La Casa de Cooper

pexels-photo-922934.jpegLast week I was privileged to have my granddad Cooper stay over as a house guest. He’s an old fellow who doesn’t move around much these days. He’s perfectly satisfied with a few belly scratches now and again and generous bowls of food. He adheres to a strict routine these days and only barks when he knows its time for a meal. Never mind that Daylight Savings time is in effect, Cooper insists on enjoying his breakfast and dinner at exactly the same hours each day. He follows me around as I putter in the house and it’s quite nice to hear the pitter patter of his little feet.

I suppose that I forgot to mention that Cooper is a pug who seems to imagine himself as being a regal member of Chinese royalty. He bears his ancestry quite well and spends most of his time sunning in front of my bedroom window with only mild curiosity about the happenings outside. He came with me when I did a bit of gardening and got the attention of the neighborhood dogs who barked ferociously at him. He generally ignored their in hospitable greetings and looked at me as though he thought them to be rather silly.

While Cooper’s family was away having a mini-vacation and enjoying ice cream every single day I spoiled him a bit with treats and extra helpings of food. He’s supposed to be on a diet but what good is it coming to Gammy’s house if he can’t bend the rules just a tiny bit? His favorite activity is lying on the couch next to my husband while we watch television in the evenings. He sleeps peacefully without even noticing that we are viewing a John Wick film. How he snoozes through the action is beyond me, but he does.

Cooper is always welcome at my home because he is no trouble at all. Some dogs are quite demanding and have a tendency to make messes. He just leaves little tiny hairs that I will be vacuuming up for weeks to come. I’m probably the only one who notices them. so it hardly matters that he left them behind.

I sometimes think of getting my own full time pet once again but then I consider all of the responsibilities associated with having a little creature and I change my mind. My life has become far too gypsy-like to include a dog. Perhaps when I begin to slow my pace and spend most of my days at home I will find myself a nice little guy like Cooper and provide him a space in my home. Until then I’ll just keep inviting Cooper over for a stay.

Cooper was a rescue dog. When his family got him his name was Ben. The trouble with that is that they already had a son named Ben and didn’t think that it would work out to have two with the same name. Since it was a lot less complicated to change the moniker for the dog, gentle Ben was suddenly Cooper. He got his new designation because the other adopted pet that they owned was named Shane. Since he was found wandering along a highway the people who found him imagined whoever lost him wishing that he would come back. So Shane and Cooper became dog brothers and had a great time together until Shane died last summer.

The family thought that Cooper would hardly notice that Shane was gone, but instead Cooper was quite sad. They thought that bringing in a new dog might cheer him up. They purchased a yellow Lab puppy named Luna who is a ball of energy. She loves Cooper but wants to play with him all of the time. He gets a bit grumpy when she chases him and he can’t get away, but we can all tell that he actually gets a kick out of the little tyke. Nonetheless I think that he enjoyed having some time to himself at my house. We provide him with way more attention than he gets at home.

Domesticating dogs is one of the grandest ideas that mankind has ever had. They are loyal and and sweet and lots of fun. Some are even protective, but Cooper is a bit too old and tired to worry about such things. He sleeps more hours than he is awake. He’s a bonafide old geezer, set in his ways and happy as long as his needs are satisfied.

Cooper may not be the brightest bulb in doggy land, but that doesn’t mean that he is not smart. He understands that his breakfast consists of dry food and dinner includes a nice moist and meaty topping. If I move too slowly in creating the appropriate recipe he barks until I get my act together. There is no fooling him!

I hope that Cooper gets to come visit many more times. He’s in his eighties in people years so there is no telling how much longer it will be before he crosses over the Rainbow Bridge. I know that I will be quite sad when that happens. I hate to admit it, but he is the favorite of my grand dogs, and besides his snoring is just adorable. Mi casa es la casa de Cooper.


The Art Of The Deal


My brothers and I were discussing our family heritage the other day. We are all too aware that the untimely death of our father changed the trajectory of our lives dramatically. We often wonder what things might have been like if…

Our daddy had an unstoppable sense of humor. His book collection included volumes filled with jokes. His favorite television programs featured comedians. He was a great storyteller and peppered his tales with yarns that made his friends laugh. He found something funny in the darnedest places and when they happened to be from real life, that was even better.

The first house that my parents purchased was in southeast Houston on Kingsbury Street in a new housing development like many that were springing up all across America in the years after World War II. My father had finally earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering and he landed a job in downtown Houston. The location of the house was perfect for starting a new career and raising a family. Most of our neighbors were young like my parents and the men were college graduates engaged in all sorts of interesting professions. They had children in the same age groups as my brothers and I so there was always lots of fun to be had. 

