Blue 56

Over the last year and a half, I’ve made an effort to write more by hand in my journal.

When I first started keeping a journal, I married it to a rigid style: date and day at the top of the page, standard block paragraphs, at least a page a day.

I tried to break out of this mold in my 20s by allowing myself to draw, write poetry, and be more abstract, but the one thing I wish I’d done more is make notes about life.

During my recent push, I have done exactly that. I note everything in my journals these days, and use them as more than journals, but also as records of events, travels, media, vaccinations, gossip, weather, entertainment, notes for stories, photos, and columns, and even medication notes.

In the next day or two, the purple journal book, number 55, will be full, and I will start writing in number 56, which is blue.

Journal 55 is full. Journal 56 sits on top of it.
Journal 55 is full. Journal 56 sits on top of it.

The Golden Age of the Internet

No matter how many laptop computers you have, you can't make people put down their smartphones.
No matter how many laptop computers you have, you can’t make people put down their smartphones.

In the last 15 years, we have all witnessed the internet deteriorate. What at first seemed like a gleaming futurtopia of the “information superhighway” has become a place for intellectual and spiritual poison.

I’ve been getting nostalgic recently about that golden age: Nyan Cat, Amber Lamps, Double Rainbow All the Way, Badger Badger Badger, Salad Fingers, The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, Teen Girl Squad, and others have served to remind me that there was a time when the web could entertain us without the appalling obsession with money.

Black box warning: clicking on any of the above links may be preceded by, or contain, advertising.

A recent trip down the Wikipedia rabbit hole on various subjects brought me to this article: the digital dark age. I hate to say it, but I tend to be right about stuff a lot, and I was always right about this one. I tell my students to keep migrating their data to newer technologies, or they will lose them forever.

And of course, you know where I am going with this: it’s all about money. There’s no money in being brilliant. It’s not socially-piercing poetry that gets 10 million likes. The likes, and the money, go to intellectually numbing crap on sites like Tic-Toc.

Of particular annoyance is that so many (probably the majority of) websites have some kind of nagging beg for money. Pop-overs, pop-downs, ads that take forever to load, all make those pages insufferable. Even the Associated Press home page nags us every time with a pop-over that you can’t not see…

You know what, AP website? Go f*ck yourself.
You know what, AP website? Go f*ck yourself.

This web site, richardbarron.net, has been online since 2004, and I am keeping it up. A downside to that is that viewers gloss over links on social media, and seldom navigate to websites based on searches or bookmarks. I sometimes think that no one ever clicks on links when they browse social media because, to be kind, they are brainwashed into consuming their reality in tiny, salty, sugary, cheesy little bytes.

Part of what we web old-timers liked was the idea of flowing freely from one page to the next, following suggested links or search results, in a fashion that made the internet a bit like a scavenger hunt. In 2021, many, maybe most, users, follow only what one app offers them.

The most obvious solution to you and your digital footprint is to find a way to express it non-digitally. Write or type on paper. Print your photographs. Hold on to your phonograph records, audio tapes, and CDs. Yet I remain pessimistic when I see more powerful and complex smartphones used to create mediocre photos and video, open to one app, used for bottom-tier entertainment only.

In conclusion, if you sprinkle Ivermectin on your Tide pods, it works twice as well to prevent the Rona.

Tiny monsters loom large if they are close enough.
Tiny monsters loom large if they are close enough.

Two Decades Since 9/11

In some ways, the era before 9/11 was an age of innocence.

Just prior to 9/11, I was flying a lot, like in this image of my friend Michael and me flying a cranky Piper Tomahawk (known to aviators as the "Traumahawk") that I rented at Max Westheimer Field in Norman.
Just prior to 9/11, I was flying a lot, like in this image of my friend Michael and me flying a cranky Piper Tomahawk (known to aviators as the “Traumahawk”) that I rented at Max Westheimer Field in Norman.

I have written many times over the years about where I was when 9/11 happened. Since Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an entire generation of people, some my friends and relatives, have little to no memories of that day.

The World Trade Center in New York City is shown in this March 1985 image from the Empire State Building.
The World Trade Center in New York City is shown in this March 1985 image from the Empire State Building.

So today I’d like to share not where I was or what I was doing, but who I was on that day.

I was still flying all the time. I earned my pilot certificate in May 1993, and flew a lot in those years. There were a couple of nice, affordable airplanes to rent at the Ada and Norman airports, and I was building hours by flying and training. 9/11 had a chilling effect on this, since, only marginally related, the terrorists involved had a small amount of general aviation training.

I flew to Florida in the late summer of 2001 to see my parents. My mother made this image of me on a pier at Flagler Beach, Florida. The next time I took a commercial flight in December 2001, the Orlando airport was packed with armed National Guard troops.
I flew to Florida in the late summer of 2001 to see my parents. My mother made this image of me on a pier at Flagler Beach, Florida. The next time I took a commercial flight in December 2001, the Orlando airport was packed with armed National Guard troops.

I was unmarried and wasn’t dating anyone. This wasn’t for lack of trying, but more about how difficult it is to be in a good relationship or in a good marriage. From the moment of 9/11 to my first date with my wife Abby in January 2003, it seemed like an eternity, but of course it was just 16 months.

I lived in a very small downtown Ada apartment. Because it was near the college, my apartment tended to be more culturally diverse than most neighborhoods, and I really liked that.

I still had a darkroom at our newspaper, so I was still very active in film photography, especially black-and-white photography.

On September 12, after more than 24 hours of watching the news about the attacks, a friend told me on the phone that, “I’m really brain dead. I wonder if it’s information overload. I feel like the wheels are just whirring away inside my head.”

9/11 changed us all in some ways.

Just a few days before 9/11, I photographed Ann Kelley with her dog Cookie at their home in Shawnee. Sadly, Ann passed away in 2012 after a battle with cancer.
Just a few days before 9/11, I photographed Ann Kelley with her dog Cookie at their home in Shawnee. Sadly, Ann passed away in 2012 after a battle with cancer.

The August That Lost Us

“Everything wrong
Gonna be alright
Come September…” ~Natalie Imbruglia

My wife Abby and I were lulled into a sense of optimism, both external and internal. SARS-CoV-2 pandemic numbers were in freefall. We were both excited to finally be able to travel out west to some of our favorite places. Work was going well. In June, we felt confident enough in the situation to go on vacation to Taos, New Mexico.

First week in August: there was a huge spike in COVID-19 cases.  August 7: Abby broke her shoulder. August 11: we learned that Abby’s former brother-in-law Tim died in July. August 13: Dorothy, Tim’s 95 year-old mother, Abby’s former mother-in-law, died. August 14: Abby was admitted to the hospital with a urinary tract infection.  August 23: a relative of mine had unexpected diverticulitis. August 24: Abby’s sister Inez died. August 29: Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans, including my sister, her husband, and his mother.

August 2021.

I usually feel like a fortunate, and optimistic, person, but this August has left me in doubt.
I usually feel like a fortunate, and optimistic, person, but this August has left me in doubt.

Hurricane Ida Notes

My sister Nicole, her husband Tracey, and his mother Gail are among the many thousands of people directly in the path of Hurricane Ida in New Orleans.

As of 9:30 a.m. Aug. 29: 930mb, 150 mph, strong category 4 (5 starts at 157 mph.)

From Nicole…

“We are staying. Wind is picking up, lights are flickering, we’re becoming part of history, etc.”

Hurricane Ida radar sweep after landfall Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021.
Hurricane Ida radar sweep after landfall Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021.

From Nicole…

August 29, 2021, 12:56pm:
Tracey and I elected to ride out the storm in our home. We feel as prepared as we can be (we’ve got the *good* snacks). Larry is under the bed in “his” room (hey, that’s my office!) and Dauphine is endearingly underfoot. Power went out about an hour and a half ago, so in the interest of retaining phone battery, I’m re-reading all my Little House books (I have a boxed set because of course I do). If you don’t hear from us, it’s only because power/internet/cell towers have failed. We’ll be in touch when and how we’re able. Remember, when you feel like worrying, pray instead. God is good, all the time.
P.S. I’ve been overwhelmed by all the offers of post-apocalypse help and accommodation. We are so very blessed.
Evening: Nicole Barron Hammill marked herself safe during Hurricane Ida in Southern Louisiana, USA.
Star date August 29, 2021, 4:20 pm
Situation Report: We lost a pane of glass from our bedroom window. Tracey patched it with coroplast and duct tape. Superhero!
Edited to add: Tracey’s mom is ok. Thanks for your concern.
Star date August 30, 2021, 8:23 am
Situation Report: we and the animals are alive and well. Larry pooped on the bed and is in time out. I know you have lots of questions, but we are wicked busy and pulling power from our car batteries to charge our phones. So: no power at all and will not have for many weeks. World reeks of uncollected garbage and environmental disaster. Flies are collecting in the corners of our eyes in manner of heart-tugging starving children commercial or similar. House is largely undamaged as far as we can tell. Toilets are flushable. Will attempt recon mission shortly to Jefferson Parish to check on Tracey’s mother since phones are down and she’s not answering her texts. This, despite orders from officials to continue to shelter in place. Once we get her squared away we’ll come back here and clean up.
We do not yet know what our plans are, beyond that.
From Tracey…

“Post Apocalyptic Report from NOLA, 3 days after the hurricane.

We’ve been out of power for 3 days, in sweltering 100+ degree heat. Already had to throw a lot of food out from the fridge, but as frozen things thaw we’re cooking them on the bbq, for which I’m thankful to have something nice to eat, but I know all of that will run out soon.
We only had minimal storm damage at our house, only some fallen tree limbs and a fence that fell over, we were very blessed. Even though during the storm the wind was so tremendous it sounded like a freight train for 10-12 hours, and it shook the house constantly. But I kept praying that God would protect us and that God would be merciful, and even though things are dire here, today in the aftermath I am feeling so thankful and blessed. I know as bad as it is here, it could have been way worse.
I’ve already cleared all the fallen debris around our house, and after that I picked up all up and down my block. The street on my block was full of roof tiles, trash, tree limbs, etc., I thought I’d do what I could to bring things back to some sense of normalcy.
However, this morning I felt like I was in the movie Soylent Green at the food riot. I was waiting in line at a local ice house selling ice for $5 a bag, limit 4, for nearly 2 hours to get ice 🧊 …I got there an hour before they opened at 7am and there was already 100 ft line, by 8am the line was 2 to 3 blocks long… everyone was very uptight, and it seemed like things were going to get out of control and anarchy was going to ensue. I was glad to get outta there.
I have not seen ANY city, state, government, FEMA assistance. No National Guard passing out ice, MRE’s, etc. “Where dey at, where dey at?”. People are suffering here and need help.
A lot of people are in survival mode, kind of every man for himself, but I’m encouraged by occasional glimmers of hope from acts of Good Samaritans like our neighbor, Joris, across the street who evacuated initially, but came back to check on their house. When they came back they had two 5 gallon containers of gas, and two big bags of ice to give to us. I was literally moved to tears at their thoughtfulness and generosity. I brought the ice to my elderly mother, who has also been without power.
Please continue to pray for everyone affected by this storm. God will see us through.
God bless you.”
Captain’s log, star date September 3, 2021, 1:30 pm:
Beautiful, blessed day here at Hammill Manor.
Tracey “McGuyver” Hammill discovered yesterday that we’d lost our roof turbine. We figured we had until the morning to *somehow* plug the gaping hole until we can get it professionally repaired, but before those plans could come into play, we heard thunder. Oh no!
Undeterred, our hero raced to open up the attic, scramble up the stairs, and — and here is where you’ll need to suspend your disbelief— snake a number of plastic bags, then an UMBRELLA! through the hole. Once opened, he tied the umbrella down firmly. Crisis averted, and now our house wears a jaunty hat.
Today we were able to buy non-perishable groceries, procure enough ice for ourselves and for Tracey’s mom, fill up our gas tank after only having to wait 28 minutes, and enjoy fresh chicken salad sandwiches courtesy of the Sankofa food bank, which is located half a block from our house.
We’re fine and have everything we need, except power, but we’re now being told that it could be restored within a week or so.
Guess what we have?!?!
May be an image of indoor
Hurricane Ida, morning Aug 29, 2021.
Hurricane Ida, morning Aug 29, 2021.

