Friday, December 26, 2008

Oh Noes! Cement?

It was a sunny day.

Only a few weird clouds were in the sky.

When lunch was done, we flew into a vicious mood and -- TORE THE CARPET OUT OF THE KITCHEN DINING AREA!!!!

Eeeeeee! Alien spaceships landed! Godzilla went on a rampage! The ugly filthy disgusting cheap-ass housing tract beige carpeting went out the back door!

I've hated that carpeting since the day we first saw the house, but back in 1997, it wasn't in too bad shape. We lightened the paint on the walls from a dirty beige to a light white-pink to make it look like whoever chose the color of the walls and the carpet actually saw colors, but as the years have gone by, the carpet has begun to disintegrate at the seams, and tufts have begun to float along in the wake of dog toenails.

Anyway, today, we had at it, Bernie wielding a cutter and fortitude, Alex a wrecking bar and hammer (to take up the tack strips at the edge of the room), and I the trusty shop vac, for beneath the carpet and its carpet padding were drifts of gritty dirt.

This dusty climate is just not suited for carpeting. If this area could sell dusty stuff, we'd corner the world market. Ugh, as they say.

The dogs were shocked by our behavior. Howie growled and barked at Bernie when he heard the carpet ripping. Sebastian looked worried, certain that someone would come along and beat everyone in the house for tearing the carpet.
Alex and I purred with delight to see the clean, bare cement of the floor, even with all its dings and scuffs.

The top picture is with a flash. The bottom one is with the low-light setting, and more accurately portrays what I see. Either way, it looks a whole lot better to me.

We're going to have an estimate done for concrete refinishing, where the company comes in and adds a layer of cement or whatever and makes a textured and colored floor.

Anything will be better than that ugly, smelly filthy carpet.

Tomorrow, the front room, too!!!!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day 2008

This was a memorable Christmas.

After 33 years of making turkeys for Christmas dinner, this year I dressed for church leisurely and after church, came home to nibble noshes and putter around with a scanning project until about 3pm.

My beloved daughter Alex stepped onto center stage and prepared the turkey dinner for the family, allowing me to just relax and enjoy the day. And she did just fine -- the meal was fabulous. (All I did was the gravy, which turned out delicious, thanks be to God.)

She made the family recipe oatmeal cookies the other day, and a big batch of chicken wings yesterday ... pretty soon, except for the Piker Press, I'm going to be a supernumerary. (I don't really mind at all, but that will be the topic in another entry in a few days.)

Opening presents was fun this morning, too. I was inundated with fishing gear -- there's a hint from the family! January 2nd, after the house is tidied, I'm going to go buy myself a fishing license! Howie was the surprise urchin... while we were still examining the contents of our stockings, he went to the presents under the tree and carried one off to open it. He's a smart boy; it was indeed a present wrapped in white tissue paper for the dogs. But he was awake with me at 4:30 am; he knew what was under the tree, all right, but he more or less politely waited until the festivities were under way before helping himself.

It's been a grand day.

Christmas Gifts

Wednesday, December 24th, dawned rainy.

Not a bucketing downpour, not a drizzle, but a gentle rain from a calmly cloudy gray sky. Around noon, Bernie and I found umbrellas and dog leashes, and the four of us went for a walk down by the river.

I don't know that we intended to go for a long walk, but the dripping overhanging branches and the view of the rain-speckled Stanislaus River drew us on. The dogs were content to run off leash and sniff every plant and post and tree trunk. It was simply beautiful, a rare gift to be able to spend time with my husband; a walk in greatly-needed rain, a flock of a dozen or more bluebirds chasing along with a crowd of yellow finches, seeing Howie running without a limp -- Christmas gifts aren't necessarily under a tree in wrapping paper.

We walked for almost two hours. Aside from not being allowed to go jump in the river, Howie was thrilled, but Sebastian, who has no undercoat at all under his smooth hound hair, was starting to look like he thought we were insane for the last half hour of the walk. He was very glad of the woodstove's heat.

I wasn't! After the brisk air, the house felt like a furnace to me. I opted to go out to the studio and work on a pastel project for a while before warning the rest of the family off so that I could wrap gifts.

This morning, at 4:30 am, I woke to the sound of pouring rain. "That's the best Christmas gift," I thought. "Thank you, God."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Drops in to Make Lillian's Christmas

Unexpectedly, Santa Claus dropped by the house yesterday to pay a visit to Lillian.

He had heard, he told her, that she was a very special little girl, and that he wanted to meet her in person.

She was thrilled -- especially after a conversation the week prior with her mother about St. Nicholas and whether or not the Santa at a school fundraiser was the REAL Santa Claus. While her mother tried to explain that the real St. Nicholas was known for his generosity to others, what Lil came away with was her shocked question, "Santa Claus is DEAD???"

Her mother spent the next half hour reassuring her child that the spirit of St. Nicholas lives on in each of us who give to others, but Lil was broken-hearted.

And then Santa arrived, serendipitously when Mommy and Daddy had gone to the store. He was a truly amazing Santa, with a real white beard and a huggably plush red coat. He had to be six feet five, not the jolly little elf from the poem.

When Mommy got back from the supermarket, Lillian shouted, "He's not dead, Mama! Santa Claus is alive!!"

Guess so. 

That the man in the red suit knew about Lillian is true.  He is the father of a family friend; indeed, he donated a number of large fish to our pond, though we haven't had the heart to tell him the egret has eaten a substantial portion of them. 

Merry Christmas, Lil.

And to all who read this blog, have a beautiful holiday season.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Studio Fun

Look at all the colored pencils, arranged in color groups!

And see the lovely, lovely holder Bernie made for me this evening, so that I can array my pencils by color group and learn to use them more effectively.

He used a pencil-sized drill bit and then a counter-sink bit (to take the splinters off) over a grid he drew on a two by four end left over from the construction of our redwood fence.

When he was done with it, he took a rasp to it and removed every sharp edge, so that I would never scrape my hands on it. It's beeoootiful.

The buzzard that peers at my works in progress likes it, too.

When I saw this vulture in a store, marked down after Halloween, I could think of no reason whatsoever to NOT have a buzzard in my studio.

It's possible the buzzard is one of the reasons I love the new studio so much.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Finches on the Feeders

I do love my little finches.

If there's seed in the sacks, up to a dozen finches could be on it, chomping away, fighting over who gets the best position.

Today I stalked them with my camera, standing outside on the patio, waiting for them to get comfortable with my presence.

To be honest, it didn't take them long. The cold weather has made them very hungry. They've nearly emptied both seed sacks and it's not even 4 pm!

And then I realized, while I was watching the little creatures flit and flutter, that I could be making a MOVIE of them! And so, I did.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Limping Dog

On Tuesday, Howie began limping, holding his right hind foot off the ground.

There's the tootsie in question; we've examined it with a flashlight and full sunlight, and can find no injury. There's a crack in the pad, but he has one on the other foot, too. The center pad is a little swollen, but there's no sign of puncture or infection.

Yesterday I was so worried about him, pitying him as he followed me from room to room, holding his foot off the ground.

He hasn't seemed in any distress, however, and I've only seen him lick the foot twice over the past three days. He still wants to play ball and tussle with Sebastian. In fact the only thing that he's been unhappy about is us all trying to get him to stay off the foot and relax.

Today he insisted on coming outside with me and puttering about the patio while I swept up leaves and stuff in advance of rain.  While I scooped detritus up with a dustpan, he went walking past me ... walking nearly normally, with hardly a trace of a limp.

Maybe the cold cement made it feel better. He walked around for a while, and even was ready to trot after Sebastian when someone let the younger dog out. Maybe in another day he'll be ready to go for a gentle walk.

The day before he began limping, I let him out to run a neighbor's cat out of the yard. When he does that, he goes all out, toenails scrabbling, charging heedlessly over the retaining wall to stomp at the base of the fence. Where the cat went back over the fence is a pile of wood that the fence installers left for me; I suspect Howie didn't see the pieces in the weeds and went right over them, bruising his sweet striped foot in the process.

