Thursday, December 31, 2009

Embers of 2009

In less than nine hours, the new year will begin, 2010. In less than ninety days, a new kind of life will begin -- Bernie's job will end, and for a time, at least, he will be a free man.

The future could be daunting, but instead, I'm looking forward to this next year. There are a number of things I'd like to accomplish, but before I do that, I should remember what 2009 was like.

Let's see ... around Superbowl time I caught some horrid flu (was it h1n1 in disguise?) and coughed so hard I herniated a disc in my neck. Muchas owies, lots of pain-killers, physical therapy. Not only did I get sick again after physical therapy was done, but also I had some freako physical reaction to --- something --- that caused me to break out in painful and ugly blisters until nearly the end of May. Lovely!

In the mean time, my mother's 24-hour caregivers turned into a batch of idiot flakes, allowing a boyfriend to come in and steal my father's tools from the cellar (as well as some of her medications and a LOT of food), and requiring me to pursue sending her into protective care in a nursing home.

"I feel like I have nothing left to deal with everything," I told my medical consult, a genius nurse practitioner who assists my physician. "I hear a phone ring, any phone, and it hurts me like someone slapped me across the face."

That was the key she needed to unravel my lousy physical state. After some in-depth questioning, she prescribed a serotonin-uptake inhibitor called Lexapro. "You're depleted," she said. "The neurotransmitters that allow your rational brain to tell your flight-or-fight brain to calm down aren't there, so everything makes you want to run away."

Now maybe that explanation was right on, or maybe it was dumbed down for me, but after three weeks I went back to see her. She practically pounced on me with one word in question: "WELL???" Dropping my usual deadpan, I just smiled and nodded. I was feeling better. "And it just keeps on getting better," she told me. "Then after six months you should be all right."

Right again! January will see me gradually reducing the dosage of the drug, and I do feel that I'm ready. Strong again. There's a well that's no longer dry inside. Very cool feeling. Now it didn't hold off the stomach flu (yuck) but when Bernie brought a cold home from work, I was the only one who didn't catch it -- I'm strong again, yeah!

In accord with the year ending, I finally received, the day before yesterday, from my mother's trust officers three boxes of memorabilia: fading slides and ancient photos, bags of letters that Mom had saved, the wooden bowl and chopping blade that must have been Dad's grandmother's; the flag sent to Mom when Dad was buried, a framed picture of his SeaBee battalion, a couple of his knives that I hadn't thought to ask for but was tearfully grateful that they included in the shipment.

In the old photos of my mother when she and Dad were young, I was able to see again the indomitable personality that I admired so, and the hope and innocence in her eyes that age and the steadily encroaching Alzheimer's turned into meanness and suspicion and anger in her later years. At the end of 2009, I remember again with fondness the shiny curly black hair, the ready grin, the refusal to conform, her clear light brown eyes ... and the love she did have for my sister and me.

Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Drifting in the Clouds

The skies of this area are never as richly blue in the summer as they are in the winter. That dark blue reminds me of the color of Alex's eyes a few hours after she was born; her eyes were already open wide, seeking the source of the light beside my bed.

How easily I'm distracted! I was going to make this post about writing, not about how it felt like I was holding my very heart in my arms as a new mother.

In spite of having tried to cement in a new habit of getting up and writing in the mornings -- that was why I finally decided to do the National Novel Writing Month challenge -- the habit crumbled with the first cloudy daybreaks and a strange sleep/dream cycle that hits me around 7am, causing a very sound sleep and some VERY interesting dreams, so that I sleep in past 9:30 a.m. most mornings and am left bemused and unmotivated.

So much for that new habit.

However, what I have of a new story (minus the stupid word count efforts) is pretty solid. I love the story, in fact, and have had a lot of fun with the main character so far. She's feisty and furious, inventive, and mischievous. Her name is Roj, and bullets won't stop her.

God alone knows when I'll get a chance to finish the story, with the holidays coming up, the onset of a shitty cold last night, and the lovely prospect of coming down with the stomach flu that hit John last week, and Lillian this morning.

Back to the old evening habit now, of taking my place in the comfy chair in the bedroom with pillows to prop me up, my laptop glowing, my faithful dog Howie staring accusingly at me from the bed because I'm in his favorite spot, perhaps to write, perhaps to re-read what has been written, and to thank God that for this hour, at least, I'm not plagued by that stomach flu.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Bernie and I went to see the movie 2012 last weekend, a couple weeks or more after its debut, when we could get in on the $5 bargain that Kerasotes Theaters run.

That's what happens when you have impending financial squeeze times ahead of you. You stop seeing the stuff at full price when it comes out, and just wait for the cheap seats.

B and I have done a review over on the Piker Press, but I didn't really feel like I said quite enough about the film there.

The "chase scenes" were okay, only as long as you were able to ignore the premise that billions of people were dying all around them. In that respect, the movie was really callous; only a few people were allowed to understand what was going to happen to them; humankind was considered by the UberGovernment to be too damn worthless and stupid to be informed that they ought to prepare to meet their Maker.

That alone would have pissed me off, but the movie, as a whole (or as a 'hole') really stunk. It was BADLY acted, POORLY written, and paced to allow moviegoers lots and lots of time to get up and go to the bathroom and never miss a key point.

After we came home, I thought about the movie before I wrote my review, and came to the conclusion that if someone had picked up a semi-somnolent possum from the side of the road, and forced it to watch this movie, PETA would have been all over them for cruelty to animals and unethical treatment of living creatures.

Too bad PETA doesn't bother with people.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Food, and Dogs, and Food

This morning I woke up hungry, not having eaten supper the night before.

I thought of taters and eggs, which I had promised Alex I'd make before she and John had to go to the Bay Area. I thought of the soft and scrumptious loaf of Dutch crust French bread I bought at the store the other day. I thought of what to make for lunch with things on hand.

There was a container of egg whites, left over from making pumpkin custard the day before yesterday, so the taters and eggs made use of that. Delicious. Perfect. Hearty breakfast accompanied by tomato juice. Good start to a freezin' ass cold day.

Around 10 am, I opened the freezer to see what was available for lunch. I spotted a small container of onions and ground beef that I intended to make into some variant of minestrone -- but I knew Bernie wouldn't eat that as it would have too much tomato flavor to it. Aha! A bag of pre-cooked prawns (50 % off sale at the grocers one weekend) and a package of chopped broccoli. Got it, lunch is on the way!

The minestrone fixins I pulled out as well, just because I couldn't stop thinking about them.

Baby portobella mushrooms ... a package of them needed to be used up, so I cut each one into halves or quarters and tossed them into a frying pan with Saffola Margarine (good taste for sizzling) and cut up half a yellow onion into 3/4 inch chunks and began to cook them in extra virgin olive oil in a separate pan. The pot of white basmati rice began to cook.

Prawns thawed in a solution of sea salt and lemon juice and water; some of the mushrooms went into a pot with the minestrone stuff on a back burner, along with a hefty amount of "Italian Seasoning" by McCormick.

A can of chicken broth was mixed with 2 tablespoons of corn starch, some salt, and a heavy shaking of garlic powder, and added to the onion pieces when they were done, to slowly come to a boil. When the rice was nearly done, I put the frozen broccoli on to steam. A few minutes later, most of the mushrooms went into the thickening chicken broth, along with the cut up prawns. (Some of the mushrooms went into the minestrone pot.) When the broccoli was done, so was the rice, and with that, lunch was served. Delicious, nutritious, and satisfying.

The minestrone-to-be slowly thawed on its low setting, seemingly forgotten, but not.

I walked to the school to collect Lillian. We checked the mail, and then, ambling up the street came a man with his Great Dane bitch. She was beautiful, black with a white spot on her chest, and a hint of whitish toes. Maybe a third again bigger than our dog Sebastian, but looking like his auntie. Lil and I stopped to talk with the owner, who assured us that she didn't bite, and we petted the large, lovely lady, comparing her loopy ears to Sebastian's, and the breadth between her eyes, and the gentle eyes themselves. Yeah, I think Sebastian has some Great Dane in his ancestry.

Return to the minestrone variation. I dumped some leftover fried cabbage (don't knock it until you've tried it, cooked with onions in bacon fryings) into the pot, and a cup of tomato sauce. A little later, I tossed in about a quarter cup of nopalitos (cactus strips) and a handful of sliced black olives. I added more oregano, more garlic powder, and a cup of asparagus, cut into half-inch pieces. Dumping in maybe a cup to a cup and a half of Wolfgang Puck's beef broth (no MSG) and about the same amount of the water from the broccoli steaming, and a cup of pasta ...

