About that Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day

I recently wrote about a bad day I was having. It seemed pretty horrible at the time. And it wasn’t good. But . . . there are some really terrible, horrible things that happen in this world. I won’t do the litany; you know them. Suffice it to say none of those kinds of things happened to me on my bad day.

That awareness isn’t about making myself feel good that I’ve skirted woes when others haven’t been so lucky. To me, that feels a little like that old saying, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” This kind of sentiment has always struck me as a little perverse—the notion that seeing someone else’s misfortune should somehow make me feel better. As if the Power of All has randomly chosen me for good fortune and just as randomly chosen another for very bad fortune. As if I should feel grateful for such  capriciousness.

I prefer looking at such incidents in another way, as a reminder of what’s genuinely important in this life. To recognize, to understand, to appreciate what really matters. The little things as well as the great big ones. To not be so self-absorbed. Seems to me it’s the best chance we have to make the world a better place—certainly the best chance for contentment and true joy.

Just wanted to get that out there.

The Candy Incident

(Last week, I wrote a story about my dad. It’s only fair to share something about my mother, too. This piece, in a slightly different form, originally appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times.)

My mom has a reputation. It’s all about her sunny disposition, her ever-present smile, her consistently quiet and pleasant manner. So perhaps it’s understandable that I’m drawn to stories about the times her temper has gotten the better of her.

At ninety-three, she’s had plenty of opportunities for temper tantrums, but I can count hers on one hand and still have a finger or two left over. One of my favorites goes like this:

Mother was nineteen or so when she was at the stove in her family’s kitchen making candy for her boyfriend (who later became my father). With her sisters gathered round, the inevitable teasing began. Mother didn’t like being teased, especially when it came to matters of the heart. Her anger only egged her siblings on. Finally, she’d had enough. In her fury, she flung the entire pot full of boiling candy mixture across the room.

The hot, syrupy liquid missed her sisters, but it landed on a glass pane of the back door, oozing down in a streak. When their father came in from his day’s chores, he saw what looked for all the world like a crack in the glass. Frugal man that he was, he saw repair bill dollar signs and was ready to mete out some harsh punishment for the perpetrator.

The girls were quick to set him straight. What not one of them was willing to do, though, was to clean up the mess. Mother’s righteous indignation prevented her from doing the job, and her sisters refused all responsibility—after all, they hadn’t thrown the stuff. The hardened candy remained where it landed.

As the years passed, no one could any longer recall how long the streak stayed there or who finally broke down and cleaned it. They never forgot the event, itself, though, and often when they got together, one or another of them would retell the tale to everyone’s delight, even Mother’s.


My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

It all started the night before. As my netbook (the computer where I do all my writing) was updating, the screen suddenly went black. Then these words appeared: no bootable device found. No, this wasn’t part of the worldwide ransomware attack. My problem occurred days earlier.

I tried not to panic. But practically everything I’d ever written was on that computer. While most of it had been backed up on a flash drive, I’d forgotten to do that for the last few months. You see, I have this challenge. It applies to all facets of my life. I can be going along just fine, doing everything I’m supposed to. Then something happens to interrupt the pattern—a trip, an ailment, anything that gets me out of my routine. That’s when my brain suffers the same kind of fate my computer did. No bootable device found.

Still, there was nothing to do but attempt a good night’s sleep before taking the netbook to the local computer docs for a thorough internal exam. The fellow at the desk assured me it’s almost always possible to retrieve the data. Stay calm, he cooed. “Stay calm” was the mantra I kept repeating while the Gnome and I ran a couple of errands before going home to await the call from the self-proclaimed computer geeks.

One of those errands was to the local big box home improvement store to pick up some drywall and painting supplies for our latest home rehab project. The clerk said we were in luck. This was the last day of a 10% discount on paint and paint supplies. I moaned to the Gnome. If only we’d known, we could have gotten the couple of gallons of paint we’d need shortly. Paint is expensive! The clerk reminded us we had until 9:00 pm. Not likely—we had work to do and another hour-long round trip to town wasn’t in the cards.

The call came in the early afternoon. Stay calm. Stay calm. It’s almost always possible . . .

Almost. The operative word. “We’ve done all we can do here,” the guy said. Our hard drive had a mechanical failure. The next step was to send it off to intensive care specialists. It would take a couple of weeks and if—if—there was anything salvageable (that didn’t sound optimistic), it would cost another $400-$1,000. Plus the cost of repairing or replacing my computer.

By this time, I couldn’t remember anything that was on my computer. Could any of it be worth $1,000? Especially if I couldn’t remember what that might be? I couldn’t concentrate. Everything began to go wrong. I varnished the wrong side of the treads for the new stairs we were building, for one. Seemed like a good day to chuck it all.

