Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve -- the night we party until 2011!

Not.

One of the families involved came down with some sickness; one has car trouble and can't get the whole family into the cab of a little pickup truck. The other family decided that they were also too old, after all, to party late.

Yesterday I had prepared my meat and cheese noshes, and scrubbed down the kitchen counters; this morning we all pitched in and cleaned the house. We were juuussst finishing up when we got the call about cancelling guests.

Now we could have been angry, and we could have been disappointed, but in fact, we were all relieved. (I really hate staying up late any more.) Bernie and I flung ourselves into the car and went to the store for sauerkraut for tomorrow (we will still be having guests for din tomorrow) and on the way back, got to see spectacular sundogs in the sky.

When I was a kid we called them "cloudbows," but I've been taught that "sundog" is the name for these iridescent bands of light in the sky around the sun. Most of the time in this sighting, we saw two, one on either side of the sun, and then, shortly after we zoomed into the driveway and I roused the household to come see, not only were the two side sundogs, but a colorful arc above the sun as well.

Had the guests not canceled, I would probably still have been dusting furniture and shoving laundry in the dryer, and not looking outside much at all.

All's well that ends well, I say.

Happiness and peace in this brand new year, 2011.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Almost 2011

A few weeks ago we were at a pot luck with the people we call the "Haverim." The Haverim are our Seder buddies each year, and we try to get together once a month or so. They're more like family than just friends ... in fact they're more like family than my family ever was. Anyway, it was time to broach the subject of New Year's Eve.

For many years, we invited all of the Haverim over to ring in the New Year. The menu was always the same: bring some nosh/appetizer and whatever is to be drunk. We'd play marathon sessions of dice, talk, dance to swing music at midnight, and then trash the house with confetti and pop the hundred balloons. When the kids were little, we'd run out in the middle of the street with them and toss confetti and whoop.

Last year I begged out; I was still tired from the illnesses that had beat me up earlier in the year. I'm feeling pretty good these days, so I was willing to do something. Most of us fall asleep by about nine o'clock, what with our kids being grown and grandkids not requiring late night vigils, so I thought instead of New Year's Eve, why not invite the Haverim over for New Year's Day, to dine on pork and sauerkraut for the New Year's luck? (I have no idea why pork and sauerkraut are supposed to bring luck in the new year, but we all like it, so it's a good excuse to have it.)

So there we were at the potluck, and I was sitting at the table. I put on my "official" voice, rapped on the table, and told the happy group that we had business to discuss. "Since most of us fall asleep early," I said, "do you think it would be better to have New Year's Day dinner together, or do you really want to do the New Year's Eve thing?"

I have been accustomed to moderating if not controlling meetings much of my adult life, so I was really, really surprised when the rest of the group, like a thundering herd of maniacs, suddenly came to consensus: "LET'S DO BOTH!!!"

As we headed to our car that night, Bernie said out of the corner of his mouth, "How was that negotiation supposed to go again?"

Ah well. It will be fun, I'm sure. However, you can be certain that I am going to show no mercy when it comes to kicking ass at dice.

***Photo credit Bernie Pilarski

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fierce December!

 Now that's what you  call a Christmas Eve.

The sun was so delicious, and the air so clement, that we opted to have our late afternoon supper on the front lawn. The air was cool enough that Bernie wanted his hat and jacket ( I had a flannel shirt and my long-loved polar fleece vest) but warm enough to sit out until sundown.

The dogs were with us, and Howie crawled into Bernie's lap for a prolonged pet and cuddle.

Bernie had sandwiches, and I had a platter of sliced summer sausage, fresh veggies, and French bread with cream cheese. Perfect dinner!

And while the sun warmed us, I saw a hummingbird sipping in the eucalyptus tree, whipped out my camera, aimed, and fired. He's quite handsome, isn't he?

Happy holidays, all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Glorious Gift

Not a real picture. I used a public domain photo of the moon and tried to show what we saw last night.

Weather here has been thickly overcast with rain for days; the forecast called for drizzles and clouds and rain pretty continuously until Christmas.

I did ask God for a little favor, though, that the clouds would break enough for us to see the lunar eclipse.

When I pray like that, I don't expect results. The world does not need to be ordered for my pleasure. Nevertheless, when night rolled around, and incredibly, the heavy clouds parted, we kept a watch on the moon as it shone down on our back patio, and I was giggling with delight.

Suddenly John shouted, "It's started!" and he and Alex and Lil and I grabbed folding chairs and heavy jackets, hats, gloves, and blankets and scrambled.

We watched the moon being eaten up, bit by bit, until it was all red and orange and mysterious. Lil fell asleep for most of the last half, but readily awakened to see the red moon.

There are many people who don't believe in God, who would say that my prayer and the astounding vision of a lunar eclipse in a week that Man promised would be all cloud and rain are merely coincidence. What an impoverished life those people must lead -- I couldn't live like that, with my hands over my eyes, refusing to see wonder and mystery and such stunning beauty, and such mercy and indulgence.

Thank you, God, for such a gift. I hope that I will never forget it. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't Stand Behind Them

A winter treat for a little girl and her family dogs: digging for gophers.                                                      

Sebastian found a gopher run, and was inflamed; determined to dig the vermin out, he rapidly went down nearly a foot with great sweeps of his long toes and claws. Lillian was thrilled to see her dog act as an earth mover, and laughing in delight, urged him on.

Howie, seeing the dirt fly, got right in there and helped, even though he was not really interested in the burrow. He dug as though the hole needed an add-on patio.

The earth was soft and loamy with the wet weather, the ticks are dormant due to the cold, and what fun to see such an enthusiastic excavation!

The dogs thought so, too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Dog

The fierce beast pictured here thinks that a long walk by the river and racing through the long green winter grass makes for the best December afternoon ever.

He's still really fit for his age; he'll be 10 in a few months. It does my heart good to see him galloping effortlessly across the meadow, or easily leaping onto a four-foot shelf by the river.

It hasn't taken long at all for him to figure out that Daddee is the Human who initiates the idea of going for a walk, either. He knows his Muvver is a couch potato these days, so he follows The Man around, poking him with his nose, asking, "Are you ready to go yet?"

I say this all the time: Howie is the best dog I've ever known.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Mailing Label

After some months of having my desk out in the kitchen (trying to resolve issues with my new monitor), we moved my desk back to our bedroom again.

[The monitor that came (for free) with my desktop computer kept jiggling the display, and dimming from time to time (most annoying when I was trying to work). Moving to the kitchen and a more stable power outlet seemed to help ... for a while. Finally, I switched out my new monitor for my old monitor (a 2003 Sony) that Lillian had been using. My new monitor works perfectly with her computer, and my old monitor is just fine. Not as glitzy, but I don't need glitz.]

As I was moving the stuff from the desk, a mailing label fell out from under the Plexiglas protector. It was a Priority Mail label that I had printed out last spring, so that I could send stuff to my mother. I remember when I addressed it. I'd been sending Mom a dozen freshly baked oatmeal cookies, and when I got to the Post Office, I could not find the label. I filled out another, and sent the cookies. After I got home I found the original label on the floor by my desk where it had fallen. "I'll just use this the next time," I thought, and stuffed it under the Plexiglas.

There was no next time.

Finding the label, and watching it drop into the waste basket ... well, it hurts still, and I miss her. I miss the woman who was always game for a fishing expedition, who taught me how to make the foods she learned from Dad's family, who sewed me beautiful clothes for school.

I hope she has all kinds of fun things to get into in Heaven.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Bernie lured me out for a walk by the river with the dogs this morning after the rain stopped.

Since my gimpy knee episode earlier in the year, I've been reluctant to walk. And even now, with the knee seeming to work well again, I dragged my feet (so to speak) about walking on the uneven paths down in the woods.

No worries, it all worked well; the temperature was a balmy 60 degrees and everything looked washed clean by the rain. The dogs went crazy, racing through the green winter grass at top speed back and forth across the path ahead of us. Howie's striped coat seemed to glow a deeper orangey-brown in the wintry light, and I loved seeing him leaping along effortlessly.

The big sighting of the walk was a lone coyote, who was crossing the path far ahead of us. The wild creature stopped to watch Sebastian thundering through the woods after Howie, and then quietly, oh, so quietly, slunk away on the northern branch of the trail. When we got to where the coyote had been, both Howie and Sebastian sniffed around, but they weren't particularly interested. For them the call of the wild is mouthfuls of juicy green grass and the heady hurtling up and down the gullies and hills.

