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Today’s resolution: Catch my breath

14 Aug

Today was one of those days when I was on the go from the second my toes touched the floor. One of the highlights was receiving an email turning me on to a sofa horror flick for The Sofa Project. If you haven’t yet visited The Sofa Project, please do. Enjoy the pics, watch No Juice on the Couch, parts 1 and 2.

Cici and I are having a great time with the project, which we started a little more than two weeks ago. We’re breathlessly thrilled with how enthusiastically people have responded to our tribute to the discarded sofas of the world. If you missed the post about the project’s debut, go here, read all about it, become a Sofa Spotter.

Cici, a fabulous artist, is now working on a design for a Sofa Spotters t-shirt. We’ll be sure to let you know when it’s available.

Until then, keep your camera or smartphone poised to shoot a sofa when you spot one beside the road. The Sofa Project needs you.


Divine divan


Today’s resolution: A new project

28 Jul


The sofa that started it all.

During our “rainy season” a few months ago, my friend Cici shot a photograph of a sofa that had been sitting on the curb across the street from her house for several days. She posted the photo on Facebook and got a deluge of creative suggestions on how the waterlogged eyesore could be used for fun or as urban art.

A week or so later, I saw a sofa on a curb around the corner from my house. Like Cici’s, it had been sitting in the rain for days. I took a photo and sent it to Cici, who promptly posted it on her wall, after which another friend sent her a photo of a sofa she had seen.

Sofa sightings snowballed. Suddenly, we were seeing discarded sofas everywhere. We took photos and joked about making a coffee table book of sofa photos. But who has time for a book? The web was created for things like The Sofa Project so we made a website —, a showcase for the throwaways of our lives.

Social commentary? Maybe. Fun? You bet. Funny or sad? You be the judge.

The photos are coming in from all over and we’ll keep the site going as long as they do. The next time you’re out and about and see a sofa, chair, mattress or other sad relic of our throwaway society, shoot a photo and email it to We’ll give it a nice home.



Tony’s gift

24 Jul

When the news about singer Amy Winehouse’s death broke yesterday, a friend posted the story on FB with the comment, “It seemed so sadly inevitable.” He was referring, of course, to her struggles with alcoholism and drug use.

The story mentioned Winehouse’s “drunken belligerence,” eerily the exact words I used earlier in the day when I started jotting down notes for this post about a friend whose death also seemed sadly inevitable. While I refer to him as “friend” here, I didn’t do so when he was alive. I should have.

Tony died June 11, 2000, struck and killed by a pick-up truck while walking at night down the middle of a busy, dimly lit road in Pine Bluff. The driver saw him too late to stop. Tony’s death was tragic but not unexpected; it seemed the only possible end to the darkness and insanity of his life. He was an alcoholic, the obnoxious, black-out kind of drunk who can be charming and bighearted while also secretive, self-centered and manipulative.

I was Tony’s editor several times during the 15 or so years of his off-and-on employment with the Arkansas Democrat (now the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette).  I didn’t really like Tony, who, when I first met him, struck me as a redfaced, blustering hulk who liked to hear his own considerable voice. He spoke in surround sound that was never muted. When he entered the newsroom and greeted the receptionist, we all heard — and felt — the sonic boom of his hello.

I confess that I didn’t try to get to know him. I had my own alcoholic charmer at home and didn’t really want to deal with one at work. We never hung out or became buddies. Our conversations focused on writing, issues and people in the news. Tony was brilliant, insatiably curious and well informed, and always had something interesting to say — but he could also be rambling and pedantic so I often tuned him out.

So it’s strange that he has been in my thoughts lately. It started in June — exactly 11 years and 5 days after his death — when I found myself touring the Billy Graham Museum at Wheaton College in Illinois.


In 1989, I was an editor and Tony a reporter when we were assigned to produce an 8-page tabloid about the life and work of the charismatic evangelist, who was bringing his crusade to Little Rock. Tony wrote the stories while I pulled together art, edited Tony’s writing (at that time, a joy), laid out the section — old school with paper, pica pole and photo wheel — sent it to composing, read proofs and annoyed the gruff composing room men by watching over their shoulders as they cut and pasted corrections.

Tony didn’t require supervision or direction. He was deeply interested in religion on an intellectual level — perhaps personal, but we never talked about that — so he was excited about studying Graham’s life and teachings, and interviewing local ministers. He’d come in jazzed each day, sit down and pound out insightful, thought-provoking pieces — not your typical famous-person-coming-to-town previews.