Watching him walk using all four feet is such a relief.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lois

Lois Munger was an example of how to welcome strangers.

When we were escaping the hell of our existence in Houston, Texas, we went to stay with our dear friends John and Melissa for a while. We met their families, and I was particularly impressed with Lois and Virgil -- John's parents. Though we were strangers, they accepted us into their kitchen and at their table as though we were family, by virtue of our friendship with John and Melissa. 

I found out tonight that Lois had a stroke on Monday, and is not expected to last long. She was part of the best of people, and though I haven't seen her in twenty years, knowing that she's leaving the world has me in tears. When she gets to the other side, she'll know how much I loved her for being an icon of welcome and fortitude.

I've tried to be like her.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Foggy Day and Hard Work

This morning was so foggy I refused to take my camera out in that slop, so I had to do a picture in Photoshop.

Dink was my concern today; it's supposed to be rain-prone tonight, and the only thing worse than a dirty paddock is a soaked dirty paddock, so my friend and I opted to clean the horses' paddocks rather than ride.
 
Ugh, what a heavy mess. With all the fog, nothing dries out. Including dung. We turned the horses out into the arena to roll and stretch their legs, and while Dink occasionally thundered across the arena, and Peanut quietly stood, trying to ignore Dink's rudeness, my friend and I shoveled horse poop for almost two hours. 

She has a bum wrist from a horsey accident over a year ago; my back is pretty iffy. We've found, though, that if we help each other, the job of mucking out the paddocks isn't as bad, and we don't get ... quite ... so tired.

As in, just too tired to go find something to eat so I can take some ibuprofen, but not so tired I won't be able to stand up and stagger over to the bed before falling asleep.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Biting Poltergeist

Back in 1972, I drew a cartoon episode called "The Biting Poltergeist."

It was drawn on a cheap newsprint pad, 24" x 30", and I've carried that pad along with me back and forth across the country. This past few years, I couldn't help but admit that the paper was crumbling, that the cartoon in blue Bic ink was in danger of disappearing into dust. I knew I had to figure out a way to preserve it, even though it's really not very funny. 

The process is being discussed in my other blog, Resolution Every Day, in which I goad myself to create something ... duh, every day. But here, I'd just like to talk about the thing.

My friend Bill and I played role-playing games before we knew there was such a thing. Or maybe we imagined mini-series. Or maybe it was story-volleyball. We didn't worry about it, we just constructed a castle on the Rhine River, and peopled it with Helmuth de Witt (the Elder -- that was me) and Cousin Siegfried (that was Bill), and a myriad of characters. He has a pasteboard Christmas tableau of a veritable forest of characters that he still keeps (he's a better archiver than I), and I have a couple of cartoons.

Nearly forty years later, I can't honestly remember what made us cackle about a biting poltergeist; it might have been a headline from a tabloid, or a book of ghost stories. Nevertheless, the cartoon was drawn, and eventually I hope to put it in the Piker Press so that it gets that little copyright symbol on it.

Helmuth de Witt the Elder and Cousin Siegfried were both "old fogeys" back in 1972; although I'm not as fat as I drew Helmuth, and Bill is not at all as bald as Cousin Siegfried, I can almost recognize us NOW from the old cartoon. This is a pic of Bill and me in 2007.

We've been friends since we were both in first grade together, and admired each other's artwork since then, too. He says he can't wait to see "The Biting Poltergeist" again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Colored Pencils

The other week when I spent a day in bed trying to keep from getting sicker than I was, I perused a book on art with colored pencils

One of the first things the book mentioned was to find a way to stage one's colored pencils so that one knew just what colors one had, and what one needed to purchase.

My colored pencils are cheapies; it's not a medium that entralls me. I think they're Crayolas, for heaven's sake. They have lived in a small cardboard box that at one time was packaging for some computer gewgaw, in a disordered pile, blues with purples and grays and oranges and what not.

Yesterday I made an effort to sort them into basic color groups: the reds, the oranges, the yellows, the greens, the blues ... and the plethoras of blue-greens and of pinks. (Lillian observed the end result of the process and remarked, "Wow, you have pinks!")

The colored pencil book was absolutely correct: I had no idea what all values and hues I had in that box. One of the projects Bernie and I want to tackle is a pencil holder for the colored pencils so that I can use them effectively when I decide to use them at all.

And since one of my Christmas gifts to Lillian is a set of colored pencils, I think I ought to start learning how to use them effectively. 

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Oh, Boy, Raccoons

So a man returns home from a long night at work and sees the cute little lighted deer in the front yard by the fish pond has been knocked over.

On the other side of the fish pond, that is, his front porch, he finds a wet spot, and tracks leading away, to a spray of wetness where some creature has shaken the water out of its fur. And more tracks ... tracks that look like a small hand ...

Obviously we've been discovered by a raccoon, if not a passle of them. 

Just great.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Separation of Christmas and State

Bernie was telling me over lunch today of a town (somewhere, he could not remember) in which the city council decided to stop calling their town decoration a 'holiday tree' and just call it a 'Christmas Tree.'

Promptly after that, Jewish residents complained that if a Christian holiday was going to be symbolized during the Christmas season, then a menorah ought to be accepted for Hannukah.

The city council was all right with that.

But then, some local atheists got bent and said that if those 'religious' symbols were allowed, then they should also have the right to put up a display that said all religions are bunk.

Such a tizzy, oh, what do we do?!

After running around the kitchen table several times, frothing at the mouth at people's contentiousness and utter stupidity, I told Bernie what I thought would be a fair solution.

Local/State/National governments need to drop the word "Christmas" from their vocabularies.

The CHRISTMAS season is from December 25 thru January 6. 

Let the secular governments admit that what they are decorating for is the HOLIDAY SHOPPING SEASON.

And if there are to be Christmas decorations put up, let that be done, where it belongs, at every Christian church. Baptist, Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Presbyterian, and all of the little community Christian churches everywhere. If there are Hannukah decorations to be put up, let the synagogues do it. Let each household decorate as they please, and let the atheists put up all the little signs in their living room windows that denigrate all believers in God.

I was aggravated to see a news article (which may have contributed to my rant at Bernie) about the ceremonial lighting of the White House Christmas tree. 

That was all about the ceremony, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the anticipation of celebrating the birth of The Christ, God Coming to Earth to Become One with Mankind. (The only G-word that accursed administration worships is Gasoline.) And this empty ceremony only commemorates a season that is no longer observed: a holiday shopping season beginning the day after Thanksgiving. 

Sorry, White House, the Christmas stuff is up in stores in SEPTEMBER, not the day after Thanksgiving!!!! Get with the program!!!!

*Wipes froth from corners of mouth. *

This is the season of Advent, during which we await, symbolically, the coming of Light into the world. It's a dark time, a time to light fires and peer with an anticipation or worry into the darkness, to look into the sky and wonder if we will see the Universe peel back to reveal the face of Reality. 

The darkness deepens... when will the Light return?

Piggie Finches, and News

Eight little finches, gobbling nyger seed. 

They look so cute -- such tiny little birds. And they sound adorable, little chibi voices, conversational and varied. I love hearing them argue with one another through the window over my desk, and looking up from my computer to see them hanging on the seed sock and feeding.

A couple days ago, I was watching them and saw a sudden shadowy shape come zooming from the sky -- a little merlin hawk, hoping for a quick snack!

The finches scattered, and the feeder was unattended for several hours. 

I hope that I don't have to cut back on feeding the finches; I enjoy them so much. But the economic slump has made its way to our door, and we may have to curtail extraneous spending.

Well, not "may" -- "will" is a more accurate word. How extraneous is yet to be seen.

Bernie's plant is shutting down as it always does for Christmas week ... but this time they're adding four "planned non-production" days to the break. And then, after the Christmas vacation, they're adding another week of "planned non-production" ... and then adding to that, a few rounds (at least) of four-day weeks.

