2022

The Wind And The Flagpole

The wind blew fiercely last weekend, with gusts often reaching more than 50 mph. Outside chairs toppled over. Tree limbs fell across the pastures. The cats look alarmed and wanted back inside. Even Molly the Maltese, who normally loves being outside, stood at the back door, whimpering to be let inside. Pollen streamed sideways and oak clusters lined the driveway. Maybe this will end pollen season, a hope we hold every spring -- ready for noses to stop streaming, eager to power-wash away the yellow powder covering everything outside. We’re eager to open windows again and enjoy a spring breeze....

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‘Three Pines’ Series Evokes Childhood Memories

Daughter Mere sent my Beautiful Mystery Companion a birthday present recently – a half-dozen volumes in the Inspector Armand Gamache series, written by Louise Penny. I have started reading them as well, trailing my BMC by a couple of editions. The novels are set in the picturesque village of Three Pines in Quebec, Canada. Since first publishing Still Life in 2005, she has written 17 novels with another due out next month. That’s one a year. Pretty impressive. As Penny writes on her website: I live outside a small village south of Montreal, quite close to the American border. My husband Michael...

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Spring Slow In Arriving On The Farm

Spring is slow in coming to our farm, about 8 miles north of town. I had no idea being a few miles north would make a difference, but it does. On campus, the annual wave of pollen is well underway, coating vehicles with a sickly yellow powder, stirring up sinuses and, when the wind is blowing hard, leaving a haze in the air. But here on the farm, on April 1, the wave of pollen hasn’t quite arrived. The oak trees are reluctantly starting to bud out. Just the other day, the three Bradford pear trees in the front pasture started flowering. I walked out to take a few photos, in my ongoing project...

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Sticky Drawer Taxes My Limited Abilities

I consider myself an adequate handyman -- plumbing excluded, for which I have no aptitude. I also shy away from anything electrical that is more complicated than changing out a light switch or rewiring a lamp. But when it comes to basic carpentry and repair tasks, I generally feel confident enough to tackle it and not call one of my more skilled relatives to come to the rescue. You don’t want to go to that well too often. People start dodging you even if you have promised to treat them to a nice Tex-Mex meal up the road at Tele’s once the task is complete. So, when a large kitchen drawer...

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Love of Libraries and Their Namesakes

The other day I went to the University of North Texas library’s website, looking for an article for a patron. As I called up the site, the official name of the central library popped up — A.M. Willis, Jr. Library. We knew him as Monk in these parts, a nickname he bestowed on himself because nobody could properly pronounce his given name: Achille Murat. Monk Willis and I became friends in 2008 when he was 92, and I had just returned to Longview to be publisher of the News-Journal. Monk owned an insurance company for many years and worked under Lyndon Johnson both as a political operative...

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Canada Geese, a Heron And a Hawk

More tales from the farm. In coming days, we are going to have a pond built and some drainage work done to the two pastures behind the house. I say pasture. Potential rice paddy might be a better description. Where the pond will be built a very large mud puddle has formed after the trees were turned into mulch last fall. One recent Sunday morning, I was sitting at my desk and looked out the picture window to the pasture below. I detected movement in the ersatz pond, grabbed the fancy pair of binoculars I gave my Beautiful Mystery Companion for her recent birthday and peered out the window. Two Canada...

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A Requiem For Rosie

Rosie came into our lives in December 2010. I was signing books along with other local authors at Barron’s. Down the way, as they do most Saturdays, a pet rescue organization had set up. My Beautiful Mystery Companion and daughter Abbie walked down to have a look. Abbie picked the puppy from a litter that would become a big part of our lives. Rosie went home with them. My BMC and I had not yet married, and I returned to Cedar Park, near Austin, where I was working at the time. I returned to Longview most weekends, a long but worthwhile commute. Rosie, who was about six weeks old when they...

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Little Brother Handy With Tractor, Truck

It sure is handy having a personal tractor mechanic, someone who is also pretty handy at working on vehicles. That would be my little brother Gregg, who learned his diesel mechanic skills in the Marines. While he wisely later studied to become a database engineer – think indoor work with no heavy lifting, and air-conditioning to boot – he still enjoys tinkering and knows his stuff. Gregg, who is nine years younger than me, came over Saturday from Garland to work on both Little Red, the tractor, and Big Red, our 1965 Ford F100. The tractor had developed a slight fuel leak, forcing me to spread...

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The Plain Truth About Planing

At last, all the power tools are tuned up in the woodshop and ready to make some noise. The bandsaw hums along nicely without the blade flying off the wheel. That required painstakingly adjusting the top wheel and aligning other pieces as well. It was trial and error, frequently consulting the owner’s manual. Now it stays on track. The bandsaw, for me, is the scariest Machine That Can Cut Your Fingers Off in my shop. I am always conscious with any of these machines of where both my hands are, at all times. I would prefer not learning how to type with nine fingers. The jointer-planer needed...

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Columns Leads to Unexpected Windfall

My Sunday morning routine rarely varies. After getting caffeinated, I sit down to finish the Capital Highlights column I write for subscribers through the Texas Press Association. About 100 newspapers, mainly weeklies and twice-weeklies in small towns across the state, publish the column. Throughout the week, I check more than three dozen state agencies and elected officials to whom I have subscribed to get their news releases, comb the state’s metro newspaper websites, as well as several nonprofit news sites, looking for items that might be of interest to readers. I save the links to those stories...

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