Posted in Family, Grandmother

My Practice Grandchildren by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Each of my three grown sons have wonderful ladies in their lives. Two are engaged! I’m thrilled to know they have love in their lives that has helped them navigate the trials and tribulations of the pandemic. I also have a selfish wish I never say in front of these very groovy couples: I want grandchildren!

One day I want to brag and smile when I tell friends about the unbelievable beauty and intelligence of my offsprings’ offspring. But until then, I will be happy with my three beautiful and intelligent “practice grandchildren.”  Jaco, Sunny, and Guppy!!!

I first met Jaco when he was a baby and his mom and I walked our dogs together in my old neighborhood. She would walk towards my house early in the morning led by her dog Lou, a regal Great Pyrenees, and Jaco faced forward in a Babybjorn carrier. As Jaco got used to me, he’d kick both of his chubby legs and give me excited smiles when my dog and I came outside. After several months of shared walks, he’d say “Mi-Mi!” when he saw me. ( However, Natalie and I were not sure if he was referring to me or my dog Millie). He shared the same wide-eyed joy for an adult who tickled his bare feet or for a dragonfly that landed on his mom’s arm. (Babies from 4 to 10 months old are very easy audiences!) But on a stroll down a trail in an off-leash dog park when Jaco was the wise age of two and a half, he gave both of my knees a spontaneous hug and said, “I love you so much!” My heart filled with a rush of love that reminded me of that tummy flutter that happens in the early months of pregnancy.

Now at age four, Jaco has matured beyond such displays of affection. During our walks he talks nonstop about the movie Cars and quotes Lightening McQueen as if he’s the cartoon car’s agent. And his long light brown curls bounce when he’s reimagining a favorite movie scene until he stops along the trail to point at the ground and say, “Look!! A roly-poly party!” So I stop and marvel with him at the crowd of bugs squirming at the base of a cypress tree. His sharp eyes miss nothing, and his curious intelligence has that “carpe diem” attitude towards the natural world so that walking with him is always part Discovery channel and part Comedy Central when he makes up silly rhymes or remembers some of Tow-Mater’s best jokes. I’ve watched Jaco grow from a stationary baby to a super curious toddler to a confident older brother and he makes me believe the world can be sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows!

Sunny

My second “practice grandchild” fits her nickname like fine crushed ice settles neatly into the thin paper cone of a snowball on a summer afternoon. Sunny’s presence is always as welcome as a cold treat on a hot day. Almost 3 years-old, Sunday Joy (my friend Crystal’s granddaughter) daily surprises her parents and friends with a capacity for love and creativity that’s only surpassed by her intelligence and wit.

Her clothing style reflects her multi-colored personality. Some days her flowered dress will match the colorful barrettes in her hair and her rainbow sneakers. Other days she’ll wear  a couple of shirts, multiple scarves, five bracelets, a floppy hat and be naked from the waist down. Whatever outfit she chooses to throw together, she owns it whether she’s prancing in the backyard with her dog or chasing Oma Crystal around the living room. She started talking early and by two, she was belting out classics such as “The Wheels on the Bus” like a young diva or holding a small notepad and pencil while asking, “May I take your order?”  when pretending to be a waiter at her parents’ bar and restaurant, the Cavalier.

Sunny & Crystal at The Cavalier’s Wickie Walkup
Musical Sunny Bunny

Her grandpa Ric, who died of cancer before she was born, was the most soulful, wise, and loving human I’ve ever known. He had a smile reminiscent of Paul Newman’s grin in Cool Hand Luke. His joie de vivre lit up his whole face and shone through his mischievous eyes.

Sunny smiles like Grandpa Ric and she laughs like Oma Crystal, explosive and free. The way she greets a friends with a sweet-toned, “You want to play with me” reveals her big, generous heart, and the way she says good-bye with a hug shows her exuberant love. 

Every time I see her smile it’s like I won the Trifecta in the day’s biggest race. I always greet her as “Sunny Bunny! Sunny Bunny!” in a bouncy voice because she’s 26 pounds of laughs and smiles and JOY. 

I met my third “practice grandchild” the day she was born. Two years ago Natalie, Jaco’s mom, had a midwife help her deliver Gillespie, and I was lucky to be her first visitor because I picked up Jaco to give his parents a few hours of rest.

Guppy has large brown eyes that watch the world intensely. She took her time getting used to me. Like her brother, she surveyed me from her mom’s BabyJorn carrier. She did not smile as quickly as Jaco did. I had to earn Guppy’s smiles. During our dog park walks, I’d chat with Jaco about ladybugs and cacti. We’d find cool sticks to use as canes or drum sticks. And his little sister listened and watched, taking it all in and waiting for the time she’d have lots to say. The first time she called me, “Gingah,” it was barely above a whisper and she looked embarrassed by my huge smile and watery eyes. When she started walking she revealed her bold adventurous side. Her curiosity pulled her toddling ahead of us on the dirt trail. Soon she’d be climbing through a hole in a fence or chasing a butterfly without a thought of us. 

She first showed her trust in me at a playground this past fall. She held my hand and guided me to the bright yellow plastic slide and let me help her up the steps before she went down the slide backwards and head first- a daring toddler full of confidence.

