Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Nicest Christmas Gift

Last weekend, Bernie and I went for a walk, and while we ambled past a little farmyard, we watched finches in their drab winter color snacking on a seed-sock hung from the farmer's gate.

I've heard of the feeders before, and seen pictures of them, but never had one, as I didn't have a lot of finches around. Seeing the farmer's success in feeding goldfinches led me to pick one of those feeders up at the supermarket this past week. I hung it in over the back patio where we feed various other birds, and sighed. I figured it would take years to attract finches to the yard, and that the initial sack of seeds would most likely be wasted.

At this point I should relate that I have always loved goldfinches, from the first time I saw their flocks sailing above the summer grass in the lot across the street from my parents' house. I used to run through the grass, and see the golden flickers as the birds rose up from feeding on seed heads. They were so beautiful it made my heart leap. Goldfinches remind me of spring, of summer, of coreopsis, butter-and-eggs, and sweetpea hidden in the same long grass like jewels from a tipped treasure chest. And they remind me of Bernie, who was the first person I met who was interested in watching birds and clouds and The World.

This afternoon, after returning from shopping for Christmas dinner's ingredients, Bernie shouted to me to run, hurry up, hurry up! "Quick! You gotta see this!"

I stopped in the kitchen doorway, looking out at the patio, and the hung seed-sock -- and the swarm of goldfinches on it. They found it! How did they find it so soon?

I watched them as though my brain was starving for the sight, then grabbed my camera and took some pictures. This was the best one -- the rest were blurred from the dimness of the day and from me literally shaking with excitement.

One could say that I bought the local birds a lovely Christmas gift for them to find, but really, I'm the one who has been gifted, by extraordinary beauty of the world I live in, and by joy.

Dog Speak

Sebastian and Howie are starting to discuss certain aspects of their budding relationship.

In spite of being the smaller dog by about 35 pounds, Sebastian has this puppy-brained idea that he is going to grow up to be Howie's boss. Here, in spite of the fact that Howie had just finished knocking him down and taking the eviscerated cloth duck away from him, Sebastian has the unmitigated gall (gall is always unmitigated, isn't it?) to stand stiffly beside How and put his muzzle on Howie's right ear. Note the upraised tail and straight posture. How rude!

Howie's tail has an answer for him: namely, that Howie is quite ready to leap up and thump him again. (And did, in point of fact, only seconds later.)

Clicking on the picture shows you a larger version, one in which you can see that Howie is not at all amused, and catch a glimpse of Howie's tongue moistening his lips for the next major showing of teeth.

It's only this past week that they've started tussling and physically playing with each other. Up til then, Howie seemed to consider Sebastian too much of a pup to do more than just ignore, and would just hop up into a chair and pretend he couldn't see the puppy yapping at him. A milestone has been passed, and now the playful posturing begins.

Well, maybe not all playfulness. From the sound in the next room, I believe Howie just instructed Sebastian why it's not a good idea to try to take Howie's dog cookie away from him.

Ice in December?

What's that icky stuff in the bird bath?

It's shiny and hard and COLD -- it's ice!! This was the state of the morning last Wednesday, and at that, it was not as cold as it had been the day before, when the birdbath was solidly frozen (and I was too lazy to take a picture on Tuesday). The photo was taken around 10am, too.

After 20 years in California, I've come to be amazed at ice of any amount here in the central valley, besides that which resides in my water glass. I mean, come on, a morning like Wednesday makes you put your socks on before going out to get the newspaper when you don't feel like finding where you left your shoes the night before.

And though there was ice, and all the impatiens that weren't under cover turned to mush, it wasn't cold enough to harm the lovely lemon tree, whose leaves dangle above the birdbath. I remember one winter about 15 years ago when the temps stayed below freezing at night for a week, and the daytime didn't get much above 40 degrees (F). We lost a lot of plants that year, including a mature lemon tree with a six inch trunk.

This time, the ice is just a novelty. Even the outdoor ficus tree sneered at it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Old Fashion.

I've seen this phrase on the banners that our town flies above its miniscule shopping district. I've seen it on advertising signs near the next county's shopping mall. I saw the phrase used somewhere yesterday, on my travels about the county, and it made me so irritable and caused me to froth at the mouth so much that I can't remember where I saw it.

"Old Fashion" is a NOUN, not an adjective!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If one wants to use it as an adjective, as in "Old Fashioned Values" or "Old Fashioned Comfort" YOU ADD AN "ED" ON THE END OF 'FASHION'!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Whew. That feels better.

See? I didn't even call anyone an asshole.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Getting Ready for Rain

The rainy season has officially started, but the weather has been weird.

Rain and warm do not go together here. Yet yesterday, as Howie and I returned from our walk, him panting and me sweating, a thin misty rain soaked the outside of my jacket and wet his fur.

Tonight, the forecasters are saying we're going to get a cold rain. And then lower-than-normal temperatures. So today I did all the stuff outside that needed to be done before the kind of weather hits that makes one not want to work outside. I raked leaves, I mowed the front and side yards, I swept the patio and the sidewalk, I collapsed on the comfy chair and sweated beside the fireplace with the Coals That Would Not Die. (Four hours later, they still have not given up.)

I think I like preparing for a storm. Makes me think I have some control over my life.

But it's still too stinking hot in here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Thoughts about Aser

It was the Piker Press Senior Editor (and owner) of the Piker Press who coined the phrase "the half-crazed hedge shaman," thereby almost certainly defining the character of my fantasy stories.

Where she came up with the idea, I have no idea. None of the stories had even been written yet; Ase Ur-Jennan was still an amorphous hooded character who had been lurking in my mind, uncalled-upon for many years ... except as a username to sign on to a website. But once labelled as a crazy hedge shaman, she took shape rapidly and proved to be quite the story-teller.

I still use the name "Aser" when I sign up for new boards. Aser is a character I'm comfortable with; she's big enough to hide behind, and not neurotic enough to worry about sharing a name.