He was sober when we worked together, but I heard the stories of his after-hours binges, drunken belligerence, black-outs, vitriolic arguments with friends and co-workers. I remember the day a kindhearted reporter told me she was writing him off; she had found him drunk on her doorstep one too many times. I understood. Like I said, I had my own drunk at home.

My husband, a lawyer, “worked” out of our home. Actually, he drank more than he worked. Paying the bills was tough and I was usually behind.

One day, my husband called to tell me the electricity had been cut off and he demanded that I have it turned back on immediately. We were a couple of months behind, but I thought — wrong, obviously — I had a few days to work something out before the electric department shut off the lights.

I called the electric department, tried to be calm and professional but ended up pleading with a clerk and promising to pay the bill in increments if only they’d turn our power on. That wouldn’t do, I was told. So I hung up. I put my head in my hands, exhausted and worried and not sure what to do next. I dreaded going home.

Then I felt someone standing behind me. It was Tony. I hadn’t heard him come up, the only time that ever happened.

“How much do you need?” he asked. He had heard my half of the entire humiliating conversation about my electric bill. Wrung out and feeling desperate, I told him.

“Alright then,” he said, his voice oddly quiet, and walked away.

About 20 minutes later, he was back at my desk with a bank envelope. “Pay me back when you can,” he said when he handed it to me. I started to protest, but then I saw the look on his face and knew I had to take the money. Not only because I needed it but because he needed to give it.


Almost 10 years passed before we again worked together as editor and reporter. During those years, Tony was arrested I don’t know how many times for drunkenness. He was no longer a full-time employee of the paper but still contributed as a freelancer.

During this period, Tony’s father died. I didn’t see Tony for a time after that, but when he walked into the office one day, I expressed my condolences and asked how he was. He thanked me, then told me what he had been doing that week.

“I made all the arrangements for my funeral,” he said. “It’s all planned, paid for. I don’t want my mom and sister to go through this when I die.” Tony wasn’t yet 40.


Sometime about 1998 — the years run together —  the newspaper’s executive editor called me to his office. He asked me to sit down, then went on about people sometimes having to do unpleasant things for the good of the paper and I was about to be one of those people.

“We want you to take over supervising Tony,” he said. He explained that this was to be Tony’s “last chance” with the paper. (Tony had had many last chances.)  Then he sat back and waited for my reaction. It wasn’t what he expected.

“OK. I have no problem working with Tony.”

Over the next year or so, I was Tony’s editor. He came up with ideas, wrote features and I edited them. He called me often, sometimes drunk and rambling, other times sober and engaging. At the end, he was barely understandable, usually argumentative, full of sly promises.

I hated answering the phone and hearing his voice. But all the time, I remembered how Tony had bailed me out years before.

So when he called one day, sober for a change, and said he needed money, then asked to be paid in advance for a story due the next week, I said yes. Despite his problems, he had never let me down on a story.

There’s always a first time. Tony didn’t turn in that story and every time I talked to him, he assured me it was coming. But I knew I’d never see it so I confessed to my boss that I had paid Tony for a story he would never turn in. I offered to repay the money, but my boss said it wasn’t necessary.

Only a week or two passed before I heard Tony had again been “fired” as a freelancer for the paper. But, about a year later, true to pattern, the paper gave him another last chance, this time as a political columnist.

I believe he wrote only two columns before his death. He was 41. When we got the news he had died and learned the circumstances, no one who knew him was surprised. It seemed sadly inevitable.


Since he died, I haven’t thought much about him. But lately there have been reminders. The Billy Graham Museum was one. Another came when I opened the paper a couple of weeks ago and saw a photo of people filling out applications for government assistance with their electric bills. I flashed to Tony holding out the envelope of money, the look on his face.

It’s still so vivid.

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Today’s resolution, by Simone: Mean what you ‘say’

22 Jul

Sometimes a look is enough and, in this case, my look says, “Enough!” Mom sometimes gets snap-happy with the camera. She’s always taking pictures of me. *sigh* Not that I blame her — I really am the soul of cuteness, very photogenic and usually ready with a pose. But still … Really? Another one? I am trying to sleep. Enough! I mean it. — Simone, PIC (Pomeranian in charge)

Read my face. Can't you see what I'm telling you? (2010/RO)

Today’s resolution: Ready, set, time!

26 Jun
iphone timer

Time value

Social media, while useful, is a time sucker. I sit down to check my email, FB, Twitter or whatever and before I know it, I’ve bounced all over the web in a dizzying, dazing game of link tag.