Some people, I know, would see that as a financial constraint, if not a hardship, but I hate seeing Bernie go off to work every single day. For him to have nearly a month off, time for us to go for walks together, to have writing sessions together, to play at yard work -- this is the very best Christmas gift I could receive.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Weekend Willies

Let's see, Friday I was weary and had a bit of a sore throat. 

It was the day after Thanksgiving, so none of us did much, but by nightfall I was feeling rather more tired than I should, and the raw throat that started the morning was downright sore. Saturday dawned and my throat hurt so much and my glands were so swollen I thought about the mumps, a disease I have not thought about since childhood. (and one which I never have had, thank God.)

Bernie, in a fit of wisdom, had a look at me and sent me back to bed. I didn't argue with him, even though I have only rarely spent a day in bed. I gathered my sketch books and a pile of magazines I could look through and then throw away (finally) and my laptop and a book to read, remembering Robert Louis Stevenson's poem that went, "When I was sick and lay abed/I had three pillows at my head,/and all my toys around me lay/ to keep me happy all the day."

I stayed in bed, warm under layers of blankets, and just was quiet.

Sunday morning dawned, and I was able to swallow without pain; and though I still felt rather tired, and went back to bed in the afternoon, I was suspiciously admitting I was feeling better.

Today I got up and felt like a normal woman, which was good because Alex and John were having a church blessing of their civil wedding, and we were having another day of guests and food preparation. We had no idea how many people would be there, but John asked for six pumpkin pies, and as a wedding present, I made them. (with Alex and Bernie's help!) 

I have never caught a cold virus that came and went so quickly; however, I have no complaints about that. Maybe it was that Bernie ordered me to bed and made me stay warm and quiet that enabled my body to recover; maybe it was the pneumonia vaccine that kept this cold, unlike all others,  from immediately invading my lungs. Maybe it was the kickass turkey soup recipe I made Friday when I started to feel poorly, a recipe based on an Aser story... If it was the latter, then as a fictitious character, I rock as a healer.

The last permutation that I can come up with is that today was a fluke and tomorrow I'll be back to being sick again. I hope not.

Tomorrow I'm making more of that soup, just in case.

Friday, November 28, 2008

So, About the Gravy

A long time ago, in a rundown Victorian house in a small town in Pennsylvania, a young mother was worrying about the gravy for her Thanksgiving dinner, especially because the family had a notable guest, Fr. John Schmalhofer, the assistant pastor at the church.

It was probably only the fifth or sixth Thanksgiving dinner the young woman had ever prepared by herself, and though she was a pretty good cook, gravy does not necessarily have a dependable result. Sometimes it can be lumpy, sometimes too thin, sometimes tasteless. Greasy? Scorched-tasting? Yes, it could turn out all those things.

Turkey gravy was made on top of the stove, in the roaster that the turkey would have just vacated, from the drippings of the roast turkey. Dry bird? Few drippings. Roasted too long? Burnt drippings. Over-basting? Oily drippings. 

To bring the short story to its long history, the young mother was me, getting concerned about screwing up a guest's Thanksgiving dinner by making a lousy batch of gravy. Fr. Schmalhofer was hovering around the stove watching me fiddle with the food when I told him that making gravy was the most stressful part of Thanksgiving preparation.

"Here," he said, "I'll help." And he extended his hands over the heated roasting pan with its pre-gravy substance, and said a prayer over it! 

I was surprised; I didn't really think priests had time or inclination to pray over such mundane things. And I don't remember what the prayer was that he said, just something along the lines of "Heavenly Father, please bless Sand's gravy and make it turn out well. Amen." 

Yesterday we celebrated our 33rd Thanksgiving together. The bird was delicious, the pie was exquisite ... and that gravy was so perfectly rich and delicious that guests asked for more of it to crown the meat and potatoes. Bernie and I both thanked Fr. Schmalhofer (wherever he may be these decades later)  for the continued efficacy of his blessing, just as we have every Thanksgiving since the one at which he was our guest.

This is a fact: I have never made a bad batch of gravy, be it beef or pork or chicken or turkey since Fr. Schmalhofer said his prayer. Bernie and I joke that maybe one day Fr. Schmalhofer will be known as the Patron Saint of Gravies. 

Silly story? Maybe. But it gives me the opportunity, every time I make a gravy, to reflect on the efficacy of prayer, and to be comforted that God cares about us so much -- even in the little stuff.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving

What with finishing up NaNoWriMo, I was left with one day to focus on preparing for Thanksgiving.

We don't get VERY elaborate with the day. We have a turkey, stuffing, a veggie, cranberry sauce (which Bernie makes from fresh berries), and pumpkin pie if I have the time and energy to make one. Close friends and we alternate where we'll eat a Thanksgiving meal; this time it was at our house.

THE question on everyone's lips was, "Are you going to make pumpkin pie?"

I honestly believe that I have the secret to the best pumpkin pie in the entire world, and I can also honestly say that everyone who has eaten it agrees. Thank God my mother made me learn how to make it, and thank God I figured out how to do it in the microwave for even more spectacular results than the original recipe.

Anyway, I managed to find a "banana squash" of substantial proportions, and yesterday, cut that sucker up and cooked it, drained it, pureed it and put it up for future use. (And baked four turkey thighs so that the family would not be fighting over dark meat.) Cutting up and peeling pumpkin is a pain in the ... back. By the time I was done, I was exhausted, and stressed, too, not knowing how the new microwave would do with the old recipe.

At this time, the grand dinner is done, the guests gone home; from first bites there was superlative praise for the turkey, and for the gravy, which was truly phenomenal (maybe that will be tomorrow's post) ... and then, the pumpkin pies absolutely knocked everyone off their feet. They were so perfect, so delicate, so flavorful that I could get a big head over the experience if I didn't know how much recipes like that leave to chance.

I'm tired, to be sure, but the feast was grand, and all of us -- all of us at the table knew how lucky and blessed we are, and were glad to give thanks to God for all that we have received.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wealth!

There is something about brown eggs that I love.

Yesterday, when I went to buy eggs, Bernie 'egged' me on to spend the extra dollar to get brown eggs, and so I did, a lovely five dozen of them.

They're so pretty, with their subtle gradations of color, and these eggs are of a very good quality, from a local poultry farm -- the shells are clean and healthy, the taste excellent.

I note here that we shifted to buying locally produced eggs after we got two dozen from the supermarket whose shells were so fragile your fingers could go right through them if you weren't careful, and the cooked smell of which almost was fishy, quite unpalatable.

Bernie commented on the ride home that I, with my two flats of eggs in my lap, looked like a woman who counted brown eggs as "wealth."

I have to separate eggs tomorrow when I make my pumpkin pies ... I think Friday is a good morning to invest some of this wealth making taters and eggs with the egg whites. Mmmmm. Holiday!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Climate Change

I don't have any image to go with this post, and I don't think I want one.

Everyone knows the country is struggling economically. The housing market has tanked, foreclosures are all around, people can't get credit, CEO's have stopped bragging about how much money they're able to steal from companies that they mismanage. Retail sales are 'way down for the start of the frenzied Christmas shopping season.

Since Bernie works for an auto manufacturing firm, we're watching the crash and burn with concern. His plant is a joint venture between GM and Toyota, sort of an entity unto itself. GM is dying, Toyota is just slowing down a little. A flip of the coin how we might land as this mess escalates.

The Grew-Up-Better-Off-Than-The-Great-Depression part of me says, "We'll be fine, things will be back to normal in no time." Once again people will start throwing money away like maniacs on things they neither need nor can effectively use; vacations will be planned for exotic Disneylands and gambling resorts. Birthday parties and kindergarten graduations will be lavishly bedecked with Jumpy-Rentals and goodie bags and storebought cakes with icing an inch thick.

The other part of me says, "Ouch."

I was at the grocery store today, and was drawn into a conversation, the first sentence of which that I heard was "You know, my wife was totally against it a couple months ago, but now she's done a complete turn, and thinks it might be the only way to go." The man looked at me and said, "Hey, we have to fight back with this. We can't just go under and lose everything."