We're toying with the idea of running all the Aser stories again in sequence, in the Press, because at the beginning we had like, four readers. And some of the archived stories have corrupted text symbols, and as far as I know, none of the original illustrations survived various server changes or the massive exodus to the new webhost. A couple of the stories were even re-written when they made their way to the anthology.

The stories were never meant to be a story arc, but they became a number of arcs in a linear line. NaNoWriMo 2006 saw the very first Aser Novelette -- I haven't decided yet if it's worth publishing or not.

What is worth keeping is my right hand; the scorching tendinitis in my thumb is easing, bit by bit, thank God. In another two weeks, I ought to be able to recognize my own signature again.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ham of the Hour

What on earth are those ears going to be like when he grows up?

Sebastian is half border collie, a scootch German Shepherd, and who knows what all else. This morning he posed for a series of pictures (in spite of the flash) and came out looking so cute it's almost toxic.

He's quite the little ambassador. Howie was not interested in adding another dog to the house, and at first, would get up and walk away if Sebastian approached him. Little by little, Sebastian has been wheedling his way closer, until the last few days when he has been able to sit actually touching How.

Howie, in his turn, has taught Sebastian not to push his luck. After one precise pinch, Sebastian learned NOT to try to take Howie's food away from him. This week's big lesson: Do not bite the big dog's heels.

The two dogs are playing more cooperatively now, and the other thing Howie has taught the puppy is how to growl whole playing tug. The chorus of growls is simply charming. Howie still wins in a serious tugging match, but lets Sebastian have the stuffed duck or the nearly-shredded octopus from time to time, sometimes letting go so abruptly that Sebastian falls over backwards.

This morning, after Howie took his usual place in Bernie's comfy chair, Sebastian hopped up onto the ottoman in front of it. Howie, of course, did not deign to notice.

Sebastian fits on the ottoman now, but how long is that going to last? I suspect that Howie has another teaching session he's going to have to present, called, "My chair, get off."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Bird on the Window

There was a starling sitting on the 2 1/2 inch ledge of the window above our front door this morning when we got up.

Crouched down and pressed against the glass, it looked like an oblong shadow with a beak. An open beak. The only way to tell it was alive was that the beak, against the glass, had a halo of moisture around it.

Bernie had thought he'd heard a thump just before he got out of bed, and speculated that the bird had flown into the window and knocked itself silly.

Over the course of the next hour and a half, his hypothesis seemed likely. After about 15 minutes, we saw the bird begin to close and reopen its beak. Then it seemed to start seeing the movement in the house, sitting a little straighter, turning its head to watch Howie trot through the front room on the way to check out where all his peoples were scattered about the house.

It tried to stand, but sat down again and resumed panting.

I didn't, at that point, have any assurances that the bird was going to live, or any judgments that the bird was going to die. I was just honored that a living creature chose a place so close to us to let its fight for life pan out.

My comfy chair in the kitchen is in a direct line with the front door, so I saw it flutter its wings like a fledgling at one point, and then saw it sit up straighter and begin to turn its head -- birdlike! -- at another. Then I watched it stretch one wing, and then the other.

Bernie, who had been stopping by the door to speak to the bird, was there to see it flutter to a hanging basket from the windowsill, and saw it fly away after another minute to the trees.

I didn't take a picture of the bird. The flash necessary at that dim light of day would only have increased its trauma. Its poor life is too short for that kind of shit.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Something Very Bad

Time to cry outrage.

Thanksgiving is done, NaNoWriMo is done. And now it's time to speak about something I was told a week or so ago that has been bugging me like crazy.

We were at a restaurant bar, where we have been accustomed to eating lunch now and then. The two bartenders were giddily gossping with one of the waiters, and afterwards, apparently thinking we'd overheard their conversation, one of the bartenders, a young woman in her early twenties by all indications, came over and said, among other things, "I probably shouldn't mention it, but one of our friends is a paramedic, and he gives us a saline drip if we're hung over. You know," she chattered on, "you only get them if you're dehydrated, and the IV just puts fluid back into your body fast. I know, we shouldn't get that drunk, but oh well, you know, young people just party hard, just crazy kids."

I don't remember what we mumbled to make her get back to work; I just wanted her to stop telling me shit that I never wanted to hear had ever happened -- let alone, happened regularly.

Okay, not only is it stupid to drink so much you're hung over ONCE, but having done so ONCE, it's far more stupid to not recognize what will do it again. (Now in fact, I think it took me three episodes in college to understand that even ONE mixed drink would cause me three days of painful joints and nausea; since then I do not drink anything -- anything! with hard liquor in it. Love the scent and taste of gin; NEVER drink it.) Well, alcohol does impair reasoning, and some people don't learn easily. Stupid, but repeat bingeing does happen.

But I can't think of what rank of stupidity it takes to get hung over to the point where you think an IV drip is an acceptable solution. "Morning, Dwayne, hey, listen, I'm so hung over I think I'm going to die. Can Suzy and Debbie and me come over for an IV this morning? Thanks, Dwayne, you're a peach." Needle holes in the arms every weekend. Oh, great. What a problem-solver is Mankind!

From the way the girl talked and twitched, and how skinny she was, I wouldn't be surprised to learn she was ingesting a lot more dangerous stuff than alcohol. I couldn't smell her, so my guess would be cocaine rather than meth; on the other hand, I was coming down with a cold so the ugly chemical smell of meth could have just not reached my nose. Her whole demeanor about the incident was that this was What Young People Do.

I was digusted.

And on another level, I was appalled that someone who is a paramedic would be doing hang-over drips on the side. I don't know about the legality of it; there are tons of catalogs that sell veterinary supplies (including syringes and needles) that I could buy from without having any kind of veterinary background ... maybe this paramedic buys all his supplies and isn't using his employer's. Legality aside, there is an ethical issue here, isn't there? It wasn't "He gave our friend Irving an IV because Irving was so sick" is was "He gives us" -- a recurring theme. How could he? And would I want my life in the hands of someone who thinks that IV's are a recreational tool?

