Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dixie Lee's Baseball

One of my dog’s favorite places to walk is in the North Winston park in West Knoxville. On a recent visit there, we came upon a bunch of empty water and soda bottles that had been tossed over a fairly large area in back of the baseball diamond. I’m tempted here to say some choice words about people who litter, but quite honestly, people who litter don’t have the intelligence, curiosity, and ambition to read a blog, much less a liberal blog, so I’ll just continue with my story. Standing aghast at the sight of the bottle mess, I mumbled an apology to Dixie Lee and we started to walk past the area. Then my gaze fell upon a yellowed, dirty but otherwise fine, baseball. Apparently, it had been left in the fervor of exiting the baseball game. I picked it up and stuffed it into my jacket pocket. "We’ll take this home as a souvenir of our walk today, Dixie", I said. (I’m a great sentimentalist, as you probably know if you’ve been reading other portions of my blog).

That evening, Dixie picked up the baseball and carried it up the stairs to the loft where she likes to hang out and play. She has a collection of favorite toys there. I was very surprised that she could carry the heavy ball in her mouth. Suddenly, there was a loud noise ... once, twice, many times ... as she’d pick up the baseball and hurl it into the air, letting it land with a loud thud on the wood floor upstairs. Since that evening, it’s become a nightly ritual to do that and she’s all but abandoned her other toys. I’ve become accustomed to and even delighted by the happy noise of her play. So far, the floor has been forgiving. Well, this is an old house and well-constructed. And Dixie Lee loves her baseball!

Nature's Church

Last Friday, Dixie and I went to the greenway in back of my church for our walk. The scene changes, of course, with the seasons. Right now, there are acres and acres of coreopsis flowers -- a stretch of blazing gold color that is almost too beautiful to take in. That day, I promised myself I would bring my camera and walking shoes on Sunday and re-visit the flowers after church.

I did. As I walked and gazed and took pictures, a man and woman were approaching from the opposite direction, with their camera. We exchanged a greeting and when I told them how I'd promised myself to return after church with my camera, the man smiled and remarked "This is church". He was right. It was as spiritual as anything could possibly be -- glorious, magnificent!


Panhandlers! No, I’m not referring to those valiant, dedicated hospital workers who handle the bedpan brigade. I don’t know if this is the case in other locales, but here in Knoxville, there are ever-increasing numbers of people who have taken the old-fashioned "Buddy, can you spare a dime" thing to several levels beyond.

A month or so ago, Metro Pulse had a good article about the "panhandlers" who pester people for money on the downtown streets. The article’s writer may not have been aware that scammers have strayed far from the downtown streets, as I’ve encountered them during the past 10 to 12 months in front of a north Knoxville post office, in the parking lot of an upscale store, in a restaurant parking lot in West Knoxville, and on at least six occasions knocking at the front door of my home or approaching me in my driveway. The door-to-door types ask for a specific amount of money ... $40 usually. They have scripted, very rehearsed and high drama stories ... their children are stuck "up on the highway" (the script almost always involves children), their car needs "a new alternator" or someone is "bringing a tire" to their stricken vehicle on the highway, so they can make it home to their children in some distant town. Tires and alternators are mentioned most often. In fact, there was a duo, last year, who I saw in various shopping center parking lots ... each time they had the hood of the car raised, a little "repair" light hanging there, and the man and woman both approached shoppers with their alternator story. I saw them over a period of about three months in several locations, doing the same thing.

The Metro Pulse article mentioned that some of the "panhandlers" get irate when a person refuses to give them money. Two of the people who approached me (both were women) gave surly responses when I didn’t give them money. Anyway, "panhandling" or whatever one would call this activity (at least here), has blossomed into scamming. I guess it pays well.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall ...

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall ...
Who is the luckiest of them all?
Sometimes I think I am. When I was in my mid-twenties, an old fortune-teller (she read a regular deck of playing cards) told me "You will always have enough for the day and the way". Although her words obviously stuck in my mind and I never forgot them, at the time they weren’t what I was hoping to hear, as I was keenly interested in a possible love conquest. Not that my interests have shifted dramatically in that respect, but nowadays the "day and the way" thing is what matters most. I believe it ... and the belief, itself, makes me lucky – and ever hopeful. I think it’s fortunate to be able to remain hopeful. And that’s the reflection I want to see in my mirror.

