Monday, April 27, 2020

What You Can Do While Watching Horse Races All Day

This coming weekend should have been Kentucky Derby day, but it won't be, thanks to the pandemic. Most horse racing venues have been closed down to halt contagion, so all the prep races for the Kentucky Derby were cancelled, also. Only a couple tracks stayed open, and Fox Sports 1 has been having horse races televised from Oaklawn Track in Arkansas, and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida. And since the only prep race for the Kentucky Derby still open happens to be the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, I've been watching horse races on the weekends -- bingeing, so to speak, from 10:30 am until 4 pm.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and since I was going to watch horse-racing in front of the TV in my studio, I cleared a spot on the work table and indulged my latest craze: cadmium red oil paint. Same palette as the last painting, but I added a little touch of ultramarine blue and the very slightest pinch of alizarin crimson.

Enjoyed the races, loved seeing the paint go down onto the canvas in rich swathes.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Sheltering in Place (SIP) and Painting Party

Last evening, Alex caught me during a suggestible moment and invited me to a Painting Event with her and her daughters. "We can drink wine and paint," she said. "Come on, it will be fun."

I knew they would be doing watercolors and acrylics. "Do you mind if I use oils?" They didn't mind at all, and so this afternoon, I hoicked myself off to the studio to join them, cleaned my filthy work table, and set out a palette of cobalt blue, cadmium red light, cadmium red medium, cadmium yellow medium, and titanium white.

"The theme is 'cactus,'" I was told. Fine. Cactus it is. Howabout cactus in Red Rock Country?

Oh, yes, and every time I accidentally got my hand in my oil paint, we had a ... sip. (*SIP*) This made for a very agreeable afternoon, and since we were in the garage studio, my solvents and paints did not bother anyone at all. This is the result:


Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Simplest Seder

Normally, we'd sit Seder on the Saturday before Passion Sunday, since the readings for Passion Sunday include Jesus at "The Last Supper" -- which was the Passover meal, that is, a Seder.

Normally, we'd have table friends (haverim) from some of the past 20 years of Seders, new friends, neighbors, guests of former guests gathered around tables in the big front room, for Seders that would begin at 7pm and last until 10pm, with plenty of time after for more wine and conversation.

Normally, I'd begin the day of Seder going to the party rental place for chairs and place-settings, and to Trader Joe's for fresh flowers to arrange for the table.

And normally, after Seder, I'd see the guests off, send the family to bed, and spend slow, quiet, beautiful time putting things away in their rental crates and our things in the dishwasher, getting food into the fridge, pushing the tablecloths into the washer, having a last glass of wine, and remembering the evening.

Not this year, of course. The pandemic has us all locked down, so to speak, so no Seder.

Or so I thought.

We'd decided to roast a lamb shoulder in honor of Passover (which began last night), and eat it with flat breads (basically gorditas) and tzatziki (cucumber and Greek yogurt) and goat cheese spiced with chili-garlic sauce. But before we could begin the meal, Bernie showed up with pages of paper -- printouts of the shortest Seder haggadah I've ever seen. He collected our song books and wine glasses from the Seder basket on the shelf. At that point, Joma screeched, "Are we doing SEDER???" in an ecstasy of delight.

Well, I guess, of course we were.

An emergency candle holder took the place of the usual crystal ones, and Joma picked snapdragons and nasturtiums for the table flowers. Alex lit the candle to start; I was crying too much to be the Table Mother this year. Lillian read the haggadah, the story of the salvation of the Israelites, by God, led by Moses, out of Egypt.

We sang, and raised our glasses of wine, and then had a delicious meal of some of the best lamb I've ever made. Then we concluded the Seder with more song, more wine, and the silly rendition of "Who Knows One?" (That'll be for a later post.) I cried a lot more.

Because I miss the haverim.
Because I miss the preparation and the participation and the peaceful quiet and perfume of the house afterwards.
Because Seder is always good.
That's why I cried, for longing and for joy.

Lillian took care of the clean-up afterwards; this was the first Seder that she was allowed to have wine instead of grape juice, and ya gotta step up when your grandmother is dripping tears. Bernie and I went out to the garage studio and watched the clouds and passers-by until the sun went down.

This morning I got up before it was light enough out for me to see the clock (to take Kermit out) and saw the remains of the Seder on the table, wine and flowers and candlestick.

I am content, and God is good.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

First Sunday in April

A Sunday without Mass would feel pretty barren.

Our bishop, Bishop Myron Cotta, was one of many bishops in the world to give his diocese a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass, to stop the spread of (specifically) the corona virus.

Fortunately there is technology abounding, and we are able to "attend" Mass by watching a televised service.

Doing so is simply a matter of choice. Since Bishop Cotta gave us the dispensation, we wouldn't have to worry about it, and don't have to even think about it if we don't want to. But I've come to find consolation in the Liturgy; it is prayer, a way of bringing me to accept the contact of the God Who created me. It's a prayer that's been going on for over two thousand years, and each time I experience it, my heart can renounce time and space and be a part of the Sacrifice that happened once, for all, for all time -- like tips of lightning bolts that spread across the sky, all part of the same electrical discharge. Mass is all one thing, no matter where, no matter when. I like that feeling of unity, a unity that is completely about love.

What does that have to do with the flower in the picture?

Not a lot, unless you look for God in all things, and that the Liturgy and the tulip -- no kidding, it really is a tulip -- are both beautiful, and allow me to be lost in wonder in a world that some would like to paint as terrifying and heart-crushing, either because they have been indoctrinated to fear and avoid the world, or to improve their ratings.