No wonder medical costs are so damn astronomical. Black market hangover cures. What a world.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

NaNoWriMo Success in 2006

I hit 50,000 (and some) words, and I am done.

Much can be said about National Novel Writing Month, both that it is a futile waste of words that would better be spent writing articles worthy of submission to snooty and inbred publications that can be found in the local supermarkets (those bastions of culture) and also that it is a phenomenal device that allows participants the freedom to use a keyboard to follow their dreams down pathways they never before expected.

For me, it has been a release of random creative activity. Before 2001, I had no idea that I could actually write for any kind of entertainment. Before November of 2006, I had forgotten what writing for fun was really like.

The story that I have written this year is largely built upon word count. Yet I found myself discovering things about my characters that I didn't know before, and saw in my writing a reflection of the frustrations and issues that I encounter in real life.

It's been a grand effort, and I've loved it, even during the first ten days when typing two thousand words a day seemed like bloodletting or having a tooth filled.

And nothing, nothing can compare with seeing the word counter pass 46k and knowing that the end is so near, and so very obtainable.

50k Any Way.

Thank you, Chris Baty.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I'm very thankful for many things.

First, my beloved husband. Second, the rest of the family. Third, for a comfortable place to live in a beautiful land.

Have a great day, folks.

Friday, November 17, 2006

National Novel Writing Month 2006

Negative post, grab your garters and skip this if you don't want to see someone bitch.

I've been stepping up to the challenge of writing 50,000 words during November since 2001. I have learned how to use forums to communicate with others as a result, I have learned to stay away from various forums as a result. The Piker Press has evolved as a result, with me as one of the original Filthy Pikers who wrote for it. Good things have happened as a result of NaNoWriMo.

I used to love the NaNo Forums. So many people, so many ideas. Over time, however, I pared my activity down to the perennial Jon Renaut (aka TheTejon) Urinal Cake thread and the Geezer Thread (updated each November by Cheryl the Badass Knitter).

The Urinal Cake thread -- sorry, folks, there is no rational explanation about why a forum thread about urinal cakes could be so entertaining and mind expanding as to become a role-playing game that ranged from a stolen alien spaceship to a medieval castle transported to a Caribbean quasi-island -- is still reasonably entertaining. I cannot say the same for the "Geezer" thread.

God, some of those people are such nincompoops.

The Geezer Thread used to be, in some years past, a place where people actually talked about their work, their effort, and their insights. Now it's a forum for whining about infirmities, for taking up band width about why they will never will make word count, for yapping about how much else they are doing besides writing.

I respect the gentle ground of the NaNoForums. I will not intrude by telling someone who feels compelled to post six separate posts in a row to "Shut the fuck up!" Nor will I myself whine that when I knew I could not complete a NaNoWriMo challenge, I got the hell off the boards and let people who could complete it talk without my cluttering up their run for the roses. (Which would be another way of telling some others to shut up.) I can't even bring myself to find a way to tell someone she's a bossy intruding asshole who only thinks she's a popular poster because her prolific and stultifying posts get answered because the rest of the people on the board are trying to be so polite. (I guess that would be still another way of saying "Shut up".)

Oh, and have I mentioned that when you're struggling to meet word count, having someone yap about having reached 50k words in twelve days is really disheartening? If you can leave the rest of the world behind so early, well, uh... shut up.

2006: The Year of Wishing People Would Just Shut Up

Well, except for the cool people who really have something to say about their writing experiences.

Duh. I guess that would be Pikers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Introducing Sebastian

After a number of requests, I finally managed to get a couple pictures of the latest addition to the household.

Such pictures are easier said than done, as the little fellow scampers quite a bit, and when I do get his attention, he rushes toward the camera to see if it's good to eat.

Sebastian is allegedly half border collie on his father's side, and his mother is a "shepherd mix." Could be dachshund and beagle and a cur whose grandfather's uncle was a German shepherd ... people trying to find homes for puppies often throw "shepherd" into the spiel. Or maybe the mother was a mixed breed who came from dogs who worked sheep. No matter. The first time I saw Sebastian stalking the cat with a perfect border collie stare and crouch, I was won over.

He's pretty sassy for such a little guy, and Howie is still considering whether or not a new puppy in the household is a good idea. I believe it is a relief to How that we don't interact too much with the pup. I know it is a relief to me that someone else is taking care of all the puppy burdens

Poor Howie. In only a matter of weeks, this pup is going to be big enough to chase him. Or should I say, chase after that fascinating fluffy dingo tail?

Friday, November 03, 2006

There's a Spider in My Room

Just so you know ...

Spider-toe to spider-toe, this lovely measured more than an inch across. Bernie spotted the arachnid as he was preparing for bed. He wanted me to deal with it.

I don't mind being the one to confront spiders or wasps or bees or even toads. By and large, you either kill them cleanly or escort them gently from your domain. I don't do well at all with bats or giant roaches -- too skittery. You never know when they'll run or fly up your pantleg.

HOWEVER. This animal was just too big to humanely encourage into a dustpan -- mostly because it was perched above our bed, and specifically, MY corner of the bed. One wrong move and it would have disappeared into the bedclothes or under the bed, and neither Bernie nor I would sleep for the next decade.

"Vacuum cleaner," I said to Bernie, holding out my left hand. In seconds, he placed the vac hose in my hand, I climbed to the bed, and called, "Fire!" He turned on the vac and I slurped the poor spider up.

"Now what?" Bernie asked, gingerly holding the machine at arm's length.

"Mr. Spider inside Mr. Vacuum Cleaner goes to reside in the garage tonight."

"Oh, okay," he said with relief and scuttled the machine and its captive to the garage.