Having no idea what he was talking about, I was sort of relieved to hear his companion say, "My sister had to do it. She lost her job when they just suddenly closed the gym she managed. She had an extra room, so they rented it out -- they had no choice. What are you going to do?"

Sort of relieved.

Here we are, in broad daylight, buying sustenance for the family, and the discussion turns to renting out a room in one's house to a stranger in order to make ends meet. In order to stay in one's house. You can be relieved that they weren't turning to prostitution or drug dealing to stay in their house, but it's hard to be completely at ease with the idea of people having to rent out part of their own house in order to stay in it.

The book that I've been writing this National Novel Writing Month puts a family directly in harm's way, set in these economic times. I thought it would be easy, and thought I could even work in some dark humor about bad cooking. But as I've written sentence after sentence, the real possibility of people ending up in such a situation has very few funny angles at all. It's a matter of survival, of doing whatever you have to do to keep afloat.

Talking to a lady the other day who just bought a house nearby, she mentioned that they had been looking for the "right" house for two years. "You can't believe what some of these places looked like," she said. "Appliances gone, fixtures just ripped out of the walls, the places trashed ... because when you get a foreclosure, well, they just take every thing they can possibly take."

Guess they take a form of revenge, too, destroying the place so that the bank takes a loss, as well.

I had a number of places I had to shop today, and one of them was Target. Business was so slow that employees were actually approaching customers to help them find stuff, which is just about stepping into some weird fantasy world. And there was a lot -- a lot of clothing that was marked down. Cutting prices to get any kind of profit ... wow.

Just wow.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

First Fog of the Season

The deck around the pool was wetter than it had been for the last "rain."

The sky to the East was white.

The grass was wet, the trees dripping.

It was the first fog of the season, not a thick one, but reminding us of the solid white days ahead.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dia de los Muertos

Whoa, it rained last night!

These are some of the drops that hung on my fern pine this morning, the dim light making me use a low-light exposure.

***

Today was Dia de los Muertos, and at Mass, our pastor talked about purgation and the afterlife. It's not popular nowadays to talk about death, or -- heaven help us -- purgation. No one believes they are going to die, and no one believes they will be held accountable for all the little shit (or big shit) they did in their lives. Popular media spouts that people become angels when they die, and all of them go to heaven.

If you study the religions of the world, you find that not one of them says that is the case. Instead, most of them talk about a period or journey that requires souls to leave behind them that which they think was important in life: beauty, wealth, associations; or to embark on a journey that strives to attain something that is beyond beauty, wealth, or associations. Only after leaving behind the earthly stuff, or striving for the non-earthly stuff, is completion, or Heaven, attained. 

The interim time between death and "heaven" is about purgation, if the soul hasn't bothered to deal with it before.

 (Yes, I believe there is a "Hell" -- a place without God for those who have no desire or interest to be with God. That's also what my church teaches. God is not a machine-gun pointed at every soul's head. God does not demand, "Love Me or I will kill you." But God will allow anyone the choice of existing outside of Heaven.)

What makes me fixate on Purgation today? Why, my mother's condition, wasting slowly away with Alzheimer's Syndrome. 

My mother was always a very proud (arrogant) person, always always always ragging and bragging about how she had raised the family up from poverty to prosperity. (We're talking small town prosperity here, not riches, BTW) Now, though she is declining in health with Alzheimers, she is well-kept with 24-hr care in her own home. Her financial acumen of her mid-years has borne fruit: she can live in her own home, amidst all her (meager) possessions, and need not go to a nursing home.

But all her pride is being taken away; this is her time of Purgation. Her ready wit, her savvy about money, her care for her property -- all gone. Her control over her estate, the doorways of her home, her ability to light a wood fire in the furnace and heat her home -- all gone. Her family -- God help us, all of us were her possessions -- is all beyond her reach to control and manipulate. 

Her care-givers make sure she dresses or is dressed appropriately; they take her where she might want to go; they take care of her property and her bills are all paid by a trust fund. She could smile and accept that she is in comfort, but she does not.

Instead, she pretends that there is nothing wrong with her, and fights every offer of help, and hates that she's been taken care off.

I watch her, in her purgation, and wonder what she'll let go before the end.

And I pray for her. 

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween, 2008

Hartley's Potato Chips.

Oooh, yeah. They arrived today, a couple days earlier than I expected them. I order them from a little town called Lewistown, Pennsylvania, at a ridiculous cost ... because they taste so yummy to me and they do not use sunflower oil, to which I have a hideously reactive allergy.

My Halloween treat was to open a bag and snag a couple mouthfuls. The Hartley's is to be my NaNoWriMo reward for when I get daily word count, but I couldn't wait. It's been so long since I had last snarfed the salty snacks...

I painted two extra eyeballs on my face tonight, by way of a costume, and I managed to freak my grand-daughter out when she saw me. That's a successful makeup job, I think. We took pics; if I can find one that doesn't make me look too aged or worn, I'll add it to this post tomorrow.

And rain is drizzling again.

P.S. There I am with my extra eyeballs.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thunder!

Weather reports here have been changing hour to hour.

When I got up this morning, the weather report said it would rain tonight sometime. I went out to the ranch to ride mid-morning, and after riding, my friend and I cleaned the paddocks because rain looked to be close on our heels.

I wasn't home an hour before rain began to fall, and with the rain, lightning and thunder, which NONE of the weather services had predicted.

One of the few things I miss from Back East is thunderstorms. Bernie and I sat out on the front porch and watched the lightning and listened to the thunder for several hours. Glorious! And duh, so much for the weather services.

As I write, the rain continues to drizzle, though the thunder has moved away. Nevertheless, I feel pleasantly drowsy; I tend to sleep like the dead when a thunderstorm moves through. Maybe it is because I was born during a thunderstorm; maybe it's because while it thunders, I know I have nothing more that I have to accomplish.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Posers

After I'd taken a photo of my latest artwork, I took a break and tried to snap some pictures of the dogs. (Click on "latest artwork" for the link.)

It wasn't too hard to get them to lie down beside each other, but they would not look at me with my scary camera until I said, "Where is ball?"

Ears came up and I had their undivided attention.

Such good boys, Sebastian and Howie. They spent much of the morning with me in the garage studio, just peacefully lying on the carpet, watching people and cars pass by. (The garage door was open to warm it up in there a bit.) Even when a neighbor passed by with her dog, they didn't move.

My husband frequently asks me if I'm happy; I'm not sure why -- I hope I don't have a sad-looking face. Frankly, I think I am one of the most fortunate people in the world, and hugging these two big beasties reminds me of that in an instant.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yuck, That's How Much Crud There Is in the Air

Oh, the hazy airs of autumn...

This tree is catty-corner across the street. I looked out the front window tonight and did a double take at the light. Grabbing the camera, I snapped a shot to record some very filthy air.

We're very nearly at the end of almond harvesting season here in the Valley; you can't see the mountains on either side of the Valley for the dust hazing the view, and everywhere you go, people are hacking.

Lillian is coughing at night; in the mornings I wake up and can't speak clearly until I get some hot tea down my throat. The cars, the sidewalks, the windows, the leaves on the trees -- everything is coated with dust kicked up by the shaking, sweeping, and vacuuming machines.

We had a trifling bit of rain the other week, and it dropped a lot of mud out of the sky. Everything looked splattered by mud. Amazing. We're hoping for a good hard cleansing rain in November, but the weather forecasters are changing their predictions from "rain" to "no rain" on an hourly basis.

I begged off going out to ride the horse this afternoon because it was too hot for this time of year. There wasn't a smidge of a breeze, the flies are insanely active before colder weather, and no amount of bug spray helps keep the biting flies off this old girl when she sweats. It was a grand afternoon to sit in the new studio and ply pigments instead.

Monday, October 20, 2008

This Then, Is the New Work Space

Look at that chair! All that expanse of table! Room for books and tools, and elbows ... heaven!