The iphone (or whatever smart phone you own) makes this even easier. I can be “efficient” about it, too, by using apps that allow me to simultaneously post messages over multiple platforms. That helps me shave seconds off the social media time suck.

Working for myself has made me very aware of how much time can be lost when I’m wandering a linked-in labyrinth.

Frankly, I don’t have time to waste. Time literally is money. So social media time-suckage must be managed. Actually, all my time must be managed, and my iphone has become the instrument for this.

It’s simple. I use the iphone timer function to time everything from how long I read the newspaper to FB breaks to writing sprints to doing research to interviews to gazing out the front door with Simone.

The timer has saved me many times from getting so lost in work that I miss an important phone call or leave the office too late to arrive at an appointment on time. That last is especially valuable because I hate being late. If I want people to respect my time, it’s imperative that I value theirs.

The timer solution is so easy that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier. But I never had an iphone. This little thing has changed my life beyond the obvious. It’s my alarm clock, off-the-cuff camera, organizer, calendar … and so much more.

iphone with hourglassBut the timer … what a tool! When I set it, for example, for a 3o-minute writing sprint, that means that I won’t stop to check FB or my email or do anything else off task until that timer sounds. (I have 5:44 minutes left to finish this post.)

The timer takes away the pressure to multitask — the method of time management that more often than not decreases rather than increases productivity.

But the real key to the success of the timer is that I’m the timekeeper. If someone else — say, an employer — were timing my work, I should hate it.

But timing myself makes me feel in charge, in control. Of course, I shouldn’t need a timer for that. But it’s a great reminder as well as a timely tool.


Today’s resolution: Return to a place of clear understanding

10 Jun

“My eye is my verse, my art is my whole vision.” — Dallan Forgaill, Amra Senan

St. Anne Canyon Waterfall in Quebec, Canada (Photo/RO)

Today’s resolution: Talk turkey

8 Jun

Today, I’m headed out to Triple M Ranch at Traskwood to learn about raising heritage turkeys such as the one pictured here. It’s a Bronze, which the breeder says he loves because it’s a “strutter.” The turkey was caged for a livestock show/competition at the state fairgrounds but has a large area to roam back on the farm. It’s a glorious bird; this photo doesn’t do it justice.

The Bronze, a heritage poultry breed, is prized for its lustrous coat and propensity to strut its stuff. (2011 photo/RO)

Who’s hiding under that leaf?

5 Jun

Who's there?


Redbird chicks!

The nest is deep inside a nandina bush and hard to reach so these will probably be the only photos I get of the tiny redbirds.


State AARP president Mary Dillard advocates for senior citizens

5 Jun
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, High Profile, June 5, 2011

BY RHONDA OWEN, Special to the Democrat-Gazette


Mary Dillard

Friends and colleagues — few describe themselves as merely one or the other — say the qualities that have made Arkansas AARP President Mary Dillard a well-liked and sought-after political and nonprofit consultant for more than 30 years also make her a person whose friendships are lasting and held close to the heart.

   “I was drawn to her by her wit and her perceptiveness about people,” says Judith Faust, who met Dillard in 1979 when the two co-managed Gloria Cabe’s first successful campaign for state representative. 

   “She’s my friend who cries when she laughs and laughs when she cries,” Faust says. “When she laughs, it’s with her whole self.”

    Nan Selz, director of the Arkansas Museum of Discovery, met Dillard in the 1970s while Dillard was in charge of a nonprofit trade association.

   “Mary’s a wonderful friend. She’s always there for you, always supportive, but at the same time she’s realistic,” Selz says.

    Ron Copeland, a former neighbor who shared office space with Dillard during the 1990s while both ran separate consulting businesses, says Dillard is “very bright, very articulate, understands people and community, and is able to apply all of that in whatever she’s involved in.”

    When asked about herself, Dillard answers with an air of one who finds it more satisfying to discuss issues and ideas. But she talks easily and joyfully of the people she cherishes. That, too, endears her to others.

    “She does not have a big ego and isn’t focused on promoting herself,” says Walter Nunn, who met Dillard when he was director of the Arkansas Institute of Politics and Government in the early 1970s.

    Dillard, whose birthday in January placed her in the first wave of baby boomers to reach age 65, doesn’t lack for accomplishments to talk about.

    Her experience as a political consultant includes running winning campaigns for Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Robert Brown, former Secretary of State Sharon Priest, former Saline County Sheriff Judy Pridgen (one of Dillard’s two sisters), and others through her business, Dillard & Associates Inc.

