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 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.


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.