In this picture, the garage door is shut, because night had fallen, and I didn't want any more mosquitoes than necessary to drift in to gaze at my artwork, but for a good couple hours, that door was open, letting in a lovely afternoon light, and making my new "studio" seem tremendously airy and livable.

Today, I worked out there and kept an eye on Lillian as she drew on the driveway with chalk and played in and out of the garage until her mother arrived. It was wonderful, and I would be a liar if I said I wasn't longing to be out there from the time I got up.

The problem is going to be the cold. The area is neither heated nor insulated; eventually I may need to remedy that. But for now, I am in love with it.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Me and the Phoebe

Yesterday morning I saw these clouds at sunrise, and went outside to take a picture of them.

Not only were they pretty pink, but their shape made me suspicious -- they looked, to me, like the kind of clouds that bring a weather change ... like rain.

No rain was in the forecast either by The Weather Channel, or Accu-Weather, or Weather Underground, however, so I put it down as just one of those tricky sky-flukes. Later in the day, a black phoebe was diving at specks on the surface of the pool, which also is a frequent harbinger of rain. I checked the weather again. Same forecast, no rain in sight for the rest of the month.

This morning, I blearily peered out the back door to see a wet patio! It DID rain!

I was so pleased by my weather acumen that I didn't even mind that the rugs I put out to dry yesterday evening ... weren't.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Getting Closer

This morning, after vacuuming 600 tons of dog hair off the carpets and the furniture, and mopping the kitchen, I treated myself to the assembly of my new drafting stool.

I've been pining for my studio, which I gave up in trade for the master bedroom; Alex took pity on me and tackled the horrid mess in the garage and cleared me a workspace that is wonderful ... but it's a standing-height workspace -- no way to sit. Until I got this drafting chair, which moves up and down at the touch of a lever.

The other problem with the garage workspace was the lighting. There's an incandescent bulb over the tool workbench (ugly) and a fluorescent fixture on the ceiling that doesn't like working and that was it. To see anything clearly out there, you have to open the garage door.

Today, in addition to construction of the chair, I de-structed my total spectrum floor lamp and converted it to a tall table lamp. Now I have the space, and the light. Unfortunately, I had to open the garage to get enough light in there to tear the lamp apart ... and so now I have not only the space, and the light, but also about 50 flies who wandered in to see what was happening.

As a side incident, the box the chair came in was large enough for a six-year-old to play in. The box, by turns, became a space ship, a dog house, a dog bed, a tree house, and a swimming pool. If I paid the box to entertain Lil for as many hours today as she played with it on the back patio, the chair would have been free.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Toys and Snacks

This, then, would be why my house is always cluttered with wood chips and twigs.

I try to keep an eye on Sebastian so that he doesn't drag in chunks of wood from the woodstack or shreds of papyrus, or stuff we've stacked for kindling and never got around to putting in the kindling barrel. But he managed to slip this one into the house without me knowing about it.

He knows he's not supposed to do this, and that is why the picture shows him lying very still: if he doesn't move, maybe I will not have seen him with the stick and won't take it away from him.

There was a spot of evening sun that I wanted to catch on the front porch, so I took my camera and went, leaving the dog with the stick.

I didn't have to take the stick away from the young hound: when I came back in from the front porch, Howie had taken it away from him.

Even though Howie hates the camera, he was jealous that I stopped to snap a picture, and so stole Seb's toy and crunched a good bit of it to smithereens. Jealous? My darling Howie? You betcha. He doesn't even like it if I look at Sebastian too long. Nothing can convince Howie that he is foremost in my heart, as far as dogs go.

Gee, thanks, How, for adding to the wood chips in the kitchen and living room.



Both dogs were disappointed when I refused to give them any of the chicken wings whose smell perfumed the house.

Can it be that their wood-chipping was a kind of revenge?

Thursday is Garbage Day

There's garbage, and then there's garbage.

The City of Ripon has this great idea: make a central recycling area where people can bring their glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, and electronic dinosaurs ... and recycle them, the proceeds from which go to the local schools. At first they only did paper and cardboard, but added the others not so very long ago.

From my point of view, it's highly successful. We went, as a household, from having an overflowing garbage can (and they are big suckers that the City provides) to having less than half a can per week. That's a lot of trash that DOESN'T go to the landfill.

Pickle jars, wine bottles, dish detergent bottles, even Oscar Mayer bologna wrappers -- all are recyclable. Plastic cups you can use for parties, the plastic foam platters meat is purchased in, mayonnaise jars, not to mention newspapers, drawing papers, cereal boxes, plastic bags for groceries and vegetables ... can be put to use if recycled.

I check everything now, searching for that little triangle on every plastic container. And frankly, if I don't find it, I won't buy the product again. Just today I turned down a plastic container of cookies because it was not recyclable.

Years and years ago, when I was still riding my first horse, the mighty and handsome Crow, a friend and I rode up Austin Road the next town up the highway, just to see how far we could go. We rode to the county landfill, which you can see from Highway 99 as a mountain -- something we don't really, naturally have in this valley. A mountain -- of systematically buried trash. It was amazing to see, that high, wide hill, and disgusting to think that it was all trash. I think of that ride, and that mountain, every time I take the recyclables down town to the Recycle Center.

I'm trying not to make that mountain any higher than I absolutely have to.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Learning About Creation

My granddaughter's artwork continues to amaze and inspire me. And to teach me something about creativity.

Lillian presented me with this picture of a jack o' lantern yesterday. She's almost always proud of her drawings, or at least enjoys doing them, but this one she knew was good.

I was struck by the sheer raw power of it. It arrests. It draws one's eye around and around. It makes me wonder just exactly how this little artist sees the world around her.

And then, after she had brought me this gem, delighted that I told her I was going to scan it in for posterity. She went back to drawing.

Lillian comes to me regularly to beg paper for drawing; that's why we keep a case of copy paper in the garage, because although she always asks for "a piece" of paper, I hand her anywhere from five to twenty sheets. She uses them up, one after another. A few minutes after she did the jack o' lantern, she presented me with a vivid picture of Molly the Macaw.

It's a cheerful picture, in spite of the numerous times that damned bird has bitten her. "This is Molly," Lillian told me, "but not in a cage -- in the jungle."

The white surrounding the parrot's eye, the scarlet and blue, the mix of colors in the tail ... impressive.

Every couple minutes for about an hour, Lil brought me picture after picture. Some of them were small, some filled the paper. The set of markers her parents bought her seems to have taken her fancy as a medium.

I suppose that I can see that; like the markers, Lil is a loud, intense, immediate presence in the world. No shrinking violet this one.

"Why don't you draw Molly flapping her wings?" her father asked her. It was inspiration enough, and she promptly got another sheet of paper and started, just like that. In short order, she brought the next one for me to see.

It's a very good representation of the macaw flapping, her wings moving so fast they blur. Again, I was impressed by Lil's willingness to attempt a subject she'd never done before ... and by her decision to include her own thought in the picture: Molly has a bow in her "hair."

Why am I so taken with a child's scribbles? Well that's really what this blog entry is supposed to be about, but I'm having a hard time ... admitting? ... confessing? ...realizing what a coward I am?

Lillian just DOES her art. She loves the praise she gets for it, but it's not WHY she does it. She is just as likely to draw and draw and draw by herself, and when done, cheerfully bundle up the used paper and stuff it all unceremoniously into the recycle bin. The closest I've come to that is playing with lines and colors in the computer Paint program. All one has to do is shut down the computer, and the evidence of playful artwork is gone. It says rather a lot about my artwork, doesn't it? Somehow I've internalized a little shadow voice that I can hear say, "Don't waste paper! Don't waste your talent with scribbling! Come on, do it right or don't do it at all!"

Lil brought me picture after picture, asking if I was going to scan them all. "No, just some," I told her, and she wasn't too disappointed.

However, when I picked up the pictures for scanning this morning, I found that she had slipped a fourth one in on the bottom. And this one is what prompted this post.

From colorful portraits of Molly, Lil had switched to pencil, and then back to markers with no hesitation. I know this drawing has a story that Lillian was telling to herself while she drew; there is a man-macaw in a sober hat, and a lady macaw with a fancy hat and lipstick. I believe that their egg is behind them.

