Monday, March 24, 2014

A Middle Eastern Giveaway and a Blogging Absence

I'll be leaving very soon on a trip to Israel. Teenaged Daughter is a senior in high school and has wanted to travel there for a long time, so we are going. I'm excited, too, and I look forward to seeing the ancient sights, riding a camel, and eating exotic foods. At one point we'll be so close to the Syria they say we'll be able to hear the sounds of the warfare, but I do NOT plan on crossing that particular border.

I'll be out of the blogging world for a while and will probably be back to our great blogging community around the end of April, but I am also hosting a giveaway, something from Israel (I don't know what yet, but when I get there I'll find something neat). All you have to do to enter is leave a comment and include where you've never been before that you'd like to visit. I'll draw a name when we return and announce the winner. It's not too late to enter. It will be too late only when you can't see this post anymore.

Also, if you'd like a postcard from Israel, email me your address at or message me on Facebook. If I can't mail it in Israel, I'll mail it when we get home. And it's fine if you don't live in the US. I'd be happy to mail you one wherever you live.

(And for those of you who asked, I'm going to try and get an English translation of the poem that was given to me in last week's post up before I leave. I will include it in last week's post.) 

Over and out, friends~

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Of Poets and Empanadas

The woman sitting next to me at the half moon table in the dining room of the nursing home clutched my hand and caressed each nail slowly. “How pretty,” she said with a smile, then turned her hand over, showing me her newly lacquered red nails. The other three ladies at the table with my mother-in-law nodded in turn as I admired each one’s manicure. One of the women only stared mutely and offered me an empty coffee cup when I turned to look at her nails. Behind us, two men commiserated with each other so loudly and animatedly in disconnected sounds that it echoed off the walls while cafeteria workers cleaned up from lunch.

Although I was there to visit my mother- in- law, I was glad to see these other ladies, each over 90 years old, who had befriended her. We talked of the empanadas (Mexican fruit filled pastries) I had brought for their merienda (afternoon snack) and one of the ladies commented while patting the bag of empanadas that it was nice to find such treasures with wonderful fillings in a nursing home. My mother in law pushed off in her wheelchair to get some napkins.

As quickly as Alice falling down the rabbit hole, though, the woman I assumed didn’t speak suddenly picked up on the word empanada, loudly turned it into a similar sounding Spanish word that has a slang, sexually vulgar meaning, and the conversation took a deep swerve into a direction I’d never anticipated, complete with loud chortling and thigh slapping by the formerly silent woman.

Since I've never talked with 90 year olds about sex, I was caught momentarily speechless by the intimate questions two of these nonagenarians now felt free to pepper me with. They interpreted my dumbfounded state as innocence and both chimed in, trying to educate me on advanced topics in the birds and the bees. My mother- in- law pulled up behind me and whispered in Spanish, “They can be so immature! Let’s move to another table.” Even as their laughter continued, I stood and we looked around the room for another table.

The elderly man who sometimes thinks he is my husband waved excitedly as we turned in his direction, gesturing us over with fervent ooh’s and ahh’s and bouncing in his wheelchair. I smiled at him but scanned the other side of the room quickly, and another man with a short crew cut and dark rimmed glasses beckoned us to his empty table. I reasoned we didn’t have much to lose, so we headed his direction.

I’d never met him before, and smiled a hello as we settled in. The two men who were loudly communicating with each other with an array of booming sounds were now closer to us and it was difficult to hear anything else, but our new table mate extended his hand and introduced himself.

“I am Oscar Hernandez Ortega (name is changed). I am her second cousin on our mothers’ side,” he said as he patted my mother in law’s arm. “I was a double major, English and Spanish, in college. That was 70 years ago when I graduated,” he added.

“Were you a teacher or professor?” I asked as I mentally calculated his age.

“Actually, I’m a poet. I worked other jobs to put food on the table for my family. My last job before I retired was as a newspaper editor, but I’m a poet. You can’t retire from a passion, you know,” he added genially.

I nodded appreciatively as I shared I had just retired as an English teacher. A nurse’s aide came to retrieve my mother- in- law for her bath. “Ahhh, if you don’t mind, could we talk of poets and poetry for a while? I really miss that in here,” Oscar Hernandez Ortega confided. So for the next half hour, we talked of Donne, Plath, Lorca, shaped verse, free verse, and meter, in what was the most satisfying literary conversation I’ve ever had.

They wheeled my mother in law back in and he held up one palm. “Please wait- don’t go until I can get back. I have something for you,” he asked.

I assured him I wasn't moving as he wheeled himself down the hall. My mother-in-law was munching on her empanada happily when he maneuvered his chair back to the table holding a creased piece of paper. “This is the last poem I wrote before I came in here. I’d like for you to have it because I think you’ll give it a good home.” The neatly typewritten poem on the paper sat atop a shaky inscription to me, and was signed Oscar Hernandez Ortega.

