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.