When the pasta was done, I cut a couple pieces of the French bread, and slathered them with cream cheese. Serving the minestrone in a bowl, I sprinkled it with Parmesan cheese and ooohhh, perfect soup, perfect meal for a cold, cold winter evening.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Object Lesson

Lillian was playing today with Sebastian, riding her scooter up and down the street, with Sebastian bounding ahead of her, and behind her, and around her in an excess of glee. Occasionally he would grab his favorite stick and carry it along.

Elena-From-Across-the-Street-Who-Was-Born-Two-Weeks-After-Lil joined them with her bike, and they zoomed up and down the sidewalks until Sebastian's tongue was hanging around his toes. Howie ignored them, as I was prepping the bread chunks for tomorrow's turkey stuffing, and he felt it more important to supervise me, in case I dropped a piece of bread. (I was doing the prep work out in the garage studio, so that I could keep an eye on the girls.)

An ideal afternoon.

As the sun was going down, the girls went inside for a snack; I did a few more chores so that I have less to do in the morning.

Then the girls decided to take their play over to Elena's house. I walked with them, so as to find out what time to retrieve Lillian.

Time stops.

A man with a fluffy little dog is walking down the street, and the girls coo over the sight and say how cute the dog is.

On the other side of the street, two houses away from Elena's, a woman walks with two white pit bulls, looking smug at her fine, clean, muscled animals. The girls look with awe on the pure white matched pair of dogs.

As we started across the street, I began to mutter to Lillian that she should never go up to a dog like that, because they are dangerous. The woman with her two white beasts walked past Elena's house and turned the corner. By that time we were on Elena's porch, and the girls were dithering because Elena's dogs were barking.

I heard a growl, and an exclamation, and pulled the door open and shouted for the girls to get inside, NOW! We left Elena's bike on the porch and I leaped in the door, too, absolutely uninvited.

Elena, shouting at her dogs, old Pokey, an arthritic beagle, and fierce Molly, barking like a vicious maniac, the growling and snarling intensifying outside. Confusion, clamor.

Poking my head back outside, I saw that the two white pit bulls had suddenly attacked each other. Blood was on their muzzles, so I ducked back into my neighbor's house, far more willing to risk a bite from cranky Molly than get involved in the mess outside. The neighbor pulled open her curtains to reveal the woman trying to separate the two big dogs unsuccessfully, and blood was all over the dogs' white faces, heads, and chests.

A car pulled up, and a man leaped out, grabbing the tail of one of the dogs and pulling it back away from the other. The dogs separated for a moment, then resumed their fight, spattering the woman's face, chest, and arms with blood. The man grabbed the leash of one of the dogs and pulled it away.

He took the dog across the street; the woman continued on Travaille Street and turned at the next corner. I don't know where she lived, or what she said to the man except for the words, "they're sisters" regarding the dogs. He kept the dog he was holding away from the other until the woman could get the dogs ... home?

When the woman and the dogs were out of sight, I headed back across the street to confer with my neighbors on either side who were out on the sidewalk; the snarling of the dogs had been loud enough to draw a lot of attention. The police arrived, asking us where the woman and dogs had gone.

One of the neighbors and I stood and talked about the incident until the police came back, shouting to us that "everyone is okay."

"Yes," I said to the neighbor, "except for those of us who will have nightmares about this tonight."

Yet it provided an opportunity to drive a lesson home to Lillian. While still in Elena's house, I made her look out the window at the bloody dogs, and reiterated my warning about the danger of such breeds. I know that this time, she learned the lesson to the depths of her soul.

Lil is a very trusting and loving little person. She loves animals and people, and wants to be affectionate. It was harsh of me to make her look at that horrible sight, but she has to know that she may NOT assume that other dogs are as mellow and people-friendly as Sebastian and Howie.

Part Two.

Anyone who could view those two white dogs could see by their square frames, with the legs set well apart for stability; their heavy musculature in shoulders and necks for shaking strength; and the thick, broad muscles of the top of their heads for jaw-lock power -- those dogs were bred to grab hold, thrash, and retain their balance. Umm. Gee, let's do Dogs for Dummies -- that means they were bred to fight and kill.

I've talked to pit bull owners who say that their dogs are sweet and lovey-dovey and beautiful and smart and totally safe, but what I saw this evening belies those statements. Those two white dogs were siblings, raised together, and without a cause, went at each other with death in mind.

No. Sorry. Not proper "dog" behavior.

When our German Shepherd, Babe was introduced to the new puppy in the house, my beloved Howie, he felt it necessary to thump the younger dog regularly. They would spar, teeth showing, flashing their faces around so quickly it was hard to follow the movement. They fenced, move and countermove, bodies posturing to present defensive maneuvers and dominance.

They never drew a drop of blood.

Howie does have to give Sebastian almost a daily beating for his impertinence, but again, for all Howie's snarling and snapping and biting of Seb's face and bony elbows, there is never blood, and all I have to say to them is "Enough" and they separate and go find something else to do. That's proper dog behavior.

Tussling, playing, respecting the Top Dog's order. That's "Good Dog."

The white pit bulls had no respect for each other, or their owner. All they wanted to do was kill. That they had no respect for their owner is what makes them really scary animals, though. With dogs, the pack leader HAS to be able to order the pack. Has to. No other choice. If you don't control your pack, the pack is uncontrollable. Duh. An uncontrolled pack (even if it is a pack of one) will ignore orders and do what it wants.

On a street with so many small children, my heart was chilled by what I saw today. The rivulets of blood flowing down the back of the white fur of a dog's head, the faces of the dogs red with blood, the woman vainly trying to separate the animals, with blood on her face and shirt -- no, I won't forget.

And alas, neither will Lillian.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009

The picture has no point to this blog, it was just prettty, and reminded me of the many times over the past 34 years that Bernie has brought me bundles of flowers to arrange.

I haven't blogged for a long time -- life has just been crazy-busy. I had convinced myself that I didn't have time to write 50,000 words in November, but there was this dream that I had, that sounded like it could be an interesting story ...

So I'm writing, and it feels good. Very, very good.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Storm in October

Yesterday this was a nicely-swept patio.

I swept it clean of the piles of hopseed seeds (I suppose they look like hops) because I had this idea that if it rained on the drifts, they would become like cement. There was a fair amount of effort involved, because at this time of year the hopseeds let loose their branches and flutter to the ground. Knowing that there were heavy rains involved as well as high winds, I'm not sure why I thought I should make the effort.

As you can tell, that effort was pointless. The sparrows could not find their birdseed under the hopseeds, the bluejay was damp and disconsolate that there were no peanuts to be had, and there will be no less work for me in cleanup than had I not bothered to sweep the patio before.

It's a fine example of a storm out there, with high winds (gusting to 40 mph, they say) and a substantial amount of rain. The nice thing is that it's not a COLD storm, so Lillian and Sebastian and Howie -- and a little later -- her friend Megan from up the street were able to play in the gutters and the rain until they were soaked and chilled. (Outside temp about 60 degrees.) Since the winds were out of the south, our garage was sheltered, so Bernie and I watched the storm (and the girls and dogs) after lunch until he had to get ready for work.

I came into the house and made a fire, which is taking that clammy edge off the house, and providing a comforting focal point.
Bernie, driving through weather-crazed traffic on his way to work (his commute took a half-hour extra because of all the accidents), suggested I go out and net up all the stuff that blew off the neighbor's sequoias into our pool.

Can you guess what I told him in reply?

I'm looking forward to Thursday or Friday's horse ride to see what happened to the orchards in this mess. The air will be CLEAN, though I suspect a lot of trees will be down due to recent shaking and the wet and the wind.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Dirty Air of Harvest

Almond blossoms. They scent the air with perfume in February, turning Winter's bare branches into pale pink and snowy bouquets.

Yes. That was then, and this is now. Most of the blossoms, having matured into tasty nuts, have been shaken from the trees by a machine with a giant claw, blown or swept across the bare and dry soil by sweepers and blowers, sucked up off the dirt by gigantic vacuum cleaners, and shot into trailers to go to the hulling mill.

The very fine dust that was shaken from the trees as well, blown and swept across the orchards, sucked up and thrown into the air ... has stayed there. Well, for the most part. Some of it has dropped onto houses and shrubbery and sidewalks and sinuses.

I rode through the orchards today, noting which quadrants were done, which were still to be shaken or swept or hoovered up, hoping that I'd be able to avoid a thick cloud of dust. Fortunately we did, or the wind was blowing in an auspicious direction. Although by the time I was home I felt caked with dust on my skin, I had experienced the sweet, delicious scent of kiwi fruit wafting from their little orchard.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Week Later

Today I needed no painkillers to ease the ache in my jaw, because it's finally gone.