This Easter I dyed eggs with my “practice grandchildren” in Crystal’s backyard. Sunny, as hostess, made sure we all had enough Annie’s cheddar bunnies. Jaco sat next to me and reminded me of Lightning McQueen’s best scenes as he carefully placed eggs in blue, green, purple, and pink cups of dye. Guppy sat across from her brother and often dropped her eggs on the wooden picnic table where they cracked, so she’d start to peel the boiled egg, giving more attention to eating than coloring. Natalie, Crystal, and I used white crayons to draw flowers, stars, polka dots, and names on the pre-dyed eggs. The artistic dying of eggs interested the kids for 30 minutes before Sunny led her company to the yard’s sandbox and toy cars and trucks and a bubble machine. I felt honored to share an Easter tradition with my three favorite kids. No matter what trouble the news focuses on, I have hope that my “practice grandchildren” will continue to make the world sweeter, brighter, and better.

Posted in Boo, Nature

Rocky’s Back!

           “Shhhhh! Do you hear something?”

            “I think it’s the dryer.”

            “No, listen.”

            Boo, the cat and I were all looking up toward the ceiling in the den.  We stood up and walked, almost in synchronized form, following the sound as it moved around overhead.

            “Whoa,” Boo said.  “Whatever is in our attic is huge!”

            After the third night of sounds, Boo determined it must be a large squirrel.  At first, he used the regular sized trap we had once caught a rat with.  He shelled some old pecans and put some inside the trap with a line of pecans leading up to the door.  We continued to hear sounds the next night, so he went up to the attic and the trap was still set, but the pecans were gone.

            Gol darn it!

            Once more we tried the same trap and got the same results.  No pecans and no squirrel.

            A few days later, Boo came back from Home Depot with the mac-daddy of all traps and declared, “This will get him!”  Him or her, whatever it was, could not out smart this trap.  It was 32” long and 13” wide, with a large metal handle and a spring trap that was sure to surprise.

            “Why don’t we just call Critter Ridders?”  I suggested.

            “No, it’s personal now.  It ate half a bag of pecans.”

            Looking in the pantry I gasped, “You gave that ‘whatever it is’ the good pecans from my friend Cynthia?  I was saving those for another pecan pie.”

            “I can’t set my trap with just any ol’ pecans, now.  This is serious.”

            And so, Boo went back into the attic, set the mac-daddy trap, and put the good pecans leading up to and inside.  “This will get him.”

            The next night was silent, so Boo went up to check and the pecans were gone, and the trap was still set.  “Damn it to hell!”

            “That bastard has got to be thirsty now after so many pecans, so Boo put a plastic container of water inside the trap and more pecans.  “There goes our pecan pie,” I sighed.

            Fast forward to 3:00 a.m. and a loud Snap! Bang! and Thud!  We both bolted from the bed and Boo said, “We got him!”  The last thing I remember was Boo saying he was going up to the attic to check.  I went back to sleep, but the cat, with an anxious look, jumped into bed with me.  I admit that later I realized I should have spotted Boo as he went up those creaky attic stairs at 3:00 a.m. but, I didn’t.  I vaguely remember him saying it was a raccoon when he got back in bed.  But the next morning Rocky Raccoon was in our trap sitting in the garage.

            “He looks so cute,” I said.

            “Well, he’s not that cute.  He chewed up the water bowl and hissed at me as I carried him down.”

            Boo fed him a few more pecans and drove him to a park about a mile away from our house.  We were so happy and both of us were proud of Boo’s courage and ingenuity.  “It’s the water that got him!”  he said, and we high-fived.

            THREE separate people told us that one mile was not far enough away and that sometimes raccoons will come back to the same house.  We laughed!

            One week later, early one morning while the cat and I were sittin’ ugly, we heard something in the attic.  Emmy cat jumped to the top of her kitty condo and sat looking straight up at the ceiling, then her wide green eyes looked at me like ‘what the heck?’

            When Boo got up, he went straight to work preparing the trap, water, and pecans, and two nights later…Snap! Bang! Thud! 

            This time I spotted Boo as he ascended the treacherous steps to the attic.  I heard the usual string of cuss words as he yelled down, “He’s back, and he broke off the handle of the trap.”

            I don’t know if you are familiar with raccoons, but they have long, slender arms, with long, sharp nails.  That’s how he was able to get the pecans without even going into the trap the first time.  

Boo began the slow descent down the rickety attic steps, while both hands held the trap.  One step at a time, slowly he tried to stay balanced while Rocky continued to move around.  He had thrown an old towel over the cage to help protect his hands from Rocky’s clawing.    

            “Be careful, Babe!”  I hollered, trying to be supportive while standing behind a large shovel, ready to defend myself if necessary.

            “Mother trucker!”

            Before I knew what happened, the trap, raccoon and all, tumbled down the last few steps and landed upright on the garage floor.  “Boo!!  You dropped him!”  I yelled.

            “What about me?  That bastard tried to claw me while I was carrying him down.  He might have rabies.  I could have fallen too.” 

Well, Boo had to go to work so Rocky spent the day and night in his cage with the rest of the pecans.  Boo even rigged a water dispenser to the top of the trap so he could get water.

            The next morning when I went out to check on Rocky, he didn’t move and didn’t open his eyes when I rattled the trash cans and made more noise.

            “He’s dead!”  I whispered to Boo, while he was still asleep.  “I think the fall killed him.”

            “%!*&!”

            When Boo came outside, Rocky perked up and opened one eye.  He was still alive!