The woman behind them has one long-lashed eye -- there may not have been room for two, but that wasn't important. She does have lipstick, also.

All three figures are in motion; they're not just standing there.

Creativity should be in motion, too, not just huddled in a drawer waiting for reincarnation in a new life. Whether it's writing, or drawing, or singing, it should be being done. Experiments should blow up the laboratory, over and over. Strange creatures ought to have the chance to see the light of day. Words should be sounded out, set in patterns to bring new thoughts to life, to freshen old thoughts to fit the world like new garments.

Lillian is teaching me to ... move!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Winds of Change?

The stock market fiasco and Everyone-Is-Bankrupt thing has me stumped.

I don't know much about money, except that you have it and buy stuff, or you don't have it, and you don't buy stuff. Most of what I'm hearing these days is that not too many people in the world have that sense of what money is about.

I appreciate credit; but I've always assumed that "credit" is an amount that you KNOW will be paid back to you, or that you KNOW you CAN pay back. Not speculation. KNOW. Not a gamble. KNOW. But then, I hate gambling, whether it is for pennies or peanuts. Calculating odds has no hold on my mind at all, thank God it wasn't a course in university.

Anyway, the headlines are full of dropping stocks, and bankruptcies, and economists and politicians with their hair on fire, and all I could think of was how gas prices skyrocketed this past spring and summer, and now oil is going for 40 % less and so OPEC wants to cut back production -- or so I was told. If true, why didn't gasoline at the pump drop 40% also?

If the producers of oil want to rape and pillage, are the producers of wheat and corn far behind? And that will require the producers of beef and pork to follow suit, perhaps not to rape and pillage, but to keep dem profits rollin' in to the max?

What a world. Greed and profiteering make the world go 'round, and that abstract, unimportant factor of "other people" is dust under the stony wheels of $$$$$$$. At the top of the market, our house could have sold for about $550,000. Bernie sputtered when he saw the realtor's suggestion that we sell our house for that, and "upgrade."

"That's immoral," he said. "I would never do that."

Good for him. He was right. Mortgaging yourself out into the blue because of a falsely inflated market is a stupid thing to do. (Add in that none of us want to give up this total peach of a property due to comfort and location and amenities.)

Nevertheless, the times seem to be in doubt, and I did not -- did not -- panic and buy stuff at the grocer's, but did pad the larder just a bit ... just in case.

And maybe I'm not the only one. There were only five bags of unbleached flour on the shelf. Coincidence? Mebbe.

Winds

Have I ever mentioned in this blog how I hate the wind?

Every time we get a windstorm, I ask Bernie if I've ever told him how much I hate the wind. He changes the subject, because to encourage me in any way is to invite a diatribe on dust, and sinuses, and detritus blown onto the back patio to be tracked through the house.

(Note from an Editor, however reluctant a one: had I not put a comma after "sinuses", the implication would have been that I had sinuses blown onto the back patio and tracked into the house. Commas are really, really important.)

Yesterday and today were very windy, with gusts to 40 mph. That's 'Blows over the garbage can' mph. 'Ripped the sun-shade off the bedroom window and destroyed it' mph. And 'Drops a film of dust over every single thing' mph.

This evening, the wind is roaring in the trees in the neighborhood, a sound that makes my skin prickle and shudder. I'm wearing my favorite cotton knit jacket to stay comfortably warm -- not a hardship; after so many years it is as soft and sweet as a baby blanket. But it is in sharp contrast to yesterday, when I had to wear shorts to keep cool enough to be comfortable. But that's the temperature gradient that is responsible for the wind, and such is life.




I woke this morning around 4:30 am and couldn't go back to sleep; I tried, but kept twitching awake, and finally got up around 5:45 am. When it was reasonably light, and the wind was not in evidence, I put Howie's collar on him and went for a walk. Gloves would have been nice, as it was very chilly.

He's a happy, tired dog tonight, and it felt good to be able to walk in the morning light... before the wind.

Perhaps I'll pretend that the sound of the wind in the trees is the surf-sound at Cape Hatteras, and sleep in deep, happy peace.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Weekend, and Stuff

My black bamboo still looks pretty ratty after its spring adventure.

The bamboo resided in a terracotta pot until this past spring, when the plant's roots simply shattered the thing. Naturally it happened during a hot spell, and by the time we got it repotted into a half-whiskey-barrel, it was fair to middlin' dehydrated. That Bernie had to take an axe to it and chop off the bottom half of its roots didn't help much, either.

But this post isn't really about plants, it's about the season, and people.

Cooler weather has arrived, just in time for us to host a pot luck with three other couples. We try to get together for pot lucks every other week, but damn, life is busy for everyone all the time, and this past year was just a doozy. On Saturday, we were all free and met at our house.

Three of the kids had never been to our house before, and they were fascinated by the sound of Molly the macaw squawking from the interior of the house. Alex decided to bring out Molly's perch and let the kids admire her, and let Molly know what all the jolly sounds were about.

That lasted about three minutes -- and then Molly launched herself from the perch, and FLEW through the front room into the kitchen, circled the screaming, ducking adults, and then landed on John's arm quite daintily, very pleased with herself for the panic she caused.

Who knew that dirty bitch could fly? She never did before!

Yet the shared surprise and terror cemented the group in heart and soul, so the rest of the party was filled with laughter and comfort. The kids played nicely and noisily until well after dark, and the food was delicious (one couple brought a savory bean soup, and another roasted veggies, and the last one brought two enormous pies for dessert).

As always, after everyone had left, and the next day dawned, I felt a sense of loss. For more than a year after the first (and only, sad to say) Piker Press Writers Conference held here, I missed the Pikers so much that I dreamt about them almost every night. Ah, I should live in a commune, I guess.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Horse Is An Ass

An evil scientist removed my good horse's brain and replaced it with the brain of a wild jackass.

When I got up this morning, I had in mind a route for the morning ride. We'd go down to the apple orchards and get away from the almond harvesting, which is in full frantic mode trying to beat the big rainstorm allegedly heading this way.

Once we got underway, however, the path to the apple orchards was a no-go; the harvesting machines were working away in the almond orchard we'd have to skirt. We turned to the east, and rode along a paved road until we could hit an orchard road to go south again. We were halted on the south leg along the walnut orchard when a harvester zoomed out of the adjacent almond orchard, stirring up so much dust that we couldn't see through the cloud -- no way would the horses have walked through that murk.

We turned back, and headed north, paused to exchange shouted hellos to a man with another harvesting machine, and went on. It was at that point that Dink decided he was fed up with me trying to slow down his fast walk (the older horse with us was relaxed and wanted to take his time) and began to fight me.

Now it is a fact that he wasn't being REALLY bad; he just wanted to walk fast and get back to his breakfast. Or something. Maybe the pretty pinto filly who thinks he's a hunk. Maybe the safety of his paddock with this storm approaching.

He pranced. He tossed his head. He tried to shove himself into the other horse to hurry him up. He walked sideways, he growled, he puffed. As I told my husband after my shower, "I had to ride like I knew what I was doing."

Instead of just sitting on my fat butt in the saddle, gaping around at the scenery, I had to put my heels down, listen to what the horse was doing -- with my legs, not my ears, sit deeply and securely in the saddle, sit up straight and keep those reins under control.

Whoo.

After a while he figured out that I'm more stubborn than he is and settled down, and the last leg of the ride back to the ranch was at a quiet walk. He is a good horse, after all.

But my God, I'm tired tonight.

More momentous things happened today, but they will have to wait for tomorrow, or maybe next week. And I HAVE to get up the gumption to install Photoshop on this computer one of these days.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Puzzle Pieces: Living in Community

One day, years ago, someone who didn't know me well was talking about a man who lived with his parents. "What a loser!" she exclaimed.

An article in a magazine I read some time ago spoke of a trend: young adults moving back in with their parents. The point was that these younger people didn't know how to live on their own, and/or were not able to earn enough money to live on their own. The article didn't actually sneer, but came close, and seemed to view the trend with alarm.