Most of our moms stayed home back then while our fathers went to work each day. The women had routines that they carefully followed for the care of  their children and homes. I remember that my mother washed clothes on Mondays, which was a bigger deal than it might seem because dryers were still a dream of the future, and so she had to hang her wet items on a clothesline to dry in the sun. 

Tuesdays were for ironing and as I recall my mother had a bottle with a perforated lid that she would fill with water to shake on the clothes that needed a bit of steam from the iron. On Wednesdays our mother dusted and cleaned and mopped the wooden floors and linoleum until they gleamed. Sometimes she even used floor wax to achieve a better shine. Thursdays were reserved for her sewing and mending. She made all of my clothing and most  of hers. Friday brought meal planning, dusting and changing the linens on the bed. Saturdays meant shopping trips and Sundays were for church and visiting grandparents.

While all of this activity was happening I was mostly a free range kid which meant that I roamed the neighborhood with my friends, but never without checking in frequently with my mom. Bear in mind I was only around six years old when I began to assert my independence, but things were quite different back then. All of the ladies kept their doors and windows wide open and provided a kind of community watchfulness over the children. At any given moment an adult was checking on us without drawing attention to that fact.

I generally just went up and down the street playing with whichever kid was available. Most of the time my favorite partner was a girl named Merrily, but sometimes she was busy so I would hang out with a boy who was about my age. His dad was a very successful businessman according to the rumors that floated around the area. His family owned two very luxurious cars and his mom even employed a maid. His house was furnished with exquisite furniture and art work. I enjoyed visiting with him and vicariously living in style.

I had earned a number of holy cards as prizes for good grades and exemplary behavior in my first grade class at St. Peter’s Catholic School. They were beautifully illustrated so I thought that an art connoisseur like my friend might enjoy seeing them. I took them with me on one of my forays to his home, and just as I had thought he marveled at how exquisite they were. He was not a Catholic so he had never before seen such things and he begged me to give him some of them. Instead I struck a financial deal with him, asking for one dollar for each of the lovely images. Without hesitating he broke open his piggy bank and presented a five dollar bill for the lot. I was happy to oblige because I figured that I would earn more of them if I tried really hard at school. It was a win win situation.

All seemed well until the phone rang as I was eating dinner with my family that evening. My mom was a bit irritated by the interruption but answered the phone nonetheless. When she returned she gave me a foreboding look and told my dad that I had sold holy cards to the kid down the street. She explained that his mother was quite upset because they did not believe in such things. Besides, the woman had argued, the price I had charged was prohibitive. She wanted me to return the five dollars immediately and reclaim my holy cards.

I could tell that my mother was not pleased with me but before I even had a chance to explain myself my father burst into uncontrollable laughter, leaving me and my mother quite confused. He smiled and winked at me as he stood to remove his wallet from his back pocket and then he removed a five dollar bill and handed it to my mother. “Use this to pay for the holy cards,” he told her. “Let Sharron keep her profit. It’s worth it to know that my little girl outsmarted the financial wizard’s son. I love it,” he bragged with a huge grin on his face. With that pronouncement I breathed a sigh of relief and smiled with pride at my wonderful daddy who had who seemed to understand the importance of my first foray into the art of the deal. My mom on the other hand simply shook her head while attempting to hide her own amusement with the situation.

I always loved the way my father appreciated the ingeniousness of me and my brothers. He often laughed at antics that might have driven other parents wild. When my little brother took things apart Daddy almost always defended him by asserting that he was only attempting to understand how things work. My dad encouraged us to have an adventurous spirit that would guide us as we explored the world. He believed that life was meant to be lived without fear and I suppose that he went out in a blaze of glory following his own credo.

After my father died I became more cautious. It would be years before I was willing to leave my comfort zone and try things, but I always remembered those moments when he encouraged me to use my imagination and intellect. Mostly though I loved that he knew how to laugh whenever we were just being kids. In some ways he was the man who never quite grew up, a kind of Peter Pan who left this earth for Never Never Land far too soon. Somehow in the brief time that he was around he taught me the importance of viewing the world through humorous eyes. Knowing when to laugh rather than cry has made things so much better than they might otherwise have been. 