Boo bungeed the trap to the inside of the truck bed and we took off for greener pastures, so to speak.  As we drove, Rocky put his arm out of the cage and with the air in his face, seemed to be enjoying a leisurely ride in the sunshine.  He looked at me with his beautiful brown eyes and almost smiled.  Approximately ten miles away, we found a lovely, wooded area and let Rocky out of the cage.  He paused just for a split second, as if to say farewell, but instead he pooped in his cage which fell onto the truck bed then he sprinted out into the woods.  Our raccoon days were over.

            Lest you think we are foolish, or suckers for pecan-loving raccoons, we will somehow find the point of entry.  For right now, Boo declares we do not need professional help, but I am asking for prayers that no accidents, hazards or other rodents befall us, and that Boo is able to repair the damage that no doubt is on the roof and in the attic.  But for now, I will bid adieu.

And to quote the famous Ice Cube, “Bye Felicia!”

Posted in Family

Hammock by Ginger Keller Gannaway

My two younger sisters and I grew up down a winding gravel road on the outskirts of a small south Louisiana town in the 1960’s.  Spaced out two years apart, we shared our clothes, our secrets, and our hot and spicy tempers.  Without nearby neighbors we were each other’s everyday friends, especially in summers.  As the oldest, I’d often hold my sisters close and tight before sending them off and away on a long yo-yo string.  We were pros at hair-pulling, hitting, and biting, yet we also shared a tight connection and learned how to balance our differences.

Shared Birthday Party (1964) Notice how both Gayle & Kelly’s hands are on the Barbie case.

On a July afternoon in 1964 after some predictable kitten races and boring inside hide-and-seek games with my sisters, I wanted some alone time. So I decided to test our new green hammock that stretched stiffly between two live oak trees on the side of our home. I crawled up in the “lounger” with a paperback between my teeth, but my sixty-three pounds could not make the weaved nylon bend and dip. I was in no way cocooned the way magazine pictures of hammocks told me I should be. I stretched out and put the small round blue accent pillow I’d borrowed from our living room couch under my head. The hammock was as tight as Aunt Fanny who clutched her change purse like a Cajun guarding the last bowl of gumbo.  I opened Pippi Longstocking to my bookmarked chapter and told my body to relax. 

The sun’s rays peaked behind hundreds of small green oak leaves and gave my book’s pages a dappled look. I repositioned my pillow and held the book above my head long enough to read two pages. Feeling a stitch in my neck, I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the hammock. My ankles extended two inches over the edge, the blue pillow slid down to my lower back, and my weight still failed to create an indentation. My eight year-old self-awareness told me that I looked ridiculous.  Then I heard my little sisters’ voices.

“My turn! My turn!” yelled Kelly as she ran toward the hammock wearing a new lime green seersucker two-piece short set.  As the baby of the family and with dimples deep as a mother’s love, she grew up thinking all should bow to her charms. Gayle, wearing one of my hand-me-down t-shirts and elastic waisted shorts, followed carrying three library books of different sizes. As the middle girl she fought the unfairness of life with the determination of a seasoned Mardi Gras parade-goer grabbing beads.

“I just got here,” I said pretending that sitting on the unyielding fabric was comfortable. I cleared my throat and wiggled my hips as my round pillow fell to the ground. “I ‘m reading,” I said. With her hands above her head, Kelly pushed the hammock back and forth.  

“I got books,” said Gayle as she dropped two books next to my pillow on the ground and held the remaining book over her head. “I have Alice in Wonderland.”  

Kelly stopped pushing the hammock to beat the area under my butt with her fists. “Read it! Read it! Read it!” she said. The kid had excellent rhythm for a four-year-old.

I loved reading to my sisters, but I also loved bossing them around. “Pick up the pillow, Gayle. Quit messing with the hammock, Kelly!”

My youngest sister continued pushing the hammock and made me drop my paperback book while my middle sister struggled to join me in my position of power.  “Lookit what you did, couillon!” I said to the former and, “I didn’t say you could get up here,” to the latter. 

Gayle tossed her hardcover library book up towards me hitting my left cheek and knocking my brand new glasses askew.  Kelly’s strength matched her stubbornness, and the hammock moved enough to keep her sister from climbing in.  Then Gayle’s sideways hip bump landed Kelly on her skinny bottom and gave my middle sister confidence to believe she could join me in the hammock. She extended her arms and tried clawing her way onto the slick green lounger.  Her clear blue eyes framed by black pixie-cut bangs peeked up at me. From her seat in the dirt, Kelly kicked at Gayle’s legs.  

To avoid an all-out fight, I decided to give in and help my siblings join me. I pulled Gayle’s right arm hard enough to dislocate her shoulder, but her determination to be first in the hammock kept her from yelling “Owww!”  Kelly had scrambled to her feet and went back to moving the hammock back and forth. 

“Stupid face!” said Gayle as she settled in next to me and set the library book in her lap and looked down on Kelly.  Now with two sisters seated, the baby of our family had trouble rocking the hammock.  She stuck out her tongue and bit down to concentrate on annoying us.

“If you stop pushing, you can get up here,” I said and reached out a hand. Kelly smirked and lifted two dusty arms. I succeeded in pulling her about three inches off the ground. “Help me,” I told my hammock companion.