Someone else emptied the vacuum cleaner the next day before I had the opportunity. I don't know if the beautiful spider is dead, dumped with the dust from the cleaner, or if it managed to escape into the garage.

I'm keeping my eyes open.

PS. The title is from an early BareNakedLadies song.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween and Dia de los Muertos

2006 was one of the best Halloweens in recent years.

Not only was it the first Halloween in too many years that Bernie was actually home in the evening, but also, we somehow managed to be given the time to carve pumpkins, that is, Alex and Lil and I.

I reprised my cat design -- I'd tried it on a pumpkin last week for the cover story 23 Oct 06 in the Piker Press, but not having carved a pumpkin in more years than I care to admit, I foolishly chose a pumpkin that was already overripe. It carved easily, melted in a few hours, and stunk up the kitchen to boot. This pumpkin was nicely crispy, though much tougher to cut.

Alex got home from work while I was still carving, started playing with the drill bit I'd used for the cat's eyes, and ended up with a lovely Octopus. Lillian was content to watch and offer helpful observations ... after she encountered the stickiness of pumpkin innards. Ah, she's definitely my granddaughter. Stickiphobia must be genetic.

It was still light outside when we finished the pumpkins, so Alex and Lil went to the driveway (which I had hosed down earlier in the day to clear away the almond harvest dust) with a tub of chalk.
Halloween, All Saints Day, and Dia de los Muertos end October and begin November. We like to remember that the dead are still with us, still family, still friends, still loved, and so we draw calacas for passers-by to see, hoping that they'll ask us what that's all about. This is a broad view of part of the driveway (with Howie in the way). Probably more of the drawings will surface in the Press sometime this month.

We had lots of trick -or -treaters, but none quite so cute as You Know Who. Face paint and photo are by Alex, but the expression was aimed at yours truly. Lil always does best with an audience.

In all, it was a wonderful day, and the best bit was sitting with Bernie in the driveway, surrounded by the calacas, a fire burning in a chiminea by our feet. We sipped wine, and talked about life and death, the universe and everything, and how much we love each other.

Best Halloween in a long time.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Sparky Day

There isn't really supposed to be a way for people to affect machinery.

However, on a morning that saw me agitated about a dental appointment (to start the adrenaline and panic hormones moving) and that was added to by my mother asking me if my husband of 31 years died 30 years ago, I have been having problems with every piece of computerized equipment that I have touched.

At 5:30 am, my cell phone stopped working. Mostly. It received a voice mail, but not a call. The text messaging worked, but I couldn't make a call. At 6 am, Skype was spotty and twangy, and I have no idea how it sounded to my mother on her end. At 9:15, my laptop was kicking and bucking and "sulling up" (freezing) repeatedly as I tried to transfer one file from it to my graphics computer.

Trillian got disconnected four times.

After lunch, my printer locked up and it took me an hour to get it working again.

Oh, and the mouse attached to my laptop apparently has rabies and is going about on its own, biting random files.

I'm not hitting the wrong buttons. I watched at close range while I clicked on my gmail "send" button and watched it REFUSE to send a brief e-mail with an attached file.

I call the phenomenon "Sparking" and have seen it in action before, when I've been upset or stressed. Keystrokes and mousing just don't work the same as when I'm calm and happy.

Oh, sure. Tell me I don't know what I'm doing. Tell me that dialing the same number four times in a row (yes, the display showed me I was dialing right) only gives one correct response.


La Tante Marie says, "Cherie, I will fix your computer for you."

I'm going to let her.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Different Color in Autumn

The orangey fellow is "Just Joey" and the pink (which whizzed out the camera's ability to track color) is "Electron." I never used to like pink and orange together, but combined with the bronzey new foliage -- they look pretty.

They, along with white "Honor" and lavender "Angel Face" and golden English rose "Graham Thomas" are the only survivors of my once 21-variety rose garden. Over the past 10 years, I've grown increasingly impatient with getting hooked by thorns and less enthusiastic about all the chemical crap I have to do to keep the roses free of aphids and mildew.

The above is not entirely true. There are two other roses growing on the back bank that have been marked for removal, but are still there. They are two climbers, and while they're beautiful, they grow like weeds and I can't get near them for maintenance. One will be replaced by a cherry tree.

The other one will just be removed so that it will stop beating up on the euonymus and nandina.

Bernie also says that the alstromeria must go. The heavy rains late last spring made them go heavily to foliage, lush and huge and thick -- up until the temps went above 90, and then that weighty mass of green just went limp and smothered itself. After that trauma, it only bloomed sporadically and for the rest of the summer, looked weedy as hell. Looks like I'm over my alstromeria phase as well.

Working with the Press, my time has now become more compacted when it comes to gardening. I need easy color with a forgiving habit. I'll take my mother's advice and enter into my geranium phase for a while.

The only problem with geraniums is that they are so damn hard to photograph. Will I have to resort to -- gasp -- film?????

Friday, October 13, 2006

Autumn Images

Last Saturday Bernie and I went for a walk.

I packed along my camera, thinking I might find a bit of fall color for this blog. Well, you're looking at it. It's still too early for the liquidambar and Chinese pistache trees to turn color, and most of the rest of the trees turn shades of brown, except for the sycamores in the neighborhood, which turn brown with mildew spots.

In a week or so, the gingkos and cottonwoods ought to have a little color to them, too.

In the meantime, there is this flower, which looks to me like a gaillardia of some type, a plant which blooms most of the summer and loves heat and sun, doesn't need much water, and will reseed itself if it gets the chance. This particular variety is more compact than most, and the seed heads are rather attractive.

I don't particularly like gaillardia, so the beautiful display of color in an otherwise drab season is just all the more annoying.
On the other hand, the lower angle of the sun in the early evening does wonderful things for the horsetail grass in the water garden.

I love the way it makes the stems look as though they are lit from within.

