Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Funeral Fashion Police

Hubby and I attended a funeral today in a little country church way back in the woods. About 25 members of the "Bikers Fer Jesus" gang showed up on their Hogs dressed in full leather regalia with chains. Mixed in were some salt-of-the-earth farmer folks from down in the country and a few Dallas Dolls with $300 haircuts and designer dresses. This eclectic mix of folks was packed in the church like sardines. Standing room only.

Every social group has slightly different standards for what is considered appropriate attire for funerals. I was raised with the archaic notion that beach wear and hoochie-momma outfits are not appropriate for church funerals. The ladies should wear dresses, the gentlemen suits. I might wear nice slacks to a funeral parlor funeral, but in a church I'm showin' some leg properly encased in pantyhose, stickyhot Arkansas summer day or not.

I had no problem whatsoever with the Bikers Fer Jesus in their leathers. The deceased was a member of that organization so I found their attire to be entirely appropriate, church funeral or not. Nor did I find fault with the little barefooted country children. I wanted to be barefooted too. But there were three folks who were in danger of being arrested by the Fashion Police.

1) The Hoochie Momma in the Mini Skirt

Yew might be a redneck if....
...your grandma wears a mini-skirt to a funeral.

She caught my eye striding along the back edge of the crowd. She was a head taller than everyone else and moving at a clip that told me she had legs about five feet long. She was a Bottle Blonde with a leather face and probably in her mid to late 50s.

When she cleared the edge of the crowd, I was stunned. I never saw her blouse because I was riveted by the sight of the camel-colored denim micro-mini skirt she was wearing...with black hose! Eeek! The skirt was barely long enough to cover her cootchie. If she had been 14 years old, the skirt would have looked really cute on her, but her momma still would have made her go back to her room and change. On a 55-year-old it was a fashion disaster.

2) Larry the Cable Guy

Yew might be a redneck if... go to a funeral dressed like Larry the Cable Guy.

I did a double-take on this cat. He was the spittin' image of Larry the Cable Guy. He had on a red plaid shirt with the sleeves cut out, jeans, work boots, and a sweat stained gimme cap complete with a big ol' fish hook bent around the edge of the brim. I can understand a hard working guy taking an hour from his labors to attend a funeral, but really! Couldn't he have tossed a clean T-shirt and cap in the truck when he left for work this morning??? Sweaty, hairy pits are just gross.

3) The Nephew's Girlfriend

Yew might be a redneck if...
...your girlfriend wears flip-flops and a Larry the Cable Guy shirt to a funeral.

The nephew's girlfriend was about 16. She had some notion that she was supposed to wear black to a funeral, but she missed the mark. She did have on a black camisole, but it was most definitely of the underwear variety, not one that was meant to be worn as outwear. Over that was thrown an unbuttoned hot pink plaid shirt with the sleeves cut out. Below that was a faded pair of hip hugger jeans and a pair of cheap plastic beach flip-flops. Where is this girl's momma???

Ya know, people probably think Jeff Foxworthy makes this stuff up. If you are one of those people, you have never visited Lower Arkansas.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Vernal Equitax Rites of Remittance

March 21, 2007, 00:07 UTC (GMT) is the official Vernal Equinox for this year. Today at every location on Earth the center of the sun spends an equal amount of time above and below the horizon. I’m impressed that someone took the time and effort to figure that out.

The popular notion is the Vernal Equinox notes the day each spring when daylight and darkness are of equal length. However, due to the particulars of scientific measuring, we actually get about 15 minutes more daylight today. There is a long explanation about why this extra 15 minutes of daylight occurs, but it will make your eyes glaze over. Just trust me on that one. The exactly equal daylight/darkness thingy is the Vernal Equilux and happened several days ago.

If you translate the “official” VE time from Greenwich Mean Time to Lower Arkansas Daylight Saving Time, the Vernal Equinox occurred here yesterday at 7:07 p.m. I marked this momentous occasion by working on my taxes. The only thing equal about the day is that I spent an equal number of hours, 10 to be exact, both before and after 7:07 p.m. banging my head on the computer screen.

My tax return should be very, very simple. Why does it end up being so complicated? It should be as easy as:

  • Line 1: Enter the total amount of money you made this year.
  • Line 2: Multiply Line 1 by 8%
  • Line 3: Write a check for the amount on Line 2.

