Sunday, January 24, 2010

Still Neophytes

For thirty years, we lived near the Golden Gate Fields racetrack in Albany, CA but never went to a horse race there. We are horse-racing neophytes. But since we're still exploring Arkansas, Mick and I went to see the horse racing at Oaklawn, in Hot Springs on the Martin Luther King holiday. With a Google map and some cash, we launched ourselves into the adventure. Nothing turned out as we expected, but we had a great time of it, anyway.

As we arrived, we noticed people scurrying out of the racetrack carrying white boxes about the size of a lunchbox, and putting the boxes into their cars. Some people had three or four of them, some had only one. I thought maybe it was a free box lunch? But then, why were they putting lunches in the car? When I asked a guy, he said, "Its a Rachel Alexandra bobblehead!"

I didn't want to admit that I don't know who Rachel Alexandra is, so we said thanks and hurried to collect our own white boxes, both of us noting how eager we were to have a box, even without really knowing what would be inside.

It turns out that Rachel Alexandra had been named racehorse of the year that very day, and people were hoping to sell the free bobblehead to collectors in other parts of the country. And sure enough, before the day was over, people had listed it on eBay. The thing looks really silly to me, but I'm an outsider in this arena. Maybe its WORTH $50, who am I to say?

Despite feeling lost and ill-informed, we had a really fun time at the track. The weather was fine. The crowd was friendly. You could stand surprisingly close to the horses and the track. We bet on twelve horses and lost on ten of them, but one winner paid twenty to one - enough to get back everything we'd lost on the others.

I had picked him because his name, "Grey Knight", reminded me of Leo's video games. Mind you, we had lost all our bets on the other horses picked with the same system, including "Mesa Vista" for Leo's dorm buildings, "Pulpits Secret" for my father's preaching career, "Cinnamon Cowgirl" for Katie, or "Mr. BLT" because Mick likes those sandwiches.

There is something to be said for being newcomers and in such a totally different environment than the one that we left behind. I find myself much more open to things in Arkansas that were not so interesting to me in California. And the openness is a good thing. Cheers me up and keeps me on my toes.

For a fresh and open attitude, Honey is my role model. She loves everything, especially things she's never seen before. As far as Honey knows, every box has magic inside of it - the way Mick's accordion has music inside it. She wants to open every lid and push every button because really, you never know what will happen when you do. I can make Honey super happy just by standing her on my kitchen counter and letting her touch the boxes of tea, bags of beans, salt shakers, wine glasses and teacups in my cupboards. She says, "Alright!" as she lifts each item, shakes it, puts it back and reaches for the next one.

Honey and Katie were here last night when a thunderstorm blew in. We opened our front door to watch the sheets of rain blowing across the street, sometimes lit up by bursts of lightening. Honey kept saying, "Light! Sky! Light! Rain!" and I enjoyed sharing her toddler's viewpoint and enthusiasm, as I always do.

So, my friends, I hope all your horses are winners, and all your boxes have a little magic in them, even when its raining. And I hope the kind, well-intentioned people in Washington can cultivate some freshness and magic now, too. I think we need it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cold, Bare Trees, and Birds

We are still dealing with nights in the teens and days in the thirties, and there is lots of ice everywhere. Brrrrr.

The season does have some compensations. For one thing, we can see more birds now that all the trees are bare of leaves. And lots of birds are drawn to the hackberry trees in our yard to eat the berries.

It’s nice that birds like our trees as much as they do, but we park our cars under those trees and, well, the birds are very dirty. This morning, I couldn’t see through all the bird droppings on my windshield, so I drove to a gas station to use the squeegee. But it was stuck in a bucket of solid ice. I dry-cleaned the windshield (sort of) with paper towels, but until the cold lets up, or the birds finish off the berries, our cars will remain very yucky.

Usually, we don’t even see the birds that visit because they come while we're at the office. But today, I was at home studying my tax classes when a flock of robins came to feast right outside the window. There were about a hundred birds, no exaggeration. From my dining room table, I could comfortably watch their chubby bodies wobbling on the frail branches or hovering like helicopters to get at the berries. I would have bought a ticket to see such a fine show, had someone asked me to pay.

Birds are also drawn to our yard because we have fresh water on the ground. Someone's water line is leaking uphill from us in the alley behind our house. The leak has created a treacherous ice field on our parking pad and sidewalk, and I’ve called the city to come and fix it. But pipes have broken all over Little Rock during the recent freeze – and the city workers are busy fixing more serious flooding in other places. So meanwhile, as compensation for the ice hazard, I get to watch birds of all kinds flocking to our back yard to drink.

And that's the news from Lake Wobegon. I still miss my friends. Hope life is treating you well. Cheers!

Here is this week’s picture of Honey. She’s way too young for a bike, mind you. But we were in the bike shop leaving her dad’s bike for repairs. And she really wanted to test drive this one. I wish you could hear the happy noises she was making as I pushed her around the store.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Walking is our only New Year's resolution (besides world peace and prosperity). So on New Year's Day, Mick and I took a two hour walk on the Arkansas River Trail. The weather, as you can see, was wonderful: temps in the mid 40s, clear skies. The next day, we were a little bit sore but very self-righteous.

Mick dug out his pedometer and discovered that the walk from our house to our office is nearly a half mile. He can do 3 miles of walking every day just by leaving the car at home. The weather is the only wrinkle in his plan.

It started snowing on Sunday evening and there is another snow storm arriving tonight. Because nobody has snow removal equipment in this area - or snow tires on their cars and school buses - they closed the schools on Monday and Tuesday, even though the total snow on the ground was less than a half inch in most places. Even the University here in Little Rock was closed.

Here are pictures of our front yard and back alley dusted with snow first thing on Monday morning. The snow kept falling gently all morning on Monday, but it was mostly gone by noon, when the sun came out. Apparently, the storm that's coming tonight will leave much more snow, and we expect everything will be completely shut down for the rest of this week.

Even when the snow isn't falling, we are dealing with temperatures in the 20s and it's hard to justify going outside if you don't need to go. Mick has continued his walking regime - Go Mick! - but not me. I'm staying home with my laptop, doing my tax school classes online, and cooking soups and stews - I think they call it "Hunkering."

Last night, we ventured out to hear a Tibetan Lama named Khentrul Lodro Thaye who was speaking at the downtown public library in Little Rock. Besides Mick and me, about 30 people came to hear him teach about training ourselves in loving and compassionate states of mind. I was grateful for the reminder.

Here are this week's pictures of Honey. I took the one of Honey test driving a chair in the store. Katie took the one of Honey watching the snow fall. Everything is new when Honey's around. Its amazing.

I hope the weather is good to you wherever you live. And that the new year (and new decade) will bring better times for everyone. Cheers!