Work on the Piker Press continues apace, with wonderful new stories submitted by Jerry Seeger, one of which will grace the front page of the Press on October 16. I'm hoping that during November, I don't have to do anything but write until my fingers hurt.

It seems like such a long time since I was able to do that.

Friday, October 06, 2006

La Tante and the Toad

Incidentally, La Tante Marie does not like the idea of toads in plaid pants, either. Especially when they hit on her.

"Take zeez toad, and shove it," she said.

What can I say in reply to her? The toad has a superior GPS and will undoubtedly find his way back to her.

If I were the toad, however, I'd leave her alone. Rumor has it that she carries a grenade-launcher in that purse.

Capitalist Toads

I fished a toad out of the pool again this morning -- a different toad, a little one who was desperate to get out of the pool.

No wonder -- it was downright cold this morning. I didn't snap a picture of the toad; it's just one more toad fixated on the materialism of being able to say that he swims in a large in-ground pool on his property and that he has more slugs than he can eat in fifty years. Damn capitalist toads. Next thing you know they'll be wearing plaid pants and boasting about joining the local Rotary Club.

Mind you, I have no problem with the Rotary Club, it's the boasting that gripes my ass.

And the plaid pants.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

An Early October Day

An improbable star in an Autumn sky.

Commonly called "Angel's Trumpet," a specimen of this shrub (brugmansia) dangles over our fence. My neighbor loves it, but most of it is not over her yard! The dangly yellow-orange blossoms are unusual-looking, fairly attractive, and immensely fragrant at night. I understand it doesn't like temperatures below 40 degrees, so I'm hoping for a good hard frost or two to keep the thing from getting any taller than its current 12 feet.

It drops an unending patter of dead leaves and blossoms.

There, that wasn't dripping with venom, now was it? I actually thought it was a cool-looking plant when I first saw one in San Francisco, but that was before I smelled it. I'm not good with strong floral scents at any time, but this one smelled like the men's cologne section of Macy's.

A bit later in the day, this fierce predator landed with a plop on the fence under the brugmansia. I managed to slowly get my camera up and then snapped this through my studio window. Still, the mockingbird looks pretty suspicious of my movement. After I held still for a while, the bird hopped along picking at buggies on the boards.

I managed to upload three articles to the Piker Press today, working ahead so as to have time to spare in November.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Persistence of Toadery

Now where do you suppose I found this toad this morning?

In the fish pond? No, guess again. In the shrubbery, where it might be gainfully employed eating snails? Not a chance.

Oh, but you knew all along, of course. In the morning sunshine, the toad floated in the middle of the swimming pool, and I swear it twitched in recognition and chagrin when it saw me.

Once again I scooped Toad out with the net and this time I didn't bother taking him/her to the fish pond. It's close enough to hibernation weather that the little pest will want to burrow in somewhere anyway.

2006: The Year of the Toad.

Friday, September 29, 2006

I Almost Forgot

I sat in a tire shop while new front tires were being put on the car ... and took five pages of notes -- for a possible novel.

National Novel Writing Month signups start Sunday at!!

Once again, it looks like I'm in.

This time, I'm prepared.

That is, if I don't change my mind about which novel I'm going to write and start a new project the night before NaNo starts because I've suddenly got this great idea that I can't stop thinking about and end up four thousand words into it and decide I don't want to hurry a project that looks like it might have some promise ....

Dirty Air

I love living in the Almond Capital of the World.

My mother and I have been talking about "where we live" and she's convinced that her little town in Pennsylvania is the best place to live. "The mountains are beautiful, everything's green, there's never a dull moment with the weather, the town is small enough that people know each other." She gripes about what she remembers from a cross-country trip thirty years ago, "California is just scrub and dried grass, and it's too hot."

I see a different California: the orchards are gorgeous in the spring, the weather is (by and large) wonderful, and I'm close to whatever shopping I need to do. And if it's too hot in the Valley, an hour's trip takes me to chilly coastal weather. I also see a different little town in Pennsylvania: one that's an hour away from a store that sells clothing, though they do have ONE supermarket in town. I see her humidity at 100% for most of the summer; and slushy rains most of the winter. I see hordes of gnats, poison ivy everywhere, and did I mention that you have to go an hour in any direction to find clothing??
The subject of "where we live" came up after I had to take off my headset, turn away, and hack my lungs out for a few minutes. "Do you have a cold?" she asked me.

"No, it's just the almond dust. Makes me cough a little in the mornings until my head clears."

That was all it took to get her going. "That's why I don't like California. Don't you remember how sick I got that one time [this is the 30-odd years ago part] we were out there? I couldn't even speak, the dust and the pollen were so horrible!"

Cough, hack, snort. I cleared my throat and just listened, because in front of me, on the window screen is the evidence that condemns our air. That circle is from a fan in my studio. A fan blowing OUT.

Yes, it's worse outside than in.

But it's not worse outside here than it is in her town, where everyone knows your name and how many pairs of underpants you hung on the back yard clothesline last Monday.

P.S. There is no Macy's there, either.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How Many Days?

A week and a month until National Novel Writing Month.

Signups for the event begin on October first. I'll be there, and be signing up, but I still am not sure what I'll be doing or why I feel so compelled to participate in this particular exercise. After all, it's not like I don't write every chance I actually get a chance. Well, that's a lie. I have chances and I'm still too drugged with sleep to make my brain work, or laundry is calling, or cooking, or gardening -- not by choice, mind you, regarding chores -- I just won't sleep at all if I don't make some household effort.

La Tante Marie assures me, "You can write about my life, cherie -- that will give you more words than you know what to do with."

No thanks, Marie. I think I can come up with something on my own. But if I can't, I'll let you know. And stop smoking on my blog.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Fabled Hopseed

This, then is the fabled Hopseed.

I've had a number of hits on this blog from people looking for information about the hopseed bush. I happen to like my hopseed a lot, and took some pictures of it one year when it was particularly showy. (It only took two weeks to locate the photos on my computer. I don't know why I don't label these things better.)