I suggested we go back to town, after all, and pick up a pizza. We could use the trip to see what computers were available locally and maybe we could even get that discounted paint. We searched in vain for a paint chip naming the paint we needed to match, so we grabbed an old paint can with the paint code on the lid.

While the paint guy tried to match the code, we perused paint chips. We were sure we’d recognize ours if we saw the name. But all we found were names like Dust Bunny, Wool Coat, Basket, Spirited, Capricious. Really? Do you have any idea what kinds of colors those are? Then there was La La Love, Someday, Semi-Sweet, and Panacea. I could have used a little semi-sweet panacea about then. The name of our paint had been nothing like these. Besides, we’d gotten that can six years ago—an eon in paint time. All the names had changed.

We had a long time to scour paint chips. The paint guy simply could not make a match. Every gallon he mixed up, and he mixed up plenty, came out wrong. Too pink, too green, too anything but what we had.

We’d been waiting almost two hours when he came up with a color that was pretty close. Good enough on a new wall, perhaps. But not where we needed patches in existing walls. Maybe the remaining paint in our old can would stretch far enough to make those touch-ups. We decided to get the new mix, along with a can of white. Thinking about the 10% discount, we picked up some more paint-related supplies.

That’s when the checkout clerk (followed by a manager) told us the paint discount only applied to business accounts. What?! We could have waited till some other day for the disappointment of not finding a match. Too late now to look at potential computer replacements. Dejected from head to toe, we just grabbed a to-go pizza and headed home.

On the way to the house, we checked our mailbox. Nothing jumped out at us, so we laid the small pile on the counter and ate our pizza as we mulled over possible next computer steps. Then I took a second look at the mail. A letter from our utility company. I figured it was the next month’s bill; instead, it was for a fuel delivery I’d already paid—apparently a few days late, though there was no due date listed on the bill and I’d paid it well within 30 days of its receipt. Turns out that’s not their measure, so I owed a whopping forty-six cents in finance charges.

Forty-six cents. Perfect ending.

Post script: Still haven’t figured out what to do about my lost data. We found a highly-reputable service on line whose maximum charge is less than the minimum quoted to us on that no good day. I vacillate between going for it (it would be nice to get my e-mail address book back, for instance) or just throwing my arms up in surrender and starting all over with a clean slate. Decluttering, even if forced, can be refreshing—my own personal reboot.

Good Times

Good Times

I couldn’t wait for Daddy to get home from work each day. I was all set to beg him to take me outside for my favorite three-year-old activity. No doubt, Mother tried to put me off at least long enough for her hello kiss or for him to change clothes and sit down for a few minutes’ rest.

But I must have prevailed more often than not because my fond memories include Daddy still in his gray dress pants, long-sleeved white shirt, and wide, maroon-flowered tie crouching with me underneath our house—our white, wood-frame house that sat about three feet off the ground atop brick pillars—tormenting strange-looking insects while we swirled skinny sticks in their narrow, cone-shaped holes chanting in unison, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out of your hole; your house is on fire and your children will burn.” If our taunts worked, we’d find a doodlebug attached to the stick when we pulled it out.

Doodlebugs are actually bristly, grayish-brown, larval-stage antlions who prey on ants. In the sandy soil of the eastern South Carolina home of my childhood, they caught their quarry by digging shallow pits in the soil where they’d lie in wait for an unsuspecting ant to drop in—literally—for a tasty meal.

The doodlebug moniker apparently derives from the curlicue trails antlions “draw” in the sand (much like the meaningless doodles Daddy typically made with his pencil and scratch pad when he was on the telephone) as they search for the perfect spot to dig their traps.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this way back when. All I knew was that I making a little magic with the man in my life, and I was enchanted.

Daddy and me a couple of years before he taught me the doodlebug game


At the Car Wash

There was a time in my life (several, actually) when money was really tight. So tight that sometimes the only way to purchase groceries was with a credit card. So tight that the Gnome and I foraged wild cherries and asparagus in the nearby city park and dug day lily tubers from our back yard to sauté for supper.

Then came the day I lost a five dollar bill. I panicked. I cried. I called everywhere I’d been that day. I searched high and low—the depths of my handbag, my pockets, under the floor mats of the car, across the parking lot. That five dollars was a lifeline; the idea of it having disappeared in a poof like a magician’s cheap trick made me physically ill. I’m glad to say I finally found it—tucked in a hard-to-see spot between my car’s front seat and the door post.