Poopee!” Gayle said to the sister below us before I grabbed her elastic waist band and Gayle pulled both of Kelly’s shoulders up and over.  Our combined weight made the hammock finally relax a bit in the middle. Three small butts settled next to each other.  We all gave our attention to the book now in my lap.  Kelly leaned her head on my shoulder and Gayle popped the thumb of her right hand into her mouth as I opened the classic story.  I straightened my blue cat-eyed glasses, and with a sister to my right and a sister to her left, I ironically began, “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister…”

Posted in Contemplations, Gratitude

I Need Something Sweet by Nancy Malcolm

            There are days, we all have them, where it seems everyone and everything around us is sharp. Sharp tones or answers to our questions that feel snippy and harsh.    I call these tender days, a day when tears are close by and thoughts are deep.  On these days I feel alone in an alien world that thrives on being blunt or quick.  “I need something sweet, Lord,” I whisper in a quiet prayer.  “I need something sweet.”

            As I get older the tears fall more readily.  They often are on the brink, ready to fall and just as close is a smile open and ready to fill my face.  Maybe it’s because I realize I have less time to waste on foolishness, or hurtful people or things that don’t serve a loving purpose.  I appreciate more the answered prayers that are sent to me.  I feel the more I ask for sweetness in my life, the more is sent to me. 

            On one such tender day, two years ago, I was volunteering with my elderly Hospice patient.  She had wanted to go to the grocery store, just to look around.  I pushed her wheelchair up and down the aisles as she looked at make-up, smelled the candles, and marveled at the various types of crackers. We perused the Hallmark cards and bought some candy.  She just wanted to feel normal for a change and I wanted that for her too.  We had spent an hour wandering the aisles, when we got in line to check out.  The woman behind us kept staring and smiling at us and finally she said to me, “Is this your mother?”

            I smiled at my patient and said, “Oh, how I wish she was.  We’re just good friends.”

            The woman replied, “Well, you look beautiful enough to be mother and daughter.”

            And my patient said, “I wish we were.  She is the sweetest girl in the world to me.”

            I bent down to hug my little friend, and we both had tears in our eyes.  That was something sweet.

            I always find when I whisper my need for something sweet, God is waiting and willing to send it.  A smile from a stranger.  A love pat from my husband.  A phone call from my daughter.  A thank you from a friend.  There’s goodness on its way in many different forms if I am open to see it.

            My dear friend Mary, who has since passed away, always encouraged me in my photography.  She would call and ask if I wanted to walk the trails at the Wildflower Center, “Be sure to bring your camera,” she would say.  Then as we walked, she seemed happy for me as I found butterflies or dragonflies just begging to be photographed.  “Look over here!” she would say. “This butterfly is just waiting for you.”  She never failed to compliment me or brag to others about my talent.  She was something so precious that I can live on the memory of her sweetness for years to come.

            I feel the blessings when I encounter kind and generous souls inside my day.  The friendly cashier, gracious friends or a loving card in the mail.  I feel so lucky because my inner whisper, “I need something sweet,” seems to send my guardian angels into overdrive sending me all manner of beautiful expressions.  Even now as I sit at my desk, there is a gorgeous red cardinal outside my window especially for me to enjoy.

            I pray to be reminded that when I whisper, “I need something sweet,” there are others, too, who are whispering.  Perhaps it is within my power to be that source for someone else.  I want to be mindful of their whispers, too.  Take note of the whisper in your heart and the hearts of others. Ask God to let you hear the whisper and give you the courage to answer the call.

In loving memory of Eunice J.
Posted in Confessions, Friendship, Nature

I Kill Plants

I Kill Plants
by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Bless me, Mother Nature, for I have sinned.

I kill plants.

No matter the species, I can strangle any root system or poison any shoot system in the modern botanical nomenclature.

I do enjoy plants, especially herbs like mint and basil and flowers such as magnolias and azaleas. I have tried for decades to keep small cacti and large-leafed friends alive, yet like a demented serial killer I can destroy what I admire.

Relatives and friends have tried over the years to break the curse of my plant murders. Just last year Cousin Claudia, who can work magic in any yard with her easy-going optimism, gave me a “condo warming” gift: an air plant. “You can’t kill it,” she said as she set it atop my great-grandma’s pie safe where it gasped its final breath thirteen days later.

Master Gardener Cynthia

I have a knack for overwatering or under-watering green things. In 2018 when we planned to sell our house, I needed indoor and outdoor plants to help give our place a welcoming vibe, so my Master Gardener friend Cynthia showed up to help. She is a modern day Artemis who is in tune with nature’s trees and flowers as well as the woodland creatures. She chose hearty plants from Home Depot for us and wrote detailed directions for their care before she left me alone with the blooming babies. Cynthia also got me a teen-aged ficus for staging the place for prospective buyers. She decluttered our home and had chrysanthemum “pops of color” for the front yard. My place was as neat and clean as a young private awaiting her first morning inspection from a hard-nosed drill sergeant.

Thankfully, our house sold in less than a week, and Cynthia swooped in to rescue the nervous yet brave plants from my clutches because she’s known me for many years and has witnessed my starving, drowning, or burning of healthy plants. Even if she believes the deaths were caused by neglect and not premeditated crimes, I wonder if she’d let me off with involuntary manslaughter if she were a juror at my trial for killing more plants than a low-grade natural disaster. Against her better judgement, Cynthia entrusted me with the ficus after she ran out of room in her Nissan Cube when she packed up the staging plants to offer them a safer home .  

Cynthia’s Own Garden

That spunky ficus managed to stay alive for eighteen months. When this year’s February snow surprised Texas, I brought the plant inside, hoping it had more life to live. Yet in days its leaves developed black spots as it shriveled in the corner of our guest bedroom/office and bid adieu to the cold, cruel world. I soon discovered I had horribly over-watered it when after the snow had melted, I hauled it outside and heard water sloshing around in the heavy planter it was set inside.