Bernie said it best as we walked along on the carpet of oak and cottonwood leaves: "Yep, this is my idea of a winter wonderland."

Ditto.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Little Things

This morning we went to Mass, it being the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation for practicing Catholics.

I like this holy day, as it draws me to contemplate what life must have been like for Mary, conceived a sinless human being, just as Adam and Eve were created. (Non-believers, go ahead and find something else to think about.) Without the veil of Original Sin, did Mary then have a better understanding of what God's will for her was? Gabriel the angel speaks to her, "Hail, full of grace!" Obviously this messenger of God knows that she is something different ...

There I was at Mass, contemplating this wonder, fat and focused. It was a good start to the day.

We came home, and began making a list of stuff we had to do: drop off books at the library, check the Post Office box for new contracts, go to Staples and buy office supplies and make copies of the latest contract, go to Target for various odds and ends. "See what Shrek 4 costs while you're there," John requested.

"No problem. I'll call you when I find out." However, my phone, when I went to get it, was not on my desk.

"I think your phone is dead," he told me. "I tried to call you and Bernie a while ago and it just went to voice mail."

I rummaged around a while for my phone, checking pants pockets and rooms. Aha! I remembered I'd had it with me when I went riding yesterday. But it should have rung when he called, as I hadn't turned it off. I had put the phone in the deep front flap of my purse when I left the ranch. Sure enough, there it was ... and it was turned off.

I swear, I didn't turn that phone off. I didn't even know it was in my purse this morning. Now how embarrassing would it have been to me, and how annoying to all the other people in the congregation, not to mention the priest, had that phone rung during Mass? We weren't even sitting in the back of the church, but right a few pews away from the sanctuary.

No, I didn't turn that phone off.

Somebody did it for me. Thank you, Lord.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Again With the Potatoes

So yesterday, I made a meatloaf, and gravy, and to go with this, I thought I'd use some of the potatoes I mentioned in the last post.

Half an hour before the meatloaf was to be done, I cut up the crispy, juicy home grown potatoes (the darker brown ones) and put them on to boil.

The meatloaf was done. The gravy was done. The salad (with home grown romaine lettuce among its ingredients) was dressed and tossed. The potatoes, however, were not done.

Another twenty minutes passed, with the meatloaf and gravy being kept warm. We tested the potatoes. Still crunchy.

We were starving, so we turned off the potatoes and ate meatloaf and salad. I put a few of the crunchy potatoes in a bowl with a dab of butter and ate them ... they were good, but they were as crunchy as raw jicama.

I wasn't worried about it, and figured I'd fry some of the semi-cooked potatoes this morning with eggs.

Worst taters and eggs ever. Crunchy hash browns? NOOOOO.

Maybe I'll try roasting them in the oven sometime today. Or maybe I'll just eat them raw. They were great raw.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

One Potato, Two Potato

This morning Alex decided to re-dig her garden and plant turnip seeds.

The spot she was going to use was the site of potato failure this past spring. She got lush green plants, but they just kind of cooked in the summer sun, without blossoming. And if they didn't blossom and wither, they don't make potatoes, do they?

Wrong!

At least a couple of the plants made potatoes, because around the end of warm weather, some more green potato plants came up. The freezes last week turned them black, ahh, poor potatoes.

But when Alex began digging over there, well, what do you know? POTATOES!!! A couple of them look a bit gnarly, but those light-colored ones -- "new potatoes"  -- have skin so tender it rubs off with a thumb, and when freshly sliced, with a hint of salt, were THE best potatoes I have ever crunched down raw in my life. They were even better than the ones I raised back East, and that's saying a lot.

Now Alex has got her bearings with the potato growing. She has a plan.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Chillin'

It's 52 degrees and fogged in after a little rain last night.

In spite of the chill, I'm ensconced in the unheated garage, wearing fingerless gloves made for me by Cheryl, and a heavy zipped sweatshirt over my t-shirt and flannel shirt. (Pants, too, of course, and socks and shoes, but I'd be wearing those indoors as well.)

Why would a woman hole up in the garage with a laptop? Shouldn't she be at her desk working, or lying on the couch stuffing her face with potato chips?

The answer to this question is nearly ready to go home to her mother, a six-year-old in the screeching phase of little girlhood. Alex agreed to watch the little girl until her mother gets home today. It's a commendable thing to help out a neighbor like that, and I applaud Alex's charity.

That does not mean that I want to share the experience, however.

I am hugely grateful for my garage studio, even when it's chilly on a damp, dim day. My chair is comfortable, my laptop is deliciously warm, and the only children I can hear are the boys on the other side of the street, booting a football (and each other) around.

Also making me feel good were emails from two new authors, both accepting the contract. There's some fabulous writing coming to the Piker Press.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Cats

Down town, in the Park and Ride parking lot, underneath a thick canopy of trees at one end is a picnic table. Earlier this year, while taking cardboard to the recycling center that also occupies part of the area, we noted a small pile of catfood on the cement, beside the picnic table, with about six kittens eating and lounging. Their mother slunk away as soon as she saw the car pulling into the lot, but the kittens scattered only when I got out of the car.

They were all feral.

I was angry to see the pile of cat food; I'm sure that someone thought they were being merciful and generous and kind to the darling little kitties. Maybe they even thought that the kittens would come to recognize the food-giver and look upon him/her with affection, maybe even save his/her life when he/she fell down a well and needed someone to run for help. Maybe the person with the cat food thought that if the beautiful kittens grew strong, they'd become great ratters and hunt mice and gophers.

Honestly, I don't know what they were thinking. I do know what I thought: Coyote fodder. Disease vector for rabies and feline distemper. Scavengers tearing into people's garbage. Catfights and their festering wounds.

Two blocks down the street from the Park and Ride lot is a deserted paper mill, with hundreds of trees planted on its property. I've seen coyotes there. Coyotes find cats delectable. This little town is near the river; seeing hawks and owls around town is not unusual. Hawks and owls also love little kitties. Perhaps the person who was feeding the kittens loves coyotes and hawks and owls and wanted them to have plenty of easy-to-catch prey.

I've seen close up an eyeball ripped and blinded, infected and oozing puncture wounds, lacerated ears from catfights. It's not pretty. Those adorable kittens start fighting seriously if they are still alive after about six months old. It's what they do when they establish territory and mate. Encouraging feral cats to stay around one area is just leading them into violent encounters.

More than a decade ago I had the opportunity to watch, over years, a family of semi-feral cats living in a barn on a ranch. The owner fed the mother cat and kittens, and they were adorable to see playing among the haybales in the barn. The kittens grew older, and mated; some years a passing tom would add his genes to the pool. But as they inbred, they started having problems. The kittens were not as healthy as the original batch. Pretty soon some stray cat brought distemper among them, and the owner of the ranch was quite unhappy seeing dying cats and kittens on the porch, in the hay, around the big yard. The ones that survived had long-term problems; after a while I saw none of them that didn't have hideously pus-filled eyes. I don't know what happened to the sick cats; I was away from that ranch for a few years. When I last visited, they had no cats, and no cats were ever mentioned.

In the case of the mother cat by the Park and Ride, and the mother cat in the ranch barn, maybe it would have been more merciful to live trap her and -- if euthanasia is too sad to contemplate, have the cat neutered, and then let her free to hunt.

All this unhappy thought comes to me because we had to go out and buy a trap. Last night we caught an unneutered male cat ... inside our garage. It was annoying enough to find evidence of a stray cat in one's garage, him having torn open bags of pretzels from the pantry out there, but this bold kitty didn't leave it at that. He actually came into the house looking for more food, and Fourmyle, (the cat in the picture above) left off sleeping in Alex and John's pillows and chased the stray out of the house.

The city's Animal Control came and took the cat away. If the owner, if he has one, goes to pick him up, the owner will be fined; if the cat isn't feral and the owner doesn't pick him up, there's at least a chance someone will adopt him ... and he'll be neutered before he can be adopted. And if he is feral ... well, he won't be for long.

Don't encourage feral cats to breed, please.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

There She Goes!

This is a picture of me, in disguise as a cement truck, roaring down the highway away from NaNoWriMo.

As they have said from the olden days, "Thank God It's Over."

I had thought I was ready and prepped for a NaNo run, and I suppose I was, in the same way one prepares and is ready to put new shingles on the porch roof. I had the skill set, and the discipline. Wow, I needed both of them, because this was the worst NaNo finish yet.

