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


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.


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


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.


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 ...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gathering Clouds

The other morning, we woke to an unusual August sight: clouds!

Well, that many clouds, anyway, and that kind of clouds -- the ones that run in herds across the sky.

To me it seemed like a whisper, a reminder, a warning that the perfect weather we've been having is going to change greatly in the not too distant future.

In two weeks, we probably won't want to get in the swimming pool; it will be too chilly. Seems ludicrous today, when the temperature outside is 103 degrees outside, but the fact is, by the weekend, the low temps at night will make that pool feel like an ice bath.

So the clouds are an omen of cooler weather to come.

I got a phone call a few days ago that was a omen of changes, of clouds on the horizon of my life: my mother's nurse called from the nursing home to tell me that over night, Mom had inexplicably "bruised" an ankle badly. They took an x-ray, which showed no break, but then a couple days later, the nurse called again.

My mother's foot was still swollen, but turning red, with streaks going up her leg. I didn't need the nurse to explain to me why they had begun treating her for a possible infection; they were supposed to do some kind of tests to see if there was a blood clot involved.

No blood clot; so they tested for gout. No gout, no breaks, no clots.

I know this because they woke me up at 6:50 this morning to tell me that although the tests were clear of what they were testing for, her foot is still swollen, and because she can't remember from one minute to the next what her condition is, she tried to get up from her wheelchair to take herself to the bathroom, and fell. The nursing home always calls if there is a fall.

Mom wasn't hurt in the fall -- at least not this time.

I asked the nurse if there was a possibility of an insect bite that would cause my mother's foot to swell ... like me, my mother used to be very susceptible to "fly bites" -- gnats, in her case -- that would make her swell up with allergic reaction. (I got one off some bug on the surface of the pool about two weeks ago that made my left side swell and discolor like a bruise and systemic poisoning. That'll teach me to skinny dip at night and then not shower after!)

But the fact is, Mom isn't going to get all better, and the breakdown of bodily functions will continue to escalate. I'm not looking forward to how things will get more iffy, but I suspect that the breakdown events, knowing as I do that they must come, will be less traumatic than the onset of full-blown Alzheimer's was.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Goodbye, Nicholai

The 1977 printing of the Sunset Western Garden Book has this to say about eucalyptus:

No pests. In Australia, you seldom find a eucalyptus leaf unchewed by insects; here, by contrast, you almost never find one insect-chewed. Importing has been entirely by seed; no natural pests have been imported by way of living plants. There are no foliage-attacking diseases of eucalypts here.

Indeed, one of the reasons there are so many eucalyptus in California is because they were so easy to grow, so beautiful, so varied. At my previous house, and this one, my front yard planting had as its focus the feathery, graceful, tall Eucalyptus nicholii: willow-leaf eucalyptus.

I whispered to this tree when I planted it, "your job is grow fast and tall and hide that ugly street light from me." (Right by the sidewalk in front of the house was an orange-tinted street light -- unsightly by day and glaringly bright at night. Ugh.)

And so it did. In only a few years, Nicholai soared above the street light, with grace and loveliness shading the yard, for peaceful darkness at night, and cutting the heat of the late afternoon sun.

Sitting in the front yard was like sitting on the edge of a rich forest, thanks to the nicholii and little brother tree Dwarf Blue Gum. Complete privacy from the street, even from the sidewalk a few feet away. On the hottest summer days, we'd sit under the tree with a mister spraying us, and be comfortable and content, surrounded by beauty.

Bad things happen even to good trees.

I'm not sure when, but a bug from Australia arrived in California: the eucalyptus psyllid. The infestation began as a few white dots on some leaves of Nicholai; when we found out what it was, we did some oil spray, which helped the lower branches we could reach. Alas, most of the tree was higher than we could spray, and the foliage began to really weaken, with great leaf fall sprinkling the lawn.

Last month, seeing the disgusting waxy exudate from the psyllids sprinkling the lawn, the front porch, the outdoor furniture, the sidewalk, our neighbor's lawn and driveway and cars, we knew that we had a lost cause on our hands. We could have tried systemic poison, but the amount of chemicals needed would be massive, and we'd have to trash the front vegetable garden, the blueberries, and forget ever planting edible stuff in the front yard, because the psyllids are never going to give up. Bugs don't quit. Moreover, runoff from our yard (and all the yards in this neighborhood) goes right into the river. The fish -- those left -- don't need more pesticides.