An identically set-up house to ours in this tract was for sale about five years ago; four bedrooms, 1700 square feet. It was described as "quaint" -- most of the other houses around here are much, much larger, with game rooms and home theaters and dual or triple master suites ... and still called "single family dwellings."

Most days we have to search through this "quaint"-sized house to find one another. Hmm.

When I was pregnant, and near my time to give birth, my mother suggested we come stay at her house; her own mother had come to stay with her when my sister and I were about to be born. And so it was not at all odd to me to invite Alex and her husband John to come live with us until their baby was born.

What had been a quiet, little-used house was filled with life: John ranting about politics, a baby wailing, dogs and cats trying to get along. Laughter and conversation, shared meals, roaring at football games together. It's been six years and some, and I cannot imagine what an empty cave this would seem without my daughter and son-in-law and grand-daughter living here.

It's not the money. It's not the dependence. It's because we like it. We have each other's backs.

For instance, today. I came back filthy and exhausted from a two-hour trail ride through the dust of almond harvesting in the orchards. After getting cleaned up and having a hearty lunch, I found that Alex had tackled the hideous shithole our garage had become -- and carved out a workspace for me...so that I could get back to painting. It's wonderful, and she even hung a corkboard so that I could pin up reference photos. I could not have done that; she did it.

Her lunch, when she was done organizing me for myself, was a cabbage soup I made yesterday. My heart was warmed that she liked it, as it was a new project for me.

We help each other as we can.

And in the late afternoon, while I was doing laundry and shifting sprinklers on the back bank (auto sprinklers back there are totally destroyed after the new fence install), there was a knock on the door. I disappeared from the front of the house and went back to my haven in the bedroom. A few moments later, Alex appeared to tell me that the caller was none other than Mr. Nitpick (see post about a new fence a week or so ago), who wanted to give us money for his section of the fence.

Had I answered the door and had to see that rat-shit nitpicking miserable toad, the neighborhood would have heard me tell him to shove his money up his obsessive-compulsive ass, or me roaring, "Yes, your unpleasantness got you a free fence! Tell all your friends!"

But Alex, so smooth and calm, said, "No thanks," to his offer of money, and when he protested, she sweetly said, "Oh, no, you weren't happy with the result. Bye."

In fact, I knew who it was at the door. I could "hear" it. As I had walked away from the front of the house, I imagined asking my son-in-law to punch that jerk's face off his collarbones.

We mesh well here; we don't fight or argue. We fit together. I think this is the way to live. In community, helping and supporting each other. These puzzle pieces that match give us a better picture of what life is about.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hard Day at Work

Yesterday morning I was sleeping deeply, probably more deeply and peacefully than I have for a couple years.

I was dreaming that I was swimming in a river (a warm river, so it must have been back east where I grew up) and simultaneously narrating how to collect "freshwater mussels." I explained that all you had to do was wade along the chest-deep river, watch for a colony, then kick the herrings out of the way and dive in and harvest the mussels.

Ludicrous? Of course, it was a dream. But it felt so peaceful and good to dive over and over, swimming in the clear river's current.

Unfortunately, Bernie had to wake me out of my deep, deep sleep before I was ready to leave the dream.

This morning, I could have slept in until the sun was high, but instead, I was wakeful before the sun was up. Rats.

But then I started working on putting up the new issue of the Piker Press. And worked. And worked. Some glitch with an author's link to Amazon put me in the hole in terms of time, and then I found that another author did not have a link to an online store for a book, and so had to make an advertisement from scratch, which not only ate up another hour as I had to figure out how to do so, but also made me sweat and itch with anxiety.

Then the cover image had to be worked up in Photoshop, which was fun, but the sun was on its way down by the time I finished it.

I thought I was retired.

And while the San Diego Chargers chew up and spit out the New York Jets, I am reminded that I really should be reading submissions instead of watching NFL Football. This game is almost as horrible as the Pittsburgh Steelers' game yesterday, in which they stumbled and bumbled and handed the win to the Philadelphia Eagles. That game made me hate watching football for the day. In fact, remembering it, I think I would rather go hide in my room and sit in my comfy chair and read.

Here I go.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The River Today

This locust tree lives down along the dirt levee road by the river.

The tree isn't blooming now, it being fall, rather than spring, but I always look for these branches when we're down there for a walk, which we were today.

The Stanislaus River is low right now, but crystal clear, and we stood along a curve of it above a deep pool and watched fish prowling back and forth. We must have stood there for ten or fifteen minutes, just watching fish drift in and out of the shadows, in silence, except for the faint rustle of the trees at noon.

On the walk back, a big blue dragonfly kept us company while we were in his territory. Once again we stopped and stood and watched, as the insect flew back and forth a few feet away from us, obviously watching us as we were watching him.

Bernie and I met in September, back in 1974. I remember being puzzled that the blond Polish boy seemed to have the same opinions about life and living that I did; I remember the fear I felt when I realized that I was in love with him. And then there was Love. A whole 34-year bloc of it so far.

Holding hands with him as we walked through the cottonwoods and bamboo and grape vine tangles, I still could not believe my good fortune in finding such a perfect mate. What other woman can boast that her love will watch fish and flying insects with her after so many years?

I hope, I truly hope, that there are many.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ding Dong the Tecomaria Is Dead!

Some time ago I wrote an article for the Piker Press about tecomaria capensis.

When the fence guys came to finish the fence yesterday, I greeted them covered with leaf bits and cobwebs, my face raked and itchy from vining branches, grimly stuffing tecomaria bits into an enormous yard waste can. While they efficiently removed the south-side fence, I continued to hack at that damned plant, appalled at how gnarly and tangled the thick stems were.

The taller of the two fence guys came over and apologetically told me, "This plant is in the way."

"I know it," I told him. "I've been trying to kill it for years."

Maybe I looked desperate in my disheveled condition, or old and feeble -- because he said, "Don't worry, we'll take it out for you." Maybe he just didn't want to see me knocking myself out with the pick I had placed on the patio, thinking I could take the thing out while they were working on another part of the fence.

And take it out they did, and it took both of them, and they got filthy and sweat-soaked, too. When that bastard tecomaria came out of the soil, it was a tangled mass of roots the size of a Harley, only longer. I'm glad they were willing to take it out, because from the size of it, I never would have been able to do it myself.

Now the new fence on the east and south sides is done, and simply gorgeous. The part off the front porch looks bare and beautiful without the tecomaria. Bernie told me when he looked at it that replacing the fence was well worth having someone rid us of that damned plant. I agree.

The only low point about the fence replacement was that one of the neighbors across the fence (the one with the smallest adjacent section) called to say he thought the fence was three inches too tall, and it didn't look good "at all". He put it in such a way that I was sickened by his nit-pickiness -- after all, when the fence was down, I could see what his yard looked like and his fence looked like shit. True, the 6 foot privacy fence was actually 6 feet tall, where as the alleged 6 foot privacy fence on the north side of our property measured in at 5 feet 7 inches -- builders always cheat on tract homes. We'll try to make things as amenable as possible to him, but I'm NOT cutting that fence down to match his crap. The other neighbor on that side loves the fence and wants the rest of his property to have the same quality fence. Good luck with that, dude, as his property line marches between him and Mr. Nitpick.

Next spring, Bernie says, we're going to do the north-side fence. I can hardly wait.

And ... the tecomaria is gone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The New Fence

At the far end of the pool, you can see a diagonal post from the ground to the fence. The post is what is holding the fence up.

All along the back bank (right hand side of the pool) similar poles were holding the fence up, too, both on our side of the fence, and the neighbor's. A windstorm last December nearly took it all down; only the poles saved the day.

So when we happened to be driving past a local "pocket park" and saw that a new fence had been installed -- a beeeoooootifully-made fence -- we pulled over and saw a little sign on it that proclaimed it had been built by "Richter Fence". Feverishly we copied down the phone number.