Charts and Graphs

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAfPAAAAJDBhNTVkMGFiLWI0MDUtNDQxOC1hMjBjLTg0MzA3ZTEwYTQ2YwDoes anyone else remember when Ross Perot ran for President of the United States? He was a funny looking little guy with big ears and a Texas drawl that wouldn’t quit. He was a third party candidate in the election that included George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Bush was defeated in his bid for a second term and many folks thought that Perot was the reason that he lost, noting that Perot took votes that the President may have received. Anyway, Perot was a much tougher guy than he appeared to be. He had amassed a fortune making him a billionaire, and when Iran took several Americans hostage, he was the guy who planned, financed and executed their escape. He became a kind of folk hero in spite of his somewhat wimpy appearance, and at some point his groupies encouraged him to run for the highest office in the land on two different occasions. In many ways he was the precursor of Donald Trump, but with  a more pleasing kind of “aw shucks” personality.

Perot was most notable for giving visual presentations of his views on the American economy. He used posters and a pointer to demonstrate the problems in our nation and the solutions that he advocated. While people poked fun at his methods, there was something about his way of explaining things that brought clarity to ideas that had previously been rather difficult to understand for the average person. He won over a number of followers because he laid out his ideas with his charts and graphs in a highly understandable folksy manner. He was a cross between a kooky professor and a cowboy, a strange fellow who had managed to outfox the bullies and the naysayers in real life.

I didn’t vote for Mr. Perot, but I still think about his visual aides and I often find myself wondering if we need someone with similar tendencies today to show us the truth about the various issues that we face in today’s supercharged atmosphere. There is a great deal of chatter about various topics, but very little effort to elucidate what various ideas and laws really mean. I have learned for example that there is real confusion over the so called Dreamers, immigrants who were brought here illegally by their parents when they were children. Many people feel little or no pity for their cause because they think that they should have done the work to become citizens before now, little realizing that it was not possible for them to become citizens because of their illegal status.

I sometimes imagine Mr. Perot with an easel and a set of posters outlining all of the truths about the Dreamers, one visual at a time. Of course his instructional moments would need to take no more than three minutes or so, because I have learned over time that few people have the ability to concentrate and comprehend for more than a couple of minutes before they begin to drift away into their own thoughts. Still I think that with a targeted series of demonstrations everyone would eventually understand all of the issues surrounding DACA and the Dreamers far better than they presently do.

Knowledge is power, but we are provided with so little of it these days. Instead most of our leaders leave us with soundbites, tweets, rants and memes that keep us in a state of ignorance. Mr. Perot on the other hand actually wanted us to know the facts, and while I didn’t exactly agree with his points of view or solutions for problems, I liked his style. Perhaps because I am a visual, linear learner I appreciate the clarity provided by seeing a sequence of visual explanations for things. They don’t have to actually be old school posters on easels. A nice Power Point presentation might work just as well, but then again there was something rather catchy about Mr. Perot’s homespun looking presentations without the bells and whistles of today’s Instructional programming. They were eye catching simply because they were so primitive.

So I’d like to suggest that either a politician or a journalist be very very honest in outlining all of the information surrounding the big issues of the day. We need to be taught about chain immigration including when and why it came about and what it’s effects are today. We must know more about what actually happens when the government shuts down and which agencies and individuals are actually affected. It would be good to take some time to go through lessons on the constitution, where we might learn about how each branch of government is supposed to work. Our discussions might move from the irate to the rational with proposals for solutions that actually reflect the realities of various situations. It would be quite a change from the ignorance that is almost encouraged these days to keep us in the dark and in political trances. Perhaps even our memes would change to brief but accurate sources of information. The possibilities are wondrous.

Somewhere along the way we’ve been led down a garden path. The politicians know that we are rather busy and can’t get around to gathering all of the information that we need to make good decisions, and so they have learned how to play on our emotions and turn us against one another. While we’re busy brawling, they are kicking the can of responsible governing farther and farther down the road. They leave office with guaranteed health insurance, pensions and usually more money than they had when they arrived. We in the meantime are more confused than ever about what to think. Let’s bring back Mr. Perot and his pointer. He’s only eighty seven. Surely he has the energy to be our guide once again. We don’t want to know his philosophies or ideas, just the facts, only the truth. Perhaps his true destiny has finally arrived.


I’m So Mitt Romney

binders-made-800x800I bought my husband an Apple watch after he had his stroke, and he uses every possible feature that it allows. He thought of returning the favor by gifting me with one for Christmas, but soon enough realized that I would probably only get as far as telling time with it. He knows that I am technologically literate only to a point beyond which I’m just not willing to make the effort. For the most part I’m often still as old school as Mitt Romney with his binders. In fact, I decided to write about this after getting all tingly with excitement over finding a spiral notebook with three sections for taking notes. It’s a way of keeping track of what to remember, what to buy, and what I plan to do. I find as I get older that I need these kinds of reminders, and unlike my spouse who simply records his notes on his watch with his voice, I need a hardcopy to go with my visual learning style. I keep my scribbles on a table in my bedroom and refer to them periodically for ideas. Somehow my system seems easier and quicker than having to go through the motions of finding that information on a watch with print so small that I need 300+ reading glasses to see the letters.