I felt bad the two years I didn't finish; one year because I didn't have a story I really wanted to tell, and the other (last year) because I fell in love with my story and didn't want to spoil it by writing junky word count. This year, I thought I would write a sequel to "Going Hungry" and maybe even wrap up the story.

Forget it. The story was there to be told but because it was NaNo, I put word count above all else. The story advanced about 10k words, and the rest was nitpick fluffy filler. "He said" then "She said" and then they described in excruciating detail every step of their recipes ad nauseum.

Hated it.

In the beginning, for me, back in 2001, NaNoWriMo was a mere 500 and some participants who were leaping off a precipice of uncertainty, attempting to write a novel in 30 days. It was thrilling, exciting, captivating. At my fifth year, it had become piano practice: three hours with a laptop, hammering out two thousand words a session, every day for a month to build and hone a writing habit. This year, at the beginning of November, I think I noted that there were already 160,000 people signed up; and it may be that I am just getting old and crotchety, but the NaNoForums seemed to be populated by the most shallow and clueless gits floating around the cybersphere.

Yes, hated it.

Nevertheless, two days after I validated my 50k words and officially "won," I found myself back with my story "After Life" and tenderly writing a completion to the last chapter I had started. Love the characters, love the story ... love writing, yeah.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Will It Ever Return?

See this coleus? What illuminates it so sweetly is a morning summer sun.

It's winter here now, and the last few mornings have been gray and drizzly. No lovely cool sunshine wake ups now -- this is the season for getting up and throwing wood into the firebox, for wearing slippers, for having to tell the dog to hurry up and get out there and do his doggy thing.

I know that I've grown soft as a Californian. When I was a Pennsylvanian, we occasionally had snow in September, in April, and every day between them there was a possibility of white stuff falling out of the sky. By contrast, here in my winter weather, this morning I kicked off my slippers and went outside barefoot to feed the birds, because it had been raining and I didn't want to get my slippers wet. Such harsh weather!

Wuss that I am, I already miss summer.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Skyline: Dung on the Silver Screen

Now the fact is, Bernie and I have done a review which will appear on Monday in the Piker Press.

The review was negative.

It was not negative enough by a long shot. DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON THIS MOVIE. IT TRULY AND FUNDAMENTALLY SUCKS WORSE THAN ANY SY FY (what a stupid way of identifying that network nowadays) MOVIE YOU EVER, EVER SAW.

I try to be sort of polite when we do reviews for the Press, but in this blog, I don't have to. Skyline was THE worst movie I have ever gone to see in a theater. Admitting and yet not excusing myself for the folly of young adulthood, I state for the record that we did go see Jeff Goldblum's version of The Fly, thinking it was going to be an updated version of The Fly, starring Vincent Price, which we had thrilled to in our childhood. Adding sexual banging, vomit and graphic violence to the original, Goldblum's version was repellent and disappointing. Yet it did have a plot, borrowed from a previous version, but it WAS a plot.

Skyline did not have a plot. The story was supposed to be about aliens attacking earth. Killing humans.  And then ...? And why ...? Oh, they craved human brains to "empower" themselves, mmmm, lots of scenes of brains with partial spinal cords attached. WTF?

Skyline did not have a cast. Not of actors, anyway. The people who were supposed to be the focus of the film begin the saga with a hedonistic party which includes more liquor than BevMo, voyeuristic telescopic explorations of high rise neighbors electronically transferred to a BIG big screen TV, and random sex. Unless you're part of the population that craves sex and drug parties, you just had to loathe the shitty ensemble that makes up the cast. Also, they couldn't act their ways out of paper bags.

So, no plot, no acting. What's left?  CGI! In the trailers, it looked very promising. On screen, the motherships looked to have  been cobbled from the scaggy stupid-looking Romulan ship in Star Trek and the gnarly ships from The Matrix, and most of the subsidiary ships looked like extras from the squiddy scenes of The Matrix as well. I swear the alien forces images were stolen from photoclips from Predator and Galaxy Quest, with slime and gore added.

To add 'realism' to the film, there was a puking scene, and a pissing scene. Neither one seemed to add anything to the movie. Those scenes only added to my annoyance.

IT WAS A REALLY STUPID, POORLY DONE MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PUT YOUR HEAD IN A BURLAP BAG AND WHACK YOURSELF WITH A SHOVEL IF YOU HAVE AN URGE TO GO SEE IT!! YOU'LL FEEL BETTER AFTER THE SHOVEL TREATMENT, AND I'M NOT KIDDING!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

Participating in NaNoWriMo is not like climbing up a stony cliff.

It's more like climbing down this stony cliff. At 22k words, I'm about to that dark hole in the middle of the picture. I've felt for handholds to keep on going, I've strung together long, pointless chatterings of words to reach the next crevice where I can stop for the night and say, "You got this far. You can get all the way down."

Once I get down to that gravelly-looking bit that might mark 35 thousand words, I'll be able to slide. The slope is not so dangerous. Handholds abound. 15k is nothing. In fact, I could do that final 15k sitting on a piece of cardboard and just hanging on for dear life.

So I say. We'll see. Tonight, the words came easily, and I enjoyed writing them.

Goal tomorrow: 24k, if not 25.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Why Am I Doing This Again?

Ahh, the stony path I have chosen!

Today is November 8, and I should have 16k words by the time I go to sleep. However, I know I won't. Yesterday I opted to watch NFL football games all day, an activity my pastor finds abhorrent, but one that I look forward to from the day after the Superbowl. (NFL football and the Triple Crown are the only two sports I have any interest at all in watching.) Yet watching the games precluded any chance of making 14k yesterday.

This morning, I put up the Press, and had foolishly left one of the most difficult serial stories to format today. I love the series, the sheer whimsical craziness of it, but whatever word processing program the author uses simply doesn't mesh with mine, and so I cannot automatically add HTML paragraph breaks; what's more, the author uses few commas, which I have to add, and leaves spaces in the wrong parts to I have to correct all of that. It is a measure of how much I love the story that I'm willing to do this.

But that was this morning. I don't write in the mornings, so I'm just using the Press as an excuse, I guess.

I have my formula for word count; I know where the story has to go. But I sure don't want to be doing this.  Am I losing my writing, and just becoming an editor?

And now the Steelers are on TV against the Bengals, which team I have hated since the late seventies -- do you think I'm going to do any serious writing tonight?

No.

Have I mentioned, Tejon, that I am NOT doing this again next year, not even for you?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Nationally Novelly Writingly This Month

It is National Novel Writing Month.

I'd like to say that I'm extremely enthusiastic about it, but I'm not. This year, the whole thing is about re-establishing a writing habit. I have four novels in my workspace to complete, and for the past year, I've done nothing to get that done. That's just stupid, and lazy.

I've chosen to write a sequel to a past NaNoWinner; possibly between the two, I'll be able to salvage a decent story. It's been hard, though, as Bernie, my beloved husband, has also decided to do NaNo. He let me read his first 600 words.

Wow. I was in tears by the time I finished, and when I tried to read to him the paragraph that had moved me so, I could not get through it without sobbing. He had talked about Time in such a way that I could not help but grieve for the way we as human creatures are forced to apprehend it.

My own story is utterly, completely word count, without a scootch of wisdom or wit. Another soap opera, as lousy as "Transitions" was. All I can do is disengage my intellect and let my words run on into other words. I tell myself that word count is all I'm going for here, and I will do that, I can do that.

But God, I wish I had something better to write.

Tejon, if you should happen across this post, I am NOT doing this again next year.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Night Before the Day Before NaNoWriMo

Saturday night. We had a pot-luck at a friend's house today, and though the atmosphere was mostly convivial (except for Lillian playing "ghost" in the dark with the other Haverim kids and bonking herself on the forehead running into a table and getting a big goose-egg on her forehead) and happy, I was distracted, thinking of what the first of November would bring in terms of writing.

Ideas have chased each other through my mind for months. I toyed with the idea of finishing all the unfinished novels I have on the computer; I juggled strange dreams that could have proved fruitful in writing. I thought of spinelessly just using characters I know and love and have used to death and prodding those poor creatures on to new if not better adventures.

Tonight I re-read the last few chapters of  "Going Hungry" and decided for sure to run with a sequel to what I wrote in 2008. I wrote down the names of the characters and a title for Chapter One. THAT FELT GREAT!

New stories are deliriously entrancing. Old characters are comforting and fun. Sequels are just fine. The main thing is that the craziness that is NaNoWriMo erases all rules except one:

Write, dammit. Just look at that white screen and start slapping down words.
 