What a week! Sore, swollen, stuttering, biting my tongue over and over again ... ow. But today it is better. I've still got a sore spot on my tongue from pinching it, but otherwise, I'm ready to tackle a steak or a crunchy salad. Thank Heaven.

With the cessation of pain, I threw myself into the work of the Piker Press, and did some uploading of articles and correspondence that has been waiting for my attention. I got a lot done, actually, and that felt good.

The Piker Press, as I have said before, exists for no other reason than to keep writers writing. We're getting some good distribution, but more importantly, the writers are getting published in such a way that allows them all the good aspects that their writing deserves: audience and (I hope) good editing.

The Fame and Fortune Thing for the Press is just going to be dependent upon Fate throwing some marketing genius at us who can work for zero dollars until we can turn a profit.

But I'm not waiting for profit, I just love to see new work, love to hear people's stories.

Gotta love writers who write because they love writing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Under the Porch

I don't do dentistry well.

Tantamount phobia, dentistry is my least favorite activity in the world. I hate the sound of drills, the echo of drills in my head, the injection of Novocaine, (or whatever the hell it is), the clatter of instruments on trays, the touching of my teeth and face.

I elected to have two crowns put in today, because the time is coming when we'll have no dental insurance. When that ends, well, we're on our own, and that means "screw you, live with pain and teeth needing care."

At least now I will be able to chew on the right side of my mouth until the end of my life. The aging fillings in the two back teeth are gone. The new crowns will last me until the end of my life.

I made it through the appointment without shedding a tear; indeed, most of time I was marveling at how incredibly stoned I was from the nitrous oxide. For two hours, the most coherent thought I had was, "Wow, I am really fucked up."

Nevertheless, I repeatedly tried to relax my shoulders and arms, and tried to send my mind away to other thoughts -- but I can tell from the aches in my body that I will be sore tomorrow just from the tension stress.

It's only 4:30 in the afternoon, but I want to crawl under the figurative porch and be left alone, like a sick dog.

Note: When I came back from the dentist, both dogs climbed into my lap, sniffed my face and hair, and kissed me gently in concern. What good boys!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


That should be said with a wide open mouth, a grating tone of voice, and a swooping series of notes.

"Whaaaaat?" was how my sister and I read the Little Golden Book "The Three Little Kittens" when the mother cat questioned the kittens about the loss of their mittens.

It was formative. Once, when Bernie and I were in San Francisco, walking along the Embarcadero, I said, "Whaaaaat?" in just that way when he told me about some salacious gossip he'd heard. A passing family heard us, and the little girl with her parents imitated me, "Whaaaaat?" earning a cuff and reproof from her mother. I only hoped that she would continue to use the sound in the future.

So at 7:45 am, when my phone on my bedside rang, I woke groggily, and then jumped and sprang out of bed as a very loud "BOOOOOOOM!!!!" echoed through the room. "An explosion," I thought. "No, wait, thunder? Whaaaaat? In September??"

The phone was Alex trying to wake me to find out where the hell I had my car keys, as the windows of my car were open and it was POURING. I found the keys and flung them at her, then ran to the back patio to bring in the rotissierie oven, which should have been able to live outside until the end of October, at least.

Then we retired to the garage, opened the door, and watched the storms roll across the area, one after another, lightning and thunder and rain and wonderful clouds. Bernie, with only four hours of sleep since he had come home from work, was too fascinated by the weather to sleep, and got up for coffee and doughnuts in the garage as well.

It was beautiful, especially when, right after we'd all gathered in the garage to watch the sky show, a double rainbow appeared.

Neighbor kids and Lillian ran around in glee when it wasn't thundering, rejoicing in a warm and very unusual rain.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Dog and His Girl

Lillian walks with Sebastian after the rain.

He's such a good dog, and dotes on his little Miss. They don't walk far on these forays, but he is perfectly behaved and walks at heel like a gentleman. You can tell this by the sag in his leash.

Sebastian was supposed to be a smaller dog, but something went awry in that plan. He's big, at least 80 skinny pounds. Without a mean or contentious bone in his body, he's the perfect pet for the Granddaughter of the House.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Phenomenal Feast

Bernie manned the barbecue grill this afternoon by popular request.

He grilled corn in the husk, baby portabello mushrooms basted with Saffola margarine (very good tasting for cooking), and white onions cut into bite-sized pieces. When those were done he cooked up a multitude of exquisite hamburgers.

I'd made up guacamole and ranch dip to add to the table, so when we all sat down to eat, we had plenty of everything to go around, which was good, because it was all so delicious we hardly knew when to stop.

The mushrooms, sprinkled with a mere shake of sea salt, eaten as a whole bite with a slice of the white onion, were heavenly. Until this summer I could not understand the fascination with this type of mushroom, but now that I've had them grilled I find them irresistible.

Bernie's method of roasting corn on the grill has made me an avid convert from my lifetime of boiling corn on the cob. He peels back the husks, rubs the ears with a little butter, folds the husks back over the ears, and lets them cook until the kernels have brightened in color. I would have thought they'd catch fire, but they don't.

The burgers are done last, over what ends up being low heat, making them tender and juicy.

The success of this summer's grilling has led Bernie and me to believe that we have to tear apart the top of our barbecue structure and re-construct it to make it about three times as big. That way, we could make enough mushrooms for guests when we have them, and have the hamburgers cooked at the same time as the corn. Or a passel of chicken quarters. Or a phalanx of kabobs.

The day was perfect, weatherwise ... a fine Labor Day to savor the Commercial End of Summer.

Did I tell you that commercially, it is now Halloween?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Singing -- on a Keyboard

A couple weeks ago, Bernie surprised me by asking, "Why do you work so hard for the Press?"

At first I didn't have an answer for him, wondering what he meant by "work so hard" and being immediately annoyed that he'd asked me, "Why do you ... "

I am not introspective by nature. I tend to do what I have to do and then move on to the next thing. Task-oriented, I think they call it. Analyzing my own self tends to bore me silly -- after all, I'm HERE and this is what I can DO, and what else matters, really?

Giving the question some thought, a day or two later I was able to muscle into my motives and eavesdrop on my reactions to submissions to and writings in the Piker Press.

When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me about how her brothers and their friends would sit out in front of their apartment building in the evenings and sing. Sing!

And Mom and I frequently sang together when we were in the car, going somewhere -- show tunes, oldies from the Big Band era, silly folk songs -- we sang, both of us having big, bold voices.

Now tell me, when was the last time you heard your neighbors sing on a summer evening, just for fun? Kids stop singing around age seven, embarrassed by the sound of their voices without the mixing equipment that marks and makes recorded music nowadays. The very few kids who sing try to imitate the pop culture, squeaking, swooping, chanting "Muh-Fuh" -- not really singing, merely imitating rather than putting their hearts into an expression.

The Music Person at our church, marveling at the voices raised in song at our Passover celebration, turned to me one year and said, "How do we get the congregation at Mass to sing like that?"

She really didn't want to hear what I'd have said, so I just grinned and offered her more wine.

You get people to sing -- by accepting that they can sing, and inviting them to do it. You set an example by your own voice, and you recognize what songs they can sing. How many people in any given group have professionally trained voices? Few if any. Then why would you expect them to sing music designed for the professionally trained voice?

Most people have read what is called "legalese" writing, and few understand it unless they are professionally trained to do so. Same with music -- people sing what they can sing. If the pitch is such that only a professional can hit the high notes, the people are not going to sing. If the tempo is so slow that only a professional can drag through the pace, people are not going to sing.

Writing is also like that. If you nitpick every little word, people are going to stop writing. However, if you give them a venue that allows them to "sing" with their writing, they will have a "voice" sounding out loud and clear and individual and beautiful. Sometimes there are sour notes, but I believe that with practice, the "singer" will recover and go on, better than before. Pointing out every sour note is not helpful. Coaching is good. Nitpicking is not. Expecting symphonies from a gang of kids singing on a doorstep is just a waste of kids' voices.

That's why I'm committed to the Piker Press. We're singing. We're writing, we're throwing our words and tunes right out there for the world to hear and see. We don't have to worry about comparing ourselves to a given mold. We are words, and music, and by God, that's why I'm there, most of every day.

Writing is fun, and beautiful, and as liberating as tossing confetti into a brisk breeze. The Piker Press is all about writing, and keeping on writing. That's what's important. We don't have to be chanted in Latin at the Vatican; we don't have to rack up Pulitzers; we don't have to make bazillions of bucks.