I have seriously considered filing my taxes on plain white 8.5” x 11” paper with just that information plus the note, “In an effort to comply with the Paperwork Reduction Act, this single sheet of paper has been substituted for the friggin’ 16 pages otherwise required.”

When I got down to the bottom line on the 1040, the ominous “Amount You Owe,” the number was working out to be in the $700 range. No! No! No! That can’t be correct!

I had estimated my income and taxes back in June and changed the amount of withholdings so I would get a small refund, not an amount due. I went back and worked through all the data again. Same answer. I did all the calculations on the computer. That didn’t help. My tax estimator model must be all discombobulated. Dang it! I will be writing a check to Uncle Sam this year.

I was hoping to perform a pagan-ish Vernal Equinox tax refund dance of celebration out on the front lawn today. Instead I will be performing the Vernal Equitax Rites of Remittance down to the local PO; certified mail, return receipt requested. Sigh.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Grim Reaper Stats - 2006

March Madness is here and basketball statistics abound on the Internet. I don't give one whit about basketball, so I am offering up some interesting statistics of my own. These are based on deaths reported in my hometown newspaper from Jan. 01 through Dec. 31, 2006.

Total deaths reported: 526

  • 7 souls, or 1.3%, did not live to see their first birthday.
  • 5 souls, or .9%, lived over a century.
  • The average lifetime was 71 years, 5 months, 8 days.
  • 18 souls, or 3.4%, died at age 86, more than any other age; ages 79, 80, 82, and 85 came in second place with 17 souls or 3.2% each; and age 92 came in third with 16 souls, or 3.0%.
  • 57 souls, or 10.8%, died in May, the most in a single month; only 30 souls, or 5.7%, died in July.
  • 3 souls were victims of a drunk driver. Two of those were children under 5 mowed down while strapped in their stroller. The third was their momma.
  • 50 souls, or 9.5%, were younger than me.
  • 83 souls, or 15.8%, were Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964.
  • 169 souls, or 32%, did not draw a dime of Social Security.

The moral of the story:

Don't have any unfinished business with the people you love. Tell them you love them and give them a hug at every possible opportunity. It may be the last opportunity you have.

Draw up a Will, plan your funeral, write your obit, buy a burial plot. Do not become another Anna Nicole Smith and have your family fighting over where, when and how to dispose of your withered husk.

Buckle your seatbelt during the month of May and watch out for deer on roadways.

Don't worry too much about the future of Social Security. There is a one-in-three chance you won't get to use it anyway. If I had those odds on winning the lottery I'd be down at the Stop-n-Rob this very minute buying a ticket. Look to your left, look to your right. One of the three of you is not gonna make it. But who?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Blind Spots and Brain Extrapolation

Cool thing I learned today:

Every human eye has a blind spot where the optic nerve passes through the retina. The visual cortex automatically fills in these blind spots by extrapolating what should be there based on the surrounding detail. Since a person's two blind spots do not overlap, the brain can cross-reference the eye data when both eyes are active.

You can indirectly perceive your own blind spot by using the image below. Sit very close to your screen with your right eye covered, and focus on the word "Barbecue." Maintain that focus while slowly moving away from the screen, and at a particular distance the puppy will disappear although the purple lines and the word "Worms" will still be visible. If you change your gaze, the puppy will no longer be in the blind spot, and it will reappear.


Brain extrapolation. I like that idea. It explains a lot about how I perceive the world. I think my extrapolator works in overdrive most days. I can take an ancient pottery shard and the writings of Aristotle and extrapolate the entire history of Western Civilization.

My hubby can take a guilty-looking puppy and a yellow puddle in the kitchen floor and conclude our roof must have a leak. Ack!

I think his extrapolator beez buss up.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

God Lives in the Pipe Organ

Lately I've been reading a couple of blogs written by members of the Church of Christ. I don't know much about Churchachristers except instrumental music in their worship services is a big no-no. They can sing beautiful four-part harmony, but the devil apparently lives in the pi-anny and the pipe organ.

I grew up in the Methodist church ("a heathen Methodist" for any CofC readers) and was fortunate enough to sing along every Sunday with a grand old High Church pipe organ. It has two manuals, eleven ranks, and was built by the Reuter Organ Company of Lawrence, Kansas in 1947. It is a glorious beast of an organ, filling the wall behind the choir loft with a gazillion pipes.