Are they goofy? Are they puerile? Are they profound? Yes, yes, yes, and no, no, no. They are just words. They are words that have some ideas. That's all. It's the playground, so go play in it. Make hills in the sandbox, and then kick them down and build a castle -- oh no, there's some cat poop! Leap out and try the swings, the seesaw, the trees -- an afternoon's play for a kid doesn't have to have an agenda to it, or a training regime, but every time a kid plays, his or her mind grows.

Every time a writer writes, his or her mind grows, too. Maybe it's just the discipline of getting out in the "open air" of a blank screen, or getting into the habit of "doing homework" by letting ideas flow without regard to future sellability (not a word, really, and not a thing to write for) -- each time we write we allow things in our heads to appear and be manipulated by our fingers on the screen. Good or ill, there they are, and if, at the end of November, those things are less than stellar, so what? The charging horses of the stampede of thoughts have run through our lives to the tune of 17k words a day, carrying our pecking along, leaving behind dust and tracks, tracks along which we can follow, knowing that writing CAN be done.

It's good to play.

It's good to see the tracks.

It's good to be jumping on one of those horses and riding the wave of words, crazy-running on the keyboard.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday

It was a day of clouds, so I didn't want to get up this morning.

It was a rainy day, so I didn't want to fuss about in the studio in the damp air.

It was an NFL football day, so I was determined not to miss a game once I got home from church.

I got up. I checked the status of the upholstery job I'm doing in the studio. I watched football all day, glad that the Steelers won, but disappointed that Rothlisberger and his wayward wang didn't get sacked and crushed into the turf; I laughed hard at the incongruity of the Raiders' huge win against Denver.

But mostly, what I did was NOT WRITE. "Transitions" is finally as done as it's ever gonna be, so I don't have that habit to plague and placate me. The next writing exploit is going to be NaNoWriMo -- and the prospect is as paralyzing to writing as an anvil on my hands.

I have no idea what I'm going to write. I don't have a sure-fire well of extra words for word count.

But my goodness, I am champing at the bit to start.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Hunger Games: Sort of a Book Review




A message came up on my email, that said a book I had requested from the main library to our local branch had come in. I rubbed my hands together in fly-like manner, satisfaction radiating from my heart. I was about to have in my hands the sequel to Finding Nouf, by Zoe Ferraris, entitled City of Veils. To my surprise and annoyance, the book that had come in was The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

I was sure that they had made a mistake, that they had sent me the wrong book, but when I went to the "request" page, sure enough, "Suzanne Collins" came up through Firefox's brilliant memory of field completion. I have no idea why I would have requested it. I only request books recommended by Wendy's blog.  Indeed, when I looked at the book's flyleaf, I had a vague, vague memory of thinking, "Well, it's a book aimed at teens, maybe I won't be too offended by it."

We went fishing on Thursday, so I took the book along to read while I let my bait drift in the water. It was a shitty day for fishing -- no one we talked to had even one nibble, let alone a fish. So when I began to read The Hunger Games, not only was I annoyed to find that the whole book was written in first person, present  tense (which is good for a bar story, but not for a novel), but in the first few pages, I was tremendously annoyed to have the narrator claim that she and her companion went to a pond and caught a dozen fine fish before noon. Poking the pages, I told the author, "You have never been fishing in your entire #!!@! life!"

In the post-apocalyptic story, outlying "Districts" are basically company towns bled dry by the company -- The Capitol. The Districts are there to provide for the Capitol, and nothing else. An insurrection in the past resulted in the installation of humiliating "Hunger Games" -- a chosen pair of children from each district are pitted yearly against other districts in a battle to the death, a broadcast reality show in which the winner is promised wealth and sustenance for the rest of his or her life. Katniss, despising the Capitol and its stranglehold on her people, leaps to volunteer instead for the Games when her little sister is chosen by lot to participate.

Katniss is a hunter, a profession strictly forbidden by the Capitol. That's the skill she brings to the Games. That's the skill that keeps her alive -- that and a caring heart. The games begin, and Katniss runs into the forest to try to figure out not so much how to triumph, but how to survive.

The action is continual, the pace of the book quick. There are lots of deus ex machina spots, but they're explained  easily enough. The writing is colorful, though nothing I would envy as a writer.

The next annoying revelation is that I read the book in two days, and didn't want to put it down.

The final annoying aspect of this book is that as soon as I was finished reading, I requested the sequel from the library.

Will I own a copy of this book? No.

Will I read it again in the years remaining to me? No.

Will I switch my tail in annoyance at how long the library's copy of the sequel takes to get to me.

Yeah.

Get Back on the Horse

They say that if you get bucked off a horse, the thing you have to do is dust yourself off and get back on that horse and try again.

That's a great metaphor if you've just lost a computer game, or failed to make a date with the guy/girl you have a crush on, but it's a stupid one if you are actually trying to ride a horse.

Horses are big, dangerous animals. They can bite, they can kick, they can knock you down. If you have a horse that bucks you off, I'm inclined to say that it is no longer a horse, it is dog food on the hoof. A horse that bucks and unseats its rider is a horse that has learned that it can buck and unseat a rider. I don't think it's possible to re-teach a horse that it can't unseat a rider.

My riding buddy, Cathy the Mad Horsewoman, was thrown from her horse, shattering her left arm in the fall. The horse had become increasingly unstable and dangerous as he got older, and found his niche as an unridable horse in a horrible display in which he threw himself back and forth until the momentum flung Cathy from the saddle. The event signaled the end of her riding days. Even on her gentler, older horse, she was afraid of another such fall and injury. I don't blame her.

After nearly two months of not riding, I saddled The Stinky Dink yesterday morning. He was ambivalent about being caught; he was in the middle of breakfast, after all. While I groomed him, I watched for any sign of rebellion. Ditto while I saddled him.

He's a bit fat in the belly area, from lack of work, but when I put my foot in the stirrup, he was unconcerned. We rode out of the yard and down the road with no hesitation or twitch.

We didn't ride long, as I'm out of shape from a summer of riding the front passenger seat of the Vibe, but we had a nice one. Dink only stopped and stared once, at an eight-foot-high stand of grass growing by an irrigation outlet. I let him stand and observe it, and then told him, "You're fine, let's go." We went.

I'm pretty sure that Dink (Lord Duquesne is his real name) is the last horse I'll ever ride. I appreciate his steady golden years even as I head into mine.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Simple Things, Incredible Things

Today I watched the rescue of the Chilean miners on the BBC, on their live broadcast.

Honestly, when I first heard of the disaster, I didn't think the miners had any chance of survival. So I didn't follow their story, didn't think about them beyond a  "God have mercy on their souls."

Then I heard they had a chance of rescue, but that might be four months in the future. Would they go mad? Would they die of hunger or thirst, or bad sanitation? I shut my eyes and didn't want to think about it.

Then there was the drilling, with the hope of getting them out through a hole and a specially-made capsule. I still kept aloof, not wanting to be disappointed in my wish for things to turn out well.

Today I was unable to keep away from my computer monitor, watching the miners being brought up, one by one. I was unable to leave the site alone, until all the miners were above ground. My soft heart made me leak tears as I watched each miner exit the escape device.

Thank God they are out, out of the tomb, and pray God that they learned something about Life in their trial.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Secretariat: Thoughts on the Movie

We went to see Secretariat today.

I've loved horses so long I don't remember the first time I knew I loved horses. I loved watching the Triple Crown races; in Central Pennsylvania in the mountains, those were the only races that were ever covered on television. In 1973, I was home from college on the weekends for those races, at least in part because no one in the dorms (or my boyfriend, who had a TV) would have been interested in watching anything so non-topical or uncool as horse races.

In 1973, when I saw the post parade for the Kentucky Derby, I fell in love with Secretariat. He was so big, so perfectly shaped that I was sure he'd be the winner. I gave my memories of watching Secretariat to my Uncle Edgar in this story so I needn't repeat them here. But I wanted to repeat feeling those feelings, so off to the movie, hoping it would be okay.

It was. It was a good movie, about a woman who had more faith in a horse and a heritage than in "common wisdom." And the horse was Secretariat. Some critics say that there wasn't enough about the horse himself, but I can't agree. To have more about the horse, you'd have to have a horse actor that was just as big and perfectly formed as Secretariat was. That horse doesn't exist. Most of the movie was about Penny Tweedy, Secretariat's owner, and how she finagled her colt into immortality, without the backing of her family, by and large, and in the face of a phenomenally male-dominated venue.