Write on, Pikers. The world needs some honest voices raised in prose.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Wednesday Bernie and I knew we had to start planning an exit strategy from his current employment.

Medical insurance is, of course, the biggie, along with its corollaries, eyecare and dental. Dental is the scary one, but we'll have to talk about $$ flow to see if we can afford the three crowns I still need to replace the old, old fillings. The easy part was eyecare. Bernie does need new glasses, there is no doubt. No problem, insurance pays for that, so we get that done before the job ends.

He roared at me to make an appointment for myself, too. After being blind as a bat for much of my life, in 2001 I had a Lasik operation on my eyes, and only have worn glasses to read. Why did he roar? Because I carped about spending the day messing with stuff on the computer, which made my eyes sore and my vision blurred. And I had to admit, that if I am going to have to get glasses to drive or see properly, this would be my last chance. I made the appointment for him for next week, and unexpectedly was told they could see me today.

Wednesday and Thursday I had uneasy dreams -- not horrible, but definitely unsettled -- the thought of having to go back to wearing glasses all the time was so depressing. Each morning I wake up, and look at the stippled patterns on the walls, grateful that I can see them (and the occasional spiderweb catching the morning sun). When I'm out riding, I can see things at a distance others can't, and the depth perception takes my breath away.

So lately, with the Piker Press getting so busy, and me spending so much time in front of the computer screen, I've been having more and more trouble seeing. This is it, I thought, I've ruined my wonderful eyesight ...

I stayed off the computer as much as I could yesterday and today, and went to the doctor's office with great trepidation and no little bit of a depressed heart.

Even though it had been more than eight years since I'd last seen him, the doc remembered me. "Whatcha up to on reading glasses now?" he asked.

"Same as before. I use the +1.50."

"You're kidding. Here, look at this, and tell me which one you can read with no glasses."

I read a line and he sputtered. Then he pounced and did all kinds of eyeball testing, which letter is this, is this better or worse, where is your old chart, let's put these drops in your eyes, now look at this, and that, and this again.

At the end, he said he was amazed; not only had my eyesight not deteriorated, it had actually improved a little bit, and the range of sight was great for a person my age! And then, being a wonderful fellow, he tackled the idea of my eyestrain at the computer. After a few questions, he put together a contraption with standard lenses and held up his small print card. I could read it perfectly. "There you go," he said. "Go get yourself some +1.00 readers. The ones you're using are too strong."

And so I did, and he was right. I'm not jiggling back and forth trying to make the computer screen come clear.

So now, let the fireworks be lit, and the trumpets play loud, triumphant music! Throw confetti in the air, and shout "WOO HOO HOO!" My vision is, to quote the doctor, "Perfect!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Off To the New World

This morning the news officially announced the March closing of the NUMMI automotive plant.

The great safety net is unraveling: on the horizon is the end to great health insurance, carefree daily spending, retirement security.

A friend wrote to me recently and said, "You must be frantic [about the pending plant closure]" but I wasn't, and am not, even today, hearing the definitive words.

We've been through some tight and twisty ways before: cashless in Houston, Texas, wondering where the food was going to come from each week, let alone the rent; jobless in Pennsylvania in the middle of winter; cast adrift by refusing to compromise morally with dishonest business practices ... and each time, God has led us, fed us, indeed, amused us with His providence. We have the survival skills we need to get through this -- not least of which is knowing that God is with us.

Now, does that mean that God is going to rain down cashola upon our heads? Probably not, unless we hit big on the lottery. ( I did win $10 once years ago!) But cashola has not given us the experiences that make Bernie and me smile confidently and sleep peacefully. Money could not possibly buy what we have been given -- the great turns of phrase in language, the awareness of nature all around us, the beauty in people's hearts if only they are allowed to show it; the habit and solace of prayer, the holiness that can be given at the end of a mortal life, the sound of each other breathing in repose.

No amount of money can buy what we now hope for, what we can see coming, what we will count down the days and weeks to experience: being able to wake up together, breakfast together, close down the days into night together. While NUMMI was a super job, it has made us feel like we were living in different time zones all the time. Not a little of the pang of seeing the news this morning was thinking, "Six months? Why so long?"

We have appreciated the paychecks from NUMMI. They have been rich, and enabled wonderful things to happen. You don't spit at honest labor and choice pay if you have half a brain. But when the job ends, there should be no bitterness or fear. The good job was an opportunity, not a right.

Figuratively speaking, it's time to start packing. The next adventure is drawing near.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Smokin' Hot

Those are the mountains away south and west of here. Currently, if you look across the flat valley to the south and west, you would not see them -- there's too much smoke in the air.

Fire season is upon California, and thanks to a little freaky weather a week or so ago, an unseasonable thunderstorm blew through the mountains north of here and set the resinous trees ablaze. The winds track south, pouring the smoke into the Central Valley, which, under the weight of the normal high pressure system, has no way of getting rid of the smoke until another weather front pushes through from the west.

Weather report: "100+ degrees with smoke. Northwesterly breezes expected, with windspeeds of walking to crawling on knees and one hand. Low of 66 degrees in the next 24 hours, as experienced by a ground squirrel in a 40 foot deep burrow under an insulated cement-floored equipment building which itself is surrounded by tall cottonwood trees. The rest of you are going to sweat all night."

If it was just 100 degrees, I'd sit out front under the trees with the mister running. However, I tried that Sunday and the smoke got me coughing around 2am until dawn. Not an especially good idea for me today, with the smoke worse.

Nevertheless, this morning I opened my garage studio to the morning air, and it was cool and pleasant. It was grand to wave hello to walkers as they passed by, providing sweet breaks while I worked. Sometimes I just stop and lean against one of the cars in the driveway and look up at the eucalyptus branches, or watch the crows as they prowl about the neighborhood roofs.

There are fires, and they are normal, if inconvenient at their best and dangerous at their worst. The smoky scent of the air reminds me that it is a World out there, one that cares nothing for asphalt or lawns, but does what it must to provide clearing of brush so that young trees can get their start this winter.

In the photo above, you see dried ground and a sere landscape. Look again -- that browned field has been harvested of hay for farm animals; those dried hills are covered with wild oats baking in the sun to make the deer fat, and to plant themselves for the forage of greenstuff by both deer and wintering geese. Eat grain, ground squirrels! The hawks and coyotes and rattlesnakes need juicy fare at their tables.

Even while I'm sneezing, I love this place.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Summer Ends on August 5th

Back to school for the kiddies in this school district today!

California has a budget crisis, you know. You may have heard news anchors screaming this fact at the top of their shrill and artificial voices, as though their networks and stations had no brains at all for good sound equipment. "Let's scream," News-Shouters, are told, "that way the television audience can't turn away and have a normal conversation in the room. Everybody pitch their voices high and turn the volume up loud so that we sound soooooooo important!!"

Not intelligent, just important.

What many are screaming about these days are cuts to California's budget. And especially screamsome is the idea of cutting funds to education. "If you cut the funding to this school's sports swim program, my kid is gonna suffer irreparable damage to his self-esteem! If you cut funding to this elementary school, we won't be able to afford Award Assemblies every month!"

Cut me a break, will you? If you want sports programs for your kid, pay for them out of your pocket, not out of the government's till. School is supposed to be for education -- so that children can learn reading and math and know where France is and that English is actually spoken outside of California.

Last mid-May, Lillian came home from school triumphantly shouting that there was no homework for the rest of the year, because everything had been covered that needed to be covered. The school year still ran through the first week in June.

"Well," the explanation ran, "the kids who know the stuff are done, but we can use the extra three weeks to help the kids who need to review."

What? Isn't that "summer school," which ran through the hot months anyway? Why, then, all the squealing and hair-tearing about the budget crisis cutting 7 days from the school year, if 15 days could be devoted to Pajama Day, and Opposite Day, and the ever-popular Last Day of School When Everybody Plays Outside and Parents Provide Cupcakes?

Oh, and by the way, let's send the kids back to the school buildings the first week of August. Running air conditioning round the clock in the hot part of the year really makes sense when you're strapped for money, especially when average temperatures in the afternoon are in the mid-nineties.

Supposedly this makes sense, to have more days of school at climatically stressed times of year. Of course it makes more sense to have the kids have extra days off in October, when the air is filthy with almond dust and the evenings are too cold to play outside, or extra days in December when the fog socks in and nothing warms you up and there's no time to play outside because it's dark so early, or in the early spring when it's raining and chilly. Of course we should rejoice to send the kids to school when they could be playing in the swimming pools and sprinklers in the heat of the day. Of course. How could I be so stupid not to think that kids would rather huddle indoors than play in summer?