When I was little bitty, I thought God lived in the pipe organ. After all, the pipe organ produced the loudest sound I had ever heard in my young life and I figured God's voice had to be pretty loud, so there He was.

Daddy assured me that God did NOT live in the pipe organ down at the Methodist church. "God lives in Heaven honey. Don't you remember? We say it every Sunday, 'Our Father, who art in Heaven..' " I was pretty sure he was yanking my chain on that one, because my father was right there in front of me and most assuredly was not in Heaven. But I was only three years old, what did I know?

So I get a little older and learn to read. Oh, I get it now.

Now gray-haired and bi-focaled, I'm realizing my childish wisdom was not that far off the mark. When I go back home and the pipe organ winds up into an old standard, I get all teary-eyed and choked with emotion. I usually can't sing the first verse of the song. I am once again reassured that God does indeed live in the pipe organ. The notes are His voice and it's a language that can only be heard with the heart, not the ears.

When the organ is at full bellow with all the stops out on Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", I want to stand up on the pew, close my eyes, throw back my head and fling my arms open wide. I want to take it all in with every fiber of my body and let it wash over me, granting me and all who will listen total and complete absolution. There on a bright Easter morning with the sunshine streaming in through the stained glass windows, God will be speaking.

I think the Churchachristers are missing out.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Funeral Singin'

The funeral program said, "How Great Thou Art" - solo. When she stood and went to the podium, I thought to myself, "Uh oh, this is gonna be BAD."

I was attending my uncle's funeral, packed into the funeral parlor chapel with 14 cousins, their spouses and offspring, and 200 other fine citizens of my hometown. There was standing room only even with the folding chairs down the aisles. It was shaping up to be the funeral of the year.

Miz Ima Jean Witherspoon rose to sing her solo. Miz Ima Jean looks to be about 109 1/2. Everybody knows a Miz Ima Jean, there's one in every church in Arkansas. She is the Queen Mother of the first soprano section of the church choir, never misses church or a Wednesday night choir practice. She should have been demoted to alto decades ago since she hasn't been able to hit a high C since 1967, but she is oblivious to the fact and no one has the courage to tell her. Her lipstick is applied just beyond the edges of the lips God gave her and she smells like flowerdy old lady perfume with overtones of mothballs. Yes, you know who I'm talkin' about.

Miz Ima Jean was decked out in her best Sunday-Go-To-Meetin' dress and a "bad lid", a matching royal blue hat bought especially for the occasion. She teetered to the podium and the pianist started. The audience drew its collective breath because they, like me, knew, "This is gonna be bad."

She started in on the first verse and we were not disappointed. I was trying not to giggle but it was a struggle. As she crackled along I studied my fingernails, the toe of my shoe, the fibers of the carpet. I dared not make eye contact with any of my cousins because that would be the end of us.

Miz Ima Jean sang with all her heart, pouring forth her praise to God as His humble servant and in memory of my recently departed uncle. Even though her voice was not quite up to the task, her heart and soul were giving it all she had. After a minute or two I decided it wasn't as bad as I had anticipated, but then realized she had sung the first and second verses back to back without the chorus. As she finished the second verse and started in on the chorus the audience rustled uneasily. Here it comes....

"How Great Thou Arrrrrrt (crack!)... How Greaaat (crack!) Thou Arrrrrt."

Cousin Tommy was poking Cousin Brandi. Brandi's shoulders were quivering as she intently studied the hem of her jacket. She didn't dare look up at him. Over in the pallbearer section Cousin Tommy Darrell was making big google eyes at no one in particular. Beside me my sister was doing a little mouth breathing trying to maintain some composure. I was squinching up my toes, clenching my teeth and giving my fingernails a microscopic examination. We were all on the edge of mutiny. One look cut across the room, one instant of eye contact, one snicker and the whole place would have exploded.

By the second chorus little beads of sweat were forming on my brow. Cousin Ashley, sitting in front of me on the front row, was beginning to squirm. She was the only adult in the front row and was riding herd on a gaggle of nieces and nephews. I could see the kids giving Ashley puzzled looks. I can only imagine the look on Ashley's face as she tried to be a good role model right there under Miz Ima Jean's nose. I was busy in silent prayer, "Please God, do not let there be another verse; Please God, do NOT let there be another verse."

