Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A New Year to Master

I wonder if 2006 will be workable.

One of the things I hope to master is the art of making time count. Too much of 2005 frittered away, sitting in front of computer screens waiting for writers block to disappear, sitting with a blank drawing pad in front of me, sitting playing Spider Solitaire trying to wake up in the morning. I'd like to produce something every day. Even if it was crappy doodles.

Hmm, sounds like a plan. 2006, the Year of Crappy Doodles.

Friday, December 23, 2005

2005 - A Year I Just Want to See GONE

I didn't send out Christmas cards this year.

Back in October I told myself I'd have cards ready to send to all and sundry the first week of December. But by the time the first week of Advent rolled around, I was already so damn sick of Christmas Shopping Season hype everywhere that my holiday spirit just shut down.

I think part of it is how incredibly rude people have become in their frenzy to shop and buy. I've seen more crazy antics on the roads this winter already than I care to remember. When I've driven past the mall in Modesto, it looks like every parking space is taken -- come on, people, THERE'S NOTHING IN THERE WORTH BUYING!!!!

Okay, maybe a couple things in Macy's or JC Penney's, if you're looking for pillows or a sweater. But the rest of those stupid stores? NOTHING IN THERE IS ANYTHING ANYBODY ELSE REALLY WANTS!

Anyway, back to rude people. A perfect example was waddling around the local supermarket today, in black capris above her spider-veined ankles, which rode atop some black funky-heeled semi-clogs. Her hair was done in a permed, scrunched-with-gel-but-not-combed style, and she looked down her nose and was plainly starring in The Movie About Herself. She knew she was beautiful and clever, even though she was really just an skaggy-looking woman too old for the clothes she was wearing and an asshole, to boot. I watched her jerk around the fellow at the meat counter, asking him to bring out various rib roasts. "Oh, that one is just a little too small. I like the look of that one, but I just don't know..." I was keeping an eye on the price display for the cuts of meat as the fellow placed each roast on the scales in front of her for her approval. $30 - $35 bucks for her Christmas triumph, and by golly, she was willing to waste a quarter of an hour letting the butcher know that she was SERIOUS about her meat. She finally was "willing" to buy a prime rib roast if the meat cutter would just slice off three-quarters of an inch! Cut me a damn break, if you can cook something like that so that it tastes good, you're going to want to have some left over to snack on after the guests have gone, anyway.

Ostentatious cow. I hope Santa brings her a big, juicy bag of fresh cow flops.

The other thing I think has been depressing is the unrelenting weight of overtime that Bernie has had to work. During the week, he leaves for work, comes home late and exhausted, wakes to eat a mid-day meal, and then has to scramble off for work again. What time we get on the weekends is like cramming for college exams on How To Manage To Live as a Couple Again.

And then there's the Christmas cards we got in the mail. Most of them are from businesses that see the traditional holiday greetings as a merchandising opportunity. The few that we got from family and friends were mostly too obviously hurried and impersonal. Some were the same cards that they sent last year.

Maybe I should start sending New Year's cards instead of Christmas cards. I could put images of snowflakes and bathing suits on them to match the season with the shopping opportunities.

But even though I'm not sending cards this year, I am wishing anyone who reads this blog a happy holiday, good digestion, and the greatest gift of all, Love. Merry Christmas, folks.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Kingliest of Kongs

We went to see King Kong today.

I'm not a giant gorilla fan. Never have been. I thought the original 1933 production of King Kong was appropriate to the time, when burlesque and prohibition of alcohol said it all about the culture. That is to say, "Ridiculous."

Bernie convinced me to go see Peter Jackson's King Kong. I did it because I love Bernie so much.

Our review of the movie is in the Piker Press this week.

Oh, dingles. It's a movie well worth seeing.

Good job, Mr. Jackson.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Let's Have Another One

Tonight I finished editing the second book of Aser stories.

Mostly it was listing the stories and their page numbers for the Contents Page; there was some adjusting of chapter titles and a few word changes. Alex and I thought that "Oz Can Keep Them All" would make a catchy title, seeing as how the better part of the book was about wizards who are annoying, but Bernie has reservations.

The point is moot until I come up with some kind of cover. Most of the stories in the second book don't have illustrations. "Hot Stuff" did -- maybe that will make the cover. (Ock, another cover with a black background. Why do I do that to myself?") The back cover has got to have a pic of Kaladang the Axe, on his bay horse, attacked by horseflies and a June beetle.

Coming up with a front cover is going to be a major operation. Still, I expect to have the thing ready in a week.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Judge, Jury, Shaman


The first Aser book is finally available in paperback.

You want constipated gnomes? You got constipated gnomes. You want lizardmen in love with ditsy elf-chicks? Yes, yes, they're there. Want to see a wizard get groped by a horny ghost? Oh, shit, that's in there, too. But the book will also give you an earful about greedy merchants, kids who spit, and how to tell if you have a big ass.

Uploading this book to Lulu was a raving pain in the ass, as after it was uploaded, I found an errant blank page, and had to re-do all the chapter headings to reflect that, uploaded it again and found I had to re-do the entire Contents page. Bugger.

I blame elves.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Volume One is Done!

The latest book is done.

Judge, Jury, Shaman, Volume One of the Aser stories from the Piker Press is complete, put in order, and ready for uploading to Lulu.com to be made into a paper and ink book. High time, I say. I've dithered around with this project for months, trying to come up with catchy illustrations to insert here and there.

Now I could use the original illustrations that accompanied the stories in the Press but although they were cute little sketches, some stories had a lot of illustrations (well, three) and most had none at all. Maybe a couple years from now, I'll get into a manic drawing fit and illustrate the stories like they ought to, but for now I'll follow Josh Brown's advice and just get the damn thing into print.

So this evening I spent almost 3 hours trying to learn enough about Photoshop 7 to make my cover images. I bought several reference books on Photoshop to help me learn how to use it effectively; I have learned just enough to make myself dangerous to my files. Not enough to do what I wanted to do with the cover images. Okay, so maybe a couple of years from now, when I do the illustrated editions, I'll have learned enough to do the cover I had in mind as well.

In the meantime, I went back to my stupid dumb baby "Photoshop Elements" and cobbled together a tentative front cover, and the background for a back cover. Maybe. I just realized the back cover and the image I want to put on it don't have enough contrast. Crap.

I don't know why I worry so much about this stuff. A stroll through any book store will provide a viewer some of the worst cover art imaginable. Not only is a lot of it UGLY, but a lot of it is so DUMB I'd be ashamed to have it cover my book. So I shouldn't worry that the cover to Judge, Jury, Shaman is just a stony background with the big fat nasty curse-stone and some of the Ur-Jennan family totems on it.

And I suppose I shouldn't talk about other covers being ugly, because the ogre Hoke the Horrible is going to adorn the back, and Hoke has a reputation for being ugly enough to make a wizard puke.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Writing, and blocks, and stupid crap

Like my friend Terri in England, I've been having a bad case of writer's block for ... uuuuhhhh ... six months or so. Ow.

Back in 2001, when I discovered writing (in my own life, that is; I had nothing to do with inventing the alphabet) I could not wait to sit down and write reams and tons and heaps of words about anything from going to the mailbox to toenail fungus. The past year (much of which was spent endlessly editing) however, saw me straining to write anything, be it review or short fiction. Occasionally a small literary turd would plop into the Piker Press, but plops have been few and far between.

As a half-crazed hedge shaman, you'd think there would be plenty to rant about or write about or (preferably) lie about. But how many times can you shout outrage about the proliferation of enormous SUV's and the dumb dollies who use them to race madly to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread and some fat-free fake ham? By and large, they're stupid, they don't know what being "alive" means, and they drive like they took their driver's test on their backs. But that's ... EVERY DAY. Once or twice, it's amusing. Every day is tedious.

I could tear at my matted uncombed hair and screech about politicians being corrupt, but everyone knows that they are, we don't have a democratic mechanism for getting the dirty bastards out of office (unless they misused a government credit card and then saved all the receipts, which means they're so damn dumb I don't know how they signed up for a government position in the first place) and the Life that Guides the World knows that people want bread on the shelf of the supermarket and gas in the pumps at the truck stop, and an honest and concerned government official who said, "YOU'VE GOT TO STOP STUFFING YOUR FACE AND STOP USING PETROCHEMICALS!" would be lynched before three months of office had past.

And as to lies, how could I possibly come up with a bigger whopper than the woman who pretended to find a dismembered finger in a bowl of Wendy's chili -- only to confess later that she'd used the amputated digit from her ex-husband's co-worker who had handed over the flesh sundered from his hand in an industrial accident in lieu of paying back money that he owed???????????? People like that are just killing fiction writers.

Maybe we should sue.

(Wendy's should definitely sue. In spite of the fact that I know the finger thing was a scam, I can't even look at a Wendy's restaurant sign without feeling queasy. And no, I don't ever intend to eat at a Wendy's restaurant again.)