    Other accomplishments include successful campaigns for a constitutional amendment to allow millage increases for public library funding, to change Little Rock’s form of city government and to raise money for the Pulaski County jail.

    She’s also known for volunteering, having served as president of the boards of Arkansas Women’s Action Fund, Arkansas Hunger Coalition, Women of Arkansas in Political Action, as well as more than a dozen other nonprofit organizations.


    For most of her career, Dillard’s work was based in central Arkansas. Since 2004, she has been living and working from her home — or “farmette,” as she calls it — at Farmington in Northwest Arkansas. She has also changed the name of her business to Mary Dillard Consulting.

    Dillard moved to Farmington from Little Rock after her husband, Tom Dillard, was hired as director of the University Libraries’ special collections department at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

    The couple, who were introduced by Nunn, celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary in January. Their wedding, Faust says, was the “quintessential political wedding.”

    “They were married in the state Capitol in the governor’s conference room by Steele Hayes, the Supreme Court justice,” she says.

    In Little Rock, the couple were well known — Mary for her work and volunteer activities, and Tom as a gifted gardener and historian. Their home garden was on the Little Rock Garden Club tour more than once. They were also among the first people in the city to raise chickens in their backyard, which they began on the advice of friend P. Allen Smith, lifestyle expert and gardener.

    At Farmington, they’ve continued to raise a variety of chickens for fun and for their eggs. Among the breeds in their flock are “Americana, which lays pretty green eggs. We’ve also got Barred Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Red, Brown Leghorn and Special Sussex,” she says.

    And, naturally, they have a large garden on their 28-acre farm. She says her husband likes to plan and plant the garden, while her job is to harvest the vegetables and fruits. “We have a great blackberry patch so I make blackberry jam.”

    Since Dillard has lived on the farm, Faust has visited many times. Sometimes she and other friends spend the weekend.

    ‘‘Mary is a world-class cook and a marvelous, effortless hostess,” Faust says. “It’s always such a treat to go to Tom and Mary’s house because we know there will be terrific conversation, gardens to walk through and terrific food.”


   Dillard’s life isn’t entirely bucolic. She is involved in volunteer activities and civic organizations such as the Rotary Club, plus she works part time.

   Five years ago, she became a consultant for the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

   “I’m not as busy as I once was, but I work about 20 hours a week to develop training materials and conduct training sessions for sexual assault victim advocates and the police.” 

   She’s passionate about making sure law enforcement officials, medical professionals and others who deal with directly with survivors are well trained. Education even includes the language used when talking to or about survivors.

    “Often the victim is referred to as the ‘accuser’ so there’s a shift to make her seem like the aggressor,” Dillard says. “That shifts attention to the women who are victims and away from the men who are being violent.”

    Dillard is equally passionate about her volunteer work with the AARP and ensuring that senior citizens continue to have choices regarding health care and other aspects of their lives. She joined the AARP’s executive council not long after moving to Farmington and was elected the organization’s president in 2007.

    Dillard provides leadership for more than 500 volunteers in Arkansas, says Maria Reynolds-Diaz, Arkansas AARP director.

    “She is a wonderful leader, facilitator, strategist, planner and organizer,” Reynolds-Diaz says. “She has just brought a wealth of information to the state office because of her skills and experience.”

    She says Dillard’s knowledge about government systems and politics has made her an ideal person to represent the AARP when talking with Arkansas’ congressmen and senators about issues such as preserving Social Security and closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap, known as the doughnut hole.

    Dillard says she believes that Social Security will survive efforts to change or dismantle it, while Medicare may not.

    “Medicare is going to be something different. It’s an expensive program, but it has made a huge amount of difference in terms of health care and the well-being of Americans.”

    Results of a recent AARP survey showed that older Americans are optimistic about the future, an attitude that Dillard says she shares. She notes that she and fellow baby boomers are healthier and more youthful than their parents or grandparents were at the same age.

    “Both my grandmothers were dead before they were 60. My mother died at 72 and that’s only seven years older than I am now. I hope I’ve got more than seven years left. But I think I have a younger outlook than my mother did at 65.”


    Her mother, Hazel Frost, taught math at Benton High School, which Dillard and her siblings attended. “We could never get away with anything,” she says.

    Dillard has two younger sisters, Pridgen and Carol Perry, and an older brother, Larry. They grew up in Benton (Pridgen and Perry still live there), where her father, C.L. Frost — “Everybody called him Jack” — owned a used-furniture store called Frost’s Trading Post.

