Friday, June 30, 2006

Keeping Busy

I've been trying to get back to digging in the soil a little.

I planted impatiens in pots, and had them under a tree beside the patio. I used to grow roses in that spot, but then it got too shady when the tree grew. I took the roses out, and put potted impatiens there. They did fine for two years, but now the tree is much bigger, the fir pines we planted on the south side of the patio are huge, and there is simply not enough light there for the impatiens to bloom. Fortunately there's a little recess in the brick barbecue, and they look nice there.

Then there was the big green pot, in which alstromeria had resided, looking lush and beautiful this past wet spring. I'd thought they died. Well, apparently that was their habit, because after their first bloom, they disappeared again. The heck with that. I bought a New Guinea impatien, and some white ones to keep it company. The pot is getting too shady for sun-loving flowers anyway.

It's a start. I've neglected the back yard for a couple years -- ever since we had to cut down our huge eucalyptus that ensured our privacy in our pool. Everything seems so ... well, exposed, of course. But I did find that now that the shrubs along the fence have grown up, there is a nice corner of the pool that is visible from NO neighbor's yard. That's encouraging.

Today flew by, and I didn't get to walk with Howie in the morning. I'd intended to play with him in the pool all afternoon, but I went out to lunch with Bernie (our last weekday lunch!) instead. The wind kicked up and it wasn't feeling much like a lounge in the pool late afternoon, but I did get in and throw the ball for Howie. He decides when he's had enough, and goes to the patio to be dried off.

Here he is, mostly dry, happy to have been playing, with his ball at his feet ... keeping an eye on me in case I decide to throw the ball one more time.

We still get sudden "blue" fits, missing Babe, but we're adjusting.

We're looking forward to a four-day weekend -- barbecuing, a movie, and some writing exercise. And camping out in the tent!


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Time Change

Bernie may be seeing a few more of these soon.

Through a fluke in the system, and possibly more than a little prayer, Bernie is unexpectedly going to be able to move to the first shift of operation at his plant.

What does this mean? Well, it means that instead of getting home from work at 4am, he has to leave for work at 4am. It means that instead of sleeping through sunrises and working through sunsets, he'll see the sun rise on his way to work, and watch sunsets from home -- with me.

It means family dinners again. And warm snuggles at night.

Now granted, it does mean getting up at 3:30 in the morning. But being a middle-aged woman, that's not uncommon for me, anyway. Once he's off to work, I'll likely write or edit. I might end up napping at mid-morning, but who knows?

The tricky part is going to be suppertime. I haven't eaten much food at night for a long, long time. But Bernie will be ravenous when he gets home, so good meals will be in order. I'm going to have to learn to take tiny portions, and then EAT EVERYTHING LEFT OVER AT LUNCHTIME THE NEXT DAY!!!! (Bwah-ha-ha!)

I'm cautiously awaiting, and trying not to be too excited over this change.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Look at the Tomatoes on That One!

It's tomato season again.

My Roma tomatoes have been encouraged by the hot weather to ripen. I picked a dozen on Sunday, and another eight yesterday. Monday I was possessed by an urge to fix my sprinkler system, which I did, and then extended it to reach the tomatoes in the front of the house. Fatten those maters right up, automatically! I love the smell of tomato vines, and rustling through their leaves and stems for ripe tomatoes is as good as any Easter egg hunt I ever went to as a child.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Heat Wave

There was a song, a long time ago, called "Heat Wave."

The song made it out that a heat wave was groovy, perhaps even ginchy, in the vernacular of the time. Or maybe it didn't. I never listened to the song with more than half an ear, to be honest. As a kid, I was a linguistic snob, and if I couldn't clearly understand the lyrics to a song, I dismissed it. Did the song even have a melody?

Well, we're in a true "heat wave" now, and the breeze is like standing in front of Hell's exhaust fans. You can feel your skin shrivel after a few minutes.

The indigenous people of this area are frequently shown in old drawings as wearing no clothing. I can understand why. How did they survive without air conditioning? Why, they betook themselves to the river, which, fed by the meltoff of last winter's snow, is still one chilly watercourse even in the hottest bit of the summer.