Also I don't like the loss of color availability in this blog. It cramps my style. It offends my fashion sense. It makes me -- crazed.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Annoying Tests

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

Considering that I'm one of those people who absolutely hate to try anything new for fear they'll look like assholes, my taking this test is astonishing. Here I am, astonished. Thank goodness I had a pen and paper handy. Gosh, I love having to exercise my brain cells after a cold afternoon in the wind. (That was sarcasm, BTW.)

Thanks Cheryl and Holly for poking me with a stick.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cold, cold, cold, cold toes!

Each year by April I forget how cold my feet get after 30 minutes of riding in the winter.

The chill from the stainless steel stirrups rushed through the leather soles of my boots and sank right into my toe-joints this afternoon, which was the first really cold afternoon of the season. It's time for the insulated riding boots again, I guess.

My friend has decided to keep her horses at the ranch where I board for another month! That means we can ride out together as many days as we can escape our normal duties, and that either Bernie or Alex can ride with us! I'm really glad we can do that. Riding alone is better than not riding at all, but riding with a pal or a posse is a lot more fun.

My face feels windburned and my back is indulging in painful muscle spasms, but it was a good ride. Tonight is for curling up in bed with a bowl of hot stew and an interesting book. Maybe I should start writing one.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Yap About Getting Published

Every year I get so damn irritated by the NaNoWriMo.org forums.

Every year a large number of extroverted loudmouths blather at length about "By God, You Better Not Let Anyone See Your Writing On The Web Or Publishers Will Shit On Your Submissions!" Oh, bullshit. If your writing is really good, the publishers don't give a hang if your work has been published on the web. Unless you've been published on a website with a bigger following than Dilbert.com or say, BBC.com. Get real. Two years ago, there was a fellow on the NaNoForums who'd had his science fiction novel posted on a website for a year (if not more) and then an editor from Tor books saw it while browsing the web, contacted him and signed him up. Seeing it on the web only allowed the editor to see that it wasn't crap. Who listened to him? Not many. Much easier to run around with your hair on fire, screaming, "First Publication Rights! All is lost!"

I CAN, however, imagine an agent or publisher looking at a sheaf of poorly written, typo-laden garbage and smiling kindly and saying, "Sorry, it's already been published, can't help you here." Easy out.

There are writers I know who are sitting on their works, afraid to show them to anyone for fear they might be plagiarized, or are waiting for their words to magically become Perfect before they're confident enough to show them to others. In the mean time, years pass, the story moulders in manuscripts or degenerates on computer disk. The Story has taken a back seat to The Marketing. And if the Writer is not also a Marketer ... why, the writer is screwed. (But then that's why agents are so important.)

Oh, well. Our society teaches us from toddler on up that to be successful, important, or valid, you have to earn $$$ from your efforts, be they creative or daily. You must earn your allowance by doing chores, you must make your art pay for itself and then some or it's not worthwhile, you must be able to earn a living through a career. If you draw well, you must become a syndicated, madly popular cartoonist, if you paint, you must be able to show in the finest galleries (or market your own galleries like T. Kincade, yick), if you like to cook you must become a chef in an upscale restaurant. Money money money money money.

"I wrote a book," says the author proudly.

"Can I get it at Barnes and Noble?" says the potential reader.

"No, but you can see it on the web/at Lulu.com/ etc."

"Oh," the potential reader says. "Let me know when you've REALLY written a book."

Let's all run around in circles screaming that we didn't become the next Maeve Binchy or Jennifer Crusie or Nora Roberts and burn our manuscripts in despair. And By God, Don't Let Anyone See Those Ashes or We'll Lose First Publication Rights.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More Dumb Things To Do

Last night I dreamed again that I owned that white horse that was for sale last month.

In the dream, I had to get somewhere fast, and I put a bridle on him and rode off, bareback.

Today I suggested to a friend of hers that I would buy him for $400. That's stupid, because I don't have the cash influx to pay for his board. All I've got is that asking price.

I'm sure when she hears my offer, she'll call me a f---ing b--ch. That's okay. I'd rather she despise me for a valid offer than have her think me a fool to buy a 20-year-old horse for $3000.

I shouldn't even have made the offer, but I couldn't resist.

In the meantime, Advent continues. Day One, Cartoon. Day Two, I helped Alex put up a counter-cultural lighting display. Day Three, I made a new pork dish at lunchtime and a pumpkin pie tonight. I'm good to go.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Season of Reflection

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent.

The four weeks of Advent are set aside to prepare oneself for the future, for the celebration of the birth of the Christ, for the end of one's own life, and for the end of the world.

The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year (the religious year for Catholic Christians) and so Advent is a time to start over again, trying to find some progress in one's spiritual life.

I'm trying to complete one creative task a day before I plow into bed to sleep. Tonight I actually finished a cartoon. (Ahead of the Press deadline???)It's a small start. But it's a beginning, nevertheless.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Horses and Manners Revisited

Remember Rusty, my friend's horse who needed to learn some manners? (See "Learning Manners with Mr. Stud Chain" and "Shoving Horses")

Yesterday evening my friend and I set off for a two-hour ride through orchard roads. It didn't start out as a two hour ride, but we were curious as to why one block of orchard was being taken out, so we rode off down that stretch of road, and then we realized that we hadn't been in that neighborhood for almost a year and so decided to check it out, but after traveling down that road a ways, spotted some heavy machinery spraying fungicide/insecticide/fertilizer (stuff I didn't care to breathe) and had to take a detour ... we were wandering, mostly.

And we could, because Rusty was The Perfect Gentleman. The gentle bit, the tie-down to keep him from throwing his head in the air, the ground work -- all those things convinced him that he didn't have to make the decisions for him and his rider. Relieved of the burden of decision-making, he relaxed, and became once again the fantastic trail horse he used to be.

The ride was wonderful. We were out a bit later than I cared to be, but it wasn't quite dark when we got back to the ranch. We saw big hawks and little hawks, big dogs and little dogs, and talked about Life, the Universe, and Horses. We felt the sun's heat as we started and the chill at dusk when the fog began to rise.

Well mannered horses, and a big open sky.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Reflections on Dreams

If there was anything that convinced me that yesterday's decision to bail out of NaNoWriMo was a good one, it was my dreams last night.

I dreamt that Bernie and I went to visit a (faceless) fellow NaNo-er, but during the visit, the spouse of the NaNo-er made unwelcome advances to me. Disgusted, I grabbed my purse and we left the household. Upon return home, I was greeted by a neighbor, who invited me to enter his house and meet his new lover. I did so, and was amazed to see that the house had been transformed into a studio, with hundreds of wonderful art projects. "Now, that's what being an artist is about," I thought as I passed the work tables where the art-in-progress was set out. I met the lover, who was timid about touching my hand. But the greeting was friendly, and I asked permission to wander around the room looking at the beautiful creations.

All symbols in a dream are the dreamer.

Something about NaNo this year was unwelcome. Was it the hurry? The deadline? The repeated boasts and vows and aspirations by fellow NaNovelists to publish a NaNovel conventionally? I don't know. I just know that I was uncomfortable in their forums, and didn't really want to tell more about myself than absolutely necessary. And so I went back to my own routine. And met once again my timid creative self, and felt a renewed desire to make some art come into existence.

Yeah, this year is for that.

And loser though I may be at NaNoWriMo, all five of the cartoons I submitted to the paper were bought. The editor of the newspaper likes my stuff.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

NaNoWriMo Blues

I bailed from National Novel Writing Month today.

When today dawned, I was about 15,000 words behind where I ought to be in order to make the 50k word count by the end of the month. My dog needed a run. My horse needed exercising. Lunch had to be made. I had to go to the store or else we wouldn't have lunch. I needed to write a letter to my mother. I looked at what I had written the night before and was ashamed of how downright shitty the writing was.

I know that NaNoWriMo's motto is "No Plot? No Problem!" and back in 2001, writing my first novel was a joy, even though about 40% of it had to be scrapped later. It was my first effort at writing a story, and I loved my pieced-together heap of words like it was a cuddly rag doll. However, over the next year of trying to edit the heap (and leaving editing by the wayside because it was so depressing) and then being invited to write a weekly piece for the Piker Press, I learned so much about writing that when NaNo rolled around the next year, I finished my project in 21 days. The next two years' NaNovels took 25 - 27 days.

This year, I was reluctant to start. I had three ideas for a book, and just before it was time to start, found a fourth. I started one, paused for a short story, fretted that I wasn't doing justice to the book I wanted to write, switched to another idea. That idea quickly turned into a quagmire of stupid, repetitive paragraphs and pointless digressions. I spent more than 2000 words describing stairwells.

Now that could be a great word-count-padding exercise. But is padding word count how I really want to be spending my evening writing time?

So I bagged on NaNoWriMo, and instead wrote the letter I owed my mother. If I wanted to cheat, I could have added it to the novel and made the day's word count. I could have added this entry to the word count, and the posts I made on various forums, too. But that's not writing a novel, that's just word count. The scenario I had ended up writing for NaNo was word count, nothing more. Not. Acceptable.

Maybe next year I'll have a story to tell.

Or not.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Suddenly Cartoonist

Something has changed.

By my own standards for NaNoWriMo, I should have 18,000 words written by the end of today. Folks, it ain't gonna happen. I'll continue to write throughout the month, and work on that "writing habit" kind of thing, but 50k? I think that's a pipe dream at this point.