There was enough about the horse, and some nice staging of the races to bring tears to my eyes, remembering my own experience watching the events. Other things struck me, more deeply, however.

One was that the entire audience (and it was fairly full in the theater for a 1 pm show) were old people. All of them. No little kiddies, no young people. All old folks, maybe going to remember one of the highlights of their lives. Hell, that was why I was there. I knew when I saw the running of the 1973 Belmont Stakes I'd never see anything like it again in my life.

The second thing was that I thought the characters looked stilted, stylized -- all of them. Then it hit me that the actors were portraying a culture that has been dead for more than thirty years. Back then, I was part of the rebelling youth while I was on campus, wearing ratty jeans, running with a bad crowd, breaking all the rules that my parents had taught me. On the weekends, however, I was Miss Proper, wearing skirts or dresses to church -- I even still owned a pair of white cotton gloves. In the movie, Penny Tweedy wore dresses, was neatly hair-do'd, ladylike and polite. She had no sensational sex affairs, no vicious language blowouts, no dirty trade tactics. No cosmetic surgery, no multiple marriages, no strident television appearances. I remember that time.

Finally, Penny Tweedy not only defied the stereotype of being a housewife, but showed that being a housewife did not mean a woman had become a moron. She took control of an estate and her life, and forged success out of a very dicey situation. She should be held up as a role model for all young women, in how to fiercely and gracefully make a big difference in the world.

But that's not going to happen. Instead, the women who should be pointing to this story as example will sneer at it for being a Disney fantasy, and encourage girls to turn their attention to the importance of carrying condoms for when they want to have random sex, and laud the fashionistas who seek to dress 9-year-olds like little whores.

Chastity, modesty, and honesty? Courage and self-denial? Ooh, forget that. It's Disney crap.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Bug Up The Nose

I worked on the Press this morning, folded some laundry after lunch, and read an ugly submission to the Press this evening. And I was going to write, in the garage studio (so dark, so quiet, so cool) but then a gnat-bug flew up my nose and I was totally thrown off my groove.

This is a fact of reality. If a bug flies up your nose, it throws you off your life's plan.

Unless you are a writer of horror, in which case, you welcome the event and run with it.

That would not be me.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

This Writing Thing, Part 4: The Jones

After my first creative writing effort, I found I couldn't stop. Two weeks after NaNoWriMo 2001, I knew what I wanted to write about in 2002. In fact there were a bunch of books I wanted to write.

But to wait a whole year to write again? What a horrible thought it was. Was my writing to become like my painting, done only in spurts, rarely finishing a work, without purpose? I still had the idea that I needed a reason to write -- or was it an excuse?

Alex created the Piker Press, and since then, I have never lacked a reason, or an excuse to write.

Over these nine years, however, I've discovered a new and delightful thing: I no longer need the reason to write, or the excuse. Like the silly series of photographs I've become enamored of ("Things On The Back of Trucks"), writing is just something I want to do, that I can do, and that I hunger to do just about every day.

There's this buzz in what feels like it ought to be my medulla oblongata, and a billowing through the rest of my brain. Jitters creep into my shoulders and an itch runs down my arms, and my fingers crave the touch and rhythm of typing, while my ears savor the soft clicking sound of the keys when I give in to this urge and let pour out strange words and new sentences.

Yes, I do this writing thing because I don't want to do without it for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

October, and Fish

In the early light of morning at this time of year, the lower branches of the hopseed are still dark, but the higher leaves of the eucalyptus are illuminated.

This is a time of year past swimming weather, but so very clement: highs in the low 80's, night time temperatures in the high 50's. Cool to warm, warm to cool. Windows can stand open all day. In the mornings, and late evenings, I wear my threadbare Big Dogs knit jacket; I've had it so long and worn it so often that it feels like a second skin.

This morning we took me fishing. Bernie says that whether or not he gets a fishing license is immaterial -- either way, he catches no fish. But I did get a fishing license this past summer, and today was my opportunity to use it.

There was plenty of room in the car for my fishing gear, a couple of folding chairs, and Howie. While Bernie let Howie go nuts investigating all the new bushes and grasses and shoreline at the reservoir, I struggled to re-learn how to cast, after so many years of Not Fishing.

There is a kind of throwing-stick on the market, in which one places a tennis ball into a cup on the far end of the stick, and then whales the stick for monumental flings of said tennis balls. We have one for the dogs, of course, since tennis ball throwing is the core of their lives. Bernie and I took it along, but before it was in use, Howie was puffing at me like a maniac, eyes on my fishing rod. He had made the association: the fishing rod was an implement for flinging something. He was a darling pain in the ass, and Bernie had to take him off on a walk by themselves to allow me to re-acquaint myself with my lovely fishing rod.

Later in the day, we moved to a different spot on the lake/reservoir. Howie was done for the day. (He didn't think so.) I began to cast and retrieve, a few splitshot weights on the line, and a small earthworm on the hook. Pow! I had a hit, a relatively big one!

Had I the fishing acumen I used to, I would have left the fish diddle with the worm a little longer, then set the hook, and we would have had fish for din. As it was, I tried to reel the creature in too quickly, and it flipped itself right off the hook.

Ah, well, I got a bite, got close. I'll take that over doing laundry at home any day.




Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Home Again

We pulled into the driveway about 1:30 pm.

Outside temperatures were over 100; we felt sticky and achy; and oh, so glad to be home.

Howie was glad to see us, as one might expect; he is feeling under the weather, however. Apparently he stopped eating a few days ago, and so John, worried that I'd come home and find my dog a skinny wraith, fed him extra and tempted him to eat with tuna fish. The result: major intestinal upheaval. At least I wasn't the one who had to clean it up.

I waded into the pool and reveled in the chilly water, at length. The heat of the air seemed as nothing. I know I will again be in the pool tomorrow, as the temps are not going to stray far from the 100's.

Tomorrow I don't have to get up early to get on the road, not one little bit. Haha, I don't mind that at all.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ha Ha, God, I Guess That WAS Funny

In a previous post, I noted that we almost didn't get a room at the end of a long day in Des Moines on our way east.

Now my mother would have called me careless, lazy, and unmotivated, and other people would call me a fool, but I do tend to rely on God for provenance. That there was only ONE room available in Des Moines the night we came through a couple weeks ago, and that ONE room was in the very hotel we longed for -- well, I thanked God that night very much, and spent time marveling at how the event had been tailored to our preference as well as our need.

Today our travels took us from Rock Springs, Wyoming, to Winnemucca, Nevada. It wasn't a strenuous drive; I let Bernie sleep until 8:30, then we showered and had a leisurely breakfast. Around 3 pm, we opted to stop and have a sit-down meal in Elko. No worries. After all, we were going to stay in Winnemucca, which is some two and a half hours from Reno, out in the middle of Ja-pip.

We got to Winnemucca, and went into the hotel lobby. While Bernie took care of some of his own business, I stood in line at the front desk to book a room. My heart froze when I heard the lady at the counter say to someone on the phone, "No, I'm sorry, we're fully booked." There were a couple men in line in front of me; both parties had prior reservations. Again, the woman answered the phone and told someone there were no rooms available.

Bernie joined me, and I told him what I'd heard and asked him if he wanted to forge on the next two and a half hours to Reno. He looked pained, because frankly, even with the leisurely pace, we were both really tired. "Let's ask her where else we might stay in Winnemucca," he advised.

Our turn at the counter. The lady asked cheerfully, "How are you today?"

"Not very good," I answered, "I heard you say you're full up."

"Oh, that's tomorrow," she said with a grin. "I think we have a couple rooms tonight."

She frowned as she looked at available rooms. "I have one room with two queen beds," she said.

One room, with two queen beds. We always get the two beds because after riding in the car for hours, I tend to twitch and kick and thrash in my sleep. "Thank God," I said, in heartfelt relief.

Only a few minutes later, as I was soaking my achy old bones in the hotel hot-tub, I thanked God again, and was even able to chuckle a little at how close, how precise the provenance was.

I'm reminded of the Bible story of Jesus being asked for the "Temple Tax." He tells Peter to go and catch a fish. Peter catches a fish. The fish opens its mouth, and there, inside, are the proper change in coins for the Temple Tax.

Heh.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

In the Neighborhood Again

Ahh, Wyoming!

There's no doubt that we've made some hurried trips from California to Pennsylvania and back again in the past three years and some. Interstate 80 may be a fairly tedious route, but it is the quickest, and we've come to know it maybe all too well.