The latin name for hopseed is Dodonea viscosa.

Hopseed is a lovely tree to look at. I believe I saw them first in San Francisco, at Fisherman's Wharf. They'd been trimmed up about five feet high so that their graceful trunks were visible, and the purply-bronze foliage made a pretty umbrella above. I combined a hopseed in our front garden with a glossy-leaved white rhodedendron, and an arbutus (bright green leaves). Nice contrasts.

We moved from that house to this one, and the back bank was perfect for a hopseed; that back bank was as hot and dry as a Yuma mudflat. We had to use a pickaxe to make a hole for the shrubs. In this planting, we allowed the hopseed to be the focal point, with a lemon tree and a willow-leaf eucalyptus adding some different colors and textures. Once the hopseed was old enough, we stripped off the lower branches.

There isn't a "bloom" as such with hopseed; they're grown for their colored foliage and for their resistance to heat and drought. But they do produce a pretty cluster of seeds, ranging from this light pink and green (where it's shady) to a darker rose and purple in the sun.

I've seen them used effectively as hedges as well as focal points of gardens. In the winter, our birds nibble at the dried seed heads.

The seed heads are what retailers forget to mention. As the tree matures, it produces more of the seed heads, some of which will germinate and give you more hopseed trees. Not a bad thing, if you like them and have a place for them.

But the seeds are a very bad thing if you plant a hopseed on the windward side of a swimming pool. It's the nature of the plant to produce its seeds, and it is the nature of the seeds to fall to the ground or travel on the wind. Our patio can be ankle deep in crunchy seed heads at times.

I don't think of this as a "messy" tree -- that's reserved for birches and their filthy sticky exudate or liquidamber (sweet gum) and its spiny balls -- but if you want a cleanly swept yard or deck, hopseed is probably not the tree for you.

The last picture gives an indication of how many of the little winged seeds can grow on one small branch. Multiply that by a 20-ft tree and yes, that's a lot of seeds to hop around.

Nevertheless, I love it, and it looks fabulous above the rampant spider plants who masquerade as ground cover.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Sky Today

No, sorry, these are December-type clouds, not September.

Stupid-ass global warming.

Why am I wearing a sweatshirt?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lantana, Suppliers of Luck

This is possibly the best photo I've managed to take of lantana yet.

Morning light seems to be the most forgiving of reds and oranges. When I zoomed in and cropped for this pic, the flowers seemed to glitter like gems.

Lantana is a deciduous shrub here in California, blooming from April to October. Mine are beginning to set berries (inedible) already in September. By Thanksgiving, the berries will be a metallic blue in color. The leaves have a minty kind of scent (indeed the stems of new growth are square, like mints) -- some people like the scent, others hate it.

Lantana needs little or no irrigation once established. This bush has no direct water except for rain in the winter. Lantanas can be trimmed like a hedge, or pruned carefully into a little ornamental tree, and they come in varied colors from white to lavender. This variety is called "Radiation."

Over Thanksgiving vacation, we cut the lantana back to stumpy main stems. They look like dead wood until March, when tiny leaves suddenly sprout. They turn into monsters in no time; I plant tomato plants between my lantanas and have to take care that the lantanas don't climb all over the tomatoes. Something about lantanas keeps weeds from growing under them; that goes for tomatoes as well as weeds.

Sometimes they will reproduce from seed, and what results is anyone's guess in terms of color.

There, that's the technical. I put two of these lovelies in beside the driveway, and enjoy their color all summer long ... and when we're in need of luck, we gently strip a handful of the red blossoms and toss them in the air. We always smile when we do that, and maybe that's luck enough.

Red for luck, lantana for me.

Here It Comes

This morning at 5am I was running fans to try to pull some cool air into the house, and wondering where the heck the cold front was.

At 9am I took Howie over to the park for a run, and saw a couple wispy clouds to the west. But it wasn't really cool, and I was sweating like a PEEG by the time we had walked around the park. On the walk home, I looked to the north and saw these clouds. There are a few of those hook-shaped bastards in the mix, the long, wispy ones with a little hook on one end. I speak ill of them because they always bring weather I don't like.

But the stillness remained until just about 15 minutes ago, when I heard a sound like water running -- a breeze rustling the leaves at midday. Within moments the sky has become overcast, and now and then a little gust makes a louder sound.

Leaves are blowing past the studio window now. Here we go.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Calm Before a Storm?

I was beguiled this morning, when the rising sun's rays first hit this little branch outside my studio window.

Plays of light and shadow fascinate me. The power of the sun to bring to life the beauty of an otherwise annoying and objectionable bush is amazing.

There was little breeze at all this morning, and zero when I went out to exercise the horse around 10am. The flies, both in town and out at the ranch, were horrible, diving and bashing and landing heavily. As soon as the sun was up, the miserable creatures were hitting my studio window every couple minutes with a loud "Donk!" sound. At the ranch, even though I'd sprayed insect repellent on the horse and on me, the flies kept us twitching and swatting. They know.

In two days, the temperature will be thirty degrees cooler. Flies don't like that, so they get in all the shit they can before it happens. My joints have already started to ache, and now there is just a little steady breeze springing up out of the northwest ... this one may be a nasty weather change. That's a big differential to adjust.

Have I ever mentioned that I hate the wind?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Nice, Busy Day

Roses in the first full light of day are simply dreamy.

This variety is called "Just Joey" and I love it.

That's it, that's all for today.

Except that I had the best conversation with my mother this morning in five years. When she's not being a bitter old woman, she's fun.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Achoo! Well, now you know she has a pair!

I did mention in the previous post that I aggravate myself by buying Vogue once or twice a year.

Why do I do it? At over-fifty, I'm certainly not going to be trying to wear any of the clothes I see on the young models; indeed most of the styles in the magazine could be used as threats against me: "Give me all your cash or I'll make you wear -- this!" Maybe it's a way to touch base with the current trends so that I know ahead of time just how eccentric I'm going to look compared to the general populace...