Part of it is still the back injury thing from this past spring. I am getting better; I can ride my horse again. However, a twenty-minute workout in the arena or a two-hour trail ride out just wrecks me for about three days. Three days = 6000 words. For the horse's health, and my sanity, I can't stop riding. But there's also laundry to be done, and garden maintenance, and exercising the dog. That leaves a golden couple hours in the evening, as long as I don't have to cook, or prepare for the next day. Or draw a cartoon.


Yesterday, the editor of the Piker Press was talking to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him her Fever Dreams Weekly Planner. My dear editor promptly sold me down the river and thus I shall be print-published in a matter of days. For cash.

Conventionally published.

For money.

I have no interest in syndication; Watterson's struggle with commercial publication was instructional in how to resist becoming a whore artist. I miss Calvin and Hobbes very much, but I adamantly agree that just because one is published and popular is no reason to cheapen one's art.

The other instructional artist I refer to is Jim Davis. I'm old enough to remember the early days of Garfield -- it was a great comic for people with cats. What his cartoon has become is embarrassing to look at, and I don't, won't look at it, like I won't look at mutilated bodies as I pass a traffic accident. Maybe he makes a lot of money with it, but the original idea has been lost, the unique artwork has been lost. If he's not embarrassed with his current work, I'd be surprised.

Anyway, art. Apparently some of my cartoons are going to be sold. It will be interesting to see them in paper print.

Time to adopt a new pseudonym so that no one eggs my house?

Monday, November 07, 2005

I can't believe so much time has passed since my last entry.

Blame NaNoWriMo. I had gotten out of the habit of writing "stuff" every day. I wrote to match the wind in the hideously stinksome "Angel Trumpet Vine" my neighbor planted: in other words, if that damned vine was pouring out its noxious fat lady's perfume, I couldn't write a word other than repeated, "Peeeeooooouuuu!"

In attempting to NaNo, I am forced to attempt a minimum word count per day. Gahhhhh. Re-forging a 2k a day habit is mental cruelty.

But even a few days of NaNo got me straightened around so that I could sit down and write "Out in the Cold" for the Press in one sitting. Yeah. That's the way it's supposed to work.

Monday, October 31, 2005

All Hallows Eve

No horsey lessons for Rusty for a couple days. The last batch wore me out.

I can't remember where I learned it, but there is a rule that if you're not up to an all-out fight with a 1200 pound animal, don't try to train a horse when you're tired. The last session was more than my recovering old body could handle. Well, maybe it was the shoveling of dung that pushed me past my limit. In any event, Rusty is on hold, and maybe that's a good thing.

Dink needed exercised, and so I went out to the ranch. Rusty was extremely jealous that Dink got to "do something" and he didn't. Perhaps he'll be more cooperative the next time. Dink, A.K.A. Duquesne, hasn't been actively "worked" for a long time, so we spent 30 minutes doing just that. Walk walk walk walk. Trot trot trot trot. Walk sideways to the right, walk sideways to the left. Argue over what position the horse's head should be in. Both of us were filthy with dust and disgustingly sweaty when we were done.

Thank goodness we had decided as a household not to mess with the Halloween thing tonight. I used to love decorating the front of the house with candles and pumpkins and fake spider webs, and dressing up to scare the tar out of little kids who came seeking candy gifts. Last year, the night was dominated by roaming gangs of high school kids who carried pillowcases to gather as much loot as possible. But they didn't even bother with costumes.

You know what? If an old woman can bother with costuming for an evening, so can a teenager. Of course, I tend to think that if I can speak clearly and politely and not breathe through my mouth constantly, then a teenager can also not show me his tonsils while he garbles, "Trick or treat." And he could pull his damn pants up, the freakin' moron. Which one was the freakin' moron? Pick one.

Of course, when they came to the porch, I could have asked them, "What are you dressed up as, tasteless slack-jawed shitheads?" But then I would have been asking for some kind of destructive retaliation on my car or my house.

The point of dressing up as witches or spirits for Halloween was to mock the spectre of Death, to laugh in the face of Evil. Looking into the soulless eyes of those older children of Excess Wealth and Utter Lack of Morality, unfortunately, I see the face of Evil laughing the last laugh.

Bah. Humbug.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Shoving Horses

Today Rusty demonstrated that he remembered yesterday's lessons, and then was humbled some more.

We put a full-cheek snaffle bit in his mouth. It's a very gentle bit, which Rusty needs because as big as he is, he has very sensitive skin on his muzzle. The advantage of the full-cheek bit is that as you pull on a rein to turn a horse, not only does it pull, but it pushes the horse's mouth along from the other side, as both sides, where the bit emerges from between the horse's lips, have a four-inch vertical bar that keeps the bit from slipping from side to side. (God, that sounds confusing. Maybe I'll add an illustration tomorrow.)

Anyway, we put the bit in his mouth and then let him stand around (no reins, no saddle) for about 20 minutes, so that he could see for himself that having a bit in his mouth would not kill him on the spot.

Then my friend exercised him in the round corral, making him think a little while still carrying the bit and the jingling stud chain hanging from his halter. This helped him understand he could still move forward and obey while having the bit in his mouth and things jingling around his head. No need to buck, no need to stubbornly stand still.

After exercise came Shoving. I can place both my hands on my horse's shoulder, neck, head, sides, rump, whatever, and gently push, and he will get out of my way. For that moment, I am bigger than he is, and that is a good thing. The time had come for Rusty to learn that he could be shoved around. Indeed, that he would be shoved around, and that being shoved around is a good thing for a horse. After a few minutes, my friend learned how to brace herself and make Rusty let himself be shoved around the corral.

We saddled our horses and moved to the arena, where Rusty did a very nice job of walking and turning. (My dear Duquesne was, of course, impeccable. Sometimes I think he behaves better when other horses act up, just to make them look really, really bad.) We began work with Rusty to get him to lower that great white head and let himself be turned in a tight circle. It was very hard work for my friend, because when Rusty throws his head in the air, he nearly yanks her out of the saddle. I don't know that she weighs as much as his head.

But we ended after 40 minutes on an up-note again, and then mucked out Dink's paddock. I'm exhausted, but tomorrow we'll be back at it. They only new thing will be a tie-down for Rusty's bridle so that he can't throw his head so far in the air. I don't like tie-downs, but Rusty has learned long ago that throwing his head around works to scare the shit out of the little monkeys who climb on his back.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Learning Manners with Mr. Stud Chain

My friend's horse behaved badly today.

He decided he didn't want to leave the ranch, and took her back to the arena twice. The third time we tried to go out, she dragged him along by the reins. His response was to rip the reins out of her hand and gallop off, leaving her to walk back.

Rusty was angry for two reasons. One, he'd been taken off his lush pasture and put in a new place. (Horses hate that.) Two, his owner had been told by a reputable trainer that he needed to have a bit in his mouth -- the semi-halter she used was not giving her any control over him. Today Rusty decided that he was not going to cooperate with anything. He braced his feet and refused to move.

I don't like to tell people what to do with their horses, because every horse is different, and what works with one may not work with another. However, watching Rusty winning every step of the way irked me enough to say that if he was my horse, I would make use of a stud chain to help him learn who was in charge.

A stud chain is a stout chain about a foot and a half long. You can see them used to keep horses under control when they're being led just before a race. For a really fractious horse, you can put the chain over the horse's nose (in worst cases they put it over the horse's upper gum) and the unpleasant pressure usually keeps the horse paying attention. Rusty had never had a stud chain on him, so we just looped it through the halter he was wearing, under his chin.

I took his lead rope, attached to the stud chain, pulled gently, and told him to come. He braced his feet and refused. I tugged again, told him to come, and again he refused. The third time, when he set his ears back and refused, I flipped the lead rope just enough to give him a little boink! of pressure from the stud chain. He threw his head up in great surprise!

We went through that sequence three times. After his third encounter with the stud chain, he came forward to me willingly, and got much petting for his troubles. Now he understood what the stud chain could do to him. It could jump up and bite him if he didn't do what he was told!

The only other thing we wanted to establish with that first encounter was that Mr. Stud Chain would assist a person leading him if he didn't follow willingly when led, or get out of the person's way if they asked him to move. "Move" means MOVE, every time, not just when Rusty is in a good mood. It's an easy exercise to do, by and large. The person leads the horse by stepping towards his hindquarters while holding the lead rope. The horse must turn his head, and move his big arse away from the person. Manners. "Get out of my way" is one of the most valuable lessons a horse has to learn.

When Rusty was reliably moving out of my friend's way, we ended the session on that upbeat note. Tomorrow morning we'll work with him some more. He's a good horse, and I've seen him do some fantastic work. When he gets over his snit and learns some better manners, he'll be excellent again.

I was a bit reluctant to step in and pick up that lead rope; I had just ridden the smooth and perfectly-behaved Duquesne for 40 minutes, and sure as hell didn't want to end up aggravating my left shoulder, which has finally started to heal. Fortunately Rusty was surprised enough that he wasn't interested in fighting, and then my friend took over. I'm dirty and a little tired, but I feel good. Finally.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A century of comfort

The rocking chair, in its earliest-known place, belonged to my father's best friend's mother.