I often laugh at myself and think of a time long ago when I was young. My mind was so sharp that I didn’t even need a calendar to recall appointments. Everything that I needed to know or remember was all in my very clear head. I look back at a time when I had to hold my laughter when I witnessed my father-in-law performing his daily ritual upon arriving home from work. He would walk to the kitchen table and immediately begin withdrawing slips of paper from the breast pocket of his shirt. Each paper contained something that he had thought about during the day that he wanted to remember. At the time I could not imagine becoming so absent minded that I would ever need such a system, but the need for ways of keeping track of all of the thoughts that race through my head soon enough became overwhelming, and I began to rely on planners and calendars that I carried in my purse.

These days I don’t have nearly as many appointments or goals as I did when I still had children and was working, but I continue to need a way of keeping track. I have surrendered to using Google Calendar because I can enter engagements quickly and also see what other members of my family are doing at a glance. I also keep track of my calorie consumption and exercise each day with an app that serves mostly as a kind of policing mechanism to keep me from over indulging. It chides me when I consume too much fat or sugar and threatens to starve me if I eat an item that leaves me without enough calories for dinner.

When I was still teaching my husband custom designed a grade book for me using a spreadsheet. I was one of the very first teachers in my school to use such a thing. I had to get permission from the principal to turn in printouts rather than the hand written calculations in the old style journals. I felt like a real trendsetter even though I did little more than plug in the numbers and then let the computer do the rest of the work. My program was so well attuned to my specific needs that I actually resented having to change over to the one that the school district eventually required all of us to use.

Perhaps the aspect of technology that I most enjoy is the word processor. Typing was always so difficult for me. It would take me longer to type a paper than to write it by hand. I labored over so many assignments not because I lacked ideas, but because I was a horrible typist. My final products were dotted with so much white out that I lost points for lack of neatness. God only knows how much I might have been to accomplish if I had been able to type on a computer keyboard instead of my mom’s electric typewriter with several keys that stuck.

I love emails and texts. In fact it was email that saved my bacon once when I was working on my graduate degree. I had completed all of the required hours, or so I thought, and was ready to graduate at the end of the summer until a counselor informed me that I needed one more class. Regardless of how I demonstrated that her math was faulty she refused to listen. I suppose that I became a bit overwrought and frightened her because she suddenly suggested that I get one of my professors to sponsor me in an independent study. She told me that I had exactly two days to make the arrangement. I frantically attempted to call my teachers with no luck. Then I recalled the professor who had required us to use email, a new idea that was still mainly the purview of universities back then. I sent him a message begging him to help me out. I mentioned that I would be taking a final exam the following day and joked that “if there is a God” he would answer my plea. While I was taking the test I heard a voice calling my name and saying,”God has arrived.” He helped me set up a program that evening and three weeks later I had completed the study. I became a fan of email from that point forward, and have never turned back.

I set timers with Amazon’s Alexa and request musical selections from her. She turns lights on and off by command and schedule and I have grown rather fond of her, especially when I didn’t have to squeeze behind my Christmas tree to plug and unplug the lights each day. Siri is another very dear friend of mine. She has taken me to exotic places that I might otherwise have never found. Now and again my southern accent confuses her, but mostly she is my constant guide. I am confident that she will get me safely to my destination no matter how far away it may be.

Still there is something about my hand written notes that is more reassuring than messages on a screen. I can place asterisks next them or cross them out when I change my mind. I can pull them from my pocket or my purse as I walk through the grocery store. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I crumple up a”To Do” list because I have completed all of the tasks. There is an aspect so wonderfully personal about seeing notes in my own handwriting. Perhaps it is the joy of being literate, a treasure that neither of my grandmothers ever knew. Being able to not just think, but also to record my ideas with my signature flourishes makes them feel more important, so I suppose that I will stick with my little notebooks and handwritten lists until something convinces me that there is a better way.

i’ve often thought that I might have enjoyed being an archeologist. I am fascinated by hieroglyphs and ancient paintings on the walls of caves. I wonder what we have today that will be as lasting as those ancient attempts to record daily life. Our paper eventually turns to dust. Our machines become outmoded and then seem to be more like inanimate bricks than keepers of our deepest thoughts. What will people of the future think of us, and how primitive will our efforts appear to be? The technology that we use today grows outdated so quickly. That watch that my husband wears is already becoming obsolete. We have to keep up with times that are moving faster and faster. Sometimes it’s just easier and more comforting to stick with the old familiar ways. Mitt Romney and I are about the same age. We like our binders and our notebooks. They have served us well. It’s not that we are against progress, we just see no point in getting rid of a good thing.