Should I (or the state government) voice this opinion at a Parent and Teacher Interaction Shtick, I (or the state government) would immediately be trussed for burning at the stake, with opponents clutching their hair or bosoms and crying, "Why are you trying to abuse our children?"

Well, we're not, dumbasses. Maybe some of us think that there's a little too much wastage in the "school" system, that's all. Like, why are tax dollars being spent on sports programs? If they're so important for school income, then why are there VOLUNTEER food concessions? To pay for WHAT? A hot dog stand doesn't pay for much. Cut the sports, just do physical education.

Oh, I mentioned that before, didn't I.

Let me say this one more time, cut the sports programs and the "special days" and focus on education. There will be enough money to go around.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Summer 2009

Lil and her pal Elena from across the street got in some desperate summer play today.

Tomorrow Elena won't be home, and the next day ... school starts.

They played in the garage and on the front lawn, then on the back patio, then in Lil's room, then out front again, then in back again, and then in Lil's room, and then out front. They had fun, they had drama; they had sun and then shade. They had a beautifully mild summer day with a sweet breeze, and Sebastian and Howie to play with them.

Born only a few weeks apart, sometimes I hear them play at being sisters.

I wonder often what they would have been like as friends if they had grown up in the kind of world I did. At seven, Lili's and Elena's parents and siblings worry about them crossing our wide street, because utter morons fly along at 45 mph on a regular basis, slurping canned drinks and talking on cell phones, oblivious (or far too self-important to take notice) of the 25 mph limit. When I was seven, Carol Jan and I ranged around our small town on our bikes in the summer (not down town, of course, but everywhere on the east side of town) and we kids spent mornings at the municipal playground, went home for some lunch, then went back to the playground until 5pm, at which point we played in the street or on the sidewalks -- or other kid's houses until dark.

The eyes of every resident in the community were upon us kids, all the time. But it was a town of 1000, and the biggest town in the whole county. People were poor, mostly, and we townies had it real soft compared to the kids on farms outside of town, who worked on their parents' dairies and chicken farms and fields.

Oh well. It was a different planet I lived on then, and it was blown away by "progress" as surely as Superman's home world Krypton fell to destruction. My Home Planet is gone, and Lillian must make her way in this world, however inimicable it may be. How she will grow up is anyone's guess.

That her summer "ends" on August 5th is another post, and it will be a venomous, bitter one.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cooking Frenzy!

After reading my one e-mail and the daily comics, I was possessed of a spirit of cooking.

While I ate my breakfast of black bean chili with rice, I had a vision of using up the leftovers in the fridge -- a half a small cabbage, some hamburger, and some basmati rice to make golumpki meatballs while an enormous slab of ribs baked for lunch. Oh, and macaroni salad.

The ribs were thawed in the microwave before I was done with my pint of tea; I cut them into individual portions and seasoned and browned them while the oven was heating and while I mixed the leftover rice, the small pack of ground beef, and cabbage into meatballs only slightly smaller than tennis balls.

Bernie woke and came out to the kitchen to observe the pressure cooker with the golumpki-meatballs chattering in the pressure cooker, and the vat of boiling water for the macaroni, the Cuisinart full of chopped onion, celery, and pickle, and the pot of cooling boiled eggs and its compadre, the container of freshly-made barbecue sauce. "Looks like the Mad Scientist's lab to me," he said, blearily pouring his own coffee.

Yes. I was COOKING, baby, and I have to say that it felt GOOD to be using the leftovers efficiently and making good stuff happen. The food was scrumptious, all of it.

It's not really the point of this post that the food was good. The amazing event is that I wanted to cook. I wanted to tear myself away from the computer and do something with my hands other than format on a keyboard. There was a JOY in cooking stuff, a SATISFACTION in creating delicious dishes, an INTEREST in the world that has been hard to find in the past three years.

Yes. I like this feeling.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Lay-Off Week Project

This space has held, in the past 12 years, a couple huge, aphid-infested photinia bushes, a purple potato-bush shaped into a tree, Mexican bush sage, calla lilies, tomatoes, spinach, chard, daffodils and tulips, a pink bougainvillea, lavender bushes, purple lantana, and a lot of weeds.

Not all at the same time, of course.

I've been itching to clean it up and re-purpose it once again, and this time, Bernie had an idea that really sparked my interest.

"Let's do three raised planters," he said. "They'll be easier to weed, and they should look good there."

I found my shovel and removed every weed, loosening the soil and pulling the weeds, lifting the daffodil bulbs and the persistent calla lily bulbs. (I love callas, but they simply cannot be trusted -- they multiply like rabbits.) Bernie pulled out the last roots of the Mexican bush sage (we've been trying to get rid of it for two years) and built a prototype of the planter.

The planters will hold, in winter, onions, spinach, chard, lettuce, and maybe a few turnips. In summer, cucumbers, squashes, and nasturtiums.

We put down a pre-emergent to keep the weeds between the beds in check, and covered that with soft cedar bark. (Easy on our normally bare feet.)

A geranium in the white pot to the left seems to look on in interest -- after all, removal of the bush sage liberated an irrigation emitter that properly belonged to the geranium. And in the background on the right, the stuff crawling halfway across the walk is a spider plant colony whose origin we can't recall.

In point of fact, whoever it was who dropped a piece of spider plant on the ground has deliberately wiped the incident from their mind so as to be able to pass a lie-detector test.

The planters look good from both angles. It was a successful project.

Our reward will come later, with veggies in season; and also came that day, with our chairs under the tree and a mister going to cool us as we sipped wine and surveyed our handiwork.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Baked Leaves

It's the mid-July heat wave, hot enough to cook the leaves on my Japanese maple -- about 104.

The weather service says that it's unseasonably hot, but I can't remember a mid-July in 20 years when the temps didn't hit a hundred and some more.

I think what they meant was "unreasonably" hot. We got in the pool for a while, but the water has warmed quickly and was barely refreshing.

The AC is running, which is annoying to me, but the evening temps just have not been cooling. Somewhere around 5 am this morning, the outdoor temperatures made for good sleeping. I got up at 6 and came indoors to open up all the windows and let some cooler air in. Tonight we closed up the tent and have opted to sleep inside.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

I Won't Regret It Tomorrow, No Matter What

I suspect that tomorrow I'm going to be dragging around like a semi-salted snail.

The horses were loaded in the trailer and off we went to Woodward Reservoir at 10am. We rode on the roads, we rode in the water, we rode back to the trailer, had lunch, and then set off again to ride in water and on the roads again. I dragged home at 6pm, sunburnt and smiling.

We saw tall white egrets and great blue herons; flocks of red-winged blackbirds and gaggles of geese; coots and mallards and buzzards ... the air was cool coming across the water, which reflected a cloudless blue sky.

Oh, I'll be sore, but I'll still smile.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Benefit from an Icky Task

Shoveling up dog crap is not my favorite activity of the day, but with two large dogs in residence, well, it just has to be done.

Sunday evening, some hours before we were to sleep in the tent, I scooped poop -- not wanting to wake up in the night and say, "Wish I'd taken care of that before nightfall."

While I was scooping, this amazing insect showed up, flitting about the north side of the house, landing on the irrigation-sprayers. I dropped shovel and ran for my camera. Braving the horrible plague of flies we're having this year, I stood with the lens focused on the sprinkler head and waited.

Bernie found the correct nomenclature, but to me it was just this astounding white-ass dragonfly, the likes of which I had never seen in my life. According to the internet article Bern read, this dragonfly shouldn't even be in this area. Maybe it migrated here, hearing that there was such a surfeit of flies this year.

The photos I took were well worth the three blistering fly bites I'm medicating as a result.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Tired Old Sore Ass

Today, Cathy the Mad Horsewoman asked me this question: "Why is it, that when the horses are carrying us, and they do the walking, that we are tired after our rides?"

I don't have an answer for her. We rode for nearly two hours today, and I was exhausted at the end, my "end" truly sore, my back weary, my legs and arms and shoulders begging for reprieve. Dink was tired -- lots of yawns when we were de-tacking -- but I was dead, and very glad that there were leftovers for Bernie's and my lunch. ( I was dead, and zombies do love leftovers.)

Leftover barbecued chicken and potato salad ... blissful.

Then a protracted session with Photoshop to repair and replace some graphics ... bleah. Now I'm really tired.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


This cropduster has been working in our area for ... maybe twenty-five years, maybe more.