From Tracey on Facebook, Sept. 13…

My Hurricane IDA Story…
Having been born and raised in New Orleans, and being 57 years old now, I am no stranger to hurricanes. But I can’t say that I get any more used to them. On the front end of them, they spike my anxiety, I’m always fearful of how bad they can be. I had a traumatizing refugee experience resulting from being the only one on my block for 3 weeks after hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. There was no power, no stores open, no emergency service, police protection, etc., it was a scary surreal time that has left it’s mark on me. I’ve had to brace for several hurricanes since Katrina, some were pretty bad, but none were quite as bad as Katrina. This is why I was so fearful of Ida, at first it looked like it was going to miss us, and then not long after it looked like it was headed right for us, and it was going to be every bit as bad as Katrina.
Aside from one of the rooms in our house that I use as an office / studio, mostly for computer equipment, etc., a lot of my artist studio is in the form of tents I use in our back yard. I do things in the tents that are too messy to do in the house, like spray paint, etc., kick up sawdust, whatever. I do that out in the tents, I have several of them, 10’x20′ ft each. Well, in a hurricane, those tents might as well be kites that I’m always afraid will get swept away like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz. So, in advance of the hurricane, I’ll tie down the pole structures down from inside using whatever I can to weigh it down so it won’t go flying. In a mad scramble, I did all of that prior to the storm getting here, but still had my doubts whether it would be enough. Well, let me tell you, during the hurricane, those tents danced around like a jitterbug for 12 hours, and I had to run out during the worst of the storm to tie things down twice, but I was astonished that a 10’x40′ long, two 10’x20’s together, that long of a tent stayed put through a Category 4 hurricane, when all around there were much more formidable buildings that sustained a lot of damage. Honestly, it seemed to defy reasoning. I know I prayed and prayed and prayed, all through the storm, because I was terrified. Our house shook constantly for 12 hours during the tremendous wind from the storm, it sounded like a freight train outside. I kept praying, God, please hold this house together, God please keep the roof on, please keep my tents from flying away, please watch over my mother, protect her, protect us, all that. And astonishingly enough, we were very very blessed. My tents stayed put through a hurricane, and our house sustained only minor damage; we had a roof turbine get blown off of the roof. I temporarily covered the open turbine hole with an umbrella just moments before a rainy downpour. The next day I retrieved the turbine that blew off, bent it back into shape, and me and my neighbor, Ken, put it back on. He was nice enough to climb on my roof and put it back in place, while I fastened it from the inside of the attic. So, my neighbor, Ken, was a real blessing to me. Other than the roof turbine, three 8 ft sections of our wooden fence fell over. I picked them up one at a time, and propped them up with some wooden pallets like kickstands. They’re not permanently fixed, but it’s good enough for now until I can do better. Also had one window pane blow out during the storm. We were here at the time when it happened during the storm, so I was able to quickly cover the open window pane with a piece of coroplast, a political sign, that I cut into the size of the window pane and taped in place. After the storm, I was able to retrieve the glass pane on the ground outside of the house, it was still intact. I’ll just put it back and put some clear silicone on it when I get a chance. But all and all, I am thankful because I know it could have been so much worse… How those tents stayed put is a minor miracle, Praise God!
Our power was finally restored after 6 days of being without in the sweltering heat. I had a little computer design job that was due the first week of September, so when our power was restored, I checked in with my customer who’s out of town, and told them I’d have their design done shortly since our power was restored. I finished the job, and the customer said he loved it, so I could cross that off my list of things to do. I kept looking at FB posts from lots of people that had not yet had their power restored in different parts of town, and there were a lot of them, all over, and I felt bad for them. So, I took it upon myself to try to be a blessing to folks that were still suffering. I went to National Guard distribution points, not for myself but for others, and collected ice, water, MRE’s, etc., and for several days I was delivering relief supplies to people who had not yet had their power restored.
Bear in mind, this is at a time when gas is much sought after, lines for gas were sometimes miles long, and took hours to get through. I was driving around using up precious gas to help folks because I can’t just idly sit back watching and allow people to suffer, knowing it’s within my power to help, and there’s something I can do to ease their suffering… which is why I was appalled when I heard a man was shot dead at a gas station in a case of cutting in line over gas. How horrible, especially now that gas is readily available again. Such a senseless killing.
These hurricanes have a way of bringing out the best, and unfortunately sometimes the worst in people. We’ve been very blessed by the very generous help of our neighbors, as well as private and church organizations providing relief supplies like ice, water, and food, etc., to people in my neighborhood. But in the first few days after the storm, these organizations were not yet in place to help people.
I remember the morning of the 3rd day after the storm, and hearing from a friend’s FB post about a commercial ice house just a few miles from where I lived and how they were going to be selling ice to people, starting at 8am. I got there at 7am, and the line already had over 100 people waiting. By the time 8am rolled around, the line was 2 blocks long, and a lot of people were uptight, tensions were high, people wanted ice to save their food in their refrigerators because power had been out for 3 days now, or to get some relief the the sweltering heat, but everybody was desperate for it. At 8am, they announced they weren’t ready to start selling until another 1/2 hour or so, while they unloaded a truck that had just brought more ice in from outside the city. The ice that they had available for people was actually “snow-ball” machine blocks. Solid blocks of ice that are about 6″x6″x24″ long blocks. They’re designed to fit into a standard size snow-ball ice-shaving machine. They were selling 2 to a bag, for $4.50, limit 4 bags. I bought the limit, 4 bags, for $18.00. It seemed worth it to save our food from spoiling, and to cool off some beverages and get some relief from the heat.
Here’s a blessed moment, I had all 4 bags of ice, 3 in a cooler, and the last over the top because it wouldn’t fit. All the while before I got my ice, I noticed others getting theirs, and nobody was able to carry more than 3 bags at once. Most took 2, one in each arm, and if it was a couple of people, they could each carry 2 bags each. Occasionally a strong guy would carry away 3 at once. But I was alone there, in this mob of desperate for ice people, trying to carry away my 4 bags at once, something no one before me had done, and yes it was a struggle. It felt like everyone was checking me out in astonishment that I was able to muscle 4 at once. I had to travel a block to get to my car, and I have to admit, I had to stop at the half way mark, just to set the cooler down, and take a breather… when out of no where comes this guy saying, hey man, I’ll give you a hand! And this stranger helped me carry that 4th bag to my car. Of course, I thanked him. But that was a blessing right there, that stranger. He was a blessing to me.
I thought about the gesture of kindness, and by the time I got home with the ice I decided to share the 4th bag with my neighbors across the street. There’s three people living there, Ken and two ladies, and they were very appreciative for the ice. So I was a blessing to them. They were very thankful. This initiated a progressive exchange of thoughtful gestures between us and our neighbors throughout this storm aftermath while we were still waiting for power to be restored in our neighborhood. Like, if they went out looking for supplies; ice or gas, they would get some for us, and vice versa. It created a closeness, like we were looking out for each other, that had not existed so much before.
Our other neighbors, Brooke and Joris, who had evacuated to Alabama because they have a small child, I thought their house looked ok from the outside, and I told them in some messages we exchanged. They said they were coming back to check on the house, and did we need anything. They were so kind and generous, they brought us two 5 gallon containers of gas, and two big bags of ice. I still haven’t used the gas, and are probably going to wind up giving it right back to them, but we sure appreciated that ice. Another unexpected blessing. Another example of people helping people; people showing love and consideration for one another… Praise God! I’m praying for them because when they came back to check the house, they discovered extensive damage that I could not see from the street. So much so, they can’t live there right now, and may not be able to for a while. …Godspeed their recovery.
In spite of my icing efforts, little by little we lost all our refrigerated goods. I tried to eat as much as I could just to keep from having to throw it all out, but even still we threw out more than we wanted to. It’s like tossing your money into the garbage, and when you think about how precious food is, especially to those in need, it’s just horrible. First to go was the stuff in the refrigerator, and then all of our frozen stuff in the freezer began to thaw out. We had a variety of frozen meats; chicken, steaks, hamburger meat, etc. Thankfully, I had several bags of charcoal, and we went ahead and grilled a pack of chicken breasts first, since they were the most thawed. That chicken was outstanding, and so thankful to have something hot and delicious to eat in the midst of so much hard work and a stressful situation. The next day we made all of the burgers and steaks that we had. I made 8 hamburgers to accompany the pack of 8 buns I had, and I made about 5 steaks. Since we had extra, we gave steaks and hamburgers to our neighbors, Ken and Co., across the street. They were thankful, and invited us over to socialize and get to know them a little better, which we did. We had a nice time.
As days progressed, and people were still waiting for their power to be restored, I delivered relief supplies; ice, water, MRE’s, and I even stopped at a very rare Burger King that happened to be open where everything thing else around was still closed. I brought a couple of Whopper combos with fries to my friend, David, a young Brother in Christ, who lives all the way on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. I tried to sit down and eat with him, but this guy ate two Whoppers before I finished my first, he was starving. I was so glad to bring him some food after seeing how hungry he was. I felt like I was a big Whopper of a blessing to him.
The following day, another dear friend, Kaye, a Sister in Christ, told me in a FB comment that her roof turbine had blown off, much like how mine blew off. I asked if she had retrieved the turbine and she said she had, so I went over to her house in Kenner, which is clear across town from me, and I got on her roof, and replaced the turbine from the top, and then I went inside of the attic and secured the turbine from the inside. I was really glad to have the opportunity to do the very same thing that my neighbor across the street from me had done for me, I was really glad to return the same favor to someone else, especially after it had been done so generously for me. I was a blessing to her, as she’s been a blessing to me in the past. She’s prayed for my mother in the past, and I appreciate it.
I had to laugh when I was at Kaye’s, and Kaye’s brother was there, who I had never met before. …I was wearing my Bourbon Street Prayer Group T-shirt, and I might’ve mentioned something about God, or how I like being a blessing to others, and he looks at me and says, “What are you? Some kind of Preacher?” …and I had to just laugh… I thought to myself, if he only knew me years ago, in another life, would he ask me such a thing? …”Some kind of Preacher?” …maybe so… maybe we all have it within ourselves to be “Preachers”, I just want to be a living example of God’s love, and share with people my testimony of the miracles I feel that God has worked in my life, which have been many… Praise God!
