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.