I used to feel guilty about dismembering, suffocating, maiming, and torturing innocent plants that came under my care. So many people love digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and tending their flowers and vegetables so that they later enjoy the beauty and bounty of their gardens. 

In 1970 my favorite movie was Barbra Streisand’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Her Daisy Gamble character coaxed flowers from the soil by singing to them. The movie’s opening begins with “Hey, buds below! Up is where to grow!” as Barbra sings, skips, and swirls around an expansive rose garden while hundreds of flowers bloom with the help of the camera’s time-lapse magic. I loved that song (“Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here”) almost as much as I loved the  66 groovy outfits that costume designer Cecil Beacon had Barbra changing into during the movie. Her flowered babydoll p.j.s matched her flowered sheets which matched the flowered wallpaper of her bedroom!

“Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

I digress.

Drowning or starving plants is not the worst confession I could make. It’s not like I throw every curse word I have ever heard at my cat when she meows incessantly at three a.m. for food. Or I fear newborn babies because they look like fragile, unpredictable aliens. I’m not a monster!

Crystal and her Orange Tree

And to be honest, I have not killed every plant I have ever owned. I still have a weak ivy Cynthia left behind when she staged my house. A perky good luck bamboo from Crystal lives on my kitchen window sill. Crystal follows the law of averages rule when it comes to plants. She once told me, “I plant so many plants, trees, and vegetables, something is bound to survive!” 

Crystal’s Law of Averages Yard (and Ripley)

So my murder rate is close to 87% if I consider all the plants I have ever known. 

Does a lawn count? The front yard of the home we sold had more St. Augustine grass than bald, brown patches two years ago. Also, the backyard had winter rye grass whose soft green blades stayed alive long enough for us to close the deal on the house. However, my son Evan was responsible for readying the backyard and planting those grass seeds. He even called to remind me to water the yard regularly until the tiny green shoots poked out of the dirt as if Barbra Streisand’s voice beckoned them to a world of promise.

Posted in Contemplations

It Just Got Real

            I did it!  It has been one long year of Pandemic, COVID-SNOVID, and sheltering in place and I finally did it.  I tried on my jeans.

            For one harrowing year I have worn workout clothes.  Lyra, polyester, stretchy cotton, and spandex.  Nothing else.  Oh, a few times during the hot summer I wore moo-moo type sundresses, but by and large it’s been workout pants.

            I’ve dressed them up and even worn them the few times we’ve gone out to eat.  I have not gone anywhere that had a dress code.  I think I have even begun to fool myself into thinking no one cares.  Psychologically, I feel that when I’m wearing my mask, no one can see me anyway.  I already don’t wear makeup below my nose.

            Teleconference with my doctor?  Zoom party with friends?  Texting?  Church online?  Curbside pickup?  Who sees me anyway?  And the worst part is that I haven’t cared.

            Boo and I have been lucky enough to get our vaccines and it looks as though we may take a trip to Colorado soon.  The bad news began as I smugly got out my ski pants and tried to put them on.

            “Whoa!  What’s going on in here?”  Boo asked.  “What’s all the grunting and groaning?”

            “I’m trying on my ski pants.  DON’T COME IN!”

            Perilously I laid on the bed, flat as Flat Stanley, and slowly began to zip, careful not to pinch the extra skin that was not there five years ago when I easily wore two layers underneath.  I finally got them zipped and hooked the closure, which looked as if the threads were disintegrating right before my eyes.  I stood up.

            “I can breathe,” I said to myself, but then I couldn’t sit back down. 

            That was a wake-up call, because I instantly thought of my jeans.  I ooched out of my ski pants and went to the closet flipping through hangers with jeans that said: Straight leg, skinny jeans, low rise.  Good grief!  Where are my jeggings?  My high waisted, relaxed fit?  This was not for the faint of heart.  I had to find one pair that fit.

            I spotted my all-time favorite pair draped unsuspectingly under the low-rise jeans.  “Please fit.”  I begged them as I headed for the bed to assume the position.

            “You’ve always been my favorite,” I crooned to my jeans.  “You’ve never let me down.  I need you.”          

            It’s not only that I mind getting a larger size, but also the whole trauma involved in finding a pair of jeans that fit perfectly and always work.  It takes a lot of effort and confidence and frankly, I’m fragile after my spandex wearing, no make-up, pony-tail swinging covid year.

            Just then, the sun started to shine, I heard a birdie outside my window, and I zipped my jeans and cautiously snapped them at the waist.  As I stood looking in the mirror, I knew they didn’t look exactly like they did a year ago, but they zipped, and I was oh so grateful.

            I have come to believe that nothing will ever be the same after this year.  We’ve all developed a new way of interacting and behaving during this traumatic time.  But friends, keep your eye on the positive, keep your sense of humor and for goodness sake, keep your favorite jeans…they just might fit.

Posted in Contemplations, Fears and Worries

Puzzling Times by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Putting a jigsaw puzzle together with pieces that look like they should fit together but don’t takes patience, tons of it. And it takes careful noticing. Does the piece I need have two knobs and two holes (also called keys & locks or tabs & pockets)? Or three knobs and one hole? Are the knobs on opposite sides of the piece or next to one another? What colors am I looking for? Are the pieces skinny, fat, large or small? Does my sought after piece have unique curves or weird indentations? Good lighting is crucial, as is enough space – to spread out all those pieces and divide the colors and designs of the puzzle. But PATIENCE is what I need most of.