We were guests at a lovely party today, but the air conditioning was iffy and the nearest swimming pool was warmish.

No clothes and a nearby river would have been preferable.

Friday, June 23, 2006

One Foot In Front of Another

Howie finally ate his bowl of dog food today.

It was the first time since the day before Babe's death that he voluntarily ate anything besides a tablespoon of cottage cheese in the mornings; I was able to tempt him Tuesday with an egg sprinkled with queso cotija, but that was all. Now this is not to say that my little striped sausage couldn't afford to drop the weight -- he does look nicely slim now. But it is to say that Howie has been grieving, too. Babe was his boss, and he took his orders and his tone from Babe.

This evening something wonderful happened. All five people of the family were in the living room once Alex got home from work; even the cat was there. Granddaughter Lillian was throwing a tennis ball for Howie, when he was suddenly possessed of the wild-eyed gallops. He raced from the back door to the front door, and every time he passed a person he leaped in the air and roared. He was grinning like a crazy dog, and attacked Bernie's feet, then John's, then zoomed to Lillian's bedroom and back and almost leaped over the back of the couch. He barked at the cat, and the cat cuffed him vehemently with both paws on the face! He chased the cat around the room and under the entertainment center! In the five years Howie has been with us, this is the first time he was allowed to play loudly and crazily -- Babe simply would not permit it.

It will be interesting to see how Howie develops in days to come. He's always been The Puppy. Now he's The Dog.

He's got a goodly portion of herding genes in his makeup, and I did notice that during his manic spree he was doing his growly roar right beside the rumps of the family members. He is part Queensland Heeler. I hope he's not going to decide to become an ass-nipper. That kind of humor gets old really fast.

I was glad to see him play.

Monday, June 19, 2006

In Memoriam

Babe is gone.

The vet and I looked at his chest x-rays together; she pointed out the mottling that covered most of his lungs. In light of the fact that he'd fallen facefirst into the pool a couple weeks ago (playfully trying to attack me as I swam), we figured the old fellow had pneumonia. A robust round of antibiotics and he might pull through.

His breathing had gotten loud and short over night, not quite panting. The doctor took a blood sample, too, and we were on our way with some hope. Until we were about to leave, and Babe coughed blood onto the floor. Everything slowed down and seemed to stop. I called a vet assistant, and she came and picked up the blood and went to get the vet again. She talked with me for a few more minutes.

She was right twice over. She told me that dogs that are to the point of coughing blood frequently go downhill fast. She told me that there was a strong possibility that he had cancer.

The next day the worst was confirmed. The blood showed numerous cancerous cells, and by evening, Babe had stopped eating and was just lying in his corner, puffing, each short breath counting down the hours.

Today we said goodbye to Babe as he left peacefully, the vet, the vet's assistant, Bernie and I -- all of us crying. The vet has known Babe for 11 years, too.

It was the right thing to do. Nothing makes it easy to have a pet euthanized, though. We let them so deeply into our hearts -- maybe because their love in return is so trusting, so unconditional.

My memories of Babe are pretty much all good. His first run on a long line with Bernie, who underestimated the speed and power of a year-old German Shepherd -- and ended up face-plowing as Babe dragged him off his feet. Babe helping to dig holes for shrubs in the yard, his huge yellow feet moving soil faster than my shovel could. His face wistfully set on the kitchen table as he hoped for a "cute" factor to gain him a tidbit or two. His unflagging optimism.

He was my sweet honey-bunkins.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bad News

Babe is failing.

The great German Shepherd Dog, who in his prime weighed a lean 100 pounds, has been withdrawing from us, and losing weight and appetite and interest. He wants to sleep almost all the time, and sleeps so deeply that he doesn't notice someone coming to pet him.

Tomorrow I'll make a vet appointment for him; but I think his end is near. It's hard. I remember him best as the tireless ball-player, The Great Communicator who could tell us that he wanted clean water, or dog cookies, or cottage cheese from the fridge, or just Out.

Maybe he'll rally, again. I don't know.