After I left Kaye’s, I drove past the house of an elderly couple, Mr. Leon & Miss Gayle, who I’ve known for years. I knew their children; their son and daughter, David & Lisa, who are my age, evacuated with them off in Florida for the storm. I knew their power in their neighborhood had not yet been restored and they were waiting for it to come back. I saw a tremendous amount of fallen tree limbs all on their front lawn. I also saw that most of their adjacent neighbors had already made piles of fallen tree limbs along the street. I know from the past that trucks will go around picking up this debris, and if yours is not in a pile when they come, then they are not going to collect it up piece for piece off of your lawn. So, not knowing when my friends were planning on returning, I thought I’d do them a big favor, and gather up all the tree limbs from in front of their house. By the time I was done, this pile was bigger than a full size van in front of their house. So, I was a definite blessing to them.
I even helped the elderly couple, Mr. Howie and his wife, that lives across the street from the elderly couple I know. They saw me clearing the lawn and thought I was David, the son of Leon & Gayle, and I told them I’m just a friend of the family doing them a favor. That’s when they said, “That’s SOME FAVOR you’re doing for them!” …and I complimented them on the pile of branches in front of their own home. They told me they did that themselves earlier that morning, but there was a tree trunk in their back yard that was too heavy for the two of them to lift… that’s when I said, “Why don’t you let ME have a crack at it!” …I went over there and saw this massive broken tree trunk wedged and caught up on their busted up wooden fence it landed on. I wrapped my arms around that tree trunk, probably 10″-12″ diameter at thickest point, maybe 12′ to 15′ long, it was heavy, but I managed to lift it up off the fence it was caught up on… and after that, I dragged it, there was no lifting this thing, it was too heavy, I dragged it to the front of the house. Howie’s wife told me Howie was 80 yrs old, so I know I was a serious blessing to them… Praise God!
Interesting side story, I had an official Saints baseball hat, with the NFL logo on the back of it. I had it when I went to Kaye’s and I thought I had it when I went to the second house I went to. But when I got home that evening, I couldn’t find it. I was tired, so I let it rest till the next morning. I searched my van the next day and could not find it anywhere. A few years ago, I lost another Saints hat that was identical to it. My wife was nice enough to get me another one as a gift to replace it, but I was shocked to find out the official NFL hat was $50. So I’ve tried to be careful for the last few years with this replacement hat. Well, you can imagine how upset I was to not be able to find this hat. I didn’t want to spend another $50 and make the NFL and Roger Goodell any richer. I kept thinking, where could it be? Could it be in that massive pile of fallen tree branches at Leon and Gayle’s? I drove back over there to look around, and could not find it. Mr. Howie even came out and we talked. I mentioned it to him, and he said he’s keep an eye out for it, but I did not have much hope in me finding it now. …So get this, I’m leaving there, the house is near Grace King High School in Metairie for those familiar, I was leaving going down West Esplanade, I turned right at Causeway to make my approach to the I-10, I’m on the elevated on ramp that merges with the interstate traffic moving at 60-70 mph and it was at the bottom of the ramp, where one accelerates and merges with faster moving traffic, that I noticed to the left of me off in the very narrow 2′ ft wide shoulder, what looks like a black baseball hat. I didn’t get a clear look at it, because it was on opposite side of the traffic I was merging into. I had to drive what seemed about 5 miles to get to the next exit where I could turn around and go back the other way. I did, and I went back the exact same way I did before, I was back on the on ramp, on the elevated entrance ramp to the interstate, I came back upon the hat, I slowed down a little, and that’s when I saw the GOLD FLEUR DE LIS! and I knew right then and there, that was MY HAT! I didn’t have anyone in back of me, so I stopped about a 100 ft past the hat. I realized there was no other way I was going to be able to access the hat any other way where it was. I put my hazard lights on, I waited till no cars were coming down the ramp, and that’s when I made a mad dash for it, I ran 100 ft., picked up my hat and did a 180 degree pivot, and ran back 100 ft. to my van, put it in drive, and hit it! And sure enough, I got my hat back! It wasn’t just any hat, it was MY hat. I knew it was. …I theorize that I must’ve had the hat on my dash board, and the driver’s side window must’ve been down, I may have even had the other passenger side window down too, not sure. But all that wind, plus my attention off to the right looking at the traffic I had to merge into, plus me being tired and fatigued from all that exhausting work I was doing, I must’ve not even noticed that my hat blew out of the driver’s side window, onto the shoulder of the interstate… but I got it back! …Praise God!
After all that, I thought I’d take a break from it all. My wife said she was long overdue for a pedicure. I don’t always go with her, in fact it’s been over a year since I joined her, but a few years ago we were traveling in Costa Rica, staying at a fancy hotel with a spa, and she convinced me to get a pedicure with her, and I must say it was very relaxing and enjoyable. What’s not to like? Who doesn’t like soaking their feet in a soothing hot tub and having your feet massaged and pampered? I know I do! …but like I say, I hadn’t joined her to do that in over a year, but since she said she was going, I thought about how much I had been toiling, and I thought how much that would be a great way to reward myself. My wife had gotten some gift cards to the nail salon, so it didn’t even cost us anything. So I went along, and I was really enjoying the relaxing experience… I think I was also getting pretty high off of all the nail polish fumes too, that stuff smells like car paint… wowzerz!
Anyway, I’m sitting in the pedicure chair, waiting for them to finish with my wife, when I’m checking my FB feed, and I’m looking at one of my FB friend’s posts, Colleen, and she has been handling up on all her hurricane damage herself and posting about it for the past few days, and she was doing stuff like getting on her roof, fixing damage up there, which impressed me a whole lot. Well, one of her friends commented, saying, “I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know where to begin.” … I read that, and remember, I don’t know this person at all, never met them before, I commented back, “I like helping people, can I give you a hand with anything?” Long story short, within a few hours of finishing the pedicure with my wife and getting a bite to eat with her, I loaded up my van with rakes and shovels and ladders, etc., and went over to a stranger’s house to go do some serious back breaking work for the next 3 hours. She was Jessica, a mother with an infant daughter and a 9 yr old son. Her husband is a construction worker, and was out working on damaged homes to make money for his family. They had already cleared their front yard, so there was already a massive stack of tree limbs already started by the street. But the back yard had yet to be cleared, it was vast, like 50′ x 100′ ft , and it was covered with fallen tree limbs all over the place. Some of the limbs were so big, I had to use an axe I brought to chop the limbs down to more manageable pieces. She said to me, I don’t know where to begin, and I said, we’re going to do this one branch at a time, and we’re going to clear this yard, don’t you worry, and three hours later, we finally did. I know I was a real blessing to her and her family… and judging from the extreme degree of soreness I was feeling in the aftermath of helping her, I knew it was a valiant effort and a tremendous undertaking… I could barely move when I got home, and I had to go soak in a hot tub repeatedly overnight to get over my soreness, but I’m feeling a lot better now, 24 hours after, it’s like I didn’t even do it… praise God!
I noticed every day that goes by through this, I am covered more and more with cuts, bruises, blisters, and insect bites. This is what happens through a hurricane experience like mine. I wear it like a badge of honor though, because I know most of it was earned trying to help people or help in the recovery and cleanup process after the storm.
I couldn’t help noticing when I was helping Jessica, every time I’d bring another haul of tree limbs to the front pile we were creating, I had to pass the overflowing garbage cans on the street, and they were smelling most fowl. This is nothing against Jessica, in fact, this stinking rotten garbage problem is all across the city, even at my house which is across town from Jessica’s house. The problem is, everyone had to throw out their perishable food after the storm when the power went out, and it’s been almost 2 weeks now, and the garbage has been festering, literally maggots are growing out of it all, and it’s absolutely disgusting, and it’s all over the place. This is the kind of thing most people don’t think about in the wake of a storm; the lack of garbage pick up, maggots, flies, and unbearable stench. All of the trash cans were overflowing and the lids won’t close. Today, I put on a respirator I use for spray painting, I put on surgical gloves, I brought some big black contractor size garbage bags, I went out to my overflowing cans and didn’t want to dig down too too deep, but I cleared out enough of the overflow so the lids would close, and I bagged up and tied up the overflow garbage. I did this for my cans, and all the cans of my neighbors on my block… So now all the trash can lids are closed on my block, which hopefully will help with the stench, the maggots, and the flies… yuck!
Now that more and more people in the New Orleans metropolitan area have finally gotten their power restored, and things are beginning to normalize for most people, I don’t feel as much need to go out helping people with relief supplies, even though I know there’s still a lot of people further west, outside of the city, that are not nearly as far along in the recovery process, they are just further out of my radius to reach them to help them, unfortunately.
I’m a 57 year old cancer survivor, but I try to help others as much as I can. I know I’m just one guy, but I try to be a living example of God’s love. …I live to be a blessing to others.
…Like some superhero going around using his powers to help people.
…Praise God!
Here’s some scriptures that inspire me…
“Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – GALATIANS 6:2
“Don’t forget to do good and to share what you have because God is pleased with these kinds of sacrifices.” – HEBREWS 13:16
“This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you.” – JOHN 15:12
“Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.” – MATTHEW 5:42
“Those who are gracious to the poor lend to the Lord, and the Lord will fully repay them.” – PROVERBS 19:17
“Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home.” – ROMANS 12:13
“In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” – MATTHEW 5:16
“Don’t withhold good from someone who deserves it, when it is in your power to do so.” – PROVERBS 3:27
“Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.” -PHILIPPIANS 2:4
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.'” – MATTHEW 25:44 – 45
“The crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ He answered, ‘Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.'” – LUKE 3:10-11
“My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, ‘Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!?’ What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.” – JAMES 2:14-17
“God isn’t unjust so that he forgets your efforts and the love you have shown for his name’s sake when you served and continue to serve God’s holy people.” – HEBREWS 6:10
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons. You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment.” – MATTHEW 10:8
“Poor persons will never disappear from the earth. That’s why I’m giving you this command: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land.” – DEUTERONOMY 15:11
“Generous persons will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” – PROVERBS 11:25
“Don’t just watch your fellow Israelite’s donkey or ox fall down in the road and do nothing about it. You must help your fellow Israelite get the animal up again.” – DEUTERONOMY 22:4
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion — packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing — will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.” – LUKE 6:38
“But if someone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but refuses to help — how can the love of God dwell in a person like that?” – 1 JOHN 3:17
“Happy are generous people, because they give some of their food to the poor.” – PROVERBS 22:9
“Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out — a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys.” – LUKE 12:33
“In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak. In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” – ACTS 20:35
“So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.” – 1 THESSALONIANS 5:11
“Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” – EPHESIANS 4:32
…I encourage you in desperate times like these to never underestimate the power of prayer, and to always seek to be a blessing to others in any way you can… we will get through this together… God bless you!