Put Yourself On the Bright Side of Life

laughter-new I more than realize that there are many serious issues that we humans face, but I often wonder if we have generally become far too humorless. I believe that there is no better cure for what ails us than a really good belly laugh, but these days cracking a joke is akin to walking through a mine field. There will almost always be someone who takes offense from words intended only as a joke. As a society we just don’t seem to have a healthy sense of humor anymore, and I suspect that being that way has become the source of many of our problems.

The old saying suggests that if we laugh the world will laugh with us. I tend to believe the truth of that platitude, as long as the comedy is not intended to be mean spirited or cruel. It’s been proven time and again that laughter is indeed a form of medicine, but we have become very thin-skinned and more and more likely to find offense in what once might have made us roar with delight. I think that people would find themselves to be less likely targets if they would instead simply enjoy the humor and join the fun. I’ve found laughter to be an incredible release of tension that has the power to join people together rather than pull them apart. God knows that we could use a bit of unity.

I heard about a school in India where children are literally given classes in laughter. They are encouraged to learn how to engage in deep belly shaking howls of hilarity that bring grins to their faces and make them feel renewed. While it may seem like a somewhat strange concept, the reality is that the ability to laugh is one of nature’s greatest gifts to us that we sometimes forget to use.

Some of my fondest memories center around hilarious moments when I laughed so hard that I literally had tears streaming down my face. My best teachers were the ones who engaged us with stories that made us chuckle and those who were willing to join us in our merriment. I recall the time that we created hydrogen sulfide in the science lab and then blew the rotten egg smell toward our mathematics teacher’s classroom. When we enticed him to open his door we grabbed our sides with glee even as he feigned anger to please us.

Then there was the occasion when our English teacher recounted his trip to a proctologist. We nearly fell out of our chairs we were laughing so hard. Few comedians have ever entertained me as much as our beloved instructor did. He definitely secured our attention and kept it even when he needed to be serious. We loved him so much that we were in awe from the moment that we walked into his classroom each day. The fact that he encouraged us to enjoy a good joke with him was a powerful motivator and one of the most powerful tools that he used with us.

There are movies with scenes so classically funny that they tickle me every single time that I see them. Mel Brooks was a master at creating situations that were hilarious, and it’s almost impossible to watch Monty Python without breaking out in a great big grin. We revisit movies like Christmas Vacation and Elf year after year because they make us smile, something that always feels good no matter what our life has otherwise been like.

I always appreciated that both George W. Bush and Barrack Obama were willing to become part of jokes about themselves. They enjoyed the idea of humor rather than feeling hurt by the skits and word play. They were eager to be part of the fun because they understood that we can’t be serious all of the time. Sometimes laughter is our saving grace. The trick is in knowing when it is appropriate and when we must be more solemn.

Years ago when my husband Mike was receiving chemotherapy for a very serious fungal disease a friend of his came to the hospital to visit. He had us in stitches with an imitation of a farmer providing advice on how to get rid of the offending infection. He suggested that Mike should get some Green Light fungicide and create a curative cocktail. He went on and on with the joke until Mike almost fell out of his bed with unrestrained laughter. It was the best medicine that he had received and the first time that he had felt so good in many weeks.

Much like Mike’s irreverent friend the Irish are known for their wakes that often become rather raucous. I once worked with a teacher from Ireland who told us tales of one occasion when she and her friends went to great pains to install a spring inside the coffin of one of her relatives. When unsuspecting visitors were kneeling in front of the deceased, they would push a button that caused the corpse to rise into a sitting position. She and the other pranksters would howl with delight as the frightened guests nearly fainted from fright. My friend impishly told this story with a mischievous twinkle in her eye and as we laughed at her antics I always found myself wondering if she had actually put one over on us with a fictional tale or if her story was actually true. Whatever the case she always noted that the purpose of the trickery had been to bring some levity into an occasion that was far too laden with tears and that their plan actually worked.

We may not be quite ready to follow my Irish friend’s lead when it comes to funerals but the point is that laughter can be a cure for the blues. Instead of huffing with indignation so often, we would do well to let ourselves go and put ourselves on the bright side of life.