Just so you know, if you didn't read the Press a few years ago, this is Babe's personal song:

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
In the fur suit!

We'll see how he is in the morning.

Did I mention that it's hard?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Cheryl Made Me Look Like a Dunce

Cheryl gave me a whack this past week.

She wrote this poem, and it was sexy and strangely alluring, yet disturbing. I was reminded of long, long past boyfriends and of fictitious male characters in my books. We were chatting online, and after I'd complimented her on the poem, she asked me, "Did you know what it was about?"

Deer in the headlights moment.

What it was about? Uhh, wasn't it about some tall seductive person? Wasn't that obvious? Wait, Cheryl is never obvious! Crap! I missed something really important!

I called up the poem and re-read it. Sexxxay, as dear Josh would say, and quite readable ... still, it was obvious I was missing something.

Opting for the deer in the headlights reaction, I just basically said, "Hi! Is there somebody there?"


I was run over by Cheryl's tongue-in-cheek semi: The poem was about too-high-heeled shoes.

Me = Road Kill when it comes to analysis of writing, or parodies, or analogies, or whatever the hell people call them when what is written isn't really what it means.

Well, except when I do it, of course.

Stinking Cheryl. Just wait and see if I don't prod people to "Write Fiction Like Cheryl" for a contest again this summer.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pomegranate Thoughts


When I was a little child, my mother told me about the exotic fruit called "pomegranate." At Christmastime, she told me, her mother would buy a pomegranate for the kids to share. She tried to describe the taste of the fruit, and how it looked. I wished I could see one and taste one, her wistfulness was so evident.

But we lived then in a very rural Central Pennsylvania, and pomegranates were a fable, a rumor, a fictitious vegetable.

I was sixteen and daringly going alone to the supermarket to do the shopping when I spotted my first pomegranate. On impulse, I bought one, and Mother was not critical of the purchase when I brought it home. (I wasn't buying groceries on my own money at that point, having no income of my own!)

Breaking into the heavy-rinded fruit was a lesson in itself: we carefully tore back the skin from the blossom-end, exposing gradually the garnet-colored seed-drops in the interior. The taste was less acerbic than cranberries, but more tart than cherries. It was a flavor of foreign lands, of harvests more improbable than peaches or cucumbers. When I went away to college, at Christmas I would buy a pomegranate -- to remind me of my heritage, to savor the vivid flavor that laughed in the face of icy winter.

Globalization brought pomegranates into Pennsylvania stores regularly in the years that followed. We enjoyed every one we bought.

It was only after moving to California that I was able to have a pomegranate tree of my own, and I lost no time in doing so. That orange blossom above is a pomegranate bloom, and the photo below is a fertilized blossom.

Last year, the weather at this time of year was so chill that none of the blossoms set. This year, we're hoping for a few blessed treats when November and December roll around.

By then, the pomegranates will be as big around as large apples, and we'll have a big bowl of pomegranate to challenge the cranberries at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Do Her Eyes Follow You?

This is the cover image for this week's issue of the Piker Press.

I was very pleased with this result, as I've been beating the crap out of myself trying to learn how to use Photoshop effectively. One has to remember that it was only in the year 2001 that I learned how to do Instant Messaging, and only a couple months ago learned how to load illustrations or photos to the Press.

I'm pleased by my progress.

Last week I found a bamboo stake and fixed it in the ground at the far end of the pool. I had a reason for doing so: this year's lovely red dragonfly needed a place to land and survey his/her territory. In less than an hour, the dragonfly that had been buzzing our yard found the pole and alit. So fond of the stake is the bug that I can stand a foot away from him/her and the dragonfly is quite willing to allow me the intimacy.

My husband asked me how I knew to put a stake up for the dragonfly. "When there have been gladiolus spikes in the same place, the dragonflies land on them," I told him. He was a little surprised that I had drawn a connection, not because I'm stupid, but because he'd not thought of making an artificial spike to replace the dug-up gladioli. I could have told him it was a hedge-shaman thing, that we know how the wild things prefer their environment, but in reality, it wasn't much different than knowing that if you want to make changes to an image in Photoshop, the first thing you need to do is duplicate a layer or add a new one to experiment on.

