Monday, March 24, 2014

Celebrating Gerald

We started Gerald’s 84th birthday on Saturday by driving down to Union County to enjoy the brothers’ traditional birthday breakfast.  At JR’s on the square in Jonesboro, my hometown, we found a place to park in the very crowded southeastern corner—the same corner where buggies parked when Abraham Lincoln came over to the hotel and visited with the gathering there the night before his debate with Douglas out at the Fairground.  It was good to see all the cars, which meant that the square restaurants were crowded with hungry customers.

We entered and found brother Keith and nephew DuWayne drinking coffee  and holding our corner table for us.  Of course, we had to talk about Georgia’s softball win (4-3) the night before  in 10 innings.  Soon Garry and Ginger arrived, and the friendly  talented waitress who had been refilling our coffee cups, quickly took our orders and soon delivered them with no mistakes.  The place was filling up with men in jeans and work clothes ready to get a good hot breakfast and enjoy seeing their friends before they spent the day either working or loafing according to their age.  There were a few women present too, so Ginger and I did not need to feel uncomfortable.   

Soon our table was laughing and telling stories, which is the way birthdays are celebrated by these brothers. (When they get a chance to be present, the younger generation likes to be there just to hear them laugh.)  Always the knowledge that Kenny is no longer with us is in the back of everyone’s mind, but that knowledge makes being with each other more appreciated and important.   After breakfast, Gerald drove me down to see the beautiful new court house for my first time.

Mary Ellen had already called Gerald to wish him happy birthday and to tell us they were bringing our supper to enjoy together while we watched the 4 o’clock game between Georgia and Texas A&M.  So when we got back to the farm, I didn’t need to spend much time fixing us a light lunch.  Gerald had been watching the wind for days waiting for the wind to be from the north so he could burn off the native grass acres as the government requires.  Our son-in-law Brian came over with Brianna and Trent to help and they had a blazing fire going quickly and the job completed.  Trent is becoming quite a photographer, and he had it all recorded and ready to show by the time the game started. 

When Mary Ellen arrived with food ready to be heated and finished, she decided to cook and eat downstairs where we would be watching the game on Gerald’s computer. (When we sold our other house, the buyers did not want our kitchen stove or microwave, so we moved them  in to my combination  laundry room/office—the largest and messiest room in our downstairs.)   Between my office and Gerald’s is a large furnace /hot water heater area that was meant originally for a shop, but that was not needed since Gerald has a very large building outside for that purpose. The old fridge from the other house and a popcorn table fits easily in this room.   The grandkids were little when we moved here, and I set up an old door  for an art table for them surrounded with cheap plastic kindergarten-size chairs.  They loved their gathering place, and they have devised many projects down there—some secret and some we have shared. 
As they became high schoolers, I moved a discarded repaired table in to replace the now too-low door table.   Gerald moved over and installed a TV just for them to enjoy on the two discarded couches, where a couple of them have to sleep when all the beds are full.  I called it their den.  I suspect that the fact that the floor is concrete with some left-over carpet on part of it created an environment the kids know they cannot damage and they can be as messy as they wish.  Part of the present messiness  is the addition of another table we replaced a couple of years ago in the kitchen.  I kept the old table thinking a grandkid might need a table for an apartment, but so far that hasn’t happened.
Anyhow, I cleared off the unfinished photo books I had wishfully started on the project table, and Mary Ellen had room to set up dishes and birthday cake for Geralds’ party. Brianna had topped the cake with a tiny candelabra device that held red birthday candles.  Red was the party color scheme in honor of  Georgia’s red and black.  Grandson Sam and his girl friend Anna had joined us, and we spent the evening watching the game and eating.  When the grandkids got noisy laughing as they do when they gather, we chased them back into the family room, and they were quiet after that when they checked in on the game to see their cousin Geri Ann pitching.
We loved knowing that not only Gerry and Vickie, Tara, and Geri Ann were there in the College Station complex while we watched, but their Texas daughter Erin was able to join them.  (We had to forgive Erin for wearing her alma mater A&M clothing since we love the Aggies too.) We were right there with them all in spirit and also in disappointment when Geri Ann lost her first game of the season (4-2)  in spite of pitching a tremendous game.  
After the game, the four  young ones went off to go see Marion High School’s musical  up at the Civic Center. Mary Ellen and Brian left to  finish their dry wall project for a bathroom off their  hallway. We were left with good memories of a lighted birthday cake  and voices singing. (And yes, someone had to add “You belong in a zoo” at the end of our rendition of “Happy Birthday.”  That was in honor of Gerry’s boyhood version of the song. )

When I came home from church yesterday and saw Mary Ellen’s car in the driveway, I  wondered if the left-over roast I quickly stuck in the microwave would stretch, but I knew I could add sides to make it work.  But almost immediately, Brianna came up to tell me Mary Ellen had brought our lunch just like the night before. I joined them downstairs around the computer and Mary Ellen handed me a hot plate of yummy food.  This time we also enjoyed the end of the game  since we won 4-3. 