Sand Castles

Words strung together to make a rhyme,
Music swelling, reaching and drawing in,
Love stories honoring endless time.
Castles all,
Structures of life,
The tides of yang and yin.

Ethanol -- And Our Fuel Ailments

Gasoline mileage declines with the use of ethanol-mix gasolines, with the decline being proportionate to the extent of the mix. The currently common mix is 10%, which someone has calculated to bring a loss of about a mile per gallon, compared to gasoline without ethanol. That loss will increase though, as more ethanol is put into the equation. The biggest ethanol threat, though, is beginning to be seen in car repair shops, where parts of engines are requiring major work to de-gunk their fuel intakes. I’m thankful I’ve got an old truck that has a carburetor; not that carburetors can’t become clogged, but fuel injectors clog more easily and require more work to fix.

Aside from our vehicles, there are lawn mowers, weed whackers and other gasoline-driven tools that may choke on the ethanol mix.

There is a lot of discussion going on that questions the feasibility and wisdom of turning food farms and other lands into corn fields for ethanol production. One of the immediate results is the twin problem of a rise in food prices and reduced food production. Also, the new excuse for the clearing of trees – and the accompanying impact on air quality, along with the aesthetic loss – are and will increasingly be a serious result of the push to grow enough ethanol-producing crops to fuel the gazillion cars that are on the road.

I see a major change in our lifestyles on the horizon. Industry is going to need to be honest with us soon. Or, maybe not. The truth will speak for itself.

Shifting Sand

There’s a lyric line in the inspirational song "Arms Of Love" that says "it’s hard to walk in shifting sand". Shifting sand! That seems to be descriptive in both a figurative and literal sense in our world of today. Whether a catastrophic earthquake, the tragedy of war, or the devastating effects of collapsing economics, the element of future shock undermines our sense of balance.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

National Politics

The Democratic contest has gone on long enough. It’s time to nail it, name the nominee, and prepare for the change our country desperately needs (no McBushes, please). Obama has my vote.

Democracy Or Republic?

I’m looking now in my Oxford American Dictionary at the word "republic". It says "a country in which the supreme power is held by the people or their representatives, or by (emphasis is mine) an elected or nominated president". I’ve driven by a church in town that says "God Bless Our Republic" (on the building’s marquee). This is the wording, rather than saying "our country". This pushes a little red alert button in my mind.

Next I will look at the definition of the word "democracy": "government by the whole people of a country, especially through representatives whom they elect; a country governed in this way". Are we currently a democracy? I think not.

There is one additional word I want to look up now. It is "plutocracy": "rule of the wealthy; a nation ruled by the wealthy". Therefore, a "plutocrat" is "a person who is powerful because of his wealth". Bush and Cheney and their ilk come to mind.


Remember the song lyric "In my mind, I’m goin’ to Carolina"? Lately, that one line of that song starts playing in my head once or twice a day. "In my mind I’m goin’ to" a relatively peaceful world where the environment is in balance, everybody has enough to eat, all people (including all Americans) have access to health care, people and industry have respect and compassion for animals, and politicians tell us about their ethics and their reasoning skills instead of how "conservative" their religion is (the word "conservative" has taken on ugly meaning over the past several years). In a more lyrical and frivolous sense, "In my mind I’m goin’ to" a beautiful island where sea oats and those lovely rose-colored flowers sway in the breeze; there is a lighthouse, too, and the lull of the turquoise surf. I could go on and on. That’s why I named this post "Excursions"!

Trucks & Over-The-Road

How many times have you heard someone complain about the trucks (semis and big rigs) on the roads? Probably often. Granted, there are dangers where cars and trucks co-exist on the highways, but I’ve found truck drivers to be very courteous, helpful, and expert drivers. The occasional risky driver is almost always behind the wheel of a car. But this post isn’t about manners or driving habits ... it is about necessity. Our food reaches the grocery stores and the restaurants via trucks and truck drivers. With the soaring fuel prices, the scenario could change. What will we all do if the truck driver can no longer make a living and pay his bills? What if he decides he needs to just park it? The thought is mind-boggling and scary.