And indeed the treasures in a nursing home are filled with wonderful things. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rock of the Aged

My sweet father in law passed away suddenly last week. He was the youngest of 14 children, born when his mom was 46 years old. They are a remarkable family. Incredibly, he still has an older sister, 88, and an older brother, 93, who survive him. Their dad was 98 when he passed away and their mom 103, so it was understandable when Tia (Auntie), the older sister, lamented that my father in law was “taken too young” at 86.

She still lives by herself and although she sits on two fluffy pillows to see over the steering wheel, she drove herself in her new car over two hours to get to the services. I love to be around the elderly, and I especially love her. She taught for 43 years and worked for the district in different capacities for another 20 years after that, only retiring in 2012. These are nuggets of wisdom straight from her mouth.

·        On passing several police officers whose belts and clothing strained to contain large overhangs: Why is it men these days have such huge bellies? (She rolls down her passenger side window) Honey, you need to put down the cerveza (beer) and pick up some dumb bells! Those criminals aren’t going to slow down to a walk to let you catch them!

·        On a much younger relative who has started wearing dread locks: Such a shame he has done that. Is he trying to be one of those rapping stars? Balding plus those braid things…they just don’t go together. He needs to look for his lost common sense the next time he looks in the mirror.

·        On the small, pearl handled pistol in her glove compartment, for which she has a permit: My daddy taught me to shoot when I was 6 years old and I haven’t ever forgotten. Don’t worry, I don’t pull it out too much anymore. It’s just if someone tries to rob me, or if I see a good buck at the ranch.

·        On New York City, where her only child, a son, is a physician and hospital administrator: I’d always heard people from New York are unfriendly and rude. But I solved that. I just look them in the eye, smile, and say, “Aren’t you beautiful!” And I nearly always get at least a little smile back. People need someone to tell them that, at least once a day.

·        On how active she is: I exercise every day. I even put on some shorts and a cute t-shirt when I do, even though it’s always at home. I turn on the music really loud and I move. That’s the key to anything you want to be successful at, especially living. Keep moving and don’t ever stop.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hearing Voices

When I read your blogs, I imagine you speaking the words to me. Some of you have slow, drawling voices, while others have faster paced cadences with accents different from mine. I won’t tell you which blogger I’ve dubbed with a Daffy Duck voice. (I kid! I kid!) Of course, all of these voices are made up in my imagination because I’ve never heard a blogging friend actually speak, that is until this weekend.

I was thrilled to have a wonderful phone visit with a dear blogging friend who’s asked me to collaborate on a writing project with her. Not only that, I will be getting to speak soon with another amazing blogging friend who’s asked me for my opinion on parts of one of her novels.

I’ve been thinking about our blogging community. Some scoff and say it’s not real; the virtual world is a sad excuse for socialization. However, I’m with the other group who fervently backs the idea that the blogging neighborhoods are just as real and vibrant as any other social network. Only two people in my daily life know I blog, or even that I write anything other than grant proposals. You all know me much better in a literary sense than most of my friends.

And even though I will never get to attach the real voice to most of my blog neighbors, I count each of you as friends. That’s what blogging has done for me: connected me with incredible people I would never have met otherwise.

How about you? Have you ever spoken with any of your blogging friends you didn’t already know, or even met up with some of them? Is it something you’d like to do if you haven't?

And I put up a short recording of my own voice on a past post, in case you’d like to hear it, although the giveaway I talk about is already over. Click here: Shelly's Voice (This will take you to a Sound Cloud page. It should start playing automatically when you open the page.) Yep, that’s a sure fire Texas accent all the way through it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Getting Dirty or Spring, Wherefore Art Thou?

I miss green. I miss the lushness of soft grass underfoot, of trees fully dressed in nascent finery. It's coming, but like a celebrated diva making a glorious entrance, spring is going to wait until she has everyone's full attention, or perhaps when everyone is chanting her name. Here I go: Spring, spring, SPRING! A repost from my first year of blogging, to remind us what it is like when spring makes her long awaited debut.

The hum of the tiller harmonized with the birds singing their gossip from the tops of the trees. Several stray bees danced a dizzy pattern near my head and I ducked to avoid them. The muscles in my husband's back knotted and twisted through his sweat soaked t shirt as he forced the swirling tines deeper into the ground, causing a pinwheel of black loam to churn outwards.

I used the rake to claw loose the detached strands of grass, pulling them into a heap at the corner of the large patch we were preparing for a new planting of featherweight flower seeds. The green aroma stored in the now mangled blades of grass saturated the air with fragrant liberation.

I knelt to dislodge a few rocks from the loose soil and the velvety softness of the fine earth captivated me. I plunged my hand further downwards until it was covered to my wrist with the rich blackness. Deep stillness and peace infused me.

A wiry grass snake, disturbed from his resting place, did not even fluster me as he undulated past my arm in pursuit of more settled surroundings.