In all the trips, I've been saddened to leave Wyoming on the way east, and overjoyed to cross into Wyoming on the way back. Is it because I know that I can get home in one day from Wyoming? Or is it the lovely pronghorn antelope, of which we saw literally hundreds today?

I do love the wild and alien environment of Wyoming, and wish that I was young and adventurous and could explore (safely) all the strange little side roads on horseback, but I think that the answer is the "one day" thing. If I woke up with an Incredible Homing Instinct tomorrow morning, by bedtime, I could be in my own house.

Nevertheless, we won't drive home all in one day from Rock Springs, Wyoming, where we are currently ensconced in a VERY comfortable Holiday Inn Express watching Sunday Night Football. The Piker Press is ready to turn over in the morning, and after a leisurely breakfast, we'll make our way to Winnemucca, Nevada, where we will hole up and watch Monday Night Football.

For us, that makes today and tomorrow the most vacation-like days of this long trip. Then the real resort living resumes: patio sitting, nature walks, playing with pets, eating really, really, really good food. Home in two days.

Yes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Perfect Weather

September is a variable flavor in Pennsylvania. I can remember an orientation week at Penn State (which would be the third week in September en aquellos dias) when it snowed, and other Septembers when it was hot and humid and disgusting.

Yesterday was perfect, as our days in PA have been since we got here. We went for a walk along the Juniata River, where the old canal used to be, and where they have made the canal edge into a walking trail.

Moving along the path, surrounded by the kind of woods I remember from my youth, of locust, and horse chestnut, sycamore, tulip trees, oak, and sassafras, infringed upon by raspberry canes and ubiquitous poison ivy, highlighted by beautiful orange-blossomed jewelweed and goldenrod, I sank into the environment and was captivated by the river. I could live back here, I thought. I could tell Bernie we have to come back, and I'd have my river back again.

I'd can veggies for the winter, I'd fish and freeze and eat bass, all the fish I could catch, and I'd fish every day, and love the bright red of sugar maples peeking out from the forest ...

The rational part of my mind gave me a ripping good kick on the ass and said, "You moron, how many days out of the year felt like this when you DID live here???"

After some thought, I answered, "Lots. Uh, ten?"

Rational replied, "HOW many days are there in a year?"

I didn't answer, but did continue to salivate over the remembered taste of pan-fried black bass, oh, with Spanish rice on the side, and tomatoes from the garden.

In the afternoon I had to travel to the next county up the state, where my mom's nursing home was, and in front of a snooty county clerk, swear that I was who I was and that I, as executrix, would carry out the terms of my mother's will; I'm sole inheritor as well as executrix, so I was promising that I would be just to myself in all my dealings with myself. Thanks, legal system, that little dance cost me $200, and I didn't even get to take a swing at the snooty clerk.

By the end of the day, I wasn't in any mood to move back to PA, but only wished my paper chase was done and I could be transported back to the other coast and sit in my quiet studio to write.

We're on our way as the sun comes up tomorrow, thank God. We're in no hurry to get across the interstate highway, but we're headed back to where we belong.

And you can bet your booties that snooty clerk is going to be featured in a story in the not-too-distant future. Maybe something with zombies, maybe something more in depth about her inability to respond adequately in relationships ... I'm not sure, but something.

Hey! Maybe a cartoon!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The End

I saw my mother into the ground today.

The service was absolutely beautiful, with lovely music and terrific readings. Close friends were there, though the attendance was not huge. Mom had often complained years ago that most of the people she had known were dead, and she had lamented being a survivor of her cohort. Yeah, that happens sometimes, and so most of the people who went to her church only knew her as a dotty and confused old lady.

No more. On the Other Side, the girl her mother called "La Furia" (The Fury) is back in action, I'm sure.

I cannot say for sure, for I do not know the mind of God, but the luminous, perfect weather this morning was like exultation. I don't think I've ever seen such a glowing, clear morning in Pennsylvania in my life. The views of the mountains and the river as we drove to the church were extraordinary, so much so that I forgot I had the camera in the car. Maybe Heaven -- and my dad and my sister -- are happy that Mom has joined them, all flashing smile and presence big enough to move mountains. The mountains and the sky and the sun seemed to speak loudly this morning.

I'll take that as a "yes."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Old Gray Mare ...

Hoo-boy, as Stan Lee used to say in Marvel Comics. What we've found on these past two days! Things just ain't what they used to be...

First of all, I was awakened Wednesday morning by my phone ringing. I answered it croakily. "What the hell, were you still asleep?" my sister-in-law's voice boomed. "I've been up since 5 am! When are you getting here?"

It was a good thing she called, or we would have slept until 10, or later. I remembered Bernie's alarm going off at 6am and him telling me to go back to sleep, which I gratefully did. We pried ourselves out of the hotel and onto the road by about 9:30 -- not an efficient travel plan. But we did get to Maumee, Ohio, where we rented a room from Holiday Inn.

Now Holiday Inn used to be a nice bet for travel. We've come to vastly prefer Holiday Inn Express, and just in case you haven't already found out, the two brands are totally different experiences. Holiday Inn Express, by and large, wants you to continue to use their chain and goes out of their way to make sure your room is wonderful, amenities unequalled, experience utter luxury. Plain old Holiday Inn could just give a shit as long as they get your money. Bare bones rooms, lack of customer service. We found out too late at night that the air conditioner in our room worked only with a noise like a train driving through the room. Higher rates, less service. WTF?

I forcefully fantasized that I was on a space ship and that the noise was the ship's engines kicking on. I got a little sleep.

Today, we made it to home base, a motel that used to be a Holiday Inn, back in the day, but is now a "Quality Inn". It has adequate facilities, but nothing special. It used to have in it the successor to Tony's Cottage Inn , but alas -- Tony's has changed. The signature salad is a shadow of what it was only a few years ago. And we went down town to grab some Laskaris hotdogs, but Laskaris has been sold, and it's secret chili sauce is gone, and the hotdog grill, and the poor folk who bought and run it are doomed. No one but us was in the restaurant, and the owners were ... sad, apathetic, clueless people who aren't even keeping their work counters clean.

I have a sad feeling that an Age has passed.  At least the AC in here works quietly.

Oh, Well, He Lied.

Tuesday: 

Up at 6, breakfast after a shower, and then on the road. Yes, back on the road, after a night's broken sleep as my already out-of-sync body rebelled at going to bed several hours early after getting up the day before long before it wanted to. Also the body rebelled a great deal during the night about the Subway sandwich I ate for the afternoon meal Monday. Not rested.

Originally we thought we'd get from Rock Springs, Wyoming, to Des Moines, Iowa (too late to pester our friends there), but as the day wore on, and we lost another hour to time zones, we decided to stop right after Lincoln, Nebraska, at the first Holiday Inn Express we could find.

NOT. There are no Holiday Inn Expresses after Lincoln. In fact there's jack shit but bedbug factories (which my sister-in-law, a former truck driver told me after the fact) between there and Des Moines. And getting into Des Moines well after dark, we found every frackin' hotel booked solid. I'm not lying. It was ridiculous, a veritable Posada of searching for a place to stay. "Everything around here is sold out," we were told over and over again.

Finally, one hotel had ONE room. It was on the far side of Des Moines, and it was a Holiday Inn Express, and we crept in like crippled mice and crashed. So much for Tuesday.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Long Day

Bernie tells me that tomorrow is not going to be as long a drive as today was. I hope he's right.

We started off at 4 am this morning; losing an hour going from Pacific Time to Mountain Time, we got to Rock Springs, Wyoming around 6:30 pm. For once, we didn't hit a lot of road repair, and traffic was light.

The hot springs at Nightingale Hot Springs, Nevada seemed closer to the road than we remembered, with a lot more steam coming out of the ground. Is the volcanic activity increasing?

There was still snow on some of the peaks south of the highway in eastern Nevada. Not as much as we saw in June, but amazingly, still some.

Just east of Salt Lake City, I saw a strange color on the hillsides. "What could be blooming red at this time of year?" I thought to myself. Well, DUHH, it wasn't blossoming, it was the beginning of Fall Color. We don't get that for a while yet in the Central Valley of California, and rarely if ever such a sweet, bright hue.

Wyoming was beautiful in the early evening light. Our room at Holiday Inn Express is GORGEOUS.

Thoughout the day I remembered the reason for our trip, feeling pangs of loss, pangs of guilty relief. Alzheimer's just obliterates the one you love, and abrades your heart to the very soul. At times over the past years of Mom's decline, I would find myself wishing that Dad was there to keep her from the dangerous forgetful actions, but he had such a tender heart, and loved her so much -- I'm glad he didn't have to go through this. I hope they meet again on the other side. I hope that she will be able to see just how beautiful she was to him, and how much he loved her.