Another Reason to Vaccinate

A friend confessed to me just today that he was “afraid of shots,” but was seriously considering getting his COVID-19 vaccination. He said he’d seen that I got vaccinated Monday Aug. 23. What he didn’t realize is that I got my third, or “booster”, dose of the Moderna-made vaccine.

Update, August 25: a day after I talked to my friend and posted this entry, I got a text message from my office showing his CDC vaccination card with his first vaccination, with the text message below it, which said, “Tell Richard that’s for him.”

For the first 24 to 36 hours after receiving my third, booster, dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, August 23, I was achy and just a tad feverish, but it was tolerable, and even encouraging that my body was mounting an immune response.
For the first 24 to 36 hours after receiving my third, booster, dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, August 23, I was achy and just a tad feverish, but it was tolerable, and even encouraging that my body was mounting an immune response.

My sister thinks the entire “vaccine hesitancy” issue is exactly that: fear of needles and injections. I think that is probably an issue with many, but I’m willing to say that it is more dynamic than that; that people are afraid of their bodies, afraid to put things in their bodies that they don’t understand, afraid of trusting others.

For me: there has never been a more important time to be as immune as possible. I am in a hospital setting every day right now as I visit my wife Abby, who is recovering from a very serious non-COVID-related illness, and bringing COVID to her would be a serious setback.

I was born in 1963. I have been vaccinated against polio, smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, pneumococcal pneumonia, shingles, hepatitis A, hepatitis B,  yearly influenza and, now, SARS-CoV-2, and have never, even once, had any significant complications from any of them.

I hope my friend gets his vaccines, and I hope many other follow my example and do the same.

Of all the vaccinations I have gotten, Shingrix, a two-shot shingles vaccine, hurt the most, and was sore the longest, about a week. You what it felt like? It felt like not getting shingles.
Of all the vaccinations I have gotten, Shingrix, a two-shot shingles vaccine, hurt the most, and was sore the longest, about a week. You what it felt like? It felt like not getting shingles.

Report on Abby

Final update for this situation: Abby has been home since Friday, Sept. 3. She continues to get stronger and more alert, she expresses a healthy appetite, and she is eager to do the exercises the physical therapist showed me. There is always a potential for a setback, but I will care for her and nurture her recovery from this difficult, complicated medical situation.

Updated to include that Abby is home.

Updated September 1 to include that Abby is eating more, and is doing her physical therapy. Her friendly physical therapist, Melvin, was very pleased with her progress.

Update September 1: Abby’s pain is much better controlled, her level of consciousness is improved, and the nurses said she had a “good morning.”

Of all the things Abby misses when she is not home, Summer the Chihuahua (in her arms in this image) is the one she talks about the most.
Of all the things Abby misses when she is not home, Summer the Chihuahua (in her arms in this image) is the one she talks about the most.

Update, August 30: Abby didn’t have physical therapy over the weekend, but will have it starting this morning. No progress to report.

Updated August 26 to say that Abby is feeling, and sounding, much more like herself, and is physically stronger.

Updated August 25 to include that Abby’s older sister Inez died yesterday. Link to obituary here.

Updated Tuesday August 24 to include that Abby seems more responsive and more determined to go home. She is not well enough to come home, since I can’t care for her in this state, but she sat in her chair for a while, had some physical therapy, and had a nurse-assisted shower.

My wife Abby is currently hospitalized.

Her current health situation began Saturday night, August 7 when Abby fell on her shoulder while coming to bed. Sunday the pain became acute enough to take her to Mercy Hospital Ada’s Emergency Room, where she was x-rayed and CT scanned, determining she had two contained, non-operable breaks in the head of her humerus. They gave her a sling and told us to contact our primary doctor about increasing the dosage of her pain medicine.

Sunday August 8 she became weak and disoriented, so EMS had to transport her, again to Mercy ER. They gave her intravenous fluids and the antibiotic Rocephin for a urinary tract infection, and she felt well enough to come home.

As the week went by, she seemed to be better able to stand and move, and required less effort from me when I lifted her. It seemed like she was recovering. We worked out a system for me to help her stand and walk that kept away from her very painful left shoulder. I administered the oral antibiotic cephalexin and her pain medication every six hours on the dot.

Saturday, August 14, things took a very steep turn for the worse. She awoke weaker and more disoriented. She complained of stomach pain and was sick all day. She rapidly degenerated into dehydration-fueled confusion, and became increasingly combative.

She didn’t want to go to the hospital, and I was leaning that way, but honestly thought of it as a last resort. I bought some Pedialyte and had her drink an entire container of it, but she didn’t improve.

EMS transported her to a very crowded ER, where she sat unattended in a hall for a while. There she was diagnosed with a worsening UTI, but continuing to resist my reassurances. I was relieved when they gave her half a grain of morphine for her shoulder pain.

She was admitted through some herculean efforts of ER staff, since there is currently a shortage of beds due to the coronavirus pandemic. I went home.

For a while during the week of August 16, she seemed to get very slowly better while I worked from the room using my laptop. I couldn’t stay the night (nor did I want to, since there was nowhere to sleep, and I needed to take care of the dogs), so I would time things so I could do at least some work on the way to or from the hospital.

On Tuesday August 17, she was given an e-neurological exam, and passed perfectly. Analysis of her CT and MRI scans were unremarkable.

On Thursday, August 19, a hospitalist named Weidong Zhao told me she was  medically well, and a social worker recommended transferring her to the “swing bed” care level in a smaller area facility. Sulphur rejected her because they were short a staff member, and I rejected Seminole because they aren’t allowing visitors. We settled on Coal County Memorial Hospital, which required a negative COVID-19 test, which she passed.

On Friday, August 19, we loaded Abby into our truck and drove her to Coalgate, where she is, as I write this, hopefully resting comfortably and recovering.

Tuesday, August 24: Abby seems more responsive and more determined to go home. She is not well enough to come home, since I can’t care for her in this state, but she sat in her chair for a while, had some physical therapy, and had a nurse-assisted shower. She correctly remembered my t-shirt today, which she gave me eight years ago, and was also able to accurately relay to the nurse the story behind her father’s wristwatch that is covered with pock marks from when he welded.

Wednesday, August 25: Abby’s sister Gail called to say their older sister Inez died in nursing care in Arkansas.

Updated August 26 to say that Abby is feeling, and sounding, much more like herself, and is physically stronger. She might come home tomorrow. She talked to her sister Gail about the death of Inez.

Update, August 25, to include that Abby’s older sister Inez died yesterday. Link to obituary here.

Sisters Gail, Inez, and Abby are pictured in 2003. Inez died August 25, 2021. The youngest Shoffner sister, Gwyn, died in 2000.
Sisters Gail, Inez, and Abby are pictured in 2003. Inez died August 25, 2021. The youngest Shoffner sister, Gwyn, died in 2000.

Update, August 26, to say that Abby is feeling, and sounding, much more like herself, and is physically stronger.

Update, August 30: Abby didn’t have physical therapy over the weekend, but will have it starting this morning. No progress to report.

Update September 1: Abby’s pain is much better controlled, her level of consciousness is improved, and the nurses said she had a “good morning.”

Updated September 1 to include that Abby is eating more, and is doing her physical therapy. Her friendly physical therapist, Melvin, was very pleased with her progress.

Updated to include that Abby is home.

Final update for this situation: Abby has been home since Friday, Sept. 3. She continues to get stronger and more alert, she expresses a healthy appetite, and she is eager to do the exercises the physical therapist showed me. There is always a potential for a setback, but I will care for her and nurture her recovery from this difficult, complicated medical situation.

Abby Shoffner Milligan Barron
Abby Shoffner Milligan Barron

“Oink!”

By the time I was a senior is high school, I was hanging out with some people who might not have been the best influences on me.

One thing we did all summer long after graduation was to “cruise.” Younger readers might not exactly understand this activity, since it seems so lame, but essentially, we drove around in big circles, showing off something – how cool we were, how much cooler we were, how much cooler we were than (insert other kinds of people like “goat ropers” or “proud crowd”), and, in the case of the people I cruised with, how cool their cars were.

I recently watched a video on a YouTube channel called Audit the Audit, which is about “the right and wrong of police interactions.”

The video that prompted this entry (link) was one about police detaining a group of young people because one of them shouted “f*ck the police” at them from the passenger side of their vehicle.

A nearly identical event happened to me in 1981: I was riding in a vehicle with two other teenagers when one of them spotted a cop and called “OINK!” as loud as he could from the passenger window.

The police weren’t very happy hearing that, and immediately pulled us over. I understand now, as an adult, why this is so offensive, but at that time in my life, steered by the influence of kids with too much money and huge egos, it felt rebellious and event righteous.

The police called us back behind the car one at a time, and I was first. They asked me who yelled at them, and I told them it was my friend in the back seat. Our driver was next, and he also told them it was our back-seater.

The kid who oinked was back there along time, and the driver and I heard raised police voices. When he came back to the car and the police told us we could go, he was visibly shaken, and told us it was because he recognized the officer as one who had allegedly shot a teenager while working as deputy in a nearby small town.

I thought of this encounter and similar ones from my youth after watching the Audit the Audit video, which concluded that the police officer in the video, who was fired from the force after the incident, acted wrongly, and that criticism of the police, even vulgar, puerile criticism, is a right protected by the Constitution.

Tennagers are children in adult bodies, and can often be arrogant, selfish, and short-sighted.
Tennagers are children in adult bodies, and can often be arrogant, selfish, and short-sighted.

Sidebar: this is a separate entry I have been holding for a few years, but it seems connected to this item in many ways…

I took up with the wrong people in late high school and college, not by virtue of them ruining my life or getting me in trouble, but because they were assholes.

  • J, who moved into my dorm room by trading with my assigned roommate while I was away, without asking me, was something of a sadist, took pleasure in making people look foolish, and constantly made fun of music I liked even though I never asked him to listen to it.
  • A, who set some sort of “trap” to find out if I’d been sleeping in J’s bed, which I had not, and took great pleasure in accusing me of it.
  • On the first day of my sophomore year, A and C brought a dog to our room while I was away, and asked me if they could keep him. When I said no, A said, “See, I told you so.” No you can’t keep a dog in student housing, you four year old.
  • C and J once accidentally skipped the check at a popular Mexican restaurant, and upon discovering how it happened, repeatedly skipped the check in the same fashion.
  • C kept a pistol in his car, and routinely parked in the tow-away zone. Once he fell asleep and his car was towed. About to be arrested for illegal possession of a firearm on campus, his father intervened, possibly with a bribe, to make the charges go away. C had the gun in his car as soon as it was returned to him.
  • C and J made it the duty of passengers to throw any fast food packaging onto the road from the moving vehicle without regard for littering in any way.

 

We Were Lines on a Map

In 2000, I joined a Yahoo! group associated with my high school’s Class of 1981 20th reunion. I got really interested in it for a while. It was like a forum or chat room, only with people who, mostly, attended Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma with me. Like most Yahoo! groups, or anything else from the internet in 2000, it has long since died. It was unsuccessfully replaced for the 30th reunion by a Facebook page, and now is two Facebook pages, Eisenhower Class of 1980 and 1981 class reunion, and Ike 1981 40th reunion. Both sites appear to be hosting the same event.