We've watched him make his graceful turns right over our house, the roar of the engine bringing the whole family running out of the house to watch. I saw the plane in the air as I drove out to the ranch for this morning's ride, and considered calling Cathy the Mad Horsewoman and saying, "Look, there's a cropduster working, let's ride another day," but I didn't do it; as it turned out, Cathy the Mad was already at the ranch.

I noted with relief that the sound of the plane had disappeared, assuming the fields were done. Cathy and I saddled our horses and rode out.

We headed towards the orchards past a cornfield when we heard the drone of the plane in the distance, coming right for us. I shifted my weight in my saddle, preparing for Dink to bolt, and moved my feet to make sure I had only the tips of my toes in the stirrups. (If you're unseated in a horse wreck, you DON'T want to risk getting a foot caught in the stirrup and get dragged!)

The plane approached, getting louder and louder until the sound was deafening, and the plane swooped over the field, releasing its chemical load -- only about fifty yards away!

I was prepared for a bolt, for a buck, for a darting escape into the trees of the orchard to our left ... but it was unnecessary. Neither Dink nor Peanut, Cathy's horse, so much as flicked an ear. They couldn't have cared less.

Now those are two amazing horses.

There are many reasons I like boarding Dink at Happy Talk Ranch, and this is a prime example of one of them: the horses are used to all kinds of heavy equipment being used around them -- backhoes, bulldozers, front-loaders, tractors, hay equipment, orchard machines ... and the sound and sight of cropdusting airplanes.

Then again, Dink and Peanut are exceptional mounts, so incredibly trustworthy. Cathy and I agreed today that we're unlikely to see such two great horses again in our lives.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Long in the Tooth

Horse's teeth don't get cavities ... unless, I guess, their owners feed them candy bars all their lives ... but they do get oddly-shaped as the horse ages.

Horse teeth never really stop growing but their constant grazing wears their teeth down unevenly. In the wild, an older horse's teeth become uneven, it begins to have trouble chewing and digesting its food, and subsequently weakens, feeding the carnivore next up the food chain.

In captivity, we have our horses' teeth "floated."

See Diagram One. When one side of the teeth/tooth doesn't grind down on its own, we have the vet come in and reduce the long side so that Horse's teeth meet efficiently again.

The picture is a rendition of not MY horse's tooth, but of a tooth I saw extracted from a mare whose teeth were "floated" the same day the vet came out to do Dink's teeth. The mare had a loose tooth, which the vet pulled out almost with his bare hands. It looked very much like my image -- a low inner side, and a high outer side.

Floating reduces the high side to match the other, as per the red line.

Interesting process: the vet injects the horse with an anesthetic. The horse, in a matter of seconds, begins to look sleepy, and then rearranges his limbs as though he is a sodden drunk. At that point, Horse couldn't give a shit what you want to do with his mouth, which is prime for the vet to bring out his power files and saw/file down those crags of tooth.

Horses have no nerves to their teeth, so the noise of the drill/rasp might annoy them, but they're in no pain.

Dink had no loose teeth, and his teeth were not in too bad a shape. But this was a necessary maintenance operation, and I must say that in subsequent days, I took pleasure in hearing his teeth grind properly as he snarfed his food. It's a sound that I should have missed months before, and just didn't. But I know it now, and won't overlook it again.

There is no post-operative trauma with this procedure, and the next morning, Dink was raring to go.

He yawns after we ride ... I wonder if he is as tired as I am?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Much-Improved Horse

This morning, when I finally dragged my weary body to the ranch, Dink jerked his head up at my approach and walked quickly to me.

He shoved his head into the halter I held out, and walked briskly with me to the tack area. There he shifted from foot to foot until I sprayed him with fly spray, and then offered to give me a little bitey-witey when I was within reach.

Back to his old self.

His dapper demeanor dissipated most of my weariness, and in minutes we were headed out the gate. Today, he really took close notice of everything: a farmer inspecting his sprinklers in the orchards, a kid on a quad, a horde of crows congregating for mischief. His pace was back to his usual soldier march, and we even trotted for a while, with lots of enthusiasm in his step.

On the way home, my hat blew off onto the road. Dink didn't care, seeing it fly off behind him. And he was perfect as I bent down from the saddle and picked the hat up with the tip of my riding crop ... which I appreciated because getting up in the saddle is a major effort these days. What a good horse.

When we were done, I gave him a dose of SandClear and a few cups of sweet feed. He gobbled avidly, which is just what I wanted to see. Dink with no appetite is definitely ill.

I did note, however, that when he was eating the feed, bits of it were falling from his mouth. That probably means that his teeth need to be floated -- filed down so that he can chew evenly. Wonderful, a whopping vet bill. Still, it beats the hell out of having a vet come out because he's sick.

Thank God for his great improvement.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Two Days in a Row?

Whew! If I thought I was tired last night after the two-hour ride, I was wrong.

I pried myself from bed this morning at 7am to try to wake up enough to be out at the ranch again at 8:30. I took vitamins, I drank tea, I ate breakfast. I got out there by 8:40, without a spark of enthusiasm.

My horse was okay overnight, thank God. He'd taken a poop just before I got there, and he was eager to go out and DO something. But oh, when I sat in the saddle, I was all too aware of where I was sore.

Nevertheless, Cathy the Mad Horsewoman and I set off on our aged mounts, and again, rode for two hours. Both horses were calm, and maybe a little draggy, until we hit an orchard where the verges (You should never go straight through an orchard -- it pisses the farmers off something terrible) were five inch deep muck from having received irrigation water the night before. The horses switched from shuffling lazily along to having to watch their footing, and Cathy the Mad and I had to switch from just sitting there to watching carefully and guiding the horses to the firmest possible footing. (A horse who thinks he might get mired begins to leap and lunge to get out of it, which could be disastrous for two old ladies.)

Cathy confessed when we got back on dry orchard road that her palms were sweating; the horses had decided that they'd had enough adventure and were ready to go home; my rear end still hurt, but we all had to agree to go the remainder of the hour and a half. On we went.

The morning was cool and gently breezy, the horses calm, the roads clear of machinery or commotion. It was a good ride. At the end of it, Dink even took a few swipes at eating the mulberry tree near the tack room -- a good sign. When I walked him toward his pasture-paddock, he dragged me to the side to crop the thick green grass of the ranch owner's yard -- another good sign. And when I put him into the pasture, he called again for the other horses, but then began to eat the food we'd left for him the night before.

I oozed home, ate lunch, worked a little on the Press, and now can't wait for bedtime. I went to the store to buy some "sweet feed" for Dink, and some "SandClear." The SandClear won't clear him of me, but if he's got dirt in his gut making him colicky, it'll drag some of that junk out. I'll try to dose him with it tomorrow.

And do another ride, but it's not going to be another two hour jaunt.

Well, unless I wake up and feel ten years younger tomorrow.

Which is unlikely, as I feel as though if a bunch of ancient Egyptian embalmers showed up outside the bedroom window, I'd just roll over and say, "Go for it."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Older Horse

I was already out doing my rounds at the post office, the gas station, and the store when I finally turned my phone on for the day.

The "Voicemail" notice chimed as I was pulling into the Post Office parking lot to drop off a piece of critical mail and a couple contract copies. The message was that Dink was acting sort of colicky and they wanted me to come out to the ranch and have a look at him.

The gas tank was on "Empty," checks needed to be deposited, and I HAD to stop at the store if Bernie was to have a lunch to take to work, so I forged on, and less than an hour later was able to stop by the ranch in my luxurious long linen shirt and dainty little flip-flop sandals. Not horsewear.

Dink was in a small pasture by himself when I arrived, desultorily nibbling at the sparse grass and weeds. When I called "Duquesne!" his head shot up -- a good sign. If he was really sick, he'd be lackluster. I went to the fence and petted him, noting that he'd taken a small dump in the past few minutes. (I'm not going to describe how one knows that horse shit is fresh.)

I headed for home to change clothes, make lunch, pack Bernie's work lunch, unload groceries. Then it was back to the ranch.

Dink was kind of dull; he didn't try to nip me for fun, or drag me along while he tried to snarf some old hay. We stood under a mulberry tree in the shade, and he didn't try to eat any of the leaves. That concerned me. I groomed him up a little, and put an ear to his side, listening for the normal noisy gut sounds that mean a healthy horse.

There were a couple gurgles, but not enough. I set off down the road, leading him -- exercise can help a horse's bowels move, as long as there is no twisted segment. But a horse with a twist in his intestines is in agony, and Dink was just ... dull.