It was a good and very restful weekend with cards, phone calls, Facebook and  text messages throughout the day along with his  birthday breakfast and birthday supper party reminding Gerald how much he meant to so many.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Home Runs and Strikeouts

Our Georgia Softball Dawgs continue winning with multiple home runs and double digit strikeouts.  After sweeping their first Southeastern Conference play last weekend against Mississippi State, Georgia this weekend will face Texas A&M.  Gerald and I wish we were there in College Station because our granddaughter Erin will be able to attend to see her sister Geri Ann play and to visit with the rest of her family.  We will be watching on the computer, of course.  Since I last wrote, the Georgia website has offered a live video, and that is far better than Game Tracker.  We always enjoy Kevin Copp announcing even when the audio and video or Game Tracker aren’t in sync.

Alex Hugo, an Olathe, Kansas, native has been the hero for the team recently.  Not only was she named Player of the Week for the SEC but also chosen national Player of the Week by both USA Softball and College Sports Madness. And no wonder.  Alex hit her 12th home run Wednesday, and it was the fourth game in a row she hit either the game tying or the game winning home run.  Of course Paige Wilson hit her 6th home run that night against Gardner-Webb and Katie Brown her 2nd.  Home runs are expected when Georgia plays. Anna Swafford, Kaylee Puailoa, Tina Iosefa, Maeve McGuire, Geri Ann, and Bethany Beggs are all home run hitters this season. 

In the meantime, our pitchers Geri Ann and Chelsea Wilkinson make strikeouts look easy.  Chelsea with a 14-2 winning record had 14 and 12 strikeouts against Mississippi State, her sixth time for double-digit strikeouts this season. Geri Ann pitched against Gardner-Webb on Wednesday and now has a 12-0 winning record, and she tied her 9 strikeout high that afternoon.

Now I wish I had not started naming names because what would we do without the fielding skills and fast legs of Sam LaZear  (highest batting average right now on the team) and Naija Griffin, both of whom I love to watch play.   And Bekah Farris, Malia Rivers, Katie Sowers, Tiesha Reed, Adele Harrison, and our second Kaylee—Kaylee Williams all have played important roles this year. These young women  play as a team always trying to improve over their previous performance.  And that has allowed them to best quite a few other teams so far.

Yesterday was our youngest grandchild’s 15th birthday.  Just as I wish I could be in Texas for the games this weekend to see that set of grandchildren, I wished I could have been in Freeport yesterday as I have  also wished I could have been there for all Cecelie’s  high school freshman concerts and performances. I finally got her copy of Heavens to Betsy mailed with her birthday card on Tuesday thanks to our granddaughter Brianna, who is home on spring break from Murray State this week. She did the post office errand for me since I was running late for Katherine’s house.  I have tried to share the Maud Hart Lovelace books with the granddaughters at appropriate ages because I loved them so much when my friend Lynn discovered them for us at the Anna City Library, oh so long ago. Because I was gone most of yesterday, Gerald and I did not get to render our phone call duet singing “Happy Birthday” to Cecelie until today. 

When I woke up this morning, I found Gerald’s note on the breakfast table that my brother was in the hospital. I called Jim after his procedure thanks to the phone number his wife Vivian left us on the phone. Then I called my sister to share what I had learned since she called him yesterday.  He seemed in great spirits and his voice was so strong.  A bleeding ulcer has happened to him before, and it is less scary than a diagnosis could have been. 