My father was born in 1923. He remembered the rocker in his friend Layton Jury's house, where Dad spent a lot of his time, his mother being too young and busy to keep up with him. Dad rocked on Mrs. Jury's rocker until he fell over backwards on it.

Dad never said what color the rocker originally was. When Layton's mother died, my father went to the estate auction and bought the chair. He repainted and upholstered it, black with a green, gold, black, and white plaid, and presented it to me as a gift a few months before my daughter was born. He wanted me to have a comfortable chair in which to rock my baby.

Somewhere around 1997, I wirebrushed the whole chair, repainted it a dark blue, and reupholstered it in a floral fabric, and made a matching footstool for it.

A couple weeks ago, I was thinking that I needed to wirebrush, prime, and repaint the woven body of the rocker -- this dry air here makes things look shabby quickly. I hadn't decided on a color for it, though. Maybe a deep green, or a lighter blue?

The question was answered this morning ... I heard Alex cry out in horror, went running out to the kitchen to see Alex staring at the broken runner of the rocker. It just gave way, probably a crack that was there when Dad bought the thing.

Can it be fixed? I don't know. The other runner could be removed, and it could still be a chair. So many memories, so many years. If the chair can't be fixed, it will nevertheless, not be forgotten.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Howie, Before Dawn

As soon as the smoke alarm bleated, Howie leaped off my bed and went to find the source of the annoying sound.

He'd have made a great companion dog for someone with impaired hearing. He sounds an alert for people at the door, for cats fighting in our yard, for our housecat's indiscretions of climbing on tables or trying to go into my studio or bedroom. Howie lets me know if the phone is ringing, or if the washing machine load is unbalanced, or the stove timer goes off.

The smoke alarm had him stumped, though. Maybe a spider crawled through the sensor, or some dust triggered the sound, we don't know. It stopped after a couple seconds, and we knew there was no fire in the house. After racing through the house and not finding the source of the noise, Howie came barreling back to the bedroom, jumped up on the bed, and threw himself into my lap for a cuddling and reassurance. Well, if I had been sitting up, it would have been my lap. Instead it was my chest and belly that 65 pounds (30 kg) of insecure dog landed on. I was flattered (and dang near flattened) by his confidence in me. In his fearfulness, he could have just slunk off and hid under a table. To him, that loud and mysterious sound was like hearing a ghost in the house.

BTW, I like the idea of smoke detectors -- but I would strongly advise getting the ones that are just battery operated than the ones that are wired into the house. Ours are wired in, and half of them we had to unplug because they go off erratically, always in the middle of the night. Damn, maybe it is ghosts, after all.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Fevered Dreams of a Creation

Well, the calendar arrived, but didn't make it to my desk.

I opened that package from Lulu and had to grin. The covers looked great. Then, the moment of truth: wasted effort or glorious success? I opened the book at random, and "Stupid Squid" leaped from the pages, image perfect, accompanying graphics perfect. As soon as I showed it to Bernie, he lustfully took it to the patio and looked through it, page by page, chuckling.

His favorite page is the one with Jeb and Marv Buzzards with the dead (or is it?) possum. Mine is the one with the elephant toting a baseball bat.

I showed it to Alex, who giggled when she opened it, and then promptly tore her current planner from its leather case and fitted the Fever Dreams calendar in the pockets.
"Perfect!" she said. "How much do they cost?"

"Ten dollars."

"That's all??" she shouted. "This one's mine! Pay you next week!"

Well, it made it to someone's desk, anyway. I don't mind ordering mine along with the ones we'll be giving to relatives as gifts this year. Seeing how wonderfully this plan came together was worth all the sweat and swearing, the hair-pulling and acid indigestion, the worry and waiting.

And as I said in my last post, seeing a collection of my cartoons in print is one fine feeling.

Fever Dreams 2006 Weekly Planner has 115 pages with over 54 cartoons, space for taking notes, making priority lists, listing addresses and special dates.

Trust me. This one's a gooder.

Friday, October 14, 2005


Tomorrow, my copy of my calendar should arrive.

I've grown accustomed to seeing my books in print, though the feeling of accomplishment when I see them doesn't go away. Ah, but to see my cartoons in print -- that's a different story. I'm on edge about the calendar. I've been frothing at the mouth to see the "Order Shipped" notice in my email; I had hoped that they made the shipment before the cutoff hour on Wednesday, which would have had the package on my doorstep today. Tomorrow. Tomorrow should be that golden day of triumph -- or the thing will look like shit and I'll delete the project until I learn enough to do it right.

But shit or shining achievement, I'll have my weekly planner for 2006 on my desk. With my cartoons in it. That's one cool feeling.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On Again, Off Again

Tonight I'm just Off.

There's nearly two weeks to go before National Novel Writing Month. I've signed up, chosen a title, taken a few notes. Visiting their forums, I see names I recognize from other years; hundreds and hundreds of people getting excited about writing a novel in a month.

I'm about as excited as three-day-old road kill.

Other years, I've had a story to tell. An ending. A point. This year, there's nothing there. Especially there's no joy in the prospect.

I thought about writing a loosely interlinked series of essays, and assembling it into some kind of coherent novel at a later date. I thought of writing a fake memoir of a crazy man. This evening I toyed with the idea of writing fanfic. Any of those would be useful, eventually becoming stories for the Piker Press to publish. Then it occurred to me that I've been writing and sketching under a deadline since April of 2002. That won't stop in November. Why the hell do I want to be adding another deadline to my life when I can't even keep up with the dishes in the sink?

Do I do it to prove that I can? Out of some sense of "loyalty" to Chris Baty, the founder of NaNo? Sure, Chris knows I exist, and hopes I'll participate, but only in the way he knows and hopes for lots and lots of other people. If I just slither off, he's not going to lose any sleep over it, even if he notices, which he won't. Do I do it to "keep company" people with whom I've been acquainted through NaNo over the years? People with whom I keep company outside of NaNo anyway?

Or here's a thought: I'm not excited about NaNoWriMo 2005 because there's a very good chance that I'll not be able to come up with 50k words of a story. The prospect of not excelling is repugnant to me. At the end of November, I might have to say, "No, this one is not for anyone else to read." Select All, Delete.

The latest thought is to write what I think ought to be written down somewhere, no matter how offensive it is to the general populace. I was talking to Josh Brown about it one night, about a story I'd like to write. It would not be "Press-able" and it would not be politically correct. But then Dreamer wasn't, either, now was it?

Most likely I'll make up my mind on November 1st, when I wake up.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


The horse I wished I could buy is gone.

Allegedly he has been sold, although the rumor is that the woman who "bought" him doesn't want him after all, and is just paying for his board at another facility until she can find an actual buyer. In the mean time, I heard an interesting comment about the horse: the young woman who was selling him was telling prospective buyers that the horse was 15 years old. That's not too old for a horse; horses get sensible between about 10 and 17. But someone heard his previous owner say that the horse was 19. That would have been last year. Now this lovely horse is 20, and that's getting to the end of a useful career for a horse. Granted, a horse can be sweet and functional to 30, but that's kind of unusual.

So now I understand why this young woman was so hot to get rid of him. He's an old horse, and she wants to do team cow penning, like in a rodeo, like you can't do on an old horse.

But she lied about his age, and may have gotten $3000 for him. That's ridiculous. A 20-year-old horse shouldn't sell for more than $1000, and you'd have a hard time finding a taker for that.

Horse trading is unbelievably shady. I bought my first horse for $400. He was 11 years old, and I was assured that he was just a big, fat, lazy, stupid horse. All I wanted was a plug to jog around the pasture on. But Crow was just big and fat, he wasn't lazy, and he wasn't stupid. He also wasn't quite sane, or quite broken to the saddle.

When I found a horse to replace him, I made an appointment to ride the horse. I showed up, and the new horse was lovely. The man who was selling him told me someone else had showed up but were unsure. So I jumped up on the horse, and was very pleased. Only one thing more: I needed to see how he felt under my own saddle. The owner was agreeable. The minute I rounded the corner of the building, the other people whipped out a check -- and bought him, having seen with their own eyes that he was a quality mount. Sold right out from under me.

The next horse was a genius on the trail, a big red quarterhorse with a pedigree a lot longer than mine. I bought him, and had several good rides on him. What the seller didn't say was that one ride in any location would be great; however, the second one would be a nightmare, as once Chet knew the way home, he was going to take you there in a split second. After a 40-minute battle along a busy road, I knew I hated him. I missed work that day because I was exhausted to the point of sickness. I sold him for next to nothing to a girl who had owned him nearly 10 years before and had missed him horribly all those years. Good luck to her.

I've tried once more to buy a second horse; after I shook hands on the deal, and made arrangements to get the horse hauled to my facility, the fellow called me up and told me he couldn't bring himself to go through with it, as the horse liked to be fed peanuts in the evening, and was like the man's best friend. (He didn't like to ride, but he did like to feed the horse peanuts. Go figure.)

Fortunately I've still got Duquesne, the Stinky Dink. Do you think I would sell him? Not for any price.