Richter Fence arrived today and in a matter of minutes -- literally, it did not take even half an hour -- the old fence was removed. They chainsawed out huge chunks and carried them away.

Chunks that big!

When the fence was gone, they ran a line of string between the ends, and measured off spots for post holes. Then they dragged in an enormous two-man ground auger, and dug all the holes for the posts, again in minutes! Digging out the old cement post-hole supports took much longer.

Then they took a short break for ice water while the new posts were firming up in their quick-set cement. Then they did the top rail, or I should say, one man did the top rail while the other was setting the grass board at the bottom. (No, I do not know why it is called a grass board.)

Then came the middle and bottom rails, all of these pieces of wood being set in place with the use of a pneumatic hammer loaded with nails. I could say that I wish I had one of those, but I really don't. I know I would find it too heavy and would end up shooting myself in the foot.

Three and a half hours after they arrived, voila! New section of fence! They had to quit early, probably much to their annoyance, because they ran out of nails, having come from a job in the morning that used up a lot of supplies.

Tomorrow morning, they'll come back at 8 am, and probably I will have a complete back fence by 8:30 and a new southside fence by noon.

And, through the incomplete bit right off the back patio, I finally (after 10 years) met the neighbor across the fence. He's nice! And he already wants the rest of HIS fencing replaced by Richter. Can't blame him. It's a beeeoootiful fence!

**P.S. The dogs had an absolute fit about strange mens being in the back yard. Such stomping and growling and hackling from two sissy dogs you never did see!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Football Season

I don't know a lot about football.

For a while I watched the alley games at recess in grade school; there was a virtually unused alley behind the school, and steps all along it like a planned stadium. Watching the older kids play, I felt sure that I had a future in football; I could run faster than any other kid in the school, so if I could get someone to let me play, and get me the ball, I could score points and assure my team victory.

Fifth grade saw me get a chance to play, and sure enough, if I could get the ball, I could get it across the goal line without being tagged. But playing alley football is more than running -- you have to be able to throw the football back and forth if you can't muster enough kids to play a game.

I moaned to my dad that I was no good at tossing, so he and Mom went and bought me my own football. With his big hand wrapping the football, Dad taught me how to throw from the shoulder and put a tight spin on the ball. Before long, I went from being a running back and receiver to playing quarterback, and being a welcomed participant in the alley games, even though I was a pathetic girl.

The next two years I saw a lot of play, a bookish girl in thick glasses and dresses, skipping the jump-rope and giggle crowd for the ol' pigskin; then we were off to the junior high school and no opportunity to play. The boys were all sprouting whiskers, and the girls had discovered boobs on themselves, and football was not that important except as an extracurricular activity reserved for boys.

Later on, there was 4-H camp, and I was rediscovered as a talent during the pickup games at Junior Leadership Camps. During that time, perhaps my favorite memory of a game was when the counselors didn't make us go to sleep, but let us stay up and play football under the light of a full moon until we were exhausted. It was a game full of mistakes, but giddy fun in dark shadows and bluish highlights.

I remember the feeling of sending the ball down the field, the spin pouring out from my elbow down my arm to my hand, and seeing the football drill through the air to a receiver; I remember the capture of the power of a throw as I'd catch a football and let its inertia press it close into my arms and side so that it could not be swatted away, moving with it so that it wouldn't hurt to catch it. I remember numerous occasions of having my fingers taped together to heal after being stoved by scuffles over a pass.

Like I said, I don't know a lot about football, but I do know a stinko game when I see one, and that would be the San Francisco 49's against Arizona Cardinals. What a horrible time those teams must have had, leaving the field, SF players thinking, "Wow, I really suck" and Cardinals thinking, "Hey, we won ... but I really suck."

And they did, all of them. Sorry, guys. Made me wish I could still play.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Hot Air Balloon Launch

Eventually, I'll get the hang of making better videos.

I shot this one at the Color The Skies Balloon Launch 2008. I had great hopes for the picture, but the happening just seemed to be mighty slow this year. Still, it gives some idea of how gorgeous the event was, and how cool to be so close to the launching.



All the videos I took that morning are on YouTube.

A Dog and His Log

Many are the times when Sebastian has tried Howie's patience to the max.

Sebastian stalks him, staring intensely with his border collie gaze. Howie pretends that Seb is beneath his notice, and refuses to look at him. Sebastian gets closer and closer ... and then POKES Howie with his nose and runs, usually with the outraged Howie hot on his heels.

Then Howie turns and runs back to his former spot, only to find Sebastian back at the same game. Then they tussle, Howie growling fiercely while Sebastian tries to climb all over him.

On this particular day, Sebastian was trying to get Howie to play with him and his newest toy, a chunk of eucalyptus log.



It was also a very hot day, so they were relatively subdued. One day I'll capture on film their vigorous play, in better lighting.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How Stupid Do We Have To Be?

This is the Central Valley of California. It's HOT.

I was returning from the round of errands I had to run this afternoon, and thanking God that the air conditioner in the Prizm still works. It was, according to the temperature sensor in the car, 100 degrees.

As I stopped at the traffic light a few blocks from my home, a herd of teenagers jogged by, wet with sweat. Track team practice from one of the local high schools.

A hundred degrees. Asphalt road. Make the youngsters run for an extended period, sucking the fever-heat air (and the almond dust -- the air is filthy right now) into their lungs. This is going to make them better athletes.

Right.

If it's good for them to run, and perhaps it is, after a long day at school, why, then, is it not better for them to run at the start of the day, say between 6am and 8am, before school starts, and when the temperature is between 55 and 70 degrees?

Oh, well, the answer is simple, and utterly logical for the American educational system. No one wants to run that early, because it would mean having to skip television and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Coach wouldn't want that. Kids wouldn't want that. It's far more sensible to risk heat stroke.

And you can see, if they're that damned stupid about heat and heatstroke, it's no wonder the little morons can't read or do fractions by the time they graduate.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Memory Trigger

One of our talented Piker Press authors sent me a new story this afternoon, about a woman caught in public in less than dress-code attire.

The story is great, about how she works on NOT being seen by her nosy neighbors. I could identify with the main character, having grown up in a town where everyone knew everyone, and were all too worried about what everyone else was doing. Anything out of the ordinary was suspected of being evil, or at least a subject for gasps and bosoms heaving in indignation. Growing up trying hard to stay beneath the radar and avoid that doo-dah, paranoia was ingrained in my soul and I tried to be as circumspect as possible. This story shot me back more than 25 years, making me chuckle...

The LAST time I went berry-picking without tucking my jeans inside my socks was when I decided I COULD reach a particularly tempting stand of raspberries off the path. Two steps and I trod on a ground nest of sweat bees, several of which went straight up my pantsleg. I could not run without being stung, I couldn't stay there and swat, so I jumped back onto the path and kicked off my shoes and pants in record time, sure that Mrs. Price or Mrs. Ritter could see me from their kitchen windows. It seemed to take forever to turn the pants inside out and remove the tiny bees and a couple stingers from my legs.

As I stood there in my bikini undies, pants in hand, I rather rapidly lost my embarrassment and began to get angry. I wasn't an immoral slut, I just had bees up my britches. I wasn't corrupting the youth of America, I was rescuing my physical ass. Why should anyone gasp and puff and call my mother and ask her if she knew I was in the woods with my pants off in front of "everyone" -- for the neighbors surely would have had they spotted me.

My fortune was with the powers of good, however, at least on that day. No one called my mother or the police, and after assuring myself of insectless pants, dressed my bare legs again, tucked the hems into my socks, and resumed picking enough black raspberries for a fine fat pie and handfuls of snacking heaven to boot.

My mother laughed at me when I recounted the tale, and my father snorted and muttered, "Serves you right," (he had no sympathy for lack of foresight about tramping around in the woods).

Certainly I permanently learned to tuck the pantslegs into the socks when picking raspberries. But I also learned that day, that should I need to shuck clothing in public to save myself, I wouldn't spare a single thought before doing so. It's all just me under there, after all.