So talking to my two siblings was the happy highlight of my day at home. (The last three days I have unexpectedly had 8 to 10 hour shifts spending time with Katherine since one aide went to the hospital for an asthma attack and came out with a throat cancer diagnosis.  Another aide has a mother in the hospital.)  My sister Rosemary is eight years older than I am, and thanks to her twice-weekly Tai Chi participation is in better shape than I am.  However, we are both amazed at how busy we are during “retirement” and are saddened that our younger generations have greater health problems than we do. Rosemary and Phil still serve Friday night supper to anywhere from 10 to 20 for their extended families that they are rightfully so proud of.  Rosie quoted Phil today at remembering that the two of them went off to live in far-off Texas all by themselves, and now they are surrounded with family.  They still are pleased, however, when Illinois relatives come to visit. 

I am waiting for all this bad weather to clear to drive up for the day for a long-delayed visit with my brother and wife.  And maybe if the Georgia Dawgs keep winning, we will get to go to Oklahoma City for the nationals and on down to Rosie and Phil’s at Amarillo and see those Texas families they have created.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Weekend Watching---Go Bulldogs!

It was a lot different “watching” softball this weekend than last.  Then we were in the stands at the beautiful Jack Turner Stadium surrounded by tall pines and seeing balls go over them as the University of Georgia softball team continued their homerun habit.  Of course, we also witnessed the 8-0 shut-out that University of Alabama at Birmingham gave us on Saturday.   That was a shocker, but as coaches say, you learn from losses, and the next day Gerogia came back and defeated UBA 10-1, which gave our visit a great ending. 

We had left Illinois on Friday at 4 a.m. with our nephew DuWayne  driving, and the traffic in Atlanta made us fearful we’d not be in time for the first game against Western Carolina, which Geri Ann was pitching. But we made it in plenty of time. The Bulldogs won that game 9-3 and the next game against St. John’s with Chelsea Wilkerson pitching by 8-0 in five innings.

Despite our many layers of clothing, we were very cold at both games on Friday and again on Saturday when we defeated St. John’s 13-3 in five innings but lost to UBA. It wasn’t just me as DuWayne admitted he was cold too.  Of course, as I told Vickie, our daughter-in-law, I remember being colder at games in Mississippi and California in the spring of 2001 when Tara was a freshman playing and  then at one fall game at Notre Dame when we went to see Erin play.

In Mississippi, a bitter cold wind and rain storm hit the Starkville area taking out the town’s electricity and cancelling the last game the next day because it was too cold for the players’ hands. Vickie’s pretty new car was banged up by a garbage can flying into the street and electric wires were hanging low over our cars. I think a school had a roof taken off, and there were disaster meal stations for people.  Our motel in a nearby town  had water, but at church the next morning, the pastor advised us to not sit too close to one another because baths were not available for many who were  without water as well as electricity.

I had so looked forward to going to warm places that spring, but California was also bitter cold—especially when late night games had extra innings lasting until midnight. Our friends Lois and Tom Doctor in Oakland transported us to the games and provided us with warm blankets as well as a beautiful house with wonderful food to retreat to, so we have warm memories of that week despite the cold and aluminum seats.

Yet I guess the coldest I have ever been was a fall game at Notre Dame when we went to see Erin play. We had prepared for the cold, and I was bundled to the hilt but was still miserable. Saddest though was a group of youngsters from some sort of foster home with their adult leaders.  One girl directly in front of me had no warm coat on, and it tore me up.  Finally, I got up my nerve and begged her to take a coat or blanket or hat (can’t remember what) because I had so much warm apparel.  I loved and admired her even more when she very proudly refused.  I had to give up urging her, but I will never forget her.  I still think of her and how cold she had to be, and I have prayed that her self pride and determination have been her key to a successful adulthood.

Friday as we headed down southern highways, we had noted the buds on trees along the way; and despite Saturday’s cold March beginning, we saw beds of blooming daffodils in Athens. And in one yard as we drove by, I actually saw two ornamental trees covered with pink blossoms.  Oddly, by the next day, we had weather in the 70’s, and  people were walking into church without coats.  That afternoon the ball game gave us a delightful entrance to spring weather as well as the come-back win against UBA.

Plans were to head back to Illinois immediately after the final game, but Sunday weather reports told of icy roads starting just above Nashville and through Kentucky and into Southern Illinois.  DuWayne recently retired from the highway department, and he has plenty of knowledge of what can and cannot be done to help icy roads, and he had buddies who kept him informed about road conditions.  We were not eager to be struck or stuck on the highway, so we stayed in Georgia for an extra night. 