Maybe the only horses that get sold are crappy ones.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Whaaaat??? Sign-Ups Start Saturday????

To novel or not to novel, that is the question.

In 2001, writing a novel seemed like an absurd idea. I took a writing class in college just so I could spend more time with Bernie, who was actually interested in writing. Uh, that would have been in 1975. Aside from letters, I never wrote again ... until November 2001, when Alex talked me into signing up for National Novel Writing Month. It was insane. It was foolish. It was sheer bliss to sit and write 50,000 words of whatever I wanted to write. No one ever had to see it; at the end of the month, I could say "I made it!" and then hit the delete button, and no one would ever know the secret words that bubbled up out of my brain. (That would be Dreamer, which was rewritten and published not so very long ago, story about a woman just trying to be a good person, reviewing her life through the experience of her dreams.) "I wrote a book," I said at the end of that November, and it was one of the finest days of my life.

Subsequent NaNoWriMo's saw the creation of Time Traveler, Character Assassin, and Out With the Trash; then there were the two completed Aser Books describing some of my adventures as a fictitious character. Three of the books are still in various stages of editing.

That's a lot of writing for someone who never intended to be a writer. I'm tired and aside from blog entries, I haven't written anything for ages. The Aser Stories, once a weekly feature of the Piker Press, have trickled off to one every four months or so.

The support forums for NaNoWriMo have grown horrendously huge, and have been taken over by hordes of people who are looking more for a venue to spew spite and contention than for the warmth and wisdom of other writers. (Well, let's add to that the flamboyant exhibitionists who just love to hear themselves hoick up more and more numbers of posts.) So there's no comfort there, no real draw.

Do I really want to sit down in front of a blank file and start hammering words, humming "No plot, no problem" to myself for 30 days and 50,000 words? Last year I sat down with a story in mind, and halfway through the month hated the very thought of sitting down and making sure I got enough words done. I don't want to hate the thought of writing.

But I am a creature of habit. After four years of this kind of craziness, I've kind of gotten used to spending November in a frenzy of word-flinging. One thing for sure, though, if I don't like what I've written, I'm going to quit. No more fighting for NaNoWords. And I want to write something fun, like Character Assassin was.

I guess I'm in.

Well, of course I do.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Death and Life, Green

Monday apparently was a day of life and death.

We kacked a fortnight lily this morning. It had grown large, and though it had beautiful flowers, it had also discovered the knack for reproducing itself everywhere. I might add that these flowers only look nice in the early morning or late evening. They hate the California sun and make it a point to shrivel up during mid-day. I could even have dealt with its need to procreate, except that it began to harbor an insidious noxious plant called bindweed under its shadow. I am at war with bindweed, and thus collaborators have to go. Goodbye, fortnight lilies. You were lovely every couple weeks if you got enough water, but snuggling up with the bindweed was the last straw.

Bindweed wraps itself around other plants and chokes them, incidentally. And it covers the plants completely, sucking up all the sunlight. And it sends roots down nearly three feet deep and sends root suckers out for yards and yards. I had it under control in my yard until my neighbor let her infestation grow. She thought it was an ornamental ground cover. Damn stuff.

Yet it was still a day for life, too. Our hopseed tree has been trying to reproduce extravagantly, also, and one of its children was hunkered behind the papyrus. I pulled it out, and after a lengthy soak in "SUPERthrive" planting supplement, we tucked it carefully into a big pot. With any luck, it will grace our patio with its shade in years to come.

The day's threat of thundershowers has weaseled off to the Sierra Mountain Range, dammit, so I have to be content with watching the lightning over the mountains to the east, and listening to my digestion rumble in lieu of thunder. Will Fritos increase the chance of midsection thunder?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Women Stuff: Men, Find Something Else to Read

I just read an article about female executives and how menopause can really be frustrating for them.

I can understand this. There gets to be a point at which a woman's body just stops producing the right hormones, and it can be a hellish experience. Things that used to be regularly cyclical stop being regular. Many unpleasant, non-cyclical surprises can be in store. As the hormonal fountain erodes, the woman can become really forgetful and foggy-minded; she can suddenly begin feeling like it's 110 degrees everywhere and pour sweat like a frightened horse; she can stop sleeping at night, experience undefined anxiety attacks, become so depressed that suicide seems like a good idea. And whatever the hell hormones do for the brain, I'm not sure, but when the estrogen stops being adequately produced, one odd comment can make the woman feel like the only good response is a machine gun.

We won't even talk about the embarrassment of shutoff of libido, the dry and painful sex, or the urinary tract incontinence. No wonder witches were portrayed as crazy old women.

Most doctors, until recently, just prescribed Hormone Replacement Therapy, which was an estrogen supplement made from the piss of pregnant female horses. Oh, good, that's the way nature intended life to be. Unfortunately, it came to light that such a potion could increase the chance of breast cancer, heart attack, or stroke.

Even after that, medical studies shunned natural solutions, saying that (even though some have been used for centuries) natural supplements don't work. Which is to say, if women have depression problems, they need to take antidepressants, and if they have physical symptoms that are annoying, they need to "cowboy up" and just deal with it. Shut up and use vaseline.

Here is me, disagreeing.

I have made use of progesterone cream from the start of my transitional years. 1/4 teaspoon a day for 21 days out of the month put me back to regular cycling until such a time came when the cycling was done. Progesterone breaks down that nasty testosterone that makes older women get NASTY Old Woman Whiskers and inexplicable zits. I have also heard that it makes uterine fibroid tumors shrink, though I myself have never been inside someone's uterus while progesterone cream is being taken to see if this actually happens.

That's a great transitional therapy, but there is nothing to prepare one for the onset of crushing depression and inability to concentrate that estrogen loss can provoke. For a while, my habit of drinking soy milk was enough, but then -- wow -- I felt like the world had caved in around me, and I could barely bring myself to leave my studio. I wasn't doing any art there to speak of, but it was familiar, and EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE ELSE wasn't.

My doctor (a wise woman) recommended black cohosh herb to try to get on top of the depression, but it does contain salicylates, and I'm not real good with aspirin. I opted to try red clover extract instead. Both these natural supplements provide a natural estrogenic compound. After about a week, my nightmarish depression eased, my memory improved, and the husband was looking better and better every day -- thumbs up on the libido, you betcha.

I'm not doing an infomercial. I just hate to see women suffer with all this stuff and not know a way to try and make it better. Talking about aging isn't popular, because we are all going to be 24 forever. However, when 24 has been doubled, and things aren't working like you remember them, there are avenues to explore. Sure, it's a pain in the ass to have to remember to use your progesterone cream and take your red clover or black cohosh each morning and your calcium/magnesium supplement before bedtime, but the alternative is worse. Choffing down a couple capsules is far more agreeable than feeling like you've gone to hell for the rest of your life.

But that's just my opinion.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Day Spent Learning the Hard Way

I thought I was retired.

Today I spent working on the week-at-a-glance style calendar I want to have available for next month some time. Fever Dreams cartoon calendar. Fever Dreams runs in the Piker Press each week, and I've finally got enough art for a year's calendar. Great! Wonderful! Should be easy enough to format...

I showed the right-hand page template to the Editor, just to see what she thought. "Bells and whistles!" she exclaimed (more or less). "Can you like, put a nifty little sidebar right here so I can take notes in the margin?? I take notes everywhere!! And on the other page, can you put a little graph with a place for checkmarks???? I CAN HARDLY WAIT TO GET THIS!!!!"

Slinking away, trying to think of things I can feed her so that she outgrows her pants this winter, (thanks, Lydia -- great idea there) I returned to the studio to tackle Word's miserable excuse for graphics. Hours later I discovered that once you have inserted a "table" (which is nothing more than a box with lines) you cannot copy it to another location for use, nor can you insert a page before it or after it without getting lines and dismembered boxes all over the &%##!**! place. After losing most of my hair to aggravation and stress, I decided to try to make a grid in Photoshop Elements -- then I could insert it as a picture and copy it as need be. My picture was a bit lame, but I thought it would do, and went on to format the odd-numbered pages with the inserted picture graphic. For the whole year. That's 108 pages, BTW.

And then, after it was done, and my eyeballs were fried from looking at the screen and my blood pressure was ungodly high, I realized that there was an easier way to do it that would look better, too. Crap.

I thought maybe I could delete the graphic and insert one that was sized exactly the same, but nooooooooo, Word won't do that. Nothing I could do would change it, either. Scuh-rood. I deleted the whole damn thing and started over.

This is what I have so far: January, 2006.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

First Rain

It's pouring.

Rains usually don't start here until late November or December. Most often we see the rains settle in in January. But tonight, we have storms running through the area with a scrumptious downpour. The air smells clean. The thunder is making me wonderfully sleepy.

I'm not sure why thunder makes me want to sleep. I've slept through big storms in a tent in a wet sleeping bag (only waking because my husband was annoyed that the roof of the tent was dripping on him and wanted me to share the irritation); I've slept through most of the thunderstorms here because I hear thunder and smile, and think of lying down and relaxing.

