Archive for March, 2009

“A Whale of a Tale to Tell You–A Tale of a Tail or Two”

March 25, 2009



It’s an exciting life we lead here at the Doublewide Ranch. Always something new to share, like the pink blossoming of the peach tree or the thrill of new bluebirds nesting. Or getting to visit with our children over Spring Break. Or the fact that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man just finished reading Moby Dick.

Moby Dick? Maybe you’re wondering, as I did, why Moby Dick? Well, partly for the intellectual challenge, according to Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man. But also…Providence. He felt like he was destined to read it when he got it for free in a book discard pile where he works. But after hearing his description, you couldn’t get me to read the book if the Lord Himself appeared to me in a radiant, holy vision, a chorus of angels singing in the background, with an illuminated copy of Moby Dick in His hands. (Unless, of course, the Lord told me to read it.)

Oh, it starts out promisingly enough. Right off the bat, in the first sentence, the narrator introduces himself (“Call me Ishmael.”) and explains in the first paragraph why he was heading out to sea.

 “…whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself …pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet” and when “it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking peoples’ hats off, then I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

Oh yeah, I get that. I felt like that when I first went into menopause. Wanting to knock peoples’ hats off, that is. Not so much the “pausing before coffin warehouses” part though.

Anyway, things get even more interesting when Ishmael ends up (after looking for a place to stay) having to share a bed with a cannibal named Queepueg. Now, in case you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to sleep with a strange cannibal, well, Ishmael tells you, in considerable and often humorous detail. And in case you’re thinking, Hey, no way I’d sleep with a cannibal!“, well, I like what Ishmael says about that:

“…the man’s a human being, just as I am; he has just as much reason to fear me as I have to be afraid of him. Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”

Ha, ha…yeah…that’s what I always say.

My interest in the book was piqued even more when I heard about Ahab, the captain of the ship Ishmael was sailing on, who had only one leg because the other was bitten off. What’s that you say? Oh my goodness, no,…ha, ha…not by the cannibal! It was Moby Dick, the white whale, who did the deed. And, boy howdy, is Captain Ahab ticked off! So ticked off, in fact, that he’s setting sail just to find Moby Dick and avenge his bit-off leg. It’s understandable and all…I mean, how would you feel if a whale bit your leg off?

Anyway, they head out into the stormy deep and it’s all downhill from there. This is the place in the book where Herman Melville can’t decide if he’s writing a novel or a treatise on whaling. He goes off on tangents where he holds forth for several pages about subjects ranging from why the Pacific is his favorite ocean to a graphic description of the skin and blubber of the whale. You would think that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man, being a carpenter, would have been interested in Melville’s long exposition about the ship’s carpenter, but how could he be when the description contained sentences like this?

“And this it was, this same unaccountable cunning life-principle in him; this it was, that kept him a great part of the time soliloquizing; but only like an unreasoning wheel, which also hummingly soliloquizes ; or rather, his body was a sentry-box and this soliloquizer on guard there and talking all the while to keep himself awake.”

Hey, maybe that’s why Melville soliloquized so much in the book—to keep himself awake! Unfortunately, those of us slogging through his long, excruciating soliloquies on “the honor and glory of whaling” are not so lucky. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

The action does pick up near the end when they finally encounter Moby Dick (“There she blows!”) In case you actually want to read the book, I won’t tell you what happens, but we did learn some valuable lessons. Like, sometimes it’s best to let bygones be bygones. And if the whale is bigger than your ship, maybe you should leave him be. And, well, you should probably stay off the ship in the first place if the captain’s a crazy man. Also… coffins can float! Who knew?

Anyway, I’m proud of Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man. He persevered and finished that thing. I’m thinking about getting him a shirt that says, “I Survived Moby Dick.”

Which brings me to my question. A serious question, believe it or not. As you know, neither Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man nor I went to college and though we are fairly well-read, we’ve wondered if we should read more of the classics. To be honest, I feel a bit like Mark Twain when he said, “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” But as an aspiring writer, I feel that there might be “classics” that I could learn from. (And I should say here that there are many learned people who consider Moby Dick a masterpiece, so maybe we just didn’t get it.)

So, I ask you, my discerning and erudite readers: What classics should we read? And, if not the classics, what books do you think would make us better writers and help make up the education we never had?