So, a drive-through car wash, though it cost less than a dollar in those days, was a rare luxury. As I sat quietly watching the soapy froth dance on the windshield and those big, blue brushes caress the car’s skin, I felt as if I were receiving a massage. Not that I’d ever experienced a professional massage, but it seemed like how a massage might feel. I reveled in it.

I drove through a car wash the other day. No magic this time, just a plain old car wash. But every time I think about those car washes of leaner times, my lips spontaneously curve into a Madonna-like smile and I sense my shoulders relaxing.

Our Grand Road Trip: National Parks (and more)

In my previous blog posts about our big road trip last fall (start here to catch up), I focused mainly on the unexpected things that happened-. They came upon us with such frequency and regularity that they became the grand theme of our grand trip. But—and this is a big but—we’d incorporated a lot of standard vacationey activities into our travels, and they were grand, too.

We visited four national parks and found ourselves in the midst of several national forests and other national landmarks, especially fitting since 2016 was the 150th anniversary of the National Park System. Each one was spectacular and not one of our visits was long enough to properly take in the splendor. Even so, we were fully engulfed in the joy of the experience, and now we know where we want to spend more time in the future.

I’ve already written about—and posted lots of photos of—The  Badlands. Our reluctance at leaving there was matched only by our anticipation of visiting The Black Hills National Forest, just a couple of hours away. The Black Hills are full of tourist opportunities, including Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out a way to make room in our tight schedule for either of those sites. (But as I’ve written before, we’ll be back!)

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial is clearly the most iconic and recognizable tourist site in the the Black Hills. Its size alone is dramatic. The mountain’s presidential stone-carved faces can be seen from miles away and from many different perspectives, but to really get a sense of the size of the thing, you may want to visit the memorial itself, which also has a number of ranger talks. Entry and ranger talks are free, but there’s a $10 parking fee ($5 for seniors).


From a distance




One of the most striking views of Mt. Rushmore came unexpectedly as we were emerging from one of these wee tunnels, the edges of the tunnel acting as a frame for a magnificent portrait.

The forest shares a border with Custer State Park, a unique experience all its own. It’s a fairly long drive from Keystone, the nearest town, to get to the park. Though the scenery along the way is fantastic, the park proper is where the fun really begins. Next time, we’ll plan on renting a cabin inside the park boundaries—and taking all our food and necessary supplies. That way we won’t waste precious time getting to and from. In the park is the eighteen-mile Wildlife Loop Road you can drive in hopes of close-up encounters with wildlife like bison, donkeys, prairie dogs, and big horned sheep, as well as the the fourteen-mile Needles Highway. I promise, you don’t want to miss either of these spectacular drives.

Between the Badlands and the Black Hills, there’s enough to keep you gobsmacked for a full two-week vacation, even without stopping at the many commercial tourist attractions along the way, though you can certainly check those out, too.

(You can see more Black Hills and Custer pictures here.

Our next National Park visit was to Glacier. We were so busy taking pictures of gorgeous scenery along the way that all we had time for once we were in the park was the two-hour drive up Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan’s Pass (6646 ft.) and back down again. Better go soon if you want to see any glaciers. They’re melting fast. The 150 glaciers that inhabited the park in 1850 have now shrunk to a mere 25, and all of those are slated to disappear in the next few decades. The park will have to be renamed, perhaps to Glacier Memorial National Park in honor of the glaciers that once were.

Our first peek at a Glacier NP peak

What an engineering feat it must have been to build the fifty-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road in the early 1900s.

We traveled through a portion of the Grand Tetons on our way to Yellowstone. It was a cloudy, foggy, misty day so the view was a little different than it would be on sunny days, but still stunning in its own way.

We were welcomed to Wyoming with this billboard and vistas of Grand Teton NP.

We didn’t get to see much of the Grand Teton mountain or her two sister peaks on this cloudy day. Controversy surrounds their naming. By far the most colorful explanation is that early French Canadian explorers from the Northwest Company, upon seeing the three peaks of the range, called them “Les Trois Tetons,” or “The Three Breasts.”

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t long to visit Yellowstone National Park. Back in the sixth grade, when one of my schoolmates returned from summer vacation bragging about her Yellowstone trip, I was too jealous for words. So no way were we traveling to Montana and Wyoming and miss out on my big dream.

Yellowstone. Yes, we knew it was big. But you cannot begin to comprehend its size until you’re right there in the thick of it. To put things in perspective, a friend told me that after her family had entered the park, it was another fifty miles to their campsite. You could spend weeks in Yellowstone and not begin to see it all. (And we just had an afternoon!)

It took us a while to figure out that all those white wisps we were seeing off in the distance weren’t fog, but geysers. I’d forgotten that Old Faithful wasn’t the only one. There are actually 500 geysers and 10,000 thermal features in all. In other words, they’re everywhere!