    “I was kind of a nerd,” Dillard says. “I was in the band until 10th grade. I was on the student council and I was in Beta Club.”

    Since both parents worked, the Frost children were responsible for household chores. “Mary was the chief cook and bottle washer,” Pridgen says. “She kind of gave us all orders, therefore we all learned how to cook by the time we were 12 years old.

    “Our parents raised us to be independent and do what we thought was right. Mary has carried that on through her life.”

    Pridgen says she benefited from her sister’s political acumen when she ran for Saline County sheriff in 1992.

    “Mary did all of my campaigns for me. She’s always been very smart and a real leader,” says Pridgen, who won that election. She served two terms as sheriff and in 2002 won a special election for a seat in the state Senate.


    Dillard no longer manages political campaigns, but during her political heyday, she sometimes ran eight or nine campaigns simultaneously.

    “I’d be working seven days a week with lots of deadlines and lots of pressure,” she says. “There’s so much pressure on the candidate so there’s a lot of hand-holding and reassuring, and keeping them from going off half-cocked and doing something stupid.”

    Dillard says she enjoyed the work despite the pressure, and “for a while it was really fun.”

    She hadn’t planned on a career as a political consultant, but she found her training as a scientist abetted her new career. She has a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and a master’s degree in environmental biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

    During the summer of 1972, after finishing graduate school, she participated in a scientific project in the northern part of Yugoslavia that is now Slovenia. Afterward, she returned to Arkansas.

    Once she was back in her home state, Dillard says, she wasn’t able to find a job as a scientist, so she began working as the administrator for the Human Service Providers Organization, which later became NonProfit Resources. “Then the scientific method that I’d been trained in became useful in planning social programs.”

    While working for the nonprofit trade association, Dillard attended a class at the Arkansas Institute of Politics and Government. There, she met Walter Nunn, then director of the institute, one of four that the Ford Foundation established to teach people how to run political campaigns.

    “Mary showed a real talent for campaign organizing,” Nunn says. “You have to be organized with a capital ‘O’ because a campaign, by virtue of being temporary, is really difficult to run efficiently.

    “You have to have a strong personality to deal with the candidate, then be able to lay out all the things you need to do. Mary was good about having the vision about what should happen at what stages in a campaign,” he says. “She knew her job was to keep the candidate on track, organize all the resources, keep the troops happy and coordinate all the activities.”

    Dillard says she was “very picky” about the candidates she assisted. “I didn’t want to work for anyone I didn’t think would be a good public servant.”

    Also, she wanted to run campaigns based on facts and legitimate issues, and she was opposed to name-calling and mudslinging.

    “I didn’t have a lot of stomach for it,” she says. “Really, you get jaded because there can be such mean and nasty things you have to contend with.”

    She now prefers to work with nonprofit organizations. “There’s a whole lot less stress.”

    ‘A KEEPER’

    Dillard never considered making the leap from consultant to candidate. “Political consultants make the worst candidates,” she says.

    Faust recalls once overhearing Dillard being asked about potential political aspirations.

    “We were at some gathering and somebody asked Mary, ‘When are you going to run for office?’ She stopped and looked at them and said, ‘Oh, good Lord, I don’t want to be a politician.’ Then she paused — and she had a little twinkle in her eye — and she said, ‘I just want to own a few.’

    “That’s when I knew she was a keeper.”

    Faust, Selz and another friend, Virginia Brissey, have had a “wonderful sustaining friendship” with Dillard for more than 30 years.

    “We’ve been through divorce, death of a husband, death of a child,” Dillard says. “We have a nice dinner once a month and it’s better and cheaper than therapy.”

    The friends — who dubbed themselves “Foursquare” — have traveled together to Thailand, Mexico, Italy, France and other countries throughout the years.

    The trip to Thailand was sponsored by Heifer International, so they visited and spent the night at a rustic village in the remote northern part of the country.

    “We slept in a bamboo hut. The people were subsistence rice farmers and they had no electricity. For water, they had cisterns on the mountain,” Dillard says. “You don’t realize how rich we are until you experience their lives.”

    After dinner, the local women, wearing ornate silver headdresses, performed their “spinning song,” then asked the American visitors to share something from their culture. So Dillard and her friends found themselves dancing the hokeypokey together in northern Thailand.

    “I feel like I’m the most fortunate person in the world,” she says. “I have wonderful friends and a wonderful family and am married to an exceptional man.”

Today’s resolution: Appreciate their sacrifice

30 May
Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them. — Marcus Aurelius

Remember the fallen