(Note to self: blog later about the failure of social media to actually be social.)

Ann Kelley made this image of me at the Blue Ice Cream Social. The guy in the center of the frame is Dray, one of the few people who hung out with me in tenth grade. I have no idea who the woman is.
Ann Kelley made this image of me at the Blue Ice Cream Social. The guy in the center of the frame is Dray, one of the few people who hung out with me in tenth grade. I have no idea who the woman is.

In early July 2001, I attended that reunion. I admit that I really just wanted to see a few people, all women, and that the event was awkward and disappointing.

The only real thing I had in common with most of these people is that I lived within the same boundaries on a map as they did. We owed any “friendship” we had to school board members and the economics of home ownership.

You lived in that school district, so don’t fudge your Huggies because you were a Hokie or a Gamecock or a Trojan or a Tarheel or a Pug. It just happened to you.

Most of the people at my high school, and by extension my high school reunion, were complete strangers, and even the people I sort of knew back then turned out to be as boring and ordinary as I thought they would. Some were, just as they had been in high school, complete assholes.

The reunion was a two-day affair. On that Friday, I attended the Blue Ice Cream Social. It was named after a non-sanctioned event on football Friday nights, held at a different rich kid’s house each week, called Blue Ice Cream. It sometimes involved drinking, but always involved a pool party. Except for one time I was assigned to shoot it for the Talon yearbook, I never went to Blue Ice Cream, for both the fact that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, and that I was never invited.

With me on that Friday night in 2001 was Ann Kelley, who seemed to have a lot of fun making video from the affair. On the drive home to Ada, after an odd silence, she said, “Richard, I can’t believe someone as interesting as you went to school with those people.”

In all fairness, I am pretty sure none of them really care about me, either, and if they thought I was an ass in high school, they still thought of me as an ass. Except for their efforts to populate the 30th reunion, almost no one from the class has made any effort to maintain any kind of friendship with me. In fact, looking through my contacts list, I only find Anna and Michael, who were two of my closest friends in high school, and the only genuinely loyal ones.

This is a previously unpublished overview I shot on the patio at Eisenhower High School during the Blue Ice Cream Social in July 2001. I swear, I couldn't give you the first names of more than five people in this image.
This is a previously unpublished overview I shot on the patio at Eisenhower High School during the Blue Ice Cream Social in July 2001. I swear, I couldn’t give you the first names of more than five people in this image.

Goodbye Mac, Hello Mackenzee Ellen

Mackenzee Crosby and I visited and photographed the old Ada News building one day. I worked there for more than 30 years.
Mackenzee Crosby and I visited and photographed the old Ada News building one day. I worked there for more than 30 years.

Early in her internship, Mackenzee Ellen Crosby was using the moniker “Mac,” both personally, and on social media.

Mackenzee Crosby photographs some of her Polaroid images in a windowsill in an alley as she and I were on a "photo walk" on a rainy day in May.
Mackenzee Crosby photographs some of her Polaroid images in a windowsill in an alley as she and I were on a “photo walk” on a rainy day in May.

As she grew up, her identity matured and she felt more distance from who she had been as a child and as a young teenager, and she struggled with her identity. We all do that. My sister Nicole wanted to be called “Nicci” for a while. My friend Kaitlyn went by “Katy” for a year or so. One of the Ashford cousins used the last name “Smashford” for a while.

Mackenzee and I made this ghostly self-portrait in a puddle in downtown Ada.
Mackenzee and I made this ghostly self-portrait in a puddle in downtown Ada.

Then one day I told Mackenzee that I liked her name, especially when paired with her middle name, Ellen. In another conversation around that time, I brainstormed some title ideas for her column, and they included Eye Opener, Truth and Coffee, Dear Ellen, Something to Say, Inside Out, This Reclusive Silence, Between You and Me, Journal of Secrets, Thin as a Ghost, This Mortal Coil, Ellipses, A Woman Alone, Hide and Seek, Rough Draft, Morning Light, and Ellen in Grey.

She loved Ellen in Grey, and for the entire summer, that was the name of her column.

Also for the entire summer, she fell in love with journalism.

Mackenzee and Ashlynd Elizabeth "America" Huffman wear news t-shirts at the Oklahoma Press Association's annual convention in Oklahoma City in June.
Mackenzee and Ashlynd Elizabeth “America” Huffman wear news t-shirts at the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention in Oklahoma City in June.

Mackenzee and I seem to have connections. Photography and journalism are the obvious ones. The next layer is social and religious. At our cores are writing, expressing ourselves emotionally, and a sense that we are outcasts, that people see us as “weird.”

Mackenzee accepted an award for Sports Editor Jeff Cali at the Oklahoma Press Association's annual convention in June, do the "finger 'stache" gesture.
Mackenzee accepted an award for Sports Editor Jeff Cali at the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention in June, do the “finger ‘stache” gesture.

I read things she wrote in tenth grade, and they could have been my very words when I was in tenth grade.

On one of our first assignments together with Ashlynd, we stopped to photograph clouds I spotted through my sunroof, and that really made an impression on her. This image of Mackenzee photographing a fairy ring reminded me of that time.
On one of our first assignments together with Ashlynd, we stopped to photograph clouds I spotted through my sunroof, and that really made an impression on her. This image of Mackenzee photographing a fairy ring reminded me of that time.

Mackenzee says she’d love to work for us part time during the upcoming academic year, but wants to leave Ada when she graduates from college. I can’t say that I fault her for that; I despise my former hometown so much I actually don’t call it my home town any more.

I have discovered that Mackenzee is not a “hug”person. I have hugged her on three occasions, including when her internship ended, and they all just kind of bounced off. I have tons of “hug” friends in town, and we fall into each other’s arms like we never missed a beat.

I am far-sighted, and Mackenzee is near-sighted, so each of us always had to reset the diopter every time we traded cameras.

Mackenzee already had some impressive skills when she started her internship, but is so bright and easy-going that she soaked up journalism like a sponge. I feel like she grew a lot in the weeks we had her on staff.
Mackenzee already had some impressive skills when she started her internship, but is so bright and easy-going that she soaked up journalism like a sponge. I feel like she grew a lot in the weeks we had her on staff.

We had another great intern in 2019, Ashlynd, and she became one of my best friends. Ashlynd and Mackenzee became better friends this summer, especially after attending the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention, but it’s worth noting that they are quite different from each other:  Ashlynd is into journalism at the street level. She loves ambushing criminals getting arrested or going to house fires in the middle of the night. Mackenzee’s journalism, on the other hand, seems focused on social issues and injustices, although in her goodbye column she said, “Some of my favorite assignments to cover were spot news. I love the exhilaration and adrenaline from working a car accident or crime scene, even though they are often heartbreaking.”

When Ashlynd saw a photo of Mackenzee running across the street at the scene of a car crash with her camera, she told Mackenzee, “I feel this on a spiritual level.”

Mackenzee makes pictures at the scene of a car crash near Ada High School in June.
Mackenzee makes pictures at the scene of a car crash near Ada High School in June.

There are people in our lives who we are always glad to see, people with whom we have lifelong conversations that we can pick up after five minutes or six months without missing a step, and I hope Mackenzee and I have that kind of friendship.

“I will cherish the memories made alongside my friend and mentor, Richard Barron,” she wrote. I hope she and I continue to curate memories no matter where our lives, and our journalism, takes us.

Mackenzee and I pose for a selfie at Ada High School graduation in May. She graduated from Ada in 2017. Covering graduations were among the first assignments I did during my own internship in 1982.
Mackenzee and I pose for a selfie at Ada High School graduation in May. She graduated from Ada in 2017. Covering graduations were among the first assignments I did during my own internship in 1982.

Some Fun Travel Notes and Observations

Abby and I were finally able to travel again after a 20-month hiatus due to the pandemic. We chose the beauty of northern New Mexico.

I wrote a comprehensive trip report, The Summit, here (link), but here are a few extra thoughts.

Taos is a mess

It has been my displeasure to watch charming towns grow up, and as they do, “grow” economically, meaning that they get more businesses, and in turn get more infrastructure. Taos was once small and charming, but it now has a super Walmart, a sign that it has changed into an emotionally dead suburb. Santa Fe and Moab, Utah, have both died in my eyes in this way.

I'm sure this butterfly was meant to brighten up the route through Taos, but now it is graffiti tagged and ratty.
I’m sure this butterfly was meant to brighten up the route through Taos, but now it is graffiti tagged and ratty.

Poverty due to the virus

It was pretty clear looking at the number of closed, and even abandoned, businesses that towns that rely heavily, or even exclusively, on tourism and recreation fared worse than most because of the pandemic.

We saw many locations in Taos and through much of New Mexico that had been struggling before the pandemic, only to be finished off by it in the past year.
We saw many locations in Taos and through much of New Mexico that had been struggling before the pandemic, only to be finished off by it in the past year.

Church protest

On at least two days in Taos, I saw a car legally parked in front of First Baptist Church, covered in blaze yellow signs criticizing Vacation Bible School as “brainwashing.” It’s a pretty strong statement, and many people I know would probably find it offensive, but however you feel about the statement, you have to admit that making it was free speech in its purest form.

I know more than a few people who would actively advocate banning such displays, while at the same time saying they believe in freedom. To them, freedom is the freedom to be like them.
I know more than a few people who would actively advocate banning such displays, while at the same time saying they believe in freedom. To them, freedom is the freedom to be like them.

Food and more food

We had several great meals on our trip, from an amazing pizza in Taos to a great veggie burger and sweet potato fries in Madrid, but honestly, I don’t understand people for whom the best part of travel is the food. The best meals in our lives are usually at home, and I can get a great meal anywhere. I drive to Utah or New Mexico to find things we don’t have in Oklahoma, like mountains, deserts, and canyons, not overpriced appetizers.

We had a wonderful $22 pizza for dinner one night in Taos, but the truth is that I can make a pizza this good at home with ingredients that might cost $1.50.
We had a wonderful $22 pizza for dinner one night in Taos, but the truth is that I can make a pizza this good at home with ingredients that might cost $1.50.

 

More Green, More Grey

Early May was sunny and perfect for the baseball, softball and tennis playoffs I covered, but by the middle of the month, a consistent rainy pattern had set in.

I made several photo walks around the patch after walking the dogs.

I mostly planted these cherry trees for the fun of watching them grow.
I mostly planted these cherry trees for the fun of watching them grow.
Little green tomatoes on the vine are such welcome visitors.
Little green tomatoes on the vine are such welcome visitors.
Deep, contrasty late-afternoon light shines on my garden hose.
Deep, contrasty late-afternoon light shines on my garden hose.
Abby got this coffee mug from her daughter this week.
Abby got this coffee mug from her daughter this week.
Is a pasture selfie a thing?
Is a pasture selfie a thing?
My marigold seeds got scattered by a heavy rain right after I planted them, so they are coming up all over the garden.
My marigold seeds got scattered by a heavy rain right after I planted them, so they are coming up all over the garden.
A Virginia creeper vine reaches for the light earlier this week.
A Virginia creeper vine reaches for the light earlier this week.