20 minutes out the road, 20 minutes back. I led him to a deep water trough, and he sipped and played in the water for a while. I listened again to his sides. A little more noise, maybe? We set off down the road again, and this time, if I trotted, he did, too, a little.

By the time we were back, Bernie was waiting for me at the ranch, and so was Harry, the ranch owner. We talked about older horses and colic and the horrific cost of veterinary visits; Harry brought a shallow pail of All-In-One (alfalfa, molasses, and something else) and let Dink eat some of it. Harry was concerned that Dink had reacted badly to a new load of hay. Dink ate a little, drank a little more water; I heard more gurgles in his gut, I was sure of it.

Bernie went to work and Harry advised me to either walk Dink, or ride him, since he wasn't in distress. I saddled the Little Duke and off we went, me praying for him to take a crap.

Dink was agreeable to the ride, not lagging or trying to turn back. He wasn't doing his usual Little Soldier March, but he was moving freely, ears listening for sounds in the orchards. I took the long path around the almond, walnut, and kiwi orchards -- about two hours. Five minutes before we got back to the ranch, Dink stopped, lifted his tail, and deposited a huge pile of meadow muffins on the road.

When I returned him to the pasture for the evening, he was incensed that he was separated from the other horses, and was bugling deafeningly to show his annoyance. That is good. If he's mad, he'll pace and throw tantrums, and that will keep him "moving" so to speak.

I'll go out again tomorrow morning (creaking and groaning, no doubt) and take him out for another turn.

Monday, June 08, 2009


This morning my email contained a message from the nursing home, saying that my mother did fine over the weekend, and was already "taking care" of her roommate.

Almost three years ago, I went for a walk in the morning, very depressed by what I heard in my mother's words and voice. While Howie and I walked out beyond the houses and neighborhood, I cried, not knowing what to do. Then, through an unexpected patter of raindrops, I saw a rainbow in the sky.

Seeing it, I remembered God's promise to Noah, sending his "bow" in the sky to remind us that he would never again destroy the earth by flood. I took that rainbow as a promise to me, that day, that everything would work out the way it should, that God holds all of us, all of our circumstances in his hand.

And so He has. Had my sister simply settled into life at the group home, and not become ill, I would never have known about the nursing home called The Hearthside; my mother would have sunk deeper into dementia and I would not have had any personal contact to reach out to her. But my sister's suffering allowed me to get to know the personnel at the Hearthside, and prepare a welcoming place for my mother when the time came.

Thanks, Jan. You forged a path for us.

Thank You, God, for your mercy and your providence.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Day of Rest

How about some rich color today? There it is, the heart of a camellia!

Bernie and I went to see "Up" again -- this time in 2D. I really enjoyed it, and could see no part of the film that was diminished without the 3D -- especially the entire "not wanting to puke" experience. Charming film! How timely to know that Senior Citizens can be heroes or super-villains as they are moved to do so... tomorrow I become eligible for Tuesday Senior Discount at the local supermarket! There is still time for me to decide: Hero or Villain?

For today, I don't feel like deciding anything. The past two days have been as relaxing as if I had been given a drug. The phone doesn't have tension-filled voicemails on it, or troubling cryptic messages. My email has been free of drama and demands for immediate action. My dreams are still odd mish-mashes of stuff, but I'm not waking in the wee hours with my heart pounding, wondering what the hell is going to happen next, what the hell am I going to do, what if what if what if ...

I know it won't last, so I'm just enjoying the bejabbers out of the clement, gentle weekend.

Friday, June 05, 2009


What a day.

As soon as the nursing home staffers left with my mother, the bank officer called me. She told me that it was a tough time of it, with my mother refusing to cooperate. They left her to stew for a little while, and then said, "It's lunchtime. Come on, we'll take you to McDonald's." And thus, out the door she went with them, willingly, having forgotten what they were there for.

This evening, she was angry again, refusing to talk to anyone, but the main thing is that she's safe.

And if there was any lingering shred of doubt in my mind about whether this was the right thing to do, it was dispelled by another phone call from my mom's friend, who made time to be there this morning. While the bank people and the 24-hr care people and the nursing home people sweated around with Mom snarling at bay, he had a quick look at the basement and saw that almost all of my dad's tools were gone -- let's not put a nice face on it -- STOLEN.

Neighbors had seen the morning caregiver's boyfriend carrying heavy boxes out of the house some weeks ago. Well, now we know what was in the heavy boxes.

The friend confronted the 24-hr caregiver with this knowledge, and she called the police, saying the "retarded boy" from down the street must have done it. Oh, yes, a developmentally disabled boy WOULD jump at the chance to fence a chainsaw and hand tools in his spare time. Sure. He picked the locks of two doors without anyone noticing, AND managed to convince the boyfriend to carry the stuff out to the car and drive it to his home for him.

Well, maybe he would and could. Maybe red squirrels came in through the old chimney and carted stuff off to barter in the Barbados while they are on vacation. Maybe the tooth fairy got fed up waiting for Mom's teeth to fall out and carried off shelves of tools for spite. Maybe it was aliens from outer space.

Somebody robbed a senile old woman while her caregiver smiled and made her an egg for breakfast, or a nice sandwich for lunch.

What is reasonably comforting is that the police aren't buying the hooey.

What's greatly comforting is ... Mom is safe, if tricked into the box trap by her love of junk food.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

My Mother's House

I call it "My Mother's House" because she took possession of it not so very long after she moved in there, stranger though she was to the family and town.

Dad figured out how to dig out a basement, and do the cement work, and shore up the foundations. I remember when it was nothing but a dirt crawlspace under the house. He built a stairway to the attic, finished the floors and insulated the roof; I remember when there was just a rough-hewn ladder in the pantry to get to the attic. (and I do mean rough -- there was bark clinging to the steps of the ladder!)

He put in a septic system, and indoor plumbing. I remember when there was still just an outhouse at the end of the yard. He made the back porch into a laundry room, he made the dirt below the porch into a graceful patio, the yard into a bountiful garden, the extra space into a greenhouse and nursery.

Dad did all that, and it was all for my mother, and she was the owner of it all.

Tomorrow morning, she has to relinquish her castle. She's being moved to a nursing home, which none of us really want, but is inevitable. Her caregivers have fallen short of their promises; her funds are dwindling. Alzheimer's has been her purgation: she's lost her memories, her strength, her knowledge, her control, and now her properties.

Part of me prayed that she would die in her sleep, like her brother Salvi, or that she would drop dead in her tracks, like her brother Buddy, rather than have to be removed to a nursing home. But she keeps on going, weak and tottery but still meaner than any other person I've ever met.

The other half of me is relieved that she won't die in that house, because she is so possessive that she would be sure to haunt it. There are enough ghosts in that house as it is; if she had infested it as a spirit, it would have been a war zone, because what ghosts there were would be from my father's family, all of whom she hated unconditionally.

Tomorrow the siege is broken; she will no longer hold the castle. The war is over.

Monday, June 01, 2009


I like the colors of this cluster of hopseed. The sunset light hit just perfectly to illuminate the pale greens against the dark shadows on the fence.

But that's not what this post is actually about; I'm just hedging.

The whole family went to see the new animated movie "Up" on Saturday. I'd been looking forward to it for a long time, although I was a bit dashed to learn it was in "3-D".

Apparently that's all the rage in animation these days. Last summer we saw "Bolt" in 3-D, and although I enjoyed the movie, I couldn't see why it ought to be made 3-D. The 25-cent 3-D glasses they sell you with the ticket (for $3) are clunky, heavy, and make the colors appear as though you put a 10% black wash over them with Photoshop. Dim. Dull. Drab. You get used to it, and compensate for it in a few minutes, but bleah, I don't need tricksome eye effects to enjoy CGI.

Not only did the whole family go to the movie, we also did something we don't usually do: to save John from having to walk up a lot of steps, we sat down only about halfway up the stadium seating. Usually I like to be near the top.

Before the movie started, there was what seemed like ten trailers for other 3-D animated films, all showing the most zoomie shots to show off the 3-D effects. Loud. Rapid scene change. On and on and on.

I was worn and irritable by the time the movie started, but I was immediately engaged by the tale (although the stumpified style of the art used for the characters was disappointing). We got about 15 minutes into the movie and I felt a strange sensation in my innards. Then I began to shake and pour sweat and feel dizzy. "I think I'm going to be sick," I whispered to Bernie, and bolted for the Ladies' room. Bernie followed, guiding my disoriented flight.