But wait. Is the general populace really going to go to their company Christmas party looking like this:
This is by designer (store, company, whatever) called "bebe."

Oh, yes, I can just see the company receptionist slithering across the floor to make small talk with the girls from Accounting.

Or maybe the CEO's wife ordering this designer dress in a size 16.

I have to introduce you to someone, though. Her name? I just call her La Tante Marie, and she's been with me for ... more than 30 years, I think. I haven't drawn her in all that time and she's a bit irritated with that.

La Tante Marie says that she is from Paris. I don't know what she does for a living, and I really don't want to ask. I know that she can be irritable if disturbed for small things, but she is an opinionated character, with an earthy sense of wisdom. Well sometimes.

She's a free spirit, okay? Anyway, upon seeing this photo from Vogue, La Tante Marie says,"But of course I can see this image. It is of the drunken girl from the club Zut Allors! and she is in the hallway by the restroom looking for the back from her trashy earring. At least that is what she has told the manager who wishes to send her back to her protector in a taxi for being a trip hazard.

"To me, it looks as though she has taken a shower with someone who has so little respect for her that he has let her put her dress on backwards before shoving her out the door.

"This is not style, this is stupid."

Who am I to argue with La Tante? No wonder the pic bugged me so much. Oh, and please don't mention her thick French accent. She refuses to believe she has one.

Do you think Laura Bush will bite on this fashion for the holiday season? Weapons of Mass Destruction!

There Is Still Everything Else

The end of August and the beginning of September are just flying by.

Blogging has been difficult for a while. When life seems depressing, I'm inclined to just not mention it. It's far more fun to write about toads with Global Positioning Systems, or write about flower pictures -- or even rant about the latest issue of Vogue with which I've tortured myself.

This sunset on September 3rd was unusually spectacular, and of course, I really couldn't take a good pic of it as we were zooming along in the car with fifty million jackasses on our tail, all of whom were more intent on going 60 in a 35-mph zone than in appreciating the glory in the sky.

My mother and father taught me to stop and look around me to see what life was about. I've tried to remember that, and I'm trying harder than ever to remember that life is about the air we breathe, the miraculous nature of our existence, the love apparent in the intricacies of creation ... but it's been heavy going lately, because my mother has stopped practicing what she preached.

I downloaded Skype, which currently allows me to call free of charge to any phone in the US -- and thus allows me to call Mom every morning at 6am. She's 81 now, and still maintains by herself her 4-bedroom house and property. Well, except for mowing the chunk of land where she and Dad had their nursery business. A friend of ours mows it every few weeks, which is good to know, as the property is on a hillside and pretty tough to traverse on Mom's huge riding mower.

Mom has refused to call me for about 18 years, because I got an answering machine to pick up if I wasn't home. Well, now, she has called me a couple times: to tell me that my father died, to let me know my sister was in the hospital, to ask me to bail her out of some scam she'd got herself into. Three times, is that it? Yep. We wrote letters instead, and I'd call her when my worrying about her became overwhelming. This past spring she stopped writing back.

So anyway, the Skype thing is timely, I suppose, because Mom certainly sounds like she needs me to check on her every day. She's withdrawing from life bit by bit, retreating into memories that are more like dreams, with characters changing roles and voices, time slipping backward and forward. I don't know how she's managing to keep up with the world, frankly. I just say "Good morning, Mom!" and then listen for the next hour or more to the same memories, complaints, regrets, and bitterness ...

Bernie reminds me that the person I remember from 20 years ago is already gone.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Caught in the Act

Yes, this toad has got to have a Global Positioning System on board.

There he was, just floating as happy as can be in the swimming pool again. I'm not even surprised by this silliness anymore. And I got the impression the toad wasn't surprised by me approaching with the net, either. I just slipped it under him and lifted, and draped the dishtowel across him so he couldn't hop off while I went through the house.

I set him on the rocks beside the fish pond and got this nice, clear portrait of him.

The toad hopped into the water, and as the fish came up and poked at him, tried to scramble out. He managed to get into the new spreading plant, and settled down. Will the toad stay in the pond? Probably not.

Will the toad return to the swimming pool in record time? Most likely.

The Mysterious Snowberry

There was a shrub on the north side of my parents' house that grew white berries in the summertime.

Not only did I not know what it was called, I never saw such a plant again -- until last Monday, at a florist shop in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Symphoricarpos albus is the name of the plant: Snowberry. That's a simple enough name for a berry that's as white as snow. (The ones in this picture were probably grown in the sun, and so have a rosy blush.)

I was fascinated by the shrub as a child, admiring its waxy white berries, so unique in my world. Such a lasting impression snowberry made in my mind that I gave it a mention in Dreamer, my first book, when Sully talks about filling up the empty spaces in her life after her best friends move away.

Once I had a name for the creature, I looked it up on line and in my Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening (which, incidentally, also got a mention in Dreamer). None of the sources have much to say about Snowberry, except that it is deciduous and bears white fruit ... at least not much that agrees. One source says that the berries are edible but bad-tasting; another says that the fruits are toxic. Taylor's skirts the issue and says neither "yea" nor "nay." Taylor's does say that the plant doesn't grow taller than three feet, but other sources suggest it can grow as tall as nine feet. All of them casually mention that the shrub proliferates by suckering -- which means that if you plant it in a reasonably kind location, it's going to take over everything. Maybe that rude habit is why one doesn't see them often.

The shop where I saw the branches of snowberry is called Oak Hill Farm.

They purvey a lot of beautiful and interesting bouquet components there; in this arrangement, frankly, the only plants I recognize are the pinkish-purple pompoms of gomphrena (although that's the longest-stemmed gomphrena I've ever seen) and the bare stems of a corkscrew willow.