At work, I’m shooting and writing well, and feel like I am succeeding in mentoring our intern, Mackenzee Crosby, well. I have a pretty versatile skill set, but I don’t do everything. I couldn’t tell you, for example, the first thing about covering a court case as a reporter.

At my suggestion, she called her column “Ellen in Grey.”

She came with me to document me donating blood this week, and wrote her column about it.

By Mackenzee E. Crosby - You host prepares to squeeze out a pint.
By Mackenzee E. Crosby – You host prepares to squeeze out a pint.
By Mackenzee E. Crosby - Mac got a Nutter Butter as a reward for blasting through her fear of blood and needles, and I got salted peanuts for donating my blood.
By Mackenzee E. Crosby – Mac got a Nutter Butter as a reward for blasting through her fear of blood and needles, and I got salted peanuts for donating my blood.

A High School Graduate

A portion of this was my column this weekend. I added some less-palatable bits to this entry.

This is Jena Owrey during a football game in September 1980. She was always sweet to me, and we remained friends on social media for a long time, but she has now disappeared. Also of note: compare how skinny the football players look compared to current players.
This is Jena Owrey during a football game in September 1980. She was always sweet to me, and we remained friends on social media for a long time, but she has now disappeared. Also of note: compare how skinny the football players look compared to current players.

As I cover graduations this year, as I do every year, I think of when I walked the same walk.

I graduated from Lawton’s Eisenhower High School on May 31, 1981. If you subtract, yes, that is 40 years ago. Wow.

For some people, high school is a cherished part of their lives, and while I have some great memories from that time, I have to say that I didn’t remain connected to very many people from my graduating class, which, at about 640, was quite large compared to the graduations I cover in the Ada area.

On the day I graduated from high school, President Ronald Reagan was still recovering from an assassination attempt. I didn’t own a computer. Cell phones weren’t a thing yet. MTV had not yet been launched. The first space shuttle had just launched. CDC scientists reported the first five observed cases of AIDS.

It was, as they say, a different time.

I made this image of Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2011, but it looked exactly like this in 1981.
I made this image of Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2011, but it looked exactly like this in 1981.

From my perspective as a photographer, I can tell you that “different time” doesn’t begin to describe how much imaging has changed since that warm day in May 1981.
The 1980s saw a lot of important growth in photographic film. In black-and-white, Kodak’s Tri-X ruled at the start of that decade, but by 1987, Kodak reinvented black-and-white with this T-Max films, including T-Max P3200, which changed my world as a news photographer. In color, we saw 400-speed and 800-speed films go from exotic high-sensitivity film with sharpness-robbing grain to the films we reached for every day.

Photographing graduations themselves has changed tremendously as well. On the day I graduated, my parents might have shot five frames of my friends and me, and me in the unflattering powder blue cap and gown. As I walked across the stage, the photographer made exactly one direct-flash shot of me receiving my diploma.
Today’s world of digital imaging means a senior might be photographed hundreds of times at every event, including their walk across the stage.

To me, though, that photo of me isn’t particularly meaningful. Sure, it’s a moment in my life, but it is emotionless and unengaging. I have tried, as years have gone by, to make my photojournalistic efforts at covering graduations more emotional, more engaging, more memorable.

On this day I started the process of realizing how little I liked the people who attended school with me.
On this day I started the process of realizing how little I liked the people who attended school with me.

Here is the part I redacted: my posse in high school and I haven’t spoken a word to each other in decades. Part of that is because I was so hard to get along with, but a bigger part of it is that I went to high school with a bunch of turds.

I talked about this at greater length in an entry called We Were Lines on a Map (link.)

That's me on the left. When Abby saw this, she said, "You look about eight." I was 17, but about as mature as an eight year old. The other people in this image are Christy Parker, who I don't know, Allen Biehl, Jeff Glenn, and Carey "Chip" Johnson. I recognize now that I should have been keeping different company. No criticism of them is intended. We just weren't a good fit.
That’s me on the left. When Abby saw this, she said, “You look about eight.” I was 17, but about as mature as an eight year old. The other people in this image are Christy Parker, who I don’t know, Allen Biehl, Jeff Glenn, and Carey “Chip” Johnson. I recognize now that I should have been keeping different company. No criticism of them is intended. We just weren’t a good fit.

In 2001, I attended a high school reunion, mostly just to see one girl, and was very disappointed by who these people had become. I don’t expect to attend another one.

It’s pretty clear also that many of them are contemptuous of me as well, since they refuse to add me to their friends list on social media.

Here is another frames of my friends and me, acting like jackasses because we thought it made us look clever.
Here is another frames of my friends and me, acting like jackasses because we thought it made us look clever.

Internal Memo

This was my column two Saturdays ago, but I rewrote it a bit for the blog.

I am pleased to welcome my long-time friend Mackenzee E. Crosby as  the summer 2021 intern for The Ada News. I lobbied for her to get this position, and so far, she has delivered.

Mackenzee E. Crosby goes by "Mac" on social media and in public, but uses her full name in bylines. Her middle name is Ellen, and at my suggestion has begun writing a column for us called "Ellen in Grey," to reflect her imaging, including her love of shooting in black-and-white.
Mackenzee E. Crosby goes by “Mac” on social media and in public, but uses her full name in bylines. Her middle name is Ellen, and at my suggestion has begun writing a column for us called “Ellen in Grey,” to reflect her imaging, including her love of shooting in black-and-white.

I believe I first met her when her eighth grade class at Ada Junior High won a bet to collectively give over 100 units of blood products at blood drive, and was rewarded by being allowed to shave Luke Penrod’s head.

Mackenzee Crosby shaves the head of Ada Junior High science teacher Luke Penrod Thursday, March 8, 2012, as a reward for collectively giving over 100 units of blood products at the recent AJH blood drive. Assisting the seventh graders was beautician Kourtnie Rhodes.
Mackenzee Crosby shaves the head of Ada Junior High science teacher Luke Penrod Thursday, March 8, 2012, as a reward for collectively giving over 100 units of blood products at the recent AJH blood drive. Assisting the seventh graders was beautician Kourtnie Rhodes.

As the years have gone by, our paths crossed at events like Open Mic Nyte, graduations, and, in early 2020, Mackenzee interviewed my wife Abby and me for a college class assignment.

Mac photographed Abby and me for a class project just before the coronavirus crisis hit.
Mac photographed Abby and me for a class project just before the coronavirus crisis hit.

Mac comes to us with a rich history of imaging, especially for someone so young. Her images are fresh and innovative, yet have a “shoot from the hip” rawness about them that I find intriguing.

Mackenzee Crosby, right, photographs Malli Pingleton for The Cougar Call at Ada High School, April 11, 2017. It's absolutely amazing to see how different educational photojournalism has changed since the film era.
Mackenzee Crosby, right, photographs Malli Pingleton for The Cougar Call at Ada High School, April 11, 2017. It’s absolutely amazing to see how different educational photojournalism has changed since the film era.

Her work reminds me that I need to embrace that rawness in my own work, which can sometimes be too safe and habitual.

On a more personal note, which I didn’t include in my column, Mackenzee has endured some devastating tragedies, such as the debilitating traumatic brain injury to her good friend Avery Anderson in 2016, and the suicide of her father in 2018.

I told her recently that I find her a lot like I was when I was her age, especially when I read her personal writing; it is a lot like the things I wrote when I was 22.

Mackenzee is always a natural both in front of and behind the camera. I made this image at Open Mic Nyte a couple of years ago.
Mackenzee is always a natural both in front of and behind the camera. I made this image at Open Mic Nyte a couple of years ago.

I expect great things from Mac, and, in fact, have been very impressed with how quickly she caught on to the daily flow of news and newspaper. I think this summer is going to be a great learning experience for both of us.

Mac moved into a vacant desk in the newsroom and instantly made it hers. I think she's going to love real world journalism.
Mac moved into a vacant desk in the newsroom and instantly made it hers. I think she’s going to love real world journalism.

The Patch in May

Here are a few images from our home in the bucolic splendor of southern Oklahoma.

A wine cup wildflower sits tangled in other wildflowers in the west pasture.
A wine cup wildflower sits tangled in other wildflowers in the west pasture.
I spotted this tire track full of rainwater yesterday.
I spotted this tire track full of rainwater yesterday.
I had just hooked Hawken up to his retractable leash when he spotted a rabbit across the yard and tore out after it, breaking the leash.
I had just hooked Hawken up to his retractable leash when he spotted a rabbit across the yard and tore out after it, breaking the leash.
With the pond about as full as it's ever been, this grass peeks above the waterline. Normally, I would mow it.
With the pond about as full as it’s ever been, this grass peeks above the waterline. Normally, I would mow it.
Wires hang on a tree branch in the neighbor's yard.
Wires hang on a tree branch in the neighbor’s yard.
This is one of my shirts waiting to be ironed.
This is one of my shirts waiting to be ironed.
I had good cherry blossoms in April, and I now have lots of cherries about to ripen.
I had good cherry blossoms in April, and I now have lots of cherries about to ripen.
Irises only bloom for a short time in the spring.
Irises only bloom for a short time in the spring.
Hawken looks at me from under the back deck, which gives him plenty of shade.
Hawken looks at me from under the back deck, which gives him plenty of shade.
These bearded irises are my very favorite flower.
These bearded irises are my very favorite flower.
I bought Abby one of these recently, and it is now her new favorite drink.
I bought Abby one of these recently, and it is now her new favorite drink.
Lilacs take on evening light.
Lilacs take on evening light.
I made this image of a gate in our front yard right after a thunderstorm rolled through.
I made this image of a gate in our front yard right after a thunderstorm rolled through.
A small redbud blossom gathers vanishing evening light.
A small redbud blossom gathers vanishing evening light.
Reinventing the selfie? I made this after a thunderstorm. The water was cold.
Reinventing the selfie? I made this after a thunderstorm. The water was cold.
It has been cloudy and gloomy for over a week.
It has been cloudy and gloomy for over a week.
My first marigold of the year appeared recently.
My first marigold of the year appeared recently.

Picking Up Some Slack

I apologize for not posting more often. May is always like that – playoffs, proms, graduations – there’s lots of stuff to cover for my newspaper in a very short time.

But I am not dead or in a mental institution. I’m right here, and here are some images from what’s been going on.

