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.