A cluster of steamy spots

We arrived at Old Faithful just as its display was ending. That was a good thing—the wait for the next show meant we could stroll the boardwalk and see many more geysers as well as mud pots, fumaroles, and hot springs. We might have passed them up otherwise, and that would have been a real shame.

No, this isn’t Old Faithful, but Beehive Geyser, which shoots steam 200 feet into the air, more than 50 feet higher than its more famous sibling’s average. We lucked out—it can be days between eruptions.

One of Yellowstone’s 300 waterfalls

There are nine lakes in the park. At 136 square miles, Yellowstone Lake is the largest.

Our national parks, forests, monuments, memorials, trails, historic sites, and landmarks are indeed treasures. They are our heritage and our future. It takes only a visit to understand beyond measure that we must preserve and protect them for all to enjoy—today and all our tomorrows.



More Fifth-Grade Aphorisms

I explained the origin of these proverbs in this post. Here are a few more, in case you need a chuckle today.

A fool and his money . . . is a bad idea.
A friend in need . . . calls for help.
Don’t count your chickens . . . count your friends.
What’s good for the goose . . . is bad for the moose.
Those who live in glass houses . . . have too many windows.

(This one was obviously misread:) Give him an inch . . . and he’ll scratch it.
All work and no play . . . isn’t the way.
Don’t count your chickens . . . as your children.
A friend in need . . . needs help.
A bird in the hand . . . pecks.

Give him an inch . . . and he’ll leave you alone.
When the cat’s away . . . the dog can sleep.
A man’s home is . . . where he lives.
A fool and his money . . . can buy some honey.
When a door closes . . . it’s shut.

Don’t count your chickens . . . wrong.
A bird in the hand . . . tickles.
Do as I say . . . and go to sleep.
The best things in life . . . are family and friends.
The road to a friend’s house . . . is Park Avenue.

A bird in the hand . . . is a bad idea.
Give him and inch and . . . he’ll grow.
A friend in need is . . . worth helping.
Those who live in glass houses . . . can be seen.

And perhaps my personal favorite: When the cat’s away . . . the litter box is clean.

Images Etched in Time

Images Etched in Time

(Note: at a recent writing workshop, I was challenged to quickly bring to life on paper ten memories, incorporating as much colorful description as possible—we had 20-30 minutes, I think. I’m sharing the results here to challenge you to try this exercise yourself. The lightning speed of the assignment created energy-filled pictures in my mind and the result gave me a bunch of ideas for more in-depth stories from the past to pass along to my family.)

Two rain-drenched brother-twins sidestepping puddles in the brick-red dirt road, holding two-year-old me tight under a single umbrella hurrying to the paved road in hopes of hailing a midnight rider for an emergency run to the hospital

Mother clutching her pink bathrobe over white and blue print pajamas as she stormed out the kitchen door, across our yard, and over a barbed wire fence into the landlord-neighbor’s pasture to turn off the water filling the cow trough so it would instead run into into our kitchen faucet and she could make Daddy’s morning coffee

The small, yellow, frame house in a grass-starved yard where shoes filled with sand from our play on the unpaved road and our clothes were stained with the red clay from our play deep in the catty corner excavation site

The dank underbelly of the brick-pillared house where Daddy and I twirled clotheshanger-thin sticks into holes surrounded by sandy funnels chanting, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out of your hole. Your house is on fire and your children will burn”

Six silly seven-year-olds hiding in the blackened airlock-style entry to the girls’ bathroom shushing each other over our giggles as we lay in wait for the next unsuspecting victim to walk through the door to our screams of “Boo,” except that person turned out to be our teacher

Waking under blue, yellow, and red handmade quilts in my grandparents’ still-sleepy house as fog drifted through the opened windows urging me to slip outside into the dew-kissed grass in my bare feet to nibble on a green apple and daydream among the enveloping branches of their ancient weeping willow tree

The home-made cotton-candy-pink shirtwaist dress with rose-embroidered edge stitching I was wearing the day my family of five and suitcases with all my clothes were crammed into our two-tone brown Ford Fairlane at the moment I saw the sign pointing the way to my soon-to-be college home and the butterflies in my stomach turned into cannonballs

The sunshiny July day we arrived on our mountain to a sea of wild daisies, their white and yellow faces bobbing in the gentle breeze to welcome us to our forever home

My throbbing heart the first time I saw valley fog from above with the tops of purple-green mountains peeking through the massive cloud like little volcanic islands rising above an ocean of white foam

The day I walked out of my just-at-that-moment former workplace with the white-hot sun beating down on my face, my shoulders now lighter than air, and stepped into my future