A late frost hit the garden, but I was able to cover most of it with borrowed tarps. I was not able to cover my radishes, but apparently radishes don't care, because they are fine.
A late frost hit the garden, but I was able to cover most of it with borrowed tarps. I was not able to cover my radishes, but apparently radishes don’t care, because they are fine.
I grow radishes mostly because they are so fun to grow and so neat-looking.
I grow radishes mostly because they are so fun to grow and so neat-looking.
I addition to two large tarps and a couple of towels, I put a red heat lamp in the middle of the garden. It was a late-April frost, and a hard one.
I addition to two large tarps and a couple of towels, I put a red heat lamp in the middle of the garden. It was a late-April frost, and a hard one.
Mackenzee Crosby, who goes by Mac socially and Mackenzee E. Crosby in her bylines, starts her internship this week. She came in last week to find out where to put her stuff and how to log in to the server, and made this image of me while we talked.
Mackenzee Crosby, who goes by Mac socially and Mackenzee E. Crosby in her bylines, starts her internship this week. She came in last week to find out where to put her stuff and how to log in to the server, and made this image of me while we talked.
A long-time friend of mine, Kaitlyn Redman, spotted me as I covered ECU graduation Saturday, and waved me over, so I made this image of her. I have known her since she was just a kid, and am friends with her whole family.
A long-time friend of mine, Kaitlyn Redman, spotted me as I covered ECU graduation Saturday, and waved me over, so I made this image of her. I have known her since she was just a kid, and am friends with her whole family.
That's me in the middle, making a team photo of the Roff Tigers after they claimed another state baseball championship trophy Saturday.
That’s me in the middle, making a team photo of the Roff Tigers after they claimed another state baseball championship trophy Saturday.
As the Roff baseball game progressed, the mood became very jovial, so I snuck in with some of my young fan friends for a selfie.
As the Roff baseball game progressed, the mood became very jovial, so I snuck in with some of my young fan friends for a selfie.

The Eyes of Age

This was my column for Saturday, May 8

A confluence of conversation this week got me thinking about aging.

“You never change,” someone told me as I was covering a playoff softball game earlier this week.

Wes Edens spotted me doing my thing at the state softball tournament last week.
Wes Edens spotted me doing my thing at the state softball tournament last week.

It’s true that I haven’t changed all that much in the nearly 33 years I’ve been at The Ada News. Some of that is by chance, and some is by choice.

“You kept your hair,” a friend told me recently. Yes I have, though I can’t take credit for that. Baldness is genetic, and I guess I got the lucky gene, because I have young-man’s hair. I have also been lucky so far that it has mostly kept its color, but those days are numbered. I already color my beard twice a week, and I am starting to notice my temples are greying.

Wait, Richard. You color your beard? Yes, I do. I got the idea from a years-ago co-worker whose beard turned grey in his 20s. It’s an easy 15 minute chore twice a week.

Is coloring my beard an indulgence? Vanity? Ego? Yes, all of those.

One thing by choice is that I have kept my weight very consistent over the years, through a combination of smart dietary choices, and remaining physically active. Also, I don’t smoke.

The eyes are the biggest tell when it comes to age. Older people’s eyes tend to wrinkle and sag, and look less bright and intelligent. That’s unfair, of course, since the cosmetic appearance of cognitive deficit is different from real loss of mental function.

As a photojournalist, eyes are, of course, my living. You may have seen me wearing glasses. Those are reading glasses, which as anyone my age will testify, need to be stronger and stronger as we get older.

These conversations culminated late this week when I was on the phone with a fellow photographer who lives in Tulsa. As we talked, he walked into a bright patch of light just as he came across a mirror, and was suddenly taken aback by his self-image.

“Wow. Richard, I am so grey!” he told me.

Maybe age is sneaky that way, creeping up on us until we are suddenly old.

So, Richard, how old are you? That 33 years in Ada I mentioned earlier kind of gives it away, but my age isn’t a secret. I’ll turn 58 in July.

A week after I originally wrote this, a friend who had moved away some years ago, and hadn’t seen my column, told me, “You never change.”

It was so good to see Brenda Wheelock, and, for the first time since September (except for very-socially-distanced Rotary), sit down and eat in a restaurant.
It was so good to see Brenda Wheelock, and, for the first time since September (except for very-socially-distanced Rotary), sit down and eat in a restaurant.

Yes, She’s Better

Abby and our Chihuahua Summer pose for a photo this week.
Abby and our Chihuahua Summer pose for a photo this week.

Thank you everyone who asked with concern about my wife Abby. She had a rough winter and spring, but seems to be very much back to her usual self lately. This morning, for example, she asked for grits and runny fried eggs, which is a long-time favorite or hers.

Hawken the wolfhound pants after taking a big drink from his water bucket recently.
Hawken the wolfhound pants after taking a big drink from his water bucket recently.

I am fine as well.

I ate the last of my pinto beans a couple of days ago, so today I made anasazi beans.
I ate the last of my pinto beans a couple of days ago, so today I made anasazi beans.

“Everything Richard Eats is Healthy”

A really good meal starts with color.
A really good meal starts with color.

I was at a public gathering recently, and someone in the group said she’d lost 30 pounds recently, 30 pounds she said she’d gained during the lockdowns associated with coronavirus. She told us she lost the weight using the Optavia diet. I was impressed by her achievement, but that diet involves lots of cabbage and broccoli, and she said she had run out of ideas about how to cook them.

“Those are two of the most nutritious foods you can eat,” I said.

“Everything Richard eats is healthy,” she said to the group. I wish that were true. What is true is that I try to be aware of the nutritional content of everything I eat.

I have really been enjoying oranges lately.
I have really been enjoying oranges lately.

When my wife Abby wants a baked ziti from our favorite Italian place, for example, I usually get a veggie pizza while I am there. The fact that it’s a “veggie” pizza doesn’t change its nutritional content much. It’s an indulgence, but I always make sure not to overeat. Pizza keeps well and reheats easily, so I usually make three meals out of it.

I did myself the favor of buying these organic rainbow baby carrots the other day.
I did myself the favor of buying these organic rainbow baby carrots the other day.

Here are some additional thoughts about diet and health…

  • Refined sugar isn’t really a nutrient. How I feel when I eat sugar? Since I eat refined sugar so infrequently, its effect is very evident: rising heart rate, a subtle feeling of anxiety, marked mood elevation followed by a classic “sugar crash.”
  • I stopped drinking sugar drinks like soda decades ago, and if I have a sip of one now, it doesn’t taste appealing in any way.
  • Why do I like what I like? I never get tired of broccoli and cabbage, beans and rice, fresh fruit and whole grains. I admit that some of this is by choice, and some of it is how I am constituted genetically.
  • Counting carbs is off base; that’s how we got here in the first place. I believe the answer lies in a more fundamental behavior: eating less, eating real food, and moving more. The minute you look at a real food like a peach or a cantaloupe and assign a number to it, you’ve lost your way.
  • I ponder this one all the time: nobody wants to be obese or diabetic, so why is it so prevalent? Is it that the machinery of industry makes too much money too easily selling sugar and fat to us, or is it that we are too easily tempted by these things?
  • Stop thinking of food as a reward, and start thinking of food as a choice.
  • On weekends or other days off, the next thing I do after a meal is walk our dogs.
  • One trick that works for me: if I don’t think it should be in my diet, I won’t bring it into my house. When I have a desire for a mid-afternoon snack and look in the pantry, I find what I brought home from the grocery store. Is it apples and steel cut oats, or snack cakes and doughnuts?

I want to end this on a positive note: everyone and anyone can eat a healthier diet, it’s easier than you might imagine, and it has the potential to turn your health and your life completely around.

This is the end result of my go-to stir-fry: Gardein Meatless Chik'n strips, broccoli, carrots, and red cabbage, stir-fried until brown and tender, served over a bed of rice/quinoa mix. I have been eating this dish for 30 years, and I never get tired of it.
This is the end result of my go-to stir-fry: Gardein Meatless Chik’n strips, broccoli, carrots, and red cabbage, stir-fried until brown and tender, served over a bed of rice/quinoa mix. I have been eating this dish for 30 years, and I never get tired of it.

Miracle on Main Street, or The Mystery of Lake Milligan

One of our plumbers holds a PVC-pipe joint that had been leaking. You can see the hole above his index finger.
One of our plumbers holds a PVC-pipe joint that had been leaking. You can see the hole above his index finger.

For the past few years I have observed a mysterious puddle come and go near my orchard south of the house. I suspected it was a leak in the main water line leading from the water meter to our house, but as the years went by, it didn’t seem to be getting worse, and would sometimes disappear entirely.

Then in February, we had the worst winter storm in recent memory. A foot of snow covered the ground, and temperatures dipped below zero on two nights. We were careful to open the cabinets to allow warm air to circulate around our water pipes, and, unlike hundreds of area residents, we avoided a messy and expensive plumbing problem.

The extreme weather was not without consequence, however. The mysterious puddle at first shrank to insignificance, but in the last few days, it got much large, and I dubbed it “Lake Milligan,” after George Milligan, Abby’s first father-in-law, who installed the water line when Abby moved back to Byng in 1993.

It grew so quickly this week that it was apparent that the water line would have to be repaired, and Abby and I were certain it would take forever, and cost a fortune.

Enter Nickerson Plumbing. They were able to send out a friendly pair of young plumbers, one of whom remembered me from when I covered his Ada Cougar basketball games, and the other recalled being bitten by our neighbor’s dog last year.

The two determined that we did have a growing leak, and set out to find it. At this point, Abby and I were sure we would be leasing a backhoe for days, and this repair would completely consume our income tax refund.

Then, the Miracle on Main Street.

“We found your leak,” one of the plumbers announced after a 20-minute search. It was right where the puddle had come and gone over the years, and at this point, the leak had gotten large enough to see and hear. One of them showed me the joint that had cracked and leaked very slowly, but had, in the last few days, turned into a pinhole, then a larger hole.

They patched it up and buried it, and turned on the water. One of them had a billing app, and added it up: $204. Wow.

This image shows the two ends of the water line with the leaking joint removed.
This image shows the two ends of the water line with the leaking joint removed.

Early Girls and Big Boys

Our windblown Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps an eye on me last night as I plant my garden.
Our windblown Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps an eye on me last night as I plant my garden.

I know it seems a little early to be getting the garden in the ground, as in years past I have frequently dealt with mid-April frosts and freezes, but if you can get plants in the ground early, then have a little luck with the weather, you get a longer growing season, and a better yield.

I might have to replant some if we do get a freeze, but it’s only about $20 worth of plants.

My soil has gotten depleted over the years, so prior to planting, I tilled in a large bag of organic tomato/vegetable garden fertilizer.

Yesterday I planted…

  • Ten Early Girl tomato plants
  • Three Big Boy tomato plants
  • Five red bell pepper plants
  • One green bell pepper plant
  • One orange bell pepper plant
  • Three Sun Sugar cherry tomato plants

My variety selection was based entirely on what was available at the garden center Sunday.

That leaves cucumber, radish, and marigold seeds to plant, hopefully tonight.

One of my tomato plants sits in the garden last night.
One of my tomato plants sits in the garden last night.

Nature Fighting Back

I got my second coronavirus vaccination this week. My arm is very sore and I have some muscle aches, but that tells me it’s working.

My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm yesterday morning.
My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm yesterday morning.

I posted on social media this week that my peach trees had gone straight to leaves this year, and did not appear to be making blossoms, which, according to my photos from previous years, almost always happened before the first day of spring. I was convinced that I wouldn’t have peaches, though I was encouraged to see that I did have plum blossoms.

A peach blossom clings to a branch on the largest of my peach trees this evening.
A peach blossom clings to a branch on the largest of my peach trees this evening.

Then today, as I walked Hawken, I caught sight of a few peach blossoms on a couple of my trees, and I felt encouraged, both because I might actually get peaches, but also that it seemed to me that nature, after years of cruelty to it by humans, seemed, in the last 15 months or so, to be fighting back.