The last time I ran out of a place for a restroom was due to a magnificent case of food poisoning. This felt just like that did -- oh, no, I thought, the chicken piccata I had for lunch must have gone over! 

However, once I darted into a bathroom stall, and braced myself on both walls with my arms because I felt wobbly, the feeling began to abate. I know nausea can come in waves, so I waited ... and felt better by the second. I stopped sweating.

By the time I was done washing my hands and running water over my wrists, I felt well enough to realize what had happened: the 3-D had made me motion-sick.

Maybe if we had sat near the top of the theater, it wouldn't have bothered me -- I don't know. But nothing could induce me to re-enter the theater. Bernie was going to take me home, and then come back for the rest of the family, but to my chagrin, they all came trooping out of the theater. Lillian took my hand and told me that "Family is much more important than any movie."

They all chimed in. John said, "My back was killing me, and those 3-D glasses made my eyes hurt anyway." Alex said, "That opening sequence was almost too much for me. I'd rather watch the rest on DVD at home sometime, anyway." It was an amazing show of support.

I still feel like a jerk. Rollercoasters didn't bother me, boats don't bother me, airplanes don't bother me -- I love best the little commuter planes that toss around in the air. But 3-D is not for me. 


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maybe Dr. Horse Ass Had a Point

After a couple days, I relented and tried the prescriptions Dr. H. Ass had commanded.

I've had three or four new lesions since then, but that's not enough time to see if what had been prescribed is effective. Except the salve, a steroid thing that did NOTHING for the itching and burning of the lesions, or for their healing. 

Late last week, I got a call from my doctor, saying I needed to go in and discuss the results of a recent bone density scan. Today I had that appointment.

Yeah, yeah. Due to my age, my lack of exercise for lo, these many years, my vitamin D deficiency, my calcium deficiency, and did I mention, my age, my bones are not in real good shape. We settled upon a strategy for the bones, but then revisited the itchies. Dr. H. Ass said the eruptions could be due to nerves, which -- God knows -- in my body are shot to smithereens.

We (my doctor, not Dr. H. Ass) talked about how I felt and reacted to stress stimuli, and now I'm taking a drug that she says will restore a balance in my neurotransmitters,  allowing my brain to explain to my nerve endings that "No, you don't have to fight or attack or run, things are going to be okay." That would be nice. 

So, the moral here is that women who are older need to get more aggressive with exercise. Beat the shit out of things. Gain some weight so that your hips don't get the idea they can go on vacations.  Take vitamins D and mineral calcium.  Stay active. 

Oh, and avoid stress. 


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Horse's Ass

Have I ever mentioned that I have no patience with pompous people?

This morning I had an appointment with an allergist about the recurring burning lesions on my body. My regular doctor was stumped as to what was causing them, so she referred me to the allergist.

My appointment was for 8am, first one of the day. I got there five minutes early, filled out the ubiquitous paperwork, and waited. And waited. Around 8:15, Dr. H. Ass ambles in the door and goes to his office to ... finish his coffee? Have a good long scratch?

At last he opens his door and calls my name. He introduces himself nicely enough, and then proceeds to interrupt me repeatedly while I'm telling him about my symptoms, using a very haughty tone of voice. To him, I'm ignorant of his specialty, and therefore, stupid. "There is no allergy shot for Spandex sensitivities," he sneered, as if I had asked for one. "Only avoidance."

When I explained that I had thrown out all my garments that had Spandex, he pressed his lips together and suggested I'd used a jacket or some shirt that I didn't know had Spandex.

Finally he looked at the lesions. "Those are insect bites," he pronounced primly. When I said they weren't, he suggested that my dog has fleas, and the fleas were biting me. "Don't the other people in your family have these spots, too?"


On and on, with me getting more irritable by the second. Finally, he said, "Obviously you've come into contact with something that causes an allergic reaction. Take an antihistamine and administer an anti-itching cream." He wrote two prescriptions, one for Allegra, which I've taken in the past and has no affect on me whatsoever, and for an itch cream like your basic hydrocortisone stuff.

"Wait," I said as he shuffled his papers dismissively. "My husband found something online about skin eruptions as a result of ibuprofen. What are the chances this could be from ibuprofen? I've had to take a lot of that this spring."

His narrowed eyes showed me exactly what he thought of online medical information. "Anything you find in FDA-approved medicines lists 'rash' as a possible side effect. But the chances are very low that ibuprofen is causing this."

I nodded, thanked him, let his office assistant make another appointment for me in three weeks or so. The prescription is in my paper-shredding pile, the appointment I'll cancel in a few days. The last thing I want to do is put my health care in the hands of someone who cannot tell when he has offended his patient.

It's too early to tell, but I stopped taking ibuprofen for the lingering ache in my neck two days ago, and no new lesions have erupted.

Yes, I am ignorant of his specialty. And he's ignorant of mine. He's going to make a great character in a story.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Burning House

An email conversation I had this morning with the trust officer of Mom's bank indicated fairly clearly that my mother's caregivers are dishonest.

What had been a series of apparent screw-ups on the caregivers part, and studied, careful moves on our part has become a rush to get my mother to a secure facility and preserve her meager assets, while the caregivers lie and scramble to cover up their peccadilloes.

I've told the bank that the day that my mother is moved out of that house, the doors and windows have to be secured and the front door's lock changed. Otherwise, we fear the place will be gutted by the morning caregiver's boyfriend's buddies.

Mom's neighbor said to me, "You know, if she was just enjoying being in her own house, I'd tell you to let her stay there. But she isn't. She doesn't know where she is anymore, and those people aren't doing their job."

Poor Mom. She kept all the evils of the world at bay for sixty and more years, but now the old dragon has no fire left. God help us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pain, And What It Does For You

So, I have a herniated disc in my neck, and when it is grumpy, it sends pain down to my shoulder blade, up to my neck, cascades down my deltoid, through my biceps, burns the shit out of my forearm, and messes up my hand.

Traction reduced it from an incapacitating agony to just a dull pain. At times, now, I don't even notice it.

If I hold still, and think about it, I can feel whispers, shadows of it all down my arm and into my hand. It's a deep pain, nothing anything I can do to touch and alleviate the sensation.

After the worst of the experience, I'm glad that I was honored to have felt that pain.

First, the pain allowed me to understand what chronic pain sufferers have to live with. It's horrible, no release, no escape, no hope. With chronic pain, you can't live well, sleep well, interact well. You long for drugs to make the pain go away, but your choices are "forget it" or narcotics -- and those fuck up the rest of your life.

I never really understood that before, but I do now. A whole spectrum of sympathy has been opened up for me. That's a good thing.

Second, faced with the inescapable pain, I had a choice: I could writhe and curse, or I could offer the pain itself up as a prayer for the good of Mankind. Let that prayer burn, that the world would someday realize that Life is sacred. The pain becomes a holy thing, not because God wants people to hurt, but because I want my hurt to be for a reason, a quest, something beyond my body. I have the choice to give that sensation up as a gift, to perhaps reduce the suffering of others.

Finally, with these realizations, the weight of the ache hanging on my shoulder and arm tonight, I don't grimace and say, "Damnit, will this ever be healed?" but instead, "Hello, old friend. The world needs our prayer."

My prayer is that those in perpetual pain may know some rest, and that the world can come to know that all life is holy, from conception to grave, in health and in suffering, in beauty and in ugliness. In the image of every living creature is the will of God, and in the face of every human is the reflection of the Christ.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Winds of War

Windstorms are horrible.

Every particle of pollen and dirt flies through the air sideways, infiltrating screens and open doorways, impacting people's sinuses like Howitzers. This one has gone on for at least a week, subsiding a little from about 4am to 8am, but the rest of the time flinging shredded paper bags into the shrubbery, leaves and dusty filth into the swimming pool, dehydrating the lawn and gardens, and killing my eyes and nose.

A flurry of dust-devils are spinning back East, where my mother continues to decline into Alzheimer's. One of her neighbors called me yesterday, in desperation. Things are not well in my mother's house, where she has contractual 24/7 care. "We know they're leaving her alone at night," the neighbor told me. "And that one girl's boyfriend is hanging around there when she's looking after your mother. He's been arrested for drugs already."

Great, just great. 3000 miles away, what am I to do? The company that provides my mother's care is bonded, but what does that mean if one of the employees is feeding her boyfriend on my mother's bank account?

My sinuses are compromised by our wind, and so are my heart and my mind by the revelations of Mom's neighbor. Everything hurts.

Tomorrow, a family friend is going to go to Mom's house and see what is up. I fully intend to be with him on cell phone as he checks it out.