Bonus questions: Would you sleep with a cannibal? And…what would you do if a whale bit off your leg?

And finally…which would you rather do? Sleep with a cannibal, have your leg bitten off, or read Moby Dick?


Why I Want to Be Like My Children When I Grow Up

March 19, 2009


(Ariel, the Intellectual)

My friend Wesley wrote a wonderful post recently on the occasion of her daughter Barrett’s second birthday, where she spoke of Barrett as “someone to reckon with.” I loved her birthday tribute, and I love that phrase: Someone to reckon with.  It made me think of my own children.

From a very early age, Ariel and Benjamin both made it clear that they would live life on their own terms and that they were not here to fulfill my dreams, but their own. Even when they were very young, I could see that they were people to be reckoned with. I soon learned that rather than try to subdue their strong will, I should think of that strong will as a positive force that would serve them well in a cold, hard world and to see that force as something that could be channeled in creative and constructive ways. And since they usually took “No” as a challenge, I always looked for ways to say “Yes.”

When Ariel was three, she loved to play dress-up. We had all kinds of stuff in our dress-up box—from plastic animal noses to hats I’d bought at yard sales to elf ears (that wouldn’t stay on). But one of Ariel’s favorite things was a pair of big, black, plastic fake eyeglasses. And someone (it may have been me) told her once that those glasses made her look like an intellectual. Well, she took a shine to that word and decided that she wanted to be a full-time intellectual. At first, I thought it was cute. She wore them as she played around the house and liked to say, “I’m an intellectual!” Except that she said it, “I’m an int-LEK-shull!” I laughed until the day she insisted on wearing them when we went out. And after that, she wanted to wear them everywhere—to the doctor, the grocery, the Walmart, the library. And she would not give in.

So I gave in. I said Yes. And she wore them everywhere, completely undeterred by the stares, the laughing, and the gentle teasing that strangers sometimes gave her. When they teased her, she just smiled, pushed the glasses up her nose and said, “I’m an int-LEK-shull!”

And I must admit that I sometimes cringed. I’m a shy person, so I don’t really like anything that draws attention my way. And you can be sure that a very cute little three-year-old wearing oversized black plastic glasses draws attention. Lots of it. A few people told me that they would never let THEIR children look silly out in public like that. But, see, that’s the thing—she didn’t think she looked silly; she liked how she looked.  She looked like an “int-lek-shull.”  And she really didn’t care what other people thought.


My mother-in-law (who died when our children were very small) used to say, when she’d see Ariel or Benjamin assert themselves, “It’s hard now, but you’ll be glad of their strong wills someday. When they get to be teenagers, they’ll hold fast to that strong sense of who they are and they won’t go along with the crowd.” My mother-in-law was a very wise woman.

And she was right. My children have very much forged their own paths and have kept a steady course on those paths, even when the way has been rocky or difficult to follow.

From the time Benjamin was very young, he has had a love for birds. He’d listen to birdsong tapes for hours and learned to recognize birds by their calls. And now, at age 19, he is quite the avian expert—we often rely on his expertise when we’re hiking. But as you may imagine, a love for birdwatching is not considered the very coolest and hippest thing to admit to when you’re a teenager. But he openly talks about it and even posts his bird shots on his Facebook page, where he has over 200 friends. He doesn’t care what others think.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you may know that my children often comment on my posts. And when my children comment, you may have noticed that they call me “Mommy.” But if anyone suggested to them that it’s strange for young adults of 19 and 20 to call their mother that, well, they’d probably smile a quizzical smile, shrug, and say “Why do you have a problem with it?” Because that’s what they’ve always called me and what they probably always will. They don’t care what anyone thinks about it.

I have learned so much from my children—about confidence, about staying true to yourself, and about not giving so much heed to what other people think. May Ariel and Benjamin always be confident, no matter how much others try to steal their joy and belittle them. May they always be true to themselves, in a world that’s often false. May they always know and recognize the real truth about themselves. And may they always consider and ponder what others say about them, but never believe the lies.

And may they always be someone to reckon with.


(Benjamin’s First Car)




Our Guardian Angel Has Silvery Wings

March 13, 2009


Since today is the second Friday the 13th in as many months, I thought I’d talk about superstition.  I don’t think of myself as superstitious.  I mean, I walk under ladders all the time, step on cracks, have had numerous black cats cross my path, and have dropped and broken more mirrors than I can count.