Not that they don't have "regular" flowers -- this display of zinnias caught my eye immediately, making me wish I'd followed through with my Spring resolve to plant zinnias in my garden.

And from the sublime of the flowery beauty, I now descend to the ridiculous: taking a break to let Howie outside, I walked past the pool and saw -- oh yezz, again -- THE TOAD.

Time to get the net and the toad-cloth and try once more to convince the beast that toads live in a fish pond, not in a suburban swimming pool.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Coleus Portrait

Most of the time, the humble coleus is used as a "background" plant for setting off spectacular flower groupings.

In a mixed pot of impatiens and alyssum, coleus adds texture and contrast. I've seen them tucked in with geraniums, asters, dahlias, celosia ...

I have a half-barrel planter that gets just a bit of morning sun, and each year I pack it with a dozen coleus -- nothing else. I like to savor the unique patterns of color. Not one leaf is exactly the same as another.

These particular plants were about to be tossed at the nursery where I got them. They'd grown leggy and unlovely from overwatering. But I knew that they'd straighten right up in the proper environment. And they did.

There's a tiny little blossom forming on the top of the tri-color coleus -- that means it's time to pinch off the tops of the plants so that they branch out and put all their effort into their beautiful leaves.

My coleus barrel will give me color in the garden until the season turns frosty; by then I'll have taken cuttings, put them in water to root, and started some plants for indoors.

Nice plant, and looking good in our perfect, perfect summer weather.

Monday, August 14, 2006

New Fish and Old Toad

They're rather hard to see in there, but in that bag are Bernie's two new calico lady goldfish.

One has a redder head than the other; they haven't been named yet. We thought once they were put in the pond that they would disappear into the deepest part of the pool for a while ... but they didn't. They joined up with the rest of the fish right away.

This morning I checked on them, and they came up and swarmed right along with the rest of the moochers, though they didn't eat anything. That's okay. As long as they survived the night, we're good.

Speaking of survivors, I was weeding and trimming tomatoes when something scuttled away from my hand. It was a toad, can you imagine that? Indeed it was the small toad I transported the other day. Good choice of habitats, Toad. Eat up all those slimy slugs!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Return of the Toad

Guess who sneaked into my swimming pool again last evening?
Lassie, the incredible homing toad!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cat Pics

This is "Cat."

We were in second grade when we met, and stayed good friends through high school. Just before adolescence -- that is to say, just before we lost our minds -- we viewed with some contempt the older girls' frantic rush to pile makeup on their young faces. We teased each other, drawing cartoons depicting each other in excesses of hopeless cosmetics.

I think the cartoons started when we were in sixth grade; I'm not sure anymore. We were already "Cat" and "Sand," though no one else seemed to be able to get that through their skulls.

Cat's portrait (kind of like a press release picture) shows a degree of sophistication in the artwork compared to the earliest "Cat Pics," but my signature still looks a little timid.

I drew cartoons of her and she drew cartoons of me. We drew them in class, at home, at recess; we drew them on drawing paper, math homework, the back of graded assignments. We thought those cartoons were hysterically funny.

Along with the catastrophic (get it? "Cat-astrophic?") makeup, a recurring theme was eyesight. Both of us wore glasses and were blind as bats without them. In this early masterpiece, Cat forgets her glasses and wanders out into the world.

There's a lot of line in this cartoon, and the shadow amazes me; My cartooning style now is very spare.

Word balloons were still developing; a lot of extraneous detail can be seen. A dog at a fire hydrant shows its teeth at Cat -- this signifies an unspoken insult that she was so ugly that even a dog didn't want to be around her.

Unwitting homeliness was part of Cat the character, too, though that is less of a factor in this cartoon.

"Z - O - O," spells Cat, and thinks it says "Hospital." In the early Cat cartoons, Cat was pretty dumb, too.

(The real Cat was not dumb at all; had she been interested in higher education she would have made a great mad scientist.)

The angle of Cat's neck was a veritable pinnacle of visual humor.

So Cat goes to see the ape and near-sightedly thinks the ape is her Aunt Clara. The message is that not only is Cat dumb and overly made-up and can't see for crap, but also that her relatives are probably ugly, too.

Note the numbering of each frame to help the reader follow along correctly.

Also the tin-shaded lighting -- we saw that every day.

The ape roars at Cat, but Cat sees nothing unusual about it. Is Cat that dumb, or is her Aunt Clara that unpleasant? The cartoonist allows the reader (the real Cat) to ponder the insults, any or all.

The final sight gag is that Cat's feet are pointed in the wrong direction.

I saved all the Cat Pics, treating them with far more care than I did the other drawings I made. When I was old enough to get an allowance, I bought a lockbox for the cartoons. Only one was lost: a classic about a beauty salon hairdryer that blasted Cat into orbit.

They're still precious to me, and I plan on scanning them all and getting them into a book through Crude and obnoxious, the cartoons -- especially the early ones -- remind me of a little girl who wasn't afraid to draw outrageously and constantly. I could use her coaching now.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A World Around Us All

It's a good thing now and then to take time out of one's crazed duties of shouting outrage and foisting herbal remedies on people.

Slowing down and letting the world revolve on its own, I had the opportunity to see this little butterfly resting by the side of the water garden. None of the legs we can see has a watch on it, and I can assure you the bug was not tapping any of his feet wondering when the mailman was finally going to get to his street.

Sometimes I encounter people who barely know that they're alive. Or maybe it's that they don't know that the rest of the world is alive. Which ever condition it is, they hurry along unmoved by rainbows, birds, or the sound cottonwoods make in the wind. They can't take the time necessary to stop and use their senses of touch and smell to discover the first warm breeze that heralds the end of Winter. Silence unnerves them, and they have no sense of themselves in the real world.

Life can be so beautiful.

I don't see too many sunsets like this in the summer -- no clouds, generally. But the weird weather patterns brought a few for a visit, and the glory was certainly worth running outside the house to see, to savor before the light was gone and the sky faded.