And now I must encourage myself to see God in the rain outside that unseasonably is keeping me inside the house when I would rather be outside slobbering over my little tomato plants like an obsessive mother. Thank you, God, for the rain.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

And Yet Good Things, Too

Kermit doesn't care about corona virus. He cares about getting his food on time, sleeping close against my legs, and about those darned cats that keep using our fence as a path, which is what he's watching for in this picture.

I'm trying to let him be my teacher in this. Yesterday we went out to see if we could buy some potatoes (we were out) and there were simply none to be had. But there were still plenty of people piling shopping carts high with anything they could grab. It made me cry, right there in the store, that people -- in whom I have faith that they can be good -- would continue to be so selfish and amoral in the face of a crisis. My sadness discolored almost my whole day ... then we got a text from Alex that said that the transplant center was releasing John to come home to recuperate the rest of the way.

They were home safe and sound by the time we awoke this morning, and it was a joyous and festive kind of day. Yes, we're all prohibited from having guests in the house, or visiting other people's houses, but except for Joma, we're all heavily on the hermit side of social, so that's not a hardship. John looks great after his kidney transplant, and Alex, Lil, and I had fun planning a schedule that will keep us active and productive.

We made a monumental feast of Mexican rice and frijoles refritos; tacos with home-made tortillas. After the meal, Bernie and I went to Ripon's excellent bike and hike path and walked together, admiring the trees blossoming and the geese ambling about. We were surprised by how many people -- families -- were there, too, walking, biking, exercising their dogs. This is not a time to go to a movie theater, and with so many folks working (or not working) from home, what do you do? You get out in the open air and see the sun splashing through the fluffy clouds and hear the voices and laughter of people.

Maybe not such dire straits on all levels.

Bernie split some kindling for tomorrow's fire, and found a little sagebrush lizard torpid on top of a log. He picked it up in his work glove, and we all got a chance to admire the tiny creature close up.

Oh, yes, the girls' schools closed after classes on Friday, not due to reopen until mid-April (ha, ha, so they say officially) and so Joma and I began working on the Forbidden Basics: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Our text for reading is a big book of Dr. Seuss books, and we're starting with classic "1 + 1 = 2" etc. Which she has never experienced, recitation and memorization not being in style with teaching methods these days. A couple hours ago, I heard her chanting the numbers to herself.

I think, if I live through it, I will see this as more of a time of promise than of curse.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

I wanted something beautiful to accompany this post, because otherwise I might begin to despair over how awful people can be. This is my plum tree on the back patio, in the sweet light of morning.

We went to the grocery store two days ago. We needed a couple baguettes, some dog food, angel hair pasta, a white onion, a yellow onion, and strawberries, which were on sale. The first clue that something was off was that there were hardly any shopping carts available.

Now I have seen pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets, usually when there is a major weather event brewing, but until Friday, I had never seen panic-shopping in person. The store was crowded, and people's carts were all piled high. I mean HIGH. We stuck to the outskirts of the store, mostly, because people were rude, pushy, determined, with pinched faces that fiercely ignored the others around them, and gave the impression that if you looked in their carts too hard, you would get punched in the face.

There was no water on the shelves. No toilet paper at all, not even the cheap stuff. No paper towels. I had wondered, as we entered the store, why an older woman in heels and a suit was buying so many boxes of tissues and -- napkins! Signs on the shelves informed shoppers that they would be limited to six items of cleaning supplies, and two bags of ice only per shopper.

As I reached for a package of angel hair pasta, a fat hairy man reached past my ear and started grabbing bags of pasta and tossing them into his nearly full cart. On another aisle, Bernie pulled me out of the way of a woman who was trying to push past me and who would have almost certainly run over my flip-flop-clad feet. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I saw the fat hairy man meet up with his wife, who also had a heaped-full cart of her own. What they were hauling would be enough to feed them for six months, I think.

The pheromonal stench of panic was horrible. I wanted to get out of the store as soon as I could, before I caught the mob mania and started grabbing things -- any things -- off the shelves.

Quick! Time for something else that is beautiful before I begin to cry.
 Almond blossoms! Yes, remember how lovely they were, and how their perfume filled the air, and how I could stand in the spaces between the branches and listen to the myriad of bees buzzing around the flowers.

The corona virus is bad, no doubt about that. But only a few weeks ago, fully a THIRD of the students at Joma's school were out sick with some kind of cough and fever that knocked Joma off her little rocker for well over a week. No one rushed out and bought up all the cough syrup and Clorox over it. NO ONE in this town has COVID19, and what will buying and hoarding toilet paper help them with if they pick it up somewhere else?

I guess what makes me really sad is that this little town is one of the most affluent in the Central Valley. There's no need for anyone to hoard anything. But there you have it, they are. Today Bernie and Joma went to the store for parmesan cheese (Lillian is cooking stuffed shells for dinner tomorrow) and Bern reported that there has now been a run on meat and cheese, almost none to be had. (The shaved parmesan that Lil wanted was in good supply -- must be too weird for people to know what to do with it.) I sort of understand about buying meat in bulk, but cheese? It doesn't freeze well ... and I know maybe four or five folks who actually DO know how to cook, but for the most part, the general populace here doesn't.

After the bout in the grocery store, I was not at all surprised to hear that both the girls' schools were closing for three to four weeks. Or that our diocesan bishop dispensed with the requirement of going to Mass on Sundays until this virus blows over.

And until the panic does, too.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Four Tasks at Once

The nice woodstove does a few things well.

First of all, it heats the whole house. Secondly, it dries the kitchen dish towels in a matter of minutes. Third, it keeps a dog warm -- or a person, if the person is quick enough to get to the chair before the dog does. And fourth, it saves electricity by cooking my onions and celery for my Chicken Stuff dressing. (If you could peek into that pot, you'd see the celery and onion simmering away.)

Let's add a fifth: it's beautiful and comforting to look at.