Thursday, June 26, 2008

Really Hurting

At this time last year, Bernie and I were hurtling across the country, ostensibly to my sister's rescue.

She's dead now; the rescue was in vain.

Under the smoky skies, looking at the date, I imagined trying to explain to her why her rescue failed; to tell her how much I loved her, and how powerless I felt.

I tried to tell her tonight, hoping that somehow she would hear me.

The worst hell I can imagine is meeting her again in the next life and having her demand of me, "Why didn't you help me?"

I tried, and I failed, and the loss of my sister's life is still ripping me apart.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

But Then Came the Bad News ...

What was for us a charming little thundershower was for many others, a disaster.

Lightning from the storm set off over 700 fires around the state. 700.

And our lovely cooling trend is ruined -- the air is too smoky to be outdoors safely.

And the virus I had got drastically worse. Here comes pneumonia like a freight train! Fortunately I went to the doctor Monday and we were able to head it off before it was fully-fledged.

I hope the fires are under control soon, for everyone's sake.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Day at the Resort

Since the last entry, I came down with yet another virus, one Lillian brought home from the last week of Kindergarten, when some smarmy stupid cow mama thought that keeping her sick kid home from school for the final party of the year would traumatize her child forever. "He's running a fever, but it would be so unfair for him to miss the Last Day of School ..."

God alone knows how many kids started their summer vacation sick because of that selfish, immature parent.

The virus laid Lil low for about three days. I'm hoping that I'm over the worst of it. Night before last I hardly slept for coughing, and even pulled a muscle in my throat from it. Last night I slept sitting up in the New Comfy Chair, and it wasn't TOO bad. I still awoke groggy and feeling digestively challenged by the cough suppressant/antihistamine, but by 10 am, had stopped coughing enough to rise to the effort of cleaning up the back patio after all those freakin' windy days.

I took my time and methodically swept up the fallen leaves and crud that had been blown onto the patio, and re-arranged the furniture there. I took a break to drink a pint of water, because the temperature at 9am had already been at 92. It was, by then, close to 11am.

I put on my bathing suit and hosed the accumulated dust off the patio. The result? Paradise. The chairs were in the shade, the pool was glistening in the sun, and Bernie was awake. We spent the next six hours outside, dipping in the pool for cool, sipping wine, reading our respective books, and ... getting rained on.


In June.

We'd just leisurely paddled down to the deep end of the pool, when I looked at the sky to the south and said, "Whoa, if we were back east, I'd say it was going to thundershower!"

The unpredicted bank of clouds was gray and nasty looking; I started scanning the edges for funnel clouds. But we're in Central California; it just doesn't do that here.

We sat on the ledge over the 8-ft end, and there was a low rumble. Bernie laughed. "That's thunder."

"It was not," I retorted. "That was some dumbass's car that doesn't have a muffler."

The sky pealed again, unmistakably not like a car. We got out of the pool.

Still not believing the clouds had anything to do with California, we called Alex and Lillian out to listen. And then it began to rain on us, while we sat reading our books. We had to put the books away, and the cloth cushions indoors. It rained harder than it did the last winter rain we had.

No, we did not go indoors with the cushions. We sat outside through it all under the lemon tree, cackling at the amazing turns of fate. Pass up the chance to be rained on in June in California's Central Valley? Not likely.

The rest of the afternoon we spent under the clouds (no more thunder came) until the wave passed and the sun came out again, and we finished reading our books. We played in the pool until we were raisins, and had a wholly wonderful day.

Aside from the occasional paroxysms of coughing that made me feel like I was being shredded.

The cloud cover and storm kept us no hotter than 100 degrees, which isn't too bad. Tomorrow is supposed to be about 10 degrees cooler, and the good news is, the patio is already nice and clean.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Killing Time

So pretty.

Stinkin' blasted plant. It's called "bindweed" because what it does is crawl all over other plants and choke them to death.

I had had it eradicated in my yard the year after we moved here; then we got new neighbors, and the lady of the house thought it was a pretty groundcover and let it run rampant.

Then she got a garden service that comes weekly and sprays weedkiller, so she no longer has a bindweed problem. Once again, I do, and alas, I'm very bad at spraying weedkiller weekly.

Maybe I'll do that today. Wednesday is a good day for killing things, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

One Pretty Day

Yesterday the winds did not race across the dusty Valley.

When I got up, it was cool and pleasant, and the sunlight reflected off the pool to cast sweet morning shadows on the retaining wall beneath the alstromeria.