I know that if a bug lands repeatedly on a certain tall plant, a surrogate tall "plant" will be an acceptable place to land.

By the same reasoning, if every attempt at modifying an image is going to produce a mess in Photoshop, just add an additional or copied layer and it will become an acceptable place to experiment.

When I crawled out from my cave under the tree-roots, I saw the dragonfly on the perch beside the water and told him/her, "Thank you."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Letting Go

This weekend is "Spring Cleaning Weekend" in our little city.

All the oversized junk that a household wants to get rid of can be put out on the curb, and for free, an anonymous dump truck will carry the stuff away.

Obvious candidates for "Spring Cleanup" are the roll-down sun-shades from last year that one of the winter storms violently ripped off its moorings and flung to the patio; the disgusting rusted cheap folding chairs that no one wants to sit in anymore; the faithful wheelbarrow that just fell apart last fall with no intact area to repair any more.

The stacks of growers' pots from many shrubs -- I haven't started plants in years, who am I kidding? -- those went onto the growing pile in front of the house. The failed experiment of the push-reel-mower (that "green" solution would have worked if filthy perdition-headed Sears hadn't purveyed such a shitful product, but that's a whole 'nother story); the spunky little rototiller that I no longer have use for, but definitely got my money's worth out of in the past; a broken coffee-maker, a burnt out DVD player, and a toaster whose final review was "Does Not Meet Job Requirements" all garnish the heap.

"Wait," you say, "some of those items still sound usable -- should they really be out on the discard heap?"

Well, yes. Because some of the stuff will actually be picked up by city employees early next week ... but most of it will be picked up by "gleaners" if it appears to be of any use at all.

For instance, last night a Gleaner picked up the rickety footstool I made and upholstered some (more than a decade) years ago. It had been over-used and abused and repainted and I only kept it because the upholstery matched my old rocking chair ... until putting it out last evening because I would never be able to make it sturdy and new again. Today, a Gleaner with an overloaded truck picked up the rototiller, the lawnmower, a baby stroller, and the burnt DVD player. I think they took the toaster, too.

I like the idea of "gleaning." Long, long ago in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, we "gleaned" a wonderful Duncan Pfyffe (sp?) table and chairs from someone's discards and used it for many, many years. We loved it until more pieces began to fall apart than we could fix. That same year we also found a lovely carved wooden chair that served us manfully as a decoration for a long, long time.

We don't need more money, so I hate to charge anyone for our discards. Putting out usable stuff for Gleaners -- I hope they can make money re-selling stuff.

Still, I don't find pleasure in putting out things I've loved, that will never find another home. Especially today, when I took a long, critical look at the woven rocking chair my dad bought at auction, painted, and gave to me when I was pregnant, so that I would have a comfy chair to rock the baby in. He bought it largely because it had belonged to the mother (and grandmother) of his best childhood friend. He remembered playing on it as a child. And it was something Dad just did for Me. That precious gift really started deteriorating this spring, more than 30 years after he bought it and fixed it up for me; one of the rockers broke apart, and the twisted raffia (under layers and layers of primer and paint) began popping on the back and sides, with no hope of repair.

Every time I've ever looked at the chair, what I saw was my father's love. Yet today, the time had come to let that poor, disintegrating symbol of a memory go. I know how much Dad loved me. Still, it hurts like a damn, putting the broken thing out on a pile of discards, a broken, battered, loved piece of old furniture that even the Gleaners won't want.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Summer Colors

I don't know if I've shown this picture before or not.

I just felt the need to see something beautiful, something that nature offered. This plant wasn't planted, it was a volunteer grand-daughter of planted plants of long ago.

Today I spent a lot of hours at the computer, formatting and uploading stuff to the Press. Thus with some stuff, I'm weeks ahead. Very good feeling, but goodness, I feel like I put in a day of it. Tomorrow I'm going to plant some geraniums, I think, and then spend the afternoon floating in the swimming pool.

I love summer.