God must have been listening because the piano player was banging out the big finale, "How Great Thou Art (crack!)...How Greaaaat (crack!) Thou Arrrrrrt (crack!)" The amens from the amen pew were especially fervent, not only because of Miz Ima Jean's anthem, but because it was finally over. The audience breathed a sigh of relief.

Two hundred people gathered in attendance had managed to maintain their composure with nary a snicker and Miz Ima Jean's grace and dignity were preserved. For that, let us all give Thanks.

Note to self: No soloist at my funeral doings.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

New Digital Camera

Woo Hoo! I finally have a digital camera with a viewfinder so I can actually SEE what I'm taking a picture of. The view screen on my old pocket-sized point-n-shoot was so small I had no idea if I had the camera pointed in the direction of my subject. I'm getting too old and bi-focaled to be peering at a tiny opening at arm's length.

The new camera is a Canon Power Shot S3 IS. It has a 12X zoom so I can get in tight on faces from a distance. Nobody wants a camera six inches from their nose, but those are the photos I want. I can now stand back and let the camera get in their personal space instead of me.

I finally got the picture of my puppy I've been trying to take for so long.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

From Punch Tape to Jump Drives

Tonight I was having trouble getting my blog formatted the way I wanted. In frustration I yelled at the computer screen, "I can write in WYSIWYG or I can write in HTML, but not in this hybrid!" Yes, yes, I know, my sanity is called into question when I talk to inanimate objects. At least the screen didn't reply.

My brother-in-law (who is much younger and more computer savvy than me) turned with a puzzled look and asked, "What is Wizzywig?"

It took me back for a minute that he hadn't heard of it before. I figured anyone who had ever touched a computer knew what that meant. I told him it was before his time, somewhere after punch tape and before Windows. He looked even more puzzled and queried, "Punch tape???" Oh geez, I'm getting old.

My first experience on a computer was in ninth grade in Houston, Texas using punch tape. We had to write a simple computer program, not more than ten lines of code or so. We punched the tape with the code and ran it on the computer. If the program ran as expected we passed. If it didn't we had to try and try again until it ran correctly. It was a tedious process.

In 1982 I worked for a company that owned two DEC PDP-11/70s, which were top of the line computers in real-time processing. These two behemoths had their own room with their own air-conditioning system and disc drives the size of serving platters. There were only a dozen or so in the entire state of Arkansas and we had two of 'em. Each one had 100 MB of disk space and 128K of memory. I think a $1.00 calculator hanging on a card in the check-out lane has more than that today.

By 1992 I was working on a 286 PC creating massive spreadsheets and printing them on dot matrix printers. If the spreadsheet didn't fit on one page I had to decide which columns to delete to make it work. I finally got a 486 with WYSIWYG capabilities and I thought I was in heaven. Woo Hoo! Then Windows and Microsoft Office came along and report writing was a snap.

Tonight I was complaining about having to tote a non-erasable CD to the store to make photo prints. Because I can't erase the photo files I have already printed, I have to scroll through all those at the store to get to the two or three I do want. Hubby said I should use the jump drive instead. We have a jump drive??? Yep, it's been collecting dust in the bottom of *his* camera bag for months. His mom gave it to him because the keyring hole was broken. Woo Hoo! Mine now!

As I pondered on this slim little 2" gadget of plastic I realized it will hold more information than a fleet of 486s; more than the two DEC PDP-11/70s sitting in their specially air-conditioned room; and more than a warehouse holding a forest of punch tape.

I can put this thingy in my pocket.

Oh, how far we have come.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Lunar Eclipse over the Ouachita River

Tonight I was out on the Ouachita River just as the lunar eclipse happened and was lucky enough to have my camera with me.

It's not the greatest picture taken. My little point-n-shoot doesn't have the right doodads to take a good night scene photo.

Note to self: Buy better digital camera.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Great Obits (#3) - Gone to a Better Place

Some obits are powerful statements of a person's life, not because of a lengthy recap of their lifetime accomplishments, but because of a succinctly written economy of words. This is one of my all-time favorite obits I've kept in the file:

Dick O. Hilligoss, Poyen, born June 9, 1938 in Minnesota, died Dec. 11, in Arkansas. Known by many, liked by some, disliked by others, gone to a better place. Cremation arrangements by...
Wow! Dick's life eulogized in 14 words. Outstanding!