But our luck has been a bit on the thin side of late, so last month on Friday the 13th, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I were debating whether or not we should tempt fate by going out that day.  To make matters worse, as I walked down to get the mail that morning, a black cat that hangs around our property darted out across my path.

“Hee, hee,” I giggled nervously, when I got back, trying to be jaunty and nonchalant.  “You’ll never believe what just happened when I walked down the driveway!”  I told Tom about the cat.

“Ha, ha,” chortled Tom.  “That’s pretty funny that that happened on Friday the 13th!” 

We both laughed loudly and heartily.  Then it got very quiet.  I chewed my lip and Tom stroked his chin worriedly.  We looked down at the floor, then at each other.

“So, what do you think?”  I said.

Tom thought a while.  “You know, maybe with Valentine’s Day coming the next day, it erases the curse.  Kind of like when Glinda the Good Witch comes around and weakens the power of the Bad Witch.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right!”  I brightened at the thought. But then it occurred to me that some people think love a curse and perhaps would find a grim satisfaction in the fact that the Love Day followed the Curse Day. 

But in the end, we went out anyway, had a real good time, and nothing bad happened though we tried every single sample at Sam’s Club, even that shrimp that tasted a little funky. 

So, no, we’re not really superstitious.  But there is the matter of our wind-up dashboard guardian angels.   The Archie McPhee catalog where I got them many, many years ago called them “parking goddesses.”  But we don’t have much need for spiritual parking assistance out here in the country, so I think of them as our traveling guardian angels.  They’re made of shiny silver plastic, as you can see, with wings that move up and down when you wind up the little knob on back.

And, Lord knows, with a 1982 Volvo DL with nearly 240,000 miles on it, we need all the divine intervention we can get.  And lest you’re thinking Oh that silly Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl!…well, in the nineteen years we’ve had her, we’ve never been stranded on the side of the road with that car (other than a recent flat tire). And lest you’re still thinking Oh that silly Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl!, let me tell you a little story about the day our dashboard guardian angel fell over.

One day a little over a year ago, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man had occasion to drive my Camry.  Now he is a man who moves expansively, with big, sweeping motions and somehow, he managed to knock over my dashboard guardian angel.  I noticed her lying on her side on my way out to get groceries.  I found some clean Kleenexes in the car and made her a soft bed to lie in until I could get back home and attach her securely to the dashboard. 

But in the course of bringing in groceries, putting up groceries, eating groceries, etc., I forgot.  And there she lay, in her soft little tissue bed, alone and forgotten and unable to flap her silvery wings.  The next day, Tom moved my Camry to change the oil.  Afterwards, when he started the car to put it back in its parking place, it refused to go in reverse and refused to do so until much, much later when we paid the nice transmission man two thousand dollars to fix it.  Perhaps you remember my writing about it here and here.

Coincidence?  You be the judge. For my part, I would like to pay homage to our dashboard guardian angel—winged protector and shining chaperone of all of our most perilous journeys.   You have served us well, noble dashboard defender, and I thank you.  May you always fly with us through the darkest night, down rain-swept roads and freezing, frosty freeways. 

But like I said—I’m not really superstitious.  What about you?  Any rabbit’s foots in those pockets, any lucky pennies in your purse?   Are those your fingers crossed behind your back—clutching wilted four-leaf clovers?


Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man Writes a Post

March 6, 2009


(Me and my 1964 Volvo 544 on our legendary 1979 trip out West. My friend Bill, who was with me, painted this)

From Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl: If you’ve looked at my “About” page, you may remember that I mentioned that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man also writes.  Trouble is, it’s been quite some time since he’s sat down with pen and paper, though I’ve been urging him to do so.  So I thought that perhaps the thrilling prospect of certain publication! where millions could read him! might be enough to entice him.  Umm…yeah, sure, I know that millions don’t read my blog(more like tens)…but, hey… they could!  And…hey…my readers may be small in number but they are the best readers (and commenters) ever!  Anyway, here it is—-a guest post from Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man about the beginning of his obsession with wheels. 