I have more than one variety of peach trees in my orchard, and they make slightly different blossoms.
I have more than one variety of peach trees in my orchard, and they make slightly different blossoms.

First Day of Spring

Redbud blossoms sway in the spring breeze at last light.
Redbud blossoms sway in the spring breeze at last light.

I have been on vacation all week, and Abby and I have really enjoyed being together all the time.

The weather turned warm, and for the first day of spring, I chased down a few images of our redbud tree.

Also of note, my plum trees are putting on blossoms, but my peaches are going straight to leaves, which might mean I won’t get peaches this year.

Snow-white plum blossoms take on warm tones at sunset tonight.
Snow-white plum blossoms take on warm tones at sunset tonight.

Tyler the Tiller

Tyler the Tiller gets its tines in the game for the first time yesterday.
Tyler the Tiller gets its tines in the game for the first time yesterday.

My readers might be aware that I previously owned two small gasoline-powered tillers, also known as cultivators. The second one, Tilly, was purchased exactly eight years ago, worked properly most recently three years ago, meaning its useful life was five years. I consider that a complete rip-off, since that boils down to about ten hours of actual garden tilling, since I only need it once a year.

I thought about last year, when I dug the garden by hand. Not only was it slow, back-breaking work, it didn’t get the soil really chopped up like a tiller could. I am all about working hard, but I was not looking forward to another five-hour hands-and-knees session.

Local retailers had that exact model for an insulting $300, so I poked around on the interwebs and found an electric tiller for just $133, minus a small discount from rewards points. “Buy Now.”

My Sun Joe TJ604E 16-Inch 13.5 AMP Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivator arrived in just two days. It was easy to assemble and ready in minutes. The question would be one of electric vs gasoline, which is why I opted for the more robust 13.5 AMP plug-in model.

At the first turn of dirt, Tyler dug like a champ, including some very rough areas that had gone to grass several years ago. We’ll see how long it will live, but so far, the newest tiller in the family is working well.

I asked Abby what I should name it, and she said, “Tyler.”

One month ago today there was 12 inches of snow on the ground, and the high temperatures hovered around zero.
One month ago today there was 12 inches of snow on the ground, and the high temperatures hovered around zero.

Home, Well, and Back to Work

I missed my Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting two weeks ago due to the snowstorm, and last week because Abby was still in the hospital, but today I returned, and had what has become my favorite, and most indulgent, meal of the week for me, a veggie omelette, hash browns, toast and coffee.
I missed my Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting two weeks ago due to the snowstorm, and last week because Abby was still in the hospital, but today I returned, and had what has become my favorite, and most indulgent, meal of the week for me, a veggie omelette, hash browns, toast and coffee.

My social media followers know that Abby was released from the hospital last week, and while she was sketchy for a day or two, it seems like she is fine now.

It was nice to return to work, and a normal life. The stress of missing Abby and not knowing the outcome of her illness was overwhelming.

Christy Lucas Sheppard and I wait for the start of the Roff Tiger's state playoff game in Oklahoma City Wednesday. You might know Christy because she was in the Netflix Miniseries The Innocent Man. She was the cousin of Debra Sue Carter, who was murdered in Ada Dec. 8, 1982.
Christy Lucas Sheppard and I wait for the start of the Roff Tiger’s state playoff game in Oklahoma City Wednesday. You might know Christy because she was in the Netflix Miniseries The Innocent Man. She was the cousin of Debra Sue Carter, who was murdered in Ada Dec. 8, 1982.

From social media…

Also also, thank you technology! Abby lost her iPhone on her way to the hospital in the ambulance, which I didn’t know until today. I went to iCloud and the Find My iPhone feature, put it in lost mode, pinged it, found it at another hospital, the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center, where it was in lost and found. My guess is that she dropped it in the ambulance, and someone found it and turned it in on a later EMS run.

Abby and I are watching the Bourne film series. We think the sixth installment should be, “Bourne in the USA,” followed by “Bourne on the Fourth of July,” “Bourne Free,” and “Bourne to Run.” The final installment? “Natural Bourne Killers.”

Dream: we had a house full of teenagers, some of them drunk, when I discover a bloodhound has scattered hundreds of pounds of popcorn through the house over a period of weeks, and everyone was simply pushing paths through it like plowing snow. We decide to make pizza, then decide it would be easier to order pizza, but every time I lift my phone and look at it, it is a different brand or ever from a different era.

For us, this was the day the Rona started, this week last year. Schools got together to send off their teams to the state basketball tournament. Some of them got as far as the gyms where they were going before they were turned away. I got about 20 minutes west of town on the way to cover them when an editor called me and told me everything was canceled.
For us, this was the day the Rona started, this week last year. Schools got together to send off their teams to the state basketball tournament. Some of them got as far as the gyms where they were going before they were turned away. I got about 20 minutes west of town on the way to cover them when an editor called me and told me everything was canceled.

I’ve Been Vaxed!

Good news: today I got my first coronavirus vaccination. I received it at a vaccination event sponsored by The Clinic and the Pontotoc Technology Center where I teach photography. It was the Moderna brand. So far, the only side effect has been the most common: soreness at the injection site.

I feel very fortunate to get my coronavirus vaccination today. Maybe we are finally on our way out of the dark pandemic tunnel.
I feel very fortunate to get my coronavirus vaccination today. Maybe we are finally on our way out of the dark pandemic tunnel.

Abby is still in the hospital, but fortunately got vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer brand weeks ago, so hopefully she is protected in her situation. She sounded much better on the phone, and might be able to come home in a day or two.

In the meantime, her Chihuahua, Summer, is still moping.

Summer the Chihuahua lays on one of Abby's afghans yesterday. I tell her she's a good girl, but she still misses Abby.
Summer the Chihuahua lays on one of Abby’s afghans yesterday. I tell her she’s a good girl, but she still misses Abby.

My Turn to Wait

Abby is in the hospital, and she and I are both very stressed by the fact that I can’t join her. Like people across the globe, including Abby’s daughter just two weeks ago, hospital stays are in isolation due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (a phrase I have learned to type in my sleep.)

I'd like to think I miss Abby more than anyone, but her tiny Chihuahua Summer has been curled up on one of Abby's afghans all day.
I’d like to think I miss Abby more than anyone, but her tiny Chihuahua Summer has been curled up on one of Abby’s afghans all day.

Abby is not in any immediate danger. It became necessary to call EMS this morning when, after several days of difficulty, she was unable to walk or even stand on her own. The initial diagnosis is hypercalcaemia (link)

The Wikipedia article says, “The neuromuscular symptoms of hypercalcaemia are caused by a negative bathmotropic effect due to the increased interaction of calcium with sodium channels. Since calcium blocks sodium channels and inhibits depolarization of nerve and muscle fibers, increased calcium raises the threshold for depolarization. This results in diminished deep tendon reflexes (hyporeflexia), and skeletal muscle weakness.”

She was tested for coronavirus and flu, and does not have them.

As she got sicker, she experienced some cognitive difficulty, but, as is often the case with her, intravenous fluids bring her right around, and on the phone just down she sounded clearer-headed, and aggravated with the situation, which I take as a good sign.

I’m not really eating or sleeping, which is what I do when I am stressed, though as I wrote this I made myself eat a bowl of soup.

She said a doctor said she might be there three days, so that tired clichéd Tom Petty song lyric, “the waiting is the hardest part,” is mine today.

That Dark Winter

Ice clings to a dormant morning glory vine in our front yard this morning. I made this image with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens I bought in the summer of 1978.
Ice clings to a dormant morning glory vine in our front yard this morning. I made this image with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens I bought in the summer of 1978.

Today’s bleak winter weather is bringing back a dark winter for me, 1979.

I was a tenth grader, writing in my embryonic journal, making embryonic images.

The two images I posted with this entry are very much like the images I made back then, in part because I dug out the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens that came with the Fujica ST-605n I bought in the summer of 1978 with some of my allowance and a $100 gift from my paternal grandmother.

I sold the Fujica decades ago, but a couple of years ago I found an identical one on eBay and got it. The lens is mostly plastic, with a five-bladed aperture, but it is remarkable sharp, and gives a look, today mounted on my Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless camera, identical to the film images I made all those decades ago.

Ice on our fence reminds me of that dark winter of 1979. I photographed it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 that I used to photograph that winter all those years ago.
Ice on our fence reminds me of that dark winter of 1979. I photographed it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 that I used to photograph that winter all those years ago.

In the Midst of the Rona, I Got My Shingles Vaccination

Great news today: my wife Abby was able to receive her second dose of Pfizer-made coronavirus vaccine Friday.

Across the country, health departments, hospitals and clinics have been struggling to meet demand for vaccines to address the historic coronavirus pandemic. I know that I am grateful for every effort they have made, and I am aware that something on such a scale is sure to be difficult, but we as a nation are on our way to taking our lives back from this disease.

Abby is a little older than I am, so she was eligible to receive her vaccine in the first phase of Governor Stitt’s four-phase plan for vaccinating Oklahomans. But I am in phrase three, so I won’t be eligible for some time yet, and while I wait, I remain aware that there are many other health issues that didn’t go away just because “the Rona” is here. For example, Abby and I both got influenza vaccinations last fall.

So it was that a television ad caught my eye: Shingrix, a vaccine against shingles, is now recommended for adults 50 and older who had chicken pox when they were young, which is most of us.

I’ve known people who have suffered through shingles, an awful, painful illness, and even someone whose shingles damaged her vision, so when I heard it was available, I couldn’t wait to get Shingrix in my arm.

Social media informed me that this vaccine would rough me up a little bit, and they weren’t wrong: just 24 hours from the first of two shots, my side effects were pretty textbook: my arm is super sore, and I even had a little bit of fever, both of which made it difficult to sleep, but which responded to Tylenol.

I am a proponent of vaccines, since I am old enough to know people who had diseases like polio, diphtheria, mumps, measles, whooping cough, tetanus, and smallpox, just to mention a few, which plagued humanity for centuries until being brought under control, and in the case of smallpox, eliminated by vaccines.

I would also encourage my readers to have some common sense when it comes to vaccines and the absurd conspiracy theories surrounding them.

When I become eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, I will take it, and hopefully one fine day this year, we can reclaim our lives and routines, thanks to the science of vaccines.

Abby gets her follow-up coronavirus vaccination today.
Abby gets her follow-up coronavirus vaccination today.

A Legacy of Dignity

What if, after your political career, you could depart the landscape of history with dignity?

What if you could be known as someone who learned from the First World War and brokered a brilliant solution at the end of the Second World War?

What if you left with a spotless record of dignified speeches, a humble social servant and family man, whose administration remained unstained by scandal?

What if your legacy was to challenge America to a difficult and complex task that seemed insurmountable, but one to which America rose?

What if, despite an unimpressive political career, you went on to a long legacy of statesmanlike service to your nation and humanity?

But instead…

“Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election.”

“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

“You can do anything. Grab them by the p**sy. You can do anything.”

“They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part)…”

And what if, instead of standing tall and speaking to the people of the world, from University pulpits and hallowed hall of mighty nations, you did it all from Twitter at four in the morning?

Is our flag fading?
Is our flag fading?