Bernie and I had lunch in Modesto, then came home and swam together in the pool with Howie before he had to leave for work. It was a nice day, and we planned to do more swimming today after lunch.

Well, forget that. By 7 am the branches of the neighborhood trees were thrashing so loudly it made my scalp crawl to listen. I checked the weather ... yet ANOTHER wind advisory, to last all day today, and all night, and all day tomorrow.

And then it's supposed to get hotter than hell.

So much for idyllic California weather.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Made Alex Hook It Up

So, so weary!

It wasn't a physical day -- not with the damned latest wind storm in progress. Can't play or work outside, too much dust in the air.

However, mental activities can be tiring, too. I worked on the Press this morning; except for the cover image, which should be done tomorrow, it's ready to go. (No Fever Dreams cartoon this week; there's a limit to how many articles I want carrying my byline. It's the Piker Press, not the Sand Pilarski Dog and Pony Show.)

When I had a few minutes to spare, I had a look at the Belmont Stakes site. The race is tomorrow, and Big Brown is the favorite. I'd looked at the Kentucky Derby on line some weeks ago, and Bernie had told me he'd seen an impressive clip of the Preakness. (Note: The horse races "Kentucky Derby", the "Preakness", and the "Belmont Stakes" comprise a series of grueling races called "The Triple Crown." When I lived on the East Coast, coverage of the races was huge; out here on the Other Coast, it's lucky if I see anything in the newspapers at all.)

So as my morning break, I Googled the Derby again, and then the Preakness, and was truly impressed by the performance of the favorite. He's not Secretariat, who, back in '73, stole my heart in the Derby post parade, before I knew anything about him, but Big Brown is a looker, and he pulled off that Preakness sprint with a lot of class.

The video I saw online showed the horse after the amazing surge of speed in the Preakness, after he'd won, with the jockey trying to slow the horse to a jog. Big Brown was fighting like a son of a bitch -- he wanted to keep on running. It was at that point that I suddenly had hairs turning gray remembering that our television was DEAD.

Bernie had just crawled out of bed and was feebly drinking coffee when I hit him with, "Dammit, the Belmont's tomorrow and we don't have a TV!!! And Baffert says he thinks Big Brown is a freak of nature and can pull off a Triple Crown!!! @!##!#!"

"You have got to watch your mouth when Lillian is home from school," he suggested groggily. But after I provided him with a sumptuous lunch of pork steak, parsley potatoes and butter, and white and yellow corn (mmm, sweet) he fired up the erstwhile "good" laptop (I still haven't forgiven it for eating 1100 words I wrote) and did the final research on TV's. "If you want a TV, you can go get it. Otherwise, you can wait until tomorrow and we'll see if we can get it before the race."

I was dressed and out the door before he was even ready to take his shower in preparation for work, stash dollars in pocket.

Never in my entire life have I bought a TV by myself.

Keep in mind that over the years, I've not gone anywhere by myself if I could help it, and since last summer's traumas, I couldn't go many places by myself, let alone spend multiple hundreds of dollars.

But I did. The new TV is in the living room now, functional, beautiful, bigger than I ever imagined a TV to be. Bernie said to me on the phone after I checked out and was on my way home, "Now I know how much you love the Belmont."


And then I came home and made my first foray into experimenting with PHP! While cooking party chicken wings for snacking on during the Belmont! I was successful in my attempt at PHP, and the chicken wings are great! I am a GENIUS!!

Fine, not a genius, but wow, I stretched myself today.

Nice TV.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Climate Change

"Euonymus" is a cool name for a plant, and I like this one. It's a nice shrub: no thorns, no rancid-smelling blooms, no leaf drop to speak of. Even in winter it's a pretty burst of color.

I snapped a picture of the euonymus because it was bright and happy-looking, and I've included the picture here because for the past few days, I've felt brightened, and happy.

Last summer, I remember sitting in a hotel room alone (after sitting with my sister in her hospital room all afternoon), chatting with my good friend Lydia, and confessing to her that I was so damaged by events that I said "my hands shake all the time now." Fact is, they only shake most of the time now, and not everything makes me break down in tears. It's an improvement!

This week I had a strange burst of Action and cleaned the house indoors, washed down the front of the house outside, cleared my desk of paperwork, cooked, shopped, rearranged furniture, wrote about 6000 words, organized my closet, wrote letters ...

Bernie asked me what was up. I said, tentatively, "... I felt ... normal?"