And though the world is much poorer without my mother, her death was the mandate for me to use that dread apparatus of modern life: the telephone. I spent literally hours on the phone this past weekend, letting close friends know about Mom's passing, and catching up, and loving hearing Deb's and Lonz' and Barb's voices, getting a kick out of reminiscing with Dan Brown about what Mifflintown was like when we grew up in it. (He's the funeral director, and was the younger brother of one of my grade school/high school class mates.) I found myself wondering why I don't talk with them more often, and remember my mother nagging me to stop being so shy and solitary and get out there and talk to people!

And travel. Don't become a stay-at-home.

Got it, Ma.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

End of the Line

Peacefully in her sleep, my mother died this morning. 

My dreams were strange last night, and I had a hard time sleeping around 4 am. Mom died right around that time.

Today I'm packing, doing laundry to pack; we'll clean up the car and get a new case of water for the trip. Howie won't be coming with us this time (he's getting too old, and the last trip took too much out of him) so we'll have plenty of room for extra clothes. I have no idea how long we'll have to be there.

I'm not happy my mother is gone, but I am happy that she's done with that damned disease.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Sad Dream, Sad News

A few weeks ago, I had a nightmare.

In it, I was in a house with my mother and my father. I wanted to get something from the upstairs, but I was so tired that I could only crawl up the white painted steps. (Note: I have never lived in a place with white painted steps.) As I neared the top, Molly the Macaw came waddling around the corner, and as she usually does in real life, began coming toward me. 

As I do in real life, I tried to get away from her, but slid down the stairs. She landed on me, and I kept trying to keep my face covered while she flapped and squawked. I shouted for my mother to help me, over and over, but she just kept on doing whatever she was doing in the kitchen.

Finally, I was able to get an arm under the bird and fling her away from me. I scrambled to my feet, staggered over to my mother and shouted at her. "Why didn't you help me? Why didn't you help me?"

She turned to me, looked down her nose, and said, "Because I don't like you." I raised my hand to crack her across the face, but all she said was, "You can't hit me."

Indeed, she was right. In the dream I knew I could never hit her, and just turned away, sick at heart because my mother hadn't really loved me at all. I'd been loving someone who didn't love me back. And my father, in the background, just shrugged, as if to say he didn't care about it at all.

Honestly, in the dream, it felt like my heart was being torn into pieces. Even after I woke up from the dream, I hurt inside, and shed a couple tears.

Now, a person could be miserable for days after a dream like that, even to the point of being afraid to fall asleep in case they dreamt something like that again. But I do know something about dreams, and I believe that you have to tackle them head on sometimes, to find out what's actually lurking in your subconscious.

The parrot as fear is a no-brainer: I'm scared as hell of that bird in real life, and every time she screeches it feels like someone put a chainsaw to my spine. Perfect symbol of a fear from which I need to be saved, right? But what is it that I'm afraid of, that my own mother won't help me overcome, and just turns away from me instead, disdaining me? And how could I be that angry at her, that I would (as I never did in life) raise my hand against her?

Any guesses? Oh, right. Alzheimer's.

And with that realization, I understood that at some level in my subconscious, she should still be the Mom I knew growing up: fierce, fearless, vibrant. She should have been able to surmount Alzheimer's! But instead, she has drifted away on the tide of forgetfulness, not even looking back. On that deep and cloudy level of my mind, I have anger at her for leaving me behind, no longer remembering me. And Dad, oh, Dad, where have you been while her disease has been crippling her, and breaking my heart?

I was able to find peace in understanding the dream, and I know she loved me. She didn't always know the best way to love me, but I never doubted that she did.

This afternoon the nursing home called me. Mom's foot is ...'better' ... but she is not. Some new phase of the disease has kicked in, and she forgot how to feed herself, forgot how to swallow after a bite of food. Uncomprehending, she just spit out her food and couldn't figure out what she was supposed to be doing with it. For the last three or four days, she hasn't wanted or tried to eat or drink anything, too weak to stand.

The nurse said they would put her on an IV to see if rehydration would "perk her up" -- but warned me that if there wasn't a big change in the next couple days, they'd be calling me again to discuss ... "making her comfortable." That means, in real life, allowing her to die.

I know that. I knew from the beginning that Alzheimer's is terminal. But my heart still thinks ... well, you know.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

This Writing Thing, Part 3: The Avalanche


So I signed up for National Novel Writing Month.

On Halloween, I dressed up in a long, ugly dress, put on a scaggy witch hat and wig, and painted my face in horrible patterns. And since I was wearing some funky high heels, I wore pantyhose. Alex and John came by to hand out candy. In the giddiness of the holiday, the visit, and the impending writing glut-to-come, I scampered through the family room, making my 7-month-old puppy Howie chase me. I stopped in the hallway, but Howie didn't. He crashed right into the back of my legs, knocking my feet out from under me, and sending me skidding on the slick pantyhose and carpet, right into a broken doorstop on the closet door. The rough metal end tore a hole in my right palm.

I didn't need stitches (though John thought I did and wanted to drag me to the Emergency Room), but by the next day, that was one sore hand. What a perfect excuse to not follow through with NaNoWriMo!

Instead, when I got ready to start writing, I just changed the bandage. The prospect of writing was overwhelming.

I don't remember how much I wrote that first evening. I do remember that letting the words begin to pour out onto the screen of my computer gave me a sensation very much like the one I got back when I would dive from a high diving board -- a sense of air, of stretching my arms out, of daring life to take me, and the glowing kernel of faith, that I knew I had the skills. I just wrote, drawing from a recent incident in my life, and one of the remembered dreams.

The following morning, I read what I had written, cleaning up typos as I went. It was all right. In fact it was more than all right -- it was part of Me there on the pages. As soon as I was alone, I set in to write again, thrilled to indulge my memory and my vocabulary. And then I began to lie.

I think that was when I really began to enjoy myself; the words were fun to build with, and the imagery delightful to paint, but when you write fiction, none of it has to be true. I was writing in the first person (which many literary snobs sneer at, but a point of view I have always loved in books) and allowed myself to peer at life through the eyes of my main character.

The most amazing part of this first writing experience was the deadline: if you're going to gush out fifty thousand words in thirty days, you can't stop and second guess yourself. You have to keep a-hammering. And to do that, I needed to hone a skill my father taught me when I was nine -- which fingers to use to type correctly, which I had always tried to do, but never had the motivation to do so without looking at the keys. That November, I didn't have time to keep looking down, I had to follow where I was in my paragraphs. One more thing was thrown into the mix at that time: Alex and I began to use an instant messaging program. Before the month was halfway through, I finally learned to touch-type.

No one read a paragraph of my story, not until the very end. I didn't "share" with others; writing was a wholly personal and private act for me. That's the only thing that got me through, I believe, because there were some parts of the writing that were damn good, and had someone told me that, I probably wouldn't have had the guts to try to finish it, for fear of spoiling it.

The timing was strangely right: only a day or so before the last day of November, the last paragraph was ready to pour out, and I was overwhelmed by emotion. Wondering at my sobs as I typed "The End," Bernie read over my shoulder what I had just written. "Wow," he said.

Now, was that month's writing a good and finished story? Hell, no. It wasn't supposed to be about good and finished. It was all about the writing, the doing, the writing, the thinking, just the writing, that's all.

This Writing Thing, Part 2: The Transformation


What did I have in my head that I wanted people to know, though? That's what stories are all about, aren't they? A writer has a message they want to get out there to people, a great thought that will change the lives of the readers, a beautiful idea that will dazzle the mind. At least that's what I thought writing was all about, and the fact was that I didn't have a great thought in my head.

My only personal manifesto was to enjoy life day by day. It's what I wanted to do from the time I was sixteen. Of course, my mother didn't think much of that idea at the time, and in 2001, she was still hoping that I would someday "bloom" and become "successful," whatever the hell that meant.

I could write about that, I posed to myself. Maybe I could have a character who thought that very thing, and lived her life accordingly. And anyway, no one would be going to read anything I wrote, so I could make the character just as boring as I pleased.

But fifty thousand words! That's a lot of words, and how would I come up with them?

While tidying up the bedroom, I came across a dream journal I'd used the previous Lent, loaded with six weeks of memorable dreams. The entries were just notes, fragments to bring my dream back to mind for meditation. I could stretch them into more words...