Gramma's Garden

A couple of times lately, I’ve noticed the pretty peonies in full bloom a few blocks down the street from where I live. Those flowers take me back, as if it were yesterday, to what I will call Gramma’s Garden. Anyone who’s read my memoirs knows my paternal grandmother was a bright light in my childhood and I spent every moment I could with her. Gramma had a huge yard full of flowers, fruit trees, and berry bushes.

Of all those plants, the three peony bushes are most vivid in my mind. They were planted in a row, set apart from everything else. They were the garden highlights! One was white; one was rose pink; the third one was deep maroon. When I was a very young child, I would eagerly await the opening of their petals each Spring (once I had realized that it was at this time of year that they did appear and open). One year when I was about five or six years old, the day came when I found I could not wait for them to open. I’d looked at their buds for several days in a row. Each firm bud was round, with neatly and tightly folded petals ... petals that revealed a bit of their color. I remember manually trying to open many of the buds with my fingers, especially on the maroon bush, which was my favorite. It didn’t work and I remember my disappointment, followed by the fearful realization that I’d done something I shouldn’t have done. Later that week, Gramma went out to check her peony bushes, probably wondering why there were so few fully open flowers visible from her kitchen window! She went out and inspected them and then asked me if I knew anything about it. I confessed. She said something about the maroon peonies being the most expensive and hard color to find and I could see how sad she was, but then she let it go, because she knew how guilty I felt. I never went near the peonies again, but always admired them from a distance.

Of course, Grampa was the one who did most of the manual labor in the huge yard and mini farm. He did this evenings and weekends, because during the week, he worked a regular work day schedule as the manager of a big factory in New Haven. Nonetheless, I always thought of the vegetation as "Gramma’s Garden".

#s, #s, #s

Of people. I wrote a post about human overpopulation a few months ago. All of our efforts to "go green" will miss the mark unless we become willing to talk about putting a halt on population growth, which is really at the heart of the world’s most serious and pervasive problems. I’ll copy and paste here a portion of an e-mail response I sent to a friend of mine recently (he’d sent me a website URL about overpopulation).

"Yes, the burgeoning human (over)population is at the core of almost every problem the world is dealing with. I count the exponential growth of US population as a big part of it, as we are big "users"/consumers. Recently I put up a blog post that talks about population and how no politician is willing to mention or even acknowledge the population factor. Without humane human population control (war being a popular but inhumane method of population control), recycling can never be enough. Al Gore mentioned the factor of population growth in his book "An Inconvenient Truth", for which I give him a lot of credit (although the topic needs a book of its own)...the author, though, would need to be very brave and probably would be majorly criticized and could even be imprisoned or assassinated".


There I go again with my words. When I compose/write a song (music and lyrics), during the initial days following the song’s birth (yes, it is a laborious, deliciously painful process – the spiritual analogy to physically giving birth), I work out the major facets of its arrangement, then add enhancements, the intro and the ending, and during this time, too, develop the vocal component. Once all of that is working, the song enters into the phase I think of as "tweakdom"!

Tweakdom begins intensely – a vocal gymnastic here, a register change there, and ends quietly ... somewhere down the line, maybe in days or maybe in weeks ... when all the subtle touches have been put into the arrangement.

In recent weeks, I found myself composing a song intended to inspire and honor a musical partner who was finding it necessary to step away from music (our music and, perhaps, music in general). Because it’s a ballad (he likes ballads), it’s very techy and not easy to sing and play, but also is quite pretty. It’s called Here In The Moment. I recorded it this past Wednesday evening at Songwriters Studio here in Knoxville.

For this song, tweakdom continued almost right down to the wire, with the last tweak the day before the recording was done!

Grieving Pet Loss

Grief is the price we pay for loving our pets, for endearing them to us – but it’s worth it. Worth it, of course, for the companionship and affection they share with us, for their unconditional love. Even more than that, though, having a beloved pet connects us in such a deeply spiritual way with something much bigger than ourselves, something hard to describe with mere words – the tapestry, mutuality, and interconnectedness of life. I recently was talking about these things with a very dear friend who is mourning the recent passing of his cat who had been with him for almost 17 years.

On my website at I have a link entitled The Story Of Lucky. It may be helpful to readers who are going through the grief process. Time, after all, is the best healer, but there are people and books that can be of great help in a more immediate sense. I talk about some of them on the Lucky link.