Well, maybe "normal" wasn't the word that was the most descriptive. But it was easier to say than "For the first time in well over a year, I'm not so covered in anxiety that I can't think what to do next, I'm not so soul-sucked by depression and what-could-I-have-done-betters that all I want to do is huddle in a chair in a corner and hide, and my body doesn't feel like any moment could be the Big One, in which I just stop in my tracks and die like two of my uncles did."

Yeah, all of that. So ... "normal" will do.

I like the feeling. I hope it continues.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Come August, There Will Be Grapes

This then, is The Grapevine.

Stretching for about 30 feet along my northside fence, on my side AND my neighbor's, this son of a gun produces so many grapes we can't eat them all.

When I bought a little bare-root pack of grapes ... maybe five or six years ago, it was nothing more than a stick with a bud or two. I asked the nursery expert if it would grow in a pot, and she told me it could, but not to expect a lot from it. She went on to tell me I'd have to spray it with several different chemicals every year, blah, blah, blah. I didn't buy $50 worth of chemicals -- the grape starts were marked down to End-of-the-Season worthless. I took it home and plunked it in a pot, [see red arrow] watered it, and wondered if it would last the summer.

The following spring, to my surprise, it began to sprout again. I moved the pot to a spot by the fence where I had a trellis, stuck a paving block underneath it so it couldn't put down roots in the soil, gave it its own emitter on the irrigation line, and forgot about it. I hoped it would vine up on the fence for greenery, but I never expected grapes.

By the following spring, the pot had become a wintering spot for ants, and a clump of grass three feet tall had started in the pot. I yanked out the grass, threw in a handful of Osmocort slow-release fertilizer pellets, and evicted the ants by turning on the irrigation system. The plant went nuts shooting out tendrils in every direction. We had a few bunches of grapes, yay! They were small, but tasty.

The following spring I noticed two things: The pot was actually lifted on one side by the vine's grip on the fence; and ... water wasn't draining from the pot.

Okay, three things, the third being that the pot was only about half full of soil, thanks to successive wintering damned ants. Well, I thought, that lack of drainage and soil will do Mr. Grape in for sure. Wrong yet again. We gave away grapes to everyone we knew, until people were avoiding us; we were sick of grapes and left them for the birds. Last year Bernie found a fellow at work who liked the grapes, so I kept packing him down with shopping bags of grapes to take in to work.

This year, I vowed to hack away the vine and allow only a few clusters to ripen. Over the weekend, however, Bernie informed me he had a co-worker ask if the grapes were ripe yet, and could he have some.

Fine, we'll do our part for world hunger; I will only trim up the grapes that the dogs might reach. Sebastian has no sense at all when it comes to eating fruit, and grapes are not good for dogs. (I hope that damned parrot enjoys them.)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Year of Destructo Machines

First it was the dishwasher, and I guess I'll just blame the rest of it on the dishwasher's incendiary speeches that inspired the continuing uprisings.

The dishwasher, a glitzy quiet and efficient machine bought in 1997, began to hoick up water into its own electronic innards. Water + Wiring = Not Good. Then the CD changer began to malfunction. Then the refrigerator in the kitchen, a monolith also bought in 1997. (The squat little creature in the garage bought by Bernie's parents in 1941 still trundles on, never ever having needed a freon recharge or service.)

The air conditioner kacked on us, during the last heat wave. Then the dryer died. Then the washer. (The stove I had replaced about five years ago because the one that was in here was shitty, but that's not about this year.)

Before the weather got too cold, we had to replace the water heater.

Whoops, forgot about the pool's circulation pump that had to be replaced last summer.

Both Alex and John's computers bit the dust last fall.

Mere days ago, my laptop betrayed me and disappeared an entire day's worth of writing. Hours. HOURS and HOURS of writing. Product failure!

In the last couple days, Bernie's laptop (only a few months younger than mine) began to act very, very screwy, so he did a complete system wipe and restore. It's acting screwier than ever, and running really, really insanely hot.

This weekend, the television died. The End, Finis. For a while, it acted wonky but we could get it to work by rapping it smartly on the top. Nevermore, said the Raven, flying in the window to perch upon our chamber door. This is an ex-TV.

While working on the Piker Press cover and updating my blog this weekend, I was less than pleased to observe that my beloved Sony monitor was rendering some blurry shit in regular lines down the screen.

Oh, and of course, let us not forget my digital camera that went toes up this past winter. When I grumped about it to the salesman at the electronics store, he said, "Wow, it was four years old? That's a long time for a camera."

Planned obsolescence and crappy manufacturing are a bite.

In the mean time, the 67-year-old refrigerator in the garage cackles to itself and says, "Pussies."