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 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.