Some people are drawn to puzzles. These COVID Days can feel long, boring, repetitive, and uncertain because the future ain’t nothing but a fat, shaky, stuck-up question mark! During these pandemic months, jigsaw puzzles have soared in popularity. Perhaps people stuck inside enjoy the challenge and the distraction of complicated puzzles. However, in my speck of space, I have a complicated relationship with jigsaw puzzles – I loathe them but can’t seem to avoid them. 

During the second week of 2021 our good friend Sandra gave Gary a 1000 piece jigsaw that depicted the Dracula movie poster from 1931. This gift took up over eighteen square feet in our den of 100 square feet in a condo of just over 900 square feet. Both our coffee/dining table and a folding table we had stored in a closet were covered with 1,026 ( the true number of puzzle pieces) stiff paperboard pieces, leaving no room for four tv controllers and our dinner plates. I felt like the puzzle’s Bela Lugosi vampire had his arms raised and his cape spread open, forever looming over me in my home. The poster depicted the caped bloodsucker with outspread arms hovering over the red letters of his name with a huge spider web backdrop. It was almost all black except for Dracula’s red name and a few yellow accents. Over a thousand pieces of frustration! 

It took us five weeks to complete that jigsaw, and it would have taken double that time if our son had not stopped by to help us so often. Casey has the gifted puzzler’s keen eye and the stamina that can study the photo on the puzzle box, scan a few hundred same-colored pieces, locate the needed one with the correct holes and nubs and neatly snap it into place before wanting to scream and run from the challenge. 

Casey’s skill sometimes inspired me to use my own plodding puzzle strategy: to staring at an empty spot, counting the holes and nubs needed, and then methodically trying every piece of the correct color that has the nubs and holes in the right places. I would try all 211 black pieces with three nubs and one hole as if I were an assembly line worker at the beginning of a shift who fit small round loops into tight square sockets coming down my conveyor belt. I used mechanical movements that made finding the correct puzzle piece catch me off guard.  After 87 minutes of looking, I’d break into an idiotic grin when the piece of cardboard connected with its mate. I’d stand up, slap the edge of the table, tap the piece twice with two fingers and exclaim, “Ah ha!” to my dog sleeping under the folding table.

The first night Gary and I turned off the tv distraction, set the radio dial to Sun Radio’s “Blue Monday” program, and gave the puzzle three hours of our lives, Gary had searing lower back pain, and I had a headache that felt like bats was eating my brain. I think we had found a third of the straight edge pieces. And those are supposed to be EASY to find! 

Thirty-six days (and nights) later we finished the horrific Dracula puzzle. We left it out on the folding table and ignored people’s suggestion: “You should frame it!” Gary wanted to drive a stake through its heart.

For two full days we let our pride make us feel like we were somehow now productive members of society because we had correctly interlocked 1026 pieces of paperboard into their right spots on a 38X27 picture of an undead creature that sucks the life blood from healthy humans in order to exist. There’s some kind of irony in this nightmare!

Then the next morning after I masked up and got ready to venture out to our HEB grocery store, I told Gary, “Get rid of that damn puzzle before I get back.” I had hopes for returning to a light and airy apartment with more table and floor space and less stress.

Fifty minutes later I returned home to find Dracula gone, but a new pile of over a 1,000 small pieces of cardboard – all white and blue – on the folding and coffee tables in our main living space: Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Wave”!!!!

How could he!?

As I dropped grocery bags on our 4X3 foot kitchen table – the only flat surface in our whole condo with any available space, Gary unbelievably smiled and said, “I found this in my closet – the puzzle Evan gave me for my 70th birthday!”

My melting ice cream delayed me from verbally abusing my husband. I whisper-prayed a Hail Mary through clenched teeth and asked for patience. I unloaded the groceries as Gary separated 126 border pieces from the rest of the nuisances that left superfine puzzle dust behind in the box. I hid my anxiety behind the statement, “Maybe purchasing this 48-roll package of paper towels wasn’t a wise idea.”

He ignored my lame attempt at humor as he hunched over the coffee table and used his index finger to separate 605 pale beige and white pieces from 421 light and dark blue pieces. 

Our struggle to locate and connect all the frame pieces would last eight days. Only after Casey gave up half of his Sunday did we have The Wave’s full border. Holding up an amoeba shaped piece with no holes or nubs, Casey said, “This is a true jigsaw! No two pieces are alike.” I picked up a piece with four holes and one part looking like Thor’s hammer hand. 

“You’re right,” I said.

Gary added, “That should make this puzzle easier!”

Three weeks later Hokusai’s Wave is about to drown us in despair.

I find myself sitting at the folding table, staring at a spot for two missing pieces of white and blue sea foam in the bottom left corner of the jigsaw. Then 86 minutes later, I’ve forgotten to take the dog on his afternoon walk, the cat is meowing, and my throbbing headache convinces me I may have COVID. And I’ve found neither puzzle piece.

I daily remind Gary, “This is the last damn jigsaw this apartment will ever know! You understand?” And if he pretends to not hear me, I say, “This place is not big enough for two adults, a 60-pound long haired dog, an ancient forever-meowing cat, AND a thousand piece puzzle!”

I believe Casey’s cool spatial recognition skills and his visual stamina will keep me from divorcing his father. And I don’t think I will really accidentally overturn my grandma’s old folding table while sweeping up dog hair one morning. That’s the optimist in me.