Today was especially delightful, as when the rain began to bucket down, mamas and papas up and down the street took their little children outside to see it rain. For many of those children, this will be the first rain they'll really remember. We went out in the pelting rain with Lillian, who shrieked with delight and dismay at the cold water from the skies.

I was born during a thunderstorm; Alex was born after a week of thunderstorms; and a couple days before Lillian was born, there were freaky thunderstorms racing through Modesto, a mere six miles away. Guess it's a family tradition.

It feels so good tonight.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Transformation in Progress

Back in 1997, we contracted to have a pool put in.

There were few companies doing fiberglass pools in those days, and the one we went with seemed to have some good results. Unfortunately, the head contractor for the business "forgot" about a court date regarding alimony and child-support payments, and was stuffed in the slammer for non-compliance. His team were a bunch of lowlife slackers and thieves, made off with a number of my tools, and did shoddy work. The retaining wall they built was a prime example of that.

"Landscape timbers" was what I'd specified, but they showed up with treated lumber. It looked okay, but when the city came to inspect it, it didn't pass muster. So they screwed galvanized metal sheets to the back of it. Ugly as hell, and dangerous with the raw edges of metal exposed. I pointed that out to them, and in response, they put a vinyl edging on the boards, masking the jagged metal. By that time, they were three months behind schedule, I was missing over a hundred dollars of my tools, and we just wanted to see them gone. "Fine," we said, deducting the replacement cost of my stuff, "here's your check, take a hike."

The treated lumber they used had begun to rot. Yes, I know, it's supposed to last for like 25 years, but they bought it from Home Depot, which stocks its stores with some pretty shitty products. Recently, Filthy Piker Jeff, under the influence of a number of beer-like beverages, said he could build us a brick retaining wall ...

However beer-influenced Jeff might have been to make the offer, he's been working like a dog to create for us a beautiful wall. I was able to help with the concrete foundation, but the brickwork has been Jeff's master-
piece, precise and simply lovely. It's going to be gorgeous. A month from when the wall is done, I'll get to re-landscape the bank behind it. I can hardly wait.
There's the wall so far;I love it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Call it Purgatory, call it Karma, call it Hell

There's a special place, somewhere really nasty, where/when telesales marketers, spammers, and blog-spammers will all have to sit and feel for themselves, each and every person's disgust, dismay, and outrage at having been invaded by profiteers.

I didn't want to have to turn on the verification function on this blog to keep out the spam-bots, but I will now have to do so, as I've gotten a number of spamly "comments" in the past 2 minutes.

Sorry, folks.

I hope the spammers get scabies, lice, jock itch, and gout. All of them, all at once.

A Frog in the City

Another day, another frog encounter.

I'm nearly ready to name this frog, as he/she has been returning to that lighting control box each day. We peeked in there today and sure enough, there was the frog, nestled in the black box, skin as dark as the eye stripe you see. The other day when I put Frog in the bracken under the trees, his/her skin immediately began to turn color, from patio gray to camouflage spots, as you can see.

I'd neglected to mention in this blog that the other night, when Bernie came home at 4:30 am, he came bounding into the bedroom, grabbed me by an arm, and began dragging me out of bed, loudly whispering, "Get your sleepy arse out and come with me! Hurry!!"

Staggering after him like Frankenstein's Monster with an adrenaline high, I was rewarded richly by being quick enough to get to our patio in time to see a great horned owl perched on our neighbor's roof. BIG, BIG OWL! The owl watched us as the dogs paced back and forth beside the pool; I could see the head turning in the dim light. Most cool. Once before, while sleeping outdoors in the tent, we heard a great horned owl call from somewhere very close, the characteristic "Hoo-HOO" making us sit straight up to see if we could spot the wonderful creature.

We've got frogs, toads, and lizards, bluebirds and yellow warblers, phoebes and orioles, hawks and owls and a myriad of other birds ... sometimes it's hard to believe we live in such a populated area. I thank the Stanislaus River, which is about a 10-minute walk away down the street.

The snakes and skunks can stay down there, thank you very much.

Oh, any ideas for a name for a small but adventurous frog?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Invasion By Amphibians

Over the past few days, we've been discovering little frogs ... on the table of our patio.

That sounds cute, but I don't do well with surprises, and when I pick up the dishes from a party the night before, and find a frog under the rim of a bowl, I scream. Not intentionally, it just comes flying out, an improbable falsetto, "OOHH-hoo-hoo-hoo!" Very embarassing, especially when laughing voices can be heard inside the house: "What did she see this time?"

One of the frogs was in the bottom of a wide vase we'd used to collect odds and ends. I was putting the O's and E's away, and the frog jumped straight up in the air. Another, a few days later, was found inside a control box for the outdoor lighting. That would be the fellow in the picture, who was nearly black when we found him in the box, but quickly turned a lighter color.

The beast is a Pacific Treefrog. Will they sing in our trees next spring?

But my concern is this: Am I going to have frogs trying to spawn in my swimming pool next spring after they're done singing?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Can you say "FOOTBALL?"

Raiders vs. Patriots tonight. If you hate football, find another blog today.

There's about 10 minutes left in the game, and it would take a miracle or two for the Raiders to pull this one out. Still, the score is Raiders 14, Patriots 30 -- and that's two touchdowns more than I expected the Raiders to get.

I watched them play San Francisco in pre-season, and I would have to say that my high school's football team looked much more professional. Pee-ooo, as they say. But then, pre-season is all about letting the second string sound out the other second strings, so that's to be expected.

Had the Oakland Raiders managed to get some control over their flagrant penalties, they might have done much better. Randy Moss made some simply scrumptious receptions, and LaMont Jordan is spectacular. It will be an interesting season for them, but the Raiders' quarterback needs to understand that Moss can only catch those passes that are actually thrown somewhere near him.

Vinatieri was a little shakey tonight on his kicks. I'm accustomed to seeing him put the football through the uprights right on the center. Two of his kicks were 'way too close to missing their scores. Brady, the quarterback, seemed a bit nervous -- maybe it's because this game was the season opener.

Four minutes left. The Raiders' quarterback, Collins, still grips the fantasy that Moss can catch anything. His momma needs to wake him up and let him know that's not the case.

YOW! 3 minutes left, the Raiders score again, not utilizing Moss! Everybody stand up and shout "Booga-booga-booga!" And then, another Raider penalty -- this time by Moss himself.

Football is intensely boring if you don't like watching it. My sympathies to anyone who was hoping for a better blog entry.

Two-minute warning. If the Raiders win tonight, expect another football entry tomorrow. If not, perhaps I'll find something else to write about.

Lucky you, Patriots win 30 to 20. They should have won by at least 28 points.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Arnold's Death Knell as a Politician?

This is an unpopular stance in this state.

The legislature of California has narrowly pushed through a bill allowing marriage contracts between homosexual partners. The governor has said he must veto the bill because it is in stark opposition to the majority vote in the state.

He is correct. The majority of voters have said that "marriage" is a union of man and woman. And duhh, don't we Americans quack regularly about how great Democracy is? Majority vote wins. Minority vote loses.

I am all for domestic partnership rights. Whether the partners have sex or not is not of any interest to me. With times as tough as they are, two senior citizens ought to have the right to bind themselves together in order to survive, whether they can have sex or not. Two young women with children ought to be able to form a partnership that allows them to raise their children, whether or not they are lesbians. Same with men -- what if they are just close but not sexually active with each other? Should they be discriminated against just because they can't "marry" -- and doesn't "marry" carry with it the suggestion that sex is demanded? I mean, marriages are annulled (declared null and void) if no sex occurs?

Here's my thought: two struggling people (call them whatever gender you prefer) get together to try to get by in a society that sports high prices on food and housing. They make it through 10 tough years, but in the end, find their interests and careers and habits too much to deal with, and they separate. As a domestic partnership, they have obligations to each other. If they weren't homosexual, and didn't have sex, even if they filed for "marriage," they have nothing -- because with no sex, there is no marriage.

And if "marriage" is the important part, then why don't people just find some sympathetic minister to perform a ceremony and issue his/her own certificate? Does the state have to endorse that? Isn't it enough if the state recognizes domestic partnerships?

I don't know.

I do know that in a democracy, we all scream for a chance to vote. And if the vote doesn't count, then WTF does?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Dumb move

On occasion, one does something incredibly stupid.

I did that today. I knew better than to do what I did, there was no point to doing what I did, I knew I'd regret doing it afterwards. I should never have gotten on that horse.

I'd just come back from a really nice trail ride on the superbly calm and steady Duquesne (also known as Dink), and one of the other ladies who boards her horse at the ranch was on her horse. The horse was standing very patiently, occasionally ducking his head to find the bit in his mouth, but not fidgeting.

She's trying to sell this horse, you see, but she's not having any takers. People won't even come look at him, because he's at least part Arabian, and Arabians have a bit of a reputation for being flighty. In fact, this woman had just been bucked off her friend's Arabian-mix just about an hour before. Whoops!