It is so nice that Gerry and Vickie and the Archibalds all share their big house, so when we were not at the ball park, we were able to visit with both families and enjoy our three great grandsons. Although Tara leaves early each morning to fulfill her duties as assistant coach at UGA, she spends evenings cuddling with the three little guys, and that is fun to watch as they slip in and out of their play with each other to interact with their mother.  Geri Ann lives off campus in a friend’s rental home this year, but she came over to be with us all three evenings, and we appreciated that. 

While we were hearing by phone how cold it was at home, we all headed out to the backyard without jackets after the game to watch the three little boys play.  Bryan, our grandson-in-law, has built a zip-line from one tree to another next to the creek there, and Aidan, Maddux, and Payton demonstrated this for us. I also visited with Jake, whom Gerald passed on to Gerry last fall for squirrel season with his grandsons.

Geri Ann’s new little dog Chance has ended up her folks’ home for right now, so we were able to visit with Chance as well as Chloe, the little dog Vickie inherited from Erin many years ago. Chloe and Chance get along very well and also entertained us as they cavorted in the family room attached to the kitchen where everyone hangs  out. 

However, Chance was afraid of us strangers and on Friday and Saturday would softly growl anytime we came near his bed.  Despite my best efforts, he would not follow Chloe’s example that I was worthy of lap holding.  However, when I came into the house after the Sunday game, there was still a piece of bacon left sitting on the kitchen counter.  Two bites of bacon fed to Chance in his cage did the trick. He never growled at me again. I was smug that evening when Chance crawled all over me and even thought I was kiss worthy.

The next morning we deliberately ate a slow breakfast with Gerry at Cracker Barrel so we could miss Atlanta traffic and give road crews and salt time to work. Tennessee was not too bad, but Kentucky was slow driving with rough iced roads that shook the car.  Fortunately our excellent driver DuWayne could handle this dangerous stuff.  Once we got to Illinois, where even the university and colleges as well as all the schools were shut down for two days, the highways were clear.  But our country road was not, and our lane was  slick and tricky. 

By this weekend, weather is quite pleasant.  We are glad since our local schools’ start  spring break.  Everyone is reporting on plants in their yard beginning to come up into the sun. One friend has already written on Facebook that she has planted spinach and lettuce on the warm side of one of their out buildings.

Yesterday afternoon I was in town and did not get to sit through Georgia’s tournament games against Tennessee Tech and Kent State, but Gerald shared the winning results with me (3-1 and 4-1) and told me how good Geri Ann and Chelsea pitched. Today we both “watched” and tried to enjoy the new Game Tracker on the Georgia website that is vastly different from last year when the plays recorded were often slower than the radio announcer’s audio version.  Somehow we could cope with that.  It is much more difficult when the visuals on the computer screen are two plays ahead of what the announcer is saying, which is what is happening this year. We are not complaining though since this afternoon we beat Kent State 5-2 and Purdue 6-1.  That doubleheader sweep gives us a 20-2 record. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Whew! That Was Close!

Numerous letters with my name and address with the correct directions to my house arrived at our farm home telling me I might be winning the BIG prize on February 28 from Publishers Clearing House.  It was really worrisome to think how upsetting to our regular routine such an occurrence would be.  But I had already entered and knew I would have to face the consequences.  When the flowers arrived from a Marion florist and the bad news came that my name was drawn, I would learn how capable I was of such a disaster.  I would have to deal with all the people wanting me to share, and no matter how much I would be receiving each week, it would never be enough to take care of everyone’s needs.  How would I handle that?  And how would taxes work on such a problematic occurrence?

On our way to Georgia that dreadful day last Friday, I realized I would not be at home to get my roses from the local florist.  I wondered what those PCH folk who had the directions to my house would do when no one answered the door.  Would they go to the neighbors’ houses and try to find out where I was?  Fortunately I was blessed and evidently did not have my name drawn since  there was no evidence of anyone being at our  door when we crawled up our lane last night through the ice.

A year or so ago, I must have gotten a letter from PCH or somehow something triggered my curiosity and I wondered how those people could give away all that money mentioned in their letter filled with little items for sale.  Without too much thought, I looked through their offerings. I am a sucker for wanting the little products advertised on TV or in the multiple catalogs that clog our mailbox promising to solve some household problem. But I rarely go to the trouble to try and obtain the promised product. Somehow or other I got on the PCH mailing list. Maybe I ordered something  I don’t remember, but I do remember thinking that I would investigate what all this talk of winning huge amounts of money was about. 