We love our trees. They don't talk, or beg at the table, but they protect us from the sun and the wind. They soothe our eyes with beauty, and share our home. Sometimes they dump stuff on the neighbor's yard, but we don't mind cleaning up after them.

It was a hard decision to have the nicholii cut down. We'd thought to wait until Fall, but economic times are tough right now for tree services, so we were able to get a really fine price ... for the job to be done today.

Maybe it was best to be done with it quickly, I don't know. The tree-cutters were most efficient, and very careful of the other plants in the yard. We said goodbye to the tree before the tree service arrived, and if that sounds dumb, so be it. I've been leaking tears all day over the tree that I planted and nurtured and admired through all the weather of eleven years.

My tree is gone. The yard, without Nicholai in it, seems strangely small. The dwarf blue gum (which is not affected by the psyllids) will fill in quickly; most likely in two years it will be hard to tell there was ever a second tree there.

Still, I won't forget it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Blocks

August is a fruitful time of year here in the Central Valley.

Peaches and nectarines and tomatoes and cucumbers and squashes, oh my! Apples and almonds are ripening; this year has been very good for the pomegranates, which are swelling with a promise of November deliciousness. Good stuff now, good stuff to come.

August 5th was the first day of school in this school district. My granddaughter was glad to start third grade, welcoming the volume of socialization that classes would bring. I'm glad she enjoys school, and thinks her classmates are fun to be with.

Nevertheless, I have two thoughts that are less happy.

Number Two is that August 5th is too damn early to take kids away from swimming and playing in the summer weather. What sense does it make to stuff kids in a classroom during just about the hottest time of year? Gosh, the state must be lying about not having enough money for education if it wants to pay for air conditioning in August instead of the lower rate of heating the crowded classrooms in the winter!! Damn that lying state! Damn that lying school district! Both of them would rather send the kids home for a couple weeks in the fall and in the spring -- times when neither heat nor AC are usually necessary.

Stupid, wasteful, inconsiderate, and unneccessary.

But wait! There's more! If you want a heaping helping of STUPID, try this one on: students are not allowed to bring their textbooks home.


No, not even if the parents request it so that they can read the textbooks to understand what their children are going to be learning this year. Lil's parents made the request this year, and were refused. Because there is a chance of naughty students losing or defacing their books, even responsible students and parents must be treated the same as miscreants. Or so they say.

I helped Lillian with her math homework more than once last year, and once already this year, and I can confidently say that the person who wrote the courses is a moron. No repetition, no learning to memory. Memorization is Old School. Modern Learning means counting how many ones equals eight -- the "ones" symbolized as blocks.

Come on, this is third grade. Why are the kids still using blocks to count? Seriously, I'm not making this up. Learning to write numbers in the thousands, the little illustrative pictures on the worksheet (copying costs are far preferred to reading out of their text for free) literally had pictures of blocks to tell the children how many units were in the ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands columns. Now, the thousands column's number was represented by a picture of cubic figures of a thousand blocks each. Did each child count each block to make out a thousand? No, of course not. A picture of a cubic figure cannot show a thousand individual blocks. Well, the children are taught that the picture of the big block of blocks is equal to a thousand.

Let's review that quickly: the children are taught that a symbolic thousand is equal to one thousand. Isn't that like saying to the child, "This symbol -- '1,000' means one thousand." No? Did they make any of the children actually count out a thousand blocks? No, of course not, that would be a ridiculous waste of time for an eight year old.

A question on her homework this week ran something like this: "Write out the number eight thousand, four hundred, seventy-three. Explain."

WTF? Explain what? There were two whole page-width lines on which the student was to answer. My answer, when I looked at it, was, "8,473. Because that's the way it is written, Asshole."

I sent Lil with the page to Bernie to see what he would suggest instead.

I think the books are kept secret because there might be a couple parents with brains who would look at them, and either be able to explain better than the stupid teacher, or who would look at them and understand that our tax monies are being wasted on fads.