This horse isn't your average poorly-bred, undersized, wired up Arabian nightmare, however. He's a Polish Arabian, 16 hands high (that's a big horse), and somewhere in his history, he was allegedly trained for dressage. I told the woman I'd hoped to see her riding him. She was agreeable, and set off around the arena at a walk and then a nicely collected trot. He was graceful and calm, even though there was an insane little mare galloping madly around the outskirts of the arena. After the demonstration, she rode up to me. "I just want to sell him to someone who can appreciate his training, and get myself a quarter horse that I can ride on and not have to keep my hands on the reins like this."

"Sand knows a little about dressage," offered another friend who was on her horse nearby.

She offered to let me ride him.

Yes, I know a little about dressage. Enough to know that when I gathered up the reins, and he collected himself like an angel, that he'd had a good bit of training. We walked around the arena, and I barely had to close my hand around the rain before he responded to a whisper of a touch. He moved into a slow jog, he stopped, he backed up, he stepped sideways -- all to the lightest of clues.

I can't afford him. She wants ten times what I have in my piggy bank. But alas! Now I can't stop thinking about him.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Grapes, grapes, and more grapes

Alex and I spent the afternoon plucking grapes from their stems, in preparation for freezing.

She did the harvesting: well over a bushel of grapes, swarmed by desperate ants. She dropped the clipped clusters into a big tub of water, so that the ants could get the picture and climb out. Most of them did.

Once the ants were subdued, we sat with big pans and stripped the grapes from their twigs. Now and again we plunged into the pool to relieve ourselves of errant ants, of sweat, of the various little vegetative bits that accompany grape-plucking.

It was wholesome work, satisfying in that we were providing the winter's fruit, gas prices and grocery prices come what may; but it was also tiresome, and as the sun goes down, I'm ready for bed and sleep.

Good night, and remember to pray for the fools and saints in the wake of hurricane Katrina's path.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Dragon Dancers

After a year's absence, Bernie and I made a trip to San Francisco on Sunday.

Our goal was Francis Ford Coppola's restaurant Cafe Zoetrope, as Bernie had heard that it was an interesting place with good food. Duh, why else would we go there? I had more or less picked the locale for our search for an Italian restaurant in North Beach, the section of San Francisco around the vicinity of the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. I had an urge for Italian, and since I more or less remembered the streets there, FFC's place seemed a good bet.

Our review of the restaurant will be in next week's Piker Press. The picture that you see came about as a result of having ten minutes to kill before the restaurant opened for lunch.

We walked up the street a block and presto! we were in Chinatown. Another block, and we turned a corner to find a crowd growing, blocking a narrow street, and young men in the trousers of dragon costumes milling about in front of a store. To promote their new big sales event, dragon dancers had been hired, and a Chinese band of traditional instruments were there to play the background music for the dance. Marvelous! (Each of those dragon costumes has two men in it, by the way. Quite the acrobats!)

It was a cool experience on a number of levels. One, I liked how the store owners were unafraid to use a traditional ritual in public to celebrate their sale. Most communities want to hide their roots behind closed doors or forget them completely. Two, I liked how the community swarmed into the street to watch. Cars got through the intersection slowly, but it was apparent that the people were more important than traffic. Three, after only a few minutes of the acrobatic dragons, a funeral unexpectedly drove through, with a band marching ahead of the hearse, and giant incense sticks mounted on the cars -- and the neat thing was, the performance STOPPED and people waited reverently until the procession was past before starting up the entertainment again.

Cultural awareness, community participation, and civility. Where else do we see that nowadays unless it's orchestrated by some huge group? And then you don't get the civility! I would like to see my town mill about in the streets. I'd like to see parents sitting on chairs on the sidewalks, watching their kids play kickball in the street.

I'm a dreamer, all right.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


There it is, the winter's heat source.

My neighbors all think I'm insane to burn wood for heating our house. Wood is dirty; wood is inconvenient. Wood requires some splitting (which is hard work) and it all has to be carried in a few pieces at a time. Ashes have to be emptied when they get too deep -- dirty and inconvenient again. The neighbors all have gas-fired furnaces, and some have gas-fired fireplaces. Our house has a furnace like that too, so am I crazy to tend a woodstove when I could just set a thermostat and forget about it?

In fact, I doubt that my neighbors really believe that we can heat a four-bedroom house with a fireplace insert in the kitchen. And they're right, at least in terms of how people are taught to heat their houses. "Even" temperatures throughout the home are what these gas furnaces are designed for. They heat up a body of air, and push it through ductwork. Voila: the back bedroom and the kitchen are the same temperature. Warm, dry air is blown into a room, floats to the ceiling, and leaves the person on the couch shivering until he goes and turns up the thermostat again. $$$. When the cost gets too high, they wear heavy sweaters -- or go to the shopping mall, where the temperature is a balmy 72 degrees, and they can spend more money.

Sometimes it gets too hot in the kitchen where the stove is, but except for mealtimes, we don't usually hang around in there. The front room of the house is quite comfy. Two of the bedrooms are perfect temperature for sleeping, cuddled under a comforter. My studio is warm enough that I'm comfortable, and the bedroom I use has the window open all winter because I'm always too hot at night. My winter fuel bill is paid when the wood is delivered; the cost of that pile of wood dumped in the driveway is about what my shivering neighbors will pay in a month.

Yeah, I guess I'm insane. But there is a pleasure to stacking my wood, a satisfaction in seeing the odd-shaped pieces fit together; there is time to spend in prayer, in praise for the wonder of the renewable resource, in thanksgiving for the warmth it will provide. I've taken a week to stack the wood, a few wheelbarrows full at a time. God Who is Kind sent cool mornings for me to work in, and provided all the pieces to fit in each niche. Looks to me like being crazy has some value after all.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Two Cuties

Both of them love attention.

Both of them love playing ball. But try to take a picture with both of them in it, and what you get is a shy little dog and a distracted kid.

The picture I wish I could capture is the one where Lil goes shrieking through the room holding the tennis ball aloft, with Howie breathing on the back of her neck as he chases her. Both of them look so happy when they play like that.

I look at them and see two reasons that I find so much happiness around me.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Another Moment of Grace

This child of nature was resting on a branch above the sweet lantanas.

She watched the wasps sip from the edges of the tree on which she was sitting, tilting her head as they flew past. As I crept closer with my camera, she alternated watching them with watching me.

Under those feathers is a body the size of the last joint of one of my fingers. So tiny, it has a fully developed digestive tract and blood vessels that carry nourishment and cleansing to every millimeter. The eyes can detect the smallest movement; the brain and nervous system compensate in flight for the gusty afternoon winds effortlessly.

This creature, with a body less than the size of a bite of hot dog, is beautiful. Even though its brain is the size of a pea (if that), no one would say that this creature is worthless, and ought to be torn apart and thrown out, not even if it was asleep, in the insensate sleep that birds are prone to.

Sorry, readers, I just look at the size, and how much people love to see hummingbirds, and wonder at a world that will abort human fetuses far larger than this bird, and say, "Oh, whatever it was, it wasn't really alive, anyway."

I don't want anyone to kill this bird, even if she's inconvenient, or not appreciated, or if there might be a drought next year and she won't have enough flowers. She is alive, and beautiful, and she watches the wasps and the flies, and that is enough to warrant living. She will never write a sonata, or discover the secret of sustainable fusion, or successfully market fuel-cell technology. But she doesn't deserve to have her life ended, even if all her days are spent as a bird-brain.

As Kris would say, "May peace prevail."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Crop Duster over Suburbia

This morning, while I was reading the daily comics on line and savoring the miraculously chilly morning, a growing noise turned to a window rattling roar.

I've lived in this town for 8 years now, and I know that sound: the sound of crop dusters! I ran out of the house to the sidewalk just in time to see the plane make another pass right over the tree in our front yard, incredibly, deliciously, thrillingly close. Bolting back to the studio, I shouted for Alex and Lillian to come look, and grabbed my camera. Bernie joined us in time to see a pass of the plane, awakened from his sleep by Lillian's shouts of "Do it again! Do it again!"

It was like starting the day with a party. A beautiful day, laughter and wonder, a stunning air show. The time is evening now, and I'm still grinning and glowing from this morning's treat.

Sadly, we were the only family who came out of their suburban houses to see what the noise was about. A couple children walking to school early pointed at the plane in surprise, but other kids never even bothered to give the plane a second glance.

You know, I hear people crabbing and bitching about other people every day. I see folks take offense where none was intended; try to pick fights for the sake of excitement in their lives; sit and sulk in the flatulent miasma of their pointless grudges; get angrier still when others don't want to be dragged down by their hatred of their own lives. I truly wish everyone could feel the happiness I felt this morning, the awe, the presence of the moment.

There was nothing else in the world but the smiles, the fresh breeze, the yellow and red biplane against the blue sky. My heart felt opened to the Joy in Existence that is the Creator's grace.

There will most likely always be poverty, war, pestilence, greed, and all manner of cruddy habits and crimes people don't want to turn from. I can't change the way the traffic lights are set, or the shoddy customer service at the local grocery store, or the destruction of elephants' habitats. But I can accept that there are instances of sublime delight in life, and throw myself into the choice of happiness -- and be happy.

P.S. The photo was taken looking straight up from our driveway.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

His Name is Deceiving

Baby, Baby, you're so sweet
You're like the alligator
With the yellow feet!

