill child, with big eyes shining like a dark glistening river. She smiled shyly at me and her mother watched closely as we began to get to know each other. She sat straight on the side of her bed, little legs and littler feet barely reaching down beyond the side of the bed. Her hands were clasped on her lap and her head cocked slightly to one side.

As I knelt down to put her at eye level, I noticed beside her an array of syringes large and small, some with tape and instructions, some identified by name only. This is part of the world I work in, and I strike a compromise with this as part of my offerings. I never lose sight of the fact that what I offer is secondary to medical needs. But I never forget that what I leave behind in the room might help some children cope with the daily schedule they will accept, not always willingly, but almost always hopefully. I am part of a package deal, doctor, nurse, dietitian, social worker, child care specialist, those angels that clean rooms, and others I probably left out.

This child, this little one smiled at me. I am always struck by what a child gives me if I will listen, or wait. "I want to do my A,B,C's and I want to color, and I want to count numbers, and I want to ...", she quietly spoke. I waited and listened letting her distance herself from the reality lying beside her. Her baby teeth were completely intact, her hair, brown and thinned, her eyes open and expressive and that tongue, rapid fire. That wonderful smile, capturing, shy, she was indeed a beautiful child beaming at me. Her verbal ability for four years of age was impressive, her vocabulary was more than appropriate for her age. Her sentences, short and simple, but they followed a theme. Her parents instilled learning early, and she wanted to learn, to have fun and do what four-year-old children do. I left and returned to my classroom.

I put together some basic lessons, both papers and manipulative materials. I wrote a few simple plans and projected a time line for her based on how long she might be in the hospital. Knowing how long a child will stay in the hospital sometimes can be like rolling dice. Some come and go, some are suppose to stay for a certain duration and they don't; I think you get the idea. Lessons for a week were put together based on three hours of instruction per week. A bold projection, as instructional hours in the hospital can be like a full day in the classroom and just as exhausting for the child. It's best to overestimate actual instructional time, rather than come up short on instructional activities for a child.

Blushed with success and filled with self-satisfaction. I left my classroom and walked back to the IT. I entered the room to find this little child relaxing on her bed. "I have your lessons, and we can do a few papers now if you would like."

She sprang up, looked me in the eye and said, "Mr. Mike, the clown is coming to my room, I don't want to work now. " I looked at her and smiled, "Alright, I'll come see you tomorrow then. " She smiled, almost giddy with excitement over the clown's impending visit. I had learned a number of things today. My importance or lack of importance is directly related to the anticipation a clown produces in the fertile imagination of a little girl. Sometimes school isn't as good as it gets. Finally, never ever, mess with clowns, they aren't kidding when it comes to kids.

One year ago less two days

It is by the thermometer outside my house 29 degrees, the weather station in Pensacola reports 33. It doesn't matter, by Northwest Florida standards, that is cold. To you, that may seem like a warming trend this day, I'm not really sure though. Each morning, Myrtle, our boxer, without fail, makes it from her doggie bed in the living room into our bedroom somewhere between 5:30 and 6:30. I think her waking sometimes depends on the neighbor's porch light illuminating the crisp, frosty, air before the sun rises. Then she is fooled and comes in the bedroom a bit earlier. So, two days a week she seems to come in earlier than the other days of the week.

Myrtle sleeps inside the house if the temperature is to fall below 50. Otherwise, she is quite warm in her crate, lined with blankets and covered pillows, insulating her from the cold concrete. Her crate is covered with two thick insulating liners, making the crate a virtual incubator even when the wind is blowing out of the north. She is spoiled, and rotten at times. But, sit means sit, stay means stay, and she will not eat until I give a command. She knows who the alpha leader is, even when she is tempted to ignore me with a prized bone, or a yearning to slip beneath the dining room table; one of her favorite places to find a snooze. Sometimes when my fibromyalgia is acting up, she is allowed to lay on my legs and up against my chest. Yes, I know that is not acceptable behavior. Her warmth flows from her big boxer chest, and her heavy bulldog head leans into my body delivering warmth to painful trigger spots. I feel a respite from my pain, and she gets the closeness, that all dogs, and especially boxers seem to relish.