Well last year’s winner was drawn and announced I suppose, but I missed out on that news just as I did this year.  Never fear.  I kept getting fat envelopes full of goodies to order and promising that my number would be placed in the mix for winnings that would set me up for a lifetime. I had started saving the envelopes I responded to—usually without ordering anything—so I continued doing that in 2013  for my little research project.  This morning I counted the envelopes in that little box in the garage, and it looks as if I may have spent a little over $20 in postage playing this lottery. For a non-gambler like me that is a huge amount.

I am sorry for all the trees killed by all the slick paper in those envelopes sent to our house.  Despite my intrigue with the products offered, at first I did not order anything because I interpreted the $2.99 and $3.99 installments as the only way to pay—and I am not good about handling bills through the mail. (I love the convenience of having bills sent directly to our bank account without my having to waste a bit of ink, time, or postage.)  However, when I finally placed an order, I found out I could just pay it all at once instead of installments—and that was a relief. 

So I have ordered three or four times during this time of trying to understand how PCH can offer such huge prizes, and I guess other letter recipients have also ordered enough to keep these huge winning opportunity going.  Before last Friday night, I had already gotten a letter telling me I might win in March!!  Now I am curious how long the winning will go on, but I have grown bored with trying to find out,.

One product I ordered was a set of  pretty little glass bowls that can be put in the microwave directly from the fridge to reheat left-overs.  I already had some heavier such bowls, but they were plain without decoration, and I truly have enjoyed the pretty little flowers and the flat lids that go on easily on these. But I do not think I ordered enough items to pay for all the expensive paper sent my way for the last year or so even thought PCH kept telling me I was one of their best customers!  That is why I was offered all kinds of special deals, they said.

I probably might have ordered more but every so often there would be a sentence in the letter trying to guilt me into supporting PCH by placing an order.  That would anger me enough I would vow to never order anything again.  I could just imagine some sweet little soul ordering because they felt sorry for PCH.  Although every letter would assure me that I did not have to order to win, often times there would be complicated sentences that confused me about that.  And I was dumb enough to often think that the letter writer meant I had to keep returning entries in order to win anything.  Finally I decided each letter had a different number and were independent entries to their drawing.  I am still not positive what some instructions mean, but think I entered each time I used their reply envelope.

One reason besides curiosity that I have hung in so long was the letters have offered a mild diversion in life.  When I would come in from my daughter’s after midnight, I would need to relax a bit before going to bed but would be too tired to think much.  So I could open the letter and play the little games inside.  I could use a fingernail to rub off gold squares to find out what I might win in smaller drawings.  And I could look though all those pages of products and find the little squares with glue on the back to tear our and place on an entry paper.  I found these required little brain power but kept me entertained (or brain deadened however you want to see it) as I relaxed before bed.  I was impressed with the employees who had thought these games up and followed through with correct items inside to glue on the return piece of paper.  I was glad this provided them jobs.

I even learned you can enter online without the need for postage.  Consequently, again because of curiosity, I tried that. Once.  But there were no games—at least not that first time—so I never again read any of the multiple weekly emails sent to me from that source.  Oh dear—just what I needed more junk email to delete without reading.  I must figure out how to stop these, but have not made that effort yet.  I also want to stop the waste of letters coming to the house since I am through playing their little games.  (I can imagine if I get increasingly disabled for running around and real shopping that I might someday appreciate having something in my mailbox to relieve loneliness and offer me opportunity to shop for gifts and needed stuff.  So I may someday want to engage with PCH again and risk winning a huge amount of life-altering money,)

But for now, my curiosity has been quenched, and I am relieved to have not been burdened with winning.  Besides the neat little flat lids on the pretty left-over containers, I did get another reward last week.   Briefly turning on Book Notes, I saw part of a l0-year-old recorded interview with Liz Carpenter.  Evidently she had written a book about having some children of a niece or nephew unexpectedly come to her to raise.  Needing more funds for such an unprepared endeavor, she had enjoyed day dreaming about winning a PCH sweepstakes.  As she described scrambling to find and paste the little objects for the entry forms, I knew exactly what she was talking about. Not only did I find out about another book I would like to read, but  I felt very in-the-know as to what this national effort at selling small items with installment opportunities is all about. 

I cannot understand the Internet and all the products and apps associated with it, and I know I am hopelessly out-of-date in this 21st Century.  However,  I now know if you send out enough letters to enough people, you can evidently sell sufficiently to support extravagant give-aways to unlucky winners.