A few more swipes with the rake and then the temptation overrode everything else. I slipped off my shoes and let my toes sink into the supple cushion of sod, more lush than the finest fabric. The rake fell away and I dug my feet all the way in. The warm top layer of dirt gave way to the cooler, moist layers. If I had paid for a spa treatment,  I couldn't have been more luxuriously cosseted.

I knelt all the way down and inhaled deeply. The dirt, something I fight so heartily indoors, whispered gently to me. Old as the planet itself, it spoke of stability, of constancy, of the life that used to be and of the new life yet to come.

I plunged my hands in once more and felt something small and smooth. I pulled it up. It was a winsome brown button. I smiled. This was also a plot where my grandmother and my great grandmother before her tilled their gardens.

And that great continuum of what they put into the land and what it gave back to them, and what I was putting into the land and what it would give back to me, moved onward through its steady course.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Fog Creature

He blinked a few times and squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to clear the miasma that lingered from the night before. The heavy fog outside the deer blind that early morning rivaled that which engulfed his mind.

His hands tightened around the rifle, although it was unloaded and he’d brought no ammunition with him. This deer blind on his ranch was a place of solitude for him, a place to reflect and shed the after effects from the fraternity reunion the night before. He and his frat brothers still got together regularly and although several decades removed from college, they partied like they were still 18. He shook his head ruefully. He might just be getting too old for that.

He peered through the small rectangular opening on the north side of the blind, and although ten feet off the ground in this simple wooden box of a blind, could see nothing but the fog, that blasted fog everywhere. His head throbbed on both sides, with Jim Beam sledgehammering his left temple and Pearl Beer driving her pickax through the right.

He raised the rifle to his shoulder and steadied his gaze through the scope. A slight ripple in the fog just to the west made him instinctively hold his breath. He heard a slight rustling and then the distinctive, methodical pushing of branches that was a clear signal something was headed towards him.

He was not here to shoot this morning, just to watch, and now he wished he’d brought a camera, because he judged from the approaching sounds that this was a buck of size. It stopped near the blind, just outside of the small area clear of fog around the blind. He could hear it breathe, but what slowly penetrated his slow thought processes was this wasn’t the small controlled breaths of an unaware deer. These were heavier, deeper. Perhaps this wasn’t a deer at all, but a feral hog, or a javelina.

Whatever it was had noticed the blind. It scraped closer to the bottom posts and he caught a glimpse of fur. A light brownish gray, it was not a hog, javelina, or any other animal he’d ever seen in South Texas. It disappeared from his sight and was now directly under the blind.

An unearthly shriek that penetrated the thin plywood floor and into his very soul paralyzed him. The blind vibrated. This..this…thing, this creature, this fog being, was pulling on one of the support posts under him.

His rational mind fought for logic. Maybe he was having a hallucination, brought on by last night. Maybe this was not happening at all, and he was dreaming. Maybe…

A sudden jerk so hard that it made him drop his rifle confirmed his reality, though. He could not jump because that would throw him right into the grasp of…what? What was this?

A hard thump on the side of the blind loosed a panic inside him that oozed from his control. The thing was climbing up the blind. His breathing pushed out in audible yips and he almost cried as he prayed a long forgotten prayer. Another thump and it was now on the roof of the blind, pounding a staccato beat.

That piercing shriek came again, immediately followed by a sight he would never forget, one that seared so deeply it was probably all the way down in his DNA. There at the small opening was a red face, one so hideously red and ugly it didn’t seem real. The next happened so quickly it was hard to patch together the disjointed images. In the red were dark eyes, and then a mouth that screamed again, and teeth, fangs…

He tumbled headfirst out of the blind, landing on his side and rolling, not even caring he didn't have his rifle. He didn’t quit running until he got to his truck, jammed the keys into the ignition and floored the accelerator. He screeched to a stop at the small convenience store seven miles away. He was already sure of his course of action by the time he turned the engine off.

Two men in the store watched as the truck careened into the back corner of the parking lot. They raised their eyebrows as a disheveled man quickly jumped out of the truck and pulled two bottles of whiskey out of the cab of the truck, opened them, and poured them out onto the ground. They continued to watch as he opened beer can after beer can and poured all of those out onto the ground, as well.

The grizzled owner looked at the customer and shrugged. “To each his own, I guess…”

The customer shook his head as he handed the owner a flier. “That was just plain weird.” He laughed a little. “I do appreciate you posting this for me, though.”

The owner looked carefully at the picture on the flier, advertising a reward for the return of an escaped snow monkey from a nearby exotic game refuge. “Those things sure are ugly- those red faces and big teeth make ‘em look like something out of a horror movie.”

“They really are beautiful animals,” the customer replied, “but if you’ve never run into one before, it can be kind of startling to see for the first time.” 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I Have a Sickness...

And this isn't even all of them. 

I love working out, and I love shoes, so this is the inevitable collision of those two worlds. There's not much I am obsessive about, but this might qualify. What about you? Do you have a mild obsession with anything? (And the floor isn't dirty, but my phone camera is not the best.)