I am off work this week, and if I was not in the middle of a major flare with my fibro, I would be outside trimming limbs and removing the latest layer of leaves from my backyard to be placed beneath my shrubs. Alas, even typing sends shots of pain into my shoulders and arms. Such is life for one with fibromyalgia. Do not for a moment feel sorry for me. I don't allow myself such a piss ant attitude. Oh there are times I have a pity party, but it doesn't last long. That kind of coat does not fit me well, and I have learned mind is stronger than simple muscle and sinew. I cannot turn off the pain, but I can move forward, and will a certain amount of attitude to reign over an otherwise, difficult existence.

The secret, which took me a long time to learn is to think as positive as I can, and not to completely isolate myself from my loved ones and friends. I practice smiling, joking, laughing. I read light materials, I do not watch anything that is negative, or movies that are negative. Am I living in a rose colored world ? Yes, to a certain extent I am doing just that. There is plenty of reality in my life, from my work, to the problems that crop up just about everyday, and to the old adversary that accompanies me on my path through life, my shadows, and fibro. So, I don't apologize for looking forward and not dwelling on the pain, or the other things that could easily stop me from living a good life.

I have enough weaknesses to pass around, and still have plenty more. I practice my sins as well as the next person, probably more so. I try to forgive myself, but I am possessed at times by a genetic flaw ( that's my theory) that won't allow me to forgive myself as I should. Lord, the great creator forgives me before I can even think what he already knows. Yet, I return to the scene of the crime ( sins) and put myself into a position I cannot win. Loathing is a terrible thing. It is easier to forgive, forget my flaws, and try to do better and move on.

This world is amazing. From the leaf on the tree, to the great complexity of an environment like the Everglades. I see life in a natural sense. The technical aspects that we humans have devised is wondrous to me, but I am afraid not as rewarding to my mind as the flow dynamics of a river bend, or the timing of the bloom each spring along the Suwannee. I embrace certain technical developments for what they do for me. Beyond that I don't go very far. Shirley bought for us a new coffee machine that makes one cup at a time. I was impressed with its efficiency, the heat the machine can apply to formally cold water too. But, until she pointed out I could make tea with the machine, I was merely accepting of its modern capabilities. A hot cup of Earl Grey, without using the microwave to heat my water ?! Oh my, my, my. Still,steeped green tea is magical, the flavors creeping over my tongue, the bite at the beginning of a sip, the sweet undertones as I swallow. Oh, yes, steeping is unbeatable, but efficiency for its own sake is sometimes palatable.

I am up early, having had my wakeup call from Myrtle for her food, and also to have blood drawn. I have timed such an endeavor terribly. Blood for my heart, my cholesterol, and a good number of other things is checked and rechecked during the year. But, to check such things at Christmas time is just plain stupid. I am at my weakest, giving in to a fine cocoa, a delicious morsel or ten of chocolate, refined from beans grown far away in a humid, warm valley deep in the equatorial zone. I can hear my family doctor now. "Lose 20 pounds ( it used to be lose 10 pounds) or face more problems." Ah, well, I am good most of the warm months, it's those darn cold months that get me in trouble.

Today I will read, try and get a long walk in, go to the Home Depot hunting tiles that will compliment our bathroom, and get a haircut. The haircut is behind schedule. My naturally wavy hair is acting up, especially on the top of my head. The cowlick I have sported since I can remember is peeping up over the back of my head, indicating that my hair, though it may be deciduous in nature, changing colors as I live, is most decidedly making decisions for itself. Scissors will fix that.

Well, I have fasted and fasted for my blood work, and have had nothing to eat. Here it is a bit beyond the 8 am central time, and I am hungry. I will go to the kitchen, and have English muffins, thank you very much, brother and sip, yes, sip lightly and with great satisfaction, a nice tea along with my muffins. To each of you I say thank you for being there. Your work, your life inspires me, I have admired from afar. It is past time to say such a thing.

God Bless one and all

A memory of Christmas Past

She was not a saint, but she knew the angels. She never obtained a degree from school, yet she had a masters degree in life. Those that knew her as an adult were impressed with her honesty, her observant eye and her ability to make a point with the least amount of words necessary. Her children knew her as gentle and loving, sacrificing for them by giving her time and her efforts to make our home warm, our food hot, and our clothes always clean. She was a small woman and in her later years a frail woman. But her courage was bold as a lion's and she defended her children as fiercely as any lioness.