My Dad sold his new Ford when he went off to World War II.   After the war, when he came home, he was mad because a new Chevy or Ford (which sold for $800 before the war) cost over $1000.  So, stubborn fellow that he was, he bought a house in the city where two bus lines crossed and refused to buy a car until 1953.

But when Dad got a tan and brown Chevy Biscayne, the family pastime became driving. We cruised the Blue Ridge Parkway; bumpy, rutted National Forest dirt roads; and any other lonesome byways we ran across.  Some Sundays, we would drive from Roanoke, Virginia to Beckley, West Virginia all the way and back just to dine at the Glass House Restaurant.  My earliest memories are of seeing the mountains of Virginia flash by in all their mysterious beauty through the windows of our 1953 Chevy Biscayne.

Mama eventually got a used, ink-blue 1951 Dodge Coronet named Heffalump, which she drove with the same elegant grace with which she played a Bach minuet.  On snow days, she would take us on tours of the Roanoke Valley.  Being a polite and gracious woman, she tried not to laugh at the high-powered, finned V-8’s we saw stuck in ditches along the way.  But the four of us kids allowed ourselves self-satisfied grins as we glided past the hapless drivers. 

Needless to say, my family was quietly obsessed with wheels.    
My favorite place in Roanoke to tag along while Mama shopped was the Book Nook.  In fact, this tiny store on a one-way side street helped to sow the seeds of my ruination.  Not because of books they sold, but because they had Dinky toys—those perfect little die-cast replicas of real cars that fit perfectly in your hand. Between me and my friend Stevie across the street, we owned seventy-two.

If the Dinky toys were the beginning of my ruination, seeing Thunder Road at the age of seven was the pivotal force behind my complete undoing, along with my brother Harry’s Road and Track magazines.  For anyone that might not know, Thunder Road was a movie (filmed near where I live now) in which Robert Mitchum played a Tennessee bootlegger who drove his 1950 Ford fast and furious (and full of moonshine) over two-lane mountain back roads.  He was a desperate man, liable to do anything to evade both the law and the organized-crime goons chasing him.    

Stevie and I pounded his Mom’s rock garden to bare earth pretending we were bootleggers hauling moonshine over mountain roads in our green Dinky British Army trucks. I always coveted Stevie’s Dinky 1950 Ford—black–just like one of the bootlegger cars in Thunder Road.  And all these dark influences of my childhood stretched into time right up to the fateful day I got my license and fancied myself a cross between a sports car racing driver and a mountain moonshiner.

I still love nothing more than to be in motion, but these modern cars with mufflers and air-conditioning don’t compare to the 1950 Ford Custom De Luxe howling through the darkness in my dreams.

I Never Seem to Learn, But Still I Try

March 3, 2009


(This song sparrow sings for me every morning)

It’s been a long while since I put up a photo post.  The truth is, sometimes I spend entirely too much time wandering in cyberspace and marveling at how many people there are out there who take way better photos than I do.  (And, for that matter, how many there are who write better than me and who are way funnier than me).  So I get shy again about putting myself out there, simply because what I offer is not as good as theirs.

Yeah, I know…silly.  And yeah, I know this is a recurring theme in my blog, mainly because it is a recurring theme in my life and the lesson I keep trying to learn—that even if what I offer is not the best, it is my best.  And, yeah, I know that sounds hokey or cliché, but it’s a simple truth I’ve always tried to teach my children. But, of course, the hardest part is learning that truth for myself.  Yes, there will always be people that can take better pictures and who can write better posts.  But there is a beauty in sharing the best that I have, however inadequate I may feel that it is.

And remembering, as well, that there is worth and value in giving others a window into my little world—a glimpse into my imperfect life.  Really, in the end, I think we all fall short of completely capturing the glory of a sunrise or the miracle of that perfect rose that blooms year after year.  Because it is impossible to adequately convey in a picture or even in words that quickening of our hearts when we witness transcendent beauty—–when we feel connected, if only for a moment, with something far greater than the imaginings of our infinitesimal, earthbound selves.  


(Mrs. Cardinal)


(Mr. Cardinal)


(Bluebird perched on our old hummingbird feeder crook)


(Song sparrow sings)


[Flamingo (not in natural habitat)]


(Song sparrow and berries)


(Song sparrow and thorns)


(Yesterday, from my front yard)