Baby, Baby, you're so cute
You're like the crocodile
With the fur suit!

(Babe's Song)

Howie is the little dog. Babe outweighs him by about 40 pounds, and towers above him. When I walk with Babe, I feel like I'm walking with a black bear.

I remember seeing him for the first time, tied in the back of a small pickup truck, his owners giving him to me because they could not stand him. They hadn't bothered to train him to be polite or obedient. They'd bought themselves a pretty little pup and then abandoned him to his own psychoses in their back yard. You just can't do that with dogs, German Shepherds in particular. They NEED people. Being alone makes them crazy.

So there Babe was, 'way too big for that little pickup, barking and prancing and making the truck shake up and down, and I knew I was crazy for agreeing to take him on as a pet. But I did, anyway. He was too beautiful for me not to try.

Training was hard. He'd had few manners taught to him; fortunately I'd had some experience training a horse prior to getting Babe. Getting a 1200-lb equine to mind gave me some insights, and they were needed when dealing with Babe.

He's been well worth it. He's such a sweet natured dog. I've always felt comfortable grooming him, trimming his nails, examining his teeth, his ears, his eyes. He's a patient and trustworthy pet.

More on Babe a little later.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Custom-Made Dog

If you had asked me four years ago what traits I would like in a dog, I would have listed:

1. Sweet temperament; a dog that I could trust not to bite anyone, especially kids.
2. Intelligence; a dog that could be trained to walk at heel, to fetch the paper, to attack invading insects.
3. Health; a dog whose breed is not plagued by hip dysplasia, or epilepsy, or sinus problems.

My list wouldn't have contained the things I secretly wanted, because they are selfish things: soft fur, a pretty face, a huggable size, ears that can stand up or flatten out, a playful nature. More selfish still, I wished I could have a dog that was loyal to me, not the whole household. A dog that would follow me around, and watch me to see what I wanted to do, a dog that would rather be with me than with anyone else. And ever since I had seen a brindle bulldog when I was a little kid, I deep, deep down inside wished I could have a dog with stripes.

In July of 2001, after our German Shepherd, Babe, had once again playfully attacked me as I tried to walk up the north side yard (resulting in a strenuous game of Big Bad Wolf Meets Red Riding Hood and Her Quarterstaff), Bernie and I talked about getting Babe a little brother to keep him company and "take the edge off him." It was a Wednesday afternoon, and we had been swimming (along with Babe, of course.) Bernie asked me, "So, if you were going to get a second dog, what would you want?"

The experience of having Babe as a pet influenced me, of course. "I'd want a German Shepherd mix," I told him, "I love Babe's personality and that his family orientation is a breed characteristic -- but I have concerns about the Shepherds being too inbred. I'd want a male, about four months old -- big enough to play with Babe but young enough to be trained."

That evening, Bernie called me from work. "You're not going to believe this. The Manteca paper ran an ad for adoptable pets, and there's a dog called Howie that's a German Shepherd mix, four months old, and male. Is that a coincidence or what?"

He brought the paper home with him, and sure enough there was the ad, showing a bewildered young dog with light-colored fur and a timid demeanor. "Well, we can check him out."

We drove to Delta Humane Society the next morning, July 19th. We got there just as the shelter opened, and most distractingly, the doors opened, and a young woman tugged a dog on a leash to their exercise area. The dog was a large, fat pup with black stripes on an orangey-tan background. He leaped and ran when she let him off-leash, grinning with black lips, his ears alternately flopping as he galloped and pricking to stand up when he saw something of interest.

My heart did double-backflips to see him fling himself onto a bench in abandon, but I kept myself to our goal. We were nearly to the door of the building when we heard the woman say, "What are you doing, Howie?"

Bernie and I turned and said together, "THAT'S 'Howie?'"

"Can I see him?" I asked, already stepping into the exercise area. After that, the only clear memory I have is of spreading my arms and having "Howie" hurtle into them to lick my face and nibble my earlobes. And signing papers, any papers, and sitting in the back seat of the car with my striped pup in my lap.

Babe and Howie were prime playmates, as Howie loves to run and Babe loves to chase. After their first prolonged romp, we gave Howie a bath with flea shampoo (he didn't like that) and when night came, I slept on the kitchen floor with Howie's leash looped to my hand.

I can't believe that was four years ago already. That up there is a picture of Howie trying to nap in my chair.

Incidentally, it's Pets Week over at the Piker Press.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Things taped to the desk

I have taped to the "hutch" portion of my desk various things that I have wanted to remember.

One is a small sheet of paper that says simply "The Story is the Thing," and is there to remind me that tale-telling is about tale-telling and that I shouldn't worry about if telling a story is great art or Nobel Prize quality. It's the stories we have to tell that should be told so that they are not lost or forgotten as we grub about for worldly possessions and $$.

Just below that is Shel Silverstein's inspirational poem: "Draw a crazy picture, Write a nutty poem, Sing a mumble-gumble song, Whistle through your comb. Do a loony-goony dance 'Cross the kitchen floor, Put something silly in the world That ain't been there before." That's an important one for me, because I worry all the time if what I create isn't just taking up space. When I stop and think about Existence, I have to pinch myself to remember that Life is about Joy in Creation. It's just that simple, regardless of what hard times you encounter.

To beat myself, I have a quote (could it have been from Socrates?) taped up that says, "We are what we do repeatedly. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." Is as does is my personal motto, not too far from that quote. There is the whip that drives me in circles: what if I repeatedly turn out crap?

Behind my computer is a quote from James Baldwin that says, "If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can do to stop you; if you're not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real." When I'm proofreading or editing, I really need to hear that I'm not wasting my time. My effort is real.

There is a note on the side of the hutch that lists a neighbor's name, and that of his son, and that the neighbor is nice; above that is my expired CA license with a photo of me 10 pounds lighter and radiant with my successful diet; there is a picture of Howie watching me from behind a lovely planter, and one of our friend Bill and his wife Maureen. Bill died last year about this time.

A piece of notebook paper has all the letters of the alphabet on it for help when I try to make rhyming poetry; a photo of Bernie and me sitting on Santa's lap (Santa was our friend Jim dressed up for a church party) -- Bernie had hair and a dark beard, and I (still a smoker) was only about 115 pounds. Another photo of Sarah the bartender and her husband Cody. A note that contains the inspiration for this year's NaNoWriMo, and finally, a printed copy of an odd card I found 30 years ago -- I don't even remember in what the card was found. The copy says, "Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9)"

That's the one that provides me with the strength to keep on going every day. I'm a believer, and in spite of my irritable nature and built-in suspicion of everything, I try to listen for the voice of the Creator every day. And even when I can't hear that voice clearly, I remember, "... the Lord... is with thee withersoever thou goest."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

It's Like a Pennsylvania Screw

I'm screwed here, too, in Perseid-viewing.

I never saw the Perseid meteor shower in its glory when I lived in Pennsylvania, not only because of the frequently-overcast sky and heavy haze of humidity, but also because the gnats and mosquitoes would carry one off piecemeal if one tried to sit out to view them.

Here in California, the air is (normally) relatively clear at night, and the bugs could be thwarted by layers of clothing that also kept one warm on the (normally) chilly nights. Forget it this year. It's still hotter than the bejabbers outside at dusk; no way am I going to don a robe and thick socks and a long-sleeved shirt tonight. And that would be a necessity, as all the papers and radio news are full of warnings about mosquito-carried West Nile Virus, that has killed a few people this year. (Bernie's commute partner's neighbor was recently admitted to the hospital with West Nile Virus.)

Sleeping indoors last night, I not only did not cough in my sleep, but also did not cough after waking. Until the weather changes, indoors it is for me, alas, and that will also preclude me waking at 2 am and watching the sky through the roof of the tent. What a bite. Well, maybe I'll be alive next year to try again.

One night, back in 1990 or '91, Bernie and Alex and I were lying outside in an evening, watching for meteors at the end of July. We were all bundled in warm clothing and quilts and sleeping bags and such (oh, those normal summers!) and as we watched the sky, Alex and Bernie saw something in the sky that they found unusual. "Did you see that?" Bernie asked his daughter. "Yeah!" she replied, "What was it?"

A good researcher, I separated them immediately and interviewed them both individually. "A blur seemed to move across the stars, distorting them," Bernie said. Alex reported, "It was like the alien in Predator in how it refracted the light, making it seem almost transparent." Both of them saw something, but what it was eludes us to this very day. I know that a night or so later, I saw three odd lights moving against the wind that were NOT conventional aircraft (Bernie saw them, too) and that was the last time I sprawled out under the open stars looking for things in the sky late at night.

Well, of course I love my tent, but I don't open my eyes when I'm alone. And Howie is usually there with me if Bernie is not. And I have Babe, who is a match for any alien invasion.

But oh, well. Tonight I will be inside, loaded with painkillers for my back, hiding from the pollen and the heat, the geriatric Babe guarding the hallway rather than the sky. And not at all looking forward to the morning, when two cords of wood will be dumped in my driveway, awaiting me to stack it for the coming winter.

Winter. That's like some sick fantasy itself.