If I paint a picture of a special woman, perhaps bigger than life, that's not the intention. Her strength was in her quietness, yet given a situation, she had an opinion and she wasn't afraid to state her thoughts. I guess I learned, especially in my adult to remember to listen and find out what I could before I made my mind up. I learned to wait, and I learned to be grateful for small favors, large plates of food, and good friends. She helped others quietly, while almost hidden in the background. It wasn't her way to draw attention, just being who she was, that drew attention.

She was knowledgable of the world, but not necessarily in a political sense, or in a purely intellectual view. She knew people; no matter their title or station in life, were after all, clearly human in her eyes. She would love a child without reservation. She would meet no strangers, but some became strangers after her sense of them became more clear. The less she said to someone, the less inclined she was to make them more than an acquaintence. Yet, she was polite to a fault, and her southern manners were never more apparent than when she enterained guests in her home.

She did not judge a person by their color, and yet she grew up in a segregated world. She knew only the core of a person, and not the exterior. I remember she invited children to my sixth birthday party. At one point I went to the door after hearing the door bell ring. There stood a small black boy, I recognized him, but I was not friends with him. He lived in the neighborhood on the base we were stationed on in the late 1950's. I was frozen in place, when a soft hand touched my shoulder, and then a voice stated with all the grace I could not muster, "come in please." I learned a books worth of wisdom in that moment. She never knew, I never told her how she affected me in that small moment with those three words, "come in please."

My mother grew up poor, a share croppers daughter in southern Georgia and later in north central Florida. I know she knew hunger, though not as a rule. I know she worked hard and she had few personal possessions. Because she learned early in life what was important, she never coveted the material world. Her attitude was, have what you need, and not what you want. She lived like that to her last days, even though she could have had many things. All she had to do was say it to my Dad and she would have had it. I don't know that she ever asked for many things, wants I mean. She liked good pots and pans, she dressed comfortable and she presented herself neatly and without pretention. She owned wonderful clothes, nice jewerly and had fine china. She never asked for any of it that I know of, it was the shower of love she received from my Dad.

There was in my memory, one moment that happened and that defined what my mother was about, and what her values were. The moment was Christmas. I forget which year it was but it was in the early 1990's. My parents had recently moved into town off the land they loved. The "farm" had become more of a chore than it was meant to be, and with my mother's declining health and my Dad's heart surgery behind him, it was time to move to more comfortable, less demanding surroundings. All the boys, including my older brother Steve and my younger brother Kurt, along with their families, had gathered in my parent's home for the holiday. Christmas morning was crisp, and the night before we had enjoyed the dark skies and the wonderful luminaries that glowed in the neighborhood. We had talked the evening through, and gone to bed late.

The children had awakened and now this early morning, presents were waiting for eager hands to open and discover the wonderful treasures inside. We gathered in the living room and read the Christmas story from the book of Matthew. We listened with quiet respect as the story was read and then after a small prayer, we began to pass out the presents. Squeals of joy and laughter, accompanied the crunching of paper and the shredding of ribbons. We passed presents out to adults and they opened theirs too, one at a time, as it was the tradition in our family.

My mother's turn came and a large box was passed to her, brightly wrapped in paper and ribbons. She opened the box carefully, saving the ribbon, and the wrapping. The actual present, a nice leather purse, was inside a box, acquired hastily to pack the present meant for her. The box was a large family size Cheerio box. Momma looked at the box and as she always was, she was delighted to see her new box of cereal and said, "oh, this is wonderful," or something to that effect, and placed the box on the floor, waiting now for the next person to open their present.

It dawned on all of us at the moment, that her thoughts were pure and sincere. She never for a moment thought to open the box and see if there was anything other than cereal in the that box. We all sat, humbled, embarrassed, by our own understanding that the box was only the object holding the real present inside. Her faith and love was so pure that we all were blinded by its brightness. For a moment, I know God smiled and said, "Well done my child, your faith is great."