I could ...

What a transforming phrase! What a wonderful word, "could!" A couple days before Halloween, I was suddenly sweaty-palmed and trembling at the thought of writing all those words. ALL those words. All those WORDS!

No more concise, say-it-clearly-in-the-briefest-manner writing -- instead, I could allow myself to be as wordy as I wanted to be; I could describe everything until not a speck of it was hidden. I could jabber, I could embellish, I could use images from my own life and finally explore them in words.

And no one ever had to read a sentence of it. As many words as I cared to write, they were mine, all for me.

Obviously, I had changed my mind about NaNoWriMo. I was "in."

This Writing Thing: The Beginning


Before November 2001, I hadn't written a scrap of fiction since college days. I'd taken one course on writing fiction in order to take a class with Bernie in it (we thought that would make it more likely for us to actually get to class), and when that class was done, I was tremendously relieved.

Over the ensuing years, I read a lot and painted a little; then in the 80's got a bug in my ear about writing religious education courses for teens and adults. I wrote a teachers' manual -- one that was in use several years after I left that job, which would be flattering if they had any idea at all that I was the one who wrote it. I believe they simply used it because they had no idea how to write a new one.

For the next six years, the only things I wrote were letters and emails. I painted not at all; I didn't sew or draw. My garden was my canvas, and that was enough.

Then came October of 2001, and the e-mail from Alex with a link to NaNoWriMo. She was going to take the challenge and try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. "Ma," she wrote, "you have got to try this!"

How to describe the feeling with which I recoiled? A boiling fear immediately surged through me, and I knew I wouldn't take the challenge. Fear of failure, fear of losing, fear of looking like a stupid hack with no imagination at all ... fear of trying something new and unexpected.

The fear was an old familiar thing, a hangover from something in my early twenties that had surfaced bit by bit: if what you do doesn't come out perfect, then what? People won't respect you, they won't buy the product, they'll stop thinking you're good at what you do, they'll pity you for your inferior effort ... That old familiar fear had put to a complete end drawing just for the fun of it; stomped to death my painting, squelched my singing. Nothing made me feel less like completing a project than having someone pause, have a look, and say, "Wow, that's really coming along!" God, then what if I spoiled it? If I tried to write a story, someone might read it and say, "Gee, Sand, I never knew just how much of a mush-brained incompetent you were." So I turned my back on the challenge.


No one would ever have to read what I wrote, though. That was the part of the deal that kept NaNoWriMo in the back of my mind. No one would have to see if I was stupid, or untalented, or banal. After all, I could hit Control + A for All + Delete at any time. Presto! Gone as though it never existed!

Because Bernie worked second shift, he was gone from about 3 pm until 2 am ... that meant that he wouldn't be there to peek over my shoulder at the computer. Alex and her husband lived in Modesto at the time, so they wouldn't be popping in unexpectedly to find me writing my pathetic little attempt, and the dogs wouldn't care if I wrote total trash, so long as I fed them.

A secret vice. A secret game. A secret club, just for me ... maybe it was worth a try.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life Is All About The Each Days

This is the south forty. Corn.

I never planted corn from seed before that I can remember. I've grown tomatoes, peppers, onions, spinach, parsley, lettuce, radishes ... but corn? No.

So we planted sweet corn in a swath in our front yard. I have no idea if it will produce edible ears in that unamended heavy clay junk that passes for soil; and though I may have had fantasies of growing enough corn to put up for the whole winter, I don't actually believe that is going to be the case. Maybe the corn is too close together, maybe the seed was crummy (the germination rate sucked) ... whatever. We haven't got any eatin' ears yet, but two things commend this crop in a suburban front yard: A couple rows of corn look beautiful, and the sound of the afternoon breezes rattling the stalks is like food for the soul. We love the corn, and I will probably want to plant more again next spring.

Bernie grilled more spectacular chicken today. Dear God, thank you, it was so good. We swam in the pool, too -- thanks to this late heat spike, the pool is usable.

And we had a bit of excitement today, as well: our neighbor is going out of town for a few days and we find ourselves in custody of two female dogs.

A short aside -- except for the all-too-short couple weeks of my puppy Pumpkin (35 years ago) and the conqueration of my household by Grace Louise, a gray-cream calico kitten (20 years ago), all our pets have been male. (We don't count Molly; she is not a pet, she is a curse.)

Anyway, our household is baby-sitting a golden lab named "Honey" and a German shepherd named "Zena." They are ladies. They are hefty animales.

Howie has made known his antipathy for clumsy womens by showing his teeth and snapping (not biting) and looking crazed from his reclined posture at Bernie's feet. Both clumsy womens said, "Hey, dude, no problem, geeze, what a crab" and kept a good ten feet away from him. Sebastian just crawled under an end table and pretended the ladies weren't there.

We took all four of them to a fenced park and let them run and make acquaintances before we brought the girls into the house. They did fine. They're fine here.

Zena is a big girl German shepherd, though, and having her here has made us miss Babe so much. He was so big, so dark, so exuberant ...

Zena would have hated him.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Painting

No, this isn't the painting, those are leaves. I like those leaves. I like them a lot better than I like the painting!

I've been away from painting for so long that most of my oil paints are dried up. I also noted today that many of my brushes look like they are victims of mange.

And the reasons there is not a picture of the painting here are twofold: One, I don't feel like walking to the other end of the house to get the camera and cables, and Two, I don't feel like making all that effort for something that looks like shit.

No, I'm not being modest. The leaves really are easier on the eyes.

Nevertheless, I had the urge to dig out my oils yesterday, pulling the box of paints out from under the work table, squeezing each tube to see if there was any chance of getting any paint out of it, and opening my jars of medium and thinner to see if the jars would still actually open. "I'll find a simple picture in a magazine, scan it into the computer, and then fuzz it out in Photoshop so that I can clearly see the color values." That's what I told myself.

I found a simple picture. I got my scanner down from the shelf. I proceeded to introduce my laptop to the scanner... For almost three hours.

If one reads this blog regularly, one would possibly remember that the reason the scanner isn't on my desk with the desktop computer is that the suckasses who invented Windows 7 made sure it didn't work with most things that used to work with XP, as in planning obsolescence. However, the laptop I have has Vista on it -- should be no problem.

Should be.

The scanner, I should add, was already obsolete when I bought it for very cheap -- it was a display model and didn't even have the manuals with it. Still, it worked just fine for me for years. Therefore, I was optimistic about it getting along with the laptop.

No.

It said I needed a new driver after I installed the software. So I found one online, and downloaded it.

No.

It said it didn't see any driver, and also, by the way, had no record of scanner software being installed. Fine. I re-installed, re-downloaded the driver.

No.

Still can't see the scanner, said my laptop, squeezing its computer eyes shut. And you need a driver anyway.

"Fine, you shithead," I replied, and went to the Canon homepage to find and download the manual.

Heh, said the laptop, and refused to talk to the printer in the other room, printing out only the last page of the manual. I stomped to my desk and turned on the computer there.

Oh, trying to send a laptop with Vista to do a Windows 7 job? the desktop sneered at me. The desktop jerked the printer's chain and I retired to the studio once more with a stack of pages in my hands.

Wait. The manual was for Windows 98, Windows Me... and XP. The laptop began giggling like a naughty teen in art class who has just poured Elmer's glue into a dozing classmate's hair. My scanner is that old?

"That's just ... fine." I said once more. I re-uninstalled all the scanner stuff, drivers, schmivers, what all. I turned the machine off. Then, remembering an issue I had with a previous computer, I plugged the scanner into a different USB port, and started the thing up again.

By the numbers, Baby, and I didn't really even need the damned manual. The scanner installed, the driver that came with the CD worked, and the laptop said, Ooo! A new toy! Let's play!

By that time, I really just wanted to sit with a glass of wine and read a paperback and pretend that there were no computers, but I scanned the simple picture, fiddled with it in Photoshop, and then selected a small, small canvas.

Long ago I swore I would nevermore try to paint on a white canvas, so I got a disposable rag and a tube of paint for priming. I chose my cadmium red, because I was still pretty hot under the collar about the whole computer thing, and began smearing the canvas with a light coat of paint.

Fine. The red paint, instead of looking red, looked a sickly pink, very unappetizing, very uninspiring.

"Fine," I said, and put the thing to dry, opened the garage door to vent clean air in, and got my glass of wine.

Yeah. That works. The painting sucks, but at least I got a lot of paint on the canvas, covering the stinky pink priming. "Fine." Now for a glass ...