However, I have begun to regret downsizing from our 1,600 square foot, four bedroom home for this “cozy” condo. The jigsaw frustration and the pandemic uncertainty may be what sends me over the edge of Nietzsche’s abyss.  

Katsushika Hokusai said, “It was not until after my 70th year that I produced anything of significance,” but at age 64, I do not feel I have the time or the patience to reconstruct his fantastic wave out of misshapen bits of colored paperboard before I enter a new decade!

Posted in Boo, Fears and Worries

Water Issues by Nancy Malcolm

            My closest friends know I have issues about water.  I worry we won’t have enough.  I always bring my own and I don’t drink bathroom faucet water unless it is at my own home. I know that the tap water from the kitchen sink is the same water from the bathroom sink, and it’s not that I think your bathroom isn’t clean…it’s just that, well I’m not sure why.  There is something about it that makes me squeamish.  I’m not proud of this, mind you. I am just being honest.

            I cannot go to Costco without purchasing a case of water and I carry bottles of water in my car at all times.  Until this third week of February, when I was completely discombobulated by our freezing weather, loss of power and depletion of water.  We had twelve bottles of water in the garage and just a mere trickle of droplets coming from our faucets before it completely cut off. As a former Girl Scout, I was totally chagrined at my lack of preparedness and cavalier attitude.  My years of lecturing family, friends, and coworkers on the importance of drinking enough water every day and planning ahead fell flat as we stood at the sink for hours at a time to get enough drops to half fill a small saucepan with enough bad water to boil.  We also scooped snow and stored it in a cooler to use for flushing the commode.  Oh, the horrors and indignities we suffered!

            It used to be, if anyone complained of a headache, I asked, “When is the last time you drank some water?”  Stomachache, sore throat, bad mood?  “Here, drink this glass of water.” Water is the answer to all your ills.  I firmly believe that, and the fact that this week Boo and I have been less than cordial to each other on a few occasions just proved the point that we needed water. 

            When we travel, you can be sure that I have packed water bottles in my suitcase and cuties in my purse.  Once, on a cruise, I brought a case of water and checked it like luggage.  They actually let me do it and even brought it to my room.

            “You embarrass me sometimes,” Boo said.

            “Do you know they charge $6 for a bottle of water on the ship?  You should be proud of me.”

            Once, we were on vacation in Philadelphia.  I had drunk all my water and asked Boo to go across the street from our hotel and purchase two bottles of water from a rather shady McDonalds. 

            “If I go, I’m going to smoke first.”

            “OK,” I said.

            I stood at our fifteenth-floor window and watched as Boo came out of the hotel.  He smoked and then walked across the busy street toward the McDonalds.  Then I saw three rather unsavory-looking guys approach him and they stood in a circle talking. One of the guys must have been the ringleader because he talked the whole time and gestured with his hands.  I watched as Boo gave each of them a cigarette, opened his wallet, and handed the man who was talking, some dollar bills. I was yelling and waving my arms, but of course he couldn’t see me from the fifteenth floor.  Then the main guy put his arm around Boo, and they turned around and all four walked down some dim lit steps that led to who knows where.  I stood frozen as I watched them walk out of sight.

 I’m not going to lie, I was scared.  I had a vision of Boo being mugged and left for dead.  He would be lying crumpled at the bottom of those stairs, with his empty wallet nearby, and blood gushing from a knife wound.  I thought I should call the police, but I stood frozen watching out the window for what seemed like hours.  I envisioned the police report and how I would have to admit I sent him out at 10:30 p.m. for bottled water.  Seven long minutes later, Boo emerged from the dingy steps with his new best friend’s arm around him.  They said goodbye at the corner and Boo walked up to the hotel, holding a McDonalds bag.

            “Boo!!!!  I’m so sorry.  I was so worried and thought I should call the police, but I froze!  I saw that guy with his arm around you.  What happened?” I cried.

            “Oh, they wanted to bum cigarettes and then said they were hungry, so I bought them all burgers.  Then, the one guy told me he would escort me into the McDonalds and keep me safe from the riff raff while I bought the water.  He said we would be friends for life.  It was quite the experience. We had to go down some scary stairs to the Mickey D’s.  The things I do for you.”

            I was appreciative of Boo’s heroics, and I knew I may have pushed things a little too far. So, I got my own water from then on out, and tried to plan ahead.  Which brings me full circle to our Polar Vortex, the very same one I was not prepared for.  As Boo and I lamented about the fact that our only baths had been with baby wipes and we had drunk all the beer and Gatorade, I remembered a cheery bit of information to pass on.

            “According to the Mayo Clinic, men should drink 15.5 cups of water a day.  That’s only 124 ounces,” I quoted.

            “Are you trying to drown me?”

            “I don’t care, the Mayo Clinic is never wrong,” I said.

            “Good, I love mayo on my ham sandwiches.”

            My quote of statistics does fall flat in the light of February’s disaster for so many.  My gratitude has grown for all of the things I have taken for granted.  Clean clothes, clean dishes, clean water to drink.  Not to mention so many without electricity and a warm place to stay. My fellow Texans have had a very rough few weeks, and I sincerely hope and pray things are getting back to normal considering the Pandemic and all.  As for me, I promise to be better prepared, more grateful, and less haughty about ‘bathroom’ water.

Posted in Contemplations, Pets

Window Cats by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Sunny Cat from South Austin (Shelley’s cat)

Dogs are easy to please. They give out affection as naturally as they receive pets, treats, and almost any kind of attention. When we got Jambo, our first dog, in 1993, Gary looked at the five month old puppy one morning as the dog put paws on his knee and looked up with the imploring eyes of a small child who has lost the top of her first ever ice cream cone on a hot August day. Or Oliver Twist begging in the movie, ”Please, sir, may I have some more?” Gary stared into those eyes of trust and hope and said, “Why are you so needy!?”

June and Sam, 14th St. Cats (Gayle’s cats)

Cats tend to be much cooler creatures. They meow for food and occasionally allow us to pet them, but they rarely let us know what goes on in their cat brains. They seem to have knowledge mere mortals do not possess. 

Hemingway, the Cat with 6 toes (Paula’s cat)
AJ, a South Austin cat (Olivia’s cat)
Quincy’s regal pose (Mary’s cat)
Kingly Frank (Catherine’s cat)

During my early walks I love seeing cats perched in kitchen, bedroom, and living room windows, looking out with the wisdom of Buddha or the bored disinterest of Marlena Deitrich.

From their thrones behind clear glass they stare at me without a smidgen of concern. As if all they survey is theirs and they have no reason to worry about anything. Do cats have everything all figured out?

During these uncertain days of the pandemic, I wish I could think like the window cats. 

Tiny Cat, aka Sunny
Sam, the NYC cat

I would watch the bad weather and the worried humans pass by. I would observe without judgement or fear. I might have a sweet pea amount of curiosity about something, but it’s not enough to make me uncomfortable where I sit and survey all that is not me. For my minutes at the window, I am satisfied to meet others’ gazes and I might turn my head at the sudden movement of a squirrel or close my eyes when the sun shines on me just right, yet I am comfortable for the moment, and the window ledge or armchair or doorway is where I need to be for now. All is well.

Oh, to be a window cat

Sunny Cat on a snowy Austin, Texas day!
Emmy, a Circle C cat (Nancy’s cat)

Posted in Contemplations, Grandmother

The Mantle Clock

That black mantle clock stayed with Grandma even in the nursing home.

            Occasionally, as a child I would spend the night with my grandma.  She lived in a small, stucco duplex on Hayden Street in Amarillo, Texas.  Modest is an accurate term to describe my grandma’s house, modest and comfortable.  Grandma lived a simple life and was quiet by nature, and since she did not own a television, her house was very quiet, too.  The rattle or clang of pots and pans in the kitchen or the on and off of her sewing machine was the only noticeable sound, except for a long sigh or wince as she lowered herself into the swivel armchair by the window, smoothing her apron and rubbing her knees.

On the mantle, proudly displayed in the center, right above the little gas heater was her black mantle clock.  The ticking sound was steady and rhythmic and set the tone for Grandma’s house…methodical, never rushed.        

            My brother and I would ask to wind the clock when it wound down, and often she would let us, but only under her watchful eye and direction.  She kept the key that wound the clock safely placed behind it.  We understood that if the clock was wound too tightly, dropped or mistreated in any way, it would have to be taken to a clock repair shop and that would cost money.  We instinctively knew she did not have the extra funds for that, and so we treated her clock with much respect.

            At night as I lay on the lumpy pull-out sofa bed, under two or three handmade quilts, I would fall asleep to the ever present rhythm of the clock.  My heart would begin to beat in time with the ticking and I would be lulled into a deep, peaceful sleep.  During the day, the clock struck on the hour and half hour with a coil gong striking sound, but at night the gonging sound never made it into my dreams.

            Now, in my den, on the mantle is a little French, battery operated clock that reminds me of Grandma’s mantle clock.  In the mornings I find it peaceful yet strong as it regulates my heartbeat and sets the perfect tone to ‘sit ugly.’  Listening to the steady ticking reminds me to relax and slow down before the demands of the day take over.  There is so much noise in our world, so many sounds that assault us from morning till night.  Alarm clocks, blaring music, angry news, sirens or car alarms to warn us of various violations.  Have you ever noticed that even commercials are louder than the television show itself?

The other day, I bolted out the door to get in my daily walk.  I was halfway through my route when I noticed that I had been “thinking” or at least having mental chatter the whole time. I almost wasted my walk, my time to recharge.  When I quiet my mind and listen to nature, my walk is restorative.  When I worry, think too much or rush my walk, I waste the gift of today. 

 Birdies singing, squirrels scampering, the rustle of the wind through the trees; these are the sounds that heal.  Nature heals us if we will let it, if we listen to the rhythmic beat of the earth.  Everything and every living being falls into the pattern flow of the earth and if we purpose it, our footsteps are like the clock, peaceful yet strong, left-right, left-right.  Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist priest and author of Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, said, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”  As you walk, you are aware.  Aware of your being, your thoughts, your surroundings, and your blessings.  The blessings given to you by nature.

            Grandma’s mantel clock was one of her most prized possessions.  It was the center of her home and the focus of her life, especially as she got older.  I think the steady ticking and hourly gonging comforted her and reassured her she was not alone.   That classic, black mantel clock stayed with Grandma even in the nursing home, and when Grandma left this world, my brother became the proud recipient.  He has it, even to this day, on his mantel, front and center.

            We all need to find our rhythm, something that centers us and regulates our insides so that the outside world doesn’t wear us down or threaten our peace.  Whether it is the steady ticking of a clock, the rhythmic pace of a mindful walk or sitting quietly with your hand over your heart, this is the day we have been given.  We must embrace it.   The path to peace is always methodical, never rushed.